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HOW MURRUM SHUT THE TOY-CUPBOARD DOOR
That is the old clock in the hall striking midnight. A tall old clock with a round foolish face. He always looks surprised, though he ought to know perfectly well what the hour is. "Dong!" he says. "Another thirty minutes gone! Now, how did that happen?"
It is so still that the voice of the old clock can be heard all through the house. Upstairs, where the children are asleep; out in the kitchen, where the mice run to and fro on the floor—even outside on the doorstep, where Murrum, the black cat, sits in a square of moonlight washing his paws.
Murrum is not so old as the clock, but he knows far more; in fact, he knows everything. He knows where all the birds' nests are, and who just rang the doorbell, and what the family are going to have for dinner. He knows why the cream disappears and what happened to cook's silver thimble and just where Boodles buried his last hambone. He knows all these things and a great deal more, but he doesn't go about chattering. He leaves that to the sparrows and the house-mice, who spread all the gossip between them. Murrum sits and washes his paws.
The moonlight is white on the doorstep and Murrum is black, but there is a white patch just under his chin, and he has four white mittens. He washes and washes, down his nose and over his ears and round his ears, and while he washes he smiles.
"I've fixed them this time!" says Murrum.
Murrum stops washing and stares down with his pale insolent eyes.
It is Toad, the old night-watchman, with his brown wrinkled coat and speckled vest. He comes out from under the doorstep, blinks up through his gold spectacles and grunts.
"Fixed what?" he says again.
"Mind your own business!" says Murrum.
"It is my business!" said the Toad. "Everything's my business. I wish it wasn't. I have too much to look after, that's what it is! It keeps me on the hop the whole time. Dearie me, what's all that noise?"
There was certainly a commotion going on indoors. Bumping and thumping and clattering, and with it the queerest little shrieks and howls. Muffled noises, as though a number of small people were shut up together in a box and were extremely angry about it. One voice, louder than the rest, that sounded like a very sad five-finger exercise.
Murrum listened, his head turned to one side and one paw still lifted.
"A fine rage they're in, aren't they!" said Murrum. "That'll teach them to spoil my mousing!"
"Dearie me," said the Toad, "what have you been up to now? Who is doing all that squealing?"
"Why, the toys, to be sure!" said Murrum. "A wretched noisy crowd they are, night after night prancing and singing all over the house! The place isn't fit to live in. There's three nights now I haven't caught a single mouse, with their carryings on. No sooner do I get to work and settle down, all in position, nicely balanced, than—bing!—in they start with their noise, and I have to begin all over again. It's enough to make one a nervous wreck. But I've settled them to-night. I turned the button on the toy-cupboard door and now they can't get out."
The Toad pushed back his spectacles and scratched his head. "They'll be terribly angry!" he said at last.
"Let them be angry!" said Murrum. "Who cares for that? What sensible people see in those things I can't imagine! The best of them isn't worth three hairs off a kitten's tail. There's that Anna, with her stupid face, and the rag doll, and Bulka, that you can't so much as look at but he starts squealing, and Harlequin, that thinks he's so wonderful—a stupid lot, I call them! And as for that loose-jointed thing like a dog, that they call Poor Cecco, always poking about where he isn't wanted, he's the worst of the lot! Ugh! I can't stand the sight of him!"
"Still," said the Toad, "you shouldn't have locked them up in the cupboard. That's going too far. You could be had up for that!"
"I don't care!" said Murrum. "I do what I like and I go where I choose! And now I'm off to keep my appointment!"
And he gave a last look at his coat, all smooth and glossy, stretched out his ten white toes on the doorstep, and arched his back.
Now all the while Murrum was talking some one had been creeping very slowly along the edge of the porch just over Murrum's head. He had to move rather stiffly and carefully because he was all made of wood, and if he once let his joints rattle there would be a terrible noise. So he went gently—clop—clop—and when he reached the big flower-pot that stood just by the doorstep he folded his hind legs under him and lay down, with one ear cocked up, to hear what was going on. For Murrum hadn't been quite as clever as he thought he was, and when he shut the toy-cupboard door Poor Cecco wasn't inside at all.
In fact it very seldom happened, as Murrum might have remembered if he hadn't been in such a hurry, that Poor Cecco did get put away with the other toys when the nursery was tidied at night. Poor Cecco had been through many adventures and was well able to look after himself, and, being made of wood, it didn't much matter if he was left out in the rain all night, so nobody troubled very much about him. And if any one did happen to want Poor Cecco the best sort of place to look for him, at any time, would be out in the garden or under the bureau or down behind the woodbox in the back kitchen. Once indeed he nearly got thrown on the fire by mistake, only Cook recognised him just in time. Sometimes he would disappear for days at a stretch and then turn up where you least expected him, in the laundry basket, or poked away under the sofa cushions. But with all his irregular habits he rarely came to grief, for he was the cleverest of all the toys.
He stayed quite still now behind the flower-pot and listened to what Murrum had to say.
"Ah, there's nothing like being popular in society!" sighed the Toad. "Now, with me it's work—work all the time!"
