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The Castle of Adventure, Page 3

Enid Blyton

  She was an odd girl. Sometimes she would not come near them but hovered about, some yards off, looking at Kiki with fascinated eyes. Sometimes she walked close to them, and listened to their talk, though she never said very much herself.

  She looked with admiration and envy on the simple clothes of the two girls. Sometimes she took the stuff they were made of between her fingers and felt it. She never wore anything but a ragged frock that looked as if it had been made from a dirty sack. Her wild, curly hair was in a tangle, and she was always barefoot.

  ‘I don’t mind her being barefoot, but she’s rather dirty,’ said Lucy-Ann to Dinah. ‘I don’t believe she ever has a bath.’

  ‘Well, she’s probably not seen a bath in her life,’ said Dinah. ‘She looks awfully healthy though, doesn’t she? I’ve never seen anyone with such bright eyes and pink cheeks and white teeth. Yet I bet she never cleans her teeth.’

  On enquiry, it was found that Tassie didn’t know what a bath was. Dinah took her into Spring Cottage and showed her the big tin bath they all used. Her mother was there and looked at the wild girl in amazement.

  ‘Whoever is that dirty little girl?’ she asked Lucy-Ann in a low voice. ‘She’d better have a bath.’

  Lucy-Ann knew Mrs Mannering would say that. Mothers thought a lot about people being clean. But when Dinah explained to Tassie what having a bath meant, Tassie looked scared. She shrank back in horror at the thought of sitting down in water.

  ‘Now you listen to me,’ said Mrs Mannering firmly. ‘If you like to let me give you a bath and scrub you well, I’ll find a cotton frock of Dinah’s for you, and a ribbon for your hair.’

  The thought of this finery thrilled Tassie to such an extent that she consented to have a bath. So she was shut up in the kitchen with Dinah’s mother, a bath of hot water and plenty of soap.

  After a bit such agonised shrieks came from the kitchen that the children in the garden outside wondered what could be happening. Then they heard Mrs Mannering’s firm voice.

  ‘Sit down properly. Get wet all over. Now don’t be silly, Tassie. Think of that pretty blue cotton frock over there.’

  More shrieks. Evidently Tassie had sat down but didn’t like it. There came the sound of scrubbing.

  ‘Your mother’s doing the job thoroughly,’ said Jack, with a grin. ‘Pooh, what a smell of carbolic!’

  In half an hour’s time Tassie came out of the kitchen, looking quite different. Her tanned face and arms were now only dark with sunburn, not with dirt. Her hair was washed and brushed, and tied back with a blue ribbon. She wore a blue cotton frock of Dinah’s and on her feet she actually had a pair of old rubber shoes!

  ‘Oh, Tassie – you look fine!’ said Lucy-Ann, and Tassie looked pleased. She fancied herself very much indeed in her new clothes, and kept stroking the blue frock as if it was a cat.

  ‘I smell nice,’ she said, evidently liking the smell of carbolic soap better than the others did. ‘But that bath was dreadful. How often do you have a bath? Once a year?’

  Tassie was extraordinary. She could not read or write, and yet, like a Red Indian, she could read the signs in the woods and fields in a way that really astonished the children. She was more like a very intelligent animal than a little girl. She attached herself to Philip and also to Kiki, and plainly thought that he and the parrot were the most admirable members of the party.

  The day after her bath, she came down to the cottage and looked in at the window. She held something in her arms and the others wondered what it was.

  ‘There’s Tassie,’ said Lucy-Ann. ‘She’s got her blue frock on. But her hair’s all in a tangle again. And whatever has she got round her neck?’

  ‘Her shoes!’ said Philip with a grin. ‘I knew she wouldn’t wear those long! She’s so used to being barefooted that shoes would hurt her. But she can’t bear to part with them, so she’s strung them round her neck.’

  ‘What has she got in her arms?’ said Dinah curiously. ‘Tassie, come in and show us what you’ve got.’

  Tassie grinned, showing all her even white teeth, and went round to the back door. She appeared in the kitchen, and Philip gave a yell.

  ‘It’s a fox cub! Oh, the pretty little thing! Tassie, where did you get it?’

  ‘From its den,’ said Tassie. ‘I knew where a fox family lived, you see.’

