A Strange Island
by Louisa May Alcott
ONE day I lay rocking in my
boat, reading a very famous book, which all children
know and love; and the name of which I'll tell you by
and by. So busily was I reading, that I never minded
the tide; and presently discovered that I was floating
out to sea, with neither sail nor oar. At first I was
very much frightened; for there was no one in sight on
land or sea, and I didn't know where I might drift to.
But the water was calm, the sky clear, and the wind
blew balmily; so I waited for what should happen.
Presently I saw a speck on the sea, and
eagerly watched it; for it drew rapidly near, and
seemed to be going my way. When it came closer, I was
much amazed; for, of all the queer boats I ever saw,
this was the queerest. It was a great wooden bowl,
very cracked and old; and in it sat three gray-headed
little gentlemen with spectacles, all reading busily,
and letting the boat go where it pleased. Now, right
in their way was a rock; and I called out, "Sir, sir,
But my call came too late: crash went
the bowl, out came the bottom, and down plumped all
the little gentlemen into the sea. I tried not to
laugh, as the books, wigs, and spectacles flew about;
and, urging my boat nearer, I managed to fish them up,
dripping and sneezing, and looking like drowned
kittens. When the flurry was over, and they had got
their breath, I asked who they were, and where they
"We are from Gotham, ma'am," said the
fattest one wiping a very wet face on a very wet
handkerchief. "We were going to that island yonder. We
have often tried, but never got there: it's always so,
and I begin to think the thing can't be done."
I looked where he pointed; and, sure
enough, there was an island where I had never seen one
before. I rubbed my eyes, and looked again. Yes: there
it was, a little island, with trees and people
on it; for I saw smoke coming out of the chimney of a
queerly-shaped house on the shore.
"What is the name of it?" I asked.
The little old gentleman put his finger
on his lips, and said, with a mysterious nod:
"I couldn't tell you, ma'am. It's a
secret; but, if you manage to land there, you will
The other old men nodded at the same
time; and then all went to reading again, with the
water still dropping off the ends of their noses. This
made me very curious; and, as the tide drifted us
nearer and nearer, I looked well about me, and saw
several things that filled me with a strong desire to
land on the island. The odd house, I found, was built
like a high-heeled shoe; and at every window I saw
children's heads. Some were eating broth; some were
crying; and some had nightcaps on. I caught sight of a
distracted old lady flying about, with a ladle in one
hand, and a rod in the other; but the house was so
full of children (even up to the sky-light, out
of which they popped their heads, and nodded at me)
that I couldn't see much of the mamma of this large
family: one seldom can, you know.
I had hardly got over my surprise at
this queer sight, when I saw a cow fly up through the
air, over the new moon that hung there, and come down
and disappear in the woods. I really didn't know what
to make of this, but had no time to ask the old men
what it meant; for a cat, playing a fiddle, was seen
on the shore. A little dog stood by, listening and
laughing; while a dish and a spoon ran away over the
beach with all their might. If the boat had not
floated up to the land, I think I should have swam
there, I was so anxious to see what was going
on; for there was a great racket on the island, and
such a remarkable collection of creatures, it was
impossible to help staring.
As soon as we landed, three other
gentlemen came to welcome the ones I had saved, and
seemed very glad to see them. They appeared to have
just landed from a tub in which was a drum,
rub-a-dub-dubbing all by itself. One of the new men
had a white frock on, and carried a large knife; the
second had dough on his hands, flour on his coat, and
a hot-looking face; the third was very greasy, had a
bundle of candles under his arm, and a ball of wicking
half out of his pocket. The six shook hands, and
walked away together, talking about a fair; and left
me to take care of myself.
I walked on through a pleasant meadow,
where a pretty little girl was looking sadly up at a
row of sheep's tails hung on a tree. I also saw a
little boy in blue, asleep by a hay-cock; and another
boy taking aim at a cock-sparrow, who clapped his
wings and flew away. Presently I saw two more little
girls: one sat by a fire warming her toes; and, when I
asked what her name was, she said pleasantly:
"Pony Flinders, ma'am."
The other one sat on a tuft of grass,
eating some thing that looked very nice; but, all of a
sudden, she dropped her bowl, and ran away, looking
very much frightened.
"What's the matter with her?" I asked
of a gay young frog who came tripping along with his
hat under his arm.
"Miss Muffit is a fashionable lady, and
afraid of spiders, madam; also of frogs." And he
puffed himself angrily up, till his eyes quite goggled
in his head.
