A Midnight Adventure

The Grand Dining Room of the castle was brilliantly lighted by three
huge crystal chandeliers. Each of the chandeliers flamed with more than
a score of tapering lights which were reflected shimmeringly in the
alabaster ceiling and walls.

As soon as Twink, Tom, and Twiffle entered the dining room, they were
espied by Queen Curtain who motioned them to seat themselves at her
right. Queen Curtain and King Ticket occupied the head of the table.
The Lords and Ladies of the Castle were filing into the dining room,
chattering spiritedly, and all handsomely gowned and garbed. In a few
minutes all were seated. There were a few curious glances at the three
strangers at the table, but for the most part the Lords and Ladies of
the Valley of Romance were far too excited over the play they were to
witness that evening to give more than a passing glance to the children
and the little clown.

The meal passed, through many delicious and elaborate courses, with no
incidents. Queen Curtain played the charming host, occasionally tossing
pleasant remarks to the children and Twiffle. Poor Lady Cue put salt in
her tea instead of sugar, but she drank the entire cup without seeming
to notice her mistake.

“Perhaps she really likes it that way,” Twink whispered to Tom.

At the end of the meal, King Ticket rose and addressed the assemblage
solemnly: “The moment has come for which we have prepared these many
days. We will now pass into the theater for the first performance of
the new play.”

No one spoke. This, apparently was an important moment. The only sound
in the vast dining room was the rustling of the ladies’ skirts and the
patter of footsteps on the alabaster floor.

Queen Curtain took Twink by the hand, and Tom and Twiffle followed into
the theater. It was brilliantly lighted as the Lords and Ladies settled
into their seats. A few of them hurried backstage–they were the ones
who worked the scenery and otherwise aided in the presentation of the
play. Twink, Tom, and Twiffle found themselves seated in the Royal Box
with King Ticket and Queen Curtain.

The houselights dimmed, the curtains went up, and with no preliminaries
the play was under way.

Two actors walked woodenly forward on the stage. They were dressed
in what Twink and Tom could tell was supposed to be armor, but was
obviously kitchen utensils strung together and about to fall off.
From the words they were saying, the two knights seemed to be getting
very angry at each other. But they looked at the audience, instead of
looking at each other, and spoke their lines in a dazed, unexcited way
as though they were talking in their sleep. Impossible as it seemed
from their lack of action, it became apparent that they were so enraged
they had decided to fight out in a tournament, their quarrel over
a lady. Oh, yes, there she was at the side of the stage, paying no
attention at all to the knights.

The tournament scene came next. The knights in their pots and pans were
mounted on extraordinary horses. Each was made up of two men covered
with tufted candlewick bedspreads. They too moved about the stage in a
slow and sleepy way. The lady who had inspired the fight looked on from
her box seat at the side of the stage, waving her handkerchief. But it
had slipped her mind apparently that it was the tournament she was
watching, and she looked straight at the audience and listlessly waved
her handkerchief as if trying to attract the attention of anyone who
might care to wave back at her.

When the knights supposedly rushed their horses at each other and aimed
their spears, the steeds ambled slowly in opposite directions, so far
apart that they seemed not to be aware of each other at all. When they
did finally get together, the horse of the knight who was to be winner
slipped and fell down, and the bedspread slid to the floor. The horse
and the knight who was to be victorious had to be re-assembled before
he could triumph over his victim who had been watching him pick himself
up off the floor.

Twink and Tom had to clap their hands over their mouths to keep from
bursting out with laughter. They did this because it was apparent that
King Ticket, Queen Curtain, and the Lords and Ladies took the play
quite seriously. Indeed, they were wildly enthusiastic.

Throughout the entire play the scenery kept toppling over, Lord
Props provided the wrong sound effects, and stage furniture at every
opportunity, and Lady Cue became so interested in a book of poetry that
she read from this instead of giving the actors and actresses their
proper lines.

Twink and Tom thought it strange that the people on the stage should
mumble their lines so badly and behave altogether as though they were
only half awake and were moving by clockwork.

Act after act continued in this fashion. But the audience saw only
the drama as it was intended. The Queen and the Ladies wept openly,
applying delicate lace handkerchiefs to their eyes. King Ticket and the
Lords, being men, contented themselves with brushing away a furtive
tear and repeatedly blowing their noses loudly in their spotless white
linen kerchiefs.

“Magnificent!” exclaimed King Ticket.

“Glorious!” proclaimed Queen Curtain through her tears. “This play will
run for years–it is one of the greatest romances we have ever staged!”

“Romance!” sighed King Ticket. “Ah, sublime romance–there is nothing
in the world so touching and beautiful!”

It was near the end of the last act. Twink and Tom were nodding.
Suddenly a new actor appeared upon the stage. Twink’s half shut eyes
flew open. She grasped Tom by the arms and shook him awake. Twiffle
leaned forward, holding on to the rail of the box. None of them said a
word. For a few seconds they merely stared, unbelievingly.

The new character who had come on the stage and was even then mumbling
his lines in a mechanical voice was the Shaggy Man!

At the sight of the Shaggy Man on the stage, Twink couldn’t contain
herself. She leaned far out of the box and called “Shaggy Man! Here we
are–it’s Tom, Twiffle, and Twink!”

If the Shaggy Man heard, he gave no indication of it. His eyes stared
straight ahead of him, and he mumbled the words of his lines as though
he were speaking in a dream in which he was only half awake.

