Gertrude Knevels.

The Wonderful Bed online

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[Illustration: Ann was ready to cry and Rudolf had drawn his sword.]

























It was beginning to get dark in the big nursery. Outside the wind
howled and the rain beat steadily against the window-pane. Rudolf and
Ann sat as close to the fire as they could get, waiting for Betsy to
bring the lamp. Peter had built himself a comfortable den beneath the
table and was having a quiet game of Bears with Mittens, the cat, for
his cub - quiet, that is, except for an angry mew now and then from
Mittens, who had not enjoyed an easy moment since the arrival of the
three children that morning.

"Rudolf," Ann was saying, as she looked uneasily over her shoulder,
"I almost wish we hadn't come to stay at Aunt Jane's alone without
mother. I don't believe I like this room, it's so big and creepy. I
don't want to go to bed. Especially" - she added, turning about and
pointing into the shadows behind her - "especially I don't want to go
to bed in that!"

The big bed in Aunt Jane's old nursery was the biggest and queerest
the children had ever seen. It was the very opposite of the little
white enameled beds they were used to sleeping in at their apartment
in New York, being a great old-fashioned four-poster with a canopy
almost touching the ceiling. It was hung with faded chintz, and
instead of a mattress it had a billowy feather bed over which were
tucked grandmother's hand-spun sheets and blankets covered by the
gayest of quilts in an elaborate pattern of sprigged and spotted
calico patches. The two front posts of the bed were of dark shiny
wood carved in a strange design of twisted leaves and branches, and to
Ann, as she looked at them by the leaping flickering firelight, it
seemed as if from between these leaves and branches odd little faces
peered and winked at her, vanished, and came again and yet again.

"Bother!" exclaimed Rudolf so loud that his little sister started.
"It's just a bed, that's all. It'll be jolly fun getting into it. I
believe I'll ask if I can't sleep there, too, instead of in the cot. I
wanted to take a running jump at it when we first came this morning,
but Aunt Jane wouldn't let me with my boots on. She said she made that
quilt herself, when she was a little girl. We'll all climb in together
to-night as soon as Betsy goes, and have a game of something - I dare
say we'll feel just like raisins in a pudding!"

"All the same," said Ann, "I don't think I like it, Rudolf. I wish
Betsy would bring the lamp!"

It was almost dark now, and they could not see, but only hear, Peter
as he came shuffling out of his den, dragging his unhappy cub, and
prowled around the darkest corners of the room. Being a bear, he was
not at all afraid, but made himself very happy for a while with
pouncing and growling, searching for honey, and eating imaginary
travelers. Then the cub escaped, and Peter tired of his game. Rudolf
and Ann heard him tugging at the door of an old-fashioned cupboard in
a far corner of the room, and presently he came over to the fire,
carrying a wooden box in his arms.

"Oh, Peter, you naughty boy!" cried Ann. "You've been at the cupboard,
and Aunt Jane said expressly we were not to take anything out of it!"

"You are just like Bluebeard's wife," began Rudolf, but Peter - as was
his way - paid no attention to either of them. He put the box down on
the hearth-rug, and got on his hands and knees to open it. Then, of
course, the other two thought they might as well see what there was to
see, and all three heads bent over the box. After all it contained
nothing very wonderful, the cover itself being the prettiest part, Ann
thought, for on it was painted a bright-colored picture of a little
girl in a funny, high-waisted, old-fashioned dress, making a curtsy to
a little boy dressed like an old gentleman and carrying a toy ship in
his hand. The box was filled with old toys, most of them chipped or
broken. There was a very small tea-set with at least half of the cups
missing, a wooden horse which only possessed three legs, and the
remains of a regiment of battered tin soldiers.

"How funny the box smells - and the toys, too!" Ann said. "Sort of
queer and yet sweet, like mother's glove case. I think she said it was
sandal-wood. That set must have been a darling when it was new, but
there's only just a speck of blue left and the gilt is every bit gone.
These must be Aunt Jane's toys that she had when she was little."

