The Round Robin
 

"Dear me, how the summer is going!" mourned Polly, as they caught on the return journey the last glimpse of the roaring, tumbling Visp, and not all the craning of the necks could compass another view, as the cars drew them away from the rushing river.

"Never mind, Polly," said Jasper, "there's all next summer; and after our winter in Dresden, and all our hard work over music, won't it be fine, though, to jaunt round again?" and his eyes glistened.

"Dresden!" echoed Polly, sitting quite straight with very red cheeks; --"oh, Jasper!"

The magic word, "Dresden," had unlocked visions of months of future delight, bringing back every word of dear Herr Bauricke; all the instruction he had given her, on those happy days at Lucerne, that Polly felt quite sure were engraven deep on her heart to last forever and ever.

"And won't I study, though!" exclaimed Polly, to herself, "and make the professor that Herr Bauricke has engaged for me, glad that he teaches me, oh, won't I!"

"Well, I'm sorry the summer is going," said Adela, "because then I've got to leave you at Paris, and go into school."

"But you like your school," said Polly, brightly, "you've said so a dozen times, Adela."

"Yes, I do," said Adela, "and I've got some sketches to take back, and Mademoiselle will be glad of that."

"And you'll go on drawing and painting until you get to be a great artist," ran on Polly, enthusiastically, "and then we'll see something you've done, in the Louvre, maybe."

"The Louvre!" cried Adela; "O dear me, Polly Pepper."

"I don't care," said Polly, recklessly, pushing back the little rings of brown hair from her brow, "they'll be good enough, the pictures you are going to do, to put into the Louvre, anyway, Adela Gray."

Tom Selwyn had been very sober during all this merry chatter; and now in his seat across the narrow aisle, he drummed his heels impatiently on the floor. His mother looked over at him, and slipping out of her seat, went over to him. "Any room here, Tom, for mother?" she said.

"Oh,--ah,--I should say so!" Tom slipped out, gave her the window seat, then flew back.

"Now, this is comfy," observed Mrs. Selwyn, as the train sped on. "Tom, see here!"

"What's up, little mother?" asked Tom, in surprise, at her unusual manner.

"It's just this, Tom. You know we are going to Chamonix and up the Mer de Glace with Mr. King's party."

Tom bobbed his head, not allowing himself to exclaim, "But that will be only a short journey, now, and we must soon say 'good-by.'"

"Well, I've been thinking that I should like to go on to Geneva, and to Paris," continued Mrs. Selwyn, "only you dislike Paris so much, Tom," she added.

"Oh, you're the bulliest--I mean--excuse me--you're no end a brick--oh, I mean-- I can't say what I mean," brought up Tom, in despair. And he ran one long arm around her neck very much to the detriment of her neat collar.

"Then you can overcome your dislike to Paris enough to go there?" asked his mother, with a little twinkle in her eye.

"My dislike!" roared Tom, "O dear me!" as everybody looked around. "Why, I just love Paris!" he finished in an awful whisper, close to the plain, black bonnet.

When the news was circulated, as it was pretty soon, that the party was not to be broken into at all till Paris was a completed story, the jubilation was such as to satisfy even Tom. And as this particular party had the car entirely to themselves, it wasn't so very dreadful as it seems, and the elder members allowed indulgent smiles at it all.

That night in the market-place at Martigny, Jasper, who was ahead with his father, ran back to Polly, and the others lingering behind. "Oh, do hurry," he begged, "it's the prettiest sight!"

"Oh, what is it?" cried Polly, as they scampered off.

There, in the centre of the market-place, was a ring of little girls, hand-in- hand, singing a little French song, and going round and round in a circle. They were of all ages and sizes, the littlest one in a blue pinafore, being about three years of age, and so chubby she had to be helped along continually by a big girl, evidently her sister. This big sister stopped the ring game, every now and then, to kiss the round face by the side of her gown; an example that was followed by so many of the other girls, that the game seemed to be never quite finished. And once in a while, big sister would pick up the chubby, little, blue-pinafored maiden and carry her through a considerable portion of the game, then down she would put her on her two chubby feet, and away they all circled without any break in the proceedings at all.