  Philip took the little cub in his arms. It was the prettiest thing imaginable, with its sharp little nose, its small brush-tail and its thick red coat. It lay quivering in Philip’s arms, looking up at him.

  Before many seconds had passed the spell that Philip seemed to put on all animals fell upon the fox cub. It crept up to his neck and licked him. It cuddled against him. It showed him in every way it could that it loved him.

  ‘You’ve got a wonderful way with animals,’ said his mother. ‘Just like your father had. What a dear little cub, Philip! Where are you going to keep it? You will have to keep it in some sort of cage, won’t you, or it will run off.’

  ‘Of course not, Mother!’ said Philip scornfully. ‘I shall train it to run to heel, like a puppy. It will soon learn.’

  ‘Well, but foxes are such wild creatures,’ said his mother doubtfully. But no creature was wild with Philip. Before two hours had gone by the cub was scampering at Philip’s heels, begging to be taken into his arms whenever the boy stopped.

  Philip’s liking for the little wild girl increased very much after that. He found that she knew an amazing amount about animals and their ways.

  ‘She’s like Philip’s dog, always following him about,’ said Dinah. ‘Fancy anyone wanting to follow Philip!’

  Dinah was not feeling very fond of her brother at that moment. He had four beetles just then, which he said he was training to be obedient to certain commands. He kept them in his bedroom, but they wandered about in a manner that was most terrifying to poor Dinah.

  Kiki disliked Philip’s fox cub very much and scolded it vigorously whenever she saw it. But Tassie she loved, and flew to her shoulder as soon as she saw her, murmuring nonsense into her ear. Tassie, of course, was delighted about this, and felt enormously proud when Kiki came to her.

  ‘You may think Tassie simply adores you but you come second to Kiki, all the same!’ Dinah told Philip with a laugh.

  ‘I wish Kiki would leave Button alone,’ said Philip. Button was the name he had given to the little fox cub, which, like Tassie, followed him about whenever it could. ‘Kiki is really behaving badly about Button. I suppose she’s jealous.’

  ‘How many times have I told you to wipe your feet?’ Kiki demanded of Button. ‘Where’s your handkerchief? God save the weasel! Pop goes the Queen!’

  The children yelled with laughter. It was always funny when Kiki got mixed up in her sentences. Kiki regarded them solemnly, head on one side.

  ‘Attention, please! Open your book at page six.’

  ‘Shut up, Kiki! You remind me of school!’ said Jack. ‘I say, you others – I saw that eagle again today. It was soaring over the hill-top, and its wing spread was terrific. I’m sure it’s got a nest up there.’

  ‘Well, let’s go up and find it,’ said Dinah. ‘I’m longing to have a squint at that old castle, anyway. Even if we can’t go up the road that has landslided – or is it land-slid? – we can get as close to it as possible and see what it’s like.’

  ‘Yes – let’s do something exciting,’ said Lucy-Ann. ‘Let’s take our tea out, and go up the hill as far as we can. You can look for eagles’ nests, Jack, and we’ll have a look at the old castle. It looks so strange and mysterious up there, frowning down at the valley, as if it had some secret to hide.’

  ‘It’s empty, you know,’ said Philip. ‘Probably full of mice and spiders and bats, but otherwise empty.’

  ‘Oooh, don’t let’s go inside then,’ said Dinah at once. ‘I’d rather find an eagle’s nest than get mixed up with bats inside the old castle!’


  The way to the castle

  ‘We’re going u
p to the top of the hill, Mother,’ said Philip. ‘Hunting for an eagle’s nest, to please old Jack. He’s seen that eagle again. We won’t go up the road, so you needn’t worry – the road to the castle, I mean.’

  ‘Take your tea with you,’ said his mother. ‘I shall be glad to be rid of you all for the afternoon! I can do some reading for a change!’

  She and Dinah cut sandwiches, and packed up cake and fruit and milk. Philip took the knapsack with the food, and whistled to Button, who now answered to his name or a whistle for all the world as if he were a dog.

  Button came running to him, giving little sharp barks. He was a most attractive cub and even Mrs Mannering liked him, though she said he smelt a bit strong sometimes. She objected to Button sleeping on Philip’s bed, and she and Philip had lengthy arguments about this.

