John Dough and the Cherub/Chapter 10
"This invention works better than I thought it would, after getting that bump," John remarked, as they flew onward over the vast expanse of rolling waves. "It's a bit wobbly, though," said Chick. "Don't you notice it flops a little sideways?" "Yes," answered John, "and it seems to me the bird does not move so swiftly as it did at first." "Guess the 'lectricity's giving out," returned Chick, calmly. "If it does, what'll happen?" "We'll be drowned, I suppose," said John. "I don't understand electricity, for the wisdom I derive from the magic Elixir dates far back beyond the discovery of electric fluid." "Your wisdom's bald-headed, I'm afraid," observed the child, smiling at the solemn countenance of the gingerbread man. "But, say! Isn't that another island over there?" Chick continued, after a look through one of the little windows. "It appears to be an island," replied John, also gazing through the window. Even as he spoke the bird gave a lurch and swooped downward toward the sea, tipping at such an angle that Chick and the gingerbread man were both tumbled off their seats. John's glass eyes had a look of fear in them, but Chick laughed as merrily as if there was no danger at all, and began pushing the electric buttons with great vigor, one after another. The result was that the flying-machine paused, righted itself, plunged higher into the air, circled around a few times, and then sailed rapidly toward the west. Chick scrambled back to the seat and threw over the steering wheel in order to make the machine head directly toward the island they had seen. "If we can keep her going till we get to that island, I don't care what happens afterward," said the child. "But if we're dumped in the sea I'm afraid we can't swim far." "I can't swim at all," John returned; "for in three strokes my gingerbread would become soaked through and fall to pieces. And the water would dilute the Elixir that I am mixed with and destroy all its magic powers. By the way, what's the thing doing now?" "It's getting more wobbly. But never mind. It's lots of fun, isn't it, John Dough?" "Not exactly fun," said John, seriously; "but I will admit this voyage is rather exciting." Just then something snapped, and they heard a rapid whir of machinery inside the bird, a squeak that sounded like a wail of despair, and then a dull crash. The big machine trembled, ceased flopping its wings, and remained poised in the air like an immense kite. "It's all up," said Chick. "The thing's busted." "What's going to happen?" asked John, anxiously. "Wait and see," returned Chick, with a laugh. "It's cruel to laugh when we are in such grave danger!" said John, reproachfully. "Shucks!" cried the child. "It might be my last laugh, and I'd be foolish to miss it." The bird was still floating, for its broad wings were rigidly spread out to their fullest extent; but every moment the machine sailed nearer to the sea, and although it was surely nearing the island, neither John nor Chick could decide whether it would finally succeed in reaching the shore or fall into the water. Even the careless Cherub paused with bated breath to watch the final catastrophe, and John, resigned to whatever fate might befall him, nevertheless passed the most anxious moments of his brief lifetime. The bird sailed down, rested upon the water a few feet from the shore, and floated upon the surface. Chick and John dared not open the door for fear of letting in the ocean and so being drowned. Neither could they now see where they were, for the green water pressed close against the little windows. So they sat silently within the machine until there came a sudden jar and the bird rolled over upon one side and lay still. "We're saved!" cried the Cherub. For now one of the windows was raised above the water and enabled them to see that the bird had drifted to the shore of the island and was fast upon the beach. Chick unfastened the door and crawled out, and then the child assisted John to leap from the machine to the shore without even wetting his feet. And it was indeed fortunate they acted so promptly, as no sooner were they safely upon the island than a big wave dashed up, caught the broken flying-machine in its grasp, and rolled it out to sea again, where it quickly sank to the bottom and disappeared from their view forever. "That's all right," said the child. "I wouldn't care to ride in the thing again, anyhow. Would you, John Dough?" "No," answered the gingerbread man. "But what a shame it was to accuse Imar of being a successful inventor! If the Kinglet of Phreex could have watched our flight he would know that Imar hasn't solved the flying-machine problem yet." "Still, it carried us away from two bad places," said Chick, "and that's all we wanted of it. Come on, John Dough; let's go and explore our island." It did not take our adventurers long to discover they were in a really remarkable place. Near the shore was a strip of land that at first sight seemed thickly covered with grass; but when Chick examined it closely it was found to be a mass of tiny trees set close together, and each tree was full of small and tender green leaves. And, as the trees were only an inch or two high, they really looked like grass from a distance and proved to be soft and pleasant to walk upon. But behind this green sward towered a forest so strange