Science Fiction

The next morning Dapple-gray went through the burrows, singing, “Hey diddle dinkety poppety pet-o, Wake yourselves and up you get, ho.”

The others joined in, following him out: “Ring-a-ting tang, ding-a-dong bell-o, Stretch and yawn and off to the dell, ho.”

The morning was crisp and cool and the short-grass lawns were wet with dew. The Gardiners stayed out of the long-grass meadows of the Plantation till the sun was high and the grass was dry. They had been working for quite some time before Mistress Dolly peeped cautiously out of a kiosk.

“Hey, you Gardiners, ha!”

“Yo!” all the Gardiners cried in response.

“Shhh! Quiet, ha! You’ll awaken the cat.”

“Oh no, Mistress Dolly, ha,” said Curly-locks. “Cruelmouth sleeps early in the morning and tends her cubs later, huh. She will not bother us till evening, when it is cool and she is hungry, until she starts teaching her cubs to hunt, huh.”

“You’re sure it’s safe to come out, eh?” Mistress Dolly asked doubtfully. “Remember: I love little Pussy, Her coat is so warm, huh; And if I don’t hurt her, She’ll do me no harm, huh. But I fear big Pussy, Her teeth are so white, huh; And if I don’t flee her, She’ll eat me tonight, huh.”

“Till tonight, then, you need not fear her, heh,” said Cross-Patch.

Mistress Dolly crept fearfully out and stretched in the warm sun. For a time she watched them work, and played with the younger Gardiner cubs, and ate the fruit of the Plantation trees. But presently she tired of these things and began to talk of her Papa. Then two birds flew over, calling, “Goosey, goosey gander, huh; How you do wander, huh.”

She looked after them, then sat down on the grass. “I want to go home, huh!” she wailed. “I want to go ho-ome, hu-uh-uh!”

Cross-Patch came to Dapple-gray and said, “We must do something, huh. She must be sent home, huh.”

“She does not know the way, huh, and neither do we.”

“She cannot float back in the gourd, eh?”

“It cannot float upstream, heh, I think.”

“We can do what, eh?”

“The Ghost said we should send a messenger like him, heh. But we cannot command him because we are only Gardiners, huh.”

Dame Trot heard that and said, “Mistress Dolly can command him, eh?”

“I do not know, heh,” said Dapple-gray, astonished, then hopeful.

“Let us ask, huh,” said Cross-Patch. He looked at the man-kin cub and muttered something Dapple-gray did not hear. “She must come with us, huh,” he said.

Mistress Dolly was fearful of the Haunted Wood, but followed them hesitantly. But when Dapple-gray made as if to bite a tree and the Ghost appeared, she clapped her hands in delight.

“Oh, a demon, ha! I have never seen a demon before.”

The Ghost bowed to her. “My lass, I am not a demon, huh; I am a Revenant — a servant of a lost and vanished House, huh. I may do you a service how, eh?”

“She wishes you to carry a message to her parents,” said Dame Trot.

The Ghost looked at Mistress Dolly. “This is your desire, eh?”

“Yes, heh. Yes, yes, yes, ha! Ha!” Mistress Dolly jumped up and down.

“Then you must command me, huh.”

Mistress Dolly looked to Dapple-gray, who did not quite understand what the Ghost meant. But she said, “Then, I command you, Revenant, go to my Papa and tell him I am here at the Gardiner plantation, ho! And he must come to me directly, ho.”

The Ghost bowed to her, saying, “I go, oh. Be pleased to tell me the way, huh.”

“Up the river, ha! I floated down the river in a gourd from the bridge by the tree where the gourd vines grow, ha!”

The Ghost vanished, reappeared. “I am at the bridge by the tree where the gourd vines go, huh. Now must I go which way, eh? This way — or that way, eh?” He pointed toward the river, and away from it.

That way, ha!” Mistress Dolly cried, pointing away from the river. “Follow the path through the wood to the cottage by the little stream with a little bridge, ha!”

The Ghost vanished, reappeared. “I am at the cottage by the little stream with the little bridge, huh. Now I must go where, eh?”

“You are home, ha! You must go into the cottage and find my Papa, or out in the fields or the woodlot, ha!”

“I am in the cottage and a man as brown as a nut sits in a chair, huh. A woman black as night and white as snow holds his head to her breast, huh. He is weeping, huh.”

“That’s my Papa, ha! Tell him I am here, ho!”

The Ghost disappeared again and was gone for many minutes. Then he reappeared and said, “Your father sends you a message, Mistress.” His voice changed: “Dolly, ha! I am so happy you are alive, ha! I will come immediately — I’ll be there tomorrow, huh! Wait for me, my dearest, ho. Wait for me– Thus ends your father’s message, without a final Executant. I may do what more for you, eh?”

“Tell me when he comes, ho!” Mistress Dolly cried, leaping about like a cub.

“Cruelmouth comes, ha!” cried Cross-Patch.

The huge stripeycat, followed by her cunning cubs, was more curious than hungry, but they ran anyway and dived down their burrows.