The House of Arden/Chapter 11
"Come on," said Edred, "you measure out the hypo and put the four pie-dishes ready. I'll get the water."
He got it, with Mrs. Honeysett's help—two brimming pails full.
"You mustn't come in for anything, will you, Mrs. Honeysett?" he earnestly urged. "You see, if the door's open ever so little, all the photographs will be done for."
"Law, love a duck!" said Mrs. Honeysett, holding her fat waist with her fat hands. "I shan't come in; I ain't got nothing to come in for."
"We'll bolt the door, all the same," said Edred, when she was gone, "in case she was to think of something,"
He shot the great wooden bolt.
"Now it'll be quite dark," he said.
And, of course, it wasn't. You know the aggravating way rooms have of pretending to be quite dark until you want them to be dark—and then—by no means! This room didn't even pretend to be dark, to begin with. Its shutters had two heart-shaped holes, high up, through which the light showed quite dazzlingly. Edred had to climb up on to the window-seat and stuff up the holes very tight with crushed newspaper, to get which he had to unbolt the door.
"There," he said, as he pulled and patted the newspaper till it really and darkly filled the heart-shaped holes, "now it will be quite dark."
And again it wasn't! Long, dusty rays of light came through the cracks where the hinges of the shutters were. Newspapers were no good for them. The door had to be unbolted and Mrs. Honeysett found. She was sitting in a little low chair at the back door plucking a white chicken. The sight of the little white feathers floating fluffing about brought wonderful memories to Edred. But he only said—
"I say, you haven't any old curtains, have you? Thick ones—or thin, if they were red."
Mrs. Honeysett laid the chicken down among his white feathers and went to a chest of drawers that stood in the kitchen.
"Here you are," she said, handing out two old red velvet curtains, with which he disappeared. But he was back again quite quickly.
"You haven't got a hammer, I suppose?" said he.
The dresser-drawer yielded a hammer, and Edred took it away, to return almost at once with—
"I suppose there aren't any tacks—?"
"I suppose," said Mrs. Honeysett, laughing, "there ain't much sense locking that still-room door on the inside when it ain't me that keeps all a-popping in, but you that keeps all a-popping out."
However, she gave him the tacks—rusty ones, in a damp screw of paper.
When he had hammered his fingers a good deal and the tacks a little the tacks consented to hold up the curtain, or the curtain condescended to be held up by the tacks.
"And now," said Edred, shutting the door, "it really is—"
Dark, he meant. But of course it wasn't. There was a gap under the door so wide, as Elfrida said, that you could have almost crawled through it. That meant another appeal to Mrs. Honeysett for another curtain, and this time Mrs. Honeysett told him to go along with him for a little worrit, and threw a handful of downy soft white feathers at him. But she laughed, too, and gave him the curtain.
And at last it really was dark, and then they had to unbolt the door again, because Elfrida had forgotten where she had put the matches.
You will readily understand that, after all this preparation, the children were at the last point of impatience, and everything seemed to go slowly. The lamp with the red shade burned up presently, and then the four pie-dishes were filled with water that looked pink in that strange light.
"One good thing," said Edred, "the hypo has had time to melt."
And now there was careful snipping, and long ribbons of black paper curled unheeded round the legs of the operators.
"I wish we were born photographers like the man who took Aunt Edith and you on the beach with the donkey," said Edred nervously, as he began to pass the film in and out of the water in pie-dish Number One.
"Oh, be sure there are no air-bubbles!" said Elfrida; "you might let me do some of it."
"You shall do the next one," said Edred, almost holding his breath.
Dear reader, do you recall the agitating moment when you pass the film through the hypo—and hold it up to the light—and nothing happens? Do you remember the painful wonder whether you may have forgotten to set the shutter? Or whether you have got hold of an unexposed film by mistake? Your breath comes with difficulty, your fingers feel awkward, and the film is unnaturally slippery. You dip it into the hypo-bath again, and draw it through and through with the calmness of despair.
"I don't believe it's coming out at all," you say.
And then comes the glorious moment when you hold it up again to the red light, and murmur rapturously, "Ah! it is beginning to show!"
