John Dough and the Cherub
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"I don't care," said Chick; "and I'm not afraid," added John, who was quite pleased to find himself so powerful.
"Well, let us continue our journey," suggested Pittypat; "for I want you to meet our sweet Princess. But I advise you, whenever you meet with more of those Mifkets, to try to be friendly with them. There are hundreds of them, you know, and only two of you."
"That sounds like good advice," acknowledged John.
Again they started along the path, and presently it led them out of the forest to another part of the shore of the island, where a rocky headland curved into the sea in the shape of a new moon, forming a pretty bay, on which floated a small boat at anchor. On the inner edge of this headland and facing the bay stood a tall plant, whose broad colored leaves were bent downward to form a dome-shaped room, one leaf being turned up to make an opening that served as a door.
"You must whistle at the door, and the Princess will appear," said Pittypat. "I cannot talk with her as I do with you, Mr. Dough; so I'll leave you now, and run home to tell my folks of the new friends I have found." With these parting words away darted the rabbit, and John and Chick shyly approached the novel palace of the Princess.
"Can you whistle, Chick?" asked the gingerbread man; and the Baby, in reply, made so shrill a sound through the puckered pink lips that John gave a start of surprise.
Almost immediately a girl appeared in the doorway of the plant-palace, and both John and Chick bowed low and then stood motionless to stare at the beautiful face that confronted them. For this mock Princess of the Mifkets was quite the loveliest and sweetest maiden that any one has ever looked upon; and so round and innocent were her clear eyes and so gentle and winning her smile, that to see her but once was to love her dearly. John did not marvel that the wild creatures of the forest had set this girl apart as too hallowed to become either their slave or companion; and he instantly accepted this shipwrecked waif as a real Princess, and from that moment worshipped loyally at her shrine.
Chick, standing solidly with brown feet spread wide apart, chubby fists clutching the last of the forest fruits, and tangled locks flowing carelessly around the laughing face, was a strong contrast to the little lady who advanced from the door with dainty steps to welcome the strangers. The Princess wore a gown of woven leaves plucked from the island plants, but so slight and graceful was her form that any sort of dress would be sure to seem fit and becoming if the maid wore it.
"Hello!" said Chick. "We've come to see you."
"I'm glad of that," answered the girl, in a soft voice, as she came close and kissed the Cherub's rosy mouth. "It has been dreadfully lonesome in this place without any one to play with or to keep me company. But may I inquire who you are?"
"This is John Dough," answered the Cherub, briefly; "and I'm Chick."
"I'm pleased to make your acquaintance," said the girl."They call me the Princess; but that is in mockery, I am sure."
"But are you not treated as a Princess?" asked John.
"Yes; and that is why I am so lonely," the girl replied, sadly. "The naughty Mifkets have made my poor father and mother their slaves, and mock me by shutting me in this tree-house and calling it a palace and me a Princess. But really I am as much a slave as either of my dear parents."
"Can't you go out if you want to?" asked Chick.
"Oh, yes; but the island is small, and there is no one to play with except Pittypat, who is a white rabbit, and Para Bruin, who is a bouncing brown bear."
"What strange companions!" said John. "I've met Pittypat, and like the white rabbit very much; but a bouncing brown bear must be a dreadful creature."
"Not at all, I assure you," returned the girl, earnestly. "Just wait until you meet him, and you'll see that he couldn't hurt any one if he would, and wouldn't if he could."
"That's all right," said Chick.
"But do the Mifkets ill-treat you in any way?" asked John.
"Oh, no; until now they have done me no real injury whatever," the Princess answered, "but their tempers are so hateful that I am in constant fear of them. You must meet the Mifkets, of course, since you cannot leave this island; and you must obey them as we all do. But perhaps Mr. Dough, being made of gingerbread, will be treated with more respect than human beings are."
"Or with less," said John, with a shudder. "Nevertheless, we will meet the Mifkets boldly, and I am not going to make myself unhappy by being afraid of them."
"Nor I," said Chick. "They're only beasts."
"Then, if you will please follow me, I will lead you to the king's village," said the girl; "and there you may see my father and mother."
"Very well," agreed John. "But I must tell you that we have already encountered three of these creatures, and defeated them easily."
"I pounded 'em like sixty," added the Cherub, with a nod and a laugh.
