Part 4 out of 5
And the boots went heavily away, along the passage and up some
sounding stone stairs.
'Now then,' whispered Anthea.
'How the blue Moses did you get in?' asked the burglar, in a hoarse
whisper of amazement.
'On the carpet,' said Jane, truly.
'Stow that,' said the burglar. 'One on you I could 'a' swallowed,
but four--AND a yellow fowl.'
'Look here,' said Cyril, sternly, 'you wouldn't have believed any
one if they'd told you beforehand about your finding a cow and all
those cats in our nursery.'
'That I wouldn't,' said the burglar, with whispered fervour, 'so
help me Bob, I wouldn't.'
'Well, then,' Cyril went on, ignoring this appeal to his brother,
'just try to believe what we tell you and act accordingly. It
can't do you any HARM, you know,' he went on in hoarse whispered
earnestness. 'You can't be very much worse off than you are now,
you know. But if you'll just trust to us we'll get you out of this
right enough. No one saw us come in. The question is, where would
you like to go?'
'I'd like to go to Boolong,' was the instant reply of the burglar.
'I've always wanted to go on that there trip, but I've never 'ad
the ready at the right time of the year.'
'Boolong is a town like London,' said Cyril, well meaning, but
inaccurate, 'how could you get a living there?'
The burglar scratched his head in deep doubt.
'It's 'ard to get a 'onest living anywheres nowadays,' he said, and
his voice was sad.
'Yes, isn't it?' said Jane, sympathetically; 'but how about a sunny
southern shore, where there's nothing to do at all unless you want
'That's my billet, miss,' replied the burglar. 'I never did care
about work--not like some people, always fussing about.'
'Did you never like any sort of work?' asked Anthea, severely.
'Lor', lumme, yes,' he answered, 'gardening was my 'obby, so it
was. But father died afore 'e could bind me to a nurseryman, an'-
'We'll take you to the sunny southern shore,' said Jane; 'you've no
idea what the flowers are like.'
'Our old cook's there,' said Anthea. 'She's queen--'
'Oh, chuck it,' the burglar whispered, clutching at his head with
both hands. 'I knowed the first minute I see them cats and that
cow as it was a judgement on me. I don't know now whether I'm
a-standing on my hat or my boots, so help me I don't. If you CAN
get me out, get me, and if you can't, get along with you for
goodness' sake, and give me a chanst to think about what'll be most
likely to go down with the Beak in the morning.'
'Come on to the carpet, then,' said Anthea, gently shoving. The
others quietly pulled, and the moment the feet of the burglar were
planted on the carpet Anthea wished:
'I wish we were all on the sunny southern shore where cook is.'
And instantly they were. There were the rainbow sands, the tropic
glories of leaf and flower, and there, of course, was the cook,
crowned with white flowers, and with all the wrinkles of crossness
and tiredness and hard work wiped out of her face.
'Why, cook, you're quite pretty!' Anthea said, as soon as she had
got her breath after the tumble-rush-whirl of the carpet. The
burglar stood rubbing his eyes in the brilliant tropic sunlight,
and gazing wildly round him on the vivid hues of the tropic land.
'Penny plain and tuppence coloured!' he exclaimed pensively, 'and
well worth any tuppence, however hard-earned.'
The cook was seated on a grassy mound with her court of
copper-coloured savages around her. The burglar pointed a grimy
finger at these.
'Are they tame?' he asked anxiously. 'Do they bite or scratch, or
do anything to yer with poisoned arrows or oyster shells or that?'
'Don't you be so timid,' said the cook. 'Look'e 'ere, this 'ere's
only a dream what you've come into, an' as it's only a dream
there's no nonsense about what a young lady like me ought to say or
not, so I'll say you're the best-looking fellow I've seen this many
a day. And the dream goes on and on, seemingly, as long as you
behaves. The things what you has to eat and drink tastes just as
good as real ones, and--'
'Look 'ere,' said the burglar, 'I've come 'ere straight outer the
pleece station. These 'ere kids'll tell you it ain't no blame er
'Well, you WERE a burglar, you know,' said the truthful Anthea
'Only because I was druv to it by dishonest blokes, as well you
knows, miss,' rejoined the criminal. 'Blowed if this ain't the
'ottest January as I've known for years.'
'Wouldn't you like a bath?' asked the queen, 'and some white
clothes like me?'
'I should only look a juggins in 'em, miss, thanking you all the
same,' was the reply; 'but a bath I wouldn't resist, and my shirt
was only clean on week before last.'
Cyril and Robert led him to a rocky pool, where he bathed
luxuriously. Then, in shirt and trousers he sat on the sand and
'That cook, or queen, or whatever you call her--her with the white
bokay on her 'ed--she's my sort. Wonder if she'd keep company!'
'I should ask her.'
'I was always a quick hitter,' the man went on; 'it's a word and a
blow with me. I will.'
In shirt and trousers, and crowned with a scented flowery wreath
which Cyril hastily wove as they returned to the court of the
queen, the burglar stood before the cook and spoke.
'Look 'ere, miss,' he said. 'You an' me being' all forlorn-like,
both on us, in this 'ere dream, or whatever you calls it, I'd like
to tell you straight as I likes yer looks.'
The cook smiled and looked down bashfully.
'I'm a single man--what you might call a batcheldore. I'm mild in
my 'abits, which these kids'll tell you the same, and I'd like to
'ave the pleasure of walkin' out with you next Sunday.'
'Lor!' said the queen cook, ''ow sudden you are, mister.'
'Walking out means you're going to be married,' said Anthea. 'Why
not get married and have done with it? _I_ would.'
'I don't mind if I do,' said the burglar. But the cook said--
'No, miss. Not me, not even in a dream. I don't say anythink
ag'in the young chap's looks, but I always swore I'd be married in
church, if at all--and, anyway, I don't believe these here savages
would know how to keep a registering office, even if I was to show
them. No, mister, thanking you kindly, if you can't bring a
clergyman into the dream I'll live and die like what I am.'
'Will you marry her if we get a clergyman?' asked the match-making
'I'm agreeable, miss, I m sure,' said he, pulling his wreath
straight. ''Ow this 'ere bokay do tiddle a chap's ears to be
So, very hurriedly, the carpet was spread out, and instructed to
fetch a clergyman. The instructions were written on the inside of
Cyril's cap with a piece of billiard chalk Robert had got from the
marker at the hotel at Lyndhurst. The carpet disappeared, and more
quickly than you would have thought possible it came back, bearing
on its bosom the Reverend Septimus Blenkinsop.
The Reverend Septimus was rather a nice young man, but very much
mazed and muddled, because when he saw a strange carpet laid out at
his feet, in his own study, he naturally walked on it to examine it
more closely. And he happened to stand on one of the thin places
that Jane and Anthea had darned, so that he was half on wishing
carpet and half on plain Scotch heather-mixture fingering, which
has no magic properties at all.
The effect of this was that he was only half there--so that the
children could just see through him, as though he had been a ghost.
And as for him, he saw the sunny southern shore, the cook and the
burglar and the children quite plainly; but through them all he
saw, quite plainly also, his study at home, with the books and the
pictures and the marble clock that had been presented to him when
he left his last situation.
He seemed to himself to be in a sort of insane fit, so that it did
not matter what he did--and he married the burglar to the cook.
The cook said that she would rather have had a solider kind of a
clergyman, one that you couldn't see through so plain, but perhaps
this was real enough for a dream.
And of course the clergyman, though misty, was really real, and
able to marry people, and he did. When the ceremony was over the
clergyman wandered about the island collecting botanical specimens,
for he was a great botanist, and the ruling passion was strong even
in an insane fit.
There was a splendid wedding feast. Can you fancy Jane and Anthea,
and Robert and Cyril, dancing merrily in a ring, hand-in-hand with
copper-coloured savages, round the happy couple, the queen cook and
the burglar consort? There were more flowers gathered and thrown
than you have ever even dreamed of, and before the children took
carpet for home the now married-and-settled burglar made a speech.
'Ladies and gentlemen,' he said, 'and savages of both kinds, only
I know you can't understand what I'm a saying of, but we'll let
that pass. If this is a dream, I'm on. If it ain't, I'm onner
than ever. If it's betwixt and between--well, I'm honest, and I
can't say more. I don't want no more 'igh London society--I've got
some one to put my arm around of; and I've got the whole lot of
this 'ere island for my allotment, and if I don't grow some
broccoli as'll open the judge's eye at the cottage flower shows,
well, strike me pink! All I ask is, as these young gents and
ladies'll bring some parsley seed into the dream, and a penn'orth
of radish seed, and threepenn'orth of onion, and I wouldn't mind
goin' to fourpence or fippence for mixed kale, only I ain't got a
brown, so I don't deceive you. And there's one thing more, you
might take away the parson. I don't like things what I can see
'alf through, so here's how!' He drained a coconut-shell of palm
It was now past midnight--though it was tea-time on the island.
