Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
by Edward Ormondroyd
ILLUSTRATED BY JOAN RAYSOR
Follett Publishing Company CHICAGO
DAVID AND THE PHOENIX, by Edward Ormondroyd
Copyright 1957, by Edward Ormondroyd
* * * * *
1. In Which David Goes Mountain Climbing, and a Mysterious Voice Is Overheard 9
2. In Which David Meets the Phoenix, and There Is a Change in Plans 19
3. In Which It Is Decided that David Should Have an Education, and an Experiment Is made 34
4. In Which David and the Phoenix Go To Visit the Gryffins, and a Great Danger Is Narrowly Averted 45
5. In Which the Scientist Arrives in Pursuit of the Phoenix, and There Are Alarums and Excursions by Night 61
6. In Which the Phoenix Has a Plan, and David and the Phoenix Call On a Sea Monster 79
7. In Which the Phoenix's Plan Is Carried Out, and There Are More Alarums and Excursions in the Night 99
8. In Which David and the Phoenix Visit a Banshee, and a Surprise Is Planted in the Enemy's Camp 115
9. In Which David and the Phoenix Call On a Faun, and a Lovely Afternoon Comes to a Strange End 138
10. In Which a Five Hundredth Birthday Is Celebrated, and the Phoenix Bows to Tradition 156
* * * * *
For Shirley and Josh
* * * * *
1: In Which David Goes Mountain Climbing, and a Mysterious Voice Is Overheard
All the way there David had saved this moment for himself, struggling not to peek until the proper time came. When the car finally stopped, the rest of them got out stiffly and went into the new house. But David walked slowly into the back yard with his eyes fixed on the ground. For a whole minute he stood there, not daring to look up. Then he took a deep breath, clenched his hands tightly, and lifted his head.
There it was!—as Dad had described it, but infinitely more grand. It swept upward from the valley floor, beautifully shaped and soaring, so tall that its misty blue peak could surely talk face to face with the stars. To David, who had never seen a mountain before, the sight was almost too much to bear. He felt so tight and shivery inside that he didn't know whether he wanted to laugh, or cry, or both. And the really wonderful thing about the mountain was the way it looked at him. He was certain that it was smiling at him, like an old friend who had been waiting for years to see him again. And when he closed his eyes, he seemed to hear a voice which whispered, "Come along, then, and climb."
It would be so easy to go! The back yard was hedged in (with part of the hedge growing right across the toes of the mountain), but there was a hole in the privet large enough to crawl through. And just beyond the hedge the mountainside awaited him, going up and up in one smooth sweep until the green and tawny faded into hazy heights of rock. It was waiting for him. "Come and climb," it whispered, "come and climb."
But there was a great deal to do first. They were going to move into the new house. The moving van was standing out in front, the car must be unloaded. David would be needed to carry things. Regretfully, he waved his hand at the peak and whispered, "It shouldn't take long—I'll be back as soon as I can." Then he went around to the front door to see what could be done about speeding things up.
Inside, everything was in confusion. Dad was pushing chairs and tables around in an aimless way. Mother was saying, "They'll all have to go out again; we forgot to put down the rug first." Aunt Amy was making short dashes between the kitchen and the dining room, muttering to herself. And Beckie was roaring in her crib because it was time for her bottle. David asked, "Can I do anything?"—hoping that the answer would be no.
"C'mere," Aunt Amy said, grabbing him by the arm. "Help me look for that ironing board."
When the ironing board was finally located, Mother had something for him to do. And when he was finished with that, Dad called for his help. So the afternoon wore on without letup—and also without any signs of progress in their moving. When David finally got a chance to sneak out for a breathing spell, he felt his heart sink. Somehow, in all the rush and confusion, the afternoon had disappeared. Already the evening sun was throwing shadows across the side of the mountain and touching its peak with a ruddy blaze. It was too late now. He would have to wait until morning before he could climb.
As he gazed up miserably at the glowing summit, he thought he saw a tiny speck soar out from it in a brief circle. Was it a bird of some sort, or just one of those dots that swim before your eyes when you stare too long at the sky? It almost seemed like the mountain waving its hand, as if to say that it was quite all right for him to wait until morning. He felt better then, and returned more cheerfully to the moving.
It was long after dark before the moving van drove away. Beckie crooned happily over her bottle, and the rest of them gathered in the kitchen for a late supper of sandwiches and canned soup. But David could not eat until he had found the courage to ask one question:
"May I climb the mountain tomorrow?"
Aunt Amy muttered something about landslides, which were firmly fixed in her mind as the fate of people who climbed mountains. But Dad said, "I don't see why not, do you?" and looked to Mother for agreement.
Mother said, "Well ... be very careful," in a doubtful tone, and that was that.
* * * * *
You never know what you will find when you climb a mountain, even if you have climbed them before—which, of course, David never had. Looking up from the foot of the mountain, he had thought that it was a smooth slope from bottom to top. But he was discovering as he climbed that it was not smooth at all, but very much broken up. There were terraces, ledges, knolls, ravines, and embankments, one after another. The exciting part of it was that each feature concealed the ones above it. At the top of a rise would be an outcropping of strangely colored rock, invisible from below. Beyond the outcropping, a small stand of aspens would quiver in the breeze, their quicksilver leaves hiding a tiny meadow on the slope behind. And when the meadow had been discovered, there would be a something else beyond. He was a real explorer now. When he got to the top, he thought, he would build a little tower of stones, the way explorers always do.
But at the end of two hours' steady climbing, he was ready to admit that he would never reach the peak that day. It still rose above his head, seeming as far distant as ever. But he did not care now. It had been a glorious climb, and the distance he had already covered was a considerable one. He looked back. The town looked like a model of a town, with little toy houses and different-colored roofs among the trees that made a darker patch on the pattern of the valley floor. The mountains on the other side of the valley seemed like blue clouds stretching out over the edge of the world. Even the peak could not give him a better view than this.
David gazed up the face of a scarp which rose like a cliff above him—a smooth, bare wall of rock that had halted his climb. Halfway up the scarp was a dark horizontal line of bushes, something like a hedge. Apparently there was a ledge or shelf there, and he decided to climb up to it before he returned home. To scale the rock face itself was impossible, however: there were no hand or foot holds. So he turned and made his way through the grass until he reached the end of the bare stone. Then he started upward again. It was hard work. Vines clutched at his feet, and the close-set bushes seemed unwilling to let him pass. He had one nasty slip, which might have been his last if he had not grabbed a tough clump of weeds at the crucial instant.
But, oh! it was worth it. He felt like shouting when at last he reached the ledge. Truly it was an enchanted place! It was a long, level strip of ground, several yards wide, carpeted with short grass and dandelions. Bushes grew along most of the outer edge. The inner edge was bounded by a second scarp—a wall of red stone with sparkling points of light imbedded in its smooth surface.
David threw himself on the grass and rolled in it. It was warm and soft and sweet-smelling; it soothed away the hurt of his aching muscles and the sting of his scratches. He rolled over on his back and cushioned his head in his hands. The sky seemed to be slipping along overhead like a broad blue river. The breeze ruffled his hair and whispered, the bushes murmured and gossiped to each other. Even the sunlight seemed to hum to him as it laid warm hands on his face.
But there was another sound, which now and then rose above these murmurs. Then it would fade and be drowned out by the breeze. Hard to say why, but it just did not seem to fit there. David propped himself up on his elbows and listened more intently. The sound faded: he had been imagining it. No, he had not been imagining it—there it was again. He sat up. Now he noticed that the ledge was divided by a thicket which grew from the inner side to the outer. The noise, whatever it was, came from the other side of the thicket.
David's curiosity was aroused, but it occurred to him that it might be wise to be cautious. The noise did not sound dangerous, but—well, he had never been up a mountain before, and there was no telling what he might find. He dropped into a crouch and crept silently up to the tangle of bushes. His heart began to pound, and he swallowed to relieve the dryness in his throat. The noise was much more distinct now, and it sounded like—like—yes, not only sounded like, but was—someone talking to himself.
Who could it possibly be? Well, there was only one way to find out.
He dropped down on his stomach and carefully began to worm his way under the thicket. The branches grew very low, and the ground was full of lumps and knobs which dug into him with every movement. There were vines, too, and some prickly things like thistles, which had to be pushed out of the way without allowing their leaves to rustle. He progressed by inches, pushing with his toes, pulling with his finger tips, wriggling with the rest of his body. At last he could see light breaking through the foliage in front of him—he was nearing the other side. A bunch of leaves hung before his face. He hesitated, then pushed them aside gently, slowly—and peered out.
He thought his heart would stop.
2: In Which David Meets the Phoenix, and There Is a Change in Plans
There stood an enormous bird.
David had been to the zoo, and at home he had a book of birds with colored pictures. He knew the more common large birds of the world: the ostrich, the condor, the albatross, eagles, cranes, storks. But this bird—! Its shape was like that of an eagle, but stouter. Its neck had the length and elegant curve of a swan's neck. Its head was again like an eagle's, with a hooked bird-of-prey beak, but the expression in its brown eyes was mild. The long wings were blunt at the tips, the tail was short and broad. The legs, feathered halfway down, ended in taloned feet. An iridescent sheen sparkled on its plumage, reflecting sunlight from the scarlet crest, the golden neck and back, the breast of silver, the sapphire wings and tail. Its size alone would have been enough to take David's breath away. He could have stood beneath the arch of that neck with room to spare.
But the most astonishing thing was that the bird had an open book on the ground and was apparently trying to learn part of it by heart.
"Vivo, vives, vive," the bird read, very slowly and distinctly, staring hard at the book. "Vivimos, vivis, viven. That is simple enough, you blockhead! Now, then, without looking." It cleared its throat, looked away from the book, and repeated in a rapid mutter: "Vivo vives vive vi—ah—vivi—oh, dear, what is the matter with me?" Here the temptation to peek overcame it for an instant, and its head wavered. But it said, "No, no!" in a firm tone, looked carefully the other way, and began once more.
