The Magic City
by Edith Nesbit
Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Half an hour later she burst into the servants' hall and threw herself into a chair.

'I don't care what happens now,' she said. 'The house is bewitched, I think. I shall go the very minute I've had my dinner.'

'What's up now?' the cook came to the door to say.

'Up?' said the nurse. 'Oh, nothing's up. What should there be? Everything's all right and beautiful, and just as it should be, of course.'

'Miss Lucy's not found yet, of course, but that's all, isn't it?'

'All? And enough too, I should have thought,' said the nurse. 'But as it happens it's not all. The boy's lost now. Oh, I'm not joking. He's lost I tell you, the same as the other one—and I'm off out of this by the two thirty-seven train, and I don't care who knows it.'

'Lor!' said the cook.

. . . . . . .

Before starting for the two thirty-seven train the nurse went back to the drawing-room to destroy Philip's new building, to restore to their proper places its books, candlesticks, vases, and chessmen.

There we will leave her.



When Philip walked up the domino path and under the vast arch into the darkness beyond, his heart felt strong with high resolve. His legs, however, felt weak; strangely weak, especially about the knees. The doorway was so enormous, that which lay beyond was so dark, and he himself so very very small. As he passed under the little gateway which he had built of three dominoes with the little silver knight in armour on the top, he noticed that he was only as high as a domino, and you know how very little that is.

Philip went along the domino path. He had to walk carefully, for to him the spots on the dominoes were quite deep hollows. But as they were black they were easy to see. He had made three arches, one beyond another, of two pairs of silver candlesticks with silver inkstands on the top of them. The third pair of silver candlesticks had a book on the top of them because there were no more inkstands. And when he had passed through the three silver arches, he stopped.

Beyond lay a sort of velvety darkness with white gleams in it. And as his eyes became accustomed to the darkness, he saw that he was in a great hall of silver pillars, gigantic silver candlesticks they seemed to be, and they went in long vistas this way and that way and every way, like the hop-poles in a hop-field, so that whichever way you turned, a long pillared corridor lay in front of you.

Philip had no idea which way he ought to go. It seemed most unlikely that he would find Lucy in a dark hall with silver pillars.

'All the same,' he said, 'it's not so dark as it was, by long chalks.'

It was not. The silver pillars had begun to give out a faint soft glow like the silver phosphorescence that lies in sea pools in summer time.

'It's lucky too,' he said, 'because of the holes in the floor.'

The holes were the spots on the dominoes with which the pillared hall was paved.

'I wonder what part of the city where Lucy is I shall come out at?' Philip asked himself. But he need not have troubled. He did not come out at all. He walked on and on and on and on and on. He thought he was walking straight, but really he was turning first this way and then that, and then the other way among the avenues of silver pillars which all looked just alike.

He was getting very tired, and he had been walking a long time, before he came to anything that was not silver pillars and velvet black under invisible roofs, and floor paved with dominoes laid very close together.

'Oh, I am glad!' he said at last, when he saw the pavement narrow to a single line of dominoes just like the path he had come in by. There was an arch too, like the arch by which he had come in. And then he perceived in a shock of miserable surprise that it was, in fact, the same arch and the same domino path. He had come back, after all that walking, to the point from which he had started. It was most mortifying. So silly! Philip sat down on the edge of the domino path to rest and think.

'Suppose I just walk out and don't believe in magic any more?' he said to himself. 'Helen says magic can only happen to people who believe in magic. So if I just walked out and didn't believe as hard as ever I could, I should be my own right size again, and Lucy would be back, and there wouldn't be any magic.'

'Yes, but,' said that voice that always would come and join in whenever Philip was talking to himself, 'suppose Lucy does believe it? Then it'll all go on for her, whatever you believe, and she won't be back. Besides, you know you've got to believe it, because it's true.'

'Oh, bother!' said Philip; 'I'm tired. I don't want to go on.'

'You shouldn't have deserted Lucy,' said the tiresome voice, 'then you wouldn't have had to go back to look for her.'

'But I can't find my way. How can I find my way?'

'You know well enough. Fix your eyes on a far-off pillar and walk straight to it, and when you're nearly there fix your eyes a little farther. You're bound to come out somewhere.'

'But I'm tired and it's so lonely,' said Philip.

'Lucy's lonely too,' said the voice.

'Drop it!' said Philip. And he got up and began to walk again. Also he took the advice of that worrying voice and fixed his eyes on a distant pillar.

'But why should I bother?' he said; 'this is a sort of dream.'

'Even if it were a dream,' said the voice, 'there are adventures in it. So you may as well be adventurous.'

'Oh, all right,' said Philip, and on he went.

And by walking very carefully and fixing his eyes a long way off, he did at last come right through the hall of silver pillars, and saw beyond the faint glow of the pillars the blue light of day. It shone very brightly through a very little door, and when Philip came to that door he went through it without hesitation. And there he was in a big field. It was rather like the illimitable prairie, only there were great patches of different-coloured flowers. Also there was a path across it, and he followed the path.

'Because,' he said, 'I'm more likely to meet Lucy. Girls always keep to paths. They never explore.'

Which just shows how little he knew about girls.

He looked back after a while, to see what the hall of pillars looked like from outside, but it was already dim in the mists of distance.

But ahead of him he saw a great rough building, rather like Stonehenge.

'I wish I'd come into the other city where the people are, and the soldiers, and the greyhounds, and the cocoa-nuts,' he told himself. 'There's nobody here at all, not even Lucy.'

The loneliness of the place grew more and more unpleasing to Philip. But he went on. It seemed more reasonable than to go back.

'I ought to be very hungry,' he said; 'I must have been walking for hours.' But he wasn't hungry. It may have been the magic, or it may have been the odd breakfast he had had. I don't know. He spoke aloud because it was so quiet in that strange open country with no one in it but himself. And no sound but the clump, clump of his boots on the path. And it seemed to him that everything grew quieter and quieter till he could almost hear himself think. Loneliness, real loneliness is a dreadful thing. I hope you will never feel it. Philip looked to right and left, and before him, and on all the wide plain nothing moved. There were the grass and flowers, but no wind stirred them. And there was no sign that any living person had ever trodden that path—except that there was a path to tread, and that the path led to the Stonehenge building, and even that seemed to be only a ruin.

'I'll go as far as that anyhow,' said Philip; 'perhaps there'll be a signboard there or something.'

There was something. Something most unexpected. Philip reached the building; it was really very like Stonehenge, only the pillars were taller and closer together and there was one high solid towering wall; turned the corner of a massive upright and ran almost into the arms, and quite on to the feet of a man in a white apron and a square paper cap, who sat on a fallen column, eating bread and cheese with a clasp-knife.

'I beg your pardon!' Philip gasped.

'Granted, I'm sure,' said the man; 'but it's a dangerous thing to do, Master Philip, running sheer on to chaps' clasp-knives.'

He set Philip on his feet, and waved the knife, which had been so often sharpened that the blade was half worn away.

'Set you down and get your breath,' he said kindly.

'Why, it's you!' said Philip.

'Course it is. Who should I be if I wasn't me? That's poetry.'

'But how did you get here?'

'Ah!' said the man going on with his bread and cheese, while he talked quite in the friendliest way, 'that's telling.'

'Well, tell then,' said Philip impatiently. But he sat down.

'Well, you say it's me. Who be it? Give it a name.'

'You're old Perrin,' said Pip; 'I mean, of course, I beg your pardon, you're Mr. Perrin, the carpenter.'

'And what does carpenters do?'

'Carp, I suppose,' said Philip. 'That means they make things, doesn't it?'

'That's it,' said the man encouragingly; 'what sort of things now might old Perrin have made for you?'

'You made my wheelbarrow, I know,' said Philip, 'and my bricks.'

'Ah!' said Mr. Perrin, 'now you've got it. I made your bricks, seasoned oak, and true to the thousandth of an inch, they was. And that's how I got here. So now you know.'

'But what are you doing here?' said Philip, wriggling restlessly on the fallen column.

'Waiting for you. Them as knows sent me out to meet you, and give you a hint of what's expected of you.'

'Well. What is?' said Philip. 'I mean I think it's very kind of you. What is expected?'

'Plenty of time,' said the carpenter, 'plenty. Nothing ain't expected of you till towards sundown.'

'I do think it was most awfully kind of you,' said Philip, who had now thought this over.

'You was kind to old Perrin once,' said that person.

'Was I?' said Philip, much surprised.

'Yes; when my little girl was ailing you brought her a lot of pears off your own tree. Not one of 'em you didn't 'ave yourself that year, Miss Helen told me. And you brought back our kitten—the sandy and white one with black spots—when it strayed. So I was quite willing to come and meet you when so told. And knowing something of young gentlemen's peckers, owing to being in business once next door to a boys' school, I made so bold as to bring you a snack.'

He reached a hand down behind the fallen pillar on which they sat and brought up a basket.

