Three of them by
Arthur Conan Doyle
I—A CHAT ABOUT CHILDREN, SNAKES, AND ZEBUS
These little sketches are called “Three of Them,”
but there are really five, on and off the stage. There is
Daddy, a lumpish person with some gift for playing Indian games
when he is in the mood. He is then known as “The
Great Chief of the Leatherskin Tribe.” Then there is
my Lady Sunshine. These are the grown-ups, and don’t
really count. There remain the three, who need some
differentiating upon paper, though their little spirits are as
different in reality as spirits could be—all beautiful and
all quite different. The eldest is a boy of eight whom we
shall call “Laddie.” If ever there was a little
cavalier sent down ready-made it is he. His soul is the
most gallant, unselfish, innocent thing that ever God sent out to
get an extra polish upon earth. It dwells in a tall,
slight, well-formed body, graceful and agile, with a head and
face as clean-cut as if an old Greek cameo had come to life, and
a pair of innocent and yet wise grey eyes that
read and win the heart. He is shy and does not shine before
strangers. I have said that he is unselfish and
brave. When there is the usual wrangle about going to bed,
up he gets in his sedate way. “I will go
first,” says he, and off he goes, the eldest, that the
others may have the few extra minutes while he is in his
bath. As to his courage, he is absolutely lion-hearted
where he can help or defend any one else. On one occasion
Daddy lost his temper with Dimples (Boy Number 2), and, not
without very good provocation, gave him a tap on the side of the
head. Next instant he felt a butt down somewhere in the
region of his waist-belt, and there was an angry little red face
looking up at him, which turned suddenly to a brown mop of hair
as the butt was repeated. No one, not even Daddy, should
hit his little brother. Such was Laddie, the gentle and the
Then there is Dimples. Dimples is nearly seven, and you
never saw a rounder, softer, dimplier face, with two great
roguish, mischievous eyes of wood-pigeon grey, which are
sparkling with fun for the most part, though they can look sad
and solemn enough at times. Dimples has the making of a big
man in him. He has depth and reserves in his tiny
soul. But on the surface he is a boy of boys, always in
innocent mischief. “I will now do mischuff,” he
occasionally announces, and is usually as good as his word. He has a love and understanding of all
living creatures, the uglier and more slimy the better, treating
them all in a tender, fairylike fashion which seems to come from
some inner knowledge. He has been found holding a buttercup
under the mouth of a slug “to see if he likes
butter.” He finds creatures in an astonishing
way. Put him in the fairest garden, and presently he will
approach you with a newt, a toad, or a huge snail in his
custody. Nothing would ever induce him to hurt them, but he
gives them what he imagines to be a little treat and then
restores them to their homes. He has been known to speak
bitterly to the Lady when she has given orders that caterpillars
be killed if found upon the cabbages, and even the explanation
that the caterpillars were doing the work of what he calls
“the Jarmans” did not reconcile him to their
He has an advantage over Laddie, in that he suffers from no
trace of shyness and is perfectly friendly in an instant with any
one of every class of life, plunging straight into conversation
with some such remark as “Can your Daddy give a
war-whoop?” or “Were you ever chased by a
bear?” He is a sunny creature but combative
sometimes, when he draws down his brows, sets his eyes, his
chubby cheeks flush, and his lips go back from his almond-white
teeth. “I am Swankie the Berserker,” says he,
quoting out of his favourite “Erling the
Bold,” which Daddy reads aloud at bed-time. When he
is in this fighting mood he can even drive back Laddie, chiefly
because the elder is far too chivalrous to hurt him. If you
want to see what Laddie can really do, put the small gloves on
him and let him go for Daddy. Some of those hurricane
rallies of his would stop Daddy grinning if they could get home,
and he has to fall back off his stool in order to get away from
If that latent power of Dimples should ever come out, how will
it be manifest? Surely in his imagination. Tell him a
story and the boy is lost. He sits with his little round,
rosy face immovable and fixed, while his eyes never budge from
those of the speaker. He sucks in everything that is weird
or adventurous or wild. Laddie is a rather restless soul,
eager to be up and doing; but Dimples is absorbed in the present
if there be something worth hearing to be heard. In height
he is half a head shorter than his brother, but rather more
sturdy in build. The power of his voice is one of his
noticeable characteristics. If Dimples is coming you know
it well in advance. With that physical gift upon the top of
his audacity, and his loquacity, he fairly takes command of any
place in which he may find himself, while Laddie, his soul too
noble for jealousy, becomes one of the laughing and admiring
Then there is Baby, a dainty elfin Dresden-china little
creature of five, as fair as an angel and as deep as a
well. The boys are but shallow, sparkling pools compared
with this little girl with her self-repression and dainty
aloofness. You know the boys, you never feel that you quite
know the girl. Something very strong and forceful seems to
be at the back of that wee body. Her will is
tremendous. Nothing can break or even bend it. Only
kind guidance and friendly reasoning can mould it. The boys
are helpless if she has really made up her mind. But this
is only when she asserts herself, and those are rare
occasions. As a rule she sits quiet, aloof, affable, keenly
alive to all that passes and yet taking no part in it save for
some subtle smile or glance. And then suddenly the
wonderful grey-blue eyes under the long black lashes will gleam
like coy diamonds, and such a hearty little chuckle will come
from her that every one else is bound to laugh out of
sympathy. She and Dimples are great allies and yet have
continual lovers’ quarrels. One night she would not
even include his name in her prayers. “God
bless—” every one else, but not a word of
Dimples. “Come, come, darling!” urged the
Lady. “Well, then, God bless horrid Dimples!”
said she at last, after she had named the cat, the goat, her
dolls, and her Wriggly.
