John Dough and the Cherub/Chapter 14
Chick met him at the door. "There's less of you than ever," said the child, looking him over carefully. "Your coat tails are gone now." "Yes," said the gingerbread man, "a macaw ate them a few minutes ago. But there will be even less of me in another minute. Have you a knife, Chick?" "What are you going to do?" asked the Cherub, with sudden interest. "I'm going to save the Princess before I'm gone entirely," said John, with decision. "Not that I have overcome my dislike to being eaten, you understand, but if a black Mifket and a foolish bird find it so easy to feast upon my person, Ali Dubh is sure to get me in time, and before that happens I want to do one good deed, and help the little girl to regain her strength and health." "Good!" exclaimed Chick, approvingly. "You're all right, John Dough, even if it did take you a long time to make up your mind. But we haven't any knife." "What shall we do?" John asked, anxiously. "Can't we break off a chunk of you?" the Cherub inquired. "No!" replied the man, with a shudder. "Wait a minute!" cried Chick, "I've an idea." Away trotted the chubby legs, and presently the child returned with a long, slender leaf, plucked from one of the strange forest plants. "This'll saw gingerbread all right, I'm sure. Hold out your hand, John Dough!" John turned away his head and held out his left hand--the one from which Black Ooboo had eaten the finger. "There! It's all over. Did it hurt?" asked Chick. "No." John looked at the arm where his hand had been. "It isn't much worse than it was before," said the child. "You'll never miss it in the world. Now wait here while I go to the Princess." After Chick had vanished into the girl's dwelling the gingerbread man gave a sigh of relief. "It wasn't as bad as I feared," he said to himself; "but I'm glad the ordeal is over. If I take good care of myself hereafter, and manage to escape from Ali Dubh, I can get along very well without the gingerbread I have lost." The Princess slept sweetly that night, after her supper of gingerbread, and the next morning was so fresh and bright, and had so pretty a color to her cheeks, that Chick hugged her delightedly, and John Dough was proud and glad to think his small sacrifice had wrought such good results. Together they strolled into the forest, along the banks of the stream, and presently met Pittypat. "Be careful where you go," said the rabbit, in a worried tone. "The Arab is after John Dough, and I hear that Black Ooboo has determined to destroy the little man with the red whiskers and the fat woman with the corkscrew curls, who are the father and mother of our Princess." "Are you sure?" asked the girl, clasping her hands in real terror. "There's no doubt of it," Pittypat replied. "And I'm not sure but the Princess will share their fate. These are troublesome times, since the Arab arrived and Black Ooboo became king." "There's the boat," said Chick, turning to the girl; "can't your parents escape in that?" "They have always said they would use the boat to leave the island, if there was any danger," answered the Princess. "But the ocean is so big and the boat so very little that they did not like to make such a voyage unless it became necessary." "Well, it seems to be necessary now," said John. "But what will become of the rest of us? The boat will only hold two." "It might hold me as well as my parents, if the water was calm," said the girl; "but I will not escape and leave you and Chick to your fate. Unless we can find some way to save us all I will let my parents escape alone in the boat." "That's foolish," said Chick. "You go in the boat. John Dough and I will get along all right." But this the Princess refused to do, and after a long discussion the rabbit decided to go and consult a gray owl which was renowned for its wisdom. The others walked up to Para Bruin's cave, and the first thing the bear said was: "Look out for yourselves. Black Ooboo has ordered all the humans on this island to be killed, and the Mifkets are arming themselves with long sticks, to which they have bound sharp thorns torn from a tree in the forest. The gingerbread man is to be eaten, I understand, so there's likely to be an end of all of you, very soon." "Is there no way to escape?" asked John. "None that I can think of," said the bear. "But you can depend upon my assistance, if there is anything I can do. How well the Princess looks to-day!" "Yes," answered John, proudly; "she's been eating some of my gingerbread." Hearing this, Para Bruin gave John a grateful hug; and then he hugged the Princess and even Chick, so happy did the bear feel at the girl's recovery. Then he bounced for them several times, rolling himself down hill against the flat rock and then bounding high into the air. But the little Princess was worried and anxious about her parents, so the party soon bade good bye to Para Bruin and started to return to their dwellings. The forest seemed very quiet and peaceful as they walked along, and they had almost forgotten their fears, when, just as they reached the banks of the brook, a sudden sound of shouting fell upon their ears, mingled with the wail of human voices. "Oh, dear!" cried the little Princess, wringing her hands in great fear; "the Mifkets have attacked my dear parents, I am sure, and they will both be killed!" John strove to comfort her, but he suspected that the Princess had guessed truly, and that her parents were in great danger. They dared not return to the seashore, for that would mean their own destruction; so they remained hidden in the forest, while