The Book of Betty Barber/Chapter 7
A BOX OF OINTMENT
“I have thought of a splendid plan,” said Thirteen-fourteenths. ”Until the Conference begins———”
“What is a Conference?” asked Minora.
“Until the Conference begins,” said Thirteen-fourteenths,and the Major frowned at Minora, “we will all search high and low for three separate things. What will you hunt for, Minora?”
“I thought we were all to look for the book,” said Minora.
“Of course, we are all hoping to find the book,” said the Fraction, “but don’t you know that if you want to find one thing, the best way is to look for something else?”
Minora shook her head doubtfully.
“Well, we will try your plan,” said the Major. “Minora, my dear, look for that wonderful wand of Father Time’s. If you really could find it, we could have any number of Sharps and Flats in the house.”
“But it isn’t lost,” objected Minora.
“It may be, by this time,” said Thirteen-fourteenths, “and if it isn’t, it will be all the more difficult to find in this wood.”
“I won’t look for the wand,” said Minora. “It is silly to look for a thing unless you are sure it is lost. If I must hunt for something 1 will try to find out that old white Owl. She knew something about the book, I feel sure.”
“Then I will look for the wand,” said the Major.
“I will look for the lost piece of my jacket,” said Thirteen-fourteenths, “I spend my life looking for that.”
“Have you lost a piece of your jacket?” asked Minora. “Nobody would think you had. Your jacket is in a great many pieces, but I don’t see one missing.”
“The fourteenth piece is missing,” said the Fraction sadly. “I used to be a whole number; then someone stole a piece of my jacket, and since then I have only been Thirteen-fourteenths. But we are wasting time; we should be working, not talking. Let us search high and low.”
“I must search high,” said Minora, “Mrs. Owl will be sleeping in some hollow tree.”
They all three set to work. The Major hunted bush and tree, and searched most unlikely and unpromising places; but, needless to say, he didn’t find anything at all.
The Fraction found something, not the book, not the lost piece of jacket, but a small round box. He shouted to the others to come and look at it.
“I’ve found this,” he said.
“Where did you find it?” asked the Major.
“In the hollow trunk in which I hid the book, queerly enough,” said Thirteen-fourteenths.
“Let me look at it,” said Minora, “is there anything inside?”
She took the box and examined it carefully, inside and out.
“Writing on the label,” she said, “but no notes, or sharps or flats,” she added slily, looking at the Major.
“I hope not, I’m sure,” said the Major.
“No figures,” said Thirteen-fourteenths. “I wonder what is inside. Hullo, I hear Half-term coming back through the wood; but I fancy I hear two voices. I wonder if it is Half-term.”
But Minora was looking at the soft, white, sticky stuff inside the box. She touched it with her finger, and she popped a little bit in her mouth; but it was not good to eat, and she made a grimace.
“I wonder what it is,” she said. “It is Half-term,” said Thirteen-fourteenths, who had climbed into the tree, “and he is helping somebody along—a girl. She does seem tired. I’ll go and help too.” And the Fraction jumped down from the tree and bounded away to meet the boy.
“Perhaps I had better go, too,” began the Major.
But Minora pulled his coat.
“Look,” she said, “there are three of them coming down the other path. Don’t leave me alone. Who are they?”
The Major turned round, to see the three holiday fairies coming through the wood.
“Capital,” cried the Major, “the very three people we want to see—the Holiday Fairies!”
“They don’t look as if they were out for a holiday,” said Minora, as the three fairies were not jumping and skipping, and laughing and joking, as usual, but walking solemnly and soberly.
“Something has happened,” said the Major; “they were so cheerful the last time I saw them.”
“They don’t look any more cheerful than the other three,” said Minora, as Half-term and the Fraction appeared, helping a girl who seemed scarcely able to walk. “If this is a Conference, I don’t think it is much fun. Flats and Sharps are jolly compared with these six dreary, dismal———
“Hush, Minora,” said Major C.
“Let her rest against the tree,” said Half-term. ‘She told me she wanted to get to the tree.”
Minora and the Major moved away, and the girl sank on the ground and shut her eyes. ‘
Half-term looked up, saw the fairies, and beckoned to them.
“There,” he said, pointing to the girl, “do you see who it is?”
