Knowing nothing of the place in which she was Penelope had no idea that as her frustrations mounted and she felt time slipping away from her, that she was very close to her goal. So close in fact that it only took another half an hour and a short trip over a tiny bridge before the taxi stopped again. This time, at its destination.
“Here we are,” Tom announced.
Penelope climbed out of the yellow taxi as did the other occupants and looked to see just where here was. A tall and narrow house sat alone in a field where the wildflowers were only interrupted now and then by shade trees. There was no walk to the front door, nor gardens on any of the house’s sides. Nothing that anyone would do to the lawn in front or behind a house was done. The house simply sat in the field looking as though it had sprung up like one of the wild flowers or shade trees that kept it company. Penelope cut short her analysis of the area when she noticed that her companions had already ascended the front steps to the small porch that shaded the door. She rushed to catch up and established herself on the porch just as the front door opened to Tom Parker’s knock. A shiny pinkish grey head poked out of the open door and, with gleaming spectacles, spotlighted each of the party until it spotted Luella.
“Ah, Luella dear, come to borrow another book—and brought your sister with you, how nice,” the head said with a strange sarcastic emphasis on the last part, as if contrary to the many people who followed Twibble around like lost puppies, it found Twibble less than interesting.
As the door swung open wider, Penelope could see that the shiny pinkish grey head with spectacles was attached to the body of an old man in a scuffed up brown suit that looked a few decades out of fashion. He stood back so that the four of them could enter the tall and narrow house. Penelope was so taken by his bright red spats—she knew they were spats because she had read about them in an old costuming book—that she didn’t immediately notice the house interior until the door was fully shut behind her.
When she noticed however, if Penelope were prone to making those low whistles that indicated a sense of awe, she would have, but Penelope was never really good at whistling, so instead she stood silently. She looked up and around and down and all she could see were books. Books seemed to be the very building materials of the inside of the house. They lined the walls up and up. In fact, Penelope could see the room above and the books on those walls. It was as if most of the floor that separates the first and second floors had been taken out to leave only a narrow balcony in front of the walls covered in books.
“You!” suddenly the pinkish-grey head was in front of Penelope, and she jumped, having been so engrossed in her observation of her surroundings, that she had not noticed the old man in the scuffed up suit as he was rounding on her. “I don’t know you, and we have not been introduced. It is quite rude to enter someone’s house without having been introduced, you know.” The head continued.
Penelope was struck speechless. Though she had handled some of her social transgressions with greater poise and arrogance since her arrival in Ocean End, she was becoming quite cowed that she seemed always in the wrong. Penelope was not used to being always in the wrong, or in the wrong at all. She was always very proper and though she never gloated the fact, she was kind of proud of it.
She felt the back of the door on her back as the old man advanced on her and she retreated. Her riding companions seemed to look on as if in amusement, until she looked directly and plaintively at Tom. He then stepped up to her side and introduced her. She was Penelope Sea and she was lost and didn’t know how she had arrived at that state, he had explained. And he, the old man in the brown suit with the shiny pinkish grey head and spectacles, was Egbert Supranont the librarian of Ocean End. Tom then explained how he had brought her here because if ever there were answers in need of finding, Egbert always knew where they were.
“As any librarian worth his stuff should,” Egbert added when Tom had finished, “Well, now that we have been properly acquainted, can you tell me, child, with what can I help you?”
“I would like to find a way home, sir,” said Penelope.
“A way home, you say. Check the card catalog under subject headings and then we shall see what you find,” said Egbert in reply. This was not the answer or the service that Penelope was quite hoping for, though she was in a library. She was not looking for a book and for the life of her could not imagine how the card catalog could help. Egbert was too fast for her however, and had abandoned her to play host to her companions before she could ask his reasoning for such a suggestion.
Looking around herself desperately she noticed the monolithic card catalog cabinetry through an archway and into the room to her right. She was very familiar with the card catalog, Penelope always liked going to the library in her old town. Right now she would give up anything to go the library in her new town, the town she didn’t like as much, simply because that would mean that she was home and not here, in Ocean End. Ocean End was obviously not a place where wishes were granted or dreams came true. Even with all the gloriously strange creatures—of which Penelope had really only heard. No, right now and for Penelope, Ocean End was a big card catalog that was blocking her way to where she most wanted to be.
