This is about halfway through the book. After facing the Number Crunchers and the Black Knight, Peter, Puck and Rosemary stumble out onto a well-tended lawn…
They ran. Peter stumbled in the bits of armour he couldn’t get off. Puck led them along a streambed to cover their scent, and then along the forest path until Peter begged for rest. Puck left them gasping, and listened to the forest for signs of pursuit.
“I hear nothing,” he said when he came back. “We have left our pursuers far behind.”
Rosemary wiped her face on her brocade sleeves. Her long skirts were soaked and torn.
“What were those things?” panted Peter. “I never read about things like that.”
Rosemary hefted her skirts and marched ahead. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”
They followed the forest path until it suddenly spilled onto a large well-tended lawn, rolled into hills and dotted with pruned hedges. Roiling clouds covered the sky. The wind picked up.
Rosemary paused, took a deep breath and stepped out onto the smooth green grass.
She doubled over, gasping. “Ack!” She clutched her stomach. “What am I wearing?”
Blue and green taffeta covered her from neck to toe. Instead of her glasses, gilt pince-nez spectacles pinched her nose, attached to a ribbon around her neck. The dress had a bustle and the waist was alarmingly tight.
“I-I think it’s a Victorian dress,” said Peter. He was wearing flannel pants, a starched shirt, an ascot tie and an evening jacket.
“It’s got a corset,” Rosemary gasped. “I feel like I’m being squeezed to death by a picket fence! Wait here.”
She staggered away from Peter and Puck and slipped behind the cover of a hedge. The bushes began to quake and rustle as she grunted and yelled. The dress flew into view, followed by a mound of crinolines, which blew away like white tumbleweeds. Still the grunting and snapping of branches continued.
Peter shivered in the freshening wind. “Rosemary, hurry up!”
“I’m going as fast as I can!” Crack! Snap! She let out a cry of triumph.
An arm reached out and pulled the overdress back behind the cover of the hedge. A moment later, Rosemary emerged, her blue-green dress straining over her stomach and trailing on the ground. She hefted the corset like a trophy of war.
Peter goggled at the vicious looking object of whalebone. “Women wore those?”
Rosemary tossed the corset away. “Not anymore.”
“Are you all right, Sage Rosemary?” asked Puck.
“My stomach hurts, but it could be from Princess Petunia jumping on me.”
“Asphodel,” said Puck.
“Whatever.” She finally noticed her new glasses and snatched them off to peer at them.
As she turned away, Peter stared. “Rosemary, y-you missed some of the buttons.” Her dress gapped at the back of her waist.
Rosemary gave Peter a look. He raised his hands. “Never mind.”
“We make progress with every step,” said Puck, “so let us not stop here. Come!” He led the way across the grounds.
Rosemary’s dress was too long now that it wasn’t held out by crinolines. She stumbled over the hem several times, and finally, nearing the crest of a hill, she tripped on it and fell over. “This is ridiculous! The sooner we finish this challenge the better!” Peter helped her up. “What do we have to do?”
Puck was standing up the slope, looking over the hill. “Keep our feet, Sage Rosemary. And keep our heads.”
Peter loosened his ascot and handed it to her. “Here. Belt it up.”
Rosemary hoisted her skirts and tied the grey sash around her waist. Thunder rolled across the sky. “I hope this challenge is indoors. Puck, what are you looking at?” She came up to the crest of the hill and stopped in her tracks. “Oh, no.”
A mansion of dark stone and crooked shutters frowned across at them. Behind it, a towering black cloud flashed with lighting. At the roof’s peak, a weathervane in the shape of a running maiden spun wildly. They could hear its little metal cries.
Rosemary took a step back, pressing into Puck. “I know what this is,” she said. “I know enough to know we shouldn’t go in there!”
“But the challenge—” Puck began.
“I don’t care about the challenge!” said Rosemary, shaking. “We go around or something.”
Peter was ahead of them by a few paces, standing just past the crest. “Or something?” he echoed. “Rosemary, look at this.”
