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Chapter 18 – The Cleverness of Ervic

L. Frank BaumOct 05, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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We must now return to Ervic the Skeezer, who, when he
had set down the copper kettle containing the three
fishes at the gate of the lonely cottage, had asked,
“What next?”

The goldfish stuck its head above the water in the
kettle and said in its small but distinct voice:

“You are to lift the latch, open the door, and walk
boldly into the cottage. Do not be afraid of anything
you see, for however you seem to be threatened with
dangers, nothing can harm you. The cottage is the home
of a powerful Yookoohoo, named Reera the Red, who
assumes all sorts of forms, sometimes changing her form
several times in a day, according to her fancy. What
her real form may be we do not know. This strange
creature cannot be bribed with treasure, or coaxed
through friendship, or won by pity. She has never
assisted anyone, or done wrong to anyone, that we know
of. All her wonderful powers are used for her own
selfish amusement. She will order you out of the house
but you must refuse to go. Remain and watch Reera
closely and try to see what she uses to accomplish her
transformations. If you can discover the secret
whisper it to us and we will then tell you what to do
next.”

“That sounds easy,” returned Ervic, who had listened
carefully. “But are you sure she will not hurt me, or
try to transform me?”

“She may change your form,” replied the goldfish,
“but do not worry if that happens, for we can break
that enchantment easily. You may be sure that nothing
will harm you, so you must not be frightened at
anything you see or hear.”

Now Ervic was as brave as any ordinary young man, and
he knew the fishes who spoke to him were truthful and
to be relied upon, nevertheless he experienced a
strange sinking of the heart as he picked up the kettle
and approached the door of the cottage. His hand
trembled as he raised the latch, but he was resolved to
obey his instructions. He pushed the door open, took
three strides into the middle of the one room the
cottage contained, and then stood still and looked
around him.

The sights that met his gaze were enough to frighten
anyone who had not been properly warned. On the floor
just before Ervic lay a great crocodile, its red eyes
gleaming wickedly and its wide open mouth displaying
rows of sharp teeth. Horned toads hopped about; each
of the four upper corners of the room was festooned
with a thick cobweb, in the center of which sat a
spider as big around as a washbasin, and armed with
pincher-like claws; a red-and-green lizard was
stretched at full length on the window-sill and black
rats darted in and out of the holes they had gnawed in
the floor of the cottage.

But the most startling thing was a huge gray ape
which sat upon a bench and knitted. It wore a lace cap,
such as old ladies wear, and a little apron of lace,
but no other clothing. Its eyes were bright and looked
as if coals were burning in them. The ape moved as
naturally as an ordinary person might, and on Ervic’s
entrance stopped knitting and raised its head to look
at him.

“Get out!” cried a sharp voice, seeming to come from
the ape’s mouth.

Ervic saw another bench, empty, just beyond him, so
he stepped over the crocodile, sat down upon the bench
and carefully placed the kettle beside him.

“Get out!” again cried the voice.

Ervic shook his head.

“No,” said he, “I’m going to stay.”

The spiders left their four corners, dropped to the
floor and made a rush toward the young Skeezer,
circling around his legs with their pinchers extended.
Ervic paid no attention to them. An enormous black rat
ran up Ervic’s body, passed around his shoulders and
uttered piercing squeals in his ears, but he did not
wince. The green-and-red lizard, coming from the
window-sill, approached Ervic and began spitting a
flaming fluid at him, but Ervic merely stared at the
creature and its flame did not touch him.

The crocodile raised its tail and, swinging around,
swept Ervic off the bench with a powerful blow. But the
Skeezer managed to save the kettle from upsetting and
he got up, shook off the horned toads that were
crawling over him and resumed his seat on the bench.

All the creatures, after this first attack, remained
motionless, as if awaiting orders. The old gray ape
knitted on, not looking toward Ervic now, and the young
Skeezer stolidly kept his seat. He expected something
else to happen, but nothing did. A full hour passed and
Ervic was growing nervous.

