It was a splendid setting, with the Menai Strait’s flax-blue shining like angel eyes beneath the deep purple of Snowdonia’s mountains.
Crowning a headland overlooking the strait, Castle Edzell’s red granite towers and gardens and luxuriant green furnished a magnificent spectacle--and the father’s heart thrilled at the impression this must make on the apple of his eye, little Edith, whom he feared was too shut in at the old house on Bishop’s Close, when he was always touring the most beautiful cities and castles in Europe with his thriving line of curtains.
But he was a busy man, furnishing curtains for the Great Hall, and so he left Edith for hours on end in the charge of Governess Henley, while his wife chose to remain at the inn in their let room, not feeling well enough for touring after a recent, fourth miscarriage of a fifth and, unofficially, last attempt of child-bearing (her husband determined to engender at least seven sons to carry his name and business to the ages!).
“I’ll be taking a little trot, er, walk in the castle park for my health and complexion,” she informed Edith.
Miss Edith was horrified. Her governess knew such delightful songs, and she’d be very sad, indeed, if she couldn’t learn any more. She shook her head solemnly, then promised.
Satisfied, Miss Henley took her leave, walking sedately until she was beyond the gaze of the castle, then gathering her skirts and running down the lane that led toward the village.
The nice spot the naughty governess had chosen for Edith? Edith soon grew bored of sitting with her books on a hard leather divan set before a big window in one of the towers that overlooked the formal gardens. As for the lunch, she wasn’t hungry, having eaten breakfast at the inn, and they gave you man-sized portions of everything there, even to children. She wouldn’t be hungry until dinner, if then. Standing on the divan, she leaned against the somewhat purpled glass, squinting against the bright sun in order to see the flowers below.
The gardens were odd, to her thinking. All the flowers were hedged in tightly, and each bit of flower bed was a different shape, and all the shapes were combined in the most strange patterns. Circles, squares, triangles, cones and boxes--it was a somewhat dizzy combination, and in the center of yellow flowers grew rose a pillar holding up a monstrous figure with bare breasts, clawed feet and bird wings, all covered in gold. It was all very old, she knew, for all the stonework of the castle looked as old as stone in Abbotsbury, and Abbotsbury had existed since Noah and the Ark, she had been told by her governess in home school.
“How very odd they garden here in Wales!’ she was thinking when she heard someone snigger.
She turned sharply around, and caught the eyes of a boy, maybe twelve, looking at her with scorn.
“You’re not Welsh, are you? Or you wouldn’t stare and gape like an ignorant country beast, like you were doing just now!”
Edith had never been spoke to so rudely, for she hadn’t yet been to school outside her home. Her friends were proper girls, and she didn’t play with boys, not being allowed in their company, so this was hard on her ears. Nevertheless, she had her own mind, and knew it.
“Are all Welsh boys rude as you are to girls? You ought to have your ears boxed for what you just said! I’d do it myself if I were a boy!”
Her rebuke seemed to make his ears smart, and he colored.
Slowly she got down from the divan, sat properly like a lady in the manner taught her by Miss Henley, and took up her reading book.
When she didn’t seem to notice the boy’s existence, he moved toward her. “Um--um--”
She continued to ignore him.
Finally, he came forward, and his tone was different. “What are you reading that is so fetching?”
She lay it down. “Oh, it’s not fetching, not now that is.” She rose and looked round. “I think this place is better. And I was looking at the gardens, and wondering why they are fixed the way they are. Did you make them like that for a reason? If there is a reason, it hardly makes sense to my eyes!”
He looked puzzled. “I don’t know what you mean? They’ve always been that way. My father--”
Then he seemed to recall that he was the son of a duke and the lord of the manse, and whoever this little female was, she couldn’t be a proper person for him to be speaking to, since the castle was being outfitted, and only workmen and their families were on the grounds at present.
“By the way, who are you? My father owns this estate! Who invited YOU anyway?”
The girl seemed to consider this a moment, though not to his advantage perhaps, for she shook her head. “Why then doesn’t he teach you better manners, if you are the master’s son? Introducing yourself like that! Miss Henley would say that just isn’t done! And as for demanding to know who I am, why--”
“Who is Miss Henley?” he burst in. “What does she have to do with it? I’ve got nothing to say with the likes of her trade!”
Stung by an apparent attack on her governess, Edith’s cheeks now colored. Hot words rose to her lips, and she was about to let them fly when she remembered something her mother had said in caution to her once--’Daughter, you can’t recall an angry word, but you can speak peace anytime and all will be well. So hold thy tongue, and you will be blessed in God’s good time!”