If you will kindly remember all the emotions of those exciting moments—on an occasion, let us say, when you had not had your camera very long—then multiply by seven million, add x—an unknown quantity of an emotion quite different from anything you have ever felt—and you will have some idea of what Edred and Elfrida felt when the first faint, grey, formless patches began to appear on the film.
But you might multiply till you had used up the multiplication table, and add x's as long as you could afford them, and yet never imagine the rapture with which the two children saw the perfect development of the six little perfect pictures. For they were perfect. They were perfect pictures of Arden Castle at a time when it, too, was perfect. No broken arches, no crumbling wall, but every part neat and clear-cut as they had seen it when they went into the past that was three hundred years ago.
They were equally fortunate with the second film. It, too, had its six faultless pictures of Arden Castle three hundred years ago. Only, just before the moment which was the right moment for taking the film out of the hypo-bath and beginning to wash it, a tiny white feather fell out of Edred's hair into the dish. It was so tiny that in that dim light he did not notice it. And it did not stick to the film or do any of those things which you might have feared if you had seen the little, white thing flutter down. It may have been the feather's doing; I don't know. I just tell you the thing as it happened.
Of course, you know that films have to be pinned up to dry.
Well, the first film was pinned on the right-hand panel of the door and the second film was pinned on the left-hand panel of the door. And when it came to the third, the one that had had the little white feather dropped near it, there was nothing wooden left to pin it to—for the walls were of stone—nothing wooden except the shutters. And it was pinned across these.
"It doesn't matter," said Edred, "because we needn't open the shutters till it's dry."
And with that he stuck in four pins at its four corners, and turned to blow out the lamp and unbolt the door. He meant to do this, but the door, as a matter of fact, wasn't bolted at all, because Edred had forgotten to do it when he came back with the dusters, so he couldn't have unbolted it anyway.
But he could blow out the red-sided lamp; and he did.
And then the wonderful thing happened. Of course the room ought to have been quite dark. I'm sure enough trouble had been taken to make it so. But it wasn't. The window, the window where the shutters were—the shutters that the film was pinned on—the film on which the little white feather had fallen—the little white feather that had settled on Edred's hair when Mrs. Honeysett was plucking that chicken at the back door—that window now showed as a broad oblong of light. And in that broad oblong was a sort of shining, a faint sparkling movement, like the movement of the light on the sheet of a cinematograph before the pictures begin to show.
"Oh!" said Elfrida, catching at Edred's hand. What she did catch was his hair. She felt her way down his arm, and so caught what she had meant to catch, and held it fast.
"It's more magic," said Edred ungratefully. "I do wish—"
"Oh, hush!" said Elfrida; "look—oh, look!"
The light—broad, oblong—suddenly changed from mere light to figures, to movement. It was a living picture—rather like a cinematograph, but much more like something else. The something else that it was more like was life.
It seemed as though the window had been opened—as though they could see through it into the world of light and sunshine and blue sky—the world where things happen.
There was the castle, and there were people going across the drawbridge—men with sacks on their backs. And a man with a silver chain round his neck and a tall stick in his hand, was standing under the great gateway telling them where to take the sacks. And a cart drove up, with casks, and they were rolled across the drawbridge and under the tall arch of the gate-tower. The men were dressed. Then something blinked, and the scene changed. It was indoors now—a long room with many pictures on one side of it and many windows on the other; a lady, in a large white collar and beautiful long curls, very like Aunt Edith, was laying fine dresses in a chest. A gentleman, also with long hair, and with a good deal of lace about his collar and cuffs, was putting jugs and plates of gold and silver into another chest; and servants kept bringing more golden grand things, and more and more.
Edred and Elfrida did not say a word. They couldn't. What they were looking at was far too thrilling. But in each heart the same words were uttered—
"That's the treasure!" And each mind held the same thought.
"If it only goes on till the treasure's hidden, we shall see where they put it, and then we can go and find it."
I think myself that the white Mouldiwarp was anxious to help a little. I believe it had arranged the whole of this exhibition so that the children might get an idea of the whereabouts of the treasure, and so cease to call on it at all hours of the day and night with the sort of poetry which even a mole must see not to be so very good. However this may be, it was a wonderful show. One seemed to see things better somehow like that, through the window that looked into the past, than one did who was really in the past taking an active part in what was going on.