“What do you want?” the ape asked at last.

“Nothing,” said Ervic.

“You may have that!” retorted the ape, and at this
all the strange creatures in the room broke into a
chorus of cackling laughter.

Another long wait.

“Do you know who I am?” questioned the ape.

“You must be Reera the Red — the Yookoohoo,” Ervic
answered.

“Knowing so much, you must also know that I do not
like strangers. Your presence here in my home annoys
me. Do you not fear my anger?”

“No,” said the young man.

“Do you intend to obey me, and leave this house?”
“No,” replied Ervic, just as quietly as the Yookoohoo
had spoken.

The ape knitted for a long time before resuming the
conversation.

“Curiosity,” it said, “has led to many a man’s
undoing. I suppose in some way you have learned that I
do tricks of magic, and so through curiosity you have
come here. You may have been told that I do not injure
anyone, so you are bold enough to disobey my commands
to go away. You imagine that you may witness some of
the rites of witchcraft, and that they may amuse you.
Have I spoken truly?”

“Well,” remarked Ervic, who had been pondering on the
strange circumstances of his coming here, “you are
right in some ways, but not in others. I am told that
you work magic only for your own amusement. That seems
to me very selfish. Few people understand magic. I’m
told that you are the only real Yookoohoo in all Oz.
Why don’t you amuse others as well as yourself?”

“What right have you to question my actions?”

“None at all.”

“And you say you are not here to demand any
favors of me?”

“For myself I want nothing from you.”

“You are wise in that. I never grant favors.”

“That doesn’t worry me,” declared Ervic.

“But you are curious? You hope to witness some of my
magic transformations?”

“If you wish to perform any magic, go ahead,” said
Ervic. “It may interest me and it may not. If you’d
rather go on with your knitting, it’s all the same to
me. I am in no hurry at all.”

This may have puzzled Red Reera, but the face beneath
the lace cap could show no expression, being covered
with hair. Perhaps in all her career the Yookoohoo had
never been visited by anyone who, like this young man,
asked for nothing, expected nothing, and had no reason
for coming except curiosity. This attitude practically
disarmed the witch and she began to regard the Skeezer
in a more friendly way. She knitted for some time,
seemingly in deep thought, and then she arose and
walked to a big cupboard that stood against the wall of
the room. When the cupboard door was opened Ervic could
see a lot of drawers inside, and into one of these
drawers — the second from the bottom — Reera thrust a
hairy hand.

Until now Ervic could see over the bent form of the
ape, but suddenly the form, with its back to him,
seemed to straighten up and blot out the cupboard of
drawers. The ape had changed to the form of a woman,
dressed in the pretty Gillikin costume, and when she
turned around he saw that it was a young woman, whose
face was quite attractive.

“Do you like me better this way?” Reera inquired with
a smile.

“You look better,” he said calmly, “but I’m not sure
I like you any better.”

She laughed, saying: “During the heat of the day I
like to be an ape, for an ape doesn’t wear any clothes
to speak of. But if one has gentlemen callers it is
proper to dress up.”

Ervic noticed her right hand was closed, as if she
held something in it. She shut the cupboard door, bent
over the crocodile and in a moment the creature had
changed to a red wolf. It was not pretty even now, and
the wolf crouched beside its mistress as a dog might
have done. Its teeth looked as dangerous as had those
of the crocodile.

Next the Yookoohoo went about touching all the
lizards and toads, and at her touch they became
kittens. The rats she changed into chipmunks. Now the
only horrid creatures remaining were the four great
spiders, which hid themselves behind their thick webs.

“There!” Reera cried, “now my cottage presents a more
comfortable appearance. I love the toads and lizards
and rats, because most people hate them, but I would
tire of them if they always remained the same.
Sometimes I change their forms a dozen times a day.”

“You are clever,” said Ervic. “I did not hear you
utter any incantations or magic words. All you did was
to touch the creatures.”

“Oh, do you think so?” she replied. “Well, touch them
yourself, if you like, and see if you can change their
forms.”

