1. A Bagful of Dots
Guillaume the Gnome was reading. Breathing hard, he traced the words with his finger until he reached a full stop, which he then winkled out with his nail and flicked into a bag. Sometimes there was a whole row of dots, in which case the gnome gave a happy giggle and bagged three whole dots at one go. A splendid haul!
Poems tended to have more dots, so with time Guillaume became a voracious poetry reader. A mere two lines could sometimes yield a better harvest than a whole page of prose. For example:
Is that thou..? Nay, 't is not... Then who is there..?
All of a sudden... the light grows dim...
There is a rattle... of bones... and behind me...
Looms... a skeleton..!
Twenty dots in four lines, not counting the question mark! You can see why Guillaume was so fond of poems, particularly moving ones about love and death!
But, you may well ask, what did he need all the dots for? I could tell you straightaway, but I won't. Let's try and work it out, shall we?
Why do they put dots in books? To stop the reader from hurrying on to the next sentence. Right? So dots possess considerable stopping power. And this was precisely what Guillaume wanted.
Poor little gnome! He had been as happy as a sandboy, until one day he read in some learned tome that he only had another five thousand years to live. So he filled a bag with dots and tried dropping them into the cogwheels of time to put the wretched wheels out of action.
But nothing happened. Time ground up the tiny book grains in a trice and its huge wheels went on turning relentlessly. Although one cogwheel tooth did actually break. As a result a whole hour and a half slipped by like a split second, and the crowd who'd come to a football match were most bewildered: no sooner had the players kicked off than the game ended in a draw with no goals. Each of the fans thought he must have accidentally dropped off and slept through the whole game; but going to sleep at a football match is a disgrace, so no one admitted to it and they all kept quiet.
Guillaume the Gnome hurried off to the library to dig out a new bagful of dots.
2. Falling in Love
Reading poetry, albeit with the noble aim of collecting dots, nevertheless had a pernicious influence on Guillaume. He fell in love.
Sitting in the sixth row at a performance of "Snow White", he fell in love with a girl in the first row, whom he could hardly see except for a mass of chestnut curls and a little nose which occasionally bobbed left or right. He found out that she was the burgomaster's daughter and her name was Matilda.
After that he was often to be seen strolling by the burgomaster's house in the hope of a chance meeting with Matilda. And he did in fact manage to see her twice in the distance. After the second meeting his love increased a thousandfold, after the third another thousandfold, and altogether (compared with the first meeting at the theatre) about a millionfold. Guillaume decided to write a letter.
Dear Matilda, he wrote, forgive me for having the temerity to love you, who are so beautiful and unattainable. What can I offer you? How can I amuse you? You have no need of the earth's treasures, nor of precious wisdom. Gems do not wear gems, and truth does not need lessons. I know that I am unworthy of you, a thousand times over. Firstly, I am timid and could not defend you against the most insignificant foe. Then I am lazy and lack a real aim in life. But the main thing is that I am inconstant: today I like one thing, tomorrow another, so I cannot even swear to love you till death us do part, which incidentally will not be that long, as I have only about five thousand years to go. But today, at this particular moment, I love you to distraction. I love you and burn for you, as if my bosom were filled with molten lead. I love you, and this is as painful as if I had a notice about kittens for sale nailed to my head.
He did not expect to receive a reply to his cri de coeur, but an answer came three days later - in a pink envelope with a fancy border.
Dear Guillaume, wrote Matilda, I have read and reread your letter many times. I forgive you for loving me. Can I tell you my most cherished dream? I should love to have a pretty little kitten, blue like moonlight. Perhaps you could take a look at the advertisements you mentioned in your letter and see whether there is a kitten like that for sale?
3. How Guillaume Guarded Buried and What He Invented
Guillaume stood on the verandah of his little house and gazed at the moon. He was thinking about Matilda. Not only about Matilda, however, but also about his pointless life.
Gnomes, as we know, are divided into two main categories: those who guard buried treasures and those who make swords. Guillaume belonged to the former. His job was not excessively demanding, one might say. Treasure that has been well buried is unlikely to be found whether you guard it or not. In fact, if you keep hanging around it people might guess where the treasure is buried and even track it down. Like many other gnome guards, Guillaume realized this and went away to live in the town. The treasure remained buried somewhere in the hills. He even tried to forget exactly where. It was safer that way. Guillaume walked round the streets, read books, made himself an omelette and gazed at the moon, remembering all the time that he was guarding buried treasure.
According to gnome law Guillaume could hardly be said to be idle. But he was bored. He even considered transferring to the category of gnomes who made swords. He had a flair for making things and had even been known to think up new inventions. One day he invented a Machine for Waking A Gnome In Wet Weather. For a gnome's constitution is such that the sound of rain can send him to sleep for two or three days in a row, sometimes even a whole week.
The machine was constructed as follows.
One end of a rubber tube was placed in a kettle on a shelf over the gnome's bed, while the other end ran out through the window and had a small funnel attached to it. The raindrops passed through the funnel A along the tube B to the kettle C. After a while the kettle filled up and water began to drip from the spout D onto the gnome below. And the gnome woke up.
Another of Guillaume's inventions was called a Camel Relief Kit. He had always felt sorry for camels who crossed arid deserts. Apart from their heavy load, they had to carry water-skins. The gnome's invention was based on the well-known fact that water is a chemical compound of oxygen and hydrogen. He proposed attaching a balloon full of hydrogen to every camel about to cross an arid desert. When the travellers became thirsty, all they had to do was stop one of the camels and set light to the fuses on the strings holding its balloon. The hydrogen would then catch fire and explode forming water, which could be collected in bowls placed under it. As well as doing away with the need for water-skins, the hydrogen balloons tended to draw the camels upwards, thereby easing their load. An added advantage.
So Guillaume was standing on the verandah, thinking partly about Matilda and partly about other things, when suddenly he noticed what looked like a tail dangling from the Moon. "I must have imagined it," he thought, rubbing his eyes.
But the tail did not disappear. At least not straightaway. First it waved from side to side for a bit, to and fro, then suddenly curled into a ring and was pulled up. Guillaume went on gazing at the Moon for a long time, but apart from the usual old man with a bunch of firewood on his back (who you can see too, if you try), he did not see anything suspicious on it.
4. But the Little Kittens are Higher up Still
"What could it have been? Surely not a kitten?" Guillaume thought. "That's ridiculous! But maybe it's not?"
And then he remembered an old nursery rhyme:
Hush, little mice,
Tom cat's on the tiles,
But the little kittens
Are higher up still!
Where could it mean but on the Moon? That simple little rhyme must have recorded some ancient piece of wisdom, some half-forgotten truth.
The next day Guillaume hurried to the library. He rummaged for a long time in some ancient tomes, directories and encyclopaedias, until he found what he was looking for. Moon kittens really did exist! They had been seen by astronomers and their mewing had been heard on quiet moonlit nights by many witnesses in the Carpathians and Alps and on the island of Borneo. Modern science possessed a well-constructed although not entirely complete theory of the moon kittens' origin, life and natural habitat.
