"I can't swim," said Mabel evasively.
"Nor yet me," said Kathleen.
"You can," said Phoebus. "All statues that come to life are proficient in all athletic exercises. And you, child of the dark eyes and hair like night, wish yourself a statue and join our revels."
"I'd rather not, if you will excuse me," said Mabel cautiously. "You see ... this ring ... you wish for things, and you never know how long they're going to last. It would be jolly and all that to be a statue now, but in the morning I should wish I hadn't."
"Earth-folk often do, they say," mused Phoebus. "But, child, you seem ignorant of the powers of your ring. Wish exactly, and the ring will exactly perform. If you give no limit of time, strange enchantments woven by Arithmos the outcast god of numbers will creep in and spoil the spell. Say thus: "I wish that till the dawn I may be a statue of living marble, even as my child friend, and that after that time I may be as before Mabel of the dark eyes and night-coloured hair."
"Oh, yes, do, it would be so jolly!" cried Kathleen. "Do, Mabel! And if we're both statues, shall we be afraid of the dinosaurus?"
"In the world of living marble fear is not," said Phoebus. "Are we not brothers, we and the dinosaurus brethren alike wrought of stone and life?"
"And could I swim if I did?"
"Swim, and float, and dive and with the ladies of Olympus spread the nightly feast, eat of the food of the gods, drink their cup, listen to the song that is undying, and catch the laughter of immortal lips."
"A feast!" said Kathleen. "Oh, Mabel, do! You would if you were as hungry as I am."
"But it won't be real food," urged Mabel.
"It will be real to you, as to us," said Phoebus; "there is no other realness even in your many-coloured world."
Still Mabel hesitated. Then she looked at Kathleen's legs and suddenly said: "Very well, I will. But first I'll take off my shoes and stockings. Marble boots look simply awful especially the laces. And a marble stocking that's coming down and mine do!"
She had pulled off shoes and stockings and pinafore. "Mabel has the sense of beauty," said Phoebus approvingly. "Speak the spell, child, and I will lead you to the ladies of Olympus."
Mabel, trembling a little, spoke it, and there were two little live statues in the moonlit glade. Tall Phoebus took a hand of each.
"Come run!" he cried. And they ran.
"Oh it is jolly!" Mabel panted. "Look at my white feet in the grass! I thought it would feel stiff to be a statue, but it doesn't."
"There is no stiffness about the immortals," laughed the Sun-god. "For tonight you are one of us."
And with that they ran down the slope to the lake.
"Jump!" he cried, and they jumped, and the water splashed up round three white, gleaming shapes.
"Oh! I can swim!" breathed Kathleen.
"So can I," said Mabel.
"Of course you can," said Phoebus. "Now three times round the lake, and then make for the island."
Side by side the three swam, Phoebus swimming gently to keep pace with the children. Their marble clothes did not seem to interfere at all with their swimming, as your clothes would if you suddenly jumped into the basin of the Trafalgar Square fountains and tried to swim there. And they swam most beautifully, with that perfect ease and absence of effort or tiredness which you must have noticed about your own swimming in dreams. And it was the most lovely place to swim in; the water-lilies, whose long, snaky stalks are so inconvenient to ordinary swimmers, did not in the least interfere with the movements of marble arms and legs. The moon was high in the clear sky-dome. The weeping willows, cypresses, temples, terraces, banks of trees and shrubs, and the wonderful old house, all added to the romantic charm of the scene.
"This is the nicest thing the ring has brought us yet," said Mabel, through a languid but perfect side-stroke.
"I thought you'd enjoy it," said Phoebus kindly; "now once more round, and then the island."
They landed on the island amid a fringe of rushes, yarrow, willow-herb, loose-strife, and a few late, scented, powdery, creamy heads of meadow-sweet. The island was bigger than it looked from the bank, and it seemed covered with trees and shrubs. But when, Phoebus leading the way, they went into the shadow of these, they perceived that beyond the trees lay a light, much nearer to them than the other side of the island could possibly be. And almost at once they were through the belt of trees, and could see where the light came from. The trees they had just passed among made a dark circle round a big cleared space, standing up thick and dark, like a crowd round a football field, as Kathleen remarked.
First came a wide, smooth ring of lawn, then marble steps going down to a round pool, where there were no water-lilies, only gold and silver fish that darted here and there like flashes of quicksilver and dark flames. And the enclosed space of water and marble and grass was lighted with a clear, white, radiant light, seven times stronger than the whitest moonlight, and in the still waters of the pool seven moons lay reflected. One could see that they were only reflections by the way their shape broke and changed as the gold and silver fish rippled the water with moving fin and tail that steered.
The girls looked up at the sky, almost expecting to see seven moons there. But no, the old moon shone alone, as she had always shone on them.
"There are seven moons," said Mabel blankly, and pointed, which is not manners.
"Of course," said Phoebus kindly; "everything in our world is seven times as much so as in yours."
"But there aren't seven of you," said Mabel.
"No, but I am seven times as much," said the Sun-god. "You see, there's numbers, and there's quantity, to say nothing of quality. You see that, I'm sure."
"Not quite," said Kathleen.
"Explanations always weary me," Phoebus interrupted. "Shall we join the ladies?"
On the further side of the pool was a large group, so white that it seemed to make a great white hole in the trees. Some twenty or thirty figures there were in the group all statues and all alive. Some were dipping their white feet among the gold and silver fish, and sending ripples across the faces of the seven moons. Some were pelting each other with roses roses so sweet that the girls could smell them even across the pool. Others were holding hands and dancing in a ring, and two were sitting on the steps playing cat's-cradle which is a very ancient game indeed with a thread of white marble.
As the new-comers advanced a shout of greeting and gay laughter went up. "Late again, Phoebus!" someone called out. And another: "Did one of your horses cast a shoe?" And yet another called out something about laurels.
"I bring two guests," said Phoebus, and instantly the statues crowded round, stroking the girls hair, patting their cheeks, and calling them the prettiest love-names.
"Are the wreaths ready, Hebe?" the tallest and most splendid of the ladies called out. "Make two more!"
And almost directly Hebe came down the steps, her round arms hung thick with rose-wreaths. There was one for each marble head.
Everyone now looked seven times more beautiful than before, which, in the case of the gods and goddesses, is saying a good deal. The children remembered how at the raspberry vinegar feast Mademoiselle had said that gods and goddesses always wore wreaths for meals.
Hebe herself arranged the roses on the girls heads and Aphrodite Urania, the dearest lady in the world, with a voice like mother's at those moments when you love her most, took them by the hands and said: "Come, we must get the feast ready. Eros Psyche Hebe Ganymede all you young people can arrange the fruit."
"I don't see any fruit," said Kathleen, as four slender forms disengaged themselves from the white crowd and came towards them.
"You will though," said Eros, a really nice boy, as the girls instantly agreed; "you've only got to pick it."
"Like this," said Psyche, lifting her marble arms to a willow branch. She reached out her hand to the children it held a ripe pomegranate.
"I see," said Mabel. "You just " She laid her fingers to the willow branch and the firm softness of a big peach was within them.
"Yes, just that," laughed Psyche, who was a darling, as any one could see.
After this Hebe gathered a few silver baskets from a convenient alder, and the four picked fruit industriously. Meanwhile the elder statues were busy plucking golden goblets and jugs and dishes from the branches of ash-trees and young oaks and filling them with everything nice to eat and drink that anyone could possibly want, and these were spread on the steps. It was a celestial picnic. Then everyone sat or lay down and the feast began. And oh! the taste of the food served on those dishes, the sweet wonder of the drink that melted from those gold cups on the white lips of the company! And the fruit there is no fruit like it grown on earth, just as there is no laughter like the laughter of those lips, no songs like the songs that stirred the silence of that night of wonder.
"Oh!" cried Kathleen, and through her fingers the juice of her third peach fell like tears on the marble steps. "I do wish the boys were here!"
"I do wonder what they're doing," said Mabel.
"At this moment," said Hermes, who had just made a wide ring of flight, as a pigeon does, and come back into the circle "at this moment they are wandering desolately near the home of the dinosaurus, having escaped from their home by a window, in search of you. They fear that you have perished, and they would weep if they did not know that tears do not become a man, however youthful."
Kathleen stood up and brushed the crumbs of ambrosia from her marble lap.
"Thank you all very much, she said. "It was very kind of you to have us, and we've enjoyed ourselves very much, but I think we ought to go now, please.
"If it is anxiety about your brothers," said Phoebus obligingly, "it is the easiest thing in the world for them to join you. Lend me your ring a moment."
He took it from Kathleen's half-reluctant hand, dipped it in the reflection of one of the seven moons, and gave it back. She clutched it. "Now," said the Sun-god, "wish for them that which Mabel wished for herself. Say "
"I know," Kathleen interrupted. "I wish that the boys may be statues of living marble like Mabel and me till dawn, and afterwards be like they are now."
"If you hadn't interrupted," said Phoebus "but there, we can't expect old heads on shoulders of young marble. You should have wished them here and but no matter. Hermes, old chap, cut across and fetch them, and explain things as you come."
He dipped the ring again in one of the reflected moons before he gave it back to Kathleen.
"There," he said, "now it's washed clean ready for the next magic."
"It is not our custom to question guests," said Hera the queen, turning her great eyes on the children; "but that ring excites, I am sure, the interest of us all."
"It is the ring," said Phoebus.
"That, of course," said Hera; "but if it were not inhospitable to ask questions I should ask, How came it into the hands of these earth-children?"
"That," said Phoebus, "is a long tale. After the feast the story, and after the story the song."
