Perched on the top of a cliff overlooking the Atlantic ocean, the 'Castle of Smyle's' was an astonishing place. White with a hint of pink, and set amongst acres of magnificent gardens, it offered panoramic views from every direction. To the west - sea; to the east - vineyards and orchards; to the north - meadows and forest. Yet none of these were quite as spectacular as the view from the south with its orange grove, lakes and waterfalls, perfectly framed by gently rolling hills.
The interior of the castle was no less impressive. On arrival, the children and their companions were led into the main hall, which seemed to be made entirely of marble, its creamy floors, walls and enormous staircase flecked with gold and polished to a mirror of a shine. The high domed ceiling had been carved in alabaster, then decorated with a zillion tiny gems so that it sparkled overhead and, in the middle of the floor, was a sunken pool the size of a lake with a huge fountain spouting out of it.
“Awesome!” Odi gasped.
“There’s only one rule here,” exclaimed Mr Smyle as he ushered the children through this magnificent lobby, “You can do exactly what you like, as long as you do it with a smile. Smile, smile, smile! That’s the law!” and to illustrate his point, he contorted his face into such an enormous grin it was a wonder his ears didn’t drop off.
After tossing his cloak towards an apple-cheeked lady, who also seemed to smile a lot, he skipped part way up the magnificent staircase, turned to face his audience and flung out his arms dramatically. All he needed was a top hat to go with his gold-tipped cane, and he could have been the star of a 1940s musical.
“This” he announced, “is my kingdom and I’m willing to share it with you, so please consider yourselves my guests for as long as you wish. Mrs Bennett will show you to your rooms and maybe afterwards, you’d like to explore. I’d give you the guided tour myself but as always, I am very, very busy so you’ll have to amuse yourselves for a while.”
And he gave another little skip, and an extra hop for good measure. “Now, are there any questions?“ But, without waiting for a response, he twirled back down the staircase and made towards one of the huge reception rooms that led off from the lobby. “Good!“ he bellowed. “Enjoy your stay! I’ll be in the library, Mrs Bennett, looking forward to a cup of tea and a slice of your most excellent cake at ten o’clock precisely.”
The children watched him march across the enormous hall, nudging each other nervously until, just before their host disappeared completely, Miles plucked up the courage to speak. “We want to see our parents?!” he blurted, then feeling this sounded rather impolite, added the all important little word, “Please.”
Mr Smyle stopped, turned and stared blankly at Miles, as though he’d no idea what the boy was talking about at first, but then his eyes flickered with realisation. “Ahh, your parents, yes!” he murmured, almost to himself. “Now here’s the irony. Since you went missing, they’ve been travelling quite extensively in their search for you and, at this precise moment, I’ve no idea where they could be. But I’m sure we can track them down eventually so don’t worry, everything’s taken care of, young man. Absolutely everything.” With that, he gave a final nod to Mrs Bennett who, in turn, clapped her hands. Immediately, a swarm of servants appeared, or ‘Aides’ as Mr Smyle preferred to call them, all dressed in smart red uniforms and all smiling broadly as they led the children, Roots and Laurel up the sweeping marble staircase.
“Hey, it’s show time, campers!” cried Odi, “All we need now is the Big Nose contest, and we all know who’d win that, don‘t we?” and he smirked at Alice.
To everyone’s astonishment, especially Odi’s, the aides began to laugh - not just titter, mind, or chuckle politely behind their hands, but positively howl with merriment, doubled up with laughter, tears running down their cheeks, shrieking hyena-like with glee.
“Ooooh, Master Odi, you are a wag!” cried Mrs Bennett, stressing the point with a friendly shove, “I can see we’re going to have to order more tissues!”
“Wasn’t that funny!” muttered Odi, “although you’ll have to get some man-sized tissues for my lady here!” and set the aides howling all over again.
Alice would normally have answered this jibe with her usual, disdainful glare, but she too was taken aback by the servants’ reaction. Yet this was nothing compared to the astonishment of seeing their rooms!
Each was decorated in the theme of a particular jewel. Alice had the sapphire suite, which Mr. Smyle later claimed to have chosen for her specially on account of it matching her ‘wonderful blue eyes’, (the fact that they were green having apparently escaped him). Miles was given the emerald suite, while Joe and Odi shared the turquoise room which had two large beds with mattresses so springy you could bounce on them as high as the ceiling.
Roots, being an unexpected (not to say uninvited) guest, was assigned to somewhat more humble quarters.....a sparse, tiny room in the attic with nothing but a bed and a cupboard, although Laurel fared rather better with the Oyster room – apparently, she reminded Mr. Smyle of a Botticelli painting. Having had a proper look at Laurel, he decided he was rather glad he’d agreed to let her come. "Exquisite!” he sighed to her great embarrassment, “A veritable Venus, Venus de Milo emerging from her shell!"
"Isn't he wonderful?!" exclaimed Alice. "So kind, so friendly. And this house.....I must be dreaming!"
"It's like being in a fairy tale" said Roots, dryly. "Grimm!"
"Aw, you're just jealous 'cos you've got the dog's room" Odi remarked before generosity got the better of him. "But you can share our bathroom, if you like. It's got a power shower, and a jacuzzi big as a swimming pool....."
"Mine has too!” yelled Miles running from one suite to the other. “And it’s even got a basin for your feet!” Roots sniffed, refusing to join in the excitement. "Actually" he began "I'm not struck by all this luxury. This consumption is far too conspicuous by half, if you ask me. I mean, what does an eight year old want with a jacuzzi, for heavens’ sake! Give me a kennel any time - at least you can trust your neighbours!"
"Don't worry, Roots," begged Alice. "We won’t be here for long, so we might as well make the most of it."
At that moment, the butler appeared. "Mr. Smyle thought you'd appreciate a little snack before bedtime." He clapped his hands and a procession of men in white jackets carried silver platters full of food into Miles' bedroom. There was a mouthwatering choice of dishes, including vegetarian ones, West Indian ones and traditional English ones such as beefburgers, fish fingers, and curry. If anything could send them to bed happy, it was grub!
The next morning, the children awoke to a beautiful day and leapt out of bed to explore, only to find their clothes had disappeared! All they had to wear were the fluffy towelling bathrobes they'd been given the night before.
Roots was particularly upset. "Someone's stolen my stuff!" he raged. "I've only had those strides a year or two....and I got them from a really posh skip in Prestbury!"
"Perhaps we should ring for the housekeeper" Alice suggested and, in the flicker of a wick, Mrs. Bennett arrived, all bustling and friendly and efficient. Their clothes had been taken to the laundry, she explained, but in any case, there were plenty of garments in their closets if they cared to investigate.
"Most were flown in from Paris last night," she continued. "And, not wishing to disturb you, I took the liberty of hanging them up in your dressing rooms while you were asleep.” To demonstrate, she calmly walked into Alice’s room, opened the door to an enormous walk-in wardrobe and swept a hand over an eye-boggling array of garments. The rails were simply stashed with all the latest designer clothes, immaculately hung and coded in every conceivable colour. “Will there be anything else?"
"When's breakfast?" Odi enquired. "Whenever you're ready, Sir" came the reply.
Too excited to care about food, Alice ran into wardrobe in her room and started rifling through the clothes, examining the labels on each item. "Wow!" she yelled. "Gaultier....Yves St. Laurent......Givenchy......Chanel....Versace..."
"Galtier! That’s nothing, just check the ID on these babies!" Odi hooted from his own quarters. The boys' clothes were more 'street' but no less expensive. Sportswear, jeans, sweats, shirts, trainers......dozens and dozens of trainers! Trainers with flashes, trainers with lights, trainers with blades, silver trainers, purple trainers, trainers of every hue - there were even trainers encrusted with diamonds!
Laurel too had a fabulous new wardrobe and, despite her lack of materialism, found it hard to resist. "The amazing thing is, they all fit perfectly!" she mused after trying on one mouthwatering creation after another. It was the same for everyone - everyone, that is, but Roots. Although not left out completely, Roots had to be content with a couple of jumpers, two pairs of jeans, Doc Marten boots and an anorak – all from a budget range.
"That's not fair!" protested Joe, yet Roots insisted he didn't mind. "What on earth would I be doing with designer clothes? You can’t dig tunnels in Armani."
Nevertheless, Joe refused to wear any of his new things until Roots had a better selection too, so Mrs. Bennett was duly summoned and agreed to arrange for another delivery.
With all this finery, it was an amazingly well-dressed family who assembled for breakfast that morning, eager to see Mr Smyle and find out more about their parents. But their host didn’t appear that day, nor did they see him for another two weeks and neither Mrs. Bennett, nor the butler - nor indeed, any of the staff – were able to help. "You'll have to ask Mr. Smyle" was the constant response. "Can we see him today?" begged Alice.
"I'm afraid that will be quite impossible,” said Mr Soames the butler. "Mr. Smyle has temporarily left the country, although I am assured of his impending return."
When the master of the house did return some days later, it was with an unusually long face.
"Oh dear oh dear oh dear!" he sighed. "Oh dear oh dear oh dear."
"What's the matter, Mr. Smyle?" Alice wanted to know. "Is it about our parents?"
Mr. Smyle nodded sadly. "I'm afraid so, Alice. It’s just as I feared,” he said, and beckoned the children into the library. Waiting for his guests to be seated, he stood with his broad back to the fireplace, holding his gold cane in front of him. "They’re in Australia," he announced.