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- A Prisoner in Fairyland - 40/79 -
upon the company.
'My gum, we've put it upside down,' said Daddy, red in the face with his exertions. It was the merest chance that there was no wisp of straw yet in his beard.
'Then the clothes will all be inside out,' cried Monkey, 'and we shall have to stand on our heads.'
'You silly,' Jane Anne rebuked her, yet half believing it was true, while Jimbo, holding hammer and chisel ready, looked unutterable contempt. 'Can't you be serious for a moment?' said his staring blue eyes.
The giant chest was laboriously turned over, the two men straining every muscle in the attempt. Then, after a moment's close inspection again to make quite sure, Daddy spoke gravely. Goodness, how calm he was!
'Jimbo, boy, pass me the hammer and the chisel, will you?'
In breathless silence the lid was slowly forced open and the splintered pieces gingerly removed. Sheets of dirty brown paper and bundles of odorous sacking came into view.
'Perhaps that's all there is,' suggested Jinny.
'Ugh! What a whiff!' said Monkey.
'Fold them up carefully and put them in a corner,' ordered Mother. Jane Anne religiously obeyed. Oh dear, how slow she was about it!
Then everybody came up very close, heads bent over, hands began to stretch and poke. You heard breathing--nothing more.
'Now, wait your turn,' commanded Mother in a dreadful voice, 'and let your Father try on everything first.' And a roar of laughter made the room echo while Daddy extracted wonder after wonder that were packed in endless layers one upon another.
Perhaps what would have struck an observer most of all would have been the strange seriousness against which the comedy was set. The laughter was incessant, but it was a weighty matter for all that. The bed- ridden woman, who was sole audience, understood that; the parents understood it too. Every article of clothing that could be worn meant a saving, and the economy of a franc was of real importance. The struggles of _la famille anglaise_ to clothe and feed and educate themselves were no light affair. The eldest boy, now studying for the consular service, absorbed a third of their entire income. The sacrifices involved for his sake affected each one in countless ways. And for two years now these magic boxes had supplied all his suits and shirts and boots. The Scotch cousins luckily included a boy of his own size who had extravagant taste in clothes. A box sometimes held as many as four excellent suits. Daddy contented himself with one a year --ordered ready-made from the place they called Chasbakerinhighholborn.' Mother's clothes were 'wropp in mystery' ever. No one ever discovered where they came from or how she made them. She did. It seemed always the same black dress and velvet blouse.
Gravity and laughter, therefore, mingled in Daddy's face as he drew out one paper parcel after another, opened it, tried the article on himself, and handed it next to be tried on similarly by every one in turn.
And the first extraction from the magic box was a curious looking thing that no one recognised. Daddy unfolded it and placed it solemnly on his head. He longed for things for himself, but rarely found them. He tried on everything, hoping it might 'just do,' but in the end yielded it with pleasure to the others. He rarely got more than a pair of gloves or a couple of neckties for himself. The coveted suits just missed his size.
Grave as a judge he balanced the erection on his head. It made a towering heap. Every one was puzzled. 'It's a motor cap,' ventured some one at length in a moment of intuition.
'It's several!' cried Monkey. She snatched the bundle and handed it to Mother. There were four motor caps, neatly packed together. Mother put on each in turn. They were in shades of grey. They became her well.
'You look like a duchess,' said Daddy proudly. 'You'd better keep them all.'
'I think perhaps they'll do,' she said, moving to the glass, 'if no one else can wear them.' She flushed a little and looked self- conscious.
'They want long pins,' suggested Jinny. 'They'll keep the rain off too, like an umbrella.' She laughed and clapped her hands. Mother pinned one on and left it there for the remainder of the afternoon. The unpacking of the case continued.
The next discovery was gloves. The lid of the box looked like a counter in a glove shop. There were gloves of leather and chamois, gauntlets, driving-gloves, and gloves of suede, yellow, brown, and grey. All had been used a little, but all were good. 'They'll wash,' said Jane Anne. They were set aside in a little heap apart. No one coveted them. It was not worth while. In the forests of Bourcelles gloves were at a discount, and driving a pleasure yet unknown. Jinny, however a little later put on a pair of ladies' suede that caught her fancy, and wore them faithfully to the end of the performance, just to keep her mother's motor cap in countenance.
