The difficulty was not only that Gerald had got the ring on and couldn’t get it off, and was therefore invisible, but that Mabel, who had been invisible and therefore possible to be smuggled into the house, was now plain to be seen and impossible for smuggling purposes.

The children would have not only to account for the apparent absence of one of themselves, but for the obvious presence of a perfect stranger.

“I can’t go back to aunt. I can’t and I won’t,” said Mabel firmly, “not if I was visible twenty times over.”

“She’d smell a rat if you did,” Gerald owned, “about the motorcar, I mean, and the adopting lady. And what we’re to say to Mademoiselle about you⁠—!” He tugged at the ring.

“Suppose you told the truth,” said Mabel meaningly.

“She wouldn’t believe it,” said Cathy; “or, if she did, she’d go stark, staring, raving mad.”

“No,” said Gerald’s voice, “we daren’t tell her. But she’s really rather decent. Let’s ask her to let you stay the night because it’s too late for you to get home.”

“That’s all right,” said Jimmy, “but what about you?”

“I shall go to bed,” said Gerald, “with a bad headache. Oh, that’s not a lie! I’ve got one right enough. It’s the sun, I think. I know blacklead attracts the concentration of the sun.”

“More likely the pears and the gingerbread,” said Jimmy unkindly. “Well, let’s get along. I wish it was me was invisible. I’d do something different from going to bed with a silly headache, I know that.”

“What would you do?” asked the voice of Gerald just behind him.

“Do keep in one place, you silly cuckoo!” said Jimmy. “You make me feel all jumpy.” He had indeed jumped rather violently. “Here, walk between Cathy and me.”

“What would you do?” repeated Gerald, from that apparently unoccupied position.

“I’d be a burglar,” said Jimmy.

Cathy and Mabel in one breath reminded him how wrong burgling was, and Jimmy replied:

“Well, then a detective.”

“There’s got to be something to detect before you can begin detectiving,” said Mabel.

“Detectives don’t always detect things,” said Jimmy, very truly. “If I couldn’t be any other kind I’d be a baffled detective. You could be one all right, and have no end of larks just the same. Why don’t you do it?”

“It’s exactly what I am going to do,” said Gerald. “We’ll go round by the police-station and see what they’ve got in the way of crimes.”

They did, and read the notices on the board outside. Two dogs had been lost, a purse, and a portfolio of papers “of no value to any but the owner.” Also Houghton Grange had been broken into and a quantity of silver plate stolen. “Twenty pounds reward offered for any information that may lead to the recovery of the missing property.”

“That burglary’s my lay,” said Gerald; “I’ll detect that. Here comes Johnson,” he added; “he’s going off duty. Ask him about it. The fell detective, being invisible, was unable to pump the constable, but the young brother of our hero made the inquiries in quite a creditable manner. Be creditable, Jimmy.”

Jimmy hailed the constable.

“Halloa, Johnson!” he said.

And Johnson replied: “Halloa, young shaver!”

“Shaver yourself!” said Jimmy, but without malice.

“What are you doing this time of night?” the constable asked jocosely. “All the dicky birds is gone to their little nesteses.”

“We’ve been to the fair,” said Kathleen. “There was a conjurer there. I wish you could have seen him.”

“Heard about him,” said Johnson; “all fake, you know. The quickness of the ’and deceives the hi.”

Such is fame. Gerald, standing in the shadow, jingled the loose money in his pocket to console himself.

“What’s that?” the policeman asked quickly.

“Our money jingling,” said Jimmy, with perfect truth.

“It’s well to be some people,” Johnson remarked; “wish I’d got my pockets full to jingle with.”

“Well, why haven’t you?” asked Mabel. “Why don’t you get that twenty pounds reward?”

“I’ll tell you why I don’t. Because in this ’ere realm of liberty, and Britannia ruling the waves, you ain’t allowed to arrest a chap on suspicion, even if you know puffickly well who done the job.”

“What a shame!” said Jimmy warmly. “And who do you think did it?”

“I don’t think⁠—I know.” Johnson’s voice was ponderous as his boots. “It’s a man what’s known to the police on account of a heap o’ crimes he’s done, but we never can’t bring it ’ome to ’im, nor yet get sufficient evidence to convict.”

“Well,” said Jimmy, “when I’ve left school I’ll come to you and be apprenticed, and be a detective. Just now I think we’d better get home and detect our supper. Good night!”

They watched the policeman’s broad form disappear through the swing door of the police-station; and as it settled itself into quiet again the voice of Gerald was heard complaining bitterly.

“You’ve no more brains than a halfpenny bun,” he said; “no details about how and when the silver was taken.”

