Chapter II. The Rude Boy
 

Suddenly all the toys, who had been crowding to the edges of the shelves and counters to watch the race between the Horse and the Elephant, became very quiet. The Candy Rabbit seemed to shrink down behind the Monkey on a Stick. The Bold Tin Soldier slipped his sword back into its scabbard, and his men lowered their guns. The Calico Clown, who had been about to bang his cymbals together, dropped them to his sides. The Lamb on Wheels, who had just been going to ask a Rag Doll if she did not want to get up on her back, so she might see better, rolled herself under the counter, and the White Rocking Horse and the Elephant on his roller skates looked around in surprise.

"What's the matter?" neighed the Horse. "Why did you call out for us to hush, Candy Rabbit?"

"I thought I heard a noise," was the answer. "Maybe the night watchman is coming. If he is, he must never see us at our play. Something dreadful would happen, if he did."

"Hush! Not so loud!" whispered the Calico Clown. "What you say is very true, Candy Rabbit. We dare not move about or talk if we are looked at by human eyes. But I do not think the watchman is coming."

"How can we be sure the watchman is not looking at us?" whispered the Monkey on a Stick." I'd like to see this race."

"So would I," said the Calico Clown. "And there is only one way we can be certain the watchman is not here."

"Tell us how!" suggested the Bold Tin Soldier.

"This is the way," answered the Calico Clown. "I will recite that funny riddle I started to give you earlier in the evening. If the watchman is here he will laugh at it, and then well know he is watching us."

"That will be a fine way!" said the Lamb on Wheels. "Go ahead, Calico Clown. Tell us the riddle, and we must all listen to see if the watchman laughs."

"All right I Here I go!" agreed the Calico Clown. He banged his cymbals together and then, in a loud voice, asked: "Why is a basket of soap bubbles like a piece of chocolate cake?"

They all listened after the Calico Clown had asked this riddle. But there was no laugh. It was as quiet in the toy department as if none of the playthings had made believe come to life.

"I guess the watchman isn't there," said the Calico Clown, "or else he would have laughed at my riddle."

"Maybe he is waiting for the answer," said the White Rocking Horse. "I think that must be it, for I don't see anything very funny in the riddle itself. Maybe the watchman is waiting for you to give the answer, and then he'll laugh."

"Oh, I'm sure that is it," said the Elephant. "Go ahead, Calico Clown! Tell us the answer! Why is a basket of soap bubbles like a piece of chocolate cake? If we hear that, maybe we'll laugh, as well as the watchman. What's the answer?"

"That's the funny part of it!" said the Calico Clown. "There is no answer."

"No answer!" cried the White Rocking Horse. "That's a funny riddle!"

"I knew you'd think it was funny," returned the Calico Clown. "That is why I tried so hard to tell it earlier in the evening, to make you all jolly. No, there really is no answer. I don't believe a basket full of soap bubbles is a bit like a piece of chocolate cake. But I just thought I'd ask to see if any of you knew."

He waited a moment, but none of the toys answered.

"And the watchman doesn't seem to know, either," said the Monkey on a Stick. "I guess he can't be here, or he would have laughed, Mr. Calico Clown."

"I'm sure he would," said the joking chap. "It must be all right. No one is looking at us. On with the race!"

"Yes," rumbled the Elephant, away deep down in his trunk, "if we are going to have this race let's get it over with. I must go back to my place among the camels and lions and tigers before morning."

The Elephant, who had borrowed a pair of roller skates to race with the White Rocking Horse, lived in a large Noah's Ark with the other animals from the jungle and the desert.

"Get ready now!" cried the Bold Tin Soldier. "On your marks, Horse and Elephant! I will have one of my men fire his gun as a signal to start the race!"

"Good!" neighed the White Rocking Horse.

Slowly he began to sway back and forth, while the Elephant slid along on his roller skates until both animals stood, once more, on the crack in the floor. When the Candy Rabbit had cried "Hush!" they had both slid back toward the toy counter. Later on the make-believe folk found that the noise was caused by a Jack in the Box springing up quickly to watch the race.

"Bang!" went a toy pop gun. And then the race began!

And such a race as it was! Across the floor, toward the elevators, went the Elephant, gliding along on the roller skates. Back and forth swayed the Rocking Horse, and each time he moved he went a little faster. His tail and mane streamed out in the air and his red saddle of real leather glistened in the light of the one dim electric lamp.

"The Elephant is winning! The Elephant is winning!" cried the Monkey on a Stick. He rather favored the Elephant, for, like the big chap, the Monkey also had come from a jungle.

