After a walk of a couple miles—much farther than Jamsie had anticipated—the Admiral summoned them to turn in at a grand gate. The panels of the gate were intricate designs of wrought iron made to look like willow-branches, and over the archway hung a placard designating this place as Darrow-Dwelling. A robin formed of hammered metal perched on either side of the arch and gave the way a comical, saucy air.
“So this is it?” Jamsie asked, more to fill the blank in conversation than because she had any doubt on the matter.
“ 'Tis.” The Admiral shook himself and sighed. “There will certainly be T-O-A-S-T A-N-D T-E-A here. The laird never has guests but there's loads of food.”
“Loads of food sounds rather perfect,” Richmond called as he trotted up the drive ahead of them.
“Walk circumspectly!” the Admiral shouted after him. “You can't run up to a place like Darrow-Dwelling. It isn't right.”
Richmond stopped mid-trot till Jamsie came up to him. He hooked his arm through hers and Jamsie leaned forward to allow him to whisper.
“It's all right for him to say. He cares about decorum and we don't,” Richmond hissed.
Jamsie pulled off and cast an eye back at the Admiral who was walking along the lane looking brighter than he had in the whole of their acquaintance. “But perhaps if Darrow-Dwelling really is so fine a place as all that, we ought to behave?”
Richmond hooked her arm again and dragged her closer. “We'll behave but only because we have to extract some information from these people.”
“Information?” Jamsie was entirely puzzled.
Richmond stopped short and stared at her, eyes goggling. “Jamaica Balder! You don't mean to tell me you've been walking through this...Crissen-Smissen—or whatever they call it—for the past three days and forgot all about the reason we got here in the first place!”
All at once Jamsie noticed how far away London felt—this whole time there had been too much to look at and think about to have any time leftover to worry about the thing that had sent them careening down the puddle.
That lump one gets when one realizes they've made a horrid mistake began to form in Jamsie's stomach.“Our Baby!” She felt like bursting into tears but restricted the emotion to a single hiccuping sob.
Richmond patted her arm. “Oh, come now. At least one of us has been thinking about it. We haven't entirely abandoned the poor thing.”
“But I did forget all about the poor Baby. I'm a wretched sister—I ought to be...punished somehow!”
The tears threatened to spill over again but Richmond gave her a nice shove. “Save your bawling for another time, Jamsie old girl. If you start sniffling the Admiral will wonder what's up and then we'll spoil the element of surprise. If these are the people who took the Baby, we have to spring the accusation upon them. We can't give them a head-wind, you know.”
Jamsie rubbed a sleeve across her face. “I know.”
It took another half-hour just to make it up the lane because the Admiral would keep swinging like a clock pendulum from one side of the way to the other to admire the 'T-O-A-S-T A-N-D T-E-A' of the view and be sure they admired it too. Jamsie was not generally a suspicious person, but she found her apprehension grow with each move the Admiral made. What if this was all a trick? What if the Admiral was not taking them to a castle at all? What if Darrow-Dwelling was a robber-baron's lair and they were to be held hostage forevermore? What if they were never to see their Baby again, or sit by the fire with Mum and Dad and burn their fingers on toasted bread? It was such a sad prospect when she thought about it that Jamsie let a few tears dribble down her face despite Richmond's sensible warning.
Just as the tears dripped off her chin into the dust of the lane, the Admiral popped up on her left side. “Darrow-Dwelling straight ahead, your majesty.” He pointed a gnarly finger at the fine old house, quite near now.
A muffled chorus of hounds assembled as if a whole fox-hunt was trapped under a glass watch-case and grew in pitch till someone opened the massive, age-blackened doors of Darrow-Dwelling. The torrent poured forth—dogs of every shape and size—and milled about the traveling party.
“Get your beasts off me, Darron Ap-Brainard!” the Admiral howled, shielding his face with an up-thrown arm and glaring at the flood of hounds.
Jamsie patted a leggy wolfhound on his grey head and stared past the melee to the doorway of the house. A small man with a deal of dark hair on his head and face lounged against one side of the carved frame, arms crossed. He wore a slashed doublet of crimson with yellow peering through the slits. A smile broke the darkness of his beard, but it stopped short somehow of being quite a real smile—no teeth showed, and the lips looked pleased with themselves.
“Conceited,” Richmond remarked at Jamsie's elbow.
