Author of Handy Mandy in Oz, "The Wizard of Pumperdink", "King, King! Double King!", etc.
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, September 3 and 10, 1916.
[Ruth Plumly Thompson's Marvelous Travels on a Wish was serialized in the Philadelphia Public Ledger for thirteen Sundays in 1916, the longest of Thompson's serials to appear on the Ledger's "For Boys and Girls" page. A heavily abridged version was later published in Thompson's 1929 anthology The Wonder Book. Hungry Tiger Press is proud to present this little-known fantasy in six installments. Typographical errors have been corrected and paragraph divisions have been brought into line with standard usage.]
Synopsis, or What Happened Before
Berens, a little boy who is tired of his home, wishes himself Somewhere Else. He and his little dog, Rags, are bitten by the Dissatisfied Bug, who whirls them through the clouds and aboard a wish, which is somewhat like a trolley car. The wish is full of dissatisfied folks, also bound for Somewhere Else. There is an elephant, a donkey, a farmer's boy, a horse, a little old lady, a little old gentleman, a red-headed little girl, a serving maid and a poet on board. Just as Berens had managed to get a seat a terrible-looking creature came to collect the fares.
It was Envy, the conductor of the Wish, and each passenger stole something from his neighbor to pay Envy his fare. Stuffing the articles into his hat, Envy retires, announcing that the next station will be TALKTOWN. As the Wish rushes on its way Berens and Sarah Ann, the little red-headed girl become great friends. Sarah Ann explains that she is going to be a beautiful little girl without freckles when she arrives Somewhere Else.
Talktown is a frightful place. The members of the party have some narrow escapes, and Rags and Berens are buried under a falling house.
Here they meet the "I'm a goin'tos" - who are always "going to do" great things. Aboard the wish once more, the passengers all tell what they are going to be when they reach Somewhere Else.
Just as Berens is about to tell what he will be, the wish stops at the Abode of Discontentment, where people carry umbrellas so as not to see the sun. Berens is introduced to the Glooms, a very bluish person!
The party finally escapes from the Bogs of the State of Discontentment, board the Wish and continue their journey to Somewhere Else.
Passing through Dreamland, the Wish arrives finally Somewhere Else, where they are introduced to the King and Queen.
Now the Dissatisfied Bug hurried about till he had Berens and all of the other wishers rounded up into one party. "You're to be presented to their Majesties directly after the proceedings," he announced impressively, "and you must all keep together!"
Just as Berens was wondering what in the world "the proceedings" were, several sad-looking individuals were marched out by the King's guard. The King and Queen glared at the poor fellows sternly.
"Bewilder 'em!" commanded the King in a thundering voice.
"Lead 'em astray! Lead 'em astray! called the Queen, with a wave of her silk 'kerchief.
"Don't he mean behead 'em?" whispered Berens hoarsely to Sarah Ann.
"I wonder what they've done?" flustered Sarah Ann anxiously.
"Who contradicts the King?" roared a terrible voice, and the captain of the guards strode toward the two children. Every one promptly faced round and stared at Berens and Sarah Ann till they were ready to sink through the ground with fright. The King's Guard drew nearer and nearer.
"Nonsense!" shouted the Dissatisfied Bug. "Who's contradicting anybody? If a man's beheaded he loses his head, doesn't he? Well, if a man's bewildered he loses his head, too - bewildered and beheaded - one and the same thing. Get out!" and he waved his 17 arms (or was it 19?) so fiercely that the captain of the guards withdrew, muttering something about every one's pardon."
After that Sarah Ann and Berens dared not open their mouths. What happened next was really very interesting. The guards took hold of the prisoners and carefully blindfolded each one with a large bandana handkerchief. Now they began spinning the poor fellows round and round like tops till it made one dizzy just to look at them. Next, with a rude kick, they sent each of them flying into the spectators. Berens decided that it must be a sort of blind man's buff, but he felt very sure that he should not care to play it. The prisoners kept stumbling and tumbling and barking their shins and sprawling over the benches and bystanders, while the King and Queen roared with merriment (which was very unkind of them, I think).
Sarah Ann was nearly bursting with indignation, while the horse fairly snorted with displeasure, but there the Dissatisfied Bug bustled them all forward.
"Some new subjects, your Majesties!" he announced with a low bow.
The King put on his spectacles and eyed the party sharply, while the Queen held up her gold lorgnons.
"Did you come by express?" she asked finally, addressing herself to Berens.
"We came on a wish," replied Berens faintly, for, much to his consternation, the Queen had vanished again.
"Wasn't the wish expressed?" asked the Queen tartly. (Or, at least, this question came from the spot where she had been a moment before.)
"Why, yes," faltered Berens.
"Then it was an expressed wish, stupid!" said the Queen, suddenly appearing again. "An express wish for Somewhere Else!"
Berens said nothing to this for, to tell the truth, he felt a little giddy.
After a short pause, during which the Queen stared at him steadily, she turned to the King. "Call the Prime Minister!" she commanded.
Here the King raised his sceptre and a little, fat, black man came hurrying forward.
