Five Little Peppers Abroad by Margaret Sidney
"Well, Here We Are In Paris!"
Notwithstanding all the glory of the shops, and the tempting array of the jewellery and trinkets of every description therein displayed, after a few days of sailing on the exquisite lake, and some walks and drives, Polly, down deep in her heart, was quite ready to move on from Geneva. And, although she didn't say anything, old Mr. King guessed as much, and broke out suddenly, "Well, are you ready to start, Polly?"
"Yes, Grandpapa," she answered. "I have the presents for the girls. I'm all ready."
"Why, Polly, you haven't anything for yourself," Mother Fisher exclaimed, as Polly ran into her room and told the news--how Grandpapa said they were to pack up and leave in the morning. "You haven't bought a single thing."
"Oh, I don't want anything," said Polly. "I've so many things at home that Grandpapa has given me. Mamsie, isn't this pin for Alexia just too lovely for anything?"
She curled up on the end of the bed, and drew it out of its little box. "I think she'll like it," with anxious eyes on Mother Fisher's face.
"Like it?" repeated her mother. "How can she help it, Polly?"
"I think so too," said Polly, happily, replacing it on the bed of cotton, and putting on the cover to look over another gift.
Mrs. Fisher regarded her keenly. "Well, now, Polly," she said, decidedly, "I shall go down and get that chain we were looking at. For you do need that, and your father and I are going to give it to you."
"Oh, Mamsie," protested Polly, "I don't need it; really, I don't."
"Well, we shall give it to you," said Mother Fisher. Then she went over to the bed and dropped a kiss on Polly's brown hair.
"Mamsie," exclaimed Polly, springing off the bed, and throwing her arms around her mother's neck, "I shall love that chain, and I shall wear it just all the time because you and Papa-Doctor gave it to me."
When they neared Paris, Adela drew herself up in her corner of the compartment. "I expect you'll stare some when you get to Paris, Polly Pepper."
"I've been staring all the time since we started on our journey, Adela, as hard as I could," said Polly, laughing.
"Well, you'll stare worse than ever now," said Adela, in an important way. "There isn't anything in all this world that isn't in Paris," she brought up, not very elegantly.
"I don't like Paris." Tom let the words out before he thought.
"That's just because you are a boy," sniffed Adela. "Oh, Polly, you ought to see the shops! When Mademoiselle has taken us into some, I declare I could stay all day in one. Such dreams of clothes and bonnets! You never saw such bonnets, Polly Pepper, in all your life!" She lifted her hands, unable to find words enough.
"And the parks and gardens, I suppose, are perfectly lovely," cried Polly, feeling as if she must get away from the bonnets and clothes.
"Yes, and the Bois de Boulogne to drive in, that's elegant. Only Mademoiselle won't take us there very often. I wish I was rich, and I'd have a span of long- tailed, grey horses, and drive up and down there every day."
Polly laughed. "Well, I should like the tram-ways and the stages," said Polly.
"Oh, those don't go into the Bois de Boulogne," cried Adela, in a tone of horror. "Why, Polly Pepper, what are you thinking of?" she exclaimed.
This nettled Tom. "Of something besides clothes and bonnets," he broke out. Then he was sorry he had spoken.
"Well, there's the Louvre," said Polly, after an uncomfortable little pause.
"Yes," said Adela, "that's best of all, and it doesn't cost anything; so Mademoiselle takes us there very often."
"I should think it would be," cried Polly, beaming at her, and answering the first part of Adela's sentence. "Oh, Adela, I do so long to see it."
"And you can't go there too often, Polly," said Jasper.
"It's the only decent thing in Paris," said Tom, "that I like, I mean; that, and to sail up and down on the Seine."
"We'll go there the first day, Polly," said Jasper, "the Louvre, I mean. Well, here we are in Paris!" And then it was all confusion, for the guards were throwing open the doors to the compartments, and streams of people were meeting on the platform, in what seemed to be inextricable confusion amid a babel of sounds. And it wasn't until Polly was driving up in the big cab with her part of Mr. King's "family," as he called it, through the broad avenues and boulevards, interspersed with occasional squares and gardens, and the beautiful bridges here and there across the Seine, gleaming in the sunshine, that she could realise that they were actually in Paris.
And the next day they did go to the Louvre. And Adela, who was to stay a day or two at the hotel with them before going back into her school, was very important, indeed. And she piloted them about, the parson and Mrs. Henderson joining their group; the others, with the exception of the little Widow Gray, who stayed at home to look over Adela's clothes, and take any last stitches, going off by themselves.
"I do want to see the Venus de Milo," said Polly, quite gone with impatience. "Oh, Adela, these paintings will wait."
"Well, that old statue will wait, too," cried Adela, pulling her off into another gallery. "Now, Polly, Mademoiselle says, in point of art, the pictures in here are quite important."
