Mr. King Does His Duty
 

Polly's face appeared over Adela's shoulder. "Don't!" said Adela, shrinking away into the corner of the big sofa, and putting her hands over something she held in her lap.

"Excuse me!" exclaimed Polly, tumbling back in amazement. "I wasn't looking. I don't want to see. I only meant to surprise you." She kept backing off toward the door, the colour all over her round cheek.

"You mustn't get mad, Polly," cried Adela, flying up straight to look at her, but still keeping her lap well covered.

Jasper, running in, heard the words. "Polly never gets mad," he said slowly, standing quite still.

"Well, she is now--just as mad as can be," said Adela, in a fretful little voice; "look at her."

"Oh, I'm not mad, Adela," began Polly, "only sorry. And it's my fault, Jasper," seeing his face darken, "for I looked over her shoulder. I only wanted to surprise her; and Adela, of course, thought I wanted to see what she was doing."

"Yes," said Adela, "I did think so, Polly Pepper, and I don't want anybody to see it." With that she huddled the thing, whatever it was, down by her side, and ran out of the room as fast as she could go.

"A disagreeable creature," began Jasper, hotly; "and she's been a perfect nuisance all along to take her everywhere. Now we drop her, Polly." He looked more like his father at this moment than Polly had ever seen him before.

"Oh, no, Jasper," she remonstrated in dismay.

"Yes, we drop her like a hot cake," said Jasper, decidedly; "that would be my opinion, Polly."

"But we can't, she's so alone," went on Polly; "and, besides, she's troubled about something. That's what makes her feel so."

"It's a queer way to bear trouble, I should think, to abuse you," said Jasper, "when you've been bothering yourself about her all this time."

"Oh, I don't mind," said Polly, brightening up, "if only you won't talk of our dropping her, Jasper."

Jasper turned on his heel, and walked to the window. When he looked back, the annoyance had dropped out of his face, and he was just saying, "All right, Polly, it ought to be as you say, I'm sure," when Adela Gray rushed into the room and up to Polly, and flung her arms around her neck. "There, and there, and there!" and something tumbled into Polly's hands.

"I didn't want anybody to see it," mumbled Adela, "for I've spoiled it; and I was trying to rub out the spots when you came in, and I made it worse than ever. But I'll give it to you now, Polly; and please tear it up, and I'll make you another."

When this long speech was all mumbled out, Polly was looking at a little sketch of Phronsie holding the fat Marken baby, and the Marken people looking on.

"Oh, Jasper!" screamed Polly, "do come here! Oh, Adela, did you draw this? And oh! how perfectly beautiful!" all in one breath.

"It is a good thing," said Jasper, taking the drawing from Polly's hand and examining it critically, while Polly threw her arms around Adela, and oh-ed and ah-ed her delight at finding that she could draw and sketch so beautifully; and now to think of having this lovely picture of Phronsie!

"But, you must tear it up," said Adela, in alarm, "else I'm sorry I gave it to you, Polly."

"Tear it up!" repeated Polly, in astonishment; "tear up this lovely picture of Phronsie! What do you mean, Adela Gray?"

"Oh, I've a copy, of course," said Adela, carelessly; "and I'm going to do you another better one."

"Where did you learn to draw so well?" asked Jasper, in admiration of the bold, accurate lines, and the graceful curves.

"In school, at Paris," said Adela, quietly.

Polly looked over Jasper's arm, and scanned the sketch. "I never saw anything so lovely!" she exclaimed. "And it's just alive! Isn't it, Jasper?"

"Yes, it is splendid," he said enthusiastically; "and that's the best part of it--it's alive, Polly, as you say."

"I'd give anything in all this world, Adela, if I could draw like that," mourned Polly.

"I'd rather play on the piano," said Adela, "than do all the drawing in the world. But I can't learn; the music master said there was something the matter with my ear, and I never could tell one note from another by the sound. I do so wish I could play on the piano, Polly Pepper!" she added discontentedly.

"Well, Jasper can do both,--play on the piano, and draw, too," said Polly.

"I can't draw like this," said Jasper, holding the sketch off at arm's length to view it again. "I couldn't if I were to try a thousand years."

"Oh, Jasper!" exclaimed Polly, who couldn't bear to think there was anything that he could not do.

"Well, I can't," said Jasper.

"Let me see some of your sketches," begged Adela. "It's so nice to find some one else who can draw. Do show me some."

"Oh, no," protested Jasper, in dismay, "not after this," pointing to Adela's drawing.

