John Dough and the Cherub/Chapter 13
That evening, when John came out of his tree house to watch the sunset, he found Pittypat, the white rabbit, sitting before his door. "I've news for you, my friend," began the rabbit, in a grave voice. "Black Ooboo and the Arab who wanted to eat you have become fast friends, and together they are determined to destroy you." "How did you know that the Arab wants to eat me?" asked John. "I was hidden among the plants when you met, and heard your talk," replied the rabbit. "You must look out for Ooboo and the Arab, or they will surely do you a mischief, for the Mifkets now know that you are good to eat." "It's kind of you to warn me," said John; but can you tell me of any way to escape from this island, good Pittypat?" "Not just at present," returned the rabbit; "but our Prince is very wise indeed, and I will ask him what is best to be done. In the meantime you must keep away from your enemies as much as possible." With these words the rabbit sprang into a low bush and disappeared, leaving John Dough to sad reflections upon his dangerous position in this lonely island. Soon after daybreak next morning, while Chick and the Princess were out hunting berries for their breakfast, John went for a walk along the shore, and so engrossed did he become in his thoughts that he did not notice when a band of Mifkets stole upon him from behind and threw a coil of stout rope around his shoulders. Before he realized his misfortune he was bound fast with many turns of the rope. Then he found that he had fallen into the hands of his old enemy, Black Ooboo; but the Arab, to his great relief, was not with the party that had captured him. Shouting with glee at the capture of the gingerbread man, the Mifkets led him away through the forest paths until they arrived at the clearing wherein the King lazily reclined upon his flat rock. Ooboo at once awoke the aged ruler, who sat up and said in a weary tone: "Have you taken the stranger prisoner, as I commanded?" "We have," answered the black one. John Dough was very indignant at the treatment he had received, so he addressed the King angrily, saying: "By what right do you command me to be bound in this disgraceful manner? Did you not give me permission to live among you in peace?" "I am a king, and the promises of kings should never be relied upon," said the old Mifket, winking slyly at his prisoner. "Since I first saw you the Arab has arrived, and he tells us that the material you are made of is very good to eat." "Can the Arab understand your language?" asked John, in surprise. "It seems so," answered the King. "In some parts of Arabia the people speak exactly as we do; so the Arabs are probably descended from our race. Anyhow, Ali Dubh understands us and we understand him, and we've decided to have a bite of you before he can eat you himself." This was disturbing news to the gingerbread man, and he stood before the King wondering how he might escape from this awkward situation when the black Mifket, who was squatting beside him, opened his mouth and bit off the thumb from John's left hand, which was tightly bound to his side. "How does is taste, Ooboo?" inquired the King, while the black one was chewing the thumb. "I can't exactly describe the flavor," said Ooboo, boldly biting off the forefinger of the hand. John was enraged at this dreadful treatment, and his glass eyes had a dangerous flash in them. It didn't pain him especially, for he had no nerves; but to be chewed up by a common forest Mifket was a liberty that any gingerbread man might well resent. "Seems to me there's molasses in him," said Ooboo, with a wink at the King, and immediately he bit off another finger and ate it. "Also a bit of ginger," he continued, calmly, eating the next finger. "And spices." Another finger was gone. "It isn't exactly cake, and it isn't exactly bread," the black one proceeded, smacking his lips; "but it's pretty good, whatever it is"; and with that he ate the last finger remaining on John's left hand. The King was no longer sleepy. He had become quite interested, and the circle of Mifkets that stood silently back of John were looking at their victim with hungry eyes. "Bring him here to me," said the King. "I'll eat the other hand and see what it's like." Ooboo immediately pushed the prisoner toward the rock; but John was now terribly frightened, and had made up his mind not to allow the rest of his body to be eaten without a struggle to save himself. So he suddenly exerted all the strength the Great Elixir had given him, and burst his rope bonds as easily as if they had been threads. At the same instant the Arab leaped into the group that surrounded the throne and placed himself between the King and John Dough. "Stop!" he screamed, his voice shrill with anger. "How dare you eat the gingerbread I have bought and paid for?" "There's enough for all," said the King. "We'll divide him up, and have a feast." "Not so!" shouted the Arab. "He's mine, and mine alone!" But