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   Chapter 14 A HOT CHASE.

A Jolly Fellowship By Frank R. Stockton Characters: 18695

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


That afternoon, Rectus and I went over to the African settlement to see how the kingdom worked. It was rather soon, perhaps, to make a call on the new queen, but we were out for a walk, and might as well go that way as any other.

When we came near the house, we heard a tremendous uproar, and soon saw that there was a big crowd in the yard. We couldn't imagine what was going on, unless the queen had changed her shilling, and was indulging in the luxury of giving a scramble. We ran up quickly, but the crowd was so large that we could not get into the yard, nor see what all the commotion was about. But we went over to the side of the yard, and-without being noticed by any of the people, who seemed too much interested to turn around-we soon found out what the matter was.

Priscilla had usurped the throne!

The rocking-chair had been brought out and placed again in front of the window, and there sat Priscilla, leaning back at her ease, with the crown on her head, a big fan-made of calf-skin-in her hand, and a general air of superiority pervading her whole being. Behind her, with her hand on the back of the chair, stood Poqua-dilla, wearing her new turban, but without the red shawl. She looked as if something had happened.

In front of the chair was the Lord High Chancellor. He had evidently gone over to the usurper. His red ribbon, very dusty and draggled, still hung from his shirt-collar. The four courtiers sat together on a bench, near the house, with their coats still buttoned up as high as circumstances would allow. They seemed sad and disappointed, and probably had been deprived of their rank. The Hof-rath stood in the front of the crowd. He did not appear happy; indeed, he seemed a good deal ruffled, both in mind and clothes. Perhaps he had defended his queen, and had been roughly handled.

Priscilla was talking, and fanning herself, gracefully and lazily, with her calf-skin fan. I think she had been telling the people what she intended to do, and what she intended them to do; but, almost immediately after our arrival, she was interrupted by the Hof-rath, who said something that we did not hear, but which put Priscilla into a wild passion.

She sprang to her feet and stood up in the chair, while poor Poqua-dilla held it firmly by the back so that it should not shake. I supposed from this that Priscilla had been standing up before, and that our old friend had been appointed to the office of chair-back-holder to the usurper.

Priscilla waved her fan high in air, and then, with her right hand, she took off the crown, held it up for a minute, and replaced it on her head.

"Afrikins, behole yer queen!" said she, at the top of her voice, and leaning back so far that the rightful sovereign had a good deal of trouble to keep the chair from going over.

"Dat's me!" she cried. "Look straight at me, an' ye see yer queen. An' how you dar', you misribble Hop-grog, to say I no queen! You 'serve to be killed. Take hole o' him, some uv you fellers! Grab dat Hop-grog!"

At this, two or three men seized the poor Hof-rath, while the crowd cheered and laughed.

"Take him an' kill him!" shouted Priscilla. "Chop his head off!"

At this, a wild shout of laughter arose, and one of the men who held the Hof-rath declared, as soon as he got his breath, that they couldn't do that,-they had no hatchet big enough.

Priscilla stood quiet for a minute. She looked over the crowd, and then she looked at the poor Hof-rath, who now began to show that he was a little frightened.

"You, Hop-grog," said she, "how much money did you grab in dem scrahmbles?"

The Hof-rath put his hand in his pocket and pulled out some pennies.

"Five big coppers," said he, sullenly.

"Gim me dem," said she, and he brought them to her.

"Now den, you kin git out," said she, pocketing the money. Then she again raised her crown and replaced it on her head.

"Afrikins, behole your queen!" she cried.

This was more than we could stand. To see this usurpation and robbery made our blood boil. We, by ourselves, could do nothing; but we could get help. We slipped away and ran down the road in the direction of the hotel. We had not gone far before we saw, coming along a cross-road, the two yellow-leg men. We turned, hurried up to them, and hastily told them of the condition of things, and asked if they would help us put down this usurpation. They did not understand the matter, at first, but when we made them see how it stood, they were greatly interested, and instantly offered to join us.

