Authors: Eva Ibbotson
‘It isn’t nice, it’s smelly , ’ g rumbled Mrs Brown. ‘I’ve always soaked my teeth in brandy and then I drink the brandy . That’s how I get my strength.’
And she had needed her strength, living in the Trottles’ basement helping to look after Raymond, but keeping an eye on Ben. She didn’t hold with the way Larina was bringing up Raymond; she could see how spoilt he was going to be and when he was three she’d handed him over to another nanny , b ut she wouldn’t let Larina turn her out – not with Ben to look after. Mrs Trottle might threaten her with the police if she said anything about the stolen baby, but the threat worked both ways. ‘If you turn me out, and the boy, I’ll tell them everything and who knows which of us they’ll believe,’ Nanny Brown had said.
So she’d stayed in Trottle Towers and helped with a bit of sewing and ironing and turned her back on what was going on in the nurseries upstairs. And she’d been able to see that Ben at least was brought up properly . S he couldn’t stop the servants ordering him about, but she saw to his table manners and that he spoke nicely and got his schooling and he was a credit to her.
That was the only thing that worried her – what would happen to Ben if she died. Mrs Trottle hated Ben; she’d stop at nothing to get him sent away. But I’m going to foil her, thought Nanny Brown. Oh yes, I’m going to stop her tricks.
‘There’s a burglar under my bed,’ she said now. ‘I feel it. Have a look.’
‘Now, Mrs Brown,’ said the nurse, ‘we don’t want to get silly ideas into our head, do we?’
‘It isn’t silly , ’ s a id Nanny peevishly. ‘London’s full of burglars, so why not under my bed?’
The nurse wouldn’t look though; she was one of the bossy ones. ‘What will your grandson say if you carry on like that?’ she said, and walked away with her behind swinging.
But when Ben came slowly down the ward, the old woman felt better at once. She’d been strict with him: no rude words, eating up every scrap you were given, yet she didn’t mind admitting that if she loved anyone in the world it was this boy. And the other patients smiled too as he passed their beds because he was always so polite and friendly , greeting them and remembering their names.
‘Hello, Nanny . ’
He always called her Nanny, not Grandma. She’d told him to, it sounded better. Now he laid a small bunch of lilies of the valley down beside her and she shook her head at him. ‘I told you not to waste your money.’ She’d left him a few pounds out of her pension when she went into hospital and told him it had to last. Waste was wicked, but her gnarled fingers closed round the bunch and she smiled.
‘How are you feeling?’ Ben asked.
‘Oh fine, fine,’ lied Nanny Brown. ‘And you? What’s been going on at home?’
Ben hesitated. He wanted to tell Nanny about his mysterious visitors, about how much he liked them . . . the strange feeling he’d had that they belonged to him. But he’d promised to say nothing and anyway he’d been wrong because they didn’t belong to him. So he just said: ‘Nothing much. I’ve got on to the football team and Raymond’s had another screaming fit.’
‘That’s hardly news,’ said Nanny Brown grimly . And then: ‘No one’s been bothering you? That Mr Fulton?’
‘No, not really . But . . . do you think you’re coming home soon, Nanny? It’s better when you’re there.’
Nanny patted his hand. ‘Bless you, of course I am. You just get on with your schooling and remember once you’re grown up, no one can tell you what to do.’
It would be a long time though till he was a man and Nanny looked very ill. Fear was bad; being afraid was about yourself and you had to fight it, but just for a moment he was very much afraid whether it was selfish or not.
It was very quiet in the ward when the visitors had gone. All the other patients lay back drowsily , glad to rest, but Nanny Brown sat up in bed as fierce as a sparrow hawk. There wasn’t much time to waste. And she was lucky: it was the nice nurse from the Philippines who came round to take temperatures. Celeste, she was called, and she had a lovely smile and a tiny red rose tucked into her hair behind her ear. You could only see it when she bent down, but it always made you feel better, knowing it was there.
‘Listen, dear, there’s something I want you to do for me. Will you get me a piece of paper and an envelope? It’s really important or I wouldn’t ask you.’
Celeste reached for Nanny’s wrist and began to take her pulse.
‘I’ll try, Mrs Brown,’ she said. ‘But you’ll have to wait till I’ve finished my rounds.’
And she didn’t forget. An hour later she came with the paper and a strong white envelope. ‘Have you got a pen?’
Nanny Brown nodded. ‘Thank you, dear; that’s a weight off my mind. You’re a good kind girl.’
