Jim was the son of a cowboy, and lived on the broad plains of Arizona. His father had trained him to lasso a bronco or a young bull with perfect accuracy, and had Jim possessed the strength to
back up his skill he would have been as good a cowboy as any in all Arizona.
When he was twelve years old he made his first visit to the east, where Uncle Charles, his father’s brother, lived. Of course Jim took his lasso with him, for he was proud of his skill in casting it, and wanted to show his cousins what a cowboy could do.
At first the city boys and girls were much interested in watching Jim lasso posts and fence pickets, but they soon tired of it, and even Jim decided it was not the right sort of sport for cities.
But one day the butcher asked Jim to ride one of his horses into the country, to a pasture that had been engaged, and Jim eagerly consented. He had been longing for a horseback ride, and to make it seem like old times he took his lasso with him.
He rode through the streets demurely enough, but on reaching the open country roads his spirits broke forth into wild jubilation, and, urging the butcher’s horse to full gallop, he dashed away in true cowboy fashion.
Then he wanted still more liberty, and letting down the bars that led into a big field he began riding over the meadow and throwing his lasso at imaginary cattle, while he yelled and whooped to his heart’s content.
Suddenly, on making a long cast with his lasso, the loop caught upon something and rested about three feet from the ground, while the rope drew taut and nearly pulled Jim from his horse.
This was unexpected. More than that, it was wonderful; for the field seemed bare of even a stump. Jim’s eyes grew big with amazement, but he knew he had caught something when a voice cried out:
“Here, let go! Let go, I say! Can’t you see what you’ve done?”
No, Jim couldn’t see, nor did he intend to let go until he found out what was holding the loop of the lasso. So he resorted to an old trick his father had taught him and, putting the butcher’s horse to a run, began riding in a circle around the spot where his lasso had caught.
As he thus drew nearer and nearer his quarry he saw the rope coil up, yet it looked to be coiling over nothing but air. One end of the lasso was made fast to a ring in the saddle, and when the rope was almost wound up and the horse began to pull away and snort with fear, Jim dismounted. Holding the reins of the bridle in one hand, he followed the rope, and an instant later saw an old man caught fast in the coils of the lasso.
His head was bald and uncovered, but long white whiskers grew down to his waist. About his body was thrown a loose robe of fine white linen. In one hand he bore a great scythe, and beneath the other arm he carried an hourglass.
While Jim gazed wonderingly upon him, this venerable old man spoke in an angry voice:
“Now, then—get that rope off as fast as you can! You’ve brought everything on earth to a standstill by your foolishness! Well—what are you staring at? Don’t you know who I am?”
“No,” said Jim, stupidly.
“Well, I’m Time—Father Time! Now, make haste and set me free—if you want the world to run properly.”
“How did I happen to catch you?” asked Jim, without making a move to release his captive.
“I don’t know. I’ve never been caught before,” growled Father Time. “But I suppose it was because you were foolishly throwing your lasso at nothing.”
“I didn’t see you,” said Jim.
“Of course you didn’t. I’m invisible to the eyes of human beings unless they get within three feet of me, and I take care to keep more than that distance away from them. That’s why I was crossing this field, where I supposed no one would be. And I should have been perfectly safe had it not been for your beastly lasso. Now, then,” he added, crossly, “are you going to get that rope off?”
“Why should I?” asked Jim.
“Because everything in the world stopped moving the moment you caught me. I don’t suppose you want to make an end of all business and pleasure, and war and love, and misery and ambition and everything else, do you? Not a watch has ticked since you tied me up here like a mummy!”
Jim laughed. It really was funny to see the old man wound round and round with coils of rope from his knees up to his chin.
“It’ll do you good to rest,” said the boy. “From all I’ve heard you lead a rather busy life.”
“Indeed I do,” replied Father Time, with a sigh. “I’m due in Kamchatka this very minute. And to think one small boy is upsetting all my regular habits!”
“Too bad!” said Jim, with a grin. “But since the world has stopped anyhow, it won’t matter if it takes a little longer recess. As soon as I let you go Time will fly again. Where are your wings?”
“I haven’t any,” answered the old man. “That is a story cooked up by some one who never saw me. As a matter of fact, I move rather slowly.”
“I see, you take your time,” remarked the boy. “What do you use that scythe for?”
“To mow down the people,” said the ancient one. “Every time I swing my scythe some one dies.”
“Then I ought to win a life-saving medal by keeping you tied up,” said Jim. “Some folks will live this much longer.”
“But they won’t know it,” said Father Time, with a sad smile; “so it will do them no good. You may as well untie me at once.”
“No,” said Jim, with a determined air. “I may never capture you again; so I’ll hold you for awhile and see how the world wags without you.”
Then he swung the old man, bound as he was, upon the back of the butcher’s horse, and, getting into the saddle himself, started back toward town, one hand holding his prisoner and the other guiding the reins.
When he reached the road his eye fell on a strange tableau. A horse and buggy stood in the middle of the road, the horse in the act of trotting, with his head held high and two legs in the air, but perfectly motionless. In the buggy a man and a woman were seated; but had they been turned into stone they could not have been more still and stiff.
“There’s no Time for them!” sighed the old man. “Won’t you let me go now?”
“Not yet,” replied the boy.
He rode on until he reached the city, where all the people stood in exactly the same positions they were in when Jim lassoed Father Time. Stopping in front of a big dry goods store, the boy hitched his horse and went in. The clerks were measuring out goods and showing patterns to the rows of customers in front of them, but everyone seemed suddenly to have become a statue.
There was something very unpleasant in this scene, and a cold shiver began to run up and down Jim’s back; so he hurried out again.
On the edge of the sidewalk sat a poor, crippled beggar, holding out his hat, and beside him stood a prosperous-looking gentleman who was about to drop a penny into the beggar’s hat. Jim knew this gentleman to be very rich but rather stingy, so he ventured to run his hand into the man’s pocket and take out his purse, in which was a $20 gold piece. This glittering coin he put in the gentleman’s fingers instead of the penny and then restored the purse to the rich man’s pocket.
“That donation will surprise him when he comes to life,” thought the boy.
He mounted the horse again and rode up the street. As he passed the shop of his friend, the butcher, he noticed several pieces of meat hanging outside.
“I’m afraid that meat’ll spoil,” he remarked.
“It takes Time to spoil meat,” answered the old man.
This struck Jim as being queer, but true.
“It seems Time meddles with everything,” said he.
“Yes; you’ve made a prisoner of the most important personage in the world,” groaned the old man; “and you haven’t enough sense to let him go again.”
Jim did not reply, and soon they came to his uncle’s house, where he again dismounted. The street was filled with teams and people, but all were motionless. His two little cousins were just coming out the gate on their way to school, with their books and slates underneath their arms; so Jim had to jump over the fence to avoid knocking them down.
In the front room sat his aunt, reading her Bible. She was just turning a page when Time stopped. In the dining-room was his uncle, finishing his luncheon. His mouth was open and his fork poised just before it, while his eyes were fixed upon the newspaper folded beside him. Jim helped himself to his uncle’s pie, and while he ate it he walked out to his prisoner.
“There’s one thing I don’t understand,” said he.
“What’s that?” asked Father Time.
“Why is it that I’m able to move around while everyone else is—is—froze up?”
“That is because I’m your prisoner,” answered the other. “You can do anything you wish with Time now. But unless you are careful you’ll do something you will be sorry for.”
Jim threw the crust of his pie at a bird that was suspended in the air, where it had been flying when Time stopped.
“Anyway,” he laughed, “I’m living longer than anyone else. No one will ever be able to catch up with me again.”
“Each life has its allotted span,” said the old man. “When you have lived your proper time my scythe will mow you down.”
“I forgot your scythe,” said Jim, thoughtfully.
Then a spirit of mischief came into the boy’s head, for he happened to think that the present opportunity to have fun would never occur again. He tied Father Time to his uncle’s hitching post, that he might not escape, and then crossed the road to the corner grocery.
The grocer had scolded Jim that very morning for stepping into a basket of turnips by accident. So the boy went to the back end of the grocery and turned on the faucet of the molasses barrel.
“That’ll make a nice mess when Time starts the molasses running all over the floor,” said Jim, with a laugh.
A little further down the street was a barber shop, and sitting in the barber’s chair Jim saw the man that all the boys declared was the “meanest man in town.” He certainly did not like the boys and the boys knew it. The barber was in the act of shampooing this person when Time was captured. Jim ran to the drug store, and, getting a bottle of mucilage, he returned and poured it over the ruffled hair of the unpopular citizen.
“That’ll probably surprise him when he wakes up,” thought Jim.
Near by was the schoolhouse. Jim entered it and found that only a few of the pupils were assembled. But the teacher sat at his desk, stern and frowning as usual.
Taking a piece of chalk, Jim marked upon the blackboard in big letters the following words:
“Every scholar is requested to yell the minute he enters the room. He will also please throw his books at the teacher’s head. Signed, Prof. Sharpe.”
“That ought to raise a nice rumpus,” murmured the mischiefmaker, as he walked away.
On the corner stood Policeman Mulligan, talking with old Miss Scrapple, the worst gossip in town, who always delighted in saying something disagreeable about her neighbors. Jim thought this opportunity was too good to lose. So he took off the policeman’s cap and brass-buttoned coat and put them on Miss Scrapple, while the lady’s feathered and ribboned hat he placed jauntily upon the policeman’s head.
The effect was so comical that the boy laughed aloud, and as a good many people were standing near the corner Jim decided that Miss Scrapple and Officer Mulligan would create a sensation when Time started upon his travels.
Then the young cowboy remembered his prisoner, and, walking back to the hitching post, he came within three feet of it and saw Father Time still standing patiently within the toils of the lasso. He looked angry and annoyed, however, and growled out:
“Well, when do you intend to release me?”
“I’ve been thinking about that ugly scythe of yours,” said Jim.
“What about it?” asked Father Time.
“Perhaps if I let you go you’ll swing it at me the first thing, to be revenged,” replied the boy.
Father Time gave him a severe look, but said:
“I’ve known boys for thousands of years, and of course I know they’re mischievous and reckless. But I like boys, because they grow up to be men and people my world. Now, if a man had caught me by accident, as you did, I could have scared him into letting me go instantly; but boys are harder to scare. I don’t know as I blame you. I was a boy myself, long ago, when the world was new. But surely you’ve had enough fun with me by this time, and now I hope you’ll show the respect that is due to old age. Let me go, and in return I will promise to forget all about my capture. The incident won’t do much harm, anyway, for no one will ever know that Time has halted the last three hours or so.”
“All right,” said Jim, cheerfully, “since you’ve promised not to mow me down, I’ll let you go.” But he had a notion some people in the town would suspect Time had stopped when they returned to life.
He carefully unwound the rope from the old man, who, when he was free, at once shouldered his scythe, rearranged his white robe and nodded farewell.
The next moment he had disappeared, and with a rustle and rumble and roar of activity the world came to life again and jogged along as it always had before.
Jim wound up his lasso, mounted the butcher’s horse and rode slowly down the street.
Loud screams came from the corner, where a great crowd of people quickly assembled. From his seat on the horse Jim saw Miss Scrapple, attired in the policeman’s uniform, angrily shaking her fists in Mulligan’s face, while the officer was furiously stamping upon the lady’s hat, which he had torn from his own head amidst the jeers of the crowd.
As he rode past the schoolhouse he heard a tremendous chorus of yells, and knew Prof. Sharpe was having a hard time to quell the riot caused by the sign on the blackboard.
Through the window of the barber shop he saw the “mean man” frantically belaboring the barber with a hair brush, while his hair stood up stiff as bayonets in all directions. And the grocer ran out of his door and yelled “Fire!” while his shoes left a track of molasses wherever he stepped.
Jim’s heart was filled with joy. He was fairly reveling in the excitement he had caused when some one caught his leg and pulled him from the horse.
“What’re ye doin’ hear, ye rascal?” cried the butcher, angrily; “didn’t ye promise to put that beast inter Plympton’s pasture? An’ now I find ye ridin’ the poor nag around like a gentleman o’ leisure!”
“That’s a fact,” said Jim, with surprise; “I clean forgot about the horse!”
This story should teach us the supreme importance of Time and the folly of trying to stop it. For should you succeed, as Jim did, in bringing Time to a standstill, the world would soon become a dreary place and life decidedly unpleasant.
The Goddess Isis was almost as strong as her grandfather the Sun God, the most powerful of all the gods in the universe. His name was Ra, but he had a few other names as well. He had a name for the morning, a name for the afternoon, a name for the evening, and one more name – but that one was a secret. That name, everyone knew, gave Ra his special powers. If anyone found out what that name was, Ra’s powers would pass directly over to the lucky person who knew.
But that wasn’t Ra’s only secret. He had another secret, which to be honest, was not much of a secret anymore. Ra, the Sun God, was getting old. His mighty light, the light of the sun, was getting weaker every day.
“What are we going to do?” The Egyptians wondered. They were worried. “How will we manage without light? Plants won’t grow and we won’t have anything to eat. And besides…we’re scared of the dark…”
But no one was brave enough to ask Ra to step down and reveal his name to another god who could then inherit his powers and the throne.
There’s no choice, thought Isis. If Grandfather won’t reveal his secret, I will have to discover it by myself.
Isis knew that her grandfather, as the Sun God, would wake up at the break of dawn and walk across the earth until sunset. She knew that he always walked the same route and she also knew – even though it is not so nice to say – that when he got tired, he would cough a lot and then spit.
So this is what Isis did: She scooped up a gob of royal spit, mixed it with a handful of dirt, whispered a magical incantation (something like: Eye of Horus, wing of beetle. Mix and mash for good or evil) and created a small but very poisonous snake.
The next morning, when the Sun God went for his daily walk accompanied by his assistants, Isis was waiting for him in the bushes. Just as he passed by, she put the snake on the path. The snake quickly slithered over and sunk his poisonous fangs right into Ra’s heel.
“Ouch! That hurts!” cried the god. “Help!” He called to his assistants.
“What happened?” the assistants asked in fear.
“I don’t know,” moaned the god bending over in pain. “Something bit me but I don’t know what…”
Ra could not even finish his sentence. He was in too much pain.
Just then, his granddaughter Isis stepped out of her hiding place, looked straight into Ra’s fierce eyes and said, “Grandfather dear, I saw what bit you. It is one of the most poisonous snakes in the world. You won’t have the strength to fight it because all of your strength is draining away. I can help you but only if you tell me your secret name…
“Fine. I’ll tell you,” moaned Ra. “My name is Hefer…but my foot’s not getting better. Why?”
“Because you did not tell me your secret name,” Isis said. “Everyone knows that Hefer is your morning name.”
“Fine. I’ll tell you,” groaned Ra. “My name is Atum… Now my foot is numb! Why?
“Because you did not tell me your secret name,” Isis continued. “Everyone knows that Atum is your evening name. And your afternoon name, “ she added, “is Ra! So please, Grandfather,” Isis begged. “If you want to remove the curse, I need another name, the name you never revealed to anyone.”
“Fine. I’ll tell you. But you must know that it is a very, very long name. Are you ready? Maybe you should write it down… My name is: “Creator-of-the-world-creator-of-the-Nile-the fruit of the vine-the fruit of the date tree-the lotus flower-the fire of life-the beetle…”
But even that long name was not the secret name.
Finally, the pain was too much for the god, Ra, and he said: “Fine. I’ll tell you, dear Isis. But come close to me so that no one else but you will hear my name.” Then he whispered his secret name into Isis’ ear. In a split second, Isis whispered the incantation and the secret name cured Ra’s pain immediately, but also took away all of his power.
That is how Isis became a goddess with special powers.
Afterwards, Grandfather Ra promised: “Soon, I will step down from my throne and you will be the queen of Egypt.”
Isis and Osiris
Isis had a brother she loved very much. His name was Osiris. She had another brother, an evil red-head named Seth, and a sister named Nephthys.
One day, after Grandfather Ra had an exceptionally long coughing fit, he called for Isis and Osiris and said, “My dear grandchildren! I am getting too old to rule over the Land of Life. The two of you are such good grandchildren, you are my favorites. I am sure that the people will also love you. To make a long story short, I want to crown you as the rulers of the world from now on and I will go off to rule in the Land of the Dead.
That is how Isis and Orisis became beloved rulers. They are the gods who taught the people of their land many new and important things, like how to plant wheat, grind it into flour and then bake bread, or how to grow vines and then make wine out of the grapes, or how to dig in the earth to find copper, silver, and gold and then use the metals to make tools and jewelry. They taught the people to weave cloth, prepare medicine, build temples, and most important of all, they taught them how to live together in peace.
A Devilish Trick
Everything would have been just wonderful if not for red-headed Seth. Seth was jealous of his brother and sister who had become rulers, and not just any rulers. They were dearly loved by all. Seth was especially jealous of his brother, Osiris.
What did he do?
He travelled throughout all of Egypt and told everyone: “Those two are a rotten pair. Not very godly, if you ask me. Especially Orisis!”
“No, why would you say that?” answered most of the people. “They are actually very nice and try to help us all the time.”
But Seth met a few people who, like him, were bitter from the time they were born. They always thought that their neighbor had a better life, taller wheat, a fatter cow, a larger house, a wiser wife, and cuter, smarter children who never complained that they were bored.
“You should know,” explained Red-headed Seth, blinking his tiny, evil, crocodile-shaped eyes, “it’s all the rulers’ fault, especially Osiris. If you help me kill him,” he promised the bitter bunch, “I’ll make sure that your lives will be full of happiness and success, and that your wives and children will be nice, beautiful, wise and healthy and will never ever be bored.”
But that wasn’t enough for Seth. In his red-headed mind, he started to concoct a very wicked plan.
He went to visit a talented carpenter, and said, “I want to order a very fancy coffin.”
“For who?” asked the carpenter.
“None of your business,” answered Seth rudely.
“It actually is my business,” said the carpenter. “If I don’t know the size of the dead person, I can’t make the coffin.”
