Two English Friends
 

"I don't want you," muttered the old gentleman, feebly, turning his head away from Tom, and then he set his lips tightly together. But he held to Polly's hand.

"You would better go out," Dr. Jones nodded to Tom. "It excites him."

The second time Tom was told to go. He stood quite still. "He's my Grandfather!" he blurted out.

"Can't help it," said Dr. Jones, curtly; "he's my patient. So I tell you again it is imperative that you leave this room." Then he turned back to his work of making the sick man comfortable without taking any more notice of the boy.

Tom gave a good long look at as much of his Grandfather's face as he could see, then slunk out, in a dazed condition, trying to make himself as small as possible. Jasper found him a half hour afterward, hanging over the rail away from curious eyes, his head buried on his arms.

"I thought you'd like to know that your Grandfather is better," said Jasper, touching the bent shoulder.

"Get away, will you?" growled Tom, kicking out his leg, unmindful where it struck.

"And the doctor has gotten him into his state-room, and he is as comfortable as he could be made." Jasper didn't add that Dr. Jones had asked him to come back, and that the old man was still insisting that Polly should hold his hand.

"In that case," declared Tom, suddenly twitching up his head, "I will go down there." His face was so drawn that Jasper started, and then looked away over the sea, and did not appear to notice the clenched hand down by the boy's side.

"I--I--didn't know he was sick." Tom brought it out in gusts, and his face worked worse than ever in his efforts not to show his distress. The only thing he could do was to double up his hand tighter than ever, as he tried to keep it back of him.

"I understand," nodded Jasper, still looking off over the blue water.

"And now I'll go down," said Tom, drawing a long breath and starting off. Oh! and Dr. Jones had said the last thing to Jasper as he rushed off with the good news to Tom, "On no account let that boy see his Grandfather. I won't answer for the consequences if you do."

"See here," Jasper tore his gaze off from the shimmering water. "The doctor doesn't--doesn't think you ought to see your Grandfather now."

"Hey!" cried Tom, his drawn lips flying open, and his big blue eyes distending in anger. "He's my Grandfather. I rather think I shall do as I've a mind to," and he plunged off.

"Tom!" Jasper took long steps after him. "Beg your pardon, this is no time for thinking of anything but your Grandfather's life. Dr. Jones said you were not to see him at present." The truth must be told, for in another moment the boy would have been off on the wings of the wind.

"And do you think that I will mind in the least what that beastly doctor says?" cried Tom, getting redder and redder in the face, his rage was so great. "Hoh! no, sir."

"Then your Grandfather's life will be paid as a sacrifice," said Jasper calmly. And he stood quite still; and surveyed the boy before him.

Neither spoke. It seemed to Jasper an age that they stood there in silence. At last Tom wavered, put out his hand unsteadily, leaned against a steamer chair, and turned his face away.

"Let us do a bit of a turn on the deck," said Jasper, suddenly, overcoming by a mighty effort his repugnance to the idea.

Tom shook his head, and swallowed hard.

"Oh, yes," said Jasper, summoning all the cheerfulness he could muster to his aid. "Come, it's the very thing to do, if you really want to help your Grandfather."

Tom raised his head and looked at him. "I never supposed the old man was sick," he said brokenly, and down went his head again, this time upon his hands, which were grasping the top of the chair.

"I don't believe you did," answered Jasper. "But come, Tom, let's walk around the deck; we can talk just as well meanwhile."

Two or three young men, with cigarettes in their mouths, came sauntering up. "Tom Selwyn, you're a pretty fellow--"

Tom raised his head and looked at them defiantly.

"To give us the slip like this," cried one, with a sneer, in which the others joined, with a curious look at Jasper.

"Well, come on now," said one. "Yes--yes--come along," said another; "we've waited long enough for you to get back."

"I'm not coming," declared Tom, shortly.

"Not coming back? Well--" One of the young men said something under his breath, and the first speaker turned on his heel, tossing his cigarette over the railing.

"No," said Tom, "I'm not coming. Did you hear me?"

"I believe I had that pleasure," said the last named, "as I am not deaf. Come on, fellows; our little boy has got to wait on his Grandpappy. Good-by, kid!" He snapped his fingers; the other two laughed derisively, and sauntered off down the deck as they came.

Tom shook with passion. "I'd like to walk," he said, drawing a long breath, and setting off unsteadily.

"All right," said Jasper, falling into step beside him.

Meantime the old gentleman, in his large handsome state-room, showed no sign of returning to the consciousness that had come back for a brief moment. And he held to Polly's hand so tightly, as she sat at the head of the berth, that there was no chance of withdrawing her fingers had she so desired. And Father Fisher with whom Dr. Jones had of course made acquaintance, before the steamer fairly sailed, sat there keeping watch too, in a professional way, the ship's doctor having called him in consultation over the case. And Phronsie, who had been in deep penitence because she had wandered off from the library with another little girl, to gaze over the railing upon the steerage children below, thereby missing Polly, was in such woe over it all that she was allowed to cuddle up against Polly's side and hold her other hand. And there she sat as still as a mouse, hardly daring to breathe. And Mr. King, feeling as if, after all, the case was pretty much under his supervision, came softly in at intervals to see that all was well, and that the dreadful boy was kept out.

