Steamer Life
 

And after that, it was "My grandson, Thomas," on all occasions, the old gentleman introducing the boy to the right and to the left, as he paraded the deck, his old arm within the younger one. And the little, sharp black eyes snapped proudly and the white head was held up, as he laughed and chattered away sociably to the passengers and the ship's crew, at every good opportunity.

"Yes, my grandson, Thomas, is going back to school. We've been running about in your country a bit, and the boy's mother went home first with the other children--" Polly heard him say as the two paused in front of her steamer chair.

"Indeed!" ejaculated Mrs. Vanderburgh, as he addressed her, and raising her eyebrows with a supercilious glance for his plain, unprepossessing appearance. "Yes, Madam, and glad shall I be to set my foot on Old England again Hey, Tom, my boy, don't you say so?"

Tom looked off over the sea, but did not speak.

Neither did Mrs. Vanderburgh answer, but turned her face away in disdain that was very plainly marked.

"Home is the best place, Madam," declared old Mr. Selwyn emphatically. "Well, Old England is our home, and nothing will induce me to leave it again, I can assure you."

Again Mrs. Vanderburgh did not reply, but looked him up and down in cold silence. Old Mr. Selwyn, not appearing to notice, chattered on. At last she deliberately turned her back on him.

"Isn't he common and horrid?" whispered Fanny Vanderburgh, in the steamer chair next to Polly, thrusting her face in between her and her book. And she gave a little giggle.

"Hush!" said Polly, warningly, "he will hear you."

"Nonsense--it's impossible; he is rattling on so; and do look at Mamma's face!"

He didn't hear, but Tom did; and he flashed a glance--dark and wrathful--over at the two girls, and started forward, abruptly pulling his Grandfather along.

"O dear me!" exclaimed Polly, in distress, dropping her book in her lap; "now he has heard."

"Oh, that dreadful boy," said Fanny, carelessly, stretching out in her steamer chair comfortably; "well, who cares? he's worse than his Grandfather."

"Yes, he has heard," repeated Polly, sorrowfully looking after the two, Tom still propelling the old gentleman along the deck at a lively rate; "now, what shall we do?"

"It isn't of the least consequence if he has heard," reiterated Fanny, "and Mamma has been frightfully bored, I know. Do tell us, Mamma," she called.

Mrs. Vanderburgh turned away from the rail, where she had paused in her constitutional when addressed by the old gentleman, and came up to the girls.

"Do sit down, Mamma, in your steamer chair," begged Fanny; "I'll tuck you up in your rug." And she jumped lightly out of her own chair. "There, that's nice," as Mrs. Vanderburgh sank gracefully down, and Fanny patted and pulled the rug into shape. "Now tell us, wasn't he the most horrible old bore?"

As she cuddled back into her own nest, Mrs. Vanderburgh laughed in a very high- bred manner. "He was very amusing," she said.

"Amusing! I should say so!" cried Fanny. "I suppose he would have told you all his family history if he had stayed. O dear me, he is such a common, odious old person."

Polly twisted uneasily under her rug.

Mrs. Vanderburgh glanced into the steamer chair on the other side. It had several books on top of the rug. "I don't believe he can take that seat," she said; "still, Fanny, I think it would be well for you to change into it, for that old man may take it into his head, when he makes the turn of the deck, to drop into it and give us the whole of his family history."

"Horrors!" ejaculated Fanny, hopping out of her chair again. "I'll make sure that he doesn't. And yet I did so want to sit next to Polly Pepper," she mourned, ensconcing herself under the neighbouring rug, and putting the books on the floor by her side.

"Don't do that; give them to me," said her mother; "I'll put them in your chair unless Miss Polly will take that place, only I don't like to disturb you, dear," she said with a sweet smile at Polly.

"Why, that would make matters' worse, Mamma," said Fanny. "Don't you see, then, that old bore would put himself into Polly's chair, for he likes her, anyway. Do leave it as it is."

So Mrs. Vanderburgh smiled again. "I don't know but that you are right," she said, and leaned back her head restfully. "Dear me, yes, he is amusing."

"They are terribly common people," said Fanny, her aristocratic nose well in the air, "aren't they, Mamma? And did you ever see such a clumsy thing as that dreadful boy, and such big hands and feet?" She held up her own hands as she spoke, and played with her rings, and let the jingling bracelets run up and down her wrists.

