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   Chapter 8 THE FOREST

The Hollow Needle; Further adventures of Arsene Lupin By Maurice Leblanc Characters: 21328

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

As soon as Tyltyl and Mytyl were in bed, Light kissed them and faded away at once, so as not to disturb their sleep with the rays that always streamed from her beautiful self.

It must have been about midnight, when Tyltyl, who was dreaming of the little Blue Children, felt a soft velvet paw pass to and fro over his face. He was surprised and sat up in bed in a bit of a fright; but he was soon reassured when he saw his friend Tylette's glowing eyes glittering in the dark.

"Hush!" said the Cat in his ear. "Hush! Don't wake anybody. If we can arrange to slip out without being seen, we shall catch the Blue Bird to-night. I have risked my life, O my dearest master, in preparing a plan which will certainly lead us to victory!"

"But," said the boy, kissing Tylette, "Light would be so glad to help us ... and besides I should be ashamed to disobey her...."

"If you tell her," said the Cat, sharply, "all is lost, believe me. Do as I say; and the day is ours."

As she spoke these words, she hastened to dress him and also Mytyl, who had heard a noise and was asking to go with them.

"You don't understand," groaned Tyltyl. "You are too small: you don't know what a wicked thing we are doing...."

But the treacherous Cat answered all his arguments, saying that the reason why he had not found the Blue Bird so far was just the fault of Light, who always brought brightness with her. Let the Children only go hunting by themselves, in the dark, and they would soon find all the Blue Birds that make men's happiness. The traitress displayed such cleverness that, before long, Tyltyl's disobedience became a very fine thing in his own eyes. Each of Tylette's words provided a good excuse for his action or adorned it with a generous thought. He was too weak to set his will against trickery, allowed himself to be persuaded and walked out of the temple with a firm and cheerful step. Poor little fellow: if he could only have foreseen the terrible trap that awaited him!

Our three companions set out across the fields in the white light of the moon. The Cat seemed greatly excited, did nothing but talk and went so fast that the children were hardly able to keep up with her:

"This time," she declared, "we shall have the Blue Bird, I am sure of it! I asked all the Trees in the very oldest forest; they know him, because he hides among them. Then, in order to have everybody there, I sent the Rabbit to beat the assembly and call the principal Animals in the country."

They reached the edge of the dark forest in an hour's time. Then, at a turn in the road, they saw, in the distance, some one who seemed to be hurrying towards them. Tylette arched her back: she felt that it was her old time enemy. She quivered with rage: was he once more going to thwart her plans? Had he guessed her secret? Was he coming, at the last moment, to save the Children's lives?

She leaned over to Tyltyl and whispered to him, in her most honeyed voice:

"I am sorry to say it is our worthy friend the Dog. It is a thousand pities, because his presence will make us fail in our object. He is on the worst of terms with everybody, even the Trees. Do tell him to go back!"

"Go away, you ugly thing!" said Tyltyl, shaking his fist at the Dog.

Dear old faithful Tyl?, who had come because he suspected the Cat's plans, was much hurt by these hard words. He was ready to cry, was still out of breath from running and could think of nothing to say.

"Go away, I tell you!" said Tyltyl again. "We don't want you here and there's an end of it.... You're a nuisance, there!..."

The Dog was an obedient animal and, at any other time, he would have gone; but his affection told him what a serious business it was and he stood stock still.

"Do you allow this disobedience?" said the Cat to Tyltyl, in a whisper. "Hit him with your stick."

Tyltyl beat the Dog, as the Cat suggested:

"There, that will teach you to be more obedient!" he said.

The poor Dog howled at receiving the blows; but there was no limit to his self-sacrifice. He went up to his young master pluckily and, taking him in his arms, cried:

"I must kiss you now you've beaten me!"

Tyltyl, who was a good-hearted little fellow, did not know what to do; and the Cat swore between her teeth like a wild beast. Fortunately, dear little Mytyl interfered on our friend's behalf:

"No, no; I want him to stay," she pleaded. "I'm frightened when Tyl?'s not with us."

Time was short and they had to come to a decision.

"I'll find some other way to get rid of the idiot!" thought the Cat. And, turning to the Dog, she said, in her most gracious manner, "We shall be so pleased if you will join us!"

As they entered the great forest, the Children stuck close together, with the Cat and the Dog on either side of them. They were awed by the silence and the darkness and they felt much relieved when the Cat exclaimed:

"Here we are! Turn the diamond!"

Then the light spread around them and showed them a wonderful sight. They were standing in the middle of a large round space in the heart of the forest, where all the old, old Trees seemed to reach up to the sky. Wide avenues formed a white star amidst the dark green of the wood. Everything was peaceful and still; but suddenly a strange shiver ran through the foliage; the branches moved and stretched like human arms; the roots raised the earth that covered them, came together, took the shapes of legs and feet and stood on the ground; a tremendous crash rang through the air; the trunks of the Trees burst open and each of them let out its soul, which made its appearance like a funny human figure.