“Fine. It is very simple,” said Seth. “Lucky for you, I know him well. You could even say he’s like a brother to me… He’s taller than me by exactly one head and three fingers. And now,” he said with a sneaky smile, “stop talking and start sawing.”
So what was Seth’s devilish plan? He made a feast and invited his brother as his guest of honor. No one in Egypt had ever been at such a feast. The guests ate and drank as dancers entertained them. When they finished, Seth declared: “And now, I have a surprise!”
He called in his gang, who carried a coffin on their shoulders.
“What is going on, Brother?” Osiris laughed. “I thought we were celebrating. Get that thing out of here…”
But when the coffin was lowered down onto the floor, and all of the guests ooh’d and aah’d at its beauty, even Osiris agreed. “Yes, that is a splendid, royal coffin. One day, when it is my time to go, I wouldn’t mind being buried in such a fancy coffin.”
You won’t have to wait for long… laughed Seth to himself. Then he turned to the crowd and said: “Let’s try out the coffin and see who it fits. The person who fits into the coffin perfectly will receive it as a gift.”
One after another, Seth’s friends jumped into the coffin and lay down inside. But the coffin did not fit any one of them perfectly, of course.
“It doesn’t even fit me,” Seth pretended to be angry. “It is exactly one head and three fingers too long. What about you, Brother? Do you want to try?”
“Gladly,” answered Osiris. Like the others, he got into the coffin and lay down.
“Yes, it fits me exactly!” he called out. “It is very comfortable,” he laughed…
But Osiris’ smile froze on his face when Seth and his gang of friends jumped on the coffin, slammed down the lid, carried him out of the palace to the banks of the Nile and threw him into the strong current.
The Miracle of the Braids
Poor Osiris died immediately, but the coffin that held him was swept down the Nile towards the sea, road the waves and finally landed on the shores of a faraway country, called Phoenicia. There, on the shores of Phoenicia, the most unusual thing happened: The wood, of which the coffin was made, immediately sprouted roots and soon became a magnificent tree with a thick trunk and tall branches.
“What a beautiful sight! We are in luck!” said the King of Phoenicia as he strolled past with his wife, the Queen of Phoenicia. “This is the perfect tree to use as a pillar for our palace.” He ordered his servants to chop down the magnificent tree but no one knew that inside that thick pillar, a coffin was buried, with the body of Osiris inside.
Many days passed and a lot of water flowed down the Nile. Seth the Evil ruled over Egypt and Isis… well, she ran away from palace and wandered all over Egypt, looking for her beloved Osiris.
I will find him, she told herself, and I will use all of my magical spells and powers to bring him back to life. After many hardships and lots of adventures, Isis reached the shores of Phoenicia.
What should I do now? She thought.
To be honest, Isis did not really know what to do. So she just sat down on the sand and started to braid her long hair.
“What are you doing?” Four women asked as they walked on the shore. “What an unusual and amazing hair style.” It may sound strange, but Phoenician women had never seen braided hair before.
“Oh, it’s very easy to do,” said Isis. “You just need a little bit of patience. I can teach you, if you want.”
A short time later, the heads of all four women were adorned with beautiful braids.
“What have you done to your hair?” asked the Phoenician Queen in wonder when her maidservants returned to the palace. “What an unusual and amazing hair style!”
The queen asked her maidservants to braid her hair as well, and they not only took the time to patiently braid her hair, but they also told her about the mysterious woman they had met on the shore.
The Queen was very curious. She summoned the mysterious woman to the palace. When she arrived, both the King and Queen liked her very much and thought she would be the perfect person to take care of their baby boy.
A Baby in Flames
“We are very worried about him,” the King and Queen told Isis. “He is so small and weak. He barely gained weight since the day he was born. We are afraid he won’t live for much longer.”
“Don’t worry,” Isis tried to calm them down. With her magical powers, she felt that she had arrived at the right place. “Don’t worry. I will give him the best care, with lots of love and patience and I am sure that he will grow stronger.”
Isis meant every word that she said. She even planned to give the baby an eternal life.
So how do you turn a weak, sickly baby into someone who will live forever? You set him on fire with magical flames!
That is exactly what Isis did. Every night, after the King and Queen went to bed, she sat next to the baby’s crib and very patiently set the crib on fire with magical flames. All the while, the baby slept peacefully, but this special treatment made his body strong. He almost became immortal but one night, the Queen had a hard time falling asleep. She decided to surprise Isis with a visit to the nursery, but ended up being surprised herself.
“Stop!” the Queen cried. “You witch! What are you doing to my baby?”
“It is true. I am a witch, a sorceress and a god,” admitted Isis. “But you… you have no patience! At this very moment, you ruined the magic spell!
“ Oh… well then… I apologize. Please continue…”The Queen was embarrassed and frightened. She fell to the ground, bowing down before Isis and begged: “Please, don’t be angry. Take whatever treasures you want from our country, silver, gold, ivory…”
But Isis was not interested in the royal treasures of Phoenicia. She only wanted one thing: The large pillar that stood in the middle of the palace.
“The pillar?” The King and Queen were surprised. “Are you sure? What will you do with a pillar?”
“Wait and see,” Isis replied and she focused her magical eyes on the pillar and with one look, cracked it into two and freed the coffin of Osiris from inside.
Now, she thought to herself, all I have to do is chant the right magical incantation that will bring my beloved back to life.
Osiris Comes Back to Life
But Isis did not have time to chant the magical incantation because on her way back to the palace, the evil Seth kidnapped Osiris’ body from Isis and chopped it up into fourteen pieces.
“Let’s see what you do now, you miserable witch!” he called to Isis and scattered all the pieces of poor Osiris’ body into the Nile, as food for the crocodiles.
What an awful thing to do! Isis was so upset, she almost gave up.
“I would rather die, “she cried to her sister Nephthys. “My life is worth nothing without Osiris.”
“No. Don’t give up!” Nephthys pleaded. “Don’t forget: You have all of Ra’s special powers. And you also have me. Come, Sister. We will go to the Nile and collect all of the pieces.”
And that is exactly what they did. Isis and Nephthys sailed all along the Nile in a small reed boat and very patiently gathered up thirteen pieces of Osiris’ body. The fourteenth part was never found. But they connected all the pieces so nicely that Osiris was whole and perfect even without it.
Now, all that was needed was the magical incantation.
Isis immediately chanted the right magical words (something like: Sarcophagus, River Nile. Bring us life, o’ crocodile!) and Osiris opened his kind eyes and gave her – his beloved goddess – a kiss. He knew that he owed his life to her.
But Osiris could no longer be the ruler of the earth and so Ra gave him his kingdom and he became the ruler of the Land of the Dead.
“Sir, I have something for you.”
Mr. Zoom stopped walking and looked around.
Cars whizzed by, people strode past, but a deliveryman reached out and handed Mr. Zoom a package.
“Why me? “said Mr. Zoom who was hurrying to his office.
“Because everybody should make time to help somebody else,” said the deliveryman.
Mr. Zoom turned. He wanted to get going.
“But don’t take off the wrapping,” shouted the deliveryman as he rounded the corner and disappeared.
He left the package on the hood of the nearest car.
Mr. Zoom was in a big rush and planned to walk away but he thought he heard something.
It was the package.
He put his ear next to the box and asked, “What? Tadpole? Did you say tadpole?
The package quivered and Mr. Zoom walked toward the small pond in the middle of the park. He wanted to get rid of the package as quickly as possible and go to his office.
When he reached the pond, he said to the package, “Is this what you meant? “
The voice inside said something.
“Oh, “said Mr. Zoom. “Did you mean patrol? I really don’t have time for this right now. I’m in a big rush to get to the office.”
But the package said it again, and Mr. Zoom hurried off to look for a patrol car.
He walked along busy streets, waited at crosswalks, rushed past a road block until he finally saw a policeman on patrol. “Here we are! Is this what you meant?”
“Profiterole,” said the package.
“Can you try to speak more clearly?” Mr. Zoom was getting frustrated. “We walked halfway across town and now you want a fancy piece of cake?”
The package quivered again and so Mr. Zoom marched over to the nearest drugstore and bought a pack of Oreo cookies.
“Good enough?” he asked.
“Superbowl,” answered the package.
“Stop it,” said Mr. Zoom. “This is getting ridiculous. I was just minding my own business, walking to the office. Everyone over there is waiting for me. Now, I must be going crazy, taking orders from a package?!”
The package did not answer and Mr. Zoom rushed off towards his office.
It was already very late and when he arrived, the place was empty.
“Happy now?” Mr Zoom said as he threw the package on the table.
One corner of the package tore open.
“For a stroll,” whispered the package.
“What?” said Mr. Zoom. “After I dragged you here and there and everywhere, now you want to go out again for a stroll?”
The package trembled and Mr. Zoom said, “You have to speak clearly if you want to be understood.”
“Out of control,” said the package.
“I’m out of control?” said Mr. Zoom. “How dare you!” And he ripped off the wrapping in a frenzy.
“Oh my,” said Mr. Zoom. “It is an egg!”
And the egg, whom Mr. Zoom could now hear very clearly, said, “The South Pole. Open on Sunday.”
“Today is Friday,” Mr. Zoom said in alarm. “And I opened the package three days too early. What should I do now? The South Pole can wait, but the egg cannot.”
He cleared away all the documents and files, chose the softest pillow, hung a sign on the door that read “Do not disturb! Important meeting!” and sat to brood on the egg.
“Not much else I can do,” sighed Mr. Zoom. “Everybody should make time to help somebody else.”
He sat one day, he sat for two days. On the third day, it seemed that the egg was not so comfortable anymore because it rocked and jumped until it cracked into two.
And who came out?
“Welcome!” said Mr. Zoom. It was a baby penguin.
“Papa?” said the baby.
“In a manner of speaking,” answered Mr. Zoom and decided to call him Pinny.
“Southpolehere?” asked Pinny.
“Southpolethere,” answered Mr. Zoom because he wanted little Pinny to know where he belonged. He hung up a new sign on the door to his office that read, “Be back soon,” reserved a ticket to the South Pole on his phone, put Pinny in a baby-carrier and the two flew out that very day.
When they got off the plane, they got onto a sleigh and went straight to the reserve.
There, they saw hundreds of penguins – brooding, swimming in the ocean, or just walking back and forth.
“Southpolehere?” asked little Pinny.
“Basically speaking,” said Mr. Zoom who was looking around but did not recognize anyone.
“Excuse me,” someone ran up to them and said. “I’ve been waiting for you for three days!”
“Mama,” shouted little Pinny and he ran over to his mother. She gave him a great big hug and then introduced herself to Mr. Zoom. “Nice to meet you. I am Penina. I wish to thank you very much, sir. I was so worried. It is lucky that there are still people in the world who are willing to take care of someone other than themselves.”
Little Pinny held on to Mr. Zoom’s hand on the left, and onto Penina on the right and the three took a walk along the shore, gazing at the icebergs humming:
“The tip of the iceberg
is all you can see.
The most important part
lies deep in the sea.”
“The time has come to say goodbye,” said Mr. Zoom, as he spotted the sleigh waiting for him nearby.
“You will never leave, in a manner of speaking,” said little Pinny, who really hadn’t learned how to speak so well yet.
And Mr. Zoom, who already knew how to speak said, “That is true. How can I go and leave the little baby behind. I’m the one who penguined him.”
But Penina said, “Don’t worry, sir. I am here.”
The sleigh-bells chimed impatiently and Mr. Zoom gave Pinny one last hug. “I have two phones,” he said. “Here. Take one. Call me whenever you miss me.”
Then he shook Penina’s hand and got on the sleigh.
As the sleigh slid by Pinny, he called out, “In a manner of speaking, I penguined you! Will you ever come back?”
“Of course,” called Mr. Zoom. “We will all travel from here to there and from there to here.
Because those who are penguined will never part for very long.”
“See you tomorrow,” called little Pinny to the sled as it pulled away.
And Mr. Zoom shouted back in the wind, “Life is an adventure. Let’s make that a goal. We’ll meet again soon. See you at the Pole.”
Who is Hoomit? What happened to her, and how did it all come to be?
Every Friday, Zeevi and Father used to walk to the train station. And once, while they were on the dirt road by the ditch, it happened. A truck laden with sacks up to its topmost rung drove by, swaying, and as it reached the ditch and strove to cross – one sack up above shuddered, spilling a few grains to the ground. The truck recovered and pushed onward, but a pile of golden grains remained in the dirt. Zeevi gathered a few in his palm.
What will become of them now? – Zeevi asked Father, pitying them. He is always asking Father questions and Father is trying to guess and answer.
Once again Father told of the baker, the flour mill, the grindstones revolving heavy, and of those golden grains that are first ground to white flour and then baked into good bread. But what will become of these few grains here? Zeevi asked sadly – how will these become bread? Father did not know. Well, perhaps not a loaf of bread, only one cake? – Perhaps.
So afterwards they went their way. Here and there they stopped by some flowers on the side of the road, and in one spot they even saw a wagtail bathing and washing itself in a tiny puddle, splashing with its wings for fun and smartening itself for Shabbat. But on the big road, swarms and swarms of cars were running, racing home, as they will on Friday at twilight time.
Hand in hand, the two finally came down the road and reached the station. And then the big locomotive came blowing, clad in great smoke and great steam (for it was a long time ago and there were still locomotives of steam and smoke – today they are gone and you will not see them). And it came with a great noise and a mighty ringing, and a train driver, his head poking out of the high cab window. And dancing behind came a herd of carriages all in a row, all grinning at you with their door and two windows, all light of wheel, and a hundred or a thousand crates of oranges in the belly of each. Until all of a sudden the locomotive stopped and the stop sped backwards and passed from carriage to carriage, and their iron buffers clanged like cymbals – till they had all stopped, gray and silent and watchful, as if they had always been that way. But all at once they surged anew, and the surge rushed from the first carriage to the last and all were driven back again, rushed onto the rails of another track, and the little man tending the big boom-gate on the road hurried and lowered his gate with its red signs, and sliced the press of cars and buses on the road in two, these to one side and those to another, and then all were fuming and waiting impatiently till all the carriages had passed by and the big locomotive had passed by with its great smoke and great steam and its mighty ringing, and the train driver looking out from above, and only then did the gateman hoist and raise his boom-gate, and the convoy of arrested cars promptly rushed in to flow through the straits of the gate, crowded, honking, rattling and heaving along, for it was Friday and who will not make haste?
And so the train drove and drove again, time after time, and the boom-gate was raised and lowered, until the day began to descend, and the sun was already low, and the white clouds in the west began turning pink above the eucalypti crowns, and Zeevi and Father turned to go, not without regret, and only the road was still all astir, and all aglow from the tide of cars – rushing homeward.
Hand in hand Zeevi and Father turned toward their dirt road, their own peaceful dirt road, when Zeevi remembered:
And what’s happened to that pile of grains?
Father argued that it was time to hurry home, and the pile had probably remained as it was, in its place. But he was wrong. And Zeevi pointed with his finger: Look!
Ho, what! The quiet, golden pile was all teeming with a dark flurry, and as they squatted down to take a peek up close, they saw that an entire horde of ants had descended upon the forgotten pile.
The first thought that came to Zeevi’s mind was to brush off those invading ants. But Father suggested to wait awhile and watch and see.
Such a hustle and bustle! The whole pile was bustling with sheer bustle! Far greater than the bustle on the big road and those shining cars. Do the ants observe a Friday afternoon of their own?
No, but the pink clouds were gradually turning purple, and a few were now entirely red, even though some had changed and turned golden as chrysanthemums – and all of them may gather anytime now and let loose a shower as soon as the sun sets. Finish on time. On time to run and on time to return, and run again and return again, before night falls, before the rain falls and before the residents of yonder ants’ nest take notice and likewise swoop in to make off with some of the abandoned loot: finish on time, make haste, run, run, quickly, and finish on time!
But wait – What size is an ant anyway?
Six legs, six legs has the ant, slimmer than slim, and all ants are running on all six of them, running and dragging those giant grains on the slender trail that leads to their nest.
The ants that were full hurried this way and those that were empty scurried that way. And all the while they would run into one another, touch one another a moment with the tips of their feelers, separate and rush off to hurry up and finish on time. And then, when it was already time to be going on home, we suddenly saw Hoomit.
Hoomit? Who is Hoomit?
One ant among the lot. No different than all the others, as brown, as nimble, as feely, and as one in a row as them all; and she was small, like all her friends, tinier even than all the clods on the trail, lower than all the little weeds, and the nail on Zeevi’s little finger was bigger than four or five of her kind.
And by what means did we know that she was surely the Hoomit of them all?
Ah, not by any means, only by the grain in her mouth. The grain was her sign. The grain was her flag. One big grain she held in her jaws, which for some reason had not been separated from the chaff, and on its tip the broken shard of the spikelet remained aloft – a load twice her size, and what a wonder it did not flip the tiny creature over, back down and feet up in the air.
It is true that a train carriage can be loaded with a hundred or a thousand orange crates – the load of that one grain was larger in length, width and weight, than this entire little ant: one grain larger than the entire carriage!
With just one step, our Zeevi can cross the distance which this Hoomit needed to run, run a hundred steps times six, her legs gliding as silken threads, while even her hips, the porter’s hips, were slenderer than thread, and a thousand times more slender even than the slenderest of hips, which the slenderest of girls can only dream of in her slenderest dreams – and her feelers were slender and slenderer and twirling every which way – and even so her jaws were agape and burdened with a colossal load, and that big grain, big and gleaming, was gripped by those jaws as a workpiece in a smithy’s tongs.
We will follow Hoomit until she gets there! – Zeevi said excitedly, even though it was Friday, nigh on sunset, and Father had his reasons to hurry home. But Zeevi was already rushing on all fours, following Hoomit beside the slender trail, the ants’ trail; whereas the sight of such an ants’ trail would arouse some children rather to jump and trample it with their feet, to destroy and annihilate it.
Oh, the tough time this Hoomit was having! Now and then the enormous burden would block not just her own way, but all her sisters’ too, and more than once she would bash the butt of her load on the heads of her sisters coming ahead, and they became quite scared, yet were not harmed. And a few, however, in their haste even climbed and ran and passed over her back, as if she were to them a clod on the trail, and no objection from Hoomit. In any case her mouth was tightly locking the grain, and locked by the grain, and she was heedless of all else.
