Aaron Robertson's Sycamore
a novel for children
by Louis Charles
AFTER HIS SISTERS finished telling stories and instead began conversing about how to properly hold a teacup and saucer, Aaron became bored. “What difference does it make how you hold it,” he said to himself, “as long as the tea doesn’t spill on its way to your mouth?”
So he got up from the picnic blanket, left his sisters behind and instead went to the other end of the park, to what he thought of has his tree house. It wasn’t really a tree house; really it was just a fortuitous arrangement of branches that formed a little alcove, but he had made the little hiding spot his own.
Here he could disappear into the branches and daydream, away from the other children who played in the park – Aaron liked to be by himself more, it seemed, than other children did – but near enough that his sisters could find him easily when they were ready to return home. He imagined he was king in his very own castle, a sprawling estate with butlers and scullery maids and lords and ladies dancing in ballrooms. He pictured the scene, his eyes half-closed, drifting nearly to sleep as he watched two birds chattering and pretended they were knights arguing over who would defend the king, when suddenly something whizzed by his head, making the most beautiful sound, and caused him to sit up in surprise.
It sounded like singing. Curious, Aaron started down to follow it, but at that moment it returned, stopping before him in mid-air, just in front of his face. It stared at him, the tiny bird hovering in place, wings moving too fast to be seen.
It seemed to be smiling, which Aaron thought was quite strange: he did not recall ever having seen a bird smile before. Also, it was humming a tune he recognized: “The Dinner Bell was Rung.” It was a famous tune, but how had a bird learned to sing it? He joined in when it got to the refrain, singing: “And everyone was starving!” To his surprise, the little bird laughed a whistling laughed and winked. Aaron was most certain he had never seen a bird wink before. Then the bird zipped away again, humming gleefully, and disappeared between two branches, into a hole Aaron had never noticed. As this was all very strange, he found it very intriguing, and he pressed his eye to the tiny opening, wondering where the bird might have gone.
“Surely,” he thought to himself, “it couldn’t have gone into the tree, could it? Trees cannot be hollow, can they? Or wouldn’t they be much easier to cut down?” (This seemed to make sense, though really Aaron had no idea how hard it was to cut down a tree.)
A slight breeze, oddly enough, seemed to be coming from the hole in the tree, or at least air blew against his eyelashes, and it seemed, though he couldn’t be sure, that there was some kind of light inside. It was hard to tell with it being the middle of the day and all the sunlight trickling through the branches. He pressed as close as he could, putting his hands on the sides of his face, right up against the tree. The bark scratched against his skin as he tried to block out all the light. He had just succeeded in doing this, and was about to decide it was completely dark after all, when he realized of a sudden his head had slipped entirely through. And that, too, was very strange. For either the hole must have gotten larger, or his head gotten smaller.
Then, as he next got his shoulder through, then much of his chest, he said to himself, “I wonder if this tree isn’t much bigger on the inside than it is on the outside! Wouldn’t that be funny? I can’t imagine what Mr. Alberts—” (this was his mathematics tutor) “—would have to say about that.” He was sure it didn’t fit with what he had been studying, the formography of volumizing a cube. He tried to remember how to volumize a cube and feared he had forgotten the formula entirely, but he did feel very sure that if you could reach across something on the outside, then you obviously ought to be able to reach across on the inside, too.
Now he had crawled in all the way to the waist, and he reached into the darkness as far as he was able and felt nothing. He hesitated before going any further, remembering his sisters left behind. “They will never be able to find me,” he said to himself, but then he thought of the singing bird. Where had it gone? He held his breath and listened, and from what seemed like very far away he heard a faint and rather pleasant sound, and said, “I do believe that is The Dinner Bell.” And now he noticed, for the first time, how his voice echoed inside the tree like it was the size of a cavern. “Hello!” he called, and when the sound came back a moment later he said, “Why, there must be enough room in here to ride a horse!” and as he was trying to picture that – a horse inside a tree – the buckle of his breeches came loose from where they had gotten caught in a twig and suddenly he was all the way through. Before he knew it he was sliding down what seemed a very bumpy hill, in total darkness.
