Five Little Peppers Abroad by Margaret Sidney
Phronsie Goes Visiting
"Grandpapa," said Phronsie, softly, as she clung to his hand, after they had made the descent to the lower deck, "I think the littlest one can eat some of the fruit, don't you?" she asked anxiously.
"Never you fear," assented old Mr. King, "that child that I saw yesterday can compass anything in the shape of food. Why, it had its mouth full of teeth, Phronsie; it was impossible not to see them when it roared."
"I am so glad its teeth are there," said Phronsie, with a sigh of satisfaction, as she regarded her basket of fruit, "because if it hadn't any, we couldn't give it these nice pears, Grandpapa."
"Well, here we are," said Mr. King, holding her hand tightly. "Bless me--are those your toes, young man?" this to a big chubby-faced boy, whose fat legs lay across the space as he sprawled on the deck; "just draw them in a bit, will you?--there. Well, now, Phronsie, this way. Here's the party, I believe," and he led her over to the other side, where a knot of steerage passengers were huddled together. In the midst sat a woman, chubby faced, and big and square, holding a baby. She had a big red shawl wrapped around her, in the folds of which snuggled the baby, who was contentedly chewing one end of it, while his mother had her eyes on the rest of her offspring, of which there seemed a good many. When the baby saw Phronsie, he stopped chewing the old shawl and grinned, showing all the teeth of which Mr. King had spoken. The other children, tow headed and also chubby, looked at the basket hanging on Phronsie's arm, and also grinned.
"There is the baby!" exclaimed Phronsie, in delight, pulling Grandpapa's hand gently. "Oh, Grandpapa, there he is."
"That's very evident," said the old gentleman. "Bless me!" addressing the woman, "how many children have you, pray tell?"
"Nine," she said. Then she twitched the jacket of one of them, and the pinafore of another, to have them mind their manners, while the baby kicked and crowed and gurgled, seeming to be all teeth.
"I have brought you some fruit," said Phronsie, holding out her basket, whereat all the tow headed group except the baby crowded each other dreadfully to see all there was in it. "I'm sorry the flowers are gone, so I couldn't bring any to-day. May the baby have this?" holding out a pear by the stem.
The baby settled that question by lunging forward and seizing the pear with two fat hands, when he immediately sank into the depths of the old shawl again, all his teeth quite busy at work. Phronsie set down her basket on the deck, and the rest of the brood emptied it to their own satisfaction. Their mother's stolid face lighted up with a broad smile that showed all her teeth, and very white and even they were.
"Grandpapa," said Phronsie, turning to him and clasping her hands, "if I only might hold that baby just one little bit of a minute," she begged, keenly excited.
"Oh, Phronsie, he's too big," expostulated Mr. King, in dismay.
"I can hold him just as easy, Grandpapa dear," said Phronsie, her lips drooping mournfully. "See." And she sat down on a big coil of rope near by and smoothed out her brown gown. "Please, Grandpapa dear."
"He'll cry," said Mr. King, quickly. "Oh, no, Phronsie, it wouldn't do to take him away from his mother. You see it would be dreadful to set that child to roaring--very dreadful indeed." Yet he hung over her in distress at the drooping little face.
"He won't cry." The mother's stolid face lighted up a moment. "And if the little lady wants to hold him, he'll sit there."
"May I, Grandpapa?" cried Phronsie, her red lips curling into a happy smile. "Oh, please say I may, Grandpapa dear," clasping her hands.
"The family seems unusually clean," observed Mr. King to himself. "And the doctor says there's no sickness on board, and it's a very different lot of steerage folks going this way from coming out, all of which I've settled before coming down here," he reflected. "Well, Phronsie--yes--I see no reason why you may not hold the baby if you want to." And before the words were hardly out of his mouth, the chubby-faced woman had set the fat baby in the middle of the brown gown smoothed out to receive him. He clung to his pear with both hands and ate away with great satisfaction, regardless of his new resting-place.
"Just come here!" Mrs. Griswold, in immaculately fitting garments, evidently made up freshly for steamer use, beckoned with a hasty hand to her husband. "It's worth getting up to see." He flung down his novel and tumbled out of his steamer chair. "Look down there!"
