"Well several had tried to make puddings; but somehow, though they ought to have been quite right, _something_ was wrong, and no one would eat them. One girl had bravely made some apple-dumplings, and baked them quite brown; but then she could not find out how to get the apple in, so they were no more than hard balls, and not real apple-dumplings at all.
"'What are we going to do?' said Queen May sorrowfully.
"A dead silence reigned.
"'I know!' said a boy called Eric, starting forward suddenly, and all eyes turned to this owner of a bright idea. 'I know!' he said, brandishing a many-bladed knife; 'I'll kill a pig!'
"A murmur of horror arose from the girls.
"'Oh, no!' said Queen May politely; 'my faithful subject, we will not let you make yourself so miserable.'
"'Oh, _I_ don't mind!' cried Eric; 'really, you know, I should _like_ it!'
"I'll hold him for you!' cried several boys at once.
"'Quite as if they liked it,' whispered the girls.
"But Queen May interposed, and said the court should break up and go to blind-man's-buff. At the same hour next day any one who had a bright idea should come and tell it. For the rest of the day she, at least, did not mean to bother her head. If a pig were killed, it would have to be cooked. And shaking her curls, which were like a crown of gold, Queen May jumped off her throne and ran out into the park.
"Presently the Fairy Set-'em-right came flying over the town, and saw all the children running about and shrieking with laughter.
"'Bless my broomstick!' she said, for she had borrowed one from a witch to fly upon, saying she had rheumatism in her left wing. 'Bless my broomstick! this won't do at all!'
"She did not notice that a great many children were standing about in groups, whispering--what they dared not say aloud--that they were getting tired of games all day, and of nothing to eat but sweet cakes and jam at meals.
"'I should really, really and truly, like some boiled mutton,' said Master Archie, who was known to have had a special dislike to that dish.
"'I know what I shall do,' said the fairy; 'I shall make these children feel like grown-ups, and then I shall fly off to the mountains, and make the grown-ups feel like children; and if _that_ doesn't bring them to their senses, I am sure I don't know what will.'
"So the Fairy Set-'em-right waved her hand over the troop of children, 'You shall all feel like grown-up people,' she said.
"In a few minutes a strange change began to come over them all. A great game of 'blind-man's-buff' was going on, when suddenly several of the girls put themselves into very stiff, solemn attitudes, just like old maids, and said, 'Really, they thought they were almost afraid they could not play any more. Such games, especially at their time of life, were hardly quite proper.' So they would not go on.
"Others, again, declared that there was nothing they so thoroughly enjoyed as watching people playing at these kind of amusements; but for themselves--well, if the others did not mind, they would like just to sit quietly and watch. So they did, and presently some of the boys began stroking that part of their faces where a mustache might some day grow, and remarking that 'Haw! don't know, you know--a--this sort of thing was all very well for schoolboys, but really--a--we could not, you know.'"
This sentence Uncle Jack brought out with a very funny drawl, the boys being turned into dreadfully fashionable fellows.
"The crowning point," continued Uncle Jack, "was reached when the blind man, pushing down his bandage, stood still, and addressed this altered crowd very seriously indeed. 'What miserable folly is this?'
he asked. 'Shall we mortals waste our precious flying moments in--in what, my brethren?'
"You see he had turned into a preacher," explained Uncle Jack.
"'In what a miserable, frivolous occupation! catching each other!--nay, only _trying_ to catch each other! Poor fools and blind! let us cease, I say--' But he had no one to say it to, for the whole audience had gone off in different directions, and the preacher had only his little brother of five left to listen to his wise words. 'Come along, Tommy,'
said he, 'I will try and find some one for you to play with, little man.'
"'Play with!' answered the little brother in a tone of utter surprise.
'My dear sir, I have no time to play. Letters, telegrams, appointments by scores fill my time. Let me tell you, sir, there is no busier man than your humble servant in the whole country.'
"With which he turned about and strode off with the longest strides his little legs in their blue sailor trousers could take; for he had become a man of business.
"'This is too absurd,' muttered the elder, and went off to look for the church of which he was vicar.
"The same remarkable change came over all the children. One little brat who was busy teasing an unfortunate kitten stopped suddenly, and rushed off in search of pen and paper, with which he returned, and began at once to compose an ode 'To Tabitha.'
"'Fairest pussy ever seen!
With thine eyes of clearest green, Fly me not.'
That was how it began, for he had become a poet."
"I thought poets wrote about knights and ladies, and green fields and the moon," remonstrated Bryda.
"So they do. But sometimes they want a new subject, and this young genius thought he had found one.
"Well, all the children, without losing their child faces and figures, turned into the sort of people they would be when they were grown up.
So of course their games seemed very dull, and they wanted grown-up occupations. But not knowing quite how to set to work, they were all lounging vaguely about, when the clear notes of a bugle sounded through the city.
"This was the well-known signal for the assembling of the whole population in the park, and off went all these queer grown-up children to the place of meeting. Here they were met by Queen May, who sat on a garden-chair with her court around her, all looking very solemn.
"'My faithful subjects,' said the queen, 'I have sent for you to consider a very grave question. I regret to state that the affairs of this kingdom are in a condition which will, perhaps, be best described as unsatisfactory.'
"'Hear, hear!' said a gentleman of four, bowing gravely.
"'Hear, hear!' echoed many voices.
"'Perhaps the most unsatisfactory point is,' went on Queen May, who, you see, talked in very grown-up language, 'is, I say, the banishment of a large portion of the population; that portion, in fact, which we were formerly accustomed to call our elders and betters.'
"Cries of 'No, no!'
"Queen May went on to explain that after all they got on badly without these elders. With all their efforts the young folks had not strength or skill to do a variety of things, without which the round of life seemed likely soon to come to a standstill. So she proposed that she and all who would go should start at once for the mountain and fetch home the exiles.
"There was some murmuring at this. The old law might be carried out, and the children made wretched again.
"'And--why, bless me,' said an elderly person of nine, as he fixed on a double eyeglass with gold rims, 'they might actually want to send me, me! to bed at eight o'clock!'
"'Proper conditions would be made,' the queen said.
"One after another all the objections were overcome, and a long procession started, with Queen May, mounted on a white pony, at its head.
"On arriving at the mountain they were greatly surprised to meet the king, that stern tyrant who wanted to stop all fun, running as hard as his legs could carry his fat body, with his crown on the back of his head, and a green net-bag tied on to the end of his scepter, chasing a white butterfly.
"'Please, your majesty,' began Queen May shyly; but the king only looked round for a moment, and ran on, then tumbled over a furzebush, so that his crown rolled far away, and the butterfly escaped, while he lay there kicking.
"The children were very much surprised at this, and thought the king must have gone mad, and, in fact, they felt very penitent, for they supposed his hurried flight must have been too much for the brain, so they were to blame for this terrible alteration.
"A little further on, however, they were still more surprised to see a circle of the most serious old maids in the whole capital, ladies whose time was mostly spent in making flannel garments for the poor, or sitting at neat tea tables with neat curls on each side of their faces, and a neat cat, curled on a neat cushion, in a neat chair, close at hand, and these old ladies were all screaming and laughing like children.
"These very respectable old ladies now looked anything but neat! Their curls were flying in all directions, and they were screaming with laughter, pinching each other, and making all sorts of silly jokes over a furious game of 'hunt the slipper.' For you see they had gone back to what they used to like when they were children.
"Queen May looked at them gravely.