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    Chapter 20

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    Chapter 21
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    Which treats of a little satin shoe

    Everybody in Clarides was quite convinced that Honey-Bee had been stolen by the dwarfs. Even the Duchess believed it, though her dreams did not tell her precisely. "We will find her again," said George. "We will find her again," replied Francoeur. "And we will bring her back to her mother," said George.

    "And we will bring her back," replied Francoeur. "And we will marry her," said George.

    "And we will marry her," replied Francoeur. And they inquired among the inhabitants as to the habits of the dwarfs and the mysterious circumstances of Honey-Bee's disappearance.

    And so it happened that they questioned Nurse Maurille who had once been the nurse of the Duchess of Clarides; but now as she had no more milk for babies Maurille instead nursed the chickens in the poultry yard. It was there that the master and squire found her. She cried: "Psit! Psit! psit! psit! lil--lil--lil--lil--psit, psit, psit, psit!" as she threw grain to the chicks.

    "Psit, psit, psit, psit! Is it you, your lordship? Psit, psit, psit! Is it possible that you have grown so tall--psit! and so handsome? Psit, psit! Shoo! shoo, shoo! Just look at that fat one there eating the little one's portion! Shoo, shoo, shoo! The way of the world, your lordship. Riches go the rich, lean ones grow leaner, while the fat ones grow fatter. There's no justice on earth! What can I do for you, my lord? May I offer you each a glass of beer?"

    "We will accept it gladly, Maurille, and I must embrace you because you nursed the mother of her whom I love best on earth."

    "That's true, my lord, my foster child cut her first tooth at the age of six months and fourteen days. On which occasion the deceased duchess made me a present. She did indeed."

    "Now, Maurille, tell us all you know about the dwarfs who carried away Honey-Bee."

    "Alas, my lord, I know nothing of the dwarfs who carried her away. And how can you expect an old woman like me to know anything? It's ages ago since I forgot the little I ever knew, and I haven't even enough memory left to remember where I put my spectacles. Sometimes I look for them when they're on my nose. Try this drink; it's fresh."

    "Here's to your health, Maurille; but I was told that your husband knew something about the disappearance of Honey-Bee."

    "That's true, your lordship. Though he never was taught anything he learnt a great deal in the pothouses and the taverns. And he never forgot anything. Why if he were alive now and sitting at this table he could tell you stories until to-morrow. He used to tell me so many that they quite muddled my head and even now I can't tell the tail of one from the head of the other. That's true, your lordship."

    Indeed, it was true, for the head of the old nurse could only be compared to a cracked soup-pot. It was with the greatest difficulty that George and Francoeur got anything good out of it. Finally, however, by means of much repetition they did extract a tale which began somewhat as follows:

    "It's seven years ago, your lordship, the very day you and Honey-Bee went on that frolic from which neither of you ever returned. My deceased husband went up the mountain to sell a horse. That's the truth. He fed the beast with a good peck of oats soaked in cider to give him a firm leg and a brilliant eye; he took him to market near the mountain. He had no cause to regret his oats or his cider, for he sold his horse for a much better price. Beasts are like human beings; one judges them by their appearance. My deceased husband was so rejoiced at his good stroke of business that he invited his friends to drink with him, and glass in hand he drank to their health.

    "You must know, your lordship, that there wasn't a man in all Clarides could equal my husband when glass in hand he drank to the health of his friends. So much so that on that day, after a number of such compliments, when he returned alone at twilight he took the wrong road for the reason that he could not recognise the right one. Finding himself near a cavern he saw as distinctly as possible, considering his condition and the hour, a crowd of little men carrying a girl or a boy on a litter. He ran away for fear of ill-luck; for the wine had not robbed him of prudence. But at some distance from the cavern he dropped his pipe, and on stooping to pick it up he picked up instead a little satin shoe. When he was in a good humour he used to amuse himself by saying, 'It's the first time a pipe has changed into a shoe.' And as it was the shoe of a little girl he decided that she who had lost it in the forest was the one who had been carried away by the dwarfs and that it was this he had seen. He was about to put the shoe into his pocket when a crowd of little men in hoods pounced down on him and gave him such a thrashing that he lay there quite stunned."

    "Maurille! Maurille!" cried George, "it's Honey-Bee's shoe. Give it to me and I will kiss it a thousand times. It shall rest for ever on my heart, and when I die it shall be buried with me."

    "As you please, your lordship; but where will you find it? The dwarfs took it away from my poor husband and he always thought that they only gave him such a sound thrashing because he wanted to put it in his pocket to show to the magistrates. He used to say when he was in a good humour----"

    "Enough--enough! Only tell me the name of the cavern!"

    "It is called the cavern of the dwarfs, your lordship, and very well named too. My deceased husband----"

    "Not another word, Maurille! But you. Francoeur, do you know where this cavern is?"

    "Your lordship," replied Francoeur as he emptied the pot of beer, "you would certainly know it if you knew my songs better. I have written at least a dozen about this cavern, and I've described it without even forgetting a single sprig of moss. I venture to say, your lordship, that of these dozen songs, six are of great merit. And even the other six are not to be despised. I will sing you one or two...."

    "Francoeur," cried George, "we will take possession of this cavern of the dwarfs and rescue Honey-Bee."

    "Of course we will!" replied Francoeur.
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