The House of Arden/Chapter 2
And it was—it was the living image of the little pig-like animal that was stamped in gold above the chequered shield on the cover of the white book in which they had found the spell. And as on the yellowy white of the vellum book-cover, so here on the thymy grass of the knoll it shone golden. The children stood perfectly still. They were afraid to move lest they should scare away this little creature which, though golden, was alive and moved about at their feet, turning a restless nose to right and left.
"It is," said Elfrida again, very softly, so as not to frighten it.
"What?" Edred asked, though he knew well enough.
"Off the book that we got the spell out of."
"That was our crest on the top of our coat-of-arms, like on the old snuff-box that was great-grandpapa's."
"Well, this is our crest come alive, that's all."
"Don't you be too clever," said Edred. "It said badge; I don't believe badge is the same thing as crest. A badge is leeks, or roses, or thistles—something you can wear in your cap. I shouldn't like to wear that in my cap."
And still the golden thing at their feet moved cautiously and without ceasing.
"Why," said Edred suddenly, "it's just a common old mole."
"It isn't; it's our own crest, that's on the spoons and things. It's our own old family mole that's our crest. How can it be a common mole? It's all golden."
And, even as she spoke, it left off being golden. For the last bit of sun dipped behind the shoulder of the downs, and in the grey twilight that was left the mole was white—any one could see that.
"Oh!" said Elfrida—but she stuck to her point. "So you see," she went on, "it can't be just a really-mole. Really-moles are black."
"Well," said Edred, "it's very tame, I will say that."
"Well—" Edred was beginning; but, at that same moment the mole also, suddenly and astonishingly, said, "Well?"
There was a hushed pause. Then—
"Did you say that?" Elfrida whispered.
"No," said Edred, "you did."
"Don't whisper, now," said the mole; "'tain't purty manners, so I tells 'ee."
With one accord the two children came to their knees, one on each side of the white mole.
"I say!" said Edred.
"Now, don't," said the mole, pointing its nose at him quite as disdainfully as any human being could have pointed a finger. "Don't you go for to pretend you don't know as Mouldiwarps 'as got tongues in dere heads same's what you've got."
"But not to talk with?" said Elfrida softly.
"Don't you tell me," said the Mouldiwarp, bristling a little. "Hasn't no one told you e'er a fairy tale? All us beastes has tongues, and when we're dere us uses of en."
"When you're where?" said Edred, rather annoyed at being forced to believe in fairy tales, which he had never really liked.
"Why, in a fairy tale for sure," said the mole. "Wherever to goodness else on earth do you suppose you be?"
"We're here," said Edred, kicking the ground to make it feel more solid and himself more sure of things, "on Arden Knoll."
"An' ain't that in a fairy tale?" demanded the Mouldiwarp triumphantly. "You do talk so free. You called me, and here I be. What do you want?"
"Are you," said Elfrida, thrilling with surprise and fear, and pleasure and hope, and wonder, and a few other things which, taken in the lump, are usually called "a thousand conflicting emotions,"—"are you the 'badge of Arden's house'?"
"Course I be," said the mole,—"what's left of it; and never did I think to be called one by the Arden boy and gell as didn't know their own silly minds. What do you want, eh?"
"We told you in the spell," said Elfrida.
"Oh, be that all?" said the mole bitterly; "nothing else? I'm to make him brave and wise and show him de treasure. Milksop!" it said, so suddenly and fiercely that it almost seemed to spit the words in poor Edred's face.
"I'm not," said Edred, turning turkey-red. "I got into the house and found the spell, anyway."
"Yes; and who did all the looking for it? She did. Bless you, I was there; I know all about it. If it was showing her the treasure, now, there'd be some sense in it."
"I think you're very unfair," said Elfrida, as earnestly as though she had been speaking to a grown-up human being; "if he was brave and wise we shouldn't want you to make him it."
"You ain't got nothing to do with it," said the mole crossly.
