Jane consented to look, and the scene was almost too pretty to be alarming. The green turf, the white tents, the flash of pennoned lances, the gleam of armour, and the bright colours of scarf and tunic - it was just like a splendid coloured picture. The trumpets were sounding, and when the trumpets stopped for breath the children could hear the cling-clang of armour and the murmur of voices.
A trumpeter came forward to the edge of the moat, which now seemed very much narrower than at first, and blew the longest and loudest blast they had yet heard. When the blaring noise had died away, a man who was with the trumpeter shouted:
'What ho, within there!' and his voice came plainly to the garrison in the gate-house.
'Hullo there!' Robert bellowed back at once.
'In the name of our Lord the King, and of our good lord and trusty leader Sir Wulfric de Talbot, we summon this castle to surrender - on pain of fire and sword and no quarter. Do ye surrender?'
'No,' bawled Robert, 'of course we don't! Never,
The man answered back:
'Then your fate be on your own heads.'
'Cheer,' said Robert in a fierce whisper. 'Cheer to show them we aren't afraid, and rattle the daggers to make more noise. One, two, three! Hip, hip, hooray! Again - Hip, hip, hooray! One more - Hip, hip, hooray!' The cheers were rather high and weak, but the rattle of the daggers lent them strength and depth.
There was another shout from the camp across the moat - and then the beleaguered fortress felt that the attack had indeed begun.
It was getting rather dark in the room above the great gate, and Jane took a very little courage as she remembered that sunset couldn't be far off now.
'The moat is dreadfully thin,' said Anthea.
'But they can't get into the castle even if they do swim over,' said Robert. And as he spoke he heard feet on the stair outside - heavy feet and the clank of steel. No one breathed for a moment. The steel and the feet went on up the turret stairs. Then Robert sprang softly to the door. He pulled off his shoes.
'Wait here,' he whispered, and stole quickly and softly after the boots and the spur-clank. He peeped into the upper room. The man was there - and it was Jakin, all dripping with moat-water, and he was fiddling about with the machinery which Robert felt sure worked the drawbridge. Robert banged the door suddenly, and turned the great key in the lock, just as Jakin sprang to the inside of the door. Then he tore downstairs and into the little turret at the foot of the tower where the biggest window was.
'We ought to have defended THIS!' he cried to the others as they followed him. He was just in time. Another man had swum over, and his fingers were on the window-ledge. Robert never knew how the man had managed to climb up out of the water. But he saw the clinging fingers, and hit them as hard as he could with an iron bar that he caught up from the floor. The man fell with a plop-plash into the moat-water. In another moment Robert was outside the little room, had banged its door and was shooting home the enormous bolts, and calling to Cyril to lend a hand.
Then they stood in the arched gate-house, breathing hard and looking at each other. jane's mouth was open.
'Cheer up, jenny,' said Robert - 'it won't last much longer.'
There was a creaking above, and something rattled and shook. The pavement they stood on seemed to tremble. Then a crash told them that the drawbridge had been lowered to its place.
'That's that beast Jakin,' said Robert. 'There's still the portcullis; I'm almost certain that's worked from lower down.'
And now the drawbridge rang and echoed hollowly to the hoofs of horses and the tramp of armed men. 'Up - quick!' cried Robert. 'Let's drop things on them.'
Even the girls were feeling almost brave now. They followed Robert quickly, and under his directions began to drop stones out through the long narrow windows. There was a confused noise below, and some groans.
'Oh dear!' said Anthea, putting down the stone she was just going to drop out. 'I'm afraid we've hurt somebody!'
Robert caught up the stone in a fury.
'I should just hope we HAD!' he said; 'I'd give something for a jolly good boiling kettle of lead. Surrender, indeed!'
And now came more tramping, and a pause, and then the thundering thump of the battering-ram. And the little room was almost quite dark.
'We've held it,' cried Robert, 'we won't surrender! The sun MUST set in a minute. Here - they're all jawing underneath again. Pity there's no time to get more stones! Here, pour that water down on them. It's no good, of course, but they'll hate it.'
'Oh dear!' said Jane; 'don't you think we'd better surrender?'
'Never!' said Robert; 'we'll have a parley if you like, but we'll never surrender. Oh, I'll be a soldier when I grow up - you just see if I don't. I won't go into the Civil Service, whatever anyone says.'
'Let's wave a handkerchief and ask for a parley,' Jane pleaded. 'I don't believe the sun's going to set to-night at all.'
'Give them the water first - the brutes!' said the bloodthirsty Robert. So Anthea tilted the pot over the nearest lead-hole, and poured. They heard a splash below, but no one below seemed to have felt it. And again the ram battered the great door. Anthea paused.
'How idiotic,' said Robert, lying flat on the floor and putting one eye to the lead hole. 'Of course the holes go straight down into the gate-house - that's for when the enemy has got past the door and the portcullis, and almost all is lost. Here, hand me the pot.' He crawled on to the three-cornered window-ledge in the middle of the wall, and, taking the pot from Anthea, poured the water out through the arrow-slit.
And as he began to pour, the noise of the battering-ram and the trampling of the foe and the shouts of 'Surrender!' and 'De Talbot for ever!' all suddenly stopped and went out like the snuff of a candle; the little dark room seemed to whirl round and turn topsy-turvy, and when the children came to themselves there they were safe and sound, in the big front bedroom of their own house - the house with the ornamental nightmare iron-top to the roof.
They all crowded to the window and looked out. The moat and the tents and the besieging force were all gone - and there was the garden with its tangle of dahlias and marigolds and asters and late roses, and the spiky iron railings and the quiet white road.
Everyone drew a deep breath.
'And that's all right!' said Robert. 'I told you so! And, I say, we didn't surrender, did we?'
'Aren't you glad now I wished for a castle?' asked Cyril.
'I think I am NOW,' said Anthea slowly. 'But I wouldn't wish for it again, I think, Squirrel dear!'
'Oh, it was simply splendid!' said Jane unexpectedly. 'I wasn't frightened a bit.'
'Oh, I say!' Cyril was beginning, but Anthea stopped him.
'Look here,' she said, 'it's just come into my head. This is the very first thing we've wished for that hasn't got us into a row. And there hasn't been the least little scrap of a row about this. Nobody's raging downstairs, we're safe and sound, we've had an awfully jolly day - at least, not jolly exactly, but you know what I mean. And we know now how brave Robert is - and Cyril too, of course,' she added hastily, 'and Jane as well. And we haven't got into a row with a single grown-up.'
The door was opened suddenly and fiercely.
'You ought to be ashamed of yourselves,' said the voice of Martha, and they could tell by her voice that she was very angry indeed. 'I thought you couldn't last through the day without getting up to some doggery! A person can't take a breath of air on the front doorstep but you must be emptying the wash-hand jug on to their heads! Off you go to bed, the lot of you, and try to get up better children in the morning. Now then - don't let me have to tell you twice. If I find any of you not in bed in ten minutes I'll let you know it, that's all! A new cap, and everything!'
She flounced out amid a disregarded chorus of regrets and apologies. The children were very sorry, but really it was not their faults. You can't help it if you are pouring water on a besieging foe, and your castle suddenly changes into your house - and everything changes with it except the water, and that happens to fall on somebody else's clean cap.
'I don't know why the water didn't change into nothing, though,' said Cyril.
'Why should it?' asked Robert. 'Water's water all the world over.' 'I expect the castle well was the same as ours in the stable-yard,' said Jane. And that was really the case.
'I thought we couldn't get through a wish-day without a row,' said Cyril; 'it was much too good to be true. Come on, Bobs, my military hero. If we lick into bed sharp she won't be so frumious, and perhaps she'll bong us up some supper. I'm jolly hungry! Good-night, kids.'
'Good-night. I hope the castle won't come creeping back in the night,' said Jane.
'Of course it won't,' said Anthea briskly, 'but Martha will - not in the night, but in a minute. Here, turn round, I'll get that knot out of your pinafore strings.'
'Wouldn't it have been degrading for Sir Wulfric de Talbot,' said Jane dreamily, 'if he could have known that half the besieged garrison wore pinafores?'
'And the other half knickerbockers. Yes - frightfully. Do stand still - you're only tightening the knot,' said Anthea.
CHAPTER 8 BIGGER THAN THE BAKER'S BOY
'Look here,' said Cyril. 'I've got an idea.'
'Does it hurt much?' said Robert sympathetically.
'Don't be a jackape! I'm not humbugging.'
'Shut up, Bobs!' said Anthea.
'Silence for the Squirrel's oration,' said Robert.
Cyril balanced himself on the edge of the water-butt in the backyard, where they all happened to be, and spoke.
'Friends, Romans, countrymen - and women - we found a Sammyadd. We have had wishes. We've had wings, and being beautiful as the day - ugh! - that was pretty jolly beastly if you like - and wealth and castles, and that rotten gipsy business with the Lamb. But we're no forrader. We haven't really got anything worth having for our wishes.'
