The Captain at once ordered the ship to be searched for a boy of this name in this disguise. The crew looked in the hold, and in the galley, and in the foretop, and on the quarter, and in the gaff, and the jib, and the topsail, and the boom, but they could not find Harold. They ransacked the cross-trees, and the engine-room, and the bowsprit; they explored the backstays, the stays, and the waist, but they found no stowaway. They examined truck and block, they hunted through every porthole, they left not an inch of the ribs unexplored; but no Harold. He was not in any of the belaying-pins or dead-eyes, nor was he hidden in the capstan or the compass. At last, in despair, the Captain thought of looking in the cabins, and in one of them, hidden under the scattered pyjamas and embroidered socks of a Major of Artillery, they found Harold.
He and Billy explained everything to each other, and shook hands, and there was not a dry eye in the ship. (Did you ever see a dry eye? I think it would look rather nasty.)
Then said Billy to Harold:
'This is all very well, but how am I to get you home?'
'I can ride on the step of the bike,' said Harold.
'But the wind won't take us back,' said Billy; 'it's dead against us.'
'Excuse me,' said the Captain in a manly manner; 'you know that Britannia rules the waves and controls the elements. Allow me one moment.'
He sent for the boatswain and bade him whistle for a wind, expressly stating what kind of wind was needed.
And everyone saw with delight, but with little surprise, the kite deliberately turn round and retrace its steps towards the cliffs of Albion.
A cheer rose from passengers and crew alike as the bicycle was lowered to the waves, the string tightened, and the bicycle started, Billy in the saddle and Harold on the step. The event was a perfect windfall to the passengers. It gave them something to talk of all the way to Suez; some of them are talking about it still.
The kite went back even faster than it had come; it pulled the bicycle behind it as easily as a child pulls a cotton-reel along the floor by a bit of thread. So that Harold and Billy were home by tea-time, and it was the jolliest meal either of them had ever had.
They had determined to stop the bicycle by cutting the string, and then Harold would have lost the patent kite, which would have been a pity. But, most happily, the string of the kite caught in the vane on the top of the church tower, and the bicycle stopped by itself exactly opposite the butcher's boy to whom it belonged. He had a noble heart, and he was very glad to see his bicycle again.
After tea the boys went up the church tower to get the kite; and I don't suppose you will believe me when I tell you that there, in the niche of a window of the belfry, was a jackdaw's nest, and in it the Historical Essay which the jackdaw had stolen, as you will have guessed, for the sake of the bright gilt manuscript fastener in the corner.
And now Harold and Billy became really chums, in spite of all the qualities which they could not help disliking in each other. Each found some things in the other that he didn't dislike so very much, after all.
When Harold grows up he will sell many patent kites, and we shall all be able to ride bicycles on the sea.
Billy sent in his essay, but he did not get the prize; so it wouldn't have mattered if it had never been found, only I am glad it was found.
I hope you will not think that this is a made-up story. It is very nearly as true as any of the history in Billy's essay that didn't get a prize. The only thing I can't quite believe myself is about the roll of the right kind of paper being in the chimney; but Harold couldn't think of anything else to dream about, and the most fortunate accidents do happen sometimes even in stories.
THE TWOPENNY SPELL
Lucy was a very good little girl indeed, and Harry was not so bad—for a boy, though the grown-ups called him a limb! They both got on very well at school, and were not wholly unloved at home. Perhaps Lucy was a bit of a muff, and Harry was certainly very rude to call her one, but she need not have replied by calling him a 'beast.' I think she did it partly to show him that she was not quite so much of a muff as he thought, and partly because she was naturally annoyed at being buried up to her waist in the ground among the gooseberry-bushes. She got into the hole Harry had dug because he said it might make her grow, and then he suddenly shovelled down a heap of earth and stamped it down so that she could not move. She began to cry, then he said 'muff' and she said 'beast,' and he went away and left her 'planted there,' as the French people say. And she cried more than ever, and tried to dig herself out, and couldn't, and although she was naturally such a gentle child, she would have stamped with rage, only she couldn't get her feet out to do it. Then she screamed, and her Uncle Richard came and dug her out, and said it was a shame, and gave her twopence to spend as she liked. So she got nurse to clean the gooseberry ground off her, and when she was cleaned she went out to spend the twopence. She was allowed to go alone, because the shops were only a little way off on the same side of the road, so there was no danger from crossings.
'I'll spend every penny of it on myself,' said Lucy savagely; 'Harry shan't have a bit, unless I could think of something he wouldn't like, and then I'd get it and put it in his bread and milk!' She had never felt quite so spiteful before, but, then, Harry had never before been quite so aggravating.
She walked slowly along by the shops, wishing she could think of something that Harry hated; she herself hated worms, but Harry didn't mind them. Boys are so odd.
Suddenly she saw a shop she had never noticed before. The window was quite full of flowers—roses, lilies, violets, pinks, pansies—everything you can think of, growing in a tangled heap, as you see them in an old garden in July.
She looked for the name over the shop. Instead of being somebody or other, Florist, it was 'Doloro de Lara, Professor of white and black Magic,' and in the window was a large card, framed and glazed. It said:
ENCHANTMENTS DONE WHILE YOU WAIT. EVERY DESCRIPTION OF CHARM CAREFULLY AND COMPETENTLY WORKED. STRONG SPELLS FROM FIFTY GUINEAS TO TUPPENCE. WE SUIT ALL PURSES. GIVE US A TRIAL. BEST AND CHEAPEST HOUSE IN THE TRADE. COMPETITION DEFIED.
Lucy read this with her thumb in her mouth. It was the tuppence that attracted her; she had never bought a spell, and even a tuppenny one would be something new.
'It's some sort of conjuring trick, I suppose,' she thought, 'and I'll never let Harry see how it's done—never, never, never!'
She went in. The shop was just as flowery, and bowery, and red-rosy, and white-lilyish inside as out, and the colour and the scent almost took her breath away. A thin, dark, unpleasing gentleman suddenly popped out of a bower of flowering nightshade, and said:
'And what can we do for you to-day, miss?'
'I want a spell, if you please,' said Lucy; 'the best you can do for tuppence.'
'Is that all you've got?' said he.
'Yes,' said Lucy.
'Well, you can't expect much of a spell for that,' said he; 'however, it's better that I should have the tuppence than that you should; you see that, of course. Now, what would you like? We can do you a nice little spell at sixpence that'll make it always jam for tea. And I've another article at eighteenpence that'll make the grown-ups always think you're good even if you're not; and at half a crown——'
'I've only got tuppence.'
'Well,' he said crossly, 'there's only one spell at that price, and that's really a tuppenny-half-penny one; but we'll say tuppence. I can make you like somebody else, and somebody else like you.'
'Thank you,' said Lucy; 'I like most people, and everybody likes me.'
'I don't mean that,' he said. 'Isn't there someone you'd like to hurt if you were as strong as they are, and they were as weak as you?'
'Yes,' said Lucy in a guilty whisper.
'Then hand over your tuppence,' said the dark gentleman, 'and it's a bargain.'
He snatched the coppers warm from her hand.
'Now,' he said, 'to-morrow morning you'll be as strong as Harry, and he'll be little and weak like you. Then you can hurt him as much as you like, and he won't be able to hurt back.'
'Oh!' said Lucy; 'but I'm not sure I want——I think I'd like to change the spell, please.'
'No goods exchanged,' he said crossly; 'you've got what you asked for.'
'Thank you,' said Lucy doubtfully, 'but how am I——?'
'It's entirely self-adjusting,' said nasty Mr. Doloro. 'No previous experience required.'
'Thank you very much,' said Lucy. 'Good——'
She was going to say 'good-morning,' but it turned into 'good gracious,' because she was so very much astonished. For, without a moment's warning, the flower-shop had turned into the sweet-shop that she knew so well, and nasty Mr. Doloro had turned into the sweet-woman, who was asking what she wanted, to which, of course, as she had spent her twopence, the answer was 'Nothing.' She was already sorry that she had spent it, and in such a way, and she was sorrier still when she got home, and Harry owned handsomely that he was sorry he had planted her out, but he really hadn't thought she was such a little idiot, and he was sorry—so there! This touched Lucy's heart, and she felt more than ever that she had not laid out her tuppence to the best advantage. She tried to warn Harry of what was to happen in the morning, but he only said, 'Don't yarn; Billson Minor's coming for cricket. You can field if you like.' Lucy didn't like, but it seemed the only thing she could do to show that she accepted in a proper spirit her brother's apology about the planting out. So she fielded gloomily and ineffectively.
Next morning Harry got up in good time, folded up his nightshirt, and made his room so tidy that the housemaid nearly had a surprise-fit when she went in. He crept downstairs like a mouse, and learned his lessons before breakfast. Lucy, on the other hand, got up so late that it was only by dressing hastily that she had time to prepare a thoroughly good booby-trap before she slid down the banisters just as the breakfast-bell rang. She was first in the room, so she was able to put a little salt in all the tea-cups before anyone else came in. Fresh tea was made, and Harry was blamed. Lucy said, 'I did it,' but no one believed her. They said she was a noble, unselfish sister to try and shield her naughty brother, and Harry burst into floods of tears when she kicked him under the table; she hated herself for doing this, but somehow it seemed impossible to do anything else.
Harry cried nearly all the way to school, while Lucy insisted on sliding along all the gutters and dragging Harry after her. She bought a catapult at the toy-shop and a pennyworth of tintacks at the oil-shop, both on credit, and as Lucy had never asked for credit before, she got it.
At the top of Blackheath Village they separated—Harry went back to his school, which is at the other side of the station, and Lucy went on to the High School.
The Blackheath High School has a large and beautiful hall, with a staircase leading down into it like a staircase in a picture, and at the other end of the hall is a big statue of a beautiful lady. The High School mistresses call her Venus, but I don't really believe that is her name.
Lucy—good, gentle, little Lucy, beloved by her form mistress and respected by all the school—sat on those steps—I don't know why no one caught her—and used her catapult to throw ink pellets (you know what they are, of course) with her catapult at the beautiful white statue-lady, till the Venus—if that is her name, which I doubt—was all over black spots, like a Dalmation or carriage dog.