"Yes, she has," said Edred. "I mean to share and share with her—whatever I get. And if you could make me wise I'd teach her everything you taught me. But I don't believe you can. So there!"
"Do you believe I can talk?" the mole asked; and Edred quite definitely and surprisingly said—
"No, I don't. You're a dream, that's all you are," he said, "and I'm dreaming you."
"And what do you think?" the mole asked Elfrida, who hesitated.
"I think," she said at last, "that it's getting very dark, and Aunt Edith will be anxious about us; and will you meet us another day? There isn't time to make us brave and wise to-night."
"That there ain't, for sure," said the mole meaningly.
"But you might tell us where the treasure is," said Edred.
"That comes last, greedy," said the mole. "I've got to make you kind and wise first, and I see I've got my work cut out. Good-night."
It began to move away.
"Oh, don't go!" said Elfrida; "we shall never find you again. Oh, don't! Oh, this is dreadful!"
The mole paused.
"I've got to let you find me again. Don't upset yourself," it said bitterly. "When you wants me, come up on to the knoll and say a piece of poetry to call me, and I'll come," and it started again.
"But what poetry?" Edred asked.
"Oh, anything. You can pick and choose."
Edred thought of "The Lays of Ancient Rome."
"Only 'tain't no good without you makes it up yourselves," said the Mouldiwarp.
"Oh!" said the two, much disheartened.
"And course it must be askin' me to kindly come to you. Get along home."
"Where are you going?" Elfrida asked.
"Home too, of course," it said, and this time it really did go.
The two children turned towards the lights of Ardenhurst Station in perfect silence. Only as they reached the place where the down-turf ends and the road begins Edred said, in tones of awe, "I say!"
And Elfrida answered, "Yes—isn't it?"
Then they walked, still without talking, to the station.
The lights there, and the voices of porters and passengers, the rattle of signal-wires and the "ping, ping" of train signals, had on them the effect of a wet sponge passed over the face of a sleeper by some "already up" person. They seemed to awaken from a dream, and the moment they were in the train, which fortunately came quite soon, they began to talk. They talked without stopping till they got to Cliffville Station, and then they talked all the way home, and by the time they reached the house with the green balconies and the smooth, pale, polished door-knocker they had decided, as children almost always do in cases of magic adventure, that they had better not say anything to any one. As I am always pointing out, it is extremely difficult to tell your magic experiences to people who not only will not, but cannot believe you. This is one of the drawbacks of really wonderful happenings.
Aunt Edith had not come home, but she came as they were washing their hands and faces for supper. She brought with her presents for Edred's birthday—nicer presents, and more of them, than he had had for three years.
She bought him a box of wonderfully varied chocolate and a box of tools, a very beautiful bat and a cricket-ball and a set of stumps, and a beetle-backed paint-box in which all the colours were whole pans, and not half ones, as they usually are in the boxes you get as presents. In this were beautiful paint-brushes—two camel's-hair ones and a sable with a point as fine as fine.
"You are a dear, auntie," he said, with his arms very tight round her waist. He was very happy, and it made him feel more generous than usual. So he said again, "You are a dear. And Elfrida can use the paint-box whenever I'm out, and the camel's-hair brushes. Not the sable, of course."
"Oh, Edred, how jolly of you!" said Elfrida, quite touched.
"I've got something for Elfrida too," said Aunt Edith, feeling among the rustling pile of brown paper, and tissue paper, and string, and cardboard, and shavings, that were the husks of Edred's presents. "Ah, here it is!"
It was a book—a red book with gold pictures on back and cover—and it was called "The Amulet." So then it was Elfrida's turn to clasp her aunt round the waist and tell her about her dearness.
"And now to supper," said the dear. "Roast chicken. And gooseberry pie. And cream."
To the children, accustomed to the mild uninterestingness of bread and milk for supper, this seemed the crowning wonder of the day. And what a day it had been!
And while they ate the brown chicken, with bread sauce and gravy and stuffing, and the gooseberry pie and cream, the aunt told them of her day.
