THE TALE OF LAL
AUTHOR OF "THE DRUMMER OF THE DAWN"
BRENTANO'S CHAPMAN & HALL LTD. NEW YORK LONDON
AN EXPLANATION AND AN APOLOGY
Upon behalf of Ridgwell and Christine the author has been urged to explain that three things—facts, common-sense, and probability—have of necessity been throughout entirely omitted in relating this story. The children, however, have comforted the author by declaring that these particular things are not required at all in any book of the present day, but are merely an old-fashioned survival of the past, which is gradually dying out.
One of the sole remaining examples we possess of fact, common-sense, and probability being the celebration of the 5th of November, which has somehow become a day of national thanksgiving, and is without doubt one of the most important dates in the calendar, and very dear to the hearts of the English people.
The aspect of Trafalgar Square, like everything else in the world, depends largely upon how it is viewed, and through whose eyes it is seen.
A Japanese artist, for instance, visiting London, immediately selected Trafalgar Square seen by night-time as a subject for a picture. He thoughtfully omitted any suggestion of either omnibuses, taxi-cabs, or the populace.
He likewise decided that all the statues were most unpicturesque, and the varied and flashing electric advertisements to be seen hung up on high around the Square were not only hideous but impossible.
Consequently this imaginative being flung upon his canvas a mysterious blue space, void of anything save the brilliantly coloured lanterns of his own land, swung upon bamboo poles, trembling in the darkness at picturesquely convenient distances. The effect was quite beautiful, but of course it could not in any way be considered as a reasonable likeness of this particular Square.
A French artist also selecting this portion of London for a picture, determined at once that it would be more becoming, not to say diplomatic, to paint only one end of the low stone wall surrounding the Square; yet entertaining doubts afterwards that it might not perhaps be recognised, he added the central stone cupola of the National Gallery, appearing over all like a hastily bestowed blessing, but covered the remaining space upon his canvas with imaginary stalls of glowing flowers, and even more imaginary flower-sellers. His picture was greatly admired, and very much resembled the Market Square in Havre upon a Monday morning.
A Spanish artist chancing to pass the same way, likewise hastily completed a picture of Trafalgar Square as he wished to see it, adding by way of a decorative effect a lattice-work of trellised vines like unto his beloved vineyards of Andalusia. Dwarf oranges grew in profusion and hung their coloured golden globes over the squat stone walls. A brilliant Southern sun beat upon both, baking the walls red-hot and ripening the oranges at one and the same time. This picture the artist named Trafalgar Square when the Sun Shines.
A Cubist painter, not to be outdone with regard to his point of view of such a subject, covered an immense canvas with wonderful heaving squares of ochre and green, viewed from a background suggesting endless mud. This suggestion, however, may have been in the nature of a small tribute to the usual condition of the London streets. This production which the Cubist artist was optimistic enough to name simply Trafalgar Square, was instantly bought by a famous geologist, who to this day indulges in the beautiful belief that he possesses the only indication of what this particular portion of the world was like before ever the earth was made.
Last of all arrived a Futurist painter, who painted everything in Trafalgar Square, and nothing that did not appear in it. The painter, however, selected a really wonderful aspect of the Square, seen from a most strange angle, a sort of bird's-eye view of it, which could only have been obtained from a balloon. So remarkable was the perspective that the entire Square, as seen in the picture, appeared as if it were being gradually drawn sideways up to Heaven. The great Nelson column and all the four lions could be viewed simultaneously, and the artist had painted all the four lions alike.
Now a Writer whose chambers overlooked Trafalgar Square, and who was acquainted with its every aspect, by night as well as day, knew full well that the Futurist artist was wrong when he painted all the four lions alike. The Writer knew that one Lion was totally different from all the others; so the Writer smiled and kept his own counsel.
I will wait, said the Writer, until somebody else has made the same discovery that I have made. I will remain completely silent concerning one square patch of fairyland placed within the very hub and centre of the Universe, within the busiest part of a great city. When some other traveller finds the key to the mystic place, we shall both discover it is possible to talk about something which nobody else understands, and be enabled to compare notes.
AN EXPLANATION AND AN APOLOGY A PREFACE
WHAT RIDGWELL AND CHRISTINE DECLARED
I THE PLEASANT-FACED LION II BY ORDER OF THE LION III THE GOLDEN PAVILION IV PREPARING FOR A VISITOR
WHAT THE WRITER AND THE LORD MAYOR DECLARED
V THE WRITER APPEARS ON THE SCENE VI TWO DICK WHITTINGTONS VII THE LION MAKES HIS SIGN VIII AN UPSETTING ARTICLE IN THE MORNING PAPER IX THE WRITER PLANS WICKED PLANS
WHAT THE PUBLIC HEARD ABOUT
X THE LION GOES TO COURT XI THE END OF THE MATTER
WHAT RIDGWELL AND CHRISTINE DECLARED
THE PLEASANT-FACED LION
Ridgwell always told Christine afterwards that he thought the Lion first spoke to him in Trafalgar Square, the day when he was lost in the fog.
Ridgwell never knew how he became separated from the rest, but like all other unpleasant experiences it was one step, so to speak, and there he was, wandering about lost. The fog appeared to have swallowed up the friends he had been walking with a moment before; he could only hear voices as if people were talking through a gramophone, and see looming black shadows which did not seem to be accompanied by any bodies; then whack—he walked right into something big which did not move. At this point Ridgwell was seriously thinking about commencing to cry.
"Stop that," said a gruff voice.
"What?" faltered Ridgwell.
"Going to cry."
"I am not sure," said Ridgwell, "that I was."
"I am," said the gruff voice. "I saw the corners of your mouth go down. Now can you climb up? No, of course you can't, you are too small. Here, catch hold of my paw! There you are!" grunted the Lion, when Ridgwell was seated safely. "You just fit nicely; all the children fit in here. Knock those rolled-up policemen's capes off, they annoy me every day when they put them there. They tickle me, and I can't scratch about with my paws either."
Ridgwell was now lost in amazement, and regarded the Lion in open-mouthed astonishment.
The Lion purred contentedly. It was a nice homely sounding, domestic purr, and many times deeper and more impressive than that of a cat. "What's your name?" demanded the Lion, whilst Ridgwell was still gasping.
"Very appropriate too," said the Lion. "Here you are sitting in safety on the Ridge with me, and you are Well, aren't you?"
"Yes, thank you."
"There you are then," said the Lion. "Ridge-Well, what more do you want? Now I suppose you wish to know who I am? Well, I don't mind telling you. I am the Pleasant-Faced Lion. I am the only real Lion of the four, consequently I have a more intelligent expression than the others. The other three are only just common lions, and are always asleep. Now I come to life once in every generation and have a talk to the children, or to any one grown up who is imaginative enough to understand me. I like children, they are a hobby of mine. I am not in my usual spirits to-day," continued the Lion, "I have caught cold."
"Have you?" said Ridgwell. "I am very sorry."
"Yes, they washed me for Trafalgar Day in some beastly solution which was most unsuitable to me. I cannot shake off the cold. Hang on!" shouted the Lion suddenly, "I am going to sneeze, and I may shake you off the pedestal." Whereupon the Lion grabbed Ridgwell gently with his paw to steady him, and after sneezing heavily, proceeded. "After washing me for Trafalgar Day, which was most unnecessary, they hung a ridiculous wreath round my neck with a large N in leaves upon it. To add to the injury, an absurd person stood staring at me and explained to her children that the N stood for Napoleon. Bah!!!" growled the Lion. "Bah!!! Ignorance!"
"What did it stand for?" asked Ridgwell.
"Nile," grunted the Lion. "Short for Battle of the Nile."
"But I am so astonished. I did not know that you could talk, Mister Lion."
"Oh, for Heaven's sake don't call me Mister Lion, call me Lal."
"Why Lal?" inquired Ridgwell.
"Short for Lionel," whispered the Lion. "Lionel is my proper name."
"Oh, I see, but, Mister——"
"There you go again," said the Lion. "Call me Lal and be friendly."
"Indeed I am very friendly, Mister—I mean Lal; but there are so many things I don't understand."
"Common complaint of little boys," grumbled the Lion, "and you are going to see a lot more things in a minute that you will find most amazing. For instance, would you like to see a tournament?"
"Rather, Lal, I've always longed to see a tournament, but they never have such things now, do they? Aren't they all ended in England?"
"On the contrary," declared the Lion, "one is about to begin."
"Here in front of your eyes, and if you like you shall stay and see it. St. George outside Westminster has challenged the Griffin at Temple Bar to fight. All the really important Statue folk will be present. King Richard I from outside the Houses of Parliament will ride up to see fair play. Charles I. will come over from Whitehall across the road; Oliver Cromwell will most likely put in an appearance, if he can only make up his mind to leave his mound outside the Commons in those big boots of his."
"But, Lal," questioned Ridgwell, "surely Charles I. and Cromwell won't come to the Tournament together? Will they speak and be friendly?"
"No, no," confessed the Lion, "we still have great trouble with those two, they never speak. You see Cromwell is jealous of Charles, because Charles is mounted upon a nice horse, and rides past Cromwell and never notices him at all. Now Cromwell has to go about on foot, squeaking and squelching in those big boots, so that he never gets up to Charles, which annoys Cromwell very much."
"Well, you see, Cromwell wants to shout out 'Ha!!!' at Charles, and he never gets a chance. Cromwell gets left out very much in the cold," continued the Lion, "Richard I. never notices him either."
"Why is that?" asked Ridgwell.
"It's like this," said the Lion, "and it's only reasonable when you come to think of it. Richard I. spent nearly the whole of his time fighting to preserve a shrine, whilst Cromwell spent most of his time destroying them. Of course that annoys Richard, so Richard simply looks through Cromwell whenever they meet. Nothing would induce him to notice Cromwell."
"I should think that must annoy Cromwell," debated Ridgwell.
