'That ... that ... that isn't the reason, ma'am.' The maid's voice was quivering terribly.
'Then for heaven's sake what is the reason?'
'I'm very sorry about the tray, ma'am.'
'Oh, don't worry about the tray. But what on earth was it that made you drop it? Why did you go white as a ghost all of a sudden?'
'You haven't seen the papers yet, have you, ma'am?'
'No, what do they say?'
Sophie heard the rustling of a newspaper as it was being handed over.
'It's like the very dream you had in the night, ma'am.'
'Rubbish, Mary. Where is it?'
'On the front page, ma'am. It's the big headlines.'
'Great Scott!' cried the famous voice. 'Eighteen girls vanish mysteriously from their beds at Roedean School! Fourteen boys disappear from Eton! Bones are found underneath dormitory windows!'
Then there was a pause punctuated by gasps from the famous voice as the newspaper article was clearly being read and digested.
'Oh, how ghastly!' the famous voice cried out. 'It's absolutely frightful! Bones under the windows! What can have happened? Oh, those poor children!'
'But ma'am ... don't you see, ma'am ...'
'See what, Mary?'
'Those children were taken away almost exactly as you dreamt it, ma'am!'
'Not by giants, Mary.'
'No, ma'am. But the bit about the girls and boys disappearing from their dormitories, you dreamt it so clearly and then it actually happened. That's why I came over all queer, ma'am.'
'I'm coming over a bit queer myself, Mary.'
'It gives me the shakes, ma'am, when something like that happens, it really does.'
'I don't blame you, Mary.'
'I shall get you some more breakfast, ma'am, and have this mess cleared up.'
'No! Don't go, Mary! Stay here a moment!'
Sophie wished she could see into the room, but she didn't dare touch the curtains. The famous voice began speaking again. 'I really did dream about those children, Mary. It was clear as crystal.'
'I know you did, ma'am.'
'I don't know how giants got into it. That was rubbish.'
'Shall I draw the curtains, ma'am, then we shall all feel better. It's a lovely day.'
With a swish, the great curtains were pulled aside.
The maid screamed.
Sophie froze to the window-ledge.
The Queen, sitting up in her bed with The Times on her lap, glanced up sharply. Now it was her turn to freeze. She didn't scream as the maid had done. Queens are too self-controlled for that. She simply sat there staring wide-eyed and white-faced at the small girl who was perched on her window-sill in a
Sophie was petrified.
Curiously enough, the Queen looked petrified, too. One would have expected her to look surprised, as you or I would have done had we discovered a small girl sitting on our window-sill first thing in the morning. But the Queen didn't look surprised. She looked genuinely frightened.
The maid, a middle-aged woman with a funny cap on the top of her head, was the first to recover. 'What in the name of heaven do you think you're doing in here?' she shouted angrily to Sophie.
Sophie looked beseechingly towards the Queen for help.
The Queen was still staring at Sophie. Gaping at her would be more accurate. Her mouth was slightly open, her eyes were round and wide as two saucers, and the whole of that famous rather lovely face was filled with disbelief.
'Now listen here, young lady, how on earth did you get into this room?' the maid shouted furiously.
'I don't believe it,' the Queen was murmuring. 'I simply don't believe it.'
'I'll take her out, ma'am, at once,' the maid was saying,
'No, Mary! No, don't do that!' The Queen spoke so sharply that the maid was quite taken aback. She turned and stared at the Queen. What on earth had come over her? It looked as though she was in a state of shock.
'Are you all right, ma'am?' the maid was saying.
When the Queen spoke again, it was in a strange strangled sort of whisper. 'Tell me, Mary,' she said, 'tell me quite truthfully, is there really a little girl sitting on my window-sill, or am I still dreaming?'
'She is sitting there all right, ma'am, as clear as daylight, but heaven only knows how she got there! Your Majesty is certainly not dreaming it this time!'
'But that's exactly what I did dream!' the Queen cried out. 'I dreamt that as well! I dreamt there would be a little girl sitting on my window-sill in her nightie and she would talk to me!'
The maid, with her hands clasped across her starched white bosom, was staring at her mistress with a look of absolute disbelief on her face. The situation was getting beyond her. She was lost. She had not been trained to cope with this kind of madness.
'Are you real?' the Queen said to Sophie.
'Y-y-yes, Your Majesty,' Sophie murmured.
'What is your name?'
'Sophie, Your Majesty.'
'And how did you get up on to my window-sill? No, don't answer that! Hang on a moment! I dreamed that part of it, too! I dreamed that a giant put you there!'
'He did, Your Majesty,' Sophie said.
The maid gave a howl of anguish and clasped her hands over her face.
'Control yourself, Mary,' the Queen said sharply. Then to Sophie she said, 'You are not serious about the giant, are you?'
'Oh yes, Your Majesty. He's out there in the garden now.'
'Is he indeed,' the Queen said. The sheer absurdity of it all was helping her to regain her composure. 'So he's in the garden, is he?' she said, smiling a little.
'He is a good giant, Your Majesty,' Sophie said. 'You need not be frightened of him.'
'I'm delighted to hear it,' said the Queen, still smiling.
'He is my best friend, Your Majesty.'
'How nice,' the Queen said.
'He's a lovely giant, Your Majesty.'
'I'm quite sure he is,' the Queen said. 'But why have you and this giant come to see me?'
'I think you have dreamed that part of it, too, Your Majesty,' Sophie said calmly.
That pulled the Queen up short.
It took the smile right off her face.
She certainly had dreamed that part of it. She was remembering now how, at the end of her dream, it had said that a little girl and a big friendly giant would come and show her how to find the nine horrible man-eating giants.
But be careful, the Queen told herself. Keep very calm. Because this is surely not very far from the place where madness begins.
'You did dream that, didn't you, Your Majesty?' Sophie said.
The maid was out of it now. She just stood there goggling.
'Yes,' the Queen murmured. 'Yes, now you come to mention it, I did. But how do you know what I dreamed?'
'Oh, that's a long story, Your Majesty,' Sophie said. 'Would you like me to call the Big Friendly Giant?'
The Queen looked at the child. The child looked straight back at the Queen, her face open and quite serious. The Queen simply didn't know what to make of it. Was someone pulling her leg, she wondered. 'Shall I call him for you?' Sophie went on. 'You'll like him very much.'