The Twilight of Magic - Hugh Lofting - ebook

The Twilight of Magic ebook

Hugh Lofting

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"The Twilight of Magic" was written in 1931 by Hugh Lofting (1886-1947), telling about the Middle Ages, when adults and children alike still believed in magic. The tale is full of castles, kings, cavalcades of knights and princesses. The main characters Giles and Anne are nine-year-old twins and the children of a prosperous wagon-wright who is inexplicably in debt. They decide to seek help from Agnes the Applewoman, even though most of the townsfolk think she is an evil witch because she has cats and psychic powers ...

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The Twilight of Magicby Hugh Lofting

Book I

Chapter I – Giles and Anne

One evening long ago, two children lay in bed in an attic. From downstairs the noise of rattling knives and forks came up to them. And the youngsters, as they often did, were guessing what guests their mother and father had invited for supper. They knew most of their parents’ friends by name and sight; but they themselves were not yet old enough to be allowed to take supper with the grown-ups—except at Christmas time and on birthdays. For in those times life was much stricter for young people than it is now. The boy’s name was Giles. The girl’s name was Anne. They were twins, nine years old.

They could hear, too, the tinkle of the bell which their father rang when he wanted the maid to come in and change the plates. It was fun to try and tell from the smells of the food, and from the noises of glasses, china and silver, which dishes were being served.

‘They are having the pudding now,’ whispered Anne. ‘Didn’t you hear that oven door slam just then, Giles?’

‘Sh!’ growled the boy. ‘Not so loud—with our own door open and all. We’re supposed to be asleep. No, they’ve finished the pudding. I can hear Father cracking nuts—or else it is that grumpy old Doctor Seymour. His voice is hard to mistake. Besides, I heard Mother say something about his coming tonight.’

‘How late the light lasts!’ said Anne. ‘How can they expect us to sleep while the setting sun still glows on the window-pane?’

‘And how hot it is!’ said Giles, throwing back a blanket from his bed. ‘I’m going to open that other window. One is not enough on a night like this.’

He stepped quietly out of bed and, moving over to the dormer, gently opened the latch and swung the casement outwards. He gazed down into the street. Hardly anyone was abroad. The town clock chimed the half-hour—half-past seven. On the tiles of the opposite roof a black cat stretched himself lazily in the last of the red sunlight.

‘Listen, Anne,’ whispered the boy. ‘Come over here—but quiet now.’

‘What is it?’ asked his sister. Noiselessly she glided from her bed and across the floor to his side.

‘It’s the Applewoman,’ said Giles. ‘Don’t you hear her? She’s away down the street around the corner. Soon you’ll see her.’

‘I don’t hear anything,’ said Anne. ‘Only the cracking of the nuts downstairs. I wish I had some. It makes me hungry to listen to them.’

‘Stop talking,’ said her brother, ‘and then you’ll hear. It is she, I tell you. A long way off. But you can catch it. “Apples! Fine pippins for sale!” It’s what she always cries.’

‘The Applewoman!’ said little Anne thoughtfully. ‘I wonder why grown-up people don’t seem to like her, Giles? Do you know?’

‘Oh, pshaw!’ said her brother. ‘I don’t believe they know themselves. They don’t understand her, I reckon. People are nearly always afraid of what they can’t understand—except the very brave ones, maybe. I never could see anything wrong with the Applewoman—though it’s true I’ve never spoken to her. “Shragga the Witch!” What a name to call her! But have you noticed, it is only the grown-ups who call her that? To the children she is always just “Agnes the Applewoman”. I don’t believe that woman ever did a bad deed in her whole life—for all her ugly looks.’

‘Shragga the Witch!’ murmured Anne. ‘It is indeed a terrible name to fasten upon anyone. Yet she is queer, Giles. Do you know what Mary Seymour says about her? She says she’s a mind-reader.’

‘What on earth is that?’ asked Giles.

‘She can read a person’s thoughts—or so Mary says. She can tell what you’re thinking about without your saying a word.’

‘Oh, I don’t believe that,’ said Giles. ‘Maybe she just guesses—and guesses right.’

‘But if she guesses right all the time,’ said Anne, ‘it would be the same as doing it, wouldn’t it?’

‘Humph!’ her brother muttered. ‘I’d like to see her do it. I think of a whole lot of things in one day. It would be very hard to guess my thoughts.’

‘Listen, she’s nearer now,’ whispered Anne. ‘She must be just around the bend. Goodness! I wish that noise of clattering plates would give over for a moment down below!’