Then we suddenly saw how the spike of this strange grain got stuck in a crumb of rubble, and how poor Hoomit was suddenly hoisted aloft, but by no means loosening the grip of her jaws, and how she wrangled, with no small nor simple effort, till her feet returned and back to earth they came – and again she ran, pushing and carrying the weight of her burden before her.
No sooner was she free of this obstacle and already she was entangled in another weed stalk, till she had no choice but to turn and drag her grain backwards, about-face, contrarily and without seeing her way – though while she was holding her grain right in front of her, earlier, this load of hers had covered and blocked her view of the world.
Indeed all of them were hastening along. These hustled to her right and those bustled to her left, and others still, as mentioned earlier, hustled and bustled on her back, and yet she did not let go. Even when small clods of dirt on the trail suddenly beset her, like towering fearsome heights. On she climbed and up she climbed and rose on each of them and lugged up her luggage, and on she climbed and climbed down each one and lugged her luggage down, and pulled and pushed on, turned this way and tried that way, but always on the trail and never leaving it, and never loosening, even for an instant, her tightly closed mouth.
And all of a sudden it happened. For the grain caught atop one clump of dirt, low as a bump but high as Mt. Hermon’s hump, And there, in mid-run, Hoomit suddenly found herself hanging in mid-air, her six feet flailing and flailing at nothing, and only her jaws still hanging on to her load – and she was left hanging over the abyss, until, shaken from so much wrangling, she fell to earth. Do not be afraid. She came to no harm. Nor did she delay, nor moan nor bemoan, nor feel herself nor pity herself, but, even as she sensed the ground beneath her feet – on she hastened, and neither calmed down nor rested till again she had climbed up to the heights of that same bump-hump, and in a flash spread her jaws wide open and grasped that grain that had perhaps gone to sleep up there in the meantime, lying flat beneath the last beams of sunlight that are known to put even the big hens to sleep, and with renewed strength Hoomit seized it, heaved a mighty backward heave, and with one sweep fell into the abyss, still clutching the grain in her mouth, and she fell and came down to earth, and now letting not a moment to waste, got her slender little self going – and already she was running without veering even a slender foot’s breadth from the proper course – rather, she doubled her stride to make up for all the time that was lost on the cliffs.
And then came a weed-stem, the kind of slender seedling that Zeevi or anyone else, even a little baby, can send all the way to America with a single puff of breath. Though to Hoomit this seed thing was akin to a seventy years old eucalyptus trunk, the like of which,in thickness and in height, can be seen, perhaps, in Mikveh-Israel, and perhaps only a handful in Petah-Tikva.
So many obstacles, that one may well cease to believe she would overcome them or would ever reach her goal, and one cannot bear to see her suffer any longer. Therefore one should not be surprised if Zeevi’s heart suddenly cried out within him, and he sought to extend a finger to her and elevate her and bear her to her place. To give her headway, as it were on the finger of a good, well-meaning, wonderful giant – one who has seen her plight and delivered her from it. But Father shook his head and hinted she should be left alone to do as she is wont and as far as she is able. Worker ants are bred to work, he said, without being extended a giant finger. Even though Zeevi did not understand why not.
He was bent over the ants’ trail, his finger pointing all the while and his voice never ceasing to ring out and announce all that his eyes were seeing, and Father glancing beyond Zeevi’s shoulder would also raise his eyes from time to time to the reaches of the sky, to the clouds that had multiplied in the west, becoming grayer and grayer, and to the darkness that lured beneath them, and to the place where the sun had already been swallowed a short while ago, and beyond the darkening hills and the outlines of the black cypresses above them.
We must help her! – Zeevi’s eyes were now raised from below to meet Father’s eyes above, why not extend a bit of straw and lead her along? Or why not take two handfuls of the grains and spill them straight into the ants’ nest? Or why not do some good, any good at all? But Father only shook his head and, from on high, hinted not to intervene.
And in the meantime Hoomit continued to run. With all the might in her puny body. Locked with her load amid hundreds of her sisters, each locked with her own load, to each ant her load and her running pace, as though hers was the entire burden – but Hoomit was unlike the rest, hers was a burden more than any, her load was twice as heavy and twice as big. Why, is it not plain to see how they all rush and pass her by in their haste, for theirs is a lighter load – and hers a heavy one? And why will none help the miserable creature? Why are her sisters a-hastening? And perhaps it ought to be the rightful thing to do, to extend a finger in spite of all – as a reward for all her efforts?
But in that selfsame moment it happened. An ant came up in front of Hoomit, and as she met her, paused, raised her feelers and said something to the feelers of Hoomit, a very short talk. And Hoomit took notice and, believe it or not, that slight fluttering touch did to her what no hurt nor hindrance had made her do – for Hoomit took notice and opened wide her clenched jaws, and the grain was laid on the ground. And then she, the other, opened wide her own jaws and seized that silent, gleaming grain, and now she was promptly locking it and was locked by it, and she was now carrying it as if it were hers and as though this were all well and good; whereas Hoomit, who ought by now to have either seated herself awhile and reclined askance, mopping the sweat from her brow, if ants sweat too, and regained and fanned herself – if ants leisurely fan themselves too – or attempted to seize and carry the burden in tandem with her sister – yet she did neither this nor that, but promptly turned on all her six heels, and, wasting no time, began running back – to make it on time and fetch another grain before dusk .
But, even as she set off, empty and light – there, it happened! What happened? Hoomit was no more! Lost amid all the running runners. Her flag, her sign, was lost. And she became one more ant among a great many ants of her kind, all racing to run that slender trail to make it on time, just before darkness fell, just before the rain, as long as may be, as long as there is a short, clear moment to spare – off she set, on she ran, and Hoomit was no more.
But now, when it was finally truly time to get up and go home, something else happened.
That very short hour before dusk suddenly became different. A very great hour, an hour of openness and fullness, in which there is room for all manner of things and more. Nor was there any rush to hurry on home. Nowhere else is there more than what there is here now. One should only wish, perhaps, for this small hour, the hour of the ants, to linger with us awhile, and not pass by as swiftly as all things do.
Will you wish?
“FINE um whar you will en w’en you may,” remarked Uncle Remus with emphasis, “good chilluns allers gits tuck keer on. Dar wuz Brer Rabbit’s chilluns; dey minded der daddy en mammy fum day’s een’ ter day’s een’. W’en ole man Rabbit say scoot,’ dey scooted, en w’en ole Miss Rabbit say ’scat,’ dey scatted. Dey did dat. En dey kep der cloze clean, en dey ain’t had no smut on der nose nudder.”
Involuntarily the hand of the little boy went up to his face, and he scrubbed the end of his nose with his coat-sleeve.
“Dey wuz good chilluns,” continued the old man, heartily, “en ef dey hadn’t er bin, der wuz one time w’en dey wouldn’t er bin no little rabbits—na’er one. Dat’s w’at.”
“What time was that, Uncle Remus?” the little boy asked.
“De time w’en Brer Fox drapt in at Brer Rabbit house, en didn’t foun’ nobody dar ceppin’ de little Rabbits. Ole Brer Rabbit, he wuz off some’rs raiding on a collard patch, en ole Miss Rabbit she wuz tendin’ on a quiltin’ in de naberhood, en wiles de little Rabbits wuz playin’ hidin’-switch, in drapt Brer Fox. De little Rabbits wuz so fat dat dey fa’rly make his mouf water, but he ’member ’bout Brer Wolf, en he skeered fer ter gobble urn up ceppin’ he got some skuse. De little Rabbits, dey mighty skittish, en dey sorter huddle deyse’f up tergedder en watch Brer Fox motions. Brer Fox, he sot dar en study w’at sorter skuse he gwineter make up. Bimeby he see a great big stalk er sugar-cane stan’in’ up in de coruder, en he cle’r up his th’oat en talk biggity:
“‘Yer! you young Rabs dar, sail ’roun’ yer en broke me a piece er dat sweetnin’-tree,’ sezee, en den he koff.
“De little Rabbits, dey got out de sugar-cane, dey did, en dey rastle wid it, en sweat over it, but twan’t no use. Dey couldn’t broke it. Brer Fox, he make like he ain’t watchin’, but he keep on holler’n:
“‘Hurry up dar, Rabs! I’m a waitin’ on you.
“En de little Rabbits, dey hustle ’roun’ en rasfle wid it, but they couldn’t broke it. Bimeby dey hear little bird singin’ on top er de house, en de song w’at de little hird sing wuz dish yer.
“‘Take yo’ toofies en gnyaw it,
Take yo’ toofies en saw it,
Saw it en yoke it,
En den you kin broke it.’
“Den de little Rabbits, dey git mighty glad, en dey guyawed de cane mos’ ’fo’ ’ole Brer Fox could git his legs oncrosst, en w’en dey kyard ’im de cane, Brer Fox, he sot dar en study how he gwineter make some mo’ skuse fer nabbin’ un um, en bimeby he git up en git down de sifter w’at wuz hangin’ on de wall, en holler out:
“‘Come yer, Rabs! Take dish yer sifter, en run down’t de spring en fetch me some fresh water.’
“De little Rabbits, dey run down’t de spring, en try ter dip up de water wid de sifter, but co’se hit all run out, en hit keep on runnin’ out, twell bimeby de little Rabbits sot down en ’gun ter cry. Den de little bird settin’ up in de tree he begin fer ter sing, en dish yer’s de song w’at he sing:
“‘Sifter hole water same ez a tray,
Ef you fill it wid moss en dob it wid clay;
De Fox git madder de longer you stay—
Fill it wid moss en dob it wid clay.’
“Up dey jump, de little Rabbits did, en dey fix de sifter so ’twon’t leak, en den dey kyar de water ter ole Brer Fox. Den Brer Fox he git mighty mad, en p’int out a great big stick er wood, en tell de little Rabbits fer ter put dat on de fier. De little chaps dey got ’roun’ de wood, dey did, en dey hef at it so hard twel dey could see der own sins, but de wood ain’t budge. Den dey hear de little bird singin’, en dish yer’s de song w’at he sing:
“‘Spit in yo’ han’s en tug it en toll it,
En git behine it, en push it, en pole it;
Spit in yo’ han’s en r’ar back en roll it.’
“En des ’bout de time dey got de wood on de fier, der daddy, he come skippin’ in, en de little bird, he flew’d away. Brer Fox, he seed his game wuz up, en ’twan’t long ’fo’ he make his skuse en start fer ter go.
“‘You better Stay en take a snack wid me, Brer Fox,’ sez Brer Rabbit, sezee. ‘Sence Brer Wolf done quite comin’ en settin’ up wid me, I gittin’ so I feels right lonesome dese long nights,’ sezee.
“But Brer Fox, he button up his coat-collar tight en des put out fer home. En dat w’at you better do, honey, kaze I see Miss Sally’s shadder sailin’ backerds en for’ds ’fo’ de winder, en de fus’ news you know she’ll be ’spectin’ un you.
A little girl was ill. Each day the doctor, Mikhail Petrovich, whom she had known for a very, very long time, came to see her. Sometimes, there were two other doctors with him whom she did not know. They would turn her on her stomach and then on her back, listening for something, their ears pressed to her body, pulling down her eyelids and looking. All the while their faces were very stern, and they made important huffing sounds, and spoke to each other in a strange tongue.
Then they would leave the nursery and go into the parlour, where her mother awaited them. The most important-looking doctor, a tall, grey-haired man in gold-rimmed eyeglasses, spoke to her for a long time in a very serious tone. The door was not shut, and so the girl could see and hear everything from her bed. There was much she could not understand, but she knew they were talking about her. Her mother looked at the doctor from her large, tired eyes that were red from weeping. In parting, the doctor said in a loud voice:
“Try to see that she is never bored, and fulfil her every wish.”
“Oh, doctor! That’s just it! She doesn’t want anything!”
“Hm… Well then, try to think of what she used to like before she became ill. Some toys … or sweets….”
“Doctor, she doesn’t want anything.”
“Then try to arouse her interest in something…. Try anything …. Take my word for it, if you are able to make her laugh, to be happy, it will be the very best medicine. You must understand that your daughter’s illness is simply an indifference to life, and nothing more. Good-day, Madame.”
“Darling, isn’t there anything you’d like? Tell me, Nadya,” her mother said.
“No, Mamma, I don’t want anything.”
“Would you like me to bring you all your dolls? We can put the little armchairs, the sofa, the table and the tea set on your bed. The dolls will have tea and talk about the weather and their children’s health.”
“Thank you. Mamma… But I don’t want them… I’m so bored….”
“All right, dear, we won’t play dolls. Would you like me to call Katya or Zhenya? They’re your best friends.”
“No, don’t. Mamma. Please, don’t. There’s not anything I want at all.
Oh, I’m so bored!”
“Would you like a bar of chocolate?”
But the girl did not reply. She just stared sadly at the ceiling. Nothing hurt her. She did not even have a fever, but she was getting thinner and weaker with each passing day. She did not care what was done to her, and did not wish for anything. She simply lay in her bed day and night, quietly and sadly. At times she would doze off for half an hour, but even her dreams were of something long, grey and as mournful as the rain in autumn.
When the door from the nursery to the parlour was left open, and the door from the parlour to the study, too, the girl could see her father. Papa kept pacing up and down, smoking one cigarette after another. Sometimes he would come into the nursery, sit down on the edge of the bed and stroke Nadya’s feet gently. Then he would suddenly get up and go over to the window. He would whistle a tune as he looked out at the street, but his shoulders would be convulsed. Then he would hastily press his handkerchief first to one eye and then to the other and would go off to his study, as if he were cross. There he would begin pacing up and down again, smoking cigarette after cigarette… His study would become fairly blue from all the smoke.
One morning the little girl was a bit more cheerful than usual when she awoke. She had dreamed about something, but couldn’t remember what it was, and so gazed long and intently into her mother’s eyes.
“Is there anything you’d like?” her mother asked.
Suddenly the girl remembered her dream and said in a whisper, as if it were a secret:
“Mamma … can I have an … elephant? But I don’t mean a picture of one. Can I?”
“Certainly you can, darling. By all means.”
Her mother went off into the study and told Papa that Nadya wanted an elephant. Papa quickly put on his hat and coat and left the house. Half an hour later he returned with a lovely, expensive toy. It was a large grey elephant which nodded its head and swished its tail. There was a red cloth on the elephant’s back and on it a gold canopied seat with three little men. But the girl looked at the toy as indifferently as she did at the ceiling and the walls, and her voice when she spoke was listless.
“No. That’s not what I meant at all. I wanted a real, live elephant, but this one is dead.”
‘Wait a minute, Nadya,” Papa said. “I’ll wind it up, and it will be just like a real, live one.
He wound up the elephant with a little key, and it nodded its head and swished its tail as it began to move its feet and walk slowly across the table. The girl was not at all interested. In fact, she was bored, but she did not want to disappoint her father and so whispered obediently: “Thank you ever so much, dear Papa. I don’t think anyone I know has such a lovely toy. But…. Remember, long ago, you promised to take me to the animal circus to see a real elephant … and you never did.”
But, darling, try to understand that this is quite out of the question. An elephant is very big. It’s as tall as the ceiling and can’t fit into our house…. Besides, where will I find one?”
Oh, I don’t need such a big one, Papa. A little one will be just as good, as long as it’s alive. Even if it’s only this big…. Even a teeny-weeny one.”
“My sweet, I’d do anything for you, but this is something I can’t do. Why, it’s just the same as if you’d suddenly said: ‘Reach up and get me the sun from the sky, Papa.
She smiled sadly.
“You’re so silly, Papa. Don’t you think I know you can’t get the sun, because it’ll bum you! Or the moon, either. Oh, I wish I had a baby elephant … a real one.”
She closed her eyes and whispered, “I’m so tired … Don’t be angry at me, Papa….”
Her father clapped his hands to his head and rushed off to his study. She could see him pacing about there for a while. Then he threw his half -finished cigarette to the floor (something Mamma always scolded him for) and shouted to the maid:
“Get my hat and coat, Olga!”
His wife followed him to the foyer and asked: “Where are you going, Sasha?”
He was breathing hard as he buttoned up his coat.
“I don’t know myself…. But I think I’ll really bring back a live elephant today.”
His wife looked at him anxiously. “Are you well, dear? Do you have a headache? Perhaps you did not sleep well?”
“I did not sleep at all,” he replied crossly. “I see you’d like to ask me whether I’m insane. Not yet. Goodbye. Everything should be settled by this evening.”
The front door banged loudly, and he was gone.
Two hours later he was in a front-row seat at the animal circus, watching the trained animals perform for their master. The clever dogs jumped, turned somersaults, danced, howled to music and spelled out words with large cardboard letters. The monkeys, some of which had on red skirts and others blue trousers, walked across a tightrope and rode a large poodle. Huge tawny lions jumped through burning hoops. A lumbering seal fired a pistol. The elephants were in the last act. There were three of them: one large elephant and two very small, midget elephants, although each was bigger than a horse. It was strange to see these huge animals, so clumsy and awkward to look at, perform the most difficult tricks which even a very agile person would never be able to do. The biggest elephant was the most clever of the three. It first stood up on its hind legs, then sat down, stood on its head with its feet in the air, walked over wooden bottles, walked on a rolling barrel, turned the pages of a large cardboard book with its trunk and, finally, sat down at a table, having first tied a napkin round its neck, and ate its dinner just like a well-mannered child.
Soon the show was over. The audience was leaving. Nadya’s father went up to the roly-poly German owner of the animal circus. He was standing in his box with a large black cigar clenched between his teeth.
“I beg your pardon,” Nadya’s father said. “Would you agree to letting your elephant come to my house for a short while?”
The German’s eyes grew wide. He gaped, and the cigar fell out of his mouth. He bent over with a grunt, picked it up and stuck it back into his mouth. Only then did he say, “Let you have the elephant? To take home? I don’t understand what you mean.”
