FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS AT SCHOOL
A LITTLE MAID OF CONCORD TOWN Illustrated by Frank T. Merrill
A LITTLE MAID OF BOSTON TOWN Illustrated by Frank T. Merrill
THE FAMOUS PEPPER BOOKS IN ORDER OF PUBLICATION
Twelve Volumes Illustrated
FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS AND HOW THEY GREW
FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS MIDWAY
FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS GROWN UP
THE STORIES POLLY PEPPER TOLD
THE ADVENTURES OF JOEL PEPPER
FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS ABROAD
FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS AT SCHOOL
FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS AND THEIR FRIENDS
FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS IN THE LITTLE BROWN HOUSE
OUR DAVIE PEPPER
LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO., BOSTON
FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS AT SCHOOL
AUTHOR OF "FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS ABROAD," "A LITTLE MAID OF CONCORD TOWN," "SALLY, MRS. TUBBS"
LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO.
Registered in U. S. Patent Office.
COPYRIGHT, 1903, BY LOTHROP PUBLISHING COMPANY.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
PUBLISHED NOV. 1903
The story of young people's lives is not complete without many and broad glimpses of their school days. It was impossible to devote the space to this recital of the Five Little Peppers' school life, in the books that showed their growing up. The author, therefore, was obliged unwillingly to omit all the daily fun and study and growth, that she, loving them as if they were real children before her eyes, saw in progress.
So she packed it all away in her mind, ready to tell to all those young people who also loved the Peppers, when they clamored for more stories about them—just what Polly and Joel and David did in their merry school days. Ben never got as much schooling as the others, for he insisted on getting into business life as early as possible, in order the sooner to begin to pay Grandpapa King back for all his kindness. But Jasper and Percy and Van joined the Peppers at school, and a right merry time they had of it!
And now the time seems ripe to accede to all the insistent demands from those who love the Five Little Peppers, that this record of their school days should be given. So here it is, just as they all gave it to
I. HARD TIMES FOR JOEL 9
II. THE TENNIS MATCH 24
III. A NARROW ESCAPE 35
IV. OF VARIOUS THINGS 49
V. AT SILVIA HORNE'S 60
VI. THE ACCIDENT 75
VII. THE SALISBURY GIRLS 89
VIII. "WE'RE TO HAVE OUR PICNIC!" 105
IX. ALL ABOUT THE POOR BRAKEMAN 121
X. JOEL AND HIS DOG 135
XI. THE UNITED CLUBS 154
XII. SOME EVERY-DAY FUN 173
XIII. THE PICNIC 186
XIV. MISS SALISBURY'S STORY 206
XV. THE BROKEN VASE 233
XVI. NEW PLANS 247
XVII. PHRONSIE 262
XVIII. TOM'S STORY 280
XIX. THE GRAND ENTERTAINMENT 300
XX. THE CORCORAN FAMILY 322
XXI. AT THE PLAY 346
XXII. PICKERING DODGE 368
XXIII. THE CLEMCY GARDEN PARTY 389
XXIV. THE PIECE OF NEWS 417
XXV. "THE VERY PRETTIEST AFFAIR" 435
"TAKE RICKIE! HE BEAT TOO, AS MUCH AS I." Frontispiece
AND SHE TOLD THEM THE WHOLE STORY AS FAST AS SHE COULD 100
JUST THEN SOMETHING SKIMMED OUT FROM THE CORNER 155
"I NEVER DID REGARD PICNICS AS PLEASANT AFFAIRS," GASPED MISS ANSTICE 206
"SEE, JOEL, I'M ALL FIXED UP NICE," LAUGHED PHRONSIE FROM HER PERCH 286
"OH, I DO HOPE I SHALL DRAW THE RIGHT ONE, JASPER." 307
"AND SO WE HAD A LITTLE ENTERTAINMENT, AND SOLD THE TICKETS, AND HERE IS OUR GIFT!" 337
THERE STOOD THE LITTLE VASE, PRESENTING AS BRAVE AN APPEARANCE AS IN ITS FIRST PERFECTION 412
Five Little Peppers at School
I HARD TIMES FOR JOEL
"Come on, Pepper." One of the boys rushed down the dormitory hall, giving a bang on Joel's door as he passed.
"All right," said Joel a bit crossly, "I'm coming."
"Last bell," came back on the wind.
Joel threw his tennis racket on the bed, and scowled. Just then a flaxen head peeped in, and two big eyes stared at him.
"Ugh!"—Joel took one look—"off with you, Jenkins." Jenkins withdrew at once.
Joel jumped up and slammed the door hard, whirled around in vexation, sprang over and thrust the tennis racket under the bed, seized a dog-eared book, and plunged off, taking the precaution, despite his hurry, to shut the door fast behind him.
Jenkins stole out of his room three doors beyond, and as the hall was almost deserted about this hour, so many boys being in recitation, he had nothing to do but tiptoe down to Joel's room and go softly in.
"Hullo!" A voice behind made him skip.
"Oh, Berry,"—it was a tone of relief,—"it's you."
"Um," said Berry, "what's up now, Jenk?" He tossed back his head, while a smile of delight ran all over his face.
"Hush—come here." Jenk had him now within Joel's room and the door shut. "We'll have fun with the beggar now."
"Dave? No. Who wants to haul him over?" cried Jenk in scorn. "You are a flat, Berry, if you think that."
"Well, you are a flat, if you think to tackle Joe," declared Berry with the air and tone of one who knows. "Better let him alone, after what you got last term."
"Well, I ain't going to let him alone," declared Jenk angrily, and flushing all up to his shock of light hair; "and I gave him quite as good as he gave me, I'd have you know, Tom Beresford."
"Hoh, hoh!" Tom gave a howl of derision, and slapped his knee in pure delight. "Tell that to the marines, sonny," he said.
"Hush—old Fox will hear you. Be still, can't you?"—twitching his jacket—"and stop your noise."
"I can't help it; you say such very funny things," said Beresford, wiping his eyes.
"Well, anyway, I'm going to pay him up this term," declared Jenkins decidedly. He was rushing around the small room; the corners devoted to David being neatness itself, which couldn't truthfully be said of Joel's quarters. "I'm after his new tennis racket. Where in thunder is it?" tossing up the motley array of balls, dumb-bells, and such treasures, that showed on their surface they belonged to no one but Joel.
"Great Scott!" Tom cried with sudden interest, and coming out of his amusement. "You won't find it."
"Saw him looking at it just now, before he went to class," cried Jenkins, plunging around the room. "Where is the thing?" he fumed.
Berry gave a few swift, bird-like glances around the room, then darted over to the end of one of the small beds, leaned down, and picked out from underneath the article in question.
"Oh! give it to me," cried Jenk, flying at him, and possessing himself of the treasure; "it's mine; I told you of it."
"Isn't it a beauty!" declared Berry, his eyes very big and longing.
"Ha, ha—ain't it? Well, Joe won't see this in one spell."
Jenkins gave it a swing over his head, then batted his knee with it.
"What are you going to do, Jenk?" demanded Berry, presently, when he could get his mind off from the racket itself.
"Do? Ha, ha! Who says I can't pay the beggar back?" grinned Jenk, hopping all over the room, and knocking into things generally.
"Hush—hush," warned Berry, plunging after him; "here's old Fox," which brought both boys up breathless in the middle of the floor.
"She's gone by"—a long breath of relief; "and there she goes down the stairs," finished Berry.
"Sure?" Not daring to breathe, but clutching the racket tightly, and with one eye on Berry, Jenk cried again in a loud whisper, "Sure, Berry?"
"As if any one could mistake the flap of those slipper-heels on the stairs!" said Berry scornfully.
"Well, look out of the window," suggested Jenk suddenly. "She'll go across the yard, maybe."
So Berry dashed to the window, and gave one look. "There she sails with a bottle in her hand, going over to South" (the other dormitory across the yard). "Most likely Jones has the colic again. Good! Now that disposes finely of old Fox," which brought him back to the subject in hand, the disposal of Joel's racket.
"Give me that," he said, hurrying over to Jenkins.
"No, you don't," said that individual; "and I must be lively before old Fox gets back." With that, he rushed out of the room.
"If you don't give me that racket, I'll tell on you," cried Beresford in a passion, flying after him.
"Hush!" Jenk turned on him suddenly, and gripped him fast. "See here," he cried in a suppressed tone, and curbing his anger as best he could, "you don't want Joe to go into that match, this afternoon, with this racket." He shook it with eager, angry fingers.
"No," said Berry without stopping to think, "I don't."
"Well, then, you better keep still, and hold your tongue," advised Jenk angrily.
"Well, what are you going to do with it?"
"None of your——" what, he didn't say, for just then a boy flew out of his room, to tear down the long hall. He had his back to them, and there was no time to skip back into Jenkins' own room, for the two had already passed it. One wild second, and Jenkins thrust the racket into the depths of the housemaid's closet close at hand, under some cleaning-cloths on a shelf. Then he stuck his hands in his pockets.
"Hullo!" The boy who was rushing along, suddenly turned, to see him whistling.
"Oh Jenk, is that you? See here, where's your Caesar?"
"Don't know—gone up the spout," said Jenkins carelessly, and keeping well in front of Beresford.
"Well, who has one? You haven't, Berry?" He turned to Tom anxiously.
"Not on your life he hasn't," Jenk answered for him.
"Botheration!" ejaculated the boy. "I've fifty lines to do, else I'm shut in from the game. And Simmons has run off with my book."
"Try Joe Pepper's room; he's in math recitation," said Jenk suddenly. "He has one, Toppy."
"You're a brick." Toppy flew down the hall, and bolted into Joel's room.
"Holy Moses, what luck! He'll prowl for an hour over Joe's duds. Come on." Jenk had his head in the cupboard, and his fingers almost on the racket, when Toppy's voice rang dismally down the hall: "Joe must have taken it."
Jenk pulled his fingers out, and had the door fast, and was quite turned away from the dangerous locality. "Well, I don't know what you'll do, Toppy," he said, controlling his dismay enough to speak. "Run down and skin through the fellows' rooms on first floor. Oh, good gracious!" he groaned, "it's all up with getting it now," as a swarm of boys came tumbling over the stairs.
So he mixed with them, laughing and talking, and Berry melted off somewhere. And no one had time to think a syllable of anything but the great game of tennis to be called at two o'clock, between the two divisions of Dr. Marks' boys. Some of the team of the St. Andrew's School, a well-known set of fellows at this sport and terribly hard to beat, were going to be visitors. So there was unusual excitement.
"What's up, Pepper?" A howl that rose above every other sort of din that was then in progress, came from Joel's room.
"He's been in here!" Joel plunged out of the doorway, tossing his black, curly locks, that were always his bane, his eyes flashing dangerously. "Say, where's Jenk? He's been in my room," he cried, doubling up his small fists.
"What is it?" cried Jenkins, making as if just coming up the stairs. "What's all the row about?"
"You've been in my room," shouted Joel in a loud, insistent voice, "and taken my——" The rest was lost in a babel of voices.