"It does," agreed the Lion, "but Cromwell always shouts out Ho! at Richard; he thinks Ho! is more appropriate to Richard's period. Richard, however, with perfect self-possession which is beyond all praise, never appears to hear him at all. Cromwell will always keep turning his head round to stare most rudely at Richard and Charles as they gallop past, hoping that Richard will hear him shout Ho! and Charles will hear him shout Ha!, and that irritating habit of his, together with Charles's treatment of the matter, was probably the origin of the terms, 'Roundhead' and 'Cavalier.'"
"Really!" said Ridgwell.
The Lion coughed slightly. "Not really," said the Lion, "only perhaps."
"But, Lal, if the statues of London move about and are coming here for a tournament as you say, won't people miss them?"
"Good gracious goodness, no," exclaimed the Lion. "Why! the people of London wouldn't miss them in a year, let alone a few hours! Then perhaps some person might notice something wasn't in its usual place and would write to the papers asking what it meant, and the London County Council would hold an inquiry."
"But, Lal, will General Gordon, George III. and Nelson take part in the Tournament?"
"Bless me, child, how you mix up your history," observed the Lion, "of course not. They are only moderns, the others are ancients. Two Kings waiting to see fair play between a Griffin and a Saint who are about to have a fight, belong to quite another time. George III. and General Gordon are moved out of the way before the combat starts; and as for Nelson, he was frozen long ago up there; it is a ridiculous attitude for so great a man, and a worse altitude, but there he is, and you cannot alter it; however he is frozen and mercifully doesn't feel anything or see anything that is going on."
"But if they are going to fight and charge one another, won't the fountains be in the way?" inquired Ridgwell anxiously, as he looked up into the Lion's good-humoured face.
"If you look again hard," grinned the Lion, "you will find that the fountains and the stone lakes around them have disappeared."
Ridgwell immediately looked in the direction the Lion indicated, and was amazed to find only a big, wide, open space of stone, one of the largest spaces in London.
"But how did they——" commenced Ridgwell.
"Hush!" said the Lion, "you really mustn't chatter any more. Here they come, and I have to be Judge of the Tournament, also the Referee; and to be a Referee," sighed the Lion, "is always a thankless task."
At this moment, amidst a clatter that was indescribable, the Griffin, looking a most ungainly object, came gallumping into the open space.
The Griffin appeared to be all wings, and scales, and claws, yet this somewhat grisly appearance was entirely misleading, for he possessed an amiable, although foolish disposition, whilst his expression owed much of its peculiarity to a habit he had acquired of breaking into broad smiles of astonished self-appreciation. The Griffin was very vain, and the one thing he craved for was notoriety.
"Good evening, Lionel; where's George?" demanded the Griffin. "I don't see him."
"You'll see quite enough of him before he's finished with you," retorted the Pleasant-Faced Lion, loftily. "However, here he comes."
St. George at this moment entered the wide stone space immediately in front of the Lion, to whom he made a profound salute.
St. George looked very handsome in his scaly armour, and his short bright sword glistened blue in the half light. Ridgwell had little time to notice other details, for two horsemen came galloping in.
Both were in armour and both were mounted upon beautiful horses.
"Who are they?" asked Ridgwell.
"Don't you see?" whispered the Lion. "King Richard I. and King Charles I. Ah," sighed the Lion, "what a noble figure Richard is! He is my special favourite; you see," explained the Lion, "he is named after me."
"Of course. Is he not called Richard Coeur-de-Lion? I am de-Lion," announced the Lion proudly. "He carried a picture of me on his shield once. You may notice," proceeded the Lion, "that King Charles unfortunately rides slightly upon one side. It is not his fault, but owing to the fact that he has no girth to his saddle."
The horsemen wheeled one to either end of the arena before bringing their horses to a standstill.
The two opponents, St. George and the Griffin, stood facing each other in the centre, waiting for the combat to commence.
"Before we start," announced the Lion, "I am the Judge. There is, of course, to be no bloodshed; indeed," he added, in his wisest and most judicial manner, "bloodshed is impossible. The Griffin is almost over-protected (if I can use such a term) with scales, St. George is fully covered with armour. The Griffin possesses his remarkable claws, St. George a flat sword, so both are well matched. Therefore the contest resolves itself into a trial of skill and strength. Both shall be weighed in the scales."
"He! he! he!" sniggered the Griffin, "if my scales cannot crush the scales of George's blatant armour may I live to bite my own nails. Why, I will squash him as flat as an empty meat tin."
"Swank," murmured St. George, nonchalantly.
"The reason of the contest," continued the Lion in a loud voice, as if he were reading from some document which he had committed to memory, "is owing to a ridiculous assertion made by the Griffin. The Griffin claims to be the older established of the two. St. George laughs at this claim derisively. The Griffin sorely provoked to it, unfortunately fell back upon dates, and his memory being very weak he hoped to conceal his shakiness about dates, with phrases. He therefore declared that Temple Bar where he now stands, once possessed two gates which have since been removed. Nevertheless the Griffin contends that he is still there and Temple Bar is still there; in this he is undoubtedly right; yet, not content with this, he further asserts that this is the whole cause and origin of the phrase, 'Two to one, Bar one.' St. George here present, who knows something about horses, immediately called him a—well, it is not a nice word," broke off the Lion in parenthesis, "anyway St. George intimated that the truth was not in the Griffin. Hence a trial by combat. Are you ready?" roared the Lion; "then commence."
From his quite comfortable seat between the Lion's paws, Ridgwell now watched the strangest combat he would ever be likely to witness.
The Griffin advanced towards St. George with about as much grace as a dancing camel would possess. His excessive angularity was accentuated by his extraordinary clumsiness. St. George did not appear at all disconcerted by the flapping of the Griffin's wings, but managed to avoid his clumsy clutches with great skill. Had St. George not slipped upon a piece of orange-peel, inadvertently left upon the floor of the arena, it is doubtful if the Griffin would ever have touched him. As St. George slipped, the Griffin hugged him tightly. Ridgwell held his breath, for it almost seemed as if St. George's armour must indeed crumple up.
"Meat tins," shrieked the Griffin.
"Break away," commanded the Lion.
"Here, I say," snorted the Griffin, "I'd only just got him."
"Break away," ordered the Lion, "no hugging."
The Griffin retired to his corner pouting.
When the second bout started, Ridgwell noticed that there was something like a smile upon St. George's face, and he soon understood the reason of it. St. George had found out his adversary's weak spot.
The Griffin advancing with a rush upon his hind legs, with his front claws doubled up reaching high over St. George to pull him down, was brought to a sudden standstill.
There was a rapid sound of "Whack! whack! whack! whack!" four times.
St. George had hit the Griffin with the flat of his sword upon the most tender part of the Griffin's claws. The Griffin's mouth trembled.
"Whack! whack! whack! whack!" came four more swashing blows, whilst the Griffin hesitated. Then the Griffin broke down completely, and wept aloud bitterly.
"He's broken my knuckles," sobbed the Griffin.
"Do you give in?" asked the Lion.
"Oh yes," sobbed the Griffin. "Oh! my poor paws."
"Shall he chase you round the arena?" demanded the Lion.
"No," whimpered the Griffin; "I'll go home quietly."
Thereupon King Richard raised his sword and saluted to indicate that the fight was over, and followed by King Charles, who still swerved slightly to one side in his saddle, the two Kings rode out of the Square.
"Shake hands?" asked St. George of the Griffin, before he departed.
The Griffin shook his head dolefully instead, whilst great tears coursed down his cheeks.
"Oh no," sniffed the Griffin, "I don't think I shall ever shake hands again."
When everybody had gone, the Griffin slowly hobbled to his feet, and moving towards home, half sobbed and half sang in a way that was intensely comic—
"Oh! Temple Bar, Oh! Temple Bar, With broken knuckles you seem so far. And all my claws are broken too; Oh! Temple Bar, what shall I do? To hit me with a sword held flat, 'Twas grim of George to think of that."
"Now you have seen the tournament," observed the Lion to Ridgwell, "I suppose you will have to get home somehow."
"Yes, please, Lal."
"And of course," said the Pleasant-Faced Lion, "you will want to come again."
"Rather," laughed Ridgwell.
"Well, to-morrow night there is a very different sort of entertainment. I and the Statue folk are going to give an evening party, the grandest you have ever seen, or will ever be likely to see."
"Oh, Lal, can I come and bring Christine?"
"Who is Christine?" inquired the Lion, cautiously; "you know we cannot admit everybody."
"Christine is my little sister. At least," added Ridgwell, "Christine is older than I am, but she is little all the same."
"And she would so enjoy it, Lal," pleaded Ridgwell.
"Very well," said the Lion, "both come just this once. Now for home. Come," commanded the Lion, "jump up. I learned that common expression from the people who every moment of the day mount upon the horrid Buzz, Buzz, things."
"Don't you like the Motor Omnibuses then?"
"The Buzz Buzzes you mean, child. No, I dislike them intensely, they make such a noise both day and night that I cannot hear myself purr even. Jump up. Where do you want to go to?"
"To Balham, please, Lal."
"Ah, that's the man with the Ass, isn't it?" demanded the Lion.
For a moment Ridgwell looked quite shocked. "Oh no, Lal, you are thinking of Balaam."
"Spelt the same way," snapped the Lion, who did not like being corrected upon historical matters.
"No, Lal, there is an H in Balham and people never drop it."
"Glad to hear it," grunted the Lion. "I only wish the people who collect the pennies from the passengers upon the Buzz Buzz things would say the same. Day by day," added the Lion in an aggrieved tone, "I hear them shout out the expressions—'Olloway, 'Igate, 'Arrow. The Board Schools," continued the Lion in his wisest tones, "are responsible for a most imperfect system of education."
"But, Lal," pleaded Ridgwell, "you will take me to Balham, won't you? I do not know how I should get home if you didn't take me there."
"Yes," said the Lion, "of course, I shall take you home, but you mustn't come to see me too often, you know, it's outside the four-mile radius. However," concluded the Lion, "I shall follow the tram lines. Jump up," once more commanded the Lion, "and hang on, because you know I go at a good pace when once started."
