A Bit of Nonsense by Rachel Heffington
Chapter One: Who’s Master?
Simpian Grenadine was a little boy. That was what he looked like; but if anyone asked him such a question pretty nearly any given day, he would stick one hand on his hip, hold the other out like a pistol, and say in a terrible voice:
“I’m a pirate.” Which he Was some days, and Was Not, others.
Simpian lived in a house perched in a tree, simply because that is the best place to live. (As anyone who has tried it ought to agree.) He lived by himself as far as anyone could tell. He had no father or mother or sisters or brothers and certainly no uncles or aunts. That is, until tea-time. Then you might find Simpian rummaged out of his tree house by the sound of the great brass bell and if you followed him across Waterloo and through The Field (and once or thrice around and through and behind the blueberry bushes) you might hear quite a lot of people calling him “Allister!”—or more often than not—“Come Allister!” and he might look less and less like a pirate and more and more like a grubby-little-chap-in-need-of-washing whose relatives were looking for him.
But no one ever did follow Simpian Grenadine in that direction, because anything and everything of importance that happened to him happened at Cottleston Pie.
“What’s Cottleston Pie?”
Now, now, don’t interrupt. If you keep interrupting me to ask about Cottleston Pie I shall have to tell you to play the ice-cube game and freeze, and since Simpian hated That Sort of game, we had better not play it.
Cottleston Pie was the name of Simpian’s tree house, and his whole Property, in fact.
Well, it came about in this way: Once, when Simpian was not a pirate, nor Simpian, but Only Allister, his sister had been reading to him a funny sort of book all about a bear named Pooh and all of Pooh’s friends, and they came across a sort of riddle in the book. It was all about flies that couldn’t bird and birds that couldn’t fly, and cottleston, cottleston, cottleston pie. And because it sounded Difficult and Smart, Allister adopted the rhyme as his own and carted it around with him everywhere.
He said it to the cows at milking time and to the crows in the Rickety Pines, and to the butterflies that lived near his Property. It was during one conversation with these self-same butterflies that Allister discovered what his Property was called.
“Butterfly-or-Flies,” (That was how Allister had named the pretty things—he was never quite sure whether there were many of the insects or only one very active one, and so as not to offend them all on one hand—or It, on the other—he had devised this rather clever title for the creature in general.) “Butterfly-or-Flies, I have a riddle for you.”
The yellow and black insect did not appear to be much interested in Allister’s riddle and instead began to breakfast on the buttercups growing round. “So you will not guess?” Allister asked, much disappointed.
It would not.
“Then I’ll tell you. ‘Cottleston, cottleston, cottleston pie. A fly can’t bird, and a bird can’t fly. Ask me a riddle and I’ll reply: cottleston, cottleston, cottleston pie.”
Butterfly-or-Flies finished his breakfast at one flower and wobbled to the next in a drunken fashion. There was no fun in that. Allister flipped onto his back in the grass and looked up into the branches of his tree. The sun shone yellow through the green leaves and blue behind that, and Allister whispered his rhyme to himself in a sing-song voice: “Cottleston, cottleston, cottleston pie….” And just like that—without even trying—the words had attached themselves to the tree and the house and Allister sat up, a deal surprised, and half expecting to see a Notice written up and tacked to the tree:
Formerly known as Tree-House Belonging To Allister, now known as Cottleston Pie: Home of Simpian Grenadine.”
The last bit surprised Allister more than finding that his house had named itself. What sort of a name was Simpian Grenadine? A good one, he thought. But where had it come from? Nowhere, he supposed. And because Allister was clever enough to know that the best thing always come from Nowhere, he didn’t bother to ask any further questions and only said to himself once or twice as if trying on a new jacket: “Simpian Grenadine…master of Cottleston Pie.”
So that is how Cottleston Pie came to be. It was a good name because it was a tad secret; no one knew what Allister meant when he said it—they all thought he was quoting Pooh. But he wasn’t. And of course no one could guess that he wasn’t Allister anymore—he was Simpian Grenadine: Master of Cottleston Pie. Yes, it was a satisfying arrangement.