'We've had things happening,' said Robert; 'that's always something.'
'It's not enough, unless they're the right things,' said Cyril firmly. 'Now I've been thinking -' 'Not really?' whispered Robert.
'In the silent what's-its-names of the night. It's like suddenly being asked something out of history - the date of the Conquest or something; you know it all right all the time, but when you're asked it all goes out of your head. Ladies and gentlemen, you know jolly well that when we're all rotting about in the usual way heaps of things keep cropping up, and then real earnest wishes come into the heads of the beholder -'
'Hear, hear!' said Robert.
'- of the beholder, however stupid he is,' Cyril went on. 'Why, even Robert might happen to think of a really useful wish if he didn't injure his poor little brains trying so hard to think. - Shut up, Bobs, I tell you! - You'll have the whole show over.'
A struggle on the edge of a water-butt is exciting, but damp. When it was over, and the boys were partially dried, Anthea said:
'It really was you began it, Bobs. Now honour is satisfied) do let Squirrel go on. We're wasting the whole morning.'
'Well then,' said Cyril, still wringing the water out of the tails of his jacket, 'I'll call it pax if Bobs will.'
'Pax then,' said Robert sulkily. 'But I've got a lump as big as a cricket ball over my eye.'
Anthea patiently offered a dust-coloured handkerchief, and Robert bathed his wounds in silence. 'Now, Squirrel,' she said.
'Well then - let's just play bandits, or forts, or soldiers, or any of the old games. We're dead sure to think of something if we try not to. You always do.'
The others consented. Bandits was hastily chosen for the game. 'It's as good as anything else,' said Jane gloomily. It must be owned that Robert was at first but a half-hearted bandit, but when Anthea had borrowed from Martha the red-spotted handkerchief in which the keeper had brought her mushrooms that morning, and had tied up Robert's head with it so that he could be the wounded hero who had saved the bandit captain's life the day before, he cheered up wonderfully. All were soon armed. Bows and arrows slung on the back look well; and umbrellas and cricket stumps stuck through the belt give a fine impression of the wearer's being armed to the teeth. The white cotton hats that men wear in the country nowadays have a very brigandish effect when a few turkey's feathers are stuck in them. The Lamb's mail-cart was covered with a red-and-blue checked tablecloth, and made an admirable baggage-wagon. The Lamb asleep inside it was not at all in the way. So the banditti set out along the road that led to the sand-pit.
'We ought to be near the Sammyadd,' said Cyril, 'in case we think of anything suddenly.'
It is all very well to make up your minds to play bandits - or chess, or ping-pong, or any other agreeable game - but it is not easy to do it with spirit when all the wonderful wishes you can think of, or can't think of, are waiting for you round the corner. The game was dragging a little, and some of the bandits were beginning to feel that the others were disagreeable things, and were saying so candidly, when the baker's boy came along the road with loaves in a basket. The opportunity was not one to be lost.
'Stand and deliver!' cried Cyril.
'Your money or your life!' said Robert.
And they stood on each side of the baker's boy. Unfortunately, he did not seem to enter into the spirit of the thing at all. He was a baker's boy of an unusually large size. He merely said:
'Chuck it now, d'ye hear!' and pushed the bandits aside most disrespectfully.
Then Robert lassoed him with jane's skipping-rope, and instead of going round his shoulders, as Robert intended, it went round his feet and tripped him up. The basket was upset, the beautiful new loaves went bumping and bouncing all over the dusty chalky road. The girls ran to pick them up, and all in a moment Robert and the baker's boy were fighting it out, man to man, with Cyril to see fair play, and the skipping-rope twisting round their legs like an interested snake that wished to be a peacemaker. It did not succeed; indeed the way the boxwood handles sprang up and hit the fighters on the shins and ankles was not at all peace-making. I know this is the second fight - or contest - in this chapter, but I can't help it. It was that sort of day. You know yourself there are days when rows seem to keep on happening, quite without your meaning them to. If I were a writer of tales of adventure such as those which used to appear in The Boys of England when I was young, of course I should be able to describe the fight, but I cannot do it. I never can see what happens during a fight, even when it is only dogs. Also, if I had been one of these Boys of England writers, Robert would have got the best of it. But I am like George Washington - I cannot tell a lie, even about a cherry-tree, much less about a fight, and I cannot conceal from you that Robert was badly beaten, for the second time that day. The baker's boy blacked his other eye, and, being ignorant of the first rules of fair play and gentlemanly behaviour, he also pulled Robert's hair, and kicked him on the knee. Robert always used to say he could have licked the butcher if it hadn't been for the girls. But I am not sure. Anyway, what happened was this, and very painful it was to self-respecting boys.
Cyril was just tearing off his coat so as to help his brother in proper style, when Jane threw her arms round his legs and began to cry and ask him not to go and be beaten too. That 'too' was very nice for Robert, as you can imagine - but it was nothing to what he felt when Anthea rushed in between him and the baker's boy, and caught that unfair and degraded fighter round the waist, imploring him not to fight any more.
'Oh, don't hurt my brother any more!' she said in floods of tears. 'He didn't mean it - it's only play. And I'm sure he's very sorry.'
You see how unfair this was to Robert. Because, if the baker's boy had had any right and chivalrous instincts, and had yielded to Anthea's pleading and accepted her despicable apology, Robert could not, in honour, have done anything to him at a future time. But Robert's fears, if he had any, were soon dispelled. Chivalry was a stranger to the breast of the baker's boy. He pushed Anthea away very roughly, and he chased Robert with kicks and unpleasant conversation right down the road to the sand-pit, and there, with one last kick, he landed him in a heap of sand.
'I'D larn you, you young varmint!' he said, and went off to pick up his loaves and go about his business. Cyril, impeded by Jane, could do nothing without hurting her, for she clung round his legs with the strength of despair. The baker's boy went off red and damp about the face; abusive to the last, he called them a pack of silly idiots, and disappeared round the corner. Then jane's grasp loosened. Cyril turned away in silent dignity to follow Robert, and the girls followed him, weeping without restraint.
It was not a happy party that flung itself down in the sand beside the sobbing Robert. For Robert was sobbing - mostly with rage. Though of course I know that a really heroic boy is always dry-eyed after a fight. But then he always wins, which had not been the case with Robert.
Cyril was angry with Jane; Robert was furious with Anthea; the girls were miserable; and not one of the four was pleased with the baker's boy. There was, as French writers say, 'a silence full of emotion'.
Then Robert dug his toes and his hands into the sand and wriggled in his rage. 'He'd better wait till I'm grown up - the cowardly brute! Beast! - I hate him! But I'll pay him out. just because he's bigger than me.'
'You began,' said Jane incautiously.
'I know I did, silly - but I was only rotting - and he kicked me - look here -'
Robert tore down a stocking and showed a purple bruise touched up with red. 'I only wish I was bigger than him, that's all.'
He dug his fingers in the sand, and sprang up, for his hand had touched something furry. It was the Psammead, of course - 'On the look-out to make sillies of them as usual,' as Cyril remarked later. And of course the next moment Robert's wish was granted, and he was bigger than the baker's boy. Oh, but much, much bigger. He was bigger than the big policeman who used to be at the crossing at the Mansion House years ago - the one who was so kind in helping old ladies over the crossing - and he was the biggest man I have ever seen, as well as the kindest. No one had a foot-rule in its pocket, so Robert could not be measured - but he was taller than your father would be if he stood on your mother's head, which I am sure he would never be unkind enough to do. He must have been ten or eleven feet high, and as broad as a boy of that height ought to be. his Norfolk suit had fortunately grown too, and now he stood up in it - with one of his enormous stockings turned down to show the gigantic bruise on his vast leg. Immense tears of fury still stood on his flushed giant face. He looked so surprised, and he was so large to be wearing an Eton collar, that the others could not help laughing.
'The Sammyadd's done us again,' said Cyril.
'Not us - ME,' said Robert. 'If you'd got any decent feeling you'd try to make it make you the same size. You've no idea how silly it feels,' he added thoughtlessly.
'And I don't want to; I can jolly well see how silly it looks,' Cyril was beginning; but Anthea said:
'Oh, DON'T! I don't know what's the matter with you boys to-day. Look here, Squirrel, let's play fair. It is hateful for poor old Bobs, all alone up there. Let's ask the Sammyadd for another wish, and, if it will, I do really think we ought to be made the same size.'
The others agreed, but not gaily; but when they found the Psammead, it wouldn't.
'Not I,' it said crossly, rubbing its face with its feet. He's a rude violent boy, and it'll do him good to be the wrong size for a bit. What did he want to come digging me out with his nasty wet hands for? He nearly touched me! He's a perfect savage. A boy of the Stone Age would have had more sense.'
Robert's hands had indeed been wet - with tears.
'Go away and leave me in peace, do,' the Psammead went on. 'I can't think why you don't wish for something sensible - something to eat or drink, or good manners, or good tempers. Go along with you, do!'