"Are they?" said poor Polly, listlessly.
"Yes, they are," said Adela, twitching her sleeve, "and Mademoiselle brings us in this room every single time we come to the Louvre."
"It's the early French school, you know," she brought up glibly.
"Well, it's too early for us to take it in," said Tom. "Come, I'm for the Venus de Milo. It's this way;" and Adela was forced to follow, which she did in a discontented fashion.
"Oh!" cried Polly, catching her breath, and standing quite still as she caught sight of the wonderful marble, instinct with life, at the end of the long corridor below stairs. "Why, she's smiling at us," as the afternoon sunshine streamed across the lovely face, to lose itself in the folds of the crimson curtain in the background.
The parson folded his arms and drew in long breaths of delight. "It's worth fifty journeys over the ocean to once see that, Sarah," he said.
"Do come back and look at the pictures," begged Adela, pulling Polly's arm again after a minute or two.
"Oh, don't!" exclaimed Polly, under her breath. "Oh, she's so beautiful, Adela!"
"Well, it's much better to see the pictures," said Adela. "And then we can come here again to-morrow."
"Oh, I haven't seen this half enough," began Polly, "and I've wanted to for so long." Then she glanced at Adela's face. "Well, all right," she said, and turned off, to come directly into the path of Grandpapa, with Phronsie clinging to his hand, and the rest of his part of the "family" standing in silent admiration.
"We thought we'd come here first," said old Mr. King. "I don't mean to see anything else to-day. The Venus de Milo is quite enough for me. To-morrow, now, we'll drop in again, and look at some of the pictures."
"There is beauty enough in that statue," said a lady, who just passed them, to the gentleman with her, "to satisfy any one; but living beauty after all is most appealing. Just look at that child's face, Edward."
They were guilty of standing in a niche at a little remove, and studying Phronsie with keen, critical eyes.
"It's a wonderful type of beauty," said Edward; "yellow hair and brown eyes,-- and such features."
"I don't care about the features," said the lady, "it's the expression; the child hasn't a thought of herself, and that's wonderful to begin with."
"That's about it," replied Edward, "and I suppose that's largely where the beauty lies, Evelyn."
"Let us walk slowly down the corridor again," said Evelyn, "and then come up; otherwise we shall attract attention to be standing here and gazing at them."
"And I'd like to see that little beauty again," remarked Edward, "I'll confess, Evelyn."
So Evelyn and Edward continued to gaze at intervals at the living beauty, and Mr. King and his party were absorbed in the marble beauty; and Adela was running over in her mind how she meant to have Polly Pepper all to herself at the visit to the Louvre the next afternoon, when she would show her the pictures she specially liked.
But they didn't any of them go to the Louvre that next day, as it happened. It was so beautifully bright and sunshiny, that Grandpapa said it would be wicked to pass the day indoors; so they had all the morning in a walk, and a sail on the Seine,--and that pleased Tom,--and all the afternoon, or nearly all, sitting up in state in carriages, driving up and down the Bois de Boulogne. And that pleased Adela.
And when they tired of driving, old Mr. King gave orders for the drivers to rest their horses. And then they all got out of the carriages, and walked about among the beautiful trees, and on the winding, sheltered paths.
"It's perfectly lovely off there," said Polly, "and almost like the country," with a longing glance off into the green, cool shade beyond. So they strolled off there, separating into little groups; Polly and Jasper in front, and wishing for nothing so much as a race.
"I should think we might try it," said Jasper; "there is no one near to see. Come on, Polly, do."
"I suppose we ought not to," said Polly, with a sigh, as Adela overtook them.
"Ought not to what?" she asked eagerly.
"Jasper and I were wanting to run a race," said Polly.
"Why, Polly Pepper! You are in Paris!" exclaimed Adela, quite shocked.
"I know it," said Polly, "and I wish we weren't. O dear! this seems just like the country, and--"
Just then a child screamed. "That's Phronsie!" exclaimed Polly, her cheek turning quite white. And she sped back over the path.
"Oh, no, Polly," Jasper tried to reassure her, as he ran after her. They were having their race, after all, but in a different way from what they had planned.
"Dear me! you are running!" said Adela, who hadn't got it into her head what for, as she didn't connect the scream with any of their party. And she walked just as fast as she could to catch up with them. As that was impossible, she gave a hasty glance around the shrubbery, and seeing no one to notice her, she broke out into a lively run.
"Yes, Phronsie," Grandpapa was saying, as the young people had left them, and the others had wandered off to enjoy the quiet, shady paths, "this place was the old F˘ret de Rouvray. It wasn't a very pretty place to come to in those days, what with the robbers and other bad people who infested it. And now let us go and find a seat, child, and I'll show you one or two little pictures I picked up in the shop this morning; and you can send them in your next letter, to Joel and David, if you like."
