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The House of Arden/Chapter 9


Imprisoned in the Tower of London, accused of high treason, and having confessed to a too intimate knowledge of the Gunpowder Plot, Elfrida could not help feeling that it would be nice to be back again in her own time, and at Arden, where, if you left events alone, and didn't interfere with them by any sort of magic mouldiwarpiness, nothing dangerous, romantic or thrilling would ever happen. And yet, when she was there, as you know, she never could let events alone. She and Edred could not be content with that castle and that house which, even as they stood, would have made you and me so perfectly happy. They wanted the treasure, and they—Elfrida especially—wanted adventures. Well, now they had got an adventure, both of them. There was no knowing how it would turn out either, and that, after all, is the essence of adventures. Edred was lodged with Lord Arden and several other gentlemen in the White Tower, and Elfrida and Lady Arden were in quite a different part of the building. And the children were not allowed to meet. This, of course, made it impossible for either of them to try to get back to their own times. For though they sometimes quarrelled, as you know, they were really fond of each other, and most of us would hesitate to leave even a person we were not very fond of alone a prisoner in the Tower in the time of James I. and the Gunpowder Plot.

Elfrida had to wait on her mother and to sew at the sampler, which had been thoughtfully brought by the old nurse with her lady's clothes, and the clothes Elfrida wore. But there were no games, and the only out-of-doors Elfrida could get was on a very narrow terrace where dead flower-stalks stuck up out of a still narrower border, beside a flagged pathway where there was just room for one to walk, and not for two. From this terrace you could see the fat, queer-looking ships in the river, and the spire of St. Paul's.

Edred was more fortunate. He was allowed to play in the garden of the Lieutenant of the Tower. But he did not feel much like playing. He wanted to find Elfrida and get back to Arden. Every one was very kind to him, but he had to be very much quieter than he was used to being, and to say Sir and Madam, and not to speak till he was spoken to. You have no idea how tiresome it is not to speak till you are spoken to, with the world full, as it is, of a thousand interesting things that you want to ask questions about.

One day—for they were there quite a number of days—Edred met some one who seemed to like answering questions, and this made more difference than perhaps you would think.

Edred was walking one bright winter morning in the private garden of the Lieutenant of the Tower, and he saw coming towards him a very handsome old gentleman dressed in very handsome clothes, and, what is more, the clothes blazed with jewels. Now, most of the gentlemen who were prisoners in the Tower at that time thought that their very oldest clothes were good enough to be in prison in, so this splendour that was coming across the garden was very unusual as well as very dazzling, and before Edred could remember the rules about not speaking till you're spoken to, he found that he had suddenly bowed and said—

"Your servant, sir;" adding, "you do look ripping!"

"I do not take your meaning," said the gentleman, but he smiled kindly.

"I mean, how splendid you look!"

The old gentleman looked pleased.

"I am happy to command your admiration," he said.

"I mean your clothes;" said Edred, and then feeling with a shock that this was not the way to behave, he added, "Your face is splendid too—only I've been taught manners, and I know you mustn't tell people they're handsome in their faces. 'Praise to the face is open disgrace,'—Mrs. Honeysett says so."

"Praise to my face isn't open disgrace," said the gentleman, "it is a pleasant novelty in these walls."

"Is it your birthday or anything?" Edred asked.

"It is not my birthday," said the gentleman smiling. "But why the question?"

"Because you're so grand," said Edred. "I suppose you're a prince then?"

"No, not a prince—a prisoner."

"Oh, I see," said Edred, as people so often do when they don't; "and you're going to be let out to-day, and you've put on your best things to go home in. I am so glad. At least, I'm sorry you're going, but I'm glad on your account."

"Thou'rt a fine, bold boy," said the gentleman. "But no. I am a prisoner, and like to remain so. And for these gauds," he swelled out his chest so that his diamond buttons and ruby earrings and gem-set collar flashed in the winter sun,—"for these gauds, never shall it be said that Walter Raleigh let the shadow of his prison tarnish his pride in the proper arraying of a body that has been honoured to kneel before the Virgin Queen." He took off his hat at the last words and swept it, with a flourish, nearly to the ground.

