THE BUBBLE

THE cat looked at Mary Frances.

Mary Frances looked at the cat.

“Ha, ha, and ha, ha!” said the cat. “We’ll laugh at her some day!”

“We will!” said Mary Frances, “we will, Puss! Let us call the dolphin.”

The dolphin swam up at that moment.

“Whither now?” it asked. “Where shall we go, Cat?”

“64° 40´ W., 32° 40´ N.,” said the cat; and the dolphin swam ahead,
turned the boat, and soon the island was out of sight.

“Come, I am hungry!” said Mary Frances. “Let us go into the
dining-room.”

“The dolphin has plenty of element soup,” she thought.

There was the table spread with a fine feast, and both she and the cat
enjoyed it.

Just as they were finishing dessert, they heard a pounding noise. They
rushed out on deck. The noise was made by the dolphin hitting the side
of the boat with its tail.

It whispered two words, “Pirate Ship,” and swam ahead again.

The cat made a telescope with his paws, and looked out over the water.
“Sure enough!” he cried, in fear. “Oh, my! Oh, my! and I haven’t eaten
the dolphin!”

“For shame!” exclaimed Mary Frances. “For shame! You have forgotten
that he can’t come very near while the dolphin is at his post!”

“Oh, yes; that is so. Excuse me, please. But what does the pirate mean
by coming, I wonder?”

“Do you suppose he thinks we may be near finding the story?” asked Mary
Frances.

“That’s it!” exclaimed the cat. “I’ll wager my whiskers that’s his
idea. So that if we espy it he’ll get it first.”

“Do you think we’ll find it?” asked Mary Frances.

“My fur feels as though we would,” said the cat. “Please tell me, is it
sending out sparks?”

It was growing quite late in the afternoon, and quite dusky. Mary
Frances, to her astonishment, saw great showers of electric sparks
coming from the cat’s body.

“You look like a sparkler on the Fourth of July, Cat,” she said.

“Oh, isn’t that fine!” said the cat. “You see, it’s this way–the
nearer we get to the story, the more sparklier my fur gets.”

“So we must be quite near,” said Mary Frances; “for I don’t see how you
could get much more sparklier.”

“I forgot to tell you,” said the cat, “that after we find the story,
the dolphin’s power to keep the pirate away is gone. We’ll have to race
like a rocket to beat his boat.”

“Oh, my, what is the matter!” exclaimed Mary Frances, as the cat
suddenly jumped high in the air, sending out a shower of sparks that
fell at her feet on the deck. Over the side of the boat he fell, and
all was dark as a pocket.

“Oh, Kitty, Kitty,” cried the frightened girl, running to look into
the water, but she saw nothing of the cat. Neither could she see the
dolphin. She could see the dim light of the pirate’s ship, and it
seemed quite near.

“Whatever shall I do?” thought Mary Frances. “I really believe I am
going to cry.”

Just at that minute she heard a scratching on the side of The Good
Ferry.

“Who’s there?” she whispered.

[Illustration: SHE FED HIM A LITTLE AT A TIME WITH A MEDICINE
DROPPER]

No answer came. Just another scratching.

“Who’s there?” she asked again.

“Me-ow!” came a faint voice.

Mary Frances could see better now, for her eyes were getting accustomed
to the darkness.

“Is it you, Puss?” she asked, peering down into the water.

When she saw it was the cat, she quickly let down the rope ladder, and
the cat climbed aboard, and fell in a wet heap at her feet.

She lifted him carefully and carried him to the steamer chair. She did
not notice that something dropped from his mouth as she lifted him.

She dried his wet fur, and went to the dining-room to get him a drink
of water. There she saw a bowl of beef tea, which she took to him. She
fed him a little at a time with a medicine dropper which she had found
in the bathroom.

At length he opened his eyes.

“Where is it?” he asked.

“Where is what?” asked Mary Frances.

“The lost story,” whispered the cat. “I carried it in my mouth. That is
why I couldn’t answer you when you asked who was there.”

“I didn’t see it,” said Mary Frances.

“Oh, dear, oh dear!” exclaimed the cat. “It must be on deck! Let us
look for it!”

“You are not able yet,” said Mary Frances. “Lie still! I will look! Was
it a roll or a book?”

“It was a glass bottle,” said the cat, “and it may have rolled back
into the sea–if that is what you mean by ‘was it a roll?’”

Mary Frances went down on her hands and knees.

