Thursday, December 1, 2005


By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Author of The Curious Cruise of Captain Santa, "The Wizard of Pumperdink", "King, King! Double King!", etc.

Originally published in the Phiadelphia Public Ledger

It's the Sandman's Fault
[Dec. 24, 1916]

No wonder boys and girls have such
A time to go to sleep
On Christmas Eve, and have to count
Almost a million sheep!
Why, the Sandman has so many gifts
For folks in High Sky Land
Tucked in his sack, there's scarcely
Any room for dreams and sand!
And then he stops, the merry elf,
To trim the Milky Way
With greens and wish each separate star
A happy holiday;
And pins his stocking to a cloud
For Santa Claus to fill -
I think we'll have to 'scuse him, though,
I really think we will!

[Dec. 2, 1917]

The first of December
Is horribly long,
Every day seems a week,
Don't you know!
There isn't a boy or a girl
Who'll not say
That the first of the month
Is too slow!
But goodness alive,
Take the end of the month,
Christmas week,
Why, it seems like a day!
Now this hardly is fair,
And I'm wishing that there
Were some sort of a plan
Or a way
To remedy matters.
I think I'll just see
If the calendar man
Can arrange
To turn them about
And stretch Christmas week out
For I'm sure we're in need
Of the change!

[December 23, 1917]

You funny old Christmas moon,
Why do you frown?
Is it 'cause you've no chimney
For Kris to come down?

A Letter From a Good Boy
[December 23, 1917]

Dear old Man,
I'd like a cake of good, strong soap,
A rat trap, safety pins,
A real stiff whisk, a saucepan,
And a lot to eat, in tins,
A dozen pair of woolen socks,
And after that some smokes,
But more than anything, old man,
A letter from the folks!

Old Santa's bag was full of notes
Like this, and at their benches
His brownies filled the orders for
The good boys in the trenches.

By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, December 30, 1917.

A Pocketful of Rhymes

And a riddle in each, or so the Forgetful Poet tells me.
? ? ? ? ?
It breaks a million times a day
And still is not destroyed,
And, strange enough, it's breaking
Is by old and young enjoyed!

All the blanks walk, swim or fly
? ? ? ? ?
There was a lad
Who rose _____ times,
For he had much to do;
His _____en was
Su_____ent for
A lad of his age, too.

He _____ the mark
And if you're like
The laddie in this story.
I'll just include you
In this space
And place and _____egory!

Last week's answers were Wales and Finland. As for the pets, the Forgetful Poet sent me this list. I am sure that many of you found more than he did: Pet, an animal, or term of endearment, petrify, impetus, impetuous, petticoat, parapet, petal, petty, petiole, pettish, petulant and pettifog.

[Answers next time.]

Copyright © 2005 Eric Shanower and David Maxine. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 1, 2005


By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Author of Speedy in Oz, "The Wizard of Pumperdink", "King, King! Double King!", etc.

Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, December 2, 1917 - January 13, 1918.

Nevermindwhere is a Kingdom lying SO many miles east of Fancy and west of Facts, having a King, Queen, and all other public inconveniences including taxes. And ONCE, miles and miles ago, there came a tailor to Nevermindwhere. With such magnificence did he roll into the King's city that none had taken him for a tailor had he not immediately sent his servant to inquire for a shop fit for sewing and such.

The King, thinking from the elegant carriage and liveried outriders that some mighty potentate was about to visit him, had set out to welcome the stranger, but hearing JUST in time of the sewing shop, ordered the royal coach to turn, which it did with such abruptness that the Chief Prime Minister rolled into the dust.

Ah! 'twas ill luck to be a tailor in those days, and a more down-trodden, meek-mannered despised lot of men were not to be found upon the face of the earth--'twas the fashion to despise 'em. Indeed there was a pretty little custom among the gentry of collecting unpaid tailor bills--some even went so far as to have them made into books with comical verses noted upon them. So you can imagine the indignation of the King.

And "Such airs!" sniffed the Princess of Nevermindwhere who was riding beside her father. "But is he not HANDSOME?" she murmured to herself.

"A tailor, a rogue of a tailor!" fumed the King. "An arrogant knave who must be set in his place!"

"Quite right, your Majesty!" puffed the Prime Minister, climbing into the coach (royal etiquette forbade his mentioning his burises). " A MOST arrogant knave; whoever heard of a tailor riding in his own CARRIAGE? 'Tis an insult to your highness."

Well, dear knows WHAT it was not!

Back to the castle whirled the King's coach in a bluster of indignation and a whirl of dust, neither of which escaped the stranger. He sneezed violently, but said nothing excepting, "SHE is the one!" A wise fellow this tailor, one who could see beyond the point of his needle, I warrant!

That evening after he had got him a cheery house and garden, with cozy stables for his horses and tidy lodgings for his servants and a long, sunny parlor for his shop, he hung out his sign; "JERRY JAN, Tailor-man." Then, seating himself beneath it and tipping his chair against the wall, he began to sing:

"Thimbles and shears,
Beeswax and thread;
Oh, a tailor's a failure
Who can't earn his bread!

Sing HO for a tailor,
Sing Hey for his trade,
For the coats and the breeches
And men he has made!"

So fresh and clear was his voice, and so rollicking his song, that several folk who were passing stopped to listen. And a strange thing it was truly, a tailor singing, for if tailors did any singing or whistling in those days 'twas for their bills and naught else! The crowd increased and an elderly personage in a velvet cloak put on his spectacles and peered first up at the sign and then down at the merry lad who was trilling like a lark.

"Well, did one ever hear the like before!" laughed he in his cracked voice. "A TAILOR making a man! Ho, ho, haha! Know'st thou not, foolish one, that it takes NINE tailors to make a man!"

"Ho, ho, haha!" jeered the crowd. "Nine tailors to make a man!"

"HAH!" quoth Jerry Jan. Down came his chair with a thump, and the crowd, which dearly loved a controversy, grew silent to see what would happen. For a moment nothing happened. Then, in a voice so shrill that it fairly set one's teeth on edge, piped Jerry:

"It IS the tailor makes the man,
And MAN that makes the tailor,
Just as the canvas makes the sail,
And sailing makes the sailor."

Before they had recovered enough to close their mouths which had fallen open at such temerity in a tailor, Jerry rose and swept them a deep bow. "Good evening, Simpletons!" said Jerry, and turning his back upon them went into his shop and sat down.

"WELL given, by my iron hammer!" roared a brawny blacksmith in the crowd. "That lad's no spineless stitcher." There was such laughing and joking among the common folks that the cloaked gentleman took himself off in a huff. As for Jerry he got out some work and sang more gaily than ever--

"Thimbles and shears,
Beeswax and thread,
Oh a tailor's a failure
Who can't make his bread!"

But scarce had he started the second verse before three figures slunk into the shop. They whispered together for a minute, then the shortest and crookedest shuffled forward. "Sing ho for a tailor, sing HO for his trade! Ha, ha! good joke!" he wheezed scornfully.

"Best take thaself back from where tha came from!" croaked the second stepping forward. "Rob us of the bread we eat, would ye? With your fine shop and pert ways! We heard---we heard all about YOU!"

"A NICE mess you've made of it!" choked the third, thrusting his head close to Jerry. "Like as not we'll all go to prison for your impudence; like as not!" Whe-w, how they scolded, these crooked little men, their voices growing shriller and shriller and Jerry Jan working away all the while, as calm as a hitching post in a storm. Well, when they had said all they could think of, and a good bit tyhat they hadn't thought they could think of, Jerry yawned and stretched, then went and rang a bell. In bobbed a little serving maid. Without so much as a nod from her master she took the visitors' hats and shabby cloaks, drew up a table and in just no time at all had brought cake and wine and all manner of good things to eat.

"Ha-h!" chuckled Jerry, rubbing his hands, and next (to this day those tailors cannot imagine how it happened) they were seated about the table chatting away as pleasantly as friends at a birthday feast. And not until the town clock struck ten, did Jerry refer to his guest's unpleasant entrance and only then to inquire the name of the fine gentleman whom he had offended. Immediately the three tailors grew fidgety. Exchanging uneasy glances they explained how they had come to warn him against the wrath of My Lord of Toppertush.

"Just as one man to another, now, tha should'na have spoken so!" protested the second tailor, shaking his head solemnly.

"A TERRIBLE fellow, with power enough at court to make a man smart!" asserted the third.

"Did'st see his velvet cloak?--the price has been owing me this twelve month, and NOW, NOW he'll never pay it!" whimpered the first, growing excited again. Whereupon Jerry lost his temper and harangued them fiercely for their cravenness. Yes--he had seen the cloak--and to his way of thinking his Lordship had more velvet on his back than on his tongue, which he'd a mind to tell him next time they met.

