New Zephyria
by Robin Gordon

Auksford crest: a great auk displaying an open book with the words "Ex ovo sapientia"

-  Auksford  -

Part III: Dr Pimple's Miracle Cure

Chapter 10: Stone soup

Copyright Robin Gordon, 2004

King Arthur had just turned back to chapter 5 of his memoirs.

"My sixth birthday," he wrote, "was the most exciting day I had ever had. I can remember it as clearly as if it were only yesterday. After breakfast we all went to the blue drawing room, and there, in the bay window, were all my presents, with the sunlight glinting off the wrapping paper."

"Dashed good, that bit about the sunlight," he thought. Now, where was I ...?"

At that moment the fishwife's voice started again. King Arthur groaned miserably and let his head sink onto his desk. He clasped his hands firmly over his ears. Even so he heard every word - and what he heard so astonished him that he uncovered his ears and sat up to listen.

That particularly unpleasant, harsh screech had gone from the fishwife's voice. Instead of insulting her neighbours she was making a public announcement. The surprised King heard that Dr Pimple had a pair of magic stones that had been in the Royal Family since they were given to the First Prince of New Zephyria as a wedding present. These stones, boiled in plain water, made a most delicious soup which was always served at the start of royal banquets. He heard how kings and queens from all over the world treasured invitations and coveted the stones, and how the Boranians, Argestians and Skironians had all tried to make off with them. Even the saintly, octogenarian Archduke of Föhn had attempted to smuggle them out of the country under his rugs. King Arthur heard, with growing amazement, that he had despaired of ever finding a wife for Prince Egbert, that he had begged Dr Pimple for help on his knees, and, when the doctor had found a wife for the Prince, the King, in a state of maudlin and weepy intoxication, had drunkenly presented him with the greatest of his family treasures. Dr Pimple was at that very moment preparing to make stone soup for the people so that they would defend him against the King's guards when they came out to seize him and drag him in to have his head chopped off.

The study door opened.

"What is all this nonsense about magic stones and you chopping Dr Pimple's head off?" demanded the Queen. "I didn't know we had stones you could use for making soup."

"Of course we don't," muttered the King. "It's all some trick of Pimple's. Deuced clever ... I suppose ... though how it's goin' to work I can't see for the life of me. He's meant to be stoppin' the noise, but all he's done is make it ten times worse."

* * * * *

The wash-house was demolished. The boiler was removed from the furnace, brought out into the street, and scrubbed.

Dr Pimple looked at it. "Oh dear," he said. "As a medical man I must say I'm not too happy about using it. All that corrosion."

"You're not getting out of it as easily as that, Doctor," cried the butcher.

"We've cleaned it up good and proper," said the third ironmonger.

"We've used up all the stocks of every kind of cleaner from all our shops," cried the first.

"And all the scrubbing brushes," added the second.

"I have it!" exclaimed Dr Pimple. "The brewery! Stainless steel vats! The very thing!"

The King and Queen were amazed to see the whole crowd suddenly turn and surge towards the far end of the street.

"It's a revolution," groaned the King. "I know it is. Best pack your bags, old girl. Hide a few diamonds among your stockings. I'll call Simpkin and get him to sneak off with the crown jewels. I'm sure Edna would let us have a little place in the country. I've always quite fancied livin' in Old Zephyria really."

* * * * *

The crowd was hammering on the doors of the brewery, yelling "Open up!"

"Let me through! Let me through!" howled a fat man brandishing a bunch of keys.

"Who are you shovin', mate?"

"Here! We were 'ere first!"

"Fair's fair! You wait your turn!"

"I'm the manager! I've got the keys! Let me through!"

"He's the manager!"

"He's got the keys!"

"Let him through!"

A passage was made, and the fat man climbed the steps to the main door.

"Is it rue about the stone soup?" he asked breathlessly.

A clamour of assent arose.

"Let the brewery workers through!" shouted the manager. "We'll bring out the biggest vat we've got."

"Builders, bring bricks!" yelled the butcher. "Build a furnace! Coalmen, bring coal! Come on, back to the square!"

The next instant the whole crowd was racing back towards the square.

"We're too late," groaned King Arthur. "We'll be lucky to escape with our lives. Come on quickly! To the cellars! We'll get out through the secret tunnel!"

"Wait!" commanded Queen Elizabeth. "Watch!"

