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  • 1892
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have been a godsend to a lagging boat crew; then dashed to the table and sat down, doggedly throwing open the first book that came to hand.

“I’d rather chop wood,” he exclaimed in the old way, leaning his head on his hands. “Whew! weren’t those good days, though, in the little brown house, when we had all outdoors to work in!” He dropped his arms to pinch the muscles of one with his other fingers. “Isn’t that beautiful?” he said affectionately. Then he swung them over his head, tilting back his chair restfully.

“What did Mamsie say?” he cried, bringing the chair down with a remorseful thud. “‘I’d work myself to skin and bone but I’d go through creditably.’ Here goes!”

And by the time that Davie was handing in Miss Lulu Parrott to dinner Joel clapped together his last book, threw on his hat, and rushed out to a hasty supper at Commons, _en route_ to the Christian Association meeting.

Little Perkins ran up to him at the close of the meeting. “Stop a bit. Pepper, do,” he begged; “Johnson’s gone back to his cups, and we can’t do anything with him.”

A cloud fell over Joel’s face. “Where is he?” he asked.

“Oh, in the little room back. He won’t show his face here, and yet he can’t keep away, he says. You must get your hand on him, Pepper,” and Little Perkins hurried off.

Joel dashed into the “little room back.” “How d’ye, Johnson?” putting out his hand “Come out for a walk, do; why, this room is stifling.”

“I can’t,” said Johnson miserably; “you don’t know, Mr. Pepper, I’ve been drinking, or you wouldn’t ask me.”

“Nonsense–but I would, though,” said Joel sharply. “Come out, I say, Johnson; it’s enough to make you drink again to stay in such a room.”

Johnson not getting out of his chair, Joel went in and laid hold of his arm. “It’s no use, Johnson,” he said, “I can’t talk to you here; it’s too hot and close. And I do want a walk, so let’s have it together. There, button up your coat,” as they were well out in the hall, and Johnson flung his hat on his head with a reckless hand.

As they hurried down the steps they ran against a crowd of college boys. Johnson shrank up miserably against the stone fence, and tried to look as small as possible. Glances of recognition passed, and Joel spoke to right and left as the boys went by. But a few hisses, low and insistent, were all he got.

“Do let me go,” begged Johnson, still hugging the fence, “you can’t save me; and they hate you enough for such work.”

“Come on!” roared Joel at him, and plucking him off from the fence with a determined hand.

“It’s time we went for him,” said one of the college boys, with a backward glance at Joel and his companion, “the Deacon is absolutely insulting. The idea of his speaking to us.”

“Let’s have it over to-night,” said another. “What do you say?” to the others.

“Where’s Davina?” asked another.

“Oh, Pink-and-White is out dining,” said the first voice. “My pretty little girl is safe at the Parrotts’.”

“Sure?”

“As a gun. Met him with a posy in his button-hole, and sweet as a little bud himself, and he told me so.”

“All right. He’ll stay away late, then; the Parrotts always have music or a dance after their dinners. Come on.” The last speaker rolled up his sleeves, and boxed imaginary rounds in a scientific manner in the air.

“Agreed?” the tall fellow who proposed it looked over the whole crew. “Do you all want to have it done to-night?” as they came to a standstill on the pavement.

“Yes–yes.”

“Hush–that cop is looking. Move on, will you? Now, not a man of you backs out, you understand; if he does, he gets worse than the Deacon will. All right.”

“_We’re all such jolly good fellows, We’re all such jolly good fellows_”–

Everybody smiled who passed them singing their way down town.

“It always does me good to hear those students sing. They’re so happy, and so affectionate toward each other,” said one lady, hanging on her escort’s arm.

He, being a college man, said rapturously, “Oh yes!”

Joel, back in his own room, threw himself in his easy chair, first turning down the gas. “Just so much less of a bill for Grandpapa. Our debt is rolling up fast enough without burning up the money. Dear me, if Johnson drinks after this, I shall be in despair.” He threw up his long legs, and rested them on the mantel, while he thrust his hands in his pockets, to think the better.

A knock at the door. “Come in!” called Joel, not looking around, till a rushing sound of feet trying to step carefully, called him out of himself.

“Now–now!” Two or three swifter than the others, darted for the chair, but Joel was not in it. On the other side of it, looking at them, his hands out of his pockets, he stood, saying, “What do you want?”

“Oh, come, Pepper, it’s no use,” said a tall fellow, wiry and agile, “too many against you in this little call. Come along,” and he advanced on Joel.

“You come along yourself, Dobbs,” said Joel pleasantly, and holding up a fist that looked hard to begin with, “and you’ll get this; that’s all.”

[Illustration: “You come along yourself, Dobbs,” said Joel pleasantly.]

“Come on, fellows!” Dobbs looked back and winked to the others. “Now!” there was a shoulder-to-shoulder rush; a wild tangle of arms, followed by a wilder tangle of legs, and Joel was through the ranks, his black eyes blazing, and tossing his black hair from his forehead.

“Do you want some more?” he cried, flirting his fists in the air, “or will you leave my room?”

“Lock the door!” “Get up, Bingley,” and, “Stop your roaring.” “No, we’ll give it to you now, and no mistake.” “If you won’t come quietly, you shall some way, Deacon.”

These were some of the smothered cries.

“Now!” and there was another blind rush; this time, over Bingley, who didn’t heed the invitation to get up.

Joel, watching his chance to reach the door, had no time before they were on him, and he heard the key click in the lock.

“It’s for Mamsie now, sure–and for Polly!” he said, setting his teeth hard. On they came. But Joel, in rushing through as before, was so mindful of stepping over Bingley carefully, that it lost him an instant; and a grasp firm as iron, was on his arm. The others rallied, and closed around him.

“Unhand me!” yelled Joel, beating them off. But he might as well have fought tigers, unless he could knock off, with cruel aim, the one hanging to his arm. It was no time to mince matters, and Joel, only careful to avoid the face, struck a terrible blow that felled Dobbs flat.

“Now will you go?” roared Joel, aghast at what he had done, yet swinging his arms with deadly intent on either side, “or, do you want some more?”

There lay two valiant fellows on the floor. The rest drew off and looked at them.

“You’ll pay for this, Deacon,” they declared under their breath.

“I suppose so,” said Joel, still swinging his arms for practice; “probably you’ll wait for me with kindly intent some dark night behind a tree, as you know I don’t carry a pistol. Why don’t you have it out now? Come on if you want to.”

But no one seemed to want to.

“There’ll be a row over this,” said one or two, consulting together; “as long as those thin-skinned fellows don’t get up,” pointing to the floor, “we must wait.” Suddenly the door was unlocked, and the whole crew stampeded.

“See here,” cried Joel, bounding after them, “come back and take care of your two men.”

But the crew disappeared.

Bingley lifted his head feebly.

“Just like Dobbs,” he said, “get us into a scrape, and then cut.”

“Hush–don’t say anything,” said Joel, rushing frantically back, “I think he’s dead–oh, Bingley, I’m sorry I hurt you too.”

He was rapidly pouring water into the basin, and dashing it into Dobbs’ unconscious face. “I must go for the doctor,” he groaned. “Bingley, he can’t be dead–do say he isn’t!” in a flood of remorse.

Bingley managed to roll over and look at his late leader. “He looks like it,” he said; “I shouldn’t think you’d be sorry, Pepper.”

“Oh!” groaned Joel, quite horror-stricken, and dashing the water with a reckless hand, feeling like a murderer all the time.

“Bingley, could you manage to do this?” at last he cried in despair. “I must run for a doctor, there’s not a minute to lose.”

“I wouldn’t go for any doctor,” advised Bingley cautiously; “see; his eyelids are moving–this row will be all over town if you do.”

But Joel was flying off. “Come back!” called Bingley, “I vow he’s all right; he’s opened his eyes, Pepper.”

Joel turned; saw for himself that Dobbs was really looking at him, and that his lips moved as if he wanted to say something.

“What is it, Dobbs?” cried Joel, throwing himself down on his knees by Dobbs’ side.

“Let him alone, and help me up,” said Bingley crossly, “I’m hurt a great deal more. He’s tough as a boiled owl. Give us a hand, Pepper.”

But Joel had his ear down to Dobbs’ mouth.

“Where are the fellows?” asked Dobbs in a whisper.

“Gone,” answered Joel, briefly.

“Gone–and left me here like a dog?” said Dobbs.

“Yes,” said Joel.

“They couldn’t wait, my friend,” observed Bingley sarcastically, “for people of such trifling consequence, as you and I.”

“The deuce! you here, Bingley?” exclaimed Dobbs, in his natural voice, and trying to get his head up.

“Oh, you are coming to, are you?” said Bingley carelessly. “Well, Dobbs, I think you better get on your feet, and help me out, since Pepper won’t; for I vow I can’t stir.”

“Oh, I’ll help you,” declared Joel, getting up to run over and put his hands under Bingley’s arms, paling as he exclaimed, “I didn’t mean to hurt you so, Bingley, on my honor I didn’t.”

“And you didn’t,” said Bingley, wincing with the pain, as Joel slowly drew him to his feet; “it wasn’t your stinger of a blow, Pepper, but some of those dastardly cads stepped all over me; I could feel them hoofing me. There, set me in that chair, and I’ll draw a long breath if I can.”

“Now, I shall go for a doctor,” declared Joel, setting Bingley within the easy-chair, and making a second dash for the door.

“I tell you, you will not,” cried Bingley, from his chair. “Wait a minute, till I see where I’m hurt. I’m coming out of it better than I thought. Come back, Pepper.”

“Really?” Joel drew off from the door, and looked at him.

“Yes; go and take care of Dobbs; he was only shamming,” said Bingley, leaning his head comfortably on the chair-back. Dobbs already was on his feet, and slowly standing quite straight.

“Sure you don’t want any help?” asked Joel, putting out his hand.

“Thanks, no,” said Dobbs scornfully, not looking at the hand, but making for the door.

