FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS ABROAD
Illustrated by FANNY Y. CORY
When the friends of the Pepper family found that the author was firm in her decision to continue their history no further, they brought their appeals for the details of some of those good times that made the "little brown house" an object-lesson.
In these appeals, the parents were as vigorous as the young people for a volume of the stories that Polly told, to keep the children happy in those hard days when her story-telling had to be a large factor in their home-life; and also for a book of their plays and exploits, impossible to be embodied in the continued series of their history, so that all who loved the "Five Little Peppers" might the better study the influences that shaped their lives.
Those requests were complied with; the author realising that the detailed account held values, by which stronger light might be thrown on the family life in the "little brown house."
And now the pressure is brought to bear for a book showing the Little Peppers over the ocean, recorded in "Five Little Peppers Midway." And the author is very glad to comply again; for foreign travel throws a wholly different side-light upon the Pepper family. So here is the book.
It is in no sense to be taken as a story written for a guide-book, —although the author lives in it again her repeated enjoyment of the sights and scenes which are accurately depicted. A "Baedeker," if carefully studied, is really all that is needed as a constant companion to the traveller; while for supplementary helps and suggestions, there are many valuable books along the same line. This volume is given up to the Peppers; and they must live their own lives and tell their own story while abroad just as they choose.
As the author has stated many times, her part is "simply to set down what the Peppers did and said, without trying to make them say or do anything in particular." And so over the ocean they are just as much the makers of their own history as when they first opened the door of the "little brown house" to
I. OVER THE OCEAN II. TWO ENGLISH FRIENDS III. PHRONSIE GOES VISITING IV. STEAMER LIFE V. A FISH STORY AND OTHER THINGS VI. A LITTLE SURPRISE VII. OFF FOR HOLLAND VIII. "WE WILL COME AGAIN AND STAY A WEEK" IX. A BOX FOR THE PEPPER BOYS X. DANGER XI. THE TWO BIRTHDAYS IN OLD HOLLAND XII. THE HENDERSON BOX XIII. "THE CLEANEST PLACE IN ALL HOLLAND" XIV. THE ISLAND OF MARKEN XV. MR. KING DOES HIS DUTY XVI. "LET US FLY AT THOSE BOOKS" XVII. POLLY WROTE A NICE LITTLE NOTE XVIII. BAYREUTH AND OLD FRIENDS XIX. MR. KING HAS A LITTLE PLAN FOR POLLY XX. "I SHOULD MAKE HIM HAPPY," SAID PHRONSIE XXI. ON THE RIGI-KULM XXII. POLLY TRIES TO HELP XXIII. IN THE SHADOW OF THE MATTERHORN XXIV. THE ROUND ROBIN XXV. ON THE MER DE GLACE XXVI. "WELL, HERE WE ARE IN PARIS!" XXVII. "I'VE FOUND HIM!" EXCLAIMED JASPER XXVIII. "WELL, I GOT HIM HERE," SAID THE LITTLE EARL
"Now don't you want to get off?"
He clung to his pear with both hands and ate away with great satisfaction
"Fan-ny!—the Earl of Cavendish!" She could go no further
Phronsie sat opposite him
"Mamsie's got her two bothers," said Polly
"Look at that girl!"
She picked up the skirt of her gown
Phronsie ducked and scuttled in as she could
Five Little Peppers Abroad
OVER THE OCEAN
"Dear me," said Polly, "I don't see wherever she can be, Jasper. I've searched just everywhere for her." And she gave a little sigh, and pushed up the brown rings of hair under her sailor cap.
"Don't worry, Polly," said Jasper, with a reassuring smile. "She's with Matilda, of course. Come, Polly, let's you and I have a try at the shuffle-board by ourselves, down on the lower deck."
"No, we can't," said Polly, with a dreadful longing at her heart for the charms of a game; "that is, until we've found Phronsie." And she ran down the deck. "Perhaps she is in one of the library corners, though I thought I looked over them all."
"How do you know she isn't with Matilda, Polly?" cried Jasper, racing after, to see Polly's little blue jacket whisking ahead of him up the companion-way.
"Because"—Polly stopped at the top and looked over her shoulder at him—"Matilda's in her berth. She's awfully seasick. I was to stay with Phronsie, and now I've lost her!" And the brown head drooped, and Polly clasped her hands tightly together.
"Oh, no, she can't be lost, Polly," said Jasper, cheerfully, as he bounded up the stairs and gained her side; "why, she couldn't be!"
"Well, anyway, we can't find her, Jasper," said Polly, running on. "And it's all my fault, for I forgot, and left her in the library, and went with Fanny Vanderburgh down to her state-room. O dear me!" as she sped on.
"Well, she's in the library now, most likely," said Jasper, cheerfully, hurrying after, "curled up asleep in a corner." And they both ran in, expecting to see Phronsie's yellow head snuggled into one of the pillows.
But there was no one there except a little old gentleman on one of the sofas back of a table, who held his paper upside down, his big spectacles on the end of his nose, almost tumbling off as he nodded drowsily with the motion of the steamer.
"O dear me!" exclaimed Polly; "now we shall wake him up," as they tiptoed around, peering in every cosey corner and behind all the tables for a glimpse of Phronsie's little brown gown.
"No danger," said Jasper, with a glance over at the old gentleman; "he's just as fast asleep as can be. Here, Polly, I think she's probably tucked up in here." And he hurried over to the farther side, where the sofa made a generous angle.
Just then in stalked a tall boy, who rushed up to the little old gentleman. "Here, Granddad, wake up." And he shook his arm smartly. "You're losing your glasses, and then there'll be a beastly row to pay."
"O dear me!" cried Polly aghast, as she and Jasper whirled around.
"Hey—what—what!" exclaimed the old gentleman, clutching his paper as he started forward. "Oh,—why, I haven't been asleep, Tom."
"Ha! Ha! tell that to the marines," cried Tom, loudly, dancing in derision, "You've been sleeping like a log. You'd much better go down and get into your state-room. But give me a sovereign first." He held out his hand as he spoke. "Hurry up, Granddad!" he added impatiently.
The old gentleman put his hand to his head, and then rubbed his eyes.
"Bustle up," cried the boy, with a laugh, "or else I'll run my fist in your pocket and help myself."
"Indeed, you won't," declared the old gentleman, now thoroughly awake.
"Ha! Ha!" laughed the boy. "You see if I won't, Granddad." Yet he dropped his imperious tone, and waited, though impatiently, while the big pocket-book was drawn out.
"What do you want with money on board the boat?" demanded the old gentleman.
"Give me a sovereign, Granddad," cried Tom, controlling his impatience as best he might, with many a cross look at the wrinkled old face under the white hair.
His Grandfather slowly drew out the coin, and Tom twitched it eagerly from the long, thin fingers.
"I don't see how you can need money on board the boat," repeated the old gentleman.
"Never you mind what I want it for, Grand-daddy," said Tom, laughing loudly and shaking the sovereign at him as he ran off; "that's my business, and not yours."
Polly had not taken her eyes off their faces. Now she turned toward Jasper. "Oh, how very dreadful!" she gasped—then would have given everything if she had kept still, for the old gentleman whirled around and saw them for the first time.
"Hey—who are you—and what are you listening there for—hey?" he demanded sharply. He had little black eyes, and they now snapped in a truly dreadful way at them.
"We came to find her little sister," said Jasper, politely, for Polly was quite beyond speaking.
"Sister? I don't know anything about your sister," said the old gentleman, irascibly. "And this room isn't a place for children, I can tell you," he added, as if he owned the library and the whole ship.
Jasper made no reply.
"Phronsie isn't here." Polly clasped her hands again tighter than ever. "And, oh, Jasper!" and she looked at the angry old face before them with pitying eyes.
"What I say to my grandson, Tom, and what he says to me, is our own business!" exclaimed the old gentleman in a passion, thumping the table with his clenched hand. "And no one else has a right to hear it."
"I am so very sorry we heard it," said Polly, the colour which had quite gone from her cheek now rushing back. "And we are going right away, sir."
"You would much better," said the old man, nodding angrily. "And you, boy, too; I suppose you think yourself better than my Tom. But you are not—not a bit of it!" And suddenly he tried to start to his feet, but lurched heavily against the table instead.
Polly and Jasper rushed over to him. "Lean on me, sir," said Jasper, putting both arms around him, while Polly ran to his other side, he was shaking so dreadfully.
The old gentleman essayed to wave them off. "Let me alone," he said feebly; "I'm going after my grandson, Tom." His voice sank to a whisper, and his head dropped to his breast. "He's got money—he's always getting it, and I'm going to see what he's doing with it."
"Polly," said Jasper, "you help me put him back on the sofa; there, that's it," as the old man sank feebly down against the cushions; "and then I'll run and find his grandson."
It was just the time when everybody seemed to be in the state-rooms, or out on deck in steamer chairs, so Polly sat there at the old man's head, feeling as if every minute were an hour, and he kept gurgling, "Tom's a bad boy—he gets money all the time, and I'm going to see what he's doing with it," with feeble waves of his legs, that put Polly in a fright lest he should roll off the sofa at every lurch of the steamer.
"Tom is coming," at last she said, putting her hand on the hot forehead. "Please stay still, sir; you will be sick."
"But I don't want Tom to come," cried the old gentleman, irritably. "Who said I wanted him to come? Hey?" He turned up his head and looked at her, and Polly's hand shook worse than ever when the little snapping eyes were full on her face, and she had all she could do to keep from running out of the room and up on deck where she could breathe freely.