At first it was very steep, but he had only been bruised a half-dozen times before the slide flattened into solid ground and he was able to stand up. He could see nothing, not ahead of him, or any sign of the light behind him. But now he could hear, more clearly and unmistakably, the Hummingbird somewhere ahead of him, singing words so fast Aaron could barely understand them: “There’s a feather for the weather and another one to sing, add a third to help with flying and in time you’ll grow a wing.” The strange nursery rhyme grew faint, and he hurried blindly after it, too curious to worry whether he might trip over the rough ground in the dark.
But then he began to hear other sounds, and he realized that what he had thought was empty space might be filled with many things – even dangerous ones. He stopped, suddenly afraid of what he might run into, and listened.
First he made out what sounded like water dripping, slowly but steadily, plop, and then enough time to count one-one-thousand two-one-thousand and then another plop. It was not very far away. He had the idea that if he reached out he might be able to catch a droplet on his hand, and he tried this, but it was several seconds before he found it. Then he was very surprised when instead of dropping into his palm, as he expected, the water droplet flew up and splashed against his knuckle!
That was most unusual, but he had no time to consider what it might mean, for then the Hummingbird once again hummed by his ear, and this time it sang, very slowly for a hummingbird, “Come, come! We must get you your feathers.” And Aaron followed, even though he wasn’t sure yet what he might need feathers for. He had no trouble keeping up, even in the dark, for the little bird kept up a steady humming. It didn’t seem to be a real tune, but more like a conversational improvisation that meandered here and there. “Kind of like we are doing,” Aaron thought to himself, for they did not seem to be going in a straight line, but instead seemed to be turning every which way whimsically with no real sense of direction.
He could still hear the occasional sound, but only faintly, as except for the water that occasionally dripped nearby everything seemed very far away. Once he heard what seemed like it could be a cow mooing, and then later what might be voices murmuring in conversation. “That could be people outside the tree,” he thought, “playing in the park. If I shouted loudly enough perhaps they would hear me.”
But wouldn’t that be a fine thing if it turned out there were dangerous things in the darkness, and he yelled out and drew them straight for him. Hannah, the oldest of Aaron’s sisters, was fond of telling him stories in which small boys wandered into caves and dark forests and endless deserts and got devoured by monsters or tigers or giant skizzards. So Aaron wisely did not shout out, and it proved a good thing, for then the Hummingbird suddenly stopped singing, and flew by his ear, whispering “shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” At least that’s what he thought it said, but he had never heard a hummed whisper without any vowels before, so it was hard to be sure.
Anyway, it sounded like a warning, so he stopped and held his breath. Then the bird slowly whispered, as though afraid of being heard: “It is the Front Gate.” The bird emphasized the words with large capital letters, but Aaron had no time to ask about this before he heard a loud voice asking:
“They are sure to hear that even out in the park,” thought Aaron.
Whatever had a voice that large must be gigantic, and Aaron had the nervous thought that if he answered incorrectly there might be terrible consequences. He didn’t know what harm a front gate might be able to do to a little boy, but he did have to assume a Front Gate with capitals – one that could ask questions – even short and very vague ones – might be able to do things other front gates could not. “It’s no good,” he thought to himself, “to find out that gates can eat people by being the one eaten! Then who would tell Mr. Watson—” (this was his biology tutor) “—that front gates were omnivores?”
At least he thought omnivores ate children… Or was that carnivores? It was impossible to be sure. And if there was one thing he did not need to learn by experimentation it was how long omnivores waited for an answer before they got too hungry. While he had been churning over the difference between various vores, he had failed to consider the answer to the far more pressing question: “Why?” Meanwhile, the faint sound of the Hummingbird by his shoulder had gotten more fretful, such that he feared he was about to run out of time.