With all good wishes the children took their leave. They also
collected the clergyman and took him back to his study and his
The Phoenix kindly carried the seeds next day to the burglar and
his bride, and returned with the most satisfactory news of the
'He's made a wooden spade and started on his allotment,' it said,
'and she is weaving him a shirt and trousers of the most radiant
The police never knew how the burglar got away. In Kentish Town
Police Station his escape is still spoken of with bated breath as
the Persian mystery.
As for the Reverend Septimus Blenkinsop, he felt that he had had a
very insane fit indeed, and he was sure it was due to over-study.
So he planned a little dissipation, and took his two maiden aunts
to Paris, where they enjoyed a dazzling round of museums and
picture galleries, and came back feeling that they had indeed seen
life. He never told his aunts or any one else about the marriage
on the island--because no one likes it to be generally known if he
has had insane fits, however interesting and unusual.
THE HOLE IN THE CARPET
Hooray! hooray! hooray!
Mother comes home to-day;
Mother comes home to-day,
Hooray! hooray! hooray!'
Jane sang this simple song directly after breakfast, and the
Phoenix shed crystal tears of affectionate sympathy.
'How beautiful,' it said, 'is filial devotion!'
'She won't be home till past bedtime, though,' said Robert. 'We
might have one more carpet-day.'
He was glad that mother was coming home--quite glad, very glad; but
at the same time that gladness was rudely contradicted by a quite
strong feeling of sorrow, because now they could not go out all day
on the carpet.
'I do wish we could go and get something nice for mother, only
she'd want to know where we got it,' said Anthea. 'And she'd
never, never believe it, the truth. People never do, somehow, if
it's at all interesting.'
'I'll tell you what,' said Robert. 'Suppose we wished the carpet
to take us somewhere where we could find a purse with money in
it--then we could buy her something.'
'Suppose it took us somewhere foreign, and the purse was covered
with strange Eastern devices, embroidered in rich silks, and full
of money that wasn't money at all here, only foreign curiosities,
then we couldn't spend it, and people would bother about where we
got it, and we shouldn't know how on earth to get out of it at
Cyril moved the table off the carpet as he spoke, and its leg
caught in one of Anthea's darns and ripped away most of it, as well
as a large slit in the carpet.
'Well, now you HAVE done it,' said Robert.
But Anthea was a really first-class sister. She did not say a word
till she had got out the Scotch heather-mixture fingering wool and
the darning-needle and the thimble and the scissors, and by that
time she had been able to get the better of her natural wish to be
thoroughly disagreeable, and was able to say quite kindly--
'Never mind, Squirrel, I'll soon mend it.'
Cyril thumped her on the back. He understood exactly how she had
felt, and he was not an ungrateful brother.
'Respecting the purse containing coins,' the Phoenix said,
scratching its invisible ear thoughtfully with its shining claw,
'it might be as well, perhaps, to state clearly the amount which
you wish to find, as well as the country where you wish to find it,
and the nature of the coins which you prefer. It would be indeed
a cold moment when you should find a purse containing but three
'How much is an oboloi?'
'An obol is about twopence halfpenny,' the Phoenix replied.
'Yes,' said Jane, 'and if you find a purse I suppose it is only
because some one has lost it, and you ought to take it to the
'The situation,' remarked the Phoenix, 'does indeed bristle with
'What about a buried treasure,' said Cyril, 'and every one was dead
that it belonged to?'
'Mother wouldn't believe THAT,' said more than one voice.
'Suppose,' said Robert--'suppose we asked to be taken where we
could find a purse and give it back to the person it belonged to,
and they would give us something for finding it?'
'We aren't allowed to take money from strangers. You know we
aren't, Bobs,' said Anthea, making a knot at the end of a needleful
of Scotch heather-mixture fingering wool (which is very wrong, and
you must never do it when you are darning).
'No, THAT wouldn't do,' said Cyril. 'Let's chuck it and go to the
North Pole, or somewhere really interesting.'
'No,' said the girls together, 'there must be SOME way.'
'Wait a sec,' Anthea added. 'I've got an idea coming. Don't
There was a silence as she paused with the darning-needle in the
air! Suddenly she spoke:
'I see. Let's tell the carpet to take us somewhere where we can
get the money for mother's present, and--and--and get it some way
that she'll believe in and not think wrong.'
'Well, I must say you are learning the way to get the most out of
the carpet,' said Cyril. He spoke more heartily and kindly than
usual, because he remembered how Anthea had refrained from snarking
him about tearing the carpet.
'Yes,' said the Phoenix, 'you certainly are. And you have to
remember that if you take a thing out it doesn't stay in.'
No one paid any attention to this remark at the time, but
afterwards every one thought of it.
'Do hurry up, Panther,' said Robert; and that was why Anthea did
hurry up, and why the big darn in the middle of the carpet was all
open and webby like a fishing net, not tight and close like woven
cloth, which is what a good, well-behaved darn should be.
Then every one put on its outdoor things, the Phoenix fluttered on
to the mantelpiece and arranged its golden feathers in the glass,
and all was ready. Every one got on to the carpet.
'Please go slowly, dear carpet,' Anthea began; we like to see where
we're going.' And then she added the difficult wish that had been
Next moment the carpet, stiff and raftlike, was sailing over the
roofs of Kentish Town.
'I wish--No, I don't mean that. I mean it's a PITY we aren't
higher up,' said Anthea, as the edge of the carpet grazed a
'That's right. Be careful,' said the Phoenix, in warning tones.
'If you wish when you're on a wishing carpet, you DO wish, and
there's an end of it.'
So for a short time no one spoke, and the carpet sailed on in calm
magnificence over St Pancras and King's Cross stations and over the
crowded streets of Clerkenwell.
'We're going out Greenwich way,' said Cyril, as they crossed the
streak of rough, tumbled water that was the Thames. 'We might go
and have a look at the Palace.'
On and on the carpet swept, still keeping much nearer to the
chimney-pots than the children found at all comfortable. And then,
just over New Cross, a terrible thing happened.
Jane and Robert were in the middle of the carpet. Part of them was
on the carpet, and part of them--the heaviest part--was on the
great central darn.
'It's all very misty,' said Jane; 'it looks partly like out of
doors and partly like in the nursery at home. I feel as if I was
going to have measles; everything looked awfully rum then,
'I feel just exactly the same,' Robert said.
'It's the hole,' said the Phoenix; 'it's not measles whatever that
possession may be.'
And at that both Robert and Jane suddenly, and at once, made a
bound to try and get on to the safer part of the carpet, and the
darn gave way and their boots went up, and the heavy heads and
bodies of them went down through the hole, and they landed in a
position something between sitting and sprawling on the flat leads
on the top of a high, grey, gloomy, respectable house whose address
was 705, Amersham Road, New Cross.
The carpet seemed to awaken to new energy as soon as it had got rid
of their weight, and it rose high in the air. The others lay down
flat and peeped over the edge of the rising carpet.
'Are you hurt?' cried Cyril, and Robert shouted 'No,' and next
moment the carpet had sped away, and Jane and Robert were hidden
from the sight of the others by a stack of smoky chimneys.
'Oh, how awful!' said Anthea.
'It might have been worse,' said the Phoenix. 'What would have
been the sentiments of the survivors if that darn had given way
when we were crossing the river?'
'Yes, there's that,' said Cyril, recovering himself. 'They'll be
all right. They'll howl till some one gets them down, or drop
tiles into the front garden to attract attention of passersby.
Bobs has got my one-and-fivepence--lucky you forgot to mend that
hole in my pocket, Panther, or he wouldn't have had it. They can
tram it home.'
But Anthea would not be comforted.
'It's all my fault,' she said. 'I KNEW the proper way to darn, and
I didn't do it. It's all my fault. Let's go home and patch the
carpet with your Etons--something really strong--and send it to
'All right,' said Cyril; 'but your Sunday jacket is stronger than
my Etons. We must just chuck mother's present, that's all. I
'Stop!' cried the Phoenix; 'the carpet is dropping to earth.'
And indeed it was.
It sank swiftly, yet steadily, and landed on the pavement of the
Deptford Road. It tipped a little as it landed, so that Cyril and
Anthea naturally walked off it, and in an instant it had rolled
itself up and hidden behind a gate-post. It did this so quickly
that not a single person in the Deptford Road noticed it. The
Phoenix rustled its way into the breast of Cyril's coat, and almost
at the same moment a well-known voice remarked--
'Well, I never! What on earth are you doing here?'
They were face to face with their pet uncle--their Uncle Reginald.
'We DID think of going to Greenwich Palace and talking about
Nelson,' said Cyril, telling as much of the truth as he thought his
uncle could believe.
'And where are the others?' asked Uncle Reginald.
'I don't exactly know,' Cyril replied, this time quite truthfully.
'Well,' said Uncle Reginald, 'I must fly. I've a case in the
County Court. That's the worst of being a beastly solicitor. One
can't take the chances of life when one gets them. If only I could
come with you to the Painted Hall and give you lunch at the "Ship"
afterwards! But, alas! it may not be.'
