Five Little Peppers Abroad by Margaret Sidney
"Well, I Got Him Here," Said The Little Earl
They were really on their way to see the little old earl, after all! How it came about, Mr. King, even days after it had all been decided, couldn't exactly remember. He recalled several conversations in Paris with Tom's mother, who showed him bits of letters, and one in particular that somehow seemed to be a very potent factor in the plan that, almost before he knew it, came to be made. And when he held out, as hold out he did against the acceptance of the invitation, he found to his utmost surprise that every one, Mother Fisher and all, was decidedly against him.
"Oh, well," he had declared when that came out, "I might as well give in gracefully first as last." And he sat down at once and wrote a very handsome note to the little old earl, and that clinched the whole business.
And after the week of this visit should be over, for old Mr. King was firmness itself on not accepting a day more, they were to bid good-by to Mrs. Selwyn and Tom, and jaunt about a bit to show a little of Old England to the Hendersons, and then run down to Liverpool to see them off, and at last turn their faces toward Dresden, their winter home--"and to my work!" said Polly to herself in delight.
So now here they were, actually driving up to the entrance of the park, and stopping at the lodge-gate.
An old woman, in an immaculate cap and a stiff white apron over her best linsey- woolsey gown which she had donned for the occasion, came out of the lodge and courtesied low to the madam, and held open the big gate.
"How have you been, Mrs. Bell?" asked Mrs. Selwyn, with a kind smile, as the carriage paused a bit.
"Very well, my lady," said Mrs. Bell, her round face glowing with pride. "And the earl is well, bless him! and we are glad to welcome you home again, and Master Tom."
"And I'm glad enough to get here, Mrs. Bell," cried Tom. "Now drive on at your fastest, Hobson."
Hobson, who knew very well what Master Tom's fastest gait was, preferred to drive through the park at what he considered the dignified pace. So they rolled on under the stately trees, going miles, it seemed to Polly, who sat on the back seat with Tom.
He turned to her, unable to conceal his impatience. "Anybody would think this pair were worn out old cobs," he fumed. "Polly, you have no idea how they can go, when Hobson lets them out. What are you wasting all this time for, crawling along in this fashion, Hobson, when you know we want to get on?"
Thus publicly addressed, Hobson let the handsome bays "go" as Tom expressed it, and they were bowled along in a way that made Polly turn in delight to Tom.
"There--that's something like!" declared Tom. "Don't you like it, Polly?" looking into her rosy face.
"Like it!" cried Polly, "why, Tom Selwyn, it's beautiful. And these splendid trees--" she looked up and around. "Oh, I never saw any so fine."
"They're not half bad," assented Tom, "these oaks aren't, and we have some more, on the other end of the park, about five miles off, that--"
"Five miles off!" cried Polly, with wide eyes. "Is the park as big as that, Tom?"
He laughed. "That isn't much. But you'll see it all for yourself," he added. Then he rushed off into wondering how his dogs were. "And, oh, you'll ride with the hounds, Polly!"
Just then some rabbits scurried across the wood, followed by several more pattering and leaping through the grass.
"Oh, Tom, see those rabbits!" cried Polly, excitedly.
"Yes, the warrens are over yonder," said Tom, bobbing his head in the right direction.
"What?" asked Polly, in perplexity.
"Rabbit-warrens; oh, I forgot, you haven't lived in England. You seem so much like an English girl, though," said Tom, paying the highest compliment he knew of.
"Well, what are they?" asked Polly, quite overcome by the compliment coming from Tom.
"Oh, they are preserves, you know, where the rabbits live, and they are not allowed to be hunted here."
"Oh, do you ever hunt rabbits?" cried Polly, in horror, leaning out of her side of the big coach to see the scurrying little animals.
"Not often," said Tom, "we mostly ride after the fox. You'll ride with the hounds, Polly," he cried with enthusiasm. "We'll have a hunt while you're here, and we always wind up with a breakfast, you know. Oh, we'll have no end of sport." He hugged his long arms in huge satisfaction.
And away--and away over the winding road and underneath the stately trees, rolled the big coach, to be followed by the other carriages, like a dream it seemed to Polly, and more than ever, when at last they stopped in front of a massive pile of buildings with towers and arches and wings.
And the little old earl was kissing her rosy cheek in the most courtly fashion, and saying while he shook her hand in his long fingers, "And how do you do, my dear?" And Mrs. Selwyn was by his other side. And Tom was screeching out, "How do you do, Granddaddy!" And then, "Oh, Elinor and Mary!" to two quiet, plain- looking girls standing in the background. And "Ah, how d'ye kids!" as the faces of his two small brothers appeared. And Polly forgot all about the fact that she was in an earl's house, and she laughed and chatted; and in two minutes one of Tom's sisters was on either side of her, and the small boys in front, and the little groups were moving in and out of the old hall, as Grandpapa and the rest came in, and the head housekeeper in a black silk gown that seemed quite able to stand alone, and a perfect relay of stiff figures in livery were drawn up underneath the armour hanging on the wall.
