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running as he hadn't run for years, appeared to their view. And after
him, at such a gait that would have been his fortune, in a professional
way, was the little doctor. His hat was gone, and his toes scarcely
seemed to touch the ground. He was last at the scene, simply because
the news had only just reached him as he sauntered leisurely up to meet
Mr. King in his promenade.

When the thief saw him, he looked to see if any more were coming, and
resigned himself at once and closed his eyes instinctively.

He was a miserable-looking man - tall, thin, and stoop shouldered - they
saw, when they got him on his feet. Unkempt and unwashed, his long,
black hair hung around a face sallow in the extreme. And he shook so,
as Tom and Jasper marched him back, escorted by the body-guard of the
parson and the little doctor, that the two boys put their hands under
his arms to help him along.

"Well - well - well!" ejaculated Mr. King, as he saw this array. Polly
gathered Phronsie's other hand in hers, while she clung closer than
ever to Grandpapa.

"Here's your pocket-book," said Tom, handing the article over; "he
hasn't spent much."

"Don't, Tom," said Jasper, "joke about it."

"Can't help it," said Tom. "Well, now, shall we turn him over to the
_sergents de ville?"_

"Turn him over?" repeated Mr. King. "I should say so," he added drily,
"and give him the best recommendation for a long term, too. What else
is there to do, pray tell?"

"Grandpapa," suddenly cried Phronsie, who hadn't taken her eyes from
the man's face, "what are you going to do - where is he going?"

"We are going to hand him over to the police, child," answered old Mr.
King, harshly. "And as soon as possible, too."

"Grandpapa, perhaps he's got some little children at home; ask him,
Grandpapa, do."

"No, no, Phronsie," said Mr. King, hastily. "Say no more, child; you
don't understand. We must call the _sergents de ville."_

At the words _sergents de ville_ the man shivered from head to foot,
and wrenched his hands free from the boys' grasp to tear open his poor
coat, and show a bare breast, covered with little, apparently, but the
skin drawn over the bones. He didn't attempt to say anything.

"Oh, my goodness!" exclaimed old Mr. King, starting backward and
putting up his hands to his face to shut out the sight. "Cover it up,
man - bless me - no need to ask him a question. Why, the fellow is
starving."

His little children - four of them - his wife - all starving - hadn't a bit
to eat since, he could scarcely say when, it seemed so very long ago
since he had eaten last - it all came out in a torrent of words that
choked him, and like the true Frenchman that he was, he gestured in a
way that told the story with his face and his fingers, as well as with
his tongue.

A _sergent de ville_ strolled by and looked curiously at the group, but
as Mr. King met his eye coolly, and the party seemed intelligent and
well able to take care of themselves, it wasn't necessary to tender his
services - if they were talking to a worthless vagabond.

"Hum - hum - very bad case; very bad case, indeed!" Mr. King was
exploding at intervals, while the torrent was rushing on in execrable
French as far as accent went. No one else of the spellbound group could
have spoken if there had been occasion for a word. Then he pulled out
the pocket-book again, and taking out several franc notes of a good
size, he pressed them between the man's dirty fingers. "Go and get
something to eat," was all he said, "and take care of the children."




XVII

"I'VE FOUND HIM!" EXCLAIMED JASPER


And for the next few days Phronsie talked about the poor man, and
wished they could see his children, and hoped he had bought them some
nice things to eat, and worried over him because he was all skin and
bones.

"Ah! the bones were real, even if the children aren't," Grandpapa would
say to himself. "Well, I suppose I have been taken in, but at least the
fellow hasn't starved to death."

And then off they would go sight-seeing as fast as possible, to take up
the mind of Phronsie, who watched for Grandpapa's poor man in every
wretched creature she saw. And there were plenty of them.

And then Adela went back to school, happy in the thought of the little
pile of sketches she had to show as her summer's work, and with ever so
many studies and bits to finish up under Mademoiselle's direction; and
little old Mrs. Gray, breathing blessings on Mr. King's head, departed
for her English country home.

"Now, then, I have ever so much shopping to do," announced old Mr.
King, briskly, "and I shall want you to help me, Phronsie."

"I'll help you, Grandpapa," promised Phronsie, well pleased, and
gravely set herself to the task.

So they wandered away by themselves, having the most blissful of times,
and coming home to the hotel, they would gaily relate their adventures;
and Phronsie would often carry a little parcel or two, which it was her
greatest delight to do; and then the trail of big boxes would follow
them as they were sent home to the hotel to tell of their experiences
in the shops.

