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Title: Bill the Minder
Author: Robinson, W. Heath (William Heath), 1872-1944
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Bill the Minder" ***

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Transcriber's Note

Where changes have been made to the text these are listed at the end of
the book.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: cover art]

[Illustration]

[Illustration: frontispiece]

   BILL THE MINDER

    _Written and
   illustrated by_

      W·HEATH
      ROBINSON

      NEW YORK
  HENRY HOLT & CO·
        1912

[Illustration]

Edinburgh: T. and A. CONSTABLE, Printers to His Majesty

  TO

  THE GOOD CHILDREN
  OF CHLOE AND CRISPIN
  THE GATHERER OF
  MUSHROOMS---CHAD,
  HANNIBAL, QUENTIN,
  RANDALL, NOAH, RATCHETT,
  NERO, BIDDULPH,
  KNUT, AND THE TRULY
  VIRTUOUS AND BEAUTIFUL
  BOADICEA, THIS
  BOOK IS MOST HUMBLY
  AND RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED
  BY THE FAITHFUL
  NARRATOR OF THEIR
  EVER-WONDERFUL ADVENTURES.

[Illustration]



CONTENTS

[Illustration]



CONTENTS


                                                               PAGE

  BILL THE MINDER                                                 1

  THE KING OF TROY                                               15

  THE ANCIENT MARINER                                            33

  THE TRIPLETS                                                   51

  GOOD AUNT GALLADIA                                             65

  THE DOCTOR                                                     79

  THE RESPECTABLE GENTLEMAN                                      97

  THE SICILIAN CHAR-WOMAN                                       115

  THE INTERVAL                                                  133

  THE REAL SOLDIER                                              147

  THE WILD MAN                                                  165

  THE MUSICIAN                                                  183

  THE LOST GROCER                                               199

  THE MERCHANT'S WIFE                                           213

  THE CAMP-FOLLOWERS                                            227

  THE SIEGE OF TROY                                             241

  THE END                                                       255

[Illustration]



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


COLOURED PLATES


  FRONTISPIECE

  THE KING OF TROY COMPELLED TO ASK HIS WAY     _To face page_   30

  THE SPORT OF EVERY MER-KID                          "          48

  HE WAS ALWAYS AT HAND                               "          58

  I FELL FROM MY POSITION                             "          72

  THE LORD MAYOR HELD A LONG COUNCIL                  "          88

  THE RESPECTABLE GENTLEMAN                           "         110

  BASIL HERBERT DEVELOPS A CHILBLAIN                  "         122

  AND LEFT HIM TO HAVE HIS CRY OUT                    "         140

  REGINALD COMPLETELY LOST HIS TEMPER                 "         156

  HARMLESS INDEED WERE OUR JOYS                       "         168

  AND PLAYED IT FOR MY DELIGHT                        "         190

  FOLLOWED HIM AT THE GREATEST SPEED                  "         208

  BRINGING WITH THEM A LITTLE OLD MAN                 "         216

  THEY CAME UPON A GREAT STONE SPHINX                 "         230

  CLOSELY OBSERVED FROM THE WATCH TOWERS              "         244


BILL THE MINDER

                                                               PAGE

  TITLE-PAGE                                                      1

  HEADPIECE                                                       2

  HIS HOWLS BECAME TERRIFIC                                       7

  ALWAYS INVENTING NEW WAYS OF MINDING                           10

  YOUNG TOOTH-CUTTERS FORGOT THEIR TROUBLES                      11

  THE ONLY MINDER OF THE DISTRICT                                13

  TAILPIECE                                                      14


  THE KING OF TROY

  TITLE-PAGE                                                     15

  HEADPIECE                                                      16

  HE CLIMBED THE RICK                                            18

  HE COMMENCED HIS TALE                                          21

  WHAT A TIME WE HAD                                             26

  TAILPIECE                                                      31

  VIGNETTE                                                       32


  THE ANCIENT MARINER

  TITLE-PAGE                                                     33

  HEADPIECE                                                      34

  I SIGN ON AS CABIN BOY                                         39

  I WENT ON WITH MY SANDWICHES                                   42

  FOR YEARS WE SAILED                                            47

  TAILPIECE                                                      49

  VIGNETTE                                                       50


  THE TRIPLETS

  TITLE-PAGE                                                     51

  HEADPIECE                                                      52

  ENDEAVOURING TO COMFORT THE OLD MAN                            55

  WE GREW UP IN COMPARATIVE HAPPINESS                            58

  THE TRIPLETS ACCOMPANY THE ARMY                                63

  TAILPIECE                                                      64


  GOOD AUNT GALLADIA

  TITLE-PAGE                                                     65

  HEADPIECE                                                      66

  I JUST MANAGED TO REACH THE EGGS                               71

  I ANGLE THE AIR                                                72

  I ERECTED MY POLE ON THE SAND                                  73

  ITS OLD STATELY SELF AGAIN                                     75


  THE DOCTOR

  TITLE-PAGE                                                     79

  HEADPIECE                                                      80

  FAR SOONER HAVE THE MUMPS                                      83

  THE PUFF BAKER                                                 87

  TREATED WITH DELICIOUS JALAPS                                  88

  AS SOME PATIENT PREPARED HIS DOSE                              89

  THE VERY SPARROWS GREW THIN                                    91

  POSTCARD                                                       94

  POSTCARD                                                       95

  TAILPIECE                                                      96


  THE RESPECTABLE GENTLEMAN

  TITLE-PAGE                                                     97

  HEADPIECE                                                      98

  BOWING POLITELY TO THE PILLAR-BOXES                           103

  THE CHURCH STEEPLE HAD BEEN REMOVED                           104

  STANDING ALONE UPON THE WALL                                  106

  DANGLING BY HIS LEGS                                          109

  TAILPIECE                                                     113

  VIGNETTE                                                      114


  THE SICILIAN CHAR-WOMAN

  TITLE-PAGE                                                    115

  HEADPIECE                                                     116

  I TOOK LEAVE OF MY SORROWING FATHER                           120

  HARDLY DISGUISING HIS EFFORTS TO IGNORE ME                    121

  THEY WERE COMPELLED TO SEND FOR A PHYSICIAN                   125

  THE IMPROVEMENT WAS MAINTAINED                                129

  DISCOVERED A CLOVE KERNEL                                     130

  VIGNETTE                                                      132


  THE INTERVAL

  TITLE-PAGE                                                    133

  HEADPIECE                                                     134

  I FELL ON TO THE PARSNIP                                      137

  THEY ALL ONCE MORE STARTED                                    138

  ON THEIR ADVENTUROUS JOURNEY                                  139

  THE WHOLE CAMP WAS FAST ASLEEP                                142

  TAILPIECE                                                     145

  VIGNETTE                                                      146


  THE REAL SOLDIER

  TITLE-PAGE                                                    147

  HEADPIECE                                                     148

  THE REAL SOLDIER                                              153

  'BUT HOLD!' CRIED THE PRESIDENT                               156

  'YOUR FATE BE UPON YOUR OWN HEAD'                             157

  FLOUNDERING ABOUT IN THE SEA                                  159

  IN EXPECTATION OF THEIR LEADER                                161

  TAILPIECE                                                     163

  VIGNETTE                                                      164


  THE WILD MAN

  TITLE-PAGE                                                    165

  HEADPIECE                                                     166

  I PLEADED MY CASE                                             169

  AND KILLED IT ON THE SPOT                                     173

  WE COOKED ONE GREAT STEAK                                     177

  TAILPIECE                                                     181

  VIGNETTE                                                      182


  THE MUSICIAN

  TITLE-PAGE                                                    183

  HEADPIECE                                                     184

  SHE NOW MADE OFF TO THE WOODS                                 189

  HE WOULD CLIMB TO THE TOPMOST BRANCHES                        190

  SWEEPING THE DEAD LEAVES                                      195

  WITH NO OTHER WEALTH THAN MY CONCERTINA                       197

  TAILPIECE                                                     198


  THE LOST GROCER

  TITLE-PAGE                                                    199

  HEADPIECE                                                     200

  AFFECTED BY HIS STORY                                         205

  PLUMP INTO THE RIVER WE WENT                                  206

  THERE GREW IN FRONT OF ME A GREAT MOUND                       209

  SNEEZING AND SNEEZING                                         211


  THE MERCHANT'S WIFE

  TITLE-PAGE                                                    213

  HEADPIECE                                                     214

  MOPING ABOUT THE COMMON                                       219

  KEPT HIM OUT OF MISCHIEF                                      223

  GLORIOUS TARTS AND SWEETS                                     224

  IT DIDN'T MATTER HOW MUCH YOU ATE                             225

  TAILPIECE                                                     226


  THE CAMP-FOLLOWERS

  TITLE-PAGE                                                    227

  HEADPIECE                                                     228

  THE HEADS SERVED FOR DOLLS                                    233

  YOU ARE NOW OUR ONLY HOPE                                     234

  I FISHED AND FISHED AND FISHED                                237

  TAILPIECE                                                     239

  VIGNETTE                                                      240


  THE SIEGE OF TROY

  TITLE-PAGE                                                    241

  HEADPIECE                                                     242

  PLAN OF SIEGE                                                 245

  THESE PARCELS WERE NOW LABELLED                               248

  AND PACKED HIM OFF TO PERSIA                                  251

  TROY BECAME THE HAPPIEST TOWN                                 253

  THE END

  VIGNETTE                                                      256

[Illustration]

[Illustration]

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: BILL THE MINDER]

[Illustration: Headpiece]



BILL THE MINDER


Old Crispin, the mushroom gatherer, and his good wife Chloe had ten
children, and nine of them were bad-tempered. There was Chad, the
youngest and most bad-tempered of the lot, Hannibal and Quentin the
twins, Randall with the red head, Noah, Ratchett the short-sighted, Nero
the worrit, weeping Biddulph and Knut. The only good-tempered child was
a little girl named Boadicea.

It is well known that a boy usually takes after his father, and a girl
after her mother, and these children were no exception to the rule, for
the boys all resembled old Crispin, whose temper had been rather tried,
poor man, by the early hours at which he had to rise, in order to gather
the mushrooms when they were quite new and young. On the other hand,
Boadicea could only have inherited her good-temper from Chloe, who
without doubt was the most good-tempered dame alive.

Now it is quite true that any one who cares to rise early enough in the
morning may gather mushrooms, and plenty of them, too, but those who do
so only now and again, and merely for amusement, little know the hard
life of the professional gatherer, or the skill and judgment he has to
cultivate in order to carry on his work with any success.

In the course of time Crispin became so well skilled that he could not
only tell a mushroom from a toadstool at the distance of two hundred
yards, but his hearing became so acute that he could even hear them
growing, and learnt to distinguish the sound of each as it broke through
the earth. Indeed, he had no need for any alarm to wake him from his
heavy slumbers and call him to his work in the fields. However
cautiously a mushroom made its appearance, at its first rumble, old
Crispin would jump from his hard bed, hastily dress himself, and, often
without tasting a morsel of breakfast, be out of the house and on to the
field in time to see the newcomer pop its head through the earth. This
he would pick, and then he would hop about with his head on one side
listening for others like some old starling listening for worms, at the
same time mewing like a cat to frighten away the birds that prey on the
mushrooms. He was then able to fill his basket with the very freshest
crop and take them round to people's houses in time for breakfast.

With such anxious work it will be readily understood that few mushroom
gatherers can remain in the best of health for many years, and it so
happened that in time the anxieties connected with the gathering of
mushrooms began to affect old Crispin, so that he fell ill and
completely lost his appetite. Chloe called in the doctor, but the latter
at first could do nothing for him. He painted Crispin's chest and then
his back with iodine; he rubbed him well with the roots of sarsaparilla;
he made him sleep first on his right side, then on his left, and finally
covered him in brown paper plasters and dock-leaf poultices and sent him
to the sea-side with strict injunctions to take to sea-bathing, running,
and aeroplaning, but it was all of no avail.

With the assistance of Boadicea, Chloe now tried to tempt her husband
with every known and unknown dish, and when these failed, like a good
wife, she invented others. She made trifles of vegetable marrow,
tartlets of hen feathers to soothe the nerves, salads of spinach and
carraway comfits, delicacies composed of porridge and mint, and the most
luscious stews of pine-cones and lard. She then tried him with even
lighter dishes, but it was no good. He became thinner and thinner every
day, and his temper was growing shorter and shorter, when at last, to
her great joy, she succeeded in making a jelly that really seemed to
take his fancy.

At first there was little or no sign of improvement, yet he ate a very
small portion of the jelly every day, and with this the anxious wife and
daughter had to be contented for some time. He had remained in this
state for weeks when Chloe resolved slightly to increase his portion.
Finding that this did not disagree with him, but that, instead, he
became a little stouter and a little better every day, she continued
gradually giving him more and more.

At last she discovered that the more Crispin ate of this jelly, the
greater his appetite became. In fact, if the truth be told, the old
gentleman became in time not only quite well and very stout but also
somewhat greedy. At all events, Chloe found that instead of being able
to devote more time to her children, after restoring her husband's
appetite, she had to give up more and more time to cooking. Crispin now
spent the whole day in eating, and things went from bad to very bad, and
from very bad to worse. Boadicea assisted her mother to the utmost, yet
Chloe, worked almost to death, was at length compelled to look out for a
minder, in order that her children might not be entirely neglected.

Many minders from all parts applied for employment, and, as a test of
their skill, she set them the task of cheering the unfortunate Chad, who
was cutting all his double teeth at the same time. Some tried to cheer
him by singing to him, some by dancing to him; one even hoped to gladden
the boy by jumping over him backwards and with a pleasant smile dropping
on the grass in front of him. Again, some thought to distract him by
running swiftly with him several times round the well, which only made
him very ill. Another energetic young minder stood on his head in front
of the child for at least ten minutes, which, instead of cheering the
lad, nearly frightened him to death. One minder, more experienced than
the rest, tried to make him forget his ache by giving him other aches to
think of with the aid of a slipper, which he maintained he had succeeded
in doing. However, he was not elected, for, try as they would, no one
could discover for which ache the child was crying.

Many methods were tried, but none with even the smallest success; in
fact, the competition greatly increased the child's discomfort. His
howls became terrific, and so heartrending that, as a last resource,
Chloe sent for her nephew Bill, who cleaned the boots. Now no one had
suspected Bill of having the makings of a good minder in him, but it
happened that he knew Chad's little ways, and so, to everybody's
surprise and relief, he easily succeeded in keeping him quiet until all
the double teeth had been cut. Thereupon he was at once elected Minder
to the family.

[Illustration: HIS HOWLS BECAME TERRIFIC]

Bill soon proved that he was no ordinary minder. Having once started on
his new work, he took his profession very seriously. He read all the
books that had ever been written upon the subject, which were to be
found in the library of the British Museum. He talked about it with the
most knowing professors of the subject, and he was as well known in the
Minding Room of the Patent Museum at South Kensington as in his father's
house. And it is even said that he once contrived to be shut in all
night by hiding behind a case of red coral rattles when the policeman
came round at dusk to shut and lock the doors.

Moreover, as you can see for yourselves in the pictures, he was always
inventing new ways of minding his charges. So expert did he become in
time that he was never at a loss with the most fractious, and easily
surpassing all rivals, he became the most perfect minder of the
district.

Bill's fame spread to the most distant towns, and worrited mothers for
miles around flocked to him with their children. He was most successful
in distracting the vaccinated, and under his care young tooth-cutters
soon forgot their troubles. Even the pangs of indigestion were allayed
and the fretfulness of the sleepless lulled to rest by the charm of his
ways. Short tempers were lengthened, and terrified midnight wakers were
taught to realise how ridiculous were their fears. Screechers ceased to
screech, and grizzlers to grizzle, while weepers and howlers reformed
their habits and learnt to chuckle throughout the day.

If any one could mind, Bill could!

But life was not all condensed milk and honey to Bill. Like all good
minders and men, he had the bad fortune to arouse the jealousy of
rivals. The unvarying success which met his clever treatment of the most
difficult cases, instead of arousing the admiration of his brother
minders, as one would have expected, and making them eager to imitate
him, only had the effect of making them very cross and jealous. Some,
indeed, became so wild that they had to be minded themselves, while
others neglected their charges and wandered about the country in a
dreadful state of grumpiness, biting their nails to the quick, and
tearing their hair or anything else they could get hold of.

The time now arrived for the great annual Minding Tournament, held by
the Duke to celebrate his birthday, to which every one had been looking
forward all through the year. Few people have ever been so delighted
over being born as was the Duke, and this was how he most liked to show
his joy and thankfulness. The prizes and cups were usually subscribed
for by the mothers and fathers, but this year was a very special
occasion, for the Duke, having arrived at the age of sixty, had decided
to present a gold-mounted feeding-bottle to be competed for during the
tournament.

Everybody was there; the Duke and his Duchess with a handsome bouquet of
marigolds and groundsel, presented by the wives of the policemen; the
Duchess's cousin, the chatty old Viscount, and his sweet young wife; the
stout old Marquis who (as every lady knows) is also admiral of the
Regent's Canal, and his six old-maid daughters, who all arrived in bath
chairs. The general was there, as a matter of course, with all his
medals beautifully polished, and his pockets full of Pontefract cakes
and peardrops to throw to the children. At least twelve bishops were
present, besides the vicar and his eight kind curates, who made
themselves extremely pleasant to every one.

All the mothers and fathers of the neighbourhood were present, and
minders were continually arriving to compete for the prizes. There were
at least one hundred policemen to keep order, and the music was provided
by the band of the militia, lent for this occasion by the kind-hearted
general. Each member of the band performed on a separate harmonium
borrowed from the vicar. Refreshments also could be had by every one who
could prove that he or she was hungry.

[Illustration: ALWAYS INVENTING NEW WAYS OF MINDING]

The first event was the egg-and-spoon race, which was decided in the
following way. A well-pinched baby and a glass of milk were placed at
the end of the course, and each competitor had to run to them balancing
a new-laid egg on a spoon; when he had reached them, he had to beat up
the egg in the glass of milk and pacify the child with the beverage. The
competitor who did it in the shortest time won the prize.

Some murmurings were heard when it was announced that Bill had won by
two-and-a-half minutes, but these were soon drowned by the cheers of
the crowd and the music of the harmoniums.

[Illustration: YOUNG TOOTH-CUTTERS FORGOT THEIR TROUBLES]

The second event was the obstacle race, in which each competitor had to
run with three babies in his arms along a course strewn with
perambulators full of children. Over the latter he had to climb, and
having placed his three babies in an empty perambulator stationed at the
end of the course, wheel them back the same way and empty them into the
arms of the Duke without a cry from the children.

The loud cheers of the crowd and the roar of the harmoniums this time
hardly drowned the jeering of his rivals when it was proclaimed that
Bill had also won this race; and when he secured the gold-mounted
feeding-bottle, presented by the Duke, for minding seventeen
tooth-cutters and three indigesters, and sending them all to sleep in
three hours and forty-five minutes, their rage was almost beyond their
control. The cheers, the hurrahs, and the clapping of hands, as well as
the soothing music of the harmoniums, only made them more disagreeable
and spiteful.

But far worse was to happen when Bill presently carried off the great
cup for remaining shut up in a bathing-machine with twelve vaccinated
children for twelve hours. Then they quite lost their tempers, and Bill
very nearly lost his life. At least seven babies were hurled at him, as
well as the cup and the bathing-machine, and Bill was only saved by the
seven mothers of the seven hurled babies, who rushed forward to grapple
with the hurlers, and carried Bill and the babies out of their reach.

This shocking disturbance caused the vicar and his eight kind curates to
faint, while the Duke, who, now having lost all interest in the
proceedings, was only waiting to give away the prizes, turned quite
white, and at once drove off with the Duchess in his motor, and never
again referred to the subject. The general stripped off his medals in
despair, and gave them away to the children to cut their teeth with. The
chatty old Viscount became dumb with astonishment, and the twelve
bishops, with heads erect and half-closed eyes, walked off to their
cathedrals. The harmoniums were all put out of tune and quite spoilt by
the efforts of the bandsmen to drown the noise, and the tournament was
completely broken up.

After this, as might have been foreseen, no mother would entrust the
care of her children to any one but Bill, who became the only minder of
the district. What became of the rivals no one ever knew for certain,
though it has been said that they all emigrated to a desolate island in
the Dead Sea, and clothed themselves in crocodile's hide with the rough
and knobby side worn against the skin, sleeping at night on beds of
flints with coverlets made of stinging nettles. It is also said that
they nagged and threw stones at each other all through the day, and for
very rage would eat nothing but thistles, uncooked and with the prickles
left on, and drink nothing but cold vinegar for the rest of their
wretched lives.

[Illustration: THE ONLY MINDER OF THE DISTRICT]

Another story has it that Bill's jealous rivals all embarked for Mount
Vesuvius, with the intention of committing suicide by plunging into the
burning crater. But standing on its edge and gazing therein, they all
suddenly altered their minds and walked back down the mountain side to
Pompeii or Herculaneum, where they were supposed to have settled and
married, and repented, let us hope, of their unkind and unreasonable
behaviour.

Whether either of these stories is true or not, it is certain that the
rivals disappeared altogether from the country. Unmolested, Bill now
devoted all his days to minding, and Randall, Noah, Knut, Biddulph,
Nero, Ratchett, Hannibal, Quentin, Chad, and his innumerable other
charges never left him, but wandered with him everywhere, even in his
dreams.

Such a minder was Bill!

[Illustration: tailpiece]

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: THE KING OF TROY]

[Illustration: headpiece]



THE KING OF TROY


Now it happened one morning as Bill was shepherding his little flock
across the downs, whither they loved to ramble on a fine summer's day,
that Hannibal, Quentin, and Boadicea came running up to him with the
wonderful tidings that they had discovered a real golden crown lying on
the top of a hayrick. Bill hastened to the spot, and there, sure enough,
was a most beautiful crown, ornamented with what he took to be
priceless gems. Looking all round and seeing no one to whom it might
belong, he climbed the rick and attempted to remove the treasure. But,
try as he would, it still resisted his efforts, until at last, with one
mighty wrench, he seemed to elicit a groan from the depths of the rick,
and presently the crown arose apparently of its own accord and disclosed
the head of an aged man firmly fixed therein. Soon his neck, then his
shoulders appeared, as gradually the old fellow lifted himself from his
place of hiding and climbed down the sides of the rick and stood
trembling in the midst of the children, who now wonderingly gathered
round him.

Having recovered from his agitation, and being greatly encouraged by
Bill's kindly inquiries and genial manners, the royal old boy proceeded
to account for his strange appearance on the downs.

'Prepare yourselves, you bantlings, and you, their noble curator, for
the most astounding revelations; and those of you who are nerveful or
softish in any way, hide your chubby heads in this old rick, that no
word of my story of woes may enter your ears and so curdle your simple
minds.'

At this young Chad and some of the others set up a terrible hullabaloo,
but Bill soon comforted them, and then, seated in a circle on the grass
around the old fellow, they made themselves comfortable and prepared to
listen to his story.

'Are you all fit?' demanded the old gent. 'Yes,' shouted Bill and his
charges in reply. 'Well, here goes then.' And he commenced his tale in
the following way:--

'I am that King of Troy who ruled over his subjects with such wisdom and
justice that the greatest happiness prevailed amongst them!'

[Illustration: HE CLIMBED THE RICK]

'We've heard that before,' murmured Chad, but ignoring the interruption,
the King of Troy continued his story:--

'Safely protected from baseness of every description, from robbery, from
the ill effects of envy, and from unworthy tricksters of every colour,
by the stern, yet just rule under which they happily lived, the Trojans
throve and pursued their various trades with unvarying success. All
amassed a considerable fortune, and as their wealth increased, so did
their pride in the beloved city of their birth. All contributed most
willingly to the upkeep of their sovereign, and the ever-increasing
state which I was expected to hold was paid for down to the last
farthing by the noble fellows.

'The well-meaning creatures at length gave no rest to their poor old
king, and as their prosperity grew, they raised him to a more and more
exalted, and at the same time increasingly uncomfortable, position above
them. Heavier and heavier grew the robes of state to suit the swelling
dignity of the city: more and more overloaded with gold, with jewels,
with filigree silver and enamelled bronze became the crown, until so
ponderous had grown the regalia that I could hardly support it. But no
pity had the gallant lads. Mistaking the signs of my gradually drooping
spirits for the signs of undue modesty, they slapped me on the back
again and again, and with joyful shouts endeavoured to instil into my
dejected soul some of their own abundant ardour.

'With my own personal dignity, the number of ceremonials and functions I
was expected to endure also increased. Town hall after town hall was
built, and bazaars without end were held especially to be opened by
myself. But in time even this doubtful relaxation ceased, and so high
did my subjects raise me that few of them dared to approach me, and then
only on bended knees. As for speaking familiarly with me, none had the
temerity to attempt it. Perpetual state I was now compelled to keep, and
never for an instant permitted to leave my throne or doff my royal
robes, except for one short hour in the morning to perform ablutions in
the regal tub, and even then I was not allowed to remove my crown.
Seated on my throne from morning until night, overburdened by the weight
of my crown and the heavily brocaded and bejewelled robes, I felt as
lonely as a stranded limpet in the middle of the Sahara desert.

'At last things came to such a pass, that, except perhaps to bring me
food or drink, not one of my subjects would dare to draw nearer than to
the outer door of my ante-room, and even there they would fall upon
their faces and grovel in the dust and quake, so that the very clicking
of their bones could be distinctly heard from my place upon the throne,
as they trembled in every joint.

'Ah, how I missed the old days,--the cheerful cup of tea, the pipe of
baccy and the homely game of dominoes with that primest of all Prime
Ministers. How gladly would I have snatched from the royal board the
dainties now prepared for me,--the asparagus truffles, the prawn
cutlets, the anchovy jelly, and suchlike, and hurled from me the trivial
and shimmering mass, tweaking my old rascal of a waiter by the nose, and
calling for a hunk of bread and some cheese. Even my sparkling and
frolicsome old chum, the Prime Minister, had seemingly quite forgotten
our loyal chumship and never appeared before me now except upon his
hands and knees and with his head bent low to the ground. And what of my
old friend the Secretary of State? Where were his gibes, his playful
fancies, his quirks and rare conceits, the droll! Alas, only rarely now
could I glimpse the rogue, and with real sorrow did I see his erstwhile
bonny and jovial old face distorted by expressions of the most abject
servility. And that respectful mute, the Minister of Education, does he
dream that I forget his winsome pranks and jokes? Does he imagine for a
moment that those glorious evenings, when the four of us used to meet
and gladden the very stars by the sounds of our joviality, were nothing
to me? Alas, in my solitude what would have befallen me but for those
sweet memories!

[Illustration: HE COMMENCED HIS TALE]

'One evening the Prime Minister appeared on his hands and knees at the
door of the throne-room, bearing on a little plate upon his back the
slight supper that was served to me in this strange manner every
evening. With drooping head, and visibly quaking with awe, he gradually
crawled near, and when at the foot of the throne placed the supper (a
mere anchovy truffle on toast) before me and fell flat on his face,
writhing at my feet.

'Who can describe my feelings as I bent over him and witnessed this
degradation, this prostration before me, of one who had revelled with
me, who had slapped me on the back in pure amity, and who, in days of
yore, had gambolled, frisked, and carolled the most enchanting glees
with me. A great hot tear fell from my left eye as I gazed, and the
startled wretch leapt to his feet as it splashed upon his bald crown and
trickled down its glossy sides, leaving a red and glowing spot where it
had fallen. No words of mine could describe the misery expressed on the
face of the unhappy man as he took one hasty glance at me, full of the
deepest meaning, and rushed from the room weeping bitterly. Alas! he,
too, remembered.