Let us begin with the most enigmatic point, their origin.
I don't like having to say this (and suggest that little girls should skip this passage), but for many centuries the barbarous habit existed in towns of drowning newborn kittens. Like all nefarious acts this was usually performed under cover of night. The poor, helpless, half-blind creatures were tossed into the water from a bridge, a boat or just a bank. This was usually done by a stable-boy, who had got blind drunk to stifle any remaining pangs of conscience in his callous heart. So the kittens were drowned. But not all of them.
Sometimes on a bright moonlit night, when the reflection of the Moon lay on the surface of a pond or river as motionless as a lily pad, one of the kittens would manage to splash its way desperately with its little paws to the circle of the Moon. Once having reached its silver shadow the kitten was safe - and by the law of reflection was transferred to the other side of the Moon. The other side! Which is why we can't see moon kittens unless one of them is careless enough to let its tail dangle down over the edge.
From this theory of origin came the method of catching a moon kitten. All you had to do - also on a calm moonlit night - was dive under the Moon's reflection taking care not to make it shake, and, but only with the very best of intentions and a pure heart, pick up a moon kitten. They all turned blue on the Moon with moon tan.
5. Anxious Days and Another Bagful of Dots
I will not begin to describe Guillaume's many strenuous and unsuccessful attempts before he eventually managed to catch a moon kitten. It was a case of love at first sight. He grew so fond of it in the first few days when he was teaching it how to live on earth and feeding it with cream and boiled fish, that the very idea of parting with it was sheer torment.
But there was nothing for it. Guillaume found a basket, spread a piece of cloth in it, put the kitten inside and sent it off to Matilda with a reliable messenger.
Some anxious days followed. The gnome again felt restless and went off to the library to collect some more dots. When he had "dedotted" all the anthologies of popular poets, verse without dots (and also without commas and all other punctuation marks) suddenly became the fashion. Guillaume tried to read it, but found it rather insipid.
A week later the basket and the kitten were returned. Together with a note from Matilda.
Dear Guillaume, she wrote. You have deceived me. Your kitten scratches and makes puddles. Train it yourself. And it's not blue either. By the way, do you know where they sell pretty little toy kittens?
6. How Guillaume Became a General and the Mystery of the Sphinx
Guillaume was happy. The return of the blue kitten had filled his life with meaning, warmth and mewing. Did the blue kitten really scratch? Yes, it did, there's no denying. Sometimes when it got over-excited from playing, sometimes when you hugged it too hard. It also liked to climb onto Guillaume's shoulder and sit there, tickling the gnome's ear with its fur and warming him with its small body. If Guillaume made a sudden or clumsy movement, the kitten scratched him by digging its claws into his shoulder. This scratching was not deliberate, but because it was frightened of falling down. And it didn't want to be parted from its master.
Hence the following rules: hug in moderation and play carefully. And so that his shoulder didn't suffer too much, the gnome got hold of some general's epaulettes from a second-hand clothes dealer and fastened them to his jacket, thereby making it claw-proof and very grand-looking. He wasn't upset when little boys teased him by calling him "General Guillaume".
The gnome was happy and at peace with the world, as if he had suddenly found the answer to all the enigmas of life. Before that he used to collect these enigmas in the Sphinx. He had a clay Sphinx in the form of a lion with a female head and a slit in its forehead. Whenever Guillaume thought of a difficult question, he wrote it down on a piece of paper and posted it through the slit. For example:
Who invented the saucepan?
Does a tree have a sense of smell?
Why do we get bumps (on our head)?
What happens when sleep goes to sleep?
How long do you have to live to understand yourself?
He had hoped that one day in the future he would become a real wise man, smash the Sphinx to smithereens and answer all the questions at once.
But now, as the gnome sat in his chair looking from the clay Sphinx to the moon kitten playing in front of him on the mat, he felt that that there was more wisdom in one of the kitten's hairs than all the sphinxes in the world.
7. What's Best - a Wash-can or a Bird-house?
Of course, the life of Guillaume and the blue kitten did not consist entirely of solitary evenings spent together in their little house. They walked a lot in the park and the meadows, chased butterflies and went fishing. Nor did they keep themselves to themselves, but went visiting and invited people home. Guillaume introduced the kitten to all his friends.
First of all, to Princess Rosina of Hohenschwald. Many people called her "Dozy Rosie" behind her back, because although she had once ruled the rather impressive principality of Hohenschwald, she hadn't even noticed her greedy neighbours appropriating bits of her land until nothing was left but the capital of the principality, the town of Hohenschwald; and even that declared itself a republic and advised the former monarch, politely but firmly, to leave the palace and town, having granted her a small pension.
Now Princess Rosina lived in exile, together with her parrot Morgan and cat Amphytrion. Morgan's greatest dream was to bite a piece out of Amphytrion's ear, whereas Amphytrion's was to pull off Morgan's tail. So the poor old lady had to be constantly on the alert, just like the riddle of the wolf, the goat and the cabbage.
The apothecary Mr Valerian also came to visit them. He always smelt of something tranquilizing. The kitten could tell him from the others and rubbed itself against him, demanding attention. Guillaume put up with this as long as he could; but one day when his ward suddenly jumped onto the visitor's shoulder and licked his fat cheek, he could bear it no longer.
"Now then, Valerian," he said, roughly. "I've got to talk to you."
They went out onto the porch. It was a chilly evening, but Guillaume was seething inside.
"There'll be plenty of apples this year," the apothecary remarked. "Look at the blossom on that tree. Let's hope there's no frost."
"Now I'll give him such a box on the ears that he'll go flying into the nettles!" thought Guillaume.
"So there will be plenty of apple vinegar too," the apothecary continued. "Apple vinegar is extremely good for the stomach and also improves the complexion."
"I'll give him such a punch in his shameless pink-cheeked face that he'll go bumping down the steps!" Guillaume thought gleefully. "That'll teach him to go rubbing himself with valerian and luring other people's kittens away."
"You're looking rather pale, my friend!" the apothecary remarked, anxiously. "Come and see me tomorrow. I've got an assortment of medicinal herbs that would get a corpse dancing a jig."
"I'll give your neck such a twist, that you'll go dancing a jig alright!" the gnome thought to himself, muttering something unintelligible.
"Let's go inside, my friend. You'll catch cold on the porch." The apothecary grasped Guillaume's wrist and tried to take his pulse.
Mr Valerian's hand was soft and pudgy. A street light was reflected in his eyes.
"Oh, alright then," thought Guillaume suddenly. "I won't hit him. There's a bucket by the bottom step. He might hit his head on it. And in any case it's not his fault that he smells of medicine and that cats just adore valerian. It's all rubbish and can't affect the relations between a man and his kitten, if they are deep and sincere."
"What are you thinking about, Guillaume?"