'Here,' he said. And Philip, raising the lid, was delighted to find that he was hungry. It was a pleasant basketful. Meat pasties, red hairy gooseberries, a stone bottle of ginger-beer, a blue mug with Philip on it in gold letters, a slice of soda cake and two farthing sugar-sticks.

'I'm sure I've seen that basket before,' said the boy as he ate.

'Like enough. It's the one you brought them pears down in.'

'Now look here,' said Philip, through his seventh bite of pasty, 'you must tell me how you got here. And tell me where you've got to. You've simply no idea how muddling it all is to me. Do tell me everything. Where are we, I mean, and why? And what I've got to do. And why? And when? Tell me every single thing.' And he took the eighth bite.

'You really don't know, sir?'

'No,' said Philip, contemplating the ninth or last bite but one. It was a large pasty.

'Well then. Here goes. But I was always a poor speaker, and so considered even by friends at cricket dinners and what not.'

'But I don't want you to speak,' said Philip; 'just tell me.'

'Well, then. How did I get here? I got here through having made them bricks what you built this tumble-down old ancient place with.'

'I built?'

'Yes, with them bricks I made you. I understand as this was the first building you ever put up. That's why it's first on the road to where you want to get to!'

Philip looked round at the Stonehenge building and saw that it was indeed built of enormous oak bricks.

'Of course,' he said, 'only I've grown smaller.'

'Or they've grown bigger,' said Mr. Perrin; 'it's the same thing. You see it's like this. All the cities and things you ever built is in this country. I don't know how it's managed, no more'n what you do. But so it is. And as you made 'em, you've the right to come to them—if you can get there. And you have got there. It isn't every one has the luck, I'm told. Well, then, you made the cities, but you made 'em out of what other folks had made, things like bricks and chessmen and books and candlesticks and dominoes and brass basins and every sort of kind of thing. An' all the people who helped to make all them things you used to build with, they're all here too. D'you see? Making's the thing. If it was no more than the lad that turned the handle of the grindstone to sharp the knife that carved a bit of a cabinet or what not, or a child that picked a teazle to finish a bit of the cloth that's glued on to the bottom of a chessman—they're all here. They're what's called the population of your cities.'

'I see. They've got small, like I have,' said Philip.

'Or the cities has got big,' said the carpenter; 'it comes to the same thing. I wish you wouldn't interrupt, Master Philip. You put me out.'

'I won't again,' said Philip. 'Only do tell me just one thing. How can you be here and at Amblehurst too?'

'We come here,' said the carpenter slowly, 'when we're asleep.'

'Oh!' said Philip, deeply disappointed; 'it's just a dream then?'

'Not it. We come here when we're too sound asleep to dream. You go through the dreams and come out on the other side where everything's real. That's here.'

'Go on,' said Philip.

'I dunno where I was. You do put me out so.'

'Pop you something or other,' said Philip.

'Population. Yes. Well, all those people as made the things you made the cities of, they live in the cities and they've made the insides to the houses.'

'What do they do?'

'Oh, they just live here. And they buy and sell and plant gardens and work and play like everybody does in other cities. And when they go to sleep they go slap through their dreams and into the other world, and work and play there, see? That's how it goes on. There's a lot more, but that's enough for one time. You get on with your gooseberries.'

'But they aren't all real people, are they? There's Mr. Noah?'

'Ah, those is aristocracy, the ones you put in when you built the cities. They're our old families. Very much respected. They're all very high up in the world. Came over with the Conker, as the saying is. There's the Noah family. They're the oldest of all, of course. And the dolls you've put in different times and the tin soldiers, and of course all the Noah's ark animals is alive except when you used them for building, and then they're statues.'

'But I don't see,' said Philip, 'I really don't see how all these cities that I built at different times can still be here, all together and all going on at once, when I know they've all been pulled down.'

'Well, I'm no scholard. But I did hear Mr. Noah say once in a lecture—he's a speaker, if you like—I heard him say it was like when you take a person's photo. The person is so many inches thick through and so many feet high and he's round and he's solid. But in the photo he's flat. Because everything's flat in photos. But all the same it's him right enough. You get him into the photo. Then all you've got to do is to get 'im out again into where everything's thick and tall and round and solid. And it's quite easy, I believe, once you know the trick.'

'Stop,' said Philip suddenly. 'I think my head's going to burst.'

'Ah!' said the carpenter kindly. 'I felt like that at first. Lie down and try to sleep it off a bit. Eddication does go to your head something crool. I've often noticed it.'

And indeed Philip was quite glad to lie down among the long grass and be covered up with the carpenter's coat. He fell asleep at once.

An hour later he woke again, looked at the wrinkled-apple face of Mr. Perrin and began to remember.

'I'm glad you're here anyhow,' he said to the carpenter; 'it was horribly lonely. You don't know.'

'That's why I was sent to meet you,' said Mr. Perrin simply.

'But how did you know?'

'Mr. Noah sent for me early this morning. Bless you, he knows all about everything. Says he, "You go and meet 'im and tell 'im all you can. If he wants to be a Deliverer, let 'im," says Mr. Noah.'

'But how do you begin being a Deliverer?' Philip asked, sitting up and feeling suddenly very grand and manly, and very glad that Lucy was not there to interfere.

'There's lots of different ways,' said Mr. Perrin. 'Your particular way's simple. You just got to kill the dragon.'

'A live dragon?'

'Live!' said Mr. Perrin. 'Why he's all over the place and as green as grass he is. Lively as a kitten. He's got a broken spear sticking out of his side, so some one must have had a try at baggin' him, some time or another.'

'Don't you think,' said Philip, a little overcome by this vivid picture, 'that perhaps I'd better look for Lucy first, and be a Deliverer afterwards?'

'If you're afraid,' said Mr. Perrin.

'I'm not,' said Philip doubtfully.

'You see,' said the carpenter, 'what you've got to consider is: are you going to be the hero of this 'ere adventure or ain't you? You can't 'ave it both ways. An' if you are, you may's well make up your mind, cause killing a dragon ain't the end of it, not by no means.'

'Do you mean there are more dragons?'

'Not dragons,' said the carpenter soothingly; 'not dragons exactly. But there. I don't want to lower your heart. If you kills the dragon, then afterwards there's six more hard things you've got to do. And then they make you king. Take it or leave it. Only, if you take it we'd best be starting. And anyhow we may as well get a move on us, because at sundown the dragon comes out to drink and exercise of himself. You can hear him rattling all night among these 'ere ruins; miles off you can 'ear 'im of a still night.'

'Suppose I don't want to be a Deliverer,' said Philip slowly.

'Then you'll be a Destroyer,' said the carpenter; 'there's only these two situations vacant here at present. Come, Master Philip, sir, don't talk as if you wasn't going to be a man and do your duty for England, Home and Beauty, like it says in the song. Let's be starting, shall us?'

'You think I ought to be the Deliverer?'

'Ought stands for nothing,' said Mr. Perrin. 'I think you're a going to be the Deliverer; that's what I think. Come on!'

As they rose to go, Philip had a brief fleeting vision of a very smart lady in a motor veil, disappearing round the corner of a pillar.

'Are there many motors about here?' he asked, not wishing to talk any more about dragons just then.

'Not a single one,' said Mr. Perrin unexpectedly. 'Nor yet phonographs, nor railways, nor factory chimneys, nor none of them loud ugly things. Nor yet advertisements, nor newspapers, nor barbed wire.'

After that the two walked silently away from the ruin. Philip was trying to feel as brave and confident as a Deliverer should. He reminded himself of St. George. And he remembered that the hero never fails to kill the dragon. But he still felt a little uneasy. It takes some time to accustom yourself to being a hero. But he could not help looking over his shoulder every now and then to see if the dragon was coming. So far it wasn't.

'Well,' said Mr. Perrin as they drew near a square tower with a long flight of steps leading up to it, 'what do you say?'

'I wasn't saying anything,' said Philip.

'I mean are you going to be the Deliverer?'

Then something in Philip's heart seemed to swell, and a choking feeling came into his throat, and he felt more frightened than he had ever felt before, as he said, looking as brave as he could:

'Yes. I am.'

Perrin clapped his hands.

And instantly from the doors of the tower and from behind it came dozens of people, and down the long steps, alone, came Mr. Noah, moving with careful dignity and carrying his yellow mat neatly rolled under his arm. All the people clapped their hands, till Mr. Noah, standing on the third step, raised his hands to command silence.

'Friends,' he said, 'and fellow-citizens of Polistopolis, you see before you one who says that he is the Deliverer. He was yesterday arrested and tried as a trespasser, and condemned to imprisonment. He escaped and you all assumed that he was the Destroyer in disguise. But now he has returned and of his own free will he chooses to attempt the accomplishment of the seven great deeds. And the first of these is the killing of the great green dragon.'

The people, who were a mixed crowd of all nations, cheered loudly.

'So now,' said Mr. Noah, 'we will make him our knight.'

'Kneel,' said Mr. Noah, 'in token of fealty to the Kingdom of Cities.'