"Do, Jasper," begged Polly, imploringly, "get your portfolio."

"Oh, I couldn't bring them all in," said Jasper. "I wouldn't show those old things for the world, Polly."

"Well, bring some of them, do," she begged, while Adela said, "I showed mine, and I didn't want to, I'm sure." So Jasper ran up to his room, and pretty soon he came back with his portfolio.

"You did bring it, after all," exclaimed Polly, in satisfaction, patting the brown leather cover. "Oh, how nice of you, Jasper," as they ran over and ensconced themselves in a cosey corner.

"I took out the worst ones," said Jasper, with a laugh. "And I'm awfully sorry I didn't leave behind more of the others."

"I hope you brought that woman with a basket of vegetables we saw at the market the other day," said Polly, as he opened the portfolio. "Do tell me, Jasper, you did bring that, didn't you?" beginning to fumble through the pile.

"Yes, I did, Polly," said Jasper; "she's in there all safe and sound."

So for the next hour, there was great turning over and comparing of sketches, and much talk about vertical lines and graceful curves, and shading and perspective, and expression, and dear knows what all, as the three heads bent over the portfolio. So intent were they all, that no one heard Grandpapa come in, and he sat there in a farther corner, for a good quarter of an hour. At last Polly looked up and saw him.

"Oh, Grandpapa!" she cried, flying off from the group, and carrying Adela's sketch in her hand. "Just see what a perfectly beautiful picture of Phronsie! Adela Gray made it. She draws splendidly, Grandpapa."

Old Mr. King took the little sketch and fairly beamed at it.

"It's very like,--it is excellent," he declared, caring nothing for its merits as a drawing, but only seeing Phronsie as she sat with the big Marken baby in her lap on the stubbly bank.

"Isn't it, Grandpapa?" cried Polly, overflowing with happiness; "and she has given it to me, Grandpapa. Oh, isn't she good!"

"She is, indeed," assented old Mr. King, just as well pleased as Polly. "A very good girl, indeed. Come here, Adela."

Adela, whose sharp ears had caught most of this dialogue at the other end of the room,--although Jasper was keeping a steady fire of talk to drown it if possible,--was looking in dismay at him.

"O dear me, I wish they'd stop," she breathed in distress.

"I thought you said you had no ear," said Jasper, laughing at her face.

"I can't tell music notes," she said, "but I can hear things."

"Yes, I should think you could," he said. And then came old Mr. King's "Come here, Adela," so she had to go across the room, shaking every step of the way, and stand in front of him.

"I didn't know we had such a good little artist among us," said Grandpapa, wonderfully well pleased and smiling kindly at her.

"That is nothing," said Adela, in despair at ever stopping the flow of praise. "I spoiled it, and I'm going to do Polly a better one."

"Nothing could be better, my dear," said Grandpapa, blandly; "it is a fine likeness of Phronsie." And then he questioned her as to her training in the art, and what she meant to do in the future, and where she intended to study and all that, getting an immense amount of information so artfully that Adela never for an instant suspected his reason. All the time he was holding the sketch of Phronsie in his hand, and intently gazing on it most of the time.

"Well," he said at last, "I won't keep you young people any longer," --for Jasper had thrown down the portfolio and joined the group,--"so run back to your own corner. Dear me," pulling out his watch, "it's only twenty minutes to luncheon. How time does fly, to be sure! To-morrow morning, remember, we are off for Antwerp."

"O dear, dear!" exclaimed Polly, as they ran back and bent over the portfolio again, "we haven't half seen Amsterdam, Jasper."

"No, and you wouldn't if you stayed a year," observed Jasper, wisely.

"We must go over to the Ryks Museum once more," said Polly.

"Yes, let us go there directly after luncheon," proposed Jasper. "I know what you want to do, Polly,--sit in front of 'The Night Watch' again."

"Yes, I do," said Polly. "I couldn't go away without seeing that picture once more, Jasper."

"I don't like that 'Night Watch,'" said Adela, "it's too dark and too smutty. I don't see why people like it so much."

"Well, I do like it very much," reiterated Polly. "I know it's dreadfully dark, but the people in front seem to be stepping right out of the shadows, and to be alive. It seems to me they are just going to come right up toward me, as I sit there."

"And that, after all, I suppose is the best thing one can say of a picture," said Jasper. "And it is always the finest time to look at that picture in the afternoon, you know, so we will go there, Polly, after luncheon."