Easter looked at the girl and shook her head. Summer seemed puzzled; but Christmas bent over the girl, and then started back with a cry of horror.
“Easter, Summer,” she cried, “it can’t be.” And then in a whisper she added, “It is the B. of a C. of a P. G.”
“Poor little Miss Crimson Lake!” said Major C. “What has happened to her? She was so pretty, so pink, and so lively.”
“She looks rather washed out now,” said Minora.
The holiday fairies looked at one another, looked at poor Crimson Lake, and burst out crying.
“It’s our fault,” said Christmas.
“Our fault,” sobbed Easter.
“We are so sorry,” said Summer.
“Then help us to do something to make her better,” said Thirteen-fourteenths. “You know, it isn’t all our fault. Betty Barber’s book is at the bottom of the mischief. I expect poor Crimson Lake was trying to get here to look for the book.”
Half-term nodded. “She was talking about the tree and the book, when I met her.”
“She’s gone to sleep,” said Christmas, “perhaps that will do her good.”
“We will move further away, so as not to waken her,” said Minora.
“The Conference Meeting will be held in the Upper Hall,” said Thirteen-fourteenths, and he swung himself up into the branches of the tree. The fairies followed, so did Minora, and the Major soon found himself sitting astride a branch, feeling quite happy and comfortable.
“I recommend the outside of the tree, not the inside,” said Half-term, as they all settled down to plot and plan and scheme.
At the foot of the tree Crimson Lake lay quite still, fast asleep. As the Fraction had guessed, she had tried to get to the tree to tear up the book, feeling that that was the first thing to do; but had she not met Half-term she would never have reached the tree, for she was tired out.
Chatter, chatter, chatter went the voices up in the tree.
Half-term’s voice could be heard distinctly above the others: “Of course, Santa Claus would help.”
Miss Crimson Lake moved in her sleep.
“I must find out if Lucy is in Nonsense Land, and help her out.”
It was the Fraction speaking this time. Then once more they all began to talk together. They were all so eager to help, that they were nearly quarrelling as to which could help most.
Miss Crimson Lake rubbed her eyes and opened them slowly.
“The book must be found,” said the Fraction, up in the tree.
Miss Crimson Lake sat up slowly, wondering where she could be.
“If only Queen Harmony would help,” said Minora.
Then once more chatter, chatter, chatter.
Miss Crimson Lake stared up at the tree, feeling half frightened. Then she heard footsteps coming through the wood, and saw a boy running quickly towards her.
He began to speak almost as soon as he saw her, long before he reached her.
“Have you seen Thirteen-fourteenths?” he called.
Miss Crimson Lake shook her head.
“He’s wanted at once,” said the boy, “I can’t stop, I must find him.”
Miss Crimson Lake shook her head again, and the boy, never ceasing to run, disappeared through the wood, calling as he went, “Thirteen-fourteenths. Thirteen-fourteenths is wanted.”
Before he was out of sight the Fraction’s voice was heard in the tree calling, “Here,” and when Miss Crimson Lake looked up she saw Thirteen-fourteenths swing himself to the ground over her head. One after another the others followed him.
“Are you better?” asked Christmas eagerly.
Miss Crimson Lake nodded.
“Who was it calling me?” asked Thirteen-fourteenths.
Crimson Lake pointed to the path down which the boy had run, “Was it a boy dressed in black and white, with a round black ball on his head?” asked the Fraction, and when Miss Crimson Lake nodded he looked very solemn. “It must be Repeater,” he said; “if he wants me, I think I must go back, for they must be in trouble at home.”
Miss Crimson Lake nodded again, and her lips moved to say say “Yes.”
“Well, he is sure to pass this way again,” said Thirteen-fourteenths, “he always keeps on running. I had better wait to hear his message; then I must go. Now, before we separate, each to do our own particular work, let us tell Crimson Lake our plans, and see if she approves.”
“We will,” cried the fairies and Minora.
“It will cheer her,” said the Major.
“Your troubles will soon be over,” said Half-term.
Crimson Lake managed to smile a faint, feeble little smile.
“Well, first of all,” said Half-term, “my sisters and I will tell the children they must stop painting.”
Crimson Lake nodded energetically.
