On The Mer De Glace
 

"Well, we can't all get into one carriage," said Polly, on the little brick- paved veranda of the hotel, "so what is the use of fussing, Adela?"

"I don't care," said Adela, "I'm going to ride in the same carriage with you, Polly Pepper, so there!" and she ran her arm in Polly's, and held it fast.

Jasper kicked his heel impatiently against one of the pillars where the sweetbrier ran; then he remembered, and stopped suddenly, hoping nobody had heard. "The best way to fix it is to go where we are put," he said at last, trying to speak pleasantly.

"No, I'm going with Polly," declared Adela, perversely, holding Polly tighter than ever.

"I'm going with you, Polly," cried Phronsie, running up gleefully, "Grandpapa says I may."

"Well, so am I," announced Adela, loudly.

Tom Selwyn gave a low whistle, and thrust his hands in his pockets, his great and only comfort on times like these.

"Anything but a greedy girl," he sniffed in lofty contempt.

Meanwhile the horses were being put in the carriages, the stable men were running hither and thither to look to buckle and strap, and a lot of bustle was going on that at any other time would have claimed the boys. Now it fell flat, as a matter of interest.

"Halloo--k-lup!" The drivers gave the queer call clear down in their throats, and hopped to their places on the three conveyances, and with a rattle and a flourish the horses now spun around the fountain in the little courtyard to come up with a swing to the veranda.

"Now, then," said Grandpapa, who had been overseeing every detail, "here we are," running his eyes over his party; "that's right," in great satisfaction. "I never saw such a family as I have for being prompt on all occasions. Well then, the first thing I have to do is to get you settled in these carriages the right way."

Adela, at that, snuggled up closer than ever to Polly, and gripped her fast.

"Now, Mrs. Fisher," said old Mr. King, "you'll ride with Mrs. Selwyn in the first carriage, and you must take two of the young folks in with you."

"Oh, let Polly and me go in there!" cried Adela, forgetting her wholesome fear of the stately old gentleman in her anxiety to get her own way.

"Polly is going with me and Phronsie," said Mr. King. "Hop in, Adela, child, and one of you boys."

Tom ducked off the veranda, while Adela, not daring to say another syllable, slowly withdrew her arm from Polly's and mounted the carriage step, with a miserable face.

"Come on, one of you boys," cried Mr. King, impatiently. "We should have started a quarter of an hour ago--I don't care which one, only hurry."

"I can't!" declared Tom, flatly, grinding his heel into the pebbles, and looking into Jasper's face.

"Very well,"--Jasper drew a long breath,--"I must, then." And without more ado, he got into the first carriage and they rattled off to wait outside the big gate till the procession was ready to start.

Old Mrs. Gray, the parson's wife and the parson, and little Dr. Fisher made the next load, and then Grandpapa, perfectly delighted that he had arranged it all so nicely, with Polly and Phronsie, climbed into the third and last carriage, while Tom swung himself up as a fourth.

"They say it is a difficult thing to arrange carriage parties with success," observed Mr. King. "I don't find it so in the least," he added, complacently, just on the point of telling the driver to give the horses their heads. "But that is because I've such a fine party on my hands, where each one is willing to oblige, and--"

"Ugh!" exclaimed Tom Selwyn, with a snort that made the old gentleman start. "I'm going to get out a minute--excuse me--can't explain." And he vaulted over the wheel.

"Bless me, what's come to the boy!" exclaimed Mr. King; "now he's forgotten something. I hope he won't be long."

But Tom didn't go into the hotel. Instead, he dashed up to carriage number one. "Get out," he was saying to Jasper, and presenting a very red face to view. "I'm going in here."

"Oh, no," said Jasper; "it's all fixed, and I'm going to stay here." And despite all Tom could say, this was the sole reply he got. So back he went, and climbed into old Mr. King's carriage again, with a very rueful face.

Old Mr. King viewed him with cold displeasure as the driver smacked his whip and off they went to join the rest of the party.

"You must go first," sang out the little doctor, as Grandpapa's carriage drove up; "you are the leader, and we'll all follow you."

