Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

The Phoenix and the Carpet by E. Nesbit

Part 3 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

properly--that's always a kind action in books, though I never
could see what bones matter.'

'I wish you wouldn't,' said Jane.

'I know exactly where we shall find the bones, too,' Robert went
on. 'You see that dark arch just along the passage? Well, just
inside there--'

'If you don't stop going on like that,' said Jane, firmly, 'I shall
scream, and then I'll faint--so now then!'

'And _I_ will, too,' said Anthea.

Robert was not pleased at being checked in his flight of fancy.

'You girls will never be great writers,' he said bitterly. 'They
just love to think of things in dungeons, and chains, and knobbly
bare human bones, and--'

Jane had opened her mouth to scream, but before she could decide
how you began when you wanted to faint, the golden voice of the
Phoenix spoke through the gloom.

'Peace!' it said; 'there are no bones here except the small but
useful sets that you have inside you. And you did not invite me to
come out with you to hear you talk about bones, but to see you do
some good and kind action.'

'We can't do it here,' said Robert, sulkily.

'No,' rejoined the bird. 'The only thing we can do here, it seems,
is to try to frighten our little sisters.'

'He didn't, really, and I'm not so VERY little,' said Jane, rather

Robert was silent. It was Cyril who suggested that perhaps they
had better take the money and go.

'That wouldn't be a kind act, except to ourselves; and it wouldn't
be good, whatever way you look at it,' said Anthea, 'to take money
that's not ours.'

'We might take it and spend it all on benefits to the poor and
aged,' said Cyril.

'That wouldn't make it right to steal,' said Anthea, stoutly.

'I don't know,' said Cyril. They were all standing up now.
'Stealing is taking things that belong to some one else, and
there's no one else.'

'It can't be stealing if--'

'That's right,' said Robert, with ironical approval; 'stand here
all day arguing while the candles burn out. You'll like it awfully
when it's all dark again--and bony.'

'Let's get out, then,' said Anthea. 'We can argue as we go.' So
they rolled up the carpet and went. But when they had crept along
to the place where the passage led into the topless tower they
found the way blocked by a great stone, which they could not move.

'There!' said Robert. 'I hope you're satisfied!'

'Everything has two ends,' said the Phoenix, softly; 'even a
quarrel or a secret passage.'

So they turned round and went back, and Robert was made to go first
with one of the candles, because he was the one who had begun to
talk about bones. And Cyril carried the carpet.

'I wish you hadn't put bones into our heads,' said Jane, as they
went along.

'I didn't; you always had them. More bones than brains,' said

The passage was long, and there were arches and steps and turnings
and dark alcoves that the girls did not much like passing. The
passage ended in a flight of steps. Robert went up them.

Suddenly he staggered heavily back on to the following feet of
Jane, and everybody screamed, 'Oh! what is it?'

'I've only bashed my head in,' said Robert, when he had groaned for
some time; 'that's all. Don't mention it; I like it. The stairs
just go right slap into the ceiling, and it's a stone ceiling. You
can't do good and kind actions underneath a paving-stone.'

'Stairs aren't made to lead just to paving-stones as a general
rule,' said the Phoenix. 'Put your shoulder to the wheel.'

'There isn't any wheel,' said the injured Robert, still rubbing his

But Cyril had pushed past him to the top stair, and was already
shoving his hardest against the stone above. Of course, it did not
give in the least.

'If it's a trap-door--' said Cyril. And he stopped shoving and
began to feel about with his hands.

'Yes, there is a bolt. I can't move it.'

By a happy chance Cyril had in his pocket the oil-can of his
father's bicycle; he put the carpet down at the foot of the stairs,
and he lay on his back, with his head on the top step and his feet
straggling down among his young relations, and he oiled the bolt
till the drops of rust and oil fell down on his face. One even
went into his mouth--open, as he panted with the exertion of
keeping up this unnatural position. Then he tried again, but still
the bolt would not move. So now he tied his handkerchief--the one
with the bacon-fat and marmalade on it--to the bolt, and Robert's
handkerchief to that, in a reef knot, which cannot come undone
however much you pull, and, indeed, gets tighter and tighter the
more you pull it. This must not be confused with a granny knot,
which comes undone if you look at it. And then he and Robert
pulled, and the girls put their arms round their brothers and
pulled too, and suddenly the bolt gave way with a rusty scrunch,
and they all rolled together to the bottom of the stairs--all but
the Phoenix, which had taken to its wings when the pulling began.

Nobody was hurt much, because the rolled-up carpet broke their
fall; and now, indeed, the shoulders of the boys were used to some
purpose, for the stone allowed them to heave it up. They felt it
give; dust fell freely on them.

'Now, then,' cried Robert, forgetting his head and his temper,
'push all together. One, two, three!'

The stone was heaved up. It swung up on a creaking, unwilling
hinge, and showed a growing oblong of dazzling daylight; and it
fell back with a bang against something that kept it upright.
Every one climbed out, but there was not room for every one to
stand comfortably in the little paved house where they found
themselves, so when the Phoenix had fluttered up from the darkness
they let the stone down, and it closed like a trap-door, as indeed
it was.

You can have no idea how dusty and dirty the children were.
Fortunately there was no one to see them but each other. The place
they were in was a little shrine, built on the side of a road that
went winding up through yellow-green fields to the topless tower.
Below them were fields and orchards, all bare boughs and brown
furrows, and little houses and gardens. The shrine was a kind of
tiny chapel with no front wall--just a place for people to stop and
rest in and wish to be good. So the Phoenix told them. There was
an image that had once been brightly coloured, but the rain and
snow had beaten in through the open front of the shrine, and the
poor image was dull and weather-stained. Under it was written: 'St
Jean de Luz. Priez pour nous.' It was a sad little place, very
neglected and lonely, and yet it was nice, Anthea thought, that
poor travellers should come to this little rest-house in the hurry
and worry of their journeyings and be quiet for a few minutes, and
think about being good. The thought of St Jean de Luz--who had, no
doubt, in his time, been very good and kind--made Anthea want more
than ever to do something kind and good.

'Tell us,' she said to the Phoenix, 'what is the good and kind
action the carpet brought us here to do?'

'I think it would be kind to find the owners of the treasure and
tell them about it,' said Cyril.

'And give it them ALL?' said Jane.

'Yes. But whose is it?'

'I should go to the first house and ask the name of the owner of
the castle,' said the golden bird, and really the idea seemed a
good one.

They dusted each other as well as they could and went down the
road. A little way on they found a tiny spring, bubbling out of
the hillside and falling into a rough stone basin surrounded by
draggled hart's-tongue ferns, now hardly green at all. Here the
children washed their hands and faces and dried them on their
pocket-handkerchiefs, which always, on these occasions, seem
unnaturally small. Cyril's and Robert's handkerchiefs, indeed,
rather undid the effects of the wash. But in spite of this the
party certainly looked cleaner than before.

The first house they came to was a little white house with green
shutters and a slate roof. It stood in a prim little garden, and
down each side of the neat path were large stone vases for flowers
to grow in; but all the flowers were dead now.

Along one side of the house was a sort of wide veranda, built of
poles and trellis-work, and a vine crawled all over it. It was
wider than our English verandas, and Anthea thought it must look
lovely when the green leaves and the grapes were there; but now
there were only dry, reddish-brown stalks and stems, with a few
withered leaves caught in them.

The children walked up to the front door. It was green and narrow.
A chain with a handle hung beside it, and joined itself quite
openly to a rusty bell that hung under the porch. Cyril had pulled
the bell and its noisy clang was dying away before the terrible
thought came to all. Cyril spoke it.

'My hat!' he breathed. 'We don't know any French!'

At this moment the door opened. A very tall, lean lady, with pale
ringlets like whitey-brown paper or oak shavings, stood before
them. She had an ugly grey dress and a black silk apron. Her eyes
were small and grey and not pretty, and the rims were red, as
though she had been crying.

She addressed the party in something that sounded like a foreign
language, and ended with something which they were sure was a
question. Of course, no one could answer it.

'What does she say?' Robert asked, looking down into the hollow of
his jacket, where the Phoenix was nestling. But before the Phoenix
could answer, the whitey-brown lady's face was lighted up by a most
charming smile.

'You--you ar-r-re fr-r-rom the England!' she cried. 'I love so
much the England. Mais entrez--entrez donc tous! Enter,
then--enter all. One essuyes his feet on the carpet.' She pointed
to the mat.

'We only wanted to ask--'

'I shall say you all that what you wish,' said the lady. 'Enter

So they all went in, wiping their feet on a very clean mat, and
putting the carpet in a safe corner of the veranda.

'The most beautiful days of my life,' said the lady, as she shut
the door, 'did pass themselves in England. And since long time I
have not heard an English voice to repeal me the past.'

This warm welcome embarrassed every one, but most the boys, for the
floor of the hall was of such very clean red and white tiles, and
the floor of the sitting-room so very shiny--like a black
looking-glass--that each felt as though he had on far more boots
than usual, and far noisier.

There was a wood fire, very small and very bright, on the
hearth--neat little logs laid on brass fire-dogs. Some portraits
of powdered ladies and gentlemen hung in oval frames on the pale
walls. There were silver candlesticks on the mantelpiece, and
there were chairs and a table, very slim and polite, with slender
legs. The room was extremely bare, but with a bright foreign
bareness that was very cheerful, in an odd way of its own.
At the end of the polished table a very un-English little boy sat
on a footstool in a high-backed, uncomfortable-looking chair. He
wore black velvet, and the kind of collar--all frills and lacey--
that Robert would rather have died than wear; but then the little
French boy was much younger than Robert.

'Oh, how pretty!' said every one. But no one meant the little
French boy, with the velvety short knickerbockers and the velvety
short hair.