“Let him alone, Pepper,” advised Bingley; “a mean, low-lived chap like that isn’t hurt; you couldn’t kill him,” as Joel looked out anxiously to watch Dobbs’ progress along the hall, at last following him along a bit.

“He’s in his own room, thank fortune,” exclaimed Joel, coming back, “and I suppose I can’t do any more. But oh, I do wish, Bingley, it hadn’t happened.”

Joel leaned his elbow on the mantel, and looked down at the easy-chair and its occupant.

“Perhaps you’d rather be lying there,” said Bingley, pointing to the floor, “instead, with a flopper under your ear, like the nasty one you gave me, Pepper.”

“I am so sorry for that, too,” cried Joel, in a fresh burst of remorse.

“I got no more, I presume, than was good for me,” said Bingley, feeling the bump under his ear. “And don’t you worry, Pepper, for your mind must be toned up to meet those fellows. They’ll be at some neat little game to pay you up for this, you may rest assured.”

“I suppose so,” said Joel indifferently. “Well, now are you sure I can’t do anything for you, Bingley?”

“Sure as a gun,” said Bingley decidedly; “I’m getting quite limbered out; so I’ll go, for I know my room is better than my company, Pepper,” and he dragged himself stiffly out of his chair.

“Don’t go,” said Joel hospitably; “stay as long as you want to; I should be glad to have you.”

Bingley turned a pair of bright eyes on him. “Thank you,” he said, “but Davina will be in soon, and things will have to be explained a little, and I’m not quite up to it to-night. No, I must go,” moving to the door; “I don’t feel like making a pretty speech, Pepper,” he said, hesitating a bit, “or I’d express something of what’s on my mind. But I think you understand.”

“If you want to do me a favor,” said Joel steadily, “you’ll stop calling David, Davina. It makes him fearfully mad, and I don’t wonder.”

“He’s so pretty,” said Bingley, with a smile, and wincing at the same time, “we can’t help it. It’s a pity to spoil that lovely name.”

“But you must,” declared Joel, growing savage; “I tell you, it just ruins college life for Dave, and he’s so bright, and leads his class, I don’t see how you can.”

“Oh, we’re awfully proud of him,” said Bingley, leaning heavily on the table, “of course, and trot him out behind his back for praises and all that, but when it comes to giving up that sweet name–that’s another thing,” he added regretfully. “However, I’ll do it, and make the other fellows, if I can.”

“Good for you!” cried Joel gratefully. “Good-night, Bingley; sure you don’t want any help to your room?”

“Sure,” declared Bingley, going out unsteadily and shutting the door.

Joel threw himself on his knees by the side of the easy-chair, and burrowed his head deep within it. “Oh, if I only had Mamsie’s lap to lay it in,” he groaned, “and Mamsie’s hands to go over it.”

“Joe–Joe!” David flung wide the door, “where are you?” he cried.

Joel sprang to his feet.

“Here’s a telegram,” said David, waving a yellow sheet at him. “I just met the boy bringing it up. The folks were going to see Jasper–on a surprise party; something happened to the cars, and Polly has her arm broken–but that’s all,” delivered David, aghast at Joel’s face.

“Polly? oh, not Polly?” cried Joel, putting up both hands, and feeling the room turn around with him.

“Yes, Polly,” said David; “don’t look so, Joe,” he begged, feeling his own cheeks getting white, “it’s only broken–it can’t be bad, for we are not to go, Grandpapa says; see,” shaking the telegram at him.

“But I shall go–we both must,” declared Joel passionately, beginning to rush for his hat behind the door; “the idea–Polly hurt, and we not to go! Come on, Dave, we can catch the midnight train,” looking at his watch.

“But if it makes Polly worse,” said David doubtfully.

Joel’s hand carrying the hat to his head, wavered, and he finally tossed the head-gear into the nearest corner. “I suppose you are right, Dave,” he said helplessly, and sinking into a chair.

CHAPTER XV.

THE FARMHOUSE HOSPITAL.

Jack Loughead marched into his uncle’s room. “Well–well–well,” exclaimed the old gentleman with a prolonged look, and sitting straight in his chair. “So this really is you, Jack? I must say, I am surprised.”

“Surprised?” echoed Jack, getting his uncle’s hands in both of his. “Why, Uncle, I cabled Crane Brothers just as soon as I got your letter, that I was coming.”

“This is the first thing I’ve heard of it,” said old Mr. Loughead. “Well, how did you track me here, for goodness’ sake?”

“Why, I saw an account of your accident in the New York paper as soon as I landed,” said Jack.

“Oh! confound those papers,” exclaimed his uncle ungratefully. “Well, I came near being done for, Jack,” he added. “In fact, I was left in the wreck.”

Jack shuddered.

“But that little girl there,” pointing toward the next room, where the talking seemed to be going on busily, “insisted that I was buried in the smash-up, so they tell me, and she made them come and look for me. None too soon, I take it, by all accounts.” The old gentleman placidly tore off two or three grapes from the bunch in the basketful, put at his elbow, and ate them leisurely.

“Phronsie is a good child,” said Jack Loughead, with feeling, “and an observing one, too.”

“Phronsie? Who’s talking of Phronsie?” cried his uncle, pushing back the fruit-basket. “It was the other one–Polly; she wouldn’t let them give over till they pulled me out. So the two young men tell me; very well-meaning chaps, too, they are, Jack.”

“You said it was a little girl,” Jack managed to remark.

“Well, and so she is,” said old Mr. Loughead obstinately, “and a nice little thing, too, I should say.”

“Miss Pepper is twenty years old,” said his nephew suddenly. Then he was sorry he had spoken.

“Nonsense! not a day over fifteen,” contradicted the old gentleman flatly. “And I must say, Jack, you’ve been pretty expert, considering the time spent in this house, in taking the census.”

“Oh! I knew her before,” said Jack, angry to find himself stammering over what ought to be a simple account enough.

“Hem–hem!” exclaimed the old gentleman, bestowing a keen scrutiny on his nephew. “Well, never mind,” he said at last; “now, let’s to business.”

“Are you strong enough?” asked Jack, in duty bound, yet longing to get the talk into safe business channels.

“Strong enough?” repeated the old gentleman, in a dudgeon, “I’m really better than I was before the shake-up. I’m going home tomorrow, I’d have you to know, Jack.”

“You would better not move too soon,” said his nephew involuntarily. Then he added hastily, “At least, take the doctor’s advice.”

“Hem–hem!” said his uncle again, with a shrewd smile, as he helped himself to a second bunch of grapes.

“Well, now, as to that matter you sent me over to London about,” began Jack, nervously plunging into business.

“Draw up that chair, and put your mind on the matter, and we’ll go over it,” interrupted old Mr. Loughead, discarding the grape-bunch suddenly, and assuming his commercial expression at once.

So Jack drew up his chair, as bidden; and presently the financial head of the Bradbury & Graeme Company, and the enterprising young member who was the principal part of “Company,” were apparently lost to all else in the world, but their own concerns.

Meantime, Pickering Dodge was having a truly dreadful time of it.

The doctor, washing his hands of such a troublesome patient, had just run downstairs, jumped into his little old gig in displeasure, and was now half across a rut worn in the open meadow, dignified by the name of the “Short Road.”

“Do go to bed,” implored Ben, studying Pickering’s pale face.

“Hoh, hoh!” Pickering made out to exclaim, “if I couldn’t say anything original, I wouldn’t talk. You’re only an echo to that miserable little donkey of a medical man.”

[Illustration: “I’ll help you; I’m strong,” said Charlotte.]

“But you really ought to go back to bed,” Ben insisted.

“Really ought?” repeated Pickering, in high disdain; “as if I’d put myself again under that quack’s thumb. No, sir!” and snapping his fingers derisively at Ben, he straightened up jauntily on his somewhat uncertain feet. “All I want is a little air,” stumbling off to the window.”

“Well, I’m going to tell Phronsie that my arm is all right,” said Polly, hurrying off; “beside I want to see Johnny”–

“It’s time for me to look after that young man, too,” said old Mr. King, following her; “I haven’t heard him roar to-day. Come on, Jasper; you must see Johnny.”

As they disappeared, Ben ran over to Pickering, and was aghast to find that the face laid against the window-casing was deathly white, and that all his shaking of the broad shoulders could not make Pickering open his eyes.

“Jasper,” called Ben, in despair.

“Hush!” Some one came hurrying up. “Don’t call Jasper; then Polly will know. Let me help.”

Ben looked up. “O, Charlotte! that’s good. Pick’s done up. Call Mrs. Higby, will you? we must get him to bed.”

“I’ll help you; I’m strong.” Charlotte held out her long arms.

Ben looked them over approvingly. “You’re right,” he said; “it’s better not to stir Mrs. Higby up. There, easy now, Charlotte; put your hands under there. You are sure it won’t hurt you?”

“Sure as I can be,” said Charlotte, steadily moving off in pace with Ben, as they carried Pickering between them.

“Excuse me!” Ben rushed in without knocking upon the Bradbury & Graeme Company. “Do you mind”–to Jack–“I’m awfully sorry to ask it, but I can’t leave him. Will you run to the doctor’s and fetch him? Mrs. Higby, the landlady downstairs, you know, will tell you where to find him.” Ben was all out of breath when he got through, and stood looking at young Loughead.

“What’s the doctor wanted for?” cried Company, springing to his feet, and seizing his hat from the table. “Why, of course I’ll go–delighted to be of use–who for?”

“Pickering Dodge–got up too soon–keeled over,” said Ben briefly. “I’ve got to stay with him–he’s in bed–and we don’t want Grandpapa or Polly to know.”

But Jack Loughead after the first word, was half over the stairs.

“See here,” cried old Mr. Loughead suddenly, as Ben was rushing out, “can’t I see your sister? I’m horribly lonesome,” turning in his chair; “that is, if her arm will let her come,” he added, as a second thought struck him. “Don’t ask her if you think she’s in pain.”

