The Enchanted Castle/Chapter 8
It was but too plain. The unfortunate bailiff must have opened the door before the spell had faded, while yet the Ugly Wuglies were something more than mere coats and hats and sticks. They had rushed out upon him, and had done this. He lay there insensible—was it a golf-club or a hockey-stick that had made that horrible cut on his forehead? Gerald wondered. The girls had rushed to the sufferer; already his head was in Mabel's lap. Kathleen had tried to get it on to hers, but Mabel was too quick for her.
Jimmy and Gerald both knew what was the first thing needed by the unconscious, even before Mabel impatiently said: "Water! water!"
"What in?" Jimmy asked, looking doubtfully at his hands, and then down the green slope to the marble-bordered pool where the water-lilies were.
"Your hat—anything," said Mabel.
The two boys turned away.
"Suppose they come after us," said Jimmy.
"What come after us?" Gerald snapped rather than asked.
"The Ugly-Wuglies," Jimmy whispered..
"Who's afraid?" Gerald inquired.
But he looked to right and left very carefully, and chose the way that did not lead near the bushes. He scooped water up in his straw hat and returned to Flora's Temple, carrying it carefully in both hands. When he saw how quickly it ran through the straw he pulled his handkerchief from his breast pocket with his teeth and dropped it into the hat. It was with this that the girls wiped the blood from the bailiff's brow.
"We ought to have smelling salts," said Kathleen, half in tears. "I know we ought."
"They would be good," Mabel owned.
"Hasn't your aunt any?"
"Don't be a coward," said Gerald; "think of last night. They wouldn't hurt you. He must have insulted them or something. Look here, you run. We'll see that nothing runs after you."
There was no choice but to relinquish the head of the interesting invalid to Kathleen; so Mabel did it, cast one glaring glance round the rhododendron bordered slope, and fled towards the castle.
The other three bent over the still unconscious bailiff.
"He's not dead, is he?" asked Jimmy anxiously.
"No," Kathleen reassured him, "his heart's beating. Mabel and I felt it in his wrist, where doctors do. How frightfully good-looking he is!"
"Not so dusty," Gerald admitted.
"I never know what you mean by good-looking," said Jimmy, and suddenly a shadow fell on the marble beside them and a fourth voice spoke—not Mabel's; her hurrying figure, though still in sight, was far away.
"Quite a personable young man," it said.
The children looked up—into the face of the eldest of the Ugly-Wuglies, the respectable one. Jimmy and Kathleen screamed. I am sorry, but they did.
"Hush!" said Gerald savagely: he was still wearing the ring. "Hold your tongues! I'll get him away," he added in a whisper.
"Very sad affair this," said the respectable Ugly-Wugly. He spoke with a curious accent; there was something odd about his r's, and his m's and n's were those of a person labouring under an almost intolerable cold in the head. But it was not the dreadful "oo" and "ah" voice of the night before. Kathleen and Jimmy stooped over the bailiff. Even that prostrate form, being human, seemed some little protection. But Gerald, strong in the fearlessness that the ring gave to its wearer, looked full into the face of the Ugly-Wugly—and started. For though the face was almost the same as the face he had himself painted on the school drawing-paper, it was not the same. For it was no longer paper. It was a real face, and the hands, lean and almost transparent as they were, were real hands. As it moved a little to get a better view of the bailiff it was plain that it had legs, arms—live legs and arms, and a self-supporting backbone. It was alive indeed—with a vengeance.
"How did it happen?" Gerald asked, with an effort of calmness—a successful effort.
"Most regrettable," said the Ugly-Wugly. "The others must have missed the way last night in the passage. They never found the hotel."
"Did you?" asked Gerald blankly.
"Of course," said the Ugly-Wugly. "Most respectable, exactly as you said. Then when I came away—I didn't come the front way because I wanted to revisit this sylvan scene by daylight, and the hotel people didn't seem to know how to direct me to it—I found the others all at this door, very angry. They'd been here all night, trying to get out. Then the door opened—this gentleman must have opened it—and before I could protect him, that underbred man in the high hat—you remember——"
"Hit him on the head, and he fell where you see him. The others dispersed, and I myself was just going for assistance when I saw you."
