Found on Emilie’s Shelf: A Favorite Children’s Story

“Know your Alice in Wonderland, don’t you?  I like that.”

We know what Emilie wrote. What did she like to read? As a child, she loved Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, of course, and The Swiss Family Robinson was another favorite–both adventures with unique points of view. Her father published children’s books, and she grew accustomed to a constant flow of new books, not only the classics.

When it came time to read to her sons, she brought home a new book that became a favorite. She recommended it to her young granddaughter a generation later with the recollection, “They loved it. So did I.”

The book was Coquo and the King’s Children, which I had never heard of before I read Emilie’s recommendation. I had never heard of its author, either. She was Cornelia Baker (no relative of Emilie’s that I can see), and this was her first book.

“They loved it. So did I.”

Coquo is a court jester “who makes the King laugh so hard that the diamond buttons on his waistcoat fly all over the room and he understands what the birds and insects talk about.” The King’s children, Felipo and Ramona, decide to run away in search of adventure, and they take Coquo with them.

Imagination, humor, repartee, and a wee message… It’s not Emilie’s writing, but I think you’ll see why she enjoyed it.

An excerpt from Coquo and the King’s Children:

Why the Quail Says “Bob White”

By Cornelia Baker, 1902

“Tell us why the quail says so much about Bob White, Coquo,” said Felipo.

“My dear boy,” was the reply, “you ought to know that story backwards by this time.”

“But stories are like good friends,” he returned, “the better acquainted with them you become, the better you like them.”

Stories are like good friends. The better acquainted with them you become, the better you like them.”

“Very well, then, I can stand it if you can.”

Coquo sat on a stump with Ramona on his knee; Albonita reclined in a rush chair Coquo had made for her, while Felipo lay before the fire in his favorite position, with his elbows resting on the ground and his head supported by his hands.

“Once upon a time–” began Coquo.

“I love a story that begins that way,” interrupted Albonita.

“Once upon a time,” went on Coquo, “there lived a young man named Bob White. He lived with his uncle, who was called by the neighbors old Joe White.”

“Was his uncle a king?” asked Albonita.

“Now did you ever know a king with such a name as that? Bob and his uncle were very poor, and they lived together in a little hut that had but one room, and they had no one to keep them company but a cat and a pet blackbird. Bob and his uncle were very fond of each other, and sometimes when there was not very much on the table to eat, Bob would say he was not hungry, and old Joe would say that he had a very poor appetite himself, and each would try to make the other eat the largest slice of bread.

“But one day Bob told his uncle that he was going away to seek his fortune, adding that when he was away his uncle could eat all the bread, and that upon his return he hoped to be able to build a fine house and to give the old man a soft downy bed upon which to sleep instead of just a pile of straw in the corner. His uncle was very sorry to have Bob go away; but he gave him a penny with a hole in it and a string run through it, which he put around Bob’s neck. ‘This penny is all I have to give you; but it was coined in the year you were born and will bring you good luck,’ said he.

“Bob thanked him for the penny, and was pleased to get it, for he was a firm believer in such things. To be sure, a horse-shoe he found one day and hung to a rafter over this bed, fell down in the night and raised a lump on his head that remained a week; and he owned a number of rabbits’ hind feet, shot just at the right time, and he had never known a piece of good luck to come his way; still he did not lose faith, and he always carried the hind foot of a rabbit in his pocket.

“Tying the clothes he was not wearing in a red cotton handkerchief, putting the bundle on a stick, and the stick over his shoulder, Bob set out on his journey. He had not travelled far before he heard the most heartrending screams coming from a queer round red house, with a top like a three-cornered hat, that stood by the side of the road. He rushed in without knocking and found a horrible old woman with small eyes like sparks of fire, and a nose and chin that touched each other.”

“How could her nose and chin touch each other, Coquo?” asked Ramona.

“You must know, my child,” he answered, “that when people get to be very old, say ninety or a hundred, their noses and chins get lonesome, and like to meet. This dreadful old woman was beating a sweet little girl with auburn hair.”

“How could she beat her with auburn hair?” asked Albonita, smiling behind her hand.

“I meant, most gracious lady, that the old woman was beating a little girl who had auburn hair. Very well–“

“It was not very well, it was very ill, I should say,” remarked Albonita.

“This story,” said Coquo slowly, “doesn’t require more than one person to tell it. Now if you prefer to be the narrator yourself, I have no objections.”

“Oh, no, I beg your pardon. Pray proceed.”

“As I was going to say, the little girl was very pretty, but was so covered with rags and patches that you couldn’t have told of what material the dress had been made in the first place. With one swing of his arm Bob snatched the child away and put her behind him.”