"Oh!" cried Edred, "are you really Sir Walter Raleigh? Oh, how splendid! And now you'll tell me all about the golden South Americas, and sea-fights, and the Armada and the Spaniards, and what you used to play at when you were a little boy."

"Ay," said Sir Walter, "I'll tell thee tales enow. They'll not let me from speaking with thee, I warrant. I would," he said, looking round impatiently, "that I could see the river again. From my late chamber I saw it, and the goodly ships coming in and out—the ships that go down into the great waters." He sighed, was silent a moment, then spoke. "And so thou didst not know thine old friend Raleigh? He was all forgot, all forgot! And yet thou hast rid astride my sword ere now, and I have played with thee in the courtyard at Arden. When England forgets so soon, who can expect more from a child?"

"I'm sorry," said Edred humbly.

"Nay," said Sir Walter, pinching his ear gently, "'tis two years agone, and short years have short memories. Thou shall come with me to my chamber and I will show thee a chart and a map of Windargocoa, that Her Dear Glorious Majesty permitted me to rename Virginia, after her great and gracious self."

So Edred, very glad and proud, went hand in hand with Sir Walter Raleigh to his apartments, and saw many strange things from overseas—dresses of feathers from Mexico, and strange images in gold from strange islands, and the tip of a narwhal's horn from Greenland, and many other things. And Sir Walter told him of his voyages and his fights, and of how he and Humphrey Gilbert, and Adrian Gilbert, and little Jack Davis used to sail their toy boats in the Long Stream, and how they used to row in and out among the big ships down at the Port, and look at the great figure-heads, standing out high above the water, and wonder about them and about the strange lands they came from.

"And often," said Walter, "we found a sea-captain that would tell us lads travellers' tales like these I have told thee. And we sailed our little ships, and then we sailed our big ships—and here I lie in dock, and shall never sail again. But it's oh! to see the Devon moors, and the clear reaches of the Long Stream again! And that I never shall." And with that he leaned his arm on the windowsill, and if he had not been the great Sir Walter Raleigh, who is in all the history books, Edred would have thought he was crying.

"Oh, do cheer up—do!" said Edred awkwardly. "I don't know whether they'll let you go to Devonshire—but I know they'll let you go back to America some day. With twelve ships. I read about it only yesterday; and your ship will be called the Destiny, and you'll sail from the Thames, and Lord Arden will see you off and kiss you for farewell, and give you a medal for a keepsake. Your son will go with you. I know it's true. It's all in the book?"

"The book?" Sir Walter asked. "A prophecy, belike?"

"You can call it that if you want to," said Edred cautiously; "but, anyhow, it's true."

He had read it all in the History of Arden.

"If it should be true," said Sir Walter, and the smile came back to his merry eyes, "and if I ever sail to the Golden West again, shrew me but I will sack a Spanish town, and bring thee a collar of gold and pieces of eight—a big bag-full."

"Thank you, very much," said Edred, "it is very kind of you: but I shall not be there."

And all Sir Walter's questions did not make him say how he knew this, or what he meant by it.

After this he met Sir Walter every day in the lieutenant's garden, and the two prisoners comforted each other. At least Edred was comforted, and Sir Walter seemed to be. But no one could be sure if it was more than seeming. This was one of the questions that always puzzled the children—and they used to talk it over together till their heads seemed to be spinning round. The question of course was: Did their being in past times make any difference to the other people in past times? In other words, when you were taking part in historical scenes, did it matter what you said or did? Of course, it seemed to matter extremely—at the time. But then if this going into the past was only a sort of dream, then, of course, the people in the past would know nothing about it, unless they had dreamed the same sort of dream—which, as Elfrida often pointed out, was quite likely, especially if time didn't count, or could be cheated by white clocks. On the other hand, if they really went into the real past—well, then, of course, what they did must count for real too, as Edred so often said. And yet how could it, since they took with them into the past all that they learned here? And with that knowledge they could have revealed plots, shown the issue of wars and the fate of kings, and, as Elfrida put it, "made history turn out quite different." You see the difficulties, don't you? And Betty Lovell's having said that they could leave no trace on times past did not seem to make much difference somehow, one way or the other.

