'It seems a pity,' he said. 'Lions are such jolly beasts when they are alive.'
'I never cared for lions myself,' said Polly; and Lucy said, 'Never mind, Phil. It didn't hurt them anyway.'
And that was the first time she ever called him Phil.
'All right, Lu,' said Philip. 'It was jolly clever of you to think of it anyhow.'
And that was the first time he ever called her Lu.
. . . . . . .
They saw the straight pale line of the sea for a long time before they came to the place of the Dwellers by the Sea. For these people had built their castle down on the very edge of the sea, and the Pebbly Waste rose and rose to a mountain that hid their castle from the eyes of the camel-riders who were now drawing near to the scene of their next deed. The Pebbly Waste was all made of small slippery stones, and the children understood how horrid a horse would have found it. Even the camel went very slowly, and the dogs no longer frisked and bounded, but went at a foot's pace with drooping ears and tails.
'I should call a halt, if I were you,' said Polly. 'We shall all be the better for a cup of cocoa. And besides——'
Polly refused to explain this dark hint and only added, 'Look out for surprises.'
'I thought,' said Philip, draining the last of his second mug of cocoa, 'I thought there were no birds in the desert except you, and you're more a person than a bird. But look there.'
Far away across the desert a moving speck showed, high up in the blue air. It grew bigger and bigger, plainly coming towards the camp. It was as big as a moth now, now as big as a teacup, now as big as an eagle, and——
'But it's got four legs,' said Lucy.
'Yes,' said the parrot; 'it would have, you know. It is the Hippogriff.'
It was indeed that magnificent wonder. Flying through the air with long sweeps of his great white wings, the Hippogriff drew nearer and nearer, bearing on his back—what?
'It's the Pretenderette,' cried Lucy, and at the same moment Philip said, 'It's that nasty motor thing.'
It was. The Hippogriff dropped from the sky to the desert below as softly as a butterfly alighting on a flower, and stood there in all his gracious whiteness. And on his back was the veiled motor lady.
'So glad I've caught you up,' she said in that hateful voice of hers; 'now we can go on together.'
'I don't see what you wanted to come at all for,' said Philip downrightly.
'Oh, don't you?' she said, sitting up there on the Hippogriff with her horrid motor veil fluttering in the breeze from the now hidden sea. 'Why, of course, I have a right to be present at all experiments. There ought to be some responsible grown-up person to see that you really do what you're sure to say you've done.'
'Do you mean that we're liars?' Philip asked hotly.
'I don't mean to say anything about it,' the Pretenderette answered with an unpleasant giggle, 'but a grown-up person ought to be present.' She added something about a parcel of birds and children. And the parrot ruffled his feathers till he looked twice his proper size.
Philip said he didn't see it.
'Oh, but I do,' said the Pretenderette; 'if you fail, then it's my turn, and I might very likely succeed the minute after you'd failed. So we'll all go on comfortably together. Won't that be nice?'
A speechless despair seemed to have fallen on the party. Nobody spoke. The children looked blank, the dogs whined, the camel put on his haughtiest sneer, and the parrot fidgeted in his fluffed-out feather dress.
'Let's be starting,' said the motor lady. 'Gee-up, pony!' A shiver ran through every one present. That a Pretenderette should dare to speak so to a Hippogriff!
Suddenly the parrot spread its wings and flew to perch on Philip's shoulder. It whispered in his ear.
'Whispering is not manners, I know,' it said, 'but your own generous heart will excuse me. "Parcel of birds and children." Doesn't your blood boil?'
Philip thought it did.
'Well, then,' said the bird impatiently, 'what are we waiting for? You've only got to say the word and I'll take her back by the ear.'
'I wish you would,' said Philip from the heart.
'Nothing easier,' said the parrot, 'the miserable outsider! Intruding into our expedition! I advise you to await my return here. Or if I am not back by the morning there will be no objection to your calling, about noon, on the Dwellers. I can rejoin you there. Good-bye.'
It stroked his ear with a gentle and kindly beak and flew into the air and circled three times round the detested motor lady's head.
'Get away,' she cried, flapping her hands furiously; 'call your silly Poll-parrot off, can't you?' And then she screamed, 'Oh! it's got hold of my ear!'
'Oh, don't hurt her,' said Lucy.
'I will not hurt her;' the parrot let the ear go on purpose to say this, and the Pretenderette covered both ears with her hands. 'You person in the veil, I shall take hold again in a moment. And it will hurt you much less if the Hippogriff and I happen to be flying in the same direction. See? If I were you I should just say "Go back the way you came, please," to the Hippogriff, and then I shall hardly hurt you at all. Don't think of getting off. If you do, the dogs will have you. Keep your hands over your ears if you like. I know you can hear me well enough. Now I am going to take hold of you again. Keep your hands where they are. I'm not particular to an ear or so. A nose will do just as well.'
The person on the Hippogriff put both hands to her nose. Instantly the parrot had her again by the ear.
'Go back the way you came,' she cried; 'but I'll be even with you children yet.'
The Hippogriff did not move.
'Let go my ear,' screamed the lady.
'You'll have to say please, you know,' said Philip; 'not to the bird, I don't mean that: that's no good. But to the Hippogriff.'
'Please then,' said the lady in a burst of temper, and instantly the white wings parted and spread and the Hippogriff rose in the air. Polly let the ear go for the moment to say:
'I shan't hurt her so long as she behaves,' and then took hold again and his little grey wings and the big white wings of the Hippogriff went sailing away across the desert.
'What a treasure of a parrot?' said Philip. But Lucy said:
'Who is that Pretenderette? Why is she so horrid to us when every one else is so nice?'
'I don't know,' said Philip, 'hateful old thing.'
'I can't help feeling as if I knew her quite well, if I could only remember who she is.'
'Do you?' said Philip. 'I say, let's play noughts and crosses. I've got a notebook and a bit of pencil in my pocket. We might play till it's time to go to sleep.'
So they played noughts and crosses on the Pebbly Waste, and behind them the parrot and the Hippogriff took away the tiresome one, and in front of them lay the high pebble ridge that was like a mountain, and beyond that was the unknown and the adventure and the Dwellers and the deed to be done.
THE DWELLERS BY THE SEA
You soon get used to things. It seemed quite natural and homelike to Philip to be wakened in bright early out-of-door's morning by the gentle beak of the parrot at his ear.
