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The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit

Part 5 out of 5

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removing his face from inside a wide-bitten crescent of
melon-rind:

"Your feast's as good as the feast of the Immortals, almost."

"Explain your recondite allusion," said the grey-flannelled host;
and Jimmy, understanding him to say, "What do you mean?"
replied with the whole tale of that wonderful night when the
statues came alive, and a banquet of unearthly splendour and
deliciousness was plucked by marble hands from the trees of the
lake island.

When he had done the bailiff said: "Did you get all this out of a
book?"

"No," said Jimmy, "it happened."

"You are an imaginative set of young dreamers,. aren't you?" the
bailiff asked, handing the plums to Kathleen, who smiled, friendly
but embarrassed. Why couldn't Jimmy have held his tongue?

"No, we re not," said that indiscreet one obstinately; "everything
I've told you did happen, and so did the things Mabel told you."

The bailiff looked a little uncomfortable. "All right, old chap," he
said. And there was a short, uneasy silence. "Look here," said
Jimmy, who seemed for once to have got the bit between his teeth,
"do you believe me or not?"

"Don't be silly, Jimmy!" Kathleen whispered. "Because, if you
don't I'll make you believe."

"Don't!" said Mabel and Kathleen together.

"Do you or don't you?" Jimmy insisted, lying on his front with his
chin on his hands, his elbows on a moss-cushion, and his bare legs
kicking among the beech leaves.

"I think you tell adventures awfully well," said the bailiff
cautiously.

"Very well," said Jimmy, abruptly sitting up, "you don't believe
me. Nonsense, Cathy! he's a gentleman, even if he is a bailiff."

"Thank you!" said the bailiff with eyes that twinkled.

"You won't tell, will you?" Jimmy urged.

"Tell what?"

"Anything."

"Certainly not. I am, as you say, the soul of honour."

"Then Cathy, give me the ring."

"Oh, no!" said the girls together.

Kathleen did not mean to give up the ring; Mabel did not mean
that she should; Jimmy certainly used no force. Yet presently he
held it in his hand. It was his hour. There are times like that for all
of us, when what we say shall be done is done.

"Now," said Jimmy, "this is the ring Mabel told you about. I say it
is a wishing-ring. And if you will put it on your hand and wish,
whatever you wish will happen."

"Must I wish out loud?"

"Yes I think so."

"Don't wish for anything silly," said Kathleen, making the best of
the situation, "like its being fine on Tuesday or its being your
favourite pudding for dinner tomorrow. Wish for something you
really want."

"I will," said the bailiff. "I'll wish for the only thing I really want. I
wish my I wish my friend were here."

The three who knew the power of the ring looked round to see the
bailiff's friend appear; a surprised man that friend would be, they
thought, and perhaps a frightened one. They had all risen, and
stood ready to soothe and reassure the newcomer. But no startled
gentleman appeared in the wood, only, coming quietly through the
dappled sun and shadow under the beech-trees, Mademoiselle and
Gerald, Mademoiselle in a white gown, looking quite nice and like
a picture, Gerald hot and polite.

"Good afternoon," said that dauntless leader of forlorn hopes. "I
persuaded Mademoiselle "

That sentence was never finished, for the bailiff and the French
governess were looking at each other with the eyes of tired
travellers who find, quite without expecting it, the desired end of a
very long journey.

And the children saw that even if they spoke it would not make
any difference.

"You!" said the bailiff.

"Mais . . . c'est donc vous," said Mademoiselle, in a funny choky
voice.

And they stood still and looked at each other, "like stuck pigs" , as
Jimmy said later, for quite a long time.

"Is she your friend?" Jimmy asked.

"Yes oh yes," said the bailiff. "You are my friend, are you not?"

"But yes," Mademoiselle said softly. "I am your friend."

"There! you see," said Jimmy, "the ring does do what I said."

"We won't quarrel about that," said the bailiff. "You can say it's the
ring. For me it's a coincidence the happiest, the dearest ,"

"Then you ?" said the French governess.

"Of course," said the bailiff. "Jimmy, give your brother some tea.
Mademoiselle, come and walk in the woods: there are a thousand
things to say."

"Eat then, my Gerald," said Mademoiselle, now grown young, and
astonishingly like a fairy princess. "I return all at the hour, and we
re-enter together. It is that we must speak each other. It is long
time that we have not seen us, me and Lord Yalding!"

"So he was Lord Yalding all the time," said Jimmy, breaking a
stupefied silence as the white gown and the grey flannels
disappeared among the beech trunks. "Landscape painter sort of
dodge silly, I call it. And fancy her being a friend of his, and his
wishing she was here! Different from us, eh? Good old ring!"

"His friend!" said Mabel with strong scorn; "Don't you see she's his
lover? Don't you see she's the lady that was bricked up in the
convent, because he was so poor, and he couldn't find her. And
now the ring's made them live happy ever after. I am glad! Aren't
you, Cathy?"

"Rather!" said Kathleen; "it's as good as marrying a sailor or a
bandit."

"It's the ring did it," said Jimmy. "If the American takes the house
he'll pay lots of rent, and they can live on that."

"I wonder if they'll be married tomorrow!" said Mabel.

