Part 2 out of 5
to discuss anything, anyhow. Whether these coppery people were
cannibals or not now seemed to matter very little.
Without an instant's hesitation the four children turned and ran
back along the forest path; the only pause was Anthea's. She stood
back to let Cyril pass, because he was carrying the Lamb, who
screamed with delight. (He had not whooping-coughed a single once
since the carpet landed him on the island.)
'Gee-up, Squirrel; gee-gee,' he shouted, and Cyril did gee-up. The
path was a shorter cut to the beach than the creeper-covered way by
which they had come, and almost directly they saw through the trees
the shining blue-and-gold-and-opal of sand and sea.
'Stick to it,' cried Cyril, breathlessly.
They did stick to it; they tore down the sands--they could hear
behind them as they ran the patter of feet which they knew, too
well, were copper-coloured.
The sands were golden and opal-coloured--and BARE. There were
wreaths of tropic seaweed, there were rich tropic shells of the
kind you would not buy in the Kentish Town Road under at least
fifteen pence a pair. There were turtles basking lumpily on the
water's edge--but no cook, no clothes, and no carpet.
'On, on! Into the sea!' gasped Cyril. 'They MUST hate water.
Their feet were splashing in the warm shallows before his
breathless words were ended. The calm baby-waves were easy to go
through. It is warm work running for your life in the tropics, and
the coolness of the water was delicious. They were up to their
arm-pits now, and Jane was up to her chin.
'Look!' said the Phoenix. 'What are they pointing at?'
The children turned; and there, a little to the west was a head--a
head they knew, with a crooked cap upon it. It was the head of the
For some reason or other the savages had stopped at the water's
edge and were all talking at the top of their voices, and all were
pointing copper-coloured fingers, stiff with interest and
excitement, at the head of the cook.
The children hurried towards her as quickly as the water would let
'What on earth did you come out here for?' Robert shouted; 'and
where on earth's the carpet?'
'It's not on earth, bless you,' replied the cook, happily; 'it's
UNDER ME--in the water. I got a bit warm setting there in the sun,
and I just says, "I wish I was in a cold bath"--just like that--and
next minute here I was! It's all part of the dream.'
Every one at once saw how extremely fortunate it was that the
carpet had had the sense to take the cook to the nearest and
largest bath--the sea, and how terrible it would have been if the
carpet had taken itself and her to the stuffy little bath-room of
the house in Camden Town!
'Excuse me,' said the Phoenix's soft voice, breaking in on the
general sigh of relief, 'but I think these brown people want your
'To--to eat?' whispered Jane, as well as she could through the
water which the plunging Lamb was dashing in her face with happy
fat hands and feet.
'Hardly,' rejoined the bird. 'Who wants cooks to EAT? Cooks are
ENGAGED, not eaten. They wish to engage her.'
'How can you understand what they say?' asked Cyril, doubtfully.
'It's as easy as kissing your claw,' replied the bird. 'I speak
and understand ALL languages, even that of your cook, which is
difficult and unpleasing. It's quite easy, when you know how it's
done. It just comes to you. I should advise you to beach the
carpet and land the cargo--the cook, I mean. You can take my word
for it, the copper-coloured ones will not harm you now.'
It is impossible not to take the word of a Phoenix when it tells
you to. So the children at once got hold of the corners of the
carpet, and, pulling it from under the cook, towed it slowly in
through the shallowing water, and at last spread it on the sand.
The cook, who had followed, instantly sat down on it, and at once
the copper-coloured natives, now strangely humble, formed a ring
round the carpet, and fell on their faces on the rainbow-and-gold
sand. The tallest savage spoke in this position, which must have
been very awkward for him; and Jane noticed that it took him quite
a long time to get the sand out of his mouth afterwards.
'He says,' the Phoenix remarked after some time, 'that they wish to
engage your cook permanently.'
'Without a character?' asked Anthea, who had heard her mother speak
of such things.
'They do not wish to engage her as cook, but as queen; and queens
need not have characters.'
There was a breathless pause.
'WELL,' said Cyril, 'of all the choices! But there's no accounting
Every one laughed at the idea of the cook's being engaged as queen;
they could not help it.
'I do not advise laughter,' warned the Phoenix, ruffling out his
golden feathers, which were extremely wet. 'And it's not their own
choice. It seems that there is an ancient prophecy of this
copper-coloured tribe that a great queen should some day arise out
of the sea with a white crown on her head, and--and--well, you see!
There's the crown!'
It pointed its claw at cook's cap; and a very dirty cap it was,
because it was the end of the week.
'That's the white crown,' it said; 'at least, it's nearly
white--very white indeed compared to the colour THEY are--and
anyway, it's quite white enough.'
Cyril addressed the cook. 'Look here!' said he, 'these brown
people want you to be their queen. They're only savages, and they
don't know any better. Now would you really like to stay? or, if
you'll promise not to be so jolly aggravating at home, and not to
tell any one a word about to-day, we'll take you back to Camden
'No, you don't,' said the cook, in firm, undoubting tones. 'I've
always wanted to be the Queen, God bless her! and I always thought
what a good one I should make; and now I'm going to. IF it's only
in a dream, it's well worth while. And I don't go back to that
nasty underground kitchen, and me blamed for everything; that I
don't, not till the dream's finished and I wake up with that nasty
bell a rang-tanging in my ears--so I tell you.'
'Are you SURE,' Anthea anxiously asked the Phoenix, 'that she will
be quite safe here?'
'She will find the nest of a queen a very precious and soft thing,'
said the bird, solemnly.
'There--you hear,' said Cyril. 'You're in for a precious soft
thing, so mind you're a good queen, cook. It's more than you'd any
right to expect, but long may you reign.'
Some of the cook's copper-coloured subjects now advanced from the
forest with long garlands of beautiful flowers, white and
sweet-scented, and hung them respectfully round the neck of their
'What! all them lovely bokays for me!' exclaimed the enraptured
cook. 'Well, this here is something LIKE a dream, I must say.'
She sat up very straight on the carpet, and the copper-coloured
ones, themselves wreathed in garlands of the gayest flowers, madly
stuck parrot feathers in their hair and began to dance. It was a
dance such as you have never seen; it made the children feel almost
sure that the cook was right, and that they were all in a dream.
Small, strange-shaped drums were beaten, odd-sounding songs were
sung, and the dance got faster and faster and odder and odder, till
at last all the dancers fell on the sand tired out.
The new queen, with her white crown-cap all on one side, clapped
'Brayvo!' she cried, 'brayvo! It's better than the Albert Edward
Music-hall in the Kentish Town Road. Go it again!'
But the Phoenix would not translate this request into the
copper-coloured language; and when the savages had recovered their
breath, they implored their queen to leave her white escort and
come with them to their huts.
'The finest shall be yours, O queen,' said they.
'Well--so long!' said the cook, getting heavily on to her feet,
when the Phoenix had translated this request. 'No more kitchens
and attics for me, thank you. I'm off to my royal palace, I am;
and I only wish this here dream would keep on for ever and ever.'
She picked up the ends of the garlands that trailed round her feet,
and the children had one last glimpse of her striped stockings and
worn elastic-side boots before she disappeared into the shadow of
the forest, surrounded by her dusky retainers, singing songs of
rejoicing as they went.
'WELL!' said Cyril, 'I suppose she's all right, but they don't seem
to count us for much, one way or the other.'
'Oh,' said the Phoenix, 'they think you're merely dreams. The
prophecy said that the queen would arise from the waves with a
white crown and surrounded by white dream-children. That's about
what they think YOU are!'
'And what about dinner?' said Robert, abruptly.
'There won't be any dinner, with no cook and no pudding-basin,'
Anthea reminded him; 'but there's always bread-and-butter.'
'Let's get home,' said Cyril.
The Lamb was furiously unwishful to be dressed in his warm clothes
again, but Anthea and Jane managed it, by force disguised as
coaxing, and he never once whooping-coughed.
Then every one put on its own warm things and took its place on the
A sound of uncouth singing still came from beyond the trees where
the copper-coloured natives were crooning songs of admiration and
respect to their white-crowned queen. Then Anthea said 'Home,'
just as duchesses and other people do to their coachmen, and the
intelligent carpet in one whirling moment laid itself down in its
proper place on the nursery floor. And at that very moment Eliza
opened the door and said--
'Cook's gone! I can't find her anywhere, and there's no dinner
ready. She hasn't taken her box nor yet her outdoor things. She
just ran out to see the time, I shouldn't wonder--the kitchen clock
never did give her satisfaction--and she's got run over or fell
down in a fit as likely as not. You'll have to put up with the
cold bacon for your dinners; and what on earth you've got your
outdoor things on for I don't know. And then I'll slip out and see
if they know anything about her at the police-station.'
But nobody ever knew anything about the cook any more, except the
children, and, later, one other person.
Mother was so upset at losing the cook, and so anxious about her,
that Anthea felt most miserable, as though she had done something
very wrong indeed. She woke several times in the night, and at
last decided that she would ask the Phoenix to let her tell her
mother all about it. But there was no opportunity to do this next
day, because the Phoenix, as usual, had gone to sleep in some
out-of-the-way spot, after asking, as a special favour, not to be
disturbed for twenty-four hours.