It almost snarled as it shook its whiskers, and turned a sulky brown back on them. The most hopeful felt that further parley was vain. They turned again to the colossal Robert.
'Whatever shall we do?' they said; and they all said it.
'First,' said Robert grimly, 'I'm going to reason with that baker's boy. I shall catch him at the end of the road.'
'Don't hit a chap littler than yourself, old man,' said Cyril.
'Do I look like hitting him?' said Robert scornfully. 'Why, I should KILL him. But I'll give him something to remember. Wait till I pull up my stocking.' He pulled up his stocking, which was as large as a small bolster-case, and strode off. His strides were six or seven feet long, so that it was quite easy for him to be at the bottom of the hill, ready to meet the baker's boy when he came down swinging the empty basket to meet his master's cart, which had been leaving bread at the cottages along the road.
Robert crouched behind a haystack in the farmyard, that is at the corner, and when he heard the boy come whistling along, he jumped out at him and caught him by the collar.
'Now,' he said, and his voice was about four times its usual size, just as his body was four times its, 'I'm going to teach you to kick boys smaller than you.'
He lifted up the baker's boy and set him on the top of the haystack, which was about sixteen feet from the ground, and then he sat down on the roof of the cowshed and told the baker's boy exactly what he thought of him. I don't think the boy heard it all - he was in a sort of trance of terror. When Robert had said everything he could think of, and some things twice over, he shook the boy and said:
'And now get down the best way you can,' and left him.
I don't know how the baker's boy got down, but I do know that he missed the cart, and got into the very hottest of hot water when he turned up at last at the bakehouse. I am sorry for him, but, after all, it was quite right that he should be taught that English boys mustn't use their feet when they fight, but their fists. Of course the water he got into only became hotter when he tried to tell his master about the boy he had licked and the giant as high as a church, because no one could possibly believe such a tale as that. Next day the tale was believed - but that was too late to be of any use to the baker's boy.
When Robert rejoined the others he found them in the garden. Anthea had thoughtfully asked Martha to let them have dinner out there - because the dining-room was rather small, and it would have been so awkward to have a brother the size of Robert in there. The Lamb, who had slept peacefully during the whole stormy morning, was now found to be sneezing, and Martha said he had a cold and would be better indoors.
'And really it's just as well,' said Cyril, 'for I don't believe he'd ever have stopped screaming if he'd once seen you the awful size you are!'
Robert was indeed what a draper would call an 'out-size' in boys. He found himself able to step right over the iron gate in the front garden.
Martha brought out the dinner - it was cold veal and baked potatoes, with sago pudding and stewed plums to follow.
She of course did not notice that Robert was anything but the usual size, and she gave him as much meat and potatoes as usual and no more. You have no idea how small your usual helping of dinner looks when you are many times your proper size. Robert groaned, and asked for more bread. But Martha would not go on giving more bread for ever. She was in a hurry, because the keeper intended to call on his way to Benenhurst Fair, and she wished to be dressed smartly before he came.
'I wish WE were going to the Fair,' said Robert.
'You can't go anywhere that size,' said Cyril.
'Why not?' said Robert. 'They have giants at fairs, much bigger ones than me.'
'Not much, they don't,' Cyril was beginning, when Jane screamed 'Oh!' with such loud suddenness that they all thumped her on the back and asked whether she had swallowed a plum-stone.
'No,' she said, breathless from being thumped, 'it's - it's not a plum-stone. it's an idea. Let's take Robert to the Fair, and get them to give us money for showing him! Then we really shall get something out of the old Sammyadd at last!'
'Take me, indeed!' said Robert indignantly. 'Much more likely me take you!'
And so it turned out. The idea appealed irresistibly to everyone but Robert, and even he was brought round by Anthea's suggestion that he should have a double share of any money they might make. There was a little old pony-trap in the coach-house - the kind that is called a governess-cart. It seemed desirable to get to the Fair as quickly as possible, so Robert - who could now take enormous steps and so go very fast indeed - consented to wheel the others in this. It was as easy to him now as wheeling the Lamb in the mail-cart had been in the morning. The Lamb's cold prevented his being of the party.
It was a strange sensation being wheeled in a pony-carriage by a giant. Everyone enjoyed the journey except Robert and the few people they passed on the way. These mostly went into what looked like some kind of standing-up fits by the roadside, as Anthea said. just outside Benenhurst, Robert hid in a barn, and the others went on to the Fair.
There were some swings, and a hooting tooting blaring merry-go-round, and a shooting-gallery and coconut shies. Resisting an impulse to win a coconut - or at least to attempt the enterprise - Cyril went up to the woman who was loading little guns before the array of glass bottles on strings against a sheet of canvas.
'Here you are, little gentleman!' she said. 'Penny a shot!'
'No, thank you,' said Cyril, 'we are here on business, not on pleasure. Who's the master?'
'The master - the head - the boss of the show.'
'Over there,' she said, pointing to a stout man in a dirty linen jacket who was sleeping in the sun; 'but I don't advise you to wake him sudden. His temper's contrary, especially these hot days. Better have a shot while you're waiting.'
'It's rather important,' said Cyril. 'It'll be very profitable to him. I think he'll be sorry if we take it away.'
'Oh, if it's money in his pocket,' said the woman. 'No kid now? What is it?'
'It's a GIANT.'
'You ARE kidding?'
'Come along and see,' said Anthea.
The woman looked doubtfully at them, then she called to a ragged little girl in striped stockings and a dingy white petticoat that came below her brown frock, and leaving her in charge of the 'shooting-gallery' she turned to Anthea and said, 'Well, hurry up! But if you ARE kidding, you'd best say so. I'm as mild as milk myself, but my Bill he's a fair terror and -'
Anthea led the way to the barn. 'It really IS a giant,' she said. 'He's a giant little boy - in Norfolks like my brother's there. And we didn't bring him up to the Fair because people do stare so, and they seem to go into kind of standing-up fits when they see him. And we thought perhaps you'd like to show him and get pennies; and if you like to pay us something, you can - only, it'll have to be rather a lot, because we promised him he should have a double share of whatever we made.'
The woman murmured something indistinct, of which the children could only hear the words, 'Swelp me!' 'balmy,' and 'crumpet,' which conveyed no definite idea to their minds. She had taken Anthea's hand, and was holding it very firmly; and Anthea could not help wondering what would happen if Robert should have wandered off or turned his proper size during the interval. But she knew that the Psammead's gifts really did last till sunset, however inconvenient their lasting might be; and she did not think, somehow, that Robert would care to go out alone while he was that size.
When they reached the barn and Cyril called 'Robert!' there was a stir among the loose hay, and Robert began to come out. His hand and arm came first - then a foot and leg. When the woman saw the hand she said 'My!' but when she saw the foot she said 'Upon my civvy!' and when, by slow and heavy degrees, the whole of Robert's enormous bulk was at last completely disclosed, she drew a long breath and began to say many things, compared with which 'balmy' and 'crumpet' seemed quite ordinary. She dropped into understandable English at last.
'What'll you take for him?' she said excitedly. 'Anything in reason. We'd have a special van built - leastways, I know where there's a second-hand one would do up handsome - what a baby elephant had, as died. What'll you take? He's soft, ain't he? Them giants mostly is - but I never see - no, never! What'll you take? Down on the nail. We'll treat him like a king, and give him first-rate grub and a doss fit for a bloomin' dook. He must be dotty or he wouldn't need you kids to cart him about. What'll you take for him?'
'They won't take anything,' said Robert sternly. 'I'm no more soft than you are - not so much, I shouldn't wonder. I'll come and be a show for to-day if you'll give me' - he hesitated at the enormous price he was about to ask - 'if you'll give me fifteen shillings.'
'Done,' said the woman, so quickly that Robert felt he had been unfair to himself, and wished he had asked thirty. 'Come on now - and see my Bill - and we'll fix a price for the season. I dessay you might get as much as two quid a week reg'lar. Come on - and make yourself as small as you can, for gracious' sake!'
This was not very small, and a crowd gathered quickly, so that it was at the head of an enthusiastic procession that Robert entered the trampled meadow where the Fair was held, and passed over the stubbly yellow dusty grass to the door of the biggest tent. He crept in, and the woman went to call her Bill. He was the big sleeping man, and he did not seem at all pleased at being awakened. Cyril, watching through a slit in the tent, saw him scowl and shake a heavy fist and a sleepy head. Then the woman went on speaking very fast. Cyril heard 'Strewth,' and 'biggest draw you ever, so help me!' and he began to share Robert's feeling that fifteen shillings was indeed far too little. Bill slouched up to the tent and entered. When he beheld the magnificent proportions of Robert he said but little - 'Strike me pink!' were the only words the children could afterwards remember - but he produced fifteen shillings, mainly in sixpences and coppers, and handed it to Robert.
'We'll fix up about what you're to draw when the show's over to-night,' he said with hoarse heartiness. 'Lor' love a duck! you'll be that happy with us you'll never want to leave us. Can you do a song now - or a bit of a breakdown?'
