The following morning Captain Mumchance rode off to search Miss Primrose Crabapple’s Academy for fairy fruit. And in his pocket was a warrant for the arrest of that lady should his search prove successful.
But when he reached the Academy he found that the birds had flown. The old rambling house was empty and silent. No light feet tripped down its corridors, no light laughter wakened its echoes. Some fierce wind had scattered the Crabapple Blossoms. Miss Primrose, too, had disappeared.
A nameless dread seized Captain Mumchance as he searched through the empty silent rooms.
He found the bedrooms in disorder – drawers half opened, delicately tinted clothing heaped on the floor – indicating that the flitting had been a hurried one.
Beneath each bed, too, he found a little pair of shoes, very down at heel, with almost worn-out soles, looking as if the feet that had worn them must have been very busy.
He continued his search down to the kitchen premises, where he found Mother Tibbs sitting smiling to herself, and crooning.
“Now, you cracked harlot,” he cried roughly, “what have you been up to, I’d like to know? I’ve had my eye on you, my beauty, for a very long time. If
But Mother Tibbs was more crazy than usual that day, and her only answer was to trip up and down the kitchen floor, singing snatches of old songs about birds set free, and celestial flowers, and the white fruits that grow on the Milky Way.
Mumchance was holding one of the little shoes, and catching sight of it, she snatched it from him, and tenderly stroked it, as if it had been a wounded dove.
“Dancing, dancing, dancing!” she muttered, “dancing day and night! It’s stony dancing on dreams.”
And with an angry snort Mumchance realized, not for the first time in his life, that it was a waste of time trying to get any sense out of Mother Tibbs.
So he started again to search the house, this time for fairy fruit.
However, not a pip, not a scrap of peel could he find that looked suspicious. But, finally, in the loft he discovered empty sacks with great stains of juice on them, and it could have been no ordinary juice, for some of the stains were colours he had never seen before.
The terrible news of the Crabapple Blossoms’ disappearance spread like wildfire through Lud-in-the-Mist. Business was at a standstill. Half the Senators, and some of the richer tradesmen, had daughters in the Academy, and poor Mumchance was besieged by frantic parents who seemed to think that he was keeping their daughters concealed somewhere on his person. They were all, too, calling down vengeance on the head of Miss Primrose Crabapple, and demanding that she should be found and handed over to justice.
It was Endymion Leer who got the credit for finding her. He brought her, sobbing and screaming, to the guard-room of the Yeomanry. He said he had discovered her wandering about, half frantic, on the wharf, evidently hoping to take refuge in some outward bound vessel.
She denied all knowledge of what had happened to her pupils, and said she had woken up that morning to find the birds flown.
She also denied, with passionate protestations, having given them fairy fruit. In this, Endymion Leer supported her. The smugglers, he said, were men of infinite resource and cunning, and what more likely than that they should have inserted the stuff into a consignment of innocent figs and grapes?
“And school girls being one quarter boy and three quarters bird,” he added with his dry chuckle, “they cannot help being orchard thieves