"A Shadow Cast Before"
By L. Frank Baum
Author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, John Dough and the Cherub, The Treasure of Karnak, and The Visitors from Oz, etc.
Originally published in The Philosopher, December 1897.
On my breast glitters an order to possess which many a nobleman would willingly forfeit his wealth, and the Great Emperor himself pinned it there!
I won it in this way.
Entering my master's room one morning to arouse him and serve his customary cup of chocolate, I found him in an especially happy mood, and he entertained me with a goodly number of harmless witticisms as I busied myself over his toilet.
While standing near the dressing table, which was covered with a broad cloth whose folds reached the carpet, I observed the drapery move, as though disturbed from beneath the table. The first time I thought it was my fancy, as no draught could penetrate the room, but as again the cloth swayed perceptibly, I walked to the table and raised the cover while I peered beneath.
The sight that met my gaze was so terrible and unexpected that I gave an involuntary cry.
Squatting under the table was a dark, hunched-backed figure, with evil eyes glowing like two coals, and grasping in its hand a long double-edged dirk!
Hearing my exclamation His Majesty asked, "What is it, you rascal?"
To act promptly is one of the attributes of my family. Without replying to the Emperor I quickly reached beneath the table to clutch and draw forth the vile assassin. My hand met with no resistance; the fellow eluded me. Seizing the edge of the table I thrust it violently aside, and at the same time threw myself bodily upon the spot where the intruder must be.
There was no one there, and I sprawled upon the floor full of consternation and cutting so ridiculous a figure that His Majesty lay back and roared in merriment.
"You ass! You idiot!" he gasped, between fits of laughter, "what in God's name are you trying to do?"
But I pass over my master's reproaches, the more readily that they seemed fully deserved. For although I searched every portion of the chamber, the man had positively disappeared. And when I came to reason upon the matter calmly, I saw how impossible it was that any intruder could have gained access to the royal apartments.
Still, the incident impressed me.
One week later the Emperor was playing at quoits in the garden and I stood by to return the rings as he cast them. Finally a quoit, having alighted upon its edge, rolled briskly without the court and stopped at the edge of a cluster of low shrubs.
Stooping over to secure the errant quoit my eyes penetrated the leafy foliage beside it, and I plainly saw concealed therein the figure of the hunch-back, again clasping the murderous-looking knife and scowling as his dark eyes met mine.
A number of the Emperor's body guard stood a few paces away.
Keeping close watch of the bushes and determined that this time the villain should not escape me, I beckoned the soldiers to my side.
In an instant they had surrounded the shrub, while my eyes remained fastened upon the hunch-back. In one brief sentence I explained the position of the assassin, and at my word half a score of pikes were thrust into the bushes.
I own I expected to see them withdrawn reeking with the scoundrel's blood, and my amazement was supreme when the figure of the man vanished before my very eyes, and the pikes met with no resistance whatever!
Again I was forced to endure the ridicule of the courtiers and the soldiery, while my royal master angrily chided me as a visionary fool and intimated that I was fast outgrowing my usefulness.
Another week rolled away and one afternoon I accompanied his Majesty upon his daily ride. On our return to the palace my master dismounted, nodded gaily to the vast throng of subjects that stood by to gaze upon his benignant features, and started to walk up the avenue either side of which was densely lined with people eager for a near view of the Great Emperor.
I was but a step behind him when I saw, a few paces in advance, the mis-shapen form and scowling face of the hunch-back. His right hand was thrust within his bosom, and I knew intuitively that his fingers grasped the double-edged knife.
As we reached the fellow I pressed to the Emperor's side, and at the same instant the hunch-back sprang forward with a bound.
The sharp blade flashed in his uplifted hand, and that moment might have been my master's last. But I had been forewarned. In an instant my hands clutched the villain's throat, and the blow intended for the Emperor penetrated my breast as I bore the assassin to the ground.
He did not leave the spot alive; for, as the Emperor lifted me in his own august arms, a dozen pikes pinned the would-be murderer to the earth.
It is true I was never able afterward to serve my dear master in person, but he sees that my life wants nothing to render it more bright or contented, and if ever I am tempted to deplore my uselessness, one glance at the glittering order upon my breast restores my peace of mind.
I have since decided that the shadow of the calamity which threatened my master was cast before, and twice I was permitted in an occult way, to perceive the murderer, in order that when the event transpired I might preserve for Europe and for Christendom the greatest ruler of my time.
By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, March 7, 1920.
The poem that the Forgetful Poet told with flowers is given below. How many did you get?
Sweet William rose and donned his clothes,
A coxcomb gay was he.
"I'm very poor and so, alas,
Must marigold," said he.
Sweet William called on Marguerite.
She blushed a rosy pink,
And when he aster to be his
Sat down to sigh and think.
But when he asked her poppy, dears,
He said it would disgrace him,
And lest he left at four o'clock
The dogwood surely chase him.
This week he's going to say it with vegetables and I'm sure you'll enjoy supplying the blanks in his verses.
The rain ----- on the housetop
And the roof began to -----,
So ----- have it mended
The beginning of the week.
The ----- cent moon shines in the sky
The time is merry spring,
When a lad is apt to -----
With an eighteen ----- ring.
[Answers last time: Brest, Nice, Flushing, Adelaide]
[Answers next time.]
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