'Not to-day,' said Robert, rejecting the idea of trying to sing 'As once in May', a favourite of his mother's, and the only song he could think of at the moment.
'Get Levi and clear them bloomin' photos out. Clear the tent. Stick up a curtain or suthink,' the man went on. 'Lor', what a pity we ain't got no tights his size! But we'll have 'em before the week's out. Young man, your fortune's made. It's a good thing you came to me, and not to some chaps as I could tell you on. I've known blokes as beat their giants, and starved 'em too; so I'll tell you straight, you're in luck this day if you never was afore. 'Cos I'm a lamb, I am - and I don't deceive you.'
'I'm not afraid of anyone's beating ME,' said Robert, looking down on the 'lamb'. Robert was crouched on his knees, because the tent was not big enough for him to stand upright in, but even in that position he could still look down on most people. 'But I'm awfully hungry I wish you'd get me something to eat.'
'Here, 'Becca,' said the hoarse Bill. 'Get him some grub - the best you've got, mind!' Another whisper followed, of which the children only heard, 'Down in black and white - first thing to-morrow.'
Then the woman went to get the food - it was only bread and cheese when it came, but it was delightful to the large and empty Robert; and the man went to post sentinels round the tent, to give the alarm if Robert should attempt to escape with his fifteen shillings.
'As if we weren't honest,' said Anthea indignantly when the meaning of the sentinels dawned on her.
Then began a very strange and wonderful afternoon.
Bill was a man who knew his business. In a very little while, the photographic views, the spyglasses you look at them through, so that they really seem rather real, and the lights you see them by, were all packed away. A curtain - it was an old red-and-black carpet really - was run across the tent. Robert was concealed behind, and Bill was standing on a trestle-table outside the tent making a speech. It was rather a good speech. It began by saying that the giant it was his privilege to introduce to the public that day was the eldest son of the Emperor of San Francisco, compelled through an unfortunate love affair with the Duchess of the Fiji Islands to leave his own country and take refuge in England - the land of liberty - where freedom was the right of every man, no matter how big he was. It ended by the announcement that the first twenty who came to the tent door should see the giant for threepence apiece. 'After that,' said Bill, 'the price is riz, and I don't undertake to say what it won't be riz to. So now's yer time.'
A young man squiring his sweetheart on her afternoon out was the first to come forward. For that occasion his was the princely attitude - no expense spared - money no object. His girl wished to see the giant? Well, she should see the giant, even though seeing the giant cost threepence each and the other entertainments were all penny ones.
The flap of the tent was raised - the couple entered. Next moment a wild shriek from the girl thrilled through all present. Bill slapped his leg. 'That's done the trick!' he whispered to 'Becca. It was indeed a splendid advertisement of the charms of Robert. When the girl came out she was pale and trembling, and a crowd was round the tent.
'What was it like?' asked a bailiff.
'Oh! - horrid! - you wouldn't believe,' she said. 'It's as big as a barn, and that fierce. It froze the blood in my bones. I wouldn't ha' missed seeing it for anything.'
The fierceness was only caused by Robert's trying not to laugh. But the desire to do that soon left him, and before sunset he was more inclined to cry than to laugh, and more inclined to sleep than either. For, by ones and twos and threes, people kept coming in all the afternoon, and Robert had to shake hands with those who wished it, and allow himself to be punched and pulled and patted and thumped, so that people might make sure he was really real.
The other children sat on a bench and watched and waited, and were very bored indeed. It seemed to them that this was the hardest way of earning money that could have been invented. And only fifteen shillings! Bill had taken four times that already, for the news of the giant had spread, and tradespeople in carts, and gentlepeople in carriages, came from far and near. One gentleman with an eyeglass, and a very large yellow rose in his buttonhole, offered Robert, in an obliging whisper, ten pounds a week to appear at the Crystal Palace. Robert had to say 'No'.
'I can't,' he said regretfully. 'It's no use promising what you can't do.'
'Ah, poor fellow, bound for a term of years, I suppose! Well, here's my card; when your time's up come to me.'
'I will - if I'm the same size then,' said Robert truthfully.
'If you grow a bit, so much the better,' said the gentleman. When he had gone, Robert beckoned Cyril and said:
'Tell them I must and will have an easy. And I want my tea.'
Tea was provided, and a paper hastily pinned on the tent. It said:
CLOSED FOR HALF AN HOUR WHILE THE GIANT GETS HIS TEA
Then there was a hurried council.
'How am I to get away?' said Robert. 'I've been thinking about it all the afternoon.'
'Why, walk out when the sun sets and you're your right size. They can't do anything to us.'
Robert opened his eyes. 'Why, they'd nearly kill us,' he said, 'when they saw me get my right size. No, we must think of some other way. We MUST be alone when the sun sets.'
'I know,' said Cyril briskly, and he went to the door, outside which Bill was smoking a clay pipe and talking in a low voice to 'Becca. Cyril heard him say - 'Good as havin' a fortune left you.'
'Look here,' said Cyril, 'you can let people come in again in a minute. He's nearly finished his tea. But he must be left alone when the sun sets. He's very queer at that time of day, and if he's worried I won't answer for the consequences.'
'Why - what comes over him?' asked Bill.
'I don't know; it's - it's a sort of a change,' said Cyril candidly. 'He isn't at all like himself - you'd hardly know him. He's very queer indeed. Someone'll get hurt if he's not alone about sunset.' This was true.
'He'll pull round for the evening, I s'pose?'
'Oh yes - half an hour after sunset he'll be quite himself again.'
'Best humour him,' said the woman.
And so, at what Cyril judged was about half an hour before sunset, the tent was again closed 'whilst the giant gets his supper'.
The crowd was very merry about the giant's meals and their coming so close together.
'Well, he can pick a bit,' Bill owned. 'You see he has to eat hearty, being the size he is.'
Inside the tent the four children breathlessly arranged a plan of retreat. 'You go NOW,' said Cyril to the girls, 'and get along home as fast as you can. Oh, never mind the beastly pony-cart; we'll get that to-morrow. Robert and I are dressed the same. We'll manage somehow, like Sydney Carton did. Only, you girls MUST get out, or it's all no go. We can run, but you can't - whatever you may think. No, Jane, it's no good Robert going out and knocking people down. The police would follow him till he turned his proper size, and then arrest him like a shot. Go you must! If you don't, I'll never speak to you again. It was you got us into this mess really, hanging round people's legs the way you did this morning. Go, I tell you!'
And Jane and Anthea went.
'We're going home,' they said to Bill. 'We're leaving the giant with you. Be kind to him.' And that, as Anthea said afterwards, was very deceitful, but what were they to do?
When they had gone, Cyril went to Bill.
'Look here,' he said, 'he wants some ears of corn - there's some in the next field but one. I'll just run and get it. Oh, and he says can't you loop up the tent at the back a bit? He says he's stifling for a breath of air. I'll see no one peeps in at him. I'll cover him up, and he can take a nap while I go for the corn. He WILL have it - there's no holding him when he gets like this.'
The giant was made comfortable with a heap of sacks and an old tarpaulin. The curtain was looped up, and the brothers were left alone. They matured their plan in whispers. Outside, the merry-go-round blared out its comic tunes, screaming now and then to attract public notice.
Half a minute after the sun had set, a boy in a Norfolk suit came out past Bill.
'I'm off for the corn,' he said, and mingled quickly with the crowd.
At the same instant a boy came out of the back of the tent past 'Becca, posted there as sentinel.
'I'm off after the corn,' said this boy also. And he, too, moved away quietly and was lost in the crowd. The front-door boy was Cyril; the back-door was Robert - now, since sunset, once more his proper size. They walked quickly through the field, and along the road, where Robert caught Cyril up. Then they ran. They were home as soon as the girls were, for it was a long way, and they ran most of it. It was indeed a very long way, as they found when they had to go and drag the pony-trap home next morning, with no enormous Robert to wheel them in it as if it were a mail-cart, and they were babies and he was their gigantic nursemaid.
I cannot possibly tell you what Bill and 'Becca said when they found that the giant had gone. For one thing, I do not know.
CHAPTER 9 GROWN UP
Cyril had once pointed out that ordinary life is full of occasions on which a wish would be most useful. And this thought filled his mind when he happened to wake early on the morning after the morning after Robert had wished to be bigger than the baker's boy, and had been it. The day that lay between these two days had been occupied entirely by getting the governess-cart home from Benenhurst.
Cyril dressed hastily; he did not take a bath, because tin baths are so noisy, and he had no wish to rouse Robert, and he slipped off alone, as Anthea had once done, and ran through the dewy morning to the sand-pit. He dug up the Psammead very carefully and kindly, and began the conversation by asking it whether it still felt any ill effects from the contact with the tears of Robert the day before yesterday. The Psammead was in a good temper. It replied politely.
