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CHAPTER III

THE PRINCESS WITH THE FORGET-ME-NOT EYES

• For, just when it thrills me most, The fairies change into phantoms cold,

And the beautiful dream is lost!'

· You are

Miss HORTENSIA was looking out for the little girls as they slowly came up the terraces.

There you are at last,' she called out. rather late, my dears. I have been round at the other side, thinking I saw you go out that way.'

'So we did,' said Ruby. We went down to the cove and along the shore as far as Oh, cousin Hortensia, we have had such adventures, and last of all, what do you think? Mavis has just seen a forgetme-not up in the sky.'

Miss Hortensia smiled at Mavis; she had a particular way of smiling at her, as if she was not perfectly sure if the little girl were quite like other people. But Mavis, though she understood this far better than her cousin imagined, never felt angry at it.

'A forget-me-not in the sky,' said the lady ; 'that is an odd idea. But you must tell me all your adventures when we are comfortably settled for the evening. Run in and take your things off quickly, for I don't want you to catch cold, and the air, now the sun is set, is chilly. There is a splendid fire burning, and we shall have tea in my room as I promised you.'

Oh, how nice,' said Ruby. Come along, Mavis. I'm as hungry as a hawk.'

* And you'll tell us stories after tea, cousin Hortensia, won't you?' said Mavis ; at least you'll tell us about your queer dream.'

* And about mamma's going to court,' added Ruby, as she dashed upstairs. For by this time they were inside the house.

The part of the castle that the children and their cousin and the few servants in attendance on them occupied was really only a corner of it. A short flight of stairs led up to a small gallery running round a side-hall, and out of this gallery opened their sleeping-rooms and what had been their nursery and play-rooms. The school-room and Miss Hortensia's own sitting-room were on the ground-floor. To get to any of the turrets was quite a long journey. They were approached by the great staircase which ascended from the large white and black tiled hall, dividing, after the first flight, into two branches, each of which led to passages from which other smaller stairs went upwards to the top of the house. The grandest rooms opened out of the tiled hall on the ground-floor, and out of the passages on the first floor. From this central part of the house the children's corner was shut off by heavy swing doors seldom opened.

So when Ruby and Mavis visited the turrets they had to pass through these doors, and go some way along the passages, and then up one of the side stairs -up, up, up, the flights of steps getting steeper and narrower as they climbed, till at last they reached the door of the turret-chamber itself. Of these chambers there were two, one in each turret, east and west. The west was their favourite, partly because from it they saw the sunset, and partly because it was nearer their own rooms. They had been allowed to make a sort of private nest of it for themselves, and to play there on rainy days when they could not get out, and sometimes in very cold or snowy weather they had a fire there, which made the queer old room very cheery. There were three windows in each turret, and they were furnished in an odd, irregular way with all sorts of quaint old-fashioned furniture discarded from other parts of the castle. In former days these turret-rooms had sometimes been used as guest-chambers when the house was very full of visitors. For the large modern rooms and the hall I have spoken of had been added by the children's grandfather-a very hospitable but extravagant man. And before he made these improvements there were often more guests than it was easy to find room for.

Ruby and Mavis were not long in taking off their out-door things and 'tidying' themselves for their evening in Miss Hortensia's pleasant little room. They made a pretty picture as they ran downstairs, their fair curls dancing on their shoulders, though if I were to describe to you how they were dressed, I am afraid

you

would think they must have been a very old-world looking little pair.

Here we are, cousin Hortensia,' exclaimed Ruby as they came in, “and I do hope it's nearly tea-time.”

'Not quite, my dear,' Miss Hortensia replied, glancing at a beautifully carved Swiss clock which stood on the mantelpiece ; 'the little trumpeter won't tell us

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it's six o'clock for half an hour yet—his dog has just barked twice.'

' Lazy things,' said Ruby, shrugging her shoulders, 'I'd like to shake that old trumpeter sometimes.'

And sometimes you'd like to pat him to sleep, wouldn't you ?' said Mavis. “When cousin Hortensia's telling us stories, and he says it's bed-time.'

Miss Hortensia looked at Mavis in some surprise, but she seemed very pleased too. It was not often Mavis spoke so brightly.

'Suppose you use up the half-hour in telling me stories,' said their cousin. "Mine will keep till after tea. What were all the adventures you met with ?'

Oh,' said Ruby, 'it was too queer. Did you know, cousin, that there was a short way home from the sea-shore near old Adam's cottage? Such a queer way;' and she went on to describe the path between the rocks.

Miss Hortensia looked very puzzled.

Who showed it to you?' she said ; for Ruby, in her helter-skelter way, had begun at the end of the story, without speaking of the boy Winfried, or explaining why they—or she—had been so curious about the old man whom the villagers called a wizard.

· It was the boy,' Mavis replied ; 'such a nice boy,

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