Some stepped slowly from their trunks; others came out with a jump; and all of them gathered inquisitively round our friends.

The talkative Poplar began to chatter like a magpie:

"Little Men! We shall be able to talk to them! We have done with silence!... Where do they come from?... Who are they?"

And so he rattled on.

The Lime-tree, who was a jolly, fat fellow, came up calmly, smoking his pipe; the conceited and dandified Chestnut-tree screwed his glass into his eye to stare at the Children. He wore a coat of green silk embroidered with pink and white flowers. He thought the little ones too poor-looking and turned away in derision.

"He thinks he's everybody, since he has taken to living in town! He despises us!" sneered the Poplar, who was jealous of him.

"Oh, dear, oh, dear!" wept the Willow, a wretched little stunted fellow, who came clattering along in a pair of wooden shoes too big for him. "They have come to cut off my head and arms for firewood!"

Tyltyl could not believe his eyes. He never stopped asking the Cat questions:

"Who's this?... Who's that?..."

And Tylette introduced the soul of each Tree to him.

There was the Elm, who was a sort of short-winded, paunchy, crabby gnome; the Beech, an elegant, sprightly person; the Birch, who looked like the ghosts in the Palace of Night, with his white flowing garments and his restless gestures. The tallest figure was the Fir-tree: Tyltyl found it very difficult to see his face perched right at the top of his long, thin body; but he looked gentle and sad, whereas the Cypress, who stood near him, dressed all in black, frightened Tyltyl terribly.

However, so far nothing very dreadful had happened. The Trees, delighted at being able to talk, were all chattering together; and our young friend was simply going to ask them where the Blue Bird was hidden, when, all of a sudden, silence reigned. The Trees bowed respectfully and stood aside to make way for an immensely old Tree, dressed in a long gown embroidered with moss and lichen. He leaned with one hand on a stick and with the other on a young Oak Sapling who acted as his guide, for the Old Oak was blind. His long white beard streamed in the wind.

"It's the King!" said Tyltyl to himself, when he saw his mistletoe crown. "I will ask him the secret of the forest."

And he was just going up to him, when he stopped, seized with surprise and joy: there sat the Blue Bird before him, perched on the old Oak's shoulder.

"He has the Blue Bird!" cried the boy, gleefully. "Quick! Quick! Give him to me!"

"Silence! Hold your tongue!" said the greatly shocked Trees.

"Take off your hat, Tyltyl," said the Cat. "It's the Oak!"

The poor Child at once obeyed with a smile; he did not understand the danger that threatened him and he did not hesitate to answer, "Yes, Sir," when the Oak asked him if he was Tyl the woodcutter's son.

Then the Oak, trembling with rage, began to lay a terrible charge against Daddy Tyl:

"In my family alone," he said, "your father has put to death six hundred of my sons, four hundred and seventy-five uncles and aunts, twelve hundred cousins of both sexes, three hundred and eighty daughters-in-law and twelve thousand great-grandsons!"

No doubt his anger made him exaggerate a little; but Tyltyl listened without protest and said, very politely:

"I beg your pardon, Sir, for disturbing you.... The Cat said that you would tell us where the Blue Bird is."

The Oak was too old not to know all there was to know about Men and Animals. He smiled in his beard when he guessed the trap laid by the Cat and he felt very glad at it, for he had long wished to revenge the whole forest for the slavery to which Man had subjected it.

"It's for the Fairy Bérylune's little girl, who is very ill," the boy continued.

"Enough!" said the Oak, silencing him. "I do not hear the Animals.... Where are they?... All this concerns them as much as us.... We, the Trees, must not assume the responsibility alone for the grave measures that have become necessary."

"Here they come!" said the Fir-tree, looking over the top of the other Trees. "They are following the Rabbit.... I can see the souls of the Horse, the Bull, the Ox, the Cow, the Wolf, the Sheep, the Pig, the Goat, and the Bear...."

All the Animals now arrived. They walked on their hind-legs and were dressed like human beings. They solemnly took up their positions in a circle among the Trees, all except the frivolous Goat, who began to skip down the avenues, and the Pig, who hoped to find some glorious truffles among the roots that had newly left the ground.

"Are all here present?" asked the Oak.

"The Hen could not leave her eggs," said the Rabbit, "the Hare was out for a run, the Stag has pains in his horns and his corns, the Fox is ill-here is the doctor's certificate-the Goose did not understand and the Turkey flew into a passion...."

"Look!" whispered Tyltyl to Mytyl. "Aren't they funny? They are just li

ke the rich children's fine toys in the windows at Christmas-time."

