John Dough and the Cherub
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The Princess slept sweetly that night, after her supper of gingerbread, and the next morning was so fresh and bright, and had so pretty a color to her cheeks, that Chick hugged her delightedly, and John Dough was proud and glad to think his small sacrifice had wrought such good results. Together they strolled into the forest, along the banks of the stream, and presently met Pittypat.
"Be careful where you go," said the rabbit, in a worried tone. "The Arab is after John Dough, and I hear that Black Ooboo has determined to destroy the little man with the red whiskers and the fat woman with the corkscrew curls, who are the father and mother of our Princess."
"Are you sure?" asked the girl, clasping her hands in real terror.
"There's no doubt of it," Pittypat replied. "And I'm not sure but the Princess will share their fate. These are troublous times, since the Arab arrived and Black Ooboo became king."
"There's the boat," said Chick, turning to the girl; "can't your parents escape in that?"
"They have always said they would use the boat to leave the island, if there was any danger," answered the Princess. "But the ocean is so big and the boat so very little that they did not like to make such a voyage unless it became necessary."
"Well, it seems to be necessary now," said John. "But what will become of the rest of us? The boat will only hold two."
"It might hold me as well as my parents, if the water was calm," said the girl; "but I will not escape and leave you and Chick to your fate. Unless we can find some way to save us all I will let my parents escape alone in the boat."
"That's foolish," said Chick. "You go in the boat. John Dough and I will get along all right."
But this the Princess refused to do, and after a long discussion the rabbit decided to go and consult a gray owl which was renowned for its wisdom. The others walked up to Para Bruin's cave, and the first thing the bear said was:
"Look out for yourselves. Black Ooboo has ordered all the humans on this island to be killed, and the Mifkets are arming themselves with long sticks, to which they have bound sharp thorns torn from a tree in the forest. The gingerbread man is to be eaten, I understand; so there's likely to be an end of all of you, very soon."
"Is there no way to escape?" asked John.
"None that I can think of," said the bear. "But you can depend upon my assistance, if there is anything I can do. How well the Princess looks to-day!"
"Yes," answered John, proudly; "she's been eating some of my gingerbread."
Hearing this, Para Bruin gave John a grateful hug; and then he hugged the Princess and even Chick, so happy did the bear feel at the girl's recovery.
Then he bounced for them several times, rolling himself down hill against the flat rock and then bounding high into the air. But the little Princess was worried and anxious about her parents, so the party soon bade good bye to Para Bruin and started to return to their dwellings.
The forest seemed very quiet and peaceful as they walked along, and they had almost forgotten their fears, when, just as they reached the banks of the brook, a sudden sound of shouting fell upon their ears, mingled with the wail of human voices.
"Oh, dear!" cried the little Princess, wringing her hands in great fear; "the Mifkets have attacked my dear parents, I am sure, and they will both be killed!"
John strove to comfort her, but he suspected that the Princess had guessed truly, and that her parents were in great danger.They dared not return to the seashore, for that would mean their own destruction; so they remained hidden in the forest, while the Princess sobbed as if her heart was broken, and John wiped away her tears with her handkerchief. He had one of his own; but it was gingerbread, and would not stand the dampness.
Suddenly they heard pattering footfalls, and the white rabbit crouched at their feet. He was panting from a hard run, and his eyes were big and bright.
"They are gone!" said he, as soon as he could speak.
"Who are gone?" asked John, anxiously.
"The red-whiskered man and the woman with the corkscrew curls," replied Pittypat. "The Mifkets chased them to the shore, but they jumped into the boat and rowed away in time to escape. The Mifkets threw sticks at them and Black Ooboo screamed with rage; but the father and mother of our Princess got away without being hurt in the least."
This good news greatly pleased the girl, and her anxiety was much relieved. But the gingerbread man had become thoughtful, and asked Pittypat:
"What are the Mifkets doing now."
"They are getting ready to search the forest for you and Chick and the Princess," was the reply. "The Arab is with them."
"This is certainly unpleasant news," remarked the gingerbread man. "Did the gray owl tell you how we may escape?"
"The owl sent me to the King of the Fairy Beavers," replied the rabbit, "and he has consented to hide you in his palace. It is a rare favor, I assure you; but the Mifkets cannot reach you there."
"A Fairy Beaver!" cried Chick, gleefully; and the Princess asked, wonderingly: "Can a beaver be a fairy?"
