The Wouldbegoods

       E. Nesbit / Young Adult
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The Wouldbegoods
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THE WOULDBEGOODS



See p. 47

”'AND PATRIOTIC,' SAID HE”]

_THE WOULDBEGOODS_

BY E. NESBIT

ILLUSTRATED BY

REGINALD B. BIRCH



HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERSNEW YORK AND LONDON

Copyright, 1900, 1901, by EDITH NESBIT BLAND.

_All rights reserved._

September, 1901.

TO

MY DEAR SON

FABIAN BLAND

CONTENTS

PAGE

THE JUNGLE 1

THE WOULDBEGOODS 20

BILL'S TOMBSTONE 43

THE TOWER OF MYSTERY 63

THE WATER-WORKS 86

THE CIRCUS 111

BEING BEAVERS; OR, THE YOUNG EXPLORERS (ARCTIC OR OTHERWISE) 135

THE HIGH-BORN BABE 159

HUNTING THE FOX 178

THE SALE OF ANTIQUITIES 201

THE BENEVOLENT BAR 224

THE CANTERBURY PILGRIMS 243

THE DRAGON'S TEETH; OR, ARMY-SEED 267

ALBERT'S UNCLE'S GRANDMOTHER; OR, THE LONG-LOST 292

ILLUSTRATIONS

”'AND PATRIOTIC,' SAID HE” _Frontispiece_

”WE LET THE HOSE PLAY PERSEVERINGLY” _Facing p._ 16

”'LITTLE BEASTS!' SAID DICK” ” 30

”DENNY HELD ALICE'S AND NOEL'S HANDS” ” 84

”DICKY DRAGGED THE TWO HEAVY BARS” ” 98

”'OH, DEAR! OH, DEAR!'” ” 104

”HE SAT DOWN IN THE HEDGE TO LAUGH PROPERLY” ” 128

”FOUND HIMSELF THE DEGRADED NURSE-MAIDOF A SMALL BUT FURIOUS KID” ” 172

”'WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?'” ” 192

”THEN WE PUT IN THE JUGS AND FILLEDIT UP WITH EARTH” ” 212

”'I THINK YOU MUST LET ME LOOK INSIDE'” ” 222

”OSWALD ACTUALLY HIT OUT AT THE BIG MAN” ” 240

”A DOG-CART WITH A YOUNG LADY IN IT” ” 256

”SO WE LED HIM ALONG TO THE AMBUSH” ” 282

THE COUNCIL IN THE APPLE-TREE ” 292

”'AND ARE YOU GOING TO MARRY THIS LADY?'” ” 304

THE WOULDBEGOODS

THE JUNGLE

”Children are like jam: all very well in the proper place, but you can'tstand them all over the shop--eh, what?”

These were the dreadful words of our Indian uncle. They made us feelvery young and angry; and yet we could not be comforted by calling himnames to ourselves, as you do when nasty grown-ups say nasty things,because he is not nasty, but quite the exact opposite when notirritated. And we could not think it ungentlemanly of him to say we werelike jam, because, as Alice says, jam is very nice indeed--only not onfurniture and improper places like that. My father said, ”Perhaps theyhad better go to boarding-school.” And that was awful, because we knowfather disapproves of boarding-schools. And he looked at us and said, ”Iam ashamed of them, sir!”

Your lot is indeed a dark and terrible one when your father is ashamedof you. And we all knew this, so that we felt in our chests just as ifwe had swallowed a hard-boiled egg whole. At least, this is what Oswaldfelt, and father said once that Oswald, as the eldest, was therepresentative of the family, so, of course, the others felt the same.

And then everybody said nothing for a short time. At last father said:

”You may go--but remember--” The words that followed I am not going totell you. It is no use telling you what you know before--as they do inschools. And you must all have had such words said to you many times. Wewent away when it was over. The girls cried, and we boys got out booksand began to read, so that nobody should think we cared. But we felt itdeeply in our interior hearts, especially Oswald, who is the eldest andthe representative of the family.

We felt it all the more because we had not really meant to do anythingwrong. We only thought perhaps the grown-ups would not be quite pleasedif they knew, and that is quite different. Besides, we meant to put allthe things back in their proper places when we had done with them beforeany one found out about it. But I must not anticipate (that meanstelling the end of a story before the beginning. I tell you this becauseit is so sickening to have words you don't know in a story, and to betold to look it up in the dicker).