Hermes seemed to have "explained everything" quite fully; for when Gerald and Jimmy in marble whiteness arrived, each clinging to one of the god's winged feet, and so borne through the air, they were certainly quite at ease. They made their best bows to the goddesses and took their places as unembarrassed as though they had had Olympian suppers every night of their lives. Hebe had woven wreaths of roses ready for them, and as Kathleen watched them eating and drinking, perfectly at home in their marble, she was very glad that amid the welling springs of immortal peach-juice she had not forgotten her brothers.
"And now," said Hera, when the boys had been supplied with everything they could possibly desire, and more than they could eat "now for the story."
"Yes," said Mabel intensely; and Kathleen said, "Oh yes; now for the story. How splendid!"
"The story," said Phoebus unexpectedly, "will be told by our guests."
"Oh no!" said Kathleen, shrinking.
"The lads, maybe, are bolder," said Zeus the king, taking off his rose-wreath, which was a little tight, and rubbing his compressed ears.
"I really can't," said Gerald; "besides, I don't know any stories."
"Nor yet me," said Jimmy.
"It's the story of how we got the ring that they want," said Mabel in a hurry. "I'll tell it if you like, Once upon a time there was a little girl called Mabel," she added yet more hastily, and went on with the tale all the tale of the enchanted castle, or almost all, that you have read in these pages. The marble Olympians listened enchanted almost as enchanted as the castle itself, and the soft moonlit moments fell past like pearls dropping into a deep pool.
"And so," Mabel ended abruptly, "Kathleen wished for the boys and the Lord Hermes fetched them and here we all are."
A burst of interested comment and question blossomed out round the end of the story, suddenly broken off short by Mabel.
"But," said she, brushing it aside, as it grew thinner, "now we want you to tell us."
"To tell you ?"
"How you come to be alive, and how you know about the ring and everything you do know."
"Everything I know?" Phoebus laughed it was to him that she had spoken and not his lips only but all the white lips curled in laughter. "The span of your life, my earth-child, would not contain the words I should speak, to tell you all I know."
"Well, about the ring anyhow, and how you come alive," said Gerald; "you see, it's very puzzling to us."
"Tell them, Phoebus," said the dearest lady in the world; "don't tease the children."
So Phoebus, leaning back against a heap of leopard- skins that Dionysus had lavishly plucked from a spruce fir, told.
"All statues," he said, "can come alive when the moon shines, if they so choose. But statues that are placed in ugly cities do not choose. Why should they weary themselves with the contemplation of the hideous?"
"Quite so," said Gerald politely, to fill the pause.
"In your beautiful temples," the Sun-god went on, "the images of your priests and of your warriors who lie cross-legged on their tombs come alive and walk in their marble about their temples, and through the woods and fields. But only on one night in all the year can any see them. You have beheld us because you held the ring, and are of one brotherhood with us in your marble, but on that one night all may behold us."
"And when is that?" Gerald asked, again polite, in a pause.
"At the festival of the harvest," said Phoebes. "On that night as the moon rises it strikes one beam of perfect light on to the altar in certain temples. One of these temples is in Hellas, buried under the fall of a mountain which Zeus, being angry, hurled down upon it. One is in this land; it is in this great garden."
"Then," said Gerald, much interested, "if we were to come up to that temple on that night, we could see you, even without being statues or having the ring?"
"Even so," said Phoebus. "More, any question asked by a mortal we are on that night bound to answer."
"And the night is when?"
"Ah!" said Phoebus, and laughed. "Wouldn't you like to know!"
Then the great marble King of the Gods yawned, stroked his long beard, and said: "Enough of stories, Phoebus. Tune your lyre."
"But the ring," said Mabel in a whisper, as the Sun-god tuned the white strings of a sort of marble harp that lay at his feet "about how you know all about the ring?"
"Presently," the Sun-god whispered back. "Zeus must be obeyed; but ask me again before dawn, and I will tell you all I know of it." Mabel drew back, and leaned against the comfortable knees of one Demeter Kathleen and Psyche sat holding hands. Gerald and Jimmy lay at full length, chins on elbows, gazing at the Sun-god; and even as he held the lyre, before ever his fingers began to sweep the strings, the spirit of music hung in the air, enchanting, enslaving, silencing all thought but the thought of itself, all desire but the desire to listen to it.
Then Phoebus struck the strings and softly plucked melody from them, and all the beautiful dreams of all the world came fluttering close with wings like doves wings; and all the lovely thoughts that sometimes hover near, but not so near that you can catch them, now came home as to their nests in the hearts of those who listened. And those who listened forgot time and space, and how to be sad, and how to be naughty, and it seemed that the whole world lay like a magic apple in the hand of each listener, and that the whole world was good and beautiful.
And then, suddenly, the spell was shattered. Phoebus struck a broken chord, followed by an instant of silence; then he sprang up, crying, "The dawn! the dawn! To your pedestals, O gods!"
In an instant the whole crowd of beautiful marble people had leaped to its feet, had rushed through the belt of wood that cracked and rustled as they went, and the children heard them splash, in the water beyond. They heard, too, the gurgling breathing of a great beast, and knew that the dinosaurus, too, was returning to his own place.
Only Hermes had time, since one flies more swiftly than one swims, to hover above them for one moment, and to whisper with a mischievous laugh:
"In fourteen days from now, at the Temple of Strange Stones."
"What's the secret of the ring?" gasped Mabel.
"The ring is the heart of the magic," said Hermes. "Ask at the moonrise on the fourteenth day, and you shall know all."
With that he waved the snowy caduceus and rose in the air supported by his winged feet. And as he went the seven reflected moons died out and a chill wind began to blow, a grey light grew and grew, the birds stirred and twittered, and the marble slipped away from the children like a skin that shrivels in fire, and they were statues no more, but flesh and blood children as they used to be, standing knee-deep in brambles and long coarse grass. There was no smooth lawn, no marble steps, no seven-mooned fish-pond. The dew lay thick on the grass and the brambles, and it was very cold.
"We ought to have gone with them," said Mabel with chattering teeth. "We can't swim now we re not marble. And I suppose this is the island?"
It was and they couldn't swim.
They knew it. One always knows those sort of things somehow without trying. For instance, you know perfectly that you can't fly. There are some things that there is no mistake about.
The dawn grew brighter and the outlook more black every moment.
"There isn't a boat, I suppose?" Jimmy asked.
"No," said Mabel, "not on this side of the lake; there's one in the boat-house, of course if you could swim there."
"You know I can't," said Jimmy.
"Can't anyone think of anything?" Gerald asked, shivering.
"When they find we've disappeared they'll drag all the water for miles round, said Jimmy hopefully, "in case we've fallen in and sunk to the bottom. When they come to drag this we can yell and be rescued."
"Yes, dear, that will be nice," was Gerald's bitter comment.
"Don't be so disagreeable," said Mabel with a tone so strangely cheerful that the rest stared at her in amazement.
"The ring," she said. "Of course we've only got to wish ourselves home with it. Phoebus washed it in the moon ready for the next wish.
"You didn't tell us about that," said Gerald in accents of perfect good temper. "Never mind. Where is the ring?"
"You had it," Mabel reminded Kathleen.
"I know I had," said that child in stricken tones, "but I gave it to Psyche to look at and and she's got it on her finger!"
Everyone tried not to be angry with Kathleen. All partly succeeded.
"If we ever get off this beastly island," said Gerald,
"I suppose you can find Psyche's statue and get it off again?"
"No I can't," Mabel moaned. "I don't know where the statue is. I've never seen it. It may be in Hellas, wherever that is or anywhere, for anything I know."
No one had anything kind to say, and it is pleasant to record that nobody said anything. And now it was grey daylight, and the sky to the north was flushing in pale pink and lavender.
The boys stood moodily, hands in pockets. Mabel and Kathleen seemed to find it impossible not to cling together, and all about their legs the long grass was icy with dew.
A faint sniff and a caught breath broke the silence. "Now, look here," said Gerald briskly, "I won't have it. Do you hear? Snivelling's no good at all. No, I'm not a pig. It's for your own good. Let's make a tour of the island. Perhaps there's a boat hidden somewhere among the overhanging boughs.
"How could there be?" Mabel asked.
"Someone might have left it there, I suppose," said Gerald.
"But how would they have got off the island?"
"In another boat, of course," said Gerald; "come on." Downheartedly, and quite sure that there wasn't and couldn't be any boat, the four children started to explore the island. How often each one of them had dreamed of islands, how often wished to be stranded on one! Well, now they were. Reality is sometimes quite different from dreams, and not half so nice. It was worst of all for Mabel, whose shoes and stockings were far away on the mainland. The coarse grass and brambles were very cruel to bare legs and feet.
They stumbled through the wood to the edge of the water, but it was impossible to keep close to the edge of the island, the branches grew too thickly. There was a narrow, grassy path that wound in and out among the trees, and this they followed, dejected and mournful. Every moment made it less possible for them to hope to get back to the school-house unnoticed. And if they were missed and beds found in their present unslept-in state well, there would be a row of some sort, and, as Gerald said, "Farewell to liberty!"
"Of course we can get off all right," said Gerald. "Just all shout when we see a gardener or a keeper on the mainland. But if we do, concealment is at an end and all is absolutely up!"
"Yes," said everyone gloomily.
"Come, buck up!" said Gerald, the spirit of the born general beginning to reawaken in him. "We shall get out of this scrape all right, as we've got out of others; you know we shall. See, the sun's coming out. You feel all right and jolly now, don't you?"