Whereupon Ridgwell clambered upon the Pleasant-Faced Lion's back, and convulsively hugging him half round his great neck, buried his head in the Lion's mane and shut his eyes, whilst the Lion took a bold jump from off his pedestal, and started in a brisk trot for Balham.
When they had arrived at their destination outside Ridgwell's home, the Lion stood in the road and wagged his tail contentedly.
"Thank you for bringing me home, Lal," said Ridgwell as he clambered off the Lion's back.
"Good-night," whispered the Lion hoarsely, for after his long run he was almost out of breath. "Mind you close the hall door safely after you."
The Pleasant-Faced Lion, who appeared to be pleased at having brought his little charge home, stood in the road and purred quite loudly for some time.
But none of the neighbours, who heard the deep sound echoing through the quiet road, thought of looking out of the window. They merely believed the sound proceeded from some powerful motor car which had stopped in the vicinity.
Then the Pleasant-Faced Lion jogged home to his pedestal in Trafalgar Square, well pleased with his night's work.
BY ORDER OF THE LION
"Hullo, Lal!" said Ridgwell, as he looked up at the Lion the following evening.
"Hullo!" rejoined the Lion huskily. "Who is that you have brought with you?"
"This is Christine," said Ridgwell.
"How do you do?" said the Pleasant-Faced Lion, and he seemed to look even more pleasant than usual. The Lion stretched himself, descended from his pedestal, and held out his paw to shake hands with Christine: Christine responded to these greetings shyly.
Ridgwell really thought the Lion was one of the most amiable creatures he had ever met.
"If you do not mind," the Lion observed to Christine, "you might walk upon the other side of Ridgwell and not next to me."
"Oh, Lal, why?" asked Christine.
"Who asked Christine to call me Lal?" inquired the Lion, as he lifted his head up with an intensely comical air of self-importance.
"I did," said Ridgwell; "you told me always to call you Lal."
"Quite right," replied the Lion. "But do you always do exactly alike, you two?"
"Yes, always," said Ridgwell.
"Humph!" grunted the Lion. "Suppose there is only one apple and you both want it, what happens?"
"We exactly divide it," said Ridgwell.
"Mathematically correct," said the Lion. "Good."
"But please why can't I walk next to you, Mister Lion?"
"Ha!" shrieked the Lion, "there she goes, Mister Lion. You taught her that too, I suppose."
"Hush, Lal," said Ridgwell, "don't get excited. Christine will soon get out of the habit and call you Lal, directly she knows how pleasant you are."
"You haven't answered my question, Lal," objected Christine.
"Well, little Christine, it is like this," and the Lion pondered deeply for awhile. "If you walked next to me and rested your hand upon my mane as you are doing now, anybody who saw us might take us for Una and the Lion, otherwise Beauty and the Beast, and oh! my dear child," implored the Lion, "you surely could not wish me ever to be called a beast."
"Of course not," said Christine; "we wouldn't hurt your feelings for worlds. So, Ridgie, you walk next to Lal, and I will walk the other side of you."
"A most reasonable child," muttered the Lion, "really quite reasonable."
"Did you bring the sulphur tablets?" asked the Lion mysteriously.
"Yes, here they are. Christine has them wrapped up in a packet," explained Ridgwell; "but, Lal, what can you want with sulphur tablets? You promised me we should both be asked to the party, but sulphur tablets do seem such an odd thing to want as a start. I have thought over it, and Christine has thought over it, and we cannot really think what they can be for."
The Lion chuckled his most pleasant chuckle.
"Give it up?"
"Yes," nodded Ridgwell.
"So would any one else," grinned the Lion, "except me. Have you ever thought how the thick yellow London fogs come?" inquired the Lion insinuatingly. "Do you know what causes them?"
"No," said Ridgwell. "I don't think anybody knows that."
"I do," replied the Lion.
"What causes them, then?" asked Ridgwell.
"The yellow fogs are caused solely by the habit the other three lions have of sucking sulphur tablets whilst they are asleep," declared the Lion. "They are always sleeping, and directly two sulphur tablets are placed in the corner of each one's mouth they go on sleeping and breathing, sleeping and breathing. The result is a thick yellow fog."
"I never knew that was the cause of London fogs," mused Ridgwell.
"One of them," sighed the Lion; "and who can wonder at it? Just look at the size of their mouths."
"But your mouth is as large as theirs, is it not?" debated Christine.
"Yes," said the Lion, "but there is a particular reason for my mouth being large."
"Why?" asked the children.
"On account of all the wisdom I utter," replied the Lion loftily.
"Anyway," said Ridgwell, "it does seem a horrid preparation for a party to start with a fog. Surely nobody would see what was going on."
"Hush, hush, my children," remonstrated the Pleasant-Faced Lion. "Just gather round and listen, and do not interrupt. You will be amazed at all the things you are about to see and hear, for you are going to be present to-night for a few minutes at the most wonderful party ever given in the whole world."
"That will be lovely," said Ridgwell and Christine. "And oh! Lal, really we have looked forward to it so much."
The Lion patted each of the children in turn affectionately upon the head with its paw, and they remembered afterwards that his paw was as soft as velvet, and really wasn't heavy at all.
"Chatter, chatter, chatter," said the Lion, "just like the magpies and the sparrows, and the fashionable Society people for that matter, but you must not interrupt. I am just like one of those guides that do all the talking, and if I am interrupted I lose my place, get all my thoughts out of order, and all the ceremony will be wrong. Then King Richard and King Charles will both be down upon me, and say the party was rotten, and that I was to blame; and as for Boadicea, she has a nasty temper, and will probably hit me over the head with her reins."
"Oh, Lal, do you mean to say that King Richard and King Charles and Boadicea are coming to the party?"
"Yes, all of them," grunted the Lion. "Now be quiet, and just listen. The sulphur tablets which seem to cause you so much mystification are simply to cause a fog upon the outside of Trafalgar Square, and to shut out the sight of the most wonderful party in the world from the gaze of all the other people who have not been invited to it. Imagine the millions of people who would flock to see such a sight, if it were not screened off. Drivers of the Buzz Buzz things they call motor-buses and taxis, loafers, tramps, idlers, City men, work-girls, curious women—and, by the way, remember that women are always curious—would flock in millions, attracted by the lovely lights, which will be brighter than anything you have ever seen, by the jewels, which will be more dazzling than anything you have ever dreamed of, to say nothing about the gorgeous costumes that will rival anything displayed upon the Field of the Cloth of Gold, outdo the splendours of any court, and put the pageant of the grandest pantomime ever witnessed to shame. Follow me," commanded the Lion, "and you will see what you will see only once in your lives, and it all begins with the sulphur tablets."
Ridgwell and Christine followed, and were dumb with amazement. The Lion gently took the packet of sulphur tablets from Christine and thanked her for providing them. Gingerly he approached each of the other three sleeping lions in turn and insinuatingly placed two in the mouth of each lion; one tablet each side between each lion's big front teeth and its tongue.
"It's a dreadful habit," said the Pleasant-Faced Lion, "to suck sulphur tablets in your sleep, but I suppose it's soothing. Now watch," observed Lal maliciously. "Sleeping and breathing, sleeping and breathing, the sulphur tablets will soon commence to work."
Slowly as they watched, thick jets of yellow vapour commenced to rise upward and all around.
"Come," whispered Lal, "the thick fog stops like a wall at the back of their pedestals and all round Trafalgar Square. As I told you," chuckled the Lion, "the fog is only upon the outside of where the party will take place."
He now quickly drew the children out of the fog inside the immense charmed circle of Trafalgar Square, where the atmosphere was quite clear, but as yet quite dark.
The Lion lifted up his head and gave a most piercing and peculiar whistle; once, twice, three times and yet a fourth he repeated this signal.
The signal was answered in a curious manner. The whole space commenced to vibrate with a strange humming sound which resembled violins, violoncellos, flageolets and flutes being played upon very faintly. The sounds were so weirdly fascinating that any one might have imagined it proceeded from a little group of Eastern musicians playing upon reeds in order to charm some snake to uncoil and become sociable after a lengthy seclusion in its wicker-work basket.
"What is that music?" asked Ridgwell.
"The eight Dolphins of the fountains are humming happily. They are waiting to carry out my commands," answered the Lion.
Once again the Lion whistled four times.
Ridgwell and Christine, who were listening intently, could hear the scurrying of flying feet racing along. The sound drew nearer and nearer, until several dark forms were jostling each other immediately in front of where they stood, and they could feel the warm breath of some living things upon their hands. Suddenly in the darkness there was a chorus of hoarse laughter.
Ridgwell and Christine started slightly.
"Are they spirits?" inquired Ridgwell, with a note of anxiety in his voice.
"No," vouchsafed the Lion, "only the four merry laughing little Lions from outside Westminster Abbey. They are the most ridiculous creatures in all London.
"Stop laughing," commanded the Lion.
"Hear me, Gamble, Grin, Grub, and Carry-on-Merry, and hearken attentively.
"Carry-on-Merry, have you all stopped laughing?" demanded the Lion.
"Yes, mighty Lal, we are simply grinning at present, which is as near to being serious as we can ever become. We are only waiting for your commands."
The Lion lifted up his mighty head and called, "Silence, Dolphins."
Immediately the curious sounds of humming ceased.
"The party I give is to be the most beautiful in the world, displaying wonders such as no Emperor can procure. Each of the Four Seasons shall appear before us, perfect in every way, to be followed by the Pavilion of Gold."
"It shall be done, O Lal."
"My guests will be all the stray children of London. Call them from every street and court, from out every by-way, alley, and lane."
"They are all here waiting, O Lal."
"Good. Also gather together all the lost and stray dogs of London, every single one who is wandering about to-night."
"They have all been summoned, O Lal."
"The Royalty present will include Queen Boadicea, King Richard I., King Charles I., and St. George."
"Each has received a royal invitation, O Lal, and the Royal personages will all be pleased to attend."
