A Fish Story And Other Things
 

"Oh, Polly! Polly!" Phronsie came running along the deck, and up to the little group playing shuffle-board; "there's such a very big whale." And she clasped her hands in great excitement. "There truly is. Do come and see him."

"Is there, Pet?" cried Polly, throwing down her shovel, "then we must all go and see him. Come, Jasper, and all of you," and she seized Phronsie's hand.

"He is very dreadful big," said Phronsie, as they sped on, Jasper and the other players close behind. "And he puffed, Polly, and the water went up, oh, so high!"

"That's because he came up to breathe," said Polly, as they raced along. "Dear me, I hope he won't be gone when we get there."

"Can't he breathe under the water?" asked Phronsie, finding it rather hard work to perform that exercise herself in such a race. "What does he stay down there for, then, say, Polly?"

"Oh, because he likes it," answered Polly, carelessly. "Take care, Phronsie, you're running into all those steamer chairs."

"I'm sorry he can't breathe," said Phronsie, anxiously trying to steer clear of the bunch of steamer chairs whose occupants had suddenly left them, too, to see the whale. "Poor whale--I'm sorry for him, Polly."

"Oh, he's happy," said Polly, "he likes it just as it is. He comes up for a little while to blow and--"

"I thought you said he came up to breathe, Polly," said Phronsie, tugging at Polly's hand, and guilty of interrupting.

"Well, and so he does, and to blow, too,--it's just the same thing," said Polly, quickly.

"Is it just exactly the same?" asked Phronsie.

"Yes, indeed; that is, in the whale's case," answered Polly, as they ran up to Grandpapa and the rest of their party, and the knots of other passengers, all staring hard at a certain point on the sparkling waste of water.

"I thought you were never coming," said old Mr. King, moving away from the rail to tuck Polly and Phronsie in where they could get a good view. "Oh, there he is--there he is--Jasper, look!" cried Polly.

"There he is!" crowed Phronsie, now much excited. "Oh, isn't he big, Grandpapa?"

"I should say he was," declared Mr. King. "I think I never saw a finer whale in my life, Phronsie."

"He comes up to blow," said Phronsie, softly to herself, her face pressed close to the rail, and her yellow hair floating off in the breeze; "and Polly says it doesn't hurt him, and he likes it."

"What is it, Phronsie child?" asked old Mr. King, hearing her voice.

"Grandpapa, has he got any little whales?" asked Phronsie, suddenly raising her face.

"Oh, yes, I imagine so," said old Mr. King; "that is, he ought to have, I'm sure. Porpoises go in schools,--why shouldn't whales, pray tell?"

"What's a porpoise?" asked Phronsie, with wide eyes.

"Oh, he's a dolphin or a grampus."

"Oh," said Phronsie, much mystified, "and does he go to school?"

"Well, they go ever so many of them together, and they call it a school. Goodness me--that is a blow!" as the whale spouted valiantly, and looked as if he were making directly for the steamer.

"Oh, Grandpapa, he's coming right here!" screamed Phronsie, clapping her hands in delight, and hopping up and down,--Polly and Jasper were almost as much excited,--while the passengers ran hither and thither to get a good view, and levelled their big glasses, and oh-ed and ah-ed. And some of them ran to get their cameras. And Mr. Whale seemed to like it, for he spouted and flirted his long tail and dashed into the water and out again to blow, till they were all quite worn out looking at him. At last, with a final plunge, he bade them all good-by and disappeared.

Phronsie, after her first scream of delight, had pressed her face close to the rail and held her breath. She did not say a word, but gazed in speechless enjoyment at the antics of the big fish. And Grandpapa had to speak two or three times when the show was all over before she heard him.

"Did you like it, Phronsie?" he asked, gathering her hand up closely in his, as he leaned over to see her face.

Phronsie turned away with a sigh. "Oh, Grandpapa, he was so beautiful!" She drew a long breath, then turned back longingly. "Won't he ever come back?" she asked.

"Maybe not this one," said old Mr. King; "but we'll see plenty more, I imagine, Phronsie. At least, if not on this voyage,--why, some other time."

"Oh, wasn't it splendid!" exclaimed Polly, tossing back the little rings of brown hair from her brow. "Well, he's gone; now we must run back, Jasper, and finish our game." And they were off, the other players following.

"I'd like to see this very whale again," said Phronsie, with a small sigh; "Grandpapa, I would, really; he was a nice whale."

"Yes, he was a fine one," said old Mr. King. "I don't know as I ever put eyes on a better specimen, and I've seen a great many in my life."

"Tell me about them, do, Grandpapa," begged Phronsie, drawing nearer to him.

"Well, I'll get into my steamer chair, and you shall sit in my lap, and then I'll tell you about some of them," said Mr. King, much gratified. As they moved off, Phronsie clinging to his hand, she looked back and saw two children gazing wistfully after them. "Grandpapa," she whispered, pulling his hand gently to attract attention, "may that little boy and girl come, too, and hear about your whales?"