"We can go down here to the police-station," said I, "and get some help."

"No, no!" said the tall yellow-leg. "Don't tell those fellows. They'll only make a row of it, and get somebody into trouble. We're enough to capture that usurper. Let's go for her."

And we went.

When we neared the crowd, the shorter yellow-leg, Mr. Burgan, said that he would go first; then his friend would come close behind him, while Rectus and I could push up after them. By forming a line we could rush right through the crowd. I thought I ought to go first, but Mr. Burgan said he was the stoutest, and could better stand the pressure if the crowd stood firm.

But the crowd didn't stand firm. The moment we made our rush, and the people saw us, they scattered right and left, and we pushed right through, straight to the house. Priscilla saw us before we reached her, and, quick as lightning, she made a dive for the door. We rushed after her, but she got inside, and, hurling the crown from her head, dashed out of a back-door. We followed hotly, but she was out of the yard, over a wall, and into a side lane, almost before we knew it.

Then a good chase began. Priscilla had a long start of us, for we had bungled at the wall, but we were bound to catch her.

I was a good runner, and Rectus was light and active, although I am not sure that he could keep up the thing very long; but the two yellow-legs surprised me. They took the lead of us, directly, and kept it. Behind us came a lot of darkeys, not trying to catch Priscilla, but anxious, I suppose, to see what was going to happen.

Priscilla still kept well ahead. She had struck out of the lane into a road which led toward the outskirts of the town. I think we were beginning to gain on her when, all of a sudden, she sat down. With a shout, we rushed on, but before we reached her she had jerked off both her shoes,-she didn't wear any stockings,-and she sprang to her feet and was off again. Waving the shoes over her head, she jumped and leaped and bounded like an India-rubber goat. Priscilla, barefooted, couldn't be caught by any man on the island: we soon saw that. She flew down the road, with the white dust flying behind her, until she reached a big limestone quarry, where the calcareous building-material of the town is sawn out in great blocks, and there she made a sharp turn and dashed down in among the stones. We reached the place just in time to see her run across the quarry, slip in between two great blocks that were standing up like statue pedestals on the other side, and disappear.

We rushed over, we searched and looked, here and there and everywhere, and all the darkeys searched and looked, but we found no Priscilla. She had gone away.

Puffing and blowing like four steam-fire-engines, we sat down on some stones and wiped our faces.

"I guess we just ran that upstart queen out of her possessions," said the tall yellow-legs, dusting his boots with his handkerchief. He was satisfied.

We walked home by the road at the edge of the harbor. The cool air from the water was very pleasant to us. When we reached the hotel, we found Mr. and Mrs. Chipperton and Corny sitting outside, in the entrance court, waiting for supper-time. A lot of arm-chairs always stood there, so that people might sit and wait for meals, or anything else that they expected. When Corny heard the dreadful news of the fall of our kingdom, she was so shocked that she could scarcely speak; and as for Mrs. Chipperton, I thought she was going to cry. Corny wanted to rush right down to Poqua-dilla's house and see what could be done, but we were all against that. No harm would come to the old woman that night from the loss of her crown, and it was too near supper-time for any attempt at restoration, just then.

"Only to think of it!" said Mrs. Chipperton. "After all we did for her! I don't believe she was queen more than an hour. It's the shortest reign I ever heard of."

"And that Priscilla!" cried Corny. "The girl we trusted to do so much, and--"

"Paid every night," said I.

"Yes," she continued, "and gave a pair of mother's shoes to, for the coronation! And to think that she should deceive us and do the usurping!"

The shorter yellow-legs, who had been standing by with his friend, now made a remark. He evidently remembered Corny, on the Oclawaha steam-boat, although he had never become acquainted with her or her family.

"Did your queen talk French?" he asked, with a smile; "or was not that the language of the Court?"

"No, it wasn't," said Corny, gravely. "African was the language of the Court. But the queen was too polite to use it before us, because she knew we did not understand it, and couldn't tell what she might be saying about us."

