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The Collected Young Readers Fiction of E. Nesbit—Volume 2: The Bastable Family Chronicles

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The Collected Young Readers Fiction of E. Nesbit—Volume 2: The Bastable Family Chronicles
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Author(s): E. Nesbit
Date Published: 2014/12
Page Count: 620
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-400-8
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-399-5

Three wonderful volumes of classic, fantastical childrens fiction

Everyone familiar with children’s fiction has heard of Edith Nesbit, who is rightly acclaimed as the first modern writer for children and the originator of the children’s adventure story. Her influence on other children’s writers, including those active and popular today is undeniable, not least because her stories feature believable contemporary children journeying to imaginary worlds and times for adventures with fantastical creatures and magical objects. Of consistently high quality, her writing is enthralling, direct and immediately engaging—so much so that many adults remember them fondly and re-read them throughout their lives. Leonaur has gathered together the three principal series of Nesbit’s fiction in good value editions for new readers and for those for whom their nostalgia is irresistible. The Psammead Adventures, of course, feature the magical but truculent wish granting sand-fairy discovered in a gravel-pit. The Mouldiwarp Adventures continue in similar vein as the fantastical Mouldiwarp assists two children travel through time to find a lost fortune. The wonderful Bastable series sees the widowed Oswald Bastable and his children hunting for treasure to restore their family fortunes. These three Leonaur volumes of a tales from more innocent age will be a joy to read, to read to others and to own. Illustrated and thoroughly recommended.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

Oswald was so enraged at this cowardly attack that he actually hit out at the big man—and he really got one in just above the belt. Then he shut his eyes, because he felt that now all was indeed up. There was a shout and a scuffle, and Oswald opened his eyes in astonishment at finding himself still whole and unimpaired. Our own tramp had artfully stimulated insensibleness, to get the men off their guard, and then had suddenly got his arms round a leg each of two of the men, and pulled them to the ground, helped by Dicky, who saw his game and rushed in at the same time, exactly like Oswald would have done if he had not had his eyes shut ready to meet his doom.
The unpleasant boys shouted, and the third man tried to help his unrespectable friends, now on their backs, involved in a desperate struggle with our own tramp, who was on top of them, accompanied by Dicky. It all happened in a minute, and it was all mixed up. The dogs were growling and barking—Martha had one of the men by the trouser leg and Pincher had another; the girls were screaming like mad and the strange boys shouted and laughed (little beasts!), and then suddenly our Pig-man came round the corner, and two friends of his with him. He had gone and fetched them to take care of us if anything unpleasant occurred. It was very thoughtful, and just like him.
“Fetch the police!” cried the Pig-man in noble tones, and H. O. started running to do it. But the scoundrels struggled from under Dicky and our tramp, shook off the dogs and some bits of trouser, and fled heavily down the road.
Our Pig-man said, “Get along home!” to the disagreeable boys, and “Shoo’d” them as if they were hens, and they went. H. O. ran back when they began to go up the road, and there we were, all standing breathless and in tears on the scene of the late desperate engagement. Oswald gives you his word of honour that his and Dicky’s tears were tears of pure rage. There are such things as tears of pure rage. Anyone who knows will tell you so.
We picked up our own tramp and bathed the lump on his forehead with lemonade. The water in the zinc bath had been upset in the struggle. Then he and the Pig-man and his kind friends helped us carry our things home.
The Pig-man advised us on the way not to try these sort of kind actions without getting a grownup to help us. We’ve been advised this before, but now I really think we shall never try to be benevolent to the poor and needy again. At any rate not unless we know them very well first.
We have seen our own tramp often since. The Pig-man gave him a job. He has got work to do at last. The Pig-man says he is not such a very bad chap, only he will fall asleep after the least drop of drink. We know that is his failing. We saw it at once. But it was lucky for us he fell asleep that day near our benevolent bar.
