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Title: Knock Three Times!
Author: Webb, Marion St. John
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Knock Three Times!" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Illustration: IT WAS JACK, DAZED AND RUBBING HIS EYES]



  KNOCK THREE
  TIMES!

  _BY_

  MARION ST JOHN WEBB

  AUTHOR OF ‘THE LITTLEST ONE’
  ‘THE GIRLS OF CHEQUERTREES’ ‘ELIZ’BETH PHIL AND ME’
  ETC.

  ILLUSTRATED BY
  MARGARET W. TARRANT

  [Illustration]

  FUNK & WAGNALLS COMPANY
  NEW YORK AND LONDON



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                     PAGE
      I Aunt Phœbe sends a Birthday Present                      9
     II The Adventure Begins                                    14
    III The Other Side of the Tree                              26
     IV Why Old Nancy Slept through the Sunset Hour             38
      V Which Explains who is Inside the Grey Pumpkin           44
     VI The Black Leaf                                          55
    VII Glan Opens the Gate in the Nick of Time                 69
   VIII Aunt Janet Puts on her Best Bonnet                      84
     IX Planning the Search                                     99
      X Some One Meets Jack and Molly in the Third Green Lane  114
     XI Trapped                                                130
    XII The Goblin’s Heath                                     143
   XIII Timothy Gives Them a Clue                              158
    XIV Mr Papingay’s House in the Orange Wood                 169
     XV Jack’s Misfortune                                      190
    XVI Molly Accepts a Present                                202
   XVII A Warning                                              213
  XVIII Molly Comes to Lake Desolate                           230
    XIX Molly Looks Through Miss Lydia’s Window                241
     XX What Happened Outside Old Nancy’s Cottage              259
    XXI The Grey Pumpkin’s Fate                                272
   XXII The Impossible World Again                             282



ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                          PAGE
  IT WAS JACK, DAZED AND RUBBING HIS EYES        _Frontispiece_
  JACK AND MOLLY CLAMBERED OVER THE FENCE                   20
  THE LITTLE DWARF WAS LIFTED, STRUGGLING AND SCREAMING     50
  THE HUGE GATE SWUNG BACK                                  74
  “DO HAVE ONE!”                                           124
  ONE AND ALL WERE SIMPLY PAINTED PEOPLE                   178
  “THANK GOODNESS YOU _’AVE_ WOKE UP!”                     218
  QUICK AS THOUGHT, SHE STRUCK ONE OF OLD NANCY’S MATCHES  256



_KNOCK THREE TIMES!_



CHAPTER I

_Aunt Phœbe sends a Birthday Present_


This story really begins with the arrival of a brown paper parcel
addressed to Molly, but while the postman is bringing it along the
road, there may be just time to explain about Jack and Molly’s
birthday, so that you will understand why Molly sat down to supper
wishing earnestly that silver bangles were considered useful and
necessary presents.

Jack and Molly were twins, and this was their ninth birthday. Such a
happy, exciting day it had been; it _felt_ like a birthday all day
long, so you can guess how jolly it was, and how special it made Jack
and Molly feel. Little did they guess what a weird and mysterious end
to the day was now approaching!

They had received a number of beautiful presents, and, to their
unbounded joy, a fine new bicycle each from Mother and Father. But
there was one particular thing that Molly had wanted for her birthday,
and that was a silver bangle.

“Like Mother’s,” she had told Jack, “only silver. One that nearly
slips off when I hang my hand down and that I have to push back up my
arm—and it jingles.”

As there happened also to be one other thing that Jack wanted
specially, a box of paints, the two children had decided some days ago
to write to their Aunt Phœbe, who always remembered their birthday, and
hint to her as delicately as possible what the most acceptable presents
would be. It had been a forlorn hope for Molly, because Aunt Phœbe
had fixed ideas about useless and useful presents. Probably she might
consider a box of paints useful to encourage Jack’s artistic leanings;
but a bangle——! Still, Molly sent her letter and hoped for the best.

On looking at Jack and Molly you would have noticed at once that
they both had the same kind of brown, curly hair and the same frank
expression about the eyes; but while Molly’s eyes were brown, and
her face often wistful and dreamy, Jack’s eyes were blue, and his
expression alert and full of energy; there was a certain reckless air
about Jack....

But the postman has reached their house, and is handing in two brown
paper parcels, and so the story really begins.

“It’s Aunt Phœbe’s handwriting!” Jack exclaimed, as he seized his
parcel.

“Yours looks flat—like a paint-box, Jack,” said Molly breathlessly,
tugging at the string of her parcel.

“Yours looks like something in a box too. Probably it will be a
bracelet,” Jack said encouragingly, hoping that it would be, for he
felt he should be almost as disappointed as Molly if it wasn’t.

Jack was the first to vanquish strings and paper, and with a yell of
delight he tore the wrapper off his parcel and disclosed a beautiful,
shiny black paint-box. For a few moments Mother and Father and Jack
were so engrossed in examining and admiring the box that they did not
notice that Molly had unwrapped her parcel, until her intense quietness
was borne in upon them, and they all three turned round.

Molly stood by the side of the table gazing tearfully at a round,
grey-looking thing half buried in a mass of tissue paper.

“What is it, dear?” asked Mother, crossing over to her side.

“It’s not——” began Molly, then stopped because of an uncomfortable
lump in her throat.

“Let me see,” said Mother, and she picked up the grey thing and turned
it over in her hands. On the other side was pinned a slip of paper, on
which was written:

    FOR MOLLY

  _Hoping she will be a good girl on her birthday and have many
  happy returns. I thought this useful little thing would do for her
  dressing-table._

    _With love from_ AUNT PHŒBE

“Why, it’s a pincushion!” said Mother.

“What a beastly shame!” said Jack.

“Be quiet, Jack. It’s a very pretty one,” Mother added consolingly.

“Funny shape, isn’t it?” queried Father.

“It’s—let me see—why, it’s the shape of a—what do you call those
things?—pumpkins. It’s shaped like a pumpkin,” answered Mother.

“But it’s grey,” objected Father. “Why didn’t they make it yellow or
green while they were about it?”

“I suppose Aunt Phœbe thought grey would keep clean longer,” said Jack:
“that’s why she chose it.”

Had Aunt Phœbe known when she bought ‘this useful little thing’ what it
Really Was—could she have foreseen any of the mysterious happenings
that were to follow the arrival of her birthday present—she would have
preferred to send her niece half a dozen of the most jingly silver
bangles ever made; for she disapproved of adventures in any shape or
form, even more than she disapproved of bangles. Yet it was entirely
through Aunt Phœbe that Jack and Molly took part in the adventure of
the Grey Pumpkin at all.



CHAPTER II

_The Adventure Begins_


When Molly went up to bed that night she took the pincushion with her
and placed it on the dressing-table, and tried her best to think that
it looked nice. “It really will be useful,” she told herself, and to
prove this she picked up a long pin and stuck it into the pumpkin
pincushion, though with a little more violence than was necessary. Then
she ran across the room and tumbled into bed.

It was a beautiful moonlight night, and the moonbeams streaming into
the room made it almost as light as day. Molly lay there snug, drowsily
planning out lovely rides that she and Jack would go as soon as they
had both learnt how to manage their cycles; the thought of her bicycle
sent a warm thrill through her heart and a smile of content hovering
about her mouth.

She could hear Jack in the next room moving noisily about; he always
made a dreadful noise in his room, thumping and banging things down
and whistling shrilly, until he got into bed. And to-night the extra
excitement of having a birthday seemed to make the thumping extra heavy
and the whistling extra shrill. Presently the thuds and bumps and
whistles ceased abruptly, and she knew that Jack was in bed; and to be
in bed and to be asleep were practically the same thing with Jack. No
sooner did his head touch the pillow than he was as good as asleep, and
no sooner did he open his eyes in the morning than he was out of bed
and hunting for his stockings. Sleep did not come so readily to Molly.
She would often lie awake for a long time after she had gone to bed,
thinking and planning, her brain ticking busily.

Molly was just wondering whether it would be possible for her and Jack
to cycle to Brighton and back in a day, and whether Mother would let
them go, when all at once she became aware that something was moving in
her room; a soft, rolling sound came from the direction of the window.

Molly raised her head and gazed with startled eyes across the moonlit
room. She could see something large and round moving softly on the
dressing-table. It looked just as if—— Surely her eyes were playing
her some trick! She stared across at the dressing-table, frightened,
yet fascinated. Then she sat up. No, her eyes had not deceived her.

There, in front of the looking-glass, rocking gently from side to side,
was the pumpkin pincushion, grown to nearly three times its original
size, and growing still larger every second.

Bigger and bigger it grew, until it had grown almost as big round
as the front wheel of Molly’s bicycle; then it ceased rocking (and
growing) and remained still for a few seconds; then, rolling quietly
along the dressing-table and over the edge, it fell with a dull thud to
the floor. Across to the door it rolled, bumped softly against it, and
drew back a few paces. Molly watched as the door swung open, and the
Grey Pumpkin passed out on to the landing.

Molly was filled with amazement. What had happened? What did it
mean? She remained quite still, hesitating for a moment. Then she
sprang out of bed. Her first fear had vanished, leaving in its place
an overwhelming curiosity—and another feeling that she couldn’t
define—she just felt that she _must_ follow the Pumpkin.

Her mind once made up, she felt perfectly calm and collected; even
collected enough to slip hastily into some clothes and put on her
little blue-and-white frock and her outdoor shoes. Never before in all
her short life had Molly dressed so quickly.

Meanwhile the Grey Pumpkin was making its way along the moonlit landing
to the top of the stairs. She heard it begin to descend—thud, thud—as
she whisked into Jack’s room.

“Jack! Jack!” she called in a loud whisper. “Don’t be frightened; it’s
only me—Molly. Hush! Are you awake? Oh, Jack, hush!” as Jack uttered a
sound between a loud yawn and a groan. “Get up quickly. It’s all right.
Only do be quick, quick!”

Jack sat up with a jerk.

“What is it? What’s the matter?” he exclaimed.

“Hush! Don’t make a sound or you’ll spoil everything, p’raps. Put on
some clothes, quickly, and come with me. Oh, don’t ask questions, Jack,
but do be quick, and don’t make the slightest noise.” And Molly ran
back to the landing and listened. Thud, thud, thud, the Pumpkin was
rolling steadily and slowly from stair to stair, and, judging by the
sound, was already a long way down. “Hurry, Jack,” said Molly.

It was easy for Jack to be quick, though not so easy to refrain from
asking questions, but to tell him not to make the slightest noise was
expecting a little too much of him. However, he only bumped twice
against the water-jug and knocked his hair-brush off the dressing-table
and fell over a chair before he was ready, and, all things considered,
he behaved in a very creditable manner.

Afterward, when thinking things over, Molly was surprised at her own
calmness in remembering to tell him about clothes and being quiet;
but remember she did, and found herself explaining to her brother as
rapidly as possible just what had happened.

“I know it sounds impossible, Jack,” she said, “but it’s true, and
you’ll see it yourself in a minute.”

The two children sped quickly along the landing and down the first
flight of stairs, passing from dark shadows into moonlit patches as
they went by landing windows, then back into the shadows again and down
another flight, and out into the moonlight once more; so on and on,
guided by the dull thud, thud of the Pumpkin on the soft stair-carpet
below them.

As they reached the top of the last flight the sound ceased.

“It’s reached the bottom,” whispered Molly.

Jack shook his head incredulously; he had not seen the Pumpkin yet
and could not believe it was the sole cause of the bumping noise he
had heard on the stairs. When the noise ceased they hesitated about
continuing their descent. It was pitch-black at the bottom of the last
flight, and Molly thought it would be so horrible if one of them put
their foot on that rolling grey thing in the dark.

As they waited they heard a slight bump—then a streak of light
appeared, and they saw the back door swing quietly open. The
Pumpkin—and Jack could see plainly that it was a huge pumpkin—rolled
ponderously out, and the door began slowly to close again.

“Quick!” gasped Molly; and the two sped down the last flight, and the
next moment were standing breathless outside the back door.

Their garden was long, and backed on to a small wood (which had been
the scene of many a picnic during the summer months). A low, broken
fence divided the wood from the garden; and it was for this fence that
the Pumpkin was heading. It rolled steadily on in a quiet, deliberate
way that made it the more uncanny.

Jack and Molly followed—two quaint little figures, moving warily
over the grass, with glistening eyes and rapidly beating hearts, half
fearful, half curious, and very excited. Jack could scarcely believe
his eyes even now, and stared fascinated at the moving grey thing in
front of him, as it glided under the broken fence and into the wood
beyond. As it gained the woodland path the sound of little twigs and
dried leaves crackling as it rolled over them came to the children’s
ears.

Jack and Molly clambered over the fence, and in doing so Jack lost one
of his slippers, but did not miss it in his excitement, and they both
ran a few steps along the path to get in sight of the Pumpkin again.

[Illustration: JACK AND MOLLY CLAMBERED OVER THE FENCE]

It was not so easy to see in the wood, for the trees met overhead and
screened out the moonlight. Here and there a stray beam penetrated,
scattering little pools of silver light on the ground; and each time
the Pumpkin passed into these pools of light the children hastened
their footsteps, but faltered again each time it glided into the gloom,
where it was difficult to see and there was nothing save the crackling
of the twigs to guide them.

Suddenly Molly caught hold of her brother’s arm, and they both
stood still. The Pumpkin had stopped in the dim light at the foot
of a gigantic old tree with a gnarled and twisted trunk. Watching
breathlessly, they saw it knock three times deliberately and heavily
against the bark, and then roll back a few paces and wait.

There was a low, creaking sound, and the side of the tree swung outward
like a door; and the Pumpkin passed in.

The door began slowly to close again. Jack and Molly looked at each
other. What should they do? They both felt it was now or never.

“Now!” said Jack.

“Quick!” assented Molly.

Like a flash they reached the door and slipped through—just in
time. It closed behind them with a muffled thud, catching the sleeve
of Jack’s coat as it did so, and they found themselves in complete
darkness.

Their curiosity and excitement turned to sudden fear when they heard
the door close behind them, and they stood quite still, with their
backs pressed hard against the interior of the tree-trunk, not daring
to move. A soft, familiar rolling sound could be heard a short way in
front of them. It ceased, there was a short silence, then came three
distinct knocks, followed by a creaking noise, and another door opened
on the other side of the tree. As the light crept into the interior
of the tree the children saw to their astonishment that it was not
moonlight, but daylight, the subdued light of evening.

A quick glance showed them the hollow interior of the huge tree and
the distance they were from the open door. As they caught sight of
the ground they both gave a start, for it was composed solely of half
a dozen branches stretched across from side to side, and beneath the
branches was a big black hole that went down and down and looked as
if it had no bottom. They realized that they were standing at the
extreme edge of the hole, on a little step of thick, sticky clay.
However were they to walk over on one of those thin branches to the
door on the other side without missing their footing and falling down
into the hole? But even as they caught hold of hands, determined to
make a desperate effort to cross while there was light to see, the Grey
Pumpkin passed out into the daylight, and the door swung slowly to
again, and they were left in darkness once more.

They stood stock still, not daring to move.

“Oh, Jack, whatever shall we do?” said Molly, almost crying.

“Knock on the door behind us and go back home,” suggested Jack. “Let’s
get out of this old dark hole, and the Pumpkin can go where it jolly
well likes.... Leave go my arm a moment, Molly, and I’ll turn round and
knock.” He turned to suit the action to his words, tearing the corner
of his sleeve out of the crack as he did so.

“But, Jack,” Molly said hurriedly. “Wait a minute.... Somehow ... I’ve
got a feeling that we _ought_ to go on, if only we could.... Don’t
knock yet, Jack.... I feel as if somebody wants us, through that door
on the other side ... if only we could get across. Oh, Jack, do be
careful—you’ll slip!”

“Look here,” said Jack, “are you afraid to chance the crossing—do you
really think it’s worth it?”

“The Pumpkin must have rolled across without the floor giving way—but
then, it—he—I mean, what shall we do, Jack?”

“Shall we try?” suggested Jack.

Molly hesitated. Then “Yes, let’s,” she said. “Only—shall we?” she
faltered.

“You stay here while I go across and knock three times on the other
door,” said Jack, at once decided. “Then while it’s light you run
across.”

“Oh, Jack, do be careful,” cried Molly.

For Jack had already started. He felt with his foot for the thickest
branch and stepped recklessly forward. To his delight he found that it
was quite easy to walk across, and all their fears had been groundless.

“Why, Moll,” he called joyfully, “it’s as easy as anything. Wait a sec.
I’m almost there.”

He reached the clay step on the other side and gave three good knocks
to relieve his feelings. With a low creaking the door opened slowly,
and as the light streamed in Molly ran quickly and easily across, and
the next moment they both stood outside the tree, and the door was
shut.



CHAPTER III

_The Other Side of the Tree_


The two children gazed in astonishment at the unfamiliar scene in
front of them, for here was a place they had never seen before, and
yet, apparently, a place within ten minutes’ walk of their home—a
place that led out of the little wood at the end of their garden. And
they thought they knew every nook and corner of that wood, and of the
fields and lanes beyond for several miles round their house. Yet here
was a place they had never seen before; and, more puzzling still, the
soft glow of evening and sunset had taken the place of the moonlight
and gloom which had been all around them in the wood. For they were
still standing close to the same big old tree, but instead of the
wood continuing for a quarter of a mile on, and ending at the edge of
Farmer Hart’s cornfields as it always _had_ done, it ended abruptly
right in front of them, by the side of a broad white road. This road
stretched away to the left, up and up a big hill. You could see it
winding like a white ribbon, bordered by the green and brown trees of
the woods that clustered on each side. And, at the top of the hill,
where the road ended, glistened the white walls and roofs of a distant
city. To the right the road continued past the wood where the children
were standing, and sloped down, down, till it was lost to sight in the
burning crimson and gold afterglow of the sunset.

Jack and Molly looked up the road and down the road, but all was
silent, and not a soul in sight. Then a wisp of blue smoke among the
trees on the opposite side of the road caught their attention, and they
saw that it was curling from the chimney of a snug little red-roofed
cottage, which nestled, half hidden, on the fringe of the wood across
the road.

The children looked at each other in bewilderment. Then they turned and
examined the giant tree behind them, but that did not help them much.
It was certainly the same tree, but it was not the same wood. Something
queer had happened—it did not seem to be even the same country.
They looked up and down the road again, and behind them and before
them—and listened. But all was silent. Their eyes wandered back to the
curling blue smoke, the only sign of life within sight.

“Better ask some one where we’ve got to,” said Jack, eyeing the smoke.

“But where’s IT gone?” began Molly, then broke off quickly. “Hush!
What’s that!” she said.

She plucked Jack’s sleeve and drew him into the shadow of the trees. A
distant sound of voices came floating through the still evening air.
There were evidently two speakers, for, as the sounds drew nearer the
children could hear a high, loud, jolly voice, flowing continuously,
and punctuated every now and then by a low, mumbling voice. After a few
seconds the words of the high-voiced speaker became distinguishable.

“Stuff and nonsense!” it cried shrilly. “Pull yourself together,
Father. Come now, come now, snap your fingers in its face! Laugh at it,
I say, and—tss——” The speaker made a little hissing noise. “Where is
it?”

The other voice here murmured some reply too low for the children to
catch.

“What’s that?” replied the first speaker. “No—not _you_. But I’ll tell
you what will happen, you’ll be having an attack of melancholia——”

“Oh, not that, not that!” The low voice was raised and pleading. “Don’t
talk of melons, Glan, don’t, I pray you. They make me think of those
lemons—and the—and——”

“Now don’t you think of that any more,” ordered the high voice. “Come,
come, come. Pull yourself together....”

The speakers became visible, wending their way through the wood in
which the children were standing. One was a young, fat, rosy-cheeked
man, with a jolly smile, wearing a white overall and white baker’s
cap; he was clean-shaven, and was the possessor of the high voice. His
companion was a striking contrast to him, being old and thin and pale,
with a long white beard; he was dressed in a rich, dark-coloured robe,
and had a number of keys dangling from his belt. They pulled up short
when they caught sight of Jack and Molly; then advanced slowly, with
sidelong glances at each other and low whispers.

Molly stepped forward.

“If you please,” she said, very politely, “could you tell us where we
are?”

“Could you tell us _who_ you are, little lady?—that’s more to the
point,” said the young man pleasantly.

“I’m Molly, and this is my brother Jack,” the little girl replied;
which did not enlighten the young man very much.

The old man gazed at them with his small, dull eyes, and ran his
fingers nervously through his beard.

“We’ve only just come—through that tree,” volunteered Jack, pointing
to the giant tree behind them.

“Through the tree!” exclaimed the old man and the young man together.

“Then you are from the Impossible World,” added the young man in an
excited, high voice.

“We live in England,” said Jack with dignity.

“That may be. I don’t know England. But if it lies on the other side of
that Tree it is in the Impossible World.”

“Why do you call it that?” asked Molly.

“Because that’s its name in our geography books. This is the Possible
World, and always was—except——” The young man glanced at the old
man, who turned his head aside.

“Don’t speak of that,” groaned the old man.

“Cheer up, Father,” cried the young man. “Pull yourself together now.
Snap your fingers and—tss—it is gone, remember.” And he beamed
encouragingly down at the thin little old man beside him, who only
looked more depressed than ever at his son’s efforts to cheer him up.

“But how is it we’ve played in this wood—I mean that wood—ever so
many times and never found our way here before?” inquired Jack.

“Because though you’ve walked _round_ that tree many times you’ve never
come _through_ it before,” said the young man. “There are two sides to
every tree, just as there are two sides to every question. When you
‘walk round’ a question, do you see both its sides? No. It is only
if you go _into_ a question that you see this side and that. Well,
then—when you only walked round that tree it stands to sense that you
couldn’t find yourself here. But when you go into the tree—tss”—he
threw out his hand—“behold! here you are. It’s perfectly simple.”

It certainly sounded sensible and quite simple as the young man
explained it, but Jack and Molly still felt rather mystified.

“But _why_ do you call ours the Impossible World?” asked Jack.

“Because it’s full of impossible things,” replied the young man.
“Impossible people, impossible ideas, impossible laws, impossible
houses, there is so much impossible misery and injustice, and
impossible talk, that it’s quite impossible for any possible creature
to live in it. On the other hand, this land (which is the other side of
yours) is the Possible World now; for a time it was Impossible, but we
sent——” Here the old man winced. “I’m sorry, Father. But you must let
me tell the little lady and her brother where they are. I know. You go
and sit down under that tree, and think of buttercups.”

“But they’re the colour of lemons,” whined the old man feebly.

“Not all of them—think of the ones that aren’t. There; run along. I
shan’t be two minutes explaining.”

And he patted his father on the shoulder as the old man shuffled across
the leaves to the foot of a tree some yards away, where he sat down,
and remained shaking his head and looking on the ground, mumbling to
himself, while the young man explained the cause of his depression to
Jack and Molly.

“It’s this way!” he began, after glancing over his shoulder to make
sure his Father couldn’t hear. “For hundreds of years this has been
the Possible World, because it was possible for everyone in it to be
happy. But there came a time when an evil influence crept into the land
and made it Impossible. It was through this evil Thing that my Father,
who was one of the King’s Advisers, lost his place at Court. The whole
country was under a cloud. Then, Old Nancy—she lives in the cottage
yonder”—he pointed to the little red-roofed cottage with the smoke
curling from the chimney, on the opposite side of the road—“Old Nancy,
she discovered a spell, and she saved us—she banished the evil Thing
to the Impossible World and our world became Possible again. Lately, my
Father has been afflicted with dreams that he says always come to him
before trouble overtakes the country, and he fears by some mishap that
the country may become Impossible again.”

“What does he dream of?” inquired Molly.

“Lemons,” said the young man; “and do what I can I cannot shake him
out of the gloom into which he has fallen.... It’s strange,” the young
man continued, “but poor old Father seems the only person who did not
cheer up when the World became Possible again. It was a nasty shock
for him, being banished from Court; and although they’ve taken him
back and given him another post—I suppose he’s getting old. And then
those dreams——” Glan’s face became serious for a moment. “However,
they mean nothing, I’m sure. And now you are here you’d like to see
our Possible Country, wouldn’t you? I’m afraid as you are from the
Impossible World you’ll have to get a Pass before you can come into the
City—but that’ll be all right. You must come and have tea with us. I
opened a little baker’s and pastry-cook’s business when Father lost
his place at Court, and I still keep it up—fascinating work, making
puff pastry and currant buns. I run a special line in gooseberry-jam
puffs. I used to do a lovely line in lemon cheese-cakes, but I’ve had
to leave them off since Father’s had those dreams. He can’t bear to be
reminded——” He stopped, a little out of breath.

“We’d love to come up to the City; where can we get a Pass?” said Molly.

“But, I say, what about that thing we were following,” broke in Jack,
suddenly remembering what it was they had followed through the tree;
the interest of meeting their new acquaintances had made the children
forget for a few minutes. “We’d forgotten, hadn’t we, Molly? We were
really following a Pumpkin, you know,” he said, turning to the young
man.

“A what!” and the young man’s voice rose to a shriek, and his eyes grew
round.

“A Pumpkin,” faltered Jack, a little dismayed, “A Grey Pumpkin.”

“Father! Father! It’s come back,” shouted the young man, wheeling round
excitedly.

“Come back!” repeated the old man, rising to his feet and stumbling
toward them. “Come back! What has come back? Not the—not——”

“The Pumpkin,” gasped Glan, his fat, jolly face pale and his hands
trembling.

“Oh, my heart and soul,” cried the old man, his eyes wild with fear,
wringing his hands together. “What did I warn you! What did I warn
you! I said those lemons meant trouble. Oh, my heart and soul, what
shall we do!”

The father and son stared wildly into each other’s eyes for a second.

“What shall we do, Glan? What shall we do?” the old man quavered,
shaking from head to foot.

“Where has the Pumpkin gone?” asked Glan, turning to the children.

“We don’t know,” said Molly, frightened at the distress of the two men.
“It came through the tree before us, we followed it, and by the time we
got through it had disappeared.”

“I must go and spread the alarm. I must go and warn. Oh, my heart and
soul!” the old man sobbed, and turning, he stumbled out on to the white
road and waddled rapidly up the hill toward the walls of the city,
mumbling and chattering and sobbing to himself, the keys at his belt
jangling a dismal accompaniment.

“If it’s back, then the country will be Impossible again,” groaned
Glan. “It was through the Grey Pumpkin that it became Impossible
before. But just tell me quickly—how did it happen? What do you know
about the Pumpkin, and where did you first see it?”

The children explained as quickly as they could, while Glan stood
nodding his head and glancing every other second over his shoulder at
the receding figure of his father.

“I wondered how you discovered the three knocks on the tree,” he
muttered. “It can only be done when the moon is full, you know. You
didn’t know? I thought you might have discovered it accidentally, when
you were playing, p’raps. Somebody from the Impossible World did that
before—many years ago. Well, go on.”

The children finished their story.

“Oh, it’s the Pumpkin right enough,” said Glan. “Now what can have
happened. Old Nancy must have forgotten the usual sunset spell.... No,
no, she’d never forget ... she’s never forgotten. There must be foul
play somewhere. We must go to her at once and see what’s happened.
Come!”

And followed by the two children he hurriedly crossed the road to the
little cottage opposite, and rapped loudly with his knuckles on the
door.



CHAPTER IV

_Why Old Nancy Slept through the Sunset Hour_


There was no sound from within the cottage, and the three waited
impatiently for a second or two, then Glan rapped again more loudly.
The sound of his knuckles against the little brown door rang sharp and
clear in the quiet of the evening. They waited. Glan called “Nancy!”
and “Is any one in?” but as there was still no answer he lifted the
latch, and discovered that the door was unbolted. He pushed it open.

They found themselves in an old-fashioned, low-ceilinged room, full of
shadows cast by the flickering firelight. The trees outside the house
excluded the faint sun-glow, so that the room was dim and nothing could
be clearly defined in the farther corners. A quaint red-brick fireplace
took up nearly one side of the room, and in a chair by the hearth there
sat a huddled-up figure.

“Nancy! Old Nancy!” said Glan, breathlessly, stepping further into the
room. “What’s the matter, Nancy?”

The figure remained motionless. He bent over it, shaking it gently by
the shoulder.

“There’s something queer about this. By thunder!” he exclaimed, peering
closer. “She ... No, she’s not ... she’s breathing!” He stood back and
gazed at the sleeping figure earnestly. “It’s not a natural sleep,
though. I don’t like it at all. If I’m not greatly mistaken the Grey
Pumpkin has had something to do with this.”

“What shall we do?” said Molly, in an awed whisper.

“If it is any way possible, we _must_ wake her somehow. Nancy! Nancy!
Wake up!” cried Glan, and he shook her arm again; there was such
despair in his voice that the children took courage to move toward the
sleeping Nancy to try and help him.

The light from the fire shed a dull red glow over Old Nancy, and
looking at her Molly thought she had the sweetest face she had ever
seen. Though much wrinkled, her skin was clear and her expression full
of kindliness and quiet strength. Her hair was pure white and peeped
out from beneath a snowy mob cap.

“Oh, do please wake up,” said Molly, laying her hand on Old Nancy’s lap.

Old Nancy stirred, turned her head from side to side and gave a great
sigh; then she slowly opened her eyes. Her gaze travelled from Molly to
Jack, and then on to Glan. She sat up. Then passed her hand across her
eyes and stared, dazed, in front of her for a moment. Her glance came
back to Molly.

“Who are you?” she said, in a low voice. “And what’s the matter?”

It was Glan who answered.

“The sun has set,” he said gravely, “and you were asleep.”

With a cry Old Nancy started to her feet.

“No, no, Glan; it can’t be true!” she exclaimed. “Oh, what have I done!
What have I done! It cannot be sunset yet.”

She crossed hurriedly to the window and peered through. A glance at the
darkening countryside was sufficient. She turned away, and creeping
back to her chair sank into it and buried her face in her hands.

There was a dead silence in the room. A cinder fell out of the fire on
to the red hearth.

“Well, well.” Glan cleared his throat and tried to speak cheerfully.
“What isn’t well must be made well, you know. No good crying over spilt
milk, Old Nancy. Come, come, snap your fingers at adversity, you know.
We must all put our heads together and see what we can do. What’s the
best thing to do first?” he smiled bravely, and Jack and Molly took
heart and things looked brighter, although they scarcely knew what all
the trouble meant.

“Is it back then?” asked Old Nancy, raising her head.

“The Pumpkin?—yes, it’s back,” said Glan.

“Then there’s not a moment to be lost,” said Old Nancy firmly, and with
an effort she pulled herself together and sat up straight.

“How did it happen—your going to sleep?” inquired Glan.