'You got back all right then,' he said sleepily.
'It was rather a long journey,' said the parrot, 'but I thought it better to come back by wing. The Hippogriff offered to bring me; he is the soul of courteous gentleness. But he was tired too. The Pretenderette is in gaol for the moment, but I'm afraid she'll get out again; we're so unused to having prisoners, you see. And it's no use putting her on her honour, because——'
'Because she hasn't any,' Philip finished.
'I wouldn't say that,' said the parrot, 'of anybody. I'd only say we haven't come across it. What about breakfast?'
'How meals do keep happening,' said Lucy, yawning; 'it seems only a few minutes since supper. And yet here we are, hungry again!'
'Ah!' said the parrot, 'that's what people always feel when they have to get their meals themselves!'
When the camel and the dogs had been served with breakfast, the children and the parrot sat down to eat. And there were many questions to ask. The parrot answered some, and some it didn't answer.
'But there's one thing,' said Lucy, 'I do most awfully want to know. About the Hippogriff. How did it get out of the book?'
'It's a long story,' said the parrot, 'so I'll tell it shortly. That's a very good rule. Tell short stories longly and long stories shortly. Many years ago, in repairing one of the buildings, the masons removed the supports of one of the books which are part of the architecture. The book fell. It fell open, and out came the Hippogriff. Then they saw something struggling under the next page and lifted it, and out came a megatherium. So they shut the book and built it into the wall again.'
'But how did the megawhatsitsname and the Hippogriff come to be the proper size?'
'Ah! that's one of the eleven mysteries. Some sages suppose that the country gave itself a sort of shake and everything settled down into the size it ought to be. I think myself that it's the air. The moment you breathe this enchanted air you become the right size. You did, you know.'
'But why did they shut the book?'
'It was a book of beasts. Who knows what might have come out next? A tiger perhaps. And ravening for its prey as likely as not.'
'I see,' said Philip; 'and of course beasts weren't really needed, because of there being all the Noah's Ark ones.'
'Yes,' said the parrot, 'so they shut the book.'
'But the weather came out of books?'
'That was another book, a poetry book. It had only one cover, so everything that was on the last page got out naturally. We got a lot out of that page, rain and sun and sky and clouds, mountains, gardens, roses, lilies, flowers in general, "Blossoms of delight" they were called in the book and trees and the sea, and the desert and silver and iron—as much of all of them as anybody could possibly want. There are no limits to poets' imaginations, you know.'
'I see,' said Lucy, and took a large bite of cake. 'And where did you come from, Polly, dear?'
'I,' said the parrot modestly, 'came out of the same book as the Hippogriff. We were on the same page. My wings entitled me to associate with him, of course, but I have sometimes thought they just put me in as a contrast. My smallness, his greatness; my red and green, his white.'
'I see,' said Lucy again, 'and please will you tell us——'
'Enough of this,' said the parrot; 'business before pleasure. You have begun the day with the pleasures of my conversation. You will have to work very hard to pay for this privilege.'
So they washed up the breakfast things in warm water obligingly provided by the camel.
'And now,' said the parrot, 'we must pack up and go on our way to destroy the fear of the Dwellers by the Sea.'
'I wonder,' Brenda said to Max in an undertone, 'I wonder whether it wouldn't be best for dear little dogs to lose themselves? We could turn up later, and be so very glad to be found.'
'But why?' Max asked.
'I've noticed,' said Brenda, sidling up to him with eager affectionateness, 'that wherever there's fear there's something to be afraid of, even if it's only your fancy. It would be dreadful for dear little dogs to be afraid, Max, wouldn't it? So undignified.'
'My dear,' said Max heavily, 'I could give seven noble reasons for being faithful to our master. But I will only give you one. There is nothing to eat in the desert, and nothing to drink.'
'You always were so noble, dearest,' said Brenda; 'so different from poor little me. I've only my affectionate nature. I know I'm only a silly little thing.'
So when the camel lurched forward and the parrot took wing, the dogs followed closely.
'Dear faithful things,' said Lucy. 'Brenda! Max! Nice dogs!'
And the dogs politely responding, bounded enthusiastically.
The journey was not long. Quite soon they found a sort of ravine or gully in the cliff, and a path that led through it. And then they were on the beach, very pebbly with small stones, and there was the home of the Dwellers by the Sea; and beyond it, broad and blue and beautiful, the sea by which they dwelt.
The Dwelling seemed to be a sort of town of rounded buildings more like lime-kilns than anything else, with arched doors leading to dark insides. They were all built of tiny stones, such as lay on the beach. Beyond the huts or houses towered the castle, a vast rough structure with towers and arches and buttresses and bastions and glacis and bridges and a great moat all round it.
'But I never built a city like that, did you?' Lucy asked as they drew near.
'No,' Philip answered; 'at least—do you know, I do believe it's the sand castle Helen and I built last summer at Dymchurch. And those huts are the moulds I made of my pail—with the edges worn off, you know.'
Towards the castle the travellers advanced, the camel lurching like a boat on a rough sea, and the dogs going with cat-like delicacy over the stones. They skirted large pools and tall rocks seaweed covered. Along a road broad enough for twelve chariots to have driven on it abreast, slowly they came to the great gate of the castle. And as they got nearer, they saw at every window heads leaning out; every battlement, every terrace, was crowded with figures. And when they were quite near, by throwing their heads very far back, so that their necks felt quite stiff for quite a long time afterwards, the children could see that all those people seemed quite young, and seemed to have very odd and delightful clothes—just a garment from shoulder to knee made, as it seemed, of dark fur.
'What lots of them there are,' said Philip; 'where did they come from?'
'Out of a book,' said the parrot; 'but the authorities were very prompt that time. Only a line and a half got out.
'Happy troops Of gentle islanders.
Those are the islanders.'
'Then why,' asked Philip naturally, 'aren't they on an island?'
'There's only one island, and no one is allowed on that except two people who never go there. But the islanders are happy even if they don't live on an island—always happy, except for the great fear.'
Here the travellers began to cross one of the bridges across the moat, the bridge, in fact, which led to the biggest arch of all. It was a very rough arch, like the entrance to a cave.
And from out its dark mouth came a little crowd of people.
'They're savages,' said Lucy, shrinking till she seemed only an extra hump on the camel's back.
They were indeed of a dark complexion, sunburnt in fact, but their faces were handsome and kindly. They waved friendly hands and smiled in the most agreeable and welcoming way.