"I wanted to ask your advice, Mr Valerian," the gnome began, wondering what on earth he could ask him about. "Now what would you advise me to hang on this pine tree, a wash-can or perhaps a bird-house, what do you think would be best? The birds would come and sing here..."
"Why not indeed." The apothecary threw his head back and surveyed the top of the pine tree. "Birds are nice, healthy things."
And they went back into the house, where the kitten had got tired of waiting and gone to sleep on Mr Valerian's hat.
8. How Guillaume Made a Bird-house
In for a penny, in for a pound. The next day, to put an end to the conversation, Guillaume felt obliged to make a bird-house. He was sawing some planks in the yard when Morgan flew over. Landing on the fence, Morgan shook his head and croaked hoarsely;
"Guests must not be ticked off!"
"Me heart's on fire! Me heart's on fire!"
Morgan's heart was often on fire. Only ice cream could put out the flames for a while. It took an awful lot of ice cream. When the supply in Rosina's fridge ran out, Morgan did the rounds, which meant having a cultural chat about this and that while he gobbled down a wafer cup or an eskimo on a stick. Actually Morgan preferred to talk about himself. He was most adept at interrupting conversations on other subjects. After listening for about five seconds, he would cock his crested head on one side, narrow his eyes and croak loudly: "That's all wrrrong! It's rrrubbish!"
"What do you mean, Morgan? Why is it rubbish?"
"Because, because," he began boldly. But being at a loss for words he would dart off, flap his wings and perform some rapid zigzags in the air, then flop down, puffing angrily and finish with the words: "And so on and so forth. Etceterrra, etceterrra, etceterrra!"
The parrot was particularly enraged by the mention of anything beautiful. As soon as anyone started praising a picture, a flower or a cup Morgan would hop up and down indignantly. "Why talk about that when you've got such a fine example of beauty in front of you?" And he preened his feathers and turned this way and that so that everyone could admire him.
Guillaume put down the saw and fetched the ice cream. The parrot unwrapped it deftly and threw the paper down into a bed of pansies. Seeing the gnome's reproachful glance, he squawked quickly:
Guillaume got embarrassed and looked away. In front of him lay six freshly sawn boards: one for the bird-house roof, one for the floor and four for the sides. It was the usual, well-known construction, but as a true inventor Guillaume always introduced some important and useful improvements into a familiar object.
"I've got this plan, you see, Morgan..."
"It's all rrrubbish, that plan of yourrs!" the parrot squawked happily.
"Let me tell you about it, while you're eating," Guillaume offered.
Morgan was quite capable of doing two things at the same time. He swallowed a piece of ice cream, eyes half-closed, feeling its cold sweetness slip down into his stomach, then opened his eyes and joined in the conversation with obvious relish:
"That's all wrrong! It's rrrubbish!
In the intervals, however, Guillaume managed to explain his idea. Let us assume, he reasoned, that some birds have moved into the bird-house and hatched out some baby birds, when something happens to the father. Either he finds a new mate and leaves the family or he simply develops a passion for philosophy and spends days on end dreaming away on a branch instead of catching worms. The mother cannot feed the whole bunch, of course, and in any case she's suffering from nervous depression. Are the baby birds to starve to death?
No, they can be saved by a Rescue Line.
The essence of the invention is as follows. The owner of the bird-house catches lots of worms and beetles and puts them in a gift bowl A, which is attached to a cable B like a seat on a cable railway. The cable slides on wheels C and D between the porch and the pine tree. By pulling a string the owner sends the bowl to the bird-house, where it is tipped up by the tipper E and deposits all the worms and beetles on the threshold F, which is in the form of a saucer. All the baby birds need to do is peep out and start pecking.
All this Guillaume tried to get over to Morgan.
"Rrrubbish!" Morgan cut him short. He flew down from the fence, pecked around in the shavings, tapped a board and asked:
"The entrance to the bird-house."
"Then why is it so narrow? That's all wrrrong!"
"What's wrong with it?"
"Well, say some other sort of bird, a large, beautiful bird, wanted to go inside. To get away from earthly cares, or watch the sunset, or just store a slice of pie there..."
"But I wasn't planning for that," Guillaume tried to justify himself. "Anyway the whole bird-house is a bit on the small side for a large and beautiful bird."
"So it was made like that on purpose, was it?" Morgan said threateningly. "We'll get that down in writing."
And so saying, Morgan gave a hop, flapped his wings hard and flew off.
Guillaume was upset. He certainly did not want his misdeeds to be put down in writing. Particularly as it was not at all clear where this would be done or indeed what these misdeeds were.
Ugh! How unpleasant! His only hope was that the parrot had been joking.
"What do you think," he asked the kitten, who had been sleeping peacefully on the porch during their conversation. "Does Morgan know how to write?"
9. A Successful Minor Deflagration
When the bird-house was finished, Guillaume started thinking how to put it up. The pine tree was very tall, while the gnome was not, to put it mildly. But his head was full of brainwaves. You only had to lift up the lid and fish one out.
And that's precisely what Guillaume did. On the surface, like an onion in boiling bouillon, floated the brainwave of getting a fire engine. A nice red fire engine with an extension ladder that could reach any storey. And, would you believe it, one of Guillaume's friends was a fireman. His name was Blaise Putemout. What could be easier than to ask his friend! But he was mistaken.
"Certainly not!" said Blaise. "I can't use government property to do all sorts of private odd jobs. First I get asked to put up a bird-house, then it'll be hanging up the washing or getting a cap down from a tree. This is a fire-engine, you know. The firefighter's pride and joy! A call to arms! Like the words of the song:
The fireman climbs boldly right into the flames;
He fears not the heat so dire,
And soon an old lady, canary and all,
Is saved from the terrible fire.
"A splendid song," the gnome enthused. "So you can't do it, eh?"
"That's the Fire Brigade Anthem. No, I'm afraid not."
"But say I was to have a fire, just a very small one?"
"A small fire is called a minor deflagration. Now that's quite a different matter. Of course, in the event of a minor deflagration I could, in the heat of the moment, as it were, grab the bird- house and, in a burst of enthusiasm, climb up the ladder and accidentally nail it to the pine tree. That could and in fact sometimes does happen..."
So a solution was found. There was a pile of half-rotten leaves lying in Guillaume's yard. Someone accidentally set light to them and the acrid black smoke curled alarmingly into the sky. Blaise appeared like a flash in his fire engine, grabbed the bird-house in the heat of the moment, as it were, and without a moment's hesitation scrambled up the fire ladder and nailed it as firm as could be to the pine tree. Then bellowed with all his might in a burst of firefighting enthusiasm:
"Hey there, mister, got a bucket? Bring out your buckets!"
Actually a kettle was enough to put out the leaves. Half a kettle, to be precise. The other half of the water was put (in the kettle) on the stove to boil. In expectation of tea Blaise declaimed to Guillaume an old ballad about a fight between a fireman and a fire-breathing seven-headed dragon. In fact it was simply a knight armed with a fire-pump instead of a sword and spear.
