Jerry had made the biggest kite in the village; and Chloe, the woodcutter’s daughter, had painted a big round moon on it and several stars as well. That alone was enough to show that it was by no means an ordinary kite; so it was no wonder that Jerry felt very proud of himself when he ran on to the village green to fly it.
“Stand back, all of you!” he said, as the girls and boys came crowding round him. “Now, you shall see my kite fly to the moon!”
No doubt, Jerry was inclined to make quite enough fuss about his kite; but it is not every day that one has a chance of flying the biggest kite in the village, especially when one is only seven years old. He felt very sad, however, when he found that his kite had no intention of flying to the moon. Every time he threw it into the air, back it fell again on the grass; and although he tried again and again, and used yards and yards of the very best string that his money could buy, anyone could see that something was decidedly wrong with the biggest kite in the village.
Jerry turned red, and blinked his eyes, and reminded himself desperately that he was seven years old. It was certainly hard to have spent so many days making a kite that would not fly in the end.
“Silly thing!” he muttered crossly. “If I had the chance, wouldn’t I fly to the moon! Kites don’t know when they are well off!”
Jerry was upset and threw himself down on the ground and kicked and yelled.
“What is the use of a kite that won’t fly?” they said. “Take it home, Jerry, and make it the same size as other people’s kites! And mind you let us know what the moon is like, when your kite gets there!”
Jerry got onto his feet again. “Some day,” he shouted, “I will show you all.”
“When will that be, Jerry?” cried all the boys and girls.
“When my kite has flown to the moon,” answered Jerry, in a determined tone; and he picked up his kite there and then, and marched off to the school to find Chloe, the woodcutter’s daughter.
“Hullo, Chloe!” he said, popping his head in at the schoolroom window. “Haven’t you finished that yet?”
Chubby looked up with a sad face. After painting a moon and several stars on the biggest kite in the village, it was not pleasant to be kept in school just because seven would not go into sixty-three.
“I shall never finish it, Jerry, never!” she said with a sigh.
“Chloe,” said Jerry, seriously, “you’ve been crying.”
Chloe rubbed her eyes quickly with her two fists. “I don’t think so,” she replied in a muffled tone; “it was just three tears that trickled down my nose; but that isn’t crying. You know it isn’t, Jerry!”
Jerry rubbed his own eyes a little guiltily.
“My kite wouldn’t fly,” he remarked, and tried to look as though he did not care a bit.
“What!” cried Chloe. “Your kite wouldn’t fly? Then I didn’t need to cry at all.”
Jerry clambered on the window ledge and sat there with his legs swinging to and fro. He wished Chloe would not talk so much about crying. “All the string got mixed up,” he explained with dignity; “I expect that was it.”
“I don’t,” said Chloe, decidedly; “it was because the tail was too short. I told you that, all the time.”
No doubt there was something in what she said, but reasons are not much good when you are seven years old and your kite won’t fly, and Jerry was not in a mood to be trifled with.
“If you know so much about it,” he retorted, “you’d better come and fly it yourself.”
“I only wish I could,” sighed poor little Chloe. “If you’ll tell me how many times seven goes into—”
“Oh, don’t,” interrupted Jerry, crossly. “How can I do math when my kite won’t fly?”
Then he flung himself down from the window ledge, and started off to find someone who would tell him why his kite would not fly. Half-way down the village street, he met a fine black raven.
“Good day to you,” said Jerry, who knew that ravens could explain most things if they chose. “Can you tell me why my kite won’t fly?”
“Caw, caw!” croaked the raven. “Nine times, Jerry, nine times! Caw, caw!”
“I wonder what he means,” thought Jerry, and trudged on a little farther. Soon he met a sheep. Now, sheep do not know much as a rule, but they are always extremely anxious to tell what they do know. So Jerry asked her at once why his kite would not fly.
“Baa, baa!” said the sheep. “Nine times, Jerry, nine times! Baa, baa!”
“Everybody is going mad this afternoon,” thought Jerry; and he went on a little farther. Just at the end of the village, a large beetle came buzzing round his head.
“Buz-z-z!” hummed the large bettle. “Nine times, Jerry, nine times! Buz-z-z!”
“Oh, go away!” cried Jerry, impatiently. “What do you all mean by nine times?”
The beetle did not go away an inch, but buzzed closer to Jerry’s head than before. “Buz-z-z,” he hummed; “nine times, Jerry, nine times, nine times, nine times, nine times—”
All at once, the beetle’s meaning entered Jerry’s head, which was hardly to be wondered at, considering how close his head was at that moment to the beetle.