"Oh! isn't it 'Oats, Peas, Beans, and Barley grow'?" cried Polly, as they watched them intently.

"Ever so much like it," said Tom. "See those boys; now they are going to make trouble."

"Oh, they sha'n't!" declared Polly. "O dear me!" as one boy drew near, on the side next to the travellers, and watching his chance, picked at a flying apron or two. But the ring of girls paid no more attention to him, than they had to any other outside matters, being wholly absorbed in the game. So Polly and the others breathed freely again.

But up came another boy. "O dear me!" cried Polly, aghast. When number three put in an appearance, she gave up all hope at once.

"They're jealous chaps," cried Tom, "and are vexed because they can't get into the game! Hear them jeer!" And his long arm went out and picked a jacket-end of an urchin, who, incautiously regarding such quiet travellers as not worth minding, had hovered too near, while trying to tease the girls.

"Here, you, sir," cried Tom, with a bit of a shake, and a torrent of remarkably good French not to be disregarded; then he burst into a laugh. And the urchin laughed too, thinking this much better fun to tussle with the tall lad, than to hang around a parcel of girls. And presently a woman came and took little blue pinafore off, and then the rest of the girls unclasped their hands, and the ring melted away, and the game was over.

"I'm glad the girls over here have fun," said Polly, as Grandpapa and his party moved off. "Isn't it nice to think they do?"

"It isn't much matter where you live, there's a good deal to be gotten out of life; if you only know how," said the parson, thinking busily of the little brown house.

Two or three days of rest at Martigny put everybody in good shape, and gave them all a bit of time to pick up on many little things that were behindhand. Tom looked over all his floral treasures, with their last additions made at the Riffelalp, and discarded such as hadn't pressed well. And Jasper and Polly rushed up to date with their journals, and wrote letters home; and Adela worked up her studies and sketches.

Tom looked on silently when Polly and Jasper were scraping their pens in a lively fashion in the little writing room of the hotel. "That's my third letter, Polly," announced Jasper, on the other side of the table. "Now, I am going to begin on Joel's."

"One, two," said Polly, counting, "why, I thought I'd written three; well, this one is most finished, Jasper."

"Yes," said Jasper, glancing over at her, "is that your last page, Polly?"

"Yes," said Polly, hurrying away. Then she thought of what Mamsie had said, and slackened her speed.

Tom cleared his throat, and tried to speak, but the words wouldn't come nicely, so he burst out, "I say, I wish you'd write to my granddaddy, both of you," and then he stood quite still, and very red in the face.

Polly looked up quickly, her pen dropping from her fingers, and Jasper deserted his fourth letter and stared.

"Why," said Polly, finding her tongue, "we wouldn't dare, Tom Selwyn."

"Dare!" said Tom, delighted to think that no terrible result had really ensued from his words, that after they were out, had scared him mightily. "Oh, if you knew granddaddy!" And he sank into a chair by the table, and played with the heap of picture postal cards that Polly was going to address next.

"We might," said Polly, slowly, "write a letter, all of us. A kind of a Round Robin thing, you know, and send that."

"So we could," cried Jasper; "how would that do, Tom?"

"The very thing!" exclaimed Tom, striking his hand so heavily on the table, that for a minute it looked as if the ink-bottle hopped.

"Take care, there's no reason you should knock things over because you are overjoyed," cried Jasper, gaily. "Well, let's leave our letters to-day, Polly, and set to on the Round Robin."

"All right," said Polly, glad to think there was anything she could really do to please the little old earl, "but would your mother like it, Tom?" She stopped slowly in putting her unfinished letter into the little writing-case, and looked at him.

