The Island Of Marken
 

When the boat was nearing the island of Marken, the little yellow cheese had been presented with all due formality to one of the sailors who had been specially kind in the matter of securing good seats for Mr. King's party, Polly and Phronsie having held a whispered conference in a retired nook, to come out of it bright and smiling.

"And now it has made two people happy, Phronsie," Polly had said, when the presentation was well over, and she ended up with a kiss. "It made me happy in the first place because you thought of me, and then, just think, Pet, that poor sailor, how glad he will be to take it home."

"Will he, Polly?" asked Phronsie, in a rapture; "and do you think he has got any little girls?"

"Perhaps so," said Polly, "and at any rate, he can eat it himself. And he looks hungry enough."

"I'd rather he had some little girls, Polly," said Phronsie, thoughtfully, "and have him give them each a piece."

"Well, maybe he has some; we'll think so, anyway," Polly answered. "Oh, see, Jasper is calling us."

To be sure, there he was on the other side of the boat nearest Marken, with a big group of passengers, intently watching the Marken children running along in their clacking sabots, on the high bank, and holding out their arms, singing something all the while in a shrill, high key.

"They want some stuivers," cried Jasper. "Come, Polly and Phronsie, let us toss them some."

Whiz--spin--went the coins, to fall into the thick stubby grass on the bank. The children, stopping their song in mid-air, scrambled and sprawled all over each other in their efforts to secure the coveted money. So Jasper and Polly threw the bits next time in the other direction. Then there was a shout and a rush, and the same thing was repeated till only a tangle of arms and legs could be seen. But some one of them always got the money.

"Dear me! they've eyes just like birds!" exclaimed Parson Henderson; "to think of finding anything in that thick grass."

"Let them alone for that," laughed old Mr. King; "their wits are sharpened by practice."

"Look out, Phronsie!" exclaimed Jasper. "Your stuivers went into the water. Here, I'll hold you up, then you can throw it farther. There you go," swinging her to his shoulder. "Now, then"--he guided her hand, and away spun the coin.

"It did, it did," crowed Phronsie, from her high perch. "It did, Jasper, go right straight down in the grass just like yours and Polly's."

"So it did, Pet. Well, now, here is another."

"There's a little girl back there and she hasn't any," mourned Phronsie. "Oh, dear, I want to give her some."

"To be sure," said Jasper. "Well, we must give her some, and that's a fact." The small girl kept on at a dog-trot along the bank, her eyes fixed on the wonderful people who tossed out such magic wealth, and holding out her arms and singing her shrill song. But when the money was thrown, she was always a bit too late, and the other children, scrambling and scuffling, had pounced upon it, and had made off with it.

"Here, you boys, keep away; you've had enough; we're going to give this to the little girl," Jasper shouted to them as they threw coin after coin.

"They don't know what you are saying, my boy," said old Mr. King, laughing heartily at the performance, "and they wouldn't mind you in the least if they did."

"I suppose not," said Jasper in chagrin. "Oh, the mean little beggars!"

"Hold up your apron," screamed Polly to the little girl.

"That's a good idea," said Jasper. "Why didn't we think of it before?"

"She won't understand any better than the boys," said old Mr. King. "You forget, children, that these youngsters don't know our language."

"What a bother," exclaimed Jasper, "it is to have so many different languages, anyway!"

"And she hasn't any apron, Polly," corrected her mother; "that is her brown gown."

Polly was already going through the motions of holding up an imaginary apron. And at last the little girl understood by gestures what she could not possibly get into her head by words, so she picked up the skirt of her gown in her sturdy little fists, and one, two, three clinking coins fell safely into it. But the boys racing along in advance soon discovered this successful trick, and completely swarmed around her, howling dreadfully, so she hastened off, happy in her prize, which she huddled up in her gown as she ran.

"Isn't this just richness?" exclaimed Polly, gazing all about her in an ecstasy. "Oh, Jasper, what pictures we'll take--and do see that woman's cap! and those pot-hooks of hair over her eyes, and that funny, long dangling curl!"

"Take care, Polly, you almost stepped off backward down the bank," warned Adela, pulling her back, as they got off the steamboat and stopped a bit to look around.

"Dear me, did I?" said Polly. "Well, it's enough to make any one step backward to see such funny clothes; and they are hay-making, Adela Gray, as sure as you live."

"Didn't you suppose they would be?" answered Adela, composedly. "Why, that's one of the things I specially wanted to see."

"Yes, so did I," said Polly. "Well, it's too, too splendid for anything. I'm going to begin to take pictures right straight off." Then she stopped and looked at Adela. "You may first," she said.

"No, I'm not going to," declared Adela.

"Yes, yes," said Polly, "I'd rather you did first; I truly had, Adela." She ran after her, for Adela had retreated down the bank, and made as if she were going to follow the party. "Now, Adela, be good and listen to reason."

But Adela ran off.

"Now that's too bad," mourned Polly, "for I'm afraid she'll keep away from me all the while we're on this island, and then I can't get a chance to give her my kodak at all."

"She had it at the 'Model Farm,'" said Jasper, by way of comfort, for Polly's face fell.

"Oh, that was nothing," said Polly, "such a little bit of a while doesn't count."