"Yes, oh yes!" said everyone, in tones of unmixed misery.
The sun was now risen, and through a deep cleft in the hills it sent a strong shaft of light straight at the island. The yellow light, almost level, struck through the stems of the trees and dazzled the children's eyes. This, with the fact that he was not looking where he was going, as Jimmy did not fail to point out later, was enough to account for what now happened to Gerald, who was leading the melancholy little procession. He stumbled, clutched at a tree-trunk, missed his clutch, and disappeared, with a yell and a clatter; and Mabel, who came next, only pulled herself up just in time not to fall down a steep flight of moss-grown steps that seemed to open suddenly in the ground at her feet.
"Oh, Gerald!" she called down the steps; "are you hurt?"
"No," said Gerald, out of sight and crossly, for he was hurt, rather severely; "it's steps, and there's a passage."
"There always is," said Jimmy.
"I knew there was a passage," said Mabel; "it goes under the water and comes out at the Temple of Flora. Even the gardeners know that, but they won't go down, for fear of snakes."
"Then we can get out that way I do think you might have said so," Gerald's voice came up to say.
"I didn't think of it," said Mabel. "At least And I suppose it goes past the place where the Ugly-Wugly found its good hotel."
"I'm not going," said Kathleen positively, "not in the dark, I'm not. So I tell you!"
"Very well, baby," said Gerald sternly, and his head appeared from below very suddenly through interlacing brambles. "No one asked you to go in the dark. We'll leave you here if you like, and return and rescue you with a boat. Jimmy, the bicycle lamp!" He reached up a hand for it.
Jimmy produced from his bosom, the place where lamps are always kept in fairy stories see Aladdin and others a bicycle lamp.
"We brought it," he explained, "so as not to break our shins over bits of long Mabel among the rhododendrons."
"Now," said Gerald very firmly, striking a match and opening the thick, rounded glass front of the bicycle lamp, "I don't know what the rest of you are going to do, but I'm going down these steps and along this passage. If we find the good hotel well, a good hotel never hurt anyone yet."
"It's no good, you know," said Jimmy weakly; "you know jolly well you can't get out of that Temple of Flora door, even if you get to it."
"I don't know," said Gerald, still brisk and commander-like; "there's a secret spring inside that door most likely. We hadn't a lamp last time to look for it, remember."
"If there's one thing I do hate its undergroundness," said Mabel.
"You're not a coward," said Gerald, with what is known as diplomacy. "You're brave, Mabel. Don't I know it!" You hold Jimmy's hand and I'll hold Cathy s. Now then."
"I won't have my hand held," said Jimmy, of course. "I'm not a kid."
"Well, Cathy will. Poor little Cathy! Nice brother Jerry'll hold poor Cathy's hand."
Gerald's bitter sarcasm missed fire here, for Cathy gratefully caught the hand he held out in mockery. She was too miserable to read his mood, as she mostly did. "Oh, thank you, Jerry dear," she said gratefully; "you are a dear, and I will try not to be frightened." And for quite a minute Gerald shamedly felt that he had not been quite, quite kind.
So now, leaving the growing goldness of the sunrise, the four went down the stone steps that led to the underground and underwater passage, and everything seemed to grow dark and then to grow into a poor pretence of light again, as the splendour of dawn gave place to the small dogged lighting of the bicycle lamp. The steps did indeed lead to a passage, the beginnings of it choked with the drifted dead leaves of many old autumns. But presently the passage took a turn, there were more steps, down, down, and then the passage was empty and straight lined above and below and on each side with slabs of marble, very clear and clean. Gerald held Cathy's hand with more of kindness and less of exasperation than he had supposed possible.
And Cathy, on her part, was surprised to find it possible to be so much less frightened than she expected.
The flame of the bull's-eye threw ahead a soft circle of misty light the children followed it silently. Till, silently and suddenly, the light of the bull's-eye behaved as the flame of a candle does when you take it out into the sunlight to light a bonfire, or explode a train of gunpowder, or what not. Because now, with feelings mixed indeed, of wonder, and interest, and awe, but no fear, the children found themselves in a great hail, whose arched roof was held up by two rows of round pillars, and whose every corner was filled with a soft, searching, lovely light, filling every cranny, as water fills the rocky secrecies of hidden sea-caves.
"How beautiful!" Kathleen whispered, breathing hard into the tickled ear of her brother, and Mabel caught the hand of Jimmy and whispered, "I must hold your hand I must hold on to something silly, or I shan't believe it's real."
For this hall in which the children found themselves was the most beautiful place in the world. I won't describe it, because it does not look the same to any two people, and you wouldn't understand me if I tried to tell you how it looked to any one of these four. But to each it seemed the most perfect thing possible. I will only say that all round it were great arches. Kathleen saw them as Moorish, Mabel as Tudor, Gerald as Norman, and Jimmy as Churchwarden Gothic. (If you don't know what these are, ask your uncle who collects brasses, and he will explain, or perhaps Mr. Millar will draw the different kinds of arches for you.) And through these arches one could see many things oh! but many things. Through one appeared an olive garden, and in it two lovers who held each other's hands, under an Italian moon; through another a wild sea, and a ship to whom the wild, racing sea was slave. A third showed a king on his throne, his courtiers obsequious about him; and yet a fourth showed a really good hotel, with the respectable Ugly-Wugly sunning himself on the front doorsteps. There was a mother, bending over a wooden cradle. There was an artist gazing entranced on the picture his wet brush seemed to have that moment completed, a general dying on a field where Victory had planted the standard he loved, and these things were not pictures, but the truest truths, alive, and, as anyone could see, immortal.
Many other pictures there were that these arches framed. And all showed some moment when life had sprung to fire and flower the best that the soul of man could ask or man's destiny grant. And the really good hotel had its place here too, because there are some souls that ask no higher thing of life than "a really good hotel" .
"Oh, I am glad we came; I am, I am!" Kathleen murmured, and held fast to her brother's hand.
They went slowly up the hall, the ineffectual bull's-eye, held by Jimmy, very crooked indeed, showing almost as a shadow in this big, glorious light.
And then, when the hall's end was almost reached, the children saw where the light came from. It glowed and spread itself from one place, and in that place stood the one statue that Mabel "did not know where to find" the statue of Psyche. They went on, slowly, quite happy, quite bewildered. And when they came close to Psyche they saw that on her raised hand the ring showed dark.
Gerald let go Kathleen's hand, put his foot on the pediment, his knee on the pedestal. He stood up, dark and human, beside the white girl with the butterfly wings.
"I do hope you don't mind," he said, and drew the ring off very gently. Then, as he dropped to the ground, "Not here," he said. "I don't know why, but not here."
And they all passed behind the white Psyche, and once more the bicycle lamp seemed suddenly to come to life again as Gerald held it in front of him, to be the pioneer in the dark passage that led from the Hall of but they did not know, then, what it was the Hall of.
Then, as the twisting passage shut in on them with a darkness that pressed close against the little light of the bicycle lamp, Kathleen said, "Give me the ring. I know exactly what to say."
Gerald gave it with not extreme readiness.
"I wish," said Kathleen slowly, "that no one at home may know that we've been out tonight, and I wish we were safe in our own beds, undressed, and in our nightgowns, and asleep."
And the next thing any of them knew, it was good, strong, ordinary daylight not just sunrise, but the kind of daylight you are used to being called in, and all were in their own beds. Kathleen had framed the wish most sensibly. The only mistake had been in saying "in our own beds" because, of course, Mabel's own bed was at Yalding Towers, and to this day Mabel's drab-haired aunt cannot understand how Mabel, who was staying the night with that child in the town she was so taken up with, hadn't come home at eleven, when the aunt locked up, and yet she was in her bed in the morning. For though not a clever woman, she was not stupid enough to be able to believe any one of the eleven fancy explanations which the distracted Mabel offered in the course of the morning. The first (which makes twelve) of these explanations was The Truth, and of course the aunt was far too clever to believe That!
It was show-day at Yalding Castle, and it seemed good to the children to go and visit Mabel, and, as Gerald put it, to mingle unsuspected with the crowd; to gloat over all the things which they knew and which the crowd didn't know about the castle and the sliding panels, the magic ring and the statues that came alive. Perhaps one of the pleasantest things about magic happenings is the feeling which they give you of knowing what other people not only don't know but wouldn't, so to speak, believe if they did.
On the white road outside the gates of the castle was a dark spattering of breaks and wagonettes and dogcarts. Three or four waiting motor-cars puffed fatly where they stood, and bicycles sprawled in heaps along the grassy hollow by the red brick wall. And the people who had been brought to the castle by the breaks and wagonettes, and dog-carts and bicycles and motors, as well as those who had walked there on their own unaided feet, were scattered about the grounds, or being shown over those parts of the castle which were, on this one day of the week, thrown open to visitors.
There were more visitors than usual today because it had somehow been whispered about that Lord Yalding was down, and that the holland covers were to be taken off the state furniture so that a rich American who wished to rent the castle, to live in, might see the place in all its glory.
It certainly did look very splendid. The embroidered satin, gilded leather and tapestry of the chairs, which had been hidden by brown holland, gave to the rooms a pleasant air of being lived in. There were flowering plants and pots of roses here and there on tables or window-ledges. Mabel's aunt prided herself on her tasteful touch in the home, and had studied the arrangement of flowers in a series of articles in Home Drivel called "How to Make Home High-class on Nine-pence a Week".
The great crystal chandeliers, released from the bags that at ordinary times shrouded them, gleamed with grey and purple splendour. The brown linen sheets had been taken off the state beds, and the red ropes that usually kept the low crowd in its proper place had been rolled up and hidden away.