Berens thought he could see horns sticking up out of the Prime Minister's hair, but he was not sure of this, so you had better say nothing about it.
"My Minister," said the Queen now, with a wave of her arm at the group, "awaits you! Let me introduce him. SOMETHING ELSE JUS TAS BAD, Prime Minister of Somewhere Else!" she announced grandly. The Prime Minister bowed.
"I'll attend to you first," said he, pointing his fat finger at Berens. Berens stepped forward, Rags till under his arm.
"Not the dog," said Something Else Jus Tas Bad sharply, pushing Rags out of Berens' arms.
"But I can't go without Rags!" wailed Berens in dismay.
The Prime Minister paid no attention to this, but jerked him roughly by the arm. Berens was terribly frightened, but he tried his best not to show it.
"Good-by!" called Sarah Ann, in a quavering voice. "Good-by!"
"Good-by!" called the other wishers sadly.
Rags struggled fiercely in the arms of N. V., who had taken hold of him. "I'll find you wherever you are!" he panted breathlessly.
The Dissatisfied Bug ran a few steps after the two and gravely shook hands with Berens. "I'll see you again!" he whispered hurriedly.
The last Berens saw of him he was roaring with merriment, holding his sides with his 19 arms and swaying backward and forward. The Prime Minister hurried him along so fast that he had scarcely a moment to even think, much less to look about him.
At last they stopped before a tall and imposing house which had a large sign over the door, "Home of Something Else Jus Tas Bad."
The Prime Minister quickly unlocked the door and ushered Berens into a long, dreary hall. At the end of the hall there was a little room. Pushing Berens along ahead of him he entered the room. There was nothing remarkable about this room, except that there was nothing in it (if you want to call that remarkable).
"So you want to be Some One Else!" said the Prime Minister, looking at Berens curiously. "Well" - now he opened a cupboard that Berens had not noticed before. "Here you are, then."
To Berens' astonishment, out stepped another little boy just a trifle smaller than himself. At the same moment the Prime Minister went out of the room, leaving the door open. Berens continued to stare at the little boy open-mouthed. The boy rushed at Berens and rudely snatched off his hat and started to yank at his coat.
"Here, you stop that!" cried Berens, doubling up his fists.
"Why, I'm Some One Else," exclaimed the little boy, pausing in surprise. "We've got to change things, you know," he added in a businesslike manner, at the same time slapping his hat down upon Berens's head.
"Oh, all right," said Berens, who was anxious to begin his adventures.
So the two hastily changed clothes, shoes, stockings and everything, and all the time Berens was growing to look more and more like Some One Else, and Some One Else was growing to look more and more like Berens, till even their own mothers would not have known them.
"Well, I'm off," cried Some One Else, who was Berens, and "I'm off," cried Berens, who was Some One Else.
Berens, who was Some One Else, ran out of the little room, down the gloomy hallway and out of the Prime Minister's house. Then he paused a moment to decide which way he should go.
Up the street there were a great many bright shops, candy and cake and all sorts of fascinating toys displayed in the windows. Down the street were rows and rows of houses all very much alike, so, of course, Berens decided to go up the street! Here a strange thing happened. When he went to step out, Some One Else's shoes jerked him back again. Over and over he tried it, but it was no use. Not one step in the direction of the shops would they budge. If you have never been in Some One Else's shoes you cannot imagine how vexing it was. In a burst of rage, Berens tried to take them off, but the laces straightway tied themselves in 20 knots, which he found it impossible to undo.
"It's no use," said he to himself crossly at last; and, wiping his hot forehead on Some One Else's handkerchief, he stared gloomily up the street. But here the shoes gave a sudden tug and the first thing Berens knew they were rushing off down the street with him so fast that he fairly had to gasp for breath.
"Oh, dear! oh, my!" he jerked out as he was hustled along - in fact, he was very uncomfortable!
Some One Else's hat was too small and was giving him a frightful headache, while Some One Else's shoes, besides being so outrageously obstinate, pinched him wickedly. Clappety, clap, clap, clap, thudded the shoes down the street and finally marched him up the steps of a gray stone house.
"I suppose that I might just as well ring the bell," said Berens in a resigned voice, "or dear knows where these dreadful shoes will take me next."
He pressed the bell and waited anxiously to see what would happen. A tall, thin, cross-looking man, with a newspaper in one hand, opened the door.
"You're late!" he said sternly, glaring at Berens. "What does this mean, sir?" and, seizing him by the collar, he dragged him into the house.
Berens had no breath to answer this question because Some One Else's father shook him violently all the way along the entry. By this time they had reached the dining room, and Berens was pushed with a thump into one of the chairs. Before he could collect his thoughts, Some One Else's mother threw up both her hands.
"Take off your hat!" she shrieked. "Will you never learn any manners?"
Berens hastily pulled off his hat and looked from one to the other, hardly knowing what to do next.
"Where have you been?" asked Some One Else's mother, fixing her sharp eye on him.
"I - I'm not sure, er - er - I don't exactly know," began Berens in an agony of confusion.
"Don't know!" screamed Some One Else's mother.