"That was a long time ago," remarked Rudolf thoughtfully. "I don't see
why Aunt Jane didn't throw 'em away, they're awful trash, I think.
Those soldiers aren't bad, but - "

Just then Ann's sharp eyes caught Peter as he was about to slip away
with a little parcel done up in silver paper that had lain all by
itself at the very bottom of the box. By this time she and Rudolf had
both forgotten that they had no more right than Peter to any of the
things in the box, and both threw themselves on their little brother.
Peter fought and kicked, but was at last forced to surrender the
little parcel. Under the silver paper which Rudolf hurriedly tore
off, was layer after layer of pink tissue infolding something which
the boy, when he came to it at last, tossed on the floor in his

"Pshaw," he exclaimed, "it's nothing in the world but an old

"Yes, it is, too," said Ann, picking it up. "It's a doll, the funniest
old doll I ever saw!"

And a strange little doll she was, made out of nothing more or less
than a withered corn-cob, her face - such a queer little face - painted
on it, and her hair and dress made very cleverly out of the corn
shucks. Ann burst out laughing as she looked at the old doll, and
turning to her new children, Marie-Louise and Angelina-Elfrida, which
her mother had given her for Christmas, she placed the two beauties on
the hearth-rug, one on each side of the corn-cob, just to see the
difference. This seemed to make Peter very cross. He tried his best
to snatch away the old doll, but Rudolf, to tease him, held him off
with one hand while with the other he seized the poor creature by her
long braids and swung her slowly over the fire.

"Wouldn't it be fun, Ann," said he, "to see how quick she'd burn?"

"Oh, you mustn't, Rudolf," Ann cried, "Aunt Jane mightn't like it. I
shouldn't be surprised if she'd punish you."

At that Rudolf lowered the old doll almost into the blaze, and she
would most certainly have burned up, she was so very dry and crackly,
if at that very moment Aunt Jane had not come into the room and
snatched her out of his hand. Rudolf never remembered to have seen
Aunt Jane so vexed before. Her blue eyes flashed, and her cheeks were
quite pink under her silver-colored hair. He expected she would
scold, but she didn't, she only said - "Oh, Rudolf!" in a rather
unpleasant way, and then, after she had carefully restored the
corn-cob doll to her wrappings, she knelt down and began to gather up
the old toys which the children had scattered over the hearth-rug. Ann
and Rudolf helped her, and Peter who, though a very mischievous little
boy, was always honest, confessed that he had been the one to open the
old cupboard and take out the box. He seemed to feel rather
uncomfortable about it, and after the things had been put away, he
climbed upon Aunt Jane's lap and hid his head upon her shoulder.
"Never mind, Peter, dear," she said, holding him very tight, "I always
meant to show you my old toys some day. I dare say you children think
it strange that I have kept such shabby things so long, but when I was
a little girl I did not have such beautiful toys as you have now, and
the few I had I loved very dearly."

"Was this your nursery, Aunt Jane," Ann asked.

"Yes, dear. I slept all alone in the big bed, and I kept my toys
always in the old cupboard. I spent many and many an hour curled up on
that window-seat, playing with my doll. Yes, I did have others, Ann,
but I think I loved the corn-cob doll best of all, perhaps because she
was the least beautiful."

"Didn't you have any little boys to play with?" Rudolf asked. "Other
boys beside father and Uncle Jim, I mean."

"There was one little boy who came sometimes," Aunt Jane said. "He
lived in the nearest house to ours, though that was a mile away. Those
were his tin soldiers you saw in the box. He gave them to me to keep
for him when he went away to school, and thought himself too big to
play at soldiers any more."

"And when he came back from school, did he used to come and see you?"

"Yes, he used to come every summer till he got big."

"And what did the little boy do when he got big, Aunt Jane?"

"When he got big," said Aunt Jane slowly, looking very hard into the
fire, "he went away to sea."

"O-ho!" cried Rudolf. "And when he came back what did he bring you?"

"He never did come back," said Aunt Jane, and she bent her head low
over Peter's so that the children should not see how shiny wet her
eyes were. Ann and Rudolf did see, however, and politely forced back
the dozen questions trembling on the tips of their tongues about the
different ways there were of being lost at sea. Rudolf in particular
would have liked to know whether it was a hurricane or sharks or
pirates or a nice desert island that had been the end of that little
boy, and he was about to begin his questioning in a roundabout manner
by asking whether sea serpents had often been known to swallow ships
whole, when the door opened, and in came Betsy, Aunt Jane's old
servant. She had the lamp in one hand and the great brass warming-pan,
with which she always warmed the big bed, in the other.

