The Mysterious Shin Shira
by George Edward Farrow
1  2     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

[See page 28.]


















Mystery No. X and Last SHIN SHIRA DISAPPEARS 146


To face page









It was very remarkable how I first came to make his acquaintance at all. Shin Shira I mean. I had been sitting at my desk, writing, for quite a long time, when suddenly I heard, as I thought, a noise in another part of the room. I turned my head hastily and looked towards the door, but it was fast closed and there was apparently nobody in the room but myself.

"Strange!" I murmured, looking about to try and discover what had caused the sound, and then my eyes lighted, to my great surprise, upon a pair of bright yellow morocco shoes with very long, pointed toes, standing on the floor in front of a favourite little squat chair of mine which I call "the Toad."

I gazed at the yellow shoes in amazement, for they certainly did not belong to me, and they had decidedly not been there a short time before, for I had been sitting in the chair myself.

I had just got up to examine them, when, to my utter astonishment, I saw a pair of yellow stockings appearing above them; an instant later, a little yellow body; and finally, the quaintest little head that I have ever seen, surmounted by a yellow turban, in the front of which a large jewel sparkled and shone.

It was not the turban, however, but the face beneath it which claimed my greatest attention, for the eyes were nearly starting out of the head with fright, and the expression was one of the greatest anxiety.

It gave way, however, to reassurance and content directly the little man had given a hurried glance round the room, and he sank comfortably down into "the Toad" with a sigh of relief.

"Phew!" he exclaimed, drawing out a little yellow fan from his sleeve and fanning himself vigorously, "that was a narrow squeak! I really don't think that I've been in such a tight corner before for two hundred years at least." And he tucked his fan away again and beamed upon me complacently.

I was so astounded at the sudden appearance of this remarkable little personage that for the moment I quite lost the use of my tongue; and in the meantime my little visitor was glancing about the room with piercing eyes that seemed to take in everything.

"H'm!—writer, I suppose?" he said, nodding his head towards my desk, which was as usual littered with papers. "What line? You don't look very clever," and he glanced at me critically from under his bushy eyebrows.

"I only write books for children," I answered, "and one doesn't have to be very clever to do that."

"Oh, children!" said the little Yellow Dwarf—as I had begun to call him in my own mind. "No, you don't have to be clever, but you have to be—er—by the way, do you write fairy stories?" he interrupted himself to ask.

"Sometimes," I answered.

"Ah! then I can put you up to a thing or two. I'm partly a fairy myself.

"You see, it's this way," he went on hastily, seeing, I suppose, that I looked somewhat surprised at this unexpected piece of information. "Some hundreds of years ago—oh! ever so many—long before the present Japanese Empire was founded, in fact, there was a man named Shin Shira Scaramanga Manousa Yama Hawa——"

"Good gracious!" I exclaimed.

"Don't interrupt," said the little Yellow Dwarf, "it's rude, and besides, you make me forget—I can't even think now what the rest of the gentleman's name was—but anyhow, he was an ancestor of mine, and that much of his name belongs to me."

"How much?" I inquired.

"Shin Shira Scaramanga Manousa Yama Hawa," repeated the Yellow Dwarf; "but you needn't say it all," he added hastily, seeing, I suppose, that I looked rather distressed, "Shin Shira will do; in fact, that's what I am always called. Well, to continue. This ancestor of mine, part of whose name I bear, did something or other to offend his great-grandmother, who was a very influential sort of a fairy—I could tell you the whole story, but it's a very long one and I'll have to tell you that another time—and she was so angry with him that she condemned him to appear or disappear whenever she liked and at whatever time or place that she chose, for ever."

"For ever?" I inquired incredulously.

"Why not?" asked Shin Shira. "Fairies, you know, are immortal, and my ancestor had fairy blood in his veins. Well, to make a long story short, the spell, or whatever you choose to call it, which his great-grandmother cast over him, didn't work in him, nor in his son, nor even in his grandson; but several hundreds of years afterwards I was born, and then it suddenly took effect, and I have always been afflicted with the exceedingly uncomfortable misfortune of having to appear or disappear whenever the old lady likes, and in whatever place she chooses.

"It's terribly awkward at times, for one minute I may be in China taking tea with a Mandarin of the Blue Button, and have to disappear suddenly, turning up a minute later in a first-class carriage on the Underground Railway, greatly to the surprise and indignation of the passengers, especially if it happens to be over-crowded without me, as it very often is.

"Not but what it has its advantages too," he added thoughtfully, "and this very power of being able to disappear suddenly has just got me out of a most serious dilemma."

"Won't you tell me about it?" I inquired with considerable curiosity, for I was beginning to be very interested in this singular little person's account of himself.

"With pleasure," said Shin Shira; and settling himself more comfortably in "the Toad," resting his elbows on the arms of the chair, and placing the tips of his fingers together, he told me the following story.

"The very last place in which I appeared before turning up here, was in the grounds of the Palace belonging to the Grand Panjandrum—"

"Where is that situated, if you please?" I ventured to inquire.

Shin Shira gave me a quick glance.

"Do you mean to say that you actually don't even know where the land of the Grand Panjandrum is?" he asked. "H'm! well," he continued as I shook my head, "I remarked a short time ago that you didn't look very clever, but really, I couldn't have believed that you were so ignorant as all that. You'd better look it up in your atlas when I am gone, I can't bother to explain where it is now—but to resume my story. I appeared there, as I said, and in the middle of the kitchen garden all amongst the cabbages and beans.

"I could at first see nobody about, but at last I heard somebody singing, and presently came upon a man carrying a basket in which were some cabbages that he had evidently just gathered.

"Although he was singing so cheerfully, his head was bound up with a handkerchief, and I could see that his face was badly swollen.

"When he had come a little nearer, I bowed politely and inquired of him what place it was, for my surroundings were quite strange to me, it being my first visit to the neighbourhood.

"He told me where I was, and explained that he was the Grand Panjandrum's Chief Cook, and that he had been to gather cabbages to make an apple pie with."

I was about to ask how this was possible, when I caught Shin Shira's eye, and I could see by the light in it that he was expecting me to make some inquiry; but I was determined that he should not again have the opportunity of remarking upon my ignorance, so I held my tongue and said nothing, as though gathering cabbages in order to make an apple pie was the most natural thing in the world to do.

He waited for a moment and then continued—

"I stood talking to the man for some time, and at last I asked what was the matter with his face.

"'I've the toothache,' he said ruefully, 'and that's why I was singing; I'm told that it's a capital remedy.'

"'I'll see if I can't find a better one,' said I, taking up this little book, which I always carry with me." And Shin Shira held out for my inspection a tiny volume bound in yellow leather, with golden clasps, which was attached to his girdle by a long golden chain.

"This," he explained, "is a very remarkable book, and has been in our family for many hundreds of years. It contains directions what to do in any difficulty whatsoever, with the aid of the fairy power, which, as I have told you, I inherit from my fairy ancestor.

"The only difficulty is that, as I am partly a mortal, sometimes (owing perhaps to my fairy great-great-great-grandmother being in a bad temper at the moment) the fairy spell refuses to work, and then I am left in the lurch.

"This time, however, it worked splendidly, for I had only to turn to the word 'Toothache' to discover that the fairy remedy was to 'rub the other side of the face with a stinging nettle, and the pain and swelling would instantly disappear.'

"Fortunately there were plenty of nettles to be found in a neglected corner of the garden, and I quickly applied the remedy, which worked, as the saying is, 'like magic,' for the Grand Panjandrum's Chief Cook's face resumed its normal size at once, and the pain vanished immediately.

"It is needless to say that he was very grateful, and we were walking back to the Palace, where he had just promised to regale me with some of the choicest viands in his larder, when we met, coming towards us, a most doleful-looking individual, clothed in black and wearing a most woebegone visage.

"'It's the Court Physician,' said the Cook; 'I wonder why he is looking so melancholy. May I venture to ask, sir,' he inquired respectfully, 'the occasion of your sorrow?'

"'I am to be executed to-morrow by the Grand Panjandrum's order,' said the Court Physician dolefully, wiping a tear of self-pity from his eye.

"The Chief Cook shrugged his shoulders. 'H'm!' said he, 'if that's the case, and His Supreme Importance has ordered your execution, nobody can possibly prevent it, and there is nothing left but to grin and bear it.'

"'No,' said the Court Physician indignantly. 'I may have to bear it, but I shall not grin. I absolutely refuse! They can't do more than kill me, and I won't grin, so there!'

"The Chief Cook looked horrified. 'It's one of the laws of the land,' he said, 'that whenever one suffers anything at the hands of the Grand Panjandrum, one must grin and bear it; it's a most terrible offence not to do so.'

"'I don't care,' said the Court Physician recklessly, 'I shan't grin, and there's an end of it.'

"'Why are you sentenced to death?' I asked.

"'His Supreme Importance, the Grand Panjandrum, has had the toothache for three days, and I have been unable to subdue it without drawing the tooth, which His Supreme Importance refuses to permit me to do, and in a fit of temper yesterday he said that if he were not better to-day I should be executed to-morrow—and it's worse.'

"The Chief Cook looked at me delightedly.

"'If that's all,' he said, 'this gentleman, whose name I am unfortunately unacquainted with, has a remedy which will soon get you out of your trouble, and I shouldn't wonder if, after all, His Supreme Importance's toothache were the means of raising us all to honour and distinction;' and he proceeded to tell the Court Physician how I had been successful in ridding him of the toothache.

