Pervy was ten, and ten years before his father had been carried off by robbers. That accounted for why he had no brothers or sisters; it also accounts for his being the Apple of his Mother’s Eye. This needs accounting for, for Pervy was both queer and naughty.
Near where he lived there was a high Tower, called King Arthur’s Tower. It was built of brick, and had 1851 carved over the door, and the local people believed that King Arthur had used it as a vantage point in his wars against the Saxons; for which indeed, it was most suitable. Learned Historians used to pooh-pooh the idea, but as you know they will pooh-pooh anything, so we needn’t take any notice of them. Pervy had often wanted to climb to the top of this tower, but his Mother wouldn’t let him, because she was afraid he would fall off the top. In fact her chief thought about Pervy was “If anything should happen to him.” Actually Anything never did happen to him, though lots of other things did, as you shall hear.
One day Pervy said to his Mother, “Please, I want to go up King Arthur’s Tower.”
“No” said his Mother
“But,” said Pervy “I want to pretend to be King Arthur fighting the Saxons.” Now Pervy’s Mother was a romantic type, especially about Pervy, and had but to think of Pervy as a second King Arthur, saving his countrymen once again from the dreadful Saxons, to go all starry-eyed and say “Very well, but whateveryoudo don’t go to the very top.” As if that wasn’t just why he was going anyway. So she gave him a bag of applecumjockabies and let him go. All the same, she was anxious about him, so she thought she’d stroll over to the Post Office, which was near the tower, to buy a stamp and tell them to keep a look out. And she went by Jarvis’s farm just to pass the time of day. And she should have rung up the Grand Hotel, only she couldn’t remember the number. As you shall see, it was lucky she did these things.
Meanwhile Pervy set off and soon reached the tower. He looked up at the projecting parapet all round the top, and imagined himself King Arthur riding round it on his high horse, accompanied by one or two knights, the sun gleaming on their armour, and the Saxons skulking below in their Castle (now the Grand Hotel.) Soon, he thought, I’ll be doing that. So he started up. He knew the tower had a spiral staircase with 404 steps; but he didn’t know what a big number 404 was. When he had gone up 72 steps he rested and ate an applecumjockaby. When he passed 101 he thought “Only a quarter of the way.” He had a good head for figures. By the time he eventually got to the top he had rested seven times and finished all his applecumjockabies, and didn’t feel as much like Arthur as he had at the bottom. However, he rested some more, and then opened the door and went out onto the parapet, like his Mother had said he wasn’t to, which was naughty.
He walked all round the parapet, which was about four feet high, so he could not very easily fall over, and thought to himself, “I am King Arthur, and I am planning an attack on those Saxons down there.” He was nearly right too. However, it occurred to him that the reason King Arthur would have climbed the tower would be to get best possible view of the Saxons, and it wasn’t worth spoiling the ship for a haporth of tar, so why not climb up the parapet? This he did; what’s more, he leant over, in case there should be any Saxons immediately below setting fire to the tower. Now if hadn’t been the Apple of his Mother’s Eye he would have been allowed to learn in a more convenient place what happens when you lean over when on top of a wall. If you do this, he now discovered, in a very short time you begin to fall towards the ground. As I said, he had a good for figures, and so he quickly figured out that, at his present velocity (he hadn’t yet done Acceleration) he would get down quicker than he had got up.
Fortunately he had chosen the side of the tower nearest the houses to fall from. Otherwise it is very likely that the people wouldn’t have seen him so soon, as the whole thickness of the tower would have been between them and him. Probably the first to notice what was happening was Miss Flimsy at the Grand Hotel. She looked out of the window in great surprise, and said to Sprocket the Chambermaid “I do believe I can see a boy beginning to fall from the tower.” God gracious, said Sprocket, I’d better call for Mr Snodgrass. Mr Snodgrass was the hotel handyman, and had a great reputation for being good at emergencies. So she ran through the corridors looking in room after room, till at last she found Mr Snodgrass. When she had explained the situation to him, he took action at once. He went off to the garage to fetch a ladder. When he’d got it, it occurred to him that he didn’t quite know what he was going to do with it, but he took it along all the same, thinking that it was better than nothing anyway.
