The Enchanted Castle/Chapter 11
It was show-day at Yalding Castle, and it seemed good to the children to go and visit Mabel, and, as Gerald put it, to mingle unsuspected with the crowd; to gloat over all the things which they knew and which the crowd didn't know about the castle and the sliding panels, the magic ring and the statues that came alive. Perhaps one of the pleasantest things about magic happenings is the feeling which they give you of knowing what other people not only don't know but wouldn't, so to speak, believe if they did.
On the white road outside the gates of the castle was a dark spattering of breaks and wagonettes and dogcarts. Three or four waiting motor-cars puffed fatly where they stood, and bicycles sprawled in heaps along the grassy hollow by the red brick wall. And the people who had been brought to the castle by the breaks and wagonettes, and dog-carts and bicycles and motors, as well as those who had walked there on their own unaided feet, were scattered about the grounds, or being shown over those parts of the castle which were, on this one day of the week, thrown open to visitors.
There were more visitors than usual today because it had somehow been whispered about that Lord Yalding was down, and that the holland covers were to be taken off the state furniture so that a rich American who wished to rent the castle, to live in, might see the place in all its glory.
It certainly did look very splendid. The embroidered satin, gilded leather and tapestry of the chairs, which had been hidden by brown holland, gave to the rooms a pleasant air of being lived in. There were flowering plants and pots of roses here and there on tables or window-ledges. Mabel's aunt prided herself on her tasteful touch in the home, and had studied the arrangement of flowers in a series of articles in Home Drivel called "How to Make Home High-class on Nine-pence a Week".
The great crystal chandeliers, released from the bags that at ordinary times shrouded them, gleamed with grey and purple splendour. The brown linen sheets had been taken off the state beds, and the red ropes that usually kept the low crowd in its proper place had been rolled up and hidden away.
"It's exactly as if we were calling on the family," said the grocer's daughter from Salisbury to her friend who was in the millinery.
"If the Yankee doesn't take it, what do you say to you and me setting up here when we get spliced?" the draper's assistant asked his sweetheart. And she said: "Oh, Reggie, how can you! you are too funny."
All the afternoon the crowd in its smart holiday clothes, pink blouses, and light-coloured suits, flowery hats, and scarves beyond description passed through and through the dark hall, the magnificent drawing-rooms and boudoirs and picture-galleries. The chattering crowd was awed into something like quiet by the calm, stately bedchambers, where men had been born, and died; where royal guests had lain in long-ago summer nights, with big bow-pots of elder-flowers set on the hearth to ward off fever and evil spells. The terrace, where in old days dames in ruffs had sniffed the sweet-brier and southern-wood of the borders below, and ladies, bright with rouge and powder and brocade, had walked in the swing of their hooped skirts—the terrace now echoed to the sound of brown boots, and the tap-tap of high-heeled shoes at two and eleven three, and high laughter and chattering voices that said nothing that the children wanted to hear. These spoiled for them the quiet of the enchanted castle, and outraged the peace of the garden of enchantments.
"It isn't such a lark after all," Gerald admitted, as from the window of the stone summer-house at the end of the terrace they watched the loud colours and heard the loud laughter. "I do hate to see all these people in our garden."
"I said that to that nice bailiff-man this morning," said Mabel, setting herself on the stone floor, "and he said it wasn't much to let them come once a week. He said Lord Yalding ought to let them come when they liked—said he would if he lived there."
"That's all he knows!" said Jimmy. "Did he say anything else?"
"Lots," said Mabel. "I do like him! I told him——"
"Yes. I told him lots about our adventures. The humble bailiff is a beautiful listener."
"We shall be locked up for beautiful lunatics if you let your jaw get the better of you, my Mabel child."
"Not us!" said Mabel. "I told it—you know the way—every word true, and yet so that nobody believes any of it. When I'd quite done he said I'd got a real littery talent, and I promised to put his name on the beginning of the first book I write when I grow up."
"You don't know his name," said Kathleen. "Let's do something with the ring."
"Imposs!" said Gerald. "I forgot to tell you, but I met Mademoiselle when I went back for my garters and she's coming to meet us and walk back with us."
"What did you say?"
"I said," said Gerald deliberately, "that it was very kind of her. And so it was. Us not wanting her doesn't make it not kind her coming——"
"It may be kind, but it's sickening too," said Mabel, "because now I suppose we shall have to stick here and wait for her; and I promised we'd meet the bailiff-man. He's going to bring things in a basket and have a picnic-tea with us."
