EVERY time the train stopped, Martin sprang to his feet and put his head out of the window, and called out to anyone who happened to be there,
“Is this Wales?”
The other people in the compartment found it rather disturbing. They were all reading books or newspapers and didn’t mind whether it was Wales or not. However, they let Martin go on bouncing up and down and smiled patiently at him each time, for he had such a nice round face and friendly smile that nobody could feel cross with him for long. He had floppy yellow hair and blue eyes, and he looked rather young to be travelling alone, all the way from London.
When at last it was Wales, he sat down and stared out of the window, as if he expected all the countryside to change suddenly into something new and strange. After some time one of the other people told him to go into the corridor on the other side and look out when the train reached the top of the hill, and he would see a wonderful view of the finest mountain in Wales. Martin bounced up excitedly and went out into the corridor.
The country was changing all the time; growing barer and steeper, and Martin, who had never seen a mountain in his life, pressed his face to the glass and stared out. The train toiled up a long long hill, slowly and heavily, past rocks and little bent trees and great stretches of brown bog, and at last came to the top. The wheels changed their tune and began to go clicketing merrily down again, and gradually a long valley opened out to the west, and far away there rose up a huge dim mass of mountain, the biggest thing Martin had ever seen.
He wished for a moment that his mother and father could see it with him, but he was too sensible to waste time wishing for things he couldn’t have. It was only because his father was in a nursing home and his mother staying near him that Martin himself was here, in Wales and looking at mountains. If his father hadn’t been so ill, they would all have gone to the south coast as usual, and that would have been fun, but it would hardly have been an adventure. This was certainly an adventure; to be travelling alone into a strange country to stay with rich relations he had never seen before. They were cousins of his father’s and had a big house by the sea where they spent their holidays, and they had agreed to have Martin for a month while his father had an operation and then went away to get better. Martin’s mother had been very doubtful about the plan.
“How can we ask them?” she said. “We don’t know them at all.”
“You don’t,” said Martin’s father. “But I know Charles Ollerford pretty well, though I haven’t seen him for years. He’s a good chap and I know he’d like to help. He’s well off — big house, servants and all that sort of thing. It wouldn’t worry him, I’m sure.”
“What about Mrs. Ollerford?”
“It needn’t worry her, either. Martin’s no trouble. And we’ve got to find somewhere for him to go, if you’re coming with me, and I’m quite sure I shan’t get better unless you do come, and you know Martin can’t come too. So just be sensible, Gwen, and let me write to the Ollerfords.”
So it was arranged, and Martin thought it was exciting to be going to a new place near the sea and the mountains, though his mother warned him that he would have to be quiet and well behaved.
The mountain at the end of the valley grew bigger and bigger until it was too big for him to see.
“That’s funny,” said Martin to himself. “It’s true, though. I can only see a bit of it now.”
The train passed close under the steep ridge of the mountain, and soon the ground on the other side opened out into a widening estuary, where a river made its winding way towards the sea. The railway line ran along the edge of the level fields beside the river, so close to the hill that you could hardly see the sky above rocks and trees.
Martin gazed up at the trees, thinking that the journey must be nearly over, and wondering who would meet him at Summerstrand station, and suddenly there was a narrow opening in the woods where the trees had been cut down. Straight up the hill ran the clearing, and below it shone the white thread of a waterfall, and right up on the skyline rose a jagged wall like the ruins of a house. For two seconds Martin saw it, and during that time a figure leapt up and stood on top of the ruin with one arm lifted, black against the sky.
“Oh!” said Martin in surprise, but the trees had closed in again and the clearing was gone. The figure on the wall had been too far away to see properly, but it looked as though whoever it was had jumped up to see the train, with one hand shading his eyes. Martin tried to look back and see the place again, but the line had curved round the foot of the hill, and as he looked back he felt the grinding of the brakes as the train slowed down. Here was Summerstrand, where he had to get out.
The little station was crowded with people, but nobody seemed interested in him, until a solid grey haired man in what looked like a green uniform came up to him and said politely,
“Hullo!” said Martin with a grin. “I’m Martin Read, if that’s what you mean. Are you an Ollerford?”