"And Grandpapa is going to get me a new doll," announced Phronsie, on
one of these days.

"Do you mean a peasant doll to add to the collection?" asked Polly; for
old Mr. King had bought a doll in the national costume in every country
in which they had travelled, and they had been packed away, together
with the other things as fast as purchased, and sent off home across
the sea.

"Yes," said Phronsie. "I do, Polly, and it's to be a most beautiful
French doll - oh!"

And sure enough, Mr. King, who knew exactly what kind of a doll he
meant to purchase, and had kept his eyes open for it, stumbled upon it
by a piece of rare good luck in a shop where he least expected to find
it.

"Oh, may I carry her home, Grandpapa?" begged Phronsie, hanging over
the doll in a transport. "Please don't have her shut up in a box - but
do let me carry her in my arms."

"Oh, Phronsie, she's too big," objected Mr. King, "and very heavy."

"Oh, Grandpapa, she's not heavy," cried Phronsie, not meaning to
contradict, but so anxious not to have her child sent home shut up in a
box, that she forgot herself.

"Well, I don't know but what you may," said Grandpapa, relenting. "I
will call a cab after we get through with this next shop," he
reflected, "and it won't hurt her to carry the doll that short
distance." So they came out of the shop, and deciding to take a short
cut, they started across the boulevard, he taking the usual precaution
to gather Phronsie's hand in his.

As they were halfway across the street, with its constant stream of
pedestrians and vehicles, a sudden gust of wind flapped the doll's pink
silk cape up against Phronsie's eyes, and taking her hand away from
Grandpapa's a second to pull down the cape, for she couldn't see, she
slipped, and before she knew it, had fallen on top of the doll in the
middle of the street.

A reckless cabby, driving as only a French cabman can, came dashing
down the boulevard directly in her path, while a heavily loaded omnibus
going in the opposite direction was trying to get out of his way. Ever
so many people screamed; and some one pulled Mr. King back as he
started to pick her up. It was all done in an instant, and every person
expected to see her killed, when a long, gaunt individual in a shabby
coat dashed in among the plunging horses, knocked up the head of the
one belonging to the reckless cabby, swung an arm at the other pair to
divert their course, and before any one could quite tell how, he picked
up Phronsie and bore her to the curbstone. Some one got Mr. King to the
same point, too exhausted with fright to utter a word.

When he came out of his shock, the shabby man was standing by Phronsie,
the crowd that saw nothing in the incident to promise further
diversion, having melted away, and she was holding his hand, her
little, mud-stained face radiant with happiness. "Oh, Grandpapa," she
piped out, "it's your poor man!"

"The dickens it is!" exploded Mr. King. "Well, I'm glad to find you.
Here, call a cab, will you? I must get this child home; that's the
first thing to be done."

The shabby man hailed a cab, but the cabman jeered at him and whirled
by. So the old gentleman held up his hand; Phronsie all this time,
strange to say, not mentioning her doll, and Mr. King, who wouldn't
have cared if a hundred dolls had been left behind, not giving it a
thought. Now she looked anxiously on all sides. "Oh, where is she,
Grandpapa dear?" she wailed, "my child; where is she?"

"Never mind, Phronsie," cried Mr. King, "I'll get you another one
to-morrow. There, get in the cab, child."

"But I want her - I can't go home without my child!" And Phronsie's lip
began to quiver. "Oh, there she is, Grandpapa!" and she darted off a
few steps, where somebody had set the poor thing on the pavement,
propped up against a lamp-post.

"Oh, you can't carry her home," said Mr. King, in dismay at the muddy
object splashed from head to foot, with the smart pink cape that had
been the cause of the disaster, now torn clear through the middle, by
the hoof of a passing horse. He shuddered at the sight of it. "Do leave
it, Phronsie, child."

"But she's sick now and hurt; oh, Grandpapa, I can't leave my child,"
sobbed Phronsie, trying with all her might to keep the tears back. All
this time the shabby man stood silently by, looking on.

A bright thought struck the old gentleman. "I'll tell you, Phronsie,"
he said quickly. "Give the doll to this man for one of his little
children; they'll take care of it, and like it."

"Oh, Grandpapa!" screamed Phronsie, skipping up and down and clapping
her muddy little hands, then she picked up the doll and lifted it
toward him. "Give my child to your little girl, and tell her to take
good care of it," she said.

As Phronsie's French had long been one of Grandpapa's special
responsibilities in the morning hours, she spoke it nearly as well as
Polly herself, so the man grasped the doll as he had seized the money
before.

