Alisdair and I finished reading "The New Treasure Seekers" last night ~ while we were waiting for Isobel as she was participating in an evening Daily Vacation Bible School program. The book is narrated by Oswald Bastable (in the third person) but was authored by Edith (or just plain E.) Nesbit. We have already read three other titles by this British writer, (two of these featured other tales about the Bastable children), so we enjoyed learning more about Oswald and his siblings. Sometimes, for a joke, I call Alisdair "Oswald!"
This story was first published in 1904. It's amazing how we can still delight in the antics of the Bastable children more than 100 years after the author first wrote of them with pen and paper.
The first chapter tells a tale about "H. O." (which is short for Horace Octavius Bastable) who attempts to stowaway on a trip to Rome with his newlywed "Uncle" and his wife. Luckily he was discovered and soon returned to his home!
Then the Bastable children attempt to perform an act of charity -- collecting money to give "poor folk" a nice Christmas. They do manage to gather some funds and purchase ingredients to make a Christmas pudding. However, everything soon backfires. "We washed our hands as well as the currants. I have sometimes thought we did not get all the soap off the currants. The pudding smelt like a washing-day when the time came to cut it open. And we washed a corner of the table to chop the suet on. Chopping suet looks easy till you try" (Page 29). Later, they tried to boil the pudding, but due to a lack of coal it was not cooked as long as it required.
"We went out into the streets. They were pretty quiet -- nearly everybody was eating its Christmas dessert. But presently we met a woman in an apron. Oswald said very politely -- 'Please, are you a poor person?' And she told us to get along with us. The next we met was a shabby man with a hole in his left boot. Again Oswald said, 'Please, are you a poor person, and have you any poor children?' The man told us not to come any of our games with him, or we should laugh on the wrong side of our faces. We went on sadly. We had no heart to stop and explain to him that we had no games to come. The next was a young man near the Obelisk. Dora tried this time. She said, 'Oh, if you please we've got some Christmas pudding in this basket, and if you're a poor person you can have some.' 'Poor as Job,' said the young man in a hoarse voice, and he had to come up out of a red comforter to say it. We gave him a slice of the pudding, and he bit into it without thanks or delay. The next minute he had thrown the pudding slap in Dora's face, and was clutching Dicky by the collar. 'Blime if I don't chuck ye in the river, the whole bloomin' lot of you!' he exclaimed. The girls screamed, the boys shouted, and though Oswald threw himself on the insulter of his sister with all his manly vigour, yet but for a friend of Oswald's, who is in the police, passing at that instant, the author shudders to think what might have happened, for he was a strong young man and Oswald is not yet come to his full strength, and the Quaggy runs all too near" (Pages 35 and 36).
Other adventures follow the children. Archibald, an unpleasant cousin, comes to visit and the revenge for his nasty behaviour comes in the form of a bar of "Maple's dark bright navy-blue indelible dye - won't wash out" (Page 55). Archibald thinks it is soap and accidentally dyes himself all over. The colour only began to wear off days later!
The children go to visit the Editor (who publishes Albert's Uncle's stories) and they tell him how wonderful a particular chapter of the story was. Unfortunately, the children have actually read the tale elsewhere, prior to it being printed in that particular magazine, and so the Editor realizes something isn't as it should be.
Another day they rent a room to a man who is mentally ill and who draws artwork on the walls of the cottage in the night! They get involved in a smuggling operation and go door-to-door selling goods without a license (and are caught by a policeman who wishes to pursue charges.) The children also get into other scrapes, during the course of the novel, but they always manage to get themselves extricated from their troubles, in the end.
In the final chapter, "The Poor and Needy" (Page 213) Oswald says: "When you think about yourself there is a kind of you that is not what you generally are but that you know you would like to be if only you were good enough. Albert's uncle says this is called your ideal of yourself. I will call it your best I, for short. Oswald's 'best I' was glad to go and talk to that boy whose father was in prison, but the Oswald that generally exists hated being out of the games. Yet the whole Oswald, both the best and the ordinary, was pleased that he was the one chosen to be a detachment of consolation."
I could relate to this explanation as I know there are gaps between "the person I am" and "the person I wish to be -- or think I am in my own mind."
"The New Treasure Seekers" is both a thought provoking and amusing piece of literature from a bygone day. It's well worth the read!
"Oswald is a delightful narrator and the stories
he tells are among Nesbit's best." -- Gore Vidal