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Chapter 24

Chapter 24

THE FROGS' BIRTHDAY-TREAT.

And so it came to pass that, just a week after the day when my
Fairy-friends first appeared as Children, I found myself taking a
farewell-stroll through the wood, in the hope of meeting them once
more. I had but to stretch myself on the smooth turf, and the 'eerie'
feeling was on me in a moment.

"Put oor ear welly low down," said Bruno, "and I'll tell oo a secret!
It's the Frogs' Birthday-Treat--and we've lost the Baby!"

"What Baby?" I said, quite bewildered by this complicated piece of news.

"The Queen's Baby, a course!" said Bruno. "Titania's Baby. And we's
welly sorry. Sylvie, she's--oh so sorry!"

"How sorry is she?" I asked, mischievously.

"Three-quarters of a yard," Bruno replied with perfect solemnity.
"And I'm a little sorry too," he added, shutting his eyes so as not
to see that he was smiling.

"And what are you doing about the Baby?"

"Well, the soldiers are all looking for it--up and down everywhere."

"The soldiers?" I exclaimed.

"Yes, a course!" said Bruno. "When there's no fighting to be done,
the soldiers doos any little odd jobs, oo know."

I was amused at the idea of its being a 'little odd job' to find the
Royal Baby. "But how did you come to lose it?" I asked.

"We put it in a flower," Sylvie, who had just joined us, explained with
her eyes full of tears. "Only we ca'n't remember which!"

"She says us put it in a flower," Bruno interrupted, "'cause she doosn't
want I to get punished. But it were really me what put it there.
Sylvie were picking Dindledums."

"You shouldn't say 'us put it in a flower'," Sylvie very gravely remarked.

"Well, hus, then," said Bruno. "I never can remember those horrid H's!"

"Let me help you to look for it," I said. So Sylvie and I made a
'voyage of discovery' among all the flowers; but there was no Baby to
be seen.

"What's become of Bruno?" I said, when we had completed our tour.

"He's down in the ditch there," said Sylvie, "amusing a young Frog."

I went down on my hands and knees to look for him, for I felt very
curious to know how young Frogs ought to be amused. After a minute's
search, I found him sitting at the edge of the ditch, by the side of
the little Frog, and looking rather disconsolate.

"How are you getting on, Bruno?" I said, nodding to him as he looked up.

"Ca'n't amuse it no more," Bruno answered, very dolefully, "'cause it
won't say what it would like to do next! I've showed it all the
duck-weeds--and a live caddis-worm--- but it won't say nuffin!
What--would oo like?' he shouted into the ear of the Frog:
but the little creature sat quite still, and took no notice of him.
"It's deaf, I think!" Bruno said, turning away with a sigh.
"And it's time to get the Theatre ready."

"Who are the audience to be?"

"Only but Frogs," said Bruno. "But they haven't comed yet.
They wants to be drove up, like sheep."

"Would it save time," I suggested, "if I were to walk round with
Sylvie, to drive up the Frogs, while you get the Theatre ready?"

"That are a good plan!" cried Bruno. "But where are Sylvie?"

"I'm here!" said Sylvie, peeping over the edge of the bank.
"I was just watching two Frogs that were having a race."

"Which won it? "Bruno eagerly inquired.

Sylvie was puzzled. "He does ask such hard questions!"
she confided to me.

"And what's to happen in the Theatre?" I asked.

"First they have their Birthday-Feast," Sylvie said: "then Bruno does
some Bits of Shakespeare; then he tells them a Story."

"I should think the Frogs like the Feast best. Don't they?"

"Well, there's generally very few of them that get any. They will keep
their mouths shut so tight! And it's just as well they do," she added,
"because Bruno likes to cook it himself: and he cooks very queerly."
Now they're all in. Would you just help me to put them with their
heads the right way?"

We soon managed this part of the business, though the Frogs kept up a
most discontented croaking all the time.

"What are they saying?" I asked Sylvie.

"They're saying 'Fork! Fork!' It's very silly of them! You're not
going to have forks!" she announced with some severity. "Those that
want any Feast have just got to open their mouths, and Bruno 'll put
some of it in!"

At this moment Bruno appeared, wearing a little white apron to show
that he was a Cook, and carrying a tureen full of very queer-looking
soup. I watched very carefully as he moved about among the Frogs;
but I could not see that any of them opened their mouths to be fed--
except one very young one, and I'm nearly sure it did it accidentally,
in yawning. However Bruno instantly put a large spoonful of soup into
its mouth, and the poor little thing coughed violently for some time.