"Vivo, vives, vive—quite correct so far. Ah—vi—ah—Oh, dear, these verbs! Where was I? Oh, yes. Vivo—"
David's head reeled as he watched this amazing performance. There was no need to pinch himself to see if he were dreaming: he was perfectly wide awake. Everything else around him was behaving in a normal way. The mountain was solid beneath him, the sunlight streamed down as before. Yet there was the bird, unmistakably before him, undeniably studying its book and speaking to itself. David's mind caught hold of a phrase and repeated it over and over again: "What on earth? What on earth?" But of course there was no answer to that question. And he might have lain hidden there all day, staring out at the bird and marveling, had it not been for a bee which came droning into the thicket straight for him.
He had a horror of bees, ever since he had once bumped into a hive by mistake. When he heard that dread sound approaching, his whole body broke into a sweat. All thought of the bird was immediately driven from his head. He could tell from the noise that it was one of those big black-and-yellow fuzzy bees, the ones with the nasty dispositions. Perhaps—the thought paralyzed him—perhaps he was lying on its nest. On it came, buzzing and blundering through the leaves. Suddenly it was upon him, so close that he could feel the tiny breeze stirred up by its wings. All self-control vanished. He beat at it wildly with his hands, burst out of the thicket like an explosion, and smashed full tilt into the bird before he could stop himself.
With a piercing squawk the bird shot into the air, flipped over, and came fluttering down facing him—talons outstretched, hooked beak open, eyes a-glare. Completely terrified, David turned and bolted for the thicket. He managed to thrash halfway through when a vine trapped his feet. He pitched forward, shielding his face with his arms, and was caught up short by a dead branch snagging his shirt.
He was stuck. This was the end. He closed his eyes and waited, too numb with fear to think or cry out.
Nothing happened. Slowly he turned his head around. The bird, although it still glared menacingly, seemed undecided whether to attack or flee.
"What, may I ask, are you doing here?" it said at last, in a severe voice.
"I—I—I was taking a walk," David said faintly. "I'm awfully sorry if I bothered you or anything."
"You should not have come up here at all," the bird snapped.
"Well, I'm really sorry. But there was a bee in the bush here. I—I didn't mean to...." The fright had been too much. Tears started in David's eyes, and his lip began to tremble.
The bird seemed reassured, for its manner visibly softened. It lowered and folded its wings, and the glare faded from its eyes.
"I'd go away," David mumbled apologetically, "only I'm stuck." He rubbed his eyes on his sleeve.
The bird looked at his dismal face and began to fidget awkwardly. "There, there," it said. "I had no intention of—I am afraid that I—Stuck, did you say? Very easily mended, my dear fellow! Merely a question of—Here, let me look." It crashed through the thicket to where David was caught and thrust its head down through the branches. Its muffled voice came floating up. "Take heart! There seems to be—aha! just so—One moment, please—bit of vine—there we are!" There was a snapping sound from below, and David's foot was released. He unstuck the snag from his shirt, pushed his way out of the thicket, and sat down weakly on the grass. Whew! At least the bird was not going to harm him. It seemed to be quite a kindly creature, really. He had just frightened it and made it angry by bursting out of the bushes so suddenly.
He heard a flailing in the thicket, followed by the bird's anxious voice: "Hello! Are you still there?"
There were more sounds of struggle. "This is rather awkward. I—the fact is, I am afraid, that I am stuck myself. Could you—"
"Yes, of course," said David. He smiled to himself, a little shakily, and re-entered the thicket. When he had disentangled the bird, the two of them sat down on the grass and looked at each other. They hesitated, not quite sure how to begin.
"I trust," said the bird at last, "that you are not of a scientific turn of mind?"
"I don't know," said David. "I'm interested in things, if that's what you mean."
"No, it is not. There is a great deal of difference between the interest shown by normal people and the obsessive interest of scientists. You are not, I hope, acquainted with any scientists?"
"Ah," said the bird, with a relieved sigh. "Everything is quite all right, then. I do hope that you will forgive my behavior. I am not usually so rude. The fact is that you gave me quite a horrible start."
"Oh, I'm sorry I frightened you."
"Frightened, my dear fellow?" said the bird testily. "I am never frightened. I do not know the meaning of the word."
"What I mean is," David said quickly, "that you frightened me." This seemed to pacify the bird; and David, to heighten the good impression, added: "Golly, you looked fierce."
The bird smiled complacently, "I can rise to a terrifying ferocity when aroused. A noble strain of fighting blood courses through my veins. Not that I go out of my way to seek quarrels, you understand. On the contrary. 'Peaceful' could well describe my general attitude. Meditative. I am usually to be found Thinking. I have a powerful intellect. No doubt you have noticed the stamp of genius on my brow."
David supposed that the bird meant its scarlet crest, and he nodded. "That's one of the first things I noticed about you."
"Indeed?" cried the bird delightedly. "You are certainly more alert than most! But, as I was saying, I am usually to be found Thinking. The first condition of Thinking is solitude. And that, I fear, is a desideratum most difficult of realization."
"I beg your pardon?"
"People," explained the bird, "do not leave you alone."
"Oh," said David. He flushed, thinking that the words had been aimed at him, and began to get up. But the bird signaled him to remain where he was.
"I do not mean you, my dear fellow. I assure you that I am delighted to make your acquaintance. It is all the others. Do you know that I have spent the greater part of my life being pursued? I was chased out of Egypt like a common game bird. Out of the mountains of Greece, too. The hills of Lebanon, the desert of Africa, the Arabian wilds—no matter where I fled, people would come prying and peering and sneaking after me. I have tried Tibet, China, and the steppes of Siberia—with the same result. At last I heard of a region where there was peace, where the inhabitants let each other alone. Here, I thought, I should—"
"Pardon me for interrupting. Where?"
"Why, here, to be brief," said the bird, waving its wing toward the valley. "Here, I thought, I should be able to breathe. At my age one likes a little quiet. Would you believe that I am close to five hundred years old?"
"Golly!" said David. "You don't look it."
The bird gave a pleased laugh. "My splendid physical condition does conceal my years. At any rate, I settled here in the hope of being left alone. But do you think I was safe?"
David, seeing that he was supposed to answer no, shook his head.
"Quite right," sighed the bird. "I was not. I had been here no more than three months when a Scientist was hot on my trail. A most disagreeable fellow, always sneaking about with binoculars, a camera, and, I fear, a gun. That is why you startled me for an instant. I thought you were he."
"Oh," David cried, "I'm awfully sorry. I didn't bother you on purpose. It's just that I never saw a mountain before, so I climbed up here to see what one looked like."
"You climbed up here?"
"Climbed," said the bird, looking very thoughtful. "Climbed ... I might have known.... It proves, you see, that the same thing could be done again by someone older and stronger. A very grave point."
"Oh, I see," said David. "You mean the—"
"Precisely! The Scientist. He is, I fear, very persistent. I first noticed him over there"—the bird waved its wing toward the opposite side of the valley—"so I removed to this location. But he will undoubtedly continue his pursuit. The bad penny always turns up. It will not be long before the sharp scientific nose is again quivering in my direction."
"Oh, dear, that's terrible!"
"Your sympathy touches me," said the bird huskily. "It is most unusual to find someone who understands. But have no fear for me. I am taking steps. I am preparing. Imagine his disappointment when he arrives here and finds me flown from the nest. I am, to be brief, leaving. Do you see this book?"
"Yes," said David. "I heard you reading it, but I couldn't understand it. Is it magic?"
"No, my boy, it is Spanish. I have chosen a little spot (chilly, but isolated) in the Andes Mountains. South America, you know. And of course one must be prepared. I am learning Spanish so that I shall be able to make my way about in South America. I must admit my extreme reluctance to depart. I have become very fond of this ledge. It is exactly suited to my needs—ideal climate, magnificent view...."
They fell into a lengthy silence. The bird gazed sadly out over the valley, and David rested his chin in his hands and thought. The mystery was clearing up. The bird's presence on the mountain and the fact that it had been reading a book were explained. And so natural was its speech that David found himself accepting it as nothing unusual. The thing that worried him now was that the bird would soon leave. Here they had only just met, and already the promise of a most interesting friendship was dissolving. The bird had taken time to talk to him and explain things to him as though he were an equal. And although he did not understand many of the long words it used, he felt pleased at being spoken to as though he did understand. And the bird knew all about faraway countries—had visited them and lived in them and had adventures in them for almost five hundred years. Oh, there were so many things David wanted to know and ask about! But the bird was leaving. If only he could persuade it to stay, even for a short while! He could try, anyhow—after all, the bird had said itself that it did not want to go.
"Bird—" He stopped, and flushed. It was hard to put into words.
"Your servant, my boy."
"Well—I—I don't believe I know your name," David stammered, unable to get the real question out.
"Ah, forgive me!" cried the bird, jumping up. "Permit me the honor of presenting myself. I daresay my name is familiar to you, celebrated as it is in song and story. I am the one and only, the Unique, Phoenix." And the Phoenix bowed deeply.
"Very glad to meet you," said David. "I'm David."
"Delighted, my dear fellow! An honor and a pleasure." They shook hand and wing solemnly. "Now, as you were saying—?"
"Well, Phoenix, I was just thinking," David stammered. "It's too bad—I mean, couldn't you—it would be nice if we—Well, do you really have to go to South America? It would be nice if you'd stay a while, until the Scientist shows up, anyway—and I like talking with you...." His face burned. It seemed like a lot to ask.
The Phoenix harrumphed several times in its throat and shuffled its feet. "Really, I cannot tell you how—how much you—well, really—such a delightful request! Ah—harrumph! Perhaps it can be arranged."
"Oh, Phoenix!" David threw his arms around the bird's neck and then, unable to restrain himself any longer, turned a somersault on the grass.
"But for the present, it seems to be getting late," said the Phoenix. "We shall talk it over some other time and decide."
"Golly, it is late—I hadn't noticed. Well, I'll have to go, or they'll worry about me at home. But I can come up and see you tomorrow, can't I?"
"Of course, my boy! In the bustle of morning, in the hush of noon, in the—ah—to be brief, at any time."
"And I'll bring you some cookies, if you like."
"Ah," said the Phoenix, closing its eyes. "Sugar cookies, by any chance?" it asked faintly. David noticed the feathers of its throat jumping up and down with rapid swallowing motions.