"It's exactly as if we were calling on the family," said the grocer's daughter from Salisbury to her friend who was in the millinery.
"If the Yankee doesn't take it, what do you say to you and me setting up here when we get spliced?" the draper's assistant asked his sweetheart. And she said: "Oh, Reggie, how can you! you are too funny."
All the afternoon the crowd in its smart holiday clothes, pink blouses, and light-coloured suits, flowery hats, and scarves beyond description passed through and through the dark hall, the magnificent drawing-rooms and boudoirs and picture-galleries. The chattering crowd was awed into something like quiet by the calm, stately bedchambers, where men had been born, and died; where royal guests had lain in long-ago summer nights, with big bow-pots of elder-flowers set on the hearth to ward off fever and evil spells. The terrace, where in old days dames in ruffs had sniffed the sweet-brier and southern-wood of the borders below, and ladies, bright with rouge and powder and brocade, had walked in the swing of their hooped skirts the terrace now echoed to the sound of brown boots, and the tap-tap of high-heeled shoes at two and eleven three, and high laughter and chattering voices that said nothing that the children wanted to hear. These spoiled for them the quiet of the enchanted castle, and outraged the peace of the garden of enchantments.
"It isn't such a lark after all," Gerald admitted, as from the window of the stone summer-house at the end of the terrace they watched the loud colours and heard the loud laughter. "I do hate to see all these people in our garden."
"I said that to that nice bailiff-man this morning," said Mabel, setting herself on the stone floor, "and he said it wasn't much to let them come once a week. He said Lord Yalding ought to let them come when they liked said he would if he lived there."
"That's all he knows!" said Jimmy. "Did he say anything else?"
"Lots," said Mabel. "I do like him! I told him ,"
"Yes. I told him lots about our adventures. The humble bailiff is a beautiful listener."
"We shall be locked up for beautiful lunatics if you let your jaw get the better of you, my Mabel child."
"Not us!" said Mabel. "I told it you know the way every word true, and yet so that nobody believes any of it. When I'd quite done he said I'd got a real littery talent, and I promised to put his name on the beginning of the first book I write when I grow up."
"You don't know his name," said Kathleen. "Let's do something with the ring."
"Imposs!" said Gerald. "I forgot to tell you, but I met Mademoiselle when I went back for my garters and she's coming to meet us and walk back with us."
"What did you say?"
"I said," said Gerald deliberately, "that it was very kind of her. And so it was. Us not wanting her doesn't make it not kind her coming "
"It may be kind, but it's sickening too," said Mabel, "because now I suppose we shall have to stick here and wait for her; and I promised we d meet the bailiff-man. He's going to bring things in a basket and have a picnic-tea with us."
"Beyond the dinosaurus. He said he'd tell me all about the anteddy-something animals it means before Noah's Ark; there are lots besides the dinosaurus in return for me telling him my agreeable fictions. Yes, he called them that."
"As soon as the gates shut. That's five."
"We might take Mademoiselle along," suggested Gerald.
"She d be too proud to have tea with a bailiff, I expect; you never know how grown-ups will take the simplest things." It was Kathleen who said this.
"Well, I'll tell you what," said Gerald, lazily turning on the stone bench. "You all go along, and meet your bailiff. A picnic's a picnic. And I'll wait for Mademoiselle."
Mabel remarked joyously that this was jolly decent of Gerald, to which he modestly replied: "Oh, rot!"
Jimmy added that Gerald rather liked sucking-up to people.
"Little boys don't understand diplomacy," said Gerald calmly; "sucking-up is simply silly. But it's better to be good than pretty and ,"
"How do you know?" Jimmy asked.
"And," his brother went on, "you never know when a grown-up may come in useful. Besides, they like it. You must give them some little pleasures. Think how awful it must be to be old. My hat!"
"I hope I shan't be an old maid," said Kathleen.
"I don't mean to be," said Mabel briskly. "I'd rather marry a travelling tinker."
"It would be rather nice," Kathleen mused, "to marry the Gypsy King and go about in a caravan telling fortunes and hung round with baskets and brooms."
"Oh, if I could choose," said Mabel, "of course I'd marry a brigand, and live in his mountain fastnesses, and be kind to his captives and help them to escape and ,"
"You'll be a real treasure to your husband," said Gerald.
"Yes," said Kathleen, "or a sailor would be nice. You'd watch for his ship coming home and set the lamp in the dormer window to light him home through the storm; and when he was drowned at sea you d be most frightfully sorry, and go every day to lay flowers on his daisied grave."
"Yes," Mabel hastened to say, "or a soldier, and then you'd go to the wars with short petticoats and a cocked hat and a barrel round your neck like a St. Bernard dog. There's a picture of a soldier's wife on a song auntie's got. It's called 'The Veevandyear'."
"When I marry " Kathleen quickly said.
"When I marry," said Gerald, "I'll marry a dumb girl, or else get the ring to make her so that she can't speak unless she's spoken to. Let's have a squint.
He applied his eye to the stone lattice.
"They're moving off," he said. "Those pink and purple hats are nodding off in the distant prospect; and the funny little man with the beard like a goat is going a different way from everyone else the gardeners will have to head him off. I don't see Mademoiselle, though. The rest of you had better bunk. It doesn't do to run any risks with picnics. The deserted hero of our tale, alone and unsupported, urged on his brave followers to pursue the commissariat waggons, he himself remaining at the post of danger and difficulty, because he was born to stand on burning decks whence all but he had fled, and to lead forlorn hopes when despaired of by the human race!"
"I think I'll marry a dumb husband," said Mabel, "and there shan't be any heroes in my books when I write them, only a heroine. Come on, Cathy."
Coming out of that cool, shadowy summer-house into the sunshine was like stepping into an oven, and the stone of the terrace was burning to the children's feet.
"I know now what a cat on hot bricks feels like," said Jimmy.
The antediluvian animals are set in a beech-wood on a slope at least half a mile across the park from the castle. The grandfather of the present Lord Yalding had them set there in the middle of last century, in the great days of the late Prince Consort, the Exhibition of 1851, Sir Joseph Paxton, and the Crystal Palace. Their stone flanks, their wide, ungainly wings, their lozenged crocodile-like backs show grey through the trees a long way off.
Most people think that noon is the hottest time of the day. They are wrong. A cloudless sky gets hotter and hotter all the afternoon, and reaches its very hottest at five. I am sure you must all have noticed this when you are going out to tea anywhere in your best clothes, especially if your clothes are starched and you happen to have a rather long and shadeless walk.
Kathleen, Mabel, and Jimmy got hotter and hotter, and went more and more slowly. They had almost reached that stage of resentment and discomfort when one "wishes one hadn't come" before they saw, below the edge of the beech-wood, the white waved handkerchief of the bailiff.
That banner, eloquent of tea, shade, and being able to sit down, put new heart into them. They mended their pace, and a final desperate run landed them among the drifted coppery leaves and bare grey and green roots of the beech-wood.
"Oh, glory!" said Jimmy, throwing himself down. "How do you do?"
The bailiff looked very nice, the girls thought. He was not wearing his velveteens, but a grey flannel suit that an Earl need not have scorned; and his straw hat would have done no discredit to a Duke; and a Prince could not have worn a prettier green tie. He welcomed the children warmly. And there were two baskets dumped heavy and promising among the beech-leaves.
He was a man of tact. The hot, instructive tour of the stone antediluvians, which had loomed with ever-lessening charm before the children, was not even mentioned.
"You must be desert-dry," he said, "and you'll be hungry, too, when you've done being thirsty. I put on the kettle as soon as I discerned the form of my fair romancer in the extreme offing."
The kettle introduced itself with puffings and bubblings from the hollow between two grey roots where it sat on a spirit-lamp.
"Take off your shoes and stockings, won't you?" said the bailiff in matter-of-course tones, just as old ladies ask each other to take off their bonnets; "there's a little baby canal just over the ridge."
The joys of dipping one's feet in cool running water after a hot walk have yet to be described. I could write pages about them. There was a mill-stream when I was young with little fishes in it, and dropped leaves that spun round, and willows and alders that leaned over it and kept it cool, and but this is not the story of my life.
When they came back, on rested, damp, pink feet, tea was made and poured ouy delicious tea with as much milk as ever you wanted, out of a beer bottle with a screw top, and cakes, and gingerbread, and plums, and a big melon with a lump of ice in its heart a tea for the gods!
This thought must have come to Jimmy, for he said suddenly, removing his face from inside a wide-bitten crescent of melon-rind:
"Your feast's as good as the feast of the Immortals, almost."
"Explain your recondite allusion," said the grey-flannelled host; and Jimmy, understanding him to say, "What do you mean?" replied with the whole tale of that wonderful night when the statues came alive, and a banquet of unearthly splendour and deliciousness was plucked by marble hands from the trees of the lake island.
When he had done the bailiff said: "Did you get all this out of a book?"
"No," said Jimmy, "it happened."
"You are an imaginative set of young dreamers,. aren't you?" the bailiff asked, handing the plums to Kathleen, who smiled, friendly but embarrassed. Why couldn't Jimmy have held his tongue?
"No, we re not," said that indiscreet one obstinately; "everything I've told you did happen, and so did the things Mabel told you."
The bailiff looked a little uncomfortable. "All right, old chap," he said. And there was a short, uneasy silence. "Look here," said Jimmy, who seemed for once to have got the bit between his teeth, "do you believe me or not?"