"Yes, yes," shouted the parson, like a boy.

And the occupants of carriage number one saying the same thing, Grandpapa's conveyance bowled ahead; and he, well pleased to head the procession, felt some of his displeasure at the boy sitting opposite to him dropping off with each revolution of the wheels.

But Tom couldn't keep still. "I didn't want to come in this carriage, sir!" he burst out.

"Eh! what?" Old Mr. King brought his gaze again to bear upon Tom's face.

"Well, you are here now," he said, only half comprehending.

"Because Jasper won't take the place," cried Tom, setting his teeth together in distress. "That's what I got out for."

"Oh, I see," said Mr. King, a light beginning to break through.

Tom wilted miserably under the gaze that still seemed to go through and through him, and Polly looked off at her side of the carriage, wishing the drive over the TÍte Noire was all ended. Old Mr. King turned to Phronsie at his side.

"Well, now," he said, taking her hand, "we are in a predicament, Phronsie, for it evidently isn't going to be such an overwhelming success as I thought."

"What is a predicament?" asked Phronsie, wrenching her gaze from the lovely vine-clad hills, which she had been viewing with great satisfaction, to look at once into his face.

"Oh, a mix-up; a mess generally," answered Grandpapa, not pausing to choose words. "Well, what's to be done, now,--that is the question?"

Tom groaned at sight of the face under the white hair, from which all prospect of pleasure had fled. "I was a beastly cad," he muttered to himself.

Phronsie leaned over Mr. King's knee. "Tell me," she begged, "what is it, Grandpapa?"

"Oh, nothing, child," said Grandpapa, with a glance at Polly's face, "that you can help, at least."

Polly drew a long breath. "Something must be done," she decided. "Oh, I know. Why, Grandpapa, we can change before we get to the halfway place," she cried suddenly, glad to think of something to say. "Can't we? And then we can all have different places."

"The very thing!" exclaimed Mr. King, his countenance lightening. "Come, Tom, my boy, cheer up. I'll put Jasper and every one else in the right place soon. Here you, stop a bit, will you?"--to the driver.

"K-lup!" cried the driver, thinking it a call to increase speed; so the horses bounded on smartly for several paces, and no one could speak to advantage.

"Make him hold up, Tom!" commanded Mr. King, sharply. And Tom knowing quite well how to accomplish this, Grandpapa soon stood up in the carriage and announced, "In half an hour, or thereabout, if we come to a good stopping-place, I shall change some of you twelve people about in the carriages. Pass the word along."

But Adela didn't ride with Polly. For rushing and pushing as the change about was effected, to get her way and be with Polly, she felt her arm taken in a very light but firm grasp.

"No, no, my dear,"--it was old Mr. King,--"not that way. Here is your place. When a little girl pushes, she doesn't get as much as if she waits to be asked."

      *      *      *      *      *

"It had to be done," he said to himself, "for the poor child has had no mother to teach her, and it will do her good." But he felt sorry for himself to be the one to teach the lesson. And so they went over the TÍte Noire to catch the first sight of Mont Blanc.

"I'm going to have a donkey for my very own," confided Phronsie, excitedly, the next morning, to Jasper, whom she met in the little sun-parlour.

"No!" cried Jasper, pretending to be much amazed, "you don't say so, Phronsie!"

"Yes, I am," she cried, bobbing her yellow head. "Grandpapa said so; he really did, Jasper. And I'm going to ride up that long, big mountain on my donkey." She pointed up and off, but in the wrong direction.

"Oh, no, Phronsie, that isn't the way we are going. The Montanvert is over here, child," corrected Jasper.

"And I'm going to ride my donkey," repeated Phronsie, caring little which way she was going, since all roads must of course lead to fairy-land, "and we're going to see the water that's frozen, and Grandpapa says we are to walk over it; but I'd rather ride my donkey, Jasper," confided Phronsie, in a burst of confidence.

"I guess you'll be glad enough to get off from your donkey by the time you reach the top of Montanvert," observed Jasper, wisely.