‘Yes,’ said Giles. ‘But anyhow we’ll see her in a second or—Goodness, Anne! Look at the cat!’

On the roof opposite, the black cat was indeed behaving strangely. Still glowing with the rosy light of the evening sun, it was now bounding up and down in the queerest way, while the long flat shadows behind it leapt still more wildly on the sloping tiles.

‘It sees her,’ whispered Anne. ‘It can see around the bend from here, while we can’t ... Oh, Giles, let’s go back to bed! I’m afraid. Don’t let Agnes see us here! Maybe the grown-ups are right, Giles. Maybe ... maybe she is a witch!’

Chapter II – Shragga the Witch

For a moment or two Giles did not answer. Very still he stayed at the window, frowning across the street. The cat’s antics seemed now to have become almost a mad, jumping dance, growing wilder and wilder as the singing voice of the woman drew nearer.

‘Apples! Apples! Fine pippins for sale!’

And then at last the children saw her. The cracking of nuts could still be heard from the parents’ table on the ground floor. The children for a while were silent. Seeing the old woman was more important than talking. She had a long, very wrinkled face—a clever face, a wise one—but not unkind. She pushed her apple barrow before her with strong, even shoves, stopping once in a while to raise her hand to the side of her mouth while she made her call: ‘Apples!’

‘I don’t believe it,’ repeated Giles. ‘Reading people’s thoughts! If she could do it, why couldn’t anyone? If I stuck my head under a pillow, could you tell me what I was thinking?’

‘Of course I couldn’t,’ Anne whispered. ‘But that is what Mary Seymour said: all Agnes has to do is to look at you and she knows what is passing through your mind.’

‘Apples! Apples! Fine pippins for sale!’

The old woman’s voice rang out nearer and louder. She still stared straight ahead of her along the street, looking neither to right of her nor to left. At last she stopped beneath the children’s window, seemingly tired of crying to an almost empty street.

Anne craned her neck out through the casement.

‘Oh, Giles, what beautiful apples! I’m hungry.’

Giles smacked his lips and grunted, ‘Umph, look at that enormous red one, almost at the end of her barrow, Anne. I’d like that one, wouldn’t you? Um ... my!’

And then, for the first time, suddenly, Agnes the Applewoman looked up, straight at the children’s window. A kind and almost beautiful smile spread over her funny old wrinkled face. Without turning her eyes aside she reached out and grasped an apple, and with a queer quick twist of the wrist threw it straight up into the dormer window. It landed gently in Giles’s hands.

‘It’s the very one,’ whispered the boy. ‘The red one I chose!’

‘Apples! Apples! Fine pippins for sale!’ On went the Applewoman, on went the barrow.

The cat had disappeared from the roof; and as Agnes passed out of sight around the bend of the street, they saw the animal following at her heels.

‘Apples! Apples! Fine pippins for sale!’ The voice was now soft and distant.

‘Oh, my goodness, Giles!’ (Anne’s face was quite pale as she turned to her brother and pointed to the rosy fruit lying in his hands.) ‘The woman picked out the very apple you were longing for—the one you were already chewing in your mind. And she couldn’t possibly have heard a word you whispered. If that isn’t reading people’s minds, I’d like to know what is. Do you believe it now?’

Chapter III – Luke

The apple had been divided and eaten. It was now past midnight, and yet the children were not asleep. Doctor Seymour’s deep voice mumbled on downstairs. And still Giles was arguing in whispers that what they had seen had been nothing more than a happy accident; and still Anne stuck to it that Agnes’s thought-reading had been clearly proved.

And so it was two very weary-eyed children who came down to breakfast next morning. But they were at the table before their parents. When their father appeared it was Giles who first noticed that he wore a worried look. This later troubled Anne also, but in those days children were supposed to be seen and not heard, so she did not speak of it then. And as soon as the meal was over the youngsters went out into the garden.

‘What do you think is the matter with Father, Giles?’ asked Anne when they were well away from the house.

‘I’m not quite certain,’ said Giles. ‘But after you fell asleep last night I crept down the stairs a little way. And from what I heard I believe Father owes Doctor Seymour—and others, too—a lot of money. I had thought that Father had money enough for his needs, but it seems he has been borrowing from the Doctor and the Doctor wants him now to pay it back.’

‘Is it very much?’ asked Anne.

