UNCLE JACK'S STORY

By Mrs. E. M. Field

"Once upon a time," began Uncle Jack, "since we know no fairy stories are worth hearing unless they begin with 'once upon a time.'

"Once upon a time there was a country ruled over by a king and queen who had no children. Having no children of their own, these sovereigns thought other people's children a nuisance. I am afraid they were like the fox, who said the grapes were sour because he could not reach them, for it was well-known that they wanted some of these 'torments' very badly themselves."

"Don't call us torments, Uncle Jack," interrupted his little niece.

"Well, you see, madam, historians must be truthful. I am bound to say that the king and queen passed a law in which the children were described as 'pickles, torments, plagues, bothers, nuisances, worries,' and by twenty-four other titles of respect which I have forgotten. This law enacted:

"First—That the children were to be seen and not heard. Wherefore all children under the age of sixteen were to speak in a whisper and laugh in a whisper."

"They couldn't, Uncle Jack," broke in Bryda, "they could only smile!"

"Or grin," said Uncle Jack. "So you think that a cruel law, Bryda?

"Secondly—As the sight of a child set the royal teeth on edge, no child was to be allowed to set foot out of doors, unless between the hours of twelve and one on any night when there was neither moon or stars."

"At that rate they would never go out" said Bryda.

"Well, you see this was a law for the abolition of children; so they were to be suppressed as much as possible, of course.

"Then thirdly, the law declared—That, as little pitchers have long ears, no child should ever hear the conversation of grown-up people. Therefore children were never to be admitted into any sitting-room used by the elders of the family, nor into any kitchen or room occupied by servants."

"O-o-oh!" said Bryda; "did they keep them in the coal-cellar?"

"In some houses, perhaps.

"Fourthly—Forasmuch as play was not a profitable occupation, and led to noise and laughter, all play-time and holidays should at once be abolished."

"That was a very bad law," said Bryda warmly.

"Well, the law was passed, and was soon carried out; and any one coming to the city would have thought there were no children, so carefully were they kept out of sight. All the toy-shops were closed, and confectioners were ordered, under pain of death, neither to make nor sell goodies. But one thing the king had forgotten, and that was that, after all, there were more children than grown people in the country. One family had nine children, another six, and so on; so that, counting the boarding-schools, there were just three times as many children as grown people in the capital. Well, after about a week of this treatment (for the parents were compelled under threat of instant execution to carry it out), it happened that there came a night when at twelve o'clock, though it was not raining, there was neither moon nor star to be seen. So all the children in the city rushed forth into the park with Chinese lanterns in their hands, making quite a fairy gathering under the trees. Ob, how delicious it was! They ran and shouted, and played games and laughed, till suddenly one o'clock struck; and all the king's horses, and all the king's men, came to drive them to their homes again. But there were hundreds and hundreds of children, and only a few soldiers with wooden swords; for this was a very peaceable nation, and armed even its police with only birch rods. So one of the biggest boys blew a tin trumpet, and called all the children to him.

"'I vote we rebel,' he said. 'We will not stand this any more; let us drive away all the grown-ups, and have the town altogether to ourselves.'

"Now it so happened that a fairy had been watching all that went on in the town, and was not at all pleased. So when she heard this bold boy speak she thought it would be a good thing to let this rebellion be carried out. 'Serve 'em right,' she said; 'young and old shall all learn a lesson.'

"So she collected a few thousand fairies, and they flew to all the king's men, and whispered in their left ears dreadful things, which frightened them terribly and made them believe an immense army, instead of the troops of children, was coming to crush them all. Then the fairies whispered in their right ears that it would be wise to fly to a neighboring mountain where there was a large old fort, and there take refuge. So they galloped off as fast as the king's horses would carry them. Then the fairies flew all over the town and whispered the same things to all the grown-up people—fathers and mothers, old maids and old bachelors—till they, too, tumbled out of bed, dressed in a terrible hurry, and fled to the mountain. Even the king jumped out of bed, tied up his crown in his pocket-handkerchief, and ran for his life in his dressing-gown, while two lords in waiting, or gentlemen of the bedchamber, rushed after him with the royal mantle of ermine, and the scepter and golden ball. The lord chancellor filled his pockets with new sovereigns from the mint (for he slept there to look after the money) and then he too ran, but rather slowly, for he had the woolsack on his back, and it was pretty heavy. When they asked him why he took the trouble he answered that he thought the ground might be damp, and he already had a cold in his head.