and magnificent that both Chick and John Dough held their breaths in amazed awe as they gazed upon it. For they beheld a confused group of the most gorgeous plants imaginable, most of them having broad leaves as big as the sails of a ship and of exceedingly vivid colorings. There were violet and carmine leaves side by side with brilliant yellows and pinks, blues and ambers, and among them great bunches of pure white leaves that in fairness rivaled those of a lily. Some of the huge forest plants were low and broad--no taller than an ordinary house--but many of them shot up into the sky like spires and church steeples. And another strange thing was the fact that they were all filled with clusters of flowers of many beautiful shapes and designs. And the flowers were of various tints of greens--running from a delicate pea-green through all the different shades to bright emerald, and then to deep bottle-greens. Yet the flowers were the only green colors in all the vast forest of brilliant plants--which glowed so magnificently under the rays of the sun that the eyes of our friends were fairly dazzled as they gazed. "My!" gasped Chick. "Isn't it splendiferous, John Dough?" "It is, indeed very gorgeous and beautiful," answered the gingerbread man. "But has it occurred to you, little friend, that there may be nothing for you to eat in all this wilderness of color." "Eat?" exclaimed Chick. "Why, John Dough, I'm hungry this very minute! I haven't had a bite to eat since I left the Palace of Romance, and now you mention it, I'm half starved. But perhaps there isn't a smitch of oatmeal or cream on all this island!" "Couldn't you eat anything else?" asked John. "Oh, I could, I suppose. But other food might make me ill, you know. Incubator Babies have to be very careful of their diet." "But if you don't eat you will die," said John; "so it will be best for you to dine upon whatever you may find." "There may be fruits in the forest," said Chick, thoughtfully; "but it's such a queer forest that quite likely the fruits are poisonous." "Still, you'd better try them," persisted the gingerbread man. "If you don't you'll die; and if you are poisoned you'll die. But there is a chance of your finding healthful fruits instead of poisonous ones. I regret that in all my store of wisdom, derived from the Arabian Elixir, there is no knowledge of such a forest or the fruits these gay plants may bear." "Well, you wait here till I come back," said Chick, more cheerfully. "I'll explore and see what I can find. There's no need to worry until the time comes, anyhow." With that the little one waved a chubby hand toward John Dough, and then ran into the forest and disappeared beneath the great purple and orange colored leaves. And now it occurred to the gingerbread man to make an examination of himself and see what an extent of damage he had suffered since he had come, hot and fresh, from Monsieur Jules' bakery. His lovely shirt-front was cracked in several places and speckled with tiny black spots where the powder of the rocket had burned it. His left shoulder was also blackened with burned powder, and he had lost one of the lozenge buttons from his red vest. Also, one of his heels was slightly crumbled, and there were three marks in his body where the diamonds had been pressed into him, beside the lance-thrust of the Blunderer. These damages were not at all serious, however, and he was beginning to congratulate himself upon his escape, when he discovered a curious sensation in his nose. Raising his hand, he found that the extreme end of his nose had been chipped off in some way during his escape from the Palace of Romance, and this rather marred his personal appearance. The discovery made him sigh regretfully; and when he looked around, in the newly arrived sunlight, it seemed that his vision had become in some way twisted and unnatural. He could not understand this at first, and rose to his feet rather dazed and unhappy. Then an idea occurred to him, and he felt of his glass eyes and found that one--the left eye--had become loose in its socket and turned inward, making him
cross-eyed. He remedied this by turning it with his fingers until it
looked straight ahead again, and matched the other eye; but often thereafter that left eye would get twisted and bother him until he turned it straight again. While he awaited Chick's return, John strolled to the edge of the forest and sat down upon a big yellow mushroom that was strong enough to bear his weight. It seemed to be a peaceful island, and the gingerbread man was well pleased with his surroundings, having at that time no idea of all the desperate adventures that were to befall him before he saw the last of those brilliant shores. From his feet the beach sloped gently to meet the waves of the blue ocean, and on the sands were many shells of curious shapes and colors. The breath of the wind was full of the fragrance of the flowers, and in the forest plants many birds sang sweet songs. As he watched the waves, the birds, and the flowers, John heard a slight rustling sound, and turning his glass eyes downward saw at his feet a small animal which sat upon its haunches and regarded him with big and earnest eyes. "Who are you?" asked the gingerbread man; "and what is your name?" "My name is Pittypat, and I'm a rabbit," answered the animal. "But tell me, please, who you