Philip knelt.

'You shall now speak after me,' said Mr. Noah solemnly. 'Say what I say,' he whispered, and Philip said it.

This was it. 'I, Philip, claim to be the Deliverer of this great nation, and I pledge myself to carry out the seven great deeds that shall prove my claim to the Deliverership and the throne. I pledge my honour to be the champion of this city, and the enemy of its Destroyer.'

When Philip had said this, Mr. Noah drew forth a bright silver-hilted sword and held it over him.

'You must be knighted,' he said; 'those among my audience who have read any history will be aware that no mere commoner can expect to conquer a dragon. We must give our would-be Deliverer every chance. So I will make him a knight.' He tapped Philip lightly on the shoulder and said, 'Rise up, Sir Philip!'

This was really grand, and Philip felt new courage as Mr. Noah handed him the silver sword, and all the people cheered.

But as the cheers died down, a thin and disagreeable voice suddenly said:

'But I claim to be the Deliverer too.'

It was like a thunderbolt. Every one stopped cheering and stood with mouth open and head turned towards the person who had spoken. And the person who had spoken was the smartly dressed lady in the motor veil, whom Philip had seen among the ruins.

'A trespasser! a trespasser!' cried the crowd; 'to prison with it!' and angry, threatening voices began to arise.

'I'm no more a trespasser than he is,' said the voice, 'and if I say I am the Deliverer, you can't stop me. I can kill dragons or do anything he can do.'

'Silence, trespasser,' said Mr. Noah, with cold dignity. 'You should have spoken earlier. At present Sir Philip occupies the position of candidate to the post of King-Deliverer. There is no other position open to you except that of Destroyer.'

'But suppose the boy doesn't do it?' said the voice behind the veil.

'True,' said Mr. Noah. 'You may if you choose, occupy for the present the position of Pretender-in-Chief to the Claimancy of the Deliverership, an office now and here created expressly for you. The position of Claimant to the Destroyership is also,' he added reflectively, 'open to you.'

'Then if he doesn't do it,' said the veiled lady, 'I can be the Deliverer.'

'You can try,' said Mr. Noah. 'There are a special set of tasks to be performed if the claimant to the Deliverership be a woman.'

'What are they?' said the veiled lady.

'If Sir Philip fails you will be duly instructed in the deeds required of a Deliverer who is a woman. And now, my friends, let us retire and leave Sir Philip to deal with the dragon. We shall watch anxiously from yonder ramparts,' he added encouragingly.

'But isn't any one to help me?' said Philip, deeply uneasy.

'It is not usual,' said Mr. Noah, 'for champions to require assistance with dragons.'

'I should think not indeed,' said the veiled lady; 'but you're not going the usual way about it at all. Where's the princess, I should like to know?'

'There isn't any princess,' said Mr. Noah.

'Then it won't be a proper dragon-killing,' she said, with an angry shaking of skirts; 'that's all I can say.'

'I wish it was all,' said Mr. Noah to himself.

'If there isn't a princess it isn't fair,' said the veiled one; 'and I shall consider it's my turn to be Deliverer.'

'Be silent, woman,' said Mr. Noah.

'Woman, indeed,' said the lady. 'I ought to have a proper title.'

'Your title is the Pretender to the——'

'I know,' she interrupted; 'but you forget you're speaking to a lady. You can call me the Pretenderette.'

Mr. Noah turned coldly from her and pressed two Roman candles and a box of matches into Philip's hand.

'When you have arranged your plans and are quite sure that you will be able to kill the dragon, light one of these. We will then have a princess in readiness, and on observing your signal will tie her to a tree, or, since this is a district where trees are rare and buildings frequent, to a pillar. She will be perfectly safe if you make your plans correctly. And in any case you must not attempt to deal with the dragon without first lighting the Roman candle.'

'And the dragon will see it and go away.'

'Exactly,' said Mr. Noah. 'Or perhaps he will see it and not go away. Time alone will show. The task that is without difficulties can never really appeal to a hero. You will find weapons, cords, nets, shields and various first aids to the young dragon-catcher in the vaults below this tower. Good evening, Sir Philip,' he ended warmly. 'We wish you every success.'

And with that the whole crowd began to go away.

'I know who you ought to have for princess,' the Pretenderette said as they went. And Mr. Noah said:

'Silence in court.'

'This isn't a court,' said the Pretenderette aggravatingly.

'Wherever justice is, is a court,' said Mr. Noah, 'and I accuse you of contempt of it. Guards, arrest this person and take her to prison at once.'

There was a scuffling and a shrieking and then the voices withdrew gradually, the angry voice of even the Pretenderette growing fainter and fainter till it died away altogether.

Philip was left alone.

His first act was to go up to the top of the tower and look out to see if he could see the dragon. He looked east and north and south and west, and he saw the ramparts of the fort where Mr. Noah and the others were now safely bestowed. He saw also other towers and cities in the distance, and he saw the ruins where he had met Mr. Perrin.

And among those ruins something was moving. Something long and jointed and green. It could be nothing but the dragon.

'Oh, Crikey!' said Philip to himself; 'whatever shall I do? Perhaps I'd better see what weapons there are.'

So he ran down the stairs and down and down till he came to the vaults of the castle, and there he found everything a dragon-killer could possibly need, even to a little red book called the Young Dragon-Catcher's Vade Mecum, or a Complete Guide to the Good Sport of Dragon-Slaying; and a pair of excellent field-glasses.

The top of the tower seemed the safest place. It was there that he tried to read the book. The words were very long and most difficultly spelt. But he did manage to make out that all dragons sleep for one hour after sunset. Then he heard a loud rattling sound from the ruin, and he knew it was the dragon who was making that sound, so he looked through the field-glasses, frowning with anxiety to see what the dragon was doing.

And as he looked he started and almost dropped the glasses, and the frown cleared away from his forehead and he gave a sigh that was almost a sob and almost a laugh, and then he said

'That old thing!'

Then he looked again, and this is what he saw. An enormous green dragon, very long and fierce-looking, that rattled as it moved, going in and out among the ruins, rubbing itself against the fallen pillars. And the reason Philip laughed and sighed was that he knew that dragon very well indeed. He had known it long ago. It was the clockwork lizard that had been given him the Christmas before last. And he remembered that he had put it into one of the cities he and Helen had built together. Only now, of course, it had grown big and had come alive like all the other images of live things he had put in his cities. But he saw that it was still a clockwork creature. And its key was sticking out of its side. And it was rubbing itself against the pillars so as to turn the key and wind itself up. But this was a slow business and the winding was not half done when the sun set. The dragon instantly lay down and went to sleep.

'Well,' said Philip, 'now I've got to think.'

He did think, harder than he had ever done before. And when he had finished thinking he went down into the vault and got a long rope. Then he stood still a moment, wondering if he really were brave enough. And then he remembered 'Rise up, Sir Philip,' and he knew that a knight simply mustn't be afraid.

So he went out in the dusk towards the dragon.

He knew it would sleep for an hour. But all the same—— And the twilight was growing deeper and deeper. Still there was plenty of light to find the ruin, and also to find the dragon. There it lay—about ten or twelve yards of solid dark dragon-flesh. Its metal claws gleamed in the last of the daylight. Its great mouth was open, and its breathing, as it slept, was like the sound of the sea on a rough night.

'Rise up, Sir Philip,' he said to himself, and walked along close to the dragon till he came to the middle part where the key was sticking out—which Mr. Perrin had thought was a piece of an old spear with which some one had once tried to kill the monster.

Philip fastened one end of his rope very securely to the key—how thankful he was that Helen had taught him to tie knots that were not granny-knots. The dragon lay quite still, and went on breathing like a stormy sea. Then the dragon-slayer fastened the other end of the rope to the main wall of the ruin which was very strong and firm, and then he went back to his tower as fast as he could and struck a match and lighted his Roman candle.

You see the idea? It was really rather a clever one. When the dragon woke it would find that it was held prisoner by the ropes. It would be furious and try to get free. And in its struggles it would be certain to get free, but this it could only do by detaching itself from its key. When once the key was out the dragon would be unable to wind itself up any more, and would be as good as dead. Of course Sir Philip could cut off its head with the silver-hilted sword if Mr. Noah really wished it.

It was, as you see, an excellent plan, as far as it went. Philip sat on the top of his tower quite free from anxiety, and ate a few hairy red gooseberries that happened to be loose in his pocket. Within three minutes of his lighting his Roman candle a shower of golden rain went up in the south, some immense Catherine-wheels appeared in the east, and in the north a long line of rockets presented almost the appearance of an aurora borealis. Red fire, green fire, then rockets again. The whole of the plain was lit by more fireworks than Philip had ever seen, even at the Crystal Palace. By their light he saw a procession come out of the fort, cross to a pillar that stood solitary on the plain, and tie to it a white figure.

'The Princess, I suppose,' said Philip; 'well, she's all right anyway.'