It was then he realized that the Hummingbird wasn’t just worrying, but instead was trying to tell him something. He thought to himself, “The Front Gate must have excellent ears for him to be so afraid of being overheard!” for he could hardly hear the singing himself, even though he could feel the air beaten by the little bird’s wings brush against his ear. But he strained to make it out, and he was about to say what he first thought he heard – “Heavenly towers” – when the bird bumped against his head and repeated itself more clearly: “The Seven Flowers.” Aaron frowned, for he thought that was quite funny – it was the name of a card game his sisters played.
He thought, “I don’t know how that answers the question ‘why,’” for as far as he could remember, the game had something to do with getting the Monkey and the Hound out of the garden and nothing at all to do with gates or reasons. But he had never played it, only seen the pictures on the cards as his sisters argued, so he decided perhaps the Hummingbird knew better, and he said aloud: “The Seven Flowers?”
And he waited anxiously, saying to himself, “Well, if I got the wrong answer I shall certainly be devoured,” and he did not think it a good sign that the Hummingbird had gone suddenly silent. But as several seconds past and he did not get eaten he relaxed, and as more seconds passed he thought the Front Gate must be thinking it over, but then as even more seconds passed he thought perhaps he hadn’t spoken loudly enough after all, and the Gate had not heard his answer.
So he was just about to repeat himself when he heard:
Through the Front Gate
"THAT'S MUCH EASIER to answer!” Aaron said to himself, and told the gate, “Why, now, I think,” as ever impatient; he didn’t think there was any reason to wait. He must have passed the test, he felt, for next he heard a loud grinding like a turning of great gears, and in front of his eyes a slit of light appeared. It was just the barest sliver in the beginning, then it widened as the gate opened, spilling light into the chamber. At first the sudden brightness blinded him, but then as his eyes adjusted he was finally able to see what the giant Gate looked like, only it was quite funny to look at for when it opened its face had gotten split right down the middle, separating where a nose should have been.
One of the Front Gate’s eyes watched him balefully. The other circled madly, trying to focus on Aaron as its door of the gate swung open, gradually exposing the other side, upon which there hung a small sign, which said:
Welcome / How Do You Do?
You are Now Entering / You are Now Exiting
Through the Back Gate
(we hope you enjoyed your stay!)
“What a friendly greeting,” thought Aaron.
Indeed, it was only the dark side of the Gate which seemed gloomy, as though it had gotten old and cranky waiting eternally in the night. Its mouth – cut in half where it opened – grimaced madly, disappointed, no doubt, not to be eating the small child.
Aaron hurried through! On the other side was a beautiful garden that looked far more inviting. He could see one half of the happy Gate’s face, whose eye followed Aaron, whose half-mouth smiled as though delighted at their meeting.
“It is, though, most confusing,” Aaron said aloud, “for I was told this was the Front Gate. Pray tell, are we at the Front Gate, sir? Or is this indeed the Back Gate, as you have written on your sign?” He directed his question at the giant, smiling half-face. But the question seemed to disturb the one on the other side, which heaved a great sigh and started crying.
The Gate was so large that the sound of its sobbing was tremendous, and giant tears gushed down the wooden surface, splashing noisily on the ground. The Hummingbird, which had followed Aaron through, took on a look of great concern. “The Front Gate is grieving! The Front Gate is grieving!” he trumpeted. This caused a flurry of activity, as several birds came scurrying towards the gate. Aaron hadn’t noticed them at first. Among them was a parrot who repeated the warning over and over – “The Front Gate is grieving!” – while running around in a circle. Meanwhile two flamingoes looked terrified and kept bumping into each other. They looked very odd, each brandishing a giant feather tucked under a wing.
Only the Hummingbird seemed to keep its calm. It flew up to the far corner of the still smiling Back Gate, where now Aaron noticed an Owl sitting atop the pillar, frowning stuffily, eyeing the activity below as though they had all lost their wits. Which, Aaron thought, it was possible they had; all the birds to his eyes looked quite mad. But the Hummingbird whispered something to the Owl, who swiveled his head one way and then the other. And now the Parrot, still running in circles, stopped repeating his warning and instead shouted, “Close the Back Gate! The Back Gate is closing! Close the Back Gate!”