“I’m Mr. Ollerford’s chauffeur,” he answered, looking a little shocked. “Let me take your bag. The car is outside.”
Martin had never seen a chauffeur before, and he stared at him with interest as he led the way out of the station. The car was big, and bright red and very shiny, and it was parked in a piece of open ground between the station and the row of three or four shops opposite. The open ground was really a road, but it was full of ruts and stones and holes, as well as sheep and hens wandering vaguely about. The shiny car looked much too grand to be standing there, and Martin wondered for a moment whether it minded. The chauffeur looked as though he minded quite a bit, but he put Martin in the back of the car very politely, and Martin’s luggage on the front seat beside him, and they started off.
They waited by the level-crossing just beyond the station until the train had gone and the gates were opened, then they crossed over and drove along a road that led towards the hills. Martin stood up and leaned over beside the chauffeur, and asked eagerly,
“I say, what’s your name? Where’s the Ollerfords’ house? Is it up in the hills there?”
The chauffeur replied that his name was Crowley, and Glyn House was away to the left on the estuary, not on the hills at all.
“Oh, that’s a pity,” said Martin, and climbed over to sit on his suitcase. “D’you mind if I sit beside you, Mr. Crowley? Oh, well, I expect the hills aren’t far away. I saw a castle up there somewhere.”
The chauffeur glanced at him and said nothing, but he looked amused, and Martin decided that at least there would be one friend at Glyn House.
The house itself was big and impressive, and Martin was silent as they approached it down a long drive, through wide gardens. There were rose-beds and rockeries and lawns so smooth they might have been clipped with nail-scissors. Beyond all the smooth greenness curved a high wall, and beyond the wall there were trees and rocks again, like wild things barred out into the jungle.
As Martin reached the front door, which stood propped open, an oldish woman came hurrying to meet him across a wide polished floor. She looked as though she walked on a mirror, except for the thick rugs that lay across it.
“Come in,” she said. “Mrs. Ollerford is expecting you.”
Martin stepped cautiously on to the slippery floor, and heard someone running down the stairs. The person who had greeted him turned and called up the stairs.
“He’s arrived!” she said.
“Oh, good!” replied a voice, very excited and rather shrill, and round the corner down the last flight came a girl with long plaits, wearing white shorts and a white shirt. When she saw Martin she stopped with a jerk and her mouth fell open with disappointment.
“Miss Hastings!” she said reproachfully after a moment. “I thought you meant the puppy.”
“Oh, dear me no — this is Martin Read. Will you take him to your mother?”
“Oh, all right,” she replied, still looking annoyed, and came down the rest of the stairs more slowly.
“I’m Dorothy,” she said when she reached Martin. “Come on, I think Mother’s in here.”
Martin smiled at her and felt sorry she had been disappointed, but she gave him no chance to say anything. She led the way into a room on the right, while Miss Hastings went off up the stairs with his suitcase.
Mrs. Ollerford was sitting by a big window, doing embroidery. She was tall and stately and Martin thought she looked half asleep.
“Here’s Martin,” said Dorothy, and Martin went up to her with his broad smile, saying,
“Oh, Mrs. Ollerford, you are nice to ask me here, thank you very much, and I’ve got a note for you from Mummy, but she put it in my case so I wouldn’t lose it.”
“You had better call me Aunt Enid,” said Mrs. Ollerford. “Though of course we are not really related. I hope you will not be too dull here.”
“I’m sure I won’t.”
“I’m afraid my two are rather too old for you. They spend their time playing tennis. I don’t expect —”
“No, of course he doesn’t play tennis,” interrupted Dorothy. “He’s only eight or nine, aren’t you, Martin?”
“Nine,” he said, feeling for the first time that Dorothy wasn’t being very polite. “Nearly ten.”
“Never mind,” said Mrs. Ollerford. “Dorothy, will you see to his unpacking? Have you had tea?”
“No. Mummy gave me sandwiches but I ate them all for dinner.”