And the passengers all drifted back to their steamer chairs, glad of some new topic to discuss, for the gossip they had brought on board was threadbare now, as they were two days at sea. And the steamer sailed over the blue water that softly lapped the stout vessel's side, careless of the battle that had been waged for a life, even then holding by slender threads. And Fanny Vanderburgh, whose grandfather was a contemporary in the old business days in New York with Mr. King, and who sat with her mother at the next table to the King party, spent most of her time running to Mrs. Pepper's state-room, or interviewing any one who would be able to give her the slightest encouragement as to when she could claim Polly Pepper.

"O dear me!" Fanny cried, on one such occasion, when she happened to run across Jasper. "I've been down to No. 45 four times this morning, and there's nobody there but that stupid Matilda, and she doesn't know or won't tell when Polly will get through reading to that tiresome old man. And they won't let me go to his state-room. Mrs. Fisher and your father are there, too, or I'd get them to make Polly come out on deck. We all want her for a game of shuffle-board."

Jasper sighed. So did he long for a game of shuffle-board. Then he brought himself up, and said as brightly as he could: "Mr. Selwyn begs Polly to stay, and won't have any one else read to him, Miss Vanderburgh, so I don't see as it can be helped. He's been very sick, you know."

Fanny Vanderburgh beat the toe of her boot on the deck floor. "It's a perfect shame. And that horrible old man, he's so seedy and common --just think of it-- and spoiling all our fun!"

Jasper looked off over the sea, and said nothing.

"As for that dreadful boy, his grandson, I think he's a boor. Goodness me--I hope nobody will introduce him. I'm sure I never'll recognise him afterward."

Jasper turned uneasily. "Please, Mr. King, do make Polly listen to reason," begged Fanny. "There isn't another girl on board I care to go with--at least not in the way I would with her. The Griswolds are well enough to play games with, and all that; but you know what I mean. Do make her come out with us this morning, and listen to reason," she repeated, winding up helplessly.

"But I think she is just right," said Jasper, stoutly.

"Right!" cried Fanny, explosively; "oh, how can you say so, Mr. Jasper! Why, she is losing just every bit of the fun."

"I know it," said Jasper, with a twinge at the thought. "Well, there is nothing more to be said or done, Miss Vanderburgh, since Polly has decided the matter. Only I want you to remember that I think she is just right about it."

Fanny Vanderburgh pouted her pretty lips in vexation. "At least, don't try to get that dreadful boy into our own set to play games," she cried venomously, "for I won't speak to him. He's a perfect boor. 'Twas only yesterday he brushed by me like a clumsy elephant, and knocked my book out of my hand, and never even picked it up. Think of that, Mr. King!"

"I know--that was dreadful," assented Jasper, in dismay at the obstacle to the plan he had formed in his own mind, to do that very thing he was now being warned against. "But you see, Miss Vanderburgh, he's all upset by his Grandfather's sickness."

"And I should think he would be," cried Fanny Vanderburgh, with spirit. "Mrs. Griswold says she's heard him domineering over the old man, and then his Grandfather would snarl and scold like everything. She has the next state-room, you know. I don't see how those Selwyns can afford such a nice cabin," continued Fanny, her aristocratic nose in the air, "they look so poor. Anyway that boy is a perfect beast, Mr. King."

"He's very different now," said Jasper, quickly. "He had no idea his Grandfather was so poorly. Now I'll tell you, Miss Vanderburgh," Jasper turned sharply around on his heel so that he faced her. It was necessary with a girl like her to state plainly what he had to say, and to keep to it. "I am going to ask Tom Selwyn to play games with all us young people. If it distresses you, or any one else, so that you cannot join, of course I will withdraw, and I know Polly will, and we will get up another circle that will play with him."

It was almost impossible to keep from laughing at Fanny's face, but Jasper was very grave as he waited for an answer. "O dear me, Mr. Jasper," she cried, "haven't I told you I don't really care for any one on board but Polly Pepper, and Mamma doesn't want me to mix up much with those Griswolds?" She lowered her voice and glanced over her shoulder. "It would make it so awkward if they should be much in New York, and we should meet. So of course I've got to do as Polly and you do. Don't you see?--it's awfully hard on me, though," and she clasped her hands in vexation.

"Very well, then," said Jasper; "now that's decided. And seeing it is, why the next thing to do, is to bring Tom down, and we'll get up a game of shuffle-board at once. He's not needed by his Grandfather now." He didn't think it necessary to add, "for the old gentleman won't see him, and Tom is forbidden the room by the doctor."

Fanny's aristocratic nose went up in alarm, and her whole face was overspread with dismay. It was one thing to anticipate evil, and quite another to find it precipitated upon one. "I--I don't--believe I can play this morning, Mr. Jasper," she began hurriedly, for the first time in her young life finding herself actually embarrassed. She was even twisting her fingers.