Then the procession went back to the fort, and then the dragon awoke. Philip could see the great creature stretching itself and shaking its vast head as a dog does when it comes out of the water.

'I expect it doesn't like the fireworks,' said Philip. And he was quite right.

And now the dragon saw the Princess who had been placed at a convenient spot about half-way between the ruins and Philip's tower.

It threw up its snout and uttered a devastating howl, and Philip felt with a thrill of horror that, clockwork or no clockwork, the brute was alive, and desperately dangerous.

And now it had perceived that it was bound. With great heavings and throes, with snortings and bellowings, with scratchings and tearings of its great claws and lashings of its terrible tail, it writhed and fought to be free, and the light of thousands of fireworks illuminated the gigantic struggle.

Then what Philip had known would happen, did happen. The great wall held fast, the rope held fast, the dragon held fast. It was the key that gave way. With an echoing grinding rusty sound like a goods train shunting on a siding, the key was drawn from the keyhole in the dragon's side and left still fast to its rope like an anchor to a cable.

Left. For now that happened which Philip had not foreseen. He had forgotten that before it fell asleep the dragon had partly wound itself up. And its struggles had not used up all the winding. There was go in the dragon yet. And with a yell of fury it set off across the plain, wriggling its green rattling length towards—the Princess.

And now there was no time to think whether one was afraid or not. Philip went down those tower stairs more quickly than he had ever gone down stairs in his life, and he was not bad at stairs even at ordinary times.

He put his sword over his shoulder as you do a gun, and ran. Like the dragon he made straight for the Princess. And now it was a race between him and the dragon. Philip ran and ran. His heart thumped, his feet had that leaden feeling that comes in nightmares. He felt as if he were dying.

Keep on, keep on, faster, faster, you mustn't stop. Ah! that's better. He has got his second wind. He is going faster. And the dragon, or is it fancy? is going not quite so fast.

How he did it Philip never knew. But with a last spurt he reached the pillar where the Princess stood bound. And the dragon was twenty yards away, coming on and on and on.

Philip stood quite still, recovering his breath. And more and more slowly, but with no sign of stopping, the dragon came on. Behind him, where the pillar was, Philip heard some one crying softly.

Then the dragon was quite near. Philip took three steps forward, took aim with his sword, shut his eyes and hit as hard as he could. Then something hard and heavy knocked him over, and for a time he knew no more.

. . . . . . .

When he came to himself again, Mr. Noah was giving him something nasty to drink out of a medicine glass, Mr. Perrin was patting him on the back, all the people were shouting like mad, and more fireworks than ever were being let off. Beside him lay the dragon, lifeless and still.

'Oh!' said Philip, 'did I really do it?'

'You did indeed,' said Mr. Noah; 'however you may succeed with the other deeds, you are the hero of this one. And now, if you feel well enough, prepare to receive the reward of Valour and Chivalry.'

'Oh!' said Philip, brightening, 'I didn't know there was to be a reward.'

'Only the usual one,' said Mr Noah. 'The Princess, you know.'

Philip became aware that a figure in a white veil was standing quite near him; round its feet lay lengths of cut rope.

'The Princess is yours,' said Mr. Noah, with generous affability.

'But I don't want her,' said Philip, adding by an afterthought, 'thank you.'

'You should have thought of that before,' said Mr. Noah. 'You can't go doing deeds of valour, you know, and then shirking the reward. Take her. She is yours.'

'Any one who likes may have her,' said Philip desperately. 'If she's mine, I can give her away, can't I? You must see yourself I can't be bothered with princesses if I've got all those other deeds to do.'

'That's not my affair,' said Mr. Noah. 'Perhaps you might arrange to board her out while you're doing your deeds. But at present she is waiting for you to take her by the hand and raise her veil.'

'Must I?' said Philip miserably. 'Well, here goes.'

He took a small cold hand in one of his and with the other lifted, very gingerly, a corner of the veil. The other hand of the Princess drew back the veil, and the Dragon-Slayer and the Princess were face to face.

'Why!' cried Philip, between relief and disgust, 'it's only Lucy!'



The Princess was just Lucy.

'It's too bad,' said Philip. 'I do think.' Then he stopped short and just looked cross.

'The Princess and the Champion will now have their teas,' said Mr. Noah. 'Right about face, everybody, please, and quick march.'

Philip and Lucy found themselves marching side by side through the night made yellow with continuous fireworks.

You must picture them marching across a great plain of grass where many coloured flowers grew. You see a good many of Philip's buildings had been made on the drawing-room carpet at home, which was green with pink and blue and yellow and white flowers. And this carpet had turned into grass and growing flowers, following that strange law which caused things to change into other things, like themselves, but larger and really belonging to a living world.

No one spoke. Philip said nothing because he was in a bad temper. And if you are in a bad temper, nothing is a good thing to say. To circumvent a dragon and then kill it, and to have such an adventure end in tea with Lucy, was too much. And he had other reasons for silence too. And Lucy was silent because she had so much to say that she didn't know where to begin; and besides, she could feel how cross Philip was. The crowd did not talk because it was not etiquette to talk when taking part in processions. Mr. Noah did not talk because it made him out of breath to walk and talk at the same time, two things neither of which he had been designed to do.

So that it was quite a silent party which at last passed through the gateway of the town and up its streets.

Philip wondered where the tea would be—not in the prison of course. It was very late for tea, too, quite the middle of the night it seemed. But all the streets were brilliantly lighted, and flags and festoons of flowers hung from all the windows and across all the streets.

It was in the front of a big building in one of the great squares of the city that an extra display of coloured lamps disclosed open doors and red-carpeted steps. Mr. Noah hurried up them, and turned to receive Philip and Lucy.

'The City of Polistopolis,' he said, 'whose unworthy representative I am, greets in my person the most noble Sir Philip, Knight and Slayer of the Dragon. Also the Princess whom he has rescued. Be pleased to enter.'

They went up the red-cloth covered steps and into a hall, very splendid with silver and ivory. Mr. Noah stooped to a confidential question.

'You'd like a wash, perhaps?' he said, 'and your Princess too. And perhaps you'd like to dress up a little? Before the banquet, you know.'

'Banquet?' said Philip. 'I thought it was tea.'

'Business before pleasure,' said Mr. Noah; 'first the banquet, then the tea. This way to the dressing-rooms.'

There were two doors side by side. On one door was painted 'Knight's dressing-room,' on the other 'Princess's dressing-room.'

'Look out,' said Mr. Noah; 'the paint is wet. You see there wasn't much time.'

Philip found his dressing-room very interesting. The walls were entirely of looking-glass, and on tables in the middle of the room lay all sorts of clothes of beautiful colours and odd shapes. Shoes, stockings, hats, crowns, armour, swords, cloaks, breeches, waistcoats, jerkins, trunk hose. An open door showed a marble bath-room. The bath was sunk in the floor as the baths of luxurious Roman Empresses used to be, and as nowadays baths sometimes are, in model dwellings. (Only I am told that some people keep their coals in the baths—which is quite useless because coals are always black however much you wash them.)

Philip undressed and went into the warm clear water, greenish between the air and the marble. Why is it so pleasant to have a bath, and so tiresome to wash your hands and face in a basin? He put on his shirt and knickerbockers again, and wandered round the room looking at the clothes laid out there, and wondering which of the wonderful costumes would be really suitable for a knight to wear at a banquet. After considerable hesitation he decided on a little soft shirt of chain-mail that made just a double handful of tiny steel links as he held it. But a difficulty arose.

'I don't know how to put it on,' said Philip; 'and I expect the banquet is waiting. How cross it'll be.'

He stood undecided, holding the chain mail in his hands, when his eyes fell on a bell handle. Above it was an ivory plate, and on it in black letters the word Valet. Philip rang the bell.

Instantly a soft tap at the door heralded the entrance of a person whom Philip at the first glance supposed to be a sandwich man. But the second glance showed that the oblong flat things which he wore were not sandwich-boards, but dominoes. The person between them bowed low.

'Oh!' said Philip, 'I rang for the valet.'

'I am not the valet,' said the domino-enclosed person, who seemed to be in skintight black clothes under his dominoes, 'I am the Master of the Robes. I only attend on really distinguished persons. Double-six, at your service, Sir. Have you chosen your dress?'

'I'd like to wear the armour,' said Philip, holding it out. 'It seems the right thing for a Knight,' he added.

'Quite so, sir. I confirm your opinion.'

He proceeded to dress Philip in a white tunic and to fasten the coat of mail over this. 'I've had a great deal of experience,' he said; 'you couldn't have chosen better. You see, I'm master of the subject of dress. I am able to give my whole mind to it; my own dress being fixed by law and not subject to changes of fashion leaves me free to think for others. And I think deeply. But I see that you can think for yourself.'

You have no idea how jolly Philip looked in the mail coat and mailed hood—just like a Crusader.

At the doorway of the dressing-room he met Lucy in a short white dress and a coronal of pearls round her head. 'I always wanted to be a fairy,' she said.

