“I’m very sorry to have kept her waiting,” said Hugh, feeling Jeanne nudge him. “I hope she has not been waiting very long?”
“Oh no,” said the right-hand cat, “not long; not above three hundred years.”
Jeanne gave a start of astonishment.
“Three hundred——” “years,” she was going to say, but the left-hand cat interrupted her.
“You are not to be surprised,” he said, very hastily, and Jeanne could not quite make out if he was frightened or angry, or a little of both. “You must not think of being surprised. Nobody is ever surprised here.”
“No one is ever surprised here,” repeated the right-hand cat. “This is the Castle of Whiteness, you know. You are sure you have nothing coloured about you?” he added, anxiously.
Instinctively both the children put their hands up to their heads.
“Only our hair,” they said.
“Mine’s light-brown, you see,” said Hugh.
“And mine’s bl——” Jeanne was saying, but the cats, both speaking together this time, stopped her with a squeal of horror.
“Oh, oh, oh!” they said. “Where are your manners? You must never mention such a word. Your hair, Mademoiselle, is shadowy. That is the proper expression.”
Jeanne was annoyed, and did not speak. Hugh felt himself bound to defend her from the charge of bad manners.
“You needn’t be so sharp,” he said to the cats; “your eyes are as green as they can be.”
“Green doesn’t count,” said the right-hand cat, coolly.
“And how were we to know that?” said Hugh.
“I don’t know,” said the left-hand cat.
“Well, but can’t you be sensible?” said Hugh, who didn’t feel inclined to give in to two cats.
“Perhaps we might be if we tried,” said the right-hand cat. “But——”
A sudden sound interrupted him. It was as if some one had moved a piece of furniture with squeaking castors.
“Madame’s turning her wheel,” said the left-hand cat. “Now’s the time.”
Both cats got down from their chairs, and each, standing on their hind legs, proceeded to open his side of the door between the chairs—or “doors” I should almost say, for it was a double-hinged one, opening in the middle, and the funny thing about it was that one side opened outwards, and the other inwards, so that at first, unless you were standing just exactly in the middle, you did not see very clearly into the inside.
“THE BROWN BULL OF NORROWA.”
“Delicate, strong, and white,
Hurrah for the magic thread!
The warp and the woof come right.”
They were not to be surprised! Both the children remembered that, and yet it was a little difficult to avoid being so.
At first all they saw was just another white room, a small one, and with a curious pointed window in one corner. But when the doors were fully opened there was more to be seen. In the first place, at the opposite corner, was a second window exactly like the other, and in front of this window a spinning-wheel was placed, and before this spinning-wheel sat, on a white chair, a white-haired lady.