Meanwhile, old Mr Higginbottom at the Post Office also saw the falling boy. He realised at once what had to be done, but he was too fat himself; so his mind flew to his son Gus, who was young and active. Unluckily, as he immediately remembered Gus was in Ghana teaching Grammar. So his mind flew to his son Charles; but he was in China studying China. Then his mind flew to his son Nat, though he knew perfectly well that he was in Norway looking for Lemmings. So in the end he had to think, though it pained him, of his daughter Daisy, who was right there beside him. “Hurry,” he said, “there isn’t a moment to lose.”
“Why?” said Daisy. Who wasn’t very bright. He explained to her, for he was a patient man, the awful thing that might happen if the boy were to reach the ground when there was no one there to catch him. He carefully didn’t explain what would happen to anyone who was directly underneath him. He didn’t care Daisy very much.
Daisy dashed off, keen to be the first at the scene. As she went, she came up with Crabtree and Vobster, two men from Jarvis’s farm, who had also seen Pervy in the air. Before long they arrived at the foot of the tower, with Pervy descending rapidly towards them. There they met Mr Snodgrass, and a young woman called Peggy Pimpleshank who happened to be passing. It was only then that the important question. How should they try to save the falling boy, really occurred to them in earnest. Mr Snodgrass thought they could sort of use the ladder as a seesaw, but the scheme broke down under Miss Pimpleshank’s questioning. She however said that what they needed was a blanket. “What use would that be?” asked Vobster. “Each of us,” replied Peggy, “would hold a corner of it, and he would fall into it.”
“Of course, I see.” said Vobster.
“That’s mighty silly of you,” said Crabtree “cos did you ever see a blanket with five corners?” Vobster would have acknowledged himself in the wrong, if Mr Snodgrass hadn’t pointed out that one of them could stand aside and even offered to do this himself.
“However,” he said “I very much doubt whether there is still time for us to go and fetch a blanket, so that’s no use.” As it happened, however, Daisy was wearing a sari which her Uncle Ivan had brought back from India, where he had been instituting Insurance, and she offered to lend them that.
So Crabtree held the heel-point of one of her shoes in one hand, and Vobster held the top of her head in his hand, and Mr Snodgrass pulled the end of the sari and running quickly backwards began to unwrap her. It was 33 feet long and 3 feet wide, but it was better than nothing; better even than the ladder, as Mr Snodgrass admitted. When they realised that Daisy was going to be left quite naked, Crabtree and Vobster were overcome with embarrassment, but luckily it didn’t matter because being the shape it was the sari only needed two people to hold it. But it did need them nearer than 33 feet apart, which was the distance between Daisy and Mr Snodgrass. Peggy Pimpleshank tried to point this out, but Mr Snodgrass couldn’t see it. So she took a piece of chalk out of her handbag and began to draw a diagram on the wall of the tower.
“Begging your pardon, Miss” said Crabtree, “but how long is this explanation likely to take? If I might make so bold, I would suggest that Mr Snodgrass should accept what the lady says as quick as maybe.” Mr Snodgrass advanced a pace, but said “The longer the slacker, the slacker the bouncier, the bouncier the better. So Peggy had to go on with her explanations. It takes along time to walk 33 feet, if you have to be convinced by mathematics of the need for each step; and takes a much shorter time to fall the same distance which was about all that was left of Pervy’s downward journey. Luckily Mr Snodgrass just thought of a purely non-mathematical reason why he should go as near as possible to Daisy, so that by the time that Pervy reached them he was met with a mere ten feet of reasonably tightly held sari.
During this time Pervy had been very interested in the proceedings below. He had at first expected that they would climb up the ladder and somehow slow him up on the way down. Then he realised that the long thing was meant to catch him in. he thought it very kind of them to take so much trouble, and busied himself with composing a little speech to say so, because his Mother always said that the least one can do is to Thank people. When he landed on the sari he bounced up again several feet, and in all he bounced three times before coming to rest. He then stepped down, and said “Thank you very much, kind people, my Mother will be most grateful to you. If I hadn’t eaten all my applecumjockabies I would give you each one, but as I have, I can only thnka you.”
So he went home to his Mother who said
“What did I tell you?” but she was so glad he was safe she didn’t answer the question very fully. And Pervy never leant over the top of the parapet of King Arthur’s Tower again, though he often went up there. Because his Mother knew that he had learnt his lesson. As for all the other people, they were a bit disappointed that ot was only Pervy they had rescued, because he was always getting into trouble. However, they consoled themselves with the thought that if it hadn’t been him it would probably have been someone bigger, who would have fallen faster, and they wouldn’t have been in time. Peggy Pimpleshank never managed to convince them how wrong they were.