'No heart had I now for the anchovy truffle, nor indeed for the toast,
both of which I tossed lightly from me. I gave up my mind to most
melancholy reflections. Night drew on, and one by one I could hear the
ministers and domestics creeping up stealthily to bed, and at nine
o'clock all the electric lights in the palace were switched off, and I
was left in total darkness and in solitude. Still I brooded on my
throne, unable to sleep for the weight of my robes and for the sad
thoughts that passed through my mind, and mechanically counted the hours
as they stole slowly by.

'At length the clock in the hall downstairs struck eleven, and as the
last beat echoed through the empty rooms, a light appeared underneath
the door opposite the throne. Little heed did I give to this at first,
imagining that one of the ministers, on retiring, had omitted to remove
his boots and leave them in the hall, and was now returning to place
them there. The light, however, remained, and to my increasing
wonderment some one tried the handle of the door, which was then opened
very cautiously and in there crept, on hands and knees, my old friend
the Prime Minister. As soon as he was well within the room and had
quietly closed the door, he leapt to his feet and executed the most
astonishing capers that were ever danced. With the liveliest
satisfaction expressed all over his mobile features, he pirouetted round
the room with the greatest animation, and daringly accomplished the
giddiest somersaults that were ever turned. At last, nearly exhausted
with this vigorous performance, he ran up to the throne, grasped me by
the hand, which he wrung most heartily, and for all the world was his
good old self again.

'He now bade me follow him, and in utter silence we both crept out of
the throne-room, through the ante-room, down the stairs, across the
hall, and out by the front door into the garden.

'We now traversed the terrace and crossed the tennis lawn, and stepping
gently across the Rhododendron beds, scrambled as carefully as possible
over the barbed-wire fence and found ourselves in the kitchen garden.
Passing through innumerable beds of cabbages, beetroots, turnips,
brussels sprouts, and broccoli, we at last stood in front of an old
broken-down hen-house. The Minister knocked very gently three distinct
times and gave a low musical call, which was immediately answered from
within. The door now opened just sufficiently to admit one person at a
time, and the Prime Minister crept in, dragging me after him, and then
closing the door as quickly and as quietly as possible.

'You may imagine my surprise when I discovered my two other old cronies
seated amongst the hay newly strewn on the floor, the fat old roosters
chortling wisely the while on their perches in the roof of the shed. Two
or three candles, that were glued with their own fat on the stakes that
were driven securely into the ground, together with an old stable
lantern suspended from the roof, served to light up the interior. A
squat and homely kettle was simmering cheerily in front of some glowing
embers in the centre of the floor awaiting the brewing of a stout cup of
tea, and the dominoes were all ready for a rattling game as of old.

'Nothing could exceed the joy of the dear old boys, as they gripped me
by the hand and punched me first on the chest and again on the back from
pure joy, forgetting all the awe with which they had regarded me for so
long since, and only remembering the many happy times we had spent
together in days of yore,--those far-off happy days, before I had been
so terribly, so uncomfortably exalted by my subjects.

'As soon as I had made myself pretty comfortable, the Minister of
Education reached up, and taking one of the old chickens from its perch,
quickly killed it, plucked it and trussed it, and then, suspending it
over the embers by a piece of string from the roof, turned it round and
round gently until it was done to a T.

'What a time we had in that old shed to be sure. After demolishing the
chicken we played the most exciting games of dominoes until we were
tired of them, then cats' cradles, then honey-pots, and then touch wood.
And what could have been more refreshing than those cups of tea! And
what more invigorating than the Pontefract cakes, the slabs of cocoanut
ice, and sheets of almond hard-bake that we crunched between the games!
And the songs and choruses with which we shook the crazy old hen-house
to its rotting foundations! My word! How we trolled them out!

'When our joy was at its height, and we were carolling the inimitable
chorus of that more than glorious old song of the country-side, "Waiting
for the Guinea Fowl," we were suddenly reminded of the approach of day
by the loud crowing of the old cock over our heads, and peeping at once
out of the door we perceived that already the dawn had advanced and
lightened the eastern sky.

[Illustration: WHAT A TIME WE HAD]

'Without a moment's hesitation, the guttering candles were
extinguished, and I was hurried back to the palace. But only just in
time, for as I mounted the steps of my throne I could hear the lazy
steps of the boot-boy as he unwillingly crawled downstairs to his work.

'In the course of the day the Egg Counter to the Royal Household was
dragged grovelling before me, complaining that the foxes had stolen one
of the chickens under his care. I ordered the treasurer to disburse 9d.
for a trap and dismissed the grinning churl, who little guessed the
breed of foxes which had made away with his bird.

'Night after night the four of us, unsuspected of any, now sought the
hen-house, and forgot the harassing troubles of state in the pure joys
of friendship. After killing, roasting, and supping off one of the birds
as on our first meeting, we abandoned ourselves to the heartiest
revelry, only to be awakened to the cold everyday world by the crowing
of the old bantam.

'During the daytime my friends resumed their deferential and almost
servile demeanour, and nothing remained to remind me of the revels of
the night before but the troubles of the Egg Counter, who now came to me
every day with a fresh complaint that yet another of his birds had
disappeared.

'And now begins the narration of the most terrible of all my trials. One
night--how well can I remember it, it was on the eve of that very day
when the mighty King of the Persians and all his court were coming to
spend the week-end with us, in order to celebrate my sixty-fifth
birthday--we met as usual in the hen-house, and discovered to our dismay
that we had demolished all the fowls with the exception of the old cock.
After some discussion, and regardless of consequences, we decided to
treat him as we had already treated his brothers and sisters, and in a
very little time nothing was left of the tough old biped but bones, beak
and feathers. Heedless of the morrow, we now gave ourselves up to the
wildest enjoyment. Discarding such simple games as dominoes and
honey-pots, we now indulged in the more thrilling joys of leap-frog,
Hunt the Stag, Red Rover, Robbers and Thieves, and you would not believe
me were I to tell you the amount of toffee, brandy-snaps, bull's eyes,
and Edinburgh rock that we absorbed in the course of this agreeable
evening.

'Enlivened, no doubt, by the thought that to-morrow was my birthday, my
excitement was intense, and communicating itself to my prankful cronies,
it electrified their old bones in the most amazing manner.

'How long we should have kept it up, it is, of course, impossible for me
to say, but we were suddenly brought to a standstill by a loud knocking
on the door of the shed and the sound of a great concourse of people on
the other side. On opening the door I nearly fainted in my horror, for
whom should I behold but the King of Persia and all his court, and as
far as the eye could reach the faces of the Trojans all lit up by the
morning sun, staring intently at the shed. Alas, we had eaten the old
cock, our only timepiece, many hours ago, and without our knowledge the
day had dawned and grown to midday.

'Who shall describe my profound mortification, as I observed the look of
sorrow on the King of Persia's noble countenance, or the distress with
which I viewed the agonised disappointment of my subjects as they beheld
their king, whom they one and all delighted to honour, playing leap-frog
in a hen-house.

'It appeared that on the arrival of the King of Persia, they had all
proceeded in lordly procession with bands playing and flags flying to
the throne-room, and not finding me there they had hunted everywhere for
me, high and low, until at last, guided by the sounds of revelry in the
hen-house, they discovered my wretched self in the ignominious position
I have already described.

'I was now seized by two of the Persian guards at the command of their
monarch and marched off to the Palace, a lane being opened for me
through the crowds of my silent and sorrowing subjects.

'A council was very hurriedly called together, at which it was decided
that I should be banished for ever from the city of Troy for so
demeaning the exalted position to which I had been elevated, by my
frolics in the hen-house, and that henceforth the King of Persia should
reign in my stead.

'Stripping my royal robes from me (they were compelled to leave my crown
on, for it was so firmly fixed that it would not come off, try as they
would), they now bandaged my eyes, and, with the only baggage I was
allowed to take, tied up in an old patch-work quilt, they led me forth.
Past crowds of my subjects, who now gave way to the most heartfelt
sorrow, I was led, through the old gates of my beloved city and far out
into the country. After we had travelled for about thirty miles my
conductors at last removed the bandage from my eyes and left me to my
despair, alone in the wilderness.

'Sinking to the ground, I wept bitterly for three-quarters of an hour,
when hunger beginning to assert itself, I started upon this long
journey, which has at length brought me to you.

'For many months have I travelled, often compelled to ask the way or beg
assistance of the merest strangers, until at last,' concluded the old
gentleman, 'as I was resting to-day in the shadow of this rick, I saw
you all coming over the hill, and mistaking you for the legions of the
King of Persia sent to hunt me down, I hid myself in the top of the
rick.'

Bill and all his charges were deeply moved at so harrowing a tale, and
willingly proffered any assistance they were capable of rendering to the
unhappy old boy.

[Illustration: The King of Troy compelled to ask his way]

The King of Troy, now assured of the good faith of his new friends,
unfolded to them a scheme he had formed to raise an army and to march on
Troy, and so recover, if possible, his lost power. Bill at once offered
his services and was created commander-in-chief on the spot, and calling
for volunteers, was answered by one great shout of joy from all his
charges, every one of whom enlisted there and then in the new army of
the King of Troy.

Chad, Hannibal, Randall, Noah, Ratchett, Nero, Biddulph, and Knut were
each promoted to the rank of officers as a matter of course, while the
gentle Boadicea was deputed to look after the old King, whose comfort
was now her greatest aim in life.

[Illustration: tailpiece]

[Illustration: vignette]

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: THE ANCIENT MARINER]

[Illustration: headpiece]



THE ANCIENT MARINER


The next thing to be done was certainly to make the old King
comfortable, so Bill took him home, and the good Chloe dosed him well
with hot gruel, and made him put his feet in hot water, and sent him to
bed. After remaining snugly tucked up for a few days, the cheerful old
soul was ready and eager to start with his new army for Troy.

In the meantime Bill, with the assistance of Crispin, had constructed a
wonderful perambulator, in which the King could be conveyed with his
luggage and such comforts as would be necessary for the old man during
his progress.

Having secured the permission of Crispin and Chloe, and of the other
parents concerned (most of whom seemed only too glad to get rid of the
lot), Bill, the King, and all the gallant young soldiers started on
their adventurous journey. Loud were the shouts of admiration as the
brave creatures marched down the village street; and at last, when they
had entirely disappeared, the place seemed suddenly so quiet and dull
that all retired to their bedrooms and gave way to tears.

However, our duty is to follow the young braves. Having marched along
the road across the Downs for some distance, they met the strangest
couple,--a kind-looking old gentleman who, to judge from his appearance,
had spent the greater part of his life upon the ocean, carrying in his
arms, carefully and tenderly as though he were a frail young baby,
another man, with the saddest and most thoughtful face that you ever
beheld. Such touching kindness deeply affected all who witnessed it, and
Bill at once greeted the good gentleman, and begged of him to account to
them for his very strange appearance on the country road.

'Sirs,' said the Ancient Mariner, as he placed his burden lovingly on
the ground, 'my name is Jack, Plain Jack, and I am the ninth mate of the
Swedish ship _Turnip_, a brig-rigged barquentine, that sailed from
Cherry Garden Pier for Margate with a cargo of camels, in the year 1840,
and has never since been heard of.

'Though a born sailor, I succeeded my father in what was one of the best
corn-chandler's businesses in that part of Barking. By my industry and
thrift I, in time, so bettered my position and improved my business that
I felt fully entitled to settle down and enter into the state of
matrimony. For some years I had had my eye on the enchanting Jane
Osbaldistone de Trevor, whose father kept a large brill farm by Barking
Creek,--in fact, the largest of the many brill farms that used, in those
days, to line the river from Limehouse Reach to Cherry Garden Pier.

'His wealth and importance did not deter me from aspiring to the hand of
his fascinating daughter; and why should they have done so? Was not I in
the very promising position of owning the largest corn-chandler's store,
from Wapping Old Stairs even as far down as Barking Creek? And then,
again, was not I as well born as he, for did not my ancestors chandle
corn in Barking long before the De Trevors had crossed the Channel, when
they may, indeed, have earned a precarious livelihood by letting
bathing-machines on the beach at Boulogne?

'Nevertheless, on my broaching the subject to the old gentleman, he
threw every conceivable obstacle in my way, and made conditions that
were wellnigh impossible of being carried out. "If," said he, "you can
bring to me, within the next few years, some object more wonderful than
anything in the Bethnal Green Museum,--some object beside which St.
Paul's Cathedral, the Monument, the Tower of London, or the Tower Bridge
will be as uninteresting as an old one-bladed pocket-knife,--then you
shall marry my daughter, but not otherwise"; and he chuckled to himself,
knowing only too well that he had wellnigh dashed my hopes for ever.

'But, after all, little did he know Plain Jack. Disappointed, but with
some hope yet of claiming the lovely Jane, I sold my business for a
considerable sum of money, which I took with me in my sea-chest, and
signed on as Cabin Boy aboard the Swedish ship, _Turnip_, fully
determined to travel all over the world, if necessary, in order to
fulfil the conditions imposed upon me by the irritating old gentleman.

'Foreseeing well how useful my superior officers might be to me in my
quest, I resolved, as far as possible to deserve their good-will, and I
behaved with such exemplary conduct that before we had passed Greenwich
Hospital I was promoted to the rank of twelfth mate.

'Still persevering in my good intentions, I performed many little acts
of kindness, such as brewing the captain a cup of tea when he least
expected it, and handing round to the officers and crew bars of colt's
foot rock, a supply of which I took good care to bring with me. I
repeat, so continually attentive was I, that, before we had passed the
Nore, I was promoted to the rank of eleventh mate.

'Off Herne Bay, I was still further able to gratify the captain and
officers by pointing out to them the various public buildings and places
of interest, which I had visited only last year during a delightful
week-end trip. So delighted were they all that, before sighting Margate,
I was promoted to the rank of tenth mate.

'On arriving at Margate, numerous merchants came along the jetty in
bath-chairs to examine our cargo. None, however, wanted to buy camels;
all wanted donkeys for the sands. In spite of the captain's argument,
that camels were much more used to sand than donkeys, having spent the
best part of their lives on the sands of the desert, the merchants were
obdurate, and we had to sail away again with our camels. We also now
carried with us a shipload of Carraway Comfits, which we had purchased
at Margate, hoping to be able to dispose of them at some port, and so
compensate ourselves for the loss of business at Margate.

[Illustration: I SIGN ON AS CABIN BOY]

'For many days we sailed on and on, out through the Yarmouth Roads into
the Persian Gulf, one incident alone standing out vividly in my memory
during this part of the voyage. It was the dog watch, on a lovely summer
evening; we were making little way, just sufficient to enliven the
whitebait that leapt and prattled round our prow, or disturb a lazy
brill that dozed upon our course. Here and there the spotted tunny
would leap several yards from the sea, to descend again with a mighty
smack upon the waters. From afar, borne upon the gentle breeze, came the
low grizzle of the sperm-whale as it herded its young, or the thud of
the mighty sword-fish, as it drove home the deadly weapon with which
Nature, knowing its own ends, has provided him; while, mellowed by even
greater distance, the high-pitched yell of the land-cod and the shriek
of its maddened prey, could now and again be heard. I was lazily
reclining among the peak halyards, whittling out a mermaid's head from
a piece of hard-boiled gannet's egg, which I intended to send to Jane,
should a passing vessel give me such an opportunity. Full of peace, and
imbued with the calm that pervaded the sea and the sky, I was hardly
prepared for the shock in store for me. Suddenly, without any warning, I
was jerked from my position among the halyards, and flung head-first
into the sea. Down, and down I went, until, nearly exhausted, I made one
great effort to come to the surface. When at last I reached it, I found
that from some unknown cause the ship had been tilted nearly on to its
side, and thus had sent me almost to the bottom of the sea.

'To climb on deck and ascertain the cause of the disaster was the work
of a moment. It transpired that the cargo of carraway comfits had got
shifted and was mixed up with the camels. The captain was asleep at the
time, and every one else seemed to lose his wits, so I at once took the
matter into my own hands, and descended into the hold with twelve picked
men.

'The plight of the camels was sad indeed to see. Some were fearfully
chafed with the comfits, thus proving with what force the latter must
have been showered upon them by the shifting of the cargo. Fortunately,
however, although it was very black in the ship's hold, the camels were
easily distinguished from the comfits, and it was only a work of
patience and a little time to sift them and so right the ship again.

'When the captain awakened and learnt how I had saved the ship, his
gratitude knew no bounds, and he still further promoted me by making me
his ninth mate.

'For years we sailed from port to port, taking in one cargo here,
another there, occasionally with some advantage to ourselves, but more
often with none at all, and never with any good fortune attending me in
my quest. When we were about thirty days' sail out from Guatemala, and,
as far as I could tell, in latitude 195 and longitude 350 (that is,
about 60 degrees east of the Equator), we encountered a storm which
brought me to the successful accomplishment of my quest. It was four
bells and my watch below, so I had gone aloft in the mizzen shrouds, and
with my feet resting idly on the top-gallant backstay, holding securely
to the weather topsail reeftackle, I munched a tunny sandwich, a few of
which I had prevailed upon the steward to cut for me. Under a clear sky,
we were making roughly, I should say, about 335 knots, and it was
already blowing half a gale; a choppy sea was running, yet, except for
the clots of spindrift, that now and again hurtled against the mast,
there was no real promise of the storm to come; so I went on with my
sandwiches.

'We were now sailing close-hauled under double-reefed main storm
topsails and fore and aft main staysails, keeping a good course and
shipping very little water, when, suddenly, I beheld on the horizon,
well to windward, a little cloud no larger than a tomato,--the English
tomato, I mean, not the foreign species, though it rapidly attained that
size. It grew larger and larger until it was quite the size of a
full-grown vegetable marrow; yet, little recking that it contained the
seeds of the terrible tempest that was so soon to overwhelm us, I still
went on with my sandwiches.

[Illustration: I WENT ON WITH MY SANDWICHES]

'Presently the gale increased, and the seas swelled up to the size of
Ludgate Hill. Whole shoals of the passive skate arose to the surface and
flopped warningly about our vessel. To leeward could be seen flocks of
the wild sea shrike, whose ominous bark could be distinctly heard above
the snort of the coming tempest. By now the cloud had half filled the
heavens; the seas rose higher and higher; the din was terrific, as the
wind tore from the sea shoal upon shoal of the shy sardine and whirled
them through the air. Soon the ship was drenched in the high seas that
continually broke over her and the quarts and quarts of rain that
wolloped from the dense cloud now covering the whole sky and blotting
out all light.

'At last came the order from the captain, who now realised the danger
that threatened his vessel. "Up helm," roared he, through his
speaking-trumpet, "clew up the lee braces of the topsail halyards; haul
out the reef tackle and brail up the spanker." But the command came too
late. The fore-topsail studding booms went by the board, carrying with
them the bowsprit, the main mast, the fo'c's'le, the top-gallant
studding-sail halyard, and the captain's tobacco-pouch, which had been
placed upon the bowsprit earlier in the afternoon. Nothing could now be
seen except, here and there, the gleam on some fish as it was whirled,
with the masts, men, boots, screws, sharks, thimbles, sea anemones,
watch-chains, ship's stores, planks, and other miscellaneous objects,
through the sky. I had barely finished my last sandwich when, lo,
everything became a blank to me and I lost all consciousness.

'How long I remained thus I cannot say, but I awakened on the sandy
shore of some island, upon which I had been thrown by the force of the
wind. Nothing could I see of my companions: a few planks and spars and
my own wretched self were all that remained to tell the tale of the good
ship _Turnip_.

'The wind had dropped, and it was a beautiful morning, not a trace of
the storm remaining, only here and there the panting of the crayfish, as
they nestled behind the rocks, or the gasping of the oysters telling of
the strain they had undergone. I gazed along the shore in each
direction, hoping to discover a bathing-machine, and so satisfy myself
that the island was inhabited. Nothing was in sight, however, so I lay
down again and dozed. When I awoke once more it was high noon, and the
vertical rays of the sun warned me that it was time to take shelter. I
raised myself on one arm with this intention, when I became aware of a
strange figure, dressed in a long robe and with a great turban, who was
seated on a rock near by, gazing out to sea.

'I got to my feet with considerable difficulty as I was faint with
hunger and stiff in the limbs, and was about to approach the object,
when I discovered two more figures, who evidently had the same
intention. Seemingly they did not wish to be observed by the singular
creature I have already described, for they were stealthily approaching
him from behind, creeping from rock to rock. I at once stooped down
behind a great star-fish, determined to watch unobserved.

'I now noticed that both were savages, and that one of them held close
to his body an old, rusty kitchen-range; while the other carried, in one
hand, a basket of coals, and with the other supported a huge, iron
sauce-pan across his shoulders. Nearer and nearer drew the cannibals (as
I soon guessed them to be) to their intended victim, who, however,
either because he did not hear them, or did not dread them, took no
notice at all. Presently they were crouching down behind him, and he was
still apparently unconscious of their presence. Then, with a wild whoop
they leapt into the air, and dropped on the ground in front of him. Even
now the amazing creature took no notice of the cannibals or their
antics, as they danced and yelled around him. Soon realising that there
was something very unusual in his reception of them, they stared in awe
and amazement at him for some time, and then fled in terror, leaving the
saucepan, the kitchen-range and the other cooking utensils behind them.

'They ran along the sands, and dropped behind a rock at a great distance
away, where they remained completely hidden for some long time.
Presently, however, one black head appeared for an instant above the
rock, and gazed in the direction of the thoughtful creature by the sea.
This head was very quickly withdrawn from view and another popped
up,--only to disappear as quickly. Then the first appeared again, and so
on. This continued until they had regained a little of their nerve, when
I could see them once more crawling back to the abstracted figure on the
shore. Again they drew very close to him, and now that they had
sufficiently mastered their fears, they approached and examined him very
closely, and proceeded at once to prepare their evening meal. First of
all they lit the fire, then they carefully placed their unresisting
victim in the saucepan, after filling it with water from the sea, and
were just about to lift it on to the range when I lost all patience, and
shouted from my hiding-place, "Hold!" so many times in quick succession,
and each time in a different tone of voice, that the cannibals must have
thought there were at least thirty men or more in hiding. At any rate,
they fled in the most abject terror, never to return.

'Giving them good time to disappear, I now emerged from my hiding-place
and approached the absent-minded creature, gently lifting him from the
saucepan, in which I found him still sitting and gazing out to sea.
Gathering together many sea-urchins, rock-beetles, and branches of a
succulent sea-weed, with which the beach had been strewn by the recent
storm, I prepared an exquisite stew, and made a very hearty meal. I was
also able to induce my companion to take some, without, however,
succeeding in breaking his train of thought.

[Illustration: FOR YEARS WE SAILED]

'For many months no other friend had I than this preoccupied curiosity,
who seemed quite unable to give me any clue as to who he was or whence
he came. Perhaps he had been shipwrecked there in childhood--who
knows?--and wandered there ever since, the wonder of every limpet or
lugworm that squirmed upon those shores, or the sport of every mer-kid
that flipped a fin in those unknown waters.

'To cut a long story short, I soon realised that here was the object I
was in search of, and that if this dreamy creature did not sufficiently
astonish old De Trevor, and compel him to consent to my marrying his
daughter, nothing on this earth would do the deed, so I resolved to
leave the island with my treasure as soon as I could make it possible to
do so. I set about making a raft, which I quickly succeeded in
completing, having since my childhood had a great knack at the making of
rafts, and, without undue delay, I embarked with my prize, provisioned
with as many shell-fish and branches of the succulent sea-weed as the
raft would carry.

'After some few months, and just as we had finished our last limpet, we
had the good fortune to be picked up by a tramp-steamer, bound for
Saskatchewan from Mombasa, with a cargo of periwinkles. The captain was
such a kind-hearted man that, on hearing my story he decided to go out
of his course, and land us at Cherry Garden Pier; and so, my good
friends, after sixty years' sailing all over the globe, I arrived home
again, a poorer but a kinder man.

[Illustration: The sport of every mer-kid]

'You may be sure that I lost no time in seeking out Jane herself, with
every hope of at last being able to claim her hand, but alas!
gentlemen,' said the Ancient Mariner, with a large, salt tear about to
fall from each eye, and as he once more tenderly lifted his burden, 'I
was to find that Jane had become a very, very old woman, with many
little grandchildren of her own, and that she had entirely
forgotten my existence. She had me turned away from her doorstep as a
raving madman, even with my interesting, absent-minded, and inseparable
companion.

'Thus, Good Sirs, I have to start life anew, and if my great experience
should be of any service to you, believe me, it is yours to command.'

[Illustration: tailpiece]

[Illustration: vignette]

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: THE TRIPLETS]

[Illustration: headpiece]



THE TRIPLETS


Right gladly were the services of the plucky old salt accepted by the
gallant little band, and taking it in turns to relieve him of his
burden, they jovially marched along. The way was enlivened by many a
good chorus, until the old King complained of a headache, when every one
had to be quiet and talk only in quite a low tone, while Boadicea
soothed the old fidget, and lulled him to sleep, by removing his crown
and gently stroking the top of his head with a mint leaf, rolled into a
little ball, and fastened to the end of a stem of sweet-briar. He
awakened shortly after tea, very much refreshed for his nap, and every
one grew merry again.

He now, however, considerably delayed the progress of the expedition by
insisting on running after butterflies, and trying to catch them in his
crown. Though anxious enough to continue their journey, all the army
awaited with great patience the pleasure of the old sportsman. At length
Knut, who had been eagerly watching the King for some time, as he
frisked about the fields after the brightly-coloured insects, could not
restrain himself from doing likewise. Now Hannibal joined in the sport,
then Quentin, then Noah, then Ratchett, and, so exciting did the chase
become, soon all the force were frantically running about the fields
with the lively monarch, while Boadicea remained by the carriage and
darned his old stockings.

At last the King grew tired, and they all came back to the road and
resumed their march. The tiresome sovereign now insisted on the Ancient
Mariner removing his burden to the rear, complaining that the
absent-minded creature would stare at him, and that he did not wish to
be gazed at or wondered at. 'Time enough for that,' said he, 'when I'm
on my throne again.' Having effected this change in the order of the
procession, they now marched on without further interruption from the
King.

Towards nightfall they drew near to the sea, on the shores of which they
hoped to spend the night. Bill being, as usual, a little in advance of
the others, was the first to descend to the sands, seated on which he
discovered, to his great astonishment, three young children weeping
bitterly, and near to them, in the same state of grief, he beheld an
old gentleman seated upon a rock. But what aroused his astonishment even
more than their extreme wretchedness, was the fact that the three
children were all exactly alike in every particular,--the same size, the
same hair, the same eyes,--in fact, there was no perceptible difference
of any kind between them. Now and again, one of the children would
endeavour to comfort the old man, and he again would attempt to perform
the like kindly office for them. Wondering what could so upset such
worthy creatures, Bill approached and besought them to confide to him
their troubles, that he might try to relieve them to the best of his
ability. Their tears, however, effectually prevented them from replying
at once to him. Giving them a little time to recover, Bill again
addressed them. 'Who are you?' said he, and they all answered between
their sobs, 'We are the Duchess of Blowdripping and her two sisters,
Mellinid and Edil.'

'Which of you,' asked Bill, 'is the Duchess?'

'That's what we don't know,' they replied. 'We only know that she is
neither Mellinid nor Edil.'