Here Jimmy was discovered to be in tears and Kathleen white as any drawing-paper.
"What's the matter, my little man?" said the respectable Ugly-Wugly kindly. Jimmy passed instantly from tears to yells.
"Here, take the ring!" said Gerald in a furious whisper, and thrust it on to Jimmy's hot, damp, resisting finger. Jimmy's voice stopped short in the middle of a howl. And Gerald in a cold flash realized what it was that Mabel had gone through the night before. But it was daylight, and Gerald was not a coward.
"We must find the others," he said.
"I imagine," said the elderly Ugly-Wugly, "that they have gone to bathe. Their clothes are in the wood."
He pointed stiffly.
"You two go and see," said Gerald. "I'll go on dabbing this chap's head."
In the wood Jimmy, now fearless as any lion, discovered four heaps of clothing, with broomsticks, hockeysticks, and masks complete all that had gone to make up the gentlemen Ugly-Wuglies of the night before. On a stone seat well in the sun sat the two lady Ugly-Wuglies, and Kathleen approached them gingerly. Valour is easier in the sunshine than at night, as we all know. When she and Jimmy came close to the bench, they saw that the Ugly-Wuglies were only Ugly-Wuglies such as they had often made. There was no life in them. Jimmy shook them to pieces, and a sigh of relief burst from Kathleen.
"The spell's broken, you see," she said; "and that old gentleman, he's real. He only happens to be like the Ugly-Wugly we made."
"He's got the coat that hung in the hall on, anyway," said Jimmy.
JIMMY SHOOK THEM TO PIECES.
They did, and Gerald begged the elderly Ugly-Wugly to retire among the bushes with Jimmy; "because, said he, "I think the poor bailiff's coming round, and it might upset him to see strangers—and Jimmy'll keep you company. He's the best one of us to go with you," he added hastily.
And this, since Jimmy had the ring, was certainly true.
So the two disappeared behind the rhododendrons. Mabel came back with the salts just as the bailiff opened his eyes.
"It's just like life," she said; "I might just as well not have gone. However——" She knelt down at once and held the bottle under the sufferer's nose till he sneezed and feebly pushed her hand away with the faint question: "What's up now?"
"You've hurt your head," said Gerald. "Lie still."
"No—more—smelling-bottle," he said weakly, and lay.
Quite soon he sat up and looked round him. There was an anxious silence. Here was a grown-up who knew last night's secret, and none of the children were at all sure what the utmost rigour of the law might be in a case where people, no matter how young, made Ugly-Wuglies, and brought them to life—dangerous, fighting, angry life. What would he say—what would he do?" He said: "What an odd thing! Have I been insensible long?"
"Hours," said Mabel earnestly.
"Not long," said Kathleen.
"We don't know. We found you like it," said Gerald.
"I'm all right now," said the bailiff, and his eye fell on the blood-stained handkerchief. "I say, I did give my head a bang. And you've been giving me first aid. Thank you most awfully. But it is rum."
"What's rum?" politeness obliged Gerald to ask.
"Well, I suppose it isn't really rum—I expect I saw you just before I fainted, or whatever it was—but I've dreamed the most extraordinary dream while I've been insensible and you were in it."
"Nothing but us?" asked Mabel breathlessly.
"Oh, lots of things impossible things but you were real enough."
Everyone breathed deeply in relief. It was indeed, as they agreed later, a lucky let-off.
"Are you sure you're all right?" they all asked, as he got on his feet.
"Perfectly, thank you." He glanced behind Flora's statue as he spoke. "Do you know, I dreamed there was a door there, but of course there isn't. I don't know how to thank you," he added, looking at them with what the girls called his beautiful, kind eyes; "it's lucky for me you came along. You come here whenever you like, you know," he added. "I give you the freedom of the place."
"You're the new bailiff, aren't you?" said Mabel.
"Yes. How did you know?" he asked quickly; but they did not tell him how they knew. Instead, they found out which way he was going, and went the other way after warm handshakes and hopes on both sides that they would meet again soon.
"I'll tell you what," said Gerald, as they watched the tall, broad figure of the bailiff grow smaller across the hot green of the grass slope, "have you got any idea of how we're going to spend the day? Because I have."
