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The Ickabog – Chapter 58: Hetty Hopkins

Index ID: ICKB58 — Publication date: July 6th, 2020

When Daisy first told the others her plan, Bert refused to be part of it.

‘Protect that monster? I won’t,’ he said fiercely. ‘I took a vow to kill it, Daisy. The Ickabog murdered my father!’

‘Bert, it didn’t,’ Daisy said. ‘It’s never killed anyone. Please listen to what it’s got to say!’

So that night in the cave, Bert, Martha, and Roderick drew close to the Ickabog for the first time, always having been too scared before, and it told the four humans the story of the night, years before, when it had come face-to-face with a man in the fog.

‘… with yellow face hair,’ said the Ickabog, pointing at its own upper lip.

‘Moustaches?’ suggested Daisy.

‘And a twinkly sword.’

‘Jewelled,’ said Daisy. ‘It must have been the king.’

‘And who else did you meet?’ asked Bert.

‘Nobody,’ said the Ickabog. ‘I ran away and hid behind a boulder. Men killed all my ancestors. I was afraid.’

‘Well, then, how did my father die?’ demanded Bert.

‘Was your Icker the one who was shot by the big gun?’ asked the Ickabog.

‘Shot?’ repeated Bert, turning pale. ‘How do you know this, if you’d run away?’

‘I was looking out from behind the boulder,’ said the Ickabog. ‘Ickabogs can see well in fog. I was frightened. I wanted to see what the men were doing on the marsh. One man was shot by another man.’

‘Flapoon!’ burst out Roderick, at last. He’d been afraid to tell Bert before now, but he couldn’t hold it in any longer. ‘Bert, I once heard my father tell my mother he owed his promotion to Lord Flapoon and his blunderbuss. I was really young… I didn’t realise what he meant, at the time… I’m sorry I never told you, I… I was afraid of what you’d say.’

Bert said nothing at all for several minutes. He was remembering that terrible night in the Blue Parlour, when he’d found his father’s cold, dead hand and pulled it from beneath the Cornucopian flag for his mother to kiss. He remembered Spittleworth saying that they couldn’t see his father’s body, and he remembered Lord Flapoon spraying him and his mother with pie crumbs, as he said how much he’d always liked Major Beamish. Bert put a hand to his chest, where his father’s medal lay close against his skin, turned to Daisy, and said in a low voice:

‘All right. I’m with you.’

So the four humans and the Ickabog began to put Daisy’s plan into operation, acting quickly, because the snow was melting fast, and they feared the return of the soldiers to the Marshlands.

First, they took the enormous, empty wooden platters that had borne the cheese, pies, and pastries they’d already eaten, and Daisy carved words into them. Next, the Ickabog helped the two boys pull the wagon out of the mud, while Martha collected as many mushrooms as she could find, to keep the Ickabog well fed on the journey south.

At dawn on the third day, they set out. They’d planned things very carefully. The Ickabog pulled the wagon, which was loaded up with the last of the frozen food, and with baskets of mushrooms. In front of the Ickabog walked Bert and Roderick, who were each carrying a sign. Bert’s read: THE ICKABOG IS HARMLESS. Roderick’s said: SPITTLEWORTH HAS LIED TO YOU. Daisy was riding on the Ickabog’s shoulders. Her sign read: THE ICKABOG EATS ONLY MUSHROOMS. Martha rode in the wagon along with the food and a large bunch of snowdrops, which were part of Daisy’s plan. Martha’s sign read: UP WITH THE ICKABOG! DOWN WITH LORD SPITTLEWORTH!

For many miles, they met nobody, but as midday approached, they came across two ragged people leading a single, very thin sheep. This tired and hungry pair were none other than Hetty Hopkins, the maid who’d had to give her children to Ma Grunter, and her husband. They’d been walking the country trying to find work, but nobody had any to give them. Finding the starving sheep in the road, they’d brought it along with them, but its wool was so thin and stringy that it wasn’t worth any money.

When Mr Hopkins saw the Ickabog, he fell to his knees in shock, while Hetty simply stood there with her mouth hanging open. When the strange party came close enough, and the husband and wife were able to read all the signs, they thought they must have gone mad.

Daisy, who’d expected people to react like this, called down to them:

‘You aren’t dreaming! This is the Ickabog, and it’s kind and peaceful! It’s never killed anyone! In fact, it saved our lives!’

The Ickabog bent down carefully, so that it wouldn’t dislodge Daisy, and patted the thin sheep on the head. Instead of running away, it baaa-ed, quite unafraid, then returned to eating the thin, dry grass.

‘You see?’ said Daisy. ‘Your sheep knows it’s harmless! Come with us – you can ride on our wagon!’

The Hopkinses were so tired and hungry that, even though they were still very scared of the Ickabog, they heaved themselves up beside Martha, bringing their sheep too. Then off trundled the Ickabog, the six humans, and the sheep, heading for Jeroboam.

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