PART ONE IN WHICH PETER MEETS A DRAGON, AND THE LOVELY LADY MAKES HER APPEARANCE I
The walls of the Wonderful House rose up straight and shining, pale greenish gold as the slant sunlight on the orchard grass under the apple trees; the windows that sprang arching to the summer blueness let in the scent of the cluster rose at the turn of the fence, beginning to rise above the dusty smell of the country roads, and the evening clamour of the birds in Bloombury wood. As it dimmed and withdrew, the shining of the walls came out more clearly. Peter saw then that they were all of coloured pictures wrought flat upon the gold, and as the glow of it increased they began to swell and stir like a wood waking. They leaned out from the walls, looking all one way toward the increasing light and tap-tap of the Princess' feet along the halls.
"Peter, oh, Peter!"
The tap-tapping grew sharp and nearer like the sound of a crutch on a wooden veranda, and the voice was Ellen's.
"Oh, Peter, you are always a-reading and a-reading!"
Peter rolled off the long settle where he had been stretched and put the book in his pocket apologetically.
"I was just going to quit," he said; "did you want anything, Ellen?"
"The picnic is coming back; I thought we could go down to the turn to meet them. Mrs. Sibley said she would save me some things from the luncheon."
If there was a little sting to Peter in Ellen's eagerness, it was evidence at least, how completely he and his mother had kept her from realizing that it was chiefly because of their not being able to afford the well-filled basket demanded by a Bloombury picnic that they had not accepted the invitation. Ellen had thought it was because Bet, the mare, could not be spared all day from the ploughing nor Peter from hoeing the garden, and her mother was too busy with the plaid gingham dress she was making for the minister's wife, to do any baking. It meant to Ellen, the broken fragments of the luncheon, just so much of what a picnic should mean: the ride in the dusty morning, swings under the trees, easy games that she could play, lemonade, pails and pails of it, pink ham sandwiches and frosted cake; and if Ellen could have any of these, she was having a little piece of the picnic. What it would have meant particularly to Peter over and above a day let loose, the arching elms, the deep fern of Bloombury wood, might have been some passages, perhaps, which could be taken home and made over into the groundwork of new and interesting adventures in the House from which Ellen had recalled him. There was a girl with June apple cheeks and bright brown eyes at that picnic, who could have given points to princesses.
He followed the tapping of his sister's crutch along the thick, bitter smelling dust of the road, rising more and more heavily as the dew gathered, until they came to the turn by the cluster rose and heard below them on the bridge, the din of the wheels and the gay laughter of the picnickers.
"Awful sorry you couldn't come ......