“I don’t know,” said Old Nancy, with a puzzled frown. “Never have I
missed doing the spell at sunset. I think I must have been ... drugged.
The Pumpkin must still have a few followers in the country—perhaps one
of them drugged me—but I don’t know how they did it, they must have
chosen the opportunity carefully, so that I fell asleep just before
sunset.... I remember looking out and seeing the sun about half an hour
before sunset time: and then I sat down for a few minutes ... and I
don’t remember anything more. When did the Pumpkin come back?”

“About half an hour ago,” said Glan.

“He came through the tree,” said Jack, “and we followed him.”

“You are from the Impossible World, then,” murmured Old Nancy, “where
I sent the Pumpkin. But now—this will be the Impossible World again
soon, I fear, unless——” She looked earnestly into the faces of the
two children, then she smiled faintly. “Will you stay and help us,” she
asked. “Help us to make our world Possible again?”

“We’ll stay. Rather!” began Jack.

“Only—only—what about Mother?” Molly interrupted.

“I will tell you the history of the Pumpkin first of all,” said Old
Nancy; “and then you shall decide whether you will stay and help us, or
go home. If you decide to stay I will see that your Mother is not made
anxious about you, until your work is finished and you return to her.
But, meanwhile, Glan, what are you going to do?”

“Father has already gone to arouse the City,” said Glan. “I think I
will follow him and see what I can do; then I will come back and see
what the little lady and her brother have decided. But before they can
do a thing they must hear the Pumpkin’s story from you.”

So saying he took off his cap with a flourish and opened the door.

“Keep up heart. Laugh at misfortune, remember, and—tss—— We shall
win!” he cried, his fat face all a-smile; and he was gone.

“Sit down on the rug,” said Old Nancy, “and tell me, first of all, what
you know about the Pumpkin, and then I will tell you why it is the
Pumpkin is so dreaded in our country, and how he came to be what he is.”

So Jack and Molly sat down on the rug, and after relating what they
knew of the Pumpkin and how they happened to come across him, they
listened while Old Nancy told them the following story, fascinated by
her low, sweet voice, and her kind eyes.



CHAPTER V

_Which Explains who is Inside the Grey Pumpkin_


“Long ago,” began Old Nancy, gazing dreamily into the fire, “a great
King ruled over this country who had an only daughter to whom he was
passionately attached. She was a sweet, frail little creature—very
delicate. In spite of all the care and attention bestowed upon her, she
grew no stronger; indeed, as time passed, she seemed to grow weaker
and weaker, until at length it became obvious to all that the Princess
was dying. The King was in despair. All that love, money, doctors, and
nurses could do for her was done—but all in vain.

“Then, one evening, someone found a shabby old book at the back of a
shelf in the Royal Library. To whom it belonged and how it got there
no one seemed to know, but anyway, the book proved of priceless value
as it contained a remarkable recipe for curing just such an illness
as the Princess was suffering from. I need not tell you all about this
recipe now: it is sufficient that one of the most important items
was—pumpkin juice. Needless to say, the King seized eagerly at any
chance to save his daughter’s life, and so all the pumpkins available
were quickly purchased and the recipe made up, and a dose of this
new cure was given to the Princess. From the very first dose there
was a marked change for the better, and with perseverance this new
remedy gradually worked wonders in the Princess; she grew stronger and
stronger and was soon on the road to a complete recovery.

“And then——

“But first you must know that in order to have plenty of pumpkins on
hand to complete the cure, the delighted King had a special garden
made in which to grow nothing but pumpkins; and he employed a special
staff of gardeners to look after this garden. And every day he would
go to the garden himself to see how the pumpkins were getting on. One
night, a fearful storm swept over the country; and while the thunder
growled and the lightning flashed and the wind and rain struggled for
mastery—some strange things were taking place down in the pumpkin
garden. For when morning broke—there was not a single pumpkin left in
the garden: nor in the whole of the country, apparently. But it was
not the storm that had destroyed them all. Under cover of the black
night and the storm somebody had come and had deliberately cut off the
pumpkins, and destroyed them.

“Now this somebody—although he was not discovered for days
afterward—was an evil little dwarf man, who imagined that he owed the
King a grudge—and sought to punish him this way.

“Nor was this all. When the Princess’s nurse went to fetch her
medicine—there was none left. All the bottles were smashed to pieces
and the precious liquid was spilled all over the floor.

“The King was terribly upset, and sent messengers far and wide, post
haste, to try to get some more pumpkins. But they could not get any.
And from that time, as each hour passed, the Princess began to decline
again. She got steadily worse, and weaker and weaker as days went by.
You can imagine what grief it must have been to her father to see her
losing her newly-gained health, to see her cheeks growing pale and
thin again—to see her gradually fading away. He made every attempt
possible to get hold of a pumpkin—but it seemed as if all the pumpkins
in the land had suddenly vanished.

“At length the Princess lay at death’s door; the doctors gravely shook
their heads at each other; while the King paced ceaselessly up and down
the corridor outside her room. He was waiting thus, torn with anxiety
and suspense, when a messenger arrived at the palace with a note for
the King, which contained the news that a pumpkin had been found! The
owner of the pumpkin would give it up to no one but the King himself
(the note continued). Would his Majesty kindly walk down into a certain
part of the City, and go to a certain house (the address was given),
where he would be met by someone who would place the pumpkin in the
Kings hands. The King, wondering why the person who had the pumpkin
did not hasten with it to the palace, nevertheless did not wait to
question, but went at once to the house down in the City.

“It was a quaint, stubby little house; and inside he found a little
dwarf man. (The King did not know at the time that this was the person
who had destroyed the pumpkin garden on the night of the storm.)
Anyway, the dwarf began immediately to pour out some of the grievances
that he imagined he had against the King. And then he discovered
that the King was not to blame at all. There was some sort of muddle
and misunderstanding, and one of the grievances the King had never
even heard about. When the dwarf realized that he had endangered the
Princess’s life for no reason, that it had all been a mistake, and
that he had no cause at all for the spiteful and wicked thing he had
done, he got unreasonably angry (as people often do when they have
wronged someone who hasn’t deserved it). And so the dwarf fell to
blaming and cursing the King, and finally tried to make a bargain with
him concerning the pumpkin, which he had hidden, he said, refusing to
disclose its hiding-place until his demands were granted. The King,
whose sole idea was to get the pumpkin as quickly as possible, first
pleaded, then commanded the dwarf to fetch the pumpkin immediately:
he was willing to give any price for his daughter’s sake. But still
the dwarf haggled and delayed, until the King lost all patience and
a fierce quarrel ensued. In the midst of their quarrel there came the
clattering of horses’ hoofs on the cobbled road without, and then
someone rapped at the door of the dwarfs house. The angry voices within
ceased, and in the silence that followed a bell could be heard tolling.
And the King learnt that his daughter was dead.

“He returned to the palace, telling the messengers to arrest the dwarf,
and place him in the palace dungeon. ‘For I shall hold you responsible
for my daughter’s death,’ said the King.

“Afterward, when the whole story of the dwarf’s treachery became
public, it was discovered that he had not been alone on the night of
the storm: others had helped him to destroy the pumpkins: it would have
been impossible for him to make such a clean sweep of all the pumpkins
in the countryside by himself. It had been a carefully organized plan,
of which the dwarf was the ringleader and originator. But none of the
others were half so blameworthy as the dwarf; they obeyed his orders
without knowing his motives, and did not realize the mischief they were
doing was so serious. One or two of them were arrested and received
light punishments; some the authorities could not find. But the
gravest offender was the dwarf, of course, and for him was reserved the
heaviest punishment.

“And this was his punishment. The pumpkin that was found hidden in
his garden, the last remaining pumpkin in the country, was brought to
the palace, and with the help of a little magic the dwarf was shut up
_inside_ the pumpkin—where he remains to this day.

“They say that when the dwarf found what his fate was to be, he got
very enraged and vowed that if this punishment was carried out, he
would make the King and his people rue it, and suffer for it for ever
and ever.

“His threat was laughed at, and the punishment duly carried out. About
that time a weird old magician happened to pass through the country,
and his aid was secured to help with the punishment. He made a spell,
and the big yellow pumpkin slowly opened—like a yawn—of its own
accord. The little dwarf was lifted, struggling and screaming, and
placed in the centre; the magician waved his hands and the pumpkin
closed to again. The magician waved his hands again, and a curious
grey shade crept over the pumpkin; and it is this grey shade that
keeps the dwarf imprisoned. He might force his way out—perhaps even
_eat_ his way out, who knows—if the pumpkin were still yellow. The
grey is part of the magic.

[Illustration: THE LITTLE DWARF WAS LIFTED, STRUGGLING AND SCREAMING]

“Well, the King then called a council of Wise Men together, to consider
what should be done with the Grey Pumpkin. Some were for keeping it
in a museum (and charging a fee of 6d. for visitors to go and look at
it); while others advised burying it away in the deepest dungeon of the
City, just in case the dwarf ever got out of the Pumpkin; while a third
section of the Council, deriding the two former suggestions, urged that
the Grey Pumpkin be flung into a ditch beside the High Road, outside
the City Gates. The spokesman for this last section was a brilliant,
reckless young man, an eloquent speaker; he laughed at the caution
which prompted the first two parties to suggest a museum or a dungeon,
and looked upon the latter as a grave reflection on the Magician who
had so kindly come to their aid. Did they not trust in the spell which
kept the Pumpkin tightly closed? he asked the Council. And besides,
what person, dwarf, man, woman, or child, would be alive after being
shut up in a Pumpkin for twenty-four hours? No, let them show their
scorn for the thing by flinging it away, outside the walls of their
City.

“Much more than this did the young man say, and in the end he gained
his way. The Grey Pumpkin was carried to the gates of the City,
escorted by a solemn procession, and thrown into a ditch outside
the walls, amid much hissing and booing from the populace. The
young Councillor who had suggested all this got carried away by the
excitement of the moment, and he dashed forward and gave the Grey
Pumpkin that was lying quietly at the bottom of the ditch a good hearty
kick: this act was greeted with cheers and shouts of approval from the
crowd, until they saw that the Pumpkin, which had been sent spinning,
had landed on the High Road, a dozen yards away, and was slowly rolling
down the hill. The crowd fell silent, and watched. On, on the Grey
Pumpkin rolled, down the hill from the City, past my cottage door—I
remember—on, on, until it disappeared at length into a dark forest
right down at the bottom of the High Road.

“And after that, all our troubles began. The dwarf kept his vow, and
made us suffer. Somewhere, down in that dark forest, he got hold of
some black magic—no one knows how, or who helped him. All we know is
that since that time he has become possessed of certain magic powers,
and that one misfortune after another has overtaken our country—all
caused by the Pumpkin. Wherever he goes he makes misery and mischief: I
cannot tell you all the horrible things he has done, he and his little
band of followers—those faithful few who helped him in the beginning
to destroy the pumpkins, you remember. They went right over to his side
after they were punished, and he seemed to gain some evil influence
over them. There are not many of them, but they are in all parts of the
country, ready to help him when he needs them. And with his knowledge
of magic he could so disguise them that we could not recognize them.
But they are powerless without him, and when after suffering him for a
long time (because we could not find a way to escape him) we finally
discovered a way of banishing the Grey Pumpkin out of our World into
your World where he could do no harm, his followers became practically
harmless, until to-day.

“That is the story of how the Grey Pumpkin came to be what he is. The
King, whom he hated, has been dead many years and another King reigns
in his stead. And the young Councillor, the eloquent young Councillor
who advised the people so unwisely, was banished from Court; he has
grown old and timid and querulous, and is a disappointed man whose
career was blighted at the outset through the Pumpkin. You have seen
this once reckless, dashing young man; you met him just now in the
wood. He is Glan’s father.”



CHAPTER VI

_The Black Leaf_


“What dreadful things the Pumpkin must do,” said Molly, “to make every
one so frightened of him.”

“He does do dreadful things,” said old Nancy.

“What a mean revenge—on innocent people,” Jack commented.

“And the worst part of it is,” Old Nancy continued, “that no one knows
how much evil power he has, nor what he can do to them if he likes.
He evidently has his limits, for there seem to be some things that he
cannot do: for instance, he cannot roll along quickly—he always moves
at the same slow pace; and he cannot climb up walls or trees, though he
can roll up hills. So as long as you keep out of his reach he cannot
hurt you.”

“If he never comes out of the Pumpkin—the little Dwarf—what does he
do when he catches any one?” inquired Molly.

“Just rolls up to them and touches them—bumps against them
softly—and then—something queer happens to them. Perhaps they are
changed into some strange animal, or maybe they shrink until they are
only a few inches high, or suddenly they find they have lost their
nose or their eyesight—or worse things than these may happen. The
misery caused by the Pumpkin is unthinkable; and more often than
not—incurable.”

“Oh,” shuddered Molly. “Well, however did you manage to get rid of
him?—to send him into our World?”

“I was just going to tell you about that,” said Old Nancy. There was a
moment’s pause, then, “I am a kind of magician, you know,” she went on.
The children glanced quickly up at her, startled at her words, but her
gentle face reassured them as she smiled kindly down. “And being a kind
of magician I discovered a spell that would send the Pumpkin out of our
country into the Impossible World. So I turned him into a pincushion, a
grey pincushion, and transported him into your World, where I thought
he could do no harm; and you know what happened there. I believed we
were rid of him for ever, and we would have been—but for me. It was
part of the spell that every evening at sunset I should stand with my
face turned to the sinking sun, and, making a certain sign with my arms
outstretched, should repeat some magic words. As long as I did this
each evening the Pumpkin could not come back, and our country was safe.
But I knew that if I chanced to be a minute after sunset any evening
the spell which bound the Pumpkin would break, and he would return to
us.” A sorrowful look came over Old Nancy’s face. “And to-night,” she
said, “I failed to say the magic words at sunset—and he has come back.
I am certain it is one of the Pumpkin’s followers who has foiled me;
though how—I do not know.”

“Can’t you use the spell and turn him into a pincushion again?” asked
Jack.

“No,” said Old Nancy, shaking her head. “That spell could only be used
once, and once only; and I know no others.”

“Then however can we——” began Jack.

“Patience,” said Old Nancy. “There is one way of thwarting the Pumpkin
which everybody in our country knows of. But they can’t do it, because
they can’t find the Black Leaf.... You must know that when the little
dwarf was thrust into the Pumpkin, the plant in the dwarf’s garden on
which the Pumpkin had grown, immediately turned black. For thirteen
days it remained so, bearing one solitary giant leaf—then, all at once
it vanished! And now, each year it comes up in a different part of the
country—just this one immense Black Leaf—and it remains for thirteen
days, and then it disappears again. We have not looked for it these
last few years—there has been no need: still, some people have seen
it. But now we want it badly. For if you can find the Black Leaf, and
pluck it, you have but to turn your face to the West and say some words
(which I can tell you) and wherever the Pumpkin is he will be compelled
to come to you: then you must touch him with the Leaf and—you have him
in your power. We were in despair before, when no one could find the
Black Leaf, until I discovered that spell. And now, as I know no other
spell we shall be in despair till someone does find the Black Leaf.
And that is what I want you both to stay and help us do. Strangers are
often lucky.”

“Oh, we _must_ stay and help,” cried Jack, impulsively, “mustn’t we,
Molly?”

“I should love to,” said Molly, “but couldn’t we just let Mother know
so that she wouldn’t be anxious?”

“If you decide to stay,” said Old Nancy, “I will take care that your
Mother is not worried in any way by your absence. I will send a message
to her.”

“Then we’ll stay,” decided both children at once.

“I am so glad,” Old Nancy said simply. “And now, if either of you
should be lucky enough to find the Black Leaf remember what to do.
Pluck it immediately, and stand with your face toward the West, and
say: ‘Come to me, Grey Pumpkin! I command you by the Black Leaf!’ ...
You can remember that?”

Jack and Molly repeated it to make sure, and then Old Nancy went on,

“When the Pumpkin appears—as he must appear—rolling toward you, touch
him with the Leaf, quickly, before he can touch you. Then he cannot
harm you, but will be compelled to follow you wherever you lead him.”

“And where should we lead him?” asked Molly.

“Bring him to me,” said Old Nancy grimly.

“There was something I wanted to ask you,” said Jack, “and I can’t
think what it was now.... Oh, I know.... Does the Pumpkin know where
the Black Leaf is?”

“We are not quite sure about that, but even if he does, it is evidently
of no use to him; I mean, he dare not _touch_ it—that would be fatal
to him. But he can guard it, if he knows where it is, and try to
prevent you getting it: and this is what he will try to do whether he
knows where it is or not; he is sure to try to delay you or trap you,
as soon as he discovers that you are searching for the Leaf. And he
will soon know what you are trying to do—one of his followers will
tell him, you may be sure. So, beware of the Pumpkin and his little
band of people. You are in less danger of being caught by the Pumpkin
than you are by one of his band, because you will know the Pumpkin
when you see him, but you won’t know which are his decoys, his spies,
and which are not. And I can’t help you about this, you must simply
be very, very careful, and do not trust anyone until you are sure. Of
course, people like Glan and his father, or anyone inside the City, are
quite all right—because nobody will be allowed within the City Gates
now without a pass; and they cannot get a pass, if they are one of the
Pumpkin’s people.”

“Mightn’t one of the Pumpkin’s people find the Leaf?” inquired Jack.

“They dare not touch it either, even if they do know where it is,”
replied Old Nancy. “But they can guard it—as the Pumpkin can.”

“If the Black Leaf only appears for thirteen days each year, how do you
know which thirteen days they are?” asked Molly, thoughtfully.

“Because the thirteen days start on the anniversary of the day on which
the little dwarf was put inside the Pumpkin,” said Old Nancy. “And, as
fate decrees, it was the anniversary yesterday, _so the Black Leaf is
somewhere above ground now_.... Oh, I do hope and trust you will be
successful, my dears.” Old Nancy clasped her hands together nervously.
“And don’t be ashamed to _run_ if the Pumpkin tries to catch you before
the Leaf is found. You are powerless against him and his magic—until
you have the Leaf. But he can only use his magic and hurt you if he
touches you, remember. So don’t let him touch you!”

“We’ll _run_ all right, if we see him coming,” said Jack. “Or else
we’ll climb up a tree or something.”

“Well, that’s a good idea, too,” said Old Nancy.

“I suppose it’s really a rather—dangerous sort of work we’re going to
do,” said Molly.

“It is dangerous, and very brave of you to attempt it,” Old Nancy said.
“It needs courage and perseverance. I think you both have pluck, and
you both have perseverance; somehow I think one—but only _one_ of you
will be successful.”

“Which one?” cried Jack and Molly eagerly.

“Ah!” Old Nancy replied, and shook her head mysteriously. “I
cannot tell you any more than that.... But now we must get to work
immediately. There is no time to be lost. Wait here for a moment.”

She rose, and smiling at the children, made her way across the firelit
room and passed out through a doorway at the far end of the room.

Jack and Molly sat still and gazed silently round the shadowy room.
They could never afterward describe the feeling that came over them,
alone in that room—even to themselves. They were not afraid. A curious
feeling crept over them, and they both felt sure that there was
something or someone in the room with them, although they felt equally
sure there was no one. There was an air of mystery and secrecy in the
room. No shadows danced on walls quite in the way that they danced in
Old Nancy’s room; no smoke curled in such weird and fantastic shapes
as the smoke that curled up the wide chimney in front of them; while
it almost seemed ridiculous to say that the chairs were empty when the
_something_ in the room crowded into each of them.

“‘I am a kind of magician, you know,’” repeated Molly softly, nodding
her head at Jack. “Do you know I can _feel_ that she is.”

“So can I,” whispered Jack, hoarsely. The children looked at each other
seriously for a few seconds, then they turned their heads, and saw that
Old Nancy was standing in the doorway watching them. She came forward
into the firelight, and they saw that she carried two small satchels
in her hands. They were something like the children’s school satchels,
only they were smaller and stronger in appearance, being made of soft
black leather; they had long straps attached to them, to pass over the
shoulders.

“These are your knapsacks,” said Old Nancy, smiling. “You will find
them useful on your journey. This is yours,” she said to Molly, “and
this is yours,” to Jack. “Now if you will open them and take out what
is inside, I will explain what they are meant for.”

The children thanked her and eagerly unbuckled their satchels and felt
inside. The contents of each were the same: a sealed envelope, a box of
matches, and a little packet of square, brown things that looked like
caramels.

“Inside the envelopes are your Passes into the City. Give them up
at the City Gates. Take care of them, without them they would not
let you in. The matches in those two boxes are not quite ordinary
matches—though they look like ordinary ones. I think they’ll help you
over one or two difficulties. Use them carefully as there are not many
matches in each box. Whatever you do don’t light them in the daytime,
but light them when you are in the dark and want to see.”

“Do we strike them just in the ordinary way?” asked Molly.

“Just in the ordinary way,” said old Nancy. “And the little brown
squares in the packets are for you to eat, should you be very
hungry, and unable to obtain food. You will find them wonderfully
refreshing—it is something I make specially.... And here,” she
continued, turning to Jack, and holding something out to him, “is
another shoe for you. I see you have only got one on.”

“Why, so I have,” cried Jack, noticing for the first time that one of
his slippers was missing. “Now wherever did I lose that, I wonder!”
(Poor little slipper, it takes no part in these adventures, as it is
left behind in the Impossible World. It is lying by the fence at the
bottom of the children’s garden, you remember.) “I never noticed it
before. Thanks awfully, though. This slipper fits splendidly. How did
you know my size?”

“Oh, I knew,” Old Nancy laughed, and would say no more.

She helped the children buckle on their satchels, telling them that
once they were inside the City they would learn what plans were being
made for the search. “I wish I could give you some magic charm to
defend you against the Pumpkin,” she said. “But that is impossible.
The Black Leaf is the only thing that can harm him, and save us all.
Be very careful, dear children.... Ah!” she broke off with a sharp
exclamation.

“What is it? What’s the matter?” cried Jack and Molly, as Old Nancy
stood gazing at her left hand which she held out in front of her.

“So that’s how it was done,” she cried. “Look! Look!” and she held her
hand toward them. A dark grey mark stained the middle finger from base
to tip.

“What is it?” Molly repeated.

“The stain,” whispered Old Nancy excitedly, “do you see? It’s grey! The
Grey Pumpkin’s mark! It _was_ one of his spies then, who made me sleep
through the sunset hour. But why to-day should they have been able
to do this, when they have been powerless for so long?” she muttered
to herself. “Could anything have happened to the Pumpkin in—in your
world, that enabled him to exert his evil magic all the way into our
world, and so the spies were able to begin their black magic again? Can
you think of anything that happened?” she asked Molly eagerly.

Molly tried hard to think of something. “Of course, as it was a
pincushion—I stuck a pin in it,” she said presently.

Old Nancy gazed at her strangely. “In the moonlight?” she asked. “Was
the moonlight shining on it when you stuck the pin in?”

“Yes,” said Molly, nervously. “Oh, did that do it? Oh, I am so
dreadfully sorry—then it is all my fault that the Pumpkin has
returned?”

“No, no,” said Old Nancy, “you are not to blame. How were you to know?
It was my fault for not being more careful, then they could not have
drugged me.” She crossed quickly to the window. “Yes—see—here—here
on the sill. There’s a trace of grey powder. I know what has happened.
When I went out of this room earlier in the evening—I did for a few
minutes, I remember—yes, just before sunset time—someone must have
opened the window and scattered the powder on the sill, hoping that I
should go to the window at sunset and that I should put my hand on the
sill and touch the powder. And I did. And the powder must have been
magic and made me go to sleep. I wonder I never noticed it.... But
never mind now, never mind now.... It is too late. We must get to work
at once to remedy the evil.”

But Molly still had a feeling that it was partly her fault and she was
glad that she and Jack had decided to stay. She felt it was the least
they could do—to try to find the Black Leaf.

As Glan had not returned they decided to start out, for the hour
was getting late, and Old Nancy thought it would be wiser for them
to be inside the City as soon as possible. She told them that they
were almost sure to meet Glan on the hill—he had evidently been
delayed—they couldn’t miss him.

“Good-bye, dears, good-bye,” said Old Nancy. “My thoughts will be
constantly with you till we meet again. Good luck go with you both.”

Leaving Old Nancy standing in the doorway, with the firelight glowing
warmly in the room behind her, the two children started out in the dusk
and began to ascend the hill.



CHAPTER VII

_Glan Opens the Gate in the Nick of Time_


The children walked briskly, glancing from the City lights to the dark
woods on either side of the road. Everything lay quiet and peaceful,
and overhead the moon was now visible. It seemed impossible to believe
that a cloud of fear hung over the City ahead. As they drew nearer the
top of the hill the sound of a bell tolling came floating down to their
ears.

“What’s that for, I wonder,” said Molly.

“P’raps it’s a sort of warning,” suggested Jack, “to tell people the
Pumpkin’s back again.”

Molly shivered. “Let’s hurry a bit more, shall we?” she said. “I’ll be
glad when we’re inside the City, won’t you, Jack?”

So they quickened their footsteps.

“I do hope we meet Glan,” Molly went on. “We couldn’t very well miss
him, though, could we?... You’re sure you’ve got your Pass safely!”

“Rather,” said Jack. “At least I think I put it back in my satchel.”
And diving his hand in to make sure, he jerked the envelope which
contained the Pass out on to the road. A passing breeze caught it and
turned it over and over on the ground, and there was a hurried scramble
on Jack’s part to get it back again. He had just put it safely back in
his satchel, when a sudden cry from Molly made him wheel round to see
what was the matter.

Molly was standing gazing down the hill. “Oh, Jack! Jack! Look!” she
cried, pointing to the dark wood on their left. About thirty yards away
down the hill, something was slowly emerging from the black shadows of
the trees.

It was the Grey Pumpkin.

It rolled leisurely out into the moonlit road, paused for a moment,
then turned and moved up the hill toward them.

“Don’t be ashamed to run,” Old Nancy had said. And they were not
ashamed. Jack and Molly took to their heels and ran. They did not want
to be stopped by the Pumpkin at the very beginning of their quest,
knowing how powerless they were until the Black Leaf was found. So they
ran with all their might, on, on, until the City Gate was but a little
farther ahead of them, and the tolling bell clanged loudly from within.

“Jack, oh, Jack—I—can’t—run—any—more,” gasped poor Molly.
“Oh—what—what shall—we—do?”

“Were just there—keep—up—old girl—only a—little—bit
more—we’re—just—there,” panted Jack.

With a final effort they rushed forward and reached the gate at last.
Jack flung himself against it and started beating on it with his fists,
and then snatching up a large stone from the road he hammered it with
that; while Molly seized the thick bell chain at the side and began
pulling it vigorously.

It was a curious gate—more like a door than a gate—made of solid
iron; and at the top, high above the children’s heads, was a tiny
grating through which the citizens could see who stood without.

Jack glanced despairingly up at the high white walls and the black iron
gate, while he continued to beat wildly with the stone and shout as
loudly as he could for help. There seemed no way of escape if they did
not open the gate, and looking back he saw the Pumpkin coming silently
onward.

“It’s no good making a dash for the woods, Molly,” he exclaimed, “he’d
cut us off. Pull harder, and shout too.”

So Molly pulled harder at the bell chain and cried out for someone to
come and open the gate and let them in.

Suddenly, above the noise they were making and the sound of the tolling
bell within, the children heard voices, and a clattering on the other
side of the gate. Then a face appeared at the grating.

“Open the gate!” cried Jack. “Quick! Quick! We’ve got a pass. Open the
gate and save us!”

A loud murmuring arose within, and they heard the jangling of keys.
When all at once a voice shrieked, “Look! Look! On the hill. It’s the
Pumpkin! Don’t open the gate! Don’t open the gate, it’s a decoy!”

“It’s not, it’s not,” cried Jack. “Oh, save us, save us. We _have_ got
a pass. Let us in and save us from the Pumpkin. For pity’s sake open
the gate!”

The voices inside were now loud and angry; the people were evidently
not inclined to believe him.

“Oh, Jack, Jack!” screamed Molly. “He’s just behind us, Jack!”

Jack wheeled round and saw to his horror that the Pumpkin was near
the top of the hill and close upon them. He was desperate. Raising
the stone above his head, he flung it with all his strength at the
big, grey, moving thing. There was a dull thud as the stone struck
the Pumpkin and sent it back a few paces; but it quickly came to a
standstill, and began at once to cover the ground it had lost.

Meanwhile a fresh arrival had come upon the scene behind the gate.
In the midst of all the hubbub, the angry voices, the clanging bell,
the pattering feet, there was a moment’s lull, and Jack and Molly
could distantly hear the sound of running feet. Then a familiar voice
exclaimed: “Hi, there! What’s all the fuss about?”

A score of voices started to explain.

Molly gave a sob of relief, “Oh, it’s Glan!” she cried.

“Glan! Glan!” the children called imploringly. “Open the gate quick and
save us. Oh, _do_ be quick!”

Glan’s face appeared at the grating.

“Bless my soul!” he cried in his big voice. “Here, give me the keys!
Yes, I know it’s the Pumpkin too, but if we don’t open the gate this
instant the little lady outside and her brother will be.... Give me the
keys ... give me the keys! Decoys?... Bah!”

There was a jangling of keys again, the sound of a lock being turned,
and the huge gate swung back.

Jack and Molly dashed in, and Glan slammed the gate behind them—just
in time. Another minute and the Pumpkin would have got through.

“But can’t he open the gate if he just touches it?” cried Jack, tugging
Glan’s sleeve excitedly.

“No, no, he can’t do that!” Glan said, shaking his head as he stood on
tiptoe to bolt and padlock the gate securely. “Thank goodness there are
some limits to his magic!”

Jack and Molly found themselves in the centre of an excited crowd of
people who regarded them curiously, but without anger or fear, since
Glan had befriended them. Most of them were chattering and waving their
hands toward the gate, but some watched the children with narrowed
eyes and then whispered behind their hands to their neighbours,
while others stood and gazed gloomily at them in silence. They were
a picturesque race of people, these citizens of the Possible World,
clothed in a bewildering variety of dresses, of no particular style;
apparently each person dressed in whichever style took his or her
fancy, or which was best suited to the occupation carried on by that
person. And this, after all, is the only sensible way to dress. The
result of these numerous styles and colours was very pleasing to the
eye: at least, so thought Jack and Molly as they gazed round at the
animated scene before them.

[Illustration: THE HUGE GATE SWUNG BACK]

“Don’t you fret,” said a kindly-looking woman dressed in dark blue
with a blue cap on her head and a chain of dull yellow beads round
her neck. “We took care to have the gate washed with a magic lotion,
and the Pumpkin cannot touch it—nor the gate at the other end of the
City—though we have to keep both safely locked in case a friend of
the Pumpkin’s were to get in and open the gate for him.” She looked
straight into the eyes of first Jack and then Molly—and then she
smiled.

By this time Glan had finished locking up the gate, and was handing the
keys back to the gate-keeper—a large, pompous-looking gentleman with
a brown beard, dressed in a green Robin Hood style of suit—who seemed
inclined to be sulky.