Under ‘Way home, A’ in the card catalog, Penelope was surprised to find a card. The card had a book citation printed on it underneath the subject heading. It read:
Way home, A
Stewson, Anderbury. The blue bird always has a plan B. pg 182 para. 3 line 2.
As previously mentioned, Penelope was familiar with card catalogs, so she knew just what to do next. With the number printed just above the citation she was to locate the book in the library somewhere, it was a kind of address. Checking numbers on the crowded books she passed, Penelope managed to find the one she was looking for, on the second floor of the dining room, bottom shelf. Opening to page one hundred and eighty two and finding paragraph three and line two, Penelope found what she supposed was to be her answer. It said: ‘Back the way you came.’
At this point, poor lost Penelope’s eyes started to go all watery and swimmy, and, though she tried her hardest not to, she started to add a little tiny sob to each of her breaths. This she thought, was too much; this, she could not stand. And she sat alone on the floor of the narrow balcony to the second floor of the dining room and sat and sat, sobbing just a little and trying in vain to catch each one of her enormous tears with her hands before they could roll off her chin.
“Is it a sad book?” Luella murmured from behind and over Penelope’s left shoulder. But Penelope found it impossible to reply and instead nodded, yes it was a very, very sad book. She fought valiantly to get herself under control again and to put her swimmy eyes firmly back where they belonged, and when she did, for Luella had been waiting the entire time, Penelope then said very quietly and very pitifully, “I have to go back to that house that brought me here, but it’s locked and I can’t get in.”
To which Luella made the equally quiet but not pitiful at all answer, “then you need a key.” And Penelope nodded and instinctively grabbed at her very special, very own house key on the end of a shiny silver chain. “I only have a key to my house,” she said.
“Isn’t it your house that you came from?” asked Luella.
“No, I…it’s not my house. It looks like the doll house and I just don’t know,” feeling truly lost Penelope almost lost her eyes in the water again until Luella said, “but it’s your house that you were in before you opened the door, wasn’t it?”
And she was right. Penelope felt hope, real hope for the first time almost all day. Not like the false hope she had thinking that maybe her parents knew where she was, not at all, this was real hope. Could it really be that the very special house key around Penelope’s neck could have opened the door to the house all along? Thinking about it this way Penelope felt kind of dumb. As if some great joke had been played on her by a mean friend and everybody in school was laughing at her. Did she really travel so far away and take so much time and worry so much when she could have got herself home whenever she wanted to?
Leaving very little thought for whether Luella was following her or not Penelope left the book and dashed back downstairs to find Old Egbert sitting alone at his desk in what might have been a kitchen, given the cabinets, except there were no appliances and every surface held it’s own tower of books. “Excuse me,” Penelope said and got no reply. “Excuse me,” she said again and continued, “Thank you for your help, and I was wondering where Tom and Twibble are.”
Egbert slowly looked up from the book he was reading, “They’ve gone, said something about a singing concert or something. Luella knows her way home.” After he finished he dropped his head back down into the story he was reading.
Penelope wanted to protest, she wanted to scream and demand ‘but why?’, but she knew that she would get no answer from Old Egbert the librarian. In fact, the only people who might be able to answer her had already left. Penelope’s free ride in Ocean End was over and she had no idea how she might get back to where she had been when she had gotten it.
“Tom didn’t think you would need him anymore,” came Luella’s voice from the hallway behind Penelope.
Old Egbert looked up once again at Luella’s voice and peered down at Penelope again, “You still here? Didn’t you find what you need? Don’t you know how to use the catalog?” and dropped his head back into his book before she answered.
And Penelope could only nod, once again. Searching her brain frantically—it seemed she was always frantic here—she finally responded to Old Egbert, “Do you have a map of Ocean End here?” To which Old Egbert replied, “You can find it in the card catalog,” and thrust a handkerchief in her face without looking up from his reading at all.