"Good!" said the tall yellow-legs. "That's

very good indeed. Burgan, you owe her one."

"One what?" asked Corny.

"Another answer as good as that, if I can ever think of it," said Mr. Burgan.

Corny did not reply. I doubt if she heard him. Her soul still ached for her fallen queen.

"I tell you what it is," said Mr. Chipperton, who had kept unaccountably quiet, so far. "It's a great pity that I did not know about this. I should have liked nothing better than to be down there when that usurper girl was standing on that throne, or rocking-chair, or whatever it was--"

"Oh, my dear!" said Mrs. Chipperton. "It would never have done for you to have exposed your lung to such a scene of turmoil and confusion."

"Bother my lung!" cried Mr. Chipperton, who was now growing quite excited. "I would never have stood tamely by, and witnessed such vile injustice--"

"We didn't stand tamely by," said I. "We ran wildly after the unjust one."

"I would have stood up before that crowd," continued Mr. Chipperton, "and I would have told the people what I thought of them. I would have asked them how, living in a land like this, where the blue sky shines on them for nothing, where cocoa-nut and the orange stand always ready for them to stretch forth their hands and take them, where they need but a minimum of clothes, and where the very sea around them freely yields up its fish and its conchs,-or, that is to say, they can get such things for a trifling sum,-I would have asked them, I say, how-when free citizens of a republic, such as we are, come from our shores of liberty, where kings and queens are despised and any throne that is attempted to be set up over us is crushed to atoms,-that when we, I say, come over here, and out of the pure kindness and generosity of our souls raise from the dust a poverty-stricken and down-trodden queen, and place her, as nearly as possible, on the throne of her ancestors, and put upon her head a crown,-a bauble which, in our own land, we trample under foot--"

At this I shuddered, remembering the sharp points I had filed in our crown.

"And grind into the dust," continued Mr. Chipperton,-"I would ask them, I say, how they could think of all this, and then deliberately subvert, at the behest of a young and giddy colored hireling, the structure we had upraised. And what could they have said to that, I would like to know?" he asked, looking around from one to another of us.

"Give us a small dive, boss?" suggested Rectus.

"That's so," said Mr. Chipperton, his face beaming into a broad smile; "I believe they would have said that very thing. You have hit it exactly. Let's go in to supper."

The next day, Rectus and I, with Corny and Mrs. Chipperton, walked down to the queen's house, to see how she fared and what could be done for her.

When we reached Poqua-dilla's hut, we saw her sitting on her door-step. By her side were several joints of sugar-cane, and close to them stood the crown, neatly filled with scarlet pepper-pods, which hung very prettily over the peaked points of brass. She was very still, and her head rested on her breast.

"Asleep!" whispered Corny.

"Yes," said Mrs. Chipperton, softly, "and don't let's waken her. She's very well off as she is, and now that her house is a little more comfortable, it would be well to leave her in peace, to peddle what she pleases on her door-step. Her crown will worry her less where it is than on her head."

Corny whispered to her mother, who nodded, and took out her pocket-book. In a moment, Corny, with some change in her hand, went quietly up to the yard and put the money in the queen's lap. Then we went away and left her, still asleep.

A day or two after this, the "Tigress" came in, bringing the mail. We saw her, from one of the upper porticoes, when she was just on the edge of the horizon, and we knew her by the way she stood up high in the water, and rolled her smoke-stack from side to side. She was the greatest roller that ever floated, I reckon, but a jolly good ship for all that; and we were glad enough to see her.

There were a lot of letters for us in her mail. I had nine from the boys at home, not to count those from the family.

We had just about finished reading our letters when Corny came up to us to the silk-cotton tree, where we were sitting, and said, in a doleful tone:

"We've got to go home."

"Home?" we cried out together. "When?"

"To-morrow," said Corny, "on the 'Tigress.'"

All our good news and pleasant letters counted for nothing now.

"How?-why?" said I. "Why do you have to go? Isn't this something new?"