The tallest islander stepped out from the crowd. He was about as big as Philip.
'They're not savages,' said Philip; 'don't be a donkey. They're just children.'
'Hush!' said the parrot; 'the Lord High Islander is now about to begin the state address of welcome!'
He was. And this was the address.
'How jolly of you to come. Do get down off that camel and come indoors and have some grub. Jim, you might take that camel round to the stable and rub him down a bit. You'd like to keep the dogs with you, of course. And what about the parrot?'
'Thanks awfully,' Philip responded, and slid off the camel, followed by Lucy; 'the parrot will make his own mind up—he always does.'
They all trooped into the hall of the castle which was more like a cave than a hall and very dark, for the windows were little and high up. As Lucy's eyes got used to the light she perceived that the clothes of the islanders were not of skins but of seaweed.
'I asked you in,' said the Lord High Islander, a jolly-looking boy of about Philip's age, 'out of politeness. But really it isn't dinner time, and the meet is in half an hour. So, unless you're really hungry——?'
The children said 'Not at all!'
'You hunt, of course?' the Lord High Islander said; 'it's really the only sport we get here, except fishing. Of course we play games and all that. I do hope you won't be dull.'
'We came here on business,' the parrot remarked—and the happy islanders crowded round to see him, remarking—'these are Philip and Lucy, claimants to the Deliverership. They are doing their deeds, you know,' the parrot ended.
Lucy whispered, 'It's really Philip who is the claimant, not me; only the parrot's so polite.'
The Lord High Islander frowned. 'We can talk about that afterwards,' he said; 'it's a pity to waste time now.'
'What do you hunt?' Philip asked.
'All the different kinds of graibeeste and the vertoblancs; and the blugraiwee, when we can find him,' said the Lord High Islander. 'But he's very scarce. Pinkuggers are more common, and much bigger, of course. Well, you'll soon see. If your camel's not quite fresh I can mount you both. What kind of animal do you prefer?'
'What do you ride?' Philip asked.
It appeared that the Lord High Islander rode a giraffe, and Philip longed to ride another. But Lucy said she would rather ride what she was used to, thank you.
When they got out into the courtyard of the castle, they found it full of a crowd of animals, any of which you may find in the Zoo, or in your old Noah's ark if it was a sufficiently expensive one to begin with, and if you have not broken or lost too many of the inhabitants. Each animal had its rider and the party rode out on to the beach.
'What is it they hunt?' Philip asked the parrot, who had perched on his shoulder.
'All the little animals in the Noah's ark that haven't any names,' the parrot told him. 'All those are considered fair game. Hullo! blugraiwee!' it shouted, as a little grey beast with blue spots started from the shelter of a rock and made for the cover of a patch of giant seaweed. Then all sorts of little animals got up and scurried off into places of security.
'There goes a vertoblanc,' said the parrot, pointing to a bright green animal of uncertain shape, whose breast and paws were white, 'and there's a graibeeste.'
The graibeeste was about as big as a fox, and had rabbit's ears and the unusual distinction of a tail coming out of his back just half-way between one end of him and the other. But there are graibeestes of all sorts and shapes.
You know when people are making the animals for Noah's arks they make the big ones first, elephants and lions and tigers and so on, and paint them as nearly as they can the right colours. Then they get weary of copying nature and begin to paint the animals pink and green and chocolate colour, which in nature is not the case. These are the chockmunks, and vertoblancs and the pinkuggers. And presently the makers get sick of the whole business and make the animals any sort of shape and paint them all one grey—these are the graibeestes. And at the very end a guilty feeling of having been slackers comes over the makers of the Noah's arks, and they paint blue spots on the last and littlest of the graibeestes to ease their consciences. This is the blugraiwee.
'Tally Ho! Hark forrad! Yoicks!' were some of the observations now to be heard on every side as the hunt swept on, the blugraiwee well ahead. Dogs yapped, animals galloped, riders shouted, the sun shone, the sea sparkled, and far ahead the blugraiwee ran, extended to his full length like a grey straight line. He was killed five miles from the castle after a splendid run. And when a pinkugger had been secured and half a dozen graibeeste, the hunt rode slowly home.
'We only hunt to kill and we only kill for food,' the Lord High Islander said.
'But,' said Philip, 'I thought Noah's ark animals turned into wood when they were dead?'
'Not if you kill for food. The intention makes all the difference. I had a plum-cake intention when we put up the blugraiwee, the pinkugger I made a bread and butter intention about, and the graibeestes I intended for rice pudding and prunes and toffee and ices and all sorts of odd things. So, of course, when we come to cut them up they'll be what I intended.'
'I see,' said Philip, jogging along on his camel. 'I say,' he added, 'you don't mind my asking—how is it you're all children here?'
'Well,' said the Lord High Islander, 'it's ancient history, so I don't suppose it's true. But they say that when the government had to make sure that we should always be happy troops of gentle islanders, they decided that the only way was for us to be children. And we do have the most ripping time. And we do our own hunting and cooking and wash up our own plates and things, and for heavy work we have the M.A.'s. They're men who've had to work at sums and history and things at College so hard that they want a holiday. So they come here and work for us, and if any of us do want to learn anything, the M.A.'s are handy to have about the place. It pleases them to teach anything, poor things. They live in the huts. There's always a long list waiting for their turn. Oh yes, they wear the seaweed dress the same as we do. And they hunt on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. They hunt big game, the fierce ambergris who is grey with a yellow stomach and the bigger graibeestes. Now we'll have dinner the minute we get in, and then we must talk about It.'
The game was skinned and cut up in the courtyard, and the intentions of the Lord High Islander had certainly been carried out. For the blugraiwee was plum-cake, and the other animals just what was needed.
And after dinner the Lord High Islander took Lucy and Philip up on to the top of the highest tower, and the three lay in the sun eating toffee and gazing out over the sea at the faint distant blue of the island.
'The island where we aren't allowed to go,' as the Lord High Islander sadly pointed out.
'Now,' said Lucy gently, 'you won't mind telling us what you're afraid of? Don't mind telling us. We're afraid too; we're afraid of all sorts of things quite often.'
'Speak for yourself,' said Philip, but not unkindly. 'I'm not so jolly often afraid as you seem to think. Go ahead, my Lord.'
'You might as well call me Billy,' said the Lord High Islander; 'it's my name.'