“Doctor has fixed Polly’s arm,” said Ben, “and I know she’ll like to come in and sit with you. It’s a shame,” and his honest face flamed with regret, “I had to ask such a favor as”–

“Tut, tut! go along with you,” commanded the old gentleman imperatively, “and send Polly here; then I’ll make by the operation,” and he began to chuckle with pleasure.

So Ben ran off, and presently Polly, her arm in a sling, came hurrying in.

“Bless my soul,” cried the old gentleman, “if your cheeks aren’t as rosy as if you had two good arms, and this was an every-day sort of excursion for pleasure.”

[Illustration: “SO NICE, EVERYBODY IS GETTING ON SO WELL,” SAID POLLY]

“It’s so nice,” said Polly, sitting down on one of Mrs. Higby’s spare-room ottomans, on which that lady had worked a remarkable cat in blue worsted reposing on a bit of green sward, “to think that everybody is getting on so well,” and she hugged her lame arm rapturously.

“Hem–hem! I should say so,” breathed old Mr. Loughead, regarding her closely. “Where have they buried that woman?” he demanded suddenly.

Polly started. “Out in the meadow,” she said softly. “Mrs. Higby wanted it here instead of in the churchyard. It is under a beautiful oak-tree, Mr. Loughead, and Mr. Higby is going to make a fence around it, and Grandpapa is to put”–

“Up the stone, I suppose you mean,” interrupted the old gentleman. “Well, and when that’s done, why, what can be said upon it, pray tell? You don’t know a thing about it–who in Christendom the woman was–not a thing.”

“Johnny’s mother,” said Polly sorrowfully, the corners of her mouth drooping; “that’s going to be on it, and Grandpapa is to have the letters cut, telling about the accident; and Mrs. Higby hopes that sometime somebody will come to inquire about it. But I don’t believe anybody ever will come in all this world,” added Polly softly, “because there is no one left who belongs to Johnny,” and she told the story the pale little mother had just finished when the car went over.

Old Mr. Loughead “hemmed,” and exclaimed impatiently, and fidgeted in his chair, all through the recital. When it was over, and Polly sat quite still, “What are you going to do with that horrible boy?” he asked sharply. “Almshouse, I suppose, eh?”

“O, no!” declared Polly, in horror. “Phronsie is going to take him into the Home.”

“Phronsie is going to take that little rat into her home?” cried old Mr. Loughead in disgust. “You don’t know what you are talking of. I shall speak to Mr. King.”

“Johnny is just a dear,” cried Polly, having great difficulty not to spring from her chair, and turn her back on the old gentleman, then and there.

“But into your home,” repeated old Mr. Loughead, his disgust gaining on him with each word; “it’s monstrous–it’s”–

“Oh! I didn’t mean our home,” explained Polly, obliged to interrupt him, he was becoming so furious. “Johnny is going down to Dunraven, to the Children’s Home,” and then she began on the story of Phronsie’s company of children, and how they lived, and who they were, with many little side stories of this small creature, who was “too cunning for anything,” and that funny little boy, till the old gentleman sat helplessly listening in abject silence. And the latch was lifted, and young Mr. Loughead put his head in the doorway, looking as if he had finished a long tramp.

“Come in, Jack,” said his uncle, finding his tongue. “We’ve a whole orphan asylum in here, and I don’t know what all; every charity you ever heard of, rolled into one. Do come in, and see if you can make head or tail to it.”

“Oh! Mr. Loughead knows all about it,” cried Polly brightly, while her cheeks glowed, “for he went down to Dunraven with us at Christmas, and he showed the children stereopticon pictures, and told them such nice stories of places that he had seen.”

“He–my Jack!” exploded the old gentleman, starting forward and pointing to his nephew. “Great Caesar! he never did such a thing in his life.”

“Ah!” said Polly, shaking her brown head, while she looked only at the old gentleman, “you ought to have seen, sir, how happy the children were that day.”

“My Jack went to an orphan asylum to show pictures to the children!” reiterated the old gentleman, unable to grasp another idea.

“Do be still, Uncle,” begged his tall nephew, jogging his elbow.

“Here–here’s Polly!” cried Jasper’s voice. And at the same moment in sped little Dr. Fisher, his glasses shining with determination, as he gazed all over the room for Polly.

“My dear, dear child,” he cried, as he spied her.

And “Papa Fisher!” joyfully from Polly, as she sprang from Mrs. Higby’s ottoman, and precipitated herself into the little doctor’s arms.

“Softly, softly, child,” he warned; “you’ll hurt it,” tenderly covering the poor arm with his right hand, while he fumbled in his pocket with the other, for his handkerchief. “Dear me!” and he blew his nose violently. “Yes; well, you’re sure you’re all right except this?” and he held Polly at arm’s length and scanned her closely.

“I am all right if you will only tell me that Mamsie is well, and isn’t worried about us,” said Polly, an anxious little pucker coming on her forehead.

“Your mother is as bright as a button,” declared Father Fisher emphatically.

“Come, come!” ejaculated Mr. King, appearing in the doorway; “this isn’t just the way to take possession of Mr. Loughead’s apartment. Jasper, I don’t see what you were thinking of. Come, Fisher, my room is next; this way.”

Polly blushed red as a rose as old Mr. Loughead said briskly, “Oh! I sent for her to cheer me up, and now, I wish you’d all stay.”

“Beg pardon for this inroad,” said little Doctor Fisher, going up to the old gentleman’s chair and offering his hand. “Well, well, Loughead,” to Jack, “this is a surprise party all round!”

“No inroad at all, at least a pleasant one,” old Mr. Loughead kept saying, while Polly ran up to Jasper:

“Did Pickering’s uncle come with Papa Fisher?”

“No,” said Jasper, with his eyes on Jack Loughead, “the Doctor was all alone, Polly.”

And then the door of Pickering’s room opened, and out came Dr. Bryce, with bad news written all over his face.

“I fear brain fever,” he said to Dr. Fisher after the introduction was over, making the two physicians acquainted. “Come,” and the door of Pickering’s room closed on them both.

And twilight settled down on the old square white house, and on the new-made grave under the oak in the meadow; and Brierly people, by twos and threes, came to inquire for “the sick young man,” going away with saddened faces. And a messenger from the telegraph office drove up just as Mr. Higby was pulling on the boots to his tired feet for a long walk to the village, handing in the message:

Mrs. Cabot and I will take the midnight train. RICHARD A. CABOT,

[Illustration: THEN PHRONSIE GLANCED BACK AGAIN, AND SOFTLY JOGGED THE CRADLE.]

And then there was nothing more to do, only to wait for the coming of Pickering’s uncle and aunt.

And the next day Pickering’s calls were incessant for “Polly, Polly,” sometimes upbraiding her as the brown eyes were fastened piteously on his wild face; and then begging her to just smile at him and remember how he had loved her all these years. “And now I am going to die,” he would cry.

“O, Polly! Polly!” Mrs. Cabot would wring her hands and beg at such times, a world of entreaty in her voice. And then old Mr. King would interfere, carrying Polly off, and declaring it was beyond all reason for her to be so annoyed.

And Phronsie would climb up on the bed and lay her cool little hand gently on the hot forehead. Then the sick boy’s cries would drop into unintelligible murmurs, while his fingers picked aimlessly at the coverlet.

“There! he is better,” Phronsie would say softly to the watchers by the bed, “and I guess he is going to sleep.”

But the quiet only ushered in worse ravings when Pickering lived over once more the horror of the train-wrecking, and then it took many strong arms to hold him in his bed. “Come on, Ben,” he would shout, struggling hard; “leave him alone–we shall be caught–the fire! the fire!” until his strength died away, and he sank to a deathly stupor.

* * * * *

Phronsie sat down to write a letter to Mrs. Fargo. One like it was dropped every morning into the basket set on Mrs. Higby’s front entry table, ready for the neighbor’s boy to take to the village post-office.

DEAR MRS. FARGO:

[wrote Phronsie, looking off from the wooden cradle that Mrs. Higby had dragged down from its cobwebby corner under the garret eaves, with the remark, “I guess Johnny’ll sleep well; all the Higbys since the first one, has been rocked in it.”] I must tell you that dear Pickering isn’t any better. [Then she glanced back again, and softly jogged the cradle, as Johnny turned over with a long sigh.] And Papa Fisher and the other doctor don’t think he is going to get well. And Mrs. Cabot cries all the time, and Polly cries sometimes too. And we don’t know what to do. But I guess God will take care of us. And Charlotte is going to take Johnny down to the Dunraven Home in a day or two. She says she can, though I know she don’t like babies, especially boy-babies; she said so once. And so he will be happy. And that’s all I can write to-day, Mrs. Fargo, because every minute I’m afraid Polly will want me.

FROM PHRONSIE

And just the very minute when Phronsie was dotting the “i” in her name. Mrs. Higby came toiling up the stairs, holding her gingham gown well away from her feet.

“Say!” she cried in a loud whisper, and pausing midway to wave a large square envelope at Phronsie, curled up on the hall window-seat.

Phronsie got down very softly, and tiptoed over to the stair-railing to grasp the letter Mrs. Higby thrust between the bars, going back to her old post, to open it carefully.

DEAR PHRONSIE:

I think God meant that I was to have Johnny for my very own. So won’t you give him to me, dear? Let Charlotte bring him soon, please, for my heart is hungry for a baby to hold. I will make him happy all my life, Phronsie, so I know you will give him to

HELEN’S MOTHER.

CHAPTER XVI.

ON THE BORDERLAND.

Phronsie came into the Higby kitchen, her hands full of wind-blossoms and nodding trilliums.

“Pickering will like these,” she said to herself in great satisfaction, and surveying her torn frock with composure, “for they are the very first, Mrs. Higby,” addressing that individual standing over by the sink in the corner. “Please may I wash my hands? I had to go clear far down by the brook to get them.”

But Mrs. Higby, instead of answering, threw her brown-checked apron high over her head.

Phronsie stood quite still.