With her fiery temper, it was not easy to take such sound advice to heart, and she failed many times to practice it, but it kept coming to her mind, and her mother’s example made it stick, for no one was more long-suffering than her. Edith worshipped her, though she wasn’t well enough most of the time to take care of her, and so a governess had been hired.
“I really should be going,” Edith said with averted eyes and flaming cheeks, to change the subject and conclude the interview.
The boy was taken aback. “Oh, well, if you must be going!” he huffed. “I’m sorry, I really didn’t mean anything wicked, I--I”
Edith glanced at him, saw he really meant it and was sorry, and immediately relented. She smiled for time. “Please, you know what I am wanting. Why do you make your gardens like these in the park? Please tell me if you know.”
The twelve year old instantly took on a grownup’s self-assured manner, as he had seen his father speak before dignitaries at various banquets and gatherings in the Great Hall. “It’s my pleasure, Miss. I’m sure it is no bother at all to tell you. Now what exactly is the meaning? Yes, the meaning--”
He hadn’t a clue, actually, to 17th Century garden design (and this went back much farther, indeed), but there was always the engraved riddle. He took Edith’s hand and led her over to it. Since her reading was not really as good as it should be, given Miss Henley’s sporadic method of teaching, he was all to happy to read the grown-up words for her.
“This is to help you solve the puzzle garden--”
“Yes, the one you were gaping--er, looking at when I first came up here.”
She listened thoughtfully as he slowly read the whole “Navigation of the Gardene of Ye Destinye, Drawn from the Ancientes’ Spell” as the piece was titled.
Stepeth to Square first thou meet.
Stampeth twyce with thy left foote--
Followe Petall to Grande Circle
where friend Trapezoid doth goe.
Circle north as far thou canst,
stampeth thrice and bridge doth growe.
“You’re the one being rude now! Laughing at us Welshmen! It’s an outrage!”
Edith fell silent instantly, her eyes full of alarm. “Oh no, I didn’t mean to laugh at you. I was laughing at the old writings and the quaint way they speak of things!”
He gave her a sharp look. “They’re the same to me as my very life and honor!” he cried. “My father told me these were our sacred trust, the puzzle garden and the sacred writing about it. So don’t ever laugh at it again!”
Chastened, Edith shook her head solemnly. “I certainly won’t! I had no idea it meant so much. But I still don’t understand a word.”
The boy, being four years her elder, gave her a look that said she was a mere child to him. He snatched up a lantern and took several matches from a smoking box on a side table. “Come along then, we may need this where we are going!” he said.
Edith followed and went down the stairs, forgetting Miss Henley’s charge and her own promise.
At the bottom, she did remember it, but by now it was too late. She was but a few feet from the garden, and she did want to go outdoors in the park, even if it was with a boy, something always forbidden her in the past.
“Well, I’ll take just a peek or two, then hurry back up to where Miss Henley left me,” she vowed, as she ran after the boy.
He stopped when he stood right at the center of the big style knot garden, the sphinx’s claws just above him. It was much vaster when seen outdoors at ground level and not from a high tower. The golden-yellow flowers stood high as her head when she climbed through the hedges to reach her guide.
“By the way, my name is Emyr,” he said. “I have a lot more names, but you’re English, I can tell, and you English can’t pronounce Welsh, so that should be enough for you.”
She did have trouble pronouncing even so short a name. She tried several times, and he corrected her until she got it nearly right.
“Good enough for an English girl!” he said. Then, turning to the style knot, he continued. “I know the instructions by heart. So let’s start with the first part, and see how smart you English are at solving our Welsh puzzles. If you solve this one, which nobody has been able to do, then Father says you will save a great nation--which is ours, of course. That’s the reason for doing it, so he doesn’t let just anybody play it, since it’s not a silly game children play!”
Her head spun for a moment. “Save a great nation’? Did he mean England, or Wales? Wales wasn’t great, was it? At least Emyr thought so. England certainly was, for they had the king and queen. But what did this garden have to do with the Royal Navy and Army?
He saw her confusion in her expression, and lectured her like a child, quite a bit like Miss Henley did, which she was used to, thinking all young girls must be treated that way.
Emyr pointed out the petal design, four petals for the garden starting from the central point, then repeated the first line of instruction for her.
That was clear enough to her, and then went on from there.
“There’s north and that is west,” he said pointing again, and recited the portion, “--clocked northwest” to her.
“Oh,” she said, understanding dawning. “Now what?”
He smiled, warming to the exhibition of his knowledge. “Well, the writing says, ‘Stepeth to Square first thou meet--”, doesn’t it?”