You could see by the man’s expression that he also felt like asking Nadya’s father whether he had a headache…. But the father hastily explained the situation: his only daughter, Nadya, had a very strange illness which the doctors themselves could not even diagnose properly. She had been bedridden for a month and was getting thinner and losing strength with each passing day. She took no interest in anything, she was bored by everything and was wasting away. The doctors said she was to be entertained, but nothing pleased her; they said her every wish was to be carried out, but she did not wish for anything. Today she had asked to see a real, live elephant. Was this really so impossible?
Then he added in a tremorous voice, as he took hold of the button on the German’s coat: “You see … I certainly hope my child gets well. But … but … what if her illness progresses … and she dies?… Just think: to the end of my days I’ll torture myself with the thought that I did not carry out her last wish, her very last wish!”
The German frowned and scratched his left eyebrow absently with his pinky. Finally, he said, “How old is your daughter?”
“Hm… My Liza is also six…. But it will be very expensive. The elephant will have to be brought to your house at night and taken back the next night. It can’t be done in the daytime. The public will gather and a big scandal is sure to follow…. So, this means I lose a whole day’s earnings, and you will have to cover my losses.”
“Oh, certainly. By all means. Don’t worry about that.”
“Now, will the police let me take the elephant into the house?”
“I’ll arrange it. They will.”
“One more question: will your landlord let the elephant be taken into your house?”
“Yes. The house is mine.”
“Ah! That’s fine. Now, one more question: what floor are you on?”
“Hm… That’s not so good. Does your house have a wide staircase, a high ceiling, a large room, wide doors and a very strong floor? Because my Tommy is nine feet four inches high and fifteen and a half feet long. Besides, he weighs close to a ton.”
Nadya’s father was silent for a moment.
“You know what?” he said. “Let’s go to my house now and examine everything on the spot. If need be, I’ll have the doorways widened.”
“Good!” said the circus owner.
That night the elephant was taken to visit the sick child. He walked proudly down the middle of the street in its white robe, nodding its head and curling and uncurling its trunk. Despite the late hour, a large crowd followed him. However, the elephant paid no attention to this, for he was used to seeing hundreds of people at the show every day. He only became a bit angry once, when a street urchin ran right up to him and began making faces and hopping about to amuse the idlers. At this, the elephant calmly lifted the boy’s cap with his trunk and tossed it over a fence that had nails sticking up all along the top. A policeman entered the crowd and pleaded, “Please disperse, everybody. What’s so unusual about this? Hmph! As if you’d never seen a live elephant in the streets before.”
They approached the house. All the doors leading to the dining room, beginning with the front door, were wide open, for all the latches had been hammered back. However, the elephant stopped when he came to the staircase. He stood there anxiously and would not go on. “You have to give him something sweet,” the circus owner said. “A sweet bun or something…. Come on, Tommy! Hey, boy!”
Nadya’s father ran off to the nearby bakery and bought a large round pistachio cake. The elephant was quite prepared to swallow it whole, together with the cardboard box, but the owner only gave him a quarter. Tommy liked the taste of it and stretched his trunk out for another chunk. But his owner was too clever for him. He held the cake in his outstretched hand as he backed up the stairs, with the elephant having to follow, his trunk reaching out, his ears flapping. Tommy was given another chunk on the landing. In this way he was led into the dining room. All the furniture had already been taken out, and a thick layer of straw covered the floor. The elephant’s leg was tied to a ring that had been screwed into the floor. Fresh carrots, cabbage and turnips were set out in front of him. His owner lay down on a sofa nearby. Then the lights were put out and everyone went to sleep.
The little girl awoke at dawn the next day. The first thing she said was:
“Where’s the elephant? Did he come?”
“Yes,” her mother replied. “But he said Nadya was to wash first, and then to have a soft-boiled egg and a cup of hot milk.”
“Is he good?”
“Yes, very. Eat, dear. We’ll go in to see him right now.”
“Is he funny-looking?”
“Rather. Put on your warm sweater.”
The egg was quickly eaten, the milk was drunk. Nadya was put in the pram she used to be wheeled around in when she was still too little to walk and was taken into the dining room.
The elephant was much bigger than Nadya had expected from seeing a picture of one. He was just a tiny bit lower than the doorway and took up half the dining room in length. His skin was very coarse and fell in heavy folds. His feet were as thick as posts. His long tail had a brush on the very end. There were big bumps on his head. His drooping ears were huge and looked like burdocks. His eyes were tiny, but intelligent and kind. His tusks had been sawed off. His trunk was like a long snake and ended in two nostrils with a movable lobe like a finger at the tip. If the elephant had stretched his trunk out to its full length, he would have probably touched the window.
The girl was not frightened in the least. She was simply a little awed by his great size. However, her nurse, sixteen-year-old Polya, was terrified and began to scream. The elephant’s owner went over to Nadya and said, “Good morning, Miss. Don’t be afraid. Tommy is very good and likes children.” The girl offered the German her small, pale hand. “How do you do?” she said. “I’m not frightened at all. What’s his name?”
“How do you do, Tommy,” she said and nodded. “Did you sleep well?”
She offered him her hand, too. The elephant took it carefully and pressed her small, slim fingers with his strong, flexible one and did this much more gently than Mikhail Petrovich, the doctor. At the same time, the elephant nodded his head, and his little eyes became slits, as if they were laughing.
“He understands everything, doesn’t he?” the girl said to the German.
“Absolutely everything, Miss.”
“It’s just that he can’t talk, isn’t it?”
“Yes, that’s it. He can’t talk. You know, I have an only daughter, too, and she’sjust as big as you. Her name is Liza. Tommy and she are very good friends. The best of friends.”
“Have you had your tea yet, Tommy?” the girl asked the elephant.
The elephant stretched out his trunk again and blew a strong stream of warm air into the girl’s face, making her silky hair fly up. Nadya laughed and clapped her hands. The German guffawed. He was as big and fat and kind as an elephant, and Nadya thought there was a resemblance between them. Perhaps he and Tommy were related?
“No, he hasn’t had his tea yet. Miss. But he’d really enjoy some sugar-water. He also loves buns.” A tray of buns was brought in. The girl offered one to the elephant. He curled his finger over it quickly, and his trunk carried it up, tucking it someplace under his head, where he had a funny -looking, triangular, hairy under-lip. Nadya could hear the bun scratching against his dry skin. Tommy did the same with a second bun, and a third one, and a fourth one, and a fifth one. He nodded his head in thanks, and his little eyes became still smaller slits from pleasure. The girl laughed happily. When all the buns were gone, Nadya introduced the elephant to her dolls, saying, “See, Tommy, this pretty doll is Sonya. She’s a very kind child, but she won’t eat her soup. This is Natasha, Sonya’s daughter. She’s just starting her lessons, but knows most of the alphabet. And this is Matryoshka. She was my very first doll. See, she’s lost her nose, and her head’s glued on, and she hasn’t any hair left. But I can’t send the old thing away, can I, Tommy? she used to be Sonya’s mother, but now she’s our cook. Come on, let’s play. You’ll be the papa, Tommy, and I’ll be the mamma, and these will be our children.” Tommy agreed. He laughed, took Matryoshka by the neck and lifted the doll to his mouth. But it was only for fun. He chewed it a bit and put it back in the girl’s lap, although it was now rather wet and slightly crumpled. Then Nadya showed him a big picture book and said, “This is a horse, this is a canary, this is a rifle…. Here’s a bird in a cage, here’s a pail, a mirror, a stove, a spade, a crow…. Look! Here’s an elephant! It’s not at all like one, is it? Elephants are never this small, are they, Tommy?” Tommy agreed that elephants never were that small. In fact, he didn’t like the picture one bit. He lifted the edge of the page with his finger and turned it over.
Soon it was time for dinner, but it was impossible to get Nadya away from the elephant. The elephant’s owner came to the rescue and said, “Wait. We’ll settle things nicely. They’ll have their dinner together.” He told the elephant to sit down. The elephant sat down obediently, making the floor tremble, the dishes rattle in the cupboard and the plaster come off the ceiling in the room below. The girl sat down opposite him. The table was placed between them. A tablecloth was tied around the elephant’s neck, and the new friends began to eat their dinner. The girl had a bowl of chicken soup and a cutlet, while the elephant had a pile of raw vegetables and salad. The girl was given a tiny glass of sherry, and the elephant some warm water with a glass of rum in it. He drew the liquid up into his trunk from the bowl with relish. Then there was dessert: a cup of cocoa for the girl and half a cake for the elephant. This time it was a nut cake. All the while the German and the girl’s father were in the study, where the German was drinking beer with great pleasure.
After dinner some of her father’s friends dropped in. While still in the foyer, they were told of the elephant in the house so that they would not be frightened. At first, they did not believe it, but then, catching sight of Tommy, they huddled together in the doorway. “Don’t be afraid! He’s very good,” the girl said to calm them. Nevertheless, they quickly passed into the parlour, stayed but a few minutes and left.
Evening drew near. It was getting late and time for the little girl to go to bed, but it was impossible to get her away from the elephant. She finally fell asleep beside him and was carried back into the nursery. She did not even know she was being put to bed. That night Nadya dreamed that she married Tommy and that they had many children, all of them jolly little elephants. The elephant was taken back to the circus that night. He, too, dreamed of the sweet, lovely girl. Besides, he dreamed of nut cakes as big as the carriage gate.
The next morning the little girl awoke in the best of spirits and as before, when she had been healthy, she shouted in a loud, impatient voice for all to hear:
“I want my milk!”
When her mother heard her, she hurried in joyously.
The little girl suddenly recalled everything that had happened the day before and said: “But where’s Tommy?” Her mother explained that he had to go home to attend to his affairs, because he had children who could not be left alone, but that he had sent his regards to Nadya and had said that he was expecting her to visit him as soon as she got well.
The little girl smiled mischievously and said, ‘Tell Tommy that I’m all well now!’’
Molly loved her red hat. It was full and round and bright. It was glorious and unadorned. That hat knew more than it was saying. It could have been a ladybug, it could have been a tomato, or a red red lipstick-red dragon of fire. But it held still and was just a hat, and Molly loved it for that.
Then one day Molly’s mama bought her a little blue hat. It was sly and superficial and it didn’t know any secrets at all. Molly smiled politely and said thank you. She didn’t want her mama or the blue hat to be insulted. She put her red hat on the peg and wore the blue hat that day. But before she went out she pressed her mouth into the red hat and whispered, “I love you and I’ll always want you.”
When her little brother Billy came out into the garden, Molly realized that her mama had bought him a blue hat just like her new blue hat. Molly was polite and didn’t say what she thought about that.
But as Molly’s mama bustled out of the house in a jingle of keys, Billy burst out crying. “Mama come with!” he said.
“Have you been teasing your brother, young lady?” Molly’s mama said sharply, opening her car door.
Molly felt like a playground swing had gotten its chains tangled up and kicked her off onto the ground, wham, dirt up your nose and no air left for breathing. She grabbed the blue hat with both hands and tugged it over her ears, to keep from saying anything mean.
She hadn’t teased Billy, not even once, since her Daddy moved away.
“I’m already late,” said Molly’s mama to Billy, kissing him on the head and removing his hands from her coat. “Molly will walk you, honey. Aren’t your hats darling?” She shut the car door and drove off, vroom, without saying goodbye to Molly.
At kindergarten Molly put away the blue hat in her cubby and went bareheaded. Mrs. Telliveller raised her eyebrows in surprise. Mrs. Telliveller was the youngest in a line of powerful kindergarten teachers stretching back to the days of Morgan le Fay, and she was no fool. Molly blinked twice to let Mrs. Telliveller know that The Hat Would Be Back.
Molly was considerably less powerful without her hat, and the other kids knew it. Devilish Denise drew with purple crayon all over Molly’s drawing of an octopus and Molly let her. Craven Cristoph and Unpleasant Umberto took all the green blocks and wouldn’t let her have any, and Enervating Emily and Spurious Sue cut in line in front of Molly at lunch. None of them would have dared, if Molly weren’t hatless.
So understandably Molly rushed back home, dragging little Billy by the hand so quickly that he fell down twice and started to cry. Molly apologized and sang him “I’ve Been Working On The Railroad” and dragged him home a little slower.
But when Molly got to the peg, the Red Hat was gone.
“Where’s my hat?” she said to her mama.
“Your old hat? Honey, it’s too small for you. Don’t you like your new hat?”
“Where – is – it?” Molly said.
Her mama said, “I threw it out.”
Then Molly raged:
And Not O.K.!
Molly threw the blue hat on the ground and kicked it, and her mama took her to her room and left her there.
Oh red hat!
Oh red hat!
Oh red hat!
At dinner Molly still wasn’t happy but her mama said, “I’m sorry I threw your red hat out, honey.” So Molly, who knew how difficult it is for adults to apologize, said, “Okay.”
But it wasn’t okay.
So that night Molly brushed her teeth extra fast and got into her pajamas herself. When her mama was still struggling with Billy’s teeth and toothbrush, Molly bounced on the special place on her bed and flew
out the window
and onto the pine tree branch
over the roof and onto the top of the telephone pole
and skated along the wires
to the forest
to visit the Queen of the Owls.
The Queen of the Owls was drinking tea in a metal cup. Her white hair stuck out all over her head. She wore twelve coats and gloves with holes where the fingers poked through, red and bent. She had a fire going in an old paint can, and twelve owls sitting around her in a circle: a snowy owl, a great horned owl, a peat owl, a hoot owl, a screech owl, a nightsky owl, a coriander owl, a tick-tock owl, a can’t-see-it-when-you’re-looking owl, a fight owl, a friendship owl, and an owl-who-isn’t.
Molly was cold but she knew better than to warm herself at the fire of the Queen of the Owls without asking. She planted her bare feet in the snow and said, “I’m looking for my red hat.”
“Mmm, yes,” said the Queen of the Owls, and drank her tea. “Come warm yourself, dearie.”
“Are you sure?” said Molly.
“Oh, yes,” said the Queen of the Owls.
“Can I leave when I want to?” asked Molly.
“Oh, certainly,” said the Queen of the Owls.
“And nothing mean will happen to me?” asked Molly.
“If you insist,” said the Queen of the Owls.
So Molly darted past the tick-tock owl and sat in the lap of the friendship owl, who spread his wings protectively around her.
“Good choice,” said the Queen of the Owls, looking disappointed. The tick-tock owl folded up his claws.
“Thank you,” said Molly. “Now what about my red hat?”
The Queen of the Owls finished her tea and stared into the cup. The fire crackled, the cold night bit Molly’s toes, and the feathers of the friendship owl ticked her cheeks.
“It’s thrown out,” the Queen of the Owls said finally.
“I want it back!” said Molly. “Where is it?”
“It’s in the Outthrown Trashland, of course,” said the Queen of the Owls, “but you’re not brave enough to go there.”
“Yes I am,” said Molly.
“And even if you were, no one is brave enough to take you,” said the Queen of the Owls.
Molly said to the friendship owl, “will you take me?” But he blinked sadly and turned his head all the way around, and looked out into the night in back of him, so she could only see his feathers.
Molly looked at the coriander owl, but he did the same. So did the screech and the hoot and the peat and the great horned owl. So did the snowy and the nightsky and even the brave fight owl. Molly didn’t bother with the tick-tock owl. And the owl-that-isn’t covered her eyes with her wings-that-weren’t.
Then Molly got up from the lap of the friendship owl and ran out into the snow. She faced away from the fire and she closed her eyes tight and she covered them with her hands and she said, “will you take me, can’t-see-it-when-you’re-looking owl?”
Molly felt the small claws of the can’t-see-it-when-you’re-looking owl grab the shoulders of her pajamas. She heard its little wings beating, and she was lifted into the air.
“Molly!” the Queen of the Owls called, and her voice sounded afraid. “Don’t bring anything but the red hat back!”
Molly and the can’t-see-it-when-you’re-looking owl flew for a long time through the cold night. They heard the moaning of the moon and the scraping of the stars in their tracks. The dreams of bumblebees buzzed past them, and they flew through clouds of milk getting ready to rain upon the Doughlands. Molly kept her eyes tight shut.
Finally, Molly smelled trash, lots and lots of trash; and she heard the whispering groans and whimpers of everything lost and abandoned that wanted to find its way back to the world.
Molly’s feet touched the ground. She opened her eyes and saw
– heaps of socks, unpaired
– scarecrows and bell towers
– a few newspapers and many oldspapers
– sundials, spinning jennys, and busts of Lenin
– last year’s dolls and chewing gum
– the certainty that Man is in the center of the Universe
– the tennis shoes and basketballs of disappointed managers of fast-food restaurants in Oklahoma
– faith in Progress
– a billion pages of homework
…and a lot of other things.
Molly jumped through the air over great piles of junk and called: “Red hat! Red hat! It’s Molly! I’m here!”
“Molly!” cried a voice, and Molly landed on the roof of her old house. It was enormous and fuzzy and full of gables and slants. There was a man who looked like Molly’s Daddy, except that he was pale and had a rip through the middle of him stuck together with scotch tape.
“Molly!” he said. “Take me back!”
“You’re not my Daddy!” Molly said. “My Daddy lives in San Francisco.” She ran across the roof towards the chimney.
“I’m your mama’s love for your Daddy!” the man said, running after her. “Take me back!”
“No no no no no no no no! That’s not thrown out, you’re lying! I’m not taking back anything except the red hat!” Molly said, and she jumped down the chimney.
In the living room she crawled out of the fireplace, ran past dolls and wine glasses and her mama’s diploma, and up the stairs, calling “Red hat! Red hat!”
She opened the door to the baby’s room. There was Billy’s old crib and Billy’s old baby self in it — looking just like when he first came from the hospital, new and wrinkly and drooly and red. And there standing next to him, holding the bars of the crib, was an angry little green Molly flickering with fire.
“Hello Molly!” said angry green fiery Molly. “Take me back!”
“No!” said regular Molly and ran to the peg. There was her red hat hanging. Molly snatched it up and put it on her head. Then she jumped out the window and onto the roof of the house across the street. She faced away from her old house and closed her eyes and put her hands over them and called, “Will you take me home, can’t-see-it-when-you’re-looking owl?”