"The Court Physician was greatly interested, and after I had read to him the directions in the book, he suggested that he should take me to the Palace at once and into the presence of the Grand Panjandrum.

"'For no doubt the operation must be performed by yourself, since you alone possess the fairy power,' said he. And so we made the best of our way to the beautiful building which I could see in the distance.

"I wish I could describe to you the magnificence of that marvellous place. The jewelled windows and golden staircase; the wonderful velvety carpets and silken hangings; the hundreds of silent servants dressed in the beautiful royal livery of the Grand Panjandrum, who flitted about executing immediately the slightest wish echoed in that wonderful place.

"But it is sufficient to say that, after a lot of ceremony, I was at last ushered into the presence of the Grand Panjandrum himself.

"It is forbidden to anyone, under the most awful penalties, to describe His Supreme Importance's appearance, so I cannot tell you what he was like; but I found him suffering the most excruciating agony with the toothache, and with his face even more swollen than the Chief Cook's had been.

"At a sign from the Court Physician I quickly prepared my nettle leaves, which we had thought to gather on our way to the palace, and began to rub them gently on the Grand Panjandrum's cheek, on the opposite side of his face to that which was swollen.

"To my horror and amazement, they had no effect whatever, except immediately to raise a terrible rash upon His Supreme Importance's cheek, and to cause him such pain that he called out angrily that it was worse than the toothache itself.

"I hurriedly and anxiously consulted my little book to see if by any mischance I had failed in carrying out any of the directions; but no, there it was in black and white—'rub the other side with a stinging nettle.'

"I showed it to the Court Physician, and he said—

"'Try the "other" side, then: you've rubbed one side, try the other.'

"So in fear and trembling I begged His Supreme Importance's permission to apply the remedy to his other cheek, and after some demur he agreed, but making it a condition that if it failed to act I was to be immediately beheaded.

"You may imagine with what anxiety I awaited the result of my experiment, and how carefully I rubbed the nettles on.

"It was all in vain: the rash spread under the nettles and the swelling grew greater than ever—evidently my fairy power refused to work—and the Grand Panjandrum was in a fearful rage.

"'Fetch the Executioner!' he cried, in terrible tones. 'I will see this impostor executed before my eyes!' And twenty slaves flew to obey his command.

"'Grin!' whispered the Court Physician behind his hand, 'grin and bear it; it's the only thing to be done.'

"I gave him a wrathful glance, and was about to speak, when at a sign from the Grand Panjandrum, two powerful slaves sprang forward and bound and gagged me.

"There was a sound of approaching footsteps, and from another entrance the Executioner appeared, followed by some slaves carrying the block.

"I thought my last moment had arrived, but just then, to my intense delight, I felt a curious sensation, which told me that I was about to disappear.

"My feet went first (this is not always the case), and then my legs, and I could see the amazement with which the Grand Panjandrum and all the assembled company were regarding the, to them, extraordinary phenomenon.

"The Executioner in his agitation dropped his axe, and stood open-mouthed regarding what was left of me; and, although I was rather anxious lest they should make an attempt to chop off my head before it finally disappeared, I managed despite my gag to 'grin' in the Grand Panjandrum's face, and an instant later I found myself here."

Shin Shira, having finished his story, drew his little fan from his sleeve and sat fanning himself with great composure, while he regarded my doubtless astonished face with considerable amusement.

"I—I'll put that story down at once, if you don't mind," I stammered, hurrying to my desk and getting out some papers.

The drawer stuck, and it was some seconds before I could get it open, and when I turned round again, to my great dismay, Shin Shira had almost disappeared.

The little yellow shoes were still there and part of a stocking, but even as I watched them they too disappeared, the long pointed toes of the shoes waggling a kind of farewell—or so I thought—and my strange little visitor had vanished.



It was during my holidays in Cornwall that I next met Shin Shira.

I had ridden by motor-car from Helston to the Lizard, and after scrambling over rugged cliffs for some time, following the white stones put by the coastguards to mark the way, I found myself at last at the most beautiful little bay imaginable, called Kynance Cove.

The tide was low, and from the glittering white sands, tall jagged rocks rose up, covered with coloured seaweed; which, together with the deep blue and green of the sky and sea, made a perfect feast of colour for the eyes.

On the shore I met an amiable young guide, who, for sixpence, undertook to show me some caves in the rocks which are not generally discovered by visitors.

They were very fine caves, one of them being called The Princess's Parlour; and while we were exploring this, I suddenly heard a roar as of some mighty animal in terrible pain.

I turned to the guide with, I expect, rather a white face, for an explanation.

He smiled at my alarm, however, and told me that it was "only the Bellows," and suggested a visit to the spot whence the sound proceeded.

We scrambled out of the cave and descended to the sands again, and passing behind a tall rock called The Tower, we saw a curious sight.

From between two enormous boulders came at intervals a great cloud of fine spray, which puffed up into the air for about twenty feet, accompanied by the roaring noise that I had previously noticed. My young guide explained to me that the noise and the spray were caused by the air in the hollow between the two boulders being forcibly expelled through a narrow slit in the rocks as each wave of the incoming tide entered. Having made this quite clear to me, he took his departure, warning me not to remain too long on the sands, as the tide was coming in rather rapidly.

I sat for some time alone on the rocks, gazing with fascinated interest at the curious effect produced by the clouds of spray coming from "the Bellows," and was at last just turning to go when I started in surprise, for there, sitting on another rock just behind me, was the little Yellow Dwarf, Shin Shira, energetically fanning himself with the little yellow fan which I had noticed at our previous meeting.

"Oh! it's you, is it?" he remarked, when he caught sight of my face. "I thought I recognised the back view; you see it was the last I saw of you when I paid you that visit in your study."

"And disappeared so very suddenly," I answered, going up and offering my hand, for I was very pleased to see the little man again.

"I was obliged to. You know of my unfortunate affliction in having to appear or disappear whenever my fairy great-great-great-grandmother wishes. He's safe enough, isn't he?" he added, inconsequently nodding his head towards "the Bellows."

"Who is? What do you mean?" I inquired.

"The dragon, of course," said Shin Shira.

"The dragon!" I exclaimed.

"Certainly—you know that there's a dragon imprisoned behind those rocks, don't you?"

I laughed.

"No," I said, "although I must admit that I was at first inclined to think that something of the sort was concealed there. I've had it all explained to me, though," and I proceeded to inform him of what the guide had told me concerning the matter.

"Pooh! Rubbish! He doesn't know what he's talking about," said Shin Shira contemptuously; "I'll tell you the real story of those rocks as it occurred, let's see—about eight or nine hundred years ago. I remember it quite well, for it was one of those occasions when I was most distressed at having to disappear at what was for me the very worst possible moment."

I settled myself comfortably on the rocks beside Shin Shira and prepared to listen with great interest.

"Let's think for a moment," said the little Yellow Dwarf, looking about him.

"It began—oh, yes! I know now. In that cave over yonder—I was eight or nine hundred years younger then, and a very warm-blooded and impressionable young fellow at that time; and I can remember being struck with the extreme beauty of the charming Princess whom I discovered in tears there when I suddenly appeared.

"The cave itself was hung about with the most beautiful silken curtains and tapestries, and on the floor were spread rugs and carpets and cushions of Oriental magnificence. Tiny tables, inlaid with ivory and mother-of-pearl, were scattered about, on which were caskets filled with beautiful jewels and rare curios from foreign lands.

"The Princess herself was reclining on one of the cushions, sobbing as though her heart would break, and her beautiful hair was lying in dishevelled glory about her shoulders.

"I was afraid of alarming her, so I coughed slightly to attract her attention.

"She started up immediately with a look of terror, but was calmed in an instant when she saw who it was.

"'Oh!' she cried, 'have you slain him? You must have done in order to have reached here. Oh! have you come to save me?' and she looked at me with wild, eager eyes.

"'Calm yourself, fair lady!' said I. 'What is it that alarms you? Be sure that I will do all in my power to protect you from any evil that threatens you.'

"'The Dragon!' gasped the Princess. 'Have you not slain him? How else can you have entered? He lies at the door of the cave.'

"She caught me by the hand and led me to the entrance, and then, clasping one hand over her eyes and shuddering with terror, she pointed to where, a short distance beyond, under the shadow of some rocks, lay a terrible Dragon, watching with cruel and expectant eyes for any prey that might come his way.

"'I cannot get away from here except I pass him, and I have been imprisoned here now for two days,' sobbed the Princess. 'The King, my father, must indeed be distraught at my absence,' and she burst into fresh weeping.

"I pressed her to tell me how she came there, and she explained to me that one day, while walking on the sands with one of her maidens in attendance, they had together discovered this cave, which was only accessible at low tide; and they had secretly brought the rugs and tapestries and other furniture with which the cave was filled and made a bower of it, to which the Princess was wont to retire whenever she wished to be alone.

"And, venturing here two days since without attendance, the Princess had found, when she had wished to depart, the terrible monster lying in her path.

"'And so,' she cried, 'I have been a prisoner all this time.'

"I cheered her as well as I was able, and turned to my little book to see if by chance it gave me any directions how I might slay a Dragon by means of my fairy powers; and I read there that though one might not slay it (for a Dragon lives for a thousand years), one might rob it of its power by casting at it a jewel of great brilliancy, at the same time wishing that he might become dazed and impotent till one could escape, and it would be so.

