Standing on one side of the stage, and partly overshadowing it, was a tall foxglove, which seemed, as the evening breeze gently swayed it hither and thither, to offer exactly the sort of accommodation that the orator desired. Having once decided on his quarters, it needed only a second or two for him to run up the stem like a tiny squirrel, and to seat himself astride on the topmost bend, where the fairy-bells clustered most closely, and from whence he could look down on his audience from such a height that all shyness vanished, and he began his Story merrily.
"Once there were a Mouse and a Crocodile and a Man and a Goat and a Lion." I had never heard the 'dramatis personae' tumbled into a story with such profusion and in such reckless haste; and it fairly took my breath away. Even Sylvie gave a little gasp, and allowed three of the Frogs, who seemed to be getting tired of the entertainment, to hop away into the ditch, without attempting to stop them.
"And the Mouse found a Shoe, and it thought it were a Mouse-trap. So it got right in, and it stayed in ever so long."
"Why did it stay in?" said Sylvie. Her function seemed to be much the same as that of the Chorus in a Greek Play: she had to encourage the orator, and draw him out, by a series of intelligent questions.
"'Cause it thought it couldn't get out again," Bruno explained. "It were a clever mouse. It knew it couldn't get out of traps!"
But why did it go in at all?" said Sylvie.
"--and it jamp, and it jamp," Bruno proceeded, ignoring this question, "and at last it got right out again. And it looked at the mark in the Shoe. And the Man's name were in it. So it knew it wasn't its own Shoe."
"Had it thought it was?" said Sylvie.
"Why, didn't I tell oo it thought it were a Mouse-trap?" the indignant orator replied. "Please, Mister Sir, will oo make Sylvie attend?" Sylvie was silenced, and was all attention: in fact, she and I were most of the audience now, as the Frogs kept hopping away, and there were very few of them left.
"So the Mouse gave the Man his Shoe.
And the Man were welly glad, cause he hadn't got but one Shoe, and he were hopping to get the other."
Here I ventured on a question. "Do you mean 'hopping,' or 'hoping'?"
"Bofe," said Bruno. "And the Man took the Goat out of the Sack." ("We haven't heard of the sack before," I said. "Nor you won't hear of it again," said Bruno). "And he said to the Goat, 'Oo will walk about here till I comes back.' And he went and he tumbled into a deep hole. And the Goat walked round and round. And it walked under the Tree. And it wug its tail. And it looked up in the Tree. And it sang a sad little Song. Oo never heard such a sad little Song!"
"Can you sing it, Bruno?" I asked.
"Iss, I can," Bruno readily replied. "And I sa'n't. It would make Sylvie cry--"
"It wouldn't!', Sylvie interrupted in great indignation. "And I don't believe the Goat sang it at all!"
"It did, though!" said Bruno. "It singed it right froo. I sawed it singing with its long beard--"
"It couldn't sing with its beard," I said, hoping to puzzle the little fellow: "a beard isn't a voice."
"Well then, oo couldn't walk with Sylvie!" Bruno cried triumphantly. "Sylvie isn't a foot!"
I thought I had better follow Sylvie's example, and be silent for a while. Bruno was too sharp for us.
"And when it had singed all the Song, it ran away--for to get along to look for the Man, oo know. And the Crocodile got along after it--for to bite it, oo know. And the Mouse got along after the Crocodile."
"Wasn't the Crocodile running?" Sylvie enquired. She appealed to me. "Crocodiles do run, don't they?"
I suggested "crawling" as the proper word.
"He wasn't running," said Bruno, "and he wasn't crawling. He went struggling along like a portmanteau. And he held his chin ever so high in the air--"
"What did he do that for?" said Sylvie.
"'cause he hadn't got a toofache!" said Bruno. "Ca'n't oo make out nuffin wizout I 'splain it? Why, if he'd had a toofache, a course he'd have held his head down--like this--and he'd have put a lot of warm blankets round it!"
"If he'd had any blankets," Sylvie argued.