Then she went into her class room and arranged tintacks, with the business end up, on all the desks and seats, an act fraught with gloomy returns to Blossoma Rand and Wilhelmina Marguerite Asterisk. Another booby-trap—a dictionary, a pot of water, three pieces of chalk, and a handful of torn paper—was hastily sketched above the door. Three other little girls looked on in open-mouthed appreciation. I do not wish to shock you, so I will not tell you about the complete success of the booby-trap, nor of the bloodthirsty fight between Lucy and Bertha Kaurter in a secluded fives-court during rec. Dora Spielman and Gertrude Rook were agitated seconds. It was Lucy's form mistress, the adored Miss Harter Larke, who interrupted the fight at the fifth round, and led the blood-stained culprits into the hall and up the beautiful picture-like steps to the Headmistress's room.
The Head of the Blackheath High School has all the subtle generalship of the Head in Mr. Kipling's 'Stalky.' She has also a manner which subdues parents and children alike to 'what she works in, like the dyer's hand.' Anyone less clever would have expelled the luckless Lucy—saddled with her brother's boy-nature—on such evidence as was now brought forward. Not so the Blackheath Head. She reserved judgment, the most terrible of all things for a culprit, by the way, who thought it over for an hour and a half in the mistress's room, and she privately wrote a note to Lucy's mother, gently hinting that Lucy was not quite herself: might be sickening for something. Perhaps she had better be kept at home for a day or two. Lucy went home, and on the way upset a bicycle with a little girl on it, and came off best in a heated physical argument with a baker's boy.
Harry, meanwhile, had dried his tears, and gone to school. He knew his lessons, which was a strange and pleasing thing, and roused in his master hopes destined to be firmly and thoroughly crushed in the near future. But when he had emerged triumphantly from morning school he suddenly found his head being punched by Simpkins Minor, on the ground that he, Harry, had been showing off. The punching was scientific and irresistible. Harry, indeed, did not try to resist; in floods of tears and with uncontrolled emotion he implored Simpkins Minor to let him alone, and not be a brute. Then Simpkins Minor kicked him, and several other nice little boy-friends of his joined the glad throng, and it became quite a kicking party. So that when Harry and Lucy met at the corner of Wemyss Road his face was almost unrecognisable, while Lucy looked as happy as a king, and as proud as a peacock.
'What's up?' asked Lucy briskly.
'Every single boy in the school has kicked me,' said Harry in flat accents. 'I wish I was dead.'
'So do I,' said Lucy cheerily; 'I think I'm going to be expelled. I should be quite certain, only my booby-trap came down on Bessie Jayne's head instead of Miss Whatshername's, and Bessie's no sneak, though she has got a lump like an ostrich's egg on her forehead, and soaked through as well. But I think I'm certain to be expelled.'
'I wish I was,' said Harry, weeping with heartfelt emotion. 'I don't know what's the matter with me; I feel all wrong inside. Do you think you can turn into things just by reading them? Because I feel as if I was in "Sandford and Merton," or one of the books the kind clergyman lent us at the seaside.'
'How awfully beastly!' said Lucy. 'Now, I feel as if I didn't care tuppence whether I was expelled or not. And, I say, Harry, I feel as if I was much stronger than you. I know I could twist your arm round and then hit it like you did me the other day, and you couldn't stop me.'
'Of course I couldn't! I can't stop anybody doing anything they want to do. Anybody who likes can hit me, and I can't hit back.'
He began to cry again. And suddenly Lucy was really sorry. She had done this, she had degraded her happy brother to a mere milksop, just because he had happened to plant her out, and leave her planted. Remorse suddenly gripped her with tooth and claw.
'Look here,' she said, 'it's all my fault! Because you planted me out, and I wanted to hurt you. But now I don't. I can't make you boy-brave again; but I'm sorry, and I'll look after you, Harry, old man! Perhaps you could disguise yourself in frocks and long hair, and come to the High School. I'd take care nobody bullied you. It isn't nice being bullied, is it?'
Harry flung his arms round her, a thing he would never have done in the public street if he had not been girlish inside at the time.
'No, it's hateful,' he said. 'Lucy, I'm sorry I've been such a pig to you.'
Lucy put her arms round him, and they kissed each other, though it was broad daylight and they were walking down Lee Park.
The same moment the enchanter Doloro de Lara ran into them on the pavement. Lucy screamed, and Harry hit out as hard as he could.
'Look out,' said he; 'who are you shoving into?'
'Tut-tut,' said the enchanter, putting his hat straight, 'you've bust up your spell, my Lucy—child; no spells hold if you go kissing and saying you're sorry. Just keep that in mind for the future, will you?'
He vanished in the white cloud of a passing steam-motor, and Harry and Lucy were left looking at each other. And Harry was Harry and Lucy was Lucy to the very marrow of their little back-bones. They shook hands with earnest feeling.
Next day Lucy went to the High School and apologised in dust and ashes.
'I don't think I was my right self,' she said to the Headmistress, who quite agreed with her, 'and I never will again!'
And she never has. Harry, on the other hand, thrashed Simpkins Minor thoroughly and scientifically on the first opportunity; but he did not thrash him extravagantly: he tempered pluck with mercy.
For this is the odd thing about the whole story. Ever since the day when the tuppenny spell did its work Harry has been kinder than before and Lucy braver. I can't think why, but so it is. He no longer bullies her, and she is no longer afraid of him, and every time she does something brave for him, or he does something kind for her, they grow more and more alike, so that when they are grown up he may as well be called Lucius and she Harriett, for all the difference there will be between them.
And all the grown-ups look on and admire, and think that their incessant jawing has produced this improvement. And no one suspects the truth except the Headmistress of the High School, who has gone through the complete course of Social Magic under a better professor than Mr. Doloro de Lara; that is why she understands everything, and why she did not expel Lucy, but only admonished her. Harry is cock of his school now, and Lucy is in the sixth, and a model girl. I wish all Headmistresses learned Magic at Girton.
SHOWING OFF; OR, THE LOOKING-GLASS BOY
His parents had thoughtlessly christened him Hildebrand, a name which, as you see, is entirely unsuitable for school use. His friends called him Brandy, and that was bad enough, though it had a sort of pirate-smuggler sound, too. But the boys who did not like him called him Hilda, and this was indeed hard to bear. In vain he told them that his name was James as well. It was not true, and they would not have believed it if it had been.
He had not many friends, because he was not a very nice boy. He was not very brave, except when he was in a rage, which is a poor sort of courage, anyhow; and when the boys used to call him. 'Cowardy custard' and other unpleasing names, he used to try to show off to them, and make them admire him by telling them stories of the wild boars he had killed, and the Red Indians he had fought, and of how he had been down Niagara in an open boat, and been shipwrecked on the high seas. They were not bad stories, and the boys would not have minded listening to them, but Hildebrand wanted to have his stories not only listened to, but believed, which is quite another pair of shoes.
He had one friend who always liked his stories, and believed them almost all. This was his little sister. But he was simply horrid to her. He never would lend her a any of his toys, and he called her 'Kiddie,' which she hated, instead of Ethel, which happened to be her name.
All this is rather dull, and exactly like many boys of your acquaintance, no doubt. But what happened to Hildebrand does not, fortunately or unfortunately, happen to everybody; I dare say it has never happened to you. It began on the day when Hildebrand was making a catapult, and Billson Minor came up to him in the playground and said:
'Much use it'll be to you when you've made it. You can't hit a haystack a yard off!'
'Can't I?' said Hildebrand. 'You just see! I hit a swallow on the wing last summer, and when we had a house in Thibet I shot a llama dead with one bullet. He was twenty-five feet long.'
Billson laughed, and asked a boy who was passing if he'd ever been out llama-shooting, and, if so, what his bag was. The other boy said:
'Oh, I see—little Hilda gassing again!'
'Gassing! Lying I call it!'
'Liar yourself!' said Hildebrand, who was now so angry that his fingers trembled too much for him to be able to go on splicing the catapult.
'Oh, run away and play,' said Billson wearily. 'Go home to nurse, Hilda darling, and tell her to put your hair in curl-papers!'
Then Hildebrand's rage turned into a sort of courage, and he hit out at Billson, who, of course, hit back, and there was a fight. The other boy held their coats and saw fair; and Hildebrand was badly beaten, because Billson was older and bigger and a better fighter, so he went home, crying with fury and pain. He went up into his own bedroom and bolted the door, and wildly wished that he was a Red Indian, and that taking scalps was not forbidden in Clapham. Billson's, he reflected gloomily, would have been a sandy-coloured scalp, and a nice beginning to a scalp-album.
Presently he stopped crying, and let his little sister in. She had been crying, too, outside the door, ever since he came home and pushed past her on the stairs. She pitied his bruised face, and said it was a shame of Billson Minor to hit a boy littler than he was.
'I'm not so very little,' said Hildebrand; 'and you know how brave I am. Why, it was only last week that I was the chief of the mighty tribe of Moccasins, who waged war against Bill Billson, the Vulture-faced Redskin——'
He told the story to its gory end, and Ethel liked it very much, and hoped it wasn't wrong to make up such things. She couldn't quite believe it all.
Then she went down, and Hildebrand had to wash his face for dinner; and when he looked at the boy in the looking-glass and saw the black eye Billson Minor had given him, and the cut lip from the same giver, he clenched his fist and said:
'I wish I could make things true by saying them. Wouldn't I bung up old Billson's peepers, that's all?'
'Well, you can if you like,' said the boy in the glass, whom Hildebrand had thought was his own reflection.
'What?' said he, with his mouth open. He was horribly startled.
'You can if you like,' said the looking-glass boy again. 'I'll give you your wish. Will you have it?'
'Is this a fairy-tale?' asked Hildebrand cautiously.
'Yes,' said the boy.
Hildebrand had never expected to be allowed to take part in a fairy-tale, and at first he could hardly believe in such luck.
'Do you mean to say,' he said, 'that if I say I found a pot of gold in the garden yesterday I did find a pot of gold?'