Her arrival disturbed the pleasant group by the nursery fire, and
reminded Aunt Jane that it was the children's bedtime. She kissed them
good night, heard them say their prayers, and then went quickly away,
leaving Betsy to help them undress. Now this was rather unwise of Aunt
Jane, for Betsy and the children did not get on. She was one of those
uncomfortable persons who refuse to understand how a little
conversation makes undressing so much less unpleasant. She was not
inclined to give Rudolf any information on the subject of sea
serpents, nor would she listen to Ann's remarks on how much more
fashionable hot-water bottles were than warming-pans. She had even no
sympathy for Peter when he wished to be considered a diver going down
to the bottom of the sea after gold, instead of a little boy being
bathed in a tin tub.

Betsy had a horrid way of scrubbing, being none too careful about soap
in people's eyes, and Peter came out dreadfully clean. Feeling that he
needed comforting of some sort, he looked about for Mittens and
discovered him at last, taking a much needed nap behind the sofa.
Squeezing the weary cat carefully under one arm, Peter began to climb
by the aid of a chair into the big bed. Betsy caught sight of him and
guessed his plan. Poor little Peter's hopes were dashed.

"No you don't, Master Peter," she snapped at him. "Ye don't take no
cats to bed with ye - not in this house!" And she grabbed Mittens away
very roughly, set him outside the door, and shut it with a bang. After
she had tucked the bedclothes firmly about the little boy, she turned
her attention to Rudolf and Ann, evidently thinking Peter was settled
for the night - which shows just how much Betsy knew about him. Peter
waited patiently till she was in the depths of an argument with Rudolf
who was trying vainly to make her understand that the dirt upon his
face was merely the effect of his dark complexion. Then Peter slipped
out of bed, darted out of the door, and returned in a moment or two
with the unhappy Mittens once more a prisoner beneath his arm. This
time he managed to conceal the cat from Betsy's sharp eyes.

At last all three children were in the big bed, Rudolf having refused
to consider sleeping in the cot, and Betsy, after a gruff good night,
departed, carrying the lamp with her. Now that the room was in
darkness except for the flickering light of the dying fire, Ann's
fears began to come back to her. She sat up in bed and peered round
her into the dark corners.

"I - I wish Betsy had left the light," she said. "But it would have
been no use asking her."

"Not a scrap," said Rudolf. "Not that _I_ mind the dark," he added
hastily, "_I_ rather like it, only don't let's lie still
and - and - listen for things. Let's play something."

"Shall we try who can keep their eyes shut longest," suggested Ann.

"Oh, that's a stupid game! Beside Peter would beat anyway, for he's
half asleep now. Shake him up, Ann."

When shaken up Peter refused to admit that, he was even sleepy. He was
very cross, and immediately began to accuse Rudolf of having taken his
cat. This Rudolf - and also Ann - denied. They had seen Peter smuggle
Mittens into bed the second time, but had supposed he must have
escaped and followed Betsy out.

"No, he didn't neither," Peter insisted. "I had him after she went. He
was 'most tamed."

"Then," said Ann, "he must be in the room and we might as well have
him to play with. Rudolf, I dare you to get up and look for him!"

And Rudolf got up - just to show he was not afraid. Before stepping
into those dark shadows, however, he armed himself with his tin
sword, a weapon he was in the habit of taking to bed with him in case
of burglars, and with this he poked bravely under the bed and in all
the dark corners, calling and coaxing Mittens to come forth. At last
both he and Ann felt sure the cat could not be in the room.

"He _must_ have got out somehow," said Rudolf. "Anyway, I sha'n't
bother any more looking for him." Still grasping his sword, he climbed
back into the big bed between his brother and sister. Peter was still
cross and grumbly. He kept insisting that Mittens might have
disappeared _inside_ the bed - which was a piece of nonsense neither of
the others would listen to.