"Each boy and girl is to be dressed in the most costly costume, according to their taste."
"All is prepared for them, Lal, and even as you desire, great splendour awaits them, and nothing will be lacking for their perfect enjoyment."
"Good; see that all is well done, and be ready to begin when I give the signal. You understand?"
"We understand," laughed the four merry Lions.
"We obey," squeaked the Dolphins.
"Only one thing remains to be done, to dress you, Ridgwell, and you, Christine."
"What shall we be dressed in?" inquired Christine.
"Shut your eyes," said the Lion gently, "and stretch your hands over the lake of the fountain and take what the Dolphins give you. They know what you want, and their taste in such matters is exquisite."
The children shut their eyes and obeyed. The Lion leant over the rim of the lake and whispered to the Dolphins—
"Dress the boy like a prince, and the girl like a little queen. The richest stuff, mind, five guineas a yard. Give her a crown of the whitest daisies with shell pink petal tips for a crown. No jewels, no pearls, no, no.
Take, oh take the pearls away, For they bring tears, the wise men say.
chanted the Lion in his rich double bass. "Give them both jewelled shoe buckles; give the boy jewelled levee buttons for his satin breeches, a plain gold circlet for his head. A train for the girl from her shoulders, of pure cloth of gold; bring it light, so that it does not weigh heavily. White satin for the boy, with richest figured velvet doublet set with cloth of gold. Hang round their necks now, with all its luminous jewels, the highest order in the world, the Order of Great Imagination," commanded the Lion, "For by the Order of Great Imagination they shall see things that no one else can see, they shall be able to listen to things that no one else shall be able to hear. They shall delight in the exquisiteness of things as no one else can delight in them, who has not received this order. For I declare to you all that a child who has this glittering order shall know of things that nobody else in the whole world shall know of. Everything is ready."
"Let us have Spring," commanded the Lion.
Immediately the words were uttered there came the soft beating of birds' wings over Ridgwell's head. The atmosphere instantly became fragrant with the myriad scents of wild flowers.
A mist seemed to swim for a second before their eyes, and, as it cleared away, they were standing together with many other children knee-deep in unending banks of bluebells and primroses.
They were in the midst of the most perfect wooded dell they had ever beheld.
Thousands of delicate flower-stems thrust their tiny spears from earth and emerald moss, blossoming with flowers before their wondering eyes.
The spiral hedges slowly shook out dappled clusters of white hawthorn.
The interlaced trees above them, amidst which all the birds in Christendom appeared to be carolling simultaneously, gently outspread friendly arms, overladen with powdered red and white may blossom.
Butterflies with gaily painted wings hovered tenderly overhead, and tiny silver thistledown balls sailed across the blue sky spaces, like little wayward balloons without anybody in charge of them.
"You can all pick as many flowers as you like," suggested the Lion. "Flowers were meant for the children to pick, so make yourselves nosegays, garlands, and crowns galore. There are no notices here to keep off the grass. You can also chase the butterflies if you like, but I warn you that you will never catch them. As a matter of fact that is the one thing I don't permit. Any butterfly with really nice feelings objects most decidedly when a pin is run through its body, as much as a happy fish hates to be caught upon a hook. I sympathise with both of them, and consider such practices ought to be stopped."
Ridgwell, well-nigh immersed in a bank of bluebells, listened in a semi-enchanted condition to the Lion's words of wisdom, and watched the brilliant-coloured butterflies chasing each other in the pearly spaces above him.
Christine, grasping a great yellow bunch of primroses in each hand, ceased picking flowers and watched the bright-eyed squirrels and rabbits gambolling everywhere around.
"Ridgie, have you noticed all the rabbits and squirrels are quite tame?"
"Of course they're tame," agreed the Lion, "Nobody here to hurt them; why, they will come and eat out of your hand."
"Why is that?" asked Ridgwell.
"No guns or traps," chuckled the Lion. "Any animal respectably brought up is indignant at the very thought of a gun or a trap; consequently they keep themselves to themselves, and seldom go out into society."
Ridgwell's gaze roamed over the lovely spring landscape, and rested upon the masses of flowers the other children were picking.
"Everything here is just as it ought to be, isn't it, Lal?"
"Every single thing," answered the Lion. "But it is going to change, you know, almost directly."
"Change?" echoed Ridgwell. "Why, Lal?"
The Pleasant-Faced Lion chuckled softly, and lifting his head, called out, "Summer."
Immediately the Lion said "Summer," everything around commenced to alter most strangely.
Banks of primroses became stretches of sparkling golden sands, and the great masses of bluebells, after swaying once or twice, dissolved themselves into the misty rippling waves of a summer sea.
Christine and Ridgwell, looking hopelessly perplexed, found they were each in a tiny boat with a pearly sail, skimming over shallow blue waters that sparkled like sapphires.
The sky over their heads had changed to the burning blue of a summer day. The air was filled with the sweet salt spray of the sea, which descended in delicious showers upon all of them.
"Have all the children got boats?" demanded the Lion.
"All," shrilled the Dolphins. "Their boats can't upset, Lal, and the waters are transparent, and shallow enough for them to fish up coloured shells, coral, and mother-of-pearl. There's a sunken treasure-ship half buried in the sands far upon the other side, Lal, if they sail for it."
"They'll all make for that safe enough," answered the Lion. "Push their boats off, Dolphins, and help them all to land upon the far shore."
The Dolphins, splashing the water into little white frothy waves, accompanied the little bobbing fleet of pearl-boats, and sang gaily as they swam alongside.
"Blue and gold on the summer sea, Each little mast with a sail of pearl, Each dipping boat holds a boy or girl, A most enchanting argosy. A ship one's longed for most perhaps That cannot anyhow collapse.
We'll sail away to the golden strand, And maybe discover No Man's Land; Each one of us will get a peep Into the wonders of the deep, Dredging for shells of brilliant hue, And discovering mermaids too.
Sing ho! for a galleon of Spanish gold, With jewels and ivory in the hold. What treasure we'll find upon the main! What triumph when we sail home again! The wonder of every lad and lass Will be the booty we amass."
After a short but entrancing voyage, and even whilst Ridgwell and Christine stood with the other children waist-deep in the great carven hold of the sunken Spanish galleon, shovelling out golden doubloons and precious jewels, the sound of Lal's voice came across the water to them.
"Autumn, ahoy!" shouted Lal.
* * * * *
"Isn't it bewildering, Chris?" lamented Ridgwell. "Only a second ago we were enthroned in a castle of golden coins and precious stones, and now, without any sort of warning whatever, we are standing upon the top of a waggon-load of newly-mown hay."
"Yes, Ridgie, and look at Lal across there, laughing about it like anything."
"He certainly does play tricks with us, Chris. See, he is sending all the children racing across to draw our hay-cart with those ropes of acorns and leaves they are holding. Hullo!" broke off Ridgwell, "somebody is throwing things at me, and if they continue doing it I shall jolly well start throwing back again."
Christine looked up from the stack of loose hay surrounding her in the cart upon which they stood.
"Why, it's apples," announced Christine.
"Where?" inquired her brother.
"Look, Ridgie, overhead, hundreds of them hanging from every tree. We can reach them quite easily."
There could be no doubt about the matter. Rosy apples ripened by the sun dangled in clusters overhead, and gently fell down at the very moment when any one felt disposed to eat them.
Within easy reach grew trailing brambles smothered with ripened patches of fragrant blackberries.
The Pleasant-Faced Lion lifted up his voice and inquired if the company present desired anything better, at the season they were now passing through, than unlimited apples, blackberries, and hay.
"No," came a simultaneous chorus from all the children.
"Good," replied the Lion. "After you have all eaten as many apples and blackberries as you want, the battle of the new-mown hay will start. I shall be the umpire. If Ridgwell and Christine can throw enough hay from their big cart to bury all the children around them, they will have won. If the other children can throw up enough hay to completely smother the cart, Ridgwell and Christine will have lost. Now start," laughed the Lion.
"Look here, Chris, we must get to work, so here goes."
Whereupon Ridgwell seized a big armful of loose hay and awaited the attack.
"We have the advantage of height," observed Christine, as she hastily gathered as much hay as she could hold, "and you know, Ridgie, it is much easier for us to throw down than it is for them to throw up."
"How about numbers?" objected Ridgwell; "why, it's two against hundreds, Chris."
Then the battle commenced. That engagement was a memorable one amidst the scented hay. Not infrequently it happened that only a laughing eye, or the tip of a small nose was anywhere visible to show who might be the victor. Nobody will ever be quite sure who won, and it is doubtful if the point was ever decided.
Ridgwell, feeling very smothered up, was remarking to Christine in muffled tones that he thought they must have lost, when the voice of Lal announced "Winter."
"Don't you feel buried, Chris?"
"Yes," came the unexpected reply, "I am. I'm simply buried in furs and snow!"
"Furs and snow?" repeated Ridgwell incredulously. "What on earth do you mean, Chris? Oh, good gracious, Chris, I've got an extraordinary feeling I'm falling over a sort of precipice."
"So we are," rejoined Christine philosophically. "Don't you see, Ridgie, that Lal has changed everything again. We are on a toboggan sleigh, and just starting down no end of a steep hill."
Ridgwell rubbed the finely powdered snow out of his eyes.
An entrancing winter scene lay below them. Giant blue-green pine-trees were dotted about over the glistening snow which flashed with a million diamond sparkles. All the children were clad in beautiful furs.
Some of them were sliding and skating, others snowballing and tumbling in the snow.
"Hang on, Ridgwell and Christine," shouted the Lion, "your toboggan has started at a pretty good pace. Hold tight."
Ridgwell and Christine shut their eyes, and as neither of them had any breath during that wild descent, they could only compare notes afterwards as to the amazing sensations they experienced during these moments.
When the toboggan had finally brought itself to a standstill Ridgwell extricated himself and viewed the snow-powdered spaces in front of them a trifle apprehensively. Bounding along towards them raced a pack of animals. Their eyes were glistening and their tongues hanging out.