are, and what may be your name; for I have never seen your like before." "I am a gingerbread man, and my name is John Dough," he replied, readily. And then, more anxiously, he asked: "Do you eat gingerbread, friend Pittypat?" "No, indeed," was the reply. "I prefer clover and sweet roots. But please answer another question. How is that you understand my language, and can talk to me?" "I cannot tell you that, I'm sure," said John, "unless it's the effect of the Elixir. That seems to be responsible for almost everything, you know." The rabbit did not know, of course, and looked at its new acquaintance in a puzzled sort of way. "Are there any more like you on this island?" inquired John Dough "Oh, yes; there are lots of us!" exclaimed the rabbit. "But not so many of us as there are Mifkets." "And what is a Mifket?" asked John. "A sort of creature that is neither an animal nor a man," answered Pittypat. "And the Mifkets rule this island because they are bigger and fiercer than we rabbits are. Also I know many squirrels and birds and mice, and the Fairy King of the beavers--for I am well acquainted here. But I do not like the Mifkets, and scamper away when they come near. There is a bouncing brown bear, also, who lives on a hill yonder, and once he claimed to be king of all the animals. But the Mifkets found out that our bear is not nearly so dreadful as he seems; so they refused to obey him, and now have a king of their own. For my part, however, I like the brown bear best of all our inhabitants, for he has a jolly nature and never hurts any one." "But are there no men--no people like me upon this island?" asked John. "No one like you, most surely," answered Pittypat, staring at the gingerbread man with its big eyes. "But as for human creatures, there are three who dwell with the Mifkets, near the other side of the forest." "Dear me!" sighed John; "I'm sorry to hear that. Who are the humans?" "Well, one is the Princess, and the Princess is very beautiful and lovely," answered Pittypat. "She isn't much bigger than the child I saw here with you a few minutes ago; but our little Princess is beloved by every creature on the island--except, perhaps, the Mifkets, who love only themselves." "Does the Princess live in a palace?" asked John. "Oh, yes; a beautiful palace made by bending downward the big leaves of the roi-tree and fastening the ends to the ground. One of the leaves is left loose, for a doorway, and in the room thus formed the Princess lives in great state and loneliness, and sleeps upon a bed of fragrant mosses." "Does she like gingerbread?" inquired John, after a thoughtful pause. "I don't believe she knows what gingerbread is," the rabbit replied. "But you may be sure the Princess will not harm you, however fond she might be of gingerbread." "I'm glad to hear that," said John. "But your Princess is the only one of the three human creatures you mentioned. Who are the others?" "Her father and mother," said the rabbit. "The three landed here in a small boat some years ago. They were shipwrecked, I suppose, and the boat is still lying upon the north shore. But the terrible Mifkets captured the father and mother of the Princess and made them slaves, to wait upon them and obey their wishes; and as the little girl was delicate and not very strong, they let her live by herself in the palace of the roi-tree, and mocked her by calling her a Princess. If she grows up to be strong I think they will make her a slave, too; but she is so frail and weak that none of us rabbits believe she will live very long." "This is all very interesting," said John. "I'd really like to meet these humans." "Then come with me and I will guide your steps to where they are," promised the rabbit. "I must wait until Chick comes back," said the gingerbread man, looking toward the plant forest. "Is Chick the child I saw going into the forest?" asked the rabbit. "Yes," replied John. "It's an Incubator Baby and very jolly and kind. Chick ought to be back in a few minutes." "I'm rather nervous when children are around," declared the rabbit, hesitating. "Are you sure Chick is kind?" "Very," said John, with conviction; "so don't you worry, friend Rabbit." At that moment the Cherub came running up with both hands full of fruits, which were indeed odd in shape, but delicious in odor and enticing in appearance. "I won't starve, John Dough!" was the merry greeting. "The forest is full of fruit plants, and I've eaten some already, and haven't been poisoned. But where did you find this pretty rabbit? And how tame it seems to be!" "It's a friend of mine named Pittypat, and I've discovered I can speak its language," replied John. "Also there's a Princess living near by, and Pittypat has promised to guide us to her royal palace." "All right!" exclaimed Chick, busily eating of the fruit. "Let's go now." John turned to the little animal beside him and said, in the rabbit language: "We are ready to start, my friend." "You'll have to meet the Mifkets, you know," said Pittypat, rather fearfully. "Never mind; we're not afraid," answered John, boldly; and Chick, who as yet had heard nothing of the Mifkets, continued to munch the fruit with perfect composure. So the rabbit whisked around, lifted its big ears a moment, sniffed the air, and then sprang away with long and graceful leaps along a tiny path that led through the magnificent forest.