"Why not?" inquired Pittypat. "All the animals have their fairies, just as you human folks do; and it is lucky for us that the Fairy Beaver lives on this very island. There is only one danger – that the Mifkets find you before I can lead you to the Beaver King. So follow me at once, I implore you, before it is too late!"
He turned, with these words, and led them along the river bank at such a swift pace that the Princess could hardly keep up with him.
"How far is it?" asked John.
"The palace of the beavers is somewhere under the big dam in the river, which is not far away. The King promised to meet us at the waterfall; but he will not allow me to enter, because I am a rabbit, so you must go in alone. But have no fear. The King will allow nothing to harm you."
As Pittypat spoke they could hear the distant roar of the waterfall at the beavers' dam. But another sound also fell upon their ears – a sound that quickly renewed their terror – for it was the yells of the approaching Mifkets. Presently the fierce creatures appeared, coming swiftly through the forest.
"Hurry!" called Pittypat. "Hurry, or it will be too late!"
John picked up a great wooden club that lay near their path, and while Chick and the Princess hurried after the rabbit he stopped and hurled it toward the Mifkets. It fell among them with such force that several were knocked over and many others howled with pain. It did not prevent them from coming on, but they kept at a more respectful distance from the gingerbread man, never doubting they would be able to capture him in time.
"This way!" cried the rabbit, leaping down the bank to the side of the river, where they could travel more swiftly.
The others followed, and now before them appeared a wide and high sheet of water that fell over the great dam that the beavers had built many years before. They had almost reached it, and Pittypat had called out that he saw the Beaver King waiting behind the waterfall, when the fugitives stopped short with cries of despair. For just before them appeared another band of Mifkets, armed with the thorn sticks, and now they saw that they would be unable to reach their place of refuge.
John looked around in desperation. There were Mifkets behind them and Mifkets before them; and on one side was the deep river, and on the other side a steep bank too high for the children to climb. It really seemed to the gingerbread man that they were lost, when suddenly a cry was heard, and looking upward he saw Para Bruin standing upon his high peak and watching them. The bear doubtless saw the danger of his friends, for he called to them:
"Look out – I'm coming to the rescue!" Then he quickly curled his great body into a monster ball and rolled swiftly down the side of the mountain that faced them.
The Mifkets who were near the waterfall turned curiously to watch the bear. They had often seen him roll against the flat stone and bound back to his place again, and thought he would do the same thing now. But old Para Bruin was more clever than they suspected. He missed the flat stone altogether and came bounding along at a terrific speed. Before the group of Mifkets, who stood close together near the waterfall, knew what the bear meant to do, old Para's body shot upon them and dashed them in every direction. Some lay stunned upon the ground; but most of them were tumbled into the river, where they struggled frantically to regain the shore.
"Quick!" cried Pittypat, "your friend has saved you. But do not lose an instant's time!"
The children and the gingerbread man obeyed at once, and in a few steps reached the waterfall.
"Creep behind the sheet of water!" commanded the rabbit. "You will find the Beaver King awaiting you. Do as he tells you, and I promise that you will be safe."
"Good bye, Pittypat!" called the Princess, as she clung to the damp rocks behind the waterfall.
"Good bye!" echoed Chick. "Much obliged to you, Pittypat!"
"Good bye!" answered the white rabbit. "Don't forget me."
Then he whisked away, and John Dough, shrinking as far from the spray as possible, crept under the waterfall and followed after the little ones.
The Fairy Beavers
The Mifkets uttered cries of rage as they observed the escape of their intended victims, and rushed forward to follow them. But immediately a great flood of water began falling just at the place where the children and John had entered, and as the Mifkets recoiled from this new danger our friends heard a soft voice say, with a little laugh:
"They will not dare to follow you now. Come with me, and be careful not to slip."
John looked down, and saw a handsome beaver standing beside him. His fur was the color of silver, and upon his head was a tiny golden crown set with jewels so bright and sparkling that the rays lighted the dim place like so many sunbeams. The Beaver King's face was calm and dignified, and his eyes kindly and intelligent. Without further speech he led the way far under the roaring waterfall; and the space between the dark wall of the dam and the sheet of water was so narrow that the air was filled with a fine spray, which moistened John's gingerbread in a way that caused him great uneasiness.