'Did you have any one to dress you?' he asked.

'Oh no!' said Lucy calmly. 'I always dress myself.'

'Ladies have the advantage there,' said Double-six, bowing and walking backwards. 'The banquet is spread.'

It turned out to be spread on three tables, one along each side of a great room, and one across the top of the room, on a dais—such a table as that high one at which dons and distinguished strangers sit in the Halls of colleges.

Mr. Noah was already in his place in the middle of the high table, and Lucy and Philip now took their places at each side of him. The table was spread with all sorts of nice-looking foods and plates of a pink-and-white pattern very familiar to Philip. They were, in fact, as he soon realised, the painted wooden plates from his sister's old dolls' house. There was no food just in front of the children, only a great empty bowl of silver.

Philip fingered his knife and fork; the pattern of those also was familiar to him. They were indeed the little leaden ones out of the dolls' house knife-basket of green and silver filagree. He hungrily waited. Servants in straight yellow dresses and red masks and caps were beginning to handle the dishes. A dish was handed to him. A beautiful jelly it looked like. He took up his spoon and was just about to help himself, when Mr. Noah whispered ardently, 'Don't!' and as Philip looked at him in astonishment he added, still in a whisper, 'Pretend, can't you? Have you never had a pretending banquet?' But before he had caught the whisper, Philip had tried to press the edge of the leaden spoon into the shape of jelly. And he felt that the jelly was quite hard. He went through the form of helping himself, but it was just nothing that he put on his plate. And he saw that Mr. Noah and Lucy and all the other guests did the same. Presently another dish was handed to him. There was no changing of plates. 'They needn't,' Philip thought bitterly. This time it was a fat goose, not carved, and now Philip saw that it was attached to its dish with glue. Then he understood.

(You know the beautiful but uneatable feasts which are given you in a white cardboard box with blue binding and fine shavings to pack the dishes and keep them from breaking? I myself, when I was little, had such a banquet in a box. There were twelve dishes: a ham, brown and shapely; a pair of roast chickens, also brown and more anatomical than the ham; a glazed tongue, real tongue-shape, none of your tinned round mysteries; a dish of sausages; two handsome fish, a little blue, perhaps; a joint of beef, ribs I think, very red as to the lean and very white in the fat parts; a pork pie, delicately bronzed like a traveller in Central Africa. For sweets I had shapes, shapes of beauty, a jelly and a cream; a Swiss roll too, and a plum pudding; asparagus there was also and a cauliflower, and a dish of the greenest peas in all this grey world. This was my banquet outfit. I remember that the woodenness of it all depressed us wonderfully; the oneness of dish and food baffled all make-believe. With the point of nurse's scissors we prised the viands from the platters. But their wooden nature was unconquerable. One could not pretend to eat a whole chicken any better when it was detached from its dish, and the sausages were one solid block. And when you licked the jelly it only tasted of glue and paint. And when we tried to re-roast the chickens at the nursery grate, they caught fire, and then they smelt of gasworks and india-rubber. But I am wandering. When you remember the things that happened when you were a child, you could go on writing about them for ever. I will put all this in brackets, and then you need not read it if you don't want to.)

But those painted wooden foods adhering firmly to their dishes were the kind of food of which the banquet now offered to Philip and Lucy was composed. Only they had more dishes than I had. They had as well a turkey, eight raspberry jam tarts, a pine-apple, a melon, a dish of oysters in the shell, a piece of boiled bacon and a leg of mutton. But all were equally wooden and uneatable.

Philip and Lucy, growing hungrier and hungrier, pretended with sinking hearts to eat and enjoy the wooden feast. Wine was served in those little goblets which they knew so well, where the double glasses restrained and contained a red fluid which looked like wine. They did not want wine, but they were thirsty as well as hungry.

Philip wondered what the waiters were. He had plenty of time to wonder while the long banquet went on. It was not till he saw a group of them standing stiffly together at the end of the hall that he knew they must be the matches with which he had once peopled a city, no other inhabitants being at hand.

When all the dishes had been handed, speeches happened.

'Friends and fellow-citizens,' Mr. Noah began, and went on to say how brave and clever Sir Philip was, and how likely it was that he would turn out to be the Deliverer. Philip did not hear all this speech. He was thinking of things to eat.

Then every one in the hall stood and shouted, and Philip found that he was expected to take his turn at speech-making. He stood up trembling and wretched.

'Friends and fellow-citizens,' he said, 'thank you very much. I want to be the Deliverer, but I don't know if I can,' and sat down again amid roars of applause.

Then there was music, from a grated gallery. And then—I cannot begin to tell you how glad Lucy and Philip were—Mr. Noah said, once more in a whisper, 'Cheer up! the banquet is over. Now we'll have tea.'

'Tea' turned out to be bread and milk in a very cosy, blue-silk-lined room opening out of the banqueting-hall. Only Lucy, Philip and Mr. Noah were present. Bread and milk is very good even when you have to eat it with the leaden spoons out of the dolls'-house basket. When it was much later Mr. Noah suddenly said 'good-night,' and in a maze of sleepy repletion (look that up in the dicker, will you?) the children went to bed. Philip's bed was of gold with yellow satin curtains, and Lucy's was made of silver, with curtains of silk that were white. But the metals and colours made no difference to their deep and dreamless sleep.

And in the morning there was bread and milk again, and the two of them had it in the blue room without Mr. Noah.

'Well,' said Lucy, looking up from the bowl of white floating cubes, 'do you think you're getting to like me any better?'

'No,' said Philip, brief and stern like the skipper in the song.

'I wish you would,' said Lucy.

'Well, I can't,' said Philip; 'but I do want to say one thing. I'm sorry I bunked and left you. And I did come back.'

'I know you did,' said Lucy.

'I came back to fetch you,' said Philip, 'and now we'd better get along home.'

'You've got to do seven deeds of power before you can get home,' said Lucy.

'Oh! I remember, Perrin told me,' said he.

'Well,' Lucy went on, 'that'll take ages. No one can go out of this place twice unless he's a King-Deliverer. You've gone out once—without me. Before you can go again you've got to do seven noble deeds.'

'I killed the dragon,' said Philip, modestly proud.

'That's only one,' she said; 'there are six more.' And she ate bread and milk with firmness.

'Do you like this adventure?' he asked abruptly.

'It's more interesting than anything that ever happened to me,' she said. 'If you were nice I should like it awfully. But as it is——'

'I'm sorry you don't think I'm nice,' said he.

'Well, what do you think?' she said.

Philip reflected. He did not want not to be nice. None of us do. Though you might not think it to see how some of us behave. True politeness, he remembered having been told, consists in showing an interest in other people's affairs.

'Tell me,' he said, very much wishing to be polite and nice. 'Tell me what happened after I—after I—after you didn't come down the ladder with me.'

'Alone and deserted,' Lucy answered promptly, 'my sworn friend having hooked it and left me, I fell down, and both my hands were full of gravel, and the fierce soldiery surrounded me.'

'I thought you were coming just behind me,' said Philip, frowning.

'Well, I wasn't.'

'And then.'

'Well, then—— You were silly not to stay. They surrounded me—the soldiers, I mean—and the captain said, "Tell me the truth. Are you a Destroyer or a Deliverer?" So, of course, I said I wasn't a destroyer, whatever I was; and then they took me to the palace and said I could be a Princess till the Deliverer King turned up. They said,' she giggled gaily, 'that my hair was the hair of a Deliverer and not of a Destroyer, and I've been most awfully happy ever since. Have you?'

'No,' said Philip, remembering the miserable feeling of having been a coward and a sneak that had come upon him when he found that he had saved his own skin and left Lucy alone in an unknown and dangerous world; 'not exactly happy, I shouldn't call it.'

'It's beautiful being a Princess,' said Lucy. 'I wonder what your next noble deed will be. I wonder whether I could help you with it?' She looked wistfully at him.

'If I'm going to do noble deeds I'll do them. I don't want any help, thank you, especially from girls,' he answered.

'I wish you did,' said Lucy, and finished her bread and milk.

Philip's bowl also was empty. He stretched arms and legs and neck.

'It is rum,' he said; 'before this began I never thought a thing like this could begin, did you?'

'I don't know,' she said, 'everything's very wonderful. I've always been expecting things to be more wonderful than they ever have been. You get sort of hints and nudges, you know. Fairy tales—yes, and dreams, you can't help feeling they must mean something. And your sister and my daddy; the two of them being such friends when they were little, and then parted and then getting friends again;—that's like a story in a dream, isn't it? And your building the city and me helping. And my daddy being such a dear darling and your sister being such a darling dear. It did make me think beautiful things were sort of likely. Didn't it you?'

'No,' said Philip; 'I mean yes,' he said, and he was in that moment nearer to liking Lucy than he had ever been before; 'everything's very wonderful, isn't it?'

'Ahem!' said a respectful cough behind them.

They turned to meet the calm gaze of Double-six.