"I told this to the Princess, and she hastened to unfasten from her bosom a jewel of great value set in gold of curious workmanship, which she gave to me, imploring me at the same time to do immediately as the book directed.

"'Nay,' said I, 'the jewel is yours; you must cast it at the Dragon, and I will wish that the fairies may aid us.'

"And so we stood at the door of the cave, and the Dragon, seeing us, came forward with wide-opened jaws.

"The Princess clung to my arm with one hand, but with the other she cast the jewel, while with all my desire I wished that my fairy powers might not fail me now.

"Whether, however, it was that the fairies willed it so, or perchance because she was a girl, the Princess's aim was not straight, and she hit, not the Dragon, but a great boulder in the shadow of which he was lurking; and then a truly remarkable thing occurred, for the boulder, immediately it was struck by the jewel, tumbled forward, and falling upon one beside it, imprisoned the Dragon between the two, where he has remained to this day."

And Shin Shira pointed dramatically to the rocks, from which an extra large puff of spray belched forth, with a groan and a cry which almost convinced me that what he told me must be true.

"And what became of the Princess after that?" I inquired, being anxious to hear the end of the story.

"Why," resumed Shin Shira, "we picked up the jewel and hurried away from the spot, and presently came at the top of the cliffs to the Castle, the ruins of which may still be seen up yonder—to where the King dwelt.

"I cannot tell you with what joy the Princess was received, nor with what honour and favour I was rewarded by the King—and, indeed, by all of the people—as the Princess's deliverer.

"It is enough to say that the King called a great assembly of people, and before them all said that as a fitting reward he should give me the fairest jewel in all his kingdom, and handed me the very stone which had been cast at the Dragon, and which was valuable beyond price, being one of the most perfect and flawless stones in the world.

"I was glad enough to have the gem, but I had fallen madly in love with the Princess's beauty, so I made bold to remind the King that the fairest jewel in his kingdom was not the gem he had given me, but the Princess, his daughter.

"The answer pleased the King and the people, though I remember sometimes sadly, even now, that the Princess's face fell as she heard the King declare that his word should be kept, and the fairest jewel of all, even the Princess herself, should be mine.

"But now, alas! comes the sorrowful part, for, before the ceremony of our marriage could be completed, I was doomed by the fairies to disappear, and so I lost for ever my beautiful bride," and Shin Shira gave a deep sigh. "The jewel though," he added, "remained mine, and I have always worn it in the front of my turban in honour and memory of the lovely Princess. You may like to see it," and Shin Shira reached up to his head for the turban in which I had noticed the jewel sparkling only a moment before.

It was gone!

"Dear me! I'm disappearing again myself, I'm afraid," said Shin Shira, looking down at his legs, from which the feet had already vanished.

"Good-bye!" he had just time to call out, before he departed in a little yellow flicker.

"Hi! Hi!" I heard voices shouting, and looking up to the cliffs I saw some people waving frantically. "Come up quickly, or you'll be cut off," they shouted.

And I hurried along the sands, only just in time, for I had been so interested in Shin Shira's story that I had not noticed how the tide had been creeping up. I shall have a good look at that jewel in Shin Shira's turban next time I see him—and as for "the Bellows," I hardly know which explanation to accept, Shin Shira's or that of the guide.



It was just at the end of the school term, and I had received a letter from my young cousin Lionel, who was at Marlborough, reminding me of my promise that he should spend a part at least of his holidays with me.

"Mind you're at the station in time," he had said; "and, I say! please don't call me Lionel if there are any of our fellows about, it sounds so kiddish. Just call me Sutcliffe, and I'll call you sir—as you're so old—like we do the masters. Oh yes! and there's something I want you to buy for me, very particularly—it's for my study. I've got a study this term, and I share it with a fellow named Gammage. He's an awfully good egg!"

"What extraordinary language schoolboys do manage to get hold of," I thought as I re-read the letter while bowling along in the cab on my way to the station, which, a very few minutes later, came in sight, the platform being crowded with parents, relatives and friends waiting to meet the train by which so many Marlburians were travelling.

There was a shriek from an engine, and a rattle and clatter outside the station, as the train, every window filled with boys' excited faces, came dashing up to the platform.

"There's my people!" "There's Tom!" "Hi! hi! Here I am!" "There's the pater with the trap!" "Hooray!" To the accompaniment of a babel of cries like these, and amidst an excited scramble of half-wild schoolboys, I at last discovered my small cousin.

"There he is!" he said, pointing me out to a young friend who was with him; and coming up he hurriedly offered his hand.

"How are you, Sutcliffe?" I asked, remembering his letter.

"All right, thanks," he replied. "This is Gammage. I wanted to show you to him. He wouldn't believe I had a cousin as old as you are. See, Gammage?"

Gammage looked at me and nodded. "'Bye, Sutcliffe; good-bye, sir," said he, raising his hat to me and hurrying off to his "people."

"I say! don't forget the rug, Sutcliffe!" he bawled over his shoulder before finally disappearing.

"Oh no! I say, sir! That's what I want to ask you about," said Sutcliffe, scrambling into the taxi, and settling himself down with a little nod of satisfaction.

"What?" I inquired, as we bowled out of the station.

"Why, a rug for my—our—study," said the boy. "Gammage has bought no end of things to make our room comfortable, and they've sent me up some pictures and chairs and things from home—and—it would be awfully decent of you if you'd buy me a rug to put in front of the fire-place. It's rather cheek to ask, but you generally give me something when I come over to see you, and I arranged with Gammage to say I'd rather have that than anything. What sort of a shop do you get rugs at? Couldn't we get it on our way now, and then it would be done with? I might forget to ask you about it later on."

"What sort of a rug do you want?" I asked, as the taxi turned into Tottenham Court Road.

"Oh, I don't know, sir. Any sort of an ordinary kind of rug will do. There's some in that window; one of those would do."

I stopped the taxi and we got out. The window was filled with Oriental rugs and carpets, and a card in their midst stated that they were "a recent consignment of genuine old goods direct from Arabia."

"Oh, they're too expensive, I expect," I remarked, as we stood amongst a small crowd of people in front of the window, "those Oriental rugs are generally so—"

But Sutcliffe suddenly nudged my arm, and, with an amused twinkle in his eye, called my attention to a remarkable little figure standing beside him, dressed in an extraordinary yellow costume, and wearing a turban.

"Why! bless me! It's Shin Shira!" I exclaimed. "I hadn't noticed you before."

"No," said the Yellow Dwarf, "I've only just appeared. How very strange meeting you here!"

I told him what we were doing, and introduced my young cousin, who was greatly interested and somewhat awe-struck at the extraordinary little personage in the Oriental costume, whose remarkable appearance was causing quite a sensation amongst the bystanders.

"Oh, these rugs," he said, looking at them casually. "No, I don't fancy they are much good for your purpose, they seem to be too—hullo!" he suddenly cried excitedly, "what's that? Good gracious! I really believe it's—Why, yes! I'm sure of it! I recognise it quite well by the pattern. There's not another in the world like it. How could it possibly have got here?"

"What are you talking about?" I asked.

"Why, this carpet," cried Shin Shira, pointing excitedly to a very quaint-looking Oriental rug in the corner of the window. "It's the Magic Carpet which everybody has read about in the Arabian Nights. It enables anybody in whose possession it is to travel anywhere they wish—surely you must have heard about it."

"No!" cried Lionel, his eyes sparkling with eagerness, "not really? Oh, sir! Do—do please buy it—it will be simply ripping! Do! do! Why, it will be better than an aeroplane."

I had never in my life before seen my cousin so excited about anything.

"I should certainly advise you to purchase it," whispered Shin Shira. "It is a very valuable rug, and no doubt you would find it very useful in many ways."

I must confess to a considerable amount of curiosity myself as we entered the shop and asked to be shown the carpet which Shin Shira declared to be endued with such remarkable properties.

It was a very handsome one, and the shopkeeper showed it to us with a considerable amount of pride.

"It's a genuine article, sir," he told me. "Came over only last week from Arabia in a special parcel purchased by our agent in Baghdad—I believe it's very old. These foreigners know how to make things which will last."

I inquired the price, and hesitated considerably when I found that it was far in excess of the amount I had intended to pay for a rug.

However, Lionel seemed so very eager, and Shin Shira assured me so positively that it was really a bargain, that, with a sigh at what I feared was a great piece of extravagance on my part, I took out my purse and paid for it. "To where shall I send it?" inquired the shopkeeper.

"Let's ride home on it and save the cab fare," whispered Shin Shira, pulling me down to his level by my sleeve.

"Good gracious!" I exclaimed.

"Why not? It will be the quickest way home, and certainly the least expensive," persuaded the little Yellow Dwarf.

"But—but—" I protested.

Shin Shira had already spread the carpet on the ground, and pulling Lionel on to it, beckoned me to follow.

Half mechanically I obeyed his instructions, and had no sooner sat down on it, cross-legged, as I saw that Shin Shira and Lionel were doing, than the little Yellow Dwarf cried out something in a language which I supposed to be Arabic—and immediately we began to rise into the air.

I shall never forget the expression of dismay on the countenance of the shopkeeper and his assistants, when they saw us slowly floating in the air towards the door.

"Open it! open it, somebody!" shouted Shin Shira, and a bewildered-looking customer who had just entered instinctively pulled the handle. Before we knew where we were, we found ourselves out in the open air with a shouting, gesticulating, excited crowd watching us as we rose higher and higher, and floated away over the roofs of the houses.