“I’m sorry I could not wait for your permission to open the gate,” they
heard Glan say. “The matter was urgent, you see. It was the little lady
and her brother who are going to try and help us.”

“You’d no right to snatch the keys out of my hand like you did,”
replied the gate-keeper sullenly. “You might have got me into no end of
trouble, if they _had_ been decoys. Where’s their pass, anyway?”

Glan beckoned to Jack and Molly.

“If you wouldn’t mind giving up your passes to this gentleman,” he
said. “Ah, that’s right,” as Jack and Molly handed their envelopes to
the gate-keeper, who proceeded to open them and examine the contents
carefully.

Then he slowly nodded his head. “All right this time,” he said. “But
you be careful in future, young man”; he looked at Glan. “It might have
been a very serious matter.”

Glan’s eyes began to twinkle.

“I will certainly profit by your advice,” he said. “I’m extremely sorry
I had to snatch the keys, I apologize most humbly, but, of course, you
didn’t understand who it was outside, and what danger they were in ...
and anyway, all’s well now, isn’t it, sir?”

“Oh, it’s all right this time, as I said before.”

“Thanks,” said Glan. “Well, good-night.... And now,” he turned to the
two children, “you must be very, very tired after all that. Will you
come along with me to my little place? Father and Aunt Janet will be
very pleased to welcome you.”

Jack and Molly assented willingly, and followed Glan closely as he made
his way through the crowd. When they reached the outskirts of the knot
of people Molly began to thank Glan for coming to their aid at the
gate; but he wouldn’t hear of it.

“What else could I do, on my life, little lady?” he said. “I have faith
in you both, and the help you are going to give us. I want you to come
and have a good rest now, and then in the morning you will be told what
part of the country to search, and you can start out at once on your
adventures.”

“It seems as if we have already started,” observed Jack. “It seems as
if its been all adventures to-day.”

“I think you’re right,” said Glan. “But there’s more to come—though
we’ll talk about those to-morrow. You must be too tired to-night. I
am very glad you got here all right, I was delayed in coming to meet
you—I felt sure, somehow, that you’d decide to stay, after you had
heard Old Nancy’s story. And anyway, I should have been half-way down
the hill to meet you, only so many people stopped me to know if the bad
news was true—that the Pumpkin had returned—and there were such a lot
of things to see to, and I had to run home to tell Aunt Janet to get
things ready for you—in case you came back with me, so that I reached
the gate just in time to let you in.” He stopped a little out of breath.

They had been walking fairly quickly all this time, and the children
could now see more clearly what a beautiful City they had entered.
Everything glistened, a pure white, in the moonlight. Houses, walls,
roofs, chimneys, front doors, gates, pavements, roads—all were white
and spotlessly clean. Yet the curious part of it all was, that it was
not monotonous to the eye; instead, it seemed to make a fine background
for the coloured flowers and trees and dresses of the people. And
to-night, the City was full of soft shadows, cast by the objects that
stood in the light of the moon, Glan and the two children turned into
a narrow, hilly street, down the centre of which ran a sparkling
brooklet, that babbled and gurgled as it splashed over its pebbly bed.
Most of the houses in this street were quaintly built, with the top
part bulging out over the street. And Molly noticed as they passed that
all the windows had coloured curtains—in one house all the curtains
were blue, in another a deep amber shade, in another a glowing crimson,
and so on—which had a very pretty effect, especially if the windows
were lit from within. The white houses, the coloured curtains, and the
window-boxes full of flowers that adorned each window in the street
made a great impression on the children. They thought it all charming,
and said so to Glan.

“The Possible World,” he said, then shook his head and held up his
finger. The tolling of the bell floated across to them.

“I suppose that’s to warn people, isn’t it?” said Jack.

Glan nodded. “But we’ll soon change its tune, won’t we?” he said. “It’s
joy-bells that’ll be ringing next, because the Black Leaf is found. And
who will have found it.... Ah, ha!” he winked knowingly, and wagged a
fat forefinger at the two children. “What a great day it will be,” he
chuckled. “You’ll have to be careful I don’t win, because I’m going to
search too, you know ... but we’ll talk all about that in the morning.”

At the top of the hilly street they crossed an open square with a
market cross in the centre, and entered another narrow street with
bulging houses and shops in it. They met few people now as they
continued on their way: many were still down by the West Gate, and
others had wended their ways homeward after assuring themselves that
the Pumpkin was safely outside the City walls. About half-way up the
street Glan came to a halt outside a small shuttered shop, that lay
back underneath the frowning brow of the bulging upper story of the
building, like a dark deep-set eye. Producing a key from the pocket
of his white jacket, Glan placed it in the lock of the side door and
opened it quietly.

“I’ll go in first, shall I?” he said. “There’s no light in the
passage, and you might fall over something.”

Jack and Molly followed him into the house, and stood hesitating on the
mat while he strode down the passage and opened a door at the farther
end. A dim light crept out and thinned the darkness. From the room came
a low murmur in familiar tones.

“Come along,” called Glan. “Would you mind just shutting the front
door. Thanks very much.”

It was a small room at the end of the passage with a round table in
the centre of it on which stood a shaded lamp. At the table sat Glan’s
father with his elbows resting on a large open book in front of him,
while his hands, held to the sides of his head, covered his ears; an
expression of profound melancholy was on his face as he gazed at the
children on their entrance. Bending over the fireplace was a genial,
comfortable-looking, elderly woman, who was stirring something in a
saucepan.

“Bless their hearts, how tired they look,” she exclaimed, as she caught
sight of the children’s faces.

“It’s the little lady and her brother that I told you about, Aunt
Janet,” said Glan. “Is everything ready for them?”

“Yes, my dear,” replied Aunt Janet. “The beds is sweet and aired, and
there’s a bowl of hot broth for both of them, bless their innocent
souls, which’ll be cooked in a minute or two. Sit you down, dearies,
and rest yourselves, and Aunt Janet’ll have things ready in no time for
you.”

“They’re sure to be tired,” said Glan. “They were chased up the hill by
the Pumpkin,” he added in a lower voice.

But his father had heard. “What was that?” he asked mournfully, taking
his hands down from his ears.

So Glan had to explain to him the incident at the gate, and how the
Pumpkin nearly got in. The old man listened intently, groaning every
time Glan paused for breath, and rolling his eyes whenever the Pumpkin
was mentioned by name. At the end of the story he hastily stopped his
ears again, and bent over his book muttering faintly that he “couldn’t
abide that bell ringing.”

“Poor old father,” said Glan, compassionately, “it does upset him so.”

Jack and Molly were glad of the hot broth, and Aunt Janet, as she
fussed about them anxiously, was pleased to see that the steaming bowls
were soon emptied.

“Sleep well, for there is hard work before you; but courage—and
everything will be well,” said Glan, beaming down at them as he wished
them good-night. While his father shook his head mournfully, and sighed
as he gave them each a limp hand.

Aunt Janet lit two long candles, and conducted them up a flight of high
narrow stairs to the top of the house where there were two small rooms
with little white beds, and freshly laundered window curtains.

“Good-night, dearies,” she said. “Blow the candles out safely. I hope
you’ll find everything you want here.” Her eyes grew very kind. “I had
a little girl and boy once,” she said, “and I know they’d like you to
use their things—if they knew—so I’ve put them all out for you. They
were just about your age, and I—and they—good-night, dearies,” she
stooped suddenly and kissed them each on the forehead.



CHAPTER VIII

_Aunt Janet Puts on her Best Bonnet_


A sunbeam creeping through the window and along the floor to Molly’s
pillow awoke her in the morning; she sat up with a start, puzzled for a
moment at the unfamiliar surroundings; then she remembered—and giving
a long sigh, snuggled down again for a few more minutes while she
thought things over.

How strange it all seemed, just like some wonderful dream, she
thought—and yet it was not a dream. Here were she and Jack in the
middle of a real, exciting adventure. An adventure in which they were
taking an important, and (she hoped) useful part. What would be the
result of their search for the Black Leaf? Would either of them find
it? And what had Old Nancy meant by saying that she thought only _one_
of them would be successful? Wouldn’t she and Jack be allowed to search
together, Molly wondered. She hoped Jack wouldn’t be sent to one part
of the country, and she to another. She tried to recall all the
information and warnings that had been given to them about the Pumpkin,
and the more she recalled, the more difficult the task in front of them
appeared to be.

Molly stretched out her arm and fumbled about in the clothes that lay
on a chair by the bedside; she presently drew forth the box of matches,
Old Nancy’s gift, and proceeded to examine this attentively, it being
her first opportunity of doing so. Just an ordinary box of matches—at
least, so it appeared—only there was no maker’s name on the outside,
simply a dark blue wrapper. There were a dozen matches inside—Molly
counted. “I wonder if Jack has got the same number,” she thought. Then
hearing a distant clock strike seven, she put the match box back in her
satchel and sprang out of bed.

While she was dressing she noticed that the bell which had been tolling
solemnly when she fell asleep was now silent.

When Molly was ready to go downstairs she climbed on a chair and looked
out of the window into the street below, which was already alive with
people moving to and fro on their early morning business. Everything
looked so clean and fresh, and the sun was shining, and a breeze
greeted Molly, so warm and sweetly scented that all the little doubts
and fears that had crowded in on her, trying to cloud her naturally
sunny outlook, were suddenly swept clean away, and Molly felt that
everything was possible and good on such a perfect morning. She jumped
lightly to the ground and ran across the room humming.

A patch of sunshine lay on the floor by the door, and as Molly stopped
for a second to do up her shoelace she saw a curious shadow form on the
patch. And the shadow was shaped like a pumpkin! Startled, she looked
hastily over her shoulder: but there was nothing there. And even as she
looked again at the sunlit patch, the shadow passed away.

“Why, it must have been only a cloud, passing before the sun,” she told
herself, relieved. “How silly of me.”

But, nevertheless, she felt suddenly depressed; she did not hum any
more and she walked slowly downstairs, instead of running with her
usual quick step. In passing Jack’s room, the door of which stood wide
open, she saw that the room was empty. So Jack had raced her, and was
already downstairs.

“Yes, he’s been up this last half-hour, and he’s out in the back garden
now,” Aunt Janet informed her. “Did you sleep well, dearie? Run out and
tell your brother breakfast’ll be ready in three minutes, will you,
dearie?”

And Aunt Janet bustled about between the pantry and the fireplace and
the breakfast table, in the little back room. A very tempting breakfast
table it looked, too; set for five, and everything so spick and span,
from the crisp brown rolls to the long glass vase filled with yellow
flowers standing in the centre of the white cloth.

So Molly went in search of Jack, through the open back door into the
garden. The garden which was long and narrow, was full of bushes and
flowers and little winding paths. At the farthest end stood six tall
elm trees in a row, and it was here that Molly spied Jack and Glan’s
father, standing, talking earnestly together.

“Hullo, Molly,” called Jack, when he saw her. “Come and look here.”

Molly made her way down the garden, and saw that Jack and the old man
were both gazing down at something at the foot of one of the trees. It
was a dark red plant-pot filled with dry soil.

“Mr—er—_he_ was just telling me—what do you think, Molly?” said Jack
excitedly. “The Black Leaf came up in this plant-pot one year!”

“Oh,” Molly gasped, and gazed at the pot with awe. Such an ordinary
plant-pot it looked, with nothing at all about it to suggest that it
had ever been connected with any magic.

“Of course, missie,” Glan’s father explained mournfully, “it was no
use me a-picking it that year, you see, because there was no Pumpkin
to pick it for. Besides,” he added bitterly, “it on’y came up for
spite. That’s all—pure spite, I call it—just to taunt me as it were.
I couldn’t bide the sight of it—especially as the Pumpkin was out of
reach—in—in _your_ World.”

“What would have happened if you _had_ picked it?” asked Jack.

“Nothing would have happened. At the end of the thirteen days it would
have withered away, and the plant might not have come up again,
perhaps—but I don’t know about that. Still, if it hadn’t, what should
we have done this year when we do want it? Eh?”

“Yes,” said Molly. “It is a good job you didn’t pick it, because,
supposing it didn’t come up again—I suppose there would have been no
hope of getting rid of the Pumpkin this time?”

“Unless Old Nancy had discovered another spell,” suggested Jack.

The old man shook his head dismally, and ran his fingers through his
beard.

“No,” he said. “I had a feeling—in my bones—that we should need the
Black Leaf some day. I always said the Pumpkin would return from—from
_your_ World. And then—and then those dreams I had——”

“Oh, why didn’t the Leaf come up in your plant-pot this year!” sighed
Molly.

“Things never happen like that,” mumbled Glan’s father.

“They do sometimes,” said Molly.

But the old man only shook his head.

“There’s Aunt Janet calling us to breakfast,” said Molly. “I was sent
out to fetch you. Come along!” And she led the way back indoors again,
followed by the other two.

“Now, what have you been doing in the garden?” cried Aunt Janet,
catching sight of the three serious faces. “Looking at that old
plant-pot again, I’ll be bound. You ought to be ashamed of yourself,”
she said, shaking her head at Glan’s father. “Brooding over that
miserable old pot—before breakfast, and on such a lovely morning too.
If I had my way I’d smash the ugly old thing up and have done with
it—though really I believe you enjoy it”—she disregarded the old
man’s reproachful glance, and clapped some plates on the table a little
impatiently. “What good does it do, brooding over things that are past
and gone and can’t be helped! It’s the future we can help, and it’s the
future we should give our thought to, and make it better than the past.
Glan! Glan! Where’s Glan! Call Glan, somebody. He’s in the shop!”

But Glan had heard, and appeared at that moment through the
glass-windowed door that led from the parlour to the shop.

“Good-morning all, good-morning,” he cried, beaming and rubbing his
hands together. “What a perfect morning, to be sure. And did the little
lady and her brother rest well after the strenuous time they had
yesterday?”

“Very well, thank you,” said Molly.

“Slept like a top,” said Jack.

“Ah, that’s right,” said Glan, taking his place at the table, round
which the others were already seated. “And what is this our good Aunt
has provided? Scrambled eggs! Excellent, excellent indeed. What a
perfect morning. Who could feel sad at heart on a day like this!”

He seemed in great spirits, and started to hum as he helped himself
to salt, while his father rolled his eyes up leaving only the whites
visible, to signify his despair at the incurable cheerfulness of his
son.

“Come, come now, and how is father this morning?” Glan continued,
pushing his father’s chair closer to the table and tucking a serviette
under his fathers chin, for all the world as if he were a baby in a
high chair.

“He’s been at that old plant-pot again,” said Aunt Janet.

“Bad wicked man,” smiled Glan, wagging his spoon at his Father, who
received all Glan’s bantering remarks with the same stolid expression,
and without the flicker of a smile. Jack marvelled at Glan’s
perseverance with his Father, when his attempts to cheer him up were
always without success. He began to doubt whether the old man _could_
smile, and tried to imagine him doing so—but failed.

“After breakfast,” said Glan, “if he is very good and promises not to
pick the currants out of the buns, Father shall mind the shop while the
little lady and her brother, and Aunt Janet, and yours faithfully, put
on their best bonnets with the bead trimmings, and their elastic-sided
boots, and brown cotton gloves”—he gave an elaborate wink at Aunt
Janet—“and sally forth to learn what plans are afoot, and to find out
what portion of the country we are each to search.”

“Will Jack and I be allowed to go together?” asked Molly, anxiously.

“Certainly, if you wish,” said Glan.

“Of course we’d rather, wouldn’t we, Moll?” said Jack.

And she assented quickly, hoping at the same time that now they would
probably both win—or fail together.

When breakfast was finished, and while Aunt Janet went to put on her
bead-trimmed bonnet, and elastic-sided boots, and brown cotton gloves,
Glan showed the two children over the shop. It contained a most
tempting array of sugared cakes and buns and pastries and bread—all of
which Glan told them he made himself, in the bakehouse at the side of
the shop. The shop was sweet and clean, like the rest of the house, and
the sight of Glan, in his white cap and overall, standing behind the
counter and beaming cheerfully around him was a sight to lighten the
heart of anyone—except Glan’s father.

“It’s fortunate that your Father can look after the place while you are
out,” remarked Molly. “But I thought you said he was taken back and
given a place at Court, didn’t you? I thought that was why he wore a
velvet robe and keys.”

“Quite right,” said Glan, “but it is only a very unimportant position.
You see, he’s getting old—he only has to turn up at Court every
Tuesday and Friday. It keeps him amused. On his free days he does
all sorts of things to fill up his time.... Ah, here he comes,” he
continued, as his Father shuffled into the shop. “Now, be very careful,
Father, and look after everything nicely while we’re away, won’t you?
And here—you’d better wear this or you’ll spoil that lovely velvet
robe.”

And Glan whipped off his white apron and made his Father put it on.
This, over his gorgeous velvet robe, gave him a comical appearance
which was by no means lessened by the melancholy expression on his
face. Glan gave a chuckle. With arms akimbo he surveyed his Father with
his head on one side, then he chuckled again. Such an irresistible,
infectious chuckle it was that Jack and Molly, despite their efforts
not to, started to laugh. Glan went on chuckling and laughing, and once
having started the three of them continued laughing and could not stop,
until the tears came into their eyes, and Jack had a stitch in his
side, and Aunt Janet appeared, all ready to start, to see what all the
noise was about.

“Poor old Father ... it’s too bad to laugh ... but really ... really
...” and Glan dried his eyes on the sleeve of his white overall, and
started to laugh again.

But Glan’s Father could see nothing to laugh at, and had continued
dusting the scales slowly and methodically all the time.

“These jam puffs are two a penny, aren’t they?” he asked, quite
unconscious of the figure he presented.

“Does your Father ever laugh?” Jack asked, as soon as they were outside
the shop.

“Never to my knowledge,” said Aunt Janet, “and I’ve kept house for him
these twenty years.”

“I’ve seen him smile—twice—as far as I can remember,” replied Glan.
“But that was a long time ago.... Perhaps he’ll _laugh_ one of these
days—when we find the Black Leaf?”

They made their way down the street and into the market square, which
presented a very different appearance in the daylight from the sleepy,
peaceful look it had worn last night in the moonlight. Now it was awake
and all was bustle and hurry, with shops open, and people passing to
and fro.

“Where did you say we were going first?” asked Jack.

“I didn’t say,” said Glan, “but I should think you might guess by Aunt
Janet’s bonnet that it’s somewhere very special.”

“We’re going to the Palace, dearies,” Aunt Janet broke in.

“To the Palace!” exclaimed the children.

“And shall we see the King?” Molly added.

“Of course,” said Glan.

At this moment their attention was attracted by the sound of people
running and shouting, and they saw that a big crowd was rapidly
gathering round the market cross. “What is it?” “What’s the matter?”
people near by were asking each other, and unable to get information
they would rush off and join the jostling, excited mob in order to find
out for themselves.

“Wait here a moment,” said Glan, “and I’ll go and see. Don’t follow me
or we shall lose each other in the crowd. I won’t be long.”

And leaving the children and Aunt Janet standing outside a quaint
little tea-shop, he dashed forward and was quickly lost to sight in
the surging mass of people that were rushing onward to the market
cross. Everyone was simmering with excitement, and Jack and Molly had
great difficulty in obeying Glan’s instructions to wait outside for him
there, especially whenever a shout or groan of sympathy or indignation
rose above the murmuring of the crowd, and told them that something
unusual was taking place.

But they waited, and in a few minutes they saw Glan making his way back
through the outskirts of the crowd. He hurried toward them, his face
unusually grave.

“Come along,” he said, taking each of the children by an arm and
hastening them away before they could ask any questions; and he signed
to Aunt Janet, who followed behind them as quickly as possible. “Don’t
look back. It’s no use. We can’t do anything to help. It’s one of the
Pumpkin’s victims, some poor fellow caught by him outside the City
walls.”

“What has he done to him?” Jack managed to gasp out.

“Made both his arms disappear, and covered his face with a horrible
grey stain. The man looks awful. I’m glad you didn’t see him—we can
do nothing to help ... except one thing,” said Glan.

“The Black Leaf?” asked Molly.

“The only thing,” said Glan.



CHAPTER IX

_Planning the Search_


They turned out of the square into a wide avenue, bordered on each
side with beautiful trees. At the end of this avenue stood the Palace
gates, and behind these, glimpses could be caught of the Palace itself,
gleaming white through the trees and bushes which surrounded it and
almost hid it from sight of the gates; the only parts which were
entirely visible were its four white towers which rose high above the
tree tops. Having ascended the flight of wide, marble steps before the
gates, the four visitors passed the sentry—who seemed to know Glan
quite well—and made their way through the grounds to the main entrance
of the Palace.

Jack and Molly were lost in admiration of the beauty of the scene
before them. The creeper-clad walls and white towers of the Palace
stood in well-wooded grounds through which a little river wandered,
sparkling in the sunlight. Along the central avenue that led to the
Palace, and up the great wide steps to the main door, there moved a
constant stream of people, dressed in all sorts of lovely shades and
colours; from a distance you might almost think they were the moving
reflections of the flowers that clustered in profusion wherever your
eyes turned. Had this been really so, Glan in his white suit might have
passed for the reflection of a white stock, perhaps; Molly for a blue
and white periwinkle; Jack for a dark blue hyacinth; and Aunt Janet,
who was all in brown, for a large autumn leaf.

They joined the moving procession, and as they began to mount the
steps Glan explained to the children that all these people were on the
same errand as themselves; they had come to offer their help in the
organized search that was about to take place. The main doors of the
Palace were soon reached and they passed through, and were presently
ushered into a spacious hall, panelled with dark oak. (For although
the outsides of the buildings in the City were white, the children had
already noted that the insides were coloured in many and varied styles.)

The hall was already crowded with people, and on a raised daïs at the
far end there sat the King’s Councillors—a group of wise and learned
men and women—round a long table. At first Jack and Molly could not
see very well, but when a sudden hush fell on the assembly and the
people all bowed, the children could see over the bowed heads that some
one of importance was entering. They were made sure of this by the
nudges of Aunt Janet. And looking up they saw it was the King.

His Majesty was middle-aged and rather tall and well built, and had
a strong, clean-shaven face. The children liked his appearance. That
he was ‘every inch a king’ could truly be said of him, though he wore
no crown or velvet robes as the kings usually did in the children’s
story-books at home, but was dressed very simply in a suit that
reminded Jack vaguely of an admiral’s uniform.

“What a decent sort he looks,” whispered Jack to Molly.

After a few words of welcome to the people the King called upon one of
the Councillors—a shrewd little man with tufty white whiskers—to tell
the true story of the Pumpkin’s return to the Possible World, which the
Councillor did, having obtained a full account from Old Nancy. The
only question which still remained unsolved was: Who was the traitor
who had drugged Old Nancy, and so aided the Pumpkin to return? This
mystery, he said, they hoped to clear up when the Black Leaf was found.

When he had finished his story and had sat down, a buzz of murmuring
voices filled the hall, and people turned to one another commenting on
the story about Old Nancy which they had just been told, and comparing
notes on the exaggerated versions of the tale that had reached them
from various quarters.

Silence fell as the King rose again. After a few comments on the
Pumpkin’s return, he began to speak of the plans for searching, which
he and the Councillors had discussed at an emergency meeting early this
morning.

“To make sure that every likely inch of ground is searched,” he said,
“we have taken a map of the City and the outlying country, as far as
the boundaries of this kingdom extend—and this is the only kingdom
in which the Black Leaf can grow, remember—and we have divided this
map into a number of small squares. Now what we want you each to do is
to choose a square of the map, which you may take away with you—and
search thoroughly every inch of the ground marked.

“In this way the Black Leaf must be found sooner or later—unless there
is any careless searching or delay in searching. For, remember, we have
only _eleven days left_ before the Black Leaf disappears—and if it is
not found before then the Pumpkin will remain with us for a year until
the Leaf appears again and another search can be made.

“Those who volunteer outside the City are advised to search in couples,
as the Pumpkin will be a constant source of danger to a person alone,
whereas, if there are two of you, one can always keep watch while the
other searches difficult places, or rests for a while.”

And here the King said a special word of warning regarding decoys and
traps set by the Pumpkin in order to hinder the searchers, and then
went on to explain what should be done if the Black Leaf was found,
repeating the words that Jack and Molly had already heard from Old
Nancy.

“As soon as it is known that the Black Leaf is found,” the King
continued, “signals will be given throughout the country, so that all
the searchers can cease, and make their way back to the City and
the hill by Old Nancy’s cottage, in order to witness the Pumpkin’s
punishment. These signals will be given by means of beacon fires which
will be lit on the hill tops near and far. And when the glad news
reaches the City all the bells will be set ringing.”

“Your Majesty, would it be possible for one of the Pumpkin’s friends to
start the first beacon blazing, before the Leaf was found, in order to
stop the searchers?” some one in the hall inquired.

“No,” replied the King. “Because we are so arranging it that only the
person who has actually plucked the Black Leaf, and has it in his or
her hand, can set a light to the first beacon. Each beacon is being
specially guarded ... well, I will admit that we have called in the
aid of Old Nancy to help us in the guarding of them. So you may rest
assured that none of the Pumpkin’s friends will be able to touch the
beacons.... So, whoever finds the Black Leaf, remember to set the
nearest beacon on fire before starting back to Old Nancy, that we may
all know the good news at the earliest possible moment.”

The King concluded by asking for volunteers to search outside the City
and inside the City to come forward and sign their names in the book
which had been placed on a table half-way along the hall.

“The Pumpkin has already, in the last few hours, caused much sorrow,”
he said sadly. “Let us make certain that this is the last time he shall
ever bring disaster and misery to our country. Let us put our best
efforts into this scheme for finding the Black Leaf, and so banish for
all time the Grey Pumpkin.”

He sat down amid a great cheer which came from the hearts of the people
in the crowded hall. It was obvious that the King was very popular.
The people pressed forward eagerly to sign their names, and Jack and
Molly together with Glan and Aunt Janet were among the foremost to
signify their willingness to help. Both the children caught the wave
of enthusiasm which swept through the hall, and felt that here was a
country and a King well worth working for. And their dislike of the
Pumpkin who would spoil everything grew more intense.

“I’m afraid I can only volunteer to search inside the City,” said
Aunt Janet to the children as they turned away from the table. “I
can’t walk very far without getting a bit tired. And as for running—I
couldn’t—not if fifty Pumpkins were after me.”

“I think it’s jolly sporty of you to offer at all,” said Jack.

“Oh, we all want to do what we can, dearie,” she smiled.

The four of them moved on and joined a group of people who were
examining one of the large maps of the City and surrounding country
which were hanging round the room. They had begun to discuss what part
of the country would be the best for them to search, when they heard,
much to their surprise, someone call out the names of the two children
in a loud voice. Turning quickly they saw that the King had the big
book of names in front of him, and with his finger to a name on the
page, was looking round the room. It was one of the Councillors near
him who had called out their names, evidently at the King’s request.
Before the children could wonder what they ought to do, the King spoke:

“I see,” he said, “that we have two friends from the Impossible World
who have kindly offered to help us. I should like to thank them
personally. Strangers are often lucky!”

Some one started a cheer which was quickly taken up by the entire hall
full of people, and Jack and Molly, both blushing furiously at this
unexpected attention, were pushed forward by Glan and Aunt Janet, to
the foot of the raised daïs where the King greeted them, welcoming
them to the country, and warmly shaking hands with them. They chatted
together for a few minutes, the King asking many questions about the
Impossible World.

“But, ah me!” the King said. “I am afraid this will be the Impossible
World now that the Pumpkin’s returned.”

“We will soon make it Possible again, your Majesty,” said Molly. “If it
is in our power to do so.”

“I’m sure we shall all do our best,” said the King. “Now which part of
the country would you prefer to search?”

The children said they did not mind, as all the country was strange and
fresh to them, and asked his Majesty if he thought the Leaf was more
likely to be outside the City than inside.

“Of course, one can never be sure, but I think it’s much more likely to
be outside the City than inside,” the King replied. “But still it _may_
be inside! We shall make a thorough search inside, naturally: in every
garden, and street, and plant-pot, and window-box—everywhere, in every
place likely and unlikely.”

When the children heard that the Leaf was more likely to be outside
they at once made up their minds. Outside the City walls they would
search, Jack and Molly together. And so it was arranged.

They chose a little square of the country that lay outside the East
Gate of the City. It was entirely fresh country to them, and Molly
liked the names given to that part of the country. Down the Three Green
Lanes, over Goblin’s Heath, through the Orange Wood, and the country
along the banks of a broad river to Lake Desolate, and the Brown Hills.
Although these names were all marked in one little square on the map it
was really a good many miles—especially when every likely part must be
carefully gone over and examined.

After Jack and Molly had received their small square of map, Glan
stepped forward to pick his square. He shook hands and chatted with the
King for a second, and then stood before the map trying to make up his
mind. While he was deciding, tracing along the map with his plump white
forefinger, the children stood aside watching the stream of people
passing to and fro, choosing their square of map, shaking hands with
the King, and passing on and out of the great door at the end of the
hall. Most of them had a friendly smile and nod for Jack and Molly as
they went by, and several came up to the children, and shook hands with
them, thanking them for offering to help their country in this trouble.

At length, after Glan had chosen, and helped Aunt Janet to choose her
bit, and shaken hands excitedly with everybody round about (including
Aunt Janet, by mistake), he, Aunt Janet, Jack, and Molly bade farewell
to the King and made their way out of the Palace. They retraced their
steps through the Palace grounds, passing the sentry at the gate, and
went toward the Market Square again. Glan and Aunt Janet insisted on
showing the children the way to the East Gate, and so the four went
along talking eagerly, the children full of enthusiasm for the coming
search, for the King, and for the Possible World.

“I’ve got a big forest to search in my bit,” said Glan. “I like
forests. And I’m arranging for father to help me if he feels
inclined—on the days when he’s not at Court. I wish I could have got
a bit to search outside the East Gate—so as to be near you both—but
all the bits I wanted were already taken by other people. Fortunately,
though, I’ve managed to get a square that backs on to a piece of the
ground you’ll be searching—though I start from the West Gate. You see
the wood bends round at this point——” and he compared his square of
map with Jack and Molly’s square, and showed them where his ground
touched theirs. “So I shan’t be so very far away,” he laughed. “You
can’t get rid of me, altogether.”

“I’m sure we don’t want to,” said Molly.

“Rather not,” said Jack.

“Oh, Glan, you will be careful, won’t you?—and not get caught by the
Pumpkin?” added Molly anxiously.

“Of course, little lady,” Glan replied. “You should see me _run_ if
I want to. I’ll not get caught.” He was still studying and comparing
the maps. “Why, look here!” he exclaimed, “you’ve got the Orange Wood
in your bit. Well, I never! D’you hear that, Aunt Janet? The Orange
Wood.... We’ve got a relative who lives in that wood. I must give you
his name.” Glan scribbled something on a piece of paper and handed
it to the children. “Any of the people in the village near by will
direct you to his house—they all know him. Papingay’s his name—I’ve
written it down, you see. He’ll be delighted to see you—tell him you
know us, Aunt Janet and Father and me. But don’t be surprised at his
funny little ways—he’s a queer old soul—a very queer old soul.” Glan
chuckled to himself at some recollection.

