Sky Island

Page 55

Once or twice the little girl lost her way, for the streets were very puzzling to one not accustomed to them, but finally she sighted the great palace and went up to the entrance. There she found a double guard posted. They were sitting on a bench outside the doorway, and both stood up as she approached.

"We thought we heard footsteps," said one.

"So did we," replied the other, "yet there is no one in sight."

Trot then saw that the guards were the two patched men, Jimfred Jonesjinks and Fredjim Jinksjones, who had been talking together quite cheerfully. It was the first time the girl had seen them together, and she marveled at the queer patching that had been so strongly united here, yet so thoroughly separated them.

"You see," remarked Jimfred as they seated themselves again upon the bench, "The Boolooroo has ordered the patching to take place tomorrow morning after breakfast. The old Earth man is to be patched to poor Tiggle instead of Ghip-Ghisizzle, who has in some way managed to escape from the Room of the Great Knife--no one knows how but Tiggle, and Tiggle won't tell."

"We're sorry for anyone who has to be patched," replied Fredjim in a reflective tone, "for although it didn't hurt us as much as we expected, it's a terrible mix-up to be in until we become used to our strange combination. You and we are about alike, now, Jimfred, although we were so different before."

"Not so," said Jimfred. "We are really more intelligent than you are, for the left side of our brain was always the keenest before we were patched."

"That may be," admitted Fredjim, "but we are much the strongest, because our right arm was by far the best before we were patched."

"We are not sure of that," responded Jimfred, "for we have a right arm, too, and it is pretty strong."

"We will test it," suggested the other, "by all pulling upon one end of this bench with our right arms. Whichever can pull the bench from the others must be the strongest."

While they were tussling at the bench, dragging it first here and then there in the trial of strength, Trot opened the door of the palace and walked in. It was pretty dark in the hall, and only a few dim blue lights showed at intervals down the long corridors. As the girl walked through these passages, she could hear snores of various degrees coming from behind some of the closed doors and knew that all the regular inmates of the place were sound asleep. So she mounted to the upper floor, and thinking she would be likely to find Cap'n Bill in the Room of the Great Knife, she went there and tried the door. It was locked, but the key had been left on the outside. She waited until the sentry who was pacing the corridor had his back toward her, and then she turned the key and slipped within, softly closing the door behind her.

It was pitch dark in the room, and Trot didn't know how to make a light. After a moment's thought she began feeling her way to the window, stumbling over objects as she went. Every time she made a noise, someone groaned, and that made the child uneasy. At last she found a window and managed to open the shutters and let the moonlight in. It wasn't a very strong moonlight, but it enabled her to examine the interior of the room. In the center stood the Great Knife, which the Boolooroo used to split people in two when he patched them, and at one side was a dark form huddled upon the floor and securely bound.

Trot hastened to this form and knelt beside it, but was disappointed to find it was only Tiggle. The man stirred a little and rolled against Trot's knee, when she at once became visible to him. "Oh, it's the Earth child," said he. "Are you condemned to be patched, too, little one?"

"No," answered Trot. "Tell me where Cap'n Bill is."

"I can't," said Tiggle. "The Boolooroo has hidden him until tomorrow morning, when he's to be patched to me. Ghip-Ghisizzle was to have been my mate, but Ghip escaped, being carried away by the Six Snubnosed Princesses."

"Why?" she asked.

"One of them means to marry him," explained Tiggle.

Sky Island Page 56

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