The morning of Simpian’s first adventure began golden, hazy, and sneeze-ish. You would never have guessed today would be the adventurous sort—it was rather more dull than usual, truth be told. Simpian lay on a branch of his tree with his arms and legs stuck out on either side so that he much resembled a tiger-rug let to air on a fence-rail. He was thinking and sneezing this morning—thinking of lots of things; many important things, and many Not So, and he was sneezing because the goldenrod was blooming in a brilliant patch hard by. But the most important thing Simpian thought of was Nothing. Simpian thought more and more on Nothing as the sun rose higher and the cicadas buzzed drowsier. Nothing was a very comfortable sort of occupation and felt…well…almost sleepy.
But Simpian was not sleeping. He was thinking of Nothing with his eyes closed.
“That’s almost the same thing,” a voice said. It was a near voice, not a far voice like the ones you usually hear when you’ve been not-sleeping.
Simpian was so surprised to hear anyone that he had to hug the tree-limb tight so as not to appear to be falling. “What’s almost the same thing?” he asked the voice.
“Sleeping, and thinking of Nothing with your eyes closed.”
“What would you know about it?”
“Because I’ve tried it—I’ve tried it and I’ve fallen asleep every time.”
“Well that—Achoo!—is you.” Simpian was growing cross. It was not pleasant to talk to [and what’s more, to be contradicted by] someone you could not see. “Come out here and show yourself if you’re going to be smart.”
“Thank you. I am.”
Simpian sat up and flicked a wandering ant off his elbow. “You’re coming out, or you’re smart?”
“Both, I should think,” the voice said.
Being in a tree when something invisible and impertinent was on the ground felt too much like giving up. Simpian wriggled off his branch and down the tree till his toes brushed the grass. That was much better. Now he could meet the whatever-it-was in good style. But there was nothing at all in or around Cottleston Pie. Nothing, at least, that Simpian could see.
“Where are you, voice?”
“I’m coming, I’m coming. You needn’t be so hasty.” And following the voice was a pretty, wild, little rabbit with a pink nose and long whiskers.
“You?” Simpian asked. He was not a little disappointed to see it was only a rabbit after all. He had grand thoughts of the voice belonging to something threatening—another pirate, perhaps. But you couldn’t have a swordfight with a rabbit. That much was certain. He sneezed once—a cross between indignation and goldenrod—and glared at the owner of the voice. “What are you doing here?”
“I have as much right to be here as you, I daresay.”
Simpian drew himself high and looked past the rabbit—he did not want to notice that it was a rather adorable little creature. “You have not. Because you don’t even know who I am.”
“Who are you?” the rabbit asked.
“I am the master of this Property,” Simpian said.
“What property?” The rabbit twitched one of her long ears and licked her forepaw.
What property? Simpian felt crosser than ever. What property? Next, that saucy little rabbit would be telling him that Cottleston Pie was a ridiculous name and he ought to have called it The Tree House or something sensible. Well then—Simpian wouldn’t tell the rabbit What Property. He’d make her guess. “Yes, what property?” Simpian asked.
“What do you mean by asking ‘what property’ when I asked you first?” the rabbit asked. Her fur was very soft looking.
“Well, I asked you second.”
“That makes no sense.”
“Yes it does.”
“No it doesn’t.” The rabbit said.
“What do you mean?”
“What do you mean?”
Simpian laughed inside to see that the rabbit’s fat little sides were moving in and out quickly as if all the arguing had left her breathless.
But the rabbit drew herself up onto her hind legs and smoothed back her ears with one paw. “I mean to tell you that I am planning to live here by and by.”
This took Simpian by surprise, and he fell over backward into the grass and had to suck on his thumb for a moment. Simpian never sucked his thumb—well, almost never. Only when he forgot that he was six years old and not Allister anymore. Yes, Simpian was very surprised at what the rabbit said. Why was he surprised, and vexed and Not a Little Astonished? Well, how would you feel if you’d just been drowsing and thinking of Nothing and having an all-round good time and a rabbit came up and told you that she was planning on moving in with you?
You would likely feel crosser than Simpian did, for he was always up for some adventure or other. That is why it did not take him a very long time to recover. He was on his feet in a moment, drying off his thumb on his corduroy pants and wiggling his toes in the grass. “Rabbit,” he said. “Oh, Rabbit.”
“What is your name?”
“Your name isn’t Cottontail?”
Simpian was silent for a moment. Her name ought to be Cottontail, because Cottontail sounded very good when matched up with Cottleston Pie, and if his plan was to work at all, it must sound right. But Sylvi was not such a bad name after he thought about it for a moment or two. “Sylvi, do you like Presenti-mints?”
