John Dough and the Cherub/Chapter 12
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. "What's the matter with her?" asked John, anxiously. "No strength and vitality," answered the bear. "She's failing every day, and there isn't a drugstore or a doctor on the island. But don't tell her, whatever you do. Perhaps she doesn't realize it, and the knowledge would only make her more unhappy." Then the bear, who seemed remarkably tender-hearted, trotted with bouncing footsteps into his cave, so that the little Princess for whom he grieved might not see the tears that stood in his rubber eyes. After that John and Chick and the Princess started to return to their dwellings by means of a short cut through the forest, known to the girl. John was feeling very contented in the companionship of the two children, and reflected that in spite of the Mifkets his life on this beautiful island bade fair to be pleasant and agreeable. But his content was suddenly interrupted by the Cherub, who gave a loud cry and pointed excitedly into the forest. The gingerbread man had cast but one look when he began to tremble violently. For there before him--only a few paces away--stood his bitter and relentless enemy, Ali Dubh the Arab! "At last," said Ali Dubh, smiling most unpleasantly, "I have again found you." John was too agitated to reply; but Chick asked, boldly: "How on earth did you ever get to this island?" "By means of the witch," the Arab replied. "I purchased from her two transport powders. One transported me to the Isle of Phreex, and when you then escaped me the other powder transported me here. But I cannot allow the gingerbread man to escape me again, because I have no more powders, nor any way to reach the witch who makes them. So, my dear John Dough, please accept your fate, and permit me to eat you at once." "That I cannot do," said John, firmly; "for if I am eaten, that is the end of me." "How selfish!" exclaimed the Arab. "Who are you, to be considered before Ali Dubh, son of a mighty Sheik, and chief of an ancient Tribe of the Desert? Remember, sir, that when I have eaten you I shall gain for myself the priceless powers of that Great Elixir contained in your gingerbread, and will thus become the most powerful and most intelligent man in the world, besides living forever! Dare you, sir, allow your selfish motives to interfere with so grand a result?" "I dare," replied John. "But you have nothing to say about it," continued the Arab. "You are not your own master. You belong to me, for I purchased you from Jules Grogrande, the baker, who made you, and I am therefore entitled to eat you whenever I please." "Nevertheless," answered John, "I will not be eaten if I can help it." "Ah! but that is unjust!" protested the Arab. "If to be just is to be eaten," said John, "you need not look to me for justice. I may be wrong in this decision, but it is better to be wrong than to be nothing." "Then," remarked Ali Dubh, sadly, "you force me to eat you without your consent, which it will grieve me to do." With this he drew his terrible knife and sprang upon John Dough with great ferocity. But in the recent encounter with Black Ooboo the gingerbread man had learned how powerful the Elixir made him; so he did not run this time from the Arab, but avoided the thrust of the knife and caught the body of Ali Dubh in a strong clasp. Next moment he had lifted him up and tossed him high into the air, as easily as he had tossed the Mifket. The Arab alighted in the top branches of a tall scarlet plant and clung to them in great fear lest he should fall to the ground and be killed. Indeed, so frightened was he that he uttered screams of terror with every breath, and forgot all about eating John Dough in the more important thought of how he might reach safety. "Let's run!" exclaimed Chick, grasping John's hand. "Don't mind the Arab. If he falls it's good enough for him!" "The Mifkets will rescue him, I'm sure," added the Princess. "See! there come some of the creatures now, with Black Ooboo at their head." Hearing this, John hesitated no longer, but fled down another pathway with the children, and soon left the sound of Ali Dubh's cries far behind him.