So Sylvie and I had to share the soup between us, and to pretend to
enjoy it, for it certainly was very queerly cooked.

I only ventured to take one spoonful of it ("Sylvie's Summer-Soup,"
Bruno said it was), and must candidly confess that it was not at all
nice; and I could not feel surprised that so many of the guests had
kept their mouths shut up tight.

"What's the soup made of, Bruno?" said Sylvie, who had put a spoonful
of it to her lips, and was making a wry face over it.

And Bruno's answer was anything but encouraging. "Bits of things!"

The entertainment was to conclude with "Bits of Shakespeare," as Sylvie
expressed it, which were all to be done by Bruno, Sylvie being fully
engaged in making the Frogs keep their heads towards the stage:
after which Bruno was to appear in his real character, and tell them a
Story of his own invention.

"Will the Story have a Moral to it?" I asked Sylvie, while Bruno was
away behind the hedge, dressing for the first 'Bit.'

"I think so," Sylvie replied doubtfully. "There generally is a Moral,
only he puts it in too soon."

"And will he say all the Bits of Shakespeare?"

"No, he'll only act them," said Sylvie. "He knows hardly any of the
words. When I see what he's dressed like, I've to tell the Frogs
what character it is. They're always in such a hurry to guess!
Don't you hear them all saying 'What? What?'" And so indeed they were:
it had only sounded like croaking, till Sylvie explained it, but I could
now make out the "Wawt? Wawt?" quite distinctly.

"But why do they try to guess it before they see it?"

"I don't know," Sylvie said: "but they always do. Sometimes they begin
guessing weeks and weeks before the day!"

(So now, when you hear the Frogs croaking in a particularly melancholy
way, you may be sure they're trying to guess Bruno's next Shakespeare
'Bit'. Isn't that interesting?)

However, the chorus of guessing was cut short by Bruno, who suddenly
rushed on from behind the scenes, and took a flying leap down among the
Frogs, to re-arrange them.

For the oldest and fattest Frog--who had never been properly arranged
so that he could see the stage, and so had no idea what was going
on--was getting restless, and had upset several of the Frogs, and
turned others round with their heads the wrong way. And it was no good
at all, Bruno said, to do a 'Bit' of Shakespeare when there was nobody
to look at it (you see he didn't count me as anybody). So he set to
work with a stick, stirring them up, very much as you would stir up tea
in a cup, till most of them had at least one great stupid eye gazing at
the stage.

"Oo must come and sit among them, Sylvie," he said in despair, "I've
put these two side-by-side, with their noses the same way, ever so many
times, but they do squarrel so!"

So Sylvie took her place as 'Mistress of the Ceremonies,' and Bruno
vanished again behind the scenes, to dress for the first 'Bit.'

"Hamlet!" was suddenly proclaimed, in the clear sweet tones I knew so
well. The croaking all ceased in a moment, and I turned to the stage,
in some curiosity to see what Bruno's ideas were as to the behaviour of
Shakespeare's greatest Character.

According to this eminent interpreter of the Drama, Hamlet wore a short
black cloak (which he chiefly used for muffling up his face, as if he
suffered a good deal from toothache), and turned out his toes very much
as he walked. "To be or not to be!" Hamlet remarked in a cheerful
tone, and then turned head-over-heels several times, his cloak dropping
off in the performance.

I felt a little disappointed: Bruno's conception of the part seemed so
wanting in dignity. "Won't he say any more of the speech?" I whispered
to Sylvie.

"I think not," Sylvie whispered in reply. "He generally turns
head-over-heels when he doesn't know any more words."

Bruno had meanwhile settled the question by disappearing from the
stage; and the Frogs instantly began inquiring the name of the next
Character.

"You'll know directly!" cried Sylvie, as she adjusted two or three
young Frogs that had struggled round with their backs to the stage.
"Macbeth!" she added, as Bruno re-appeared.

Macbeth had something twisted round him, that went over one shoulder
and under the other arm, and was meant, I believe, for a Scotch plaid.
He had a thorn in his hand, which he held out at arm's length, as if he
were a little afraid of it. "Is this a dagger?" Macbeth inquired, in a
puzzled sort of tone: and instantly a chorus of "Thorn! Thorn!" arose
from the Frogs (I had quite learned to understand their croaking by
this time).

"It's a dagger!" Sylvie proclaimed in a peremptory tone.
"Hold your tongues!" And the croaking ceased at once.

