A Little Surprise
 

"Sir," said little Mr. Selwyn, bringing his sharp black eyes to bear upon old Mr. King, "you've been very good to me, and I've not been always pleasant. But it's my way, sir; it's my way."

Mr. King nodded pleasantly, although deep in his heart he agreed with the choleric old gentleman. "But as for Polly, why, she's good--good as gold, sir." There was no mistaking Mr. Selwyn's sentiments there, and his old cheek glowed while giving what to him meant the most wonderful praise to be paid to a person.

Old Mr. King straightened up. "You've said the right thing now," he declared.

"And I wish I could see that girl when she's grown up," added the little old gentleman. "I want really to know what sort of a woman she'll make. I do, indeed, sir."

"It isn't necessary to speculate much on it," answered Mr. King, confidently, "when you look at her mother and remember the bringing up that Polly Pepper has had."

The little old gentleman squinted hard at the clouds scudding across the blue sky. "That's so," he said at last. "Well, I'm sorry we are to part," he added. "And, sir, I really wish you would come down to my place with your party and give me a fortnight during your stay in England. I really do, sir, upon me word." There was no mistaking his earnestness as he thrust out one thin, long- fingered hand. With the other, he set a card within Mr. King's fingers.

"Arthur Selwyn, The Earl of Cavendish," met Mr. King's eyes.

"I had a fancy to do this thing," said the little old gentleman, "to run across from America in simple fashion, and it pleased the boy, who hates a fuss. And we've gotten rid of all sorts of nuisances by it; interviews, and tiresome people. And I've enjoyed it mightily." He chuckled away till it seemed as if he were never going to stop. Old Mr. King burst out laughing, too; and the pair were so very jolly that the passengers, grouped together waiting for the Liverpool landing, turned to stare at them.

"Just see how intimate Mr. King is with that tiresome, common, old Mr. Selwyn!" exclaimed Mrs. Vanderburgh to her daughter. "I never was so surprised at anything in all my life, to see that he keeps it up now, for I thought that aristocratic Horatio King was the most fastidious being alive."

"The Kings have awfully nice times," grumbled Fanny, picking her gloves discontentedly. "And you keep me mewed up, and won't let me speak to anybody whose grandfather wasn't born in our set, and I hate and loathe it all."

"You'll be glad when you are a few years older, and I bring you out in society, that I always have been so particular," observed Mrs. Vanderburgh, complacently, lifting her head in its dainty bonnet, higher than ever.

"I want some nice times and a little fun now," whined Fanny, with an envious glance over at Polly and Jasper with the dreadful Selwyn boy between them, and Phronsie running up to join them, and everybody in their party just bubbling over with happiness.

"I wish Mr. King and his party would go to Paris now," said her mother, suddenly.

"Oh, don't I just wish it!" cried Fanny, in a burst. "Did you ask him, Mamma?"

"Yes, indeed; I talked for fully half an hour yesterday, but it was no use. And he doesn't seem to know how long he is going to stay in England; 'only a few days,' he said, vaguely, then they go to Holland."

"Oh, why couldn't we go to Holland!" exclaimed Fanny, impulsively, and her eyes brightened; "splendid Holland, that would be something like, Mamma!"

"You forget the Van Dykes are to be in Paris awaiting us."

"Oh, those stupid Van Dykes!" exploded Fanny. "Mamma, don't go there now. Do change, and let us go to Holland with the Kings. Do, Mamma," she implored.

"Why, Fanny Vanderburgh!" exclaimed her mother, sharply, "what is the matter with you? You know it was settled long ago, that we should meet Mrs. Van Dyke and Eleanor in Paris at just this very time. It would never do to offend them, particularly when Eleanor is going to marry into the Howard set."

"And I'll have the most stupid time imaginable," cried Fanny, passionately, "dragging around while you and the Van Dykes are buying that trousseau."

"Yes, that's one thing that I wanted the Kings to go to Paris for," said Mrs. Vanderburgh; "you could be with them. And really they are much more important than any one to get in with. And I'd keep up the friendship with the Van Dykes. But that Mr. King is so obstinate, you can't do anything with him." A frown settled all across her pretty face, and she beat her foot impatiently on the deck.