"Wouldn't if be fun if we were bridesmaids," said Cathy.

"May I trouble you for the melon," said Gerald. "Thanks! Why
didn't we know he was Lord Yalding? Apes and moles that we
were!"

"I've known since last night," said Mabel calmly; "only I promised
not to tell. I can keep a secret, can't I?"

"Too jolly well," said Kathleen, a little aggrieved.

"He was disguised as a bailiff," said Jimmy; "that's why we didn't
know."

"Disguised as a fiddle-stick-end," said Gerald. "Ha, ha! I see
something old Sherlock Holmes never saw, nor that idiot Watson,
either. If you want a really impenetrable disguise, you ought to
disguise yourself as what you really are. I'll remember that."

"It's like Mabel, telling things so that you can't believe them," said
Cathy.

"I think Mademoiselle's jolly lucky," said Mabel.

"She's not so bad. He might have done worse," said Gerald.
"Plums, please!"

There was quite plainly magic at work. Mademoiselle next
morning was a changed governess. Her cheeks were pink, her lips
were red, her eyes were larger and brighter, and she had done her
hair in an entirely new way, rather frivolous and very becoming.

"Mamselle's coming out!" Eliza remarked.

Immediately after breakfast Lord Yalding called with a wagonette
that wore a smart blue cloth coat, and was drawn by two horses
whose coats were brown and shining and fitted them even better
than the blue cloth coat fitted the wagonette, and the whole party
drove in state and splendour to Yalding Towers.

Arrived there, the children clamoured for permission

to explore the castle thoroughly, a thing that had never yet been
possible. Lord Yalding, a little absent in manner, but yet quite
cordial, consented. Mabel showed the others all the secret doors
and unlikely passages and stairs that she had discovered. It was a
glorious morning. Lord Yalding and Mademoiselle went through
the house, it is true, but in a rather half-hearted way. Quite soon
they were tired, and went out through the French windows of the
drawing-room and through the rose garden, to sit on the curved
stone seat in the middle of the maze, where once, at the beginning
of things, Gerald, Kathleen, and Jimmy had found the sleeping
Princess who wore pink silk and diamonds.

The children felt that their going left to the castle a more spacious
freedom, and explored with more than Arctic enthusiasm. It was as
they emerged from the little rickety secret staircase that led from
the powdering-room of the state suite to the gallery of the hall that
they came suddenly face to face with the odd little man who had a
beard like a goat and had taken the wrong turning yesterday.

"This part of the castle is private," said Mabel, with great presence
of mind, and shut the door behind her.

"I am aware of it," said the goat-faced stranger, "but I have the
permission of the Earl of Yalding to examine the house at my
leisure."

"Oh!" said Mabel. "I beg your pardon. We all do. We didn't know."

"You are relatives of his lordship, I should surmise?" asked the
goat-faced.

"Not exactly," said Gerald. "Friends".

The gentleman was thin and very neatly dressed; he had small,
merry eyes and a face that was brown and dry-looking.

"You are playing some game, I should suppose?"

"No, sir," said Gerald, "only exploring."

"May a stranger propose himself as a member of your Exploring
Expedition?" asked the gentleman, smiling a tight but kind smile.

The children looked at each other.

"You see," said Gerald, "it's rather difficult to explain but you see
what I mean, don't you?"

"He means," said Jimmy, "that we can't take you into an exploring
party without we know what you want to go for."

"Are you a photographer?" asked Mabel, "or is it some newspaper's
sent you to write about the Towers?"

"I understand your position," said the gentleman. "I am not a
photographer, nor am I engaged by any journal. I am a man of
independent means, travelling in this country with the intention of
renting a residence. My name is Jefferson D. Conway."

"Oh!" said Mabel; "then you're the American millionaire."

"I do not like the description, young lady," said Mr. Jefferson D.
Conway. "I am an American citizen, and I am not without means.
This is a fine property a very fine property. If it were for sale ,"

"It isn't, it can't be," Mabel hastened to explain. "The lawyers have
put it in a tale, so Lord Yalding can't sell it. But you could take it
to live in, and pay Lord Yalding a good millionairish rent, and then
he could marry the French governess "

"Shish!" said Kathleen and Mr. Jefferson D. Conway together, and
he added: "Lead the way, please; and I should suggest that the
exploration be complete and exhaustive."

Thus encouraged, Mabel led the millionaire through all the castle.
He seemed pleased, yet disappointed too.

"It is a fine mansion," he said at last when they had come back to
the point from which they had started; "but I should suppose, in a
house this size, there would mostly be a secret stairway, or a
priests hiding place, or a ghost?"

"There are," said Mabel briefly, "but I thought Americans didn't
believe in anything but machinery and newspapers." She touched
the spring of the panel behind her, and displayed the little tottery
staircase to the American. The sight of it worked a wonderful
transformation in him. He became eager, alert, very keen.

"Say!" he cried, over and over again, standing in the door that led
from the powdering-room to the state bed-chamber. "But this is
great great!"

The hopes of everyone ran high. It seemed almost certain that the
castle would be let for a millionairish rent and Lord Yalding be
made affluent to the point of marriage.