"It really is a ship," she said, "and the best thing it brings is that we shan't let lodgings any more."
"Hurrah!" was the natural response.
"And we shall have more money to spend and be more comfortable. And you can go to a really nice school. And where do you think we're going to live?"
"Not," said Elfrida, in a whisper,—"not at the castle?"
"Why, how did you guess?"
Elfrida looked at Edred. He hastily swallowed a large mouthful of chicken to say, "Auntie, I do hope you won't mind. We went to Arden to-day. You said we might go this year."
Then the whole story came out—yes, quite all, up to the saying of the spell.
"And did anything happen?" Aunt Edith asked. The children were thankful to see that she was only interested, and did not seem vexed at what they had done.
"Well," said Elfrida slowly, "we saw a mole—"
Aunt Edith laughed, and Edred said quickly—
"That's all the story, auntie. And I am Lord Arden, aren't I?"
"Yes," the aunt answered gravely. "You are Lord Arden."
"Oh, ripping!" cried Edred, with so joyous a face that his aunt put away a little sermon she had got ready in the train on the duties of the English aristocracy—that would keep, she thought—and turned to say, "No, dear," to Elfrida's eager question, "Then I'm Lady Arden, aren't I?"
"If he's lord I ought to be lady," Elfrida said. "It's not fair."
"Never mind, old girl," said Edred kindly. "I'll call you Lady Arden whenever you like."
"How would you like," asked the aunt, "to go over and live at the castle now?"
"No, no," she laughed; "next week. You see, I must try to let this house, and I shall be very busy. Mrs. Honeysett, the old lady who used to keep house for your great-uncle, wrote to the lawyers and asked if we would employ her. I remember her when I was a little girl; she is a dear, and knows heaps of old songs. How would you like to be there with her while I finish up here and get rid of the lodgers? Oh, there's that bell again! I don't think we'll have any bells at the castle, shall we?"
So that was how it was arranged. The aunt stayed at the bow-windowed house to arrange the new furniture—for the house was to be let furnished—and to pack up the beautiful old things that were real Arden things, and the children went in the carrier's cart, with their clothes and their toys in two black boxes, and in their hearts a world of joyous anticipations.
Mrs. Honeysett received them with a pretty, old-fashioned curtsey, which melted into an embrace.
"You're welcome to your home, my lord," she said, with an arm round each child, "and you too, miss, my dear. Any one can see you're Ardens, both two of you. There was always a boy and a girl—a boy and a girl." She had a sweet, patient face, with large, pale blue eyes that twinkled when she smiled, and she almost always smiled when she looked at the children.
Oh, but it was fine, to unpack one's own box—to lay out one's clothes in long, cedar-wood drawers, fronted with curved polished mahogany; to draw back the neat muslin blinds from lattice-paned windows that had always been Arden windows; to look out, as so many Ardens must have done, over land that, as far as one could see, had belonged to one's family in old days. That it no longer belonged hardly mattered at all to the romance of hearts only ten and twelve years old.
Then to go down one's own shallow, polished stairs (where portraits of old Ardens hung on the wall), and to find the cloth laid for dinner in one's own wainscoated parlour, laid for two. I think it was nice of Edred to say, the moment Mrs. Honeysett had helped them to toad-in-the-hole and left them to eat it—
"May I pass you some potatoes, Lady Arden?"
Elfrida giggled happily.
The parlour was furnished with the kind of furniture they knew and loved. It had a long, low window that showed the long, narrow garden outside. The walls were panelled with wood, browny-grey under its polish.
"Oh," said Elfrida, "there must be secret panels here."
And though Edred said, "Secret fiddlesticks!" he in his heart felt that she was right.
After dinner, "May we explore?" Elfrida asked, and Mrs. Honeysett, most charming of women, answered heartily—
"Why not? It's all his own, bless his dear heart."
So they explored.
The house was much bigger than they had found it on that wonderful first day when they had acted the part of burglars. There was a door covered with faded green baize. Mrs. Honeysett pointed it out to them with, "Don't you think this is all: there's the other house beyond;" and at the other side of that door there was, indeed, the other house.