What every one admired was a little, little Christmas-tree, very
green, and standing in a very red little flower-pot, and hung round
with very bright little things made of tinsel and coloured paper.
There were tiny candles on the tree, but they were not lighted yet.

'But yes--is it not that it is genteel?' said the lady. 'Sit down
you then, and let us see.'

The children sat down in a row on the stiff chairs against the
wall, and the lady lighted a long, slim red taper at the wood
flame, and then she drew the curtains and lit the little candles,
and when they were all lighted the little French boy suddenly
shouted, 'Bravo, ma tante! Oh, que c'est gentil,' and the English
children shouted 'Hooray!'

Then there was a struggle in the breast of Robert, and out
fluttered the Phoenix--spread his gold wings, flew to the top of
the Christmas-tree, and perched there.

'Ah! catch it, then,' cried the lady; 'it will itself burn--your
genteel parrakeet!'

'It won't,' said Robert, 'thank you.'

And the little French boy clapped his clean and tidy hands; but the
lady was so anxious that the Phoenix fluttered down and walked up
and down on the shiny walnut-wood table.

'Is it that it talks?' asked the lady.

And the Phoenix replied in excellent French. It said,
'Parfaitement, madame!'

'Oh, the pretty parrakeet,' said the lady. 'Can it say still of
other things?'

And the Phoenix replied, this time in English, 'Why are you sad so
near Christmas-time?'

The children looked at it with one gasp of horror and surprise, for
the youngest of them knew that it is far from manners to notice
that strangers have been crying, and much worse to ask them the
reason of their tears. And, of course, the lady began to cry
again, very much indeed, after calling the Phoenix a bird without
a heart; and she could not find her handkerchief, so Anthea offered
hers, which was still very damp and no use at all. She also hugged
the lady, and this seemed to be of more use than the handkerchief,
so that presently the lady stopped crying, and found her own
handkerchief and dried her eyes, and called Anthea a cherished angel.

'I am sorry we came just when you were so sad,' said Anthea, 'but
we really only wanted to ask you whose that castle is on the hill.'

'Oh, my little angel,' said the poor lady, sniffing, 'to-day and for
hundreds of years the castle is to us, to our family. To-morrow it
must that I sell it to some strangers--and my little Henri, who
ignores all, he will not have never the lands paternal. But what
will you? His father, my brother--Mr the Marquis--has spent much
of money, and it the must, despite the sentiments of familial
respect, that I admit that my sainted father he also--'

'How would you feel if you found a lot of money--hundreds and
thousands of gold pieces?' asked Cyril.

The lady smiled sadly.

'Ah! one has already recounted to you the legend?' she said. 'It
is true that one says that it is long time; oh! but long time, one
of our ancestors has hid a treasure--of gold, and of gold, and of
gold--enough to enrich my little Henri for the life. But all that,
my children, it is but the accounts of fays--'

'She means fairy stories,' whispered the Phoenix to Robert. 'Tell
her what you have found.'

So Robert told, while Anthea and Jane hugged the lady for fear she
should faint for joy, like people in books, and they hugged her
with the earnest, joyous hugs of unselfish delight.

'It's no use explaining how we got in,' said Robert, when he had
told of the finding of the treasure, 'because you would find it a
little difficult to understand, and much more difficult to believe.
But we can show you where the gold is and help you to fetch it

The lady looked doubtfully at Robert as she absently returned the
hugs of the girls.

'No, he's not making it up,' said Anthea; 'it's true, TRUE,
TRUE!--and we are so glad.'

'You would not be capable to torment an old woman?' she said; 'and
it is not possible that it be a dream.'

'It really IS true,' said Cyril; 'and I congratulate you very

His tone of studied politeness seemed to convince more than the
raptures of the others.

'If I do not dream,' she said, 'Henri come to Manon--and you--you
shall come all with me to Mr the Curate. Is it not?'

Manon was a wrinkled old woman with a red and yellow handkerchief
twisted round her head. She took Henri, who was already sleepy
with the excitement of his Christmas-tree and his visitors, and
when the lady had put on a stiff black cape and a wonderful black
silk bonnet and a pair of black wooden clogs over her black
cashmere house-boots, the whole party went down the road to a
little white house--very like the one they had left--where an old
priest, with a good face, welcomed them with a politeness so great
that it hid his astonishment.

The lady, with her French waving hands and her shrugging French
shoulders and her trembling French speech, told the story. And now
the priest, who knew no English, shrugged HIS shoulders and waved
HIS hands and spoke also in French.

'He thinks,' whispered the Phoenix, 'that her troubles have turned
her brain. What a pity you know no French!'

'I do know a lot of French,' whispered Robert, indignantly; 'but
it's all about the pencil of the gardener's son and the penknife of
the baker's niece--nothing that anyone ever wants to say.'

'If _I_ speak,' the bird whispered, 'he'll think HE'S mad, too.'

'Tell me what to say.'

'Say "C'est vrai, monsieur. Venez donc voir,"' said the Phoenix;
and then Robert earned the undying respect of everybody by suddenly
saying, very loudly and distinctly--

'Say vray, mossoo; venny dong vwaw.'

The priest was disappointed when he found that Robert's French
began and ended with these useful words; but, at any rate, he saw
that if the lady was mad she was not the only one, and he put on a
big beavery hat, and got a candle and matches and a spade, and they
all went up the hill to the wayside shrine of St John of Luz.

'Now,' said Robert, 'I will go first and show you where it is.'

So they prised the stone up with a corner of the spade, and Robert
did go first, and they all followed and found the golden treasure
exactly as they had left it. And every one was flushed with the
joy of performing such a wonderfully kind action.

Then the lady and the priest clasped hands and wept for joy, as
French people do, and knelt down and touched the money, and talked
very fast and both together, and the lady embraced all the children
three times each, and called them 'little garden angels,' and then
she and the priest shook each other by both hands again, and
talked, and talked, and talked, faster and more Frenchy than you
would have believed possible. And the children were struck dumb
with joy and pleasure.

'Get away NOW,' said the Phoenix softly, breaking in on the radiant

So the children crept away, and out through the little shrine, and
the lady and the priest were so tearfully, talkatively happy that
they never noticed that the guardian angels had gone.

The 'garden angels' ran down the hill to the lady's little house,
where they had left the carpet on the veranda, and they spread it
out and said 'Home,' and no one saw them disappear, except little
Henri, who had flattened his nose into a white button against the
window-glass, and when he tried to tell his aunt she thought he had
been dreaming. So that was all right.

'It is much the best thing we've done,' said Anthea, when they
talked it over at tea-time. 'In the future we'll only do kind
actions with the carpet.'

'Ahem!' said the Phoenix.

'I beg your pardon?' said Anthea.

'Oh, nothing,' said the bird. 'I was only thinking!'


When you hear that the four children found themselves at Waterloo
Station quite un-taken-care-of, and with no one to meet them, it
may make you think that their parents were neither kind nor
careful. But if you think this you will be wrong. The fact is,
mother arranged with Aunt Emma that she was to meet the children at
Waterloo, when they went back from their Christmas holiday at
Lyndhurst. The train was fixed, but not the day. Then mother
wrote to Aunt Emma, giving her careful instructions about the day
and the hour, and about luggage and cabs and things, and gave the
letter to Robert to post. But the hounds happened to meet near
Rufus Stone that morning, and what is more, on the way to the meet
they met Robert, and Robert met them, and instantly forgot all
about posting Aunt Emma's letter, and never thought of it again
until he and the others had wandered three times up and down the
platform at Waterloo--which makes six in all--and had bumped
against old gentlemen, and stared in the faces of ladies, and been
shoved by people in a hurry, and 'by-your-leaved' by porters with
trucks, and were quite, quite sure that Aunt Emma was not there.
Then suddenly the true truth of what he had forgotten to do came
home to Robert, and he said, 'Oh, crikey!' and stood still with his
mouth open, and let a porter with a Gladstone bag in each hand and
a bundle of umbrellas under one arm blunder heavily into him, and
never so much as said, 'Where are you shoving to now?' or, 'Look
out where you're going, can't you?' The heavier bag smote him at
the knee, and he staggered, but he said nothing.

When the others understood what was the matter I think they told
Robert what they thought of him.

'We must take the train to Croydon,' said Anthea, 'and find Aunt

'Yes,' said Cyril, 'and precious pleased those Jevonses would be to
see us and our traps.'

Aunt Emma, indeed, was staying with some Jevonses--very prim
people. They were middle-aged and wore very smart blouses, and
they were fond of matinees and shopping, and they did not care
about children.

'I know MOTHER would be pleased to see us if we went back,' said

'Yes, she would, but she'd think it was not right to show she was
pleased, because it's Bob's fault we're not met. Don't I know the
sort of thing?' said Cyril. 'Besides, we've no tin. No; we've got
enough for a growler among us, but not enough for tickets to the
New Forest. We must just go home. They won't be so savage when
they find we've really got home all right. You know auntie was
only going to take us home in a cab.'

'I believe we ought to go to Croydon,' Anthea insisted.

'Aunt Emma would be out to a dead cert,' said Robert. 'Those
Jevonses go to the theatre every afternoon, I believe. Besides,
there's the Phoenix at home, AND the carpet. I votes we call a
four-wheeled cabman.'

A four-wheeled cabman was called--his cab was one of the
old-fashioned kind with straw in the bottom--and he was asked by
Anthea to drive them very carefully to their address. This he did,
and the price he asked for doing so was exactly the value of the
gold coin grandpapa had given Cyril for Christmas. This cast a
gloom; but Cyril would never have stooped to argue about a cab-
fare, for fear the cabman should think he was not accustomed to
take cabs whenever he wanted them. For a reason that was something
like this he told the cabman to put the luggage on the steps, and
waited till the wheels of the growler had grittily retired before
he rang the bell.