However, just now Elfrida and Edred were in the Tower, and not able to see each other, so they could not discuss that or any other question. And they always hoped that they would meet, but they never did.

But by and by the Queen thought of Lady Arden, and decided that she and her son Edred ought to be let out of the Tower, and she told the King so, and he told Lord Somebody or other, who told the Lieutenant of the Tower, and behold Lady Arden and Edred were abruptly sent home in their own coach, which had been suddenly sent for from Arden House; but Elfrida was left in charge of the wife of the Lieutenant of the Tower, who was a very kind lady. So now Elfrida was in the Tower, and Edred was at Arden House in Soho, and they had not been able to speak to each other or arrange any plan for getting back to 1908 and Arden Castle by the sea.

Of course Elfrida was kept in the Tower because she had sung the rhyme about—

    "Please to remember
    The fifth of November
    The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,"

and this made people think—or seem to think—that she knew all about the Gunpowder Plot. And so of course she did, though it would have been very difficult for her to show any one at that time how she knew it, without being a traitor.

She was now allowed to see Lord Arden every day, and she grew very fond of him. He was curiously like her own daddy, who had gone away to South America with Uncle Jim, and had never come back to his little girl. Lord Arden also seemed to grow fonder of her very day. "Thou'rt a bold piece," he'd tell her, "and thou growes bolder with each day. Hast thou no fear that thy daddy will have thee whipped for answering him so pert?"

"No!" Elfrida would say, hugging him as well as she could for his ruff. "I know you wouldn't beat your girl, don't I, daddy?" And as she hugged him it felt almost like hugging her own daddy, who would never come home from America.

So she was almost contented. She knew that Lord Arden was not one of those to suffer for the Gunpowder Plot. She knew from the History of Arden that he would just be banished from the Court, and end his days happily at Arden, and she was almost tempted just to go on and let what would happen, and stay with this new daddy who had lived three hundred years before, and pet him and be petted by him. Only she felt that she must do something because of Edred. The worst of it was that she could not think of anything to do. She did not know at all what was happening to Edred—whether he was being happy or unhappy.

As it happened he was being, if not unhappy, at least uncomfortable. Mr. Parados, the tutor, who was as nasty a man as you will find in any seaside academy for young gentlemen, still remained at Arden House, and taught the boys—Edred and his cousin Richard. Mr. Parados was in high favour with the King, because he had listened to what wasn't meant for him, reported it where it would do most mischief—a thing always very pleasing to King James the First—and Lady Arden dared not dismiss him. Besides, she was ill with trouble and anxiety, which Edred could not at all soothe by saying again and again, "Father won't be found guilty of treason—he won't be executed. He'll just be sent to Arden, and live there quietly with you. I saw it all in a book."

But Lady Arden only cried and cried.

Mr. Parados was very severe, and rapped Edred's knuckles almost continuously during lesson-time, and out of it; said Cousin Richard, "He is for ever bent on spying and browbeating of us."

"He's always messing about—nasty sneak," said Edred. "I should like to be even with him before I go. And I will too."

"Before you go? Go whither?" Cousin Richard asked.

"Elfrida and I are going away," Edred began, and then felt how useless it was to go on, since even when the 1908 Edred—who he was—had gone, the 1605 Elfrida and Edred would of course still be there—that is if . . . He checked the old questions, which he had now no time to consider, and said, in a firm tone which was new to him, and which Elfrida would have been astonished and delighted to hear—

"Yes, I've got two things to do: to be even with old Parrot-nose—to be revenged on him, I mean—and to get Elfrida out of the Tower. And I'll do that first, because she'll like to help with the other."

The boys were on the leads, their backs to a chimney and their faces towards the trap-door, which was the only way of getting on to the roof. It was very cold, and. the north wind was blowing, but they had come there because it was one of the few places where Mr. Parrot-nose could not possibly come creeping up behind them to listen to what they were saying.

"Get her out of the Tower?" Dick laughed and then was sad. "I would we could!" he said.