There appeared, at any rate, to be no doubt that this really was the treasure, and still less that it was a treasure both plentiful and picturesque. Quickly and more quickly the beautiful rich things were being packed into the chests. More and more pale looked the lady; more and more anxious the gentleman.
The lady was taking from her waiting-woman little boxes and bundles with which the woman's apron was filled, and the chest before which she was kneeling was nearly full when the door at the end of the gallery opened suddenly, and Elfrida and Edred, in the dark in the still-room, were confronted with the spectacle of themselves coming down the long picture-gallery towards that group of chests and treasure, and hurried human people. They saw themselves in blue silk and lace and black velvet, and they saw on their own faces fear and love, and the wonder what was to happen next. They saw themselves embraced by the grown-ups, who were quite plainly father and mother—they saw themselves speak, and the grown-ups reply.
"I'd give all my pocket-money for a year to hear what they're saying," Edred told himself.
"That daddy's just like my daddy," Elfrida was telling herself; "and just like the daddy in the Tower that was so like my own daddy."
Then the children in the picture kneeled down, and the daddy in the picture laid his hands on their heads, and the children out of the picture bent their own heads there in the dark still-room, for they knew what was happening in the picture. Elfrida even half held out her arms; but it was no good.
Again the scene changed. A chest was being carried by four men, who strained and staggered under its weight. They were carrying it along a vaulted passage by ropes that passed under the chest and over their shoulders. Every now and then they set it down and stretched, and wiped their faces. And the picture kept on changing so that the children seemed to be going with the men down a flight of stairs into a spacious hall full of men, all talking, and very busy with armour and big boots, and then across the courtyard, full of more men, very busy too, polishing axes and things that looked like spears, cleaning muskets and fitting new flints to pistols and sharpening swords on a big grindstone. Edred would have loved to stay and watch them do these things, but they and their work were gone quite quickly, and the chest and the men who carried it were going under an archway. Here one of the men wanted to rest again, but the others said it was not worth while—they were almost there. It was quite plain that they said this, though no sound could be heard.
"Now we shall really know," said Edred to himself. Elfrida squeezed his hand. That was just what she was thinking, too.
The men stopped at a door, knocked, knocked again, and yet once more. And, curiously enough, the children in the still-room could hear the sound of the knocking quite plainly, though they heard nothing else.
The men looked at each other across the chest that they had set down. Then one man set his shoulder to the door. There was a scrunching sound and the picture disappeared—went out; and there were the shutters with the film pinned across them, and behind them the door, open, and Mrs. Honeysett telling them that dinner—which was roast rabbit and a boiled hand of pork—would be cold if they didn't make haste and come along.
"Oh, Mrs. Honeysett," said Elfrida, with deep feeling, "you are too bad—you really are!"
"I hope I've not spoiled the photos," said Mrs. Honeysett; "but I did knock three times, and you was that quiet I was afraid something had happened to you—poisoned yourselves without thinking, or something of that."
"It's too bad," said Edred bitterly; "it's much too bad. I don't want any dinner; I don't want anything. Everything's spoiled."
"Perhaps," said Mrs. Honeysett patiently, "I might ha' gone on knocking longer, only I thought the door was bolted—you did so keep on a-bolting of it at the beginning, didn't you? So I just got hold of the handle to try, and it come open in my hand. Come along, lovey; don't bear malice now. I didn't go for to do it. An' I'll get you some more of whatever it is that's spoiled, and you can take some more photos to-morrow."
"You might have known we were all right," said Edred, still furious; but both thought it only fair to say, "It wasn't the photographs that were spoiled"—and they said it at the same moment.
"Then what was it?" said Mrs. Honeysett. "And do come along, for goodness' sake, and eat your dinner while it's hot."
"It was—it was a different sort of picture," said Elfrida, with a gulp, "and it was a pity."