The uncle felt in his pocket.
'_I_ mustn't enjoy myself,' he said, 'but that's no reason why you
shouldn't. Here, divide this by four, and the product ought to
give you some desired result. Take care of yourselves. Adieu.'
And waving a cheery farewell with his neat umbrella, the good and
high-hatted uncle passed away, leaving Cyril and Anthea to exchange
eloquent glances over the shining golden sovereign that lay in
'Well!' said Anthea.
'Well!' said Cyril.
'Well!' said the Phoenix.
'Good old carpet!' said Cyril, joyously.
'It WAS clever of it--so adequate and yet so simple,' said the
Phoenix, with calm approval.
'Oh, come on home and let's mend the carpet. I am a beast. I'd
forgotten the others just for a minute,' said the
They unrolled the carpet quickly and slyly--they did not want to
attract public attention--and the moment their feet were on the
carpet Anthea wished to be at home, and instantly they were.
The kindness of their excellent uncle had made it unnecessary for
them to go to such extremes as Cyril's Etons or Anthea's Sunday
jacket for the patching of the carpet.
Anthea set to work at once to draw the edges of the broken darn
together, and Cyril hastily went out and bought a large piece of
the marble-patterned American oil-cloth which careful house-wives
use to cover dressers and kitchen tables. It was the strongest
thing he could think of.
Then they set to work to line the carpet throughout with the
oil-cloth. The nursery felt very odd and empty without the others,
and Cyril did not feel so sure as he had done about their being
able to 'tram it' home. So he tried to help Anthea, which was very
good of him, but not much use to her.
The Phoenix watched them for a time, but it was plainly growing
more and more restless. It fluffed up its splendid feathers, and
stood first on one gilded claw and then on the other, and at last
'I can bear it no longer. This suspense! My Robert--who set my
egg to hatch--in the bosom of whose Norfolk raiment I have nestled
so often and so pleasantly! I think, if you'll excuse me--'
'Yes--DO,' cried Anthea, 'I wish we'd thought of asking you
Cyril opened the window. The Phoenix flapped its sunbright wings
'So THAT'S all right,' said Cyril, taking up his needle and
instantly pricking his hand in a new place.
Of course I know that what you have really wanted to know about all
this time is not what Anthea and Cyril did, but what happened to
Jane and Robert after they fell through the carpet on to the leads
of the house which was called number 705, Amersham Road.
But I had to tell you the other first. That is one of the most
annoying things about stories, you cannot tell all the different
parts of them at the same time.
Robert's first remark when he found himself seated on the damp,
cold, sooty leads was--
'Here's a go!'
Jane's first act was tears.
'Dry up, Pussy; don't be a little duffer,' said her brother,
kindly, 'it'll be all right.'
And then he looked about, just as Cyril had known he would, for
something to throw down, so as to attract the attention of the
wayfarers far below in the street. He could not find anything.
Curiously enough, there were no stones on the leads, not even a
loose tile. The roof was of slate, and every single slate knew its
place and kept it. But, as so often happens, in looking for one
thing he found another. There was a trap-door leading down into
And that trap-door was not fastened.
'Stop snivelling and come here, Jane,' he cried, encouragingly.
'Lend a hand to heave this up. If we can get into the house, we
might sneak down without meeting any one, with luck. Come on.'
They heaved up the door till it stood straight up, and, as they
bent to look into the hole below, the door fell back with a hollow
clang on the leads behind, and with its noise was mingled a
blood-curdling scream from underneath.
'Discovered!' hissed Robert. 'Oh, my cats alive!'
They were indeed discovered.
They found themselves looking down into an attic, which was also a
lumber-room. It had boxes and broken chairs, old fenders and
picture-frames, and rag-bags hanging from nails.
In the middle of the floor was a box, open, half full of clothes.
Other clothes lay on the floor in neat piles. In the middle of the
piles of clothes sat a lady, very fat indeed, with her feet
sticking out straight in front of her. And it was she who had
screamed, and who, in fact, was still screaming.
'Don't!' cried Jane, 'please don't! We won't hurt you.'
'Where are the rest of your gang?' asked the lady, stopping short
in the middle of a scream.
'The others have gone on, on the wishing carpet,' said Jane
'The wishing carpet?' said the lady.
'Yes,' said Jane, before Robert could say 'You shut up!' 'You must
have read about it. The Phoenix is with them.'
Then the lady got up, and picking her way carefully between the
piles of clothes she got to the door and through it. She shut it
behind her, and the two children could hear her calling 'Septimus!
Septimus!' in a loud yet frightened way.
'Now,' said Robert quickly; 'I'll drop first.'
He hung by his hands and dropped through the trap-door.
'Now you. Hang by your hands. I'll catch you. Oh, there's no
time for jaw. Drop, I say.'
Robert tried to catch her, and even before they had finished the
breathless roll among the piles of clothes, which was what his
catching ended in, he whispered--
'We'll hide--behind those fenders and things; they'll think we've
gone along the roofs. Then, when all is calm, we'll creep down the
stairs and take our chance.'
They hastily hid. A corner of an iron bedstead stuck into Robert's
side, and Jane had only standing room for one foot--but they bore
it--and when the lady came back, not with Septimus, but with
another lady, they held their breath and their hearts beat thickly.
'Gone!' said the first lady; 'poor little things--quite mad, my
dear--and at large! We must lock this room and send for the
'Let me look out,' said the second lady, who was, if possible,
older and thinner and primmer than the first. So the two ladies
dragged a box under the trap-door and put another box on the top of
it, and then they both climbed up very carefully and put their two
trim, tidy heads out of the trap-door to look for the 'mad
'Now,' whispered Robert, getting the bedstead leg out of his side.
They managed to creep out from their hiding-place and out through
the door before the two ladies had done looking out of the
trap-door on to the empty leads.
Robert and Jane tiptoed down the stairs--one flight, two flights.
Then they looked over the banisters. Horror! a servant was coming
up with a loaded scuttle.
The children with one consent crept swiftly through the first open
The room was a study, calm and gentlemanly, with rows of books, a
writing table, and a pair of embroidered slippers warming
themselves in the fender. The children hid behind the
window-curtains. As they passed the table they saw on it a
missionary-box with its bottom label torn off, open and empty.
'Oh, how awful!' whispered Jane. 'We shall never get away alive.'
'Hush!' said Robert, not a moment too soon, for there were steps on
the stairs, and next instant the two ladies came into the room.
They did not see the children, but they saw the empty missionary
'I knew it,' said one. 'Selina, it WAS a gang. I was certain of
it from the first. The children were not mad. They were sent to
distract our attention while their confederates robbed the house.'
'I am afraid you are right,' said Selina; 'and WHERE ARE THEY NOW?'
'Downstairs, no doubt, collecting the silver milk-jug and
sugar-basin and the punch-ladle that was Uncle Joe's, and Aunt
Jerusha's teaspoons. I shall go down.'
'Oh, don't be so rash and heroic,' said Selina. 'Amelia, we must
call the police from the window. Lock the door. I WILL--I will--'
The words ended in a yell as Selina, rushing to the window, came
face to face with the hidden children.
'Oh, don't!' said Jane; 'how can you be so unkind? We AREN'T
burglars, and we haven't any gang, and we didn't open your
missionary-box. We opened our own once, but we didn't have to use
the money, so our consciences made us put it back and--DON'T! Oh,
I wish you wouldn't--'
Miss Selina had seized Jane and Miss Amelia captured Robert. The
children found themselves held fast by strong, slim hands, pink at
the wrists and white at the knuckles.
'We've got YOU, at any rate,' said Miss Amelia. 'Selina, your
captive is smaller than mine. You open the window at once and call
"Murder!" as loud as you can.
Selina obeyed; but when she had opened the window, instead of
calling 'Murder!' she called 'Septimus!' because at that very
moment she saw her nephew coming in at the gate.
In another minute he had let himself in with his latch-key and had
mounted the stairs. As he came into the room Jane and Robert each
uttered a shriek of joy so loud and so sudden that the ladies
leaped with surprise, and nearly let them go.
'It's our own clergyman,' cried Jane.
'Don't you remember us?' asked Robert. 'You married our burglar
for us--don't you remember?'
'I KNEW it was a gang,' said Amelia. 'Septimus, these abandoned
children are members of a desperate burgling gang who are robbing
the house. They have already forced the missionary-box and
purloined its contents.'
The Reverend Septimus passed his hand wearily over his brow.
'I feel a little faint,' he said, 'running upstairs so quickly.'
'We never touched the beastly box,' said Robert.
'Then your confederates did,' said Miss Selina.
'No, no,' said the curate, hastily. '_I_ opened the box myself.
This morning I found I had not enough small change for the Mothers'
Independent Unity Measles and Croup Insurance payments. I suppose
this is NOT a dream, is it?'
'Dream? No, indeed. Search the house. I insist upon it.'
The curate, still pale and trembling, searched the house, which, of
course, was blamelessly free of burglars.
When he came back he sank wearily into his chair.