'No; you'll find it to-morrow. The thing works backwards, you see, like all looking-glass things. You know your "Alice," I suppose? There's only one condition: you won't be able to see yourself in the looking-glass any more!'
'Who wants to,' said Hildebrand.
'And things you say to yourself don't count.'
'There's always Ethel,' said Ethel's brother.
'You accept, then?' said the boy in the glass.
'Right' And with that the looking-glass boy vanished, and Hildebrand was left staring at the mirror, which now reflected only the wash-hand-stand and the chest of drawers, and part of the picture of Lord Roberts pinned against the wall. You have no idea how odd and unpleasant it is to look at a glass and see everything reflected as usual, except yourself, though you are right in front of it. Hildebrand felt as if he must have vanished as well as the looking-glass boy. But he was reassured when he looked down at his hands. They were still there, and still extremely dirty. The second bell had rung, and he washed them hastily and went down.
'How untidy your hair is!' said his mother; 'and oh, Hildebrand, what a disagreeable expression, dear! and look at your eye! You've been fighting again.'
'I couldn't help it,' said our hero sulkily; 'he called names. Anyway, I gave him an awful licking. He's worse than I am. Potatoes, please.'
Next day Hildebrand had forgotten the words he had said at dinner. And when Billson asked him if one licking was enough, and whether he, Billson, was a liar or not, Hildebrand said:
'You can lick me and make me anything you like, but you are, all the same, just as much as me,' and he began to cry.
And Billson called him schoolgirl and slapped his face—because Billson knew nothing of the promise of the looking-glass boy, that whatever Hildebrand said had happened should happen.
It was a dreadful fight, and when it was over Hildebrand could hardly walk home. He was much more hurt than he had been the day before. But Billson Minor had to be carried home. Only he was all right again next day, and Hildebrand wasn't, so he did not get much out of this affair, except glory, and the comfort of knowing that Billson and the other boys would now be jolly careful how they called him anything but Pilkings, which was his father's and his mother's name, and therefore his as well.
He had to stay in bed the next day, and his father punished him for fighting, so he consoled himself by telling Ethel how he had found a pot of gold in the cellar the day before, after digging in the hard earth for hours, till his hands were all bleeding, and how he had hidden it under his bed.
'Do let me see, Hildy dear,' she said, trying hard to believe him.
But he said, 'No, not till to-morrow.'
Next day he was well enough to go to school, but he thought he would just take some candle-ends and have a look at the cellar, and see if it was really likely that there was any gold there. It did not seem probable, but he thought he would try, and he did. It was terribly hard work, for he had no tools but a spade he had had at the seaside, and when that broke, as it did almost at once, he had to go on with a piece of hoop-iron and the foot of an old bedstead. He went on till long past dinner-time, and his hands were torn and bleeding, his back felt broken in two, and his head was spinning with hunger and tiredness. At last, just as the tea-bell rang, he reached his hand down deep into the hole he had made, and felt something cold and round. He held his candle down. It was a pot, tied over with brown paper, like pickled onions. When he got it out he took off the paper. The pot was filled to the brim with gold coins. Hildebrand blew out his candle and went up. The cook stopped him at the top of the cellar stairs.
'What's that you got there, Master Hildy? Pickles, I lay my boots,' she said.
'It's not,' said he.
'Let me look,' said she.
'Let me alone,' said Hildebrand.
'Not me,' said the cook.
She had her hand on the brown paper.
Hildebrand had heard how treasure-trove has to be given up to Government, and he did not trust the cook.
'You'd better not,' he said quickly; 'it's not what you think it is.'
'What is it, then?'
'It's—it's snakes!' said Hildebrand desperately—'snakes out of the wine-cellar.'
The cook went into hysterics, and Hildebrand was punished twice, once for staying away from school without leave, and once for frightening the servants with silly stories. But in the confusion brought about by the cook's screams he managed to hide the pot of gold in the bottom of the boot cupboard, among the old gaiters and goloshes, and when peace was restored and he was sent to bed in disgrace he took the pot with him. He lay long awake thinking of the model engine he would buy for himself, also of the bay pony, the collections of coins, birds' eggs, and postage-stamps, the fishing-rods, the guns, revolvers, and bows and arrows, the sweets and cakes and nuts, he would get all for himself. He never thought of so much as a pennyworth of toffee for Ethel, or a silver thimble for his mother, or a twopenny cigar for Mr. Pilkings.
The first thing in the morning he jumped up and felt under the bed for the pot of gold. His hand touched something that was not the pot. He screamed, and drew his hand back as quickly as though he had burned it; but what he had touched was not hot: it was cold, and thin, and alive. It was a snake. And there was another on his bed, and another on the dressing-table, and half a dozen more were gliding about inquisitively on the floor.
Hildebrand gathered his clothes together—a snake tumbled out of his shirt as he lifted it—and made one bound for the door. He dressed on the landing, and went to school without breakfast. I am glad to be able to tell you that he did say to Sarah the housemaid:
'For goodness' sake don't go into my bedroom—it's running alive with snakes!'
She did not believe him, of course; and, indeed, when she went up the snakes were safe back in the pot. She did not see this, because she was not the kind of girl who sweeps under things every day. That night Hildebrand secretly slept in the boxroom, on a pile of newspapers, with a rag-bag and a hearthrug over him.
Next day he said to Sarah:
'Did you go into my room yesterday?'
'Of course,' said she.
'Did you take the snakes away?'
'Go along with your snakes!' she said.
So he understood that she had not seen any, and very cautiously he looked into his room, and finding it snakeless, crept in, hoping that the snakes had changed back into gold. But they had not—snakes and gold and pot had all vanished. Then he thought he would be very careful. He said to Ethel:
'I had twenty golden sovereigns in my pocket yesterday.'
This was Saturday. Next day was Sunday, and all day long he jingled the twenty golden sovereigns he had found that morning in his knickerbocker pocket. But they were not there on Monday. And then he saw that though he could make things happen, he could not make them last. So he told Ethel he had had seven jam-tarts. He meant to eat them as soon as he got them. But the next day when they came he had a headache and did not want to eat them. He might have given them to Ethel, but he didn't, and next day they had disappeared.
It was very annoying to Hildebrand to know that he had this wonderful power, yet he could not get any good out of it. He tried to consult his father about it, but Mr. Pilkings said he had no time for romances, and he advised Hildebrand to learn his lessons and stick to the truth. But this was just what Hildebrand could not do, even after the awful occasion when his schoolfellows began to tease him again, and, to command their respect, he related how he had met a bear in the lane by the church and fought it single-handed, and been carried off more dead than alive. Next day, of course, he had to fight the bear, which was very brown and clawy and toothy and fierce, and though the more-dead-than-alive feeling had gone by next day, it was not a pleasant experience. But even that was better than the time when they laughed at a very bad construe of his—the form was in Caesar—and he told them how he had once translated the inscription on an Egyptian Pyramid. He had no peace for weeks after that, because he had forgotten to say how long it took him. Every time he was alone he was wafted away to Egypt and set down at that Pyramid. But he could not find the inscription, and if he had found it he could not have translated it. So, in self-defence, he spent most of his waking-time with Ethel. But every night the Pyramid had its own way, and it was not till he had cut an inscription himself on the Pyramid with the broken blade of his pocket-knife, and translated it into English, that he was allowed any rest at all. The inscription was Ich bin eine Gans, and you can translate it for yourself.
But that did him good in one way; it made him fonder of Ethel. Being so much with her, he began to see what a jolly little girl she really was. When she had measles—Hildebrand had had them, or it, last Christmas, so he was allowed to see his sister—he was very sorry, and really wished to do something for her. Mr. Pilkings brought her some hothouse grapes one day, and she liked them so much that they were very soon gone. Then Hildebrand, who had been very careful since the Pyramid occasion to say nothing but the truth, said:
'Ethel, some grapes and pineapples came for you yesterday.'
Ethel knew it wasn't true, but she liked the idea, and said:
'Oh yes!' said her brother—'a wax doll and a china tea-set with pink roses on it, and books and games,' and he went on to name everything he thought she would like.
And, of course, next day the things came in a great packing-case. No one ever knew who sent them, but Mr. and Mrs. Pilkings thought it was Ethel's godfather in India. And, curiously enough, these things did not vanish away, but were eaten and enjoyed and played with as long as they lasted. Ethel has one of the dolls still, though now she is quite grown up.
Now Hildebrand began to feel sorry to see how ill and worried his mother looked; she was tired out with nursing Ethel, so he said to Sarah:
'Mother was quite well yesterday.'
'Much you know about it; your poor ma's wore to a shadow.'
But next day mother was quite well, and this lasted, too. Then he wanted to do something for his father, and as he had heard Mr. Pilkings complain of his business being very bad, Hildebrand said to Ethel:
'Father made a most awful lot of money yesterday.'
And next day Mr. Pilkings came home and kissed Mrs. Pilkings in the hall under the very eyes of Sarah and the boot-boy, and said:
'My dear, our fortune's made!'
The family did not have any nicer things to eat or wear than before, so Hildebrand gained nothing by this, unless you count the pleasure he had in seeing his father always jolly and cheerful and his mother well, and not worried any more. Hildebrand did count this, and it counted for a good deal.
But though Hildebrand was now a much happier as well as a more agreeable boy, he could not quite help telling a startling story now and then. As, for instance, when he informed the butcher's boy that there was an alligator in the back-garden. The butcher's boy did not go into the garden—indeed, he had no business there, though that would have been no reason if he had wanted to go—but next day, when Hildebrand, having forgotten all about the matter, went out in the dusk to look for a fives ball he had lost, the alligator very nearly had him.
And when he related that adventure of the lost balloon, he had to go through with it next day, and it made him dizzy for months only to think of it.
But the worst thing of all was when Ethel was well, and he was allowed to go back to school. Somehow the fellows were much jollier with him than they used to be. Even Billson Minor was quite polite, and asked him how the kid was.
'She's all right,' said Hildebrand.
'When my kiddie sister had measles,' Billson said, 'her eyes got bad afterwards; she could hardly see.'