Slowly, the Gate started to close behind Aaron, but this seemed to upset the other side even more, as its sobs grew louder and the whole garden seemed to shake. When finally the Gate closed, all the birds seemed to heave a sigh of relief. Then they all looked again at Aaron before quickly scurrying back into hiding – except for the Hummingbird and the Owl, still sitting atop the Gate. Now the Owl’s head swiveled again, until his eyes were fixed on Aaron’s, and after a long, weighty silence, he intoned the single word: “Who?” The Back Gate, his face now properly joined together, rolled the eye nearest the Owl up to look at it, then both eyes rolled to fix on Aaron. “Well everyone seems to have a question,” he thought to himself. “I wonder if the tests will ever end.” It was apparent the Owl’s question was intended for Aaron, but after his brief silence the Hummingbird seemed to take pity on him, and answered the Owl himself:
“I saw the little Ladybug
She found the lake of feathers;
She brought her roly-poly friends
To drain the pond together!
“I chased the beetle through the tree,
And found this crab a-sleeping
I hummed a merry tune to take
His song into my keeping.”
“What a lovely melody,” thought Aaron, but as for what the words might mean, they didn’t seem to fit together at all. Nor did it make any more sense when the Owl said, “Salubriously presented, my well-modulated friend, but of what use to us is a two-legged crab?” Then, looking Aaron over critically, he added, “whose shell seems most ineffectual. Is it not quite squishy?” But the Hummingbird reassured him by flying back to the vicinity of Aaron’s head, and, without warning, pecking his skull three times with his tiny bill. It made the tiniest noise: tap tap tap, and Aaron said, “Ow!” even though he barely felt it at all. He rubbed his head with his hand, as the Gate looked at the Owl and the Owl swiveled indecisively.
“Tell us, Crab,” said the Owl, severely, “have you any information as to the whereabouts of the feathers?” The question seemed to excite the Back Gate, whose two eyes looked at each other, then away, then at each other again, as the mouth grinned on one side while frowning on the other, forming into the shape of the letter “S.” Aaron looked at the Hummingbird, half-expecting that he might answer again, but the bird hovered in front of him with the same expectant look as the Owl. Aaron was starting to get a bit irritated, thinking the constant quizzing had gotten to be a bit much.
“I am not a crab!” he said – though if he had to confess he couldn’t be one-hundred-percent sure about this, as his sisters too had occasionally referred to him as crabby. “Nor do I have any idea what you’re talking about. I haven’t seen any feathers.” Then he amended himself, “I did see some birds in the tree, and of course they had feathers, but I don’t know what that has to do with ladybugs!” At this, one side of the Gate’s face snickered, but was silenced by a stern look from the Owl.
“Ladybugs are no laughing matter,” he said forbiddingly, before turning back to Aaron. “Birds, you say? With feathers? Pray tell, what sort of birds were in the tree? Or do we all look the same to you, Crustacean?” They all looked at him accusingly, including both sides of the Gate’s face, for once in agreement. Aaron thought about birds and how most of them did look the same, didn’t they? Except hummingbirds and owls, and flamingoes. But ordinary birds all looked very similar. He was still pondering this when the Owl asked another question: “Can you at least describe, and please be as detailed as possible, the activity these alleged ‘birds’ were engaged in?”
“They were just birds!” he said. “Very ordinary birds.” The Owl huffed, and Aaron went on hurriedly, “And how should I know what they were doing? All I can tell you is they did not seem happy with each other.”
The Hummingbird and the Owl exchanged a glance as though this was important. The Hummingbird flew to sit by the Owl, and they engaged in intense, whispered dialogue which Aaron could get nothing out of, other than the Owl’s part sounded very dull and the Hummingbird’s very musical.