I will not go into what my father said about it all. There was a good deal in it about minding your own business—there generally is in most of the talkings to we get. But he gave our tramp a sovereign, and the Pig-man says he went to sleep on it for a solid week. Oswald was so enraged at this cowardly attack that he actually hit out at the big man—and he really got one in just above the belt. Then he shut his eyes, because he felt that now all was indeed up. There was a shout and a scuffle, and Oswald opened his eyes in astonishment at finding himself still whole and unimpaired. Our own tramp had artfully stimulated insensibleness, to get the men off their guard, and then had suddenly got his arms round a leg each of two of the men, and pulled them to the ground, helped by Dicky, who saw his game and rushed in at the same time, exactly like Oswald would have done if he had not had his eyes shut ready to meet his doom.
The unpleasant boys shouted, and the third man tried to help his unrespectable friends, now on their backs, involved in a desperate struggle with our own tramp, who was on top of them, accompanied by Dicky. It all happened in a minute, and it was all mixed up. The dogs were growling and barking—Martha had one of the men by the trouser leg and Pincher had another; the girls were screaming like mad and the strange boys shouted and laughed (little beasts!), and then suddenly our Pig-man came round the corner, and two friends of his with him. He had gone and fetched them to take care of us if anything unpleasant occurred. It was very thoughtful, and just like him.
“Fetch the police!” cried the Pig-man in noble tones, and H. O. started running to do it. But the scoundrels struggled from under Dicky and our tramp, shook off the dogs and some bits of trouser, and fled heavily down the road.
Our Pig-man said, “Get along home!” to the disagreeable boys, and “Shoo’d” them as if they were hens, and they went. H. O. ran back when they began to go up the road, and there we were, all standing breathless and in tears on the scene of the late desperate engagement. Oswald gives you his word of honour that his and Dicky’s tears were tears of pure rage. There are such things as tears of pure rage. Anyone who knows will tell you so.
We picked up our own tramp and bathed the lump on his forehead with lemonade. The water in the zinc bath had been upset in the struggle. Then he and the Pig-man and his kind friends helped us carry our things home.
The Pig-man advised us on the way not to try these sort of kind actions without getting a grownup to help us. We’ve been advised this before, but now I really think we shall never try to be benevolent to the poor and needy again. At any rate not unless we know them very well first.
We have seen our own tramp often since. The Pig-man gave him a job. He has got work to do at last. The Pig-man says he is not such a very bad chap, only he will fall asleep after the least drop of drink. We know that is his failing. We saw it at once. But it was lucky for us he fell asleep that day near our benevolent bar.
I will not go into what my father said about it all. There was a good deal in it about minding your own business—there generally is in most of the talkings to we get. But he gave our tramp a sovereign, and the Pig-man says he went to sleep on it for a solid week.
********
When Oswald had gone out with Noël and H. O., in obedience to the secret signal, Noël said:
“You know that dragon’s head yesterday?”
“Well?” Oswald said, quickly, but not crossly—the two things are quite different.
“Well, you know what happened in Greek history when some chap sowed dragon’s teeth?”
“They came up armed men,” said H. O.; but Noël sternly bade him shut up, and Oswald said “Well,” again. If he spoke impatiently it was because he smelled the bacon being taken in to breakfast.
“Well,” Noël went on, “what do you suppose would have come up if we’d sowed those dragon’s teeth we found yesterday?”
“Why, nothing, you young duffer,” said Oswald, who could now smell the coffee. “All that isn’t History—it’s Humbug. Come on in to brekker.”
“It’s not humbug,” H. O. cried, “it is history. We did sow—”
“Shut up,” said Noël again. “Look here, Oswald. We did sow those dragon’s teeth in Randall’s ten-acre meadow, and what do you think has come up?”
“Toadstools, I should think,” was Oswald’s contemptible rejoinder.
“They have come up a camp of soldiers,” said Noël—“armed men. So you see it was history. We have sowed army-seed, just like Cadmus, and it has come up. It was a very wet night. I dare say that helped it along.”
