It was a mistake to say that, Gerald knew it at once.
Mabel and Kathleen were holding hands in a way that plainly showed how a few moments ago they had been clinging to each other in an agony of terror. Now they clung again. And Jimmy, who was sitting on the edge of what had been the stage, kicking his boots against the pink counterpane, shuddered visibly.
"It doesn't matter," Gerald explained "about the roofs, I mean; you soon get to understand. I heard them say I was a gentlemanly lad as I was coming away. They wouldn't have cared to notice a little thing like that if they'd been fiends, you know."
"It doesn't matter how gentlemanly they think you; if you don't see me home you aren't, that's all. Are you going to?" Mabel demanded.
"Of course I am. We shall have no end of a lark. Now for Mademoiselle."
He had put on his coat as he spoke and now ran up the stairs. The others, herding in the hall, could hear his light-hearted there s-nothing-unusual-the-matter-whatever-did-you-bolt-like-that-for knock at Mademoiselle's door, the reassuring "It's only me Gerald, you know," the pause, the opening of the door, and the low-voiced parley that followed; then Mademoiselle and Gerald at Eliza's door, voices of reassurance; Eliza's terror, bluntly voluble, tactfully soothed.
"Wonder what lies he's telling them," Jimmy grumbled.
"Oh! not lies," said Mabel; "he's only telling them as much of the truth as it's good for them to know."
"If you'd been a man," said Jimmy witheringly, "you'd have been a beastly Jesuit, and hid up chimneys."
"If I were only just a boy," Mabel retorted, "I shouldn't be scared out of my life by a pack of old coats."
"I'm so sorry you were frightened," Gerald's honeyed tones floated down the staircase; "we didn't think about you being frightened. And it was a good trick, wasn't it?"
"There!" whispered Jimmy, "he's been telling her it was a trick of ours."
"Well, so it was," said Mabel stoutly.
"It was indeed a wonderful trick," said Mademoiselle; "and how did you move the mannikins?"
"Oh, we've often done it with strings, you know," Gerald explained.
"That's true, too," Kathleen whispered.
"Let us see you do once again this trick so remarkable," said Mademoiselle, arriving at the bottom-stair mat.
"Oh, I've cleared them all out," said Gerald. ("So he has, from Kathleen aside to Jimmy.) "We were so sorry you were startled; we thought you wouldn't like to see them again."
"Then," said Mademoiselle brightly, as she peeped into the untidy dining-room and saw that the figures had indeed vanished, "if we supped and discoursed of your beautiful piece of theatre?"
Gerald explained fully how much his brother and sister would enjoy this. As for him Mademoiselle would see that it was his duty to escort Mabel home, and kind as it was of Mademoiselle to ask her to stay the night, it could not be, on account of the frenzied and anxious affection of Mabel's aunt. And it was useless to suggest that Eliza should see Mabel home, because Eliza was nervous at night unless accompanied by her gentleman friend.
So Mabel was hatted with her own hat and cloaked with a cloak that was not hers; and she and Gerald went out by the front door, amid kind last words and appointments for the morrow.
The moment that front door was shut Gerald caught Mabel by the arm and led her briskly to the corner of the side street which led to the yard. Just round the corner he stopped.
"Now," he said, "what I want to know is are you an idiot or aren't you?"
"Idiot yourself!" said Mabel, but mechanically, for she saw that he was in earnest.
"Because I'm not frightened of the Ugly-Wuglies. They're as harmless as tame rabbits. But an idiot might be frightened, and give the whole show away. If you're an idiot, say so, and I'll go back and tell them you're afraid to walk home, and that I'll go and let your aunt know you're stopping."
"I'm not an idiot," said Mabel; "and," she added, glaring round her with the wild gaze of the truly terror-stricken, "I'm not afraid of anything."
"I'm going to let you share my difficulties and dangers," said Gerald; "at least, I'm inclined to let you. I wouldn't do as much for my own brother, I can tell you. And if you queer my pitch I'll never speak to you again or let the others either."
"You're a beast, that's what you are! I don't need to be threatened to make me brave. I am."
"Mabel," said Gerald, in low, thrilling tones, for he saw that the time had come to sound another note, "I know you're brave. I believe in you, That's why I've arranged it like this. I'm certain you've got the heart of a lion under that black-and-white exterior. Can I trust you? To the death?"
Mabel felt that to say anything but "Yes" was to throw away a priceless reputation for courage. So "Yes" was what she said.
"Then wait here. You're close to the lamp. And when you see me coming with them remember they re as harmless as serpents I mean doves. Talk to them just like you would to anyone else. See?"
He turned to leave her, but stopped at her natural question:
"What hotel did you say you were going to take them to?"
"Oh, Jimminy!" the harassed Gerald caught at his hair with both hands. "There! you see, Mabel, you're a help already." he had, even at that moment, some tact left. "I clean forgot! I meant to ask you isn't there any lodge or anything in the Castle grounds where I could put them for the night? The charm will break, you know, some time, like being invisible did, and they'll just be a pack of coats and things that we can easily carry home any day. Is there a lodge or anything?"
"There's a secret passage," Mabel began but at the moment the yard-door opened and an Ugly-Wugly put out its head and looked anxiously down the street.
"Righto!" Gerald ran to meet it. It was all Mabel could do not to run in an opposite direction with an opposite motive. It was all she could do, but she did it, and was proud of herself as long as ever she remembered that night.
And now, with all the silent precaution necessitated by the near presence of an extremely insane uncle, the Ugly-Wuglies, a grisly band, trooped out of the yard door.
"Walk on your toes, dear," the bonneted Ugly-Wugly whispered to the one with a wreath; and even at that thrilling crisis Gerald wondered how she could, since the toes of one foot were but the end of a golf club and of the other the end of a hockey-stick.
Mabel felt that there was no shame in retreating to the lamp-post at the street corner, but, once there, she made herself halt and no one but Mabel will ever know how much making that took. Think of it to stand there, firm and quiet, and wait for those hollow, unbelievable things to come up to her, clattering on the pavement with their stumpy feet or borne along noiselessly, as in the case of the flower-hatted lady, by a skirt that touched the ground, and had, Mabel knew very well, nothing at all inside it.
She stood very still; the insides of her hands grew cold and damp, but still she stood, saying over and over again: "They re not true they can't be true. It's only a dream they aren't really true. They can't be." And then Gerald was there, and all the Ugly-Wuglies crowding round, and Gerald saying: "This is one of our friends Mabel the Princess in the play, you know. Be a man!" he added in a whisper for her ear alone.
Mabel, all her nerves stretched tight as banjo strings, had an awful instant of not knowing whether she would be able to be a man or whether she would be merely a shrieking and running little mad girl. For the respectable Ugly-Wugly shook her limply by the hand.
("He can't be true," she told herself), and the rose-wreathed one took her arm with a soft-padded glove at the end of an umbrella arm, and said: "You dear, clever little thing! Do walk with me!" in a gushing, girlish way, and in speech almost wholly lacking in consonants.
Then they all walked up the High Street as if, as Gerald said, they were anybody else.
It was a strange procession, but Liddlesby goes early to bed, and the Liddlesby police, in common with those of most other places, wear boots that one can hear a mile off. If such boots had been heard, Gerald would have had time to turn back and head them off. He felt now that he could not resist a flush of pride in Mabel's courage as he heard her polite rejoinders to the still more polite remarks of the amiable Ugly-Wuglies. He did not know how near she was to the scream that would throw away the whole thing and bring the police and the residents out to the ruin of everybody.
They met no one, except one man, who murmured, "Guy Fawkes, swelp me!" and crossed the road hurriedly; and when, next day, he told what he had seen, his wife disbelieved him, and also said it was a judgement on him, which was unreasonable.
Mabel felt as though she were taking part in a very completely arranged nightmare, but Gerald was in it too Gerald, who had asked if she was an idiot. Well, she wasn't. But she soon would be, she felt. Yet she went on answering the courteous vowel-talk of these impossible people. She had often heard her aunt speak of impossible people. Well, now she knew what they were like.
Summer twilight had melted into summer moonlight. The shadows of the Ugly-Wuglies on the white road were much more horrible than their more solid selves. Mabel wished it had been a dark night, and then corrected the wish with a hasty shudder.
Gerald, submitting to a searching interrogatory from the tall-hatted Ugly-Wugly as to his schools, his sports, pastimes, and ambitions, wondered how long the spell would last. The ring seemed to work in sevens. Would these things have seven hours'life or fourteen or twenty-one?"His mind lost itself in the intricacies of the seven-times table (a teaser at the best of times) and only found itself with a shock when the procession found itself at the gates of the Castle grounds.
Locked of course.
"You see," he explained, as the Ugly-Wuglies vainly shook the iron gates with incredible hands; "it's so very late. There is another way. But you have to climb through a hole."
"The ladies," the respectable Ugly-Wugly began objecting; but the ladies with one voice affirmed that they loved adventures. "So frightfully thrilling," added the one who wore roses.
So they went round by the road, and coming to the hole it was a little difficult to find in the moonlight, which always disguises the most familiar things Gerald went first with the bicycle lantern which he had snatched as his pilgrims came out of the yard; the shrinking Mabel followed, and then the Ugly-Wuglies, with hollow rattlings of their wooden limbs against the stone, crept through, and with strange vowel-sounds of general amazement, manly courage, and feminine nervousness, followed the light along the passage through the fern-hung cutting and under the arch.
When they emerged on the moonlit enchantment of the Italian garden a quite intelligible "Oh!" of surprised admiration broke from more than one painted paper lip; and the respectable Ugly-Wugly was understood to say that it must be quite a show-place by George, sir! yes.
Those marble terraces and artfully serpentining gravel walks surely never had echoed to steps so strange. No shadows so wildly unbelievable had, for all its enchantments, ever fallen on those smooth, grey, dewy lawns. Gerald was thinking this, or something like it (what he really thought was, "I bet there never was such ado as this, even here! ), when he saw the statue of Hermes leap from its pedestal and run towards him and his company with all the lively curiosity of a street boy eager to be in at a street fight. He saw, too, that he was the only one who perceived that white advancing presence. And he knew that it was the ring that let him see what by others could not be seen. He slipped it from his finger. Yes; Hermes was on his pedestal, still as the snow man you make in the Christmas holidays. He put the ring on again, and there was Hermes, circling round the group and gazing deep in each unconscious Ugly-Wugly face.
"This seems a very superior hotel," the tall-hatted Ugly-Wugly was saying; "the grounds are laid out with what you might call taste."