'Well, Billy, then. What is it you're afraid of?'
'I hate being afraid,' said Billy angrily. 'Of course I know no true boy is afraid of anything except doing wrong. One of the M.A.'s told me that. But the M.A.'s are afraid too.'
'What of?' Lucy asked, glancing at the terrace below, where already the shadows were lengthening; 'it'll be getting dark soon. I'd much rather know what you're afraid of while it's daylight.'
'What we're afraid of,' said Billy abruptly, 'is the sea. Suppose a great wave came and washed away the castle, and the huts, and the M.A.'s and all of us?'
'But it never has, has it?' Lucy asked.
'No, but everything must have a beginning. I know that's true, because another of the M.A.'s told it me.'
'But why don't you go and live somewhere inland?'
'Because we couldn't live away from the sea. We're islanders, you know; we couldn't bear not to be near the sea. And we'd rather be afraid of it, than not have it to be afraid of. But it upsets the government, because we ought to be happy troops of gentle islanders, and you can't be quite happy if you're afraid. That's why it's one of your deeds to take away our fear.'
'It sounds jolly difficult,' said Philip; 'I shall have to think,' he added desperately. So he lay and thought with Max and Brenda asleep by his side and the parrot preening its bright feathers on the parapet of the tower, while Lucy and the Lord High Islander played cat's cradle with a long thread of seaweed.
'It's supper time,' said Billy at last. 'Have you thought of anything?'
'Not a single thing,' said Philip.
'Well, don't swat over it any more,' said Billy; 'just stay with us and have a jolly time. You're sure to think of something. Or else Lucy will. We'll act charades to-night.'
They did. The rest of the islanders were an extremely jolly lot, and all the M.A.'s came out of their huts to be audience. It was a charming evening, and ended up with hide-and-seek all over the castle.
To wake next morning on a bed of soft, dry, sweet-smelling seaweed, and to know that the day was to be spent in having a good time with the jolliest set of children she had ever met, was delightful to Lucy. Philip's delight was dashed by the knowledge that he must, sooner or later, think. But the day passed most agreeably. They all bathed in the rock pools, picked up shell-fish for dinner, played rounders in the afternoon, and in the evening danced to the music made by the M.A.'s who most of them carried flutes in their pockets, and who were all very flattered at being asked to play.
So the pleasant days went on. Every morning Philip said to himself, 'Now to-day I really must think of something,' and every night he said, 'I really ought to have thought of something.' But he never could think of anything to take away the fear of the gentle islanders.
It was on the sixth night that the storm came. The wind blew and the sea roared and the castle shook to its very foundations. And Philip, awakened by the noise and the shaking, sat up in bed and understood what the fear was that spoiled the happiness of the Dwellers by the Sea.
'Suppose the sea did sweep us all away,' he said; 'and they haven't even got a boat.'
And then, when he was quite far from expecting it, he did think of something. And he went on thinking about it so hard that he couldn't sleep any more.
And in the morning he said to the parrot:
'I've thought of something. And I'm not going to tell the others. But I can't do it all by myself. Do you think you could get Perrin for me?'
'I will try with pleasure,' replied the obliging bird, and flew off without further speech.
That afternoon, just as a picnic tea was ending, a great shadow fell on the party, and next moment the Hippogriff alighted with Mr. Perrin and the parrot on its back.
'Oh, thank you,' said Philip, and led Mr. Perrin away and began to talk to him in whispers.
'No, sir,' Mr. Perrin answered suddenly and aloud. 'I'm sorry, but I couldn't think of it.'
'Don't you know how?' Philip asked.
'I know everything as is to be known in my trade,' said Mr. Perrin, 'but carpentry's one thing, and manners is another. Not but what I know manners too, which is why I won't be a party to no such a thing.'
'But you don't understand,' said Philip, trying to keep up with Mr. Perrin's long strides. 'What I want to do is for you to build a Noah's ark on the top of the highest tower. Then when the sea's rough and the wind blows, all the Sea-Dwellers can just get into their ark and then they'll be quite safe whatever happens.'
'You said all that afore,' said Mr. Perrin, 'and I wonder at you, so I do.'
'I thought it was such a good idea,' said poor Philip in gloom.
'Oh, the idea's all right,' said Mr. Perrin; 'there ain't nothing to complain of 'bout the idea.'
'Then what is wrong?' Philip asked impatiently.
'You've come to the wrong shop,' said Mr. Perrin slowly. 'I ain't the man to take away another chap's job, not if he was to be in the humblest way of business; but when it comes to slapping the government in the face, well, there, Master Pip, I wouldn't have thought it of you. It's as much as my place is worth.'
'Look here,' said Philip, stopping short in despair, 'will you tell me straight out why you won't help me?'
'I'm not a-going to go building arks, at my time of life,' said Mr. Perrin. 'Mr. Noah'd break his old heart, so he would, if I was to take on his job over his head.'
'Oh, you mean I ought to ask him?'
''Course you ought to ask him. I don't mind lending a hand under his directions, acting as foreman like, so as to make a good job of it. But it's him you must give your order to.'
The parrot and the Hippogriff between them managed to get Mr. Noah to the castle by noon of the next day.
'Would you have minded,' Philip immediately asked him, 'if I'd had an ark built without asking you to do it?'
'Well,' said Mr. Noah mildly, 'I might have been a little hurt. I have had some experience, you know, my Lord.'
'Why do you call me that?' Philip asked.
'Because you are, of course. Your deed of slaying the lions counts one to you, and by virtue of it you are now a Baron. I congratulate you, Lord Leo,' said Mr. Noah.
He approved of Philip's idea, and he and Perrin were soon busy making plans, calculating strains and selecting materials.
Then Philip made a speech to the islanders and explained his idea. There was a great deal of cheering and shouting, and every one agreed that an ark on the topmost tower would meet a long-felt want, and that when once that ark was there, fear would for ever be a stranger to every gentle island heart.
And now the great work of building began. Mr. Perrin kindly consented to act as foreman and set to work a whole army of workmen—the M.A.'s of course. And soon the sound of saw and hammer mingled with the plash of waves and cries of sea-birds, and gangs of stalwart M.A.'s in their seaweed tunics bent themselves to the task of shaping great timbers and hoisting them to the top of the highest tower, where other gangs, under Mr. Noah's own eye, reared a scaffolding to support the ark while the building went on.