"Wolves!" muttered Ridgwell. "Oh! I say, Chris, I don't think I quite care about meeting wolves. Do you? They don't look very friendly either, by the way they are coming along."
"It's the stray dogs," shouted Christine; "and look, Carry-on-Merry is putting little teams of them into sleighs to draw us along."
"Sleigh races about to start," called the Lion. "Take your seats, shake the reins and you will hear the silver bells tinkle. The first sleigh to reach the farthest pine-trees wins the race. Off you go."
Away flew the dogs, drawing the children over the powdered snow tracks.
After the race Carry-on-Merry collected all the children together.
"I propose a snowball match," grinned Carry-on-Merry. "Gamble, Grin, Grub, and myself upon one side, against all you children."
"Ho, ho, ho!" laughed the Pleasant-Faced Lion. "My goodness, what a beating all you children are going to have. Why, Carry-on-Merry and his lot can manufacture snowballs as quick as lightning."
The battle commenced without delay, and it was a terrific conflict.
Hundreds of little snowballs whizzed through the air.
"Ha! ha!" laughed the Pleasant-Faced Lion, "the children are retreating. Carry-on-Merry, Gamble, Grin, and Grub, I believe you are the champion snowballers of the world. I think myself you must have acquired the gift from some unusually impish urchins whose methods you have closely observed round Westminster way. I consider your skill quite in accordance with the best street traditions."
The children were eventually snowballed to a standstill, and flinging away their remaining ammunition rolled themselves over on the snow to avoid any more of the unerring missiles of Carry-on-Merry and his band.
"Give in," demanded the Lion pleasantly.
"Never!" laughed the children.
"But you're beaten, you know," insisted the Lion. "Carry-on-Merry, you can take them all prisoners and escort them to the Pavilion of Gold."
Even whilst the children were tumbling in the snow the atmosphere became inky black.
The darkness was not in any way alarming; it had taken place so gradually that they scarcely noticed it, which only intensified the marvellous change which was to follow.
THE GOLDEN PAVILION
Christine and Ridgwell never forgot the sight that met their eyes when the strange transformation took place. It was dazzling in its beauty and it was some seconds before they could realise the full wonder of it. The dimness of the light changed to the most exquisite illuminations imaginable.
Christine and Ridgwell realised that the party was to take place in a gorgeous golden pavilion.
The fountains, which had slid to either end of the pavilion, shot up brilliant globes of changing light which hovered in the air like tiny coloured air balls, whilst the tops of the fountains spraying a golden mist, were echoed again in the lustrous glow of walls and roof.
From the pearly dome whose outline was only faintly suggested overhead, and upon every side, hung myriad stacks of flowers, which now and again fell in fragrant jewelled showers upon the children, just as soon as each blossom had grown into perfection.
Upon a golden dais at one end were King Richard and King Charles clad in glittering silver armour, with Queen Boadicea arrayed in purple, in the centre; whilst St. George stood beside them in shining golden splendour.
Ridgwell and Christine stood beside the Pleasant-Faced Lion upon another dais immediately facing the royal personages. The Lion was no longer a dull, copper green hue; his whole body had changed to the colour of burnished gold and his great mane shone like a sun.
Forty children dressed in the vermilion and black of Beef-eaters from the Tower with halberts in their hands, lined the way up the shallow golden steps to each dais, twenty upon either side.
The Lion gave his last orders for the ceremony—
"Gamble, Grin, Grub, and Carry-on-Merry, sound the Merry Fanfare on your silver trumpets!"
The four little lions gaily arrayed in scarlet and gold advanced into the centre of the great space and executed a remarkable fanfare, which without being entirely a march, or wholly a waltz, was nevertheless delightful to listen to.
Immediately a procession of the most lovely children entered, dressed in every brilliant costume imaginable.
The delicious fragrance of the scented golden mist, diffused from the two fountains, filled the air as the happy and beautiful children, boys and girls, danced into the pavilion. They all paused to bow to the Royalty present, and St. George; then they advanced to where Ridgwell and Christine stood beside the Pleasant-Faced Lion.
They greeted the Lion as an old acquaintance and blew him kisses as they passed.
As they moved along, glittering in costly silks and satins, winding in and out with the changing colours of a rainbow, Ridgwell spoke to the Lion—
"Lal, Christine and I have never seen so many lovely children before. Surely these are not the stray ragged children of London? Why, their faces are the colour of the new roses that are falling everywhere about us, and look how bright their eyes are!"
The Lion smiled, then pointed to the scented golden spray being showered from the two fountains.
"They look lovely as you see them," said the Lion, "because perpetual health, and love, and happiness are being diffused upon them from the fountains. Outside they were different," continued the Lion; "but here the dark circles disappear from beneath their eyes, which become bright and full of love, as they ought to be, the little puckers of care and want are sponged out of their faces by the spray from the fountain. The pallor of their faces changes to rosy health and beauty as it should; the pinched look many of them wear, gives place to roundness and the happy laughing curves of childhood that doesn't know or reckon of any care."
"But, Lal, where do all these wonderful things come from?" questioned Ridgwell; "the great canopy, the golden carpet, all the costumes and the jewels?"
The Lion chuckled. "They all come out of the fountains, straight from the warehouses of the merchants. The Dolphins bring them. Everything comes from the fountains."
"You see," proceeded the Lion, "there is going to be plenty to eat and drink and everything of the best." Once again the Lion pointed towards the two fountains: "See the eight golden dolphins with their golden trays, they hand up delicious cakes, the best fruit, ices, lemonade, chocolates, sandwiches, anything you want."
"Shall we have some of those delightful things to eat too?" asked Ridgwell.
"Oh, be reassured, my child," smiled the Lion, "the Dolphins won't forget either you or Christine, they will dance up to you with their trays filled with everything you want."
"If all those other children look so very beautiful, what do we look like?" Ridgwell asked the Lion in a whisper. "You see there are no looking-glasses, are there?"
For the first time the children remembered to look at one another.
Christine was the first to speak, and it was with a cry of great delight she turned to Ridgwell—
"Oh, Ridgie, you are lovely," said Christine.
"Course he is," said the Lion.
"I don't know about that," said Ridgwell hesitatingly. "I think you have made a mistake in the excitement."
"I've not," insisted Christine; "why, you look like a beautiful little Prince."
Here Ridgwell, who, overcome with modesty at these tributes, had been examining his jewelled shoe-buckles with downcast eyes, looked up at his sister.
"Well, how about you?" exclaimed Ridgwell. "Why, you look like a lovely fairy queen——"
"Course she does," said the Lion.
"Don't be silly, Ridgie," said Christine, severely.
"I'm not," asserted Ridgwell. "I've never seen you look like that. Perhaps," added Ridgwell, "these glittering orders we wear round our necks have something to do with it."
"You're right," said the Lion, "the priceless Order of Great Imagination enables you to see everything that is beautiful as it really is, and, of course, everything here is beautiful, so," added the Lion logically, "why should you both be different from anything else?"
The Lion beckoned to one of the Dolphins.
"Here," said the Lion, as the Dolphin approached them, "hold up your burnished golden tray and let the boy see himself."
The Dolphin held up the polished tray and Ridgwell looked into it wonderingly.
"My goodness," said the Lion, "I thought girls were vain, but boys are worse!"
"That can't be me," said Ridgwell.
"Well, it isn't me," grumbled the Lion, "that's certain."
Christine peeped over the shoulder of Ridgwell's golden tunic.
"It's like us," said Christine, "but yet it isn't us at all."
"That is what people always say when they see their own photographs for the first time," observed the Lion wisely. "Ha!" broke off the Lion, "here come the dogs."
"Have you placed the two long troughs at the far end for them?" demanded the Lion.
"Yes," chorussed the little lions.
"What have you filled them with?" questioned the Lion.
"Finest mutton and chicken bones in one," laughed Carry-on-Merry, "water in the other."
"Have you remembered their special strip of comfortable carpet?" asked the Lion anxiously.
"It's there," grinned Carry-on-Merry.
"Why are the stray dogs to have a strip of special comfortable carpet?" asked Christine.
"Because they like to pick the bones afterwards upon the carpet," said the Lion; "it's a little habit of theirs, and they are not so highly trained as we are."
A most extraordinary procession now made its appearance before them. The children might have thought it was a Noah's Ark, only the dogs advanced in fours. Newfoundlands, St. Bernards, Mastiffs, Retrievers, every conceivable dog down to tiny fox terriers, Spaniels and Yorkshire terriers. They all looked very happy and their coats shone as if they had been lately washed and had afterwards dried themselves in the golden rays of the warm sun, which even now seemed to linger over them.
"Lovely creatures," said Christine.
"Ripping," said Ridgwell, "they are dears."
"Started to munch their bones already," grunted the Lion. "Well, they're not so highly educated as we are. A party to them is a party, and they don't wait for anybody, which, after all, is the proper thing to do. Where's the Griffin?" demanded the Lion of Carry-on-Merry, after that intelligent creature, having acted like a verger (a habit he had probably acquired from a life-long proximity to Westminster Abbey), had shown all the dogs to their places along one side where the comfortable carpet formed a sort of aisle.
"Ha! Ha! Ha!" laughed Carry-on-Merry, "the Griffin is late."
"He's always late," grumbled the Lion, "his head's weak, and he never can remember what time a party starts."
"Here he comes," grunted Carry-on-Merry, "and, oh! my goodness, what does he look like?"
"Absolutely ludicrous as usual," said the Lion.
The Griffin presented an intensely comical appearance. Wishing to keep up the dignity of the City, he had chosen for his party-dress a scarlet Lord Mayor's robe, edged with fur, which he had folded around himself in an exceedingly ridiculous fashion.
Upon his head, as he believed it to be becoming, he had placed jauntily sideways, an immense green dunce's cap from one of the children's giant crackers, which the Griffin had pulled as he entered the doors.