"The Horse is going faster!" cried the Bold Tin Soldier. "I'm sure the Horse will win the race!" The Tin Captain rather favored the Horse, since all soldiers like horses.

"It is too soon, yet, to tell who will win," remarked the Calico Clown. "They have to go to the elevators and come back to the starting mark--the crack in the floor--before the race is finished. Oh, but this is sport!"

The White Rocking Horse and the Elephant, who wore roller skates, were close together, making their way as fast as they could toward the elevators. This was the half-way mark of the race. The two animals must turn around and come back to the toy counter before it would be known which was the faster. Just now they seemed to be even.

On and on they raced, faster and faster. If you had been there you would have enjoyed it, I am sure. But of course that was not allowed. If you had so much as peeped, even with one eye, the toys would instantly have become as motionless as the pictures in your spelling book.

Back and forth rocked the White Horse. Rumble and roll went the Elephant on his skates. They were close to the elevators in about three minutes after they had started from the crack mark.

"Now they are going to turn around," whispered the Celluloid Doll, as she leaned over the edge of the counter.

"Oh, look!" suddenly called the Monkey on a Stick. "Now the White Rocking Horse will win the race!"

As he spoke there came a loud clattering sound down near the elevators--the halfway mark of the race. All the toys strained their necks to look, and they saw that one of the roller skates had come off the Elephant. He had turned too quickly, and had lost a skate.

"Never mind! Go on! Go on!" cried the Elephant, who was quite a sporting chap in his own way. "Go on with the race! I can beat you on three skates, Mr. Horse!"

"Ho! Ho! We'll see about that!" whinnied the rocking chap, as he made the turn and started back.

The two toys were going along as fast as they could, the rumble of the rockers on the White Horse mingling with the roll of the skates on the Elephant, when, all of a sudden, a brighter light shone in the toy department, the tread of footsteps was heard, and the Calico Clown had just time to shout:

"The watchman! To your places, every one!"

And instantly the toys were as motionless and quiet as mice. The Elephant, even on three skates, had been going so fast that he rolled behind a big pillar all covered with red and green tissue paper, with which the toy section was decorated. And the White Rocking Horse stayed just where he was when the Clown called out. Up among the toy counters and shelves came a big man carrying a lantern. He was the store watchman, and he went about in the different departments each night to see that all was well.

"What's this?" exclaimed the watchman, as he noticed the White Rocking Horse near the elevators. "This toy is out of place! He belongs over near the counter. Some clerk or customer must have left him here when the store closed last night. I'll take him back," and, picking up the White Rocking Horse, the watchman carried the toy back to where it belonged. And the Horse did not dare give even the smallest kick. He dared not show that he had been alive and in a race.

The watchman walked back toward the elevator, and saw the skate that had come off the Elephant's foot. He did not see the Elephant who was hidden behind the pillar.

"Well, I do declare!" exclaimed the watchman. "The clerks here are getting very careless! This roller skate belongs over in the sporting section. I'll take it there."

He picked it up and walked away. When he was gone, and the light of his lantern no longer gleamed, the Calico Clown slowly raised his head.

"Now you can go on with the race," he said.

"No, the race is spoiled for to-night," answered the Horse. "It will soon be daylight, and the clerks and shoppers will be coming in."

"Yes, and I would have to go to the other part of the store to get back my roller skate," said the Elephant. "I find I cannot get along on three. We'll have the race to-morrow night, Mr. Horse."

"That will suit me very well," said the proud, brave steed.

"And now we had all better get quiet," said the Monkey on a Stick. "I can see the sun peeping up in the east. Daylight is coming, and we dare no longer move about and talk. We have had some fun, but now we must get ready to be looked at by the shoppers. Quiet, everybody!"

And, as he spoke, the light suddenly grew stronger in the toy department, the clerks presently began coming in, and soon, when the sun was a little higher in the sky, the shoppers began arriving.

The White Rocking Horse, proud and stiff, stood near the counter. How his red saddle, of real leather, glistened in the light! How fluffy were his mane and tail!

Suddenly there came marching down the aisle of the store a boy whose feet made a great deal of noise, and who had a loud voice.

"Here's the Rocking Horse I want!" he cried. "I'm going to have this one!" And in an instant he had leaped on the back of the White Horse, banging his heels on the painted sides and yanking on the leather reins.

"Gid-dap! Gid-dap!" cried the rude boy, and he began kicking the White Rocking Horse in the ribs.