The Princess led them by a path deep into the forest, passing underneath the broad leaves of the plants, which were so thick that they almost shut out the daylight and made the way gloomy and fearsome. But before long a big clearing was reached, in the center of which was a rocky mound with a broad, flat stone at the very top. All around were houses made by bending down the huge leaves of the plants and fastening them to the ground with wooden pegs, thus forming circular rooms. None of these houses seemed quite so handsome as the palace of the Princess; but they were big and of many colors, and when our friends stepped into the clearing a swarm of the Mifket people crowded out of the doorways to surround the strangers and gaze upon them curiously.
Upon the flat stone in the center of the clearing reclined an aged Mifket, who was lazily sunning himself, and who seemed to pay no attention to the chattering of his fellows. Yet it was toward this stone that the Princess, after a half-frightened look at its occupant, led her new friends; and all the Mifkets, big and little, followed them and formed a circle around them and the aged one.
"This is the King," whispered the girl. "Be careful not to anger him."
Then she knelt humbly before the flat stone that served as a throne, and John Dough knelt beside her. But Chick stood upright and laughed at the sight of the lazy Mifket King reclining before them.
The short, coarse hair that covered the head of the King was white, proving him to be very old; and his raiment was woven of pure white leaves, distinguishing him from all the others of his band. But he was not especially dignified in appearance.
Hearing the murmur around him the King slowly rolled his fat body over and sat up, rubbing his eyes to clear them of the cobwebs of sleep. Then he looked upon John and Chick and gave a grunt. Immediately a little man rushed out of a dwelling just back of the throne and hurried to the King with a gourd filled with water. This the aged Mifket drank greedily, and while he was thus occupied the Princess grasped the hand of the little man and pressed it affectionately.
"This is my father," she whispered to John Dough and Chick.
The little man seemed fussy and nervous, but perhaps this was caused by the fear in which he constantly lived. There was little hair upon his head, but he wore chin whiskers that were bright red in color and luxuriant in growth, and harmonized nicely with his light blue eyes. He wore a faded and ragged suit of blue clothes, to which he had doubtless clung ever since the days when he had been shipwrecked and cast upon this island.
John Dough was about to express in polite words his pleasure in meeting the father of the Princess, when the King, having finished drinking, suddenly flung the gourd at the little man's head. He ducked to escape it and the gourd struck the forehead of a big Mifket just behind and made a sound like the crack of a whip. At once the big Mifket – who was remarkable for having black hair upon his head instead of the dingy brown that was common to all the Mifkets – uttered a roar of rage and aimed a blow at the bald head of the luckless slave. But the little man ducked this blow also, and then scampered away to the royal dwelling as fast as his thin legs could carry him.
"Let him go," said the King, speaking sleepily in the Mifket language. Then he turned to the black one and asked: "Who are these creatures, Ooboo? and how came they here?"
"I don't know," answered Black Ooboo, sulkily; "the girl brought them."
"Perhaps I can explain," said John Dough, speaking in their language. "My friend Chick and I arrived here but a short time ago in a flying-machine, which unfortunately broke down and prevented us from getting away again."
The Mifkets looked at the gingerbread man in astonishment. Not because they had any idea what a flying-machine might be, but to hear their own language spoken by so queer a personage, filled them with amazement.
"Are you one of those miserable creatures called humans?" asked the King, blinking his eyes at the gingerbread man.
"I cannot, in truth, claim to be precisely human," replied John, "but it is certain that I possess a degree of human wisdom. It comes from the Elixir, you know."
"What are you made of?" demanded the King, who was certainly puzzled by John's words.
Now, the gingerbread man realized that if he told the Mifkets he was good to eat he would soon be destroyed; so he answered:
"I am made of a kind of material known only to civilized men. In fact, I am very different from all the rest of the world."
The King didn't understand, and when he didn't understand it made him very tired.
"Oh, well," said he, lying back in the sun, "just make yourself at home here, and see that you don't bother me by getting in my way."
That might have ended the interview had not Black Ooboo, scowling and angry, stepped forward and said:
"If the stranger is to live with us he must fight for the right to live in peace. It is our custom, your Majesty."
"So it is," returned the King, waking up again. "The stranger must fight."
At this decision all the Mifkets howled with delight, and Chick and the Princess began to be uneasy about their friend. But John said, calmly:
"I have never fought with any one, your Majesty; but I'll do the best I can. With whom must I fight?"
"Why, with Black Ooboo, I suppose," said the King; "and if you can manage to give him a sound thrashing I'll be your friend for life."