With silver jet so bright to see
He pulled out the tongues of fire
From each head and valiantly
Quenched the terrible monster's ire.
Blaise declaimed this so passionately that the kitten took the precaution of jumping off the armchair and hiding under the chest of drawers away from this crazy man who smelt of smouldering wood.
The kettle began to boil. Just then there was a knock at the door.
"I saw the smoke," said Mr Valerian. "It looked as if something here was on fire."
"Oh, it was nothing really," Guillaume mumbled. "Look, Blaise has come to see us."
"Has he now? That's nice!" the apothecary wrinkled his eyes happily. "I see you've put the bird-house up, Guillaume. This is yet further confirmation of the saying that `Every gnome is the forger of his own happiness'."
"Do you think they'll come flying in?"
"I don't know about them, but something is bound to. Once you've put it up, there's no doubt about that."
"They say that actors have a superstition," said the fireman. "If there's a fire extinguisher on the stage in the first act, something is bound to catch fire in the third."
"What if there's a dish of biscuits?" asked Guillaume.
"A dish of biscuits? Where?" Blaise turned his head hopefully.
"On the stage in the first act, say."
"With or without an interval?" asked Blaise.
"With two intervals, say."
"They'll all get eaten in the first," the fireman predicted confidently.
There was another knock at the door. This time there were two visitors. The first was Amphytrion the cat who sidled into the room. He was followed by Princess Rosina, smiling a very dazzling smile.
"What a lovely red car you have outside by the gate! Have you just bought it, Guillaume? Congratulations!"
"It belongs to my friend Blaise," Guillaume began to explain. "He's dropped in for a cup of tea and..."
"What a good idea! Tea is a splendid idea," Rosina gave her dazzling smile again, this time specially for Blaise. "When I decided to come and see you today, I bought a rather scrumptious strawberry tart. But Morgan said it was a perfect miracle, not a tart, and he simply must show it to his friends. He flew off with it and hasn't been seen since. He's such a practical joker, you know..."
"I'll nip round and get another one," said Blaise, springing gallantly to his feet. He made a movement with his hands as if he was about to dive out of the window. "The engine's waiting outside. I won't be a sec."
But Guillaume stopped him by saying that would not be necessary, and immediately brought out a vanilla cake, a poppy seed roll, some biscuits in assorted shapes, a jar of rose-petal jelly and a box of chocolates. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief and sat down to have tea.
10. Disaster! Disaster!
Causes invariably produce effects. Once produced, an effect stays still for a while but eventually turns into a cause and produces another effect; and so it goes on, one growing out of the other. So the arrival of the Bird of Prophecy was not entirely pure chance. Settling first on a branch of the pine tree, she then barged into the bird-house, rampaged around in there for a bit, and reappeared on the threshold squawking:
The Bird of Prophecy looked skinny and somewhat the worse for wear, with her reddish-brown wings and long beak.
"It's a disaster!" she screeched again and flew away, squawking as she went: "Disaster! Disaster!"
"I knew it!" Guillaume was really worried now. "I wish I'd never thought of that bird-house. What's this disaster she's on about? I'd better consult the Book of Life."
Guillaume had started the Book of Life a long time ago, when he first decided to keep a diary. He bought a very thick notebook, opened it at the first page, wrote the date and day of the week, and then his first entry:
Today is Sunday. The weather outside is wonderful.
What else to write the gnome had no idea. He sat there for a good hour, but could think of nothing. "Keeping a diary's not that easy," he decided. He put the notebook on a shelf and went out shopping. But a month later, rummaging among his books, he came across the diary and was most surprised to see the words "BOOK OF LIFE" emblazoned in green Indian ink on the cover. He looked inside and was even more surprised to discover that the book was writing itself, without any effort on his part.
It seemed to be written by two different hands. One wrote nice things, such as descriptions of clouds, quotations from books and words of praise about friends, in neat, carefully rounded handwriting. While the other was untidy, sloped backwards, and consisted of all sorts of foul abuse, incoherent prophecies and vague threats. It was strange reading them together, and Guillaume did not often venture to take the Book of Life off the shelf.
But then this happened. One rainy, cloudy day Guillaume opened the Book of Life and read:
You lazy, idle, good-for-nothing gnome,
Beware, for disaster will strike your home!
Guillaume felt most upset and went on to the porch. The rain was slanting down and his cap was no protection against the cold driving drops. The rain barrel under the gutter was full, and a piece of bark shaped like a dolphin was floating on the surface. Guillaume searched around on the ground for a tiny forked branch and fastened it upside down on the piece of bark to make a boy on the dolphin's back. He tried adding a leaf so that the boy was holding a banner, but the banner was too heavy and made the whole thing capsize. Guillaume spent a long time fiddling around by the barrel in the drizzling rain. "Let me get soaked and catch my death of cold," he thought. "What do I care."
Inside he was greeted by the following scene. The kitten had climbed on to the table and was lying, curled up in a ball on the open Book of Life. Seeing its master, it jumped up and miaowed a welcome. Guillaume went closer and had a look. Something had happened to the page on which the kitten was lying. On the very spot where he thought he had seen "You lazy, idle," etc, there now stood:
Your favourite day will soon be here.
So bake a cottage cheese cake, dear.
"A cottage cheese cake? We don't know how to bake that, do we?" said Guillaume in surprise, picking up the kitten and admiring its pretty eyes.
"Let's go for a walk?"
He knew that the kitten could understand every word and even talk itself. Only it was afraid of talking too loudly, especially in front of strangers. If it needed anything, it would jump on to Guillaume's shoulder and whisper in his ear very quietly so that no one else could hear.
"You've been up to your tricks again, Yozhkin, haven't you?" said Guillaume.
The kitten's real name was in fact Lev Nikolayevich Ozhigov, but in the kittens' moon garden it had been changed to Yozhikov and then shortened to Yozhkin.
Yozhkin stretched out its neck and dug its claws into its master's jacket. Jumping onto his shoulder, it steadied itself and miaowed something that tickled Guillaume's cheek.
"What's that? Say it again, please."
And he heard a quiet almost inaudible:
11. Who on Earth is SOCKIT?
After that Guillaume was no longer afraid of reading the Book of Life. The cogwheels of time continued to creak round in the vicinity, but could be ignored, like the sound of crickets in the grass.
And now suddenly this Bird of Prophecy! Like a bolt from the blue! Guillaume didn't know what to think. He took a look at the Book to see whether some hint or prophecy had appeared there, but there was nothing, only a kind of strange breeze (he felt) wandering between the pages; and the paper crackled in a somewhat insinuating fashion.
He would have to wait and see where disaster struck. He did not have to wait long. Disaster arrived in a yellow envelope with a letter which Guillaume read three times, first quickly, then slowly, then quickly again, but still did not understand. This is what it said:
The Tommy Stout Voluntary
Society for the Care of Kittens
Dear Mr.... Guillaume,
SOCKIT has received information concerning improper treatment of a kitten. In this connection we would earnestly beg you to answer the following questions.