‘Yes,’ said Giles seriously. ‘I imagine it would be very much more than he could pay now. And Doctor Seymour was almost rude. He must have it within the week, he said—needs it to pay his own bills. Then a long talk followed, Father saying he couldn’t possibly pay it in so short a time and the Doctor almost shouting he must have it. This money business seems a curse, I wish people could live without it altogether.’

‘Dear me!’ said Anne thoughtfully. ‘I wonder ... if anyone ... maybe Agnes the Applewoman could do something. Couldn’t we go and see her, Giles?’

‘My goodness, Anne, don’t you know that all the grown-up people would make no end of fuss? You know they call her a witch. What help could she give us?’

‘Who can tell?’ said Anne. ‘But you said yourself you had faith in that old woman. And I am beginning to feel the same way, too. Though I don’t quite know why. Maybe it’s her kindly smile, or the way the animals follow her about. Grown-up people sometimes get very set in their ways. Let’s go and see her, Giles. She will do us no harm, of that I am sure.’

So a little later Giles and Anne stepped out through the lower garden gate behind their father’s home and started to make a tour of the town.

They inquired of the old blind man, who sat in front of Our Lady’s Church, where they could find Agnes the Applewoman.

‘You mean Shragga the Witch?’ said he gruffly, his whole body bristling with suspicion.

‘All right,’ said Giles, ‘if you would call her so. Where does she live?’

‘I ... don’t know,’ said the blind man, and he made the sign of the cross.

The children wandered on, looking here and there for someone else to ask, till finally they came upon a lame boy, a town character whom they had known almost as long as they could remember. He did not seem nearly so close-mouthed and careful.

‘Agnes,’ said he. ‘Why, of course I know where she lives. You go down to the bridge crossing the South River. And at the foot of the Archers’ Tower you’ll find a path running along the edge of the stream. Follow that till you see a little hut set up high where the tides cannot reach. And that’s where Agnes lives. A fine woman. You’ll like meeting her. Who cares if the Mayor and all those stuffy aldermen call her a witch? There are some who know her for what she is.’

Chapter IV – The hut by the river

The children thanked the lame boy and went on. By following his directions carefully they at length came in sight of the hut he had spoken of. It was very small and shabby and looked as though it had sunk down from sheer age and feebleness into the mud that surrounded the tower. Many people might have passed it by without seeing it. It was only after a scramble over the half-dried ooze of the river that Giles and Anne could reach it.

The door was shut tight. There were no signs of life anywhere. Giles crept up and knocked timidly. There was no answer.

‘Maybe she’s away,’ whispered Anne.

‘Wait a moment,’ said Giles. And he rapped upon the door again, more loudly.

‘Come in,’ called a voice gently.

The boy took his sister’s hand in his, lifted the latch and pushed firmly. A square black hole opened before him. There seemed at first to be no light inside the hut whatever. It took a little courage to enter. And Anne felt her brother’s hand tighten on her own. He led her forwards and downwards into the darkness, feeling ahead for stairs with his feet.

‘Why, I declare!’ said the gentle voice again. ‘It’s my apple children. Come in, come in. Can you see? Wait now. We will make a light.’

There was the sound of a scratching of a tinder box. At the same time the door snapped to and latched itself behind them, though neither Giles nor Anne could make out by what means it closed. It was darker now than ever. But presently a flame glowed up and they saw the old woman bending over a table, lighting a candle.

‘I am glad to see you,’ she said, a smile spreading over her wrinkled face. ‘A little light makes it more cheerful, eh? And a fire—Oh, goodness me! Look, it’s gone out. What a welcome! No light and no fire—with a cold wind blowing, and all. Just a minute. Sit down and we’ll soon get it going.’

The old woman took up a bellows and with its point stirred the grey ashes in the hearth. Then, as she started to blow, two big black cats came forward out of the gloom carrying sticks in their mouths. Agnes took the sticks from them and fed the red coals, now glowing into life among the swirling dust. The cats kept going backwards and forwards for more wood in a most businesslike way, as though they were quite used to helping with the housework in this fashion. Soon a merry little blaze was flaring up the chimney. Its light helped the meagre candle on the table and made the small room less gloomy and strange.

‘Ha!’ said Agnes, standing back. ‘That’s better. Now let me see what fruit we have to eat. Sit down, children. Draw that bench up here—so.’

Then she rummaged down into the back of the hut and brought forward a large pear and two luscious peaches. The youngsters took them from her outstretched hands and murmured awkward thanks. Agnes seated herself on the bench between them.

‘Dear, dear!’ she said. ‘It isn’t often I have visitors—except the kind I do not want. Now tell me: what can I do for you, little people?’

