Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Prayers, from A to Z

 Long-time readers will be familiar with commenter (and friend-of-Darwins) Bob the Ape, who has a gift for composing clever verse. Yesterday I learned that Bob has been diagnosed with prostate cancer that has metastasized to his bones. His family would be grateful for the prayers of all fellow DarwinCatholic readers.

Over the past couple of years, Bob has been sending stories to my children, each loosely themed around a letter of the alphabet. Recently he published the whole collection in an illustrated volume: Unexpected Tales from A to Z. We'd like to give a copy to two lucky commenters, to be selected from the old hat on Friday. And on the dedication page, our winners can find the names of all seven Darwin children!

(UPDATE: The winners are Heather and Erica!)


To crib from my Amazon review: This charming and clever collection of tales is perfect for family snuggling. The stories all stand on their own and are just the right length for bedtime reading. Young readers will enjoy Robert Wenson's sweeping imagination, which takes them from old New Orleans (Esme and the Eloquent Eggplant) to the fictional kingdom of Perinnia (Reynard and the Robotic Robberies), to ancient Greece (Xenophon and the Xanthios Xiphios), to all around the whole world (Yolanda and the Yak Yoghurt). Along the way are daring escapes, dastardly villains, settings historical and fantastic, and an assortment of resourceful and brave young heroes and heroines. Sarah Neville's illustrations provide just the right flourish for each tale.

As a sample, here is a favorite tale here, featuring turnips, dastardly doggerel, and a lad's quest to clear his father's name.


Victor and the Vanishing Versifier

by Robert Wenson

Once upon a time a boy named Victor lived in a town called Rootburg, which was the chief city of the province of Neepshire, which in turn was an outlying province of the Kingdom of Brassica.

Neepshire was a farming province.  Its principal — in fact, its only — crop was turnips.  Everyone who had a farm, or even a garden, grew turnips.  The holiday that everyone looked forward to was the great Turnip Festival.  The only people who didn't grow turnips busied themselves with making turnip soup, turnip butter, turnip jelly, turnip vodka, and turnip-flavored bacon.  (Once someone suggested making bacon-flavored turnips instead, but he changed his mind after a few months in a rest home.)

Victor's father, Hector Daviot, was the head of the Turnip Growers' Association.  His uncle Donald Daviot was Captain of the Provincial Guard and so, after the Royal Governor, one of the most important men in Neepshire.

At the time of this story the Royal Governor was Sir Archibald MacLaurey.  His duties as governor were few and simple: at the Turnip Festival he was the judge of the turnip competition and presided at the closing banquet, where he had the honor of eating the ceremonial bowl of mashed turnips and toasting the success of the crop with a glass of turnip wine.  The rest of the year he made sure that the roads were safe from turnip bandits (there had once been an outbreak of turnip banditry some 300 years earlier) and inspecting the border defenses in case the enemies of the kingdom decided to invade Neepshire and seize the turnip crop (although the idea of doing so had never occurred to any of them).

Victor's Uncle Donald often stopped by for a visit.  One day he came in and said, "I have some news.  Sir Archibald has said he won't be able to attend the Turnip Festival next week because he's ill."

"Won't that spoil the festival, Uncle Donald?" asked Victor.

"Oh, no," replied his uncle.  "We'll just postpone it until he's better."

A few days later Uncle Donald had another bit of news.  "Sir Archibald has announced that he's ending the Royal Greenhouse Project for Improving Turnips.  He wants them to work on improving broccoli instead."

"Won't that upset the turnip growers, Father?" asked Victor.

"Good heavens, no," replied Hector Daviot.  "The project was a silly idea from the start.  Our turnips can't be improved — they are already as good as turnips can possibly be."

A few days later Uncle Donald had another bit of news.  "Tomorrow, Sir Archibald is going to issue a proclamation.  It will be printed in the Rootburg Daily Advertiser and Turnip News, but the gist of it is that there will be a tax on turnips, effective immediately."

"But suppose the turnip farmers can't pay the tax?" asked Victor.

"That won't be a problem," said Uncle Donald.  "The law of the kingdom is that taxes on crops can be paid with money, or with a share of the crop."

A week later the Daily Advertiser and Turnip News reported that the new tax had collected two and a half ducats and 3,262 undersized or slightly damaged turnips.

Sir Archibald's health having improved, the Turnip Festival belatedly took place and was a rousing success.  At the closing banquet the Royal Governor swallowed his last spoonful of mashed turnips and stood up, a glass of turnip wine in one hand and some notes of his speech in the other.

"Gentlemen — ladies — esteemed farmers," he began.   It is my great honor and —"  He looked at his notes.  "Unalloyed pleasure to stand before you on this —"  He looked at his notes again.  "Most auspicious and gladsome occasion.  Let us raise our glasses and drink to —"  He looked at his notes again.  "Hateful Sir Archibald —"  He stopped and looked closely at the page he had been reading.

"SOMEONE has MEDDLED with my SPEECH!" he roared angrily.  He flung away his notes, turned, and strode out of the banquet hall.