“Why do you put your apron there, Mrs. Higby?” she asked at last. “And you do not answer me at all,” she added in gentle reproach.

“Land!” exclaimed Mrs. Higby, in a voice spent with feeling, “I couldn’t, ’cause I was afraid I sh’d burst out crying, and I didn’t want you to see my face. O, dear! he’s had a poor spell since you went out flowerin’ for him, and your pa and Dr. Bryce say he’s dyin’. O, dear!”

Down came the apron, showing Mrs. Higby’s eyelids very red and swollen.

Phronsie still stood holding her flowers, a breathing-space, then turned and went quickly to the back stairs.

“Sh! don’t go,” called Mrs. Higby in a loud whisper after her; “it’s dreadful for a little girl like you to see any one die. Do come back.”

“They will want me,” said Phronsie gravely, and going up carefully without another word. When she reached Pickering’s door, she paused a moment and looked in.

“I don’t believe it is as Mrs. Higby said,” she thought, drawing a long breath, a faint smile coming to her face as she went gently in.

But old Mr. King put up his hand as he turned in his chair, at the foot of the bed, and Phronsie saw that his face was white and drawn. And Dr. Bryce turned also, looking off a minute from the watch that he held, as if he were going to bid her go away.

[Illustration: “WHY DO YOU PUT YOUR APRON UP THERE?” ASKED PHRONSIE IN GENTLE REPROACH. ]

“Phronsie,” said Grandpapa, holding out both arms hungrily.

Phronsie hurried to him, a gathering fear at her heart, and getting into his lap, laid her cheek against his.

“Oh! my dear, you oughtn’t to be here–you are too young,” said Mr. King brokenly, yet holding her close.

“I am not afraid, Grandpapa,” said Phronsie, her mouth to his ear, “and I think Pickering would like me to be here. I brought him some flowers.” She moved the hand holding the bunch, so that the old gentleman could see it. “He likes wild flowers, and I promised to get the first ones I could.”

“O, dear!” groaned old Mr. King, not trusting himself to look.

“May I lay them down by him?” whispered Phronsie.

“Yes, yes, child,” said the old gentleman, allowing her to slip to the floor. The group around the bedside parted to let her pass, and then Phronsie saw Polly. Mrs. Cabot was holding Polly’s well hand, while her head was on Polly’s shoulder.

“Grandpapa said I might,” said Phronsie softly to the two, and pointing to her flowers.

“Yes, dear.”

It was Polly who answered; Mrs. Cabot was crying so hard she could not speak a word.

Phronsie’s little heart seemed to stop beating as she reached the bedside. She had not thought that she would be afraid, but it was so different to be standing there looking down upon the pillow where Pickering lay so still and white, and with closed eyes, looking as if he had already gone away from them. She glanced up in a startled way and saw Dr. Fisher at the head of the bed; he was holding Pickering’s wrist. “Yes,” he motioned, “put them down.”

So Phronsie laid down her blossoms near the poor white face, and stole back quickly, only breathing freely when she was as close to Polly as she could creep, without hurting the broken arm.

“I’m dying–I’m not afraid,” suddenly said Pickering’s white lips. Dr. Fisher sprang and put a spoonful of stimulant to them, while Mrs. Cabot buried her face yet deeper on Polly’s shoulder, her husband turning on his heel, to pace the floor and groan. “Polly, Polly!” called Pickering quite distinctly, in a tone of anguish.

“O, Polly, Polly! he’s dying–go to him do!” Mrs. Cabot tore her hand out of Polly’s, almost pushing her from the chair. “Quick, dear!”

Polly put Phronsie aside, and stepped softly to the bedside; Pickering’s eyes eagerly watched for her face.

He smiled up at her, “Polly,” and tried to raise his hand.

She laid her warm, soft palm on the cold one lying on the coverlid. He clasped his thin fingers convulsively around it.

“I am here, Pickering,” said Polly, unable to find voice for anything else.

“Don’t–ever–leave me,” she could just make out the words, bending close to catch them.

“I never will,” said Polly quietly.

A sudden gleam came into his face, and he tried to smile, grasping her hand tighter as his eyes closed.

“It has come,” said Dr. Fisher in a low voice to Mr. Cabot; “tell your wife,” and he bent a professional ear over the white face on the pillow, while Dr. Bryce hurried forward; then brought his head up quickly, a peculiar light in the sharp eyes back of the spectacles. “He is sleeping!”

* * * * *

Polly was sitting, a half-hour by the bedside, Pickering’s thin fingers still tightly grasping her hand. They had made her comfortable in an easy chair, Jasper bringing one of Mrs. Higby’s biggest cushions for her to lean her head against. He now stood at the side of her chair, Phronsie curled up on the floor at her feet.

“Don’t stay.” Polly’s lips seemed to frame the words rather than speak them, looking up at him.

He shook his head, resting his hand on the back of the chair. Polly tried to smile up a bit of comfort into his eyes. “Jasper loved Pickering so,” she said to herself, “that he cannot leave him; but oh! he looks so dreadfully, I wish he would go and rest,” and she began to have a worried look at once.

“What is it?” asked Jasper, catching the look at once, and bending to whisper in her ear.

“You will be sick if you do not go and rest,” whispered back Polly.

“I cannot–don’t ask it.” Jasper brought the words out sharply, with just a bitter tone to them.

“He thinks it is strange that I ask it; he is so fond of Pickering,” said Polly to herself. “And now I have grieved him–O, dear!”

“I won’t leave Pickering,” she said, lifting her brown eyes quickly.

A spasm came over Jasper’s face, and his brow contracted.

“Don’t,” he begged, and Polly could feel that the hand resting on the back of the chair grasped it so tightly that it shook beneath her.

“I ought to have remembered that Jasper couldn’t leave him; he loves him so,” mourned Polly. “Oh! why did I speak?”

In the room at the end of the hall Mrs. Cabot was excitedly walking the floor, twisting her handkerchief between her nervous fingers, and talking unrestrainedly to Charlotte Chatterton.

“I do believe this will melt Polly’s heart,” she cried. “Oh! it must, it must! Don’t you think it must, Miss Chatterton?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” said Charlotte Chatterton in a collected manner, as she bent over the cradle to tuck the shawl over Johnny’s legs where he had kicked it off in his sleep.

“Oh! you know quite well what I mean, Miss Chatterton,” declared Mrs. Cabot, in her distress losing her habitually polite manner. “Why, everybody knows that Pickering has loved Polly since they were boy and girl together.”

Not knowing what was expected of her, Charlotte Chatterton wisely kept silent.

“And now, why, it’s just a Providence, I do believe–that is, if he gets well–that brought all this about, for of course Polly must be touched by it. She must!” brought up Mrs. Cabot quite jubilantly.

And this time she waited for Charlotte to speak, at last exclaiming, “Don’t you see it must be so?”

“I think love goes where it is sent,” said Charlotte slowly.

“Sent? Well, that is just it. Isn’t it sent here?” cried Mrs. Cabot impatiently.

“I don’t know,” said Charlotte. Then she said distinctly, “I know love is very different from pity”–

“Of course it is–but then, sometimes it isn’t,” said Mrs. Cabot nervously. “Well, any way, Polly has almost as good as promised to marry Pickering,” she finished triumphantly–“so–and you are very cruel to talk to me in this way, Miss Chatterton.”

Charlotte Chatterton turned away from Johnny and faced Mrs. Cabot. “You don’t mean to say you think Polly would feel bound by what she said when we all thought he was dying?”

“I do, certainly–knowing Polly as I do–if Pickering took it so. And I am quite sure he will say so when he gets well; quite sure. Polly isn’t a girl to break her word,” added Mrs. Cabot confidently.

“Then I’m sure Providence hasn’t had anything to do with this,” said Charlotte shortly, “and Polly shall never be tormented into thinking it her duty either,” and she turned off to pick up a new gown “in the works” for Johnny.

“What you think duty, Miss Chatterton, wouldn’t be Polly Pepper’s idea of duty in the least,” said Mrs. Cabot, getting back into the refuge of her society manner again, now that her confidence in Polly grew every moment, “so we will talk no more about it if you please,” she added icily, as she went toward the door. “Only mark my words, my dear boy and that dear girl will be engaged, and quite the appropriate match it will be too, and please every one.”

* * * * *

“You must go back, my boy,” said old Mr. King two days later. “It’s just knocking you up to stay,” studying Jasper’s face keenly. “Goodness me! I should think you’d fallen off a dozen pounds. Upon my word I should, my boy,” he repeated with great concern.

“Never mind me, father,” said Jasper a trifle impatiently, “and as to my work, Mr. Marlowe will give me a few more days. He’s goodness itself. I shall telegraph him this morning for an extension.”

“You will do nothing of the kind,” declared Mr. King testily. “What can you do here, pray tell, by staying? You would be quite a muff in a few more days, Jasper,” he added, “you are so down-hearted now. No, I insist that you go now.”

“Very well,” said Jasper quite stiffly, “I will take myself off by the afternoon train, then, father, since I am in the way.”

“How you talk, Jasper!” cried his father in astonishment. “You know quite well that I am only thinking of your own good. What’s got into you–but I suppose this confounded hospital we’re in, has made you lose your head.”

“Thank you, father,” said Jasper, recovering himself by a great effort, “for putting it so, and I beg you to forgive me for my hasty words.” He came up to the old gentleman and put out his hand quickly, “Do forgive me, father.”

“Forgive you? Of course I will, though I don’t know when you’ve spoken to me like that, Jasper,” said his father, not yet able to shake himself free from his bewilderment. “Well, well, that’s enough to say about that,” seeing Jasper’s face, “and now get back to your work, my boy, as soon as you can, and you’ll thank me for sending you off. And as soon as Pickering Dodge is able to be moved home, why, the rest of us will finish our trip, and give you that surprise party–eh, Jasper?” and Mr. King tried to laugh in the old way, but it was pretty hard work.