"Yes, to be sure," cried Mr. King. So Phronsie called them, and in a few minutes there was quite a big group around Grandpapa's steamer chair; for when the other children saw what was going on, they stopped, too, and before he knew, there he was perfectly surrounded.

"I should very much like to hear what it is all about." Mrs. Vanderburgh's soft voice broke into a pause, when old Mr. King stopped to rest a bit. "You must be very fascinating, dear Mr. King; you have no idea how pretty your group is." She pulled Fanny forward gently into the outer fringe of the circle. "Pray, what is the subject?"

"Nothing in the world but a fish story, Madam," said the old gentleman.

"Oh, may we stay and hear it?" cried Mrs. Vanderburgh, enthusiastically, clasping her gloved hands. "Fanny adores such things, don't you, dear?" turning to her.

"Yes, indeed, Mamma," answered Fanny, trying to look very much pleased.

"Take my word for it, you will find little to interest either of you," said Mr. King.

"Oh, I should be charmed," cried Mrs. Vanderburgh. "Fanny dear, draw up that steamer chair to the other side." But a stout, comfortable-looking woman coming down the deck stopped directly in front of that same chair, and before Fanny could move it, sat down, saying, "This is my chair, young lady."

"That vulgar old woman has got it," said Fanny, coming back quite crestfallen.

"Ugh!" Mrs. Vanderburgh shrugged her shoulders as she looked at the occupant of the chair, who surveyed her calmly, then fell to reading her book. "Well, you must just bear it, dear; it's one of the annoyances to be endured on shipboard."

"I suppose the lady wanted her own chair," observed Mr. King, dryly.

"Lady? Oh, my dear Mr. King!" Mrs. Vanderburgh gave a soft little laugh. "It's very good of you to put it that way, I'm sure. Well, now do let us hear that delightful story. Fanny dear, you can sit on part of my chair," she added, regardless of the black looks of a gentleman hovering near, who had a sharp glance on the green card hanging to the back of the chair she had appropriated and that bore his name.

So Fanny perched on the end of the steamer chair, and Mr. King, not seeing any way out of it, went on in his recital of the whale story, winding up with an account of some wonderful porpoises he had seen, and a variety of other things, until suddenly he turned his head and keenly regarded Fanny's mother.

"How intensely interesting!" she exclaimed, opening her eyes, and trying not to yawn. "Do go on, and finish about that whale," feeling that she must say something.

"Mamma!" exclaimed Fanny, trying to stop her.

"I ended up that whale some five minutes ago, Madam," said Mr. King. "I think you must have been asleep."

"Oh, no, indeed, I have been charmed every moment," protested Mrs. Vanderburgh sitting quite erect. "You surely have the gift of a raconteur, Mr. King," she said, gracefully recovering herself. "O dear me, here is that odious boy and that tiresome old man!" as Tom Selwyn came up slowly, his Grandfather on his arm.

Mr. King put Phronsie gently off from his lap, still keeping her hand in his. "Now, children, the story-telling is all done, the whales and porpoises are all finished up--so run away." He touched his sea-cap to Mrs. Vanderburgh and her daughter, then marched up to the old man and Tom.

"I am tired of sitting still," he said. "May my little granddaughter and I join you in a walk?"

Tom shot him a grateful look. Old Mr. Selwyn, who cared most of all for Polly, mumbled out something, but did not seem especially happy. But Mr. King did not appear to notice anything awry, but fell into step, still keeping Phronsie's hand, and they paced off.

"If you know which side your bread is buttered, Mamma," said Fanny Vanderburgh, shrewdly, looking after them as they disappeared, "you'll make up to those dreadful Selwyn people."

"Never!" declared her mother, firmly. "Fanny, are you wild? Why, you are a Vanderburgh and are related to the English nobility, and I am an Ashleigh. What would your father say to such a notion?"

"Well, Papa isn't here," said Fanny, "and if he were, he'd do something to keep in with Mr. King. I hate and detest those dreadful Selwyns as much as you do, Mamma, but I'm going to cultivate them. See if I don't!"

"And I forbid it," said her mother, forgetting herself and raising her voice. "They are low bred and common. And beside that, they are eccentric and queer. Don't you speak to them or notice them in the slightest."

"Madam," said the gentleman of the black looks, advancing and touching his cap politely, "I regret to disturb you, but I believe you have my chair."

Mrs. Vanderburgh begged pardon and vacated the chair, when the gentleman touched his cap again, and immediately drew the chair up to the one where the stout, comfortable-looking woman sat.

"It seems to me there are more ill-bred, low-lived people on board this boat than it has been my lot to meet on any voyage," said Mrs. Vanderburgh, drawing her sea coat around her slight figure and sailing off, her daughter in her wake.