The house they had already seen was neat, orderly, "bees-whacked," as Mrs. Honeysett said, till every bit of furniture shone like a mirror or a fond hope. But beyond the baize door there were shadows, there was dust, windows draped in cobwebs, before which hung curtains tattered and faded, drooping from their poles like the old banners that, slowly rotting in great cathedrals, sway in the quiet air where no wind is—stirred, perhaps, by the breath of Fame's invisible trumpet to the air of old splendours and glories.
The carpets lay in rags on the floors; on the furniture the dust lay thick, and on the boards of corridor and staircase; on the four-post beds in the bedchambers the hangings hung dusty and rusty—the quilts showed the holes eaten by moths and mice. In one room a cradle of carved oak still had a coverlet of tattered silk dragging from it. From the great kitchen-hearth, where no fire had been this very long time, yet where still the ashes of the last fire lay grey and white, a chill air came. The place smelt damp and felt—
"Do you think it's haunted?" Elfrida asked.
"Rot!" was her brother's brief reply, and they went on.
They found long, narrow corridors hung crookedly with old, black-framed prints, which drooped cobwebs, like grey-draped crape. They found rooms with floors of grey, uneven oak, and fireplaces in whose grates lay old soot and the broken nests of starlings hatched very long ago.
Edred's handkerchief—always a rag-of-all-work—rubbed a space in one of the windows, and they looked out over the swelling downs. This part of the house was not built within the castle, that was plain.
When they had opened every door and looked at every roomful of decayed splendour they went out and round. Then they saw that this was a wing built right out of the castle—a wing with squarish windows, with carved dripstones. All the windows were yellow as parchment, with the inner veil laid on them by Time and the spider. The ivy grew thick round the windows, almost hiding some of them altogether.
"Oh!" cried Elfrida, throwing herself down on the turf, "it's too good to be true. I can't believe it."
"What I can't believe," said Edred, doing likewise, "is that precious mole."
"But we saw it," said Elfrida; "you can't help believing things when you've seen them."
"I can," said Edred, superior. "You remember the scarlet toadstools in 'Hereward.' Suppose those peppermint creams were enchanted—to make us dream things."
"They were good," said Elfrida. "I say!"
"Have you made up any poetry to call the mole with?"
"No; I've tried, though."
"I've tried. And I've done it."
"Oh, Edred, you are clever. Do say it."
"If I do, do you think the mole will come?"
"Of course it will."
"Well," said Edred slowly, "of course I want to find the treasure and all that. But I don't believe in it. It isn't likely—that's what I think. Now is it likely?"
"Unlikelier things happened in 'The Amulet,'" said Elfrida.
"Ah," said Edred, "that's a story."
"The mole said we were in a story. I say, Edred, do say your poetry."
Edred slowly said it—.
Come out of your hole;
I know you're blind,
But I don't mind.'"
Elfrida looked eagerly round her. There was the short turf; the castle walls, ivied and grey, rose high above her; pigeons circled overhead, and in the arches of the windows and on the roof of the house they perched, preening their bright feathers or telling each other, "Coo, coo; cooroo, cooroo," whatever that may mean. But there was no mole—not a hint or a dream or idea of a mole.
"Edred," said his sister.
"Did you really make that up? Don't be cross, but I do think I've heard something like it before."
"I—I adopted it," said Edred.
"?" said Elfrida.
"Haven't you seen it in books, 'Adopted from the French'? I altered it."
"I don't believe that'll do. How much did you alter? What's the real poetry like?"
"'The mole, the mole,
He lives in a hole.
The mole is blind;
I don't mind,'"
said Edred sulkily. "Auntie told me it the day you went to her with Mrs. Harrison."
"I'm sure you ought to make it up all your self. You see, the mole doesn't come."
"There isn't any mole," said Edred.
"Let's both think hard. I'm sure I could make poetry—if I knew how to begin."
