Max and Molly go to Court
THE Town of Toys was in a great state of excitement; it almost seemed as if the houses must fall to pieces, from the way their fronts were opened and then banged-to again.
Belinda's house had a parlour and a kitchen, and two bedrooms upstairs exactly the same size.
The cook was making a biscuit pudding, and using a rolling-pin the size of a wax match.
"That isn't a real fire in the grate," whispered Max, "it's only a bit of shiny paper; and the candles are made of glass."
Molly was too excited to attend to such matters.
She had been dressed by Belinda, and about a dozen of Belinda's dearest friends, in a beautiful little court dress of white satin, with a train; a wreath of tiny white flowers crowned her golden locks.
Max had a suit of dark-green velvet, with white silk stockings, and silver buckles to his shoes.
There were dainty lace ruffles at his throat and wrists, and he had a little sword, of which he was particularly proud.
The two, standing side by side, somewhat abashed by their finery, looked the sweetest little couple ever seen, and Belinda kept stopping, with her mouth full of pins, to go into raptures over them.
"If only their joints were stiffer, and they could learn to turn in their toes, they would be quite perfect," she sighed.
Max and Molly scarcely dared to move for fear of disarranging their fine clothes.
Now that the time had really come for them to see the King and Queen, they began to feel rather frightened.
Suppose Max should, trip over his sword, or Molly get entangled in her train, and they should enter the royal presence head first! These thoughts made them look subdued, but there was consolation in the knowledge that half the towns-folk seemed to be going to Court too.
It was amusing to see how thoroughly Belinda and her friends enjoyed the excitement, and when Wasington Achilles bawled out that the military escort was coming round the corner, they fell over each other in their great efforts to reach the stairs.
Marching along, with their backs as stiff as pokers, came a regiment of tin Soldiers in gay scarlet uniforms.
The drummer-boy beat his drum as if he knew that this was the greatest day of all the year, because Max and Molly were going to Court to tell the King that the sky was falling.
Now the tin officer came up and saluted.
Now the coaches began to file round the corner, each drawn by four white mice.
The coachman was a tomtit, dressed in green-and-gold livery; and two sparrow footmen stood up behind, carrying bouquets nearly as large as themselves.
The children caught sight of their friends, but hardly knew them again for very gorgeousness.
Major Cocky-locky literally blazed with gold braid and orders; the Lord Chief Justice had on his scarlet robes and ermine tippet; and the Count was in peach-coloured satin, with a short cloak flung over one shoulder.
Nor were the ladies less gay; for Madam Duckydaddles had put on every scrap of jewellery she possessed, and wore no less than five watches; while even sober Mrs. Henny-penny had blossomed forth in a wonderful blue brocaded dress that she said had belonged to her great grandmother.
Baroness Goosey-poosey wore a curious shade of brown; she called it "frightened frog", and remarked that it was even newer than "garden-spider gray".
It was made in the latest fashion, which consisted in trying to make the front look like the back, and the back like the front, so that whichever you fancied it was you were likely to be mistaken.
The sweetest little painted coach, lined with yellow satin, was being driven up to the door of No.
3 Paradise Road.
Belinda's naval officer tore upstairs three steps at a time, and when he reached the top, he could do nothing but gasp and roll his staring blue eyes.
But Molly was quite equal to the occasion.
It was wonderful to see how she put on the air of a young duchess, picked up her train with one hand, and gave the other to Max.
Max, too, seemed to be transformed into a young prince, for he grasped his sword firmly, and led Molly downstairs with a stately dignity beautiful to behold.
Belinda darted forward to give them some parting instructions, but fell back quite overcome.
"We thank you for your hospitality," said Molly, with her grandest air; and then the gallant tin officer saluted, the crowd cheered, and she stepped into the yellow coach, and Max after her.
The coachman shook the reins; the white mice jingled their golden bridles, and away went the procession; while Belinda and her friends made a rush for their own carriages.
The city gates were guarded by two wooden soldiers, who presented arms with stolid faces; and beyond stretched the high-road, which had been well watered by legions of industrious ants.
Presently the advance guard came to a stream at least five feet wide; and here a halt had to be called, because there was no bridge, and the procession had to be ferried over on rafts.
Max and Molly's coach came alongside the one in which the Count and Mrs. Henny-penny were seated, and the latter put her head out of the window with a beaming expression.
"Oh, my dears," said the worthy lady, "this is a great day, and you look as sweet as buttercups.
Do you know that on the other side of the stream lies Fairyland?"
"Oh, does it really?"
the astonished children cried, and fell into a great state of excitement.
Max put his head out to look, and then gave a shout.