"And now," said Mr. King, "you are not going to run away this time
without telling me - oh, bless me!"

This last was brought out by an excited individual rushing up over the
curbstone to get out of the way of a passing dray, and the
walking-stick which he swung aloft as a protection, coming into
collision with Mr. King's hat, knocked it over his eyes.

"A thousand pardons, Monsieur!" exclaimed the Frenchman, bowing and
scraping.

"You may well beg a thousand pardons," cried Mr. King, angrily, "to go
about in this rude fashion through the street."

"A thousand pardons," repeated the Frenchman, with more _empressement_
than before, and tripping airily on his way.

When old Mr. King had settled his hat, he turned back to the man. "Now
tell me - why - " The man was nowhere to be seen.

"It surely does look bad," said the old gentleman to himself as he
stepped into the cab with Phronsie; "that man's children are a myth.
And I wanted to do something for them, for he saved Phronsie's life!"

This being the only idea he could possibly retain all the way home to
the hotel, he held her closely within his arm, Phronsie chattering
happily all the way, how the little girl she guessed was just receiving
the doll, and wondering what name she would give it, and would she wash
its face clean at once, and fix the torn and muddy clothes?

"Oh, yes, yes, I hope so," answered Grandpapa, when she paused for an
answer. Jasper came running out as the cab drove into the court. "Oh!"
he exclaimed, at sight of Phronsie's face, then drove the words on his
tongue back again, as he lifted her out.

"Give her to Polly to fix up a bit," said his father. "She's all right,
Jasper, my boy, I can't talk of it now. Hurry and take her to Polly."

And for the following days, Mr. King never let Phronsie out of his
sight. A new and more splendid doll, if possible, was bought, and all
sorts and styles of clothes for it, which Phronsie took the greatest
delight in caring for, humming happily to herself at the pleasure the
poor man's little girl was taking at the same time with her other child.

"Grandpapa," she said, laying down the doll carefully on the sofa, and
going over to the table where Mr. King had just put aside the
newspaper, "I do wish we could go and see that poor man and all his
children - why didn't he tell us where he lived?"

"The dickens!" exclaimed old Mr. King, unguardedly, "because the fellow
is an impostor, Phronsie. He saved your life," and he seized Phronsie
and drew her to his knee, "but he lied about those children. O dear
me!" And he pulled himself up.

"Then he hasn't any little children?" said Phronsie, opening her eyes
very wide, and speaking very slowly.

"Er-oh-I don't know," stammered Grandpapa; "it's impossible to tell,
Phronsie."

"But you don't believe he has any," said Phronsie, with grave
persistence, fastening her brown eyes on his face.

"No, Phronsie, I don't," replied old Mr. King, in desperation. "If he
had, why should he run in this fashion when I was just asking him where
he lived?"

"But he didn't hear you, Grandpapa," said Phronsie, "when the man
knocked your hat off."

"Oh, well, he knew enough what I wanted," said Mr. King, who, now that
he had let out his belief, was going to support it by all the reasons
in his power. "No, no, Phronsie, it won't do; the fellow was an
impostor, and we must just accept the fact, and make the best of it, my
child."

"But he told a lie," said Phronsie, in horror, unable to think of
anything else.

"Well." Mr. King had no words to say on that score, so he wisely said
nothing.

"That poor man told a lie," repeated Phronsie, as if producing a wholly
fresh statement.

"There, child, I wouldn't think anything more of it," said Grandpapa,
soothingly, patting her little hand.

"Grandpapa," said Phronsie, "I've given away my child, and she's sick
because she fell and hurt her, and there isn't any little girl,
and - and - that poor man told a lie!" And she flung herself up against
Grandpapa's waistcoat, and sobbed as if her heart would break.

Old Mr. King looked wildly around for Polly. And as good fortune would
have it, in she ran. This wasn't very strange, for Polly kept nearly as
close to Phronsie in these days, as Grandpapa himself.

"Here, Polly," he called brokenly, "this is something beyond me. You
must fix it, child."

"Why, Phronsie!" exclaimed Polly, in dismay, and her tone was a bit
reproachful. "Crying? Don't you know that you will make Grandpapa very
sick unless you stop?"

Phronsie's little hand stole out from over her mouth where she had been
trying to hold the sobs back, and up to give a trembling pat on old Mr.
King's cheek.

"Bless you, my child," cried Grandpapa, quite overcome, so that Polly
said more reproachfully, "Yes, very sick indeed, Phronsie, unless you
stop this minute. You ought to see his face, Phronsie."