'You see,' he said, with his hand on the handle, 'we don't want
cook and Eliza asking us before HIM how it is we've come home
alone, as if we were babies.'

Here he rang the bell; and the moment its answering clang was
heard, every one felt that it would be some time before that bell
was answered. The sound of a bell is quite different, somehow,
when there is anyone inside the house who hears it. I can't tell
you why that is--but so it is.

'I expect they're changing their dresses,' said Jane.

'Too late,' said Anthea, 'it must be past five. I expect Eliza's
gone to post a letter, and cook's gone to see the time.'

Cyril rang again. And the bell did its best to inform the
listening children that there was really no one human in the house.
They rang again and listened intently. The hearts of all sank low.
It is a terrible thing to be locked out of your own house, on a
dark, muggy January evening.

'There is no gas on anywhere,' said Jane, in a broken voice.

'I expect they've left the gas on once too often, and the draught
blew it out, and they're suffocated in their beds. Father always
said they would some day,' said Robert cheerfully.

'Let's go and fetch a policeman,' said Anthea, trembling.

'And be taken up for trying to be burglars--no, thank you,' said
Cyril. 'I heard father read out of the paper about a young man who
got into his own mother's house, and they got him made a burglar
only the other day.'

'I only hope the gas hasn't hurt the Phoenix,' said Anthea. 'It
said it wanted to stay in the bathroom cupboard, and I thought it
would be all right, because the servants never clean that out. But
if it's gone and got out and been choked by gas--And besides,
directly we open the door we shall be choked, too. I KNEW we ought
to have gone to Aunt Emma, at Croydon. Oh, Squirrel, I wish we
had. Let's go NOW.'

'Shut up,' said her brother, briefly. 'There's some one rattling
the latch inside.' Every one listened with all its ears, and every
one stood back as far from the door as the steps would allow.

The latch rattled, and clicked. Then the flap of the letter-box
lifted itself--every one saw it by the flickering light of the
gas-lamp that shone through the leafless lime-tree by the gate--a
golden eye seemed to wink at them through the letter-slit, and a
cautious beak whispered--

'Are you alone?'

'It's the Phoenix,' said every one, in a voice so joyous, and so
full of relief, as to be a sort of whispered shout.

'Hush!' said the voice from the letter-box slit. 'Your slaves have
gone a-merry-making. The latch of this portal is too stiff for my
beak. But at the side--the little window above the shelf whereon
your bread lies--it is not fastened.'

'Righto!' said Cyril.

And Anthea added, 'I wish you'd meet us there, dear Phoenix.'

The children crept round to the pantry window. It is at the side
of the house, and there is a green gate labelled 'Tradesmen's
Entrance', which is always kept bolted. But if you get one foot on
the fence between you and next door, and one on the handle of the
gate, you are over before you know where you are. This, at least,
was the experience of Cyril and Robert, and even, if the truth must
be told, of Anthea and Jane. So in almost no time all four were in
the narrow gravelled passage that runs between that house and the

Then Robert made a back, and Cyril hoisted himself up and got his
knicker-bockered knee on the concrete window-sill. He dived into
the pantry head first, as one dives into water, and his legs waved
in the air as he went, just as your legs do when you are first
beginning to learn to dive. The soles of his boots--squarish muddy

'Give me a leg up,' said Robert to his sisters.

'No, you don't,' said Jane firmly. 'I'm not going to be left
outside here with just Anthea, and have something creep up behind
us out of the dark. Squirrel can go and open the back door.'

A light had sprung awake in the pantry. Cyril always said the
Phoenix turned the gas on with its beak, and lighted it with a waft
of its wing; but he was excited at the time, and perhaps he really
did it himself with matches, and then forgot all about it. He let
the others in by the back door. And when it had been bolted again
the children went all over the house and lighted every single
gas-jet they could find. For they couldn't help feeling that this
was just the dark dreary winter's evening when an armed burglar
might easily be expected to appear at any moment. There is nothing
like light when you are afraid of burglars--or of anything else,
for that matter.

And when all the gas-jets were lighted it was quite clear that the
Phoenix had made no mistake, and that Eliza and cook were really
out, and that there was no one in the house except the four
children, and the Phoenix, and the carpet, and the blackbeetles who
lived in the cupboards on each side of the nursery fire-place.
These last were very pleased that the children had come home again,
especially when Anthea had lighted the nursery fire. But, as
usual, the children treated the loving little blackbeetles with
coldness and disdain.

I wonder whether you know how to light a fire? I don't mean how to
strike a match and set fire to the corners of the paper in a fire
someone has laid ready, but how to lay and light a fire all by
yourself. I will tell you how Anthea did it, and if ever you have
to light one yourself you may remember how it is done. First, she
raked out the ashes of the fire that had burned there a week
ago--for Eliza had actually never done this, though she had had
plenty of time. In doing this Anthea knocked her knuckle and made
it bleed. Then she laid the largest and handsomest cinders in the
bottom of the grate. Then she took a sheet of old newspaper (you
ought never to light a fire with to-day's newspaper--it will not
burn well, and there are other reasons against it), and tore it
into four quarters, and screwed each of these into a loose ball,
and put them on the cinders; then she got a bundle of wood and
broke the string, and stuck the sticks in so that their front ends
rested on the bars, and the back ends on the back of the paper
balls. In doing this she cut her finger slightly with the string,
and when she broke it, two of the sticks jumped up and hit her on
the cheek. Then she put more cinders and some bits of coal--no
dust. She put most of that on her hands, but there seemed to be
enough left for her face. Then she lighted the edges of the paper
balls, and waited till she heard the fizz-crack-crack-fizz of the
wood as it began to burn. Then she went and washed her hands and
face under the tap in the back kitchen.

Of course, you need not bark your knuckles, or cut your finger, or
bruise your cheek with wood, or black yourself all over; but
otherwise, this is a very good way to light a fire in London. In
the real country fires are lighted in a different and prettier way.

But it is always good to wash your hands and face afterwards,
wherever you are.

While Anthea was delighting the poor little blackbeetles with the
cheerful blaze, Jane had set the table for--I was going to say tea,
but the meal of which I am speaking was not exactly tea. Let us
call it a tea-ish meal. There was tea, certainly, for Anthea's
fire blazed and crackled so kindly that it really seemed to be
affectionately inviting the kettle to come and sit upon its lap.
So the kettle was brought and tea made. But no milk could be
found--so every one had six lumps of sugar to each cup instead.
The things to eat, on the other hand, were nicer than usual. The
boys looked about very carefully, and found in the pantry some cold
tongue, bread, butter, cheese, and part of a cold pudding--very
much nicer than cook ever made when they were at home. And in the
kitchen cupboard was half a Christmassy cake, a pot of strawberry
jam, and about a pound of mixed candied fruit, with soft crumbly
slabs of delicious sugar in each cup of lemon, orange, or citron.

It was indeed, as Jane said, 'a banquet fit for an Arabian Knight.'

The Phoenix perched on Robert's chair, and listened kindly and
politely to all they had to tell it about their visit to Lyndhurst,
and underneath the table, by just stretching a toe down rather far,
the faithful carpet could be felt by all--even by Jane, whose legs
were very short.

'Your slaves will not return to-night,' said the Phoenix. 'They
sleep under the roof of the cook's stepmother's aunt, who is, I
gather, hostess to a large party to-night in honour of her
husband's cousin's sister-in-law's mother's ninetieth birthday.'

'I don't think they ought to have gone without leave,' said Anthea,
'however many relations they have, or however old they are; but I
suppose we ought to wash up.'

'It's not our business about the leave,' said Cyril, firmly, 'but
I simply won't wash up for them. We got it, and we'll clear it
away; and then we'll go somewhere on the carpet. It's not often we
get a chance of being out all night. We can go right away to the
other side of the equator, to the tropical climes, and see the sun rise
over the great Pacific Ocean.'

'Right you are,' said Robert. 'I always did want to see the
Southern Cross and the stars as big as gas-lamps.'

'DON'T go,' said Anthea, very earnestly, 'because I COULDN'T. I'm
SURE mother wouldn't like us to leave the house and I should hate
to be left here alone.'

'I'd stay with you,' said Jane loyally.

'I know you would,' said Anthea gratefully, 'but even with you I'd
much rather not.'

'Well,' said Cyril, trying to be kind and amiable, 'I don't want
you to do anything you think's wrong, BUT--'

He was silent; this silence said many things.

'I don't see,' Robert was beginning, when Anthea interrupted--

'I'm quite sure. Sometimes you just think a thing's wrong, and
sometimes you KNOW. And this is a KNOW time.'

The Phoenix turned kind golden eyes on her and opened a friendly
beak to say--

'When it is, as you say, a "know time", there is no more to be
said. And your noble brothers would never leave you.'

'Of course not,' said Cyril rather quickly. And Robert said so

'I myself,' the Phoenix went on, 'am willing to help in any way
possible. I will go personally--either by carpet or on the
wing--and fetch you anything you can think of to amuse you during
the evening. In order to waste no time I could go while you wash
up.--Why,' it went on in a musing voice, 'does one wash up teacups
and wash down the stairs?'

'You couldn't wash stairs up, you know,' said Anthea, 'unless you
began at the bottom and went up feet first as you washed. I wish
cook would try that way for a change.'

'I don't,' said Cyril, briefly. 'I should hate the look of her
elastic-side boots sticking up.'

'This is mere trifling,' said the Phoenix. 'Come, decide what I
shall fetch for you. I can get you anything you like.'

