Pippi Longstocking. Chapter 5. Pippi Sits on the Gate and Climbs a Tree

Chapter 5

Outside Villa Villekulla sat Pippi, Tommy, and Annika. Pippi sat on one gatepost, Annika on the other, and Tommy sat on the gate. It was a warm and beautiful day toward the end of August. A pear tree that grew close to the fence stretched its branches so low down that the children could sit and pick the best little red-gold pears without any trouble at all. They munched and ate and spit pear cores out onto the road. Villa Villekulla stood just at the edge of the little town, where the street turned into a country road. The people in the little town loved to go walking out Villa Villekulla way, for the country out there was so beautiful. As the children were sitting there eating pears, a girl came walking along the road from town. When she saw the children she stopped and asked, “Have you seen my papa go by?” “M-m-m,” said Pippi. “How did he look? Did he have blue eyes?” “Yes,” said the girl. “Medium large, not too tall and not too short?” “Yes,” said the girl. “Black hat and black shoes?” “Yes, exactly,” said the girl eagerly. “No, that one we haven’t seen,” said Pippi decidedly. The girl looked crestfallen and went off without a word. “Wait a minute,” shrieked Pippi after her. “Was he bald-headed?” “No, he certainly was not,” said the girl crossly. “Lucky for him!” said Pippi and spit out a pear core. The girl hurried away, but then Pippi shouted, “Did he have big ears that reached way down to his shoulders?” “No,” said the girl and turned and came running back in amazement. “You don’t mean to say that you have seen a man walk by with such big ears?” “I have never seen anyone who walks with his ears,” said Pippi. “All the people I know walk with their feet.” “Oh, don’t be silly! I mean have you really seen a man who has such big ears?” “No,” said Pippi, “there isn’t anybody with such big ears. It would be ridiculous. How would they look? It isn’t possible to have such big ears. At least not in this country,” she added after a thoughtful pause. “Of course in China it’s a little different. I once saw a Chinese in Shanghai. His ears were so big that he could use them for a cape. When it rained he just crawled in under his ears and was as warm and snug as you please. Of course his ears didn’t have it so good. If it was very bad weather he used to invite his friends to camp under his ears. There they sat and sang sad songs while the rain poured down. They liked him a lot because of his ears. His name was Hai Shang. You should have seen Hai Shang run to work in the morning. He always came dashing in at the last minute because he loved to sleep late, and you can’t imagine how funny he looked, rushing in with his ears flying behind him like two big golden sails.” The girl had stopped and stood open-mouthed listening to Pippi. And Tommy and Annika forgot to eat any more pears, they were so utterly absorbed in the story. “He had more children than he could count, and the littlest one was named Peter,” said Pippi. “Oh, but a Chinese baby can’t be called Peter,” interrupted Tommy. “That’s just what his wife said to him, ‘A Chinese baby can’t be called Peter.’ But Hai Shang was dreadfully stubborn, and he said that the baby should be called Peter or Nothing. And then he sat down in a corner and pulled his ears over his head and howled. And his poor wife had to give in, of course, and the kid was called Peter.” “Really?” said Annika. “It was the hatefulest kid in all Shanghai,” continued Pippi. “Fussy about his food, so that his mother was most unhappy. You know, of course, that they eat swallows’ nests in China? And there sat his mother, with a whole plate full of swallows’ nests, trying to feed him. ‘Now, little Peter,’ she said, ‘come, we’ll eat a swallow’s nest for Daddy.’ But Peter just shut his mouth tight and shook his head. At last Hai Shang was so angry that he said that no new food should be prepared for Peter until he had eaten a swallow’s nest for Daddy. And when Hai Shang said something, that was that. The same swallow’s nest rode in and out of the kitchen from May until October. On the fourteenth of July his mother begged to be allowed to give Peter a couple of meatballs, but Hai Shang said no.” “Nonsense!” said the girl in the road. “Yes, that’s just what Hai Shang said,” continued Pippi. ” ‘Nonsense,’ he said, ‘it’s perfectly plain that the child can eat the swallow’s nest if he’ll only stop being so stubborn.’ But Peter kept his mouth shut tight from May to October.” “But how could he live?” asked Tommy, astonished. “He couldn’t live,” said Pippi. “He died. Of Plain Common Ordinary Pigheadedness. The eighteenth of October. And was buried the nineteenth. And on the twentieth a swallow flew in through the window and laid an egg in the nest, which was standing on the table. So it came in handy after all. No harm done,” said Pippi happily. Then she looked thoughtfully at the bewildered girl, who still stood in the road. “Why do you look so funny?” asked Pippi. “What’s the matter? You don’t really think that I’m sitting here telling lies, do you? Just tell me if you do,” said Pippi threateningly and rolled up her sleeves. “Oh, no, indeed,” said the girl, terrified. “I don’t really mean that you are lying, but—” “No?” said Pippi. “But it’s just what I’m doing. I’m lying so my tongue is turning black. Do you really think that a child can live without food from May to October? To be sure, I know they can get along without food for three or four months all right. But from May to October! It’s just foolish to think that. You must know that’s a lie. You mustn’t let people fool you so easily.” Then the girl left without turning around again. “People will believe anything,” said Pippi to Tommy and Annika. “From May until October! That’s ridiculous!” Then she called after the girl, “No, we haven’t seen your papa. We haven’t seen a single bald-headed person all day. But yesterday seventeen of them went by. Arm in arm.” Pippi’s garden was really lovely. You couldn’t say it was well kept, but there were wonderful grass plots that were never cut, and old rose-bushes that were full of white and yellow and pink