“No,” said the Skeezer, “I don’t understand magic and
if I did I would not try to imitate your skill. You are
a wonderful Yookoohoo, while I am only a common
Skeezer.”

This confession seemed to please Reera, who liked to
have her witchcraft appreciated.

“Will you go away now?” she asked. “I prefer to be
alone.”

“I prefer to stay here,” said Ervic.

“In another person’s home, where you are not wanted?”

“Yes.”

“Is not your curiosity yet satisfied?” demanded
Reera, with a smile.

“I don’t know. Is there anything else you can do?”

“Many things. But why should I exhibit my powers to a
stranger?”

“I can think of no reason at all,” he replied.

She looked at him curiously.

“You want no power for yourself, you say, and you’re
too stupid to be able to steal my secrets. This isn’t a
pretty cottage, while outside are sunshine, broad
prairies and beautiful wildflowers. Yet you insist on
sitting on that bench and annoying me with your
unwelcome presence. What have you in that kettle?”

“Three fishes,” he answered readily.

“Where did you get them?”

“I caught them in the Lake of the Skeezers.”

“What do you intend to do with the fishes?”

“I shall carry them to the home of a friend of mine
who has three children. The children will love to have
the fishes for pets.”

She came over to the bench and looked into the
kettle, where the three fishes were swimming quietly in
the water.

“They’re pretty,” said Reera. “Let me transform them
into something else.”

“No,” objected the Skeezer.

“I love to transform things; it’s so interesting. And
I’ve never transformed any fishes in all my life.”

“Let them alone,” said Ervic.

“What shapes would you prefer them to have? I can
make them turtles, or cute little sea-horses; or I
could make them piglets, or rabbits, or guinea-pigs;
or, if you like I can make chickens of them, or eagles,
or bluejays.”

“Let them alone!” repeated Ervic.

“You’re not a very pleasant visitor,” laughed Red
Reera. “People accuse me of being cross and crabbed
and unsociable, and they are quite right. If you had
come here pleading and begging for favors, and half
afraid of my Yookoohoo magic, I’d have abused you until
you ran away; but you’re quite different from that.
You’re the unsociable and crabbed and disagreeable one,
and so I like you, and bear with your grumpiness. It’s
time for my midday meal; are you hungry?”

“No,” said Ervic, although he really desired food.

“Well, I am,” Reera declared and clapped her hands
together. Instantly a table appeared, spread with linen
and bearing dishes of various foods, some smoking hot.
There were two plates laid, one at each end of the
table, and as soon as Reera seated herself all her
creatures gathered around her, as if they were
accustomed to be fed when she ate. The wolf squatted at
her right hand and the kittens and chipmunks gathered
at her left.

“Come, Stranger, sit down and eat,” she called
cheerfully, “and while we’re eating let us decide into
what forms we shall change your fishes.”

“They’re all right as they are,” asserted Ervic,
drawing up his bench to the table. “The fishes are
beauties — one gold, one silver and one bronze.
Nothing that has life is more lovely than a beautiful
fish.”

“What! Am I not more lovely?” Reera asked, smiling at
his serious face.

“I don’t object to you — for a Yookoohoo, you know,”
he said, helping himself to the food and eating with
good appetite.

“And don’t you consider a beautiful girl more lovely
than a fish, however pretty the fish may be?”

“Well,” replied Ervic, after a period of thought,
“that might be. If you transformed my three fish into
three girls — girls who would be Adepts at Magic, you
know they might please me as well as the fish do. You
won’t do that of course, because you can’t, with all
your skill. And, should you be able to do so, I fear my
troubles would be more than I could bear. They would
not consent to be my slaves — especially if they were
Adepts at Magic — and so they would command me to obey
them. No, Mistress Reeraq let us not transform the
fishes at all.”

The Skeezer had put his case with remarkable
cleverness. He realized that if he appeared anxious for
such a transformation the Yookoohoo would not perform
it, yet he had skillfully suggested that they be made
Adepts at Magic.

 

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