King Lear folded his arms (to the imminent peril of his beard) and
said, in a mild explanatory tone, “Ay, every inch a king!” and then
paused, as if to consider how this could best be proved. And here,
with all possible deference to Bruno as a Shakespearian critic, I must
express my opinion that the poet did not mean his three great tragic
heroes to be so strangely alike in their personal habits; nor do I
believe that he would have accepted the faculty of turning
head-over-heels as any proof at all of royal descent. Yet it appeared
that King Lear, after deep meditation, could think of no other argument
by which to prove his kingship: and, as this was the last of the ‘Bits’
of Shakespeare (“We never do more than three,” Sylvie explained in a
whisper), Bruno gave the audience quite a long series of somersaults
before he finally retired, leaving the enraptured Frogs all crying out
“More! More!” which I suppose was their way of encoring a performance.
But Bruno wouldn’t appear again, till the proper time came for telling
[Image…The frogs’ birthday-treat]
When he appeared at last in his real character, I noticed a remarkable
change in his behaviour.
He tried no more somersaults. It was clearly his opinion that, however
suitable the habit of turning head-over-heels might be to such petty
individuals as Hamlet and King Lear, it would never do for Bruno to
sacrifice his dignity to such an extent. But it was equally clear that
he did not feel entirely at his ease, standing all alone on the stage,
with no costume to disguise him: and though he began, several times,
“There were a Mouse–,” he kept glancing up and down, and on all sides,
as if in search of more comfortable quarters from which to tell the
Story. Standing on one side of the stage, and partly overshadowing it,
was a tall foxglove, which seemed, as the evening breeze gently swayed
it hither and thither, to offer exactly the sort of accommodation that
the orator desired. Having once decided on his quarters, it needed
only a second or two for him to run up the stem like a tiny squirrel,
and to seat himself astride on the topmost bend, where the fairy-bells
clustered most closely, and from whence he could look down on his
audience from such a height that all shyness vanished, and he began his
“Once there were a Mouse and a Crocodile and a Man and a Goat and a
Lion.” I had never heard the ‘dramatis personae’ tumbled into a story
with such profusion and in such reckless haste; and it fairly took my
breath away. Even Sylvie gave a little gasp, and allowed three of the
Frogs, who seemed to be getting tired of the entertainment, to hop away
into the ditch, without attempting to stop them.
“And the Mouse found a Shoe, and it thought it were a Mouse-trap.
So it got right in, and it stayed in ever so long.”
“Why did it stay in?” said Sylvie. Her function seemed to be much the
same as that of the Chorus in a Greek Play: she had to encourage the
orator, and draw him out, by a series of intelligent questions.
“‘Cause it thought it couldn’t get out again,” Bruno explained.
“It were a clever mouse. It knew it couldn’t get out of traps!”
But why did it go in at all?” said Sylvie.
“–and it jamp, and it jamp,” Bruno proceeded, ignoring this question,
“and at last it got right out again. And it looked at the mark in the
Shoe. And the Man’s name were in it. So it knew it wasn’t its own Shoe.”
“Had it thought it was?” said Sylvie.
“Why, didn’t I tell oo it thought it were a Mouse-trap?” the indignant
orator replied. “Please, Mister Sir, will oo make Sylvie attend?”
Sylvie was silenced, and was all attention: in fact, she and I were
most of the audience now, as the Frogs kept hopping away, and there
were very few of them left.
“So the Mouse gave the Man his Shoe.
And the Man were welly glad, cause he hadn’t got but one Shoe, and he