'Then who of you is Mellinid, and who Edil?' again queried the puzzled
Bill.

'That's what all the trouble's about,' they tearfully rejoined. 'All we
can tell you for certain is that neither of them is the Duchess,' and
the poor little creatures redoubled their cries.

More puzzled than ever, and quite at a loss to find any clue to their
troubles, Bill again besought them to relieve their minds by confiding
in him. Then one of the little creatures stood up and, after drying her
eyes, addressed Bill in the following way:--

[Illustration: ENDEAVOURING TO COMFORT THE OLD MAN]

'As you have most likely guessed, we are triplets, and were christened
Blaura, Mellinid and Edil, after three great-aunts renowned for their
intelligence and their many virtues. From our earliest days we were so
much alike that each had to wear a different coloured hair-ribbon to
distinguish her from her sisters. Blaura wore red, Mellinid blue, and
Edil green. Our affectionate parents, the late Duke and Duchess of
Blowdripping, died when we were barely six months old, and we were all
left in charge of our uncle, the benevolent gentleman you see weeping on
my left. Before the thoughtful creatures expired, feeling that their end
was drawing near, they were faced with the difficult problem as to which
of us should be the new Duchess; all of us, as I have said before, being
of the same age. Of course, I need not tell you that it was quite out of
the question we should all inherit the title; three young ladies trying
to be one duchess would be absurd in the extreme. So our intelligent and
resourceful mother and father decided, after much deliberation with the
family solicitor, and the vicar of the parish, that Blaura should
succeed to the title and all the dignities of the Duchy of Blowdripping
when she arrived at the age of eight years, and that, at the same time,
Mellinid should become the owner of Blowdripping Hall, with its
priceless collections of pictures, old china, fossils and foreign
stamps, and Edil become the possessor of the Blowdripping Park, in which
the Hall is so pleasantly situated, with its herds of hedgehogs, elands
and gnu. I am sure you will agree with me that no more just division of
their great possessions could have been devised by the fair-minded
couple. Our uncle was kindness itself, ever watching us with the
affectionate care of a mother. He was always at hand to look to our
comforts, and to see that no danger drew nigh, whether we were bathing
in the marble fountains of the courtyard, taking the air in the park, or
sleeping in our tastefully-decorated bedroom.

'One beautiful summer's afternoon, when we were about one year old, we
had been taken on to the verandah to enjoy our afternoon nap, in order
that we might have advantage of the delightful breeze that blew across
the woods from the sea. As usual our uncle was near by, and so soothing
was the air that, unable to resist its drowsy influence, he, too, soon
dozed off. Unfortunately we awakened before our unconscious nurse, and
immediately rolled out of our cradles, and crawled along the pavement of
the verandah. Great sport we had, I have no doubt, as children will, and
certain it is that, attracted by their brilliant colours, we lost no
time in removing from each other's heads our distinguishing ribbons, and
speedily mixing them up. However, at length, and too late, our baby
laughter awakened the old gentleman from his sleep. Too great for words
was the astonishment of the unhappy man when he beheld us all shuffled
up and mixed in this deplorable way upon the pavement. Bitterly he
accused himself of wicked negligence for allowing such a thing to
happen, for so alike were we without our distinguishing ribbons, that he
could never hope to know one from the other again. He thought, and
thought, and thought for the whole afternoon, but at the end he was no
nearer discovering again which was the future Duchess, which Mellinid,
and which Edil. At last, he gave it up in despair. Henceforth we were
known only collectively as the future Duchess and her two sisters, but
which is the Duchess, and which the two sisters, will remain for ever a
mystery.

[Illustration: WE GREW UP IN COMPARATIVE HAPPINESS]

[Illustration: He was always at hand]

'Nevertheless, we grew up in comparative happiness until yesterday, the
fateful day when we all became eight years of age. Before
breakfast, and with all due solemnity, our faithful uncle handed over to
us the control and guardianship of the Blowdripping possessions, which
had been entrusted to him until we should arrive at our present age,
but, alas! we could not avail ourselves of the good provision made for
us by our thoughtful parents, as neither one of us knew which of us we
were. The Duchess, as head of the family, could not give her consent to
anything, or advance any money for the housekeeping as, for all she
knew, she might be one of her own sisters, in which case she would have
been touching that which did not rightly belong to her. For the same
reason Mellinid, not knowing who she herself was, could not give her
consent to our remaining at the Hall, and likewise Edil could not allow
the magnificent house still to occupy its lovely situation in the
Blowdripping Park. After talking the matter over, and over again, we
have come to the conclusion that, without the permission of the proper
owners, which, you will see, it is impossible for us to obtain, the only
course open to us was to abandon our riches, and to leave the park and
the castle for ever. Our good uncle, putting all the blame for our
troubles upon his own negligence, insisted on accompanying us.'

At the conclusion of this strange story Bill was certainly aghast at the
very difficult problem put before him, and quite at a loss to offer any
solution. He therefore conducted the trembling triplets and their
grief-stricken uncle before the King, who had in the meantime arrived
upon the shore. Bill explained the difficult position in which the poor
young things found themselves; but, wise as he undoubtedly was, the King
for some time could make nothing whatever of it. He called all his
officers and soldiers round him, and they formed one great semicircle,
of which he was the centre; the triplets were then placed before him,
and he at once proceeded to question them.

'Have you,' said he, addressing the first triplet, 'any idea as to which
of the three of you you really are?'

'None whatever,' answered the child.

He then repeated the same question to the other triplets, and received
the same answer.

'Come now,' continued the King, in a cheerful voice, 'does any one of
you feel at all like a duchess?'

'We don't know how a duchess should feel,' they all replied.

The King here frowned severely and ground his teeth.

'Now, one of you must be telling an untruth,' said he, 'for one of you,
as you say, is the Duchess, and must know exactly how she feels, which
must be how a duchess feels. Come now, which of you is she?' And the
quick-tempered monarch knit his brows into the most terrible folds.
'Unless that one is one of her own sisters and not the Duchess,' he
roared, 'she ought to be ashamed of her deceit, and severely punished;
and if, indeed, she is not the Duchess, then she ought to be punished
all the same. I've half a mind to have the three of you smacked hard,
that I may at least be certain of punishing the right one.'

Bill suggested timidly that perhaps this would be rather unfair, as two
of them at least would be unjustly punished.

'But which two?' snapped the irritated King. 'How can any of them feel
unjustly treated if she doesn't know whether she's the guilty one or
not?' And he worked himself into a terrible fury, and strode up and down
the sands, no one daring to approach him. Suddenly, without any warning
of his intention, he ran down to the sea, and removing his shoes and
stockings, cooled his temper by paddling his feet in the sea-water. In a
little time he returned, his excitement much allayed, and soon the cries
of the distracted and unhappy triplets, together with the pitiful sighs
of the dejected uncle, entirely assuaged the wrath of the sympathetic,
though quick-tempered, old man.

When he once more resumed his place before the three children the storm
had passed, and a sweet, good-natured smile enlivened his homely old
face, and charmed all beholders.

'Well, well, well,' said he, 'triplets will be triplets after all, and
uncles uncles, all the world over.'

He at once resumed the inquiry, and placing his hand kindly on the head
of the second triplet he now addressed the first in the following way:--

'Let us suppose for the moment that you happen to know which of your
sisters this particular one really is, who, in that case, would the
third one be, if she (the third) were not Mellinid?'

'Either Edil or the Duchess,' promptly replied the intelligent child.

'Quite right,' said the King encouragingly, 'Now as this is not so, and
you certainly do not know which of your sisters this one happens to be,
the reverse must be true, so that if your other sister is neither Edil
nor the Duchess, who must she be?'

'Mellinid, of course,' readily answered the child, and every one
applauded and wondered at the wisdom of the King.

'It only now remains,' proceeded the King, addressing the first and
second triplets 'to discover which of you is Edil and which the
Duchess.' Placing his hand once more upon the head of the second
triplet, he again addressed the first.

'Suppose, for the sake of argument, that this sister of yours whom we
now know not to be Mellinid were Mellinid and Mellinid the Duchess, in
that case you would assuredly be Edil. Now as you cannot suppose this
sister to be Mellinid when you know she is not, and the Duchess is the
Duchess and not Mellinid, then our supposition must be wrong and the
reverse true, so that Mellinid remains Mellinid and, as we say you are
not Edil, then this little girl must be she.' Then shaking the first
triplet by the hand, the complacent old potentate said in
conclusion:--'And you, my dear creature, are thus proved to be neither
Edil nor Mellinid but Blaura, the charming Duchess of Blowdripping, to
whom I offer my hearty congratulations.' The cheerful soul now embraced
the three children, and when he had a hand free he slapped the old
uncle, who now looked the very picture of happiness, several times upon
the back.

[Illustration: THE TRIPLETS ACCOMPANY THE ARMY]

Cheers were raised again and again at the unheard-of wisdom of the King
of Troy. The old uncle completely exhausted himself by leaping high into
the air over and over again, while the triplets were beyond themselves
with joy at such a successful end to their troubles.

So delighted were the triplets with their new friends that, during
breakfast the next morning, they announced their intention of
accompanying them to their journey's end, and entrusted the care of the
Blowdripping estate to their old uncle until they should return. The
camp packed up and when every one was ready to continue the journey,
they all took an affectionate leave of the old man and marched on.

[Illustration: tailpiece]

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: GOOD AUNT GALLADIA]

[Illustration: headpiece]



GOOD AUNT GALLADIA


At first the King seemed disposed to be not a little irritable towards
the triplets, murmuring something to himself about the extra expense. A
good lunch, however, soon put him to rights, and he was his old cheerful
self again.

In the afternoon they met upon the road a long thin man with a grin of
the greatest self-satisfaction widening his otherwise narrow face. In
one hand he carried a cage containing a miserable old bird that could
hardly boast an egg-cupful of feathers on its whole shrivelled body; in
the other he carried a large wooden box. He very good-naturedly stood
aside for the army to move on, but the King, whose curiosity had been
aroused, would not allow him to be passed unquestioned, so he rang a
little bell he always carried with him for the purpose, and the whole
force at once stopped short. In obedience to a signal from the King, the
long man stepped jauntily before him. 'Anything wrong, old chirpy?' said
he, addressing the King rather rudely as some thought. 'Not with me,'
the King replied with much dignity. 'My only reason for calling you
before me is to learn why you are so extremely pleased with yourself.
Such a secret would be of the greatest value to us all.' 'Because she's
given these back to me,' answered the long fellow as he opened his box
and disclosed, all neatly arranged, a beautiful collection of birds'
eggs. Every kind appeared to be there, and all of the most beautiful
colours imaginable.

'But who is she?' queried the King.

'Why, my good Aunt Galladia, of course, but it's too long a story to
tell standing up, so let us sit down by the roadside, and you shall hear
all about it.'

Every one now seated themselves on the grass by the side of the road and
over a comforting cup of tea, speedily brewed by Boadicea, the long man
began his story:--

'My good aunt's full name was Galladia Glowmutton, and she was the only
daughter of that gallant general, Sir Francis Melville Glowmutton, who
distinguished himself so greatly in the defence of his country.

'It was my good fortune to spend my earliest days in this good
creature's company, she, noble soul that she was, having undertaken to
look after me when my poor father and mother disappeared in a sand-storm
many years before.

'The greater part of her life this good woman had devoted to brightening
the declining years of her well-loved father, whose arduous life, poor
man, had left him in his old age, truth to tell, rather a tiresome, and
sometimes a difficult, subject to get on with. However, thanks to her
devotion and patience, he led a tolerably happy life. In the course of
time the old warrior died and left the sorrowing lady well provided
for,--that is, over and beyond necessaries, with sufficient money to
keep up appearances, and even enough for her simple pleasures and
hobbies.

'For some months my good aunt could not fill the blank in her life left
by the loss of her father. So much kindness, however, could not be kept
back for long, and was bound in the course of time to find its object.
Always with a love for every feathered creature, she at last set about
gathering around her as complete a collection of them as she could
obtain. Soon she had in her aviaries the most marvellous assembly of
birds ever brought together even at the Zoo. There were specimens of the
Paraguay gull, Borneo parrots, Australian gheck ghees, the laughing
grete, Malay anchovy wren that only feeds upon anchovies (and very
amusing indeed it is, too, to watch them spearing the little fish with
their beaks and then trying to shake them off again), and the
golden-crested mussel hawk, that swoops down from an incredible height
and, snatching its prey from the rocks, again disappears in the sky.
Without wearying you with a long list, nearly every known bird was
represented in my aunt's collection, from the fierce saw-beaked stork of
Tuscaroca to the mild and pretty little Gossawary chick.

'Much as she prized every one of her pets, she loved most of all the
very rare and beautiful green-toed button crane of Baraboo. So fond was
she of the stately creature, and so careful of its every comfort, that
she employed a maid to wait on it alone, and a special cook to prepare
its meal of Peruvian yap beans, the delicious and tender kernels of
which the dainty creature was inordinately fond of,--and, indeed, they
were the only food upon which it throve.

'Now, with your permission, a few words about myself. Like my aunt I,
too, had birdish leanings, but unlike her in this, that instead of birds
I collected birds' eggs, of which I had a vast number of every
conceivable variety. Ashamed as I am to state it, little did my good
Aunt Galladia know how many of the valuable specimens in my collection
were taken from her aviaries. Nevertheless she viewed my specimens with
growing suspicion, until at last she implicitly forbade me to collect
any more. For a time I desisted, and merely contented myself with
gloating over my already vast collection, but in a little while
temptation became too strong for me and I resumed my pursuits.

'One afternoon about this time I had mounted a tall tree in the
Glowmutton Park, intent on obtaining the contents of a nest built in its
highest branches. For some time I was unable to approach the nest, but
at length, by dint of much perseverance, I just managed to reach my hand
over the top, and took therefrom three beautiful eggs, of a kind as yet
unrepresented in my collection. So occupied was I with my prize, that I
did not at first observe what was taking place beneath the tree. But on
beginning to descend, I saw to my horror immediately below me, my Aunt
Galladia and her pet crane seated at tea, with the crane's maid in
attendance.

[Illustration: I JUST MANAGED TO REACH THE EGGS]

'Needless to say I did not continue my descent, but climbed out to the
end of a branch, high over the group. I waited in dreadful suspense in
the hope that my aunt would not look up, and that they would soon finish
their meal and depart as quickly as they had arrived, but, alas! they
were in no hurry. I trembled now so much that I could hear the leaves
rustling on the branch, and whether it was that in my fear I loosened my
hold, or that the branch shook so under my trembling form, or whether
the sight of a beautiful plum cake, directly over which I was poised,
made me lose my nerve, I know not, but certain it is that I fell from my
position right on to the table. Both my aunt and the maid fainted at
once quite away, and the timid green-toed button crane of Baraboo was in
such a terrible flutter that in its excitement it snapped the slender
gold chain that held it and flew into the sky, where it was soon lost to
view. "Now I've done it," thought I, and, no doubt, should have run away
had I been able to move, but I was so bruised that I was compelled to
remain among the shattered remains of the table and tea things.
Presently the maid came to, and then my aunt, and nothing could exceed
her rage and grief at losing her valuable pet. They took me home between
them and put me to bed, and the severest punishment they could devise
was to take away from me my lovely collection of eggs. "Never,"
shrieked my wrathful aunt, "shall you have these again until you bring
back to me my beautiful crane."

[Illustration: I ANGLE THE AIR]

'After a while I recovered, but no one dared to speak to me, and I moped
about the house in solitary wretchedness without a single egg to
contemplate.

'At last I could bear it no longer, and one night I left the house
determined never to return again without the crane. I took with me an
old perambulator, in which I had been wheeled about as a child, and
in this I placed six of the delicious kernels of the Peruvian yap bean,
besides a hatchet and other things which I thought might be useful on my
journey. I slept in the forest and, on the following morning I cut down
the straightest tree I could find for my purpose, trimmed it to a fine
long pole, and on the very top of this I fastened a pin, bent to the
form of a fish-hook, which I now baited with one of the yap kernels.

[Illustration: I fell from my position]

[Illustration: I ERECTED MY POLE ON THE SANDS]

'"If anything will attract the bird, this will," thought I, having
fastened the foot of the pole to my perambulator. I now proceeded to
angle the air for the lost crane. Carefully following the direction I
had observed the bird to take when it broke away from its chain, I
travelled for weeks and weeks, without seeing any sign of it. In time,
without even a nibble, the first kernel was dissolved and worn away by
the wind and rain, and, in like manner the same fate overcame the
second, with which I baited my hook; then the third, then the fourth,
and then the fifth.

'Still keeping the same direction, by this time I had arrived at the
very edge of the world, beyond which there is nothing but sea and sky.
Believing that the poor creature had flown out over this lonely sea, and
hoping that it might return when it realised that there was no land
beyond, I determined to wait on the desolate shore.

'I now erected my pole on the sands, after once more baiting my hook,
this time with a piece of my last kernel, having taken the precaution of
cutting it into six pieces. I now waited patiently, week after week,
subsisting on the oysters, the starfish, and the edible crustaceans,
that wandered tamely about the shore. Months now passed by, and, one by
one, the five pieces of my last yap kernel had followed the other five
kernels with which I had set out from home. I am not easily beaten,
however, and though many months had passed by without my meeting with
any success, I would not give in, but husbanded my last piece of bait
with the greatest care. I cut a chip of wood from my angling pole, and
shaped it in the form of a kernel of the Peruvian yap bean. This I
rubbed well all over with the tiny piece of the real kernel that yet
remained to me, until it assumed somewhat the colour of the original
bean and, certainly, when applied to the tip of the tongue, it appeared
to partake, though very slightly, it is true, of the original flavour,
and with this I once more baited my hook.

[Illustration: ITS OLD STATELY SELF AGAIN]

'By this means I made my last piece of bean last for some years, for as
soon as the artificial bean had lost its flavour, I rubbed it up again
with the real one. But even this could not go on for ever, and, at last,
the true piece was worn right away; so, to preserve what little flavour
there yet remained of the true bean in the false bean, on which it had
been so often rubbed, I soaked it for six days in a large shell of
rain-water. In the meantime I cut another chip from my pole, and spent
nearly six days in carving out another artificial kernel. Before
baiting my hook with this, I dipped it into the fluid in which the old
wooden kernel was still soaking, whence it received a very very faint
suggestion of the original flavour, but so faint was this that it had to
be redipped three times a day. This went on for some time, until the
precious liquor began to run low, and I was compelled to dilute it still
further, in the proportion of about five drops to a mussel-shellful of
water, into which the wooden kernel was now dipped ten or twelve times a
day.

'Well, I had been at this game, I should say, getting on for twenty
years, and now resolved to have done with it, after risking all on one
throw. So I dropped my wooden kernel, all rotted and weather-beaten as
it was, into what little there remained over of the pure liquor, this
time without diluting it at all, and then let it stew all day in the
sun.

'In the evening the liquor was all evaporated, and the wooden bean
seemed to the taste as though it possibly might have been in the
vicinity of a real one some time before. On that evening, for the last
time, I baited my hook and slept soundly at the foot of the pole.

'I was awakened next morning by the wind that had arisen during the
night, and a great wrenching noise, as it tore my poor old angling-pole
from its place in the sand, and carried it out to sea.

'"That settles it once and for all," thought I, much relieved, "and I'm
off home," and I set about getting my things together. While I was thus
engaged, it occurred to me that the old pole might be useful for fires,
so I swam out for it. Already it had been blown some way out to sea,
and, as the tide was against me, it was only with a very great exertion
of strength that I gained at all upon it, and I was just about to give
it up when I beheld, fastened to the bent pin at the end of the pole,
the wretched crane. The sight lent me greater strength, and, after
incredible exertions, I reached the pole almost exhausted. We were now
too far from the shore to attempt to return, so I got astride the pole,
and immediately proceeded to unfasten the unhappy fowl from my bent pin.
At first I thought the poor thing dead, but I nursed it in my arms all
through the ensuing night, and, on the following morning, happening to
glance down its half-opened beak, I could just see that my wooden
imitation of the kernel of the Peruvian yap bean had become lodged in
its throat. This I at once removed, and, to my great joy, the dejected
fowl almost immediately opened its eyes. Soon it became its old stately
self again, though now I could see that the poor thing had aged very
considerably since it left home.

'Well, to cut a long story short, at length the gale ceased, and we
landed safely on the shore, much nearer to our home, and, after many
vicissitudes and adventures, of which I shall have great pleasure in
telling you at another time, we eventually arrived at Glowmutton
Castle.

'To my grief I learnt that my good aunt, Galladia, had died many years
before of old age, and that, true to her own good-nature, her last
commands were that if ever I should return with her dearly-loved fowl,
my collection of eggs was to be handed back to me, and in recompense for
all my privations and exertions to recover the bird, I was to have the
care of it and the comfort of its society as long as it lived. So, now
you see why I am so pleased with myself.'

The King and the whole army were charmed with the recital, and the long
man, whose many noble qualities had already endeared him to them, was
cordially invited to join the forces.

'It's all one to me, my cronies,' said the good-natured creature, and
they all trudged on.

[Illustration: tailpiece]

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: THE DOCTOR]

[Illustration: headpiece]



THE DOCTOR


For many days they had now travelled without meeting with any adventure,
when one evening they saw coming towards them a bright young lad, who
was leading by the hand an exceedingly learned-looking old gentleman.
Their appearance was such as to arouse the King's curiosity to such a
degree that he asked the boy the time as he was passing, and then, when
all stood still in the road, he led the talk from one thing to another
until at last, emboldened by their friendliness, the King came to the
point, and asked the lad who he was and whence he had come.

The two strangers then sat down at the side of the road, and the lad
thus addressed the King:--

'You may not believe it, but I am the original Ptolemy Jenkinson, the
only and well-beloved nephew of that great and celebrated doctor,
Ebenezer Scrout, whom you now see at my side. When, a trembling orphan,
I was thrown upon an unfeeling world, he alone of my numerous uncles,
aunts, so-called friends and guardians, undertook to find me a
comfortable and even luxurious home, and so to educate me that I might
prove worthy of occupying the exalted position for which I am destined.

'Uncle Ebenezer was my mother's brother and, a true Scrout, he inherited
all his good qualities from my grandfather, Phelim Scrout, the
well-known turfcutter, from whom, by the way, I inherit most of
mine--but of these it does not become me to speak.

'Many people, jealous perhaps of his great fame, have ridiculed my
uncle's claim to be a member of this ancient family, but to set this
matter for ever at rest, I have here copied a few notes from the
Scroutean genealogical tree, preserved in the archives of the family.'
Ptolemy Jenkinson here took from his pocket and handed to Bill a sheet
of paper upon which the following notes were written in a clear bold
hand:--

  MISTS OF THE PAST

                       PHELIM SCROUT = MOLLY?
         (The well-known turfcutter) |
                                     |
                ----------------------------------
                |                                |
           TOD SCROUT = MANDY M'GUIRE          PEARL (died of
                      |                        megrims at an
                      |                          early age)
                      |
   ------------------------------------------------------
   |        |         |           |            |        |
  LU    EBENEZER    MANDY    CASSANDRA =      WAT      LIL
                            TOM JENKINSON
                                  |
                               PTOLEMY

When these had been examined by the company, Ptolemy resumed his tale:--

'Uncle Eb, as I very soon learned to call him, was ever the victim of
his own generous heart. Continually adopting people, both old and young,
he was doomed to be taken advantage of by those to whom he was most
kind. How well can I remember, amongst many another ungrateful adopted
son, uncle, aunt or cousin, young Sigurd, the birthday-monger, who
entered the family about the same time as myself. It was he who secretly
wrote his name on each page of Uncle Eb's birthday-book and received a
present every day from the absent-minded old gentleman until he was
discovered writing his name twice on some pages and was straightway
disadopted.

[Illustration: FAR SOONER HAVE THE MUMPS]

'Not alone to his own family circle was the doctor's kindness
confined; it extended to all with whom he came in contact. Before
sending in his bills he always provided his patients with enough money
to pay them, and promptly returned the cash with the receipts, deducting
only one penny for the stamp in each case.

'Invariably most sympathetic with his suffering patients, he spent many
years of his noble life in studying how to make his medicines as
pleasant and sweet to the taste as the most delightful confections ever
placed upon the Lord Mayor's table, while his greatest endeavour was
always to make a period of sickness one also of pleasurable relaxation
for his patients.

'In time the children went mad with excitement, and jumped for very joy
on learning that they had contracted measles, and would far sooner, any
day, have the mumps than a birthday every week. And oh! what thrills of
joy would pass through their little frames on learning that they would
have to lie up for a bilious attack and be attended by the good-natured
Doctor Ebenezer Scrout, and treated with his delicious jalaps and
powders.

'Unfortunately, however, so pleasant was the treatment, that the
children in time were even tempted to make themselves ill on purpose, by
eating as many jam puffs as they could buy with their Saturday monies,
and soon nearly every child was down with a bad bilious attack, and all
the schools had to be closed.

'Even the grown-ups began to indulge in these jam puffs, buying them in
large quantities and falling ill one by one, much preferring to be
tucked up snugly in bed with a comfortable bilious attack and the
good-natured doctor in attendance, to ordinary good health and hard
work, with the many disappointments and trials of everyday life.

'First the Lord Mayor was taken bad--then the leader of the town band
and all his bandsmen. Now the shopmen began to feel queer, and one by
one the aldermen toddled to their beds. In time everybody was laid up,
and no one was left to do the work of the town. All the shops, theatres,
markets, and railway stations were closed, and the streets quite
deserted except for the doctor and the puff baker, each trying to undo
the work of the other.

'Hardly a sound could be heard in the streets except perhaps the clink
of a spoon against a bottle from a room above, as some patient prepared
his evening dose, or the shuffling footsteps of the old doctor as he
went his daily round, and sometimes the loud rat-tat of the puff baker
would awaken the echoes of the lonely streets as he called from door to
door for orders in the morning.

'Strange grasses and sweet-scented wild flowers began to grow in the
streets, and mushrooms and straggling carrots forced a way between the
crevices of the pavements. Sprays of wild spinach hung from the
lamp-posts, and the market-place became one waving jungle of broccoli.
The very sparrows, deprived of their daily crumbs, grew thin and nervy
with the green diet they were compelled to subsist upon. Croaking and
griding, instead of chirruping musically to their young as is their
wont, they so affected the good-hearted doctor that he could never pass
them without some cheering word, and never could he withstand the
beseeching look in their eyes. Within doors the prospect was hardly more
encouraging. Strong vegetable-marrows twined their branches and their
many tendrils round the table legs and the chairs; great turnips
stoutened and burst upon the stairs; spring onions bristled in the
corners of the Lord Mayor's dining-hall, while his grand piano was
completely hidden in the gorgeous festoons of mint that, unchecked, had
run a ragged riot about the place.

[Illustration: THE PUFF BAKER]

'At last, after two months of sickness, and despite every attention and
kindness on the part of the doctor, the patients began to weary of being
ill and kept to their beds for so long. The Lord Mayor was the first to
arise and, although very weak in the legs, he managed to crawl to the
top of the stairs, and looking down, beheld, to his dismay, the dreadful
state of ruin in which everything was involved. He called for his
servants as loudly as his weakness would allow him, and, obtaining no
reply, he scrambled down the stairs on his hands and knees, and
clamoured shrilly for a cut from the joint. As, of course, there was no
one to procure this for him nor, indeed, any joint from which to
procure a cut, he boiled himself an egg, and was able to survey the
scene more calmly.