But of course they couldn't decide. Many things were suggested--a
rocking-horse, jewelled chessmen, an elephant, a bicycle, a
motor-car, books with pictures, musical instruments, and many other
things. But a musical instrument is agreeable only to the player,
unless he has learned to play it really well; books are not
sociable, bicycles cannot be ridden without going out of doors, and
the same is true of motor-cars and elephants. Only two people can
play chess at once with one set of chessmen (and anyway it's very
much too much like lessons for a game), and only one can ride on a
rocking-horse. Suddenly, in the midst of the discussion, the
Phoenix spread its wings and fluttered to the floor, and from there
it spoke.

'I gather,' it said, 'from the carpet, that it wants you to let it
go to its old home, where it was born and brought up, and it will
return within the hour laden with a number of the most beautiful
and delightful products of its native land.'

'What IS its native land?'

'I didn't gather. But since you can't agree, and time is passing,
and the tea-things are not washed down--I mean washed up--'

'I votes we do,' said Robert. 'It'll stop all this jaw, anyway.
And it's not bad to have surprises. Perhaps it's a Turkey carpet,
and it might bring us Turkish delight.'

'Or a Turkish patrol,' said Robert.

'Or a Turkish bath,' said Anthea.

'Or a Turkish towel,' said Jane.

'Nonsense,' Robert urged, 'it said beautiful and delightful, and
towels and baths aren't THAT, however good they may be for you.
Let it go. I suppose it won't give us the slip,' he added, pushing
back his chair and standing up.

'Hush!' said the Phoenix; 'how can you? Don't trample on its
feelings just because it's only a carpet.'

'But how can it do it--unless one of us is on it to do the
wishing?' asked Robert. He spoke with a rising hope that it MIGHT
be necessary for one to go and why not Robert? But the Phoenix
quickly threw cold water on his new-born dream.

'Why, you just write your wish on a paper, and pin it on the

So a leaf was torn from Anthea's arithmetic book, and on it Cyril
wrote in large round-hand the following:

We wish you to go to your dear native home, and bring back the most
beautiful and delightful productions of it you can--and not to be
gone long, please.
(Signed) CYRIL.

Then the paper was laid on the carpet.

'Writing down, please,' said the Phoenix; 'the carpet can't read a
paper whose back is turned to it, any more than you can.'

It was pinned fast, and the table and chairs having been moved, the
carpet simply and suddenly vanished, rather like a patch of water
on a hearth under a fierce fire. The edges got smaller and
smaller, and then it disappeared from sight.

'It may take it some time to collect the beautiful and delightful
things,' said the Phoenix. 'I should wash up--I mean wash down.'

So they did. There was plenty of hot water left in the kettle, and
every one helped--even the Phoenix, who took up cups by their
handles with its clever claws and dipped them in the hot water, and
then stood them on the table ready for Anthea to dry them. But the
bird was rather slow, because, as it said, though it was not above
any sort of honest work, messing about with dish-water was not
exactly what it had been brought up to. Everything was nicely
washed up, and dried, and put in its proper place, and the
dish-cloth washed and hung on the edge of the copper to dry, and
the tea-cloth was hung on the line that goes across the scullery.
(If you are a duchess's child, or a king's, or a person of high
social position's child, you will perhaps not know the difference
between a dish-cloth and a tea-cloth; but in that case your nurse
has been better instructed than you, and she will tell you all
about it.) And just as eight hands and one pair of claws were being
dried on the roller-towel behind the scullery door there came a
strange sound from the other side of the kitchen wall--the side
where the nursery was. It was a very strange sound, indeed--most
odd, and unlike any other sounds the children had ever heard. At
least, they had heard sounds as much like it as a toy engine's
whistle is like a steam siren's.

'The carpet's come back,' said Robert; and the others felt that he
was right.

'But what has it brought with it?' asked Jane. 'It sounds like
Leviathan, that great beast.'

'It couldn't have been made in India, and have brought elephants?
Even baby ones would be rather awful in that room,' said Cyril. 'I
vote we take it in turns to squint through the keyhole.'

They did--in the order of their ages. The Phoenix, being the
eldest by some thousands of years, was entitled to the first peep.

'Excuse me,' it said, ruffling its golden feathers and sneezing
softly; 'looking through keyholes always gives me a cold in my
golden eyes.'

So Cyril looked.

'I see something grey moving,' said he.

'It's a zoological garden of some sort, I bet,' said Robert, when
he had taken his turn. And the soft rustling, bustling, ruffling,
scuffling, shuffling, fluffling noise went on inside.

'_I_ can't see anything,' said Anthea, 'my eye tickles so.'

Then Jane's turn came, and she put her eye to the keyhole.

'It's a giant kitty-cat,' she said; 'and it's asleep all over the

'Giant cats are tigers--father said so.'

'No, he didn't. He said tigers were giant cats. It's not at all
the same thing.'

'It's no use sending the carpet to fetch precious things for you if
you're afraid to look at them when they come,' said the Phoenix,
sensibly. And Cyril, being the eldest, said--

'Come on,' and turned the handle.

The gas had been left full on after tea, and everything in the room
could be plainly seen by the ten eyes at the door. At least, not
everything, for though the carpet was there it was invisible,
because it was completely covered by the hundred and ninety-nine
beautiful objects which it had brought from its birthplace.

'My hat!' Cyril remarked. 'I never thought about its being a
PERSIAN carpet.'

Yet it was now plain that it was so, for the beautiful objects
which it had brought back were cats--Persian cats, grey Persian
cats, and there were, as I have said, 199 of them, and they were
sitting on the carpet as close as they could get to each other.
But the moment the children entered the room the cats rose and
stretched, and spread and overflowed from the carpet to the floor,
and in an instant the floor was a sea of moving, mewing
pussishness, and the children with one accord climbed to the table,
and gathered up their legs, and the people next door knocked on the
wall--and, indeed, no wonder, for the mews were Persian and

'This is pretty poor sport,' said Cyril. 'What's the matter with
the bounders?'

'I imagine that they are hungry,' said the Phoenix. 'If you were
to feed them--'

'We haven't anything to feed them with,' said Anthea in despair,
and she stroked the nearest Persian back. 'Oh, pussies, do be
quiet--we can't hear ourselves think.'

She had to shout this entreaty, for the mews were growing
deafening, 'and it would take pounds' and pounds' worth of

'Let's ask the carpet to take them away,' said Robert. But the
girls said 'No.'

'They are so soft and pussy,' said Jane.

'And valuable,' said Anthea, hastily. 'We can sell them for lots
and lots of money.'

'Why not send the carpet to get food for them?' suggested the
Phoenix, and its golden voice came harsh and cracked with the
effort it had to be make to be heard above the increasing
fierceness of the Persian mews.

So it was written that the carpet should bring food for 199 Persian
cats, and the paper was pinned to the carpet as before.

The carpet seemed to gather itself together, and the cats dropped
off it, as raindrops do from your mackintosh when you shake it.
And the carpet disappeared.

Unless you have had one-hundred and ninety-nine well-grown Persian
cats in one small room, all hungry, and all saying so in
unmistakable mews, you can form but a poor idea of the noise that now
deafened the children and the Phoenix. The cats did not seem to have
been at all properly brought up. They seemed to have no idea of its
being a mistake in manners to ask for meals in a strange house--let
alone to howl for them--and they mewed, and they mewed, and they
mewed, and they mewed, till the children poked their fingers into their
ears and waited in silent agony, wondering why the whole of Camden
Town did not come knocking at the door to ask what was the matter, and
only hoping that the food for the cats would come before the neighbours
did--and before all the secret of the carpet and the Phoenix had to
be given away beyond recall to an indignant neighbourhood.

The cats mewed and mewed and twisted their Persian forms in and out
and unfolded their Persian tails, and the children and the Phoenix
huddled together on the table.

The Phoenix, Robert noticed suddenly, was trembling.

'So many cats,' it said, 'and they might not know I was the
Phoenix. These accidents happen so quickly. It quite un-mans me.'

This was a danger of which the children had not thought.

'Creep in,' cried Robert, opening his jacket.

And the Phoenix crept in--only just in time, for green eyes had
glared, pink noses had sniffed, white whiskers had twitched, and as
Robert buttoned his coat he disappeared to the waist in a wave of
eager grey Persian fur. And on the instant the good carpet slapped
itself down on the floor. And it was covered with rats--three hundred
and ninety-eight of them, I believe, two for each cat.

'How horrible!' cried Anthea. 'Oh, take them away!'

'Take yourself away,' said the Phoenix, 'and me.'

'I wish we'd never had a carpet,' said Anthea, in tears.

They hustled and crowded out of the door, and shut it, and locked
it. Cyril, with great presence of mind, lit a candle and turned
off the gas at the main.

'The rats'll have a better chance in the dark,' he said.

The mewing had ceased. Every one listened in breathless silence.
We all know that cats eat rats--it is one of the first things we
read in our little brown reading books; but all those cats eating
all those rats--it wouldn't bear thinking of.

Suddenly Robert sniffed, in the silence of the dark kitchen, where
the only candle was burning all on one side, because of the

'What a funny scent!' he said.

And as he spoke, a lantern flashed its light through the window of
the kitchen, a face peered in, and a voice said--

'What's all this row about? You let me in.'

It was the voice of the police!

Robert tip-toed to the window, and spoke through the pane that had
been a little cracked since Cyril accidentally knocked it with a
walking-stick when he was playing at balancing it on his nose. (It
was after they had been to a circus.)

'What do you mean?' he said. 'There's no row. You listen;
everything's as quiet as quiet.' And indeed it was.

The strange sweet scent grew stronger, and the Phoenix put out its

The policeman hesitated.

'They're MUSK-rats,' said the Phoenix. 'I suppose some cats eat
them--but never Persian ones. What a mistake for a well-informed
carpet to make! Oh, what a night we're having!'