"I am so sorry," she managed to gasp, feeling if she didn't say something, she should surely run. "Does your head feel better?" And she smoothed his hot forehead gently just as Phronsie always did Grandpapa's when it ached. And when she thought of Phronsie, then it was all she could do to keep the tears back. Where could she be? And would Jasper never come back?
And just then in ran Tom with a great clatter, complaining noisily every step of the way. "I told you you'd much better get off to your stateroom, Granddad!" he exclaimed. "Here, I'll help you down there." And he laid a hasty hand on the feeble old arm.
"I think he is sick," said Polly, gently. Jasper came hurrying in. "Phronsie is all right," he had time to whisper to Polly.
"Oh, Jasper!" the colour rushed into her cheek that had turned quite white. "I am so glad."
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Tom, abruptly. "It's only one of his crotchets. You don't know; he gets up plenty of 'em on occasion."
"What did you want a sovereign for?" asked the old gentleman, querulously, taking his sharp little eyes off Polly to fasten them on his grandson's face. "Say, I will know."
"And I say no matter," retorted Tom, roughly. "And you ought to come down to your state-room where you belong. Come, Granddad!" And he tried again to lay hold of his arm. But the little old gentleman sank back, and looked up at Polly again. "I think I'll stay here," he said.
"I say," began the boy, in an embarrassed way, "this is dreadfully rough on you," and then he looked away from Polly to Jasper. "And if you knew him as well as I do," nodding his head at his Grandfather, "you wouldn't get in such a funk."
Polly was busy smoothing the hot forehead under the white hair, and appeared not to notice a word he said.
"Your Grandfather really appears ill," said Jasper. "And the doctor might give him something to help him."
Tom burst into a short laugh and kicked his heel against the table. "Hoh! hoh! I say, you don't know him; oh, what muffs you are! He's well enough, only he's determined not to go to his state-room where he belongs, but to kick up a row here."
"Very well," said Jasper, coolly, "since you are determined to do nothing for his relief, I shall take it upon myself to summon the doctor." He stepped to a table a bit further off, and touched the electric button back of it.
"Here, don't do that," remonstrated Tom, springing forward. But it was too late, and the steward who attended to calls on the library stepped in.
"It isn't the hour for giving out books," he began.
Tom was stamping his foot impatiently, and scowling at Jasper, alternately casting longing glances out the nearest port-hole.
"It isn't books we want," said Jasper, quickly, "but this old gentleman"—whose head was now heavily sunken on his breast, and whose cheek was quite white—"appears to be very ill, and to need the doctor."
"Is that so?" The steward leaned over and peered into the old face. "Well, he doesn't look just right, and that's a fact. Is he your father?"
"Oh, no," said Jasper, quickly, "I don't know who he is. But, do hurry, for he's sick, and needs the doctor at once."
"I'll get Dr. Jones." Off ran the steward toward the surgeon's cabin.
"See what you've done," cried Tom, in a towering passion. "Kicked up a pretty mess—when I tell you I've seen my Grandfather just as bad a hundred times."
Jasper made no reply, and Polly continued to stroke gently the poor head.
"Well—well—well!" exclaimed Mr. King, coming in, "to be sure, it's very stupid in me not to think of looking in the library for both of you before. O dear me—bless me!" And he came to a dead stop of astonishment.
"Father," cried Jasper, "this poor man seems very ill."
"Oh, yes," breathed Polly, pitifully, "he really is, Grandpapa." And she put out her hand to seize one of Mr. King's. "And Jasper has sent for the doctor."
"And none too soon, I should say," remarked Mr. King, grimly, with a keen glance into the old man's face. "Raise his feet a little higher, Jasper; put a pillow under them; there, that's it. Well, the doctor should be hurried up." He glanced quickly around. "Here, you boy," seeing Tom, "run as you never have run before, and tell the doctor to come quickly."
"There isn't any need," began Tom.
"Do you go!" commanded Mr. King, pointing to the door. And Tom went.
"Father, that boy is his grandson," said Jasper, pointing to the sick man.
Mr. King stared into Jasper's face, unable to make a reply.
"He is," declared Polly. "Oh, Grandpapa, he really is!" Then she buried her flushed face up against Mr. King's arm.
"There is no need to waste words," said Mr. King, finding his tongue. "There, there, Polly, child," fondling her brown head, "don't feel badly. I'm sure you've done all you could."
"'Twas Jasper; he did it all—I couldn't do anything," said Polly.
"Oh, Polly, you did everything," protested Jasper.
"Yes, yes, I know, you both did," said Mr. King. "Well, here's the doctor, thank the Lord!"
And then when nobody wanted them, the library seemed to be full of people, and the news spreading out to the decks, many of the passengers got out of their steamer chairs, and tried to swarm into the two doorways.
Tom, who never knew how he summoned Dr. Jones, being chiefly occupied in astonishment at finding that he obeyed a command from a perfect stranger, did not come back to the library, but kept himself with the same amazed expression on his face, idly kicking his heels in a quiet corner of the deck near by. He never thought of such a thing as being worried over his Grandfather, for he couldn't remember when the old gentleman hadn't been subject to nervous attacks; but somehow since "a row," as he expressed it, "had been kicked up," it was just as well to stay in the vicinity and see the end of it. But he wasn't going inside —no, not he!
After awhile, Tom was just beginning to yawn, and to feel that no one could expect him to waste time like that, and probably his Grandfather was going to sleep it out on the sofa, and the stupid doctor would find that there was nothing the matter, only the old man was nervous. "And I'm going back to the fellows," decided Tom, shaking his long legs.
"Oh, here you are!" cried Jasper, running up to him. "Come quickly," seizing his arm.
"Hey, here, what are you about?" roared Tom at him, shaking off the hand.
"You must excuse me for wasting no ceremony," said Jasper, sternly. It struck Tom that he looked very much like the old gentleman who had told him to go! "Your Grandfather is very ill; something is the matter with his heart, and the doctor has sent me for you. He says he may not live an hour." It was necessary to tell the whole of the dreadful truth, for Tom was still staring at him in defiance.
TWO ENGLISH FRIENDS
"I don't want you," muttered the old gentleman, feebly, turning his head away from Tom, and then he set his lips tightly together. But he held to Polly's hand.
"You would better go out," Dr. Jones nodded to Tom. "It excites him."
The second time Tom was told to go. He stood quite still. "He's my Grandfather!" he blurted out.
"Can't help it," said Dr. Jones, curtly; "he's my patient. So I tell you again it is imperative that you leave this room." Then he turned back to his work of making the sick man comfortable without taking any more notice of the boy.
Tom gave a good long look at as much of his Grandfather's face as he could see, then slunk out, in a dazed condition, trying to make himself as small as possible. Jasper found him a half hour afterward, hanging over the rail away from curious eyes, his head buried on his arms.
"I thought you'd like to know that your Grandfather is better," said Jasper, touching the bent shoulder.
"Get away, will you?" growled Tom, kicking out his leg, unmindful where it struck.
"And the doctor has gotten him into his state-room, and he is as comfortable as he could be made." Jasper didn't add that Dr. Jones had asked him to come back, and that the old man was still insisting that Polly should hold his hand.
"In that case," declared Tom, suddenly twitching up his head, "I will go down there." His face was so drawn that Jasper started, and then looked away over the sea, and did not appear to notice the clenched hand down by the boy's side.
"I—I—didn't know he was sick." Tom brought it out in gusts, and his face worked worse than ever in his efforts not to show his distress. The only thing he could do was to double up his hand tighter than ever, as he tried to keep it back of him.
"I understand," nodded Jasper, still looking off over the blue water.
"And now I'll go down," said Tom, drawing a long breath and starting off. Oh! and Dr. Jones had said the last thing to Jasper as he rushed off with the good news to Tom, "On no account let that boy see his Grandfather. I won't answer for the consequences if you do."
"See here," Jasper tore his gaze off from the shimmering water. "The doctor doesn't—doesn't think you ought to see your Grandfather now."
"Hey!" cried Tom, his drawn lips flying open, and his big blue eyes distending in anger. "He's my Grandfather. I rather think I shall do as I've a mind to," and he plunged off.
"Tom!" Jasper took long steps after him. "Beg your pardon, this is no time for thinking of anything but your Grandfather's life. Dr. Jones said you were not to see him at present." The truth must be told, for in another moment the boy would have been off on the wings of the wind.
"And do you think that I will mind in the least what that beastly doctor says?" cried Tom, getting redder and redder in the face, his rage was so great. "Hoh! no, sir."
"Then your Grandfather's life will be paid as a sacrifice," said Jasper calmly. And he stood quite still; and surveyed the boy before him.
Neither spoke. It seemed to Jasper an age that they stood there in silence. At last Tom wavered, put out his hand unsteadily, leaned against a steamer chair, and turned his face away.
"Let us do a bit of a turn on the deck," said Jasper, suddenly, overcoming by a mighty effort his repugnance to the idea.
Tom shook his head, and swallowed hard.
"Oh, yes," said Jasper, summoning all the cheerfulness he could muster to his aid. "Come, it's the very thing to do, if you really want to help your Grandfather."
Tom raised his head and looked at him. "I never supposed the old man was sick," he said brokenly, and down went his head again, this time upon his hands, which were grasping the top of the chair.
"I don't believe you did," answered Jasper. "But come, Tom, let's walk around the deck; we can talk just as well meanwhile."