roses—perhaps not such fine roses, but oh, how sweet they smelled! A good many fruit trees grew there too, and, best of all, several ancient oaks and elms that were excellent for climbing. The trees in Tommy’s and Annika’s garden were not very good for climbing, and besides, their mother was always so afraid they would fall and get hurt that they had never climbed much. But now Pippi said, “Suppose we climb up in the big oak tree?” Tommy jumped down from the gate at once, delighted with the suggestion. Annika was a little hesitant, but when she saw that the trunk had nubbly places to climb on, she too thought it would be fun to try. A few feet above the ground the oak divided into two branches, and right there was a place just like a little room. Before long all three children were sitting there. Over their heads the oak spread out its crown like a great green roof. “We could drink coffee here,” said Pippi. “I’ll skip in and make a little.” Tommy and Annika clapped their hands and shouted, “Bravo!” In a little while Pippi had the coffee ready. She had made buns the day before. She came and stood under the oak and began to toss up coffee cups. Tommy and Annika caught them. Only sometimes it was the oak that caught them, and so two cups were broken. Pippi ran in to get new ones. Next it was the buns’ turn, and for a while the air was full of flying buns. At least they didn’t break. At last Pippi climbed up with the coffee pot in one hand. She had cream in a little bottle in her pocket, and sugar in a little box. Tommy and Annika thought coffee had never tasted so good before. They were not allowed to drink it every day—only when they were at a party. And now they were at a party. Annika spilled a little coffee in her lap. First it was warm and wet, and then it was cold and wet, but that didn’t matter to her. When they had finished, Pippi threw the cups down on the grass. “I want to see how strong the china they make these days is,” she said. Strangely enough, one cup and three saucers held together, and only the spout of the coffee pot broke off. Presently Pippi decided to climb a little higher. “Can you beat this?” she cried suddenly. “The tree is hollow.” There in the trunk was a big hole, which the leaves had hidden from the children’s sight. “Oh, may I climb up and look too?” called Tommy. But there was no answer. “Pippi, where are you?” he cried, worried. Then they heard Pippi’s voice, not from above but from way down below. It sounded as if it came from under the ground. “I’m inside the tree. It is hollow clear down to the ground. If I peek out through a little crack I can see the coffee pot outside on the grass.” “Oh, how will you get up again?” cried Annika. “I’m never coming up,” said Pippi. “I’m going to stay here until I retire and get a pension. And you’ll have to throw my food down through that hole up there. Five or six times a day.” Annika began to cry. “Why be sorry? Why complain?” said Pippi. “You come down here too, and then we can play that we are pining away in a dungeon.” “Never in this world!” said Annika, and to be on the safe side she climbed right down out of the tree. “Annika, I can see you through the crack,” cried Pippi. “Don’t step on the coffee pot; it’s an old well-mannered coffee pot that never did anyone any harm. It can’t help it that it doesn’t have a spout any longer.” Annika went up to the tree trunk, and through a little crack she saw the very tip of Pippi’s finger. This comforted her a good deal, but she was still worried. “Pippi, can’t you really get up?” she asked. Pippi’s finger disappeared, and in less than a minute her face popped out of the hole up in the tree. “Maybe I can if I try very hard,” she said and parted the foliage with her hands. “If it’s as easy as all that to get up,” said Tommy, who was still up in the tree, “then I want to come down and pine away a little too.” “Wait,” said Pippi, “I think we’ll get a ladder.” She crawled out of the hole and hurried down the tree. Then she ran after a ladder, pushed it up the tree, and let it down into the hole. Tommy was wild to go down. It was difficult to climb to the hole, because it was so high up, but Tommy was brave. And he wasn’t afraid to climb down into the dark hollow in the trunk. Annika watched him disappear and wondered if she would ever see him again. She peeked in through the crack. “Annika,” came Tommy’s voice. “You can’t imagine how wonderful it is here. You must come in too. It isn’t the least bit dangerous when you have a ladder to climb on. If you only do it once, you’ll never want to do anything else.” “Are you sure?” asked Annika. “Absolutely,” said Tommy. With trembling legs Annika climbed up in the tree again, and Pippi helped her with the last hard bit. She drew back a little when she saw how dark it was in the tree trunk, but Pippi held her hand and kept encouraging her. “Don’t be scared, Annika,” she heard Tommy say from down below. “Now I can see your legs, and I’ll certainly catch you if you fall.” But Annika didn’t fall. She reached Tommy safely, and a moment later Pippi followed. “Isn’t it grand here?” said Tommy. And Annika had to admit that it was. It wasn’t nearly so dark as she had thought, because light came in through the crack. She peeked through and announced that she too could see the coffee pot outside on the grass. “We’ll have this for our secret hiding place,” said Tommy. “Nobody will know that we are here. And if they should come and hunt around outside for us, we can see them through the crack. And we’ll have a good laugh.” “We can have a little stick and poke it out through the crack and tickle them, and then they’ll think the place is haunted,” said Pippi. At this idea the children were so delighted that they hugged each other, all three. Then they heard the “ding-dong” that meant the bell was ringing for dinner at Tommy’s and Annika’s house. “Oh, bother!” said Tommy. “Now we’ve got to go home. But we’ll come over tomorrow as soon as we get back from school.” “Do that,” said Pippi. And so they climbed up the ladder, first Pippi, then Annika, and Tommy last. And then they climbed down out of the tree, first Pippi, then Annika, and Tommy last.