'Oh,' said Hildebrand promptly, 'my sister's been much worse than that; she couldn't see at all.'
When Hildebrand went home next day he found his mother pale and in tears. The doctor had just been to see Ethel's eyes—and Ethel was blind.
Then Hildebrand went up to his own room. He had done this—his own little sister who was so fond of him. And she was such a jolly little thing, and he had made her blind, just for a silly bit of show-off to Billson Minor; and he knew that the things he had said about Ethel before had come true, and had not vanished like the things he said about himself, and he felt that this, too, would last, and Ethel would go on being blind always. So he lay face down on his bed and cried, and was sorry, and wished with all his heart that he had been a good boy, and had never looked in the glass, and wished to bung up the eyes of Billson Minor, who, after all, was not such a bad sort of chap.
When he had cried till he could not cry any more he got up, and went to the looking-glass to see if his eyes were red, which is always interesting. He never could remember that he couldn't see himself in the glass now. Then suddenly he knew what to do. He ran down into the street, and said to the first person he met:
'I say, I saw the looking-glass boy yesterday, and he let me off things coming true, and Ethel was all right again.'
It was a policeman, and the constable boxed his ears, and promised to run him in next time he had any of his cheek. But Hildebrand went home calmer, and he read 'The Jungle Book' aloud to Ethel all the evening.
Next morning he ran to his looking-glass, and it was strange and wonderful to him to see his own reflection again after all these weeks of a blank mirror, and of parting his hair as well as he could just by feeling. But it wasn't his own reflection, of course: it was the looking-glass boy.
'I say, you look very different to what you did that day,' said Hildebrand slowly.
'So do you,' said the boy.
That other day, which was weeks ago, the looking-glass boy had been swollen and scowling and angry, with a black eye and a cut lip, and revengeful looks and spiteful words. Now he looked pale and a little thinner, but his eyes were only anxious, and his mouth was kind. It was just the same ugly shape as ever, but it looked different. And Hildebrand was as like the boy in the glass as one pin is like another pin.
'I say,' said Hildebrand suddenly and earnestly, 'let me off; I don't want it any more, thank you. And oh, do—do make my sister all right again.'
'Very well,' said the boy in the looking-glass; 'I'll let you off for six months. If you haven't learned to speak the truth by then—well, you'll see. Good-bye.'
He held out his hand, and Hildebrand eagerly reached out to shake it. He had forgotten the looking-glass, and it smashed against his fist, and cracked all over. He never saw the boy again, and he did not want to.
When he went down Ethel's eyes were all right again, and the doctor thought it was his doing, and was as proud as a King and as pleased as Punch. Hildebrand could only express his own gladness by giving Ethel every toy he had that he thought she would like, and he was so kind to her that she cried with pleasure.
Before the six months were up Hildebrand was as truthful a boy as anyone need wish to meet. He made little slips now and then, just at first, about his escape from the mad bull, for instance, and about the press-gang.
His stories did not come true next day any more, but he had to dream them, which was nearly as bad. So he cured himself, and did his lessons, and tried to stick to the truth; and when he told romances he let people know what he was playing at. Now he is grown up he dreams his stories first, and writes them afterwards; for he writes books, and also he writes for the newspapers. When you do these things you may tell as many stories as you like, and you need not be at all afraid that any of them will come true.
THE RING AND THE LAMP
You are, of course, a singularly intelligent child, and so must often have wondered what has become of all the interesting things that you read about in the old fairy-tales—the shoes of swiftness, and the sword of sharpness, and the cloak that made its wearer invisible, and things like that. Well, the fact is all these things are still in the world, hidden about somewhere, only people are so busy with new inventions, wireless telegraphs and X rays, and air-ships, that they don't trouble any more to look for the really interesting things. And if you don't look for things, you don't find them—at least, not often; though some lucky persons have only to walk out of doors and adventures happen to them as readily as breakfast and bed happen to ordinary folk. But when people do find any of the wonderful old treasures they generally hold their tongues about it, because it is so difficult to make people believe the truth if it is at all out of the way. Two of the wonder things out of the old stories were found only the other day by a little girl in Sussex; and she never told anyone but me and one other person. I often have things told me that no one else ever hears of, because everyone knows that I can believe anything.
The little-girl-in-Sussex's name was Seraphina Bodlett. She did not belong to Sussex, having been born in Tooting; but she was staying at a Sussex farmhouse for the summer holidays. It was the very nicest place to stay at, plenty of room to play in—all the Sussex Downs, in fact—and plenty of animals to pet and feed. The only thing was that all the other people at the farm were grown up, and Seraphina longed very much for someone to play with. The farmer's daughter, Miss Patty, was very kind, and always quite willing to play Halma; only it happened that Halma was not what Seraphina wanted to play.
It was summer, and Seraphina went to bed early, while it was still daylight. She used to lie awake in the big four-post bed, with the white dimity curtains, and look at the latticed window and the oak chest of drawers with the shell boxes on it, and try to make herself dream that she had another little girl to play with. But she always surprised herself by waking up in the morning without having dreamed of anything at all.
The best parlour at the farm was a very nice place, but Seraphina (whose name takes so long to write that I think I had better call her Fina, as everyone else did) was not usually allowed to play there, and the blinds were always drawn down exactly halfway, because that is genteel.
Sometimes Fina was taken into the parlour by Miss Patty, and then Miss Patty would bring out the curiosities that her brother the sailor had brought home from his voyages: South Sea necklaces of seeds and beads and cut-up reeds, and fat idols from India, with far more arms than most of us could find a use for. Then there were beady pincushions made by seamen, and a stuffed parrot exactly like life, except that one eye was out, and Chinese junks in beautiful carved ivory, and a pagoda (or Chinese temple), and that was of ivory too, and all carved out of one solid block, Miss Patty said. Fina loved the pagoda best of all the curiosities. You could see right into it. It was a tower with seven stories, and it had little gold bells on it that rang when Miss Patty took off the glass case and gently shook the wooden stand. Of course, Fina was never allowed to shake it herself.
'Where did it come from?' She asked this question every time she was shown the pagoda.
'It came from the Emperor of China's own Summer Palace at Pekin,' Miss Patty always said; 'but my brother Bob never would tell me how he got it.'
Then, when Fina had had a last peep through the windows of the pagoda, the glass case would be put on again, and Fina would be told to 'run along now and play.'
One day she was 'running along and playing' when she met a playfellow. It was a fat foxhound puppy, very clumsy and very affectionate. They had a romp together, and then the puppy blundered off, and Fina went indoors to wash her hands, because the puppy's idea of a romp had been a roll in the dust, which Fina had gladly consented to share.
But as she passed the door of the best parlour she stopped a minute, for the door was open. It was the day for cleaning out the room, but Miss Patty had stopped in the middle of the cleaning to go to the back-door to see a pedlar who had some really wonderful bargains in handkerchiefs and silk dresses, and mixed white pins and back-hair combs. Fina often wondered afterwards whether that pedlar was a real pedlar or a magician in disguise.
Now, Fina was an obedient little girl. She did not slip into the parlour to have a look round just because the door was open and no one was about. But she had not been forbidden to look in, if she got the chance, so she stood at the door and looked at the stuffed parrot, and the junk, and the rest of the things; and as she looked she started, and said:
'Oh! it will tumble down—I know it will—if a door banged even!'
And just then the front-door did bang, and the pagoda trembled; for it was standing at the very edge of the chiffonnier, and one of the little black, carved claw-feet of its stand was actually overhanging the chiffonnier edge.
'I must stand it steady,' said Fina. 'If I go and tell Miss Patty it may tumble off before I get back.'
So she went quickly in and took the glass case and stand and pagoda very carefully in her hands to move them back to a safe place.
It was this very moment that the foxhound puppy chose for rushing in—all wriggle and bark and clumsy paws—and plunging between Fina's feet. She reeled, staggered, and she, the puppy, the stand, the glass case, and the precious pagoda, all went down together in a crushing heap.
When Fina picked herself up the puppy's tail was just disappearing round the door, and at her feet lay a scattered heap of splintered ivory and glass, the hopeless ruins of the beautiful pagoda.
Her heart seemed to stand still, and then began to beat so hard and fast that she felt as though she had a steam-engine in her chest.
Her hands trembled so much that she could hardly pick up the pieces; but she did begin to pick them up.
'Perhaps it could be mended,' she said, 'with glue or white of egg, like nurse did the china basin; only the pieces are so small and chippety, some of them, that I don't see how you could ever fit them together. And Miss Patty will be in in a minute! Oh, I wish I was somebody else and not me! Oh, whatever will she say?'
Among the shivered splinters of ivory the little gold bells were scattered.
'But what's that?' said Fina. 'It's not a bell or——'
She picked whatever it was up from among the shattered ivory and glass. It was a gold ring, thick and beautiful, with a strange design on it like on the sides of tea-caddies. She slipped it on her hand to keep it safe while she went on with the dismal work of picking up the pieces. And then, suddenly, the dreadfulness of the deed she had done—though quite the puppy's fault, and not hers at all—came over her. She began to breathe quickly and then to make faces, and in a moment she was sobbing and sniffing, and rubbing her wet eyes with her knuckles, still dirty from her politeness in letting the puppy choose what game she and it should play at.
She was roused from her crying by a voice, and it was not Miss Patty's voice. It said:
'Your servant, miss. What can I have the pleasure of doing for you?'
She took her knuckles out of her eyes, and saw, from between her very dirty eyelids, a tall footman who was bowing respectfully before her. He was dressed wonderfully in green satin—his large and lovely legs wore white silk stockings, and his hair was powdered till it was as white as the inside of a newly-sheared fleece.
'Thank you,' said Fina, sobbing, but polite; 'no one can do anything for me, unless they can mend all this, and of course nobody can.'
'Your servant, miss,' said the footman. 'Do I understand that you order me to mend this?'
'If you can,' said Fina, a ray of hope lighting her blighted existence; 'but, of course——WHAT?'
The pagoda stood on the table mended! Indeed, it seemed as though there had never been any breaking. It was there, safe and sound as it had always been, on its ebony stand, with the shining bubble of its glass case rising dome-like over it.