"We should have to go in by the back door," said Mabel suddenly. "The front door's locked at half-past nine."
A short, stout Ugly-Wugly in a yellow and blue cricket cap, who had hardly spoken, muttered something about an escapade, and about feeling quite young again.
And now they had skirted the marble-edged pool where the goldfish swam and glimmered, and where the great prehistoric beast had come down to bathe and drink. The water flashed white diamonds in the moonlight, and Gerald alone of them all saw that the scaly-plated vast lizard was even now rolling and wallowing there among the lily pads.
They hastened up the steps of the Temple of Flora. The back of it, where no elegant arch opened to the air, was against one of those sheer hills, almost cliffs, that diversified the landscape of that garden. Mabel passed behind the statue of the goddess, fumbled a little, and then Gerald's lantern, flashing like a searchlight, showed a very high and very narrow doorway: the stone that was the door, and that had closed it, revolved slowly under the touch of Mabel's fingers.
"This way," she said, and panted a little. The back of her neck felt cold and goose-fleshy.
"You lead the way, my lad, with the lantern," said the suburban Ugly-Wugly in his bluff, agreeable way.
"I I must stay behind to close the door," said Gerald.
"The Princess can do that. We'll help her," said the wreathed one with effusion; and Gerald thought her horribly officious.
He insisted gently that he would be the one responsible for the safe shutting of that door.
"You wouldn't like me to get into trouble, I'm sure," he urged; and the Ugly-Wuglies, for the last time kind and reasonable, agreed that this, of all things, they would most deplore.
"You take it," Gerald urged, pressing the bicycle lamp on the elderly Ugly-Wugly; "you're the natural leader. Go straight ahead. Are there any steps?" he asked Mabel in a whisper.
"Not for ever so long," she whispered back. "It goes on for ages, and then twists round."
"Whispering," said the smallest Ugly-Wugly suddenly, "ain't manners."
"He hasn't any, anyhow," whispered the lady Ugly-Wugly; "don't mind him quite a self-made man," and squeezed Mabel's arm with horrible confidential flabbiness.
The respectable Ugly-Wugly leading with the lamp, the others following trustfully, one and all disappeared into that narrow doorway; and Gerald and Mabel standing without, hardly daring to breathe lest a breath should retard the procession, almost sobbed with relief. Prematurely, as it turned out. For suddenly there was a rush and a scuffle inside the passage, and as they strove to close the door the Ugly-Wuglies fiercely pressed to open it again. Whether they saw something in the dark passage that alarmed them, whether they took it into their empty heads that this could not be the back way to any really respectable hotel, or whether a convincing sudden instinct warned them that they were being tricked, Mabel and Gerald never knew. But they knew that the Ugly- Wuglies were no longer friendly and commonplace, that a fierce change had come over them. Cries of "No, No!" "We won't go on!" "Make him lead!" broke the dreamy stillness of the perfect night. There were screams from ladies voices, the hoarse, determined shouts of strong Ugly- Wuglies roused to resistance, and, worse than all, the steady pushing open of that narrow stone door that had almost closed upon the ghastly crew. Through the chink of it they could be seen, a writhing black crowd against the light of the bicycle lamp; a padded hand reached round the door; stick-boned arms stretched out angrily towards the world that that door, if it closed, would shut them off from for ever. And the tone of their consonantless speech was no longer conciliatory and ordinary; it was threatening, full of the menace of unbearable horrors.
The padded hand fell on Gerald's arm, and instantly all the terrors that he had, so far, only known in imagination became real to him, and he saw, in the sort of flash that shows drowning people their past lives, what it was that he had asked of Mabel, and that she had given.
"Push, push for your life!" he cried, and setting his heel against the pedestal of Flora, pushed manfully.
"I can't any more oh, I can't!" moaned Mabel, and tried to use her heel likewise but her legs were too short.
"They mustn't get out, they mustn't!" Gerald panted.
"You'll know it when we do," came from inside the door in tones which fury and mouth-rooflessness would have made unintelligible to any ears but those sharpened by the wild fear of that unspeakable moment.
"What's up, there?" cried suddenly a new voice a voice with all its consonants comforting, clean-cut, and ringing, and abruptly a new shadow fell on the marble floor of Flora's temple.
"Come and help push!" Gerald's voice only just reached the newcomer. "If they get out they'll kill us all."
A strong, velveteen-covered shoulder pushed suddenly between the shoulders of Gerald and Mabel; a stout man's heel sought the aid of the goddess's pedestal; the heavy, narrow door yielded slowly, it closed, its spring clicked, and the furious, surging, threatening mass of Ugly-Wuglies was shut in, and Gerald and Mabel oh, incredible relief! were shut out. Mabel threw herself on the marble floor, sobbing slow, heavy sobs of achievement and exhaustion. If I had been there I should have looked the other way, so as not to see whether Gerald yielded himself to the same abandonment.
The newcomer he appeared to be a gamekeeper Gerald decided later looked down on well, certainly on Mabel, and said:
"Come on, don't be a little duffer." (He may have said, "a couple of little duffers .) "Who is it, and what's it all about?"
"I can't possibly tell you," Gerald panted.
"We shall have to see about that, shan't we," said the newcomer amiably. "Come out into the moonlight and let's review the situation."
Gerald, even in that topsy-turvy state of his world, found time to think that a gamekeeper who used such words as that had most likely a romantic past. But at the same time he saw that such a man would be far less easy to "square" with an unconvincing tale than Eliza, or Johnson, or even Mademoiselle. In fact, he seemed, with the only tale that they had to tell, practically unsquarable.
Gerald got up if he was not up already, or still up and pulled at the limp and now hot hand of the sobbing Mabel; and as he did so the unsquarable one took his hand, and thus led both children out from under the shadow of Flora's dome into the bright white moonlight that carpeted Flora's steps. Here he sat down, a child on each side of him, drew a hand of each through his velveteen arm, pressed them to his velveteen sides in a friendly, reassuring way, and said: "Now then! Go ahead!"
Mabel merely sobbed. We must excuse her. She had been very brave, and I have no doubt that all heroines, from Joan of Arc to Grace Darling, have had their sobbing moments.
But Gerald said: "It's no use. If I made up a story you'd see through it."
"That's a compliment to thy discernment, anyhow," said the stranger. "What price telling me the truth?"
"If we told you the truth," said Gerald, "you wouldn't believe it."
"Try me," said the velveteen one. He was clean-shaven, and had large eyes that sparkled when the moonlight touched them.
"I can't," said Gerald, and it was plain that he spoke the truth. "You'd either think we were mad, and get us shut up, or else Oh, it's no good. Thank you for helping us, and do let us go home."
"I wonder," said the stranger musingly, "whether you have any imagination."
"Considering that we invented them " Gerald hotly began, and stopped with late prudence.
"If by 'them' you mean the people whom I helped you to imprison in yonder tomb," said the Stranger, loosing Mabel's hand to put his arm round her, "remember that I saw and heard them. And with all respect to your imagination, I doubt whether any invention of yours would be quite so convincing."
Gerald put his elbows on his knees and his chin in his hands.
"Collect yourself," said the one in velveteen; "and while you are collecting, let me just put the thing from my point of view. I think you hardly realize my position. I come down from London to take care of a big estate."
"I thought you were a gamekeeper," put in Gerald.
Mabel put her head on the stranger's shoulder. "Hero in disguise, then, I know," she sniffed.
"Not at all," said he; "bailiff would be nearer the mark. On the very first evening I go out to take the moonlit air, and approaching a white building, hear sounds of an agitated scuffle, accompanied by frenzied appeals for assistance. Carried away by the enthusiasm of the moment, I do assist and shut up goodness knows who behind a stone door. Now, is it unreasonable that I should ask who it is that I've shut up helped to shut up, I mean, and who it is that I've assisted?"
"It's reasonable enough," Gerald admitted.
"Well then," said the stranger.
"Well then," said Gerald, "the fact is No," he added after a pause, "the fact is, I simply can't tell you."
"Then I must ask the other side," said Velveteens. "Let me go I'll undo that door and find out for myself."
"Tell him," said Mabel, speaking for the first time. "Never mind if he believes or not. We can't have them let out."
"Very well," said Gerald, "I'll tell him. Now look here, Mr. Bailiff, will you promise us on an English gentleman's word of honour because, of course, I can see you're that, bailiff or not will you promise that you won't tell any one what we tell you and that you won't have us put in a lunatic asylum, however mad we sound?"
"Yes," said the stranger, "I think I can promise that. But if you've been having a sham fight or anything and shoved the other side into that hole, don't you think you'd better let them out? They'll be most awfully frightened, you know. After all, I suppose they are only children."
"Wait till you hear," Gerald answered. "They're not children not much! Shall I just tell about them or begin at the beginning?"
"The beginning, of course," said the stranger.
Mabel lifted her head from his velveteen shoulder and said, "Let me begin, then. I found a ring, and I said it would make me invisible. I said it in play. And it did. I was invisible twenty-one hours. Never mind where I got the ring. Now, Gerald, you go on."
Gerald went on; for quite a long time he went on, for the story was a splendid one to tell.
"And so," he ended, "we got them in there; and when seven hours are over, or fourteen, or twenty-one, or something with a seven in it, they'll just be old coats again. They came alive at half-past nine. I think they'll stop being it in seven hours that's half-past four. Now will you let us go home?""I'll see you home," said the stranger in a quite new tone of exasperating gentleness. "Come let's be going."
"You don't believe us," said Gerald. "Of course you don t. Nobody could. But I could make you believe if I chose."
All three stood up, and the stranger stared in Gerald's eyes till Gerald answered his thought.
"No, I don't look mad, do I?"
"No, you aren't. But, come, you're an extraordinarily sensible boy; don't you think you may be sickening for a fever or something?"
"And Cathy and Jimmy and Mademoiselle and Eliza, and the man who said 'Guy Fawkes, swelp me!' and you, you saw them move you heard them call out. Are you sickening for anything?"
"No or at least not for anything but information. Come, and I'll see you home."
"Mabel lives at the Towers," said Gerald, as the stranger turned into the broad drive that leads to the big gate.
"No relation to Lord Yalding," said Mabel hastily " housekeeper's niece." She was holding on to his hand all the way. At the servants entrance she put up her face to be kissed, and went in.
"Poor little thing!" said the bailiff, as they went down the drive towards the gate.
He went with Gerald to the door of the school.
"Look here," said Gerald at parting. "I know what you're going to do. You're going to try to undo that door."
"Discerning!" said the stranger.
