And then it seemed as though the cooing and rustling of the pigeons came right through the roof and crowded round them in a sort of dazzlement and cloud of pigeon noises. The pigeon noises came closer and closer, and garments were drawn out of the chest and put on the children . They did not know how it was done, any more than you do--but it seemed, somehow, that the pigeon noises were like hands that helped, and presently there the two children stood in clothing such as they had never worn. Elfrida had a short-waisted dress of green-sprigged cotton, with a long and skimpy skirt. Her square-toed brown shoes were gone, and her feet wore flimsy sandals. Her arms were bare, and a muslin handkerchief was folded across her chest. Edred wore very white trousers that came right up under his arms, a blue coat with brass buttons, and a sort of frilly tucker round his neck. "I say!" they both said, when the pigeon noises had taken themselves away, and they were face to face in the long, empty room.
observations: We’re having something of an E Nesbit festival on Clothes in Books - in the past we’ve had Five Children and It, and the Railway Children. A recent discussion in the comments (on the subject of BBC teatime serials) brought this from blogfriend Daniel Milford Cottam:
The House of Arden. Read it. ASAP. All I'm saying is: ULTIMATE E. Nesbit for Clothes in Books.
Well – I could hardly ignore that, could I? First of all I had to do the BBC-serial subject – The Enchanted Castle and the terrifying Uglie-Wuglies. And in the process discovered yet another Nesbit fan to come in with Daniel and me: Lissa Evans, author of one of my favourite recent books, The Crooked Heart. (We’re going to form a Nesbit gang.)
So now, The House of Arden and (of course) Daniel is absolutely right: it is the perfect book for the blog. The two children Elfrida and Edred travel back in time by means of putting on the right clothes for the era, which are fully described by Nesbit. In the extract above, they are about to land in Napoleonic times, 1807. In subsequent chapters they will get themselves to 1705 (highwayman and the Old Pretender) and to Tudor times and a meeting with Anne Boleyn, and (with a sense of real jeopardy) into the 1605 Gunpowder Plot and subsequently to the Tower of London. There’s almost too much plot in this book – you feel that each of these adventures could have formed a whole book (as well as a blog entry). There is Sir Walter Raleigh, and there are smugglers, and they come to suspect that there are other people travelling back and forwards in time.
As ever, Nesbit takes the magic processes seriously – the children have to learn what they can and can’t do, and there is even a witchcraft sub-plot. There is a bad-tempered creature in charge – the Mouldiwarp, a white mole
“We want you to do what the spell says,” said Edred.Nesbit gets a plug in for her own book The Amulet which features the similarly grumpy Psammead.
“Make you brave and wise? That can’t be done all in a minute. That’s a long job that is” said the mole viciously.
The picture above is from 1808 and is by Henry Raeburn – there are too many children in it, but it seemed just right for, particularly, Edred. From The Athenaeum website. The other one is an illustration from an early edition of the book.