* * * * *

“Well, now, Polly,” said Dr. Fisher, a week after as he held her at arm’s length, and brought his spectacles to bear upon her face, “remember what I say, child; you are to take care of yourself, and let Mrs. Cabot look out for things. It will do the woman good to have something to do,” he added, dropping his voice. “I don’t like to carry home your face, child; it won’t do; you’re getting tired out, and your mother will be sure to find it out. I really ought to stay and take care of you,” and the little doctor began to look troubled at once.

“Indeed, Papa Fisher,” cried Polly, brightening up, “you will do nothing of the kind. Why, my arm is doing famously. You know you said you never saw a broken arm behave so well in all your life.”

“It isn’t your arm, Polly, that worries me,” said Father Fisher; “that’s first-rate, and I shouldn’t wonder if it turned out better perhaps for breaking, but it’s something different, and it quite puzzles me; you look so down-hearted, child.”

“Do I?” said Polly, standing quite straight, and rubbing her forehead with her well hand; “there, now, I will get the puckers and wrinkles out. There, Papa Fisher, are they all gone?” She smiled as cheerily as ever, but the little man shook his head, then took off his spectacles, wiped them, and set them back on his nose.

“No; it won’t do; you can’t make your old father believe but what you’ve something on your mind, Polly. I think I shall have to send your mother down here,” he said suddenly.

“O, Father Fisher!” cried Polly, the color flying over her face, “you wouldn’t ever do that, I am sure! Why, it would worry Mamsie so, and besides she can’t leave King Fisher”–

He interrupted her as she clung to his arm. “I know that, but what can I do? If you’d only promise now, Polly,” he added artfully, “that you won’t tire yourself all out trying to suit Mrs. Cabot’s whims–why, I’d think about taking back what I said about sending your mother down.”

“Oh! I won’t–I won’t,” promised Polly gladly. “And now, dear Papa Fisher, you’ll take it all back, won’t you?” she begged.

“Yes,” said Dr. Fisher, glad to see Polly’s color back again, and to have her beg him for some favor. So the next half-hour or so they were very cheery–just like old times; just as if there had been no sickness and the shadow of a loss upon them in the past days.

“Though why we should be always acting as if we were in the midst of it now, I don’t see,” said the little doctor at last. “We’re all straightened out, thank God, and Pickering mending so fast that he’s a perfect marvel. It would be a sin and a shame for us to be in the dumps forever. Well, now, Polly, remember. Whew! hear that youngster!” This last being brought out by Johnny’s lusty shouts in the next room. “I don’t envy Mrs. Fargo her bargain, and I do pity myself having to see him safely there.”

“Oh! Charlotte will take all the care of him,” said Polly quickly. “She’s just beautiful with him; you don’t know how beautiful, Papa Fisher, because you’ve been so busy, since you’ve been here, and Charlotte has kept him away from everybody so he needn’t worry any one. And isn’t it lovely that he is to have such a beautiful home?” added Polly with shining eyes.

“Um–yes, for Johnny,” said Dr. Fisher. “Well, good-by, Polly.” He gathered her up in his arms for a final kiss. “Oh! here’s Charlotte come to bid you good-by, too.”

“Polly,” said Charlotte, drawing her off to a quiet corner, as the little doctor went away, leaving the two girls together, “I must say something, and I don’t know how to say it.”

Polly looked at her with wide eyes.

“It’s just this,” said Charlotte, plunging on desperately; “Polly, don’t let Mrs. Cabot pick at you and talk about duty. Oh! I hate to hear her speak the word,” exploded Charlotte, with a volume of wrath in her tone.

“What do you mean, Charlotte?” cried Polly in a puzzled way.

“Oh! she may–never mind how–she’s quite peculiar, you know,” said Charlotte, finding her way less clear with each word. “Never mind, Polly; only just fight her if she begins on what is your duty; if she does, then fight her tooth and nail.”

“But it may be something that I really ought to do,” said Polly.

Charlotte turned on her in horror. “O, never!” she cried. “Don’t you do it, Polly Pepper. Just as sure as she says you ought to do it, you may know it would be the worst thing in all the world. Promise me, Polly, that you won’t do it.”

“But, Charlotte, I ought not to promise until I am quite sure that it wouldn’t be my duty to do what Mrs. Cabot advises. Don’t you see, Charlotte, that I ought not to promise?”

But Charlotte was too far gone in anxiety to see anything, and she could only reiterate, “Do promise, Polly, do; there’s Mr. Higby calling us; the carriage is at the door. Do, Polly! I never will ask you anything else if you’ll only promise me this.”

But Polly could only shake her head, and say, “I ought not,” and then Johnny had to be kissed and wrenched from Phronsie, who insisted on carrying him downstairs to set him in the carriage, and Mrs. Cabot came in, and old Mr. King wanted a last word with Charlotte, so that at last she was in Mr. Higby’s carryall, shut in on the back seat looking out over Johnny’s head, with a pair of very hopeless eyes. But her lips said, “Do, Polly!”

And still Polly, on the flat door-stone, had to shake her head.

“I shall tell Mrs. Fisher, and beg her to come right down here,” determined Charlotte Chatterton to herself, “just as soon as I get in the house. That is exactly what I shall do,” she declared savagely, as Mr. Higby whipped up the mare for the quarter-mile drive to the little station.

CHAPTER XVII.

JASPER.

“Halloo, King, Mr. Marlowe wants you.” Jasper, his hands full of papers, hurried down the long warehouse, through the piles of books, fresh from the bindery, stacked closely to the ceiling. The busy packers who were filling the boxes, looked up as he threaded his way between them. “Mr. Marlowe is down there,” indicating the direction with a nod, while the hands kept mechanically at their task.

“I want to see you about that last lot of paper,” Mr. Marlowe began, before Jasper had reached him; “it is thin and of poorer quality than I ordered. The loss must be charged back to Withers & Co.”

“Is that so?” exclaimed Jasper. “They assured me that everything should be right, and like the sample that we ordered it from.”

“And Jacob Bendel writes that the edition we gave him of _History of Great Cities_ to print will be shipped to us within a fortnight, when his contract was to be filled on Thursday. Of course we lose all the Chicago orders by this delay.”

“What’s the reason?” asked Jasper, feeling all the thrill of the disappointment as keenly as if he were the head of the house.

“Oh! a strike among the printers; his best men have gone out, and he’s at the mercy of a lot of inferior workmen who are being intimidated by the strikers; but he thinks he can get the edition to us in ten days or so.”

Mr. Marlowe leaned against an empty packing case and viewed the assistant foreman of the manufacturing department calmly, with the air of a man to whom disappointments were in the usual order of things.

“Can’t we give it to another printer?” asked Jasper.

“Who?”

“Morse Brothers?”

“They are full and running over with work. I inquired there yesterday; we may want a little extra done as the rush over those Primary Readers is coming on. No, I can’t think of a place where we could crowd it in, if we took it away from Bendel.”

Jasper’s gaze thoughtfully followed the drift of a shaving blown by the draft along the warehouse floor.

“I think I’ll send you down to New York to see Bendel, and find out how things are. I don’t get any satisfaction from letters,” said Mr. Marlowe in a minute. “Beside you can attend to some other matters; and then there is that Troy job; you can do that.”

“Very well, sir.”

“Can you take the night express?” Mr. Marlowe pulled out his watch. It was ten minutes of three.

“Can I leave the Ransom bills I was checking off? Mr. Parker said they were the most important of the lot.”

“Parker must give them to Richard; he knows pretty well how to do them, unless he can find time for them himself.”

“I was to be at the Green printing-office at nine to-morrow morning,” said Jasper.

“What for?”

“They sent down to Mr. Parker yesterday that we had made a mistake about price for doing those five hundred _Past and Present_; and wanted him to go to their office, and see Mr. Green himself.”

“If Mr. Green thinks any mistake has been made, let him come to us,” said Mr. Marlowe coolly. “You tell Parker to send a note to that effect; courteously written, of course, but to the point. We don’t go running around after people who think mistakes are made. Let them bring their grievances here, if they have any. Is that all that detains you?”

Jasper held out his hand full of papers. “These were to come in between when they could, sir.”

“Hem–hem”–Mr. Marlowe read them over with a practiced eye; rolled them up, and handed the roll to Jasper. “Tell Parker to set Danforth on those. Anything more?”

“I was to go to-morrow if there was time to get prices for best calendered paper of Patterson & Co. and Withers; but the next day will do.”

“Parker must attend to all that,” said Mr. Marlowe decidedly.

“Very well, sir. I believe that is all that hurries particularly.”

“Come this way; I’ll give you instructions what to say to Bendel,” and Mr. Marlowe led the way out to a quiet corner of the warehouse, where he sat down by a desk, and rapidly laid the points of the business before his assistant.

The next morning in New York, Jasper ran across Mr. Whitney on Broadway.

“Well said; that you, Jasper? Why aren’t you up at the house?”

“I came on the night express,” said Jasper, finding it hard to wait a minute, “on a matter of importance for Mr. Marlowe. Sorry, Brother Mason, but I can’t stop now.”

“You’ll be up to-night, of course,” said Mason Whitney.

“I can’t; I’m off for Troy,” said Jasper concisely, “and I don’t come back this way.”

“Goodness! what a man your Marlowe is. And your sister Marian wants to hear about Polly and all the others; you’ve seen them so lately.”

“It’s impossible,” began Jasper; “you see I can’t help it, Brother Mason; Mr. Marlowe’s orders must be carried out.”

“He’s a beast, your Marlowe is,” declared Mr. Whitney hotly. “I don’t know what Marian will say when I tell her you are here in New York and won’t stop for even a word with her.”

“Sister Marian will say it’s all right,” said Jasper, a trifle impatiently, and feeling the loss of every moment a thing to be atoned for. “Mr. Marlowe is loaded up with trouble of all kinds. Now I must go.”

“Hold on a minute,” cried Mason Whitney. “Well, how are you getting on? Seems to me the publishing business doesn’t agree with you. You look peaked enough,” scanning Jasper’s face closely.