"Well, all the elders being gone, the children were left in possession of the city, at which you may well suppose they were greatly astonished. They went on with their games for a while; but then the lanterns began to go out, and one after another they grew very sleepy. So the boy with the tin trumpet blew it again, and commanded that every one should now go to bed, and that a meeting should be held at twelve o'clock next day in the park, at which every child should appear.

"Appear they did, in their Sunday clothes, those of them at least who cared for finery; there were no mothers or nurses to object. All were in great delight at having no one to rule them.

"'I shall never go to bed at eight!' said one.

"'I shall never eat rice pudding-horrid stuff!'

"'I shall never take any more doses!'

"'I shall never do any more lessons!'

"'Nor I! nor I! nor I!' shouted one after another; 'we shall all do only what we like! How happy we shall be!'

"Only one little maid whispered, with a tear trembling on the long lashes of her blue eyes, 'Dottie wants mother!' But Dottie was soon comforted, and ran about as merrily as ever.

"Meantime the elder boys and girls held a very noisy parliament, in which there were never less than five speaking at once. After a great deal of chatter they determined to set up a queen; and a very pretty little girl called May was chosen, and crowned with a crown of flowers.

"Next, Queen May and her council of six, three boys and three girls, ordered that a big bonfire should be made of all lesson-books and pinafores, for they thought pinafores were signs of an inferior state, of being under command, as servants sometimes think their caps are.

"The next law was that all the raspberry jam in the city should be set aside for the use of the queen and her court, and for those who were invited to the royal tea parties. There was a little grumbling about this, but finally the grumblers gave in. All this time troops of children came pouring in from the neighboring villages with pinafores on the end of broomsticks as flags of rebellion. Being pretty hungry, they dispersed for dinner, which in most of the houses was a very curious meal, as, of course, no one could cook, so they had to forage in the kitchens and storerooms, while bands of hungry young folks stormed the confectioners' shops, and dined off ices and wedding-cakes.

"Then they opened the toy-shops and put them in charge of parties of children and gradually the other shops were treated in the same way, for buying and selling is always a game children like, and it was such a treat to have real things to sell. Only money was such a trouble: they were always forgetting to bring any, and the young shopkeepers never were sure if a shilling or a sovereign was the right price for a thing. Therefore they concluded to do without it; and costly things were bought for kisses, while cheap ones were to be had for saying, 'If you please,' or, if they were very small, as a penny bun, for instance, then 'please' was enough."

"How nice!" said Bryda.

"Well, for a whole week there never was such happiness as the children enjoyed. Games from morning to night, bread and jam three times a day, no lessons, no forbidden things, and a queen of their own age in place of the tyrant king.

"But when a week was over some little murmurs began to arise. Every morning, I ought to say, the queen sat on her throne in the royal palace, to receive any of her subjects who liked playing at being courtiers, and she and her council then settled any difficulty that arose about rules of games, about the way to make the best toffee and any other important question.

"On this particular morning, then, rather more than a week after the establishment of the Children's Kingdom, a very large throng entered the queen's presence. Foremost came a troop of boys and girls, who led in a pale, serious-looking boy as a prisoner, and brought him to Queen May's feet.

"'What is the charge against this prisoner?' asked the queen, with dignity. 'Don't all speak at once,' she added, so hastily that several courtiers giggled.

"'Please your majesty,' said a boy, stepping forward, 'we caught him in the act—the very act—of learning lessons!'

"'Lessons!' cried the whole court, in every tone of disgust, anger, grief and dismay.

"'Lessons!' screamed the queen, and at once fainted away."

"She didn't!" said Bryda indignantly.

"Don't you think the shock was great enough?" asked Uncle Jack.
"Besides, she felt it part of her royal duty, perhaps.

"Anyhow, they tickled her with feathers, and put burned cork to her nose till she had a black mustache; and one boy brought a red-hot poker, which he said he had heard was a good thing, though he did not quite know how it was applied.

"It was the best remedy, certainly, for on its appearance the queen jumped up shrieking, and declared she was perfectly well.

"Then the queen proceeded to try the prisoner, and requested the whole court to act as jury. It was a very sad case of youthful depravity—the criminal had carefully kept this one book, 'Somebody's Arithmetic,' or 'Mangnall's Questions,' to gloat over in secret; and even now was not at all penitent, but declared, when asked what he had to say for himself, that it was 'stupid, and a bore,' to play games all day long, and he was sick of them.

