The Admiral’s Caravan/Chapter V
Being in a garden full of flowers at Christmas-time is a very fine thing; and Dorothy was looking about with great delight, and wondering how it had all happened, when she suddenly caught sight of a big robin walking along one of the paths, and examining the various plants with an air of great interest. He was a very big robin, indeed—in fact, he was about as large as a goose; and he had on a gardener’s hat, and a bright red waistcoat which he was wearing unbuttoned so as to give his fat little chest plenty of room; but the most remarkable thing about him was that he was walking about with his hands in his waistcoat-pockets.
Dorothy had never seen a robin do this before, and she was looking at him in great astonishment, when he chanced to turn around to take a particular look at a large flower, and she saw that he had two caterpillars neatly embroidered on the back of his waistcoat so as to form the letters B. S.
“Now I wonder what B. S. means,” she said to herself with her usual curiosity. “It stands for Brown Sugar, but, of course, it can’t be that. Perhaps it means Best Suit, or Bird Superintendent, or—or—why it must mean Bob Scarlet, to be sure!” and clapping her hands in the joy of this discovery, she ran after the Robin to take a nearer look at him and, if possible, to have a little conversation.
But Bob Scarlet proved to be a very difficult person to get near to. Over and over again Dorothy caught sight of the top of his hat beyond a hedge, or saw the red waistcoat through the bushes; but no matter how quickly she stole around to the spot, he was always gone before she got there, and she would see the hat or the waistcoat far away, in another part of the garden, and would hurry after him only to be disappointed as before. She was getting very tired of this, and was walking around rather disconsolately, when she happened to look at one of the plants, and discovered that little sunbonnets were growing on it in great profusion, like white lilies; and this was such a delightful discovery, and such an exceedingly interesting circumstance, that she instantly forgot all about Bob Scarlet, and started away in great excitement to examine the other plants.
There was a great variety of them, and they all were of the same curious character. Besides the bonnet-bush, there were plants loaded down with little pinafores, and shrubs with small shoes growing all over them, like peas, and delicate vines of thread with button-blossoms on them, and, what particularly pleased Dorothy, a row of pots marked “frock flowers,” and each containing a stalk with a crisp little frock growing on it, like a big tulip upside down.
There were plants loaded down with little pinafores, and shrubs with small shoes growing all over them
“They’re only big enough for dolls,” chattered Dorothy, as she hurried from one to the other, “but, of course, they’ll grow. I s’pose it’s what they call a nursery-garden. Just fancy—” she exclaimed, stopping short and clasping her hands in a rapture,—“just fancy going out to pick an apronful of delightful new stockings, or running out every day to see if your best frock is ripe yet!” And I’m sure I don’t know what she would have said next, but just at this moment she caught sight of a paper lying in the path before her, and, of course, immediately became interested in that.
It was folded something like a lawyer’s document, and was very neatly marked in red ink “memorumdrums”; and after looking at it curiously for a moment, Dorothy said to herself, “It’s prob’bly a wash-list; nothing but two aprons, and four HDKeffs, and ten towels—there’s always such a lot of towels, you know,” and here she picked up the paper; but instead of being a wash-list, she found it contained these verses:
Have Angleworms attractive homes?
Do Bumblebees have brains?
Do Caterpillars carry combs?
Do Dodos dote on drains?
Can Eels elude elastic earls?
Do Flatfish fish for flats?
Are Grigs agreeable to girls?
Do Hares have hunting-hats?
Do Ices make an Ibex ill?
Do Jackdaws jug their jam?
Do Kites kiss all the kids they kill?
Do Llamas live on lamb?
Will Moles molest a mounted mink?
Do Newts deny the news?
Are Oysters boisterous when they drink?
Do Parrots prowl in pews?
Do Quakers get their quills from Quails?
Do Rabbits rob on roads?
Are Snakes supposed to sneer at snails?
Do Tortoises tease toads?
Can Unicorns perform on horns?
Do Vipers value veal?
Do Weasels weep when fast asleep?
Can Xylophagans squeal?
Do Yaks in packs invite attacks?
Are Zebras full of zeal?
P. S. Shake well and recite every morning in a shady place.
“I don’t believe a single one of them, and I never read such stuff!” exclaimed Dorothy, indignantly; and she was just about to throw down the paper when Bob Scarlet suddenly appeared, hurrying along the path, and gazing anxiously from side to side as if he had lost something. As he came upon Dorothy, he started violently, and said “Shoo!” with great vehemence, and then, after staring at her a moment, added, “Oh, I beg your pardon—I thought you were a cat. Have you seen anything of my exercise?”