"Well, now, Phronsie, we are not going for a day or two, you know, for father doesn't wish us to be tired."

"I'm not a bit tired, Jasper," said Phronsie, "and I do so very much wish we could go to-day."

"O dear me!" exclaimed Jasper, with a little laugh, "why, we've only just come, Phronsie! It won't be so very long before we'll be off. Goodness! the time flies so here, it seems to me we sha'n't hardly turn around before those donkeys will be coming into this yard after us to get on their backs."

But Phronsie thought the time had never dragged so in all her small life; and, although she went about hanging to Grandpapa's hand as sweet and patient as ever, all her mind was on the donkeys; and whenever she saw one,--and the street was full, especially at morning and in the late afternoon, of the little beasts of burden, clattering up the stony roads,--she would beg to just go and pat one of the noses, if by chance one of the beasts should stand still long enough to admit of such attention.

"Oh, no, Phronsie," expostulated old Mr. King, when this pleasing little performance had been indulged in for a half a dozen times. "You can't pat them all; goodness me, child, the woods are full of them," he brought up in dismay.

"Do they live in the woods?" asked Phronsie, in astonishment.

"I mean, the place--this whole valley of Chamonix is full of donkeys," said Grandpapa, "so you see, child, it's next to impossible to pat all their noses."

"I hope I'm going to have that dear, sweet little one," cried Phronsie, giving up all her mind, since the soft noses couldn't be patted, to happy thoughts of to-morrow's bliss. "See, Grandpapa," she pulled his hand gently, "to ride up the mountain on."

"Well, you'll have a good one, that is, as good as can be obtained," said the old gentleman; "but as for any particular one, why, they're all alike to me as two peas, Phronsie."

But Phronsie had her own ideas on the subject, and though on every other occasion agreeing with Grandpapa, she saw good and sufficient reason why every donkey should be entirely different from every other donkey. And when, on the next morning, their procession of donkeys filed solemnly into the hotel yard, she screamed out, "Oh, Grandpapa, here he is, the very one I wanted! Oh, may I have him? Put me up, do!"

"He's the worst one of the whole lot," groaned Grandpapa, his eye running over the file, "I know by the way he puts his vicious old feet down. Phronsie, here is a cunning little fellow," he added, artfully trying to lead her to one a few degrees better, he fondly hoped. But Phronsie already had her arms up by her particular donkey's neck, and her cheek laid against his nose, and she was telling him that he was her donkey, for she thought Grandpapa would say "Yes." So what else could he do, pray tell, but say "Yes"? And she mounted the steps, and was seated, her little brown gown pulled out straight, and the saddle girth tightened, and all the other delightful and important details attended to, and then the reins were put in her overjoyed hands.

She never knew how it was all done, seeing nothing, hearing nothing of the confusion and chatter, of the mounting of the others, her gaze fixed on the long ears before her, and only conscious that her very own donkey was really there, and that she was on his back. And it was not until they started and the guide who held her bridle loped off into an easy pace, by the animal's head, that she aroused from her dream of bliss as a sudden thought struck her. "What is my donkey's name?" she asked softly.

The man loped on, not hearing, and he wouldn't have understood had he heard.

"I don't believe he has any name," said old Mr. King just behind. "Phronsie, is your saddle all right? Do you like it, child?" all in one breath.

"I like it very much," answered Phronsie, trying to turn around.

"Don't do that, child," said Grandpapa, hastily. "Sit perfectly still, and on no account turn around or move in the saddle."

"I won't, Grandpapa," she promised, obediently, and presently she began again, "I want to know his name, Grandpapa, so that I can tell my pony when I get home."

"Oh, well, we'll find out," said Grandpapa. "Here you, can't you tell the name of that donkey?" he cried to the guide holding Phronsie's bridle. "Oh, I forgot, he doesn't understand English," and he tried it in French.

But this was not much better, for old Mr. King, preferring to use none but the best of French when he employed any, was only succeeding in mystifying the poor man so that he couldn't find his tongue at all, but stared like a clod till the old gentleman's patience was exhausted.