"If any one's got to make it, it's me," said Edred. "You're not Lord Arden."
"You're very unkind," said Elfrida, and Edred knew she was right.
"I don't mind trying," he said, condescendingly; "you make the poetry and I'll say it."
Elfrida buried her head in her hands and thought till her forehead felt as large as a mangel-wurzel, and her blood throbbed in it like a church clock ticking.
"Got it yet?" he asked, just as she thought she really had got it.
"Don't!" said the poet, in agony.
Then there was silence, except for the pigeons and the skylarks, and the mooing of a cow at a distant red-roofed farm.
"Will this do?" she said at last, lifting her head from her hands and her elbows from the grass; there were deep dents and lines on her elbows made by the grass-stalks she had leaned on so long.
"Spit it out," said Edred.
Thus encouraged, Elfrida said, very slowly and carefully, "'Oh, Mouldiwarp'—I think it would rather be called that than mole, don't you?—'Oh, Mouldiwarp, do please come out and show us how to set about it'—that means the treasure. I hope it'll understand."
"That's not poetry," said Edred.
"Yes, it is, if you say it right on—
"'Oh, Mouldiwarp, do please come out
And show us how to set about
"There ought to be some more," said Edred—rather impressed, all the same.
"There is," said Elfrida. "Oh, wait a minute—I shall remember directly. It—what I mean is, how to find the treasure and make Edred brave and wise and kind."
"I'm kind enough if it comes to that," said Lord Arden.
"Oh, I know you are; but poetry has to rhyme—you know it has. I expect poets often have to say what they don't mean because of that."
"Well, say it straight through," said Edred, and Elfrida said, obediently—
"'Oh, Mouldiwarp, do please come out
And show us how to set about
It. What I mean is how to find
The treasure, and make Edred brave and wise and kind.'
I'll write it down if you've got a pencil."
Edred produced a piece of pink chalk, but he had no paper, so Elfrida had to stretch out her white petticoat, put a big stone on the hem, and hold it out tightly with both hands while Edred wrote at her dictation.
Then Edred studiously repeated the lines again and again, as he was accustomed to repeat "The Battle of Ivry," till at last he was able to stand up and say—
"'Oh, Mouldiwarp, do please come out
And show me how to set about
It. What I mean is how to find
The treasure, and make me brave and wise—"
If you don't mind," he added.
And instantly there was the white mole.
"What do you want now?" it said very crossly indeed. "And call that poetry?"
"It's the first I ever made," said Elfrida, of the hot ears. "Perhaps it'll be better next time."
"We want you to do what the spell says," said Edred.
"Make you brave and wise? That can't be done all in a minute. That's a long job, that is," said the mole viciously.
"Don't be so cross, dear," said Elfrida; "and if it's going to be so long hadn't you better begin?"
"I ain't agoin' to do no more'n my share," said the mole, somewhat softened though, perhaps by the "dear." "You tell me what you want, and p'raps I'll do it."
"I know what I want," said Edred, "but I don't know whether you can do it."
"Ha!" laughed the mole contemptuously.
"I got it out of a book Elfrida got on my birthday," Edred said. "The children in it went into the past. I'd like to go into the past—and find that treasure!"
"Choose your period," said the mole wearily.
"Your period. What time you'd like to go back to. If you don't choose before I've counted ten it's all off. One, two, three, four—"
It counted ten through a blank silence.
"Nine, ten," it ended. "Oh, very well, den, you'll have to take your luck, that's all."
"Bother!" said Edred. "I couldn't think of anything except all the dates of all the kings of England all at once."
"Lucky to know 'em," said the mole, and so plainly not believing that he did know them that Edred found himself saying under his breath, "William the First, 1066; William the Second, 1087; Henry the First, 1100."
The mole yawned, which, of course, was very rude of it.
"Don't be cross, dear," said Elfrida again; "you help us your own way."
"Now you're talking," said the mole, which, of course, Elfrida knew. "Well, I'll give you a piece of advice. Don't you be nasty to each other for a whole day, and then—"
"You needn't talk," said Edred, still under his breath.