The sensation, I must admit, was a pleasant one, and, despite a slight feeling of nervousness (which, however, young Sutcliffe did not appear to share), I quite enjoyed the journey to my flat.

There were, fortunately, but very few people about, and we arrived at the door without attracting much attention.

One nervous old lady, at whose feet we descended somewhat suddenly, did threaten to call the police—saying rather angrily that "What with motor-cars and such-like," she "didn't know what we were a-coming to, and it wasn't safe for a respectable lady to walk about the streets, what with one thing and another."

I managed, however, to soothe her ruffled feelings, and, rolling the rug up carefully, we went up to the flat. I threw myself into a chair in the study, thoroughly tired out and not a little bewildered by the strange events of the morning.

Lionel, however, was full of excitement, and eager to be off again for a ride on the marvellous Magic Carpet.

"I say! you know! but it's the rippingest thing I've ever heard of. Why, we'll be able to go anywhere. Just think what an awful lot we'll save in railway fares and cabs and those sort of things. I suppose anybody can use it?" he inquired, turning to Shin Shira.

"Oh yes, of course," declared the little Yellow Dwarf, "so long as you say, out loud, where you want to go to."

"Oh! Do let's go out again—just for a little while," pleaded Lionel. "Can't we go to Gammage's? He lives over at Wimbledon. It's quite easy to get to, and it won't take long. We could be back to lunch, and I should so like him to see the Magic Carpet. Do come, sir."

"No," I replied, shaking my head, "I'm too tired. You two can go if you like, only be back in an hour and a half."

"Oh, jolly!" cried Lionel. "Come on, please—let's start at once."

And he picked up the carpet under his arm.

"I think it would attract less attention if, instead of starting from the pavement, we went out of the window," said Shin Shira. "What do you say?"

"By all means," I replied, "if you think best," for you see, having ridden on it myself, I felt perfectly safe in trusting my young cousin on the Magic Carpet, and I felt sure that Shin Shira would not let him come to any harm.

So we opened the window, and a minute later the two were gaily floating away out of sight, both energetically waving their pocket-handkerchiefs until they disappeared.

I could tell by the noise in the street that their strange method of conveyance was attracting considerable attention; but as I felt thankful to note, no one seemed to connect their appearance with my rooms.

The next hour or so passed quickly enough, and I did not begin to get in the least anxious till I heard the clock strike two, and then I suddenly realised that they were over half-an-hour late.

"Oh, they're all right," I consoled myself with thinking. "I expect Gammage is so interested in the wonderful carpet that they can't get away."

When three hours had passed, however, and there was no sign of their return, I began to get seriously alarmed.

"What can have happened?" I thought, and, to add to my discomfiture, a telegram arrived from Lionel's parents inquiring if he had arrived in London safely from Marlborough.

I was able to reply, truthfully, that he had arrived safely, but, as hour after hour passed by without any trace of either Shin Shira or the boy, I became more and more disturbed.

At last I could stand it no longer, but putting on my hat, I hurried off to the nearest Police Station.

"H'm! What do you say, sir?" said the Police Inspector whom I found there, seated before a large open book, when in a broken voice I had hurriedly explained that I feared that my young cousin was lost. "Went off in company with a foreign-looking gent—Just describe him to me, please, as near as you can."

I described Shin Shira's appearance as accurately as I could, and the Police Inspector looked up hurriedly and gave me a searching glance.

"Do you mean to say the gent was going about the streets dressed like that?" he asked, when I had told him about Shin Shira's yellow costume and turban.

"Yes," I replied in some confusion, "he is a foreigner, you know, and—"

"Where does he come from?"

"From Japan, I think, or China, or—"

"What's his name?"

"Shin Shira Scaramanga Manousa Yama Hama is his full name, but—"

The Police Inspector laid down his pen and stared again at me.

"It's a curious name," said he; "I'll get you to write it down for me. I don't think I should be surprised at anything happening to anyone with a name like that. Where do you say they were going?"

"Well," I explained, "they set out to go to Wimbledon to see a—"

"Wimbledon? Let's see, from Kensington they'd go by train I suppose, from High Street Station, and change at—"

"No, no," I interrupted, "they didn't go by train at all, they—" and here I paused, for I suddenly reflected how exceedingly unlikely the Inspector would be to believe me if I told him exactly how they set out for Wimbledon. "You see," I began by way of explanation, "I bought a rug this morning that—"

"Excuse me, sir," said the Inspector somewhat impatiently, "would you mind keeping to the subject. How did Mr. Shin—er—the foreigner I mean, and your cousin go to Wimbledon? If they didn't go by train, did they drive or go by motor, or what?"

"Well, I was trying to tell you. You see, I bought a rug this morning, that—"

"I don't want to hear about your rug, sir," said the Inspector quite angrily. "If you wish us to try and find the young gentleman you must answer my questions properly. How did he set out to go to Wimbledon? Come, come! Let's begin at the beginning. Which way did they turn when they left your door?"

"You see, they didn't exactly leave by the door," I began.

"How did they go then, out of the window?" asked the Inspector in a somewhat sarcastic voice.

"Yes," I replied, "that's just how they did go."

The Inspector looked bewildered.

"Look here, sir," he said at last, "you told me when you gave me your name and address that you lived in a flat at Kensington on the second floor, and now you tell me that your cousin and a foreign gentleman with an outlandish name and dressed like a Guy Fawkes, left your house by the window. Really!"

"So they did," I explained; "you see, I bought a rug this morning that—"

"Bother the rug, sir!" shouted the Inspector, angrily throwing down his pen.

"If you won't listen to what I have to say," I said with some amount of dignity, "how can I possibly tell you what I know? I am endeavouring to explain that my cousin and the gentleman left in a very remarkable manner by means of a Magic Carpet, which—"

"Excuse me, sir," said the Inspector, getting up from his seat and showing me the door, "it strikes me that it's a lunatic asylum you want and not a Police Station. I haven't any time to waste with people who come here with stories like that. Good-evening!" And he shut the door, leaving me outside on the step.

I went to several other stations, and finally to Scotland Yard, but I could get no one to believe my extraordinary story; and at last I went to bed quite bewildered and in a terribly anxious frame of mind, leaving the lights burning and the windows wide open in case the wanderers returned during the night.

The next day, not hearing any news, I was obliged to telegraph for Lionel's father and mother; and I had a terrible scene with them, for they reproached me over and over again for letting their son venture out upon the Magic Carpet.

"You must have known," said my aunt tearfully, "that it was dangerous to trust to such heathenish and out-of-date methods of travelling, and now the poor dear boy is probably transformed or bewitched, or done something terrible to by this wretched Yellow Dwarf friend of yours, with the awful name. It's really disgraceful of you to have let him go at all!"

And so, amid the most bitter reproaches, although I left no stone unturned in my hopeless search for Lionel and Shin Shira, several days flew by, till one morning I nearly leaped from my chair in surprise and delight, at seeing the following report in the paper—


"By Marconigram comes a message from mid-ocean that two days ago the S.S. Ruby, from Liverpool to New York, picked up at sea, under extraordinary circumstances, an English school-boy who states that he was travelling by means of a Magic Carpet, which he was unable to manage. He was found to be in a state of complete exhaustion, but has since recovered, and appears to be a lively, intelligent lad. He will be landed at New York."

It is needless to say that my uncle and myself lost no time in putting ourselves in communication with the steamship people, and of course found that the rescued lad was no other than Lionel.

His father and I crossed over by the next boat, and found him happy and well and being made a tremendous fuss of by everybody at the hotel where we had arranged for him to stay till our arrival.

"Of course," he explained in telling us all about it, "everything went all right at first, and we went to Gammage's house in no time, but he was out. We landed in the garden, and nobody saw us, and I went up to the front door and knocked, and when I found Gammage wasn't at home I just went back to Shin Shira and asked where else we could go, because I didn't want to go home so soon.

"'How would you like to go over to France?' he said; 'we could do it in about twenty minutes.'

"So of course I said yes, and we were crossing the Channel all right when he suddenly began to disappear.

"You can guess I was in an awful funk when I found myself alone on the beastly old carpet, and I couldn't manage it at all. I suppose it was because I couldn't speak the language; Shin Shira used Arabic or something, wasn't it? I tried all sorts of things too, a little bit of French—you know, 'Avez-vous la plume de ma soeur?' and 'Donnez-moi du pain,' and things like that out of my French exercises, but it didn't do any good: we only went out to sea.

"It was frightfully cold all night, and I couldn't sleep at all, and I began to get awfully hungry; but the next morning about eleven o'clock I began to descend very slowly and gradually down to the sea. I thought I was going to be drowned, but fortunately just before I touched the water they saw me from the Ruby, and sent a boat out to pick me up. Everybody was awfully decent on board, and I had plenty of grub and changed my clothes. A fellow who was going over with his people lent me his while mine were being dried.

"Then when I got to New York your cable message was there waiting for me, so I knew it was all right."

We were very thankful to have found the boy again, and within three weeks we were happily home once more, and the adventure with the Magic Carpet was a thing of the past.

The carpet itself was left floating out at sea, and from that day to this I have not heard of it again.



It all began with the collar-stud—at least I put it down at that.