Two or three young men, with cigarettes in their mouths, came sauntering up. "Tom Selwyn, you're a pretty fellow—"
Tom raised his head and looked at them defiantly.
"To give us the slip like this," cried one, with a sneer, in which the others joined, with a curious look at Jasper.
"Well, come on now," said one. "Yes—yes—come along," said another; "we've waited long enough for you to get back."
"I'm not coming," declared Tom, shortly.
"Not coming back? Well—" One of the young men said something under his breath, and the first speaker turned on his heel, tossing his cigarette over the railing.
"No," said Tom, "I'm not coming. Did you hear me?"
"I believe I had that pleasure," said the last named, "as I am not deaf. Come on, fellows; our little boy has got to wait on his Grandpappy. Good-by, kid!" He snapped his fingers; the other two laughed derisively, and sauntered off down the deck as they came.
Tom shook with passion. "I'd like to walk," he said, drawing a long breath, and setting off unsteadily.
"All right," said Jasper, falling into step beside him.
Meantime the old gentleman, in his large handsome state-room, showed no sign of returning to the consciousness that had come back for a brief moment. And he held to Polly's hand so tightly, as she sat at the head of the berth, that there was no chance of withdrawing her fingers had she so desired. And Father Fisher with whom Dr. Jones had of course made acquaintance, before the steamer fairly sailed, sat there keeping watch too, in a professional way, the ship's doctor having called him in consultation over the case. And Phronsie, who had been in deep penitence because she had wandered off from the library with another little girl, to gaze over the railing upon the steerage children below, thereby missing Polly, was in such woe over it all that she was allowed to cuddle up against Polly's side and hold her other hand. And there she sat as still as a mouse, hardly daring to breathe. And Mr. King, feeling as if, after all, the case was pretty much under his supervision, came softly in at intervals to see that all was well, and that the dreadful boy was kept out.
And the passengers all drifted back to their steamer chairs, glad of some new topic to discuss, for the gossip they had brought on board was threadbare now, as they were two days at sea. And the steamer sailed over the blue water that softly lapped the stout vessel's side, careless of the battle that had been waged for a life, even then holding by slender threads. And Fanny Vanderburgh, whose grandfather was a contemporary in the old business days in New York with Mr. King, and who sat with her mother at the next table to the King party, spent most of her time running to Mrs. Pepper's state-room, or interviewing any one who would be able to give her the slightest encouragement as to when she could claim Polly Pepper.
"O dear me!" Fanny cried, on one such occasion, when she happened to run across Jasper. "I've been down to No. 45 four times this morning, and there's nobody there but that stupid Matilda, and she doesn't know or won't tell when Polly will get through reading to that tiresome old man. And they won't let me go to his state-room. Mrs. Fisher and your father are there, too, or I'd get them to make Polly come out on deck. We all want her for a game of shuffle-board."
Jasper sighed. So did he long for a game of shuffle-board. Then he brought himself up, and said as brightly as he could: "Mr. Selwyn begs Polly to stay, and won't have any one else read to him, Miss Vanderburgh, so I don't see as it can be helped. He's been very sick, you know."
Fanny Vanderburgh beat the toe of her boot on the deck floor. "It's a perfect shame. And that horrible old man, he's so seedy and common —just think of it—and spoiling all our fun!"
Jasper looked off over the sea, and said nothing.
"As for that dreadful boy, his grandson, I think he's a boor. Goodness me—I hope nobody will introduce him. I'm sure I never'll recognise him afterward."
Jasper turned uneasily. "Please, Mr. King, do make Polly listen to reason," begged Fanny. "There isn't another girl on board I care to go with—at least not in the way I would with her. The Griswolds are well enough to play games with, and all that; but you know what I mean. Do make her come out with us this morning, and listen to reason," she repeated, winding up helplessly.
"But I think she is just right," said Jasper, stoutly.
"Right!" cried Fanny, explosively; "oh, how can you say so, Mr. Jasper! Why, she is losing just every bit of the fun."
"I know it," said Jasper, with a twinge at the thought. "Well, there is nothing more to be said or done, Miss Vanderburgh, since Polly has decided the matter. Only I want you to remember that I think she is just right about it."
Fanny Vanderburgh pouted her pretty lips in vexation. "At least, don't try to get that dreadful boy into our own set to play games," she cried venomously, "for I won't speak to him. He's a perfect boor. 'Twas only yesterday he brushed by me like a clumsy elephant, and knocked my book out of my hand, and never even picked it up. Think of that, Mr. King!"
"I know—that was dreadful," assented Jasper, in dismay at the obstacle to the plan he had formed in his own mind, to do that very thing he was now being warned against. "But you see, Miss Vanderburgh, he's all upset by his Grandfather's sickness."
"And I should think he would be," cried Fanny Vanderburgh, with spirit. "Mrs. Griswold says she's heard him domineering over the old man, and then his Grandfather would snarl and scold like everything. She has the next state-room, you know. I don't see how those Selwyns can afford such a nice cabin," continued Fanny, her aristocratic nose in the air, "they look so poor. Anyway that boy is a perfect beast, Mr. King."
"He's very different now," said Jasper, quickly. "He had no idea his Grandfather was so poorly. Now I'll tell you, Miss Vanderburgh," Jasper turned sharply around on his heel so that he faced her. It was necessary with a girl like her to state plainly what he had to say, and to keep to it. "I am going to ask Tom Selwyn to play games with all us young people. If it distresses you, or any one else, so that you cannot join, of course I will withdraw, and I know Polly will, and we will get up another circle that will play with him."
It was almost impossible to keep from laughing at Fanny's face, but Jasper was very grave as he waited for an answer. "O dear me, Mr. Jasper," she cried, "haven't I told you I don't really care for any one on board but Polly Pepper, and Mamma doesn't want me to mix up much with those Griswolds?" She lowered her voice and glanced over her shoulder. "It would make it so awkward if they should be much in New York, and we should meet. So of course I've got to do as Polly and you do. Don't you see?—it's awfully hard on me, though," and she clasped her hands in vexation.
"Very well, then," said Jasper; "now that's decided. And seeing it is, why the next thing to do, is to bring Tom down, and we'll get up a game of shuffle-board at once. He's not needed by his Grandfather now." He didn't think it necessary to add, "for the old gentleman won't see him, and Tom is forbidden the room by the doctor."
Fanny's aristocratic nose went up in alarm, and her whole face was overspread with dismay. It was one thing to anticipate evil, and quite another to find it precipitated upon one. "I—I don't—believe I can play this morning, Mr. Jasper," she began hurriedly, for the first time in her young life finding herself actually embarrassed. She was even twisting her fingers.
"Very well," said Jasper, coolly, "then I understand that you will not play with us at any time, for, as we begin to-day, we shall keep on. I will set about getting up another party at once." He touched his yacht cap lightly, and turned off.
"I'll go right down on the lower deck with you now." Fanny ran after him, her little boot heels clicking excitedly on the hard floor. "The steward has marked it all for us. I got him to, while I ran to find Polly so as to engage the place," she added breathlessly.
"That's fine," said Jasper, a smile breaking over the gloom on his face; "now we'll have a prime game, Miss Vanderburgh."
Fanny swallowed hard the lump in her throat, and tried to look pleasant. "Do you go and collect the Griswolds," cried Jasper, radiantly, "and I'll be back with Tom," and he plunged off. It was all done in a minute. And the thing that had been worrying him—how to get Tom into good shape, and to keep him there—seemed fixed in the best way possible. But Tom wouldn't go. Nothing that Jasper could do or say would move him out of the gloom into which he was cast, and at last Jasper ran down for a hurried game with the party awaiting him, to whom he explained matters in the best way he could.
At last, old Mr. Selwyn was able to emerge from his state-room. Mr. King and he were the best of friends by this time, the former always, when Polly read aloud, being one of the listeners. At all such hours, indeed, and whenever Polly went to sit by the invalid, Phronsie would curl up at Polly's side, and fondle the doll that Grandpapa gave her last, which had the honour to take the European trip with the family. Phronsie would smooth the little dress down carefully, and then with her hand in Polly's, she would sit motionless till the reading was over. Mamsie, whose fingers could not be idle, although the big mending basket was left at home, would be over on the sofa, sewing busily; and little Dr. Fisher would run in and out, and beaming at them all through his spectacles, would cry cheerily, "Well, I declare, you have the most comfortable place on the whole boat, Mr. Selwyn." Or Dr. Jones, whom Polly thought, next to Papa Fisher, was the very nicest doctor in all the world, would appear suddenly around the curtain, and smile approval through his white teeth. At last on the fifth day out, the old man was helped up to sun himself in his steamer chair on deck. And then he had a perfect coterie around him, oh-ing and ah-ing over his illness, and expressing sympathy in every shape, for since Mr. King and his party took him up, it was quite the thing for all the other passengers to follow suit.
When a few hours of this sort of thing had been going on, the old man called abruptly to Polly Pepper, who had left him, seeing he had such good company about him, and had now skipped up with Jasper to toss him a merry word, or to see if his steamer rug was all tucked in snugly around him.
"See here, Polly Pepper, do you play chess?"
"What, sir?" Polly thought she had not heard correctly.
"Do you play chess, I say?" demanded old Mr. Selwyn, bringing his sharp little eyes to bear on her.
"No, sir, that is—only a little," stammered Polly.
