Wonders of the Invisible World
unfortunate carp, a few crushed strawberries. “Oh,” she breathed, a sudden flame searing her throat.
    “What is that?” the lake king asked.
    “It was part of our breakfast.”
    “No. Not that in your hand. That in your voice, your eye.”
    She blinked and it fell. “A tear,” she told him. “I just remembered how happy we were, running out into the morning. We were going to row onto the lake, eat scones and strawberries, paint the world. And then Wilding came. And then the kelpie. And now here I am, and Mr. Bonham might as well be on the moon for all we can see of one another.” She wiped away another tear. “He must think I am dead. In no conceivable circumstances would it occur to him that I might be sitting in a cave under water talking to the king of the lake.”
    The king came to kneel beside her, his eyes like the kelpie’s, wild and alien, as he studied her.
    “You have words I don’t know,” he said. “I hear them in your voice. What are they?”
    “Sorrow,” she told him, her voice trembling. “Joy. Eagerness. Dislike. Astonishment. Anger. Love.”
    “Are they valuable?”
    “As air.”
    He was silent, his strange eyes fixed on her, his beautiful underwater face so like and unlike Wilding’s it made her want to laugh and weep with rage: even there, that far beyond the known world, she could not get away from him.
    “Give me those words,” the lake king said, “and I will send you back.”
    She gazed at him mutely, wondering at the extraordinary demand; it was as though a trout had asked her to define joy. Slowly, haltingly, having no other way but words in that underwater world to explain such things, she began a tale. She started with her brother, and then Bram Wilding came into it, and then painting, and Boudicca, and the women’s studio, and Edward Eustace Bonham, and how he and she had so unexpectedly fallen together into the depths of a word. All that had made her understand the words the lake king had heard in her voice, she told him, having no idea how much he understood, and not daring to hope that they might be worth more to him than a handful of pretty pebbles she might have picked up on the shore and lightly tossed into his realm.
     
    On the shore, the assembled houseparty stared numbly across the water. They had spent the morning rowing frantically over the lake, searching for any sign of Emma. Noakes had summoned villagers, who carried more boats over the hill on their wagons. Ned had refused to come in until the oars slipped out of his aching hands, and one of the villagers pulled him and his boat ashore. Adrian tried to persuade him to rest. But he could only pace along the water’s edge, tormented by visions of Emma floating among the reeds in a lonely, distant stretch of shoreline.
    Adrian, his eyes reddened, his face white and set with shock, kept asking reasonably, “How could she possibly have been taken by a kelpie? It’s not real. How could it be real? These things belong in tales and paintings, not in life. We imagine them! They have no power over us.”
    “Yes, they do,” Wilding finally said. “They have power. They force art out of us.”
    His imperturbable composure had not only been shaken; it had dissolved. He looked as stunned and wretched as any of them; for once in his life he had not a tactless word to say. He had very little to say, Ned noticed dimly. He was just there, whenever a hand was needed to push a boat out, when a trek to one cove or another was planned, when Coombe, searching the murky water under the boathouse, came defeated to shore and needed a blanket.
    What Wilding said to Adrian worked its way finally into Ned’s thoughts. Winifred came among them with a tray of mugs and fresh tea. He took one, warmed his hands and took a burning sip. Then he looked at Wilding. “What we paint is real. That’s what you’re saying?”
    “You saw,” Wilding reminded him inarguably.
    He shook his head, took another swallow. “I never thought such

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