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A Matter-Of-Fact Fairy Tale
by [?]

“Come with me,” she said, “and I will show you how you can help me.”

She took him by the hand and led him down a narrow glade to a little clearing in the middle of the wood. Then she made him sit down beside her on the grass, and there she told him her tale.

“There is a giant called Blunderbus,” she said, “who lives in a great castle ten miles from here. He is a terrible magician, and years ago because I would not marry him he turned my–my brother into a–I don’t know how to tell you–into a–a tortoise.” She put her hands to her face and sobbed again.

“Why a tortoise?” said Charming, knowing that sympathy was useless, but feeling that he ought to say SOMETHING.

“I don’t know. He just thought of it. It–it isn’t a very nice thing to be.”

“And why should he turn your BROTHER into it? I mean, if he had turned YOU into a tortoise–Of course,” he went on hurriedly, “I’m very glad he didn’t.”

“Thank you,” said Beauty.

“But I don’t understand why–“

“He knew he could hurt me more by making my brother a tortoise than by making me one,” she explained, and looked at him anxiously.

This was a new idea to Charming, who had two brothers of his own; and he looked at her in some surprise.

“Oh, what does it matter WHY he did it?” she cried as he was about to speak. “Why do giants do things? I don’t know.”

“Princess,” said Charming remorsefully, and kissed her hand, “tell me how I can help you.”

“My brother,” said Beauty, “was to have met me here. He is late again.” She sighed and added, “He used to be SO punctual.”

“But how can I help him?” asked Charming.

“It is like this. The only way in which the enchantment can be taken off him is for someone to kill the Giant. But if once the enchantment has stayed on for seven years, then it stays on for ever.”

Here she looked down and burst into tears.

“The seven years,” she sobbed, “are over at sundown this afternoon.”

“I see,” said Charming thoughtfully.

“Here IS my brother,” cried Beauty.

An enormous tortoise came slowly into view. Beauty rushed up to him and, having explained the situation rapidly, made the necessary introduction.

“Charmed,” said the Tortoise. “You can’t miss the castle; it’s the only one near here, and Blunderbus is sure to be at home. I need not tell you how grateful I shall be if you kill him. Though I must say,” he added, “it puzzles me to think how you are going to do it.”

“I have a friend who will help me,” said Charming, fingering his ring.

“Well, I only hope you’ll be luckier than the others.”

“The others?” cried Charming, in surprise.

“Yes; didn’t she tell you about the others who had tried?”

“I forgot to,” said Beauty, frowning at him.

“Ah, well, perhaps in that case we’d better not go into it now,” said the Tortoise. “But before you start I should like to talk to you privately for a moment.” He took Charming on one side and whispered, “I say, do YOU know anything about tortoises?”

“Very little,” said Charming. “In fact–“

“Then you don’t happen to know what they eat?”

“I’m afraid I don’t.”

“Dash it, why doesn’t ANYBODY know? The others all made the most ridiculous suggestions. Steak and kidney puddings–and shrimp sandwiches–and buttered toast. Dear me! The nights we had after the shrimp sandwiches! And the fool swore he had kept tortoises all his life!”

“If I may say so,” said Charming, “I should have thought that YOU would have known best.”

“The same silly idea they all have,” said the Tortoise testily. “When Blunderbus put this enchantment on me, do you suppose he got a blackboard and a piece of chalk and gave me a lecture on the diet and habits of the common tortoise, before showing me out of the front gate? No, he simply turned me into the form of a tortoise and left my mind and soul as it was before. I’ve got the anatomy of a tortoise, I’ve got the very delicate inside of a tortoise, but I don’t THINK like one, stupid. Else I shouldn’t mind being one.”