Aaron did not want to interrupt, so instead he looked around the garden, wondering first where the flamingoes and the parrot had disappeared to but then really taking in the beauty of the garden itself. A few trees rose high overhead to hang canopies of shade, surrounded by splashes of the most beautiful colors Aaron had ever seen. His sisters’ garden was pretty, arranged in neat rows of their favorite flowers, but nothing in it could hope to compare to the scene here, where fiery red buds the size of teakettles decorated scattered bushes of vibrant purple, and a patch of golden wildflowers danced in the breeze. They seemed altogether much happier than the flowers his sisters kept.
Then he saw a red beak peeking from behind one of the purple bushes, and behind it the blue face of the Parrot, who seemed to think he was completely hidden. Aaron wondered how many birds were out there. More than had run out when the Gate was open? Were they all out there now, watching his inquisition from their secret hiding places amongst the flowers? As the whispered conversation went on and on, he grew impatient, and finally said to the Owl, “I beg your pardon,” – he knew it was rude to interrupt – “but have you finished, then, with the questions?”
“The nerve!” gasped one side of the Back Gate. “Well, it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to wonder,” said the other.
“Quiet, you two!” commanded the Owl, rather severely, Aaron thought, considering it was the first time the Back Gate had spoken. “As for you,” he said to Aaron, “we need to know the following. Firstly: what variety of crab or other crustacean might you be? For you are not like any I have seen before. Secondly: concerning my dear friend Mr. Hummingbird, did you follow his Excellency, or did he lead you? Thirdly, and this is most important: what were the names of the two you witnessed earlier, and what evidence do you have that they were, indeed, in collusion with the rebel beetles, other than the fact, as you’ve said, they were carrying feathers?”
Aaron answered backwards. “I don’t know their names, I’d never seen them before. How am I to know what beetles they’re illusioning with? I followed Mr. Hummingbird – very nice to meet you – and I’m not a crab, I said. I’m a boy.”
“Why, a boy! Indeed!” The Owl seemed as if this was the greatest revelation. The Hummingbird also seemed surprised, but it was evidently good news, as they all seemed very relieved. The Back Gate especially seemed pleased. One side of its mouth said, “I thought it was, I really thought it was a boy,” and the other side said, “You didn’t either, or you would have said so,” and the first side said, “I did too, but you said he was a lobster and I didn’t want to argue,” and the second side said, “Lobster? I didn’t say anything about a lobster.” The first side said, “You did, too, when you saw the pincers, that’s exactly what you said,” and the Owl said loudly, “Enough! It is not at all proper to be arguing in front of our guest.” The look he next gave Aaron was no longer suspicious. He even seemed friendly.
“Please forgive us,” the Owl said. “You understand, we must be very careful.” Then, seeing Aaron didn’t understand, he said, “Come out, everyone, it is safe. It is not a shell spy, after all, it is a boy.” There was a murmur of whispered chirps and whistles from out in the garden, and then slowly, birds of all varieties poked their heads out from their hiding places. “Gather round,” the Owl said. Then, to Aaron, “We will tell you our secret.”
He flapped his wings once, gliding down from the top of the gate to land in front of the feathered crowd. Aaron saw, again, the flamingoes, the parrot, and having joined them, an ostrich, a stork, and several other types of birds he didn’t think he had ever seen before.
A Problem, a Pie Chart, and a Silent Vote
IT WAS INDEED THE most curious crowd he ever remembered having seen. It was also no wonder all they seemed to talk about were feathers, for it seemed to be the only thing they had in common.
Almost immediately, the birds with long necks began arguing with each other, as apparently one of the flamingoes felt another – of a type Aaron didn’t recognize – kept pointing his beak at her, and as it was a very long beak, it was most disconcerting. It was finally settled when everyone agreed to face a different direction, though the flamingo did not seem entirely satisfied, muttering something unpleasant. It was hard to tell what, as her back was now turned to Aaron. He thought they all looked rather silly, facing every which way.
Then Mrs. Hummingbird sang, “Let the Peacock tell it,” – he could tell it was Mrs. Hummingbird by the way she hummed harmonies with Mr. Hummingbird – and while the Owl had adopted an oratory pose, the murmur of approval from the crowd caused him to gracefully step down. But at first Aaron didn’t see a Peacock, until a drab, tired looking thing came forward, plopped itself down, and spread its glorious tail.