“Then,” said Christmas, “we are going to Father to ask him to tell Santa Claus to put matters to rights in Paint Land.”
“And I am going to Queen Harmony,” said Minora, “to ask her to pay a visit to the Scale family.”
Crimson Lake looked puzzled, and shook her head.
“You haven’t heard how badly I’ve been treated by the Sharps and Flats,” said Major C, “they nearly battered my house down.”
“I expect you don’t know either that ‘good little Lucy’ is lost in Nonsense Land,” said Half-term.
Crimson Lake sighed a big, big sigh.
“But I shall get her out,” said Thirteen-fourteenths, “and we are everyone to try and find the Book of Betty Barber, to tear it up into little bits.”
At last Miss Crimson Lake found her voice.
“Is it lost?” she asked.
“Lost! Lost!” said Minora and the Major together.
“It is indeed,” said Thirteen-fourteenths.
“It must be found,” said Crimson Lake.
“It shall be found,” said the Fraction.
“I hear someone calling,” said Minora.
They all listened. Through the wood the voice could be heard distinctly, “Thirteen-fourteenths is wanted! Thirteen-fourteenths is wanted.”
“It is Repeater,” said the Fraction, “and he is coming this way. I knew he would come, he never stops running.”
“You are wanted at home, Thirteen-fourteenths.”
They could hear the words before they could see the boy.
“I must go,” said Thirteen-fourteenths. “Good-bye.”
“But he isn’t here yet,” said Half-term.
“He won’t stay when he gets here,” said the Fraction, “he never stops. Good-bye. Work hard, all of you. I will work hard, too. I will find the book. But where is the round box I did find?”
“Thirteen-fourteenths!” The voice sounded much nearer.
“Here is the box,” said Minora. “Look at it, Half-term. Do you see what it says outside?”
“One shilling a box,” read Half-term.
“Give it to me,” said the Fraction. “Here he comes.”
But Christmas caught the box as Half-term threw it to the Fraction.
“What is inside, I wonder?” she said, and she took off the lid.
“Christmas, give me the box,” said the Fraction.
Repeater was hastening down the path.
“Thirteen-fourteenths, you are wanted at home,” he called, “there is trouble, trouble, trouble at home.”
“Say 1 am coming,” said the Fraction, “coming at once.”
And the boy took up the new call, and ran past them all through the wood, shouting, “Thirteen-fourteenths is coming, coming at once.”
“My box,” said Thirteen-fourteenths.
But the fairies had recovered their spirits. They began to play a game of catch with the box, Christmas throwing it to Easter, Easter to Summer.
Poor Thirteen-fourteenths ran from one to the other.
“They began to play a Game of Catch with the Box” (p. 78)
“If you won’t give it to me, I shall have to go without it,” he said at last. “I must go.”
Minora jumped up, and, by a clever catch, seized the box and threw it to the Fraction.
“Such a fuss about a box of ointment!” said Christmas, as Thirteen-fourteenths ran off with it, bounding through the wood trying to overtake Repeater, whose voice could still be heard in the far distance, shouting, “Thirteen-fourteenths is coming, coming at once.”
“Was it ointment?” said Minora. “We were wondering what it was, it certainly didn’t taste very good.”
The holiday fairies began to laugh.
“Taste very good!” laughed Christmas, and then the three sisters joined hands, and dancing round shouted in chorus:
“It’s good for bumps and good for breaks,
It’s good for thumps and good for shakes,
It’s a capital thing for hard, hard knocks,
And it only costs a shilling a box.”
The others could not help laughing, and even Crimson Lake laughed, too.
But when the fairies stopped singing, and threw themselves down to rest, Major C looked very serious.
“Come, Minora,” he said, “we must play no longer, we must get to work. 1 am off to find Queen Harmony.”
“Good-bye,” shouted Christmas, suddenly picking herself up. Easter and Summer followed her through the wood.
“They are flighty things,” said Minora.
“But what will you do?’ said Half-term, who was bending over Crimson Lake.
“I shall be all right,” said Crimson Lake, “I feel much better. I will go back to Paint Land to cheer them, to tell them not to despair, that help is coming. Do not wait for me, I go slowly, and thank you, thank you.” And as she watched Half-term, and Minora hurrying away she said to herself, “And to think I ever called him a rude fellow!”