‘Well—er—er,’ Giles began. ‘We—er—thought perhaps—’ Then he stopped, silent.

‘Humph!’ muttered Agnes, as the two black cats crept forward again and rubbed their heads against her knee. ‘Perhaps the little girl can tell me better.’

‘Well, you see, Mother Agnes,’ said Anne, fidgeting restlessly on the bench, ‘you—er—er—’

The old woman looked steadily at her as she hesitated. Then she took Anne’s small hand in hers a moment.

‘Is it something about your father, child?’ she asked presently.

At that both children jumped a little and looked at one another. Anne was on the point of asking the old woman how she knew. But she found her still staring steadily at her and went on:

‘Yes, it is. He’s in trouble.’

‘In what way?’ asked Agnes. ‘Business? Money matters, my dear?’

‘Oh, Mother Agnes,’ said Anne, ‘he always had had enough for the needs of his whole family. And now, suddenly, he seems to be in debt. His life is troubled. He looks worried, sometimes almost ill ...’

‘Well?’ asked the Applewoman gently after a moment.

Anne again glanced across at her brother, this time as if for help.

‘We thought we ought to do something to try to aid him,’ Giles put in. ‘That’s why we came to you.’

‘To me?’ said Agnes. ‘Well, well! And did you tell anyone you were coming?’

The children shook their heads.

‘This needs thinking over,’ said Agnes, more, it seemed, to herself than to anyone else. She got up and moved over again to the back of the hut, where she disappeared behind a ragged curtain. The two cats rose also, like pages waiting on a queen, and followed her. At once the children slid together on the bench. And Anne whispered:

‘What do you think of her, Giles?’

‘I think she’s fine,’ her brother whispered back. ‘But those cats? My, they’re strange!’

‘Did you notice the way she seemed to know what you’re going to say before you say it?’ asked Anne.

‘Yes,’ answered Giles. ‘But you’re not afraid of that, are you?’

‘Oh, no. I ought to be, I suppose, if it’s magic. But somehow I don’t seem to be. I like her—a lot. What a funny, queer little room, Giles, isn’t it?’ Anne’s glance swept round the inside of the hut as she bit into a ripe peach. ‘Copper saucepans on the walls. No pictures. Old wooden chests—I wonder what’s inside them. A sleeping-basket for the cats—I suppose they make their own beds. And the apple barrow, over there, see the wheels sticking out from under the cover full of patches. Old clothes and a bonnet hanging on the peg. Oh, I do hope she’ll be able to help us about Father’s troubles, Giles. But she seems dreadfully poor herself ... Sh! Here she comes back again.’

Agnes hobbled forward to the bench at the fire. The two cats followed her into the room. Then they went off into a far corner, sat down side by side like a pair of soldiers and watched the blaze from a distance.

‘Well now, young people,’ said the Applewoman, ‘are you aware that you might get into serious trouble if your parents learned that you had been here?’

‘Yes, surely,’ said Anne. ‘But, oh, it’s so important that something be done for Father, Mother Agnes. And you were the only one we could think of who might be able to help.’

‘I see, I see,’ muttered the old woman ... ‘You know what folks call me, I suppose?’ she asked, suddenly looking at Giles with black eyes wide open, piercing.

‘Shragga the Witch,’ murmured the boy in almost a whisper, not meeting her gaze.

‘That’s it. “Shragga the Witch”,’ she nodded. ‘A lot they know, the fools! Tell me, do I look like a witch to you?’

‘No, indeed,’ said Giles quickly. ‘You look to me like a very—er—sensible woman. But we can’t quite understand those cats. That one over there, now, he has a sort of queer, creepy look in his eyes when he stares at me. Seems almost as though he were listening, taking in everything that’s said.’

Agnes chuckled.

‘Would you like him to come over here and join us by the fire? ... All right. Here he comes, look.’

The big sleek creature, with the firelight glinting green in his eyes, stalked slowly across the floor and planted himself solemnly at Giles’s feet.

‘But there you are!’ cried the boy. ‘You didn’t call him, you gave him no order, and yet he came as soon as you wanted him. How do you do it?’