The Griffin had decided to adorn his front feet with strips of scarlet flannel, because he declared that he had chilblains, and furthermore, his paws were exceedingly tender after his encounter upon the previous evening with St. George.
It was thus that the Griffin ambled in trailing his Lord Mayor's robes behind him, and smiling aimlessly from right to left upon everybody present.
"Has everybody missed me?" sniggered the Griffin. "I fear I'm late!"
"Nobody has missed you at all," retorted the Pleasant-Faced Lion.
The Griffin looked hurt for a moment.
"Oh, surely, Lal," entreated the Griffin; "surely some one missed me!"
"No," said the Lion firmly.
The corners of the Griffin's mouth trembled.
"Now then," said the Lion, sternly, "no emotion."
"No! no! Lal," faltered the Griffin, "but when I think of that lovely saying, 'Everybody's Loved by Some one'——"
"There are exceptions to every rule," snapped the Lion.
"Oh," sniggered the Griffin, "then it does apply even to me, for I myself am an exception. There is only one of me," ended the Griffin eagerly, "only one in all London."
"Some things don't bear repeating," said the Lion.
The Griffin's weak memory came to his aid at this awkward moment:
"That must particularly apply to your last remark," simpered the Griffin.
"You have heard somebody else say that," objected the Lion.
"True," sniggered the Griffin, "and it will not be the first time that the remembrance of other people's sayings have passed for wit; and I have always so longed to be a wit," sighed the Griffin. "Don't you think, Lal, that I might one day be a wit?" inquired the Griffin anxiously.
"No," said the Lion, "I don't; you have none of the necessary qualifications."
Once again the Griffin's mouth trembled piteously.
"Oh, Lal," implored the Griffin, "think, only think again."
"I couldn't," answered the Lion, "some things don't bear thinking about."
The Griffin, with two tears trembling in his eyes, clasped his flannel-wrapped foreclaws together beseechingly and changed the nature of his supplication:
"Very well, Lal, then perhaps as you have never seen me act, I might arrange some theatricals and amuse the children and the company present. Of course," simpered the Griffin, "I should play the chief funny part myself; wouldn't it be wonderful if I played the chief funny part myself?"
The Lion looked at the Griffin contemplatively for a second: "You will never be funnier than you are now," remarked the Lion, "and we are not going to have any theatricals at all, the children are going to dance."
"The very thing," agreed the Griffin. "I will lead them; I dance so beautifully."
"No," said the Lion firmly, "if any one leads them it will be Carry-on-Merry, but they won't want any leading at all. The best thing you can do is to keep quite quiet and make yourself useful."
"Oh, Lal, don't ask me to be useful," shuddered the Griffin. "It is such a dreadful word, and anybody can be useful."
"You think so," said the Lion, as he smiled his wisest smile.
"I must be something far better than that," remonstrated the Griffin, "and it has just struck me that I had better go round and find out from everybody what they would like me to do," and the Griffin moved off eagerly to gather the opinions of everybody present as to this most interesting point which concerned him so closely.
"Always dying to show off," grunted the Lion. "You can see in the Griffin the absolute type of one who being weak in the head and totally unable to do anything, is nevertheless always longing to show off before others, who are cleverer than himself."
"Perhaps he will find somebody who wants him to do something," suggested Ridgwell, hopefully; "but why didn't he want to be useful?"
"Because the poor Griffin believes himself to be extremely ornamental, and therefore, like all conceited people, he will never be able to see himself as he is in reality. He wishes to lead before he has been able to learn."
Carry-on-Merry, Gamble, Grin, and Grub had by this time fixed up a strangely decorated Maypole; it was nothing less than St. George's Pillar, but so bedecked with hanging flowers and brilliant silken corded ribbons that the children had some difficulty in recognising it again.
Then the four laughing lions could be seen racing along with a most wonderful piano-organ, into which Gamble, Grin, and Grub were harnessed, whilst Carry-on-Merry turned the handle.
It must at once be admitted that this particular musical instrument differed very considerably from any piano-organ ever heard in the streets, and it could never have come anywhere from the neighbourhood of Saffron Hill.
It discoursed the sweetest music in the nature of a dance tune that was irresistible, and the feet of all the children present started in time to it simultaneously.
"Now, Ridgwell," said the Lion, "take Christine and dance with her. Or would you sooner stay here and look on at the sight?"
"I shall do both," asserted Ridgwell, "dance first and look on afterwards."
"Good," assented the Lion; "an able definition of eating your cake and having it at the same time. Off you go then."
"Won't the Kings, Boadicea, and St. George dance too?" asked Christine.
"No, George doesn't dance," said the Lion, "neither do the Royalty; they graciously look on. I don't dance either, I do not consider it dignified, so I sit here, conduct the ceremony, and beat time to the music with my paw."
That dance was the wildest, gladdest, merriest thing the children ever remembered, and the threads of golden light filtering through the flash of the coloured costumes as they wound in and out, added tints of splendour as of an ancient pageant.
Who could keep from dancing to such an exquisite tune, and who could help being glad when ropes of lovely flowers were being twined round lovelier childish faces, flower-like themselves, flushed with gay excitement, with perfect health, with gladness?
Ribbons of changing light they threaded in and out, round and through, no one could tell how many times, and over all the golden scented dew of perfect health and beauty fell from the two fountains upon the up-turned faces.
It is true the Griffin made several ineffectual attempts to break through the laughing, whirling ring, under the impression that the circle was incomplete without him, but Gamble, Grin, and Grub were always at hand to pull him back, and prevent this amiable but mistaken intrusion.
From the piano-organ which he turned so gaily, Carry-on-Merry found it was necessary to caution the Griffin after his last frantic attempt to break through the ring of dancing children.
"I want to dance," urged the Griffin.
"I think you want a keeper," grinned Carry-on-Merry, "or a policeman or something, to keep you in order."
The Griffin turned pale.
"Oh! no," implored the Griffin, "not a policeman."
"Well, then, behave," grinned Carry-on-Merry.
"Very well," sulked the Griffin, "as I am not wanted I think I shall go home and give a party to myself."
"Don't go," grinned Carry-on-Merry, "I have thought of something you could do presently."
The Griffin flushed with delight.
"Will it be something grand?" asked the Griffin breathlessly, "something that will show me off, something that will make me talked about, something so big that it won't be like anything else?"
"Rather," grinned Carry-on-Merry; "you bet it won't be like anything else, at least," added Carry-on-Merry truthfully, "it won't be like anything else I have ever known."
"Oh, thank you, thank you," gushed the Griffin. "I could swoon with joy, I feel so overwrought that I shall go to one of the fountains and ask the dear Dolphins for some light refreshment."
"No, you don't," instantly objected Carry-on-Merry, "the dance is nearly over, and the children are all going there immediately; you would only be in the way, but," added Carry-on-Merry, with a wicked twinkle in his eyes, "I have a much finer idea than that."
"Really?" inquired the Griffin. "Really a fine idea?"
"Ripping," responded Carry-on-Merry, as he mysteriously produced from an inside pocket of his royal scarlet coat a big white damask dinner napkin.
"What can it be for?" simpered the Griffin; "and will it help to show me off to advantage?" he anxiously inquired.
"Rather," said Carry-on-Merry. "Listen! Put this dinner napkin over your face, sit in a corner and go to sleep. Now the most remarkable thing you could do in an assembly like this to attract attention, would be to go to sleep."
The Griffin for a moment looked dubious. "Then," said Carry-on-Merry with a still more wicked gleam in his mischievous eyes, "I will tell every one that you are 'The Sleeping Beauty' and everybody will immediately want to see you."
"How lovely," sighed the Griffin, "and I shall look the part and be the part; in fact," added the Griffin, "I shall be the thing of the evening."
"You will," rejoined Carry-on-Merry enigmatically, "but that is not all. When I wake you up at last, of course all the children will laugh."
"What at?" inquired the Griffin suspiciously.
"Why, for joy at the discovery."
"Humph!" debated the Griffin, "only joy—not admiration?"
"Oh, yes," glibly replied Carry-on-Merry, "admiration, of course, and the sheer beauty of the thing. Ha! ha! ha!"
"Yes, yes," eagerly interrupted the Griffin, "sheer beauty sounds better, sounds more like me."
"Of course it does," laughed Carry-on-Merry. "Then perhaps I shall ask you to sing."
"Oh! Carry-on-Merry," faltered the Griffin in a broken voice, "you have touched my heart—that is the very thing I was waiting for somebody to ask me to do. To sing," rhapsodised the Griffin—"to be like one of those great singers out of the opera, to pour out one's heart tones, to be gazed at by every eye, to be listened to by every ear, to be the adored of all. How can I thank you? How can I repay you?"
"Don't, please," implored Carry-on-Merry, who appeared to be choking inwardly, "don't thank me any more now, I can't bear it—some other time."
"Yet stay," cried the Griffin, with unexpected and dramatic suddenness, "who is going to kiss me?"
"Kiss you?" echoed Carry-on-Merry blankly, "kiss you? Good gracious! I give it up."
"Yet," pondered the Griffin, "somebody had to kiss the Sleeping Beauty!"
"You won't find anybody to do it," said Carry-on-Merry decisively.
"Why not?" asked the Griffin sharply.
"I mean," amended Carry-on-Merry, "nobody could be found for the moment of sufficient importance."
"Oh, I see," replied the Griffin, "yet perhaps Boadicea would oblige."
"Out of the question," said Carry-on-Merry. "Besides you know she never takes part in any—any—er—festivities at all."
"True," lamented the Griffin, "and yet assuredly I must be kissed for the thing to be natural."
Carry-on-Merry turned away his head, for Carry-on-Merry almost felt that he could not trust himself to speak at that moment. Then one of his many bright ideas occurred to him. "I know," rapidly explained Carry-on-Merry, "I have it; I will find some important personage present to give you a rap."
"Where?" moaned the Griffin, "not on my knuckles. You know I cannot stand anything of that nature on my knuckles."
"No—no——" grinned Carry-on-Merry. "I mean a tap, just a little tap."
