Altogether Different by W. Pett Ridge
 
I knew a child who——

Some friends of mine have a daughter, and she——

Not very many years ago, I remember hearing——

Once upon a time—that is the proper way to begin this story—once upon a time there was a little girl, of about the usual age, who lived near to St. John's Wood Road Station, handy to Lord's cricket ground, and not far from the Zoological Gardens. You would think that any one who, in the summer, could look out of her window and see Mr. P. F. Warner batting, and in the winter was able to go any afternoon she liked, to watch the lions and tigers take high tea at four, ought to have been as happy as the days were long; cheerful even when the days were short. Yet she was not entirely satisfied; it may be said that her one failing was a spirit of discontent. When grown-ups are discontented, it is called ambition; but that is another matter.

On a certain Tuesday evening in November it happened that she felt quite pleased with the world until about seven o'clock. Seven in the evening was the hour that frequently made her peevish.

Nurse left her alone for a minute to see if everything was ready upstairs, and in that minute the little girl jumped on a chair and moved back the long hand. She was reading her picture-book with great interest when nurse returned.

"Bless my soul!" cried nurse. "Quite thought it wanted ten to seven, and here it is only ten past six. I shall find myself in Colney Hatch before I'm much older."

The little girl wanted to assure Nanna there was no good reason to assume that mental decay had set in, but she did not do this at once, and afterwards it seemed too late. So nurse was allowed to chat on, and tell her very best story about the time when she was a child, and a good one at that, and when the clock, having been compelled to go over the ground twice, again gave the time as ten to seven, nurse said,

"Now my dearie!"

Upstairs, the little girl devoted a few minutes to instructing her dolly in the art of going off nicely to bye-byes.

She was left alone, with just a mere star of gas-light for company shining above the dressing-table, and at the moment when she was about to go to sleep conscience woke up. Conscience became wide-awake. Conscience insisted upon talking, and the little girl had to listen. She was aware it is useless to cry when one is by oneself with nobody looking on; not only useless but wasteful, because you may want those tears on more important and more public occasions. So the little girl did not weep, but, oh! she felt troubled. She did feel troubled.

"A silly, stupid world!" she cried aloud. "It ought—it ought to be changed. I'd very much love it to be altogether different."

A knock at her door, and she answered, "Please come in, Nanna!" Not nurse. Certainly the tall lady with diamonds sparkling in her hair, and a white chiffon kind of costume, and a long silver stick in the right hand, was as unlike nurse as any one could be. The little girl said, "Oh, I beg pardon!" in her politest manner.

"It is for me to beg yours," answered the tall lady with severity. "I am exceedingly sorry to disturb you."

"Pray don't mention it."

"I wish to mention it," insisted the lady. "I claim the right to mention it. I decline to allow any one to dictate to me what I shall or what I shall not mention. I am a good fairy."

The little girl opened her mouth with surprise.

"A good fairy, and I am here to do you a favour. When a good fairy wishes to do a favour, it is only necessary for a wish to be expressed, and——"

"Thank you," said the child nervously, "but really I would so much rather you did not take the trouble."

"The trouble," replied the good fairy, striking the floor with her silver stick in an impatient way, "is no concern of yours. You mustn't haggle."

"I don't know what that means," declared the other earnestly, "and if I did, I wouldn't do it, ma'am, I wouldn't really. Good evening, and, of course, thank you ever so much for calling."

"Dress!" ordered the good fairy.

On the instant something happened which the little girl had often thought about; more than once she had talked it over with nurse. She found herself, in the space of less time than it takes to click your finger and thumb, fully and completely costumed, boots laced up, hair taken out of curlers and properly brushed, hat set at the correct angle, parasol in hand, gloves buttoned, and everything ready for a walk out of doors. She gave a cry of delight and astonishment.

"I am about to give you the great treat of your life," said the fairy, "something that no one has ever yet experienced, something that will give you a subject to talk about for the rest of your days. Nobody will believe you, but that must be endured. You are about to see the world as nobody else has seen it. And if you ask me why you have been selected for this high and special honour——"

"Please, I don't!"

"My answer is," taking no notice of the interruption, "that you are receiving the award for your wonderful discovery."

"But I have discovered nothing."

"Nothing!" echoed the lady, with amazement. "You call it nothing to have found out the secret that has puzzled clever people for thousands and thousands of years? How often folk have said, 'If only I could live some part of my life over again!' and they never have been able to do it. You, child, were the first."

The staircase had always gone straight down until it neared the next landing, where it took a slight curve; now it was all curves and had nothing about it that could be called straight. It went up, it went down, it went to the left, it went to the right, so that wherever you put your foot expecting to find a step, you did not find it, and wherever you put your foot expecting to find nothing, you hurt your toes.

"This is very strange, ma'am!"

"That," replied the other, "should be its great attraction. Don't lag. We shall get to the end of the staircase in less than ten minutes."

Going out of the street doorway proved one of the most difficult tasks. The fairy did not seem to mind, but the child found it extremely odd that when you pulled at the door it opened outwards, and that when you pushed at it it came in. The iron gate which led to the pavement had another form of behaviour. Determined not to be bothered here, she gave a touch with her boot, and instantly the iron gate offered her boot a pinch; she placed her hand upon it and the gate gripped it, much in the way that Uncle Henry did when he said "How do you do?" She put her back against it, and the iron gate gave her a clutch around the waist, and said, in rasping tones, as it waltzed to the pavement,

"Do you reverse?"