- Full name of kitten (including all previous names)
- How long have you known the kitten (place a tick),
- - less than a month
- - less than a year
- - more than a year
- - more than ten years
- Is the kitten homesick for
- - its previous owner
- - its previous home
- - its previous country or the Moon
- Does the kitten receive an adequate amount of food.
If not, why not (answer in detail)
If so, what is its daily intake of the following:
- Do you prevent the expression of its personality, namely:
- - character
- - natural inclinations
- - moods
- - desires
- Do you use methods involving force to
- - move it in space
- - restrict its mobility
- - express disapproval of its actions
- When using force to move the kitten in space do you grab it by the
- - scruff of the neck
- - paws
- - tail
- Do you secretly harbour any criminal intentions in respect of the kitten.
If so, what are they (answer in detail)
- Do you know of anyone else who treats a so barbarically (please give name and address)
- Do you have a bird (yes or no)
Kindly return the completed questionnaire to the SOCKIT address indicated on the envelope. Non-return of the questionnaire will involve further action, including the dispatch of kittens to the Moon.
President, Voluntary Society
for the Care of Kittens
"What on earth is all this hogwash about?" cried Guillaume, waving the letter.
His question was not addressed to anyone in particular, just into space, but since Princess Rosina appeared unexpectedly in the space in front of the gate, it seemed to be addressed to her.
"Watch your language, Guillaume, my dear, or we'll both be getting a letter from the Voluntary Society for the Care of Hogs!"
Princess Rosina was holding a yellow envelope.
"Well, I never! So you've had one too?"
"Just imagine. They say I mistreat Amphytrion. Have you ever heard of such nonsense!"
The cat, which had appeared from behind its owner's skirt, stretched its neck and gave a loud snort as a sign of displeasure.
"Look at this!" Guillaume stuck a finger in the letter. "They're threatening to send my kitten back to the moon! It's absurd, they'd never dare. And who would let them?"
"You are forgetting, my dear, that Matilda's father is the burgomaster of this town. She's got plenty of friends in high places. And Morgan's a diabolically crafty bird, believe me."
"I should say so! His grandfather sailed on the Morgan. He was a notorious pirate and adventurer, ruler of Barbados and Governor of Haiti."
"Then how on earth did he become one of these cat guards or guardians, whatever they're called? Has he got banana fever? Or DTs from abuse of eskimo ices?"
Princess Rosina shrugged her shoulders.
"Quite honestly, I'm at a complete loss, Guillaume. Which is why I've come to see you. Perhaps you can think of something."
"I already have!" the gnome exclaimed. "We must cool down their hot heads, and the sooner the better. Be so kind as to accompany me, Princess, and I'll explain it to you on the way."
Guillaume opened the gate, allowing Rosina to go first, and set off determinedly, turning left.
"We'll go and see Blaise. He'll come on his fire engine and douse them with his fire pump. That'll bring them to their senses and... Why have you stopped, princess? Don't you like my plan?"
"It just won't work. Under no circumstances would Blaise agree to douse a lady with his fire pump. He's a real gentleman."
Guillaume stood stock still, as if paralysed by this simple thought. Then he turned round smartly and marched off in the opposite direction.
"Alright, then. In that case we'll go and see Mr Valerian, buy three bottles of poison from him and bump off the whole of SOCKIT with it!"
"New fighters will take their place."
"What was that?"
"New fighters will take the place of the fallen," the princess repeated. "It's hopeless trying to fight voluntary societies. Believe me, I speak from bitter experience."
"What can we do then?" demanded the gnome impatiently.
"I really don't know. Perhaps we could have a breathing space and fill in this awful questionnaire... Wait a minute, Guillaume, don't be angry! I'm only thinking aloud. Perhaps if we can just play for time it will all blow over. Only I can't think straight. And where is that little devil Morgan?"
Meanwhile Amphytrion, who had reached the house, miaowed quietly, stood up on his back paws and began to scratch the front corner of the porch hard. It was his favourite limewood board for sharpening his claws. The kitten immediately appeared on the threshold to greet the visitor.
"My mistress is worried," said Amphytrion, nodding at Rosina who was talking to Guillaume by the gate.
"So is my master," the kitten replied straightaway. "You can tell by the way his leg is twitching."
Amphytrion jumped onto the railing to survey the scene from a proper vantage point. The kitten immediately leapt onto the railing on the other side of the porch.
"They're a funny lot, these humans," Amphytrion remarked philosophically. "I've often wondered, for example, why they don't have tails. It is rather strange, don't you think?"
The kitten agreed that it was most strange indeed.
"And then at last it dawned upon me. I understood!" Amphytrion paused dramatically. "If humans had tails, they would lie on the mat all day licking them, and there wouldn't be any time left for them to go shopping and buy food for cats. That's why they don't have them. Wise old Mother Nature has worked it all out."
"Wise old Mother Nature," the kitten echoed.
"So since they don't have tails, the dear old things run around getting all worked up. You can't help feeling sorry for them!"
12. The Second Letter from SOCKIT
With secret misgivings, Guillaume agreed with Princess Rosina that they should keep cool and not budge an inch. He decided to fill in the ridiculous questionnaire. And this is how he answered the SOCKIT questions.
1. Lev Nikolayevich Ozhigov
2. Less than a year
4. Yes, lots and lots
5. No, no, no, no
6. No, no, no
7. No, no, round the stomach
8. I am not secretly harbouring anything
9. Don't know
10. No, thank goodness.
A reply arrived the day after next.
The Tommy Stout Voluntary Society
for the Care of Kittens
Dear Mr... Guillaume,
According to a check carried out by SOCKIT you have given obviously incomplete or incorrect answers our questions 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 and 9.
Moreover, by replying "Don't know" to our question 9, you have admitted that you do not know anyone who mistreats their cat as barbarically as you do yours (Lev Nikolayevich Ozhigov).
In view of the foregoing, your cat (L.N. Ozhigov) is to be sent away within the next three days.
President of the Voluntary Society
for the Care of Kittens
When he received this letter, Guillaume decided not to say anything to anybody and to shoot Matilda with an air-gun fitted with a silencer. Fortunately he did not possess such a weapon. So he started wondering why Matilda was getting up to these tricks. Perhaps she was offended because Guillaume didn't love her any more or send her letters and live kittens? Perhaps no one sent her letters any more? And then he thought that if some fine gentleman were to fall in love with Matilda, she would stop being so nasty and extraditing Yozhkin to the Moon. But where could he get hold of a fine gentleman? Then he remembered Blaise Putemout. Rosina had called him a real gentleman. Remember the ballad "With silver jet so bright to see, / He pulled out the tongues of fire / From each head" and so on? Yes, of course, Blaise!
But how could he get the fireman to fall in love with Matilda, and so quickly too? That didn't matter, Guillaume thought, as long as she thought he loved her now, he'd have time to fall in love later. If he saw that she already believed he was in love with her, as a gentleman, he would have no option.