"The jury could not agree as to what was to be done with such an offender, and so he was allowed to go, and bidden 'not to do it again,' and the queen went on to the next difficulty. Here the throne-room became quite full of children, all in great perplexity; for the matter was this, that the food supply was running short. The confectioners' shops were nearly empty; there was plenty of jam, but very little bread; and one or two boys, who had breakfasted on jam out of a pot, eaten with a spoon, said. 'They didn't know how it could be, but somehow they thought it did not quite agree with them.'

"This was really very serious. Could no one cook?

"Well several had tried to make puddings; but somehow, though they ought to have been quite right, something was wrong, and no one would eat them. One girl had bravely made some apple-dumplings, and baked them quite brown; but then she could not find out how to get the apple in, so they were no more than hard balls, and not real apple-dumplings at all.

"'What are we going to do?' said Queen May sorrowfully.

"A dead silence reigned.

"'I know!' said a boy called Eric, starting forward suddenly, and all eyes turned to this owner of a bright idea. 'I know!' he said, brandishing a many-bladed knife; 'I'll kill a pig!'

"A murmur of horror arose from the girls.

"'Oh, no!' said Queen May politely; 'my faithful subject, we will not let you make yourself so miserable.'

"'Oh, I don't mind!' cried Eric; 'really, you know, I should like it!'

"I'll hold him for you!' cried several boys at once.

"'Quite as if they liked it,' whispered the girls.

"But Queen May interposed, and said the court should break up and go to blind-man's-buff. At the same hour next day any one who had a bright idea should come and tell it. For the rest of the day she, at least, did not mean to bother her head. If a pig were killed, it would have to be cooked. And shaking her curls, which were like a crown of gold, Queen May jumped off her throne and ran out into the park.

"Presently the Fairy Set-'em-right came flying over the town, and saw all the children running about and shrieking with laughter.

"'Bless my broomstick!' she said, for she had borrowed one from a witch to fly upon, saying she had rheumatism in her left wing. 'Bless my broomstick! this won't do at all!'

"She did not notice that a great many children were standing about in groups, whispering—what they dared not say aloud—that they were getting tired of games all day, and of nothing to eat but sweet cakes and jam at meals.

"'I should really, really and truly, like some boiled mutton,' said Master Archie, who was known to have had a special dislike to that dish.

"'I know what I shall do,' said the fairy; 'I shall make these children feel like grown-ups, and then I shall fly off to the mountains, and make the grown-ups feel like children; and if that doesn't bring them to their senses, I am sure I don't know what will.'

"So the Fairy Set-'em-right waved her hand over the troop of children,
'You shall all feel like grown-up people,' she said.

"In a few minutes a strange change began to come over them all. A great game of 'blind-man's-buff' was going on, when suddenly several of the girls put themselves into very stiff, solemn attitudes, just like old maids, and said, 'Really, they thought they were almost afraid they could not play any more. Such games, especially at their time of life, were hardly quite proper.' So they would not go on.

"Others, again, declared that there was nothing they so thoroughly enjoyed as watching people playing at these kind of amusements; but for themselves—well, if the others did not mind, they would like just to sit quietly and watch. So they did, and presently some of the boys began stroking that part of their faces where a mustache might some day grow, and remarking that 'Haw! don't know, you know—a—this sort of thing was all very well for schoolboys, but really—a—we could not, you know.'"

This sentence Uncle Jack brought out with a very funny drawl, the boys being turned into dreadfully fashionable fellows.

"The crowning point," continued Uncle Jack, "was reached when the blind man, pushing down his bandage, stood still, and addressed this altered crowd very seriously indeed. 'What miserable folly is this?' he asked. 'Shall we mortals waste our precious flying moments in—in what, my brethren?'

"You see he had turned into a preacher," explained Uncle Jack.

"'In what a miserable, frivolous occupation! catching each other!—nay, only trying to catch each other! Poor fools and blind! let us cease, I say—' But he had no one to say it to, for the whole audience had gone off in different directions, and the preacher had only his little brother of five left to listen to his wise words. 'Come along, Tommy,' said he, 'I will try and find some one for you to play with, little man.'

"'Play with!' answered the little brother in a tone of utter surprise. 'My dear sir, I have no time to play. Letters, telegrams, appointments by scores fill my time. Let me tell you, sir, there is no busier man than your humble servant in the whole country.'