Someone picked up the notes to find out what had so upset Sir Archibald.  Word soon spread that a prankster had inserted a page on which was written,

Hateful Sir Archibald, you who conspire

To injure those who turnips raise,

Take heed and repent, lest a destiny dire

Should darken the rest of your days.

The prankster, it seemed, was not content with one feat.  In the morning a verse, written in chalk, was found on the front door of the Governor's house.  It read,

MacLaurey, MacLaurey, you silly old fool —

The wrath of the turnip shall shorten your rule.

The offending words were quickly erased and a guard posted at the door.  Sir Archibald issued a proclamation that spies and saboteurs were at work and set off on an unscheduled inspection of the border defenses.

Two days later the citizens of Rootburg caught sight of an odd shape, dark against the morning sky, floating in the air several miles away.  A brisk breeze carried it toward the town.  Soon its nature became clear: it was a large balloon.  From it was suspended a bedsheet spread out on a wooden frame.  On the bedsheet were daubed the words,

Archibald, the man of woe;

Archibald, the turnips' foe;

Archibald has got to go!

When Sir Archibald returned to Rootburg and learned of this latest affront, he at once ordered that Hector Daviot be brought to him.

"These infamies must cease immediately!" he stormed.  "I am making you, the head of the Turnip Growers' Association, personally responsible.  If there is one more incident, you'll go to jail."

"But how am I to prevent them?" protested Victor's father.  "I have done none of these things; neither has anyone that I know."

"PER-son-al-ly re-SPON-si-ble," repeated the Royal Governor, frowning terribly.

Unfortunately, that very night a verse was tacked to a lamp post outside the Daviot House:

Baby Archie saw a turnip,

Baby Archie got a scare.

Now you run away from turnips —

Face us, coward, if you dare!

Sir Archibald kept his promise and Victor's father went to jail.

This did no good.  The following morning Governor MacLaurey sat down to breakfast only to find a paper folded inside his napkin.  Unfolding it, he read,

This sentence upon you, oh tyrant MacLaurey,

Unjust in your words and unjust in your deeds,

Repulsive, repugnant, a gross reprobate.

Nowise can it help you to cringe and say "Sorry,"

Implacably toward you Nemesis speeds.

Prepare — if you can — for your horrible fate.

"This is too much!" cried the Governor.  "Get me the Captain of the Guard — at once!"  He paced back and forth impatiently, looking at the clock every five seconds, until Donald Daviot came in.

"We're going to smash this conspiracy!" screamed Sir Archibald.  "First, I want a curfew from sundown to sunrise: anyone outside his home during that time will be arrested and thrown in jail.  Second, I want the entire Guard to patrol the streets of Rootburg every night.  Third, I'm announcing a reward of a thousand ducats for whoever catches the criminal.  And fourth, I want a new breakfast — this one is cold."

The curfew was proclaimed and the Guard patrolled the town every night.  Several people were arrested and thrown in jail (where, together with Victor's father, they got up a glee club and sang songs all day long — always beginning with the national anthem and ending with "Hail to the Turnips" — to the great annoyance of the jailers).

But to no avail.  Somehow, the prankster got out every night, left a taunting verse somewhere, and disappeared before the Guard got there.

With Victor's father in jail, Uncle Donald stopped by to visit each evening, before going out with the Guard, to make sure that Victor and his mother were all right.

"I tell you, Victor," he said one night, putting a roll of paper on the table and sitting down, "I hope we get this vanishing versifier soon.  It's bad enough that Governor MacLaurey comes to headquarters every day and shouts and yells and demands to know what we're doing to catch the villain — but I'm not getting enough sleep, and my feet are sore from walking on the cobblestones.  And every night we just miss him.  We hear the tapping as he tacks up another taunt and run towards it — but when we get there he's gone.  Or we find a verse on a wall and the paint's still wet or chalk dust is still floating in the air.  It's as if he already knows —"  He picked up the roll of paper, shook it, and put it down again.  "— What's on our charts."

"What is on the charts?" asked Victor.

"The streets we're patrolling each night.  Every night we go a different route."

"Maybe he does know," said Victor.

"How?  I make up a fresh chart each day at headquarters.  None of the guards sees it.  Only I know where we'll be that night."

"And until you catch up with him, Father stays in jail," said Victor sadly.  "Wait a minute…I have an idea.  Suppose he does know.  Let me go with you.  I'll walk the same route you do, but a few minutes ahead.  I'll go very quietly so he doesn't hear me coming —"

"And if he sees you, I doubt he'd suspect a boy," said Uncle Donald.  "Why not give it a try?  Nothing else has worked so far.  Tomorrow I'll make two charts, one for me and one for you."

And so the next night Victor went out on patrol with Uncle Donald and the Guard.  He walked and walked, until the night was almost over and he began to think his idea was a failure.  Then he turned a corner —

And saw ahead of him a figure scribbling on the sidewalk.  It was clad all in black, with a black cloak, a large black hat, and a black scarf wound about its face so that only its eyes were visible.  It paused in its scribbling for a moment and Victor heard a sinister giggle; then it resumed its work.