"I'll ask Aunt Amy to make some tonight."
"Ah, splendid, my boy! Splendid! Shall we say not more than—ah—that is, not less than—ah—fifteen?"
"All right, Phoenix. My Aunt Amy keeps a big jar full of cookies, and I can have as many as I like."
The Phoenix took David's arm, and together they strolled to the other end of the ledge.
"Now, don't mention this to anyone, but there is an old goat trail down this side. It is somewhat grown over, but eyes as sharp as yours should have no trouble with it. It will make your travels up and down easier. Another thing—I trust you will not make known our rendezvous?"
"You will not tell anyone that I am here?"
"Oh, no. I won't say a word! Well, I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yes. As the French so cleverly say it—ah—well, to be brief, good-by, my boy. Until tomorrow, then."
David waved his hand, found the goat trail, and started down. He was too happy even to whistle, so he contented himself with running whenever he found a level place. And when he reached home, he stood on his hands in the back yard for two whole seconds.
3: In Which It Is Decided that David Should Have an Education, and an Experiment Is Made
Next day it took less than an hour to reach the ledge, and David was sure that he could shorten the time even more when he was familiar with the goat trail.
The Phoenix was not in sight when he arrived, and for an instant David was stricken with fright. Had the bird gone in spite of its promise? But no—he heard a reassuring noise. It came from the thicket, and it sounded very much like a snore.
David smiled to himself and shouted, "Hello, Phoenix!"
There was a thrashing sound in the thicket, and the Phoenix appeared, looking very rumpled and yawning behind its wing.
"Greetings, my boy!" it cried. "A splendid morning!" Then the Phoenix caught sight of the paper bag in David's hand, and swallowed in a suggestive way.
David thrust the bag of cookies behind his back. "Now, Phoenix," he said firmly, "you have to promise me you won't go away to South America. You said last night that it could be arranged, so let's arrange it right now. Until we do, not one."
The Phoenix drew itself up indignantly. "My very dear fellow," it said, "you wound me. You cut me to the quick. I will not be bribed. I—" It stopped and swallowed again. "Oh, well," it continued, more mildly, "one does not fight fate, does one? I suppose under these circumstances, I must accept."
"It's settled, then!" David cried joyfully.
So they sat down on the grass together, and for a long time nothing was heard but sounds of munching.
"My boy," said the Phoenix at last, brushing the crumbs from its chest, "I take a modest pride in my way with words, but nothing in the language can do these—ah—baked poems justice. Words fail me."
"I'm glad you like them," David said politely.
"And now, my boy," continued the Phoenix, as it settled back comfortably, "I have been thinking. Yesterday you showed an intelligent interest in my problems and asked intelligent questions. You did not scoff, as others might have done. You have very rare qualities."
David flushed, and mumbled denials.
"Do not be so modest, my boy! I speak the truth. It came to me that such a mind as yours, having these qualities, should be further cultivated and refined. And I should be avoiding my clear-cut duty if I did not take this task in hand myself. Of course, I suppose some attempt to educate you has already been made, has it not?"
"Well, I go to school, if that's what you mean. Not now, though, because it's summer vacation."
"And what do they teach you there?"
"Oh, reading and writing and arithmetic, and things like that."
"Aha!" said the Phoenix triumphantly. "Just as I suspected—a classical education. Understand me—I have nothing against a classical education as such. I realize that mathematics, Greek, and Latin are excellent for the discipline of the mind. But in the broad view, a classical education is not a true education. Life is real, life is earnest. One must face it with a practical education. The problems of Life, my dear fellow!—classical education completely ignores them! For example, how do you tell a true Unicorn from a false one?"
"I—I don't know."
"I thought not. Where do you find the Philosopher's Stone?"
"I don't know."
"Well, then, I shall ask a simple one. What is the first rule of defense when attacked by a Chimera?"
David squirmed uncomfortably. "I'm afraid I don't know that, either," he said in a small voice.
"There you are!" cried the Phoenix. "You do not have a true, practical education—you are not ready for Life. I, my boy, am going to take your education in hand."
"Oh," said David. "Do you mean—are you going to give me—lessons?" Through his mind flashed a picture of the Phoenix (with spectacles on its beak and a ruler in its wing) writing out sentences on a blackboard. The thought gave him a sinking feeling. After all, it was summer—and summer was supposed to be vacation time.
"And what an education it will be!" the Phoenix went on, ignoring his question. "Absolutely without equal! The full benefit of my vast knowledge, plus a number of trips to—"
"Oh, traveling!" said David, suddenly feeling much better. "That's different. Oh, Phoenix, that'll be wonderful! Where will we go?"
"Everywhere, my boy!" said the Phoenix, with an airy wave of its wing. "To all corners of the earth. We shall visit my friends and acquaintances."
"Oh, do you have—"
"Of course, my boy! I am nothing if not a good mixer. My acquaintances (to mention but a few) include Fauns, Dragons, Unicorns, Trolls, Gryffins, Gryffons, Gryffens—"
"Excuse me," David interrupted. "What were those last three, please?"
"Gryffins," explained the Phoenix, "are the small, reddish, friendly ones. Gryffons are the quick-tempered proud ones. Gryffens—ah, well, the most anyone can say for them is that they are harmless. They are very stupid."
"I see," said David doubtfully. "What do they look like?"
"Each looks like the others, my boy, except that some are bigger and some are smaller. But to continue: Sea Monsters, Leprechauns, Rocs, Gnomes, Elves, Basilisks, Nymphs—ah—and many others. All are of the Better Sort, since, as I have many times truly observed, one is known by the company one keeps. And your education will cost you nothing. Of course it would be agreeable if you could supply me with cookies from time to time."
"As many as you want, Phoenix. Will we go to Africa?"
"Naturally, my boy. Your education will include—"
"And Egypt? And China? And Arabia?"
"Yes. Your education will—"
"Oh, Phoenix, Phoenix!" David jumped up and began to caper, while the Phoenix beamed. But suddenly he stopped.
"How are we going to travel, Phoenix?"
"I have wings, my boy."
"Yes, but I don't."
"Do not be so dense, my dear fellow. I shall carry you on my back, of course."
"Oh," said David weakly, "on your—on your back. Are you sure that—isn't there some other—I mean, can you do it?"
The Phoenix drew itself up to its full height. "I am hurt—yes, deeply hurt—by your lack of faith. My magnificent build should make it evident that I am an exceedingly powerful flyer. In the heyday of my youth I could fly around the world in five hours. But come along. I shall give you proof positive."
David reluctantly followed the Phoenix to a spot on the edge of the shelf where there was a gap in the bushes. He glanced over the brink. The sheer face of the scarp fell away beneath them, plunging down to the tiny trees and rocks below. He stepped back quickly with a shudder.
"Let's—let's do it tomorrow," he quavered.
"Nonsense," said the Phoenix firmly. "No time like the present. Now, then, up on my back."
"H-h-how am I going to sit?"
"On my back. Quite so—now, your arms around my neck—your legs behind my wings, please—there we are. Ready?"
"No," said David faintly.
"Splendid! The proof is to be demonstrated, the—to be brief, we are off!"
The great wings were outstretched. David gulped, clutched the Phoenix's neck tightly, and shut his eyes. He felt a hopping sensation, then a long, sickening downward swoop that seemed to leave his stomach far behind. A tremendous rush of air snatched at his shirt. He opened his eyes and choked with fright. The ground below was rushing up to meet them, swaying and revolving. Something was terribly wrong. The Phoenix was breathing in hoarse gasps; its wings were pounding the air frantically. Now they had turned back. The scarp loomed before them, solid and blank. Above them—high above them—was the ledge. It looked as though they would not get back to it.
Up ... up ... up.... They crawled through the air. The wings flapped wildly, faster and faster. They were gaining—slipping back—gaining again. The Phoenix sobbed as it stretched its neck in the last effort. Fifty feet ... twenty feet ... ten.... With a tremendous surge of its wings, the Phoenix managed to get one claw over the edge and to seize the branch of a bush in its beak. David's legs slipped from the bird's back. He dangled over the abyss from the outstretched neck, and prayed. The bush saved them. They scrabbled up over the edge, tottered there for an instant, and dropped on the grass.
For a long time they lay gasping and trembling.
At last the Phoenix weakly raised its head. "Puff—well, my boy—puff puff—whew!—very narrow squeak. I—puff—"
David could not answer. The earth reeled under him and would not stop no matter how tightly he clutched the grass.
"Puff—I repeat, I am—puff—an exceedingly powerful flyer. There are few birds—none, I daresay—who—puff—could have done even this much. The truth of the matter is that you are a lot—puff—heavier than you look. I hope you are not being overfed at home?"
"I—I don't know," said David, wondering whether or not he was going to be sick.
"Well, my course is clear," said the Phoenix firmly. "I must practice. Setting-up exercises, roadwork, and what not. Rigorous diet. Lots of sleep. Regular hours. Courage, my dear fellow! We shall do it yet!"
* * * * *
And so for the following week the Phoenix practiced.
Every morning David climbed up to the ledge, bringing sandwiches for himself, cookies for the Phoenix, and a wet towel. Then, while he kept count, the Phoenix did setting-up exercises. After this, the bird would jog trot up and down the ledge and practice jumping. Then there would be a fifteen-minute rest and refreshment period. And when that was over, the Phoenix would launch itself into the air. This was the part David liked best. It was a magnificent sight. The Phoenix dashed back and forth at top speed, wheeled in circles, shot straight up like a rocket—plunged, hovered, looped—rolled, soared, fluttered. Now and then it would swoop back to the ledge beside David and wipe the sweat from its brow.
"I trust you see signs of progress, my boy?"
David would wrap the wet towel around the Phoenix's neck. "You're doing better and better, Phoenix. I especially like that part where you twist over on your back and loop and plunge, all at the same time."
"I do perform that rather well, don't I? It is not easy. But just the thing for acquiring (ouch!) muscle tone. Are there any more cookies? Ah, there are. Delicious! As I was saying, let this be a lesson to you, my boy. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."