"Well, that will do for a start," the old gentleman nodded in satisfaction. "And I'll give you some points later on about the game. Well, and you play backgammon, of course." He didn't wait for her to answer, but finished, "These people here drive me almost crazy, asking me how I feel, and what was the matter with me, and all that rubbish. Now, I'm going into the library, and you shall go too, and we'll have a game of backgammon."
He flung back his steamer rug with a determined hand.
Jasper began, "Oh, Polly!" in dismay, but she broke in, "Yes, indeed, I do play backgammon, Mr. Selwyn, and it will be fine to have a game." And together they helped him up and into a cosey corner of the library.
"There, now," said Polly, with a final little pat on the sofa pillows tucked up at his back. "I believe you are as comfortable as you can be, Mr. Selwyn."
"Indeed I am," he declared.
"And now, Jasper, do get the backgammon board," cried Polly. "There it is over there," spying it on a further table.
Old Mr. Selwyn cast a hungry glance on it as it was brought forward, and his sharp little eyes sparkled, as Polly threw it open. He even chuckled in delight as he set the men.
Tom Selwyn came up to the door, and standing in its shadow, looked in. Jasper flung himself down on the sofa by the old gentleman's side to watch the game. Suddenly he glanced up, caught sight of Tom, although the latter's head was quickly withdrawn, and jumping up, he dashed after him.
"Here—see here, Tom!" he called to the big figure before him, making good time down the stairs. "I can't go chasing you all over the boat in this fashion. Stop, will you?"
"What do you want?" demanded Tom, crossly, feeling it impossible to elude such a pursuer, and backing up against a convenient angle.
"I want you to come up into the library and watch the game. Do, it'll be the best time,"—he didn't say "to make it all up."
"Can't," said Tom, "he won't see me."
"Oh, yes, he will; I almost know he will," declared Jasper, eagerly feeling this minute as if the most unheard-of things were possible.
"And beside, your sister—I mean the Pepper girl—Miss Pepper—" Tom corrected himself clumsily. "She can't bear me—I won't come."
"Oh, yes, she can now," said Jasper, just as eagerly, "especially since I've told her all you've told me."
"Well, I hate girls anyway," declared Tom, in his most savage fashion; "always have hated 'em, and always shall. I won't come!"
PHRONSIE GOES VISITING
"Grandpapa," said Phronsie, softly, as she clung to his hand, after they had made the descent to the lower deck, "I think the littlest one can eat some of the fruit, don't you?" she asked anxiously.
"Never you fear," assented old Mr. King, "that child that I saw yesterday can compass anything in the shape of food. Why, it had its mouth full of teeth, Phronsie; it was impossible not to see them when it roared."
"I am so glad its teeth are there," said Phronsie, with a sigh of satisfaction, as she regarded her basket of fruit, "because if it hadn't any, we couldn't give it these nice pears, Grandpapa."
"Well, here we are," said Mr. King, holding her hand tightly. "Bless me—are those your toes, young man?" this to a big chubby-faced boy, whose fat legs lay across the space as he sprawled on the deck; "just draw them in a bit, will you?—there. Well, now, Phronsie, this way. Here's the party, I believe," and he led her over to the other side, where a knot of steerage passengers were huddled together. In the midst sat a woman, chubby faced, and big and square, holding a baby. She had a big red shawl wrapped around her, in the folds of which snuggled the baby, who was contentedly chewing one end of it, while his mother had her eyes on the rest of her offspring, of which there seemed a good many. When the baby saw Phronsie, he stopped chewing the old shawl and grinned, showing all the teeth of which Mr. King had spoken. The other children, tow headed and also chubby, looked at the basket hanging on Phronsie's arm, and also grinned.
"There is the baby!" exclaimed Phronsie, in delight, pulling Grandpapa's hand gently. "Oh, Grandpapa, there he is."
"That's very evident," said the old gentleman. "Bless me!" addressing the woman, "how many children have you, pray tell?"
"Nine," she said. Then she twitched the jacket of one of them, and the pinafore of another, to have them mind their manners, while the baby kicked and crowed and gurgled, seeming to be all teeth.
"I have brought you some fruit," said Phronsie, holding out her basket, whereat all the tow headed group except the baby crowded each other dreadfully to see all there was in it. "I'm sorry the flowers are gone, so I couldn't bring any to-day. May the baby have this?" holding out a pear by the stem.
The baby settled that question by lunging forward and seizing the pear with two fat hands, when he immediately sank into the depths of the old shawl again, all his teeth quite busy at work. Phronsie set down her basket on the deck, and the rest of the brood emptied it to their own satisfaction. Their mother's stolid face lighted up with a broad smile that showed all her teeth, and very white and even they were.
"Grandpapa," said Phronsie, turning to him and clasping her hands, "if I only might hold that baby just one little bit of a minute," she begged, keenly excited.
"Oh, Phronsie, he's too big," expostulated Mr. King, in dismay.
"I can hold him just as easy, Grandpapa dear," said Phronsie, her lips drooping mournfully. "See." And she sat down on a big coil of rope near by and smoothed out her brown gown. "Please, Grandpapa dear."
"He'll cry," said Mr. King, quickly. "Oh, no, Phronsie, it wouldn't do to take him away from his mother. You see it would be dreadful to set that child to roaring—very dreadful indeed." Yet he hung over her in distress at the drooping little face.
"He won't cry." The mother's stolid face lighted up a moment. "And if the little lady wants to hold him, he'll sit there."
"May I, Grandpapa?" cried Phronsie, her red lips curling into a happy smile. "Oh, please say I may, Grandpapa dear," clasping her hands.
"The family seems unusually clean," observed Mr. King to himself. "And the doctor says there's no sickness on board, and it's a very different lot of steerage folks going this way from coming out, all of which I've settled before coming down here," he reflected. "Well, Phronsie—yes—I see no reason why you may not hold the baby if you want to." And before the words were hardly out of his mouth, the chubby-faced woman had set the fat baby in the middle of the brown gown smoothed out to receive him. He clung to his pear with both hands and ate away with great satisfaction, regardless of his new resting-place.
"Just come here!" Mrs. Griswold, in immaculately fitting garments, evidently made up freshly for steamer use, beckoned with a hasty hand to her husband. "It's worth getting up to see." He flung down his novel and tumbled out of his steamer chair. "Look down there!"
"Whew!" whistled Mr. Griswold; "that is a sight!"
"And that is the great Horatio King!" exclaimed Mrs. Griswold under her breath; "down there in that dirty steerage—and look at that child —Reginald, did you ever see such a sight in your life?"
"On my honour, I never have," declared Mr. Griswold, solemnly, and wanting to whistle again.
"Sh!—don't speak so loud," warned Mrs. Griswold, who was doing most of the talking herself. And plucking his sleeve, she emphasised every word with fearful distinctness close to his ear. "She's got a dirty steerage baby in her lap, and Mr. King is laughing. Well, I never! O dear me, here come the young people!"
Polly and Jasper came on a brisk trot up the deck length. "Fifteen times around make a mile, don't they, Jasper?" she cried.
"I believe they do," said Jasper, "but it isn't like home miles, is it, Polly?"—laughing gaily—"or dear old Badgertown?"
"I should think not," replied Polly, with a little pang at her heart whenever Badgertown was mentioned. "We used to run around the little brown house, and see how many times we could do it without stopping."
"And how many did you, Polly?" asked Jasper,—"the largest number, I mean."
"Oh, I don't know," said Polly, with a little laugh; "Joel beat us always, I remember that."
"Yes, Joe would get over the ground, you may be sure," said Jasper, "if anybody could."
Polly's laugh suddenly died away and her face fell. "Jasper, you don't know," she said, "how I do want to see those boys."
"I know," said Jasper, sympathisingly, "but you'll get a letter, you know, most as soon as we reach port, for they were going to mail it before we left."
"And I have one every day in my mail-bag," said Polly, "but I want to see them so, Jasper, I don't know what to do." She went up to the rail at a remove from the Griswolds and leaned over it.
"Polly," said Jasper, taking her hand, "you know your mother will feel dreadfully if she knows you are worrying about it."
"I know it," said Polly, bravely, raising her head; "and I won't—why Jasper Elyot King!" for then she saw Grandpapa and Phronsie and the steerage baby.
Jasper gave a halloo, and waved his hand, and Polly danced up and down and called, and waved her hands too. And Phronsie gave a little crow of delight. "See, Grandpapa, there they are; I want Polly—and Jasper, too." And old Mr. King whirled around. "O dear me! Come down, both of you," which command it did not take them long to obey.
"Well, I never did in all my life," ejaculated Mrs. Griswold, "see anything like that. Now if some people"—she didn't say "we"—"should do anything like that, 'twould be dreadfully erratic and queer. But those Kings can do anything," she added, with venom.
"It's pretty much so," assented Mr. Griswold, giving a lazy shake. "Well, I'm going back to my chair if you've got through with me, Louisa." And he sauntered off.
"Don't go, Reginald," begged his wife; "I haven't got a soul to talk to."
"Oh, well, you can talk to yourself," said her husband, "any woman can." But he paused a moment.
"Haven't those Pepper children got a good berth?" exclaimed Mrs. Griswold, unable to keep her eyes off from the small group below. "And their Mother Pepper, or Fisher, or whatever her name is—I declare it's just like a novel, the way I heard the story from Mrs. Vanderburgh about it all."
"And I wish you'd let me get back to my book, Louisa," exclaimed Mr. Griswold, tartly, at the mention of the word "novel," beginning to look longingly at his deserted steamer chair, "for it's precious little time I get to read on shore. Seems as if I might have a little peace at sea."