Murrum wasn't listening. He came down from the doorstep, still stretching himself and yawning very delicately so as to show the inside of his pink mouth. Standing in the moonlight, he began to make camels, humping his back and waving his long tail from side to side while he admired his shadow on the ground. But just as he was nicely balanced on tiptoe, making the last and most beautiful camel of all, Poor Cecco wriggled out from behind the flower-pot, took a flying jump and landed, with all his joints rattling, right on Murrum's nose!
Murrum gave one terrible yowl and flew off down the garden path and over the wall, with his tail as big as a saucepan handle.
Poor Cecco lay on the ground and laughed, all his four legs sprawling and one ear still cocked up.
"Where did you come from?" asked the Toad, rubbing his head, which Poor Cecco had narrowly escaped kicking.
"Hinksman!" said Poor Cecco, which means: "I won't tell you!"
"I suppose you think that's clever!" said the Toad, still rubbing his head, for he was quite annoyed, and moreover his spectacles had nearly dropped off with fright. "Respectable people hop on the ground, and don't go dropping out of the skies like that. If you think you're an airplane say so at once, and then at least one is warned!"
And he turned his back and began to shuffle away along the edge of the flower-border.
"Don't be in such a hurry!" said Poor Cecco.
But the Toad made no answer. He was already late on his evening rounds. Poor Cecco stood up and shook himself.
"And now, I suppose," he said, "I had better go and let them out!"CHAPTER 2
THE TREASURE HUNT
THERE had been a fine racket going on in the toy-cupboard all this while. But by the time Poor Cecco had trotted round to the back of the house and climbed in through the kitchen window, most of the toys had given up thumping and shouting and were sitting still there in the dark, tired out and very cross. Only the noise like a five-finger exercise still kept on. Poor Cecco could hear it quite distinctly as he poked his head through the kitchen window. "Uh-huh! Uh-huh! Uh-huh! Uh-huh!"
That was Bulka, the rag puppy. Bulka had been mended and restitched so many times that he had almost lost his original shape and he really looked more like a pin cushion than a dog. He always cried in tune—the tune of a five-finger exercise—which annoyed the rest of the toys so much that they would do anything rather than hear Bulka cry. The worst of it was that, being an extremely sensitive person, he cried far oftener than there was any need to, whenever anything went wrong, for instance, or especially if his feelings were hurt; and then all the other toys were obliged to stuff their fingers in their ears and run away until Bulka was comforted. They simply couldn't stand it, but they had to stand it now, for there they were all shut up together and Bulka had been crying steadily for at least three quarters of an hour, ever since Murrum fastened the toy-cupboard door, and all they could do was to stuff their fingers in their ears as tightly as possible and try to pretend they didn't hear him.
But at the sound of Poor Cecco's feet—clop—clop—along the passage and across the floor, Bulka stopped crying at once, right in the middle of his tune, and his companions immediately unstopped their ears to listen. The toy-cupboard was quite low, built in next to the fireplace as in all proper houses, so all Poor Cecco had to do was to reach up on his hind legs and turn the button round again.
Out they all tumbled, all talking at once and very excited. First came Bulka, who had his nose to the crack in the door all the evening, and close at his heels came Tubby, who was a little bigger than Bulka and looked very much like him, except that her ears were longer and her eyes were rounder. Then Gladys and Virginia May, hand in hand, Gladys wearing a white satin petticoat and the wedding veil in which she had been married to Harlequin the week before, and which was really only loaned to her. Virginia wore nothing; all her clothes were in the wash.
Next came Harlequin himself, all covered with spangles, exclaiming "Hey Presto!" He looked quite fine if you half-closed one eye, so as not to see where the stitches were coming undone. After him came the Easter Chicken and the Lion and the wooden Engine, and then Anna the lamb, with a bell round her neck and the little green meadow, that she always carried about with her, fastened under her feet. Last of all was Ida, because she could never get up until the others had moved first. Ida's last name was Down; she was flat and square, dressed in pink satin with a silk cord all round.
All the small toys stayed in the bottom of the cupboard. They were already tired and had gone to sleep.
"Now," cried Poor Cecco. "What shall we do?"
"Let's have a picnic!" said Tubby.
Harlequin wanted to punish Murrum, but no one knew where he was. Engine and the Chicken were talking together, and as usual the Lion was flirting with Anna; they didn't mind what was done so long as some one decided quickly. Ida thought it was time to have another wedding, but it was now Virginia's turn to be married, and Virginia May refused. She had no wedding clothes, since Gladys would not give up the veil, and the only person they could think of for her to marry was Bulka, whom she couldn't endure. Meantime Bulka and Tubby were quarrelling because Bulka said that Tubby's picnics were always stupid and Tubby called Bulka a cry-baby.
Anna said: "Well, if nobody's willing to do anything—"
Poor Cecco jumped up and banged on the table. "I know what let's do," he said. "Let's go on a treasure hunt!"
"What's that?" they all cried.