"If you think there's a shadow of doubt on that score, I'd best run and ask her now." Tom got himself out of the chair, and himself from the room, and in an incredibly short space of time, back there he was. "My mother says, 'Thank Polly for thinking of it; it will do father more good than anything else could possibly do.'"

"I don't suppose you want any more answer," said Tom, quite radiant, and looking down at Polly.

"No, only I didn't think first of it," said Polly, in a distressed little tone.

"Why, Polly Pepper!" exclaimed Tom, "I certainly heard you say 'Round Robin,' when I'll venture to say not a soul of us had even thought of it; we certainly hadn't said so."

"Well, you spoke of the letter first," said Polly, unwilling to take the credit for all the comfort going to the little old earl, "and I shall tell your mother so, Tom."

"But I didn't say 'Round Robin,'" persisted Tom, "wasn't smart enough to think of it."

"And let's get to work," cried Jasper, huddling up his three letters. "I'll post yours, too, Polly; give them here."

"O dear, my stamps are all gone," said Polly, peering into the little box in one corner of her writing-case.

"I've plenty," said Jasper, hurrying off; "I'll stick on two for you."

"Oh, no, Jasper," cried Polly, after him, "you know Mamsie would not allow me to borrow."

"It isn't borrowing," said Jasper, turning back slowly. "I'll give them to you, Polly."

"But Mamsie said when we started I should get my stamps when I needed them," said Polly. "You know she did, Jasper."

"Yes, she did," said Jasper, uncomfortably. Then his face brightened, and he said, "And she's right, Polly," while Polly fished a franc out of Joel's little money-bag that hung at her belt. "Do get the stamps, please, Jasper, and put them on," as he took up her two letters. And she gave the bag a little pat for Joel's sake, wishing it was his stubby black hair that her fingers could touch.

"Dear me, you are dreadfully particular about taking two postage stamps, seems to me," said Adela, who had taken that time, as she hadn't any letters to write, to work up one of her studies from memory of the Visp.

Tom's blue eyes flashed dangerously, then he cleared his throat, whistled, and walked to the window.

"I don't know where we are going to get nice white paper for our 'Round Robin,'" said Polly, leaning her elbows on the table, and her chin in her hands.

"I know!" ejaculated Tom, whirling on his heel, and dashing out. In he came, swinging three or four goodly sheets. "Filched 'em out of the old woman's room," he said.

"Oh, Tom!" began Polly.

"I mean, the housekeeper--matron--conciergerie--whatever you call the gentle lady who runs this house--was fortunately at our desk where she has the pleasure of making up our bills, and I worked on her feelings till she parted with 'em," explained Tom.

"Oh!" said Polly; "well, I'm glad she gave them."

"Never you fear but what they'll be in our bills, Polly," said Tom, who couldn't believe by this time that he hadn't always known Polly Pepper.

"It's dreadfully thin paper," said Adela, critically, getting off from the sofa to pick at one corner of the sheet Polly was beginning to divide.

"I'm glad we have any," hummed Polly, happily.

"Thank your stars you have," said Tom, as gaily. And Jasper running in, the table was soon surrounded by the makers of the Round Robin, Adela deserting her sketch-book and pulling up a chair.

"And Phronsie must come," said Polly, snipping away to get the paper the right width. "O dear me, I can't cut it straight. Do you please finish it, Jasper."

"That's all right," said Jasper, squinting at it critically, "only --just this edge wants a little bit of trimming, Polly." And he snipped off the offending points.

"I'll fetch Phronsie," cried Tom, springing off.

"And hurry," cried Polly and Jasper, together, after him.

"Polly," said Phronsie, as Tom came careering in with her on his shoulder. "I want to write, too, I do," she cried, very much excited.

"Of course, you shall, Pet. That's just what we want you for," cried Polly, clearing a place on the table; "there, do pull up a chair, Jasper."

"Now, Phronsie, I think you would better begin, for you are the littlest," and she flapped the long strip down in front of her.

