The Henderson Box
 

And as Mother Fisher observed, they would all enjoy Marken better for the delay, for there would be more time to anticipate the pleasure; and then there was the Henderson box to get ready, for Grandpapa King had not only approved the plan; he had welcomed the idea most heartily. "It will be a good diversion from our scare," he said, when Polly and Jasper laid it before him.

"And give us all something to do," he added, "so go ahead, children, and set to work on it." And Polly and Jasper had flown off with the good news, and every one did "set to work" as Grandpapa said, diving into the shops again.

Phronsie tried to find the mate to her china cat, that was by this time sailing over the sea to Joel; and it worried her dreadfully, for, try as she would, she never could see another one. And she looked so pale and tired one night that Mr. King asked her, in consternation, as they were all assembled in one corner of the drawing-room, what was the matter.

"I wish I could find a cat," sighed Phronsie, trying not to be so tired, and wishing the prickles wouldn't run up and down her legs so. "We've walked and walked, Grandpapa, and the shop wouldn't come, where it must be."

"What kind of a cat is it you want?" asked Adela Gray.

"It was just like Joey's," said Phronsie, turning her troubled blue eyes on Adela's face.

"Well, what colour?" continued Adela.

"It was yellow," said Phronsie, "a sweet little yellow cat."

"With green eyes?"

"No, I don't think it's eyes were green," said Phronsie, slowly trying to think, "but they were so pretty; and she had a pink ribbon around her neck, and--"

"Oh, that settles it," declared Adela, quite joyful that she could help the little Pepper girl in any way, "at least the pink ribbon round its neck does, for I know where there is a cat exactly like that--that is, the one I saw had green eyes, but everything else is like it--it's sitting upon a shelf in a shop where I was just this very day, Phronsie Pepper."

"Oh!" Phronsie gave a little gurgle of delight, and, slipping out of her chair, she ran over to Adela. "Will you show me that shop to-morrow?" she begged, in great excitement.

"To be sure I will," promised Adela, just as happy as Phronsie; "we will go in the morning right after breakfast. May we, Mrs. Fisher?" looking over to her, where she sat knitting as cosily as if she were in the library at home. "For I think people who travel, get out of their everyday habits," she had said to her husband, before they started, "and I'm going to pack my knitting basket to keep my hands out of mischief."

And old Mr. King had smiled more than once in satisfaction to glance over at Mother Fisher in her cosey corner of an evening, and it made him feel at home immediately, even in the dreariest of hotel parlours, just the very sight of those knitting needles.

And so, in between the picture galleries and museums, to which some part of every day was devoted, the Peppers and Jasper and Adela, and old Mr. King, who always went, and Mother Fisher, who sometimes was of the party, the ransacking of the lovely shops took place. And it really seemed as if everything that the Henderson boys could possibly want, was in some of those places--no matter how out-of-the-way--and waiting to be bought to fly over the sea to Badgertown. At last off that box went. Then Polly was quite happy, and could enjoy things all the more, with a mind at rest.

"Now we are all ready for Marken," she cried that night, after dinner, when the box was on its way to the steamer, "and I do hope we are going to-morrow." Jasper and she had a little table between them, and they were having a game of chess.

"Yes, we are, I think," said Jasper, slowly considering whether he would better bring down one of his knights into the thick of the battle, or leave it to protect his queen.

"Oh, how fine!" exclaimed Polly, unguardedly moving the pawn that held at bay a big white bishop, who immediately swooped down on her queen, and away it went off the board; and "oh, how perfectly dreadful!" all in one and the same breath.

"You may have it back," said Jasper, putting the black queen in place again.

"No, indeed--it's perfectly fair that I lost it," said Polly; "oh, I wouldn't take it back for anything. I was talking; it was all my own fault, Jasper."

"Well, you were talking about Marken, and I don't wonder, for we have been so long trying to go there. Do take it back, Polly," he begged, holding it out.

