We sat down among the rocks, by a little pool, so rich in animal, vegetable, and zoophytic --or whatever is the right word--life, that I became entranced in the study of it, and, when Arthur proposed returning to our lodgings, I begged to be left there for a while, to watch and muse alone.
The fishermen's song grew ever nearer and clearer, as their boat stood in for the beach; and I would have gone down to see them land their cargo of fish, had not the microcosm at my feet stirred my curiosity yet more keenly.
One ancient crab, that was for ever shuffling frantically from side to side of the pool, had particularly fascinated me: there was a vacancy in its stare, and an aimless violence in its behaviour, that irresistibly recalled the Gardener who had befriended Sylvie and Bruno: and, as I gazed, I caught the concluding notes of the tune of his crazy song.
The silence that followed was broken by the sweet voice of Sylvie. "Would you please let us out into the road?"
"What! After that old beggar again?" the Gardener yelled, and began singing :--
"He thought he saw a Kangaroo That worked a coffee-mill: He looked again, and found it was A Vegetable-pill 'Were I to swallow this,' he said, 'I should be very ill!'"
[Image...He thought he saw a kangaroo]
"We don't want him to swallow anything," Sylvie explained. "He's not hungry. But we want to see him. So Will you please--"
"Certainly!" the Gardener promptly replied. "I always please. Never displeases nobody.
There you are!" And he flung the door open, and let us out upon the dusty high-road.
We soon found our way to the bush, which had so mysteriously sunk into the ground: and here Sylvie drew the Magic Locket from its hiding-place, turned it over with a thoughtful air, and at last appealed to Bruno in a rather helpless way. "What was it we had to do with it, Bruno? It's all gone out of my head!"
"Kiss it!" was Bruno's invariable recipe in cases of doubt and difficulty. Sylvie kissed it, but no result followed.
"Rub it the wrong way," was Bruno's next suggestion.
"Which is the wrong way?", Sylvie most reasonably enquired. The obvious plan was to try both ways.
Rubbing from left to right had no visible effect whatever.
From right to left-- "Oh, stop, Sylvie!" Bruno cried in sudden alarm. "Whatever is going to happen?"
For a number of trees, on the neighbouring hillside, were moving slowly upwards, in solemn procession: while a mild little brook, that had been rippling at our feet a moment before, began to swell, and foam, and hiss, and bubble, in a truly alarming fashion.
"Rub it some other way!" cried Bruno. "Try up-and-down! Quick!"
It was a happy thought. Up-and-down did it: and the landscape, which had been showing signs of mental aberration in various directions, returned to its normal condition of sobriety with the exception of a small yellowish-brown mouse, which continued to run wildly up and down the road, lashing its tail like a little lion.
"Let's follow it," said Sylvie: and this also turned out a happy thought. The mouse at once settled down into a business-like jog-trot, with which we could easily keep pace. The only phenomenon, that gave me any uneasiness, was the rapid increase in the size of the little creature we were following, which became every moment more and more like a real lion.
Soon the transformation was complete: and a noble lion stood patiently waiting for us to come up with it. No thought of fear seemed to occur to the children, who patted and stroked it as if it had been a Shetland-pony.
"Help me up!" cried Bruno. And in another moment Sylvie had lifted him upon the broad back of the gentle beast, and seated herself behind him, pillion-fashion. Bruno took a good handful of mane in each hand, and made believe to guide this new kind of steed. "Gee-up!', seemed quite sufficient by way of verbal direction: the lion at once broke into an easy canter, and we soon found ourselves in the depths of the forest. I say 'we,' for I am certain that I accompanied them though how I managed to keep up with a cantering lion I am wholly unable to explain. But I was certainly one of the party when we came upon an old beggar-man cutting sticks, at whose feet the lion made a profound obeisance, Sylvie and Bruno at the same moment dismounting, and leaping in to the arms of their father.