'If you've quite finished breakfast, Sir Philip,' he said, 'Mr. Noah would be pleased to see you in his office.'

'Me too?' said Lucy, before Philip could say, 'Only me, I suppose?'

'You may come too, if you wish it, your Highness,' said Double-six, bowing stiffly.

They found Mr. Noah very busy in a little room littered with papers; he was sitting at a table writing.

'Good-morning, Princess,' he said, 'good-morning, Sir Philip. You see me very busy. I am trying to arrange for your next labour.'

'Do you mean my next deed of valour?' Philip asked.

'We have decided that all your deeds need not be deeds of valour,' said Mr. Noah, fiddling with a pen. 'The strange labours of Hercules, you remember, were some of them dangerous and some merely difficult. I have decided that difficult things shall count. There are several things that really need doing,' he went on half to himself. 'There's the fruit supply, and the Dwellers by the sea, and—— But that must wait. We try to give you as much variety as possible. Yesterday's was an out-door adventure. To-day's shall be an indoor amusement. I say to-day's but I confess that I think it not unlikely that the task I am now about to set the candidate for the post of King-Deliverer, the task, I say, which I am now about to set you, may, quite possibly, occupy some days, if not weeks of your valuable time.'

'But our people at home,' said Philip. 'It isn't that I'm afraid, really and truly it isn't, but they'll go out of their minds, not knowing what's become of us. Oh, Mr. Noah! do let us go back.'

'It's all right,' said Mr. Noah. 'However long you stay here time won't move with them. I thought I'd explained that to you.'

'But you said——'

'I said you'd set our clocks to the time of your world when you deserted your little friend. But when you had come back for her, and rescued her from the dragon, the clocks went their own time again. There's only just that time missing that happened between your coming here the second time and your killing the dragon.'

'I see,' said Philip. But he didn't. I only hope you do.

'You can take your time about this new job,' said Mr. Noah, 'and you may get any help you like. I shan't consider you've failed till you've been at it three months. After that the Pretenderette would be entitled to her chance.'

'If you're quite sure that the time here doesn't count at home,' said Philip, 'what is it, please, that we've got to do?'

'The greatest intellects of our country have for many ages occupied themselves with the problem which you are now asked to solve,' said Mr. Noah. 'Your late gaoler, Mr. Bacon-Shakespeare, has written no less than twenty-seven volumes, all in cypher, on this very subject. But as he has forgotten what cypher he used, and no one else ever knew it, his volumes are of but little use to us.'

'I see,' said Philip. And again he didn't.

Mr. Noah rose to his full height, and when he stood up the children looked very small beside him.

'Now,' he said, 'I will tell you what it is that you must do. I should like to decree that your second labour should be the tidying up of this room—all these papers are prophecies relating to the Deliverer—but it is one of our laws that the judge must not use any public matter for his own personal benefit. So I have decided that the next labour shall be the disentangling of the Mazy Carpet. It is in the Pillared Hall of Public Amusements. I will get my hat and we will go there at once. I can tell you about it as we go.'

And as they went down streets and past houses and palaces all of which Philip could now dimly remember to have built at some time or other, Mr. Noah went on:

'It is a very beautiful hall, but we have never been able to use it for public amusement or anything else. The giant who originally built this city placed in this hall a carpet so thick that it rises to your knees, and so intricately woven that none can disentangle it. It is far too thick to pass through any of the doors. It is your task to remove it.'

'Why that's as easy as easy,' said Philip. 'I'll cut it in bits and bring out a bit at a time.'

'That would be most unfortunate for you,' said Mr. Noah. 'I filed only this morning a very ancient prophecy:

'He who shall the carpet sever, By fire or flint or steel, Shall be fed on orange pips for ever, And dressed in orange peel.

You wouldn't like that, you know.'

'No,' said Philip grimly, 'I certainly shouldn't.'

'The carpet must be unravelled, unwoven, so that not a thread is broken. Here is the hall.'

They went up steps—Philip sometimes wished he had not been so fond of building steps—and through a dark vestibule to an arched door. Looking through it they saw a great hall and at its end a raised space, more steps, and two enormous pillars of bronze wrought in relief with figures of flying birds.

'Father's Japanese vases,' Lucy whispered.

The floor of the room was covered by the carpet. It was loosely but difficultly woven of very thick soft rope of a red colour. When I say difficultly, I mean that it wasn't just straight-forward in the weaving, but the threads went over and under and round about in such a determined and bewildering way that Philip felt—and said—that he would rather untie the string of a hundred of the most difficult parcels than tackle this.

'Well,' said Mr. Noah, 'I leave you to it. Board and lodging will be provided at the Provisional Palace where you slept last night. All citizens are bound to assist when called upon. Dinner is at one. Good-morning!'

Philip sat down in the dark archway and gazed helplessly at the twisted strands of the carpet. After a moment of hesitation Lucy sat down too, clasped her arms round her knees, and she also gazed at the carpet. They had all the appearance of shipwrecked mariners looking out over a great sea and longing for a sail.

'Ha ha—tee hee!' said a laugh close behind them. They turned. And it was the motor-veiled lady, the hateful Pretenderette, who had crept up close behind them, and was looking down at them through her veil.

'What do you want?' said Philip severely.

'I want to laugh,' said the motor lady. 'I want to laugh at you. And I'm going to.'

'Well go and laugh somewhere else then,' Philip suggested.

'Ah! but this is where I want to laugh. You and your carpet! You'll never do it. You don't know how. But I do.'

'Come away,' whispered Lucy, and they went. The Pretenderette followed slowly. Outside, a couple of Dutch dolls in check suits were passing, arm in arm.

'Help!' cried Lucy suddenly, and the Dutch dolls paused and took their hats off.

'What is it?' the taller doll asked, stroking his black painted moustache.

'Mr. Noah said all citizens were bound to help us,' said Lucy a little breathlessly.

'But of course,' said the shorter doll, bowing with stiff courtesy.

'Then,' said Lucy, 'will you please take that motor person away and put her somewhere where she can't bother till we've done the carpet?'

'Delighted,' exclaimed the agreeable Dutch strangers, darted up the steps and next moment emerged with the form of the Pretenderette between them, struggling indeed, but struggling vainly.

'You need not have the slightest further anxiety,' the taller Dutchman said; 'dismiss the incident from your mind. We will take her to the hall of justice. Her offence is bothering people in pursuit of their duty. The sentence is imprisonment for as long as the botheree chooses. Good-morning.'

'Oh, thank you!' said both the children together.

When they were alone, Philip said—and it was not easy to say it:

'That was jolly clever of you, Lucy. I should never have thought of it.'

'Oh, that's nothing,' said Lucy, looking down. 'I could do more than that.'

'What?' he asked.

'I could unravel the carpet,' said Lucy, with deep solemnity.

'But it's me that's got to do it,' Philip urged.

'Every citizen is bound to help, if called in,' Lucy reminded him. 'And I suppose a princess is a citizen.'

'Perhaps I can do it by myself,' said Philip.

'Try,' said Lucy, and sat down on the steps, her fairy skirts spreading out round her like a white double hollyhock.

He tried. He went back and looked at the great coarse cables of the carpet. He could see no end to the cables, no beginning to his task. And Lucy just went on sitting there like a white hollyhock. And time went on, and presently became, rather urgently, dinner-time.

So he went back to Lucy and said:

'All right, you can show me how to do it, if you like.'

But Lucy replied:

'Not much! If you want me to help you with this, you'll have to promise to let me help in all the other things. And you'll have to ask me to help—ask me politely too.'

'I shan't then,' said Philip. But in the end he had to—politely also.

'With pleasure,' said Lucy, the moment he asked her, and he could see she had been making up what she should answer, while he was making up his mind to ask. 'I shall be delighted to help you in this and all the other tasks. Say yes.'

'Yes,' said Philip, who was very hungry.

'"In this and all the other tasks" say.'

'In this and all the other tasks,' he said. 'Go on. How can we do it?'

'It's crochet,' Lucy giggled. 'It's a little crochet mat I'd made of red wool; and I put it in the hall that night. You've just got to find the end and pull, and it all comes undone. You just want to find the end and pull.'

'It's too heavy for us to pull.'

'Well,' said Lucy, who had certainly had time to think everything out, 'you get one of those twisty round things they pull boats out of the sea with, and I'll find the end while you're getting it.'

She ran up the steps and Philip looked round the buildings on the other three sides of the square, to see if any one of them looked like a capstan shop, for he understood, as of course you also have done, that a capstan was what Lucy meant.

On a building almost opposite he read, 'Naval Necessaries Supply Company,' and he ran across to it.

'Rather,' said the secretary of the company, a plump sailor-doll, when Philip had explained his needs. 'I'll send a dozen men over at once. Only too proud to help, Sir Philip. The navy is always keen on helping valour and beauty.'

'I want to be brave,' said Philip, 'but I'd rather not be beautiful.'

'Of course not,' said the secretary; and added surprisingly, 'I meant the Lady Lucy.'