  ‘Your bedroom’s full of all kinds of creatures already,’ she said. ‘There’s that hedgehog always in and out of your room now – and yesterday there was something jumping about all over the place.’

  Dinah shuddered. She never went into Philip’s room if she could help it.

  ‘It was only old Terence the Toad,’ said Philip. ‘I’ve got him somewhere about me now, so he won’t be leaping about in my bedroom. I’ll show him to you – he’s got the most beautiful eyes you ever . . .’

  ‘No, Philip,’ said his mother firmly. ‘I don’t want to see him. Don’t disturb him.’

  Philip stopped ferreting about his person, and put on an injured expression. ‘Nobody ever . . .’ he began, but Button took his attention by trying to climb up his leg to get into his arms. ‘What’s the matter, Button? Has Kiki been teasing you again? Has she been pulling your tail?’

  The fox cub chattered to him, and finally settled down comfortably on the top of the knapsack which Philip had slung across his back. ‘Where are the others?’ said Philip. ‘Oh, there they are. Hi, everyone, are you ready?’

  They set off up the winding roadway, narrow and steep, just wide enough to take a cart. Tassie soon appeared from somewhere, still wearing the cotton frock, though it was now torn and dirty. She had the rubber shoes tied round her waist that day. It amused the children that she always brought them with her, although she never wore them.

  ‘Her feet must be as hard as nails,’ said Jack. ‘She never seems to mind treading on the sharpest stones!’

  Tassie attached herself to Philip and Button. Kiki addressed a few amiable remarks to her, and then flew off over the rookery to startle the rooks with her realistic cawings. They could never get over their astonishment at this performance, and listened in silence until Kiki talked like a human being, when they all flew away in disgust.

  The children went on up the road. It was very hot that afternoon, and they panted and puffed as they climbed. ‘Why did we choose an afternoon like this to go up to the castle?’ said Philip.

  Tassie stopped. ‘To the castle?’ she said. ‘You can’t go this way. The road up above is blocked. You can only get round the back now.’

  ‘Well, we want to see what there is to be seen,’ said Philip. ‘I’d like to see this landslide or whatever it is. We won’t climb about on it, because we said we wouldn’t. But I’d like to see it.’

  ‘I’d like to go right into the castle,’ said Jack.

  ‘No, no!’ said Tassie, her eyes widening as if she was scared. The others looked at her with interest.

  ‘Why not?’ asked Jack. ‘It’s empty, isn’t it?’

  ‘No, it’s not empty,’ said Tassie. ‘There are voices and cryings and the sound of feet. It is not a good place to go.’

  ‘You’ve been listening to gossip,’ said Philip. ‘Who would be there now? There’s no coming and going, there’s no one ever seen about the castle! It’s only the owls hooting there, or the bats squeaking or something.’

  ‘What’s the old story about the castle?’ asked Dinah.

  ‘Do you know it, Tassie?’

  ‘It’s said that a wicked man lived there once, who got people to visit him in his castle – and they were never heard of again,’ said Tassie, speaking in a low voice as if she was afraid that the wicked man, whoever he was, might hear her. ‘They heard cries and groans, and the clashing of swords. It is said, too, that he used to lock people up in hidden rooms, and starve them to death.’

  ‘What a nice old man!’ said Philip, with a laugh. ‘I don’t believe a word of it. You always get these stories about old places. I expect some half-mad old fellow came along, bought the old castle, patched it up, and lived there pretending to be an old-time baron or something. He must have been mad to live in a lonely place like that.’

  ‘He had plenty of horses, they say, and they used this road every day,’ said Tassie. ‘Did you notice how here and there, in the steepest places, the road was cobbled? That was to help the horses.’

  ‘Yes, I did notice a cobbled bit just now,’ said Philip. The others were silent for a minute. Somehow the fact that the road really was cobbled here and there made them think there might be something in the story Tassie had told them.

  ‘Anyway, that all happened years ago, and the old man’s gone, and nobody’s there,’ said Philip. ‘I’d love to explore all over the castle. Wouldn’t you, Jack?’

  ‘Rather!’ said Jack. And Kiki agreed, swaying to and fro on his shoulder. ‘Rather,’ said Kiki, ‘rather, rather, rather, ra . . .’