“But he told us he knew,” Jimmy urged.

“Yes, that’s all you’ve got out of him. A silly policeman’s silly idea. Go home and detect your precious supper! It’s all you’re fit for.”

“What’ll you do about supper?” Mabel asked.

“Buns!” said Gerald, “halfpenny buns. They’ll make me think of my dear little brother and sister. Perhaps you’ve got enough sense to buy buns? I can’t go into a shop in this state.”

“Don’t you be so disagreeable,” said Mabel with spirit.

“We did our best. If I were Cathy you should whistle for your nasty buns.”

“If you were Cathy the gallant young detective would have left home long ago. Better the cabin of a tramp steamer than the best family mansion that’s got a brawling sister in it,” said Gerald. “You are a bit of an outsider at present, my gentle maiden. Jimmy and Cathy know well enough when their bold leader is chaffing and when he isn’t.”

“Not when we can’t see your face we don’t,” said Cathy, in tones of relief. “I really thought you were in a flaring wax, and so did Jimmy, didn’t you?”

“Oh, rot!” said Gerald. “Come on! This way to the bun shop.”

They went. And it was while Cathy and Jimmy were in the shop and the others were gazing through the glass at the jam tarts and Swiss rolls and Victoria sandwiches and Bath buns under the spread yellow muslin in the window, that Gerald discoursed in Mabel’s ear of the plans and hopes of one entering on a detective career.

“I shall keep my eyes open tonight, I can tell you,” he began. “I shall keep my eyes skinned, and no jolly error. The invisible detective may not only find out about the purse and the silver, but detect some crime that isn’t even done yet. And I shall hang about until I see some suspicious-looking characters leave the town, and follow them furtively and catch them red-handed, with their hands full of priceless jewels, and hand them over.”

“Oh!” cried Mabel, so sharply and suddenly that Gerald was roused from his dream to express sympathy.

“Pain?” he said quite kindly. “It’s the apples⁠—they were rather hard.”

“Oh, it’s not that,” said Mabel very earnestly. “Oh, how awful! I never thought of that before.”

“Never thought of what?” Gerald asked impatiently.

“The window.”

“What window?”

“The panelled-room window. At home, you know at the castle. That settles it I must go home. We left it open and the shutters as well, and all the jewels and things there. Auntie’ll never go in; she never does. That settles it; I must go home⁠—now⁠—this minute.”

Here the others issued from the shop, bun-bearing, and the situation was hastily explained to them.

“So you see I must go,” Mabel ended.

And Kathleen agreed that she must.

But Jimmy said he didn’t see what good it would do. “Because the key’s inside the door, anyhow.”

“She will be cross,” said Mabel sadly. “She’ll have to get the gardeners to get a ladder and⁠—”

“Hooray!” said Gerald. “Here’s me! Nobler and more secret than gardeners or ladders was the invisible Jerry. I’ll climb in at the window⁠—it’s all ivy, I know I could⁠—and shut the window and the shutters all sereno, put the key back on the nail, and slip out unperceived the back way, threading my way through the maze of unconscious retainers. There’ll be plenty of time. I don’t suppose burglars begin their fell work until the night is far advanced.”

“Won’t you be afraid?” Mabel asked. “Will it be safe⁠—suppose you were caught?”

“As houses. I can’t be,” Gerald answered, and wondered that the question came from Mabel and not from Kathleen, who was usually inclined to fuss a little annoyingly about the danger and folly of adventures.

But all Kathleen said was, “Well, goodbye; we’ll come and see you tomorrow, Mabel. The floral temple at half-past ten. I hope you won’t get into an awful row about the motorcar lady.”

“Let’s detect our supper now,” said Jimmy.

“All right,” said Gerald a little bitterly. It is hard to enter on an adventure like this and to find the sympathetic interest of years suddenly cut off at the meter, as it were. Gerald felt that he ought, at a time like this, to have been the centre of interest. And he wasn’t. They could actually talk about supper. Well, let them. He didn’t care! He spoke with sharp sternness: “Leave the pantry window undone for me to get in by when I’ve done my detecting. Come on, Mabel.” He caught her hand. “Bags I the buns, though,” he added, by a happy afterthought, and snatching the bag, pressed it on Mabel, and the sound of four boots echoed on the pavement of the High Street as the outlines of the running Mabel grew small with distance.

Mademoiselle was in the drawing-room. She was sitting by the window in the waning light reading letters.

“Ah, vous voici!” she said unintelligibly. “You are again late; and my little Gerald, where is he?”

This was an awful moment. Jimmy’s detective scheme had not included any answer to this inevitable question. The silence was unbroken till Jimmy spoke.

“He said he was going to bed because he had a headache.” And this, of course, was true.

“This poor Gerald!” said Mademoiselle. “Is it that I should mount him some supper?”

“He never eats anything when he’s got one of his headaches,” Kathleen said. And this also was the truth.

Jimmy and Kathleen went to bed, wholly untroubled by anxiety about their brother, and Mademoiselle pulled out the bundle of letters and read them amid the ruins of the simple supper.

“It is ripping being out late like this,” said Gerald through the soft summer dusk.

“Yes,” said Mabel, a solitary-looking figure plodding along the highroad. “I do hope auntie won’t be very furious.”

“Have another bun,” suggested Gerald kindly, and a sociable munching followed.

It was the aunt herself who opened to a very pale and trembling Mabel the door which is appointed for the entrances and exits of the domestic staff at Yalding Towers. She looked over Mabel’s head first, as if she expected to see someone taller. Then a very small voice said:


The aunt started back, then made a step towards Mabel.

“You naughty, naughty girl!” she cried angrily; “how could you give me such a fright? I’ve a good mind to keep you in bed for a week for this, miss. Oh, Mabel, thank Heaven you’re safe!” And with that the aunt’s arms went round Mabel and Mabel’s round the aunt in such a hug as they had never met in before.

“But you didn’t seem to care a bit this morning,” said Mabel, when she had realized that her aunt really had been anxious, really was glad to have her safe home again.

“How do you know?”

“I was there listening. Don’t be angry, auntie.”

“I feel as if I could never be angry with you again, now I’ve got you safe,” said the aunt surprisingly.

“But how was it?” Mabel asked.

“My dear,” said the aunt impressively, “I’ve been in a sort of trance. I think I must be going to be ill. I’ve always been fond of you, but I didn’t want to spoil you. But yesterday, about half-past three, I was talking about you to Mr. Lewson, at the fair, and quite suddenly I felt as if you didn’t matter at all. And I felt the same when I got your letter and when those children came. And today in the middle of tea I suddenly woke up and realized that you were gone. It was awful. I think I must be going to be ill. Oh, Mabel, why did you do it?”

“It was⁠—a joke,” said Mabel feebly. And then the two went in and the door was shut.

“That’s most uncommon odd,” said Gerald, outside; “looks like more magic to me. I don’t feel as if we’d got to the bottom of this yet, by any manner of means. There’s more about this castle than meets the eye.”

There certainly was. For this castle happened to be⁠—but it would not be fair to Gerald to tell you more about it than he knew on that night when he went alone and invisible through the shadowy great grounds of it to look for the open window of the panelled room. He knew that night no more than I have told you; but as he went along the dewy lawns and through the groups of shrubs and trees, where pools lay like giant looking-glasses reflecting the quiet stars, and the white limbs of statues gleamed against a background of shadow, he began to feel⁠—well, not excited, not surprised, not anxious, but⁠—different.

The incident of the invisible Princess had surprised, the incident of the conjuring had excited, and the sudden decision to be a detective had brought its own anxieties; but all these happenings, though wonderful and unusual, had seemed to be, after all, inside the circle of possible things⁠—wonderful as the chemical experiments are where two liquids poured together make fire, surprising as legerdemain, thrilling as a juggler’s display, but nothing more. Only now a new feeling came to him as he walked through those gardens; by day those gardens were like dreams, at night they were like visions. He could not see his feet as he walked, but he saw the movement of the dewy grass-blades that his feet displaced. And he had that extraordinary feeling so difficult to describe, and yet so real and so unforgettable⁠—the feeling that he was in another world, that had covered up and hidden the old world as a carpet covers a floor. The floor was there all right, underneath, but what he walked on was the carpet that covered it⁠—and that carpet was drenched in magic, as the turf was drenched in dew.

The feeling was very wonderful; perhaps you will feel it some day. There are still some places in the world where it can be felt, but they grow fewer every year.

The enchantment of the garden held him.

“I’ll not go in yet,” he told himself; “it’s too early. And perhaps I shall never be here at night again. I suppose it is the night that makes everything look so different.”

Something white moved under a weeping willow; white hands parted the long, rustling leaves. A white figure came out, a creature with horns and goat’s legs and the head and arms of a boy. And Gerald was not afraid. That was the most wonderful thing of all, though he would never have owned it. The white thing stretched its limbs, rolled on the grass, righted itself and frisked away across the lawn. Still something white gleamed under the willow; three steps nearer and Gerald saw that it was the pedestal of a statue⁠—empty.

“They come alive,” he said; and another white shape came out of the Temple of Flora and disappeared in the laurels. “The statues come alive.”

There was a crunching of the little stones in the gravel of the drive. Something enormously long and darkly grey came crawling towards him, slowly, heavily. The moon came out just in time to show its shape. It was one of those great lizards that you see at the Crystal Palace, made in stone, of the same awful size which they were millions of years ago when they were masters of the world, before Man was.

“It can’t see me,” said Gerald. “I am not afraid. It’s come to life, too.”

As it writhed past him he reached out a hand and touched the side of its gigantic tail. It was of stone. It had not “come alive” as he had fancied, but was alive in its stone. It turned, however, at the touch; but Gerald also had turned, and was running with all his speed towards the house. Because at that stony touch Fear had come into the garden and almost caught him. It was Fear that he ran from, and not the moving stone beast.

He stood panting under the fifth window; when he had climbed to the window-ledge by the twisted ivy that clung to the wall, he looked back over the grey slope⁠—there was a splashing at the fish-pool that had mirrored the stars⁠—the shape of the great stone beast was wallowing in the shallows among the lily-pads.

Once inside the room, Gerald turned for another look. The fishpond lay still and dark, reflecting the moon. Through a gap in the drooping willow the moonlight fell on a statue that stood calm and motionless on its pedestal. Everything was in its place now in the garden. Nothing moved or stirred.

“How extraordinarily rum!” said Gerald. “I shouldn’t have thought you could go to sleep walking through a garden and dream⁠—like that.”

He shut the window, lit a match, and closed the shutters. Another match showed him the door. He turned the key, went out, locked the door again, hung the key on its usual nail, and crept to the end of the passage. Here he waited, safe in his invisibility, till the dazzle of the matches should have gone from his eyes, and he be once more able to find his way by the moonlight that fell in bright patches on the floor through the barred, unshuttered windows of the hall.

“Wonder where the kitchen is,” said Gerald. He had quite forgotten that he was a detective. He was only anxious to get home and tell the others about that extraordinarily odd dream that he had had in the gardens. “I suppose it doesn’t matter what doors I open. I’m invisible all right still, I suppose? Yes; can’t see my hand before my face.” He held up a hand for the purpose. “Here goes!”

He opened many doors, wandered into long rooms with furniture dressed in brown holland covers that looked white in that strange light, rooms with chandeliers hanging in big bags from the high ceilings, rooms whose walls were alive with pictures, rooms whose walls were deadened with rows on rows of old books, state bedrooms in whose great plumed four-posters Queen Elizabeth had no doubt slept. (That Queen, by the way, must have been very little at home, for she seems to have slept in every old house in England.) But he could not find the kitchen. At last a door opened on stone steps that went up⁠—there was a narrow stone passage⁠—steps that went down⁠—a door with a light under it. It was, somehow, difficult to put out one’s hand to that door and open it.

“Nonsense!” Gerald told himself, “don’t be an ass! Are you invisible, or aren’t you?”

Then he opened the door, and someone inside said something in a sudden rough growl.

Gerald stood back, flattened against the wall, as a man sprang to the doorway and flashed a lantern into the passage.

“All right,” said the man, with almost a sob of relief. “It was only the door swung open, it’s that heavy⁠—that’s all.”

“Blow the door!” said another growling voice; “blessed if I didn’t think it was a fair cop that time.”

They closed the door again. Gerald did not mind. In fact, he rather preferred that it should be so. He didn’t like the look of those men. There was an air of threat about them. In their presence even invisibility seemed too thin a disguise. And Gerald had seen as much as he wanted to see. He had seen that he had been right about the gang. By wonderful luck⁠—beginner’s luck, a card-player would have told him⁠—he had discovered a burglary on the very first night of his detective career. The men were taking silver out of two great chests, wrapping it in rags, and packing it in baize sacks. The door of the room was of iron six inches thick. It was, in fact, the strongroom, and these men had picked the lock. The tools they had done it with lay on the floor, on a neat cloth roll, such as woodcarvers keep their chisels in.

“Hurry up!” Gerald heard. “You needn’t take all night over it.”

The silver rattled slightly. “You’re a rattling of them trays like bloomin’ castanets,” said the gruffest voice. Gerald turned and went away, very carefully and very quickly. And it is a most curious thing that, though he couldn’t find the way to the servants’ wing when he had nothing else to think of, yet now, with his mind full, so to speak, of silver forks and silver cups, and the question of who might be coming after him down those twisting passages, he went straight as an arrow to the door that led from the hall to the place he wanted to get to.

As he went the happenings took words in his mind.

“The fortunate detective,” he told himself, “having succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, himself left the spot in search of assistance.”

But what assistance? There were, no doubt, men in the house, also the aunt; but he could not warn them.

He was too hopelessly invisible to carry any weight with strangers. The assistance of Mabel would not be of much value. The police? Before they could be got and the getting of them presented difficulties the burglars would have cleared away with their sacks of silver.

Gerald stopped and thought hard; he held his head with both hands to do it. You know the way the same as you sometimes do for simple equations or the dates of the battles of the Civil War.

Then with pencil, notebook, a window-ledge, and all the cleverness he could find at the moment, he wrote:

“You know the room where the silver is. Burglars are burgling it, the thick door is picked. Send a man for police. I will follow the burglars if they get away ere police arrive on the spot.”

He hesitated a moment, and ended⁠—

“From a Friend⁠—this is not a sell.”

This letter, tied tightly round a stone by means of a shoelace, thundered through the window of the room where Mabel and her aunt, in the ardour of reunion, were enjoying a supper of unusual charm⁠—stewed plums, cream, sponge-cakes, custard in cups, and cold bread-and-butter pudding.

Gerald, in hungry invisibility, looked wistfully at the supper before he threw the stone. He waited till the shrieks had died away, saw the stone picked up, the warning letter read.

“Nonsense!” said the aunt, growing calmer. “How wicked! Of course it’s a hoax.”

“Oh! do send for the police, like he says,” wailed Mabel.

“Like who says?” snapped the aunt.

“Whoever it is,” Mabel moaned.

“Send for the police at once,” said Gerald, outside, in the manliest voice he could find. “You’ll only blame yourself if you don’t. I can’t do any more for you.”

“I⁠—I’ll set the dogs on you!” cried the aunt.

“Oh, auntie, don’t!” Mabel was dancing with agitation. “It’s true⁠—I know it’s true. Do⁠—do wake Bates!”

“I don’t believe a word of it,” said the aunt. No more did Bates when, owing to Mabel’s persistent worryings, he was awakened. But when he had seen the paper, and had to choose whether he’d go to the strongroom and see that there really wasn’t anything to believe or go for the police on his bicycle, he chose the latter course.

When the police arrived the strongroom door stood ajar, and the silver, or as much of it as the three men could carry, was gone.

Gerald’s notebook and pencil came into play again later on that night. It was five in the morning before he crept into bed, tired out and cold as a stone.

“Master Gerald!”⁠—it was Eliza’s voice in his ears⁠—“it’s seven o’clock and another fine day, and there’s been another burglary⁠—My cats alive!” she screamed, as she drew up the blind and turned towards the bed; “look at his bed, all crocked with black, and him not there!”

“Oh, Jiminy!” It was a scream this time. Kathleen came running from her room; Jimmy sat up in his bed and rubbed his eyes.

“Whatever is it?” Kathleen cried.

“I dunno when I ’ad such a turn.” Eliza sat down heavily on a box as she spoke. “First thing his bed all empty and black as the chimley back, and him not in it, and then when I looks again he is in it all the time. I must be going silly. I thought as much when I heard them haunting angel voices yesterday morning. But I’ll tell Mamselle of you, my lad, with your tricks, you may rely on that. Blacking yourself all over and crocking up your clean sheets and pillowcases. It’s going back of beyond, this is.”

“Look here,” said Gerald slowly; “I’m going to tell you something.”

Eliza simply snorted, and that was rude of her; but then, she had had a shock and had not got over it.

“Can you keep a secret?” asked Gerald, very earnest through the grey of his partly rubbed-off blacklead.

“Yes,” said Eliza.

“Then keep it and I’ll give you two bob.”

“But what was you going to tell me?”

“That. About the two bob and the secret. And you keep your mouth shut.”

“I didn’t ought to take it,” said Eliza, holding out her hand eagerly. “Now you get up, and mind you wash all the corners, Master Gerald.”

“Oh, I’m so glad you’re safe,” said Kathleen, when Eliza had gone.

“You didn’t seem to care much last night,” said Gerald coldly.

“I can’t think how I let you go. I didn’t care last night. But when I woke this morning and remembered!”

“There, that’ll do⁠—it’ll come off on you,” said Gerald through the reckless hugging of his sister.

“How did you get visible?” Jimmy asked.

“It just happened when she called me the ring came off.”

“Tell us all about everything,” said Kathleen.

“Not yet,” said Gerald mysteriously.

“Where’s the ring?” Jimmy asked after breakfast. “I want to have a try now.”

“I⁠—I forgot it,” said Gerald; “I expect it’s in the bed somewhere.”

But it wasn’t. Eliza had made the bed.

“I’ll swear there ain’t no ring there,” she said. “I should ’a seen it if there had’a been.”