But King Ticket and Queen Curtain, as well as the audience of Lords and
Ladies heard. A wave of annoyed “Sshhhhhhs” arose from the audience,
while Queen Curtain grabbed Twink by the arm, pulling her back into her
seat and saying angrily: “How dare you interrupt the play! For that you
shall join your precious Shaggy Man on the stage tomorrow night.”

Tom started from his seat indignantly at the Queen’s threatening words,
but Twiffle, who looked worried, pulled him back. The three unwilling
play-goers fell into an uneasy silence.

A few moments later the curtain came down with a crash and the play was
over.

“Dear, dear me,” remarked King Ticket. “There go the curtain ropes
again. We shall have to repair them tomorrow.”

Queen Curtain turned to Twiffle and the children. “Go to your rooms
immediately,” she ordered sternly. “You know where they are. Don’t try
to escape. That is impossible. All the doors leading out of the castle
are securely locked. And as for you,” she said, shooting Twink an angry
glance, “you will be taken care of tomorrow. Now be gone–all of you!”

Twink shivered. Tom took her hand, and with Twiffle following, they
made their way out of the theater to their rooms. They passed unnoticed
through the Lords and Ladies who were noisily discussing the play,
exclaiming over its excellence, and looking forward to the next night’s
performance–of the same play.

As soon as they were in their rooms, Twiffle quickly closed the door
and silently motioned the children to his side.

The little clown was plainly excited. “Listen,” he whispered to the
children. “I believe I have figured out what has happened to the Shaggy
Man–and all the rest of the actors and actresses, for that matter.
They have been enchanted. King Ticket and Queen Curtain have cast some
kind of spell upon them so that they are only half awake. The only
existence they have is their dream-like life on the stage as they go
through their parts in the play.”

“I see,” nodded Twink. “I believe you’re right. Otherwise Shaggy would
surely have answered when I called to him from the box.”

“Of course,” said Twiffle.

“Then you don’t think,” surmised Tom, “that any of the actors and
actresses are Lords and Ladies of the castle?”

“Not a bit of it,” stated Twiffle firmly. “It is my belief that they
are people from adjoining countries, who, like ourselves, have wandered
unwittingly into the castle, and have been enchanted for the pleasure
of King Ticket, Queen Curtain, and the Lords and Ladies who have always
lived here.”

“You must be right,” murmured Twink, recalling how King Ticket had
brushed aside their question as to the identity of the actors and
actresses.

“Of course, I am right,” asserted Twiffle. “It is the only solution
that answers all the questions. What we must do now is find a way to
rescue the Shaggy Man tonight before King Ticket and Queen Curtain have
a chance to cast their disgusting old spell on Twink tomorrow.”

“Then, let’s get started,” said Tom. “What do we do, Twiffle?”

“Nothing now,” replied Twiffle. “We must wait until everyone in the
castle is asleep. Only then will it be safe for us to act.”

Twink and Tom tried to be calm during the next hour, as they discussed
with Twiffle their chances of rescuing the Shaggy Man and making an
escape from the castle.

At last Twiffle went quietly to the door and slowly opened it, peering
up and down the hall corridor. The entire castle seemed to be wrapped
in deep silence. There was not a sound.

“Come,” whispered Twiffle, “I believe it is safe to proceed now.
Everyone seems to be asleep. You must walk on your tip-toes, so your
steps won’t be heard.”

“Where are we going, Twiffle?” whispered Tom.

“To the theater, and then backstage–that is where I am almost sure we
will find the Shaggy Man and all the rest of the unfortunate actors and
actresses.”

The lights of the castle were dimmed to a soft glow, but this was
enough for the adventurers to find their way to the theater with no
trouble. Here, the same soft light glowed, filling the theater with a
thin, ghostly luminescence.

Twiffle quickly led the way down the aisle, then up the small flight
of stairs to the stage. Beckoning the children to follow him, Twiffle
darted through the wings to the back of the stage. Here an amazing
sight greeted them.

Lined up in two rows, like soldiers on a drill field, were about fifty
men, women, and children. Some of them Twink and Tom recalled having
seen on the stage earlier that evening. They ranged in age from small
children to elderly men and women. They stood stiffly, as though they
were at attention. Their eyes were tight shut. So still were these
figures that Twink couldn’t tell whether or not they were breathing. In
the front row stood the Shaggy Man.

“Every type for every part,” muttered Twiffle to himself. Then,
turning to the children, he whispered, “Here they are, just as I
suspected–the unfortunate victims of King Ticket and Queen Curtain.
They have no more life than mere dummies, until the curtain goes up and
they walk on the stage to play their parts in that absurd drama.”

Twiffle approached the Shaggy Man and studied him intently. At last he
sighed and shook his head. “I am afraid there is nothing we can do just
now,” he admitted. “I learned a little magic from Conjo, and I hoped
that I might be able to release the Shaggy Man, but the spell that is
upon him is a strange one. I have no power to break it.”

“There must surely be _something_ we can do,” said Tom, thinking of
Queen Curtain’s threatening speech to Twink.

“I must have time to think,” said Twiffle. “At least we have discovered
the whereabouts of the Shaggy Man and we know what has happened to him
and all these other poor people. There must be some way to release
them, if only I can hit upon it. I suggest we return to our rooms. We
certainly don’t want to be discovered here.”

“But what about Twink?” asked Tom with dismay.

“I am hoping I can prevent Queen Curtain from making good her threat,”
replied Twiffle grimly.

“Oh, don’t worry about me,” said Twink bravely. “If worst comes to
worst and I don’t make a better actress than the rest of these folks,
I’ll be awfully disappointed in myself.”

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