That is a strange trait, the love for the Wriggly. It would repay thought from some scientific
brain. It is an old, faded, disused downy from her
cot. Yet go where she will, she must take Wriggly with
her. All her toys put together would not console her for
the absence of Wriggly. If the family go to the seaside,
Wriggly must come too. She will not sleep without the
absurd bundle in her arms. If she goes to a party she
insists upon dragging its disreputable folds along with her, one
end always projecting “to give it fresh air.”
Every phase of childhood represents to the philosopher something
in the history of the race. From the new-born baby which
can hang easily by one hand from a broomstick with its legs drawn
up under it, the whole evolution of mankind is re-enacted.
You can trace clearly the cave-dweller, the hunter, the
scout. What, then, does Wriggly represent? Fetish
worship—nothing else. The savage chooses some most
unlikely thing and adores it. This dear little savage
adores her Wriggly.
So now we have our three little figures drawn as clearly as a
clumsy pen can follow such subtle elusive creatures of mood and
fancy. We will suppose now that it is a summer evening,
that Daddy is seated smoking in his chair, that the Lady is
listening somewhere near, and that the three are in a tumbled
heap upon the bear-skin before the empty fireplace trying to
puzzle out the little problems of their tiny lives. When
three children play with a new thought it is like three
kittens with a ball, one giving it a pat and another a pat, as
they chase it from point to point. Daddy would interfere as
little as possible, save when he was called upon to explain or to
deny. It was usually wiser for him to pretend to be doing
something else. Then their talk was the more natural.
On this occasion, however, he was directly appealed to.
“Daddy!” asked Dimples.
“Do you fink that the roses know us?”
Dimples, in spite of his impish naughtiness, had a way of
looking such a perfectly innocent and delightfully kissable
little person that one felt he really might be a good deal nearer
to the sweet secrets of Nature than his elders. However,
Daddy was in a material mood.
“No, boy; how could the roses know us?”
“The big yellow rose at the corner of the gate knows
“How do you know that?”
“’Cause it nodded to me yesterday.”
Laddie roared with laughter.
“That was just the wind, Dimples.”
“No, it was not,” said Dimples, with
conviction. “There was none wind. Baby was
there. Weren’t you, Baby?”
“The wose knew us,” said Baby, gravely.
“Beasts know us,” said Laddie. “But
them beasts run round and make
noises. Roses don’t make noises.”
“Yes, they do. They rustle.”
“Woses wustle,” said Baby.
“That’s not a living noise. That’s an
all-the-same noise. Different to Roy, who barks and makes
different noises all the time. Fancy the roses all
barkin’ at you. Daddy, will you tell us about
That is one of the child stages which takes us back to the old
tribe life—their inexhaustible interest in animals, some
distant echo of those long nights when wild men sat round the
fires and peered out into the darkness, and whispered about all
the strange and deadly creatures who fought with them for the
lordship of the earth. Children love caves, and they love
fires and meals out of doors, and they love animal talk—all
relics of the far distant past.
“What is the biggest animal in South America,
Daddy, wearily: “Oh, I don’t know.”
“I s’pose an elephant would be the
“No, boy; there are none in South America.”
“Well, then, a rhinoceros?”
“No, there are none.”
“Well, what is there, Daddy?”
“Well, dear, there are jaguars. I suppose a jaguar
is the biggest.”
“Then it must be thirty-six feet long.”
“Oh, no, boy; about eight or nine feet with his
“But there are boa-constrictors in South America
thirty-six feet long.”
“Do you fink,” asked Dimples, with his big,
solemn, grey eyes wide open, “there was ever a
boa-’strictor forty-five feet long?”
“No, dear; I never heard of one.”
“Perhaps there was one, but you never heard of it.
Do you fink you would have heard of a boa-’strictor
forty-five feet long if there was one in South
“Well, there may have been one.”
“Daddy,” said Laddie, carrying on the
cross-examination with the intense earnestness of a child,
“could a boa-constrictor swallow any small
“Yes, of course he could.”
“Could he swallow a jaguar?”
“Well, I don’t know about that. A jaguar is
a very large animal.”
“Well, then,” asked Dimples, “could a jaguar
swallow a boa-’strictor?”
“Silly ass,” said Laddie. “If a jaguar
was only nine feet long and the boa-constrictor was thirty-five
feet long, then there would be a lot sticking out of the
jaguar’s mouth. How could he swallow that?”
“He’d bite it off,” said Dimples.
“And then another slice for supper and another
for breakfast—but, I say, Daddy, a ’stricter
couldn’t swallow a porkpine, could he? He would have
a sore throat all the way down.”
Shrieks of laughter and a welcome rest for Daddy, who turned
to his paper.
He put down his paper with an air of conscious virtue and lit
“What’s the biggest snake you ever saw?”
“Oh, bother the snakes! I am tired of
But the children were never tired of them. Heredity
again, for the snake was the worst enemy of arboreal man.
“Daddy made soup out of a snake,” said
Laddie. “Tell us about that snake, Daddy.”
Children like a story best the fourth or fifth time, so it is
never any use to tell them that they know all about it. The
story which they can check and correct is their favourite.
“Well, dear, we got a viper and we killed it. Then
we wanted the skeleton to keep and we didn’t know how to
get it. At first we thought we would bury it, but that
seemed too slow. Then I had the idea to boil all the
viper’s flesh off its bones, and I got an old meat-tin and
we put the viper and some water into it and put it above the
“You hung it on a hook, Daddy.”
“Yes, we hung it on the hook that they put the
porridge pot on in Scotland. Then just as it was turning
brown in came the farmer’s wife, and ran up to see what we
were cooking. When she saw the viper she thought we were
going to eat it. ‘Oh, you dirty divils!’ she
cried, and caught up the tin in her apron and threw it out of the
Fresh shrieks of laughter from the children, and Dimples
repeated “You dirty divil!” until Daddy had to clump
him playfully on the head.
