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The Enchanted Castle

by E. Nesbit

To Margaret Ostler with love from E. Nesbit

Peggy, you came from the heath and moor,
And you brought their airs through my open door;
You brought the blossom of youth to blow
In the Latin Quarter of Soho.
For the sake of that magic I send you here
A tale of enchantments, Peggy dear,
A bit of my work, and a bit of my heart...
The bit that you left when we had to part.

Royalty Chambers, Soho, W. 25
September 1907

There were three of them Jerry, Jimmy, and Kathleen. Of course,
Jerry's name was Gerald, and not Jeremiah, whatever you may
think; and Jimmy's name was James; and Kathleen was never
called by her name at all, but Cathy, or Catty, or Puss Cat, when
her brothers were pleased with her, and Scratch Cat when they
were not pleased. And they were at school in a little town in the
West of England the boys at one school, of course, and the girl at
another, because the sensible habit of having boys and girls at the
same school is not yet as common as I hope it will be some day.
They used to see each other on Saturdays and Sundays at the house
of a kind maiden lady; but it was one of those houses where it is
impossible to play. You know the kind of house, don't you? There
is a sort of a something about that kind of house that makes you
hardly able even to talk to each other when you are left alone, and
playing seems unnatural and affected. So they looked forward to
the holidays, when they should all go home and be together all day
long, in a house where playing was natural and conversation
possible, and where the Hampshire forests and fields were full of
interesting things to do and see. Their Cousin Betty was to be there
too, and there were plans. Betty's school broke up before theirs,
and so she got to the Hampshire home first, and the moment she
got there she began to have measles, so that my three couldn't go
home at all. You may imagine their feelings. The thought of seven
weeks at Miss Hervey's was not to be borne, and all three wrote
home and said so. This astonished their parents very much,
because they had always thought it was so nice for the children to
have dear Miss Hervey's to go to. However, they were "jolly decent
about it , as Jerry said, and after a lot of letters and telegrams, it
was arranged that the boys should go and stay at Kathleen's school,
where there were now no girls left and no mistresses except the
French one.

"It'll be better than being at Miss Hervey's," said Kathleen, when
the boys came round to ask Mademoiselle when it would be
convenient for them to come; "and, besides, our school's not half
so ugly as yours. We do have tablecloths on the tables and curtains
at the windows, and yours is all deal boards, and desks, and

When they had gone to pack their boxes Kathleen made all the
rooms as pretty as she could with flowers in jam jars marigolds
chiefly, because there was nothing much else in the back garden.
There were geraniums in the front garden, and calceolarias and
lobelias; of course, the children were not allowed to pick these.

"We ought to have some sort of play to keep us going through the
holidays," said Kathleen, when tea was over, and she had unpacked
and arranged the boys clothes in the painted chests of drawers,
feeling very grown-up and careful as she neatly laid the different
sorts of clothes in tidy little heaps in the drawers. "Suppose we
write a book."

"You couldn't," said Jimmy.

"I didn't mean me, of course," said Kathleen, a little injured; "I
meant us."

"Too much fag," said Gerald briefly.

"If we wrote a book," Kathleen persisted, "about what the insides
of schools really are like, people would read it and say how clever
we were."

"More likely expel us," said Gerald. "No; we'll have an
out-of-doors game bandits, or something like that. It wouldn't be
bad if we could get a cave and keep stores in it, and have our
meals there."

"There aren't any caves," said Jimmy, who was fond of
contradicting everyone. "And, besides, your precious Mamselle
won't let us go out alone, as likely as not."

"Oh, we'll see about that," said Gerald. "I'll go and talk to her like a

"Like that?" Kathleen pointed the thumb of scorn at him, and he
looked in the glass.

"To brush his hair and his clothes and to wash his face and hands
was to our hero but the work of a moment," said Gerald, and went
to suit the action to the word.

It was a very sleek boy, brown and thin and interesting-looking,
that knocked at the door of the parlour where Mademoiselle sat
reading a yellow-covered book and wishing vain wishes. Gerald
could always make himself look interesting at a moment's notice, a
very useful accomplishment in dealing with strange grown-ups. It
was done by opening his grey eyes rather wide, allowing the
corners of his mouth to droop, and assuming a gentle, pleading
expression, resembling that of the late little Lord Fauntleroy who
must, by the way, be quite old now, and an awful prig.