"Very well," said the mole, whose ears were sharper than his eyes. "I won't."
"Oh, don't!" sighed Elfrida; "what is it we are to do when we've been nice to each other for a whole day?"
"Well, when you've done that," said the mole, "look for the door."
"What door?" asked Elfrida.
"The door," said the mole.
"But where is it?" Edred asked.
"In the house it be, of course," said the mole. "Where else to gracious should it be?"
And it ran with mouse-like quickness across the grass and vanished down what looked like a rabbit-hole.
"Now," said Elfrida triumphantly, "you've got to believe in the mole."
"Yes," said Edred, "and you've got to be nice to me for a whole day, or it's no use my believing."
"Aren't I generally nice?" the girl pleaded, and her lips trembled.
"Yes," said her brother. "Yes, Lady Arden; and now I'm going to be nice, too. And where shall we look for the door?"
This problem occupied them till tea-time. After tea they decided to paint—with the new paint-box and the beautiful new brushes. Elfrida wanted to paint Mr. Millar's illustrations in "The Amulet," and Edred wanted to paint them, too. This could not be, as you will see if you have the book. Edred contended that they were his paints. Elfrida reminded him that it was her book. The heated discussion that followed ended quite suddenly and breathlessly.
"I wouldn't be a selfish pig," said Edred.
"No more would I," said Elfrida. "Oh, Edred, is this being nice to each other for twenty-four hours?"
"Oh," said Edred. "Yes—well—all right. Never mind. We'll begin again to-morrow."
But it is much more difficult than you would think to be really nice to your brother or sister for a whole day. Three days passed before the two Ardens could succeed in this seemingly so simple thing. The days were not dull ones at all. There were beautiful things in them that I wish I had time to tell you about—such as climbings and discoveries and books with pictures, and a bureau with a secret drawer. It had nothing in it but a farthing and a bit of red tape—secret drawers never have—but it was a very nice secret drawer for all that.
And at last a day came when each held its temper with a strong bit. They began by being very polite to each other, and presently it grew to seem like a game.
"Let's call each other Lord and Lady Arden all the time, and pretend that we're no relation," said Elfrida. And really that helped tremendously. It is wonderful how much more polite you can be to outsiders than you can to your relations, who are, when all's said and done, the people you really love.
As the time went on they grew more and more careful. It was like building a house of cards. As hour after hour of blameless politeness was added to the score, they grew almost breathlessly anxious. If, after all this, some natural annoyance should spoil everything!
"I do hope," said Edred, towards tea-time, "that you won't go and do anything tiresome."
"Oh, dear, I do hope I shan't," said Elfrida.
And this was just like them both.
After tea they decided to read, so as to lessen the chances of failure. They both wanted the same book—"Treasure Island" it was—and for a moment the niceness of both hung in the balance. Then, with one accord, each said, "No—you have it!" and the matter ended in each taking a quite different book that it didn't particularly want to read.
At bedtime Edred lighted Elfrida's candle for her, and she picked up the matches for him when he dropped them.
"Bless their hearts," said Mrs. Honeysett, in the passage.
They parted with the heartfelt remark, "We've done it this time."
Now, of course, in the three days when they had not succeeded in being nice to each other they had "looked for the door," but as the mole had not said where it was, nor what kind of a door, their search had not been fruitful Most of the rooms had several doors, and as there were a good many rooms the doors numbered fifty-seven, counting cupboards. And among these there was none that seemed worthy to rank above all others as the door. Many of the doors in the old part of the house looked as though they might be the one, but since there were many no one could be sure.
"How shall we know?" Edred asked next morning, through his egg and toast.
"I suppose it's like when people fall in love," said Elfrida, through hers. "You see the door and you know at once that it is the only princess in the world for you—I mean door, of course," she added.
And then, when breakfast was over, they stood up and looked at each other.
"Now," they said together.
