JONTY AND THE GENTLE GIANT

One day Jonty was just setting out for school when his mother called him back.

'Jonty !' she said. 'Put your wellingtons on this morning ! It's been pouring with rain all night !'

Now Jonty didn't mind one bit having to put on his wellingtons. If it really had been raining so much, no doubt there'd be puddles to slosh in. It would be great fun, and he knew he wasn't allowed to do that in his ordinary shoes.

But when he got to the lane end, there was Constable Hutchinson. And when Jonty gave him his usual 'Good morning, Constable Hutchinson !' he held up his hand in the way he usually did when he was directing the traffic. Then he said, 'No further today, Jonty ! Even in wellingtons !'

Whatever's wrong ? Jonty thought. And then he became even more puzzled when Constable Hutchinson said, 'No school today, Jonty !'

'Why ever not ?' he asked.

'Well, if you go and look round the first corner down the High Street here, you'll find out ! But you won't be able to go any further, even in wellingtons !'

'Why ever not ?' Jonty said again.

'Because the town centre's under water !' Constable Hutchinson replied. 'There's been a flood during the night, and the only way to get across the town is by boat ! Matter of fact, I'm just going on duty down there to give a hand with rescuing people !'

'You mean out of their houses ?' asked Jonty.

'Yes, if they haven't left already and they're still inside !'

'Gosh !' said Jonty. And then he had a splendid idea.

'If I can't go to school, could I go with you ?'

'I don't see why not,' said Constable Hutchinson. 'You might be useful helping old ladies and gentlemen into the boat while I keep it steady ! Come along !'

And they set off down the High Street, and sure enough when they turned the first corner there was the flood. The water was right over the doorsteps and further down the hill it was almost up to the windows. And there was Sergeant Thomas with a boat.

'Oh. glad you're here, Hutchinson !' he said. 'Right, here's the boat !' But just as Jonty was about to climb in, he said, 'What's this little boy doing here ?'

'I thought he might be useful,' said Constable Hutchinson. 'We're old friends, and I know he's a sensible lad !'

'Very well, if you're sure,' said the sergeant. 'It'll keep him out of mischief, I suppose.'

And the next moment Jonty was climbing into the boat, and he spent the rest of the morning helping Constable Hutchinson. Then, when they had done all they could, he said,

'Constable Hutchinson, do you think I could go up on the Downs for a while ? You know, where we've been taking the people until they can get back to their homes !'

'Oh, I'm not sure about that, Jonty.' said Constable Hutchinson. 'I'm not sure your mother would approve of that !'

But Jonty assured him that he often went exploring on the Downs, and his Mummy didn't mind a bit.

'All right,' said Constable Hutchinson. 'Just stay in sight of me so that I can keep an eye on you, that's all. I shall be busy getting people down off the roofs and out of the trees where they've gone to escape the flood. Though how we're going to manage it, I just don't know ! And when that job's over I'll give you a call on my whistle to tell you it's time to go !'

'Thank you ever so much,' said Jonty. 'I promise not to get into trouble !'

And he climbed out of the boat and set off up the slope of the Downs to visit his favourite cave. But as he drew near he heard a sound. It seemed to be coming from the cave, a strange sound like snoring, and once or twice a sound like a choking cough.

So he ran up to the entrance to the cave, but it seemed to be blocked by something, which wasn't at all as it should be. He drew nearer, and then suddenly stopped dead. He could see now what was blocking the cave, and he couldn't believe his eyes. Two enormous soles, which must belong to even more enormous boots.

He turned and ran back to safety. But he hadn't gone far when he heard a voice. An enormous voice, but somehow gentle and not really scary. And the voice said,

'Don't run away, little boy ! I won't hurt you !'

Jonty wheeled round, and stood absolutely still at once.

There on the Downs was an enormous giant. much bigger than the tallest tree. But there was something very strange about this giant. He didn't look a bit fierce, and on his face Jonty saw a broad smile and a sort of gentle look. And then the giant said,

'Let me introduce myself. I'm Hector, and I'm also called The Gentle Giant, because I never do harm and I always try to do good. Tell me, what is your name ?'

Jonty's throat was very dry and he could only croak 'I'm Jonty !'

'I'm sorry,' said the giant. 'You're a bit too far away, and I couldn't hear you, I'm afraid. Let me try to get a little nearer !'

And he knelt down, but even then he was still a long way away, and even though Jonty shouted his name, the giant seemed unable to hear him.

'Tell you what,' said the giant. 'I'll put the back of my hand flat on the ground like this, you see, so that you can climb on to it ! Then I'll lift you up. Like this, you see ' - he raised his hand to his shoulder - 'and then you'll be able to stand on my shoulder and hang on to my hair. And then we'll both be able to hear one another, won't we ?'

Jonty wasn't at all sure that he liked the giant's idea, but he knew that he couldn't run away because it would be so easy for the giant to stop him. So he nodded, and the giant put the back of his hand on the ground, so that Jonty could scramble up on to it. And then, slowly but gently, he raised Jonty to his shoulder and held out a lock of his hair with the other hand so that Jonty could hang on to it and step on to the giant's shoulder.