"Entrez!" said Mademoiselle, in shrill French accents. So he

"Eh bien?" she said rather impatiently.

"I hope I am not disturbing you," said Gerald, in whose mouth, it
seemed, butter would not have melted.

"But no," she said, somewhat softened. "What is it that you

"I thought I ought to come and say how do you do," said Gerald,
"because of you being the lady of the house."

He held out the newly-washed hand, still damp and red. She took

"You are a very polite little boy," she said.

"Not at all," said Gerald, more polite than ever. "I am so sorry for
you. It must be dreadful to have us to look after in the holidays."

"But not at all," said Mademoiselle in her turn. "I am sure you will
be very good childrens."

Gerald's look assured her that he and the others would be as near
angels as children could be without ceasing to be human."We'll
try," he said earnestly.

"Can one do anything for you?" asked the French governess kindly.

"Oh, no, thank you," said Gerald. "We don't want to give you any
trouble at all. And I was thinking it would be less trouble for you if
we were to go out into the woods all day tomorrow and take our
dinner with us something cold, you know so as not to be a trouble
to the cook."

"You are very considerate," said Mademoiselle coldly. Then
Gerald's eyes smiled; they had a trick of doing this when his lips
were quite serious. Mademoiselle caught the twinkle, and she
laughed and Gerald laughed too.

"Little deceiver!" she said. "Why not say at once you want to be
free of surveillance, how you say overwatching without pretending
it is me you wish to please?"

"You have to be careful with grown-ups, " said Gerald, "but it isn't
all pretence either. We don't want to trouble you and we don't want
you to "

"To trouble you. Eh bien! Your parents, they permit these days at

"Oh, yes," said Gerald truthfully.

"Then I will not be more a dragon than the parents. I will forewarn
the cook. Are you content?"

"Rather!" said Gerald. "Mademoiselle, you are a dear."

"A deer?" she repeated "a stag?"

"No, a a cherie," said Gerald "a regular A1 cherie. And you sha'n't
repent it. Is there anything we can do for you wind your wool, or
find your spectacles, or ?"

"He thinks me a grandmother!" said Mademoiselle, laughing more
than ever. "Go then, and be not more naughty than you must."

"Well, what luck?" the others asked.

"It's all right," said Gerald indifferently. "I told you it would be.
The ingenuous youth won the regard of the foreign governess, who
in her youth had been the beauty of her humble village."

"I don't believe she ever was. She's too stern," said Kathleen.

"Ah!" said Gerald, "that's only because you don't know how to
manage her. She wasn't stern with me."

"I say," what a humbug you are though, aren't you?" said Jimmy.

"No, I'm a dip what's-its-name? Something like an ambassador.
Dipsoplomatist that's what I am. Anyhow, we've got our day, and if
we don't find a cave in it my name's not Jack Robinson."

Mademoiselle, less stern than Kathleen had ever seen her, presided
at supper, which was bread and treacle spread several hours
before, and now harder and drier than any other food you can think
of. Gerald was very polite in handing her butter and cheese, and
pressing her to taste the bread and treacle.

"Bah! it is like sand in the mouth of a dryness! Is it possible this
pleases you?"

"No," said Gerald, "it is not possible, but it is not polite for boys to
make remarks about their food!"

She laughed, but there was no more dried bread and treacle for
supper after that.

"How do you do it?" Kathleen whispered admiringly as they said
good night.

"Oh, it's quite easy when you've once got a grownup to see what
you're after. You'll see, I shall drive her with a rein of darning
cotton after this."

Next morning Gerald got up early and gathered a little bunch of
pink carnations from a plant which he found hidden among the
marigolds. He tied it up with black cotton and laid it on
Mademoiselle's plate. She smiled and looked quite handsome as
she stuck the flowers in her belt.

"Do you think it's quite decent," Jimmy asked later "sort of bribing
people to let you do as you like with flowers and things and
passing them the salt?"

"It's not that," said Kathleen suddenly. "I know what Gerald means,
only I never think of the things in time myself. You see, if you
want grown-ups to be nice to you the least you can do is to be nice
to them and think of little things to please them. I never think of
any myself. Jerry does; that's why all the old ladies like him. It's
not bribery. It's a sort of honesty like paying for things."

"Well, anyway," said Jimmy, putting away the moral question,
"we've got a ripping day for the woods."

They had.