"Do go back and read, then," said his wife, impatiently; "that's just like a man,—he can't talk of anything but business, or he must have his nose in a book."
"We men want to talk sense," growled her husband, turning off. But Mrs. Griswold was engrossed in her survey of Mr. King and the doings of his party, and either didn't hear or didn't care what was remarked outside of that interest.
Tom Selwyn just then ran up against some one as clumsily as ever. It proved to be the ship's doctor, who surveyed him coldly and passed on. Tom gave a start and swallowed hard, then plunged after him. "Oh, I say."
"What is it?" asked Dr. Jones, pausing.
"Can I—I'd like—to see my Grandfather, don't you know?"
Dr. Jones scanned him coolly from top to toe. Tom took it without wincing, but inwardly he felt as if he must shake to pieces.
"If you can so conduct yourself that your Grandfather will not be excited," at last said the doctor,—what an age it seemed to Tom,—"I see no reason why you shouldn't see your Grandfather, and go back to your state-room. But let me tell you, young man, it was a pretty close shave for him the other day. Had he slipped away, you'd have had that on your conscience that would have lasted you for many a day." With this, and a parting keen glance, he turned on his heel and strode off.
Tom gave a great gasp, clenched his big hands tightly together, took a long look at the wide expanse of water, then disappeared within.
In about half an hour, the steerage baby having gone to sleep in Phronsie's arms, the brothers and sisters, finding, after the closest inspection, nothing more to eat in the basket, gathered around the centre of attraction in a small bunch.
"I hope they won't wake up the baby," said Phronsie, in gentle alarm.
"Never you fear," said old Mr. King, quite comfortable now in the camp-chair one of the sailors had brought in response to a request from Jasper; "that child knows very well by this time, I should imagine, what noise is."
But after a little, the edge of their curiosity having been worn off, the small group began to get restive, and to clamour and pull at their mother for want of something better to do.
"O dear me!" said Phronsie, in distress.
"Dear, dear!" echoed Polly, vainly trying to induce the child next to the baby to get into her lap; "something must be done. Oh, don't you want to hear about a funny cat, children? I'm going to tell them about Grandma Bascom's, Jasper," she said, seeing the piteous look in Phronsie's eyes.
"Yes, we do," said one of the boys, as spokesman, and he solemnly bobbed his tow head, whereat all the children then bobbed theirs.
"Sit down, then," said Polly, socially making way for them, "all of you in a circle, and I'll tell you of that very funny cat." So the whole bunch of tow-headed children sat down in a ring, and solemnly folded their hands in their laps. Jasper threw himself down where he could edge himself in. Old Mr. King leaned back and surveyed them with great satisfaction. So Polly launched out in her gayest mood, and the big blue eyes in the round faces before her widened, and the mouths flew open, showing the white teeth; and the stolid mother leaned forward, and her eyes and mouth looked just like those of her children, only they were bigger; and at last Polly drew a long breath and wound up with a flourish, "And that's all"
"Tell another," said one of the round-eyed, open-mouthed children, without moving a muscle. All the rest sat perfectly still.
"O dear me," said Polly, with a little laugh, "that was such a good long one, you can't want another."
"I think you've gotten yourself into business, Polly," said Jasper, with a laugh. "Hadn't we better go?"
Polly gave a quick glance at Phronsie. "Phronsie dear," she said, "let us go up to our deck now, dear. Shall we?"
"Oh, no, Polly, please don't go yet," begged Phronsie, in alarm, and patting the baby softly with a gentle little hand. Polly looked off at Grandpapa. He was placidly surveying the water, his eyes occasionally roving over the novel and interesting sights around. On the other side of the deck a returning immigrant was bringing out a jew's-harp, and two or three of his fellow-passengers were preparing to pitch quoits. Old Mr. King was actually smiling at it all. Polly hadn't seen him so contented since they sailed.
"I guess I'll tell another one, Jasper," she said. "Oh, about a dog, you wanted, did you?" nodding at the biggest boy.
"Yes," said the boy, bobbing his tow head, "I did;" and he unfolded and folded his hands back again, then waited patiently.
So Polly flew off on a gay little story about a dog that bade fair to rival Grandma Bascom's cat for cleverness. He belonged to Mr. Atkins who kept store in Badgertown, and the Pepper children used to see a good deal of him, when they took home the sacks and coats that Mamsie sewed for the storekeeper. And in the midst of the story, when the stolid steerage children were actually laughing over the antics of that remarkable dog, Jasper glanced up toward the promenade deck, took a long look, and started to his feet. "Why, Polly Pepper, see!" He pointed upward. There, on the curve, were old Mr. Selwyn and Tom walking arm in arm.
And after that, it was "My grandson, Thomas," on all occasions, the old gentleman introducing the boy to the right and to the left, as he paraded the deck, his old arm within the younger one. And the little, sharp black eyes snapped proudly and the white head was held up, as he laughed and chattered away sociably to the passengers and the ship's crew, at every good opportunity.
"Yes, my grandson, Thomas, is going back to school. We've been running about in your country a bit, and the boy's mother went home first with the other children—" Polly heard him say as the two paused in front of her steamer chair.
"Indeed!" ejaculated Mrs. Vanderburgh, as he addressed her, and raising her eyebrows with a supercilious glance for his plain, unprepossessing appearance. "Yes, Madam, and glad shall I be to set my foot on Old England again Hey, Tom, my boy, don't you say so?"
Tom looked off over the sea, but did not speak.
Neither did Mrs. Vanderburgh answer, but turned her face away in disdain that was very plainly marked.
"Home is the best place, Madam," declared old Mr. Selwyn emphatically. "Well, Old England is our home, and nothing will induce me to leave it again, I can assure you."
Again Mrs. Vanderburgh did not reply, but looked him up and down in cold silence. Old Mr. Selwyn, not appearing to notice, chattered on. At last she deliberately turned her back on him.
"Isn't he common and horrid?" whispered Fanny Vanderburgh, in the steamer chair next to Polly, thrusting her face in between her and her book. And she gave a little giggle.
"Hush!" said Polly, warningly, "he will hear you."
"Nonsense—it's impossible; he is rattling on so; and do look at Mamma's face!"
He didn't hear, but Tom did; and he flashed a glance—dark and wrathful—over at the two girls, and started forward, abruptly pulling his Grandfather along.
"O dear me!" exclaimed Polly, in distress, dropping her book in her lap; "now he has heard."
"Oh, that dreadful boy," said Fanny, carelessly, stretching out in her steamer chair comfortably; "well, who cares? he's worse than his Grandfather."
"Yes, he has heard," repeated Polly, sorrowfully looking after the two, Tom still propelling the old gentleman along the deck at a lively rate; "now, what shall we do?"
"It isn't of the least consequence if he has heard," reiterated Fanny, "and Mamma has been frightfully bored, I know. Do tell us, Mamma," she called.
Mrs. Vanderburgh turned away from the rail, where she had paused in her constitutional when addressed by the old gentleman, and came up to the girls.
"Do sit down, Mamma, in your steamer chair," begged Fanny; "I'll tuck you up in your rug." And she jumped lightly out of her own chair. "There, that's nice," as Mrs. Vanderburgh sank gracefully down, and Fanny patted and pulled the rug into shape. "Now tell us, wasn't he the most horrible old bore?"
As she cuddled back into her own nest, Mrs. Vanderburgh laughed in a very high-bred manner. "He was very amusing," she said.
"Amusing! I should say so!" cried Fanny. "I suppose he would have told you all his family history if he had stayed. O dear me, he is such a common, odious old person."
Polly twisted uneasily under her rug.
Mrs. Vanderburgh glanced into the steamer chair on the other side. It had several books on top of the rug. "I don't believe he can take that seat," she said; "still, Fanny, I think it would be well for you to change into it, for that old man may take it into his head, when he makes the turn of the deck, to drop into it and give us the whole of his family history."
"Horrors!" ejaculated Fanny, hopping out of her chair again. "I'll make sure that he doesn't. And yet I did so want to sit next to Polly Pepper," she mourned, ensconcing herself under the neighbouring rug, and putting the books on the floor by her side.
"Don't do that; give them to me," said her mother; "I'll put them in your chair unless Miss Polly will take that place, only I don't like to disturb you, dear," she said with a sweet smile at Polly.
"Why, that would make matters' worse, Mamma," said Fanny. "Don't you see, then, that old bore would put himself into Polly's chair, for he likes her, anyway. Do leave it as it is."
So Mrs. Vanderburgh smiled again. "I don't know but that you are right," she said, and leaned back her head restfully. "Dear me, yes, he is amusing."
"They are terribly common people," said Fanny, her aristocratic nose well in the air, "aren't they, Mamma? And did you ever see such a clumsy thing as that dreadful boy, and such big hands and feet?" She held up her own hands as she spoke, and played with her rings, and let the jingling bracelets run up and down her wrists.
"Fanny, how often must I tell you to wear gloves on shipboard?" said her mother, in a tone of reproof. "Nothing spoils the hands so much as a trip at sea. They won't get over it all summer; they're coarsened already," and she cast an alarmed glance at the long, slender fingers.
"I'm so tired of gloves, Mamma." Fanny gave a restful yawn. "Polly Pepper doesn't wear them," she cried triumphantly, peering past her mother to point to Polly's hands.
Mrs. Vanderburgh hesitated. It wouldn't do to say anything that would reflect against the Peppers—manners, or customs, or bringing up generally. So she leaned over and touched Polly's fingers with her own gloved ones.