while they were thus quarreling the gingerbread man, free of his bonds, turned and fled swiftly into the forest, and before the Mifkets or Ali Dubh knew he had gone their intended victim was far away. Chick was very indignant when John Dough entered the tree house and showed his mutilated hand. "You ought to stay near me every minute," said the Cherub, "so I can take care of you and keep you from getting into trouble. If this thing keeps on, John Dough, you won't be able to present a respectable appearance." "I know it," said John, sadly. "I'd escape in that little boat on the beach; only, if a rain-storm came up, there'd be no shelter and I'd become soaked and fall to pieces." "It isn't our boat, either," said Chick. "It belongs to the father and mother of the little Princess, and they may want to use it themselves, some day, to escape in." "That's true," said John. "How is the Princess to-day?" "She's worse," answered Chick. "Seems to me she gets weaker and more delicate every day." "That's what the rubber bear says," John remarked, thoughtfully. "See here," said the child, "that gingerbread of yours is full of strength and power, isn't it?" "That's what Ali Dubh says," John responded. "The Elixir that I am mixed with is claimed to be very powerful." "And it's true," declared Chick, "for I've seen you do things no gingerbread man could ever do without some magic Elixir being mixed up with him. Well, then, why don't you let the Princess eat the rest of your left hand, and get well? The hand isn't any use to you since Black Ooboo ate off the fingers." John looked at his left hand nervously. "What you say, Chick, appears to be true," said he; "but you've no idea how I dread to be eaten. I'm not very substantial at the best, and during my brief lifetime I've been crumbled and chipped and bitten to such an extent that I dread to lose even a crumb of my person more than is absolutely necessary. Of course I'd like to help the Princess, and restore her to health and strength; but perhaps we can find some better way to do that than to feed her on my gingerbread." "Very well, John Dough," said the Cherub, getting up to go to the Princess, "I suppose you can do as you please about feeding yourself to your friends; but if I was gingerbread you can just bet I wouldn't be so stingy with myself!" Left alone, John sighed and wondered if it was really his duty to sacrifice his left hand to save the frail little girl and restore her to strength and health. He wanted to be kind and generous, yet the very thought of being eaten filled him with horror. Presently he left the tree house and wandered along the coast. Chick's rebuke disturbed him not a little, and he wanted time to think it over. So by and by, when he thought he was alone, he sat down upon a rock and tried to decide what to do. Suddenly a low rustle disturbed him, and he looked up to see the brown bear squatting beside him. "Where's the Princess?" asked Para Bruin. "Aren't you a good way from your mountain?" inquired John, instead of answering the question. "Yes, I don't often stray so far," was the reply, "but I had an idea of calling on the Princess. Where is she?" "She's sick to-day," said the gingerbread man. "That's bad," declared the bear, shaking his head sadly. "She seems to be failing every day. Poor little Princess!" John moved uneasily, for every word was a reproach to him. "How are you getting on with the Mifkets?" asked Para Bruin. "They made me a prisoner this morning, and abused me shamefully," said the gingerbread man. "See here!" and he held up the stump of his left hand. "What has become of your fingers?" "A black Mifket named Ooboo bit them off and ate them," was the answer. "That's curious," said the bear, rubbing his nose thoughtfully with one paw. "Do you know, the Mifkets had an exciting time an hour ago? I watched them from my mountain, and saw everything. Black Ooboo had a fight with the King and knocked him off his rock. That's really surprising, for Ooboo has always before been a coward, and afraid of the King. But now he has declared he'll be king himself, and offers to fight any one who opposes him. Isn't that funny? I don't know where Black Ooboo got so much courage and strength all of a sudden, I'm sure." "I know," said John. "He got it from my fingers, which he ate. My dough is mixed with the Great Elixir, you know, which is nothing less than concentrated energy and strength and vitality and knowledge. The fingers have made Ooboo the most powerful Mifket in the island, so it is no wonder he has become king." Para Bruin listened to this carefully, and after a moment's thought he said: "If that is the case, John Dough, you must feed some of yourself to the Princess to make her strong again." "That's what Chick says; but I don't like to do it," said John. "You will do it, though," said the bear; "for if you don't you are no friend of mine, or of any other honest person. I'm going back to my mountain, and if you don't save the little