[Illustration: TREATED WITH DELICIOUS JALAPS]

'Presently the aldermen crawled down one by one, then the shopmen, then
the bandsmen, and, finally, the rest of the inhabitants, disturbed by
the weeping and yells of those already arisen, struggled downstairs, and
in agony beheld the general devastation.

'Resolved not to touch another drop of the doctor's medicine, they
satisfied the cravings of their hunger, which now began to be felt, on
the wild marrows, turnips, and mushrooms that everywhere abounded, and
by degrees regained a little of their former vigour.

[Illustration: The Lord Mayor held a long council]

'The Lord Mayor and aldermen, already feeling a little more comfortable,
held a long council, at which it was decided that it would be less
expensive to burn the old town, and to build a new one on its site, than
to try and clear up the old one. It was also decided to arrest the
unfortunate doctor, whom they all now joined in accusing as the cause of
their trouble, and bring him to trial.

[Illustration: AS SOME PATIENT PREPARED HIS DOSE]

'In the course of time the town was rebuilt, and the doctor was the
first prisoner to stand on his trial at the new Town Hall.

'On the appointed day the Hall was crammed to its utmost, as at one time
the prisoner had been much loved and looked up to by his
fellow-townsmen.

'When the Lord Mayor arrived in state, between two Admirals of the
Fleet, and took his seat, the foreman of the jury awakened his
brother-jurors, who had been dozing off, and called for three cheers for
the Lord Mayor, in which everybody joined. The Lord Mayor made no reply,
except to frown severely at the foreman, and proceeded at once with the
business in hand. "Lock all the doors and bring in the prisoner," cried
he in a loud voice, after clearing his throat. The doors were instantly
locked, but some confusion arose when it was discovered that they could
not bring in the prisoner unless one were unlocked again. On this being
very politely pointed out to the Lord Mayor (who did not seem quite to
like being corrected), he altered his order, and cried out: "Bring in
the prisoner, and lock all the doors." Immediately the band struck up
the most martial music and the prisoner was brought in, tied tightly
with twine, sealed with red sealing-wax, and guarded by a squad of
infantry, who at once formed fours, and marked time for the rest of the
afternoon.

'When the music had ceased, and the general excitement caused by the
entrance of the prisoner had subsided, the Lord Mayor politely requested
him to take a seat, which he very gladly did, on being untied by the
policeman.

'Now, as every one knew that the doctor had really been the cause of all
the trouble, the only point to be decided at the trial was whether he
had done it intentionally or not, and the Lord Mayor addressed him
accordingly, asking him if he had anything to say upon the subject. The
doctor happened to be thinking of something else at the moment and,
moreover, had his head turned in another direction, watching a fly on
the window of the hall, so that he did not hear the question. The Lord
Mayor waited about a quarter of an hour for an answer, and receiving
none, he called, in an annoyed tone, for the witnesses for the
prosecution.

[Illustration: THE VERY SPARROWS GREW THIN]

'The principal witness for the prosecution was a Sicilian char-woman,
whose evidence was translated by one of the many aldermen present to
assist in case of need. It appeared that in her young days she had made
the acquaintance of a young and handsome Sicilian waiter, a distant
cousin, and a native of the village in which she was born. So friendly
did they become in time that he had confided to her many of the secrets
of his life, and, amongst others, one that had weighed very heavily upon
his mind. Some time previously, when employed at a well-known
refreshment hall, on the coast of Lombardy, he had waited upon a
distinguished young gentleman of considerable means, and had overheard
him whisper to a chance acquaintance, seated at the next table, that a
friend of his, a tall dark man, had met a young lady at a whist-party,
whose greatest friend had an aunt, formerly engaged to a well-meaning
curate, who averred that his brother knew for certain that IT WAS DONE
QUITE INTENTIONALLY BY ---- Here the waiter was called away to another
client, and did not hear the rest of the sentence.

'Now the Sicilian char-woman, on hearing this from her good friend, was
much puzzled, and not knowing to whom the words might refer, made a
mental note of it at the time. On reading of the arrest of the doctor,
however, and of what he was accused, she concluded that there must be
some connection between him and the man mentioned by the brother of the
well-meaning curate formerly engaged to the aunt of the greatest friend
of the young lady who was met at the whist party by the tall dark friend
of the young gentleman of considerable means who, as you know, was
waited upon by the Sicilian waiter at the well-known refreshment hall in
Lombardy, so she had hastened from Sicily to tell her tale. At the
conclusion of her evidence a murmur of admiration was heard all over the
court, and the Lord Mayor was so charmed with her and the really
pleasant way in which she had told her tale, that he lightly threw a
half-crown to her across the hall, which she very neatly caught. She
then sat down, amidst the cheers of the crowd.

'The principal witness for the defence was a young journeyman tailor,
who stated that on cleaning out the pockets of an old coat which had
been left at his house for repairs by a dark gentleman of mysterious
appearance, he had discovered an old envelope upon which he could just
trace the figures 56--6.30 A.M. The coat was never called for, and the
tailor pondered over the envelope, but could make nothing of it. He
showed it to every policeman of his acquaintance, but not one could
unravel the mystery, and, as a last resource, he procured an
introduction to the principal policeman in the British Museum Library.
This great man examined the envelope very carefully, but with no result,
and the only advice he could give him was to call at every house
numbered 56 at 6.30 in the morning and see what would happen.

'The tailor followed this advice diligently for some time and met with
many rebuffs, as he had nothing to say on the door being opened to him.
At length one morning he came to an empty house numbered 56, the steps
of which were littered with straw. Gazing hopelessly at this for some
time, he noticed that three pieces pointed distinctly in one direction
to the corner of the street, and you may well imagine his surprise when,
on following the direction indicated by the straw, he came across this
postcard.'

Ptolemy Jenkinson here handed this torn postcard to the company.

[Illustration: POSTCARD]

Ptolemy again proceeded with his story:--

'Now the tailor, more puzzled than ever, took the card home, and, after
weeks of deep thinking, decided that the card must have been completed
thus.'

Ptolemy here handed the remaining portion of card, with the tailor's
suggested completion, to the company.

'You may guess the surprise of every one present when the tailor
produced the completed card. The Lord Mayor gazed at it in astonishment.
He turned it over and over, and suddenly noticing that there was a
foreign stamp on the other side, he became more excited than ever, and
asked if he might tear it off, as his son had rather a good collection.
This the tailor readily allowed him to do, and this put the Lord Mayor
in a good temper for the rest of the afternoon, and gave a more cheerful
aspect to the case altogether.

[Illustration: POSTCARD]

'After the tailor's evidence, which, of course, proved that the doctor
had not intended to bring about the harm of which he had been the
unfortunate cause, there was nothing for the Lord Mayor to do but to
acquit the prisoner, which he did, much to everybody's relief.

'The Lord Mayor then retired, after ordering a new suit of clothes from
the journeyman tailor, and inviting the Sicilian charwoman and the other
witnesses to progressive whist and to be introduced to his family.

'So, Gentlemen,' said Ptolemy in conclusion, 'my uncle and myself are
quite free at last, and entirely at your service.'

Such a valuable offer could not very well be refused, so, after
explaining the object of the expedition to their new friends, the whole
force moved joyfully on.

[Illustration: tailpiece]

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: THE RESPECTABLE GENTLEMAN
AND THE BOY SCOUT]

[Illustration: headpiece]



THE RESPECTABLE GENTLEMAN AND THE BOY SCOUT


In due time the gallant army arrived at the little town of Killgruel, a
very respectable place indeed, at which they spent the pleasantest of
week-ends, entertained at 'At Homes,' soirées, and receptions, to any
number of which every member of the expedition was invited during their
brief stay. Bill and the King were the guests of the very respectable
and Right Honourable Hesketh Fitzgreynib, the Mayor of Killgruel, who
entertained them with the extremest gentility imaginable. So respectable
and genteel was their host, that it had been said of him that never had
he been known to don the same suit twice, having at the very least a new
one every day; nor had he ever been seen to remove his lavender gloves
even at meal times. It was also reported that, not content with bowing
most politely to every one he met in the street, he behaved in a like
genteel manner to all the pillar-boxes and lamp-posts that he passed
upon his way, and that he always walked sideways down the street with
his back to the wall, in order that he should not be compelled to turn
it upon the passers-by. Whether these reports are true or not, it is
certain that he was the most gentlemanly gentleman in all Killgruel, a
town which could boast more elegant and refined people than any other
town in the whole world.

He was indeed the pride of Killgruel, and so respected by his
fellow-townsmen, who valued him greatly for his exceptional
gentlemanliness, that he was not allowed to soil his hands by so much as
a stroke of work, but only to be respectable from morning to night. An
intelligent boy scout was employed to look after him, and even to think
for him, with orders never on any account to leave him, so that in time
this respectable gentleman became very respectable indeed, and relying
for almost everything on the intelligence and affection of the boy
scout, who now performed for him even his duties as Mayor of Killgruel,
the good man was enabled to devote his whole thoughts to the
cultivation of his respectability.

His good wife, the Lady Lilian Leankettle, who was extravagantly devoted
to her husband, shone in the same brilliant manner, and was quoted as a
model of gentility by all the good wives of the little community, while
Bildith, their charming and handsome daughter, gave every promise of
inheriting their interesting ways.

But delightful as all this was to the band of warriors, on Monday
morning they were compelled to resume their journey. It was, however, so
early when they were ready to start that the gates of the town were not
unlocked, so the Honourable Hesketh, with whom, as Mayor of Killgruel,
the keys were always left at night, allowed the scout to take the keys
and let the wanderers out. After a charmingly polite farewell from the
Right Honourable Hesketh and others of their entertainers who had
gathered by the town hall to see them off, the gallant band marched down
the high street towards the only gate of the town, headed by the
intelligent boy scout. From the first the King showed symptoms of being
rather unmanageable, and Bill had great difficulty in getting him past
the shops, which were now all taking down their shutters, and when they
arrived at the sweet-stuff shop there was nothing for it but to go in
and buy him some cocoanut ice.

At length they managed to get clear of the gates, which were then
closed with a bang behind them, and the last they saw of the intelligent
boy scout was with the great town keys held firmly between his teeth, in
order that he might hold with one hand the top of the wall to which he
had hastily climbed, while with the other he waved a fond good-bye to
the departing wanderers.

With a great gurgling cry, which all took to be one of grief at their
departure, the affectionate lad suddenly disappeared and the brave
fellows resumed their march.

Their road now took them across the mountains at the foot of which
nestled the little town of Killgruel. Towards evening the noble fellows
were crossing the highest peaks of the range, weary, and looking forward
to their supper and a good night's rest, both of which they proposed to
take in the woods on the other side of the mountains. Every one now
began to notice that the old King seemed worried about something or
other, and the further they marched the more fidgety he became, until at
last, when they had nearly descended to the woods on the other side, the
old aggravator called his general to him and said:--'Bill, did you
happen to notice in the window of the principal sweet-stuff shop in the
Killgruel high street, three fine fat sticks of liquorice leaning
against the bottle containing the pear drops? Well, I can't get them out
of my mind.' Bill tried to persuade him to forget them, and talked of
many other things, in order to distract him from such thoughts.
Presently he appeared to grow easier, and as he did not for some time
again refer to the liquorice sticks, Bill was pleased to think that he
had been successful in directing the old boy's thoughts into another
channel. However, as they were unpacking their things in the woods at
which they had now arrived and were lighting fires, preparatory to
cooking their suppers, the truly exasperating creature again called Bill
to him. 'Bill,' said he, with the most miserable face in the world,
'it's no good. I can't forget 'em, try as I will. I don't want any of
that nasty porridge I know they are about to prepare for supper. I must
have some of those liquorice sticks.'

Hiding his annoyance as much as he could, Bill tried to convince him how
nice porridge really is and how good for him, but the discontented old
man, who no doubt had been very much spoilt as a boy, would hear nothing
of it. 'I don't want to be done good to,' cried he, 'and if I don't have
those liquorice sticks to-night before I go to bed I know I shall get
the fidgets and not be able to sleep a wink.'

Bill now pointed out the difficulty of obtaining the liquorice, the
distance being so great that it would be impossible to have it brought
to the camp before midnight at the very earliest.

The King, however, was obdurate, and Bill was now compelled, much
against his will, to summon the whole army together and call for a
volunteer to fetch the liquorice, but not one, not even the pluckful
Chad, would venture to return alone to Killgruel along the dreary
mountain road in the gathering night. Bill then suggested that two or
three should return together and keep each other company, but it was of
no avail. At last, the only way out of the difficulty that occurred to
Bill was for half the army to return for the liquorice, and the other
half to remain in the woods; but here yet another difficulty arose, for
no one would stay in the woods with the army weakened to that extent.

[Illustration: BOWING POLITELY TO THE PILLAR BOXES]

At length Bill returned to the whimpering old potentate and once more
endeavoured to dissuade him from his selfish purpose, but the more Bill
talked, the more obstinate the old King became, and had it not been for
the severe training Bill had had as a minder, he must assuredly have
lost control of his temper.

[Illustration: THE CHURCH STEEPLE HAD BEEN REMOVED]

'I must have that liquorice,' whined the old grizzler, 'and if there is
no other way of obtaining it the whole army must pack up sticks and
return to Killgruel.'

Many were the growls of discontent uttered by the poor fellows when Bill
gave the necessary orders to pack up again and prepare to return over
the mountains. Only by dint of the kindest words did he restrain a
mutiny, encouraging them at the same time to humour the old baby and put
up with his strange ways until he was restored to his throne, when, no
doubt, he would make it up to them in many ways.

In a little time the brave fellows were all on the march again, but the
day was breaking by the time they arrived once more before the walls of
Killgruel, all utterly tired, grumpy, and footsore. Bill strode up to
the gates of the town, which, of course, at that time of the morning
were still closed, and pulled the bell vigorously. He waited some time,
and as there was no reply, he pulled the bell again, and then, after
another interval, he rang it with all his force, but with no result
whatever. He could now, however, hear a great muttering on the other
side of the wall and considerable running to and fro, so he determined
to wait patiently. At length the little wicket in the gate was opened
and one of the Killgruellers looked out, and, recognising Bill and his
comrades, hastily shut the wicket again after promising to fetch the
Mayor.

Bill now waited a very long time before the wicket opened again, and in
the meantime his poor comrades, nearly overcome with their fatigue and
their hunger, had set up their camp before the walls and prepared their
breakfast, after eating which not one of them was able to keep his eyes
open a moment longer, and all fell fast asleep before their fires. Even
the old King dozed off and snored peacefully in his tent, forgetting,
for the first time in twenty-four hours, the sticks of liquorice, upon
the enjoyment of which he had so much set his heart.

[Illustration: STANDING ALONE UPON THE WALLS]

Bill alone of the whole force remained awake, and waited and waited, and
as he stood before the gates of the little town, the noise within grew
louder and louder until there was a terrific hub-bub within the walls.
At last the wicket opened and the face of the respectable Mayor appeared
in the little opening, but so altered that at first Bill hardly
recognised his good host of the day before, so upset and disturbed did
he seem.

The poor man then in the most nervous manner explained that no one in
the town had seen anything of the boy scout nor of the town keys since
he had let the army out of the gate the previous morning, and until they
found them it was, of course, impossible to let any one in. However, the
good fellow (who certainly seemed rather helpless without his faithful
attendant), besought Bill to wait patiently, as they had not yet given
up hope of being able to open the gate. The wicket was again hurriedly
closed, and Bill, sitting down by the gate, prepared to wait as
patiently as he could. So tired, however, was the noble lad, that in
spite of all his endeavours to remain awake he soon fell fast asleep.
Long and deeply did he slumber, when he was awakened by a most terrible
and deafening noise within the town, which had been growing greater and
greater during his repose.

Fortunately all in the camp, on account of their great fatigue, were so
deep in sleep that the great uproar was unable to awaken them, but Bill
at once stood up and scaled the walls to ascertain if possible the cause
of the awful din.

The hub-bub was truly deafening, and from his position on the walls Bill
could see all over the little town, which was in a shocking state of
confusion. The contents of every house were turned into the streets,
and the distracted inhabitants everywhere hunting amongst the furniture
and taking it to pieces in their search for the lost keys. Beds were cut
open and discharged their feathers in great clouds that floated about
the town; the church steeple had been removed and shaken, and the inside
well scoured; many of the good people were descending chimneys attached
to lines; pavements were lifted, cellars ransacked, the Town Hall taken
to little pieces, old houses pulled down, pillar-boxes cleared out, and
lamp-posts blown through by the perplexed and almost frantic
Killgruellers in their efforts to find the lost keys. All the milk, the
wine, the water, the lemonade and the gravy were being strained through
butterfly nets or lawn tennis rackets, and, after melting it down, all
the butter, dripping and lard was treated in the same way. The treacle
tanks and great reservoirs of linseed tea were thoroughly dragged, but
with no result whatever.

A great procession of the townsmen nearly filled the high street which
led from the gate to the further end of the town. One by one they
approached the gates and tried every key they possessed. All kinds of
keys, latch keys, watch keys, cupboard keys, box keys were tried, but
not one could be found that would open the lock. To make matters even
more unbearable, the respectable Mayor, to whom, of course, every one
looked for direction and advice in their trouble, was of no earthly use
whatever without his scout, upon whom he had so accustomed himself to
rely, that he was perfectly helpless without him. His respectability,
exert it as much as he would, made no difference of any kind upon the
situation, except, perhaps, to place the poor man in everybody's way.

[Illustration: DANGLING BY HIS LEGS]

Bill returned to the King who, with the whole camp, was now wide awake,
and wondering what on earth was taking place in the town. Bill at once
hastened to explain the state of things, in the hope that the old man
would at last give up all idea of the liquorice; but in this he was
much mistaken, for, instead of replying to Bill, the grumpy old provoker
turned sulky and would not say a word, so that there was nothing for the
poor lad to do but to wait with what patience he could assume.

The day declined, with no lessening of the terrific din within the town,
and the gates remained obstinately closed. As evening approached, little
clouds of smoke, with now and again a spurt of flame, could be seen
rising from the other side of the walls. Presently a single Killgrueller
was observed upon the walls, from which he nimbly leapt to the ground on
the outer side, and made off round the base of the mountains, in an
opposite direction to the camp. Now another appeared and disappeared in
the same way; then another and another, and yet another, and then
families of two, three, and four. At last whole crowds came scrambling
over the walls, and vanished in the same direction, all carrying as many
of their belongings as they could conveniently bring along with them.

This went on until all the inhabitants, with the exception of the Mayor,
had left the now blazing town, when he was seen standing alone upon the
walls. Like the captain of a sinking ship, the noble fellow had waited
until all had found safety before he sought it for himself. Bill
hastened to assist him in his descent, and no sooner had the poor man
reached the ground than Bill led him gently before the King and all the
officers of the little army, who were assembled together watching
the flames, and besought him to give them some explanation of these
truly unaccountable proceedings of the Killgruellers.

[Illustration: The Respectable Gentleman]

'Alas! and alack-a-day!' sighed the unfortunate gentleman, 'allow me
first of all to put four questions to you. Firstly, What is the good of
a locked lock without a key?'

They were all forced to admit that it was of no use whatever.

'Secondly, What is the good of a gate with a useless lock that won't
unlock?'

No earthly use, all again admitted.

'Thirdly, What is the use of a town if you can't get into it?'

Of course, they all agreed there was only one answer to that.

'And now, fourthly and lastly,' said the Mayor, 'What do you do with all
useless things?'

'Destroy them,' Bill promptly rejoined.

'Exactly,' said the Right Honourable Hesketh, 'and that is what we have
done with our now useless town, and all the inhabitants are hastening to
build another town on the further side of the mountain, the gates of
which shall always be nailed open in order that such a dreadful calamity
may not occur again.'

Bill somehow could not help thinking that there might have been another
way out of the difficulty, but he did not like to say so. The old King
at last realised that the Killgruel liquorice was not for him, so he
offered no serious objections when Bill, early next morning, gave the
necessary orders to pack up and prepare for the march, which they now
resumed. The respectable gentleman preferred to remain with them rather
than again face the unfortunate Killgruellers.

They had not advanced very far upon their road, when Bill, who generally
walked a little in advance of his troop, heard a strange clanking noise
that appeared to proceed from a tall tree at the wayside. Wondering what
odd bird possessed such an unmusical song, he allowed his gaze to wander
thoughtfully among the leaves when, suddenly, what should he behold but
the form of the vanished scout, dangling by his legs from a branch, and
every time the tree was gently stirred by the breeze, there came forth
upon the air this weird sound.

Bill hastened to cut him down, but, to his unspeakable surprise, the
unhappy young stripling cried, 'Don't, don't! the keys! the keys!' He
then explained that when bidding farewell to them the other morning from
the walls of Killgruel, in his excitement he had suddenly fallen back
and swallowed the keys which, at the time, he had been holding between
his teeth. Bill now recalled the strange cry that the poor lad had
uttered as they left Killgruel on that occasion. However, in spite of
his reluctance to be right side up again until he had recovered the
keys, Bill insisted on fetching him down, and, in the severe struggle
that ensued, the keys fell out of the boy's throat.

When at length the army came upon the scene, nothing could exceed the
joy of the respectable Mayor at beholding his good attendant, whom he
had despaired of ever seeing again. He easily persuaded the willing
young creature to remain with him, and share the fortunes of the King of
Troy, and thus, with this very welcome addition to their forces, the
gallant band marched on.

[Illustration: tailpiece]

[Illustration: vignette]

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: THE SICILIAN CHAR-WOMAN]

[Illustration: headpiece]



THE SICILIAN CHAR-WOMAN


Some weeks after leaving Killgruel, the noble little band entered a
great forest, in the middle of which they overtook a stately char-woman;
and no sooner did the Doctor behold her than he left the ranks, and
going up to her, shook her kindly by the hand. He then introduced her to
the King as the Sicilian Char-woman, and very chatty and pleasant she
proved to be, and as she was travelling in the same direction, she
graciously entertained them with the story of her life:--

'You may indeed find it more than difficult to believe me when I aver
that I am the daughter of an Arabian Prince, and that in my early years
I was considered not merely the most intelligent, but also the most
beautiful and fascinating creature in my father's dominion. As
companions in my early childhood I had sixteen elder sisters, all of
whom were blessed with singularly affectionate natures, and were
generally declared to be only less beautiful and intelligent than
myself. No care or expense was spared in our education and in fitting us
for the truly exalted position it was hoped that we should occupy, as
the daughters of a distinguished Arabian Prince. With this good end in
view, the services were secured of the best of music-masters,
dancing-masters, and instructors in the many graceful accomplishments
that were becoming to our rank; yet, alas! with all that one could
reasonably ask for, with every whim and wish gratified almost before it
was expressed, with the most indulgent of parents, whose sole joy was to
fill our lives with happiness, a settled melancholy by degrees possessed
my soul and rendered me unfit to share the youthful pleasures of my
sisters. It was not that I was in any way unmindful of all the kindness
shown to me in countless ways, but that a craving, always with me since
my earliest days, to see the wonderful world I had so often heard
described in glowing terms, grew with me as time went by, and, weary of
the idle life I led, I longed to use and develop in wider fields the
great intelligence I had been gifted with.

'At first, as was to be expected, my parents would not hear of my
leaving them, but seeing that I grew sadder and more discontented day by
day, they at length reluctantly gave their consent, for, after all, what
greater wish had they than for my happiness.

'After many consultations with the wisest men in my father's court, it
was decided that I should take a course of instruction at the Royal
Charing College of Sicily, and, on the fateful day, I took leave of my
sorrowing parents and sisters, and, in charge of the Grand Vizier, left
for Sicily.

'With such good introductions as my father was easily able to command, I
had no difficulty in gaining an entry to the College, in which I very
soon learnt to distinguish myself. No lack of enthusiasm and industry
did I bring to my tasks, and a native ability far above the average soon
found opportunities for development, so that in the course of time I was
discharged, a fully certified and perfected char-woman.

'Since those early days my skill, my virtues, and my affections have
been devoted to the welfare of many families, some of whom were
undoubtedly good, some indifferent, while some again were undoubtedly
bad. But without any question the worst household of all was that of the
Pettigrew Leanmuffins, when first I devoted myself to the wellbeing of
its members. Afterwards, however, as you shall hear, their trials,
together with my disinterested conduct, wrought a reformation in their
natures as astounding as it was welcome to all who knew them.

'Mr. Pettigrew Leanmuffins himself, a man of some attainments, though
ill-tempered and close to a degree bordering on meanness, had little
enough to do with me, hardly ever, indeed, disguising his efforts to
ignore my very existence; but no words at my command could describe the
ungenerous nature of Mrs. Leanmuffins, who not only refused to concede
any little favours to me, such as gracefully offering to entertain my
worthy friend the waiter and his respectable family, but even denied,
with much asperity, my right to enjoy an afternoon nap on the
drawing-room lounge.

'Of no value, in her prejudiced eyes, were the hardly-earned diplomas
that had been awarded me during my five years' course at the College,
and though richly illuminated with gold, amethysts and pearls, and
framed in gorgeously brocaded velvet, she would not hear of my
certificates for charing being displayed on the walls of the music-room
beside her daughters' certificates for musical proficiency. With such
poor examples as their parents constantly before them, it is not to be
wondered at that the three daughters, Grillette, Pandalaura, and Blen
should discover to one, who would have been their good friend, natures
so mean that there seemed little promise of their ever possessing more
generous dispositions. Rather, the wonder is that they were not really
worse than they were, and beyond the chance of any reformation.

[Illustration: I TOOK LEAVE OF MY SORROWING FATHER]

'Each valued her own paltry and merely ornamental accomplishments at a
far higher rate than my own well proved and certified skill in the
serious art of charing, and in their own rude way they never missed an
opportunity of reminding me of their fancied superiority.

'During these early years of trial no other consolation had I than the
society of the youngest of the Leanmuffin brood--Basil Herbert, one who
as yet had not developed the mean disposition of his parents and
sisters. For hours together, when the other Leanmuffins were away at
some jaunt or frolic mayhap, would I, perhaps smarting under some recent
indignity, pour forth my troubles into his not unwilling ears. Though
but two years of age at the most, he seemed to understand, and I felt
that in his own quiet way he gave me his sympathy. I therefore resolved
in my young heart that he, at least, should not be spoilt, and to save
him from falling to the depths of the other Leanmuffins was now my one
hope in life.

[Illustration: HARDLY DISGUISING HIS EFFORTS TO IGNORE ME]

'How often would I, in dumb show, act kind deeds before him in little
scenes and plays that I had composed for the purpose, using the kitchen
utensils to personify my various characters, thus accustoming his
growing mind to kind thoughts, until in time he gave promise of becoming
as virtuous as he was handsome.

'He endeared himself to all by his amiable ways, though none suspected
to whose loving and untiring care they were due, and friends, nay, even
strangers from distant lands travelled to see him, and marvelled at his
decorous and kindly behaviour, which charmed as well as astonished all
beholders.

'His virtues, however, strong as they were, did not render him immune to
the weaknesses to which young children are liable, and in his fifth year
he developed a chilblain of the most painful description. Every remedy
was tried, dried turnip seed, applications of roasted capers, poultices
of wild figs and nard, fomentations of honey and turbot's roe, and many
other recipes for the curing of chilblains, recommended by anxious
friends. Nevertheless the blain grew chillier and chillier until at last
they were compelled to send for a physician.