Guillaume sat down at the table and wrote a note with a steady hand.
I dream of one thing only. That you will cast albeit a single glance upon him whose heart is like a red tulip. I shall be standing opposite the town hall at seven o'clock.
Splendid! Matilda looks through the curtain, sees the fine gentleman standing opposite her window and her heart melts.
Yes, but how to get Blaise there with his tulip? Not an easy task admittedly, nor an excessively difficult one either. Just send another note, or, better still, a telegram:
Dear Blaise. Arriving today Saturday to photograph you for our magazine cover. Meet me at seven opposite the town hall with a red tulip. The plane may be a bit late.
Yours, Angela Roches, correspondent of "Flame",
the world-wide fire-fighting magazine
The large clock on the town hall was just over Matilda's window. He was bound to keep looking up at it impatiently!
So that was Matilda out of the way. Enamoured of the gallant Fire Knight, she would, of course, lose all interest in SOCKIT. Now there was only Morgan to deal with. Bearing in mind his obvious envy of Amphytrion and love of booty inherited from his pirate ancestors, Guillaume composed the following missive:
My dear Morgan, You were absolutely right. I have widened the entrance to the bird-house so that tasty morsels can be stored inside. At present there is a slice of nutty waffle cake in there. By the way, I hear that the princess is planning to cut off Amphytrion's claws so that he can't scratch the furniture.
Yours faithfully, Guillaume
This letter was complemented by one of Guillaume's small inventions in the form of a trap-bar and wire. As soon as Morgan touched the cake - crash, the trap-bar would fall and the bird would be behind bars. Then he would have to swear he'd never do it again if he wanted to be let out.
Splendid! All he had to do was put the letters into envelopes and send them off. But Guillaume wanted to read his little masterpieces to someone first, and who better than Yozhkin.
"What's it all about?" The kitten was baffled.
So Guillaume had to explain about SOCKIT, the questionnaire, the Moon and so on. The kitten listened to him very gravely.
"Tear them up and throw them away," he said.
"What! Why should I do that?"
"I don't want you to lie and deceive people."
"But it's not lying. It's military strategy! They started it all!"
"Never mind," said Yozhkin quietly. "Let them send me to the Moon, if that's how it must be. I knew it would happen."
"But it mustn't happen! I don't want to be parted from you!"
"Let them send me back to the Moon," said the kitten and crawled under the cupboard.
Something had obviously gone wrong at the plant where the electricity came from, because the power in the lightbulbs suddenly dropped and the room was plunged almost into darkness.
"Alright, I've thought of something!" said Guillaume. "If they send you back to the Moon, I'll give you a ball of string which you can unravel as you go. When you reach the Moon, just tie the end to a nice firm rock. Look, this is what will happen," and the gnome drew a quick diagram.
"On the left is the Earth and on the right the Moon. They are linked by a ball of string one end of which is tied to the earth and the other to the Moon. As we know, the Earth revolves round its own axis at a speed of one revolution per day. So the Earth revolves and winds the string onto itself, like a well handle. You've seen a bucket being wound up from the bottom of a well, haven't you? In the same way the Moon is drawn towards the Earth; and in seven days or so we'll be together again."
Yozhkin stuck his head out from under the cupboard and blinked disbelievingly.
"Seven days? How do you make that?"
"I divided one by the other."
"That's all very well," Yozhkin whispered sadly. "But won't the string snap?"
"Yes, it will," said Guillaume and burst into tears.
13. A Word About Mobile Treasure Troves
The gnome had a funny way of crying. He didn't wail or sob, just moved his head and snorted, like a dog choking, while the tears ran down his cheeks. This lasted a minute or two. Eventually Guillaume recovered. Wiping his eyes with his fist, he picked up the kitten which was rubbing itself against his foot and sat it on the table.
"I wonder how they stick on their moustaches," Guillaume thought. "If they use paste, that's easy to remove, but superglue is the devil to get off."
"Very well then. You can be commander-in-chief. If we mustn't trick them, what can we do?"
Yozhkin shrugged his shoulders and gave a vague miaow.
"Alright," said Guillaume. "Then listen. If we mustn't trick them, we can buy them off. Give them a ransom, see? I've got some treasure buried in the hills. Actually I've forgotten where I buried it, but that doesn't matter. You can find buried treasure all over the place. There are lots of mobile troves as well. They move around from place to place. If you know how to find them..."
"And you do know, do you?"
"Of course. I'm a gnome, aren't I? We know all about that. You just take a twig, it can even be from a besom, and go outside. When the twig bends, it means there's a trove on that spot. Come on."
Guillaume and Yozhkin went outside and walked all round the yard and the garden with a twig from top to bottom; but the twig was a bit of a disappointment. It didn't move an iota, either up or down.
"Never mind, we'll try again before lunch," said Guillaume cheerfully. "I've got a feeling there's a trove moving in this direction. It simply hasn't got here yet, but it's very close. Let's have a game of chess while we wait."
So they sat down on the floor as they always did by the empty fireplace and put out the pieces.
Yozhkin was a staggeringly good player. Although Guillaume kept butting in, telling him what to move and explaining the pros and cons of each move, and in spite of the fact that the moves suggested by Guillaume were often not the best, Yozhkin won game after game with superb confidence. The sum total of all games played was eighty-two nil (82.0) to the kitten!
And so it was now. After his move Yozhkin stretched out on the mat, paws upwards, pretending to be interested in a floating piece of fluff. In fact he was planning his devastating final manoeuvre. By then Guillaume had lost two bishops, two knights and a castle.
"I give up!" said Guillaume. "It's a waste of time trying to defend a position like this. And we must go and check the yard again."
So out they went once more with their trove-divining twig and this time, hooray, hooray, it actually worked. The mobile trove had finally reached their home. Guillaume fetched a spade and quickly dug up the treasure. It was the usual type: a chest of precious stones and a sack of gold.
"The chest must go to Matilda, of course. It will make her very happy: diamonds and rubies shine more brightly than the eyes of her timid suitor and even than a fireman's helmet. The gold is for Morgan, ducats and rubles, guldens and piastres. His pirate's heart will be overjoyed. I'll take the ransom to the town hall straightaway, where the Sockits hang out."
Guillaume trundled a wheelbarrow out of the barn and put the chest in it with the sack of gold, a really heavy one!
"Now you just sit tight, Yozhkin, and don't go anywhere without me."
To get to the town hall he had to turn left, right, then left again. The first part of the route was downhill, the second more or less level, but the third was definitely uphill, which made Guillaume sweat a bit. What is more, some suspicious-looking characters were coming towards him, a long lanky one, thin as a rake, and a short, fat one.
"What's that you've got, a treasure trove?" they asked Guillaume.
"Yes, a treasure trove," Guillaume answered naively.
