Nine Unlikely Tales, Edith Nesbit
Nine Unlikely Tales
Edith Nesbit
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Edith Nesbit (married name Edith Bland; 15 August 1858 – 4 May 1924) was an English writer and poet, who published her books for children as E. Nesbit. She wrote or collaborated on more than 60 such books. Nine Unlikely Tales is a collection of short stories, published in 1901. The collection includes such stories as The Cockatoucan or Great Aunt Willoughby, The Prince, Two Mice, and Some Kitchen-Maids, The Town in the Library in the Town in the Library and other.

Nine Unlikely Tales

Edith Nesbit

Illustrated by
H. R. Millar and Claude A. Shepperson

The Cockatoucan or Great Aunt Willoughby

MATILDA’S ears were red and shiny. So were her cheeks. Her hands were red too. This was because Pridmore had washed her. It was not the usual washing, which makes you clean and comfortable, but the “thorough good wash,” which makes you burn and smart till you wish you could be like the poor little savages who do not know anything, and run about bare in the sun, and only go into the water when they are hot.

Matilda wished she could have been born in a savage tribe instead of at Brixton.

“Little savages,” she said, “don’t have their ears washed thoroughly, and they don’t have new dresses that are prickly in the insides round their arms, and cut them round the neck. Do they, Pridmore?”

But Pridmore only said, “Stuff and nonsense,” and then she said, “don’t wriggle so, child, for goodness’ sake.”

Pridmore was Matilda’s nursemaid. Matilda sometimes found her trying. Matilda was quite right in believing that savage children do not wear frocks that hurt. It is also true that savage children are not over-washed, over-brushed, over-combed, gloved, booted, and hatted and taken in an omnibus to Streatham to see their Great-aunt Willoughby. This was intended to be Matilda’s fate. Her mother had arranged it. Pridmore had prepared her for it. Matilda, knowing resistance to be vain, had submitted to it.

But Destiny had not been consulted, and Destiny had plans of its own for Matilda.

When the last button of Matilda’s boots had been fastened (the button-hook always had a nasty temper, especially when it was hurried, and that day it bit a little piece of Matilda’s leg quite spitefully) the wretched child was taken downstairs and put on a chair in the hall to wait while Pridmore popped her own things on.

“I shan’t be a minute,” said Pridmore. Matilda knew better. She seated herself to wait, and swung her legs miserably. She had been to her Great-aunt Willoughby’s before, and she knew exactly what to expect. She would be asked about her lessons, and how many marks she had, and whether she had been a good girl. I can’t think why grown-up people don’t see how impertinent these questions are. Suppose you were to answer, “I’m top of my class, Auntie, thank you, and I’m very good. And now let’s have a little talk about you. Aunt, dear, how much money have you got, and have you been scolding the servants again, or have you tried to be good and patient as a properly brought up aunt should be, eh, dear?”


Try this method with one of your aunts next time she begins asking you questions, and write and tell me what she says.

Matilda knew exactly what the Aunt Willoughby’s questions would be, and she knew how, when they were answered, her aunt would give her a small biscuit with carraway seeds in it, and then tell her to go with Pridmore and have her hands and face washed again.

Then she would be sent to walk in the garden — the garden had a gritty path, and geraniums and calceolarias and lobelias in the beds. You might not pick anything. There would be minced veal at dinner, with three-cornered bits of toast round the dish, and a tapioca pudding. Then the long afternoon with a book, a bound volume of the “Potterer’s Saturday Night” — nasty small print — and all the stories about children who died young because they were too good for this world.

Matilda wriggled wretchedly. If she had been a little less uncomfortable she would have cried, but her new frock was too tight and prickly to let her forget it for a moment, even in tears.

When Pridmore came down at last, she said, “Fie, for shame! What a sulky face!”

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