'The physician, after spending a whole afternoon examining the foot,
eventually took the most serious view of the case imaginable, and
hastily wrote out the following prescription, promising to call again in
a few days:--

[Illustration: Basil Herbert develops a chilblain]

  1 Pint New Gruel.
  1 gr. Tincture of Green Acorns.
  1/2 gr. Hypo.
  1/16 gr. Castor Sugar.
  3 Clove Kernels.
  1/2 lb. Coffee Essence.
  3/4 lb. Sugar of Zinc.
  2 gr. Bisulphite of Lead.
  1 Pint Spirits of Sulphur.
  5 gr. Bicarbonate of Saltpetre.
  1 oz. Table Salt.

'Three drops to be mixed in a quart of lukewarm water and gently rubbed
into the roots of the blain every five minutes, day and night, until its
disappearance, which, if all went well, should take place in about six
months' time.

'I was sent out at once, without a "please" or "will you kindly" of
course, to the nearest chemist to have the prescription made up. But,
alas! he was unable to do it, as he had only three of the necessary
ingredients in stock,--the bicarbonate of saltpetre, the table salt, and
the hypo. I now went in turn to every chemist in the town, only to find
that not one of them could supply me with _all_ the necessary
ingredients. One perhaps had the tincture of green acorns and the hypo,
while another had all but the coffee essence and the clove kernels. Some
again only had the spirits of sulphur and the sugar of zinc, and so on.
Now, in my despair, I resolved to buy each separate ingredient at a
different store and mix the prescription myself, but, alas! I was no
nearer obtaining it, as no one could supply me with the clove kernels.
Determined to succeed, I visited in succession every town in Sicily, but
not a single clove kernel could I find from one end of the island to the
other.

'As I stood on the sea-shore at the edge of the island wondering what
next I should do to complete the prescription, my thoughts flew across
the sea to my home in Arabia, and I decided to return there at once in
the hope of learning from my parents where I should be most likely to
find the kernels.

'With the other ingredients securely sewn into the lining of my skirt, I
embarked for Arabia, and in due course arrived at my father's palace.

'When my good parents recognised me, which they did only after some
minutes of close scrutiny, for it was at least twenty-five years since I
had left home, they extended to me the kindliest welcome, and by their
affectionate conduct dispelled any restraint I might have felt after so
long an absence. In the meanwhile each of my sixteen sisters had married
a Sultan or Prince at the very least, and they were now reigning in
truly regal splendour in different parts of the world, and my parents,
being alone in their old age, begged of me to come and live with them
and gladden their declining years. This, however, I soon convinced them
I could not do, and besought their help and advice in my quest. The
Prince, my father, manifested the greatest desire to assist me, and took
a fatherly interest in my fortunes. He caused the palace to be ransacked
from top to bottom, but with no success,--there was not a single clove
kernel to be found in the place.

[Illustration: THEY WERE COMPELLED TO SEND FOR A PHYSICIAN]

'After an affectionate parting with my father and mother, I visited
every one of my married sisters in turn, each of whom introduced me to
her husband and friends with considerable pride, for you must know that
already my fame as a char-woman of great ability had reached even to the
most distant parts. One and all were equally felicitous in their
expressions of delight at seeing me, and equally pressing in their
invitations to me to take up my abode with them. Yet none were able to
help me in the quest I had so much at heart.

'At last I returned to Sicily without the clove kernels, and, too
ashamed to appear before the Leanmuffins without the completed
prescription, I wandered about the island in despair, resting at night
in the caves of the mountains, satisfying the cravings of my hunger on
the hard dry leaves of the cactus.

'I now bethought me of my good friend the waiter and the willingness he
had consistently evinced to help me when in trouble, and once more I
embarked, this time for the shores of Lombardy, at which place I knew he
had a comfortable situation. With very little difficulty I found the
refreshment establishment at which he worked, and, as I anticipated, he
was extremely pleased to meet me again, and manifested the liveliest joy
at the prospect of being of some help to me. Together we studied the
menu of the day very thoroughly, but could find no mention whatever of
clove kernels, and then, idly looking through some menus of recent date,
handsomely bound together for future reference, we discovered that clove
kernels had been served as recently as the day before. It would be
useless to attempt to describe the despair that took possession of me
when I discovered that I had only missed them by one day. The waiter
excitedly rushed down to the kitchen to see if any had been left over,
but, alas! there was not a single clove kernel to be found in the larder
or anywhere else. On leaving the refreshment rooms I shed the bitterest
tears that had ever fallen from my usually joyful eyes, and on the rocks
by the sea gave way to a mood of the greatest despondency.

'More ashamed than ever to return to the Leanmuffins, I made several
inquiries for any one requiring the services of an amicable, virtuous,
and, at the same time, experienced char-woman, determined to find work
in Lombardy if any were to be had.

'Not receiving satisfactory replies to my inquiries, my good waiter,
true to his kind nature, introduced me to one of his most regular
customers, the Marquis of Lombardy, who had been looking out for some
years for a capable char-woman to superintend the management of his
domestic affairs. Meeting with the approval of the Marquis, I thus
secured a comfortable home, and resolved to forget that I had ever lived
in Sicily.

'Now it happened that the Marquis, being a regular diner at the
restaurant, had partaken of clove kernels on the last occasion they were
served, and three or four must have fallen from his spoon into his
waistcoat pocket at the time, for I overheard his valet repeat to the
housemaid that he had found them therein when brushing his master's
clothes, and that he had presented them to one of the boatmen's
children. Learning the name of the child, not a moment did I lose in
hunting for him high and low, and eventually discovered him playing idly
on the sands with what, I was convinced, were the kernels I so much
coveted. At last, thought I, they are within my reach, and running
joyfully up to the light-hearted lad discovered, alas! that he was only
playing with brass buttons.

'After the first shock of my new disappointment had passed away, I
questioned the lad as to how he had disposed of the clove kernels, and
he told me that his father, who considered them excellent bait, had
taken them from him and given him three brass buttons in exchange.

'On asking him where his father was at the present moment, he pointed
with his sunburnt hand to the horizon, and looking in the direction
indicated, I perceived a little fishing-smack, miles away. Without the
loss of a single second, I hired a boat, and, with a boatman to assist,
rowed in pursuit, and after a chase of three or four hours drew up, in
an exhausted condition, alongside the smack. I now in piteous tones
begged the clove kernels of the weather-beaten mariner, but he only
laughed loudly and bitterly in reply, and, on my inquiring the reason of
his cruel mirth, told me in faltering accents that he had only just
hauled in his lines to discover that the fish had gone off with the bait
and hook as well. Thus doomed to disappointment, I spent the rest of the
day in a state of mind bordering on madness.

[Illustration: THE IMPROVEMENT WAS MAINTAINED]

'It was a little time after this that, one evening, I was sitting over
the kitchen fire. The cook had just served up an excellent dish of fish,
and my mind was still turning to Sicily in spite of my endeavours to
forget that there was such a place, and wondering if ever I should see
Basil Herbert again. Suddenly there was a most terrible disturbance
overhead in the dining-room, a noise as of plates being thrown from one
end of the room to the other, and presently wild shrieks and groans of
pain. I ran lightly upstairs, always ready to be of use in emergencies
of any kind, and opened the dining-room door just in time to see the
Marquis raving most pitifully. It transpired that the very identical
fish that had swallowed the hook and the clove kernels had been caught
and served up to the Marquis's table, and he, poor man, had just
swallowed the hook. Taking in the situation at a glance, I soon saw the
probability that the three clove kernels, or one or two of them, were in
the body of the fish, and walking boldly into the room I grasped the
fish by the tail, and took to my heels.

[Illustration: DISCOVERED A CLOVE KERNEL]

'For miles I ran, out of the town and into the country without stopping,
until, quite exhausted and out of breath, I sat down beneath a rock to
rest. I now examined the fish which I still held in my hand, and found
only two of the kernels in its body, the Marquis having probably
swallowed the third.

'However, although not the complete number required by the prescription,
they were better than no clove kernels at all, so after resting awhile I
resolved to return once more to Sicily.

'After some vicissitudes I arrived at last at the home of the
Leanmuffins to find them all in despair. Basil Herbert's condition had
not improved, and the physician had ceased his visits and gone in search
of me. I soon mixed the stuff, which brought some little relief to the
unhappy young patient--but not enough, as the lotion was not
sufficiently strong without the third clove kernel.

'We persevered, however, and the improvement was just maintained. At
last one evening when all the members of the family were gathered round
the sufferer's bed endeavouring to distract him by every manner of
entertainment conceivable and by cheerful songs, glees, and the telling
of interesting stories, there came a low knock at the door and somebody
inquiring for me. Who should it be but my faithful friend the waiter,
who, on sweeping the floor of the Lombardic refreshment room, had
discovered a little clove kernel in the corner, and, mad with delight at
being able to assist me, had hastened from Lombardy to bring me the
treasure. Small though it was, it was enough to give the requisite
strength to the lotion, and in due course the young patient completely
recovered.

'After their severe trials the Leanmuffins were completely transformed;
from being ignoble, mean, and unkind, they became generous in the
extreme. Their joy knew no bounds, and henceforth they made me quite one
of their family, and my friend the waiter and his good people were asked
to dine with us every Sunday that they were in Sicily.

[Illustration: vignette]

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: THE INTERVAL]

[Illustration: headpiece]



'THE INTERVAL'


When the Sicilian Char-woman had finished the narration of her truly
wonderful experiences, and while the army were yet applauding her, the
King stepped down from his chair, and taking the good woman by the hand,
explained to her the object of their great expedition. 'And now,' said
the astute old monarch in conclusion, 'powerful as we undoubtedly are,
and as you can see for yourself that we are, we have yet one weakness,
and that weakness is, that we cannot boast of a single char-woman of any
description within our ranks. It has occurred to us, in listening to
your story, that if you are able, as I have no doubt you will be, to
obtain a good character from your last place, that we shall be delighted
to engage you as an assistant to the amiable Boadicea in her attendance
upon my person.'

'Fiddlesticks,' snapped the abrupt woman, 'look after your person
indeed! Look after it yourself,' and the strange creature walked off.
Unwilling to lose such a treasure, the King called after her, and
explained that if he had offended her it was quite unintentionally, and
offered her any post she would like to fill, of course providing that it
had not already been filled, in his army.

'Now you are talking reasonably,' replied the quickly mollified
creature. 'Well, as you are so very kind, I don't mind being the
flag-bearer.'

'But I am really afraid we have no flag,' objected the King.

'Oh, we'll soon settle that little difficulty,' replied the woman. And
she at once removed her apron and snatching from the astonished Scout
the staff he usually carried with him, she tied the apron thereto by its
two strings and waved it proudly in the air three or four times, at each
time jumping as high as she could.

Every one cheered in their delight at the readiness of the good woman,
and congratulated each other cordially on this interesting addition to
their forces.

The King now stood up in his chair, and after quieting the general
excitement by ringing his bell, he thus addressed his troops:--

'My dear old boys and girls, although, no doubt, I appear to you a very
fine man indeed, with a good appetite and fairly well covered for my
time of life, I am not quite the man I should be. You must know that in
my early babyhood I was a victim to the wicked carelessness of the royal
cook. One morning this thoughtless creature left an unboiled parsnip on
the garden path (had it been boiled and soft, my fate had been different
perhaps) while chatting with a friend at the tradesmen's entrance. As
ill luck would have it, I was at the time playing on the palace roof, to
which I had climbed through the nursery chimney, and, childlike, was
gazing curiously at a strange bird flying overhead, when I overbalanced
and fell from the roof right on to the parsnip on the garden path,
which, as you will guess, hurt me very severely indeed.'

The King here exhibited to his audience a dent on his head in the form
of a parsnip.

'On hearing of this my father, of course, was highly indignant, and
ordered the cook to be beheaded instantly, or, at all events, as soon as
she had finished cooking the dinner.

'The dinner, however, was so excellent that my father, in his enjoyment
of it, forgot all about my mishap, and the cook went unpunished.
Nevertheless the shock to my system was so great that, feeling it even
to this day, as I have said, I am not the man I should be. A trifle
irritable now and again; or more sulky and disagreeable than I care to
admit; or at times even harsh, morose, surly, snappish, rattish, and
short-tempered, all little failings you have no doubt noticed, and which
now, knowing my early misfortune, you will more readily excuse.

[Illustration: I FELL ON TO THE PARSNIP]

'Well,' continued the King, 'you will at least understand that a little
rest is good for me now and again, so that, as we have already travelled
half the distance to my kingdom, I intend to give you all a whole
holiday to-morrow, and on the day following, which happens to be my
birthday, I will celebrate the great occasion with a grand review, after
which we shall once more resume our long journey.'

This welcome announcement was received with the greatest enthusiasm by
the brave fellows, and loud cheers echoed again and again through the
forest, and a great feast was at once prepared.

[Illustration: THEY ALL ONCE MORE STARTED]

[Illustration: ON THEIR ADVENTUROUS JOURNEY]

Seated in a circle on the grass beneath the trees, the good souls
enjoyed to the full the simple fare before them, and then, after once
more cheering the old monarch, retired to their tents to sleep, and to
dream of the morrow in store for them.

Next morning, with the exception of the old King, who intended to rest
and remain in bed all day, every one was up betimes. After a hearty
meal, Bill explained to them all the dangers of the great forest, and
the necessity of returning to camp at dusk. Then, taking care not to
disturb the King, they all left the camp, different parties taking
different directions, seeking amusement wherever they could find it.

Bill took care of his charges, who had the greatest sport in the
world,--tree-climbing, nutting, chasing butterflies, fishing in the
pools, playing at Wild Indians, Hunt-the-Stag, Robbers and Thieves, Poor
Jenny is a-weeping, Red Rover, and every really sensible game that there
is to play, while Boadicea spent the time very happily in making
beautiful bunches of wild flowers.

Chad, however, was a bit of a nuisance, crying all the morning because
he was not allowed to eat toadstools; so to keep him out of mischief,
Bill tied him to the highest branch of a very tall tree, and there left
him to have his cry out.

The Long Man took Ptolemy Jenkinson in hand, and taught him how to
bird-nest, at the same time adding to his own valuable collection of
eggs. The Ancient Mariner made a swing for the Absent-minded Indian, and
wondered, while he was swinging him to and fro, whether he enjoyed it or
not, for the thoughtful creature's face still gave no sign at all of
what was taking place in his mind, supposing he had one. The Doctor
spent the day upside down, with his feet supported against the trunk of
a tree and his nose on the ground, while he studied the habits of the
stag-beetle. The Boy Scout practised scouting by continually losing his
patron and then finding him again, while the Respectable Gentleman
himself kept his respectability in hand by behaving most politely to all
the trees of the forest,--raising his hat to the silver-birches, leaving
his card on the ash-trees, introducing a hornbeam to a blackthorn,
apologising to the thistles for treading on their lower leaves,
and, in fact, behaving like the perfect gentleman he was, and having a
really enjoyable day.

[Illustration: And left him to have his cry out]

The Triplets played hide-and-seek, and the Sicilian Char-woman set to
and dusted and scrubbed down a good number of the forest trees, and
spent the rest of the day in endeavouring to clear up the last year's
leaves that everywhere littered the grass.

It was quite late in the evening when all returned to camp, quite tired
out, and after supper each crept quietly to bed without awakening the
King, and soon the whole camp was fast asleep.

[Illustration: THE WHOLE CAMP WAS FAST ASLEEP]

In the morning every one awoke in the best of spirits, and brimful of
the many things they had to tell of the happy time they had spent the
day before. The old monarch seemed much refreshed for his long rest, and
before sitting down to breakfast every one in turn went up to him and
shook the happy old boy by the hand, wishing him many happy returns,
after which they all sat down and enjoyed a substantial breakfast.
Before the repast was quite finished, and while the King was looking the
other way, Bill walked round the ring formed by the army as they sat
upon the grass, and collected birthday presents for the old monarch.
Every one was delighted to give something to His Majesty to show how
much they appreciated his greatness, and when the old chap received the
many gifts, all done up in one brown paper parcel, he was so overcome
that he could hardly stammer forth his thanks. And this is what he
found in the parcel when, with trembling hands, he had succeeded in
opening it:--

  From Bill,                       A bone-handled, two-bladed
                                     pocket-knife, a little rusted,
                                     but with only one blade
                                     missing.
  From Noah,                       Some string.
  From Ratchett,                   8 brace buttons (very bright).
  From the Twins {Quentin,         Wooden top of peg-top.
                 {Hannibal,        Iron peg of same.
  From Randall,                    Ferrule of umbrella.
  From Nero,                       More string.
  From Biddulph,                   Dial of old watch (not cracked
                                     very much).
  From Knut,                       Glass marble (beautifully
                                     coloured).
  From Chad,                       2 pear drops (old, but in good
                                     condition).
  From the other children
    collectively,                  Twenty last year's horse
                                     chestnuts on string (very
                                     hard).
  From the Ancient Mariner,        Piece of wood skilfully cut
                                     into the form of a pebble.
  From the Absent-Minded
    Indian,                        Nothing.
  From the Triplets,               3 bunches of violets.
  From the Respectable Gentleman,  His visiting-card.
  From the Boy Scout,              One of the Killgruel town-keys
                                     he had swallowed.
  From the Sicilian Char-woman,    Small piece of soap.
  From the Long Man,               Wren's egg.
  From Boadicea,                   A hat full of ripe blackberries.
  From the Doctor,                 Half of cough lozenge.
  From Ptolemy Jenkinson,          A last year's ticket for a box.

Every one clamoured for a speech, but the old fellow was so affected by
all this unexpected kindness, that he would not trust himself to open
his mouth, so with tears of gratitude pouring from his eyes, he retired
to his chair. These interesting proceedings thus coming to an end, he
was wheeled into the forest by Boadicea until they came to the open
space where the review was to take place.

Having dried his eyes and smartened himself up, with Boadicea standing
sedately at his side holding the presents, the King now solemnly awaited
the appearance of the troops. Soon there was a great noise in the
direction of the camp, and then they could be heard approaching.

First came the nine brave sons of Crispin and Chloe, proudly marching
three by three, and as they passed the King each gallantly saluted him.
Now followed the stately Char-woman with the flag held aloft, and when
she came opposite His Majesty she jumped magnificently three times into
the air. She was followed by more of Bill's charges, and then, with
great dignity, Bill, the King's general, marched past the Royal Old Boy
and saluted him grandly.

Another detachment of Bill's charges followed the general, then the
Ancient Mariner approached, and, after placing the Absent-minded Indian
on the ground, he, with much dignity, saluted the King by touching his
forelock, sailor fashion, and after a few steps of the hornpipe, once
more resumed his burden and moved on. The Ancient Mariner was followed
by the Long Man who winked knowingly at the King as he passed by.
Ptolemy Jenkinson came next, then the Doctor, who, not knowing quite
what was expected of him, proceeded to feel the King's pulse, but was
quickly hustled off by the Scout, who now approached.

The Respectable Gentleman followed the Boy Scout, and raised his hat in
a very gentlemanly manner to the King as he passed him and politely
handed him one of his cards, upon which he had scribbled a few good
wishes to the old monarch.

Now, one by one, the Triplets passed in front of the delighted King,
before whom each of the sweet creatures performed the most graceful
curtsy, and the procession then terminated with another detachment of
Bill's charges.

The King was more than satisfied, and they all once more started on
their adventurous journey.

[Illustration: tailpiece]

[Illustration: vignette]

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: THE REAL SOLDIER]

[Illustration: headpiece]



THE REAL SOLDIER


After travelling some days, they came across a real soldier seated at
the side of the road, and Bill at once persuaded the King to invite so
valuable a man to join their expedition. The King therefore left his
chariot and approached him, and asked the noble-looking fellow if he
would care to make one of their party, and, if so, whether he had a good
character from his last general, and the old warrior replied:--

'Allow me, my good sirs, to recite to you one of my most noteworthy
achievements, one of which, peradventure, you may not have read in the
numerous books filled with accounts of my exploits. I shall thus remove
any trace of doubt that may linger in your minds as to my great courage
and astute generalship.'

All expressing their eagerness to hear the story, the wordful old
warrior proceeded:--

'As near as I can remember, it was in the early fifties when, a mere
drummer-boy, with the bloom of early boyhood still gracing my brave
young cheek, I marched with the gallant 53rd or, as you may possibly
know them, the King's Own Royal Roebucks, to the relief of the Isle of
Wight. This island, at the time I mention, was blockaded by that
notorious filibuster, Reginald Bendbrisket, a rogue who, possessed of
the greatest audacity and cunning, had earned for himself an unenviable
reputation, from Margate to Samoa, by the terrible extent of his
depredations.

'You will all doubtless remember how, disappointed in his endeavours to
usurp the throne of Pitcairn Island, he had impudently resolved to make
a sudden raid upon the Isle of Wight; and thus to feed his own
insatiable greed and, at the same time, appease the disappointed rage of
his desperate followers, he would have plunged the peaceful little
island into abject misery. What tempted him thereto none can guess with
any certainty, unless indeed it were the many false reports, spread
abroad by the unscrupulous, of the gold, silver, and diamonds to be
found there; of the extensive quarries, rich in the finest hearthstone;
and of the natural paraffin springs, that could provide the world with
the purest oil; and many other reports, alike false and discreditable to
their inventor and to those who repeated them to the credulous stranger.

'Had the rogue been successful in his latest raid, his small band of
followers (mayhap increased to a powerful army by the hordes of
discontented periwinkle-gatherers, prawners, and lobster-potterers that
earn a scanty living on our shores) would, without doubt, have had at
their mercy the Isle of Sheppey and the numerous other Islets that
ornament our coasts. And then, from these a sudden and successful
descent on Ludgate Hill would have rendered him master of the whole of
London. Now I am going to tell you how the courage and forethought of a
simple drummer-boy frustrated all his schemes, and brought to his knees
one of the most unscrupulous enemies that has ever invaded our shores.

'To come back to the beginning of my story, we had a comfortable journey
down, the tedium of which had been greatly relieved by delightful
conversation and intellectual chatting, each in his turn considerably
astounding the others by the amount of intelligence he displayed. These
pursuits were again varied by interesting recitations, and such
parlour-games as could be conveniently played in a railway carriage. We
arrived in the afternoon at a snug little hamlet on the coast opposite
the island, whence we embarked in a fleet of disused barges and
dredgers. We reached our destination, after a fairly calm voyage,
without having excited the curiosity of the invaders, only one of whose
vessels we passed, and all on board it were so engrossed with the
captain, who was violently sea-sick, that we passed unobserved.

'We were 2,352 strong, including the gallant 53rd, of which I was a
member, a battery of artillery, a camel corps, two squadrons of the
smartest cavalry that ever chased a rabbit across the Hackney Marshes,
and a battalion of infantry, so well trained that there was not one of
the rank and file who could not play quite delightfully on the piano;
while the officers were unexcelled at conjuring tricks, with which they
used to amuse the soldiers seated round the camp-fires of an evening. We
were ably generalled by that best of all officers, Sir Francis Melville
Glowmutton, whose fame in after years very nearly earned for him the
honour of being mentioned in a popular Encyclopædia.

'We were met on the beach by a procession of the inhabitants, headed by
the president of the island, all of whom were delighted to see us, and
extended to us the most hospitable of welcomes. Without waiting for
formal introductions, they fraternised in the most friendly spirit with
the troops who, in turn, were charmed with their reception and, being
quite beyond themselves with gratification, adorned their conversation
with the most graceful compliments to the inhabitants and grateful
tributes to their kindness.

'The blockade had lasted barely eight weeks, so that, as yet, the
inhabitants of the island were not aware of it, and when they learnt
from the soldiers the real state of affairs, they rejoiced beyond
measure, and redoubled their congratulations to the army and to each
other, and the president seized the very first opportunity publicly to
thank the general for his thoughtfulness in coming to relieve them.

'For quite a long time the handshaking went on, and every one was so
amiably excited that the president, anxious that so much good feeling
should not be thrown away, invited every one to spend the evening with
him at his presidency on the Needles.

'And such a bright and happy evening it was too! Every one in the best
of spirits, and entering blithely into all the games! "Oranges and
Lemons," "Nuts and May," and "Poor Jenny is a-weeping," had never,
within the memory of any one present, been played with greater zest,
and, what was more wonderful, never had the rather trying game of "Hunt
the Slipper" provoked less ill-temper since it was first introduced into
this country at the Norman Conquest.

[Illustration: THE REAL SOLDIER]

'The joy of the frolicsome ones was only equalled by that of the older
inhabitants and the elderly officers, who, seated on chairs placed for
them round the wails of the hall, fairly shook with laughter and
merriment, until the tears rolled down their handsome old cheeks.

'At last, with flushed and happy faces, all sat down to a splendid cold
supper provided by the President, but it was some little time before the
feast could proceed, as every one was so well-behaved that there was
quite a turmoil of passing things to one another. At last, however,
every one was served, and the supper proceeded with the greatest mirth
on all sides.

'After a while the president stood up to make a speech, and had only got
as far as, "Ladies and Gentlemen, it is not that we----" when, to
everybody's consternation, there was a loud knock at the door and,
without waiting to be asked, in stalked the notorious Reginald himself.

'Having approached the table, he slowly withdrew his gaze from the
refreshments (to which it had wandered on his entry), and, drawing
himself to his greatest height, demanded of the president the instant
surrender of the island to him as his rightful property, averring that
it had been left to him by an aunt, whose favourite he had been. Then,
putting his hand to his bosom, he drew thence an old roll of parchment
which, indeed, proved to be the Will of one Martha Grub. This he handed
to the president, who read aloud therefrom the following clause, which
had been underlined:--

    'And I do bequeath unto my good sister's son, the shapely Reginald
    Bendbrisket, inasmuch as he has shown some kindness unto my black
    cat, now dead alas! twenty jars of the good plum preserve I did make
    last fall as well as five yards of the good garden hose wherewith I
    did heretowhile water my cabbages in the droughty seasons, the rest
    to be cut up and divided equally amongst my other nephews and nieces
    to be used by them as they may see fit whatsoever.

    'At their demise the said pieces shall be delivered up to the said
    Reginald, who will once more unite the fragments and pass the
    completed hose on to his heirs for ever.

    'For his goodness in undertaking thus to carry out my wishes I do
    also bequeath unto the before-mentioned Reginald the Island of Wight
    situate at the south coast of England.

'On reading this the president turned very pale and every one trembled,
never having dreamt of the strength of the invader's position. But being
a bit of a lawyer, the president very soon rallied and replied to the
filibuster, in as courtly a manner as he could assume, that he was bound
to admit that his aunt Martha had, without doubt, left the island to
him, and that he would be the last man to dispute the fact--here the
rogue, vainly imagining that he was about to realise his greatest hopes,
could not conceal his satisfaction, and helped himself to a
sandwich--"But hold!" cried the president in a terrible voice, "I do
dispute that it was hers to leave."

[Illustration: 'BUT HOLD!' CRIED THE PRESIDENT]

[Illustration: Reginald completely lost his temper]

'At this the irascible Reginald completely lost his temper and hurled
the sandwich with such fury to the ground that it broke one of the
gorgeous tiles that ornamented the floor. "Have you," said he, "the
audacity to doubt the word of my aunt Martha? Have you the face to stand
there and dispute the will of that excellent woman, written when dying
of a broken heart at the death of her black cat, and whose only solace
was the company of her dutiful nephew? Then your fate be upon your
own head." And he strode out of the hall gnashing and grinding his teeth
in the most terrible manner, only stopping to pick up the sandwich which
he had thrown down in his outburst of passion.

