THE GIRL WHO SANG For Children IN THE FOREST °
By Peter Thompson
What has happened already: The people and animals in this story are; AMADEUS, a tine black cat with an honourable position in the household of the DUKE and DUCHESS OF PRUFOOTLE.
STANISLAUS, a white poodle brought from Paris by the Duchess. At first Amadeus tries to have him eent imay, hut after the fiasco of a mass protest against poodles, organised by all the eats of Prufootle, the two animals are friends.
Among other friends of Amadeus are GINGER, a farm cat, WILLIBALD, rnousecatcher to a &cal inn, and MRS GIZZARD, who sells toffee apples by the castle gate. Her thin daughter, DELPIHNIUM, dislikes Amadeus and Amadeus dislikes her.
This is the Eighth Part of the story. BEFORE an oak tree ; high it -was and with a thick, carbuncled trunk ; stood Mrs Gizzard's daughter, Delphinium, with her arms upraised and the palms of her hands spread flat and outwards. Before her on the ground was a small brass bowl in which glowed the green flame that 'Amadeus had seen in the distance.
She was singing in a tired voice a chant, the words of which Amadeus waa able to distinguish perfectly as he sat a little way off between some myrtle bushes watching her, for she pronounced every word with care.
Great tree of the Forest, hear me: Your branches yearn to the sky and arc spread wide And many creatures have found ehelter amongst them You have resisted the winds, and in the hundred winters
The heaviness of the snow has been nothing to you.
Great tree tof the forest, hear me: From the height of your top you can see the far away And the hong of your boughs is heard In the long distance.
Search for me a man beautiful in body and gay And sing my name to him that he may come to me in gladness.
Amadeus watched patiently as the girl sang the chant once, then a second time, then a third time. She had begun a fourth time when Amadeus stood up, stretched himself. shook the snow from his tail, and said : " Isn't that enough for one day?"
Delphinium dropped her arms and with a scream fell on her knees. She grovelled: " Oh tree, forgive, forgive. I did not mean to tire you. I did not know that you could speak as well as sing, and see far, and give shelter, and—'
" Get up, you foolish girl," said Amadeus, standing over her.
She looked up. " Why. it's you. . . . What are you doing here?"
" I was walking and I heard you singing, so I came along this way because I was curious to see why you were singing such a mournful song."
" You came along ... ? '' She jumped to her feet. " You watched. You've been spying on me. You horrible cat. You've been watching me and saying nothing."
" I have," agreed Amadeus.
" You vile cat. You prying, sneaking animal," Delphinium screamed, stamping her foot and beating her fists on her skirt. Through her stamping she kicked some snow into the small brass bowl that held the green flame, and the flame fizzed out. The anger left her. She stared at the bowl and began to weep. " Oh, it's gone out. It's gone out."
"What is the matter now ? " asked Amadeus. " You can easily light that absurd little lire again."
"But the old woman said it must not go out any time in the seven weeks," said Delphinium in her weeping.
" What old woman? What seven weeks ?"
" The old woman who can cure warts told me that if I came and sang before this, the oldest tree in the forest, seven times on seven days, I would get a young man to love me. But she said too that I had to lay a bowl of green fire—made with charcoal and the sap of yew leaves—before the tree every time I sang; and I was not to let the fire go out any time during the seven days. And now on the sixth day it has gone out."
" route " said Amadeus. " You don't mean to say you believe all the tripe the Old-Ca'oman-Who-Can-Cure-Warts tells you, do you ? She may be good at curing warts, though I have my doubts, but she certainly does not know much about finding husbands."
"Lots of the other girls in Prufootle think she does. And I do, too, so there."
" Superstition. Just like humans, girls especially, to take notice of a chattering old woman and come and sing dreary songs all alone in the forest. All his nonsense with trees and green flames isn't going to help you find a husband. What you ought to do, my dear Delphinium, is to learn to cook, to knit socks and woollen waistcoats, to sew neatly, and keep a house tidy without making yourself look like a dustman. Above all, you should not talk as often as you do, for though you are tolerably pretty, you say so many foolish things that worthy men cannot bear to hear you."
Amadeus's advice, which was honestly intended to help Delphinium, Was not appreciated.
" You horrid animal," 13he said, "How dare you be so rude? How dare you mock at me? I'm not foolish. I don't speak foolishly. I—Oh, you horrid, prying animal. Go away. I hate nasty things like you."
"W HY are you so abusive?" began Amadeus. But Delphinium snatched up the brass pot that had the charcoal and yew leaf sap in it. She held it high above her head: " Go. away. Go away," she screamed. Amadeus shrugged his shoulders and walked away. He feared the pot would be flung after him, but he did not hurry, nor hunch up his shoulders protectively. The pot, however, was not flung, and Amadeus went quietly among the trees and the brambles until be could hear Delphinium's abuse no longer. He walked steadily, keeping to no definite path, and discoursing within himself of the folly of women and the wisdom of eats.
Presently, after he had been walking for some time without definite ,aim, he thought he should try and get back to the road and so walk leisurely home in time to get changed and thoroughly warmed before an early supper. He was feeling pleasantly hungry. He hoped there would be roast duck and baked potatoes and a bowl of cream for supper. His mouth watered at the thought of it. He went on his way singing.
Two hours later, After walking without pause, he had not come upon the road. He had not realised he had gone so far into the Forest. But it could not be very far now, just a little further westward. Then he wondered if he was travelling westward. He had no compass, and all ways looked alike. " But I have an excellent sense of direction." he said aloud. Then he was surprised and a little frightened to hear someone snigger. He looked about him. But there was nothing except the trees and the brambles and the snow on everything.
He walked on; but he no longer sang. He walked for a long time—one hour, or two hours, or even three. He was beginning to lose count of time. But there was no road. He sat down on a white bump at the foot of a tree. The bump turned out to be a huge old toad stool, covered with snow. It crumbled beneath his weight, so that he fell heavily to the ground. ..s he stood up, brushing the snow from his coat, he again heard a snigger; yet nothing stirred. " Something is following me," Amadeus thought.
He crouched by the tree, keeping very still and listening with all intent. A lump of snow fell on his head. His fur bristled. He looked up into the tree. There was the sound of feet moving among the branches, but it might have been the wind. He 'noticed that the wind was blowing stronger. It came in big gusts, and the branches shook, and boughs banged against each other, and the snow fell on the ground, " Yes," he thought, it must have been the wind."
I T was useless to go on any further looking for the road. The only thing to do was to follow his footsteps all the way back to the tree at which Delphinium had sung. and from there to the road: and he would have to go quickly. It was getting late in the afternoon, and soon the darkness would come.
At first his footprints were very clear, but as he went on they became fainter and fainter, for the wind had driven loose snow upon them; and presently they could be seen no longer. " Still, I can more or less tell the direction now," said Amadeus aloud with much more confidence than he felt. He hurried on. The light gradually left the sky; and under the trees it became quite dark.
Amadeus stood still He thought of the castle and roast duck and a bowl of cream; and tears came into his eyes. "Foolish cat," he said to himself, " this isn't the time to become sentimental or panicky. You're in a mess and you've got to think of a way out of it. Everything will seem very easy when you've had a little think." So he felt round for a comfortable hollow and sat down.
But he could not think. He felt tired, and he. would have gone to sleep, but In the stillness he heard sniggering, and somewhere above his head the pattering of feet. It might have been the sound and the motions of the wind, Then he remembered the piece et' poetry about the phantom of the Great Forest that had been recited at the Prufootle Social Congress; and he stood up very afraid. He looked about him but it was completely dark.
(To Be Continued)