At last Jasper, hearing what the trouble was, shouted out something from his position in the rear, that carried the meaning along with it, and Phronsie the next minute was delighted to hear "Boolah," as the guide turned and smiled and showed all his teeth at her, his pleasure was so great at discovering that he could really understand.

"Why, that's the name of my donkey," said Polly, patting the beast's rough neck. "He told me so when he helped me to mount."

"So it is mine," announced Jasper, bursting into a laugh. "I guess they only have one name for the whole lot."

"Well, don't let us tell Phronsie so," said Polly, "and I shall call mine 'Greybeard' because he's got such a funny old stiff beard and it is grey."

"And I shall christen mine 'Boneyard,'" declared Jasper, "for he's got such a very big lot of bones, and they aren't funny, I can tell you."

And so with fun and nonsense and laughter, as soon as they wound around by the little English church and across the meadows, and struck into the pine wood, the whole party of twelve, Grandpapa and all, began to sing snatches from the newest operas down to college songs. For Grandpapa hadn't forgotten his college days when he had sung with the best, and he had the parson on this occasion to keep him company, and the young people, of course, knew all the songs by heart, as what young person doesn't, pray tell! So the bits and snatches rolled out with a gusto, and seemed to echo along the whole mountain side as the procession of sure-footed animals climbed the steep curves.

"Oh, Polly, your donkey is going over," exclaimed Adela, who rode the second in the rear after Polly; "he flirts his hind legs right over the precipice every time you go round a curve."

"Well, he brings them round all right," said Polly, composedly; and, with a little laugh, "Oh, isn't this too lovely for anything!" she cried, with sparkling eyes.

"Well, don't let him," cried Adela, huddling up on her donkey, and pulling at the rein to make him creep closer to the protecting earth wall.

"Na--na," one of the guides ran up to her, shaking his head. Adela, fresh from her Paris school had all her French, of the best kind too, at her tongue's end, but she seemed to get on no better than Mr. King.

"My French is just bad enough to be useful," laughed Jasper. So he untangled the trouble again, and made Adela see that she really must not pull at her bridle, but allow the donkey to go his own gait, for they were all trained to it.

"Your French is just beautiful," cried Polly. "Oh, Jasper, you know Monsieur always says--"

"Don't, Polly," begged Jasper, in great distress.

"No, I won't," promised Polly, "and I didn't mean to. But I couldn't help it, Jasper, when you spoke against your beautiful French."

"We've all heard you talk French, Jasper, so you needn't feel so cut up if Polly should quote your Monsieur," cried Tom, who, strange to say, no matter how far he chanced to ride in the rear, always managed to hear everything.

"That's because we are everlastingly turning a corner," he explained, when they twitted him for it, "and as I'm near the end of the line I get the benefit of the doubling and twisting, for the front is always just above me. So don't say anything you don't want me to hear, old fellow," he sang out to Jasper on the bridle path "just above," as Tom had said.

"Now, don't you want to get off?" cried Jasper, deserting his donkey, and running up to Phronsie, as they reached the summit and drew up before the hotel.

"Oh, somebody take that child off," groaned old Mr. King, accepting the arm of the guide to help him dismount, "for I can't. Every separate and distinct bone in my body protests against donkeys from this time forth and forevermore. And yet I've got to go down on one," he added ruefully.

"No, I don't want to get down," declared Phronsie, still holding fast to the reins; "can't I sit on my donkey, Jasper, while you all walk over on the frozen water?"

"Oh, my goodness, no!" gasped Jasper. "Why, Phronsie, you'd be tired to death-- the very idea, child!"

"No," said Phronsie, shaking her yellow hair obstinately, "I wouldn't be tired one single bit, Jasper. And I don't want to get down from my donkey."

"Well, if you didn't go over the Mer de Glace, why, we couldn't any of us go," said Jasper, at his wits' end how to manage it without worrying his father, already extremely tired, he could see, "and that's what we've come up for--"

Phronsie dropped the reins. "Take me down, please, Jasper," she said, putting out her arms.