"If there were a ghost located in this ancestral pile, I'd close with
the Earl of Yalding today, now, on the nail," Mr. Jefferson D.
Conway went on.

"If you were to stay till tomorrow, and sleep in this room, I expect
you'd see the ghost," said Mabel.

"There is a ghost located here then?" he said joyously.

"They say," Mabel answered, "that old Sir Rupert, who lost his
head in Henry the Eighth's time, walks of a night here, with his
head under his arm. But we've not seen that. What we have seen is
the lady in a pink dress with diamonds in her hair. She carries a
lighted taper," Mabel hastily added. The others, now suddenly
aware of Mabel's plan, hastened to assure the American in accents
of earnest truth that they had all seen the lady with the pink gown.

He looked at them with half-closed eyes that twinkled.

"Well," he said, "I calculate to ask the Earl of Yalding to permit
me to pass a night in his ancestral best bed- chamber. And if I hear
so much as a phantom footstep, or hear so much as a ghostly sigh,
I'll take the place."

"I am glad!" said Cathy.

"You appear to be very certain of your ghost," said the American,
still fixing them with little eyes that shone. "Let me tell you, young
gentlemen, that I carry a gun, and when I see a ghost, I shoot."

He pulled a pistol out of his hip-pocket, and looked at it lovingly.

"And I am a fair average shot," he went on, walking across the
shiny floor of the state bed-chamber to the open window. "See that
big red rose, like a tea-saucer?"

They saw.

The next moment a loud report broke the stillness, and the red
petals of the shattered rose strewed balustrade and terrace.

The American looked from one child to another. Every face was
perfectly white.

"Jefferson D. Conway made his little pile by strict attention to
business, and keeping his eyes skinned," he added. "Thank you for
all your kindness."

"Suppose you'd done it, and he'd shot you!" said Jimmy cheerfully.
"That would have been an adventure, wouldn't it?"

"I'm going to do it still," said Mabel, pale and defiant. "Let's find
Lord Yalding and get the ring back."

Lord Yalding had had an interview with Mabel's aunt, and lunch
for six was laid in the great dark hall, among the armour and the
oak furniture a beautiful lunch served on silver dishes.
Mademoiselle, becoming every moment younger and more like a
Princess, was moved to tears when Gerald rose, lemonade-glass in
hand, and proposed the health of "Lord and Lady Yalding".

When Lord Yalding had returned thanks in a speech full of
agreeable jokes the moment seemed to Gerald propitious, and he
said:

"The ring, you know you don't believe in it, but we do. May we
have it back?"

And got it.

Then, after a hasty council, held in the panelled jewel-room,
Mabel said: "This is a wishing-ring, and I wish all the American's
weapons of all sorts were here."

Instantly the room was full six feet up the wall of a tangle and
mass of weapons, swords, spears, arrows, tomahawks, fowling
pieces, blunderbusses, pistols, revolvers, scimitars, kreeses every
kind of weapon you can think of and the four children wedged in
among all these weapons of death hardly dared to breathe.

"He collects arms, I expect," said Gerald, "and the arrows are
poisoned, I shouldn't wonder. Wish them back where they came
from, Mabel, for goodness sake, and try again."

Mabel wished the weapons away, and at once the four children
stood safe in a bare panelled room. But

"No,", Mabel said, "I can't stand it. We'll work the ghost another
way. I wish the American may think he sees a ghost when he goes
to bed. Sir Rupert with his head under his arm will do."

"Is it tonight he sleeps there?"

"I don't know. I wish he may see Sir Rupert every night that'll
make it all serene."

"It's rather dull," said Gerald; "we shan't know whether he's seen
Sir Rupert or not."

"We shall know in the morning, when he takes the house."

This being settled, Mabel's aunt was found to be desirous of
Mabel's company, so the others went home.

It was when they were at supper that Lord Yalding suddenly
appeared, and said: "Mr. Jefferson Conway wants you boys to
spend the night with him in the state chamber. I've had beds put
up. You don't mind, do you? He seems to think you've got some
idea of playing ghost-tricks on him."

It was difficult to refuse, so difficult that it proved impossible.

Ten o clock found the boys each in a narrow white bed that looked
quite absurdly small in that high, dark chamber, and in face of that
tall gaunt four-poster hung with tapestry and ornamented with
funereal-looking plumes.

"I hope to goodness there isn't a real ghost," Jimmy whispered.

"Not likely," Gerald whispered back.

"But I don't want to see Sir Rupert's ghost with its head under its
arm," Jimmy insisted.

"You won't. The most you'll see'll be the millionaire seeing it.
Mabel said he was to see it, not us. Very likely you'll sleep all
night and not see anything. Shut your eyes and count up to a
million and don't be a goat!"

As soon as Mabel had learned from her drab-haired aunt that this
was indeed the night when Mr. Jefferson D. Conway would sleep
at the castle she had hastened to add a wish, "that Sir Rupert and
his head may appear tonight in the state bedroom."

Jimmy shut his eyes and began to count a million. Before he had
counted it he fell asleep. So did his brother.