The main contents of the box were as yet unbroached, however, and when next an overcoat appeared, with velvet collar and smart, turned-up cuffs, Daddy beamed like a boy and was into it before any one could prevent. He went behind a screen. The coat obviously did not fit him, but he tugged and pulled and wriggled his shoulders with an air of 'things that won't fit must be made to fit.'
'You'll bust the seams! You'll split the buttons! See what's in the pockets!' cried several voices, while he shifted to and fro like a man about to fight.
'It may stretch,' he said hopefully. 'I think I can use it. It's just what I want.' He glanced up at his wife whose face, however, was relentless.
'Maybe,' replied the practical mother, 'but it's more Edward's build, perhaps.' He looked fearfully disappointed, but kept it on. Edward got the best of every box. He went on with the unpacking, giving the coat sly twitches from time to time, as he pulled out blouses, skirts, belts, queer female garments, boots, soft felt hats--the green Homburg he put on at once, as who should dare to take it from him--black and brown Trilbys, shooting-caps, gaiters, flannel shirts, pyjamas, and heaven knows what else besides.
The excitement was prodigious, and the floor looked like a bargain sale. Everybody talked at once; there was no more pretence of keeping order Mlle. Lemaire lay propped against her pillows, watching the scene with feelings between tears and laughter. Each member of the family tried on everything in turn, but yielded the treasures instantly at a word from Mother--'That will do for so and so; this will fit Monkey; Jimbo, you take this,' and so on.
The door into the adjoining bedroom was for ever opening and shutting, as the children disappeared with armfuls and reappeared five minutes later, marvellously apparelled. There was no attempt at sorting yet. Blouses and flannel trousers lay upon the floor with boots and motor veils. Every one had something, and the pile set aside for Edward grew apace. Only Jimbo was disconsolate. He was too small for everything; even the ladies' boots were too narrow and too pointed for his little feet. From time to time he rummaged with the hammer and chisel (still held _very_ tightly) among the mass of paper at the bottom. But, as usual, there was nothing but gaudy neckties that he could use. And these he did not care about. He said no word, but stood there watching the others and trying to laugh, only keeping the tears back with the greatest difficulty.
From his position in the background Rogers took it all in. He moved up and slipped a ten-franc piece into the boy's hand. 'Secretaries don't wear clothes like this,' he whispered. 'We'll go into town to-morrow and get the sort of thing you want.'
Jimbo looked up and stared. He stood on tip-toe to kiss him. 'Oh, thank you so much,' he said, fearful lest the others should see; and tucked the coin away into a pocket underneath his cotton blouse. A moment later he came back from the corner where he had hid himself to examine it. 'But, Cousin Henry,' he whispered, utterly astonished, 'it's gold.' He had thought the coin was a ten-centime piece such as Daddy sometimes gave him. He could not believe it. He had never seen gold before. He ran up and told his parents. His sisters were too excited to be told just then. After that he vanished into the passage without being noticed, and when he returned five minutes later his eyes were suspiciously red. But no one heard him say a word about getting nothing out of the box. He stood aside, with a superior manner and looked quietly on. 'It's very nice for the girls,' his expression said. His interest in the box had grown decidedly less. He could buy an entire shop for himself now.
'Mother, Daddy, everybody,' cried an excited voice, 'will you look at me a minute, please! It all fits me perfectly,' and Jinny emerged from the bedroom door. She had been trying on. A rough brown dress of Harris tweed became her well; she wore a motor veil about her head, and another was tied round her neck; a white silk blouse, at least one size too large for her, bulged voluminously from beneath the neat tweed jacket. She wore her suede gloves still. 'And there's an outside pocket in the skirt, you see.' She pulled it up and showed a very pointed pair of brown boots; they were much too long; they looked ridiculous after her square village boots. 'I can waggle my toes in them,' she explained, strutting to and fro to be admired. 'I'm a fashionable monster now!'
But she only held the centre of the stage a minute, for Monkey entered at her heels, bursting with delight in a long green macintosh thrown over another tweed skirt that hid her feet and even trailed behind. A pair of yellow spats were visible sometimes that spread fan-shaped over her boots and climbed half-way up the fat legs.
'It all fits me exaccurately,' was her opinion. The sisters went arm in arm about the room, dancing and laughing.
'We're busy blackmailers,' cried Jinny, using her latest acquisition which she practised on all possible occasions. 'We're in Piccadilly, going to see the Queen for tea.'
They tripped over Monkey's train and one of the spats came off in the struggle for recovery. Daddy, in his Homburg hat, looked round and told them sternly to make less noise. Behind a screen he was getting
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