"We can," said Edred earnestly. "I've been thinking about it all the time, ever since we came out of the Tower, and I know the way. I shall want you to help me, Dick. You and one grown-up." He spoke in the same grim, self-reliant tone that was so new to him.

"One grown-up?" Dick asked.

"Yes. I think Nurse would do it. And I'm going to find out if we can trust her."

"Trust her?" said Dick. "Why, she'd die for any of us Ardens. Ay, and die on the rack before she would betray the lightest word of any of us."

"Then that's all right," said Edred.

"What is thy plot?" Dick asked; and he did not laugh, though he might well have wanted to. You see, Edred looked so very small and weak and the Tower was so very big and strong.

"I'm going to get Elfrida out," said Edred, "and I'm going to do it like Lady Nithsdale got her husband out. It will be quite easy. It all depends on knowing when the guard is changed, and I do know that."

"But how did my Lady Nithsdale get my Lord Nithsdale out—and from what?" Dick asked.

"Why, out of the Tower, you know," Edred was beginning, when he remembered that Dick did not know and couldn't know, because Lord Nithsdale hadn't yet been taken out of the Tower, hadn't even been put in—perhaps, for anything Edred knew, wasn't even born yet. So he said—

"Never mind. I'll tell you all about Lady Nithsdale," and proceeded to tell Dick, vaguely yet inspiringly, the story of that wise and brave lady. I haven't time to tell you the story, but any grown-up who knows history will be only too pleased to tell it.

Dick listened with most flattering interest, though it was getting dusk and colder than ever. The lights were lighted in the house and the trap-door had become a yellow square. A shadow in this yellow square warned Dick, and he pinched Edred's arm.

"Come," he said, "and let us apply ourselves to our books. Virtuous youths always act in their preceptors' absence as they would if their preceptors were present. I feel as though mine were present. Therefore, I take it, I am a virtuous youth."

On which the shadow disappeared very suddenly, and the two boys, laughing in a choking inside sort way, went down to learn their lessons by the light of two guttering tallow candles in solid silver candlesticks.

The next day Edred got the old nurse to take him to the Court, and because the Queen was very fond of Lady Arden he actually managed to see her Majesty and, what is more, to get permission to visit his father and sister in the Tower. The permission was written by the Queen's own hand and bade the Lieutenant of the Tower to admit Master Edred Arden and Master Richard Arden and an attendant. Then the nurse became very busy with sewing, and two days went by and Mr. Parados rapped the boys' fingers and scolded them and scowled at them and wondered why they bore it all so patiently. Then came The Day, and it was bitterly cold, and as the afternoon got older snow began to fall.

"So much the better," said the old nurse, "so much the better."

It was at dusk that the guard was changed at the Tower Gate, and a quarter of an hour before dusk Lord Arden's carriage stopped at the Tower Gate and an old nurse in ruff and cap and red cloak got out of it and lifted out two little gentlemen, one in black with a cloak trimmed with squirrel fur, which was Edred, and another, which was Richard, in grey velvet and marten's fur. And the lieutenant was called, and he read the Queen's order and nodded kindly to Edred, and they all went in. And as they went across the yard to the White Tower, where Lord Arden's lodging was, the snow fell thick on their cloaks and furs and froze to the stuff, for it was bitter cold.

And again, "So much the better," the nurse said, "so much the better."

Elfrida was with Lord Arden, sitting on his knee, when the visitors came in. She jumped up and greeted Edred with a glad cry and a very close hug.

"Go with Nurse," he whispered through the hug. "Do exactly what she tells you."

"But I've made a piece of poetry," Elfrida whispered, "and now you're here."

"Do what you're told," whispered Edred in a tone she had never heard from him before and so fiercely that she said no more about poetry. "We must get you out of this," Edred went on. "Don't be a duffer—think of Lady Nithsdale."

Then Elfrida understood. Her arms fell from round Edred's neck and she ran back to Lord Arden and put her arms round his neck and kissed him over and over again.

"There, there, my maid, there, there!" he said, patting her shoulder softly, for she was crying.

"Come with me to thy chamber," said the nurse. "I would take thy measure for a new gown and petticoat."

