IT was a hot afternoon, and the railway carriage was
correspondingly sultry, and the next stop was at
Templecombe, nearly an hour ahead. The occupants of the
carriage were a small girl, and a smaller girl, and a
small boy. An aunt belonging to the children occupied
one corner seat, and the further corner seat on the
opposite side was occupied by a bachelor who was a
stranger to their party, but the small girls and the
small boy emphatically occupied the compartment. Both
the aunt and the children were conversational in a
limited, persistent way, reminding one of the attentions
of a housefly that refuses to be discouraged. Most of
the aunt's remarks seemed to begin with "Don't," and
nearly all of the children's remarks began with "Why?"
The bachelor said nothing out loud.
don't," exclaimed the aunt, as the small boy began
smacking the cushions of the seat, producing a cloud of
dust at each blow.
"Come and look out of the window," she added.
The child moved reluctantly to the window. "Why are
those sheep being driven out of that field?" he asked.
"I expect they are being driven to another field
where there is more grass," said the aunt weakly.
"But there is lots of grass in that field,"
protested the boy; "there's nothing else but grass there.
Aunt, there's lots of grass in that field."
"Perhaps the grass in the other field is better,"
suggested the aunt fatuously.
"Why is it better?" came the swift, inevitable
"Oh, look at those cows!" exclaimed the aunt.
Nearly every field along the line had contained cows or
bullocks, but she spoke as though she were drawing
attention to a rarity.
"Why is the grass in the other field better?"
The frown on the bachelor's face was deepening to a
scowl. He was a hard, unsympathetic man, the aunt
decided in her mind. She was utterly unable to come to
any satisfactory decision about the grass in the other
The smaller girl created a diversion by beginning to
recite "On the Road to Mandalay." She only knew the
first line, but she put her limited knowledge to the
fullest possible use. She repeated the line over and
over again in a dreamy but resolute and very audible
voice; it seemed to the bachelor as though some one had
had a bet with her that she could not repeat the line
aloud two thousand times without stopping. Whoever it
was who had made the wager was likely to lose his bet.
"Come over here and listen to a story," said the
aunt, when the bachelor had looked twice at her and once
at the communication cord.
The children moved listlessly towards the aunt's end
of the carriage. Evidently her reputation as a story-teller did not rank high in their estimation.
In a low, confidential voice, interrupted at
frequent intervals by loud, petulant questionings from
her listeners, she began an unenterprising and deplorably
uninteresting story about a little girl who was good, and
made friends with every one on account of her goodness,
and was finally saved from a mad bull by a number of
rescuers who admired her moral character.
"Wouldn't they have saved her if she hadn't been
good?" demanded the bigger of the small girls. It was
exactly the question that the bachelor had wanted to ask.
"Well, yes," admitted the aunt lamely, "but I don't
think they would have run quite so fast to her help if
they had not liked her so much."
"It's the stupidest story I've ever heard," said the
bigger of the small girls, with immense conviction.
"I didn't listen after the first bit, it was so
stupid," said Cyril.
The smaller girl made no actual comment on the
story, but she had long ago recommenced a murmured
repetition of her favourite line.
"You don't seem to be a success as a story-teller,"
said the bachelor suddenly from his corner.
The aunt bristled in instant defence at this
"It's a very difficult thing to tell stories that
children can both understand and appreciate," she said
"I don't agree with you," said the bachelor.
"Perhaps you would like to tell them a story," was
the aunt's retort.
"Tell us a story," demanded the bigger of the small
"Once upon a time," began the bachelor, "there was a
little girl called Bertha, who was extra-ordinarily
The children's momentarily-aroused interest began at
once to flicker; all stories seemed dreadfully alike, no
matter who told them.
"She did all that she was told, she was always
truthful, she kept her clothes clean, ate milk puddings
as though they were jam tarts, learned her lessons
perfectly, and was polite in her manners."
"Was she pretty?" asked the bigger of the small
"Not as pretty as any of you," said the bachelor,
"but she was horribly good."
There was a wave of reaction in favour of the story;
the word horrible in connection with goodness was a
novelty that commended itself. It seemed to introduce a
ring of truth that was absent from the aunt's tales of
"She was so good," continued the bachelor, "that she
won several medals for goodness, which she always wore,
pinned on to her dress. There was a medal for obedience,
another medal for punctuality, and a third for good
behaviour. They were large metal medals and they clicked
against one another as she walked. No other child in the
town where she lived had as many as three medals, so
everybody knew that she must be an extra good child."
"Horribly good," quoted Cyril.