“He’s a kind of cousin of Glan’s father, dearies,” observed Aunt Janet.

The children were glad to hear of this one person, at any rate, whom
they might trust in the strange, unknown country before them.

“Be sure to humour him, though,” added Glan. “He’s worth it. Don’t
forget.”

While they had been talking they had been passing through many quaint
streets on their way to the East Gate: streets that on an ordinary
occasion would have made Jack and Molly long to stop and explore them
slowly, there were so many tempting and curious things to be seen. But
there was no time for loitering now. There was serious work to be
done. So they hastened along until at length the East Gate was reached.

Here Glan produced two neat little boxes of sandwiches and cakes,
giving one of them to Jack and one to Molly. “A snack for lunch,” he
said.

“You’re sure to find plenty of friends as you go along,” said Aunt
Janet. “But do take care of yourselves, dearies. Good luck be with
you.” And she fumbled for her pocket-handkerchief and dabbed her eyes
rapidly, while Glan patted her on the shoulder.

“Here’s to our next meeting,” he cried cheerily, “and may it be soon.
Who’s going to light the first beacon, little lady, you or I?”

“Neither,” said Jack, laughing. “I am.”

“That’s the sort,” cried Glan, patting Aunt Janet vigorously, as he
beamed at Jack.

The keeper of the East Gate had by this time appeared and was
cautiously opening the gate. Finding the way clear he opened it wide.

“Laugh at misfortune,” Glan shouted gaily, as Jack and Molly passed out
on to the High Road. “Keep up a good heart, and—tss—remember—we
shall win. Good luck! Good luck!” They saw him wave his white cap in
the air; there was a flutter of brown-gloved hands, then the gate
closed.



CHAPTER X

_Some One Meets Jack and Molly in the Third Green Lane_


They had gone but a short distance along the broad white road which led
to the Three Green Lanes (according to the map), when they heard the
East Gate of the City open and shut again with a clang, and looking
back Jack and Molly saw that two people had come out and had started
off in the opposite direction to that in which they were going.

“Two more searchers,” said Jack. “I remember that little man with the
green coat, don’t you, Molly? He was at the Palace—had very twinkling
eyes.”

“Oh, yes, I saw him,” said Molly. “And that boy with him in that
curious red-brown suit. I wonder which part they are searching.
Supposing _they_ are the lucky people who are going to find the Black
Leaf ... if we only knew,” sighed the little girl, standing in the
middle of the white road and gazing pensively at the two figures in
the distance.

“I know one thing,” said Jack. “We shan’t be the lucky people if we
don’t move along. Come on, Molly.”

Two minutes’ brisk walking brought them to the entrance to the First
Green Lane. And here their search began. The lane was a very twisty
one, and was closed in on either side with high thick hedges; fresh and
green the hedges were, and starred with tiny white flowers that smelled
very sweet.

“How strange that it isn’t autumn here, like it was at home,” said
Jack. “It’s more like summer here, isn’t it, Molly?”

“It isn’t really strange,” said Molly. “Everything is so different
here, isn’t it? I don’t see why the seasons in the Possible World
should be like ours any more than anything else is like ours.”

“No. P’r’aps you’re right,” agreed Jack.

They went carefully along, searching thoroughly as they went, Molly
taking the left-hand side of the lane and Jack the right. For the most
part it was fairly easy work; there were not many places in the First
Green Lane where the Black Leaf could grow undetected, though from
time to time an extra thick and low-spreading bush would necessitate a
halt for a thoroughly satisfactory examination.

“There is one thing that seems strange to me,” Molly went on presently.
“And that is the way the ordinary and the magic things seem to all get
mixed up together. I’m sure I shall be forgetting, when we get home
again, and keep expecting spells and magic things to happen.”

“So shall I,” said Jack; and then, as Molly began to laugh—“What’s the
matter?” he asked.

“Oh, Jack,” she laughed. “What would Aunt Phœbe say if she could see us
now!”

“‘I’m sure I don’t know what the world’s coming to,’” mimicked Jack, in
an Aunt Phœbe voice, and then joined in Molly’s laughter. “And the best
of it is,” he chuckled, “it’s all through her giving you that birthday
present. She _would_ be wild.”

“I suppose we really ought not to laugh at her,” laughed Molly. “It’s
hardly respectful—but, somehow, I can’t just help it.”

They continued to search, chatting and laughing, in a light-hearted,
excited mood, and soon they had covered the best part of the First
Green Lane. As they neared the end—a break in the hedge (on Jack’s
side) blocked by a white gate revealed a big field which lay behind the
hedge.

“Hullo,” said Jack. “Have we got to search this field, too, I wonder.
Where’s the map?”

Molly had it in her pocket, and produced it at once. Leaning against
the gate the two children studied it carefully.

“Yes. See. Here it is ... marked here,” said Molly. “The hedge on the
left-hand side—the side I was searching—is the boundary; but the
field this side is marked in our square.”

“I tell you what then,” suggested Jack. “I’ll start on the field while
you finish to the end of the lane—it’s only a few yards more. Then you
come back and start the other end of the field.”

Molly agreed, so they separated for a few minutes and continued the
search. But there was no sign of the Black Leaf anywhere in the big
field or in the First Green Lane, and at length they started on the
Second Green Lane.

The Second Green Lane had low hedges and many ferns and wild flowers
growing by the way, and a ditch running along one side of it, which
made the searching a little more difficult. There were also several
gates leading from this lane into fields which had to be searched too.
Some of the fields where the grass was long took a good time to do
properly. But the two children stuck to it perseveringly, urged on by
the hope that perhaps just round the corner, or behind the next tree,
or even, perhaps, a few feet ahead of them among the long grass, grew
that which they sought—the Black Leaf. But so far they had searched in
vain.

In the early afternoon they found themselves at the beginning of the
Third Green Lane; and here they decided to stop and have a short rest
and some lunch. When they sat down on the soft grass by the side of the
lane they suddenly discovered that they were really tired; and when
they saw the tempting little sandwiches and cakes in the “snack for
lunch” packets Glan had given them they realized that they were really
hungry. They had been too busy and excited to realize these things
before. Over lunch they got out the map again and studied it.

“What a lonely piece of country this seems,” Jack remarked. “Do you
know, we haven’t seen a single person since we started searching!”

“Nor a single house,” said Molly. “It’s a good thing we have this map
with us. How useful it is.... Let me look, Jack. Are there any houses
or villages marked near here, because we shall have to find some place
to stay to-night if possible.”

“There seems to be some sort of village marked there ... um ... it’s
not very near, though,” said Jack. “It’s the other side of the Goblin’s
Heath.... There doesn’t seem to be a house of any sort marked between
here and that village, does there? Still, I daresay we could reach the
village before dusk, if we are not delayed at all——”

“And if the Heath isn’t too big——”

“If it is and we can’t find a cottage before the end of the Heath,
we’ll climb up a tree, Moll. It’ll be great sport. And we shall be
quite safe there till daylight.”

They packed up the remains of the lunch, for it was a very generous
“snack” that Glan had put in for each of them, and after resting a few
minutes longer they rose to their feet and prepared to start on again.

“My word, I am thirsty,” said Jack. At Molly’s advice he tried one
of the little sweet things in Old Nancy’s packet, and though it was
certainly refreshing Jack still craved for a drink of water. “Is there
a stream of water marked anywhere near here. Give me the map again,
Molly.”

They were standing at the beginning of the Third Green Lane with the
map in their hands, when the sound of some one singing came to them
from a distance.

Jack and Molly looked at each other. This was the first human sound
they had heard since they left the High Road. Perhaps this person,
whoever it was, could tell them where they could get some water. The
singer was evidently approaching, as the song grew louder and clearer,
from the direction of the lane which they were just about to search.
Then, just as they expected the singer to come round the corner of the
lane—the singing ceased abruptly—and no one appeared.

Jack and Molly waited a while, then started off down the lane in the
direction whence the singing had come, thinking perhaps that the singer
had stopped to rest round the corner of the lane. They were right. As
they turned the corner they saw someone sitting under a tree at the
side of the lane. It was a young girl, a little older than Jack and
Molly—such a pretty girl, with grey-green eyes and a straight, white
nose, and deep golden hair that curled about her shoulders. Her soft
green frock matched the colour of her eyes.

She did not notice Jack and Molly at first, as her attention was taken
up by the contents of a small wicker basket in her lap: she was peering
inside it anxiously, and counting aloud.

“Eight, nine, ten,” they heard her say. “Eleven.... Oh, dear, I’ve lost
... no, here it is ... twelve. Oh, that’s right!”

She looked up, and saw the children. She gazed up at them, then smiled
(such a friendly, sweet smile, Molly thought).

“Oh, I ... I didn’t hear you come along,” she said.

“We heard you singing,” said Molly.

The girl blushed. “I didn’t know anyone was near,” she said. “I often
sing when I’m by myself—it’s so lonely, as a rule.” She fastened the
lid of her basket down.

“We were awfully glad to hear you,” said Jack. “Because, do you know,
we haven’t met a soul since we left the East Gate.”

“Have you come from the City, then?” asked the girl with much interest,
rising to her feet. “Oh, you can’t imagine how lonely it is to live out
here. What news is there? What does the City look like now? Oh, I’d
give anything to live in the City with crowds of people and lights and
shops and—and real pavement.”

“Haven’t you got any pavement then in the village where you live?”
asked Jack.

“I don’t live in a village,” answered the girl. “Its right out here in
all this lonely part that mother and I live.”

“Near here?” asked Molly.

“Yes. Just at the end of the Third Green Lane,” said the girl.

“In a house?” inquired Jack.

“Yes. Why not?” the girl smiled. “What did you think we’d live in?”

“I meant,” said Jack, “it’s not marked on our map; there’s no house
marked until you get to the other side of the Goblin’s Heath, and I
didn’t think there was one so close.”

The girl began to laugh. “Well, there is one, even if it isn’t marked
on your map. They don’t mark all the houses, you know. If your way
takes you along down this lane you’ll pass the house, and mother would
be awfully pleased to see you if you could spare a little while. She
rarely gets news of the City or sees anybody.”

“We _were_ going along this way,” said Jack. “And we were just
wondering if there was anywhere we could get a drink of water, because
we’re both so thirsty....”

“Thirsty?” said the girl. “Why, here is the very thing!” And she opened
her basket and took out a beautiful bunch of grapes. “I had been sent
out to gather these from our vine—twelve bunches I’ve gathered. Do
have one.” She placed a delicious-looking bunch in Jack’s hands.

“Oh, no—really. I say, can you spare them, though?” protested Jack.
“And wouldn’t your mother mind?”

“She’d mind if I didn’t give you a bunch when you were so thirsty,”
said the girl, and insisted on Molly having a bunch too.

“Well, it really is awfully kind of you,” said Jack, and Molly thanked
her also.

Molly hesitated just a second before eating her grapes, wondering if
they were doing right in accepting them from the little girl whose
name even they didn’t know. But a glance at the little girl’s sweet,
frank face reassured any doubts Molly may have had. Jack had already
started his bunch. So Molly ate her grapes too.

“You know,” said Jack, “I don’t think I’ve ever tasted such jolly fine
grapes. I was terribly thirsty after searching all the morning.”

“Searching?” asked the girl, puzzled. “Did you say searching? What have
you lost?”

“It isn’t what we’ve lost—it’s what we can’t find,” said Jack. “You
know—it’s what they’re all looking for.”

The girl shook her head. “I don’t know what you mean,” she said.

“Don’t you know about the search for the Black Leaf?” asked Jack in
surprise. “Oh, I say. And about the Pumpkin being back again—of
course, you know that?”

“What!” screamed the girl. “The Pumpkin back? No! No! I didn’t know
that. We hear nothing—living out here alone.... But, oh dear, oh dear!
Whatever are we going to do?” She was trembling and seemed very upset.
“I must get home at once and tell mother—poor mother,” she added.
She fastened the lid of her basket with shaking fingers. “Are you
coming along this way now?”

[Illustration: “DO HAVE ONE!”]

The children explained to her that although they were coming that way
they would have to search as they came, and advised her to go on in
front of them to tell her mother if she felt this was the wisest thing
to do. But she seemed afraid to leave them.

“I’d rather stay with you, if you don’t mind,” she said. “I—I expect
you’ll think I’m an awful coward—but I simply daren’t go on alone.
I’ll help you search as we go along; and do tell me how it all
happened—how the Pumpkin came back.”

So, as the three of them moved off down the lane, Jack and Molly
recounted something of what had happened. They did not talk much about
themselves, but related the main incidents of the Pumpkin’s return.
Their companion listened eagerly, putting in a hurried question every
now and then. When they had finished she said:

“Well, I do think it’s plucky of you. To search like this—in a strange
land. I—I feel quite ashamed of myself for being so scared just now.
We all have to take our chance. Do let me help you search this bit of
lane. And afterward, I’ll go to the City and ask to be given a part to
search too. How far do you intend to search to-day?”

“We thought of trying to get as far as the other side of the Goblin’s
Heath,” said Jack.

“Oh, you’ll never be able to do that before nightfall!” the girl
exclaimed. “It’s a very big Heath. I wonder—would you care to stay at
our house to-night? Mother and I would be only too proud to have you,
if you’d care....”

“It’s very good of you,” said Molly. “Perhaps——”

“Well, wait until you see mother, if you’d prefer that,” said the girl.
“Wait until you see our house. I know I shouldn’t care to promise to
stay with anyone until I’d seen where they lived. In a strange country
too.”

She had added this, seeing that Jack and Molly hesitated. But they were
more than half-persuaded, because she spoke so reasonably and frankly.

They continued to search the Third Green Lane thoroughly; the afternoon
wore on, and the shadows of eventide began to fall.

Presently the girl said, “We are near the end of the lane now. Round
the next turning you will see my house.”

So far the search had been in vain, and Jack and Molly were beginning
to feel very tired, as the lane had been long and difficult.

“We must have been two hours searching this lane,” said Molly. “Will
your mother be getting anxious about you?”

The girl shook her head. “And she won’t even be cross when she sees
that I’ve brought visitors home with me. You will come in, won’t you?”
she asked, “and we can all have tea together.”

It sounded so tempting that the children accepted gladly, especially as
the house hove in sight at that moment. Turning the corner they came
suddenly upon it. Such a quaint, cosy little house, which lay snuggled
away behind a cluster of thick bushes and trees. The lane continued for
only a short distance beyond the house, then it opened out into a great
wide heath—the Goblin’s Heath. The children hadn’t time to take in
much of the scenery, as their companion ushered them into the garden of
her house quickly. It was darker in the garden under the trees than out
in the roadway, and they saw that a little light was glimmering from
one of the windows of the house, which made it look very homely and
comfortable. Jack and Molly followed their companion up the path to the
front door.

The girl tapped twice on the front door, then, rattling the handle and
calling out, “Here we are, mother!” she threw open the door and the
three of them passed in.

They found themselves in a dark, narrow passage, at the end of which
they could see a glow as from firelight. Their companion closed the
front door and led the way along the passage.

“Here we are, mother!” she called again, and a figure appeared in the
firelit opening at the end of the passage, and stood there chuckling
softly.

Suddenly, Jack and Molly were afraid.

“Jack, I’m going back!” gasped Molly, and turning, both the children
made for the door. But it was shut fast, and there were no handles or
bolts to be found.

The girl and the figure in the firelight burst into loud laughter.

“You little sillies!” a voice cried, accompanied by another burst of
laughter.

They could see the girl in green quite plainly now. She had reached
the end of the passage and stood whispering to the other person. The
firelight shone on both of them. The girl in green was strangely
altered. No longer fresh and young and pretty—her face looked old and
hard and scornful. Jack and Molly caught a few of the words she was
whispering.

“Oh, Jack,” Molly sobbed. “They’re the Pumpkin’s friends. We’re
trapped!”



CHAPTER XI

_Trapped_


Jack and Molly clutched hold of each other tightly, while a feeling of
despair rushed over them. How foolish, how very foolish, they had been
to trust the girl! What awful thing could be going to happen to them
now? they wondered. The whispered conversation between the two at the
end of the passage ended in a loud burst of laughter and giggling; then
the girl turned toward them and beckoned.

“Come on,” she said, “and the quicker the better it will be for you....
No nonsense now,” as the children did not move.

“How dare you!” Jack managed to say. “Open this door and let us out at
once. You—you mean sneak!” His voice was shaky, but very determined.

“Oh, don’t be silly,” said the girl. “You’ve _got_ to obey now—so you
might just as well come—unless you’d like me to fetch you both?”

“Heh! Heh!” laughed the figure behind her. “I’d like to see you fetch
them—that I would!”

The laughter and the nameless threat underlying the words gave the
children a creepy sensation all up and down their spines.

“Oh, let’s go before she _fetches_ us,” cried Molly, and went forward,
dragging Jack by the hand.

“That’s sense,” said the girl, and made room for them to pass out of
the passage into the firelight.

They found themselves in a round, cave-like room, which was lit up by
the dancing flames of a log fire. Afterward Jack and Molly could not
remember seeing any furniture in the room—nothing but the fire and a
stone-arched fireplace. They could not recall seeing any windows, but
they remembered the floor, which was made of cobbles, because it was
hard to walk on. The room appeared to have no ceiling, or else a very
high one, at any rate no ceiling was visible; overhead all was drifting
smoke and black gloom, like the entrance to a railway tunnel.

“Let’s have a look at the pretty dears,” said the figure beside the
girl, moving forward, and Jack and Molly stood face to face with the
ugliest old woman they had ever seen, in fact, had ever even imagined.
Her clay-coloured face was a mass of deep wrinkles; her narrow, sunken
eyes looked like two restless black beads, darting from side to side,
as if to escape from the two slits of eyelids which imprisoned them.
Her nose and chin curved towards each other, after the fashion of
nut-crackers, and her otherwise toothless mouth had one long yellow
fang always visible. A bright crimson scarf was wound round her head,
like a turban, from which long wisps of jet black hair escaped and hung
about her face.

As the children looked at her, she did a terrifying thing (which they
quickly discovered was a constant habit of hers). The old woman’s
restless beady eyes became suddenly still, and she fixed upon the
children in turn a piercing stare, gradually opening her eyes wider and
wider and wider until they became two big round black balls encircled
by saucers of white—great, staring, still eyes ... then suddenly the
lids snapped over them, and they were once more little darting black
beads.

“Heh! Heh! Heh!” laughed the old woman. “What a surprise for yer,
duckies, wasn’t it, now?” And she thrust her face close to the children
and leered unpleasantly. “Stoopid little baggages!” she added. “Far
for better you’d stopped at home—meddlin’ in what don’t concern you.
But we’ll soon learn you to come a-meddlin’.” She turned to the girl
behind her. “All right,” she said in an undertone. “I’d know ’em again.
I’ve had a good look. When’s _he_ coming?”

“In about an hour, I expect,” answered the girl. Then she dropped her
voice and started whispering again.

The two children gazed into each other’s frightened white faces, and a
little sob escaped from Molly.

“Eh?” said the old woman. “What you say, ducky?... Nothing?... All
right. Come along then, my pretties, come along and wait in the
drorin’-room. His Excellency the Grey Pumpkin is not at home just at
present, but he won’t be long; oh, dear no, he won’t be long. Step this
way in the drorin’-room. He’ll be _pleased_ to see yer. Heh! Heh!”

Molly glanced despairingly at the girl in green, the girl who had been
so friendly a short time before when they were outside in the lane.
Molly held out her hands appealingly—but the girl only laughed.

“Oh have you no pity?” cried Molly. “Do, _do_ let us go. He’ll never
know—the Pumpkin need never know. And—and if there is anything we can
do for you, I’m sure my brother and I will be only too pleased....”

“Would you even give up the search—and go straight back home?” asked
the girl sharply.

Here, then, was their chance of escape. If they would promise—Molly
looked at Jack. What would the Pumpkin do to Jack—to her—when he
came? She shuddered. Then she thought of Old Nancy, and the King, and
Glan, and she knew that what the girl asked of them was impossible. She
and Jack exchanged glances again. They had decided. They would take
their chance.

“Would you promise?” asked the girl.

“No,” answered Jack and Molly together.

“Hurry up and push them in, then, mother.” The girl turned away,
dismissing the subject immediately.

The old woman, chuckling to herself, opened a door in the wall (which
the children had not noticed before) and told them to follow her to
the “drorin’-room” unless they wanted to be “fetched” there. So they
followed her.

It was pitch dark on the other side of the door, and the old woman
called out to the girl in green to hold a light for them, which she
did, standing in the doorway holding a flickering taper above her
head. Jack and Molly followed the old woman along a short passage,
down a flight of stone steps to a door at the bottom. She took a key
from her pocket, and calling to the girl in green again, telling her
to hold the light at the top of the steps, she fumbled at the lock,
opened the door, and then, without more ado, she pushed Jack and Molly
inside, and slammed the door on them. They heard her lock the door,
then go shuffling up the steps, grumbling to herself. Then another door
banged—and all was silent.

Jack and Molly were in absolute darkness, and could not see an inch in
front of them. They dared not move, but stood still clinging hold of
each other.

“Oh, Jack, why _did_ we trust her?” sobbed Molly.

“How were we to know ... she seemed so decent ... the sneak!” said
Jack. “Oh, can’t we _do_ anything, Molly?”

It was dreadful, just standing in the dark—waiting. They talked in
low tones to each other for a while, wondering how long it would be
before the Pumpkin arrived. Neither of them dared to speak of what he
might do when he came. If—if anything happened to them, would any one
miss them, and come in search of them——

And then Molly remembered.

“Jack!” she cried. “The matches! Old Nancy’s matches!”

“Why ever didn’t we think of them before?” exclaimed Jack.

Now was the time to use them, undoubtedly; for if ever there was a dark
place where some light was needed.... Jack and Molly were fumbling
eagerly in their satchels.

“Be careful, Jack,” said Molly. “Don’t drop any. Have you got yours
yet? I have. Now I’ll strike one—and see what happens.”

Jack was still searching his satchel for his box of matches. Meanwhile
Molly took a match out of her box and struck it.

The children were not quite sure what they had expected to happen, but
they felt vaguely disappointed to see just an ordinary little flare of
light spring out of the darkness. Just an ordinary little flickering
match. Anyway, they could now see what sort of a place they were shut
up in. It was a kind of underground cellar, small and square and high
roofed, and except for a few old boxes in one corner, empty. The walls
were damp and mouldy, the floor broken and uneven, and the place seemed
full of cobwebs.

And then they realized that it was not quite an ordinary match. It
burnt longer, and, strange to say, the rays from it were concentrating
all in one direction—like a long thin streak of light—pointing. Jack
and Molly quickly sensed this. But what was the light pointing at? The
flame was directed straight toward the boxes in the corner.

The children crossed the cellar and examined the boxes. They looked
like wooden sugar boxes; there were three of them; and they were all
empty. Jack pulled them away from the wall, but there was nothing
behind them.

Then Molly’s match flickered—and went out.

“Here, I’ll light one,” said Jack. “I’ve got mine now.”

So Jack lit one. Just the usual match flare at first, but as soon as
it burned up the light gathered together all on one side of the match
as it were, a long streak pointing in the exactly opposite direction
to where the boxes were, right over on the other side of the cellar.
For a moment Jack doubted, wondering whether it was a sort of joke on
him. But he and Molly followed the light quickly, and saw that it was
concentrated on a spot, high up on the wall, near the roof.

“Look! quick!” said Molly. “There’s an iron ring or handle or something
up there.”

“But how can we reach it?” began Jack.

And then they remembered what the first match had shown them, and
hastily dragging the boxes across the floor, piled them one on top of
the other underneath the ring in the wall. Then Jack’s match went out.

Both children were now tremendously excited; and fearful lest the
Pumpkin should come before they had finished their investigations, they
moved as rapidly as possible. Molly lit the next match, while Jack
clambered up to the top of the boxes. Her light pointed straight at the
iron ring.

“It’s a ring all right!” cried Jack. “But, oh, Moll, I can’t quite
reach it! Whatever shall we do?”

As the match pointed steadily at the ring, and offered no further
suggestions, Molly climbed up to the top of the boxes too. Jack’s
remark was only too true; the ring was just out of reach, try as they
would to touch it.

“I believe I could reach it if you could lift me up, Jack,” said Molly.

“Right-o!” said Jack. And then Molly’s match went out.

As it would be too difficult to hold a match while trying to reach the
ring, and as Molly said she remembered just where the ring was on the
wall, it was decided to pull the ring if possible, and then light a
match, and see what had happened.

So Jack lifted Molly up, and after groping about on the wall with her
hands for a few seconds, she caught hold of the ring.

“I’ve got it! Keep steady, Jack!” she cried, joyfully, and gave a
vigorous tug at the iron ring. “Something’s given way—it feels as if a
sort of door’s opened. All right, put me down now, Jack, and strike a
match.”

Jack followed her directions, and by the light of the match they saw
that a small square door had opened in the wall above their heads. The
light from the match pointed straight through the opening. It looked
like a narrow, dark tunnel beyond. Jack put his match down on the top
of the boxes to see if it would give them sufficient light from there,
but directly it left his hand it went out, so they decided to try to
get into the tunnel before they lit up again, as it was too difficult
to hold matches while scrambling through the little black opening.
Jack hoisted Molly up first, and she managed to get through the door,
and then she turned and reached down her hand to pull Jack up. It was
rather an ordeal, doing all this in the dark, but at length it was
safely accomplished and they were both inside the tunnel. Once through
the door, although rather cramped, they found there was sufficient room
to stand up, if they bent their heads.

They did not stop to close the door behind them, but, lighting another
match, they scurried along the tunnel as fast as ever they could.
The tunnel twisted and turned a good deal, and then began to slope
gradually upward. Two more matches they were obliged to light before
they came at length to a standstill where the tunnel branched out
in two directions. The light pointed steadily to the left, so they
followed it. Another minute’s rapid walking, and they felt a rush of
cool air, and when their match spluttered and went out, they could see
that the inky darkness was thinning a little way ahead, and so they did
not light another match, but hastened onward toward a glimmer of light
in the distance. As they drew nearer they saw that it was the end of
the tunnel and led out into the open air.

Jack and Molly moved cautiously when they came to the end. They crept
out, and found themselves in the middle of a thick tangle of bushes.
Through the bushes they struggled and forced a way until they at length
came out on to a narrow footpath which threaded its way in and out of a
host of bushes and trees. They began to run as soon as they were on the
footpath, though they did not know where they were or where it would
lead them: but they ran, and continued to run, until they reached a
wider path, and saw that they were on a big open heath. They paused to
regain their breath and take their bearings.

It was night-time, but the moon which sailed overhead in a clear sky
made everything almost as light as day. They were certainly on a heath
of some sort.

“Why, of course,” Jack gasped, very much out of breath, “this must be
the Goblin’s Heath!”



CHAPTER XII

_The Goblin’s Heath_


The Goblin’s Heath, with its little crouching bushes and heather-clad
hillocks, looked very beautiful in the moonlight. Here and there a tree
rising up from the low bushes around it stood out clearly against the
night sky. Toward the nearest big tree Jack and Molly made their way.
It was a giant of a tree, with great gnarled trunk, and plenty of room
among its lower branches for a little girl and boy to curl up and rest
comfortably and safely, screened by its thick curtain of leaves.

Once they were safely hidden in the tree, Jack and Molly had time to
talk matters over. They decided to stay where they were until daylight,
when they could continue their search. They talked and planned for
some time, and then, as their excitement wore off a little, they began
to get very sleepy. Everything seemed quiet and still around them,
but they would take no more risks that night, so decided to sleep
in turns—one keeping watch, and waking the other up at certain
intervals, or if anything happened in the meantime. They had no idea
what the time was, so they arranged their intervals by the moon. When
the moon reached a certain place, Jack, who undertook the first watch
(protesting that he wasn’t tired), was to wake Molly up. So Molly went
to sleep, after making Jack promise that he would wake her up if she
showed any signs of falling out of the tree. Jack had a hard struggle
to keep awake at first, but he managed it somehow, and after Molly had
woken up and taken a turn at watching, and he had had a short, sound
sleep, he felt much refreshed.

The time wore on and Jack was just starting his second watch, and Molly
had fallen asleep again, when he heard a long rustle in one of the
bushes down below. He leant forward, peering down through the branches;
there was evidently something stirring inside the bush; the leaves
rustled and shook, and then were thrust aside, and a queer little
figure stepped out and stood on the broad footpath in the moonlight.
It was a very small, quaint man, dressed in brown, with a pointed cap
on his head; he gazed along the pathway for a moment, then turned and
scanned the Heath in the opposite direction.

Jack gave a start as something moved in the tree beside him. But it was
only Molly, awake, and wide-eyed, staring down at the little brown man
with absorbed attention.

A squeal of laughter came from among the bushes a short distance away,
and the next second another little man came running over the grass to
the waiting figure and started talking rapidly. Their voices were very
tiny, and although the sounds floated clearly up to the listeners in
the tree, the words were undistinguishable. While they watched a third
little man appeared, accompanied by two quaint little women, dressed
in brown skirts and shawls and brown bonnets. All at once it dawned
on Jack and Molly who these little people were, with the tiny, thin,
dancing legs, and the elfish faces. They were goblins. And, of course,
the Heath was named after them. The children had not expected to see
any goblins on the heath; they had certainly thought it a picturesque
name to call this part of the country, but they had not expected any
reason for the name. But behold! here before their eyes were real
live goblins, the first goblins they had ever seen, and they watched
them, surprised and curious. More goblins now began to appear on the
scene; one after another they came, darting from behind bushes, sliding
down the trunks of trees or dropping from the branches, racing along
the footpath, skipping over the grass, until by and by it seemed as
if there were tiny brown figures scurrying to and fro on every side,
appearing and disappearing, here, there, in and out; the whole Heath
seemed to be alive with goblins. Such a squeaking of tiny voices, a
chinking of goblin laughter, and a pattering of feet; and the goblins
seemed to be all so busy and important and in a feverish haste about
nothing at all.

Presently the children noticed that one of the goblins had made his way
to the foot of their tree and was very busy dragging and pushing aside
a big stone. He moved it away at length and disclosed a small hole in
the tree trunk, close to the ground. He bent down and crawled into the
hole. A scrambling and scratching began inside the tree, that sounded,
as the scrambling noise became louder and nearer, as if the goblin were
climbing up to the top of the trunk.

“Oh, Jack, I believe he lives in this tree,” whispered Molly. “What
shall we do if he finds us up here?” You see, they were not quite sure
whether the goblins were friends or enemies, or how they would be
disposed to regard them.