'Oh!' said Philip.

So twelve bluejackets and a capstan outside the Hall of Public Amusements were soon the centre of a cheering crowd. Lucy had found the end of the rope, and two sailors dragged it out and attached it to the capstan, and then—round and round with a will and a breathless chanty—the carpet was swiftly unravelled. Dozens of eager helpers stood on the parts of the carpet which were not being unravelled, to keep it steady while the pulling went on.

The news of Philip's success spread like wild-fire through the city, and the crowds gathered thicker and thicker. The great doors beyond the pillars with the birds on them were thrown open, and Mr. Noah and the principal citizens stood there to see the end of the unravelling.

'Bravo!' said every one in tremendous enthusiasm. 'Bravo! Sir Philip.'

'It wasn't me,' said Philip difficultly, when the crowd paused for breath; 'it was Lucy thought of it.'

'Bravo! Bravo!' shouted the crowd louder than ever. 'Bravo, for the Lady Lucy! Bravo for Sir Philip, the modest truth-teller!'

'Bravo, my dear,' said Mr. Noah, waving his hat and thumping Lucy on the back.

'I'm awfully glad I thought of it,' she said; 'that makes two deeds Sir Philip's done, doesn't it? Two out of the seven.'

'Yes, indeed,' said Mr. Noah enthusiastically. 'I must make him a baronet now. His title will grow grander with each deed. There's an old prophecy that the person who finds out how to unravel the carpet must be the first to dance in the Hall of Public Amusements.

'The clever one, the noble one, Who makes the carpet come undone, Shall be the first to dance a measure Within the Hall of public pleasure.

I suppose public amusement was too difficult a rhyme even for these highly-skilled poets, our astrologers. You, my child, seem to have been well inspired in your choice of a costume. Dance, then, my Lady Lucy, and let the prophecy be fulfilled.'

So, all down the wide clear floor of the Hall of Public Amusement, Lucy danced. And the people of the city looked on and applauded, Philip with the rest.



'But why?' asked Philip at dinner, which was no painted wonder of wooden make-believe, but real roast guinea-fowl and angel pudding, 'Why do you only have wooden things to eat at your banquets?'

'Banquets are extremely important occasions,' said Mr. Noah, 'and real food—food that you can eat and enjoy—only serves to distract the mind from the serious affairs of life. Many of the most successful caterers in your world have grasped this great truth.'

'But why,' Lucy asked, 'do you have the big silver bowls with nothing in them?'

Mr. Noah sighed. 'The bowls are for dessert,' he said.

'But there isn't any dessert in them,' Lucy objected.

'No,' said Mr. Noah, sighing again, 'that's just it. There is no dessert. There has never been any dessert. Will you have a little more angel pudding?'

It was quite plain to Lucy and Philip that Mr. Noah wished to change the subject, which, for some reason, was a sad one, and with true politeness they both said 'Yes, please,' to the angel pudding offer, though they had already had quite as much as they really needed.

After dinner Mr. Noah took them for a walk through the town, 'to see the factories,' he said. This surprised Philip, who had been taught not to build factories with his bricks because factories were so ugly, but the factories turned out to be pleasant, long, low houses, with tall French windows opening into gardens of roses, where people of all nations made beautiful and useful things, and loved making them. And all the people who were making them looked clean and happy.

'I wish we had factories like those,' Philip said. 'Our factories are so ugly. Helen says so.'

'That's because all your factories are money factories,' said Mr. Noah, 'though they're called by all sorts of different names. Every one here has to make something that isn't just money or for money—something useful and beautiful.'

'Even you?' said Lucy.

'Even I,' said Mr. Noah.

'What do you make?' the question was bound to come.

'Laws, of course,' Mr. Noah answered in some surprise. 'Didn't you know I was the Chief Judge?'

'But laws can't be useful and beautiful, can they?'

'They can certainly be useful,' said Mr. Noah, 'and,' he added with modest pride, 'my laws are beautiful. What do you think of this? "Everybody must try to be kind to everybody else. Any one who has been unkind must be sorry and say so."'

'It seems all right,' said Philip, 'but it's not exactly beautiful.'

'Oh, don't you think so?' said Mr. Noah, a little hurt; 'it mayn't sound beautiful perhaps—I never could write poetry—but it's quite beautiful when people do it.'

'Oh, if you mean your laws are beautiful when they're kept,' said Philip.

'Beautiful things can't be beautiful when they're broken, of course,' Mr. Noah explained. 'Not even laws. But ugly laws are only beautiful when they are broken. That's odd, isn't it? Laws are very tricky things.'

'I say,' Philip said suddenly, as they climbed one of the steep flights of steps between trees in pots, 'couldn't we do another of the deeds now? I don't feel as if I'd really done anything to-day at all. It was Lucy who did the carpet. Do tell us the next deed.'

'The next deed,' Mr. Noah answered, 'will probably take some time. There's no reason why you should not begin it to-day if you like. It is a deed peculiarly suited to a baronet. I don't know why,' he added hastily; 'it may be that it is the only thing that baronets are good for. I shouldn't wonder. The existence of baronets,' he added musingly, 'has always seemed to the thoughtful to lack justification. Perhaps this deed which you will begin to-day is the wise end to which baronets were designed.'

'Yes, I daresay,' said Philip; 'but what is the end?'

'I don't know,' Mr. Noah owned, 'but I'll tell you what the deed is. You've got to journey to the land of the Dwellers by the Sea and, by any means that may commend itself to you, slay their fear.'

Philip naturally asked what the Dwellers by the Sea were afraid of.

'That you will learn from them,' said Mr. Noah; 'but it is a very great fear.'

'Is it something we shall be afraid of too?' Lucy asked. And Philip at once said, 'Oh, then she really did mean to come, did she? But she wasn't to if she was afraid. Girls weren't expected to be brave.'

'They are, here,' said Mr. Noah, 'the girls are expected to be brave and the boys kind.'

'Oh,' said Philip doubtfully. And Lucy said:

'Of course I meant to come. You know you promised.'

So that was settled.

'And now,' said Mr. Noah, rubbing his hands with the cheerful air of one who has a great deal to do and is going to enjoy doing it, 'we must fit you out a proper expedition, for the Dwellers by the Sea are a very long way off. What would you like to ride on?'

'A horse,' said Philip, truly pleased. He said horse, because he did not want to ride a donkey, and he had never seen any one ride any animal but these two.

'That's right,' Mr. Noah said, patting him on the back. 'I was so afraid you'd ask for a bicycle. And there's a dreadful law here—it was made by mistake, but there it is—that if any one asks for machinery they have to have it and keep on using it. But as to a horse. Well, I'm not sure. You see, you have to ride right across the pebbly waste, and it's a good three days' journey. But come along to the stables.'

You know the kind of stables they would be? The long shed with stalls such as you had, when you were little, for your little wooden horses and carts? Only there were not only horses here, but every sort of animal that has ever been ridden on. Elephants, camels, donkeys, mules, bulls, goats, zebras, tortoises, ostriches, bisons, and pigs. And in the last stall of all, which was not of common wood but of beaten silver, stood the very Hippogriff himself, with his long, white mane and his long, white tail, and his gentle, beautiful eyes. His long, white wings were folded neatly on his satin-smooth back, and how he and the stall got here was more than Philip could guess. All the others were Noah's Ark animals, alive, of course, but still Noah's Arky beyond possibility of mistake. But the Hippogriff was not Noah's Ark at all.

'He came,' Mr. Noah explained, 'out of a book. One of the books you used to build your city with.'

'Can't we have him?' Lucy said; 'he looks such a darling.' And the Hippogriff turned his white velvet nose and nuzzled against her in affectionate acknowledgment of the compliment.

'Not if you both go,' Mr. Noah explained. 'He cannot carry more than one person at a time unless one is an Earl. No, if I may advise, I should say go by camel.'

'Can the camel carry two?'

'Of course. He is called the ship of the desert,' Mr. Noah informed them, 'and a ship that wouldn't carry more than one would be simply silly.'

So that was settled. Mr. Noah himself saddled and bridled the camel, which was a very large one, with his own hands.

'Let me see,' he said, standing thoughtful with the lead rope in his hand, 'you'll be wanting dogs—'

'I always want dogs,' said Philip warmly.

'—to use in emergencies.' He whistled and two Noah's Ark dogs leaped from their kennels to their chains' end. They were dachshunds, very long and low, and very alike except that one was a little bigger and a little browner than the other.

'This is your master and that's your mistress,' Mr. Noah explained to the dogs, and they fawned round the children.

'Then you'll want things to eat and things to drink and tents and umbrellas in case of bad weather, and—— But let's turn down this street; just at the corner we shall find exactly what we want.'

It was a shop that said outside 'Universal Provider. Expeditions fitted out at a moment's notice. Punctuality and dispatch.' The shopkeeper came forward politely. He was so exactly like Mr. Noah that the children knew who he was even before he said, 'Well, father,' and Mr. Noah said, 'This is my son: he has had some experience in outfits.'