We are the Bastables--Oswald, Dora, Dicky, Alice, Noel, and H. O. If youwant to know why we call our youngest brother H. O. you can jolly wellread _The Treasure Seekers_ and find out. We were the Treasure Seekers,and we sought it high and low, and quite regularly, because weparticularly wanted to find it. And at last we did not find it, but wewere found by a good, kind Indian uncle, who helped father with hisbusiness, so that father was able to take us all to live in a jolly bigred house on Blackheath, instead of in the Lewisham Road, where we livedwhen we were only poor but honest Treasure Seekers. When we were poorbut honest we always used to think that if only father had plenty ofbusiness, and we did not have to go short of pocket-money and wearshabby clothes (I don't mind this myself, but the girls do), we shouldbe quite happy and very, very good.

And when we were taken to the beautiful big Blackheath house we thoughtnow all would be well, because it was a house with vineries andpineries, and gas and water, and shrubberies and stabling, and repletewith every modern convenience, like it says in Dyer & Hilton's list ofEligible House Property. I read all about it, and I have copied thewords quite right.

It is a beautiful house, all the furniture solid and strong, no castersoff the chairs, and the tables not scratched, and the silver not dented;and lots of servants, and the most decent meals every day--and lots ofpocket-money.

But it is wonderful how soon you get used to things, even the things youwant most. Our watches, for instance. We wanted them frightfully; butwhen I had had mine a week or two, after the mainspring got broken andwas repaired at Bennett's in the village, I hardly cared to look at theworks at all, and it did not make me feel happy in my heart any more,though, of course, I should have been very unhappy if it had been takenaway from me. And the same with new clothes and nice dinners and havingenough of everything. You soon get used to it all, and it does not makeyou extra happy, although, if you had it all taken away, you would bevery dejected. (That is a good word, and one I have never used before.)You get used to everything, as I said, and then you want something more.Father says this is what people mean by the deceitfulness of riches; butAlbert's uncle says it is the spirit of progress, and Mrs. Leslie saidsome people called it ”divine discontent.” Oswald asked them all whatthey thought, one Sunday at dinner. Uncle said it was rot, and what wewanted was bread and water and a licking; but he meant it for a joke.This was in the Easter holidays.

We went to live at Morden House at Christmas. After the holidays thegirls went to the Blackheath High School, and we boys went to the Prop.(that means the Proprietary School). And we had to swot rather duringterm; but about Easter we knew the deceitfulness of riches in the vac.,when there was nothing much on, like pantomimes and things. Then therewas the summer term, and we swotted more than ever; and it was boilinghot, and masters' tempers got short and sharp, and the girls used towish the exams, came in cold weather. I can't think why they don't. ButI suppose schools don't think of sensible things like that. They teachbotany at girls' schools.

Then the midsummer holidays came, and we breathed again--but only for afew days. We began to feel as if we had forgotten something, and did notknow what it was. We wanted something to happen--only we didn't exactlyknow what. So we were very pleased when father said:

”I've asked Mr. Foulkes to send his children here for a week or two. Youknow--the kids who came at Christmas. You must be jolly to them, and seethat they have a good time, don't you know.”

We remembered them right enough--they were little pinky, frightenedthings, like white mice, with very bright eyes. They had not been to ourhouse since Christmas, because Denis, the boy, had been ill, and theyhad been with an aunt at Ramsgate.

Alice and Dora would have liked to get the bedrooms ready for thehonored guests, but a really good housemaid is sometimes more ready tosay ”don't” than even a general. So the girls had to chuck it. Jane onlylet them put flowers in the pots on the visitors' mantel-pieces, andthen they had to ask the gardener which kind they might pick, becausenothing worth gathering happened to be growing in our own gardens justthen.

Their train got in at 12.27. We all went to meet them. Afterwards Ithought that was a mistake, because their aunt was with them, and shewore black with beady things and a tight bonnet, and she said, when wetook our hats off, ”Who are you?” quite crossly.

We said, ”We are the Bastables; we've come to meet Daisy and Denny.”