The wide High Street, even at the busy morning hour almost as
quiet as a dream-street, lay bathed in sunshine; the leaves shone
fresh from last night's rain, but the road was dry, and in the
sunshine the very dust of it sparkled like diamonds. The beautiful
old houses, standing stout and strong, looked as though they were
basking in the sunshine and enjoying it.

"But are there any woods?" asked Kathleen as they passed the

"It doesn't much matter about woods," said Gerald dreamily, "we're
sure to find something. One of the chaps told me his father said
when he was a boy there used to be a little cave under the bank in
a lane near the Salisbury Road; but he said there was an enchanted
castle there too, so perhaps the cave isn't true either." "If we were
to get horns," said Kathleen, "and to blow them very hard all the
way, we might find a magic castle."

"If you've got the money to throw away on horns..." said Jimmy

"Well, I have, as it happens, so there!" said Kathleen. And the
horns were bought in a tiny shop with a bulging window full of a
tangle of toys and sweets and cucumbers and sour apples.

And the quiet square at the end of the town where the church is,
and the houses of the most respectable people, echoed to the sound
of horns blown long and loud. But none of the houses turned into
enchanted castles. Away they went along the Salisbury Road,
which was very hot and dusty, so they agreed to drink one of the
bottles of ginger-beer.

"We might as well carry the ginger-beer inside us as inside the
bottle," said Jimmy, "and we can hide the bottle and call for it as
we come back.

Presently they came to a place where the road, as Gerald said,
went two ways at once.

"That looks like adventures," said Kathleen; and they took the
right-hand road, and the next time they took a turning it was a
left-hand one, "so as to be quite fair," Jimmy said, and then a
right-hand one and then a left, and so on, till they were completely

"Completely," said Kathleen; "how jolly!"

And now trees arched overhead, and the banks of the road were
high and bushy. The adventurers had long since ceased to blow
their horns. It was too tiring to go on doing that, when there was no
one to be annoyed by it.

"Oh, kriky!" observed Jimmy suddenly, "let's sit down a bit and
have some of our dinner. We might call it lunch, you know," he
added persuasively.

So they sat down in the hedge and ate the ripe red gooseberries
that were to have been their dessert.

And as they sat and rested and wished that their boots did not feel
so full of feet, Gerald leaned back against the bushes, and the
bushes gave way so that he almost fell over backward. Something
had yielded to the pressure of his back, and there was the sound of
something heavy that fell.

"Oh, Jimminy!" he remarked, recovering himself suddenly; "there's
something hollow in there the stone I was leaning against simply

"I wish it was a cave," said Jimmy; "but of course it isn't."

"If we blow the horns perhaps it will be," said Kathleen, and
hastily blew her own.

Gerald reached his hand through the bushes. "I can't feel anything
but air," he said; "it's just a hole full of emptiness. The other two
pulled back the bushes. There certainly was a hole in the bank.
"I'm going to go in," observed Gerald.

"Oh, don't!" said his sister. "I wish you wouldn't. Suppose there
were snakes!"

"Not likely," said Gerald, but he leaned forward and struck a
match. "It is a cave!" he cried, and put his knee on the mossy stone
he had been sitting on, scrambled over it, and disappeared.

A breathless pause followed.

"You all right?" asked Jimmy.

"Yes; come on. You'd better come feet first there's a bit of a drop."

"I'll go next," said Kathleen, and went feet first, as advised. The
feet waved wildly in the air.

"Look out!" said Gerald in the dark; "you'll have my eye out. Put
your feet down, girl, not up. It's no use trying to fly here there's no

He helped her by pulling her feet forcibly down and then lifting
her under the arms. She felt rustling dry leaves under her boots,
and stood ready to receive Jimmy, who came in head first, like one
diving into an unknown sea.

"It is a cave," said Kathleen.

"The young explorers," explained Gerald, blocking up the hole of
entrance with his shoulders, "dazzled at first by the darkness of the
cave, could see nothing."

"Darkness doesn't dazzle," said Jimmy.

"I wish we'd got a candle," said Kathleen.

"Yes, it does," Gerald contradicted "could see nothing. But their
dauntless leader, whose eyes had grown used to the dark while the
clumsy forms of the others were bunging up the entrance, had
made a discovery.

"Oh, what!" Both the others were used to Gerald's way of telling a
story while he acted it, but they did sometimes wish that he didn't
talk quite so long and so like a book in moments of excitement.