'Do go away,' said Robert, nervously. 'We're
just going to bed--that's our bedroom candle; there isn't any row.
Everything's as quiet as a mouse.'

A wild chorus of mews drowned his words, and with the mews were
mingled the shrieks of the musk-rats. What had happened? Had the
cats tasted them before deciding that they disliked the flavour?

'I'm a-coming in,' said the policeman. 'You've got a cat shut up

'A cat,' said Cyril. 'Oh, my only aunt! A cat!'

'Come in, then,' said Robert. 'It's your own look out. I advise
you not. Wait a shake, and I'll undo the side gate.'

He undid the side gate, and the policeman, very cautiously, came
in. And there in the kitchen, by the light of one candle, with the
mewing and the screaming going like a dozen steam sirens, twenty
waiting on motor-cars, and half a hundred squeaking pumps, four
agitated voices shouted to the policeman four mixed and wholly
different explanations of the very mixed events of the evening.

Did you ever try to explain the simplest thing to a policeman?


The nursery was full of Persian cats and musk-rats that had been
brought there by the wishing carpet. The cats were mewing and the
musk-rats were squeaking so that you could hardly hear yourself
speak. In the kitchen were the four children, one candle, a
concealed Phoenix, and a very visible policeman.

'Now then, look here,' said the Policeman, very loudly, and he
pointed his lantern at each child in turn, 'what's the meaning of
this here yelling and caterwauling. I tell you you've got a cat
here, and some one's a ill-treating of it. What do you mean by it,

It was five to one, counting the Phoenix; but the policeman, who
was one, was of unusually fine size, and the five, including the
Phoenix, were small. The mews and the squeaks grew softer, and in
the comparative silence, Cyril said--

'It's true. There are a few cats here. But we've not hurt them.
It's quite the opposite. We've just fed them.'

'It don't sound like it,' said the policeman grimly.

'I daresay they're not REAL cats,' said Jane madly, perhaps they're
only dream-cats.'

'I'll dream-cat you, my lady,' was the brief response of the force.

'If you understood anything except people who do murders and
stealings and naughty things like that, I'd tell you all about it,'
said Robert; 'but I'm certain you don't. You're not meant to shove
your oar into people's private cat-keepings. You're only supposed
to interfere when people shout "murder" and "stop thief" in the
street. So there!'

The policeman assured them that he should see about that; and at
this point the Phoenix, who had been making itself small on the
pot-shelf under the dresser, among the saucepan lids and the fish-
kettle, walked on tip-toed claws in a noiseless and modest manner,
and left the room unnoticed by any one.

'Oh, don't be so horrid,' Anthea was saying, gently and earnestly.
'We LOVE cats--dear pussy-soft things. We wouldn't hurt them for
worlds. Would we, Pussy?'

And Jane answered that of course they wouldn't. And still the
policeman seemed unmoved by their eloquence.

'Now, look here,' he said, 'I'm a-going to see what's in that room
beyond there, and--'

His voice was drowned in a wild burst of mewing and squeaking. And
as soon as it died down all four children began to explain at once;
and though the squeaking and mewing were not at their very loudest,
yet there was quite enough of both to make it very hard for the
policeman to understand a single word of any of the four wholly
different explanations now poured out to him.

'Stow it,' he said at last. 'I'm a-goin' into the next room in the
execution of my duty. I'm a-goin' to use my eyes--my ears have
gone off their chumps, what with you and them cats.'

And he pushed Robert aside, and strode through the door.

'Don't say I didn't warn you,' said Robert.

'It's tigers REALLY,' said Jane. 'Father said so. I wouldn't go
in, if I were you.'

But the policeman was quite stony; nothing any one said seemed to
make any difference to him. Some policemen are like this, I
believe. He strode down the passage, and in another moment he
would have been in the room with all the cats and all the rats
(musk), but at that very instant a thin, sharp voice screamed from
the street outside--

'Murder--murder! Stop thief!'

The policeman stopped, with one regulation boot heavily poised in
the air.

'Eh?' he said.

And again the shrieks sounded shrilly and piercingly from the dark
street outside.

'Come on,' said Robert. 'Come and look after cats while somebody's
being killed outside.' For Robert had an inside feeling that told
him quite plainly WHO it was that was screaming.

'You young rip,' said the policeman, 'I'll settle up with you

And he rushed out, and the children heard his boots going weightily
along the pavement, and the screams also going along, rather ahead
of the policeman; and both the murder-screams and the policeman's
boots faded away in the remote distance.

Then Robert smacked his knickerbocker loudly with his palm, and

'Good old Phoenix! I should know its golden voice anywhere.'

And then every one understood how cleverly the Phoenix had caught
at what Robert had said about the real work of a policeman being to
look after murderers and thieves, and not after cats, and all
hearts were filled with admiring affection.

'But he'll come back,' said Anthea, mournfully, 'as soon as it
finds the murderer is only a bright vision of a dream, and there
isn't one at all really.'

'No he won't,' said the soft voice of the clever Phoenix, as it
flew in. 'HE DOES NOT KNOW WHERE YOUR HOUSE IS. I heard him own
as much to a fellow mercenary. Oh! what a night we are having!
Lock the door, and let us rid ourselves of this intolerable smell
of the perfume peculiar to the musk-rat and to the house of the
trimmers of beards. If you'll excuse me, I will go to bed. I am
worn out.'

It was Cyril who wrote the paper that told the carpet to take away
the rats and bring milk, because there seemed to be no doubt in any
breast that, however Persian cats may be, they must like milk.

'Let's hope it won't be musk-milk,' said Anthea, in gloom, as she
pinned the paper face-downwards on the carpet. 'Is there such a
thing as a musk-cow?' she added anxiously, as the carpet shrivelled
and vanished. 'I do hope not. Perhaps really it WOULD have been
wiser to let the carpet take the cats away. It's getting quite
late, and we can't keep them all night.'

'Oh, can't we?' was the bitter rejoinder of Robert, who had been
fastening the side door. 'You might have consulted me,' he went
on. 'I'm not such an idiot as some people.'

'Why, whatever--'

'Don't you see? We've jolly well GOT to keep the cats all
night--oh, get down, you furry beasts!--because we've had three
wishes out of the old carpet now, and we can't get any more till

The liveliness of Persian mews alone prevented the occurrence of a
dismal silence.

Anthea spoke first.

'Never mind,' she said. 'Do you know, I really do think they're
quieting down a bit. Perhaps they heard us say milk.'

'They can't understand English,' said Jane. 'You forget they're
Persian cats, Panther.'

'Well,' said Anthea, rather sharply, for she was tired and anxious,
'who told you "milk" wasn't Persian for milk. Lots of English
words are just the same in French--at least I know "miaw" is, and
"croquet", and "fiance". Oh, pussies, do be quiet! Let's stroke
them as hard as we can with both hands, and perhaps they'll stop.'

So every one stroked grey fur till their hands were tired, and as
soon as a cat had been stroked enough to make it stop mewing it was
pushed gently away, and another mewing mouser was approached by the
hands of the strokers. And the noise was really more than half
purr when the carpet suddenly appeared in its proper place, and on
it, instead of rows of milk-cans, or even of milk-jugs, there was
a COW. Not a Persian cow, either, nor, most fortunately, a
musk-cow, if there is such a thing, but a smooth, sleek,
dun-coloured Jersey cow, who blinked large soft eyes at the
gas-light and mooed in an amiable if rather inquiring manner.

Anthea had always been afraid of cows; but now she tried to be

'Anyway, it can't run after me,' she said to herself 'There isn't
room for it even to begin to run.'

The cow was perfectly placid. She behaved like a strayed duchess
till some one brought a saucer for the milk, and some one else
tried to milk the cow into it. Milking is very difficult. You may
think it is easy, but it is not. All the children were by this
time strung up to a pitch of heroism that would have been
impossible to them in their ordinary condition. Robert and Cyril
held the cow by the horns; and Jane, when she was quite sure that
their end of the cow was quite secure, consented to stand by, ready
to hold the cow by the tail should occasion arise. Anthea, holding
the saucer, now advanced towards the cow. She remembered to have
heard that cows, when milked by strangers, are susceptible to the
soothing influence of the human voice. So, clutching her saucer
very tight, she sought for words to whose soothing influence the
cow might be susceptible. And her memory, troubled by the events
of the night, which seemed to go on and on for ever and ever,
refused to help her with any form of words suitable to address a
Jersey cow in.

'Poor pussy, then. Lie down, then, good dog, lie down!' was all
that she could think of to say, and she said it.

And nobody laughed. The situation, full of grey mewing cats, was
too serious for that. Then Anthea, with a beating heart, tried to
milk the cow. Next moment the cow had knocked the saucer out of
her hand and trampled on it with one foot, while with the other
three she had walked on a foot each of Robert, Cyril, and Jane.

Jane burst into tears. 'Oh, how much too horrid everything is!'
she cried. 'Come away. Let's go to bed and leave the horrid cats
with the hateful cow. Perhaps somebody will eat somebody else.
And serve them right.'

They did not go to bed, but they had a shivering council in the
drawing-room, which smelt of soot--and, indeed, a heap of this lay
in the fender. There had been no fire in the room since mother
went away, and all the chairs and tables were in the wrong places,
and the chrysanthemums were dead, and the water in the pot nearly
dried up. Anthea wrapped the embroidered woolly sofa blanket round
Jane and herself, while Robert and Cyril had a struggle, silent and
brief, but fierce, for the larger share of the fur hearthrug.

'It is most truly awful,' said Anthea, 'and I am so tired. Let's
let the cats loose.'

'And the cow, perhaps?' said Cyril. 'The police would find us at
once. That cow would stand at the gate and mew--I mean moo--to
come in. And so would the cats. No; I see quite well what we've
got to do. We must put them in baskets and leave them on people's
doorsteps, like orphan foundlings.'