Celeste smiled. ‘That’s all right.’ She looked closely at the old woman’s face. It wouldn’t be long now. ‘I’ll just make sure about the burglars,’ she said.
She bent down to look, and as she did so Nanny Brown could see the little red rose tucked in the jet black hair.
‘Bless you,’ she said – and then, feeling much better, she began to write.
‘Is simple,’ said Hans. ‘I bop ’im. I sack ’im. We go through gump.’
The others had returned from Fortlands in such a gloomy mood that the poor ogre could hardly bear it. He’d had a good sleep and when he heard what had happened in the restaurant, he decided that he should come forward and put things right.
Cor shook his head. It was tempting to let the giant bop Raymond on the head, tie him up in a sack and carry him back to the Island, but it couldn’t be done. He imagined the King and Queen unwrapping their stunned son like a trussed piglet . . . realizing that Raymond had had to be carried off by force.
‘He must come willingly, Hans,’ he said, ‘or the Queen will break her heart.’
Ernie Hobbs now glided towards the little summer house where they were sitting. He usually allowed himself a breather in the early evening and had left the other ghosts in charge of the gump.
‘Well, how’s it going?’
The Islanders told him.
Ernie nodded. ‘I’m afraid it’s a bad business. We’ve been keeping an eye on him and he’s been going downhill steadily . Mrs Trottle’s a fool and Mr Trottle’s never there – there’s no one to check him.’
‘I suppose there can be no doubt who Raymond is?’ asked Cor.
Ernie shook his head. ‘I saw her steal the baby. I saw her come back a year later with the baby in her arms. What’s more, he had the same comforter in his mouth. I noticed it particularly with it being on a gold ring. He’ll be the Prince all right.’
‘And what about Ben?’ asked Gurkintrude.
‘Ah, he’s a different kettle of fish, Ben is. Been here as long as Raymond and you couldn’t find a better lad. He can see ghosts too and never a squawk out of him. The servants treat him like dirt – take their tone from Mrs Trottle. It’ll be a bad day for the boy when his Grandma dies.’
He then glided off to watch Albert Fisher eat bangers and mash in his old house and make himself miserable, but first he promised the help of all the ghosts in the city if it was needed. ‘And not just ghosts – there’s all sorts would like to see things come right on the Island,’ he said.
He had no sooner gone than Ben came hurrying out of the house towards them, and Odge – who had been exercising her present in the shrubbery – crawled out with her suitcase and said ‘hello’.
‘How was your grandmother?’ Gurkie asked.
A shadow crossed Ben’s face. ‘She says she’s all right but she doesn’t look very well to me.’ And then: ‘How did it go at lunch?’
‘Raymond was awful,’ said Odge. ‘I think he’s disgusting. I think we should have a republic on the Island and not bother with a prince once the King and Queen are dead.’
!’ said Gurkie in a warning voice.
Odge hung her head. She had not meant to betray the reason for their journey any more than she had meant to ill-wish the Knickerbocker Glory, but she was a girl with strong feelings.
But Cor had come to a decision.
‘I think, Ben,’ he said, ‘that you are a boy who can keep a secret?’
‘Yes, sir, I am,’ said Ben without hesitation.
‘You see, we shall need your help. You know Raymond’s movements and where he sleeps and so on. So we had better explain why we are here.’
He then told him about the Island, about the sorrow of the King and Queen, about their quest.
Ben listened in silence and when they had finished his eyes were bright with wonder. ‘I always knew there had to be a place like that. I knew it!’ But he was amazed that Raymond had been stolen. ‘Mrs Trottle’s got his birth certificate framed in her room.’
‘Well, that just shows she’s a cheat, doesn’t it?’ said Odge. ‘Who’d want to frame a crummy birth certificate unless they had something to hide?’
‘Now, listen, Ben,’ the wizard went on, ‘we want you to take us to see Raymond when he’s alone. Do you know when that might be?’
‘Tonight would be good. The Trottles are going out and Mrs Flint’s meant to listen for him – that’s the cook – but all she does is switch the telly on full blast and stay in her sitting room.’
‘That will do then. And now we must think how to win Raymond’s trust and make him come with us. What sort of things does he like?’
This was difficult. Ben could think of a lot of things Raymond
like. After a pause he said: ‘Presents. He likes getting things.’
‘Ah, in that case—’
!’ Odge broke in most rudely. S he was clutching the suitcase and her green eye gave off beams of fury. ‘I won’t give this present to that pig of a boy.’