"What? What's gone, Joe?" They all crowded into the small space, and swarmed all over the room.
"My racket," yelled Joel wrathfully. "Jenk has got it; he better give it up. Quick now." He pushed up the sleeves of his tennis shirt, and squared off, glaring at them all, but making the best of his way over toward Jenk.
That individual, when he saw him coming, thought it better to get behind some intervening boys. Everybody huddled against everybody else, and it was impossible to get at the truth.
"See here now, Mother Fox will be after us all if you don't hush up," called one boy. "I guess she's coming," which had the desired effect. All the voices died down except Joel's.
"I don't care," said Joel wrathfully. "I wish she would come. Jenk has got my racket. He saw me with it before I ran to math; and now it's gone." All eyes turned to Jenkins.
"Is that so?" A half-dozen hands pushed him into the centre of the group. "Then you've got to give him fits, Pepper."
"I'm going to," announced Joel, pushing up his sleeves higher yet, "until he tells where it is. Come on, Jenk." He tossed his head like a young lion, and squared off.
"I haven't your old racket," declared Jenk, a white line beginning to come around his mouth. It wasn't pleasant to see his reckoning quite so near.
"Then you know where it is," declared Joel.
"And give it to the beggar," cried several of the boys, with whom Jenkins was by no means a favorite.
"Give it to him worse than you did last term, Joe," called some one on the edge of the circle closing around the two.
"I'm going to," nodded Joel, every nerve in his body tingling to begin. "Come on, Jenk, if you won't tell where you've put my racket."
"He's afraid," said the boy who had advised the more severe pommelling, "old 'fraid-cat!"
Jenkins, his knees knocking together miserably, but with a wild rage in his heart at these words, struck out blindly to meet Joel's sturdy little fists, and to find his Waterloo.
In the midst of the din and confusion that this encounter produced, steps that could never by any possibility be mistaken for those of a schoolboy struck upon their ears.
The circle of spectators flew wide, and before Joel and Jenkins realized what was coming, a good two dozen hands were laid on their collars, and they were dragged apart, and hauled into separate rooms, the rest of the boys scattering successfully. Tom Beresford fled with the rest, and the long hall was cleared.
"Boys!" the voice of the matron, Mrs. Fox, rang down the deserted, long hall, as she looked up from the stairway. "Humph! they are quiet enough now." She gave a restful sigh, and went down again. Jones and his colic were just so much extra on a terribly busy day.
"What did you fellows touch me for?" roared Joel, lifting a bloody nose. In his own room, Jenkins was in that state that recognizes any interruption as a blessing.
"Old Fox would have caught you, if we hadn't rushed you both," cried the boys.
Tom Beresford worked his way up to say close to Joel's ear, "Don't speak, get into your room; I'll tell you where it is," then melted off to the outer circle of boys.
Joel looked up, gave a little nod, then broke away from the boys, and dashed to Jenkins' door.
"See here,"—he flung the words out,—"you've got to finish sometime when Mrs. Fox isn't round."
Jenkins, who was under the impression that he had had quite enough, was made to say, "All right;" something in the boys' faces making it seem imperative that he should do so.
Quite pleased, Joel withdrew as suddenly as he had come.
Meanwhile, up the stairs, two at a time, came Davie, singing at the memory of the special commendation given by his instructor in the recitation just over; and secretly David's heart bounded with a wild hope of taking home a prize in classics for Mamsie!
"Everything's just beautiful this term!" he hummed to himself. And then, in a breathing space he was in his room, and there, well drawn behind the door, was a boy with big eyes. "Hush" he warned.
"What's the matter?" asked David in astonishment, "and where's Joel?"
"Oh, don't speak his name; he's in disgrace. Oh, it's perfectly awful!" The boy huddled up in a heap, and tried to shut the door.
"Who?" cried David, not believing his ears.
"Joel—oh dear! it's perfectly awful!"
"Stop saying it's perfectly awful, Bates, and tell me what's the matter." Davie felt faintish, and sat down on the shoe-box.
Bates shut the door with a clap, and then came to stand over him, letting the whole information out with a rush.
"He's pitched into Jenk—and they've had a fight—and they're all blood—and the old Fox almost got 'em both." Then he shut his mouth suddenly, the whole being told.
Davie put both hands to his head. For a minute everything turned dark around him. Then he thought of Mamsie. "Oh dear me!" he said, coming to.
"How I wish he'd had it all out with that beggar!" exploded Bates longingly.
David didn't say anything, being just then without words. At this instant Joel rushed in with his bloody nose, and a torn sleeve where Jenk in his desperation had gripped it fast.
"Oh Joel!" screamed Davie at sight of him, and springing from his shoe-box. "Are you hurt? Oh Joey!"
"Phoo! that's nothing," said Joel, running over to the wash-basin, and plunging his head in, to come up bright and smiling. "See, Dave, I'm all right," he announced, his black eyes shining. "But he's a mean beggar to steal my new racket," he concluded angrily.
"To steal your new racket that Grandpapa sent you!" echoed David. "Oh dear me! who has taken it? Oh Joel!"
"That beggar Jenkins," exploded Joel. "But I'm to know where it is." Just then the door opened cautiously, enough to admit a head. "Don't speak, Pepper, but come."
Joel flung down the towel, and pranced to the door.
"No one else," said the boy to whom the head belonged.
"Not me?" asked David longingly. "Can't I come?"
"No—no one but Joe." Joel rushed over the sill tumultuously, deserting David and the Bates boy.
"Don't speak a single word," said the boy out in the hall, putting his mouth close to Joel's ear, "but move lively."
No need to tell him so. In a minute they were both before the housemaid's closet.
"Feel under," whispered the boy, with a sharp eye down the length of the hall.
Joel's brown hands pawed among the cleaning-cloths and brushes, bringing up in a trice the racket, Grandpapa's gift, to flourish it high.
"Take care; keep it down," said the boy in a hurried whisper.
"Oh, oh!" cried Joel, hanging to it in a transport.
"Um," the boy nodded. "Hush, be still. Now skip for your room."
"Beresford," said Joel, his black eyes shining as he paused a breathing space before rushing back to Davie, the new racket gripped fast, "if I don't pay Jenk for this!"
"Do." Tom grinned all over his face in great delight; "you'll be a public benefactor," and he softly beat his hands together.
II THE TENNIS MATCH
Joel, hugging his recovered tennis racket, rushed off to the court. Tom Beresford, staring out of his window, paused while pulling on his sweater to see him go, a sorry little feeling at his heart, after all, at Joe's good spirits.
"He'll play like the mischief, and a great deal better for the row and the fright over that old racket. Well, I had to tell. 'Twould have been too mean for anything to have kept still."
So he smothered a sigh, and got into his togs, seized his implements of battle, and dashed off too. Streams of boys were rushing down to the court, and the yard was black with them. In the best places were the visitors. Royalty couldn't have held stronger claims to distinction in the eyes of Dr. Marks' boys; and many were the anxious glances sent over at the four St. Andrew's boys. If the playing shouldn't come up to the usual high mark!
"Pepper will score high," one after another said as he dropped to the ground next to his chums, in the circle around the court.
"Of course." Nobody seemed to doubt Joel's powers along that line. "He always does." And cries of "Pepper—Pepper," were taken up, and resounded over the yard.
Joel heard it as he dashed along, and he held his head high, well pleased. But David followed his every movement with anxiety. "I'm afraid he was hurt," he said to himself; "and if he should lose the game, he'd never get over it. Oh dear me! if Mamsie could only be here!"
But Mamsie was far away from her boys, whom she had put at Dr. Marks' school for the very purpose of achieving self-reliance and obedience to the training of the little brown house. So Davie, smothering his longing, got into a front row with several boys of his set, and bent all his attention to the game just beginning.
Sharp at two o'clock the four went on to the court—Joel and Fred Ricketson against Tom Beresford and Lawrence Greene, otherwise "Larry." And amid howls of support from the "rooters," the game began.
At first Joel's luck seemed to desert him, and he played wild, causing much consternation in the ranks violently rooting for him. David's head sank, and he leaned his elbows on his knees, to bury his hot cheeks in his hands.
"Wake up," cried Paul Sykes, his very particular friend, hoarsely, giving him a dig in the ribs. "Don't collapse, Dave."
"Oh!" groaned David, his head sinking lower yet, "I can't look; I simply can't. It will kill Joel."
"Stiffen up!" cried Paul. "Joe's all right; he'll come to. Ha!"
A shout, stunning at first, that finally bore down all before it in the shape of opposing enthusiasm, swept over the whole yard. Screams of applause, perfectly deafening, rent the air. And look! even the visitors from St. Andrew's are leaping to their feet, and yelling, "Good—good." Something quite out of the common, even in a close tennis match, was taking place. David shuddered, and crouched down on the ground as far as he could. Paul gave him an awful whack on the back.
"You're losing it all," he cried as he stood on his tiptoes. "Hi! Hi! Tippety Rippety! Hi! Hi!"
It was Joel's especial yell; and there he was, as David scrambled up to see him, head thrown back, and black eyes shining in the way they always did when he worked for Mamsie and Polly, and that dealt despair to all opponents. He had just made a brilliant stroke, returning one of Larry's swiftest balls in such a manner that it just skimmed over the net and passed the boys before they could recover themselves, and fairly taking off from their feet the St. Andrew's men who had been misled by Joel's previous slow playing in the first set, which Tom and Larry had won.
"Who is he? Gee Whiz! but that's good form!" declared Vincent Parry, the St. Andrew's champion, excitedly.
"Pepper—don't you know Pepper?" cried a dozen throats, trying to seem unconscious that it was Parry, the champion, who was asking the question.
"Oh, is that Pepper?" said the St. Andrew's boy. While "Pepper—Pepper. Hi! Hi! Tippety Rippety! Hi! Hi!" rolled out, till there wasn't any other sound to be heard. And a regular tussle of boys were getting in the wildest excitement when it was announced that Pepper and Ricketson had won the second set, the referees trying to quiet them so that the game could proceed.
In the third set, Joel seemed to have it all his own way, and fairly swept Ricketson along with him. The excitement was now so intense that the boys forgot to yell, afraid they would miss some strokes.
David clenched his hands tightly. The net and flying balls spun all together inextricably before his eyes as he strained them to see Joe's brilliant returns. This was the deciding set, as the cup was to go to the winners of two sets out of three.
Joel's last serve was what finished it; the ball flashing by Tom with such impetus, that even the St. Andrew's champion said he couldn't ever have returned it.
Everybody drew a long breath, and then the crowd rushed and converged to Joel; surrounded him, fighting for first place, the fortunate ones tossing him up to their shoulders to race him in triumph around the yard.
"Take Ricket!" screamed Joel, red in the face. "Take him!" he roared. "He beat too, as much as I." So a second group seized Fred; and up he went to be trotted after, the crowd swarming alongside, yelling, tumbling over each other,—gone perfectly wild; Joe waving the cup, thrust into his hand, which would be kept by the winners for a year.