Phronsie gathered herself up out of his arms, and through a rain of
tears looked up at him.

"Are you sick, Grandpapa?" she managed to ask.

"Yes, dear; or I shall be if you don't stop crying, Phronsie," said Mr.
King, pursuing all the advantage so finely gained.

"I'll stop," said Phronsie, her small bosom heaving. "I really will,
Grandpapa."

"Now, you are the very goodest child," exclaimed Polly, down on her
knees by Grandpapa's side, cuddling Phronsie's toes, "the very most
splendid one in all this world, Phronsie Pepper."

"And you'll be all well, Grandpapa?" asked Phronsie, anxiously.

"Yes, child," said old Mr. King, kissing her wet face; "just as well as
I can be, since you are all right."

"And, oh, Grandpapa, can't we go to Fontainebleau to-day?" begged Polly.

"Phronsie, just think - it will be precisely like the country, and we
can get out of the carriages, and can run and race in the forest. Can't
we, Grandpapa?"

"All you want to," promised Grandpapa, recklessly, and only too
thankful to have something proposed for a diversion. "The very thing,"
he added enthusiastically. "Now, Polly and Phronsie, run and tell all
the others to get ready, just as fast as they can, and we'll be off.
Goodness me, Jasper, what makes you run into a room in this fashion?"

"I've found him!" exclaimed Jasper, dashing in, and tossing his cap on
the table, and his dark hair back from his forehead. "And he's all
right - as straight as a die," he panted.

"Now what in the world are you talking of?" demanded his father, in
extreme irritation. "Can't you make a plain statement, and enlighten us
without all this noise and confusion, pray tell?"

Polly, who had Phronsie's hand in hers, just ready to run off, stood
quite still with glowing cheek.

"Oh, I do believe - Grandpapa - it is - it is!" - she screamed
suddenly - "your poor man! Isn't it, Jasper - isn't it?" she cried,
turning to him.

"Yes, Polly," said Jasper, still panting from his run up the stairs;
"and do hurry, father, and see for yourself; and we'll all go to him.
I'll tell you all about it on the way."

When Mr. King comprehended that the man was found, and that he was "all
right," as Jasper vehemently repeated over and over, he communicated
that fact to Phronsie, whose delight knew no bounds, and in less time
than it takes to write it, Tom, who was the only one of the party to be
collected on such short notice, had joined them, and they were bowling
along in a big carriage, Jasper as guide, to the spot where the man was
waiting.

"You see it was just this way," Jasper was rapidly telling off. "I was
going down by the Madeleine, and I thought I would bring Phronsie some
flowers; so I stopped at the market, and I couldn't find a little pot
of primroses I wanted, though I went the whole length; and at last,
when I had given up, I saw just one in front of a woman who sat at the
very end."

"Do hurry, Jasper, and get to the conclusion," said his father,
impatiently.

Polly dearly loved to have the story go on in just this way, as she
leaned forward, her eyes on Jasper's face, but she said nothing, only
sighed.

"Well," said Jasper, "I'll tell it as quickly as I can, father. And
there were a lot of children, father, all round the woman where she sat
on a box, and she was tying in a bunch some flowers that were huddled
in her lap, and the children were picking out the good ones for her;
and just then a man, who was bending over back of them all, breaking
off some little branches from a big green one, straightened up
suddenly, and, father, as true as you live," cried Jasper, in intense
excitement, "it was your poor man!"

"The children?" asked Mr. King, as soon as he could be heard for the
excitement.

"Are all his," cried Jasper, "and he took the money you gave him, and
set his wife up in the flower business down in front of the Madeleine.
Oh! and Phronsie, the doll you gave him was sitting up on another box,
and every once in a while the littlest girl would stop picking out the
flowers in her mother's lap, and would run over and wipe its face with
her apron."




XXVIII

"WELL, I GOT HIM HERE," SAID THE LITTLE EARL


They were really on their way to see the little old earl, after all!
How it came about, Mr. King, even days after it had all been decided,
couldn't exactly remember. He recalled several conversations in Paris
with Tom's mother, who showed him bits of letters, and one in
particular that somehow seemed to be a very potent factor in the plan
that, almost before he knew it, came to be made. And when he held out,
as hold out he did against the acceptance of the invitation, he found
to his utmost surprise that every one, Mother Fisher and all, was
decidedly against him.

"Oh, well," he had declared when that came out, "I might as well give
in gracefully first as last." And he sat down at once and wrote a very
handsome note to the little old earl, and that clinched the whole
business.