They were awakened by the loud echoing bang of a pistol shot.
Each thought of the shot that had been fired that morning, and
opened eyes that expected to see a sunshiny terrace and red-rose
petals strewn upon warm white stone.

Instead, there was the dark, lofty state chamber, lighted but little
by six tall candles; there was the American in shirt and trousers, a
smoking pistol in his hand; and there, advancing from the door of
the powdering-room, a figure in doublet and hose, a ruff round its
neck and no head! The head, sure enough, was there; but it was
under the right arm, held close in the slashed-velvet sleeve of the
doublet. The face looking from under the arm wore a pleasant
smile. Both boys, I am sorry to say, screamed. The American fired
again. The bullet passed through Sir Rupert, who advanced
without appearing to notice it.

Then, suddenly, the lights went out. The next thing the boys knew
it was morning. A grey daylight shone blankly through the tall
windows and wild rain was beating upon the glass, and the
American was gone.

"Where are we?" said Jimmy, sitting up with tangled hair and
looking round him. "Oh, I remember. Ugh! it was horrid. I'm about
fed up with that ring, so 1 don't mind telling you."

"Nonsense!" said Gerald. "I enjoyed it. I wasn't a bit frightened,
were you?"

"No," said Jimmy, "of course I wasn't.

"We've done the trick," said Gerald later when they learned that
the American had breakfasted early with Lord Yalding and taken
the first train to London; "he's gone to get rid of his other house,
and take this one. The old ring's beginning to do really useful
things."

"Perhaps you'll believe in the ring now," said Jimmy to Lord
Yalding, whom he met later on in the picture-gallery; "it's all our
doing that Mr. Jefferson saw the ghost. He told us he'd take the
house if he saw a ghost, so of course we took care he did see one."

"Oh, you did, did you?" said Lord Yalding in rather an odd voice.
"I'm very much obliged, I'm sure."

"Don't mention it," said Jimmy kindly. "I thought you'd be pleased
and him too."

"Perhaps you'll be interested to learn," said Lord Yalding, putting
his hands in his pockets and staring down at Jimmy, "that Mr.
Jefferson D. Conway was so pleased with your ghost that he got
me out of bed at six o clock this morning to talk about it."

"Oh, ripping!" said Jimmy. "What did he say?"

"He said, as far as I can remember," said Lord Yalding, still in the
same strange voice "he said: "My lord, your ancestral pile is Al. It
is, in fact, The Limit. Its luxury is palatial, its grounds are nothing
short of Edenesque. No expense has been spared, I should surmise.
Your ancestors were whole-hoggers. They have done the thing as it
should be done every detail attended to. I like your tapestry, and I
like your oak, and I like your secret stairs. But I think your
ancestors should have left well enough alone, and stopped at that."
So I said they had, as far as I knew, and he shook his head and
said:

"No, Sir. Your ancestors take the air of a night with their heads
under their arms. A ghost that sighed or glided or rustled I could
have stood, and thanked you for it, and considered it in the rent.
But a ghost that bullets go through while it stands grinning with a
bare neck and its head loose under its own arm and little boys
screaming and fainting in their beds no! What I say is, If this is a
British hereditary high-toned family ghost, excuse me!" And he
went off by the early train.

"I say," the stricken Jimmy remarked, "I am sorry, and I don't think
we did faint, really I don't but we thought it would be just what you
wanted. And perhaps someone else will take the house."

"I don't know anyone else rich enough," said Lord Yalding. "Mr.
Conway came the day before he said he would, or you'd never have
got hold of him. And I don't know how you did it, and I don't want
to know. It was a rather silly trick."

There was a gloomy pause. The rain beat against the long
windows.

"I say" Jimmy looked up at Lord Yalding with the light of a new
idea in his round face "I say, if you're hard up, why don't you sell
your jewels?"

"I haven't any jewels, you meddlesome young duffer," said Lord
Yalding quite crossly; and taking his hands out of his pockets, he
began to walk away.

"I mean the ones in the panelled room with the stars in the
ceiling," Jimmy insisted, following him.

"There aren't any," said Lord Yalding shortly; "and if this is some
more ring-nonsense I advise you to be careful, young man. I've had
about as much as I care for."

"It's not ring-nonsense, said Jimmy: "there are shelves and shelves
of beautiful family jewels. You can sell them and ,"

"Oh, no!" cried Mademoiselle, appearing like an oleograph of a
duchess in the door of the picture-gallery; "don't sell the family
jewels "

"There aren't any, my lady," said Lord Yalding, going towards her.
"I thought you were never coming."

"Oh, aren't there!" said Mabel, who had followed Mademoiselle.
"You just come and see,"

"Let us see what they will to show us," cried Mademoiselle, for
Lord Yalding did not move; "it should at least be amusing."

"It is," said Jimmy.

So they went, Mabel and Jimmy leading, while Mademoiselle and
Lord Yalding followed, hand in hand.

"It's much safer to walk hand in hand," said Lord Yalding; "with
these children at large one never knows what may happen next."