It was all very strange to him, but what was even stranger was that he didn't feel the least bit afraid of the height, and he wasn't the least bit afraid of the giant. And in no time at all they were having a pleasant talk, getting to know each other.

Then Jonty happened to mention the flood in the town, and the people who had been forced to climb on to the roofs of their houses or into the trees to get away from the rising water. The giant didn't say anything at once, and he seemed to be thinking. Then he said,

'Oh, I'm sure we could do something about that ! Hang on tight !'

And in a few strides he was standing at the edge of the flood just where Jonty had stepped from the boat.

The people on the roofs were terrified at the sight of him, of course, but Jonty called to them in his loudest voice. 'It's all right ! This is Hector ! He's the Gentle Giant, and he likes helping people ! So just keep quite still and he won't hurt you, I promise. We're great friends already !'

Then, one by one, Hector plucked the people from the roofs and out of the trees and set each one on the Downs just below where he was standing with Jonty on his shoulder. And when they were all safe he said to Jonty,

'But what will they all do tonight ? Where will they sleep ?'

He thought for a moment, and then said to Jonty,

'I've had an idea ! But first I'll have to put you back on the ground !'

And he picked Jonty from his shoulder just as he had picked people off the roofs, and put him gently on the ground.

'Don't go away !' he said. 'I'll be back very quickly !' And he was gone in three or four strides.

Now when a giant as large as Hector says 'quickly' he doesn't mean hours and he doesn't mean minutes. Less than ten seconds later he was back, carrying on his head a large building.

'It's a cricket pavilion I saw,' he explained. 'They won't be needing it in the football season, so I borrowed it. I thought it would do for somewhere to sleep for the people who've been flooded out. I'll just put it down here !'

At that moment Jonty heard a whistle. That would be Constable Hutchinson, he thought. It was time to go and, much as he wanted to stay with his new-found friend, he knew that Mummy would worry if he didn't get home soon. So he explained to Hector, and of course Hector understood.

'Will I see you tomorrow ?' he said.

'Rather !' said Jonty. 'I'll be here as soon as possible !'

'Good !' said Hector. 'I'll see you at the cave !'

But the very next morning, while Jonty was eating his cornflakes, the door-bell rang, and Jonty's Mummy went to the door.

It was Constable Hutchinson.

'Would you let Jonty know that I've come to collect him to take him to the Town Hall, Mrs Jones ?'

'Whatever for ?' said Jonty's Mummy.

'Well, that I don't know,' said Constable Hutchinson. 'I was just asked to come and get him !'

'Whatever has he done now ?' asked his Mummy.

'Oh. nothing for him to be ashamed of, I'm sure. I'll be back in five minutes, if that's all right.'

'He'll be ready !' she said. And she rushed off to get Jonty's Sunday clothes, and Jonty was cleaned and brushed and dressed long before the five minutes was up.

On the way to the Town Hall, Jonty asked Constable Hutchinson what it was all about, but he still didn't know. But he said he thought it might have something to do with the Gentle Giant.

And so it did. Jonty was taken up to the Mayor's Parlour, and the Mayor asked him if he would take a message to Hector. Would he like to come to a Grand Party and a Celebration on the following Saturday, with lots of food, and a bonfire, and fireworks ?

'I'm quite sure he would !' said Jonty and rushed off to the Downs to tell the Gentle Giant. But on the way he had an idea. He'd just tell him that the people wanted to know if he would come to a meeting on Saturday to thank him for all his help. Then the Party would be a Surprise Party, and they're always the best parties.

And, of course, Hector said he'd be delighted. So you can imagine his surprise when Jonty met him at the cave on the Saturday, wearing his party clothes.

'Oh, I love parties !' he said.

And what a Party it was, with lots to eat and drink, and Hector giving the children rides on his shoulder, and then the Bonfire, with Hector standing there, laughing and roaring with delight when the fireworks flew past his head.

Then, to end the Party as the sun began to go down, the people gathered round and sang,

For he's a jolly good Giant !
For he's a jolly good Giant !
For he's a jolly good Giant !
And so say all of us !

And then they all cheered him, and took him back to his cave, and wished him 'Good night !' and told him again how grateful they were for all his help.

The next morning Jonty was up early and off to the Downs. He was surprised to see that the building that Hector hd brought wasn't there any more. He must have taken it back again. And as he climbed the slope towards the cave he quite expected to hear Hector snoring again.

But there was no sound. No sound at all. Silence.

He rushed to the cave, and found it just as he remembered it before the Gentle Giant came. There was no sign of Hector and not the slightest sign that he had ever been there in the cave.

And no one in the town ever saw him again.

Jonty was heartbroken, but his father said, 'Jonty, you remember the Stammering Cap ? You remember that you never saw the Magic Shop again ? I expect the Gentle Giant's like the little man in the Magic Shop. I expect he's gone to help some other people who are in trouble. But remember that we're all very glad that he came to help us ! And just like you, Jonty, we'll never forget him, will we ?

RETURN TO LIST