"Well, I never," the suspicious-looking characters said and walked on. Guillaume took a few steps and turned round. The suspicious-looking characters had disappeared into thin air. Perhaps they had turned off into a building or yard.
Guillaume felt rather uneasy and apprehensive in the deserted street. So he was glad when he saw two policemen coming towards him, one rather squat and chubby, the other tall and thin.
"What's that you've got there, a treasure trove?" asked one of them, stroking his ginger moustache.
"Yes, that's right," Guillaume replied happily.
"Then where's the guard?" asked the second one, with a thicker, darker moustache, sternly.
"There is no guard," the gnome stammered. "I do apologize."
The two policemen shook their heads sternly and walked past. The gnome also went on with his wheelbarrow, but when he looked over his shoulder after a bit the custodians of law and order had disappeared. Perhaps they had turned off somewhere.
By now there was not far to go and Guillaume perked up. He was nearly there. But no sooner had he turned the last corner than an open white car overtook him. It drew up and out jumped two masked figures, a short, fat one and a tall, gangling one.
"The treasure trove!" barked one of them, waving a pistol.
"Let's have it!"
The second pushed Guillaume out of the way and heaved the chest and the sack of gold onto the back seat, after which the bandits jumped into the car and drove off.
All this took place in the twinkling of an eye. Before you could say "One, two, three, four, five, once I caught a fish alive." And the gnome was left alone in the road with his upturned wheelbarrow.
The good thing about being robbed is that afterwards you appreciate much more what you have left. And at this moment Guillaume suddenly wanted desperately to see Yozhkin. He hurried home, but the real disaster was waiting for him there. The kitten had vanished. Yes, completely vanished. The door was wide open, a bowl of biscuits had been knocked off the table onto the floor, and next to it lay a scrap of yellow paper. Expecting the worst, Guillaume picked it up and read:
In accordance with a resolution of the presidium of SOCKIT
Lev Nikolayevich Ozhigov has been sent to the Moon.
Followed by an illegible scrawl.
14. Morgan Gets off Lightly
"Morgan!" Guillaume yelled furiously. "Just you wait, Morgan. I'll give you `Guten Morgen'!"
He grabbed the broom, then dropped it and grabbed the poker, then dropped the poker and finally grabbed the butterfly net and rushed out of the house. Flying down the steps, he raced across the yard and down the street to Rosina's house.
>His intuition had not deceived him. Even at the garden gate he heard sounds of a commotion. Inside the house he was greeted by the following picture: fur bristling, Amphytrion was pacing up and down in front of a wardrobe which had something raging around inside it, while two long red feathers lay on the floor in the middle of the room.
"At least I caught his tail!' Amphytrion announced proudly, pointing at his hunting trophies. "He was going to send me to the Moon, the rascal. If he hadn't escaped into the wardrobe, he'd have lost more than two feathers."
The wardrobe gave an alarmed shudder, but shouted back hoarsely:
"Gzoink! Gzoink! Here I come! You'd better watch out!"
Guillaume jumped up and charged at the door with his butterfly net, holding it like a pike, bang, crash, which made the wardrobe rock.
"Out with it, Morgan. Where have you put the kitten?"
"Where it ought to be," Morgan replied from the wardrobe. "On the Moon."
"Tell us the truth, or you'll regret it."
"I took the little angel up into the sky," squawked the wardrobe lovingly, "and away I flew with him ever so high. Then very soon I left him on the Moon. There he sat all on his ownsome and started to cry, 'cos he felt so lonesome."
"Come out, you gangster, we want a word with you!" Guillaume again drove his weapon into the wardrobe.
"I'm perfectly alright in here. Don't disturb me."
"What are you doing there, in the wardrobe?"
"Choosing a scarf for my fiancee, that's what."
"He hasn't got any fiancee, he's just making it up," the cat spat angrily.
"Oh, yes, I have! Zinzilla, the beauty of the Guinean prairies. Matilda's new bird! I can't tell you how crazy she is about me!"
The wardrobe suddenly burst open with a prolonged squawk, and out tumbled Morgan in a heap of dresses and perched elegantly on the swinging door. He had a yellow silk scarf wound carelessly round his neck and a mother-of-pearl button in his beak.
"I'm getting married," he announced through the button. "Then I'm going to live at my wife's place."
"Wait a minute," Guillaume exclaimed. "Give me back my kitten."
"I am no longer interested in cats. If I owe anyone anything, I shall pay them back from my tail!" And with a grand flourish of his wing the parrot pointed to the two red feathers lying by the wardrobe. "Take them, brothers, one each! I'd give you more, but I need them myself. Happy hunting!"
Morgan flapped his wings and made a beeline for the open window. Amphytrion took a great bound in a desperate attempt to reach him and only just missed. Guillaume gave a hefty swipe with his butterfly net, gddoing! and caught Amphytrion instead of Morgan, while the agile flyer flitted out of the window and disappeared from view.
At that very moment Princess Rosina appeared on the threshold.
"Up to your tricks again, Amphytrion," she said to the cat in mild reproach, putting a pineapple meringue cake in a round box on the table. "Why are you sitting in Guillaume's butterfly net? And tell me, where on earth was Morgan going in the middle of the night?"
"He's getting married," Amphytrion explained, trying to disentangle himself from the net. "Then he's going to live at his wife's place."
"Oh, but he can't!" said Rosina. "I've bought a cake. Such a pretty one. I hope that at least Guillaume will stay to tea?"
"You can decorate it with red feathers, Princess, to make it even prettier! Like this!" And Guillaume stuck a parrot feather in the middle of the cake. "But you must eat it yourself and excuse me. Your precious Morgan, Princess, your precious Morgan has stolen, abducted and ruined..."
Guillaume wanted to say "my kitten", but he could not. He only waved his hand and ran out of the room.
It was already dark as the gnome approached his house, but in the gloom he detected a piece of white paper lying on the threshold. It's SOCKIT again, he thought dejectedly, picking it up.
But then he gave a start. It was a letter from Yozhkin on the Moon.
"I'm sitting here, looking down and wondering when you will come and get me."
15. A Full Moon
Guillaume went into the house, took off his jacket and collapsed on the bed, without turning on the light. "I'll have a little rest," he thought, "then go and look for Yozhkin." There was a bluish mist before his eyes. In the dark everything seemed to be floating as if in some underwater realm: the ceiling, the top of the wardrobe and the curtained window. The gnome looked up, as a drowned man gazes from the sea bed at fish and octopuses swimming overhead. The octopus was actually a lightshade with four tentacles (Why not eight? It had probably lost the other four in a tussle with a whale). The lightshade hung over him, as if wondering whether it was time to go down and feast on the drowned sailor. "No, I'll wait a bit," it decided. "He's still moving his hands, clenching his fists and seizing his head. I must be patient..."
The predatory behaviour of the lightshade did not escape Guillaume's attention. "Just you dare, you wretched cripple!" he addressed the octopus mentally. "And I'll break off your last four!"
