VI

Johnson was the hero of the hour. It was he who had tracked the burglars, laid his plans, and recovered the lost silver. He had not thrown the stone⁠—public opinion decided that Mabel and her aunt must have been mistaken in supposing that there was a stone at all. But he did not deny the warning letter. It was Gerald who went out after breakfast to buy the newspaper, and who read aloud to the others the two columns of fiction which were the Liddlesby Observer’s report of the facts. As he read every mouth opened wider and wider, and when he ceased with “this gifted fellow-townsman with detective instincts which out-rival those of Messrs. Lecoq and Holmes, and whose promotion is now assured,” there was quite a blank silence.

“Well,” said Jimmy, breaking it, “he doesn’t stick it on neither, does he?”

“I feel,” said Kathleen, “as if it was our fault⁠—as if it was us had told all these whoppers; because if it hadn’t been for you they couldn’t have, Jerry. How could he say all that?”

“Well,” said Gerald, trying to be fair, “you know, after all, the chap had to say something. I’m glad I⁠—” He stopped abruptly.

“You’re glad you what?”

“No matter,” said he, with an air of putting away affairs of state. “Now, what are we going to do today? The faithful Mabel approaches; she will want her ring. And you and Jimmy want it too. Oh, I know. Mademoiselle hasn’t had any attention paid to her for more days than our hero likes to confess.”

“I wish you wouldn’t always call yourself ‘our hero,’ ” said Jimmy; “you aren’t mine, anyhow.”

“You’re both of you mine,” said Kathleen hastily.

“Good little girl.” Gerald smiled annoyingly. “Keep baby brother in a good temper till Nursie comes back.”

“You’re not going out without us?” Kathleen asked in haste.

“I haste away,
’Tis market day,

sang Gerald,

“And in the market there
Buy roses for my fair.

“If you want to come too, get your boots on, and look slippy about it.”

“I don’t want to come,” said Jimmy, and sniffed.

Kathleen turned a despairing look on Gerald.

“Oh, James, James,” said Gerald sadly, “how difficult you make it for me to forget that you’re my little brother! If ever I treat you like one of the other chaps, and rot you like I should Turner or Moberley or any of my pals⁠—well, this is what comes of it.”

“You don’t call them your baby brothers,” said Jimmy, and truly.

“No; and I’ll take precious good care I don’t call you it again. Come on, my hero and heroine. The devoted Mesrour is your salaaming slave.”

The three met Mabel opportunely at the corner of the square where every Friday the stalls and the awnings and the green umbrellas were pitched, and poultry, pork, pottery, vegetables, drapery, sweets, toys, tools, mirrors, and all sorts of other interesting merchandise were spread out on trestle tables, piled on carts whose horses were stabled and whose shafts were held in place by piled wooden cases, or laid out, as in the case of crockery and hardware, on the bare flagstones of the marketplace.

The sun was shining with great goodwill, and, as Mabel remarked, “all Nature looked smiling and gay.” There were a few bunches of flowers among the vegetables, and the children hesitated, balanced in choice.

“Mignonette is sweet,” said Mabel.

“Roses are roses,” said Kathleen.

“Carnations are tuppence,” said Jimmy; and Gerald, sniffing among the bunches of tightly-tied tea-roses, agreed that this settled it.

So the carnations were bought, a bunch of yellow ones, like sulphur, a bunch of white ones like clotted cream, and a bunch of red ones like the cheeks of the doll that Kathleen never played with. They took the carnations home, and Kathleen’s green hair-ribbon came in beautifully for tying them up, which was hastily done on the doorstep.

Then discreetly Gerald knocked at the door of the drawing-room, where Mademoiselle seemed to sit all day.

Entrez!” came her voice; and Gerald entered. She was not reading, as usual, but bent over a sketchbook; on the table was an open colour-box of un-English appearance, and a box of that slate-coloured liquid so familiar alike to the greatest artist in watercolours and to the humblest child with a sixpenny paintbox.