'And now, what can I do for you?' it said. 'I suppose you've come here so early to ask for something for yourself, something your brothers and sisters aren't to know about eh? Now, do be persuaded for your own good! Ask for a good fat Megatherium and have done with it.'
'Thank you - not to-day, I think,' said Cyril cautiously. 'What I really wanted to say was - you know how you're always wishing for things when you're playing at anything?'
'I seldom play,' said the Psammead coldly.
'Well, you know what I mean,' Cyril went on impatiently. 'What I want to say is: won't you let us have our wish just when we think of it, and just where we happen to be? So that we don't have to come and disturb you again,' added the crafty Cyril.
'It'll only end in your wishing for something you don't really want, like you did about the castle,' said the Psammead, stretching its brown arms and yawning. 'It's always the same since people left off eating really wholesome things. However, have it your own way. Good-bye.'
'Good-bye,' said Cyril politely.
'I'll tell you what,' said the Psammead suddenly, shooting out its long snail's eyes - 'I'm getting tired of you - all of you. You have no more sense than so many oysters. Go along with you!' And Cyril went.
'What an awful long time babies STAY babies,' said Cyril after the Lamb had taken his watch out of his pocket while he wasn't noticing, and with coos and clucks of naughty rapture had opened the case and used the whole thing as a garden spade, and when even immersion in a wash-hand basin had failed to wash the mould from the works and make the watch go again. Cyril had said several things in the heat of the moment; but now he was calmer, and had even consented to carry the Lamb part of the way to the woods. Cyril had persuaded the others to agree to his plan, and not to wish for anything more till they really did wish it. Meantime it seemed good to go to the woods for nuts, and on the mossy grass under a sweet chestnut-tree the five were sitting. The Lamb was pulling up the moss by fat handfuls, and Cyril was gloomily contemplating the ruins of his watch.
'He does grow,' said Anthea. 'Doesn't oo, precious?'
'Me grow,' said the Lamb cheerfully - 'me grow big boy, have guns an' mouses - an' - an' ...' Imagination or vocabulary gave out here. But anyway it was the longest speech the Lamb had ever made, and it charmed everyone, even Cyril, who tumbled the Lamb over and rolled him in the moss to the music of delighted squeals.
'I suppose he'll be grown up some day,' Anthea was saying, dreamily looking up at the blue of the sky that showed between the long straight chestnut-leaves. But at that moment the Lamb, struggling gaily with Cyril, thrust a stoutly-shod little foot against his brother's chest; there was a crack! - the innocent Lamb had broken the glass of father's second-best Waterbury watch, which Cyril had borrowed without leave.
'Grow up some day!' said Cyril bitterly, plumping the Lamb down on the grass. 'I daresay he will when nobody wants him to. I wish to goodness he would -'
'OH, take care!' cried Anthea in an agony of apprehension. But it was too late - like music to a song her words and Cyril's came out together - Anthea - 'Oh, take care!' Cyril - 'Grow up now!'
The faithful Psammead was true to its promise, and there, before the horrified eyes of its brothers and sisters, the Lamb suddenly and violently grew up. It was the most terrible moment. The change was not so sudden as the wish-changes usually were. The Baby's face changed first. It grew thinner and larger, lines came in the forehead, the eyes grew more deep-set and darker in colour, the mouth grew longer and thinner; most terrible of all, a little dark moustache appeared on the lip of one who was still - except as to the face - a two-year-old baby in a linen smock and white open-work socks.
'Oh, I wish it wouldn't! Oh, I wish it wouldn't! You boys might wish as well!' They all wished hard, for the sight was enough to dismay the most heartless. They all wished so hard, indeed, that they felt quite giddy and almost lost consciousness; but the wishing was quite vain, for, when the wood ceased to whirl round, their dazzled eyes were riveted at once by the spectacle of a very proper-looking young man in flannels and a straw hat - a young man who wore the same little black moustache which just before they had actually seen growing upon the Baby's lip. This, then, was the Lamb - grown up! Their own Lamb! It was a terrible moment. The grown-up Lamb moved gracefully across the moss and settled himself against the trunk of the sweet chestnut. He tilted the straw hat over his eyes. He was evidently weary. He was going to sleep. The Lamb - the original little tiresome beloved Lamb often went to sleep at odd times and in unexpected places. Was this new Lamb in the grey flannel suit and the pale green necktie like the other Lamb? or had his mind grown up together with his body?
That was the question which the others, in a hurried council held among the yellowing bracken a few yards from the sleeper, debated eagerly.
'Whichever it is, it'll be just as awful,' said Anthea. 'If his inside senses are grown up too, he won't stand our looking after him; and if he's still a baby inside of him how on earth are we to get him to do anything? And it'll be getting on for dinner-time in a minute 'And we haven't got any nuts,' said Jane.
'Oh, bother nuts!' said Robert; 'but dinner's different - I didn't have half enough dinner yesterday. Couldn't we tie him to the tree and go home to our dinners and come back afterwards?'
'A fat lot of dinner we should get if we went back without the Lamb!' said Cyril in scornful misery. 'And it'll be just the same if we go back with him in the state he is now. Yes, I know it's my doing; don't rub it in! I know I'm a beast, and not fit to live; you can take that for settled, and say no more about it. The question is, what are we going to do?'
'Let's wake him up, and take him into Rochester or Maidstone and get some grub at a pastrycook's,' said Robert hopefully.
'Take him?' repeated Cyril. 'Yes - do! It's all MY fault - I don't deny that - but you'll find you've got your work cut out for you if you try to take that young man anywhere. The Lamb always was spoilt, but now he's grown up he's a demon - simply. I can see it. Look at his mouth.'
'Well then,' said Robert, 'let's wake him up and see what HE'LL do. Perhaps HE'LL take us to Maidstone and stand Sam. He ought to have a lot of money in the pockets of those extra-special bags. We MUST have dinner, anyway.'
They drew lots with little bits of bracken. It fell to jane's lot to waken the grown-up Lamb.
She did it gently by tickling his nose with a twig of wild honeysuckle. He said 'Bother the flies!' twice, and then opened his eyes.
'Hullo, kiddies!' he said in a languid tone, 'still here? What's the giddy hour? You'll be late for your grub!'
'I know we shall,' said Robert bitterly.
'Then cut along home,' said the grown-up Lamb.
'What about your grub, though?' asked Jane.
'Oh, how far is it to the station, do you think? I've a sort of notion that I'll run up to town and have some lunch at the club.'
Blank misery fell like a pall on the four others. The Lamb - alone - unattended - would go to town and have lunch at a club! Perhaps he would also have tea there. Perhaps sunset would come upon him amid the dazzling luxury of club-land, and a helpless cross sleepy baby would find itself alone amid unsympathetic waiters, and would wail miserably for 'Panty' from the depths of a club arm-chair! The picture moved Anthea almost to tears.
'Oh no, Lamb ducky, you mustn't do that!' she cried incautiously.
The grown-up Lamb frowned. 'My dear Anthea,' he said, 'how often am I to tell you that my name is Hilary or St Maur or Devereux? - any of my baptismal names are free to my little brothers and sisters, but NOT "Lamb" - a relic of foolish and far-off childhood.'
This was awful. He was their elder brother now, was he? Well, of course he was, if he was grown up - since they weren't. Thus, in whispers, Anthea and Robert.
But the almost daily adventures resulting from the Psammead wishes were making the children wise beyond their years.
'Dear Hilary,' said Anthea, and the others choked at the name, 'you know father didn't wish you to go to London. He wouldn't like us to be left alone without you to take care of us. Oh, deceitful beast that I am!' she added to herself.
'Look here,' said Cyril, 'if you're our elder brother, why not behave as such and take us over to Maidstone and give us a jolly good blow-out, and we'll go on the river afterwards?'
'I'm infinitely obliged to you,' said the Lamb courteously, 'but I should prefer solitude. Go home to your lunch - I mean your dinner. Perhaps I may look in about tea-time - or I may not be home till after you are in your beds.'
Their beds! Speaking glances flashed between the wretched four. Much bed there would be for them if they went home without the Lamb.
'We promised mother not to lose sight of you if we took you out,'Jane said before the others could stop her.
'Look here, Jane,' said the grown-up Lamb, putting his hands in his pockets and looking down at her, 'little girls should be seen and not heard. You kids must learn not to make yourselves a nuisance. Run along home now - and perhaps, if you're good, I'll give you each a penny to-morrow.'
'Look here,' said Cyril, in the best 'man to man' tone at his command, 'where are you going, old man? You might let Bobs and me come with you - even if you don't want the girls.'
This was really rather noble of Cyril, for he never did care much about being seen in public with the Lamb, who of course after sunset would be a baby again.
The 'man to man' tone succeeded.
'I shall just run over to Maidstone on my bike,' said the new Lamb airily, fingering the little black moustache. 'I can lunch at The Crown - and perhaps I'll have a pull on the river; but I can't take you all on the machine - now, can I? Run along home, like good children.'