“I’ve never had one. Are they good to eat?”
Simpian shook his head. Imagine anyone thinking a Presenti-mint was something to eat. Why, he’d known for three days that a Presenti-mint was what he used to call A Feeling. He crossed his fingers and rocked on his toes while explaining to the rabbit: “A Presenti-mint is when you thinking something is going to happen.”
“Well, do you?”
“Do I what?”
“Think something is going to happen?”
“Let me do all the asking, Sylvi. I’m master of this Property.”
Sylvi hunched up until she looked softer than ever. “That’s where we started the conversation.”
Simpian crossed his arms and shook his head at the rabbit. “If you’d let me tell you you’d understand. I do thinking something is going to happen. You know what I think will happen?”
“I can’t imagine.”
“Well I can. I think we can live at Cottleston Pie together.”
“What is Cottleston Pie?”
What a dense rabbit this was. He wondered if all cottontails also had cotton-brains but then he thought that perhaps it wasn’t fair to expect something that looked cute to also be able to think. Instead, Simpian turned a cartwheel in the grass overtop Sylvi and ended up on the other side of her. She didn’t have to turn, however, because all rabbits have eyes on either side of their heads. The problem would have been in Simpian had landed right in front of her nose. He was right-side up again, and stretched his arms over his head. “Cottleston Pie is my Property. And I—”
“Yes, who are you?” Sylvi interrupted.
This was not how the conversation was supposed to go. Simpian bit his lip and whacked the top off a dandelion. Its fluff went sailing away on a fitful breeze that started up as if the earth was yawning. “I am Simpian Grenadine.”
“Oh,” the rabbit said. “Why didn’t you say so? If I had known you were the Simpian Grenadine I’d have not bothered to speak with you.”
This comment nettled Simpian greatly. What did that strange rabbit mean by ‘if she’d have known?’ And did it come out to a compliment? This was the largest point Simpian had to settle within himself, and he answered quickly enough—it was only Great people who could make people speak or not speak with oneself. Therefore there must be some sort of compliment tucked away in Sylvi’s pronouncement like the lone raisin Tottles hid in the king cake at Christmastime. Simpian plucked the compliment out and popped it in his mouth by way of a smug smile. “Well, are you or aren’t you?” he asked.
Sylvi stared at him out of one round boot-button eye, then swiveled her head so she looked at him out of the other. “I am’nt.”
“Ah. That’s what I thought you said.”
Sylvi narrowed her eye. “That means I am not.”
“I knew that,” Simpian hastened to say. “Only I wanted to be sure you knew what it meant.”
“Oh, I know.” And Sylvi began to groom her tawny fur again. She paused mid-brush and looked up at him. “You are a perfect basket of red-herrings, aren’t you?”
Simpian didn’t think he was much like a basket of herrings at all, but there seemed to be nothing else to say after this. Instead, he knocked the heads off another patch of dandelions and sneezed once—or was it twice?—and generally tried not to look as if he wished Sylvi would move off and leave him and Cottleston Pie alone. He tried counting to five-and-twenty but got befogged by seventeen. This was no good either, for Simpian had an absurd feeling that that uncanny Sylvi was most likely a…whaddya-call-it….a math’gician and could count to five-and-thirty if she had a mind to. “Oh, Rabbit,” he said at last.
Boy? How rude. “My name is Simpian Grenadine, you know.”
“And mine is Sylvi, but you called me Rabbit.”
She had a point. Simpian let the subject lie. “Are you going to be leaving pretty soon?”
“No.” Sylvi nestled into the grass and yawned a little yawn that showed her two white teeth.
“No. You’ll be leaving pretty soon.”
“Oh.” Afterward Simpian wished he’d said, “Aha,” which sounded a bit more like a pirate and less like Sulking. But he only said, ‘Oh,’ and nothing else in Cottleston Pie spoke after him. Butterfly-or-Flies zig-zagged by and Simpian wished he was as free as him to do what he pleased. Sylvi curled up in a ball in her plush patch of grass—The Soft Patch, Simpian noticed—and covered her nose and eyes with her paws.
