John Dough and the Cherub/Chapter 6
"Well, didn't I take care of you all right?" laughed the Incubator Baby, leading John Dough from the throne-room and up a broad flight of marble stairs. "Indeed you did," he answered, gratefully. "Really, my dear Chick, I believe that dreadful kinglet would have eaten me but for you." "'Course he would" said the Cherub, nodding gayly; "and won't he be wild when he finds there are no pancakes and maple-syrup for tea?" John stopped short. "Aren't there?" he asked. "Oh, Chick! I'm afraid he'll punish you for deceiving him." "I don't mind," declared the child. "No one shall eat a friend of mine that I've given my promise to take care of. So come along, John Dough, and don't worry. I've got a lovely room on the top floor of this castle, and I'll share it with you." So John mounted more marble steps, until finally Chick brought him to a handsome apartment on the third story. "Here we are!" cried the Baby. "Now, make yourself at home, John, for we needn't fear the kinglet until to-morrow morning, and then he'll have forgotten that I fooled him." Our hero's first act was to take off the Blunderer's heavy armor and pile it in one corner of the room. When free from the weight of metal he felt more like himself again, and walked to the window to view the scenery. "It's a pretty place, Chick," he remarked. "Oh, the Isle is all right," answered the child. "It's the people here that are all wrong, as you'll soon find out. Do you ever eat, John Dough?" "Never," said John. "Then, while you're waiting here, I'll go over to the dairy and get my milk for tea. You don't mind if I leave you for a few minutes, do you?" "Not at all," he declared. "But it has just started to rain, outside; you'll get wet, won't you?" "That's nothing," laughed Chick. "I won't melt." "It's different with me," said John, sadly. "If my gingerbread body got soaked it would fall to pieces." That made the little one laugh again, and it ran merrily from the room and left John Dough alone to stare out of the window. There was a projecting cornice overhead, so he had pushed his head well out to observe the pretty scenery, when suddenly he heard a voice say, in a tone of astonishment: "Hello, neighbor!" Turning toward the left, he saw sticking out of the next window to his own a long bald head that slanted up to a peak, underneath which appeared a little withered face that was smiling in a most friendly manner. John bowed politely. "Well, well," said the owner of the bald head. "Here's another curiosity come to our island! Wait a minute, and I'll run in and make your acquaintance." So presently the bald head, which was perched upon the body of a little, dried-up looking man, entered John's room and bowed politely. "I'm Sir Pryse Bocks," he said, "and the remarkable thing about me is that I'm an inventor, and a successful one. You, I perceive, are a delicatessen; a friend in knead; I might say, a Pan-American. Ha, ha!" "Pleased to make your acquaintance," returned John, bowing. "But do not joke about my person, Sir Pryse. I'm proud of it." "I respect your pride, sir," said the other. "It's bread in the bone, doubtless. Ha, ha!" John looked at him reproachfully, and the little man at once grew grave. "This island is full of inventors," said he; "but they're all cranks, and don't amount to anything--except me." "What have you invented?" asked John. "This!" said the other, taking a little tube from his pocket. "You will notice that it often rains--it's raining now, if you'll look outside. And the reason it rains is because the drops of water fall to the earth by the attraction of gravitation." "I suppose so," said John. "Now, what do people usually do when it rains?" asked the little man. "They grumble," said John. "Yes, and they use umbrellas--umbrellas, mind you, to keep themselves dry!" "And that is quite sensible," declared John. The bald-headed one gave a scornful laugh. "It's ridiculous!" he said, angrily. "An umbrella is a big, clumsy thing, that the wind jerks out of your hand, or turns inside out; and it's a nuisance to carry it around; and people always borrow it and never bring it back. An umbrella, sir, is a humbug! A relic of the Dark Ages! I've done away with the use of umbrellas entirely, by means of this invention--this little tube, which can be carried in one's pocket!" He held up a small instrument that looked like a tin whistle. "How curious!" said John. "Isn't it? You see, within this tube is stored a Power of Repulsion that overcomes the Attraction of Gravitation, and sends the rain-drops flying upward again. You stick the tube in your hatband and walk out boldly into the rain. Immediately all the rain-drops shoot up into the air, and before they can fall again you have passed on! It's always dry where the wearer of this tube goes, for it protects him perfectly. And when it stops raining, you put it in your pocket again and it's all ready for another time. Isn't it great, sir? Isn't it wonderful? Isn't the inventor of this tube the greatest man in the world?" "I'd like to try it," said John, "for no one needs protection from the rain more than I do. Being made of gingerbread, it would ruin me to get wet." "True," agreed the other. "I'll lend you the tube, with pleasure. Stick it in your hat-band." "I have no hat," said John; and then he remembered that he had left both the baker's hat and his candy cane lying on the sands where he had first fallen. "Well, carry the tube in your hand, then," said the inventor. "It will work just as well that way, but it's not so convenient." So John took the tube; and having thanked the bald-headed man for his kindness, he left the room and walked down the stairs and through the big, empty hall, and so out into the courtyard. The rain seemed to have driven every one in doors, for not a person could he see. Holding the tube upright, he boldly walked into the rain; and it gave him great pleasure to notice that not a drop fell near him. Indeed, by looking upward, he could see the falling drops stop short and then fly toward the clouds; and he began to believe that the bald-headed inventor was really as great a man as he claimed to be. After descending the slippery path through the rocks, he crossed the patch of green, and at last reached the sandy shore, where he found the baker's hat, soaked through by the rain. As he lifted it he saw the crooked handle of the candy cane sticking out of the sand, and drew it forth to find it in excellent condition, little of the dampness having reached it. But now, as John Dough began to retrace his steps, he discovered that his feet were soft and swollen. For he had been walking on the damp ground and through the wet grass, and although no rain had fallen upon his body, his feet were getting to be in a dangerous condition, and the licorice in them had become sticky. After he had recrossed the