Molly felt the small claws of the can’t-see-it-when-you’re-looking owl grab the shoulders of her pajamas. She heard its little wings beating, and she was lifted into the air.
But just then angry little fiery green Molly jumped out the window, bounced off the roof across the street, and grabbed hold of Molly’s ankle in her fiery green hand!
Regular Molly couldn’t open her eyes. Her ankle burned and tickled. She kicked around with her feet, but little green Molly hung on tight. And so, that way, the three of them flew through the marshes of the night sky, and over the now baking Doughlands that filled the air with cookie smells, and heard the chuckling of the comets, and the muttering of the dawn gnomes sorting colors for the next day’s dawn.
Finally Molly’s feet touched the pine tree branch outside her bedroom window. The can’t-see-it-when-you’re-looking owl let go of her shoulders and fiery green Molly let go of her foot.
“Thank you, can’t-see-it-when-you’re-looking owl,” Molly said, “and thank the Queen of the Owls for me.” She opened her eyes and saw little angry green Molly slipping and sliding down the tree. Regular Molly pulled the red hat down tighter over her ears and jumped through her bedroom window and onto her bed.
She slipped her bare feet under the covers, because they had gotten quite cold.
Just then her mama came in, carrying Billy and his toothbrush. She stopped and stared at Molly’s red hat.
“I found it,” Molly said.
“How strange,” said Molly’s mama. “I thought I threw it out. It’s still too small for you.”
“Mama, please!” said Molly.
“We’ll talk about it tomorrow,” Molly’s mama said. She put Billy in the other bed and kissed him on the head. Then she turned off the light and went out.
Molly reached under her red hat and rubbed the place on her head that her mama hadn’t kissed.
When she looked over at Billy again, flickering green fiery Molly was in bed with him.
“You don’t remember how it was, do you?” said angry green Molly. “That’s the only thing I can think of to explain your behavior.”
“What are you talking about?” regular Molly said, sitting up.
“Molly,” said Billy, pointing at angry green Molly.
“We had Mama and Daddy all to ourselves,” said angry green Molly. “All the hugs, all the kisses. All the stories, all the songs. All the tickles, all the laughs. And then this thing came.”
“Molly — and — Molly!” said Billy, and laughed.
“And then all of a sudden, Mama could only ever hold this thing. It was always in her arms. It sucked her strength like a vampire. It drove Daddy away,” said angry green Molly, and she put her hands over Billy’s mouth and nose and shook him. Billy choked and struggled.
Molly leaped out of bed and pulled angry green Molly away from Billy. Billy gasped and started crying.
“You shut up!” Molly shouted. Her hands burned and tingled where she held angry green Molly. “You shut up or I’ll pound you into jelly!”
“Fine,” said little angry green Molly, slithering out of regular Molly’s grasp. “Then I’ll go make friends with the crows.” And she jumped out the window.
The door banged open and Molly’s mama came in. “What did you say, young lady?” she shouted. Billy kept crying and Molly’s mama picked him up.
“What?” Molly said, standing in the middle of the room.
“I distinctly heard you threaten your little brother, and I am very surprised at you.”
“No,” Molly said, “I didn’t –“
“Are you going to make it worse now by lying?” Molly’s mama asked.
Molly shut her mouth.
Molly’s mama shut the window and locked it. “We’ll talk about this tomorrow,” she said. “Shh, Billy, it’s okay, you can sleep in bed with mama.”
“No!” Billy snuffled. “Sleep — wif — Molly.”
Molly’s mama paused and frowned. Then she put Billy back in his bed. “Do you see how much trust your little brother has in you, young lady?” she said. “I hope you try and earn it from now on.”
Then she went out.
Molly put the red hat on the windowsill to protect her and Billy, and she put Babar and Celeste and Rumpelstilskin by the door. It was about all she could do. Then she got in bed and closed her eyes. Billy was already asleep.
The next day at breakfast, Molly’s mama looked tired and didn’t remember to argue with Molly about the red hat, so Molly wore it.
She walked slowly and carefully with Billy to preschool-kindergarten and sang “It Takes A Workin’ Man” to him and let him break icicles from under mailboxes and suck on them. She was having such a good time that she didn’t see angry green Molly run up and snatch the red hat from her head.
“You give that back!” Molly shouted and ran after her.
Little angry green Molly laughed and ran, but Molly had longer legs and caught up with her. She pushed little angry green Molly to the ground and sat on her, and she got her red hat back.
Little green fiery Molly kept laughing, though, and that gave regular Molly a very creepy feeling.
She looked back down the road and saw a huge flock of crows flying up into the air with Billy.
“Billy!” Molly shouted and jumped into the air. She jumped as high as the chimneys, but it wasn’t high enough to reach the crows. So she jumped onto the nearest chimney and then off the chimney into the flock of crows. She punched one crow as she flew by and it let go of Billy’s arm, but some other crows grabbed it again. Molly fell down onto a snowy roof and slid off it in a small avalanche. When she pushed her way out of it, the crows were even higher. Billy looked like an ant.
Molly pulled the red hat from her head and held it in both hands. “Red hat, red hat, I know you just like being a hat, but if there’s anything you can do, do it now!” and she threw the hat up in the air.
The red hat quavered and
paused and then
a red red lipstick-red dragon of fine red silk.
It flew up into the flock of crows and it smacked them with its tail. Pow! Pang! Zow! Zang! The crows went flying off. The hat-dragon caught Billy in its tail and flew him gently down. But as it flew down those crows came after it. They dodged its head and they tore at it with their beaks. Rip! And Strip! And Tear! And Shred! Finally the hat-dragon set Billy in a snowbank and fought back with its tail.
Molly raced for the snowbank and so did little green fiery Molly. Little green fiery Molly got there first. She grabbed Billy’s hand and tugged him to the road and without even looking both ways she pushed him out into it —
but Molly pulled him back.
Then she grabbed little green fiery Molly and lifted her into the air.
“You can’t win, Molly!” little green fiery Molly said. “You brought me back! I’m yours! I’m here to stay!”
“You’re right,” said Molly, and she put her mouth onto the forehead of little green fiery Molly and took a deep, deep breath, as if she was about to blow out the candles of a birthday cake the size of the moon. Little green fiery Molly only had time to say “Help!” once before Molly breathed her in and swallowed her.
Then she pulled Billy out of the snowbank, brushed the snow out of his face, and keeping tight hold of his hand, ran for the red hat.
The crows were gone, and all that was left of the red hat were a few shreds of red red lipstick-red fine red silk.
Molly sat down and started to cry, and Billy sat down next to her and cried too.
Mrs. Telliveller had a good idea what sort of thing might have happened when Molly didn’t show up, and came out looking. She sat down on the curb next to Molly, and she rooted around in her purse for some Kleenex and a cell phone, and she called Molly’s mama at work right then. She explained a lot of things, gently, in terms that Molly’s mama could understand.
Molly’s mama took the day off work and took Molly and Billy home. She left Billy playing with some blocks on the floor and she took Molly onto her lap on the couch and let her cry for a long, long time.
And when Molly finally fell asleep, still holding the shreds of red silk, Molly’s mama pressed her mouth into Molly’s hair and whispered, “I love you and I’ll always want you.”
After that, sometimes Molly wore the blue hat to school. Sometimes she did tease Billy and fight with him. Sometimes she felt sick to her stomach, and then she could feel the other Molly crawling around in there. Sometimes, when she was very angry, you could see the other Molly looking out of her eyes.
But every night, when she went to bed, her mama kissed her goodnight. Molly’s mama never forgot again. And all night long, Molly could feel that kiss on her forehead, warm and soft, keeping her safe.
There was once a lady who found herself in middle life with but a slight income. Knowing herself to be insufficiently educated to be able to practise any other trade or calling, she of course decided, without hesitation, to enter the profession of teaching. She opened a very select Boarding School for Young Ladies. The highest references were given and required. And in order to keep her school as select as possible, Miss Fitzroy Robinson had a brass plate fastened on to the door, with an inscription in small polite lettering. (You have, of course, heard of the “polite letters.” Well, it was with these that Miss Fitzroy Robinson’s door-plate was engraved.)
“SELECT BOARDING ESTABLISHMENT FOR THE
DAUGHTERS OF RESPECTABLE MONARCHS.”
A great many kings who were not at all respectable would have given their royal ears to be allowed to send their daughters to this school, but Miss Fitzroy Robinson was very firm about references, and the consequence was that all the really high-class kings were only too pleased to be permitted to pay ten thousand pounds a year for their daughters’ education. And so Miss Fitzroy Robinson was able to lay aside a few pounds as a provision for her old age. And all the money she saved was invested in land.
Only one monarch refused to send his daughter to Miss Fitzroy Robinson, on the ground that so cheap a school could not be a really select one, and it was found out afterwards that his references were not at all satisfactory.
There were only six boarders, and of course the best masters were engaged to teach the royal pupils everything which their parents wished them to learn, and as the girls were never asked to do lessons except when they felt quite inclined, they all said it was the nicest school in the world, and cried at the very thought of being taken away. Thus it happened that the six pupils were quite grown up and were just becoming parlour boarders when events began to occur. Princess Daisy, the daughter of King Fortunatus, the ruling sovereign, was the only little girl in the school.
Now it was when she had been at school about a year, that a ring came at the front door-bell, and the maid-servant came to the schoolroom with a visiting card held in the corner of her apron—for her hands were wet because it was washing-day.
“A gentleman to see you, Miss,” she said; and Miss Fitzroy Robinson was quite fluttered because she thought it might be a respectable monarch, with a daughter who wanted teaching.
But when she looked at the card she left off fluttering, and said, “Dear me!” under her breath, because she was very genteel. If she had been vulgar like some of us she would have said “Bother!” and if she had been more vulgar than, I hope, any of us are, she might have said “Drat the man!” The card was large and shiny and had gold letters on it. Miss Fitzroy Robinson read:—
Chevalier Doloro De Lara
Professor of Magic (white)
and the Black Art.
Pupils instructed at their own residences.
Special terms for Schools. Evening Parties
Miss Fitzroy Robinson laid down her book—she never taught without a book—smoothed her yellow cap and her grey curls and went into the front parlour to see her visitor. He bowed low at sight of her. He was very tall and hungry-looking, with black eyes, and an indescribable mouth.
“It is indeed a pleasure,” said he, smiling so as to show every one of his thirty-two teeth—a very polite, but very difficult thing to do—“it is indeed a pleasure to meet once more my old pupil.”
“The pleasure is mutual, I am sure,” said Miss Fitzroy Robinson. If it is sometimes impossible to be polite and truthful at the same moment, that is not my fault, nor Miss Fitzroy Robinson’s.
“I have been travelling about,” said the Professor, still smiling immeasurably, “increasing my stock of wisdom. Ah, dear lady—we live and learn, do we not? And now I am really a far more competent teacher than when I had the honour of instructing you. May I hope for an engagement as Professor in your Academy?”
“I have not yet been able to arrange for a regular course of Magic,” said the schoolmistress; “it is a subject in which parents, especially royal ones, take but too little interest.”
“It was your favourite study,” said the professor.
“Yes—but—well, no doubt some day——”
“But I want an engagement now,” said he, looking hungrier than ever; “a thousand pounds for thirteen lessons—to you, dear lady.”
“It’s quite impossible,” said she, and she spoke firmly, for she knew from history how dangerous it is for a Magician to be allowed anywhere near a princess. Some harm almost always comes of it.
“Oh, very well!” said the Professor.
“You see my pupils are all princesses,” she went on, “they don’t require the use of magic, they can get all they want without it.”
“Then it’s ‘No’?” said he.
“It’s ‘No thank you kindly,’” said she.
Then, before she could stop him, he sprang past her out at the door, and she heard his boots on the oilcloth of the passage. She flew after him just in time to have the schoolroom door slammed and locked in her face.
“Well, I never!” said Miss Fitzroy Robinson. She hastened to the top of the house and hurried down the schoolroom chimney, which had been made with steps, in case of fire or other emergency. She stepped out of the grate on to the schoolroom hearthrug just one second too late. The seven Princesses were all gone, and the Professor of Magic stood alone among the ink-stained desks, smiling the largest smile Miss Fitzroy Robinson had seen yet.
“Oh, you naughty, bad, wicked man, you!” said she, shaking the school ruler at him.
The next day was Saturday, and the King of the country called as usual to take his daughter Daisy out to spend her half holiday. The servant who opened the door had a coarse apron on and cinders in her hair, and the King thought it was sackcloth and ashes, and said so a little anxiously, but the girl said, “No, I’ve only been a-doing of the kitchen range—though, for the matter of that—but you’d best see missus herself.”
So the King was shown into the best parlour where the tasteful wax-flowers were, and the antimacassars and water-colour drawings executed by the pupils, and the wool mats which Miss Fitzroy Robinson’s bed-ridden aunt made so beautifully. A delightful parlour full of the traces of the refining touch of a woman’s hand.
Miss Fitzroy Robinson came in slowly and sadly. Her gown was neatly made of sack-cloth—with an ingenious trimming of small cinders sewn on gold braid—and some larger-sized cinders dangled by silken threads from the edge of her lace cap.
The King saw at once that she was annoyed about something. “I hope I’m not too early,” said he.
“Your Majesty,” she answered, “not at all. You are always punctual, as stated in your references. Something has happened. I will not aggravate your misfortunes by breaking them to you. Your daughter Daisy, the pride and treasure of our little circle, has disappeared. Her six royal companions are with her. For the present all are safe, but at the moment I am unable to lay my hand on any one of the seven.”
The King sat down heavily on part of the handsome walnut and rep suite (ladies’ and gentlemen’s easy-chairs, couch and six occasional chairs) and gasped miserably. He could not find words. But the schoolmistress had written down what she was going to say on a slate and learned it off by heart, so she was able to go on fluently.
“Your Majesty, I am not wholly to blame—hang me if I am—I mean hang me if you must; but first allow me to have the honour of offering to you one or two explanatory remarks.”
With this she sat down and told him the whole story of the Professor’s visit, only stopping exactly where I stopped when I was telling it to you just now.
The King listened, plucking nervously at the fringe of a purple and crimson antimacassar.
“I never was satisfied with the Professor’s methods,” said Miss Fitzroy Robinson sadly; “and I always had my doubts as to his moral character, doubts now set at rest for ever. After concluding my course of instruction with him some years ago I took a series of lessons from a far more efficient master, and thanks to those lessons, which were, I may mention, extremely costly, I was mercifully enabled to put a spoke in the wheel of the unprincipled ruffian——”
“Did you save the Princesses?” cried the King.
“No; but I can if your Majesty and the other parents will leave the matter entirely in my hands.”
“It’s rather a serious matter,” said the King; “my poor little Daisy——”
“I would ask you,” said the schoolmistress with dignity, “not to attach too much importance to this event. Of course it is regrettable, but unpleasant accidents occur in all schools, and the consequences of them can usually be averted by the exercise of tact and judgment.”
“I ought to hang you, you know,” said the King doubtfully.
“No doubt,” said Miss Fitzroy Robinson, “and if you do you’ll never see your Daisy again. Your duty as a parent—yes—and your duty to me—conflicting duties are very painful things.”
“But can I trust you?”
“I may remind you,” said she, drawing herself up so that the cinders rattled again, “that we exchanged satisfactory references at the commencement of our business relations.”
The King rose. “Well, Miss Fitzroy Robinson,” he said, “I have been entirely satisfied with Daisy’s progress since she has been in your charge, and I feel I cannot do better than leave this matter entirely in your able hands.”
The schoolmistress made him a curtsey, and he went back to his marble palace a broken-hearted monarch, with his crown all on one side and his poor, dear nose red with weeping.
The select boarding establishment was shut up.
Time went on and no news came of the lost Princesses.
The King found but little comfort in the fact that his other child, Prince Denis, was still spared to him. Denis was all very well and a nice little boy in his way, but a boy is not a girl.
The Queen was much more broken-hearted than the King, but of course she had the housekeeping to see to and the making of the pickles and preserves and the young Prince’s stockings to knit, so she had not much time for weeping, and after a year she said to the King—
“My dear, you ought to do something to distract your mind. It’s unkinglike to sit and cry all day. Now, do make an effort; do something useful, if it’s only opening a bazaar or laying a foundation stone.”
“I am frightened of bazaars,” said the King; “they are like bees—they buzz and worry; but foundation stones——” And after that he began to sit and think sometimes, without crying, and to make notes on the backs of old envelopes. So the Queen felt that she had not spoken quite in vain.
A month later the suggestion of foundation stones bore fruit.
The King floated a company, and Fortunatus Rex & Co. became almost at once the largest speculative builders in the world.
Perhaps you do not know what a speculative builder is. I’ll tell you what the King and his Co. did, and then you will know.
They bought all the pretty woods and fields they could get and cut them up into squares, and grubbed up the trees and the grass and put streets there and lamp-posts and ugly little yellow brick houses, in the hopes that people would want to live in them. And curiously enough people did. So the King and his Co. made quite a lot of money.
It is curious that nearly all the great fortunes are made by turning beautiful things into ugly ones. Making beauty out of ugliness is very ill-paid work.
The ugly little streets crawled further and further out of the town, eating up the green country like greedy yellow caterpillars, but at the foot of the Clover Hill they had to stop. For the owner of Clover Hill would not sell any land at all—for any price that Fortunatus Rex & Co. could offer. In vain the solicitors of the Company called on the solicitors of the owner, wearing their best cloaks and swords and shields, and took them out to lunch and gave them nice things to eat and drink. Clover Hill was not for sale.
At last, however, a little old woman all in grey called at the Company’s shining brass and mahogany offices and had a private interview with the King himself.
“I am the owner of Clover Hill,” said she, “and you may build on all its acres except the seven at the top and the fifteen acres that go round that seven, and you must build me a high wall round the seven acres and another round the fifteen—of red brick, mind; none of your cheap yellow stuff—and you must make a brand new law that any one who steals my fruit is to be hanged from the tree he stole it from. That’s all. What do you say?”