'We've got three baskets, counting mother's work one,' said Jane

'And there are nearly two hundred cats,' said Anthea, 'besides the
cow--and it would have to be a different-sized basket for her; and
then I don't know how you'd carry it, and you'd never find a
doorstep big enough to put it on. Except the church one--and--'

'Oh, well,' said Cyril, 'if you simply MAKE difficulties--'

'I'm with you,' said Robert. 'Don't fuss about the cow, Panther.
It's simply GOT to stay the night, and I'm sure I've read that the
cow is a remunerating creature, and that means it will sit still
and think for hours. The carpet can take it away in the morning.
And as for the baskets, we'll do them up in dusters, or
pillow-cases, or bath-towels. Come on, Squirrel. You girls can be
out of it if you like.'

His tone was full of contempt, but Jane and Anthea were too tired
and desperate to care; even being 'out of it', which at other times
they could not have borne, now seemed quite a comfort. They
snuggled down in the sofa blanket, and Cyril threw the fur
hearthrug over them.

'Ah, he said, 'that's all women are fit for--to keep safe and warm,
while the men do the work and run dangers and risks and things.'

'I'm not,' said Anthea, 'you know I'm not.' But Cyril was gone.

It was warm under the blanket and the hearthrug, and Jane snuggled
up close to her sister; and Anthea cuddled Jane closely and kindly,
and in a sort of dream they heard the rise of a wave of mewing as
Robert opened the door of the nursery. They heard the booted
search for baskets in the back kitchen. They heard the side door
open and close, and they knew that each brother had gone out with
at least one cat. Anthea's last thought was that it would take at
least all night to get rid of one hundred and ninety-nine cats by
twos. There would be ninety-nine journeys of two cats each, and one
cat over.

'I almost think we might keep the one cat over,' said Anthea. 'I
don't seem to care for cats just now, but I daresay I shall again
some day.' And she fell asleep. Jane also was sleeping.

It was Jane who awoke with a start, to find Anthea still asleep.
As, in the act of awakening, she kicked her sister, she wondered
idly why they should have gone to bed in their boots; but the next
moment she remembered where they were.

There was a sound of muffled, shuffled feet on the stairs. Like
the heroine of the classic poem, Jane 'thought it was the boys',
and as she felt quite wide awake, and not nearly so tired as
before, she crept gently from Anthea's side and followed the
footsteps. They went down into the basement; the cats, who seemed
to have fallen into the sleep of exhaustion, awoke at the sound of
the approaching footsteps and mewed piteously. Jane was at the
foot of the stairs before she saw it was not her brothers whose
coming had roused her and the cats, but a burglar. She knew he was
a burglar at once, because he wore a fur cap and a red and black
charity-check comforter, and he had no business where he was.

If you had been stood in jane's shoes you would no doubt have run
away in them, appealing to the police and neighbours with horrid
screams. But Jane knew better. She had read a great many nice
stories about burglars, as well as some affecting pieces of poetry,
and she knew that no burglar will ever hurt a little girl if he
meets her when burgling. Indeed, in all the cases Jane had read
of, his burglarishness was almost at once forgotten in the interest
he felt in the little girl's artless prattle. So if Jane hesitated
for a moment before addressing the burglar, it was only because she
could not at once think of any remark sufficiently prattling and
artless to make a beginning with. In the stories and the affecting
poetry the child could never speak plainly, though it always looked
old enough to in the pictures. And Jane could not make up her mind
to lisp and 'talk baby', even to a burglar. And while she
hesitated he softly opened the nursery door and went in.

Jane followed--just in time to see him sit down flat on the floor,
scattering cats as a stone thrown into a pool splashes water.

She closed the door softly and stood there, still wondering whether
she COULD bring herself to say, 'What's 'oo doing here, Mithter
Wobber?' and whether any other kind of talk would do.

Then she heard the burglar draw a long breath, and he spoke.

'It's a judgement,' he said, 'so help me bob if it ain't. Oh,
'ere's a thing to 'appen to a chap! Makes it come 'ome to you,
don't it neither? Cats an' cats an' cats. There couldn't be all
them cats. Let alone the cow. If she ain't the moral of the old
man's Daisy. She's a dream out of when I was a lad--I don't mind
'er so much. 'Ere, Daisy, Daisy?'

The cow turned and looked at him.

'SHE'S all right,' he went on. 'Sort of company, too. Though them
above knows how she got into this downstairs parlour. But them
cats--oh, take 'em away, take 'em away! I'll chuck the 'ole
show--Oh, take 'em away.'

'Burglar,' said Jane, close behind him, and he started
convulsively, and turned on her a blank face, whose pale lips
trembled. 'I can't take those cats away.'

'Lor' lumme!' exclaimed the man; 'if 'ere ain't another on 'em.
Are you real, miss, or something I'll wake up from presently?'

'I am quite real,' said Jane, relieved to find that a lisp was not
needed to make the burglar understand her. 'And so,' she added,
'are the cats.'

'Then send for the police, send for the police, and I'll go quiet.
If you ain't no realler than them cats, I'm done, spunchuck--out of
time. Send for the police. I'll go quiet. One thing, there'd not
be room for 'arf them cats in no cell as ever _I_ see.'

He ran his fingers through his hair, which was short, and his eyes
wandered wildly round the roomful of cats.

'Burglar,' said Jane, kindly and softly, 'if you didn't like cats,
what did you come here for?'

'Send for the police,' was the unfortunate criminal's only reply.
'I'd rather you would--honest, I'd rather.'

'I daren't,' said Jane, 'and besides, I've no one to send. I hate
the police. I wish he'd never been born.'

'You've a feeling 'art, miss,' said the burglar; 'but them cats is
really a little bit too thick.'

'Look here,' said Jane, 'I won't call the police. And I am quite
a real little girl, though I talk older than the kind you've met
before when you've been doing your burglings. And they are real
cats--and they want real milk--and--Didn't you say the cow was
like somebody's Daisy that you used to know?'

'Wish I may die if she ain't the very spit of her,' replied the

'Well, then,' said Jane--and a thrill of joyful pride ran through
her--'perhaps you know how to milk cows?'

'Perhaps I does,' was the burglar's cautious rejoinder.

'Then,' said Jane, 'if you will ONLY milk ours--you don't know how
we shall always love you.'

The burglar replied that loving was all very well.

'If those cats only had a good long, wet, thirsty drink of milk,'
Jane went on with eager persuasion, 'they'd lie down and go to
sleep as likely as not, and then the police won't come back. But
if they go on mewing like this he will, and then I don't know
what'll become of us, or you either.'

This argument seemed to decide the criminal. Jane fetched the
wash-bowl from the sink, and he spat on his hands and prepared to
milk the cow. At this instant boots were heard on the stairs.

'It's all up,' said the man, desperately, 'this 'ere's a plant.
'ERE'S the police.' He made as if to open the window and leap from

'It's all right, I tell you,' whispered Jane, in anguish. 'I'll
say you're a friend of mine, or the good clergyman called in, or my
uncle, or ANYTHIING--only do, do, do milk the cow. Oh, DON'T
go--oh--oh, thank goodness it's only the boys!'

It was; and their entrance had awakened Anthea, who, with her
brothers, now crowded through the doorway. The man looked about
him like a rat looks round a trap.

'This is a friend of mine,' said Jane; 'he's just called in, and
he's going to milk the cow for us. ISN'T it good and kind of him?'

She winked at the others, and though they did not understand they
played up loyally.

'How do?' said Cyril, 'Very glad to meet you. Don't let us
interrupt the milking.'

'I shall 'ave a 'ead and a 'arf in the morning, and no bloomin'
error,' remarked the burglar; but he began to milk the cow.

Robert was winked at to stay and see that he did not leave off
milking or try to escape, and the others went to get things to put
the milk in; for it was now spurting and foaming in the wash-bowl,
and the cats had ceased from mewing and were crowding round the
cow, with expressions of hope and anticipation on their whiskered

'We can't get rid of any more cats,' said Cyril, as he and his
sisters piled a tray high with saucers and soup-plates and platters
and pie-dishes, 'the police nearly got us as it was. Not the same
one--a much stronger sort. He thought it really was a foundling
orphan we'd got. If it hadn't been for me throwing the two bags of
cat slap in his eye and hauling Robert over a railing, and lying
like mice under a laurel-bush--Well, it's jolly lucky I'm a good
shot, that's all. He pranced off when he'd got the cat-bags off
his face--thought we'd bolted. And here we are.'

The gentle samishness of the milk swishing into the hand-bowl
seemed to have soothed the burglar very much. He went on milking
in a sort of happy dream, while the children got a cap and ladled
the warm milk out into the pie-dishes and plates, and platters and
saucers, and set them down to the music of Persian purrs and

'It makes me think of old times,' said the burglar, smearing his
ragged coat-cuff across his eyes--'about the apples in the orchard
at home, and the rats at threshing time, and the rabbits and the
ferrets, and how pretty it was seeing the pigs killed.'

Finding him in this softened mood, Jane said--

'I wish you'd tell us how you came to choose our house for your
burglaring to-night. I am awfully glad you did. You have been so
kind. I don't know what we should have done without you,' she
added hastily. 'We all love you ever so. Do tell us.'

The others added their affectionate entreaties, and at last the
burglar said--

'Well, it's my first job, and I didn't expect to be made so
welcome, and that's the truth, young gents and ladies. And I don't
know but what it won't be my last. For this 'ere cow, she reminds
me of my father, and I know 'ow 'e'd 'ave 'ided me if I'd laid
'ands on a 'a'penny as wasn't my own.'