“Behold,” the Peacock said grandly, and as Aaron watched its colored feathers, at first sprinkled with blue and green eyes, moved like a shuffling of cards and the pattern changed. It took on a distinctive shape, not clearly defined, but something that seemed to rise out of a pattern of oranges and yellows. “For many years, we of the Feather” – he now saw this was the shape hidden in its wing – “have hoped to establish our own ways.”
The picture shuffled again, this time showing a turtle.
“We are not the only ones with our own traditions. Those of the Shell seek their own separation.”
The picture changed again, to a fish, turquoise on royal blue.
“And those of the Fin seem to find no satisfaction in any philosophy.” The gathering of birds murmured in distaste. “We have no argument with them,” – but by the sound of the crowd many disagreed – “for we are all under the same Magistrate.”
“The Magistrate!” one of the ostriches sneered.
The Owl looked at him austerely. “No interruptions, Bobber!” he commanded.
“Well, I’m just saying what we’re all thinking,” said Bobber, looking around for agreement. There were a few you-said-its and hear-hears but they were half-hearted and quickly shushed.
Again the Peacock shifted his feathers, but if there was something to be gotten out of this new pattern Aaron couldn’t see it. “Across the Land,” the Peacock said, “whether we be feathered or finned, or carry our homes on our backs, we have always followed the Law of the Magistrate. But now,” – the feathers changed to a solid black – “he has gone too far.”
“He’s an autocrat!” This was the ostrich Bobber again. “He’s a despot!”
“None of that is proven,” said the Owl, trying to quiet the murmur of agreement from the crowd. “As you all know, this is still an unresolved problem.”
At that, Bobber gave Aaron an inquisitive look. “What about you, boy? Are you any good at solving problems?” Aaron didn’t answer right away, and Bobber said, “Well? Tell us, have you ever formulated a rigorous proof without the violation of the uniform principles of feather?”
“I don’t believe that I have,” said Aaron. “Perhaps if you could put it in the form of a word problem?” The ostrich looked confused. Aaron said, “I’m very good at word problems.”
“Whoever said there was a problem with the words?” another ostrich interjected. “I’ve never heard of such a thing!” He turned to the bird next to him. “Have you ever heard of such a thing? A problem with words?”
“Of course there is no problem with words,” the Owl said with authority. And it was a good thing, for the gathered assembly had gotten very agitated over the idea, and several were looking at Aaron accusingly.
He didn’t know what it was that had set them off – Mr. Alberts was very fond of word problems and thought they were quite useful – but he decided he would have to be very careful about what he said, for while the birds for the most part seemed friendly enough, and none appeared particularly dangerous, they did seem to get worked up very easily, and over almost nothing. Now they were arguing amongst themselves, growing louder and grumblier, and in desperation the Owl finally turned to the Parrot and said, “Honorable Parrot, if you would present the principles of Feather?”
The Parrot came forward to stand next to Aaron, adopting a very serious look. As he took a few moments to clear his throat, the other birds nodded approvingly, and it was obvious his word carried weight in the winged community. Then he said, “Assembly, repeat after me the first principle, the Law of Compound Feather: that which goes up must have wings.”
Obediently the crowd repeated, “That which goes up must have wings.”
“Why, I don’t believe that principle to be true at all,” said Aaron. “Though it does certainly seem to make sense,” he amended, as the birds clearly took offense.
The Parrot gave him a long look of concern, as though he felt Aaron were deliberately causing trouble. He seemed terribly insulted, and looked for a moment as if he might not continue, but the Owl patted him reassuringly and urged him to go on. After clearing his throat again, he did.
“The second principle: birds without feathers will freeze in cold weather.”
“Birds without feathers will freeze in cold weather,” the crowd repeated.
“I suppose that is important to know,” said Aaron.
“Of course it is! It is the Law of Zero Feather.”