The aunt is a very rude lady, and it made us sorry for Daisy and Dennywhen she said to them:

”_Are_ these the children? Do you remember them?”

We weren't very tidy, perhaps, because we'd been playing brigands in theshrubbery; and we knew we should have to wash for dinner as soon as wegot back, anyhow. But still--

Denny said he thought he remembered us. But Daisy said, ”Of course theyare,” and then looked as if she was going to cry.

So then the aunt called a cab, and told the man where to drive, and putDaisy and Denny in, and then she said:

”You two little girls may go too, if you like, but you little boys mustwalk.”

So the cab went off, and we were left. The aunt turned to us to say afew last words. We knew it would have been about brushing your hair andwearing gloves, so Oswald said, ”Good-bye,” and turned haughtily away,before she could begin, and so did the others. No one but that kind ofblack, beady, tight lady would say ”little boys.” She is like MissMurdstone in _David Copperfield_. I should like to tell her so; but shewould not understand. I don't suppose she has ever read anything but_Markham's History_ and _Mangnall's Questions_--improving books likethat.

When we got home we found all four of those who had ridden in the cabsitting in our sitting-room--we don't call it nursery now--looking verythoroughly washed, and our girls were asking polite questions and theothers were saying ”Yes” and ”No” and ”I don't know.” We boys did notsay anything. We stood at the window and looked out till the gong wentfor our dinner. We felt it was going to be awful--and it was. Thenew-comers would never have done for knight-errants, or to carry thecardinal's sealed message through the heart of France on a horse; theywould never have thought of anything to say to throw the enemy off thescent when they got into a tight place.

They said, ”Yes, please,” and ”No, thank you”; and they ate very neatly,and always wiped their mouths before they drank, as well as after, andnever spoke with them full.

And after dinner it got worse and worse.

We got out all our books, and they said, ”Thank you,” and didn't look atthem properly. And we got out all our toys, and they said, ”Thank you,it's very nice,” to everything. And it got less and less pleasant, andtowards tea-time it came to nobody saying anything except Noel and H.O.--and they talked to each other about cricket.

After tea father came in, and he played ”Letters” with them and thegirls, and it was a little better; but while late dinner was going on--Ishall never forget it. Oswald felt like the hero of a book--”almost atthe end of his resources.” I don't think I was ever glad of bedtimebefore, but that time I was.

When they had gone to bed (Daisy had to have all her strings and buttonsundone for her, Dora told me, though she is nearly ten, and Denny saidhe couldn't sleep without the gas being left a little bit on) we held acouncil in the girls' room. We all sat on the bed--it is a mahoganyfour-poster with green curtains very good for tents, only thehousekeeper doesn't allow it, and Oswald said:

”This is jolly nice, isn't it?”

”They'll be better to-morrow,” Alice said; ”they're only shy.”

Dicky said shy was all very well, but you needn't behave like a perfectidiot.

”They're frightened. You see, we're all strange to them,” Dora said.

”We're not wild beasts or Indians; we sha'n't eat them. What have theygot to be frightened of?” Dicky said this.

Noel told us he thought they were an enchanted prince and princess who'dbeen turned into white rabbits, and their bodies had got changed back,but not their insides.

But Oswald told him to dry up.

”It's no use making things up about them,” he said. ”The thing is: whatare we going to _do_? We can't have our holidays spoiled by thesesnivelling kids.”

”No,” Alice said, ”but they can't possibly go on snivelling forever.Perhaps they've got into the habit of it with that Murdstone aunt. She'senough to make any one snivel.”

”All the same,” said Oswald, ”we jolly well aren't going to have anotherday like to-day. We must do something to rouse them from theirsnivelling leth--what's its name?--something sudden and--what isit?--decisive.”

”A booby trap,” said H. O., ”the first thing when they get up, and anapple-pie bed at night.”

But Dora would not hear of it, and I own she was right.

”Suppose,” she said, ”we could get up a good play--like we did when wewere Treasure Seekers.”

We said, ”Well, what?” But she did not say.

”It ought to be a good long thing--to last all day,” Dicky said; ”and ifthey like they can play, and if they don't--”

”If they don't, I'll read to them,” Alice said.