"Well don't. Or, anyway, wait till daylight and let us be there. We can get there by ten."
"All right I'll meet you there by ten," answered the stranger. "By George! you're the rummest kids I ever met."
"We are rum," Gerald owned, "but so would you be if Good-night."
As the four children went over the smooth lawn towards Flora's Temple they talked, as they had talked all the morning, about the adventures of last night and of Mabel's bravery. It was not ten, but half-past twelve; for Eliza, backed by Mademoiselle, had insisted on their "clearing up," and clearing up very thoroughly, the "litter" of last night.
"You're a Victoria Cross heroine, dear," said Cathy warmly. "You ought to have a statue put up to you."
"It would come alive if you put it here," said Gerald grimly.
"I shouldn't have been afraid," said Jimmy.
"By daylight," Gerald assured him, "everything looks so jolly different."
"I do hope he'll be there," Mabel said; "he was such a dear, Cathy a perfect bailiff, with the soul of a gentleman."
"He isn't there, though," said Jimmy. "I believe you just dreamed him, like you did the statues coming alive."
They went up the marble steps in the sunshine, and it was difficult to believe that this was the place where only in last night's moonlight fear had laid such cold hands on the hearts of Mabel and Gerald.
"Shall we open the door," suggested Kathleen, "and begin to carry home the coats?"
"Let's listen first," said Gerald; "perhaps they aren't only coats yet."
They laid ears to the hinges of the stone door, behind which last night the Ugly-Wuglies had shrieked and threatened. All was still as the sweet morning itself. It was as they turned away that they saw the man they had come to meet. He was on the other side of Flora's pedestal. But he was not standing up. He lay there, quite still, on his back, his arms flung wide.
"Oh, look!" cried Cathy, and pointed. His face was a queer greenish colour, and on his forehead there was a cut; its edges were blue, and a little blood had trickled from it on to the white of the marble.
At the same time Mabel pointed too but she did not cry out as Cathy had done. And what she pointed at was a big glossy-leaved rhododendron bush, from which a painted pointed paper face peered out very white, very red, in the sunlight and, as the children gazed, shrank back into the cover of the shining leaves.
It was but too plain. The unfortunate bailiff must have opened the door before the spell had faded, while yet the Ugly Wuglies were something more than mere coats and hats and sticks. They had rushed out upon him, and had done this. He lay there insensible was it a golf-club or a hockey-stick that had made that horrible cut on his forehead? Gerald wondered. The girls had rushed to the sufferer; already his head was in Mabel's lap. Kathleen had tried to get it on to hers, but Mabel was too quick for her.
Jimmy and Gerald both knew what was the first thing needed by the unconscious, even before Mabel impatiently said: "Water! water!"
"What in?" Jimmy asked, looking doubtfully at his hands, and then down the green slope to the marble-bordered pool where the water-lilies were.
"Your hat anything," said Mabel.
The two boys turned away.
"Suppose they come after us," said Jimmy.
"What come after us?" Gerald snapped rather than asked.
"The Ugly-Wuglies," Jimmy whispered..
"Who's afraid?" Gerald inquired.
But he looked to right and left very carefully, and chose the way that did not lead near the bushes. He scooped water up in his straw hat and returned to Flora's Temple, carrying it carefully in both hands. When he saw how quickly it ran through the straw he pulled his handkerchief from his breast pocket with his teeth and dropped it into the hat. It was with this that the girls wiped the blood from the bailiff's brow.
"We ought to have smelling salts," said Kathleen, half in tears. "I know we ought."
"They would be good," Mabel owned.
"Hasn't your aunt any?"
"Yes, but "
"Don't be a coward," said Gerald; "think of last night. They wouldn't hurt you. He must have insulted them or something. Look here, you run. We'll see that nothing runs after you."
There was no choice but to relinquish the head of the interesting invalid to Kathleen; so Mabel did it, cast one glaring glance round the rhododendron bordered slope, and fled towards the castle.
The other three bent over the still unconscious bailiff.
"He's not dead, is he?" asked Jimmy anxiously.
"No," Kathleen reassured him, "his heart's heating. Mabel and I felt it in his wrist, where doctors do. How frightfully good-looking he is!"
"Not so dusty," Gerald admitted.
"I never know what you mean by good-looking," said Jimmy, and suddenly a shadow fell on the marble beside them and a fourth voice spoke not Mabel s; her hurrying figure, though still in sight, was far away.
The children looked up into the face of the eldest of the Ugly-Wuglies, the respectable one. Jimmy and Kathleen screamed. I am sorry, but they did.
"Hush!" said Gerald savagely: he was still wearing the ring. "Hold your tongues! I'll get him away," he added in a whisper.
"Very sad affair this," said the respectable Ugly-Wugly. He spoke with a curious accent; there was something odd about his r's, and his m's and n's were those of a person labouring under an almost intolerable cold in the head. But it was not the dreadful "oo" and "ah" voice of the night before. Kathleen and Jimmy stooped over the bailiff. Even that prostrate form, being human, seemed some little protection. But Gerald, strong in the fearlessness that the ring gave to its wearer, looked full into the face of the Ugly-Wugly and started. For though the face was almost the same as the face he had himself painted on the school drawing-paper, it was not the same. For it was no longer paper. It was a real face, and the hands, lean and almost transparent as they were, were real hands. As it moved a little to get a better view of the bailiff it was plain that it had legs, arms live legs and arms, and a self-supporting backbone. It was alive indeed with a vengeance.
"How did it happen?" Gerald asked, with an effort of calmness a successful effort.
"Most regrettable," said the Ugly-Wugly. "The others must have missed the way last night in the passage. They never found the hotel."
"Did you?" asked Gerald blankly.
"Of course," said the Ugly-Wugly. "Most respectable, exactly as you said. Then when I came away I didn't come the front way because I wanted to revisit this sylvan scene by daylight, and the hotel people didn't seem to know how to direct me to it I found the others all at this door, very angry. They'd been here all night, trying to get out. Then the door opened this gentleman must have opened it and before I could protect him, that underbred man in the high hat you remember ,"
"Hit him on the head, and he fell where you see him. The others dispersed, and I myself was just going for assistance when I saw you."
Here Jimmy was discovered to be in tears and Kathleen white as any drawing-paper.
"What's the matter, my little man?" said the respectable Ugly-Wugly kindly. Jimmy passed instantly from tears to yells.
"Here, take the ring!" said Gerald in a furious whisper, and thrust it on to Jimmy's hot, damp, resisting finger. Jimmy's voice stopped short in the middle of a howl. And Gerald in a cold flash realized what it was that Mabel had gone through the night before. But it was daylight, and Gerald was not a coward.
"We must find the others," he said.
"I imagine," said the elderly Ugly-Wugly, "that they have gone to bathe. Their clothes are in the wood."
He pointed stiffly.
"You two go and see," said Gerald. "I'll go on dabbing this chap's head."
In the wood Jimmy, now fearless as any lion, discovered four heaps of clothing, with broomsticks, hockeysticks, and masks complete all that had gone to make up the gentlemen Ugly-Wuglies of the night before. On a stone seat well in the sun sat the two lady Ugly-Wuglies, and Kathleen approached them gingerly. Valour is easier in the sunshine than at night, as we all know. When she and Jimmy came close to the bench, they saw that the Ugly-Wuglies were only Ugly-Wuglies such as they had often made. There was no life in them. Jimmy shook them to pieces, and a sigh of relief burst from Kathleen.
"The spell's broken, you see," she said; "and that old gentleman, he's real. He only happens to be like the Ugly-Wugly we made."
"He's got the coat that hung in the hall on, anyway," said Jimmy.
"No, it's only like it. Let's get back to the unconscious stranger."
They did, and Gerald begged the elderly Ugly-Wugly to retire among the bushes with Jimmy; "because, said he, "I think the poor bailiff's coming round, and it might upset him to see strangers and Jimmy'll keep you company. He's the best one of us to go with you," he added hastily.
And this, since Jimmy had the ring, was certainly true.
So the two disappeared behind the rhododendrons. Mabel came back with the salts just as the bailiff opened his eyes.
"It's just like life," she said; "I might just as well not have gone. However ," She knelt down at once and held the bottle under the sufferer's nose till he sneezed and feebly pushed her hand away with the faint question: "What's up now?"
"You've hurt your head," said Gerald. "Lie still."
"No more smelling-bottle," he said weakly, and lay.
Quite soon he sat up and looked round him. There was an anxious silence. Here was a grown-up who knew last night's secret, and none of the children were at all sure what the utmost rigour of the law might be in a case where people, no matter how young, made Ugly-Wuglies, and brought them to life dangerous, fighting, angry life. What would he say what would he do?" He said: "What an odd thing! Have I been insensible long?"
"Hours," said Mabel earnestly.
"Not long," said Kathleen.
"We don't know. We found you like it," said Gerald.
"I'm all right now," said the bailiff, and his eye fell on the blood-stained handkerchief. "I say, I did give my head a bang. And you've been giving me first aid. Thank you most awfully. But it is rum."
"What's rum?" politeness obliged Gerald to ask.
"Well, I suppose it isn't really rum I expect I saw you just before I fainted, or whatever it was but I've dreamed the most extraordinary dream while I've been insensible and you were in it."
"Nothing but us?" asked Mabel breathlessly.
"Oh, lots of things impossible things but you were real enough."
Everyone breathed deeply in relief. It was indeed, as they agreed later, a lucky let-off.
"Are you sure you're all right?" they all asked, as he got on his feet.
"Perfectly, thank you." He glanced behind Flora's statue as he spoke. "Do you know, I dreamed there was a door there, but of course there isn't. I don't know how to thank you," he added, looking at them with what the girls called his beautiful, kind eyes; "it's lucky for me you came along. You come here whenever you like, you know," he added. "I give you the freedom of the place."
"You're the new bailiff, aren't you?" said Mabel.
"Yes. How did you know?" he asked quickly; but they did not tell him how they knew. Instead, they found out which way he was going, and went the other way after warm handshakes and hopes on both sides that they would meet again soon.
"I'll tell you what," said Gerald, as they watched the tall, broad figure of the bailiff grow smaller across the hot green of the grass slope, "have you got any idea of how we're going to spend the day? Because I have."
The others hadn't.
"We'll get rid of that Ugly-Wugly oh, we'll find a way right enough and directly we've done it we'll go home and seal up the ring in an envelope so that its teeth'll be drawn and it'll be powerless to have unforeseen larks with us. Then we'll get out on the roof, and have a quiet day books and apples. I'm about fed up with adventures, so I tell you."
