A Curious Supper
Here was the supper-room, but where was the supper?
Max and Molly felt quite a shock, for upon the long tables there was not a single thing to be seen.
Not a loaf of bread or a jug of water, not even a plate or a knife and fork; on the whole expanse of white table-cloth there was not enough to satisfy a hungry sparrow.
Yet the guests seated themselves with cheerful alacrity, and seemed in fact in such a mighty hurry to get settled, that anybody might have thought a magnificent banquet was in front of them.
But there was nothing, absolutely nothing; the tables seemed to yawn for very emptiness.
Not only that, no appetizing odours perfumed the air, and not a single waiter was to be seen!
But in spite of it all the company beamed; and a smile of such supreme content illumined the chubby face of the Pig - that - wouldn't - get - over-the-stile, that his little eyes were almost lost in his fat cheeks.
"Well," thought Molly, "this is the very funniest party I ever heard of.
Fancy inviting people to supper and giving them nothing to eat when they come!"
"I trust," said the Count, hospitably, "that you have brought a country appetite with you, Lady Molly?"
"Yes, thank you," answered Molly in a very small voice; she did not think that it was much use having any appetite at all, considering that there was nothing on the table to eat.
She gazed across at Max sitting next their hostess, and she could see that he too was puzzled, not to say disappointed; being a boy, he naturally felt the loss of his supper more than Molly.
"Don't be alarmed," said Count Foxy-woxy, smiling as if he quite understood their thoughts.
"Our parties are rather different to yours, but I fancy you will like them all the same.
Now we will begin."
Upon this he.
rose, and amid profound silence, made a remarkable statement which sounded like this:
He sat down again, and everybody cheered.
The effect of this speech was simply marvellous.
Instantly the tables were covered with all sorts of good things, which appeared — well, it was perfectly impossible to say from where, but there they were.
Each guest seemed to have his own private and particular set of dishes; and Molly perceived that her darling Max had suddenly become possessed of a large plate of strawberries and cream, a square slab of almond rock, and a fat Bath-bun.
She caught his eye, and he nodded blissfully to her, with his mouth full.
"Why do you not order your supper, my dear?"
said the Count kindly; "here, the rule is to wish for what you like best.
It saves an immense amount of trouble, and if people are not pleased with their supper, they have only themselves to blame."
This was certainly a new and delightful idea.
"I think," said Molly timidly, "that I should like a wedding cake and some fizzy lemonade."
Hey presto! In the fourth part of a second there stood in front of her a huge wedding-cake, covered with beautiful ornaments; and more than that, there was actually a slice cut, and a pearl-handled knife sticking in it.
Also there was a tumbler of lemonade, which foamed and fizzed as if it would never leave off and allow itself to be drunk.
A very pretty painted plate had also made its appearance, and Molly felt that her wish-supper was everything she could desire.
"Are you all right now?"
inquired the Count.
He himself had a couple of plump pheasants with bread-sauce, and was picking the bones with his gleaming teeth.
"Oh, it's lovely!"
replied Molly, with a sigh of the most perfect satisfaction; "the cake, is so plummy, and the lemonade so fizzy.
But please, sir, couldn't I give everybody a piece of my cake?
I don't want to be greedy; besides, I don't suppose anyone ever ate a whole wedding-cake by herself."
"I did once, when I was a young man, and foolish," said Dor's soft voice; "you see, it was the barn-owl's eldest daughter's wedding, and they forgot the pie — and the jackdaw had the rheumatism, and was afraid to sit on the grass; so while they were all gone to Dumbledom Fair, I ate up the cake.
I thought the rain might spoil it."
"I am afraid I don't quite understand," said Molly politely.
"What was in the pie that they forgot?"
"Either tigers or titmice! I recollect it began with a T," said the dormouse dreamily.
"Any-how, the old grandmother fell down the well less than a fortnight afterwards, which makes it sad, doesn't it?"
