Cruise of the Little Dipper Page 18

“I don’t know who you are,” said Shag, “but you look as if you’d make a nice little morsel.”

“I will let you have one chance for your life. Before I eat you, you shall come and see the wonderful treasures I have collected, and if you are able to pick out the most precious jewel in my vault, I will let you go. You shall have the jewel for a prize, and I will give you one day’s grace before pursuing you with my soldiers.”

So Birdling was led down some more long stairs to the cellar of the palace, where shining jellyfish lights hung from the ceiling. In their dim radiance he saw a heap of treasure such as no one had ever seen in all the world—diamonds that shone like stars, rubies, and sapphires, and emeralds, brooches and necklaces, pearl-set combs, wonderful pins and lockets and vessels of hammered gold!

Then Birdling noticed a queer locket lying close to his foot; it seemed to be made of two big oyster-shells closed with a band of tin. There was nothing very precious about it.

“But it must be precious, or it wouldn’t be here,” he thought quickly.

So, while Shag waved his whiskers in a bored and superior way, and his soldiers craned their necks to see Birdling, the boy suddenly stooped and picked up the locket.

“I choose this,” he said and held it up with both hands.

Shag uttered a howl of rage.

“He has guessed, he has guessed!” The body-guard drew back in terror as their King beat the water with his fins, till a cloud of mud came up from the floor of the cave and his crown slipped over one eye. Now he would really have liked to eat up Birdling but of course, the soldiers had all heard the rules of the game, so he had to abide by his word. Birdling was escorted back to the hall and allowed to go up the winding stairs, back to the Little Dipper, the heavy oyster shell under his arm. It seemed to him about as big as a suitcase, but harder to carry because it had no handle. No one knows how he could ever have carried it to the top of the stairs, had he not met a Sea-Horse who gave him a ride.