"No, indeed!" declared Polly again, shaking her brown head decidedly, "not for the world, Jasper."

"What is going over in that corner?" called Grandpapa's voice, by the big reading table. He had finished his newspaper, and was now ready to talk. So Jasper and Polly explained, and that brought out the subject of Marken, and old Mr. King said yes, it was perfectly true that he had made all the arrangements to go the following day if the weather were fine. So Polly and Jasper swept off the remaining pieces on the chessboard, and packed them away in their box, and ran over to hear all the rest of it that he was now telling to the family.

"So you see it didn't make any difference about that old queen anyway," said Polly, as they hurried over to him, "for nobody has beaten."

"I'm glad I didn't beat," declared Jasper. "I've that satisfaction, anyway, because you wouldn't have moved that pawn, Polly, if you hadn't been talking of Marken."

The next day was fine enough to warrant the trip, though not absolutely sunshiny. Old Mr. King wisely deciding that the fun of the expedition would lose its edge if postponed again, said, "Start!" So after breakfast they all went down to the Wester dock and embarked on the little steamer bound for the island of Marken in the Zuyder Zee.

"Oh, Polly, look," said Jasper, "doesn't Amsterdam look fine?" as the little steamer slowly put forth.

Polly leaned over the rail and drew in long breaths of delight. "Come, Adela," she called, "here is a good place;" for the little old lady was still too much shaken up to make much attempt at travelling, so Polly had begged Mother Fisher and Grandpapa to ask Adela to come with them on their sightseeing trips.

And this was done, and the young girl was happy as a bird. So here she was, going down to Marken too.

Adela ran and kneeled down on the seat by Polly's side and hung over the rail too. "Don't the houses lean over queerly?" she said, pointing to the long narrow buildings they were leaving behind. They look worse from the water than when we are in the midst of them."

"It's just as if they were holding each other up," said Polly. "Dear me, I should think they'd tumble over some fine day.

"What makes them sag so?" asked Adela, intently regarding them.

"That's because the city is built on piles, I suppose," said Jasper. It's mostly sand in Holland, you know, particularly around Amsterdam, and so they had to drive down piles to get something strong enough to put their houses on. That's what--who was it?--oh I know--Erasmus--meant when he said, 'I know a city whose inhabitants dwell on the tops of the trees like rooks.'"

"O dear me," said Adela, quite impressed; "well, what makes them not sag any more?" she asked at length.

"Because they've sagged all they want to, I suppose'" said Jasper, laughing. "Anyway they've stood so for years on years--probably, so it's fair to believe they're all right."

"And I think they're ever so much prettier leaning every which way," declared Polly. "We can see plenty of straight houses at home, so it's nice to see crooked ones over here. Oh, Jasper, there's the King's palace!"

"Yes and there is the dome of the Lutheran Church," said Jasper.

"Look at that woman with the boy," said Adela, on the wharf. She's got a little black bonnet tied on top of her white cap.".

"That's nothing to what we shall see at Marken, I suppose," said Polly. "I'm going to take ever so many photographs." She tapped her kodak lovingly, as it hung from the strap on her shoulder.

"I wish I'd brought mine," said Adela.

"Why didn't you?" cried Polly, whirling around to scan Adela.

"I forgot it," said Adela. "I put it on the table last night close to my hat and gloves, and then walked off this morning without it."

"Now that's too bad!" exclaimed Polly in sympathy. Then she turned back uncomfortably, and began to talk of something else. "I'm not going to," she said to herself; "it isn't my fault she forgot her kodak, and I want every one of my films myself. And I care a great deal more for Marken than for almost any other place." The next moment Mamsie seemed to say, "Is that my Polly?" and although she was at the other end of the boat, Polly's head drooped as if she had heard the words.

"O dear me--and Adela hasn't any one but a sick grandmother--and I have just-- everybody," she thought "You shall use my kodak," cried Polly, aloud, "one-half the time, Adela."