The King said “Yes,” because since his trouble he cared for nothing but building, and his royal soul longed to see the green Clover Hill eaten up by yellow brick caterpillars with slate tops. He did not at all like building the two red brick walls, but he did it.
Now, the old woman wanted the walls and the acres to be this sort of shape—
But it was such a bother getting the exact amount of ground into the two circles that all the surveyors tore out their hair by handfuls, and at last the King said, “Oh bother! Do it this way,” and drew a plan on the back of an old Act of Parliament. So they did, and it was like this—
The old lady was very vexed when she found that there was only one wall between her orchard and the world, as you see was the case at the corner where the two 1’s and the 15 meet; but the King said he couldn’t afford to build it all over again and that she’d got her two walls as she had said. So she had to put up with it. Only she insisted on the King’s getting her a fierce bull-dog to fly at the throat of any one who should come over the wall at that weak point where the two 1’s join on to the 15. So he got her a stout bull-dog whose name was Martha, and brought it himself in a jewelled leash.
“Martha will fly at any one who is not of kingly blood,” said he. “Of course she wouldn’t dream of biting a royal person; but, then, on the other hand, royal people don’t rob orchards.”
So the old woman had to be contented. She tied Martha up in the unprotected corner of her inner enclosure and then she planted little baby apple trees and had a house built and sat down in it and waited.
And the King was almost happy. The creepy, crawly yellow caterpillars ate up Clover Hill—all except the little green crown on the top, where the apple trees were and the two red brick walls and the little house and the old woman.
The poor Queen went on seeing to the jam and the pickles and the blanket washing and the spring cleaning, and every now and then she would say to her husband—
“Fortunatus, my love, do you really think Miss Fitzroy Robinson is trustworthy? Shall we ever see our Daisy again?”
And the King would rumple his fair hair with his hands till it stuck out like cheese straws under his crown, and answer—
“My dear, you must be patient; you know we had the very highest references.”
Now one day the new yellow brick town the King had built had a delightful experience. Six handsome Princes on beautiful white horses came riding through the dusty little streets. The housings of their chargers shone with silver embroidery and gleaming glowing jewels, and their gold armour flashed so gloriously in the sun that all the little children clapped their hands, and the Princes’ faces were so young and kind and handsome that all the old women said: “Bless their pretty hearts!”
Now, of course, you will not need to be told that these six Princes were looking for the six grown-up Princesses who had been so happy at the Select Boarding Establishment. Their six Royal fathers, who lived many years’ journey away on the other side of the world, and had not yet heard that the Princesses were mislaid, had given Miss Fitzroy Robinson’s address to these Princes, and instructed them to marry the six Princesses without delay, and bring them home.
But when they got to the Select Boarding Establishment for the Daughters of Respectable Monarchs, the house was closed, and a card was in the window, saying that this desirable villa residence was to be let on moderate terms, furnished or otherwise. The wax fruit under the glass shade still showed attractively through the dusty panes. The six Princes looked through the window by turns. They were charmed with the furniture, and the refining touch of a woman’s hand drew them like a magnet. They took the house, but they had their meals at the Palace by the King’s special invitation.
King Fortunatus told the Princes the dreadful story of the disappearance of the entire Select School; and each Prince swore by his sword-hilt and his honour that he would find out the particular Princess that he was to marry, or perish in the attempt. For, of course, each Prince was to marry one Princess, mentioned by name in his instructions, and not one of the others.
The first night that the Princes spent in the furnished house passed quietly enough, so did the second and the third and the fourth, fifth and sixth, but on the seventh night, as the Princes sat playing spilikins in the schoolroom, they suddenly heard a voice that was not any of theirs. It said, “Open up Africa!”
The Princes looked here, there, and everywhere—but they could see no one. They had not been brought up to the exploring trade, and could not have opened up Africa if they had wanted to.
“Or cut through the Isthmus of Panama,” said the voice again.
Now, as it happened, none of the six Princes were engineers. They confessed as much.
“Cut up China, then!” said the voice, desperately.
“It’s like the ghost of a Tory newspaper,” said one of the Princes.
And then suddenly they knew that the voice came from one of the pair of globes which hung in frames at the end of the schoolroom. It was the terrestrial globe.
“I’m inside,” said the voice; “I can’t get out. Oh, cut the globe—anywhere—and let me out. But the African route is most convenient.”
Prince Primus opened up Africa with his sword, and out tumbled half a Professor of Magic.
“My other half’s in there,” he said, pointing to the Celestial globe. “Let my legs out, do——”
But Prince Secundus said, “Not so fast,” and Prince Tertius said, “Why were you shut up?”
“I was shut up for as pretty a bit of parlour-magic as ever you saw in all your born days,” said the top half of the Professor of Magic.
“Oh, you were, were you?” said Prince Quartus; “well, your legs aren’t coming out just yet. We want to engage a competent magician. You’ll do.”
“But I’m not all here,” said the Professor.
“Quite enough of you,” said Prince Quintus.
“Now look here,” said Prince Sextus; “we want to find our six Princesses. We can give a very good guess as to how they were lost; but we’ll let bygones be bygones. You tell us how to find them, and after our weddings we’ll restore your legs to the light of day.”
“This half of me feels so faint,” said the half Professor of Magic.
“What are we to do?” said all the Princes, threateningly; “if you don’t tell us, you shall never have a leg to stand on.”
“Steal apples,” said the half Professor, hoarsely, and fainted away.
They left him lying on the bare boards between the inkstained desks, and off they went to steal apples. But this was not so easy. Because Fortunatus Rex & Co. had built, and built, and built, and apples do not grow freely in those parts of the country which have been “opened up” by speculative builders.
So at last they asked the little Prince Denis where he went for apples when he wanted them. And Denis said—
“The old woman at the top of Clover Hill has apples in her seven acres, and in her fifteen acres, but there’s a fierce bulldog in the seven acres, and I’ve stolen all the apples in the fifteen acres myself.”
“We’ll try the seven acres,” said the Princes.
“Very well,” said Denis; “You’ll be hanged if you’re caught. So, as I put you up to it, I’m coming too, and if you won’t take me, I’ll tell. So there!”
For Denis was a most honourable little Prince, and felt that you must not send others into danger unless you go yourself, and he would never have stolen apples if it had not been quite as dangerous as leading armies.
So the Princes had to agree, and the very next night Denis let himself down out of his window by a knotted rope made of all the stockings his mother had knitted for him, and the grown-up Princes were waiting under the window, and off they all went to the orchard on the top of Clover Hill.
They climbed the wall at the proper corner, and Martha, the bulldog, who was very wellbred, and knew a Prince when she saw one, wagged her kinked tail respectfully and wished them good luck.
The Princes stole over the dewy orchard grass and looked at tree after tree: there were no apples on any of them.
Only at last, in the very middle of the orchard there was a tree with a copper trunk and brass branches, and leaves of silver. And on it hung seven beautiful golden apples.
So each Prince took one of the golden apples, very quietly, and off they went, anxious to get back to the half-Professor of Magic, and learn what to do next. No one had any doubt as to the half-Professor having told the truth; for when your legs depend on your speaking the truth you will not willingly tell a falsehood.
They stole away as quietly as they could, each with a gold apple in his hand, but as they went Prince Denis could not resist his longing to take a bite out of his apple. He opened his mouth very wide so as to get a good bite, and the next moment he howled aloud, for the apple was as hard as stone, and the poor little boy had broken nearly all his first teeth.
He flung the apple away in a rage, and the next moment the old woman rushed out of her house. She screamed. Martha barked. Prince Denis howled. The whole town was aroused, and the six Princes were arrested, and taken under a strong guard to the Tower. Denis was let off, on the ground of his youth, and, besides, he had lost most of his teeth, which is a severe punishment, even for stealing apples.
The King sat in his Hall of Justice next morning, and the old woman and the Princes came before him. When the story had been told, he said—
“My dear fellows, I hope you’ll excuse me—the laws of hospitality are strict—but business is business after all. I should not like to have any constitutional unpleasantness over a little thing like this; you must all be hanged to-morrow morning.”
The Princes were extremely vexed, but they did not make a fuss. They asked to see Denis, and told him what to do.
So Denis went to the furnished house which had once been a Select Boarding Establishment for the Daughters of Respectable Monarchs. The door was locked, but Denis knew a way in, because his sister had told him all about it one holiday. He got up on the roof and walked down the schoolroom chimney.
There, on the schoolroom floor, lay half a Professor of Magic, struggling feebly, and uttering sad, faint squeals.
“What are we to do now?” said Denis.
“Steal apples,” said the half-Professor in a weak whisper. “Do let my legs out. Slice up the Great Bear—or the Milky Way would be a good one for them to come out by.”
But Denis knew better.
“Not till we get the lost Princesses,” said he, “now, what’s to be done?”
“Steal apples I tell you,” said the half-Professor, crossly; “seven apples—there—seven kisses. Cut them down. Oh go along with you, do. Leave me to die, you heartless boy. I’ve got pins and needles in my legs.”
Then off ran Denis to the Seven Acre Orchard at the top of Clover Hill, and there were the six Princes hanging to the apple-tree, and the hangman had gone home to his dinner, and there was no one else about. And the Princes were not dead.
Denis climbed up the tree and cut the Princes down with the penknife of the gardener’s boy. (You will often find this penknife mentioned in your German exercises; now you know why so much fuss is made about it.)
The Princes fell to the ground, and when they recovered their wits Denis told them what he had done.
“Oh why did you cut us down?” said the Princes, “we were having such happy dreams.”
“Well,” said Denis, shutting up the penknife of the gardener’s boy, “of all the ungrateful chaps!” And he turned his back and marched off. But they ran quickly after him and thanked him and told him how they had been dreaming of walking arm in arm with the most dear and lovely Princesses in the world.
“Well,” said Denis, “it’s no use dreaming about them. You’ve got your own registered Princesses to find, and the half-Professor says, ‘Steal apples.’”
“There aren’t any more to steal,” said the Princes—but when they looked, there were the gold apples back on the tree just as before.
So once again they each picked one. Denis chose a different one this time. He thought it might be softer. The last time he had chosen the biggest apple—but now he took the littlest apple of all.
“Seven kisses!” he cried, and began to kiss the little gold apple.
Each Prince kissed the apple he held, till the sound of kisses was like the whisper of the evening wind in leafy trees. And, of course, at the seventh kiss each Prince found that he had in his hand not an apple, but the fingers of a lovely Princess. As for Denis, he had got his little sister Daisy, and he was so glad he promised at once to give her his guinea-pigs and his whole collection of foreign postage stamps.
“What is your name, dear and lovely lady?” asked Prince Primus.
“Sexta,” said his Princess. And then it turned out that every single one of the Princes had picked the wrong apple, so that each one had a Princess who was not the one mentioned in his letter of instructions. Secundus had plucked the apple that held Quinta, and Tertius held Quarta, and so on—and everything was as criss-cross-crooked as it possibly could be.
And yet nobody wanted to change.
Then the old woman came out of her house and looked at them and chuckled, and she said—
“You must be contented with what you have.”
“We are,” said all twelve of them, “but what about our parents?”
“They must put up with your choice,” said the old woman, “it’s the common lot of parents.”
“I think you ought to sort yourselves out properly,” said Denis; “I’m the only one who’s got his right Princess—because I wasn’t greedy. I took the smallest.”
The tallest Princess showed him a red mark on her arm, where his little teeth had been two nights before, and everybody laughed.
But the old woman said—
“They can’t change, my dear. When a Prince has picked a gold apple that has a Princess in it, and has kissed it till she comes out, no other Princess will ever do for him, any more than any other Prince will ever do for her.”
While she was speaking the old woman got younger and younger and younger, till as she spoke the last words she was quite young, not more than fifty-five. And it was Miss Fitzroy Robinson!
Her pupils stepped forward one by one with respectful curtsies, and she allowed them to kiss her on the cheek, just as if it was breaking-up day.
Then, all together, and very happily, they went down to the furnished villa that had once been the Select School, and when the half-professor had promised on his honour as a Magician to give up Magic and take to a respectable trade, they took his legs out of the starry sphere, and gave them back to him; and he joined himself together, and went off full of earnest resolve to live and die an honest plumber.
“My talents won’t be quite wasted,” said he; “a little hanky-panky is useful in most trades.”
When the King asked Miss Fitzroy Robinson to name her own reward for restoring the Princesses, she said—
“Make the land green again, your Majesty.”
So Fortunatus Rex & Co. devoted themselves to pulling down and carting off the yellow streets they had built. And now the country there is almost as green and pretty as it was before Princess Daisy and the six parlour-boarders were turned into gold apples.
“It was very clever of dear Miss Fitzroy Robinson to shut up that Professor in those two globes,” said the Queen; “it shows the advantage of having lessons from the best Masters.”
“Yes,” said the King, “I always say that you cannot go far wrong if you insist on the highest references!”
He happened to be building a Palace when the news came, and he left all the bricks kicking about the floor for Nurse to clear up–but then the news was rather remarkable news. You see, there was a knock at the front door and voices talking downstairs, and Lionel thought it was the man come to see about the gas, which had not been allowed to be lighted since the day when Lionel made a swing by tying his skipping rope to the gas bracket.
And then, quite suddenly, Nurse came in and said, “Master Lionel, dear, they’ve come to fetch you to go and be King.”
Then she made haste to change his smock and to wash his face and hands and brush his hair, and all the time she was doing it Lionel kept wriggling and fidgeting and saying, “Oh, don’t, Nurse,” and, “I’m sure my ears are quite clean,” or, “Never mind my hair, it’s all right,” and, “That’ll do.”
“You’re going on as if you was going to be an eel instead of a King,” said Nurse.
The minute Nurse let go for a moment Lionel bolted off without waiting for his clean handkerchief, and in the drawing room there were two very grave-looking gentlemen in red robes with fur, and gold coronets with velvet sticking up out of the middle like the cream in the very expensive jam tarts.
They bowed low to Lionel, and the gravest one said: “Sire, your great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, the King of this country, is dead, and now you have got to come and be King.”
“Yes, please, sir,” said Lionel, “when does it begin?”
“You will be crowned this afternoon,” said the grave gentleman who was not quite so grave-looking as the other.
“Would you like me to bring Nurse, or what time would you like me to be fetched, and hadn’t I better put on my velvet suit with the lace collar?” said Lionel, who had often been out to tea.
“Your Nurse will be removed to the Palace later. No, never mind about changing your suit; the Royal robes will cover all that up.”
The grave gentlemen led the way to a coach with eight white horses, which was drawn up in front of the house where Lionel lived. It was No. 7, on the left-hand side of the street as you go up.
Lionel ran upstairs at the last minute, and he kissed Nurse and said: “Thank you for washing me. I wish I’d let you do the other ear. No–there’s no time now. Give me the hanky. Good-bye, Nurse.”
“Good-bye, ducky,” said Nurse. “Be a good little King now, and say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ and remember to pass the cake to the little girls, and don’t have more than two helps of anything.”
So off went Lionel to be made a King. He had never expected to be a King any more than you have, so it was all quite new to him–so new that he had never even thought of it. And as the coach went through the town he had to bite his tongue to be quite sure it was real, because if his tongue was real it showed he wasn’t dreaming. Half an hour before he had been building with bricks in the nursery; and now–the streets were all fluttering with flags; every window was crowded with people waving handkerchiefs and scattering flowers; there were scarlet soldiers everywhere along the pavements, and all the bells of all the churches were ringing like mad, and like a great song to the music of their ringing he heard thousands of people shouting, “Long live Lionel! Long live our little King!”
He was a little sorry at first that he had not put on his best clothes, but he soon forgot to think about that. If he had been a girl he would very likely have bothered about it the whole time.
As they went along, the grave gentlemen, who were the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, explained the things which Lionel did not understand.
“I thought we were a Republic,” said Lionel. “I’m sure there hasn’t been a King for some time.”
“Sire, your great-great-great-great-great-grandfather’s death happened when my grandfather was a little boy,” said the Prime Minister, “and since then your loyal people have been saving up to buy you a crown–so much a week, you know, according to people’s means–sixpence a week from those who have first-rate pocket money, down to a halfpenny a week from those who haven’t so much. You know it’s the rule that the crown must be paid for by the people.”
“But hadn’t my great-great-however-much-it-is-grandfather a crown?”
“Yes, but he sent it to be tinned over, for fear of vanity, and he had had all the jewels taken out, and sold them to buy books. He was a strange man; a very good King he was, but he had his faults–he was fond of books. Almost with his last breath he sent the crown to be tinned–and he never lived to pay the tinsmith’s bill.”
Here the Prime Minister wiped away a tear, and just then the carriage stopped and Lionel was taken out of the carriage to be crowned. Being crowned is much more tiring work than you would suppose, and by the time it was over, and Lionel had worn the Royal robes for an hour or two and had had his hand kissed by everybody whose business it was to do it, he was quite worn out, and was very glad to get into the Palace nursery.
Nurse was there, and tea was ready: seedy cake and plummy cake, and jam and hot buttered toast, and the prettiest china with red and gold and blue flowers on it, and real tea, and as many cups of it as you liked.
After tea Lionel said: “I think I should like a book. Will you get me one, Nurse?”
“Bless the child,” said Nurse. “You don’t suppose you’ve lost the use of your legs with just being a King? Run along, do, and get your books yourself.”
So Lionel went down into the library. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor were there, and when Lionel came in they bowed very low, and were beginning to ask Lionel most politely what on earth he was coming bothering for now–when Lionel cried out: “Oh, what a worldful of books! Are they yours?”
“They are yours, Your Majesty,” answered the Chancellor. “They were the property of the late King, your great-great–“
“Yes, I know,” Lionel interrupted. “Well, I shall read them all. I love to read. I am so glad I learned to read.”
“If I might venture to advise Your Majesty,” said the Prime Minister, “I should not read these books. Your great–“
“Yes?” said Lionel, quickly.
“He was a very good King–oh, yes, really a very superior King in his way, but he was a little–well, strange.”
“Mad?” asked Lionel, cheerfully.