However, they were soon to know, for a few seconds later, the
scratching and scrambling having continued until it sounded close
underneath where the children were crouching, the goblin popped its
head up through a hole just beside Jack’s right foot. The Goblin
studied the sole of Jacks shoe attentively for a moment, then his gaze
travelled to Jack, whom he eyed with mild astonishment. Then he caught
sight of Molly, and transferred his attention to her. The children
remained silent, not knowing what to say. They could tell nothing of
the Goblin’s attitude toward them from his surprised face. Then he
spoke. His voice sounded very small and far away, but the children were
glad to find that they could understand what he said.

“Are you real?” asked the Goblin.

“Of course we are,” said Jack.

“What are you?” was the next question.

Molly started to explain, but she soon noticed that the Goblin was
shaking his head, so she stopped.

“No ... there isn’t really a place called the Impossible World, which
you can reach through a tree in a forest,” he said, as if confiding
to them a sad truth. “It’s only a story—a make-believe place—like
Dreamland.”

Molly was taken aback.

“Oh, but there _is_ such a place,” she affirmed. “We know there
is—because we have come from there.”

“I like to hear you say that—but I don’t believe you,” said the
Goblin, candidly. “I wish I could. And I wish you _were_ real, indeed I
do.”

“We _are_ real,” said Jack, warmly. “We’re as real as anything. Why,
it’s you that is only—that people say are not—I mean——”

“What do you think we are, then, if you don’t believe we are real
people?” asked Molly, quickly, giving Jack a warning glance.

“Well, you may be only an optical illusion—I may think I see you, but
you may not really be there,” suggested the Goblin blandly, wagging his
quaint little head from side to side. His head and two little hands
clutching the edge of the hole were still the only parts visible of
him.

The children gazed down at him. An optical illusion! This was indeed
a horrible thought, and made Molly pinch herself to make sure she was
really there. Then she laughed.

“We are as real as you are,” she said. Then she had an inspiration. “As
real as Old Nancy,” she added, watching the Goblin closely.

His expression changed immediately, and a look of glad surprise crossed
his face. “Why, do you know her?” he asked quickly.

“Rather,” said Jack. “She’s a friend of ours.”

“Then I am a friend of yours,” said the Goblin, climbing out
of the hole and standing beside the children. “Whether you are
real—or—or—whatever you are.”

Their recent lesson in trusting people had made the children more
cautious, and although they could see that they had no choice in their
behaviour toward this little Goblin, as they were powerless to escape
from the Heath with its swarms of goblins, yet they felt friendly
disposed toward him for his own sake. He seemed quite genuine in
his regard for Old Nancy, and very soon he was sitting in the tree
beside them, chatting away and asking them all about themselves, and
answering questions by the score.

They found that he knew that the Pumpkin had returned, one of his
brother-goblins had brought the news. And they discovered also that the
goblins were the Pumpkin’s bitter enemies. Then they told him all about
their search for the Black Leaf, and how they were to search the Heath
when daylight came.

“You won’t see any of us in the daytime,” said the Goblin. “We’ll be
all asleep down our little holes ... but I don’t think the Black Leaf
is anywhere on the Heath, or one of us would have seen it, and the news
would have soon spread amongst us.”

“Still, I suppose we shall have to search it all the same ... as we
promised,” said Molly.

“Yes, you’re quite right,” agreed the Goblin, “Besides, we _might_ not
have seen it. I’m afraid you’ll find the Heath very big—but I daresay
you could search it in a day if you start at dawn.... I wish I could
help you, but—ah! one thing I can do—I can send word to you if the
Pumpkin appears anywhere in this neighbourhood while you are searching
the Heath....”

“That is very kind of you,” said Molly. “It will help us a lot.”

“And when you come to the village beyond—if you want to know of some
one you can trust—go to Miss Marigold. Don’t forget the name,” said
the Goblin.

“Miss Marigold,” repeated Jack. “I’ll remember. Thanks, very much.”

“Do you know,” smiled the Goblin, “when I heard that Old Nancy had sent
the Pumpkin to the Impossible World, I thought it was a place like
Dreamland—or a make-believe place, but now—if you say that you really
are—I suppose you can’t come down from the tree and let the other
goblins see you?”

The children were about to reply, when a great hubbub and excitement
arose among the goblins below, as a new goblin dashed in among them
with some exciting news.

“Wait here,” said the Goblin, “and I’ll go and find what it’s all
about.”

He soon climbed down and appeared among the crowd of eager, chattering
goblins. Presently he slipped away again and scrambled up the tree to
the children.

“I’m glad you didn’t come down,” he said. “They are searching for
you—the Pumpkin’s spies are; an old woman and a young girl. Some of
the goblins saw them about half an hour ago, on the main road over the
Heath.”

Jack and Molly began to shiver a little.

“It’s all right,” said the Goblin. “I haven’t told the goblins where
you are. I thought they’d be sure to want to see you, and this, of
course, would attract attention. But I _have_ told them to go and
have some sport and to lead the old hag and the girl a real dance.
I told them they were the Pumpkin’s spies—they _will_ lead them a
dance too—making crackly noises in the bushes to lead them off the
track—and running—and squealing—a regular goblins’ dance we’ll
lead them. I’ll go too and tell you what happens. I’ll be back before
dawn—this is my home, you know—this tree. Good-bye for the present,”
and he dashed away.

The children saw him swoop into a group of excited goblins and urge
them to follow him—which they did. And presently there was scarcely
a goblin in sight. They had all gone trooping away to the place on
the Heath where the old woman and the girl were searching for Jack and
Molly.

It seemed to the children that they waited in the tree for hours and
hours, waiting, listening. Occasional sounds floated to them from the
distance. They could hear squeaking and crackling, and once they heard
a shrill scream. But they saw nothing, until the dawn broke.

Almost immediately afterward the Goblin returned, darting from out
of the bushes opposite, popping into the hole in the tree trunk and
scrambling up to them. In the pale glimmer of the morning light he told
them what had happened, and how they had twice prevented the old woman
from turning down the path that led past the children’s hiding-place.

“They are gone from the Heath now,” he said. “We drove them home, in
the end, by darting out and pinching their legs and throwing prickly
leaves at them. There were thousands of us goblins.... I wish you could
have seen us.... When they found we were really in earnest and meant to
get rid of them, and were not just teasing—they soon went. The old hag
tried to tread on some of us—she was so angry; but we snatched her
shoe off and threw it into a pond.”

“It’s very kind of you to have helped us so,” said Molly.

“We enjoyed it,” said the Goblin. “It was great fun. And they really
deserved it, you know.”

And now that it was daybreak the Goblin bade good-bye to the children.
“Remember,” he said, “I will find some means of warning you throughout
the day, if the Pumpkin is near.” He popped down his hole; they heard
him scramble a little way inside the tree—then all was quiet.

Jack and Molly looking out from the tree saw that all the other goblins
had vanished. They waited a while until the day came, then they climbed
down from their hiding-place, stretched themselves, and at once set
about their search.

It was a difficult task, and a long one, for there seemed countless
thick bushes, trees, hillocks, and winding paths on the Goblin’s Heath.
But they plodded on, searching eagerly and carefully. For a couple
of hours they worked, then as the morning advanced they remembered
that they had had nothing to eat since yesterday. So they climbed up
another tree, so as not to be taken by surprise, and finished up
the remains of Glan’s ‘snack,’ while they discussed their plans for
the day—studying their map so as not to leave any part of the Heath
unsearched.

“There’s one bit I’m afraid we must go back and do,” said Molly,
“though I don’t like the idea of going near there again. You remember,
Jack—we did not search the little bit of lane just beyond that—that
house yesterday; that bit and the very beginning of the Heath.”

They did not like the idea of going back to the Third Green Lane at
all. But they went. When they came within sight of the lane they were
amazed to find that the house had gone. It had vanished completely.
Jack and Molly could scarcely believe their eyes at first, but on the
whole they were distinctly relieved that it wasn’t there; nevertheless,
they searched the end of the lane and the edge of the Heath quickly,
with constant, watchful eyes on the place where the house had been.
Having satisfied themselves that the leaf was nowhere about there, they
proceeded to the spot where they had left off searching, and continued
peering among the bushes and trees and heather of the Goblin’s Heath.

Hour after hour passed by, and the day wore on. Still they plodded away
at their task, keeping together and listening always, in case a message
came from the Goblin. When they got hungry again, they ate some of Old
Nancy’s little brown sweets, and found them very refreshing.

In the daylight they could hardly imagine it was the same Heath that
they had seen by moonlight; there was not the slightest trace of
goblins, or spies. That is, not the slightest trace until they came
across a pond and saw, half out of the water, and stuck in the soft
mud, a shoe: a curiously shaped shoe, which they remembered, vaguely,
seeing before—on the foot of the old woman with the horrible eyes.
This was evidently the shoe that the goblins had thrown into the pond.
The sight of it made all their recent adventures return vividly to
their minds, and made them very unwilling to be still on the Heath when
night came. So they hastened on their way.

Evening was already approaching when they finally came to the end of
their day’s search, and no sign of the Black Leaf had they found. As no
warning had come from the Goblin and they had not been disturbed in any
way, they felt, on the whole, all the better for their open-air day on
the sunny, wind-swept Heath; though they were tired now, and not at all
sorry to turn their footsteps toward the little village, which appeared
close at hand, at the edge of the Heath.



CHAPTER XIII

_Timothy Gives Them a Clue_


Miss Marigold was in the garden tying up the sunflowers as Jack and
Molly passed her cottage, which was the fourth one along the village
street. Such a quaint little village street it was, with cobbled
stones, and grass growing in the roadway, and bunchy white cottages
with thatched roofs. The children did not know the name of the lady
in the garden, of course, and were just wondering where Miss Marigold
lived, when they saw a card hanging in the window, on which was printed:

          MISS MARIGOLD
  _Teas Provided. Apartments._

They stopped. Miss Marigold looked up from her flowers and saw two
tired little faces looking at her over the gate. Miss Marigold was tall
and thin and looked neither old nor young, but between the two. Her
thick hair, which was of a pale yellow colour, was neatly braided round
her head; she was dressed in a dark green dress with snow-white collar
and cuffs. She looked kind when she smiled, and as she smiled when she
saw the children they made up their minds to stay there if they could.
So they opened the gate and entered her garden.

She listened while they told her who they were and what they wanted.

“I shall be pleased to give you accommodation,” she said in her gentle,
stiff little manner. “And you would like a cup of hot tea and some
toasted muffins at once, I’m sure.”

Jack and Molly felt that there was nothing they would like more than
tea and muffins, but they told Miss Marigold that they had no money
with them, and asked her what they could do for her to earn their tea,
bed, and breakfast.

“Nothing at all. You are searching for the Black Leaf—that is enough.
You will have done more for me, and for the whole country, than can
ever be repaid, if you find it,” said Miss Marigold, and led the way
into her cottage, which was quaint and old-fashioned, with low,
oak-beamed ceilings and sloping floors.

The children had a refreshing wash, then sat down to a well-spread
table—hot tea, and toasted muffins and eggs, and brown bread and
butter, and honey, and fresh fruit. Over tea they told Miss Marigold
about their search, and the latest doings of the Pumpkin. Miss Marigold
had never actually seen the Pumpkin, but she had heard much about him,
of course, and was very interested in the children’s account.

“We have only just received news, in the village here, that the Pumpkin
has returned. One of the villagers, who went to the city, came riding
back over the Goblin’s Heath with the news,” she told the children.

While they were talking they heard footsteps on the garden path outside
the window, and then came a tap at the door. Jack and Molly started.
But Miss Marigold rose leisurely saying, with a shake of her head, “I
told him not to stay as late as this.” Then she opened the door. “Ah!
come in, Timothy,” she said.

Timothy came in. Catching sight of strangers in the room, he paused,
hesitating on the mat, nervously twisting his cap in his hands.
Timothy was a fat, awkward-looking boy, about twelve years old, with
puffy cheeks, and round eyes, and a simple expression. Miss Marigold
introduced him as her nephew, much to the children’s surprise, as he
was utterly unlike his aunt in every way—in looks especially, except
for the hair, which was the same pale yellow colour.

“Timothy has been out to a tea-party to-day,” said Miss Marigold to the
children. “Haven’t you, Timothy?”

“Umth,” lisped Timothy, in a thick voice, nodding his head.

“I hope you enjoyed yourself,” said Molly, politely.

“Perapths,” replied Timothy, sitting down on the extreme edge of a
chair.

Molly looked puzzled, but he seemed well-meaning, and she felt sorry
for him as he appeared to be so nervous.

“What kept you so late?” asked his aunt. “You ought to have been home
an hour ago—you know I don’t like you being out after dusk.”

Timothy blushed and began a jerky, stammering sort of explanation. His
aunt frowned a little and looked at him suspiciously.

“You haven’t been on the Goblin’s Heath, have you?” Miss Marigold asked.

“No, ma’m,” replied Timothy, promptly. “Where have you come from?” he
asked Jack suddenly.

“We’ve just come from the Goblin’s Heath,” replied Jack; and at
Timothy’s eager request to be told about their adventures, Jack started
to tell him about their search. Timothy appeared to listen intently,
until presently his aunt got up and went out of the room to prepare the
bedrooms. Immediately he leant across the table and interrupted.

“Here!” he exclaimed suddenly.

Jack stopped speaking, and stared at Timothy, who was obviously in a
very excited state.

“Here, I thay! What do you thig?” said Timothy.

“What? What is it? What’s the matter?” asked Jack.

“I theen _it_,” said Timothy, and exploded with laughter.

Jack and Molly exchanged bewildered glances, while Timothy rolled and
rocked in his chair with laughter till the tears ran down his fat white
cheeks. He continued to gasp and laugh until Molly grew quite concerned
about him, and jumping off her chair she ran to the door to call his
aunt. This sobered him immediately and he sprang up waving his hand to
stop her.

“Don’t, don’t,” he managed to gasp. “I alwayth laugh when ... he! he!
he!... when I exthited ... don’t call aunt ... I tell you ... he! he!
he! he!... in a minute.”

When he had quieted down a bit he said:

“Aunt muthn’t know, becauth ’e thig I been out to tea—well, I
haven’t—and I been where ’e told me not to go, and I _theen_ it!” He
was getting fearfully excited again.

“Seen what? Oh, do tell us,” said Molly.

“The ... he! he! he!...” Timothy giggled. “The ... Black Leaf!”

“Oh,” cried Jack and Molly together, their questions tumbling over each
other in their eagerness. “Where is it? Where did you see it? Did you
pick it? What did you do with it?”

“I didn’t pick it—I couldn’t get near it,” Timothy answered. “But I
know where it ith....” He leant toward them and whispered hoarsely, his
eyes round and bulging. “... In the Orange Wood.”

Timothy went on to tell them how he had happened to see it. It seemed
that he had been forbidden by his aunt to go on to the Goblin’s Heath,
or into the Orange Wood, because it was rumoured that the Pumpkin’s
spies were in hiding in both these places—it was even said by some
that the Pumpkin himself had been seen on the Heath yesterday. Although
Timothy didn’t believe this, he said, he longed to explore both the
wood and the heath, and to-day he had deceived his aunt, pretending he
was going to tea with a friend and instead had slipped into the wood,
which lay just beyond the village, and had wandered about there. He had
come across Mr Papingay’s house in the wood—which he had often heard
about, but never seen before. (Mr Papingay! Jack and Molly recognised
the name, of course; it was Glan’s relation.) He was a funny old man,
was Mr Papingay, said Timothy; and it was a funny house. And the Black
Leaf was growing in a plant-pot, in the house! Only don’t tell his aunt
he’d been in the wood, he pleaded, she would be angry with him, and
perhaps send him away home to his father: and he didn’t want to go home
yet.

“Wait till you’ve got the Leaf—then it won’t matter,” said Timothy.

He seemed so distressed at the idea of his aunt knowing of his
disobedience (although she didn’t seem the kind of aunt to be too
severe, Molly thought) that the children promised they would say
nothing about it.

“Couldn’t you come with us, to-morrow, and show us the way?” said Jack.

But Timothy shook his head. “I rather you tell me about it afterwarth,”
he said. “I had enough of the wood. Ith too full of crackly noith. I
ran all the way home,” he confessed. “Oh, and thereth one thig. Don’t
let Mr Papingay know you’ve come for the Leaf. He’th a funny old man,
perapth he wouldn’t let you have it. Wait till you thee it. It wath on
the kitchen window thill—inthide—when I thaw it.”

The children thanked Timothy, and were discussing eagerly to-morrow’s
plans, when Miss Marigold looked in to say all was ready upstairs.

“I heard you laughing a lot just now, Timothy,” she remarked. “That
tea-party made you very excited, I’m afraid.”

“Umth,” agreed Timothy, meekly.

The children were very tired that night, and in spite of their
excitement they slept soundly in the comfortable, warm beds Miss
Marigold had prepared for them.

Their first waking thoughts were of the plant-pot in Mr Papingay’s
house: they longed to be off to the Orange Wood without delay. But they
discovered, on arriving downstairs, that the village had made other
plans for them. Somehow the news had spread that two people from the
Impossible World had come to search the village for the Black Leaf,
and the villagers meant to welcome them handsomely and give them all
the help they could. During breakfast the children noticed that people
kept stopping and peering in through the window at them, and from
remarks dropped by Miss Marigold they understood that they would create
great disappointment, if not give real offence, unless they searched
the village thoroughly that day—and in sight of the people. Jack and
Molly began to feel as if they were a sort of show or entertainment.
However, they talked things over together, and calculating that the
village ought not to take more than a few hours to do—as it was very
small—they decided that perhaps they had better search it first, and
then in the afternoon start off into the Orange Wood. After all Timothy
might have made a mistake, and the Leaf might be in the village after
all; it would never do to pass it by.

So they set to work immediately after breakfast, much refreshed by
their long sleep and the wholesome, good food that Miss Marigold had
set before them. They thanked her warmly and said good-bye to Timothy,
then stepped out into another day of sunshine.

But they had reckoned their time without the villagers. So insistent
and eager were they to help the children that they hindered and delayed
them in every way. Children and men and women suggested likely places
where the Black Leaf might be growing, and insisted on taking Jack and
Molly to the places; but each search proved in vain.

They searched a field by special request of the man who owned it, and
who expressed great surprise when told that the Leaf was not there.
(Although he knew very well that the Leaf was not there as he had
already gone over the field himself. Still he felt he couldn’t have his
ground neglected when all his neighbours’ fields were being searched.)

And one old lady insisted on digging up her window box to show them
that the Leaf wasn’t there, conscious of the importance she was gaining
in the eyes of her neighbours while the children stayed about her place.

The attention they received made the children rather uncomfortable.
However, every garden, every yard of roadway, every field and lane
and paddock, and even every plant-pot, having been searched to the
villagers’ (and the children’s) satisfaction, Jack and Molly at length
said good-bye to the village and turned eagerly toward the Orange Wood.

The afternoon was well advanced by this time, and the sun gleaming
through the trees in the wood turned the gold and brown leaves on the
branches to a mass of flaming colour.



CHAPTER XIV

_Mr Papingay’s House in the Orange Wood_


As soon as the children entered the wood all sounds of life seemed
to die away, and everything was still. No birds sang or fluttered
overhead; no little wood animals scurried through the dry, dead
leaves on the ground; no breeze rustled the golden leaves on the
trees; the sun shone softly through the branches and cast a strange
orange-coloured shimmer over the scene—which accounted for the name
by which the wood was known. As Jack and Molly went along they found
themselves talking to each other in whispers, afraid to disturb the
brooding quietness of the wood; the sound of their footsteps on the
path seemed unusually loud.

“I say, Molly, what do you say if we keep to the footpath and go
straight to Mr Papingay’s house as quickly as possible and see if
it really is the Leaf? Then we can search the rest of the wood
afterward—if it isn’t,” suggested Jack.

Molly agreed readily. Remembering that it was rumoured that the wood
was full of the Pumpkin’s spies, the children had great hopes that it
was the Black Leaf in Mr Papingay’s plant-pot; for the spies would
surely be stationed all around the place where the Black Leaf grew, to
guard it.

“Thank goodness we know we can trust Mr Papingay,” said Molly. “If
we can only find him. Oh, Jack, if only it is the Leaf, won’t it be
splendid!” Molly broke off and glanced over her shoulder. “How awfully
quiet everything is, Jack—just as if the wood were _listening_!... Oh!
What was that!”

“It wasn’t anything. Don’t, Molly. You gave me quite a jump,” Jack said
unsteadily, looking over his shoulder too. The light in the wood was
beginning to fade, and under the distant trees dim shadows gathered.

“I thought I heard some twigs crackling—a snapping sound,” said Molly,
wide-eyed.

“Well, you needn’t say so, Moll, if you did. But anyway, I’m not
afraid—if you are.” Nevertheless Jack quickened his pace to a sharp
trot, and Molly had some difficulty in keeping up with him.

“I’m not afraid, either,” she gasped.

“Nor am I,” repeated Jack, and went a little faster.

Then they both began to run.

“Of course—we ought—to—get there—as quick—as—we can—so—as not
to—waste—any—time,” Molly jerked out, apologizing as it were to
herself and to Jack for their sudden haste.

They ran along the footpath for a short distance until, a little way
ahead of them, they saw an open space in the wood, in the centre of
which stood a house.

“Let’s—stop—Molly,” said Jack, breathlessly. They both pulled up
and stood still for a few moments. “It wouldn’t—do—for—us—to run
in—on—on—him like this. It might look as if—as if we were—as
if——oh, well, it would look funny, you know.”

Molly agreed. So they waited until they had got their breath again,
then they walked casually out into the open space. The trees stood
round the clearing in a wide circle, and above the house was a big
expanse of sky. It seemed quite light out here after the dim light of
the wood.

It was a queer-looking house that faced them, but what it was about
the house that made it queer Jack and Molly could not at first make
out. Around it was a square of asphalt, and drawing nearer they saw
that on the asphalt, all round the four sides, were rows of narrow
white streaks, that looked like railings lying down flat; and this is
what they actually proved to be—only they were not real railings,
they were painted on the ground with white paint. The children looked
up, and then they realized what it was that made the house look funny.
Nearly everything on it and about it was _not real_ but painted. The
house itself was real, and so was the front door; but the knocker and
handle and letter-box were all painted on. Three of the windows seemed
real, but there were three more that were obviously painted on, and
were obviously the work of some one not greatly skilled in the art of
painting. There was a large tree painted on the asphalt, and a row of
tulips, and a path bordered by painted stones that led up to the front
door.

The children were gazing at these things in astonishment when the
front door suddenly opened, and the owner of the house appeared on the
threshold.

“Come inside,” he called affably, peering at them over the top of his
spectacles. “The latch on the gate pulls downward. Don’t be afraid of
the dog; he won’t hurt you if I speak to him. There, Percy, there!
Down, sir! There’s a good dog!”

Jack and Molly looked round wonderingly, but could not see any signs
of a dog, till their eyes caught sight of a black smudge of paint,
which proved on closer acquaintance to be a black dog chained to a red
kennel—both painted flat on the ground a few feet inside the gate. The
children gazed at each other questioningly; then Glan’s words came back
to them, “Humour him, he’s a queer old soul.”

So Molly bent down and pretended to pull the latch on the gate down;
she and Jack walked carefully on to the asphalt over the flat gate,
then she turned and pretended to close and latch the gate again. As
they passed the painted dog, she had another happy idea. “Good dog.
Good dog,” she said, and stooped and patted the asphalt.

The old man beamed down upon her. “He’s quite harmless when I tell him
it’s all right,” he confided, “but you should just see him when he’s
roused. Stand on the step and I’ll tell him there’s a bath-chair round
the corner. He hates ’em.”

The children could not see a real step, but spying a painted white
square by the front door, they stood on that.

“Now then,” cried the old man, “at ’em, Percy, at ’em! There’s a
bath-chair a-comin’ round the corner!”

There was a dead silence while the painted dog gazed with unseeing eyes
up at the sky, and a little breeze rustled in the tree-tops.

“Isn’t he furious?” chuckled the old man, beaming proudly from the dog
to the children. “Go it, old boy! Give it ’em!”

As he seemed to expect an answer to his question, Molly said:
“He—he—certainly looks very fierce, doesn’t he?”

“That’s nothing to what he can look,” said Mr Papingay, obviously
delighted at Molly’s reply. “But, come inside, come inside.”

So the children entered the narrow, dark hall and Mr Papingay shut the
front door behind them.

“This way,” he said, crushing past them and throwing open a door on the
right. “Come inside and sit down a bit. This is my study. What do you
think of it?”

As the question was asked before Jack and Molly were inside the room
there was naturally a short interval before Molly could reply, politely:

“What a very—er—uncommon room.”

“All done by myself,” said the old man, waving his hand with a sweeping
movement toward the walls.

The children followed the hand-sweep and saw rows upon rows of books
painted round the walls. There was no doubt about them being painted.
And they noticed also that the carpet, chairs, tables, curtains, and
even the fireplace were all painted in this amazing room. Jack’s eyes
travelled rapidly over the room, but not a single real thing could
he see in it except himself, and Molly, and the old man standing in
front of him; and he looked at the latter twice to make sure that he
was real and not simply made of paint like the other things. But Mr
Papingay was real enough with his spectacles and bald head. The only
hair he possessed grew like a fringe at the back of his head, low down,
just above the nape of his neck—and under his chin a little fringe of
whiskers appeared; he had round, blue eyes and eyebrows set high that
gave him a look of continual surprise; over a dark-coloured suit he
wore a brown plaid dressing-gown, with long cord and tassels, and on
his feet were a pair of very old red felt carpet slippers. And then
Jack’s roving eye noticed that the buttons on his dressing-gown were
painted on; but that was the only bit of paint about Mr Papingay.

“You see, it’s so handy making my own things,” he was explaining to
Molly. “I can have any kind of things I like and change them as often
as I like.”

“Don’t you find the chairs rather awkward to sit on?” inquired Jack.

“Not at all. Why should I?” replied the old man, slightly offended.

“Well—I—er—well, you see—they’re not real, are they?” Jack
blundered on.

“Not real! What do you mean?” snapped Mr Papingay. “Of course they’re
real. Sit on one and see.”

“Don’t be silly, Jack,” Molly broke in. “They certainly look most
comfortable. I do think it is clever of you to make them,” she said to
the old man.

“Oh, no, no. Not at all. Simple enough,” said Mr Papingay airily,
appeased at once. “But you try one. They may look comfortable, but it’s
nothing to what they are to sit on. You try one,” he urged.

So Molly pretended to sit down on one of the painted chairs. It was a
most curious sensation. Although she knew there was no chair there she
felt somehow as if she really were sitting on a chair; so that when the
old man asked her, with a self-conscious smile on his face, “Now, isn’t
it comfortable?” she could answer truthfully, “Yes, it really is.”

Yet, afterward, Jack told her that he had tried one of the chairs when
she and the old man were not looking, and had nearly fallen on the
floor. “I found it anything but comfortable—the silly old ass,” he
said.

When they had admired the study to the old man’s content he led them
out into the hall again and up the stairs to a curious little room he
called his visitors room. As they went upstairs Molly tried to tell
their host who they were and how they knew Glan and his father, but he
kept up a constant stream of conversation himself and took no notice of
her remarks.

The children found the visitors room more difficult than ever to be
truthful and yet polite in. It had been hard to pretend the painted
stair-carpet was soft and real, and that the books in the study could
be taken out and read; but these things were nothing compared to the
difficulties in the visitors room. It was a small, high-ceilinged
room, furnished with painted chairs and tables; only, in addition to
the painted furniture were painted people. Round the walls and on the
floor, people standing, people sitting, ladies, gentlemen, girls and
boys; some with hats on as if paying an afternoon call, some with hats
off as if they had come to spend the day. But one and all, without
exception, were simply painted people. On the panes of one of the real
windows was painted the figure of a sandy-haired man, back view; this
gentleman, who was dressed in a dull grey suit and a high white collar,
was apparently looking out of the window.

[Illustration: ONE AND ALL WERE SIMPLY PAINTED PEOPLE]

As the children glanced round at these queer silent people,
hesitating what to do, they became aware that the old man was murmuring
some kind of introduction to a painted lady in bright purple.

“This is my dear friend, Mrs Pobjoy,” he was saying. “Mrs Pobjoy, allow
me to introduce you to my two little friends—er—what are your names,
by the way?”

The children told him, and took this opportunity of explaining who they
were and how they knew Glan.

“Dear me, dear me!” said Mr Papingay. “How very extraordinary!” and
he shook hands affably, and then he introduced them to Mr Pobjoy—a
red-faced gentleman painted on the wall beside his wife.

Molly bowed politely. “I’m very pleased to meet you,” she said, and
gave Jack a nudge with her elbow.

“Howjer do?” said Jack, feeling an awful ass.

The painted lady in bright purple stared vacantly down at the two
children.

“Mrs Pobjoy’s always delighted to see new faces, aren’t you, ma’m?
Ah, ha! A regular butterfly. A regular butterfly. What do you say,
Pobjoy?” and Mr Papingay gave the painted figure of Mr Pobjoy a dig
in the ribs, then turned from one to the other of his painted visitors
chattering and laughing, and shaking his head. “And here’s little
Maudie. Well, and how is Maudie to-day?” and he stooped and playfully
flicked the cheeks of a fat-faced little girl with yellow hair and
a pink frock who was leaning against a painted sideboard. “Here’s a
little girl to see you, Maudie. You’ll like that, won’t you?” He turned
to the children. “I’m afraid she’s rather peevish this evening. She is
sometimes. It’s best to take no notice—she’ll come round presently.
Here’s Mr Waffer, here by the window—I won’t introduce you to him just
at present, he’s probably just got an inspiration I should think, by
the way he stands absorbed in the scenery outside. He’s a poet, you
know.... But come over here and let Lizzie and her sister see you.” He
bundled away across the room followed by the two children.

“I say, Molly,” whispered Jack, “do you think we should see the front
of Mr Waffer through the window if we went outside and looked up. I
_would_ like to see his face.”

“Why?” asked Molly with interest.

“Because I don’t believe he has one. Do remind me to look as we go
out,” said Jack.

“This,” the old man was saying as they came up to him, “is Lizzie and
here’s her sister. Very bright girls, both of them,” he added in an
undertone so that the green-frocked Lizzie should not hear. And so
he moved on introducing them to one after the other, and it began to
look as if he would never tear himself away from the visitors room. At
length Molly told him that they would not be able to stay much longer
as they wished to get out of the Orange Wood before darkness came down.

“Oh, you mustn’t go yet,” he protested. “I’ve got a lot more to show
you yet.... Ah! and that reminds me.... But first you must come and
see my kitchen arrangements; they are absolutely first-rate; and
then I have something very exciting to tell you.” He nodded his head
mysteriously.

Jack and Molly exchanged significant glances. As they followed him
downstairs it struck them that although he was introducing them to
everything and everybody in his house, yet he had never troubled to
introduce himself. He had forgotten about that. He led the way to the
kitchen, and the children noticed, in passing, a servant carrying a
tray, painted on the passage wall a few yards from the kitchen door.
(“How tiresome it must be for her never to get any farther,” thought
Molly, but she didn’t say anything.)