Cornelius rose. ‘How
you speak like that to your superiors?’
But Odge stood her ground. ‘This present is special. I brought it up from when it was tiny and it’s still a baby and I’m not going to give it to Raymond because he’s horrible. I’m going to give it to Ben.’
Gurkintrude now knelt down beside the hag. ‘Look, Odge, I know how you feel. But it’s our duty to bring back the Prince. The Queen trusted you as much as she trusted us and it was because you thought of such a lovely present for her son that she said you could come. You can’t let her down now.’
But it was Ben who changed her mind. ‘If you promise to do something, Odge, then you have to do it, you know that. And if giving Raymond . . . whatever it is . . . will help, then that’s part of the deal.’
‘Oh, all right,’ said Odge sulkily . ‘ But if he doesn’t treat it properly I’ll let my sisters loose on him, and that’s a promise.’
It was nine o’clock before the servants were settled in front of the telly and Ben could creep upstairs with his new friends.
Raymond was sitting up in bed with his ghetto-blaster going full tilt, wriggling in time to the music.
‘What do you want?’ he said to Ben. ‘I don’t need you. I haven’t got any homework to do today because tomorrow’s Saturday and anyway you’re supposed to stay in the kitchen.’
‘I’ve brought some people to see you,’ said Ben. ‘Visitors.’
The rescuers entered, and Ben introduced them – all except Hans who had to crawl through the door on his hands and knees and settled himself down with his eye shut.
Raymond stared at them. ‘They look funny , ’ he said. ‘Are they in fancy dress?’
‘No, Your Roy—’ began Cor and broke off. He had been about to call Raymond Your Royal Highness but it was too early to reveal the full truth. ‘We come from another place.’
‘What place?’ asked Raymond suspiciously .
‘It’s called the Island,’ said Gurkintrude. Feys are used to kissing children and being godmother to almost everyone, but Raymond, bulging out of his yellow silk pyjamas, looked so uninviting that she had to pretend he was a vegetable marrow before she could settle down beside him on the bed. ‘It’s a most beautiful place, Raymond. There are green fields with wild flowers growing in the grass and groves of ancient trees and rivers where the water is so clear that you can see all the stones on the bottom as if they were jewels.’
Raymond didn’t say anything, but at least he’d switched off his radio.
‘And all round the Island are beaches of white sand and rock pools and cliffs where the sea birds come to nest each spring.’
‘And there are seals and buzzards and rabbits and crabs,’ said Odge.
‘I don’t like crabs,’ said Raymond. ‘They pinch you. Is there a pier with slot machines and an amusement arcade?’
‘No. But you don’t need an amusement arcade – the dolphins will come and talk to you and the kelpies will take you on their backs and gallop through the waves.’
‘I don’t believe it,’ said Raymond. ‘You’re telling fibs.’
‘No, Raymond, it’s all true,’ said Gurkie, ‘and if you come with us we’ll show you.’
Cor opened his briefcase and took out a cardboard folder. ‘Perhaps you would like to see a picture of our King and Queen?’
He handed the photograph to Raymond. It wasn’t one of the official palace portraits with the royal family in their robes. The Queen was sitting on a rock by the sea with one hand trailing in the water. Her long hair was loose and she was smiling up at the King who looked down at her, his face full of pride. The picture had been taken before the Prince was stolen and what came out of it most was – happiness.
‘They look all right,’ said Raymond. ‘But they don’t look royal. They’re dressed like ordinary people. If I was royal I’d wear a gold uniform and medals.’
‘Then you’d look pretty silly by the sea,’ said Odge, ‘because the salt spray would make the gold braid go all green and nasty and your medals would clank and frighten away—’
‘Now, Odge!’ said Gurkie warningly .
‘Could I look?’ asked Ben – and Cor took the picture from Raymond and handed it to him.
Ben said nothing. He just stood looking at the photograph – looking and looking as if he could make himself part of it . . . as if he could vanish into the picture and stay there.
But now Raymond sat up very straight and pointed to the door. ‘Eeek!’ he shouted. ‘There’s a horrible thing there! An eye! It’s disgusting; it’s creepy. I want my Mummy!’
The others turned their heads in dismay. They knew how sensitive the ogre was and to call such a clean-living person ‘creepy’ is about as hurtful as it is possible to be. And sure enough, a tear welled up in Hans’ clear blue eye, trembled there . . . and fell. Then the eye vanished and from the space where the giant sat, there came a deep, unhappy sigh.