Amazed, she watched him move carefully along the edge of the northwest-oriented petal toward an intersecting hedge that made a big square when it was seen in its entirety. Of course, once down in the garden, it was more difficult, but she knew she had seen a square from the tower, and she took his word for it he had reached it.
She went and stood with him at the point where the Petal first met the square. “Move back,” he said, and she moved back. He then stamped hard, then once again.
Her heart went up into her mouth as the ground made an awful groaning sound and gave out an odor like crushed moss and old leaves. The hedge at that point lowered, and there were steps.
“See!” he cried, turning to her in triumph. “Now come along!”
Edith was now alarmed. “No, I don’t think I want to go down there! I don’t think I ought to go underground by myself with a gentleman!”
Emyr laughed. “I’ve been down a dozen times myself alone. There’s a tunnel, not very long, and we’ll be out in a flash! Nothing to worry about! No snakes or dragons! And you won’t be trapped!
Edith was thinking about Miss Henley, and also her father and mother. Even little girls must consider their reputations. Would they permit such a thing as letting their daughter go down under the earth with a strange boy, even if he were the son of the Duke?
She shook her head. Emyr clapped his hands together. “Here I took all this trouble to amuse you, and you are going to act childish! Can’t you trust me to fetch you back safe and sound? I promise, with sword to my heart, to defend your honor to the death!”
Edith’s troubled eyes showed guilt. “I’m very sorry,” she finally said, recalling her fresh chastening in the tower over having laughed at Welsh things. “Please don’t ask me again. I’m just not used to crawling down into stuffy, dark holes.”
“But you don’t need to crawl and get your dress dirty! It’s got nice, clean steps--or fairly so! You’ll see. But I’m not going to wait all day. I’m going!”
Edith watched as he stepped down the steep stairs, and his head disappeared.
“No one’s been able to strike the right sign and get the stone to move. When it moves, father told me, the staircase behind will be opened to us, and we can go up to complete the rest of the puzzle. Everyone, including father, got this far, and no farther.”
While Emyr struck his hand against various signs, then tried striking two at the same time, and different combinations, Edith watched him until he finally gave up and turned to her. “You see,” he said. “It’s impossible.
The light that came down the stairwell was just enough to see the circular blocking stone. It had two columns to either side, with carved snakes climbing the columns, and Edith didn’t like the serpents at all, and wanted to go, but the solution of the puzzle obviously meant a great deal to this Welsh duke’s boy, and she wanted to help if she could.
“Could you repeat the writing on the wall for me, please?”
Emyr didn’t think she could help, but he ran quickly through the verses anyway.
“So we are trying to get to Third of Quartres?” she asked.
“Yes, that’s it! Third of Quarters! But here we stick! And nobody gets past this big stone unless they strike the right sign. It’s worse than the Gordian knot, my father says!”
“How long has this been going on?” she ventured again, after his condescending instruction.
He looked at her as if she were truly, undeniably witless. “Hundreds and thousands! What does that matter?”
“Well, I suppose people have struck all the signs by now, haven’t they? Why hasn’t the stone moved?”
“I suppose you have an idea!”
“No, not really, I just wonder if they were all wrong somehow about the stone. It won’t move if they strike the signs, so what would it do if the sign is drawn?”
The boy was aghast. “What do you mean?”
Edith pointed down toward the floor. “Draw the first sign you see that fits the cracks in the floor. Draw your sign on the floor, not the stone. The stone is just the primer with the signs written on it.”
“Oh, you English think you are so superior when you actually know nothing!” he cried. “I won’t do it! It’s never been done, I tell you!”
“Well, then, I’ll have to do it, even if I am just a girl.”
Taking a look at the signs, she looked to the pattern of cracks in the floor, then chose the sign that best approximated what she saw, and she took a stick and began to trace the sign in the cracks. Nothing happened when she had finished.
Emyr began to laugh. Then his laughter was cut off by a horrible groaning sound of massive stones moving like unoiled gearworks. The earthy smell of crushed moss and leaves was overwhelming for a moment. The great blocking stone shuddered, then moved inches, then feet in the groove cut for it.
Finally, it lay still, and the stairway was revealed, with light shining down the opening to illumine their steps.
In a moment they were out, and both stairways closed automatically when their feet cleared the last step.
Edith looked back, and she knew she had seen the most marvelous thing. Miss Henley or not, she was determined to stay in the style knot garden now, until she reached the end of it.
Emyr, holding her hand tight, was just as determined and excited.
“What if they come looking for us?” she asked him.
“We’ll just hunch down, that’s all. Unless we stand up, they’ll never see us, even from the Bishop’s Tower! So don’t stand up.”
