The sun had scarcely risen next morning when our friends left the city of Ix in search of the magic cloak. All were mounted on strong horses with a dozen soldiers riding behind to protect them from harm, while the royal steward of the witch-queen followed with two donkeys laden with hampers of provisions from which to feed the travelers on their way.
It was a long journey to the wide river, but they finally reached it and engaged the ferryman to take them across. The ferryman did not like to visit the other shore, which was in the kingdom of Noland, for several of the Roly-Rogues had already been seen upon the mountaintop. But the guard of soldiers reassured the man, so he rowed his big boat across with the entire party and set them safely on the shore. The ferryman's little daughter was in the boat, but she was not sobbing today. On the contrary, her face was all smiles. "Do you not still wish to be a man?" asked Zixi, patting the child's head.
"No indeed!" answered the little maid. "For I have discovered all men must work very hard to support their wives and children and to buy them food and rainment. So I have changed my mind about becoming a man, especially as that would be impossible."
It was not far from the ferry to the grove of lilacs, and as they rode along, Zixi saw the gray old owl sitting contentedly in a tree and preening its feathers. "Are you no longer wailing because you cannot swim in the river?" asked the witch-queen, speaking in the owl language.
"No indeed," answered the gray owl. "For, as I watched a fish swimming in the water, a man caught it on a sharp hook, and the fish was killed. I believe I'm safer in a tree."
"I believe so, too," said Zixi, and rode along more thoughtfully, for she remembered her own desire and wondered if it would also prove foolish. Just as they left the riverbank, she noticed the old alligator sunning himself happily upon the bank. "Have you ceased weeping because you cannot climb a tree?" asked the witch-queen.
"Of course," answered the alligator, opening one eye to observe his questioner. "For a boy climbed a tree near me yesterday and fell out of it and broke his leg. It is quite foolish to climb trees. I'm sure I am safer in the water." Zixi made no reply, but she agreed with the alligator, who called after her sleepily, "Isn't it fortunate we cannot have everything we are stupid enough to wish for?"
Shortly afterward they left the riverbank and approached the lilac grove, the witch-queen riding first through the trees to show the place where she had dropped the magic cloak. She knew it was near the little spring where she had gazed at her reflection in the water, but although they searched over every inch of ground, they could discover no trace of the lost cloak. "It is really too bad!" exclaimed Zixi with vexation. "Someone must have come through the grove and taken the cloak away."
"But we must find it," said Bud earnestly, "for otherwise I shall not be able to rescue my people from the Roly-Rogues."
"Let us inquire of everyone we meet if they have seen the cloak," suggested Princess Fluff. "In that way we may discover who has taken it."
So they made a camp on the edge of the grove, and for two days they stopped and questioned all who passed that way. But none had ever seen or heard of a cloak like that described. Finally an old shepherd came along, hobbling painfully after a flock of sheep, for he suffered much from rheumatism. "We have lost a beautiful cloak in the lilac grove," said Zixi to the shepherd.
"When did you lose it?" asked the old man, pausing to lean upon his stick.
"Several days ago," returned the queen. "It was bright as the rainbow and woven with threads finer than -- "
"I know, I know!" interrupted the shepherd. "For I myself found it lying upon the ground beneath the lilac trees."
"Hurrah!" cried Bud gleefully. "At last we have found it!" And all the others were fully as delighted as he was.
"But where have you put the cloak?" inquired Zixi.
"Why, I gave it to Dame Dingle, who lives under the hill yonder," replied the man, pointing far away over the fields, "and she gave me in exchange some medicine for my rheuma-tism, which has made the pain considerably worse. So today I threw the bottle into the river."
They did not pause to listen further to the shepherd's talk, for all were now intent on reaching the cottage of Dame Dingle. So the soldiers saddled the horses, and in a few minutes they were galloping away toward the hill. It was a long ride over rough ground, but finally they came near the hill and saw a tiny, tumbledown cottage just at its foot. Hastily dismounting, Bud, Fluff and the queen rushed into the cottage, where a wrinkled old woman was bent nearly double over a crazy quilt upon which she was sewing patches.
"Where is the cloak?" cried the three in a breath.