'I'm sure he would,' Jane agreed kindly; 'but what made you come

'Well, miss,' said the burglar, 'you know best 'ow you come by them
cats, and why you don't like the police, so I'll give myself away
free, and trust to your noble 'earts. (You'd best bale out a bit,
the pan's getting fullish.) I was a-selling oranges off of my
barrow--for I ain't a burglar by trade, though you 'ave used the
name so free--an' there was a lady bought three 'a'porth off me.
An' while she was a-pickin' of them out--very careful indeed, and
I'm always glad when them sort gets a few over-ripe ones--there was
two other ladies talkin' over the fence. An' one on 'em said to
the other on 'em just like this--

"'I've told both gells to come, and they can doss in with M'ria and
Jane, 'cause their boss and his missis is miles away and the kids
too. So they can just lock up the 'ouse and leave the gas
a-burning, so's no one won't know, and get back bright an' early by
'leven o'clock. And we'll make a night of it, Mrs Prosser, so we
will. I'm just a-going to run out to pop the letter in the post."
And then the lady what had chosen the three ha'porth so careful,
she said: "Lor, Mrs Wigson, I wonder at you, and your hands all
over suds. This good gentleman'll slip it into the post for yer,
I'll be bound, seeing I'm a customer of his." So they give me the
letter, and of course I read the direction what was written on it
afore I shoved it into the post. And then when I'd sold my
barrowful, I was a-goin' 'ome with the chink in my pocket, and I'm
blowed if some bloomin' thievin' beggar didn't nick the lot whilst
I was just a-wettin' of my whistle, for callin' of oranges is dry
work. Nicked the bloomin' lot 'e did--and me with not a farden to
take 'ome to my brother and his missus.'

'How awful!' said Anthea, with much sympathy.

'Horful indeed, miss, I believe yer,' the burglar rejoined, with
deep feeling. 'You don't know her temper when she's roused. An'
I'm sure I 'ope you never may, neither. And I'd 'ad all my oranges
off of 'em. So it came back to me what was wrote on the
ongverlope, and I says to myself, "Why not, seein' as I've been
done myself, and if they keeps two slaveys there must be some
pickings?" An' so 'ere I am. But them cats, they've brought me
back to the ways of honestness. Never no more.'

'Look here,' said Cyril, 'these cats are very valuable--very
indeed. And we will give them all to you, if only you will take
them away.'

'I see they're a breedy lot,' replied the burglar. 'But I don't
want no bother with the coppers. Did you come by them honest now?

'They are all our very own,' said Anthea, 'we wanted them, but the

'Consignment,' whispered Cyril.

'was larger than we wanted, and they're an awful bother. If you
got your barrow, and some sacks or baskets, your brother's missus
would be awfully pleased. My father says Persian cats are worth
pounds and pounds each.'

'Well,' said the burglar--and he was certainly moved by her
remarks--'I see you're in a hole--and I don't mind lending a helping
'and. I don't ask 'ow you come by them. But I've got a pal--'e's
a mark on cats. I'll fetch him along, and if he thinks they'd
fetch anything above their skins I don't mind doin' you a

'You won't go away and never come back,' said Jane, 'because I
don't think I COULD bear that.'

The burglar, quite touched by her emotion, swore sentimentally
that, alive or dead, he would come back.

Then he went, and Cyril and Robert sent the girls to bed and sat up
to wait for his return. It soon seemed absurd to await him in a
state of wakefulness, but his stealthy tap on the window awoke them
readily enough. For he did return, with the pal and the barrow and
the sacks. The pal approved of the cats, now dormant in Persian
repletion, and they were bundled into the sacks, and taken away on
the barrow--mewing, indeed, but with mews too sleepy to attract
public attention.

'I'm a fence--that's what I am,' said the burglar gloomily. 'I
never thought I'd come down to this, and all acause er my kind

Cyril knew that a fence is a receiver of stolen goods, and he
replied briskly--

'I give you my sacred the cats aren't stolen. What do you make the

'I ain't got the time on me,' said the pal--'but it was just about
chucking-out time as I come by the "Bull and Gate". I shouldn't
wonder if it was nigh upon one now.'

When the cats had been removed, and the boys and the burglar had
parted with warm expressions of friendship, there remained only the

'She must stay all night,' said Robert. 'Cook'll have a fit when
she sees her.'

'All night?' said Cyril. 'Why--it's tomorrow morning if it's one.
We can have another wish!'

So the carpet was urged, in a hastily written note, to remove the
cow to wherever she belonged, and to return to its proper place on
the nursery floor. But the cow could not be got to move on to the
carpet. So Robert got the clothes line out of the back kitchen,
and tied one end very firmly to the cow's horns, and the other end
to a bunched-up corner of the carpet, and said 'Fire away.'

And the carpet and cow vanished together, and the boys went to bed,
tired out and only too thankful that the evening at last was over.

Next morning the carpet lay calmly in its place, but one corner was
very badly torn. It was the corner that the cow had been tied on


The morning after the adventure of the Persian cats, the musk-rats,
the common cow, and the uncommon burglar, all the children slept
till it was ten o'clock; and then it was only Cyril who woke; but
he attended to the others, so that by half past ten every one was
ready to help to get breakfast. It was shivery cold, and there was
but little in the house that was really worth eating.

Robert had arranged a thoughtful little surprise for the absent
servants. He had made a neat and delightful booby trap over the
kitchen door, and as soon as they heard the front door click open
and knew the servants had come back, all four children hid in the
cupboard under the stairs and listened with delight to the
entrance--the tumble, the splash, the scuffle, and the remarks of
the servants. They heard the cook say it was a judgement on them
for leaving the place to itself; she seemed to think that a booby
trap was a kind of plant that was quite likely to grow, all by
itself, in a dwelling that was left shut up. But the housemaid,
more acute, judged that someone must have been in the house--a view
confirmed by the sight of the breakfast things on the nursery

The cupboard under the stairs was very tight and paraffiny,
however, and a silent struggle for a place on top ended in the door
bursting open and discharging Jane, who rolled like a football to
the feet of the servants.

'Now,' said Cyril, firmly, when the cook's hysterics had become
quieter, and the housemaid had time to say what she thought of
them, 'don't you begin jawing us. We aren't going to stand it. We
know too much. You'll please make an extra special treacle roley
for dinner, and we'll have a tinned tongue.'

'I daresay,' said the housemaid, indignant, still in her outdoor
things and with her hat very much on one side. 'Don't you come
a-threatening me, Master Cyril, because I won't stand it, so I tell
you. You tell your ma about us being out? Much I care! She'll be
sorry for me when she hears about my dear great-aunt by marriage as
brought me up from a child and was a mother to me. She sent for
me, she did, she wasn't expected to last the night, from the spasms
going to her legs--and cook was that kind and careful she couldn't
let me go alone, so--'

'Don't,' said Anthea, in real distress. 'You know where liars go
to, Eliza--at least if you don't--'

'Liars indeed!' said Eliza, 'I won't demean myself talking to you.'

'How's Mrs Wigson?' said Robert, 'and DID you keep it up last

The mouth of the housemaid fell open.

'Did you doss with Maria or Emily?' asked Cyril.

'How did Mrs Prosser enjoy herself?' asked Jane.

'Forbear,' said Cyril, 'they've had enough. Whether we tell or not
depends on your later life,' he went on, addressing the servants.
'If you are decent to us we'll be decent to you. You'd better make
that treacle roley--and if I were you, Eliza, I'd do a little
housework and cleaning, just for a change.'

The servants gave in once and for all.

'There's nothing like firmness,' Cyril went on, when the breakfast
things were cleared away and the children were alone in the
nursery. 'People are always talking of difficulties with servants.
It's quite simple, when you know the way. We can do what we like
now and they won't peach. I think we've broken THEIR proud spirit.
Let's go somewhere by carpet.'

'I wouldn't if I were you,' said the Phoenix, yawning, as it
swooped down from its roost on the curtain pole. 'I've given you
one or two hints, but now concealment is at an end, and I see I
must speak out.'

It perched on the back of a chair and swayed to and fro, like a
parrot on a swing.

'What's the matter now?' said Anthea. She was not quite so gentle
as usual, because she was still weary from the excitement of last
night's cats. 'I'm tired of things happening. I shan't go
anywhere on the carpet. I'm going to darn my stockings.'

'Darn!' said the Phoenix, 'darn! From those young lips these
strange expressions--'

'Mend, then,' said Anthea, 'with a needle and wool.'

The Phoenix opened and shut its wings thoughtfully.

'Your stockings,' it said, 'are much less important than they now
appear to you. But the carpet--look at the bare worn patches, look
at the great rent at yonder corner. The carpet has been your
faithful friend--your willing servant. How have you requited its
devoted service?'

'Dear Phoenix,' Anthea urged, 'don't talk in that horrid lecturing
tone. You make me feel as if I'd done something wrong. And really
it is a wishing carpet, and we haven't done anything else to
it--only wishes.'

'Only wishes,' repeated the Phoenix, ruffling its neck feathers
angrily, 'and what sort of wishes? Wishing people to be in a good
temper, for instance. What carpet did you ever hear of that had
such a wish asked of it? But this noble fabric, on which you
trample so recklessly' (every one removed its boots from the carpet
and stood on the linoleum), 'this carpet never flinched. It did
what you asked, but the wear and tear must have been awful. And
then last night--I don't blame you about the cats and the rats, for
those were its own choice; but what carpet could stand a heavy cow
hanging on to it at one corner?'

'I should think the cats and rats were worse,' said Robert, 'look
at all their claws.'

'Yes,' said the bird, 'eleven thousand nine hundred and forty of
them--I daresay you noticed? I should be surprised if these had
not left their mark.'

'Good gracious,' said Jane, sitting down suddenly on the floor, and
patting the edge of the carpet softly; 'do you mean it's WEARING OUT?'