And after the week of this visit should be over, for old Mr. King was
firmness itself on not accepting a day more, they were to bid good-by
to Mrs. Selwyn and Tom, and jaunt about a bit to show a little of Old
England to the Hendersons, and then run down to Liverpool to see them
off, and at last turn their faces toward Dresden, their winter
home - "and to my work!" said Polly to herself in delight.

So now here they were, actually driving up to the entrance of the park,
and stopping at the lodge-gate.

An old woman, in an immaculate cap and a stiff white apron over her
best linsey-woolsey gown which she had donned for the occasion, came
out of the lodge and courtesied low to the madam, and held open the big
gate.

"How have you been, Mrs. Bell?" asked Mrs. Selwyn, with a kind smile,
as the carriage paused a bit.

"Very well, my lady," said Mrs. Bell, her round face glowing with
pride. "And the earl is well, bless him! and we are glad to welcome you
home again, and Master Tom."

"And I'm glad enough to get here, Mrs. Bell," cried Tom. "Now drive on
at your fastest, Hobson."

Hobson, who knew very well what Master Tom's fastest gait was,
preferred to drive through the park at what he considered the dignified
pace. So they rolled on under the stately trees, going miles, it seemed
to Polly, who sat on the back seat with Tom.

He turned to her, unable to conceal his impatience. "Anybody would
think this pair were worn out old cobs," he fumed. "Polly, you have no
idea how they can go, when Hobson lets them out. What are you wasting
all this time for, crawling along in this fashion, Hobson, when you
know we want to get on?"

Thus publicly addressed, Hobson let the handsome bays "go" as Tom
expressed it, and they were bowled along in a way that made Polly turn
in delight to Tom.

"There - that's something like!" declared Tom. "Don't you like it,
Polly?" looking into her rosy face.

"Like it!" cried Polly, "why, Tom Selwyn, it's beautiful. And these
splendid trees - " she looked up and around. "Oh, I never saw any so
fine."

"They're not half bad," assented Tom, "these oaks aren't, and we have
some more, on the other end of the park, about five miles off, that - "

"Five miles off!" cried Polly, with wide eyes. "Is the park as big as
that, Tom?"

He laughed. "That isn't much. But you'll see it all for yourself," he
added. Then he rushed off into wondering how his dogs were. "And, oh,
you'll ride with the hounds, Polly!"

Just then some rabbits scurried across the wood, followed by several
more pattering and leaping through the grass.

"Oh, Tom, see those rabbits!" cried Polly, excitedly.

"Yes, the warrens are over yonder," said Tom, bobbing his head in the
right direction.

"What?" asked Polly, in perplexity.

"Rabbit-warrens; oh, I forgot, you haven't lived in England. You seem
so much like an English girl, though," said Tom, paying the highest
compliment he knew of.

"Well, what are they?" asked Polly, quite overcome by the compliment
coming from Tom.

"Oh, they are preserves, you know, where the rabbits live, and they are
not allowed to be hunted here."

"Oh, do you ever hunt rabbits?" cried Polly, in horror, leaning out of
her side of the big coach to see the scurrying little animals.

"Not often," said Tom, "we mostly ride after the fox. You'll ride with
the hounds, Polly," he cried with enthusiasm. "We'll have a hunt while
you're here, and we always wind up with a breakfast, you know. Oh,
we'll have no end of sport." He hugged his long arms in huge
satisfaction.

And away - and away over the winding road and underneath the stately
trees, rolled the big coach, to be followed by the other carriages,
like a dream it seemed to Polly, and more than ever, when at last they
stopped in front of a massive pile of buildings with towers and arches
and wings.

And the little old earl was kissing her rosy cheek in the most courtly
fashion, and saying while he shook her hand in his long fingers, "And
how do you do, my dear?" And Mrs. Selwyn was by his other side. And Tom
was screeching out, "How do you do, Granddaddy!" And then, "Oh, Elinor
and Mary!" to two quiet, plain-looking girls standing in the
background. And "Ah, how d'ye kids!" as the faces of his two small
brothers appeared. And Polly forgot all about the fact that she was in
an earl's house, and she laughed and chatted; and in two minutes one of
Tom's sisters was on either side of her, and the small boys in front,
and the little groups were moving in and out of the old hall, as
Grandpapa and the rest came in, and the head housekeeper in a black
silk gown that seemed quite able to stand alone, and a perfect relay of
stiff figures in livery were drawn up underneath the armour hanging on


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Online LibraryMargaret SidneyFive Little Peppers Abroad → online text (page 18 of 19)