“I’m well enough,” said Jasper abruptly. “Tell sister Marian I will write her very soon,” pulling out his watch; “good-by,” and he was lost in the crowd surging down Broadway. Mr. Whitney standing still a moment to look after him, turned, and went directly to his office.

“That call on Hendryx & Co. can wait,” he muttered to himself on the way, “but Jasper can’t. The boy looks badly, and his father ought to know it; although it seems funny enough for me to be meddling with Jasper’s affairs. But I won’t leave anything to worry about afterward; they can’t say I ought to have told them.”

So a letter went out by next mail from Mr. Whitney’s office, saying that Jasper looked poorly enough when he was met in New York; that he seemed incapable of breathing any other air than that saturated with business; that he had evidently mistaken his vocation when he chose to be a publisher. “Beside, there isn’t any money now in the publishing business,” added Mr. Whitney as a clincher; “there are too many of the fellows cutting each other’s throats to make it pay; and books are slaughtered right and left, and Jasper much better get into some other business, in my opinion.”

Meanwhile Jasper finished, to the letter, the instructions for Jacob Bendel, did up the other matters entrusted to him, and set out on his Troy expedition. Here he was detained a day or two, Mr. Marlowe’s instructions being to wait over and telegraph if the business could not be adjusted satisfactorily. But the fourth day after leaving home, Jasper, just from the night express, mounted the stairs to his hotel in the early morning, his bag in his hand, and the expression on his face of a man who has accomplished what he set out to do.

“There’s an old gent up in your room,” announced Buttons, tumbling off, a sleepy heap, from one of the office chairs, to look at him.

“An old gentleman in my room,” repeated Jasper, turning on the stairs. “Why was any person put in my room?”

“We didn’t put the person there,” said the boy, yawning fearfully, “he put himself there. He’s a tiger, he is, and he blows me up reg’lar ’cause you ain’t home,” he added.

Jasper scaled the rest of the stairs, and tried the knob of his door with no gentle hand. Then he rapped loudly. “Open the door–this is my room.”

“Oh! I’m coming,” said a voice he knew quite well, and presently old Mr. King stood before him, his velvet cap and morning jacket both awry from impatient fingers.

[Illustration: “AN OLD GENTLEMAN IN MY ROOM,” REPEATED JASPER, TURNING ON THE STAIRS.]

“Father!” ejaculated Jasper. And “Goodness me, Jasper!” from the old gentleman, “what an unearthly hour to come home in.”

Jasper hurried in, set his bag in the corner, then turned and looked at his father anxiously. Meanwhile old Mr. King was studying his son’s countenance with no small degree of alarm.

“What is it,” cried Jasper at last, coming close to him, “that has brought you?”

“What?–why, you.”

“Me?” cried Jasper, in amazement.

“Yes; dear me, Jasper, with all the worries I have had lately, it does seem a pity that you couldn’t take care of yourself. It really does,” repeated Mr. King, his feelings nowise soothed by picking up his watch and finding it half-past six o’clock. When he made sure of the time, he set down the watch quickly, and stared at Jasper worse than ever.

“Now, father,” said Jasper, “there’s a mistake somewhere, but never mind now; you must get back to bed again. I don’t know when you’ve been up at this hour.” He tried to laugh, while he laid his hand on the old gentleman’s arm. “Do get back to bed, father.”

“It certainly is a most outrageous hour in which to arise,” remarked his father, not able to suppress a yawn, “and I don’t mind if I do turn in–but where will you sleep, Jasper?” whirling around on his son. “I’ve come to look after you, and I shouldn’t begin very well to monopolize your bed,” with a short laugh.

“Oh, I’ll camp out on the lounge,” said Jasper carelessly; “in two minutes I could be asleep there or anywhere else. Don’t mind me, father.”

“If you say so, then I will,” said the old gentleman, “and you are too tired to talk before you’ve had a nap.” So he lay down on the bed, Jasper dutifully tucking him up, and presently his regular breathing told that he had picked up the threads of his broken slumber.

Jasper threw himself on the lounge, but unable to close his eyes, his gaze fell on a sheet of paper, lying on the floor just within reach. It was impossible to avoid reading the words: “And Jasper better get into some other business, in my opinion,” and signed “Mason Whitney.”

Jasper jumped to his feet and strode up and down the room in growing indignation; then seized his hat and darted out to cool himself off before his father should awake. When he returned, old Mr. King was half-dressed, and berating Buttons for his failure to have the morning paper at the door.

“Now for breakfast,” cried Jasper, his own toilet quickly made, “then I presume you want to see me in my business surroundings, father?” as they went down the stairs together.

“I most certainly do,” said the old gentleman decidedly; and they turned into the breakfast room.

So after a meal in which Jasper, by skillful management of all conversational topics, allowed no chance word of business to intrude, old Mr. King and he started for the publishing house of D. Marlowe & Co., Jasper filling up all gaps that might suggest time for certain questions that seemed to be trembling on the tip of Mr. King’s tongue, while that gentleman was making a running commentary to himself something in this wise: “Just like Mason; send me off here when there is not the slightest need of it. The boy is well enough; quite well enough,” he added, in his energy speaking the last words aloud.

“What is it, father?” Jasper paused in the midst of a descriptive fire concerning the new buildings going up on either hand, with many side stories of the men who were erecting them; and he paused for an answer.

“Nothing–nothing of importance,” said his father hastily. “I only observed that you appeared to be doing quite well; and as if the business agreed with you,” he added involuntarily.

“I should think it did, father,” cried Jasper enthusiastically, while his cheek glowed; “it’s the grandest work a man can do, in my opinion.”

“Hem, hem! well, we shall see,” observed Mr. King drily, determined not to yield too easily. “You’ve been at it only six months. You know the old adage, Jasper: ‘You must summer and winter’ a thing before you decide.”

Jasper drew a long breath. “I shall never be anything but a publisher, father,” he said quietly.

“Hoity, toity! well, that is for me to decide, I take it,” responded his father. “You’ve never disobeyed me yet, Jasper, and I don’t believe you ever will. And if I think it’s best for you to change your business, of course you’ll do it.”

Jasper’s brow darkened, and he closed his lips tightly for a moment. Then something Polly said once when his father was in a particularly determined mood, came to his mind: “You better make him happy, Jasper, any way.” That “any way” carried the day now.

“It shall be as you wish, father,” he said, the frown disappearing; “I want you to be pleased, any way,” unconsciously using Polly’s word.

“I don’t know as I should be at all pleased to have you leave the publishing business, Jasper,” said old Mr. King, veering around quickly. “I can’t tell till I’ve seen just how it suits you. But I am going to the root of the matter, now that I am here. Oh! is this the place?” as they came up against a large window, behind whose plate glass, rows and rows of books in all styles of bindings, met the view of the passer-by.

“This is it,” said Jasper, with a thrill that he was part of the “it,” and the satisfaction in his completed commission, that had been lost by his father’s words, now bounded high again. “Now then, father, you must meet Mr. Marlowe,” turning up the steps.

Old Mr. King walked down the store-length as if he owned the whole with several others of its kind thrown in, and on Jasper’s pausing before a small office-door, marked “private,” heard him say through its open window, “Good-morning, Mr. Marlowe.”

“Ah, good-morning,” came back quickly, and Mr. King saw a pleasant-faced gentleman of middle age, whose keen gray eyes seemed to note everything with lightning-like rapidity–“business all right?”

“Yes, sir,” said Jasper.

“Very well; you may come to me in a quarter of an hour and report. I shall be through with these gentlemen,” indicating one sitting by his side at the desk, and another awaiting his turn.

“Tell him that I am here, Jasper,” said Mr. King pompously, with an admonitory touch upon Jasper’s arm.

“It’s impossible, father; he can’t see you now,” said Jasper hurriedly, trying to draw his father off to a quieter corner.

“Impossible? Can’t see me? What is there to prevent, pray tell?” cried the old gentleman irately.

[Illustration: “GOOD MORNING,” SAID MR. MARLOWE QUICKLY. “BUSINESS ALL RIGHT?”]

“He has business men with him; they’ll be through in a quarter of an hour,” Jasper brought out in distress that was by no means lightened by the knowledge that half of the clerks through the long salesroom were becoming acquainted with the conversation.

“It’s atrocious. I never was kept waiting in my life,” fumed Mr. King. “He doesn’t know I am here–I will announce myself.”

He started forward.

“Father,” cried Jasper, darting after him, “let me get you a chair over here by the table and some books to look at.”

“I want no books,” said the old gentleman, now thoroughly determined, by this time looking in the open window of the private office. “Good-morning, sir,” stiffly to the middle-aged gentleman sitting before the desk.

This gentleman looked up, nodded carelessly and said, “Excuse me, but I am at present engaged.”

“I am Mr. Jasper King’s father,” announced the old gentleman with extreme dignity; and again the look of being able to buy out this and several other such establishments, spread over his face.

“I shall be very glad to see you, sir,” said the middle-aged man imperturbably, “in a quarter of an hour. Excuse me,” and he turned back to finish his sentence to the other business man.

“Jasper,” cried Mr. King, taking short, quick steps to where Jasper stood, “give me a sheet of paper so that I may write to this fellow, and take you out of his contemptible trade–or stay, I will write from the hotel,” and he started for the door.

“Father,” exclaimed Jasper in a low tone, but so distinctly that every one standing near might hear, “Mr Marlowe is just right; he always is.”

“Eh?” cried his father, turning and grasping the back of a chair to steady himself.

“Mr. Marlowe is just right about these things. He really couldn’t see you, father.”

“I have never been obliged to wait for any one in all my life, Jasper,” declared his father impressively, “and I never will.”

“I wonder what Polly would do now,” thought Jasper in despair.

“And that you could tolerate such impertinence to me,” continued Mr. King with growing anger, “is more than I can understand; but since you’ve come into trade it’s vastly changed you. If you do not choose to come to the hotel with me, I must go alone,” which with great dignity he now proceeded to do.