The others hadn't.
"We'll get rid of that Ugly-Wugly—oh, we'll find a way right enough—and directly we've done it we'll go home and seal up the ring in an envelope so that its teeth'll be drawn and it'll be powerless to have unforeseen larks with us. Then we'll get out on the roof, and have a quiet day—books and apples. I'm about fed up with adventures, so I tell you."
The others told him the same thing.
"Now, think," said he—"think as you never thought before—how to get rid of that Ugly-Wugly."
Everyone thought, but their brains were tired with anxiety and distress, and the thoughts they thought were, as Mabel said, not worth thinking, let alone saying.
"I suppose Jimmy's all right," said Kathleen anxiously.
"Oh, he's all right: he's got the ring," said Gerald.
"I hope he won't go wishing anything rotten," said Mabel, but Gerald urged her to shut up and let him think.
"I think I think best sitting down," he said, and sat; "and sometimes you can think best aloud. The Ugly-Wugly's real—don't make any mistake about that. And he got made real inside that passage. If we could get him back there he might get changed again, and then we could take the coats and things back."
"Isn't there any other way?" Kathleen asked; and Mabel, more candid, said bluntly: "I'm not going into that passage, so there!"
"Afraid! In broad daylight," Gerald sneered.
"It wouldn't be broad daylight in there," said Mabel, and Kathleen shivered.
"If we went to him and suddenly tore his coat off," said she—"he is only coats—he couldn't go on being real then."
"Couldn't he!" said Gerald. "You don't know what he's like under the coat."
Kathleen shivered again. And all this time the sun was shining gaily and the white statues and the green trees and the fountains and terraces looked as cheerfully romantic as a scene in a play.
"Any way," said Gerald, "we'll try to get him back, and shut the door. That's the most we can hope for. And then apples, and Robinson Crusoe or the Swiss Family, or any book you like that's got no magic in it. Now, we've just got to do it. And he's not horrid now; really he isn't. He's real, you see."
"I suppose that makes all the difference," said Mabel, and tried to feel that perhaps it did.
"And it's broad daylight—just look at the sun," Gerald insisted. "Come on!"
He took a hand of each, and they walked resolutely towards the bank of rhododendrons behind which Jimmy and the Ugly-Wugly had been told to wait, and as they went Gerald said: "He's real"—"The sun's shining"—"It'll all be over in a minute." And he said these things again and again, so that there should be no mistake about them.
As they neared the bushes the shining leaves rustled, shivered, and parted, and before the girls had time to begin to hang back Jimmy came blinking out into the sunlight. The boughs closed behind him, and they did not stir or rustle for the appearance of anyone else. Jimmy was alone.
"Where is it?" asked the girls in one breath.
"Walking up and down in a fir-walk," said Jimmy, "doing sums in a book. He says he's most frightfully rich, and he's got to get up to town to the Stocks or something—where they change papers into gold if you're clever, he says. I should like to go to the Stocks-change, wouldn't you?"
"I don't seem to care very much about changes, said Gerald. "I've had enough. Show us where he is—we must get rid of him."
"He's got a motor-car," Jimmy went on, parting the warm varnished-looking rhododendron leaves, "and a garden with a tennis-court and a lake and a carriage and pair, and he goes to Athens for his holiday sometimes, just like other people go to Margate."
"The best thing," said Gerald, following through the bushes, "will be to tell him the shortest way out is through that hotel that he thinks he found last night. Then we get him into the passage, give him a push, fly back, and shut the door."
"He'll starve to death in there," said Kathleen, "if he's really real."
"I expect it doesn't last long, the ring magics don't—anyway, it's the only thing I can think of."
"He's frightfully rich," Jimmy went on unheeding amid the cracking of the bushes; "he's building a public library for the people where he lives, and having his portrait painted to put in it. He thinks they'll like that."
The belt of rhododendrons was passed, and the children had reached a smooth grass walk bordered by tall pines and firs of strange different kinds. "He's just round that corner," said Jimmy. "He's simply rolling in money. He doesn't know what to do with it. He's been building a horse-trough and drinking fountain with a bust of himself on top. Why doesn't he build a private swimming-bath close to his bed, so that he can just roll off into it of a morning? I wish I was rich; I'd soon show him——"
"That's a sensible wish," said Gerald. "I wonder we didn't think of doing that. Oh, criky!" he added, and with reason. For there, in the green shadows of the pine-walk, in the woodland silence, broken only by rustling leaves and the agitated breathing of the three unhappy others, Jimmy got his wish. By quick but perfectly plain-to-be-seen degrees Jimmy became rich. And the horrible thing was that though they could see it happening they did not know what was happening, and could not have stopped it if they had. All they could see was Jimmy, their own Jimmy, whom they had larked with and quarrelled with and made it up with ever since they could remember, Jimmy continuously and horribly growing old. The whole thing was over in a few seconds. Yet in those few seconds they saw him grow to a youth, a young man, a middle-aged man; and then, with a sort of shivering shock, unspeakably horrible and definite, he seemed to settle down into an elderly gentleman, handsomely but rather dowdily dressed, who was looking down at them through spectacles and asking them the nearest way to the railway-station. If they had not seen the change take place, in all its awful details, they would never have guessed that this stout, prosperous, elderly gentleman with the high hat, the frock-coat, and the large red seal dangling from the curve of a portly waistcoat, was their own Jimmy. But, as they had seen it, they knew the dreadful truth.
"Oh, Jimmy, don't!" cried Mabel desperately.
Gerald said: "This is perfectly beastly," and Kathleen broke into wild weeping.
"Don't cry, little girl!" said That-which-had-been Jimmy; "and you, boy, can't you give a civil answer to a civil question?"
"He doesn't know us!" wailed Kathleen.
"Who doesn't know you?" said That-which-had-been impatiently.
"You—y—you don't!" Kathleen sobbed.
"I certainly don't," returned That-which—— "but surely that need not distress you so deeply."
"Oh, Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy!" Kathleen sobbed louder than before.
"He doesn't know us," Gerald owned, "or—look here, Jimmy, y—you aren't kidding, are you? Because if you are it's simply abject rot——"
"My name is Mr. ——," said That-which-had-been-Jimmy, and gave the name correctly. By the way, it will perhaps be shorter to call this elderly stout person who was Jimmy grown rich by some simpler name than I have just used. Let us call him "That"—short for "That-which-had-been Jimmy."
"What are we to do?" whispered Mabel, awestruck; and aloud she said: "Oh, Mr. James, or whatever you call yourself, do give me the ring." For on That's finger the fatal ring showed plain.
"Certainly not," said That firmly. "You appear to be a very grasping child."
"But what are you going to do?" Gerald asked in the flat tones of complete hopelessness.
"Your interest is very flattering," said That. "Will you tell me, or won't you, the way to the nearest railway station?"
"No," said Gerald, "we won't."
"Then," said That, still politely, though quite plainly furious, "perhaps you'll tell me the way to the nearest lunatic asylum?"
"Oh, no, no, no!" cried Kathleen. "You're not so bad as that."
"Perhaps not. But you are," That retorted; "if you're not lunatics you're idiots. However, I see a gentleman ahead who is perhaps sane. In fact, I seem to recognize him." A gentleman, indeed, was now to be seen approaching. It was the elderly Ugly-Wugly.
"Oh! don't you remember Jerry?" Kathleen cried, "and Cathy, your own Cathy Puss Cat? Dear, dear Jimmy, don't be so silly!"
"Little girl," said That, looking at her crossly through his spectacles, "I am sorry you have not been better brought up." And he walked stiffly towards the Ugly-Wugly. Two hats were raised, a few words were exchanged, and two elderly figures walked side by side down the green pine-walk, followed by three miserable children, horrified, bewildered, alarmed, and, what is really worse than anything, quite at their wits end.
"He wished to be rich, so of course he is," said Gerald; "he'll have money for tickets and everything."
TWO HATS WERE RAISED.
"I wonder how long the Ugly-Wuglies lasted," said Mabel.
"Yes," Gerald answered, "that reminds me. You two must collect the coats and things. Hide them, anywhere you like, and we'll carry them home to-morrow—if there is any tomorrow," he added darkly.
"Oh, don't!" said Kathleen, once more breathing heavily on the verge of tears: "you wouldn't think everything could be so awful, and the sun shining like it does."
"Look here," said Gerald, "of course I must stick to Jimmy. You two must go home to Mademoiselle and tell her Jimmy and I have gone off in the train with a gentleman—say he looked like an uncle. He does—some kind of uncle. There'll be a beastly row afterwards, but it's got to be done."
"It all seems thick with lies," said Kathleen; "you don't seem to be able to get a word of truth in edgewise hardly."
"Don't you worry," said her brother; "they aren't lies—they're as true as anything else in this magic rot we've got mixed up in. It's like telling lies in a dream; you can't help it."
"Well, all I know is I wish it would stop."
"Lot of use your wishing that is," said Gerald, exasperated. "So long. I've got to go, and you've got to stay. If it's any comfort to you, I don't believe any of it's real: it can't be; it's too thick. Tell Mademoiselle Jimmy and I will be back to tea. If we don't happen to be I can't help it. I can't help anything, except perhaps Jimmy." He started to run, for the girls had lagged, and the Ugly-Wugly and That (late Jimmy) had quickened their pace.
The girls were left looking after them.
"We've got to find these clothes," said Mabel, "simply got to. I used to want to be a heroine. It's different when it really comes to being, isn't it?"
"Yes, very," said Kathleen. "Where shall we hide the clothes when we've got them? Not—not that passage?"
"Never!" said Mabel firmly; "we'll hide them inside the great stone dinosaurus. He's hollow."
"He comes alive—in his stone," said Kathleen.
"Not in the sunshine he doesn't," Mabel told her confidently, "and not without the ring."
"There won't be any apples and books today," said Kathleen.
"No, but we'll do the babiest thing we can do the minute we get home. We'll have a dolls tea-party. That'll make us feel as if there wasn't really any magic."
"It'll have to be a very strong tea party, then," said Kathleen doubtfully.
* * * * *
And now we see Gerald, a small but quite determined figure, paddling along in the soft white dust of the sunny road, in the wake of two elderly gentlemen. His hand, in his trousers pocket, buries itself with a feeling of satisfaction in the heavy mixed coinage that is his share of the profits of his conjuring at the fair. His noiseless tennis-shoes bear him to the station, where, unobserved, he listens at the ticket office to the voice of That-which-was-James. "One first London," it says and Gerald, waiting till That and the Ugly-Wugly have strolled on to the platform, politely conversing of politics and the Kaffir market, takes a third return to London. The train strides in, squeaking and puffing. The watched take their seats in a carriage blue-lined. The watcher springs into a yellow wooden compartment. A whistle sounds, a flag is waved. The train pulls itself together, strains, jerks, and starts.
"I don't understand," says Gerald, alone in his third- class carriage, "how railway trains and magic can go on at the same time."
And yet they do.
* * * * *
MABEL HANDS UP THE CLOTHES AND THE STICKS.
"There's lots of room," says Kathleen; "its tail goes down into the ground. It's like a secret passage."
"Suppose something comes out of it and jumps out at you," says Mabel, and Kathleen hurriedly descends.
The explanations to Mademoiselle promise to be difficult, but, as Kathleen said afterwards, any little thing is enough to take a grown-up's attention off. A figure passes the window just as they are explaining that it really did look exactly like an uncle that the boys have gone to London with.
"Who's that?" says Mademoiselle suddenly, pointing, too, which everyone knows is not manners.
It is the bailiff coming back from the doctor's with antiseptic plaster on that nasty cut that took so long a-bathing this morning. They tell her it is the bailiff at Yalding Towers, and she says, "Sky!" (Ciel!) and asks no more awkward questions about the boys. Lunch—very late—is a silent meal. After lunch Mademoiselle goes out, in a hat with many pink roses, carrying a rose-lined parasol. The girls, in dead silence, organize a dolls tea-party, with real tea. At the second cup Kathleen bursts into tears. Mabel, also weeping, embraces her.
"I wish," sobs Kathleen, "oh, I do wish I knew where the boys were! It would be such a comfort."
* * * * *
Gerald knew where the boys were, and it was no comfort to him at all. If you come to think of it, he was the only person who could know where they were, because Jimmy didn't know that he was a boy—and indeed he wasn't really—and the Ugly-Wugly couldn't be expected to know anything real, such as where boys were. At the moment when the second cup of dolls tea—very strong, but not strong enough to drown care in—was being poured out by the trembling hand of Kathleen, Gerald was lurking—there really is no other word for it—on the staircase of Aldermanbury Buildings, Old Broad Street. On the floor below him was a door bearing the legend "Mr. U. W. Ugli, Stock and Share Broker. And at the Stock Exchange," and on the floor above was another door, on which was the name of Gerald's little brother, now grown suddenly rich in so magic and tragic a way. There were no explaining words under Jimmy's name. Gerald could not guess what walk in life it was to which That (which had been Jimmy) owed its affluence. He had seen, when the door opened to admit his brother, a tangle of clerks and mahogany desks. Evidently That had a large business.
What was Gerald to do? What could he do?
It is almost impossible, especially for one so young as Gerald, to enter a large London office explain that the elderly and respected head of it is not what he seems, but is really your little brother, who has been suddenly advanced to age and wealth by a tricky wishing ring. If you think it's a possible thing, try it, that's all. Nor could he knock at the door of Mr. U. W. Ugli, Stock and Share Broker (and at the Stock Exchange), and inform his clerks that their chief was really nothing but old clothes that had accidentally come alive, and by some magic, which he couldn't attempt to explain, become real during a night spent at a really good hotel which had no existence.
The situation bristled, as you see, with difficulties. And it was so long past Gerald's proper dinner-time that his increasing hunger was rapidly growing to seem the most important difficulty of all. It is quite possible to starve to death on the staircase of a London building if the people you are watching for only stay long enough in their offices. The truth of this came home to Gerald more and more painfully.
A boy with hair like a new front door mat came whistling up the stairs. He had a dark blue bag in his hands.
"I'll give you a tanner for yourself if you'll get me a tanner's worth of buns," said Gerald, with that prompt decision common to all great commanders.
"Show us yer tanners," the boy rejoined with at least equal promptness. Gerald showed them. "All right; hand over."
"Payment on delivery," said Gerald, using words from the drapers which he had never thought to use.
The boy grinned admiringly.
"Knows 'is wy abaht," he said; "ain't no flies on 'im."
"Not many," Gerald owned with modest pride. "Cut along, there's a good chap. I've got to wait here. I'll take care of your bag if you like."
"Nor yet there ain't no flies on me neither," remarked the boy, shouldering it. "I been up to the confidence trick for years—ever since I was your age."
With this parting shot he went, and returned in due course bun-laden. Gerald gave the sixpence and took the buns. When the boy, a minute later, emerged from the door of Mr. U. W. Ugli, Stock and Share Broker (and at the Stock Exchange), Gerald stopped him.
"What sort of chap's that?" he asked, pointing the question with a jerk of an explaining thumb.
"Awful big pot," said the boy; "up to his eyes in oof. Motor and all that."
"Know anything about the one on the next landing?"
"He's bigger than what this one is. Very old firm—special cellar in the Bank of England to put his chink in—all in bins like against the wall at the corn-chandler s. Jimminy, I wouldn't mind 'alf an hour in there, and the doors open and the police away at a beano. Not much! Neither. You'll bust if you eat all them buns."
"Have one?" Gerald responded, and held out the bag.
"They say in our office," said the boy, paying for the bun honourably with unasked information, "as these two is all for cutting each other's throats—oh, only in the way of business—been at it for years."
Gerald wildly wondered what magic and how much had been needed to give history and a past to these two things of yesterday, the rich Jimmy and the Ugly-Wugly. If he could get them away would all memory of them fade—in this boy's mind, for instance, in the minds of all the people who did business with them in the City? Would the mahogany-and-clerk-furnished offices fade away? Were the clerks real? Was the mahogany? Was he himself real? Was the boy?
"Can you keep a secret?" he asked the other boy. "Are you on for a lark?"
"I ought to be getting back to the office," said the boy.
"Get then!" said Gerald.
"Don't you get stuffy," said the boy. "I was just agoing to say it didn't matter. I know how to make my nose bleed if I'm a bit late."
Gerald congratulated him on this accomplishment, at once so useful and so graceful, and then said:—
"Look here. I'll give you five bob—honest."
"What for?" was the boy's natural question.
"If you'll help me."
"I'm a private inquiry," said Gerald.
"Tec? You don't look it."
"What's the good of being one if you look it?" Gerald asked impatiently, beginning on another bun. "That old chap on the floor above—he's wanted."
"Police?" asked the boy with fine carelessness.
"'Return to,'" said the boy; "'all forgotten and forgiven.' I see."
"And I've got to get him to them, somehow. Now, if you could go in and give him a message from someone who wanted to meet him on business——"
"Hold on!" said the boy. "I know a trick worth two of that. You go in and see old Ugli. He'd give his ears to have the old boy out of the way for a day or two. They were saying so in our office only this morning."
"Let me think," said Gerald, laying down the last bun on his knee expressly to hold his head in his hands.
"Don't you forget to think about my five bob," said the boy.
Then there was a silence on the stairs, broken only by the cough of a clerk in That's office, and the clickety-clack of a typewriter in the office of Mr. U. W. Ugli.
Then Gerald rose up and finished the bun.
"You're right," he said. "I'll chance it. Here's your five bob."
He brushed the bun crumbs from his front, cleared his throat, and knocked at the door of Mr. U. W. Ugli. It opened and he entered.
The door-mat boy lingered, secure in his power to account for his long absence by means of his well-trained nose, and his waiting was rewarded. He went down a few steps, round the bend of the stairs, and heard the voice of Mr. U. W. Ugli, so well known on that staircase (and on the Stock Exchange) say in soft, cautious accents:—
"Then I'll ask him to let me look at the ring—and I'll drop it. You pick it up. But remember, it's a pure accident, and you don't know me. I can't have my name mixed up in a thing like this. You're sure he's really unhinged?"
"Quite," said Gerald; "he's quite mad about that ring. He'll follow it anywhere. I know he will. And think of his sorrowing relations."
"I do—I do," said Mr. Ugli kindly; "that's all I do think of, of course."
He went up the stairs to the other office, and Gerald heard the voice of That telling his clerks that he was going out to lunch. Then the horrible Ugly-Wugly and Jimmy, hardly less horrible in the eyes of Gerald, passed down the stairs where, in the dusk of the lower landing, two boys were making themselves as undistinguishable as possible, and so out into the street, talking of stocks and shares, bears and bulls. The two boys followed.
"I say," the door-mat-headed boy whispered admiringly, "whatever are you up to?"
"You'll see," said Gerald recklessly. "Come on!"
"You tell me. I must be getting back."
"Well, I'll tell you, but you won't believe me. That old gentleman's not really old at all—he's my young brother suddenly turned into what you see. The other's not real at all. He's only just old clothes and nothing inside."
"He looks it, I must say," the boy admitted; "but I say—you do stick it on, don't you?"
"Well, my brother was turned like that by a magic ring."
"There ain't no such thing as magic," said the boy. "I learnt that at school."
"All right," said Gerald. "Good-bye."
"Oh, go ahead!" said the boy; "you do stick it on, though."
"Well, that magic ring. If I can get hold of It I shall just wish we were all in a certain place. And we shall be. And then I can deal with both of them."
"Yes, the ring won't unwish anything you've wished. That undoes itself with time, like a spring uncoiling. But it'll give you a brand-new wish—I'm almost certain of it. Anyhow, I'm going to chance it."
"You are a rotter, aren't you?" said the boy respectfully.
"You wait and see," Gerald repeated.
"I say, you aren't going into this swell place! You can't?"
The boy paused, appalled at the majesty of Pym's.
"Yes, I am—they can't turn us out as long as we behave. You come along, too. I'll stand lunch."
I don't know why Gerald clung so to this boy. He wasn't a very nice boy. Perhaps it was because he was the only person Gerald knew in London to speak to—except That-which-had-been-Jimmy and the Ugly-Wugly; and he did not want to talk to either of them.
What happened next happened so quickly that, as Gerald said later, it was "just like magic". The restaurant was crowded—busy men were hastily bolting the food hurriedly brought by busy waitresses. There was a clink of forks and plates, the gurgle of beer from bottles, the hum of talk, and the smell of many good things to eat.
"Two chops, please," Gerald had just said, playing with a plainly shown handful of money, so as to leave no doubt of his honourable intentions. Then at the next table he heard the words, "Ah, yes, curious old family heirloom," the ring was drawn off the finger of That, and Mr. U. W. Ugli, murmuring something about a unique curio, reached his impossible hand out for it. The door-mat-headed boy was watching breathlessly.
"There's a ring right enough," he owned. And then the ring slipped from the hand of Mr. U. W. Ugli and skidded along the floor. Gerald pounced on it like a greyhound on a hare. He thrust the dull circlet on his finger and cried out aloud in that crowded place:—
"I wish Jimmy and I were inside that door behind the statue of Flora."
It was the only safe place he could think of.
The lights and sounds and scents of the restaurant died away as a wax-drop dies in fire—a rain-drop in water. I don't know, and Gerald never knew, what happened in that restaurant. There was nothing about it in the papers, though Gerald looked anxiously for "Extraordinary Disappearance of well-known City Man." What the door-mat-headed boy did or thought I don't know either. No more does Gerald. But he would like to know, whereas I don't care tuppence. The world went on all right, anyhow, whatever he thought or did. The lights and the sounds and the scents of Pym's died out. In place of the light there was darkness; in place of the sounds there was silence; and in place of the scent of beef, pork, mutton, fish, veal, cabbage, onions, carrots, beer, and tobacco there was the musty, damp scent of a place underground that has been long shut up.Gerald felt sick and giddy, and there was something at the back of his mind that he knew would make him feel sicker and giddier as soon as he should have the sense to remember what it was. Meantime it was important to think of
HE CRIED OUT ALOUD IN THAT CROWDED PLACE: "I WISH JIMMY AND I WERE INSIDE THAT DOOR BEHIND THE STATUE OF FLORA."
And then there was a moment when nothing was said or done.
Gerald felt through the thick darkness, and the thick silence, and the thick scent of old earth shut up, and he got hold of Jimmy's hand.
"It's all right, Jimmy, old chap," he said; "it's not a dream now. It's that beastly ring again. I had to wish us here, to get you back at all out of your dream."
"Wish us where?" Jimmy held on to the hand in a way that in the daylight of life he would have been the first to call babyish.
"Inside the passage—behind the Flora statue," said Gerald, adding, "it's all right, really."
"Oh, I dare say it's all right," Jimmy answered through the dark, with an irritation not strong enough to make him loosen his hold of his brother's hand. "But how are we going to get out?"
Then Gerald knew what it was that was waiting to make him feel more giddy than the lightning flight from Cheapside to Yalding Towers had been able to make him. But he said stoutly:
"I'll wish us out, of course." Though all the time he knew that the ring would not undo its given wishes.
Gerald wished. He handed the ring carefully to Jimmy, through the thick darkness. And Jimmy wished.
And there they still were, in that black passage behind Flora, that had led—in the case of one Ugly-Wugly at least—to 'a good hotel'. And the stone door was shut. And they did not know even which way to turn to it.
"If I only had some matches!" said Gerald.
"Why didn't you leave me in the dream?" Jimmy almost whimpered. "It was light there, and I was just going to have salmon and cucumber."
"I," rejoined Gerald in gloom, "was just going to have steak and fried potatoes."
The silence, and the darkness, and the earthy scent were all they had now.
"I always wondered what it would be like," said Jimmy in low, even tones, "to be buried alive. And now I know! Oh!" his voice suddenly rose to a shriek, "it isn't true, it isn't! It's a dream—that's what it is!"
There was a pause while you could have counted ten. Then——
"Yes," said Gerald bravely, through the scent and the silence and the darkness, "it's just a dream, Jimmy, old chap. We'll just hold on, and call out now and then just for the lark of the thing. But it's really only a dream, of course."
"Of course," said Jimmy in the silence and the darkness and the scent of old earth.