"Very," responded Molly gravely, while Dor went on eagerly:
"Not that that is one of my saddest stories; by no means.
I could tell you a tale for eighteen pence that would make you cry for three weeks."
"Oh, go back to Wonderland, Dor!"
said the Count laughing; while Molly remarked as she helped herself to another slice of cake: "I don't want to cry at all, thank you; I only brought one pockethandkerchief away with me, and that is a very tiny one, with ‘M’ marked in the corner.
I don't expect Max has one at all.
Boys don't care much for handkerchiefs; they like to carry snail-shells and bits of gum and string in their pockets."
"What a lot of trouble you are taking, dear child, with that cake!"
said the Count.
"You have forgotten that here everything is done by wishing."
"So I have," cried Molly, much relieved, for she was getting very hot in trying to cut it up.
"I'll wish about it."
She shut her eyes tightly.
When she opened them again the great cake lay piled up in neat slices, and Molly slipped down and commenced to hand it round.
But first she gave a piece to the Dormouse, and as he had gone to sleep with his head in a plate of nut-shells, she put it on his nose, leaving it there.
Molly had just then finished the round of the tables, when the door opened, and there appeared six comic little figures.
One after the other they came trotting in, clad in six little night-shirts and six little frilled night-caps, and at the sight of them the Countess gave a scream.
"Oh, you naughty, naughty children!"
she cried, "what do you mean by getting out of your beds at this time of night?
Go back at once! Don't you see that your father and I have company!"
cried all the little foxes together, and very penitently, though they were looking out of the corners of their bright eyes at the good things.
"Dearest Muv-ver, we love ‘oo so!"
and they all hung about her, and the tiniest one climbed into her lap.
The Countess could not help laughing.
"This is cupboard-love," she said; "you know you smelt the supper, you young rogues.
What shall we do to them, Max?"
"Oh, please let them stay!"
said Max earnestly, while the little foxes put their paws together in the drollest manner.
"Very well, just for a quarter of an hour, because Max and Molly are here."
In an instant six high chairs appeared, and the little creatures clambered up into them with gleeful faces.
Molly was curious to see what they would order for supper, and this is what it was.
The eldest had a large pot of apricot, jam; the second, a plate of hot buttered toast; the third, a dish of baked potatoes; the fourth, a box of chocolate creams; the fifth, an immense mince-pie; and the youngest fox of all, a plum-pudding nearly as big as himself.
And they munched, and they scrunched, and showed their white teeth; and although their mother shook her head at them, it was evident she was proud of her fine young family.
"Come, Slyboots," called the Count from the farther end of the table; "you must do something for your supper, my man.
Haven't you a story to tell us?"
Slyboots was the young gentleman wrestling with the plum-pudding.
When his father spoke, his little eyes glistened and he put down his spoon.
"Yes, Daddy," said he, "I knows a lovely story.
Shall I tell it?"
"Certainly, my son, and speak out so that Molly can hear."
Slyboots got up in his chair, and stood there solemnly, in his little white night-shirt.
"Once upon a time," said he in a shrill voice, "there wos a lot of little fairies.
And they wos naughty little fairies, every one of ‘em.
And the king wanted to kill ‘em, ‘cause they wos so naughty.
So he locked ‘em up in a barn where wos very many mouses; and the people put pillows on the top of the little fairies, and sat down on ‘em.
"So all the little fairies wos squashed to death.
The story-teller sat down again with an air of calm satisfaction, and stuffed an enormous piece of pudding into his mouth to make up for lost time.
The company, who had listened with deep attention, looked rather surprised that the story had come to an end so quickly, and the Count said to Molly:
"It was very nice," replied Molly, "but a little short, wasn't it?"
"Oh, if you've a fancy for short stories," observed the Dormouse, "I could tell you one for sixpence that came to an end the moment it began.
It is about a gorilla who lost his top-hat on a market day, and it's the shortest story in the world.