Shakespeare has not told us, so far as I know, that Macbeth had any
such eccentric habit as turning head-over-heels in private life: but
Bruno evidently considered it quite an essential part of the character,
and left the stage in a series of somersaults. However, he was back
again in a few moments, having tucked under his chin the end of a tuft
of wool (probably left on the thorn by a wandering sheep), which made a
magnificent beard, that reached nearly down to his feet.

"Shylock!" Sylvie proclaimed. "No, I beg your pardon!" she hastily
corrected herself, "King Lear! I hadn't noticed the crown."
(Bruno had very cleverly provided one, which fitted him exactly,
by cutting out the centre of a dandelion to make room for his head.)

King Lear folded his arms (to the imminent peril of his beard) and
said, in a mild explanatory tone, "Ay, every inch a king!" and then
paused, as if to consider how this could best be proved. And here,
with all possible deference to Bruno as a Shakespearian critic, I must
express my opinion that the poet did not mean his three great tragic
heroes to be so strangely alike in their personal habits; nor do I
believe that he would have accepted the faculty of turning
head-over-heels as any proof at all of royal descent. Yet it appeared
that King Lear, after deep meditation, could think of no other argument
by which to prove his kingship: and, as this was the last of the 'Bits'
of Shakespeare ("We never do more than three," Sylvie explained in a
whisper), Bruno gave the audience quite a long series of somersaults
before he finally retired, leaving the enraptured Frogs all crying out
"More! More!" which I suppose was their way of encoring a performance.
But Bruno wouldn't appear again, till the proper time came for telling
the Story.

When he appeared at last in his real character, I noticed a remarkable
change in his behaviour.

He tried no more somersaults. It was clearly his opinion that, however
suitable the habit of turning head-over-heels might be to such petty
individuals as Hamlet and King Lear, it would never do for Bruno to
sacrifice his dignity to such an extent. But it was equally clear that
he did not feel entirely at his ease, standing all alone on the stage,
with no costume to disguise him: and though he began, several times,

"There were a Mouse--," he kept glancing up and down, and on all sides,
as if in search of more comfortable quarters from which to tell the
Story. Standing on one side of the stage, and partly overshadowing it,
was a tall foxglove, which seemed, as the evening breeze gently swayed
it hither and thither, to offer exactly the sort of accommodation that
the orator desired. Having once decided on his quarters, it needed
only a second or two for him to run up the stem like a tiny squirrel,
and to seat himself astride on the topmost bend, where the fairy-bells
clustered most closely, and from whence he could look down on his
audience from such a height that all shyness vanished, and he began his
Story merrily.

"Once there were a Mouse and a Crocodile and a Man and a Goat and a
Lion." I had never heard the 'dramatis personae' tumbled into a story
with such profusion and in such reckless haste; and it fairly took my
breath away. Even Sylvie gave a little gasp, and allowed three of the
Frogs, who seemed to be getting tired of the entertainment, to hop away
into the ditch, without attempting to stop them.

"And the Mouse found a Shoe, and it thought it were a Mouse-trap.
So it got right in, and it stayed in ever so long."

"Why did it stay in?" said Sylvie. Her function seemed to be much the
same as that of the Chorus in a Greek Play: she had to encourage the
orator, and draw him out, by a series of intelligent questions.

"'Cause it thought it couldn't get out again," Bruno explained.
"It were a clever mouse. It knew it couldn't get out of traps!"

But why did it go in at all?" said Sylvie.

"--and it jamp, and it jamp," Bruno proceeded, ignoring this question,
"and at last it got right out again. And it looked at the mark in the
Shoe. And the Man's name were in it. So it knew it wasn't its own Shoe."

"Had it thought it was?" said Sylvie.

"Why, didn't I tell oo it thought it were a Mouse-trap?" the indignant
orator replied. "Please, Mister Sir, will oo make Sylvie attend?"
Sylvie was silenced, and was all attention: in fact, she and I were
most of the audience now, as the Frogs kept hopping away, and there
were very few of them left.

"So the Mouse gave the Man his Shoe.

And the Man were welly glad, cause he hadn't got but one Shoe, and he
were hopping to get the other."

Here I ventured on a question. "Do you mean 'hopping,' or 'hoping'?"

"Bofe," said Bruno. "And the Man took the Goat out of the Sack."
("We haven't heard of the sack before," I said. "Nor you won't hear of
it again," said Bruno). "And he said to the Goat, 'Oo will walk about
here till I comes back.' And he went and he tumbled into a deep hole.
And the Goat walked round and round. And it walked under the Tree.
And it wug its tail. And it looked up in the Tree. And it sang a sad
little Song. Oo never heard such a sad little Song!"

"Can you sing it, Bruno?" I asked.