“Tell us some more about snakes,” cried
Laddie. “Did you ever see a really dreadful
“One that would turn you black and dead you in five
minutes?” said Dimples. It was always the most awful
thing that appealed to Dimples.
“Yes, I have seen some beastly creatures. Once in
the Sudan I was dozing on the sand when I opened my eyes and
there was a horrid creature like a big slug with horns, short and
thick, about a foot long, moving away in front of me.”
“What was it, Daddy?” Six eager eyes were
turned up to him.
“It was a death-adder. I expect that would dead
you in five minutes, Dimples, if it got a bite at you.”
“Did you kill it?”
“No; it was gone before I could get to it.”
“Which is the horridest, Daddy—a snake or a
“I’m not very fond of either!”
“Did you ever see a man eaten by sharks?”
“No, dear, but I was not so far off being eaten
“Oo!” from all three of them.
“I did a silly thing, for I swam round the ship in water
where there are many sharks. As I was drying myself on the
deck I saw the high fin of a shark above the water a little way
off. It had heard the splashing and come up to look for
“Weren’t you frightened, Daddy?”
“Yes. It made me feel rather cold.”
There was silence while Daddy saw once more the golden sand of
the African beach and the snow-white roaring surf, with the long,
smooth swell of the bar.
Children don’t like silences.
“Daddy,” said Laddie. “Do zebus
“Zebus! Why, they are cows. No, of course
“But a zebu could butt with its horns.”
“Oh, yes, it could butt.”
“Do you think a zebu could fight a crocodile?”
“Well, I should back the crocodile.”
“Well, dear, the crocodile has great teeth and would eat
“But suppose the zebu came up when the crocodile
was not looking and butted it.”
“Well, that would be one up for the zebu. But one
butt wouldn’t hurt a crocodile.”
“No, one wouldn’t, would it? But the zebu
would keep on. Crocodiles live on sand-banks, don’t
they? Well, then, the zebu would come and live near the
sandbank too—just so far as the crocodile would never see
him. Then every time the crocodile wasn’t looking the
zebu would butt him. Don’t you think he would beat
“Well, perhaps he would.”
“How long do you think it would take the zebu to beat
“Well, it would depend upon how often he got in his
“Well, suppose he butted him once every three hours,
don’t you think—?”
“Oh, bother the zebu!”
“That’s what the crocodile would say,” cried
Laddie, clapping his hands.
“Well, I agree with the crocodile,” said
“And it’s time all good children were in
bed,” said the Lady as the glimmer of the nurse’s
apron was seen in the gloom.
Supper was going on down below and all good children should
have been long ago in the land of
dreams. Yet a curious noise came from above.
“What on earth—?” asked Daddy.
“Laddie practising cricket,” said the Lady, with
the curious clairvoyance of motherhood. “He gets out
of bed to bowl. I do wish you would go up and speak
seriously to him about it, for it takes quite an hour off his
Daddy departed upon his mission intending to be gruff, and my
word, he can be quite gruff when he likes! When he reached
the top of the stairs, however, and heard the noise still
continue, he walked softly down the landing and peeped in through
the half-opened door.
The room was dark save for a night-light. In the dim
glimmer he saw a little white-clad figure, slight and supple,
taking short steps and swinging its arm in the middle of the
“Halloa!” said Daddy.
The white-clad figure turned and ran forward to him.
“Oh, Daddy, how jolly of you to come up!”
Daddy felt that gruffness was not quite so easy as it had
“Look here! You get into bed!” he said, with
the best imitation he could manage.
“Yes, Daddy. But before I go, how is
this?” He sprang forward and the arm swung round
again in a swift and graceful gesture.
Daddy was a moth-eaten cricketer of sorts, and he took
it in with a critical eye.
“Good, Laddie. I like a high action.
That’s the real Spofforth swing.”
“Oh, Daddy, come and talk about cricket!” He
was pulled on the side of the bed, and the white figure dived
between the sheets.
“Yes; tell us about cwicket!” came a cooing voice
from the corner. Dimples was sitting up in his cot.
“You naughty boy! I thought one of you was asleep,
anyhow. I mustn’t stay. I keep you
“Who was Popoff?” cried Laddie, clutching at his
father’s sleeve. “Was he a very good
“Spofforth was the best bowler that ever walked on to a
cricket-field. He was the great Australian Bowler and he
taught us a great deal.”
“Did he ever kill a dog?” from Dimples.
“No, boy. Why?”
“Because Laddie said there was a bowler so fast that his
ball went frue a coat and killed a dog.”
“Oh, that’s an old yarn. I heard that when I
was a little boy about some bowler whose name, I think, was
“Was it a big dog?”
“No, no, son; it wasn’t a dog at all.”
“It was a cat,” said Dimples.
“No; I tell you it never happened.”
“But tell us about Spofforth,” cried Laddie.
Dimples, with his imaginative mind, usually wandered, while the
elder came eagerly back to the point. “Was he very
“He could be very fast. I have heard cricketers
who had played against him say that his yorker—that is a
ball which is just short of a full pitch—was the fastest
ball in England. I have myself seen his long arm swing
round and the wicket go down before ever the batsman had time to
ground his bat.”
“Oo!” from both beds.
“He was a tall, thin man, and they called him the
Fiend. That means the Devil, you know.”
“And was he the Devil?”
“No, Dimples, no. They called him that because he
did such wonderful things with the ball.”
“Can the Devil do wonderful things with a
Daddy felt that he was propagating devil-worship and hastened
to get to safer ground.