“No, no”–both the gentlemen were sincerely shocked. “Not mad; but if I may express it so, he was–er–too clever by half. And I should not like a little King of mine to have anything to do with his books.”
Lionel looked puzzled.
“The fact is,” the Chancellor went on, twisting his red beard in an agitated way, “your great–“
“Go on,” said Lionel.
“–was called a wizard.”
“But he wasn’t?”
“Of course not–a most worthy King was your great–“
“But I wouldn’t touch his books.”
“Just this one,” cried Lionel, laying his hands on the cover of a great brown book that lay on the study table. It had gold patterns on the brown leather, and gold clasps with turquoises and rubies in the twists of them, and gold corners, so that the leather should not wear out too quickly.
“I must look at this one,” Lionel said, for on the back in big letters he read: The Book of Beasts.
The Chancellor said, “Don’t be a silly little King.”
But Lionel had got the gold clasps undone, and he opened the first page, and there was a beautiful Butterfly all red, and brown, and yellow, and blue, so beautifully painted that it looked as if it were alive.
“There,” said Lionel, “Isn’t that lovely? Why–“
But as he spoke the beautiful Butterfly fluttered its many-colored wings on the yellow old page of the book, and flew up and out of the window.
“Well!” said the Prime Minister, as soon as he could speak for the lump of wonder that had got into his throat and tried to choke him, “that’s magic, that is.”
But before he had spoken, the King had turned the next page, and there was a shining bird complete and beautiful in every blue feather of him. Under him was written, “Blue Bird of Paradise,” and while the King gazed enchanted at the charming picture the Blue Bird fluttered his wings on the yellow page and spread them and flew out of the book.
Then the Prime Minister snatched the book away from the King and shut it up on the blank page where the bird had been, and put it on a very high shelf. And the Chancellor gave the King a good shaking, and said: “You’re a naughty, disobedient little King!” and was very angry indeed.
“I don’t see that I’ve done any harm,” said Lionel. He hated being shaken, as all boys do; he would much rather have been slapped.
“No harm?” said the Chancellor. “Ah–but what do you know about it? That’s the question. How do you know what might have been on the next page–a snake or a worm, or a centipede or a revolutionist, or something like that.”
“Well, I’m sorry if I’ve vexed you,” said Lionel. “Come, let’s kiss and be friends.” So he kissed the Prime Minister, and they settled down for a nice quiet game of noughts and crosses while the Chancellor went to add up his accounts.
But when Lionel was in bed he could not sleep for thinking of the book, and when the full moon was shining with all her might and light he got up and crept down to the library and climbed up and got The Book of Beasts.
He took it outside to the terrace, where the moonlight was as bright as day, and he opened the book, and saw the empty pages with “Butterfly” and “Blue Bird of Paradise” underneath, and then he turned the next page. There was some sort of red thing sitting under a palm tree, and under it was written “Dragon.” The Dragon did not move, and the King shut up the book rather quickly and went back to bed.
But the next day he wanted another look, so he took the book out into the garden, and when he undid the clasps with the rubies and turquoises, the book opened all by itself at the picture with “Dragon” underneath, and the sun shone full on the page. And then, quite suddenly, a great Red Dragon came out of the book and spread vast scarlet wings and flew away across the garden to the far hills, and Lionel was left with the empty page before him, for the page was quite empty except for the green palm tree and the yellow desert, and the little streaks of red where the paintbrush had gone outside the pencil outline of the Red Dragon.
And then Lionel felt that he had indeed done it. He had not been King twenty-four hours, and already he had let loose a Red Dragon to worry his faithful subjects’ lives out. And they had been saving up so long to buy him a crown, and everything!
Lionel began to cry.
The Chancellor and the Prime Minister and the Nurse all came running to see what was the matter. And when they saw the book they understood, and the Chancellor said: “You naughty little King! Put him to bed, Nurse, and let him think over what he’s done.”
“Perhaps, my Lord,” said the Prime Minister, “we’d better first find out just exactly what he has done.”
Then Lionel, in floods of tears, said: “It’s a Red Dragon, and it’s gone flying away to the hills, and I am so sorry, and, oh, do forgive me!”
But the Prime Minister and the Chancellor had other things to think of than forgiving Lionel. They hurried off to consult the police and see what could be done. Everyone did what they could. They sat on committees and stood on guard, and lay in wait for the Dragon, but he stayed up in the hills, and there was nothing more to be done. The faithful Nurse, meanwhile, did not neglect her duty. Perhaps she did more than anyone else, for she slapped the King and put him to bed without his tea, and when it got dark she would not give him a candle to read by.
“You are a naughty little King,” she said, “and nobody will love you.”
Next day the Dragon was still quiet, though the more poetic of Lionel’s subjects could see the redness of the Dragon shining through the green trees quite plainly. So Lionel put on his crown and sat on his throne and said he wanted to make some laws.
And I need hardly say that though the Prime Minister and the Chancellor and the Nurse might have the very poorest opinion of Lionel’s private judgement, and might even slap him and send him to bed, the minute he got on his throne and set his crown on his head, he became infallible–which means that everything he said was right, and that he couldn’t possibly make a mistake. So when he said: “There is to be a law forbidding people to open books in schools or elsewhere”–he had the support of at least half of his subjects, and the other half–the grown-up half–pretended to think he was quite right.
Then he made a law that everyone should always have enough to eat. And this pleased everyone except the ones who had always had too much.
And when several other nice new laws were made and written down he went home and made mud-houses and was very happy. And he said to his Nurse: “People will love me now I’ve made such a lot of pretty new laws for them.”
But Nurse said: “Don’t count your chickens, my dear. You haven’t seen the last of that Dragon yet.”
Now, the next day was Saturday. And in the afternoon the Dragon suddenly swooped down upon the common in all his hideous redness, and carried off the Soccer Players, umpires, goal-posts, ball, and all.
Then the people were very angry indeed, and they said: “We might as well be a Republic. After saving up all these years to get his crown, and everything!”
And wise people shook their heads and foretold a decline in the National Love of Sport. And, indeed, soccer was not at all popular for some time afterward.
Lionel did his best to be a good King during the week, and the people were beginning to forgive him for letting the Dragon out of the book. “After all,” they said, “soccer is a dangerous game, and perhaps it is wise to discourage it.”
Popular opinion held that the Soccer Players, being tough and hard, had disagreed with the Dragon so much that he had gone away to some place where they only play cats’ cradle and games that do not make you hard and tough.
All the same, Parliament met on the Saturday afternoon, a convenient time, for most of the Members would be free to attend, to consider the Dragon. But unfortunately the Dragon, who had only been asleep, woke up because it was Saturday, and he considered the Parliament, and afterwards there were not any Members left, so they tried to make a new Parliament, but being a member of Parliament had somehow grown as unpopular as soccer playing, and no one would consent to be elected, so they had to do without a Parliament. When the next Saturday came around everyone was a little nervous, but the Red Dragon was pretty quiet that day and only ate an Orphanage.
Lionel was very, very unhappy. He felt that it was his disobedience that had brought this trouble on the Parliament and the Orphanage and the Soccer Players, and he felt that it was his duty to try and do something. The question was, what?
The Blue Bird that had come out of the book used to sing very nicely in the Palace rose garden, and the Butterfly was very tame, and would perch on his shoulder when he walked among the tall lilies: so Lionel saw that all the creatures in The Book of Beasts could not be wicked, like the Dragon, and he thought: “Suppose I could get another beast out who would fight the Dragon?”
So he took The Book of Beasts out into the rose garden and opened the page next to the one where the Dragon had been just a tiny bit to see what the name was. He could only see “cora,” but he felt the middle of the page swelling up thick with the creature that was trying to come out, and it was only by putting the book down and sitting on it suddenly, very hard, that he managed to get it shut. Then he fastened the clasps with the rubies and turquoises in them and sent for the Chancellor, who had been ill since Saturday, and so had not been eaten with the rest of the Parliament, and he said: “What animal ends in ‘cora’?”
The Chancellor answered: “The Manticora, of course.”
“What is he like?” asked the King.
“He is the sworn foe of Dragons,” said the Chancellor. “He drinks their blood. He is yellow, with the body of a lion and the face of a man. I wish we had a few Manticoras here now. But the last died hundreds of years ago–worse luck!”
Then the King ran and opened the book at the page that had “cora” on it, and there was the picture–Manticora, all yellow, with a lion’s body and a man’s face, just as the Chancellor had said. And under the picture was written, “Manticora.”
In a few minutes the Manticora came sleepily out of the book, rubbing its eyes with its hands and mewing piteously. It seemed very stupid, and when Lionel gave it a push and said, “Go along and fight the Dragon, do,” it put its tail between its legs and fairly ran away. It went and hid behind the Town Hall, and at night when the people were asleep it went around and ate all the pussy-cats in the town. And then it mewed more than ever. And on the Saturday morning, when people were a little timid about going out, because the Dragon had no regular hour for calling, the Manticora went up and down the streets and drank all the milk that was left in the cans at the doors for people’s teas, and it ate the cans as well.
And just when it had finished the very last little halfpenny worth, which was short measure, because the milkman’s nerves were quite upset, the Red Dragon came down the street looking for the Manticora. It edged off when it saw him coming, for it was not at all the Dragon-fighting kind; and, seeing no other door open, the poor, hunted creature took refuge in the General Post Office, and there the Dragon found it, trying to conceal itself among the ten o’clock mail. The Dragon fell on the Manticora at once, and the mail was no defense. The mewings were heard all over the town. All the kitties and the milk the Manticora had had seemed to have strengthened its mew wonderfully. Then there was a sad silence, and presently the people whose windows looked that way saw the Dragon come walking down the steps of the General Post Office spitting fire and smoke, together with tufts of Manticora fur, and the fragments of the registered letters. Things were growing very serious. However popular the King might become during the week, the Dragon was sure to do something on Saturday to upset the people’s loyalty.
The Dragon was a perfect nuisance for the whole of Saturday, except during the hour of noon, and then he had to rest under a tree or he would have caught fire from the heat of the sun. You see, he was very hot to begin with.
At last came a Saturday when the Dragon actually walked into the Royal nursery and carried off the King’s own pet Rocking Horse. Then the King cried for six days, and on the seventh he was so tired that he had to stop. He heard the Blue Bird singing among the roses and saw the Butterfly fluttering among the lilies, and he said: “Nurse, wipe my face, please. I am not going to cry any more.”
Nurse washed his face, and told him not to be a silly little King. “Crying,” said she, “never did anyone any good yet.”
“I don’t know,” said the little King, “I seem to see better, and to hear better now that I’ve cried for a week. Now, Nurse, dear, I know I’m right, so kiss me in case I never come back. I must try to see if I can’t save the people.”
“Well, if you must, you must,” said Nurse, “but don’t tear your clothes or get your feet wet.”
So off he went.
The Blue Bird sang more sweetly than ever, and the Butterfly shone more brightly, as Lionel once more carried The Book of Beasts out into the rose garden, and opened it–very quickly, so that he might not be afraid and change his mind. The book fell open wide, almost in the middle, and there was written at the bottom of the page, “Hippogriff,” and before Lionel had time to see what the picture was, there was a fluttering of great wings and a stamping of hoofs, and a sweet, soft, friendly neighing; and there came out of the book a beautiful white horse with a long, long, white mane and a long, long, white tail, and he had great wings like swan’s wings, and the softest, kindest eyes in the world, and he stood there among the roses.
The Hippogriff rubbed its silky-soft, milky white nose against the little King’s shoulder, and the little King thought: “But for the wings you are very like my poor, dear lost Rocking Horse.” And the Blue Bird’s song was very loud and sweet.
Then suddenly the King saw coming through the sky the great straggling, sprawling, wicked shape of the Red Dragon. And he knew at once what he must do. He caught up The Book of Beasts and jumped on the back of the gentle, beautiful Hippogriff, and leaning down he whispered in the sharp, white ear: “Fly, dear Hippogriff, fly your very fastest to the Pebbly Waste.”
And when the Dragon saw them start, he turned and flew after them, with his great wings flapping like clouds at sunset, and the Hippogriff’s wide wings were snowy as clouds at moonrise.
When the people in the town saw the Dragon fly off after the Hippogriff and the King they all came out of their houses to look, and when they saw the two disappear they made up their minds to the worst, and began to think what they would wear for Court mourning.
But the Dragon could not catch the Hippogriff. The red wings were bigger than the white ones, but they were not so strong, and so the white-winged horse flew away and away and away, with the Dragon pursuing, till he reached the very middle of the Pebbly Waste.
Now, the Pebbly Waste is just like the parts of the seaside where there is no sand–all round, loose, shifting stones, and there is no grass there and no tree within a hundred miles of it.
Lionel jumped off the white horse’s back in the very middle of the Pebbly Waste, and he hurriedly unclasped The Book of Beasts and laid it open on the pebbles. Then he clattered among the pebbles in his haste to get back on to his white horse, and had just jumped on when up came the Dragon. He was flying very feebly, and looking around everywhere for a tree, for it was just on the stroke of twelve, the sun was shining like a gold guinea in the blue sky, and there was not a tree for a hundred miles.
The white-winged horse flew around and around the Dragon as he writhed on the dry pebbles. He was getting very hot: indeed, parts of him even had begun to smoke. He knew that he must certainly catch fire in another minute unless he could get under a tree. He made a snatch with his red claws at the King and Hippogriff, but he was too feeble to reach them, and besides, he did not dare to overexert himself for fear he should get any hotter.
It was then that he saw The Book of Beasts lying on the pebbles, open at the page with “Dragon” written at the bottom. He looked and he hesitated, and he looked again, and then, with one last squirm of rage, the Dragon wriggled himself back into the picture and sat down under the palm tree, and the page was a little singed as he went in.
As soon as Lionel saw that the Dragon had really been obliged to go and sit under his own palm tree because it was the only tree there, he jumped off his horse and shut the book with a bang.
“Oh, hurrah!” he cried. “Now we really have done it.”
And he clasped the book very tightly with the turquoise and ruby clasps.
“Oh, my precious Hippogriff,” he cried. “You are the bravest, dearest, most beautiful–“
“Hush,” whispered the Hippogriff modestly. “Don’t you see that we are not alone?”
And indeed there was quite a crowd round them on the Pebbly Waste: the Prime Minister and the Parliament and the Soccer Players and the Orphanage and the Manticora and the Rocking Horse, and indeed everyone who had been eaten by the Dragon. You see, it was impossible for the Dragon to take them into the book with him–it was a tight fit even for one Dragon–so, of course, he had to leave them outside.
* * * * * * *
They all got home somehow, and all lived happy ever after.
When the King asked the Manticora where he would like to live he begged to be allowed to go back into the book. “I do not care for public life,” he said.
Of course he knew his way onto his own page, so there was no danger of his opening the book at the wrong page and letting out a Dragon or anything. So he got back into his picture and has never come out since: That is why you will never see a Manticora as long as you live, except in a picture-book. And of course he left the kitties outside, because there was no room for them in the book–and the milk cans too.
Then the Rocking Horse begged to be allowed to go and live on the Hippogriff’s page of the book. “I should like,” he said, “to live somewhere where Dragons can’t get at me.”
So the beautiful, white-winged Hippogriff showed him the way in, and there he stayed till the King had him taken out for his great-great-great-great-grandchildren to play with.
As for the Hippogriff, he accepted the position of the King’s Own Rocking Horse–a situation left vacant by the retirement of the wooden one. And the Blue Bird and the Butterfly sing and flutter among the lilies and roses of the Palace garden to this very day.
It all began with Effie’s getting something in her eye. It hurt very much indeed, and it felt something like a red-hot spark – only it seemed to have legs as well, and wings like a fly. Effie rubbed and cried– not real crying, but the kind your eye does all by itself without your being miserable inside your mind – and then she went to her father to have the thing in her eye taken out. Effie’s father was a doctor, so of course he knew how to take things out of eyes – he did it very cleverly with a soft paintbrush dipped in castor oil.
When he had gotten the thing out, he said: “This is very curious.” Effie had often got things in her eye before, and her father had always seemed to think it was natural – rather tiresome and naughty perhaps, but still natural. He had never before thought it curious.
Effie stood holding her handkerchief to her eye, and said: “I don’t believe it’s out.” People always say this when they have had something in their eyes.
“Oh, yes – it’s out,” said the doctor. “Here it is, on the brush. This is very interesting.”
Effie had never heard her father say that about anything that she had any share in. She said: “What?”
The doctor carried the brush very carefully across the room, and held the point of it under his microscope – then he twisted the brass screws of the microscope, and looked through the top with one eye.
“Dear me,” he said. “Dear, dear me! Four well-developed limbs; a long caudal appendage; five toes, unequal in lengths, almost like one of the Lacertidae, yet there are traces of wings.” The creature under his eye wriggled a little in the castor oil, and he went on: “Yes; a batlike wing. A new specimen, undoubtedly. Effie, run round to the professor and ask him to be kind enough to step in for a few minutes.”
“You might give me sixpence, Daddy,” said Effie, “because I did bring you the new specimen. I took great care of it inside my eye, and my eye does hurt.”
The doctor was so pleased with the new specimen that he gave Effie a shilling, and presently the professor stepped round. He stayed to lunch, and he and the doctor quarreled very happily all the afternoon about the name and the family of the thing that had come out of Effie’s eye.
But at teatime another thing happened. Effie’s brother Harry fished something out of his tea, which he thought at first was an earwig. He was just getting ready to drop it on the floor, and end its life in the usual way, when it shook itself in the spoon – spread two wet wings, and flopped onto the tablecloth. There it sat, stroking itself with its feet and stretching its wings, and Harry said: “Why, it’s a tiny newt!”
The professor leaned forward before the doctor could say a word. “I’ll give you half a crown for it, Harry, my lad,” he said, speaking very fast; and then he picked it up carefully on his handkerchief.
“It is a new specimen,” he said, “and finer than yours, Doctor.”
It was a tiny lizard, about half an inch long – with scales and wings.
So now the doctor and the professor each had a specimen, and they were both very pleased. But before long these specimens began to seem less valuable. For the next morning, when the knife-boy was cleaning the doctor’s boots, he suddenly dropped the brushes and the boot and the blacking, and screamed out that he was burnt.