After some discussion Rudolf and Ann agreed that the very nicest thing
to do would be to make a tent out of the bedclothes, and seeing Peter
was again inclined to nod, they shook him awake and sternly insisted
on his joining in the game. By tying the two upper corners of the
covers to the posts at the head of the great bed a splendid tent was
quickly made, bigger than any the children had ever played in before,
so big that Rudolf, who was to lead the procession into its white
depths, began to feel just the least little bit afraid, - of what he
hardly knew. How high the white walls rose! Not like a snuggly
bed-tent, but like - like a real white-walled cave. Being a brave boy,
he quickly put these unpleasant thoughts out of his mind, and grasping
his sword, crawled on his hands and knees into the dark opening.
Behind him came Ann, and behind Ann, Peter.

"Are you ready?" asked Rudolf. "Then in we go!"





It was not surprising that the big bed should be different from any
other bed the children had ever played in, yet it was certainly taking
them a long, long time to crawl to the foot!

"It must have a foot," thought the brave captain of the band, as he
plunged farther and farther into the depths of the white cave. "All
beds have." Then he stopped suddenly as a loud squeal of mingled
surprise and terror came from just behind him.

"Oh, Rudolf," Ann cried, "I don't want to play this game any
longer - let's go back!" In the half-darkness Rudolf felt her turn
round on Peter, who was close behind her. "Go back, Peter," she

"I can't," came a little voice out of the gloom.

"You must - oh, Peter, hurry!"

"I can't go back," said Peter calmly, "because there isn't any back.
Put your hand behind me and feel."

It was true. Just how or when it had happened none of them could tell,
but the soft drooping bedcovers had suddenly, mysteriously risen and
spread into firm white walls behind and on either side, leaving only a
narrow passageway open in front. It was nonsense to go on their hands
and knees any longer, for even Rudolf, who was tallest, could not
touch the arched white roof when he stood up and stretched his arm
above his head. He could not see Ann's face clearly, but he could hear
her beginning to sniff.

"Now, Ann," said he sternly, though in rather a weak voice, "don't you
know what this is? This is an adventure."

"I don't care," sniffed Ann, "I don't want an adventure. I want to go
back - back to Aunt Jane!" And the sniff developed into a flood of

"Peter is not crying, and he is only six."

This rebuke told on Ann, for she was almost eight. "But what are we
go - going to do?" she asked, her sobs decreasing into sniffs again.

"We'll just have to go on, I suppose, and see what happens."

"Well, I think - I think Aunt Jane ought to be ashamed of herself to
put us in such a big bed we could get lost in it!"

"Maybe" - came the voice of Peter cheerfully from behind them - "maybe
she _wanted_ to lose us, like bad people does kittens."

"Peter, don't be silly," ordered Rudolf sternly. "There isn't really
anything that can happen to us," he went on, speaking slowly and
thoughtfully, "because we all know that we really are in bed. We know
we didn't get _out_, so of course we must be _in_."

This was good sense, yet somehow it was not so comforting as it ought
to have been, not even to Rudolf himself who now began to be troubled
by a disagreeable kind of lump in his throat. Luckily he remembered,
in time to save himself from the disgrace of tears, how his father had
once told him that whistling was an excellent remedy for boys who did
not feel quite happy in their minds. He began to whistle now, a poor,
weak, little whistle at first, but growing stronger as he began to
feel more cheerful. Grasping his sword, he started ahead, calling to
the others to follow him.

The white passage was so narrow that the children had to walk along it
one behind another in Indian file. The floor was no longer soft and
yielding but firm and hard under their feet, and by stretching out
their hands they could almost touch the smooth white walls on either
side of them. At first the way was perfectly straight ahead, but after
they had walked what seemed to them a long, long time, the passage
curved sharply and widened a little. The children noticed, much to
their relief, that it was growing lighter around them.

"I'm getting tired," Ann announced at last. "See, Ruddy, there is a
nice flat black rock. Let's sit down and rest on it."

There was room for them all on the large flat rock, and when they were
settled on it, Peter remarked: "I'm hungry!" Now this was a thing
Peter was used to saying at all times and on all occasions, so it was
just like him to bring it out now as cheerfully and confidently as if
Betsy had been at his elbow with a plate of bread and butter.

"Oh, dear," Ann exclaimed, "what a long, long while it seems since we
had our tea! I suppose it will soon be time to think about starving."
And she took her little handkerchief out of the pocket of her nighty
and began to wipe her eyes with it.

