Back in Chouxville, Spittleworth made sure the story was circulated that the Dovetail family had packed up in the middle of the night, and moved to the neighbouring country of Pluritania. Daisy’s former teacher told her old classmates, and Cankerby the footman informed all the palace servants.
After he got home from school that day, Bert went and lay on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. He was thinking back to the days when he’d been a small, plump boy whom the other children called ‘Butterball’, and how Daisy had always stuck up for him. He remembered their long-ago fight in the palace courtyard, and the expression on Daisy’s face when he’d accidentally knocked her Hopes-of-Heaven to the ground on her birthday.
Then Bert considered the way he spent his break times these days. At first, Bert had sort of liked being friends with Roderick Roach, because Roderick used to bully him and he was glad he’d stopped, but if he was truly honest with himself, Bert didn’t really enjoy the same things that Roderick did: for instance, trying to hit stray dogs with catapults, or finding live frogs to hide in the girls’ satchels. In fact, the more he remembered the fun he used to have with Daisy, the more he thought about how his face ached from fake-smiling at the end of a day with Roderick, and the more Bert regretted that he’d never tried to repair his and Daisy’s friendship. But it was too late, now. Daisy was gone forever: gone to Pluritania.
While Bert was lying on his bed, Mrs Beamish sat alone in the kitchen. She felt almost as bad as her son.
Ever since she’d done it, Mrs Beamish had regretted telling the scullery maid what Mr Dovetail had said about the Ickabog not being real. She’d been so angry at the suggestion that her husband might have fallen off his horse she hadn’t realised she was reporting treason, until the words were out of her mouth and it was too late to call them back. She really hadn’t wanted to get such an old friend into trouble, so she’d begged the scullery maid to forget what she’d said, and Mabel had agreed.
Relieved, Mrs Beamish had turned around to take a large batch of Maidens’ Dreams out of the oven, then spotted Cankerby, the footman, skulking in the corner. Cankerby was known to everyone who worked at the palace as a sneak and a tattletale. He had a knack of arriving noiselessly in rooms, and peeping unnoticed through keyholes. Mrs Beamish didn’t dare ask Cankerby how long he’d been standing there, but now, sitting alone at her own kitchen table, a terrible fear gripped her heart. Had news of Mr Dovetail’s treason been carried by Cankerby to Lord Spittleworth? Was it possible that Mr Dovetail had gone, not to Pluritania, but to prison?
The longer she thought about it, the more frightened she became, until finally, Mrs Beamish called out to Bert that she was going for an evening stroll, and hurried from the house.
There were still children playing in the streets, and Mrs Beamish wound her way in and out of them until she reached the small cottage that lay between the City-Within-The-City gates and the graveyard. The windows were dark and the workshop locked up, but when Mrs Beamish gave the front door a gentle push, it opened.
All the furniture was gone, right down to the pictures on the walls. Mrs Beamish let out a long, slow sigh of relief. If they’d slung Mr Dovetail in jail, they’d hardly have put all his furniture in there with him. It really did look as though he’d packed up and taken Daisy off to Pluritania. Mrs Beamish felt a little easier in her mind as she walked back through the City-Within-The-City.
Some little girls were jumping rope in the road up ahead, chanting a rhyme now repeated in playgrounds all over the kingdom.
‘Ickabog, Ickabog, he’ll get you if you stop,
Ickabog, Ickabog, so skip until you flop,
Never look back if you feel squeamish,
’Cause he’s caught a soldier called Major—’
One of the little girls turning the rope for her friend spotted Mrs Beamish, let out a squeal and dropped her end. The other little girls turned, too, and, seeing the pastry chef, all of them turned red. One let out a terrified giggle and another burst into tears.
‘It’s all right, girls,’ said Mrs Beamish, trying to smile. ‘It doesn’t matter.’
The children remained quite still as she passed them, until suddenly Mrs Beamish turned to look again at the girl who’d dropped the end of the skipping rope.
‘Where,’ asked Mrs Beamish, ‘did you get that dress?’
The scarlet-faced little girl looked down at it, then back up at Mrs Beamish.
‘My daddy gave it to me, missus,’ said the girl. ‘When he come home from work yesterday. And he gave my brother a bandalore.’
After staring at the dress for a few more seconds, Mrs Beamish turned slowly away and walked on home. She told herself she must be mistaken, but she was sure she could remember Daisy Dovetail wearing a beautiful little dress exactly like that – sunshine yellow, with daisies embroidered around the neck and cuffs – back when her mother was alive, and made all Daisy’s clothes.
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