"You don't wear gloves, do you, my dear?" she said, in gentle surprise, quite as if the idea had just struck her for the first time.
"No, Mrs. Vanderburgh, I don't," said Polly, "at least not on shipboard, unless it is cold."
"There, now, Mamma," laughed Fanny, in a pleased way; "you'll stop teasing me about wearing them, I'm sure."
Mrs. Vanderburgh turned and surveyed her daughter; but she didn't smile, and Fanny thought it as well to begin again on the old topic.
"They're awfully common people, aren't they, Mamma,—those Selwyns?"
"They are, indeed," replied Mrs. Vanderburgh, "quite commonplace, and exceedingly tiresome; be sure and not speak to them, Fanny."
"Trust me for that," said Fanny, with a wise little nod. "The old man stopped me and asked me something this morning, as I was coming out of the dining room, after breakfast, but I pretended I didn't hear, and I skipped upstairs and almost fell on my nose."
"You were fortunate to escape," said her mother, with a little laugh. "Well, let us drop the subject and talk of something else much more important. Polly, my dear." She turned again and surveyed the young girl at her side. "You are coming home this autumn, aren't you?"
"Oh, no," said Polly, "Grandpapa expects to stay over in Europe a year."
"Is that so?" said Mrs. Vanderburgh, and her face fell; "I regret it exceedingly, for I should be glad if you would visit Fanny this winter in New York."
"Thank you; but I couldn't anyway," said Polly. Then the colour flew up to her cheek. "I mean I am in school, you know, Mrs. Vanderburgh, but I thank you, and it is so good of you to want me," she added, hurriedly, feeling that she hadn't said the right thing at all.
"I do want you very much, my dear child," said Mrs. Vanderburgh, "and I am very sorry you are to remain abroad over the winter, for your Grandfather would be persuaded, I feel quite sure, to have you leave school for a while, and come to us for a visit."
"Oh, no, he wouldn't," cried Polly, quickly. "I beg pardon, Mrs. Vanderburgh, but I never leave school for anything unless I am sick, and I am almost never sick."
"Well, then, you could come for the Christmas holidays," said Mrs. Vanderburgh, with ladylike obstinacy like one accustomed to carrying her point.
"The Christmas holidays!" exclaimed Polly, starting forward in her chair. "Oh, I wouldn't leave home for anything, then, Mrs. Vanderburgh. Why, we have the most beautiful times, and we are all together—the boys come home from school—and it's just too lovely for anything!" She clasped her hands and sighed—oh, if she could but see Ben and Joel and David but once!
Mrs. Vanderburgh was a very tall woman, and she gazed down into the radiant face, without speaking; Polly was looking off over the sea, and the colour came and went on her cheek.
"We would soon get her out of all such notions, if we once had her with us, wouldn't we, Mamma?" said Fanny, in a low tone close to her mother's ear.
Mrs. Vanderburgh gave her a warning pinch, but Polly's brown eyes were fastened on the distant horizon, and she hadn't heard a word.
"Well, we'll arrange it sometime," said Fanny's mother, breaking the silence; "so you must remember, Polly dear, that you are engaged to us for a good long visit when you do come home."
"I will tell Grandpapa that you asked me," said Polly, bringing her eyes back with a sigh to look into Mrs. Vanderburgh's face.
"Oh, he will fall into the plan quite readily, I think," said Mrs. Vanderburgh, lightly. "You know we are all very old friends—that is, the families are—Mr. Vanderburgh's father and Mr. King were very intimate. Perhaps you don't know, Polly,"—and Fanny's mamma drew herself up to her extreme height; it was impossible for her to loll back in her chair when talking of her family,—"that we are related to the Earl of Cavendish who owns the old estate in England, and we go back to William the Conqueror; that is, Fanny does on her father's side."
Fanny thereupon came up out of her chair depths to sit quite straight and gaze with importance at Polly's face. But Polly was still thinking of the boys, and she said nothing.
"And my family is just as important," said Mrs. Vanderburgh, and she smiled in great satisfaction. "Really, we could make things very pleasant for you, my child; our set is so exclusive, you could not possibly meet any one but the very best people. Oh, here is your mother." She smiled enchantingly up at Mrs. Fisher, and held out her hand. "Do come and sit here with us, my dear Mrs. Fisher," she begged, "then we shall be a delightful group, we two mothers and our daughters."
"Thank you, Mrs. Vanderburgh." Mrs. Fisher smiled, but she didn't offer to take the steamer chair. "I have come after Polly."
"Mamsie, what is it? I'll come," said Polly, tumbling out of her steamer chair in a twinkling.
"O dear me!" exclaimed Mrs. Vanderburgh, in regret, "don't take Polly away, I do implore you, my dear Mrs. Fisher—I am so fond of her."
"I must," said Mother Fisher, smiling again, her hand now in Polly's, and before any more remonstrances were made, they were off.
"Oh, Mamsie!" breathed Polly, hanging to the dear hand, "I am so glad you came, and took me away."
"Polly," said Mother Fisher, suddenly, "Grandpapa asked me to find you; he thinks you could cheer old Mr. Selwyn up a bit, perhaps, with backgammon. I'm afraid Tom has been behaving badly again."
"Oh, Mamsie!" exclaimed Polly, in dismay. And then the story came out.
"Grandpapa," said Phronsie, pulling at his hand gently, as they walked slowly up and down the deck, "does your head ache?" And she peered anxiously up into his face.
"No, child—that is, not much," said old Mr. King, trying to smooth his brows out. He was thinking—for it kept obtruding at all times and seasons—of that dreadful scrap of paper that Cousin Eunice had imposed upon him at the last minute before they sailed, announcing that she had had her way, and would at last compel acceptance of such a gift as she chose to make to Phronsie Pepper.
"If it aches at all," said Phronsie, decidedly, "I wish you would let me rub it for you, Grandpapa. I do, truly."
"Well, it doesn't," said Grandpapa; "that is it won't, now that I have you with me. I was thinking of something unpleasant, Phronsie, and then, to tell you the truth, that old Mr. Selwyn tires me to death. I can't talk to him, and his grandson is a cad."
"What is a cad?" asked Phronsie, wonderingly.
"Oh, well, a boy who isn't nice," said Mr. King, carelessly.
"Grandpapa, why isn't that boy nice to that poor old man?" asked Phronsie, a grieved look coming into her blue eyes.
"Goodness me, child, you ask me too much," said Mr. King, quickly; "oh, a variety of reasons. Well, we must take things as we find them, and do what we can to help matters along; but it seems a hopeless case,—things were in better shape; and now they seem all tangled up again, thanks to that boy."
"Grandpapa," said Phronsie, earnestly, "I don't believe that boy means to be bad to that poor old man, I don't really and truly, Grandpapa," she added, shaking her head.
"Well, he takes a queer way to show it, if he means to be good," said old Mr. King, grimly.
"Oh, is that you, Master Tom?" as they turned a corner to find themselves face to face with Tom Selwyn.
"Mr. King," Tom began very rapidly so that the words ran all over each other, "I'm no end sorry—don't think hard things of me—it's not my fault this time; Grandfather heard it as well as I—at least, I caught a little and he asked me what it was, and I had to tell him, and it upset him."
Old Mr. King stood gazing into the big boy's face in utter bewilderment. "As I don't know in the least what you are trying to tell me, my boy," at last he said, "I shall have to ask you to repeat it, and go slowly."
So Tom tried again to tell his story, and by the time that it was all out, Mr. King was fuming in righteous indignation.
"Well, well, it's not worth thinking of," at last he said at sight of the flashing eyes before him and the angry light on the young face. "You take my arm, or I'll take yours, Master Tom,—there, that's better,—and we'll do a bit of a turn on the deck. Your grandfather'll come out of it, for he's busy over the backgammon board. But it was an ugly thing to do just the same."
Just then Mrs. Vanderburgh and Fanny passed them, all sweet smiles for him and for Phronsie, but with no eyes for the boy.
A FISH STORY AND OTHER THINGS
"Oh, Polly! Polly!" Phronsie came running along the deck, and up to the little group playing shuffle-board; "there's such a very big whale." And she clasped her hands in great excitement. "There truly is. Do come and see him."
"Is there, Pet?" cried Polly, throwing down her shovel, "then we must all go and see him. Come, Jasper, and all of you," and she seized Phronsie's hand.
"He is very dreadful big," said Phronsie, as they sped on, Jasper and the other players close behind. "And he puffed, Polly, and the water went up, oh, so high!"
"That's because he came up to breathe," said Polly, as they raced along. "Dear me, I hope he won't be gone when we get there."
"Can't he breathe under the water?" asked Phronsie, finding it rather hard work to perform that exercise herself in such a race. "What does he stay down there for, then, say, Polly?"
"Oh, because he likes it," answered Polly, carelessly. "Take care, Phronsie, you're running into all those steamer chairs."
"I'm sorry he can't breathe," said Phronsie, anxiously trying to steer clear of the bunch of steamer chairs whose occupants had suddenly left them, too, to see the whale. "Poor whale—I'm sorry for him, Polly."
"Oh, he's happy," said Polly, "he likes it just as it is. He comes up for a little while to blow and—"
"I thought you said he came up to breathe, Polly," said Phronsie, tugging at Polly's hand, and guilty of interrupting.
"Well, and so he does, and to blow, too,—it's just the same thing," said Polly, quickly.