"Why, there's a s much art in a needle as in a painter's brush, as much skill in handling a tape measure as in handling a violin bow. Exalt your trade!" cried Jerry Jan. He shook his finger under their astonished noses. Were they MEN, he would like to know, or mice. "Put starch in your collars and yardsticks down your backs and buckram in your knees if need be and ye'll pass for men yet!" Taken aback by such violence of speech and views the three tailors made for the door, which, as they leaned upon for support, burst open and tumbled them into the street. "Best break your backs working than bowing!" called Jerry Jan, appearing in the doorway with a lantern. Much shaken the three arose, much mystified, and pondering upon these words they departed.

Meanwhile My Lord of Toppertush had returned to Court tingling with resentment at what he was pleased to call a tailor's impudence. With eloquent little shrugs and raisings of the eyebrow he told his story, and the court ladies and gentlemen, the King and Queen and the Princess listened breathlessly, throwing up their hands in horror and emitting little cries of astonishment at the boldness of that wretched tailor. They talked of his arrival, his servants, his shop--indeed the evening was spent in discussion of him. And the curiosity of those who had not witnessed his arrival was aroused to such a pitch that they could scarcely contain themselves until morning. As for My Lord of Toppertush, striding up and down, he vowed to show the creature his place, while the King, applauding these sentiments, resolved to have a closer look at the fellow.

So it happened that next day a perfect stream of silk and satin-clad visitors passed in and out of the new tailor's shop. The street was so crowded with coaches, carriages, high stepping mounts, with grooms and footmen, that the tradesmen could not get through at all and were obliged to leave their carts in another street and come on foot with their wares. Seated at a low table Jerry went on with his stitching, nodding pleasantly to his guests and choosing not to notice the rudeness of their remarks nor the impertinence of their stares. Suddenly trumpets sounded, there was a great commotion in the doorway and the KING--the King himself--had entered the shop. After him minced My Lord of Toppertush supporting the Princess. Immediately a hush fell upon the company, every one curtseying and stepping aside. Staring from left to right, and secretly much impressed by the magnificence of the shop, his Majesty approached. Jerry arose, and bowing--though not TOO low--wished his Highness good morning!

Looking through Jerry as though he had been a window pane, the King said he was minded to have a new cloak. "Well enough!" thought Jerry to himself, and scarce had the words left his Majesty's lips before he had whipped off his cloak, then his crown, pulled out his measure and had begun measuring away for dear life jerking the King this way and that. And there stood the King, uncrowned and uncoated, just as he was, a rather fat old man, presenting such a comical appearance that several of the Courtiers tittered openly, instantly recovering themselves however. Before his Majesty, fairly puffing with indignation, had time to speak a word, Jerry had finished, jotted the measurements in his book, whisked the King's robe about his shoulders, set the crown (a little to one side it must be admitted) upon his head, and was actually bowing the royal party toward the door.

The Princess' eyes grew round as saucers. She gasped, dropped her handkerchief, and tripped over her train. My Lord of Toppertush was purple with fury. Matters were not progressing at all as he had planned. Determined not to be outdone by the fellow's cleverness he pulled off his cloak and, with a glance of such hatred that 'tis a wonder Jerry did not crinkle up upon the spot, strode forward saying that HE also would have a cloak. In less time and with even less ceremony Jerry took his measurements, snapped his book shut, gave a curt bow and returned to his stitching. The strange tailor had proved more curious even than they had imagined. With little clucks of astonishment, with whispers and shrugs, the courtiers followed the royal party from the shop.

The three tailors had witnessed the whole proceeding, for unable to overcome their curiosity they had peeped in the window. Shaking their heads dubiously, but not altogether disapproving, they returned to their benches.

Now came a wonderfully busy season for Jerry Jan. From morning till night his shop was a-bustle. He and all his helpers worked away for dear life and still had a time to keep up with the orders that came pouring in. Crooks, Stitchem and Rowley, the three other tailors of Nevermindwhere, were kept hustling with orders passed over to them. For you see, all the courtiers, following the King's example, had come to be fitted out in new cloaks and breeches, and from the nods and winks and knowing glances they exchanged whenever they met, I cannot help thinking that all was not well. But, be that as it may, the work went forward.

Honest trade folk, attracted by Jerry's prices, came too; the blacksmith himself ordered a Sunday coat with iron buttons. The busier he grew, the cheerier waxed the new tailor of Nevermindwhere. Above the snipping and whirring in the shop rose his merry voice, and so popular did his songs become that they spread from one end of the Kingdom to the other.

"We need the merchants and the sailors,
But more than all we need the tailors!"

hummed the housewives over their work, and even the courtiers whistled the air of "A tailor's a failure who can't earn his bread," though when it came to the King's ears 'twas promptly hushed up. If it were clear, the neighbors fell into the habit of dropping over to sit on Jerry's step in the evenings, and if it were stormy Jerry kindled a fire in his shop and entertained them there, and his stories were so interesting, his refreshments so bountiful and his advice so good that he became a great favorite among them.

As for Crooks, Stitchem and Rowley, they were new men, copying Jerry in everything and acquiring a dignity that sat upon them as oddly as peacocks' tails upon hens. But WHY, considering the insolence of those wretched courtiers, did Jerry when he was alone keep fingering a certain little handkerchief that he always carried next to his heart? And WHY, considering the insolence of that wretched tailor, did the Princess discover so many errands in the neighborhood of Jerry's shop? Indeed, scarce a day passed that the royal carriage did not rattle down the street, at which times she was careful to bestow one of her most scornful glances upon that miserable tailor.

Well, well, however that may be, it chanced that the King's cloak, My Lord of Toppertush's cloak, the breeches, vests, satin waistcoats, and such, ordered by the courtiers were finished upon the same day. Accordingly Jerry's footman buttoned up his purple coat, mounted the box of Jerry's handsome carriage, and drove off to the palace. Having delivered each gay box to its still gayer owner the footman bowed, again mounted his box, folded the tails of his coat under and drove clippety, clop, clop, CLOP back again.

But hardly had he unharnessed the horses before a great procession began to wind into the street--why, one would have thought 'twas a pageant or a carnival day from its length and brilliance. The King's coach led off and after it came all the other court equipages. And surely something wonderfully comical had happened, for the silken-clad Ladies and Gentlemen lay back on their pillows, convulsed with merriment. The loud "ha-ha"s and general confusion brought Jerry to the window and, seeing they were headed in his direction, he bade his footman open the doors, after which he returned to the blacksmith whom he chanced to be fitting.

What next occurred you will scarce believe, but upon my word 'tis true. Tumbling from their carriages in most unroyal fashion the King and the courtiers rushed into Jerry's shop each waving the pink paper bills they had received from Jerry. Knocking over chairs and jostling the workers they pushed forward, and at a signal from My Lord of Toppertush, who stood on a chair the better to be seen, each tore his pink bill into a thousand bits so that the pieces came fluttering down upon Jerry in a regular pink snowstorm.

"Scissors and shears,
Ruffles and frills,
A fig for all tailors,
A FIG for their bills!"

crackled old Toppertush delightedly, and before Jerry could raise a finger they had swept out of the shop.

The blacksmith, who had witnessed this proceeding open-mouthd, was the first to recover. Swinging his iron hammer, which he never left behind him, he was for putting after them and breaking a few royal heads, which Jerry only prevented by clinging to his coattails. Crooks, Stitchem and Rowley, who had run in at the first excitement, now set up a piteous whining, declaring that NOW Jerry had INDEED ruined them and himself besides. The blacksmith, cheated out of his first revenge, seized the three little men and shook them till their teeth chattered, whereat his feelings, in a measure relieved, he flung out of the shop muttering darkly of silk-coated scalawags.

By this time Jerry had recovered and began calling orders in such a rate that everyone was on the jump to keep up with them. And all the while he was working he was saying over and over, "Did she come to mock me, or did she not? Did she come to mock me, or did she not?"

And the Princess, who had gone as she declared to her Ladies, to put that wretched tailor in his place, was walking up and down her golden salon wringing her hands. "Oh, WHY did I go! Why did I go!" she moaned over and over. All of which is a pretty how-de-do, if I may be permitted to say so.

That night, when the courtiers were sleeping soundly on their silken couches, a masked band crept through the palace, went tiptoeing through the halls and chambers, so lightly that not one wakened. Laden with many gay boxes the band made its way back to town. Jerry Jan was up even earlier than usual next day, singing as merrily as ever as he stitched up the sleeves of the blacksmith's long coat. If the workers in the shop seemed nervous and exchanged anxious glances now and then, he appeared not to notice it, and when, without warning, six guardsmen appeared in the doorway he did not even look up.

"I arrest you in the name of the KING!" boomed the first guard, striding in and placing a heavy hand on Jerry's shoulder. "Do you fetch those three other rascals!" he called over his shoulder, at which the five remaining guards disappeared, returning presently with Crooks, Stitchem and Rowley, and followed by the blacksmith waving his hammer menacingly, and by a crowd of Jerry's friends and neighbors.