But Elfrida clung closer. "She does not want to leave her dad," said Lord Arden—"dost thou, my maid?"

"No, no," said Elfrida quite wildly, "I don't want to leave my daddy!"

"Come," said Lord Arden, "'tis but for a measuring time. Thou'lt come back, sock lamb as thou art. Go now to return the more quickly."

"Goodbye, dear, dear, dear daddy!" said Elfrida, suddenly standing up. "Oh, my dear daddy, goodbye!"

"Why, what a piece of work about a new frock!" said the nurse crossly. "I've no patience with the child," and she caught Elfrida's hand and dragged her into the next room.

"Now," she whispered, already on her knees undoing Elfrida's gown, "not a moment to lose. Hold thy handkerchief to thy face and seem to weep as we go out. Why, thou'rt weeping already! So much the better!"

From under her wide hoop and petticoat the nurse drew out the clothes that were hidden there, a little suit of black exactly like Edred's—cap, cloak, stockings, shoes—all like Edred's to a hair.

And Elfrida before she had finished crying stood up the exact image of her brother—except her face—and that would be hidden by the handkerchief. Then very quickly the nurse went to the door of the apartment and spoke to the guard there.

"Good luck, good gentleman," she said, "my little master is ill—he is too frail to bear these sad meetings and sadder partings. Convoy us, I pray you, to the outer gate, that I may find our coach and take him home, and afterwards I will return for my other charge, his noble cousin."

"Is it so?" said the guard kindly. "Poor child! Well, such is life, mistress, and we all have tears to weep."

But he could not leave his post at Lord Arden's door to conduct them to the gates. But he told them the way, and they crossed the courtyard alone, and as they went the snow fell on their cloaks and froze there.

So that the guard at the gate, who had seen an old nurse and two little boys go in through the snow, now saw an old nurse and one little boy go out, all snow-covered, and the little boy appeared to be crying bitterly, and no wonder, the nurse explained, seeing his dear father and sister thus.

"I will convey him to our coach, good masters," she said to the guard. "and return for my other charge, young Master Richard Arden."

And on that she got Elfrida in her boy's clothes out at the gate and into the waiting carriage. The coachman, by previous arrangement with the old nurse, was asleep on the box, and the footman, also by previous arrangement, was refreshing himself at a tavern near by.

"Under the seat," said the old nurse, and thrusting Elfrida in, shut the coach door and left her. And there was Elfrida, dressed like a boy, huddled up among the straw at the bottom of the coach.

So far, so good. But the most dangerous part of the adventure still remained. The nurse got in again easily enough; she was let in by the guard who had seen her come out. And as she went slowly across the snowy courtyard she heard ring under the gateway the stamping feet of the men who had come to relieve guard, and to be themselves the new guard. So far again, so good. The danger lay with the guard at the door of Lord Arden's rooms, and in the chance that some of the old guard might be lingering about the gateway when she came out, not with one little boy as they would expect, but with two. But this had to be risked. The nurse waited as long as she dared so as to lessen the chance of meeting any of the old guard as she went out with her charges. She waited quietly in a corner while Lord Arden talked with the boys. And when at last she said, "The time is done, my Lord," she already knew that the guard at the room door had been changed.

"So now for it," said Edred, as he and Richard followed the nurse down the narrow steps and across the snowy courtyard.

The new guard saw the woman and two boys, and the captain of the guard read the Queen's paper, which the old nurse had taken care to get back from the lieutenant. And as plainly Master Edred Arden and Master Richard Arden, with their attendant, had passed in, so now they were permitted to pass out, and two minutes later a great coach was lumbering along the snowy streets, and inside it four people were embracing in rapture at the success of their stratagem.

"But it was Edred thought of it," said Richard, as in honour bound, "and he arranged everything and carried it out."

"How splendid of him!" said Elfrida warmly; and I think it was rather splendid of her not to spoil his pride and pleasure in this, the first adventure he had ever planned and executed entirely on his own account. She could very easily have spoiled it, you know, by pointing out to him that the whole thing was quite unnecessary, and that they could have got away much more easily by going into a corner in the Tower and saying poetry to the Mouldiwarp.