‘You mean, how does he do it?’ said Agnes. ‘Well, I’m not sure that I know, myself. They are a pair of ordinary cats to look at, as you see. Larger than most—but very much cleverer. They were born twins, kittens from the same litter, you know. Perhaps it’s because we have lived together so long. They are older than either of you. And they are both very fond of me—quite jealous about it, sometimes, it would seem. Though, strange to say, they never fight and have never cried or made a single sound since I’ve had them. When they were younger I used to teach them all manner of tricks. It was very easy with such clever creatures. But now they seem to teach themselves—or one another. Sometimes I fancy that they are continually on the watch to know, or guess at, what I want, what I am going to do next. And that seems to sharpen up their wits. For anyone can see that they watch one another as well as watching me. But, be that as it may, they certainly often carry out my wishes without being told. And, after all, what’s strange about that? The same thing happens with people. But we are getting away from your father and his troubles.’

‘You will be able to help him, yes?’ asked Anne eagerly.

‘Well, now,’ said Agnes, ‘wait a minute. First of all I want you children to have one or two things quite clear in your minds. Since I am called a witch, I am in daily danger of being hauled up before the magistrates and perhaps even of being burned for my sins.’

Both the cats suddenly sprang on to her lap together. Anne fancied that one looked fierce and the other looked sad. Agnes smiled, patted them and pushed them gently down.

‘Therefore,’ she went on, ‘it is necessary that we go about the matter with much care. For there may be danger in it—for you and others. I don’t want you to tell any lies, to your parents or anyone else. But for the present I want you to keep your little mouths shut very tight.’

Both the children tried to close their jaws at once. But as Anne’s mouth was full of peach, and her brother’s full of pear, they only succeeded in looking like two bad cases of toothache. Agnes laughed.

‘I only meant that you mustn’t talk. No one knows you came here—’

‘Oh, excuse me,’ Giles interrupted. ‘We did ask two people how to find your home: Michael the Blind Man, and Luke.’

‘That’s no matter of consequence,’ said Agnes. ‘Old Michael is no gossip, and he doesn’t know whether you got here or no. As for Luke, he is a good boy. I’ve been trying to set that twisted joint in his leg. You can talk to him as much as you want. But your parents don’t know you have been here. And no one else must know. Remember, now. And don’t let yourselves get into a position where you’ll be questioned. And try’—Agnes rose from the bench and placed a hand on the shoulder of each—‘try not to ask me too many questions either,’ she ended slowly.

She moved over to the door and opened it.

‘It is time for you to be going,’ she said. ‘Come back tomorrow morning and—well, we will see what can be done. Good-bye!’

Chapter V – In the sea garden

Next morning, the children were so anxious to get back to the Applewoman’s home that they hardly ate any breakfast at all. Luckily for them, their parents had not yet risen. And only the old cook Elsbeth grumbled something after them about not finishing their porridge, as they sped out of the house towards the garden gate.

The town at that early hour was very quiet, with almost empty streets. Fifteen minutes of running brought them again to the door of Agnes’s hut.

This time they did not have to knock. The door swung open as they approached and the old woman, with a bonnet on her head, came out to greet them.

‘It’s a good day for the seashore,’ said she. ‘Let’s go down and hunt for shells and pebbles while the tide is out.’

‘Yes, but we won’t forget about Father, will we?’ asked Anne.

‘Oh, no,’ crooned Agnes, in a strange, sing-song voice. ‘You know, I never forget anything. Often I wish I could. Come along, youngsters.’

Silently the two children followed her down the funny, winding streets, past wharves and landing walls, till a fresh sea wind struck their faces. It set the thrill of adventure tingling through their minds. Just the sharp, clean scent of it conjured up glories of travel, voyage pictures which they had never known but which they hoped some day to see.

Soon the town was left behind entirely. And now old Mother Agnes led the way more slowly, over the loose sands of a beach.

Further yet, the shore took on a wilder look, with high cliffs, rocks and bays. And there were pools, pools that lay upon the beach like little lakes where creatures swam or crawled, crabs and shrimps and burrowing things. They seemed so easy to catch that Anne was all for stopping to gather up some shellfish. But the Applewoman seemed bent on going farther, as though she had a place in mind to reach.

At last, when they came to it, the children found it well worth their patience and the walk. Where two walls of tumbled rock stretched down from the cliffs into the sea, a piece of the beach was surrounded and cut off from the eyes of the world. It seemed like a fairies’ sea garden. Big wet boulders, patterned with barnacles and mussels, hung with curtains of kelp, stood close together in rows and squares—a little town, in fact, of tiny streets, with something new to find around each corner. Sometimes these streets of Boulder Town turned into canals, linking together more ponds and tiny lakes where gay anemones and starfish waved beneath the water.

