John Dough and the Cherub/Chapter 9
"How long is that story of the Silver Pig?" asked John, when they were alone in their room. "As long as I want to make it," answered Chick, brightly. "But suppose they get tired of it?" John suggested, timidly. "Then they'll finish us and the story at the same time," laughed the child. "But we won't wait for that, John Dough. This palace isn't a healthy place for strangers, so I guess the quicker we get away from it the better. When everybody is asleep we'll go to the place where our machine lies, up on the roof, and fly away." "Very good," agreed John, with a sigh of relief. "I had begun to think we would be killed by these pleasant ladies and gentlemen." They waited for an hour or two, to be sure all others in the palace were asleep, and then they crept softly from the room and began to search for the staircase. The passages were so alike and so confusing that this was no easy task; but finally, just as they were about to despair, they came upon the stairs and mounted to the upper story of the palace. And now they really became lost in the maze of cross passages that led in every direction, nor could they come to that particular doorway that led to the stairs they had descended from the little flat roof where the flying-machine lay. Often they imagined they had found the right place; but the stairs would lead to some dome or turret that was strange to them, and they would be obliged to retrace their steps. Morning found the child and the gingerbread man still wandering through the endless passages, and at last they were obliged to abandon the quest and return to their room. All that following day the fair-haired, blue-eyed Baby continued the strange tale of the Silver Pig, while the ladies and gentlemen of the Palace of Romance seemed to listen with real pleasure. For, long ago, they had told each other all the stories they could themselves remember or imagine; so that it was a rare treat to them to hear of the wonderful adventures of Chick's Silver Pig, and they agreed that the longer the story lasted the better they would be pleased. "I hope you will not die for several days," one lady said to the child, with a sweet smile. That made Chick laugh. "Don't you worry about me," was the reply. "If stories will keep me alive I'll die of old age!" When bedtime again arrived the tale of the Silver Pig was still unfinished, and once more Chick and the gingerbread man were courteously escorted to their chambers. They spent the second night in another vain attempt to find the stairs leading to the flat roof, and morning found them as ignorant as ever of the location of their flying-machine. In spite of the little one's courage, the task of carrying the Silver Pig through so many adventures was a very difficult feat, and the child was weary for lack of sleep. On that third day John fully expected that Chick's invention would become exhausted, and they would both be dropped through the trap-door into the sea. Chick thought of the sea, too, but the thought gave the child one more idea, and it promptly tumbled the Silver Pig over the side of a ship and landed the adventurous animal upon the bottom of the ocean, where (Chick went on to say) it became acquainted with pretty mermaids and huge green lobsters, and rescued an amaryllis from a fierce and disagreeable sea-dragon. This part of the tale soon became really exciting, and when bedtime again arrived the listeners were glad to believe they would hear more of the famous Silver Pig during the following day. But Chick knew very well that the story had now been stretched out to the very limit, and when they were alone the child took the gingerbread man's hand and said: "Unless we can find those stairs to-night, John Dough, our jig is up. For by to-morrow evening I'll be at the bottom of the deep blue sea, and the fishes will be having a nice supper of soaked Incubator Baby with gingerbread on the side." "Please do not mention such a horrible thing," exclaimed John, with a shiver. "The stairs are surely in existence, for once we came down them; so let us make one more careful search for them." This they did, walking for hours up and down the passages, pulling aside every drapery they came to, but never finding the slender staircase that led to the flat roof. Even when it grew daylight they did not abandon the quest; for they could see their way much better than when feeling along dim passages by the uncertain light of the moon; and, as the danger grew every moment, they redoubled their eagerness in the quest. All at once they heard footsteps approaching; and, as they were standing in the middle of a long passage, they pressed back against the marble wall to escape discovery. At once the wall gave way, and John tumbled backward into another passage, with the Cherub sprawling on top of him. For they had backed against a drapery painted to represent a wall of the outer passage, and now found themselves in a place they had not before explored. Hastily regaining their feet, the fugitives ran down the passage, and at the end came suddenly upon another heavy drapery, which, when thrust aside, was found to conceal the identical flight of steps they had sought for so long and unsuccessfully. Uttering cries of joy, Chick and John quickly mounted the stairs and found themselves upon the flat roof. The flying bird lay as they had left it, and they were about to crawl inside when the sound of footsteps mounting the stairs was heard. "Quick!" shouted the child. "Jump in, John Dough!" "Is it safe?" asked John, who remembered how they had bumped upon the roof. "Well, it's either air or water for us, my friend, and I prefer the air," laughed Chick, whose cheeks were red with excitement. John hesitated no longer and was soon inside the bird's body. Chick scrambled after and at once pressed the electric button, while John threw over the silver lever. The big wings began to flop just as a number of men came upon the roof, uttering loud cries at the evident attempt of their prisoners to escape. But the strong pinions of the bird swept them flat, like so many ten-pins, and before they could get upon their feet again the flying-machine was high in the air and well out of their reach.