The Phoenix would take wing again. And David would settle back against a rock and watch. Sometimes he thought of the education he was to get. Sometimes he thought how nice it would be if he could fly. And sometimes he did not think at all, but just sat with his eyes half shut, feeling the sunlight on his face and listening to the rustle of the wind in the thicket.
At the end of the week the Phoenix, after a brilliant display of acrobatics, landed on the ledge, clasped its wings behind its back, and looked solemnly at David.
"Well, my boy," it said, "I believe your education can begin forthwith. Are you ready?"
4: In Which David and the Phoenix Go To Visit the Gryffins, and a Great Danger Is Narrowly Averted
A chill raced up and down David's spine as he got to his feet.
"Do—do you think a week's practice is enough?"
"Absolutely, my dear fellow. I am now in the very pink of condition. Not that I was ever out of condition, mind you. It was merely that I—ah—well, to be brief, my boy, I am now ready."
"Yes, but—well, you remember the last time."
"Yes. Look here—if it will make you feel better, suppose we have a trial flight along the ledge."
David got up as before on the Phoenix's back. The Phoenix spread its wings and hopped into the air. They glided easily down the length of the ledge, clearing the thicket in the middle by a good two feet.
"There you are, my boy," said the bird proudly, as they landed at the other end. "Shall we go?"
"Let's go," said David, as bravely as he could.
They were in the air again. Once more he felt that rush of wind against his face and heard the pounding of wings. But this time there was no giddy downward swoop. He breathed again and opened his eyes. The world was falling away, and everything on it was growing smaller by the second. The valley could be cradled in two hands; the mountains on either side looked like wrinkles in gray cloth. Now he could see plains in the distance, and little silver threads of rivers. As he looked, the whole world began to revolve slowly. The Phoenix was soaring in a wide circle.
"Well, my boy," it called over its shoulder, "whom shall we visit first?"
"It's really up to you, Phoenix," David shouted back, "but how about the—the—Biffens or Whiffens, or whatever you called them?"
"You mean the Gryffins, Gryffons, and Gryffens, my boy? Very well. We shall visit the Gryffins only, however. It is best to leave the others alone."
The Phoenix swung around and began to fly toward the morning sun with such tremendous speed that David had to crouch down to avoid being blown off. The wind screamed past his ears, tore at his shirt and hair, and made his eyes brim over with tears. It was cold, but he was too excited to care. Below them, plains, rivers, forests, and cities rushed across the face of the earth.
"This is wonderful, Phoenix!" David shouted.
The Phoenix's reply was not clear. "... normal speed ... air stream ... prime days of my youth ..." were the only words David caught, but he could tell from the tone that the Phoenix was pleased.
The view below was not to last long. Within half an hour they had run into a heavy overcast, and for a long time it was like flying through very wet, cold cotton. David glanced down, hoping to see the fog thin out. Suddenly he caught sight of a black object rocketing up toward them. Before he could call out a warning, the thing hurtled by, so close that its backwash very nearly knocked him from the bird's back. The Phoenix reduced speed; and the black object, after banking in a wide curve, came cruising up alongside. David was amazed to see that it was a pale but beautiful lady, dressed all in black, sitting on a broom.
"Hello, Phoenix!" she cried in a teasing voice. "I haven't seen you in ever so long."
"Good morning, I am sure," the Phoenix replied stiffly, staring straight ahead.
"Phoenix," the lady continued coaxingly, "I'm awfully bored. Won't you race me? Please?"
"Idle hands find mischief to do," said the Phoenix severely. "We are making good use of our time, and I suggest that you do the same."
"Don't be so stuffy, Phoenix." She pouted. "Come and race with me. I've got a new broom, and I want to see how good it is. Please!"
"No," said the Phoenix sharply.
"Oh, all right for you!" she said, tossing her head. "You just don't dare, because you know I'll beat your tail feathers off!" And she shot back into the mist below.
"Indeed!" the Phoenix snorted. "Beat my tail feathers off! Ha!"
"Is she a Witch?" David asked.
"Yes, my boy, and a shocking example of the decline of the younger generation. She will come to no good end, believe me. Tail feathers, indeed!"
Just then they burst out of the clouds and into the hot sunlight. Below them, the land was wild and desolate, a vast rolling plain covered for the most part with dry, tawny grass. Here and there were groves of trees drooping beneath the sun. The Phoenix, still snorting indignantly to itself, dropped to within a hundred feet of the ground. They began to soar back and forth.
"Can you see anything, my boy?"
David had never seen a Gryffin, of course; so he was not sure what to look for. But he caught sight of something lying in the shade of a bush and pointed it out to the Phoenix.
"Ah, quite so," the Phoenix said doubtfully. "It does not look like a—but we can take a closer look."
They landed and walked toward the bush. In its shadow sprawled a very untidy animal. Its tail and hindquarters were exactly like those of a panther, its chest and forelegs were like a hawk's, and it had pointed wings. Burrs matted its dusty fur. Its claws were shabby and split, and numerous black flies were crawling over its haunches. The bush trembled with its snoring.
"Bah! We are wasting our time here, my boy. This is a Gryffen. A disgusting brute, isn't it?" And the Phoenix sniffed disapprovingly.
"Maybe if we wake it up," David suggested, "it could tell us where the other ones live."
"Next to impossible. For one thing, a cannon could not awaken the beast. For another thing, it would not, even if awake, be able to tell us anything. You simply cannot imagine the stupidity of these brutes."
"Well, let's try it, anyway," David said.
"Very well, my boy. But it will be a complete waste of time." The Phoenix shrugged its shoulders, stepped up to the Gryffen, and kicked it violently.
"Phoenix!" David cried in alarm. "Don't hurt it!"
"No fear," said the Phoenix, delivering another lusty kick. "One simply cannot damage a sleeping Gryffen. Give me a hand, my boy."
David took hold of the Gryffen's wing, and the Phoenix seized its tail. For the next ten minutes they kicked and pulled and pounded, shouting "HEY!" and "WAKE UP!" at the top of their lungs. It was hot work, and David finally admitted to himself that the Phoenix had been right. But before he could say so, the Phoenix completely lost its temper and savagely bit the Gryffen's tail.
That did it. The Gryffen opened one eye halfway and said, "Unffniph?"
"GET UP!!" the Phoenix bellowed.
The Gryffen struggled into a sitting position and yawned a tremendous and noisy yawn. Then it squinted blearily at David and murmured, "What day is it?"
"Wednesday," David said. "Could you please tell us—"
"Oh, Wednesday," said the Gryffen. It thought about this for a while, mumbling "Wednesday ... Wednesday ..." to itself. It lifted one leg as if to scratch the fly bites, changed its mind in mid-gesture, and dropped the leg again. "Oh, Wednesday," it said at last. "So it isn't Saturday?"
"No," said David. "What we want to know is—"
"Not Saturday," said the Gryffen, sinking down to the ground with a huge sigh of relief. "Ah! Come back on Saturday. Saturday afternoon. I generally get up on Saturday ... in the ... afternoon...." The words faded into a snore.
"There you are, my dear fellow," said the Phoenix. "Just as I said. Oaf! Boor!"
"A very annoying animal," said David angrily.
"I agree, my boy. But the Gryffins are different, I assure you. Now, let me see. Where should we look—"
"There they come!" David cried suddenly. "Look!" And indeed, a number of winged creatures were loping down a hillside toward them.
"Good heavens!" the Phoenix shouted. "Those are the ones we do not want to meet! On my back, quick!"
"What are they?" David gasped as he threw himself on the bird's back.
The Phoenix rushed along the ground a few feet and sprang into the air. But it was too late. The foremost Gryffons, with powerful strokes of their wings, shot up to meet them. The Phoenix swerved sharply. They missed the snapping beak of the first Gryffon by half an inch and dodged the second—only to smash into a third. David was stunned by the blow and the fall. When he regained consciousness, he found himself in the tight grip of two Gryffons. The Phoenix was struggling feebly with another, and still more were crowding around them, screaming like hawks.
They looked like the sleeping Gryffen, but were as large as ponies. Their eyes were yellow and unblinking, and their tails twitched like an angry cat's. Their smell, like the lion house in the zoo, made David feel faint.
"Well, Phoenix," said the largest Gryffon coldly, "you know the Rule, I believe?"
The Phoenix smiled weakly and cleared its throat. "Ah, there, Gryffon," it said unsteadily. "Fancy meeting you here. Ah—ah—rule? What rule?"
"Rule 26," said the Gryffon. "'No human being shall be allowed to enter the—'"
"Oh, that rule," said the Phoenix, with a careless laugh. "I thought everyone knew that the Council of 1935 had changed it. Can it be that you have not yet heard?"
"That won't do, Phoenix. You have also heard, of course, of the penalty for breaking the Rule, which you must suffer along with this human boy?"
"Now, one moment, my dear Gryffon! I—ah—"
The Phoenix quailed, and David's legs went limp under him. But they had no chance to plead with the Gryffons. Their captors formed two lines, one on each side of them, and at a scream of command from the leader, all began to march. The Gryffon that had been holding the Phoenix winked horribly at David and made a throat-cutting gesture with its wing.
"Courage, my boy," the Phoenix whispered. "It is always darkest before dawn."
Presently they reached a hillside. David and the Phoenix were marched up to a cave and thrown in. Two of the Gryffons sat down at the entrance to guard them while the others went off to consider the best method of carrying out the penalty.
David was terribly frightened now, but he did not want to let the Phoenix know it. In a voice which trembled a little he asked, "What are we going to do?"
The Phoenix frowned. "Do not be downcast, my boy. My brain is equal to any occasion. I shall Think. Silence, please."
And the Phoenix, covering its eyes with one wing, Thought.
To keep himself occupied, David explored the cave. But there was nothing to see. The cave was small and bare. He tested the walls thoroughly to see if there were any places where they might dig their way out. There were none. His feet raised a cloud of fine dust, which got into his eyes and nose and made him sneeze violently. Discouraged, he went back to the Phoenix and sat down. There was a long silence.
Gradually an idea came to David. It started as a small, faint thought at the back of his mind, wavered, began to grow and expand and fill out—became bigger and clearer and better and—
"Phoenix!" cried David, jumping to his feet.