"Well, let us take pictures as fast as we can," suggested Jasper, "and then when we do come up with Adela, why you'll have yours done."

So Polly roused out of her dejection and set to work, and presently the hay- makers, and the Marken boys and girls, the funny little houses that looked as if they dropped down pellmell from the clouds and settled where they had dropped-- the high ridges along which the men and boys, walking in their full baggy trousers, looked as if they were blown up, and formed a Dutch perspective perfectly awful--all these queer, delightful things were presently imprisoned in the two kodaks.

Jasper looked up. "There, that's my last picture," he declared. "At any rate, for now."

"Oh, one more! I must get a good picture of those girls raking hay." Polly ran off a few steps and sat down on a log to focus. The Marken girls happened to look up, and immediately whirled around and presented their backs to her.

"Oh, dear, how hateful!" she exclaimed; "that would have been a splendid picture."

"Never mind," said Jasper; "you can catch them unawares, and have another try at them."

"Not so good as that," said Polly, sorrowfully. "Well, it can't be helped." So she was just going to get up from her log, when the girls, thinking from her attitude that she had given up the idea of taking a picture of them, turned back to their work. As quick as a flash Polly focussed again, and was just touching the button, when a hand came in front of her kodak, and she saw the grinning face of a Marken girl under its pot-hook of hair and with the long, dangling curl on one side, close to her own.

"Too late!" exclaimed Polly. "And don't you ever do that again." And the hand was withdrawn, and the girl clattered off as fast as she could run in her wooden shoes.

"I got them," said Polly, running back in triumph to Jasper.

"Yes, and I took a picture of the saucy girl while she was trying to stop yours," said Jasper. "So she didn't do much harm, after all. Oh, here is a splendid group! See them standing by that old tumble-down house, Polly," he added excitedly.

"I thought you had taken your last picture, Jasper," said Polly, bursting into a laugh.

"Well, I had then, but I've begun again," said Jasper, recklessly. He walked up to the group and held out his hand, then pointed to his kodak. They smiled and nodded, showing all their teeth, and the mother took the littlest baby, for there seemed to be a very generous number of the smaller members of the family, and sat down with it in her lap on the rickety step. Then they all drew up stiff as sticks, and didn't even wink.

"That's capital," said Jasper, in huge satisfaction, pouring the coins into the mother's lap, where they rolled underneath the fat baby. Polly and he hurried on.

"Oh, Polly, I'm so very glad you've come," said Phronsie, as Polly and Jasper ran up to a doorway through which they could see their party. Phronsie stood just inside, and appeared to be watching for them. "There's a woman here who's been showing us things." There was Mrs. Fisher up by the tiny window, bending over an old woman who had spread out in her lap some white embroidered garments, while a young woman hovered near, smiling and blushing, and very happy at all this notice. And the rest of the party crowded up as close as they could.

"They are her daughter's wedding clothes," said Mrs. Fisher, "I do believe." For, the old woman was working fearfully hard to make them understand, and pointing first to the white garments and then to the young woman. "Wedding clothes?" asked Mrs. Fisher, speaking very slowly.

The old woman seemed to understand the one word "wedding," for she nodded furiously and smiled well pleased; and then devoted her whole time and energy to the display of the garments. And she even laughed aloud when old Mr. King put some coins in her hard hand.

Polly took the time to study her headgear. "I think there is a round board under the cap," she confided to Jasper when once out of doors; "how else could they be pulled so tight? And they look as hard as a drum."

"I didn't investigate," he said, laughing. "I'll leave that to you, Polly."

"Well, it's funny anyway," she said, "that all the women and girls dress alike in those queer gowns in two parts, and those embroidered jackets over their waists, and those caps and horrible pot-hooks and long curls."

"It's well that we've got so many pictures, for the people at home would never believe our stories without them."

"And these houses," continued Polly, squinting up at a crooked row, "all colours--green stripes and black stripes--and, O dear me! Jasper King, just look at Phronsie!"

Jasper followed the direction of Polly's finger. There sat Phronsie on a grassy bank a little above them, with one of the fattest Marken babies in her lap. A variegated group of natives was near by, watching her intently. But Phronsie didn't appear to notice them.

"Polly, I wish we had a baby just like this," sighed Phronsie, giving motherly pats to the stout little legs dangling down from her lap.

"Come, children,"--Grandpapa emerged from the little old house,--"we must hurry on, else we sha'n't get through this island. Come, Phronsie --goodness me!" as he saw how she was occupied.

"May I carry her?" begged Phronsie, staggering to her feet--"she's mine"--and dragging the Marken baby up with her.

"Goodness me! no, child!" exclaimed Grandpapa, in horror. "Put her down, Phronsie; she's ever so much too heavy for you, dear." He put forth a protesting hand, but the tears ran down Phronsie's cheeks and fell on the baby's stiff white cap. At that old Mr. King was quite gone in despair.

"Phronsie," Polly bent over and whispered close to the wet little cheek, "don't you see Grandpapa is feeling badly? I'm afraid he will be sick, Phronsie, if he is unhappy."

Phronsie dropped the pudgy little hand, and threw herself into old Mr. King's arms. "Don't be sick, Grandpapa," she wailed, struggling with her tears. "I'd rather not have my baby, please; I don't want her. Please be all well, Grandpapa, dear."