But we all said: ”No, you don't; if you begin that way you'll have to goon.”

And Dicky added: ”I wasn't going to say that at all. I was going to sayif they didn't like it they could jolly well do the other thing.”

We all agreed that we must think of something, but we none of us could,and at last the council broke up in confusion because Mrs. Blake--she isthe housekeeper--came up and turned off the gas.

But next morning when we were having breakfast, and the two strangerswere sitting there so pink and clean, Oswald suddenly said:

”I know; we'll have a jungle in the garden.”

And the others agreed, and we talked about it till brek was over. Thelittle strangers only said ”I don't know” whenever we said anything tothem.

After brekker Oswald beckoned his brothers and sisters mysteriouslyapart and said:

”Do you agree to let me be captain to-day, because I thought of it?”

And they said they would.

Then he said: ”We'll play jungle-book, and I shall be Mowgli. The restof you can be what you like--Mowgli's father and mother, or any of thebeasts.”

”I don't suppose they know the book,” said Noel. ”They don't look as ifthey read anything, except at lesson times.”

”Then they can go on being beasts all the time,” Oswald said. ”Any onecan be a beast.”

So it was settled.

And now Oswald--Albert's uncle has sometimes said he is clever atarranging things--began to lay his plans for the jungle. The day wasindeed well chosen. Our Indian uncle was away; father was away; Mrs.Blake was going away, and the housemaid had an afternoon off. Oswald'sfirst conscious act was to get rid of the white mice--I mean the littlegood visitors. He explained to them that there would be a play in theafternoon, and they could be what they liked, and gave them thejungle-book to read the stories he told them to--all the ones aboutMowgli. He led the strangers to a secluded spot among the sea-kale potsin the kitchen garden and left them. Then he went back to the others,and we had a jolly morning under the cedar talking about what we woulddo when Blakie was gone. She went just after our dinner.

When we asked Denny what he would like to be in the play, it turned outhe had not read the stories Oswald told him at all, but only the ”WhiteSeal” and ”Rikki Tikki.”

We then agreed to make the jungle first and dress up for our partsafterwards. Oswald was a little uncomfortable about leaving thestrangers alone all the morning, so he said Denny should be hisaide-de-camp, and he was really quite useful. He is rather handy withhis fingers, and things that he does up do not come untied. Daisy mighthave come too, but she wanted to go on reading, so we let her, which isthe truest manners to a visitor. Of course the shrubbery was to be thejungle, and the lawn under the cedar a forest glade, and then we beganto collect the things. The cedar lawn is just nicely out of the way ofthe windows. It was a jolly hot day--the kind of day when the sunshineis white and the shadows are dark gray, not black like they are in theevening.

We all thought of different things. Of course first we dressed uppillows in the skins of beasts and set them about on the grass to lookas natural as we could. And then we got Pincher, and rubbed him all overwith powdered slate-pencil, to make him the right color for GrayBrother. But he shook it all off, and it had taken an awful time to do.Then Alice said:

”Oh, I know!” and she ran off to father's dressing-room, and came backwith the tube of _creme d'amande pour la barbe et les mains_, and wesqueezed it on Pincher and rubbed it in, and then the slate-pencil stuffstuck all right, and he rolled in the dust-bin of his own accord, whichmade him just the right color. He is a very clever dog, but soon afterhe went off and we did not find him till quite late in the afternoon.Denny helped with Pincher, and with the wild-beast skins, and whenPincher was finished he said:

”Please, may I make some paper birds to put in the trees? I know how.”

And of course we said ”Yes,” and he only had red ink and newspapers, andquickly he made quite a lot of large paper birds with red tails. Theydidn't look half bad on the edge of the shrubbery.

While he was doing this he suddenly said, or rather screamed, ”Oh!”

And we looked, and it was a creature with great horns and a furrug--something like a bull and something like a minotaur--and I don'twonder Denny was frightened. It was Alice, and it was first-class.

Up to now all was not yet lost beyond recall. It was the stuffed foxthat did the mischief--and I am sorry to own it was Oswald who thoughtof it. He is not ashamed of having _thought_ of it. That was ratherclever of him. But he knows now that it is better not to take otherpeople's foxes and things without asking, even if you live in the samehouse with them.

