AN EXASPERATING GUEST
"Aren't hard-boiled eggs the very best things to eat in all the world?" said Marjorie, as she looked lovingly at the golden sphere she had just extracted from its ivory setting.
"They're awful good," agreed King, "but I like oranges better."
"Me eat lollunge," piped up Rosy Posy. "Buffaro Bill would 'ike a lollunge."
"So you shall, Baby. Brother'll fix one for you."
And the shipwrecked Captain carefully prepared an orange, and gave it bit by bit into the eager, rosy fingers.
"Of all things in the world," said Kitty, "I like chocolate creams best."
"Oh, so do I, if I'm not hungry!" said Marjorie. "I think I like different things at different times."
"Well, it doesn't matter much what you like now," said King, as he gave the last section of orange to Rosy Posy, "for everything is all eaten up. Where'd you get those eggs, Mops? We never hardly have them except on picnics."
"I saw them in the pantry. Ellen had them for a salad or something. So I just took them, and told her she could boil some more."
"You're a good one, Mopsy," said her brother, looking at her in evident admiration. "The servants never get mad at you. Now if I had hooked those eggs, Ellen would have blown me up sky-high."
"Oh, I just smiled at her," said Marjorie, "and then it was all right. Now, what are we going to do next?"
"Hark!" said Kingdon, who was again the shipwrecked mariner. "I hear a distant sound as of fierce wild beasts growling and roaring."
"My child, my child!" shrieked Kitty, snatching up Arabella. "She will be torn by dreadful lions and tigers!"
"We must protect ourselves," declared Marjorie. "Captain, can't you build a barricade? They always do that in books."
"Ay, ay, ma'am. But also we must hoist a flag, a signal of distress. For should a ship come by, they might stop and rescue us."
"But we have no flag. What can we use for one?"
"Give me your daughter's petticoat," said the Captain to Kitty.
"Not so!" said Kitty, who was fond of dramatic phrases. "Arabella's petticoat is dandy clean, and I won't have it used to make a flag."
"I'll give you a flag," said Marjorie. "Take my hair-ribbon." She began to pull off her red ribbon, but Kingdon stopped her.
"No," he said, "that won't do. We're not playing Pirates. It must be a white flag. It's for a signal of distress."
Marjorie thought a moment. There really seemed to be no white flag available.
"All right!" she cried, in a moment. "I'll give you a piece of my petticoat. It's an old one, and the ruffle is torn anyhow."
In a flash, impetuous Marjorie had torn a good-sized bit out of her little white petticoat, and the Captain fastened it to a long branch he had broken from the maple tree.
This he managed, with the aid of some stones, to fasten in an upright position, and then they sat down to watch for a passing sail.
"Buffaro Bill so s'eepy," announced that small person, and, with fat old Boffin for a pillow, Rosy Posy calmly dropped off into a morning nap.
But the others suffered various dreadful vicissitudes. They were attacked by wild beasts, which, though entirely imaginary, required almost as much killing as if they had been real.
Kitty shot or lassoed a great many, but she declined to engage in the hand-to-hand encounters with tigers and wolves, such as Marjorie and Kingdon undertook, for fear she'd be thrown down on the ground. And, indeed, her fears were well founded, for the valiant fighters were often thrown by their fierce adversaries, and rolled over and over, only to pick themselves up and renew the fray.
Needless to say, after a fearful battle, the conquerors, exhausted but triumphant, sat round their camp-fire and boasted of their valorous deeds.
As noontime drew near, the settlers on the island began to grow hungry again, and, strange to say, the imaginary birds they shot and ate were not entirely satisfying.
Buffalo Bill, too, waked up, and demanded a jink of water.
But none could leave the island and brave the perils of the boundless ocean, unless in a rescuing ship.
For a long time they waited. They waved their white flag, and they even shouted for help.
But the "island" was at some distance from the house or street and none came to rescue them.
At last, they saw a huge, white-covered wagon slowly moving along the back drive.
"A sail! A sail!" cried the Captain. "What, ho! Help! Help!"
The other shipwrecked ones joined the cry, and soon the wagon drew a little nearer, and then stopped.
"Help! Help!" cried the children in chorus.
It was the butcher's wagon, and they knew it well, but this season there was a new driver who didn't know the Maynard children.
"What's the matther?" he cried, jumping from his seat, and running across the grass to the quartette.
"We're shipwrecked!" cried Marjorie. "We can't get home. Oh, save us from a cruel fate! Carry us back to our far-away fireside!"
"Help!" cried Kitty, faintly. "My child is ill, and I can no longer survive!"
Dramatic Kitty sank in a heap on the ground, and the butcher's boy was more bewildered than ever.
"Save me!" cried Rosy Posy, toddling straight to him, and putting up her arms. "Save Buffaro Bill first,—me an' Boffin."
This was more intelligible, and the butcher's boy picked up the smiling child, and with a few long strides reached his cart, and deposited her therein.
"Me next! Me next!" screamed Marjorie. "I'm fainting, too!" With a thud, she fell in a heap beside Kitty.
"The saints presarve us!" exclaimed the frightened Irishman. "Whativer is the matther wid these childher? Is it pizened ye are?"
"No, only starving," said Marjorie, but her faint voice was belied by the merry twinkle in her eyes, which she couldn't suppress at the sight of the man's consternation.
"Aha! It's shammin' ye are! I see now."
"It's a game," explained Kingdon. "We're shipwrecked on a desert island, and you're a passing captain of a small sailing vessel. Will you take us aboard?"
"Shure, sir," said the other, his face aglow with Irish wit and intelligence. "I persave yer manin'. 'Deed I will resky ye, but how will ye get through the deep wathers to me ship forninst?"