And now the first guard proceeded to read a long paper accusing Jerry of all crimes in general and of being a ROGUE OF A TAILOR; in particular, of stealing one hundred and seven fine garments, which were to be immediately returned--and haling one Jerry Jan before the Grand Court of the Kingdom for trial. At this the howls of the three tailors became louder than ever. But as for Jerry himself he made no objection. Indeed, he said he was most anxious for conversation with his Majesty and the sooner he was haled the better pleased would he be. Speaking a few words aside to the blacksmith, lighting anew his long-hooked pipe, he declared hinself ready. And away they went to the palace with nigh the whole populace at their heels. All but the blacksmith. Hurrying upstairs he threw all the gay boxes out of the window into the back court. Then piling the whole upon his back he was off to his forge and soon a thick smoke began to curl upward and presently the blacksmith was himself off to the palace.

Now, according to the ancient laws of Nevermindwhere all prisoners were tried in the great stone court before the palace in the presence of all the people. By the time Jerry and the three other tailors had been thrust upon the little platform before the King, the Queen, the Princess and all the other high functionaries, the court was jammed. People stood upon the walls and climbed the trees in the garden beyond, for the story of the new tailor's misfortune had spread far and near. THUMP! went the hammer of the Lord High Accusationer and up he rose, pointing his skinny finger at Jerry. "Whereas," he wheezed, addressing the crowds, "one Jerry Jan has perpetrated villainy in every form, including insolence, arrogance, anarchy and robbery, he has been haled before this court to answer for his crimes!"

My Lord of Toppertush, who sat next to the King, rubbed his hands and chuckled in anticipation, the Princess leaned forward to get a better view of that obstinate tailor, and several titters went up from the court as Jerry, none too gently, was shoved forward by the guards.

"When he is properly humbled I will visit him in prison," murmured the Princess to herself.

"When she is properly humbled I will marry her," resolved Jerry with a sidelong glance in her direction.

"But what have you to say for yourself?" roared the King at this juncture, and Jerry, bowing politely, turned to face his Majesty stating that as the goods had not been paid for they had not been stolen, which caused no end of merriment among the Courtiers. Half rising, My Lord of Toppertush asked had one ever heard the like--a TAILOR expecting to be paid. "Why," said he, "a tailor's bill is like a bird's, which no one could collect."

"And like your own, which no one would care to," chuckled Jerry, not in the slightest perturbed.

"Oh, ha! ha! ha!" roared the King, covering his mouth (Toppertush did have a nose, though), "Ha! ha! ha!" Then, suddenly recollecting himself, he started sternly at the prisoner. "Have you no respect for the crown?" he thundered. "For the crown and what it stands for!"

As to that, said Jerry, he didn't see how it stood at all considering what was under it, which set the crowd in the court in such an uproar of laughter that it took all the guards to restore order. And before the King had recovered from his astonishment Jerry snapped his scissors in the air declaring he was a King of his trade, a King and a Maker of Kings. "Why, there's as much power in a pair of shears as in a scepter," quoth Jerry, "seeing that everything depends on the cut of a man's coat." Tilting his head on one side he caroled:

"Would you know a KING
Without his crown?
Lord High Judge
Without his gown?"

"I'd know YOU anywhere for a low, sneaking tailor," screeched My Lord of Toppertush, bouncing to his feet.

"I demand my rights as a man," cried Jerry, paying no attention to this.

"But you're NOT a man, you're a TAILOR!" jeered his Majesty, still smarting from Jerry's pun. "A tailor!"

"Both," cried Jerry, waving his shears. "A man and a tailor, and a tailor is more than a man; he is the maker of men I tell you! As important as a Doctor, a lawyer, a merchant, an artist, a very King, for he is the maker of them all!"

"Nonsense!" blustered the King.

"Treason, murder and anarchy!" screamed the Court Accusationer, pale with fury.

"Reason, justice and honesty!" cried Jerry defiantly. And what with the courtiers crying this and that and the populace below cheering and stamping there was like to be a riot. So at a word from his Highness, Jerry and the three other tailors, who had stood shivering by, were seized by the guards and dragged away to prison. At first the crowds were for interfering, but a wink from Jerry settled that, so instead they fell in behind. A trumpeter and drummer, special friends of Jerry's, forthwith set up such a tooting and banging that 'twas more like a triumphal procession than a hanging (which the guards hinted darkly 'twould come to yet).

But as his Majesty remarked shrewdly to his advisors 'twould be a waste to hang so great a rogue and so good a tailor. "A taste of prison will show him what's what," declared the King, taking a pinch of snuff. But in prison Jerry sang as gaily as a bird in a cage and was so agreeable that the turnkey and keeper of the jail could not bring themselves to be rough with him. He said the fare was excellent and the service quite satisfactory, and was so bubbling over with songs and jokes that the whole place took on a festive air. Even Crooks, Stitchem and Rowley bore up under their trials. The trumpeter and drummer marched every day to the prison and gave a concert beneath Jerry's window, and the good wives of his friends fairly showered him with delicacies, which, as he divided them with the jailors, they were in no hurry to mention to the officials.

And just about this time the Princess took to visiting a one-legged robber in the cell next to Jerry's. What delicate attentions she lavished upon the old rogue. Books and flowers and fruit appeared and the Princess read to him for hours at a time, paying of course no attention to "that wretched tailor" in the next cell. And about this time Jerry called for a needle and shears, a thimble and some thread, "for," quoth he, " 'tis a real crime to be idle." 'Twould please him therefore to undertake such tailoring as the officials of the prison might desire. The keeper of the prison, remarking to himself that there could be no harm in this and with an eye to his own interest, ordered Jerry's materials fetched, keeping a still tongue about the matter. Thus several months slipped past and away, Jerry working so steadily that soon every jailor and official in the prison had a new turn-out. And what turnouts they were! As Jerry had furnished the material, and as they had naught to say about the style, he had fashioned them after ideas of his own.

One festival day (the King's birthday) it was, when all but a few of the prison officials were off for the festivities in their new suits, the crowds awaiting the arrival of the royal party were astounded to see the King and Judges and other big-wigs strolling carelessly down the street. "The KING!" cried the little boys. "There goes the KING." Straightway the crowd fell in behind with cheers and birthday wishes. The little girls strewed their roses, and the Lord Mayor burst forthwith into his birthday speech with many brave gestures. But horrors! After the last straggler had disappeared, 'round the corner came another King! Then where was the speech of welcome, the cheering crowds, the flowers and the populace? Where indeed? Why, gone after the warden of the prison, the turnkeys and other officials, who, decked out in court attire by mischievous Jerry, might have fooled wiser men than they. And what could the King say? Had he not scouted the notion of clothes making the man? Well, well! 'twas easily remedied; the fellow should be released, for he, the King, needed some new clothes.

So next day Jerry and the three other tailors were set at liberty, and shortly the King appeared to order a robe. But, hoity toity! here was another how-de-do, for Jerry and the three other tailors said they were minded not to work for the King or any of his court. And when the King attempted to send Jerry back to prison such a howl went up from the people that he shook in his buckled shoes and decided that he'd best ignore the "impudent rascal." So posthaste a messenger was dispatched to the neighboring Kingdom of Dingby Dump and in a fortnight returned, his horse in a lather and with a thin wisp of a man bouncing up and down behind him. But they got no further than the blacksmith's, for that worthy, catching sight of a tape measure round the fellow's neck, pulled both down and administered such a drubbing to the strange tailor that, once released, he sprang upon the horse and was off at a gallop.

And so were all the tailors the King smuggled into the kingdom served. The whole populace stood shoulder to shoulder behind Jerry. They hustled the guards about roundly, and set a watch upon the borders of the kingdom so that none could leave nor enter without their consent. And worse still, the butchers and burghers and other tradesfolk began to go about their affairs dressed in Jerry's velvets and satins, till there was no telling the notables from the nobodys and there were so many in judge's gowns and courtier's cloaks that one knew not when to bow, so ended by bowing not at all; indeed the kingdom seemed suddenly gone quite mad.

The King, at his wits' end, could do nothing to remedy matters, for at the slightest hint of harm to this wretched tailor the whole populace would advance upon the castle, ready for a revolution if need be. So the King fumed and the courtiers sulked and the Princess said she was very angry with that wicked tailor. As time went on the courtiers grew shabbier and shabbier, while the common folk were fine as peacocks, for Jerry's prices were so low that anyone could afford a silk robe and flowered waistcoats. At the end of a year the court was as dull as a prison, for without new clothes what was the pleasure in festivities, pray? The court ladies did their best to keep their lords in trim, and several of the nobility tried their hand at tailoring, but with such comical results that the common folk tee-heed when they passed.