"You spoil everything, Mamma, with your sets and your stupid people," declared Fanny, her passion by no means cooled. "When I come out in society I'm going to choose my own friends," she muttered to herself, and set her lips tightly together.

Mr. King was saying, "Thank you, so much, Mr. Selwyn, for I really think I'd prefer to call you so, as I knew you so first."

"So you shall," cried the little Earl, glancing around on the groups, "and it's better just here, at all events," and he chuckled again. "Then you really will come?" and he actually seized Mr. King's hand and wrung it heartily.

"No, I was about to say it is quite impossible."

The Earl of Cavendish stared blankly up out of his sharp little black eyes in utter amazement into the other's face. "My stay in London is short, only a few days," Mr. King was saying, "and then we go directly to Holland. I thank you all the same--believe me, I appreciate it. It is good of you to ask us," he cordially added.

The little Earl of Cavendish broke away from him, and took a few hasty steps down the deck to get this new idea fairly into his brain that his invitation had not been accepted. Then he hurried back. "My dear sir," he said, laying his hand on Mr. King's arm, "will you do me the favour to try to come at some future time--to consider your plans before you return to America, and see if you can't manage to give me this great pleasure of welcoming you to my home? Think of it, I beg, and drop me a line; if at home, I shall always be most glad to have you with me. I should esteem it a privilege." The Earl of Cavendish was astonished to find himself beseeching the American gentleman without a title. And then they awaked to the fact that the groups of passengers were merging into a solid mass, and a slow procession was beginning to form for the stairway, and the landing episode was well under way.

Mrs. Vanderburgh, determined not to bid good-by on the steamer but to be with the Kings till the last moment, rushed up to them on the wharf, followed by Fanny.

"Oh, we are so sorry you are not going to Paris with us," cried Mrs. Vanderburgh, while Fanny flew at Polly Pepper and engrossed her hungrily. "Can't you reconsider it now?" she asked, with a pretty earnestness.

"No, it is impossible," answered Mr. King, for about the fiftieth time. "Our plans will not allow it. I hope you and your daughter will have the best of times," he remarked politely.

"Yes, we shall; we meet old friends there, and Paris is always delightful." Mrs. Vanderburgh bit her lip in her vexation. "I was going to see you and beg you even now to change your plans, while we were on the steamer waiting to land," she went on hurriedly, "but you were bored--I quite pitied you--by that tiresome, common, old Mr. Selwyn."

"Yes, I was talking with him," said Mr. King, "but excuse me, I was not bored. He is peculiar, but not at all common, and he has many good qualities as a man; and I like the boy immensely."

"How can you?" Mrs. Vanderburgh gave a little high-bred laugh. "They are so insufferably common, Mr. King, those Selwyns are."

"Excuse me," said Mr. King, "that was the Earl of Cavendish; it will do no harm to mention it now, as they have gone."

"Who--who?" demanded Mrs. Vanderburgh in a bewildered way.

"I did not know it till this morning," Mr. King was explaining, "but our fellow- passenger, Mr. Selwyn, chose to cross over keeping his real identity unknown, and I must say I admire his taste in the matter; and anyway it was his affair and not mine." It was a long speech, and at its conclusion Mrs. Vanderburgh was still demanding, "Who--who?" in as much of a puzzle as ever.

"The Earl of Cavendish," repeated Mr. King; "Mr. Selwyn is the Earl of Cavendish. As I say, he did not wish it known, and--"

"Fanny--Fanny!" called her mother, sitting helplessly on the first thing that presented itself, a box of merchandise by no means clean. "Fan-ny! the--the Earl of Cavendish!" She could get no further.

Little Dr. Fisher, who administered restoratives and waited on Mrs. Vanderburgh and her daughter to their London train, came skipping back to the Liverpool hotel.

"I hope, wife, I sha'n't grow uncharitable,"--he actually glared through his big spectacles,--"but Heaven defend us on our travels from any further specimens like that woman."

"We shall meet all sorts, probably, Adoniram," said his wife, calmly; "it really doesn't matter with our party of eight; we can take solid comfort together."