The woman did not raise her head, but counted her stitches in a slow, monotonous tone. "Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen -- "
"Where is the magic cloak?" demanded Zixi, stamping her foot impatiently.
"Nineteen -- " said Dame Dingle slowly. "There! I've broken my
"Answer us at once!" commanded Bud sternly. "Where is the magic cloak?"
The woman paid no attention to him whatever. She carefully selected a new needle, threaded it after several attempts, and began anew to stitch the patch. "Twenty!" she mumbled in a low voice. "Twenty-one -- "
But now Zixi snatched the work from her hands and exclaimed, "If you do not answer at once, I will give you a good beating!"
"That is all right," said the dame, looking up at them through her spectacles. "The patches take twenty-one stitches on each side, and if I lose my count I get mixed up. But it's all right now. What do you want?"
"The cloak the old shepherd gave you," replied the queen sharply.
"The pretty cloak with the bright colors?" asked the dame calmly.
"Yes! Yes!" answered the three excitedly.
"Why, that very patch I was sewing was cut from the cloak," said Dame Dingle. "Isn't it lovely? And it brightens the rest of the crazy quilt beautifully."
"Do you mean that you have cut up my magic cloak?" asked Fluff in amazement, while the others were too horrified to speak.
"Certainly," said the woman. "The cloak was too fine for me to wear, and I needed something bright in my crazy quilt. So I cut up half of the cloak and made patches of it."
The witch-queen gave a gasp and sat down suddenly upon a rickety bench. Princess Fluff walked to the door and stood looking out, that the others might not see the tears of disappointment in her eyes. Bud alone stood scowling in front of the old dame, and presently he said to her in a harsh tone, "You ought to be smothered with your own crazy quilt for daring to cut up the fairy cloak!"
"The fairy cloak!" echoed Dame Dingle. "What do you mean?"
"That cloak was a gift to my sister from the fairies," said Bud, "and it had a magic charm. Aren't you afraid the fairies will punish you for what you have done?"
Dame Dingle was greatly dismayed. "How could I know it?" she asked anxiously. "How could I know it was a magic cloak that old Edi gave to me?"
"Well, it was, and woven by the fairies themselves," retorted the boy. "And a whole nation is in danger because you have wickedly cut it up."
Dame Dingle tried to cry to show that she was sorry and so escape punishment. She put her apron over her face and rocked back and forth and made an attempt to squeeze a tear out of her eyes. Suddenly Zixi jumped up. "Why, it isn't so bad after all!" she exclaimed. "We can sew the cloak together again!"
"Of course!" said Fluff, coming from the doorway. "Why didn't we think of that at once?"
"Where is the rest of the cloak?" demanded Zixi. Dame Dingle went to a chest and drew forth the half of the cloak that had not been cut up. There was no doubt about its being the magic cloak. The golden thread Queen Lulea had woven could be seen plainly in the web, and the brilliant colors were as fresh and lovely as ever. But the flowing skirt of the cloak had been ruthlessly hacked by Dame Dingle's shears and presented a sorry plight.
"Get us the patches you have cut!" commanded Zixi, and without a word the dame drew from her basket five small squares and then ripped from the crazy quilt the one she had just sewn on.
"But this isn't enough," said Fluff when she had spread the cloak upon the floor and matched the pieces. "Where is the rest of the cloak?"
"Why, why," stammered Dame Dingle with hesitation. "I gave them away."
"Gave them away! Who got them?" said Bud.
"Why, some friends of mine were here from the village last evening, and we traded patches so each of us would have a variety for our crazy quilts."
"And I gave each of them one of the patches from the pretty cloak."
"Well, you are a ninny!" declared Bud scornfully.
"Yes, your Majesty, I believe I am," answered Dame Dingle meekly.
"We must go to the village and gather up those pieces," said Zixi. "Can you tell us the names of your friends?" she asked the woman.
"Of course," responded Dame Dingle. "They were Nancy Nink, Betty Barx, Sally Sog, Molly Mitt, and Lucy Lum."
"Before we go the village, let us make Dame Dingle sew these portions of the cloak together," suggested Fluff.