[Illustration: 'YOUR FATE BE UPON YOUR OWN HEAD']

'When the door had slammed to with terrific force behind him there was a
great silence in the hall, and we all looked at one another with scared
faces. Soon every one arose from the table, and silently left the
banqueting-hall to prepare for the fight which we now knew would come on
the morrow.

'Try as I would, I could not sleep for thinking of the battle in store
for us. I counted more sheep than would have fed our army for six
months, but with no result. I then tried elephants, and after that
camels and zebras, and finally, hoping that their odd shapes might bring
me repose, I tried ant bears, but all in vain. At last, in despair, I
rose from my hard couch, donned my uniform, and snatching up a cracknel,
strode out of my tent.

'Murmuring "Brittle Pantechnicons" (which, by the way, was our password)
to the sentry, I strolled idly down to the sea. It was a beautiful and
perfectly still night, with not a ripple to disturb the surface of the
sea, upon which, here and there, would glow a little shimmer of light as
the phosphorescent turbot rose to its prey. In the distance, and away to
the right, could be seen the camp-fires of the enemy, and the
reflections in the pools left by the tide. Ever and anon sounds of
merriment could be heard as the invaders, heedless of the morrow, spent
the night in revelry. To the left, and further back, could be seen the
tents of our forces, not a sound arising therefrom except the low
monotonous breathing of the soldiers (who were so well drilled that even
in their sleep they breathed in time), or maybe the "Who goes there?" of
the sentry would sound in the darkness, as he mistook a moth for a spy,
or the drone of the beach bee for the war-whoop of the enemy.

'At the water's edge, dark against the starry sky, I found a solitary
bathing-machine, beneath which I crept, and here at length my weariness
quite overcame me and I slept. How long I remained thus I cannot tell,
but I was awakened by heavy footsteps on the floor of the machine over
my head. My curiosity was intense, but resisting the temptation to rush
out and satisfy it, I wisely resolved to remain in my present position
as long as possible.

[Illustration: FLOUNDERING ABOUT IN THE SEA]

'Presently the mysterious tenant of the machine opened its seaward door
and stood revealed in the light of the moon, which had arisen during my
sleep, as the terrible Reginald Bendbrisket himself, clothed in a deep
black bathing-suit. I crouched down, not daring to move a muscle, and
was presently relieved to see him, after standing for some time on the
steps of the machine, amble carefully over the stones to the edge of the
sea, into which he plunged.

'Now it was that an idea suddenly occurred to me, and I instantly crept
from my place of concealment, and stealing up to the landward door of
the machine nailed it fast with the hammer and nails I always carried
with me to mend my drum, which was not infrequently broken beneath my
enthusiastic blows. Having secured the front door, I now crept in at
the back and, doffing my own clothes, soon donned those of the
unconscious filibuster, who was still floundering about in the sea.
Having effected this change, I crept back to my former position under
the machine, and had barely made myself comfortable there when I saw the
rogue returning.

'After scrambling painfully over the stony beach he mounted the steps
and entered the machine, and the slam of the door as it closed upon him
was the signal for me to rush out and secure this as I had already
secured the front door. Having done this, I waited no longer, but made
off with all possible speed in the direction of the enemy's camp, which
I had nearly reached, when I heard a most terrible banging from the
interior of the now distant bathing-machine. Losing no time, I entered
the camp, and, being easily mistaken for their captain, passed on
unchallenged.

'Arriving in time at the centre of the camp, I found all the men
gathered together, having forsaken their revels, evidently in
expectation of the return of their leader.

[Illustration: IN EXPECTATION OF THEIR LEADER]

'Standing before the villainous crew, I assumed, as nearly as I could,
the mien and rough harsh voice of their filibustering captain, and
ordered them to embark at once and to leave the island, as it had been
reinforced during the night by such a mass of thundering artillery as
would be impossible to withstand, and that they were even now fast
approaching along the beach from the other end of the island where they
had landed. The men, on hearing this appeared quite incredulous and
their growls of disbelief grew louder and louder and threatened a
terrible mutiny. Having at length gained a hearing, I invited them all
to that part of the camp by which I had entered, to hear for themselves
the approach of the distant hosts. Leading them all, still grumbling and
growling, a little way beyond the camp, I commanded them all to be
absolutely quiet, and then, in the silence which ensued, could be heard
far away in the direction of the bathing-machine a most terrific and
continuous banging, together with the sound of muffled shouting.

'The men were aghast, and in the moonlight their swarthy faces could be
seen to change to a ghastly white. Then, with an unearthly yell, they
all turned and fled in a wild panic to the boats. They tumbled over and
over each other in their anxiety to get away, and many got wet to the
skin in their endeavour to reach the boats. At last, to my great joy, I
saw the last of them pull off and reach the ships, which now put on all
sail and vanished away for ever.

'I now returned to the bathing-machine, from which still came a terrible
din, though not quite so violent as it had been at first.

'Taking hold of the rope that was fastened to it, I began to drag the
machine in the direction of our camp, the banging meanwhile gradually
subsiding, until at last only an occasional bang proclaimed the machine
to be inhabited. As before, I passed the sentry by murmuring "Brittle
Pantechnicons" and drew the machine up in front of the General's tent.

'The General, having finished an early breakfast, was just setting out
to take a stroll before settling down to plan out the battle, and seeing
me, whom he at first took to be Reginald Bendbrisket, the good man
received quite a severe shock. However, I soon undeceived him, and after
relating my adventures I unfastened the door of the bathing-machine,
and disclosed therein the form of the filibuster on bended knees,
imploring our mercy.

'Every one was delighted at such a speedy end to the campaign, for my
part in which I was duly honoured. Reginald Bendbrisket, after a mild
punishment, reformed and became a very respectable gentleman, the
president kindly using his influence to secure for him a lucrative
position in a well-known Insurance Office.

'And thus, my good Sirs, it is, that the Isle of Wight still remains one
of our many valued possessions.'

'The very man for me,' thought the King of Troy, when he had finished
his story, and before proceeding with their journey, he promoted the
martial creature to the high position of second General-in-chief of the
army.

[Illustration: tailpiece]

[Illustration: vignette]

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: THE WILD MAN]

[Illustration: headpiece]



THE WILD MAN


One day the army were overtaken by a singularly wild-looking man who
proved, however, to be at the same time quite an amiable creature, and
expressed a great desire to seek some employment with the gallant
fellows. The King was pleased to enlist the nice and sociable person,
and was more than repaid for his confidence in him by his charming ways.
On one occasion, when the King was rather tired and worried, the Wild
Man, in order to distract the dear old fellow, told the following
story:--

'Good Sirs, though wild enough indeed, yet may I claim to be an unspoilt
child of nature, whose finest instincts have, unchecked, found their
true development. Thus, communing with nature from my cradle and living
on terms of the closest intimacy with her wildest creatures, I can
appreciate their humble wants, their hopes and fears, and have acquired
the truly marvellous power of conversing with these simple-minded
denizens of the wilderness.

'My home was a rocky cave hard by the sea-shore, in which I lived in
simple happiness with my good wife, now dead, alas! this many a long
year ago, and our five brown children, who long since have grown to men
and gone out into the world to seek their fortunes. Harmless indeed were
our joys, and our trials we bore with that great fortitude which was not
the least of the blessings we derived from our simple mode of life.

'To proceed with my tale, on one dismal evening late in autumn, I left
my cave, with the hungry cries of my children still in my ears,--for,
indeed, the poor things had had no sup or bite the whole day through.
Wondering what I could do that they might not go supperless to bed, I
strolled along the sands by the sea in the hope of finding some odd
limpet or whelk which, together with a few dried dandelion leaves, might
make a simple stew. Alas! no vestige of a single crustacean could I
find, so I sat me down upon the sands, determined not to return until
the children had fallen asleep on the dry ferns and grass heaped up for
them at the back of the cave, as their cries were more torment to me
than my own emptiness.

'The sun had long ago set, and the autumnal twilight, reflected in the
pools of still water left by the far receded tide, was gradually fading
from the sky, when I fancied I could hear a low heart-rending moan from
off the desolate waste of sand before me. Again and again it sounded,
and at last realising that it might be uttered by some creature in
distress, I stood up and, as far as the fading light would permit,
scanned the sands in every direction.

'Nothing, however, could I see, and as the moan still continued at
intervals and became, in fact, more and more painful and beseeching, I
wandered about, a prey to the liveliest anxiety, endeavouring to
discover whence it proceeded.

'At length I perceived on the sand, at a little distance before me, a
small dark motionless object, and at that instant a harrowing sound,
arising therefrom on the evening air, left me in no doubt as to the
origin of the moans I had already heard. Creeping as quietly as possible
on my hands and knees quite close to it, I found it to be a lovely blue
point oyster, and bringing my head to a level with the shell, I asked
coaxingly, and in as soft a voice as I could command, what ailed it.

[Illustration: Harmless indeed were our joys]

'"Alas!" said the oyster, "a little while ago I possessed a child as
sweet as ever chortled to its gasping mother, but snatched from me
as it has been by the cruellest of whelks, it may even now lie helpless
in the grasp of the ravenous brute, as it ruthlessly sups off its
delicate limbs. No such grief have I had since that old native, my
worthy husband, was slain, and was laid in state, his hoary head
supported by a slice of lemon, beside a piece of brown bread-and-butter."

[Illustration: I PLEADED MY CASE]

'Deeply affected by her grief, I begged her to reveal the name of the
little one and to indicate the direction taken by the marauding whelk.
"Bertram is its name," said the widowed blue point, and I could hear
the tears falling within the shell as, with her beard, she pointed out
the path followed by the rogue.

'I had not proceeded far in the direction indicated when I overtook a
whelk, whose face was quite distorted by a savage look, and whose growls
drowned the feeble cries of a tender blue pointlet whom he dragged along
by the beard.

'"Now what is all this about?" said I to the sullen fellow. "Why should
you, who are maybe blessed with young of your own, rob a poor widowed
oyster of her only consolation since the death of her husband? A heart
of rock would have melted at the cries of your victim, but you,
ungenerous, can have no heart at all, and entirely drag the name of
whelk through the mud." I could distinctly hear the ruffian lashing his
tail within his shell as he replied: "It's all very well for you, old
boy, but all that kind of nonsense you're talking don't come in here. If
it were a question of saving your own life I'll bet you wouldn't give
much ear to the whimperings of a sentimental blue point. Know then, old
stick, that it isn't for the love of children that I am dragging this
little brat along, but he's just going to be the supper of an old crab,
who caught me this afternoon and only let me go on the condition that I
found him something a little more toothsome and tender than I am."

'The cries of the infant were cruel to hear when it learnt the fate in
store for it, and filled my heart with pity for the frail youngster.
"Now come," said I to the whelk, "just wait a little while and consider,
would it not always be a sad thing for you to reflect upon that you had
been the cause of this frail young thing's death?" "Gammon!" answered
the leather-hearted whelk, and proceeded on its journey. "Stay yet
awhile," cried I, "and I will run and talk it over with the crab and see
if his hard shell may hide a kinder heart than yours." "Well, look
alive, old sentiments," replied the whelk; "it's a bit chilly waiting
about out of the water when the tide's low. You'll see the old rascal
over there by the sea."

'I hastened with what speed I might in the direction pointed out by the
whelk, and presently came upon the old crab. Before I had time to greet
him he accosted me with "Well, old kneebones, what's the trouble?" "No
trouble of mine I do assure you," I replied as I seated myself by his
side, taking care at the same time to keep well out of reach of his two
pincer claws, that wobbled about wickedly in my direction; thus in some
trepidation I continued the conversation. "The trouble is that of an
innocent blue pointlet, now alas! in the toils of a perfect bully of a
whelk, a worthless rough who is thus victimising the innocent to save
himself from ending his paltry existence in your inside. Now my good
fellow, I am perfectly certain that you are not going to allow this,
indeed you are not the sort to sacrifice another's life to satisfy your
own greed. Let me press you, just for once, to go supperless to bed, and
thus assuage the anguish of a most affectionate mother."

'Much to my mortification and surprise, my conciliatory speech was met
by roars of laughter from the flippant old crab. Peal upon peal
disturbed the still evening air, and when the last clash of the hideous
uproar had died away among the distant hills, the unfeeling brute, now
in a state of collapse from loss of breath, gasped out:--"What, me give
up the only chance of saving myself from that scoundrel of a lobster who
only let me go on my promising to secure him something for supper a
little less hard than myself! Well," continued the crab, "that's a good
'un, that is. My good chap you must be quite out of your senses. Why,
not only will I hand over the baby oyster to the lobster, but I intend
also to have my supper off that tough old idiot of a whelk, who reckons
he's going to get off scot-free, and old mother blue point, too, if I
can find her," and then, as an afterthought, "and you, old marrow-bones,
wouldn't make half a bad tit-bit if I could get hold of you," and he
made a horrid dash at me as he spoke. However, I easily evaded him, and
from a safer distance argued the matter out with him in the following
way:--

'"Allow me, my dear crustacean, to put the matter to you in this light.
Now, first of all, clear your mind of all unnecessary bias. Suppose,"
said I, "that you were to change places with the young oyster, suppose,
we'll say, that you had the near prospect of being devoured by the
greedy lobster. How would you feel, I say, if your neighbour not only
refused to exert himself in any way to extricate you from your
predicament, but also gloried in being the main cause of the disaster
that threatened you?"

[Illustration: AND KILLED IT ON THE SPOT]

'The wily scoundrel merely replied, "Ask me another," and with his left
eye-stalk bent towards the ground, insolently winked at me with the
other. Despairing of penetrating his tough shell with kindly
suggestions, I temporised with him, and succeeded in persuading him to
desist from his evil intentions until I had talked it over with the
lobster. Out of sheer perversity the crab directed me wrongly, but in
good time, after some wandering here and there, I discovered the
lobster.

'I pleaded my case to him as eloquently as I had already done to the
others,--nay, even more eloquently, being, no doubt, a little more used
to it by now, but yet with no apparent good result. The wary creature
pretended ignorance. "To which crab do you refer?" said he, in a
questioning tone; "I have so much business with crustaceans in one way
and another that you would be surprised to learn how confused I become
in my dealings with them." To the best of my ability I described the
appearance of the old crab, and aided my description with a slight
sketch on the sand made with the point of my umbrella. He gazed at this
with much interest and murmured to himself "considerable artistic
talent," and then aloud, "Oh yes, yes, I remember him quite well;
indeed, he was here only recently about a little matter of supper. Well,
well, I'm afraid I cannot be of any help to you here. You see, it's like
this. Earlier in the day, I came to a little arrangement (quite a little
business affair, by the way) with an old lady conger eel I have known
for many years, and it happened in this way. We were having a little
dispute as to who should sup off the other, and without going into
details, the upshot of it all was that the eel managed to tie herself in
a knot round my throat, and so, you see, was mistress of the situation.
I need not tell you that I did not lose my presence of mind--indeed, I
never do--and I politely asked her if she had ever tasted crab, and
effectually persuaded her that they were much better eating than
lobster, and undertook to procure her a beauty (thinking all the time,
of course, of our mutual friend), on the understanding that I should go
quite free. It's very sad and all that sort of thing, no doubt, about
the little oyster--sweet little chuck--indeed, I am more sorry than I
appear to be about it, but really what can one do?" And the lobster
shrugged his bristling shoulders. "Speaking to you," he continued, "as
one man of the world to another, business is business after all, you
know. And if we don't fulfil our obligations, where do we stand? Of
course, I don't say but what a little chat with the conger might make it
all right, and there's no harm in trying--she's a nice eel. I feel sure
you would like her, at least I felt I should, when I invited her to be
my supper--and if nothing comes of the meeting, well, we shall none of
us be any worse off than we are at the present moment. If at any other
time I can be of use to you, I do hope that you will not hesitate to
come round and ask. Good day."

'I now left him to search for the conger, whom I found dozing in a pool
near the sea. I took her out and placed her gently on the sand, and she
gradually opened her eyes and fastened them on me. I once more expounded
the reasons why, in my opinion, this cruel arrangement should not be
persisted in. I quite astonished myself by my own eloquence, which grew
more impassioned as I proceeded, and noticed that the old conger seemed
deeply impressed. As I came to the most affecting parts of my argument
the expression in her eyes grew really tender, and at the mention of
the little blue point a tear gathered in each eye and slowly coursed
down her shiny form. At the conclusion of my appeal the conger drew in a
deep breath and replied:--"Well, I never! Now that is what I really do
call good and kind. Oh pray come and sit down beside me on the sand and
tell me all about it--now do, and tell me what first put it into your
head--it is so very nice to come across a little real sentiment in these
matter-of-fact times." Without waiting for me to proceed she rattled
on:--"Upon my word, you really must have the kindest heart in the
world--but are you quite sure you are comfy? Why not come round the
other side; you'll be out of the wind there, and we can talk it over
without anything to interfere with us. I quite agree with you in
everything you have said, and I must say that I know of nothing more
delightful than to find one's own thoughts expressed so much more
clearly than one could do it oneself. Do you know, I am quite delighted
to have met you, and hope that this is the commencement of one of those
lasting friendships...."

[Illustration: WE COOKED ONE GREAT STEAK]

'Thus she gabbled on, and thinking to myself, here, at last, is a
kind-hearted soul, I asked her to promise to take the baby oyster back
to its sorrowing mother, when she received it from the lobster. "What an
extremely kind thought," she replied; "I assure you there is nothing in
the whole world I would love to do so much as to take the little thing
back to its Ma." Glancing dreamily at the sky the old eel
continued:--"Dear little mite! I can see it even now, in my mind's eye,
as it skips to its mother; she, dear soul, the while shedding pearls of
delight,--a memory to carry to your grave. But I expect you must be
going now--no doubt you are as busy as the rest of us--are they all well
at home?--good-bye," and she prepared to return to the sea. "But, my
dear woman," I protested, "I have not yet received your promise to see
the little oyster home." "Now," said the eel, "pray don't spoil the
pleasant evening we have had--but never mind--don't look so
serious--come round some evening with the wife and children--don't say
you won't." "But, Madam," I answered, "I am waiting for your promise to
see the little one home." "My dear Sir," she replied at last, growing
rather red in the face, "I can give you nothing of the kind, and must
really refer you to the whale who captured me a little while ago, and
only released me because I promised to procure him a lobster, which I
persuaded him would be much more digestible and less bilious than I
should prove to be as a meal."

'I now went in search of the whale, whom I discovered disporting himself
in the sea a very little way from the shore. Taking my shoes and
stockings off, I waded as near to him as I dared, and to conciliate him
right off I wore as benignant an expression as I could assume and thus
addressed him: "Of one thing I am convinced," said I, "and it is that
you are the last person in all the world who would willingly give pain
to anything,--least of all to a baby oyster." "Quite so, quite so,"
snorted the whale, "and what is more I never have and, upon my soul, I
never _will_." "Bravo, good resolution," cried I, and then in moving
terms I explained the situation and urged him to take the blue pointlet
back to its mother on receiving it from the conger eel. "What is this
you say," roared the whale; "do you mean to tell me that in exchange for
her own fat self that villainous conger-eel now offers me a baby oyster
instead of the promised lobster? Is it for this gross insult that I
allowed her to resume her wretched existence? Well, I'm thundered!" and
the enraged monster leapt seventy feet into the air. "Where is she?"
roared he, and made off in the direction of the conger.

'But the old girl was one too many for the whale this time, and having
heard his remarks on her conduct, off she darted after the lobster,
saying to herself that as the whole arrangement had fallen through, she
might just as well sup off the lobster,--besides, the claws would stew
up quite well for the children's dinner to-morrow. The lobster in his
turn, seeing the conger approach, at once understood that the affair was
all off and left his little cave by the back door as conger entered by
the front, and made for the place where he knew he would find the crab,
arguing to himself thus:--"At any rate, the crab will make an excellent
supper to which I have every right; for after all, as I have before
remarked, business is business, and he will certainly be unable to
fulfil his obligations." The saucy crab, however, saw him coming along
with his mouth wide open ready to gobble him up, and shouted tauntingly
to him:--"Keep your bristles on, old prawn" and ran off after the whelk.
"Nothing really matters," thought he, "and as I feel a bit peckish I may
as well eat up friend whelk and the blue pointlet 'll come in for a
light breakfast in the morning." The cowardly whelk, reading the crab's
evil intention in his eyes offered him the baby oyster. "Thanks, old
flint," said the crab, "I'll have you first and the youngster another
time," and he pounced on the whelk and ate him right up. But as he was
crawling off in great comfort the old lobster overtook him and in no
time polished him off. The lobster, now too contented to move quickly,
was slowly returning to the water when up came the conger-eel who,
without any delay, proceeded to strangle him and then to gobble him up.
After her feast, the old girl, in her turn, felt drowsy. "I think," said
she, "I now deserve a nap," and she lay down in a pool and went fast
asleep. Presently the whale came along, having been hunting for the
conger all over the place. As soon as he caught sight of her he roared
in his wrath, "Is this what you call keeping your bargain?" and with one
gulp he bolted her,--head, fins, tail and all.

'Then, having accomplished his revenge, and at the same time satisfied
his appetite, his contentment was complete and he rolled over on his
side in the shallow water, and fell into a deep sleep.

'Now, thought I, is this not providential? Is there not here not merely
the evening meal I left my cave to seek, but many meals for my good wife
and children,--enough in fact to ward off hunger throughout the winter
that is now fast approaching. Taking up a great rock I hurled it with
all my force at the head of the whale and killed it on the spot. I now
proceeded to cut up the great creature and carry it, piece by piece, to
my cave, and that very night, when it was all safely stowed, we cooked
one great steak for supper, waking the children in order that they might
share the meal, and the remainder my good wife preserved in brine. Thus
in comfort we lived the winter through.

'The little oyster found its way back to its mother, and so grateful
were they both for my endeavours to help them, that they took up their
abode with us. Bertram grew to a fine chubby blue point. "Just like his
father," said the proud mother, and nothing reached our hearts so nearly
as his playful, charming ways.'

[Illustration: tailpiece]

[Illustration: vignette]

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: THE MUSICIAN]

[Illustration: headpiece]



THE MUSICIAN


Sometimes now the old King showed signs of weariness, and Bill bethought
him that a little music occasionally might soothe his nerves. So in the
very next town they came to he engaged the only musician in the place,
and very willing he was too to come along.

He played very wonderful music on his old concertina, often assisted
with his voice, and one evening, after a very beautiful performance, the
talented creature related the following story to his enchanted
hearers:--

'Right glad have I been, good fellows all, to join you in this your
noble enterprise to right our stout old brother of Troy here, and in
good time I trust that my great deeds shall prove my sincerity. But, in
the meantime, as supper hour draws on apace, and the frizzling cutlets
do scent the evening air, a little story should not be amiss to distract
your anxious minds, and thus to check the impatience of your appetite.

'Know then, my jovial birds, my cunning blades, that I am the eldest son
of that Prince of Polynesia who united the scattered kingdoms of this
unwieldy archipelago into one vast empire, over which he ruled with
even-handed justice and some common-sense until his death. Ah! lads, if
all had their rights I should at the present moment be seated on the
soft cushions of my father's throne, and maybe more able to be of help
to you than I am now; but you must take the will for the deed.

'My word! what a plump and healthy child was I, and withal as jolly and
as hearty as the day was long. Moreover, was not I the pride of the
empire and the envy of all the other kings and princes who had ever seen
or heard of me? Alas! who could have foretold that I was thus early in
life destined to have a real good taste of the troubles of this weary
world, and, though surrounded by every care and attention and the object
of the greatest affection that ever bubbled in the human heart, shortly
to become the victim of the meanest spite.

'But to proceed with the yarn--neither care nor expense was spared in my
upbringing, to which possibly more thought was devoted than even to the
education of our very well-educated and trustworthy friend, the buxom
Sicilian char-woman. At all events, the most certificated nurses
procurable were continually being engaged, but apparently only to be
dismissed again, for, almost perfect as most of them were, I can assure
you that, in the course of a very little time they were certain, of
course, to reveal (as was only natural) some slight weakness, and I ask
you, good comrades all, which of us is without 'em? This overcarefulness
on the part of my good parents was to be the cause of the disaster that
was soon entirely to change the trend of my life.

'It came about in this way. One of the discharged nurses, indignant at
what, with some show of reason, she considered an injustice to herself
(she had been dismissed for curling my hair only a little to the right
instead of quite to the right), resolved to revenge herself on her late
master and mistress, in such a manner as should be most likely to leave
them wretched for the remainder of their lives. Knowing the
overextravagance of their affection for me, she cruelly determined to
strike them in this, their weakest spot. One dark night, after cleverly
evading the ever-wakeful guards, she crept into my father's palace.
Stealing up the main staircase without attracting observation, she
arrived at the now empty throne-room, which she stealthily traversed,
keeping all the while close to the wall. She then passed through the
little door at the left of the grand throne and found herself in the
billiard-room. She had not, however, taken two steps therein when a
fearful panic seized her, for what should she behold but the stout form
of my rare old dad the emperor leaning over the table, apparently in the
act of making a brilliant stroke. A few seconds' consideration, however,
served to convince the vengeful creature that he was fast asleep.
Gnashing her teeth at the old gentleman, she hurried across the room and
entered the library, in which my good mother was seated, reading. But so
absorbed was the good lady in her book that she took no notice whatever
of the agile intruder, as she entered by one door and swiftly left by
the other. She now successively passed through the state ball-room, the
music-room, the third best drawing-room, the second best ball-room, and
the state bed-room, and mounting the back stairs, came to the suite of
rooms occupied by the nurses, and eventually reached the nurses'
dining-hall, into which my nursery led, without having excited any one's
observation.

'Opening my door very quietly, she peeped in. All was dark inside except
for the glimmer of a night-light which shone on the frilling of my
cradle and on the form of the nurse then in office, who had fallen
asleep over her supper of stewed apples. Creeping in quietly, the
evil-minded woman lifted my sleeping form from the cradle, so gently
that she did not awaken me, and, holding me closely to her, once more
successfully passed through all the apartments she had already
traversed, without arousing any suspicion, and at length found herself
again in the open air.

'Without losing a moment, she now made off to the woods, and after
wandering in these for some time, she met an old witch with whom, no
doubt, she had an appointment. Seated on the grass, the two women
haggled and haggled, and at last the treacherous nurse sold me to the
witch for three cocoanuts, and then went on her way and out of my life
for ever.

'Now it happened that the old witch lived in the hollow trunk of a tree
with her foster son, a tiny gnome named Orpheus, as quaint a little
object as ever I set eyes on, who played incessantly and most
beautifully on an old concertina, the very one, in fact, which I now
carry with me. The little fellow had been found some years before by the
old witch wandering near the ruins of an old temple in the very middle
of the wood. To whom he belonged, and whence he had come, no one
knew,--not even he himself, perhaps. However, the old girl adopted him,
and now nothing could exceed the motherly affection with which she
regarded this dry and shrivelled-up little chap,--unless, indeed, it was
the ardour with which the grateful gnome returned it. In fact, I learned
some time afterwards that the old witch had purchased me solely that I
might be a companion for this rum little person.

[Illustration: SHE NOW MADE OFF TO THE WOODS]

'The old girl, weird as was her general appearance, did all she could to
make me comfortable,--in fact far more than an ordinary witch would have
dreamt of doing,--and in recognition of her well-intentioned attitude
towards myself, I encouraged the spark of friendliness I began to feel
for her. But for her darling son, as soon as I grew accustomed to his
quaint appearance, and realised his kindness of heart and friendly
disposition towards myself, I conceived a great affection. He would
climb to the topmost branches of our tree, to practise his exercises
every morning, in order that I should not be worried with melancholy
repetitions, and, when perfected in some melody, who shall describe the
unaffected joy with which he would come down and play it for my delight?
How often in the moonlight (I lying on the grass at his side) would he
play over and over again to me some melancholy air, while our
foster-mother, mayhap, would be sweeping the dead leaves from our abode,
and preparing it for our night's repose.

