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کتاب: شبح باجه اخذ عوارض / فصل 4

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4.Confusion in the Market Place

Indeed it was, for as they approached, Milo could see crowds of people pushing and shouting their way among the stalls, buying and selling, trading and bargaining.

Huge wooden-wheeled carts streamed into the market square from the orchards, and long caravans bound for the four corners of the kingdom made ready to leave.

Sacks and boxes were piled high waiting to be delivered to the ships that sailed the Sea of Knowledge, and off to one side a group of minstrels sang songs to the delight of those either too young or too old to engage in trade. But above all the noise and tumult of the crowd could be heard the merchants’ voices loudly advertising their products.

“Get your fresh-picked ifs, ands, and buts.”

“Hey-yaa, hey-yaa, hey-yaa, nice ripe wheres and whens.”

“Juicy, tempting words for sale.”So many words and so many people! They were from every place imaginable and some places even beyond that, and they were all busy sorting, choosing, and stuffing things into cases. As soon as one was filled, another was begun. There seemed to be no end to the bustle and activity.

Milo and Tock wandered up and down the aisles looking at the wonderful assortment of words for sale. There were short ones and easy ones for everyday use, and long and very important ones for special occasions, and even some marvelously fancy ones packed in individual gift boxes for use in royal decrees and pronouncements.

“Step right up, step right up—fancy, best-quality words right here,” announced one man in a booming voice. “Step right up—ah, what can I do for you, little boy? How about a nice bagful of pronouns—or maybe you’d like our special assortment of names?”

Milo had never thought much about words before, but these looked so good that he longed to have some.

“Look, Tock,” he cried, “aren’t they wonderful?”

“They’re fine, if you have something to say,” replied Tock in a tired voice, for he was much more interested in finding a bone than in shopping for new words.

“Maybe if I buy some I can learn how to use them,”

said Milo eagerly as he began to pick through the words in the stall. Finally he chose three which looked particularly good to him—”quagmire,” “flabbergast,” and “upholstery.” He had no idea what they meant, but they looked very grand and elegant.

“How much are these?” he inquired, and when theman whispered the answer he quickly put them back on the shelf and started to walk on.

“Why not take a few pounds of ‘happys’?” advised the salesman. “They’re much more practical—and very useful for Happy Birthday, Happy New Year, happy days, and happy-go-lucky.”

“I’d like to very much,” began Milo, “but “

“Or perhaps you’d be interested in a package of ‘goods’—always handy for good morning, good afternoon, good evening, and good-by,” he suggested.

Milo did want to buy something, but the only money he had was the coin he needed to get back through the tollbooth, and Tock, of course, had nothing but the time.

“No, thank you,” replied Milo. “We’re just looking.”

And they continued on through the market.

“As they turned down the last aisle of stalls, Milo noticed a wagon that seemed different from the rest. On its side was a small neatly lettered sign that said “DO IT YOURSELF,” and inside were twenty-six bins filled with all the letters of the alphabet from A to Z.

“These are for people who like to make their own words,” the man in charge informed him. “You can pick any assortment you like or buy a special box complete with all letters, punctuation marks, and a book of instructions. Here, taste an A; they’re very good.”

Milo nibbled carefully at the letter and discovered that it was quite sweet and delicious—just the way you’d expect an A to taste.

“I knew you’d like it,” laughed the letter man, popping two G’s and an R into his mouth and letting the juicedrip down his chin. “A’s are one of our most popular letters. All of them aren’t that good,” he confided in a low voice. “Take the Z, for instance—very dry and sawdusty.

And the X? Why, it tastes like a trunkful of stale air.

That’s why people hardly ever use them. But most of the others are quite tasty. Try some more.”

He gave Milo an I, which was icy and refreshing, and Tock a crisp, crunchy C.

“Most people are just too lazy to make their own words,” he continued, “but it’s much more fun.”

“Is it difficult? I’m not much good at making words,”

admitted Milo, spitting the pits from a P.

“Perhaps I can be of some assistance—a-s-s-i-s-ta-n-c-e,” buzzed an unfamiliar voice, and when Milo looked up he saw an enormous bee, at least twice his size, sitting on top of the wagon.

“I am the Spelling Bee,” announced the Spelling Bee.

“Don’t be alarmed—a-l-a-r-m-e-d.”

Tock ducked under the wagon, and Milo, who was not overly fond of normal-sized bees, began to back away slowly.

“I can spell anything—a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g,” he boasted, testing his wings. “Try me, try me!”