"My boy, my very dear boy," said the Phoenix, its voice breaking with emotion, "I have Thought, I have Pondered, I have—well, to be brief, it is no use. Stiff upper lip, my boy! We are Doomed."
"Let this be a lesson to you, my boy, even though it be your last one. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Ah! who could have said, in the golden days of my youth, that I should come to such an end! Oh, miserable bird! Oh, unhappy boy!"
"But we can show them how to die, my boy! We still have that—the last magnificent gesture. Let those who have lived wisely and well show that they can die in the same way! I hope I am to go first, so that you may have an example to follow."
"Listen, please!" And David whispered in the Phoenix's ear.
The plan had seemed like a good one while it was still in his mind, but put into words it sounded a little too simple. As he whispered, David began to feel more and more foolish, so that finally he stopped altogether.
"I—I guess it's really kind of silly," he stammered.
But the Phoenix was looking at him with hope and admiration in its eyes. "My very dear chap," it said solemnly, "I salute you. I humbly await your signal."
"Do you really think it will work?"
"My boy, it must—it can—it shall. Proceed."
Poor as the plan now seemed to David, he prepared to carry it out. Holding his breath so as not to sneeze again, he scooped up as much dust as he could hold in two hands. Then he took his position on one side of the cave, nodded the Phoenix toward the other, and glanced out to see if the guardian Gryffons were looking. They were not.
"Now," he whispered.
The cave rocked with their uproar. David screamed at the top of his voice and kicked the walls. The Phoenix let out a series of ear-splitting whistles and squawks and beat its wings frantically. Echoes bounced from wall to wall. The two Gryffons came rushing into the cave, adding to the racket with their shrieking. "Now!" David shouted, and he flung the double handful of dust into the Gryffons' faces. Instantly they were all choking and sneezing in the thick cloud. He plunged between the legs of the two Gryffons, who in the confusion began to bite and tear savagely at each other.
David and the Phoenix burst out of the cave together. The other Gryffons, aroused by the noise, were bounding toward them. David flung himself on the Phoenix's back and shouted "Fly!" and sneezed. From somewhere behind him a set of talons snatched out and ripped through the back of his shirt. He kicked blindly and felt his foot crunch into something which shrieked. "Fly, Phoenix!" he sobbed. The Phoenix was already in the air and needed no encouragement. They heard raucous cries and the thunder of wings behind them. David looked back over his shoulder. The Gryffons were rising from the ground in pursuit, their legs drawn up under them and their wings beating. "Faster!" he screamed.
"You have seen nothing in the way of flying until now, my boy," the Phoenix shouted back. "Watch this!" Its wings were two blurs slicing through the air and roaring like kettledrums. The ground below streamed backwards. David looked back again. The Gryffons were falling into the distance. Their cries were getting fainter. Now they looked like a flock of starlings ... now like a cluster of flies ... now like gnats. And then they had faded out of sight, and David and the Phoenix were streaking over the grassland alone.
Ten minutes later they reached a shore and landed. They flopped on the sand, panting. And David, suddenly feeling very faint, closed his eyes and put his head between his knees. After they had got their breath, the Phoenix patted David on the shoulder and said huskily:
"I congratulate you, my boy. Your plan was magnificent—precisely what I should have done, had I thought of it first. Needless to say, we shall not go on looking for the Gryffins. But now you know exactly what they are like: midway in size between the Gryffens and Gryffons, and reddish in color. Most amiable souls, willing to do anything for anyone. It is hard to believe that they are all related. But enough, my boy. Let us go home."
As soon as they reached the ledge, the Phoenix put David down and prepared to take off again.
"Where are you going, Phoenix?" David asked.
"Some business to attend to, my boy."
Muttering under its breath something that sounded like "tail feathers, indeed!" the Phoenix soared off. And David, stiff and sore and thoroughly tired, started down the mountainside for home.
5: In Which the Scientist Arrives in Pursuit of the Phoenix, and There Are Alarums and Excursions by Night
The lights downstairs were all on when David got home, and as soon as he opened the front door he could tell that they had company.
He shouted, "I'm home!" and sneezed. The dust from the Gryffons' cave still clung to him, tickling his nose.
"Well, here he is at last," said Dad's voice. "Come on in, David." Then, as David walked into the living room, "Good heavens, Son, what's happened to you?"
"Your back, David!" Mother said in a horrified voice. "Your poor back! What happened to you?"
David felt himself. The back of his shirt was ripped to tatters, and there were three lines of caked blood across his shoulders. He remembered now: it was the Gryffon that had tried to grab him as he and the Phoenix made their escape. But he had promised the Phoenix to keep its secret.
He stammered, "I—I had an accident."
"And dust all over you!" Mother went on.
"Well," said David desperately, "it was a dusty accident."
"It seems to have been very dusty indeed," said a third voice. There was a loud sneeze.
David's father jumped up. "You gave me such a shock when you came in that I almost forgot, David. We have a guest." And he introduced David to a very tall, thin man with a bald head. His face and neck were burnt red by the sun, and he had on a pair of thick glasses which made his pale eyes look immense. For some reason David took an instant dislike to him, but he shook hands politely and said, "How do you do?"
"David, eh?" said the man. "Well, well. Are you a good boy, David?"
Of all the stupid questions in the world, that was the one David hated most. He clenched his teeth and looked the other way.
"David, dear," said Mother with an awkward laugh, "I think you'd better go upstairs and wash and change."
When David came into the living room again, the guest was talking excitedly. "... completely unknown to man," he was saying. "It's the discovery of the age. My name will be famous if I succeed in my plans."
"How fascinating!" Mother said. "And to think of it happening right here!"
"And it's huge," the guest said, "simply huge. And brilliantly colored. For a scientist like myself, it's more than fascinating."
David was listening now. Scientist? Scientist! His heart missed a beat, and he choked. Oh, no, it couldn't be the Scientist. Or could it?
"David here spends all his time up on the mountain," his father said. "Maybe he's seen it."
The guest turned his big, pale, unpleasant eyes on David. "Well, David," he said, "maybe you can help me. Now, have you seen anything unusual on the mountain?"
"Unusual?" said David unsteadily. There was a pain in his chest from the pounding of his heart.
"Yes, David," the guest went on, "unusual. So unusual that you couldn't miss it: a very large bird with bright plumage."
The floor under David seemed to rock. It was true, then—it was horribly true. This was the Scientist who had been chasing the Phoenix. This was their enemy.
"Bird?" David dodged. "Wh-wh-why, there are lots of birds up there. Sparrows and meadow larks and—and sparrows...."
"But nothing like a huge bird with bright feathers?"
Well, he would have to tell a lie. After all, it was for the Phoenix's sake.
"No," said David.
"Ah," said the Scientist. But his cold eyes bored into David's for another instant, plainly saying, "I'm not fooled, young man."
"It's odd," he continued, "that no one has seen it. But I have no doubt it's somewhere here. I am going to begin my search as soon as my equipment gets here."
"Tell us about it," said Mother politely.
"Well, I discovered it on the other side of the valley, you know," said the Scientist eagerly. "Quite by accident—I was really looking for another species. Now, birds, you know, have fixed habits. If you know those habits, you can predict just what they will do at any time. This particular bird was a daytime creature, so I tried to watch it between dawn and dusk. But it seemed to have a mind of its own—you might almost say an intelligence. It avoided me in a very clever way, and it avoided my traps also. Uncanny! So after several weeks I decided to shoot it if I got the chance. Then suddenly it disappeared, but I'm certain it came over to this side of the valley—"
There was no escape from the subject during dinner. The Scientist could think and talk of nothing else. He described the merits of deadfalls, snares, steel traps, and birdlime. He asked which they thought would make the best bait, a rabbit, a beefsteak, a live lamb, or carrion. He told them all about the new high-powered, long-range rifle which he had ordered. And he vowed to them all that he would not rest until the bird was either caught or killed "for the advancement of human learning."
David listened with horror. The dinner before him went untouched. His only thought was that now he would have to warn the Phoenix as soon as possible. The Phoenix would go to South America after all, and his education would end before it had even started. All because of this hateful man! He fought to hold back his tears.
Dinner was over at last. David mumbled his excuses and ducked out of the dining room, but Aunt Amy seized him firmly just as he thought he had got away.
"Bedtime for you, David," she said firmly.
"Oh, Aunt Amy, please! I've got to—"
"Upstairs, young man. You've had enough gallivanting around for one day. You're all worn out."
"I'm not!" said David, struggling. "I feel fine. Look, I just have to—"
It was useless. She marched him upstairs to his room and stood in the doorway until he had undressed and put on his pajamas and got into bed.
"Now," she said, "you go to sleep. The mountain will still be there in the morning—unless there's a landslide. Good night." And she turned out the light and shut the door.
This was awful! He could not sneak downstairs, because the stairs could be seen from the living room. He could not climb out of his window, because a rose arbor was directly beneath it, and he would be ripped by the thorns. And Mother always came in to say good night before she went to bed. If he was not there when she came in tonight, there would be a lot of unpleasant explaining to do. The only thing, then, was to wait until the Scientist went home and everyone was in bed.
It was a maddening wait. The Scientist's voice went on and on like the drone of an electric fan, interrupted only by an occasional murmur from Mother or Dad. For a while David sat in bed twisting the sheets in his hands; then he got up and paced the room in his bare feet. It seemed to him that three or four whole nighttimes had passed before he finally heard all three voices raised and talking at once.
The Scientist was going! Now they were saying good-by at the front door ... now the door was being closed ... now there were footsteps on the stairs. He jumped into bed just before Mother put her head in and said, "Good night, dear." David murmured, pretending to be half asleep. His door closed again. The light switches snapped, and there was silence.
He waited another half hour to make sure everyone was asleep. As quickly and silently as he could, he pulled on his clothes, crept out of his room, and slid cautiously down the bannister. In the back yard he put on his shoes, dived through the hedge, and started to race up the mountainside.
Fortunately there was a nearly-full moon and no clouds in the sky. But even with this light, it was not easy to keep to the trail. Several times he lost his way, so that the trip took much longer than usual. But he found the ledge at last, climbed over the final difficult rock, and sat down to catch his breath. When he could speak, he called softly:
There was no answer.