The others told him the same thing.
"Now, think," said he "think as you never thought before how to get rid of that Ugly-Wugly."
Everyone thought, but their brains were tired with anxiety and distress, and the thoughts they thought were, as Mabel said, not worth thinking, let alone saying.
"I suppose Jimmy's all right," said Kathleen anxiously.
"Oh, he's all right: he's got the ring," said Gerald.
"I hope he won't go wishing anything rotten," said Mabel, but Gerald urged her to shut up and let him think.
"I think I think best sitting down," he said, and sat; "and sometimes you can think best aloud. The Ugly-Wugly's real don't make any mistake about that. And he got made real inside that passage. If we could get him back there he might get changed again, and then we could take the coats and things back."
"Isn't there any other way?" Kathleen asked; and Mabel, more candid, said bluntly: "I'm not going into that passage, so there!"
"Afraid! In broad daylight," Gerald sneered.
"It wouldn't be broad daylight in there," said Mabel, and Kathleen shivered.
"If we went to him and suddenly tore his coat off," said she "he is only coats he couldn't go on being real then.
"Couldn't he!" said Gerald. "You don't know what he's like under the coat."
Kathleen shivered again. And all this time the sun was shining gaily and the white statues and the green trees and the fountains and terraces looked as cheerfully romantic as a scene in a play.
"Anyway," said Gerald, "we'll try to get him back, and shut the door. That's the most we can hope for. And then apples, and Robinson Crusoe or the Swiss Family, or any book you like that's got no magic in it. Now, we've just got to do it. And he's not horrid now; really he isn't. He's real, you see."
"I suppose that makes all the difference," said Mabel, and tried to feel that perhaps it did.
"And it's broad daylight just look at the sun," Gerald insisted. "Come on!"
He took a hand of each, and they walked resolutely towards the bank of rhododendrons behind which Jimmy and the Ugly-Wugly had been told to wait, and as they went Gerald said: "He's real" "The sun's shining" "It'll all be over in a minute." And he said these things again and again, so that there should be no mistake about them.
As they neared the bushes the shining leaves rustled, shivered, and parted, and before the girls had time to begin to hang back Jimmy came blinking out into the sunlight. The boughs closed behind him, and they did not stir or rustle for the appearance of anyone else. Jimmy was alone.
"Where is it?" asked the girls in one breath.
"Walking up and down in a fir-walk," said Jimmy, "doing sums in a book. He says he's most frightfully rich, and he's got to get up to town to the Stocks or something where they change papers into gold if you're clever, he says. I should like to go to the Stocks-change, wouldn't you?"
"I don't seem to care very much about changes, said Gerald. "I've had enough. Show us where he is we must get rid of him."
"He's got a motor-car," Jimmy went on, parting the warm varnished-looking rhododendron leaves, "and a garden with a tennis-court and a lake and a carriage and pair, and he goes to Athens for his holiday sometimes, just like other people go to Margate."
"The best thing," said Gerald, following through the bushes, "will be to tell him the shortest way out is through that hotel that he thinks he found last night. Then we get him into the passage, give him a push, fly back, and shut the door."
"He'll starve to death in there," said Kathleen, "if he's really real."
"I expect it doesn't last long, the ring magics don't anyway, it's the only thing I can think of."
"He's frightfully rich," Jimmy went on unheeding amid the cracking of the bushes; "he's building a public library for the people where he lives, and having his portrait painted to put in it. He thinks they'll like that."
The belt of rhododendrons was passed, and the children had reached a smooth grass walk bordered by tall pines and firs of strange different kinds. "He's just round that corner," said Jimmy. "He's simply rolling in money. He doesn't know what to do with it. He's been building a horse-trough and drinking fountain with a bust of himself on top. Why doesn't he build a private swimming-bath close to his bed, so that he can just roll off into it of a morning? I wish I was rich; I'd soon show him ,"
"That's a sensible wish," said Gerald. "I wonder we didn't think of doing that. Oh, criky!" he added, and with reason. For there, in the green shadows of the pine-walk, in the woodland silence, broken only by rustling leaves and the agitated breathing of the three unhappy others, Jimmy got his wish. By quick but perfectly plain-to-be-seen degrees Jimmy became rich. And the horrible thing was that though they could see it happening they did not know what was happening, and could not have stopped it if they had. All they could see was Jimmy, their own Jimmy, whom they had larked with and quarrelled with and made it up with ever since they could remember, Jimmy continuously and horribly growing old. The whole thing was over in a few seconds. Yet in those few seconds they saw him grow to a youth, a young man, a middle-aged man; and then, with a sort of shivering shock, unspeakably horrible and definite, he seemed to settle down into an elderly gentleman, handsomely but rather dowdily dressed, who was looking down at them through spectacles and asking them the nearest way to the railway-station. If they had not seen the change take place, in all its awful details, they would never have guessed that this stout, prosperous, elderly gentleman
with the high hat, the frock-coat, and the large red seal dangling from the curve of a portly waistcoat, was their own Jimmy. But, as they had seen it, they knew the dreadful truth.
"Oh, Jimmy, don't!" cried Mabel desperately.
Gerald said: "This is perfectly beastly," and Kathleen broke into wild weeping.
"Don't cry, little girl!" said That-which-had-been Jimmy; "and you, boy, can't you give a civil answer to a civil question?"
"He doesn't know us!" wailed Kathleen.
"Who doesn't know you?" said That-which-had-been impatiently.
"You y-you don t!" Kathleen sobbed.
"I certainly don't," returned That-which "but surely that need not distress you so deeply."
"Oh, Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy!" Kathleen sobbed louder than before.
"He doesn't know us," Gerald owned, "or look here, Jimmy, y you aren't kidding, are you? Because if you are it's simply abject rot "
"My name is Mr. ," said That-which-had-been-Jimmy, and gave the name correctly. By the way, it will perhaps be shorter to call this elderly stout person who was Jimmy grown rich by some simpler name than I have just used. Let us call him 'That' short for 'That-which-had-been Jimmy'.
"What are we to do?" whispered Mabel, awestruck; and aloud she said: "Oh, Mr. James, or whatever you call yourself, do give me the ring." For on That's finger the fatal ring showed plain.
"Certainly not," said That firmly. "You appear to be a very grasping child."
"But what are you going to do?" Gerald asked in the flat tones of complete hopelessness.
"Your interest is very flattering," said That. "Will you tell me, or won't you, the way to the nearest railway station?"
"No," said Gerald, "we won't."
"Then," said That, still politely, though quite plainly furious, "perhaps you'll tell me the way to the nearest lunatic asylum?"
"Oh, no, no, no!" cried Kathleen. "You're not so bad as that."
"Perhaps not. But you are," That retorted; "if you're not lunatics you're idiots. However, I see a gentleman ahead who is perhaps sane. In fact, I seem to recognize him." A gentleman, indeed, was now to be seen approaching. It was the elderly Ugly-Wugly.
"Oh! don't you remember Jerry?" Kathleen cried, "and Cathy, your own Cathy Puss Cat? Dear, dear Jimmy, don't be so silly!"
"Little girl," said That, looking at her crossly through his spectacles, "I am sorry you have not been better brought up." And he walked stiffly towards the Ugly-Wugly. Two hats were raised, a few words were exchanged, and two elderly figures walked side by side down the green pine-walk, followed by three miserable children, horrified, bewildered, alarmed, and, what is really worse than anything, quite at their wits end.
"He wished to be rich, so of course he is," said Gerald; "he'll have money for tickets and everything.
And when the spell breaks it's sure to break, isn't it? he'll find himself somewhere awful perhaps in a really good hotel and not know how he got there."
"I wonder how long the Ugly-Wuglies lasted," said Mabel.
"Yes," Gerald answered, "that reminds me. You two must collect the coats and things. Hide them, anywhere you like, and we'll carry them home tomorrow if there is any tomorrow " he added darkly.
"Oh, don t!" said Kathleen, once more breathing heavily on the verge of tears: "you wouldn't think everything could be so awful, and the sun shining like it does.
"Look here," said Gerald, "of course I must stick to Jimmy. You two must go home to Mademoiselle and tell her Jimmy and I have gone off in the train with a gentleman say he looked like an uncle. He does some kind of uncle. There'll be a beastly row afterwards, but it's got to be done.
"It all seems thick with lies," said Kathleen; "you don't seem to be able to get a word of truth in edgewise hardly."
"Don't you worry," said her brother; "they aren't lies they're as true as anything else in this magic rot we've got mixed up in. It's like telling lies in a dream; you can't help it."
"Well, all I know is I wish it would stop."
"Lot of use your wishing that is," said Gerald, exasperated. "So long. I've got to go, and you've got to stay. If it's any comfort to you, I don't believe any of it's real: it can't be; it's too thick. Tell Mademoiselle Jimmy and I will be back to tea. If we don't happen to be I can't help it. I can't help anything, except perhaps Jimmy." He started to run, for the girls had lagged, and the Ugly-Wugly and That (late Jimmy) had quickened their pace.
The girls were left looking after them.
"We've got to find these clothes," said Mabel, "simply got to. I used to want to be a heroine. It's different when it really comes to being, isn't it?"
"Yes, very," said Kathleen. "Where shall we hide the clothes when we've got them? Not not that passage?"
"Never!" said Mabel firmly; "we'll hide them inside the great stone dinosaurus. He's hollow."
"He comes alive in his stone," said Kathleen.
"Not in the sunshine he doesn't," Mabel told her confidently, "and not without the ring."
"There won't be any apples and books today," said Kathleen.
"No, but we'll do the babiest thing we can do the minute we get home. We'll have a dolls tea-party. That'll make us feel as if there wasn't really any magic."
"It'll have to be a very strong tea party, then," said Kathleen doubtfully.
And now we see Gerald, a small but quite determined figure, paddling along in the soft white dust of the sunny road, in the wake of two elderly gentlemen. His hand, in his trousers pocket, buries itself with a feeling of satisfaction in the heavy mixed coinage that is his share of the profits of his conjuring at the fair. His noiseless tennis-shoes bear him to the station, where, unobserved, he listens at the ticket office to the voice of That-which-was-James. "One first London," it says and Gerald, waiting till That and the Ugly-Wugly have strolled on to the platform, politely conversing of politics and the Kaffir market, takes a third return to London. The train strides in, squeaking and puffing. The watched take their seats in a carriage blue-lined. The watcher springs into a yellow wooden compartment. A whistle sounds, a flag is waved. The train pulls itself together, strains, jerks, and starts.
