John Dough and the Cherub/Chapter 11
John settled the baker's hat (which was showing distinct signs of having been frequently crumpled) upon his gingerbread head, picked up the remains of his candy cane, and followed the guidance of the white rabbit. Chick came after, tripping lightly along the path. Before they had gone very far beneath the bright-hued, mammoth foliage Pittypat gave a sudden whisk and disappeared from sight, having popped into a hole. John Dough, of course, stopped and gazed around with his glass eyes to see what had become of his new friend, and at the same moment a queer creature dropped from an overhead leaf and stood in the path of the gingerbread man. Another followed, and still another, and the three strange beings looked at John curiously, as if as much surprised at the meeting as he could be. Chick pressed close to the side of the gingerbread man and stared with big eyes at the new arrivals. Perhaps nowhere else in all the world could be found such unusual creatures as these Mifkets. Their heads had the appearance of coconuts, and were covered with coarse hair clipped close, and turning upward until it ended in a sharp peak at the very top. Their faces were like putty, with small, beady eyes that glittered brightly, flat noses, and wide, grinning mouths. The Mifkets' bodies were shaped like pears, and their legs were short and their arms long. For clothing they wore gay leaves of the forest plants, twisted and woven together in quite a clever way; and taken all together, they were as unlike any creatures that inhabit our part of the world as can well be imagined. "Ah, these must be the beings called Mifkets," remarked John Dough, speaking aloud in a language he had never used before, but that seemed well fitted to such creatures. "That's easy enough to guess," retorted one of the group, coming nearer to the gingerbread man and impudently thrusting forward its putty-like face, which it wrinkled and distorted in a disturbing manner. "It's easy enough to tell we're Mifkets; but what in the name of Jucklethub are you? And what strange child of the human's is this with you?" "I'm a gingerbread man," answered John, with dignity; "and this is my friend Chick." "We know what a man is; and we know what a child is; but what's gingerbread?" demanded another of the Mifkets. "I'm gingerbread," said John. "We'll take your word for it," growled the third creature. And then it added: "What are you doing here?" "Standing still, just now," said John, gravely. To his surprise all three began laughing at this reply, and they seemed so greatly amused that one hit another a merry cuff upon the ear, which he in turn passed on to the third. But the third--the growling one--turned suddenly upon John Dough and gave him such a sounding cuff upon the side of his head that the blow dazed him for a moment. At this Chick doubled two fat fists and ran at the queer Mifkets so fiercely that they were greatly astonished at the angry buffets they received, and fell back a few steps from the path. Immediately John Dough recovered his wits and aimed a strong blow with the candy cane at the wild people of the forest. Much to his astonishment it sent all three of them tumbling to the ground--one overturning the others. For so great was the energy and strength lent to his gingerbread arm by the magic Elixir that the Mifkets could not stand before it. Chick laughed merrily at the howls of their enemies, who quickly scrambled to their feet and leaped into the leaves of the giant plants, where they were hidden from sight. But the sound of their rapid retreat could be heard until it died away in the distance. Then the rabbit stuck its nose from the hole in which it had hidden and said: "Bravely done, little one. Bravely done, John Dough. Yet I warn you to beware these wicked Mifkets, who will now consider you both their enemies." "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 worshiped 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 could, 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 football?" "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.