Authors: Eva Ibbotson
‘Is that it? Is that really gold?’ asked Raymond.
‘Yes, Your Highness,’ said Cor. He blew on the metal, cooled it and handed it to Raymond.
‘And if I come to the Island can you make more of it? As much as I want?’
The wizard nodded. ‘Yes, Your Highness.’ He could have said that no one used gold on the Island – that they either swopped things or gave them away, but he didn’t.
‘Then I’ll come,’ said Raymond Trottle.
‘Hurry up, boy,’ said Mr Fulton, giving Ben a push. ‘You’ve got the potatoes to bring in from the cellar still, and there’s the brass strip to polish and the milk bottles to swill.’
The butler was a tall, grim man who ruled with a rod of iron and never smiled.
‘He’s in a dream this morning,’ said Mrs Flint. ‘I’ve had to tell him three times to wipe down the stove.’ Cooks are often fat and cheerful but she was thin and cross and seemed to hate the food she prepared.
Only the housemaid, Rosita, gave Ben a kind glance. The boy looked thoroughly washed out, as though he hadn’t slept.
Rosita was right. Ben had scarcely closed his eyes after he crept in from the park the night before. He was glad, of course, that Raymond had agreed to go with the rescuers; he
to be glad. Cor and Gurkie had been so relieved that their job was done, but as he dragged the heavy sack of potatoes up the cellar steps he felt as wretched as he had ever felt in his life.
In half an hour, Raymond would leave the house and never come back. On Monday morning, he went to the house of a Mrs Frankenheimer who gave him exercises to cure his flat feet and knock knees. Mrs Frankenheimer was very easy-going and wouldn’t notice if he didn’t turn up, and he was going to meet the rescuers at the corner of her street instead of going to school. Just about the time that Ben would be sitting in his classroom and opening his arithmetic book, Raymond would be stepping out on to the sands of the Secret Cove.
As he went to fetch his school bag, Ben’s foot bumped against the cat tray under his bed. He had already almost house-trained the mistmaker even in the three days he had hidden him in his room. The animal was incredibly intelligent and the realization that he would never see him again suddenly seemed more than he could bear.
Ben had accepted his life – the early morning chores, the drudgery again when he came home at night, but that was before he had found people who really understood him and were his friends.
And he had quarrelled with Odge.
‘You’re coming with us, of course,’ Odge had said. ‘You’re coming to the Island.’
And he’d said: ‘I can’t, Odge.’
The hag had been furious. ‘Of course you can. If you’re worried about Raymond being such a pain you needn’t be because if he isn’t any better by the time he’s grown up, I’ll start a revolution and have his head chopped off; you can rely on that!’
‘It isn’t Raymond, Odge. I don’t care about him. It’s my grandmother. She took me in because I had nobody and I can’t leave her now she’s ill. You must see that.’
But Odge hadn’t seen it. She’d stamped her feet and called him names and even when Cor had agreed with Ben and said you had to stand by people who had helped you, she went off in a huff.
Well, it didn’t matter now. He’d never see any of them again.
Ben usually liked school but this morning the shabby old building, with the high windows, made him feel as though he was in a trap. And to make things worse, his usual teacher was ill and the student who took over was obviously terrified of kids. It would be uproar all morning, thought Ben – and he was right.
At break he didn’t join his friends but went off on his own to a corner of the play-yard. You had to take one day at a time when things were bad, Nanny had said. ‘You can always take just one more step, Ben,’ she told him, but today it seemed as though the steps would lead down the greyest, dreariest road he could imagine.
There was a grating in the asphalt, covering a drain, and he crouched down beside it, wondering if the Plodger was somewhere near by in his wellies . . . and that made him think of Melisande and the nuckel with his interesting face . . . Well, that was over, and for ever. He’d never see magic again, not an ordinary boy like him.
For a moment, he wondered whether to change his mind. The gump was still open. The rescuers had trusted him; they had told him where it was. They hadn’t told Raymond, but they’d told him. He closed his eyes and saw the three-masted sailing ship parting the waves . . . saw the green hump of the Island with its golden sands, and the sun shining on the roofs of the palace . . .
Then the picture vanished and there was another picture in its stead. An old woman lying in a high hospital bed, shrunken, ill, watching for him as he came down the ward.
The teacher blew her whistle. The children began to stream back into the building, but Ben still lingered.