Victor crept up behind the figure.  He grabbed hold of its cloak and began shouting as loudly as he could, "I've got him!  Come quickly!"

"What's this?" hissed the prankster.  "Let go, let go!  You'll spoil everything!"  It struggled and shook but Victor hung on to the cloak.

Uncle Donald came running around the corner, followed by the Guard.  They seized the prankster and held him tightly.  "Good work, Victor," said Uncle Donald.  "We'll take this fellow back to headquarters and see who he is."

The prankster did not resist but went quietly with them back to headquarters.  "One of you, go and fetch the Governor," said Uncle Donald.  "Get him out of bed if you have to.  Tell him we've caught the villain."

"No need for that," said the prankster.  "The Governor is here already."  He removed his hat and scarf, revealing himself to be Sir Archibald MacLaurey.  "You might be good enough to release the prisoners from jail and bring them here so that I can apologize."

"What about the reward?" asked Victor.

"Oh, yes — I suppose you're entitled to the reward," said Sir Archibald.  "A thousand ducats it was, I recall.  If I'd known that I was going to be caught, I wouldn't have made it so much."

When Sir Archibald had finished apologizing to the people he had thrown in jail, Hector Daviot asked, "Why did you put up all those verses against yourself?"

"I hate it here," said Sir Archibald.  "It's a hundred miles from anywhere, it's horribly dull, and I absolutely loathe turnips.  My parents used to make me eat turnips when I was a child, and if I complained I got a second helping and no dessert.  And now every year at the Turnip Festival I have to choke down a great bowlful of them and smile like I'm enjoying it when I feel like gagging.

"I thought if I could make myself unpopular enough you would complain to the King and he'd remove me as Governor and take me home to the capital."

"Why didn't you just quit?" asked Victor.

"The King doesn't like quitters," replied Sir Archibald.  "If he only thought I did a poor job he might give me a second chance — but if I quit, he'd never want to see me again."

"Well, why didn’t you say so?" asked Hector Daviot.

In response to an urgent telegram from Sir Archibald, the King himself came to Neepshire.  As soon as the royal train puffed into the station at Rootburg, Victor, who had been keeping watch, ran to tell the crowd gathered in the street before the Governor's house.  When the King's carriage came in sight the crowd, led by Victor's father, began shouting "Down with the Governor!" and "Down with Sir Archibald!" and pelting the house with turnips (the turnips had been provided by Sir Archibald out of the 3,262 collected several weeks ago and now more or less spoiled).

The Guard came and cleared a way for the King to enter the house.  Soon he came out, accompanied by Sir Archibald.  They got into the carriage and drove to the railway station.  The people of Rootburg followed, laughing and cheering.

"The people certainly seem happy to see you go," remarked the King.

"Indeed," replied Sir Archibald.  "They think it a very good joke."

Several months later, Sir Archibald was getting ready to go to Court, where the King was going to appoint him as Royal Governor of another province.  He had just buttoned his waistcoat when a knock came on the door.  It was a messenger, delivering a small but heavy parcel.

Sir Archibald opened the parcel.  Inside was a large and fancy gold watch and chain.  There was also a note:

Dear Sir Archibald,

On behalf of the Turnip Growers' Association and the people of Neepshire I have the great pleasure of presenting you with this small token of our esteem.  (We would rather have presented it at the time of your departure, but doing so would not really have been in keeping with the spirit of the occasion.)


Hector Daviot, President


"Well, that's an uncommonly handsome gesture," said Sir Archibald to himself.  "I think I shall wear it to Court…Of course, if anyone asks, I shall say only that it was a present from some good friends."

"By Jove," said the King.  "That's the finest watch I've ever seen."

"Perfectly smashing," said the Queen.

"I wish I had one," said the Crown Prince.

"Holy Mackerel!" exclaimed the Royal Keeper of Timepieces.  He took hold of Sir Archibald's arm and pulled him over to a window where the light was better.  "Let me see it!"

Sir Archibald handed over the watch.  The Keeper examined it closely.  "I haven't seen one of these in years," he said.  "I didn't know they even made them any more."

"What is it then?" asked Sir Archibald.

"It's a turnip watch," said the Keeper.

* * * THE END * * *


Julie said...

I have no memory of just where I came across this charming, amusing collection but I did see the DarwinCatholic connection. I have it on my Kindle where I occasionally read it at bedtime. I've been waiting until I finished it to do a review, but I now realize that I need to review it now. I'm about halfway through and it is consistently wonderful.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

This sounds like the sort of book I would love to have had when my children were small. I am sorry to hear about your friend's diagnosis and will continue to keep him in our prayers.

Heather Ricco said...

Those sound absolutely charming, and I bet my kids will love them. We will keep him in our prayers.

Erica Minneman said...

How charming! We read aloud over lunch during the school week, and I am certain my kids would enjoy this book.

MrsDarwin said...

The winners are Heather and Erica! Please send us an email at with your address, and we'll send copies to you!

Bob the Ape said...

Thanks to you all for the prayers (and the plug!) Hopefully I'll have time & energy to finish some others things that are on the drawing board.