"Don't be silly, Jimmy!" Kathleen whispered. "Because, if you don't I'll make you believe."
"Don't!" said Mabel and Kathleen together.
"Do you or don't you?" Jimmy insisted, lying on his front with his chin on his hands, his elbows on a moss-cushion, and his bare legs kicking among the beech leaves.
"I think you tell adventures awfully well," said the bailiff cautiously.
"Very well," said Jimmy, abruptly sitting up, "you don't believe me. Nonsense, Cathy! he's a gentleman, even if he is a bailiff."
"Thank you!" said the bailiff with eyes that twinkled.
"You won't tell, will you?" Jimmy urged.
"Certainly not. I am, as you say, the soul of honour."
"Then Cathy, give me the ring."
"Oh, no!" said the girls together.
Kathleen did not mean to give up the ring; Mabel did not mean that she should; Jimmy certainly used no force. Yet presently he held it in his hand. It was his hour. There are times like that for all of us, when what we say shall be done is done.
"Now," said Jimmy, "this is the ring Mabel told you about. I say it is a wishing-ring. And if you will put it on your hand and wish, whatever you wish will happen."
"Must I wish out loud?"
"Yes I think so."
"Don't wish for anything silly," said Kathleen, making the best of the situation, "like its being fine on Tuesday or its being your favourite pudding for dinner tomorrow. Wish for something you really want."
"I will," said the bailiff. "I'll wish for the only thing I really want. I wish my I wish my friend were here."
The three who knew the power of the ring looked round to see the bailiff's friend appear; a surprised man that friend would be, they thought, and perhaps a frightened one. They had all risen, and stood ready to soothe and reassure the newcomer. But no startled gentleman appeared in the wood, only, coming quietly through the dappled sun and shadow under the beech-trees, Mademoiselle and Gerald, Mademoiselle in a white gown, looking quite nice and like a picture, Gerald hot and polite.
"Good afternoon," said that dauntless leader of forlorn hopes. "I persuaded Mademoiselle "
That sentence was never finished, for the bailiff and the French governess were looking at each other with the eyes of tired travellers who find, quite without expecting it, the desired end of a very long journey.
And the children saw that even if they spoke it would not make any difference.
"You!" said the bailiff.
"Mais . . . c'est donc vous," said Mademoiselle, in a funny choky voice.
And they stood still and looked at each other, "like stuck pigs" , as Jimmy said later, for quite a long time.
"Is she your friend?" Jimmy asked.
"Yes oh yes," said the bailiff. "You are my friend, are you not?"
"But yes," Mademoiselle said softly. "I am your friend."
"There! you see," said Jimmy, "the ring does do what I said."
"We won't quarrel about that," said the bailiff. "You can say it's the ring. For me it's a coincidence the happiest, the dearest ,"
"Then you ?" said the French governess.
"Of course," said the bailiff. "Jimmy, give your brother some tea. Mademoiselle, come and walk in the woods: there are a thousand things to say."
"Eat then, my Gerald," said Mademoiselle, now grown young, and astonishingly like a fairy princess. "I return all at the hour, and we re-enter together. It is that we must speak each other. It is long time that we have not seen us, me and Lord Yalding!"
"So he was Lord Yalding all the time," said Jimmy, breaking a stupefied silence as the white gown and the grey flannels disappeared among the beech trunks. "Landscape painter sort of dodge silly, I call it. And fancy her being a friend of his, and his wishing she was here! Different from us, eh? Good old ring!"
"His friend!" said Mabel with strong scorn; "Don't you see she's his lover? Don't you see she's the lady that was bricked up in the convent, because he was so poor, and he couldn't find her. And now the ring's made them live happy ever after. I am glad! Aren't you, Cathy?"
"Rather!" said Kathleen; "it's as good as marrying a sailor or a bandit."
"It's the ring did it," said Jimmy. "If the American takes the house he'll pay lots of rent, and they can live on that."
"I wonder if they'll be married tomorrow!" said Mabel.
"Wouldn't if be fun if we were bridesmaids," said Cathy.
"May I trouble you for the melon," said Gerald. "Thanks! Why didn't we know he was Lord Yalding? Apes and moles that we were!"
"I've known since last night," said Mabel calmly; "only I promised not to tell. I can keep a secret, can't I?"
"Too jolly well," said Kathleen, a little aggrieved.
"He was disguised as a bailiff," said Jimmy; "that's why we didn't know."
"Disguised as a fiddle-stick-end," said Gerald. "Ha, ha! I see something old Sherlock Holmes never saw, nor that idiot Watson, either. If you want a really impenetrable disguise, you ought to disguise yourself as what you really are. I'll remember that."
"It's like Mabel, telling things so that you can't believe them," said Cathy.
"I think Mademoiselle's jolly lucky," said Mabel.
"She's not so bad. He might have done worse," said Gerald. "Plums, please!"
There was quite plainly magic at work. Mademoiselle next morning was a changed governess. Her cheeks were pink, her lips were red, her eyes were larger and brighter, and she had done her hair in an entirely new way, rather frivolous and very becoming.
"Mamselle's coming out!" Eliza remarked.
Immediately after breakfast Lord Yalding called with a wagonette that wore a smart blue cloth coat, and was drawn by two horses whose coats were brown and shining and fitted them even better than the blue cloth coat fitted the wagonette, and the whole party drove in state and splendour to Yalding Towers.
Arrived there, the children clamoured for permission
to explore the castle thoroughly, a thing that had never yet been possible. Lord Yalding, a little absent in manner, but yet quite cordial, consented. Mabel showed the others all the secret doors and unlikely passages and stairs that she had discovered. It was a glorious morning. Lord Yalding and Mademoiselle went through the house, it is true, but in a rather half-hearted way. Quite soon they were tired, and went out through the French windows of the drawing-room and through the rose garden, to sit on the curved stone seat in the middle of the maze, where once, at the beginning of things, Gerald, Kathleen, and Jimmy had found the sleeping Princess who wore pink silk and diamonds.
The children felt that their going left to the castle a more spacious freedom, and explored with more than Arctic enthusiasm. It was as they emerged from the little rickety secret staircase that led from the powdering-room of the state suite to the gallery of the hall that they came suddenly face to face with the odd little man who had a beard like a goat and had taken the wrong turning yesterday.
"This part of the castle is private," said Mabel, with great presence of mind, and shut the door behind her.
"I am aware of it," said the goat-faced stranger, "but I have the permission of the Earl of Yalding to examine the house at my leisure."
"Oh!" said Mabel. "I beg your pardon. We all do. We didn't know."
"You are relatives of his lordship, I should surmise?" asked the goat-faced.
"Not exactly," said Gerald. "Friends".
The gentleman was thin and very neatly dressed; he had small, merry eyes and a face that was brown and dry-looking.
"You are playing some game, I should suppose?"
"No, sir," said Gerald, "only exploring."
"May a stranger propose himself as a member of your Exploring Expedition?" asked the gentleman, smiling a tight but kind smile.
The children looked at each other.
"You see," said Gerald, "it's rather difficult to explain but you see what I mean, don't you?"
"He means," said Jimmy, "that we can't take you into an exploring party without we know what you want to go for."
"Are you a photographer?" asked Mabel, "or is it some newspaper's sent you to write about the Towers?"
"I understand your position," said the gentleman. "I am not a photographer, nor am I engaged by any journal. I am a man of independent means, travelling in this country with the intention of renting a residence. My name is Jefferson D. Conway."
"Oh!" said Mabel; "then you're the American millionaire."
"I do not like the description, young lady," said Mr. Jefferson D. Conway. "I am an American citizen, and I am not without means. This is a fine property a very fine property. If it were for sale ,"
"It isn't, it can't be," Mabel hastened to explain. "The lawyers have put it in a tale, so Lord Yalding can't sell it. But you could take it to live in, and pay Lord Yalding a good millionairish rent, and then he could marry the French governess "
"Shish!" said Kathleen and Mr. Jefferson D. Conway together, and he added: "Lead the way, please; and I should suggest that the exploration be complete and exhaustive."
Thus encouraged, Mabel led the millionaire through all the castle. He seemed pleased, yet disappointed too.
"It is a fine mansion," he said at last when they had come back to the point from which they had started; "but I should suppose, in a house this size, there would mostly be a secret stairway, or a priests hiding place, or a ghost?"
"There are," said Mabel briefly, "but I thought Americans didn't believe in anything but machinery and newspapers." She touched the spring of the panel behind her, and displayed the little tottery staircase to the American. The sight of it worked a wonderful transformation in him. He became eager, alert, very keen.
"Say!" he cried, over and over again, standing in the door that led from the powdering-room to the state bed-chamber. "But this is great great!"
The hopes of everyone ran high. It seemed almost certain that the castle would be let for a millionairish rent and Lord Yalding be made affluent to the point of marriage.
"If there were a ghost located in this ancestral pile, I'd close with the Earl of Yalding today, now, on the nail," Mr. Jefferson D. Conway went on.
"If you were to stay till tomorrow, and sleep in this room, I expect you'd see the ghost," said Mabel.
"There is a ghost located here then?" he said joyously.
"They say," Mabel answered, "that old Sir Rupert, who lost his head in Henry the Eighth's time, walks of a night here, with his head under his arm. But we've not seen that. What we have seen is the lady in a pink dress with diamonds in her hair. She carries a lighted taper," Mabel hastily added. The others, now suddenly aware of Mabel's plan, hastened to assure the American in accents of earnest truth that they had all seen the lady with the pink gown.
He looked at them with half-closed eyes that twinkled.