Moving along bent over made solving the puzzle garden more difficult, but she obeyed. They had reached the Third of Quarters, no less!
Emyr continued to quote the instructions.
where friend Trapezoid it doth goe...
“I’ve been taught mathematics and algebra!” Emyr informed her. “It’s nothing but a plane, which can be equal on all sides and is a square, only the trapezoid is not, because two sizes are parallel.”
“Oh,” said Edith, who hadn’t yet been taught a shred of arithmetic by Miss Henley, who detested such dry things and said so to her.
Emyr moved a short distance, then declared, “Here is the trapezoid’s hedge. Now we must circle north as far as we can. Remember north?”
They followed the hedge north to a convergence of two hedges.
"Here I must, according to the old writing, stamp three times."
He stamped three times. He stamped three times again. Finally, after three times stamping the same series, he swore something with huge, musical-sounding words in Welsh, and Edith put hands over her ears, guessing he must be swearing something in his abominable native language.
“Something’s gone wrong!” he cried frustrated. “We did everything right until now, what could it be?”
Then they heard voices, calling first her name, then the boy’s. Several people hurried past style knot garden. “Perhaps, they've run down the path toward the grotto. That’s his favorite spot to show the visiting children!” someone said. The footsteps left in that direction.
Edith felt a bit frightened. She had never done anything like this before, running away from guardians and making them search all over for her. “I must go!” she said.
“Go then!” he spat at her. “You’ve come this far, and now you’re giving up just because it’s hard! What a coward you women are! You can’t do anything for your country but sit at home and embroider handkerchiefs and drink tea while we men--”
Edith burst into tears.
After a bit, he plucked a flower and handed it to her. “Keep this, at least you came this far, but I’m not going until I solve it this time!”
Brave words. But Master Emry, after another series of stamping thrice with no avail, threw his cap down, and stalked off, leaving Edith in the puzzle garden.
She herself turned to go, stepping forth from the garden. But looking about, she saw no one was coming back up the path, and so she was free for a few minutes more at least. Could she try it again just by herself? Without Emyr it might be a little easier to think her own thoughts, if only she could remember the writing he had been reciting all along the way.
The first part went off as it had, and she found herself in the underground room once again. The big signed stone stood before her. But, for the first time, she sensed there was something else in the room for her to work out. She peered about, but was about to give up when she pulled a little knotted chain in the ceiling. Shocked, she sprang back when a metal plaque came falling out attached to the same lengthening chain.
Pulling it close to her eyes, she made out the letters, TRADESCANT, engraved in the flowery borders, with antique lettering in the center. This was English she could read. “Behead an animal, and get an animal. Behead a color and get a writing fluid. Behead an animal and get a river...” So the riddle of decapitations went until she counted fourteen.
“...behead a fruit and get an organ of the head...?” she mused. How would this strange puzzle help her?
Her thoughts flying furiously, her head seemed to nearly burst. Suddenly, it dawned on her. The exercise was only to sharpen her wits, just as the gaoler sharpened his sword for decapitations for royal executions! She quickly worked out the answers...”muskrat, pink, mouse, pear...” until she was sure she had got the entire fourteen successfully. Pulling the cord, it drew the puzzle back into the ceiling just as she supposed it would in wait for the next applicant to the garden puzzle.
Feeling assured she could master anything now, she repeated her drawing of the chosen sign on the floor, and once again the second stairwell opened. Stepping out, she began to retrace Emyr’s steps, then paused. “Left foot!” she recalled. But hadn’t she seen him stamping his right foot always? Why, she certainly had! For when she tried to stamp her left foot, it seemed so odd, that she caught herself shifting to stamp her right foot. Going to the next rendezvous, she made certain to stamp her left foot, and couldn’t. She was up against the hedge in such a way that it wouldn’t work there.
“ Something is wrong with my direction!” she decided. Taking the only other option, she went to the point of convergence with the Third of Quarters, stamped with her left foot, and the ground heaved, and keep rising, taking up the hedge with it. The “bridge” was actually a gate, and she was evidently expected to walk through. Since it was now the way out provided, she stepped through, but her foot must have stuck a hidden spring, for the moment she did a scroll dropped from a newly opened panel in the lintel overhead. She saw it, and was about to go back and pick it up when she saw people appear, motioning toward her from the main entrance to the Great Hall.
Workmen employed by her father, her father, the duke, his wife, even Miss Henley who had returned from the village and heard Miss Edith was missing, came running the moment they sighted her outside the style knot garden. Swept up by her father, she was carried off immediately, for he had been most worried. As for the boy, he was not to be found, knowing more hiding places than anyone on the estate.