So they came to Arden House.

The coachman was apparently asleep again, and the footman went round and did something to the harness after he had got the front door opened, and it was quite easy for the nurse to send the footman who opened the door to order a meal to be served at once for Mr. Arden and Mr. Richard. So that no one saw that instead of the two little boys who had left Arden House in the afternoon three came back to it in the evening.

Then the nurse took them into the parlour and shut the door.

"Now," she said, "Master Richard will go take off his fine suit, and Miss Arden will go into the little room and change her raiment. And for you, Master Edred, you wait here with me."

When the others had obediently gone, the nurse stood looking at Edred with eyes that grew larger and different, and he stood looking at her with eyes that grew rounder and rounder.

"Why," he said at last, "you're the witch—the witch we took the tea and things to."

"And if I am?" said she. "Do you think you're the only person who can come back into other times? You're not all the world yet, Master Arden of Arden. But you've got the makings of a fine boy and a fine man, and I think you've learned something in these old ancient times."

He had, there is no doubt of it. Whether it was being thought important enough to be imprisoned in the Tower, or whether it was the long talks he had with Sir Walter Raleigh, that fine genius and great gentleman, or whether it was Mr. Parados's knuckle-rappings and scowlings. I do not know. But it is certain that this adventure was the beginning of the change in Edred which ended in his being "brave and kind and wise" as the old rhyme had told him to be.

"And now," said the nurse, as Elfrida appeared in her girl's clothes, "there is not a moment to lose. Already at the Tower they have found out our trick. You must go back to your own times."

"She's the witch," Edred briefly answered the open amazement in Elfrida's eyes.

"There is no time to lose," the nurse repeated.

"I must be even with old Parados first," said Edred; and so he was, and it took exactly twenty minutes, and I will tell you all about it afterwards.

When he was even with old Parados, the old nurse sent Richard to bed; and then Elfrida made haste to say, "I did make some poetry to call the Mouldiwarp, but it's all about the Tower, and we're not there now. It's no use saying—

    'Oh, Mouldiwarp, you have the power
    To get us out of this beastly Tower,'

when we're not in the Tower, and I can't think of anything else, and. . . ."

But the nurse interrupted her.

"Never mind about poetry," she said; "poetry's all very well for children, but I know a trick worth two of that."

She led them into the dining-room, where the sideboard stood covered with silver, set down the candle, lifted down the great salver with the arms Arden engraved upon it, and put it on the table.

She breathed on the salver and traced triangles and a circle on the drilled surface; and as the mistiness of her breath faded and the silver shone out again undimmed there, suddenly, in the middle of the salver, was the live white Mouldiwarp of Arden, looking extremely cross!

"You've no manners," it said to the nurse, "bringing me here in that offhand, rude way, without 'With you leave,' or 'By your leave'! Elfrida could easily have made some poetry. You know well enough," it added angrily, "that it's positively painful to me to be summoned by your triangles and things. Poetry's so easy and simple."

"Poetry's too slow for this night's work," said the nurse shortly. "Come, take the children away, I have done with it."

"You make everything so difficult," said the; Mouldiwarp, more crossly than ever. "That's the worst of people who think they know a lot and really only know a little, and pretend they know everything. If I'd come the easy poetry way, I could have taken them back as easily. But now—Well, it can't be helped. I'll take them back, of course, but it'll be a way they won't like. They'll have to go on to the top of the roof and jump off."

"I don't believe that is necessary," said the witch nurse.

"All right," said the Mouldiwarp, "get them away yourself then," and it actually began to disappear.

"No, no!" said Elfrida, "we'll do anything you say."

"There's a foot of snow on the roof," said the witch nurse.

"So much the better," said the Mouldiwarp, "so much the better. You ought to know that."

"You think yourself very clever," said the nurse.

"Not half so clever as I am," said the Mouldiwarp, rather unreasonably Elfrida thought. "There!" it added sharply as a great hammering at the front door shattered the quiet of the night. "There, to the roof for your lives! And I'm not at all sure that it's not too late."

The knocking was growing louder and louder.