"Not yet," said Rudolf hastily. "I put some candy into my pajamas
pocket when I went to bed, because the time I like to eat it best is
just before breakfast - if people only wouldn't row so about my doing
it. Let me see - it was two chocolate mice I had - I hope they didn't
get squashed when we were playing! No, here they are." The chocolate
mice were a little the worse for wear, in fact there were white
streaks on them where the chocolate had rubbed off on the inside of
Rudolf's pocket, but the children didn't mind that. They thought they
had never seen anything that looked more delicious.

"I will cut them in three pieces with my sword," said Rudolf. "You may
have the heads, Ann, and me the middle parts, and Peter the tails
because he is the youngest."

This arrangement did not suit Peter. "I will _not_ eat the tails," he
screamed, kicking his heels angrily against the rock, - "the tails is
made out of nassy old string!" And, I am sorry to say, Peter made a
snatch at both chocolate mice and knocked them out of Rudolf's hand.
This, of course, made it necessary for Rudolf to box Peter's ears, and
a tussle quickly followed, in the middle of which something dreadful
happened. The large flat rock they were sitting on gave several queer
shakes and heaves and then suddenly rose right up under the three
children and threw them head over heels into the air. They were not a
bit hurt, but they were very, very much surprised when they scrambled
to their feet and saw the rock erect on a long kind of tail it had,
glaring at them out of one red angry eye.

Ann was the first to recognize it. "Oh, oh," she cried, "it's not a
rock at all - it's Betsy's Warming-pan!"

The Pan, giving a deep throaty kind of growl, began to shuffle toward
them. "I'd like to have the warming of _you_ three," he snarled. "I'll
teach you to come sitting on top of me playing your tricks on my
rheumatic bones - waking me out of the first good nap I've had in
weeks! - I'll fix you - "

"We're really very sorry," Ann began. "We didn't mean to sit on you,
we thought - "

But the Warming-pan did not want to hear what Ann thought. He turned
round on her fiercely. "_You're_ the young person," he snapped, "who
made the polite remarks about my figure this evening? Eh, didn't you?
Can you deny it? Called me old-fashioned and 'country' - said nobody
ever used _me_ any more! - I'll teach you to talk about hot-water
bottles when _I'm_ through with you!" As he spoke he came closer and
closer to Ann, snorting and puffing and glaring at her out of his one
terrible eye. Although he was so round and waddled so clumsily,
dragging his long tail behind him, his appearance was quite dreadful.
He reminded Rudolf of the dragon in Peter's picture-book, and he
hastily tried to imagine how Saint George must have felt when
defending his princess. Clutching his sword, he thrust himself in
front of Ann and bravely faced the Warming-pan. "Run!" he called to
the others, "Fly! - and I will fight this monster to the death."

Ann, dragging Peter by the hand, made off as fast as she could go, and
the Pan tried his best to dodge Rudolf and rush after her. Again and
again Rudolf's sword struck him, but it only rattled on his
brassiness, and making a horrible face, he popped three live coals out
of his mouth which rolled on the ground unpleasantly close to Rudolf's
bare toes. Then they had it hot and heavy until at last the knight
managed to get his blade entangled with the dragon's long tail, and
tripped the creature up. Then, without waiting for his enemy to get
himself together again and heartily tired of playing Saint George,
Rudolf turned and ran after Ann and Peter. Long before he caught up to
them, however, he heard the Pan behind him, snorting and scolding.
Luckily it did not seem able to stop talking, so that it lost what
little breath it had and was soon obliged to halt. For some time
Rudolf caught snatches of its unpleasant remarks, such as - "Children
nowadays - wish he had 'em - he'd show 'em - bread and water - good thick
stick! - " Rudolf was obliged to run with his fingers in his ears
before that disagreeable voice died away in the distance.

At last he saw Peter and Ann waiting for him at a turn in the passage
just ahead, and in another moment he flung himself panting on the
ground beside them. "What a beast he was!" Rudolf exclaimed.

"Dreadful!" said Ann. "I shall tell Aunt Jane never, never to let
Betsy put him in our bed again." And then, after she had thanked
Rudolf very prettily for saving her life, and that hero had recovered
his breath and rested a little after the excitement of the battle,

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Online LibraryGertrude KnevelsThe Wonderful Bed → online text (page 1 of 8)