* * * * *
It was the middle of the night. Davie, flushed with the happiest thoughts, had peacefully settled to dreams in which Mamsie and Grandpapa, and Polly and Jasper, and all the dear home people, were tangled up. And Phronsie seemed to be waving a big silver cup, and piping out with a glad little laugh, "Oh, I am so glad!" And now and then the scene of operations flew off to the little brown house, that it appeared impossible to keep quite out of dreamland. Some one gripped him by the arm.
"Oh, what is it, Joe?" David flew up to a sitting posture in the middle of his bed.
"It isn't Joe. Get up as quick as you can."
David, with a dreadful feeling at his heart, tumbled out of bed. "Isn't Joe!" he found time to say, with a glance in the darkness over toward Joel's bed.
"Hurry up, don't stop to talk." The voice was Tom Beresford's. "Get on your clothes."
Meantime he was scuffing around. "Where in time are your shoes?" But David already had those articles, and was pulling them on with hasty fingers. "Oh, tell me," he couldn't help crying; but "Hurry up!" was all he got for his pains. And at last, after what seemed an age to Tom, David was piloted out into the hall, with many adjurations to "go softly," down the long flight of stairs. Here he came to a dead stop. "I can't go another single step, Tom," he said firmly, "unless you tell me what you want me for. And where is Joel?" he gasped.
"Oh, bother! in another minute you'd have been outside, and then it would be safe to tell you," said Tom. "Well, if you will have it, Dave, Joe's finishing up that business with Jenk, and you're the only one that can stop it. Now don't keel over."
David clung to the door, which Tom had managed to open softly, and for a minute it looked as if Beresford would have his hands full without in the least benefiting Joel. But suddenly he straightened up. "Oh, tell me where he is," he cried, in a manner and voice exactly like Polly when she had anything that must be done set before her. And clear ahead of his guide when Tom whispered, "Down in the pine grove," sped Davie on the very wings of the wind.
"Gracious! Joel is nothing to Dave as a sprinter," said Tom to himself, as his long legs got him over the ground in the rear.
The two boys hugged the shadow of the tall trees and dashed across the lawn to the shrubbery beyond. Then it was but a breathing space, and a few good leaps to the depths of the pine grove. In the midst of this were two figures, busily engaged in the cheerful occupation of fisticuffing each other till the stronger might win.
"Joel!" called David hoarsely, his breath nearly spent as he dashed up.
Joel, at this, wavered, and turned. Seeing which, his antagonist dealt him a thwack that made his head spin, and nearly lost him his footing.
"That was mean, Jenk!" exclaimed Beresford, dashing up in time to see it. "You took advantage when Joe was off guard," he cried hotly.
"No such thing," roared Jenk, losing his head at what now seemed an easy victory, "and I'll settle with you when I get through with Joe, for being such a mean sneak as to turn tell-tale, Tom."
"All right," said Tom coolly. "Go it, Joe, and pay him up. You've several scores to settle now."
"Joel," gasped Davie. "Oh Mamsie!" He could get no further.
Joel's hands, out once more in good fighting trim, wavered again, and sank helplessly down to his side.
"Oh dear!" Tom groaned in amazement.
"Hoh—hoh! you see how easy I could whip him," laughed Jenkins, raining down blows all over Joel's figure, who didn't offer to stir.
"See here you!" Tom fairly roared it out, perfectly regardless of possible detection. "You beastly coward!" And he jumped in between Joel and his antagonist. "You may settle with me now if you like."
"Stop, Tom." Joel seized him from behind. Tom, in a fury, turned to see his face working dreadfully, while the brown hands gripped him tightly. "I forgot—Mamsie wouldn't—like—you mustn't, Tom. If you do, I'll scream for John," he declared suddenly.
John, the watchman, being the last person whom any of Dr. Marks' boys desired to see when engaged in a midnight prank, Beresford backed away slowly from Jenkins, who was delighted once more at the interruption, and fastened his gaze on Joel. "Well, I never did, Pepper!" he brought himself to say.
"Tom," said David brokenly, and getting over to him to seize his hand, "don't you know our Mamsie would feel dreadfully to see Joel doing any such thing? Oh, she would, Tom," as Beresford continued to stare without a word.
"Not to such a miserable beggar." Tom at last found his tongue, and pointed to Jenk.
"Oh, yes, she would. It's just as bad in Joel," said Davie, shaking his head. Joel turned suddenly, took two or three steps, then flung himself down flat on his face on the pine needles.
"Well, get up," said Tom crossly, running over to him. "John will maybe get over here, we've made so much noise. Hurry up, Joe, we must all get back."
Joel, thus adjured, especially as David got down on the ground, to put his arms around the shaking shoulders, got up slowly. Then they turned around to look for Jenkins. He was nowhere to be seen.
"Little coward!" exclaimed Tom between his teeth. "Well, we'll have to skin it as best we may back. Here comes John!"
They could see his lantern moving around among the trees; and dashing off, taking the precaution to hug the shadow of the trees again, they soon made the big door to the dormitory. Tom reached it first, and turned the knob. "It's locked," he said. "The mean, beastly coward has locked us out."
III A NARROW ESCAPE
Joel, in such an emergency, wiped his black eyes and looked up sharply. David sank on the upper step.
"Oh, no, Tom," cried Joel, crowding in between Beresford and the door, "it can't be. Get out of the way; let me try."
"It is—it is, I tell you," howled Tom in what was more of a whine, as he kept one eye out for John and his lantern. "The mean sneak has got the best of us, Joe." He set his teeth hard together, and his face turned white.
Joe dropped the doorknob, and whirled off the steps.
"Julius Caesar! where are you going?" began Tom, as Joel disappeared around the corner of the dormitory.
"He's gone to see if John is coming, I suppose," said Davie weakly.
Tom, preferring to see for himself, skipped off, and disappeared around the angle. "Oh—oh!" was what David heard next, making him fly from his step to follow in haste.
What he saw was so much worse than all his fears as Tom gripped his arm pointing up over his head, that he screamed right out, "Oh Joe, come back, you'll be killed!"
"He can't come back," said Tom hoarsely. "He'd much better go on." Joel, more than halfway up the lightning conductor, was making good time shinning along. He turned to say, "I'm all right, Dave," as a window above them was thrown up, and a head in a white nightcap was thrust out.
"It's all up with him now; there's old Fox," groaned Tom, ducking softly back over the grass. "Come on, Dave."
But David, with clasped hands and white face, had no thought of deserting Joel.
The person in the window, having the good sense to utter no exclamation, waited till Joel was up far enough for her to grasp his arm. Then she couldn't help it as she saw his face.
"Yes'm," said Joel, turning his chubby face toward her. "I knew I could get up here; it's just as easy as anything."
Mrs. Fox set her other hand to the task of helping him into the dimly lighted hall, much to Joel's disgust, as he would much have preferred to enter unassisted. Then she turned her cap-frills full on him, and said in a tone of great displeasure, "What is the meaning of all this?"
"Why, I had to go out, Mrs. Fox."
She didn't ask him again, for the matron was a woman of action, and in all her dealings with boys had certain methods by which she brought them to time. So she only set her sharp eyes, that Dr. Marks' pupils always called "gimlets," full upon him. "Go to your room," was all she said.
"Oh Mrs. Fox," cried Joel, trying dreadfully to control himself, and twisting his brown hands in the effort, "I—I—had to go. Really I did."
"So you said before. Go to your room." Then a second thought struck her. "Was any other boy with you?" she demanded suddenly.
Joel gave a sharp cry of distress as he started down the hall, revolving in his mind how he would steal down and unlock the door as soon as the matron had taken herself off.
"Here, stop—come back here! Now answer me—yes or no—was any other boy with you?" as Joel stood before her again.
Joel's stubby black curls dropped so that she couldn't see his face. As there was no reply forthcoming, Mrs. Fox took him by the arm. "You needn't go to your room, Joel," she said sharply. "You may go to Coventry."
"Oh Mrs. Fox," Joel burst out, "don't—don't send me there."
"A boy who cannot answer me, is fit only for Coventry," said Mrs. Fox with great dignity, despite the nightcap. "Wait here, Joel. I will get my candle, and light you down." She stepped off to a corner of the hall, where she had set the candlestick on a table, when startled by the noise outside. "Now we will go."
It was impossible that all this confusion should not awake some of the boys in the hall; and by this time there was much turning on pillows, and leaning on elbows, and many scuttlings out of bed to listen at doors opened a crack, so that nearly every one of the occupants, on that particular hall soon knew that "old Fox" had Joel Pepper in her clutches, and that he was being led off somewhere.
And at last Joel let it out himself. "Oh Mrs. Fox—dear Mrs. Fox, don't make me go to Coventry," he roared. He clutched her wrapper, a big, flowered affair that she wore on such nocturnal rambles, and held it fast. "I'll be just as good," he implored.
"Coventry is the place for you, Joel Pepper," said Mrs. Fox grimly; "so we will start."
Meanwhile David, holding his breath till he saw, in the dim light that always streamed out from the dormitory hall where the gas was left turned down at night, that Joel was safely drawn in to shelter, frantically rushed around to the big door, in the wild hope that somehow admittance would be gained. "Joe will come by and by," he said to himself, sinking down on the steps.
"We're done for," said Tom's voice off in the distance.
"Oh Tom, are you there?" cried Davie, straining his eyes to catch a glimpse.
"Hush!" Tom poked his head out from a clump of shrubbery. "Don't you dare to breathe. I tell you, Dave, our only hope is in staying here till morning."
"Oh dear me!" exclaimed David in dismay.
"Oh dear me!" echoed Tom in derision. It was impossible for him to stop talking, he was so keyed up. "It's paradise, I'm sure, compared to being in old Fox's grip."
This brought David back to Joel's plight, and he sighed dismally, and leant his head on his hands. How long he sat there he couldn't have told. The first thing he did know, a big hand was laid on his shoulder, and a bright glare of light fell full on his face.
"Oh my soul and body!" cried John, the watchman, bending over him, "if here ain't one of th' boys dead asleep on the doorsteps!"
"Little goose, to sit there!" groaned Tom, huddling back into his bushes. "Now it's all up with him. Well, I'll save my skin, for I don't believe those boys will tell on me."
"Coventry" was a small square room in the extension, containing a bed, a table, and a chair, where the boys who were refractory were sent. It was considered a great disgrace to be its inmate. They were not locked in; but no boy once put there was ever known to come out unless bidden by the authorities. And no one, of course, could speak to them when they emerged from it to go to recitations, for their lessons must be learned in the silence of this room. Then back from the class-room the culprit must go to this hated place, to stay as long as his misdemeanor might seem to deserve.
It was so much worse punishment than a flogging could possibly be, that all Dr. Marks' boys heard "Coventry" with a chill that stopped many a prank in mid-air.
But Joel didn't get into "Coventry" after all, for at the foot of the stairs, another candle-beam was advancing; and back of it was the thin, sharp face of Mr. Harrow, one of the under-teachers.