Princess I'll never speak to you again." Away stalked Para Bruin, and John Dough arose with a sigh and walked far into the forest, trying to make up his mind what to do. He came to the bank of the brook presently, and seating himself upon a fence beside the stream gazed into the rushing water in deep thought. From the distance came the roar of water falling over the big dam which the beavers had built, and once or twice a Mifket strayed that way and looked curiously at the silent figure of the gingerbread man. But they had orders from the Arab and Ooboo not to disturb him, so they crept away again and joined their fellows among the giant plants. A long time John Dough sat there by the stream, until suddenly he was aroused from his musings by a shriek of discordant laughter behind him. "Ho, ho, ho! What an absurd thing! Who'd ever have thought it?" He turned around and saw a gorgeous macaw standing on a log back of him. The bird was all aglow with crimson and green feathers, and its black eyes twinkled mischievously, while continuous shouts of laughter came from its ruffled throat. "Keep still, can't you?" said John, in an annoyed tone. "What are you laughing at, anyway?" The bird pushed its head underneath a wing and shook with suppressed mirth. "Oh dear! It's too funny for anything! What a lark--hoo, hoo, hoo! What a lark it is!" Its voice was somewhat smothered by the feathers, but John heard every word, and it made him angry. "You're a rampsy, that's what you are!" he cried. "There are two of us--two of us--two of us!" shrieked the macaw, hopping around and fluttering its brilliant plumage. "Honestly, my dear breakfast, I never had so much fun in my life!" John turned his head and looked at the bird earnestly. "Why do you call me your 'dear breakfast'?" he asked, with sudden suspicion. "Because that's what you are, my poor innocent! Ha, ha, ha! Breakfast is ready!" The bird made a quick thrust with its beak, and the next moment fluttered around in front of John with its mouth full of gingerbread. Our hero quickly stood up and put his right hand behind him. The baker had made two little coat tails at the back of his waist, and as John felt for them he found that the thieving macaw had eaten both of these coat tails entirely off, while he had sat upon the log thinking. "How stupid I am!" he exclaimed, with real grief. "I might have given those coat tails to the Princess, and now this silly bird has eaten them up!" "I said you were a chump!" remarked the macaw, winking, and then laughing again. "The idea of your sitting there and letting me eat you! I never had so much fun in all my life." Just then a great chattering reached his ears, and looking around, he found that a numerous band of the fierce Mifkets had stolen upon him, and were now coming forward armed with huge clubs which they had broken from the forest plants, and which were as solid and heavy as the branches of trees. "Surrender!" cried the leader, knowing that the gingerbread man understood their language; "King Ooboo wants you for his luncheon, and Ali Dubh is also hungry." For a moment John Dough was most frightened. It was not likely that his strength would enable him to escape from so many of his enemies, and he almost gave himself up for lost. For before him was the stream of water--almost as deadly to him as the close ranks of the Mifkets behind him. The macaw was strutting up and down beside him, and at his look of despair the bird said: "You're surely in a bad way, my friend; but I believe I can save you. When I fly up, grab my feet, and I'll carry you away to your dwelling." "You!" he exclaimed, gazing at the bird in surprise; "you are by no means big enough to fly away with me." "Size doesn't count for much," chuckled the macaw; "and since I breakfasted off your coattails I feel myself to be as strong as an ox. Just grab my legs, as I tell you to." John decided that it was worth attempting, being the only thing to do. The Mifkets were pressing closer, and soon he would be within reach of their clubs. So, as the macaw flew into the air John grasped its legs with his right hand (which was the only hand that had fingers), and, sure enough, the strength of the little bird was so great that it easily drew him up into the air, high above the heads of his chattering and disappointed foe. "Fooled again," cried the macaw; but of course the Mifkets did not understand the words. Away over the tops of the giant plants flew the bird, with John Dough clinging to its legs, and it was not long before it gradually descended again and landed the gingerbread man safely before the door of his own dwelling. "Don't thank me," said the macaw, turning toward him one black eye, in a saucy manner, and winking comically. "I ate part of you for my breakfast, and feel greatly refreshed. Were it not for the Arab I'd hope to get another meal off you, but between the Arab and the Mifkets you're not likely to last long. Good bye." And then it flew away into the forest.