“Is this it?” said Dorothy, holding up the paper.
“That’s it,” said the Robin, in a tone of great satisfaction. “Shake it hard, please.”
Dorothy gave the paper a good shake, after which Bob Scarlet took it and stuffed it into his waistcoat-pocket, remarking, “It has to be well shaken before I take it, you know.”
“Is that the prescription?” said Dorothy, beginning to laugh.
“No, it’s the postscription,” replied the Robin, very seriously; “but, somehow, I never remember it till I come to it. I suppose it’s put at the end so that I won’t forget it the next time. You see, it’s about the only exercise I have.”
“I should think it was very good exercise,” said Dorothy, trying to look serious again.
“Oh, it’s good enough, what there is of it,” said the Robin, in an offhand way.
“But I’m sure there’s enough of it,” said Dorothy.
“There is enough of it, such as it is,” replied the Robin.
“Such as it is?” repeated Dorothy, beginning to feel a little perplexed. “Why, it’s hard enough, I’m sure. It’s enough to drive a person quite distracted.”
“Well, it’s a corker till you get used to it,” said the Robin, strutting about. “There’s such a tremendous variety to it, you see, that it exercises you all over at once.”
This was so ridiculous that Dorothy laughed outright. “I should never get used to it,” she said. “I don’t believe I know a single one of the answers.”
“I do!” said Bob Scarlet, proudly; “I know ’em all. It’s ‘No’ to everything in it.”
“Dear me!” said Dorothy, feeling quite provoked at herself, “of course it is. I never thought of that.”
“And when you can answer them,” continued the Robin, with a very important air, “you can answer anything.”
Now, as the Robin said this, it suddenly occurred to Dorothy that she had been lost for quite a long time, and that this was a good opportunity for getting a little information, so she said very politely: “Then I wish you’d please tell me where I am.”
“Why, you’re here,” replied the Robin, promptly. “That’s what I call an easy one.”
“But where is it?” said Dorothy.
“Where is what?” said the Robin, looking rather puzzled.
“Why, the place where I am,” said Dorothy.
“That’s here, too,” replied the Robin, and then, looking at her suspiciously, he added, “Come—no chaffing, you know. I won’t have it.”
“But I’m not chaffing,” said Dorothy, beginning to feel a little provoked; “it’s only because you twist the things I say the wrong way.”
“What do you say ’em the wrong way for, then?” said Bob Scarlet, irritably. “Why don’t you get ’em straight?”
“Dear me!” exclaimed Dorothy, now quite out of patience. “How dreadfully confusing it all is! Don’t you understand?—I only want to know where the place is where I am now,—whereabouts in the geography, I mean,” she added in desperation.
“It isn’t in there at all,” said Bob Scarlet, very decidedly. “There isn’t a geography going that could hold on to it for five minutes.”
“Do you mean that it isn’t anywhere?” exclaimed Dorothy, beginning to feel a little frightened.
“No, I don’t,” said Bob Scarlet, obstinately. “I mean that it is anywhere—anywhere that it chooses to be, you know; only it doesn’t stay anywhere any longer than it likes.”
“Then I’m going away,” said Dorothy, hastily. “I won’t stay in such a place.”
“Well, you’d better be quick about it,” said the Robin, with a chuckle, “or there won’t be any place to go away from. I can feel it beginning to go now,” and with this remark Bob Scarlet himself hurried away.
There was something so alarming in the idea of a place going away and leaving her behind, that Dorothy started off at once, as fast as she could run, and indeed she wasn’t a moment too soon. The garden itself was already beginning to be very much agitated, and the clothes on the plants were folding themselves up in a fluttering sort of a way as she ran past them; and she noticed, moreover, that the little shoes on the shoe-shrub were so withered away that they looked like a lot of raisins. But she had no time to stop and look at such things, and she ran on and on until, to her delight, she came suddenly upon the little trap-door where she had come up. There wasn’t a minute to spare, and she jumped down into the hole without so much as stopping to look back at the vanishing garden, and hurried down the little stairway. It was as dark as pitch, and as she ran down, going around and around, on the winding stairs, she could hear them folding up behind her like the slats of a blind; and she had just time to rush through the door at the bottom, when the trunk of the tree flapped inward like an empty bag and then shot up into the air.