"Phoenix!" He pushed through the thicket to the other side of the ledge. "Phoenix!"
The Phoenix was gone.
The tears that had been stopped up all evening could be held no longer. David dropped to the ground, leaned his forehead against a rock, and let them go. He had just remembered. As soon as they had come back from the Gryffon adventure, the Phoenix had flown off on some sort of business. And it had not said when it would return.
The tears cleared David's mind and made him feel better. Now what? He began to think. If he stayed on the ledge all night, they might find out at home and make a terrible fuss. But if he did not warn the Phoenix before morning, the Scientist might creep up while the bird was resting and trap it or shoot it. So he would have to warn the Phoenix and return home. And the only way to do both these things was to write the Phoenix a note.
But he had neither paper nor pencil.
A fine mess he had made of everything! Now he would have to go all the way back home, write the note, come all the way back up to the ledge, and then go home again.
David trudged down the mountainside in a very low mood. Now that he had a definite plan to work on, his fear was gone, but he felt that he had been pretty stupid to rush off without thinking of everything first. In his mind he could hear the Phoenix saying, "Look before you leap, my boy," and other wise words of advice. And he had cried, too. Lucky that no one had been there to see that.
* * * * *
As he approached the house he was surprised to see all the lights ablaze and to hear his name being called. "Oh-oh," he thought, "they've found out I've gone."
"Here I am!" he shouted, opening the door. "What's the matter?"
It was a strange sight which met him inside. Dad, in his gray pajamas, was waving a revolver and making fierce noises. Mother, looking frightened, had a shoe in one hand. Aunt Amy, with her hair in rags, was also well-armed—with a big cast-iron frying pan. Beckie was howling upstairs.
"David!" Mother cried. "Are you all right? Where have you been? Did he hurt you?"
"Who?" said David. "I'm all right. What's the matter?"
"The burglar!" said Mother excitedly. "He put his head in the window and said 'pssssst!'"
"I tell you, burglars don't say pssssst!" Dad said. "They try to make as little noise as possible. Just let me catch him doing it again!" he added, waving his pistol.
"Running around on that mountain at all hours of the night," Aunt Amy grumbled, "with burglars and I don't know what-all loose in town!"
"And then we found that you were gone, and we thought he had stolen you," Mother went on. "Where have you been?"
"I couldn't sleep," said David. "So I went for a walk."
"Well, thank heavens you're safe," said Mother.
"Hankering after that mountain all night," Aunt Amy muttered. "As if he wasn't up there all day."
"Look here, Son," said Dad. "What do you know about this?"
"Honestly, Dad," said David, "I couldn't sleep. There's nothing wrong with that. I can't help it if I can't sleep. So I took a walk. There's nothing wrong with—"
"Oh, all right, all right," his father said. "I suppose it's just a coincidence. Let's all get back to sleep. And, David, the next time you can't sleep, try counting sheep."
Gradually the house calmed down. Beckie stopped wailing, Dad put away his gun, good nights were said, the lights were turned off.
David knew that it would be at least an hour before he dared to move again, and he would have to be doubly careful this time. And he was a little nervous himself now about that burglar. What if he should meet him when he went out again? He tried to forget about that by thinking of what he would put in the note for the Phoenix.
He had got as far as "Dear Phoenix:" and was wondering how you spelled "Phoenix," when there came a swish and a thump at his window, followed by a cautious whisper:
David felt his scalp prickle. "Wh-wh-who's that?" he quavered.
"Is that you, my boy?" whispered a familiar, guarded voice. "Ah, thank heavens!"
And the Phoenix crawled through the window.
Weak with relief, David snapped on the bedside light. The Phoenix presented a shocking sight. Its face was drawn with fatigue, and it looked rather draggled. Its back sagged, its wings drooped to the floor, and it walked with a limp.
"Oh, Phoenix, Phoenix!" David whispered. He jumped to support the bird before it collapsed entirely.
"Ah, thank you, my boy," the Phoenix murmured. "Your bed, I presume? May I? Thank you." The springs creaked under its weight as the Phoenix gingerly lay down.
"What a night, my boy, what a night!" it sighed weakly, closing its eyes.
"Oh, Phoenix, what happened? Can I do anything for you?" David whispered.
"A damp, cooling cloth upon my forehead would be welcome, my boy," murmured the Phoenix. "Also a bit of nourishment."
David slid down the bannister, got a handful of cookies and a glass of milk, and dampened a dish towel. When he returned, the Phoenix was fast asleep.
"Phoenix," he whispered, "wake up. Here's your—"
The Phoenix awoke with a violent start and stared wildly around the room. "Trapped!" it muttered, making a frenzied effort to get off the bed.
"Not so loud!" David whispered sharply. "It's me!"
Understanding dawned in the Phoenix's eyes, and it eased itself back with a sigh. "Ah, you, my boy. You gave me quite a fright. I thought—" But here the Phoenix caught sight of the milk and cookies and sat up again.
"Ambrosia," it sighed reverently. "And nectar. You are a prince, my dear fellow!" And the Phoenix reached out eagerly.
"Now, Phoenix," David whispered as he wrapped the wet towel around the Phoenix's head, "what's happened?"
"Ah, that feels heavenly, my boy! (Munch munch.) What has happened? (Munch munch. Gulp.) I was insulted, I accepted a challenge, and I brilliantly maintained my honor. Let that be a lesson to you, my boy: death before dishonor. Yes, in spite of my age, I—"
"But Phoenix, what happened?"
"To be brief, then, my boy, for brevity is the soul of wit—although I am not trying to be witty now; I am simply too worn out—Brevity—ah—where was I?"
"I think you were telling me what happened to you tonight," David said.
"Ah, yes, quite so! Well, I raced the Witch, to put it quite simply."
"Oh, Phoenix! Did you win?"
"She said that she would 'beat my tail feathers off,' did she not? Behold, my dear fellow—every tail feather intact!"
"Good for you, Phoenix! How did it go?"
"I found her somewhere over Scotland and accepted her challenge. We jockeyed about for starting positions, and she insulted me by offering me a handicap—which, of course, I refused. For several hundred miles it was nip and tuck, as it were. Then, over Luxembourg, I put all my energies into a magnificent sprint and won the race by three and a half broom lengths. She claimed a foul and went off in a fit of sulks, of course. (I never saw a Witch who was a good loser.) And I—well, the fact is, my boy, that I am not as young as I used to be. I simply crawled home."
"Oh, you poor Phoenix! But you won, though. Good for you, Phoenix. I'm proud of you! I didn't like her at all."
"There you are—I had to win, for both of us. Now, as I wended my weary way homeward, I realized that I should be too tired to go traveling tomorrow. So I decided to tell you, in case you should want to do something else during the day. But I did not know which house was yours. I had to pick one at random. I thrust my head in a window and uttered a cautious pssssst! Imagine my dismay when I was answered by a piercing scream! I had to beat a hasty and undignified retreat into a garage until all was peaceful again. Then I did the same thing at the next house, and the next, with the same results." The Phoenix sighed. "Would you believe it, my boy?—this is the fifth house I tried. But I knew I was on the right track when I heard them calling for you."
"Oh, so it was you," said David. "You almost frightened Mother to death. She thought you were a burglar."
"My dear fellow, I am really sorry for having caused any misunderstanding or fright," said the Phoenix apologetically. "It was just that I wanted to tell you of my victory—that is, to tell you that I should be indisposed tomorrow."
Then David recalled that he had something to say too. The shock of remembering was such that he blurted out the news without thinking of softening the blow.
"Phoenix, listen! The Scientist is here!"
The Phoenix sat up in bed with a jerk, and David barely suppressed its startled exclamation by clamping a hand over its beak.
"It's not so bad yet," he whispered hurriedly, "because he's not sure where you are, and he has to wait for his equipment to get here. But, oh, Phoenix, now I suppose you'll go to South America after all, and I won't have any more education."
The Phoenix leaped to its feet and struck a defiant pose. "My boy," it said angrily, "you are mistaken. I refuse to be chased around any longer. Even the lowly worm turns. Am I a mouse, or am I the Phoenix? If that insufferable man wishes to pursue me further, if he cannot mind his own business, then, by Jove, we shall meet him face to face and FIGHT TO THE FINISH!"
Its voice, which had been getting louder and louder, ended in an indignant squawk (its battle cry, as it explained later). David's warning ssh! was too late. They heard rapid footsteps and the sound of light switches snapping.
"Quick!" David said. "Out the window!"
With a hasty "Farewell, my boy," the Phoenix plunged headlong toward the window—and tripped over the sill. There was a resounding crash outside as the bird landed on the rose arbor, a brief but furious thrashing and muttering, and then the receding flurry of wings.
Dad burst into the room with his revolver, followed by Mother and Aunt Amy (with two frying pans, this time).
"He stuck his head in the window and said pssssst! at me!" David cried. "A big dark shape in the window!"
This time Dad telephoned the police. In no time at all, three carloads of weary policemen were swarming over the house and yard, with guns and flashlights drawn. It was the fifth—or was it the sixth?—call they had received from the neighborhood that night, they explained. There followed an hour of questions, arguments, and theories, during which everyone became very excited. Everyone, that is, except David—although he acted excited to avoid suspicion. But he was happy. He had warned the Phoenix, the Phoenix was going to stay, and there was nothing to worry about until tomorrow.
6: In Which the Phoenix Has a Plan, and David and the Phoenix Call On a Sea Monster
"Well, you're in all the papers this morning, Phoenix," said David, as he sat down beside the reclining bird next morning. "They don't know who you are, but they're all talking about what happened last night. They call you the 'Whispering Burglar.' The police are pretty worried."
"My dear chap," said the Phoenix apologetically, "let me repeat my sincere regrets for causing alarm. It was not my desire to—the police, did you say? Have they discovered any clues?"
"No," said David reassuringly. "They can't find a thing. They think the Whispering Burglar climbed up a ladder to say pssssst! into the upstairs windows. Only they can't find the ladder. They call it the 'Missing Mystery Clue.'"