The Lamb never whooping-coughed once all that Sunday, and mother
and father said what good medicine it was that the doctor had given
him. But the children knew that it was the southern shore where
you can't have whooping-cough that had cured him. The Lamb babbled
of coloured sand and water, but no one took any notice of that. He
often talked of things that hadn't happened.
It was on Monday morning, very early indeed, that Anthea woke and
suddenly made up her mind. She crept downstairs in her night-gown
(it was very chilly), sat down on the carpet, and with a beating
heart wished herself on the sunny shore where you can't have
whooping-cough, and next moment there she was.
The sand was splendidly warm. She could feel it at once, even
through the carpet. She folded the carpet, and put it over her
shoulders like a shawl, for she was determined not to be parted
from it for a single instant, no matter how hot it might be to
Then trembling a little, and trying to keep up her courage by
saying over and over, 'It is my DUTY, it IS my duty,' she went up
the forest path.
'Well, here you are again,' said the cook, directly she saw Anthea.
'This dream does keep on!'
The cook was dressed in a white robe; she had no shoes and
stockings and no cap and she was sitting under a screen of
palm-leaves, for it was afternoon in the island, and blazing hot.
She wore a flower wreath on her hair, and copper-coloured boys were
fanning her with peacock's feathers.
'They've got the cap put away,' she said. 'They seem to think a
lot of it. Never saw one before, I expect.'
'Are you happy?' asked Anthea, panting; the sight of the cook as
queen quite took her breath away.
'I believe you, my dear,' said the cook, heartily. 'Nothing to do
unless you want to. But I'm getting rested now. Tomorrow I'm
going to start cleaning out my hut, if the dream keeps on, and I
shall teach them cooking; they burns everything to a cinder now
unless they eats it raw.'
'But can you talk to them?'
'Lor' love a duck, yes!' the happy cook-queen replied; 'it's quite
easy to pick up. I always thought I should be quick at foreign
languages. I've taught them to understand "dinner," and "I want a
drink," and "You leave me be," already.'
'Then you don't want anything?' Anthea asked earnestly and
'Not me, miss; except if you'd only go away. I'm afraid of me
waking up with that bell a-going if you keep on stopping here
a-talking to me. Long as this here dream keeps up I'm as happy as
'Goodbye, then,' said Anthea, gaily, for her conscience was clear
She hurried into the wood, threw herself on the ground, and said
'Home'--and there she was, rolled in the carpet on the nursery
'SHE'S all right, anyhow,' said Anthea, and went back to bed. 'I'm
glad somebody's pleased. But mother will never believe me when I
The story is indeed a little difficult to believe. Still, you
Mother was really a great dear. She was pretty and she was loving,
and most frightfully good when you were ill, and always kind, and
almost always just. That is, she was just when she understood
things. But of course she did not always understand things. No
one understands everything, and mothers are not angels, though a
good many of them come pretty near it. The children knew that
mother always WANTED to do what was best for them, even if she was
not clever enough to know exactly what was the best. That was why
all of them, but much more particularly Anthea, felt rather
uncomfortable at keeping the great secret from her of the wishing
carpet and the Phoenix. And Anthea, whose inside mind was made so
that she was able to be much more uncomfortable than the others,
had decided that she MUST tell her mother the truth, however little
likely it was that her mother would believe it.
'Then I shall have done what's right,' said she to the Phoenix;
'and if she doesn't believe me it won't be my fault--will it?'
'Not in the least,' said the golden bird. 'And she won't, so
you're quite safe.'
Anthea chose a time when she was doing her home-lessons--they were
Algebra and Latin, German, English, and Euclid--and she asked her
mother whether she might come and do them in the drawing-room--'so
as to be quiet,' she said to her mother; and to herself she said,
'And that's not the real reason. I hope I shan't grow up a LIAR.'
Mother said, 'Of course, dearie,' and Anthea started swimming
through a sea of x's and y's and z's. Mother was sitting at the
mahogany bureau writing letters.
'Mother dear,' said Anthea.
'Yes, love-a-duck,' said mother.
'About cook,' said Anthea. '_I_ know where she is.'
'Do you, dear?' said mother. 'Well, I wouldn't take her back after
the way she has behaved.'
'It's not her fault,' said Anthea. 'May I tell you about it from
Mother laid down her pen, and her nice face had a resigned
expression. As you know, a resigned expression always makes you
want not to tell anybody anything.
'It's like this,' said Anthea, in a hurry: 'that egg, you know,
that came in the carpet; we put it in the fire and it hatched into
the Phoenix, and the carpet was a wishing carpet--and--'
'A very nice game, darling,' said mother, taking up her pen. 'Now
do be quiet. I've got a lot of letters to write. I'm going to
Bournemouth to-morrow with the Lamb--and there's that bazaar.'
Anthea went back to x y z, and mother's pen scratched busily.
'But, mother,' said Anthea, when mother put down the pen to lick an
envelope, 'the carpet takes us wherever we like--and--'
'I wish it would take you where you could get a few nice Eastern
things for my bazaar,' said mother. 'I promised them, and I've no
time to go to Liberty's now.'
'It shall,' said Anthea, 'but, mother--'
'Well, dear,' said mother, a little impatiently, for she had taken
up her pen again.
'The carpet took us to a place where you couldn't have
whooping-cough, and the Lamb hasn't whooped since, and we took cook
because she was so tiresome, and then she would stay and be queen
of the savages. They thought her cap was a crown, and--'
'Darling one,' said mother, 'you know I love to hear the things you
make up--but I am most awfully busy.'
'But it's true,' said Anthea, desperately.
'You shouldn't say that, my sweet,' said mother, gently. And then
Anthea knew it was hopeless.
'Are you going away for long?' asked Anthea.
'I've got a cold,' said mother, 'and daddy's anxious about it, and
the Lamb's cough.'
'He hasn't coughed since Saturday,' the Lamb's eldest sister
'I wish I could think so,' mother replied. 'And daddy's got to go
to Scotland. I do hope you'll be good children.'
'We will, we will,' said Anthea, fervently. 'When's the bazaar?'
'On Saturday,' said mother, 'at the schools. Oh, don't talk any
more, there's a treasure! My head's going round, and I've
forgotten how to spell whooping-cough.'
Mother and the Lamb went away, and father went away, and there was
a new cook who looked so like a frightened rabbit that no one had
the heart to do anything to frighten her any more than seemed
natural to her.
The Phoenix begged to be excused. It said it wanted a week's rest,
and asked that it might not be disturbed. And it hid its golden
gleaming self, and nobody could find it.
So that when Wednesday afternoon brought an unexpected holiday, and
every one decided to go somewhere on the carpet, the journey had to
be undertaken without the Phoenix. They were debarred from any
carpet excursions in the evening by a sudden promise to mother,
exacted in the agitation of parting, that they would not be out
after six at night, except on Saturday, when they were to go to the
bazaar, and were pledged to put on their best clothes, to wash
themselves to the uttermost, and to clean their nails--not with
scissors, which are scratchy and bad, but with flat-sharpened ends
of wooden matches, which do no harm to any one's nails.
'Let's go and see the Lamb,' said Jane.
But every one was agreed that if they appeared suddenly in
Bournemouth it would frighten mother out of her wits, if not into
a fit. So they sat on the carpet, and thought and thought and
thought till they almost began to squint.
'Look here,' said Cyril, 'I know. Please carpet, take us somewhere
where we can see the Lamb and mother and no one can see us.'
'Except the Lamb,' said Jane, quickly.
And the next moment they found themselves recovering from the
upside-down movement--and there they were sitting on the carpet,
and the carpet was laid out over another thick soft carpet of brown
pine-needles. There were green pine-trees overhead, and a swift
clear little stream was running as fast as ever it could between
steep banks--and there, sitting on the pine-needle carpet, was
mother, without her hat; and the sun was shining brightly, although
it was November--and there was the Lamb, as jolly as jolly and not
whooping at all.
'The carpet's deceived us,' said Robert, gloomily; 'mother will see
us directly she turns her head.'
But the faithful carpet had not deceived them.
Mother turned her dear head and looked straight at them, and DID NOT SEE
'We're invisible,' Cyril whispered: 'what awful larks!'
But to the girls it was not larks at all. It was horrible to have
mother looking straight at them, and her face keeping the same,
just as though they weren't there.
'I don't like it,' said Jane. 'Mother never looked at us like that
before. Just as if she didn't love us--as if we were somebody
else's children, and not very nice ones either--as if she didn't
care whether she saw us or not.'
'It is horrid,' said Anthea, almost in tears.
But at this moment the Lamb saw them, and plunged towards the
carpet, shrieking, 'Panty, own Panty--an' Pussy, an' Squiggle--an'
Bobs, oh, oh!'
Anthea caught him and kissed him, so did Jane; they could not help
it--he looked such a darling, with his blue three-cornered hat all
on one side, and his precious face all dirty--quite in the old
'I love you, Panty; I love you--and you, and you, and you,' cried
It was a delicious moment. Even the boys thumped their baby
brother joyously on the back.