"Never mind, love," said Mrs. Honeysett, who was as kind as a grandmother, and I can't say more than that; "there's a lovely surprise coming by and by for good little gells and boys, and the rabbit'll be stone cold if you don't make haste—leastways, it would have been if I hadn't thought to pop it in the oven when I came to call you, knowing full well what your hands would be like after all that messing about with poison in dishes; and if I was your aunt I'd forbid it downright. And now come along and wash your hands, and don't let's have any more nonsense about it. Do you hear?"
I daresay you notice that Mrs. Honeysett was quite cross at the end of this speech and quite coaxing and kind at the beginning. She had just talked herself into being cross. It's quite easy. I daresay you have often done it.
It was a silent dinner—the first silent meal since the children had come to Arden Castle. You can judge of Edred's feelings when I tell you that he felt as though the rabbit would choke him, and refused a second helping of gooseberry pie with heartfelt sincerity. Elfrida did not eat so much as usual either. It really was a bitter disappointment. To have been so near seeing where the treasure was, and then—just because they hadn't happened to bolt the door that last time—all was in vain. Mrs. Honeysett thought they were sulking about a silly trifle, and nearly said so when Edred refused the pie.
It was at the end of dinner that Elfrida, as she got down from her chair, saw Mrs. Honeysett's face, and saw how different it looked from the kind face that she usually wore. She went over to her very slowly, and very quickly threw her arms round her and kissed her.
"I'm sorry we've been so piggy," she said. "It's not your fault that you're not clever enough to know about pictures and things, is it?"
If Mrs. Honeysett hadn't been a perfect dear, this apology would have been worse than none. But she was a perfect dear, so she laughed and hugged Elfrida, and somehow Edred got caught into the hug and the laugh, and the three were friends again. The sky was blue and the sun began to shine.
And then the two children went down to old Beale's.
There were roses in his garden now, and white English flags and lupins and tall foxgloves bordering the little brick path. Old Beale was sitting "on a brown Windsor chair," as Edred said, in the sun by his front door. Over his head was a jackdaw in a wicker cage, and Elfrida did not approve of this till she saw the cage door was open, and that the jackdaw was sitting in the cage because he liked it, and not because he must. She had been in prison in the Tower, you remember, and people who have been in prison never like to see live things in cages. There was a tabby and white cat of squarish shape sitting on the wooden threshold. (Why are cats who live in country cottages almost always tabby and white and squarish?) The feathery tail of a brown spaniel flogged the flags lazily in the patch of shade made by the water-butt. It was a picture of rural peace, and old Beale was asleep in the middle of it. I am glad to tell you that Lord Arden and his sister were polite enough to wait till he awoke of his own accord, instead of shouting "hi!" or rattling the smooth brown iron latch of the gate, as some children would have done.
They just sat down on the dry, grassy bank, opposite his gate, and looked at the blue and white butterflies and the flowers and the green potato-tops through the green-grey garden palings.
And while they sat there Elfrida had an idea—so sudden and so good that it made her jump. But she said nothing, and Edred said—
"Pinch the place hard, and if it's still there you'll kill it perhaps"—for he thought she had jumped because she had been bitten by an ant.
When they finished looking at the butterflies and the red roses and the green-growing things, they looked long and steadily at old Beale, and, of course, he awoke, as people always do if you look at them long enough and hard enough. And he got up, rather shaking, and put his hand to his forehead, and said—
"How are you?" said Elfrida. "We haven't found the treasure yet."
"But ye will, ye will," said old Beale. "Come into the house now; or will ye come round along to the arbour and have a drink of milk?"
"We'd as soon stay here," said Edred—they had come through the gate now, and Edred was patting the brown spaniel, while Elfrida stroked the squarish cat. "Mrs. Honeysett said you knew all the stories."
"Ah," said old Beale, "a fine girl, Mrs. Honeysett. Her father had Sellinge Farm, where the fairies churn the butter for the bride so long as there's no cross words. They don't ever get too much to do, them fairies." He chuckled, sighed, and said—
"I know a power of tales. And I know, always I do, which it is that people want. What you're after's the story of the East House. Isn't it now? Is the old man a-failing of his wits, or isn't he?"
"We want to know," said Edred, companionably sharing the flagstone with the feather-tailed spaniel, "the story about why that part of the house in the castle is shut up and all cobwebby and dusty and rusty and musty, and whether there's any reason why it shouldn't be all cleaned up and made nice again, if we find the treasure so that we've got enough money to pay for new curtains and carpets and things?"