"Young man," said Some One Else's father in an awful voice, "don't lie! Amanda," he cried, addressing his wife, "you'll oblige by not speaking to him during dinner. I'll see you in the library after dinner," said he, pointing the carving knife at Berens.
Poor Berens wished that the floor might open up and swallow him, but naturally it did nothing of the kind. Indeed, the worst was yet to come. The dinner consisted of tripe and lentils, both of which Berens heartily detested. Under the stern eyes of Some One Else's father and mother, however, he choked them down in silence, too frightened and uncomfortable to make any objections. Some One Else's father and mother talked all through the meal, but paid not the slightest attention to him. A large cherry pie was brought in for dessert and Berens cheered up at sight of this, But Some One Else's father helped himself and wife generously, then remarked in an acid voice that "little boys who told stories did not get any pie." Poor Berens! Between longing for the pie and wondering what would happen in the library, he was utterly wretched.
But suddenly the bell rang and Some One Else's father was called out on business. While Some One Else's mother was seeing him off, Berens seized his hat and slipped out the back door. Luckily for him, the shoes decided to go this time. All afternoon he wandered aimlessly about the streets of Somewhere Else - Some One Else's shoes going where he wanted to go at one time and where he did not want to go at others.
It was very strange, but when he was walking on one side of the street, the things on the other side always seemed more inviting. The candy and cakes looked sweeter, the houses more spacious - everything seemed nicer. Yet, when he crossed over he was usually disappointed to find that the candy was full of specks and dust and the houses no better than on the side he had just left.
Thrusting his hand into Some One Else's pocket, he was delighted to find 10 cents. A sign at the corner of the street where he happened to be just then read "Strawberry shortcake today!" So he ran with all speed to purchase some. The woman in the shop handed him a crumbly piece of cake and greedily pocketed his 10 cents.
"But where are the strawberries?" asked Berens, dismally holding the cake up to the light - and, indeed, my dears, there was not a sign of a strawberry to be seen in it.
"You asked for strawberry SHORT cake, didn't you?" snapped the woman disagreeably. "Well, there's the cake and the strawberries are short, so of course, it's strawberry shortcake!"
Banging the cash drawer, the woman disappeared into a room back of the shop and there was nothing for Berens to do but take the crumbly cake and make the best of it. That's the way it was with everything and altogether Somewhere Else proved disappointing and horrid.
In Some One Else's other pocket Berens found a dilapidated top. Just as he had half-heartedly started in to spin it along came a great husky boy.
"Gimme my top!" cried the boy, doubling up his fists.
Now, how was Berens to know that Some One Else had stolen this boy's top? At any rate, he paid no attention to the boy and the next thing that happened was decidedly unpleasant - decidedly unpleasant for him. For the boy - well, I'll let you guess what he did. He got his top. Berens picked himself up slowly; he didn't cry, though! (I should say not), but somehow Somewhere Else did not seem beautiful any more.
Walking dejectedly down one of the wide streets, he suddenly caught sight of a little girl marching stiffly along under a fluffy parasol. She had bobbing, yellow curls and was dressed in a very frilly white dress with a pink sash. Berens felt really very naughty at this minute. Perhaps it was the ache that he was carrying around in Some One Else's shoes that made him do it, but, however that may be, he rushed up back of her and pushed her violently into the gutter. (I know it was awful of him.)
"Prig!" he hissed.
Up jumped the little yellow-haired girl and instead of shrieking for her mama, as Berens had fully expected her to do, she swung her parasol round her head and brought it down with a terrific thwack upon his head.
"There!" she shrilled angrily, "and there! and there and there!" Each "there" was emphasized by a thump with the parasol, which by now was broken to bits.
"Whew!" gasped Berens, too surprised to defend himself.
At the fourth "there!" he managed to cry out "Stop!" for, to tell the truth, the parasol had knocked a brilliant idea into his head.
"Didn't you used to be Sarah Ann?" he asked eagerly.
The little girl dropped the parasol and sank limply upon the curbstone. "Yes," she said faintly and two big tears rolled slowly down her cheeks and splashed upon the pink sash.
"Well, I'm Some One Else, but I used to be Berens," explained Berens hastily.
THE WISH EXPRESS
by Ruth Plumly Thompson
THE FORGETFUL POET
By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, July 29, 1917
Funny how you can all make out the Forgetful Poet's nonsense and I'm sorry not to have some more for you this week, but the dear fellow has come down with the mumps, and as he says himself, "Mumps and poetry don't go together!"
Mr. G. Ography just happened in, fortunately, so we'll not be entirely without puzzles. As the Forgetful Poet would not help him he just put them in plain prose:
What city could a bottler use to advantage?
Part of an apple and the fifth and first letters in the alphabet will equal what country?
What country terminates in a cooking utensil?
What country ends with a slam?
What city has the name of a fairy man?
What two countries are here - Cy am Chilly?
And that is enough I think for today.
By the way, I forgot to tell you the answer to the two little puzzles. It was a road that had a fork and ran without speed and to get one letter one must write two.
[Answers next time.]
Copyright © 2004 Eric Shanower and David Maxine. All rights reserved.