"And then Phronsie will want to see that picture of a woman with a cat, I suppose," said Polly. "Dear me, who was it that painted that, Jasper? I never can remember the artists' names."

"Metsu was it--Jan--no, Gabriel--Metsu," answered Jasper, wrinkling his brows. "Neither can I remember all those fellows' names. Yes, indeed, you'll find Phronsie won't let us go there without paying respects to her special picture."

"And then I suppose Grandpapa will take us for a last drive in Vondel Park. Oh, what nice times we have had, Jasper King!" exclaimed Polly, leaning back against the sofa, and clasping her hands restfully. "I just love Amsterdam! And I hate to leave it!"

"So you said about The Hague, Polly," observed Jasper, turning to her with a little laugh.

"Well, wasn't it perfectly beautiful?" asked Polly, flying up straight again. "Just think of that dear 'House in the Wood,' Jasper."

"I know it; you wanted to go there day after day," laughed Jasper.

"Why, we only went there three times," said Polly, "I'm sure, Jasper. And the picture-gallery--"

"That is in the Maurit--rit, whatever is the rest of it? Oh, I know," said Jasper, guilty of interrupting, "Mauritshuis, that is where the picture-gallery is, Polly."

"Yes, that's it," echoed Polly; "it's fine--Paul Potter's 'Bull' is there."

"Oh, I want to see that picture very much!" exclaimed Adela. "I've never been to The Hague."

"Well, you'll go, perhaps, sometime," said Polly, with an uncomfortable feeling that she ought not to enjoy the things that Adela hadn't seen. "And you are going to Antwerp with us to-morrow, anyway," she added, brightening up.

"Yes," said Adela, "Grandmamma is really going there. But that's all; for we go straight over to England then, and I sha'n't see you ever again, Polly Pepper," she finished gloomily.

And that evening Grandpapa sat down by little old Mrs. Gray in the parlour after dinner, and though he began about something as far distant as possible, before long he was talking about Adela, and her wonderful talent. And the most surprising thing about it all was, that the little old lady, not intending to do it in the least, nor really comprehending how much she was telling, soon had him informed on all that he had set his heart on learning--how Adela had just been taken from the Paris school, because the little fortune her father had left, had somehow shrunk up, and there was no more money to keep her there. "I can't tell how it is, sir," she mourned, raising her faded eyes under the widow's cap to the kind old face above her, "I thought there was enough to educate my grandchild; it wasn't a big sum, but I supposed it was quite sufficient; but now it appears to be almost gone, and I have only just enough to keep me." She didn't add that the curate, her husband, when he crept into his grave, in the English churchyard, had left her nothing but the memory of his good name, her small means coming as a legacy from some of his grateful friends, they, too, long since dead.

Old Mr. King made no comment, only passed on with a few little leading remarks when the information seemed to be on the wane. And then he said he thought he would like a game of backgammon, and he challenged the parson to come on and be beaten. And at an early hour the party broke up. "For remember," said Grandpapa, for about the fiftieth time that day, "it's Antwerp to-morrow!"

So it was at Antwerp that the whole splendid business was concluded. And when the story of it came out, there was a regular jubilee all around. For were not Adela and Adela's grandmother going with the King party around a bit more on the continent, and then off to Paris again, and back to the beloved school-- Grandpapa's gift to the girl with the talent, to keep it alive!

And the little widow, stunned at first by the magnitude of the gift, could do nothing but feebly protest, "Oh, no, sir!" and put up both shaking hands to ward off the benefaction.

"It's your duty, Madam," said Mr. King, sternly, at which she shrank down farther in her chair. "Who knows what such talent will do in the world? and it's my duty to see that it is kept alive,--nothing more nor less than a question of duty."

He stamped up and down the room vehemently, and the little old lady protesting that she wanted to do her duty,--she was sure she always did,--the hardest part was over, and old Mr. King chuckled to himself triumphantly.

"And now," cried Polly, in a transport, when the first surprise was over, and everybody had settled down to the quiet enjoyment of it all, "we've really and truly got a celebrated artist all to ourselves," and she drew herself up in pride.

"I'm not celebrated yet," said Adela, with two little red spots on her cheeks, and with happy eyes on her grandmother. "You had better wait till I am."

"Oh, well; you will be," said Polly, confidently, "sometime, and then we can say 'yes, we knew her when she was a girl,' and we'll go to picture-galleries the same as we do here, and see your name stuck up in the corners of the very best ones, Adela."