The dame was good enough to do this, and she threaded her needle at once. So deft and fine was her needlework that she mended the cloak most beautifully so that from a short distance away no one could discover that the cloak had been darned. But a great square was still missing from the front, and our friends were now eager to hasten to the village.
"This will cause us some delay," said the witch-queen more cheerfully, "but the cloak will soon be complete again, and then we can have our wishes."
Fluff took the precious cloak over her arm, and then they all mounted their horses and rode away toward the village, which Dame Dingle pointed out from her doorway. Zixi was sorry for the old creature, who had been more foolish than wicked; and the witch-queen left a bright gold piece in the woman's hand when she bade her goodbye, which was worth more to Dame Dingle than three pretty cloaks.
The ground was boggy and uneven, so they were forced to ride slowly to the little village, but they arrived there at last and began hunting for the old women who had received pieces of the magic cloak. They were easily found, and all seemed willing enough to give up their patches when the importance of the matter was explained to them. At the witch-queen's suggestion, each woman fitted her patch to the cloak and sewed it on very neatly, but Lucy Lum, the last of the five, said to the them, "This is only half of the patch Dame Dingle gave me. The other part I gave to the miller's wife down in the valley where the river bends. But I'm sure she will be glad to let you have it. See -- it only requires that small piece to complete the cloak and make it as good as new."
It was true -- the magic cloak, except for a small square at the bottom, was now complete, and such skillful needlewomen were these crazy-quilt makers that it was difficult to tell where it had been cut and afterward mended. But the miller's wife must now be seen, so they all remounted the horses again except Aunt Rivette, who grumbled that so much riding made her bones rattle and that she preferred to fly. Which she did, frightening the horses to such an extent with her wings that Bud made her keep well in advance of them.
They were all in good spirits now, for soon the magic cloak, almost as good as new, would be again in their possession, and Fluff and Bud had been greatly worried over the fate of their friends who had been left to the mercy of the terrible Roly-Rogues. The path ran in a zigzag direction down into the valley, but at length it led the party to the mill, where old Rivette was found sitting in the doorway awaiting them.
The miller's wife, when summoned, came to them drying her hands on her apron, for she had been washing the dishes. "We want to get the bright-colored patch Lucy Lum gave you," explained Fluff, "for it was part of my magic cloak, which the fairies gave to me, and this is the place where it must be sewn to complete the garment." And she showed the woman the cloak with the square missing.
"I see," said the miller's wife, nodding her head, "and I am very sorry I cannot give you the piece to complete your cloak. But the fact is, I considered it too pretty for my crazy quilt, so I gave it to my son for a necktie."
"And where is your son?" demanded Zixi.
"Oh, he is gone to sea, for he is a sailor. By this time he is far away upon the ocean."
Bud, Fluff and the witch-queen looked at one another in despair. This seemed, indeed, to destroy all their hopes, for the one portion of the cloak that they needed was far beyond their reach. Nothing remained but for them to return to Zixi's palace and await the time when the miller's son should return from his voyage. But before they went, the queen said to the woman, "When he returns, you may tell your son that if he will bring to me the necktie you gave him, I will give him in return fifty gold pieces."
"And I will give him fifty more," said Bud promptly.
"And I will give him enough ribbon to make fifty neckties," added Fluff.
The miller's wife was delighted at the prospect. "Thank you! Thank you!" she exclaimed. "My boy's fortune is made. He can now marry Imogene Gubb and settle down on a farm and give up the sea forever! And his neckties will be the envy of all the men in the country. As soon as he returns, I will send him to you with the bit of the cloak which you need."
But Zixi was so anxious that nothing might happen to prevent the miller's son from returning the necktie that she left two of her soldiers at the mill with instructions to bring the man to her palace the instant he returned home.
As they rode away, they were all very despondent over the ill luck of their journey. "He may be drowned at sea," said Bud.
"Or he may lose the necktie on the voyage," said Fluff.
"Oh, a thousand things MIGHT happen," returned the queen, "but we need not make ourselves unhappy imagining them. Let us hope the miller's son will soon return and restore to us the missing patch." Which showed that Zixi had not lived six hundred and eighty-three years without gaining some wisdom.