The Search for Delicious

Natalie Babbitt; Illustrated by the author

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Search for Delicious
In his workroom at the top of the tower, DeCree, the Prime Minister, was pacing up and down. Occasionally he would pause, throw up his arms in a gesture of helplessness, and then resume his pacing. From her perch, his cockatoo watched with beady interest, turning her head this way and that as he crossed and recrossed before her.
"There will be civil war!" he burst out at last. "Splits, upheavals, and people taking sides! Smiles will be forgotten and spring will escape notice! Little flowers will push up, only to be trodden down, and birds will sing unheeded."
From a pile of cushions in a corner of the room, his Special Assistant, a skinny, pleasant boy of twelve named Gaylen, put down the book he had been reading and frowned. "Civil war?" he said. "But why? What happened?"
"It was like this," said the Prime Minister, climbing onto the stool at his desk. "I went down, you see, to show the King how far I've gone on my dictionary. He was pleased with the first part. He liked 'Affectionate is your dog' and 'Annoying is a loose boot in a muddy place' and so on, and he smiled at 'Bulky is a big bag of boxes.' As a matter of fact, there was no trouble with any of the A's or B's and the C's were fine too, especially 'Calamitous is saying no to the King.' But then we got to 'Delicious is fried fish' and he said no, I'd have to change that. He doesn't care for fried fish. The General of the Armies was standing there and he said that, as far as he was concerned, Delicious is a mug of beer, and the Queen said no, Delicious is a Christmas pudding, and then the King said nonsense, everyone knew the most delicious thing is an apple, and they all began quarreling. Not just thethree of them--the whole court. When I left, they were all yelling and shouting and shaking their fists. The King and the General were glaring at each other, and the Queen was trying to get everyone to listen to the recipe for Christmas pudding."
"That doesn't sound like civil war to me," said Gaylen, turning back to his book with a smile. "It only sounds silly."
"Of course it's silly," said the Prime Minister impatiently. "But a lot of serious things start silly."
Gaylen put his book down again and sighed. "Why don't you just leave Delicious out of the dictionary?"
"I can't do that," said the Prime Minister. "If this is going to be a proper dictionary, I can't leave anything out."
At that moment there was a great racket in the courtyard below. Gaylen ran to the window and looked down. People were pouring out of the castle door to form a noisy ring around two men shoving each other about on the grass. After a moment, one knocked the other flat, shouted "Plums!" and strode triumphantly back inside, followed by the cheering crowd. The man who had been flattened swayed to his feet and went off muttering.
The Prime Minister shook his head sadly. "Now here's a pretty kettle of fish," he said.
"Or apples," said Gaylen.
THE SEARCH FOR DELICIOUS. Copyright © 1969 by Natalie Babbitt. All rights reserved. For information, address Square Fish, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.