[Illustration: HE WOULD CLIMB TO THE TOPMOST BRANCHES]

'Not I alone was gratified and enchanted by his dulcet tones, for all
the creatures of the woodland drew near and listened as night gradually
covered the sky, and he played through his evening pieces.

[Illustration: And played it for my delight]

'Elephants hovered around in the shadows of the trees, and sighed great
slobbering sighs. Bullfinches, sparrows, eagles, flamingoes, wild geese,
peacocks, turkeys, cranes, pelicans, and every manner of bird, thronged
the branches of the trees, and, with their heads and beaks sunk almost
into their feathers, opened and closed their eyes in their
rapturous surprise. The lions and tigers sprawled about, wishing, in
pure shame at their habitual monstrous cruelties, that they had been
vegetarians from the very beginning: such power had the music of
Orpheus. Even the mad-headed monkeys and apes, sitting in rows amongst
the trees, thought, Good heavens! what fools they were! and, blushing at
their childish tricks, wondered if it yet were possible to reform and
take a serious view of life. The old snake, quite overcome and
enthralled by the delicious strains, opened wide his jaws, and allowed
the little missel-thrush to nestle therein, and, thus protected from the
night-air, to listen to the music in comfort. However, no lasting
reformation was ever effected in their untamed natures, for no sooner
had the music ceased than each scurried away, once again to resume his
depredations and savage ways.

'It happened one evening that the gnome surpassed himself by his
rendering of some enchanting melodies, and every one was quite
enthralled and rendered almost helpless. The birds sank their heads and
beaks lower and lower into their feathers, as the music proceeded, until
they were no longer visible. The lions and tigers rolled on their backs
in the grass, in an agony of despair at their own unreformable lives:
the elephants turned quite white, and trembled so violently that they
could hardly support their own huge bulks and leant against one another
to prevent themselves coming down with a crash; such a great lump had
risen in the throat of the giraffe as quite distorted his otherwise
graceful neck; while the monkeys gibbered and blubbered tearfully to
themselves, and the old rascal of a snake slipped right off into a
trance.

'At last the music ceased, and the little musician left me while he went
in to hang up his musical instrument in safety. Meanwhile, in spite of
the state to which they had been elevated, the absurd creatures had all
scurried off, as usual, with no other thought in their savage minds than
to get each his own supper at any cost. The old snake, however, did not
recover as quickly as the others, and when at length he awakened from
his trance, he could see that all the others had vanished, and that I
was lying on the grass, quite unprotected, the gnome not having, as yet,
returned to my side. "Ha, ha!" said he to himself, his savage nature
having returned in all its force, "what a slice of luck! By gum! I never
see such a beauty. Won't the youngsters be just delighted!" He rapidly
slithered in my direction and, quickly tying the end of his long form
securely round me, slithered away again, carrying me through the long
grass at a bewildering speed.

'After travelling in this rough fashion for some time, we at length came
to a clearing in the heart of the wood, in which stood all that remained
of the ancient temple, and amongst its fallen columns and walls,
overgrown as they were with wild flowers and tall grasses, the old snake
had made his home, where he lived in comfort with his wife and a large
brood of pranksome snakelets.

'We were greeted by the youngsters with every mark of joy and surprise.
"How good of you, Henry," cried the mother, "and what a really fine
specimen! Shall we have him to-night, or keep him for next Tuesday, my
birthday you know, dear?" After a little talk it was decided that I
should be held over until the next Tuesday, and in the meantime I was
placed in the larder, and given plenty of odd scraps to eat, no doubt to
keep me plump and in good condition.

'Tuesday came round in due course and, in order to celebrate the day in
a manner suitable to the greatness of the occasion, the old snake
invited all his neighbours. When I was brought out of the larder, on a
large dish, roars of delight rose to the sky from the throats of the
assembled guests, all seated round on the fallen stones of the ruined
temple.

'The old lion was there, smacking his lips in anticipation of a nice
cut, and the tiger's mouth was visibly watering at the prospect of such
a feast: while, as for the little snakelets, they kept up quite a
clamour in their impatience to get at me. The monkeys, of course,
contributed their share to the general uproar, though they seemed more
inclined to fasten their eyes on the filberts and almonds with which I
was garnished. The eagles took the whole thing very seriously and,
flapping their great wings, screeched to the sky in their eagerness to
begin; and all the other guests, the giraffes, the zebras, the hippos,
the storks, the flamingoes, the wild cats, the pelicans, the wild geese,
the peacocks, the turkeys, and every thinkable animal contributing to
the general noise, there was such an awful din that the snake could only
obtain silence by using the thin end of his long body as a flail on the
drum-like sides of the elephant. He then made a few remarks on the
importance of the occasion, and referred to his wife in quite a graceful
way, for a snake; and, continuing, asked one of the guests to volunteer
to carve. The stork, having a very convenient beak for the purpose,
stood up and offered his services, which were gratefully accepted.

'I was now placed on the grass directly in front of the carver, who was
about to skewer me with his long and sharp beak, when there came to our
ears from far away amongst the trees that surrounded us on every side,
the sweet harmonies of that lovely song "The Pond where Herbert
Drownded," played with the greatest sympathy on the concertina. At once
the stork turned its head in the direction whence the sound proceeded,
and as it gradually drew nearer and nearer I became more and more
convinced that such music could only be produced by my friend and
foster-brother.

'All the creatures in varying degrees were affected; the snake and his
wife coiled themselves on the grass and gasped in rapture; the stork and
all the birds closed their eyes, and their heads sank lower and lower
into their fluffy bodies, until like balls of feathers they rolled over
and lay trembling in the grass.

[Illustration: SWEEPING THE DEAD LEAVES]

'The lion and tiger were so overcome that they leant their old heads on
their paws and sobbed aloud, while the monkeys grew fidgety and quite
self-conscious at first, and then abandoned themselves to the melancholy
aroused by the music.

'The gnome, whom I afterwards learnt had been wandering about the wood
playing mournful airs on his concertina ever since he had missed me, now
drew near, and finishing "The Pond where Herbert Drownded" proceeded
with "Poor Molly Dawson" and other tunes of an equally affecting
nature. On seeing that all were sufficiently bowled over, he struck up
with "Oh, Jack, he was a Bright Spark," and so lively and brisk was the
measure that up they all jumped and danced and danced with the greatest
spirit.

'The strangest figure of all was cut by the old snake who pirouetted on
the end of his tail at the greatest speed, in which weird performance he
was soon joined by his wife. The eagle extended his wings and waltzed
with the elephant; the lion and tiger spun round, holding each other by
the paw, so quickly that it was almost impossible to see them; the old
turtle rolled over on the back of its shell and span like a teetotum,
with the silly monkeys linking hands and in one wide ring skipping
around it; in fact, all got up and jumped and lumped and sprawled about
in the most ridiculous fashion until they were quite out of breath.
Nevertheless, Orpheus would not let them rest, but marched off playing
the most exciting music, and all the infatuated creatures, quite
forgetful of their banquet, followed him through the wood. Strange
enough, in all conscience, was this, but how much stranger by far was it
when the very stones of the ruin leapt up, and rolling over and over,
also followed in this odd procession as it tramped and crashed through
the trees.

'From where I was seated on the dish I could hear the sounds of the
music gradually fading away, as the musician led the noisy crew further
and further off; the crash of the falling branches and the crackle of
the breaking underwood died down in the distance and I knew that I was
saved.

[Illustration: WITH NO OTHER WEALTH THAN MY CONCERTINA]

'The little gnome led the bewitched creatures such a dance through the
wood that one by one they fell down in a state of collapse, and when the
last was quite overcome, the faithful fellow returned to the temple and
carried me home.

'Never again did they leave me alone for a single second until I was
able to take care of myself, and I spent the years of my boyhood in
great happiness with these two simple and kindly souls. Brother Orpheus
took no end of pains in teaching me to play the concertina and, eager
to learn, I soon became proficient. But, dear lads, clever as you know
me to be, never could I even approach the skill of my good and patient
master.

'In the course of time the old witch had to die, and the grief of her
little foster son was so great at his loss that, try as I would, I could
not in any way lighten it. One day soon after I missed the little man,
and he never returned again. All that he left behind him for me to
remember him by was his old concertina.

'I waited by the tree for many a long day, still thinking that he would
return, until I was compelled at last to abandon all hope of ever seeing
him again. I wandered out into the world with no other wealth than my
concertina, but how often since have I had to bless the memory of my
little friend who thus endowed me with the means of subsistence, and, at
the same time, with a protection against all manner of evil.'

[Illustration: tailpiece]

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: THE LOST GROCER]

[Illustration: headpiece]



THE LOST GROCER


For many and many a weary mile the persevering little band had now
trudged on without meeting with any adventure worth relating, and every
one was longing for the end of their travels, when one lovely evening
they came across a good-natured-looking policeman, fast asleep on a
stile by the roadside. The tramp, tramp of the army awakened him, and
with a gentle smile he got off his perch and walked alongside the King.
Charmed with his easy manner, the King jokingly asked him of what he had
been dreaming that he smiled so pleasantly. 'Oh, of old times and old
friends,' the policeman replied, and then as he walked along he thus
related the strangest of experiences:--

'Many years ago it was my happy lot to be the principal policeman of
the pleasant little town of Troutpeg, situated, as you know, on the
banks of the river Peg, just where it flows into the estuary of the
Drip, that here broadens into that well-known land-locked harbour of the
same name, and thus finally finds its way to the sea. Nestling amongst
its stone-capped hills, the happy place seemed designed by a kind nature
as a retreat for all who were blithe and amiable, and such indeed it
proved to be, for no more kindly and genial souls than the Troutpegsters
could be found. Their simplicity was delightful, though perhaps such as
to incline them all the more readily to believe in the wild legends of
the country-side. Many were the strange stories told by the shepherds,
who tended their flocks on the hills at night, of wild rites, and
uncouth dances performed by ghostly beings, in the light of the moon,
amidst the ancient circles of Druid stones. Little else, however, was
there to disturb the peaceful thoughts of the Troutpegsters.

'The prosperity of the township was so great, and the comfort of each of
its inhabitants so well assured that for many years no wickedness of any
kind had shown its head, and the life of a policeman in this happy and
secluded town was one long summer holiday. To be sure, a little skirmish
here and there amongst the lads might make it wise gently to exert my
authority, or a little quarrel amongst the girls call forth a slight
rebuke, but otherwise my life was one of unbroken peace.

'My dearest friend was the tea-grocer, a man of sad and dreamy ways and
quite devoid of guile, who returned my affection with all the ardour of
a singularly loving nature. He shared his every joy with me, and when
his holidays came round no greater recreation could he find than in my
society. Walking by my side as I strolled along my beat, he would
confide to me his simple hopes and fears, and in his troubles seek my
readily extended sympathy. Such simplicity and inoffensive mien had he
as brought to him a rich harvest of respect and love, together with the
custom of his fellow-townsmen.

'In time his little store became quite an evening resort for those older
townsmen who, no longer able to race about the green when work was done,
would perhaps look in to purchase half a pound of coffee or tea, or
sugar or salt for the good wife, and stay chatting with the amiable
grocer. Then maybe one would look in to buy an ounce of tobacco, or the
excellent snuff for which the grocer was far famed, and so on and so on
until the shop was full. Seated around on the tea-chests, coffee bins,
tobacco boxes and snuff tins, many a pleasant evening have we spent,
enlivened by good-natured arguments and discussions on every conceivable
subject.

'One sultry summer's afternoon, as I was standing thinking in the
cobbled high-street, the quiet of the still warm day disturbed only by
the gentle breathing of the shopmen as they dozed amongst their wares,
or the distant bleating of the sheep as they browsed in and out the
rocks and Druid stones capping the surrounding hills, the comforting
remembrance came to me of many a refreshing cup of tea partaken with the
grocer in the snug little parlour behind his shop. With hardly a thought
of what I was about, I allowed my idle steps gently to stray towards the
homely store of my friend. Entering therein, and finding that he was
away from home, I sat me down upon the little chair, so thoughtfully
provided for weary customers, and with my head supported by the counter,
resumed my broken train of thought until, completely overcome by a sense
of drowsy comfort, I feel asleep.

'I was suddenly awakened by the church clock striking eight, and found
that all the town was wrapped in slumber and that the grocer had not yet
returned. Wondering what on earth could keep him away so late, and
hoping that no harm had overtaken him, I stiffly arose from my seat,
stretched myself, and betook me to my home and bed.

'On the following morning my first thought was for my friend, and on
learning that he had not returned during the night, I called in turn on
each of his neighbours,--the doctor, the vicar, the solicitor, the
postman, and the corn-chandler, and many another equally interested in
his movements. Not one, however, had seen him since the previous day,
and all showed the liveliest concern and anxiety at his mysterious
absence.

'Night followed day, and day again followed night, with no sign of the
vanished grocer. Weeks now passed by, and grief took possession of the
little town at the loss of one who was missed at every turn. Hoping that
even yet he might return, we kept his shop still open for him, and the
little birds, encouraged by the silence, flew in and out and nested in
the scales and amongst the stores, glutting their fluffy little bodies
with the sugar-plums, the currants, the herbs and spices that everywhere
abounded. And even the swallows, so much entertainment did they find
therein, forgot, as the summer drew to its close, to fly away,
preferring much to sleep the winter through in comfort.

'But alas! months, and years and years and years rolled by, and the
grocer never returned, and in time little enough thought was given to
one who had, at one time, been held in such esteem by all. But we, the
older Troutpegsters, still thought at times of our vanished friend, and
many were the theories we suggested to account for his disappearance.

'One held that he had been beguiled by gypsies, another that he had been
stolen to be exhibited as a rare model of virtue in some distant clime,
while others believed that the fairies, envious of our happiness in
possessing such a friend, had taken him from our midst; but all agreed
that we should have guarded our treasure with greater care.

'One never-to-be-forgotten evening the doctor, the solicitor, the
vicar, the corn-chandler, and myself (some of us already stricken in
years) were seated, as was now our evening custom, upon the rustic
bridge that carries the road across the river Peg. The fragrant smoke of
our long pipes rising to the evening sky, our conversation, as was now
so frequently the case, had drifted from politics, sport, fashions and
the latest police intelligence to lovingly-recalled memories of our
long-lost friend, and so sad did we become that lumps as large as egg
plums rose to our throats, and our eyes brimmed over with tears.

[Illustration: AFFECTED BY HIS STORY]

'Drying our eyes we now smoked on in silent contemplation of the past;
the night gradually drew down, and the first star appeared in the
cloudless sky when there came to us the sound of a distant footstep,
coming along the road towards the town, and presently a strange figure
hove in sight,--an old, old man, with long tangled grey hair and shaggy
beard, clothed in the most pitiable rags, torn, and held together with
straw and odd pieces of string. He passed slowly across the bridge,
leaning heavily on his staff, and limped with difficulty towards the
town, into which with one accord we followed him.

[Illustration: PLUMP INTO THE RIVER WE WENT]

'Down the cobbled high street he walked until he came to the shop of the
vanished grocer into which he turned without any hesitation. Wondering
what business could take him there, we all hastened to the door of the
shop, and there, with the utmost astonishment, beheld the stranger
remove his threadbare coat, and replace it with the grocer's moth-eaten
apron that had hung for so long from a peg on the door; then he
commenced dusting the shop and putting it straight. As I gazed, my
astonishment gave place to the most incredulous amazement when I
detected in the old man a fancied likeness to the departed grocer. At
last, after closer scrutiny, I was convinced that it was indeed no other
than my friend actually returned after all these years, and as he at the
same time more easily recognised me, we fell into each other's arms, and
who shall describe the extravagance of our joy?

'In a little while, when we had calmed down, we all retired to the
little parlour behind the shop, and our good friend brewed us a cup of
tea as of old, and after a little gentle persuasion related to us the
following strange story of his disappearance:--

'"On that memorable summer afternoon, many years ago, as I was weighing
out the sugar into pound and half-pound packets (which, as you may
remember, was my rule at that time of day to prepare for the evening
trade), a strange old gentleman, clothed in the deepest black from cap
to slippers, yet withal possessed of the most snowy ringlets and beard,
entered my shop and begged of me some food for his family, assuring me
that they were all slowly dying of starvation.

'"Affected by his story, I was making up for him a parcel containing
lentils, raisins, dates, figs, sugar, and other goods which I thought
might be acceptable, when, to my astonishment, the ungrateful old rascal
snatched up a large tin of the finest snuff, which you will remember I
used to sell in great quantities, and bolted with it out of the shop.

'"Without a moment's hesitation I divested myself of my apron, and
donning my coat, followed him at the greatest speed. Away he ran down
the high street towards the bridge, which he very soon crossed, and now
along the river bends he sped, with me close at his heels. For miles we
ran, even as far as the source of the river Peg, which we doubled and
came tearing down the other side. I now perceived that, in spite of his
age, he ran almost quicker than I did. Presently into the river he
plunged, I following close, and then he retraced his steps towards its
source. Once more plump into the river we went, and as I scrambled up
the opposite bank I noticed to my dismay that, while I grew more tired
and out of breath as we ran, he became brisker and fresher. Discarding
his hat, cloak, and slippers, though still holding on to the snuff tin,
he now appeared in robes of dazzling white, which, with his hair and
long white beard, flowed behind him as he ran, and gradually increased
the distance between us.

[Illustration: Followed him at the greatest speed]

'"Soon I could perceive that he was making for the hill above the town
which, with no difficulty at all, he mounted long before I had reached
its foot, and when at last I struggled to the top the old rogue was
seated upon one of the Druid stones that here in one great circle crown
the hill, smiling, and hugging to himself the while the tin of snuff. On
seeing me again, he soon jumped down, and I dodged him in and out
of the stones for at least three hours by the church clock, and then
weary and utterly dejected I sat me down on a stone in the centre of the
ring and wept bitterly. Directly beneath me I could see, through my
tears, the lights of our little town shine out here and there from the
gathering darkness, while over the hills, away to my left, the edge of
the full red moon began to show. As higher and higher it climbed the
sky, one by one there leapt from the earth beneath each stone an aged
Druid all clothed in white, with long waving grey locks and beard, and
crowned with garlands of oak leaves, holly, laurels, and mistletoe. When
the circle of Druids was quite complete the old rascal who had lured me
from my shop, and who now appeared to be their chief, stepped towards
me, now far too bewildered and astounded to resist, and solemnly placed
upon my brow a wreath of wild violets. Then separately, each of the
Druids came forward with some offering which he placed before me,
afterwards returning to his place in the circle, so that presently there
grew upon the grass in front of me a great mound of vegetables, fruit,
flowers, haunches of venison, fowls, hares, rabbits, and young lambs. At
length, every Druid having made his offering, their chief handed round
the tin of snuff from which each old fellow took a large pinch, and
then, linking hands, they danced wildly round me.

[Illustration: THERE GREW IN FRONT OF ME A GREAT MOUND]

'"In utter silence, by the light of the moon, now high in the sky, these
solemn rites were performed, and still without a sound they whirled
quicker and quicker around me, their feet hardly seeming to touch the
ground, and their long loose garments streaming after them as they flew.

'"Presently the distant chime of the church clock striking twelve
reached me from the town below and I gradually fell into a trance, as
one by one the old Druids sank into the earth beneath the stones.

'"Every day since then until to-day have I passed in complete oblivion,
and every night have I awakened to find myself seated on the stone in
the centre of the ring of Druids, with all the power of resistance taken
from me, compelled to be the object of their weird rites.

[Illustration: SNEEZING AND SNEEZING]

'"Last night, however, just as the church clock began to strike twelve,
such a rush of memories flooded my brain, and such a longing to see my
old home and friends took possession of me, that a terrible rage at the
cruel tyranny of the Druids had gathered in my bosom before the clock
had finished striking the hour. When it was about to strike the last
beat, I arose from my seat in the centre of the circle and approaching
the wicked old chief, I snatched the snuff tin from his hands and
clapped it, snuff and all, right down over his eyes. Strange to say the
contents of the tin had not diminished by so much as a single pinch, and
such a fit of sneezing seized the old scoundrel that he rolled on the
grass in the greatest distress, quite unable to put the usual spell upon
me. All the other Druids, with abject terror expressed on their faces,
sank at once into the ground. The form of the head Druid, sneezing and
sneezing and sneezing, gradually faded away before my eyes, and long
after he had completely disappeared the sneezing could still be heard.
Eventually this died away, and pulling my clothes together as best I
could (for by now they were all in rags), I made the best of my way
home."

'Having finished his story the grocer now became very thoughtful, and we
all sat round his little room smoking in silence until far into the
night, wondering at the strange events he had related. Next day, and for
a whole week, great festivities were held to celebrate his return, and
the Mayor very willingly resigned his office in favour of one who was
held in such esteem. Innumerable presentations were made to him and
addresses read to him, yet, in spite of all the honours he received,
never did he forget his old friends. Nor was he too proud to serve in
his little shop, now enlivened by the songs of the birds he had not the
heart to turn away. He spent the remainder of his useful life in the
performance of kind deeds and in well-deserved happiness.'

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: THE MERCHANT'S WIFE AND THE MERCHANT]

[Illustration: headpiece]



THE MERCHANT'S WIFE AND THE MERCHANT


'Very, very good, indeed,' the King remarked when the policeman had
finished his story, and he was so pleased that he gave all the
youngsters a half-holiday, with strict injunctions to be back in time
for tea.

At tea-time they all came skipping back, bringing with them a little old
man they had found, apparently lost, and moping about the common. He
carried in front of him a pedlar's tray, on which were exposed for sale
many little oddments, such as reels of cotton, needles, pins, ribbons,
and even little toys, which he now hawked round amongst the assembled
company. As many as were able bought some small thing or other out of
kindness to the little merchant, and the good-natured old monarch
invited him to tea.

While they were all enjoying this meal, they were disturbed by a great
noise, very much like the galloping of a horse, and suddenly, without
any warning, right into their midst there leapt a very large woman, who
immediately seized upon the little merchant, and attempted to drag him
away. Bill at once went to the assistance of the little fellow, and
endeavoured to pacify his assailant. At length the irate creature calmed
down, and addressing the company in an aggrieved tone, said:--'It's all
very well for you people to stand up for this wicked man, but not one of
you knows the dance the little wretch has led me for the last fifteen
years.'

'Of course,' the King answered, 'it is hardly to be expected that we
should know anything of either of you, considering that this is the very
first time we have had the pleasure of meeting you. Perhaps you will be
so kind as to enlighten us, and explain to us your strange conduct.'

The large woman now sat down upon the grass and said:--'Well, I suppose
I had better do so. Give me a cup of tea, and I'll let you know all
there is to know.'

A cup of tea was accordingly handed to her, from which she took a sip,
and then proceeded thus:--

'About fifteen years ago I was so unfortunate as to wed this poor
specimen of a man you see before you, and we had not set up house
together very long before I could see that he wanted thoroughly looking
after, and, indeed, that he could hardly be allowed out by himself. Now
this was very awkward, as his business required that he should be out
all day, so I proposed to accompany him on his rounds. Holding him
securely fastened to the end of a long cord, I never let him out of my
sight for more than a minute at a time, and so kept him from mischief.
After a year or so, however, this grew rather tiresome for me, as I had
to neglect my household duties in attending upon my husband, and, in the
end, was compelled to let him out again alone.

[Illustration: Bringing with them a little old man]

'But you may be sure I did not do this until I had laid down certain
fixed rules for his behaviour, which I made him promise to obey. Amongst
these, one was that he should start from home not a minute earlier and
not a minute later than eight o'clock in the morning; another was, that
if he returned either a minute earlier or a minute later than eight
o'clock in the evening, he should go supperless to bed. And, would
you believe me, in spite of all my care, he would sometimes return
earlier and, as I learnt afterwards, remain outside until the clock
struck eight, when he would creep in as though he had only just
returned?

'But my great trouble only began a few weeks ago, when, one evening,
having cooked his nightly turnip, I waited patiently for my good man's
return. At length the clock struck eight, and, to my surprise, it was
not immediately followed by my husband's timid knock. One minute passed;
two minutes passed; three minutes passed; four minutes passed; and, on
the fifth minute, there was a low knock at the door, and in crept the
miserable man, and cowered to his place. But, as you may suppose, there
was no turnip for him _that_ night, until he had given a satisfactory
explanation of his late return. The only excuse the frightened little
ruffian had to offer was, that he had dropped a needle on the road, and
had to return for it. So he went supperless to bed.

'The next evening, having warmed up the old turnip, I again awaited his
return. Eight o'clock struck, and, to my even greater surprise, it was
not followed by the merchant's knock, and this time it was six minutes
past before he entered, and with no better excuse for his late arrival
than that he had dropped a reel of cotton on the road, and had to return
for it. "Let this be a lesson to you, my man," said I, as I once more
put away the turnip, which he had been regarding with longing eyes, and
sent him to bed.

'For the third time, on the following evening, I warmed up the turnip,
feeling convinced that after the severe lesson he had received, my
merchant would not again serve me such a trick. But eight o'clock
struck, and then one minute passed; then two, three, four, five, six,
seven, eight, nine, and as the minute-hand pointed to the ten, he
crawled in on hands and knees, not daring to raise his eyes from the
ground. And then I told him what I thought of his conduct.

[Illustration: MOPING ABOUT THE COMMON]

'Without waiting to hear a word of explanation, I now locked him in a
cupboard beneath the stairs, put the turnip away, and went to bed. In
the morning I let him out, but of course gave him no breakfast, and in
due time he took his tray of goods, and left the house without a word.
Hardly had he departed three minutes, when I hastily donned my bonnet
and shawl, and followed him, determined to learn, if possible, what had
delayed him on the three previous evenings. Keeping at a safe distance,
I followed him all over the town, but nothing unusual happened. He
called at every house, displaying his wares to any one likely to buy;
selling a ribbon here, perhaps some pins or needles there, but his
conduct, on the whole, seemed harmless enough. At length the day passed
by, and the merchant started homewards; but he had not moved many paces,
when he came to a stop, and seemed to debate in his mind whether he
should return or not. Then, looking up and down the road, and seeing no
one watching him, he suddenly took to his heels, and ran as hard as he
could in the opposite direction. I lost no time in climbing over the
wall, behind which I had been hiding, and quickly followed him. Out of
the town the villain ran as swiftly as he could go, and I followed as
close as possible, without being seen by him, and was only just in time
to see the rogue climb into an old barrel that was standing, end up, in
a field near the roadway. "Now," thought I, "I've got you in a trap, my
fine fellow," and I ran up to the barrel. I could hardly believe the
evidence of my eyes when I found it to be quite empty. Amazed beyond
measure, I at last turned my steps towards home.

'On arriving home, I found that my husband had not returned, and it was
fully twenty minutes past eight when at last he appeared, but I was so
astonished that I could not say a word to the little rascal, and once
more he went supperless to bed.

'For four more days I followed the little man without approaching a
solution to this riddle. Each day he would go about his business in the
usual manner and, in the evening, he would run to the barrel, into which
he would speedily disappear. He came home later and later every night,
until I could stand this state of things no longer; and, on the sixth
day I determined never to return until I had satisfactorily cleared up
this mystery. This time, instead of following my merchant through the
town, I went direct to the barrel, and, hiding myself behind a bush near
by, prepared to wait there all day and see what happened.