"Oh, no," protested Adela; but she looked hungrily at Polly's kodak swinging over her shoulder.

"Yes, you shall too," declared Polly, cheerily. "I can take all the pictures I want in that time, and I have lots of films."

"I'll divide with you, Polly," said Jasper. "I brought ever so many, and will go shares with my kodak, too." But Polly made up her mind that Jasper's kodak was to be used for his own special pictures, for she knew he had set his heart on taking certain ones, and a good many of them, too.

"Isn't that water just perfectly lovely!" she exclaimed; "such a bluish grey."

"I think it's a greyish blue," said Adela, squinting along its surface critically.

"Well, what's the difference?" asked Polly, laughing.

"Not much," said Jasper, "I should think."

"Well, anyway, it's lovely," declared Polly; "I just wish I could paint it."

"Do you paint?" asked Adela, suddenly.

"No," said Polly, "not a bit"

"Polly is all for music," said Jasper, quickly. "You ought to hear her play."

"Oh, I can't play much now," said Polly, "but I mean tot some time. Jasper, how long it is since we have had a duet." Her face dropped its cheery curves and a sad little look crept into her eyes.

"That's the bother of travelling about; one can't play in a hotel," said Jasper. "But wait till we get to Dresden, Polly."

"Oh, I can't bear to wait," said Polly. "I don't want to hurry on, Jasper--but oh, I do wish we could play on a piano." Her fingers drummed on the rail in her eagerness.

"Why, you are playing now," said Adela, bursting into a laugh, "or pretending to, Polly Pepper."

"I know it," said Polly, laughing too; "well, that's what I always used to do in the little brown house,--drum on the table."

"In the little brown where?" demanded Adela in astonishment.

"The little brown house," answered Polly, and her eyes lightened as she seemed to see it before her. "That's where we used to live, Adela--oh, the sweetest place, you can't think!" Polly's fingers stopped drumming now, and the colour flew up to her cheek; she forgot all about Adela.

"Oh, I suppose it had everything beautiful about it," said Adela, delighted to make Polly talk, "big gardens, and terraces, and--"

"Oh, no," said Polly, "it didn't have gardens at all, Adela, only a little bit of a green grass-plot in front. But there was an apple tree at the back."

"Apple tree at the back?" echoed Adela, faintly.

"Yes, and we had beautiful plays under it," cried Polly, rushing on in remembrance; "and sometimes when all the work was finished, Mamsie would let us spend the whole afternoon out there. You can't think what perfectly splendid times we had there, Adela Gray!"

Adela by this time was beyond words, but stared up at Polly's face speechlessly. "And what fun it was on baking days, Polly," cried Jasper, unable to keep quiet any longer; "do you remember when I burnt all my cakes around the edges?"

"Well, that was because the old stove acted so," said Polly; "one minute it wouldn't bake at all, and the next it burnt things black."

"And the washing the dishes and things up afterward," said Jasper, reflecting; "I think I liked that just as well as the baking, Polly."

"It was good fun," said Polly; "and how funny you looked with one of Mamsie's aprons tied round under your chin, Jasper."

"I know it," said Jasper, bursting into a laugh. "I must have looked like--I don't know what. But it was good fun, Polly."

And then Phronsie came running up, and after her came Grandpapa to see that she got there all right.

"Oh, Polly, do you see the windmills?" she cried, clapping her small hands.

"Yes, Pet," said Polly, looking all along the soft curves of the shore, "there are hundreds of them, aren't there?"

"There was a girl coming out of the door of one of them," announced Phronsie, climbing up on the seat and putting her arm around Polly's neck. "Polly, I'd like to live in a windmill; I would," she whispered close to her ear.

"Would you, Pet?"

"Yes, I would truly," she said. "Why couldn't I, Polly, just like that girl I saw coming out of the door?" she asked, looking back wistfully.

"Well, that girl never had a little brown house to live in," said Polly; "think of that, Phronsie."