"Oh Mr. Harrow," screamed Joel, breaking away from the matron, to plunge up to him, "she's going to put me into Coventry. Oh, don't make me go there; it will kill my Mamsie, and Polly."
"Hey?" Mr. Harrow came to a sudden stop, and whirled the candlestick around to get a better view of things. "What's this, Mrs. Fox? And Joel Pepper, of all boys!"
"I know it," said Mrs. Fox, her candlestick shaking in an unsteady hand. "Well, you see, sir, I was going upstairs to see if little Fosdick had blankets enough; it's turned cold, and you know he's had a sore throat, and——"
"Well, come to the point, Mrs. Fox," said the teacher, bringing her up quickly. Joel clung desperately to his hand, shaking violently in every limb.
"Oh, yes, sir—well, and I heard a noise outside, so I bethought me to look, and there was this boy climbing up the lightning conductor."
"Up the lightning conductor?" echoed Mr. Harrow.
"Yes, sir,"—Mrs. Fox's cap-frills trembled violently as she nodded,—"Joel Pepper was climbing up the lightning conductor, sir. And I thought I should have dropped to see him, sir."
The under-teacher turned and surveyed Joel. "Well, I think, Mrs. Fox," he said slowly, "if he's been over that lightning conductor to-night, we won't put him in Coventry."
"He wouldn't answer when I asked him if any other boys were there," said the matron, a dull red spot coming on either cheek.
"That's bad—very bad," said Mr. Harrow. "Well, I'll take Joel under my care. Do you go to bed, Mrs. Fox."
It was all done in a minute. Somehow Mrs. Fox never quite realized how she was left standing alone. And as there really wasn't anything else for her to do, she concluded to take the under-teacher's advice.
"Now, Joel,"—Mr. Harrow looked down at his charge,—"you seem to be left for me to take care of. Well, suppose you come into my room, and tell me something about this affair."
Joel, with his heart full of distress about David and Tom, now that the immediate cause of alarm over his being put into "Coventry" was gone, could scarcely conceal his dismay, as he followed Mr. Harrow to his room. He soon found himself on a chair; and the under-teacher, setting his candlestick down, took an opposite one.
"Do you mind telling me all about this little affair of yours, Joe?" said Mr. Harrow, leading off easily. His manner, once away from the presence of the matron, was as different as possible; and Joel, who had never met him in just this way, stared in amazement.
"You see, Joe," the under-teacher went on, and he began to play with some pencils on the table, "it isn't so very long ago, it seems to me, since I was a boy. And I climbed lightning conductors too. I really did, Joel."
Joel's black eyes gathered a bright gleam in their midst.
"Yes, and at night, too," said the under-teacher softly, "though I shouldn't want you to mention it to the boys. So now, if you wouldn't mind, Joel, I should really like to hear all about this business of yours."
But Joel twisted his hands, only able to say, "Oh dear! I can't tell, Mr. Harrow." His distress was dreadful to see.
"Well," said the under-teacher slowly, "perhaps in the morning you'll feel better able to tell. I won't press it now. You must get to bed, Joe," with a keen look at his face.
"Oh Mr. Harrow—would you—would you—" Joel jumped out of his seat, and over to the under-teacher's chair.
"Would I what?" asked Mr. Harrow in perplexity, wishing very much that "Mamsie," whom he had seen on her visits to the school, were there at that identical moment.
"Would you—oh, might I unlock the—the back door?" gasped Joel, his black eyes very big with distress.
"Unlock the back door?" repeated Mr. Harrow. Then he paused a moment. "Certainly; I'll go with you." He got out of his chair.
"Oh, no, sir," cried Joel tumbling back, "I'll—I'll do it alone if I may; please, sir."
"Oh, no, Joel, that can't ever be allowed," Mr. Harrow was saying decidedly, when steps were heard coming down the hall, and there was John, the watchman, hauling David Pepper along the dimly lighted hall to the extra gleam of the under-teacher's room.
"I found this boy asleep on the steps," announced John, coming in with his charge.
"Why, David Pepper!" exclaimed Mr. Harrow in astonishment. Then he turned a cold glance on Joel, who flew over to Davie's side.
"Joel!" cried David convulsively, and blinking dreadfully as he came into the light. "Oh, I'm so glad you're safe—oh, so glad, Joey!" He hid his face on Joel's arm, and sobbed.
"You may go, John," said the under-teacher to that individual, who kept saying, "I found that boy asleep on the steps," over and over, unable to stop himself. "And don't say anything about this to any one. I will take care of the matter."
"All right, sir," said John, glad to be relieved of all responsibility, and touching his cap. "I found that boy asleep on the steps," he added as he took himself off.
"Now, see here." Mr. Harrow laid his hand on David's shoulder, ignoring Joel for the time, and drew him aside. "The whole of this business must be laid before me, David. So begin."
"Oh Dave!" cried Joel, springing up to him. "Oh, sir—oh, Mr. Harrow, it was all my fault, truly it was. David only came after me. Oh Mr. Harrow, don't make him tell."
"You go and sit down in that chair, Joel," said Mr. Harrow, pointing to it. So Joel went, and got on it, twisting miserably.
"Now, then, David."
"You see," said David, the tears still rolling down his cheeks, "that—oh dear!—Joel was gone, and—"
"How did you know Joel was gone?" interrupted the under-teacher.
"Oh dear!" David caught his breath. "Another boy told me, sir."
David hesitated. "Must I tell, sir?" not trusting himself to look at Joel.
"Ugh!" Joel sprang from his chair. "He hadn't anything to do with it, sir. Tom has been awfully good. He only told Dave."
"Go back to your chair, Joel," said Mr. Harrow. "Now, then, David, go on. So you went out with Beresford to find Joel, eh?"
"Yes, sir," said David faintly.
"Any other boy?" asked the under-teacher quickly.
"Well, then, Tom is waiting out there, I suppose, now." Mr. Harrow got out of his chair.
"He didn't have anything to do with it, sir," cried Joel wildly, and flying out of his chair again, "truly he didn't."
"I understand." Mr. Harrow nodded. "I'm going to bring him in. Now it isn't necessary to tell you two boys not to do any talking while I'm gone." With that he went over to a corner, took down a lantern, lighted it, and passed out.
When he came back, both Joel and David knew quite well by Tom's face, that the whole story was out; and Joel, who understood as well as any one that Floyd Jenkins never by any possibility could be a favorite with instructors, any more than with the boys, unless he changed his whole tactics, groaned again at thought that he had made matters worse for him.
"Now all three of you scatter to bed," was all the under-teacher said as he came in with Tom. "No talking now; get up as softly as you can. Good night."
IV OF VARIOUS THINGS
And the next day, the story which flew all over the yard, how that Joel Pepper was "put into Coventry" last night, was overtaken and set right.
"Huh! there, now you see," cried Van Whitney, coming out of his rage. He had cried so that his eyes were all swollen up, and he was a sight to behold. Percy, too miserable to say anything, and wishing he could ever cry when he felt badly, had slunk out of sight, to bear the trouble as well as he might. Now he came up bright and smiling. "Yes, now you see," he cried triumphantly.
"Oh, I hope that mean beggar Jenk will be expelled." There appeared to be but one voice about it.
"Well, he won't," said Van.
"Won't? Why not?" The boys crowded around him on the playground, all games being deserted for this new excitement. "Why not, pray tell?"
"Of course he will," said one boy decidedly. "Dr. Marks never'll keep him after this."
"Yes he will too," roared Van, glad he could tell the news first, but awfully disappointed that it must be that Jenkins was to stay, "for Joel got Dr. Marks to promise there shouldn't anything be done to Jenk. So there now!"
"What, not after locking that door! That was the worst." The boys, two or three of them, took up the cry, "'Twas beastly mean."
"Contemptible! Just like Jenk!" went all over the playground.
"Well, he isn't to go," repeated Van with a sigh; "and Joel says he was as bad, because he went out at night to fight."
"Why, he had to; Jenk dared him. And he couldn't have it out in the dormitory; you know he couldn't, Whitney," said one of the boys in surprise.
"Oh dear! I know," said Van helplessly. "Well, Joel says it's no matter that the racket was stolen out of his room, and—"
"No matter!" ejaculated the boys, a whole crowd of them swarming around him, "well, if that isn't monstrous!"
"Oh, Joel's afraid that Dr. Marks will expel Jenk," Percy, very uncomfortable to have Joel blamed, made haste to say. "Don't you see?"
"Well, he ought to be turned out," declared one boy decidedly. "Never mind, we'll make it so hot for that Jenk, he'll want to go."
"No, you mustn't," declared Percy, now very much alarmed. "Oh, no, you mustn't, Hobbs; because, if you do, Joel won't like it. Oh, he'll be so angry! He won't like it a bit, I tell you," he kept saying.
The idea of Joel's not liking it, seemed to take all the fun out of the thing; so Hobbs found himself saying, "Well, all right, I suppose we've got to put up with the fellow then. But you know yourself, Whitney, he's a mean cad."
There seemed to be but one opinion about that. But the fact remained that Jenkins was still to be one of them, to be treated as well as they could manage. And for the next few days, Joel had awfully hard work to be go-between for all the crowd, and the boy who had made it hard for him.
"You'll have to help me out, Tom," he said more than once in despair.
"Pretty hard lines," said Tom. Then the color flew all over his face. "I suppose I really ought, for you know, Pepper, I told you I wanted at first that you should lose your racket."
"Never mind that now, Tom," said Joel brightly, and sticking out his brown hand. "You've been awfully good ever since."
"Had to," grunted Tom, hanging to the hand, "when I saw how mean the beggar was."
"And but for you I should never have found the racket, at least not in time." Joel shivered, remembering the close call he had had from losing the game.
Tom shivered too, but for a different cause. "If I hadn't told him, I'd always have hated myself," he thought.
"Well, Joe, I wouldn't after this give away a racket. Now you see if you hadn't bestowed your old one on that ragamuffin in town, you wouldn't have been in such a scrape." Tom tried to turn it off lightly.
"Oh, that made no difference," Joel made haste to say, "'cause I could have borrowed another. But I'd got used to my new one. Besides, Grandpapa sent it to me to practise with for this game, and I really couldn't have done so well without it."
"Yes, I know—I know," said Tom remorsefully, "and that's what Jenk knew, too, the beggar!"
"Well, it's all over now," said Joel merrily, "so say no more about it."
But it wasn't all over with Jenkins; and he resolved within himself to pay Joel Pepper up sometime, after the boys had forgotten a little about this last exploit, if they ever did.
And that afternoon Joel staid in, foregoing all the charms of a ball game, to write Mamsie a complete account of the affair, making light of the other boys' part in it, and praising up Tom Beresford to the skies. "And oh, Mamsie," Joel wrote over and over, "Dave didn't have anything to do with it—truly he didn't. And Mr. Harrow is just bully," he wrote,—then scratched it out although it mussed the letter up dreadfully—"he's fine, he is! And oh, I like Dr. Marks, ever so much, I do"—till Mrs. Fisher had a tolerably good idea of the whole thing.