But, lighted by the radiance of the King Beaver's crown, they soon came to a place directly under the center of the fall, and here their conductor halted and tapped three times upon the surface of the wall. It opened instantly, disclosing a broad passage, and through this the King led them, the wall closing just behind them as they entered.
The noise of the waterfall now sounded but dimly in their ears, and presently they emerged into a large vaulted room, which was so beautiful that the little Princess clasped her hands with a long-drawn sigh of delight, Chick laughed, and John removed from his head the crumpled and soiled silk hat that he had clung to ever since he had left the bakery.
He had seen beautiful rooms in the Island of Romance, but nothing there could compare with the magnificence and grandeur of this hall of the Fairy Beaver's palace. The walls were set thick with brilliant jewels, arranged in a way that formed exquisite pictures, all of these borrowing color from the natural tints of the gems. The ceiling was clustered with tiny glass globes, in each of which was a captured sunbeam; and these lent a charming radiance to the splendid room. Many cushions were strewn upon the floor, and the floor itself was of gold, richly engraved with scenes depicting the lives and adventures of beavers.
While our friends admired the loveliness of the Hall of the Beavers, the silver-furred King spoke again, in his soft voice:
"You are now underneath the deep water formed by our dam, which was built by the beavers who were our forefathers many years ago, and which has endured until now. But in all the years of its existence the little Princess and the Incubator Baby are the first human beings to be admitted to our fairy palace. Your companion, my dears, is merely gingerbread, and lives by means of fairy powers that make him a fit comrade for fairies the world over."
"It was very good of you to save us from the Mifkets, and we are grateful," said the girl.
"You're all right!" added Chick, emphatically.
"I am glad to be of service to one so sweet and beautiful," returned the King, with a dignified bow toward the Princess, "and to one so merry and frank," he continued, turning to Chick. "And now, if you will kindly follow me, I will show you the rooms of my palace, and introduce you to my people. You must be content to remain my guests until I can find means to restore you to the freedom of the upper world in which you are accustomed to exist."
He led them through the gorgeous hall and along delightful passages into various rooms. Some were large and some were small, but all were extremely beautiful, and Chick wondered greatly at the extent of this under-water palace, the existence of which no one could suspect who stood in the forest above, beside the dam of the beavers.
"Are all beavers' homes like this?" asked the child.
"No, indeed!" answered the King, laughing softly. "They are usually houses composed of mud, mixed with bits of wood and the leaves and branches of trees. But I am King of the Beaver Fairies, who watch over the fortunes of all ordinary beavers and take care of them. We are invisible, even to beavers; and the eyes of mankind can never see us unless, as in your case, we permit them to do so. These rooms seem to you deserted, but I assure you they are filled with many beaver fairies, who are even now watching you with much curiosity."
Both the children started at hearing this, and glanced hastily around; but nothing but the walls of the palace met their gaze, and the King smiled upon them indulgently.
"At our banquet, this evening," said he, "I will permit you to see my people. But now please come to the music-room, where you may enjoy the strains of harmony that provide us with one of our chief amusements."
He led the way to another room, the roof of which was dome-shaped. From different points in this dome projected the ends of many silver tubes, and near the floor of the room, directly underneath each of the tubes, was placed a plate of glass or of metal.
The King invited his guests to seat themselves, and then pressed a diamond button that was placed in the wall. This allowed the water from the river above them to drip slowly through the silver tubes; and as it fell, drop by drop, on the plates beneath, it made sounds that were very sweet and harmonious. The metal plates gave out deep and resonant sounds, while the smaller glass plates tinkled melodiously as the drops of water fell upon them.
Neither Chick nor the Princess recognized the first tune that was played, for it had been composed by one of the Fairy Beavers; but afterward the King played "Home, Sweet Home," for them, and "Annie Laurie"; and the music so exquisitely sweet and soft that the girl declared she would never have imagined that sounds so delightful could be produced, and Chick pronounced the entertainment "all right."
The gingerbread man was also pleased; for it was the first real music he had ever heard, and it soothed and comforted him beyond measure.
The Fairy King seemed glad to give his new friends pleasure; and when the Princess remarked that she would like to know what the Mifkets thought of their sudden escape, the beaver led them to what he called the "Observation Room." In it was a square box, draped with black silk and having a window in one side.
Seating the girl and her companions before this window, the King said:
"You will now observe what the Mifkets are doing."