"Is it just exactly the same?" asked Phronsie.
"Yes, indeed; that is, in the whale's case," answered Polly, as they ran up to Grandpapa and the rest of their party, and the knots of other passengers, all staring hard at a certain point on the sparkling waste of water.
"I thought you were never coming," said old Mr. King, moving away from the rail to tuck Polly and Phronsie in where they could get a good view. "Oh, there he is—there he is—Jasper, look!" cried Polly.
"There he is!" crowed Phronsie, now much excited. "Oh, isn't he big, Grandpapa?"
"I should say he was," declared Mr. King. "I think I never saw a finer whale in my life, Phronsie."
"He comes up to blow," said Phronsie, softly to herself, her face pressed close to the rail, and her yellow hair floating off in the breeze; "and Polly says it doesn't hurt him, and he likes it."
"What is it, Phronsie child?" asked old Mr. King, hearing her voice.
"Grandpapa, has he got any little whales?" asked Phronsie, suddenly raising her face.
"Oh, yes, I imagine so," said old Mr. King; "that is, he ought to have, I'm sure. Porpoises go in schools,—why shouldn't whales, pray tell?"
"What's a porpoise?" asked Phronsie, with wide eyes.
"Oh, he's a dolphin or a grampus."
"Oh," said Phronsie, much mystified, "and does he go to school?"
"Well, they go ever so many of them together, and they call it a school. Goodness me—that is a blow!" as the whale spouted valiantly, and looked as if he were making directly for the steamer.
"Oh, Grandpapa, he's coming right here!" screamed Phronsie, clapping her hands in delight, and hopping up and down,—Polly and Jasper were almost as much excited,—while the passengers ran hither and thither to get a good view, and levelled their big glasses, and oh-ed and ah-ed. And some of them ran to get their cameras. And Mr. Whale seemed to like it, for he spouted and flirted his long tail and dashed into the water and out again to blow, till they were all quite worn out looking at him. At last, with a final plunge, he bade them all good-by and disappeared.
Phronsie, after her first scream of delight, had pressed her face close to the rail and held her breath. She did not say a word, but gazed in speechless enjoyment at the antics of the big fish. And Grandpapa had to speak two or three times when the show was all over before she heard him.
"Did you like it, Phronsie?" he asked, gathering her hand up closely in his, as he leaned over to see her face.
Phronsie turned away with a sigh. "Oh, Grandpapa, he was so beautiful!" She drew a long breath, then turned back longingly. "Won't he ever come back?" she asked.
"Maybe not this one," said old Mr. King; "but we'll see plenty more, I imagine, Phronsie. At least, if not on this voyage,—why, some other time."
"Oh, wasn't it splendid!" exclaimed Polly, tossing back the little rings of brown hair from her brow. "Well, he's gone; now we must run back, Jasper, and finish our game." And they were off, the other players following.
"I'd like to see this very whale again," said Phronsie, with a small sigh; "Grandpapa, I would, really; he was a nice whale."
"Yes, he was a fine one," said old Mr. King. "I don't know as I ever put eyes on a better specimen, and I've seen a great many in my life."
"Tell me about them, do, Grandpapa," begged Phronsie, drawing nearer to him.
"Well, I'll get into my steamer chair, and you shall sit in my lap, and then I'll tell you about some of them," said Mr. King, much gratified. As they moved off, Phronsie clinging to his hand, she looked back and saw two children gazing wistfully after them. "Grandpapa," she whispered, pulling his hand gently to attract attention, "may that little boy and girl come, too, and hear about your whales?"
"Yes, to be sure," cried Mr. King. So Phronsie called them, and in a few minutes there was quite a big group around Grandpapa's steamer chair; for when the other children saw what was going on, they stopped, too, and before he knew, there he was perfectly surrounded.
"I should very much like to hear what it is all about." Mrs. Vanderburgh's soft voice broke into a pause, when old Mr. King stopped to rest a bit. "You must be very fascinating, dear Mr. King; you have no idea how pretty your group is." She pulled Fanny forward gently into the outer fringe of the circle. "Pray, what is the subject?"
"Nothing in the world but a fish story, Madam," said the old gentleman.
"Oh, may we stay and hear it?" cried Mrs. Vanderburgh, enthusiastically, clasping her gloved hands. "Fanny adores such things, don't you, dear?" turning to her.
"Yes, indeed, Mamma," answered Fanny, trying to look very much pleased.
"Take my word for it, you will find little to interest either of you," said Mr. King.
"Oh, I should be charmed," cried Mrs. Vanderburgh. "Fanny dear, draw up that steamer chair to the other side." But a stout, comfortable-looking woman coming down the deck stopped directly in front of that same chair, and before Fanny could move it, sat down, saying, "This is my chair, young lady."
"That vulgar old woman has got it," said Fanny, coming back quite crestfallen.
"Ugh!" Mrs. Vanderburgh shrugged her shoulders as she looked at the occupant of the chair, who surveyed her calmly, then fell to reading her book. "Well, you must just bear it, dear; it's one of the annoyances to be endured on shipboard."
"I suppose the lady wanted her own chair," observed Mr. King, dryly.
"Lady? Oh, my dear Mr. King!" Mrs. Vanderburgh gave a soft little laugh. "It's very good of you to put it that way, I'm sure. Well, now do let us hear that delightful story. Fanny dear, you can sit on part of my chair," she added, regardless of the black looks of a gentleman hovering near, who had a sharp glance on the green card hanging to the back of the chair she had appropriated and that bore his name.
So Fanny perched on the end of the steamer chair, and Mr. King, not seeing any way out of it, went on in his recital of the whale story, winding up with an account of some wonderful porpoises he had seen, and a variety of other things, until suddenly he turned his head and keenly regarded Fanny's mother.
"How intensely interesting!" she exclaimed, opening her eyes, and trying not to yawn. "Do go on, and finish about that whale," feeling that she must say something.
"Mamma!" exclaimed Fanny, trying to stop her.
"I ended up that whale some five minutes ago, Madam," said Mr. King. "I think you must have been asleep."
"Oh, no, indeed, I have been charmed every moment," protested Mrs. Vanderburgh sitting quite erect. "You surely have the gift of a raconteur, Mr. King," she said, gracefully recovering herself. "O dear me, here is that odious boy and that tiresome old man!" as Tom Selwyn came up slowly, his Grandfather on his arm.
Mr. King put Phronsie gently off from his lap, still keeping her hand in his. "Now, children, the story-telling is all done, the whales and porpoises are all finished up—so run away." He touched his sea-cap to Mrs. Vanderburgh and her daughter, then marched up to the old man and Tom.
"I am tired of sitting still," he said. "May my little granddaughter and I join you in a walk?"
Tom shot him a grateful look. Old Mr. Selwyn, who cared most of all for Polly, mumbled out something, but did not seem especially happy. But Mr. King did not appear to notice anything awry, but fell into step, still keeping Phronsie's hand, and they paced off.
"If you know which side your bread is buttered, Mamma," said Fanny Vanderburgh, shrewdly, looking after them as they disappeared, "you'll make up to those dreadful Selwyn people."
"Never!" declared her mother, firmly. "Fanny, are you wild? Why, you are a Vanderburgh and are related to the English nobility, and I am an Ashleigh. What would your father say to such a notion?"
"Well, Papa isn't here," said Fanny, "and if he were, he'd do something to keep in with Mr. King. I hate and detest those dreadful Selwyns as much as you do, Mamma, but I'm going to cultivate them. See if I don't!"
"And I forbid it," said her mother, forgetting herself and raising her voice. "They are low bred and common. And beside that, they are eccentric and queer. Don't you speak to them or notice them in the slightest."
"Madam," said the gentleman of the black looks, advancing and touching his cap politely, "I regret to disturb you, but I believe you have my chair."
Mrs. Vanderburgh begged pardon and vacated the chair, when the gentleman touched his cap again, and immediately drew the chair up to the one where the stout, comfortable-looking woman sat.
"It seems to me there are more ill-bred, low-lived people on board this boat than it has been my lot to meet on any voyage," said Mrs. Vanderburgh, drawing her sea coat around her slight figure and sailing off, her daughter in her wake.
A LITTLE SURPRISE
"Sir," said little Mr. Selwyn, bringing his sharp black eyes to bear upon old Mr. King, "you've been very good to me, and I've not been always pleasant. But it's my way, sir; it's my way."
Mr. King nodded pleasantly, although deep in his heart he agreed with the choleric old gentleman. "But as for Polly, why, she's good—good as gold, sir." There was no mistaking Mr. Selwyn's sentiments there, and his old cheek glowed while giving what to him meant the most wonderful praise to be paid to a person.
Old Mr. King straightened up. "You've said the right thing now," he declared.
"And I wish I could see that girl when she's grown up," added the little old gentleman. "I want really to know what sort of a woman she'll make. I do, indeed, sir."
"It isn't necessary to speculate much on it," answered Mr. King, confidently, "when you look at her mother and remember the bringing up that Polly Pepper has had."
The little old gentleman squinted hard at the clouds scudding across the blue sky. "That's so," he said at last. "Well, I'm sorry we are to part," he added. "And, sir, I really wish you would come down to my place with your party and give me a fortnight during your stay in England. I really do, sir, upon me word." There was no mistaking his earnestness as he thrust out one thin, long-fingered hand. With the other, he set a card within Mr. King's fingers.
"Arthur Selwyn, The Earl of Cavendish," met Mr. King's eyes.