"And, pray, who are you, sir?" I asked,
staring at his white vest, green coat, and fine
"Excuse me, if I don't give my name,
ma'am. My false friend, the rat, got me into a sad
scrape once; and Rowley insists upon it that a duck
destroyed me, which is all gammon, ma'am, all
With that, the frog skipped away; and I
turned into a narrow lane, which seemed to lead toward
some music. I had not gone far, when I heard the
rumbling of a wheelbarrow, and saw a little man
wheeling a little woman along. The little man looked
very hot and tired; but the little woman looked very
nice, in a smart bonnet and shawl, and kept looking at
a new gold ring on her finger, as she rode along under
her little umbrella. I was wondering who they were,
when down went the wheelbarrow; and the little lady
screamed so dismally that I ran away, lest I should
get into trouble, being a stranger.
Turning a corner, I came upon a very
charming scene, and slipped into a quiet nook to see
what was going on. It was evidently a wedding; and I
was just in time to see it, for the procession was
passing at that moment. First came a splendid
cock-a-doodle, all in black and gold, like a herald,
blowing his trumpet, and marching with a very
dignified step. Then came a rook, in black, like a
minister, with spectacles and white cravat. A lark and
bullfinch followed, friends, I suppose; and
then the bride and bridegroom. Miss Wren was evidently
a Quakeress; for she wore a sober dress, and a little
white veil, through which her bright eyes shone. The
bridegroom was a military man, in his scarlet uniform,
a plump, bold-looking bird, very happy and
proud just then. A goldfinch gave away the bride, and
a linnet was bridemaid. The ceremony was very fine;
and, as soon as it was over, the blackbird, thrush and
nightingale burst out in a lovely song.
A splendid dinner followed, at which
was nearly every bird that flies; so you may imagine
the music there was. They had currant-pie in
abundance; and cherry-wine, which excited a cuckoo so
much, that he became quite rude, and so far forgot
himself as to pull the bride about. This made the
groom so angry that he begged his friend, the sparrow,
to bring his bow and arrow, and punish the ruffian.
But, alas! Sparrow had also taken a drop too much: he
aimed wrong, and, with a dreadful cry, Mr. Robin sank
dying into the arms of his wife, little Jane.
It was too much for me; and, taking
advantage of the confusion that followed, I left the
tragical scene as fast as possible.
A little farther on, I was shocked to
see a goose dragging an old man down some steps that
led to a little house.
"Dear me! What's the matter here?" I
"He won't say his prayers," screamed
"But perhaps he was never taught," said
"It's never too late to learn: he's had
his chance; he won't be pious and good, so away with
him. Don't interfere, whatever you do: hold your
tongue, and go about your business," scolded the goose
who certainly had a dreadful temper.
I dared say no more; and, when the poor
old man had been driven away by this foul proceeding,
I went up the steps and peeped in; for I heard some
one crying, and thought the cross bird, perhaps, had
hurt some one else. A little old woman stood there,
wringing her hands in great distress; while a small
dog was barking at her with all his might.
"Bless me! The fashions have got even
here," thought I; for the old woman was dressed in the
latest style, or, rather, she had overdone it
sadly; for her gown was nearly up to her knees, and
she was nearly as ridiculous an object as some of the
young ladies I had seen at home. She had a respectable
bonnet on, however, instead of a straw saucer; and her
hair was neatly put under a cap, not made into
a knob on the top of her head.
"My dear soul, what's the trouble?"
said I, quite touched by her tears.
"Lud a mercy, ma'am! I've been to
market with my butter and eggs, for the price
of both is so high, one can soon get rich now-a-days,
and, being tired, I stopped to rest a bit, but
fell asleep by the road. Somebody I think it's
a rogue of a peddler who sold me wooden nutmegs, and a
clock that wouldn't go, and some pans that came to
bits the first time I used them somebody cut my
new gown and petticoat off all round, in the shameful
way you see. I thought I never should get home; for I
was such a fright, I actually didn't know myself. But,
thinks I, my doggy will know me; and then I shall be
sure I'm I, and not some boldfaced creature in short
skirts. But, oh, ma'am! Doggy don't know me;
and I ain't myself, and I don't know what to do."
"He's a foolish little beast; so don't
mind him, but have a cup of tea, and go to bed. You
can make your gown decent to-morrow; and, if I see the
tricksy peddler, I'll give him a scolding."