You see, I was dressing rather nervously to go to a charity "At Home" at the Duchess of Kingslake's. I had not met the lady previously, but some young friends of mine had been invited to the "At Home," and they had persuaded the Duchess to ask me too.

I do not know many titled people, and had never before visited a real live Duchess, so I was just telling myself that I must really be on my very best behaviour, and above all, that I must not be late in arriving. The card had mentioned "4 to 6.30," and it was past three o'clock now.

I was just struggling to fix my collar, which was rather stiff and tight, when suddenly the stud popped out and rolled away to—where?

Down I got on my hands and knees, and groped about in every direction that I could think of. I lit a candle, and searched in every available hiding-place; but no—no collar-stud could be anywhere found.

And the time was going on. I rang the bell for Mrs. Putchy, my housekeeper.

"Please, Mrs. Putchy, send at once to the nearest hosier's and buy me a plain collar-stud, and kindly ask Mary to get back as quickly as possible. I am expecting the cab every moment."

"It is at the door, sir," said Mrs. Putchy; "and I don't know, I'm sure, where Mary will be able to get a collar-stud for you to-day. This is Thursday, you know, sir, early closing day."

Too true. It was indeed most unfortunate. In my neighbourhood all the shops close at two o'clock Thursdays, and it would have been as easy to buy a collar-stud as an elephant at Kensington just then.

What was to be done?

A sudden inspiration struck me.

I ran across to the study, and undoing my desk, I found a little yellow-covered book attached to a golden chain which I had picked up just after my friend Shin Shira had vanished the last time he had visited me.

It was the book which the fairies had given him, and contained directions as to what to do when in any difficulty. I hurriedly turned to the letter C, intending to look for "collar-stud"—but, to my great disappointment, there was no such word to be found.

"Of course not," I suddenly thought; "the people who live in the land from which Shin Shira comes don't wear such things," and I let my mind wander back to my little friend with his yellow silk costume and turban.

"Hullo! though," I exclaimed a moment later, "what's this?"

My eyes had caught the words "To obtain your wishes" at the top of one of the pages.

I hastily read what followed, and gathered from what was written that anybody could have at least two wishes granted by the fairies if he only went about it in the right way and followed the given directions closely. It appeared that one must hop round three times, first on one foot and then on the other, repeating the following words aloud, and wishing very hard—

"Fairies! fairies! grant my wishes, You can do so if you will, Birds and beasts and little fishes One and all obey you still. Fairies! Please to show me how You can grant my wishes now."

Of course I immediately wished for a collar-stud, and I was just hopping round on my right leg for the third time, having begun with the left one, when Mrs. Putchy entered the room.

She looked rather surprised at seeing me engaged in what must have seemed to her rather an extraordinary occupation, but she is so used to strange things happening with me that she made no remark, except to point to a spot just in front of the fire-place, where, to my great surprise, I could see the very collar-stud which I had wanted.

"Extraordinary!" I exclaimed, as I picked it up. "I could have declared that it was not there a minute ago, for as you know, Mrs. Putchy, I searched everywhere for it."

"The cabman, sir, is getting impatient," said Mrs. Putchy, as she put down my coat and hat which she had thoughtfully brought to my room.

"Well, we won't keep him waiting long now," I smilingly said as I hurriedly completed my dressing, and a very few minutes later, the cab was quickly bowling me towards my destination.

The mansion near Grosvenor Square, at which the Duchess resided, was a very grand one, and red carpet was laid down the steps and across the pavement for the convenience of the guests, who were arriving in large numbers at the same time as myself. Fortunately, just inside the hall I met my little friends the Verrinder children; Vera, the little girl, looking very pretty in her white party frock; and her two brothers, Dick and Fidge, full of excitement and high spirits.

They fastened on me at once and dragged me most unceremoniously up to our hostess, who it appears was Vera's godmother, and introduced me in their own fashion.

"This is the gentleman who tells stories, godmamma," said Vera.

"And knows all about the Wallypug and the Dodo and Shin Shira, and all sorts of things," declared Dick.

"And if you ask him—" began Fidge, when the Duchess interrupted him.

"Really, children, you mustn't rattle on so. I am very pleased to meet your friend, and I trust that he will have an enjoyable afternoon," and the lady smiled graciously and held out the tips of her fingers for me to shake.

I bowed as politely as I knew how, and, following the children, was soon in the large drawing-room, which was already half filled with young people who had come to the "At Home."

It appeared that a very grand personage indeed was to be present. A real live Princess was coming to receive purses of money which the children had collected themselves, on behalf of the poor and sick in the East-end of London; and, after the purses had been given, there was to be a kind of concert and entertainment.

Footmen were walking about with tea and cakes of all sorts, and the time passed very pleasantly, till presently there was a commotion at the door, and Her Royal Highness the Princess entered and was led to the end of the room, where a tiny little girl presented a beautiful bouquet of flowers.

The Princess made a gracious little speech, saying how glad she was to come on behalf of the poor people to receive the purses of money which the children had collected; and then as they passed up one by one and laid their purses on the silver tray beside her, she had a smile and a little happy nod for each of them.

It was a very pretty sight, but soon over, for the Princess, who is devoted to good works, had to hurry away to another work of charity in a distant part of London.

We were all sorry when she went, but were not allowed to get dull, for almost immediately afterwards the concert began.

Several ladies and gentlemen sang, and a wonderful boy-pianist played some music of his own composing; a little girl played the violin delightfully; and a very humorous gentleman was giving a musical sketch at the piano and making us all laugh very much, when I suddenly noticed that the Duchess, who was sitting by herself on a settee, had raised her lorgnette and was staring curiously, and rather apprehensively, at something beside her.

It was yellow in colour and seemed to grow larger every minute. I had imagined at first that it was a cushion, but now it suddenly occurred to me that it was Shin Shira appearing.

Of course! and a minute or two later there he sat, cross-legged, composedly fanning himself on the settee beside the Duchess.

I could see her draw her skirts aside and regard the little Yellow Dwarf in a puzzled and bewildered manner; and, as soon as the musical sketch was concluded, she called one of the footmen to her and told him to "remove that extraordinary-looking person immediately."

Vera and the boys, however, had caught sight of Shin Shira, and flew forward to claim acquaintance with him.

"It's Shin Shira, you know, godmamma. He's a friend of the gentleman who came with us—and—"

"He was not invited," said the Duchess, looking with great disfavour at the little Yellow Dwarf, "and it was exceedingly impertinent of your friend to bring him without an invitation—I am displeased."

"Madam," said Shin Shira, getting down to the floor and bowing low in the Oriental manner, "you are mistaken in thinking that I came with a friend. I—er—appeared, because I was obliged to do so—I—"

The Duchess came over to where I was sitting.

"Do you know this person?" she inquired, pointing with her glasses towards Shin Shira. "Who and what is he? Did you bring him here, and if so why?"

"I am acquainted with the gentleman, Duchess," I admitted, "but he did not come with me. I can tell you, however, that now he is here he can be made very useful in entertaining your guests—he is a conjurer of very remarkable powers, and I've no doubt whatever but that he would be only too happy to exercise them for the amusement of the company."

"That is a different matter," said the Duchess, evidently somewhat mollified. "You may introduce me."

I went to fetch Shin Shira, and had soon performed the necessary ceremony.

"The Duchess would be very much obliged if you would perform some conjuring tricks, as I know you will do with pleasure," I whispered.

"Delighted, I'm sure," replied the little Yellow Dwarf; "that is one thing which I flatter myself I can do very well, owing to my fairy powers," and so it was arranged that he was to begin immediately.

I cannot possibly tell you of all the wonderful things he showed us. He made flowers grow straight up from the carpet, and turned a gentleman's walking-stick into a kind of Christmas-tree, upon which hung a little present for every child in the room: a fan for each of the ladies, and a suitable gift for each of the gentlemen.

This was a most popular trick, it is needless to say, and the numerous ladies and gentlemen who had by this time joined the party were as delighted as were the children themselves.

Shin Shira had become quite a centre of attraction, and the Duchess smiled at me approvingly.

"Your friend is a great acquisition," she remarked, coming over to the settee on which I was seated. "Look! look! whatever is he going to do now?"

I was as interested and puzzled as herself, for, knowing of the extraordinary powers which my little friend possessed, I could never be sure what to expect from him in the way of the marvellous.

This time it was really a most interesting trick.

First of all he turned an inkstand into a large clear crystal bowl, and placed it on a little table which stood in front of him. Then he asked for anything to be given to him which the owner wished to disappear.

Several gentlemen gave their watches, and one or two ladies laughingly took off their bracelets and handed them to Shin Shira, who immediately placed them in the crystal bowl.

To our utter astonishment, each article as it was placed into the bowl vanished from sight, and Shin Shira turned the bowl upside down to show that nothing was inside.

"It's really most marvellous," murmured the Duchess, taking off a most valuable diamond ornament and handing it to the Yellow Dwarf. "Please make this disappear too. I shall value it more highly than ever if I know that it has been through such a wonderful adventure."

Shin Shira bowed, and taking the jewelled ornament from the lady, he dropped it into the bowl, where it at once shared the same fate as the other articles.

"Ha! Hum!" said a grave and somewhat pompous voice, "our friend here might readily become a very dangerous person if he exercised his remarkable gifts in private, and made things disappear in this extraordinary fashion, and then refused to produce them again. Eh? Ha! Hum!"

"Yes—ha! ha! very good. Ha! ha!" laughed a number of people who were standing near to the guest who had spoken.