“Can you spell good-by?” suggested Milo as he continued to back away.

The bee gently lifted himself into the air and circled lazily over Milo’s head.

“Perhaps—p-e-r-h-a-p-s—you are under the misapprehension—m-i-s-a-p-p-r-e-h-e-n-s-i-o-n—that I am dangerous,” he said, turning a smart loop to the left.”Let me assure—a-s-s-u-r-e—you that my intentions are peaceful—p-e-a-c-e-f-u-l.” And with that he settled back on top of the wagon and fanned himself with one wing.

“Now,” he panted, “think of the most difficult word you can and I’ll spell it. Hurry up, hurry up!” And he jumped up and down impatiently.

“He looks friendly enough,” thought Milo, not sure just how friendly a friendly bumblebee should be, and tried to think of a very difficult word. “Spell Vegetable,’ “ he suggested, for it was one that always troubled him at school.

“That is a difficult one,” said the bee, winking at the letter man. “Let me see now . . . hmmmmmm . . .”

He frowned and wiped his brow and paced slowly back and forth on top of the wagon. “How much time do I have?”

“Just ten seconds,” cried Milo excitedly. “Count them off, Tock.”

“Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear,” the bee repeated, continuing to pace nervously. Then, just as the time ran out, he spelled as fast as he could—”v-e-g-e-t-a-b-l-e.”

“Correct,” shouted the letter man, and everyone cheered.

“Can you spell everything?” asked Milo admiringly.

“Just about,” replied the bee with a hint of pride in his voice. “You see, years ago I was just an ordinary bee minding my own business, smelling flowers all day, and occasionally picking up part-time work in people’s bonnets. Then one day I realized that I’d never amount to anything without an education and, being naturally adept at spelling, I decided that “

“BALDERDASH!” shouted a booming voice. And

from around the wagon stepped a large beetlelike insect dressed in a lavish coat, striped pants, checked vest, spats, and a derby hat. “Let me repeat—BALDERDASH!” he shouted again, swinging his cane and clicking his heels in mid-air. “Come now, don’t be ill-mannered. Isn’t someone going to introduce me to the little boy?”

“This,” said the bee with complete disdain, “is the Humbug. A very dislikable fellow.”

“NONSENSE! Everyone loves a Humbug,” shouted the Humbug. “As I was saying to the king just the other day——”

“You’ve never met the king,” accused the bee angrily.

Then, turning to Milo, he said, “Don’t believe a thing this old fraud says.”

“BOSH!” replied the Humbug. “We’re an old and noble family, honorable to the core—Insertions Humbugium, if I may use the Latin. Why, we fought in the crusades with Richard the Lion Heart, crossed the Atlantic with Columbus, blazed trails with the pioneers, and today many members of the family hold prominent government positions throughout the world. History is full of Humbugs.”

“A very pretty speech—s-p-e-e-c-h,” sneered the bee.

“Now why don’t you go away? I was just advising the lad of the importance of proper spelling.”

“BAH!” said the bug, putting an arm around Milo.

“As soon as you learn to spell one word, they ask you to spell another. You can never catch up—so why bother?

Take my advice, my boy, and forget about it. As my great-great-great-grandfather George Washington Humbug used to say “ “You, sir,” shouted the bee very excitedly, “are an impostor—i-m-p-o-s-t-o-r—who can’t even spell his own name.”

“A slavish concern for the composition of words is the sign of a bankrupt intellect,” roared the Humbug, waving his cane furiously.

Milo didn’t have any idea what this meant, but itseemed to infuriate the Spelling Bee, who flew down and knocked off the Humbug’s hat with his wing.

“Be careful,” shouted Milo as the bug swung his cane again, catching the bee on the foot and knocking over the box of W’s.

“My foot!” shouted the bee.

“My hat!” shouted the bug—and the fight was on.

The Spelling Bee buzzed dangerously in and out of range of the Humbug’s wildly swinging cane as they menaced and threatened each other, and the crowd stepped back out of danger.

“There must be some other way to “ began Milo.

And then he yelled, “WATCH OUT,” but it was too late.

There was a tremendous crash as the Humbug in his great fury tripped into one of the stalls, knocking it into another, then another, then another, then another, until every stall in the market place had been upset and the words lay scrambled in great confusion all over the square.

The bee, who had tangled himself in some bunting, toppled to the ground, knocking Milo over on top of him, and lay there shouting, “Help! Help! There’s a little boy on me.” The bug sprawled untidily on a mound of squashed letters and Tock, his alarm ringing persistently, was buried under a pile of words.

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