Oswald could not decide which to disbelieve—his brother or his ears. So disguising his doubtful emotions without a word, he led the way to the bacon and the banqueting hall.
He said nothing about the army-seed then, neither did Noël and H. O. But after the bacon we went into the garden, and then the good elder brother said:
“Why don’t you tell the others your cock-and-bull story?”
So they did, and their story was received with warm expressions of doubt. It was Dicky who observed:
“Let’s go and have a squint at Randall’s ten-acre, anyhow. I saw a hare there the other day.”
We went. It is some little way, and as we went disbelief reigned superb in every breast except Noël’s and H. O.’s, so you will see that even the ready pen of the present author cannot be expected to describe to you his variable sensations when he got to the top of the hill and suddenly saw that his little brothers had spoken the truth. I do not mean that they generally tell lies, but people make mistakes sometimes and the effect is the same as lies if you believe them.
There was a camp there with real tents and soldiers in gray and red tunics. I dare say the girls would have said coats. We stood in ambush, too astonished even to think of lying in it, though of course we know that this is customary. The ambush was the wood on top of the little hill, between Randall’s ten-acre meadow and Sugden’s Waste Wake pasture.
“There would be cover here for a couple of regiments,” whispered Oswald, who was, I think, gifted by Fate with the far-seeingness of a born general.
Alice merely said “Hist,” and we went down to mingle with the troops as though by accident, and seek for information.
The first man we came to at the edge of the camp was cleaning a sort of cauldron thing like witches brew bats in.
We went up to him and said, “Who are you? Are you English, or are you the enemy?”
“We’re the enemy,” he said, and he did not seem ashamed of being what he was. And he spoke English with quite a good accent for a foreigner.
“The enemy!” Oswald echoed, in shocked tones. It is a terrible thing to a loyal and patriotic youth to see an enemy cleaning a pot in an English field, with English sand, and looking as much at home as if he was in his foreign fastnesses.
The enemy seemed to read Oswald’s thoughts with deadly unerringness. He said:
“The English are somewhere over on the other side of the hill. They are trying to keep us out of Maidstone.”
After this our plan of mingling with the troops did not seem worth going on with. This soldier, in spite of his unerringness in reading Oswald’s inmost heart, seemed not so very sharp in other things, or he would never have given away his secret plans like this, for he must have known from our accents that we were Britons to the backbone. Or perhaps (Oswald thought this, and it made his blood at once boil and freeze, which our uncle had told us was possible, but only in India), perhaps he thought that Maidstone was already as good as taken and it didn’t matter what he said. While Oswald was debating within his intellect what to say next, and how to say it so as to discover as many as possible of the enemy’s dark secrets, Noël said:
“How did you get here? You weren’t here yesterday at tea-time.”
The soldier gave the pot another sandy rub, and said:
“I dare say it does seem quick work—the camp seems as if it had sprung up in the night, doesn’t it?—like a mushroom.”
Alice and Oswald looked at each other, and then at the rest of us. The words “sprung up in the night” seemed to touch a string in every heart.
“You see,” whispered Noël, “he won’t tell us how he came here. Now, is it humbug or history?”
Oswald, after whisperedly requesting his young brother to dry up and not bother, remarked:
“Then you’re an invading army?”
“Well,” said the soldier, “we’re a skeleton battalion, as a matter of fact, but we’re invading all right enough.”
And now indeed the blood of the stupidest of us froze, just as the quick-witted Oswald’s had done earlier in the interview. Even H. O. opened his mouth and went the colour of mottled soap; he is so fat that this is the nearest he can go to turning pale.
Denny said, “But you don’t look like skeletons.”
The soldier stared, then he laughed and said: “Ah, that’s the padding in our tunics. You should see us in the gray dawn taking our morning bath in a bucket.”
It was a dreadful picture for the imagination. A skeleton, with its bones all loose most likely, bathing anyhow in a pail. There was a silence while we thought it over.