"He did not reveal the dread secret to his faithful followers till one
and all had given him their word of honour to be calm."

"We'll be calm all right," said Jimmy impatiently."Well, then," said
Gerald, ceasing suddenly to be a book and becoming a boy,
"there's a light over there look behind you!"

They looked. And there was. A faint greyness on the brown walls
of the cave, and a brighter greyness cut off sharply by a dark line,
showed that round a turning or angle of the cave there was

"Attention!" said Gerald; at least, that was what he meant, though
what he said was "Shun!" as becomes the son of a soldier. The
others mechanically obeyed.

"You will remain at attention till I give the word "Slow march!' on
which you will advance cautiously in open order, following your
hero leader, taking care not to tread on the dead and wounded."

"I wish you wouldn't!" said Kathleen.

"There aren't any," said Jimmy, feeling for her hand in the dark;
"he only means, take care not to tumble over stones and things"

Here he found her hand, and she screamed.

"It's only me," said Jimmy. "I thought you'd like me to hold it. But
you're just like a girl."

Their eyes had now begun to get accustomed to the darkness, and
all could see that they were in a rough stone cave, that went
straight on for about three or four yards and then turned sharply to
the right.

"Death or victory!" remarked Gerald. "Now, then Slow march!"

He advanced carefully, picking his way among the loose earth and
stones that were the floor of the cave.

"A sail, a sail!" he cried, as he turned the corner.

"How splendid!" Kathleen drew a long breath as she came out into
the sunshine.

"I don't see any sail," said Jimmy, following.

The narrow passage ended in a round arch all fringed with ferns
and creepers. They passed through the arch into a deep, narrow
gully whose banks were of stones, moss-covered; and in the
crannies grew more ferns and long grasses. Trees growing on the
top of the bank arched across, and the sunlight came through in
changing patches of brightness, turning the gully to a roofed
corridor of goldy-green. The path, which was of greeny-grey
flagstones where heaps of leaves had drifted, sloped steeply down,
and at the end of it was another round arch, quite dark inside,
above which rose rocks and grass and bushes.

"It's like the outside of a railway tunnel," said James.

"It's the entrance to the enchanted castle," said Kathleen. "Let's
blow the horns."

"Dry up!" said Gerald. "The bold Captain, reproving the silly
chatter of his subordinates ,"

"I like that!" said Jimmy, indignant.

"I thought you would," resumed Gerald "of his subordinates, bade
them advance with caution and in silence, because after all there
might be somebody about, and the other arch might be an
ice-house or something dangerous.

"What?" asked Kathleen anxiously.

"Bears, perhaps," said Gerald briefly.

"There aren't any bears without bars in England, anyway," said
Jimmy. "They call bears bars in America," he added absently.

"Quick march!" was Gerald's only reply.

And they marched. Under the drifted damp leaves the path was
firm and stony to their shuffling feet. At the dark arch they

"There are steps down," said Jimmy.

"It is an ice-house," said Gerald.

"Don't let's," said Kathleen.

"Our hero," said Gerald, "who nothing could dismay, raised the
faltering hopes of his abject minions by saying that he was jolly
well going on, and they could do as they liked about it."

"If you call names," said Jimmy, "you can go on by yourself. He
added, "So there!"

"It's part of the game, silly," explained Gerald kindly. "You can be
Captain tomorrow, so you'd better hold your jaw now, and begin to
think about what names you'll call us when it's your turn."

Very slowly and carefully they went down the steps. A vaulted
stone arched over their heads. Gerald struck a match when the last
step was found to have no edge, and to be, in fact, the beginning of
a passage, turning to the left.

"This," said Jimmy, "will take us back into the road."

"Or under it," said Gerald. "We've come down eleven steps."

They went on, following their leader, who went very slowly for
fear, as he explained, of steps. The passage was very dark.

"I don't half like it!" whispered Jimmy.