It was Oswald who undid the back of the glass case in the hall and gotout the fox with the green and gray duck in its mouth, and when theothers saw how awfully like life they looked on the lawn, they allrushed off to fetch the other stuffed things. Uncle has a tremendous lotof stuffed things. He shot most of them himself--but not the fox, ofcourse. There was another fox's mask, too, and we hung that in a bush tolook as if the fox was peeping out. And the stuffed birds we fastened onto the trees with string. The duck-bill--what's its name?--looked verywell sitting on his tail with the otter snarling at him. Then Dicky hadan idea; and though not nearly so much was said about it afterwards asthere was about the stuffed things, I think myself it was just as bad,though it was a good idea too. He just got the hose and put the end overa branch of the cedar-tree. Then we got the steps they clean windowswith, and let the hose rest on the top of the steps and run. It was tobe a water-fall, but it ran between the steps and was only wet andmessy; so we got father's mackintosh and uncle's and covered the stepswith them, so that the water ran down all right and was glorious, and itran away in a stream across the grass where we had dug a little channelfor it--and the otter and the duck-bill thing were as if in their nativehaunts. I hope all this is not very dull to read about. I know it wasjolly good fun to do. Taking one thing with another, I don't know thatwe ever had a better time while it lasted.

We got all the rabbits out of the hutches and put pink paper tails on tothem, and hunted them with horns, made out of the _Times_. They got awaysomehow, and before they were caught next day they had eaten a good manylettuces and other things. Oswald is very sorry for this. He ratherlikes the gardener.

Denny wanted to put paper tails on the guinea-pigs, and it was no useour telling him there was nothing to tie the paper on to. He thought wewere kidding until we showed him, and then he said, ”Well, never mind,”and got the girls to give him bits of the blue stuff left over fromtheir dressing-gowns.

”I'll make them sashes to tie round their little middles,” he said. Andhe did, and the bows stuck up on the tops of their backs. One of theguinea-pigs was never seen again, and the same with the tortoise when wehad done his shell with vermilion paint. He crawled away and returned nomore. Perhaps some one collected him and thought he was an expensivekind, unknown in these cold latitudes.

The lawn under the cedar was transformed into a dream of beauty, whatwith the stuffed creatures and the paper-tailed things and thewater-fall. And Alice said:

”I wish the tigers did not look so flat.” For of course with pillows youcan only pretend it is a sleeping tiger getting ready to make a springout at you. It is difficult to prop up tiger-skins in a life-like mannerwhen there are no bones inside them, only pillows and sofa-cushions.”What about the beer-stands?” I said. And we got two out of the cellar.With bolsters and string we fastened insides to the tigers--and theywere really fine. The legs of the beer-stand did for tigers' legs. Itwas indeed the finishing touch.

Then we boys put on just our bathing drawers and vests--so as to be ableto play with the water-fall without hurting our clothes. I think thiswas thoughtful. The girls only tucked up their frocks and took theirshoes and stockings off. H. O. painted his legs and his hands withCondy's fluid--to make him brown, so that he might be Mowgli, althoughOswald was captain and had plainly said he was going to be Mowglihimself. Of course the others weren't going to stand that. So Oswaldsaid:

”Very well. Nobody asked you to brown yourself like that. But now you'vedone it, you've simply got to go and be a beaver, and live in the damunder the water-fall till it washes off.”

He said he didn't want to be beavers. And Noel said:

”Don't make him. Let him be the bronze statue in the palace gardensthat the fountain plays out of.”

So we let him have the hose and hold it up over his head. It made alovely fountain, only he remained brown. So then Dicky and Oswald didourselves brown too, and dried H. O. as well as we could with ourhandkerchiefs, because he was just beginning to snivel. The brown didnot come off any of us for days.

Oswald was to be Mowgli, and we were just beginning to arrange thedifferent parts. The rest of the hose that was on the ground was Kaa,the Rock Python, and Pincher was Gray Brother, only we couldn't findhim. And while most of us were talking, Dicky and Noel got messing aboutwith the beer-stand tigers.

And then a really sad event instantly occurred, which was not really ourfault, and we did not mean to.