The crowd had scattered in all directions, but a few minutes later the people reappeared, bringing chairs, tables, knives, forks, spoons, soup bowls, salt, pepper, table napkins, loaves of bread, cups, saucers, beer-mugs, wineglasses, bottles of beer, wine, cider and lemonade, and even pots of tea. Before the astonished eyes of the royal watchers the whole square was transformed into an immense outdoor restaurant - and, in the distance, coming slowly along the Hight Street, they saw a huge transporter truck carrying a shining, stainless steel brewery vat.

It was lowered into place in the centre of the square, and immediately a team of bricklayers began to build a furnace around it. Lorry loads of wood appeared, then lorry loads of coal. Two fire-engines arrived with screaming sirens.

"Egad!" said the King. "They're goin' to put out the fire before it's even been lit."

"No they're not," said the Queen. "Do pay attention, Arthur!"

The firemen ran out their hoses and filled the vat with water. Dr Pimple mounted a solid-looking brick platform that had appeared while the monarch and his wife had been watching the fire engines. He held up the two stones. A great "Aaah!" rose from the crowd. He dropped them into the water, and there was a ragged cheer.

Three men with blowlamps rushed forward and lit the wood in the furnace. There was a great crackling and crunching, then a few wisps of smoke began to rise from the chimney.

"Will the furnace hold?" called Dr Pimple.

"Long enough," replied the master builder. "There will be a few cracks in the mortar, but we've build everything triple strength. A baby could put its hand on the wall and never know there was a fire."

The King had thrown open his study window and was leaning out. He had a splendid view.

"The water's beginnin' to bubble!" he shouted.

"Hooray!" cheered the crowd.

"It's boilin'! It's boilin'!" yelled the King.

"Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!" howled the crowd.

"Arthur!" snapped the Queen. "What are you thinking of?"

"Stone soup!" shouted the King. "How's it goin', Pimple?"

Dr Pimple let down a bucket into the vat. He hauled it up and allowed it to cool. The crowd fell silent. Dr Pimple poured some soup into a bowl and tasted it.

"I think ..." said Dr Pimple. "I think ... it needs some salt."

Boys and girls raced round the tables collecting the salt-cellars and emptying them into buckets, housewives dashed indoors to fetch more, and a couple of grocers nodded to each other and rushed off to fetch bags of salt from their shops. The butcher and one of the ironmongers joined Dr Pimple on his platform and helped him to throw in the salt.

"Let me taste it!" shouted the butcher.

"No!" cried Dr Pimple. "Only the chief cook can taste it, or the magic won't work. There'll be enough for everybody when it's ready."

"Don't interfere, man!" bellowed the King. "Remember, too many cooks spoil the broth!"

"Arthur!" said the Queen severely. "Don't make a fool of yourself. You seem to have forgotten there's no such thing as stone soup."

"Taste it again, Pimple!" shouted the King.

Dr Pimple drew up his bucket.

"More pepper!" he called.

Again the boys and girls raced around the tables, emptying pepper into their buckets. One boy skidded, overturned his bucket, and set about two hundred people sneezing. Housewives and grocers brought out their stores, and the pepper was thrown in.

"Just a small taste," begged the butcher, grabbing at the bucket.

"No!" shouted Dr Pimple.

"Oy!" roared the King. "No hanky-panky, or I'll chop your bally head orff!"

"Sorry, Your Majesty," shrieked the butcher and descended hurriedly from the platform to find anonymity among the crowd.

Dr Pimple lowered his bucket once more. "Very good," he pronounced. "I think we've got the seasoning about right - except perhaps for a dash of Worcestershire sauce."

Nobody knows how Worcestershire sauce got its name, not even the Brothers Jolly. They know more about the Zephyrian language than anyone else. It was they who compiled the great Dictionary of the Zephyrian Language, which documents the origins, meanings and use of almost every word, from the earliest Ancient Zephyrian right up to the present day.

The Brothers Jolly were watching the soup-making along with everyone else. While several pints of Worcestershire sauce were pouring into the soup, James turned to William and said, "Why don't we put a place called Worcestershire into our next fairytale?"

"Call the county town Worcester," suggested William.

"Bit of a silly name, don't you think?" James objected.

"No worse than other names we've put into Ingland," replied William. "What about Birmingham, Stoke, Slough and Crouch End, to say nothing of Stow-on-the-Wold or Bicester."

"All right, call it Worcester," said James, "but what happens there."

"What about a lady riding naked through the city on a white horse to save the poor people from paying poll tax," suggested William.

"Ridiculous!" snorted James. "Why not ... yes, I've got it: an outlaw dressed in Worcester green ..."