It would be interesting, no doubt, to describe the feelings of Lord
Yalding as he followed Mabel and Jimmy through his ancestral
halls, but I have no means of knowing at all what he felt. Yet one
must suppose that he felt something: bewilderment, perhaps,
mixed with a faint wonder, and a desire to pinch himself to see if
he were dreaming. Or he may have pondered the rival questions,
"Am I mad? Are they mad?" without being at all able to decide
which he ought to try to answer, let alone deciding what, in either
case, the answer ought to be. You see, the children did seem to
believe in the odd stories they told and the wish had come true,
and the ghost had appeared. He must have thought but all this is
vain; I don't really know what he thought any more than you do.

Nor can I give you any clew to the thoughts and feelings of
Mademoiselle. I only know that she was very happy, but anyone
would have known that if they had seen her face. Perhaps this is as
good a moment as any to explain that when her guardian had put
her in a convent so that she should not sacrifice her fortune by
marrying a poor lord, her guardian had secured that fortune (to
himself) by going off with it to South America. Then, having no
money left, Mademoiselle

had to work for it. So she went out as governess, and took the
situation she did take because it was near Lord Yalding's home.
She wanted to see him, even though she thought he had forsaken
her and did not love her any more. And now she had seen him. I
dare say she thought about some of these things as she went along
through his house, her hand held in his. But of course I can't be
sure.

Jimmy's thoughts, of course, I can read like any old book. He
thought, "Now he'll have to believe me." That Lord Yalding should
believe him had become, quite unreasonably, the most important
thing in the world to Jimmy. He wished that Gerald and Kathleen
were there to share his triumph, but they were helping Mabel's
aunt to cover the grand furniture up, and so were out of what
followed. Not that they missed much, for when Mabel proudly
said, "Now you'll see, and the others came close round her in the
little panelled room, there was a pause, and then nothing happened
at all!

"There's a secret spring here somewhere," said Mabel, fumbling
with fingers that had suddenly grown hot and damp.

"Where?" said Lord Yalding.

"Here," said Mabel impatiently, "only I can't find it."

And she couldn't. She found the spring of the secret panel under
the window all right, but that seemed to everyone dull compared
with the jewels that everyone had pictured and two at least had
seen. But the spring that made the oak panelling slide away and
displayed jewels plainly to any eye worth a king's ransom this
could not be found. More, it was simply not there. There could be
no doubt of that. Every inch of the panelling was felt by careful
fingers. The earnest protests of Mabel and Jimmy died away
presently in a silence made painful by the hotness of one's ears, the
discomfort of not liking to meet anyone's eyes, and the resentful
feeling that the spring was not behaving in at all a sportsmanlike
way, and that, in a word, this was not cricket.

"You see!" said Lord Yalding severely. "Now you've had your joke,
if you call it a joke, and I've had enough of the whole silly
business. Give me the ring it's mine, I suppose, since you say you
found it somewhere here and don't let's hear another word about all
this rubbish of magic and enchantment."

"Gerald's got the ring," said Mabel miserably.

"Then go and fetch him," said Lord Yalding "both of you."

The melancholy pair retired, and Lord Yalding spent the time of
their absence in explaining to Mademoiselle how very unimportant
jewels were compared with other things.

The four children came back together.

"We've had enough of this ring business," said Lord Yalding. "Give
it to me and we'll say no more about it."

"I I can't get it off," said Gerald. "It it always did have a will of its
own."

"I'll soon get it off," said Lord Yalding. But he didn't. "We'll try
soap," he said firmly. Four out of his five hearers knew just exactly
how much use soap would be.

"They won't believe about the jewels," wailed Mabel, suddenly
dissolved in tears, "and I can't find the spring. I've felt all over we
all have it was just here, and "

Her fingers felt it as she spoke; and as she ceased to speak the
carved panels slid away, and the blue velvet shelves laden with
jewels were disclosed to the unbelieving eyes of Lord Yalding and
the lady who was to be his wife.

"Jove!" said Lord Yalding.

"Misericorde!" said the lady.

"But why now?" gasped Mabel. "Why not before?"

"I expect it's magic," said Gerald. "There's no real spring here, and
it couldn't act because the ring wasn't here. You know Phoebus
told us the ring was the heart of all the magic."

"Shut it up and take the ring away and see.

They did, and Gerald was (as usual, he himself pointed out) proved
to be right. When the ring was away there was no spring; when the
ring was in the room there (as Mabel urged) was the spring all
right enough.

"So you see," said Mabel to Lord Yalding.

"I see that the spring's very artfully concealed," said that dense
peer. "I think it was very clever indeed of you to find it. And if
those jewels are real ,"

"Of course they're real," said Mabel indignantly.

"Well, anyway," said Lord Yalding, "thank you all very much. I
think it's clearing up. I'll send the wagonette home with you after
lunch. And if you don't mind, I'll have the ring."

Half an hour of soap and water produced no effect whatever,
except to make the finger of Gerald very red and very sore. Then
Lord Yalding said something very impatient indeed, and then
Gerald suddenly became angry and said: "Well, I'm sure I wish it
would come off," and of course instantly, "slick as butter" , as he
later pointed out, off it came.

"Thank you," said Lord Yalding.

"And I believe now he thinks I kept it on on purpose," said Gerald
afterwards when, at ease on the leads at home, they talked the
whole thing out over a tin of preserved pineapple and a bottle of
ginger-beer apiece. "There's no pleasing some people. He wasn't in
such a fiery hurry to order that wagonette after he found that
Mademoiselle meant to go when we did. But I liked him better
when he was a humble bailiff. Take him for all in all, he does not
look as if we should like him again.

"He doesn't know what's the matter with him," said Kathleen,
leaning back against the tiled roof) "it's really the magic it's like
sickening with measles."

Don't you remember how cross Mabel was at first about the
invisibleness?"

"Rather!" said Jimmy.

"It's partly that," said Gerald, trying to be fair, "and partly it's the
being in love. It always makes people like idiots a chap at school
told me. His sister was like that . quite rotten, you know. And she
used to be quite a decent sort before she was engaged."

At tea and at supper Mademoiselle was radiant as attractive as a
lady on a Christmas card, as merry as a marmoset, and as kind as
you would always be yourself if you could take the trouble. At
breakfast, an equal radiance, kindness, attraction, merriment. Then
Lord Yalding came to see her. The meeting took place in the
drawing-room; the children with deep discreetness remained shut
in the school-room till Gerald, going up to his room for a pencil,
surprised Eliza with her ear glued to the drawing-room key-hole.

After that Gerald sat on the top stair with a book.

He could not hear any of the conversation in the drawing-room,
but he could command a view of the door, and in this way be
certain that no one else heard any of it. Thus it was that when the
drawing-room door opened Gerald was in a position to see Lord
Yalding come out. "Our young hero, as he said later, "coughed
with infinite tact to show that he was there," but Lord Yalding did
not seem to notice. He walked in a blind sort of way to the
hat-stand, fumbled clumsily with the umbrellas and macintoshes,
found his straw hat and looked at it gloomily, crammed it on his
head and went out, banging the door behind him in the most
reckless way.

He left the drawing-room door open, and Gerald, though he had
purposely put himself in a position where one could hear nothing
from the drawing-room when the door was shut, could hear
something quite plainly now that the door was open. That
something, he noticed with deep distress and disgust, was the
sound of sobs and sniffs. Mademoiselle was quite certainly crying.

"Jimminy!" he remarked to himself, "they haven't lost much time.
Fancy their beginning to quarrel already! I hope I'll never have to
be anybody's lover."

But this was no time to brood on the terrors of his own future.
Eliza might at any time occur. She would not for a moment
hesitate to go through that open door, and push herself into the
very secret sacred heart of Mademoiselle's grief. It seemed to
Gerald better that he should be the one to do this. So he went softly
down the worn green Dutch carpet of the stairs and into the
drawing-room, shutting the door softly and securely behind him.

"It is all over," Mademoiselle was saying, her face buried in the
beady arum-lilies on a red ground worked for a cushion cover by a
former pupil: "he will not marry me!"

Do not ask me how Gerald had gained the lady's confidence. He
had, as I think I said almost at the beginning, very pretty ways with
grown-ups, when he chose. Anyway, he was holding her hand,
almost as affectionately as if she had been his mother with a
headache, and saying "Don't!" and "Don't cry!" and "It'll be all
right, you see if it isn't" in the most comforting way you can
imagine, varying the treatment with gentle thumps on the back and
entreaties to her to tell him all about it.

This wasn't mere curiosity, as you might think. The entreaties were
prompted by Gerald's growing certainty that whatever was the
matter was somehow the fault of that ring. And in this Gerald was
("once more, as he told himself) right.

The tale, as told by Mademoiselle, was certainly an unusual one.
Lord Yalding, last night after dinner, had walked in the park "to
think of "

"Yes, I know," said Gerald; "and he had the ring on. And he saw "

"He saw the monuments become alive," sobbed Mademoiselle;
"his brain was troubled by the ridiculous accounts of fairies that
you tell him. He sees Apollon and Aphrodite alive on their marble.
He remembers him of your story. He wish himself a statue. Then
he becomes mad imagines to himself that your story of the island
is true, plunges in the lake, swims among the beasts of the Ark of
Noe, feeds with gods on an island. At dawn the madness become
less. He think the Pantheon vanish. But him, no he thinks himself
statue, hiding from gardeners in his garden till nine less a quarter.
Then he thinks to wish himself no more a statue and perceives that
he is flesh and blood. A bad dream, but he has lost the head with
the tales you tell. He say it is no dream but he is fool mad how you
say? And a mad man must not marry. There is no hope. I am at
despair! And the life is vain!"

"There is," said Gerald earnestly. "I assure you there is hope, I
mean. And life's as right as rain really. And there's nothing to
despair about. He's not mad, and it's not a dream. It's magic. It
really and truly is."

"The magic exists not," Mademoiselle moaned; "it is that he is
mad. It is the joy to re-see me after so many days. Oh,
la-la-la-la-la!"

"Did he talk to the gods?" Gerald asked gently.

"It is there the most mad of all his ideas. He say that Mercure give
him rendezvous at some temple tomorrow when the moon raise
herself."

"Right," cried Gerald, "righto! Dear nice, kind, pretty
Mademoiselle Rapunzel, don't be a silly little duffer" he lost
himself for a moment among the consoling endearments he was
accustomed to offer to Kathleen in moments of grief and emotion,
but hastily added: "I mean, do not be a lady who weeps
causelessly. Tomorrow he will go to that temple. I will go. Thou
shalt go he will go. We will go you will go let 'em all go! And, you
see, it's going to be absolutely all right. He'll see he isn't mad, and
you'll understand all about everything. Take my handkerchief, it's
quite a clean one as it happens; I haven't even unfolded it. Oh! do
stop crying, there's a dear, darling, long-lost lover."

This flood of eloquence was not without effect. She took his
handkerchief, sobbed, half smiled, dabbed at her eyes, and said:
"Oh, naughty! Is it some trick you play him, like the ghost?"

"I can't explain," said Gerald, "but I give you my word of honour
you know what an Englishman's word of honour is, don't you?
even if you are French that everything is going to be exactly what
you wish. I've never told you a lie. Believe me!"

"It is curious," said she, drying her eyes, "but I do." And once
again, so suddenly that he could not have resisted, she kissed him.
I think, however, that in this her hour of sorrow he would have
thought it mean to resist.

"It pleases her and it doesn't hurt me much," would have been his
thought.

And now it is near moonrise. The French governess, half-doubting,
half-hoping, but wholly longing to be near Lord Yalding even if he
be as mad as a March hare, and the four children they have
collected Mabel by an urgent letter-card posted the day before are
going over the dewy grass. The moon has not yet risen, but her
light is in the sky mixed with the pink and purple of the sunset.
The west is heavy with ink-clouds and rich colour, but the east,
where the moon rises, is clear as a rock-pool.

They go across the lawn and through the beech wood and come at
last, through a tangle of underwood and bramble, to a little level
tableland that rises out of the flat hill-top one tableland out of
another. Here is the ring of vast rugged stones, one pierced with a
curious round hole, worn smooth at its edges. In the middle of the
circle is a great flat stone, alone, desolate, full of meaning a stone
that is covered thick with the memory of old faiths and creeds long
since forgotten. Something dark moves in the circle. The French
girl breaks from the children, goes to it, clings to its arm. It is Lord
Yalding, and he is telling her to go.

"Never of the life!" she cries. "If you are mad I am mad too, for I
believe the tale these children tell. And I am here to be with thee
and see with thee whatever the rising moon shall show us."

The children, holding hands by the flat stone, more moved by the
magic in the girl's voice than by any magic of enchanted rings,
listen, trying not to listen.

"Are you not afraid?" Lord Yalding is saying.

"Afraid? With you?" she laughs. He put his arm round her. The
children hear her sigh.

"Are you afraid," he says, "my darling?"

Gerald goes across the wide turf ring expressly to say: "You can't
be afraid if you are wearing the ring. And I'm sorry, but we can
hear every word you say."

She laughs again. "It makes nothing," she says "you know already
if we love each other."

Then he puts the ring on her finger, and they stand together. The
white of his flannel coat sleeve marks no line on the white of her
dress; they stand as though cut out of one block of marble.

Then a faint greyness touches the top of that round hole, creeps up
the side. Then the hole is a disc of light a moonbeam strikes
straight through it across the grey green of the circle that the stones
mark, and as the moon rises the moonbeam slants downward. The
children have drawn back till they stand close to the lovers. The
moonbeam slants more and more; now it touches the far end of the
stone, now it draws nearer and nearer to the middle of it, now at
last it touches the very heart and centre of that central stone. And
then it is as though a spring were touched, a fountain of light
released. Everything changes or, rather, everything is revealed.
There are no more secrets. The plan of the world seems plain, like
an easy sum that one writes in big figures on a child's slate. One
wonders how one can ever have wondered about anything. Space
is not; every place that one has seen or dreamed of is here. Time is
not; into this instant is crowded all that one has ever done or
dreamed of doing. It is a moment and it is eternity. It is the centre
of the universe and it is the universe itself. The eternal light rests
on and illuminates the eternal heart of things.

None of the six human beings who saw that moon-rising were ever
able to think about it as having anything to do with time. Only for
one instant could that moon-ray have rested full on the centre of
that stone.

And yet there was time for many happenings.

From that height one could see far out over the quiet park and
sleeping gardens, and through the grey green of them shapes
moved, approaching.

The great beasts came first: strange forms that were when the
world was new gigantic lizards with wings dragons they lived as
in men's memories mammoths, strange vast birds, they crawled up
the hill and ranged themselves outside the circle. Then, not from
the garden but from very far away, came the stone gods of Egypt
and Assyria bull-bodied, bird-winged, hawk-headed, cat-headed,
all in stone, and all alive and alert; strange, grotesque figures from
the towers of cathedrals figures of angels with folded wings,
figures of beasts with wings wide spread; sphinxes; uncouth idols
from Southern palm-fringed islands; and, last of all, the beautiful
marble shapes of the gods and goddesses who had held their
festival on the lake-island, and bidden Lord Yalding and the
children to this meeting.

Not a word was spoken. Each stone shape came gladly and quietly
into the circle of light and understanding, as children, tired with a
long ramble, creep quietly through the open door into the firelit
welcome of home.