The first business man who had finished his conference with Mr. Marlowe now came down the salesroom. “How d’ye, King,” he said cordially to Jasper in passing.

Jasper’s face lighted as he gave an equally cordial response.

“Such familiarity, Jasper!” exclaimed his father in a fresh burst of irritation. “Dear me, I only trust you’re not completely spoiled before I get you out of this.”

The business man turned around and gave a significant look to a knot of the salesmen, but happening to catch Jasper’s eye, he said, “It’s a fine day, King,” carelessly, and passed out, but not before “Stuck-up old money-bag” fell upon the old gentleman’s ear.

“We would better go to the hotel now, I think, father,” said Jasper quietly. “Frank,” to the nearest salesman, “will you tell Mr. Marlowe when it is ten minutes past,” glancing at the clock, “that I was obliged to go with my father, but I will be back at ten o’clock?”

“You need give yourself no such trouble, Jasper, as all this,” said his father decidedly; “I will wait if it is absolutely necessary that you see him,” with a patronizing wave of his gloved hand toward the private office.

“It is absolutely necessary,” said Jasper.

“Very well; I wait, then,” said his father, accepting with the air of a martyr, the chair by the table of books.

And just then the private office-door opened and out came the other business man, followed by Mr. Marlowe.

“Frank,” he called briskly, “ask Jasper’s father to step here.”

CHAPTER XVIII.

MR. KING ATTENDS TO MATTERS.

Old Mr. King kept on turning the books with a careless hand.

“Father,” begged Jasper in a low voice, and putting his hand on the old gentleman’s arm, such a world of entreaty in his face, that his father turned in spite of himself.

“After all I much better have it over with now, I really think,” said Mr. King; “yes, Jasper, we will go back,” with a marked emphasis on the word “back.”

“I can’t thank you enough, father,” exclaimed Jasper gratefully.

“Well, well, say no more,” said old Mr. King abruptly, as they reached the private office.

Mr. Marlowe’s hands were mechanically adjusting the loose papers on his desk, so as not to lose an instant’s time as Mr. King and Jasper came up, but he turned a face, over which a bright smile shot suddenly, lighting up the gray eyes, then quickly whirled around in his office chair. “Glad to see you,” he said, putting out a cordial right hand.

Mr. King bowed, but evidently did not see the hand; which Mr. Marlowe not appearing to notice, the old gentleman was more furious than ever.

“Set a chair for your father, Jasper,” said Mr. Marlowe quietly, “and get one for yourself.” Then he leaned back in his office chair and pleasantly surveyed old Mr. King, waiting for him to speak.

“I have come, sir,” said Mr. King, as he settled his courtly old figure in the chair Jasper had put for him beside the desk, “to see you about my son; I am not satisfied with his appearance, nor, I am sorry to say, with his surroundings.”

“Indeed,?” said the head of the publishing house of D. Marlowe & Co., still with a pleasant smile on his face.

“I am very sorry,” repeated Jasper’s father, “to have to say it, but my attention has been called to the fact, and I cannot now ignore it.”

“Hardly by Jasper,” remarked Mr. Marlowe, bringing the revolving chair so that he could see Jasper’s face.

“Indeed, no,” cried Jasper involuntarily, “it is something father has heard elsewhere, Mr. Marlowe, and I know he will feel quite differently when he comes to see things as they really are.”

The grave look on Mr. Marlowe’s face disappeared as he turned back to old Mr. King.

“Well,” he said at last, as the other showed no sign of continuing the conversation, and still playing with the paper cutter on his desk.

“Permit me to say, sir,” Mr. King broke out, finding to his astonishment it was not an easy matter to talk to this imperturbable man entrenched behind his own desk, “that I am disappointed in the atmosphere in which I find my son. It smells of trade, sir, too much to suit my fancy.”

“Did you suppose for an instant, Mr. King,” asked Mr. Marlowe, dropping the paper-cutter to pick up the pencil, “that our books came out ready for libraries, without any intervening process?”

“I certainly supposed Jasper was to be in charge of a literary department of the house, when I gave my consent to his coming here–” declared Mr. King very decidedly.

“Father!” exclaimed Jasper, unable longer to keep silent, “how could I take charge of any department, until I had learned it all myself?”

“You have been through Harvard,” his father turned on him, “and it seems to me are fully competent to do the literary work required here.”

“And as for the manufacturing department,” continued Jasper, finding it more difficult to keep still, “it was the only place for me; I had to begin at the bottom, if I’m ever to be a publisher–which is what my work is to be–“

“Not so fast–not so fast,” cried the old gentleman excitedly. “You are not to be a publisher, I take it, if I do not wish it. You’ve given your word you will not.”

“I have given my word, father,” said Jasper with a long breath, “and I’ll not go back on it,” but his lips whitened.

All this while Mr. Marlowe still played with the little articles on his desk, sitting very quietly and watching the two. He now threw them down with an abrupt movement, whirled the revolving chair around suddenly and sent a lightning-like glance of stern inquiry toward old Mr. King.

“Be so kind, sir, as to define exactly what your intentions are as to your son’s future. Time is very valuable here, and every fraction squandered has to be made up in some way.”

“My intentions are,” said the old gentleman, in a lofty way, “to take my son out of the business–entirely out, sir,” he waved his hand in a stately and comprehensive manner; then glanced to see the effect on the head of the house.

But there was no effect whatever, except a quick business-like acceptance of the situation on Mr. Marlowe’s implacable face. “Father!” began Jasper. But old Mr. King was beyond hearing a word.

“I had intended,” he went on condescendingly, “to have my son put in a large interest in the business, supposing it turned out to be the proper one for him. In fact, his and my financial support would have made it one of the finest publishing houses in the world.”

Mr. Marlowe bowed. “Thank you,” he said politely. “James,” turning to the window opening into the book-keeping department, “make out Jasper King’s account and settle at once. I believe you wish to go as soon as you can, do you not,” to Jasper, “that is, after you have given me the report of the business you did on the trip?”

Jasper could not speak for a moment. Then he said: “But I can’t leave my work in this way–it’s,” and he sprang to his feet.

“Jasper,” Mr. Marlowe stopped a moment and seemed to swallow something in his throat, then went on, “your father wishes it, and you will make him happy”–Jasper started at Polly’s own words–“that’s enough for one life time. I’m sorry to lose you, my boy,” he suddenly grasped Jasper’s hand, “but allow me to say, sir,” turning to old Mr. King, “that for you and your money I have very little consideration. You don’t own enough to make it worth while for the house of David Marlowe & Co. to extend an invitation to you to enter it. And now, if you will excuse me, I will hear Jasper’s account of the business he was sent on.”

With that, seeing it was expected of him, old Mr. King got out of his chair, by the side of the desk, and passed into the long salesroom.

“I hope you’ll believe,” began Jasper brokenly, feeling as if the whole world were going awry, “that this strange idea was never gained from me. Why, I _love_ the business.” His gray eyes glowed as he spoke the word.

“My boy,” Mr. Marlowe’s face was alight with feeling, “don’t explain, I understand it all; you’ve the misfortune to be born into a rich family, and your father probably never had to raise his hand to earn a penny. He isn’t to be blamed, only I did hope”–

“That I was different,” finished Jasper, his head drooping a bit with the shame of it. “Oh, Mr. Marlowe, father is so splendid–he’s just a magnificent man,” he added, the head coming up, with Jasper’s old habit of throwing it back, “if you only knew him and he could have shown you his old self.”

“Don’t I know it,” responded Mr. Marlowe heartily, “and I also know that you must stick by him. Only I did hope–and now I will finish what I was going to say–that you could stay and help me, for you are after my own heart, Jasper,” he added abruptly, a rare tremble in his voice.

Jasper put out his hand instinctively. “Thank you, Mr. Marlowe,” he said as the head of the house grasped it warmly, “I shall never forget this.”

And then, as if nothing but the ordinary business had occurred, Jasper sat down and went carefully over every detail of the commission he had been sent on, heard Mr. Marlowe’s terse, “That’s good, Jasper; you’ve done it all well,” and passed out for the last time, from the private office, and joined his father in silence, for the walk to the hotel.

That night Jasper’s father wanted to go to a concert, so Jasper got a box, and sat through it all, not seeing anything but Polly’s face, and hearing, “I’d make him happy, any way.”

Down in the audience sprinkled here and there, or in the galleries, were some of the D. Marlowe & Co. salesmen and workers staring often up at him, and the handsome white-haired old gentleman by his side.

“There’s that old snob,” they would exclaim at first recognition, to their companions, “look at him,” and under pretense of gazing at the stage, the opera glasses would be turned on the box. “Looks as if he owned the whole town, eh?”

“He is awfully handsome, isn’t he?” every salesman’s companion would exclaim, looking at Jasper pale and quiet, in the most secluded part of the box.

“Yes,” said every one of the men, only seeing the old gentleman, “but he’s too toploftical to live”–or something to that effect–and then they would forget all about it till the companion’s opera glasses leveled in the same direction, brought the conversation around to the old topic.

“They had a flare-up with Mr. Marlowe this morning,” confided one salesman to his friend in the _entr’acte_, “and he’s off,” with a nod over to Jasper’s private box.

“Oh dear me!” exclaimed the young girl, with a pang at her heart, “has he left your business?”

“Yes,” said the salesman, and a real regret passed over his careless face, “and it’s a shame, for no one would have thought he owned a penny; he was just digging at the business all the time, like the rest of us.”

“Is he very rich?” asked the young girl.

“Well, I should say,” began the salesman, unable to find words to express Jasper’s financial condition. Then the curtain rang up.

The next morning, old Mr. King broke the egg into his cup thoughtfully. “I suppose I might as well look about a bit, now that I’m here, Jasper. I haven’t been in this town for twenty years or so.”

“Very well, father,” said Jasper, trying not to be listless. “Where shall we go to-day?”

“Oh, I’ll look around by myself,” said his father quickly. “You go to bed–you look all done up,” scanning his son’s face anxiously.