The kitchen was very like the other rooms, nearly all paint. It worried
Molly a little to notice that the sink was painted on the wall, and she
wondered however Mr Papingay managed to wash up the cups and saucers in
the tin bowl that was painted inside the sink; especially as the taps
and cups and saucers appeared to be real. But she was afraid to ask any
questions in case it delayed the “exciting” news that they were longing
to hear.

A quick glance at the kitchen window sill on entering the room showed
them that there was no plant-pot there now. After Mr Papingay had
taken them a tour of the kitchen and they had admired everything from
the oven with the painted round of beef on the shelf to the painted
egg-whisk hanging on the dresser, their host bade them be seated on a
bench by the kitchen window—which happened to be a real bench, much to
Jack’s relief—and then he said:

“There is something I think you ought to know.” He shut the kitchen
door carefully so that the servant painted in the passage should not
hear, while the children’s hearts began to beat rapidly. Mr Papingay
came back and stood before them.

“The Grey Pumpkin has returned to this land,” he said solemnly, then
waited for the exclamations of amazement which did not come.

“Of course, we know,” said Jack, after a short pause.

Mr Papingay looked both surprised and offended. “Why, how’s this?” he
asked.

And the children told him, and explained about the search they were
making.

“Well, well, well,” he said at length. “I’ve been searching for the
Black Leaf too. I searched every inch of the Orange Wood thoroughly,
directly I heard the Pumpkin was back again. _And_—this is what I
really wanted to tell you—what do you think I did when I found that
the Black Leaf wasn’t anywhere in the wood?” he asked excitedly.

“What?” cried both children together.

“Painted a Black Leaf,” he said triumphantly, beaming with joy. “And
here it is.”

He opened a cupboard door behind him and disclosed a plant-pot (which
was real) in which grew a black leaf (which was painted). In fact it
was so entirely artificial that it wasn’t even a real leaf coloured
black: it was cut out of newspaper, and painted with a thick black
paint.

Jack and Molly did not speak for a moment or two. They could not. They
were so thoroughly disappointed. Had they wasted all this valuable time
‘humouring’ Mr Papingay for nothing more than this? They had hardly
realized how high their hopes had been, until now, when they were flung
to the ground. It was with an effort that Molly kept back her tears; as
for Jack, he felt he would like to kick something.

Meanwhile, Mr Papingay was perplexed at their silence. He lifted the
pot down and set it on the floor in front of the bench.

“Well, what do you think of it?” he asked.

“What are you going to do with it?” asked Jack.

“I will tell you,” said Mr Papingay. “I have decided that you shall
have the leaf and take it back to the City. I was wondering, only
yesterday, whom I could send it by. It isn’t time for my yearly visit
to the City yet, and besides, Percy has rather a nasty little cough—I
can’t leave him till he’s better, poor old chap.”

“But it won’t be—be the same as the real Black Leaf,” said Jack.

“Why not? Why not?” asked the old man touchily.

“Well—it isn’t magic, is it?” objected Jack. “It won’t have any power
over the Pumpkin.”

“I won’t guarantee that it isn’t magic, though it may not have the same
power over the Pumpkin,” the old man admitted. “But what’s the odds!
They won’t know—the people won’t know—and anyway it’s very handsome
to look at—and just think of how surprised everybody will be....”

The children could see that it was no use arguing the matter. Mr
Papingay was beginning to look quite hurt and annoyed, and so to humour
him and to save any further delay the children thanked him and said
they would be pleased to take it with them. (They little guessed then
how glad they would be later on that they had taken it with them.)

“It’s very clever of you to make it,” said Molly.

Immediately Mr Papingay’s ill-humour vanished, and he smiled down at
the leaf in an affectionate manner.

“Oh, I don’t know about being clever,” he said. “Well—it’s not a bad
piece of work,” he admitted modestly.

“Well now—I think we really must be going,” said Molly, “or else it
will be too dark in the wood for us to find our way. Shall we pick the
leaf and take it with us, then?”

“It looks so well in the pot—I like it best in the pot—take the
plant-pot, too,” said Mr Papingay. “I shall be coming to the City in a
few days and then you must tell me all about it—what the people said
when they saw it and—I suppose you _are_ going straight back to the
City?” he inquired. “You won’t want to bother to search for the other
Black Leaf now, until you see what the people say to this one, I’m
sure.”

Self-centred Mr Papingay! He actually thought the children would be
more anxious to hear what people said about his leaf, than to continue
their search for the real Leaf. But the children were quite determined
about continuing their work and at length made him understand that they
must go on; but they were hoping, they said, to return to the City
shortly when they would be very pleased to show his leaf. Mr Papingay
cheered up a bit at this, and said they had better take it then, as
they would be bound to reach the City before him. Then he asked them
where they were going to search next.

“You needn’t bother about this wood—I’ve searched it from end to end,
thoroughly—as I told you. And besides,” said Mr Papingay, “it isn’t
wise to linger in this wood just now. The Pumpkin has spies about all
over the place. Of course, they never touch me—Percy wouldn’t let
them—but you two—! And I’m quite certain the Leaf isn’t in this
wood—or I’d have had it before now.”

The children had not much faith in Mr Papingay’s careful searching, but
glancing through the window they saw that it was now getting too dark
to search the wood that night. They had better get out of it as quickly
as possible, even if they had to return and search it in the morning.

They became aware of Mr Papingay murmuring something in the way of
an apology for not asking them to stay over night there—but he was
already overcrowded with visitors, the Pobjoys and others, he said.
He knew of a nice little farmhouse outside the wood where they would
be comfortable. The children were pleased to know of the farmhouse;
not for worlds would they have spent a night in this silent wood.
Mr Papingay was so careless, he would be sure to leave a window
unfastened, and the Pumpkin’s spies would creep out from the trees and
get into the house. At least, this is what the children felt, but they
thanked Mr Papingay and told him not to apologize at all as they really
couldn’t stay, but must go along.

“I’ll tell you what, then,” said Mr Papingay. “I’ll just get my lantern
and come along with you and show you the quickest way out of the wood
to the farmhouse.”

The children were much relieved at this, feeling that company and a
light in the dusky wood before them was an unexpected blessing. After
a great deal of fuss and bustle he found his lantern and escorted
them through the front door—calling some final words of instruction
to Percy (who remained gazing pensively up at the evening sky); they
passed through the gate, or rather, stepped off the asphalt, and
started out. Mr Papingay insisted on carrying his plant-pot and leaf
until he should have to part with it at the end of the wood; so with
this under his left arm, and his lantern swinging in his right hand he
strode ahead of the children, crying cheerily:

“Come along, come along. I’ll show you a short cut out of the wood. Ah!
I’m glad I brought my lantern—it’ll be dark enough in some parts of
the wood.”

The children followed, gazing with puzzled expressions at his lantern.
Then they understood. There would be no light from it in the darkest
parts of the wood, for it was only a painted lantern.



CHAPTER XV

_Jack’s Misfortune_


The children were obliged to walk quickly in order to keep pace with
their guide, who trotted along rapidly, never troubling to glance round
to see if they were coming. Once they had left the clearing and the
queer little house behind them, and plunged into the wood, they found
it quite dark; and darker still as they got farther in. Strange crackly
noises could be heard from time to time behind the bushes and trees,
which suggested all sorts of things to you if you happened to be a
little girl or boy with a fairly active imagination.

Of course, there was always Old Nancy’s gift—the matches—if the
darkness grew unbearable. Both Jack and Molly remembered the matches,
but they did not feel quite sure whether this was the proper time
to use them, as they were afraid of offending their guide if they
suggested that his lantern did not give enough light.

They trotted along in silence for a time, until a particularly loud
crack behind a bush close by startled Molly and made her feel that she
could not bear the silence any longer.

“Don’t you find it very lonely here—living by yourself in the wood?”
she asked the hurrying figure in front of her.

“Eh?” asked Mr Papingay.

It was such a relief to talk that Molly gladly repeated her question.

“Not a bit of it,” replied the old man, without slackening his pace or
turning round. “Why should I? I have plenty of visitors—and Percy to
take care of me.”

“Yes, but aren’t you afraid of—robbers—or anything?” asked Molly.

“Robbers!” the old man chuckled. “I should like to see the robber that
could get past Percy. Besides, what is there to steal? That’s the best
of a house like mine, you see. No one can take things from me. I get
all the use and pleasure I want out of the things I paint—then when I
want new things I paint the old ones out and paint fresh ones in their
place. And they can’t be stolen—they’re of no use to any one else, you
see. As for the Pumpkin’s spies,” he continued in a loud voice, that
made Jack and Molly shudder in case he were overheard. “I’m not afraid
of them—they never touch me....”

Molly gave a little scream, as something swept past her head, brushing
her forehead as it did so.

“It’s only a bat, Molly. Don’t be a silly,” said Jack in a shaky voice.

“There’s heaps of them about—and owls,” said Mr Papingay, continuing
his rapid walk without a moment’s pause. As if to confirm his words
there came a mournful “Hoo, hoo, hoo,” from the depths of the wood. The
children gripped each other’s arms tightly, and hastened on.

Another minute, and a patch of light appeared in the distance, and the
children saw that it was the end of the wood.

“There,” said the old man as they came out from the trees at last, “you
can find your way now, can’t you? I must get back—Percy doesn’t like
me to stay out very late. That is the farmhouse, over there; straight
across this field, over the stile and the wooden bridge across the
river, and a few minutes’ walk up the hill, on the other side. You
can see where I mean, can’t you?” And he pointed the farm out to the
children. “You can mention my name to them—Farmer Rose knows me well.
Now if you will take this,” he said, passing the plant-pot containing
his precious leaf into Molly’s keeping. “And take care of it. I shall
see you both again shortly, I hope. Good-bye. Good-bye.”

“Thank you so much for bringing us this short cut out of the wood,”
said Molly. “It was awfully kind of you.”

“Rather,” said Jack. Then, relieved at being safely out of the wood, he
added generously, “I say—your lantern’s a marvel!”

The old man nodded and beamed delightedly. Then, waving his hand, he
stepped back into the wood, his painted lantern swinging at his side,
and disappeared.

As soon as Mr Papingay had gone, Jack and Molly stopped and looked
around them. They were in the open country once more, but a more hilly
country than that on the other side of the wood, for they had passed
right through the wood and come out at the opposite end.

The wood led straight out into a field, across which a narrow footpath
straggled to a stile set in the middle of green hedges. On the other
side of the stile was a path, and a little white wooden bridge across
the river, and on the farther side of the river were hills and the
farm-house. The red roofs and whitewashed walls of several cottages and
other farm-houses could be seen here and there.

Evening was closing in rapidly, and while they had been in the wood
dark clouds had drifted up and were now gathering threateningly
overhead.

“It’s too dark to do any more searching to-night,” said Jack. “I
suppose we’d better make straight for the farm; and come back and
search all round here in the morning.”

“I suppose that would be best,” said Molly. “I don’t feel at all
satisfied about the Orange Wood, do you, Jack? I think we must come
back and search that too—to-morrow. It doesn’t look a very big wood.”

As the children turned to look back at the wood, the first spots of
rain began to come down, so they hastened along the path toward the
stile.

“I wonder if Mr Papingay really has searched it thoroughly,” said
Molly. “He seems such a funny old man—I don’t know what to think.”

“I do,” laughed Jack. “Mr Papingay’s much too slap-dash to search it
carefully. No, Moll, I’m afraid we’ve got to do it to-morrow. It won’t
be so bad in daylight. My word! How the rain is coming down. We’re in
for a storm, I should think.”

They hurried on, climbed the stile, but when they got on to the bridge
Molly stopped for a moment.

“I say, Jack,” she called, and Jack stopped too. “I’m going to throw
this plant-pot in the river—it’s too heavy to take all the way with
us, and I don’t like to put it down in the field in case Mr Papingay
comes along and finds it.” She pulled the leaf out of the pot, folded
it up, and pushed it into her satchel, then threw the pot into the
swiftly flowing river.

“What are you keeping the leaf for?” cried Jack. He had to raise his
voice to be heard through the rising gale.

“Oh, I couldn’t throw that away,” said Molly. “And besides, it may come
in useful,” she added as she ran along beside Jack up the hill. “You
never know.”

“Won’t old Timothy feel sold when he hears what his Black Leaf really
was!” chuckled Jack.

The rain was coming down heavily as they reached the front door of the
farm-house. They knocked, and rang at the bell—but no one answered,
and there was no sound within the house. They knocked again, then went
round and knocked at the back door. But still no one came, and they
began to fear that there was nobody at home. This proved to be the
case. The stables and outhouses were all locked up, although they could
hear a horse inside one of the buildings, and there were some fowls
in a hen-run in the yard. Evidently the people were only out for a
short time, so Jack and Molly decided to take shelter in the porch by
the front door for a while, until the storm was over, or Farmer Rose
returned.

“Oh, dear, what a dreadful night it’s going to be!” said Molly. “Are
you very wet, Jack?”

“Hardly a bit. It’s quite comfortable in this porch,” Jack replied, and
then she heard him chuckling. “I was just thinking of old Mr Papingay,”
he explained, and then he broke off with a sudden exclamation: “Oh,
bother!”

“What is it?” Molly asked.

“I clean forgot to look for Mr Waffer’s face! Why didn’t you remind
me?” said Jack.

“I forgot too,” answered Molly. “Never mind, we’ll look to-morrow if we
search the Orange Wood.”

“We mustn’t let Mr Papingay see us, though. What fun! It’ll be like
playing hide-and-seek,” said Jack. “Goodness, how the wind _is_
howling!”

They remained quiet for a time, huddled up in the porch. The storm was
growing still worse, and it was very dark now. Presently the silence in
the porch was broken by Jack exclaiming again: “Bother!”

“What is it now?” inquired Molly.

“Oh, I say, Moll—I’ve lost them—yes, I’ve lost my box of matches—Old
Nancy’s matches.”

A thorough search of Jack’s satchel and all his pockets proved that
this was unfortunately true.

“They must have fallen out—let me see now—I had them just before
we climbed the stile, I’m sure of that, because I put my hand in my
satchel to get one of those sweet squares and I remember feeling the
box.” Jack tried hard to think back. “I believe I must have dropped
them somewhere just by the bridge. Here, Molly, hold my satchel and
things a sec, will you, and I’ll just run down to the bridge and fetch
the box—yes, I’m sure now I heard something fall on the bridge. I
won’t be a couple of minutes. You wait here, Molly; I’ll be ever so
quick. No, it isn’t raining much.”

“Don’t go, Jack!” cried Molly. “Its so dark and wet, oh, Jack, don’t
go! I’ve still got my matches left—never mind yours now.”

But Jack was hardly listening. “It’s only just down the hill—won’t be
a minute—you wait here—I must get them, Molly—we may need them. It
isn’t so dark—I can see all right.”

“Wait, wait, Jack. Oh, I know—let me strike one of my matches and see
if it can find the other box for us.” Molly was fumbling in her satchel
quickly. But Jack hadn’t heard her, and had started off impetuously,
calling back, “Shall be back in a minute. Wait there, Moll.”

“I’m coming too,” called Molly, but the wind howled past and Jack did
not hear as he raced down the hill.

Fastening up Jack’s satchel and slipping it over her shoulders together
with her own satchel, and clasping her own box of matches firmly in her
hand, Molly set out after her brother, calling his name as she ran. It
was very silly of Jack to tear off like this, she thought, but she
was only anxious to get him back safely in the porch again out of the
darkness and the rain. She did not stop to light one of her matches
until she was about half-way down the hill. Then she stopped and struck
one. No ordinary match would have kept alight a second in such a storm,
but Old Nancy’s matches, as she already knew, were not ordinary. The
light gathered all on one side as usual, pointing straight down the
hill.

Molly had just time to see the figure of Jack running in front of
her—he had reached the bridge—when the match flame veered right round
and pointed up the hill.

Molly turned and looked, but there was nothing to be seen there. What
did it mean? She hastened on down the hill, and as her match went out,
she lit another one.

This time the light from the match showed her that Jack was on the
bridge and had crossed over to the footpath, and was bending down to
pick something up. So he had found his matches! But even as she saw
Jack, her eye caught sight of something coming from the direction of
the Orange Wood along the river bank, toward the bridge. Then the
flame from the match veered round and pointed up the hill. But not
before Molly had seen what it was that was creeping toward Jack on the
other side of the river.

It was the Grey Pumpkin. And Jack had not seen him.

And the match flame was pointing the way of escape, up the hill to
safety! Just as the flame had pointed out the way of escape in the
underground cellar.

But there was no thought of her own safety while Jack was in such
danger. Molly dashed forward, crying out: “Jack! Run! Quick! Come back!
Look behind you!” But the wind roared around her as if mocking her, and
Jack never heard.

As she ran she lit another match, and by its light saw that Jack was
standing upright and had turned—and seen the Pumpkin close behind
him. He went to run, but slipped and fell to his knees, and as he was
scrambling up again the Pumpkin reached him. Jack seemed to collapse
all in a heap on the ground, and then, there was no Jack—but in his
place another great Grey Pumpkin. Molly pulled up and stood motionless,
gazing with horrified eyes. Then her match went out. She lit another
mechanically, and as she did so she heard a terrific crash a few
yards ahead, and saw that the storm had broken down the wooden bridge;
it collapsed into the river and was caught up by the rapidly rushing
current and swirled away. If this hadn’t happened, Molly would have
been over the bridge in another second (forgetting in her despair that
she could do no good and would only get caught herself). But as it was,
she was brought to an abrupt standstill at the water’s edge, while on
the other side of the river two Grey Pumpkins rolled slowly away along
the path toward a group of tall dark trees....

And so it was that the farmer and his kindly wife, returning home about
half an hour later, found a little girl sitting in the porch by their
front door, crying as if her heart would break.



CHAPTER XVI

_Molly Accepts a Present_


The farmer’s wife proved a friend indeed to Molly. She gathered the
little girl up in her arms and carried her indoors, made her put on
some fresh clothes while she dried her wet things before a blazing
fire, and not until Molly had emptied a big bowl of hot bread and milk
would she let her say a word of thanks or explanation.

Then, when the farmer and Mrs Rose and Molly (wrapped in a warm cloak
belonging to the farmer’s wife) sat round the fire, Molly told them her
story, weeping afresh at the memory of Jack’s misfortune.

“There, there, my dear,” comforted Mrs Rose, her own eyes full of
tears. “It’s no use crying, you know. What you have got to do is to
determine to find the Black Leaf, and then, like as not, you’ll get
your brother back again.”

“Oh, I _am_ determined to find it,” cried Molly. “I was determined
before—but I will—I _will_ find it—whatever happens.”

“You must try to get a good rest to-night, and then you can start off
fresh in the morning—and you mustn’t cry any more or you’ll make
yourself ill—and then you won’t be able to do anything,” said Mrs Rose.

Molly quite saw the wisdom of Mrs Rose’s words and tried her best to
stop crying. But she kept thinking about Jack, and wondering what they
were doing to him, and why the Pumpkin had changed him into a likeness
of himself. Supposing she had to return home to Mother without Jack.
She couldn’t. She wouldn’t, she vowed to herself. She would stay in
this country and search and search until the Black Leaf _was_ found,
even if she had to wait for years ... and here her tears began to flow
again.

To distract her, the farmer began talking about the country around and
the most likely places to search. He had searched all his own land,
he said, directly he heard the Pumpkin was back, and he had helped to
prepare some of the beacons on the hills around this district. And he
asked Molly if she knew on which hills the beacons were set.

Molly dried her eyes, got her map out, and showed him how the beacon
hills were marked, and soon she and the farmer and Mrs Rose were poring
over the map, planning out the best routes to take, and discussing the
most likely places for search. The farmer showed her all the places
where the Leaf was _not_ growing, places he had personally searched;
and at Molly’s request he marked these places on the map with a lead
pencil. Molly decided to herself that she would leave these marked
places until the very last, until she had searched all the more likely
parts round about. She felt she could not leave them out altogether,
although she trusted the farmer absolutely; she had promised to search
each part herself.

When she mentioned Mr Papingay’s name the farmer and his wife smiled,
and although they thought he would certainly have searched the Orange
Wood as he said he had, yet he was not sure to have done it thoroughly,
and they agreed with Molly that it would be as well to go over the
ground again if possible. The fact that the Pumpkin was lurking about
there made all three of them think that probably the Leaf was growing
somewhere near. Of course, this might not be so; it might be only the
Pumpkin’s object to prevent Jack and Molly going any further with the
search.

“You’ll have to be very cautious, missie, if you go back to the wood,”
said Farmer Rose. “It wouldn’t do for you to get caught too.”

“I’ll be very careful—but it won’t do for me to be afraid, or p’r’aps
I’ll never get Jack back again,” said Molly. “I mustn’t be afraid of
anything now.”

“That’s the spirit,” said the farmer, slapping his knee. “And if
there’s anything we can do to help you—you’ve only got to name it—we
shall be proud.”

When the farmer’s wife tucked her up in bed, about twenty minutes
later, Molly threw her arms round her neck.

“I don’t know why you are so good to me,” she said. “Thank you so much.
I’ve given you a lot of trouble, I’m afraid.”

“Not the least bit in the world,” replied the farmer’s wife. “Try to
get to sleep, my dear.... P’r’aps to-morrow—who knows what may happen
to-morrow!”

Molly was so exhausted that she slept soundly and dreamlessly, in
spite of the fact that the wind rattled furiously at her window and
roared down the chimney. In the morning she woke with a dreadful,
leaden feeling at her heart, but she determined not to brood over
yesterday, but to get to work at once.

After breakfast she collected up all the things from Jack’s satchel and
put them with her belongings into her own satchel. The farmer’s wife
insisted on giving her a big packet of food for luncheon, and told her
to come back and sleep at the farm again that night if she ended her
day’s search anywhere near.

Molly thanked her gratefully, then started out alone. The rain had
ceased, and the wind was much less violent, but it was a grey day with
a sky full of scurrying clouds.

And now began a long, wearying time for Molly. Alone, of course, the
task of searching was longer and more difficult, though the enthusiasm
with which she went to work kept her from realizing this to the full.
She went on her way searching eagerly and thoroughly that part of the
valley through which the river ran, which came within her square of
map; she crossed the water by another bridge about a mile away from
the place of last night’s accident, and searched the opposite bank,
gradually working her way back to the spot where the Pumpkin had
appeared.

Across the water she could see the farm-house, half-way up the hilly
road on the other side. Behind her was the stile which she and Jack had
clambered over yesterday. Was it only yesterday?—it seemed more like
a week ago to Molly. She climbed over the stile again and crossed the
field, searching as she went, to the Orange Wood.

Very cautiously she entered the wood, and started her search, ears and
eyes constantly on the alert, and hands and feet ready to spring and
climb up a tree at any moment, if the need arose. But the need did
not arise, and presently Molly found she was back within sight of Mr
Papingay’s house. She went extra carefully now, so as not to attract
the old man’s attention, and made a tour of the wood near his house,
working in a wide circle, so as not to cross the space before his front
door. Once she heard his voice calling out to know what Percy was
barking at, but she did not see him.

And though at length she searched the whole of the Orange Wood, she did
not find the Black Leaf; nor did she see any sign of the Pumpkin or his
spies.

So she left the wood behind her, and came back over the river, and
made her way to the farm-house again, where she had tea, and told them
all about her day’s search. But she would not stay the night there, as
there was still a long light evening to work through, and she hoped to
get some way on the road to Lake Desolate before the night fell.

“You’ll pass several houses and cottages on the road,” said Mrs Rose,
and proceeded to give Molly the names of several friends of hers, whom
she could trust. “But be sure to come back here, if you want to.”

Mrs Rose stood at the gate waving her handkerchief to Molly, until the
little girl turned round a bend in the road and was lost to sight. Then
she dabbed her eyes with the handkerchief. “Bless the child,” she said,
as she hurried indoors. “She deserves to win.”

From the top of one of the hills close by, Molly found she could get a
splendid view of the surrounding country. The clouds had disappeared by
now, and it promised to be a beautiful evening and a moonlight night.
The river sparkled beneath, and the Orange Wood glowed in the evening
sun, while far away, in the distance, she could see the white towers
of the City. Looking down at the Orange Wood she suddenly remembered
that she had forgotten to look for Mr Waffer’s face, as she passed
Mr Papingay’s house. What a pity! Jack would have liked to know,
when—when she met him again. But she had had so many things to think
about in the wood that it is no wonder she forgot about Mr Waffer.

Descending the hill, Molly started on the road to Lake Desolate. It was
pretty and green at first with cottages dotted about in small clusters,
and presently she passed through a tiny village, where she stopped to
inquire and search. But although every one seemed kind, and eager to
help, there was nothing to be heard or seen of the Black Leaf.

About half a mile outside the village, Molly came to a few more houses
and a small shop. At the door of the shop stood an old gentleman
wearing a black skull-cap and a long, shabby coat. When he saw Molly
approaching he came out to meet her and, seizing her hand, shook it
warmly, saying that he had heard of her goodness in helping with the
search and thanked her gratefully.

“I have been keeping a watch on the road for the last few days, missie,
hoping to catch a glimpse of you as you passed,” he said. “I heard you
were coming this way.”

Molly was pleased at his impulsive friendliness, especially as she was
feeling very lonely just now. She stopped chatting for a few minutes,
and the old gentleman proudly showed her his shop. He was a watchmaker,
and the shop was full of watches and clocks of all kinds and sizes.
Besides these, he had a small collection of jewellery.

“I expect you wonder at a watchmaker being right out here,” he said,
noting Molly’s surprised expression at the contents of his shop. “Many
people wonder at first. But I supply the clocks and watches for all
the neighbouring towns and villages and even for the City. I send to
the City twice a week. I live out here simply because my father and
grandfather and great-grandfather have always lived in this place—and
because my health won’t permit me to live in crowded towns.... Now,
miss, if you will be so good I want you to accept a little present from
me, as a token of appreciation of the work you are doing.”

He opened a little box and drew out a dainty, silver bracelet, that
jingled as he handled it—just the very kind of bracelet that Molly had
longed for on her birthday.

Molly’s face lit up, but she hesitated. Ought she to accept this
present from a stranger—especially as she had made up her mind not
to trust anybody now, unless she was perfectly sure they were all
right. The old watchmaker seemed harmless enough, and he was already
looking disappointed at her hesitation. Molly felt it would be unkind
to refuse the bracelet, and difficult also. It was not as if he had
offered her food or drink, that might be poisoned; nor had he made
any effort to entice her into his shop; she had merely stepped inside
on the mat and the door had been left wide open. Surely there could
be no harm in accepting the bracelet, Molly argued to herself. It was
so pretty, and she _would_ like to have it, and anyway, if she felt
doubtful afterward she could always get rid of it somehow, when the old
gentleman could not see her and be hurt.

“I beg you will accept this bracelet,” said the watchmaker. “I have
been keeping it back specially for you.”

So Molly accepted the bracelet, and the old gentleman ‘had the honour,’
as he put it, of seeing her slip it over her right hand, where it
gleamed and jingled, and nearly slipped off when she put her arm down
straight—just as she had longed for it to do. Molly thanked the old
watchmaker and shook hands with him again, as she bid him good-bye.

He stood at his door bowing as Molly went on her way, but no sooner was
she out of sight than he returned to his shop and, closing the door,
sat down on a stool behind the counter, and began to shake with silent
laughter; he continued to laugh, hugging himself while he did so, and
rocking backward and forward, and bending himself nearly double, and
all this quite noiselessly—the only sounds in the shop being the rapid
tick, tick, tick, and the steady tick-tock, of the watches and clocks
around him.



CHAPTER XVII

_A Warning_


Meanwhile, after walking along for a short distance, Molly thought
it would be wise to look up the names of Mrs Rose’s friends, as the
daylight was beginning to fade and already the moon was mounting the
sky; she had scribbled the names and addresses down on a slip of paper.
She noted, with a slight thrill of pleasure, the jingle of the silver
bracelet as she took the paper out of her pocket. Poor Molly, she could
not feel very happy about the bracelet, of course, as the weight of
Jack’s misfortune still crushed her down; but she was certainly pleased
to possess such a bracelet. Having discovered that one of Mrs Rose’s
friends lived about a quarter of a mile farther on, she determined
to search the road until she came to this house, and then ask if Mrs
Jennet, for that was the friend’s name, would kindly put her up for the
night.

The road now began to grow wilder and more rugged, while here and
there, beside the way, were huge rocks and piles of stones. She passed
an occasional tree, but these had few leaves on their branches, and
were much twisted and bent as though lashed by many storms.

Molly continued to search, but, instead of hurrying along as she had
meant to, she found herself moving slower, and gradually slower still,
and became aware that she was suddenly very tired. She dragged on for a
short distance.

“I can’t do any more searching to-night,” she thought to herself. “I’m
too tired. I’ll just make straight for the house—only I wish it wasn’t
such a long way off. I’ll never get there.”

Molly found great difficulty in keeping her eyes open now; and if she
hadn’t been so thoroughly exhausted and tired she might have been
suspicious of this overwhelming wave of sleep that had seized her. She
was too tired to think or reason, too tired to be suspicious. She only
knew that her feet felt as if they were made of lead, and the only
thing she wanted to do was to lie down and go to sleep at once.

“Can’t reach the house,” she murmured, drowsily. “Must go to sleep.”

She stumbled across the road, and threw herself down on the grass by
the wayside. Oh, how delicious it was, just to lie down and go to
sleep! But as her head was sinking back a last wave of consciousness
flashed through Molly’s mind of the foolishness of the thing that she
was doing ... going to sleep by the roadside ... and if the Pumpkin
came along ... she would never be able to save Jack now. At this
thought—she rallied for a moment and pulled herself up into a kneeling
position. She remained thus for a moment or two, with her head drooping
forward. Then she struggled to fight off the wave of sleep that was
coming over her again, and managed to crawl a few paces further on.

Although Molly did not know it at the time, this was one of the most
critical moments in her adventure. If she had given in and gone
comfortably to sleep by the roadside, this story would have had a very
different ending. But Molly did not give in, her desire to find the
Black Leaf and save her brother was so strong, that in spite of the
great odds against her she was able to make one last effort to reach
a place of safety. Though there was still no sign of Mrs Jennet’s
house, there was fortunately a tree close by. And it was toward this
tree that Molly slowly groped her way. She never knew how long it
took her to reach that tree, although it was standing only a few feet
away from her. But with repeated efforts she at length reached it,
and with a great struggle pulled herself up into a standing position,
leaning against the trunk. For some time she stood leaning against the
tree; she could not remember afterward whether she went to sleep for a
while or not—she thought she must have gone to sleep (“Like a horse,
standing up,” she told herself). But she had barely lost consciousness
when again her desire urged her to make another effort.

