If your half wants to do something, the other half is likely to want to do something different, and the funny part of it is you don't quite know which is your half and which is the other half. It's a terrible punishment, and in a country where one can't die or be killed until he has lived his six hundred years, to be patched is a great misfortune."
"I'm sure it is," said Button-Bright earnestly. "But can't you ever get--get--UNpatched again?"
"If the Boolooroo would consent, I think it could be done," Jimfred replied, "but he never will consent. This is about the meanest Boolooroo who ever ruled this land, and he was the first to invent patching people as a punishment. I think we will all be glad when his three hundred years of rule are ended."
"When will that be?" inquired the boy.
"Hush-sh-sh!" cried everyone in a chorus, and they all looked over their shoulders as if frightened by the question. The officer with the blue-gold chain pulled Button-Bright's sleeve and whispered, "Follow me, please." And then he beckoned to Cap'n Bill and led the two slaves to another room where they were alone.
"I must instruct you in your duties," said he when they were all comfortably seated in cozy chairs with blue cushions. "You must learn how to obey the Boolooroo's commands, so he won't become angry and have you patched."
"How could he patch US?" asked the sailorman curiously.
"Oh, he'd just slice you all in halves and then patch half of the boy to half of the girl, and the other half to half of you, and the other half of you to the other half of the girl. See?"
"Can't say I do," said Cap'n Bill, much bewildered. "It's a reg'lar mix-up."
"That's what it's meant to be," explained the young officer.
"An' seein' as we're Earth folks, an' not natives of Sky Island, I've an idea the slicing machine would about end us, without bein' patched," continued the sailor.
"Oh," said Button-Bright, "so it would."
"While you are in this country, you can't die till you've lived six hundred years," declared the officer.
"Oh," said Button-Bright. "That's different, of course. But who are you, please?"
"My name is Ghip-Ghi-siz-zle. Can you remember it?"
"I can 'member the 'sizzle,'" said the boy, "but I'm 'fraid the Gwip--Grip--Glip--"
"Ghip-Ghi-siz-zle" repeated the officer slowly. "I want you to remember my name, because if you are going to live here, you are sure to hear of me a great many times. Can you keep a secret?"
"I can try," said Button-Bright.
"I've kep' secrets--once in a while," asserted Cap'n Bill.
"Well, try to keep this one. I'm to be the next Boolooroo of Sky Island."
"Good for you!" cried the sailor. "I wish you was the Boolooroo now, sir. But it seems you've got to wait a hundred years or more afore you can take his place."
Ghip-Ghisizzle rose to his feet and paced up and down the room for a time, a frown upon his face. Then he halted and faced Cap'n Bill. "Sir," said he, "there lies all my trouble. I'm quite sure the present Boolooroo has reigned three hundred years next Thursday, but he claims it is only two hundred years, and as he holds the Royal Book of Records under lock and key in the Royal Treasury, there is no way for us to prove he is wrong."
"Oh," said Button-Bright. "How old is the Boolooroo?"
"He was two hundred years old when he was elected," replied Ghip-Ghisizzle. "If he has already reigned three hundred years as I suspect, then he is now five hundred years old. You see, he is trying to steal another hundred years of rule so as to remain a tyrant all his life."
"He don't seem as old as that," observed Cap'n Bill thoughtfully. "Why, I'm only sixty myself, an' I guess I look twice as old as your king does."
"We do not show our age in looks," the officer answered. "I am just about your age, sir--sixty-two my next birthday--but I'm sure I don't look as old as that."
"That's a fact," agreed Cap'n Bill. Then he turned to Button-Bright and added, "Don't that prove Sky Island is a fairy country as I said?"
"Oh, I've known that all along," said the boy.