"Whew!" whistled Mr. Griswold; "that is a sight!"
"And that is the great Horatio King!" exclaimed Mrs. Griswold under her breath; "down there in that dirty steerage--and look at that child --Reginald, did you ever see such a sight in your life?"
"On my honour, I never have," declared Mr. Griswold, solemnly, and wanting to whistle again.
"Sh!--don't speak so loud," warned Mrs. Griswold, who was doing most of the talking herself. And plucking his sleeve, she emphasised every word with fearful distinctness close to his ear. "She's got a dirty steerage baby in her lap, and Mr. King is laughing. Well, I never! O dear me, here come the young people!"
Polly and Jasper came on a brisk trot up the deck length. "Fifteen times around make a mile, don't they, Jasper?" she cried.
"I believe they do," said Jasper, "but it isn't like home miles, is it, Polly?"- -laughing gaily--"or dear old Badgertown?"
"I should think not," replied Polly, with a little pang at her heart whenever Badgertown was mentioned. "We used to run around the little brown house, and see how many times we could do it without stopping."
"And how many did you, Polly?" asked Jasper,--"the largest number, I mean."
"Oh, I don't know," said Polly, with a little laugh; "Joel beat us always, I remember that."
"Yes, Joe would get over the ground, you may be sure," said Jasper, "if anybody could."
Polly's laugh suddenly died away and her face fell. "Jasper, you don't know," she said, "how I do want to see those boys."
"I know," said Jasper, sympathisingly, "but you'll get a letter, you know, most as soon as we reach port, for they were going to mail it before we left."
"And I have one every day in my mail-bag," said Polly, "but I want to see them so, Jasper, I don't know what to do." She went up to the rail at a remove from the Griswolds and leaned over it.
"Polly," said Jasper, taking her hand, "you know your mother will feel dreadfully if she knows you are worrying about it."
"I know it," said Polly, bravely, raising her head; "and I won't--why Jasper Elyot King!" for then she saw Grandpapa and Phronsie and the steerage baby.
Jasper gave a halloo, and waved his hand, and Polly danced up and down and called, and waved her hands too. And Phronsie gave a little crow of delight. "See, Grandpapa, there they are; I want Polly--and Jasper, too." And old Mr. King whirled around. "O dear me! Come down, both of you," which command it did not take them long to obey.
"Well, I never did in all my life," ejaculated Mrs. Griswold, "see anything like that. Now if some people"--she didn't say "we"--"should do anything like that, 'twould be dreadfully erratic and queer. But those Kings can do anything," she added, with venom.
"It's pretty much so," assented Mr. Griswold, giving a lazy shake. "Well, I'm going back to my chair if you've got through with me, Louisa." And he sauntered off.
"Don't go, Reginald," begged his wife; "I haven't got a soul to talk to."
"Oh, well, you can talk to yourself," said her husband, "any woman can." But he paused a moment.
"Haven't those Pepper children got a good berth?" exclaimed Mrs. Griswold, unable to keep her eyes off from the small group below. "And their Mother Pepper, or Fisher, or whatever her name is--I declare it's just like a novel, the way I heard the story from Mrs. Vanderburgh about it all."
"And I wish you'd let me get back to my book, Louisa," exclaimed Mr. Griswold, tartly, at the mention of the word "novel," beginning to look longingly at his deserted steamer chair, "for it's precious little time I get to read on shore. Seems as if I might have a little peace at sea."
"Do go back and read, then," said his wife, impatiently; "that's just like a man,--he can't talk of anything but business, or he must have his nose in a book."
"We men want to talk sense," growled her husband, turning off. But Mrs. Griswold was engrossed in her survey of Mr. King and the doings of his party, and either didn't hear or didn't care what was remarked outside of that interest.
Tom Selwyn just then ran up against some one as clumsily as ever. It proved to be the ship's doctor, who surveyed him coldly and passed on. Tom gave a start and swallowed hard, then plunged after him. "Oh, I say."
"What is it?" asked Dr. Jones, pausing.