The Phoenix gazed at the sky and mused. "In all the papers, you say? Well, Fame at last—although hardly the kind I had expected. What a pity that there can be no photographs with the story. Imagine a picture of me on the front page! A profile, perhaps—or would a full-length shot be more effective? Or both, let us say, with—"
"I know you'd look very handsome, Phoenix," David interrupted, "but what we should be thinking about is the Scientist. What are we going to do?"
"Oh, that," said the Phoenix. "I was coming to that, my boy. The battle is already half won. I have a Plan."
"Good for you, Phoenix! What is it?"
"Aha!" said the Phoenix, with a mysterious smile. "All will unfold in time. Rest assured that the Plan is brilliant. In one stroke of genius it solves everything. Tactics, my boy! Napoleon had nothing on me."
"But what is it, Phoenix?"
"Tut, my boy," said the Phoenix in a maddening way. "Control your impatience. You will see. Now, we shall have to buy some things, so we shall need money. Let me see.... Several of the Leprechauns have large pots of gold.... No, I fear they would not part with so much as a penny. Tightfisted, my dear fellow!—you never saw such misers. Hmmm.... Well, there are the Dragons, of course; they guard heaps of treasure in caves. But no—they are excellent chaps in most respects, but frightfully stuffy about loans and gifts. No.... The Djinn? No, his money is all tied up in Arabian oil speculation. Aha! Why didn't I think of that before? The Sea Monster, of course!"
"Do Sea Monsters have money?" asked David.
"No, but the Sea Monster should know where pirate treasure is buried—quite in its nautical line. We shall visit the Monster, my boy. Tomorrow, of course—I could not fly a foot today to save my life. My muscles are killing me!"
"Oh, poor Phoenix!" David said. But he was so excited that he could not feel much pity. Pirate treasure! They were going to dig for pirate treasure!
"We shall need a spade. I trust you will arrange for it, my boy?"
"Of course, Phoenix," said David, jumping to his feet. "I'll get everything ready right away. Don't move till I get back."
"Impossible, my boy." The Phoenix groaned as it shifted into a more comfortable position.
David raced home to collect the necessary things for the trip. Remembering how cold it had been last time, he took his leather jacket out of the closet, and a pair of gloves and a scarf. For the Phoenix he borrowed a bottle of liniment and took all the cookies from the cooky jar. And he picked the shortest of three spades in the garage. During the rest of the day he massaged the Phoenix's back and wings with the liniment. He was exploding with curiosity about the Plan, of course. But the Phoenix would only smile its smuggest smile and tell him to "wait and see, wait and see"—which almost drove David mad.
* * * * *
Tomorrow took its time, the way it always does when you are anxious to see it arrive, but it finally came. And David found himself with the spade held tightly under one arm, his jacket zipped up to his chin, gloves on, and scarf knotted, all ready to go.
"To the west, this time," said the Phoenix, as David got up on its back. "This is the Monster's Pacific season, you know. Ready, my boy? Splendid! We are off!"
Over the mountains and desert they sped, over the shore, out across the ocean. For a long time they hurtled through a huge blue loneliness, dark blue below, lighter blue above. Once they passed over a ship, a pencil dot trailing a pin-scratch of white. Another time they startled a high-flying albatross, which gave a frightened squawk and plunged down out of sight with folded wings. Aside from that, there was nothing to see until they reached the islands.
The Phoenix slowed down to a glide and dropped lower. "These are the coral atolls of the Pacific, my boy," it called over its shoulder. "That lake in the center of each island is called the lagoon."
David was enchanted by the atolls. They were made of tiny islets, strung together like the beads of a necklace. And the colors! The dark blue of the sea became lighter around the islands, melting from sapphire to turquoise to jade. The atolls were ringed with dazzling white surf and beach, and they all had cool green swaths of palm trees and underbrush. And each lagoon also had its varying shades of blue, like the outer sea.
"I fear we may have trouble, my boy," said the Phoenix, as they scanned the empty beaches. "The Monster shifts about from island to island to avoid discovery. We shall just have to search."
And search they did, atoll after atoll, until at the end of an hour they were rewarded. David suddenly spotted a dark object stretched out on the beach of a lagoon, and at the same time the Phoenix said "Aha!" triumphantly. They began to spiral down.
The Sea Monster was immense. Its body could have filled the living room at home. Its neck was twenty feet long, and so was its tail (which ended in a barbed point). It had huge seal-like flippers, and its polished brown hide was made up of scales as big as dinner plates.
"Wake up, Monster!" The Phoenix cried. "We—"
The next instant they were lost in a cloud of flying sand and spray, through which could be heard a prodigious splash. When it had cleared, they found themselves alone on the beach. The only sign of the Sea Monster was a great furrow in the sand, which led down to the agitated water.
"Golly, that was fast!" David marveled, as they shook the sand from themselves. "Do you think it'll come back, Phoenix?"
"Of course, my boy. Curiosity, if nothing else, will bring it up again. In the meantime, we might as well sit down and wait."
They sat down and waited. David took off his jacket. For fifteen minutes they heard nothing but the murmuring of the surf and the rustling clatter of palm fronds. At last there was a slight splashing noise from the lagoon.
"There," David whispered, pointing.
Thirty feet offshore, an ear was being thrust cautiously above the rippled surface. It twitched once or twice, then pointed quiveringly in their direction.
"Come out, Monster!" the Phoenix shouted. "It is I, the Phoenix."
The Sea Monster's head appeared slowly, followed by several yards of neck. It peered at them short-sightedly, weaving its head from side to side to get a better view. David saw that it had two short, straight horns just in front of its ears, eyes that were soft and cowlike, and a most expressive set of whiskers. The whiskers were now at a doubtful, half-mast angle.
"Ah, Phoenix," said the Sea Monster at last in a mild voice. "Can't you remember to wake me a bit more gently? I thought you were—"
"Come on out," said the Phoenix firmly, "and stop looking like a lost sheep."
"Uh—what about—uh—that?" said the Sea Monster hesitantly, pointing one ear at David.
"This," said the Phoenix, "is David. He is getting an education. I assure you that he will not bite."
The Sea Monster swam toward them, heaved itself out of the water, and offered its huge flipper for David to shake.
"Sorry I rushed off like that," it said. "The trouble is, I've had such a bad case of war nerves. Why, sometimes I jump out of my skin at nothing at all."
"Were you in the war?" David asked.
"Ah, was I," sighed the Sea Monster. It flopped down comfortably on its belly, curled its tail around its front flippers, and sighed again. But David noticed that its whiskers had perked up to a quite cheerful angle. The Sea Monster was obviously delighted to have someone listen to its troubles.
"Yes," it said, heaving a third sigh, "I was. From the very beginning, much against my will. Guns all over the place! Terrible!"
"Did they shoot you?" David asked, horrified.
"Well, at me, anyway. I'm thankful to say they never hit me, but there were some pretty near misses. All the oceans were simply packed with ships. I couldn't lift my head out of water without bringing down a perfect rain of shells and bullets."
"The intelligent thing in that case," the Phoenix broke in with a sniff, "would have been to stay under water."
"Thank you, Phoenix," said the Sea Monster dryly. "But I do like to breathe now and then. Anyway, I wasn't safe even under water. They'd drop depth charges on me. One ship even launched a torpedo at me!"
"How awful!" said David.
"Tut! my boy," said the Phoenix. "I have no doubt our friend is stretching the truth shamelessly. You need not look so smug, Monster. You were not the only one in the war. I have gone through anti-aircraft fire a number of times. Some of it was very severe. In fact, once I—"
"Once I had the whole North Atlantic fleet after me," the Sea Monster interrupted proudly.
"And I remember the Franco-Prussian War!" said the Phoenix. "Which, I daresay, you do not."
"Well—uh—no, I don't."
"There you are!" the Phoenix crowed.
The Sea Monster, looking rather ruffled, pointedly turned from the Phoenix and said to David, "What should you like to do, David?"
David suddenly remembered what they had come for, and the excitement rushed back into his heart. He opened his mouth to cry "We want to dig for treasure!" and then stopped short. Asking for money, he knew, was an impolite thing to do—especially from someone you had only just met. And there was no telling how the Sea Monster might feel about people nosing around for its treasure. So he looked at the Phoenix and waited for it to speak.
The Phoenix caught David's glance, cleared its throat several times, and looked apologetically at the Sea Monster. "Monster, old chap," it said soothingly, "I am deeply sorry for having doubted you just now. Deeply sorry."
"Quite all right," said the Sea Monster stiffly.
"Yes," the Phoenix continued, "we both know that you have passed through perilous times, through dangers which (I must confess) would have left me a shattered wreck."
The Sea Monster sighed sadly, but its whiskers were beginning to rise again.
"The Monster bears up very well under this fearful strain—don't you think so, my boy? A splendid example for the rest of us. Magnificent."
The Sea Monster's whiskers were quivering with pleasure.
"Monster, old chap, old friend, you were never one to let a boon companion down. If I have said it once, I have said it a hundred times: 'The Sea Monster,' I have said, 'the Sea Monster is the helpful sort. Mention the words Staunch Friend,' I have said, 'and immediately the Sea Monster comes to mind.'"
The Phoenix reached up one wing and began to pat the Sea Monster's flipper.
"Monster, old chum, we—ah—we—Well, the plain fact is that we—ah—we have need of—such a trifling matter" (here the Phoenix gave a careless laugh) "that I should not really bring it up at all. Ah—we need a bit of money."
"Oh," said the Sea Monster. Its whiskers sagged.
"Now, please do not be offended, Monster," said the Phoenix hastily. "After all, you have no need for the treasure, and it does absolutely no good buried under the ground."
"It doesn't do any harm there, either," said the Sea Monster. "Really, Phoenix, I never thought you—"
"Monster," said the Phoenix solemnly, "this—is a matter of life or death."
"Life or death—ha!"
"Please, Monster," said David. "It really is life or death, because the Scientist is chasing the Phoenix, and the Phoenix has a plan to escape him, and we need some money to carry out the plan so the Scientist can't hurt the Phoenix."
"A few small coins will do," added the Phoenix, with a winning smile. "A louis d'or, for example, or some pieces of eight. After which you may bury the rest again."
"Please, Monster!" David begged.
The Monster looked at David, and at the Phoenix, and then at David again, and then at the lagoon. It sighed a very doubtful sigh.