grass and come to the edge of the rocks he began to be frightened, for bits of his left heel now commenced to crumble and drop in the path; and when he tried walking on his flabby toes, they were so soggy and soft that he knew they would not last very long. While he paused, bewildered, another calamity overtook him. For the tube suddenly lost its power of repulsion and ceased to work, and the raindrops began to pelt his unprotected body and sink into his flesh. He looked around with a groan of dismay, and discovered a round hole, or tunnel, in the rock near by. Staggering toward this, he entered the tunnel and found that now no rain could reach him. The floor was smooth and dry, and in the far distance he saw a light twinkling. Not daring to walk farther upon his mushy feet, John got down on his hands and knees and began crawling toward the farther end of the tunnel. He made slow progress, in that position; but soon he heard a noise of machinery, and felt the warm air of a furnace coming to meet him. That gave him courage to proceed, and he crawled onward until he had reached a large, circular chamber, where a tall man with whiskers that resembled those of a billy-goat was busily working among a number of machines. "Hello!" this personage exclaimed, as he saw the gingerbread man. "What have we here?" The voice and eyes were alike kindly; so John told the man his story and asked permission to dry his feet at the glowing furnace. "Make yourself at home," said the man, and turned to his work again. The place was lighted by electricity, and was warm and comfortable. John put his feet as near to the furnace as he dared, and soon felt the heat drying up his soaked feet. It was not long, indeed, before his entire body was as crisp and solid as ever; and then our hero stood upon his feet and found that the damage to his heel would not interfere much with his walking. "What are you doing?" he asked the man. "Making diamonds," replied the other, calmly. "I suppose I am the only one in the world who ever succeeded in making real diamonds; but people did not believe in me, you see, so they sent me to the Isle of Phreex. Here I have manufactured the finest diamonds the world has ever known, for no one interferes with my work. Look at these." He threw back the lid of a large tin box, and John saw that it was full to the brim with sparkling gems of a clear white color. "Take some," said the man, offering him a handful. "They are of no use to me here, because I cannot dispose of them. But I have the satisfaction of making them, just the same. Help yourself!" "No, thank you," said John. "I have no use for diamonds, any more than you have." "But the time may come when riches will be a great help to you," said the man, and picking out three very big stones he began pressing them into John Dough's gingerbread body, one after the other. "There!" he exclaimed. "They are now safely concealed, and if you ever need them you can dig them out and sell them. Those three stones would be worth several thousand dollars if you ever get into the world again, where diamonds are valued." "You are very generous," said John. "Oh, not at all, I assure you!" said the man, wagging his goatlike beard with every word he spoke. "In this curious island there is no value to anything whatever, not even to life. All I can do with my diamonds here is to stick them into the kinglet's crown and scepter; so I'm getting a big stock of them laid by. Very soon I shall begin studding the roof of the throne-room with diamonds, and it will be a pretty sight to see them glittering in one mass." "Well," said our hero, "if it has stopped raining, I believe I'll bid you good-by." "Never mind the rain," answered the man. "Here is a winding staircase that leads directly upward into the castle. If you go that way, the rain cannot reach you. The tunnel through which you entered is only used for ventilation." John thanked the good-natured diamond-maker and started to climb the stairs. There were a good many steps, but after a while he came to a gallery of the castle, and had little difficulty in finding the passage that led to his own room. As he walked along he heard the sound of a piano, and paused at an open door to peer within the room, for he imagined some one was pounding upon the keys of the piano with a sledge-hammer. But immediately a fluffy-haired man looked up and saw him, and the next instant pounced upon the gingerbread man in much the same way that a cat would pounce upon a rat, and seized him fast, drew him into the room, and closed and locked the door. John was astonished, but the fluffy-haired musician began pacing up and down the room, swinging his arms and shouting: "I have it! I have it at last! I am great! I am magnificent! I am better than Vogner himself!" He paused to glare upon John. "Why don't you shout, you baked idiot? Why don't you weep with joy?" he cried. "It is great, I tell you! It is great!" "What is great?" asked John. "The symphonie! The divine symphonie, you heartless molasses-cake, or devil's food, or whatever you are! And I composed it--I--Tietjamus Toips! I am greater than Vogner!" "I didn't hear it," said the gingerbread man. The musician threw himself upon the piano, and produced a succession of such remarkable sounds that John was surprised. "Did you understand it?" demanded the fluffy-haired one, jumping up again. "No," said John. "No! Of course not! No one can understand it. It is genius! It will be played at all the great concerts. The critics will write columns in praise of it. Some folks can understand Vogner a little. No one can understand me at all! I am wonderful! I am superb!" "Well," said John, "I'm not a judge. It seemed to me like awful discord." The musician threw himself upon his knees and burst into tears. "Thank you, my friend!--my dear friend!" said he, between the sobs. "Such praise gladdens my heart and makes me very happy! Ah! glorious moment, in which I produce music that is not understood and sounds like discord!" John left the musician still shedding tears of happiness, and walked to his room. "The people of this island are certainly peculiar," he reflected; "and I am very glad indeed that I am an ordinary gingerbread man, and not a crank." He found the bald-headed inventor of the power of repulsion awaiting him in the room. "Well, how did the tube please you? Is it not wonderful?" he inquired. "It's wonderful enough when it works," said John; "but it suddenly quit working, and nearly ruined me." "Ah, the power became exhausted," returned the man, calmly, "But that is nothing. It can be easily renewed." "However," John remarked, "I think that whenever any one uses your tube as a protection from the rain, he should also carry an umbrella to use in case of accident." "An umbrella! Bah!" cried the inventor, and left the room in a rage, slamming the door behind him.