Old Mr. King took out his pocket-book, and had just opened it, when a man darted out from the thick shrubbery behind him, cast a long, searching glance around, and quick as lightning, threw himself against the stately old gentleman, and seized the pocket-book.
It was then that Phronsie screamed long and loud.
"What ho!" exclaimed Mr. King, starting around to do battle; but the man was just disappearing around the clump of shrubbery.
"Which way?" Tom Selwyn dashed up. It didn't seem as if Phronsie's cry had died on her lips.
Old Mr. King pointed without a word. And Polly and Jasper were close at hand. Polly flew to Phronsie, who was clinging to Grandpapa's hand, and wailing bitterly. "What is it? Oh! what is it?" cried Polly.
"My pocket-book," said Grandpapa; "some fellow has seized it, and frightened this poor child almost to death." He seemed to care a great deal more about that than any loss of the money.
"Which way?" cried Jasper, in his turn, and was off like a shot on getting his answer.
Tom saw the fellow slink with the manner of one who knew the ins and outs of the place well,--now gliding, and ducking low in the sparser growth, now making a bold run around some exposed curve, now dashing into a dense part of the wood.
"I'll have you yet!" said Tom, through set teeth; "I haven't trained at school for nothing!"
A thud of fast-flying feet in his rear didn't divert him an instant from his game, although it might be a rescue party for the thief, in the shape of a partner,--who could tell? And realising, if he caught the man at all, he must do one of his sprints, he covered the ground by a series of flying leaps,--dashed in where he saw his prey rush; one more leap with all his might, and--"I have you!" cried Tom.
The man under him, thrown to the ground by the suddenness of Tom's leap on him, was wriggling and squirming with all the desperation of a trapped creature, when the individual with the flying footsteps hove in sight. It was Jasper. And they had just persuaded the robber that it would be useless to struggle longer against his fate, when the parson, running as he hadn't run for years, appeared to their view. And after him, at such a gait that would have been his fortune, in a professional way, was the little doctor. His hat was gone, and his toes scarcely seemed to touch the ground. He was last at the scene, simply because the news had only just reached him as he sauntered leisurely up to meet Mr. King in his promenade.
When the thief saw him, he looked to see if any more were coming, and resigned himself at once and closed his eyes instinctively.
He was a miserable-looking man--tall, thin, and stoop shouldered--they saw, when they got him on his feet. Unkempt and unwashed, his long, black hair hung around a face sallow in the extreme. And he shook so, as Tom and Jasper marched him back, escorted by the body-guard of the parson and the little doctor, that the two boys put their hands under his arms to help him along.
"Well--well--well!" ejaculated Mr. King, as he saw this array. Polly gathered Phronsie's other hand in hers, while she clung closer than ever to Grandpapa.
"Here's your pocket-book," said Tom, handing the article over; "he hasn't spent much."
"Don't, Tom," said Jasper, "joke about it."
"Can't help it," said Tom. "Well, now, shall we turn him over to the sergents de ville?"
"Turn him over?" repeated Mr. King. "I should say so," he added drily, "and give him the best recommendation for a long term, too. What else is there to do, pray tell?"
"Grandpapa," suddenly cried Phronsie, who hadn't taken her eyes from the man's face, "what are you going to do--where is he going?"
"We are going to hand him over to the police, child," answered old Mr. King, harshly. "And as soon as possible, too."
"Grandpapa, perhaps he's got some little children at home; ask him, Grandpapa, do."
"No, no, Phronsie," said Mr. King, hastily. "Say no more, child; you don't understand. We must call the sergents de ville."
At the words sergents de ville the man shivered from head to foot, and wrenched his hands free from the boys' grasp to tear open his poor coat, and show a bare breast, covered with little, apparently, but the skin drawn over the bones. He didn't attempt to say anything.
"Oh, my goodness!" exclaimed old Mr. King, starting backward and putting up his hands to his face to shut out the sight. "Cover it up, man--bless me--no need to ask him a question. Why, the fellow is starving."
His little children--four of them--his wife--all starving--hadn't a bit to eat since, he could scarcely say when, it seemed so very long ago since he had eaten last--it all came out in a torrent of words that choked him, and like the true Frenchman that he was, he gestured in a way that told the story with his face and his fingers, as well as with his tongue.
A sergent de ville strolled by and looked curiously at the group, but as Mr. King met his eye coolly, and the party seemed intelligent and well able to take care of themselves, it wasn't necessary to tender his services--if they were talking to a worthless vagabond.
"Hum--hum--very bad case; very bad case, indeed!" Mr. King was exploding at intervals, while the torrent was rushing on in execrable French as far as accent went. No one else of the spellbound group could have spoken if there had been occasion for a word. Then he pulled out the pocket-book again, and taking out several franc notes of a good size, he pressed them between the man's dirty fingers. "Go and get something to eat," was all he said, "and take care of the children."