"It takes nine tailors to make a man,
The song grows stale and staler,
For how many men, aye, HOW many men
Will it take to make a tailor?"

chortled the mischievous street boys at every opportunity.

At the end of two years times were dismal indeed. The royal ladies got out their needles in earnest and, with puckered brows and pricked fingers, settled down to serious tailoring. What odd looking costumes the poor ladies achieved and what sour looking nobles were in them! Small wonder for often they ripped up if one sat down too suddenly.

And Jerry, shameless fellow, sent the Princess a gold thimble--a thimble mind you!--which she had done well to return, all things considered. But no, she must needs throw it out of the window and spend the rest of the day searching for it, and when 'twas found set it gravely upon her thumb and do remarkable things with a needle and thread upon her royal parent's court robe. She said she was sewing. And the thimble was followed by the tiniest gold shears imaginable and by a little gold work-box fitted out with tiny spools with every color silk one could think of, all of which this perverse young Princess set upon her dressing table. Just why, I cannot imagine, can you?

Not only were the poor courtiers shabby, they were lost, for, thanks to Jerry, the commonfolk dressed so richly and royally that strangers invariably did business with the wrong parties, and ended by declaring the whole kingdom quite, quite mad. Which was quite, quite true. My Lord of Toppertush slunk about wrapped in a faded blue cloak, vowing to kill that Jerry Jan, but never in Jerry's hearing.

The blacksmith strode blithely through the town clad in a royal green hunting suit, surely the handsomest creature alive, and not a few eyes followed him, mark you. For the royal maidens began to cast kindly glances upon the richly clad burghers' sons, quite ignoring the shabby dukes and lords. Was there ever such a topsy-turvy kingdom as Nevermindwhere, I wonder?

And right into the midst of this topsy-turviness dropped the thunder bolt. At least the King said it was a thunderbolt and I quite agree with his Majesty, for if an announcement that King Cedric of Torrens, the wealthiest realm for leagues about, will in ten days visit the court with the intention of marrying one's daughter, is not a thunderbolt then I know nothing about them. The King chuckled and rubbed his hands, then his face grew long, for how was he to explain that his Kingdom was being run by a rogue of a tailor, and how was he to explain his shabby court. And when he told the Princess of her good fortune the obstinate young good-for-nothing cried, which so provoked his Highness that he boxed her ears soundly and then strode furiously up and down his marble hall. And after a precious day had been wasted thus the King decided that something must be done and, though every word took a painful bite out of his pride, he penned a note to Jerry Jan requesting him to come to the palace.

Looking wonderfully hearty and handsome Jerry arrived that evening and listened most courteously to the King's explanations about King Cedric and how important it was for them all to make a good impression, what with his daughter getting on in years (she being all of nineteen), she would not have such an opportunity again. "Your Majesty said clothes were nonsense and had naught to do with making a man," observed Jerry mischievously, continuing, with a sidelong glance at the Princess, that for his part he didn't want to be the means of depriving her of a husband, that he'd once had the notion of marrying her himself, an ill-favored lass though she was, who could neither sew, bake, nor even darn a man's socks but that he'd changed his mind, and if the King would agree to his terms they might strike a bargain.

At this two tears trickled down the Princess's cheek, though I doubt if any one saw them excepting the King, who patted her on the back and whispered a few words about "never minding that insolent fellow, she would soon be married to a real King and then they'd show him what was what"--which comforting assurance threw the Princess into a violent fit of weeping; indeed, she ran out of the room sobbing as if her heart were broken into a thousand bits.

And a strange bargain it was that they made: the King on his part to send the Princess to Jerry's shop, he being short of hands, and as his Majesty had plainly shown his belief that clothes counted nothing, he was to have the two ladies-in-waiting dressed in the same manner as the Princess, for certainly King Cedric would choose correctly.

Jerry on his part was to outfit the court suitably and persuade his friends and neighbors to dress in their usual fashion. So they parted and great preparations were immediately plunged into both at shop and castle.

Every morning the Princess and her maid went down to Jerry's shop and he kept her busy, I want to assure you. What with running errands, ripping out bastings, holding brocade to be cut, she had not a minute to breathe and, whew! how he scolded, for her Highness kept dropping the scissors and forgetting orders. And the more he stormed and stamped the more, well, the more she kept forgetting.

But at last the ten days were got through with. The courtiers, clad more elegantly than ever before, were drawn up in style to welcome King Cedric, Jerry dressed as fine as any among them. And with what a blowing of trumpets and fluttering of pennants and prancing of white steeds the King clattered into Nevermindwhere. And one could not deny but that he was handsome, though there were some who declared his nose a trifle large and his eyes a trifle small. King Cedric himself was duly impressed by the magnificence of his reception, but plainly impatient to see the Princess. So there was a word to a page, a little rustle of expectation, and down the golden steps swept her Highness with her two attendants. That the three were dressed exactly alike the King seemed to notice not at all. Striding forward he took the hand--the hand of--great swords and bucklers! the hand of the first Lady-in-Waiting!!

The King sprang forward with an exclamation of dismay, but Jerry gripped him by the arm and, whispering fiercely that he was to keep his bargain, drew him back. Out of the tail of his eye Jerry watched the Princess. Up went her hand to her heart, and with such an expression of relief that he was at some pains to keep from bounding into the air for joy. Pshaw, I believe the rascally fellow has been in love with her all along. As for King Cedric, so infatuated was he with his supposed Princess that he was aware of nothing amiss and naught would do but that they be married upon the spot and she accompany him straightway to his palace. The Lady-in-Waiting smiled and blushed and said for her part she was quite willing. So within an hour the whole thing was at an end, the wedding over, the King and his bride departed, the horrified court retired to discuss the calamity, the King sunk groaning on his throne like a man with the gout, Jerry staring out one window and the Princess out another. But one could not stare out a window forever and, first making sure that the King was quite occupied with his groaning. Jerry approached the Princess.

He was sorry, he said, that things had gone so badly, he was sorry to have her so cut up about matters, and if she could ever forgive a rough, rude fellow like himself, he would try to make amends. And the Princess, assuring herself first that the King was still groaning, said, looking up with a merry twinkle, that if cutting was in a tailor's line so also was mending. And the merry twinkle kindled into something so very much kinder that Jerry, well, Jerry set about making amends at once, though not with a needle, I might mention. And how long the mending would have lasted I have no idea, had not the King stopped groaning. Whizz, whirr, went something through the air and the two dodged just in time his Majesty's crown. That seemed to bring the Princess to her senses. Walking proudly up to the King she announced crisply that she was minded to wed this tailor man, he being to her way mind a very King. If his Majesty had groaned before, he fairly roared now. What was the use of being a King, he would like to know, with an upstart tailor running his Kingdom and marrying his daughter? What good were kings anyway?

"Just what I thought myself a while back," said Jerry, taking his place beside the Princess, at the same time giving a loud whistle which had no sooner died away than a hundred feet clattered in the hallway.

Next minute in hurried a company of lords and ladies, an attendant in green rushed up and wrapped an ermine cloak about Jerry's shoulders and another set a crown upon his head. "His Majesty, King Cedric of Torrens!" announced a page in gold lace.

At the excitement all the courtiers of Nevermindwhere came flocking back. "What's this? Who's that? What's it all about?" they whispered in agitated voices, then all grew quiet, for the new King and their old tailor was speaking. "Your Majesty," said Jerry with a low bow to the King, "three years ago I entered your kingdom with the intention of marrying your daughter. Expecting to spend some months in Nevermindwhere, I brought my tailor along and had no sooner arrived than I inquired for a shop suitable for the fellow. Your reception and your insolent treatment of one whom you believed to be a tailor decided my course of action. I determined to see that justice was done all tailors and, having some knowledge of cutting and with the valuable assistance of my own tailor, succeeded, as you well know. The Princess alone was able to rise above prejudice and, in consenting to marry the unknown tailor of Nevermindwhere, has made me the happiest man alive."

"But King Cedric!" gasped the Lord Chief Justice. The King was too stupefied to utter a syllable.

"My brother Roland," explained Jerry. "Of course, from time to time I communicated to him the results of my experiment, and he, also believing that clothes were naught, swore he could pick out a real Princess no matter how she were clad, and as to that, what a joke I have played upon him."

Well, well, did one ever hear the like? The news spread from one end of the town to the other and soon the court was crowded with Jerry's old friends and neighbors. The blacksmith strode right into the courtroom and smote him a resounding whack between the shoulders, then raising his lusty voice roared:

"Thimbles and shears,
Beeswax and thread,
A tailor's a failure
Who can't earn his bread.

Sing ho for a tailor,
Sing hey for his trade;
For the coats and the breeches
And men he has made,"

the whole company joining in with a will. And all of them were invited to the wedding, nay, they had preference over the courtiers, even Crooks, Stitchem and Rowley, and if ever there was a finer feast, a happier groom or a lovelier bride, then I've never heard of them, that's all. And this was the beginning of better times for tailors in Nevermindwhere--and everywhere, for that matter. 