"That's the Lord Chief Justice," explained a gentleman who stood near me. "That's why everybody is laughing; it's considered very improper not to laugh when the Lord Chief Justice makes a joke—however feeble it is."

I hardly listened to what he was saying, though, for I had suddenly noticed something which caused me a good deal of anxiety.

Shin Shira was beginning to look very thin and vapoury about the head, and, while I was watching him, to my horror, he began to vanish piecemeal till he had entirely disappeared from sight, after giving me a strange, apologetic look.

The people clapped and stamped and laughed, evidently imagining that it was all part of the trick—but I—I knew differently, and scarcely dared realise what it all meant for me.

For a few minutes everybody waited patiently for him to appear again, and clapped and stamped in great good humour. Presently, however, they began to get rather tired and impatient, and, after we had waited for about twenty minutes, the delay began to get very awkward.

"Why doesn't he come back?" inquired the Duchess, in an impatient voice, coming over to where I was standing. "The delay is becoming very embarrassing."

I turned very red, I am afraid, for I hardly liked to explain that the probability was that he would not come back at all.

"Several of my guests are wanting to go early, and they must have their jewellery before they depart," she continued. "Can you not tell him to hurry up?"

"I—I—I—am—afraid n—not," I stammered.

"But you must," insisted the lady. "He's your friend, and you brought him here, and I shall look to you to—"

"Oh, Duchess! I'm sorry to interrupt your charming party, but will you please ask the clever little gentleman who made my diamond and ruby bracelet disappear if he would kindly return it, as I really must be going," said a lady, hurrying up. "And my emerald chain, dear Duchess." "And my gold and pearl locket," chimed in several other voices.

"Yes, you simply must fetch him back somehow," said the Duchess, clutching my arm nervously. "You see my guests are beginning to get alarmed. You must!—you must!"

"B-but I can't—it's impossible," I endeavoured to explain.

The Duchess grew pale. "Do you mean to say," she gasped, "that the man has really disappeared—and—and taken the things with him? It's too terrible—too dreadful! What am I to do? And all my guests! What will they think of me? Oh! Do—do—do something! I don't mind so much about my beautiful diamond pendant, but do somehow get back the things belonging to my guests. You brought him here. You must!"

The grown-up guests were whispering together in little anxious and indignant groups, and things were beginning to look very serious—so serious that I sank into a chair and buried my head in my hands, trying to think of some possible way out of the difficulty.

The Duchess was almost in tears, and several ladies were trying to console her, when suddenly I thought of a means of escape. Of course! the wish! I had another wish left according to what the little book had told me. I had wished for a collar-stud, and had found my own. Perhaps if I wished for the jewellery—

The thought no sooner entered my head than I jumped up and began hopping on one leg repeating—

"Fairies, fairies! grant my wishes, You can do so if you will, Birds and beasts and—"

"Oh, he's mad, he's gone mad. Hold him, somebody!" cried the Duchess when she saw me hopping about in what must have appeared to her a most eccentric manner; but, though several gentlemen came up and caught hold of me, I managed to get round three times on one leg, and three times on the other, repeating the magic rhyme, and then I wished—wished as hard as ever I could—for the jewellery to be found, before I sank down exhausted with my struggle.

Then a most remarkable thing happened, for the gentleman who had been pointed out to me as the Lord Chief Justice, and who had apparently been more indignant than anyone else at the disappearance of the jewellery, suddenly began behaving in a very strange manner too, diving his hands first into one pocket and then into another and muttering—"Strange! remarkable! Most extraordinary!" and finally drawing out from every part of his clothing watches, chains, rings, bracelets and jewellery of all kinds, till every missing article, including the Duchess's diamond pendant, was restored to its proper owner.

There was a pause at first, and then everybody began to talk at once—laughing and protesting that "of course they all knew it was part of the trick, and they weren't really anxious at all," and so on, and I knew that the situation was saved.

Even the Duchess beamed and admitted that it was "really quite the most marvellous performance she had ever seen," and thanked me over and over again for having introduced such a remarkable conjurer to her party. The guests were all equally delighted, and amidst the laughter and chatter that followed, the Verrinder children and myself made good our escape, and I felt very thankful that the fairies' "wish" had got me out of what at one time bid fair to have been a very awkward predicament.

* * * * *

The Duchess called on me the next day to thank me again, and to ask where she might write to my little friend to thank him also. This information, however, I was naturally unable to impart.



It was during the summer holidays and my young cousin Lionel was staying with me again. We had been spending the hot afternoon strolling about Kensington Gardens, and had just been enjoying a cup of tea and some cakes under the trees at the little refreshment place near the Albert Memorial.

"I think we'd better be going home now," I said. "We'll get a motor-'bus at the gate."

"Oh! must we go yet?" pleaded Lionel. "It's so jolly out here under the trees. Let's walk home past the Round Pond."

"I've some letters to write before dinner," said I, "but—"

"Oh, bother the old letters!" interrupted Lionel. "It won't take much longer to walk, and you'll get them done all right. Come on!"

With a sigh of resignation, I not altogether unwillingly let the young scamp have his way.

It was the best part of the day: the lengthening shadows and the cool breeze which had sprung up made walking very enjoyable.

We had nearly reached the Round Pond when I heard a startled "squ-a-a-k!" at my feet, and a lame duck struggled up from the grass and limped painfully off.

"Poor thing!" cried Lionel, who was a kind-hearted little chap. "You nearly trod on it. I wonder how it got to be lame."

"Some boys," said an indistinct voice close at hand, "some boys threw a stone at it this afternoon and injured its leg."

We looked round in great surprise, for there seemed to be nobody about to account for the voice; but presently I could just discern Shin Shira's face and yellow turban appearing.

"Can't shake hands yet," said he, nodding amiably, "for they haven't arrived at present, but I've no doubt they'll be here shortly."

"I wonder how he'd get on if he wanted to scratch his nose," whispered Lionel, who had a keen sense of the ridiculous.

"It's rude to whisper in company," said Shin Shira severely, evidently aware that some remark had been made about himself—"but there, you're only a boy, and boys are—Hullo! here come my legs! that's all right! I thought I shouldn't have to wait long for them. Where are you off to?" and the little Yellow Dwarf hurried up to us now that he was quite complete.

"Oh, we're just walking home," I replied, "only Lionel had a fancy to pass the Round Pond on our way; the little model yachts one often sees there are very amusing to watch."

"Yes," agreed Shin Shira. "There's one been left behind to-day," he continued. "The boys who threw the stone at the duck were seen by the park keeper, and when he came after them they ran away, leaving their boat behind them. Serve them right if they lose it."

"Oh, yes! There it is now!" cried Lionel, running towards the edge of the Round Pond. "What a jolly little yacht. Why, it's a perfect model," and he regarded it with the greatest admiration. He took it from the water and inspected it carefully.

"I say!" he cried excitedly, "wouldn't it be ripping if we could become small enough to go for a sail in it!"

"It's a very simple matter to arrange, if you wish it," remarked Shin Shira composedly.

"D-do you really m-mean that it would be possible for you to make us as tiny as that?" stammered Lionel in his eagerness, his eyes bright with excitement.

"I couldn't do it, but the fairies might," said the Dwarf, taking up the little yellow book which I had restored to him after our last adventure.

"But should we be able to return to our proper size again?" I inquired carefully, for I remembered from previous experience that Shin Shira's magical powers had an unfortunate habit of going wrong at times.

"Without the least doubt," replied he; "in fact, from the time that you are reduced to the size which you desire to be, you very gradually increase, till your original size is reached."

"Then there's no danger?" I hazarded.

"None whatever," was the reassuring reply.

"Then do, do please let us be 'reduced,'" pleaded Lionel eagerly.

"Very well, then," said I. "And do you propose that we should go for a trip in the model yacht?"

"Of course!" declared Lionel.

"Put it in the water then," said Shin Shira, "and I'll see what I can do."

Lionel quickly put down the boat, and stood watching Shin Shira to see what would happen.

The little Yellow Dwarf was busily gathering pebbles from the edge of the pond, examining each carefully, and then throwing them down again in what appeared to be an aimless and unintelligible manner.

Presently, however, he said, "There's one," and putting a stone carefully away in his belt, he continued to search till he had found another like it.

"And there's the other," he said, coming towards us.

"Now then, all you have to do is to swallow these two little white stones and wish to be—let's see—an inch and a quarter high, and there you are."

"It seems rather a venturesome proceeding," I said, hesitatingly.

"Oh no! it'll be all right! Come along! Let's swallow them!" cried Lionel, suiting the action to the word and popping one of the stones into his mouth without further ado.

He immediately became so small that I had some difficulty in seeing him at all amongst the stones at the edge of the Pond.

"Are you not going to swallow one of the stones too?" I inquired of the Dwarf before swallowing mine.

"No, I think not," was the reply. "I'll remain as I am, I think, in case you may require assistance of a kind which only a larger person than yourself could afford."

I then swallowed my stone, and immediately became almost as tiny as my small cousin, having, for my part, wished to be reduced to the height of an inch and a half, thinking that some sort of distinction ought to be preserved in our relative sizes.

"There!" exclaimed Lionel in a vexed voice, when I had joined him. "It's no use after all! How on earth are we going to get on board?"

"Ah!" cried Shin Shira, laughing good-humouredly and now looking, to us, like a good-natured giant, towering as he did high above our heads. "Now you see the wisdom of my having remained as I am. I can simply lift you on board and push the boat off for you too."