"I don't understand," says Gerald, alone in his third- class carriage, "how railway trains and magic can go on at the same time."
And yet they do.
Mabel and Kathleen, nervously peering among the rhododendron bushes and the bracken and the fancy fir-trees, find six several heaps of coats, hats, skirts, gloves, golf-clubs, hockey- sticks, broom-handles. They carry them, panting and damp, for the mid-day sun is pitiless, up the hill to where the stone dinosaurus looms immense among a forest of larches. The dinosaurus has a hole in his stomach. Kathleen shows Mabel how to "make a back" and climbs up on it into the cold, stony inside of the monster. Mabel hands up the clothes and the sticks.
"There's lots of room," says Kathleen; "its tail goes down into the ground. It's like a secret passage."
"Suppose something comes out of it and jumps out at you," says Mabel, and Kathleen hurriedly descends.
The explanations to Mademoiselle promise to be difficult, but, as Kathleen said afterwards, any little thing is enough to take a grown-up's attention off. A figure passes the window just as they are explaining that it really did look exactly like an uncle that the boys have gone to London with.
"Who's that?" says Mademoiselle suddenly, pointing, too, which everyone knows is not manners.
It is the bailiff coming back from the doctor's with antiseptic plaster on that nasty cut that took so long a-bathing this morning. They tell her it is the bailiff at Yalding Towers, and she says, "Ciel!" (Sky!) and asks no more awkward questions about the boys. Lunch very late is a silent meal. After lunch Mademoiselle goes out, in a hat with many pink roses, carrying a rose-lined parasol. The girls, in dead silence, organize a dolls tea-party, with real tea. At the second cup Kathleen bursts into tears. Mabel, also weeping, embraces her.
"I wish," sobs Kathleen, "oh, I do wish I knew where the boys were! It would be such a comfort."
Gerald knew where the boys were, and it was no comfort to him at all. If you come to think of it, he was the only person who could know where they were, because Jimmy didn't know that he was a boy and indeed he wasn't really and the Ugly-Wugly couldn't be expected to know anything real, such as where boys were. At the moment when the second cup of dolls tea very strong, but not strong enough to drown care in was being poured out by the trembling hand of Kathleen, Gerald was lurking there really is no other word for it on the staircase of Aldermanbury Buildings, Old Broad Street. On the floor below him was a door bearing the legend "MR. U. W. UGLI, Stock and Share Broker (and at the Stock Exchange)" and on the floor above was another door, on which was the name of Gerald's little brother, now grown suddenly rich in so magic and tragic a way. There were no explaining words under Jimmy's name. Gerald could not guess what walk in life it was to which That (which had been Jimmy) owed its affluence. He had seen, when the door opened to admit his brother, a tangle of clerks and mahogany desks. Evidently That had a large business.
What was Gerald to do? What could he do?
It is almost impossible, especially for one so young as Gerald, to enter a large London office and explain that the elderly and respected head of it is not what he seems, but is really your little brother, who has been suddenly advanced to age and wealth by a tricky wishing ring. If you think it's a possible thing, try it, that's all. Nor could he knock at the door of Mr. U. W. Ugli, Stock and Share Broker (and at the Stock Exchange), and inform his clerks that their chief was really nothing but old clothes that had accidentally come alive, and by some magic, which he couldn't attempt to explain, become real during a night spent at a really good hotel which had no existence.
The situation bristled, as you see, with difficulties. And it was so long past Gerald's proper dinner-time that his increasing hunger was rapidly growing to seem the most important difficulty of all. It is quite possible to starve to death on the staircase of a London building if the people you are watching for only stay long enough in their offices. The truth of this came home to Gerald more and more painfully.
A boy with hair like a new front door mat came whistling up the stairs. He had a dark blue bag in his hands.
"I'll give you a tanner for yourself if you'll get me a tanner's worth of buns," said Gerald, with that prompt decision common to all great commanders.
"Show us yer tanners," the boy rejoined with at least equal promptness. Gerald showed them. "All right; hand over."
"Payment on delivery," said Gerald, using words from the drapers which he had never thought to use.
The boy grinned admiringly.
"Knows 'is wy abaht," he said; "ain't no flies on 'im."
"Not many," Gerald owned with modest pride. "Cut along, there's a good chap. I've got to wait here. I'll take care of your bag if you like."
"Nor yet there ain't no flies on me neither," remarked the boy, shouldering it. "I been up to the confidence trick for years ever since I was your age."
With this parting shot he went, and returned in due course bun-laden. Gerald gave the sixpence and took the buns. When the boy, a minute later, emerged from the door of Mr. U. W. Ugli, Stock and Share Broker (and at the Stock Exchange), Gerald stopped him.
"What sort of chap's that?" he asked, pointing the question with a jerk of an explaining thumb.
"Awful big pot," said the boy; "up to his eyes in oof. Motor and all that."
"Know anything about the one on the next landing?"
"He's bigger than what this one is. Very old firm special cellar in the Bank of England to put his chink in all in bins like against the wall at the corn-chandler s. Jimminy, I wouldn't mind 'alf an hour in there, and the doors open and the police away at a beano. Not much! Neither. You'll bust if you eat all them buns."
"Have one?" Gerald responded, and held out the bag.
"They say in our office," said the boy, paying for the bun honourably with unasked information, "as these two is all for cutting each other's throats oh, only in the way of business been at it for years."
Gerald wildly wondered what magic and how much had been needed to give history and a past to these two things of yesterday, the rich Jimmy and the Ugly-Wugly. If he could get them away would all memory of them fade in this boy's mind, for instance, in the minds of all the people who did business with them in the City? Would the mahogany-and-clerk-furnished offices fade away? Were the clerks real? Was the mahogany? Was he himself real? Was the boy?
"Can you keep a secret?" he asked the other boy. "Are you on for a lark?"
"I ought to be getting back to the office," said the boy.
"Get then!" said Gerald.
"Don't you get stuffy," said the boy. "I was just a-going to say it didn't matter. I know how to make my nose bleed if I'm a bit late."
Gerald congratulated him on this accomplishment, at once so useful and so graceful, and then said: "Look here. I'll give you five bob honest."
"What for?" was the boy's natural question.
"If you'll help me. "
"I'm a private inquiry," said Gerald.
"Tec? You don't look it."
"What's the good of being one if you look it?" Gerald asked impatiently, beginning on another bun. "That old chap on the floor above he's wanted."
"Police?" asked the boy with fine carelessness.
"No sorrowing relations."
"'Return to,'" said the boy; "'all forgotten and forgiven.' I see."
"And I've got to get him to them, somehow. Now, if you could go in and give him a message from someone who wanted to meet him on business ,"
"Hold on!" said the boy. "I know a trick worth two of that. You go in and see old Ugli. He'd give his ears to have the old boy out of the way for a day or two. They were saying so in our office only this morning."
"Let me think," said Gerald, laying down the last bun on his knee expressly to hold his head in his hands.
"Don't you forget to think about my five bob," said the boy.
Then there was a silence on the stairs, broken only by the cough of a clerk in That's office, and the clickety-clack of a typewriter in the office of Mr. U. W. Ugli.
Then Gerald rose up and finished the bun.
"You're right," he said. "I'll chance it. Here's your five bob."
He brushed the bun crumbs from his front, cleared his throat, and knocked at the door of Mr. U. W. Ugli. It opened and he entered.
The door-mat boy lingered, secure in his power to account for his long absence by means of his well-trained nose, and his waiting was rewarded. He went down a few steps, round the bend of the stairs, and heard the voice of Mr. U. W. Ugli, so well known on that staircase (and on the Stock Exchange) say in soft, cautious accents:
"Then I'll ask him to let me look at the ring and I'll drop it. You pick it up. But remember, it's a pure accident, and you don't know me. I can't have my name mixed up in a thing like this. You're sure he's really unhinged?"
"Quite," said Gerald; "he's quite mad about that ring. He'll follow it anywhere. I know he will. And think of his sorrowing relations."
"I do I do," said Mr. Ugli kindly; "that's all I do think of, of course."
He went up the stairs to the other office, and Gerald heard the voice of That telling his clerks that he was going out to lunch. Then the horrible Ugly-Wugly and Jimmy, hardly less horrible in the eyes of Gerald, passed down the stairs where, in the dusk of the lower landing, two boys were making themselves as undistinguishable as possible, and so out into the street, talking of stocks and shares, bears and bulls. The two boys followed.
"I say," the door-mat-headed boy whispered admiringly, "whatever are you up to?"
"You'll see," said Gerald recklessly. "Come on!"
"You tell me. I must be getting back."
"Well, I'll tell you, but you won't believe me. That old gentleman's not really old at all he's my young brother suddenly turned into what you see. The other's not real at all. He's only just old clothes and nothing inside."
"He looks it, I must say," the boy admitted; "but I say you do stick it on, don't you?"
"Well, my brother was turned like that by a magic ring."
"There ain't no such thing as magic," said the boy. "I learnt that at school."
"All right," said Gerald. "Good-bye."
"Oh, go ahead!" said the boy; "you do stick it on, though."
"Well, that magic ring. If I can get hold of It I shall just wish we were all in a certain place. And we shall be. And then I can deal with both of them."
"Yes, the ring won't unwish anything you've wished. That undoes itself with time, like a spring uncoiling. But it'll give you a brand-new wish I'm almost certain of it. Anyhow, I'm going to chance it."
"You are a rotter, aren't you?" said the boy respectfully.
"You wait and see," Gerald repeated.
"I say, you aren't going into this swell place! You can't?"
The boy paused, appalled at the majesty of Pym's.
"Yes, I am they can't turn us out as long as we behave. You come along, too. I'll stand lunch."
I don't know why Gerald clung so to this boy. He wasn't a very nice boy. Perhaps it was because he was the only person Gerald knew in London to speak to except That-which-had-been-Jimmy and the Ugly-Wugly; and he did not want to talk to either of them.
What happened next happened so quickly that, as Gerald said later, it was "just like magic". The restaurant was crowded busy men were hastily bolting the food hurriedly brought by busy waitresses. There was a clink of forks and plates, the gurgle of beer from bottles, the hum of talk, and the smell of many good things to eat.
"Two chops, please," Gerald had just said, playing with a plainly shown handful of money, so as to leave no doubt of his honourable intentions. Then at the next table he heard the words, "Ah, yes, curious old family heirloom," the ring was drawn off the finger of That, and Mr. U. W. Ugli, murmuring something about a unique curio, reached his impossible hand out for it. The door-mat-headed boy was watching breathlessly.