By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, December 23, 1917.

A Stocking Full of Riddles

"And how are my pets?" said the Forgetful Poet, knocking the snow from his hat and standing his cane in the corner. "Do you mean the bowwows and ponies and cats in the Paws and Claws?" said I. "What nonsense!" he blustered. "I mean the lads and lassies--they are pets, aren't they?"

I hastened to agree with him, but he still rumbled crossly. "I'll have you know there are more pets that run on four legs, or two either, I'll have you know; there, I have made a puzzle without meaning to.

"How many pets are there in the dictionary?" And how many are there, my loves? Send your list to the Forgetful Poet and for the five longest there will be--?????

A country there is, sure,
That swims in the sea,
And part of the same
Is another contree!

Slapping this down upon the desk, the Forgetful Poet rushed out of the door, mumbling something about buying a stovepipe for his Uncle Jeremiah's Christmas. I must say he might have made us some more riddles, but dear knows, I suppose you're all so excited over Christmas you wouldn't have time to guess them anyway.

Last week's puzzle answers were: Limbs, lifeline, and the band of one's hat is musical, of course!

[Answers next time. This is a historical presentation of Ruth Plumly Thompson's writing. No prizes will be awarded, so don't send anything in.]

Copyright © 2005 Eric Shanower and David Maxine. All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 1, 2005


By Jack Snow
Author of The Magical Mimics in Oz, The Shaggy Man of Oz, and Spectral Snow, etc.

Originally published in Dark Music and Other Spectral Tales, 1947.

How Ailil loved the beauties of the old lake! Like an ancient well into which flowed the potent spells of the deep forest about it, the hollow of silent, black-shaded water lay motionless in the cup of the woods; a cup of loveliness fit for the lips of strange, forgotten Gods to sip from. As this thought occurred to Ailil he nodded with a pleased little smile. There it lay, cool and limpid as a great glistening jewel mounted in the green filigree of drooping willows that wept their trailing branches about the shore. And behind these loomed the deep shadows of the forest pines, vague and shapeless in the faint moonlight.

Tonight Ailil had rowed to the very center of the lake, and was lying in his tiny boat intoxicating himself with the deep, mad beauty about him. A vast distance over his head, there was a slender crescent moon, and stars glimmered faintly through a thin mist that overhung the lake like a veil, protecting it from ancient eyes that might peer clown through the limitless heavens. Night birds cried out their weird notes, strange half human wails that issued from bird throats and blended with the eerie monotony of the thrumming bass of the frogs.

Ailil lay for a long time, listening and watching, curiously alert. He was acutely conscious of the ancient charm of the things about him. And, as in all things that are purely of the earth, there was something faintly sinister, something that grimaced and threatened ever so gently and subtly. Here was majestic, elemental beauty armed with its primeval, overpowering appeal . . . often are the Pipes of Pan heard in salute of a new devotee.

Ailil loved the lake. He loved it as a part of his own life. The thought of ever leaving it, or of ever going very far from it, wounded him like a physical pain. Every night, he slipped away and lay on its bosom, as he was doing tonight, calm, peaceful and quietly happy as he floated amid the deep beauty. Lachrymal fronds of willows drooped about the shore, and thin wisps of spiraling mist rose slowly from the lake's night blue surface, wavering and gliding.

Occasionally a firefly darted over the water, lighting the scene with the green glow of its cold, phosphorescent fire, and like the symphonic composition of an inspired madman, the base of the frogs and the thin wailing of the swamp birds echoed among the trees.

The soft lapping of the water on the sides of the boat recalled Ailil from his dreaming, and he noticed that his little craft had slowly drifted back toward the shore. Arousing himself, he pulled at the oars which slipped noiselessly through the dark waters, and in a few minutes, he was once more in the center of the lake.

Tonight he was free to dream as long as he wished. He would spend the whole night with this beauty, it would he his first night on the lake. Alone through all the deep hours of the night, and the wan moments of the early dawn, when the sun would mingle mists of grey and gold with the blue of the lake, and the somber green of the trees, he would rest alone and content on the bosom of this wild enchantment that he loved.

Once more in the center of the lake, Ailil lifted an ancient, time-rusted anchor and dropped it over the side of the boat. Silently and quickly it plunged through the dark depths of the water. How deep this ancient well must be! Coil after coil of the rope unwound, jerking and sliding over the side of the boat as if it were being sucked into the depths of a fathomless abyss. Finally, with a slight quiver of the rope, the anchor touched bottom, and Ailil made fast the rope, looping it about a hook on the boat's side.

With a sigh, he leaned back once more in the soft cushions that padded the hard boards of the crude boat. He thought of nothing, he was content merely to lie there with the calm and peace of the beauty about him. How long he remained thus he did not know. It might have been an hour, or merely minutes, for nothing happened to disturb the tranquillity of the scene. There was nothing to claim his attention other than the strange similarity of the lake to a dark mirror, and the curiously twisted shadows of the willows that kneeled about the shore, trailing their branches in the water.

A huge moth, rising seemingly from nowhere, fluttered past his face, its wings brushing his cheek as it passed in silent flight. The great white wings beat the air like frail shadows as the creature fluttered slowly past him in its curious rising and falling flight. These great night moths always impressed Ailil as an ephemeral part of the night; they seemed almost a bit of the night itself, given life for a few brief hours and then sinking into quick dissolution with the rising of the sun. A faint, indescribable odor of mustiness and age-old strangeness was wafted to Ailil as the creature brushed past him, fluttering toward the tiny cabin which sheltered the opposite end of the boat. The door of the cabin was opened, and drawn by the darkness, the moth fluttered through the opening, and as Ailil watched, became a grey ghost, and then was lost in the gloom of the cabin's recesses.

Ailil smiled. He would have an interesting trophy of his night on the lake. The creature must have tired its fragile wings with the long flight across the water, and sought the boat for rest. Ailil thought it strange that he should not have noticed it as it approached; he reflected that it seemed almost to have risen from the water beside the boat, so suddenly did it flutter past him.

And then the moth was forgotten as Ailil once more contemplated the shore and the grotesquely shaped trunks and branches of the willows which his fancy never tired of endowing with gnarled and twisted natures to correspond with their physical shapes of grotesquerie, emphasized in the diffused moonlight that glimmered through the mist of the lake. Again he dreamed, and again he knew not for how long. Time was nothing. For him it had ceased to be, and he existed as might a ripple on the lake's surface, or as the willows weeping on the shore.

Slowly Ailil felt himself returning. Gradually his attention was being drawn back to the captivation of his mind and body, while unaccountably the projection of his thoughts into the nothingness of this dark abyss o£ beauty was being terminated. With something like annoyance, he realized this, and vaguely he wondered why.

Suddenly he knew! He was not alone. His mind was bright, alert and clear, wiped free of the cobwebs of dreams. Quickly he sat up and stared incredibly toward the cabin at the farther end of the boat.

Seated before the entrance of the cabin, was a young girl. She was merely sitting and staring at him with a wan and curious smile on her pale lips. Masses of golden hair floated down her back, and away from her head, mingling and becoming one with the sheen of the moonlight. The faintest of colors tinged the ivory pallor of her cheeks, and about her lips played the wisp of a smile, as tender and appealing as a child's.

Ailil could only stare, incredibly. He was overwhelmed in an instant with the loveliness of the picture. It possessed him and filled him with a fascination that held something of awe. He could not speak, and for several minutes he simply sat there and stared at this strange beauty that blended so perfectly with the ancient loveliness of the lake. Here, pictured in the exquisite moldings of human flesh, was a mortal representation of the lake's eternal charm.

And then, a thousand thoughts began whirling in wildest confusion in Ailil's mind. How did she get here? Who was she? Why was she here? The very commonplacencss of these riddles served to bring him closer to reality, and he realized that the girl must have hidden herself in the cabin of the boat. She could easily have escaped notice, since he never used the cabin except in the daytime, and for storage. Once more, he gazed at her. What a lovely stowaway she was! She had risen from her seat at the end of the boat, and was making her way toward him. The touch of her filmy white dress, brushing him, as she seated herself beside him, was like the trailing garment of a water Goddess, an Amphritrite with all the ancient charms of the seas at her command. Her closeness was overpowering, intoxicating to Ailil's beauty-drugged senses.

"You are not angry with me," she was speaking, "for annoying you? I so love the lake, and its beauty . . . and you too love it. That, I know."

Her voice was like the soft, caressing murmur of a thousand little streams, whispering in their hidden channels through night shaded forests of cool and damp depths. Murmuring and rising and falling imperceptibly, her words blended into a monotone of soft music. Ailil could not be sure that she was speaking, except for the exquisite tones that lingered in his mind and seemed to echo from a far distance.