The lightshade took fright and pretended to be a tortoise, which scuttled quickly over the ceiling, down the wall on to the floor and invited him to "Get on my back and off we'll go!" To add conviction it even stood on its hind legs and neighed like the little humpbacked horse.
"We must be going round the bend," thought the gnome (for some reason in the first person plural) and rubbed his eyes. The tortoise immediately turned into a coffee table with four legs.
"The only thing with four legs that I need is Yozhkin!" Guillaume explained to the table; but a voice inside him said calmly and pitilessly:
"You will never see him again. Close your eyes and go to sleep."
"I can't get to sleep!"
"Because I don't know what I'll do when I wake up."
"The same as always."
"If I never see him, `always' will be `never'"
Ding-dong! The clock with the bronze figure of an Indian stopped for a moment as it hopped over the number twelve, then immediately began chiming even louder. "Always - never! Always - never!" it echoed, swinging its pendulum like a tomahawk.
"You can get yourself another cat," the voice continued persuasively. "There are plenty of strays in the town. Or you can buy one at the market. All animals need care and affection. I know that alright."
"Who are you?" the gnome asked in fright.
"I am the voice of your common sense. Don't be upset."
"No, you're the voice of my madness!" cried Guillaume. "Of course I could buy or adopt another cat. But can't you understand that this would mean breaking the only thread that stretches from here to where Yozhkin is?"
Guillaume sat down and stretched out a hand to the window. Heavily curtained, it was growing lighter all the time, swelling with light, as if a great shoal of electrical octopuses were swimming behind it. But it wasn't octopuses: it was the light of the moon.
"See that beam coming through the crack in the curtain? It may not be able to pull the Moon down to the Earth, but there is nothing stronger than that in the world. You don't believe me? If you like I can try and cut it with scissors? Or a knife?"
"Lie down and go to sleep. You mustn't play with sharp objects."
"Alright, I will go to sleep. But only for five minutes. Perhaps he wants to tell me something in my sleep..."
Guillaume lay his head obediently on the pillow and was just about to close his eyes, when he suddenly jumped up as if he had been catapulted. What was that? A miaow? But where from? Guillaume went up to the window and pulled the curtains quickly.
Moonlight flooded into the room. Like the "ninth wave". Guillaume thought it would choke him, he could hardly breathe. There was a whole sea of light, splashing and foaming, with crests and whirlpools and cold underwater currents that tugged at your legs. The room was awash with it, like a bay at high water; and suddenly Guillaume felt trapped between the cliff walls and wanted to swim out of the narrow bay into the open sea while the tide was still coming in.
He flung open the door to the porch and, screwing up his eyes, strode into the broad shimmering expanse, the silver sea of the full moon.
Some more miaowing. And not just miaowing this time.
"What's the matter, Guillaume? Take hold of the string and pull! The moon string! Hurry up!"
So, blinded and baffled, Guillaume caught hold of the moonbeam and began to pull, using both hands like a fisherman pulling in a net with his catch. The miaowing came closer. Another second, another...
And suddenly something jumped out of nowhere right onto Guillaume's chest and clung there, and Guillaume hugged the something to him and, miracle of miracles, it wasn't a frog or a hog, a bird or a biscuit. It was his Yozhkin, back from the Moon.
16. How It All Happened
He who jokingly wishes to know,
How it all happened, let him read these lines.
The events of that mysterious night are here explained,
And blank spots filled in on the map of what took place.
The key is how lazy that parrot could be.
For he did indeed, like a vulture or kite, kidnap Yozhkin
That very night and set off with him to the Moon.
But all too soon grew tired and hungry and left him there
At the very first station, I tell you, where in the end
He flew off to his lady friend and life's companion Zinzilla.
Now the very first station turned out to be
Guillaume's new bird-house up in the tree,
So you see how ironical fate can be. Half a day
And half a night spent Yozhkin almost within sight
Of Guillaume, in fact almost above his head.
But the gnome was so bereaved that in the tumult of
Feelings he noticed nothing. The kitten looked around
And very soon the Rescue Line he found,
The cableway Guillaume had built for baby birds,
And with its aid dispatched his note; but he himself
Dared not slide down without a little help.
A calm night came to his aid. Unwavering the gnome
Took firm hold of the string and pulled (for it was no
Simple moonbeam, of course). And Yozhkin in the gift box
Fell straight into the arms of Guillaume.
Are you satisfied with this story?
If so, the filling in of blank spots ends here
And morning begins.
Who should arrive with a bagful of tranquillizer drops
than Mr Valerian. "I strongly recommend these
Drops," he said fondly, pointing at a small bottle.
"A mixture of mountain and marshland herbs. Very soothing.
Knocks you out completely..."
The fire alarm drowned his words as Blaise
Drove up in his red fire engine.
"I'll do my best," to Guillaume he cried.
"My ladder may not reach the sky, but if
We make it a bit longer..."
Then who should come by but the Princess.
"Forgive my visit at this early hour, but I felt
This was the time for friends to be together."
"Oh, Princess, it is I who should beg your pardon
For rushing away yesterday out of the garden. Do sit
Down. Only not in the armchair. Because Yozhkin
Is fast asleep there." You should have heard the
Hullaballoo. "What a trick to play! Shame upon you!
Tell us what happened!" But here, dear friends,
We shall not repeat the story we know so well.
When they had heard it through to the end
The guests exclaimed happily, glad for the gnome
And his kitten, then suddenly felt a bit de trop.
For a friend in need is a friend indeed,
But a friend in happiness is a bit superfluous.
"After their long parting," (they thought to themselves),
"The gnome and the kitten will have lots
To say to each other."
"Time I was off". "And me." "Me too." "What's the hurry?
There isn't a fire!" "Oh, but I've got a date with
A fire-fighting magazine. They're putting my picture on the cover.
I've just had a telegram." "Let me see!
Why, goodness me! Everything I made up has come true!
Here's the draft I was going to send. Only the name is
Different, my friend. It's Anna Sanchez, not Angela
Roches. And the "Fire" magazine, not "The Flame".
But the rest of it is exactly the same."
"Maybe you're really a prophet, Guillaume. Predict
Something for me too," Mr Valerian asked the gnome
As a joke. "With the greatest of pleasure. Your name,
My friend, Valerian, will be given to the most popular
Remedy in the world for calming down people and
Waking up cats, thereby immortalizing you and yours."
Like having predictions too," said Rosina. The gnome
Bowed respectfully to the Princess and then replied:
"And your revered name, in slightly different form,
Shall be given to a tribe who are soon to discover
Life in the jungles, a simple, peace-loving people
Unspoilt by progress. These savages can be distinguished from
The others by their big ears and the sad expression
In their eyes, which hold a kind of charming melancholy,
A primeval mistiness, that betokens a warm heart."
As they mused on the secrets that fate had in store
Blaise looked grim, Valerian shook his head and Rosina sighed.
Then Yozhkin, curled up in the armchair, awoke and stretched,
Turning from a bread ring into a long Italian bun.