"We'll look at every single door. Perhaps there'll be magic writing on the door come out in the night, like mushrooms," said the girl.
"More likely that mole was kidding us," said the boy.
"Oh, no," said the girl; "and we must look at them on both sides—every one. Oh, I do wonder what's inside the door, don't you?"
"Bluebeard's wives, I shouldn't wonder," said the boy, "with their heads—"
"If you don't stop," said the girl, putting her fingers in her ears, "I won't look for the door at all. No, I don't mean to be aggravating; but please don't. You know I hate it."
"Come on," said Edred, "and don't be a duffer, old chap."
The proudest moments of Elfrida's life were when her brother called her "old chap."
So they went and looked at all the fifty-seven doors, one after the other, on the inside and on the outside; some were painted and some were grained, some were carved and some were plain, some had panels and others had none, but they were all of them doors—just doors, and nothing more. Each was just a door, and none of them had any claim at all to be spoken of as THE door. And when they had looked at all the fifty-seven on the inside and on the outside, there was nothing for it but to look again. So they looked again, very carefully, to see if there were any magic writing that they hadn't happened to notice. And there wasn't. So then they began to tap the walls to try and discover a door with a secret spring. And that was no good either.
"There isn't any old door," said Edred. "I told you that mole was pulling our leg."
"I'm sure there is," said Elfrida, sniffing a little from prolonged anxiety. "Look here—let's play it like the willing game. I'll be blindfolded, and you hold my hand and will me to find the door."
"I don't believe in the willing game," said Edred disagreeably.
"No more do I," said Elfrida; "but we must do something, you know. It's no good sitting down and saying there isn't any door."
"There isn't, all the same," said Edred. "Well, come on."
So Elfrida was blindfolded with her best silk scarf—the blue one with the hem-stitched ends—and Edred took her hands. And at once—this happened in the library, where they had found the spell—Elfrida began to walk in a steady and purposeful way. She crossed the hall and went through the green baize door into the other house; went along its corridor and up its dusty stairs—up, and up, and up—
"We've looked everywhere here," said Edred, but Elfrida did not stop for that.
"I know I'm going straight to it," she said. "Oh! do try to believe a little, or we shall never find anything," and went on along the corridor, where the spiders had draped the picture-frames with their grey crape curtains. There were many doors in this corridor, and Elfrida stopped suddenly at one of them—a door just like the others.
"This," she said, putting her hand out till it rested on the panel, all spread out like a pink starfish,—"this is the door."
She felt for the handle, turned it, and went in, still pulling at Edred's hand and with the blue scarf still on her eyes. Edred followed.
"I say!" he said, and then she pulled off the scarf.
The door closed itself very softly behind them.
They were in a long attic room close under the roof—a room that they had certainly, in all their explorings, never found before. There were no windows—the roof sloped down at the sides almost to the floor. There was no ceiling—old worm-eaten roof-beams showed the tiles between—and old tie-beams crossed it so that as you stared up it looked like a great ladder with the rungs very far apart. Here and there through the chinks of the tiles a golden dusty light filtered in, and outside was the "tick, tick" of moving pigeon feet, the rustling of pigeon feathers, the "cooroocoo" of pigeon voices. The long room was almost bare; only along each side, close under the roof, was a row of chests, and no two chests were alike.
"Oh!" said Edred. "I'm kind and wise now. I feel it inside me. So now we've got the treasure. We'll rebuild the castle."
He got to the nearest chest and pushed at the lid, but Elfrida had to push too before he could get the heavy thing up. And when it was up, alas! there was no treasure in the chest—only folded clothes.
So then they tried the next chest.
And in all the chests there was no treasure at all—only clothes. Clothes, and more clothes again.
"Well, never mind," said Elfrida, trying to speak comfortably. "They'll be splendid for dressing up in."
"That's all very well," said Edred, "but I want the treasure."
"Perhaps," said Elfrida, with some want of tact,—"perhaps you're not 'good and wise' yet. Not quite, I mean," she hastened to add. "Let's take the things out and look at them. Perhaps the treasure's in the pockets."