She crept all over the deck, feeling for it in the darkness. After a
while the cat helped.

They worked all night, but could find nothing. In the morning, as it
grew light, they both saw a dark green bottle caught in the top of the
rope ladder which was fastened to the side of the boat. So lightly was
the bottle held that it might easily have fallen back into the water
and been lost again.

Mary Frances lifted it carefully. It was labeled–THE LOST
STORY.

The bottle was sealed with a cork, and inside was a roll of paper.

“Oh, isn’t it too good to be true!” exclaimed Mary Frances. “Where
shall we hide it?”

“Let’s label it CATSUP and put it on the side table in the
dining-room,” said the cat. “Put the new label right over the old one,”
he added.

“That’s a splendid idea!” cried Mary Frances. “I’ll do it right away!”

WHEN Mary Frances came on deck again, The Good Ferry was plowing the
water so fast that a deep furrow of foam followed her. The dolphin was
swimming so fast that it made deep waves with the motion of its tail.

Although going so rapidly, they could see that the pirate’s black ship
was keeping the distance the same as at first between them.

“I believe he is gaining,” at length said the cat, who was using his
paws for a telescope.

Mary Frances looked a little pale, but smiled. “I think we will make
more time in a minute,” she said. “Let’s drop something overboard, and
he may stop to pick it up.”

So they filled a suitcase with paper, and dropped it over the side.

They were delighted when they saw the pirate’s ship stop to pick it up.
They could hear the loud ravings of the pirate when he found nothing
inside.

The rest of the trip was very exciting, for the pirate’s ship at one
time was so close that they heard the pirate say to the cook, “Blast
ye! Blast ye! Why don’t ye jump aboard? Ye can make it in two jumps!”

“Jump yourself!” replied the cook.

Faster and faster swam the dolphin; faster and faster sailed The Good
Ferry. Try as he would, the pirate could not overtake them. They saw
him plainly, half a knot behind, jumping up and down on his deck,
shaking his angry fists. As they reached the island he turned and gave
up the chase in defeat.

When they came to the wharf, there stood the old witch, drinking ink
out of a bottle.

“Ha, ha!” she honked. “S-so ye think ye’ve got the lost st-story, do
ye? Well, ye haven’t; s-so there!”

Then she began to wave her arms about her head, laughing wildly. As
Mary Frances stepped off the boat the old witch tried to snatch the
story bottle out of her hand.

“Oh, you can’t scare me,” said Mary Frances. “Step aside, please,” and
as she pushed past the wild old witch, the great iron-chain curtain
fell with a crash, and before her was Fairyland, or Storyland, which,
as you know, are one and the same.

IX

THE TERRIBLE PUNISHMENT OF THE PIRATE AND THE OLD WITCH

MARY FRANCES heard music and singing. She heard the words:

Who’s the bravest in this land?
She who holds in her right hand
The long lost precious story;
She’s the bravest in this land.

Then Mary Frances remembered, and stepped forward with the story.

She was met by a beautiful young lady, who introduced herself as the
Story Lady, and a small company of story people, who led her to the
castle of the King and Queen of Story Island. They took her into the
court, where the rulers sat in state.

“Welcome!” said the Story King, rising.

“Welcome!” said the Story Queen, rising.

Then the King made a speech.

“You have done us a great service, young friend,” he said; “and we hope
to do something for you to show how much we appreciate it.”

“Sir,” said Mary Frances, handing him the bottle, “if it had not been
for the dolphin and the cat, I never could have found the story.”

“The dolphin has been rewarded,” said the Story King; “he has had his
head cut off—-”

“Oh,” cried Mary Frances, “the poor, dear dolphin!”

“And has been turned again into a prince!” added the Story Queen. “He
was the prince who kissed the Sleeping Beauty, and was under the spell
of the old witch outside the chain curtain.”

“And the cat has been rewarded,” said the King. “He has charge of all
the cats and kittens in all the stories ever told, or ever-to-be-told.”

This made Mary Frances happy, for she knew the cat would love that
charge.

“Now,” said the Story King, “if you are not too tired, we will get over
the business of trying the pirate and the witch!”

“I am not tired, thank you,” said Mary Frances, “for I slept three
hundred and sixty-five days and nights on my way here.”

“Good!” said the King. “Please have this seat,” and he led her to a
deep blue velvet chair.

The King then touched a button under the table, and a door opened.

In came a large man with a large beard. Mary Frances knew him at once.
He was Blue Beard. He was trembling terribly.