"You are lovely," he breathed, "you are more lovely than the lake can ever be. Never did I dream of finding such beauty, alive and on the earth in this day." Ailil's throat was strangely dry, and he spoke in a husky, low-pitched voice. He could find nothing more to say. He could only stare at her, marveling, and praying that he would not awake from this mad, beautiful dream.

Already, she seemed to have forgotten him, and to have lost herself in the beauty of the night. Smiling faintly, as if all the world's happiness were hers, and she was possessed of a deep, soft joy, she leaned back into the cushions that pillowed the seat. Ailil gasped at the loveliness of her graceful throat and neck, as the moonlight filled the tiny hollows with a bluish glow, and lighted her eyes with wells of deep, glowing light.

And then Ailil's arms were about her, drawing her close to him, and their lips met in a kiss that was pure ecstasy and such wild delight as Ailil had never before known. Throughout the night, they lay there in the small dark boat, floating on the surface of the black lake. To Ailil it might have been the lake of Paradise on which they rested. The hours were tinged with the strangeness of mystery, and the utter loveliness of the surroundings, and the cries of the wild things in the swamp.

A faint greyness was stealing into the sky; the moon shone brightly and the first hush of the dawn light was creeping over the earth, Ailil awoke with a strange feeling of desolation and utter, unbearable loneliness. With wretched apprehension, his eyes immediately sought the loveliness of the creature of the night. She was gone. No trace of her remained, only the memory of her haunting charm.

A chilling illness seized Ailil. A wave of physical suffering and nausea swept over him. All was lost; all this wild beauty that he had loved so madly. Slowly the sun was routing the nocturnal beauties of the lake, and in a short time all the strange loveliness of the night would be gone. Ailil felt that he must flee, that he must hasten and leave the lake far behind him. He would hide away in the depths of the woods where the sun could not shine, where the gloom of the trees prevailed, and the light could not penetrate.

Frenziedly he began pulling up the heavy anchor. God! Would it never end? How deep was this ancient well that dropped into the center of the woodland like a vast cavity! Coil after coil of the rope, he tugged through the resisting waters. It was soaked through and slippery to the touch after the night in the lake. It reminded Ailil of the coils of a thin, brown serpent as it writhed and twisted from the depths of the abyss.

At last he could feel the heavy iron of the anchor swaying at the end of the rope. It was nearing the surface, and with a few more tugs he would be hauling it aboard, and leaving the accursed spot until night fell once more, and he could no longer resist the mad call of the dark waters.

And then Ailil saw that which sent him forever from the lake, never to return. Caught on a fork of the anchor was a human skeleton, dripping with mud and ooze, and long divested of the clothing of flesh which Ailil knew in a terrible moment had once been white, and tinged with the pallor of finely chiseled ivory.

By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, December 16, 1917.

The Forgetful Poet's Riddles 

The Forgetful Poet is so busy with his Christmas shopping and sending off parcel post packages that he said he only had time for a spoonful of verse, which is not to be taken seriously. He said he couldn't decide whether to give his great aunt Hester a sled or a dollhouse. I suggested that she might not appreciate such youthful gifts, but he said I had spoiled everything and upset his plans, and how did I know she was grown up inside. I apologized hastily, but he rushed out of the office in a temper, and I dare say Aunt Hester will be sliding down the hill on her new sled at Christmas. And I am sure I cannot help it.

Well, anyway, here are, or is his verse:

? ? ? ?

Part of my body
I found in a tree;
Something a sailor needs
In a rough sea

I found in my hands,
While part of my hat
Is musical--come now,
What make you of that?

Last week's answers are: Pin oak and pine tree and cotton plant. A pole is part of a telegraph system and a crane is used in construction. The places concealed in the sentences were Algiers, Athens, Florence, Pekin, Delaware, New Jersey, Tunis and Nice.

[Answers next time.]

Copyright © 2005 Eric Shanower and David Maxine. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 1, 2005


By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Author of The Royal Book of Oz, "The Wizard of Pumperdink", "King, King! Double King!", etc.

Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, February 8, 1918. 

There was once a brave frogling named Peter Spottle, which is, I think, a sensible enough name for a frog.

He had applied himself diligently to his studies and knew all the secrets of frogology, the main principles of which are "Look before you leap!" and "Birds have beaks as well as feathers."

His knowledge had not made him vain, but it had aroused in him restless ambitions to see the world.

"What is the use of this continual jumping in if it never gets you anywhere," he remarked to Ezra Bullfrog, the Mayor of the pond.

Ezra used to swallow harder than ever and roll his eyes, but he never seemed to be able to answer Peter's question. "You should settle down!" he would wheeze crossly; "settle down, Pete!"

But Peter did not want to settle down in the mud. He wouldn't give two croaks for such a life, he said; at least not until he had traveled. Peter had a beautiful voice and might have led the Froggie Pond chorus, but he went off by himself instead and stared up at the stars and the trees and wondered what was on the other side of the forest and how one set about adventuring. No one in the pond had ever tried it, so no one could give him any advice. He asked a little sparrow who had come to the pond for a bath what was on the other side of the forest, and the sparrow had told him a house. But as houses were not mentioned on frogology, Peter was no better off than before.

"Perhaps," said Peter, "it is a kind of tree!" The more he thought about it the curiouser and curiouser he became, and one night, in spite of the warnings of his parents, he hopped out of the pond and off through the forest.

On and on all night hopped Peter. By morning he was so dry and dusty he could go no further, and crawling in between the roots of a big tree, he lay the whole day. By night he was a little rested, but only able to hop along weakly. He felt that his strength would give out if he did not soon have some water. The twigs and stones of the forest were not soft and yielding like the mud, and poor Peter was soon bruised and blistered. The pond began to look very fine to the little frog, but he pressed on bravely, for "they will laugh if I return so soon," he thought miserably.

Traveling was very perilous, and once an owl missed Peter by such a breath of space he felt its claws snatching for an hour afterward.

Toward morning the sound of water rippling just ahead sent him hurrying forward. There was water - a long, narrow pond, so Pete thought. Forgetting all about his frogology and "look before you leap," he plunged head first into an icy brook, knocking himself senseless against the hard stones on the bottom. When he finally did come to the cold water (oh, how unlike the warm currents of that once-despised pond) had chilled and stiffened him so he could hardly move.

He crawled sadly out and must have gone to sleep, for the next thing he knew he was flying through the air, or so it seemed to Peter.

"Why, Fred, I never saw frogs here before. Let's take him home for the aquarium!"

Peter decided that traveling was very perilous indeed and wiggled frantically to escape from the little girl's soft finger. But it was no use, and next thing he found himself and some wet leaves firmly buttoned into the little girl's pocket.

"This is the end!" gasped Peter Spottle, and closed his eyes in resignation. Bump, bump, bump, he went bouncing along. He was roused by a familiar word, "I'm going right in the house and put him in with the goldfish!"

House! So he was really going to see a house after all!

More bouncing about and then again he was taken in the small fingers and popped into a glass pond. The water was warm, and after a few minutes, Peter revived and looked about him. To the goldfish who swam curiously around him he paid no attention. They had no legs, poor things, and were not worthy of attention. He jumped to the top of the stone castle and stared and stared. So this was a house! In his interest all the perils of his journey were forgotten.

He stared at the walls and the pictures and books and blinked solemnly at the people. Indeed, for several weeks he was so happy he almost forgot the pond.

But after a while he grew very homesick. After all, what was the use of seeing all these wonderful things if you could not tell it to some one?

He decided to talk to the strange giant creatures who sat in chairs around the table. He made his adventures into a song and croaked away at the top of his voice. Sometimes he sang all night.

"That frog's got to go!" The little girl's father looked crossly over his paper. "It stares me out of countenance and that noise it makes is horrible!" Sadly the little girl imparted the news to Billy, and next day Peter was again popped into the dark pocket. "I'm going to send him home in style!" chuckled Billy, and refused to tell his sister just what he meant. She soon learned, and so did Peter Spottle. The sudden change from the dark pocket to the light dazzled him, but when he came to he was floating swiftly down the brook n a neat little toy boat.

The children waved good-by, and Peter was so proud he almost burst his jacket. But the wonderfulest part of the story is to come. That brook wound straight back to Peter's pond, and two days later the whole frog population was amazed to see him come sailing home. He became straightway the most famous frog in the community, and he never tired of telling his adventures. When he was introduced they always said, "Pray, meet Mr. Peter Spottle, the frog who has seen a house.!"

But, for all that, Peter never went traveling again.

By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, December 9, 1917.

A Handful of Riddles

To what two trees and to what plant would you go for sewing materials?

What part of the telegraph system will give you the nationality of a man?

What bird is used in every construction operation?

Mr. G. Ography has sent us some remarkable sentences. He wonders what you will find in them. So do I.

Al jeeza at hens. That tune is nice. Dela wear your new jersey. Florence stop peeking.