“Indeed, you will not go alone,” said Jasper, rousing himself with shame. “We’ll have a good day together.”

“Indeed we will not,” retorted the old gentleman.

“I shall have a cab and go by myself. You’ll go to bed, or I’ll call in the doctor. Goodness me, Jasper, you don’t look like the same boy that started out in business six months ago; you’re all worn out.”

Jasper said nothing, only redoubled his efforts on the breakfast before him that now assumed colossal proportions, and as if it could never be eaten in the world, hoping to persuade his father into allowing him to go on the tour of inspection. But it was no use. Mr. King on finishing his morning repast, stalked out to the office, and ordered a carriage, and presently departed, with last injunctions to Jasper, “to lie down and take things easy.”

As his father closed the door, Jasper sank into a chair by the table and allowed his head to drop into his hands; but only for a minute, then he sprang to his feet, and paced the floor rapidly.

“If Polly is only happy,” he said to himself over and over. How long he walked thus he never knew–it was only by hearing a vigorous knock on the door that he stopped, and called, “Come in.”

“They told me,” said Jack Loughead, answering the knock, “at the Marlowes,’ that I should find you here, unless you had left the town. Are you sick?” he asked with concern.

“No; sit down, do, Loughead,” said Jasper, dragging forward a chair, and falling into one himself, just beginning to be conscious of a stiff pair of legs.

Jack Loughead set his hat on the table, and himself in the chair that Jasper proffered. Then he fell to tapping the tip of his shining boot with his walking stick.

“King, I came here to ask you something, that if I didn’t trust you so well I could never ask in all the world. But I feel I can trust you.”

“Oh, don’t–don’t,” begged Jasper, putting up an unsteady hand to ward off the dreaded subject. “Don’t tell me anything, Loughead.”

“Well, I will ask you something, then,” said Jack Loughead coolly. “I’m a business man, King, and I must come to the point in a business way. First, let me tell you that Uncle and I start for Australia in a fortnight;” Jasper drew a long breath of relief. “Yes, I must get back; and you will see that I cannot go without,” Jack Loughead paused–then went on abruptly. “Does Miss Pepper care for Pickering Dodge?”

“How do I know–how can I tell?” cried Jasper desperately, and springing from his chair, he began to pace the floor again. “Excuse me, Loughead, I’m not myself to-day. I’ve left D. Marlowe & Co. and”–

“Yes, I know,” interrupted Jack, and drawing a long breath of relief on his part at being able to speak on this subject now that the ice was broken; “well, I’m glad, of course, King, if you didn’t care to stay,” he said.

“But I did,” cried Jasper, stopping short, to emphasize this. “Mr. Marlowe is a royal man, through and through, and I’d work for him all my life. But my father thought best not; that’s enough,” he added in the abruptest fashion, beginning to walk again.

“Yes; well, I see,” said Jack. “I know a little what well-meaning relatives can do to make a young man’s life miserable. I’m sorry, King,” and he looked truly wretched over it.

“And you must forgive anything strange about me to-day,” said Jasper, walking on hurriedly, “for I am all upset.”

“Yes, I know,” repeated Jack Loughead, “nothing breaks a man up like wrenching him from his work. King,” he sprang to his feet and joined Jasper walking on by his side down the room, “you are Miss Pepper’s brother, or as good as one. Can you tell me if I shall wrong Pickering Dodge if I speak to her?”

Jasper was saved from answering by old Mr. King coming in with a “Oh, how d’ye, Loughead? Well, well, Jasper, you’ve had a good nap, I take it.” And then all three went down to luncheon, and Jasper managed not to be left alone with Jack Loughead until at the last when he said, “I shall go and tell the whole story to Mrs. Fisher; of course I must speak to her first.”

* * * * *

“Halloo, Dave!” It was such a remarkable cry that David turned at once, although he was almost on a dead run across the campus.

“Hey, there!” shouted Percy Whitney as David turned. “Whew! How you do go, Dave.”

“What’s the matter?” cried David, running lightly back to stand in front of Percy. “Dear me, Percy, you have lost your eyeglasses!” with a glance at the other’s flushed face; “wait, I’ll find the things.”

“I yelled my lungs sore,” said Percy in irritation, dropping down on his knees to pass his hands carefully over the campus grass, “and now I’ve lost these. Bad luck to you, Dave, for it!”

“Oh! go without ’em,” said David, getting gingerly down on all-fours to prowl around on the greensward.

“Go without ’em?” repeated Percy, sitting straight in indignation. “How could I see, pray tell? Don’t be a donkey, Dave.”

David said nothing, but fell to a more diligent search, while Percy bewailed his loss, watching eagerly David’s nimble fingers moving in and out of the little tufts of grass.

“Shades of the departed specs,” cried David, also sitting straight and peering with his keen blue eyes in a birdlike way along the sward. “It’s a mysteri–oh, Great Caesar!” then he fell on his back on the campus, and rolled and laughed, to bring up red and shining, only to tumble over and roll again.

“Of all the idiots in the universe, Dave Pepper,” fumed Percy. “What’s the matter?”

“Your trouble has gone to your head,” said David faintly. “Feel and see; oh dear!”

[Illustration: “HOW YOU CAN SIT THERE AND LAUGH WHEN JOE IS IN DANGER, I DON’T SEE,” EXCLAIMED PERCY IRRITABLY.]

Percy’s hand flew up to his thick mane of brown hair, that not all his disgust and tireless training could persuade to lie smoothly, when he picked off his beloved glasses, after an angry twitch or two.

“How you can sit there and laugh when Joe is in danger, I don’t see,” he exclaimed irritably, adjusting them to his nose. “I’ve nearly killed myself to catch you, and”–

“Joe in danger!” cried David, on his feet in an instant. “Oh, Percy, what do you mean?” his cheeks whitening, and his blue eyes agleam.

“Joel’s brought it on himself,” said Percy, his irritation not going down. “I must say, Dave, if he’d behave more like the rest of us, he’d be”–

Then Polly’s words, “Oh, dear, beautiful Joel!” came to mind, and he coughed violently, holding fast the eyeglasses in their place.

“What danger?” demanded David, in his impatience shaking Percy’s arm.

“Well, you must know, after last night’s performance over Joe, that they wouldn’t let him alone.”

“Last night’s performance over Joel?” repeated David in astonishment. “What yarn are you spinning now, Percy?”

“Goodness sake, you are yarning yourself,” retorted Percy indignantly, “to pretend that you don’t know that last night a dozen or more fellows called on Joe, and he handled ’em without gloves, so that Bingley and Dobbs can’t hardly step to-day.”

“It’s the first word I’ve heard of it,” said David slowly, but emphatically, and staggering back a step or two to look at Percy. “I was out all the evening. Oh, magnificent old Joe!”

“Magnificent old Joe!” repeated Percy, “you better say ‘poor Joe,’ when you know what they are intending to give him.”

CHAPTER XIX.

MOTHER FISHER AND CHARLOTTE.

David’s blue eyes flashed dangerously. “Tell all you know, Percy,” he said briefly.

“Dobbs heads it, as he did the first one,” said Percy; “they’ve changed their tactics, and will get at Joe on their way home from that confounded meeting. Dave, can’t you keep him from that?” and Percy, forgetting himself, peered anxiously over his glasses.

“No,” said David shortly, “and I sha’n’t try.”

“You’re an idiot,” cried Percy, in a passion, “a stupid, blind old donkey! Joe will be mauled dreadfully,” he howled, beating his hands together in distress; “no help for it but to keep him away from that old association meeting.”

“Anything more to tell?” asked David.

“No,” Percy shot out. “Bingley told me all he knew; but they wouldn’t let him catch much of it, because he’s left the gang”–

David’s feet by this time were flying over the Campus, so that Percy was obliged to shout the remainder of the sentence after him. The consequence was that several heads were popped out of as many windows in the long gray dormitory fronting the Campus, their owners all engaged in the pleasing duty of staring at Percy and the flying figure across the grass.

“Now I’m in for it, for there’s Dobbs, I vow,” exclaimed Percy to himself, in dismay; “he’ll guess I’ve given Dave warning,” and he tried to strike a careless attitude, picking off his glasses to hold them up and gaze long and earnestly through them into the nearest tree.

“You can’t come it,” jeered Dobbs, from his window. “No birdsnesting, I promise you, Whitney; ha, ha!” And the other heads popped farther out than ever, to add a few hisses.

Percy, maddened by the failure of his plan to divert suspicion, now lost his head entirely, and sticking his eyeglasses on again, ran off like lightning to his room, followed by “Little coward, we’ll treat you too–Look out!”

* * * * *

“Well, Jasper; now I’m bound for the next thing–Percy and Joel and David,” declared old Mr. King as Jack Loughead was cleverly off; “we are so near, it’s a pity not to drop down on them.”

“Don’t you think you ought to hurry back to Brierly?” asked Jasper, having hard work not to show that he cared anything about it one way or the other.

“No, I don’t,” answered his father, in his crispest fashion. “No one needs me there; Mrs. Cabot is a host in herself, and those boys may–who knows? At any rate, I must see how they are getting on, so we will go as soon as you can get your things packed and sent home,” and the old gentleman glanced around the room at the various keepsakes and family adornings that Jasper had brought with him to make life less lonely while he made a business man of himself.

“Very well, father,” said Jasper, he could not trust himself to say more; and for the first time had to hurry away that his father might not see his face. But old Mr. King was the farthest removed from carrying the look of a person holding any interest whatever in Jasper’s trouble, for he went on to say, “And I do hope you will get it over with as quickly as possible, Jasper, so that we may be off,” then he fell to reading the evening paper with great gusto.

Jasper seized his hat, rushed down stairs two steps at a time, nearly overturning Buttons leaning on the post at the foot.

“Oh! beg pardon,” said Jasper, quite as if it had been a gentleman he had run against.

“You hain’t hurt me none,” said Buttons, staggering back to his support, where he craned his neck in curiosity to watch young Mr. King’s