The position was desperate. Robert exchanged a despairing look with Cyril. Anthea detached a pin from her waistband, a pin whose withdrawal left a gaping chasm between skirt and bodice, and handed it furtively to Robert - with a grimace of the darkest and deepest meaning. Robert slipped away to the road. There, sure enough, stood a bicycle - a beautiful new free-wheel. Of course Robert understood at once that if the Lamb was grown up he MUST have a bicycle. This had always been one of Robert's own reasons for wishing to be grown up. He hastily began to use the pin - eleven punctures in the back tyre, seven in the front. He would have made the total twenty-two but for the rustling of the yellow hazel-leaves, which warned him of the approach of the others. He hastily leaned a hand on each wheel, and was rewarded by the 'whish' of what was left of the air escaping from eighteen neat pin-holes.
'Your bike's run down,' said Robert, wondering how he could so soon have learned to deceive.
'So it is,' said Cyril.
'It's a puncture,' said Anthea, stooping down, and standing up again with a thorn which she had got ready for the purpose. 'Look here.'
The grown-up Lamb (or Hilary, as I suppose one must now call him) fixed his pump and blew up the tyre. The punctured state of it was soon evident.
'I suppose there's a cottage somewhere near - where one could get a pail of water?' said the Lamb.
There was; and when the number of punctures had been made manifest, it was felt to be a special blessing that the cottage provided 'teas for cyclists'. It provided an odd sort of tea-and-hammy meal for the Lamb and his brothers. This was paid for out of the fifteen shillings which had been earned by Robert when he was a giant - for the Lamb, it appeared, had unfortunately no money about him. This was a great disappointment for the others; but it is a thing that will happen, even to the most grown-up of us. However, Robert had enough to eat, and that was something. Quietly but persistently the miserable four took it in turns to try to persuade the Lamb (or St Maur) to spend the rest of the day in the woods. There was not very much of the day left by the time he had mended the eighteenth puncture. He looked up from the completed work with a sigh of relief, and suddenly put his tie straight.
'There's a lady coming,' he said briskly - 'for goodness' sake, get out of the way. Go home - hide - vanish somehow! I can't be seen with a pack of dirty kids.' His brothers and sisters were indeed rather dirty, because, earlier in the day, the Lamb, in his infant state, had sprinkled a good deal of garden soil over them. The grown-up Lamb's voice was so tyrant-like, as Jane said afterwards, that they actually retreated to the back garden, and left him with his little moustache and his flannel suit to meet alone the young lady, who now came up the front garden wheeling a bicycle.
The woman of the house came out, and the young lady spoke to her - the Lamb raised his hat as she passed him - and the children could not hear what she said, though they were craning round the corner by the pig-pail and listening with all their ears. They felt it to be 'perfectly fair,' as Robert said, 'with that wretched Lamb in that condition.'
When the Lamb spoke in a languid voice heavy with politeness, they heard well enough.
'A puncture?' he was saying. 'Can I not be of any assistance? If you could allow me -?'
There was a stifled explosion of laughter behind the pig-pail - the grown-up Lamb (otherwise Devereux) turned the tail of an angry eye in its direction.
'You're very kind,' said the lady, looking at the Lamb. She looked rather shy, but, as the boys put it, there didn't seem to be any nonsense about her.
'But oh,' whispered Cyril behind the pig-pail, 'I should have thought he'd had enough bicycle-mending for one day - and if she only knew that really and truly he's only a whiny-piny, silly little baby!'
'He's not,' Anthea murmured angrily. 'He's a dear - if people only let him alone. It's our own precious Lamb still, whatever silly idiots may turn him into - isn't he, Pussy?'
Jane doubtfully supposed so.
Now, the Lamb - whom I must try to remember to call St Maur - was examining the lady's bicycle and talking to her with a very grown-up manner indeed. No one could possibly have supposed, to see and hear him, that only that very morning he had been a chubby child of two years breaking other people's Waterbury watches. Devereux (as he ought to be called for the future) took out a gold watch when he had mended the lady's bicycle, and all the onlookers behind the pig-pail said 'Oh!' - because it seemed so unfair that the Baby, who had only that morning destroyed two cheap but honest watches, should now, in the grown-upness Cyril's folly had raised him to, have a real gold watch - with a chain and seals!
Hilary (as I will now term him) withered his brothers and sisters with a glance, and then said to the lady - with whom he seemed to be quite friendly:
'If you will allow me, I will ride with you as far as the Cross Roads; it is getting late, and there are tramps about.'
No one will ever know what answer the young lady intended to give to this gallant offer, for, directly Anthea heard it made, she rushed out, knocking against the pig-pail, which overflowed in a turbid stream, and caught the Lamb (I suppose I ought to say Hilary) by the arm. The others followed, and in an instant the four dirty children were visible, beyond disguise.
'Don't let him,' said Anthea to the lady, and she spoke with intense earnestness; 'he's not fit to go with anyone!'
'Go away, little girl!' said St Maur (as we will now call him) in a terrible voice. 'Go home at once!'
'You'd much better not have anything to do with him,' the now reckless Anthea went on. 'He doesn't know who he is. He's something very different from what you think he is.'
'What do you mean?' asked the lady not unnaturally, while Devereux (as I must term the grown-up Lamb) tried vainly to push Anthea away. The others backed her up, and she stood solid as a rock.
'You just let him go with you,' said Anthea, 'you'll soon see what I mean! How would you like to suddenly see a poor little helpless baby spinning along downhill beside you with its feet up on a bicycle it had lost control Of?'
The lady had turned rather pale.
'Who are these very dirty children?' she asked the grown-up Lamb (sometimes called St Maur in these pages).
'I don't know,' he lied miserably.
'Oh, Lamb! how can you?' cried Jane - 'when you know perfectly well you're our own little baby brother that we're so fond of. We're his big brothers and sisters,' she explained, turning to the lady, who with trembling hands was now turning her bicycle towards the gate, 'and we've got to take care of him. And we must get him home before sunset, or I don't know whatever will become of us. You see, he's sort of under a spell - enchanted - you know what I mean!'
Again and again the Lamb (Devereux, I mean) had tried to stop Jane's eloquence, but Robert and Cyril held him, one by each leg, and no proper explanation was possible. The lady rode hastily away, and electrified her relatives at dinner by telling them of her escape from a family of dangerous lunatics. 'The little girl's eyes were simply those of a maniac. I can't think how she came to be at large,' she said.
When her bicycle had whizzed away down the road, Cyril spoke gravely.
'Hilary, old chap,' he said, 'you must have had a sunstroke or something. And the things you've been saying to that lady! Why, if we were to tell you the things you've said when you are yourself again, say to- morrow morning, you wouldn't even understand them - let alone believe them! You trust to me, old chap, and come home now, and if you're not yourself in the morning we'll ask the milkman to ask the doctor to come.'
The poor grown-up Lamb (St Maur was really one of his Christian names) seemed now too bewildered to resist.
'Since you seem all to be as mad as the whole worshipful company of hatters,' he said bitterly, 'I suppose I HAD better take you home. But you're not to suppose I shall pass this over. I shall have something to say to you all to-morrow morning.'
'Yes, you will, my Lamb,' said Anthea under her breath, 'but it won't be at all the sort of thing you think it's going to be.'
In her heart she could hear the pretty, soft little loving voice of the baby Lamb - so different from the affected tones of the dreadful grown-up Lamb (one of whose names was Devereux) - saying, 'Me love Panty - wants to come to own Panty.'
'Oh, let's get home, for goodness' sake,' she said. 'You shall say whatever you like in the morning - if you can,' she added in a whisper. It was a gloomy party that went home through the soft evening. During Anthea's remarks Robert had again made play with the pin and the bicycle tyre and the Lamb (whom they had to call St Maur or Devereux or Hilary) seemed really at last to have had his fill of bicycle-mending. So the machine was wheeled.
The sun was just on the point of setting when they arrived at the White House. The four elder children would have liked to linger in the lane till the complete sunsetting turned the grown-up Lamb (whose Christian names I will not further weary you by repeating) into their own dear tiresome baby brother. But he, in his grown-upness, insisted on going on, and thus he was met in the front garden by Martha.
Now you remember that, as a special favour, the Psammead had arranged that the servants in the house should never notice any change brought about by the wishes of the children. Therefore Martha merely saw the usual party, with the baby Lamb, about whom she had been desperately anxious all the afternoon, trotting beside Anthea on fat baby legs, while the children, of course, still saw the grown-up Lamb (never mind what names he was christened by), and Martha rushed at him and caught him in her arms, exclaiming:
'Come to his own Martha, then - a precious poppet!'