"Fanny, how often must I tell you to wear gloves on shipboard?" said her mother, in a tone of reproof. "Nothing spoils the hands so much as a trip at sea. They won't get over it all summer; they're coarsened already," and she cast an alarmed glance at the long, slender fingers.

"I'm so tired of gloves, Mamma." Fanny gave a restful yawn. "Polly Pepper doesn't wear them," she cried triumphantly, peering past her mother to point to Polly's hands.

Mrs. Vanderburgh hesitated. It wouldn't do to say anything that would reflect against the Peppers--manners, or customs, or bringing up generally. So she leaned over and touched Polly's fingers with her own gloved ones.

"You don't wear gloves, do you, my dear?" she said, in gentle surprise, quite as if the idea had just struck her for the first time.

"No, Mrs. Vanderburgh, I don't," said Polly, "at least not on shipboard, unless it is cold."

"There, now, Mamma," laughed Fanny, in a pleased way; "you'll stop teasing me about wearing them, I'm sure."

Mrs. Vanderburgh turned and surveyed her daughter; but she didn't smile, and Fanny thought it as well to begin again on the old topic.

"They're awfully common people, aren't they, Mamma,--those Selwyns?"

"They are, indeed," replied Mrs. Vanderburgh, "quite commonplace, and exceedingly tiresome; be sure and not speak to them, Fanny."

"Trust me for that," said Fanny, with a wise little nod. "The old man stopped me and asked me something this morning, as I was coming out of the dining room, after breakfast, but I pretended I didn't hear, and I skipped upstairs and almost fell on my nose."

"You were fortunate to escape," said her mother, with a little laugh. "Well, let us drop the subject and talk of something else much more important. Polly, my dear." She turned again and surveyed the young girl at her side. "You are coming home this autumn, aren't you?"

"Oh, no," said Polly, "Grandpapa expects to stay over in Europe a year."

"Is that so?" said Mrs. Vanderburgh, and her face fell; "I regret it exceedingly, for I should be glad if you would visit Fanny this winter in New York."

"Thank you; but I couldn't anyway," said Polly. Then the colour flew up to her cheek. "I mean I am in school, you know, Mrs. Vanderburgh, but I thank you, and it is so good of you to want me," she added, hurriedly, feeling that she hadn't said the right thing at all.

"I do want you very much, my dear child," said Mrs. Vanderburgh, "and I am very sorry you are to remain abroad over the winter, for your Grandfather would be persuaded, I feel quite sure, to have you leave school for a while, and come to us for a visit."

"Oh, no, he wouldn't," cried Polly, quickly. "I beg pardon, Mrs. Vanderburgh, but I never leave school for anything unless I am sick, and I am almost never sick."

"Well, then, you could come for the Christmas holidays," said Mrs. Vanderburgh, with ladylike obstinacy like one accustomed to carrying her point.

"The Christmas holidays!" exclaimed Polly, starting forward in her chair. "Oh, I wouldn't leave home for anything, then, Mrs. Vanderburgh. Why, we have the most beautiful times, and we are all together--the boys come home from school--and it's just too lovely for anything!" She clasped her hands and sighed--oh, if she could but see Ben and Joel and David but once!

Mrs. Vanderburgh was a very tall woman, and she gazed down into the radiant face, without speaking; Polly was looking off over the sea, and the colour came and went on her cheek.

"We would soon get her out of all such notions, if we once had her with us, wouldn't we, Mamma?" said Fanny, in a low tone close to her mother's ear.

Mrs. Vanderburgh gave her a warning pinch, but Polly's brown eyes were fastened on the distant horizon, and she hadn't heard a word.

"Well, we'll arrange it sometime," said Fanny's mother, breaking the silence; "so you must remember, Polly dear, that you are engaged to us for a good long visit when you do come home."

"I will tell Grandpapa that you asked me," said Polly, bringing her eyes back with a sigh to look into Mrs. Vanderburgh's face.

"Oh, he will fall into the plan quite readily, I think," said Mrs. Vanderburgh, lightly. "You know we are all very old friends--that is, the families are--Mr. Vanderburgh's father and Mr. King were very intimate. Perhaps you don't know, Polly,"--and Fanny's mamma drew herself up to her extreme height; it was impossible for her to loll back in her chair when talking of her family,--"that we are related to the Earl of Cavendish who owns the old estate in England, and we go back to William the Conqueror; that is, Fanny does on her father's side."