Then he looked up. A small girl was coming across the road towards him. She wore an old-fashioned blazer; her thick black hair was yanked into two pigtails, and she was scowling.
Ben scrambled to his feet. He tried to be sensible – he really tried – but a lump had come into his throat and he stretched his hand through the bars like a prisoner.
‘Oh, Odge,’ he said. ‘I am so
pleased to see you!’
Raymond had not kept his promise. He had not turned up at the corner of Mrs Frankenheimer’s street as he said he would. They had waited and waited, but he had not come.
‘We should have known that the pig boy would double cross us,’ said Odge. ‘The others are in an awful state. Gurkie keeps saying that if she’d been a fuath it wouldn’t have happened, which is perfectly ridiculous.’
‘What’s a fuath?’
‘Oh, some really vile swamp fairy with all sorts of nasty habits. And the giant keeps talking about bopping and sacking and how it was all his fault because he didn’t – and the wizard looks about two hundred years old. He really loves the King and Queen.’
‘But where is Raymond, then?’
‘Well, that’s it; nobody knows. He’s not in the house – the ghosts have haunted all over. Mrs Trot-tle’s gone as well – Ernie thinks that Raymond must have blabbed and she’s done a bunk with him. And it’s serious, Ben. There are only five more days till the Closing. He’s got to be found.’
Ben drew himself up to his full height, and the hag thought how fearless he looked suddenly , how strong. ‘Don’t worry , O dge. We’ll find him; I absolutely know we will.’
Ernie was right. Raymond had blabbed. When his mother came to wake him and told him to hurry or he’d be late for Mrs Frankenheimer, Raymond yawned and said: ‘I don’t have to go to Mrs Frankenheimer again. Not ever.’
Mrs Trottle sat down on the edge of his bed, sending waves of Maneater over the coverlet, and put her pudgy hand on Raymond’s forehead.
‘Now, don’t be difficult, sweetikins. You know Mrs Frankenheimer is going to make your feet all beautiful – and you really can’t miss school again. The headmaster was quite cross last week. Just think if you were expelled and had to go to a common school with ordinary children.’
Raymond stretched his arms behind his head and smirked. ‘I don’t have to go to school again either. I’m never going to school any more. I’m a prince.’
‘Well, of course, you’re a prince to your Mummy, dear,’ said Mrs Trottle, giving him a lipsticky kiss. ‘But—’
‘Not that kind of prince; I’m really one. I’m going to go away and rule over hundreds of people on a secret island.’
‘Yes, dear,’ said Mrs Trottle. ‘That’s a very nice dream you’ve had but now please get dressed.’
‘It’s not a dream,’ said Raymond crossly . ‘ They told me. The old man in the park. And the lady with the beetroot in her hat. I’m going to be a famous ruler and I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to ever again.’
Mrs Trottle went on tutting and taking no notice. Then as she picked up Raymond’s jacket, which he had thrown on the floor, she noticed grass stains on it, and in his buttonhole, a spray of ivy. Her eyes narrowed.
‘Raymond! What is the meaning of this? You’ve been out after I put you to bed!’
Raymond shrugged. ‘You can’t tell me what to do now,’ he said. ‘And Dad can’t either because I’m a prince and they’re coming to show me the secret way back this morning.’
Mrs Trottle now became very alarmed. She hurried into Mr Trottle’s dressing room and said: ‘Landon, I think Raymond’s in danger. People have been giving him drugs – dreadful drugs – to make him believe all sorts of things. It’s a plot to kidnap him and hold us up to ransom, I’m sure of it.’
‘Nonsense,’ said Mr Trottle, stepping into his trousers. ‘Who would want to kidnap Raymond?’
This was not a fatherly thing to say, but Mr Trot-tle’s mind was on the bank.
‘Anyone who knows we’re rich. I’m serious. They’ve persuaded him that he’s a prince so as to lure him away.’
‘Well, he isn’t, is he?’ said Mr Trottle.
‘Landon, will you please listen to me. I’m very worried.’
‘Then why don’t you contact the police?’
‘Certainly not!’ There were all sorts of reasons why Mrs Trottle didn’t want the police snooping around in Trottle Towers. Then suddenly: ‘I’m going to take Raymond away. I’m going into hiding. Now. This instant. You can stay here and change the locks and look out for anything sinister.’