'Its life with you has not been a luxurious one,' said the Phoenix.

'French mud twice. Sand of sunny shores twice. Soaking in
southern seas once. India once. Goodness knows where in Persia
once. musk-rat-land once. And once, wherever the cow came from.
Hold your carpet up to the light, and with cautious tenderness, if
YOU please.'

With cautious tenderness the boys held the carpet up to the light;
the girls looked, and a shiver of regret ran through them as they
saw how those eleven thoousand nine hundred and forty claws had run
through the carpet. It was full of little holes: there were some
large ones, and more than one thin
place. At one corner a strip of it was torn, and hung forlornly.

'We must mend it,' said Anthea; 'never mind about my stockings. I
can sew them up in lumps with sewing cotton if there's no time to
do them properly. I know it's awful and no girl would who
respected herself, and all that; but the poor dear carpet's more
important than my silly stockings. Let's go out now this very

So out they all went, and bought wool to mend the carpet; but there
is no shop in Camden Town where you can buy wishing-wool, no, nor
in Kentish Town either. However, ordinary Scotch heather-mixture
fingering seemed good enough, and this they bought, and all that
-day Jane and Anthea darned and darned and darned. The boys went
out for a walk in the afternoon, and the gentle Phoenix paced up
and down the table--for exercise, as it said--and talked to the
industrious girls about their carpet.

'It is not an ordinary, ignorant, innocent carpet from
Kidderminster,' it said, 'it is a carpet with a past--a Persian
past. Do you know that in happier years, when that carpet was the
property of caliphs, viziers, kings, and sultans, it never lay on
a floor?'

'I thought the floor was the proper home of a carpet,' Jane

'Not of a MAGIC carpet,' said the Phoenix; 'why, if it had been
allowed to lie about on floors there wouldn't be much of it left
now. No, indeed! It has lived in chests of cedarwood, inlaid with
pearl and ivory, wrapped in priceless tissues of cloth of gold,
embroidered with gems of fabulous value. It has reposed in the
sandal-wood caskets of princesses, and in the rose-attar-scented
treasure-houses of kings. Never, never, had any one degraded it by
walking on it--except in the way of business, when wishes were
required, and then they always took their shoes off. And YOU--'

'Oh, DON'T!' said Jane, very near tears. 'You know you'd never
have been hatched at all if it hadn't been for mother wanting a
carpet for us to walk on.'

'You needn't have walked so much or so hard!' said the bird, 'but
come, dry that crystal tear, and I will relate to you the story of
the Princess Zulieka, the Prince of Asia, and the magic carpet.'

'Relate away,' said Anthea--'I mean, please do.'

'The Princess Zulieka, fairest of royal ladies,' began the bird,
'had in her cradle been the subject of several enchantments. Her
grandmother had been in her day--'

But what in her day Zulieka's grandmother had been was destined
never to be revealed, for Cyril and Robert suddenly burst into the
room, and on each brow were the traces of deep emotion. On Cyril's
pale brow stood beads of agitation and perspiration, and on the
scarlet brow of Robert was a large black smear.

'What ails ye both?' asked the Phoenix, and it added tartly that
story-telling was quite impossible if people would come
interrupting like that.

'Oh, do shut up, for any sake!' said Cyril, sinking into a chair.

Robert smoothed the ruffled golden feathers, adding kindly--

'Squirrel doesn't mean to be a beast. It's only that the MOST
AWFUL thing has happened, and stories don't seem to matter so much.
Don't be cross. You won't be when you've heard what's happened.'

'Well, what HAS happened?' said the bird, still rather crossly; and
Anthea and Jane paused with long needles poised in air, and long
needlefuls of Scotch heather-mixture fingering wool drooping from

'The most awful thing you can possibly think of,' said Cyril.
'That nice chap--our own burglar--the police have got him, on
suspicion of stolen cats. That's what his brother's missis told

'Oh, begin at the beginning!' cried Anthea impatiently.

'Well, then, we went out, and down by where the undertaker's is,
with the china flowers in the window--you know. There was a crowd,
and of course we went to have a squint. And it was two bobbies and
our burglar between them, and he was being dragged along; and he
said, "I tell you them cats was GIVE me. I got 'em in exchange for
me milking a cow in a basement parlour up Camden Town way."

'And the people laughed. Beasts! And then one of the policemen
said perhaps he could give the name and address of the cow, and he
said, no, he couldn't; but he could take them there if they'd only
leave go of his coat collar, and give him a chance to get his
breath. And the policeman said he could tell all that to the
magistrate in the morning. He didn't see us, and so we came away.'

'Oh, Cyril, how COULD you?' said Anthea.

'Don't be a pudding-head,' Cyril advised. 'A fat lot of good it
would have done if we'd let him see us. No one would have believed
a word we said. They'd have thought we were kidding. We did
better than let him see us. We asked a boy where he lived and he
told us, and we went there, and it's a little greengrocer's shop,
and we bought some Brazil nuts. Here they are.' The girls waved
away the Brazil nuts with loathing and contempt.

'Well, we had to buy SOMETHING, and while we were making up our
minds what to buy we heard his brother's missis talking. She said
when he came home with all them miaoulers she thought there was
more in it than met the eye. But he WOULD go out this morning with
the two likeliest of them, one under each arm. She said he sent
her out to buy blue ribbon to put round their beastly necks, and
she said if he got three months' hard it was her dying word that
he'd got the blue ribbon to thank for it; that, and his own silly
thieving ways, taking cats that anybody would know he couldn't have
come by in the way of business, instead of things that wouldn't
have been missed, which Lord knows there are plenty such, and--'

'Oh, STOP!' cried Jane. And indeed it was time, for Cyril seemed
like a clock that had been wound up, and could not help going on.
'Where is he now?'

'At the police-station,' said Robert, for Cyril was out of breath.
'The boy told us they'd put him in the cells, and would bring him
up before the Beak in the morning. I thought it was a jolly lark
last night--getting him to take the cats--but now--'

'The end of a lark,' said the Phoenix, 'is the Beak.'

'Let's go to him,' cried both the girls jumping up. 'Let's go and
tell the truth. They MUST believe us.'

'They CAN'T,' said Cyril. 'Just think! If any one came to you
with such a tale, you couldn't believe it, however much you tried.
We should only mix things up worse for him.'

'There must be something we could do,' said Jane, sniffing very
much--'my own dear pet burglar! I can't bear it. And he was so
nice, the way he talked about his father, and how he was going to
be so extra honest. Dear Phoenix, you MUST be able to help us.
You're so good and kind and pretty and clever. Do, do tell us what
to do.'

The Phoenix rubbed its beak thoughtfully with its claw.

'You might rescue him,' it said, 'and conceal him here, till the
law-supporters had forgotten about him.'

'That would be ages and ages,' said Cyril, 'and we couldn't conceal
him here. Father might come home at any moment, and if he found
the burglar here HE wouldn't believe the true truth any more than
the police would. That's the worst of the truth. Nobody ever
believes it. Couldn't we take him somewhere else?'

Jane clapped her hands.

'The sunny southern shore!' she cried, 'where the cook is being
queen. He and she would be company for each other!'

And really the idea did not seem bad, if only he would consent to

So, all talking at once, the children arranged to wait till
evening, and then to seek the dear burglar in his lonely cell.

Meantime Jane and Anthea darned away as hard as they could, to make
the carpet as strong as possible. For all felt how terrible it
would be if the precious burglar, while being carried to the sunny
southern shore, were to tumble through a hole in the carpet, and be
lost for ever in the sunny southern sea.

The servants were tired after Mrs Wigson's party, so every one went
to bed early, and when the Phoenix reported that both servants were
snoring in a heartfelt and candid manner, the children got up--they
had never undressed; just putting their nightgowns on over their
things had been enough to deceive Eliza when she came to turn out
the gas. So they were ready for anything, and they stood on the
carpet and said--

'I wish we were in our burglar's lonely cell.' and instantly they

I think every one had expected the cell to be the 'deepest dungeon
below the castle moat'. I am sure no one had doubted that the
burglar, chained by heavy fetters to a ring in the damp stone wall,
would be tossing uneasily on a bed of straw, with a pitcher of
water and a mouldering crust, untasted, beside him. Robert,
remembering the underground passage and the treasure, had brought
a candle and matches, but these were not needed.

The cell was a little white-washed room about twelve feet long and
six feet wide. On one side of it was a sort of shelf sloping a
little towards the wall. On this were two rugs, striped blue and
yellow, and a water-proof pillow. Rolled in the rugs, and with his
head on the pillow, lay the burglar, fast asleep. (He had had his
tea, though this the children did not know--it had come from the
coffee-shop round the corner, in very thick crockery.) The scene
was plainly revealed by the light of a gas-lamp in the passage
outside, which shone into the cell through a pane of thick glass
over the door.

'I shall gag him,' said Cyril, 'and Robert will hold him down.
Anthea and Jane and the Phoenix can whisper soft nothings to him
while he gradually awakes.'

This plan did not have the success it deserved, because the
burglar, curiously enough, was much stronger, even in his sleep,
than Robert and Cyril, and at the first touch of their hands he
leapt up and shouted out something very loud indeed.

Instantly steps were heard outside. Anthea threw her arms round
the burglar and whispered--

'It's us--the ones that gave you the cats. We've come to save you,
only don't let on we're here. Can't we hide somewhere?'

Heavy boots sounded on the flagged passage outside, and a firm
voice shouted--

'Here--you--stop that row, will you?'

'All right, governor,' replied the burglar, still with Anthea's
arms round him; 'I was only a-talking in my sleep. No offence.'

It was an awful moment. Would the boots and the voice come in.
Yes! No! The voice said--

'Well, stow it, will you?'

Book of the day: