All the Time in the World
The house and the garden were waiting.
The house had been waiting a long time now, three hundred years, and the garden nearly as long, if you believed Old Henry, who should know. The first garden was planted by the same Robert Whiton who built the house, and it had gone on and on, renewing itself, as gardens do if there are owners who care about them, and the owners of this one did. All the Whitons had green thumbs.
Old Mrs. Whiton, who lived all alone in the house now, didn’t, or at least Old Henry said she didn’t, but then she was only a Whiton by marriage. She had been born a Miss Peterson, of Passaic, New Jersey. Even though she had lived in the house for over fifty years, Old Henry still considered her a foreigner.
As for the bank of thyme that led down from the garden to the sea, Old Henry said that his grandfather had said that his grandfather had said that it had been there when he was a boy.
What the Natterjack would have said, no one could tell, for no one had asked him. The Natterjack did not mind. He bided his time. He could wait.
He and the house and the garden were waiting. They were waiting for four children. They didn’t care how long they waited. They had all the time in the world.
Right now the four children were on a train. How they happened to be there is a long story. It is longest for Roger and Ann.
It all started when their father, who had never done anything unusual before, suddenly surprised everybody by writing a play. Of course it was a good play, because everything their father did with his mind was good (though his swings fell down and his rabbit hutches came apart).
And it must have been good, because the first man who read it wanted to put it on the stage right away. Only he wanted to put it on in England first and see how it went, before putting it on in America.
When Ann and Roger heard the news, they were jubilant.
“We can see the Tower of London!” said Roger.
“And Blackheath, where the Bastable children lived!” said Ann.
Their father and mother exchanged a look. It was the kind of look Roger and Ann had seen and grown to know in the past, and it usually meant that something could not be afforded.
“You see,” said their father slowly, as though he didn’t want to say it, “we all like the play, but maybe the audiences won’t. And until we know . . .”
“Yes, of course,” said Roger.
“We understand,” said Ann.
“If it’s a big hit, we’ll send for you right away, and all have a wonderful time,” said their mother.
There was a silence.
“What about the meantime?” said Roger. “Where’ll we be?”
“That,” said their father, “will take some working out.”
“I think,” said their mother, “I’ll put in a call to Baltimore right now.”
“Jack and Eliza?” said Ann, and her eyes danced, for she and Roger had had a wonderful yeomanly magic summer in Baltimore, Maryland, the year before, with the cousins of those names.
“No, Martha,” said their father. “We can’t go running to your sister Katharine to help us every time we have a problem!”
“I think,” said their mother, “I’ll put in a call anyway, just in case.”
And it turned out it was a lucky thing she did. Because it turned out that Aunt Katharine and Uncle John were planning a trip to England this summer, too, and they’d been wondering what to do about Jack and Eliza.
“It’s just a quick business trip,” said Aunt Katharine into the phone. “We wouldn’t have time to take them places. It wouldn’t be fair.”
After that the wires buzzed almost every night between Baltimore, Maryland, and Toledo, Ohio (where Ann and Roger lived), as one parent or another had a wonderful new idea about where to send the four children for the summer.
Only for one reason or another all the wonderful ideas fell through.
It was getting to be the middle of May and summer was fast approaching when Aunt Katharine thought of old Mrs. Whiton.
“It’s the perfect solution,” she said into the phone that night to Ann and Roger’s mother. “She’s kind of a great-aunt of John’s. She lives in a wonderful historic old house on the South Shore near Boston and she loves having children stay with her. She writes children’s books or something.”
“It’ll be ghastly,” said Eliza to Jack, when she heard the news. “She’ll keep wanting to draw us out. She’ll keep wanting to get at the content of the child mind!”
“Really, Eliza,” said Aunt Katharine.
“That’s enough, Eliza,” said Uncle John. And that was that.
And the next thing that happened was June, and school closed its hideous doors, and all was trunks and tickets, and in practically no time Roger and Ann found themselves with their father and mother on the train to New York City.
Roger didn’t bring his model soldiers and knights with him this time, because he had outgrown all that (except for an occasional sliding back now and then, and strictly in private). But he hadn’t outgrown some other things, and when Ann looked at him in a certain expectant, excited way, he knew perfectly well what she was thinking, and winked at her across the dining-car table.
What Ann was thinking was that maybe this summer would turn out to be a wonderful magic one like the summer before. It had a lot of magic-seeming things in it already—parents being called away and four children sent to stay in an old house by the sea. Lots of magic adventures in books started out that way.
But the next morning came New York City, which has a magic of its own, and Ann and Roger’s first sight of it was enough to blot out all thought of summer adventures, or indeed of anything else.
Jack and Eliza and Aunt Katharine and Uncle John met them in the station and took them back to their hotel, and for the next three days they looked at tall buildings, and battled with shopping crowds, and went round Manhattan Island on a ferryboat, and saw wonderful plays called Kismet and The Pajama Game and The Teahouse of the August Moon, only Roger and Ann knew all along that their father’s play wo...