“Spofforth taught us how to bowl and Blackham taught us
how to keep wicket. When I was young we always had another
fielder, called the long-stop, who stood behind the
wicket-keeper. I used to be a thick, solid boy, so they put me as long-stop, and the balls used to bounce
off me, I remember, as if I had been a mattress.”
“But after Blackham came wicket-keepers had to learn
that they were there to stop the ball. Even in good
second-class cricket there were no more long-stops. We soon
found plenty of good wicket-keeps—like Alfred Lyttelton and
MacGregor—but it was Blackham who showed us how. To
see Spofforth, all india-rubber and ginger, at one end bowling,
and Blackham, with his black beard over the bails waiting for the
ball at the other end, was worth living for, I can tell
Silence while the boys pondered over this. But Laddie
feared Daddy would go, so he quickly got in a question. If
Daddy’s memory could only be kept going there was no saying
how long they might keep him.
“Was there no good bowler until Spofforth
“Oh, plenty, my boy. But he brought something new
with him. Especially change of pace—you could never
tell by his action up to the last moment whether you were going
to get a ball like a flash of lightning, or one that came slow
but full of devil and spin. But for mere command of the
pitch of a ball I should think Alfred Shaw, of Nottingham, was
the greatest bowler I can remember. It was said
that he could pitch a ball twice in three times upon a
“Oo!” And then from Dimples:—
“Well, anybody’s half-crown.”
“Did he get the half-crown?”
“No, no; why should he?”
“Because he put the ball on it.”
“The half-crown was kept there always for people to aim
at,” explained Laddie.
“No, no, there never was a half-crown.”
Murmurs of remonstrance from both boys.
“I only meant that he could pitch the ball on
anything—a half-crown or anything else.”
“Daddy,” with the energy of one who has a happy
idea, “could he have pitched it on the batsman’s
“Yes, boy, I think so.”
“Well, then, suppose he always pitched it on the
“Perhaps that is why dear old W. G. always stood with
his left toe cocked up in the air.”
“On one leg?”
“No, no, Dimples. With his heel down and his toe
“Did you know W. G., Daddy?”
“Oh, yes, I knew him quite well.”
“Was he nice?”
“Yes, he was splendid. He was always like a
great jolly schoolboy who was hiding behind a huge black
“I meant that he had a great bushy beard. He
looked like the pirate chief in your picture-books, but he had as
kind a heart as a child. I have been told that it was the
terrible things in this war that really killed him. Grand
old W. G.!”
“Was he the best bat in the world, Daddy?”
“Of course he was,” said Daddy, beginning to
enthuse to the delight of the clever little plotter in the
bed. “There never was such a bat—never in the
world—and I don’t believe there ever could be
again. He didn’t play on smooth wickets, as they do
now. He played where the wickets were all patchy, and you
had to watch the ball right on to the bat. You
couldn’t look at it before it hit the ground and think,
‘That’s all right. I know where that one will
be!’ My word, that was cricket. What you got
“Did you ever see W. G. make a hundred,
“See him! I’ve fielded out for him and
melted on a hot August day while he made a hundred and
fifty. There’s a pound or two of your Daddy somewhere
on that field yet. But I loved to see it, and I was always
sorry when he got out for nothing, even if I were playing
“Did he ever get out for nothing?”
“Yes, dear; the first time I ever played in his company
he was given out leg-before-wicket before he made a run.
And all the way to the pavilion—that’s where people
go when they are out—he was walking forward, but his big
black beard was backward over his shoulder as he told the umpire
what he thought.”
“And what did he think?”
“More than I can tell you, Dimples. But I dare say
he was right to be annoyed, for it was a left-handed bowler,
bowling round the wicket, and it is very hard to get leg-before
to that. However, that’s all Greek to you.”
“Well, I mean you can’t understand that. Now
I am going.”
“No, no, Daddy; wait a moment! Tell us about
Bonner and the big catch.”
“Oh, you know about that!”
Two little coaxing voices came out of the darkness.
“Oh, please! Please!”
“I don’t know what your mother will say!
What was it you asked?”
“Ah, Bonner!” Daddy looked out in the gloom
and saw green fields and golden sunlight, and great
sportsmen long gone to their rest. “Bonner was a
wonderful man. He was a giant in size.”
“As big as you, Daddy?”
Daddy seized his elder boy and shook him playfully.
“I heard what you said to Miss Cregan the other day.
When she asked you what an acre was you said ‘About the
size of Daddy.’”
Both boys gurgled.
“But Bonner was five inches taller than I. He was
a giant, I tell you.”
“Did nobody kill him?”
“No, no, Dimples. Not a story-book giant.
But a great, strong man. He had a splendid figure and blue
eyes and a golden beard, and altogether he was the finest man I
have ever seen—except perhaps one.”
“Who was the one, Daddy?”
“Well, it was the Emperor Frederick of
“A Jarman!” cried Dimples, in horror.
“Yes, a German. Mind you, boys, a man may be a
very noble man and be a German—though what has become of
the noble ones these last three years is more than I can
guess. But Frederick was noble and good, as you could see
on his face. How he ever came to be the father of such a
blasphemous braggart”—Daddy sank into reverie.
“Bonner, Daddy!” said Laddie, and Daddy came back
from politics with a start.
“Oh, yes, Bonner. Bonner in white flannels
on the green sward with an English June sun upon him. That
was a picture of a man! But you asked me about the
catch. It was in a test match at the Oval—England
against Australia. Bonner said before he went in that he
would hit Alfred Shaw into the next county, and he set out to do
it. Shaw, as I have told you, could keep a very good
length, so for some time Bonner could not get the ball he wanted,
but at last he saw his chance, and he jumped out and hit that
ball the most awful ker-wallop that ever was seen in a
“Oo!” from both boys: and then, “Did it go
into the next county, Daddy?” from Dimples.