“With all of our loves,” said Gerald, laying the flowers down suddenly before her.

“But it is that you are a dear child. For this it must that I embrace you no?” And before Gerald could explain that he was too old, she kissed him with little quick French pecks on the two cheeks.

“Are you painting?” he asked hurriedly, to hide his annoyance at being treated like a baby.

“I achieve a sketch of yesterday,” she answered; and before he had time to wonder what yesterday would look like in a picture she showed him a beautiful and exact sketch of Yalding Towers.

“Oh, I say⁠—ripping!” was the critic’s comment. “I say, mayn’t the others come and see?” The others came, including Mabel, who stood awkwardly behind the rest, and looked over Jimmy’s shoulder.

“I say, you are clever,” said Gerald respectfully.

“To what good to have the talent, when one must pass one’s life at teaching the infants?” said Mademoiselle.

“It must be fairly beastly,” Gerald owned.

“You, too, see the design?” Mademoiselle asked Mabel, adding: “A friend from the town, yes?”

“How do you do?” said Mabel politely. “No, I’m not from the town. I live at Yalding Towers.”

The name seemed to impress Mademoiselle very much. Gerald anxiously hoped in his own mind that she was not a snob.

“Yalding Towers,” she repeated, “but this is very extraordinary. Is it possible that you are then of the family of Lord Yalding?”

“He hasn’t any family,” said Mabel; “he’s not married.”

“I would say are you⁠—how you say? cousin⁠—sister⁠—niece?”

“No,” said Mabel, flushing hotly, “I’m nothing grand at all. I’m Lord Yalding’s housekeeper’s niece.”

“But you know Lord Yalding, is it not?”

“No,” said Mabel, “I’ve never seen him.”

“He comes then never to his château?”

“Not since I’ve lived there. But he’s coming next week.”

“Why lives he not there?” Mademoiselle asked.

“Auntie says he’s too poor,” said Mabel, and proceeded to tell the tale as she had heard it in the housekeeper’s room: how Lord Yalding’s uncle had left all the money he could leave away from Lord Yalding to Lord Yalding’s second cousin, and poor Lord Yalding had only just enough to keep the old place in repair, and to live very quietly indeed somewhere else, but not enough to keep the house open or to live there; and how he couldn’t sell the house because it was “in tale.”

“What is it then⁠—in tail?” asked Mademoiselle.

“In a tale that the lawyers write out,” said Mabel, proud of her knowledge and flattered by the deep interest of the French governess; “and when once they’ve put your house in one of their tales you can’t sell it or give it away, but you have to leave it to your son, even if you don’t want to.”

“But how his uncle could he be so cruel to leave him the château and no money?” Mademoiselle asked; and Kathleen and Jimmy stood amazed at the sudden keenness of her interest in what seemed to them the dullest story.

“Oh, I can tell you that too,” said Mabel. “Lord Yalding wanted to marry a lady his uncle didn’t want him to, a barmaid or a ballet lady or something, and he wouldn’t give her up, and his uncle said, ‘Well then,’ and left everything to the cousin.”

“And you say he is not married.”

“No⁠—the lady went into a convent; I expect she’s bricked-up alive by now.”

“Bricked⁠—?”

“In a wall, you know,” said Mabel, pointing explainingly at the pink and gilt roses of the wallpaper, “shut up to kill them. That’s what they do to you in convents.”

“Not at all,” said Mademoiselle; “in convents are very kind good women; there is but one thing in convents that is detestable⁠—the locks on the doors. Sometimes people cannot get out, especially when they are very young and their relations have placed them there for their welfare and happiness. But brick⁠—how you say it?⁠—enwalling ladies to kill them. No⁠—it does itself never. And this lord he did not then seek his lady?”

“Oh, yes⁠—he sought her right enough,” Mabel assured her; “but there are millions of convents, you know, and he had no idea where to look, and they sent back his letters from the post-office, and⁠—”

Ciel!” cried Mademoiselle, “but it seems that one knows all in the housekeeper’s saloon.”

“Pretty well all,” said Mabel simply.

“And you think he will find her? No?”

“Oh, he’ll find her all right,” said Mabel, “when he’s old and broken down, you know and dying; and then a gentle Sister of Charity will soothe his pillow, and just when he’s dying she’ll reveal herself and say: ‘My own lost love!’ and his face will light up with a wonderful joy and he’ll expire with her beloved name on his parched lips.”

Mademoiselle’s was the silence of sheer astonishment. “You do the prophecy, it appears?” she said at last. “Oh no,” said Mabel; “I got that out of a book. I can tell you lots more fatal love-stories any time you like.”

The French governess gave a little jump, as though she had suddenly remembered something.

“It is nearly dinnertime,” she said. “Your friend⁠—Mabelle, yes⁠—will be your convivial, and in her honour we will make a little feast. My beautiful flowers⁠—put them to the water, Kathleen. I run to buy the cakes. Wash the hands, all, and be ready when I return.”

Smiling and nodding to the children, she left them, and ran up the stairs.

“Just as if she was young,” said Kathleen.

“She is young,” said Mabel. “Heaps of ladies have offers of marriage when they’re no younger than her. I’ve seen lots of weddings too, with much older brides. And why didn’t you tell me she was so beautiful?”

Is she?” asked Kathleen.

“Of course she is; and what a darling to think of cakes for me, and calling me a convivial!”

“Look here,” said Gerald, “I call this jolly decent of her. You know, governesses never have more than the meanest pittance, just enough to sustain life, and here she is spending her little all on us. Supposing we just don’t go out today, but play with her instead. I expect she’s most awfully bored really.”

“Would she really like it?” Kathleen wondered. “Aunt Emily says grownups never really like playing. They do it to please us.”

“They little know,” Gerald answered, “how often we do it to please them.”

“We’ve got to do that dressing-up with the Princess clothes anyhow⁠—we said we would,” said Kathleen. “Let’s treat her to that.”

“Rather near teatime,” urged Jimmy, “so that there’ll be a fortunate interruption and the play won’t go on forever.”

“I suppose all the things are safe?” Mabel asked.

“Quite. I told you where I put them. Come on, Jimmy; let’s help lay the table. We’ll get Eliza to put out the best china.”

They went.

“It was lucky,” said Gerald, struck by a sudden thought, “that the burglars didn’t go for the diamonds in the treasure-chamber.”

“They couldn’t,” said Mabel almost in a whisper; “they didn’t know about them. I don’t believe anybody knows about them, except me⁠—and you, and you’re sworn to secrecy.” This, you will remember, had been done almost at the beginning. “I know aunt doesn’t know. I just found out the spring by accident. Lord Yalding’s kept the secret well.”

“I wish I’d got a secret like that to keep,” said Gerald.

“If the burglars do know,” said Mabel, “it’ll all come out at the trial. Lawyers make you tell everything you know at trials, and a lot of lies besides.”

“There won’t be any trial,” said Gerald, kicking the leg of the piano thoughtfully.

“No trial?”

“It said in the paper,” Gerald went on slowly, “ ‘The miscreants must have received warning from a confederate, for the admirable preparations to arrest them as they returned for their ill-gotten plunder were unavailing. But the police have a clue.’ ”

“What a pity!” said Mabel.

“You needn’t worry⁠—they haven’t got any old clue,” said Gerald, still attentive to the piano leg.

“I didn’t mean the clue; I meant the confederate.”

“It’s a pity you think he’s a pity, because he was me,” said Gerald, standing up and leaving the piano leg alone. He looked straight before him, as the boy on the burning deck may have looked.

“I couldn’t help it,” he said. “I know you’ll think I’m a criminal, but I couldn’t do it. I don’t know how detectives can. I went over a prison once, with father; and after I’d given the tip to Johnson I remembered that, and I just couldn’t. I know I’m a beast, and not worthy to be a British citizen.”

“I think it was rather nice of you,” said Mabel kindly. “How did you warn them?”

“I just shoved a paper under the man’s door⁠—the one that I knew where he lived⁠—to tell him to lie low.”

“Oh! do tell me what did you put on it exactly?” Mabel warmed to this new interest. “It said: ‘The police know all except your names. Be virtuous and you are safe. But if there’s any more burgling I shall split and you may rely on that from a friend.’ I know it was wrong, but I couldn’t help it. Don’t tell the others. They wouldn’t understand why I did it. I don’t understand it myself.”

“I do, said Mabel: it’s because you’ve got a kind and noble heart.”

“Kind fiddlestick, my good child!” said Gerald, suddenly losing the burning boy expression and becoming in a flash entirely himself. “Cut along and wash your hands; you’re as black as ink.”

“So are you,” said Mabel, “and I’m not. It’s dye with me. Auntie was dyeing a blouse this morning. It told you how in Home Drivel and she’s as black as ink too, and the blouse is all streaky. Pity the ring won’t make just parts of you invisible⁠—the dirt, for instance.”

“Perhaps,” Gerald said unexpectedly, “it won’t make even all of you invisible again.”

“Why not? You haven’t been doing anything to it⁠—have you?” Mabel sharply asked.

“No; but didn’t you notice you were invisible twenty-one hours; I was fourteen hours invisible, and Eliza only seven⁠—that’s seven less each time. And now we’ve come to⁠—”

“How frightfully good you are at sums!” said Mabel, awestruck.

“You see, it’s got seven hours less each time, and seven from seven is nought; it’s got to be something different this time. And then afterwards it can’t be minus seven, because I don’t see how⁠—unless it made you more visible⁠—thicker, you know.”

Don’t!” said Mabel; “you make my head go round.”

“And there’s another odd thing,” Gerald went on; “when you’re invisible your relations don’t love you. Look at your aunt, and Cathy never turning a hair at me going burgling. We haven’t got to the bottom of that ring yet. Crikey! here’s Mademoiselle with the cakes. Run, bold bandits⁠—wash for your lives!”

They ran.

It was not cakes only; it was plums and grapes and jam tarts and soda-water and raspberry vinegar, and chocolates in pretty boxes and pure, thick, rich cream in brown jugs, also a big bunch of roses. Mademoiselle was strangely merry for a governess. She served out the cakes and tarts with a liberal hand, made wreaths of the flowers for all their heads⁠—she was not eating much herself⁠—drank the health of Mabel, as the guest of the day, in the beautiful pink drink that comes from mixing raspberry vinegar and soda-water, and actually persuaded Jimmy to wear his wreath, on the ground that the Greek gods as well as the goddesses always wore wreaths at a feast.

There never was such a feast provided by any French governess since French governesses began. There were jokes and stories and laughter. Jimmy showed all those tricks with forks and corks and matches and apples which are so deservedly popular. Mademoiselle told them stories of her own schooldays when she was “a quite little girl with two tight tresses⁠—so,” and when they could not understand the tresses, called for paper and pencil and drew the loveliest little picture of herself when she was a child with two short fat pigtails sticking out from her head like knitting-needles from a ball of dark worsted. Then she drew pictures of everything they asked for, till Mabel pulled Gerald’s jacket and whispered: “The acting!”

“Draw us the front of a theatre,” said Gerald tactfully, “a French theatre.”

“They are the same thing as the English theatres,” Mademoiselle told him.

“Do you like acting⁠—the theatre, I mean?”

“But yes I love it.”

“All right,” said Gerald briefly. “We’ll act a play for you⁠—now⁠—this afternoon if you like.”

“Eliza will be washing up,” Cathy whispered, “and she was promised to see it.”

“Or this evening,” said Gerald, “and please, Mademoiselle, may Eliza come in and look on?”

“But certainly,” said Mademoiselle; “amuse yourselves well, my children.”

“But it’s you,” said Mabel suddenly, “that we want to amuse. Because we love you very much don’t we, all of you?”

“Yes,” the chorus came unhesitatingly. Though the others would never have thought of saying such a thing on their own account. Yet, as Mabel said it, they found to their surprise that it was true.

Tiens!” said Mademoiselle, “you love the old French governess? Impossible,” and she spoke rather indistinctly.

“You’re not old,” said Mabel; “at least not so very, she added brightly, and you’re as lovely as a Princess.”

“Go then, flatteress!” said Mademoiselle, laughing; and Mabel went. The others were already halfway up the stairs.

Mademoiselle sat in the drawing-room as usual, and it was a good thing that she was not engaged in serious study, for it seemed that the door opened and shut almost ceaselessly all throughout the afternoon. Might they have the embroidered antimacassars and the sofa cushions? Might they have the clothesline out of the washhouse? Eliza said they mightn’t, but might they? Might they have the sheepskin hearthrugs? Might they have tea in the garden, because they had almost got the stage ready in the dining-room, and Eliza wanted to set tea? Could Mademoiselle lend them any coloured clothes⁠—scarves or dressing-gowns, or anything bright? Yes, Mademoiselle could, and did silk things, surprisingly lovely for a governess to have. Had Mademoiselle any rouge? They had always heard that French ladies⁠—No. Mademoiselle hadn’t and to judge by the colour of her face, Mademoiselle didn’t need it. Did Mademoiselle think the chemist sold rouge⁠—or had she any false hair to spare? At this challenge Mademoiselle’s pale fingers pulled out a dozen hairpins, and down came the loveliest blue-black hair, hanging to her knees in straight, heavy lines.

“No, you terrible infants,” she cried. “I have not the false hair, nor the rouge. And my teeth⁠—you want them also, without doubt?”

She showed them in a laugh.

“I said you were a Princess,” said Mabel, “and now I know. You’re Rapunzel. Do always wear your hair like that! May we have the peacock fans, please, off the mantelpiece, and the things that loop back the curtains, and all the handkerchiefs you’ve got?”

Mademoiselle denied them nothing. They had the fans and the handkerchiefs and some large sheets of expensive drawing-paper out of the school cupboard, and Mademoiselle’s best sable paintbrush and her paintbox.

“Who would have thought,” murmured Gerald, pensively sucking the brush and gazing at the paper mask he had just painted, “that she was such a brick in disguise? I wonder why crimson lake always tastes just like Liebig’s Extract.”

Everything was pleasant that day somehow. There are some days like that, you know, when everything goes well from the very beginning; all the things you want are in their places, nobody misunderstands you, and all that you do turns out admirably. How different from those other days which we all know too well, when your shoelace breaks, your comb is mislaid, your brush spins on its back on the floor and lands under the bed where you can’t get at it⁠—you drop the soap, your buttons come off, an eyelash gets into your eye, you have used your last clean handkerchief, your collar is frayed at the edge and cuts your neck, and at the very last moment your suspender breaks, and there is no string. On such a day as this you are naturally late for breakfast, and everyone thinks you did it on purpose. And the day goes on and on, getting worse and worse⁠—you mislay your exercise-book, you drop your arithmetic in the mud, your pencil breaks, and when you open your knife to sharpen the pencil you split your nail. On such a day you jam your thumb in doors, and muddle the messages you are sent on by grownups. You upset your tea, and your bread-and-butter won’t hold together for a moment. And when at last you get to bed⁠—usually in disgrace⁠—it is no comfort at all to you to know that not a single bit of it is your own fault.

This day was not one of those days, as you will have noticed. Even the tea in the garden⁠—there was a bricked bit by a rockery that made a steady floor for the tea-table⁠—was most delightful, though the thoughts of four out of the five were busy with the coming play, and the fifth had thoughts of her own that had had nothing to do with tea or acting.

Then there was an interval of slamming doors, interesting silences, feet that flew up and down stairs.

It was still good daylight when the dinner-bell rang the signal had been agreed upon at teatime, and carefully explained to Eliza. Mademoiselle laid down her book and passed out of the sunset-yellowed hall into the faint yellow gaslight of the dining-room. The giggling Eliza held the door open before her, and followed her in. The shutters had been closed⁠—streaks of daylight showed above and below them. The green-and-black tablecloths of the school dining-tables were supported on the clothesline from the backyard. The line sagged in a graceful curve, but it answered its purpose of supporting the curtains which concealed that part of the room which was the stage.

Rows of chairs had been placed across the other end of the room⁠—all the chairs in the house, as it seemed⁠—and Mademoiselle started violently when she saw that fully half a dozen of these chairs were occupied. And by the queerest people, too⁠—an old woman with a poke bonnet tied under her chin with a red handkerchief, a lady in a large straw hat wreathed in flowers and the oddest hands that stuck out over the chair in front of her, several men with strange, clumsy figures, and all with hats on.

“But,” whispered Mademoiselle, through the chinks of the tablecloths, “you have then invited other friends? You should have asked me, my children.”

Laughter and something like a “hurrah” answered her from behind the folds of the curtaining tablecloths.

“All right, Mademoiselle Rapunzel,” cried Mabel; “turn the gas up. It’s only part of the entertainment.”

Eliza, still giggling, pushed through the lines of chairs, knocking off the hat of one of the visitors as she did so, and turned up the three incandescent burners.

Mademoiselle looked at the figure seated nearest to her, stooped to look more closely, half laughed, quite screamed, and sat down suddenly.

“Oh!” she cried, “they are not alive!”

Eliza, with a much louder scream, had found out the same thing and announced it differently. “They ain’t got no insides,” said she. The seven members of the audience seated among the wilderness of chairs had, indeed, no insides to speak of. Their bodies were bolsters and rolled-up blankets, their spines were broom-handles, and their arm and leg bones were hockey sticks and umbrellas. Their shoulders were the wooden crosspieces that Mademoiselle used for keeping her jackets in shape; their hands were gloves stuffed out with handkerchiefs; and their faces were the paper masks painted in the afternoon by the untutored brush of Gerald, tied on to the round heads made of the ends of stuffed bolster-cases. The faces were really rather dreadful. Gerald had done his best, but even after his best had been done you would hardly have known they were faces, some of them, if they hadn’t been in the positions which faces usually occupy, between the collar and the hat. Their eyebrows were furious with lampblack frowns⁠—their eyes the size, and almost the shape, of five-shilling pieces, and on their lips and cheeks had been spent much crimson lake and nearly the whole of a half-pan of vermilion.

“You have made yourself an auditors, yes? Bravo!” cried Mademoiselle, recovering herself and beginning to clap. And to the sound of that clapping the curtain went up⁠—or, rather, apart. A voice said, in a breathless, choked way, “Beauty and the Beast,” and the stage was revealed.

It was a real stage too⁠—the dining-tables pushed close together and covered with pink-and-white counterpanes. It was a little unsteady and creaky to walk on, but very imposing to look at. The scene was simple, but convincing. A big sheet of cardboard, bent square, with slits cut in it and a candle behind, represented, quite transparently, the domestic hearth; a round hat-tin of Eliza’s, supported on a stool with a night-light under it, could not have been mistaken, save by wilful malice, for anything but a copper. A waste-paper basket with two or three school dusters and an overcoat in it, and a pair of blue pyjamas over the back of a chair, put the finishing touch to the scene. It did not need the announcement from the wings, “The laundry at Beauty’s home.” It was so plainly a laundry and nothing else.

In the wings: “They look just like a real audience, don’t they?” whispered Mabel. “Go on, Jimmy⁠—don’t forget the Merchant has to be pompous and use long words.”

Jimmy, enlarged by pillows under Gerald’s best overcoat which had been intentionally bought with a view to his probable growth during the two years which it was intended to last him, a Turkish towel turban on his head and an open umbrella over it, opened the first act in a simple and swift soliloquy:

“I am the most unlucky merchant that ever was. I was once the richest merchant in Bagdad, but I lost all my ships, and now I live in a poor house that is all to bits; you can see how the rain comes through the roof, and my daughters take in washing. And⁠—”

The pause might have seemed long, but Gerald rustled in, elegant in Mademoiselle’s pink dressing-gown and the character of the eldest daughter.

“A nice drying day,” he minced. “Pa dear, put the umbrella the other way up. It’ll save us going out in the rain to fetch water. Come on, sisters, dear father’s got us a new washtub. Here’s luxury!”

Round the umbrella, now held the wrong way up, the three sisters knelt and washed imaginary linen. Kathleen wore a violet skirt of Eliza’s, a blue blouse of her own, and a cap of knotted handkerchiefs. A white nightdress girt with a white apron and two red carnations in Mabel’s black hair left no doubt as to which of the three was Beauty.

The scene went very well. The final dance with waving towels was all that there is of charming, Mademoiselle said; and Eliza was so much amused that, as she said, she got quite a nasty stitch along of laughing so hearty.

You know pretty well what Beauty and the Beast would be like acted by four children who had spent the afternoon in arranging their costumes and so had left no time for rehearsing what they had to say. Yet it delighted them, and it charmed their audience. And what more can any play do, even Shakespeare’s? Mabel, in her Princess clothes, was a resplendent Beauty; and Gerald a Beast who wore the drawing-room hearthrugs with an air of indescribable distinction. If Jimmy was not a talkative merchant, he made it up with a stoutness practically unlimited, and Kathleen surprised and delighted even herself by the quickness with which she changed from one to the other of the minor characters⁠—fairies, servants, and messengers. It was at the end of the second act that Mabel, whose costume, having reached the height of elegance, could not be bettered and therefore did not need to be changed, said to Gerald, sweltering under the weighty magnificence of his beast-skin:

“I say, you might let us have the ring back.”

“I’m going to,” said Gerald, who had quite forgotten it. “I’ll give it you in the next scene. Only don’t lose it, or go putting it on. You might go out all together and never be seen again, or you might get seven times as visible as anyone else, so that all the rest of us would look like shadows beside you, you’d be so thick, or⁠—”

“Ready!” said Kathleen, bustling in, once more a wicked sister.

Gerald managed to get his hand into his pocket under his hearthrug, and when he rolled his eyes in agonies of sentiment, and said, “Farewell, dear Beauty! Return quickly, for if you remain long absent from your faithful beast he will assuredly perish,” he pressed a ring into her hand and added: “This is a magic ring that will give you anything you wish. When you desire to return to your own disinterested beast, put on the ring and utter your wish. Instantly you will be by my side.”

Beauty-Mabel took the ring, and it was the ring.

The curtains closed to warm applause from two pairs of hands.

The next scene went splendidly. The sisters were almost too natural in their disagreeableness, and Beauty’s annoyance when they splashed her Princess’s dress with real soap and water was considered a miracle of good acting. Even the merchant rose to something more than mere pillows, and the curtain fell on his pathetic assurance that in the absence of his dear Beauty he was wasting away to a shadow. And again two pairs of hands applauded.

“Here, Mabel, catch hold,” Gerald appealed from under the weight of a towel-horse, the tea-urn, the tea-tray, and the green baize apron of the boot boy, which together with four red geraniums from the landing, the pampas-grass from the drawing-room fireplace, and the india-rubber plants from the drawing-room window were to represent the fountains and garden of the last act. The applause had died away.

“I wish,” said Mabel, taking on herself the weight of the tea-urn, “I wish those creatures we made were alive. We should get something like applause then.”

“I’m jolly glad they aren’t,” said Gerald, arranging the baize and the towel-horse. “Brutes! It makes me feel quite silly when I catch their paper eyes.”

The curtains were drawn back. There lay the hearthrug-coated beast, in flat abandonment among the tropic beauties of the garden, the pampas-grass shrubbery, the india-rubber plant bushes, the geranium-trees and the urn fountain. Beauty was ready to make her great entry in all the thrilling splendour of despair. And then suddenly it all happened.

Mademoiselle began it: she applauded the garden scene⁠—with hurried little clappings of her quick French hands. Eliza’s fat red palms followed heavily, and then⁠—someone else was clapping, six or seven people, and their clapping made a dull padded sound. Nine faces instead of two were turned towards the stage, and seven out of the nine were painted, pointed paper faces. And every hand and every face was alive. The applause grew louder as Mabel glided forward, and as she paused and looked at the audience her unstudied pose of horror and amazement drew forth applause louder still; but it was not loud enough to drown the shrieks of Mademoiselle and Eliza as they rushed from the room, knocking chairs over and crushing each other in the doorway. Two distant doors banged, Mademoiselle’s door and Eliza’s door.

“Curtain! curtain! quick!” cried Beauty-Mabel, in a voice that wasn’t Mabel’s or the Beauty’s. “Jerry⁠—those things have come alive. Oh, whatever shall we do?”

Gerald in his hearthrugs leaped to his feet. Again that flat padded applause marked the swish of cloths on clothesline as Jimmy and Kathleen drew the curtains.

“What’s up?” they asked as they drew.

“You’ve done it this time!” said Gerald to the pink, perspiring Mabel. “Oh, bother these strings!”

“Can’t you burst them? I’ve done it?” retorted Mabel. “I like that!”

“More than I do,” said Gerald.

“Oh, it’s all right,” said Mabel. “Come on. We must go and pull the things to pieces⁠—then they can’t go on being alive.”

“It’s your fault, anyhow,” said Gerald with every possible absence of gallantry. “Don’t you see? It’s turned into a wishing ring. I knew something different was going to happen. Get my knife out of my pocket⁠—this string’s in a knot. Jimmy, Cathy, those Ugly-Wuglies have come alive⁠—because Mabel wished it. Cut out and pull them to pieces.”

Jimmy and Cathy peeped through the curtain and recoiled with white faces and staring eyes. “Not me!” was the brief rejoinder of Jimmy. Cathy said, “Not much!” And she meant it, anyone could see that.

And now, as Gerald, almost free of the hearthrugs, broke his thumbnail on the stiffest blade of his knife, a thick rustling and a sharp, heavy stumping sounded beyond the curtain.

“They’re going out!” screamed Kathleen, “walking out on their umbrella and broomstick legs. You can’t stop them, Jerry, they’re too awful!”

“Everybody in the town’ll be insane by tomorrow night if we don’t stop them,” cried Gerald. “Here, give me the ring⁠—I’ll unwish them.”

He caught the ring from the unresisting Mabel, cried, “I wish the Uglies weren’t alive,” and tore through the door. He saw, in fancy, Mabel’s wish undone, and the empty hall strewed with limp bolsters, hats, umbrellas, coats and gloves, prone abject properties from which the brief life had gone out forever. But the hall was crowded with live things, strange things⁠—all horribly short as broom sticks and umbrellas are short. A limp hand gesticulated. A pointed white face with red cheeks looked up at him, and wide red lips said something, he could not tell what. The voice reminded him of the old beggar down by the bridge who had no roof to his mouth. These creatures had no roofs to their mouths, of course⁠—they had no⁠—

“Aa oo ré o me me oo a oo ho el?” said the voice again. And it had said it four times before Gerald could collect himself sufficiently to understand that this horror⁠—alive, and most likely quite uncontrollable⁠—was saying, with a dreadful calm, polite persistence:

“Can you recommend me to a good hotel?”