She wouldn’t wait a minute longer. Mrs Trottle was a stupid woman but when it came to protecting her son, she could move like greased lightning. Taking no notice as Raymond snivelled and whined and said he was a prince, he really was, she packed a suitcase. Half an hour later, she and Raymond drove away in a taxi, and no one who worked in Trottle Towers knew where they had gone.
The search for Raymond went on all that day and well into the next.
Everyone helped. The Ghosts of the Gump got in touch with the ghosts in all the other railway stations and soon there wasn’t a train which drew out of London without a spectre gliding down the carriages looking for a fat boy with a wobble in his walk and his even wobblier mother.
The mermaids and the water nymphs checked out the river boats in case the Trottles meant to escape by sea. The enchanter’s special pigeons flew the length and breadth of the land delivering notes to road workers and garage men who might have seen the Trottles’ car – and the train spotter called Brian (the one who got between the buffers and the 9.15 from Peterborough) sat all day by the computer at Heathrow, checking the passenger lists, though electricity is about the worst thing that can happen to a spectre’s ectoplasm.
Ben had not returned to school after Odge came for him. He’d asked the headmaster for the afternoon off and because he’d looked so peaky when he first came, the head had agreed.
‘Don’t come back till you’re properly well,’ he had said – and that was something he didn’t say to a lot of children.
But though Ben searched Trottle Towers for clues and tried to get what he could out of the servants, he too drew a blank. Mr Trottle had returned at lunchtime with a locksmith and told everyone that his wife and son would be away for a long time. And that was all that anybody could discover.
Ben’s first thought was that Mrs Trottle had taken Raymond to her home in Scotland, but one of the banshees, who came from Glasgow, telephoned the station master at Achnasheen and he swore there was no sign of the Trottles.
‘You’d notice them soon enough,’ he’d said, ‘with their posh kilts they’ve got no right to wear, and their bossy ways.’
The rescuers had returned to the summer house which now became the headquarters of the search. They had bought some blankets, and a primus and kettle, and some folding chairs – and Hans had painted up the notice saying
PRIVATE: NO ADMITTANCE
which blocked the path. Fortunately the Head Keeper was on holiday so nobody disturbed them, but just to make sure Gurkie had spoken to the bushes who grew so thick and tangled that anybody passing by could see nothing. She had planted out the beetroot from her hat because people did seem to stare rather, and to stop it being lonely she had made a vegetable patch from which huge leeks and lettuces erupted. And a pink begonia on the other side of the lake had made such a fuss because it wanted to be near her that she’d moved it so as to grow beside the wooden steps.
But even though she could feed everyone and make them comfortable, Gurkie still worried dreadfully and thought she should have been a fuath.
‘No, you shouldn’t, Gurkie,’ said Ben firmly. ‘You being a fuath, whatever that is, is a perfectly horrible idea and it wouldn’t have helped at all.’
Nor would he let the giant moan on because he hadn’t bopped and sacked the Prince.
‘Raymond’ll be found, I’m absolutely sure of it,’ said Ben.
Ben was changing, thought Odge; he was becoming someone to rely on. She watched as he put down a bowl of milk for the mistmaker. The animal had taken to lurching after Ben wherever he went and making offended noises when he wasn’t immediately scratched on the stomach or picked up and spoken to. There was going to be a fuss from the mistmaker when they had to go back and part from Ben, thought Odge, and she wondered whether she should kill Ben’s grandmother. Killing people was the sort of thing hags were meant to do but it had not been allowed on the Island and without any practice it was probably a bad idea.
But what mattered now was finding Raymond. All that afternoon, all the evening and well into the night, they searched and searched – the wizards and the witches, the ghosts and the banshees and the trolls . . . and as soon as day broke they began again – but it was beginning to look as though Raymond and his mother had vanished from the face of the earth.
The Queen leant out of her bedroom window. She leant out so far that she would have fallen but for a dwarf whom the King had put in charge of holding her feet. He had been holding her feet for days now because she did nothing except look out to sea and watch for the three-masted ship.
‘Oh, where is it?’ she said for the hundredth time. ‘Why doesn’t it come?’
There were men all over the Island peering through telescopes, the dolphins searched the seas, and the talking birds – the minahs and the parrots – were never out of the air. The instant the ship was sighted, rockets would flare up, but the Queen went on watching, her long hair streaming over the sill, as though by doing so she could will her son to come to her.