'Aren't you going to let us go?' asked Robert, with furious
indignation, for there is something in being held by a strong lady
that sets the blood of a boy boiling in his veins with anger and
despair. 'We've never done anything to you. It's all the carpet.
It dropped us on the leads. WE couldn't help it. You know how it
carried you over to the island, and you had to marry the burglar to
'Oh, my head!' said the curate.
'Never mind your head just now,' said Robert; 'try to be honest and
honourable, and do your duty in that state of life!'
'This is a judgement on me for something, I suppose,' said the
Reverend Septimus, wearily, 'but I really cannot at the moment
'Send for the police,' said Miss Selina.
'Send for a doctor,' said the curate.
'Do you think they ARE mad, then,' said Miss Amelia.
'I think I am,' said the curate.
Jane had been crying ever since her capture. Now she said--
'You aren't now, but perhaps you will be, if--And it would serve
you jolly well right, too.'
'Aunt Selina,' said the curate, 'and Aunt Amelia, believe me, this
is only an insane dream. You will realize it soon. It has
happened to me before. But do not let us be unjust, even in a
dream. Do not hold the children; they have done no harm. As I
said before, it was I who opened the box.'
The strong, bony hands unwillingly loosened their grasp. Robert
shook himself and stood in sulky resentment. But Jane ran to the
curate and embraced him so suddenly that he had not time to defend
'You're a dear,' she said. 'It IS like a dream just at first, but
you get used to it. Now DO let us go. There's a good, kind,
'I don't know,' said the Reverend Septimus; 'it's a difficult
problem. It is such a very unusual dream. Perhaps it's only a
sort of other life--quite real enough for you to be mad in. And if
you're mad, there might be a dream-asylum where you'd be kindly
treated, and in time restored, cured, to your sorrowing relatives.
It is very hard to see your duty plainly, even in ordinary life,
and these dream-circumstances are so complicated--'
'If it's a dream,' said Robert, 'you will wake up directly, and
then you'd be sorry if you'd sent us into a dream-asylum, because
you might never get into the same dream again and let us out, and
so we might stay there for ever, and then what about our sorrowing
relatives who aren't in the dreams at all?'
But all the curate could now say was, 'Oh, my head!'
And Jane and Robert felt quite ill with helplessness and
hopelessness. A really conscientious curate is a very difficult
thing to manage.
And then, just as the hopelessness and the helplessness were
getting to be almost more than they could bear, the two children
suddenly felt that extraordinary shrinking feeling that you always
have when you are just going to vanish. And the next moment they
had vanished, and the Reverend Septimus was left alone with his
'I knew it was a dream,' he cried, wildly. 'I've had something
like it before. Did you dream it too, Aunt Selina, and you, Aunt
Amelia? I dreamed that you did, you know.'
Aunt Selina looked at him and then at Aunt Amelia. Then she said
'What do you mean? WE haven't been dreaming anything. You must
have dropped off in your chair.'
The curate heaved a sigh of relief.
'Oh, if it's only _I_,' he said; 'if we'd all dreamed it I could
never have believed it, never!'
Afterwards Aunt Selina said to the other aunt--
'Yes, I know it was an untruth, and I shall doubtless be punished
for it in due course. But I could see the poor dear fellow's brain
giving way before my very eyes. He couldn't have stood the strain
of three dreams. It WAS odd, wasn't it? All three of us dreaming
the same thing at the same moment. We must never tell dear Seppy.
But I shall send an account of it to the Psychical Society, with
stars instead of names, you know.'
And she did. And you can read all about it in one of the society's
Of course, you understand what had happened? The intelligent
Phoenix had simply gone straight off to the Psammead, and had
wished Robert and Jane at home. And, of course, they were at home
at once. Cyril and Anthea had not half finished mending the
When the joyful emotions of reunion had calmed down a little, they
all went out and spent what was left of Uncle Reginald's sovereign
in presents for mother. They bought her a pink silk handkerchief,
a pair of blue and white vases, a bottle of scent, a packet of
Christmas candles, and a cake of soap shaped and coloured like a
tomato, and one that was so like an orange that almost any one you
had given it to would have tried to peel it--if they liked
oranges, of course. Also they bought a cake with icing on, and the
rest of the money they spent on flowers to put in the vases.
When they had arranged all the things on a table, with the candles
stuck up on a plate ready to light the moment mother's cab was
heard, they washed themselves thoroughly and put on tidier clothes.
Then Robert said, 'Good old Psammead,' and the others said so too.
'But, really, it's just as much good old Phoenix,' said Robert.
'Suppose it hadn't thought of getting the wish!'
'Ah!' said the Phoenix, 'it is perhaps fortunate for you that I am
such a competent bird.'
'There's mother's cab,' cried Anthea, and the Phoenix hid and they
lighted the candles, and next moment mother was home again.
She liked her presents very much, and found their story of Uncle
Reginald and the sovereign easy and even pleasant to believe.
'Good old carpet,' were Cyril's last sleepy words.
'What there is of it,' said the Phoenix, from the cornice-pole.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
'Well, I MUST say,' mother said, looking at the wishing carpet as
it lay, all darned and mended and backed with shiny American cloth,
on the floor of the nursery--'I MUST say I've never in my life
bought such a bad bargain as that carpet.'
A soft 'Oh!' of contradiction sprang to the lips of Cyril, Robert,
Jane, and Anthea. Mother looked at them quickly, and said--
'Well, of course, I see you've mended it very nicely, and that was
sweet of you, dears.'
'The boys helped too,' said the dears, honourably.
'But, still--twenty-two and ninepence! It ought to have lasted for
years. It's simply dreadful now. Well, never mind, darlings,
you've done your best. I think we'll have coconut matting next
time. A carpet doesn't have an easy life of it in this room, does
'It's not our fault, mother, is it, that our boots are the really
reliable kind?' Robert asked the question more in sorrow than in
'No, dear, we can't help our boots,' said mother, cheerfully, 'but
we might change them when we come in, perhaps. It's just an idea
of mine. I wouldn't dream of scolding on the very first morning
after I've come home. Oh, my Lamb, how could you?'
This conversation was at breakfast, and the Lamb had been
beautifully good until every one was looking at the carpet, and
then it was for him but the work of a moment to turn a glass dish
of syrupy blackberry jam upside down on his young head. It was the
work of a good many minutes and several persons to get the jam off
him again, and this interesting work took people's minds off the
carpet, and nothing more was said just then about its badness as a
bargain and about what mother hoped for from coconut matting.
When the Lamb was clean again he had to be taken care of while
mother rumpled her hair and inked her fingers and made her head
ache over the difficult and twisted house-keeping accounts which
cook gave her on dirty bits of paper, and which were supposed to
explain how it was that cook had only fivepence-half-penny and a
lot of unpaid bills left out of all the money mother had sent her
for house-keeping. Mother was very clever, but even she could not
quite understand the cook's accounts.
The Lamb was very glad to have his brothers and sisters to play
with him. He had not forgotten them a bit, and he made them play
all the old exhausting games: 'Whirling Worlds', where you swing
the baby round and round by his hands; and 'Leg and Wing', where
you swing him from side to side by one ankle and one wrist. There
was also climbing Vesuvius. In this game the baby walks up you,
and when he is standing on your shoulders, you shout as loud as you
can, which is the rumbling of the burning mountain, and then tumble
him gently on to the floor, and roll him there, which is the
destruction of Pompeii.
'All the same, I wish we could decide what we'd better say next
time mother says anything about the carpet,' said Cyril,
breathlessly ceasing to be a burning mountain.
'Well, you talk and decide,' said Anthea; 'here, you lovely ducky
Lamb. Come to Panther and play Noah's Ark.'
The Lamb came with his pretty hair all tumbled and his face all
dusty from the destruction of Pompeii, and instantly became a baby
snake, hissing and wriggling and creeping in Anthea's arms, as she
'I love my little baby snake,
He hisses when he is awake,
He creeps with such a wriggly creep,
He wriggles even in his sleep.'
'Crocky,' said the Lamb, and showed all his little teeth. So
Anthea went on--
'I love my little crocodile,
I love his truthful toothful smile;
It is so wonderful and wide,
I like to see it--FROM OUTSIDE.'
'Well, you see,' Cyril was saying; 'it's just the old bother.
Mother can't believe the real true truth about the carpet, and--'
'You speak sooth, O Cyril,' remarked the Phoenix, coming out from
the cupboard where the blackbeetles lived, and the torn books, and
the broken slates, and odd pieces of toys that had lost the rest of
themselves. 'Now hear the wisdom of Phoenix, the son of the
'There is a society called that,' said Cyril.
'Where is it? And what is a society?' asked the bird.
'It's a sort of joined-together lot of people--a sort of
brotherhood--a kind of--well, something very like your temple, you
know, only quite different.'
'I take your meaning,' said the Phoenix. 'I would fain see these
calling themselves Sons of the Phoenix'
'But what about your words of wisdom?'
'Wisdom is always welcome,' said the Phoenix.