'What have you got to start with?' the son asked, getting to business at once.

'Two dogs, two children, and a camel,' said Mr. Noah. 'Yes, I know it's customary to have two of everything, but I assure you, my dear boy, that one camel is as much as Sir Philip can manage. It is indeed.'

Mr. Noah's son very dutifully supposed that his father knew best and willingly agreed to provide everything that was needed for the expedition, including one best-quality talking parrot, and to deliver all goods, carefully packed, within half an hour.

. . . . . . .

So now you see Philip, and Lucy who still wore her fairy dress, packed with all their belongings on the top of a very large and wobbly camel, and being led out of the city by the usual procession, with seven bands of music all playing 'See the Conquering Hero goes,' quite a different tune from the one you know, which has a name a little like that.

The camel and its load were rather a tight fit for the particular gateway that they happened to go out by, and the children had to stoop to avoid scraping their heads against the top of the arch. But they got through all right, and now they were well on the road which was really little more than a field path running through the flowery meadow country where the dragon had been killed. They saw the Stonehenge ruins and the big tower far away to the left, and in front lay the vast and interesting expanse of the Absolutely Unknown.

The sun was shining—there was a sun, and Mr. Noah had told the children that it came out of the poetry books, together with rain and flowers and the changing seasons—and in spite of the strange, almost-tumble-no-it's-all-right-but-you'd-better-look-out way in which the camel walked, the two travellers were very happy. The dogs bounded along in the best of spirits, and even the camel seemed less a prey than usual to that proud melancholy which you must have noticed in your visits to the Zoo as his most striking quality.

It was certainly very grand to ride on a camel, and Lucy tried not to think how difficult it would be to get on and off. The parrot was interesting too. It talked extremely well. Of course you understand that, if you can only make a parrot understand, it can tell you everything you want to know about other animals; because it understands their talk quite naturally and without being made. The present parrot declined ordinary conversation, and when questioned only recited poetry of a rather dull kind that went on and on. 'Arms and the man I sing' it began, and then something about haughty Juno. Its voice was soothing, and riding on the camel was not unlike being rocked in a very bumpety cradle. The children were securely seated in things like padded panniers, and they had had an exciting day. As the sun set, which it did quite soon, the parrot called out to the nearest dog, 'I say, Max, they're asleep.'

'I don't wonder,' said Max. 'But it's all right. Humpty knows the way.'

'Keep a civil tongue in your head, you young dog, can't you?' said the camel grumpily.

'Don't be cross, darling,' said the other dog, whose name was Brenda, 'and be sure you stop at a really first-class oasis for the night. But I know we can trust you, dear.'

The camel muttered that it was all very well, but his voice was not quite as cross as before.

After that the expedition went on in silence through the deepening twilight.

A tumbling, shaking, dumping sensation, more like a soft railway accident than anything else, awakened our travellers, and they found that the camel was kneeling down.

'Off you come,' said the parrot, 'and make the fire and boil the kettle.'

'Polly put the kettle on,' Lucy said absently, as she slid down to the ground; to which the parrot replied, 'Certainly not. I wish you wouldn't rake up that old story. It was quite false. I never did put a kettle on, and I never will.'

Why should I describe to you the adventure of camping at an oasis in a desert? You must all have done it many times; or if you have not done it, you have read about it. You know all about the well and the palm trees and the dates and things. They had cocoa for supper. It was great fun, and they slept soundly and awoke in the morning with a heart for any fate, as a respectable poet puts it.

The next day was just the same as the first, only instead of going through fresh green fields, the way lay through dry yellow desert. And again the children slept, and again the camel chose an oasis with remarkable taste and judgment. But the second night was not at all the same as the first. For in the middle of it the parrot awakened Philip by biting his ear, and then hopping to a safe distance from his awakening fists and crying out, 'Make up the camp fire—look alive. It's lions.' The dogs were whining and barking, and Brenda was earnestly trying to climb a palm tree. Max faced the danger, it is true, but he seemed to have no real love of sport.

Philip sprang up and heaped dead palm scales and leaves on the dying fire. It blazed up and something moved beyond the bushes. Philip wondered whether those pairs of shining things, like strayed stars, that he saw in the darkness, could really be the eyes of lions.

'What a nuisance these lions are to be sure,' said the parrot. 'No, they won't come near us while the fire's burning, but really, they ought to be put down by law.'

'Why doesn't somebody kill them?' Lucy asked. She had wakened when Philip did, and, after a meditative minute, had helped with the palm scales and things.

'It's not so easy,' said the parrot; 'nobody knows how to do it. How would you kill a lion?'

'I don't know,' said Philip; but Lucy said, 'Are they Noah's Ark lions?'

'Of course they are,' said Polly; 'all the books with lions in them are kept shut up.'

'I know how you could kill Noah's Ark lions if you could catch them,' Lucy said.

'It's easy enough to catch them,' said Polly; 'an hour after dawn they go to sleep, but it's unsportsmanlike to kill game when it's asleep.'

'I'm going to think, if you don't mind,' Lucy announced, and sat down very near the fire. 'It's just the opposite of the dragon,' she said after a minute. The parrot nodded and there was a long silence. Then suddenly Lucy jumped up.

'I know,' she cried, 'oh—I really do know. And it won't hurt them either. I don't a bit mind killing things, but I do hate hurting them. There's plenty of rope, I know.'

There was.

'Then when it's dawn we'll tie them up and then you'll see.'

'I think you might tell me,' said Philip, injured.

'No—they may understand what we say. Polly does.'

Philip made a natural suggestion. But Lucy replied that it was not manners to whisper, and the parrot said that it should think not indeed.

So, sitting by the fire, all faces turned to where those strange twin stars shone and those strange hidden movements and rustlings stirred, the expedition waited for the dawn. Brenda had given up the tree-climbing idea, and was cuddling up as close to Lucy as possible. The camel, who had been trembling with fear all the while, tried to cuddle up to Philip, which would have been easier if it had been a smaller kind instead of being, as it was, what Mr. Noah's son, the Universal Provider, had called, 'an out size in camels.'

And presently dawn came, not slow and silvery as dawns come here, but sudden and red, with strong level lights and the shadows of the palm trees stretching all across the desert.

In broad daylight it did not seem so hard to have to go and look for the lions. They all went—even the camel pulled himself together to join the lion-hunt, and Brenda herself decided to come rather than be left alone.

The lions were easily found. There were only two of them, of course, and they were lying close together, each on its tawny side on the sandy desert at the edge of the oasis.

Very gently the ropes, with slip knots, were fitted over their heads, and the other end of the rope passed round a palm tree. Other ropes round the trees were passed round what would have been the waists of the lions if lions had such things as waists.

'Now!' whispered Lucy, and at once all four ropes were pulled tight. The lions struggled, but only in their sleep. And soon they were still. Then with more and more ropes their legs and tails were made fast.

'And that's all right,' said Lucy, rather out of breath. 'Where's Polly?'

'Here,' replied that bird from a neighbouring bush. 'I thought I should only be in the way if I kept close to you. But I longed to lend a claw in such good work. Can I help now?'

'Will you please explain to the dogs?' said Lucy. 'It's their turn now. The only way I know to kill Noah's Ark lions is to lick the paint off and break their legs. And if the dogs lick all the paint off their legs they won't feel it when we break them.'

Polly hastened to explain to the dogs, and then turned again to Lucy.

'They asked if you're sure the ropes will hold, and I've told them of course. So now they're going to begin. I only hope the paint won't make them ill.'

'It never did me,' said Lucy. 'I sucked the dove quite clean one Sunday, and it wasn't half bad. Tasted of sugar a little and eucalyptus oil like they give you when you've got a cold. Tell them that, Polly.'

Polly did, and added, 'I will recite poetry to them to hearten them to their task.'

'Do,' said Philip heartily, 'it may make them hurry up. But perhaps you'd better tell them that we shall pinch their tails if they happen to go to sleep.'

Then the children had a cocoa-and-date breakfast. (All expeditions seem to live mostly on cocoa, and when they come back they often write to the cocoa makers to say how good it was and they don't know what they would have done without it.) And the noble and devoted dogs licked and licked and licked, and the paint began to come off the lions' legs like anything. It was heavy work turning the lions over so as to get at the other or unlicked side, but the expedition worked with a will, and the lions resisted but feebly, being still asleep, and, besides, weak from loss of paint. And the dogs had a drink given them and were patted and praised, and set to work again. And they licked and licked for hours and hours. And in the end all the paint was off the lions' legs, and Philip chopped them off with the explorer's axe which that experienced Provider, Mr. Noah's son, had thoughtfully included in the outfit of the expedition. And as he chopped the chips flew, and Lucy picked one up, and it was wood, just wood and nothing else, though when they had tied it up it had been real writhing resisting lion-leg and no mistake. And when all the legs were chopped off, Philip put his hand on a lion body, and that was wood too. So the lions were dead indeed.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse