The queen has dispatched the governor of the Tower of London, Maj. Gen. Digby Raeburn, and her chief beefeater, Leslie Varley, to round people up and bring them back to the Tower.
They came through Washington yesterday, in full costume, looking for prospects. With them were copies of the Crown Jewels, which it is their business to guard with their lives, and Raeburn observed with mild surprise that one of the paste diamonds in the queen's crown seems to have disappeared along the way.
People are not as reluctant to go to the Tower as they were, for example, during the reign of the Tudors. Last year, 3 million people went voluntarily to the old state prison where British monarchs traditionally sent such enemies as their wives, lovers, sisters and friends to be beheaded.
But the tourist boom of the queen's silver jubiless year is over, and so this year has been declared the 900th anniversary year of the Tower of London, which is dated from the time that William the Conquerer began the central White Tower in the complex of walls and buildings collectively called the Tower of London.
Although the Tower began as a royal residence and is now the home of the Crown Jewels, its most famous use, as any school child knows, or at least any English school child, was as a state prison for political, religious and royal prisoners.
But it is also home to Raeburn, Varley, 36 other beefeaters and their wives and children, a doctor, a chaplain and an electrician.
"We're about 120 people all together," said Raeburn, who heads the staff who work in the tower and live in houses or flats made from its historic prisons and towers. "When the public leaves, we can all walk about."
Raburn and his wife live in Queen's House, named for Henry VIII's second queen, Anne Boleyn, who lived there for 18 days - during which she carved her intials over Raeburn's fireplace - before she was beheaded for adultery.
"It is a bit drafty," he admitted. "There are places when you can look through the beams and wee open air.
"In one of our corridors, a lady in gray is said to appear. We had a young neice staying with us once, and she ran down the stair and said there had been someone behind her, but that she had rushed away and shut the door. I said I wouldn't have thought that would help - what does a ghost care about a shut door?"
Varley has a flat in a house next to the Bloody Tower. "My kitchen window looks out onto Raleigh's Walk, where Sir Walter Raleigh used to walk, and it's a very pleasant atmosphere.
As for ghost, he said, "I've patrolled the Tower of London every minute of the 24 hours, and I've seen nothing, felt nothing. For me, it's a happy place.
"However, I came back from night patrol once and found my wife terrified.We slept on the third floor at that time, and she said she had heard whispering at the foot of the bed. I told ber how silly, she was being, but I soon found out she was quite serious. We moved to the secound floor, and later another family was on the third floor and we asked them how they liked it. 'Very nice,' said the wife, 'but we hear whispering.'"
The Beefeaters - a nickname of uncertain origin for the Yeomen Warders, who were apparently thought to eat great quantities of beef - are chosen from among distinguished military men on their retirement from regular service. They don't have to be tall, said Raeburn, who does the choosing (Varley is 6-foot-3), but they do have to be patient about answering the same questions ("Why is the Bloody Tower called Bloody?") all day ever day.
They are taught the history of the place, but advised not to take side publicly on issues in doubt. Varley says you can get up a good, argument in the Yeoman Warders' Club at the Tower, however, on such issues as whether Richard III was guilty of the murder of his nephews, or whether Shakespeare gave him a bum rap; and whether Margaret, countess of Salibury, can properly be considered a martyr for her faith if she did not submit to the axe byt made the axman chase her around the green, hacking away.
To celebrate the tower's anniversary, a new gallery of graphics depicting its history will open March 8, the Beauchamp and Wakefield Towers will be reopened to the public, and a series of concerts, plays and conferences will be held, including a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Yeomen of the Guard" to be performed in the moat (which is dry) Mondays through Saturdays from July 17 to Aug. 12.
However, there is little real-life drama going on there these days, if you don't count the ghosts and an occasional pickpocket. Nobody has even tried to steal the Crown Jewels since 1672, said Raeburn.