And from inside the boot came crawling a lizard as big as a kitten, with large, shiny wings.
“Why,” said Effie, “I know what it is. It is a dragon like the one St. George killed.”
And Effie was right. That afternoon Towser was bitten in the garden by a dragon about the size of a rabbit, which he had tried to chase, and the next morning all the papers were full of the wonderful “winged lizards” that were appearing all over the country. The papers would not call them dragons, because, of course, no one believes in dragons nowadays– and at any rate the papers were not going to be so silly as to believe in fairy stories. At first there were only a few, but in a week or two the country was simply running alive with dragons of all sizes, and in the air you could sometimes see them as thick as a swarm of bees. They all looked alike except as to size. They were green with scales, and they had four legs and a long tail and great wings like bats’ wings, only the wings were a pale, half-transparent yellow, like the gear-boxes on bicycles.
They breathed fire and smoke, as all proper dragons must, but still the newspapers went on pretending they were lizards, until the editor of the Standard was picked up and carried away by a very large one, and then the other newspaper people had not anyone left to tell them what they ought not to believe. So when the largest elephant in the Zoo was carried off by a dragon, the papers gave up pretending– and put ALARMING PLAGUE OF DRAGONS at the top of the paper.
You have no idea how alarming it was, and at the same time how aggravating. The large-size dragons were terrible certainly, but when once you had found out that the dragons always went to bed early because they were afraid of the chill night air, you had only to stay indoors all day, and you were pretty safe from the big ones. But the smaller sizes were a perfect nuisance. The ones as big as earwigs got in the soap, and they got in the butter. The ones as big as dogs got in the bath, and the fire and smoke inside them made them steam like anything when the cold water tap was turned on, so that careless people were often scalded quite severely. The ones that were as large as pigeons would get into workbaskets or corner drawers and bite you when you were in a hurry to get a needle or a handkerchief. The ones as big as sheep were easier to avoid, because you could see them coming; but when they flew in at the windows and curled up under your eiderdown, and you did not find them till you went to bed, it was always a shock. The ones this size did not eat people, only lettuce, but they always scorched the sheets and pillowcases dreadfully.
Of course, the County Council and the police did everything that could be done: It was no use offering the hand of the Princess to anyone who killed a dragon. This way was all very well in olden times– when there was only one dragon and one Princess; but now there were far more dragons than Princesses– although the Royal Family was a large one. And besides, it would have been a mere waste of Princesses to offer rewards for killing dragons, because everybody killed as many dragons as they could quite out of their own heads and without rewards at all, just to get the nasty things out of the way. The County Council undertook to cremate all dragons delivered at their offices between the hours of ten and two, and whole wagonloads and cartloads and truckloads of dead dragons could be seen any day of the week standing in a long line in the street where the County Council had their offices. Boys brought barrowloads of dead dragons, and children on their way home from morning school would call in to leave the handful or two of little dragons they had brought in their satchels, or carried in their knotted pocket handkerchiefs. And yet there seemed to be as many dragons as ever. Then the police stuck up great wood and canvas towers covered with patent glue. When the dragons flew against these towers, they stuck fast, as flies and wasps do on the sticky papers in the kitchen; and when the towers were covered all over with dragons, the police inspector used to set fire to the towers, and burnt them and dragons and all.
And yet there seemed to be more dragons than ever. The shops were full of patent dragon poison and anti-dragon soap, and dragonproof curtains for the windows; and indeed, everything that could be done was done.
And yet there seemed to be more dragons than ever.
It was not very easy to know what would poison a dragon, because, you see, they ate such different things. The largest kind ate elephants as long as there were any, and then went on with horses and cows. Another size ate nothing but lilies of the valley, and a third size ate only Prime Ministers if they were to be had, and, if not, would feed freely on servants in livery. Another size lived on bricks, and three of them ate two thirds of the South Lambeth Infirmary in one afternoon.
But the size Effie was most afraid of was about as big as your dining room, and that size ate little girls and boys.
At first Effie and her brother were quite pleased with the change in their lives. It was so amusing to sit up all night instead of going to sleep, and to play in the garden lighted by electric lamps. And it sounded so funny to hear Mother say, when they were going to bed: “Good night, my darlings, sleep sound all day, and don’t get up too soon. You must not get up before it’s quite dark. You wouldn’t like the nasty dragons to catch you.”
But after a time they got very tired of it all: They wanted to see the flowers and trees growing in the fields, and to see the pretty sunshine out of doors, and not just through glass windows and patent dragonproof curtains. And they wanted to play on the grass, which they were not allowed to do in the electric lamp-lighted garden because of the night-dew.
And they wanted so much to get out, just for once, in the beautiful, bright, dangerous daylight, that they began to try and think of some reason why they ought to go out. Only they did not like to disobey their mother.
But one morning their mother was busy preparing some new dragon poison to lay down in the cellars, and their father was bandaging the hand of the boot boy, which had been scratched by one of the dragons who liked to eat Prime Ministers when they were to be had, so nobody remembered to say to the children: “Don’t get up till it is quite dark!”
“Go now,” said Harry. “It would not be disobedient to go. And I know exactly what we ought to do, but I don’t know how we ought to do it.”
“What ought we to do?” said Effie.
“We ought to wake St. George, of course,” said Harry. “He was the only person in his town who knew how to manage dragons; the people in the fairy tales don’t count. But St. George is a real person, and he is only asleep, and he is waiting to be waked up. Only nobody believes in St. George now. I heard father say so.”
“We do,” said Effie.
“Of course we do. And don’t you see, Ef, that’s the very reason why we could wake him? You can’t wake people if you don’t believe in them, can you?”
Effie said no, but where could they find St. George?
“We must go and look,” said Harry boldly. “You shall wear a dragonproof frock, made of stuff like the curtains. And I will smear myself all over with the best dragon poison, and – “
Effie clasped her hands and skipped with joy and cried: “Oh, Harry! I know where we can find St. George! In St. George’s Church, of course.”
“Um,” said Harry, wishing he had thought of it for himself, “you have a little sense sometimes, for a girl.”
So the next afternoon, quite early, long before the beams of sunset announced the coming night, when everybody would be up and working, the two children got out of bed. Effie wrapped herself in a shawl of dragonproof muslin – there was no time to make the frock – and Harry made a horrid mess of himself with the patent dragon poison. It was warranted harmless to infants and invalids, so he felt quite safe.
Then they joined hands and set out to walk to St. George’s Church. As you know, there are many St. George’s churches, but fortunately they took the turning that leads to the right one, and went along in the bright sunlight, feeling very brave and adventurous.
There was no one about in the streets except dragons, and the place was simply swarming with them. Fortunately none of the dragons were just the right size for eating little boys and girls, or perhaps this story might have had to end here. There were dragons on the pavement, and dragons on the roadway, dragons basking on the front doorsteps of public buildings, and dragons preening their wings on the roofs in the hot afternoon sun. The town was quite green with them. Even when the children had gotten out of the town and were walking in the lanes, they noticed that the fields on each side were greener than usual with the scaly legs and tails; and some of the smaller sizes had made themselves asbestos nests in the flowering hawthorn hedges.
Effie held her brother’s hand very tight, and once when a fat dragon flopped against her ear she screamed out, and a whole flight of green dragons rose from the field at the sound, and sprawled away across the sky. The children could hear the rattle of their wings as they flew.
“Oh, I want to go home,” said Effie.
“Don’t be silly,” said Harry. “Surely you haven’t forgotten about the Seven Champions and all the princes. People who are going to be their country’s deliverers never scream and say they want to go home.”
“And are we,” asked Effie – “deliverers, I mean?”
“You’ll see,” said her brother, and on they went.
When they came to St. George’s Church they found the door open, and they walked right in – but St. George was not there, so they walked around the churchyard outside, and presently they found the great stone tomb of St. George, with the figure of him carved in marble outside, in his armor and helmet, and with his hands folded on his breast.
“How ever can we wake him?” they said. Then Harry spoke to St. George – but he would not answer; and he called, but St. George did not seem to hear; and then he actually tried to waken the great dragon-slayer by shaking his marble shoulders. But St. George took no notice.
Then Effie began to cry, and she put her arms around St. George’s neck as well as she could for the marble, which was very much in the way at the back, and she kissed the marble face, and she said: “Oh, dear, good, kind St. George, please wake up and help us.”
And at that St. George opened his eyes sleepily, and stretched himself and said: “What’s the matter, little girl?”
So the children told him all about it; he turned over in his marble and leaned on one elbow to listen. But when he heard that there were so many dragons he shook his head.
“It’s no good,” he said, “they would be one too many for poor old George. You should have waked me before. I was always for a fair fight – one man one dragon, was my motto.”
Just then a flight of dragons passed overhead, and St. George half drew his sword.
But he shook his head again and pushed the sword back as the flight of dragons grew small in the distance.
“I can’t do anything,” he said. “Things have changed since my time. St. Andrew told me about it. They woke him up over the engineers’ strike, and he came to talk to me. He says everything is done by machinery now; there must be some way of settling these dragons. By the way, what sort of weather have you been having lately?”
This seemed so careless and unkind that Harry would not answer, but Effie said patiently, “It has been very fine. Father says it is the hottest weather there has ever been in this country.”
“Ah, I guessed as much,” said the Champion, thoughtfully. “Well, the only thing would be … dragons can’t stand wet and cold, that’s the only thing. If you could find the taps.”
St. George was beginning to settle down again on his stone slab.
“Good night, very sorry I can’t help you,” he said, yawning behind his marble hand.
“Oh, but you can,” cried Effie. “Tell us – what taps?”
“Oh, like in the bathroom,” said St. George, still more sleepily. “And there’s a looking glass, too; shows you all the world and what’s going on. St. Denis told me about it; said it was a very pretty thing. I’m sorry I can’t – good night.”
And he fell back into his marble and was fast asleep again in a moment.
“We shall never find the taps,” said Harry. “I say, wouldn’t it be awful if St. George woke up when there was a dragon near, the size that eats champions?”
Effie pulled off her dragonproof veil. “We didn’t meet any the size of the dining room as we came along,” she said. “I daresay we shall be quite safe.”
So she covered St. George with the veil, and Harry rubbed off as much as he could of the dragon poison onto St. George’s armor, so as to make everything quite safe for him.
“We might hide in the church till it is dark,” he said, “and then – “
But at that moment a dark shadow fell on them, and they saw that it was a dragon exactly the size of the dining room at home.
So then they knew that all was lost. The dragon swooped down and caught the two children in his claws; he caught Effie by her green silk sash, and Harry by the little point at the back of his Eton jacket – and then, spreading his great yellow wings, he rose into the air, rattling like a third-class carriage when the brake is hard on.
“Oh, Harry,” said Effie, “I wonder when he will eat us!” The dragon was flying across woods and fields with great flaps of his wings that carried him a quarter of a mile at each flap.
Harry and Effie could see the country below, hedges and rivers and churches and farmhouses flowing away from under them, much faster than you see them running away from the sides of the fastest express train.
And still the dragon flew on. The children saw other dragons in the air as they went, but the dragon who was as big as the dining room never stopped to speak to any of them, but just flew on quite steadily.
“He knows where he wants to go,” said Harry. “Oh, if he would only drop us before he gets there!”
But the dragon held on tight, and he flew and flew and flew until at last, when the children were quite giddy, he settled down, with a rattling of all his scales, on the top of a mountain. And he lay there on his great green scaly side, panting, and very much out of breath, because he had come such a long way. But his claws were fast in Effie’s sash and the little point at the back of Harry’s Eton jacket.
Then Effie took out the knife Harry had given her on her birthday. It had cost only sixpence to begin with, and she had had it a month, and it never could sharpen anything but slate-pencils; but somehow she managed to make that knife cut her sash in front, and crept out of it, leaving the dragon with only a green silk bow in one of his claws. That knife would never have cut Harry’s jacket-tail off, though, and when Effie had tried for some time she saw that this was so and gave it up. But with her help Harry managed to wriggle quietly out of his sleeves, so that the dragon had only an Eton jacket in his other claw. Then the children crept on tiptoe to a crack in the rocks and got in. It was much too narrow for the dragon to get in also, so they stayed in there and waited to make faces at the dragon when he felt rested enough to sit up and begin to think about eating them. He was very angry, indeed, when they made faces at him, and blew out fire and smoke at them, but they ran farther into the cave so that he could not reach them, and when he was tired of blowing he went away.
But they were afraid to come out of the cave, so they went farther in, and presently the cave opened out and grew bigger, and the floor was soft sand, and when they had come to the very end of the cave there was a door, and on it was written: UNIVERSAL TAPROOM. PRIVATE. NO ONE ALLOWED INSIDE.
So they opened the door at once just to peep in, and then they remembered what St. George had said.
“We can’t be worse off than we are,” said Harry, “with a dragon waiting for us outside. Let’s go in.”
They went boldly into the taproom, and shut the door behind them.
And now they were in a sort of room cut out of the solid rock, and all along one side of the room were taps, and all the taps were labeled with china labels like you see in baths. And as they could both read words of two syllables or even three sometimes, they understood at once that they had gotten to the place where the weather is turned on from. There were six big taps labeled “Sunshine,” “Wind,” “Rain,” “Snow,” “Hail,” “Ice,” and a lot of little ones, labeled “Fair to moderate,” “Showery,” “South breeze,” “Nice growing weather for the crops,” “Skating,” “Good open weather,” “South wind,” “East wind,” and so on. And the big tap labeled “Sunshine” was turned full on. They could not see any sunshine – the cave was lighted by a skylight of blue glass – so they supposed the sunlight was pouring out by some other way, as it does with the tap that washes out the underneath parts of patent sinks in kitchens.
Then they saw that one side of the room was just a big looking glass, and when you looked in it you could see everything that was going on in the world – and all at once, too, which is not like most looking glasses. They saw the carts delivering the dead dragons at the County Council offices, and they saw St. George asleep under the dragonproof veil. And they saw their mother at home crying because her children had gone out in the dreadful, dangerous daylight, and she was afraid a dragon had eaten them. And they saw the whole of England, like a great puzzle map
– green in the field parts and brown in the towns, and black in the places where they make coal and crockery and cutlery and chemicals. All over it, on the black parts, and on the brown, and on the green, there was a network of green dragons. And they could see that it was still broad daylight, and no dragons had gone to bed yet.
Effie said, “Dragons do not like cold.” And she tried to turn off the sunshine, but the tap was out of order, and that was why there had been so much hot weather, and why the dragons had been able to be hatched. So they left the sunshine tap alone, and they turned on the snow and left the tap full on while they went to look in the glass. There they saw the dragons running all sorts of ways like ants if you are cruel enough to pour water into an ant-heap, which, of course, you never are. And the snow fell more and more.
Then Effie turned the rain tap quite full on, and presently the dragons began to wriggle less, and by-and-by some of them lay quite still, so the children knew the water had put out the fires inside them, and they were dead. So then they turned on the hail – only half on, for fear of breaking people’s windows – and after a while there were no more dragons to be seen moving.
Then the children knew that they were indeed the deliverers of their country.
“They will put up a monument to us,” said Harry, “as high as Nelson’s! All the dragons are dead.”
“I hope the one that was waiting outside for us is dead!” said Effie. “And about the monument, Harry, I’m not so sure. What can they do with such a lot of dead dragons? It would take years and years to bury them, and they could never be burnt now they are so soaking wet. I wish the rain would wash them off into the sea.”
But this did not happen, and the children began to feel that they had not been so frightfully clever after all.
“I wonder what this old thing’s for,” said Harry. He had found a rusty old tap, which seemed as though it had not been used for ages. Its china label was quite coated over with dirt and cobwebs. When Effie had cleaned it with a bit of her skirt – for curiously enough both the children had come out without pocket handkerchiefs – she found that the label said “Waste.”
“Let’s turn it on,” she said. “It might carry off the dragons.”
The tap was very stiff from not having been used for such a long time, but together they managed to turn it on, and then ran to the mirror to see what happened.
Already a great, round black hole had opened in the very middle of the map of England, and the sides of the map were tilting themselves up, so that the rain ran down toward the hole.
“Oh, hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!” cried Effie, and she hurried back to the taps and turned on everything that seemed wet. “Showery,” “Good open weather,” “Nice growing weather for the crops,” and even “South” and “South-West,” because she had heard her father say that those winds brought rain.
And now the floods of rain were pouring down on the country, and great sheets of water flowed toward the center of the map, and cataracts of water poured into the great round hole in the middle of the map, and the dragons were being washed away and disappearing down the waste pipe in great green masses and scattered green shoals – single dragons and dragons by the dozen; of all sizes, from the ones that carry off elephants down to the ones that get in your tea.
Presently there was not a dragon left. So then they turned off the tap named “Waste,” and they half-turned off the one labeled “Sunshine” – it was broken, so that they could not turn it off altogether – and they turned on “Fair to moderate” and “Showery” and both taps stuck, so that they could not be turned off, which accounts for our climate.
* * * * * * *
How did they get home again? By the Snowdon railway of course.
And was the nation grateful? Well – the nation was very wet. And by the time the nation had gotten dry again it was interested in the new invention for toasting muffins by electricity, and all the dragons were almost forgotten. Dragons do not seem so important when they are dead and gone, and, you know, there never was a reward offered.
And what did Father and Mother say when Effie and Harry got home?
My dear, that is the sort of silly question you children always will ask. However, just for this once I don’t mind telling you.
Mother said: “Oh, my darlings, my darlings, you’re safe – you’re safe! You naughty children– how could you be so disobedient? Go to bed at once!”
And their father the doctor said: “I wish I had known what you were going to do! I should have liked to preserve a specimen. I threw away the one I got out of Effie’s eye. I intended to get a more perfect specimen. I did not anticipate this immediate extinction of the species.”
The professor said nothing, but he rubbed his hands. He had kept his specimen – the one the size of an earwig that he gave Harry half a crown for – and he has it to this day.
You must get him to show it to you!
The Short Story Project C | The Short Story Project INC 2018
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