This seemed to comfort the old woman;
though doggy still barked.
"My next neighbor has a dog who never
behaves in this way," she said, as she put her teapot
on the coals. "He's a remarkable beast; and you'd
better stop to see him as you pass, ma'am. He's always
up to some funny prank or other."
I said I would; and, as I went by the
next house, I took a look in at the window. The closet
was empty, I observed; but the dog sat smoking a pipe,
looking as grave as a judge.
"Where is your mistress?" asked I.
"Gone for some tripe," answered the
dog, politely taking the pipe out of his mouth, and
adding, "I hope the smoke doesn't annoy you."
"I don't approve of smoking," said I.
"Sorry to hear it," said the dog,
I was going to lecture him on this bad
habit; but I saw his mistress coming with a dish in
her hand, and, fearing she might think me rude to peep
in at her windows, I walked on, wondering what we were
coming to when even four-legged puppies smoked.
At the door of the next little house, I
saw a market-wagon loaded with vegetables, and a smart
young pig just driving it away. I had heard of this
interesting family, and took a look as I passed by. A
second tidy pig sat blowing the fire; and a third was
eating roast-beef, as if he had just come in from his
work. The fourth, I was grieved to see, looked very
sulky; for it was evident he had been naughty, and so
lost his dinner. The little pig was at the door,
crying to get in; and it was sweet to see how kindly
the others let him in, wiped his tears, tied on his
bib, and brought him his bread and milk. I was very
glad to see these young orphans doing so well, and I
knew my friends at home would enjoy hearing from them.
A loud scream made me jump; and the
sudden splash of water made me run along, without
stopping to pick up a boy and girl who came tumbling
down the hill with an empty pail, bumping their heads
as they rolled. Smelling something nice, and feeling
hungry, I stepped into a large room near by, a
sort of eating-house, I fancy; for various parties
seemed to be enjoying themselves in their different
ways. A small boy sat near the door, eating a large
pie; and he gave me a fine plum which he had just
pulled out. At one table was a fat gentleman cutting
another pie, which had a dark crust, through which
appeared the heads of a flock of birds, all singing
"There's no end to the improvements in
cooking, and no accounting for tastes," I added,
looking at a handsomely-dressed lady, who sat near,
eating bread and honey.
As I passed this party, I saw behind
the lady's chair a maid, with a clothes-pin in her
hand, and no nose. She sobbingly told me a bird had
nipped it off; and I gave her a bit of court-plaster,
which I fortunately had in my pocket.
Another couple were dividing their meat
in a queer way; for one took all the fat, and the
other all the lean. The next people were odder still;
for the man looked rather guilty, and seemed to be
hiding a three-peck measure under his chair, while he
waited for his wife to bring on some cold
barley-pudding, which, to my surprise, she was frying
herself. I also
saw a queer moonstruck-looking man
inquiring the way to Norridge; and another man making
wry faces over some plum-pudding, with which he had
burnt his mouth, because his friend came down too
I ordered pease-porridge hot, and they
brought it cold; but I didn't wait for any thing else,
being in a hurry to see all there was to be seen on
this strange island. Feeling refreshed, I strolled on,
passing a jolly old gentleman smoking and drinking
while three fiddlers played before him. As I turned
into a road that led toward a hill, a little boy,
riding a dapple-gray pony, and an old lady on a white
horse, with bells ringing somewhere, trotted by me,
followed by a little girl, who wished to know where
she could buy a penny bun. I told her the best were at
Newmarch's, in Bedford Street, and she ran on, much
pleased; but I'm afraid she never found that best of
bake-shops. I was going quietly along, when the sound
of another horse coming made me look round; and there
I saw a dreadful sight, a wild horse, tearing
over the ground, with fiery eyes and streaming tail.
On his back sat a crazy man, beating him with a broom;
a crazy woman was behind him, with her bonnet on wrong
side before, holding one crazy child in her lap, while
another stood on the horse; a third was hanging on by
one foot, and all were howling at the top of their
voices as they rushed by. I scrambled over the wall to
get out of the way, and there I saw more curious
sights. Two blind men were sitting on the grass,
trying to see two lame men who were hobbling along as
hard as they could; and, near by, a bull was fighting
a bee in the most violent manner. This rather alarmed
me; and I scrambled back into the road again, just as
a very fine lady jumped over a barberry-bush near by,
and a gentleman went flying after, with a ring in one
hand and a stick in the other.