The footman had vanished.
'Well!' said Fina, 'I suppose it was all a waking dream. How horrible! I've read of waking dreams, but I didn't know there were ever waking nightmares. Perhaps I better had wash my hands—and my face,' she added, when she saw it, round, red, and streaked with mud (made of dust and tears), in the glass of the chiffonnier.
She dipped her face in fresh water in the willow-patterned basin in her big attic bedroom. Then she washed her hands. And as she began to rub the soap on she heard a noise.
'Your servant, miss. What can I have the pleasure of doing for you?'
And there was that footman again.
'Who are you?' said Fina. 'Why do you follow me about?'
'I am the Slave of the Ring, please, miss,' replied the footman, with another bow. 'And, of course, when you rubs it I appears.'
'The Slave of the Ring?' said Fina, letting the soapsuds drip from her hands to the carpet. 'Do you mean Aladdin's ring?'
'The ring belonged to the gentleman you mentions at one time, miss.'
'But I thought the Slave of the Ring was a genie—a great, foaming, fierce, black slave in a turban.'
'Times is changed, miss,' said the footman. 'In this here civilised country there aren't no slaves, only servants. You have to keep up with the times, even if you're a——'
'But I thought the Slave of the Ring spoke Chinese?'
'So I does, miss, when in that country. But whatever'd be the use of talking Chinese to you?'
'But tell me—oh, there's the dinner-bell! Look here, I wish you'd not keep appearing so suddenly. It does startle me so.'
'Then don't you go on rubbing the ring sudden, miss. It's that as does it. Nothing I can do for you, miss?'
'Not now,' said Fina, and he vanished as she spoke.
When Fina sat down to dinner in the farm kitchen—a very nice dinner it was, boiled pork and beans, and a treacle-tart to follow—she picked up her horn-handled knife and fork and clutched them hard. They felt real enough. But the footman—she must have dreamed him, and the ring. She had left the ring in the dressing-table drawer upstairs, for fear she should rub it accidentally. She knew what a start it would give Miss Patty and the farmer if a genie footman suddenly appeared from nowhere and stood behind their chairs at dinner.
Miss Patty seemed very cheerful.
'It was a piece of luck, father, wasn't it, that pedlar wanting Chinese things? He gave me two pieces of broadcloth that'll cut into three or four coats for you, and a length of black silk that rich it'll stand alone, and ten pounds in gold, and half a dozen silk neck-squares.'
'Yes,' said the farmer, 'it was a good bargain for you; and Bob give you the pagoda, and you've a right to do as you like with your own.'
'Oh, Miss Patty,' said Fina, 'you've never been and sold the pagoda—the beautiful, darling pagoda?'
'Yes, I have, dear; but never mind, I'll buy you a new doll out of the money I got for it.'
'Thank you,' said Fina; but the pork and beans did not taste so nice now she knew that the pretty pagoda was sold. Also she was rather worried about the ring. Ought she to keep it? She had found it, of course, but someone must have lost it. Yet she couldn't bear to give it up, when she hadn't made the slave of it do a single thing for her, except to mend the pagoda.
After dinner Fina went and got the ring. She was very careful not to rub it till she was safe and alone in a quiet green nook in the little wood at the end of the garden, where the hazels and sweet chestnuts and hornbeams grew so closely that she was quite hidden.
Then she rubbed the ring, and instantly the footman was there. But there was no room for him to stand up under the thicket, so he appeared kneeling, and trying to bow in that position.
'Then it's not a dream?' said she.
'How often I have heard them very words!' said the Slave of the Ring.
'I want you to tell me things,' said Fina. 'Do sit down; you look so uncomfortable like that.'
'Thank you, miss,' said the footman; 'you're very thoughtful for a child of your age, and of this age, too! Service ain't what it was.'
'Now, tell me,' she said, 'where did the ring come from?'
'There's seven secrets I ain't allowed to tell,' the footman said, 'and that there what you asked me's one of them; but the ring's as old as old—I can tell you that.'
'But I mean where did it come from just now—when I found it?'
'Oh, then. Why, it come out of the pagoda, of course. The floor of the third story was made double, and the ring was stuck between the floor of that and the ceiling of the second floor, and when you smashed the pagoda o' course it rolled out. The pagoda was made o' purpose to take care of the ring.'
'Who made it?' asked Fina.
'I did,' said the genie proudly.
'And now,' said Fina, 'what shall we do?'
'Excuse me,' the footman said firmly; 'one thing I'm not bound to do is to give advice.'
'But you'll do anything else I tell you?'
'Yes, miss—almost anything. I'll talk to you willing, I will, and tell you my life's sorrows.'
'I should like that some other time,' said Fina, 'but just now, perhaps, you'd better get me a doll.'
And a doll lay at her feet among the dead leaves. It was a farthing Dutch doll.
'You didn't say what sort of a doll,' said the footman, when she had rubbed the ring and he had reappeared, and she had reproached him. 'I've been in service long enough to do exactly what I am told. My life-sorrow has been——'
'I say,' Fina said suddenly, 'can't you get the pagoda back for me?'
Instantly the pagoda was there and the footman was not. Fina spent the afternoon playing with the beautiful ivory toy, but when it was tea-time she had to ask the genie footman to take it away again, for she dared not face the questions and she could not invent the explanations that would have followed if she had turned up at the house with the pagoda under her arm.
You will think that Fina ought to have been the happiest of little girls, now that she had a genie footman Slave of the Ring in a green coat to get her anything she wanted, and run her errands on his beautiful balustrade-like white silk legs. But this was not so.
It was all very well to go into the wood every day and make the footman fetch her the most beautiful dolls and toys and sweets, but even sweets are dull if you eat them alone; and what is the use of toys, or even pagodas, if you have no one to show them to, and dare not have them except in a secret corner of the wood?
She tried to get the footman to play with her, but he said that was a little more than anyone could expect, and began again about his sorrows; and as for getting him to take any interest in the wonderful things he fetched for her, she felt at once that these were nothing to a genie footman with such a jewelled and exciting past as his.
She was not a very clever little girl. She wished for a white pony, and, of course, it came, but there was no room for it in the wood, and it walked on her foot and tried to bite her, and she hastily had to send it away. She wished for a pet lamb, but it baaed so loudly that she was almost discovered by the farmer, so that had to go too. And she had been wishing for these vain and unsatisfying things for more than a week before she thought of asking for a little girl to play with.
The genie brought a little girl at once, but she was a horrid little girl, with a red pigtail and a green frock trimmed with black bead trimming, and she broke the toys and laughed at Fina when she tried to tell her the story of the pagoda and the Ring Slave. Also there was no room to play in the secret nook in the wood, and when the little girl had slapped Fina and taken the pagoda away from her it seemed best to ask the genie to take the little girl herself away. Fina never saw her again, and never wanted to either!
At last Fina knew that what she really wanted was not only someone to play with, but a good place to play in, so she shut her eyes and thought—as hard as a not very clever person of eight can think—and then she rubbed the ring and said:
'Please take me somewhere where there is a little girl who will play with me, a nice little girl, and room to play in.'
And at once the wood vanished—like a magic-lantern picture when the kind clergyman who is showing it changes the slide—and she was in a strange room.
It was a nursery—very large and light. There were flowers at the window, and pictures on the walls, and many toys. And on a couch, covered with a bright green rug with yellow daisies embroidered on it, lay a little girl with pretty yellow hair and kind, merry blue eyes.
'Oh!' said the little girl, very much astonished.
'Oh!' said Fina, at the same minute, and with the same quantity of astonishment.
'I've come to play with you, if you'll let me,' said Fina.
'How lovely! But how did you get in?'
'The Slave of the Ring brought me.'
'The Slave of the Ring! How wonderful!'
'Yes, isn't it? What's your name?'
'Mine's Fina. Wouldn't you like to see my Ring Slave, Ella?'
'Yes—oh yes!' Ella was laughing softly.
Fina rubbed the ring and the footman genie appeared, his silk legs more beautifully silk than ever.
'Please fetch the pagoda.'
The pagoda toppled on to the couch, and the genie vanished, as he always did when he had executed an order.
When Ella had admired the pagoda, which she did very thoroughly and satisfyingly, she said:
'And now I'll show you mine!'
She pulled a battered iron thing from under her pillow and rubbed it. Instantly a very grand stout gentleman in evening dress stood before them. He had most respectable whiskers, and he said:
'What can I do for you, madam?'
'Who is it?' whispered Fina.
'It's the Slave of the Lamp,' said Ella. 'He says he's disguised as a perfect butler because times have changed so since his time.'
'Send him away,' said Fina.
'Oh, dear Ella,' she went on, when they were alone, 'tell me all about yours, and I'll tell you all about mine.'
'Well,' said Ella, 'I found the lamp at the seaside, just before I hurt my back. I fell off the sea-wall, you know, and I shan't be able to walk for ever so long. And one day I rubbed it by accident, and since then my beautiful perfect butler gets me anything I want. Look here, I'll tell him to make it like it was yesterday.'
The lamp was rubbed, the order given, and the nursery became a palace hall hung with cloth of gold and blazing with jewels and softly-coloured lamps.
'But can't your butler cure your back?'
'No. Time is the only genie who can do that, my butler says. You don't know how I've wanted someone to show it all to! But I never thought of wishing for you. It's only a week since I found the lamp——'
'Do they leave you alone all the time?'
'Oh no, only when I say I'm sleepy; and my butler has orders to change everything to ordinary directly the door-handle turns.'
'Have you told anyone?'
'Oh no! My butler says if you tell anyone grown-up that you've got the lamp it will vanish away. I can't remember whether it's like that in the "Arabian Nights"; perhaps it's a new rule.'
The two little girls talked all the afternoon about the wonderful things they would make their slaves do for them, and they were so contented with each other's company that they never once called on their slaves for anything.
But when Fina began to feel the inside feeling that means teatime, she rubbed the ring for her slave to take her back to the farm.
'I'll get my slave to take me to see you home,' said Ella. 'He can carry me quite without hurting me.'