The children, every other thought and care swept from their minds, ran or waded to and fro from place to place, each for ever calling to the other to come and see a new discovery.

So many things were to be seen, caves of mystery to be explored, coloured pebble-gems to be collected and goodness knows what besides, that it must have been nearly an hour before the youngsters suddenly remembered they had not seen Agnes since they came here.

They found her, after some hunting, on the far side of a large rock. Here the tides had scoured out a pool larger and deeper than the rest; and under the overhanging boulder no bottom could be seen to its fascinating blue-green depths. It might have been the lair of some monster of story, half-beast, half-fish.

At the side of the pool was a piece of drift-wood, a long, stout timber from some wrecked ship. This Agnes was using as a seat—and as a table also, it appeared. For on it she had spread out fruits and sandwiches and cheese, a whole picnic luncheon taken from a little box which she had brought with her.

She invited the youngsters to come and eat. And it was only after they were seated and had their mouths full of food that they found how hungry they had grown and that their weary legs were glad to rest.

And later, even after the luncheon was all gone, they sat on, well-fed and contented, watching the beauty of the sky and sea and shore change with the shifting sun. Anne had noticed a number of weeds and plants which Agnes had laid out at the end of the timber to dry. And, on asking about them, learned that they were things the Applewoman used in the making of her medicines. From medicine the conversation turned to many different matters; and the children enjoyed their long talk with this strange new friend as much as any other part of the outing.

Anne had no idea how late it was when thoughts of her father and his troubles came again to her mind. But she did remember, long afterwards, that at that point, when she turned to Agnes to speak, she found the old woman’s keen eyes had been staring at her steadily and thoughtfully. And it was the Applewoman who spoke first.

‘Did you ever listen to a shell, to hear the roaring of the sea in it?’ she asked.

‘Oh, yes,’ cried Giles, breaking in. ‘We listened to one this morning, a pink spotted one.’

‘Well, they’re very different, you know,’ said Agnes. ‘The size and the shape of them make them so. Some sing a high song and others a low; some loud and some soft. While there are yet others that are very peculiar indeed. Let me see now if I can find one and show you what I mean. If I’m lucky I might find the one.’

From where she sat the old woman, rolling back her sleeves, reached down into the deep pool at their feet. For a long time her hand moved and swayed beneath the water. Both children thought they saw her lips moving as though she were muttering something to herself.

‘What did she mean, the one?’ Anne whispered in her brother’s ear.

‘I don’t know,’ he whispered back. ‘But remember what she said: not too many questions. I’ve an idea that something queer is going to happen.’

Then both children gave a little gasp. For the heads of the two black cats had suddenly appeared, as if from nowhere, staring into the pool over the woman’s shoulders. Their big green eyes followed the movements of her arm with keen expectant interest, as it searched groping in the depths.

At last, very slowly, Agnes’s hand came to the top and in its knotted grasp was a shell. It was a beauty, and like no other the children had ever seen; the size of a large apple; green on the outside, pearly white within; plump, almost round in shape, screwed slightly at one end. It was half filled with sand. Agnes rinsed it clean and then examined it carefully. And Anne heard her whisper to herself:

‘What luck! It is the one—and not a chip on it.’

Then she looked up at the children, and that kind, wrinkly smile spread over her face, which for a while had worn an anxious, worried look.

‘But where on earth did these cats come from, Mother Agnes?’ asked Giles.

‘Oh, they just followed me out from the town, most likely,’ said the old woman. ‘Never mind them. They’re always turning up. I want you to hold this shell to your ear now and hear how it can sing you the roaring song of the sea.’

From where they were standing, hardly anything of the ocean’s surf could be seen or heard except the little murmurous rushes of flat water that from time to time ran in and out again over the shingly sands between the boulders.

Giles held the shell to his ear.

‘Do you hear anything?’ asked Agnes.

For a moment the boy was silent, listening. But soon a slow smile came over his screwed-up face.

‘Oh, my, yes!’ he murmured. ‘I hear great waves breaking on the shore, rolling, fighting up against the cliffs, tumbling and beating on the rocks. Then falling back again with a weaker, washy sound ... Now they come thundering in some more. It’s a storm ... I hear great winds screaming through trees and the rigging of ships ... And now it dies down again—Oh, my gracious!’

Giles dropped the shell upon the sand as though it had bitten him.

‘It’s hot!’ he gasped. ‘It suddenly grew hot.’

‘Don’t be afraid of it,’ said the old woman. ‘It did not get hot enough to hurt you really, did it?—And it never will.’