The Rabbit especially made them laugh, with his cocked hat over his big ears, his blue, embroidered coat and his drum slung in front of him.

Meanwhile, the Oak was explaining the situation to his brothers the Trees and to the Animals. Treacherous Tylette had been quite right in reckoning on their hatred.

"The child you see before you," said the Oak, "thanks to a talisman stolen from the powers of Earth, is able to take possession of our Blue Bird and thus to snatch from us the secret which we have kept since the origin of life.... Now we know enough of Man to entertain no doubt as to the fate which he reserves for us, once he is in possession of this secret.... Any hesitation would be both foolish and criminal.... It is a serious moment; the child must be done away with before it is too late...."

"What is he saying?" asked Tyltyl, who could not make out what the old Tree was driving at.

The Dog was prowling round the Oak and now showed his fangs:

"Do you see my teeth, you old cripple?" he growled.

"He is insulting the Oak!" said the Beech indignantly.

"Drive him out!" shouted the Oak, angrily. "He's a traitor!"

"What did I tell you?" whispered the Cat to Tyltyl. "I will arrange things.... But send him away."

"Will you be off!" said Tyltyl to the Dog.

"Do let me worry the gouty old beggar's moss slippers!" begged Tyl?.

Tyltyl tried in vain to prevent him. The rage of Tyl?, who understood the danger, knew no bounds; and he would have succeeded in saving his master, if the Cat had not thought of calling in the Ivy, who till then had kept his distance. The Dog pranced about like a madman, abusing everybody. He railed at the Ivy:

"Come on, if you dare, you old ball of twine, you!"

The onlookers growled; the Oak was pale with fury at seeing his authority denied; the Trees and the Animals were indignant, but, as they were cowards, not one of them dared protest; and the Dog would have settled all of them, if he had gone on with his rebellion. But Tyltyl threatened him harshly; and, suddenly yielding to his docile instincts, Tyl? lay down at his master's feet. Thus it is that our finest virtues are treated as faults, when we exercise them without discrimination.

From that moment, the Children were lost. The Ivy gagged and bound the poor Dog, who was then taken behind the Chestnut-tree and tied to his biggest root.

"Now," cried the Oak, in a voice of thunder, "we can take counsel quietly.... This is the first time that it is given us to judge Man! I do not think that, after the monstrous injustice which we have suffered, there can remain the least doubt as to the sentence that awaits him...."

One cry rang from every throat:

"Death! Death! Death!"

The poor Children did not at first understand their doom, for the Trees and Animals, who were more accustomed to talking their own special language, did not speak very distinctly; and, besides, the innocent Children could never imagine such cruelty!

"What is the matter with them?" asked the boy. "Are they displeased?"

"Don't be alarmed," said the Cat. "They are a little annoyed because Spring is late...."

And she went on talking into Tyltyl's ear, to divert his attention from what was happening.

While the trusting lad was listening to her fibs, the others were discussing which form of execution would be the most practical and the least dangerous. The Bull suggested a good butt with the horns; the Beech offered his highest branch to hang the little Children on; and the Ivy was already preparing a slip-knot! The Fir-tree was willing to give the four planks for the coffin and the Cypress the perpetual grant of a tomb.

"By far the simplest way," whispered the Willow, "would be to drown them in one of my rivers."

And the Pig grunted between his teeth:

"In my opinion, the great thing would be to eat the little girl.... She ought to be very tender...."

"Silence!" roared the Oak. "What we have to decide is which of us shall have the honour of striking the first blow!"

"That honour falls to you, our King!" said the Fir-tree.

"Alas, I am too old!" replied the Oak. "I am blind and infirm! To you, my evergreen brother, be the glory, in my place, of striking the decisive blow that shall set us free."

But the Fir-tree declined the honour on the pretext that he was already to have the pleasure of burying the two victims and that he was afraid of rousing jealousy. He suggested the Beech, as owning the best club.

"It is out of the question," said the Beech. "You know I am worm-eaten! Ask the Elm and the Cypress."

Thereupon the Elm began to moan and groan: a mole had twisted his great toe the night before and he could hardly stand upright; and the Cypress excused himself and so did the Poplar, who declared that he was ill and shivering with fever. Then the Oak's indignation flared up:

"You are afraid of Man!" he exclaimed. "Even those unprotected and unarmed little Children inspire you with terror!... Well, I shall go forth alone, old and shaky and blind as I am, against the hereditary enemy!... Where is he?..."

And groping his way with his stick, he moved towards Tyltyl, growling as he went.