Then Anthea glanced at mother--and mother's face was a pale
sea-green colour, and she was staring at the Lamb as if she thought
he had gone mad. And, indeed, that was exactly what she did think.
'My Lamb, my precious! Come to mother,' she cried, and jumped up
and ran to the baby.
She was so quick that the invisible children had to leap back, or
she would have felt them; and to feel what you can't see is the
worst sort of ghost-feeling. Mother picked up the Lamb and hurried
away from the pinewood.
'Let's go home,' said Jane, after a miserable silence. 'It feels
just exactly as if mother didn't love us.'
But they couldn't bear to go home till they had seen mother meet
another lady, and knew that she was safe. You cannot leave your
mother to go green in the face in a distant pinewood, far from all
human aid, and then go home on your wishing carpet as though
nothing had happened.
When mother seemed safe the children returned to the carpet, and
said 'Home'--and home they went.
'I don't care about being invisible myself,' said Cyril, 'at least,
not with my own family. It would be different if you were a
prince, or a bandit, or a burglar.'
And now the thoughts of all four dwelt fondly on the dear greenish
face of mother.
'I wish she hadn't gone away,' said Jane; 'the house is simply
beastly without her.'
'I think we ought to do what she said,' Anthea put in. 'I saw
something in a book the other day about the wishes of the departed
'That means when they've departed farther off,' said Cyril.
'India's coral or Greenland's icy, don't you know; not Bournemouth.
Besides, we don't know what her wishes are.'
'She SAID'--Anthea was very much inclined to cry--'she said, "Get
Indian things for my bazaar;" but I know she thought we couldn't,
and it was only play.'
'Let's get them all the same,' said Robert. 'We'll go the first
thing on Saturday morning.'
And on Saturday morning, the first thing, they went.
There was no finding the Phoenix, so they sat on the beautiful
wishing carpet, and said--
'We want Indian things for mother's bazaar. Will you please take
us where people will give us heaps of Indian things?'
The docile carpet swirled their senses away, and restored them on
the outskirts of a gleaming white Indian town. They knew it was
Indian at once, by the shape of the domes and roofs; and besides,
a man went by on an elephant, and two English soldiers went along
the road, talking like in Mr Kipling's books--so after that no one
could have any doubt as to where they were. They rolled up the
carpet and Robert carried it, and they walked bodily into the town.
It was very warm, and once more they had to take off their
London-in-November coats, and carry them on their arms.
The streets were narrow and strange, and the clothes of the people
in the streets were stranger and the talk of the people was
strangest of all.
'I can't understand a word,' said Cyril. 'How on earth are we to
ask for things for our bazaar?'
'And they're poor people, too,' said Jane; 'I'm sure they are.
What we want is a rajah or something.'
Robert was beginning to unroll the carpet, but the others stopped
him, imploring him not to waste a wish.
'We asked the carpet to take us where we could get Indian things
for bazaars,' said Anthea, 'and it will.'
Her faith was justified.
Just as she finished speaking a very brown gentleman in a turban
came up to them and bowed deeply. He spoke, and they thrilled to
the sound of English words.
'My ranee, she think you very nice childs. She asks do you lose
yourselves, and do you desire to sell carpet? She see you from her
palkee. You come see her--yes?'
They followed the stranger, who seemed to have a great many more
teeth in his smile than are usual, and he led them through crooked
streets to the ranee's palace. I am not going to describe the
ranee's palace, because I really have never seen the palace of a
ranee, and Mr Kipling has. So you can read about it in his books.
But I know exactly what happened there.
The old ranee sat on a low-cushioned seat, and there were a lot of
other ladies with her--all in trousers and veils, and sparkling
with tinsel and gold and jewels. And the brown, turbaned gentleman
stood behind a sort of carved screen, and interpreted what the
children said and what the queen said. And when the queen asked to
buy the carpet, the children said 'No.'
'Why?' asked the ranee.
And Jane briefly said why, and the interpreter interpreted. The
queen spoke, and then the interpreter said--
'My mistress says it is a good story, and you tell it all through
without thought of time.'
And they had to. It made a long story, especially as it had all to
be told twice--once by Cyril and once by the interpreter. Cyril
rather enjoyed himself. He warmed to his work, and told the tale
of the Phoenix and the Carpet, and the Lone Tower, and the
Queen-Cook, in language that grew insensibly more and more Arabian
Nightsy, and the ranee and her ladies listened to the interpreter,
and rolled about on their fat cushions with laughter.
When the story was ended she spoke, and the interpreter explained
that she had said, 'Little one, thou art a heaven-born teller of
tales,' and she threw him a string of turquoises from round her
'OH, how lovely!' cried Jane and Anthea.
Cyril bowed several times, and then cleared his throat and said--
'Thank her very, very much; but I would much rather she gave me
some of the cheap things in the bazaar. Tell her I want them to
sell again, and give the money to buy clothes for poor people who
'Tell him he has my leave to sell my gift and clothe the naked with
its price,' said the queen, when this was translated.
But Cyril said very firmly, 'No, thank you. The things have got to
be sold to-day at our bazaar, and no one would buy a turquoise
necklace at an English bazaar. They'd think it was sham, or else
they'd want to know where we got it.'
So then the queen sent out for little pretty things, and her
servants piled the carpet with them.
'I must needs lend you an elephant to carry them away,' she said,
But Anthea said, 'If the queen will lend us a comb and let us wash
our hands and faces, she shall see a magic thing. We and the
carpet and all these brass trays and pots and carved things and
stuffs and things will just vanish away like smoke.'
The queen clapped her hands at this idea, and lent the children a
sandal-wood comb inlaid with ivory lotus-flowers. And they washed
their faces and hands in silver basins.
Then Cyril made a very polite farewell speech, and quite suddenly
he ended with the words--
'And I wish we were at the bazaar at our schools.'
And of course they were. And the queen and her ladies were left
with their mouths open, gazing at the bare space on the inlaid
marble floor where the carpet and the children had been.
'That is magic, if ever magic was!' said the queen, delighted with
the incident; which, indeed, has given the ladies of that court
something to talk about on wet days ever since.
Cyril's stories had taken some time, so had the meal of strange
sweet foods that they had had while the little pretty things were
being bought, and the gas in the schoolroom was already lighted.
Outside, the winter dusk was stealing down among the Camden Town
'I'm glad we got washed in India,' said Cyril. 'We should have
been awfully late if we'd had to go home and scrub.'
'Besides,' Robert said, 'it's much warmer washing in India. I
shouldn't mind it so much if we lived there.'
The thoughtful carpet had dumped the children down in a dusky space
behind the point where the corners of two stalls met. The floor
was littered with string and brown paper, and baskets and boxes
were heaped along the wall.
The children crept out under a stall covered with all sorts of
table-covers and mats and things, embroidered beautifully by idle
ladies with no real work to do. They got out at the end,
displacing a sideboard-cloth adorned with a tasteful pattern of
blue geraniums. The girls got out unobserved, so did Cyril; but
Robert, as he cautiously emerged, was actually walked on by Mrs
Biddle, who kept the stall. Her large, solid foot stood firmly on
the small, solid hand of Robert and who can blame Robert if he DID
yell a little?
A crowd instantly collected. Yells are very unusual at bazaars,
and every one was intensely interested. It was several seconds
before the three free children could make Mrs Biddle understand
that what she was walking on was not a schoolroom floor, or even,
as she presently supposed, a dropped pin-cushion, but the living
hand of a suffering child. When she became aware that she really
had hurt him, she grew very angry indeed. When people have hurt
other people by accident, the one who does the hurting is always
much the angriest. I wonder why.
'I'm very sorry, I'm sure,' said Mrs Biddle; but she spoke more in
anger than in sorrow. 'Come out! whatever do you mean by creeping
about under the stalls, like earwigs?'
'We were looking at the things in the corner.'
'Such nasty, prying ways,' said Mrs Biddle, 'will never make you
successful in life. There's nothing there but packing and dust.'
'Oh, isn't there!' said Jane. 'That's all you know.'
'Little girl, don't be rude,' said Mrs Biddle, flushing violet.
'She doesn't mean to be; but there ARE some nice things there, all
the same,' said Cyril; who suddenly felt how impossible it was to
inform the listening crowd that all the treasures piled on the
carpet were mother's contributions to the bazaar. No one would
believe it; and if they did, and wrote to thank mother, she would
think--well, goodness only knew what she would think. The other
three children felt the same.
'I should like to see them,' said a very nice lady, whose friends
had disappointed her, and who hoped that these might be belated
contributions to her poorly furnished stall.
She looked inquiringly at Robert, who said, 'With pleasure, don't
mention it,' and dived back under Mrs Biddle's stall.
'I wonder you encourage such behaviour,' said Mrs Biddle. 'I
always speak my mind, as you know, Miss Peasmarsh; and, I must say,
I am surprised.' She turned to the crowd. 'There is no
entertainment here,' she said sternly. 'A very naughty little boy
has accidentally hurt himself, but only slightly. Will you please
disperse? It will only encourage him in naughtiness if he finds
himself the centre of attraction.'