Ooboo scowled first at the King and then at John, and all the other Mifkets scowled with him, for the black one was seemingly a great favorite among them.
"Whatever material you may be made of, bold stranger," he said, "I promise to crush you into bits and trample you into the dust."
Then the crowd having pressed backward, the black Mifket sprang upon the gingerbread man, with long, hairy arms outstretched as if to clutch him. But John was quicker than his foe. He grasped Ooboo about the waist, lifted him high in the air – big and heavy though he was – and flung him far over the throne whereon the King squatted. The black one crashed into the leaves of a forest plant and then tumbled to the ground, where he lay still for a moment to recover from his surprise and the shock of defeat.
The rabble of Mifkets didn't applaud the fall of their champion, but they looked upon the gingerbread man with wonder. And the King was so pleased that he laughed aloud.
"Well done, stranger," said he. "Ooboo needed to be taken down a peg, and you did it very neatly. Now get away, all of you, and leave me to sleep." He proceeded to curl himself up once more upon the flat stone, and the Mifkets obeyed his command and stole away to their dwellings. John advanced to where Chick and the Princess stood, and the Cherub patted him on the hand and said:
"I'd no idea you could do it, John. Wasn't it lovely, Princess, to see him toss that black beast like a foot-ball?"
"I'm glad your friend won the fight," answered the girl; "but Black Ooboo is a dangerous enemy, and even the King is afraid of him. Now come with me, please. I want you to meet my dear mother, who is unfortunately degraded to the position of the King's cook."
They entered with the Princess into the royal dwelling, where a woman quickly seized the girl in a warm embrace and kissed her tenderly. When Chick managed to get a full view of the woman she was seen to be nearly as round as an apple in form, with an apple's rosy cheeks, and with cute corkscrew curls of an iron-gray color running from her ears down to her neck. When her daughter entered she had been busily engaged cooking a vegetable stew for the King's dinner, nor dared she pause long in her work for fear of the King's anger.
Chick was dreadfully sorry for these poor shipwrecked people, thus compelled to be slaves to the fierce Mifkets, and hoped they might find some way to escape. The little man with the red whiskers presently crept in and joined them, and they had a long talk together and tried to think of a plan to leave the island, but without success. Yet John encouraged them to believe a way would soon be found, and they all had great confidence in his ability to save the entire party; for he had proved himself both wise and powerful.
While they were still talking the King rolled his fat body into the dwelling and demanded his dinner, at the same time ordering the Princess to get back to her own palace and to stay there. But he favored John Dough by sending several of the Mifkets to build a dwelling for the gingerbread man and the Incubator Baby just beside that of the little Princess, which pleased them all very much.
Para Bruin, the Rubber Bear
Next morning the little Princess came to the door of the new dwelling built for Chick and John Dough, and said to them:
"Let us take a walk, and I will show you how beautiful our island is in those parts where there are no Mifkets to worry us."
So together the three walked along the shore until they drew near to a high point of rock, the summit of which was reached by a winding path. When they had climbed up the steep the Princess had to stop to rest, for she was not strong and seemed to tire easily. And now, while they sat upon some rocks, a big brown bear came out of a cave and stood before them.
"Don't be afraid," whispered the Princess. "He won't hurt us. It's Para Bruin."
The bear was fat and of monstrous size, and its color was a rich brown. It had no hair at all upon its body, as most bears have, but was smooth and shiny. He gave a yawn as he looked at the new-comers, and John shuddered at the rows of long, white teeth that showed so plainly. Also he noticed the fierce claws upon the bear's toes, and decided that in spite of the rabbit's and the Princess' assurances he was in dangerous company. Indeed, although Chick laughed at the bear, the gingerbread man grew quite nervous as the big beast advanced and sniffed at him curiously – almost as if it realized John was made of gingerbread and that gingerbread is good to eat. Then it held out a fat paw, as if desiring to shake hands; and, not wishing to appear rude, John placed his own hand in the bear's paw, which seemed even more soft and flabby than his own. The next moment the animal threw its great arms around the gingerbread man and hugged him close to its body.
John gave a cry of fear, although it was hard to tell which was more soft and yielding – the bear's fat body or the form of the gingerbread man.
"Stop that!" he shouted, speaking in the bear language. "Let me go, instantly! What do you mean by such actions?"
The bear, hearing this speech, at once released John, who began to feel of himself to see if he had been damaged by the hug.
"Why didn't you say you were a friend, and could speak my language?" asked the bear, in a tone of reproach.
