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   Chapter 23 THE JABBERWOCK.

Cricket at the Seashore By Elizabeth Weston Timlow Characters: 11742

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"Let me help build up the shrime, too," said Zaidee, bringing up stones also. "I want to offer sacrumfices."

"You and Helen bring a lot of dried seaweed to decorate it," said Cricket, working busily. "That's right, Kenneth. Bring all the pretty shells you can, and we'll put them all around the sides. Look, Eunice! doesn't it look fine already!"

They had built up the "shrime" to a large square pile, about two feet high, on the top of which the grinning skull reposed. The dry seaweed draped the rough stones, and Kenneth's shells were arranged about it.

"Now we must begin to offer sacrifices," said Cricket. "We must have dishevelled hair, Eunice, as the women always do in stories. I can't muss mine up much more than it always is," regretfully, "but you can take your braid out, and throw your hair all around. Oh, that's lovely!" as Eunice loosened her heavy, dark braid, and threw the long, straight masses all about. "How beautifully dishevelled you are!"

"I'm glad I don't have to offer sacrifices every day," laughed Eunice, "for dishevelled hair is not comfortable, at least as dishevelled as this. Perhaps I wouldn't mind a little bit of it."

"Come here, Zaidee, if you wish to join the procession," and Eunice caught her small sister, and rubbed her hands vigorously over her short, soft, straight hair, till it fairly stood on end. Helen's hair curled like Cricket's, in a golden, fluffy mass.

"Now, we're all ready. We must march up before the shrine, and lay our sacrifices at the feet of the idol, and bow down before it."

"It hasn't any foots," observed Zaidee.

"Well, before its mouth, then. It's just as 'propriate, I guess. Come over here, and get into line, Eunice. You go first and I'll follow, and the children will come on behind. We must go up with weeping and wailing and gnashing our teeth," said Cricket, getting Biblical.

"How do you gnash your tooths?" inquired Helen.

"I'll show you," said Cricket, immediately rolling her eyes, and opening and shutting her mouth with such fearful snaps of her teeth, that Helen instantly retreated behind Zaidee for protection. "Clutch your hair with both hands, this way, and get into procession."

"Yes, but where's the sacrifice?" asked Eunice, suddenly recollecting this important part of the ceremony.

"I declare! I forgot all about it! What shall we sacrifice?"

"We finded a little dead mouse in the woodshed after breakfast," said Zaidee. "We were going to give him to George Washington for dessert to-day. We buried it in the cemi-terror to keep till it was dinner-time."

"That will do. Dig it up. George Washington can sacrifice his mouse."

While Zaidee was unearthing George W.'s intended dessert, Cricket had found a shingle for a bier. They made a bed of seaweed on it, and stretched the little dead mouse thereon.

"I've an idea!" exclaimed Eunice. "Let's call the idol the Jabberwock, and sing the Jabberwock song as we go up."

"Splendid!" cried Cricket, clapping her hands. "How does it go?

"'Beware the Jabberwock, my son,

With jaws that bite and claws that catch.'

"Isn't that it?"

"That's the second verse," said Eunice "Don't you remember,

"''Twas brillig, and the slimy sea-?'"

"Yes, now I do. All ready."

So the procession formed itself anew. Zaidee and Helen bore the shingle-bier in front, Eunice and Cricket came behind, tearing their hair, and chanting in doleful tones how

"The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,

me whiffling through the tulgey wood,

And burbled as it came!"

Then, with appropriate ceremonies, they offered up the mouse to the Jabberwock, and then, joining hands, they danced around it, howling and shrieking.

"More! more!" growled Cricket, in awful tones, that were supposed to come from the yawning throat of the Jabberwock. The smaller children, by this time, were wildly excited, and ready to offer up all their possessions.

"You may have my Crumples," screamed Zaidee, making a dive for a little white china cat that lay near by with a pile of other playthings that the children had been playing with.

"We must stone it to pieces first," said Cricket, "and offer up the ashes," and soon the china cat lay in fragments, and its "ashes" were offered up.

"Let's take this old rubber-baby of Kenneth's," proposed Cricket. "You don't care for it, do you, baby? It has a hole in its head."

Kenneth looked doubtfully at his beloved Jacob for a moment, and then, quite carried away by the excitement of the occasion, he cried out, valiantly:

"You may have Dacob for ze Dabberwock."

One by one all the children's small possessions lay before the jaws of the Jabberwock.

"Oh, Eunice! children! let's have a fire, and burn up all these sacrifices to the Jabberwock. Think what a lovely thing he'd think that is! Idols always love to have scenes of devastination and ruin all about."

"I'm afraid that wouldn't be safe," said Eunice, hesitating. "Would auntie like it?"

"Oh, she wouldn't care. What harm? Nothing could get on fire out here on the sands, could there? Of course, we wouldn't if it was near the house anywhere. I'll go and get the matches," and off she darted like a flash.

"Oh, are we going to have a fire, and burn up the shrime?" cried Zaidee. "Goody! goody! what fun! they're going to burn up the shrime!"

Cricket flew back with a match-box in her hand.