But it wasn't—not a bit of it; not even a threepenny-bit.
The clothes in the first chest were full riding cloaks and long boots, short-waisted dresses and embroidered scarves, tight breeches and coats with bright buttons. There were very interesting waistcoats and odd-shaped hats. One, a little green one, looked as though it would fit Edred. He tried it on. And at the same minute Elfrida lifted out a little straw bonnet trimmed with blue ribbons. "Here's one for me," she said, and put it on.
And then it seemed as though the cooing and rustling of the pigeons came right through the roof and crowded round them in a sort of dazzlement and cloud of pigeon noises. The pigeon noises came closer and closer, and garments were drawn out of the chest and put on the children. They did not know how it was done, any more than you do—but it seemed, somehow, that the pigeon noises were like hands that helped, and presently there the two children stood in clothing such as they had never worn. Elfrida had a short-waisted dress of green-sprigged cotton, with a long and skimpy skirt. Her square-toed brown shoes were gone, and her feet wore flimsy sandals. Her arms were bare, and a muslin handkerchief was folded across her chest. Edred wore very white trousers that came right up under his arms, a blue coat with brass buttons, and a sort of frilly tucker round his neck.
"I say!" they both said, when the pigeon noises had taken themselves away, and they were face to face in the long, empty room.
"That was funny," Edred added; "let's go down and show Mrs. Honeysett."
But when they got out of the door they saw that Mrs. Honeysett, or some one else, must have been very busy while they were on the other side of it, for the floor of the gallery was neatly swept and polished; a strip of carpet, worn, but clean, ran along it, and prints hung straight and square on the cleanly, whitewashed walls, and there was not a cobweb to be seen anywhere. The children opened the gallery doors as they went along, and every room was neat and clean—no dust, no tattered curtains, only perfect neatness and a sort of rather bare comfort showed in all the rooms. Mrs. Honeysett was in none of them. There were no workmen about, yet the baize door was gone, and in its stead was a door of old wood, very shaky and crooked.
The children ran down the passage to the parlour and burst open the door, looking for Mrs. Honeysett.
There sat a very upright old lady and a very upright old gentleman, and their clothes were not the clothes people wear nowadays. They were like the clothes the children themselves had on. The old lady was hemming a fine white frill; the old gentleman was reading what looked like a page from some newspaper.
"Hoity-toity," said the old lady very severely; "we forget our manners, I think. Make your curtsey, miss."
Elfrida made one as well as she could.
"To teach you respect for your elders," said the old gentleman, "you had best get by heart one of Dr. Watts's Divine and Moral Songs. I leave you to see to it, my lady."
He laid down the sheet and went out, very straight and dignified, and without quite knowing how it happened the children found themselves sitting on two little stools in a room that was, and was not, the parlour in which they had had that hopeful eggy breakfast, each holding a marbled side of Dr. Watts's Hymns.
"You will commit to memory the whole of the one commencing—
"'Happy the child whose youngest years
Receive instruction well,"
And you will be deprived of pudding with your dinners," remarked the old lady.
"I say!" murmured Edred.
"Oh, hush!" said Elfrida, as the old lady carried her cambric frills to the window-seat.
"But I won't stand it," whispered Edred. "I'll tell Aunt Edith—and who's she anyhow?" He glowered at the old lady across the speckless carpet.
"Oh, don't you understand?" Elfrida whispered back. "We've got turned into somebody else, and she's our grandmamma."
I don't know how it was that Elfrida saw this and Edred didn't. Perhaps because she was a girl, perhaps because she was two years older than he. They looked hopelessly at the bright sunlight outside, and then at the dull, small print of the marble-backed book.
"Edred," said the old lady, "hand me the paper." She pointed at the sheet on the brightly polished table. He got up and carried it across to her, and as he did so he glanced at it and saw:—
June 16, 1807.
And then he knew, as well as Elfrida did, exactly where he was, and when.