If you would like me to relate it —"
"Now, Dor, be quiet," interrupted Lord Chief Justice Turkey-lurkey, who was sitting on the other side of him; "you know you always go to sleep in the middle of your tales, and forget the point.
Which makes it tiresome, Lady Molly," he added with a bow.
"I should think so," replied Molly, returning the bow; "sleepy people are sometimes stupid."
"Is that what you used to write in your copybook?"
asked the Dormouse; "we generally had ‘Chastisement begins at home’.
We learned the piano, too; but I never got beyond the rheumatic scale."
"The rheumatic scale!"
repeated Molly wonderingly.
"Bless the child, he means the chromatic scale!"
laughed Madam Ducky-daddies.
"I ought to know what that is if anyone does, for I've run up and down it as often as you have your staircase at home.
But singing isn't what it used to be when I was a girl."
Mrs. Henny-penny was so afraid that her dear friend would offer to oblige the company with a song, or that some misguided person might invite her to do so, that she tried to change the conversation by asking the Count why he did not make a speech.
The latter rose at once.
he inquired, fixing a reproachful eye upon the pig, who was still gobbling, and who hastened to loll back in his chair with a fine air of unconcern.
The Count waved his hands; the remnants of the feast disappeared, but each guest found in front of him a glass full of sparkling yellow wine.
"Ladies and gentlemen," cried the Count, rapping the table, "I rise on this auspicious occasion to propose the health of our distinguished visitors, Max and Molly, who, as you know, are on their way to tell the King that the sky is falling.
from Jumbo.) With the names of Max and Molly, I should like to couple those of their amiable and distinguished attendants, Mrs. Henny-penny, Madam Ducky-daddles, and Major Cocky- locky.
(Cheers.) It has been a great pleasure to the Countess and myself to welcome this noble party under our humble roof.
I see that some of you are yawning (‘Nothing of the kind’, cried the Dormuse), so I will detain you no longer.
Let us drink the health, therefore, of our young guests, Max and Molly, and their charming companions."
The guests rose from their seats and shouted "Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!"
and clinked their glasses, and thumped each other on the back, and altogether were most merry and jovial.
Mrs. Henny-penny began to make vigorous signs to Max, and Molly, noticing these, ran round the table, and put her soft little arm round his neck.
"We ought to return thanks, Max," she whispered; "I know that's what people do in stories, when they have their healths drunk."
"We must stand up on a chair, then," answered Max, "or they won't know what we’re going to do."
The twins climbed up into Max's chair, and stood there with their arms round each other's necks, and their bright curls mingling.
Mrs. Henny-penny was so affected at the sight, that she was obliged to wipe away a tear; while Madam Ducky-daddles called for order in a voice that could almost have been heard across the German Ocean.
Then Max and Molly, as soon as there was silence, said, as if they had been one person:
"Ladies and gentlemen, we’re very much obliged, and very glad indeed we came.
A fox-hole is a lovely place to live in, and we should like to come another time if we are invited."
At this point, not having any more to say, they very wisely got down; upon which there was loud cheering, and Lord Chief Justice Turkey-lurkey came up, and insisted upon shaking hands with Max.
"You are a born orator, sir," said he, "you know when to leave off, and I shall make a point of going with your party to tell the King the sky is falling."
"But the children must go to bed this minute," cried the Countess, leaning across to catch Sly-boots, who was dropping off to sleep.
Max and Molly began, most unaccountably, to nod themselves.
They saw a stout nurse in a white cap and apron appear at the door, and bear off the six little foxes, who trudged out rubbing their eyes with their paws.
Molly made a gallant effort to keep awake, and stared hard at the Dormouse, who was sleeping placidly.
She saw Max's yellow head give a sudden dip and settle itself comfortably on the Countess's shoulder, while her ladyship's bright eyes looked tenderly down at him.
Molly tried once more:
"Max, Max," she cried, "wake up! We ought to go home; Penelope will be wondering, won — der — ing — where —— we —"
Molly did not finish her sentence; she too had fallen fast asleep.