“Well, I’m telling you!” said Daddy, who was
always testy when one of his stories was interrupted.
“Bonner thought he had made the ball a
half-volley—that is the best ball to hit—but Shaw had
deceived him and the ball was really on the short side. So
when Bonner hit it, up and up it went, until it looked as if it
were going out of sight into the sky.”
“At first everybody thought it was going far outside the
ground. But soon they saw that all the giant’s
strength had been wasted in hitting the ball so high, and that
there was a chance that it would fall within the ropes. The
batsmen had run three runs and it was still in the air.
Then it was seen that an English fielder was
standing on the very edge of the field with his back on the
ropes, a white figure against the black line of the people.
He stood watching the mighty curve of the ball, and twice he
raised his hands together above his head as he did so. Then
a third time he raised his hands above his head, and the ball was
in them and Bonner was out.”
“Why did he raise his hands twice?”
“I don’t know. He did so.”
“And who was the fielder, Daddy?”
“The fielder was G. F. Grace, the younger brother of W.
G. Only a few months afterwards he was a dead man.
But he had one grand moment in his life, with twenty thousand
people all just mad with excitement. Poor G. F.! He
died too soon.”
“Did you ever catch a catch like that, Daddy?”
“No, boy. I was never a particularly good
“Did you never catch a good catch?”
“Well, I won’t say that. You see, the best
catches are very often flukes, and I remember one awful fluke of
“Do tell us, Daddy?”
“Well, dear, I was fielding at slip. That is very
near the wicket, you know. Woodcock was bowling, and he had
the name of being the fastest bowler of England at that
time. It was just the beginning of the match and the ball
was quite red. Suddenly I saw something
like a red flash and there was the ball stuck in my left
hand. I had not time to move it. It simply came and
“I saw another catch like that. It was done by
Ulyett, a fine Yorkshire player—such a big, upstanding
fellow. He was bowling, and the batsman—it was an
Australian in a test match—hit as hard as ever he
could. Ulyett could not have seen it, but he just stuck out
his hand and there was the ball.”
“Suppose it had hit his body?”
“Well, it would have hurt him.”
“Would he have cried?” from Dimples.
“No, boy. That is what games are for, to teach you
to take a knock and never show it. Supposing
A step was heard coming along the passage.
“Good gracious, boys, here’s Mumty. Shut
your eyes this moment. It’s all right, dear. I
spoke to them very severely and I think they are nearly
“What have you been talking about?” asked the
“Cwicket!” cried Dimples.
“It’s natural enough,” said Daddy; “of
course when two boys—”
“Three,” said the Lady, as she tucked up the
The three children were sitting together in a bunch upon the
rug in the gloaming. Baby was talking so Daddy behind his
newspaper pricked up his ears, for the young lady was silent as a
rule, and every glimpse of her little mind was of interest.
She was nursing the disreputable little downy quilt which she
called Wriggly and much preferred to any of her dolls.
“I wonder if they will let Wriggly into heaven,”
The boys laughed. They generally laughed at what Baby
“If they won’t I won’t go in, either,”
“Nor me, neither, if they don’t let in my
Teddy-bear,” said Dimples.
“I’ll tell them it is a nice, clean, blue
Wriggly,” said Baby. “I love my
Wriggly.” She cooed over it and hugged it.
“What about that, Daddy?” asked Laddie, in his
earnest fashion. “Are there toys in heaven, do you
“Of course there are. Everything that can make
“As many toys as in Hamley’s shop?” asked
“More,” said Daddy, stoutly.
“Oo!” from all three.
“Daddy, dear,” said Laddie.
“I’ve been wondering about the deluge.”
“Yes, dear. What was it?”
“Well, the story about the Ark. All those animals
were in the Ark, just two of each, for forty days.
Wasn’t that so?”
“That is the story.”
“Well, then, what did the carnivorous animals
One should be honest with children and not put them off with
ridiculous explanations. Their questions about such matters
are generally much more sensible than their parents’
“Well, dear,” said Daddy, weighing his words,
“these stories are very, very old. The Jews put them
in the Bible, but they got them from the people in Babylon, and
the people in Babylon probably got them from some one else away
back in the beginning of things. If a story gets passed
down like that, one person adds a little and another adds a
little, and so you never get things quite as they happened.
The Jews put it in the Bible exactly as they heard it, but it had
been going about for thousands of years before then.”
“So it was not true?”
“Yes, I think it was true. I think there was a
great flood, and I think that some people did escape, and that
they saved their beasts, just as we should try to save Nigger and
the Monkstown cocks and hens if we were flooded out. Then they were able to start again when the
waters went down, and they were naturally very grateful to God
for their escape.”
“What did the people who didn’t escape think about
“Well, we can’t tell that.”
“They wouldn’t be very grateful, would
“Their time was come,” said Daddy, who was a bit
of a Fatalist. “I expect it was the best
“It was jolly hard luck on Noah being swallowed by a
fish after all his trouble,” said Dimples.
“Silly ass! It was Jonah that was swallowed.
Was it a whale, Daddy?”
“A whale! Why, a whale couldn’t swallow a
“A shark, then?”
“Well, there again you have an old story which has got
twisted and turned a good deal. No doubt he was a holy man
who had some great escape at sea, and then the sailors and others
who admired him invented this wonder.”
“Daddy,” said Dimples, suddenly, “should we
do just the same as Jesus did?”
“Yes, dear; He was the noblest Person that ever
“Well, did Jesus lie down every day from twelve to
“I don’t know that He did.”
“Well, then, I won’t lie down from twelve
“If Jesus had been a growing boy and had been ordered to
lie down by His Mumty and the doctor, I am sure He would have
“Did He take malt extract?”