"It's a sad tale, that," said old Beale, "a tale for old folks—or middle-aged folks, let's say—not for children. You'd never understand it if I was to tell it you, likely as not."
"We like grown-up stories," said Elfrida, with dignity; and Edred added—
"We can understand anything that grown-ups understand if it's told us properly. I understand all about the laws of gravitation, and why the sun doesn't go round the earth but does the opposite; I understood that directly Aunt Edith explained it, and about fixed stars, and the spectroscope, and microbes, and the Equator not being real, and—and heaps of things."
"Ah," said old Beale admiringly, "you'll be a-busting with book-larnin' afore you come to your twenty-one, I lay. I only hope the half of it's true and they're not deceiving of you, a trusting innocent. I never did hold myself with that about the sun not moving. Why, you can see it a-doin' of it with your own naked eyes any day of the week."
"You wouldn't deceive any one," said Elfrida gently. "Do tell us the story."
So old Beale began, and he began like this—
"It was a long time ago—before my time even, it was, but not so long afore, 'cause I can recomember my father talking about it. He was coachman at the castle when it all happened, so, of course, he knew everything there was to know, my mother having been the housekeeper and gone through it all with the family. There was a Miss Elfrida then, same as there is now, only she was older'n what you are missy. And the gentlemen lads from far and near they come a-courting her, for she was a fine girl—a real beauty—with hair as black as a coal and eyes like the sea when it's beating up for a storm, before the white horses comes along. So I've heard my father say—not that I ever see her myself. And she kept her pretty head in the air and wouldn't turn it this way or that for e'er a one of them all. And the old lord he loved her too dear to press her against her wish and will, and her so young. So she stayed single and watched the sea."
"What did she do that for?" Edred asked.
"To see if her sweetheart's ship wasn't a-coming home. For she'd got a sweetheart right enough, she had, unbeknown to all. It was her cousin Dick—a ne'er-do-well, if ever there was one—and it turned out afterwards she'd broken the sixpence with him and swore to be ever true, and he'd gone overseas to find a fortune. And so she watched the sea every day regular, and every day regular he didn't come. But every day another young chap used to come a-riding—a fine young gentleman and well-to-do, but he was the same kidney as Master Dick, only he'd got a fine fortune, so his wild oats never got a chance to grow strong like Dick's."
"Poor Dick!" said Elfrida.
"Not so fast, missy," said the old man. "Well, her father and mother, they said, 'Have him that's here and loves you, dear,' as the saying is—a Frewin he was, and his christened name Arnold. And she says 'No.' But they keeps on saying 'Yes,' and he keeps on saying 'Do!' So they wears her down, telling her Dick was drowned dead for sure, and I don't know what all. And at last she says, 'Very well, then, I'll marry you—if you can stand to marry a girl that's got all her heart in the sea along of a dead young chap as she was promised to.' And the wedding was set for Christmas. Miss Elfrida, she slep' in the room in the East House that looks out towards Arden Knoll, and the servants in the attics, and the old people in the other part of the house.
"And that night, when all was asleep, I think she heard a tap, tap at her window, and at first she'd think it was the ivy—but no. So presently she'd take heart to go to the window, and there was a face outside that had climbed up by the ivy, and it was her own true love that they'd told her was drowned."
"How splendid!" said Edred.
"How dreadful for Mr. Frewin," said Elfrida.
"That's what she thought, miss, and she couldn't face it. So she puts on her riding-coat and she gets out of window and down the ivy with him, and off to London. And in the morning, when the bells began to ring for her wedding, and the bridegroom came, there wasn't no bride for him. She left a letter to say she was very sorry, but it had to be. So then they shut up the East House."
"So that's the story," said Elfrida.