"Everybody talked about her goodness, and the Prince
of the country got to hear about it, and he said that as
she was so very good she might be allowed once a week to
walk in his park, which was just outside the town. It
was a beautiful park, and no children were ever allowed
in it, so it was a great honour for Bertha to be allowed
to go there."
"Were there any sheep in the park?" demanded Cyril.
"No;" said the bachelor, "there were no sheep."
"Why weren't there any sheep?" came the inevitable
question arising out of that answer.
The aunt permitted herself a smile, which might
almost have been described as a grin.
"There were no sheep in the park," said the
bachelor, "because the Prince's mother had once had a
dream that her son would either be killed by a sheep or
else by a clock falling on him. For that reason the
Prince never kept a sheep in his park or a clock in his
The aunt suppressed a gasp of admiration.
"Was the Prince killed by a sheep or by a clock?"
"He is still alive, so we can't tell whether the
dream will come true," said the bachelor unconcernedly;
"anyway, there were no sheep in the park, but there were
lots of little pigs running all over the place."
"What colour were they?"
"Black with white faces, white with black spots,
black all over, grey with white patches, and some were
white all over."
The storyteller paused to let a full idea of the
park's treasures sink into the children's imaginations;
then he resumed:
"Bertha was rather sorry to find that there were no
flowers in the park. She had promised her aunts, with
tears in her eyes, that she would not pick any of the
kind Prince's flowers, and she had meant to keep her
promise, so of course it made her feel silly to find that
there were no flowers to pick."
"Why weren't there any flowers?"
"Because the pigs had eaten them all," said the
bachelor promptly. "The gardeners had told the Prince
that you couldn't have pigs and flowers, so he decided to
have pigs and no flowers."
There was a murmur of approval at the excellence of
the Prince's decision; so many people would have decided
the other way.
"There were lots of other delightful things in the
park. There were ponds with gold and blue and green fish
in them, and trees with beautiful parrots that said
clever things at a moment's notice, and humming birds
that hummed all the popular tunes of the day. Bertha
walked up and down and enjoyed herself immensely, and
thought to herself: 'If I were not so extraordinarily
good I should not have been allowed to come into this
beautiful park and enjoy all that there is to be seen in
it,' and her three medals clinked against one another as
she walked and helped to remind her how very good she
really was. Just then an enormous wolf came prowling
into the park to see if it could catch a fat little pig
for its supper."
"What colour was it?" asked the children, amid an
immediate quickening of interest.
"Mud-colour all over, with a black tongue and pale
grey eyes that gleamed with unspeakable ferocity. The
first thing that it saw in the park was Bertha; her
pinafore was so spotlessly white and clean that it could
be seen from a great distance. Bertha saw the wolf and
saw that it was stealing towards her, and she began to
wish that she had never been allowed to come into the
park. She ran as hard as she could, and the wolf came
after her with huge leaps and bounds. She managed to
reach a shrubbery of myrtle bushes and she hid herself in
one of the thickest of the bushes. The wolf came
sniffing among the branches, its black tongue lolling out
of its mouth and its pale grey eyes glaring with rage.
Bertha was terribly frightened, and thought to herself:
'If I had not been so extraordinarily good I should have
been safe in the town at this moment.' However, the
scent of the myrtle was so strong that the wolf could not
sniff out where Bertha was hiding, and the bushes were so
thick that he might have hunted about in them for a long
time without catching sight of her, so he thought he
might as well go off and catch a little pig instead.
Bertha was trembling very much at having the wolf
prowling and sniffing so near her, and as she trembled
the medal for obedience clinked against the medals for
good conduct and punctuality. The wolf was just moving
away when he heard the sound of the medals clinking and
stopped to listen; they clinked again in a bush quite
near him. He dashed into the bush, his pale grey eyes
gleaming with ferocity and triumph, and dragged Bertha
out and devoured her to the last morsel. All that was
left of her were her shoes, bits of clothing, and the
three medals for goodness."
"Were any of the little pigs killed?"
"No, they all escaped."
"The story began badly," said the smaller of the
small girls, "but it had a beautiful ending."
"It is the most beautiful story that I ever heard,"
said the bigger of the small girls, with immense
"It is the only beautiful story I have ever heard,"
A dissentient opinion came from the aunt.
"A most improper story to tell to young children!
You have undermined the effect of years of careful
"At any rate," said the bachelor, collecting his
belongings preparatory to leaving the carriage, "I kept
them quiet for ten minutes, which was more than you were
able to do."
"Unhappy woman!" he observed to himself as he walked
down the platform of Templecombe station; "for the next
six months or so those children will assail her in public
with demands for an improper story!"