Suiting the action to the word, he very gently and carefully picked up first Lionel and then me from the ground and placed us on board the yacht, then gave the boat a little shove which, though he didn't intend it to do so, sent us both sprawling on the deck and the boat itself well out into the water.

I think I have mentioned that a slight breeze had sprung up, and the Pond was rippled over with tiny waves, upon which our yacht danced merrily, the sails having filled out with wind which drove her along at a fine rate.

Lionel was running all over the deck examining everything eagerly.

"I wish there was a real cabin," he said; "this is only a dummy one, and I find a lot of the ropes to the sails won't act properly. I wonder how you steer the thing, too."

"By means of the rudder, I should imagine," I said.

"Of course!" exclaimed Lionel impatiently; "any baby would know that; but this one is fastened up so tightly that I can't move it."

"Well, never mind," said I, "it is evidently set in the right direction; for see, we are heading straight across the Pond, and there's Shin Shira walking round to be there to meet us when we go ashore," and I settled myself down comfortably to enjoy the pleasant trip.

"Hullo! Look at that!" cried Lionel a moment or two later, pointing to the shore.

The lame duck had been disturbed by Shin Shira's passing, and was slowly waddling towards the water.

"She's coming in!" declared Lionel. "By Jove! doesn't she look a size now we're so tiny!"

The boy was right, for, to us, the duck now appeared a formidable monster of strange and uncouth shape. Her bill, as she came quacking into the water, opened and shut in an alarming manner, revealing the fact that, if she desired to do so, she could make a meal of us at one gulp.

Somewhat to our dismay, she seemed impelled by some vague curiosity to swim in our direction, and the situation began to get distinctly alarming as she drew nearer and nearer.

"What on earth shall we do?" exclaimed Lionel. "I hope to goodness she isn't going to attack us. It would be too silly to be swallowed by a duck."

"I fancy she's only coming to have a look at us," I said, "and at any rate, if we shouted at her loudly if she came too near it would probably frighten her away."

This seemed to be the only thing to do, and as the duck continued to swim directly towards us we both began to shout and wave our arms about in what must have appeared to Shin Shira a perfectly mad fashion.

The noise, however, seemed to have the desired effect, for the duck paused, looked at us in a puzzled manner for a moment, and then turned tail and began moistening her bill in the water, lifting her head and shaking it after each mouthful, as their habit is.

"I wish she'd get out of the way," said Lionel anxiously. "We shall run into her directly, she's right in our course," and he began to shout vigorously again, in the hope of startling her.

I added my voice to his, and we both yelled our loudest, with not the slightest effect, however, for the duck continued unconcernedly to enjoy herself in her own fashion in the middle of the lake. Presently what Lionel had feared came to pass, and with a bump which sent us both off our feet, the yacht was driven straight on to the duck, which gave a terrific "Quack!" and swam off in a hurry.

"Our bowsprit's broken," announced Lionel, directly he had recovered his feet, "and it's fallen in the water and is dragging the sails with it—and—look out!" This as a gust of wind filled the mainsail and caused the boat to careen over on to her side in a highly dangerous manner.

"Look out!" and this time another and a stronger gust completed the matter, and the sail touched the water and immediately became saturated, so that the boat could not right itself.

"Well, we shan't sink, that's one thing," I said, for Lionel was looking at me in an alarmed manner. "The water cannot get into the hull, thanks to there not being a 'real' cabin and the hatches only being sham ones."

"That's all very well," said Lionel, though giving a little sigh of relief at my reassuring words, "but we can't stop here for ever. I should like to know how we are to get ashore."

Shin Shira, who had seen our accident, was shouting and gesticulating at the edge of the Pond, but the wind was blowing in his direction and carried the sound of his voice away from us, so that we couldn't hear a single word of what he was saying.

"I suppose eventually we shall drift ashore," I said hopefully.

"Yes, but not for hours and hours perhaps," said Lionel dolefully, "because the wind may change, you know, and besides it's getting dusk."

"It certainly isn't a very pleasant look-out," I agreed. "I can't see what we are to do, unless—I say! what's that big box floating towards us?"

Lionel looked in the direction in which I was pointing.

"It's an empty match-box," he said uninterestedly; "that's no good."

"I'm not so sure about that," said I. "Try and get hold of it as it drifts this way. I've an idea."

"I can't see what good an empty match-box can be to us," grumbled Lionel, doing his best, however, to aid me in capturing the prize as it blew against the side of the overturned yacht, which we at last did with some difficulty.

It was a very large box and had evidently been in the water for some time; the paper around it had become unstuck from the sides and hung loose in the water beside it.

"We must get the paper at all cost, and pray be careful not to tear it," I cried.

"Whatever for?" asked Lionel in amazement.

"Do as you're told and don't ask questions," I replied rather crossly, for I was very anxious to try an experiment which I had in my mind. So we hauled the paper aboard and stretched it on the bulwarks to dry.

Then we hauled the broken bowsprit aboard and freed it from the broken ropes with our pen-knives—a long and difficult job—and by the time we had finished, the paper which had been around the box had become dry and quite stiff by reason of the gum with which it had been stuck to the sides of the box.

"Oh, I see!" cried Lionel, as I clambered on to the box (which was fastened by a rope to the side of the yacht) and began to cut a hole in the middle. "You're going to make a raft."

"I'm going to try to," I answered grimly, for I wasn't at all sure that my experiment would be a success.

By dint of real hard work, cutting and contriving, however, we did eventually succeed in making a raft of a sort, the stiff paper, fixed to the broken bowsprit, making a capital sail; and somewhat in fear and trembling, we both got aboard and pushed off from the derelict yacht.

All went well for some time till we were nearing the shore, and then I noticed something which caused me grave alarm.

We were both growing rapidly! The raft, which had before been quite large enough to support us, was now low down in the water with our weight, and there was great danger of the water getting into the inside of the box, in which case it would undoubtedly sink.

Lionel noticed the difficulty at the same time as myself, for he gave me a startled glance.

"We're getting bigger," he said. "Do you think the raft will hold out?"

"I don't think so," I replied, "but we're quite near the water's edge now—perhaps I could swim ashore with you."

"Good gracious! I can swim twice that distance myself, thank you. Why, I beat Mullings Major hollow in the swimming competition last term, and he's four years older than me, and—"

Whatever Lionel was going to add was lost, for at that instant he had to put his boasted prowess to the test. The box, having filled with water just as I had feared it would do, sank slowly down, and we were left in the water.

Fortunately Lionel's boast was not a vain one, and he reached the shore before I did, laughing and wringing the water out of his clothes.

"Well, it's good to be on dry land once more at any rate," he said, as I waded ashore, "isn't it?"

"Yes," I agreed, looking about to see if I could discover any traces of Shin Shira in the dusk.

"There he is!" at last cried Lionel, "but his head has vanished, and there are only his legs and arms waving about. They won't be much use to us, and—by Jove! yes! Look, here comes that wretched old duck after us. We'll have to cut," and he gathered up his things and set the example.

It was quite true; the old duck had evidently come to the conclusion that we were something dainty to eat—in the frog line probably—and was waddling towards us as quickly as her game leg would allow.

Fortunately we were soon able to out-distance her; and having fixed our latitude by Kensington Palace, which we could just see in the distance, we set out for the gate.

To our tiny, but rapidly growing bodies the distance seemed an interminable one, especially as darkness was now quickly falling. We could see the lights in Kensington, but they seemed far, far away; and to add to our dismay, when at last, tired and exhausted, we did reach the gate, it was only to find it closed for the night, and that during our journey from the Pond we had grown too big to be able to squeeze through the railings.

We waited a few minutes uncertain what to do, till presently a cab came in sight, the horse walking leisurely and the cabby evidently on the look-out for a fare.

"Cabby! cabby!" I called, and Lionel added his shrill voice to mine.

The cabman looked about in bewilderment.

"Here, by the Park gates!" I yelled, and he got down from his seat and came over to where we were standing.

"Well, I'm blowed!" he exclaimed when he had had a good look at us. "What the Dickens are you? Kids or dwarfs or what?"

"Never mind what we are, cabby; get us out of here somehow, and drive us home to Kensington Square, and I'll give you a sovereign."

"Will you, though?" said the cabby. "Well, I'm gaun to do it, but the question is—how? I'll go and knock up the park keeper."

"No, no, don't do that!" I said hastily. "He'll want such a lot of explanations, and we're wet and uncomfortable and anxious to get home. Do please try and think of some way of getting us out without having to call him."

Our cabby was a man of resource, for having considered for a moment, he backed the horse close against the gate, stood on the top and lowered the horse's nosebag by means of a long rope which he kept by him in case of emergencies, and cried—

"Now then, get in there, one at a time, and I'll soon have you over here."

Lionel got in first, and as the cabby had said, was easily hauled up and deposited on the top of the cab.

I followed, and in a very short space of time we were both inside the cab and rattling home at a good pace.

I got the cabby to knock at the door, and Mrs. Putchy, to whom I quickly explained everything, gave him a sovereign for me. In a very few minutes Lionel and I were warm and comfortable each in our respective beds.

In the morning we had both grown to our original sizes, and the adventure of the day before was nothing but a memory.