So she rubbed the lamp, and the stately butler instantly appeared.
'Please——' Ella began; but the glorious butler interrupted.
'James,' he said to the footman, 'what are you doing here?'
'I'm in service with this young lady, Mr. Lamp, sir.'
'Give me the ring, James.'
And instantly the footman took the ring, very gently but quite irresistibly, from Fina's finger, and handed it to the butler.
'Oh no!' Fina cried, 'you've no right to take my ring. And he's no right to obey you. He's my slave.'
'Excuse me, madam,' said the butler, looking more and more perfect, and more and more the sort of person who is sure to know best, 'he is not your slave. He is the Slave of the Ring. But then, you see, he is a footman, and footmen have to obey butlers all the world over.'
'That's so, miss,' said the footman; 'but the lamp's stronger than the ring.' He snatched up the lamp. 'Now, then,' he said, turning fiercely to the butler, 'we'll see if you're going to begin a-orderin' of me about!'
The butler so far forgot himself as to scratch his head thoughtfully.
'Yes,' he said, after a pause; 'I've got to own that you've got the better of me there, James Rings. But why dispute—which is beneath the dignity of a six-foot footman like yourself, to say nothing of the dignity of a butler, which is a thing words can't do justice to? You're my slave because I've got the ring and because I'm a butler and you're a footman. And I'm your slave because you've got the lamp. It's half a dozen of one and six and a half of the other. Can't we come to some agreement between ourselves, James?'
'Oh,' cried Ella, 'what about us?'
'We are excessively sorry to cause any inconvenience, madam,' said the butler, 'but we give you five minutes' notice. We are leaving service for good.'
'Oh, Lamps!' cried Ella. 'And you were always such a beautiful butler. I thought you enjoyed being it.'
'Don't you make any mistake, miss,' the footman put in. 'Nobody enjoys being in service, though they has to put up with it. Me and Mr. Lamps is retiring from service. Perhaps we may take a little business and go into partnership, and always wishing you well, young ladies both.'
'But,' said Fina, 'you can't go and leave me here! Why, I should never get home. I don't so much as know what county I'm in.'
'You're in Auckland, miss,' said James.
'There isn't such a country.'
'Pardon me, madam,' said the butler, 'there is. In New Zealand.'
'Don't cry, miss,' said James. 'If Mr. Lamps 'll only give the word, I'll take you home.'
'And then I shall never see Ella again.'
'Oh, tell Lamps to rub the ring and tell you to arrange for me to come and live near her in England,' cried Ella; 'if he'll do that I don't care. I'd rather have a friend than twenty slaves.'
'A very proper sentiment, ma'am,' said the butler approvingly. 'Is there any other little thing we could do to oblige you?'
'The pagoda,' said Fina. 'If you could only get it back to Miss Patty, so that she won't lose the things she sold it for, and won't know about the ring having been in it.'
'Consider it done, madam,' said the Slave of the Lamp, stroking his respectable butlerial whisker. 'Now, if you're ready, your footman shall see you home.'
'Good-bye, oh, good-bye,' said the little girls, kissing each other very much.
Then Fina shut her eyes, and there she was in the wood in Sussex—alone.
'Now, have I dreamed it all?' she said, and went slowly home to tea.
The first thing she saw on the tea-table was the pagoda! And the next was a brown-faced sailor eating hot buttered toast in the Windsor armchair.
'Well may you look!' said Miss Patty; 'this is my brother Bob, newly arrived from foreign parts. And he met that pedlar and bought the pagoda off him for two pounds and a highly-coloured cockatoo he was bringing home. And these ten sovereigns the wicked old man gave me are bad ones. But the dresses and the cloth are good. It's a wonderful world!'
Fina thought so too.
Now, the oddest thing about all this is that six months later some new people came to live in the house next door to the house where Fina lived in Tooting. And those new people came from New Zealand. And one of them was called Ella!
Fina knew her at once, but Ella had forgotten her, and forgotten the beautiful perfect butler and the perfect footman, and the lamp and the ring, and everything. Perhaps a long sea-voyage is bad for the memory. Anyway, the two little girls are close friends, and Ella loves to hear Fina tell the story of the two slaves, though she doesn't believe a word of it.
Fina's father and Ella's father have left Tooting now. They live in lovely houses at Haslemere. And Fina has a white pony and Ella has a brown one. Their fathers are very rich now. They both got situations as managers to branch houses of Messrs. Lamps, Rings, and Co., Electrical Engineers. Mr. Lamps attends to the lighting department, and Mr. Rings is at the head of the bells, which always ring beautifully. And I hear that Ella's father and Fina's father are likely to be taken into partnership. Mr. Bodlett has bought the pagoda, at Fina's earnest request, and it stands on a sideboard in his handsome drawing-room. Fina sometimes asks it whether she really did dream the whole story or not. But it never says a word.
Of course, you and I know that every word of the story is true.
THE CHARMED LIFE; OR, THE PRINCESS AND THE LIFT-MAN
There was once a Prince whose father failed in business and lost everything he had in the world—crown, kingdom, money, jewels, and friends. This was because he was so fond of machinery that he was always making working models of things he invented, and so had no time to attend to the duties that Kings are engaged for. So he lost his situation. There is a King in French history who was fond of machinery, particularly clock-work, and he lost everything too, even his head. The King in this story kept his head, however, and when he wasn't allowed to make laws any more, he was quite contented to go on making machines. And as his machines were a great deal better than his laws had ever been, he soon got a nice little business together, and was able to buy a house in another kingdom, and settle down comfortably with his wife and son. The house was one of those delightful villas called after Queen Anne (the one whose death is still so often mentioned and so justly deplored), with stained glass to the front-door, and coloured tiles on the front-garden path, and gables where there was never need of gables, and nice geraniums and calceolarias in the front-garden, and pretty red brick on the front of the house. The back of the house was yellow brick, because that did not show so much.
Here the King and the Queen and the Prince lived very pleasantly. The Queen snipped the dead geraniums off with a pair of gold scissors, and did fancy-work for bazaars. The Prince went to the Red-Coat School, and the King worked up his business. In due time the Prince was apprenticed to his father's trade; and a very industrious apprentice he was, and never had anything to do with the idle apprentices who play pitch and toss on tombstones, as you see in Mr. Hogarth's picture.
When the Prince was twenty-one his mother called him to her. She put down the blotting-book she was embroidering for the School Bazaar in tasteful pattern of stocks and nasturtiums, and said:
'My dear son, you have had the usual coming-of-age presents—silver cigar-case and match-box; a handsome set of brushes, with your initials on the back; a Gladstone bag, also richly initialled; the complete works of Dickens and Thackeray; a Swan fountain-pen mounted in gold; and the heartfelt blessing of your father and mother. But there is still one more present for you.'
'You are too good, mamma,' said the Prince, fingering the nasturtium-coloured silks.
'Don't fidget,' said the Queen, 'and listen to me. When you were a baby a fairy, who was your godmother, gave you a most valuable present—a Charmed Life. As long as you keep it safely, nothing can harm you.'
'How delightful!' said the Prince. 'Why, mamma, you might have let me go to sea when I wanted to. It would have been quite safe.'
'Yes, my dear,' said the Queen, 'but it's best to be careful. I have taken care of your life all these years, but now you are old enough to take care of it for yourself. Let me advise you to keep it in a safe place. You should never carry valuables about on your person.'
And then she handed the Charmed Life over to him, and he took it and kissed her, and thanked her for the pretty present, and went away and hid it. He took a brick out of the wall of the villa, and hid his Life behind it. The bricks in the walls of these Queen Anne villas generally come out quite easily.
Now, the father of the Prince had been King of Bohemia, so, of course, the Prince was called Florizel, which is their family name; but when the King went into business he went in as Rex Bloomsbury, and his great patent Lightning Lift Company called itself R. Bloomsbury and Co., so that the Prince was known as F. Bloomsbury, which was as near as the King dared go to 'Florizel, Prince of Bohemia.' His mother, I am sorry to say, called him Florrie till he was quite grown up.
Now, the King of the country where Florizel lived was a very go-ahead sort of man, and as soon as he heard that there were such things as lifts—which was not for a long time, because no one ever lets a King know anything if it can be helped—he ordered one of the very, very best for his palace. Next day a card was brought in by one of the palace footmen. It had on it: 'Mr. F. Bloomsbury, R. Bloomsbury and Co.'
'Show him in,' said the King.
'Good-morning, sire,' said Florizel, bowing with that perfect grace which is proper to Princes.
'Good-morning, young man,' said the King. 'About this lift, now.'
'Yes, sire. May I ask how much your Majesty is prepared to——'
'Oh, never mind price,' said the King; 'it all comes out of the taxes.'
'I should think, then, that Class A ... our special Argentinella design—white satin cushions, woodwork overlaid with ivory and inset with pearls, opals, and silver.'
'Gold,' said the King shortly.
'Not with pearls and ivory,' said Florizel firmly. He had excellent taste. 'The gold pattern—we call it the Anriradia—is inlaid with sapphires, emeralds, and black diamonds.'
'I'll have the gold pattern,' said the King; 'but you might run up a little special lift for the Princess's apartments. I dare say she'd like that Argentinella pattern—"Simple and girlish," I see it says in your circular.'
So Florizel booked the order, and the gold and sapphire and emerald lift was made and fixed, and all the Court was so delighted that it spent its whole time in going up and down in the lift, and there had to be new blue satin cushions within a week.
Then the Prince superintended the fixing of the Princess's lift—the Argentinella design—and the Princess Candida herself came to look on at the works; and she and Florizel met, and their eyes met, and their hands met, because his caught hers, and dragged her back just in time to save her from being crushed by a heavy steel bar that was being lowered into its place.
'Why, you've saved my life,' said the Princess.
But Florizel could say nothing. His heart was beating too fast, and it seemed to be beating in his throat, and not in its proper place behind his waistcoat.
'Who are you?' said the Princess.
'I'm an engineer,' said the Prince.
'Oh dear!' said the Princess, 'I thought you were a Prince. I'm sure you look more like a Prince than any Prince I've ever seen.'