The children were not allowed to help, but they loved looking on, and almost felt that, if they looked on earnestly enough, they must, in some strange mysterious way, be actually helping. You know the feeling, I daresay.
The Hippogriff, who was stabled in the castle, flew up to wherever he was wanted, to assist in the hauling. Mr. Noah only had to whisper the magic word in his ear and up he flew. But what that magic word was the children did not know, though they asked often enough.
And now at last the ark was finished, the scaffolding was removed, and there was the great Noah's ark, firmly planted on the topmost tower. It was a perfect example of the ark-builder's craft. Its boat part was painted a dull red, its sides and ends were blue with black windows, and its roof was bright scarlet, painted in lines to imitate tiles. No least detail was neglected. Even to the white bird painted on the roof, which you must have noticed in your own Noah's ark.
A great festival was held, speeches were made, and every one who had lent a hand in the building, even the humblest M.A., was crowned with a wreath of fresh pink and green seaweed. Songs were sung, and the laureate of the Sea-Dwellers, a young M.A. with pale blue eyes and no chin, recited an ode beginning—
Now that we have our Noble Ark No more we tremble in the dark When the great seas and the winds cry out, For we are safe without a doubt.
At undue risings of the tide Within our Ark we'll safely hide, And bless the names of those who thus Have built a painted Ark for us.
There were three hundred and seventeen more lines, very much like these, and every one said it was wonderful, and the laureate was a genius, and how did he do it, and what brains, eh? and things like that.
And Philip and Lucy had crowns too. The Lord High Islander made a vote of thanks to Philip, who modestly replied that it was nothing, really, and anybody could have done it. And a spirit of gladness spread about among the company so that every one was smiling and shaking hands with everybody else, and even the M.A.'s were making little polite old jokes, and slapping each other on the back and calling each other 'old chap,' which was not at all their habit in ordinary life. The whole castle was decorated with garlands of pink and green seaweed like the wreaths that people were wearing, and the whole scene was the gayest and happiest you can imagine.
And then the dreadful thing happened.
Philip and Lucy were standing in their seaweed tunics, for of course they had, since the first day, worn the costume of the country, on the platform in the courtyard. Mr. Noah had just said, 'Well, then, we will enjoy this enjoyable day to the very end and return to the city to-morrow,' when a shadow fell on the group. It was the Hippogriff, and on its back was—some one. Before any one could see who that some one was, the Hippogriff had flown low enough for that some one to catch Philip by his seaweed tunic and to swing him off his feet and on to the Hippogriff's back. Lucy screamed, Mr. Perrin said, 'Here, I say, none of that,' and Mr. Noah said, 'Dear me!' And they all reached out their hands to pull Philip back. But they were all too late.
'I won't go. Put me down,' Philip shouted. They all heard that. And also they heard the answer of the person on the Hippogriff—the person who had snatched Philip on to its back.
'Oh, won't you, my Lord? We'll soon see about that,' the person said.
Three people there knew that voice, four counting Philip, six counting the dogs. The dogs barked and growled, Mr. Noah said 'Drop it;' and Lucy screamed, 'Oh no! oh no! it's that Pretenderette.' The parrot, with great presence of mind, flew up into the air and attacked the ear of the Pretenderette, for, as old books say, it was indeed that unprincipled character who had broken from prison and once more stolen the Hippogriff. But the Pretenderette was not to be caught twice by the same parrot. She was ready for the bird this time, and as it touched her ear she caught it in her motor veil which she must have loosened beforehand, and thrust it into a wicker cage that hung ready from the saddle of the Hippogriff who hovered on his wide white wings above the crowd of faces upturned.
'Now we shall see her face,' Lucy thought, for she could not get rid of the feeling that if she could only see the Pretenderette's face she would recognise it. But the Pretenderette was too wily to look down unveiled. She turned her face up, and she must have whispered the magic word, for the Hippogriff rose in the air and began to fly away with incredible swiftness across the sea.
'Oh, what shall I do?' cried Lucy, wringing her hands. You have often heard of people wringing their hands. Lucy, I assure you, really did wring hers. 'Oh! Mr. Noah, what will she do with him? Where will she take him? What shall I do? How can I find him again?'
'I deeply regret, my dear child,' said Mr. Noah, 'that I find myself quite unable to answer any single one of your questions.'
'But can't I go after him?' Lucy persisted.
'I am sorry to say,' said Mr. Noah, 'that we have no boats; the Pretenderette has stolen our one and only Hippogriff, and none of our camels can fly.'
'But what can I do?' Lucy stamped her foot in her agony of impatience.
'Nothing, my child,' Mr. Noah aggravatingly replied, 'except to go to bed and get a good night's rest. To-morrow we will return to the city and see what can be done. We must consult the oracle.'
'But can't we go now,' said Lucy, crying.
'No oracle is worth consulting till it's had its night's rest,' said Mr. Noah. 'It is a three days' journey. If we started now—see it is already dusk—we should arrive in the middle of the night. We will start early in the morning.'
But early in the morning there was no starting from the castle of the Dwellers by the Sea. There was indeed no one to start, and there was no castle to start from.
A young blugraiwee, peeping out of its hole after a rather disturbed night to see whether any human beings were yet stirring or whether it might venture out in search of yellow periwinkles, which are its favourite food, started, pricked its spotted ears, looked again, and, disdaining the cover of the rocks, walked boldly out across the beach. For the beach was deserted. There was no one there. No Mr. Noah, no Lucy, no gentle islanders, no M.A.'s—and what is more there were no huts and there was no castle. All was smooth, plain, bare sea-combed beach.
For the sea had at last risen. The fear of the Dwellers had been justified. Whether the sea had been curious about the ark no one knows, no one will ever know. At any rate the sea had risen up and swept away from the beach every trace of the castle, the huts and the folk who had lived there.
A bright parrot, with a streamer of motor veiling hanging to one claw, called suddenly from the clear air to the little blugraiwee.
'What's up?' the parrot asked; 'where's everything got to?'
'I don't know, I'm sure,' said the little blugraiwee; 'these human things are always coming and going. Have some periwinkles? They're very fine this morning after the storm,' it said.
UPS AND DOWNS
We left Lucy in tears and Philip in the grasp of the hateful Pretenderette, who, seated on the Hippogriff, was bearing him away across the smooth blueness of the wide sea.