"How are you now, father?" cried Jasper, running over to him when he had set Phronsie on the ground.

"It's astonishing," said old Mr. King, stretching his shapely limbs, "but all that dreadful sensation I always have after riding on one of those atrocious animals is disappearing fast."

"That's good," cried Jasper, in delight. "Well, I suppose we are all going to wait a bit?" he asked, and longing to begin the tramp over the Mer de Glace.

"Wait? Yes, indeed, every blessed one of us," declared his father. "Goodness me, Jasper, what are you thinking of to ask such a question, after this pull up here? Why, we sha'n't stir from this place for an hour."

"I supposed we'd have to wait," said Jasper, rushing off over the rocks, feeling how good it was to get down on one's feet again, and run and race. And getting Polly and Tom and Adela, they ran down where the donkeys were tethered and saw them fed, and did a lot of exploring; and it didn't seem any time before an Alpine horn sounded above their heads, and there was Grandpapa, tooting away and calling them to come up and buy their woollen socks; for they were going to start.

So they scrambled up, and picked out their socks, and, each seizing a pair in one hand and an alpenstock with a long, sharp spike on the end in the other, they ran off down the zigzag path to the glacier, two or three guides helping the others along. At the foot of the rocky path the four drew up.

"O dear, it's time to put on these horrible old stockings," grumbled Adela, shaking hers discontentedly.

"'Good old stockings,' you'd much better say," broke in Jasper.

"They're better than a broken neck," observed Tom, just meaning to ask Polly if he could put hers on for her. But he was too slow in getting at it, and Jasper was already kneeling on the rocks and doing that very thing.

"Now I'm all ready," announced Polly, stamping her feet, arrayed in marvellous red-and-white striped affairs. "Thank you, Jasper. Oh, how funny they feel!"

"Shall I help you?" asked Tom, awkwardly enough, of Adela.

"Oh, I don't want them on, and I don't mean to wear them," said Adela, with a sudden twist. "I'm going to throw them away."

"Then you'll just have to stay back," said Jasper, decidedly, "for no one is to be allowed on that glacier who doesn't put on a pair."

"I won't slip--the idea!" grumbled Adela. Yet she stuck out her foot, and Tom, getting down on his knees, suppressed a whistle as he securely tied them on. Then the boys flew into theirs instanter.

"Mine are blue," said Phronsie, as the others filed slowly down the winding path between the rocks, and she pointed to the pair dangling across her arm. "I am so very glad they are blue, Grandpapa."

"So am I, Pet," he cried, delighted to find that he was apparently as agile as the parson. No one could hope to equal little Dr. Fisher, who was here, there, and everywhere, skipping about among the rocks like a boy let loose from school.

"Well, well, the children are all ready," exclaimed old Mr. King, coming upon the four, impatient to begin their icy walk.

"Didn't you expect it?" cried little Dr. Fisher, skipping up.

"Well, to say the truth, I did," answered old Mr. King, with a laugh. "Now, Phronsie, sit down on that rock, and let the guide tie on your stockings." So Phronsie's little blue stockings were tied on, and after Grandpapa had gallantly seen that everybody else was served, he had his pulled on over his boots and fastened securely, and the line of march was taken up.

"You go ahead, father," begged Jasper, "and we'll all follow."

So old Mr. King, with Phronsie and a guide on her farther side, led the way, and the red stockings and the brown and the black, and some of indescribable hue, moved off upon the Mer de Glace.

"It's dreadfully dirty," said Adela, turning up her nose. "I thought a glacier was white when you got up to it."

"Oh, I think it is lovely!" cried Polly; "and that green down in the crevasse-- look, Adela!"

"It's a dirty green," persisted Adela, whose artistic sense wouldn't be satisfied. "O dear me!" as her foot slipped and she clutched Mrs. Henderson, who happened to be next.

"Now, how about the woollen stockings?" asked Tom, while Polly and Jasper both sang out, "Take care," and "Go slowly."