"You knew well enough I was a friend, since I came with the Princess," retorted John, angrily. "I suppose you would like to eat me, just because I am gingerbread!"
"I thought you smelled like gingerbread," remarked the bear. "But don't worry about my eating you. I don't eat."
"No?" said John, surprised. "Why not?"
"Well, the principal reason is that I'm made of rubber," said the bear.
"Rubber!" exclaimed John.
"Yes, rubber. Not gutta-percha, you understand, nor any cheap composition; but pure Para rubber of the best quality. I'm practically indestructible."
"Well, I declare!" said John, who was really astonished. "Are your teeth rubber, also?"
"To be sure," acknowledged the bear, seeming to be somewhat ashamed of the fact; "but they appear very terrible to look at, do they not? No one would suspect they would bend if I tried to bite with them."
"To me they were terrible in appearance," said John, at which the bear seemed much gratified.
"I don't mind confiding to you, who are a friend and speak my language," he resumed, "that I am as harmless as I am indestructible. But I pride myself upon my awful appearance, which should strike terror into the hearts of all beholders. At one time every creature in this island feared me, and acknowledged me their king; but those horrid Mifkets discovered I was rubber, and have defied me ever since."
"How came you to be alive?" asked John. "Was it the Great Elixir?"
"I've never heard of the Great Elixir," replied the bear, "and I've no idea how I came to be alive. My earliest recollection is that I was living in much the same way that I am now. Do you remember when you were not living?"
"No" said John.
This conversation, which she could not at all understand, surprised the Princess very much. But she was glad to see that the rubber bear and the gingerbread man had become friends, and so she took Chick's hand and led the smiling Cherub up to where they stood.
"This is my new friend, whose name is Chick," she said to the bear, for the girl was accustomed to talking to Para Bruin just as she would to a person; "and you must be as good and kind to Chick as you have been to me, my dear Para, or I shall not love you any more."
The bear gave the Princess a generous hug, and then he hugged Chick; but the words the girl had spoken seemed to puzzle him, for he turned to John and said:
"Why do you suppose so many different languages were ever invented? The Mifkets speak one language, and you and I speak another, and the Princess and Chick speak still another! And it is all very absurd, for the only language I can understand is my own."
"I can speak with and understand the Princess and the Mifkets as well as I can speak with you," declared John.
The bear looked at him admiringly.
"If that is so, then tell me what the Princess said to me just now," he requested.
So John translated the girl's words into the bear language, and when Para Bruin heard them he laughed with delight.
"Tell the Princess that I'll be as good to her friend Chick as possible," said he, and John at once translated it so that the Princess understood.
"That's nice," said she. "I knew Para would be friends with Chick. And now ask the bear to bounce for us. He does it often, and it is a very interesting sight."
So John requested the bear to bounce, which he at once agreed to do, seeming to feel considerable pride in the accomplishment.
From the point upon which they stood, the hill descended in a steep incline toward the forest, and at the bottom of the hill was a big flat rock. Curling himself into a ball, the great bear rolled his body down the hill, speeding faster every moment, until he struck the flat rock at the bottom. Then he bounded high into the air (in the same way that a rubber ball does when thrown down upon a hard pavement), and made a graceful backward curve until he reached the top of the hill again, where he bounced up and down a few times, and then stood upright and bowed before the gingerbread man and the gleeful Cherub – who was rapturously delighted by the performance.
"Great act, isn't it?" asked Para Bruin, grinning with pride. "No ordinary bear could do that, I assure you. And it proves the purity and high grade of my rubber."
"It does, indeed!" declared John. "I am greatly pleased to have met so remarkable and talented a bear."
"You must visit me often," said the bear, making a dignified bow. "It is a great treat to hear my own language spoken, for I am the only bear upon the island. I haven't any visiting cards, but my name is Para Bruin, and you are always welcome at my cave."
"I am called John Dough," said the gingerbread man. "I cannot claim to be indestructible, but while I last I shall be proud of your friendship, and will bring the children to visit you often."
"Try to teach them my language," suggested Para Bruin; "for I love children and have often wished I might talk with them. As for the little Princess, all the island people love her dearly – except, of course, the Mifkets – and we all worry, more or less, over her health. She's weak and delicate, you know; and her life here is made so unhappy by the separation from her parents that I'm afraid she won't be with us very long."
He wiped a tear from his eye with a puffy paw and glanced affectionately at the girl.
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