'Oh, Mr. Noah,' said Lucy, between sniffs and sobs, 'how can she! You did say the Hippogriff could only carry one!'
'One ordinary human being,' said Mr. Noah gently; 'you forget that dear Philip is now an earl.'
'But do you really think he's safe?' Lucy asked.
'Yes,' said Mr. Noah. 'And now, dear Lucy, no more questions. Since your arrival on our shores I have been gradually growing more accustomed to being questioned, but I still find it unpleasant and fatiguing. Desist, I entreat.'
So Lucy desisted and every one went to bed, and, for crying is very tiring, to sleep. But not for long.
Lucy was awakened in her bed of soft dry seaweed by the sound of the castle alarm bell, and by the blaring of trumpets and the shouting of many voices. A bright light shone in at the window of her room. She jumped up and ran to the window and leaned out. Below lay the great courtyard of the castle, a moving sea of people on which hundreds of torches seemed to float, and the sound of shouting rose in the air as foam rises in the wind.
'The Fear! The Fear!' people were shouting. 'To the ark! to the ark!' And the black night that pressed round the castle was loud with the wild roar of waves and the shriek of a tumultuous wind.
Lucy ran to the door of her room. But suddenly she stopped.
'My clothes,' she said. And dressed herself hastily. For she perceived that her own petticoats and shoes were likely to have better wearing qualities than seaweed could possess, and if they were all going to take refuge in the ark, she felt she would rather have her own clothes on.
'Mr. Noah is sure to come for me,' she most sensibly told herself. 'And I'll get as many clothes on as I can.' Her own dress, of course, had been left at Polistopolis, but the ballet dress would be better than the seaweed tunic. When she was dressed she ran into Philip's room and rolled his clothes into a little bundle and carried it under her arm as she ran down the stairs. Half-way down she met Mr. Noah coming up.
'Ah! you're ready,' he said; 'it is well. Do not be alarmed, my Lucy. The tide is rising but slowly. There will be time for every one to escape. All is in train, and the embarkation of the animals is even now in progress. There has been a little delay in sorting the beasts into pairs. But we are getting on. The Lord High Islander is showing remarkable qualities. All the big animals are on board; the pigs were being coaxed on as I came up. And the ant-eaters are having a late supper. Do not be alarmed.'
'I can't help being alarmed,' said Lucy, slipping her free hand into Mr. Noah's, 'but I won't cry or be silly. Oh, I do wish Philip was here.'
'Most unreasonable of girl children,' said Mr. Noah; 'we are in danger and you wish him to be here to share it?'
'Oh, we are in danger, are we?' said Lucy quickly. 'I thought you said I wasn't to be alarmed.'
'No more you are,' said Mr. Noah shortly; 'of course you're in danger. But there's me. And there's the ark. What more do you want?'
'Nothing,' Lucy answered in a very small voice, and the two made their way to a raised platform overlooking the long inclined road which led up to the tower on which the ark had been built. A long procession toiled slowly up it of animals in pairs, urged and goaded by the M.A.'s under the orders of the Lord High Islander.
The wild wind blew the flames of the torches out like golden streamers, and the sound of the waves was like thunder on the shore.
Down below other M.A.'s were busy carrying bales tied up in seaweed. Seen from above the busy figures looked like ants when you kick into an ant-hill and the little ant people run this way and that way and every way about their little ant businesses.
The Lord High Islander came in pale and serious, with all the calm competence of Napoleon at a crisis.
'Sorry to have to worry you, sir,' he said to Mr. Noah, 'but of course your experience is invaluable just now. I can't remember what bears eat. Is it hay or meat?'
'It's buns,' said Lucy. 'I beg your pardon, Mr. Noah. Of course I ought to have waited for you to say.'
'In my ark,' said Mr. Noah, 'buns were unknown and bears were fed entirely on honey, the providing of which kept our pair of bees fully employed. But if you are sure bears like buns we must always be humane, dear Lucy, and study the natural taste of the animals in our charge.'
'They love them,' said Lucy.
'Buns and honey,' said the Lord Islander; 'and what about bats?'
'I don't know what bats eat,' said Mr. Noah; 'I believe it was settled after some discussion that they don't eat cats. But what they do eat is one of the eleven mysteries. You had better let the bats fast.'
'They are, sir,' said the Lord High Islander.
'And is all going well? Shall I come down and lend a personal eye?'
'I think I'm managing all right, sir,' said the Lord High Islander modestly. 'You see it's a great honour for me. The M.A.'s are carrying in the provisions, the boys are stowing them and also herding the beasts. They are very good workers, sir.'
'Are you frightened?' Lucy whispered, as he turned to go back to his overseeing.
'Not I,' said the Lord High Islander. 'Don't you understand that I've been promoted to be Lord Vice-Noah of Polistarchia? And of course the hearts of all Vice-Noahs are strangers to fear. But just think what a difficult thing Fear would have been to be a stranger to if you and Philip hadn't got us the ark!'
'It was Philip's doing,' said Lucy; 'oh, do you think he's all right?'
'I think his heart is a stranger to fear, naturally,' said the Lord High Islander, 'so he's certain to be all right.'
When the last of the animals had sniffed and snivelled its way into the ark—it was a porcupine with a cold in its head—the islanders, the M.A.'s, Lucy and Mr. Noah followed. And when every one was in, the door of the ark was shut from inside by an ingenious mechanical contrivance worked by a more than usually intelligent M.A.
You must not suppose that the inside of the ark was anything like the inside of your own Noah's ark, where all the animals are put in anyhow, all mixed together and wrong way up as likely as not. That, with live animals and live people, would, as you will readily imagine, be quite uncomfortable. The inside of the ark which had been built under the direction of Mr. Noah and Mr. Perrin was not at all like that. It was more like the inside of a big Atlantic liner than anything else I can think of. All the animals were stowed away in suitable stalls, and there were delightful cabins for all those for whom cabins were suitable. The islanders and the M.A.'s retired to their cabins in perfect order, and Lucy and Mr. Noah, Mr. Perrin and the Lord High Islander gathered in the saloon, which was large and had walls and doors of inlaid mother-of-pearl and pink coral. It was lighted by glass globes filled with phosphorus collected by an ingenious process invented by another of the M.A.'s.