“Oh, dear, that’s awkward. Never mind, Miss Hastings will find you something. We have dinner at seven thirty. Have you something tidy to put on?”
Martin looked down at his grey shorts and blazer, and answered,
“These are my best things. Won’t they do?”
“Oh — never mind. It’s only the Vicar tonight, and I expect you will want to go to bed directly after the meal, in any case. Run along now, and Dorothy — will you see about his tea?”
Dorothy nodded sulkily, and took Martin up the wide staircase and along a passage that was just as polished and slippery as the hall. His room was at the far end, and on the wall across the end of the passage there was a wonderful collection of swords and daggers and curved knives, fastened on nails to make a gleaming circular pattern. Dorothy hurried him past them and into his room, where Miss Hastings was unpacking his suitcase.
“When you’ve finished that, will you get him some tea?” Dorothy asked. “The bathroom’s next door. You’ll be all right now, won’t you?”
Martin nodded, but she hardly waited for any answer. Miss Hastings smiled at him as Dorothy hurried out again, and said,
“She’s expecting some friends to bring her a dog. That’s why she’s a little impatient.”
“Oh, I don’t mind. I say, are you doing all my unpacking? Don’t bother, I can do it.”
“It didn’t take long,” she said, looking at him kindly and a little anxiously. “I thought I’d wait and see that you had everything you wanted. You’d like some tea after your long journey. Did you really come all the way alone?”
Martin assured her that he had, and he had been quite all right, and he was quite all right now and didn’t mind about tea, but she bustled out to see about it and said she would bring up a tray.
“Then we needn’t bother Mrs. Ollerford at all,” she said.
Martin wondered for a moment why Mrs. Ollerford would be bothered by seeing him eat some tea which she hadn’t even had to get ready, but soon he forgot about it and was leaning out of the window to see what happened outside. His window faced the steep hillside beyond the road, and he could see a broken wooded ridge, and above that a bare shoulder of mountain very much higher, and above that the sky, clear and blue and bright with evening. Below him stretched the level gardens, and if he leaned right out and peered round to the right he could catch a glimpse of the sea.
Dorothy crossed the lawn below him, carrying a tennis racquet, and behind her came a boy who looked a year or two older, perhaps fourteen. Martin stared at them with curiosity. Dorothy had a long pale face like her mother’s, and mousy hair. Her brother was darker, and square all over; face, shoulders, hands and feet. They walked heavily, and Martin wondered how they managed to run fast enough to play tennis at all. They didn’t fit in to this wild country of waterfalls and mountains. You couldn’t imagine either of them leaping up to the top of a ruined castle.
When at last a gong boomed out from the hall, Martin went down and found a crowd of people in the drawing-room. He stopped nervously just inside the door, and a strange dark man came over to him and exclaimed,
“Ah, there you are, Martin. I’m your Uncle Charles. How are you? Tired?”
“I’m very well, thank you,” said Martin, and shook hands with a smile and a feeling of relief, for Mr. Ollerford seemed really pleased to see him.
“How’s your father?” Mr. Ollerford went on.
“Oh, he’s getting on all right, I think,” said Martin, realising that nobody else had thought of asking after his father. “I’ve got a note for Mrs. — for Aunt Enid. Here.”
Mrs. Ollerford smiled at him vaguely and opened the note.
“Excuse me,” she said to the other strange man, who was tall with a round red face and bushy white hair. “I’ll just read this and see what Martin’s mother has to say.”
That must be the Vicar, Martin thought, and besides him there are Dorothy and her brother, so it isn’t such a crowd really.
“Oh!” said Mrs. Ollerford, looking up from the note. “Your mother has relatives here, too, it seems. I wonder who — yes, she says they are called . . .”
Her voice died away, and everybody looked at her in surprise. She took a breath and said hurriedly,
“Oh, Mother, no!” exclaimed Dorothy. “Not the Burnets!”
“Never mind,” said Mrs. Ollerford severely. “They are Martin’s relations, and his mother wants him to meet them.”
“The Burnets,” said Dorothy’s brother reflectively, and it was plain to see that the idea did not please him.
“They’re Martin’s relations, not ours, George,” said Dorothy.
“What’s wrong with them?” asked Martin, very interested by all this. Mrs. Ollerford sighed briefly, made no reply, and swept them all into the dining-room where the meal was waiting.
When they were all settled, Martin leant forward to see Mrs. Ollerford round the big Vicar, and repeated in his ringing voice,
“What’s wrong with the Burnets?”
Mrs. Ollerford looked startled and embarrassed, and before she could say anything the Vicar turned to Martin with a friendly grin and said,
“They look like savages, that’s all. I like them myself.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” said Mrs. Ollerford sharply. “They must be better than they appear.”
“Nothing wrong with them, is there?” said Mr. Ollerford.
“You only see them in church,” said Dorothy. “Even then they’re like gipsies . . .”
“Don’t be silly,” said George. “It’s not their clothes. It’s the way they walk around as if they owned the earth that annoys me. Especially Leigh.”
“Well, never mind,” said Mrs. Ollerford decidedly. “I’ll see what can be done, Martin.”
“They’d be company for him.” said the Vicar. “What do you think of our hills, Martin?”
“Oh — they’re so big. I’m longing to explore everywhere.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what to do,” said the Vicar confidentially. The others were all talking about other things and had forgotten the Burnets. “You have a look for Guinevere’s castle.”
“Guinevere — King Arthur’s queen, you know. She’s supposed to have had a castle or two in these parts, but I’ve never found one myself.”
“I saw a castle up on the hill there,” said Martin eagerly. “When I was coming here in the train.”
“Did you?” said Dorothy, suddenly looking across at him. “Where?”
“Up in some trees. By a waterfall.”
“There’s a waterfall just up on the hill over there,” said George joining in. “Funny if it was on our land. Is there any treasure in it, Mr. Wynne?”
The Vicar shook his head with a smile.
“I doubt it, I doubt it. And in any case, it makes no difference whose estate it happens to be on.”
“Why?” asked Martin.
“It belongs to the person who claims it,” said the Vicar. “Don’t you know the story, George?”
“No, I don’t. It’s all nonsense, anyway. Everybody knows it can’t really be Guinevere’s castle, any more than the Roman roads here are Roman.”
“Why?” asked Martin again.
“Because Guinevere never really existed,” said Dorothy.
“But the Romans existed,” said Martin, puzzled.
“Oh, goodness, you’re getting it all mixed up,” said Dorothy crossly.
“But anyway, what’s the story about claiming it?” said George. His mother sighed heavily and wondered how soon they would stop talking about castles and let her tell the Vicar about her garden.
“It’s only a saying,” said the Vicar. “I don’t understand it. To claim the castle, you must have the sword and the ring of the dragon.”
“The what?” said all three children together, but Mrs. Ollerford had begun to speak rather loudly just before they said it, and the Vicar turned to her politely and said no more about castles.
George and Dorothy left the subject at once, and started telling their father what they had been doing during the last few days. Apparently Mr. Ollerford was busy in Liverpool most of the time, and could only spend a few days now and then at Glyn House. Martin thought for some time about Guinevere’s castle, but said nothing more about it. He felt that perhaps he had asked enough questions for one evening.
Directly they had finished eating Martin was sent up to bed, as it was long past his usual bed-time. Dorothy was told to take him up and look after him, but as soon as they reached the top of the stairs she heard a car arriving, and raced down again to see who it was. Martin washed rather sleepily in the bath-room, which was large and bright and shiny, like the rest of the house, and climbed into bed with a jumble of thoughts in his mind. Mr. Ollerford was nice, and so was the Vicar. The others were less nice, which was a pity, but what did they matter, after all? There was the sea somewhere close by, and there were hills and woods just beyond the garden wall, and castles to find and claim. And there was another family of cousins, the wild Burnets who annoyed George by walking around as if they owned the earth. Martin wriggled excitedly down under the blankets and went to sleep.