"Oh, Polly, you begin," begged Tom.

"No, I think Phronsie ought to," said Polly, shaking her head.

"I want Polly to," said Phronsie, wriggling away from the pen that Polly held out alluringly.

"But Polly wants you to," said Jasper. "I really would, Phronsie dear, to please her."

To please Polly, being what Phronsie longed for next to pleasing Mamsie, she gave a small sigh and took the pen in unsteady fingers.

"Wait a minute, Phronsie!" exclaimed Polly, in dismay, "I believe we've made a mistake, Jasper, and got the wrong sheet." And Polly turned off with him to examine the rest of the paper.

Phronsie, who hadn't heard what Polly said, her small head being full of the responsibility of beginning the important letter, and considering, since it was to be done, it was best to have it over with as soon as possible, fell to scribbling the letters as fast as she could, all of them running down hill.

"Well, I'm glad to see that we haven't made any mistake," cried Polly, turning back in relief. "Oh, Phronsie, you haven't begun!"

She spoke so sharply that Phronsie started, and a little drop of ink trembling on the point of her pen concluded to hop off. So it did and jumped down on the clean white paper to stare up at them all like a very bad black eye.

"Oh, see what she's written!" cried Polly, quite aghast, and tumbling into her chair, she pointed at the top.

"Deer Mister Erl," scrawled clear across the top.

"I didn't--mean--oh, you said do it, Polly." Phronsie threw herself out of her chair, and over into Polly's lap, burrowing and wailing piteously.

"O dear me, how could I say anything?" cried Polly, overcome with remorse and patting Phronsie's yellow hair; "but it is so very dreadful. O dear me! Phronsie, there, there, don't cry. O dear me!"

Tom's mouth trembled. "It's all right. Granddaddy'll like it," he said.

"Oh, Tom Selwyn," gasped Polly, looking up over Phronsie's head, "you don't suppose we'd let that letter go."

"I would," said Tom, coolly, running his hands in his pockets. "I tell you, you don't know my granddaddy. He's got lots of fun in him," he added.

"Phronsie," said Jasper, rushing around the table, "you are making Polly sick. Just look at her face."

Phronsie lifted her head where she had burrowed it under Polly's arm. When she saw that Polly's round cheeks were really quite pale, she stopped crying at once. "Are you sick, Polly?" she asked, in great concern.

"I sha'n't be," said Polly, "if you won't cry any more, Phronsie."

"I won't cry any more," declared Phronsie, wiping off the last tear trailing down her nose. "Then you will be all well, Polly?"

"Then I shall be all as well as ever," said Polly, kissing the wet little face.

When they got ready to begin on the letter again, it was nowhere to be found, and Tom had disappeared as well.

"He took it out," said Adela, for the first time finding her tongue. "I saw him while you were all talking."

While they were wondering over this and were plunged further yet in dismay, Tom came dancing in, waving the unlucky sheet of the Round Robin over his head. "My mother says," he announced in triumph, "that father will get no end of fun over that if you let it go. It will cheer him up."

So that ended the matter, although Polly, who dearly loved to be elegant, had many a twinge whenever her eye fell on the letter at which Phronsie was now labouring afresh.

"We must put in little pictures," said Polly, trying to make herself cheery as the work went busily on.

"Polly, you always do think of the best things!" exclaimed Jasper, beaming at her, which made her try harder than ever to smile. "I wouldn't feel so badly, Polly," he managed to whisper, when Phronsie was absorbed with her work; "he'll like it probably just as father did the gingerbread boy."

"But that was different," groaned Polly.

"Pictures!" Tom Selwyn was saying, "oh, there's where I can come in fine with assistance. I'm no good in a letter." And again he rushed from the room.

"That's three times that boy has gone out," announced Adela, "and he joggles the table awfully when he starts. And he made me cut clear into that edge. See, Polly." She was trimming the third strip of paper, for the Round Robin was to be pasted together and rolled up when it was all done.