Rectus looked as if he had lost his knife, and I'm sure I had never thought that I should care so much to hear that a girl-no relation-was going away the next day.

"Yes, it is something new," said Corny, who certainly had been crying, although we didn't notice it at first. "It's a horrid old lawsuit. Father just heard of it in a letter. There's one of his houses, in New York, that's next to a lot, and the man that owns the lot says father's house sticks over four inches on his lot, and he has sued him for that,-just think of it! four inches only! You couldn't do anything with four inches of dirt if you had it; and father didn't know it, and he isn't going to move his wall back, now that he does know it, for the people in the house would have to cut all their carpets, or fold them under, which is just as bad, and he says he must go right back to New York, and, of course, we've all got to go, too, which is the worst of it, and mother and I are just awfully put out."

"What's the good of his going," asked Rectus. "Can't he get a lawyer to attend to it all?"

"Oh, you couldn't keep him here now," said Corny. "He's just wild to be off. The man who sued him is a horrid person, and father says that if he don't go right back, the next thing he'll hear will be that old Colbert will be trying to get a foot instead of four inches."

"Old Colbert!" ejaculated Rectus, "I guess that must be my father."

If I had been Rectus, I don't think I should have been so quick to guess anything of that kind about my father; but perhaps he had heard things like that before. He took it as coolly as he generally took everything.

Corny was as red as a beet.

"Your father!" she exclaimed. "I don't believe it. I'll go this very minute and see."

Rectus was right. The stingy hankerer after what Corny called four inches of dirt was his father. Mr. Chipperton came up to us and talked about the matter, and it was all as plain as daylight. When he found that Mr. Colbert was the father of Rectus, Mr. Chipperton was very much surprised, and he called no more names, although I am sure he had been giving old Colbert a pretty disagreeable sort of a record. But he sat down by Rectus, and talked to him as if the boy were his own father instead of himself, and proved to him, by every law of property in English, Latin, or Sanscrit, that the four inches of ground were legally, lawfully, and without any manner of doubt, his own, and that it would have been utterly and absolutely impossible for him to have built his house one inch outside of his own land. I whispered to Rectus that the house might have swelled, but he didn't get a chance to put in the suggestion.

Rectus had to agree to all Mr. Chipperton said-or, at least, he couldn't differ with him,-for he didn't know anything on earth about the matter, and I guess he was glad enough when he got through. I'm sure I was. Rectus didn't say anything except that he was very sorry that the Chipperton family had to go home, and then he walked off to his room.

In about half an hour, when I went upstairs, I found Rectus had just finished a letter to his father.

"I guess that'll make it all right," he said, and he handed me the letter to read. It was a strictly business letter. No nonsense about the folks at home. He said that was the kind of business letter his father liked. It ran like this:

Dear Father: Mr. Chipperton has told me about your suing him. If he really has set his house over on four inches of your lot, I wish you would let it stand there. I don't care much for him, but he has a nice wife and a pleasant girl, and if you go on suing him the whole lot of them will leave here to-morrow, and they're about the only people I know, except Gordon. If you want to, you can take a foot off any one of my three lots, and that ought to make it all right.

Your affectionate son, Samuel Colbert.

"Have you three lots?" I asked, a good deal surprised, for I didn't know that Rectus was a property-owner.

"Yes," said he; "my grandmother left them to me."

"Are they right next to your father's lot, which Chipperton cut into?"

"No, they're nowhere near it," said Rectus.

I burst out laughing.

"That letter wont do any good," I said.

"You'll see," said Rectus, and he went off to mail it.

I don't know what kind of a business man Mr. Chipperton was, but when Rectus told him that he had written a letter to his father which would make the thing all right, he was perfectly satisfied; and the next day we all went out in a sail-boat to the coral-reef, and had a splendid time, and the "Tigress" went off without any Chippertons. I think Mr. Chipperton put the whole thing down as the result of his lecture to Rectus up in the silk-cotton tree.

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