'Pretty Polly!' remarked the Lamb, reaching his hands towards the
The Phoenix modestly retreated behind Robert, and Anthea hastened
to distract the attention of the Lamb by murmuring--
"I love my little baby rabbit;
But oh! he has a dreadful habit
Of paddling out among the rocks
And soaking both his bunny socks.'
'I don't think you'd care about the sons of the Phoenix, really,'
said Robert. 'I have heard that they don't do anything fiery.
They only drink a great deal. Much more than other people, because
they drink lemonade and fizzy things, and the more you drink of
those the more good you get.'
'In your mind, perhaps,' said Jane; 'but it wouldn't be good in
your body. You'd get too balloony.'
The Phoenix yawned.
'Look here,' said Anthea; 'I really have an idea. This isn't like
a common carpet. It's very magic indeed. Don't you think, if we
put Tatcho on it, and then gave it a rest, the magic part of it
might grow, like hair is supposed to do?'
'It might,' said Robert; 'but I should think paraffin would do as
well--at any rate as far as the smell goes, and that seems to be
the great thing about Tatcho.'
But with all its faults Anthea's idea was something to do, and they
It was Cyril who fetched the Tatcho bottle from father's
washhand-stand. But the bottle had not much in it.
'We mustn't take it all,' Jane said, 'in case father's hair began
to come off suddenly. If he hadn't anything to put on it, it might
all drop off before Eliza had time to get round to the chemist's
for another bottle. It would be dreadful to have a bald father,
and it would all be our fault.'
'And wigs are very expensive, I believe,' said Anthea. 'Look here,
leave enough in the bottle to wet father's head all over with in
case any emergency emerges--and let's make up with paraffin. I
expect it's the smell that does the good really--and the smell's
exactly the same.'
So a small teaspoonful of the Tatcho was put on the edges of the
worst darn in the carpet and rubbed carefully into the roots of the
hairs of it, and all the parts that there was not enough Tatcho for
had paraffin rubbed into them with a piece of flannel. Then the
flannel was burned. It made a gay flame, which delighted the
Phoenix and the Lamb.
'How often,' said mother, opening the door--'how often am I to tell
you that you are NOT to play with paraffin? What have you been
'We have burnt a paraffiny rag,' Anthea answered.
It was no use telling mother what they had done to the carpet. She
did not know it was a magic carpet, and no one wants to be laughed
at for trying to mend an ordinary carpet with lamp-oil.
'Well, don't do it again,' said mother. 'And now, away with
melancholy! Father has sent a telegram. Look!' She held it out,
and the children, holding it by its yielding corners, read--
'Box for kiddies at Garrick. Stalls for us, Haymarket. Meet
Charing Cross, 6.30.'
'That means,' said mother, 'that you're going to see "The Water
Babies" all by your happy selves, and father and I will take you
and fetch you. Give me the Lamb, dear, and you and Jane put clean
lace in your red evening frocks, and I shouldn't wonder if you
found they wanted ironing. This paraffin smell is ghastly. Run
and get out your frocks.'
The frocks did want ironing--wanted it rather badly, as it
happened; for, being of tomato-Coloured Liberty silk, they had been
found very useful for tableaux vivants when a red dress was
required for Cardinal Richelieu. They were very nice tableaux,
these, and I wish I could tell you about them; but one cannot tell
everything in a story. You would have been specially interested in
hearing about the tableau of the Princes in the Tower, when one of
the pillows burst, and the youthful Princes were so covered with
feathers that the picture might very well have been called
'Michaelmas Eve; or, Plucking the Geese'.
Ironing the dresses and sewing the lace in occupied some time, and
no one was dull, because there was the theatre to look forward to,
and also the possible growth of hairs on the carpet, for which
every one kept looking anxiously. By four o'clock Jane was almost
sure that several hairs were beginning to grow.
The Phoenix perched on the fender, and its conversation, as usual,
was entertaining and instructive--like school prizes are said to
be. But it seemed a little absent-minded, and even a little sad.
'Don't you feel well, Phoenix, dear?' asked Anthea, stooping to
take an iron off the fire.
'I am not sick,' replied the golden bird, with a gloomy shake of
the head; 'but I am getting old.'
'Why, you've hardly been hatched any time at all.'
'Time,' remarked the Phoenix, 'is measured by heartbeats. I'm sure
the palpitations I've had since I've known you are enough to blanch
the feathers of any bird.'
'But I thought you lived 500 years,' said Robert, and you've hardly
begun this set of years. Think of all the time that's before you.'
'Time,' said the Phoenix, 'is, as you are probably aware, merely a
convenient fiction. There is no such thing as time. I have lived
in these two months at a pace which generously counterbalances 500
years of life in the desert. I am old, I am weary. I feel as if
I ought to lay my egg, and lay me down to my fiery sleep. But
unless I'm careful I shall be hatched again instantly, and that is
a misfortune which I really do not think I COULD endure. But do
not let me intrude these desperate personal reflections on your
youthful happiness. What is the show at the theatre to-night?
Wrestlers? Gladiators? A combat of cameleopards and unicorns?'
'I don't think so,' said Cyril; 'it's called "The Water Babies",
and if it's like the book there isn't any gladiating in it. There
are chimney-sweeps and professors, and a lobster and an otter and
a salmon, and children living in the water.'
'It sounds chilly.' The Phoenix shivered, and went to sit on the
'I don't suppose there will be REAL water,' said Jane. 'And
theatres are very warm and pretty, with a lot of gold and lamps.
Wouldn't you like to come with us?'
'_I_ was just going to say that,' said Robert, in injured tones,
'only I know how rude it is to interrupt. Do come, Phoenix, old
chap; it will cheer you up. It'll make you laugh like any thing.
Mr Bourchier always makes ripping plays. You ought to have seen
"Shock-headed Peter" last year.'
'Your words are strange,' said the Phoenix, 'but I will come with
you. The revels of this Bourchier, of whom you speak, may help me
to forget the weight of my years.'
So that evening the Phoenix snugged inside the waistcoat of
Robert's Etons--a very tight fit it seemed both to Robert and to
the Phoenix--and was taken to the play.
Robert had to pretend to be cold at the glittering, many-mirrored
restaurant where they ate dinner, with father in evening dress,
with a very shiny white shirt-front, and mother looking lovely in
her grey evening dress, that changes into pink and green when she
moves. Robert pretended that he was too cold to take off his
great-coat, and so sat sweltering through what would otherwise have
been a most thrilling meal. He felt that he was a blot on the
smart beauty of the family, and he hoped the Phoenix knew what he
was suffering for its sake. Of course, we are all pleased to
suffer for the sake of others, but we like them to know it unless
we are the very best and noblest kind of people, and Robert was
Father was full of jokes and fun, and every one laughed all the
time, even with their mouths full, which is not manners. Robert
thought father would not have been quite so funny about his keeping
his over-coat on if father had known all the truth. And there
Robert was probably right.
When dinner was finished to the last grape and the last paddle in
the finger glasses--for it was a really truly grown-up dinner--the
children were taken to the theatre, guided to a box close to the
stage, and left.
Father's parting words were: 'Now, don't you stir out of this box,
whatever you do. I shall be back before the end of the play. Be
good and you will be happy. Is this zone torrid enough for the
abandonment of great-coats, Bobs? No? Well, then, I should say
you were sickening for something--mumps or measles or thrush or
He went, and Robert was at last able to remove his coat, mop his
perspiring brow, and release the crushed and dishevelled Phoenix.
Robert had to arrange his damp hair at the looking-glass at the
back of the box, and the Phoenix had to preen its disordered
feathers for some time before either of them was fit to be seen.
They were very, very early. When the lights went up fully, the
Phoenix, balancing itself on the gilded back of a chair, swayed in
'How fair a scene is this!' it murmured; 'how far fairer than my
temple! Or have I guessed aright? Have you brought me hither to
lift up my heart with emotions of joyous surprise? Tell me, my
Robert, is it not that this, THIS is my true temple, and the other
was but a humble shrine frequented by outcasts?'
'I don't know about outcasts,' said Robert, 'but you can call this
your temple if you like. Hush! the music is beginning.'
I am not going to tell you about the play. As I said before, one
can't tell everything, and no doubt you saw 'The Water Babies'
yourselves. If you did not it was a shame, or, rather, a pity.
What I must tell you is that, though Cyril and Jane and Robert and
Anthea enjoyed it as much as any children possibly could, the
pleasure of the Phoenix was far, far greater than theirs.
'This is indeed my temple,' it said again and again. 'What radiant
rites! And all to do honour to me!'
The songs in the play it took to be hymns in its honour. The
choruses were choric songs in its praise. The electric lights, it
said, were magic torches lighted for its sake, and it was so
charmed with the footlights that the children could hardly persuade
it to sit still. But when the limelight was shown it could contain
its approval no longer. It flapped its golden wings, and cried in
a voice that could be heard all over the theatre:
'Well done, my servants! Ye have my favour and my countenance!'