'And now,' said Mr. Noah, 'I beg that anxiety may be dismissed from every mind. If the waters subside, they leave us safe. If they rise, as I confidently expect them to do, our ark will float, and we still are safe. In the morning I will take soundings and begin to steer a course. We will select a suitable spot on the shore, land and proceed to the Hidden Places, where we will consult the oracle. A little refreshment before we retire for what is left of the night? A captain's biscuit would perhaps not be inappropriate?' He took a tin from a locker and handed it round.
'That's A1, sir,' said the Lord High Islander, munching. 'What a head you have for the right thing.'
'All practice,' said Mr. Noah modestly.
'Thank you,' said Lucy, taking a biscuit; 'I wish. . . .'
The sentence was never finished. With a sickening suddenness the floor of the saloon heaved up under their feet, a roaring surging battering sound broke round them; the saloon tipped over on one side and the whole party was thrown on the pink silk cushions of the long settee. A shudder seemed to run through the ark from end to end, and 'What is it? Oh! what is it?' cried Lucy as the ark heeled over the other way and the unfortunate occupants were thrown on to the opposite set of cushions. (It really was, now, rather like what you imagine the inside of your Noah's ark must be when you put in Mr. Noah and his family and a few hastily chosen animals and shake them all up together.)
'It's the sea,' cried the Lord High Islander; 'it's the great Fear come upon us! And I'm not afraid!' He drew himself up as well as he could in his cramped position, with Mr. Noah's elbow pinning his shoulder down and Mr. Perrin's boot on his ear.
With a shake and a shiver the ark righted itself, and the floor of the saloon got flat again.
'It's all right,' said Mr. Perrin, resuming control of his boot; 'good workmanship, it do tell. She ain't shipped a drop, Mr. Noah, sir.'
'It's all right,' said Mr. Noah, taking his elbow to himself and standing up rather shakily on his yellow mat.
'We're afloat, we're afloat On the dark rolling tide; The ark's water-tight And the crew are inside.
'Up, up with the flag Let it wave o'er the sea; We're afloat, we're afloat— And what else should we be?'
'I don't know,' said Lucy; 'but there isn't any flag, is there?'
'The principle's the same,' said Mr. Noah; 'but I'm afraid we didn't think of a flag.'
'I did,' said Mr. Perrin; 'it's only a Jubilee hankey'—he drew it slowly from his breast-pocket, a cotton Union Jack it was—'but it shall wave all right. But not till daylight, I think, sir. Discretion's the better part of—don't you think, Mr. Noah, sir? Wouldn't do to open the ark out of hours, so to speak!'
'Just so,' said Mr. Noah. 'One, two, three! Bed!'
The ark swayed easily on a sea not too rough. The saloon passengers staggered to their cabins. And silence reigned in the ark.
* * * * * *
I am sorry to say that the Pretenderette dropped the wicker cage containing the parrot into the sea—an unpardonable piece of cruelty and revenge; unpardonable, that is, unless you consider that she did not really know any better. The Hippogriff's white wings swept on; Philip, now laid across the knees of the Pretenderette (a most undignified attitude for any boy, and I hope none of you may be placed in such a position), screamed as the cage struck the water, and, 'Oh, Polly!' he cried.
'All right,' the parrot answered; 'keep your pecker up!'
'What did it say?' the Pretenderette asked.
'Something about peck,' said Philip upside down.
'Ah!' said the Pretenderette with satisfaction, 'he won't do any more pecking for some time to come.' And the wide Hippogriff wings swept on over the wide sea.
Polly's cage fell and floated. And it floated alone till the dawn, when, with wheelings and waftings and cries, the gulls came from far and near to see what this new strange thing might be that bobbed up and down in their waters in the light of the new-born day.
'Hullo!' said Polly in bird-talk, clinging upside down to the top bars of the cage.
'Hullo, yourself,' replied the eldest gull; 'what's up? And who are you? And what are you doing in that unnatural lobster pot?'
'I conjure you,' said the parrot earnestly, 'I conjure you by our common birdhood to help me in my misfortune.'
'No gull who is a gull can resist that appeal,' said the master of the sea birds; 'what can we do, brother-bird?'
'The matter is urgent,' said Polly, but quite calmly. 'I am getting very wet and I dislike salt water. It is bad for my plumage. May I give an order to your followers, bird-brother?'
'Give,' said the master gull, with a graceful wheel and whirl of his splendid wings.
'Let four of my brothers raise this detested trap high above the waves,' said the parrot, 'and let others of you, with your brave strong beaks, break through the bars and set me free.'
'Delighted,' said the master gull; 'any little thing, you know,' and his own high-bred beak was the first to take hold of the cage, which presently the gulls lifted in the air and broke through, setting the parrot free.
'Thank you, brother-birds,' the parrot said, shaking wet wings and spreading them; 'one good turn deserves another. The beach yonder was white with cockles but yesterday.'
'Thank you, brother-bird,' they all said, and flew fleetly cocklewards.
And that was how the parrot got free from the cage and went back to the shore to have that little talk with the blugraiwee which I told you about in the last chapter.
* * * * * *
The ark was really very pleasant by daylight with the sun shining in at its windows. The sun shone outside as well, of course, and the Union Jack waved cheerfully in the wind. Breakfast was served on the terrace at the end of the ark—you know—that terrace where the boat part turns up. It was a very nice breakfast, and the sea was quite smooth—a quite perfect sea. This was rather fortunate, for there was nothing else. Sea on every side of the ark. No land at all.
'However shall we find the way,' Lucy asked the Lord High Islander, 'with nothing but sea?'
'Oh,' he answered, 'that's all the better, really. Mr. Noah steers much better when there's no land in sight. It's all practice, you know.'
'And when we come in sight of land, will he steer badly then?'
'Oh, anybody can steer then,' said Billy; 'you if you like.' So it was Lucy who steered the ark into harbour, under Mr. Noah's directions. Arks are very easy to steer if you only know the way. Of course arks are not like other vessels; they require neither sails nor steam engines, nor oars to make them move. The very arkishness of the ark makes it move just as the steersman wishes. He only has to say 'Port,' 'Starboard,' 'Right ahead,' 'Slow' and so on, and the ark (unlike many people I know) immediately does as it is told. So steering was easy and pleasant; one just had to keep the ark's nose towards the distant domes and pinnacles of a town that shone and glittered on the shore a few miles away. And the town grew nearer and nearer, and the black streak that was the people of the town began to show white dots that were the people's faces. And then the ark was moored against a quay side, and a friendly populace cheered as Mr. Noah stepped on to firm land, to be welcomed by the governor of the town and a choice selection of eminent citizens.