"Now, get lots of dry seaweed, children," she ordered, "and we'll heap it around the pile, and tuck it under the pile of sacrifices, so they'll burn better. Oh, won't that make a blaze!" and Cricket danced about in anticipation. "There, Jabberwock! I hope you'll be 'tentified,' as Zaidee says. Stand back, children. Come, Eunice, and we'll march up singing, and lay our offering of a lighted match down before him," and Cricket, chanting another verse of the "Jabberwock," pran

ced up and struck a match.

The dry seaweed was instantly aflame, curling and leaping like a live thing, around the pile of stone. The children, dancing around and clapping their hands, screamed in ecstasy at the sight.

"Bring more seaweed," called Cricket, piling on all she had, to keep up the darting flames. The fire went springing up, licking the white bones of the Jabberwock. In their excitement the younger children scarcely noticed that their treasures were actually burning up, also, till Kenneth suddenly caught sight of his "Dacob," writhing, and curling, and jumping about in the most uncanny way, as if in mortal agony. The poor baby darted forward to rescue it.

"It's hurted Dacob! He's all wiggly!" he cried, and he tried to snatch his best beloved doll from the flames. Eunice caught him back.

"Don't touch, baby. It will burn you. Jacob can't feel it, and I'll buy you another."

"He does feel it. It's hurted him," cried Kenneth, struggling to get away. With the sudden spring he made, Eunice lost hold of him, and he made a snatch at the burning sacrifice. A long tongue of flame leaped up, caught like a live thing the baby's linen dress, and in an instant he was enveloped in flames.

For one horrible moment the other children stood paralyzed with fright. Not to the longest day she lives will Cricket forget the awful terror of that moment, as the thought surged up that, whatever happened, it was all her fault. Then, with a wild scream, to which all her previous ones had been as whispers, she darted forward. Kenneth, blind with terror and pain, beat at the flames with his tiny hands, and ran shrieking down the beach, fanning the fire to a brighter blaze.

Cricket was upon him in a moment. She flung both her arms closely around him, stopping his struggles, but the eager flames caught her own light dress as she did so. Then away she dashed, down over the few steps of beach between herself and the incoming tide, and, with him in her arms, threw herself forward in the water. As she rolled over and over, the sullen flames hissed and died.

Eunice was close behind her, shrieking for help. It was nearly high tide, and the beach sloped a little more abruptly there than in most places. Cricket rose to her knees with Kenneth in her arms, stumbled and fell forward again, face downward, limp with the excitement and the strain. Eunice, knee-deep in water, dragged them both up, and, between pulling and half carrying, got them to the water's edge, just as Auntie Jean, and Eliza, and Luke, came running from different directions. The flames, still fitfully shooting up from the smouldering seaweed, told the story.

"Run for the doctor, Luke," cried Auntie Jean, wasting no time in questions, as she lifted little drenched, burned Kenneth tenderly in her arms, and flew with him towards the house, leaving Eliza to help Cricket. Kenneth's clothes were so badly burned that they fell off from him when she laid him down. He was a dreadful sight, with his golden curls all gone, his face blackened with smoke and soot, which the water had only washed off in streaks. It was impossible for her to tell, at first, how much he was injured. Fortunately, the doctor came almost immediately.

It was an anxious hour that followed. Kenneth's most serious burns were on his arms and body, for, while the golden curls were nearly gone, his poor little face was, by some fortunate chance, only slightly burned, since, as he ran forward, his curls had blown back. Cricket was burned quite severely on her arms and hands, where she had clasped and held him.

After their wounds were dressed and bandaged, and Kenneth, a little mummy-like bundle of old white linen, lay asleep, worn out with pain and excitement, Auntie Jean found Cricket sobbing quietly under the sheet.

"What is the matter, dear?" asked auntie, tenderly. "Are you in such pain?" for she knew that Cricket was a little Spartan in respect to suffering.

"Yes, no-o," sobbed Cricket. "The pain is bad, but I don't care for that. My-conscience-aches-so-here. I-can't-stand-it, auntie. I ought to have been all burned up myself. I oughtn't to have had a fire. I knew better, only I just thought what fun it would be. To think the baby is burned, and all through my horrid badness!"

"My poor little girl!" said Auntie Jean, pitifully. "That is the hardest of all for you to bear, I well know. But after all, dear, you can comfort yourself by thinking that, but for your quickness, the little fellow must have burned to death. You saved his life, after all. You did what should have been done, so quickly."

"That isn't much comfort," sobbed Cricket. "He oughtn't to be burned at all. Anybody would have thought to throw him in the water."

"I'm not sure of that. In excitement people do not always use their wits-especially children. Even Eunice, thoughtful as she usually is, was behind you."

"And I sprained grandma's ankle, too. I ought to be put in prison," went on Cricket, in a fresh deluge of remorse.

"Nobody blamed you for that, dearie, though you are rather a thoughtless little body. But the ankle was purely an accident. When it comes to the playing with fire, however, you really should have known better than to do such a dangerous thing. But you have learned your lesson, and now we must be thankful the consequences are no worse."

Cricket raised a tear-stained face.

"Yes, only-my dear baby! If only I could take all his burns! I'd set fire to myself and burn myself up, if he could be well. I did the mischief, and he gets the worst of it."

"Indeed, little Cricket," said Auntie Jean, softly, almost to herself, as she bent and kissed her little niece, "you will learn, as you grow older, that that's not the least hard part of all the harm we do-we do the mischief, and the one we love best often gets the burns."

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