“Fetch in the pirate, Blue Beard,” ordered the King.

Blue Beard bowed and left the room. Soon there came the clanging of
chains, and Blue Beard led the pirate into the room, all wound up in
a great section of the iron-chain curtain. He was dreadfully pale and
very angry. His mouth was frothing and his breath was coming out of his
nostrils like smoke.

He glowered at Mary Frances as though he would like to bite her, but
she was not afraid.

“Behave!” said the King. “You cannot frighten a person who has been so
brave as to part the iron-chain curtain. If she had been afraid of the
old witch, the curtain would not have parted, and all the children in
the world would have been still waiting for new stories.”

He turned to the Queen. “Have you a fitting punishment, my dear?” he
asked.

“I have,” said the Queen, very solemnly. “It is this: the pirate shall
_never again hear a story or read a story_!”

On hearing his fate the pirate screamed, “Anything rather than that!
Please have mercy!” And he fell down in a dead faint.

Blue Beard dragged him out. Immediately after, the King ordered the old
witch in.

“Tell the story of the lost story,” ordered the King.

“Oh, S-Sir,” stammered the old witch, “Oh, S-Sir, the pirate st-stole
it, and took it on his sh-ship, and I st-stole it from him and put it
in a bottle, and was going to bring it back, but I lost it overboard in
a st-storm. I didn’t want the pirate to know I took it, for he would
have beaten me to death.”

“Why did you try to take it from this young lady?” asked the Queen.

The old witch hung her head. “Because I wanted to keep it for
my-s-self,” she said.

“Well, what shall her punishment be, my dear?” asked the King.

“She shall be punished by never hearing the end of a story,” declared
the Queen. “_Only to the middle of a story shall she hear–never to the
end._”

Then the old witch gave a loud shriek, and ran out of the room as fast
as she could. The King sent a giant after her, and had him lock both
the pirate and the old witch up in big iron baskets, and carry them off
to the end of Snowwhere.

“And now, my dear,” said the King, “what is to be our dear little
friend’s reward?”

“Two rewards shall be hers,” replied the Queen. “One is that she shall
know that all the children of the world can have new stories every day;
and the other is that she can stay with us for a visit and hear all the
stories she wishes to hear.”

“Very good,” said the King. “Let us now hear the lost story.” And all
the Story People sat down to form a double circle.

With that the Story Lady, dressed like a butterfly, came dancing in.
The King opened the green bottle, took out the roll of paper and handed
it to her. She took her place at the end just where the circle closed,
and began to read aloud the lost story, which is entitled “The Bubble
Story.”

LILLA walked through the garden, saying–

“I should like to be a princess,” for she had been reading a story
about a princess who had only to say “Come,” and anything she wished
for came at once.

It was a hot summer day, and she sat down on a mossy bank under an elm
tree thinking what she should wish for if she had the power of the
princess. All at once the garden seemed strange to her, and she heard a
voice saying:

“If you take a rose from me
You will then a princess be.”

She looked up and saw an aster growing in a green flower-pot which she
had never seen before; and on one of the flowers was perched a tiny
fairy.

“And you can have everything you can wish for except one thing. If you
wish for that you will lose the rose.”

“And what is that?” asked Lilla, taking the rose which the fairy
offered her.

“You must never ask for soap bubbles.”

“Oh, soap bubbles? Of course, I shall not wish for them!” said Lilla.

“Whenever you want anything,” said the fairy, “just say:

“Rose, Rose, bring to me
Everything I wish to see.”

“You will be a princess as long as you keep the rose. But you must
never ask for soap bubbles. Good-by; now I must go back to my home.”

So the fairy went to Fairyland, and Lilla went home; but no one knew
her, because she was now a princess with long hair and a golden crown.

“I will go up to the castle on the hill,” thought Lilla; “princesses go
there to stay.”

At the castle they were expecting a princess, so they thought Lilla
must be the one who was coming, and they gave her a grand room, all
hung with velvet curtains, to sleep in. On the table was a silver box
which Lilla thought just right to keep her rose in.

“Now, I shall try what I can do with my rose,” thought Lilla. So she
thought of a box of toys, and said:

“Rose, Rose, bring to me
Everything I wish to see.”

Scarcely had she spoken when a maid came to say that a box had come for
her.

When the box was opened, Lilla saw so many pretty things that she
thought she would like a Christmas tree to hang them on, and again she
said:

“Rose, Rose, bring to me
Everything I wish to see.”