Instantly a picture appeared in the box, and it seemed that through the little window they were gazing upon a section of the forest they had recently left. There were the Mifkets, indeed, with Black Ooboo and the Arab among them, and all were quarreling and fighting among themselves in their usual way, and trying to decide what had become of the gingerbread man and the children.
"They are drowned and at the bottom of the river, by this time," Black Ooboo said; and his words came as distinctly to their ears as if they had been standing beside him.
"I hope not," answered Ali Dubh; "for I've never yet had a single bite of the gingerbread man, although I bought and paid for him."
Then the scene changed, and they saw Para Bruin climbing slowly up the side of the steep hill to his den. He seemed none the worse for his roll down the mountain and his bath in the river, and they noticed that he laughed and chuckled to himself as if much amused.
"That was a good fight," John Dough heard him murmur, in the bear language; "and I'm mighty glad I was in time to save the Princess, Chick, and the delicatessen man. They're safe enough with the beavers by this time, the white rabbit says!" Then he laughed again; and, reaching the top of the hill, entered his cave and lay down to rest.
Again the scene changed, and the Princess beheld the open sea, upon which floated the boat that bore safely her father and mother. They seemed to be quite comfortable, and the girl was pleased to see that they had put enough provisions and fresh water into the boat to last them during a long voyage. The man, although little, was strong, and pulled sturdily at the oars; and the woman steered the boat in the right direction.
Our Princess was very glad to see these sights, and to know Para Bruin was safe, and that her dear parents had escaped the fierce Mifkets. In company with her friend Chick and the gingerbread man, she wandered through the palace during all that afternoon, seeing many wonderful things that the Fairy Beavers had provided for the comfort and amusement of their community. It was, indeed, a little world by itself, placed under land and water, where no mortal could guess its existence.
In the early evening the King escorted them to a splendid banquet hall, where a long, low table was set in the center of the room. The dishes were all of sparkling cut-glass, and the eatables proved to be very delicious foods made from vegetables that grew at the bottom of the river, together with fish and lobsters and oysters, and many rare sweetmeats that could only have been created by the magic of the fairies themselves.
Around the long table were rows of silken cushions; but when the children and the gingerbread man entered, the room seemed deserted by all save themselves and the King.
His Majesty the King of the Fairy Beavers sat upon a cushion at the head of the table and graciously placed the Princess and Chick close to his right hand and John Dough at his left. Then he blew softly upon a silver whistle, and at once before the eyes of his guests appeared rows of Fairy Beavers, occupying the cushions beside the low table.
They were all pretty to look upon, having silvery fur as soft as satin, and large dark eyes that regarded the strangers pleasantly and without fear. From the neck of each was suspended, by means of silken cords, a richly embroidered cloak, exquisitely woven from a material unknown to the Princess, and blazoned with an emblem denoting the rank or degree of the wearer. Also each of the Fairy Beavers wore a jeweled circlet upon the brow; but none of these was so magnificent as the diadem of their King.
While our friends gazed wonderingly upon the Fairy Beavers, the King introduced them, saying:
"This is a little mortal Princess named Jacquelin, whom I have protected because her heart is as fresh and innocent as the daisies that grow in the fields. This is Chick, known also as the Cherub, an Incubator Baby without relatives, but who is not lacking in friends. And this is John Dough, a strange creature, having the form of a man, made out of gingerbread. He is not exactly a fairy, but lives through the magic of a fairy compound known as the 'Great Elixir,' and is therefore not responsible for being alive and is liable to perish before he has grown very old. Each of these guests is, I believe, worthy of our friendship and protection, and I trust that my people will join me in welcoming them to our palace."
Answering the King's speech, all the Beaver Fairies gracefully arose from their cushions and bowed thrice – once to the Princess and once to Chick and once to John Dough. Then they all reseated themselves and drank to the health of their guests from dainty tumblers no bigger than harebells, which contained water as pure as crystal.
Then, while the feast began, a chorus of black beavers entered and chanted a pretty song; and afterward other beavers, so small that the Princess thought that they were quite young, entered and danced a minuet for the amusement of the entire company.
Chick and the Princess Jacquelin were really hungry, and although the children at first feared the food placed before them was not such as they could enjoy, they tasted some of the dishes and found them so delicious that both ended by eating heartily, and afterward decided they had never enjoyed a meal so much.
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