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Five Little Peppers Abroad online

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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

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!"



"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

"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

"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

"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.

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Online LibraryMargaret SidneyFive Little Peppers Abroad → online text (page 2 of 19)