And in a few minutes a Christmas tree arrived hung all over with gold
and silver drops, and colored lights, and bonbons, and still more
bonbons, and gifts of all kinds.

The people at the castle had never seen such a beautiful Christmas
tree, and they were delighted with the gifts which Lilla divided among
them.

Day after day Lilla asked her rose for something new, and every day
more and more beautiful things came, till not only her own room, but
the whole castle was full of them.

She gave them away to every one, for she soon grew tired of them.

[Illustration: ON ONE OF THE FLOWERS WAS PERCHED A TINY FAIRY]

Every day she was trying to think of something she did not have, but at
last there seemed nothing left to wish for.

That was when she began to long for–soap bubbles, which were the only
things she must not have.

“But how beautiful thousands of soap bubbles would look, floating about
in the sunshine with rainbow colors upon them,” she thought.

She could think of nothing else, and grew quite sad because she could
not ask for soap bubbles.

So one day, she went into the garden, taking her rose with her. “Shall
I ask? or shall I not?” she kept thinking, but she could not make up
her mind.

So she counted on the buttons of her dress.

“Yes; no; yes; no; yes; no;
My mother told me to say–
Yes; no.”

“Oh, dear,” sighed Lilla, “I wanted it to come, ‘yes’–I am going to
ask for them!”

So she said the magic rhyme:

“Rose, Rose, bring to me
Everything I wish to see.”

But no soap bubbles came. She looked all around the garden, even up in
the branches of the trees, but no bubbles were to be seen.

Then she grew impatient; she took the rose, and said:

“Rose, Rose, bring to me
Everything I wish to see.”

Then suddenly the air was filled with soap bubbles; little ones, big
ones, floated all over the garden.

“Oh, aren’t they lovely!” cried Lilla, holding out her arms to catch
some; and then a bubble larger than the others opened, and closed
around the golden rose, and lifted it out of her hand, floated quickly
away with it, higher, higher, higher, until Lilla could no longer see
it.

She watched and watched until only two soap bubbles were to be seen;
then she sank on her knees, and stretched out her hands after them.

But it was too late; her rose was gone, the bubbles were gone, and she
was no longer a princess. Her hair was as short as it ever had been,
and her crown had disappeared.

It was of no use to return to the castle now, as the people would not
know her. Where should she go? What could she do? She was so worried
that she cried aloud, and you can imagine how glad she was to hear her
own mother’s voice saying:

“Lilla, dear, you must have fallen asleep. Come, wake up! Tell mother
about your dream.”

“Why, mother, it was just like a story,” said Lilla, sitting up and
rubbing her eyes.

Then she told her mother all about it.

“A very pretty story,” said her mother, “and one that shows you that
people who can have almost everything they wish for, are not really
happier than others. There is always something just out of their reach,
and that makes them discontented with what they have.”

“Yes, even soap bubbles,” said Lilla, laughing.

* * * * *

“That’s a good story–too good to be lost,” said the Story King, when
the Story Lady finished.

“Yes, but we have better, and you shall hear some of them to-morrow,”
said the Story Queen to Mary Frances, smiling graciously.

Then to the people she announced:

“There will be a reception in the court of honor this evening to our
visitor, Mary Frances, the finder of the lost story. As it is now dark,
let every one retire and prepare.”

Then all the people applauded, formed in line and marched out, each
bowing to the King, Queen and Mary Frances, who stood rather timidly in
her place with the Story Lady beside her.

After the others were gone, the Story Lady turned to her and said:

“The Queen has planned for you to be in my charge during your visit,
and all you wish to see or hear is at your command.”

“How kind, and how perfectly lovely!” exclaimed Mary Frances, clapping
her hands. “I couldn’t possibly wish for anything I would rather have
than to be with you!”

This pleased the Story Lady greatly, and she led the way to their
apartments.

I wish I had the time and space to tell you more about the wonderful
and delightful reception–how Mary Frances stood in line with the King
and Queen, and was introduced to all the people of the island as a
distinguished visitor whose deed would never be forgotten as long as
stories were told.

But if I were to relate all they said and did this book would not hold
one-quarter of the stories which the Story Lady had planned for Mary
Frances to hear.

The revels continued far into the night; and when at last they ended,
Mary Frances retired to her apartment, excited and happy. As the Story
Lady kissed her good-night, she said:

“To-morrow will be the first day.”

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