It was then that she perceived the fairy had left her.

A pavement is expected to behave in a calm and demure manner; even when it takes you up-hill it does this in the gentlest way. But this pavement, so soon as the little girl set foot upon it, at once changed to something like a switchback, and a switchback, mark you, she enjoyed when seated on a trolley at Shepherd's Bush Exhibitions; it was less agreeable to try to walk up and down the uneven parts here. Other people did not seem to experience her difficulties, and this she failed to understand until she observed that they went along on their hands and toes, pretending to have four legs; she tried the same method and found it made her back ache; discovered, too, that she could not see so much as when walking in the old way. Thus it was that she had reached the end of the road, where a steep ascent occurred that was like the side of a mountain, ere she noticed something strange and peculiar about the houses.

"How very foolish of them to build in that way!" she cried. "They must be out of their senses."

It was the more eccentric in that her own house so far as she had observed had not changed; thinking it over, though, she could not be quite sure. Here at any rate was every house upside down with the front door right away at the top, Virginia creepers growing downwards; at one house the painters were seeing to the front and their ladders came from the roof (which was the basement) nearly to the basement (which was the roof). A neat lawn hung out over the top of each house; it made her feel giddy to think of the risks of playing croquet there; she could not see how one would be able to make even the first hoop.

Other things claimed her attention.

There were carts with horses pushing them—she had often heard her father reprove her eldest brother for doing this in argument—the horses stood upright and wore silk hats in a rakish sort of way, sometimes lifting these on meeting another horse and taking cigars out of mouths. She spoke to a constable, who wore a helmet on each hand, and put an urgent inquiry.

"Miaow!" said the policeman.

"You didn't quite understand," remarked the little girl patiently. "I asked you if you would kindly tell me the way to get home to Wellington Road."

"Ba, ba!"

"Do please listen to me," she begged, "and tell me what I want to know. I think I've lost my way, and I'm so afraid that I'm going to cry."

"Moo—oo!" said the constable.

"Please, please," she cried, "please don't be silly. Why do you keep making noises like that instead of giving me a proper answer?"

"Missy," he explained, "I'm a comic policeman. I'm not here to tell folk the way or to lock them up, or anything of that kind; I'm here to make people laugh."

"You are not amusing me!"

"Not when I make a noise like a dog?" he asked, with surprise. "Why, that nearly always sends people into a good temper. You wait till I give you my imitation of a railway engine. Hark!"

He set his teeth together and began to say "Isha—isha—isha," but the little girl turned away. She felt so indignant that she determined to tell her father about it at the very first opportunity, and see whether something could not be done. More than once her father had helped to straighten out tangled matters by simply writing a letter to the newspapers, and signing himself "An Indignant Ratepayer."

And at the very moment along came her father. He, too, walked on all fours as other people did, and the little girl thought it caused him to look particularly undignified, but she did not trouble about this, for, stout as he was, she was really glad to see him.

"How do you do," he said respectfully. "Can you give me a penny to buy some sweeties?"

"Daddie, dear!" she cried with distress. "Don't you begin to be funny, please."

"I'm not," he said.

"But you are my parent, you know."

"Yes," he sighed, "I'm aware of that. But under the new rules—you must have heard all about them—under the new rules parents have to be obedient to their children, and do everything their children tell them to do."

"Not a bad idea," decided the little girl, after giving it consideration. "I think if you don't mind I will get you to come along now to Finchley Road and buy for me the mechanical rocking-horse that has been talked about for some time."

"Under the old arrangement," he replied readily, "I should have been only too pleased, but the new rules say that children must buy presents for their father and mother."

"How can we," getting rather cross, "how in the world can we when we have no money?"

"I think," he said, "that it is expected you should go to work and earn some."

"Never heard such nonsense in the whole course of my life," she declared, using a grown-up remark. "It's perfect rubbish. Do you mean to say that I shall have to go to concerts and sing as mamma does?"

"That's the idea, I believe."

"But I can't sing. I can't sing nearly well enough to earn money."

"Well," said her father, after considering the matter, "what about going out as charwoman? You'd get two shillings a day and your lunch."

She stood there for a few minutes, not daring to speak, and overcome with cares and responsibilities. Some one touched her on the shoulder, and she looked up.

"Good fairy!" she cried.

"Do you like the altogether different you asked for?"

"No," she answered, "I don't like it at all. I wish now I hadn't put back the hands of the clock."

"You mean to say that that was how you did it? You dare to tell me it was nothing cleverer than that? Now, just to punish you," said the fairy, speaking with stern decision, "I shall send you away to the old sort of world, and you'll simply have to make the best of it."

*                *                *                *                *                *                *

The bedroom door opened, and nurse came in. The little girl, snuggling down into her warm, comfortable bed, kept her eyes shut.

"Bless her!" said nurse to herself. "Sleeping as sound as a top. That's what comes of having nothing on your mind to worry you!"