"You wade over, and carry this lady," said King, pointing to Kitty, "and the rest of us will swim."
"Thot's a foine plan; come along, miss;" and in a moment Kitty was swung up to the brave rescuer's shoulder, while King and Midget were already "swimming" across the grass to the rescue ship.
All clambered into the wagon, and the butcher drove them in triumph to the back door. Here they jumped out, and, after thanking their kind rescuer, they scampered into the house.
"Such a fun!" said Rosy Posy, as her mother bathed her heated little face. "Us was all shipperecked, an' I was Buffaro Bill, an' Boffin was my big wild bear!"
"You two are sights!" said Mrs. Maynard; laughing as she looked at the muddied, grass-stained, and torn condition of Kingdon and Marjorie. "I'm glad you had your play-clothes on, but I don't see why you always have to have such rough-and-tumble plays."
"'Cause we're a rough-and-tumble pair, Mothery," said King; "look at Kitty there! she kept herself almost spick and span."
"Well, I'm glad I have all sorts of children," said Mrs. Maynard. "Go and get into clean clothes, and be ready for luncheon promptly on time. I'm expecting Miss Larkin."
"Larky! Oh!" groaned Kingdon. "I say, Mothery, can't we—us children, I mean—have lunch in the playroom?" He had sidled up to his mother and was caressing her cheek with his far-from-clean little hands.
"No," said Mrs. Maynard, smiling as she kissed the dirty fingers, "no, my boy, I want all my olive-branches at my table today. So, run along now and get civilized."
"Come on, Mops," said Kingdon, in a despairing tone, and, with their arms about each other, the two dawdled away.
Kitty had already gone to Nurse to be freshened up. Kitty loved company, and was always ready to put on her best manners.
But King and Midget had so much talking to do, and so many plans to make, that they disliked the restraint that company necessarily put upon their own conversation.
"I do detest old Larky," said the boy, as they went away.
"I don't mind her so much," said Marjorie, "except when she asks me questions."
"She's always doing that."
"Yes, I know it. But I promised Mother I'd be extra good today, and try to talk politely to her. Of course, I can do it if I try."
"So can I," said King, with an air of pride in his own powers. "All right, Mops, let's be 'specially 'stremely good and treat Miss Larkin just lovely."
Nearly an hour later the four shipwrecked unfortunates, now transformed into clean, well-dressed civilians, were grouped in the library to await Miss Larkin's arrival.
The lady was an old friend of Mrs. Maynard's, and though by no means elderly, was yet far from being as young as she tried to look and act.
She came tripping in, and after greeting her hostess effusively, she turned to the children.
"My, my!" she said. "What a group of little dears! How you have grown,—every one of you. And, now, here's Marjorie. How are you, my dear? Do you go to school now? And what are you learning?"
Miss Larkin's questions always irritated Marjorie, but she answered politely, and then stepped aside in Kitty's favor.
"Sweet little Katharine," said the visitor. "You are really an angel child. With your golden hair and blue eyes, you're a perfect cherub; isn't she, Mrs. Maynard?"
"She's a dear little girl," said her mother, smiling, "but not always angelic. Here's our baby, our Rosamond."
"No, I'se Buffaro Bill!" declared Rosy Posy, assuming a valiant attitude, quite out of keeping with her smiling baby face and chubby body.
"Oh, what delicious children! Dear Mrs. Maynard, how good of you to let me come to see them."
As Miss Larkin always invited herself, this speech was literally true, but as she and Mrs. Maynard had been schoolmates long ago, the latter felt it her duty to give her friend such pleasure as she could.
At the luncheon table, Miss Larkin kept up a running fire of questions.
This, she seemed to think, was the only way to entertain children.
"Do you like to read?" she asked of Marjorie.
"Yes, indeed," said Midget, politely.
"And what books do you like best?"
"Fairy stories," said Marjorie, promptly.
"Oh, tut, tut!" and Miss Larkin shook a playful finger. "You should like history. Shouldn't she, now?" she asked, appealing to Kingdon.
"We like history, too," said Kingdon. "At least, we like it some; but we both like fairy stories better."
"Ah, well, children will be children. Do you like summer or winter best?"
This was a poser. It had never occurred to Marjorie to think which she liked best.
"I like them both alike," she said, truthfully.
"Oh, come now; children should have some mind of their own! Little Miss Kitty, I'm sure you know whether you like summer or winter best."
"I like winter best for Christmas, and summer for Fourth of July," she said at last, with the air of one settling a weighty matter.
But Miss Larkin really cared nothing to know about these things; it was only her idea of making herself entertaining to her young audience.
"And you, Baby Rosamond," she went on, "what do you like best in all the world?"
"Boffin," was the ready reply, "an' Buffaro Bill, 'cause I'm it."
They all laughed at this, for in the Maynard family Rosy Posy's high estimation of herself was well known.
Although it seemed as if it never would, the luncheon at last came to an end.
Mrs. Maynard told the children they might be excused, and she and Miss Larkin would chat by themselves.
Decorously enough, the four left the room, but once outside the house, King gave a wild whoop of joy and turned a double somersault.
Midget threw herself down on a veranda-seat, but with a beaming face, she said:
"Well, we behaved all right, anyway; but I was 'most afraid I'd be saucy to her one time. It's such a temptation, when people talk like that."
"She talked all the time," said Kitty. "I don't see when she ate anything."
"She didn't," said King. "I suppose she'd rather talk than eat. She's not a bit like us."
"No," said Marjorie, emphatically, "she's not a bit like us!"