Adela didn't answer, but stuck the sharp end of her alpenstock smartly into the ice.

"Something is the matter with my stocking," at last said the parson's wife, stopping and holding out her right foot.

The guide nearest her stopped, too, and kneeling down on the ice, he pulled it into place, for it had slipped half off.

"Now be very careful," warned Grandpapa, "and don't venture too near the edge," as he paused with Phronsie and the guide. The others, coming up, looked down into a round, green pool of water that seemed to stare up at them, as if to say, "I am of unknown depth, so beware of me."

"That gives me the 'creeps,' Polly, as you say," Mrs. Henderson observed. "Dear me, I shall never forget how that green water looks;" and she shivered and edged off farther yet. "Supposing any one should fall in!"

"Well, he'd go down right straight through the globe, seems to me," said Tom, with a last look at the pool as they turned off, "It looks as if it had no end, till one would fetch up on the other side."

"I love to hop over these little crevasses," said Polly, and suiting the action to the word.

"Something is the matter with my stocking again," announced Mrs. Henderson to the guide, presently. "I am sorry to trouble you, but it needs to be fixed."

He didn't understand the words, but there was no mistaking the foot thrust out with the woollen sock, now wet and sodden, half off again. So he kneeled down and pulled it on once more.

Before they reached the other side, the parson's wife had had that stocking pulled on six times, until at last, the guide, finding no more pleasure in a repetition of the performance, took a string from his pocket, and bunching up in his fist a good portion of the stocking heel, he wound the string around it and tied it fast, cut off the string, and returned the rest to his pocket.

"Why do you tie up the heel?" queried Mrs. Henderson. "I should think it much better to secure it in front." But he didn't understand, and the rest were quite a good bit in advance, and hating to give trouble, she went on, the stocking heel sticking out a few inches. But she kept it on her foot, so that might be called a success.

The little Widow Gray was not going over the Mauvais Pas, neither was Mrs. Selwyn, as she had traversed it twice before. So, on reaching the other side, they were just about bidding good-by to the others, when, without a bit of warning, the parson's wife, in turning around, fell flat, and disappeared to the view of some of them behind a boulder of ice.

All was confusion in an instant. The guides rushed--everybody rushed --pellmell to the rescue; Tom's long legs, as usual, getting him there first. There she was in a heap, in a depression of ice and snow and water.

"I'm all right, except"--and she couldn't help a grimace of pain--"my foot."

The little doctor swept them all to one side, as they seated her on one of the boulders of ice. "Humph! I should think likely," at sight of the tied-up stocking heel. "You stepped on that, and it flung you straight as a die and turned your foot completely over."

"Yes," said Mrs. Henderson. Then she saw the guide who had tied the stocking looking on with a face of great concern. "Oh, don't say anything, it makes him feel badly," she mumbled, wishing her foot wouldn't ache so.

Little Dr. Fisher was rapidly untying the unlucky stocking; and, whipping off the boot, he soon made sure that no ligaments were broken. Then he put on the boot and the woollen sock, being careful to tie it in front over the instep, and whipping out his big handkerchief he proceeded to bandage the ankle in a truly scientific way. "Now, then, Mrs. Henderson, you are all right to take the walk slowly back to the hotel."

Parson Henderson took his wife's hand. "Come, Sarah," he said, gently helping her up.

"Oh, you are going over the Mauvais Pas," she cried in distress at the thought of his missing it.

"Come, Sarah," he said gently, keeping her hand in his.

"I'll go back with her too," said little Dr. Fisher.

"Oh, Adoniram!" exclaimed his wife, but it was under her breath, and no one heard the exclamation.

"I think Dr. Fisher ought to go with the other party; he will be needed there," Mrs. Selwyn was saying, in her quiet way. "And I will bathe Mrs. Henderson's foot just as he says it should be done, so good-by," and any one looking down with a field glass from the Montanvert hotel, could have seen at this point, two parties, one proceeding to the Mauvais Pas and the Chapeau, and the other of three ladies, the parson and a guide, wending their way slowly on the return across the crevasses.