It seemed these were the only two principles, however, for next the Owl took the floor again, and announced, “And now, beside the Tree of Lace, good Doctor Newton will expound on the problem.”
Everyone seemed excited by this idea, pushing each other aside as they rushed over to a small tree on the other side of the garden, whose leaves did indeed seem to be made of lace in a variety of colors.
Aaron was tempted to touch it, but was afraid of how the volatile crowd might react. Seeing his interest, a friendly ostrich plucked a pink leaf from one of the branches and dropped it into Aaron’s hand. It was like a delicate cutout, an intricate design of swirling flowers and geometric figures. From what he could tell, each leaf had a different design.
“Now,” said one of the flamingos, who was apparently Doctor Newton, “we have developed from the Principles a set of theorems–”
“Proofs,” corrected the other flamingo. “We have verified they are most sound.”
Doctor Newton shushed him and continued. “We have prepared a solution. It is clearly the correct solution, as one can see if one crosses every ‘t’ and is careful to dot each individual ‘i.’” But Aaron – despite the birds’ objections – attempted to turn it into a word problem, that went something like this:
“Quite perfect, quite perfect,” said the Owl when he had finished, and there was a smattering of applause.
“Wait,” said Aaron, who had closed his eyes and was counting on his fingers. “I haven’t worked it out yet.”
Doctor Newton looked puzzled. “Worked it out?”
“Indeed, the dear Doctor has already done the necessary work,” said the Owl. “As you can see, it is an inarguable solution.”
“Well, I don’t want to argue,” said Aaron, “but it doesn’t seem to me to have solved anything.”
Doctor Newton lifted his beak high into the air. “My dear boy,” he said, “I am certified in pi-charts.”
They all looked at Aaron expectantly.
“I’m sure you know more about it than I do,” he said. “I just wanted to be able to make sense of it, you see?” There were a few hushed gasps, as though he had said something offensive. “Perhaps if I knew the value of the Princess?”
“Now isn’t that quite a thing to say!” said the Doctor, his eyes wide, looking at Aaron as though he were a worm that had just poked its head out of the ground. “I think I have had just about enough of that sort of talk!” He looked around the crowd, his pink head waving hither and thither. “Does anyone else need to know the value of the Princess?”
“Ridiculous!” said the Parrot, and, “It’s rubbish,” said Bobber. “I for one move we banish the boy!”
“Silent vote!” said the other Ostrich, gleefully. “I second! I second!”
Aaron was confused, and started to say so, but the Owl stepped up on a rock and announced grandly, “The Assembly is in Feather. The motion: To banish the boy-crab. The vote will be silent, to protect the anonymity of the ballot. Ayes?” There was a moment of silence. “Nays?”
After another moment of silence, all the birds turned and looked at Mr. Hummingbird. He seemed embarrassed, and Mrs. Hummingbird moved away in shame. “The Ayes have it!” the Owl said. Then, to Aaron, “Boy of Squishy Shell, the Assembly has determined you are not of the Feather.” Bobber nudged Aaron rudely with his beak, pushing him away from the crowd. “Go on, boy. You don’t have a feather to fly with.”
“That’s the silliest thing I ever heard,” said Aaron angrily. “If the vote is silent, how do you know which way it went?” But the birds, all except Mr. Hummingbird, had turned and begun walking the other way. Mr. Hummingbird shrugged apologetically, and said, “Well, follow me, then.” Aaron thought it was a beautiful little tune, despite the fact his feelings were more than a little wounded. So he followed, as Mr. Hummingbird led him away from the garden, down a path that disappeared into the trees.
I hope you enjoyed this sampling of "Aaron Robertson's Sycamore." I discovered this manuscript in my Dad's attic about 20 years ago. He did not recall ever having seen it before. I could find no information about Louis Charles, and it seems likely it's a pseudonym (perhaps a pointed reference to the French King?). The original author is still a mystery, but I am pleased to finally be able to share it.
In the nine remaining chapters, Aaron meets the Shells, the Fins, and at the end comes face to face with the Magistrate...
Curt Cannon, 2015