And the little old earl worked his way up to her, and he had Grandpapa on his arm. "Well, I got him here," he said with twinkling eyes, and a chuckle.
But the next morning--oh, the next morning!--when Polly tried to compass as much of the thronging attractions as she could, and Jasper was at his wits' end whenever he was appealed to, to decide what he wanted to do first--"cricket," or "punting on the river," that ran through the estate, or "riding through the park, and to the village owned by his grandfather"? "I always go see the tenantry as soon as I get home," said Tom, simply.
"Oh, then, let us go there by all means," said Jasper, quickly.
"I mean--oh, I'm no end awkward," exclaimed Tom, breaking off, his face covered with confusion. "It's not necessary to go at once; we can fetch up there to- morrow."
"Oh, do let us go, Tom," begged Polly, clasping her hands. "I should dearly love most of all to see the tenantry and those dear little cottages." And so that was decided upon.
And Tom had his beloved hunt, several of the gentry being asked. And Polly rode a special horse selected by the little old earl himself.
"It's perfectly safe; he has an excellent disposition," he declared to old Mr. King, "and he'll carry her all right."
"I'm not afraid," said Mr. King, "the child rides well."
"So she must--so she must, I was sure of it," cried the little old earl, with a series of chuckles. And he busied himself especially with seeing her mounted properly when the party gathered on the lawn in front of the old hall. The hounds were baying and straining at the leashes, impatient to be off; the pink hunting-coats gave dashes of colour as their owners moved about over the broad green sward,--under the oaks,--and Polly felt her heart beat rapidly with the exhilarating sights and sounds. It was only when they were off, and Tom riding up by her side expatiated on the glory of running down the fox and "being in at the death," that the colour died down on her cheek.
"Oh, Tom!" she said, reining in her horse. If he hadn't been the possessor of a good disposition, he certainly would have bolted in his disappointment at being pulled up so abruptly. "It's so cruel to kill the poor fox in that way."
"Eh--what!" exclaimed Tom, not hearing the words, falling back to her side, consternation all over his face. "Why, I never knew Meteor to break in this way before."
"Oh, it isn't his fault," said Polly, hastily, and patting her horse's neck. "I pulled him up. Oh, Tom, it's all so very cruel."
"Eh?" said Tom, in a puzzled way.
"To kill the fox in this way," said Polly, her heart sinking as she thought how dreadful it was for her to object, when visiting, to anything her host might plan. "O dear me!" and she looked so distressed that Tom turned comforter at once.
"We all do it," he was saying, as Jasper rode up.
"Anything the matter?" he asked in great concern. "What's happened?"
"Nothing," said Tom, "only Polly doesn't like the fox-hunt."
"It's so cruel," cried Polly, turning to Jasper, with a little pink spot coming in either cheek. "I ought to have thought of it before, but I didn't; it only seemed so very splendid to be rushing along with the horses and dogs. But to chase that poor fox to death--O dear me!"
"We'll go back," suggested Tom, in distress; "don't be afraid, Polly, I'll make it all right with granddaddy." He concealed as best he might his awful disappointment as the echoes of the horn, the baying of the dogs, and now and then a scrap of chatter or a peal of laughter was borne to them on the wind.
"Polly," said Jasper, in a low voice, "it isn't quite right, is it, to disturb the party now? Just think, Tom will go back with us."
The pink spots died out on Polly's cheek. "No, Jasper," she said, "it isn't right. Tom, you needn't say one word about going back, for I am going on." She gave the rein to Meteor and dashed off.
"We'll have a race through the park some day, Polly," called Tom, as he sped after her, "without any fox."
"Too bad, Polly, you weren't in at the death," said the little old earl, sympathisingly, when at the hunt-breakfast following, the brush dangling to a victorious young lady's belt, had been admired as an extremely fine one. "Never mind; better luck next time, little girl."
But the fête to the tenantry, oh! that was something like, and more to Polly's taste, when this annual affair, postponed while Tom's mother and Tom were away, took place. For days before, the preparations had been making, the stewards up to their eyes in responsibility to carry out the plans of the little old earl, who meant on this occasion to outdo all his former efforts, and show his American friends how an Englishman treats those under his care.
Oh, the big joints of beef, the haunches of venison, the fowls, the meat pies and the gooseberry tarts, the beer and the ale, and the tea for the old women, with nuts and sweeties for the children! Oh, Polly knew about it all, as she went about with the little old earl while he gave his orders, her hand in his, just as if she were no older than Phronsie, and not such a tall, big girl.
And Mrs. Selwyn was busy as a bee, and Mother Fisher was just in her element here, in helping her; for flannel petticoats were to be given out, and stuff frocks, and pieces of homespun, and boots and shoes, as prizes for diligent and faithful service; or an order for coals for the coming winter for some poor cottager, or packages of tea, or some other little comfort. And before any of them quite realised it, the days flew by, and in two more of them the King party would be off.
"It's perfectly useless to mention it," said the little old earl, quite confident in his power to influence old Mr. King to remain when he saw how happily everything was running on. "My dear sir, you were asked for a fortnight."