“Can’t we keep the darling prize I won?” Edith wept, as he drove her down to the village with Miss Henley in a hired trap.
“What prize, my little water rat! my little pink mouse?”
He was just humoring her, he was still so mortified by having lost his daughter on the grounds, and been subjected to Miss Henley’s hysterical excuses, that he hadn’t seen anything but his daughter, standing in front of the garden that looked strange to him, now that he had time to reflect. What was so different now came to him. It hadn’t a gate before, so how could there have been one? But, then, these old castles, he knew, were full of tricks and oddities left behind by former owners who had money to amuse themselves.
As for a “prize,” he hadn’t the slightest idea what she was talking about. “Speak to your mother, dear,” he said, when Edith began weeping. “Maybe she can find it for you.”
As for Miss Henley, he was determined to discharge her, but it wouldn’t be fair to do it in Wales, in a foreign part of the country. She couldn’t very well be expected to know how to return to England, being so young. So he was forced to keep her on temporarily, until they reached the border, and his work wasn’t yet concluded, since the duchess had newly arrived, and she had decided to make some alterations, adding curtains in one place where they hadn’t been ordered, and changing the lengths of curtains at other windows. It was adding both time and expense to the once choice order, and he was concerned that her changes would make the venture unprofitable.
Two days later, when Edith was allowed out of the inn, Miss Henley was a very subdued governess, knowing her employer’s intention to sack her at the first opportunity, and she bided her time before she let him know, in turn, just how she felt about his tyrannous “executions” on her. Just because she was his child’s governess did not mean that she should deprive herself of the whole world! But that was what he evidently expected of her! She was to wither and die by degrees, while her charge got everything she pleased! Well!
Not a very happy pair, poor Edith and her disgruntled keeper, they took walks about the inn, and then, for something to do, Miss Henley started asking her questions, speaking to her for once like someone her own mature and knowing age.
“Your father is most cruel and tyrannical to women!” she fumed. “I don’t have to put up with it!”
Edith, appalled, rose in her father’s defense as best she could, but hadn’t the words. “No, he is a good man. I love him dearly!”
Miss Henley shrugged, and puffed out her lips. “I suppose you do, you silly puss. You don’t know anything better than that. But I do, I can tell you that!”
That was news to Edith. What could be better than a father’s love, or a mother’s love? Miss Henley took a look around, to see if there were any good-looking young men in the streets.
There happened to be several.
“See them there?” she indicated with her eye. “They’ll kiss me hard if I let them. No peck on the cheek either! And then--if I let them kiss you too--you’d know something better than your father.”
This was most amazing news to Miss Edith. Being kissed by strange men, however, wasn’t her idea of “something better.”
“Maybe so, but I prefer my father.”
“Oh, be that way, silly girl!” Miss Henley laughed, her “hahaha” sounding more from her deep middle than from her throat. “But when you’re my age, you’ll think differently!” she crowed. “Ha, won’t she now!” Then she began to sing one of her sailor’s ditties, “The little pink mouse and the big black he-bear, she was pulling on her hose when she found him gazing there--”
Edith said nothing, both her ears and her cheeks tingling, and let Miss Henley talk on, about the boys she had known in Liverpool, where she had grown up. “They’re absolutely lovely to girls like me. Just lovely. Buy you such nice things! This valuable ring, for example.”
She pulled out a ring she had hidden in her clothing. It looked to Edith like a diamond, but Miss Henley put it quickly away.
“I could marry that one, he was so urgent to marry and got splendid good pay as a Guinness and Whitebread carter, but--”
Miss Henley’s eyes grew shrewd. “--but I may find something better if I waited, I told myself, and--” Her lips pouted and her expression turned grumpy. “Oh, dear, maybe I should have taken him after all, even if he was just a brewery’s carter. Here I am, stuck with silly, little you, and your father and mother in the middle of nowhere--this funny, boring old Wales!”
The Busketts took leave of Castle Edzell, Elimelech’s business concluded satisfactorily. The duke’s wife, distracted by the disappearance of the daughter, forgot nearly all her last-minute changes, and Mr. Buskett was able to complete the curtains as he saw fit. Once back in England, Miss Henley was put on a one-way express coach to Liverpool, and the family continued on to Abbotsbury. Edith never did get her prize. But Emyr did. He took the scroll, found out it was paper-thin metal and not paper, and decided it couldn’t possibly be intended for a plain, small English mouse like Edith Buskett, for it said:
saves a Nation at the Sea;
When dragons, Red against our White,
rise to joust where mitres burye.