This was the last effort, and the hardest of all. Molly scarcely knew
how she managed it, but manage she did, to pull herself up into the
tree, and curl up among the lower branches. Then, immediately, she was
asleep.

All through the moonlit night she slept and did not move. And if anyone
passed on the road beneath the tree that night—Molly never knew. And
nobody guessed there was a little girl lying asleep in the gnarled old
tree by the side of the road that led to Lake Desolate. For little
girls who are as tired as Molly must have been have not usually the
strength, nor the will, to climb trees.

At daybreak Molly stirred and threw out her right arm, so that it hung
down a little, over the edge of one of the branches: and the bracelet,
the jingly, silver bracelet, slipped down over her wrist, and as she
moved again, it slid over her hand and fell on to the ground at the
foot of the tree.

After this Molly seemed more restless, and did not sleep so soundly,
though many hours went by, and it was nearly noon before she was
aroused at length by some one exclaiming loudly and persistently from
beneath the tree, and something cold and hard grabbing at her arms and
legs.

Molly sat up, rubbing her eyes, and then became aware that a chubby,
startled-looking little woman in a black and white check dress and a
black bonnet was calling up to her while she made frantic efforts to
catch hold of Molly with the crooked handle of her umbrella.

“Oh, thank goodness, you _’ave_ woke up, which I thought you never was
going to!” cried the plump little woman, dabbing her face with her
handkerchief. “Such a fright as you give me, lying quite still there
and me a-hollering at you for a hour or more, though I’d never a-seen
you if it hadn’t been for your ’and and arm ’anging down out of the
tree....”

“Who are you?” asked Molly drowsily. “I’m glad you did wake me up.”

“Maria Jennet is my name,” was the answer. “I done my best to wake you
up, but my! you do want a bit of waking. Made me quite ’ot, you ’ave.”

“Oh, are you Mrs Jennet?” said Molly. “Mrs Rose’s friend?”

“I am,” said Mrs Jennet emphatically.

“Why, I was on my way to your house last night, when—when ... Oh!”
Molly gave a scream.

“Oh!” screamed Mrs Jennet. “What is it now? You do give a body the
jumps, you do!”

But Molly did not answer. She was gazing with horrified eyes at her
right arm. On the wrist was a long grey stain!

How had it come there? What did it mean? Molly rubbed her arm
vigorously with her pocket-handkerchief—but she could not remove the
stain. She had seen a grey stain like this before; but where?... And
then she remembered. It was on Old Nancy’s finger, the evening she
slept through the sunset hour. Molly then realized what had happened.

[Illustration: “THANK GOODNESS YOU _’AVE_ WOKE UP!”]

“Of course, he was another of them. What a stupid girl I was to trust
him,” she exclaimed. “But where has my bracelet gone! Wait a minute
please,” she continued, in reply to Mrs Jennet’s excited questioning.
“I’ll tell you all about it in a minute.” She climbed down from the
tree and searched about in the grass beneath. “Ah, here it is!” she
cried, and snatched up her bracelet, only to drop it again instantly,
as if it were red-hot coals. For on the inner side of the bracelet she
saw the remains of a dull grey powder still clinging to it. “So that’s
how he did it!” Molly nodded to herself. “That explains things.”

She understood now that the watchmaker was another spy employed by the
Pumpkin, and the bracelet which she had accepted from him had contained
this magic powder which had rubbed off on to her arm, and sent her to
sleep. The old watchmaker was evidently relying on the powder acting
quickly, and Molly, overwhelmed by sleep, being compelled to rest by
the side of the road—or somewhere where the Pumpkin could easily
catch her. Luckily for Molly, she had had enough will power to fight
her way to a place of safety; and luckily, also, the bracelet had
slipped off and so gradually she had regained consciousness again.
Molly had had a very narrow escape, and she felt decidedly bewildered
as to the best way of winning through the difficulties around her. Of
one thing she felt certain, she must be very distrustful of everything
and everybody—except, of course, where people were recommended to
her by some one she could trust. So far, all the links in her chain
of friends had proved good and true; Glan—Old Nancy—Aunt Janet—The
Goblin—Miss Marigold—Mr Papingay—Mrs Rose—and now, Mrs Jennet. She
could trust Mrs Jennet, surely.

Mrs Jennet was bubbling over with curiosity about the stain and the
bracelet, and Molly answering some of her numerous questions, asked her
to lend her the umbrella for a minute. Mrs Jennet watched breathlessly
while Molly dug a little hole with the point, then picked up the
bracelet on the tip of the umbrella and dropped it in the hole and
piled earth and stones on it.

“It might only bring trouble to some one else if I leave it here,” she
said.

Then she accepted Mrs Jennet’s kind and vigorous invitation to go home
with her and ‘have a bite of something’ before proceeding on her way.
As they walked along Molly told her companion a little of what had
already taken place, and what had happened to Jack. At which Mrs Jennet
protested loudly and even wept a little; then stood still in the middle
of the roadway while she told Molly all the horrible things she would
like to do to the Pumpkin if she caught him.

Mrs Jennet’s house was only a short distance away, and stood with
several other houses by the side of the main road—the last dwellings
these before you reached Lake Desolate, which was about two miles
further on, she told Molly. Molly learned that the men from these
houses worked in the mines near by. Mrs Jennet’s husband worked there
and would not be home till evening.

While Mrs Jennet was bustling about, laying the table, and frying
eggs and bacon, Molly got out her map and looked to see where the
mines were. They were not marked on her map at all, and Mrs Jennet
explained, when Molly showed her the map, that the mines were just over
the border of Molly’s square; at which Molly was rather relieved, as
it had struck her that she might have to go down the mines perhaps to
search for the Black Leaf. But on second thoughts she remembered—of
course, the Black Leaf could only grow above ground. This incident,
however, called Molly’s attention to the fact that she was nearing
another border-line of her square. It stretched away to the left of
the road she was soon to go along; so she would not have much country
to search on that side. But there was still a large piece of country
around Lake Desolate.

“Are there no more houses beyond this group?” Molly asked Mrs Jennet,
as they sat down to their meal.

“No. Yes,” said Mrs Jennet. “That is, not until you’ve passed Lake
Desolate. Then there are one or two sheep-farms and cottages on the
’ills. Very lonely they must be, too. There’s very few go to Lake
Desolate now—the road’s so bad—and so lonely. And what’s the good
of going there, there’s nothing to see but the Lake and the ’ills....
’Ave some more bread, duckie.... And there’s all them wild birds
screeching over the Lake. Ugh! Fair gives me the creeps, it does. But
there—I forgot you was going there. Fancy, a bit of a girl like you!
Well, well! P’r’aps you ain’t afraid of being alone though? Eh?”

Molly said she didn’t think she was.

“I’m fond of my own company when I’m with other people,” remarked Mrs
Jennet. “You know what I mean—I feel a little bit lost by myself.”

Everything in Mrs Jennet’s room seemed like herself—plain and plump
and loud, but nevertheless good-natured. The chubby-looking horse-hair
sofa with the round large-patterned cushions reminded Molly strangely
of its owner; and so did the round-backed chairs with their thick arms;
even the carpet was just like Mrs Jennet would have looked if she had
been a carpet. Molly began to wonder what Mr Jennet was like.

“I’ve got a photo of ’im—up there on the mantelshelf—I’ll show you,”
said Mrs Jennet in reply to a question from Molly.

But even as Mrs Jennet handed the photo down, Molly felt she knew what
he would be like. And she was right. He was exactly like Mrs Jennet
would have been if she had been a man.

“He’s a dear old lad,” said Mrs Jennet, eyeing the photo
affectionately. “I wish you could have waited to see ’im—but if you do
find the old Black Leaf ’e’ll get a ’oliday I expect—every one will.
My! Won’t there be celebrations! And we’ll all come down to the City
and see you! ’Ave some more milk, duckie?”

Mrs Jennet chattered gaily on, asking and answering numberless
questions. Molly asked her if she could tell her of any one she could
trust, who lived in the little cottages or farms beyond Lake Desolate.

“Yes, yes. There’s a very nice lady I know lives in one of them—in a
little cottage on the side of the Giant’s ’Ead—that’s the name of the
’ill—it’s shaped on top like a huge ’ead. She’s got a sweet, pretty
cottage—stays there for ’er ’ealth. She’s away sometimes staying with
’er sister in the City, but I should think she’d be ’ome this time of
year. ’Er name’s Lydia North—Miss Lydia we always call ’er. ’Ere, I’ve
got a photo of ’er in my album. I’ll show you. She very kindly give
me one when she knew I collected photos, bless ’er ’eart!” said Mrs
Jennet.

The photo was of a refined, sweet-faced lady. Molly studied it intently
so that she would know Miss Lydia when she saw her.

“Thank you very much,” said Molly. “This will be a great help to me. I
know one person I can trust anyway.”

But Molly was not to get away as easily as that. Once Mrs Jennet had
got her beloved album open she insisted on showing Molly all the photos
of her relatives and friends, including Mrs Rose and Farmer Rose.

“I wish you had a photo of yourself about you,” said Mrs Jennet. “I’d
like you in the album.”

Molly was sorry she couldn’t oblige her hostess, but admired the
collection of photographs with such enthusiasm that Mrs Jennet was
enraptured. At length Molly managed to tear herself away, and bidding
good-bye to Mrs Jennet, and thanking her warmly for all her kindness,
Molly started out once more.

It was now early afternoon. Searching carefully along the road and on
either side of it she proceeded slowly. As she went on, the country
grew wilder and lonelier. The hills rose up on every side, bare,
gaunt hills on which nothing seemed to grow, and at the foot of the
hills great rocks and stones were strewn. Molly soon left all signs of
the miners’ houses behind her, and as she looked back and could see
nothing but the wild scenery all around her—no smoke from a chimney,
no sign of human beings at all—she began to feel very small and lost
and lonely. But she was not afraid. She realized, after thinking things
over, that in the ordinary way the Pumpkin’s spies could not touch
her or make her do things by force; it had to be some carelessness or
weakness in herself which enabled them to obtain a power over her. She
would be very careful in future, and would not trust any one but those
people who she _knew_ were her friends. She would be on her guard all
the time.

She searched carefully for about an hour, in every likely place along
the way, keeping her eyes and ears constantly on the alert. And
presently the latter informed her of the galloping of horse’s hoofs in
the distance. Looking back along the road she saw a cloud of dust, and
by and by a big black horse, on which was seated a man in a slouch
hat and flying cape, became visible. Molly glanced round for a place
of escape, if necessary, or a place to hide; but there was no place to
hide in this barren spot, and no trees near by. So she walked steadily
on. So long as it wasn’t the Pumpkin, the man on the horse could not
touch her against her will—that is, if he was an enemy. Poor Molly
expected every stranger to be an enemy now, of course. Maybe the horse
and rider had no business with her at all. Anyway, they came dashing
along at full speed, thundering on the road behind her.

Molly drew to the side of the road to let them pass. But they did not
pass. She heard, with a sinking heart, the horse gradually slacken its
pace till it came alongside her. The man quickly dismounted, made Molly
a sweeping bow, and handed her a sealed envelope. Then, without a word,
he sprang into the saddle and, turning his horse’s head, galloped back
along the road by which he had come, leaving Molly gazing in surprise
at the envelope in her hand.

It was all over in a minute. The man and the horse had come and gone.
Molly turned the envelope over and over. There was no address on it to
say who it was for or where it had come from. Only the word ‘Immediate’
was printed in the top corner. What ought she to do, she wondered.
Should she open it? Was it meant for her? Was it from a friend—or was
it another trick of the Pumpkin’s? She hesitated, standing still in
the middle of the lonely road. Supposing it was a message—something
about Jack—something really true. Supposing she didn’t open the
envelope—what was she to do with it?

This decided the matter; as she couldn’t think what to do with it if
she didn’t open it, she opened it, very cautiously. And this was the
letter inside it:

  DEAR CHILD,

  I know all that has happened. This is to tell you that I have
  overheard that the Pumpkin has sent out many spies to stop you. One
  of them is a little old man; a watchmaker he pretends to be. Do not
  trust him.

  Another (and this one is the most dangerous of all) is a certain
  ‘blind’ woman who has been sent out to meet you on the shores of
  Lake Desolate. As you value your quest, as you value your poor
  brother’s life, do not trust this ‘blind’ woman. Have nothing to do
  with her—do not believe a word she says—but go straight on past
  the Lake to the Brown Hills beyond. Otherwise, all is at an end for
  us.

    With affectionate remembrance from
      OLD NANCY

Molly read the letter through several times, very carefully. Then she
folded it up and put it in her satchel.



CHAPTER XVIII

_Molly Comes to Lake Desolate_


During the next two hours, while Molly searched the remainder of the
road, and the lonely country that lay between the road and the hills on
either side, she kept thinking of the letter. And it worried her. She
could not make up her mind whether the letter was genuine or not. At
first she thought it really was from Old Nancy, and then, because she
had resolved to trust no one, she began to suspect that the man on the
horse was another of the Pumpkin’s spies and that the letter was faked.

“One part was true,” Molly argued to herself. “About the watchmaker ...
but then, the spies would know by now that I have found out about the
watchmaker, and _they_ would not mind telling me news I already know if
they thought it would make the letter seem more genuine. But why should
they warn me about this ‘blind’ woman—unless.... Oh, I don’t know. I
wonder if it really _is_ from Old Nancy, after all! I wish I had some
means of finding out.” And then, after another ten minutes’ search: “I
believe it really is from Old Nancy—I’m getting too distrustful,” she
said. “Anyway, I’ll wait until I reach Lake Desolate—and then decide.”

Molly climbed to the top of one of the hills, and from there caught her
first glimpse of the Lake. It was not far away now; but it was actually
no more than a glimpse of the water that she got, because of the hills
that surrounded it. She descended the hill, searching all the time—for
it would not do to pass by any likely spot in her anxiety to reach some
other spot, even if the latter did sound a more probable place for the
Black Leaf to be growing in.

Although the water had not looked far away, yet it seemed a long time
to Molly before she reached Lake Desolate. Climbing round the side of
one of the hills, she at length saw the Lake immediately below her.

It was a great stretch of water, silent, dark, and mysterious, around
which the hills stood like sentinels. Across the surface of the
water strange birds hovered, flapping their wings and uttering weird
‘screechings,’ as Mrs Jennet had said. Every now and again they would
swoop down on the water, or dart across to some trees and rocks on the
opposite shore. Molly glanced anxiously around the shores of the Lake,
but could not see anything moving, except the birds.

Gradually she made her way down the hillside and stood for a while
gazing into the dark, still water. It was well named Lake Desolate,
thought Molly, for never had she seen such a deserted, lonely place.
As she looked across to the hills beyond, a slight sound made her turn
her head. Her heart began to beat rapidly, for coming slowly along the
shore of the Lake toward her was a woman dressed in a long, grey cloak.
She had a stick in her hand, which she tapped on the ground in front of
her, as blind people do.

Molly stood perfectly motionless, so that the blind woman should
not hear her move and know that any one was near. The woman came
on hesitatingly, tap, tap, tapping with her stick. Molly watched
her. The woman passed within a short distance of where Molly was
standing—stopped; listened; then moved on.

At that moment one of Molly’s feet slipped a little, and the stones on
which she was standing moved, and several trickled down and fell with
a _plomp_ into the water. The woman stopped immediately; while Molly
bit her lip at her own carelessness.

“Is any one there?” asked the woman, turning, and facing in the
direction whence the sound had come.

Molly did not answer, but looked straight at the woman. And as she
looked, a puzzled expression came over Molly’s face. Where had she seen
the blind woman’s face before? She _had_ seen it; of this she felt
certain, and yet— Then suddenly Molly knew. It was the same face that
she had seen in Mrs Jennet’s photo album. It was the face of Miss Lydia!

This discovery gave Molly a shock, and sent all her thoughts and plans
tumbling helter-skelter over each other. What was she to do now?

Meanwhile, as no reply had been given to her question, the blind
woman sighed, and passed on. Molly did not know what to do, or whom
to believe. She had never been wrong before in trusting one of her
friend’s friends; and this certainly looked like the Miss Lydia of
whom Mrs Jennet had spoken. But _had_ Old Nancy written that letter?
If so, she would, of course, trust her before any one, and obey her
instructions.

“I can’t find out who wrote the letter, at least, not yet,” thought
Molly. “But I can find out if she really is Miss Lydia.”

Her mind made up, she stepped forward a few paces, and called in a
clear voice:

“There _is_ some one here. Can I help you?”

The blind woman turned eagerly, and groped her way back toward the
voice.

“Oh, I am so glad to hear some one speak again—but who are you? Are
you a friend?” asked the woman anxiously. “I am so helpless, you know,
and—and——”

“I am willing to be your friend, if— But who are you?” asked Molly.
“What is your name?”

“My name is Lydia North,” replied the woman. “And I live in a little
cottage—up there—somewhere”—she waved her arm vaguely. “On the side
of the Giant’s Head.... Oh, tell me who you are, please!”

“I am a little girl,” answered Molly. “And if you are truly Miss
Lydia—I am your friend. Tell me what I can do for you.”

“Will you lead me back to my home again? I cannot find my way from
here, there seem to be hills all round that shut me in. I cannot find
the way out and I am afraid of walking into the water; I nearly fell in
just now.”

“How did you get here, Miss Lydia?” asked Molly. “I was hoping to meet
you at your cottage—Mrs Jennet told me about you—told me to call and
see you.... But I didn’t know that you were—blind.”

“I wasn’t—until the day before yesterday—I think it was the day
before yesterday; it seems a long time ago. I am not used to being
blind yet, and feel so helpless. I’m so glad you are a friend of good
Mrs Jennet’s—then I can trust you,” said Miss Lydia.

This was something new for Molly to have people doubtful whether she
could be trusted; it was generally the other way about. But when she
had heard Miss Lydia’s story she quite understood. It seemed that Miss
Lydia had been away from home for a fortnight, staying with her sister
in the City, and had returned home the day before yesterday.

“When I reached my cottage gate,” she continued, “I heard something
coming behind me—a sort of soft, rolling sound. Then something touched
me—and I could not see any more. I found my way into the cottage
somehow—I live alone. I kept thinking my sight would come back. But it
did not come back. And this morning—I knew it was morning by the cocks
crowing and the clock striking—I started out, determined to find my
way down to the High Road which runs below the hill, so that I might
get help. But I lost my way. Presently I heard some one walking past
me, and they offered to set me right for the High Road, but they led me
here, and then they laughed and went away....”

“I suppose you knew who it was that touched you and made you blind?”
said Molly.

“I didn’t see any one,” answered Miss Lydia. “But I can guess.”

Poor Miss Lydia, another of the Pumpkin’s victims! Molly felt very
sorry for her helplessness in this deserted place. Molly was fairly
certain now that the letter she had received was not from Old Nancy.
But why had the spies wished to prevent her from helping Miss Lydia?
She would find out. If she had not felt sure that this was indeed Miss
Lydia, she would have obeyed the letter and gone straight on to the
Brown Hills.

“I will lead you home, Miss Lydia,” she said, “if you will trust me.
Which is the nearest way?”

“Where are we now?” asked Miss Lydia.

“This is Lake Desolate,” Molly informed her.

“There are several lakes near here,” said Miss Lydia. “But I thought we
were somewhere near Lake Desolate, because of the birds.”

So she told Molly to look for a big hill shaped like a head, which was
somewhere on the west side of the lake. When Molly saw it, towering up
behind the other hills, she took Miss Lydia by the hand and led her
away from Lake Desolate.

They passed out of the ring of hills around Lake Desolate, and mounted
a hilly path that led toward the Giant’s Head. The country was very
beautiful on this side of the Lake, but Molly had no eyes for the
beauty of the scene at present. She was trying to puzzle out the
meaning of her letter, and the meaning of Miss Lydia’s story. Had the
Pumpkin any special purpose in making Miss Lydia blind—or was it just
one of his wicked whims? And why had his spies led Miss Lydia to this
Lake, and then tried to prevent Molly from helping her? Surely, if the
spies had wished to prevent Molly from helping the blind lady it would
have been an easy matter for them to keep Miss Lydia out of the way
... to have led her to another lake. On the other hand, if they did
want her to help Miss Lydia, why had they sent that letter; the chances
were that Molly would obey the instructions in the letter. Yes, she
certainly might have obeyed them—if she hadn’t seen Miss Lydia’s photo
in Mrs Jennet’s album. It was all very puzzling to Molly.

It was rather slow work leading Miss Lydia, as she walked hesitatingly
over the rough, uneven ground, but after a time—a long, long time, it
seemed to Molly—they reached the Giant’s Head, and started to work
their way up and round the side of the hill. Molly sighed as she looked
back and thought of all the ground she would have to go over again and
search—right from here to the Brown Hills in the distance. But she
must see Miss Lydia safely home first, and do anything she could to
help her. She found herself wondering how all the other searchers were
getting on and whether any of them had finished searching their part
of the country yet—or whether any of them were, unknowingly, nearing
success.

Rounding the hill, they came in sight of Miss Lydia’s cottage. A
pretty, creeper-clad cottage, perched on the hillside, it peeped out
of its bushy garden down at the road far below. Behind the cottage the
Giant’s Head rose up against the sky. It was a lovely, lonely spot.

Molly led Miss Lydia to the gate. “This is right, isn’t it?” she asked.

Miss Lydia felt the top of the gate. “Yes, this is home,” she said.
“Thank you ... my dear. I don’t know how to thank you. You’ll come in
with me, won’t you? Oh, don’t leave me till I’m indoors.”

“I won’t leave you till you’re indoors,” said Molly, genuinely sorry
for Miss Lydia in her helpless plight.

She helped Miss Lydia to open her front door, and the two entered the
cottage together.

What would Molly’s feelings have been had she looked out into the
garden a moment later, and seen the crouching figure that rose, and
emerged from behind a clump of bushes as soon as the door was shut? It
was an old woman with little darting eyes and a red scarf wound round
her head. Creeping along, the old woman pushed her way through a broken
fence at the end of the garden, and, darting behind a group of trees
close by, began to signal wildly to some one at the bottom of the hill.



CHAPTER XIX

_Molly Looks Through Miss Lydia’s Window_


Molly led Miss Lydia into the cottage parlour—a dainty, fresh little
room—and brought a chair forward into which Miss Lydia sank gratefully.

“Can I get you anything? Shall I make you some tea?” suggested Molly
cheerfully.

There was no answer, and then she saw that Miss Lydia was crying softly
to herself.

“Oh, dear! I’m so sorry, Miss Lydia,” said Molly, distressed. “Oh, what
can I do? Is there anything you’d like me to do?”

“I don’t know what to do,” said Miss Lydia. “I feel so helpless here
alone. If only I could get a message through to my sister in the City,
she’d come to me immediately—if she knew. What shall I do?... You
have been so good to me—it’s a shame to bother you with my troubles,
though.”

Molly sat down on a chair opposite to Miss Lydia, and tried to decide
what to do. Molly felt very perplexed and troubled herself. It seemed
cruel to leave Miss Lydia here alone in this deserted spot, and yet
if she took her with her it would cause so much delay, and time was
getting short now.

“Have you no friends near here that I could fetch for you?” asked Molly.

Miss Lydia shook her head. “No one very near. I came to live in this
lonely little house away from my friends, so that I could get on with
my work. I am an artist—I was an artist,” she corrected herself. “I
cannot paint pictures now. I cannot watch the sun sink over the hills
nor see the stars reflected in the water. What shall I do? What shall I
do?” she sobbed bitterly.

“Oh, don’t, don’t, Miss Lydia!” begged Molly. “Listen. I know what I’ll
do. Tell me the address of the friends who live nearest here, and I
will go and fetch them. I will bring them back myself—and then go on
my way. You will not mind being left for a short time, will you?”

“No,” said Miss Lydia. “I don’t feel I dare go out again. I will wait
here. You are so good to me. I do hope I am not giving you too much
trouble.”

By this time Molly had quite made up her mind that Miss Lydia was
sincere; no doubt of her sincerity entered Molly’s mind until happening
to glance out of the window she saw some one dodge out of sight behind
a bush in the garden—some one with a red scarf bound round her head.

Molly’s knees began to shake. What could this mean? What was the old
woman with the horrible eyes doing here in Miss Lydia’s garden? Was it
a trap? She looked over at Miss Lydia who was sitting patiently where
Molly had placed her. Molly moved softly toward the window, and stood,
hidden by the window curtain, looking out. In a few seconds she saw
the old woman’s hand come round the side of the bush and make a signal
toward the hedge by the fence. The hedge stirred a bit. So there was
some one else hiding there, thought Molly. She turned to Miss Lydia.
The sight of the blind woman’s gentle face reassured her. No, if this
was a trap, Miss Lydia had nothing to do with it; Molly felt sure of
that. Anyway, she decided that it was better to tell Miss Lydia what
she had just seen in the garden.

Miss Lydia was terribly agitated at first, and cried, and seemed so
upset that she made Molly want to cry too.

“But we must be brave, Miss Lydia,” said Molly. “Trust me, and do
what I tell you, will you?” she urged. “We must help each other all
we can. I will help you with my eyes, and you must help me with your
ears—listen and tell me what you hear. And you can help me by telling
me where to find things and all that.”

Miss Lydia calmed down gradually, and promised to aid Molly as much as
possible.

Molly’s first act was to ascertain that all the windows were locked
and the front and back doors bolted. While seeing to these things she
discovered that there were two other spies lurking in the back garden.
One looked something like the figure of the old watchmaker, only he was
dressed differently. The other man she had not seen before. They were
both badly concealed among some tall plants and ferns.

“Why are all the spies gathering here together?” Molly asked herself.
“Do they know I’ve seen them, I wonder. They don’t mean to let me get
out of this house. They seem to be watching all round it.”

“What can you see? What can you see?” asked Miss Lydia, pleadingly.

Molly told her. “I don’t think they can hurt us—so long as we keep
indoors. They’re only guarding the house to see that I don’t get away,
until——” Molly broke off; “until the Pumpkin comes,” was what she had
been going to say, but there was no need to set Miss Lydia trembling
afresh.

Molly herself was in such a state of excitement, darting noiselessly
from one window to another, comforting Miss Lydia, and telling her what
she could see, that there was hardly time to be very frightened.

Miss Lydia divided her attention between the front door and the
back, listening anxiously at each in turn. Presently she remembered
something, and called quietly to Molly:

“There is a little room at the very top of the house, in the roof,
a room I use as a studio,” she said. “If you go up you will have a
better view of the garden, and will be able to see far outside the
garden, over the hedges as well.”

“I will go at once and see what I can make out,” said Molly. “But I saw
no stairs leading up any higher.”

“They are in the cupboard on the landing,” was Miss Lydia’s reply.
“I’ll wait here by the front door.”

Molly dashed upstairs, found the cupboard on the landing, and, opening
the door, saw the concealed stairs. She ran up these to the studio.
There were four windows in the studio, one on each side of the room.
She looked out of each in turn, taking care to keep well back in the
room so as to be out of sight. There were splendid views from these
windows. She could see clearly now the old woman still crouching behind
the bush in the front garden. She could see, too, who was behind the
hedge; it was the girl in green who had met them in the Third Green
Lane and decoyed them to the old woman.

From the window that looked out on to the back garden she saw the other
two spies still hiding there, and a third spy hiding a little farther
away from them. Her eyes wandered round the garden, then all at once
she gave a gasp as she caught sight of something that made her heart
seem to stop beating for a moment, then start to hammer madly at her
side.

It was a large Black Leaf, growing in the garden bed, just behind where
the two spies were hiding; so that from the lower windows they had
hidden it completely from her eyes.

Molly could scarcely believe it for a moment, and looked again to make
sure. Yes; it was the Black Leaf at last!

_Now_ she understood the presence of the spies here, and their anxiety
to keep her away from the garden, which contained the Leaf they dared
not touch. And now she understood the reason why the Pumpkin had made
Miss Lydia blind.

What a wonder the Pumpkin was not somewhere near to guard the Leaf, she
thought. And even as she thought this, she saw the Pumpkin. He came
rolling slowly along the garden path toward the back door.

“Oh, however am I to get the Leaf with the Pumpkin and all his spies
around?” thought Molly.

Then she heard Miss Lydia’s voice calling up the stairs: “Come quickly!
Hush! I can hear that rolling sound again, out in the garden.”

Molly ran downstairs.

“Oh, Miss Lydia, Miss Lydia!” she whispered, excitedly. “Do you
know why they’re all round this house?—the spies, and the Pumpkin
himself—yes, it is he—oh, hush, Miss Lydia! Do you know the reason?
The Black Leaf is growing in your garden! I can see it from your studio
window.”

Half crying, half laughing, Molly explained rapidly; while Miss Lydia
wrung her hands together and listened intently.

“’Sh!” she interrupted, suddenly. “Listen. I can hear the rolling sound
outside the front door now—_and_ the back door.”

“Not both at once?” queried Molly.

“Yes, I can. Listen.”

“Then—oh, then it must be Jack as well—if there are two Pumpkins,”
cried Molly tremulously. “But I don’t expect he can help us,” she went
on quietly. “He’s under the power of the Pumpkin entirely; he’ll just
have to obey orders.”

Molly was thinking rapidly. What was she to do? How could she reach
the Leaf before the Pumpkin touched her. Every moment she expected to
hear three taps on one of the doors, and see it swing open and the
Pumpkin roll in. She made Miss Lydia sit at the top of the stairs, and
she herself stood half-way up, ready to run, if necessary. What was
she to do? So far the Pumpkin had made no attempt to enter the house,
but was content to bide his time outside. Unfortunately Molly did not
know which door he was waiting at, nor which of the two Grey Pumpkins
outside was the real Pumpkin and which was Jack.

How could she reach the Black Leaf before the Pumpkin or the spies
could stop her? Try to reach it she must, yet she knew if she stepped
outside she would not stand a moment’s chance. On the other hand,
she and Miss Lydia might remain shut up in this house for ever so
long—perhaps until the thirteen days were up and the Leaf had
disappeared; and then the Pumpkin could tap on the door and enter, and
they would be powerless to defend themselves. If only something would
happen to distract the watchers outside, just for half a minute, that
would be time enough—she could reach the Leaf in less time than that.
Oh, how tantalizingly near the Leaf seemed—and yet how far away.

Presently Molly asked, “Is there a tree in your garden that grows
anywhere near one of the upstairs windows, Miss Lydia? I didn’t notice
when I ran through the rooms.”

“There is one at the side of the house,” said Miss Lydia. “It can
be reached from my bedroom window—the branches tap against the
window-pane. Why? What do you want to know about the tree for?”

“Wait a moment,” said Molly. “I’ll just run up and have a look at it
first.”

While she was upstairs she had another look out of the studio window
also. Of course the Leaf was still there—and the two crouching figures
among the tall plants. Molly had thought out her plan by this time, and
noticed with satisfaction that evening was rapidly approaching. For,
“It must be done in the dusk,” she told herself. “Just before the moon
comes up.”