"I'm not sorry, Adoniram," she said, after Dr. Fisher had read the letter at least twice, and then looked over his spectacles at her keenly, "that I agreed with Mr. King that it was best that the boys should go away to school."
"Now any other woman," exclaimed the little doctor admiringly, "would have whimpered right out, and carried on dreadfully at the least sign of trouble coming to her boy."
"No, I'm not a bit sorry," repeated Mrs. Fisher firmly, "for it's going to be the making of Joel, to teach him to take care of himself. And I'd trust him anywhere," she added proudly.
"So you may; so you may, my dear," declared the little doctor gaily. "And I guess, if the truth were told, that Joel's part in this whole scrape hasn't been such a very bad one after all."
Which came to be the general view when Dr. Marks' letter arrived, and one from the under-instructor followed, setting things in the right light. And although old Mr. King was for going off directly to interview the master, with several separate and distinct complaints and criticisms, he was at last persuaded to give up the trip and let matters work their course under the proper guidance at the school.
"So, Polly, my child," he said on the following day, when the letters were all in, "I believe I'll trust Dr. Marks, after all, to settle the affair. He seems a very good sort of a man, on the whole, and I really suppose he knows what to do with a lot of boys; though goodness me! how he can, passes my comprehension. So I am not going."
"Oh Grandpapa!" exclaimed Polly, the color flooding her cheek, and she seized his hand in a glad little way.
"Yes, I really see no necessity for going," went on the old gentleman, much as if he were being urged out of his way to set forth; "so I shall stay at home. Joel can take care of himself. I'd trust him anywhere," he brought up, using the same words that Mother Fisher had employed.
"Wouldn't you, Grandpapa!" cried Polly with sparkling eyes, and clinging to him.
"Yes, Polly, my child," said Grandpapa emphatically, "because, no matter into what mischief Joe may get, he always owns up. Goodness me! Polly, that boy can't go very far wrong, with such a mother as you've got."
Alexia Rhys, running through the wide hall, came upon the two. "Oh, beg pardon, and may we girls have Polly?" all in the same breath.
"Get away with you," laughed old Mr. King, who had his own reasons for liking Alexia, "that's the way you always do, trying to get Polly Pepper away when we are having a good talk."
"Oh dear!" exclaimed Alexia, doing her best to curb her impatience, and pinching her hands together, "we did so want—"
"I can't go now, Alexia," said Polly, still clinging to Mr. King's hand.
Grandpapa sent a keen glance over into Alexia's face. "I think you better go, Polly," he said. "You and I will have our talk later."
"Oh goody!" cried Alexia, hopping up and down. And "Oh Grandpapa!" reproachfully from Polly.
"Yes, Polly, it's best for you to go with the girls now," said old Mr. King, gently relinquishing her hands, "so run along with you, child." And he went into the library.
"Come right along," cried Alexia gustily, and pulling Polly down the hall.
"There now, you see, you've dragged me away from Grandpapa," cried Polly in a vexed way.
"Well, he said you were to go," cried Alexia, perfectly delighted at the result. "Oh, we're to have such fun! You can't think, Polly Pepper."
"Of course he did, when you said the girls wanted me," said Polly, half determined, even then, to run back. "I'd much rather have staid with him, Alexia."
"Well, you can't, because he said you were to come; and besides, here are the girls." And there they were on the back porch, six or eight of them in a group.
"Oh Polly, Polly!" they cried, "are you coming—can you really go?" swarming around her. "And do get your hat on," said Clem Forsythe "and hurry up."
"Where are you going?" asked Polly.
"The idea! Alexia Rhys, you are a great one to send after her," cried Sally Moore. "Not even to tell her where we are going, or what we want her for!"
"Well, I got her here, and that is half of the battle," said Alexia, in an injured way; "and my goodness me! Polly won't hardly speak to me now; and you may go yourself after her next time, Sally Moore."
"There, girls, don't fight," said Clem sweetly. "Polly, we are going out to Silvia Horne's. Mrs. Horne has just telephoned to see if we'll come out to supper. Come, hurry up; we want to catch the next car. She says she'll send somebody home with us."
"Yes, yes, do hurry," begged the girls, hopping up and down on anxious feet.
"I must ask Mamsie," said Polly. "Oh, how perfectly splendid!" running off with a glad remembrance of lessons all ready for the next day. "Now how nice it is that Mamsie always made me get them the first thing," she reflected as she sped along.
Mamsie said "yes," for she well knew that Mrs. Horne was a careful person, and when she promised anything it was always well done. "But brush your hair, Polly," she said, "it looks very untidy flying all over your head."
So Polly rushed off to her own room; Alexia, who didn't dare to trust her out of her sight, at her heels, to get in the way, and hinder dreadfully by teasing Polly every minute to "hurry—we'll lose the train."
"Where are you going, Polly?" asked Phronsie, hearing Alexia's voice; and laying down her doll, she went into the blue and white room that was Polly's very own. "Oh, may I go too?" as Polly ran to the closet to get out her second-best hat.
"Oh dear me!" began Alexia.
"No, Pet," said Polly, her head in the closet. "Oh my goodness! where is that hat?"
"Oh dear!" exclaimed Alexia, wringing her hands, "we'll be late and miss the train. Do hurry, Polly Pepper."
"I'll find it, Polly," said Phronsie, going to the closet and getting down on her knees, to peer around.
"Oh, it wouldn't be on the floor, Phronsie," began Polly. "Oh dear me! where can it be?"
"Here it is," cried Alexia, "behind the bed." And running off, she picked it up, and swung it over to Polly.
"Goodness me!" said Polly with a little laugh, "I remember now, I tossed it on the bed, I thought. Well, I'm ready now, thank fortune," pinning on her hat. "Good-bye, Pet."
"I am so very glad it is found, Polly," said Phronsie, getting up on tiptoe to pull Polly's hat straight and get another kiss.
"Come on, Polly," called Alexia, flying over the stairs. "Yes, yes, girls, she's coming! Oh dear me, Polly, we'll be late!"
V AT SILVIA HORNE'S
But they weren't—not a bit of it—and had ten minutes to spare as they came rushing up to the station platform.
"Oh, look—look, girls." Polly Pepper pointed up to the clock, pushing back the damp rings of hair from her forehead. "Oh dear me—I'm so hot!"
"And so am I," panted the other girls, dashing up. One of them sank down on the upper step, and fanned herself in angry little puffs with her hat, which she twitched off for that purpose.
"Just like you, Alexia," cried one when she could get her breath, "you're always scaring us to death."
"Well, I'm sure I was scared myself, Clem," retorted Alexia, propping herself against the wall. "Oh dear! I can't breathe; I guess I'm going to die—whew, whew!"
As Alexia made this statement quite often on similar occasions, the girls heard it with the air of an old acquaintance, and straightened their coats and hats, and pulled themselves into shape generally.
"Oh my goodness, how you look, Sally! Your hat is all over your left eye." Alexia deserted her wall, and ran over to pull it straight.
"You let me be," cried Sally crossly, and twitching away. "If it hadn't been for you, my hat would have staid where I put it. I'll fix it myself." She pulled out the long pin.
"Oh dear me! now the head has come off," she mourned.
"Oh my goodness! Your face looks the worst—isn't it sweet!" cried Alexia coolly, who hadn't heard this last.
"Don't, Alexia," cried Polly, "she's lost her pin."
"Misery!" exclaimed Alexia, starting forward, "oh, where, where—"
"It isn't the pin," said Sally, holding that out, "but the head has flown off." She jumped off from the step and began to peer anxiously around in the dirt, all the girls crowding around and getting dreadfully in the way.
"What pin was it, Sally?" asked Polly, poking into a tuft of grass beneath the steps, "your blue one?"
"No; it was my best one—oh dear me!" Sally looked ready to cry, and turned away so that the girls couldn't see her face.
"Not the one your aunt gave you, Sally!" exclaimed Clem.
"Yes—yes." Sally sniffed outright now. "Oh dear! I put it in because—because—we were going to Silvia's—oh dear me!"
She gave up now, and sobbed outright.
"Don't cry, Sally," begged Polly, deserting her grass-tuft, to run over to her. "We'll find it." Alexia was alternately picking frantically in all the dust-heaps, and wringing her hands, one eye on the clock all the while.
"Oh, no, you won't," whimpered Sally. "It flew right out of my hand, and it's gone way off—I know it has—oh dear!" and she sobbed worse than ever.
"Perhaps one of those old hens will pick it up," suggested Lucy Bennett, pointing across the way to the station master's garden, where four or five fowl were busily scratching.
"Oh—oh!" Sally gave a little scream at that, and threw herself into Polly Pepper's arms. "My aunt's pin—and she told me—to be careful, and she won't—won't ever give me anything else, and now those old hens will eat it. Oh dear me! what shall I do?"
"How can you, Lucy, say such perfectly dreadful things?" cried Polly. "Don't cry, Sally. Girls, do keep on looking for it as hard as you can. Sally, do stop."
But Sally was beyond stopping. "She told—told me only to wear it Sundays, and with my best—best dress. Oh, do give me your handkerchief, Polly. I've left mine home."
So Polly pulled out her clean handkerchief from her coat pocket, and Sally wiped up her face, and cried all over it, till it was a damp little wad; and the girls poked around, and searched frantically, and Alexia, one eye on the clock, exclaimed, "Oh, girls, it's time for the train. Oh misery me! what shall we do?"
"And here it comes!" Lucy Bennett screamed.
"Stick on your hat, Sally, you've the pin part. Come, hurry up!" cried the others. And they all huddled around her.
"Oh, I can't go," began Sally.
"You must," said Clem; "we've telephoned back to Mrs. Horne we're coming. Do stick on your hat, Sally Moore."
Alexia was spinning around, saying over and over to herself, "I won't stay back—I won't." Then, as the train slowly rounded the long curve and the passengers emerged from the waiting-room, she rushed up to the knot of girls. "Go along, Sally Moore, and I'll stay and hunt for your old pin," just as some one twitched Sally's hat from her fingers and clapped it on her head.
"Oh my goodness me!" Alexia gave a little scream, and nearly fell backward. "Look—it's on your own head! Oh, girls, I shall die." She pointed tragically up to the hat, then gave a sudden nip with her long fingers, and brought out of a knot of ribbon, a gilt, twisted affair with pink stones. "You had it all the time, Sally Moore," and she went into peals of laughter.
"Well, do stop; everybody's looking," cried the rest of the girls, as they raced off to the train, now at a dead stop. Sally, with her hat crammed on her head at a worse angle than ever, only realized that she had the ornament safely clutched in her hand.
"Oh, I can't help it," exclaimed Alexia gustily, and hurrying off to get next to Polly. "Oh dear me!—whee—whee!" as they all plunged into the train.