"Well," he said, "I calculate to ask the Earl of Yalding to permit me to pass a night in his ancestral best bed- chamber. And if I hear so much as a phantom footstep, or hear so much as a ghostly sigh, I'll take the place."
"I am glad!" said Cathy.
"You appear to be very certain of your ghost," said the American, still fixing them with little eyes that shone. "Let me tell you, young gentlemen, that I carry a gun, and when I see a ghost, I shoot."
He pulled a pistol out of his hip-pocket, and looked at it lovingly.
"And I am a fair average shot," he went on, walking across the shiny floor of the state bed-chamber to the open window. "See that big red rose, like a tea-saucer?"
The next moment a loud report broke the stillness, and the red petals of the shattered rose strewed balustrade and terrace.
The American looked from one child to another. Every face was perfectly white.
"Jefferson D. Conway made his little pile by strict attention to business, and keeping his eyes skinned," he added. "Thank you for all your kindness."
"Suppose you'd done it, and he'd shot you!" said Jimmy cheerfully. "That would have been an adventure, wouldn't it?"
"I'm going to do it still," said Mabel, pale and defiant. "Let's find Lord Yalding and get the ring back."
Lord Yalding had had an interview with Mabel's aunt, and lunch for six was laid in the great dark hall, among the armour and the oak furniture a beautiful lunch served on silver dishes. Mademoiselle, becoming every moment younger and more like a Princess, was moved to tears when Gerald rose, lemonade-glass in hand, and proposed the health of "Lord and Lady Yalding".
When Lord Yalding had returned thanks in a speech full of agreeable jokes the moment seemed to Gerald propitious, and he said:
"The ring, you know you don't believe in it, but we do. May we have it back?"
And got it.
Then, after a hasty council, held in the panelled jewel-room, Mabel said: "This is a wishing-ring, and I wish all the American's weapons of all sorts were here."
Instantly the room was full six feet up the wall of a tangle and mass of weapons, swords, spears, arrows, tomahawks, fowling pieces, blunderbusses, pistols, revolvers, scimitars, kreeses every kind of weapon you can think of and the four children wedged in among all these weapons of death hardly dared to breathe.
"He collects arms, I expect," said Gerald, "and the arrows are poisoned, I shouldn't wonder. Wish them back where they came from, Mabel, for goodness sake, and try again."
Mabel wished the weapons away, and at once the four children stood safe in a bare panelled room. But
"No,", Mabel said, "I can't stand it. We'll work the ghost another way. I wish the American may think he sees a ghost when he goes to bed. Sir Rupert with his head under his arm will do."
"Is it tonight he sleeps there?"
"I don't know. I wish he may see Sir Rupert every night that'll make it all serene."
"It's rather dull," said Gerald; "we shan't know whether he's seen Sir Rupert or not."
"We shall know in the morning, when he takes the house."
This being settled, Mabel's aunt was found to be desirous of Mabel's company, so the others went home.
It was when they were at supper that Lord Yalding suddenly appeared, and said: "Mr. Jefferson Conway wants you boys to spend the night with him in the state chamber. I've had beds put up. You don't mind, do you? He seems to think you've got some idea of playing ghost-tricks on him."
It was difficult to refuse, so difficult that it proved impossible.
Ten o clock found the boys each in a narrow white bed that looked quite absurdly small in that high, dark chamber, and in face of that tall gaunt four-poster hung with tapestry and ornamented with funereal-looking plumes.
"I hope to goodness there isn't a real ghost," Jimmy whispered.
"Not likely," Gerald whispered back.
"But I don't want to see Sir Rupert's ghost with its head under its arm," Jimmy insisted.
"You won't. The most you'll see'll be the millionaire seeing it. Mabel said he was to see it, not us. Very likely you'll sleep all night and not see anything. Shut your eyes and count up to a million and don't be a goat!"
As soon as Mabel had learned from her drab-haired aunt that this was indeed the night when Mr. Jefferson D. Conway would sleep at the castle she had hastened to add a wish, "that Sir Rupert and his head may appear tonight in the state bedroom."
Jimmy shut his eyes and began to count a million. Before he had counted it he fell asleep. So did his brother.
They were awakened by the loud echoing bang of a pistol shot. Each thought of the shot that had been fired that morning, and opened eyes that expected to see a sunshiny terrace and red-rose petals strewn upon warm white stone.
Instead, there was the dark, lofty state chamber, lighted but little by six tall candles; there was the American in shirt and trousers, a smoking pistol in his hand; and there, advancing from the door of the powdering-room, a figure in doublet and hose, a ruff round its neck and no head! The head, sure enough, was there; but it was under the right arm, held close in the slashed-velvet sleeve of the doublet. The face looking from under the arm wore a pleasant smile. Both boys, I am sorry to say, screamed. The American fired again. The bullet passed through Sir Rupert, who advanced without appearing to notice it.
Then, suddenly, the lights went out. The next thing the boys knew it was morning. A grey daylight shone blankly through the tall windows and wild rain was beating upon the glass, and the American was gone.
"Where are we?" said Jimmy, sitting up with tangled hair and looking round him. "Oh, I remember. Ugh! it was horrid. I'm about fed up with that ring, so 1 don't mind telling you."
"Nonsense!" said Gerald. "I enjoyed it. I wasn't a bit frightened, were you?"
"No," said Jimmy, "of course I wasn't.
"We've done the trick," said Gerald later when they learned that the American had breakfasted early with Lord Yalding and taken the first train to London; "he's gone to get rid of his other house, and take this one. The old ring's beginning to do really useful things."
"Perhaps you'll believe in the ring now," said Jimmy to Lord Yalding, whom he met later on in the picture-gallery; "it's all our doing that Mr. Jefferson saw the ghost. He told us he'd take the house if he saw a ghost, so of course we took care he did see one."
"Oh, you did, did you?" said Lord Yalding in rather an odd voice. "I'm very much obliged, I'm sure."
"Don't mention it," said Jimmy kindly. "I thought you'd be pleased and him too."
"Perhaps you'll be interested to learn," said Lord Yalding, putting his hands in his pockets and staring down at Jimmy, "that Mr. Jefferson D. Conway was so pleased with your ghost that he got me out of bed at six o clock this morning to talk about it."
"Oh, ripping!" said Jimmy. "What did he say?"
"He said, as far as I can remember," said Lord Yalding, still in the same strange voice "he said: "My lord, your ancestral pile is Al. It is, in fact, The Limit. Its luxury is palatial, its grounds are nothing short of Edenesque. No expense has been spared, I should surmise. Your ancestors were whole-hoggers. They have done the thing as it should be done every detail attended to. I like your tapestry, and I like your oak, and I like your secret stairs. But I think your ancestors should have left well enough alone, and stopped at that." So I said they had, as far as I knew, and he shook his head and said:
"No, Sir. Your ancestors take the air of a night with their heads under their arms. A ghost that sighed or glided or rustled I could have stood, and thanked you for it, and considered it in the rent. But a ghost that bullets go through while it stands grinning with a bare neck and its head loose under its own arm and little boys screaming and fainting in their beds no! What I say is, If this is a British hereditary high-toned family ghost, excuse me!" And he went off by the early train.
"I say," the stricken Jimmy remarked, "I am sorry, and I don't think we did faint, really I don't but we thought it would be just what you wanted. And perhaps someone else will take the house."
"I don't know anyone else rich enough," said Lord Yalding. "Mr. Conway came the day before he said he would, or you'd never have got hold of him. And I don't know how you did it, and I don't want to know. It was a rather silly trick."
There was a gloomy pause. The rain beat against the long windows.
"I say" Jimmy looked up at Lord Yalding with the light of a new idea in his round face "I say, if you're hard up, why don't you sell your jewels?"
"I haven't any jewels, you meddlesome young duffer," said Lord Yalding quite crossly; and taking his hands out of his pockets, he began to walk away.
"I mean the ones in the panelled room with the stars in the ceiling," Jimmy insisted, following him.
"There aren't any," said Lord Yalding shortly; "and if this is some more ring-nonsense I advise you to be careful, young man. I've had about as much as I care for."
"It's not ring-nonsense, said Jimmy: "there are shelves and shelves of beautiful family jewels. You can sell them and ,"
"Oh, no!" cried Mademoiselle, appearing like an oleograph of a duchess in the door of the picture-gallery; "don't sell the family jewels "
"There aren't any, my lady," said Lord Yalding, going towards her. "I thought you were never coming."
"Oh, aren't there!" said Mabel, who had followed Mademoiselle. "You just come and see,"
"Let us see what they will to show us," cried Mademoiselle, for Lord Yalding did not move; "it should at least be amusing."
"It is," said Jimmy.
So they went, Mabel and Jimmy leading, while Mademoiselle and Lord Yalding followed, hand in hand.
"It's much safer to walk hand in hand," said Lord Yalding; "with these children at large one never knows what may happen next."
It would be interesting, no doubt, to describe the feelings of Lord Yalding as he followed Mabel and Jimmy through his ancestral halls, but I have no means of knowing at all what he felt. Yet one must suppose that he felt something: bewilderment, perhaps, mixed with a faint wonder, and a desire to pinch himself to see if he were dreaming. Or he may have pondered the rival questions, "Am I mad? Are they mad?" without being at all able to decide which he ought to try to answer, let alone deciding what, in either case, the answer ought to be. You see, the children did seem to believe in the odd stories they told and the wish had come true, and the ghost had appeared. He must have thought but all this is vain; I don't really know what he thought any more than you do.