“He did what He was told, my son—I am sure of
that. He was a good man, so He must have been a good
boy—perfect in all He did.”
“Baby saw God yesterday,” remarked Laddie,
Daddy dropped his paper.
“Yes, we made up our minds we would all lie on our backs
and stare at the sky until we saw God. So we put the big
rug on the lawn and then we all lay down side by side, and stared
and stared. I saw nothing, and Dimples saw nothing, but
Baby says she saw God.”
Baby nodded in her wise way.
“I saw Him,” she said.
“What was He like, then?”
“Oh, just God.”
She would say no more, but hugged her Wriggly.
The Lady had entered and listened with some trepidation to the
frank audacity of the children’s views. Yet the very
essence of faith was in that audacity. It was all so
“Which is strongest, Daddy, God or the
Devil?” It was Laddie who was speculating now.
“Why, God rules everything, of course.”
“Then why doesn’t He kill the Devil?”
“And scalp him?” added Dimples.
“That would stop all trouble, wouldn’t it,
Poor Daddy was rather floored. The Lady came to his
“If everything was good and easy in this world, then
there would be nothing to fight against, and so, Laddie, our
characters would never improve.”
“It would be like a football match with all the players
on one side,” said Daddy.
“If there was nothing bad, then, nothing would be good,
for you would have nothing to compare by,” added the
“Well, then,” said Laddie, with the remorseless
logic of childhood, “if that is so, then the Devil is very
useful; so he can’t be so very bad, after all.”
“Well, I don’t see that,” Daddy
answered. “Our Army can only show how brave it is by
fighting the German Emperor, but that does not prove that the
German Emperor is a very nice person, does it now?
“Besides,” Daddy continued, improving the
occasion, “you must not think of the Devil as a
person. You must think of all the mean things one could do,
and all the dirty things, and all the cruel things, and that is
really the Devil you are fighting
against. You couldn’t call them useful, could
The children thought over this for a little.
“Daddy,” said Laddie, “have you ever
“No, my boy. But I see His works. I expect
that is as near as we can get in this world. Look at all
the stars at night, and think of the Power that made them and
keeps each in its proper place.”
“He couldn’t keep the shooting stars in their
proper place,” said Dimples.
“I expect He meant them to shoot,” said
“Suppose they all shot, what jolly nights we should
have!” cried Dimples.
“Yes,” said Laddie; “but after one night
they would all have gone, and a nice thing then!”
“Well, there’s always the moon,” remarked
Dimples. “But, Daddy, is it true that God listens to
all we say?”
“I don’t know about that,” Daddy answered,
cautiously. You never know into what trap those quick
little wits may lead you. The Lady was more rash, or more
“Yes, dear, He does hear all you say.”
“Is He listenin’ now?”
“Well, I call it vewy rude of Him!”
Daddy smiled, and the Lady gasped.
“It isn’t rude,” said Laddie.
“It is His duty, and He has to notice what you are
doing and saying. Daddy, did you ever see a
“I saw one once.”
Laddie is the very soul of truth, quite painfully truthful in
details, so that his quiet remark caused attention.
“Tell us about it, dear.”
He described it with as little emotion as if it were a Persian
cat. Perhaps his perfect faith had indeed opened something
to his vision.
“It was in the day nursery. There was a stool by
the window. The fairy jumped on the stool and then down,
and went across the room.”
“What was it dressed like?”
“All in grey, with a long cloak. It was about as
big as Baby’s doll. I could not see its arms, for
they were under the cloak.”
“Did he look at you?”
“No, he was sideways, and I never really saw his
face. He had a little cap. That’s the only
fairy I ever saw. Of course, there was Father Christmas, if
you call him a fairy.”
“Daddy, was Father Christmas killed in the
“Because he has never come since the war began. I
expect he is fightin’ the Jarmans.” It was
Dimples who was talking.
“Last time he came,” said Laddie,
“Daddy said one of his reindeers had hurt its leg in the
ruts of the Monkstown Lane. Perhaps that’s why he
“He’ll come all right after the war,” said
Daddy, “and he’ll be redder and whiter and jollier
than ever.” Then Daddy clouded suddenly, for he
thought of all those who would be missing when Father Christmas
came again. Ten loved ones were dead from that one
household. The Lady put out her hand, for she always knew
what Daddy was thinking.
“They will be there in spirit, dear.”
“Yes, and the jolliest of the lot,” said Daddy,
stoutly. “We’ll have our Father Christmas back
and all will be well in England.”
“But what do they do in India?” asked Laddie.
“Why, what’s wrong with them?”
“How do the sledge and the reindeer get across the
sea? All the parcels must get wet.”
“Yes, dear, there have been several
complaints,” said Daddy, gravely. “Halloa,
here’s nurse! Time’s up! Off to
They got up resignedly, for they were really very good
children. “Say your prayers here before you
go,” said the Lady. The three little figures all
knelt on the rug, Baby still cuddling her Wriggly.
“You pray, Laddie, and the rest can join in.”
“God bless every one I love,” said the
high, clear child-voice. “And make me a good boy, and
thank You so much for all the blessings of to-day. And
please take care of Alleyne, who is fighting the Germans, and
Uncle Cosmo, who is fighting the Germans, and Uncle Woodie, who
is fighting the Germans, and all the others who are fighting the
Germans, and the men on the ships on the sea, and Grandma and
Grandpa, and Uncle Pat, and don’t ever let Daddy and Mumty
die. That’s all.”
“And please send plenty sugar for the poor
people,” said Baby, in her unexpected way.
“And a little petrol for Daddy,” said Dimples.
“Amen!” said Daddy. And the little figures
rose for the good-night kiss.