'I wish I was a Prince,' said Florizel; 'but I never wished it till three minutes ago.'
The Princess smiled, and then she frowned, and then she went away.
Florizel went straight back to the office, where his father, Mr. Rex Bloomsbury, was busy at his knee-hole writing-table.
He spent the morning at the office, and the afternoon in the workshop.
'Father,' he said, 'I don't know what ever will become of me. I wish I was a Prince!'
The King and Queen of Bohemia had never let their son know that he was a Prince; for what is the use of being a Prince if there's never going to be a kingdom for you?
Now, the King, who was called R. Bloomsbury, Esq., looked at his son over his spectacles and said:
'Because I've been and gone and fallen head over ears in love with the Princess Candida.'
The father rubbed his nose thoughtfully with his fountain pen.
'Humph!' he said; 'you've fixed your choice high.'
'Choice!' cried the Prince distractedly. 'There wasn't much choice about it. She just looked at me, and there I was, don't you know? I didn't want to fall in love like this. Oh, father, it hurts most awfully! What ever shall I do?'
After a long pause, full of thought, his father replied:
'Bear it, I suppose.'
'But I can't bear it—at least, not unless I can see her every day. Nothing else in the world matters in the least.'
'Dear me!' said his father.
'Couldn't I disguise myself as a Prince, and try to make her like me a little?'
'The disguise you suggest is quite beyond our means at present.'
'Then I'll disguise myself as a lift attendant,' said Florizel.
And what is more, he did it. His father did not interfere. He believed in letting young people manage their own love affairs.
So that when the lift was finished, and the Princess and her ladies crowded round to make the first ascent in it, there was Florizel dressed in white satin knee-breeches, and coat with mother-o'-pearl buttons. He had silver buckles to his shoes, and a tiny opal breast-pin on the lappet of his coat, where the white flower goes at weddings.
When the Princess saw him she said:
'Now, none of you girls are to go in the lift at all, mind! It's my lift. You can use the other one, or go up the mother-of-pearl staircase, as usual.'
Then she stepped into the lift, and the silver doors clicked, and the lift went up, just carrying her and him.
She had put on a white silky gown, to match the new lift, and she, too, had silver buckles on her shoes, and a string of pearls round her throat, and a silver chain set with opals in her dark hair; and she had a bunch of jasmine flowers at her neck. As the lift went out of sight the youngest lady-in-waiting whispered:
'What a pretty pair! Why, they're made for each other! What a pity he's a lift-man! He looks exactly like a Prince.'
'Hold your tongue, silly!' said the eldest lady-in-waiting, and slapped her.
The Princess went up and down in the lift all the morning, and when at last she had to step out of it because the palace luncheon-bell had rung three times, and the roast peacock was getting cold, the eldest lady-in-waiting noticed that the Lift-man had a jasmine flower fastened to his coat with a little opal pin.
The eldest lady-in-waiting kept a sharp eye on the Princess, but after that first day the Princess only seemed to go up and down in the lift when it was really necessary, and then she always took the youngest lady-in-waiting with her; so that though the Lift-man always had a flower in his buttonhole, there was no reason to suppose it had not been given him by his mother.
'I suppose I'm a silly, suspicious little thing,' said the eldest lady-in-waiting. 'Of course, it was the lift that amused her, just at first. How could a Princess be interested in a lift-man?'
Now, when people are in love, and want to be quite certain that they are loved in return, they will take any risks to find out what they want to know. But as soon as they are quite sure they begin to be careful.
And after those seventy-five ups and downs in the lift, on the first day, the Princess no longer had any doubt that she was beloved by the Lift-man. Not that he had said a word about it, but she was a clever Princess, and she had seen how he picked up the jasmine flower she let fell, and kissed it when she pretended she wasn't looking, and he pretended he didn't know she was. Of course, she had been in love with him ever since they met, and their eyes met, and their hands. She told herself it was because he had saved her life, but that wasn't the real reason at all.
So, being quite sure, she began to be careful.
'Since he really loves me he'll find a way to tell me so, right out. It's his part, not mine, to make everything possible,' she said.
As for Florizel, he was quite happy. He saw her every day, and every day when he took his place in his lift there was a fresh jasmine flower lying on the satin cushion. And he pinned it into his buttonhole and wore it there all day, and thought of his lady, and of how that first wonderful day she had dropped a jasmine flower, and how he had picked it up when she pretended she was not looking, and he was pretending that he did not know she was. But all the same he wanted to know exactly how that jasmine flower came there every day, and whose hand brought it. It might be the youngest lady-in-waiting, but Florizel didn't think so.
So he went to the palace one morning bright and early, much earlier than usual, and there was no jasmine flower. Then he hid behind one of the white velvet window-curtains of the corridor and waited. And, presently, who should come stealing along on the tips of her pink toes—so as to make no noise at all—but the Princess herself, fresh as the morning in a white muslin frock with a silver ribbon round her darling waist, and a bunch of jasmine at her neck. She took one of the jasmine flowers and kissed it and laid it on the white satin seat of the lift, and when she stepped back there was the Lift-man.
'Oh!' said Candida, and blushed like a child that is caught in mischief.
'Oh!' said Florizel, and he picked up the jasmine and kissed it many times.
'Why do you do that?' said the Princess.
'Because you did,' said the Prince. 'I saw you. Do you want to go on pretending any more?'
The Princess did not know what to say, so she said nothing.
Florizel came and stood quite close to her.
'I used to wish I was a Prince,' he said, 'but I don't now. I'd rather be an engineer. If I'd been a Prince I should never have seen you.'
'I don't want you to be a bit different,' said the Princess. And she stooped to smell the jasmine in his buttonhole.
'So we're betrothed,' said Florizel.
'Are we?' said Candida.
'Aren't we?' he said.
'Well, yes, I suppose we are,' said she.
'Very well, then,' said Florizel, and he kissed the Princess.
'You're sure you don't mind marrying an engineer?' he said, when she had kissed him back.
'Of course not,' said the Princess.
'Then I'll buy the ring,' said he, and kissed her again.
Then she gave him the rest of the jasmine, with a kiss for each star, and he gave her a little keepsake in return, and they parted.
'My heart is yours,' said Florizel, 'and my life is in your hands.'
'My life is yours,' said she, 'and my heart is in your heart.'
Now, I am sorry to say that somebody had been listening all the time behind another curtain, and when the Princess had gone to her breakfast and the Lift-man had gone down in his lift, this somebody came out and said, 'Aha!'
It was a wicked, ugly, disagreeable, snub-nosed page-boy, who would have liked to marry the Princess himself. He had really no chance, and never could have had, because his father was only a rich brewer. But he felt himself to be much superior to a lift-man. And he was the kind of boy who always sneaks if he has half a chance. So he went and told the King that he had seen the Princess kissing the Lift-man in the morning all bright and early.
The King said he was a lying hound, and put him in prison at once for mentioning such a thing—which served him right.
Then the King thought it best to find out for himself whether the snub-nosed page-boy had spoken the truth.
So he watched in the morning all bright and early, and he saw the Princess come stealing along on the tips of her little pink toes, and the lift (Argentinella design) came up, and the Lift-man in it. And the Princess gave him kissed jasmine to put in his buttonhole.
So the King jumped out on them and startled them dreadfully. And Florizel was locked up in prison, and the Princess was locked up in her room with only the eldest lady-in-waiting to keep her company. And the Princess cried all day and all night. And she managed to hide the keepsake the Prince had given her. She hid it in a little book of verses. And the eldest lady saw her do it. Florizel was condemned to be executed for having wanted to marry someone so much above him in station. But when the axe fell on his neck the axe flew to pieces, and the neck was not hurt at all. So they sent for another axe and tried again. And again the axe splintered and flew. And when they picked up the bits of the axe they had all turned to leaves of poetry books.
So they put off the execution till next day.
The gaoler told the snub-nosed page all about it when he took him his dinner of green water and mouldering crusts.
'Couldn't do the trick!' said the gaoler. 'Two axes broke off short and the bits turned to rubbish. The executioner says the rascal has a Charmed Life.'
'Of course he has,' said the ugly page, sniffing at the crusts with his snub-nose. 'I know all about that, but I shan't tell unless the King gives me a free pardon and something fit to eat. Roast pork and onion stuffing, I think. And you can tell him so.'
So the gaoler told the King. And the King gave the snub-nosed page the pardon and the pork, and then the page said:
'He has a Charmed Life. I heard him tell the Princess so. And what is more, he gave it to her to keep. And she said she'd hide it in a safe place!'
Then the King told the eldest lady-in-waiting to watch, and she did watch, and saw the Princess take Florizel's Charmed Life and hide it in a bunch of jasmine. So she took the jasmine and gave it to the King, and he burnt it. But the Princess had not left the Life in the jasmine.
Then they tried to hang Florizel, because, of course, he had an ordinary life as well as a charmed one, and the King wished him to be without any life at all.
Thousands of people crowded to see the presumptuous Lift-man hanged, and the execution lasted the whole morning, and seven brand new ropes were wasted one after the other, and they all left off being ropes and turned into long wreaths of jasmine, which broke into bits rather than hang such a handsome Lift-man.
The King was furious. But he was not too furious to see that the Princess must have taken the Charmed Life out from the jasmine flowers, and put it somewhere else, when the eldest lady was not looking.
And it turned out afterwards that the Princess had held Florizel's life in her hand all the time the execution was going on. The eldest lady-in-waiting was clever, but she was not so clever as the Princess.
The next morning the eldest lady brought the Princess's silver mirror to the King.
'The Charmed Life is in that, your Majesty,' she said. 'I saw the Princess put it in.'
And so she had, but she had not seen the Princess take it out again almost directly afterwards.
The King smashed the looking-glass, and gave orders that poor Florizel was to be drowned in the palace fishpond.
So they tied big stones to his hands and feet and threw him in. And the stones changed to corks and held him up, and he swam to land, and when they arrested him as he landed they found that on each of the corks there was a beautiful painting of Candida's face, as she saw it every morning in her mirror.