"Can I--I'd like--to see my Grandfather, don't you know?"
Dr. Jones scanned him coolly from top to toe. Tom took it without wincing, but inwardly he felt as if he must shake to pieces.
"If you can so conduct yourself that your Grandfather will not be excited," at last said the doctor,--what an age it seemed to Tom,--"I see no reason why you shouldn't see your Grandfather, and go back to your state-room. But let me tell you, young man, it was a pretty close shave for him the other day. Had he slipped away, you'd have had that on your conscience that would have lasted you for many a day." With this, and a parting keen glance, he turned on his heel and strode off.
Tom gave a great gasp, clenched his big hands tightly together, took a long look at the wide expanse of water, then disappeared within.
In about half an hour, the steerage baby having gone to sleep in Phronsie's arms, the brothers and sisters, finding, after the closest inspection, nothing more to eat in the basket, gathered around the centre of attraction in a small bunch.
"I hope they won't wake up the baby," said Phronsie, in gentle alarm.
"Never you fear," said old Mr. King, quite comfortable now in the camp-chair one of the sailors had brought in response to a request from Jasper; "that child knows very well by this time, I should imagine, what noise is."
But after a little, the edge of their curiosity having been worn off, the small group began to get restive, and to clamour and pull at their mother for want of something better to do.
"O dear me!" said Phronsie, in distress.
"Dear, dear!" echoed Polly, vainly trying to induce the child next to the baby to get into her lap; "something must be done. Oh, don't you want to hear about a funny cat, children? I'm going to tell them about Grandma Bascom's, Jasper," she said, seeing the piteous look in Phronsie's eyes.
"Yes, we do," said one of the boys, as spokesman, and he solemnly bobbed his tow head, whereat all the children then bobbed theirs.
"Sit down, then," said Polly, socially making way for them, "all of you in a circle, and I'll tell you of that very funny cat." So the whole bunch of tow- headed children sat down in a ring, and solemnly folded their hands in their laps. Jasper threw himself down where he could edge himself in. Old Mr. King leaned back and surveyed them with great satisfaction. So Polly launched out in her gayest mood, and the big blue eyes in the round faces before her widened, and the mouths flew open, showing the white teeth; and the stolid mother leaned forward, and her eyes and mouth looked just like those of her children, only they were bigger; and at last Polly drew a long breath and wound up with a flourish, "And that's all"
"Tell another," said one of the round-eyed, open-mouthed children, without moving a muscle. All the rest sat perfectly still.
"O dear me," said Polly, with a little laugh, "that was such a good long one, you can't want another."
"I think you've gotten yourself into business, Polly," said Jasper, with a laugh. "Hadn't we better go?"
Polly gave a quick glance at Phronsie. "Phronsie dear," she said, "let us go up to our deck now, dear. Shall we?"
"Oh, no, Polly, please don't go yet," begged Phronsie, in alarm, and patting the baby softly with a gentle little hand. Polly looked off at Grandpapa. He was placidly surveying the water, his eyes occasionally roving over the novel and interesting sights around. On the other side of the deck a returning immigrant was bringing out a jew's-harp, and two or three of his fellow-passengers were preparing to pitch quoits. Old Mr. King was actually smiling at it all. Polly hadn't seen him so contented since they sailed.
"I guess I'll tell another one, Jasper," she said. "Oh, about a dog, you wanted, did you?" nodding at the biggest boy.
"Yes," said the boy, bobbing his tow head, "I did;" and he unfolded and folded his hands back again, then waited patiently.
So Polly flew off on a gay little story about a dog that bade fair to rival Grandma Bascom's cat for cleverness. He belonged to Mr. Atkins who kept store in Badgertown, and the Pepper children used to see a good deal of him, when they took home the sacks and coats that Mamsie sewed for the storekeeper. And in the midst of the story, when the stolid steerage children were actually laughing over the antics of that remarkable dog, Jasper glanced up toward the promenade deck, took a long look, and started to his feet. "Why, Polly Pepper, see!" He pointed upward. There, on the curve, were old Mr. Selwyn and Tom walking arm in arm.