"With which he turned about and strode off with the longest strides his little legs in their blue sailor trousers could take; for he had become a man of business.

"'This is too absurd,' muttered the elder, and went off to look for the church of which he was vicar.

"The same remarkable change came over all the children. One little brat who was busy teasing an unfortunate kitten stopped suddenly, and rushed off in search of pen and paper, with which he returned, and began at once to compose an ode 'To Tabitha.'

  "'Fairest pussy ever seen!
  With thine eyes of clearest green,
    Fly me not.'

That was how it began, for he had become a poet."

"I thought poets wrote about knights and ladies, and green fields and the moon," remonstrated Bryda.

"So they do. But sometimes they want a new subject, and this young genius thought he had found one.

"Well, all the children, without losing their child faces and figures, turned into the sort of people they would be when they were grown up. So of course their games seemed very dull, and they wanted grown-up occupations. But not knowing quite how to set to work, they were all lounging vaguely about, when the clear notes of a bugle sounded through the city.

"This was the well-known signal for the assembling of the whole population in the park, and off went all these queer grown-up children to the place of meeting. Here they were met by Queen May, who sat on a garden-chair with her court around her, all looking very solemn.

"'My faithful subjects,' said the queen, 'I have sent for you to consider a very grave question. I regret to state that the affairs of this kingdom are in a condition which will, perhaps, be best described as unsatisfactory.'

"'Hear, hear!' said a gentleman of four, bowing gravely.

"'Hear, hear!' echoed many voices.

"'Perhaps the most unsatisfactory point is,' went on Queen May, who, you see, talked in very grown-up language, 'is, I say, the banishment of a large portion of the population; that portion, in fact, which we were formerly accustomed to call our elders and betters.'

"Cries of 'No, no!'

"Queen May went on to explain that after all they got on badly without these elders. With all their efforts the young folks had not strength or skill to do a variety of things, without which the round of life seemed likely soon to come to a standstill. So she proposed that she and all who would go should start at once for the mountain and fetch home the exiles.

"There was some murmuring at this. The old law might be carried out, and the children made wretched again.

"'And—why, bless me,' said an elderly person of nine, as he fixed on a double eyeglass with gold rims, 'they might actually want to send me, me! to bed at eight o'clock!'

"'Proper conditions would be made,' the queen said.

"One after another all the objections were overcome, and a long procession started, with Queen May, mounted on a white pony, at its head.

"On arriving at the mountain they were greatly surprised to meet the king, that stern tyrant who wanted to stop all fun, running as hard as his legs could carry his fat body, with his crown on the back of his head, and a green net-bag tied on to the end of his scepter, chasing a white butterfly.

"'Please, your majesty,' began Queen May shyly; but the king only looked round for a moment, and ran on, then tumbled over a furzebush, so that his crown rolled far away, and the butterfly escaped, while he lay there kicking.

"The children were very much surprised at this, and thought the king must have gone mad, and, in fact, they felt very penitent, for they supposed his hurried flight must have been too much for the brain, so they were to blame for this terrible alteration.

"A little further on, however, they were still more surprised to see a circle of the most serious old maids in the whole capital, ladies whose time was mostly spent in making flannel garments for the poor, or sitting at neat tea tables with neat curls on each side of their faces, and a neat cat, curled on a neat cushion, in a neat chair, close at hand, and these old ladies were all screaming and laughing like children.

"These very respectable old ladies now looked anything but neat! Their curls were flying in all directions, and they were screaming with laughter, pinching each other, and making all sorts of silly jokes over a furious game of 'hunt the slipper.' For you see they had gone back to what they used to like when they were children.

"Queen May looked at them gravely.

"'Dear friends,' she said, 'at your age, is this decorous? Is it proper? Is it even ladylike?'

"'There it is! Catch it! Catch it!' cried one of the old ladies.

"'Come and play with us!' cried another.

"None of the rest paid any attention to the serious looks of the grown-up children who went sadly on toward the fort, hoping to find some one more reasonable.

"The next person they saw was the lord chancellor, a bald, stout old gentleman, who was sitting on the woolsack, which, you remember, he had carried away on his back. He was very busy with a pipe, and the children thought he was smoking, and grew more hopeful. He might have some trace of good sense left, they thought, if he could care for such a grown-up pursuit."

Here Uncle Jack offered his cigar to Bryda politely; but she made a face and turned her head away.