“Exactly what I was thinking,” she said. It was a bit disappointing, as Balders were notorious for not being able to tolerate anyone's conceit but their own. She had been so looking forward to a nice time at Darrow-Dwelling—even with the possibility of robber-barons.
“Hither, hounds,” the conceited-looking man said. He didn't shout—hardly raised his voice—but the dogs stopped barking and backed off, tails swinging low and teeth bared in apologetic grins.
“That is much better, Ap-Brainard.” The Admiral smoothed his feathered jerkin and sniffed. Jamsie and Richmond fell in place behind him and together they advanced up the stone steps till they were face to face with the small man.
“Have you any messages for me, Admiral? Your fleet carries from the far and wide, does it not?”
A shade of red seeped into the Admiral's grey face. “My fleet temporarily....abandoned me.”
“Abandoned you?” The man's eyes were small and glittering—dark as his hair—but his moustache quivered as he laughed. “And has the kingdom gone to ruin without its mail?”
“I should hope not, m'lord,” the Admiral whispered.
“You're a post-man?” Jamsie asked. Now it all made sense—the Admiral 's Fleet was in charge of delivering messages throughout the kingdom and they'd gone off and that was the cause of the Admiral's consternation.
“Your Fleet is like the passenger-pigeons?” Richmond asked.
Darron Ap-Brainard moved his sharp gaze to Jamsie and Richmond and stared at them in a bold fashion as if he had hours in which to do nothing else. Their questions remained unanswered for the time-being. It seemed as though there were nothing in Crissendumm but the trio on the steps of Darrow-Dwelling. The Admiral and the dogs—even the house itself—took backstage and there was nothing real except the small man who stared at them so curiously. Jamsie touched Richmond's fingers and by the tightening of them around her own, knew he was glaring back at the man too.
Of a sudden, the man laughed. “Whither do you come?”
The Admiral moved back into view. “They hail from England, m'lord.”
His eyes widened. “From England? The Pool worketh mighty wonders again, I see.”
Jamsie did not think he sounded as surprised as he might. She shifted her weight from one foot to another, the great desire for a cool seat in a quiet place coming strong over her senses.
“You must be tired, my lord and lady,” Ap-Brainard said with a low bow as if he could read her mind. He straightened, and winked at them. “Welcome to Darrow-Dwelling, fine folk. Mayhap you will find it a place to your liking.”
Richmond thrust his chin forward. “We hear it's a comfortable place enough. It ought to do for a quick stop.”
Ap-Brainard laughed again. Jamsie didn't like the short, cynical merriment of it. “Darrow-Dwelling will more than 'do' for you, my good fellow. Darrow-Dwelling is the essence of comfort itself, as I know the good Admiral will have told you.”
He had made short work of anything at all to be said, so the group followed their host through the heavy doors into the merciful dusk of a stone foyer. Here, the shadows were deep and rich with shapes suggestive of bookcases and armchairs. A globe stood in the center of the foyer, illuminated with a single stream of golden light which poured forth from a circle cut out from the domed ceiling. They followed Ap-Brainard to this globe, and Jamsie touched it as she went by. The countries on it were queer, unfamiliar shapes—not at all like the seven continents of the real world--and there seemed to be two dimensions to it: the solid beneath, the vaporous above; the two layers connected by opalescent gems here and there. “What is this a map of?” she asked before she could help herself.
Ap-Brainard was at her side in a moment, and he reached over her shoulder and spun the globe with a caressing finger. “ 'The beauty of earth and sky doth mingle among mortals yet awhile'. This, my girl, is Crissendumm. Our world graven on the underside, yours above. The gems mark the holes from one to another. Cannot you see it?” And as he pointed and stirred the layer of vapor, she saw the pale homelike shapes of Africa, Asia, and the rest floating just above the surface of the proper globe.
“And the Pool?” Richmond asked.
“The nearest portal.” Ap-Brainard cocked his head to one side and to Jamsie, he looked somehow familiar in that attitude. “Have you never heard of Crissendumm in England?”
“Their majesties are none too keen on questions.”The Admiral toyed with his pocket-watch and looked up with a sad smile.
“Ahhhh. I see. Dinner then?”
But the man's expression was so cat-like and self-satisfied that Jamsie edged closer to Richmond, just so she could feel the comfort of another Londoner.