The little doctor came out of his ill temper, but he said ruefully, "That's all very well, wife, for you and the Hendersons; for you steered pretty clear, I noticed, of that woman. Well, she's gone." And he smiled cheerfully. "Now for dinner, for I suppose Mr. King has ordered it."

"Yes, he has," said his wife. "And you have a quarter of an hour. I've put your clothes out all ready."

"All right." The little doctor was already plunging here and there, tearing off his coat and necktie and boots; and exactly at the time set, he joined the party, with a bright and shining face, as if no Mrs. Vanderburgh, or any one in the least resembling her, had ever crossed his path.

      *      *      *      *      *

"Jasper," cried Polly, as they hurried along out of the Harwich train to the steamer that was to take them to the Hook of Holland, "can you really believe we are almost there?"

"No, I can't," said Jasper, "for I've wanted to see Holland for such a time."

"Wasn't it good of Grandpapa," cried Polly, "to take us here the first thing after London?"

"Father always does seem to plan things rightly," answered Jasper, with a good degree of pride. "And then 'it's prime,'" "as Joel used to say," he was going to add, but thought better of it, as any reference to the boys always set Polly to longing for them.

"Indeed, he does," exclaimed Polly, in her most earnest fashion; "he's ever and always the most splendid Grandpapa. Oh, I wish I could do things for him, Jasper," she mourned; "he's so good to us."

"You do things for him all the while, Polly," Jasper made haste to say, as they ran along to keep up with the Parson and Mrs. Henderson's comfortable figures just before them; "you are all the while doing something for him."

"Oh, no, I don't," said Polly, "there isn't anything I can do for him. Don't you suppose there ever will be, Jasper?" she asked imploringly.

"Yes, indeed," said Jasper; "there always are things that hop up to be done when people keep their eyes open. But don't you worry about your not doing anything for him, Polly. Promise me that." Jasper took her hand and stopped just a minute to look into her face.

"I'll try not to," promised Polly, "but, oh, Jasper, I do so very much wish there might be something that I could do. I do, indeed, Jasper."

"It was only yesterday," said Jasper, as they began to hurry on once more, "that father said 'you can't begin to think, Jasper, what a comfort Polly Pepper is to me.'"

"Did he, Jasper?" cried Polly, well pleased, the colour flying over her cheek, "that was nice of him, because there isn't anything much I can really do for him. O dear! there is Grandpapa beckoning to us to hurry." So on they sped, having no breath for words. And presently they were on the boat, and little Dr. Fisher and Mr. Henderson went forward into the saloon, where the rooms reserved beforehand were to be given out, and the rest of the party waited and watched the stream of people of all ages and sizes and nationalities who desired to reach Holland the next morning.

To Polly it was a world of delight, and to Jasper, who watched her keenly, it was a revelation to see how nothing escaped her, no matter how noisy and dirty or turbulent the crowd, or how annoying the detention,--it was all a marvel of happiness from beginning to end. And Jasper looking back over the two times he had been before to Europe with his father, although he had never seen Holland, remembered only a sort of dreary drifting about with many pleasant episodes and experiences, it is true, still with the feeling on the whole of the most distinct gladness when their faces were turned homeward and the journeying was over.

"Mamsie," cried Polly, poking her head out from the upper berth of the stuffy little state-room assigned to Mrs. Fisher, Mrs. Henderson, Phronsie, and herself; "was anything ever so delicious as this boat? --and to think, Mamsie,"- -here Polly paused to add as impressively as if the idea had never been voiced before,--"that we are really to see Holland to-morrow."

"You'd better go to sleep now, then," said Mrs. Fisher, wisely, "if you want to be bright and ready really to see much of Holland in the morning, Polly."

"That's so," answered Polly, ducking back her head to its pillow, and wriggling her toes in satisfaction; "Phronsie is asleep already, isn't she, Mamsie?"

"Yes," said Mrs. Fisher, "she dropped off as soon as her head touched the pillow. Good night, Polly, you would better do the same."

"Good night, Mamsie," said Polly, with a sleepy little yawn, "and good night, dear Mrs. Henderson," she added, already almost in dreamland.