"I don't want to be so grown-up as that," she said.

"Oh!" said Uncle Jack, with his funny face, that he always put on to tease Bryda. "Oh, I thought you wanted to grow up all of a sudden."

"Well—only for some things," answered she, feeling that Uncle Jack was taking a mean advantage in remembering her sayings, and bringing them up again. "Please go on," she added hastily.

Uncle Jack winked at her very slowly and solemnly; then took a good puff at his cigar, and went on:

"When they came up he was found to be blowing soap-bubbles!

"'A-ah!' he spluttered, trying to talk with the pipe in his mouth. 'D-don't break it, please! There!' as the bubble burst and vanished; 'it's too bad, I declare! Directly I got a really good one, big and bright, that always happens. Have a try,' he added, offering Queen May the pipe.

"'I say, my lord,' said the major-general commanding the royal army, coming up at the moment, 'can you tell me how to mend lead soldiers? I've tried gum and glue, and one of the maids of honor tried to sew one, but somehow they don't join properly. It's a horrid bore, and that fellow, the speaker, won't let me have a ride on his rocking-horse. I'd punch him, only he's six feet three, and as broad as he's long. So I don't know what to play at.'

"'It is slow,' answered the lord chancellor, pityingly. 'Never mind, old chap, come up to the fort and we'll make some toffee.'

"So the elderly gentlemen went off arm-in-arm, and Queen May shook her head sadly.

"'They are all mad, poor things! What are we to do?'

"'Hi! hi!' cried a voice, and looking round they saw that tall, handsome nobleman, the master of the horse, running toward them as fast as he could. At last, perhaps, they had found some one to speak sensibly to.

"'Hi! you fellows,' he cried breathlessly; 'stop a minute, will you? Is that a circus pony? and can he do tricks? Sit up with a hat on, and drink out of teacups, I mean.'

"'Certainly not,' replied Queen May, with her utmost dignity. 'I hardly understand, Lord Moyers, how you can ask such a strange question. Did you ever see a lady, especially if she were a crowned queen, riding a circus pony?'

"Lord Moyers giggled, and turned head-over-heels on the spot, after which he rushed off again to join the rest of the House of Lords, who were playing 'hi! cockalorum,' close by.

"The procession went on very sorrowfully toward the fort. It grieved them to see this frivolity in those to whom they had been taught to look up.

"'Alas, my country!' sighed Eric, the boy who, you remember, had proposed to kill the pig before he was touched with the fairy wand.

"Perhaps it was on arriving at the gates of the fort that the very strangest sight was seen. The queen was a very stout and middle-aged person, of rather stern countenance, and here she was busy with a skipping rope—her hair loose, her royal robes tucked up, and her crown on one side.

"'It's the best fun and the finest exercise in the world,' she gasped.
'If I could only skip twice to one turn of the rope!'

"And on she went, while the children watched. But there was something so utterly ridiculous about the sight that Queen May and her followers, after various vain efforts to suppress their mirth, burst into one peal of laughter, which rang merrily through the old fort, and over the hillside.

"It broke the charm, and in a moment the children became children again, and the grown people became as they were before.

"There was a large flat field on the mountain top, in front of the gates of the old fort, and here all the exiles wore in a few minutes assembled.

"The king was about to address them, when in a moment, no one knowing how she came there, the Fairy Set-'em-right stood among them, close beside his majesty.

"'You have all learned a lesson, and I will put it into words for you,' she said."

"Oh, dear!" interrupted Bryda, "here comes the moral! Don't make a very hard one, Uncle Jack, please!"

He laughed. "I must finish this truthful story truthfully, miss.

"She said, turning to the king and queen:

"'Your fault was that you forgot you once were young yourselves.'"

Bryda nodded her head very wisely.

"'And you, children, forgot that you could not do without old people.
That wicked law is at once repealed.'

"'Certainly, ma'am,' said the king, bowing.

"'Children are to be children, and behave as such, and be treated as such. Parents are parents, the children are not to forget that. Now go home all of you, and don't forget this one caution, I've got my eye on you.'

"With these awful words the fairy vanished. And that's the end of the story."

"And a very nice ending, too!" said Bryda.

[Illustration with caption: IS THERE A PECULIAR FLAVOR IN WHAT YOU SPRINKLE FROM YOUR TORCH? ASKED SCROOGE—page 271 From the drawing by T Leech]