"I see," agreed the Griffin. "Very well, one little tap, a tap as dainty as if a feather had brushed me in my sleep."
"Or a floating piece of thistledown," laughed Carry-on-Merry.
"Oh yes," said the Griffin. "Thistledown sounds more romantic, and then I shall wake from my dream."
"I don't think myself you ever will," observed Carry-on-Merry, quite as if he were thinking of something else.
"What!" said the Griffin. "Never wake?"
"Yes, yes," interrupted Carry-on-Merry hastily, "but you have to go to sleep first, you know, and you had better hurry up whilst the children are eating, then you won't be observed."
"But I want to be observed," objected the Griffin.
"Of course you do," insisted Carry-on-Merry, "but that comes later on. Go at once."
The amiable Griffin departed accordingly to carry out his part of the programme, and forthwith lumped himself in a distant corner, with the grace of a camel who had found sudden and unexpected opportunities of benefiting his health through sleep. From this slumber the Griffin found it necessary to rouse himself after a little while, upon hearing the children all shouting his name. The entire party having partaken of the delightful refreshments provided according to the various requirements of their constitutions, were watching a moving series of cinematograph pictures of London.
One of the great golden spaces of the walls formed the screen, Gamble, Grin and Grub, full of laughter, manipulated the cinematograph machine, whilst Carry-on-Merry gaily pointed out the pictures with a big golden wand.
All the children loved the pictures, for they were faithful portraits of themselves as they appeared every day in the London streets, when they were not arrayed in gorgeous robes for a Princely Party.
The streets they knew only too well but yet they loved them. Were they not always in the streets—were they not passing every day of their lives the very scenes they were now watching flung upon the screen? The picture being shown at the moment the Griffin heard his name called, was a Royal Procession passing Temple Bar.
Instantly the children recognised the Griffin and called him by name.
The Griffin awoke, saw himself being shown upon the moving picture film, and gave a shriek of delight.
"Stop! oh, stop!" shrieked the Griffin, as he ambled across to Carry-on-Merry and seized the Gold Wand. "Please don't hurry past this beautiful picture. Of course," cried the Griffin with a silly laugh, "of course it's me, ME with Royalty passing me. Is it not beautiful?—you can all see for yourselves. I am sitting higher up than Royalty itself. Notice the way the Royal personages bow and laugh as they pass me."
"They laugh right enough," agreed Carry-on-Merry.
"Eh?" said the Griffin suspiciously.
"The Griffin ought to have been a showman," observed the Pleasant-Faced Lion.
"Now we pass on to the next picture," called Carry-on-Merry.
"Oh, don't hurry," implored the Griffin. "Don't pass the most beautiful of all the pictures in such haste."
"Next picture," laughed Carry-on-Merry.
The Griffin, after bestowing a hurt look upon Carry-on-Merry, retired, and again composed himself for sleep.
His slumber this time was not destined to be of long duration.
A grey sombre figure suddenly strode into the brilliant flower-draped pavilion; a slouch hat made the figure look very sinister, and a sword clanked at his side.
The figure strode on and scowled darkly at King Richard sitting gracefully upon his charger. "Ho! ho!" called the sombre man in a loud voice. "Ho! ho!" he repeated with a mirthless laugh.
King Richard neither moved not took the faintest notice.
On strode the figure towards King Charles seated upon his charger, and who was regarding the children with the pleasantest expression possible.
"Ha!" shouted the figure as it strode along. "Ha! I say, Ha!"
King Charles still smiled gravely and took no notice. The striding figure that shouted "Ha!" might never have uttered a word for all the notice King Charles took of him.
"Ha!" shouted the figure for the last time.
Then, seeing that nobody took any notice of him, the figure looked glum, and folding his arms espied the Griffin peacefully asleep, the white dinner napkin covering his fond, foolish face, waiting to be awakened, so the Griffin fondly hoped—awakened by a gentle tap as Beauty. The Griffin's slumber seemed to annoy the sombre man intensely, for without uttering a syllable he drew his sword and smote the Griffin hard upon the red flannel paws that were folded with a view to pictorial effect beside the Griffin's covered face.
There was a shriek of anguish, and the Griffin awoke.
The pain the Griffin suffered from the blow upon his tender paws was as nothing compared to the blow to the Griffin's feelings when he realised that his ineffably touching picture of the Sleeping Beauty had been spoiled for the evening. A great surge of sudden hatred swept over the Griffin at the swaggering intruder who had dared to strike him, and simultaneously the Griffin remembered something he had once heard said by a man in blue wearing a helmet close to where he always stood in Fleet Street.
The Griffin seized Carry-on-Merry's golden wand for the second time that evening and approached the sombre man of the top boots and the slouch hat menacingly. "Move on," shouted the Griffin, giving a lifelike imitation of the man in blue with a helmet. "Move on, d'ye hear?"
The sombre figure backed a little way in astonishment.
"Move on," said the Griffin, "out of this; we don't want you here. Orff you go!" The sombre figure retreated a little more. "If I catch you here again," said the Griffin pompously, "I will run you in; no loafing here!" The sombre man gave one scowl, sheathed his sword with a clank, and hurriedly took his departure without once looking back or uttering any further remark.
"Bravo!" muttered the Lion, "that is the first useful thing the Griffin has done all the evening."
"Who was that dismal looking man muffled up like a brigand?" asked Ridgwell.
The Lion smiled. "That was Oliver Cromwell. He came to try and spoil the party."
"Why?" asked Ridgwell.
"He doesn't like the extravagance," said the Lion; "he hates any display, and cannot bear to see children happy."
"Thank you, Griffin," said Christine.
"Listen, all of you," simpered the Griffin, "some one has thanked me. Oh! Fancy anybody thanking me. Has everybody heard me publicly thanked?" asked the Griffin anxiously.
"Yes, everybody," said the Lion; "we don't want any more of it."
The Griffin looked sulky.
"As long as everybody knows what I did," said the Griffin. "Nobody else thought of doing it. Do you think it was better than my being the Sleeping Beauty?" inquired the Griffin eagerly.
"Yes," replied the Lion, "it was more realistic."
"Fancy that, more realistic! how beautiful!" and the Griffin sidled away, sniggering with self-gratified pride at his own achievement.
"I am afraid," explained the Lion to Christine and Ridgwell, "that he intends to sing."
"But can he sing?" inquired Ridgwell.
"No," said the Lion, "it is a wretched performance; yet, like all other people who cannot really sing, he is dying to be asked to do so, and I feel sure that some one will be misguided enough to ask him. You see," explained the Lion, "the Griffin cannot sing in tune, but like most people afflicted in the same way, he is totally unconscious of his failing, and really believes his own singing to be quite beautiful."
Christine and Ridgwell both laughed. "It must be very funny," they said.
"It is so funny," answered the Lion, "and so deplorable at the same time that it is almost beyond a joke."
Almost before the Lion had finished speaking Carry-on-Merry, with a particularly wicked laugh, danced to the centre of the bright ball-room and said he thought that perhaps the Griffin might be persuaded to sing.
"I thought so," groaned the Lion.
The Griffin gurgled with pleasure, and immediately started to look coy, and playfully tap the golden carpet spread upon the ground with his forepaws, as if he had suddenly discovered some new beauty in the pattern of the luxurious floor covering.
"Really," said the Griffin, "I do not think I could. Oh! really no."
"Showing off," grunted the Lion; "he'll sing in the end, safe enough. Worse luck!"
"With all these beautiful singers here," smirked the Griffin, "to ask me. Oh!—really!"
"Oh, please sing," everybody murmured politely.
"Oh—oh!—really," simpered the Griffin, trying in vain to blush. "You see, I am not perhaps in my usual form."
"What on earth will it be like, then?" ventured the Lion.
"I am sure you will honour and delight the company," laughed Carry-on-Merry, with his wickedest laugh.
"Besides," demurred the Griffin hesitatingly, "I have two chilblains and such tender paws, I don't think I could really."
"We did not ask you to play," interrupted the Lion shortly.
"No, no," replied the Griffin hastily, "to sing—I understand. Yes, to sing. Oh—fancy asking me to sing. Well, well, perhaps a few bars."
"Now we are in for it," said the Lion, "and I don't suppose you will ever hear anything like it again."
"I do so want to hear the Griffin," said Ridgwell, "and I really cannot think what it will be like."
"Like?" echoed the Lion, "it will be like the effect of the first early gooseberries of the year without sugar or milk; it will be like slate pencils squeaking upon slates; like a trombone that somebody is learning to play for the first time. However, nothing short of an earthquake will stop him now, for, as I tell you, he is simply dying to sing the moment he thinks anybody at all will listen to him, and that he can show off. However," added the Lion, "when it gets beyond all human endurance, I make a sign to Richard I. Now the Griffin is terribly frightened of Richard I."
"Why?" asked both the children.
"Because the Griffin is afraid that Richard will advance and hit him on the paws with the big sword he carries."
"And will he?" asked the children.
"Yes," said the Lion, "if it gets too bad."
Everybody stopped talking now, for the Griffin, after much further pressing, had made up his mind what he was going to sing. He decided to make a start in a key which was indescribable, and with a voice that resembled the twanging of a banjo that had not been tuned.
And thus the Griffin sang—
"Of a merry, merry king I will relate Who owned much silver, gold and plate, And wishing to be up-to-date Within his city, Placed a handsome Griffin outside the gate, A creature pretty.
"Yet one thing, the merry, merry king forgot That it would be his Griffin's lot To be very, very cold, or very, very hot, High up in Fleet Street. So slowly the faithful creature got Chilblains upon his feet.
"The Griffin grew prettier day by day Directing the traffic along each way, With always a pleasant word to say All along Fleet Street. One trouble alone caused him dismay, His very tender feet.
"Oh! my poor tender feet! Of what use are England's laws, Unless they protect my claws And keep me warm in the street? Nothing so young and fair, Ever sniffed Fleet Street air, Ever sang like the Dove— And—All that I ask is love."
