Inside the room, beyond the curtains, Sophie suddenly heard what was obviously a knock on the door.
She heard the doorknob being turned. She heard someone entering the room.
'Good morning, Your Majesty,' a woman was saying. It was the voice of an oldish person.
There was a pause and then a slight rattle of china and silver.
'Wil you have your tray on the bed, ma'am, or on the table?'
'Oh Mary! Something awful has just happened!' This was a voice Sophie had heard many times on radio and television, especially on Christmas Day. It was a very wel -known voice.
'Whatever is it, ma'am?'
'I've just had the most frightful dream! It was a nightmare! It was awful!'
'Oh, I am sorry, ma'am. But don't be distressed. You're awake now and it wil go away. It was only a dream, ma'am.'
'Do you know what I dreamt, Mary? I dreamt that girls and boys were being snatched out of their beds at boarding-school and were being eaten by the most ghastly giants! The giants were putting their arms in through the dormitory windows and plucking the children out with their fingers! One lot from a girls'
school and another from a boys' school! It was all so ... so vivid, Mary! It was so real! '
There was a silence. Sophie waited. She was quivering with excitement. But why the silence? Why didn't the other one, the maid, why didn't she say something?
'What on earth's the matter, Mary?' the famous voice was saying.
There was another silence.
'Mary! You've gone as white as a sheet! Are you feeling il ?'
There was suddenly a crash and a clatter of crockery which could only have meant that the tray the maid was carrying had fallen out of her hands.
'Mary!' the famous voice was saying rather sharply. 'I think you'd better sit down at once! You look as though you're going to faint! You real y mustn't take it so hard just because I've had an awful dream.'
'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 al 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 actual y happened. That's why I came over al 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 real y 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 real y 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 pul ed 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-control ed 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 nightie.
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 smal 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 stil 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'l 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 truthful y, 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 wel ! I dreamt there would be a little girl sitting on my window-sil 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-sil ? No, don't answer that! Hang on a moment! I dreamed that part of it, too! I dreamed that a giant put you there!'