"Beyond the dinosaurus. He said he'd tell me all about the anteddy-something animals—it means before Noah's Ark; there are lots besides the dinosaurus—in return for me telling him my agreeable fictions. Yes, he called them that."
"As soon as the gates shut. That's five."
"We might take Mademoiselle along," suggested Gerald.
"She d be too proud to have tea with a bailiff, I expect; you never know how grown-ups will take the simplest things." It was Kathleen who said this.
"Well, I'll tell you what," said Gerald, lazily turning on the stone bench. "You all go along, and meet your bailiff. A picnic's a picnic. And I'll wait for Mademoiselle."
Mabel remarked joyously that this was jolly decent of Gerald, to which he modestly replied: "Oh, rot!"
Jimmy added that Gerald rather liked sucking-up to people.
"Little boys don't understand diplomacy," said Gerald calmly; "sucking-up is simply silly. But it's better to be good than pretty and——"
"How do you know?" Jimmy asked.
"And," his brother went on, "you never know when a grown-up may come in useful. Besides, they like it. You must give them some little pleasures. Think how awful it must be to be old. My hat!"
"I hope I shan't be an old maid," said Kathleen.
"I don't mean to be," said Mabel briskly. "I'd rather marry a travelling tinker."
"It would be rather nice," Kathleen mused, "to marry the Gypsy King and go about in a caravan telling fortunes and hung round with baskets and brooms."
"Oh, if I could choose," said Mabel, "of course I'd marry a brigand, and live in his mountain fastnesses, and be kind to his captives and help them to escape and——"
"You'll be a real treasure to your husband," said Gerald.
"Yes," said Kathleen, "or a sailor would be nice. You'd watch for his ship coming home and set the lamp in the dormer window to light him home through the storm; and when he was drowned at sea you d be most frightfully sorry, and go every day to lay flowers on his daisied grave."
"Yes," Mabel hastened to say, "or a soldier, and then you'd go to the wars with short petticoats and a cocked hat and a barrel round your neck like a St. Bernard dog. There's a picture of a soldier's wife on a song auntie's got. It's called 'The Veevandyear'."
"When I marry——" Kathleen quickly said.
"When I marry," said Gerald, "I'll marry a dumb girl, or else get the ring to make her so that she can't speak unless she's spoken to. Let's have a squint."
He applied his eye to the stone lattice.
"They're moving off," he said. "Those pink and purple hats are nodding off in the distant prospect; and the funny little man with the beard like a goat is going a different way from everyone else—the gardeners will have to head him off. I don't see Mademoiselle, though. The rest of you had better bunk. It doesn't do to run any risks with picnics. The deserted hero of our tale, alone and unsupported, urged on his brave followers to pursue the commissariat waggons, he himself remaining at the post of danger and difficulty, because he was born to stand on burning decks whence all but he had fled, and to lead forlorn hopes when despaired of by the human race!"
"I think I'll marry a dumb husband," said Mabel, "and there shan't be any heroes in my books when I write them, only a heroine. Come on, Cathy."
Coming out of that cool, shadowy summer-house into the sunshine was like stepping into an oven, and the stone of the terrace was burning to the children's feet.
"I know now what a cat on hot bricks feels like," said Jimmy.
The antediluvian animals are set in a beech-wood on a slope at least half a mile across the park from the castle. The grandfather of the present Lord Yalding had them set there in the middle of last century, in the great days of the late Prince Consort, the Exhibition of 1851, Sir Joseph Paxton, and the Crystal Palace. Their stone flanks, their wide, ungainly wings, their lozenged crocodile-like backs show grey through the trees a long way off.
Most people think that noon is the hottest time of the day. They are wrong. A cloudless sky gets hotter and hotter all the afternoon, and reaches its very hottest at five. I am sure you must all have noticed this when you are going out to tea anywhere in your best clothes, especially if your clothes are starched and you happen to have a rather long and shadeless walk.
Kathleen, Mabel, and Jimmy got hotter and hotter, and went more and more slowly. They had almost reached that stage of resentment and discomfort when one "wishes one hadn't come" before they saw, below the edge of the beech-wood, the white waved handkerchief of the bailiff.
That banner, eloquent of tea, shade, and being able to sit down, put new heart into them. They mended their pace, and a final desperate run landed them among the drifted coppery leaves and bare grey and green roots of the beech-wood.
"Oh, glory!" said Jimmy, throwing himself down. "How do you do?"
