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The Three Cakes by E. V. Lucas

 

'There was a little boy named Henry,' said Mr. Glassington, 'about your age. His parents had but lately fixed him at a boarding-school.'

He was a special boy, for ever at his book, and happened once to get the highest place at exercises. His mother was told it. She could nohow keep from dreaming of the pleasure; and when morning came, she got up early, went to speak with the cook and said as follows:

'Cook, you are to make a cake for Henry, who yesterday was very good at school.'

'With all my heart,' replied the cook, and set immediately about it. It was as big as—let me see—as big as—as a hat when flapped. The cook had stuffed it with nice almonds, large pistachio nuts, and candied lemon-peel, and iced it over with a coat of sugar, so that it was very smooth and a perfect white. The cake no sooner was come home from baking than the cook put on her things, and carried it to school.

When Henry first saw it, he jumped up and down like any Merry Andrew. He was not so patient as to wait till they could let him have a knife, but fell upon it tooth and nail. He ate and ate till school began, and after school was over he ate again; at night, too, it was the same thing till bedtime—nay, a little fellow that Henry had for a playmate told me that he put the cake upon his bolster when he went to bed, and waked and waked a dozen times, that he might take a bit. I cannot so easily believe this last particular; but, then, it is very true, at least, that on the morrow, when the day was hardly broke, he set about his favourite business once again, continuing at it all the morning, and by noon had eaten it up. The dinner-bell now rung; but Henry, as one may fancy, had no stomach, and was vexed to see how heartily the other children ate. It was, however, worse than this at five o'clock, when school was over.

His companions asked him if he would not play at cricket, tan, or kits. Alas! he could not; so they played without him. In the meantime Henry could hardly stand upon his legs; he went and sat down in a corner very gloomily, while the children said one to another: 'What is the matter with poor Henry, who used to skip about and be so merry? See how pale and sorrowful he is!'

The master came himself, and, seeing him, was quite alarmed. It was all lost labour to interrogate him. Henry could not be brought to speak a single word.

By great good luck, a boy at length came forward in the secret; and his information was that Henry's mother had sent him a great cake the day before, which he had swallowed in an instant, as it were, and that his present sickness was occasioned only by his gluttony. On this, the master sent for an apothecary, who ordered him a quantity of physic, phial after phial. Henry, as one would fancy, found it very nauseous, but was forced to take the whole for fear of dying, which, had he omitted it, would certainly have been the case. When some few days of physic and strict regimen had passed, his health was re-established as before; but his mother protested that she would never let him have another cake.

Percival. He did not merit so much as the smell of such a thing. But this is but one cake, father; and you informed me that there were three, if you remember, in your story.

Mr. G. Patience! patience! Here is another cake in what I am now going to tell.

Henry's master had another scholar, whose name was Francis. He had written his mother a very pretty letter, and it had not so much as a blotted stroke; in recompense for which she sent him likewise a great cake, and Francis thus addressed himself: 'I will not, like that glutton Henry, eat up my cake at once, and so be sick as he was; no, I will make my pleasure last a great deal longer.' So he took the cake, which he could hardly lift by reason of its weight, and watched the opportunity of slipping up into his chamber with it, where his box was, and in which he put it under lock and key. At playtime every day he slipped away from his companions, went upstairs a-tiptoe, cut a tolerable slice off, swallowed it, put by the rest, and then came down and mixed again with his companions. He continued this clandestine business all the week, and even then the cake was hardly half consumed. But what ensued? At last the cake grew dry, and quickly after mouldy; nay, the very maggots got into it, and by that means had their share; on which account it was not then worth eating, and our young curmudgeon was compelled to fling the rest away with great reluctance. However, no one grieved for him.

Percival. No, indeed; nor I, father. What, keep a cake locked up seven days together, and not give one's friends a bit! That is monstrous! But let us have the other now.

Mr. G. There was another little gentleman who went to school with Henry and Francis likewise, and his name was Gratian. His mother sent him a cake one day, because she loved him, and, indeed, he loved her also very much. It was no sooner come than Gratian thus addressed his young companions: 'Come and look at what mother has sent me; you must every one eat with me.' They scarcely needed such a welcome piece of information twice, but all got round the cake, as you have doubtless seen the bees resorting to a flower just blown. As Gratian was provided with a knife, he cut a great piece off, and then divided it into as many shares as he had brought boys together by such a courteous invitation. Gratian then took up the rest, and told them that he would eat his piece next day; on which he put it up, and went to play with his companions, who were all solicitous to have him choose whatever game he thought might entertain him most.

A quarter of an hour had scarcely passed as they were playing, when a poor old man, who had a fiddle, came into the yard.

He had a very long white beard, and, being blind, was guided by a little dog, who went before him with a collar round his neck. To this a cord was fastened, which the poor blind man held in his hand.

It was noticed with how much dexterity the little dog conducted him, and how he shook a bell, which, I forgot to say, hung underneath his collar, when he came near anyone, as if he had designed to say by such an action, 'Do not throw down or run against my master.' Being come into the yard, he sat him down upon a stone, and, hearing several children talking round him, 'My dear little gentlemen,' said he, 'I will play you all the pretty tunes that I know, if you will give me leave.' The children wished for nothing half so much. He put his violin in tune, and then thrummed over several jigs and other scraps of music, which, it was easy to conjecture, had been new in former times.

Little Gratian saw that while he played his merriest airs, a tear would now and then roll down his cheeks, on which he stopped to ask him why he wept?

'Because,' said the musician, 'I am very hungry. I have no one in the world that will give my dog or me a bit of anything to eat. I wish I could but work, and get for both of us a morsel of something; but I have lost my strength and sight. Alas! I laboured hard till I was old, and now I want bread.'

The generous Gratian, hearing this, wept too. He did not say a word, but ran to fetch the cake which he had designed to eat himself. He brought it out with joy, and, as he ran along, began: 'Here, good old man, here is some cake for you.'

'Where?' replied the poor musician, feeling with his hands; 'where is it? For I am blind, and cannot see you.'

Gratian put the cake into his hand, when, laying down his fiddle on the ground, he wiped his eyes, and then began to eat. At every piece he put into his mouth, he gave his faithful little dog a bit, who came and ate out of his hand; and Gratian, standing by him, smiled with pleasure at the thought of having fed the poor old man when he was hungry.

Percival. Oh, the good, good Gratian! Let me have your knife, father.

Mr. G. Here, Percival; but why my knife?

[Illustration: 'I will play you all the pretty tunes that I know, if you will give me leave.'—Page 132.]

Percival. I will tell you. I have only nibbled here a little of my cake, so pleased I was in listening to you! So I will cut it smooth. There, see how well I have ordered it! These scraps, together with the currants, will be more than I shall want for breakfast; and the first poor man that I meet going home shall have the rest, even though he should not play upon the violin.

 
 
 

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