"Iss, I can," Bruno readily replied. "And I sa'n't. It would make
Sylvie cry--"

"It wouldn't!', Sylvie interrupted in great indignation.
"And I don't believe the Goat sang it at all!"

"It did, though!" said Bruno. "It singed it right froo.
I sawed it singing with its long beard--"

"It couldn't sing with its beard," I said, hoping to puzzle the little
fellow: "a beard isn't a voice."

"Well then, oo couldn't walk with Sylvie!" Bruno cried triumphantly.
"Sylvie isn't a foot!"

I thought I had better follow Sylvie's example, and be silent for a
while. Bruno was too sharp for us.

"And when it had singed all the Song, it ran away--for to get along to
look for the Man, oo know. And the Crocodile got along after it--for to
bite it, oo know. And the Mouse got along after the Crocodile."

"Wasn't the Crocodile running?" Sylvie enquired. She appealed to me.
"Crocodiles do run, don't they?"

I suggested "crawling" as the proper word.

"He wasn't running," said Bruno, "and he wasn't crawling.
He went struggling along like a portmanteau. And he held his chin ever
so high in the air--"

"What did he do that for?" said Sylvie.

"'cause he hadn't got a toofache!" said Bruno. "Ca'n't oo make out
nuffin wizout I 'splain it? Why, if he'd had a toofache, a course he'd
have held his head down--like this--and he'd have put a lot of warm
blankets round it!"

"If he'd had any blankets," Sylvie argued.

"Course he had blankets!" retorted her brother. "Doos oo think
Crocodiles goes walks wizout blankets? And he frowned with his
eyebrows. And the Goat was welly flightened at his eyebrows!"

"I'd never be afraid of eyebrows?" exclaimed Sylvie.

"I should think oo would, though, if they'd got a Crocodile fastened to
them, like these had! And so the Man jamp, and he jamp, and at last he
got right out of the hole."

Sylvie gave another little gasp: this rapid dodging about among the
characters of the Story had taken away her breath.

"And he runned away for to look for the Goat, oo know. And he heard
the Lion grunting---"

"Lions don't grunt," said Sylvie.

"This one did," said Bruno. "And its mouth were like a large cupboard.
And it had plenty of room in its mouth. And the Lion runned after the
Man for to eat him, oo know. And the Mouse runned after the Lion."

"But the Mouse was running after the Crocodile," I said: "he couldn't
run after both!"

Bruno sighed over the density of his audience, but explained very
patiently. "He did runned after bofe: 'cause they went the same way!
And first he caught the Crocodile, and then he didn't catch the Lion.
And when he'd caught the Crocodile, what doos oo think he did--'cause
he'd got pincers in his pocket?"

"I ca'n't guess," said Sylvie.

"Nobody couldn't guess it!" Bruno cried in high glee.
"Why, he wrenched out that Crocodile's toof!"

"Which tooth?" I ventured to ask.

But Bruno was not to be puzzled. "The toof he were going to bite the
Goat with, a course!"

"He couldn't be sure about that," I argued,

"unless he wrenched out all its teeth."

Bruno laughed merrily, and half sang, as he swung himself backwards and
forwards, "He did--wrenched--out--all its teef!"

"Why did the Crocodile wait to have them wrenched out?" said Sylvie.

"It had to wait," said Bruno.

I ventured on another question. "But what became of the Man who said
'You may wait here till I come back'?"

"He didn't say 'Oo may,'" Bruno explained. "He said, 'Oo will.'
Just like Sylvie says to me 'Oo will do oor lessons till twelve o'clock.'
Oh, I wiss," he added with a little sigh, "I wiss Sylvie would say 'Oo
may do oor lessons'!"

This was a dangerous subject for discussion, Sylvie seemed to think.
She returned to the Story. "But what became of the Man?"

"Well, the Lion springed at him. But it came so slow, it were three
weeks in the air--"

"Did the Man wait for it all that time?" I said.

"Course he didn't!" Bruno replied, gliding head-first down the stem of
the fox-glove, for the Story was evidently close to its end.
"He sold his house, and he packed up his things, while the Lion were
coming. And he went and he lived in another town. So the Lion ate
the wrong man."

This was evidently the Moral: so Sylvie made her final proclamation to
the Frogs. "The Story's finished! And whatever is to be learned from
it," she added, aside to me, "I'm sure I don't know!"

I did not feel quite clear about it myself, so made no suggestion: but
the Frogs seemed quite content, Moral or no Moral, and merely raised a
husky chorus of "Off! Off!" as they hopped away.