I was exceedingly surprised a few weeks after our latest adventure with the little Yellow Dwarf to receive the following extraordinary letter from him. It was dated from Baghdad, and bore two very unusual postage stamps, which Lionel promptly claimed for his collection.

"Kind and obliging Sir," it began, "I am in great and serious trouble and in danger of my life, and I appeal to you to come to my assistance by the first boat. I will explain everything when we meet, but kindly do not delay, as everything depends upon your presence here.

"Again beseeching you not to delay, "Your miserable and much-afflicted friend, "SHIN SHIRA SCARAMANGA MANOUSA YAMA HAWA.

"P.S.—Inquire for me at the State Prison, Baghdad."

"Well!" I exclaimed, after perusing this remarkable epistle, "of all the extraordinary requests I have ever received this is the strangest. This man, whom I have only met at the most half-a-dozen times in my life, expects me to neglect my work and rush off to Baghdad, of all places in the world, to his assistance, because he has got into some trouble which has landed him in the State Prison there. I always thought somehow that those uncanny powers which he possesses would get him into serious difficulties at some time or another. I'll send him a letter stating that I cannot go to him." And here I endeavoured to dismiss Shin Shira and his affairs from my mind.

I was so worried about the matter, however, that I couldn't settle to work, so I lit my pipe and settled myself in my easy-chair to think the matter out.

Poor little fellow! If he really was in such desperate straits it seemed very heartless to leave him to his fate if in any way I could be of real assistance to him; and, after all, I could work almost as well while I was away as I could at home, and the voyage would probably give me plenty of new ideas for my book. I thought of all the kind things the little chap had done for me, and how he had always somehow come to the rescue when I had been in difficulties in my adventures with him; and finally I came to the conclusion that it would be most ungrateful and selfish of me if I let anything stand in the way of my going to my friend's assistance.

I had no sooner made up my mind on this point than I called a cab and set out at once for Messrs. Cook's office and booked a passage by the next steamer.

I will not tell you anything about the somewhat uninteresting journey either by sea or land, with the exception that when I at last stepped ashore in an Oriental port, I found in the curious costumes and strange surroundings many things to amuse me and to wonder at.

The entire journey on the whole, however, was decidedly tedious, and I was very glad to find myself at last in the ancient city of Baghdad.

I went at once to the British Consul there and told him my object in coming to the city.

"Shin Shira!" he exclaimed. "Why, there is scarcely anything talked about in these days but Shin Shira. He has stolen one of the most valuable crown jewels, and was caught with it in his possession. Despite the indisputable evidence against him, however, he persists in declaring his innocence, and pleads that, with the assistance of a friend from London, he can prove it conclusively. I suppose, sir, that you are the friend from London."

I told him that I was, and that I was deeply grieved to hear of the trouble that Shin Shira was in, and that I felt convinced that there was some mistake in the matter which could somehow or other be cleared up.

"I should be very glad to think so," said the Consul, shaking his head, "but I fear it is hopeless. You see, the stone—an almost priceless diamond—was actually found in his possession. But come, you will be anxious to see your friend as soon as possible. I will come with you to the prison and see that you are admitted."

The kind-hearted official called his carriage, and together we drove through the unfamiliar narrow streets to the dismal-looking building in which my poor friend was confined.

A brief consultation with the authorities and the signing of various papers made me free to enter the prison, and having thanked the Consul for his kind offices, I was led away by one of the officials to a terribly dark dungeon, in which, crouched in a corner, I found my poor friend Shin Shira, looking the picture of misery.

His face lit up with a smile of hope, however, when he saw me, and his whole aspect changed.

"My friend! my deliverer!" he cried, using all kinds of extravagant Oriental phrases to express his delight at seeing me. "Ah! at last you have come, and I shall be saved! May all the blessings of Allah be on your head!"

The official withdrew, locking the door carefully behind him, having first given me to understand by various signs that he would return for me in about half-an-hour.

"Well, now," I inquired, when we were alone, "what is this terrible trouble which has brought you here? What have you been doing?"

"Nothing!" declared Shin Shira solemnly. "Nothing whatever to merit this punishment. It is all a horrible mistake. Let me begin at the beginning. About two months ago, after a series of my usual adventures, I suddenly appeared here in Baghdad. Now I have been acquainted with the city for many, many years—in fact, ever since the time of Sinbad the Sailor, whom I knew quite well, and with whom I was at one time very friendly. Well, I have many times appeared here since then, and on each occasion I have taken a great interest in the place on account of old associations. I have made many friends here, too; so when I found myself here once more I was greatly delighted, and was making my way to the Bazaar, where I knew I should be sure to find some acquaintances, when greatly to my surprise I saw several passers-by stop and stare at me curiously and then, whispering amongst themselves, follow me at some distance behind.

"It could not be my clothing which was attracting all this attention, for it was more or less of the same pattern to which they were accustomed. I caught sight of myself in a polished steel mirror in one of the shops in the Bazaar, and stole a glance at myself, but could see nothing wrong. What could be the cause? I had not long to wait, however, before I found out to my cost what was wrong.

"The crowd following me had increased in size, and at last two enormous men in uniform came up and seized me by my arms, and I was immediately surrounded by a throng of curious faces.

"'Where did you get that diamond?' demanded one of my captors, pointing to my turban, in which, as you know, I always wear the jewel which the Princess gave me.

"'Oh that! That was given to me many years ago by a friend—a Princess—who has been dead now for many hundreds of years,' I said.

"'Many hundreds of years? And you say she was a friend of yours?' exclaimed the man. 'Absurd!'

"'Preposterous!' declared the other. 'Look here! If you can't give us some more reasonable explanation than that, we shall take you off at once to the Chief Magistrate, and charge you with having stolen it.'

"'But why?' I gasped. 'Why should you think that I have stolen it?'

"'A diamond of exactly that size and colour has disappeared from amongst the Crown jewels, and it strikes me very forcibly that this is the very one.'

"It was in vain for me to protest. I was taken before the Magistrate, and experts were called to examine the jewel.

"They weighed it and examined it carefully through powerful magnifying glasses, and finally unanimously agreed that it was indeed the missing jewel.

"I was closely cross-questioned as to how it came into my possession, and also as to my movements during the past six months. My explanations were considered most unsatisfactory, and no one would believe me; consequently I was thrown into prison and condemned to death. It was only by the most earnest pleading that I managed to gain time for you to get here, as I assured them that you would be able to put everything right, and explain matters to their entire satisfaction."

"I?" I stammered. "I am very, very sorry for you, my poor friend, and I would do anything to help you, but what am I to say or do which will convince them when you tell me that you have failed to do so?"

"It is easy—easy," declared Shin Shira hopefully. "Now attend carefully to what I say. I am of course not allowed outside the prison walls, and there is no one here whom I would dare to trust with an important commission.

"Now I want you to go at once to the Bazaar, and find a man named Mustapha, a dealer in old curiosities; and, without letting him know whom it is for, purchase from him a large round crystal which you will find in his shop. He will probably want a lot of money for it, but whatever he asks offer him just half, and you will find that after a lot of argument he will let you have it at that. These Oriental shopkeepers are all like that. And then, having secured the crystal, hurry back here and the rest will be easy."

Although I could not in the least see what Shin Shira wanted the crystal for, I was careful to execute his commission to the letter.

I found no difficulty in reaching the Bazaar, and, once there, soon found out Mustapha. I did not like the look of the man at all.

He was a fawning, obsequious little man, with shifting eyes which never looked you straight in the face.

He stood bowing and smiling and rubbing his hands when I entered the shop and asked to see the crystal.

"Ah yea—very fine crystal—for those who know how to use it. Very vallyble—lot money. You know this? You got?" and he gave me a searching glance with his little bead-like eyes.

"Oh yes, I can pay for it if I want it," I said, "but what do you call a lot of money? How much do you want for it?"

He named a price which I knew to be very excessive, and I shook my head decidedly.

"No! too much!" I declared.

"Oh! but see! Beautiful crystal!" he argued.

"No," I replied, "too much! I'll give you half," and I began to walk unconcernedly out of the shop.

"And you give me little present besides?" pleaded Mustapha.

"Not a penny," said I.

The man gave a little sigh.

"Oh well, you take him," he said. "Not enough money, but Mustapha very poor, must sell him. I wrap him up for you, see!"

I paid him the money and hurried out of the shop, for I must confess that I had taken a great dislike to the little man with his smooth, oily manner.

However, I had got the crystal, and that was the main thing.

I hastened back to the prison, and after a long argument with the authorities, I managed to gain permission to see the prisoner once more.

I found Shin Shira all eagerness to know if I had secured the crystal, and when he saw it in my hand, his joy knew no bounds.

"Now it is all easy," said he, "and I shall soon be free. This is a Magic Crystal, and by wishing very hard to see any particular object and gazing at it steadily for a moment or two, you will see just what you wish to see reflected in it. Now I'm just going to wish to—er—to—er—er—o—o-h! I'm going to vanish! To think that I've been here all this time hoping every day that I should be able to disappear, and now, just as I was about to get myself free—I—good-bye—!"

And to my horror, the little Yellow Dwarf suddenly faded away, and I was left alone in the dungeon.

I say to my horror, for what was I to say when the jailer appeared? How was I to account for the prisoner's escape? I was just puzzling about these things when the door opened and the jailer hurriedly came to tell me the time allowed for my visit was up.

He saw at once that Shin Shira was not there, and in a great state of excitement plied me with questions.

1  2     Next Part
Home - Random Browse