When they arrived at Edgewood, there was a carriage and a wagonette drawn up by the little station, and out of the first jumped Silvia, and following her, a tall, thin girl who seemed to have a good many bracelets and jingling things.
"My cousin, Kathleen Briggs. She just came to-day," said Silvia, "while I was at school, and so mother thought it would be nice to have you girls out to supper, 'cause they're only going to stay till to-morrow. Oh, it's so fine that you've come! Well, come and get in. Polly, you're going in the carriage with Kathleen and me. Come on."
Alexia crowded up close behind.
"I'm going with Polly Pepper, this time," announced Sally, pushing in between; "Alexia always gets her."
"Well, she's my very dearest friend," said Alexia coolly, and working her long figure up close to Polly, as Silvia led her off, "so of course I always must go with her."
"Well, so she is our very dearest friend, too, Alexia Rhys," declared Clem, "and we're going to have her sometimes, ourselves." And there they were in a dreadful state, and Silvia's cousin, the new girl, to see it all!
She jingled her bracelets, and picked at the long chain dangling from her neck, and stared at them all.
"Oh my goodness!" exclaimed Polly Pepper with very red cheeks. "Alexia, don't—don't," she begged.
"Well, I don't care," said Alexia recklessly, "the girls are always picking at me because I will keep next to you, Polly, and you're my very dearest friend, and——"
"But Sally had such a fright about her pin," said Polly in a low tone. Alexia was crowded up close and hugging her arm, so no one else heard.
"Well, that old pin dropped in the ribbon; she had it herself all the time, oh dear!" Alexia nearly went off again at the remembrance.
"She felt badly, all the same," said Polly slowly. She didn't even smile, and Alexia could feel that the arm was slipping away from her.
"Oh dear me!" she began, then she dropped Polly Pepper's arm. "Sally, you may go next," she cried suddenly, and she skipped back into the bunch of the other girls.
Polly sent her an approving little nod, and she didn't fail to smile now. Alexia ran over to the wagonette, and hopped in, not daring to trust herself to see Sally Moore's satisfaction ahead in the coveted seat.
The other girls jumping in, the wagonette was soon filled, and away they spun for the two miles over to the Hornes' beautiful place. And before long, their respects having been paid to Mrs. Horne, the whole bevy was up in Silvia's pretty pink and white room overlooking the lake.
"I think it's just too lovely for anything here, Silvia Horne," exclaimed Sally, whose spirits were quite recovered now. She had her aunt's pin all safe, and she had ridden up next to Polly. "Oh girls, she has a new pincushion and cover."
"Yes, a whole new set," said Silvia carelessly, as the girls rushed over from the bed where they were laying their things, to see this new acquisition to the beautiful room.
"Well, if I could have such perfectly exquisite things," breathed Alexia as they all oh-ed and ah-ed over the pink ribbons and dainty lace, "I'd be the very happiest girl."
Kathleen Briggs thrust her long figure in among the bevy. "That toilet set is very pretty," she said indifferently and with quite a young-lady air.
"Very pretty!" repeated Alexia, turning her pale eyes upon her in astonishment, "well, I should think it was! It's too perfectly elegant for anything!"
"Oh dear me!" Kathleen gave a little laugh. "It's just nothing to the one I have on my toilet table at home. Besides, I shall bring home some Oriental lace, and have a new one: I'm going around the world to-morrow, you know."
"Oh my goodness!" exclaimed Alexia faintly. And the other girls fell back, and stared respectfully.
"Yes," said Kathleen, delighted at the effect she had produced. "We start to-morrow, and we don't know how long we shall be gone. Perhaps two years. Papa says he'll stay if we want to; but mamma and I may get tired and come home." She jingled her bracelets worse than ever.
"They've come to bid us good-bye, you see," said Silvia, to break the uncomfortable silence.
"Oh yes," said Polly Pepper.
"Well, if you've got your things off, let's go out of doors," proposed Silvia suddenly.
"Yes, do let's." The girls drew a long breath as they raced off.
"I think that Kathleen Briggs is too perfectly horrid for anything"—Alexia got up close to Polly as they flew down the stairs—"with her going round the world, and her sniffing at Silvia's toilet set."
"Hush—hush!" whispered Polly, "she'll hear you."
"Well, I don't care; and she's going round the world to-morrow, so what does it signify?" said Alexia. "Oh, don't go so fast, Polly. You most made me tumble on my nose."
"Well, you mustn't come with me, then, if you don't keep up," said Polly, with a merry little laugh, and hurrying on.
"I'm going to keep up," cried Alexia, dashing after, "but you go so fast," she grumbled.
"We're going to have tea out on the lawn," announced Silvia in satisfaction, as the bevy rushed out on the broad west piazza.
The maids were already busily setting three little tables, that were growing quite pretty under their hands.
"There will be four at each table," said Silvia. "Polly's going to sit with Kathleen and me, and one other girl—I don't know which one yet," she said slowly.
"Oh, choose me." Alexia worked her way along eagerly to the front. "I'm her dearest friend—Polly's, I mean. So you ought to choose me."
"Well, I sha'n't," declared Silvia. "You crowded me awfully at Lucy Bennett's party, and kept close to Polly Pepper all the time."
"Well, that's because you would keep Polly yourself. You crowded and pushed horribly yourself, you know you did." Her long face was quite red now.
"Well, I had to," declared Silvia coolly. "At any rate, you sha'n't have Polly to-day, for I've quite decided. Clem, you shall have the other seat at my table."
Clem hopped up and down and beat her hands together in glee. "There, Alexia Rhys!" she cried in triumph. "Who's got Polly Pepper now, I'd like to know!"
Alexia, much discomfited, fell back. "Well, I think that's a great way to give a party," she said, "to get up a fight the first thing."
But Silvia and Kathleen had got Polly Pepper one on each side, and were now racing down to the lake. "We're going to have a sail," called Silvia over her shoulder, so they all followed, Alexia among the rest, with no time for anything else. There was the steam launch waiting for them.
"Girls—girls!" Mrs. Horne called to them from the library, "wait a moment. Mr. and Mrs. Briggs are going too."
"Oh bother!" began Silvia. Then the color flew into her face, for Kathleen heard.
"I shall tell my mother what you said," she declared.
"Dear me! no, you mustn't," begged Silvia in alarm.
"Yes, I shall too." Kathleen's bracelets jingled worse than ever as she shook them out.
"Well, I call that real hateful," broke out Silvia, a red spot on either cheek, "you know I didn't mean it."
"Well, you said it. And if you think it's a bother to take my mother and father out on your old launch, I sha'n't stop here and bring you anything when I come home from around the world."
Silvia trembled. She very much wanted something from around the world. So she put her arm about Kathleen. "Oh, make up now," she said. "They're coming," as Mr. and Mrs. Briggs advanced down the path. "Promise you won't tell," she begged.
"Yes, do," said Polly Pepper imploringly.
So Kathleen promised, and everything became quite serene, just in time for Mr. and Mrs. Briggs to have the girls presented to them. And then they all jumped into the steam launch, and the men sent her into the lake, and everything was as merry as could be under the circumstances.
"I haven't got to go to school to-morrow," announced Silvia when they were well off. "Isn't that too fine for anything, girls?"
"Dear me! I should say so," cried Alexia enviously. "How I wish I could ever stay home! But aunt is so very dreadful, she makes me go every single day."
"Well, I'm going to stay home to bid Kathleen good-bye, you know," said Silvia.
"You see we are going around the world," announced Mrs. Briggs. She was just like Kathleen as far as mother and daughter could be, and she had more jingling things on, besides a long lace scarf that was catching in everything; and she carried a white, fluffy parasol in her hand. "And we've come to bid good-bye to our relatives before we start. Kathleen, you shouldn't have come out on the water without your hat," for the first time noticing her daughter's bare head.
"None of the girls have hats on," said Kathleen, shaking her long light braids.
"Well, I don't see how their mothers can allow it," exclaimed Mrs. Briggs, glancing around on the group, "but I sha'n't let you, Kathleen. Dear me! you will ruin your skin. Now you must come under my parasol." She moved up on the seat. "Here, come over here."
"Oh, I'm not going to," cried Kathleen with a grimace. "I can't see anything under that old thing. Besides, I'm going to stay with the girls."
"Yes, you must come under my parasol." A frown of real anxiety settled on her mother's face. "You'll thank me by and by for saving your complexion for you, Kathleen; so come over."
"No," said Kathleen, hanging back, and holding to Silvia's arm.
"There's your veil, you know." Mr. Briggs hadn't spoken before, but now he edged up to his wife. "It's in my pocket."
"So it is," cried his wife joyfully, as Mr. Briggs pulled out a long green tissue veil. "I am so glad I had you bring it. Now, Kathleen, tie this all over your head; your father will bring it over to you. And next time, do obey me, and wear your hat as I've always told you."
So Kathleen, not daring to hold back from this command, but grumbling at every bit of the process, tied on the veil, and then sat up very cross and stiff through the rest of the sail.
"I should rather never go around the world, if I'd got to be tied up like an old green mummy every step," Alexia managed to whisper in Polly's ear as they hopped out of the launch. And she was very sweet to Kathleen after that, pitying her dreadfully.
VI THE ACCIDENT
"Oh dear me!" exclaimed Clem. They were all on the cars—the early train—going home; the governess, a middle-aged person who looked after the younger Horne children and who was going in to her sister's to pass the night, taking care of the party. "Now I've got to sit up till all hours when I get home, to get my lessons."
Polly Pepper gave a comfortable little wriggle under her coat. "Isn't it nice Mamsie makes me get my lessons the first thing, before I play!" she said to herself for about the fiftieth time.
"So have I," cried Lucy Bennett, echoing Clem's words.
"Well, I can't," cried Alexia with a flounce, "because my aunt won't let me sit up after nine o'clock; that is, to study. So I have to get up early in the morning. Oh dear!" with a grimace at the thought.
"So do I," said Amy Garrett. "Dear me! and I'm just as sleepy in the morning as I can be."
Alexia yawned at the very memory of it. "Well, don't let's talk of it," she begged. "Seems as if Miss Salisbury's eyes were all over me now."
"I have Miss Anstice to-morrow," said Amy, "and it's the day for her black silk gown."
"Horrors!" exclaimed Alexia; and, "How do you know she'll wear the black silk gown to-morrow, Amy?" from the other girls.
"Because she said Professor Mills from the Institute is to be there to-morrow," said Amy. "He gives the art lecture to our class. And you know the black silk gown will surely go on."
"There's no help for you, you poor child," cried Alexia, exulting that she never would be gathered into Miss Anstice's class, and that she just hated art and all that sort of thing, despite the efforts of Miss Salisbury's younger sister to get her interested. "Yes, that black silk gown will surely be there. Look out now, Amy; all you girls will catch it."
"Oh, I know it," said Amy with a sigh. "How I do wish I never'd got into that class!"
"Well, you know I told you," said Alexia provokingly; "you'd much better have taken my advice and kept out of her clutches."