Little Tom on the stage stopped short in what he was saying. A
deep breath was drawn by hundreds of lungs, every eye in the house
turned to the box where the luckless children cringed, and most
people hissed, or said 'Shish!' or 'Turn them out!'
Then the play went on, and an attendant presently came to the box
and spoke wrathfully.
'It wasn't us, indeed it wasn't,' said Anthea, earnestly; 'it was
The man said well, then, they must keep their bird very quiet.
'Disturbing every one like this,' he said.
'It won't do it again,' said Robert, glancing imploringly at the
golden bird; 'I'm sure it won't.'
'You have my leave to depart,' said the Phoenix gently.
'Well, he is a beauty, and no mistake,' said the attendant, 'only
I'd cover him up during the acts. It upsets the performance.'
And he went.
'Don't speak again, there's a dear,' said Anthea; 'you wouldn't
like to interfere with your own temple, would you?'
So now the Phoenix was quiet, but it kept whispering to the
children. It wanted to know why there was no altar, no fire, no
incense, and became so excited and fretful and tiresome that four
at least of the party of five wished deeply that it had been left
What happened next was entirely the fault of the Phoenix. It was
not in the least the fault of the theatre people, and no one could
ever understand afterwards how it did happen. No one, that is,
except the guilty bird itself and the four children. The Phoenix
was balancing itself on the gilt back of the chair, swaying
backwards and forwards and up and down, as you may see your own
domestic parrot do. I mean the grey one with the red tail. All
eyes were on the stage, where the lobster was delighting the
audience with that gem of a song, 'If you can't walk straight, walk
sideways!' when the Phoenix murmured warmly--
'No altar, no fire, no incense!' and then, before any of the
children could even begin to think of stopping it, it spread its
bright wings and swept round the theatre, brushing its gleaming
feathers against delicate hangings and gilded woodwork.
It seemed to have made but one circular wing-sweep, such as you may
see a gull make over grey water on a stormy day. Next moment it
was perched again on the chair-back--and all round the theatre,
where it had passed, little sparks shone like tinsel seeds, then
little smoke wreaths curled up like growing plants--little flames
opened like flower-buds. People whispered--then people shrieked.
'Fire! Fire!' The curtain went down--the lights went up.
'Fire!' cried every one, and made for the doors.
'A magnificent idea!' said the Phoenix, complacently. 'An enormous
altar--fire supplied free of charge. Doesn't the incense smell
The only smell was the stifling smell of smoke, of burning silk, or
The little flames had opened now into great flame-flowers. The
people in the theatre were shouting and pressing towards the doors.
'Oh, how COULD you!' cried Jane. 'Let's get out.'
'Father said stay here,' said Anthea, very pale, and trying to
speak in her ordinary voice.
'He didn't mean stay and be roasted,' said Robert. 'No boys on
burning decks for me, thank you.'
'Not much,' said Cyril, and he opened the door of the box.
But a fierce waft of smoke and hot air made him shut it again. It
was not possible to get out that way.
They looked over the front of the box. Could they climb down?
It would be possible, certainly; but would they be much better off?
'Look at the people,' moaned Anthea; 'we couldn't get through.'
And, indeed, the crowd round the doors looked as thick as flies in
the jam-making season.
'I wish we'd never seen the Phoenix,' cried Jane.
Even at that awful moment Robert looked round to see if the bird
had overheard a speech which, however natural, was hardly polite or
The Phoenix was gone.
'Look here,' said Cyril, 'I've read about fires in papers; I'm sure
it's all right. Let's wait here, as father said.'
'We can't do anything else,' said Anthea bitterly.
'Look here,' said Robert, 'I'm NOT frightened--no, I'm not. The
Phoenix has never been a skunk yet, and I'm certain it'll see us
through somehow. I believe in the Phoenix!'
'The Phoenix thanks you, O Robert,' said a golden voice at his
feet, and there was the Phoenix itself, on the Wishing Carpet.
'Quick!' it said. 'Stand on those portions of the carpet which are
truly antique and authentic--and--'
A sudden jet of flame stopped its words. Alas! the Phoenix had
unconsciously warmed to its subject, and in the unintentional heat
of the moment had set fire to the paraffin with which that morning
the children had anointed the carpet. It burned merrily. The
children tried in vain to stamp it out. They had to stand back and
let it burn itself out. When the paraffin had burned away it was
found that it had taken with it all the darns of Scotch
heather-mixture fingering. Only the fabric of the old carpet was
left--and that was full of holes.
'Come,' said the Phoenix, 'I'm cool now.'
The four children got on to what was left of the carpet. Very
careful they were not to leave a leg or a hand hanging over one of
the holes. It was very hot--the theatre was a pit of fire. Every
one else had got out.
Jane had to sit on Anthea's lap.
'Home!' said Cyril, and instantly the cool draught from under the
nursery door played upon their legs as they sat. They were all on
the carpet still, and the carpet was lying in its proper place on
the nursery floor, as calm and unmoved as though it had never been
to the theatre or taken part in a fire in its life.
Four long breaths of deep relief were instantly breathed. The
draught which they had never liked before was for the moment quite
pleasant. And they were safe. And every one else was safe. The
theatre had been quite empty when they left. Every one was sure of
They presently found themselves all talking at once. Somehow none
of their adventures had given them so much to talk about. None
other had seemed so real.
'Did you notice--?' they said, and 'Do you remember--?'
When suddenly Anthea's face turned pale under the dirt which it had
collected on it during the fire.
'Oh,' she cried, 'mother and father! Oh, how awful! They'll think
we're burned to cinders. Oh, let's go this minute and tell them we
'We should only miss them,' said the sensible Cyril.
'Well--YOU go then,' said Anthea, 'or I will. Only do wash your
face first. Mother will be sure to think you are burnt to a cinder
if she sees you as black as that, and she'll faint or be ill or
something. Oh, I wish we'd never got to know that Phoenix.'
'Hush!' said Robert; 'it's no use being rude to the bird. I
suppose it can't help its nature. Perhaps we'd better wash too.
Now I come to think of it my hands are rather--'
No one had noticed the Phoenix since it had bidden them to step on
the carpet. And no one noticed that no one had noticed.
All were partially clean, and Cyril was just plunging into his
great-coat to go and look for his parents--he, and not unjustly,
called it looking for a needle in a bundle of hay--when the sound
of father's latchkey in the front door sent every one bounding up
'Are you all safe?' cried mother's voice; 'are you all safe?' and
the next moment she was kneeling on the linoleum of the hall,
trying to kiss four damp children at once, and laughing and crying
by turns, while father stood looking on and saying he was blessed
'But how did you guess we'd come home,' said Cyril, later, when
every one was calm enough for talking.
'Well, it was rather a rum thing. We heard the Garrick was on
fire, and of course we went straight there,' said father, briskly.
'We couldn't find you, of course--and we couldn't get in--but the
firemen told us every one was safely out. And then I heard a voice
at my ear say, "Cyril, Anthea, Robert, and Jane"--and something
touched me on the shoulder. It was a great yellow pigeon, and it
got in the way of my seeing who'd spoken. It fluttered off, and
then some one said in the other ear, "They're safe at home"; and
when I turned again, to see who it was speaking, hanged if there
wasn't that confounded pigeon on my other shoulder. Dazed by the
fire, I suppose. Your mother said it was the voice of--'
'I said it was the bird that spoke,' said mother, 'and so it was.
Or at least I thought so then. It wasn't a pigeon. It was an
orange-coloured cockatoo. I don't care who it was that spoke. It
was true and you're safe.'
Mother began to cry again, and father said bed was a good place
after the pleasures of the stage.
So every one went there.
Robert had a talk to the Phoenix that night.
'Oh, very well,' said the bird, when Robert had said what he felt,
'didn't you know that I had power over fire? Do not distress
yourself. I, like my high priests in Lombard Street, can undo the
work of flames. Kindly open the casement.'
It flew out.
That was why the papers said next day that the fire at the theatre
had done less damage than had been anticipated. As a matter of
fact it had done none, for the Phoenix spent the night in putting
things straight. How the management accounted for this, and how
many of the theatre officials still believe that they were mad on
that night will never be known.
Next day mother saw the burnt holes in the carpet.
'It caught where it was paraffiny,' said Anthea.
'I must get rid of that carpet at once,' said mother.
But what the children said in sad whispers to each other, as they
pondered over last night's events, was--
'We must get rid of that Phoenix.'
THE END OF THE END
'Egg, toast, tea, milk, tea-cup and saucer, egg-spoon, knife,
butter--that's all, I think,' remarked Anthea, as she put the last
touches to mother's breakfast-tray, and went, very carefully up the
stairs, feeling for every step with her toes, and holding on to the
tray with all her fingers. She crept into mother's room and set
the tray on a chair. Then she pulled one of the blinds up very
'Is your head better, mammy dear?' she asked, in the soft little
voice that she kept expressly for mother's headaches. 'I've
brought your brekkie, and I've put the little cloth with
clover-leaves on it, the one I made you.'
'That's very nice,' said mother sleepily.
Anthea knew exactly what to do for mothers with headaches who had
breakfast in bed. She fetched warm water and put just enough eau
de Cologne in it, and bathed mother's face and hands with the
sweet-scented water. Then mother was able to think about
'But what's the matter with my girl?' she asked, when her eyes got
used to the light.
'Oh, I'm so sorry you're ill,' Anthea said. 'It's that horrible
fire and you being so frightened. Father said so. And we all feel
as if it was our faults. I can't explain, but--'
'It wasn't your fault a bit, you darling goosie,' mother said.
'How could it be?'
'That's just what I can't tell you,' said Anthea. 'I haven't got
a futile brain like you and father, to think of ways of explaining
'My futile brain--or did you mean fertile?--anyway, it feels very
stiff and sore this morning--but I shall be quite all right by and
by. And don't be a silly little pet girl. The fire wasn't your
faults. No; I don't want the egg, dear. I'll go to sleep again,
I think. Don't you worry. And tell cook not to bother me about
meals. You can order what you like for lunch.'
Anthea closed the door very mousily, and instantly went downstairs
and ordered what she liked for lunch. She ordered a pair of
turkeys, a large plum-pudding, cheese-cakes, and almonds and
Cook told her to go along, do. And she might as well not have
ordered anything, for when lunch came it was just hashed mutton and
semolina pudding, and cook had forgotten the sippets for the mutton
hash and the semolina pudding was burnt.
When Anthea rejoined the others she found them all plunged in the
gloom where she was herself. For every one knew that the days of
the carpet were now numbered. Indeed, so worn was it that you
could almost have numbered its threads.
So that now, after nearly a month of magic happenings, the time was
at hand when life would have to go on in the dull, ordinary way and
Jane, Robert, Anthea, and Cyril would be just in the same position
as the other children who live in Camden Town, the children whom
these four had so often pitied, and perhaps a little despised.
'We shall be just like them,' Cyril said.
'Except,' said Robert, 'that we shall have more things to remember
and be sorry we haven't got.'
'Mother's going to send away the carpet as soon as she's well
enough to see about that coconut matting. Fancy us with
coconut-matting--us! And we've walked under live coconut-trees on
the island where you can't have whooping-cough.'
'Pretty island,' said the Lamb; 'paint-box sands and sea all shiny
His brothers and sisters had often wondered whether he remembered
that island. Now they knew that he did.
'Yes,' said Cyril; 'no more cheap return trips by carpet for
us--that's a dead cert.'
They were all talking about the carpet, but what they were all
thinking about was the Phoenix.
The golden bird had been so kind, so friendly, so polite, so
instructive--and now it had set fire to a theatre and made mother
Nobody blamed the bird. It had acted in a perfectly natural
manner. But every one saw that it must not be asked to prolong its
visit. Indeed, in plain English it must be asked to go!
The four children felt like base spies and treacherous friends; and
each in its mind was saying who ought not to be the one to tell the
Phoenix that there could no longer be a place for it in that happy
home in Camden Town. Each child was quite sure that one of them
ought to speak out in a fair and manly way, but nobody wanted to be
They could not talk the whole thing over as they would have liked
to do, because the Phoenix itself was in the cupboard, among the
blackbeetles and the odd shoes and the broken chessmen.
But Anthea tried.
'It's very horrid. I do hate thinking things about people, and not
being able to say the things you're thinking because of the way
they would feel when they thought what things you were thinking,
and wondered what they'd done to make you think things like that,
and why you were thinking them.'
Anthea was so anxious that the Phoenix should not understand what
she said that she made a speech completely baffling to all. It was
not till she pointed to the cupboard in which all believed the
Phoenix to be that Cyril understood.
'Yes,' he said, while Jane and Robert were trying to tell each
other how deeply they didn't understand what Anthea were saying;
'but after recent eventfulnesses a new leaf has to be turned over,
and, after all, mother is more important than the feelings of any
of the lower forms of creation, however unnatural.'
'How beautifully you do do it,' said Anthea, absently beginning to
build a card-house for the Lamb--'mixing up what you're saying, I
mean. We ought to practise doing it so as to be ready for
mysterious occasions. We're talking about THAT,' she said to Jane
and Robert, frowning, and nodding towards the cupboard where the
Phoenix was. Then Robert and Jane understood, and each opened its
mouth to speak.
'Wait a minute,' said Anthea quickly; 'the game is to twist up what
you want to say so that no one can understand what you're saying
except the people you want to understand it, and sometimes not
'The ancient philosophers,' said a golden voice, 'Well understood
the art of which you speak.'
Of course it was the Phoenix, who had not been in the cupboard at
all, but had been cocking a golden eye at them from the cornice
during the whole conversation.
'Pretty dickie!' remarked the Lamb. 'CANARY dickie!'
'Poor misguided infant,' said the Phoenix.
There was a painful pause; the four could not but think it likely
that the Phoenix had understood their very veiled allusions,
accompanied as they had been by gestures indicating the cupboard.
For the Phoenix was not wanting in intelligence.
'We were just saying--' Cyril began, and I hope he was not going to
say anything but the truth. Whatever it was he did not say it, for
the Phoenix interrupted him, and all breathed more freely as it
'I gather,' it said, 'that you have some tidings of a fatal nature
to communicate to our degraded black brothers who run to and fro
for ever yonder.' It pointed a claw at the cupboard, where the
'Canary TALK,' said the Lamb joyously; 'go and show mammy.'
He wriggled off Anthea's lap.
'Mammy's asleep,' said Jane, hastily. 'Come and be wild beasts in
a cage under the table.'
But the Lamb caught his feet and hands, and even his head, so often
and so deeply in the holes of the carpet that the cage, or table,
had to be moved on to the linoleum, and the carpet lay bare to
sight with all its horrid holes.
'Ah,' said the bird, 'it isn't long for this world.'
'No,' said Robert; 'everything comes to an end. It's awful.'
'Sometimes the end is peace,' remarked the Phoenix. 'I imagine
that unless it comes soon the end of your carpet will be pieces.'
'Yes,' said Cyril, respectfully kicking what was left of the
carpet. The movement of its bright colours caught the eye of the
Lamb, who went down on all fours instantly and began to pull at the
red and blue threads.
'Aggedydaggedygaggedy,' murmured the Lamb; 'daggedy ag ag ag!'
And before any one could have winked (even if they had wanted to,
and it would not have been of the slightest use) the middle of the
floor showed bare, an island of boards surrounded by a sea of
linoleum. The magic carpet was gone, AND SO WAS THE LAMB!
There was a horrible silence. The Lamb--the baby, all alone--had
been wafted away on that untrustworthy carpet, so full of holes and
magic. And no one could know where he was. And no one could
follow him because there was now no carpet to follow on.
Jane burst into tears, but Anthea, though pale and frantic, was
'It MUST be a dream,' she said.
'That's what the clergyman said,' remarked Robert forlornly; 'but
it wasn't, and it isn't.'
'But the Lamb never wished,' said Cyril; 'he was only talking
'The carpet understands all speech,' said the Phoenix, 'even Bosh.
I know not this Boshland, but be assured that its tongue is not
unknown to the carpet.'
'Do you mean, then,' said Anthea, in white terror, 'that when he
was saying "Agglety dag," or whatever it was, that he meant
something by it?'
'All speech has meaning,' said the Phoenix.
'There I think you're wrong,' said Cyril; 'even people who talk
English sometimes say things that don't mean anything in
'Oh, never mind that now,' moaned Anthea; 'you think "Aggety dag"
meant something to him and the carpet?'
'Beyond doubt it held the same meaning to the carpet as to the
luckless infant,' the Phoenix said calmly.
'And WHAT did it mean? Oh WHAT?'
'Unfortunately,' the bird rejoined, 'I never studied Bosh.'
Jane sobbed noisily, but the others were calm with what is
sometimes called the calmness of despair. The Lamb was gone--the
Lamb, their own precious baby brother--who had never in his happy
little life been for a moment out of the sight of eyes that loved
him--he was gone. He had gone alone into the great world with no
other companion and protector than a carpet with holes in it. The
children had never really understood before what an enormously big
place the world is. And the Lamb might be anywhere in it!
'And it's no use going to look for him.' Cyril, in flat and
wretched tones, only said what the others were thinking.
'Do you wish him to return?' the Phoenix asked; it seemed to speak
with some surprise.
'Of course we do!' cried everybody.
'Isn't he more trouble than he's worth?' asked the bird doubtfully.
'No, no. Oh, we do want him back! We do!'
'Then,' said the wearer of gold plumage, 'if you'll excuse me, I'll
just pop out and see what I can do.'
Cyril flung open the window, and the Phoenix popped out.
'Oh, if only mother goes on sleeping! Oh, suppose she wakes up and
wants the Lamb! Oh, suppose the servants come! Stop crying, Jane.
It's no earthly good. No, I'm not crying myself--at least I wasn't
till you said so, and I shouldn't anyway if--if there was any
mortal thing we could do. Oh, oh, oh!'