IV—THE LEATHERSKIN TRIBE
“Daddy!” said the elder boy. “Have you
seen wild Indians?”
“Have you ever scalped one?”
“Good gracious, no.”
“Has one ever scalped you?” asked Dimples.
“Silly!” said Laddie. “If Daddy had
been scalped he wouldn’t have all that hair on his
head—unless perhaps it grew again!”
“He has none hair on the very top,” said Dimples,
hovering over the low chair in which Daddy was sitting.
“They didn’t scalp you, did they,
Daddy?” asked Laddie, with some anxiety.
“I expect Nature will scalp me some of these
Both boys were keenly interested. Nature presented
itself as some rival chief.
“When?” asked Dimples, eagerly, with the evident
intention of being present.
Daddy passed his fingers ruefully through his thinning
locks. “Pretty soon, I expect,” said he.
“Oo!” said the three children. Laddie was
resentful and defiant, but the two younger ones were obviously
“But I say, Daddy, you said we should have an Indian
game after tea. You said it when you wanted us to be so
quiet after breakfast. You promised, you know.”
It doesn’t do to break a promise to children.
Daddy rose somewhat wearily from his comfortable chair and put
his pipe on the mantelpiece. First he held a conference in
secret with Uncle Pat, the most ingenious of playmates.
Then he returned to the children. “Collect the
tribe,” said he. “There is a Council in a
quarter of an hour in the big room. Put on your Indian
dresses and arm yourselves. The great Chief will be
Sure enough when he entered the big room a quarter of an hour
later the tribe of the Leatherskins had assembled. There
were four of them, for little rosy Cousin John from
next door always came in for an Indian game. They had all
Indian dresses with high feathers and wooden clubs or
tomahawks. Daddy was in his usual untidy tweeds, but
carried a rifle. He was very serious when he entered the
room, for one should be very serious in a real good Indian
game. Then he raised his rifle slowly over his head in
greeting and the four childish voices rang out in the
war-cry. It was a prolonged wolfish howl which Dimples had
been known to offer to teach elderly ladies in hotel
corridors. “You can’t be in our tribe without
it, you know. There is none body about. Now just try
once if you can do it.” At this moment there are
half-a-dozen elderly people wandering about England who have been
made children once more by Laddie and Dimples.
“Hail to the tribe!” cried Daddy.
“Hail, Chief!” answered the voices.
“Here!” cried Laddie.
“Here!” cried Dimples.
“Go on, you silly squaw!” growled Dimples.
“Here,” said Baby.
“Here,” said little four-year-old John.
“The muster is complete. Make a circle round the camp-fire and we shall drink the firewater of
the Palefaces and smoke the pipe of peace.”
That was a fearsome joy. The fire-water was ginger-ale
drunk out of the bottle, which was gravely passed from hand to
hand. At no other time had they ever drunk like that, and
it made an occasion of it which was increased by the owlish
gravity of Daddy. Then he lit his pipe and it was passed
also from one tiny hand to another, Laddie taking a hearty suck
at it, which set him coughing, while Baby only touched the end of
the amber with her little pink lips. There was dead silence
until it had gone round and returned to its owner.
“Warriors of the Leatherskins, why have we come
here?” asked Daddy, fingering his rifle.
“Humpty Dumpty,” said little John, and the
children all began to laugh, but the portentous gravity of Daddy
brought them back to the warrior mood.
“The Prairie Wolf has spoken truly,” said
Daddy. “A wicked Paleface called Humpty Dumpty has
taken the prairies which once belonged to the Leatherskins and is
now camped upon them and hunting our buffaloes. What shall
be his fate? Let each warrior speak in turn.”
“Tell him he has jolly well got to clear out,”
“That’s not Indian talk,” cried Dimples,
with all his soul in the game. “Kill him,
great Chief—him and his squaw, too.” The two
younger warriors merely laughed and little John repeated
“Quite right! Remember the villain’s
name!” said Daddy. “Now, then, the whole tribe
follows me on the war-trail and we shall teach this Paleface to
shoot our buffaloes.”
“Look here, we don’t want squaws,” cried
Dimples, as Baby toddled at the rear of the procession.
“You stay in the wigwam and cook.”
A piteous cry greeted the suggestion.
“The White Butterfly will come with us and bind up the
wounds,” said Daddy.
“The squaws are jolly good as torturers,” remarked
“Really, Daddy, this strikes me as a most immoral
game,” said the Lady, who had been a sympathetic spectator
from a corner, doubtful of the ginger-ale, horrified at the pipe,
and delighted at the complete absorption of the children.
“Rather!” said the great Chief, with a sad relapse
into the normal. “I suppose that is why they love it
so. Now, then, warriors, we go forth on the
war-trail. One whoop all together before we start.
Capital! Follow me, now, one behind the other. Not a
sound! If one gets separated from the others let him give
the cry of a night owl and the others will answer with the squeak
of the prairie lizard.”
“What sort of a squeak, please?”
“Oh, any old squeak will do. You don’t
walk. Indians trot on the war-path. If you see any
man hiding in a bush kill him at once, but don’t stop to
“Really, dear!” from the corner.
“The great Queen would rather that you scalp him.
Now, then! All ready! Start!”
Away went the line of figures, Daddy stooping with his rifle
at the trail, Laddie and Dimples armed with axes and toy pistols,
as tense and serious as any Redskins could be. The other
two rather more irresponsible but very much absorbed all the
same. The little line of absurd figures wound in and out of
the furniture, and out on to the lawn, and round the laurel
bushes, and into the yard, and back to the clump of trees.
There Daddy stopped and held up his hand with a face that froze
“Are all here?” he asked.
“Hush, warriors! No sound. There is an enemy
scout in the bushes ahead. Stay with me, you two.