The crowd slowly dispersed. Anthea, speechless with fury, heard a
nice curate say, 'Poor little beggar!' and loved the curate at once
and for ever.
Then Robert wriggled out from under the stall with some Benares
brass and some inlaid sandalwood boxes.
'Liberty!' cried Miss Peasmarsh. 'Then Charles has not forgotten,
'Excuse me,' said Mrs Biddle, with fierce politeness, 'these
objects are deposited behind MY stall. Some unknown donor who does
good by stealth, and would blush if he could hear you claim the
things. Of course they are for me.'
'My stall touches yours at the corner,' said poor Miss Peasmarsh,
timidly, 'and my cousin did promise--'
The children sidled away from the unequal contest and mingled with
the crowd. Their feelings were too deep for words--till at last
'That stiff-starched PIG!'
'And after all our trouble! I'm hoarse with gassing to that
trousered lady in India.'
'The pig-lady's very, very nasty,' said Jane.
It was Anthea who said, in a hurried undertone, 'She isn't very
nice, and Miss Peasmarsh is pretty and nice too. Who's got a
it was a long crawl, under three stalls, but Anthea did it. A
large piece of pale blue paper lay among the rubbish in the corner.
She folded it to a square and wrote upon it, licking the pencil at
every word to make it mark quite blackly: 'All these Indian things
are for pretty, nice Miss Peasmarsh's stall.' She thought of
adding, 'There is nothing for Mrs Biddle;' but she saw that this
might lead to suspicion, so she wrote hastily: 'From an unknown
donna,' and crept back among the boards and trestles to join the
So that when Mrs Biddle appealed to the bazaar committee, and the
corner of the stall was lifted and shifted, so that stout clergymen
and heavy ladies could get to the corner without creeping under
stalls, the blue paper was discovered, and all the splendid,
shining Indian things were given over to Miss Peasmarsh, and she
sold them all, and got thirty-five pounds for them.
'I don't understand about that blue paper,' said Mrs Biddle. 'It
looks to me like the work of a lunatic. And saying you were nice
and pretty! It's not the work of a sane person.'
Anthea and Jane begged Miss Peasmarsh to let them help her to sell
the things, because it was their brother who had announced the good
news that the things had come. Miss Peasmarsh was very willing,
for now her stall, that had been SO neglected, was surrounded by
people who wanted to buy, and she was glad to be helped. The
children noted that Mrs Biddle had not more to do in the way of
selling than she could manage quite well. I hope they were not
glad--for you should forgive your enemies, even if they walk on
your hands and then say it is all your naughty fault. But I am
afraid they were not so sorry as they ought to have been.
It took some time to arrange the things on the stall. The carpet
was spread over it, and the dark colours showed up the brass and
silver and ivory things. It was a happy and busy afternoon, and
when Miss Peasmarsh and the girls had sold every single one of the
little pretty things from the Indian bazaar, far, far away, Anthea
and Jane went off with the boys to fish in the fishpond, and dive
into the bran-pie, and hear the cardboard band, and the phonograph,
and the chorus of singing birds that was done behind a screen with
glass tubes and glasses of water.
They had a beautiful tea, suddenly presented to them by the nice
curate, and Miss Peasmarsh joined them before they had had more
than three cakes each. It was a merry party, and the curate was
extremely pleasant to every one, 'even to Miss Peasmarsh,' as Jane
'We ought to get back to the stall,' said Anthea, when no one could
possibly eat any more, and the curate was talking in a low voice to
Miss Peas marsh about 'after Easter'.
'There's nothing to go back for,' said Miss Peasmarsh gaily;
'thanks to you dear children we've sold everything.'
'There--there's the carpet,' said Cyril.
'Oh,' said Miss Peasmarsh, radiantly, 'don't bother about the
carpet. I've sold even that. Mrs Biddle gave me ten shillings for
it. She said it would do for her servant's bedroom.'
'Why,' said Jane, 'her servants don't HAVE carpets. We had cook
from her, and she told us so.'
'No scandal about Queen Elizabeth, if YOU please,' said the curate,
cheerfully; and Miss Peasmarsh laughed, and looked at him as though
she had never dreamed that any one COULD be so amusing. But the
others were struck dumb. How could they say, 'The carpet is ours!'
For who brings carpets to bazaars?
The children were now thoroughly wretched. But I am glad to say
that their wretchedness did not make them forget their manners, as
it does sometimes, even with grown-up people, who ought to know
ever so much better.
They said, 'Thank you very much for the jolly tea,' and 'Thanks for
being so jolly,' and 'Thanks awfully for giving us such a jolly
time;' for the curate had stood fish-ponds, and bran-pies, and
phonographs, and the chorus of singing birds, and had stood them
like a man. The girls hugged Miss Peasmarsh, and as they went away
they heard the curate say--
'Jolly little kids, yes, but what about--you will let it be
directly after Easter. Ah, do say you will--'
And Jane ran back and said, before Anthea could drag her away,
'What are you going to do after Easter?'
Miss Peasmarsh smiled and looked very pretty indeed. And the
'I hope I am going to take a trip to the Fortunate Islands.'
'I wish we could take you on the wishing carpet,' said Jane.
'Thank you,' said the curate, 'but I'm afraid I can't wait for
that. I must go to the Fortunate Islands before they make me a
bishop. I should have no time afterwards.'
'I've always thought I should marry a bishop,' said Jane: 'his
aprons would come in so useful. Wouldn't YOU like to marry a
bishop, Miss Peasmarsh?'
It was then that they dragged her away.
As it was Robert's hand that Mrs Biddle had walked on, it was
decided that he had better not recall the incident to her mind, and
so make her angry again. Anthea and Jane had helped to sell things
at the rival stall, so they were not likely to be popular.
A hasty council of four decided that Mrs Biddle would hate Cyril
less than she would hate the others, so the others mingled with the
crowd, and it was he who said to her--
'Mrs Biddle, WE meant to have that carpet. Would you sell it to
us? We would give you--'
'Certainly not,' said Mrs Biddle. 'Go away, little boy.'
There was that in her tone which showed Cyril, all too plainly, the
hopelessness of persuasion. He found the others and said--
'It's no use; she's like a lioness robbed of its puppies. We must
watch where it goes--and-- Anthea, I don't care what you say. It's
our own carpet. It wouldn't be burglary. It would be a sort of
forlorn hope rescue party--heroic and daring and dashing, and not
wrong at all.'
The children still wandered among the gay crowd--but there was no
pleasure there for them any more. The chorus of singing birds
sounded just like glass tubes being blown through water, and the
phonograph simply made a horrid noise, so that you could hardly
hear yourself speak. And the people were buying things they
couldn't possibly want, and it all seemed very stupid. And Mrs
Biddle had bought the wishing carpet for ten shillings. And the
whole of life was sad and grey and dusty, and smelt of slight gas
escapes, and hot people, and cake and crumbs, and all the children
were very tired indeed.
They found a corner within sight of the carpet, and there they
waited miserably, till it was far beyond their proper bedtime. And
when it was ten the people who had bought things went away, but the
people who had been selling stayed to count up their money.
'And to jaw about it,' said Robert. 'I'll never go to another
bazaar as long as ever I live. My hand is swollen as big as a
pudding. I expect the nails in her horrible boots were poisoned.'
Just then some one who seemed to have a right to interfere said--
'Everything is over now; you had better go home.'
So they went. And then they waited on the pavement under the gas
lamp, where ragged children had been standing all the evening to
listen to the band, and their feet slipped about in the greasy mud
till Mrs Biddle came out and was driven away in a cab with the many
things she hadn't sold, and the few things she had bought--among
others the carpet. The other stall-holders left their things at
the school till Monday morning, but Mrs Biddle was afraid some one
would steal some of them, so she took them in a cab.
The children, now too desperate to care for mud or appearances,
hung on behind the cab till it reached Mrs Biddle's house. When
she and the carpet had gone in and the door was shut Anthea said--
'Don't let's burgle--I mean do daring and dashing rescue acts--till
we've given her a chance. Let's ring and ask to see her.'
The others hated to do this, but at last they agreed, on condition
that Anthea would not make any silly fuss about the burglary
afterwards, if it really had to come to that.
So they knocked and rang, and a scared-looking parlourmaid opened
the front door. While they were asking for Mrs Biddle they saw
her. She was in the dining-room, and she had already pushed back
the table and spread out the carpet to see how it looked on the
'I knew she didn't want it for her servants' bedroom,' Jane
Anthea walked straight past the uncomfortable parlourmaid, and the
others followed her. Mrs Biddle had her back to them, and was
smoothing down the carpet with the same boot that had trampled on
the hand of Robert. So that they were all in the room, and Cyril,
with great presence of mind, had shut the room door before she saw
'Who is it, Jane?' she asked in a sour voice; and then turning
suddenly, she saw who it was. Once more her face grew violet--a
deep, dark violet. 'You wicked daring little things!' she cried,
'how dare you come here? At this time of night, too. Be off, or
I'll send for the police.'