"He seems to accomplish something every time he goes," observed Jasper, drily. "Halloo, just look at him now!"

In came Tom with a rush, and turned a small box he held in his hand upside down on the table.

"O dear me!" exclaimed Adela, as her scissors slipped, "now you've joggled the table again!" Then she caught Polly's eye. "Aren't those pictures pretty?" she burst out awkwardly.

"Aren't they so!" cried Tom, in satisfaction, while Polly oh-ed and ah-ed, and Phronsie dropped her pen suddenly making a second blot; only as good fortune would have it, it was so near the edge that they all on anxious examination decided to trim the paper down, and thus get rid of it.

"I don't see how you got so many," said Jasper, in admiration, his fingers busy with the heap.

"Oh, I've picked 'em up here and there," said Tom. "I began because I thought the kids at home might like 'em. And then it struck me I'd make a book like yours."

"Well, do save them now," said Jasper, "and we'll give some of our pictures, though the prettiest ones are in our books," he added regretfully.

"Rather not--much obliged," Tom bobbed his thanks. "I want to donate something to granddaddy, and I tell you I'm something awful at a letter."

"All right, seeing you wish it so," said Jasper, with a keen look at him, "and these are beauties and no mistake; we couldn't begin to equal them."

When the letter was finally unrolled and read to Grandpapa, who strayed into the reading room to see what Phronsie was doing, it certainly was a beauty. Picture after picture, cut from railroad guide books, illustrated papers, and it seemed to Jasper gathered as if by magic, with cunning little photographs, broke up the letter, and wound in and out with funny and charming detail of some of their journey.

"I wrote that all myself," hummed Phronsie, smoothing her gown, in great satisfaction, pointing to the opening of the letter.

"O dear me!" exclaimed Polly, softly, for she couldn't even yet get over that dreadful beginning.

"The rest of it is nice," whispered Jasper, "and I venture to say, he'll like that the best of all."

Mr. King thought so, too, and he beamed at Phronsie. "So you did," he cried; "now that's fine. I wish you'd write me a letter sometime."

"I'm going to write you one now," declared Phronsie. Since Grandpapa wanted anything, it was never too soon to begin work on it.

"Do," cried old Mr. King, in great satisfaction. So he put down the Round Robin, Adela crying out that she wanted her grandmother to see it; and Polly saying that Mamsie, and Papa-Doctor, and the Parson and Mrs. Henderson must see it; "and most important of all," said Jasper, breaking into the conversation, "Mrs. Selwyn must say if it is all right to go."

At that Polly began to have little "creeps" as she always called the shivers. "O dear me!" she exclaimed again, and turned quite pale.

"You don't know my mother," exclaimed Tom, "if you think she won't like that. She's got lots of fun in her, and she always sees the sense of a thing."

"But she's so nice," breathed Polly, who greatly admired Mrs. Selwyn, "and so elegant."

Tom bobbed his head and accepted this as a matter of course. "That's the very reason she understands things like a shot--and knows how to take 'em," he said; "and I tell you, Polly," he declared with a burst of confidence that utterly surprised him, "I'd rather have my mother than any other company I know of; she's awful good fun!"

"I know it," said Polly, brightly, with a little answering smile. "Well, I hope she'll like it."

"Never you fear," cried Tom, seizing the Round Robin; and waving it over his head, it trailed off back of him like a very long and broad ribbon. "Come on, now, all fall into line!"

"Take care!" cried Jasper, as he ran after with Polly and Adela, "if you dare to tear that, sir!" while Phronsie at the big table laboured away on her letter, Grandpapa sitting by to watch the proceedings, with the greatest interest.

And one look at Mrs. Selwyn's face, as she read that Round Robin, was enough for Polly! And then to post it.

"Dear me," said Polly, when that important matter was concluded, "suppose anything should happen to it now, before it gets there!"