"Half of it, miss," said old Beale, and he took out a black clay pipe and a screw of tobacco, and very slowly and carefully filled the pipe and lighted it, before he went on. "They shut up the East House, where she'd been used to sleep; but it was kep' swep' and dusted, and the old folks was broken-hearted, for never a word come from Miss Elfrida. An' if I know anything of the feelings of a parent, they kept on saying to each other, 'She might ha' trusted us. She might 'a' known we'd never 'a' denied her nothing.' And then one night there was a knock at the door, and there was Miss Elfrida that was—Mrs. Dick now—with her baby in her arms. Mr. Dick was dead, sudden in a accident, and she'd come home to her father and mother. They couldn't make enough of the poor young thing and her baby. She had her old rooms and there she lived, and she was getting a bit happier and worshipping of her baby and the old people worshipping it and her too. And then one night some one comes up the ivy, same as Master Dick did, and takes away—not her—but the baby."
"How dreadful!" breathed Elfrida. "Did they get it back?"
"Never. And never a word was ever found out about who took it, or why, or where they took it to. Only a week or two after Mr. Frewin was killed in the hunting-field, and as they picked him up he said, 'Elfrida; tell Elfrida—' and he was trying to say what they was to tell her, when he died. Some folks hold as 'twas him stole the baby, to be even with her for jilting of him, or else to pretend to find it and get her to marry him out of gratitude. But no one'll ever know. And the baby's mother, she wore away bit by bit, to a shadow, and then she died, and after that the East House was shut up for good and all, to fall into rot and ruin like it is now. Don't you cry, missie. I know'd you wouldn't like the story, but you would have it; but don't you cry. It's all long ago, and she and her baby and her young husband's all been happy together in heaven this long time now, I lay."
"I do like the story," said Elfrida, gulping, "but it is sad, isn't it?"
"Thank you for telling it," Edred said; "but I don't think it's any good, really, being unhappy about things that are so long ago, and all over and done with."
"I wish we could go back into the past and find the baby for her," Elfrida whispered—and Edred whispered back—
"It's the treasure we've got to find. Excuse our whispering, Mr. Beale. Thank you for the story—oh, and I wanted to ask you who owns the land now—all the land about here, I mean, that used to belong to us Ardens?"
"That Jackson chap," said old Beale, "him that made a fortune in the soap boiling. The Tallow King, they call him. But he's got too rich for the house he's got. He's bought a bigger place in Yorkshire, that used to belong to the Duke of Sanderstead, and the Arden lands are to be sold next year, so I'm told."
"Oh," said Edred, clasping his hands, "if we could only find the treasure, and buy back the land! We haven't forgotten what we said the first time: if we found the treasure we'd make all the cottages comfortable, and new thatch everywhere."
"That's a good lad," said old Beale, "you make haste and find the treasure. And if you don't find it never fret; there's ways of helping other folks without finding of treasure, so there is. You come and see old Beale again, my lord, and I shouldn't wonder but what I'd have a white rabbit for you next time you come along this way."
"He is an old dear," said Elfrida, as they went home, "and I do think the films will be dry by the time we get back; but perhaps we'd better not print them till to-morrow morning."
"There's plenty of light to-day," said Edred, and Elfrida said—
"Did you notice the kind of clothes we wore in those pictures—where they were stowing away the treasure?"
"Oh!" groaned Edred, recalled to a sense of his wrongs. "If only Mrs. Honeysett hadn't opened the door just when she did, we should know exactly where the treasure was. It was the West Tower they took it to, wasn't it?"
"I'm not sure," said Elfrida, "but—"
"And if it had gone on we should have been sure—we should have seen them come away again."
"Yes," said Elfrida, and again she remarked, "I say?"
Edred again said, "Well—?"
"Well—suppose we looked in the chests we should be sure to find clothes like those, and then we should be back there—living in those times, and we could see the treasure put away, and then we really should know."
"A1, first class, ripping!" was Edred's enthusiastic rejoinder. "Come on—I'll race you to the gate."
He did race her, and won by about thirty white Mouldiwarp's lengths.
There had been no quarrel now for quite a long time—if you count as time the days spent in the Gunpowder Plot adventure—so the attic was easily found, and once more the children stood among the chests, with the dusty roof, and the dusty sunbeams, and the clittering pigeon feet, and the soft pigeon noises overhead.
"Come on," cried Elfrida joyously. "I shall know the dress directly I see it. Mine was blue silk with sloping shoulders, and yours was black velvet and a Vandyke collar."