'Don't be angry,' said Anthea, soothingly, 'we only wanted to ask
you to let us have the carpet. We have quite twelve shillings
between us, and--'
'How DARE you?' cried Mrs Biddle, and her voice shook with
'You do look horrid,' said Jane suddenly.
Mrs Biddle actually stamped that booted foot of hers. 'You rude,
barefaced child!' she said.
Anthea almost shook Jane; but Jane pushed forward in spite of her.
'It really IS our nursery carpet,' she said, 'you ask ANY ONE if it
'Let's wish ourselves home,' said Cyril in a whisper.
'No go,' Robert whispered back, 'she'd be there too, and raving mad
as likely as not. Horrid thing, I hate her!'
'I wish Mrs Biddle was in an angelic good temper,' cried Anthea,
suddenly. 'It's worth trying,' she said to herself.
Mrs Biddle's face grew from purple to violet, and from violet to
mauve, and from mauve to pink. Then she smiled quite a jolly
'Why, so I am!' she said, 'what a funny idea! Why shouldn't I be
in a good temper, my dears.'
Once more the carpet had done its work, and not on Mrs Biddle
alone. The children felt suddenly good and happy.
'You're a jolly good sort,' said Cyril. 'I see that now. I'm
sorry we vexed you at the bazaar to-day.'
'Not another word,' said the changed Mrs Biddle. 'Of course you
shall have the carpet, my dears, if you've taken such a fancy to
it. No, no; I won't have more than the ten shillings I paid.'
'It does seem hard to ask you for it after you bought it at the
bazaar,' said Anthea; 'but it really IS our nursery carpet. It got
to the bazaar by mistake, with some other things.'
'Did it really, now? How vexing!' said Mrs Biddle, kindly. 'Well,
my dears, I can very well give the extra ten shillings; so you take
your carpet and we'll say no more about it. Have a piece of cake
before you go! I'm so sorry I stepped on your hand, my boy. Is it
all right now?'
'Yes, thank you,' said Robert. 'I say, you ARE good.'
'Not at all,' said Mrs Biddle, heartily. 'I'm delighted to be able
to give any little pleasure to you dear children.'
And she helped them to roll up the carpet, and the boys carried it
away between them.
'You ARE a dear,' said Anthea, and she and Mrs Biddle kissed each
'WELL!' said Cyril as they went along the street.
'Yes,' said Robert, 'and the odd part is that you feel just as if
it was REAL--her being so jolly, I mean--and not only the carpet
making her nice.'
'Perhaps it IS real,' said Anthea, 'only it was covered up with
crossness and tiredness and things, and the carpet took them away.'
'I hope it'll keep them away,' said Jane; 'she isn't ugly at all
when she laughs.'
The carpet has done many wonders in its day; but the case of Mrs
Biddle is, I think, the most wonderful. For from that day she was
never anything like so disagreeable as she was before, and she sent
a lovely silver tea-pot and a kind letter to Miss Peasmarsh when
the pretty lady married the nice curate; just after Easter it was,
and they went to Italy for their honeymoon.
'I wish we could find the Phoenix,' said Jane. 'It's much better
company than the carpet.'
'Beastly ungrateful, little kids are,' said Cyril.
'No, I'm not; only the carpet never says anything, and it's so
helpless. It doesn't seem able to take care of itself. It gets
sold, and taken into the sea, and things like that. You wouldn't
catch the Phoenix getting sold.'
It was two days after the bazaar. Every one was a little
cross--some days are like that, usually Mondays, by the way. And
this was a Monday.
'I shouldn't wonder if your precious Phoenix had gone off for
good,' said Cyril; 'and I don't know that I blame it. Look at the
'It's not worth looking at,' said Robert. And indeed it wasn't.
'The Phoenix hasn't gone--I'm sure it hasn't,' said Anthea. 'I'll
have another look for it.'
Anthea looked under tables and chairs, and in boxes and baskets, in
mother's work-bag and father's portmanteau, but still the Phoenix
showed not so much as the tip of one shining feather.
Then suddenly Robert remembered how the whole of the Greek
invocation song of seven thousand lines had been condensed by him
into one English hexameter, so he stood on the carpet and chanted--
'Oh, come along, come along, you good old beautiful Phoenix,'
and almost at once there was a rustle of wings down the kitchen
stairs, and the Phoenix sailed in on wide gold wings.
'Where on earth HAVE you been?' asked Anthea. 'I've looked
everywhere for you.'
'Not EVERYWHERE,' replied the bird, 'because you did not look in
the place where I was. Confess that that hallowed spot was
overlooked by you.'
'WHAT hallowed spot?' asked Cyril, a little impatiently, for time
was hastening on, and the wishing carpet still idle.
'The spot,' said the Phoenix, 'which I hallowed by my golden
presence was the Lutron.'
'The bath--the place of washing.'
'I'm sure you weren't,' said Jane. 'I looked there three times and
moved all the towels.'
'I was concealed,' said the Phoenix, 'on the summit of a metal
column--enchanted, I should judge, for it felt warm to my golden
toes, as though the glorious sun of the desert shone ever upon it.'
'Oh, you mean the cylinder,' said Cyril: 'it HAS rather a
comforting feel, this weather. And now where shall we go?'
And then, of course, the usual discussion broke out as to where
they should go and what they should do. And naturally, every one
wanted to do something that the others did not care about.
'I am the eldest,' Cyril remarked, 'let's go to the North Pole.'
'This weather! Likely!' Robert rejoined. 'Let's go to the
'I think the diamond mines of Golconda would be nice,' said Anthea;
'don't you agree, Jane?'
'No, I don't,' retorted Jane, 'I don't agree with you. I don't
agree with anybody.'
The Phoenix raised a warning claw.
'If you cannot agree among yourselves, I fear I shall have to leave
you,' it said.
'Well, where shall we go? You decide!' said all.
'If I were you,' said the bird, thoughtfully, 'I should give the
carpet a rest. Besides, you'll lose the use of your legs if you go
everywhere by carpet. Can't you take me out and explain your ugly
city to me?'
'We will if it clears up,' said Robert, without enthusiasm. 'Just
look at the rain. And why should we give the carpet a rest?'
'Are you greedy and grasping, and heartless and selfish?' asked the
'NO!' said Robert, with indignation.
'Well then!' said the Phoenix. 'And as to the rain--well, I am not
fond of rain myself. If the sun knew _I_ was here--he's very fond of
shining on me because I look so bright and golden. He always says
I repay a little attention. Haven't you some form of words
suitable for use in wet weather?'
'There's "Rain, rain, go away,"' said Anthea; 'but it never DOES
'Perhaps you don't say the invocation properly,' said the bird.
'Rain, rain, go away,
Come again another day,
Little baby wants to play,'
'That's quite wrong; and if you say it in that sort of dull way, I
can quite understand the rain not taking any notice. You should
open the window and shout as loud as you can--
'Rain, rain, go away,
Come again another day;
Now we want the sun, and so,
Pretty rain, be kind and go!
'You should always speak politely to people when you want them to
do things, and especially when it's going away that you want them
to do. And to-day you might add--
'Shine, great sun, the lovely Phoe-
Nix is here, and wants to be
Shone on, splendid sun, by thee!'
'That's poetry!' said Cyril, decidedly.
'It's like it,' said the more cautious Robert.
'I was obliged to put in "lovely",' said the Phoenix, modestly, 'to
make the line long enough.'
'There are plenty of nasty words just that length,' said Jane; but
every one else said 'Hush!' And then they opened the window and
shouted the seven lines as loud as they could, and the Phoenix said
all the words with them, except 'lovely', and when they came to
that it looked down and coughed bashfully.
The rain hesitated a moment and then went away.
'There's true politeness,' said the Phoenix, and the next moment it
was perched on the window-ledge, opening and shutting its radiant
wings and flapping out its golden feathers in such a flood of
glorious sunshine as you sometimes have at sunset in autumn time.
People said afterwards that there had not been such sunshine in
December for years and years and years.
'And now,' said the bird, 'we will go out into the city, and you
shall take me to see one of my temples.'
'I gather from the carpet that I have many temples in this land.'
'I don't see how you CAN find anything out from it,' said Jane: 'it
'All the same, you can pick up things from a carpet,' said the
bird; 'I've seen YOU do it. And I have picked up several pieces of
information in this way. That papyrus on which you showed me my
picture--I understand that it bears on it the name of the street of
your city in which my finest temple stands, with my image graved in
stone and in metal over against its portal.'
'You mean the fire insurance office,' said Robert. 'It's not
really a temple, and they don't--'
'Excuse me,' said the Phoenix, coldly, 'you are wholly misinformed.
It IS a temple, and they do.'
'Don't let's waste the sunshine,' said Anthea; 'we might argue as
we go along, to save time.'
So the Phoenix consented to make itself a nest in the breast of
Robert's Norfolk jacket, and they all went out into the splendid
sunshine. The best way to the temple of the Phoenix seemed to be
to take the tram, and on the top of it the children talked, while
the Phoenix now and then put out a wary beak, cocked a cautious
eye, and contradicted what the children were saying.