Simpian sneaked off and climbed his tree so that he could think of a plan. Usually he was rather good at coming up with plans. Plans for picnics and plans for wanderings…plans for how to divide up the rest of Tottles’ gingerbread, and how the sky would look best if there were stars out in the daytime…but he felt all the planning spirit ebb out of him as he looked at Sylvi sleeping in the grass and wondered how to make her leave Cottleston Pie.
It was not till Simpian had eaten the last of his gingerbread that he thought of it. Snakes. Every rabbit hates snakes—that’s as much a fact of life as the one that snowflakes don’t come in August, and a tickle means laughing. And the harder Simpian thought about snakes the more he wished he could find one and coax it to live at Cottleston Pie with him to keep away any rabbits.
“Because,” he thought, “If Snakes mean no rabbits, I won’t have to leave Cottleston Pie.”
So that is why Simpian scooted down the tree-trunk and tip-toed around the Soft Patch with Sylvi in it, hoping to get away without her noticing. It really seemed he had, and that Sylvi might stay asleep, when her small, regal voice stopped him.
“Where are you going?”
“Yes you are.”
“I want to go Somewhere.”
Simpian bit his lip and tried not to feel like kicking that small fluff-ball. “You can go Somewhere, but not my Somewhere.”
“If you don’t tell me where your Somewhere is, how will I know not to go there?”
This vexed Simpian greatly, for he was not certain where he’d be able to find his Snakes, and it was not a pleasant idea, having to explain things to Sylvi. “If I go away, you’ll be able to sleep,” Simpian said. He held his breath and waited for Sylvi to answer.
“No thank you—I’ve done with my nap.” And like that, Sylvi hopped over to Simpian, sat back on her hind legs, and squinted her eyes at him to see if he was coming along. Simpian hummed a growling-tune to himself and poked his nose into the air and stalked off, Sylvi coming lippity-lip behind him. They walked for some time around Cottleston Pie, but Simpian felt foolish for poking through the bushes with Sylvi looking on. She said nothing, but she was there all the same and it made Simpian cross.
“Why do you have to follow me?”
“Because you’re on my property.”
“Your property?” Simpian asked, astonished.
“Yes—Cottleston Pie, remember?”
Simpian snorted—a very cross noise—and sucked his bottom lip. “Sylvi? What d’you say to a game of hide-and-sneak?”
“Hide-and-sneak? Well, only if I get to do the sneaking.”
Simpian was just a little surprised that Sylvi knew how to play hide-and-sneak which was quite a different game than hide-and-seek. The difference began with how you said it. You hunched your shoulders forward—sneaky-ish if ever anything was sneaky—and placed great emphasis on the Hiding part. “Hide-and-sneak.” The sneak was almost a whisper by the time you go to it.
Regardless, Sylvi did seem to know how to play, so Simpian hunched his shoulders forward again and narrowed his eyes till he could barely see anything at all of the rabbit. “All right, Sylvi. You get to be the Sneaker.” And saying “Sneak” reminded Simpian so much of “Snakes” that he gave a little rabbitty wriggle himself and laughed inside with a feeling like peppermints.
“Shall I be blind-folded?” Sylvi asked.
“Of course you shall. But what can we use?” Just then Simpian happened to look up and notice just how long and soft Sylvi’s ears looked. “We’ll use your ears!”
“ ‘Course—ears are first-rate blind-folds.” Not only would they keep from slipping down and around her neck, but if Sylvi tried to tug at the knot and peek to see where he was going, it would hurt like awfulness.
“But you can’t use my ears—I won’t allow you. I won’t let you. I won’t permit it.”
“I won’t permitit you!” Simpian growled, stalking toward her. Afterward he was never sure if that had been the proper thing to say. Either way, Sylvi seemed rather cowed by this, and let Simpian tie her long, velvet-soft ears into a capital double-knot—the sort Tottles tied in his shoe-laces when they were on holiday in the city and she didn’t want to have to stop and fix them four-and-sixty times a mile. When it was all done to Simpian’s satisfaction, he led Sylvi to a bit of grass circled by the cat-and-kitten weeds with the pop-off heads. There was no time to play the cat-and-kitten game, however, so Simpian patted Sylvi’s soft shoulder and cleared his throat a time or two.
He thought it sounded like a pirate. He hoped it sounded like a pirate, and because he was not quite sure, he cleared his throat again. “Grrrrraribumph!” Yes—quite Pirate-ian. He might as well be captain of a sailing ship for how good it sounded.