The grown-up Lamb (whose names shall now be buried in oblivion) struggled furiously. An expression of intense horror and annoyance was seen on his face. But Martha was stronger than he. She lifted him up and carried him into the house. None of the children will ever forget that picture. The neat grey-flannel-suited grown-up young man with the green tie and the little black moustache - fortunately, he was slightly built, and not tall - struggling in the sturdy arms of Martha, who bore him away helpless, imploring him, as she went, to be a good boy now, and come and have his nice bremmilk! Fortunately, the sun set as they reached the doorstep, the bicycle disappeared, and Martha was seen to carry into the house the real live darling sleepy two-year-old Lamb. The grown-up Lamb (nameless hence- forth) was gone for ever.
'For ever,' said Cyril, 'because, as soon as ever the Lamb's old enough to be bullied, we must jolly well begin to bully him, for his own sake - so that he mayn't grow up like that.'
'You shan't bully him,' said Anthea stoutly; 'not if I can stop it.'
'We must tame him by kindness,' said Jane.
'You see,' said Robert, 'if he grows up in the usual way, there'll be plenty of time to correct him as he goes along. The awful thing to-day was his growing up so suddenly. There was no time to improve him at all.'
'He doesn't want any improving,' said Anthea as the voice of the Lamb came cooing through the open door, just as she had heard it in her heart that afternoon:
'Me loves Panty - wants to come to own Panty!'
CHAPTER 10 SCALPS
Probably the day would have been a greater success if Cyril had not been reading The Last of the Mohicans. The story was running in his head at breakfast, and as he took his third cup of tea he said dreamily, 'I wish there were Red Indians in England - not big ones, you know, but little ones, just about the right size for us to fight.'
Everyone disagreed with him at the time, and no one attached any importance to the incident. But when they went down to the sand-pit to ask for a hundred pounds in two-shilling pieces with Queen Victoria's head on, to prevent mistakes - which they had always felt to be a really reasonable wish that must turn out well - they found out that they had done it again! For the Psammead, which was very cross and sleepy, said:
'Oh, don't bother me. You've had your wish.'
'I didn't know it,' said Cyril.
'Don't you remember yesterday?' said the Sand-fairy, still more disagreeably. 'You asked me to let you have your wishes wherever you happened to be, and you wished this morning, and you've got it.'
'Oh, have we?' said Robert. 'What is it?'
'So you've forgotten?' said the Psammead, beginning to burrow. 'Never mind; you'll know soon enough. And I wish you joy of it! A nice thing you've let yourselves in for!'
'We always do, somehow,' said Jane sadly.
And now the odd thing was that no one could remember anyone's having wished for anything that morning. The wish about the Red Indians had not stuck in anyone's head. It was a most anxious morning. Everyone was trying to remember what had been wished for, and no one could, and everyone kept expecting something awful to happen every minute. It was most agitating; they knew, from what the Psammead had said, that they must have wished for something more than usually undesirable, and they spent several hours in most agonizing uncertainty. It was not till nearly dinner-time that Jane tumbled over The Last of the Mohicans - which had, of course, been left face downwards on the floor - and when Anthea had picked her and the book up she suddenly said, 'I know!' and sat down flat on the carpet.
'Oh, Pussy, how awful! It was Indians he wished for - Cyril - at breakfast, don't you remember? He said, "I wish there were Red Indians in England," - and now there are, and they're going about scalping people all over the country, like as not.'
'Perhaps they're only in Northumberland and Durham,' said Jane soothingly. It was almost impossible to believe that it could really hurt people much to be scalped so far away as that.
'Don't you believe it!' said Anthea. 'The Sammyadd said we'd let ourselves in for a nice thing. That means they'll come HERE. And suppose they scalped the Lamb!'
'Perhaps the scalping would come right again at sunset,' said Jane; but she did not speak so hopefully as usual.
'Not it!' said Anthea. 'The things that grow out of the wishes don't go. Look at the fifteen shillings! Pussy, I'm going to break something, and you must let me have every penny of money you've got. The Indians will come HERE, don't you see? That spiteful Psammead as good as said so. You see what my plan is? Come on!'
Jane did not see at all. But she followed her sister meekly into their mother's bedroom.
Anthea lifted down the heavy water-jug - it had a pattern of storks and long grasses on it, which Anthea never forgot. She carried it into the dressing-room, and carefully emptied the water out of it into the bath. Then she took the jug back into the bedroom and dropped it on the floor. You know how a jug always breaks if you happen to drop it by accident. If you happen to drop it on purpose, it is quite different. Anthea dropped that jug three times, and it was as unbroken as ever. So at last she had to take her father's boot-tree and break the jug with that in cold blood. It was heartless work.
Next she broke open the missionary-box with the poker. Jane told her that it was wrong, of course, but Anthea shut her lips very tight and then said:
'Don't be silly - it's a matter of life and death.'
There was not very much in the missionary-box - only seven-and-fourpence - but the girls between them had nearly four shillings. This made over eleven shillings, as you will easily see.
Anthea tied up the money in a corner of her pocket-handkerchief. 'Come on, Jane!' she said, and ran down to the farm. She knew that the farmer was going into Rochester that afternoon. In fact it had been arranged that he was to take the four children with him. They had planned this in the happy hour when they believed that they were going to get that hundred pounds, in two-shilling pieces, out of the Psammead. They had arranged to pay the farmer two shillings each for the ride. Now Anthea hastily explained to him that they could not go, but would he take Martha and the Baby instead? He agreed, but he was not pleased to get only half-a-crown instead of eight shillings.
Then the girls ran home again. Anthea was agitated, but not flurried. When she came to think it over afterwards, she could not help seeing that she had acted with the most far-seeing promptitude, just like a born general. She fetched a little box from her corner drawer, and went to find Martha, who was laying the cloth and not in the best of tempers.
'Look here,' said Anthea. 'I've broken the toilet-jug in mother's room.'
'Just like you - always up to some mischief,' said Martha, dumping down a salt-cellar with a bang.
'Don't be cross, Martha dear,' said Anthea. 'I've got enough money to pay for a new one - if only you'll be a dear and go and buy it for us. Your cousins keep a china-shop, don't they? And I would like you to get it to-day, in case mother comes home to-morrow. You know she said she might, perhaps.'
'But you're all going into town yourselves,' said Martha.
'We can't afford to, if we get the new jug,' said Anthea; 'but we'll pay for you to go, if you'll take the Lamb. And I say, Martha, look here - I'll give you my Liberty box, if you'll go. Look, it's most awfully pretty - all inlaid with real silver and ivory and ebony like King Solomon's temple.'
'I see,' said Martha; 'no, I don't want your box, miss. What you want is to get the precious Lamb off your hands for the afternoon. Don't you go for to think I don't see through you!'
This was so true that Anthea longed to deny it at once - Martha had no business to know so much. But she held her tongue.
Martha set down the bread with a bang that made it jump off its trencher.
'I DO want the jug got,' said Anthea softly. 'You WILL go, won't you?'
'Well, just for this once, I don't mind; but mind you don't get into none of your outrageous mischief while I'm gone - that's all!'
'He's going earlier than he thought,' said Anthea eagerly. 'You'd better hurry and get dressed. Do put on that lovely purple frock, Martha, and the hat with the pink cornflowers, and the yellow-lace collar. Jane'll finish laying the cloth, and I'll wash the Lamb and get him ready.'
As she washed the unwilling Lamb, and hurried him into his best clothes, Anthea peeped out of the window from time to time; so far all was well - she could see no Red Indians. When with a rush and a scurry and some deepening of the damask of Martha's complexion she and the Lamb had been got off, Anthea drew a deep breath.
'HE'S safe!' she said, and, to jane's horror, flung herself down on the floor and burst into floods of tears. Jane did not understand at all how a person could be so brave and like a general, and then suddenly give way and go flat like an air-balloon when you prick it. It is better not to go flat, of course, but you will observe that Anthea did not give way till her aim was accomplished. She had got the dear Lamb out of danger - she felt certain the Red Indians would be round the White House or nowhere - the farmer's cart would not come back till after sunset, so she could afford to cry a little. It was partly with joy that she cried, because she had done what she meant to do. She cried for about three minutes, while Jane hugged her miserably and said at five-second intervals, 'Don't cry, Panther dear!'
Then she jumped up, rubbed her eyes hard with the corner of her pinafore, so that they kept red for the rest of the day, and started to tell the boys. But just at that moment cook rang the dinner-bell, and nothing could be said till they had all been helped to minced beef. Then cook left the room, and Anthea told her tale. But it is a mistake to tell a thrilling tale when people are eating minced beef and boiled potatoes. There seemed somehow to be something about the food that made the idea of Red Indians seem flat and unbelievable. The boys actually laughed, and called Anthea a little silly.
'Why,' said Cyril, 'I'm almost sure it was before I said that, that Jane said she wished it would be a fine day.'
'It wasn't,' said Jane briefly.
'Why, if it was Indians,' Cyril went on - 'salt, please, and mustard - I must have something to make this mush go down - if it was Indians, they'd have been infesting the place long before this - you know they would. I believe it's the fine day.'