“Why didn’t he kill the old woman?” asked Albonita. “He could easily have done so.”

“Because he had been well brought up, and did not go around killing people when he could avoid it. He found that the old woman was a witch, and that she had stolen the child and kept the little creature to amuse her. Some ladies amuse themselves by pounding a piano, but this witch amused herself by pounding a child. Such things, you see, are merely matters of taste. The little girl, whose name was Chica–“

“You said last time that it was Nita,” interrupted Ramona.

“Well, I say this time that it was Chica. She clung around Bob’s knees, and begged him to keep her and let her be his little girl. ‘That I will!’ says Bob, and he was just starting out of the door with Chica in his arms when the old witch cried: ‘Go, go, my pretty youth, but know that I can press a button that will in the twinkling of an eye turn you into a mud turtle.’ Now this, you see, was extremely awkward. Bob was not anxious to be a mud turtle, as he had never tried that kind of life, and did not think that he would like it.”

“What kind of life is it?” asked Felipo.

“It is the kind of life that a mud turtle leads,” explained Coquo.

“So he offered for the child all the money he had, which was the penny he wore around his neck. But the old witch turned up her nose.”

“You said it touched her chin,” said Ramona. “How could she turn it up?”

“How do I know how she managed it? I was not there to see it. It was finally agreed that Bob should work for the witch for a year, that she was not to beat Chica in the mean time, and at the end of the year he was to take the child away with him.”

“He was extremely foolish to take a child to raise, situated as he was,” observed Albonita, “especially as he was to work for a year to obtain possession of her.”

“Again it is a matter of taste,” replied Coquo. “Some people prefer to go along the way and see nothing ahead but their own affairs, while some turn aside and even put themselves to some inconvenience to help others. Bob’s work was to watch the house at night when the old witch was out on her prowlings, and to keep it from running away.

“For you must know it was so full of enchantment caused by her spells and incantations, that sometimes it could hardly hold itself, but jumped around and danced in the funniest way you can imagine, sometimes even turning itself upside down, which was very annoying to the people in the inside of it who wanted to sleep. You know it would be very provoking to wake up in the night and find yourself lying flat on what used to be the ceiling, and your bed on top of you! Once the house danced off down the road, and had gone two or three miles before Bob could get it back; and he had to press all the different buttons before he could get it quieted down.”

“Why didn’t he let it go, then? He could have escaped the witch and taken Chica away with him,” said Felipo.

“My dear boy, don’t you remember I said that Bob had promised to work for the witch for a year, and don’t you know a gentleman always keeps his word? Bob was obliged to sleep with one eye open in order to watch things, and he saw the witch come in one night with a big basket of stuff to make a broth of. Putting the things into a great kettle that was simmering over the fire, she began to wave her arms about and to recite a long rigamarole of an incantation.

“Presently a thick red smoke began to float around her, and the witch uttered a loud cry, for she knew she had used the wrong word. Then the queer, tall, red house, with a top like a three-cornered hat, blew up and went whirling into the air at a rate that made them all dizzy. The witch acted as if she were crazy; she yelled all the incantations she knew, and then she rushed from one side of the house to the other and began to press buttons.

“Now there was one button she had told Bob he must never press, and she never touched it herself. This button always glowed against the black wall like a coal of fire. But the witch had very sharp elbows, and when she passed by this button her elbow touched it by accident, when zip! she stood on her head! Pop! out of the window she went! As the house had risen to a great height by this time, Bob and Chica saw the witch going down, down until she became a mere speck, and vanished into the sea. And that was the last of her.

Chica could have all her old power again.

“The house then came down slowly into a lovely flower garden, and turned itself into a palace. Now, you must know that Chica was a fairy who was under the spell of the witch, and when that old lady was drowned Chica could have all her old power again. So she gave Bob the palace and great riches because he had been so kind to her. Just as they were sitting down to their first splendid meal in the palace, who should walk in but old Joe White? And oh, how glad Bob was to see him!

“After finding the most beautiful lady in the world for a wife for Bob, and after making everybody happy, Chica said that she must leave them, and then she said: ‘For your kindness to a little helpless child, all the quails shall speak your name forever and ever, and sometimes your uncle’s name because you are so fond of him.'”

“So that is why to this day the quails all say ‘Bob White’ and sometimes ‘Old Joe White.'”

I’ll be back next week with some Emilie Loring Garden ideas. The time for planting is almost here, and this summer, our Emilie Loring Tea with something special planned.

Happy Landings!

3 thoughts on “Found on Emilie’s Shelf: A Favorite Children’s Story

  1. I wonder if anyone knows what Emilie Loring book has a character named Amanda as the elder matriarch of the family. Thank you for your help.

    Liked by 1 person

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