Simpian watched Sylvi shiver just a little bit as if she thought he might not be Simpian after all, but a sort of Black-beard. Then an idea came to him for getting Sylvi away from Cottleston Pie. An idea that might not require a Snake at all, but only a bit of cleverness on his part. Simpian stomped awhile around the cat-and-kitten weeds, making a sound like large muddy boots with his feet.
“Little Rrrrrrrabit!” he growled, rolling the first part of the word so he sounded like a drummer in a Fourfin-July parade.
Sylvi shivered again as if a cold Febberary breeze was blowing down her shirt-collar. “Y-yes?”
“Do you know the way to Cottleston Pie?” He added a second growl for good measure and stomped like muddy boots a little more.
Sylvi shifted and pulled at the knot of her ears. Simpian had done a good job tying his knot—it would not budge. “This…this is Cottleston Pie,” she said at last. And it seemed to Simpian that her voice was very small and not at all proud.
Her comeuppance! he thought. He crossed his arms and tucked his chin to help his voice sound a little less like Simpian’s. “Well, if this is Cottleston Pie, then I must kidnap you.”
Simpian had to clap one hand over his mouth and turn the laughter into a pirate-growl when he saw how Sylvi scrambled backward and tried to tear the knot apart. But Tottles’ sort of knot never came out—Simpian knew from lots of holidays in the city.
“Why must you k-k-kidnap me?” she asked. Her voice sounded very cross and thin and high like an angry robin’s.
Simpian clenched his fists and puffed out his chest, feeling very tall. “Because Cottleston Pie is going to be mine.”
“It’s mine,” Sylvi retorted.
“Is too!” Sylvi hopped one hop forward and then—seeming to remember something she’d forgot—hopped backward, away from him.
“Are you Simpian Grenadine?” Simpian asked. He made his voice sound blustery as if it had a large and bristling moustache and a row of brass buttons up its front. “Because,” and he paused to think up something especially horrid. It came to him all at once: “Because I have sworn by every hair on my chin to slice Simpian Grenadine into little bits and feed him piece by piece to the crows in the Rickety Pines.”
“I-I am not Simpian Grenadine!” Sylvi was now backed up against the cat-and-kitten weeds quivering.
“But you said you were the master of Cottleston Pie,” Simpian said. The moustache in his voice bristled.
“Well,” was all Sylvi said.
“The only master of Cottleston Pie…” Simpian stood on tip-toe and shouted the last bit like a foghorn: “IS SIMPIAN GRENADINE! My knife is sharp and my temper’s hot, I’ve come for you, b’lieve it or not!” And Simpian galloped in a circle all round Sylvi, plucking at the knot in her ears and laughing when she squeaked.
Sylvi tumbled over backwards and to Simpian’s complete astonishment, the knot came undone. Simpian turned three shades of guilty red and felt more like Only-Allister than he had in a fortnight. Now that he wasn’t so busy playing Pirate, it seemed to him a bit of a bad sport to scare such a little thing. Sylvi flipped her ears back into their proper places—crinkled though they were—and without a look at Simpian, fled Cottleston Pie.
After she was gone, the hot, late sun settled with all the heaviness of Tottles’ fruitcake on Simpian’s neck. If it had been a giant’s hand, he would have pushed it away. If it had been a scarf, he’d have ripped it off. But as it was only the sunlight and there was no escaping it, Simpian wandered back to his tree-house, climbed the rickety ladder, and wondered if it had been terribly mean of him to scare that little rabbit so. Cottleston Pie seemed quieter than ever now. There were no pirates—at present—and no birds. Butterfly-or-flies was nowhere to be seen, nor was there even one grass-snake sunning himself on the large flat stone.
That’s what it was.
The more Simpian thought about it, the worse he felt. Lonesome like gingerbread men without cinnamon-buttons. Lonesome like spice-cookies without cambric tea. Lonesome like shoes without laces. He rolled over onto his stomach and waited for the dinner bell to ring, and he almost almost wished Sylvi had not run away.
So....what do you think of it? Knowing Gracie and many other little kids, I decided they like a bit of danger...a bit of peril. So I put in the bit about the knife, realizing most censors will make me take it out. But--HAHA!--this is a book that will probably never be published and that I am writing strictly to please myself and my dear little funny-duckling so there.