"There's a ring right enough," he owned. And then the ring slipped from the hand of Mr. U. W. Ugli and skidded along the floor. Gerald pounced on it like a greyhound on a hare. He thrust the dull circlet on his finger and cried out aloud in that crowded place:
"I wish Jimmy and I were inside that door behind the statue of Flora."
It was the only safe place he could think of.
The lights and sounds and scents of the restaurant died away as a wax-drop dies in fire a rain-drop in water. I don't know, and Gerald never knew, what happened in that restaurant. There was nothing about it in the papers, though Gerald looked anxiously for 'Extraordinary Disappearance of well-known City Man.' What the door-mat-headed boy did or thought I don't know either. No more does Gerald. But he would like to know, whereas I don't care tuppence. The world went on all right, anyhow, whatever he thought or did. The lights and the sounds and the scents of Pym's died out. In place of the light there was darkness; in place of the sounds there was silence; and in place of the scent of beef, pork, mutton, fish, veal, cabbage, onions, carrots, beer, and tobacco there was the musty, damp scent of a place underground that has been long shut up.
Gerald felt sick and giddy, and there was something at the back of his mind that he knew would make him feel sicker and giddier as soon as he should have the sense to remember what it was. Meantime it was important to think of proper words to soothe the City man that had once been Jimmy to keep him quiet till Time, like a spring uncoiling, should bring the reversal of the spell make all things as they were and as they ought to be. But he fought in vain for words. There were none. Nor were they needed. For through the deep darkness came a voice and it was not the voice of that City man who had been Jimmy, but the voice of that very Jimmy who was Gerald's little brother, and who had wished that unlucky wish for riches that could only be answered by changing all that was Jimmy, young and poor, to all that Jimmy, rich and old, would have been. Another voice said: "Jerry, Jerry! Are you awake? I've had such a rum dream."
And then there was a moment when nothing was said or done.
Gerald felt through the thick darkness, and the thick silence, and the thick scent of old earth shut up, and he got hold of Jimmy's hand.
"It's all right, Jimmy, old chap," he said; "it's not a dream now. It's that beastly ring again. I had to wish us here, to get you back at all out of your dream."
"Wish us where?" Jimmy held on to the hand in a way that in the daylight of life he would have been the first to call babyish.
"Inside the passage behind the Flora statue," said Gerald, adding, "it's all right, really."
"Oh, I dare say it's all right," Jimmy answered through the dark, with an irritation not strong enough to make him loosen his hold of his brother's hand. "But how are we going to get out?"
Then Gerald knew what it was that was waiting to make him feel more giddy than the lightning flight from Cheapside to Yalding Towers had been able to make him. But he said stoutly:
"I'll wish us out, of course." Though all the time he knew that the ring would not undo its given wishes.
Gerald wished. He handed the ring carefully to Jimmy, through the thick darkness. And Jimmy wished.
And there they still were, in that black passage behind Flora, that had led in the case of one Ugly-Wugly at least to 'a good hotel'. And the stone door was shut. And they did not know even which way to turn to it.
"If I only had some matches!" said Gerald.
"Why didn't you leave me in the dream?" Jimmy almost whimpered. "It was light there, and I was just going to have salmon and cucumber."
"I," rejoined Gerald in gloom, "was just going to have steak and fried potatoes."
The silence, and the darkness, and the earthy scent were all they had now.
"I always wondered what it would be like," said Jimmy in low, even tones, "to be buried alive. And now I know! Oh! his voice suddenly rose to a shriek, "it isn't true, it isn't! It's a dream that's what it is!"
There was a pause while you could have counted ten. Then "Yes," said Gerald bravely, through the scent and the silence and the darkness, "it's just a dream, Jimmy, old chap. We'll just hold on, and call out now and then just for the lark of the thing. But it's really only a dream, of course."
Of course, said Jimmy in the silence and the darkness and the scent of old earth.
There is a curtain, thin as gossamer, clear as glass, strong as iron, that hangs for ever between the world of magic and the world that seems to us to be real. And when once people have found one of the little weak spots in that curtain which are marked by magic rings, and amulets, and the like, almost anything may happen. Thus it is not surprising that Mabel and Kathleen, conscientiously conducting one of the dullest dolls tea-parties at which either had ever assisted, should suddenly, and both at once, have felt a strange, unreasonable, but quite irresistible desire to return instantly to the Temple of Flora even at the cost of leaving the dolls tea-service in an unwashed state, and only half the raisins eaten. They went as one has to go when the magic impulse drives one against their better judgement, against their wills almost.
And the nearer they came to the Temple of Flora, in the golden hush of the afternoon, the more certain each was that they could not possibly have done otherwise.
And this explains exactly how it was that when Gerald and Jimmy, holding hands in the darkness of the passage, uttered their first concerted yell, "just for the lark of the thing", that yell was instantly answered from outside.
A crack of light showed in that part of the passage where they had least expected the door to be. The stone door itself swung slowly open, and they were out of it, in the Temple of Flora, blinking in the good daylight, an unresisting prey to Kathleen's embraces and the questionings of Mabel.
"And you left that Ugly-Wugly loose in London," Mabel pointed out; "you might have wished it to be with you, too."
"It's all right where it is," said Gerald. "I couldn't think of everything. And besides, no, thank you! Now we'll go home and seal up the ring in an envelope."
"I haven't done anything with the ring yet," said Kathleen.
"I shouldn't think you'd want to when you see the sort of things it does with you," said Gerald.
"It wouldn't do things like that if I was wishing with it," Kathleen protested,
"Look here," said Mabel, "let's just put it back in the treasure-room and have done with it. I oughtn't ever to have taken it away, really. It's a sort of stealing. It's quite as bad, really, as Eliza borrowing it to astonish her gentleman friend with."
"I don't mind putting it back if you like," said Gerald, "only if any of us do think of a sensible wish you'll let us have it out again, of course?"
"Of course, of course," Mabel agreed.
So they trooped up to the castle, and Mabel once more worked the spring that let down the panelling and showed the jewels, and the ring was put back among the odd dull ornaments that Mabel had once said were magic.
"How innocent it looks!" said Gerald. "You wouldn't think there was any magic about it. It's just like an old silly ring. I wonder if what Mabel said about the other things is true! Suppose we try."
"Don't!" said Kathleen. "I think magic things are spiteful. They just enjoy getting you into tight places."
"I'd like to try," said Mabel, "only well, everything's been rather upsetting, and I've forgotten what I said anything was."
So had the others. Perhaps that was why, when Gerald said that a bronze buckle laid on the foot would have the effect of seven-league boots, it didn't; when Jimmy, a little of the City man he had been clinging to him still, said that the steel collar would ensure your always having money in your pockets, his own remained empty; and when Mabel and Kathleen invented qualities of the most delightful nature for various rings and chains and brooches, nothing at all happened.
"It's only the ring that's magic," said Mabel at last; "and, I say!" she added, in quite a different voice.
"Suppose even the ring isn't!"
"But we know it is."
"I don't," said Mabel. "I believe it's not today at all. I believe it's the other day we've just dreamed all these things. It's the day I made up that nonsense about the ring."
"No, it isn't," said Gerald; "you were in your Princess-clothes then.
"What Princess-clothes?" said Mabel, opening her dark eyes very wide.
"Oh, don't be silly," said Gerald wearily.
"I'm not silly," said Mabel; "and I think it's time you went. I'm sure Jimmy wants his tea."
"Of course I do," said Jimmy. "But you had got the Princess-clothes that day. Come along; let's shut up the shutters and leave the ring in its long home."
"What ring?" said Mabel.
"Don't take any notice of her," said Gerald. "She's only trying to be funny."
"No, I'm not," said Mabel; "but I'm inspired like a Python or a Sibylline lady. What ring?"
"The wishing-ring," said Kathleen; "the invisibility ring."
"Don't you see now," said Mabel, her eyes wider than ever, "the ring's what you say it is? That's how it came to make us invisible I just said it. Oh, we can't leave it here, if that's what it is. It isn't stealing, really, when it's as valuable as that, you see. Say what it is.
"It's a wishing-ring," said Jimmy.
"We've had that before and you had your silly wish," said Mabel, more and more excited. "I say it isn't a wishing-ring. I say it's a ring that makes the wearer four yards high."
She had caught up the ring as she spoke, and even as she spoke the ring showed high above the children's heads on the finger of an impossible Mabel, who was, indeed, twelve feet high.
"Now you've done it!" said Gerald and he was right. It was in vain that Mabel asserted that the ring was a wishing-ring. It quite clearly wasn't; it was what she had said it was.
"And you can't tell at all how long the effect will last," said Gerald. "Look at the invisibleness." This is difficult to do, but the others understood him.
"It may last for days," said Kathleen. "Oh, Mabel, it was silly of you!"
"That's right, rub it in," said Mabel bitterly; "you should have believed me when I said it was what I said it was. Then I shouldn't have had to show you, and I shouldn't be this silly size. What am I to do now, I should like to know?"
"We must conceal you till you get your right size again that's all," said Gerald practically.
"Yes but where?" said Mabel, stamping a foot twenty-four inches long.
"In one of the empty rooms. You wouldn't be afraid?"
"Of course not," said Mabel. "Oh, I do wish we'd just put the ring back and left it."
"Well, it wasn't us that didn't," said Jimmy, with more truth than grammar.
"I shall put it back now," said Mabel, tugging at it.
"I wouldn't if I were you," said Gerald thoughtfully. "You don't want to stay that length, do you? And unless the ring's on your finger when the time's up, I dare say it wouldn't act."
The exalted Mabel sullenly touched the spring. The panels slowly slid into place, and all the bright jewels were hidden. Once more the room was merely eight-sided, panelled, sunlit, and unfurnished.
"Now," said Mabel, "where am I to hide? It's a good thing auntie gave me leave to stay the night with you. As it is, one of you will have to stay the night with me. I'm not going to be left alone, the silly height I am."
Height was the right word; Mabel had said "four yards high" and she was four yards high. But she was hardly any thicker than when her height was four feet seven, and the effect was, as Gerald remarked, "wonderfully worm-like". Her clothes had, of course, grown with her, and she looked like a little girl reflected in one of those long bent mirrors at Rosherville Gardens, that make stout people look so happily slender, and slender people so sadly scraggy. She sat down suddenly on the floor, and it was like a four-fold foot-rule folding itself up.
"It's no use sitting there, girl," said Gerald.
"I'm not sitting here," retorted Mabel; "I only got down so as to be able to get through the door. It'll have to be hands and knees through most places for me now, I suppose."