"Very well," said Jasper, coolly, "then I understand that you will not play with us at any time, for, as we begin to-day, we shall keep on. I will set about getting up another party at once." He touched his yacht cap lightly, and turned off.

"I'll go right down on the lower deck with you now." Fanny ran after him, her little boot heels clicking excitedly on the hard floor. "The steward has marked it all for us. I got him to, while I ran to find Polly so as to engage the place," she added breathlessly.

"That's fine," said Jasper, a smile breaking over the gloom on his face; "now we'll have a prime game, Miss Vanderburgh."

Fanny swallowed hard the lump in her throat, and tried to look pleasant. "Do you go and collect the Griswolds," cried Jasper, radiantly, "and I'll be back with Tom," and he plunged off. It was all done in a minute. And the thing that had been worrying him--how to get Tom into good shape, and to keep him there--seemed fixed in the best way possible. But Tom wouldn't go. Nothing that Jasper could do or say would move him out of the gloom into which he was cast, and at last Jasper ran down for a hurried game with the party awaiting him, to whom he explained matters in the best way he could.

At last, old Mr. Selwyn was able to emerge from his state-room. Mr. King and he were the best of friends by this time, the former always, when Polly read aloud, being one of the listeners. At all such hours, indeed, and whenever Polly went to sit by the invalid, Phronsie would curl up at Polly's side, and fondle the doll that Grandpapa gave her last, which had the honour to take the European trip with the family. Phronsie would smooth the little dress down carefully, and then with her hand in Polly's, she would sit motionless till the reading was over. Mamsie, whose fingers could not be idle, although the big mending basket was left at home, would be over on the sofa, sewing busily; and little Dr. Fisher would run in and out, and beaming at them all through his spectacles, would cry cheerily, "Well, I declare, you have the most comfortable place on the whole boat, Mr. Selwyn." Or Dr. Jones, whom Polly thought, next to Papa Fisher, was the very nicest doctor in all the world, would appear suddenly around the curtain, and smile approval through his white teeth. At last on the fifth day out, the old man was helped up to sun himself in his steamer chair on deck. And then he had a perfect coterie around him, oh-ing and ah-ing over his illness, and expressing sympathy in every shape, for since Mr. King and his party took him up, it was quite the thing for all the other passengers to follow suit.

When a few hours of this sort of thing had been going on, the old man called abruptly to Polly Pepper, who had left him, seeing he had such good company about him, and had now skipped up with Jasper to toss him a merry word, or to see if his steamer rug was all tucked in snugly around him.

"See here, Polly Pepper, do you play chess?"

"What, sir?" Polly thought she had not heard correctly.

"Do you play chess, I say?" demanded old Mr. Selwyn, bringing his sharp little eyes to bear on her.

"No, sir, that is--only a little," stammered Polly.

"Well, that will do for a start," the old gentleman nodded in satisfaction. "And I'll give you some points later on about the game. Well, and you play backgammon, of course." He didn't wait for her to answer, but finished, "These people here drive me almost crazy, asking me how I feel, and what was the matter with me, and all that rubbish. Now, I'm going into the library, and you shall go too, and we'll have a game of backgammon."

He flung back his steamer rug with a determined hand.

Jasper began, "Oh, Polly!" in dismay, but she broke in, "Yes, indeed, I do play backgammon, Mr. Selwyn, and it will be fine to have a game." And together they helped him up and into a cosey corner of the library.

"There, now," said Polly, with a final little pat on the sofa pillows tucked up at his back. "I believe you are as comfortable as you can be, Mr. Selwyn."

"Indeed I am," he declared.

"And now, Jasper, do get the backgammon board," cried Polly. "There it is over there," spying it on a further table.

Old Mr. Selwyn cast a hungry glance on it as it was brought forward, and his sharp little eyes sparkled, as Polly threw it open. He even chuckled in delight as he set the men.

Tom Selwyn came up to the door, and standing in its shadow, looked in. Jasper flung himself down on the sofa by the old gentleman's side to watch the game. Suddenly he glanced up, caught sight of Tom, although the latter's head was quickly withdrawn, and jumping up, he dashed after him.

"Here--see here, Tom!" he called to the big figure before him, making good time down the stairs. "I can't go chasing you all over the boat in this fashion. Stop, will you?"

"What do you want?" demanded Tom, crossly, feeling it impossible to elude such a pursuer, and backing up against a convenient angle.

"I want you to come up into the library and watch the game. Do, it'll be the best time,"--he didn't say "to make it all up."

"Can't," said Tom, "he won't see me."

"Oh, yes, he will; I almost know he will," declared Jasper, eagerly feeling this minute as if the most unheard-of things were possible.

"And beside, your sister--I mean the Pepper girl--Miss Pepper--" Tom corrected himself clumsily. "She can't bear me--I won't come."

"Oh, yes, she can now," said Jasper, just as eagerly, "especially since I've told her all you've told me."

"Well, I hate girls anyway," declared Tom, in his most savage fashion; "always have hated 'em, and always shall. I won't come!"