'I had not made myself comfortable many minutes before I saw two old men
coming along the road from the town; so old were they indeed, that they
could only creep along by leaning one against the other. Right up to the
barrel they crawled, and then, to my surprise, they scrambled over its
sides and disappeared. Presently two more just as old and decrepit came
along and disappeared in the same way. Now three more came, then two
again, and then only one, all as old and wretched as could be, and each
one crawled into the barrel and vanished. This went on for some time
when, unable to restrain my curiosity and wondering why on earth the
barrel didn't become full, I hurriedly left my hiding-place and looked
therein, to find that it yet remained quite empty. I had barely time
enough to regain my hiding-place when more and more old men came along
the road and disappeared into the barrel.

'This went on all day, and when the evening drew near, I could see my
little man approaching from the town. As I expected, he walked straight
up to the barrel, and in a twinkling had vanished inside. Without giving
myself a moment to think, I once more left my hiding-place and climbed
into the mysterious old tub. It was certainly rather a tight fit, but I
managed to get in somehow or other. Presently I was astonished and
alarmed to find that the bottom of the barrel, which I had imagined to
rest on the earth, began to give way and open like a trap-door, and I
felt myself sinking lower and lower, down a sort of well. The next
thing, I found myself at the bottom of the well, and at the mouth of a
tunnel so narrow and low that I could only go through it on my hands and
knees. This, however, I proceeded to do, and found that it opened into a
great chamber cut out of the solid rock.

'Not daring to enter, I gazed into this strange place, which was lighted
with many candles all affixed to the rocky walls with their own tallow.
On the centre of the floor was piled a great heap of children's
toys,--tin trumpets, wooden horses, drums, hoops, skipping-ropes,
rocking-horses, peg-tops, in fact, every conceivable toy that a sensible
child could wish for. Around this great heap, instead of children, sat
all the poor miserable old men I had seen enter the barrel, and amongst
them I now perceived my husband, who certainly seemed no happier than
the rest. Securely hidden in the narrow passage from every one in the
room, I could now watch all that took place, in the greatest comfort.

'Not a word was said by any of the decrepit creatures as they stared
absently at the toys in the middle of the room. Presently one whom I
took to be their host, as I had not seen him enter the barrel, took from
a peg on the wall, from which it had been suspended by a piece of
string, an old bent tin pipe and proceeded to play. At once the wrinkled
faces of the poor old fellows began to brighten up, and as the music
grew more lively, they rocked their withered frames to and fro to the
tunes. Soon, one by one, they stood upon their feet, and seeming to lose
their old age as the music every moment became more enchanting, they
forgot their feebleness and danced gaily about the room.

'Younger and younger they grew, until my husband appeared to be such a
dapper and bright little man that I could not prevent myself from
leaving my hiding-place and going up to him and clasping him round the
waist. Not a bit surprised did he seem to see me there, and as we
danced merrily up and down the room, to my great joy and astonishment, I
felt myself growing younger every moment, whilst the rest of the
company, now all transformed to fine young men, danced in one circle
round us, as handsome a couple as you would wish to see.

[Illustration: KEPT HIM OUT OF MISCHIEF]

'Still the magical music continued, and if anything grew more and more
enchanting as we grew younger and younger, until we seemed to be
frolicsome boys and girls once more. At last we found ourselves to be a
crowd of little toddling children, and, my word! how we grabbed at the
great heap of toys placed there for our amusement, and what a time we
had to be sure!

[Illustration: GLORIOUS TARTS AND SWEETS]

'Under the great heap of toys, we discovered the most glorious tarts,
pastries, cakes and sweets, and it didn't seem to matter how much you
ate of them, for you never lost your appetite for more. At last, alas!
the wonderful music quieted down, and by degrees we once more lost our
childhood, then our youth, and, when the music suddenly stopped, we all
returned to our old selves again, and fell flat on our faces quite tired
out, while our host hung up his old tin pipe on its peg in the wall.

'When we had all somewhat recovered, I fixed my eye upon my husband.
"Now," thought I, "I've got you. This is how you waste your time, is it?
And why you come home late for supper." The conscience-stricken
creature trembled before my gaze, and then made a rush for the door. All
made way for him, but I quickly followed through the tunnel and mounted
a ladder which led to the trap-door at the bottom of the barrel, out of
which I climbed, but only in time to see the rascal disappear into the
town. I then made the best of my way home.

[Illustration: IT DIDN'T MATTER HOW MUCH YOU ATE]

'He had not returned when I arrived, so I waited three whole days and
nights, prepared to make the unnatural man feel to the full my
resentment at his shameful conduct. On the fourth day, as he had not
come home, I went back to the tub, and not seeing any sign of him, I
gave a kick to the old thing and sent it rolling over and over on its
side. Would you believe me, there was not the slightest trace of any
passage or well ever having existed beneath it. Since then I have
wandered all over the country in search of this ungrateful wretch.' And
the indignant woman, having finished her story, once more attempted to
drag the affrighted little merchant away. Bill again intervened, and
after a few very kind words, successfully persuaded her to allow her
husband to remain with them, at the same time inviting her to make one
of their brave band.

This she only consented to do on condition that the policeman also never
left them, 'as you never know,' said she, 'what the little wretch will
be up to next.'

The policeman having no objection to fall in with her wishes, they all
marched on in peace.

[Illustration: tailpiece]

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: THE CAMP-FOLLOWERS]

[Illustration: headpiece]



THE CAMP-FOLLOWERS


Time was now getting on, and the fidgety old King, weary of being
constantly on the move, became more and more impatient to reach his
journey's end. For many days they had been crossing the great desert,
and were fast approaching the further side when, one evening, the
aggravating old fellow decided that they should march on right through
the night. In vain did Bill point out to him how tired they all were;
the old King would not even listen to him, so, whether they liked it or
not, they had to jog on.

Wearily they trudged along, and towards morning they came upon a great
stone sphinx, in the arms of which there nestled a company of little
children, every one of whom was fast asleep. Presently, as the sun rose
and shone under the lids of their eyes, they, one by one, awakened, and
stared in mute astonishment at the dusty figures before them. Assuring
them that they had nothing to fear at their hands, Bill, with the King's
permission, invited them all to breakfast. Seated in a great circle on
the sands, beneath the old sphinx, every one did his utmost to make the
strangers comfortable and to remove their natural shyness; and, in a
little while, it was a very jovial party that sat demolishing the
substantial breakfast prepared for them. Many songs were sung and
stories told by Bill and his comrades, and presently one of the little
fellows, who appeared to be the youngest of their new friends, stood up
and related the following story:--

'We are all brothers and sisters, and lived, until yesterday, with our
good parents upon a sandbank in the mouth of the river Blim which, as
you know, is one of the smaller tributaries of the river Nile. Our
father was a fisherman, and upon the only spot on the bank which
remained invariably high and dry, the clever man had erected a shed
which served us for home, and which, at least, protected us from the
showers of spray blown from the rough seas, and the chill winds that
blew across the neighbouring marshes, as well as the cold rains that, in
the fall of the year, flooded the adjacent country for miles around. A
dozen stout beams, that had been cast up by the waves, served, each with
one end deeply embedded in the wet sand, as a framework for our humble
mansion. These were covered over with numerous skins of fish and pieces
of old rag, all neatly stitched together by our industrious mother, or
pinned by fish-bones skilfully sharpened by grinding their ends between
two stones. Our good dad's stock-in-trade consisted of one long piece of
frayed string, with a sharpened fishbone, bent in the form of a hook,
fastened at one end, a small boat and a paddle, the former of which he
had skilfully fashioned out of an old basket that had been washed
ashore, and over which he had stretched more of the rags and fish-skins,
of which we always possessed a goodly supply saved over from our meals.

[Illustration: They came upon a great stone sphinx]

'During the long winter months we were entirely cut off from our fellow
creatures by the floods and the terrible storms at sea, and were
compelled to subsist entirely upon our own resources; and thus we
learnt, after many a bitter trial, to make almost everything we required
from the spoils brought home by our hard-working father. The flesh
of the fish, of course, served us for meat, either fresh or pickled in
brine, and then dried in the sun. The roes, prepared in the same way,
were our only delicacies, and, by an indulgence in these, we used to
celebrate our many birthdays. Fish dripping we had in plenty, and the
bones were dried and ground between two rocks, making the finest flour
for bread and pies. The tails and fins were always saved, and, after a
simple drying process, made excellent fuel, easily set alight with
sparks kindled by knocking two stones sharply together. A fine black ash
was left from fires kindled in this way, which, mixed with a little
sea-water, made one of the purest inks. The good dad always encouraged
us to make notes on the smooth white skins of the young dab, bleached
and dried in the sun, explaining how useful they would be to us in
after-life, and showed us how to cut pens from the larger bones of the
fish. The only parts which the unselfish man reserved for himself were
the eyes which, when dried, were his only substitute for tobacco in that
lone part of the world, and which he smoked in a pipe most beautifully
carved by himself, from the spine of an old cod.

'The heads of the fish served the younger children for bricks, or even,
after a little trimming, for dolls, with which they amused themselves
during the long winter evenings. Many another device had we whereby we
made the most of our very small opportunities, but you will readily see
how dependent we were for everything upon the good fortune and
resources of our father, without whom we should all very quickly have
perished.

'For many days and nights at a time our good dad would remain upon the
sea, returning sometimes with a good supply of fish; at other times,
alas! with only one or two little dabs, or even with nothing at all.
Yet, by dint of saving up for a rainy day, when we had more than enough
for our present needs, we managed to jog along fairly comfortably. One
sad winter's evening, however, our good parent returned, having caught
nothing but a very small dab and a very severe cold. Our anxious mother,
in a state of alarm, lit a great fire and, after making him take a bowl
of steaming fish gruel, with his feet at the same time in a bath of hot
sea-water, she sent him to bed, and covered him up with as many fish
skins as she could spare from the house. The next day he was decidedly
worse, and our anxiety increased day by day as he showed no signs of
improvement. Very soon, with no one to replenish our larder, our stores
began to run low, and starvation stared us in the face.

'At last one morning the invalid called our eldest brother to him and
said to him:--"Son, our stores are all eaten up, and unless we obtain
food by to-morrow morning we shall all surely die, so take my boat and
fishing-line and see what luck will attend you." With tears in his eyes,
the good-hearted boy left the house and very soon embarked.

[Illustration: THE HEADS SERVED FOR DOLLS]

'Having paddled some way out to sea, he threw his line, and fished and
fished. After a little while he drew it in again to find, alas! that he
had caught nothing. For the second time he cast his line, and fished and
fished and fished, but on again pulling in the line he found that he had
no better luck. He now for the third time threw out his line, and fished
and fished and fished and fished, yet no better fortune attended him;
so, bitterly disappointed, he wound up the tackle and paddled home.

'Sorrowfully the unhappy father heard of his eldest son's want of
success, and then sent for his second eldest son, and requested him to
see if fortune would be kinder to him than it had been to his brother.
But, alas! he returned likewise without even so much as a whitebait.
Then, one after the other, he sent all his sons except myself, who am
the youngest of all, but not a little piece of luck awaited any of them.
The wretched man now called me to him and said:--"Son, hitherto I have
been reluctant to send one so young upon such an errand, but,
alack-a-day! you are now our only hope; unless good fortune waits upon
you we shall all perish."

[Illustration: YOU ARE NOW OUR ONLY HOPE]

'After comforting him as much as I could, and assuring him that I would
do my best, I hastened down to the shore and embarked in the little
boat. I paddled a good way out to sea until I came to a suitable
fishing-ground, and then threw out my line. I fished and fished and
fished and fished, and on drawing in my line found nothing on the hook
except the bait, a wretched piece of dried fish skin, which looked very
draggled as it rose from the water. "Better luck next time," thought I,
as I threw my line for the second time, and fished and fished and fished
and fished and fished. Yet, on pulling up the line, I found to my dismay
that instead of better luck I had even worse, if that were possible, for
the wretched bait had vanished from the hook. "Once more," thought I, as
I dropped my line overboard for the third time, "and, fish or no fish, I
must give it up, even though we all die of starvation." So I fished and
fished and fished and fished and fished with all my might, and when at
length I had hauled it in you may imagine my distress when I discovered
that not merely was there no fish upon the line, but that the hook
itself had disappeared. With tears of rage and disappointment I now gave
it up and prepared to return, but I had not gone very far when I
thought, "Shall I have just one more try even without hook or bait?" And
not giving myself any time to think about it, I hurled my line out for
the fourth time and fished and fished and fished and fished and fished
and fished and fished as hard as I could, when fancying that I felt a
nibble, I hauled it in as quickly as possible and found an old
sardine-tin which had become entangled in the line.

'Hastily opening the tin, all I found therein was the head of an old
sprat. "Alas!" said I to myself, "is this, after all my troubles, the
only food I can take to my suffering father and hungering mother and
brothers and sisters; better it would have been had we never been
born!" and the tears streamed down my face.

'As I bent low over my miserable catch a great shadow passed across the
boat and suddenly looking up, I beheld a beautiful albatross sailing in
the sky above me. No sooner did the graceful creature catch sight of the
head of the sprat than it swooped down upon the tin that contained it,
snatching it from my hands, and flew off with it as speedily as
possible. Now it happened I had not let go my hold on the line, the
other end of which was still fastened to the tin, so that in a very few
minutes I felt myself lifted bodily up and whirled through the air and
out to sea at a great speed. Dangling many feet beneath the great bird,
on and on I was carried over the tops of the waves, in the greatest
anxiety lest the marauding fowl should take a lower flight, in which
case I should inevitably have been plunged into the sea and drowned.

'How many miles we travelled thus it would be impossible for me to tell,
but at length my arms grew tired of holding on and supporting my weight,
and I began to fear every moment that I should slip off into the sea,
when I beheld a fishing-boat in the distance, right in our course.
Hoping that we should reach it before my strength gave out I anxiously
watched the vessel as we gradually drew near. At last I found myself
directly over the boat, and shutting my eyes, I let go my hold on the
line, and dropped down right on to a pile of fish in the middle of the
deck, sending them flying in all directions amongst the astonished
fisherman.

[Illustration: I FISHED AND FISHED AND FISHED]

'My remarkable appearance amongst them had the most astonishing effect
upon the fishermen. They one and all leapt into the sea, and
notwithstanding my endeavours to entice them back to the boat, and to
explain to them my sudden descent upon their vessel, the affrighted
creatures swam off to the distant shore, which, let us hope, they
reached in safety.

'Looking around me I now discovered, to my great joy, that the boat was
full of the finest fish, so, seizing the oars, I turned her head towards
home, where I arrived with my prize on the following morning, after a
hard night's work, rowing the heavily-laden craft to shore.

'The rejoicings were great, as you may well imagine, when my good
parents and brothers and sisters beheld me again, for all had given me
up for lost, our old boat having been washed ashore the previous
evening. A great meal of fish was prepared as soon as possible, at which
we all ate heartily after so long a fast, and the old gentleman's
condition was greatly improved by the meal.

'Long before the large supply of food had been consumed, the good living
and comfort had restored our dad's health, and he was able to resume his
fishing. Being now so much better equipped with the fine boat in which I
had returned, and with the splendid tackle we discovered therein, good
luck always attended his fishing and we never wanted any more.

'In the course of time it became necessary that their children should
all leave them and seek their fortunes, and only yesterday morning, with
many tears, we bade adieu to our kind-hearted parents and started on our
journey.'

The young strangers were now all thoroughly refreshed by their
breakfast, and learning the nature of the campaign upon which the King
and his army were engaged, willingly offered their assistance as
camp-followers, or in any other way that they might be useful. The King
very gratefully accepted their services, and before resuming the march
the whole army went out of their way and visited the kindly fisherman.
The King was pleased to confer many honours on the old fellow, and,
before leaving him, promised to look after his numerous family, and in
the future to provide for all their wants.

[Illustration: tailpiece]

[Illustration: vignette]

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: THE SIEGE OF TROY]

[Illustration: headpiece]



THE SIEGE OF TROY


Early one fine morning, before the soldiers had arisen, the King, in a
very excited state, called his general to his bedside and, pointing
through the opening of his tent, said:--

'Bill, can you see, far away upon the horizon, that little point of
light?' And Bill, straining his eyes in the direction indicated, was
indeed able to detect a little flash, as though the sun were shining
upon a cucumber frame many miles away.

'Well,' said the old man, 'that is the reflection of the sun upon the
dome of my palace in Troy.'

Bill, delighted that at last they were nearing their journey's end, went
off and awakened the camp with the glad news, and all came running out
and gazed in the direction of Troy; and so heartened were the brave
fellows at the sight that they gave three resounding cheers.

Their eagerness to be off was so great that there was no breakfast that
morning, and soon performing a hurried toilet, and speedily packing up
their sticks, they were on the move once more. The King's excitement
knew no bounds and, after distributing amongst his followers the
contents of his pocket, he insisted on climbing out of his chariot, and
giving each of his officers in turn a ride therein. Having travelled
some little way, the King suddenly called a halt, and held up his hand
for silence, and then, in the clear air, could be heard the bells of
Troy! More excited than ever, the King now took off his crown, and
removing some of the jewels with the pen-knife which Bill had presented
to him on his birthday, gave one to each of his chief officers.

In a little time the towers of Troy came into view, on the further edge
of the great plain they were crossing, and the elated King, quite beside
himself with joy and expectation at this glorious sight, stood upon the
seat of his chariot and danced, much to the alarm of Boadicea, who was
wheeling him. He then sat down again, and, taking off his slippers, he
threw them, one by one, as high into the air as he could, and caught
them as they descended. As they came nearer and nearer to their goal the
old fellow's spirits rose to such a pitch that something really had to
be done, so the musician was told-off to play soothing tunes to him, and
in time the excitable creature calmed down, only, however, to break out
again when they halted that night before the walls of Troy. At last, to
keep him quiet once and for all, and out of everybody's way, they put
him to bed with a soothing-draught made up by the doctor.

The approach of the gallant fellows had been closely observed from the
watch-towers of the city, and, in consequence, they found the gates fast
closed when they halted before them. And, as nothing could be done that
night, they fixed up their camp and retired to rest.

On the following morning, Bill sent the merchant's wife as an
ambassadress into the city, to demand its instant surrender, and very
gladly she undertook the task.

[Illustration: Closely observed from the watch towers]

'This is quite in my line,' said she, as she knocked for admittance at
the gate, through which she was admitted after a little delay. Bill
waited anxiously for her reappearance, hoping that the King of Persia
would be wise enough to give up the city without further trouble, but
suddenly a great roar resounded from the other side of the walls, and
almost immediately afterwards the ambassadress, with tufts of the
Persian King's hair held between her clenched fingers, was thrown out of
the gates.

'There's nothing for it now,' thought Bill, 'but to lay siege to the
place,' and he at once proceeded to walk round the city and examine the
nature of the ground; after which he mustered his whole force before
him, and disposed them according to the accompanying plan:--

[Illustration: PLAN OF SIEGE]

In this way Bill completely surrounded the city, allowing no provisions
of any kind to enter, and prepared to wait until the inhabitants had
exhausted all their stores, and could hold out no longer.

These were the instructions of General Bill to his army, to be
faithfully carried out during the siege:--

    1. That the King was not to be allowed out of his tent on any
    account, in spite of his impatience.

    2. That, with the exception of the general and the scout, no warrior
    was allowed, without his officers permission, to leave his post, day
    or night, during the siege, and if any one were discovered sleeping
    without one eye open, his allowance of sugar for porridge next
    morning was to be stopped.

    3. That the scout was to be continually on the move.

    4. That Boadicea was to prepare all the meals, and that at each meal
    time she was to take the food she had cooked to the soldiers (an
    extra large portion being always reserved for the King).

    5. That every morning, with breakfast, she was to take to each his
    boots brightly polished, a bowl of hot water to wash in, and a comb,
    and that every evening she should bring them their slippers and
    their night-shirts.

For three years the siege went on, in quite a peaceful and, at times,
even a pleasant way, with no sign at all of the Trojans feeling any
discomfort; in fact, since the Merchant's Wife had been turned from the
city, not a sound had been heard from within the walls.

Now it happened one morning, about this time, that the gates, to every
one's surprise, were thrown open, and a messenger, with a flag of truce,
came forth. The poor fellow looked hungry enough, indeed, yet the
Merchant's Wife roughly seized upon the famished creature, much to his
annoyance, and brought him to the general. Bill, hoping that he had come
with an offer from the King of Persia to surrender the city, joyfully
handed the young man a chair and a biscuit, and, before allowing him to
speak, insisted on his eating a bowl of hot porridge. When he had
hungrily demolished the food, Bill kindly invited him to deliver his
message, which, in a hesitating manner, he thus proceeded to do:--

'The King of Persia sends greetings to his dear old friend, the King of
Troy, and wishes to assure him that he bears no ill-will towards him. On
the contrary, his happiest moments are spent in recalling those far-off
times when, as young children, they played the livelong day together, in
good-will and friendliness. He also begs him, for a few minutes, to
allow his natural kindness to overcome his enmity, and send his old
friend, now faint with hunger, enough suet to make just a little pudding
for himself.'

Bill, a trifle disappointed, took the message to the King of Troy, who
seemed very much affected on hearing it.

[Illustration: THESE PARCELS WERE NOW LABELLED]

'Give the old fellow a cracknel,' roared he, 'and tell him that if he
surrenders the city at once, he can have as nice a snack of dinner as he
could wish.'

The messenger returned to the city with the message and the cracknel,
and Bill waited all through the day and night, but no word came from the
city.

After breakfast next morning, when, as Bill thought, the King of Persia
would be feeling hungry, he called to him the nine stout sons of Crispin
and Chloe and then summoned to him the Merchant's Wife and the Sicilian
Char-woman, and between them they managed to wrap up each of the brave
lads in brown paper, properly secured with strong string, making nine
very neat parcels. The general had previously instructed the brave
fellows how to act at the right moment, and in the meantime to remain
perfectly still. These parcels were now labelled severally lemon cheese
cake, fairy cakes, rock cakes, Jumbles, raspberry noyeau, mince pies,
Pontefract cakes and peppermint cushions, and then all neatly piled upon
the King's wheeling-chair, which Bill had borrowed for the purpose.

Solemnly preceded by Bill, the Merchant's Wife and the Char-woman (being
the two strongest people in the forces) now wheeled the chair up to the
gates, in front of which they emptied its contents.

The hungry Trojans had observed their approach, from the walls above
which could now be seen innumerable heads popping up and down, and no
sooner did they see what the chair was supposed to contain than they
climbed down, and without any hesitation opened the gates. Bill then
spoke to the Trojans in the following words:--

'The King of Troy sends greetings to the King of Persia and hearing that
his stores are exhausted, and, although at war with him, not wishing
that he should suffer any serious discomfort, begs his acceptance of
these provisions.' Bill and the two ladies now retired with the empty
wheeling-chair and took up their position before the walls once more.

In the meanwhile the parcels were taken into the city and presented to
the King of Persia who was then sitting, with the whole of his court,
hungrily wondering what was going to happen next. The parcels were
heaped up before him, and he could hardly conceal his delight and
eagerness to begin on the victuals at once. All his courtiers too seemed
quite inclined to forget their manners and help themselves before they
were asked. The King now took up the largest parcel, labelled Pontefract
cakes, which happened to contain Hannibal, when at a given signal each
one of the courageous young fellows broke from his confinement and at
once set on those around him. Hannibal and Noah seized the Persian King
and bound him securely with some of the string from the parcels; each of
the other brave sons of Crispin bound some minister or courtier in the
same way, and the rest of the court fled from the palace in abject
terror.

The nine lads now gave chase, and the panic which possessed the
affrighted courtiers spread, in no time, through the city, and the whole
of the inhabitants were soon fleeing before the infuriated fellows.

Possessed with the idea that their pursuers were in much greater force
than they really were, the scared wretches made for the gates of the
city, out of which they ran as hard as they could. Bill, the General,
wisely allowed them to pass through his lines, which they did in the
maddest terror, and then fled far away over the plain, as the besieging
forces once more closed in around the city.

Seeing that the gates still remained open, Bill now marshalled his
gallant army, and in one grand procession led them into the city.

[Illustration: AND PACKED HIM OFF TO PERSIA]

In front of all solemnly marched the General; then the Real Soldier;
then the Merchant's Wife; then the Sicilian Char-woman, proudly waving
her flag; then followed a number of Bill's charges, the Ancient
Mariner, the Doctor, Camp-followers, the Musician playing triumphant
music on his concertina, more Camp-followers, the Respectable Gentleman,
the Scout, the Wild Man, yet more Camp-followers, the Merchant, and,
last of all, preceded by the graceful Triplets, came the proud and glad
old King himself, wheeled in great state by the faithful Boadicea, and
guarded by the principal policeman of Troutpeg. The nine stout sons of
Crispin, together with the remaining children, formed a guard of honour,
extending from the city gates as far as the front door of the Palace,
into which the excited and Royal old creature entered at last amid the
cheers of his gallant followers.

His first act was to release the King of Persia, and after accepting
very graciously his humble and sincere apologies for his unkindness, the
clement old fellow gave him a good breakfast and packed him off to
Persia. In a like kindly manner he treated the courtiers, after they had
all suitably begged his pardon; and the inhabitants, who came trooping
back as soon as they heard how graciously the rightful King was
behaving, one and all clamoured to shake the delighted old monarch by
the hand and pay their homage to him.

Thus, after all his trials and privations, this Royal and kindly
creature was restored to his throne. The crown was done up and
beautifully polished, and the old King once more crowned in great state.
To show his gratitude to his brave and faithful followers he appointed
them all (with the exception of the Triplets, who soon returned to
Blowdripping) to places of honour in his court. Thus:--

[Illustration: TROY BECAME THE HAPPIEST TOWN]

  BILL,                  Commander-in-chief of the Army.
  THE REAL SOLDIER,      General under Bill.
  THE SCOUT,             Officer of the Army.
  NINE SONS OF CRISPIN,  Bodyguard to the King.
  THE CAMP-FOLLOWERS
    AND OTHERS,          The Army.
  BOADICEA,              Royal Housekeeper.
  ANCIENT MARINER,       Admiral of the Fleet.
  SICILIAN CHAR-WOMAN,   Head Char-woman to Royal Household.
  THE MERCHANT'S WIFE,   Superintendent of the Prison.
  THE DOCTOR,            Court Physician.
  PTOLEMY JENKINSON,     King's Valet.
  RESPECTABLE GENTLEMAN, Master of Good Behaviour to the
                           Royal Household.
  LONG MAN,              Hall Porter at Royal Palace.
  MUSICIAN,              Court Musician.
  WILD MAN,              Park Keeper.
  POLICEMAN,             Preserver of the Peace.

With such a gallant court and brave army around him the dear old man was
saved from further troubles in his State during the remainder of his
long and happy reign. In fact Troy became the very happiest town in the
world, and the old King's noble followers were so contented with their
lot that they never again left the city of Troy.



[Illustration: THE END]

[Illustration: vignette]

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes

Illustrations have been moved, when they interrupted paragraphs in the
original. The list of illustrations has retained the page references in
the original book.

The only intentional changes to the text are the following corrections
to typographical or printer's errors:

Page 25 deleted hyphen in 'cocoa-nut' (the slabs of cocoanut ice)

Page 149 added missing quotation mark at end of the paragraph (...my
great courage and astute generalship.')

Page 247: Missing closing single quote added (to make just a little
pudding for himself.')





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