"I wish I had," mourned Amy again.
"How Miss Anstice can be so horrid—she isn't a bit like Miss Salisbury," said Alexia. "I don't see—"
"She isn't horrid," began Polly.
"Well, not always," said Polly.
"Well, she is anyway when she has company, and gets on that black silk gown; just as stiff and cross and perky and horrid as can be."
"She wants you all to show off good," said Alexia. "Well, I'm glad enough I'm not in any of her old classes. I just dote on Miss Salisbury."
"Oh Alexia, you worry the life out of her almost," said Sally.
"Can't help it if I do," said Alexia sweetly. "I'm very fond of her. And as for Mademoiselle, she's a dear. Oh, I love Mademoiselle, too."
"Well, she doesn't love you," cried Clem viciously. "Dear me! fancy one of the teachers being fond of Alexia!"
"Oh, you needn't laugh," said Alexia composedly as the girls giggled; "every single one of those teachers would feel dreadfully if I left that school. They would really, and cry their eyes out."
"And tear their hair, I suppose," said Clem scornfully.
"Yes, and tear their—why, what in this world are we stopping for?" cried Alexia in one breath.
So everybody else wondered, as the train gradually slackened speed and came to a standstill. Everybody who was going in to town to the theatre or opera, began to look impatient at once.
"Oh dear!" cried the girls who were going to sit up to study, "now isn't this just as hateful as it can be?"
"I don't care," said Alexia, settling comfortably back, "because I can't study much anyway, so I'd just as soon sit on this old train an hour."
"Oh Alexia!" exclaimed Polly in dismay, with her heart full at the thought of Mamsie's distress, and that of dear Grandpapa and Jasper. Phronsie would be abed anyway by the time the early train was in, so she couldn't worry. But all the others—"Oh dear me!" she gasped.
"Don't look so, Polly," said Alexia, "we'll start pretty soon, I guess."
The governess, Miss Baker, came over from the opposite seat to stand in the aisle. "I think we'll start soon," she said. But her eyes looked worried.
"What is it—oh, Miss Baker, what is the reason we're stopping?" cried two or three of the girls.
"I don't know," said the governess.
A man coming in from outside, where a lot of gentlemen were pouring out of the cars to investigate, furnished the information.
"Driving wheel broken," he said, being sparing of words.
"Oh, can't we go out to see?" cried Alexia, hopping out of her seat. "Come on," and she was prancing down the aisle.
"No, indeed," said Miss Baker in displeasure, "and do you come directly back," she commanded.
"Oh dear me!" grumbled Alexia to Sally, who had tumbled out after her, "she's worse than Miss Anstice—stiff, precise old thing!" She came slowly back.
"That a young lady under my care," said Miss Baker, lifting her black gloves in amazement, "should so far forget herself as to want to run out on that track with a lot of men! I am astonished."
"There's a girl out there," said Alexia, sinking into her seat crossly, and peering over Polly Pepper's head.
"And there's another," proclaimed Sally triumphantly.
"Well, if they've forgotten themselves so far as to go out there under such circumstances, I shall not let any young lady in my care do it," said Miss Baker emphatically.
So, swallowing their disappointment at not being allowed to see all that presented itself, the girls settled back and made themselves as comfortable as possible. Meantime almost everybody else poured out of their car. But it seemed to Polly Pepper as if she never could keep still in all this world. And she clasped her hands tightly together and hoped nobody would speak to her just yet.
"Polly,"—Alexia gave a little push, as she leaned over,—"isn't it perfectly dreadful to be mewed up here in this way? Say, Polly, do talk."
"Go right away, Alexia." Polly gave a little flounce, and sat quite straight.
"Oh dear me!" exclaimed Alexia in astonishment, and falling back.
"And I wish you would let me alone," cried Polly, quite aghast at herself, but unable to stop.
"Oh dear me!" Alexia kept saying quite faintly, and rolling her eyes.
"Well, I'm glad Polly has made you behave for once," said Clem, who never could forgive Alexia for getting Polly so much to herself.
Alexia stopped saying, "Oh dear me!" and sat quite still. Just then Polly turned and saw her face.
"Oh Alexia!" she cried, flying at her, when an awful bump, and then another much worse, and then a grinding noise, perfectly terrible,—and everybody who was left in the car, went tumbling out of their seats.
"Oh, we're run into!" screamed half a dozen of the girls. Miss Baker, who had been standing in the aisle, was down in a heap on the floor.
"Oh, oh!" Polly had her arms around Alexia and was hugging her tightly. "Are you hurt?" as they wriggled out of the bunch of girls into which they had been precipitated, up to their feet.
"N—no," Alexia, tried to say. Instead, she wobbled over, and laid her head on Polly's arm.
"Girls—girls—Miss Baker!" called Polly, not seeing that lady, in the confusion of the other passengers, staggering along the aisle, her bonnet knocked over her eyes, and a girl on either hand to help her along. "Clem—oh, somebody help me! Alexia is hurt." But nobody heard in the general tumult.
"Oh dear! Alexia, do open your eyes," begged Polly, quite gone now with distress. "And to think I was so cross to her!" And she turned quite white.
"Dear, dear Alexia," she cried; and because there was nothing else to do, she leaned over and dropped a kiss on Alexia's long face, and two tears dropped down as well.
Alexia opened her eyes. "That's very nice, Polly," she said, "do so some more."
"Aren't you ashamed!" cried Polly, the rosy color coming back to her cheek. And then, remembering, she hugged Alexia tightly. "Oh, I'm so glad you're not hurt, Alexia, so very glad!" she cried gratefully.
"Ow!" exclaimed Alexia, shrinking back.
"Oh, now you are hurt," cried Polly. "Oh Alexia!" And she turned very white again. "Tell me where it is." And just then some of the girls rushed up with the news, corroborated by the other passengers, that the down express had run into them,—been signalled, but couldn't stop in time, etc., etc.,—till Polly thought she should go wild before the babel could be stopped. "Don't crowd around so," she cried hoarsely. "Alexia is hurt."
"Alexia?" The noise, as far as Miss Salisbury's girls were concerned, stopped at once; and at last the other passengers were made to understand how it was. And Alexia, quite faint now, but having sense enough to hang to Polly Pepper's hand, was laid across an improvised bed made of two seats, and a doctor who happened to be on the train, one of the party going in to the theatre, came up, and looked her over professionally.
"It's my arm," said Alexia, opening her eyes again; "it was doubled up someway under me. Oh dear me! I'm so silly to faint."
"You're not silly at all," cried Polly warmly, and holding her well hand, while her eyes searched the doctor's face anxiously. "Oh, is it broken?" they asked, as plainly as possible.
"Not a bit of it," said the doctor cheerfully, feeling it all over again to make quite sure, while Alexia set her teeth together, trying not to show how very much it hurt. "It's badly strained,—the ligaments are;—but fortunately no bones are broken."
"Oh dear!" groaned Alexia. "Now why can't it be broken?"
"Oh Alexia!" cried Polly. And now the tears that had been kept back, were rolling down her cheeks. "I'm so happy, I can't help it," she said.
"And the very idea, Alexia Rhys," exclaimed Clem, "to wish your arm had been broken!" and she gave a little shiver.
"It hurts just as much," said Alexia, trying to sit up straight, and making an awful face, "so it might as well be. And I've never been in a railroad accident. But a sprained arm isn't anything to show; any baby can have that—oh dear me!"
"Well, you better lie still," counselled Miss Baker tartly. "Dear me! I little thought when I took charge of you young ladies that any such thing would occur."
"She acts as if she thought we did it on purpose," said Alexia, turning her face over to hide it on Polly's arm again, and wishing her own needn't ache so dreadfully. "Oh dear! such a time as we've had, Polly Pepper, with those dreadful Briggses,—I mean Mrs. Briggs,—and now to be all banged up, and this cross old thing to see us home! And now I never'll be able to get through the term, 'cause I'll have to stay at home with this old arm, and aunt will scold." She was quite out of breath with all her woes.
"Oh, yes, you will," cried Polly reassuringly, "I'll run over every day, and study with you, Alexia. And you'll soon be all well again. Don't try to talk now, dear," and she patted the poor cheeks, and smoothed her hair. All the while she was trying to keep down the worry over the home-circle who would be thrown into the greatest distress, she knew, if news of the accident should reach their ears.
"Can't somebody telephone them?" she cried; "Oh, Miss Baker"—the doctor had rushed off to other possible sufferers—"and tell them no one is hurt;—I mean seriously?"
"There is," said the governess, quite calmly; "a man has been killed."
"A brakeman," Miss Baker hastened to add. "Don't be frightened. None of the passengers."
"Now I know he was brave, and trying to do something to save us," cried Polly, with kindling eyes.
"Yes," said a passenger, coming up to their group, "he was running back with a lantern to signal the train, and he slipped and fell, and the express went over him. But it stopped just in time for us."
"Oh the poor, poor man!" Polly was quite gone by this time, and Alexia forgot her pain in trying to comfort her.
"But suppose he had children," cried Polly, "just suppose it, Alexia."
"I don't want to suppose it," said Alexia, wriggling. "Ugh! you do say such uncomfortable things, Polly Pepper."
"I know it." Polly swallowed hard, and held Alexia's hand tighter than ever. "Well, I won't talk of it any more."
The governess, who had moved away a bit, now came back with vexation plainly written all over her face. "I must go and see if there isn't some way to get a message to Grandpapa King, Alexia," said Polly. "I'll be back as soon as I can." She dropped a kiss on the nearest cheek.
"Don't be gone long," begged Alexia.
"I will go with you," said the governess, stepping off after her.
"Very well," said Polly, going swiftly down the aisle, to see below the car steps a crowd of passengers all in a tumult, and vociferating angrily. In the midst of them, Polly saw the face of the doctor who had just fixed Alexia's arm.
"Oh sir," she began.
He looked up, and caught sight of the brown eyes. "Is the little girl worse?" And he sprang over toward her.
Polly, not stopping to think how furious Alexia would be, who was quite the tallest of their set, to be designated as a little girl, made haste to say, "Oh no, sir; but oh, could you tell me how to let my grandpapa and my mother know we are safe? Could you, sir?" Poor Polly, who had held up so bravely, was clasping her hands tightly together, and the brown eyes were full of tears.
"Well, you see," began the doctor, hating to disappoint her, "it's a difficult matter to get in communication with them at once. We are only five miles out, but—"
"Five miles?" echoed Polly. "Oh then, some one can go to the nearest station, and telephone, can't they, sir?"
"To be sure; and that's been done. But your family, little girl—how can we reach them?"
"Oh, I can run," cried Polly happily, "to the station myself, sir," and she began to clamber down the car steps.
"Come back," commanded the governess, lifting her hands in horror. "I never heard of such a thing. The very idea! What would your grandfather, Mr. King, say to such a thing, Polly Pepper?"
"Mr. who?" cried the doctor. "Stay, little girl," seizing her arm. "Mr. who?" he demanded, looking up to the governess on the car steps.
"Mr. Horatio King," she replied with asperity, "and you'd better be occupied with something else, let me tell you, sir, instead of encouraging his granddaughter to run off on such a wild-goose errand as this."
"I certainly shall take pleasure in performing the wild-goose errand myself," he said. "Now Polly, I'll send the message; don't you worry," and he sped off down the track.
VII THE SALISBURY GIRLS
And then somebody rushed in, saying, "We've another locomotive; now we're going!" And everybody else who was outside hurried into the cars; the new propelling power was attached to the other end of the train, and after a deal of switching, there they were at last—off on the way home!
Polly gave a long breath of relief, and clasped Alexia's hand closely. "Oh, by this time they know at home it's all right," she cried.
The doctor came smilingly down the aisle. "Well," he nodded to Polly. "Yes, it's all right," he said. "I must really call you Polly Pepper now, for I know your grandfather, and Dr. Fisher—well there! indeed I know him."
"Do you?" cried Polly with blooming cheeks, well pleased to find a friend at such a time.
"Yes, indeed. I'm fortunate enough to meet him in hospital work. Now then, how is our little friend here?" He leaned over, and touched Alexia's arm lightly.
"Oh, I'm all right," she said.
"That's good," in a gratified tone. "Now keep plucky, and you'll get out of this finely." Then he sat down on the arm of the seat, and told such a funny story that no one supposed it could be the home station when the train came to a standstill, and he was helping Alexia out.
"There now—drop Polly's hand, if you please," the doctor was saying; "I'll assist you."
"But I don't want to," said Alexia, hanging to it for dear life. "I want Polly."
"I presume so," laughed the doctor, "but I think it's best for me to help you." Miss Baker and all the girls crowded up in a bunch. "Easy there," he said. "Don't hurry so; there's plenty of time." And he got between them and Alexia's lame arm.
And there, down by the car steps—Polly could see him as he waited for the stream of passengers to get out—was Jasper, his eyes eagerly searching every face, with an impatience scarcely to be controlled. And back of him were Dr. Fisher's big glasses, shining as the little doctor pranced back and forth, unable to keep still.
"There they are—there they are!" Polly exclaimed. "Oh, if we could hurry and let them know we're all right!" But they were wedged in so, there was nothing to do but to take their turn and let the passengers in front descend.
"Jasper—oh, Papa Fisher!" At last Polly was out on the platform where she stood on her tiptoes and waved her hand.
"Are you all right?" asked Jasper eagerly, craning his neck to see for himself.
"Yes—yes!" cried Polly. And then presently they had her on either hand! "Oh, help Alexia," she cried, turning back.
Dr. Fisher took one look through his big glasses. "Well, well, Pennell," he exclaimed, "you here?" and he skipped over to them.
"I really believe so," laughed Dr. Pennell.
"Dear me!" Little Dr. Fisher glanced at Alexia quickly.
"Nothing but sprained," the other doctor said quickly. "Still, it needs careful attention."
And then it came out that Alexia's aunt had heard a chance word dropped about the accident, and had run down to Mr. King's in her distress, so she was there awaiting them; and the fathers and brothers of the rest of the "Salisbury girls" took off their charges, much to the relief of the governess. So presently Jasper had his party all settled in the carriage, Dr. Pennell saying, "Well, I resign my responsibility about that arm to you, Dr. Fisher." He lifted his hat, and was off.
"Oh, wait!" cried Polly in great distress as Thomas was just starting off with a dash, "I must speak to him."
"Polly—what is it?" cried Jasper. "Wait, Thomas!" So Thomas pulled up.
"I must—I must," declared Polly. Her foot was on the step, and she was soon out.
"I'll go with you," said Jasper, as she sped down through the streams of people pouring along the platform, to thread her way after the tall figure, Jasper by her side. "Dr. Pennell—oh, please stop."
"Hey?" The doctor pulled up in his brisk walk. "Oh dear me! what is it?"
"Will you please tell me—do you know who the poor man was who was killed?" she gasped.
"Oh Polly," cried Jasper, "was there some one killed?"
"Yes, he was a brakeman, Polly," said Dr. Pennell.
"Oh, I know—but where did he live?" cried Polly, "and had he any children?" all in one breath.
"A big family, I understand," said the doctor gravely.
"Oh dear me!" exclaimed Polly with a sorry droop to the bright head, and clasping her hands, "could you, Dr. Pennell, tell me anything more?"
"That's all I know about the poor fellow," said the doctor. "The conductor told me that."
"I'll find out for you to-morrow, Polly," said Jasper quickly; "I'll run down to the railroad office, and get all the news I can."
"And I'll go with you," said Polly, "for I most know Grandpapa will let me. He was so very good to us all—that poor man was," she mourned.
"Yes, Polly, there's no doubt of that," Dr. Pennell said abruptly. "You and I maybe wouldn't be standing here if it were not for him."
Jasper shivered, and laid hold of Polly's arm. "Well now, run along and get home," finished the doctor cheerily, "and look out for that plucky little friend of yours, and I'll try and find out, too, about that brakeman, and we'll talk the thing over." So Polly and Jasper raced back again down over the platform, clambered into the carriage, and away they went home to Grandpapa and Mamsie!
And Alexia and her aunt staid all night. And after the whole story had been gone over and over, and Grandpapa had held Polly on his knee, all the time she was not in Mamsie's lap, and Alexia had had her poor arm taken care of, and all bandaged up, Dr. Fisher praising her for being so cool and patient, why then it was nearly eleven o'clock.
"Dear me! Polly," cried Mother Fisher in dismay, looking over at the clock—they were all in the library, and all visitors had been denied—"the very idea! you children must get to bed."
"Yes—or you won't be cool and patient to-morrow," said Dr. Fisher decidedly, and patting Alexia's bandages. "Now run off, little girl, and we'll see you bright as a button in the morning."
"I'm not cool and patient," declared Alexia, abruptly pulling down, with her well hand, the little doctor till she could whisper in his ear. "Oh, aunt does fuss so—you can't think; I'm a raging wild animal."
"Well, you haven't been raging to-night, Alexia," said the little doctor, bursting out into a laugh.
"Oh, hush, do," implored Alexia, who wasn't in the slightest degree afraid to speak her mind, least of all to Dr. Fisher, whom she liked immensely; "they'll all hear us," she brought up in terror.
"What is it, Alexia?" cried her aunt from the sofa, where Dr. Fisher had asked her to be seated, as it was well across the room. "Oh, is she worse?" she exclaimed, hurrying over nervously.
"There, now, you see," cried Alexia tragically, and sinking back in her chair; "everything's just as bad as can be now."
"Not in the least, Miss Rhys," the little doctor said in his cheeriest tones, "only Alexia and I had a little joke all by ourselves." And as he waited coolly for the maiden lady to return to her seat, she soon found herself back there. Then he went over to Mamsie, and said something in a low tone.
"Yes, Adoniram." Mother Fisher nodded over Polly's brown head. "She ought to have a good night's sleep."
"Polly," said Dr. Fisher, leaning over her, "it's just this: that aunt of Alexia's—she's a good enough sort of a woman, I suppose," wrinkling his brows in perplexity to find the right words, "but she certainly does possess the faculty to rile folks up remarkably well. She sets my teeth on edge; she does really, wife." He brought out this confession honestly, although he hated professionally to say it. "And Alexia—well, you know, Polly, she ought to be kept quiet to-night. So your mother and I—we do, don't we, dear?" taking Mamsie's hand.
"We certainly do," said Mrs. Fisher, not waiting for the whole story to be told, "think it's best for you to have Alexia with you to-night."
"Oh, goody!" exclaimed Polly, sitting quite straight in Mamsie's lap.
"You are not to talk, Polly, you know," said Dr. Fisher decidedly.
"Oh, we won't—we won't," promised Polly faithfully.
"You can have the red room, Polly," said Mamsie, "because of the two beds. And now, child, you must both hop off and get into them as soon as you can, or you'll be sick to-morrow."
So Polly ran off to bid Grandpapa good night. And then as he held her in his arms, he said, "Well, now, Polly, you and Jasper and I will take that trip down to the railroad station to-morrow."
"Oh, Grandpapa!" cried Polly, clasping her hands, while her cheeks turned rosy red, "I am so very glad. We can go right after school, can't we?"
"School? Oh, you won't go to school to-morrow," said old Mr. King decidedly. "Yes, yes, Mrs. Fisher, in just a minute—Polly shall go to bed in a minute. No, no, Polly, after such an excitement, school isn't to be thought of for a day or two."
"Perhaps she'll be all right in the morning, father," Jasper hurried to say, at sight of Polly's face.
"Oh, I shall—I shall." Polly flashed a bright glance at him. "Please, Grandpapa, let me go. I haven't been absent this year."
"And it's so awfully hard to make up lessons," said Jasper.
"Make up lessons? Well, you needn't make them up. Bless me! Such a scholar as you are, Polly, I guess you'll stand well enough at the end of the year, without any such trouble. Quite well enough," he added with decision.
Polly's brown head drooped, despite her efforts to look bravely up into his face. "Good night, Grandpapa," she said sadly, and was turning away.
"Oh bless me!" exclaimed old Mr. King hastily, "Polly, see here, my child, well—well, in the morning perhaps—dear me!—we can tell then whether it's best for you to go to school or not. Come, kiss me good night, again."
So Polly ran back and gave him two or three kisses, and then raced off, Jasper having time to whisper at the door: "I most know, Polly, father'll let you go; I really and truly believe he will."
"I believe so too," cried Polly happily.
And sure enough, he did. For the next morning Polly ran down to breakfast as merry as a bee, brown eyes dancing, as if accidents were never to be thought of; and Grandpapa pinched her rosy cheek, and said: "Well, Polly, you've won! Off with you to school." And Polly tucked her books under her arm, and raced off with Jasper, who always went to school with her as far as their paths went, turning off at the corner where she hurried off to Miss Salisbury's select school, to go to his own.
"Oh, here comes Polly Pepper!" The girls, some of them waiting for her at the big iron gate, raced down to meet her. "Oh Polly—Polly." At that a group of girls on the steps turned, and came flying up, too. "Oh, tell us all about the awful accident," they screamed. "Tell, Polly, do." They swarmed all over her.
"Give me the books," and one girl seized them. "I'll carry them for you, Polly."
"And, Polly, not one of the other girls that went out to Silvia Horne's is here this morning."
"They may come yet," said Polly; "it's not late."
"Oh, I know; we came early to meet you; well, Silvia isn't here either."
"Oh, she can't come, because of her cousin," said Polly, "and——"
"Well, I don't care whether she ever comes," declared Leslie Fyle. "I can't abide that Silvia Horne."
"Nor I," said another girl, "she's so full of her airs and graces, and always talking about her fine place at Edgewood. Oh dear me! I'm sick of Edgewood!"
A little disagreeable laugh went around.
"Oh, I'll tell you of the accident," said Polly; "come, let's sit down on the steps; we've ten minutes yet."