  ‘Kiki, get off my shoulder for a bit,’ panted Jack. ‘You feel jolly heavy up this hill.’

  ‘Kiki, I’ll have you!’ said Tassie, and Kiki flew to her at once, informing her that she had better open her book at page six. Tassie did not pant and puff as the others did. She was like a goat, the way she sprang up the steepest places and never seemed in the least tired.

  ‘Hallo – we’re a good way up at last!’ said Philip, wiping his hot forehead. ‘Look, the road goes all strange here.’

  So it did. It could no longer be called a road, for part of the hillside had fallen away and had piled itself on the road and all around. Enormous boulders of rock lay where they had rolled, and the stumps of trees showed where the moving hillside had cut them into pieces.

  The children gazed over the untidy, rock-strewn landscape. ‘It looks as if an earthquake had upset it,’ said Lucy-Ann.

  Beyond the landslide stood the castle, looking even more enormous now. The children could see how strongly built it was, and could see two of the square towers, with the long battlemented wall stretching between them.

  ‘I’d like to go up into one of those towers,’ said Philip longingly. ‘What a marvellous view we’d get!’

  ‘The castle isn’t really right on top of the hill,’ said Jack, ‘though it looks as if it is from down below. Doesn’t it look fierce, somehow!’

  It did. None of the children thought it was a very nice castle. It seemed to be such a lonely, strange, sinister place. It frowned over the hillside, and was not at all welcoming. All the same, it was exciting.

  ‘Tassie, how do we get to the back of it?’ asked Philip, turning to the little girl. ‘We could climb over this landslide bit, I suppose, but we said we wouldn’t, and anyhow some of those boulders look as if they would like to go rolling over and over down the hillside if anybody gave them a little push!’

  ‘There’s my eagle again!’ cried Jack suddenly, in excitement, and he pointed to a big bird that rose soaring in the air, above the castle. ‘See it? It is an eagle, no doubt about it. Isn’t it enormous? I bet it’s got a nest somewhere about. Oh golly, there’s another of them, look!’

  Sure enough there were two magnificent eagles rising in the air. They rose higher and higher, and the children watched them, fascinated.

  ‘How do they soar upwards like that without moving their wings?’ asked Lucy-Ann. ‘I could understand it if they soared downwards – glide, you know – but to go up and up and up – gracious, they’re only just specks.’

  ‘They use air-currents I expect,’ said Jack. ‘Must be plenty on a hill-top. Two eagles – and together.
Well, that settles it – there must be a nest!’

  ‘You’re not thinking of taming a young eagle, I hope?’ said Dinah, in alarm.

  ‘Don’t worry. Kiki would never let Jack have a tame eagle,’ said Lucy-Ann.

  This was true, and Dinah heaved a sigh of relief.

  ‘They rose from somewhere behind the castle as far as I could see,’ said Jack eagerly. ‘Let’s go round and see if we can find out where their nest is. Come on.’

  They left the strange, untidy landslide, and, following Tassie, made their way to the east, climbing over the hillside with difficulty. Tassie led them to a winding little path, narrow but safe.

  ‘Whose path is this?’ said Dinah in surprise.

  ‘The rabbits’ path,’ said Tassie. ‘There are millions here. They make quite good little paths all over the place.’

  ‘I can’t go any further!’ panted Lucy-Ann after some while. ‘I’m tired out. Let’s rest and have our tea. The eagles’ nest won’t run away.’

  Everyone thought that was a good idea. They flopped down on the grass, panting. Philip slung his knapsack round to his chest and undid it. He handed out the food, and then lay flat on the ground. Button immediately began to lick his face all over.

  It was lovely to have a drink, though there wasn’t nearly enough. No one seemed very hungry, but Button and Kiki managed quite a few sandwiches between them. Tassie had a few too. She was the least tired out of any of them. She sat and scratched Kiki’s head, whilst the others lay flat on the hillside.

  They soon recovered and sat up. Philip heard the trickling of water somewhere near by and went to investigate. He still felt terribly thirsty. He called back to the others:

  ‘The spring that runs past our cottage runs here. It’s lovely and cold. Anyone want a drink?’

  Everybody did. They got up and went to the little spring that gushed out from a hole in the hillside and then ran and leapt over the pebbly bed until it once more disappeared into the earth, to come out again further down.