Nor can I give you any clew to the thoughts and feelings of Mademoiselle. I only know that she was very happy, but anyone would have known that if they had seen her face. Perhaps this is as good a moment as any to explain that when her guardian had put her in a convent so that she should not sacrifice her fortune by marrying a poor lord, her guardian had secured that fortune (to himself) by going off with it to South America. Then, having no money left, Mademoiselle
had to work for it. So she went out as governess, and took the situation she did take because it was near Lord Yalding's home. She wanted to see him, even though she thought he had forsaken her and did not love her any more. And now she had seen him. I dare say she thought about some of these things as she went along through his house, her hand held in his. But of course I can't be sure.
Jimmy's thoughts, of course, I can read like any old book. He thought, "Now he'll have to believe me." That Lord Yalding should believe him had become, quite unreasonably, the most important thing in the world to Jimmy. He wished that Gerald and Kathleen were there to share his triumph, but they were helping Mabel's aunt to cover the grand furniture up, and so were out of what followed. Not that they missed much, for when Mabel proudly said, "Now you'll see, and the others came close round her in the little panelled room, there was a pause, and then nothing happened at all!
"There's a secret spring here somewhere," said Mabel, fumbling with fingers that had suddenly grown hot and damp.
"Where?" said Lord Yalding.
"Here," said Mabel impatiently, "only I can't find it."
And she couldn't. She found the spring of the secret panel under the window all right, but that seemed to everyone dull compared with the jewels that everyone had pictured and two at least had seen. But the spring that made the oak panelling slide away and displayed jewels plainly to any eye worth a king's ransom this could not be found. More, it was simply not there. There could be no doubt of that. Every inch of the panelling was felt by careful fingers. The earnest protests of Mabel and Jimmy died away presently in a silence made painful by the hotness of one's ears, the discomfort of not liking to meet anyone's eyes, and the resentful feeling that the spring was not behaving in at all a sportsmanlike way, and that, in a word, this was not cricket.
"You see!" said Lord Yalding severely. "Now you've had your joke, if you call it a joke, and I've had enough of the whole silly business. Give me the ring it's mine, I suppose, since you say you found it somewhere here and don't let's hear another word about all this rubbish of magic and enchantment."
"Gerald's got the ring," said Mabel miserably.
"Then go and fetch him," said Lord Yalding "both of you."
The melancholy pair retired, and Lord Yalding spent the time of their absence in explaining to Mademoiselle how very unimportant jewels were compared with other things.
The four children came back together.
"We've had enough of this ring business," said Lord Yalding. "Give it to me and we'll say no more about it."
"I I can't get it off," said Gerald. "It it always did have a will of its own."
"I'll soon get it off," said Lord Yalding. But he didn't. "We'll try soap," he said firmly. Four out of his five hearers knew just exactly how much use soap would be.
"They won't believe about the jewels," wailed Mabel, suddenly dissolved in tears, "and I can't find the spring. I've felt all over we all have it was just here, and "
Her fingers felt it as she spoke; and as she ceased to speak the carved panels slid away, and the blue velvet shelves laden with jewels were disclosed to the unbelieving eyes of Lord Yalding and the lady who was to be his wife.
"Jove!" said Lord Yalding.
"Misericorde!" said the lady.
"But why now?" gasped Mabel. "Why not before?"
"I expect it's magic," said Gerald. "There's no real spring here, and it couldn't act because the ring wasn't here. You know Phoebus told us the ring was the heart of all the magic."
"Shut it up and take the ring away and see.
They did, and Gerald was (as usual, he himself pointed out) proved to be right. When the ring was away there was no spring; when the ring was in the room there (as Mabel urged) was the spring all right enough.
"So you see," said Mabel to Lord Yalding.
"I see that the spring's very artfully concealed," said that dense peer. "I think it was very clever indeed of you to find it. And if those jewels are real ,"
"Of course they're real," said Mabel indignantly.
"Well, anyway," said Lord Yalding, "thank you all very much. I think it's clearing up. I'll send the wagonette home with you after lunch. And if you don't mind, I'll have the ring."
Half an hour of soap and water produced no effect whatever, except to make the finger of Gerald very red and very sore. Then Lord Yalding said something very impatient indeed, and then Gerald suddenly became angry and said: "Well, I'm sure I wish it would come off," and of course instantly, "slick as butter" , as he later pointed out, off it came.
"Thank you," said Lord Yalding.
"And I believe now he thinks I kept it on on purpose," said Gerald afterwards when, at ease on the leads at home, they talked the whole thing out over a tin of preserved pineapple and a bottle of ginger-beer apiece. "There's no pleasing some people. He wasn't in such a fiery hurry to order that wagonette after he found that Mademoiselle meant to go when we did. But I liked him better when he was a humble bailiff. Take him for all in all, he does not look as if we should like him again.
"He doesn't know what's the matter with him," said Kathleen, leaning back against the tiled roof) "it's really the magic it's like sickening with measles."
Don't you remember how cross Mabel was at first about the invisibleness?"
"Rather!" said Jimmy.
"It's partly that," said Gerald, trying to be fair, "and partly it's the being in love. It always makes people like idiots a chap at school told me. His sister was like that . quite rotten, you know. And she used to be quite a decent sort before she was engaged."
At tea and at supper Mademoiselle was radiant as attractive as a lady on a Christmas card, as merry as a marmoset, and as kind as you would always be yourself if you could take the trouble. At breakfast, an equal radiance, kindness, attraction, merriment. Then Lord Yalding came to see her. The meeting took place in the drawing-room; the children with deep discreetness remained shut in the school-room till Gerald, going up to his room for a pencil, surprised Eliza with her ear glued to the drawing-room key-hole.
After that Gerald sat on the top stair with a book.
He could not hear any of the conversation in the drawing-room, but he could command a view of the door, and in this way be certain that no one else heard any of it. Thus it was that when the drawing-room door opened Gerald was in a position to see Lord Yalding come out. "Our young hero, as he said later, "coughed with infinite tact to show that he was there," but Lord Yalding did not seem to notice. He walked in a blind sort of way to the hat-stand, fumbled clumsily with the umbrellas and macintoshes, found his straw hat and looked at it gloomily, crammed it on his head and went out, banging the door behind him in the most reckless way.
He left the drawing-room door open, and Gerald, though he had purposely put himself in a position where one could hear nothing from the drawing-room when the door was shut, could hear something quite plainly now that the door was open. That something, he noticed with deep distress and disgust, was the sound of sobs and sniffs. Mademoiselle was quite certainly crying.
"Jimminy!" he remarked to himself, "they haven't lost much time. Fancy their beginning to quarrel already! I hope I'll never have to be anybody's lover."
But this was no time to brood on the terrors of his own future. Eliza might at any time occur. She would not for a moment hesitate to go through that open door, and push herself into the very secret sacred heart of Mademoiselle's grief. It seemed to Gerald better that he should be the one to do this. So he went softly down the worn green Dutch carpet of the stairs and into the drawing-room, shutting the door softly and securely behind him.
"It is all over," Mademoiselle was saying, her face buried in the beady arum-lilies on a red ground worked for a cushion cover by a former pupil: "he will not marry me!"
Do not ask me how Gerald had gained the lady's confidence. He had, as I think I said almost at the beginning, very pretty ways with grown-ups, when he chose. Anyway, he was holding her hand, almost as affectionately as if she had been his mother with a headache, and saying "Don't!" and "Don't cry!" and "It'll be all right, you see if it isn't" in the most comforting way you can imagine, varying the treatment with gentle thumps on the back and entreaties to her to tell him all about it.
This wasn't mere curiosity, as you might think. The entreaties were prompted by Gerald's growing certainty that whatever was the matter was somehow the fault of that ring. And in this Gerald was ("once more, as he told himself) right.
The tale, as told by Mademoiselle, was certainly an unusual one. Lord Yalding, last night after dinner, had walked in the park "to think of "
"Yes, I know," said Gerald; "and he had the ring on. And he saw "
"He saw the monuments become alive," sobbed Mademoiselle; "his brain was troubled by the ridiculous accounts of fairies that you tell him. He sees Apollon and Aphrodite alive on their marble. He remembers him of your story. He wish himself a statue. Then he becomes mad imagines to himself that your story of the island is true, plunges in the lake, swims among the beasts of the Ark of Noe, feeds with gods on an island. At dawn the madness become less. He think the Pantheon vanish. But him, no he thinks himself statue, hiding from gardeners in his garden till nine less a quarter. Then he thinks to wish himself no more a statue and perceives that he is flesh and blood. A bad dream, but he has lost the head with the tales you tell. He say it is no dream but he is fool mad how you say? And a mad man must not marry. There is no hope. I am at despair! And the life is vain!"
"There is," said Gerald earnestly. "I assure you there is hope, I mean. And life's as right as rain really. And there's nothing to despair about. He's not mad, and it's not a dream. It's magic. It really and truly is."
"The magic exists not," Mademoiselle moaned; "it is that he is mad. It is the joy to re-see me after so many days. Oh, la-la-la-la-la!"
"Did he talk to the gods?" Gerald asked gently.
"It is there the most mad of all his ideas. He say that Mercure give him rendezvous at some temple tomorrow when the moon raise herself."
"Right," cried Gerald, "righto! Dear nice, kind, pretty Mademoiselle Rapunzel, don't be a silly little duffer" he lost himself for a moment among the consoling endearments he was accustomed to offer to Kathleen in moments of grief and emotion, but hastily added: "I mean, do not be a lady who weeps causelessly. Tomorrow he will go to that temple. I will go. Thou shalt go he will go. We will go you will go let 'em all go! And, you see, it's going to be absolutely all right. He'll see he isn't mad, and you'll understand all about everything. Take my handkerchief, it's quite a clean one as it happens; I haven't even unfolded it. Oh! do stop crying, there's a dear, darling, long-lost lover."