You, Red Buffalo, and you, Black Bear, crawl forward and settle
him. See that he makes no sound. What you do must be
quick and sudden. When all is clear give the cry of the
wood-pigeon, and we will join you.”
The two warriors crawled off in most desperate earnest.
Daddy leaned on his gun and winked at the
Lady, who still hovered fearfully in the background like a dear
hen whose chickens were doing wonderful and unaccountable
things. The two younger Indians slapped each other and
giggled. Presently there came the “coo” of a
wood-pigeon from in front. Daddy and the tribe moved
forward to where the advance guard were waiting in the
“Great Chief, we could find no scout,” said
“There was none person to kill,” added
The Chief was not surprised, since the scout had been entirely
of his own invention. It would not do to admit it,
“Have you found his trail?” he asked.
“Let me look.” Daddy hunted about with a
look of preternatural sagacity about him. “Before the
snows fell a man passed here with a red head, grey clothes, and a
squint in his left eye. His trail shows that his brother
has a grocer’s shop and his wife smokes cigarettes on the
“Oh, Daddy, how could you read all that?”
“It’s easy enough, my son, when you get the knack
of it. But look here, we are Indians on the war-trail, and
don’t you forget it if you value your scalp! Aha,
here is Humpty Dumpty’s trail!”
Uncle Pat had laid down a paper trail from this point,
as Daddy well knew; so now the children were off like a little
pack of eager harriers, following in and out among the
bushes. Presently they had a rest.
“Great Chief, why does a wicked Paleface leave paper
wherever he goes?”
Daddy made a great effort.
“He tears up the wicked letters he has written.
Then he writes others even wickeder and tears them up in
turn. You can see for yourself that he leaves them wherever
he goes. Now, warriors, come along!”
Uncle Pat had dodged all over the limited garden, and the
tribe followed his trail. Finally they stopped at a gap in
the hedge which leads into the field. There was a little
wooden hut in the field, where Daddy used to go and put up a
printed cardboard: “WORKING.” He found it a
very good dodge when he wanted a quiet smoke and a nap.
Usually there was nothing else in the field, but this time the
Chief pushed the whole tribe hurriedly behind the hedge, and
whispered to them to look carefully out between the branches.
In the middle of the field a tripod of sticks supported a
kettle. At each side of it was a hunched-up figure in a
coloured blanket. Uncle Pat had done his work skilfully and
“You must get them before they can reach their rifles,” said the Chief. “What
about their horses? Black Bear, move down the hedge and
bring back word about their horses. If you see none give
The whistles were soon heard, and the warrior returned.
“If the horses had been there, what would you have
“Scalped them!” said Dimples.
“Silly ass!” said Laddie. “Who ever
heard of a horse’s scalp? You would stampede
“Of course,” said the Chief. “If ever
you see a horse grazing, you crawl up to it, spring on its back
and then gallop away with your head looking under its neck and
only your foot to be seen. Don’t you forget it.
But we must scupper these rascals on our
“Shall we crawl up to them?”
“Yes, crawl up. Then when I give a whoop rush
them. Take them alive. I wish to have a word with
them first. Carry them into the hut. Go!”
Away went the eager little figures, the chubby babes and the
two lithe, active boys. Daddy stood behind the bush
watching them. They kept a line and tip-toed along to the
camp of the strangers. Then on the Chief’s signal
they burst into a cry and rushed wildly with waving weapons into
the camp of the Palefaces. A moment later the two
pillow-made trappers were being dragged off into the hut
by the whooping warriors. They were up-ended in one corner
when the Chief entered, and the victorious Indians were dancing
about in front of them.
“Anybody wounded?” asked the Chief.
“Have you tied their hands?”
With perfect gravity Red Buffalo made movements behind each of
“They are tied, great Chief.”
“What shall we do with them?”
“Cut off their heads!” shrieked Dimples, who was
always the most bloodthirsty of the tribe, though in private life
he had been known to weep bitterly over a squashed
“The proper thing is to tie them to a stake,” said
“What do you mean by killing our buffaloes?” asked
The prisoners preserved a sulky silence.
“Shall I shoot the green one?” asked Dimples,
presenting his wooden pistol.
“Wait a bit!” said the Chief. “We had
best keep one as a hostage and send the other back to say that
unless the Chief of the Palefaces pays a ransom within three
But at that moment, as a great romancer used to say, a strange
thing happened. There was the sound of a turning key and
the whole tribe of the Leatherskins was locked into the hut. A moment later a dreadful face appeared at
the window, a face daubed with mud and overhung with grass, which
drooped down from under a soft cap. The weird creature
danced in triumph, and then stooped to set a light to some paper
and shavings near the window.
“Heavens!” cried the Chief. “It is
Yellow Snake, the ferocious Chief of the Bottlenoses!”
Flame and smoke were rising outside. It was excellently
done and perfectly safe, but too much for the younger
warriors. The key turned, the door opened, and two tearful
babes were in the arms of the kneeling Lady. Red Buffalo
and Black Bear were of sterner stuff.
“I’m not frightened, Daddy,” said Laddie,
though he looked a little pale.
“Nor me,” cried Dimples, hurrying to get out of
“We’ll lock the prisoners up with no food and have
a council of war upon them in the morning,” said the
Chief. “Perhaps we’ve done enough
“I rather think you have,” said the Lady, as she
soothed the poor little sobbing figures.
“That’s the worst of having kids to play,”
said Dimples. “Fancy having a squaw in a
“Never mind, we’ve had a jolly good Indian
game,” said Laddie, as the sound of a distant bell called
them all to the nursery tea.
Printed by Hazell, Watson
& Viney, Ld., London and Aylesbury,
The reader is referred to the Preface in
connection with this story.—A. C. D.