"Aren't you hungry?" Jimmy asked suddenly.
"I don't know," said Mabel desolately; "it's it's such a long way off!"
"Well, I'll scout," said Gerald; "if the coast's clear "
"Look here," said Mabel, "I think I'd rather be out of doors till it gets dark."
"You can't. Someone's certain to see you."
"Not if I go through the yew-hedge," said Mabel. "There's a yew-hedge with a passage along its inside like the box-hedge in The Luck of the Vails.
"The Luck of the Vails. It's a ripping book. It was that book first set me on to hunt for hidden doors in panels and things. If I crept along that on my front, like a serpent it comes out amongst the rhododendrons, close by the dinosaurus we could camp there.
"There's tea," said Gerald, who had had no dinner.
"That's just what there isn't," said Jimmy, who had had none either.
"Oh, you won't desert me!" said Mabel. "Look here I'll write to auntie. She'll give you the things for a picnic, if she's there and awake. If she isn't, one of the maids will."
So she wrote on a leaf of Gerald's invaluable pocketbook: "DEAREST AUNTIE Please may we have some things for a picnic? Gerald will bring them. I would come myself, but I am a little tired. I think I have been growing rather fast. Your loving niece, MABEL." "P.S. Lots, please, because some of us are very hungry."
It was found difficult, but possible, for Mabel to creep along the tunnel in the yew-hedge. Possible, but slow, so that the three had hardly had time to settle themselves among the rhododendrons and to wonder bitterly what on earth Gerald was up to, to be such a time gone, when he returned, panting under the weight of a covered basket. He dumped it down on the fine grass carpet, groaned, and added, "But it's worth it. Where's our Mabel?"
The long, pale face of Mabel peered out from rhododendron leaves, very near the ground.
"I look just like anybody else like this, don't I?" she asked anxiously; "all the rest of me's miles away, under different bushes."
"We've covered up the bits between the bushes with bracken and leaves," said Kathleen, avoiding the question; "don't wriggle, Mabel, or you'll waggle them off."
Jimmy was eagerly unpacking the basket. It was a generous tea. A long loaf, butter in a cabbage-leaf, a bottle of milk, a bottle of water, cake, and large, smooth, yellow gooseberries in a box that had once held an extra-sized bottle of somebody's matchless something for the hair and moustache. Mabel cautiously advanced her incredible arms from the rhododendron and leaned on one of her spindly elbows, Gerald cut bread and butter, while Kathleen obligingly ran round, at Mabel's request, to see that the green coverings had not dropped from any of the remoter parts of Mabel's person. Then there was a happy, hungry silence, broken only by those brief, impassioned suggestions natural to such an occasion:
"More cake, please."
"Milk ahoy, there."
"Chuck us the goosegogs."
Everyone grew calmer more contented with their lot. A pleasant feeling, half tiredness and half restfulness, crept to the extremities of the party. Even the unfortunate Mabel was conscious of it in her remote feet, that lay crossed under the third rhododendron to the north-north-west of the tea-party. Gerald did but voice the feelings of the others when he said, not without regret:
"Well, I'm a new man, but I couldn't eat so much as another goosegog if you paid me."
"I could," said Mabel; "yes, I know they re all gone, and I've had my share. But I could. It's me being so long, I suppose."
A delicious after-food peace filled the summer air. At a little distance the green-lichened grey of the vast stone dinosaurus showed through the shrubs. He, too, seemed peaceful and happy. Gerald caught his stone eye through a gap in the foliage. His glance seemed somehow sympathetic.
"I dare say he liked a good meal in his day," said Gerald, stretching luxuriously.
"The dino what s-his-name," said Gerald.
"He had a meal today," said Kathleen, and giggled.
"Yes didn't he?" said Mabel, giggling also.
"You mustn't laugh lower than your chest," said Kathleen anxiously, "or your green stuff will joggle off."
"What do you mean a meal?" Jimmy asked suspiciously. "What are you sniggering about?"
"He had a meal. Things to put in his inside," said Kathleen, still giggling.
"Oh, be funny if you want to," said Jimmy, suddenly cross. "We don't want to know do we, Jerry?"
"I do," said Gerald witheringly; "I'm dying to know. Wake me, you girls, when you've finished pretending you're not going to tell."
He tilted his hat over his eyes, and lay back in the attitude of slumber.
"Oh, don't be stupid!" said Kathleen hastily. "It's only that we fed the dinosaurus through the hole in his stomach with the clothes the Ugly-Wuglies were made of!"
"We can take them home with us, then," said Gerald, chewing the white end of a grass stalk, "so that's all right."
"Look here," said Kathleen suddenly; "I've got an idea. Let me have the ring a bit. I won't say what the idea is, in case it doesn't come off, and then you'd say I was silly. I'll give it back before we go."
"Oh, but you aren't going yet!" said Mabel, pleading. She pulled off the ring. "Of course, she added earnestly, "I'm only too glad for you to try any idea, however silly it is."
Now, Kathleen's idea was quite simple. It was only that perhaps the ring would change its powers if someone else renamed it someone who was not under the power of its enchantment. So the moment it had passed from the long, pale hand of Mabel to one of her own fat, warm, red paws, she jumped up, crying, "Let's go and empty the dinosaurus now, and started to run swiftly towards that prehistoric monster. She had a good start. She wanted to say aloud, yet so that the others could not hear her, "This is a wishing-ring. It gives you any wish you choose. And she did say it. And no one heard her, except the birds and a squirrel or two, and perhaps a stone faun, whose pretty face seemed to turn a laughing look on her as she raced past its pedestal.
The way was uphill; it was sunny, and Kathleen had run her hardest, though her brothers caught her up before she reached the great black shadow of the dinosaurus. So that when she did reach that shadow she was very hot indeed and not in any state to decide calmly on the best wish to ask for.
"I'll get up and move the things down, because I know exactly where I put them," she said.
Gerald made a back, Jimmy assisted her to climb up, and she disappeared through the hole into the dark inside of the monster. In a moment a shower began to descend from the opening a shower of empty waistcoats, trousers with wildly waving legs, and coats with sleeves uncontrolled.
"Heads below!" called Kathleen, and down came walking-sticks and golf-sticks and hockey-sticks and broom-sticks, rattling and chattering to each other as they came.
"Come on," said Jimmy.
"Hold on a bit," said Gerald. "I'm coming up. He caught the edge of the hole above in his hands and jumped. Just as he got his shoulders through the opening and his knees on the edge he heard Kathleen's boots on the floor of the dinosaurus's inside, and Kathleen's voice saying: "Isn't it jolly cool in here? I suppose statues are always cool. I do wish I was a statue. Oh!"
The "oh" was a cry of horror and anguish. And it seemed to be cut off very short by a dreadful stony silence.
"What's up?" Gerald asked. But in his heart he knew. He climbed up into the great hollow. In the little light that came up through the hole he could see something white against the grey of the creature's sides. He felt in his pockets, still kneeling, struck a match, and when the blue of its flame changed to clear yellow he looked up to see what he had known he would see the face of Kathleen, white, stony, and lifeless. Her hair was white, too, and her hands, clothes, shoes everything was white, with the hard, cold whiteness of marble. Kathleen had her wish: she was a statue. There was a long moment of perfect stillness in the inside of the dinosaurus. Gerald could not speak. It was too sudden, too terrible. It was worse than anything that had happened yet. Then he turned and spoke down out of that cold, stony silence to Jimmy, in the green, sunny, rustling, live world outside.
"Jimmy, he said, in tones perfectly ordinary and matter of fact, "Kathleen's gone and said that ring was a wishing-ring. And so it was, of course. I see now what she was up to, running like that. And then the young duffer went and wished she was a statue."
"And she is?" asked Jimmy, below.
"Come up and have a look," said Gerald. And Jimmy came, partly with a pull from Gerald and partly with a jump of his own.
"She's a statue, right enough," he said, in awestruck tones. "Isn't it awful!"
"Not at all," said Gerald firmly. "Come on let's go and tell Mabel."
To Mabel, therefore, who had discreetly remained with her long length screened by rhododendrons, the two boys returned and broke the news. They broke it as one breaks a bottle with a pistol-shot.
"Oh, my goodness!" said Mabel, and writhed through her long length so that the leaves and fern tumbled off in little showers, and she felt the sun suddenly hot on the backs of her legs. "What next? Oh, my goodness!"
"She'll come all right," said Gerald, with outward calm.
"Yes; but what about me?" Mabel urged. "I haven't got the ring. And my time will be up before hers is. Couldn't you get it back? Can't you get it off her hand? I'd put it back on her hand the very minute I was my right size again faithfully I would."
"Well, it's nothing to blub about," said Jimmy, answering the sniffs that had served her in this speech for commas and full-stops; "not for you, anyway."
"Ah! you don't know," said Mabel; "you don't know what it is to be as long as I am. Do do try and get the ring. After all, it is my ring more than any of the rest of yours, anyhow, because I did find it, and I did say it was magic."
The sense of justice always present in the breast of Gerald awoke to this appeal.
"I expect the ring's turned to stone her boots have, and all her clothes. But I'll go and see. Only if I can't, I can't, and it's no use your making a silly fuss."
The first match lighted inside the dinosaurus showed the ring dark on the white hand of the statuesque Kathleen.
The fingers were stretched straight out. Gerald took hold of the ring, and, to his surprise, it slipped easily off the cold, smooth marble finger.
"I say, Cathy, old girl, I am sorry," he said, and gave the marble hand a squeeze. Then it came to him that perhaps she could hear him. So he told the statue exactly what he and the others meant to do. This helped to clear up his ideas as to what he and the others did mean to do. So that when, after thumping the statue hearteningly on its marble back, he returned to the rhododendrons, he was able to give his orders with the clear precision of a born leader, as he later said. And since the others had, neither of them, thought of any plans, his plan was accepted, as the plans of born leaders are apt to be.
"Here's your precious ring," he said to Mabel. "Now you're not frightened of anything, are you?"
"No," said Mabel, in surprise. "I'd forgotten that. Look here, I'll stay here or farther up in the wood if you'll leave me all the coats, so that I shan't be cold in the night. Then I shall be here when Kathleen comes out of the stone again."
"Yes," said Gerald, "that was exactly the born leader's idea.
"You two go home and tell Mademoiselle that Kathleen's staying at the Towers. She is."
"Yes," said Jimmy, "she certainly is."