"It's got to be out of doors," said Poor Cecco, explaining very rapidly, "and we take the express-wagon to bring it back in, and you find a place where some one has buried treasure and you dig it up and divide it. I'm going to do the digging."
"How do you find the place?" Harlequin asked.
"There are lots of places," said Poor Cecco. "You measure the ground and then you dig. Generally it's under a big stone."
Bulka remembered a big stone down by the end of the garden. There might be treasure there. But how could one tell?
You couldn't tell. If you knew beforehand, Poor Cecco said, then there was no sense in looking and it wouldn't be a treasure-hunt. Any one might do that. But you had to have spades, and he sent Tubby to fetch a tin spade and a broken spoon that were in the bottom of the toy-cupboard.
The express wagon had gone to sleep. He grumbled terribly when they woke him up. "I work all day," he complained, "and at night I want to be quiet. I wish you'd think of something with a boat in it for a change!"
But Tubby had returned with the spade, and every one climbed in, paying no attention to his protests. They spread Ida on the bottom of the wagon first, and all sat on her to keep their feet warm. At the last moment space had to be made for the Money-Pig, who insisted on coming too. The word "treasure" was quite enough to rouse him up.
"He thinks we're going to find money, and he's afraid he won't get any!" whispered Tubby to Gladys, snuggling up close against her in the wagon. "He's an awful miser. Did he give you a wedding present last week?"
"He did not," said Gladys.
"When I marry," said Tubby, spreading her skirts out, "I shall be married in Tubbyland and I shall have a Tub-byland wedding. Every one will give me presents. I shall wear a long satin train and roses and a blue veil."
Bulka was staring gloomily in front of him. "You'll look awfully stupid!" he said.
"Anyway," said Tubby angrily, "I shan't ask you! When is the wagon going to start?" They were waiting for Anna, who, as usual, had a piece of string tangled round her wheels. Anna had to walk alongside, for they wouldn't let her bring her meadow into the wagon, and she refused to leave it behind.
"Anna is so silly!" murmured Virginia May, watching Anna lift first one foot and then the other, very affectedly, while Poor Cecco got the string unwound. "It's absurd to be so attached to a little piece of ground like that. It isn't as if anything grew on it. She just likes to pretend she's an heiress and landowner, so as to make a wealthy marriage. But nothing will ever come of it, mark my word!"
They started off—rattle—rattle—rattle—through the back entry and down the garden path. It was a very bumpy ride. The express wagon felt too drowsy to look where he was going. Moreover he was still quite cross and so didn't mind how much he shook them all up.
Rattle! Now they were going round and round the strawberry bed. At each turn the wheels lifted up, nearly spilling them out. Anna, who tried to keep pace with them, kept on tripping. "Stop!" cried Poor Cecco. "This isn't the way!"
But the express-wagon laughed a nasty laugh.
"You woke me up for your pleasure," he declared, "and now I shall go where I choose for mine! And I choose to go round and round the strawberry bed!"
But in the end he grew tired of it and dumped them all, suddenly and unexpectedly, on a border of spring onions.
Luckily the onion leaves were soft. But they smelt horribly. Harlequin in particular was furious.
"It's the very last time," he shouted, "that we shall engage you on any of our expeditions!"
"Engage!" said the wagon. "Engage! That's good!" And he rumbled back to the house, squeaking all the way, "Engage!"
"I suppose really we should have paid him something on account," said Virginia May. "But we never seem to have any money!"
The Money-Pig kept quiet, which was rather mean of him, for every one knew he had all the money there was.
Bulka had fallen on his nose in the onion bed, which was really fortunate, for he had just opened his mouth to cry when the wagon tipped over, but, lying face downward on the soft earth, he couldn't do it. Now he picked himself up and repeated "Hurrah!" instead.
A little way off, by the edge of the potato patch, they could see the big stone.CHAPTER 3
HOW POOR CECCO LOST HIS TAIL
IT was a very large stone—larger even than Bulka had thought. It looked as if it had lain there for a very long time; almost as if it had always been there, and the potato patch and the garden and even the house itself had just grown up around it. There might very well be treasure there; it might even be a magic stone, by the look of it.
"The first thing to do," said Poor Cecco, "is to measure off the ground."
He began at once to measure it off in paces, five times his own length, counting the tail, and that brought him halfway down one of the furrows of the potato patch. There he found a little twig and stuck it up in the earth to mark the spot.
"That's five lengths," he explained, "and now if we measure five lengths from here again, in a straight line, it brings us back to the stone, and that shows exactly where we've got to dig."
The others stood and watched him in admiration. It was all so perfectly simple and came out just right, only the Easter Chicken said:
"I don't see why you need measure just to get back to where you started from."
"You've got to measure," said Poor Cecco hastily, for he did not want them to start asking questions. "It's got to be done like that, or it won't come out properly."
"Do you mean the treasure won't come out?" asked the Easter Chicken.
Excerpted from POOR CECCO by MARGERY WILLIAMS BIANCO, Arthur Rackham. Copyright © 2014 DOVER PUBLICATIONS, INC.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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