Together they flung back the lid of a chest they had not yet opened. It held clothes far richer than any they had seen yet. The doublets and cloaks and bodices were stiff with gold embroidery and jewels. But there was no blue silk dress with sloping shoulders and no black velvet suit and Vandyke collar.
"Oh, never mind," said Edred, bundling the splendid clothes back by double armfuls. "Help me to smooth these down so that the lid will shut properly, and we'll try the next chest."
But the lid would not shut at all till Elfrida had taken all the things out and folded them properly, and then it shut quite easily.
Then they went on to the next chest.
"I have a magic inside feeling that they're in this one," said Elfrida gaily. And so they may have been. The children never knew—for the next chest was locked, and the utmost efforts of four small arms failed to move the lid a hair's breadth.
"Oh, bother!" said Edred; "we'll try the next."
But the next was locked, too—and the next, and the one after that, and the one beyond, and—Well, the fact is, they were all locked.
The children looked at each other in something quite like despair.
"I feel," said the boy, "like a baffled burglar."
"I feel," said the girl, "as if I was just going to understand something. Oh, wait a minute; it's coming. I think," she added very slowly,—"I think it means if we go anywhere we've got to go wherever it was they wore those glorious stiff gold clothes. That's what the chest's open for; that's what the others are locked for. See?"
"Then let's put them on and go," said Edred.
"I don't think I want any more Tower of Londons," said Elfrida doubtfully.
"I don't mind what it is," said Edred. "I've found out one thing. We always come safe out of it, whatever it is. And besides," he added, remembering many talks with his good friend, Sir Walter Raleigh, "an English gentleman must be afraid of nothing save God and his conscience."
"All right," said Elfrida, laying hands on the chest-lid that hid the golden splendour. "You might help," she said.
But Edred couldn't. He laid hands on the chest, of course, and he pulled and Elfrida pulled, but the chest-lid was as fast now as any of the others.
"Done in the eye!" said Edred. It was a very vulgar expression, and I can't think where he picked it up.
"'He that will not when he may,
He shall not when he would—a,'"
said Elfrida—and I do know where she learned that. It was from an old song Mrs. Honeysett used to sing when she blackleaded the stoves.
"I suppose we must chuck it for to-day," said Edred, when he had quite hurt his fingers by trying all the chests once more, and had found that every single one was shut tight as wax. "Come on—we'll print the photographs."
But the films were not dry enough. They never are when you just expect them to be; so they locked the still-room door on the outside and hung the key on a nail high up in the kitchen chimney. Mrs. Honeysett was not in the kitchen at that moment, but she came hurrying in the next.
"Here you are, my lambs," she said cheerily, "and just in time for the surprise."
"Oh, I'd forgotten the surprise. That makes two of it, doesn't it?" said Elfrida. "Do tell us what it is. We need a nice surprise to make up for everything, if you only knew."
"Ah," said Mrs. Honeysett, "you mean because of me opening that there door. Well, there is two surprises. One's roast chicken. For supper," she added impressively.
"Then I know the other," said Edred. "Aunt Edith's coming."
And she was—indeed, at that very moment, as they looked through the window, they saw her blue dress coming over the hill, and joyously tore out to meet her.
It was after the roast chicken, when it was nearly dark and almost bedtime, that Aunt Edith said, suddenly—
"Children, there's something I wanted to tell you. I've hesitated about it a good deal, but I think we oughtn't to have any secrets from each other."
Edred and Elfrida exchanged guilty glances.
"Not real secrets, of course," said Edred, hastily; "but you don't mind our having magic secrets, do you?"
"Of course not," said Aunt Edith, smiling; "and what I'm going to tell you is rather like magic—if it's true. I don't know yet whether it's true or not."
Here Aunt Edith put an arm round each of the children as they sat on the broad window-seat, and swallowed something in her throat and sniffed.
"Oh, it's not bad news, is it?" Elfrida cried. "Oh, darling auntie, don't be miserable, and don't say that they've found out that Arden isn't ours, or that Edred isn't really Lord Arden, or something."
"Would you mind so very much," said Aunt Edith gently, "if you weren't Lord Arden, Edred? Because—"