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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.




V

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.




VI

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


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Online LibraryMargaret SidneyFive Little Peppers Abroad → online text (page 3 of 19)