Last week's answers were:
A public official is like a cow because he is bossy. Lid, feet, shoulder blade. An army is like a windmill because it is armed.

[Answers next time]

Copyright © 2005 Eric Shanower and David Maxine. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 1, 2005


By L. Frank Baum
Author of The Visitors from Oz, The Wogglebug Book, The Flying Girl, etc.

Originally published in Baum's American Fairy Tales, 1908.


Mary-Marie wanted something to do. Her mother had died years before, and the cruel king had commanded her father to join the royal army and march into far-off countries to do battle. She could not even guess when he would return; indeed, few of the soldiers of the king's army ever did return from the fierce wars. So the girl lived through many tedious days in her lonely little hut, and gathered nuts and berries from the forest to satisfy her hunger. But her one gown was getting faded and shabby, and Mary-Marie could not think how she might manage to get another.

The hut stood beside a path that wound up the mountain side and away into the kingdom of Aurissau that lay in the valley beyond, and one day as Mary-Marie sat before her door an aged traveler came up the path and paused before her. The girl brought him a cup of water and in answer to his questions told how lonely and poor she was.

"But what can I do?" cried she, spreading out her arms helplessly. "I can not hew down trees, as my father used; and in all this end of the king's domain there is nothing else to be done. For there are so many shepherds that no more are needed, and so many tillers of the soil that no more can find employment. Ah, I have tried; hut no one wants a weak girl like me."

"Why don't you become a witch?" asked the man.

"Me!" gasped Mary-Marie, amazed. "A witch!"

"Why not?" he inquired, as if surprised.

"Well," said the girl, laughing. "I'm not old enough. Witches, you know, are withered dried-up old hags."

"Oh, not at all!" returned the stranger.

"And they sell their souls to Satan, in return for a knowledge of witchcraft," continued Mary-Marie more seriously.

"Stuff and nonsense!" cried the stranger angrily.

"And all the enjoyment they get in life is riding broomsticks through the air on dark nights," declared the girl.

"Well, well, well!" said the old man in an astonished tone. "One might think you knew all about witches, to hear you chatter. But your words prove you to be very ignorant of the subject. You may find good people and bad people in the world; and so, I suppose, you may find good witches and bad witches. But I must confess most of the witches I have known were very respectable, indeed, and famous for their kind actions."

"Oh. I'd like to be that kind of witch!" said Mary-Marie, clasping her hands earnestly.

"It's easy enough," answered the stranger. "I passed a witch's cottage about five miles down this path, and there was a sign on the door which read:


"Were I you, my dear child, I would seek this cottage and learn to be a witch, for then you would have a busy and a happy life."

Saying these words the traveler rose and resumed his journey up the mountain, and Mary-Marie looked after him thoughtfully until he was out of sight. Then she jumped up and walked down the path, saying to herself:

"I'll go to the witch's cottage, anyway; and if I can coax her to give me lessons without cost I will learn her craft and become a witch myself."

So, singing and dancing along the steep pathway, she covered the five miles in a space of two hours, and so came to the very cottage the stranger had mentioned.

Until now she had almost doubted the truth of the old man's words; but, sure enough, there was the sign — and it read exactly as be had stated.

Mary-Marie knocked once upon the door and it flew open. Inside she saw a big room, the walls and ceiling and floor all painted a pure white color. The only furniture was a pretty white chair by the window, and seated on the chair was a woman with a fresh sweet face, snow-white hair and clothing so pure and speckless that the girl was sure that it had just come from the laundry. Noting the kindly expression upon the woman's face, Mary-Marie bobbed a courtesy, as was proper, and stood in a modest attitude of waiting.

"Come in, Mary-Marie," said the woman pleasantly.

"Oh, of course she knows my name!" thought the girl.

"Yes, and I know why you have come to me," continued the witch, just as if Mary-Marie had spoken her thought aloud.

"Then you also know I have no money to pay you for teaching me," said the girl.

"There are always ways of making payment without money," said the witch, smiling, "so I will take you as my pupil, and teach you to become a witch. I think you have considerable talent for the profession, and you are young and beautiful. These qualifications are somewhat rare, for witchcraft is a fine art that is much neglected these days."

Here the white-haired lady stopped to sigh, and Mary-Marie, thinking over her speech, asked timidly:

"To make payment without money, must I sell my soul to Satan?"

"Surely not!" returned the witch, "nor to me. nor to any one else. For you shall not become a wicked witch, but rather a good and faithful one, using your arts for the benefit of all mankind."

"Then I'll take my first lesson now!" exclaimed the girl eagerly.

"Wait a moment." said the woman; "we will not begin until we have made our bargain. You must promise, in return for my instruction, to perform three tasks for me."

"Very well," said Mary-Marie, "if I am able."

"You will be able when you are a witch," answered the woman. "But you must also agree to attend to my business before you begin to practice witchcraft on your own account."

"Very well," said Mary-Marie again.

"When you have faithfully executed my commands you shall be your own mistress, and work your witchcraft where you will for ever after."

"Thank you," said Mary-Marie; "let us begin at once."

The witch waved her hand and a pretty white chair appeared beside her own. Mary-Marie sat down and took her first lesson, and thereafter, for many days, she applied herself to learning the art of witchcraft, and found her companion a very interesting teacher.

There was no work to be done about the cottage. When they became hungry a table appeared in the center of the room loaded with wholesome food that proved most grateful to the girl after her accustomed meals of nuts and berries. And for drink they had delicious nectar, cold as spring water, which welled up in a magic flagon whenever they grew thirsty. At night two pretty white beds appeared, upon which it was impossible not to sleep soundly; and Mary-Marie noticed that the dreams which came to her while slumbering in her magic bed were far more pleasing than the stories she read in a story book.

The girl was an apt scholar, and being interested in her work learned its mysteries with exceeding rapidity. At length came a day when all magical arts that the witch knew were also known by Mary-Marie, and then the old woman said:

"Your education is finished. Tomorrow you shall start on your journey."

"What journey?" asked the girl.

"One that is necessary for you to undertake in order to accomplish the tasks you promised to perform in my behalf," was the answer.

"I am ready," declared Mary-Marie.

"Then listen carefully to my instructions," began the witch, drawing her chair nearer the girl, and speaking in an eager voice. "You must first go to the king's palace."

Mary-Marie looked at her frock and sighed.

"You will go as Princess Pritikin of Aurissau, as if on a visit of royal state. King Gruph has never seen this princess, so he will receive you courteously, and before he can discover the imposition you will have accomplished your errand."

"And what is my errand to the king?" asked the girl.

"I am coming to that," answered the witch. "But first tell me: what do you know of the king?"

"Very little," said Mary-Marie. "Men call him cruel and heartless, and I believe it is true, for he sent my dear father to the foreign wars. And they say the king is terrible in anger, often slaying his servants with his own hand when they anger him."

"They say truly in all this," declared the witch gravely; "and it is harder to bear because he is not our rightful king."

"Indeed, everyone knows Prince Melra should sit in his father's throne, instead of his Uncle Gruph. But the prince has disappeared, and they say his uncle had him killed, in order that he might himself be king," said Mary-Marie, dropping her voice to an awed whisper.

"Well, your first task will be to get near enough to King Gruph to enchant him," continued the old witch; "and it is my desire that you change him into the form of a nanny-goat."

Mary-Marie laughed and clapped her hands.

"How funny it will be," she cried, "to see the stern king trotting around as a goat!"

But the witch did not laugh. She looked thoughtful instead.

"My first task is easy enough," resumed the girl; "what next?"

"Next you must escape with the goat and lead it over the mountains to the city of Ribdil."

"Will that be difficult?" asked Mary-Marie.

"Not for a witch," was the answer, "although common mortals might fail to find a path over those wild mountains. Your third task will be to sell the goat at the city gate to a butcher named Gurd. As soon as Gurd has killed the goat you must hurry back to me. Afterward you will be at liberty to act as you please, for you will have repaid the debt you owe me for your instruction in witchcraft."

Well, Mary-Marie did not much like the tasks the witch had set her to do, for she was a gentle-hearted girl and had resolved to practice witchcraft only for the good of her fellow-creatures; but she was obliged to fulfill her promises, so she only said:

"Very well; I shall start tomorrow."

Next day a beautiful carriage, with many gaily dressed guards and servants attending it, drove up to the king's palace. In the carriage sat Mary-Marie, robed in exquisite garments and appearing every bit as dignified and sweet as the royal princess she represented.

"Make way for the Princess Pritikin of Aurissau!" shouted one of the guards; and so imposing was the escort that every one bowed down to the ground, and even King Gruph, in person, came down the marble steps of his palace to open the door of the carriage and assist the princess to alight.

Two pages carried the train of her silken mantle and the king led her at once to the great banquet hall and set her on his right hand, while the royal musicians played their best music to entertain the beautiful visitor.