Rosemary and Puck climbed the rest of the way to him and looked.
The front door of the house was before them. The wings of it stretched out on either side, and kept on stretching. Rosemary’s gaze followed the roofline as it rolled over the hills to the darkening horizon, like the Great Wall of China. “That’s not fair!”
Puck squeezed her shoulder. “It is the Land of Fiction. It is not meant to be fair.”
Lightning flashed. Peter blinked. “Look, a Zeppelin! Isn’t it bad for them to be out in storms?”
Rosemary started, and followed Peter’s pointing finger. In the distance, a long cigar-shaped airship hovered over a wing of the house. She looked down at her dress and back towards it. “Did they even have Zeppelins back… uh… now?”
Puck stepped forward, rubbing his chin. “A ship that floats in the sky? My, my!”
The airship made a slow turn towards them. Rosemary shivered. Lightning flashed again. “Come on. Let’s get inside before it rains.” She led the way down the hill to the front door.
Peter and Puck followed as she crunched across the gravel driveway. A single crow cawed, and there was a rumble of thunder. Rosemary craned her neck up at the grey face of the house, and hesitated. Peter eased her forward, up the marble steps.
Thunder cracked. Rain started suddenly, coming down in torrents. As Rosemary reached up to knock, the door creaked opened by itself.
“Oh, that can’t be good,” said Peter.
“Nope,” said Rosemary. Without thinking, she took his hand. Together, they stepped inside.
They entered a panelled lobby, hung with huge portraits and rusting swords. Dim gas lamps filled the space with flickering shadow. Heavy velvet drapes stirred in cold drafts. They edged forward, footsteps echoing.
The door creaked closed behind them and shut with a click. The wind found all the small holes and openings and moaned down the hallways.
Peter shivered. “What do we do now?”
Rosemary shrugged. “Get through the house, I guess. We look for a back door. I just hope nobody notices us.” They stepped forward.
Rosemary felt something tug at her hem and she whirled around. A suit of armour staggered forward and she ducked back with a scream. The armour toppled to the floor, smashing to pieces with a gigantic crash. The metal clatter echoed and reechoed through the house for several minutes before finally dying down.
Peter and Puck stared at her in silence. She stood surrounded by pieces of armour, the hem of her dress still snagged on the axe handle. She yanked it free. “I hate this dress,” she muttered.
“Think somebody noticed us?” said Peter.
“Shut up!” she snapped.
The wind rose. The moan became a thin whistle.
Peter and Rosemary drew closer together. “I have a bad feeling about this,” he said.
“Yeah. Come on.”
A trap door opened beneath their feet and they fell with a single scream.
Peter and Rosemary found themselves sliding down a chute. They smashed through a swinging door and then they were rolling across a carpeted hallway, landing in a tangled heap against a wall. Puck somersaulted out of the hatch and landed nimbly on his feet beside them.
Rosemary’s skirts had flown up and tangled around her head. She felt as if she were tied in a sack. She flailed her way free. “Right!” she said. “That’s it! I might have to do a haunted house, but I won’t do this stupid dress!” She tore at it, sending tiny black buttons flying. She yanked the skirt back up over her head.
“Rosemary, w-what are you doing?” Peter stuttered. White undergarments were emerging from the tangle of blue and green. “Calm down!”
“I’ll be… calm,” she grunted, struggling inside the taffeta, “I’ll be … calm … as soon … as I get … this thing … off!” Rosemary’s head burst out of the dress, and she flung it aside in triumph. She was wearing stockings, knee-length bloomers, a laced camisole, and a wicked grin. Her Victorian updo was a frizzled wreck. “There,” she said, “Now I’m calm!”
She stood up and saw Peter staring at her, agog. “What?” she said. “I’m wearing lots!”
“Well, yeah, but, all of that’s under—” He stumbled. “I mean, you’re—” Silence stretched. “You look fine.” He turned away. “What do we do now?”