the Princess sobbed as if her heart was broken, and John wiped away her tears with her handkerchief. He had one of his own; but it was gingerbread, and would not stand the dampness. Suddenly they heard pattering footfalls, and the white rabbit crouched at their feet. He was panting from a hard run, and his eyes were big and bright. "They are gone!" said he, as soon as he could speak. "Who are gone?" asked John, anxiously. "The red-whiskered man and the woman with the corkscrew curls," replied Pittypat. "The Mifkets chased them to the shore, but they jumped into the boat and rowed away in time to escape. The Mifkets threw sticks at them and Black Ooboo screamed with rage; but the father and mother of our Princess got away without being hurt in the least." This good news greatly pleased the girl, and her anxiety was much relieved. But the gingerbread man had become thoughtful, and asked Pittypat: "What are the Mifkets doing now." "They are getting ready to search the forest for you and Chick and the Princess," was the reply. "The Arab is with them." "This is certainly unpleasant news," remarked the gingerbread man. "Did the gray owl tell you how we may escape?" "The owl sent me to the King of the Fairy Beavers," replied the rabbit, "and he has consented to hide you in his palace. It is a rare favor, I assure you; but the Mifkets cannot reach you there." "A Fairy Beaver!" cried Chick, gleefully; and the Princess asked, wonderingly: "Can a beaver be a fairy?" "Why not?" inquired Pittypat. "All the animals have their fairies, just as you human folks do; and it is lucky for us that the Fairy Beaver lives on this very island. There is only one danger--that the Mifkets find you before I can lead you to the Beaver King. So follow me at once, I implore you, before it is too late!" He turned, with these words, and led them along the river bank at such a swift pace that the Princess could hardly keep up with him. "How far is it?" asked John. "The palace of the beavers is somewhere under the big dam in the river, which is not far away. The King promised to meet us at the waterfall; but he will not allow me to enter, because I am a rabbit, so you must go in alone. But have no fear. The King will allow nothing to harm you." As Pittypat spoke they could hear the distant roar of the waterfall at the beavers' dam. But another sound also fell upon their ears--a sound that quickly renewed their terror--for it was the yells of the approaching Mifkets. Presently the fierce creatures appeared, coming swiftly through the forest. "Hurry!" called Pittypat. "Hurry, or it will be too late!" John picked up a great wooden club that lay near their path, and while Chick and the Princess hurried after the rabbit he stopped and hurled it toward the Mifkets. It fell among them with such force that several were knocked over and many others howled with pain. It did not prevent them from coming on, but they kept at a more respectful distance from the gingerbread man, never doubting they would be able to capture him in time. "This way!" cried the rabbit, leaping down the bank to the side of the river, where they could travel more swiftly. The others followed, and now before them appeared a wide and high sheet of water that fell over the great dam that the beavers had built many years before. They had almost reached it, and Pittypat had called out that he saw the Beaver King waiting behind the waterfall, when the fugitives stopped short with cries of despair. For just before them appeared another band of Mifkets, armed with the thorn sticks, and now they saw that they would be unable to reach their place of refuge. John looked around in desperation. There were Mifkets behind them and Mifkets before them; and on one side was the deep river, and on the other side a steep bank too high for the children to climb. It really seemed to the gingerbread man that they were lost, when suddenly a cry was heard, and looking upward he saw Para Bruin standing upon his high peak and watching them. The bear doubtless saw the danger of his friends, for he called to them: "Look out--I'm coming to the rescue!" Then he quickly curled his great body into a monster ball and rolled swiftly down the side of the mountain that faced them. The Mifkets who were near the waterfall turned. curiously to watch the bear. They had often seen him roll against the flat stone and bound back to his place again, and thought he would do the same thing now. But old Para Bruin was more clever than they suspected. He missed the flat stone altogether and came bounding along at a terrific speed. Before the group of Mifkets, who stood close together near the waterfall, knew what the bear meant to do, old Para's body shot upon them and dashed them in every direction. Some lay stunned upon the ground; but most of them were tumbled into the river, where they struggled frantically to regain the shore. "Quick!" cried Pittypat, "your friend has saved you. But do not lose an instant's time!" The children and the gingerbread man obeyed at once, and in a few steps reached the waterfall. "Creep behind the sheet of water!" commanded the rabbit. "You will find the Beaver King awaiting you. Do as he tells you, and I promise that you will be safe." "Good bye, Pittypat!" called the Princess, as she clung to the damp rocks behind the waterfall. "Good bye!" echoed Chick. "Much obliged to you, Pittypat!" "Good bye!" answered the white rabbit. "Don't forget me." Then he whisked away, and John Dough, shrinking as far from the spray as possible, crept under the waterfall and followed after the little ones.