This flood of eloquence was not without effect. She took his handkerchief, sobbed, half smiled, dabbed at her eyes, and said: "Oh, naughty! Is it some trick you play him, like the ghost?"
"I can't explain," said Gerald, "but I give you my word of honour you know what an Englishman's word of honour is, don't you? even if you are French that everything is going to be exactly what you wish. I've never told you a lie. Believe me!"
"It is curious," said she, drying her eyes, "but I do." And once again, so suddenly that he could not have resisted, she kissed him. I think, however, that in this her hour of sorrow he would have thought it mean to resist.
"It pleases her and it doesn't hurt me much," would have been his thought.
And now it is near moonrise. The French governess, half-doubting, half-hoping, but wholly longing to be near Lord Yalding even if he be as mad as a March hare, and the four children they have collected Mabel by an urgent letter-card posted the day before are going over the dewy grass. The moon has not yet risen, but her light is in the sky mixed with the pink and purple of the sunset. The west is heavy with ink-clouds and rich colour, but the east, where the moon rises, is clear as a rock-pool.
They go across the lawn and through the beech wood and come at last, through a tangle of underwood and bramble, to a little level tableland that rises out of the flat hill-top one tableland out of another. Here is the ring of vast rugged stones, one pierced with a curious round hole, worn smooth at its edges. In the middle of the circle is a great flat stone, alone, desolate, full of meaning a stone that is covered thick with the memory of old faiths and creeds long since forgotten. Something dark moves in the circle. The French girl breaks from the children, goes to it, clings to its arm. It is Lord Yalding, and he is telling her to go.
"Never of the life!" she cries. "If you are mad I am mad too, for I believe the tale these children tell. And I am here to be with thee and see with thee whatever the rising moon shall show us."
The children, holding hands by the flat stone, more moved by the magic in the girl's voice than by any magic of enchanted rings, listen, trying not to listen.
"Are you not afraid?" Lord Yalding is saying.
"Afraid? With you?" she laughs. He put his arm round her. The children hear her sigh.
"Are you afraid," he says, "my darling?"
Gerald goes across the wide turf ring expressly to say: "You can't be afraid if you are wearing the ring. And I'm sorry, but we can hear every word you say."
She laughs again. "It makes nothing," she says "you know already if we love each other."
Then he puts the ring on her finger, and they stand together. The white of his flannel coat sleeve marks no line on the white of her dress; they stand as though cut out of one block of marble.
Then a faint greyness touches the top of that round hole, creeps up the side. Then the hole is a disc of light a moonbeam strikes straight through it across the grey green of the circle that the stones mark, and as the moon rises the moonbeam slants downward. The children have drawn back till they stand close to the lovers. The moonbeam slants more and more; now it touches the far end of the stone, now it draws nearer and nearer to the middle of it, now at last it touches the very heart and centre of that central stone. And then it is as though a spring were touched, a fountain of light released. Everything changes or, rather, everything is revealed. There are no more secrets. The plan of the world seems plain, like an easy sum that one writes in big figures on a child's slate. One wonders how one can ever have wondered about anything. Space is not; every place that one has seen or dreamed of is here. Time is not; into this instant is crowded all that one has ever done or dreamed of doing. It is a moment and it is eternity. It is the centre of the universe and it is the universe itself. The eternal light rests on and illuminates the eternal heart of things.
None of the six human beings who saw that moon-rising were ever able to think about it as having anything to do with time. Only for one instant could that moon-ray have rested full on the centre of that stone.
And yet there was time for many happenings.
From that height one could see far out over the quiet park and sleeping gardens, and through the grey green of them shapes moved, approaching.
The great beasts came first: strange forms that were when the world was new gigantic lizards with wings dragons they lived as in men's memories mammoths, strange vast birds, they crawled up the hill and ranged themselves outside the circle. Then, not from the garden but from very far away, came the stone gods of Egypt and Assyria bull-bodied, bird-winged, hawk-headed, cat-headed, all in stone, and all alive and alert; strange, grotesque figures from the towers of cathedrals figures of angels with folded wings, figures of beasts with wings wide spread; sphinxes; uncouth idols from Southern palm-fringed islands; and, last of all, the beautiful marble shapes of the gods and goddesses who had held their festival on the lake-island, and bidden Lord Yalding and the children to this meeting.
Not a word was spoken. Each stone shape came gladly and quietly into the circle of light and understanding, as children, tired with a long ramble, creep quietly through the open door into the firelit welcome of home.
The children had thought to ask many questions. And it had been promised that the questions should be answered. Yet now no one spoke a word, because all had come into the circle of the real magic where all things are understood without speech.
Afterwards none of them could ever remember at all what had happened. But they never forgot that they had been somewhere where everything was easy and beautiful. And people who can remember even that much are never quite the same again. And when they came to talk of it next day they found that to each some little part of that night's great enlightenment was left.
All the stone creatures drew closer round the stone the light where the moonbeam struck it seemed to break away in spray such as water makes when it falls from a height. All the crowd was bathed in whiteness. A deep hush lay over the vast assembly.
Then a wave of intention swept over the mighty crowd. All the faces, bird, beast, Greek statue, Babylonian monster, human child and human lover, turned upward, the radiant light illumined them and one word broke from all.
"The light!" they cried, and the sound of their voice was like the sound of a great wave; "the light! the light "
And then the light was not any more, and, soft as floating thistle-down, sleep was laid on the eyes of all but the immortals.
The grass was chill and dewy and the clouds had veiled the moon. The lovers and the children were standing together, all clinging close, not for fear, but for love.
"I want," said the French girl softly, "to go to the cave on the island."
Very quietly through the gentle brooding night they went down to the boat-house, loosed the clanking chain, and dipped oars among the drowned stars and lilies. They came to the island, and found the steps.
"I brought candles," said Gerald, "in case."
So, lighted by Gerald's candles, they went down into the Hall of Psyche! and there glowed the light spread from her statue, and all was as the children had seen it before.
It is the Hall of Granted Wishes.
"The ring," said Lord Yalding.
"The ring," said his lover, "is the magic ring given long ago to a mortal, and it is what you say it is. It was given to your ancestor by a lady of my house that he might build her a garden and a house like her own palace and garden in her own land. So that this place is built partly by his love and partly by that magic. She never lived to see it; that was the price of the magic."
It must have been English that she spoke, for otherwise how could the children have understood her? Yet the words were not like Mademoiselle's way of speaking.
"Except from children," her voice went on, "the ring exacts a payment. You paid for me, when I came by your wish, by this terror of madness that you have since known. Only one wish is free."
"And that wish is ,"
"The last," she said. "Shall I wish?"
"Yes wish," they said, all of them.
"I wish, then," said Lord Yalding's lover, "that all the magic this ring has wrought may be undone, and that the ring itself may be no more and no less than a charm to bind thee and me together for evermore."
She ceased. And as she ceased the enchanted light died away, the windows of granted wishes went out, like magic-lantern pictures. Gerald's candle faintly lighted a rudely arched cave, and where Psyche's statue had been was a stone with something carved on it.
Gerald held the light low.
"It is her grave," the girl said.
Next day no one could remember anything at all exactly. But a good many things were changed. There was no ring but the plain gold ring that Mademoiselle found clasped in her hand when she woke in her own bed in the morning. More than half the jewels in the panelled room were gone, and those that remained had no panelling to cover them; they just lay bare on the velvet-covered shelves. There was no passage at the back of the Temple of Flora. Quite a lot of the secret passages and hidden rooms had disappeared. And there were not nearly so many statues in the garden as everyone had supposed. And large pieces of the castle were missing and had to be replaced at great expense.
From which we may conclude that Lord Yalding's ancestor had used the ring a good deal to help him in his building.
However, the jewels that were left were quite enough to pay for everything.
The suddenness with which all the ring-magic was undone was such a shock to everyone concerned that they now almost doubt that any magic ever happened.
But it is certain that Lord Yalding married the French governess and that a plain gold ring was used in the ceremony, and this, if you come to think of it, could be no other than the magic ring, turned, by that last wish, into a charm to keep him and his wife together for ever.
Also, if all this story is nonsense and a make-up if Gerald and Jimmy and Kathleen and Mabel have merely imposed on my trusting nature by a pack of unlikely inventions, how do you account for the paragraph which appeared in the evening papers the day after the magic of the moon-rising?
"MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF A WELL-KNOWN CITY MAN,"
it said, and then went on to say how a gentleman, well known and much respected in financial circles, had vanished, leaving no trace.
"Mr. U. W. Ugli," the papers continued, "had remained late, working at his office as was his occasional habit. The office door was found locked, and on its being broken open the clothes of the unfortunate gentleman were found in a heap on the floor, together with an umbrella, a walking stick, a golf club, and, curiously enough, a feather brush, such as housemaids use for dusting. Of his body, however, there was no trace. The police are stated to have a clew."
If they have, they have kept it to themselves. But I do not think they can have a clew, because, of course, that respected gentleman was the Ugly-Wugly who became real when, in search of a really good hotel, he got into the Hall of Granted Wishes. And if none of this story ever happened, how is it that those four children are such friends with Lord and Lady Yalding, and stay at The Towers almost every holidays?
It is all very well for all of them to pretend that the whole of this story is my own invention: facts are facts, and you can't explain them away.