It was a delicious ride, and the children felt how lucky they were
to have had the money to pay for it. They went with the tram as
far as it went, and when it did not go any farther they stopped
too, and got off. The tram stops at the end of the Gray's Inn
Road, and it was Cyril who thought that one might well find a short
cut to the Phoenix Office through the little streets and courts
that lie tightly packed between Fetter Lane and Ludgate Circus. Of
course, he was quite mistaken, as Robert told him at the time, and
afterwards Robert did not forbear to remind his brother how he had
said so. The streets there were small and stuffy and ugly, and
crowded with printers' boys and binders' girls coming out from
work; and these stared so hard at the pretty red coats and caps of
the sisters that they wished they had gone some other way. And the
printers and binders made very personal remarks, advising Jane to
get her hair cut, and inquiring where Anthea had bought that hat.
Jane and Anthea scorned to reply, and Cyril and Robert found that
they were hardly a match for the rough crowd. They could think of
nothing nasty enough to say. They turned a corner sharply, and
then Anthea pulled Jane into an archway, and then inside a door;
Cyril and Robert quickly followed, and the jeering crowd passed by
without seein them.
Anthea drew a long breath.
'How awful!' she said. 'I didn't know there were such people,
except in books.'
'It was a bit thick; but it's partly you girls' fault, coming out
in those flashy coats.'
'We thought we ought to, when we were going out with the Phoenix,'
said Jane; and the bird said, 'Quite right, too'--and incautiously
put out his head to give her a wink of encouragement.
And at the same instant a dirty hand reached through the grim
balustrade of the staircase beside them and clutched the Phoenix,
and a hoarse voice said--
'I say, Urb, blowed if this ain't our Poll parrot what we lost.
Thank you very much, lidy, for bringin' 'im home to roost.'
The four turned swiftly. Two large and ragged boys were crouched
amid the dark shadows of the stairs. They were much larger than
Robert and Cyril, and one of them had snatched the Phoenix away and
was holding it high above their heads.
'Give me that bird,' said Cyril, sternly: 'it's ours.'
'Good arternoon, and thankin' you,' the boy went on, with maddening
mockery. 'Sorry I can't give yer tuppence for yer trouble--but
I've 'ad to spend my fortune advertising for my vallyable bird in
all the newspapers. You can call for the reward next year.'
'Look out, Ike,' said his friend, a little anxiously; 'it 'ave a
beak on it.'
'It's other parties as'll have the Beak on to 'em presently,' said
Ike, darkly, 'if they come a-trying to lay claims on my Poll
parrot. You just shut up, Urb. Now then, you four little gells,
get out er this.'
'Little girls!' cried Robert. 'I'll little girl you!'
He sprang up three stairs and hit out.
There was a squawk--the most bird-like noise any one had ever heard
from the Phoenix--and a fluttering, and a laugh in the darkness,
and Ike said--
'There now, you've been and gone and strook my Poll parrot right in
the fevvers--strook 'im something crool, you 'ave.'
Robert stamped with fury. Cyril felt himself growing pale with
rage, and with the effort of screwing up his brain to make it
clever enough to think of some way of being even with those boys.
Anthea and Jane were as angry as the boys, but it made them want to
cry. Yet it was Anthea who said--
'Do, PLEASE, let us have the bird.'
'Dew, PLEASE, get along and leave us an' our bird alone.'
'If you don't,' said Anthea, 'I shall fetch the police.'
'You better!' said he who was named Urb. 'Say, Ike, you twist the
bloomin' pigeon's neck; he ain't worth tuppence.'
'Oh, no,' cried Jane, 'don't hurt it. Oh, don't; it is such a
'I won't hurt it,' said Ike; 'I'm 'shamed of you, Urb, for to think
of such a thing. Arf a shiner, miss, and the bird is yours for
'Half a WHAT?' asked Anthea.
'Arf a shiner, quid, thick 'un--half a sov, then.'
'I haven't got it--and, besides, it's OUR bird,' said Anthea.
'Oh, don't talk to him,' said Cyril and then Jane said suddenly--
'Phoenix--dear Phoenix, we can't do anything. YOU must manage it.'
'With pleasure,' said the Phoenix--and Ike nearly dropped it in his
'I say, it do talk, suthin' like,' said he.
'Youths,' said the Phoenix, 'sons of misfortune, hear my words.'
'My eyes!' said Ike.
'Look out, Ike,' said Urb, 'you'll throttle the joker--and I see at
wunst 'e was wuth 'is weight in flimsies.'00
'Hearken, O Eikonoclastes, despiser of sacred images--and thou,
Urbanus, dweller in the sordid city. Forbear this adventure lest
a worse thing befall.'
'Luv' us!' said Ike, 'ain't it been taught its schoolin' just!'
'Restore me to my young acolytes and escape unscathed. Retain
'They must ha' got all this up, case the Polly got pinched,' said
Ike. 'Lor' lumme, the artfulness of them young uns!'
'I say, slosh 'em in the geseech and get clear off with the swag's
wot I say,' urged Herbert.
'Right O,' said Isaac.
'Forbear,' repeated the Phoenix, sternly. 'Who pinched the click
off of the old bloke in Aldermanbury?' it added, in a changed tone.
'Who sneaked the nose-rag out of the young gell's 'and in Bell
'Stow it,' said Ike. 'You! ugh! yah!--leave go of me. Bash him
off, Urb; 'e'll have my bloomin' eyes outer my ed.'
There were howls, a scuffle, a flutter; Ike and Urb fled up the
stairs, and the Phoenix swept out through the doorway. The
children followed and the Phoenix settled on Robert, 'like a
butterfly on a rose,' as Anthea said afterwards, and wriggled into
the breast of his Norfolk jacket, 'like an eel into mud,' as Cyril
'Why ever didn't you burn him? You could have, couldn't you?'
asked Robert, when the hurried flight through the narrow courts had
ended in the safe wideness of Farringdon Street.
'I could have, of course,' said the bird, 'but I didn't think it
would be dignified to allow myself to get warm about a little thing
like that. The Fates, after all, have not been illiberal to me.
I have a good many friends among the London sparrows, and I have a
beak and claws.'
These happenings had somewhat shaken the adventurous temper of the
children, and the Phoenix had to exert its golden self to hearten
Presently the children came to a great house in Lombard Street, and
there, on each side of the door, was the image of the Phoenix
carved in stone, and set forth on shining brass were the words--
PHOENIX FIRE OFFICE
'One moment,' said the bird. 'Fire? For altars, I suppose?'
'_I_ don't know,' said Robert; he was beginning to feel shy, and that
always made him rather cross.
'Oh, yes, you do,' Cyril contradicted. 'When people's houses are
burnt down the Phoenix gives them new houses. Father told me; I
'The house, then, like the Phoenix, rises from its ashes? Well
have my priests dealt with the sons of men!'
'The sons of men pay, you know,' said Anthea; 'but it's only a
little every year.'
'That is to maintain my priests,' said the bird, 'who, in the hour
of affliction, heal sorrows and rebuild houses. Lead on; inquire
for the High Priest. I will not break upon them too suddenly in
all my glory. Noble and honour-deserving are they who make as
nought the evil deeds of the lame-footed and unpleasing
'I don't know what you're talking about, and I wish you wouldn't
muddle us with new names. Fire just happens. Nobody does it--not
as a deed, you know,' Cyril explained. 'If they did the Phoenix
wouldn't help them, because its a crime to set fire to things.
Arsenic, or something they call it, because it's as bad as
poisoning people. The Phoenix wouldn't help THEM--father told me
'My priests do well,' said the Phoenix. 'Lead on.'
'I don't know what to say,' said Cyril; and the Others said the
'Ask for the High Priest,' said the Phoenix. 'Say that you have a
secret to unfold that concerns my worship, and he will lead you to
the innermost sanctuary.'
So the children went in, all four of them, though they didn't like
it, and stood in a large and beautiful hall adorned with Doulton
tiles, like a large and beautiful bath with no water in it, and
stately pillars supporting the roof. An unpleasing representation
of the Phoenix in brown pottery disfigured one wall. There were
counters and desks of mahogany and brass, and clerks bent over the
desks and walked behind the counters. There was a great clock over
an inner doorway.
'Inquire for the High Priest,' whispered the Phoenix.
An attentive clerk in decent black, who controlled his mouth but
not his eyebrows, now came towards them. He leaned forward on the
counter, and the children thought he was going to say, 'What can I
have the pleasure of showing you?' like in a draper's; instead of
which the young man said--
'And what do YOU want?'
'We want to see the High Priest.'
'Get along with you,' said the young man.
An elder man, also decent in black coat, advanced.
'Perhaps it's Mr Blank' (not for worlds would I give the name).
'He's a Masonic High Priest, you know.'
A porter was sent away to look for Mr Asterisk (I cannot give his
name), and the children were left there to look on and be looked on
by all the gentlemen at the mahogany desks. Anthea and Jane
thought that they looked kind. The boys thought they stared, and
that it was like their cheek.
The porter returned with the news that Mr Dot Dash Dot (I dare not
reveal his name) was out, but that Mr--
Here a really delightful gentleman appeared. He had a beard and a
kind and merry eye, and each one of the four knew at once that this
was a man who had kiddies of his own and could understand what you
were talking about. Yet it was a difficult thing to explain.
'What is it?' he asked. 'Mr'--he named the name which I will never
reveal--'is out. Can I do anything?'
'Inner sanctuary,' murmured the Phoenix.
'I beg your pardon,' said the nice gentleman, who thought it was
Robert who had spoken.
'We have something to tell you,' said Cyril, 'but'--he glanced at
the porter, who was lingering much nearer than he need have
done--'this is a very public place.'
The nice gentleman laughed.
'Come upstairs then,' he said, and led the way up a wide and
beautiful staircase. Anthea says the stairs were of white marble,
but I am not sure. On the corner-post of the stairs, at the top,
was a beautiful image of the Phoenix in dark metal, and on the wall
at each side was a flat sort of image of it.
The nice gentleman led them into a room where the chairs, and even
the tables, were covered with reddish leather. He looked at the
'Don't be frightened,' he said; 'tell me exactly what you want.'
'May I shut the door?' asked Cyril.
The gentleman looked surprised, but he shut the door.
'Now,' said Cyril, firmly, 'I know you'll be awfully surprised, and
you'll think it's not true and we are lunatics; but we aren't, and
it is. Robert's got something inside his Norfolk--that's Robert,
he's my young brother. Now don't be upset and have a fit or
anything sir. Of course, I know when you called your shop the
"Phoenix" you never thought there was one; but there is--and
Robert's got it buttoned up against his chest!'
'If it's an old curio in the form of a Phoenix, I dare say the
Board--' said the nice gentleman, as Robert began to fumble with
'It's old enough,' said Anthea, 'going by what it says, but--'
'My goodness gracious!' said the gentleman, as the Phoenix, with
one last wriggle that melted into a flutter, got out of its nest in
the breast of Robert and stood up on the leather-covered table.
'What an extraordinarily fine bird!' he went on. 'I don't think I
ever saw one just like it.'
'I should think not,' said the Phoenix, with pardonable pride. And
the gentleman jumped.
'Oh, it's been taught to speak! Some sort of parrot, perhaps?'
'I am,' said the bird, simply, 'the Head of your House, and I have
come to my temple to receive your homage. I am no parrot'--its
beak curved scornfully--'I am the one and only Phoenix, and I
demand the homage of my High Priest.'
'In the absence of our manager,' the gentleman began, exactly as
though he were addressing a valued customer--'in the absence of our
manager, I might perhaps be able--What am I saying?' He turned
pale, and passed his hand across his brow. 'My dears,' he said,
'the weather is unusually warm for the time of year, and I don't
feel quite myself. Do you know, for a moment I really thought that
that remarkable bird of yours had spoken and said it was the
Phoenix, and, what's more, that I'd believed it.'
'So it did, sir,' said Cyril, 'and so did you.'
'It really--Allow me.'
A bell was rung. The porter appeared.
'Mackenzie,' said the gentleman, 'you see that golden bird?'
The other breathed a sigh of relief.
'It IS real, then?'
'Yes, sir, of course, sir. You take it in your hand, sir,' said
the porter, sympathetically, and reached out his hand to the
Phoenix, who shrank back on toes curved with agitated indignation.
'Forbear!' it cried; 'how dare you seek to lay hands on me?'
The porter saluted.
'Beg pardon, sir,' he said, 'I thought you was a bird.'
'I AM a bird--THE bird--the Phoenix.'
'Of course you are, sir,' said the porter. 'I see that the first
minute, directly I got my breath, sir.'
'That will do,' said the gentleman. 'Ask Mr Wilson and Mr Sterry
to step up here for a moment, please.'
Mr Sterry and Mr Wilson were in their turn overcome by
amazement--quickly followed by conviction. To the surprise of the
children every one in the office took the Phoenix at its word, and
after the first shock of surprise it seemed to be perfectly natural
to every one that the Phoenix should be alive, and that, passing
through London, it should call at its temple.
'We ought to have some sort of ceremony,' said the nicest
gentleman, anxiously. 'There isn't time to summon the directors
and shareholders--we might do that tomorrow, perhaps. Yes, the
board-room would be best. I shouldn't like it to feel we hadn't
done everything in our power to show our appreciation of its
condescension in looking in on us in this friendly way.'
The children could hardly believe their ears, for they had never
thought that any one but themselves would believe in the Phoenix.
And yet every one did; all the men in the office were brought in by
twos and threes, and the moment the Phoenix opened its beak it
convinced the cleverest of them, as well as those who were not so
clever. Cyril wondered how the story would look in the papers next
day. He seemed to see the posters in the streets:
PHOENIX FIRE OFFICE
THE PHOENIX AT ITS TEMPLE
MEETING TO WELCOME IT
DELIGHT OF THE MANAGER AND EVERYBODY.
'Excuse our leaving you a moment,' said the nice gentleman, and he
went away with the others; and through the half-closed door the
children could hear the sound of many boots on stairs, the hum of
excited voices explaining, suggesting, arguing, the thumpy drag of
heavy furniture being moved about.
The Phoenix strutted up and down the leather-covered table, looking
over its shoulder at its pretty back.
'You see what a convincing manner I have,' it said proudly.
And now a new gentleman came in and said, bowing low--
'Everything is prepared--we have done our best at so short a
notice; the meeting--the ceremony--will be in the board-room. Will
the Honourable Phoenix walk--it is only a few steps--or would it
like to be--would it like some sort of conveyance?'
'My Robert will bear me to the board-room, if that be the unlovely
name of my temple's inmost court,' replied the bird.
So they all followed the gentleman. There was a big table in the
board-room, but it had been pushed right up under the long windows
at one side, and chairs were arranged in rows across the room--like
those you have at schools when there is a magic lantern on 'Our
Eastern Empire', or on 'The Way We Do in the Navy'. The doors were
of carved wood, very beautiful, with a carved Phoenix above.
Anthea noticed that the chairs in the front rows were of the kind
that her mother so loved to ask the price of in old furniture
shops, and never could buy, because the price was always nearly
twenty pounds each. On the mantelpiece were some heavy bronze
candlesticks and a clock, and on the top of the clock was another
image of the Phoenix.
'Remove that effigy,' said the Phoenix to the gentlemen who were
there, and it was hastily taken down. Then the Phoenix fluttered
to the middle of the mantelpiece and stood there, looking more
golden than ever. Then every one in the house and the office came
in--from the cashier to the women who cooked the clerks' dinners in
the beautiful kitchen at the top of the house. And every one bowed
to the Phoenix and then sat down in a chair.
'Gentlemen,' said the nicest gentleman, 'we have met here today--'
The Phoenix was turning its golden beak from side to side.
'I don't notice any incense,' it said, with an injured sniff. A
hurried consultation ended in plates being fetched from the
kitchen. Brown sugar, sealing-wax, and tobacco were placed on
these, and something from a square bottle was poured over it all.
Then a match was applied. It was the only incense that was handy
in the Phoenix office, and it certainly burned very briskly and
smoked a great deal.
'We have met here today,' said the gentleman again, 'on an occasion
unparalleled in the annals of this office. Our respected Phoenix--'
'Head of the House,' said the Phoenix, in a hollow voice.
'I was coming to that. Our respected Phoenix, the Head of this
ancient House, has at length done us the honour to come among us.
I think I may say, gentlemen, that we are not insensible to this
honour, and that we welcome with no uncertain voice one whom we
have so long desired to see in our midst.'
Several of the younger clerks thought of saying 'Hear, hear,' but
they feared it might seem disrespectful to the bird.
'I will not take up your time,' the speaker went on, 'by
recapitulating the advantages to be derived from a proper use of
our system of fire insurance. I know, and you know, gentlemen,
that our aim has ever been to be worthy of that eminent bird whose
name we bear, and who now adorns our mantelpiece with his presence.
Three cheers, gentlemen, for the winged Head of the House!'
The cheers rose, deafening. When they had died away the Phoenix
was asked to say a few words.
It expressed in graceful phrases the pleasure it felt in finding
itself at last in its own temple.
'And,' it went on, 'You must not think me wanting in appreciation
of your very hearty and cordial reception when I ask that an ode
may be recited or a choric song sung. It is what I have always
been accustomed to.'
The four children, dumb witnesses of this wonderful scene, glanced
a little nervously across the foam of white faces above the sea of
black coats. It seemed to them that the Phoenix was really asking
a little too much.
'Time presses,' said the Phoenix, 'and the original ode of
invocation is long, as well as being Greek; and, besides, it's no
use invoking me when here I am; but is there not a song in your own
tongue for a great day such as this?'
Absently the manager began to sing, and one by one the rest
All kinds of property
insured against fire.
Terms most favourable,
Moderate rates for annual
'That one is NOT my favourite,' interrupted the Phoenix, 'and I
think you've forgotten part of it.'
The manager hastily began another--
'O Golden Phoenix, fairest bird,
The whole great world has often heard
Of all the splendid things we do,
Great Phoenix, just to honour you.'
'That's better,' said the bird.
And every one sang--
'Class one, for private dwelling-house,
For household goods and shops allows;
Provided these are built of brick
Or stone, and tiled and slated thick.'
'Try another verse,' said the Phoenix, 'further on.'
And again arose the voices of all the clerks and employees and
managers and secretaries and cooks--
'In Scotland our insurance yields
The price of burnt-up stacks in fields.'
'Skip that verse,' said the Phoenix.
'Thatched dwellings and their whole contents
We deal with--also with their rents;
Oh, glorious Phoenix, look and see
That these are dealt with in class three.
'The glories of your temple throng
Too thick to go in any song;
And we attend, O good and wise,
To "days of grace" and merchandise.
'When people's homes are burned away
They never have a cent to pay
If they have done as all should do,
O Phoenix, and have honoured you.
'So let us raise our voice and sing
The praises of the Phoenix King.
In classes one and two and three,
Oh, trust to him, for kind is he!'
'I'm sure YOU'RE very kind,' said the Phoenix; 'and now we must be
going. An thank you very much for a very pleasant time. May you
all prosper as you deserve to do, for I am sure a nicer,
pleasanter-spoken lot of temple attendants I have never met, and
never wish to meet. I wish you all good-day!'
It fluttered to the wrist of Robert and drew the four children from
the room. The whole of the office staff followed down the wide
stairs and filed into their accustomed places, and the two most
important officials stood on the steps bowing till Robert had
buttoned the golden bird in his Norfolk bosom, and it and he and
the three other children were lost in the crowd.
The two most important gentlemen looked at each other earnestly and
strangely for a moment, and then retreated to those sacred inner
rooms, where they toil without ceasing for the good of the House.
And the moment they were all in their places--managers,
secretaries, clerks, and porters--they all started, and each looked
cautiously round to see if any one was looking at him. For each
thought that he had fallen asleep for a few minutes, and had
dreamed a very odd dream about the Phoenix and the board-room.
And, of course, no one mentioned it to any one else, because going
to sleep at your office is a thing you simply MUST NOT do.
The extraordinary confusion of the board-room, with the remains of
the incense in the plates, would have shown them at once that the
visit of the Phoenix had been no dream, but a radiant reality, but
no one went into the board-room again that day; and next day,
before the office was opened, it was all cleaned and put nice and
tidy by a lady whose business asking questions was not part of.
That is why Cyril read the papers in vain on the next day and the
day after that; because no sensible person thinks his dreams worth
putting in the paper, and no one will ever own that he has been
asleep in the daytime.
The Phoenix was very pleased, but it decided to write an ode for
itself. It thought the ones it had heard at its temple had been
too hastily composed. Its own ode began--
'For beauty and for modest worth
The Phoenix has not its equal on earth.'
And when the children went to bed that night it was still trying to
cut down the last line to the proper length without taking out any
of what it wanted to say.
That is what makes poetry so difficult.
'We shan't be able to go anywhere on the carpet for a whole week,
though,' said Robert.
'And I'm glad of it,' said Jane, unexpectedly.
'Glad?' said Cyril; 'GLAD?'
It was breakfast-time, and mother's letter, telling them how they
were all going for Christmas to their aunt's at Lyndhurst, and how
father and mother would meet them there, having been read by every
one, lay on the table, drinking hot bacon-fat with one corner and
eating marmalade with the other.
'Yes, glad,' said Jane. 'I don't want any more things to happen
just now. I feel like you do when you've been to three parties in
a week--like we did at granny's once--and extras in between, toys
and chocs and things like that. I want everything to be just real,
and no fancy things happening at all.'
'I don't like being obliged to keep things from mother,' said
Anthea. 'I don't know why, but it makes me feel selfish and mean.'
'If we could only get the mater to believe it, we might take her to
the jolliest places,' said Cyril, thoughtfully. 'As it is, we've
just got to be selfish and mean--if it is that--but I don't feel it
'I KNOW it isn't, but I FEEL it is,' said Anthea, 'and that's just
'It's worse,' said Robert; 'if you knew it and didn't feel it, it
wouldn't matter so much.'
'That's being a hardened criminal, father says,' put in Cyril, and
he picked up mother's letter and wiped its corners with his
handkerchief, to whose colour a trifle of bacon-fat and marmalade
made but little difference.
'We're going to-morrow, anyhow,' said Robert. 'Don't,' he added,
with a good-boy expression on his face--'don't let's be ungrateful
for our blessings; don't let's waste the day in saying how horrid
it is to keep secrets from mother, when we all know Anthea tried
all she knew to give her the secret, and she wouldn't take it.
Let's get on the carpet and have a jolly good wish. You'll have
time enough to repent of things all next week.'
'Yes,' said Cyril, 'let's. It's not really wrong.'
'Well, look here,' said Anthea. 'You know there's something about
Christmas that makes you want to be good--however little you wish
it at other times. Couldn't we wish the carpet to take us
somewhere where we should have the chance to do some good and kind
action? It would be an adventure just the same,' she pleaded.
'I don't mind,' said Cyril. 'We shan't know where we're going, and
that'll be exciting. No one knows what'll happen. We'd best put
on our outers in case--'
'We might rescue a traveller buried in the snow, like St Bernard
dogs, with barrels round our necks,' said Jane, beginning to be
'Or we might arrive just in time to witness a will being
signed--more tea, please,' said Robert, 'and we should see the old
man hide it away in the secret cupboard; and then, after long
years, when the rightful heir was in despair, we should lead him to
the hidden panel and--'
'Yes,' interrupted Anthea; 'or we might be taken to some freezing
garret in a German town, where a poor little pale, sick child--'
'We haven't any German money,' interrupted Cyril, 'so THAT'S no go.
What I should like would be getting into the middle of a war and
getting hold of secret intelligence and taking it to the general,
and he would make me a lieutenant or a scout, or a hussar.'
When breakfast was cleared away, Anthea swept the carpet, and the
children sat down on it, together with the Phoenix, who had been
especially invited, as a Christmas treat, to come with them and
witness the good and kind action they were about to do.
Four children and one bird were ready, and the wish was wished.
Every one closed its eyes, so as to feel the topsy-turvy swirl of
the carpet's movement as little as possible.
When the eyes were opened again the children found themselves on
the carpet, and the carpet was in its proper place on the floor of
their own nursery at Camden Town.
'I say,' said Cyril, 'here's a go!'
'Do you think it's worn out? The wishing part of it, I mean?'
Robert anxiously asked the Phoenix.
'It's not that,' said the Phoenix; 'but--well--what did you
'Oh! I see what it means,' said Robert, with deep disgust; 'it's
like the end of a fairy story in a Sunday magazine. How perfectly
'You mean it means we can do kind and good actions where we are?
I see. I suppose it wants us to carry coals for the cook or make
clothes for the bare heathens. Well, I simply won't. And the last
day and everything. Look here!' Cyril spoke loudly and firmly.
'We want to go somewhere really interesting, where we have a chance
of doing something good and kind; we don't want to do it here, but
somewhere else. See? Now, then.'
The obedient carpet started instantly, and the four children and
one bird fell in a heap together, and as they fell were plunged in
'Are you all there?' said Anthea, breathlessly, through the black
dark. Every one owned that it was there.
'Where are we? Oh! how shivery and wet it is! Ugh!--oh!--I've put
my hand in a puddle!'
'Has any one got any matches?' said Anthea, hopelessly. She felt
sure that no one would have any.
It was then that Robert, with a radiant smile of triumph that was
quite wasted in the darkness, where, of course, no one could see
anything, drew out of his pocket a box of matches, struck a match
and lighted a candle--two candles. And every one, with its mouth
open, blinked at the sudden light.
'Well done Bobs,' said his sisters, and even Cyril's natural
brotherly feelings could not check his admiration of Robert's
'I've always carried them about ever since the lone tower day,'
said Robert, with modest pride. 'I knew we should want them some
day. I kept the secret well, didn't I?'
'Oh, yes,' said Cyril, with fine scorn. 'I found them the Sunday
after, when I was feeling in your Norfolks for the knife you
borrowed off me. But I thought you'd only sneaked them for Chinese
lanterns, or reading in bed by.'
'Bobs,' said Anthea, suddenly, 'do you know where we are? This is
the underground passage, and look there--there's the money and the
money-bags, and everything.'
By this time the ten eyes had got used to the light of the candles,
and no one could help seeing that Anthea spoke the truth.
'It seems an odd place to do good and kind acts in, though,' said
Jane. 'There's no one to do them to.'
'Don't you be too sure,' said Cyril; 'just round the next turning
we might find a prisoner who has languished here for years and
years, and we could take him out on our carpet and restore him to
his sorrowing friends.'
'Of course we could,' said Robert, standing up and holding the
candle above his head to see further off; 'or we might find the
bones of a poor prisoner and take them to his friends to be buried