She went down to Miss Lydia again and sat beside her at the top of the
first flight of stairs.

“The tree will do splendidly,” whispered Molly. Then she told her
companion what she had planned to do. “And I want you to help me, if
you will, Miss Lydia.” She paused. “I’m going to ask you to do a very
plucky thing. In half an hour’s time I want you to draw the bolts of
the back door and walk out into the garden.”

Miss Lydia was startled.

“I know it seems a dreadfully hard thing to ask you to do,” Molly
went on hurriedly. “But I believe it is the only way out of our
difficulties. For the sake of every one who has suffered through the
Pumpkin, for my sake, for your own sake, will you take the risk, Miss
Lydia? In the end, it may be the means of restoring your sight, you
know.”

They talked in whispers for a while.

“And you don’t think it’s any good waiting?—in case some help comes?”
asked Miss Lydia wistfully.

“Not a bit of good, I’m afraid,” said Molly gently. “It’s very unlikely
that help will come—I think we must rely only on ourselves.”

“Then I won’t fail you,” said Miss Lydia.

They sat there, talking occasionally, until dusk fell. Then Molly went
into Miss Lydia’s bedroom, and cautiously opened the window and looked
out. There appeared to be no one watching this side of the house; if
there was any one, it was too dark to see them, and so they would not
be able to see her, Molly thought. She had strapped her little pocket
satchel firmly across her shoulders, and just inside, where she could
easily reach it, was Old Nancy’s box of matches.

Fortunately there was a slight breeze blowing, so that any rustling of
the trees, unless unusually loud, would not attract attention. Molly
got out on to the window sill, and from there climbed as noiselessly
as possible into the tree. Molly had had a good deal of experience
in tree-climbing now, nevertheless she was trembling as she lowered
herself down to the branches nearest the ground; it was not a nice
sensation climbing down, when you didn’t know what was at the bottom.
She waited for a while, and listened, peering out from among the
leaves. Nothing stirred in the garden below.

As far as she could make out, she had but to drop to the ground, run
round the corner of the house along the path, or across the garden bed,
and the Leaf was on the left-hand side, she remembered, close to a big
tree, whose outline could be dimly seen.

Molly waited, full of doubts and anxieties. After all, was this a wise
plan to try? was it too simple to have any chance of success? What a
long time Miss Lydia was. Supposing her courage failed at the last
moment—well, who could blame her? It was such an easy thing for Miss
Lydia to do, and yet such a hard thing. The Pumpkin was almost sure to
catch her—poor Miss Lydia—but it would only be a momentary triumph;
Molly would soon see that things were put right again—that is, if
the Pumpkin did not catch Molly too. But Molly dared not think about
that. She was strung up to such a pitch of nervous excitement that
every second seemed like a whole minute, while she waited. How brave it
would be of Miss Lydia if she did—But what a long time she was. Could
anything have happened to her? Perhaps the Pumpkin had.... Hark! what
was that!

It was the sound of the back door bolts being withdrawn.

Instantly there was a stir in the garden, and a subdued murmuring
floated up to Molly’s ears.

The back door was flung open noisily, and footsteps could be heard on
the path. Molly got out her box of matches.

The garden was now alive with whispering figures. Several moved
quickly toward the back door; there was a scuffle; a scream; the sound
of footsteps running, and a dull thud, thud; then the sound of many
voices, calling, shouting directions, raised high as if in some dispute.

In the midst of all this Molly dropped to the ground and ran rapidly
round the corner of the house, bounded over the garden bed, skirting
the clump of plants where she had seen the two spies hiding, and made
straight for the big tree. Just as she reached the spot where she
thought the Black Leaf was, she felt some one grab hold of her arm and
she was jerked back.

“Here she is! Here she is! That’s not her at the back door! Here she
is! Ah, ha...!” screamed a voice in the darkness beside her, the voice
of the old woman with the horrible eyes, who had evidently run to guard
the Leaf when the back door opened. “Quick! Come quick! Here she is!
_Now_ I’ve got you, my beauty!”

Immediately there was an uproar. The rush of many feet, shouts,
exclamations, came from every direction. There had evidently been far
more spies hiding in the garden than Molly had known.

Quick as thought, she struck one of Old Nancy’s matches, and as the
light spurted out of the darkness, she flashed the flame across the
hands that were gripping her arm. With a cry of pain the old woman
loosened her grasp, and Molly wriggled and, darting forward, clutched
at the stalk of the Black Leaf—and plucked it.

Holding the flaring match in one hand, high above her head, and
clasping the Black Leaf firmly in the other hand, Molly called out in a
clear voice the words Old Nancy had told her:

“Come to me, Grey Pumpkin! I command you by the Black Leaf!”

Slowly, very slowly, there emerged from the darkness two Grey Pumpkins.
As they rolled toward her, Molly glanced hesitatingly from one to the
other; then, as they came within reach, she stooped and hastily touched
both with the Leaf. The Pumpkins rocked to and fro for a second, then
became still at her feet.

The Grey Pumpkin was conquered at last.

Molly stood silent. She could hardly realize that it was true. After
a while she became aware of a curious stillness in the garden; the
Pumpkin’s friends had quietly crept away.

Molly looked down at the Pumpkins in front of her, vaguely
disappointed. She had somehow had a feeling that Jack would be restored
to her directly she had found the Black Leaf. The two Grey Pumpkins at
her feet looked each exactly the same as the other—she could not tell
which was the real Grey Pumpkin herself. This, then, was the Pumpkin’s
object in turning Jack into a likeness of himself; this was his last
revenge. Poor Molly, she had been looking forward eagerly to seeing
Jack again; there was so much good news to share with him; and so, in
her moment of triumph, Molly’s eyes were full of tears.

“I can’t understand it,” she thought. “I expected he would change back
when I touched him with the Black Leaf.... I must take them both back
to Old Nancy; she’ll know what to do.”

Then, with a pang of remorse, she remembered Miss Lydia.

[Illustration: QUICK AS THOUGHT, SHE STRUCK ONE OF OLD NANCY’S
MATCHES]

“Follow me,” said Molly to the Pumpkins, and they obeyed her. It was
strange that both of them obeyed the holder of the Black Leaf, but they
did, following about a couple of yards behind her.

At the door of the cottage she found Miss Lydia lying on the ground,
her face white and her eyes closed. Molly called her by name, but she
did not answer. It was growing a little lighter now, as the moon was
beginning to appear. Molly groped her way into the house and fetched
some water, and knelt and bathed Miss Lydia’s forehead, calling her
gently from time to time. It was a curious scene in the dim garden.
Molly on her knees beside Miss Lydia, the Black Leaf tucked into
the strap of her satchel, while on each side of the doorway, like
sentinels, were two motionless Grey Pumpkins.

At length Miss Lydia stirred, and gradually recovered. Presently she
opened her eyes, then gave a glad cry.

“Oh, I can see! I can see!” she said. “Oh, my dear!” And she cried a
little, then began to laugh.

Molly told her quickly what had happened, and Miss Lydia was overjoyed
at beholding the Black Leaf in Molly’s hand, and the Pumpkin waiting
for commands, though she was grieved and puzzled that Molly’s brother
had not yet been restored. She, herself, could not remember anything
after she had come outside into the garden.

“I felt something bump against me, and I fell—and that’s all,” she
said. “But I’m better now.”

“The first thing I must do,” said Molly, “is to set fire to the nearest
beacon. They are marked on my map ... there is one being guarded on a
hill close by.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Half an hour later a flame sprang out of the night, on the top of a
hill near the Giant’s Head. Spreading rapidly, the fire darted and
leapt, rising higher and higher, until it became a great mass of
blazing light.

People far and near stopped and gazed, crying excitedly to each other.
“Look! Look! It’s the beacon—the first beacon! The Black Leaf is
found!”

And as they watched, an answering beacon leapt forth from a
neighbouring height. Hill after hill took up the glad news and passed
it on, until the beacons, blazing throughout the kingdom, turned night
into day.



CHAPTER XX

_What Happened Outside Old Nancy’s Cottage_


Molly had struck the last but one of Old Nancy’s matches in order to
set light to the beacon. And now she and Miss Lydia, and the two men
who had been guarding the beacon, stood on the hilltop gazing out at
the answering light on the neighbouring hill. The fire cast a red glow
over them all, and over the silent Grey Pumpkins in their midst. It
could be seen that the guards wore curious dark red boots; these were
part of Old Nancy’s magic protection against the Pumpkin and his spies,
as also was the white circle chalked on the ground around the fire.

As they gazed down from the hill one of the guards told Molly the
quickest way back to the East Gate of the City. If she followed the
High Road, which was dimly visible far below, for about a mile she
would come to a lane with a sign-post which said, ‘To the Orange
Wood.’ Go to the bottom of this lane, over a little bridge across the
river, and then along another lane which skirted the wood, and she
would find herself in the village at the edge of the Goblin’s Heath.
Back over the Heath was the shortest way then. But she would save
several miles by going along the High Road at first.

Molly was very pleased to hear of this short cut, as she had not
thought of looking up her map yet; and so, being very anxious to reach
Old Nancy, Molly and Miss Lydia, who had determined to return with her,
said good-bye to the guards and started off down the hillside, followed
by the two Pumpkins.

As they went along Molly insisted on Miss Lydia, who looked very tired
and exhausted, having two of the little brown square sweets that Old
Nancy had given her; and she ate two herself. After a few minutes
both she and Miss Lydia felt much refreshed, and fit for the journey
in front of them. It was strange and delightful to Molly to know that
there was nothing now to be afraid of; no more dodging and hiding and
distrusting everybody.

When they neared the bottom of the hill, they caught sight of a figure
emerging from a wood on the opposite side of the High Road. The person
stood gazing up at the blazing beacon, spellbound; then all at once
gave a whoop of joy and did a sort of step-dance in the road.

“Oh!” cried Molly, delighted. “It is—its Glan!”

And Glan it was, sure enough. He raced to meet them as soon as he saw
the little party moving down.

“So it _is_ you, little lady. You’ve done it, after all!” he shouted,
as he came toward them. “Well done, well done!” and he seized Molly’s
hand and shook it till he nearly shook it off. “But where’s your
brother?” he asked, noting, with puzzled eyes, the two Pumpkins.

Molly told him what had happened to Jack, as they all moved onward to
the High Road; and then she went on to explain where she found the
Black Leaf, and how bravely Miss Lydia had acted.

“Madam, I’m proud to meet you,” said Glan, shaking hands with Miss
Lydia. “If I had only known, I could have come to your aid. I was not
so far away, finishing searching that wood, which is my boundary; you
remember, I mentioned that part of my search-ground joined yours,” he
turned to Molly, “but, of course, I knew nothing, till I saw that blaze
in the sky,” he waved his hand toward the beacon. “You’re not worrying
about your brother, are you, little lady?” he inquired, peering
anxiously at Molly. “Don’t do that. Old Nancy will soon put things
right, I feel sure.”

As they went along he told them some of his adventures, and the narrow
escapes he had had from being caught by the spies; his ‘poor old
Father’ had been nearly caught once also.

By the time he had finished they were well on the way back along the
High Road. It seemed to Molly that the return journey developed into
something like a triumphal procession. She would rather have gone back
quietly without any fuss, but the people who ran out to meet her seemed
so deeply thankful and so full of gratitude that she had not the heart
to wish them not to cheer. There were many glances of awe directed at
the two Pumpkins as they rolled steadily along side by side. Many of
the people followed Molly, and Miss Lydia, and Glan, all the way back
to the City—a straggling crowd that grew in numbers, collecting people
from every house that was passed on the road. Presently the High Road
was left behind and they took the short cut through the lane that went
near the Orange Wood.

Here Molly saw Farmer and Mrs Rose hurrying to join them, and she had
to explain something of what had happened as they walked on beside her.

They went through the village, and all the people turned out and
cheered them in magnificent style, and Miss Marigold and Timothy
hastened to join the crowd. It was a strange crowd, made up of all
sorts of people, little and big, old and young, that flocked round the
little girl and the two Grey Pumpkins that followed close behind her.
The people’s awe of the Pumpkin was not easily overcome, and they kept
a respectful distance in spite of the fact that the little girl held in
her hand the Black Leaf.

Out over the Goblin’s Heath they all trooped. There were rustlings in
the bushes here, and darting little figures that scampered across their
path, which made Glan laugh hilariously. From the Goblin’s Heath they
could see the beacons blazing on the hills for miles round.

When they entered the Second Green Lane they saw a figure bustling
along in front of them, that Molly recognized at once. It was Mr
Papingay on his way to the City. He seemed glad to see Molly again, and
inquired immediately about his Black Leaf.

“I haven’t shown it yet, but I’m going to,” said Molly. “I’ve kept it
carefully. Think what all these people will say when they see it—when
we reach the City!”

At which he beamed and seemed content. Glan greeted him heartily,
slapping him on the back and calling him ‘Uncle’; and they walked on
together arm in arm, both of them talking unceasingly. Whether either
of them listened to a word the other said is more than any one can say.

When they reached the High Road again they could hear all the bells
in the City ringing, and people were watching anxiously from the top
of the City walls. “Here they are! Here they are!” cried somebody,
and then such a cheer went up that the sound of the bells was drowned
altogether for a few moments.

To Molly the return journey had seemed very short, partly because of
the short cuts they had taken, and partly because they had been able to
keep straight ahead, as there was now no searching or dodging to delay
them. But altogether they had travelled many miles and had been several
hours on the journey, and the night was now far advanced. It was a
perfect night, warm and still and clear, for the moon sailed overhead,
flooding the land with its beautiful white light.

Many of the citizens had already gone out on to the hill by the West
Gate, in readiness to see them pass down to Old Nancy’s. Those that
were left joined in the procession at the rear. On passing Glan’s shop
they found that his Father and Aunt Janet had already gone ahead, as
they did not know which way the procession was coming, and they wanted
‘a front seat,’ Glan said.

Outside the West Gate the King was waiting, and he put his hands on
Molly’s shoulders and thanked her very sincerely in the name of the
country. Then he walked with her down the hill, and she told him about
Jack.

The hill was packed with people, eager, murmuring, straining to catch
a glimpse of Molly and the Pumpkins. As she drew near Old Nancy’s
cottage, Molly saw that a wide space had been cleared around the
cottage by the City guards; and there was Old Nancy standing waiting by
her door, the firelight flickering in the room behind her, just as she
had stood when Molly had last seen her.

She held out her hands to Molly when she caught sight of the little
girl. The King gently urged Molly forward, and so she stepped out
alone into the open space, and went toward Old Nancy, the two Pumpkins
following obediently. Then a strange hush fell over the huge crowd
gathered on the hill, and every one waited expectantly for what was
about to happen.

“Here is the Black Leaf,” said Molly, handing the Leaf to Old Nancy.
“And here is the Grey Pumpkin—and Jack.”

Old Nancy stooped and kissed Molly on the forehead. “My dear, how can I
thank you,” she said. “But tell me how this happened,” and she motioned
toward the two Pumpkins.

Molly explained. The people around could not hear what Molly said, but
the whisper ran from one to the other that one of the Pumpkins was the
little girl’s brother who was under a spell.

“Oh, will you bring Jack back again?” begged Molly anxiously.

Old Nancy looked gravely at each of the Pumpkins in turn. “Which _is_
Jack,” she muttered to herself. Then she peered closer—stretching out
her hand and turning each of the Pumpkins over and round about. The
crowd gasped when she first touched the Pumpkins; it was difficult to
get used to the idea that the Pumpkin was harmless now. “A pin was
stuck in the Pumpkin pincushion,” she said to herself. “Let me see now,
let me see now.... Ah.... Then _this_ one is the Grey Pumpkin,” cried
Old Nancy, triumphantly. “For there is a big pin stuck through the top
of him now.”

A great cheer went up from the crowd, though those at the back did not
know what they were cheering about.

Old Nancy touched the Grey Pumpkin three times with the Black Leaf. The
Pumpkin trembled, rocked, then was still.

“The Grey Pumpkin is now completely in my power,” said Old Nancy.
“But before we punish him let us make sure that he has remedied all
the mischief he has done. Most of you who have suffered through him
probably found that you were suddenly released from the spells which
had held you—as soon as the Black Leaf was plucked. Is that correct?”

Murmurs of assent came from the crowd. Old Nancy asked any who were
still suffering from spells put on them by the Pumpkin to step forward;
and waited; but no one stepped forward. Molly looked across at Miss
Lydia and smiled.

“Then there is only this one last case to restore.” Old Nancy pointed
to one of the Grey Pumpkins. “This spell was different from the others,
because it was worked upon a person from the Impossible World.” She
hesitated, looking down at the Pumpkin which was supposed to contain
Jack.

Molly saw some one signalling wildly to her from the crowd. It was Mr
Papingay.

“Don’t forget,” he called to Molly in a loud aside. “Now’s the time!”

Molly remembered her promise, and opening her little satchel rummaged
about inside, then took out Mr Papingay’s painted black leaf, and
unfolded it.

“What is that?” asked Old Nancy.

“It is a black leaf which Mr Papingay painted, and which I promised to
show everybody, and he wants me to do it now,” said Molly, holding it
out.

A flicker of a smile showed at the corners of Old Nancy’s mouth, but
she sternly repressed it. She took the painted leaf and gazed at it
for a moment, then muttered something in an undertone and made a sign
across the leaf with her left hand, holding the real Black Leaf and the
painted leaf together in her right.

“Have you any of the matches left that I gave you?” she asked Molly.

“One,” Molly replied.

“That’s just right.” Old Nancy held the painted leaf high in the air.
“I want you all to see this leaf which has been made and painted by
Mr Papingay, and is an exact copy of the Black Leaf. It is a clever
piece of work—and useful—as you shall see. Mr Papingay, have I your
permission to do anything I like with this?”

“Certainly, ma’am—anything you like,” beamed Mr Papingay, swelling
with pride at his own and the leaf’s importance.

Old Nancy handed the painted leaf back to Molly. “Place it under that
Grey Pumpkin,” she said, pointing to Jack’s Pumpkin.

When Molly had done this, she was told to strike her one remaining
match and set light to the painted leaf. This she did, and stood back
as it caught alight, and little tongues of fire and grey puffs of
smoke curled round the Pumpkin. Higher the smoke curled, and thicker
it became, until the Pumpkin was entirely hidden from view in the
centre of a great column of grey smoke. Every one watched—fascinated.
Suddenly there was a terrific bang—then the smoke began to thin and
drift apart. As it cleared away a figure could be seen standing in the
centre of it.

It was Jack, dazed and rubbing his eyes.

“Jack! Jack!” cried Molly, rushing toward him. “Oh, I am so glad! Are
you quite all right, Jack? Are you hurt?” She drew him out of the smoke.

“Hullo!” he said, gazing round. “Oh, I say, what’s happened?”

He was soon told.

“And do you mean to say that I’ve been stowed away in an old pumpkin,
and been rolling about all over the country?—well, I must have looked
an ass!” said Jack. “But I don’t remember anything—only feel as if
I’ve been shut up somewhere and been to sleep.” He found his hand
seized by one friend after another, and himself congratulated and
questioned by the crowd that gathered round him.

“And so it was your leaf that did the trick, Mr Papingay, was it?” said
Jack, grasping that gentleman’s hand and pumping it up and down. “Well,
I’m blessed—you are a marvellous man!”

Which was just what Mr Papingay, his face wreathed in smiles, was
thinking about himself.



CHAPTER XXI

_The Grey Pumpkin’s Fate_


And now, the smoke having entirely disappeared, Old Nancy turned again
toward the Grey Pumpkin. She raised the Black Leaf high over her head
and, closing her eyes, murmured something to herself; then she opened
her eyes and said to Molly:

“I have summoned the Pumpkin’s spies, but while we are waiting for them
I want you to tell us the story of how you found the Black Leaf.”

Molly felt very shy all at once, but she obeyed Old Nancy, and standing
on the doorstep, facing the crowd, she told her story as briefly as
she could, without leaving out the name of anybody who had helped.
One of the councillors was asked by the King to take down her words
in a note-book so that they could be afterward read by all those at a
distance who could not hear. When Molly came to the part about Miss
Lydia she forgot her shyness and grew enthusiastic.

“I could never have got the Black Leaf at the end if it hadn’t been for
Miss Lydia,” she cried. “She was awfully brave. Although she had been
made blind by the Pumpkin she walked out into the garden where the Leaf
was growing and where the Pumpkin and his spies were waiting—she went
out deliberately—to distract them—while I got the Leaf.”

“Three cheers for Miss Lydia!” cried someone in the crowd, and the
cheers were given heartily, much to Miss Lydia’s confusion.

When Molly reached the end of her tale there was a perfect storm of
cheering; she stepped down, flushed and excited, and stood talking
to Old Nancy for a few minutes, until the cheering gradually died
away and in its place a low muttering and groaning arose at the back
of the crowd, followed by an outburst of booing and hissing. Molly
turned quickly and saw that the crowd had parted, and through the
space made a procession of people was wending its way. They were the
Pumpkin’s spies; some very dejected, with hanging heads; others sullen
and defiant. First came the old woman with the scarlet turban and the
little darting eyes; next came the girl in green; then several others
that Molly had never seen before—though judging by the remarks to be
heard on all sides they were no strangers to the other searchers; among
those in the rear Molly recognized the old watchmaker, and the man on
horseback, who had given her the letter that was supposed to be from
Old Nancy. There were about thirty of the spies altogether, and they
gathered in a group before Old Nancy, who eyed them sadly.

“Was it you who scattered the grey powder on my window sill, and
made me sleep through the sunset hour, and so enabled the Pumpkin to
return?” she asked of the old woman who had led the band of spies.

The old woman nodded. “When some one in the Impossible World pierced
the Pumpkin with a pin, the power for good which held me was suddenly
dispersed, and all the evil magic that I knew rushed into my mind,
and I made the grey powder and brought it to you ... heh, heh, heh,”
a chuckle escaped. “And I’m glad I did. We’ve had a splendid time,
ain’t we, ducky?” she leered at the girl in green, who nodded sullenly.
“And if it hadn’t bin for a sort of muddle we made between us in our
eagerness to keep that meddlin’ gel away”—the old woman gave Molly
an ugly glance—“our Grey Pumpkin wouldn’t have bin caught and here
to-day, that he wouldn’t.”

“Tell me about the muddle,” said Old Nancy, swaying the Black Leaf in
her hand gently toward the old woman, who seemed compelled to answer.

“In the first place one of us led her”—she jerked her head in the
direction of Miss Lydia—“to the wrong lake by mistake, when she was
blind—right into that gel’s path instead of out of it, and when we
found out what had bin done and went to fetch her away from Lake
Desolate, we couldn’t find her. So, in case she came back to the Lake
(which she did) another of us, thinking to cover up the mistake, wrote
a letter making believe it was from you, Old Nancy; and the gel would
have believed the letter and obeyed it, and everything would have bin
all right for us, only something put it into her head not to believe
the letter, and so she led the blind woman home and found the Leaf
growing in her garden. But even then she would never have got the Leaf
if it hadn’t bin for those matches of yours, Old Nancy; they do burn,”
and the old woman held out her right hand across the back of which
was a deep red scar. “What put it into your head not to believe that
letter?” she asked suddenly of Molly.

“I had seen Miss Lydia’s photo at a friend’s house, and I recognized
her as soon as I saw her beside Lake Desolate—and so I trusted her,”
Molly answered.

“So that’s how it was,” nodded the old woman. “Of course we sent for
the Pumpkin at once as soon as we found you were on your way to the
house, but he did not arrive until you were inside, so we thought we’d
catch you coming out.”

“Are none of you repentant?” asked Old Nancy. “None of you sorry for
all the unhappiness you have caused?”

“Repentant! I should think not,” the old woman answered. “No, though
we’re powerless now—we’re not repentant. We had the finest time of our
lives; that’s so, comrades, ain’t it?”

The other spies assented without hesitation.

“Then,” said Old Nancy, “it would be best to banish you all, together
with your leader, the Grey Pumpkin, out of our world into the
Impossible World, where you can do no harm. Is it your wish that I do
this?” Old Nancy cried to the crowd.

“Yes, yes. Banish them! Banish them!” the answer came from hundreds
of voices; and for a few minutes there was a deafening roar from the
people; but as Old Nancy lifted her hand the noise died away and there
was silence again.

Old Nancy moved among the spies, touching each with the Black Leaf and
muttering some words to herself; they shivered as the Leaf touched them.

“You shall retain your human forms in the Impossible World,” said Old
Nancy to the spies. “But all the evil magic you have learned you shall
forget. You will forget, too, your life in this world; sometimes you
will have vague recollections, but you will never be able to find
your way back here again, and you will not be able to do any harm to
others in the Impossible World. I am allowing you to retain your human
forms, because, bad as you have been, you have not been as bad as the
Grey Pumpkin. According to your wicked acts in this land, so will your
unhappiness be in the Impossible World. _You_ will be very unhappy,”
she ended, pointing to the old woman.

Then muttering some strange words Old Nancy waved the Leaf again, and
the spies moved slowly away toward the great tree on the opposite side
of the High Road.

“Knock three times,” commanded Old Nancy.

And the old woman, with a last defiant toss of the head, knocked three
times. The door in the tree swung open, and one after the other the
spies passed through, and the door closed after them with a thud.

All this time the Grey Pumpkin had remained motionless in front of the
cottage door, and now Old Nancy approached him and, touching him once
more with the Black Leaf, said:

“Go! Back to the Impossible World! Not as a pincushion this time,
though you shall still retain your hated shape and shall not resume
your human form again. You shall become a footstool for people to kick
about and rest their feet on—you shall become a hassock! Go! And
never, never return.”

Slowly the Grey Pumpkin swayed from side to side, then rolled away
across the road to the tree. It knocked three times against the tree,
the door opened, and the Grey Pumpkin passed out into the Impossible
World.

The silence which followed the closing of the door in the tree was
broken by a terrible guffaw of laughter from Glan’s Father. At once a
wild outburst of cheers and laughter and shouting came from the crowd
on the hill; cheers for Old Nancy; cheers for the King; cheers for
Molly and Jack; cheers for the other searchers; there seemed no end to
the cheering, for the people were mad with delight. But through it all
Glan’s Father laughed on, until the tears rolled down his cheeks and
Aunt Janet grew flustered and alarmed. But Glan only stood in front of
his Father, his arms akimbo, and laughed too.

“That’s right, Father!” he cried. “Go on! Go on! Let him be, Aunt
Janet, he’s not had a laugh for years and years.”

Meanwhile, Jack and Molly were making preparations for returning home
through the tree. Molly handed the satchels back to Old Nancy, and
although both the children were sorry to leave their friends, they felt
that now their work was finished they would like to return home; it was
a long time since they had seen Mother and Father. And so they began
to say good-bye to the little group of friends around them, including
Mrs Jennet, who had arrived with Mr Jennet—so exactly like herself—in
time to witness the exit of the Pumpkin.

The King and Old Nancy had been talking apart from the crowd, and now
they turned to Jack and Molly.

“Will you accept this?” said the King to Molly, handing her a little
box, “as a small token of our thanks and appreciation of the service
you have done this country.... It seems a very insignificant thing to
offer you, but it has an unusual gift attached to it. Whenever you wear
it you will be happy and will give happiness to those around you.... Do
not open the box now, but place it on your table, when you get home,
where the pincushion stood; and when the sunshine falls across it—open
it; if you open it before, the special gift I mentioned will not be
with it.”

Molly took the little box and thanked the King sincerely, with
sparkling eyes.

To Jack the King said, “I have just heard that you go in for painting,
so I am having a special set of painting-brushes made for you, which
will help you to do good work—they are rather special brushes;” he
and Old Nancy exchanged mysterious smiles. “I want you to accept them
as a little memento of your visit, but as they are not quite ready, I
shall send them to you to-morrow.”

“Thanks awfully, your Majesty, but I don’t feel as if I’ve earned them
properly, you know,” said Jack. But the King shook him warmly by the
hand and said he had done a great deal to help.

And so they bade the King good-bye.

“You will find that your Mother hasn’t been anxious about you—I saw to
that,” said Old Nancy, as they said good-bye to her.

And Glan said, “Come and see us again some day, little lady, you and
your brother. Do, won’t you? Knock three times on the tree when the
moon is full, remember.”

“Oh, we’d love to come again some day, wouldn’t we, Jack?” said Molly.

“Rather,” said Jack.

So, for the third time that night the door in the tree opened in
response to the three knocks. And this time a little girl and boy
passed through to the Impossible World again.



CHAPTER XXII

_The Impossible World Again_


When Jack and Molly reached the fence that separated their garden from
the wood, Jack was surprised to find his slipper still lying there—the
slipper he had lost on the way out.

“Oh, I say, Moll,” he said. “Look here—I forgot to give Old Nancy her
slipper back, and now I’ve got three slippers all alike!”

Which was in truth the case. As they crossed the garden they noticed
that day was just dawning. They found the back door locked, but Jack
scrambled through the scullery window, which was unfastened, and so let
Molly in without disturbing anybody. They crept upstairs and managed to
get an hour’s rest before the breakfast bell rang.

Molly remembered to place her little box on the dressing-table before
she went to sleep, and when she woke she saw that the sun was streaming
right across it. So she sprang up eagerly and opened the box. Inside
was the most exquisite silver bangle that she had ever seen. Molly was
delighted, and she found afterward that it had indeed some special
charm about it, for she was always happy when wearing it and those
around her seemed the same.

At the breakfast-table Mother and Father seemed to the children to
glance at them rather curiously.

“Mother,” began Molly, “do you know who gave me this?” and she showed
her the silver bracelet.

“Yes,” said Mother to Molly’s surprise. “I know all about it.”

“Why, how did you?” asked Jack.

But “Ah!” was all Mother would say, and she and Father exchanged amused
glances.

It was a little puzzling. And even when there arrived by post for Jack
a long narrow box containing three paint-brushes, Mother and Father
never asked whom they were from, although there was no name inside.

“I suppose there’s no need for us to tell you all about our adventure,
if you know already?” remarked Jack. “Do you know everything?”

“Everything,” replied Mother, smiling.

Of course the grey pumpkin pincushion had entirely vanished from
Molly’s dressing-table, and she never set eyes on it again, though she
wrote and thanked Aunt Phœbe for her ‘useful present.’

Jack and Molly often wonder where the Grey Pumpkin and his spies
are. They have never seen any of them yet, though Molly has seen a
ticket-collector who reminds her somewhat of the old watchmaker. Both
children keep a watchful eye on all shops that sell hassocks, and
always glance eagerly round the room when they are invited out to tea
anywhere, but so far they have not come across the Grey Pumpkin.



Transcriber’s note


Text in italics has been surrounded with _underscores_, and small
capitals changed to all capitals. A table of Contents was missing in
the original, and has been added. The spelling of the name of Aunt
Phœbe has been made consistent. Some missing letters and punctuation
have been added. Otherwise the original has been preserved, including
inconsistent spelling and hyphenation.





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