"Why Worcester green?"

"So that he could hide in the Worcestershire forests."

"To steal from the rich and give to the poor," said William.

"Do you think so?"

"Well, it seems quite a good idea to me."

"Yes, but look here ..."

Once the Brothers Jolly get started on a fairytale they completely lose interest in the real world. Their academic colleagues at the University often accuse them of living in a world of their own, and say they spend more time in Ingland than in the real world of New Zephyria, but students flock to their lectures, and every child in the world loves their stories. Anyway, off they went into their own private world of Ingland, wandered off back to the University, shut themselves up in William's office, and started writing - and that's why they were the only two people in the whole city who never tasted the stone soup.

Meanwhile Dr Pimple was tasting it again. "It needs a bit of thickening," he announced, "a few potatoes, some turnips, any sort of root vegetables, a handful or two of barley, perhaps."

Bucketloads of potatoes, swedes, turnips and carrots went into the soup. Basins of barley followed.

"Flavour might just be improved by a few onions or leeks," said the doctor.

Bags of onions, baskets of leeks, buckets of celery were cast into the boiling vat.

"It's really coming along splendidly," Dr Pimple called. "I wonder ... yes, it might be improved by a few old beef bones, any old bits left over from the Sunday joint. Nothing fancy, you know, just old scraps, just to give it a bit of body."

It seemed that half the town had had roast beef that Sunday. Beef bones by the score were passed up to Dr Pimple and thrown into the soup.

The restaurateur and his wife appeared with a great pot of stock that they kept for soups and gravies. In it went, and it wasn't long before Dr Pimple's face wore a look of genuine pleasure when he tasted the soup.

"It's really delicious," he announced. "Just let it boil a little longer and it'll be ready."

At last it was. Dr Pimple ate a whole bowlful and pronounced it excellent. Then he began to dish out the soup into pails. The waiters from the restaurant took them and began to serve the people sitting at the tables.

"No seconds," called the doctor. "Not until everyone has been served. That's fair."

A few greedy boys groaned, but the crowd took up the cry. Soon there wasn't a sound but the sloshing of soup from the vat into pails, from pails to plates, and from plates into mouths.

"Oy!" shouted the King. "What about us?"

"I'll bring you some, Your Majesty," called Dr Pimple. He handed over his bucket to an eager assistant, set off with two bowls, and disappeared into the Palace.

There was so much soup in the vat that everyone had a second helping, and soon all the people were sitting back in their chairs with smiles on their faces and chatting quietly like old friends - which indeed they were, or had been until they started quarrelling.

Dr Pimple appeared on the balcony with the King.

"Isn't it nice," he called, "to be friends again? I'm going to tell you the secret of the soup now. Everything in it you put in yourselves, apart from the stones - and they were just two round river stones I found in the King's garden. I scrubbed them and boiled them to make sure they were really clean - and do you know what the water they were boiled in tasted like? Boiled water, that's all! As I said, everything in the soup was put there by you! You made a splendid soup out of beef bones and vegetables and seasoning - and two secret ingredients."

"We knew there was a secret," said the people one to another. "You can't make soup like that without a secret."

"I'll tell you what they were," said Dr Pimple. "Friendship and co-operation! That's all! You've been miserable for weeks, haven't you? And I'll tell you something you didn't know: you've made the King miserable. His study looks out over the square and along the street, and he's heard you all quarrelling and screeching, day after day, for weeks and weeks. You've given His Majesty an appalling headache, and I hope you're ashamed of yourselves. What's more, I bet you don't even remember why you've been quarrelling."

"That's right. We don't," called the fishwife, but her voice was muted and mellowed.

"Well," said Dr Pimple, "if ever you feel another quarrel coming on, just think of stone soup!"

The expression Stone Soup became proverbial in New Zephyria. If someone was in a bad mood those two words would be enough to put him right again, long after the furnace was dismantled and the vat taken back to the brewery. The Archbishop of New Zephyria referred to stone soup in his next sermon on the text Blessed be the peace-makers, though privately he thought it was lucky for him that Dr Pimple hadn't become a clergyman, or he might well have been Archbishop Pimple.

The Professors Jolly included the expression Stone Soup in their Dictionary of the Zephyrian Language, and some of the people wanted to put up a statue to Dr Pimple. He wouldn't hear of it, but the Lord Mayor insisted on putting up a plinth in the main square, with the two round white stones displayed on it, so that there would always be something to remind the citizens of Dr Pimple's miracle cure.

* * * * *

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