Our poor little friend had been very much afraid during the last few minutes. The Cat had left him suddenly, saying that she wanted to smooth down the excitement, and had not come back. Mytyl nestled trembling against him; and he felt very lonely, very unhappy among those dreadful people whose anger he was beginning to notice. When he saw the Oak marching on him with a threatening air, he drew his pocket-knife and defied him like a man:

"Is it I he's after, that old one, with his big stick?" he cried.

But, at the sight of the knife, Man's irresistible weapon, all the Trees shook with fright and rushed at the Oak to hold him back. There was a struggle; and the old King, conquered by the weight of years, threw away his stick:

"Shame on us!" he shouted. "Shame on us! Let the Animals deliver us!..."

The Animals were only waiting for this! All wanted to be revenged together. Fortunately, their very eagerness caused a scrimmage which delayed the murder of the dear little ones.

Mytyl uttered piercing screams.

"Don't be afraid," said Tyltyl, doing his best to protect her. "I have my knife."

"The little chap means to die game!" said the Cock.

"That's the one I shall eat first," said the Pig, eyeing Mytyl greedily.

"What have I done to all of you?" asked Tyltyl.

"Nothing at all, my little man," said the Sheep. "Eaten my little brother, my two sisters, my three uncles, my aunt, my grandpapa and my grandmamma.... Wait, wait, when you're down, you shall see that I have teeth also...."

And so the Sheep and the Horse, who were the greatest cowards, waited for the little fellow to be knocked down before they dared take their share in the spoil.

While they were talking, the Wolf and the Bear treacherously attacked Tyltyl from behind and pushed him over. It was an awful moment. All the Animals, seeing him on the ground, tried to get at him. The boy raised himself to one knee and brandished his knife. Mytyl uttered yells of distress; and, to crown all, it suddenly became dark.

Tyltyl called wildly for assistance:

"Help! Help!... Tyl?! Tyl?!... To the rescue!... Where is Tylette?... Come! Come!..."

The Cat's voice was heard in the distance, where she was craftily keeping out of sight:

"I can't come!" she whined. "I'm wounded!"

All this time, plucky little Tyltyl was defending himself as best he could, but he was alone against all of them, felt that he was going to be killed and, in a faltering voice, cried once more:

"Help!... Tyl?! Tyl?!... I can't hold out!... There are too many of them!... The Bear!... The Pig! The Wolf! The Fir-tree! The Beech!... Tyl?! Tyl?! Tyl?!..."

Then the Dog came leaping along, dragging his broken bonds and elbowing his way through the Trees and Animals and flung himself before his master, whom he defended furiously:

"Here, my little god! Don't be afraid! Have at them! I know how to use my teeth!"

All the Trees and Animals raised a loud outcry:

"Renegade!... Idiot!... Traitor!... Felon!... Simpleton!... Sneak!... Leave him!... He's a dead man!... Come over to us!..."

The Dog fought on:

"Never! Never!... I alone against all of you!... Never! Never!... True to the gods, to the best, to the greatest!... Take care, my little master, here's the Bear!... Look out for the Bull!"

Tyltyl vainly tried to defend himself:

"I'm done for, Tyl?! It was a blow from the Elm! My hand's bleeding!" And he dropped to the ground. "No, I can hold out no longer!"

"They are coming!" said the Dog. "I hear somebody!... We are saved! It is Light!... Saved! Saved!... See, they're afraid, they're retreating!... Saved, my little king!..."

And, sure enough, Light was coming towards them; and with her the dawn rose over the forest, which became light as day.

"What is it?... What has happened?" she asked, quite alarmed at the sight of the little ones and their dear Tyl? covered with wounds and bruises. "Why, my poor boy, didn't you know? Turn the diamond quickly!"

Tyltyl hastened to obey; and immediately the souls of all the Trees rushed back into their trunks, which closed upon them. The souls of the Animals also disappeared; and there was nothing to be seen but a cow and a sheep browsing peacefully in the distance. The forest became harmless once more; and Tyltyl looked around him in amazement:

"No matter," he said, "but for the Dog ... and if I hadn't had my knife!..."

Light thought that he had been punished enough and did not scold him. Besides, she was very much upset by the horrible danger which he had run.

Tyltyl, Mytyl and the Dog, glad to meet again safe and sound, exchanged wild kisses. They laughingly counted their wounds, which were not very serious.

Tylette was the only one to make a fuss:

"The Dog's broken my paw!" she mewed.

Tyl? felt as if he could have made a mouthful of her:

"Never mind!" he said. "It'll keep!"

"Leave her alone, will you, you ugly beast?" said Mytyl.

Our friends went back to the Temple of Light to rest after their adventure. Tyltyl, repenting of his disobedience, dared not even mention the Blue Bird of which he had caught a glimpse; and Light said to the Children, gently:

"Let this teach you, dears, that Man is all alone against all in this world. Never forget that."

A regular waterfall of tears came gushing

from her eyes, flooding all around her

* * *

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