"Oh ... all right," it said reluctantly. "But for goodness sake, don't go telling anyone where you found it."
"Of course not," said the Phoenix. And David leaped up and shouted "Hooray!" and grabbed the spade and his jacket.
"The stuff is on the next island," said the Sea Monster. "I can swim over with you two on my back. This way, please—we have to leave from the outer beach."
The Sea Monster was a magnificent swimmer. Its neck cut through the water like the stem of a Viking ship, and it left a frothing wake behind. Every once in a while it would plunge its head into the water and come up with a fish, which it would swallow whole.
"Should you like some breakfast, David?" said the Sea Monster.
"No, thank you," David answered, "but you go right ahead. Phoenix," he added, "what are you doing?"
The Phoenix, which had been walking up and down with its wings clasped behind its back, stopped and gazed over the sea. "Pacing the quarter-deck, my boy. Scanning the horizon. That is what one usually does at sea, I believe."
"You'll be wanting us to call you Admiral next," said the Sea Monster acidly.
They steamed on. Twenty minutes and seventy-six large breakfast fish later they sighted the island—a little smudge on the horizon, dead ahead.
"Land ho!" a voice croaked. "Thank heavens."
David turned in surprise. The Phoenix was no longer pacing the quarter-deck and scanning the horizon. It was sitting limply with its head down and a glassy stare in its eyes.
"You had better hurry up," David said to the Sea Monster. "I think the Phoenix is seasick."
"Am not," the Phoenix gasped. "Merely (ulp!) temporary."
The Sea Monster turned and smiled sweetly at the Phoenix. "You'll get used to it in no time, Admiral."
When they landed, however, the Phoenix recovered rapidly and even began to put on a slight nautical swagger. The Sea Monster humped off down the beach, followed eagerly by the two treasure hunters. In a few minutes it came to a halt and sniffed the sand very carefully, swinging its head snakelike to and fro. It settled on one spot, sniffed it thoroughly, felt the sand with its whiskers, and then solemnly announced: "Here."
"Ahoy, me hearties!" the Phoenix shouted. "Turn to and stand by to splice the main brace! Steady as she goes, mates!"
David needed no encouragement from anyone. He began to dig furiously. Flashing in the sun, the spade bit into the beach, and coarse white sand spurted in all directions. The Phoenix was quite as excited as David. It danced around the deepening hole with eyes asparkle, shouting such piratical terms as "Shiver me timbers!" "Strike your colors!" and "Give 'em no quarter, lads!" Suddenly it began to beat time with its wing and to sing in a raucous voice:
"Cut the King's throat and take the King's gold— Heave ho, bullies, for Panama! There's plenty of loot for the lad who is bold— Heave away, bullies, for Panama!"
"You're flat on that last note," said the Sea Monster.
"My dear Monster, I have perfect pitch!"
"Oh, yes—you have perfect sea legs, too."
"Well, ah—How are you coming along, my boy? Any signs of treasure?"
David did not hear. In fact he heard nothing from the first crunch of the spade onward. His education was now richer by this fact: once you start out after treasure, you can think of nothing else until it is found. The sun was beating hotly on him, little rivulets of sweat poured down his face and arms, his muscles ached, blisters were beginning to form on his hands. Heedless of all, he dug on. He had settled into the rhythm of it now, and nothing could distract him.
"Tell you what's a good thing for seasickness," said the Sea Monster slyly. "You take a—" Pretending not to hear, the Phoenix stood first on one leg and then on the other and stared into the sky. David dug tirelessly.
Suddenly the spade grated on something solid, and they all jumped. David shouted "Here it is!" and shoveled up sand frantically. The Phoenix danced around the hole, also shouting. Even the Sea Monster arched its neck to get a better view. They could see a brass ring, crusted with verdigris, fastened to a partly-exposed piece of wood. The sand flew. Now they could see studded strips of metal bound to the wood, and a rusty padlock. And in a few minutes a whole chest, with slanting sides and a curved lid and tarnished brass hinges, was uncovered. David threw the spade on the beach, seized the brass handle, and tugged. It came off in his hand.
"Here, let me," said the Sea Monster. David got out of the hole, and the Sea Monster worked one flipper carefully under the chest. "Look out," it said, and heaved its flipper up. The chest shot into the air, tumbled down end over end, and split wide open on the beach.
David gasped. A dazzling, sparkling heap spilled out on the sand. There were heaps of gold and silver coins, the silver black with tarnish but the gold still bright. There were pearls, rubies, diamonds, beryls, emeralds, opals, sapphires, amethysts. And bracelets, necklaces, pendants, sunbursts, brooches, rings, pins, combs, buckles, lockets, buttons, crucifixes. And carved pieces of jade and ivory and coral and jet. And coronets, crowns, tiaras, arm bands. And jeweled daggers, picture frames, vases, silver knives and forks and spoons, sugar bowls, platters, goblets.
For an hour they examined the treasure. David fairly wallowed in it, exclaiming "Look at this one!" or "Oh, how beautiful!" or just "Golly!" The Phoenix muttered such things as "King's ransom" and "Wealth of the Indies." The Sea Monster was not interested in the treasure, but kept glancing nervously out to sea.
At last the Phoenix said, "Well, my boy, I think we had better make our choice. Three or four coins should do it."
The Sea Monster gave a relieved sigh. "Let's get the rest of it underground right away. You have no idea what trouble it can cause."
The choice was difficult. There were so many coins, all of them with queer writing and heads of unknown gods and kings. David finally picked out four gold pieces and tied them up in his handkerchief. Then the Sea Monster swept the rest of the treasure into the hole. They all pushed sand in on top of it and jumped on the mound till it was level with the rest of the beach.
The Phoenix turned to the Sea Monster and said solemnly: "Monster, old fellow, I knew you would not fail us. You stood forth in our hour of need, and we shall not forget."
And David echoed, "Thank you, Monster."
The Sea Monster ducked its head and blushed. A wave of fiery red started at its nose, traveled rapidly back over its ears, down its neck, along the body, and fanned out to the tips of its flippers and the extreme end of the barb in its tail.
Even its whiskers turned pink.
"Well—uh—glad to help—uh—nothing to it, really," it mumbled. Then it turned abruptly, galloped down to the sea, plunged into the surf, and was gone.
7: In Which the Phoenix's Plan Is Carried Out, and There Are More Alarums and Excursions in the Night
"Now, my boy," said the Phoenix, when they got back to the ledge that afternoon, "are the shops still open?"
"I think they're open till six," said David, shaking the sand out of his shoes. "Are we going to buy something?"
"Precisely, my boy. A hardware store should have what we need. Now, you will take our gold and purchase the following." And the Phoenix listed the things it wanted, and told David which to bring to the ledge and which to leave below.
"... and a hatchet," the Phoenix concluded.
"We have one at home already," said David. "Now, listen, Phoenix, can't you tell me what all this is for? What are we going to do with it?"
"My boy, the feline's existence was terminated as a direct result of its inquisitiveness."
"What did you say?"
"Curiosity killed the cat," explained the Phoenix.
"Now, run along, my boy. A very important Thought has just come to me. I must Meditate a while." The Phoenix glanced at the thicket and hid a yawn behind one wing.
"Oh, all right," said David. "I'll see you in the morning, then."
It wasn't until he got home that he thought of something. He couldn't spend pirate gold pieces, or even show them to anyone, without being asked a lot of embarrassing questions. What to do? Ask Dad or Mother or Aunt Amy to lend him some money? More embarrassing questions.... Well, he would have to rob his bank. But wait—why hadn't he remembered? Just before they had moved, Uncle Charles had given him a ten-dollar bill as a farewell present. He had been saving it for a model airplane, but the excitement of the last few days had driven it completely out of his mind. Of course the Phoenix's Plan was more important than any model plane could be.
So he kept the gold pieces tied up in his handkerchief and took his ten dollars to a hardware store, where he bought what the Phoenix wanted—a coil of rope, an electric door bell, a pushbutton, and one hundred feet of insulated wire. Then he brought the package home, hid it behind the woodpile in the garage, and sat down to think. Wire—bell—pushbutton. What could the Phoenix possibly want with them? And what was the rope for? And the hatchet? The more he puzzled over it the more confused he became, and finally he just gave up. There was only one thing he was sure about: whatever the Plan was, they would have to carry it out as soon as possible. Two days had passed since the Scientist had shown up. The new gun he had ordered might arrive at any time now. Perhaps even today, when they had been digging up the pirate treasure, the Scientist had got his new rifle and had started to hunt through the mountains.
The thought gave David a creepy feeling on the back of his neck. They certainly would have to hurry.
* * * * *
Early next morning David climbed up to the ledge, bringing with him the coil of rope and the hatchet. As an afterthought he had added a paper bag full of cookies.
"Here's the stuff, Phoenix," he called out as he stepped onto the ledge. "Where are you?"
There was a crash from the thicket as though someone had jumped up in it suddenly, and the Phoenix stumbled out, rubbing its eyes.
"Ah, splendid, my boy! Yes. I was just—ah—Thinking."
"Phoenix," said David, "I'm not going to ask you again what your Plan is, because I know you'll tell me when it's time. But whatever it is, we'd better do it right now. The Scientist may show up any minute."
"Precisely, my boy. Never put off until tomorrow what can be done today. One of my favorite proverbs. We shall begin immediately—" Here the Phoenix caught sight of the bag in David's hand and added hastily: "But, of course, we must not forget that first things come first."
"You might have brought more," said the Phoenix, fifteen minutes later.
"There weren't any more in the jar," David said. "Phoenix, please tell me what we're going to do. I don't care if curiosity did kill the cat. I've been thinking about the rope and wire and bell all night, and I can't make heads or tails out of it."
The Phoenix gave a pleased laugh. "Of course you cannot, my boy. The Plan is far too profound for you to guess what it is. But set your mind at rest. I shall now explain the rope and hatchet."
David leaned forward eagerly.
"Now, scientists, you know, have fixed habits. If you know those habits, you can predict just what they will do at any time. Our particular Scientist is a daytime creature—that is to say, he comes at dawn and goes at dusk. His invariable habit, my boy!"