For a time Mary-Marie quite enjoyed herself.

"This is better than eating nuts in my lonely hut on the hillside," she thought, as she feasted on the many dainties that covered the king's table. "I am very glad I learned how to be a witch."

She listened to the music and watched the dancers and the jugglers until it grew late and nearly all the courtiers and attendants had fallen sound asleep in their chairs. Only the king appeared fully awake, and he sat staring gloomily at the supposed princess as if for some reason he began to mistrust her errand at his palace.

Mary-Marie noticed that the king's mood had changed, so she dared delay no longer, but slyly drawing a silver bodkin from her bosom she leaned forward, as if to address the king, and gave him a tiny prick with the bodkin on his left shoulder.

Instantly the king's great form shrank away, and with a clatter of hoofs and a terrified bleat a nanny-goat fell upon the steps of the throne and then stood up trembling and turned its frightened eyes upon Mary-Marie.

The noise aroused all the slumbering courtiers, but when they rubbed their eyes and looked about them they found that both the king and the princess had disappeared, and only noticed that a barefooted, ragged girl was leading a goat from the hall by means of a hempen cord attached to its leg.

The young witch's own carriage and servants had long since disappeared, so she had but to find a path leading toward the mountains and begin the second part of her journey, leading the goat beside her and picking her way carefully by the light of the moon.

The goat gave many pitiful bleatings, and Mary-Marie's heart reproached her for what she was doing until she remembered the many cruel deeds of which the king had been guilty. Then she shook her finger at him and said:

"It serves you right!" and walked on swiftly.

At length the path, which constantly led upward, came to a stop at the edge of a deep gulf So Mary-Marie tied the goat to a rock and then lay down and slept until daylight.

In the morning she plucked four long hairs from the goat's back, and, having knotted them together, threw one end toward the gulf, muttering a few mystical words as she did so. Instantly a splendid bridge appeared, stretching from one edge of the gulf to the other, and on this the girl crossed in safety, driving the goat before her.

Having reached the other side of the gulf, she journeyed on until, nearing the highest peak of the mountain, she came upon a huge giant guarding the path.

"Stop!" he roared in a terrible voice. "None can pass here."

The little witch merely waved her hand and a cloud of thick dust swept into the giant's eyes and quickly blinded him. He dropped his club and began rubbing his eyes furiously, roaring the while with anger and pain. But Mary-Marie only laughed and said to the goat:

"How easy this witchcraft is when one knows how!"

And then she led the goat past the giant and down the mountain side, paying no further attention to his ravings.

Still other difficulties the little witch encountered, but she always overcame them by means of her magical arts, and finally she approached the city of Ribdil. Entering the gate she found near-by a big, brutal looking butcher, who stood before his shop and frowned at the passers-by.

"Is your name Gurd?" asked Mary-Marie.

"My name is Gurd!" answered the butcher with a fierce scowl. "What do you want?"

"Money for my goat," said Mary-Marie.

At this the butcher seized the goat and dragged it into his shop. Then he returned to the girl and cried:

"Be gone! Why are you loitering here?"

"I await the money for my goat," said Mary-Marie, looking at him bravely, although she was a bit frightened. For her witchcraft had enabled her to discover that this Gurd, who pretended to be a butcher, was in reality a powerful magician, whose arts might easily overcome her own unless she was clever enough to deceive him. It was Gurd's love of bloodshed that made him keep the butcher's shop, where he might satisfy his horrid longing to kill by slaughtering animals of all kinds.

The citizens of Ribdil all feared this evil man and avoided him whenever possible, and Gurd had no doubt the little girl whose goat he had stolen would be easily frightened.

He drew a sharp knife from his girdle and said:

"I will give you two minutes to escape. If you are not gone by that time I will kill you as well as your goat."

Mary-Marie was really tempted to run away when she heard that, for she knew her life was in great danger. But she resolved not to leave the place until she had accomplished her mission, so she answered boldly:

"If you do not pay me for the goat I will complain to the king."

"The king, eh?" said Gurd with a rough laugh. "Do you think I fear any mortal king? Escape while you have the time!"

But the girl did not move, so Gurd suddenly grasped her in his strong arms and carried her inside the shop, closing the door behind them that she might not escape.

"When I have killed the goat it will be your turn!" he cried, and with a flourish of his knife he sprang upon the bleating animal and with one blow stabbed it to the heart.

The poor goat fell down in a pool of its own blood, and behold! its form gradually changed to that of King Gruph, who with one deep groan expired at the butcher's feet.

Gurd gave one look at his victim and then uttered a terrible shriek of anguish. His burly form began to shrink and dwindle away, and in less than a minute he stood before Mary-Marie a feeble palsied old man, with scarcely enough strength to stagger to a bench.

"I am ruined - ruined!" he wailed, beginning to sob like a child. "For I have slain the king, and it was fated that if I ever drew but one drop of his royal blood my magic powers would depart from me for ever! I am ruined - and by a girl!"

Then he raised his head and asked feebly: "Who are you?"

"My name is Mary-Marie, and I am a good witch," she answered.

"Who sent you on this errand?" he inquired, moaning.

"An old woman with a fair, fresh face and white hair, whose name I do not know, but who taught me my witchcraft," replied Mary-Marie.

The wretched man paused to pass his withered hand over his forehead.

"I know who you mean," he said with another sob; "but you will find her an old woman no longer. Go back, and say you have avenged the wrong I have done. In an hour I shall be dead, and men will fear me no longer!"

He sank to the floor in a heap, and Mary-Marie walked out of the butcher's shop and passed through the gate of the city. Then, finding herself alone upon the mountain path, she drew a purple handkerchief from her bosom and spread it upon the ground. It was just large enough for her to stand upon, and when her feet rested upon the cloth she spoke a magic word she had learned from her teacher.

A sudden breeze ruffled her hair an instant, and then she found herself standing in the road before the white cottage of the witch.

Mary-Marie sprang forward and knocked on the door. As it flew open she cried:

"Your tasks are done, mistress!"

But then she paused in astonishment, for instead of the old witch a handsome young man stood within the room, clothed in princely raiment and smiling happily at the surprised look on the maiden's face.

"Come in, little witch!" he called in a gay voice; "come in and receive thanks for setting me free and restoring me to my kingdom!"

"Who are you?" gasped Mary-Marie.

"I am Prince Melra, who was supposed to be dead, bound by a powerful enchantment of the wicked magician Gurd, and I have been kept in the form of an old woman at the command of my uncle, King Gruph, that he might occupy the throne belonging by right to me. For five years I have suffered this enchantment; but I discovered that if ever the magician drew a drop of the king's blood he would lose all his powers, and I would regain my freedom. So I studied the arts of witchcraft, only to find that my every movement was watched by the magician, and that I must find some one else to accomplish my purpose."

"But how came you to select me?" asked the girl.

"I saw you one day gathering nuts in the forest, and loved you for your beauty and sweetness. So I took upon myself the form of an old man and passed your hut, stopping long enough to advise you to come to the old witch for lessons. Then I returned here by another path, and was in time to greet you. And while I taught you witchcraft I learned to love you more than before; so that now, being free and restored to my proper form and to my kingdom, I long to make you my queen."

"I think I'm too young to marry," said Mary-Marie, blushing. "Then I must find another mate," said the handsome prince, pretending to turn away.

"But girls often marry when they are too young," exclaimed Mary-Marie quickly; "so, if you don't object to my age - "

"Oh, not at all!" cried the prince; "the younger we are the more years we shall have to be happy in."

"That is true," said the girl thoughtfully. "But if I'm to be married so young it's a pity you ever taught me witchcraft."

"Nonsense!" said the prince, kissing her sweet lips fondly; "you were bewitching, Mary-Marie, long before I became your teacher!"

By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, December 2, 1917.

Some Ridiculous Riddles

That's what the Forgetful Poet called them, but I did not find them ridiculously easy. Before I tell you them, I must set down the answers to the Thanksgiving riddles--Mayflower, Pilgrim, Miles Standish, and the last contained three well-known poems--the first, "When the frost is on the pumpkin," by James Whitcomb Riley; the second, "We ourselves must pilgrims be," by James Russel Lowell, and third, "The Landing of the Pilgrims," by Mrs. Hemans.

And now for the ridiculous riddles:

Why is a public official like a cow?

With part of my eye
I could cover a box,
While part of a yardstick
I wear in my socks,
I have in my body
A part of a knife,
Which, strangely,
Does not interfere
With my life.

Why is a windmill like an army?

It ends with a measure for weight,
And begins with a word short and queer,
Whose meaning, I'm sad to relate,
Is to, well, I might say, domineer.
And this city (Sh-h! it's out of hearing),
Is weighty, also--domineering!

[Answers next time.]

Copyright © 2005 Eric Shanower and David Maxine. All rights reserved.