“Of course it’s nine times!” he cried. “Why didn’t I think of that before?” Then he turned round and dragged his kite all the way back to the school, where Chloe still sat sighing over her math.
“It goes nine times exactly, Chloe,” he told her through the window; “so now you can come and help me to carry this great big kite.”
“Where are we going, Jerry?” asked Chloe, when she had finished her Math and joined him.
“We are going out into the world, to discover the reason why my kite won’t fly,” answered Jerry; and between them they picked up the biggest kite in the village and carried it out into the world.
“How are we going to discover why your kite won’t fly?” asked Chloe, when they had walked a good way. She had had no dinner and was beginning to feel remarkably hungry.
“We will ask everybody we meet,” said Jerry, who had had his dinner and was therefore not at all hungry. “There is sure to be someone in the world who can tell us, and we will not rest until we find him.”
“We haven’t met anybody yet,” remarked Chloe, rather sadly. “How long do you think we will have to go on walking before we find the right person?”
“Perhaps for years and years,” answered Jerry, cheerfully. “But if we are quick, we may meet them sooner than that.”
He quickened his steps as he spoke, and Chloe had to run a little to keep up with him. It was beginning to grow dark now, and the country seemed more and more bare.
“The world is not as full of people as I expected to find it,” said Jerry, in a disappointed tone. “I do hope we shall soon meet someone who will know why my kite won’t fly.”
Just then, he thought he heard something from behind that sounded like a sob. Sure enough, there was Chloe, wiping her eyes with the corner of her shirt.
“I’m so hungry,” she sobbed. “I want my dinner. Can’t we go home, Jerry, and put off seeing the world until to-morrow?”
Jerry looked at her and sighed. If it had been any one but Chloe, he would most certainly have grumbled at her. As it was, he only propped up the kite against the hedge and made her sit down beside it.
“I am afraid I don’t know the way home,” he said; “but if you will wait here, I will go and get you something to eat.”
He was not at all sure where he was going to find it, but he hastened along the road as fast as he could and hoped he would soon come to a house.
Long before he came to a house, however, he came to a man, a little old man, who was carrying a large sack on his shoulder. As soon as he saw Jerry, he swung the sack on to the ground and began untying the mouth of it.
“Well, my little fellow,” he said in a friendly tone, “what do you want out of my bag?”
“That depends on what you have got in your bag,” answered Jerry, promptly.
“I have everything in the world in my bag,” replied the little old man, “for everything is there that everybody wants. I have laughter and tears and happiness and sadness; I can give you riches or poverty, sense or nonsense; here is a way to discover the things that you don’t know, and a way to forget the things that you do know. Will you have a toy that changes whenever you wish, or a book that tells you stories whenever you listen to it, or a pair of shoes in which you can dance from boyhood into youth? Choose whatever you like and it shall be yours; but remember, I can only give you one thing out of my bag, so think well before you make up your mind.”
Jerry did not stop to think at all. “Do you have something to eat in your bag, something that will please a hungry little girl who has had no dinner?” he asked.
The little old man smiled and pulled out a small cake about the size of Jerry’s fist. It did not look as though it would satisfy any one who was as hungry as Chloe; but as the old man disappeared, sack and all, the moment he had given Jerry the cake, it was not much good complaining about it. So back trotted Jerry to the place where he had left Chloe; and to his great relief her face beamed with joy as soon as she had eaten one mouthful.
“What a beautiful cake!” she cried; “it tastes like strawberry jam and toffee and ices, and all the things I like best. And see! as fast as I eat it, it comes again, so that I shall never be able to finish it. Take some, Jerry.”
“Why,” said Jerry, as soon as he had taken a bite, “it tastes like currant buns and ginger-beer and all the things I like best. It is certain that we shall never be hungry as long as we have a fairy cake like this.” Then he told her how he had come by it.
“Perhaps,” remarked Chloe, “the little old man could have told you why your kite wouldn’t fly.”
“Perhaps he could,” said Jerry, carelessly, “but I didn’t think to ask him. We’ll come along and ask the next person instead.”
When, however, they looked round for the kite, it was nowhere to be seen. The moon came out obligingly from behind a cloud and helped them as much as it could; but although they searched for a long time, not a trace could they find of the biggest kite in the village.
“Oh dear, oh dear!” sighed Chloe. “Perhaps I went to sleep while you were away, and somebody came along and took it. But I thought I stayed awake, Jerry; I did indeed!”
“And so you did, to be sure!” cried a voice from the hedge; “but you would have to be very wide awake to keep that kite from giving you the slip, as soon as the moon came up!”