"What very odd people they have here!"
I thought. Close by was a tidy little house under the
hill, and in it a tidy little woman who sold things to
eat. Being rather hungry, in spite of my porridge, I
bought a baked apple and a cranberry-pie; for she said
they were good, and I found she told the truth. As I
sat eating my pie, some dogs began to bark; and by
came a troop of beggars, some in rags, and some in old
velvet gowns. A drunken grenadier was with them, who
wanted a pot of beer; but as he had no money, the old
woman sent him about his business.
On my way up the hill, I saw a little
boy crying over a dead pig, and his sister, who seemed
to be dead also. I asked his name, and he sobbed out,
"Johnny Pringle, ma'am;" and went on crying so hard I
could do nothing to comfort him. While I stood talking
to him, a sudden gust of wind blew up the road, and
down came the bough of a tree; and, to my surprise, a
cradle with a baby in it also. The baby screamed
dreadfully, and I didn't know how to quiet it; so I
ran back to the old woman, and left it with her,
asking if that was the way babies were taken care of
"Bless you, my dear! It's ma is making
patty-cakes; and put it up there to be out of the way
of Tom Tinker's dog. I'll soon hush it up," said the
old woman; and, trotting it on her knee, she began to
"Hey! My kitten, my kitten,
Hey! My kitten, any deary."
Feeling that the child was in good
hands, I hurried away, for I saw something was going
on upon the hill-top. When I got to the hill-top, I
was shocked to find some people tossing an old woman
in a blanket. I begged them to stop; but one of the
men, who, I found, was a Welchman, by the name of
Taffy, told me the old lady liked it.
"But why does she like it?" I asked in
"Tom, the piper's son, will tell you:
it's my turn to toss now," said the man.
"Why, you see, ma'am," said Tom, "she
is one of those dreadfully nice old women, who are
always fussing and scrubbing, and worrying people to
death, with everlastingly cleaning house. Now and then
we get so tired out with her that we propose to her to
clean the sky itself. She likes that; and, as this is
the only way we can get her up, we toss till she
sticks somewhere, and then leave her to sweep cobwebs
till she is ready to come back and behave herself."
"Well, that is the oddest thing I ever
heard. I know just such an old lady, and when I go
home I'll try your plan. It seems to me that you have
a great many queer old ladies on this island," I said
to another man, whom they called Peter, and who stood
eating pumpkin all the time.
"Well, we do have rather a nice
collection; but you haven't seen the best of all. We
expect her every minute; and Margery Daw is to let us
know the minute she lights on the island," replied
Peter, with his mouth full.
"Lights?" said I, "you speak as if she
"She rides on a bird. Hurrah! The old
sweeper has lit. Now the cobwebs will fly. Don't hurry
back," shouted the man; and a faint, far-off voice
answered, "I shall be back again by and by."
The people folded up the blanket,
looking much relieved; and I was examining a very odd
house which was built by an ancient king called
Boggen, when Margery Daw, a dirty little girl, came up
the hill, screaming, at the top of her voice:
"She's come! She's come!"
Every one looked up; and I saw a large
white bird slowly flying over the island. On its back
sat the nicest old woman that ever was seen: all the
others were nothing compared to her. She had a pointed
hat on over her cap, a red cloak, high-heeled shoes,
and a crutch in her hand. She smiled and nodded as the
bird approached; and every one ran and nodded, and
screamed, "Welcome! Welcome, mother!"
As soon as she touched the ground, she
was so surrounded that I could only see the top of her
hat; for hundreds and hundreds of little children
suddenly appeared, like a great flock of birds,
rosy, happy, pretty children; but all looked unreal,
and among them I saw some who looked like little
people I had known long ago.
"Who are they?" I asked of a bonny
lass, who was sitting on a cushion, eating
strawberries and cream.
"They are the phantoms of all the
little people who ever read and loved our mother's
songs," said the maid.
"What did she write?" I asked, feeling
very queer, and as if I was going to remember
"Songs that are immortal; and you have
them in your hand," replied the bonny maid, smiling at
I looked; and there, on the cover of
the book I had been reading so busily when the tide
carried me away, I saw the words "Mother Goose's
Melodies." I was so delighted that I had seen her I
gave a shout, and tried to get near enough to hug and
kiss the dear old soul, as the swarm of children were
doing; but my cry woke me, and I was so sorry
to find it all a dream!