Fanny thereupon came up out of her chair depths to sit quite straight and gaze with importance at Polly's face. But Polly was still thinking of the boys, and she said nothing.

"And my family is just as important," said Mrs. Vanderburgh, and she smiled in great satisfaction. "Really, we could make things very pleasant for you, my child; our set is so exclusive, you could not possibly meet any one but the very best people. Oh, here is your mother." She smiled enchantingly up at Mrs. Fisher, and held out her hand. "Do come and sit here with us, my dear Mrs. Fisher," she begged, "then we shall be a delightful group, we two mothers and our daughters."

"Thank you, Mrs. Vanderburgh." Mrs. Fisher smiled, but she didn't offer to take the steamer chair. "I have come after Polly."

"Mamsie, what is it? I'll come," said Polly, tumbling out of her steamer chair in a twinkling.

"O dear me!" exclaimed Mrs. Vanderburgh, in regret, "don't take Polly away, I do implore you, my dear Mrs. Fisher--I am so fond of her."

"I must," said Mother Fisher, smiling again, her hand now in Polly's, and before any more remonstrances were made, they were off.

"Oh, Mamsie!" breathed Polly, hanging to the dear hand, "I am so glad you came, and took me away."

"Polly," said Mother Fisher, suddenly, "Grandpapa asked me to find you; he thinks you could cheer old Mr. Selwyn up a bit, perhaps, with backgammon. I'm afraid Tom has been behaving badly again."

"Oh, Mamsie!" exclaimed Polly, in dismay. And then the story came out.

"Grandpapa," said Phronsie, pulling at his hand gently, as they walked slowly up and down the deck, "does your head ache?" And she peered anxiously up into his face.

"No, child--that is, not much," said old Mr. King, trying to smooth his brows out. He was thinking--for it kept obtruding at all times and seasons--of that dreadful scrap of paper that Cousin Eunice had imposed upon him at the last minute before they sailed, announcing that she had had her way, and would at last compel acceptance of such a gift as she chose to make to Phronsie Pepper.

"If it aches at all," said Phronsie, decidedly, "I wish you would let me rub it for you, Grandpapa. I do, truly."

"Well, it doesn't," said Grandpapa; "that is it won't, now that I have you with me. I was thinking of something unpleasant, Phronsie, and then, to tell you the truth, that old Mr. Selwyn tires me to death. I can't talk to him, and his grandson is a cad."

"What is a cad?" asked Phronsie, wonderingly.

"Oh, well, a boy who isn't nice," said Mr. King, carelessly.

"Grandpapa, why isn't that boy nice to that poor old man?" asked Phronsie, a grieved look coming into her blue eyes.

"Goodness me, child, you ask me too much," said Mr. King, quickly; "oh, a variety of reasons. Well, we must take things as we find them, and do what we can to help matters along; but it seems a hopeless case,--things were in better shape; and now they seem all tangled up again, thanks to that boy."

"Grandpapa," said Phronsie, earnestly, "I don't believe that boy means to be bad to that poor old man, I don't really and truly, Grandpapa," she added, shaking her head.

"Well, he takes a queer way to show it, if he means to be good," said old Mr. King, grimly.

"Oh, is that you, Master Tom?" as they turned a corner to find themselves face to face with Tom Selwyn.

"Mr. King," Tom began very rapidly so that the words ran all over each other, "I'm no end sorry--don't think hard things of me--it's not my fault this time; Grandfather heard it as well as I--at least, I caught a little and he asked me what it was, and I had to tell him, and it upset him."

Old Mr. King stood gazing into the big boy's face in utter bewilderment. "As I don't know in the least what you are trying to tell me, my boy," at last he said, "I shall have to ask you to repeat it, and go slowly."

So Tom tried again to tell his story, and by the time that it was all out, Mr. King was fuming in righteous indignation.

"Well, well, it's not worth thinking of," at last he said at sight of the flashing eyes before him and the angry light on the young face. "You take my arm, or I'll take yours, Master Tom,--there, that's better,--and we'll do a bit of a turn on the deck. Your grandfather'll come out of it, for he's busy over the backgammon board. But it was an ugly thing to do just the same."

Just then Mrs. Vanderburgh and Fanny passed them, all sweet smiles for him and for Phronsie, but with no eyes for the boy.