Two complementing novels of fantastic adventure for young readers in one volume
There can be little doubt that contemporary authors of children’s fiction whose stories place ordinary children in tales of high adventure, in fantastical lands populated by exotic and mythical characters and creatures, owe an abiding debt to Edith Nesbit. It is widely accepted that she originated this form of fiction for the young, and has left us not only her own classics such as ‘Five Children and It’ and ‘The Phoenix and the Carpet,’ but also potentially offered inspiration for perennial favourites by other writers from, ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ to the internationally successful Harry Potter series. This fourth special volume of her stories from Leonaur brings together ‘The Enchanted Castle’ and ‘The Magic City.’ Although not strictly part of a series these two books have a common theme which is central to the power and potential for imagination in children’s play. Young heroes and heroines embark on their adventures in real life places which are then magically transformed into fantastic realms. As always these novels offer mature readers a nostalgic passport to more innocent times and introduce young readers to Edith Nesbit’s wonderfully crafted descriptive and evocative but economic prose.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
“I’ll not go in yet,” he told himself; “it’s too early. And perhaps I shall never be here at night again. I suppose it is the night that makes everything look so different.”
Something white moved under a weeping willow; white hands parted the long, rustling leaves. A white figure came out, a creature with horns and goat’s legs and the head and arms of a boy. And Gerald was not afraid. That was the most wonderful thing of all, though he would never have owned it. The white thing stretched its limbs, rolled on the grass, righted itself and frisked away across the lawn. Still something white gleamed under the willow; three steps nearer and Gerald saw that it was the pedestal of a statue—empty.
“They come alive,” he said; and another white shape came out of the Temple of Flora and disappeared in the laurels. “The statues come alive.”
There was a crunching of the little stones in the gravel of the drive. Something enormously long and darkly grey came crawling towards him, slowly, heavily. The moon came out just in time to show its shape. It was one of those great lizards that you see at the Crystal Palace, made in stone, of the same awful size which they were millions of years ago when they were masters of the world, before Man was.
“It can’t see me,” said Gerald. “I am not afraid. It’s come to life, too.”
As it writhed past him he reached out a hand and touched the side of its gigantic tail. It was of stone. It had not “come alive” as he had fancied, but was alive in its stone. It turned, however, at the touch; but Gerald also had turned, and was running with all his speed towards the house. Because at that stony touch Fear had come into the garden and almost caught him. It was Fear that he ran from, and not the moving stone beast.
He stood panting under the fifth window; when he had climbed to the window-ledge by the twisted ivy that clung to the wall, he looked back over the grey slope—there was a splashing at the fish-pool that had mirrored the stars—the shape of the great stone beast was wallowing in the shallows among the lily-pads.
Once inside the room, Gerald turned for another look. The fish-pond lay still and dark, reflecting the moon. Through a gap in the drooping willow the moonlight fell on a statue that stood calm and motionless on its pedestal. Everything was in its place now in the garden. Nothing moved or stirred.
“How extraordinarily rum!” said Gerald. “I shouldn’t have thought you could go to sleep walking through a garden and dream—like that.”
He shut the window, lit a match, and closed the shutters. Another match showed him the door. He turned the key, went out, locked the door again, hung the key on its usual nail, and crept to the end of the passage. Here he waited, safe in his invisibility, till the dazzle of the matches should have gone from his eyes, and he be once more able to find his way by the moonlight that fell in bright patches on the floor through the barred, unshuttered windows of the hall.
“Wonder where the kitchen is,” said Gerald. He had quite forgotten that he was a detective. He was only anxious to get home and tell the others about that extraordinarily odd dream that he had had in the gardens. “I suppose it doesn’t matter what doors I open. I’m invisible all right still, I suppose? Yes; can’t see my hand before my face.” He held up a hand for the purpose. “Here goes!”
He opened many doors, wandered into long rooms with furniture dressed in brown holland covers that looked white in that strange light, rooms with chandeliers hanging in big bags from the high ceilings, rooms whose walls were alive with pictures, rooms whose walls were deadened with rows on rows of old books, state bedrooms in whose great plumed four-posters Queen Elizabeth had no doubt slept. (That Queen, by the way, must have been very little at home, for she seems to have slept in every old house in England.) But he could not find the kitchen. At last a door opened on stone steps that went up—there was a narrow stone passage—steps that went down—a door with a light under it. It was, somehow, difficult to put out one’s hand to that door and open it.
“Nonsense!” Gerald told himself, “don’t be an ass! Are you invisible, or aren’t you?”
Then he opened the door, and someone inside said something in a sudden rough growl.
Gerald stood back, flattened against the wall, as a man sprang to the doorway and flashed a lantern into the passage.
“All right,” said the man, with almost a sob of relief. “It was only the door swung open, it’s that heavy—that’s all.”
“Blow the door!” said another growling voice; “blessed if I didn’t think it was a fair cop that time.”
They closed the door again. Gerald did not mind. In fact, he rather preferred that it should be so. He didn’t like the look of those men. There was an air of threat about them. In their presence even invisibility seemed too thin a disguise. And Gerald had seen as much as he wanted to see. He had seen that he had been right about the gang. By wonderful luck—beginner’s luck, a card-player would have told him he had discovered a burglary on the very first night of his detective career. The men were taking silver out of two great chests, wrapping it in rags, and packing it in baize sacks. The door of the room was of iron six inches thick. It was, in fact, the strong-room, and these men had picked the lock. The tools they had done it with lay on the floor, on a neat cloth roll, such as wood-carvers keep their chisels in.
“Hurry up!” Gerald heard. “You needn’t take all night over it.”
The silver rattled slightly. “You’re a rattling of them trays like bloomin’ castanets,” said the gruffest voice. Gerald turned and went away, very carefully and very quickly. And it is a most curious thing that, though he couldn’t find the way to the servants wing when he had nothing else to think of, yet now, with his mind full, so to speak, of silver forks and silver cups, and the question of who might be coming after him down those twisting passages, he went straight as an arrow to the door that led from the hall to the place he wanted to get to.
As he went the happenings took words in his mind.
“The fortunate detective,” he told himself, “having succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, himself left the spot in search of assistance.”
But what assistance? There were, no doubt, men in the house, also the aunt; but he could not warn them.