At this point the Griffin was so overcome by his own performance that he burst into tears; and despite the excessive hilarity of every one present, to say nothing of Carry-on-Merry, who was rolling upon the floor in his mirth, the Griffin continued to sob, and from time to time wiped away the big tears that rolled down his cheeks with the fur upon the Lord Mayor's mantle that he wore.
"It always affects me," sobbed the Griffin.
"Yes," answered the Lion, "it has affected all of us strangely."
"Nearly been the death of me," gulped Carry-on-Merry.
"I think I will go home now," said the Griffin, as he surreptitiously wiped away the last tears and prepared to depart.
"Oh, don't think of leaving us yet," said the Lion.
"Very well," sniffed the Griffin; "perhaps I may be asked to sing again."
"Not if I know it," whispered the Lion in an undertone; "one performance of that nature is quite sufficient for one evening."
At this moment Carry-on-Merry announced that the dogs, wishing to return thanks for the general pleasantness of the party, and being unable to sing themselves, had deputed one of their number, a most intelligent bob-tail sheep-dog, to compose an ode.
This particular dog, it was thought, had some claims as a poet, since he was a lineal descendant of the canine companion who invariably accompanied Robert Burns in all his wanderings.
The three laughing little lions would now sing the ode the bob-tailed sheep-dog had composed, with the general permission of the company.
"Let us hear it," said the Lion.
"Oh! fancy singing after me," remarked the Griffin.
"Yes," agreed the Lion, "it shows great courage."
Gamble, Grin, and Grub arranged themselves in order, and Gamble commenced—
"Cross Chelsea Bridge, by Chelsea town There is a place called Battersea. The very name to Christian dog's Will make them shudder fearfully."
Here Grin took up the solo.
"A place where gloomy prison doors Do shut up homeless dogs If ever they get lost, or stray During the London fogs."
Grub hereupon came forward.
"When once inside that citadel Within three days or four, They send you to a dreadful room Where you never bark no more."
Then came the Chorus—
"Pleasant-Faced Lion, our thanks to thee For having avoided Battersea."
"Very well sung," admitted the Lion. "I suppose that, being always so close to Westminster Abbey, the little lions have taken some useful hints from what they have heard going on inside.
"The time has come for the party to finish," announced the Pleasant-Faced Lion, "but before it is ended——"
"Has it got to end now?" Ridgwell asked wistfully.
"Everything has to come to an end some time," replied the Lion quietly, "from ices and parties to empires and the world. However," he added encouragingly, "one can always look forward to some possible and pleasant continuation of almost everything, although, perhaps, on different, not to say advanced lines. Before you children go I shall be able to show you the most wonderfully coloured transformation scene you have ever witnessed. Watch carefully the long wall of the Pavilion which you are facing," commanded the Lion.
Carry-on-Merry romped up at this moment laughing as merrily as when the evening commenced.
"Time?" inquired Carry-on-Merry.
The Pleasant-Faced Lion nodded.
"Yes, now," he said.
Slowly the golden wall and the roof with its masses of brilliantly hanging flowers seemed to fade away.
The children knew it was Trafalgar Square they were looking at once again, yet a Trafalgar Square transformed out of all resemblance to its usual familiar aspect.
As the walls appeared to drop before their eyes a brilliant golden bungalow palace with the children dressed as Scarlet Beefeaters grouped down its shining steps glimmered through the rose-pink light in which they beheld it. Surely it could not be the National Gallery!
All the children present passed and repassed before it in their dazzling costumes, making vivid splashes of colour, as changeful and as fascinating as a kaleidoscope.
The fountains still sprayed their mists of violet, amethyst and gold.
"Mark the changing colours well," said the Lion, "and take in all the picture well, for you will not see it ever like this again."
The happy fresh voices of the children were still singing with a rare outburst of melody—
"Pleasant-Faced Lion, our thanks to thee, For all your hospitality."
"Amen!" said the Lion. "Come, Ridgwell and Christine, jump on!" commanded the Lion, as he sank down in order to enable the two children to get on his back. "Home now!"
Both the children looked back many times, of course. They saw the golden bungalow palace for the last time in all its changing lights. Noticed that Queen Boadicea stood majestically upon the topmost step with King Richard upon one side of her and King Charles upon the other. St. George stood with his armour flashing a few steps below. The four merry dogs were gathered around him, whilst Carry-on-Merry was resting his laughing head in one of St. George's hands.
The coloured lights grew paler, a mist danced before their eyes, then twinkled and disappeared.
"It is gone," said Ridgwell, "and oh! how dark the streets look now!"
"But what a party," said Christine.
"And what a feast," added Ridgwell.
"Yes," replied the Lion philosophically, "it is really remarkable how times have changed. In the olden days, long, long ago, everything was reversed. For instance, it was the Lions who were then provided with the feast, and the children who were eaten."
"Horrid!" shivered Ridgwell. "You mean, Lal, those wicked Roman Emperors who let the poor Christians be eaten?"
"My child," announced the Lion gravely, "free meals have invariably been productive of much unpleasant discussion and inquiries afterwards. But see now," he added coaxingly, "the perfect state of perfection the world has arrived at. The Pleasant Lions give the banquet themselves now. Every single thing to-night was provided by Lions. I gave the party—I, the Pleasant-Faced Lion. The four laughing lions from Westminster helped. Richard Coeur-de-Lion presided, and Messrs. Lyons provided all the refreshments."
"Any rate, Lal," observed Ridgwell, "although Christine and I both love you, of course—lions must have been very cruel and savage once, otherwise they wouldn't have thought of eating anybody, would they?"
"Ah, my little boy," replied the Pleasant-Faced Lion softly, "if you were kept without food for days and days I wonder what you would do."
"Tuck in like mad the first chance I got," announced Ridgwell with conviction.
"Perhaps the lions did the same thing," observed Lal gently. "However, I feel I cannot offer any excuse for their past conduct; yet," continued the Pleasant-Faced Lion wisely, as he jogged contentedly on, homewards towards Balham, "I have a fair proposition to make to you, although it may seem somewhat in the nature of a riddle to you both at the present moment."
"What is it?" asked the children in a breath.
"Suppose," said the Lion—"I only say suppose—both of you ever had a chance of eating me, of—ahem! in short, devouring your old friend Lal, would you do it?" asked the Lion, with an odd tremble in his voice.
The question seemed to be so odd, not to mention out of place, that both the children laughed.
"Why, Lal," chuckled Ridgwell, "how ridiculous you are. How could Christine or myself ever possibly eat even a little bit of you?"
"No," answered the Lion, "I believe you are both little Christian children, and yet," he added with a sigh, "you might both become Pagans."
"What's a Pagan?" asked Ridgwell.
Again the Lion sighed. "My child," he said, "you have a very great deal to learn, and among the many things at present hidden from you is the fact that both you and Christine will see me once again and once only."
"Where?" asked the children.
"At your home in Balham."
"Good gracious," said Ridgwell, "will you knock at the hall door?"
"No," said the Pleasant-Faced Lion.
"Or appear sitting in the raspberry bushes in the garden?" ventured Christine. "If so, you will spoil them, you know!"
"No," said the Lion, "certainly not."
"Then how will you come?" asked Ridgwell.
"You will see me again once more," asserted the Lion, "in three days from now, and moreover inside your own home."
"Three days from now is Ridge's birthday," ventured Christine; "of course, it would be very nice to see you, but I do wonder how you will come, and I do wonder how we shall be able to explain you away."
The Pleasant-Faced Lion laughed his gruffest laugh.
"I don't think you could very well explain me away, little Christine."
"Suppose you sat on the hearth-rug and people seemed a little distant or awkward?" commenced Ridgwell.
"Yes," broke in Christine, "or some of those dreadful long pauses occurred when nobody speaks and every one looks at every one else and feels uncomfortable—would you say something?"
"Yes," said the Lion. "I have plenty of tact, but really there won't be any need," and the Pleasant-Faced Lion again chuckled softly to himself.
"There is only one thing I want you to do," said the Pleasant-Faced Lion, and he still seemed to be choked with merriment as if a sudden idea had occurred to him.
"What is it, Lal?" inquired both the children.
"Upon Ridgwell's birthday night, before you both go to bed, I want you, Ridgwell, to remember a little rhyme and say it to yourself."
"A hymn?" asked Ridgwell.
"Not exactly a hymn."
"After we have said our prayers?"
"Certainly," replied the Lion obligingly, "any time before you go to bed will do; will you promise to remember?"
"Of course, Lal."
"Well, this is the little rhyme," whispered the Lion mysteriously; and somehow it seemed to Ridgwell as if the Lion was still laughing at him as he repeated the following extraordinary rhyme—
"Christian child or Pagan child, Which is my denomination, Have I eaten dear old Lal In my birthday celebration?"
Ridgwell repeated the mysterious rhyme after the Lion, then he shook his head.
"Don't understand it, do you?" grinned the Lion.
"Not a bit," answered Ridgwell.
"I give it up, too," said Christine.
"Are you laughing at us, Lal?" inquired Ridgwell anxiously.
"Ah!" said the Lion, "I wonder; however, he who laughs last, laughs last; that saying is true without a doubt; and," he concluded with a chuckle, "I bet you both anything you like that I have the last laugh. In fact, one day when you pass me you may hear me laugh, although I shall never speak to either of you again in public. And that reminds me of something I want to warn both of you about particularly. Never appear to notice me in public or speak to me whenever you chance to pass me in Trafalgar Square; you would only collect a crowd, make me very uncomfortable, and convey the unfortunate impression to everybody within earshot that you were mad. The same thing applies to Carry-on-Merry; he has a most provoking face, and the happy laugh always to be seen upon it might tempt you both to suppose that he was listening; now mind you never give way to the temptation of addressing either of us in public, and never refer to anything that has happened even in private, for you will only be misunderstood. Remember," concluded the Lion, "that the Great Order of Imagination is only given to a very few people; those who do not possess it do not understand it. See, your own has faded already!"