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THE FLEA AND THE PROFESSOR

 

ONCE upon a time there was a balloonist with whomthings went badly;the balloon burst,and the man camedown and was dashed to pieces.He had sent his boy downwith the parachute minutes before:that was lucky forthe boy.He was unhurt,and went about with great abili-ties for becoming a balloonist,but he had no balloon,andno means of getting one.

Live he must,and so he laid himself out to acquirethe art of legerdemain,and to be able to talk with hisstomach,which is called being a ventriloquist.

He was young and goodlooking,and when he got amoustache,and was dressed in good clothes,he mighthave been taken for a nobleman's son.The ladies thoughthim beautiful:one young lady was so enchanted with hisbeauty and his cleverness,that she accompanied him tostrange towns and countries;there he called himself Profes-sor;less it could not be.

His constant thought was to get a balloon and fly inthe air with his little wife,but as yet they had not themeans.

"They will come,"said he.

"If only they would,"said she.

"We are young people!and now I am a Professor.Even crumbs are bread!"

She helped him faithfully,sat by the door and soldtickets for the performance,and that was a cold entertainment in winter.She helped him also in one trick.He puthis wife in a table-drawer,a big table-drawer;she creptinto the back drawer,and so was not to be seen from thefront;it was like an optical illusion.

But one evening,when he pulled the drawer out,shehad gone;she was not in the front drawer,nor in the backdrawer,nor in the whole housenot to be seen,not to beheard.It was her clever trick.She never came back.Shewas tired of it,and he became tired of it,lost his goodhumour,could not talk or play tricks any more,and sonobody came;the profits became poor,his clothes became poor;he owned at last only a huge flea,an inheritance from his wife,and therefore he thought so much ofit.So he trained it,taught it to do clever tricks,taught itto present arms,and fire a cannon.

The Professor was proud of the flea,and it wasproud of itself;it had learnt something and had humanblood in it,and had been in the biggest towns,had beenseen by princes and princesses,and had won their highadmiration.It appeared printed in the newspapers and onplacards.It knew that it was famous,and could maintaina Professor,yes,even a whole family.

Proud and famous it was,and yet,when it and theProfessor travelled,they went fourth class on the railway;that travels just as quickly as the first.There was a tacitpromise that they would never separate,never marry,theflea would remain a bachelor,and the Professor a widower.It comes to the same thing.

"Where one has the greatest success,"said the Professor,"one should not come twice."He was a judge ofcharacter,and that is also an art.

At last he had travelled in all countries except sav-age countries,and so he decided to go there;there,indeed,they ate Christian men,the Professor knew,but hewas not really a Christian,and the flea was not really aman,so he imagined that they might venture to travelthere and have good fortune.

They travelled by steamship and sailing ship;theflea went through his tricks,and so they travelled free onthe way and came to the country of the savages.

Here reigned a little Princess;she was only eightyears old,but she reigned.She had taken the power fromher father and mother,for she had a will and was exceptionally charming and naughty.As soon as the flea hadpresented arms and fired the cannon,she was so enchanted with it,that she said,"Him,or no one!"She becamequite wild with love,and was already wild before that. "Sweet little sensible child!"said her father,"if onecould first make a man of it!"

"Leave that to me,old man!"said she,and it wasnot nicely said by a little princess,who talks to herfather,but she was wild.

She set the flea on her little hand."Now you are aman ruling with me,but you shall do what I wish,or Ishall kill you and eat the Professor."

The Professor got a big room to live in.The wallswere made of sugar-canehe could go and lick them,buthe had not a sweet tooth.He got a hammock to sleep in.Itwas as if he lay in a balloon such as he had always wishedfor,and which was his constant thought.

The flea stayed with the Princess sat on her littlehand and on her smooth neck.She had taken a hair fromher head,and the Professor had to tie it to the leg of theflea,and so she kept it tied to the great piece of coralwhich she wore in her ear.

It was a delightful time for the Princess,also for theflea,she thought;but the Professor was not quite at hisease;he was a traveller,and liked to go from town totown,and to read in the newspapers about his perseveranceand cleverness in teaching a flea all human actions.Day inand day out he lay in his hammock,dozed,and got goodfoodfresh eggs,elephants'eyes,and giraffe steak;cannibals do not live only on human flesh,that is a delicacy."Child's shoulder with sharp sauce,"said the mother ofthe Princess,"is the most delicate!"

The Professor was wearied,and wished to get awayfrom the savage country,but he must have the flea withhim,it was his prodigy and bread-winner.How could heget it?That was not so easy.He strained all his powers ofthought,and then he said,"Now I have it!"

"Princess-father;vouchsafe me something to do!MayI exercise the inhabitants of this country in presentations, or introductions;that is what one calls culture in the great-est countries of the world."

"And what can you teach me?"said the father of thePrincess.

"My greatest art,"said the Professor"to fire a cannon,so that the whole earth trembles,and all the nicestbirds of the air fall down cooked!That makes a noise!"

"Come with the cannon!"said the Princessfather.

But in the whole country there was no cannon,exceptthe one the flea had brought,and that was too little.

"I will make a bigger one,"said the Professor;"give me only the materials;I must have fine silk,needleand thread,rope and cord,together with stomach dropsfor the balloonthey puff up,make lighter and lift up;they make the explosion in the stomach of the cannon."

All that he demanded he got.

The whole country came together to see the big cannon.The Professor did not call before he had the balloonquite ready to fill up and to ascend.

The flea sat on the Princess's hand and looked on. The balloon was filled up,it bulged out and could scarcely be held,it was so wild.

"I must take it up into the air,so that it may becooled,"said the Professor,and took his seat in the basket which hung under it."But I cannot manage to steer italone.I must have an experienced companion with me tohelp me.There is no one here but the flea who can dothat!"

"I am not willing to allow It!"said the Princess, but passed the flea to the Professor,who set it on hishand.

"Let go the ropes and cords!"said he."Now theballoon goes off!"

They thought he said,"Cannon!"

And so the balloon went higher and higher,up overthe clouds,away from the savage land.The littlePrincess,with her father and mother and all the people,stood and waited.They wait still,and if you don't believe it,go to the savage land,where every child talksabout the flea and the Professor,and believes that theywill come again when the cannon is cooled,but they comenot,they are at home with us,they are in their fatherland,ride on the railway,first class,not fourth;theyhave good fortune and a huge balloon.No one asks howthey have got the balloon,or from where they have it;they are welltodo and honourable people,the flea andthe Professor.

 


 

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