"And I accepted for a week," retorted Mr. King, "and I go when that time is up. We've had a visit--I can't express it to you, what a fine time--as near to perfection as it is possible for a visit to be; but day after to-morrow we surely must leave."
Tom was so despondent, as well as the old earl, that it was necessary to cheer him up in some way. "Just think what a splendid thing for us to be in the midst of that fête for the peasantry," exclaimed Polly, with sparkling eyes. "It's quite too lovely for our last day."
But Tom wasn't to be raised out of his gloom in this way. "We've had only one game of cricket," he said miserably.
"And one afternoon at tennis, and we've been out punting on the river three times," said Polly.
"What's that? only a bagatelle," sniffed Tom, "compared to what I meant to do."
"Well, let's have the race on horseback this afternoon," proposed Polly, "down through the park, that you said you were going to have, Tom. Wouldn't that be nice?"
"Do," urged Jasper. "It would be so capital, Tom."
"All right," assented Tom, "if you'd really rather have that than anything else; but it seems as if I ought to think up something more for the last afternoon, but the fête; and that doesn't count."
"Oh, nothing could be finer," declared Polly, and Jasper joined. So Tom rushed off to the stables to give the orders. And Polly on Meteor was soon flying up and down with the boys, and Elinor and Mary. And the two small lads trotted after on their Shetland ponies, in and out the winding roads of the park confines, without any haunting fear of a poor red fox to be done to death at the end.
And on the morrow, the sun condescended to come out in all his glory, upon the groups of tenantry scattered over the broad lawns. There were games in abundance for the men and boys; and others for the children. There were chairs for the old women, and long benches for those who desired to sit under the spreading branches of the great oaks to look on. And there were cups of tea, and thin bread and butter passed around by the white-capped maids, superintended by the housekeeper and the butler, quite important in their several functions. This was done to appease the hunger before the grand collation should take place later. And there was music by the fiddlers on the upper terrace, and there was,--dear me, it would take quite too long to tell it all!
And at last, the order was given to fall into line, and march around the long tables resplendent with their cold joints and hot joints; their pasties, and tarts, and cakes, and great flagons of ale. And over all was a wealth of bloom from the big old English gardens in the rear of the old hall. The posies filled Polly with delight, as she and Tom's sisters and Phronsie had gathered them under the direction of the gardeners in the early morning; and then--oh, best of all--Mrs. Selwyn had allowed her to give the finishing touches to them as they became the decoration for the feast.
And the little old earl called the large assemblage to order, and the vicar asked the grace, and the feast was begun!
And then one of the tenants found his feet, and leaning on his staff, he thanked the Earl of Cavendish for all his goodness, and he hoped there would be many blessings in store for 'im and 'is, and sank on his bench again, mopping his face with his big red handkerchief.
And then the little old earl responded in as pretty a speech as could well be imagined, in which he forgot nothing that he ought to say. And there were many "God bless 'ims!" to follow it, and then there were cries of "Master Tom, Master Tom," who appeared to be an immense favourite; and the earl, well pleased, pulled him forward, saying, "Go ahead, youngster, and give it to them."
And Tom, extremely red in the face, tried to duck away, but found himself instead in front of the longest table, with everybody looking at him. And he mumbled out a few words and bobbed his head. And every one was just as well pleased. And then they gave cheer on cheer for the earl, and as many more for his oldest grandson. And then the little old earl raised his hand and said, "And now, my men, give a rousing good one for my dear American friends!"
And didn't they do it!
* * * * *
And on the following morning, the old hall, with its towers and its wings, had only the memory of the happy week to sustain it.
Jasper ran up to Polly on the deck. "We ought to go," he said, "the order has been given to leave the steamer."
"Yes, Polly," said Mother Fisher, "we must go, child."
"Give my love to dear Grandma Bascom," said Polly, for about the fiftieth time. "Oh, Mrs. Henderson, and don't forget to take over the new cap just as soon as you can, will you?"
"I won't forget," promised the parson's wife.
"And take mine to my dear Mrs. Beebe," begged Phronsie, twitching gently at Mrs. Henderson's sleeve, "and tell her I got pink ribbon because I know she loves that best."
"I won't forget," said Mrs. Henderson, again.
"Oh, and give the big handkerchief to my dear Mr. Beebe," said Phronsie, "please, Mrs. Henderson, to tie his throat up in, because, you know, he says it gets so cold when he goes out."
"I'll remember every single thing," promised the parson's wife. "Don't you worry, children. Oh, how we hate to leave you, only we are going to see our boys. We really are, Polly!" And her eyes shone.
"Polly! Polly!" called Jasper.
"All off who aren't going!" roared the order out again.
"Polly!" The little doctor seized one arm and Phronsie's hand. "There now, here you are!" and whisked them off, amid "good-by--good-by"--and a flutter of handkerchiefs.
"And give my love to dear Grandma Bascom," piped Phronsie, on the wharf by old Mr. King's side, as the big steamer slowly pushed from its moorings.