"I had a fancy to do this thing," said the little old gentleman, "to run across from America in simple fashion, and it pleased the boy, who hates a fuss. And we've gotten rid of all sorts of nuisances by it; interviews, and tiresome people. And I've enjoyed it mightily." He chuckled away till it seemed as if he were never going to stop. Old Mr. King burst out laughing, too; and the pair were so very jolly that the passengers, grouped together waiting for the Liverpool landing, turned to stare at them.
"Just see how intimate Mr. King is with that tiresome, common, old Mr. Selwyn!" exclaimed Mrs. Vanderburgh to her daughter. "I never was so surprised at anything in all my life, to see that he keeps it up now, for I thought that aristocratic Horatio King was the most fastidious being alive."
"The Kings have awfully nice times," grumbled Fanny, picking her gloves discontentedly. "And you keep me mewed up, and won't let me speak to anybody whose grandfather wasn't born in our set, and I hate and loathe it all."
"You'll be glad when you are a few years older, and I bring you out in society, that I always have been so particular," observed Mrs. Vanderburgh, complacently, lifting her head in its dainty bonnet, higher than ever.
"I want some nice times and a little fun now," whined Fanny, with an envious glance over at Polly and Jasper with the dreadful Selwyn boy between them, and Phronsie running up to join them, and everybody in their party just bubbling over with happiness.
"I wish Mr. King and his party would go to Paris now," said her mother, suddenly.
"Oh, don't I just wish it!" cried Fanny, in a burst. "Did you ask him, Mamma?"
"Yes, indeed; I talked for fully half an hour yesterday, but it was no use. And he doesn't seem to know how long he is going to stay in England; 'only a few days,' he said, vaguely, then they go to Holland."
"Oh, why couldn't we go to Holland!" exclaimed Fanny, impulsively, and her eyes brightened; "splendid Holland, that would be something like, Mamma!"
"You forget the Van Dykes are to be in Paris awaiting us."
"Oh, those stupid Van Dykes!" exploded Fanny. "Mamma, don't go there now. Do change, and let us go to Holland with the Kings. Do, Mamma," she implored.
"Why, Fanny Vanderburgh!" exclaimed her mother, sharply, "what is the matter with you? You know it was settled long ago, that we should meet Mrs. Van Dyke and Eleanor in Paris at just this very time. It would never do to offend them, particularly when Eleanor is going to marry into the Howard set."
"And I'll have the most stupid time imaginable," cried Fanny, passionately, "dragging around while you and the Van Dykes are buying that trousseau."
"Yes, that's one thing that I wanted the Kings to go to Paris for," said Mrs. Vanderburgh; "you could be with them. And really they are much more important than any one to get in with. And I'd keep up the friendship with the Van Dykes. But that Mr. King is so obstinate, you can't do anything with him." A frown settled all across her pretty face, and she beat her foot impatiently on the deck.
"You spoil everything, Mamma, with your sets and your stupid people," declared Fanny, her passion by no means cooled. "When I come out in society I'm going to choose my own friends," she muttered to herself, and set her lips tightly together.
Mr. King was saying, "Thank you, so much, Mr. Selwyn, for I really think I'd prefer to call you so, as I knew you so first."
"So you shall," cried the little Earl, glancing around on the groups, "and it's better just here, at all events," and he chuckled again. "Then you really will come?" and he actually seized Mr. King's hand and wrung it heartily.
"No, I was about to say it is quite impossible."
The Earl of Cavendish stared blankly up out of his sharp little black eyes in utter amazement into the other's face. "My stay in London is short, only a few days," Mr. King was saying, "and then we go directly to Holland. I thank you all the same—believe me, I appreciate it. It is good of you to ask us," he cordially added.
The little Earl of Cavendish broke away from him, and took a few hasty steps down the deck to get this new idea fairly into his brain that his invitation had not been accepted. Then he hurried back. "My dear sir," he said, laying his hand on Mr. King's arm, "will you do me the favour to try to come at some future time—to consider your plans before you return to America, and see if you can't manage to give me this great pleasure of welcoming you to my home? Think of it, I beg, and drop me a line; if at home, I shall always be most glad to have you with me. I should esteem it a privilege." The Earl of Cavendish was astonished to find himself beseeching the American gentleman without a title. And then they awaked to the fact that the groups of passengers were merging into a solid mass, and a slow procession was beginning to form for the stairway, and the landing episode was well under way.
Mrs. Vanderburgh, determined not to bid good-by on the steamer but to be with the Kings till the last moment, rushed up to them on the wharf, followed by Fanny.
"Oh, we are so sorry you are not going to Paris with us," cried Mrs. Vanderburgh, while Fanny flew at Polly Pepper and engrossed her hungrily. "Can't you reconsider it now?" she asked, with a pretty earnestness.
"No, it is impossible," answered Mr. King, for about the fiftieth time. "Our plans will not allow it. I hope you and your daughter will have the best of times," he remarked politely.
"Yes, we shall; we meet old friends there, and Paris is always delightful." Mrs. Vanderburgh bit her lip in her vexation. "I was going to see you and beg you even now to change your plans, while we were on the steamer waiting to land," she went on hurriedly, "but you were bored—I quite pitied you—by that tiresome, common, old Mr. Selwyn."
"Yes, I was talking with him," said Mr. King, "but excuse me, I was not bored. He is peculiar, but not at all common, and he has many good qualities as a man; and I like the boy immensely."
"How can you?" Mrs. Vanderburgh gave a little high-bred laugh. "They are so insufferably common, Mr. King, those Selwyns are."
"Excuse me," said Mr. King, "that was the Earl of Cavendish; it will do no harm to mention it now, as they have gone."
"Who—who?" demanded Mrs. Vanderburgh in a bewildered way.
"I did not know it till this morning," Mr. King was explaining, "but our fellow-passenger, Mr. Selwyn, chose to cross over keeping his real identity unknown, and I must say I admire his taste in the matter; and anyway it was his affair and not mine." It was a long speech, and at its conclusion Mrs. Vanderburgh was still demanding, "Who—who?" in as much of a puzzle as ever.
"The Earl of Cavendish," repeated Mr. King; "Mr. Selwyn is the Earl of Cavendish. As I say, he did not wish it known, and—"
"Fanny—Fanny!" called her mother, sitting helplessly on the first thing that presented itself, a box of merchandise by no means clean. "Fan-ny! the—the Earl of Cavendish!" She could get no further.
Little Dr. Fisher, who administered restoratives and waited on Mrs. Vanderburgh and her daughter to their London train, came skipping back to the Liverpool hotel.
"I hope, wife, I sha'n't grow uncharitable,"—he actually glared through his big spectacles,—"but Heaven defend us on our travels from any further specimens like that woman."
"We shall meet all sorts, probably, Adoniram," said his wife, calmly; "it really doesn't matter with our party of eight; we can take solid comfort together."
The little doctor came out of his ill temper, but he said ruefully, "That's all very well, wife, for you and the Hendersons; for you steered pretty clear, I noticed, of that woman. Well, she's gone." And he smiled cheerfully. "Now for dinner, for I suppose Mr. King has ordered it."
"Yes, he has," said his wife. "And you have a quarter of an hour. I've put your clothes out all ready."
"All right." The little doctor was already plunging here and there, tearing off his coat and necktie and boots; and exactly at the time set, he joined the party, with a bright and shining face, as if no Mrs. Vanderburgh, or any one in the least resembling her, had ever crossed his path.
"Jasper," cried Polly, as they hurried along out of the Harwich train to the steamer that was to take them to the Hook of Holland, "can you really believe we are almost there?"
* * * * *
"No, I can't," said Jasper, "for I've wanted to see Holland for such a time."
"Wasn't it good of Grandpapa," cried Polly, "to take us here the first thing after London?"
"Father always does seem to plan things rightly," answered Jasper, with a good degree of pride. "And then 'it's prime,'" "as Joel used to say," he was going to add, but thought better of it, as any reference to the boys always set Polly to longing for them.
"Indeed, he does," exclaimed Polly, in her most earnest fashion; "he's ever and always the most splendid Grandpapa. Oh, I wish I could do things for him, Jasper," she mourned; "he's so good to us."
"You do things for him all the while, Polly," Jasper made haste to say, as they ran along to keep up with the Parson and Mrs. Henderson's comfortable figures just before them; "you are all the while doing something for him."
"Oh, no, I don't," said Polly, "there isn't anything I can do for him. Don't you suppose there ever will be, Jasper?" she asked imploringly.
"Yes, indeed," said Jasper; "there always are things that hop up to be done when people keep their eyes open. But don't you worry about your not doing anything for him, Polly. Promise me that." Jasper took her hand and stopped just a minute to look into her face.
"I'll try not to," promised Polly, "but, oh, Jasper, I do so very much wish there might be something that I could do. I do, indeed, Jasper."
"It was only yesterday," said Jasper, as they began to hurry on once more, "that father said 'you can't begin to think, Jasper, what a comfort Polly Pepper is to me.'"
"Did he, Jasper?" cried Polly, well pleased, the colour flying over her cheek, "that was nice of him, because there isn't anything much I can really do for him. O dear! there is Grandpapa beckoning to us to hurry." So on they sped, having no breath for words. And presently they were on the boat, and little Dr. Fisher and Mr. Henderson went forward into the saloon, where the rooms reserved beforehand were to be given out, and the rest of the party waited and watched the stream of people of all ages and sizes and nationalities who desired to reach Holland the next morning.