That Daisy girl had been mooning indoors all the afternoon with thejungle books, and now she came suddenly out, just as Dicky and Noel hadgot under the tigers and were shoving them along to fright each other.Of course, this is not in the Mowgli book at all: but they did lookjolly like real tigers, and I am very far from wishing to blame thegirl, though she little knew what would be the awful consequence of herrash act. But for her we might have got out of it all much better thanwe did.

What happened was truly horrid.

”WE LET THE HOSE PLAY PERSEVERINGLY”]

As soon as Daisy saw the tigers she stopped short, and uttering a shrieklike a railway whistle, she fell flat on the ground.

”Fear not, gentle Indian maiden,” Oswald cried, thinking with surprisethat perhaps after all she did know how to play, ”I myself will protectthee.” And he sprang forward with the native bow and arrows out ofuncle's study.

The gentle Indian maiden did not move.

”Come hither,” Dora said, ”let us take refuge in yonder covert whilethis good knight does battle for us.”

Dora might have remembered that we were savages, but she did not. Andthat is Dora all over. And still the Daisy girl did not move.

Then we were truly frightened. Dora and Alice lifted her up, and hermouth was a horrid violet color and her eyes half shut. She lookedhorrid. Not at all like fair fainting damsels, who are always of aninteresting pallor. She was green, like a cheap oyster on a stall.

We did what we could, a prey to alarm as we were. We rubbed her handsand let the hose play gently but perseveringly on her unconscious brow.The girls loosened her dress, though it was only the kind that comesdown straight without a waist. And we were all doing what we could ashard as we could, when we heard the click of the front gate. There wasno mistake about it.

”I hope whoever it is will go straight to the front door,” said Alice.But whoever it was did not. There were feet on the gravel, and there wasthe uncle's voice, saying, in his hearty manner:

”This way. This way. On such a day as this we shall find our youngbarbarians all at play somewhere about the grounds.”

And then, without further warning, the uncle, three other gentlemen, andtwo ladies burst upon the scene.

We had no clothes on to speak of--I mean us boys. We were all wetthrough. Daisy was in a faint or a fit, or dead, none of us then knewwhich. And all the stuffed animals were there staring the uncle in theface. Most of them had got a sprinkling, and the otter and the duck-billbrute were simply soaked. And three of us were dark brown. Concealment,as so often happens, was impossible.

The quick brain of Oswald saw, in a flash, exactly how it would strikethe uncle, and his brave young blood ran cold in his veins. His heartstood still.

”What's all this--eh, what?” said the tones of the wronged uncle.

Oswald spoke up and said it was jungles we were playing, and he didn'tknow what was up with Daisy. He explained as well as any one could, butwords were now in vain.

The uncle had a Malacca cane in his hand, and we were but ill preparedto meet the sudden attack. Oswald and H. O. caught it worst. The otherboys were under the tigers--and, of course, my uncle would not strike agirl. Denny was a visitor and so got off. But it was bread and water forus for the next three days, and our own rooms. I will not tell you howwe sought to vary the monotonousness of imprisonment. Oswald thought oftaming a mouse, but he could not find one. The reason of the wretchedcaptives might have given way but for the gutter that you can crawlalong from our room to the girls'. But I will not dwell on this becauseyou might try it yourselves, and it really is dangerous. When my fathercame home we got the talking to, and we said we were sorry--and wereally were--especially about Daisy, though she had behaved withmuffishness, and then it was settled that we were to go into the countryand stay till we had grown into better children.

Albert's uncle was writing a book in the country; we were to go to hishouse. We were glad of this--Daisy and Denny too. This we bore nobly. Weknew we had deserved it. We were all very sorry for everything, and weresolved that for the future we _would_ be good.

I am not sure whether we kept this resolution or not. Oswald thinks nowthat perhaps we made a mistake in trying so very hard to be good all atonce. You should do everything by degrees.

* * * * *

_P.S._--It turned out Daisy was not really dead at all. It was onlyfainting--so like a girl.

* * * * *

_N.B._--Pincher was found on the drawing-room sofa.

* * * * *

_Appendix._--I have not told you half the things we did for thejungle--for instance, about the elephants' tusks and the horse-hairsofa-cushions and uncle's fishing-boots.


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