"The magic goes in seven-hour lots," said Gerald; "your invisibility was twenty-one hours, mine fourteen, Eliza's seven. When it was a wishing-ring it began with seven. But there's no knowing what number it will be really. So there's no knowing which of you will come right first. Anyhow, we'll sneak out by the cistern window and come down the trellis, after we've said good night to Mademoiselle, and come and have a look at you before we go to bed. I think you'd better come close up to the dinosaurus and we'll leaf you over before we go."
Mabel crawled into cover of the taller trees, and there stood up looking as slender as a poplar and as unreal as the wrong answer to a sum in long division. It was to her an easy matter to crouch beneath the dinosaurus, to put her head up through the opening, and thus to behold the white form of Kathleen.
"It's all right, dear," she told the stone image; "I shall be quite close to you. You call me as soon as you feel you're coming right again."
The statue remained motionless, as statues usually do, and Mabel withdrew her head, lay down, was covered up, and left. The boys went home. It was the only reasonable thing to do. It would never have done for Mademoiselle to become anxious and set the police on their track. Everyone felt that. The shock of discovering the missing Kathleen, not only in a dinosaurus's stomach, but, further, in a stone statue of herself, might well have unhinged the mind of any constable, to say nothing of the mind of Mademoiselle, which, being foreign, would necessarily be a mind more light and easy to upset. While as for Mabel
"Well, to look at her as she is now," said Gerald, "why, it would send any one off their chump except us."
"We're different, said Jimmy; "our chumps have had to jolly well get used to things. It would take a lot to upset us now."
"Poor old Cathy! all the same," said Gerald. "Yes, of course," said Jimmy.
The sun had died away behind the black trees and the moon was rising. Mabel, her preposterous length covered with coats, waistcoats, and trousers laid along it, slept peacefully in the chill of the evening. Inside the dinosaurus Kathleen, alive in her marble, slept too. She had heard Gerald's words had seen the lighted matches. She was Kathleen just the same as ever only she was Kathleen in a case of marble that would not let her move. It would not have let her cry, even if she wanted to. But she had not wanted to cry. Inside, the marble was not cold or hard. It seemed, somehow, to be softly lined with warmth and pleasantness and safety. Her back did not ache with stooping. Her limbs were not stiff with the hours that they had stayed moveless. Everything was well better than well. One had only to wait quietly and quite comfortably and one would come out of this stone case, and once more be the Kathleen one had always been used to being. So she waited happily and calmly, and presently waiting changed to not waiting to not anything; and, close held in the soft inwardness of the marble, she slept as peacefully and calmly as though she had been lying in her own bed.
She was awakened by the fact that she was not lying in her own bed was not, indeed, lying at all by the fact that she was standing and that her feet had pins and needles in them. Her arms, too, held out in that odd way, were stiff and tired. She rubbed her eyes, yawned, and remembered. She had been a statue a statue inside the stone dinosaurus.
"Now I'm alive again," was her instant conclusion, "and I'll get out of it."
She sat down, put her feet through the hole that showed faintly grey in the stone beast's underside, and as she did so a long, slow lurch threw her sideways on the stone where she sat. The dinosaurus was moving!
"Oh!" said Kathleen inside it, "how dreadful! It must be moonlight, and it's come alive, like Gerald said.
It was indeed moving. She could see through the hole the changing surface of grass and bracken and moss as it waddled heavily along. She dared not drop through the hole while it moved, for fear it should crush her to death with its gigantic feet. And with that thought came another: where was Mabel? Somewhere somewhere near? Suppose one of the great feet planted itself on some part of Mabel's inconvenient length? Mabel being the size she was now it would be quite difficult not to step on some part or other of her, if she should happen to be in one's way quite difficult, however much one tried. And the dinosaurus would not try: Why should it? Kathleen hung in an agony over the round opening. The huge beast swung from side to side. It was going faster; it was no good, she dared not jump out. Anyhow, they must be quite away from Mabel by now. Faster and faster went the dinosaurus. The floor of its stomach sloped. They were going downhill. Twigs cracked and broke as it pushed through a belt of evergreen oaks; gravel crunched, ground beneath its stony feet. Then stone met stone. There was a pause. A splash! They were close to water the lake where by moonlight Hermes fluttered and Janus and the dinosaurus swam together. Kathleen dropped swiftly through the hole on to the flat marble that edged the basin, rushed sideways, and stood panting in the shadow of a statue's pedestal. Not a moment too soon, for even as she crouched the monster lizard slipped heavily into the water, drowning a thousand smooth, shining lily pads, and swam away towards the central island.
"Be still, little lady. I leap!" The voice came from the pedestal, and next moment Phoebus had jumped from the pedestal in his little temple, clearing the steps, and landing a couple of yards away.
"You are new," said Phoebus over his graceful shoulder. "I should not have forgotten you if once I had seen you."
"I am," said Kathleen, "quite, quite new. And I didn't know you could talk."
"Why not?" Phoebus laughed. "You can talk."
"But I'm alive."
"Am not I?" he asked.
"Oh, yes, I suppose so," said Kathleen, distracted, but not afraid; "only I thought you had to have the ring on before one could even see you move."
Phoebus seemed to understand her, which was rather to his credit, for she had certainly not expressed herself with clearness.
"Ah! that's for mortals," he said. "We can hear and see each other in the few moments when life is ours. That is a part of the beautiful enchantment."
"But I am a mortal," said Kathleen.
"You are as modest as you are charming," said Phoebus Apollo absently; "the white water calls me! I go," and the next moment rings of liquid silver spread across the lake, widening and widening, from the spot where the white joined hands of the Sun-god had struck the water as he dived.
Kathleen turned and went up the hill towards the rhododendron bushes. She must find Mabel, and they must go home at once. If only Mabel was of a size that one could conveniently take home with one! Most likely, at this hour of enchantments, she was. Kathleen, heartened by the thought, hurried on. She passed through the rhododendron bushes, remembered the pointed painted paper face that had looked out from the glossy leaves, expected to be frightened and wasn't. She found Mabel easily enough, and much more easily than she would have done had Mabel been as she wished to find her. For quite a long way off in the moonlight, she could see that long and worm-like form, extended to its full twelve feet and covered with coats and trousers and waistcoats. Mabel looked like a drain-pipe that has been covered in sacks in frosty weather. Kathleen touched her long cheek gently, and she woke.
"What's up?" she said sleepily.
"It's only me," Kathleen explained.
"How cold your hands are!" said Mabel.
"Wake up," said Kathleen, "and let's talk."
"Can't we go home now? I'm awfully tired, and it's so long since tea-time."
"You're too long to go home yet," said Kathleen sadly, and then Mabel remembered.
She lay with closed eyes then suddenly she stirred and cried out:
"Oh! Cathy, I feel so funny like one of those horn snakes when you make it go short to get it into its box. I am yes I know I am "
She was; and Kathleen, watching her, agreed that it was exactly like the shortening of a horn spiral snake between the closing hands of a child. Mabel's distant feet drew near Mabel's long, lean arms grew shorter Mabel's face was no longer half a yard long.
"You're coming right you are! Oh, I am so glad!" cried Kathleen.
"I know I am," said Mabel; and as she said it she became once more Mabel, not only in herself which, of course, she had been all the time, but in her outward appearance.
"You are all right. Oh, hooray! hooray! I am so glad!" said Kathleen kindly; "and now we'll go home at once, dear."
"Go home?" said Mabel, slowly sitting up and staring at Kathleen with her big dark eyes. "Go home like that?"
"Like what?" Kathleen asked impatiently.
"Why, you," was Mabel's odd reply.
"I'm all right," said Kathleen. "Come on."
"Do you mean to say you don't know?" said Mabel. "Look at yourself your hands your dress everything."
Kathleen looked at her hands. They were of marble whiteness. Her dress, too her shoes, her stockings, even the ends of her hair. She was white as new-fallen snow.
"What is it?" she asked, beginning to tremble. "What am I all this horrid colour for?"
"Don't you see? Oh, Cathy, don't you see? You've not come right. You're a statue still."
"I'm not I'm alive I'm talking to you."
"I know you are, darling," said Mabel, soothing her as one soothes a fractious child. "That's because it's moonlight."
"But you can see I'm alive."
"Of course I can. I've got the ring."
"But I'm all right; I know I am."
"Don't you see," said Mabel gently, taking her white marble hand, "you're not all right? It's moonlight, and you're a statue, and you've just come alive with all the other statues. And when the moon goes down you'll just be a statue again. That's the difficulty, dear, about our going home again. You're just a statue still, only you've come alive with the other marble things. Where's the dinosaurus?"
"In his bath," said Kathleen, "and so are all the other stone beasts."
Well," said Mabel, trying to look on the bright side of things, "then we've got one thing, at any rate, to be thankful for!"
"If," said Kathleen, sitting disconsolate in her marble, "if I am really a statue come alive, I wonder you're not afraid of me."
"I've got the ring," said Mabel with decision. "Cheer up, dear! you will soon be better. Try not to think about it."
She spoke as you speak to a child that has cut its finger, or fallen down on the garden path, and rises up with grazed knees to which gravel sticks intimately.
"I know," Kathleen absently answered.
"And I've been thinking," said Mabel brightly, "we might find Out a lot about this magic place, if the other statues aren't too proud to talk to us."
"They aren't," Kathleen assured her; "at least, Phoebus wasn't. He was most awfully polite and nice."
"Where is he?" Mabel asked.
"In the lake he was," said Kathleen.
"Then let's go down there," said Mabel. "Oh, Cathy! it is jolly being your own proper thickness again." She jumped up, and the withered ferns and branches that had covered her long length and had been gathered closely upon her as she shrank to her proper size fell as forest leaves do when sudden storms tear them. But the white Kathleen did not move.
The two sat on the grey moonlit grass with the quiet of the night all about them. The great park was still as a painted picture; only the splash of the fountains and the far-off whistle of the Western express broke the silence, which, at the same time, then deepened.
"What cheer, little sister!" said a voice behind them a golden voice. They turned quick, startled heads, as birds, surprised, might turn. There in the moonlight stood Phoebus, dripping still from the lake, and smiling at them, very gentle, very friendly.
"Oh, it's you!" said Kathleen.
"None other," said Phoebus cheerfully. "Who is your friend, the earth-child?"
"This is Mabel," said Kathleen.
Mabel got up and bowed, hesitated, and held out a hand.
"I am your slave, little lady," said Phoebus, enclosing it in marble fingers. "But I fail to understand how you can see us, and why you do not fear."
Mabel held up the hand that wore the ring.
"Quite sufficient explanation," said Phoebus; "but since you have that, why retain your mottled earthy appearance? Become a statue, and swim with us in the lake."