Now, the King and Queen of Bohemia, Florizel's father and mother, had gone to Margate for a fortnight's holiday.
'We will have a thorough holiday,' said the King; 'we will forget the world, and not even look at a newspaper.'
But on the third day they both got tired of forgetting the world, and each of them secretly bought a newspaper and read it on the beach, and each rushed back and met the other on the steps of the boarding-house where they were staying. And the Queen began to cry, and the King took her in his arms on the doorstep, to the horror of the other boarders, who were looking out of the windows at them; and then they rushed off to the railway station, leaving behind them their luggage and the astonished boarders, and took a special train to town. Because the King had read in his newspaper, and the Queen in hers, that the Lift-man was being executed every morning from nine to twelve; and though, so far, none of the executions had ended fatally, yet at any moment the Prince's Charmed Life might be taken, and then there would be an end of the daily executions—a very terrible end.
Arrived at the capital, the poor Queen of Bohemia got into a hansom with the King, and they were driven to the palace. The palace-yard was crowded.
'What is the matter?' the King of Bohemia asked.
'It's that Lift-man,' said a bystander, with spectacles and a straw hat; 'he has as many lives as a cat. They tried boiling oil this morning, and the oil turned into white-rose leaves, and the fire under it turned to a white-rose bush. And now the King has sent for Princess Candida, and is going to have it out with her. The whole thing has been most exciting.'
'I should think so,' said the Lift-man's father.
'Of course,' said the bystander in spectacles, 'everyone who has read any history knows that Lift-men don't have charmed lives. But our King never would learn history, so he doesn't see that of course the Lift-man is a Prince disguised. The question is, Will he find out in time? I can't think why the Lift-man doesn't own his Princishness, and have done with it.'
'Perhaps he doesn't know it himself,' said the King of Bohemia.
He gave his arm to his wife, and they managed to squeeze through to the great council hall, where the King of that country sat on his gold throne, surrounded by lords-in-waiting, judges in wigs, and other people in other things.
Florizel was there loaded with chains, and standing in a very noble attitude at one corner of the throne steps. At the other stood the Princess, looking across at her lover with her dear gray eyes.
'Now,' said the King, 'I am tired of diplomacy and tact, and the eldest lady-in-waiting is less of a Sherlock Holmes than I thought her, so let us be straightforward and honest. Have you got a Charmed Life?'
'I haven't exactly got it,' said Florizel. 'My life is not my own now.'
'Did he give it to you?' the King asked his daughter.
'I cannot tell a lie, father,' said the Princess, just as though her name had been George Washington instead of Candida; 'he did give it to me.'
'What have you done with it?'
'I have hidden it in different places. I have saved it; he saved mine once.'
'Where is it?' asked her father, 'as you so justly observe you cannot tell a lie.'
'If I tell you,' said the Princess, 'will you give your Royal word that the execution you have ordered for this morning shall be really the last? You can destroy the object that I have hidden his Charmed Life in, and then you can destroy him. But you must promise me not to ask me to hide his Life in any new place, because I am tired of hide-and-seek.'
All the judges and lords-in-waiting and people felt really sorry for the Princess, for they thought all these executions had turned her brain.
'I give you my Royal word,' said the King upon his throne. 'I won't ask you to hide his Life any more. Indeed, I was against the practice from the first. Now, where have you hidden his Life?'
'In my heart,' said the Princess, brave and clear, so that everyone heard her in the big hall. 'You can't take his Life without taking mine, and if you take mine you may as well take his, for he won't care to go on living without me.'
She sprang across the throne steps to Florizel, and his fetters jangled as she threw her arms round him.
'Dear me!' said the King, rubbing his nose with his sceptre; 'this is very awkward.'
The Princess laughed happily.
'Oh, my clever Princess,' whispered Florizel; 'you're as clever as you're dear, and as dear as you're beautiful.'
There was a silence.
'Well, really,' said the King, 'I don't quite see——'
The father and mother of Florizel had wriggled and wormed their way through the crowd to a front place, and now the father spoke.
'Your Majesty, allow me. Perhaps I can assist your decision.'
'Oh, all right,' said the King upon his throne; 'go ahead. I'm struck all of a heap.'
'You see before you,' said the King of Bohemia, 'one known to the world of science and of business as R. Bloomsbury, inventor and patenter of many mechanical novelties—among others the Patent Lightning Lift—now formed into a company of which I am the chairman. The young Lift-man—whose fetters are most clumsily designed, if you will pardon my saying so—is my son.'
'Of course he's somebody's son,' said the King upon his throne.
'Well, he happens to be mine, and I gather that you do not think him a good enough match for your daughter.'
'Without wishing to hurt your feelings——' began Candida's father.
'Exactly. Well, know, O King on your throne, and everyone else, that this young Lift-man is no other than Florizel, Prince of Bohemia. I am the King of Bohemia, and this is my Queen.'
As he spoke he took his crown out of his pocket and put it on. His wife took off her bonnet and got her crown out of her reticule and put that on, and Florizel's crown was handed to the Princess, who fitted it on for him, because his hands were awkward with chains.
'Your most convincing explanation alters everything,' said the King upon his throne, and he came down to meet the visitors. 'Bless you, my children! Strike off his chains, can't you? I hope there's no ill-feeling, Florizel,' he added, turning to the Prince; 'you see, an engineer is only an engineer, whereas a Prince is a Prince, be he never so disinherited. Will half an hour from now suit you for the wedding?'
So they were married, and they still live very happily. They will live as long as is good for them, and when Candida dies Florizel will die too, because she still carries his Life in her heart.
BILLY THE KING
'Now, William,' said Billy King's great-uncle, 'you are old enough to earn your own living, so I shall find you a nice situation in an office, and you will not return to school.'
The blood of Billy King ran cold in his veins. He looked out over the brown wire blinds into Claremont Square, Pentonville, which was where his uncle lived, and the tears came into his eyes; for, though his uncle thought he was old enough to earn his own living, he was still young enough to hate the idea of having to earn it in an office, where he would never do anything, or make anything, or see anything, but only add up dull figures from year's end to year's end.
'I don't care,' said Billy to himself. 'I'll run away and get a situation on my own—something interesting. I wonder if I could learn how to be a pirate captain or a highwayman?'
And next morning Billy got up very early, before anyone was about, and ran away.
He ran till he was out of breath and then he walked, and he walked till he was out of patience, and then he ran again, and between walking and running he came at last plump up to the door of a shop. And over the shop there were big painted letters saying, 'Registry office for all sorts of persons out of employment.'
'I'm out of employment, anyway,' said he. The window of the shop had big green-baize-shutter sort of things in them, with white cards fastened on to them with drawing-pins, and on the cards were written the kind of persons out of employment the registry office had got places for. And in the very first one he read there was his own name—King!
'I've come to the right shop,' said Billy, and he read the card through. 'Good general King wanted. Must be used to the business.'
'That's not me, I'm afraid,' thought Billy, 'because whatever a general King's business is I can't be used to it till I've tried it.'
The next was: 'Good steady King wanted. Must be quick, willing, and up to his work.'
'I'm willing enough,' said Billy, 'and I'm quick enough—at any rate, at fives or footer—but I don't know what a steady King's work is.' So he looked at another card.
'Wanted, respectable King to take entire charge of Parliament, and to assist in Cabinet Councils and Reform of the Army, to open Bazaars and Schools of Art, and make himself generally useful.'
Billy shook his head.
'I think that must be a very hard place,' said he.
The next was: 'Competent Queen wanted; economical and good manager.'
'Whatever else I am I'm not a Queen,' said Billy, and he was just turning sadly away, when he saw a little card stuck away in the right-hand top corner of the baize field.
'Hard-working King wanted; no objection to one who has not been out before.'
'I can but try,' said Billy, and he opened the door of the registry office and walked in.
Inside there were several desks. At the first desk a lion with a pen behind its ear was dictating to a unicorn, who was writing in a series of Blue-books with his horn. Billy noticed that the horn had been sharpened to a nice point, like a lead pencil when the drawing-master does it for you as a favour.
'I think you want a King?' said Billy timidly.
'No, we don't,' said the lion, and it turned on him so quickly that Billy was sorry he had spoken. 'The situation is filled, young man, and we're thoroughly suited.'
Billy was turning away, much dispirited, when the unicorn said: 'Try some of the others.'
So he went on to the next desk, where a frog sat sadly. But it only wanted Presidents; and at the next desk an eagle told him that only Emperors were wanted, and those very seldom. It was not till he got to the very end of the long room that Billy found a desk where a fat pig in spectacles sat reading a cookery-book.
'Do you want a King?' said Billy. 'I've not been out before.'
'Then you're the King for us,' said the pig, shutting the cookery-book with a bang. 'Hard-working, I suppose, as the notice says?'
'I think I should be,' said Billy, adding, honestly, 'especially if I liked the work.'
The pig gave him a square of silver parchment and said, 'That's the address.'
On the parchment was written:
'Kingdom of Plurimiregia. Billy King, Respectable Monarch. Not been out before.'
'You'd better go by post,' said the pig. 'The five o'clock post will do.'
'But why—but how—where is it?' asked Billy.
'I don't know where it is,' said the pig, 'but the Post-Office knows everything. As to how—why, you just tie a label round your neck and post yourself in the nearest letter-box. As to why, that's a silly question, really, your Majesty. Don't you know the Post-Office always takes charge of the Royal males?'
Billy was just putting the address carefully away in what would have been his watch-pocket if he had had any relation in the world except a great-uncle, when the swing door opened gently and a little girl came in. She looked at the lion and unicorn and the other busy beasts behind their desks, and she did not seem to like the look of them. She looked up the long room and she saw Billy, and she came straight up to him and said:
'Please I want a situation as Queen. It says in the window previous experience not required.'
She was a very shabby little girl, with a clean, round, rosy face, and she looked as little like a Queen with previous experience as anybody could possibly have done.
'I'm not the registry office, my good kid,' said Billy.
And the pig said, 'Try the next desk.'
Behind the next desk sat a lizard, but it was so large it was more like an alligator, only with a less unpleasant expression about the mouth.