'Then why did the Sammyadd say we'd let ourselves in for a nice thing?' asked Anthea. She was feeling very cross. She knew she had acted with nobility and discretion, and after that it was very hard to be called a little silly, especially when she had the weight of a burglared missionary-box and about seven-and-fourpence, mostly in coppers, lying like lead upon her conscience.
There was a silence, during which cook took away the mincy plates and brought in the treacle-pudding. As soon as she had retired, Cyril began again.
'Of course I don't mean to say,' he admitted, 'that it wasn't a good thing to get Martha and the Lamb out of the light for the afternoon; but as for Red Indians - why, you know jolly well the wishes always come that very minute. If there was going to be Red Indians, they'd be here now.'
'I expect they are,' said Anthea; 'they're lurking amid the undergrowth, for anything you know. I do think you're most beastly unkind.'
'Indians almost always DO lurk, really, though, don't they?' put in Jane, anxious for peace.
No, they don't,' said Cyril tartly. 'And I'm not unkind, I'm only truthful. And I say it was utter rot breaking the water-jug; and as for the missionary-box, I believe it's a treason-crime, and I shouldn't wonder if you could be hanged for it, if any of us was to split -'
'Shut up, can't you?' said Robert; but Cyril couldn't. You see, he felt in his heart that if there SHOULD be Indians they would be entirely his own fault, so he did not wish to believe in them. And trying not to believe things when in your heart you are almost sure they are true, is as bad for the temper as anything I know.
'It's simply idiotic,' he said, 'talking about Indians, when you can see for yourselves that it's Jane who's got her wish. Look what a fine day it is - OH - '
He had turned towards the window to point out the fineness of the day - the others turned too - and a frozen silence caught at Cyril, and none of the others felt at all like breaking it. For there, peering round the corner of the window, among the red leaves of the Virginia creeper, was a face - a brown face, with a long nose and a tight mouth and very bright eyes. And the face was painted in coloured patches. It had long black hair, and in the hair were feathers!
Every child's mouth in the room opened, and stayed open. The treacle-pudding was growing white and cold on their plates. No one could move.
Suddenly the feathered head was cautiously withdrawn, and the spell was broken. I am sorry to say that Anthea's first words were very like a girl.
'There, now!' she said. 'I told you so!'
Treacle-pudding had now definitely ceased to charm. Hastily wrapping their portions in a Spectator of the week before the week before last, they hid them behind the crinkled-paper stove-ornament, and fled upstairs to reconnoitre and to hold a hurried council.
'Pax,' said Cyril handsomely when they reached their mother's bedroom. 'Panther, I'm sorry if I was a brute.'
'All right,' said Anthea, 'but you see now!'
No further trace of Indians, however, could be discerned from the windows.
'Well,' said Robert, 'what are we to do?'
'The only thing I can think of,' said Anthea, who was now generally admitted to be the heroine of the day, 'is - if we dressed up as like Indians as we can, and looked out of the windows, or even went out. They might think we were the powerful leaders of a large neighbouring tribe, and - and not do anything to us, you know, for fear of awful vengeance.'
'But Eliza, and the cook?' said Jane.
'You forget - they can't notice anything,' said Robert. 'They wouldn't notice anything out of the way, even if they were scalped or roasted at a slow fire.'
'But would they come right at sunset?'
'Of course. You can't be really scalped or burned to death without noticing it, and you'd be sure to notice it next day, even if it escaped your attention at the time,' said Cyril. 'I think Anthea's right, but we shall want a most awful lot of feathers.'
'I'll go down to the hen-house,' said Robert. 'There's one of the turkeys in there - it's not very well. I could cut its feathers without it minding much. It's very bad - doesn't seem to care what happens to it. Get me the cutting-out scissors.'
Earnest reconnoitring convinced them all that no Indians were in the poultry-yard. Robert went. In five minutes he came back - pale, but with many feathers.
'Look here,' he said, 'this is jolly serious. I cut off the feathers, and when I turned to come out there was an Indian squinting at me from under the old hen-coop. I just brandished the feathers and yelled, and got away before he could get the coop off the top of himself. Panther, get the coloured blankets off our beds, and look slippy, can't you?'
It is wonderful how like an Indian you can make yourselves with blankets and feathers and coloured scarves. Of course none of the children happened to have long black hair, but there was a lot of black calico that had been got to cover school-books with. They cut strips of this into a sort of fine fringe, and fastened it round their heads with the amber-coloured ribbons off the girls' Sunday dresses. Then they stuck turkeys' feathers in the ribbons. The calico looked very like long black hair, especially when the strips began to curl up a bit.
'But our faces,' said Anthea, 'they're not at all the right colour. We're all rather pale, and I'm sure I don't know why, but Cyril is the colour of putty.'
'I'm not,' said Cyril.
'The real Indians outside seem to be brownish,' said Robert hastily. 'I think we ought to be really RED - it's sort of superior to have a red skin, if you are one.'
The red ochre cook used for the kitchen bricks seemed to be about the reddest thing in the house. The children mixed some in a saucer with milk, as they had seen cook do for the kitchen floor. Then they carefully painted each other's faces and hands with it, till they were quite as red as any Red Indian need be - if not redder.
They knew at once that they must look very terrible when they met Eliza in the passage, and she screamed aloud. This unsolicited testimonial pleased them very much. Hastily telling her not to be a goose, and that it was only a game, the four blanketed, feathered, really and truly Redskins went boldly out to meet the foe. I say boldly. That is because I wish to be polite. At any rate, they went.
Along the hedge dividing the wilderness from the garden was a row of dark heads, all highly feathered.
'It's our only chance,' whispered Anthea. 'Much better than to wait for their blood-freezing attack. We must pretend like mad. Like that game of cards where you pretend you've got aces when you haven't. Fluffing they call it, I think. Now then. Whoop!'
With four wild war-whoops - or as near them as English children could be expected to go without any previous practice - they rushed through the gate and struck four warlike attitudes in face of the line of Red Indians. These were all about the same height, and that height was Cyril's.
'I hope to goodness they can talk English,' said Cyril through his attitude.
Anthea knew they could, though she never knew how she came to know it. She had a white towel tied to a walking-stick. This was a flag of truce, and she waved it, in the hope that the Indians would know what it was. Apparently they did - for one who was browner than the others stepped forward.
'Ye seek a pow-wow?' he said in excellent English. 'I am Golden Eagle, of the mighty tribe of Rock-dwellers.' 'And I,' said Anthea, with a sudden inspiration, 'am the Black Panther - chief of the - the - the - Mazawattee tribe. My brothers - I don't mean - yes, I do - the tribe - I mean the Mazawattees - are in ambush below the brow of yonder hill.'
'And what mighty warriors be these?' asked Golden Eagle, turning to the others.
Cyril said he was the great chief Squirrel, of the Moning Congo tribe, and, seeing that Jane was sucking her thumb and could evidently think of no name for herself, he added, 'This great warrior is Wild Cat - Pussy Ferox we call it in this land - leader of the vast Phiteezi tribe.'
And thou, valorous Redskin?' Golden Eagle inquired suddenly of Robert, who, taken unawares, could only reply that he was Bobs, leader of the Cape Mounted Police.
'And now,' said Black Panther, 'our tribes, if we just whistle them up, will far outnumber your puny forces; so resistance is useless. Return, therefore, to your own land, O brother, and smoke pipes of peace in your wampums with your squaws and your medicine-men, and dress yourselves in the gayest wigwams, and eat happily of the juicy fresh-caught moccasins.'
'You've got it all wrong,' murmured Cyril angrily. But Golden Eagle only looked inquiringly at her.
'Thy customs are other than ours, O Black Panther,' he said. 'Bring up thy tribe, that we may hold pow-wow in state before them, as becomes great chiefs.'
'We'll bring them up right enough,' said Anthea, 'with their bows and arrows, and tomahawks, and scalping-knives, and everything you can think of, if you don't look sharp and go.'
She spoke bravely enough, but the hearts of all the children were beating furiously, and their breath came in shorter and shorter gasps. For the little real Red Indians were closing up round them - coming nearer and nearer with angry murmurs - so that they were the centre of a crowd of dark, cruel faces.
'It's no go,' whispered Robert. 'I knew it wouldn't be. We must make a bolt for the Psammead. It might help us. If it doesn't - well, I suppose we shall come alive again at sunset. I wonder if scalping hurts as much as they say.'
'I'll wave the flag again,' said Anthea. 'If they stand back, we'll run for it.'
She waved the towel, and the chief commanded his followers to stand back. Then, charging wildly at the place where the line of Indians was thinnest, the four children started to run. Their first rush knocked down some half-dozen Indians, over whose blanketed bodies the children leaped, and made straight for the sand-Pit. This was no time for the safe easy way by which carts go down - right over the edge of the sand-pit they went, among the yellow and pale purple flowers and dried grasses, past the little sand-martins' little front doors, skipping, clinging, bounding, stumbling, sprawling, and finally rolling.
Yellow Eagle and his followers came up with them just at the very spot where they had seen the Psammead that morning.