Then came a glimmer of daylight that grew and grew, and
presently ended in another arch that looked out over a scene so like
a picture out of a book about Italy that everyone's breath was taken
away, and they simply walked forward silent and staring. A short
avenue of cypresses led, widening as it went, to a marble terrace
that lay broad and white in the sunlight. The children, blinking,
leaned their arms on the broad, flat balustrade and gazed.
Immediately below them was a lake just like a lake in "The
Beauties of Italy" a lake with swans and an island and weeping
willows; beyond it were green slopes dotted with groves of trees,
and amid the trees gleamed the white limbs of statues. Against a
little hill to the left was a round white building with pillars, and to
the right a waterfall came tumbling down among mossy stones to
splash into the lake. Steps fed from the terrace to the water, and
other steps to the green lawns beside it. Away across the grassy
slopes deer were feeding, and in the distance where the groves of
trees thickened into what looked almost a forest were enormous
shapes of grey stone, like nothing that the children had ever seen

"That chap at school ," said Gerald.

"It is an enchanted castle," said Kathleen.

"I don't see any castle," said Jimmy.

"What do you call that, then?" Gerald pointed to where, beyond a
belt of lime-trees, white towers and turrets broke the blue of the

"There doesn't seem to be anyone about," said Kathleen, "and yet
it's all so tidy. I believe it is magic"

"Magic mowing machines," Jimmy suggested.

"If we were in a book it would be an enchanted castle certain to
be," said Kathleen.

"It is an enchanted castle," said Gerald in hollow tones.

"But there aren't any" Jimmy was quite positive.

"How do you know? Do you think there's nothing in the world but
what you've seen?" His scorn was crushing.

"I think magic went out when people began to have
steam-engines," Jimmy insisted, "and newspapers, and telephones
and wireless telegraphing."

"Wireless is rather like magic when you come to think of it," said

"Oh, that sort!" Jimmy's contempt was deep.

"Perhaps there's given up being magic because people didn't
believe in it any more," said Kathleen.

"Well, don't let's spoil the show with any silly old not believing,"
said Gerald with decision. "I'm going to believe in magic as hard
as I can. This is an enchanted garden, and that's an enchanted
castle, and I'm jolly well going to explore."

The dauntless knight then led the way, leaving his ignorant squires
to follow or not, just as they jolly well chose. He rolled off the
balustrade and strode firmly down towards the lawn, his boots
making, as they went, a clatter full of determination. The others
followed. There never was such a garden out of a picture or a
fairy-tale. They passed quite close by the deer, who only raised
their pretty heads to look, and did not seem startled at all. And
after a long stretch of turf they passed under the heaped-up heavy
masses of lime-trees and came into a rose-garden, bordered with
thick, close-cut yew hedges, and lying red and pink and green and
white in the sun, like a giant's many-coloured, highly-scented

"I know we shall meet a gardener in a minute, and he'll ask what
we re doing here. And then what will you say?" Kathleen asked
with her nose in a rose.

"I shall say we have lost our way, and it will be quite true," said

But they did not meet a gardener or anybody else, and the feeling
of magic got thicker and thicker, till they were almost afraid of the
sound of their feet in the great silent place. Beyond the rose garden
was a yew hedge with an arch cut in it, and it was the beginning of
a maze like the one in Hampton Court.

"Now," said Gerald, "you mark my words. In the middle of this
maze we shall find the secret enchantment. Draw your swords, my
merry men all, and hark forward tallyho in the utmost silence.
Which they did. It was very hot in the maze, between the close yew
hedges, and the way to the maze's heart was hidden well. Again
and again they found themselves at the black yew arch that opened
on the rose garden, and they were all glad that they had brought
large, clean pocket-handkerchiefs with them. It was when they
found themselves there for the fourth time that Jimmy suddenly
cried, "Oh, I wish ' and then stopped short very suddenly. "Oh!" he
added in quite a different voice, "where's the dinner?" And then in
a stricken silence they all remembered that the basket with the
dinner had been left at the entrance of the cave. Their thoughts
dwelt fondly on the slices of cold mutton, the six tomatoes, the
bread and butter, the screwed-up paper of salt, the apple turnovers,
and the little thick glass that one drank the ginger-beer out of.

"Let's go back," said Jimmy, "now this minute, and get our things
and have our dinner."

"Let's have one more try at the maze. I hate giving things up," said

"I am so hungry!" said Jimmy.

"Why didn't you say so before?" asked Gerald bitterly.

"I wasn't before."

"Then you can't be now. You don't get hungry all in a minute.
What's that?"

That was a gleam of red that lay at the foot of the yew-hedge a thin
little line, that you would hardly have noticed unless you had been
staring in a fixed and angry way at the roots of the hedge.

It was a thread of cotton. Gerald picked it up. One end of it was

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