Cyril and Robert were boys, and boys never cry, of course. Still,
the position was a terrible one, and I do not wonder that they made
faces in their efforts to behave in a really manly way.
And at this awful moment mother's bell rang.
A breathless stillness held the children. Then Anthea dried her
eyes. She looked round her and caught up the poker. She held it
out to Cyril.
'Hit my hand hard,' she said; 'I must show mother some reason for
my eyes being like they are. Harder,' she cried as Cyril gently
tapped her with the iron handle. And Cyril, agitated and
trembling, nerved himself to hit harder, and hit very much harder
than he intended.
'Oh, Panther, I didn't mean to hurt, really,' cried Cyril,
clattering the poker back into the fender.
'It's--all--right,' said Anthea breathlessly, clasping the hurt
hand with the one that wasn't hurt; 'it's--getting--red.'
It was--a round red and blue bump was rising on the back of it.
'Now, Robert,' she said, trying to breathe more evenly, 'you go
out--oh, I don't know where--on to the dustbin--anywhere--and I
shall tell mother you and the Lamb are out.'
Anthea was now ready to deceive her mother for as long as ever she
could. Deceit is very wrong, we know, but it seemed to Anthea that
it was her plain duty to keep her mother from being frightened
about the Lamb as long as possible. And the Phoenix might help.
'It always has helped,' Robert said; 'it got us out of the tower,
and even when it made the fire in the theatre it got us out all
right. I'm certain it will manage somehow.'
Mother's bell rang again.
'Oh, Eliza's never answered it,' cried Anthea; 'she never does.
Oh, I must go.'
And she went.
Her heart beat bumpingly as she climbed the stairs. Mother would
be certain to notice her eyes--well, her hand would account for
that. But the Lamb--
'No, I must NOT think of the Lamb, she said to herself, and bit her
tongue till her eyes watered again, so as to give herself something
else to think of. Her arms and legs and back, and even her
tear-reddened face, felt stiff with her resolution not to let
mother be worried if she could help it.
She opened the door softly.
'Yes, mother?' she said.
'Dearest,' said mother, 'the Lamb--'
Anthea tried to be brave. She tried to say that the Lamb and
Robert were out. Perhaps she tried too hard. Anyway, when she
opened her mouth no words came. So she stood with it open. It
seemed easier to keep from crying with one's mouth in that unusual
'The Lamb,' mother went on; 'he was very good at first, but he's
pulled the toilet-cover off the dressing-table with all the brushes
and pots and things, and now he's so quiet I'm sure he's in some
dreadful mischief. And I can't see him from here, and if I'd got
out of bed to see I'm sure I should have fainted.'
'Do you mean he's HERE?' said Anthea.
'Of course he's here,' said mother, a little impatiently. 'Where
did you think he was?'
Anthea went round the foot of the big mahogany bed. There was a
'He's not here NOW,' she said.
That he had been there was plain, from the toilet-cover on the
floor, the scattered pots and bottles, the wandering brushes and
combs, all involved in the tangle of ribbons and laces which an
open drawer had yielded to the baby's inquisitive fingers.
'He must have crept out, then,' said mother; 'do keep him with you,
there's a darling. If I don't get some sleep I shall be a wreck
when father comes home.'
Anthea closed the door softly. Then she tore downstairs and burst
into the nursery, crying--
'He must have wished he was with mother. He's been there all the
time. "Aggety dag--"'
The unusual word was frozen on her lip, as people say in books.
For there, on the floor, lay the carpet, and on the carpet,
surrounded by his brothers and by Jane, sat the Lamb. He had
covered his face and clothes with vaseline and violet powder, but
he was easily recognizable in spite of this disguise.
'You are right,' said the Phoenix, who was also present; 'it is
evident that, as you say, "Aggety dag" is Bosh for "I want to be
where my mother is," and so the faithful carpet understood it.'
'But how,' said Anthea, catching up the Lamb and hugging him--'how
did he get back here?'
'Oh,' said the Phoenix, 'I flew to the Psammead and wished that
your infant brother were restored to your midst, and immediately it
'Oh, I am glad, I am glad!' cried Anthea, still hugging the baby.
'Oh, you darling! Shut up, Jane! I don't care HOW much he comes
off on me! Cyril! You and Robert roll that carpet up and put it
in the beetle-cupboard. He might say "Aggety dag" again, and it
might mean something quite different next time. Now, my Lamb,
Panther'll clean you a little. Come on.'
'I hope the beetles won't go wishing,' said Cyril, as they rolled
up the carpet.
Two days later mother was well enough to go out, and that evening
the coconut matting came home. The children had talked and talked,
and thought and thought, but they had not found any polite way of
telling the Phoenix that they did not want it to stay any longer.
The days had been days spent by the children in embarrassment, and
by the Phoenix in sleep.
And, now the matting was laid down, the Phoenix awoke and fluttered
down on to it.
It shook its crested head.
'I like not this carpet,' it said; 'it is harsh and unyielding, and
it hurts my golden feet.'
'We've jolly well got to get used to its hurting OUR golden feet,'
'This, then,' said the bird, 'supersedes the Wishing Carpet.'
'Yes,' said Robert, 'if you mean that it's instead of it.'
'And the magic web?' inquired the Phoenix, with sudden eagerness.
'It's the rag-and-bottle man's day to-morrow,' said Anthea, in a
low voice; 'he will take it away.'
The Phoenix fluttered up to its favourite perch on the chair-back.
'Hear me!' it cried, 'oh youthful children of men, and restrain
your tears of misery and despair, for what must be must be, and I
would not remember you, thousands of years hence, as base ingrates
and crawling worms compact of low selfishness.'
'I should hope not, indeed,' said Cyril.
'Weep not,' the bird went on; 'I really do beg that you won't weep.
I will not seek to break the news to you gently. Let the blow fall
at once. The time has come when I must leave you.'
All four children breathed forth a long sigh of relief.
'We needn't have bothered so about how to break the news to it,'
'Ah, sigh not so,' said the bird, gently. 'All meetings end in
partings. I must leave you. I have sought to prepare you for
this. Ah, do not give way!'
'Must you really go--so soon?' murmured Anthea. It was what she
had often heard her mother say to calling ladies in the afternoon.
'I must, really; thank you so much, dear,' replied the bird, just
as though it had been one of the ladies.
'I am weary,' it went on. 'I desire to rest--after all the
happenings of this last moon I do desire really to rest, and I ask
of you one last boon.'
'Any little thing we can do,' said Robert.
Now that it had really come to parting with the Phoenix, whose
favourite he had always been, Robert did feel almost as miserable
as the Phoenix thought they all did.
'I ask but the relic designed for the rag-and-bottle man. Give me
what is left of the carpet and let me go.'
'Dare we?' said Anthea. 'Would mother mind?'
'I have dared greatly for your sakes,' remarked the bird.
'Well, then, we will,' said Robert.
The Phoenix fluffed out its feathers joyously.
'Nor shall you regret it, children of golden hearts,' it said.
'Quick--spread the carpet and leave me alone; but first pile high
the fire. Then, while I am immersed in the sacred preliminary
rites, do ye prepare sweet-smelling woods and spices for the last
act of parting.'
The children spread out what was left of the carpet. And, after
all, though this was just what they would have wished to have
happened, all hearts were sad. Then they put half a scuttle of
coal on the fire and went out, closing the door on the
Phoenix--left, at last, alone with the carpet.
'One of us must keep watch,' said Robert, excitedly, as soon as
they were all out of the room, 'and the others can go and buy sweet
woods and spices. Get the very best that money can buy, and plenty
of them. Don't let's stand to a threepence or so. I want it to
have a jolly good send-off. It's the only thing that'll make us
feel less horrid inside.'
It was felt that Robert, as the pet of the Phoenix, ought to have
the last melancholy pleasure of choosing the materials for its
'I'll keep watch if you like,' said Cyril. 'I don't mind. And,
besides, it's raining hard, and my boots let in the wet. You might
call and see if my other ones are "really reliable" again yet.'
So they left Cyril, standing like a Roman sentinel outside the door
inside which the Phoenix was getting ready for the great change,
and they all went out to buy the precious things for the last sad
'Robert is right,' Anthea said; 'this is no time for being careful
about our money. Let's go to the stationer's first, and buy a
whole packet of lead-pencils. They're cheaper if you buy them by
This was a thing that they had always wanted to do, but it needed
the great excitement of a funeral pyre and a parting from a beloved
Phoenix to screw them up to the extravagance.
The people at the stationer's said that the pencils were real
cedar-wood, so I hope they were, for stationers should always speak
the truth. At any rate they cost one-and-fourpence. Also they
spent sevenpence three-farthings on a little sandal-wood box inlaid
'Because,' said Anthea, 'I know sandalwood smells sweet, and when
it's burned it smells very sweet indeed.'
'Ivory doesn't smell at all,' said Robert, 'but I expect when you
burn it it smells most awful vile, like bones.'