The bailiff looked very nice, the girls thought. He was not wearing his velveteens, but a grey flannel suit that an Earl need not have scorned; and his straw hat would have done no discredit to a Duke; and a Prince could not have worn a prettier green tie. He welcomed the children warmly. And there were two baskets dumped heavy and promising among the beech-leaves.
He was a man of tact. The hot, instructive tour of the stone antediluvians, which had loomed with ever-lessening charm before the children, was not even mentioned.
"You must be desert-dry," he said, "and you'll be hungry, too, when you've done being thirsty. I put on the kettle as soon as I discerned the form of my fair romancer in the extreme offing."
The kettle introduced itself with puffings and bubblings from the hollow between two grey roots where it sat on a spirit-lamp.
"Take off your shoes and stockings, won't you?" said the bailiff in matter-of-course tones, just as old ladies ask each other to take off their bonnets; "there's a little baby canal just over the ridge."
The joys of dipping one's feet in cool running water after a hot walk have yet to be described. I could write pages about them. There was a mill-stream when I was young with little fishes in it, and dropped leaves that spun round, and willows and alders that leaned over it and kept it cool, and—but this is not the story of my life.When they came back, on rested, damp, pink feet, tea was made and poured out, delicious tea with as much milk as ever you wanted, out of a beer bottle with a screw top, and cakes, and
THE JOYS OF DIPPING ONE'S FEET IN COOL RUNNING WATER.
This thought must have come to Jimmy, for he said suddenly, removing his face from inside a wide-bitten crescent of melon-rind:—
"Your feast's as good as the feast of the Immortals, almost."
"Explain your recondite allusion," said the grey-flannelled host; and Jimmy, understanding him to say, "What do you mean?" replied with the whole tale of that wonderful night when the statues came alive, and a banquet of unearthly splendour and deliciousness was plucked by marble hands from the trees of the lake island.
When he had done the bailiff said:—
"Did you get all this out of a book?"
"No," said Jimmy, "it happened."
"You are an imaginative set of young dreamers, aren't you?" the bailiff asked, handing the plums to Kathleen, who smiled, friendly but embarrassed. Why couldn't Jimmy have held his tongue?
"No, we re not," said that indiscreet one obstinately; "everything I've told you did happen, and so did the things Mabel told you."
The bailiff looked a little uncomfortable. "All right, old chap," he said. And there was a short, uneasy silence.
"Look here," said Jimmy, who seemed for once to have got the bit between his teeth, "do you believe me or not?"
"Don't be silly, Jimmy!" Kathleen whispered.
"Because, if you don't I'll make you believe."
"Don't!" said Mabel and Kathleen together.
"Do you or don't you?" Jimmy insisted, lying on his front with his chin on his hands, his elbows on a moss-cushion, and his bare legs kicking among the beech leaves.
"I think you tell adventures awfully well," said the bailiff cautiously.
"Very well," said Jimmy, abruptly sitting up, "you don't believe me. Nonsense, Cathy! he's a gentleman, even if he is a bailiff."
"Thank you!" said the bailiff with eyes that twinkled.
"You won't tell, will you?" Jimmy urged.
"Certainly not. I am, as you say, the soul of honour."
"Then—Cathy, give me the ring."
"Oh, no!" said the girls together.
Kathleen did not mean to give up the ring; Mabel did not mean that she should; Jimmy certainly used no force. Yet presently he held it in his hand. It was his hour. There are times like that for all of us, when what we say shall be done is done.
"Now," said Jimmy, "this is the ring Mabel told you about. I say it is a wishing-ring. And if you will put it on your hand and wish, whatever you wish will happen."
"Must I wish out loud?"
"Yes—I think so."
"Don't wish for anything silly," said Kathleen, making the best of the situation, "like its being fine on Tuesday or its being your favourite pudding for dinner tomorrow. Wish for something you really want."
"I will," said the bailiff. "I'll wish for the only thing I really want. I wish my—I wish my friend were here."
The three who knew the power of the ring looked round to see the bailiff's friend appear; a surprised man that friend would be, they thought, and perhaps a frightened one. They had all risen, and stood ready to soothe and reassure the newcomer. But no startled gentleman appeared in the wood, only, coming quietly through the dappled sun and shadow under the beech-trees, Mademoiselle and Gerald, Mademoiselle in a white gown, looking quite nice and like a picture, Gerald hot and polite.
"Good afternoon," said that dauntless leader of forlorn hopes. "I persuaded Mademoiselle——"
That sentence was never finished, for the bailiff and the French governess were looking at each other with the eyes of tired travellers who find, quite without expecting it, the desired end of a very long journey. And the children saw that even if they spoke it would not make any difference.
"You!" said the bailiff.
"Mais … c'est donc vous," said Mademoiselle, in a funny choky voice.And they stood still and looked at each other,
THEY STOOD STILL AND LOOKED AT EACH OTHER.
"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 to-day, now, on the nail," Mr. Jefferson D. Conway went on.
"If you were to stay till to-morrow, 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
HE BECAME EAGER, ALERT, VERY KEEN.
He looked at them with half-closed eyes that twinkled.
"Well," he said, "I calculate to ask the Earl of Yalding to permit me to pass a night in his ancestral best bed- chamber. And if I hear so much as a phantom footstep, or hear so much as a ghostly sigh, I'll take the place."
"I am glad!" said Cathy.
"You appear to be very certain of your ghost," said the American, still fixing them with little eyes that shone. "Let me tell you, young gentlemen, that I carry a gun, and when I see a ghost, I shoot."
He pulled a pistol out of his hip-pocket, and looked at it lovingly.
"And I am a fair average shot," he went on, walking across the shiny floor of the state bed-chamber to the open window. "See that big red rose, like a tea-saucer?"
The next moment a loud report broke the stillness, and the red petals of the shattered rose strewed balustrade and terrace.
The American looked from one child to another. Every face was perfectly white.
"Jefferson D. Conway made his little pile by strict attention to business, and keeping his eyes skinned," he added. "Thank you for all your kindness."
* * * * *
"Suppose you'd done it, and he'd shot you!" said Jimmy cheerfully. "That would have been an adventure, wouldn't it?"
"I'm going to do it still," said Mabel, pale and defiant. "Let's find Lord Yalding and get the ring back."
Lord Yalding had had an interview with Mabel's aunt, and lunch for six was laid in the great dark hall, among the armour and the oak furniture—a beautiful lunch served on silver dishes. Mademoiselle, becoming every moment younger and more like a Princess, was moved to tears when Gerald rose, lemonade-glass in hand, and proposed the health of "Lord and Lady Yalding".
When Lord Yalding had returned thanks in a speech full of agreeable jokes the moment seemed to Gerald propitious, and he said:—
"The ring, you know—you don't believe in it, but we do. May we have it back?"
And got it.
Then, after a hasty council, held in the panelled jewel-room, Mabel said: "This is a wishing-ring, and I wish all the American's weapons of all sorts were here."
Instantly the room was full—six feet up the wall—of a tangle and mass of weapons, swords, spears, arrows, tomahawks, fowling pieces, blunderbusses, pistols, revolvers, scimitars, kreeses—every kind of weapon you can think of—and the four children wedged in among all these weapons of death hardly dared to breathe.
"He collects arms, I expect," said Gerald, "and the arrows are poisoned, I shouldn't wonder. Wish them back where they came from, Mabel, for goodness sake, and try again."
Mabel wished the weapons away, and at once the four children stood safe in a bare panelled room. But—
"No," Mabel said, "I can't stand it. We'll work the ghost another way. I wish the American may think he sees a ghost when he goes to bed. Sir Rupert with his head under his arm will do."
"Is it tonight he sleeps there?"
"I don't know. I wish he may see Sir Rupert every night—that'll make it all serene."
"It's rather dull," said Gerald; "we shan't know whether he's seen Sir Rupert or not."
"We shall know in the morning, when he takes the house."
This being settled, Mabel's aunt was found to be desirous of Mabel's company, so the others went home.
It was when they were at supper that Lord Yalding suddenly appeared, and said:—
"Mr. Jefferson Conway wants you boys to spend the night with him in the state chamber. I've had beds put up. You don't mind, do you? He seems to think you've got some idea of playing ghost-tricks on him."
It was difficult to refuse, so difficult that it proved impossible.
Ten o'clock found the boys each in a narrow white bed that looked quite absurdly small in that high, dark chamber, and in face of that tall gaunt four-poster hung with tapestry and ornamented with funereal-looking plumes.
"I hope to goodness there isn't a real ghost," Jimmy whispered.
"Not likely," Gerald whispered back.
"But I don't want to see Sir Rupert's ghost with its head under its arm," Jimmy insisted.
"You won't. The most you'll see'll be the millionaire seeing it. Mabel said he was to see it, not us. Very likely you'll sleep all night and not see anything. Shut your eyes and count up to a million and don't be a goat!"
But he was reckoning without Mabel and the ring. 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 to-night 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 I 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.
* * * * *
THE AMERICAN FIRED AGAIN.
* * * * *
"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 A1. 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."