"They've tumbled in, and they'll all be drowned.
What had happened was this.
The tin regiment, having marched on to the raft, was being punted across, when, as luck would have it, one of the soldiers lurched up against the soldier in front, who immediately fell up against the soldier in front of him.
So it went on until it came to the captain, who, without the slightest hesitation, fell plump into the water, still gallantly clutching his sword.
"How beautiful it is to see such perfect discipline!"
exclaimed the Baroness, hunting for her note-book: "not one of those heroic men will stir without the word of command!"
"Rubbish! they can't get up because their heads are heavier than their feet," rejoined Madam Ducky-daddles practically; and being a lady of much presence of mind, she called out authoritatively:
"Hi there! Pick those men up; and you two," pointing to the raftsmen, who were staring helplessly at the water with their goggle-eyes, "jump in at once and fish the captain out.
Do you mean him to lie there until the stream dries up?"
Thus adjured, the frog-raftsmen dived in, and quickly rose to the surface, clutching the noble tin officer in their skinny arms.
He came on board with heroic composure, and his men, who had found their feet again, saluted their captain with the same gravity.
"I'm so glad he was saved!"
said Molly, drawing a long breath, "now we are going on the raft."
The children kept a careful eye upon their steeds, but the white mice were as steady as rocks, and the party reached the opposite bank in safety.
The moment the yellow coach drove off the raft on to the soft green turf a curious thing happened.
For the air became suddenly filled with delicious music: the chiming of thousands upon thousands of tiny bells, that rang as if to welcome Max and Molly to Fairyland.
The children, amazed, looked about them, to find out from whence the music came; all they could see was myriads of harebells, swaying to and fro upon their slender stalks.
They felt strangely happy, and the whole world seemed full of love and melody and fair delights.
And so they drove on into the green glades that stretched invitingly before them, while all the bells of Fairyland softly rang:
Yes, they were all there, the companions of that brief, blissful journey; all assembled in the grand audience-chamber of Oberon and his consort, Titania, the roof of which is the blue sky, and the interlacing branches of trees grown hoary in their service.
They were all there; fairies by the hundred, fairies by the thousand, creatures so bright and beautiful that nowhere, save in the realms of fancy, could they exist.
Tier above tier rose the seats, and in the centre were the royal thrones.
The eyes of the two little human waifs, who were now introduced into this wondrous place, were dazzled by the sight of so much splendour.
It burst upon them with such force that they stood still, bewildered.
In vain the royal ushers whispered and beckoned; Max and Molly paid no more attention to them than if they had been a hundred miles away.
And no wonder, for it falls to the lot of very, very few mortals to see what those two fortunate children saw; and only a pen dipped in the glowing colours of the rainbow could essay to describe it.
Max quickly caught sight of the Professor, who had laid aside his horn spectacles and was dressed with astonishing magnificence.
And Molly recognized the bright-eyed Countess, and, close to her, Slyboots and his five brothers.
Dor was there in a new velvet suit, actually wide awake; and Bopeep; and the Swan Maiden; and King Cole, with his merry picnic party.
But if you want to know the names of all present you must buy a back number of the Court Circular, and read them for yourselves.
It was in truth a gay and goodly assemblage: what with the heralds and standard-bearers, the great officers with the insignia of their various offices, the pages, the jesters, and the men-at-arms.
The children's eyes travelled round the brilliant circle, until they rested upon one loved and lovely face, smiling down upon them.
Light as a butterfly on the wing, Heartsease floated down, and taking each by the hand, led them to the foot of the thrones whereon sat Titania and her royal spouse.
The three knelt there; the sweetest picture that even fairy eyes had seen, and throughout that noble assembly ran a hum of applause.
"Max and Molly, welcome to Fairyland!"
said the Queen; and the children raised their eyes and saw a face more gracious and beautiful than even that of their beloved Heartsease.
They saw the King, too, but as for telling him that the sky was falling, this had utterly and entirely gone out of their heads.
Had it not been for Mrs. Henny-penny and her dear friends, his Majesty might have remained in ignorance of the important fact until it was too late to be of any use.
As it was, he listened with gracious consideration, and gave the order to despatch carpenters and masons forthwith.
Which was accordingly done; and this is the reason, no doubt, why the sky has remained so well propped up ever since, that you and I can walk and talk beneath it without fear.
"Welcome to Fairyland!"
said Titania again; and, rising, she came down from her crystal throne, with Pip holding her train, and kissed the children upon the lips.
"Dear little hearts," said the Queen tenderly, stroking their golden curls, "did you find the way long that brought you here?
Come, Heartsease, we will take them to my bower and show them some of my treasures."
"Your majesty, we crave your pardon."
Whereupon she swept him a magnificent curtsy, and Oberon bent his head graciously.
So Titania and her favourite maid of honour and the children went away together; and what Max and Molly saw that day, and what the Queen said to them, may not be written, because one must not tell the secrets of the highest lady in all Fairyland.
But as all things come to an end sooner or later, so did that wonderful day draw to a close.
When the sun began to sink, and the trees to cast long shadows athwart the mossy turf, Titania drew the children to her, and hung around each little throat a slender chain, to which was attached a tiny golden key.
"Whenever you wish to return to Fairyland," said she, "these keys will unlock the gate; and because they are of elfin workmanship no one will notice that you are wearing them.
And now, fare-well, little Max and Molly; remember that airyland lies all around you, but only the innocent and pure and true can come through.
When she had kissed them, Heartsease led them away, and they went along a narrow, winding path deep into the wood until they came to a small gate, half-hidden by bushes.
Max and Molly understood that the end was very near, and that they were now passing out of the Enchanted Land where they had been so happy.
They clasped their arms round Heartsease, and Molly said pleadingly : "Oh, please let us stay with you; we shall be so very lonely!"
"No, you will never be lonely again, darlings," answered the maid of honour gently; "and we shall always watch over you.
She touched the gate with the tips of fingers, and it opened wide.
The children, impelled by some unseen power, passed through it.
Then they looked back; Heartsease was standing watching them, and once more she murmoured:
The gate swung-to again; they ran back quickly, but every trace of it had vanished.
Then Max and Molly turned round and gazed about them in much bewilderment.
Could it possibly be?
Yes, yes; beyond a doubt they were back once more at Dandelion Farm.
It was the rickyard that they found themselves in; and a few yards away a speckled old hen was clucking quietly to herself, and hunting for stray grains of corn.
"Master Max and Miss Molly! Master Max and Miss Molly, please to come in this minute.
There's Sir Gilbert and the new Lady Warvyle just driven up, and they’re in the best parlour, and asking for you.
Come, my dears, make haste, and let me look at your hands!"
It was Penelope, in a breathless condition and much excited, for a visit from Sir Gilbert and his new life was a thing nobody had dreamed of.
Penelope looked pleased too, for some reason or other; and the twins, not quite sure whether they were awake or only dreaming, allowed themselves to be swept off towards the house.
A lady in a white dress came out of the "best parlour ".
"Oh, there they are!"
she cried joyously.
"Max and Molly, I have been longing to see you, you little dears! You will give your new sister a kiss, won't you?
Oh, Nurse, never mind whether their hands are clean or not! I remember the time when I was a perfect grub."
The lady in the white dress was quite young and very pretty; she had a sweet expression, and there was something about her that reminded the twins of Heartsease.
They kissed their new sister shyly, but very willingly, for they felt, with the unerring instinct of children, that they had found a friend.
Perhaps Heartsease was right, and their "lonely" days were over now.
"Will you try to love me, Max and Molly?"
said Lady Warvyle, putting an arm round each.
"Gilbert, you never told me what dear little things they were!"
Sir Gilbert looked rather uncomfortable, but he actually stooped and kissed his small brother and sister, which was such an unusual proceeding: that it quite startled them.
"They take after their mother," said he; "she was fair — the Warvyles are all dark.
But take care, Nadine, that boy's dirty boots are on your dress."
"It is only a washing dress, dear," replied Lady Warvyle indifferently, but she gave her husband an affectionate look, while Penelope beamed in the background.
"We can take the children back with us, can we not?"
went on Lady Warvyle.
"There is plenty of room in the carriage, and Nurse can follow with their belongings."
"Certainly, if you wish it," said Sir Gilbert quite amiably.
Even his moustache seemed to curl less fiercely than of yore; and although he continued to screw the eye-glass, which had been such a terror to the twins, into his right eye, it really, to-day, had quite a mild, not to say benevolent expression.
As for his wife, it never appeared to enter her charming head that Sir Gilbert could by any possibility intend to, be gruff or snappy.
She treated him as if he were the most delightful person in the world; and, upon my word, that was the very best way to manage him.
You see, he had to live up to this exalted opinion; and although this was hard work at first, it became easier every day.
"Then run along and get dressed, dears," said Lady Warvyle; "I cannot spare you any longer; I want you at home."
Max and Molly obeyed; their little heads were in a whirl, and they felt that almost too many wonderful things had been crowded into the last few days — or was it hours?
But the most wonderful thing of all, and the sweetest and the best, was that , Somebody in the wide world, that had seemed so big and dreary, wanted them, and that they were going home to her.