The children had thought to ask many questions. And it had been
promised that the questions should be answered. Yet now no one
spoke a word, because all had come into the circle of the real
magic where all things are understood without speech.

Afterwards none of them could ever remember at all what had
happened. But they never forgot that they had been somewhere
where everything was easy and beautiful. And people who can
remember even that much are never quite the same again. And
when they came to talk of it next day they found that to each some
little part of that night's great enlightenment was left.

All the stone creatures drew closer round the stone the light where
the moonbeam struck it seemed to break away in spray such as
water makes when it falls from a height. All the crowd was bathed
in whiteness. A deep hush lay over the vast assembly.

Then a wave of intention swept over the mighty crowd. All the
faces, bird, beast, Greek statue, Babylonian monster, human child
and human lover, turned upward, the radiant light illumined them
and one word broke from all.

"The light!" they cried, and the sound of their voice was like the
sound of a great wave; "the light! the light "

And then the light was not any more, and, soft as floating
thistle-down, sleep was laid on the eyes of all but the immortals.

The grass was chill and dewy and the clouds had veiled the moon.
The lovers and the children were standing together, all clinging
close, not for fear, but for love.

"I want," said the French girl softly, "to go to the cave on the
island."

Very quietly through the gentle brooding night they went down to
the boat-house, loosed the clanking chain, and dipped oars among
the drowned stars and lilies. They came to the island, and found
the steps.

"I brought candles," said Gerald, "in case."

So, lighted by Gerald's candles, they went down into the Hall of
Psyche! and there glowed the light spread from her statue, and all
was as the children had seen it before.

It is the Hall of Granted Wishes.

"The ring," said Lord Yalding.

"The ring," said his lover, "is the magic ring given long ago to a
mortal, and it is what you say it is. It was given to your ancestor by
a lady of my house that he might build her a garden and a house
like her own palace and garden in her own land. So that this place
is built partly by his love and partly by that magic. She never lived
to see it; that was the price of the magic."

It must have been English that she spoke, for otherwise how could
the children have understood her? Yet the words were not like
Mademoiselle's way of speaking.

"Except from children," her voice went on, "the ring exacts a
payment. You paid for me, when I came by your wish, by this
terror of madness that you have since known. Only one wish is
free."

"And that wish is ,"

"The last," she said. "Shall I wish?"

"Yes wish," they said, all of them.

"I wish, then," said Lord Yalding's lover, "that all the magic this
ring has wrought may be undone, and that the ring itself may be no
more and no less than a charm to bind thee and me together for
evermore."

She ceased. And as she ceased the enchanted light died away, the
windows of granted wishes went out, like magic-lantern pictures.
Gerald's candle faintly lighted a rudely arched cave, and where
Psyche's statue had been was a stone with something carved on it.

Gerald held the light low.

"It is her grave," the girl said.

Next day no one could remember anything at all exactly. But a
good many things were changed. There was no ring but the plain
gold ring that Mademoiselle found clasped in her hand when she
woke in her own bed in the morning. More than half the jewels in
the panelled room were gone, and those that remained had no
panelling to cover them; they just lay bare on the velvet-covered
shelves. There was no passage at the back of the Temple of Flora.
Quite a lot of the secret passages and hidden rooms had
disappeared. And there were not nearly so many statues in the
garden as everyone had supposed. And large pieces of the castle
were missing and had to be replaced at great expense.

From which we may conclude that Lord Yalding's ancestor had
used the ring a good deal to help him in his building.

However, the jewels that were left were quite enough to pay for
everything.

The suddenness with which all the ring-magic was undone was
such a shock to everyone concerned that they now almost doubt
that any magic ever happened.

But it is certain that Lord Yalding married the French governess
and that a plain gold ring was used in the ceremony, and this, if
you come to think of it, could be no other than the magic ring,
turned, by that last wish, into a charm to keep him and his wife
together for ever.

Also, if all this story is nonsense and a make-up if Gerald and
Jimmy and Kathleen and Mabel have merely imposed on my
trusting nature by a pack of unlikely inventions, how do you
account for the paragraph which appeared in the evening papers
the day after the magic of the moon-rising?

"MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF A WELL-KNOWN CITY MAN,"

it said, and then went on to say how a gentleman, well known and
much respected in financial circles, had vanished, leaving no trace.

"Mr. U. W. Ugli," the papers continued, "had remained late,
working at his office as was his occasional habit. The office door
was found locked, and on its being broken open the clothes of the
unfortunate gentleman were found in a heap on the floor, together
with an umbrella, a walking stick, a golf club, and, curiously
enough, a feather brush, such as housemaids use for dusting. Of his
body, however, there was no trace. The police are stated to have a
clew."

If they have, they have kept it to themselves. But I do not think
they can have a clew, because, of course, that respected gentleman
was the Ugly-Wugly who became real when, in search of a really
good hotel, he got into the Hall of Granted Wishes. And if none of
this story ever happened, how is it that those four children are such
friends with Lord and Lady Yalding, and stay at The Towers
almost every holidays?

It is all very well for all of them to pretend that the whole of this
story is my own invention: facts are facts, and you can't explain
them away.

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