'It's quite an event for them,' said Mr. Perrin. 'They don't have much happening here. A very lazy lot they be, almost as bad as Somnolentia.'
'What makes them lazy?' Lucy asked.
'It's owing to the onions and potatoes growing wild in these parts, I believe,' said the Lord High Islander. 'They get enough to eat without working. And the onions make them sleepy.'
They talked apart while Mr. Noah was arranging things with the Governor of the town, who had come down to the harbour in a hurry and a flurry and a furry gown.
'I've arranged everything,' said Mr. Noah at last. 'The islanders and the M.A.'s and the animals are to be allowed to camp in the public park till we've consulted the oracle and decided what's to be done with them. They must live somewhere, I suppose. Life has become much too eventful for me lately. However there are only three more deeds for the Earl of Ark to do, and then perhaps we shall have a little peace and quietness.'
'The Earl of Ark?' Lucy repeated.
'Philip, you know. I do wish you'd try to remember that he's an earl now. Now you and I must take camel and be off.'
And now came seven long days of camel travelling, through desert and forest and over hill and through valley, till at last Lucy and Mr. Noah came to the Hidden Place where the oracle is, and where that is I may not tell you—because it's one of the eleven mysteries. And I must not tell you what the oracle is because that is another of the mysteries. But I may tell you that if you want to consult the oracle you have to go a long way between rows of round pillars, rather like those in Egyptian tombs. And as you go it gets darker and darker, and when it is quite dark you see a little, little light a very long way off, and you hear very far away, a beautiful music, and you smell the scent of flowers that do not grow in any wood or field or garden of this earth. Mixed with this scent is the scent of incense and of old tapestried rooms, where no one has lived for a very long time. And you remember all the sad and beautiful things you have ever seen or heard, and you fall down on the ground and hide your face in your hands and call on the oracle, and if you are the right sort of person the oracle answers you.
Lucy and Mr. Noah waited in the dark for the voice of the oracle, and at last it spoke. Lucy heard no words, only the most beautiful voice in the world speaking softly, and so sweetly and finely and bravely that at once she felt herself brave enough to dare any danger, and strong enough to do any deed that might be needed to get Philip out of the clutches of the base Pretenderette. All the tiredness of her long journey faded away, and but for the thought that Philip needed her, she would have been content to listen for ever to that golden voice. Everything else in the world faded away and grew to seem worthless and unmeaning. Only the soft golden voice remained and the grey hard voice that said, 'You've got to look after Philip, you know!' And the two voices together made a harmony more beautiful than you will find in any of Beethoven's sonatas. Because Lucy knew that she should follow the grey voice, and remember the golden voice as long as she lived.
But something was tiresomely pulling at her sleeve, dragging her away from the wonderful golden voice. Mr. Noah was pulling her sleeve and saying, 'Come away,' and they turned their backs on the little light and the music and the enchanting perfumes, and instantly the voice stopped and they were walking between dusky pillars towards a far grey speck of sunlight.
It was not till they were once more under the bare sky that Lucy said:
'What did it say?'
'You must have heard,' said Mr. Noah.
'I only heard the voice and what it meant. I didn't understand the words. But the voice was like dreams and everything beautiful I've ever thought of.'
'I thought it a wonderfully straight-forward business-like oracle,' said Mr. Noah briskly; 'and the voice was quite distinct and I remember every word it said.'
(Which just shows how differently the same thing may strike two people.)
'What did it say?' Lucy asked, trotting along beside him, still clutching Philip's bundle, which through all these days she had never let go.
And Mr. Noah gravely recited the following lines. I agree with him that, for an oracle, they were extremely straightforward.
'You had better embark Once again in the Ark, And sailing from dryland Make straight for the Island.'
'Did it really say that?' Lucy asked.
'Of course it did,' said Mr. Noah; 'that's a special instruction to me, but I daresay you heard something quite different. The oracle doesn't say the same thing to every one, of course. Didn't you get any special instruction?'
'Only to try to be brave and good,' said Lucy shyly.
'Well, then,' said Mr. Noah, 'you carry out your instructions and I'll carry out mine.'
'But what's the use of going to the island if you can't land when you get there?' Lucy insisted. 'You know only two people can land there, and we're not them, are we?'
'Oh, if you begin asking what's the use, we shan't get anywhere,' said Mr. Noah. 'And more than half the things you say are questions.'
* * * * * *
I'm sorry this chapter is cut up into bits with lines of stars, but stars are difficult to avoid when you have to tell about a lot of different things happening all at once. That is why it is much better always to keep your party together if you can. And I have allowed mine to get separated so that Philip, the parrot and the rest of the company are going through three sets of adventures all at the same time. This is most trying for me, and fully accounts for the stars. Which I hope you'll excuse. However.
We now come back by way of the stars to Philip wrong way up in the clutches of the Pretenderette. She had breathed the magic word in the Hippogriff's ear, but she had not added any special order. So the Hippogriff was entirely its own master as far as the choice of where it was to go was concerned. It tossed its white mane after circling three times between air and sky, made straight for the Island-where-you-mayn't-go. The Pretenderette didn't know that it was the Island-where-you-mayn't-go, and as they got nearer and she could see plainly its rainbow-coloured sands, its palms and its waterfalls, its cool green thickets and many tinted flowers and glowing fruits, it seemed to her that she might do worse than land there and rest for a little while. For even the most disagreeable people get tired sometimes, and the Pretenderette had had a hard day of it. So she made no attempt to check the Hippogriff or alter its course. And when the Hippogriff was hovering but a few inches from the grass of the most beautiful of the island glades, she jerked Philip roughly off her knee and he fell all in a heap on the ground. With great presence of mind our hero—if he isn't a hero by now he never will be—picked himself up and bolted into the bushes. No rabbit could have bolted more instantly and fleetly.
'I'll teach you,' said the furious Pretenderette, preparing to alight. She looked down to find a soft place to jump on. And then she saw that every blade of grass was a tiny spear of steel, and every spear was pointed at her. She made the Hippogriff take her to another glade—more little steel spears. To the rainbow sands—but on looking at them she saw that they were quivering quicksands. Wherever green grass had grown the spears now grew; and wherever the sand was it was a terrible trap of quicksand. She tried to dismount in a little pool, but fortunately for her she noticed in time that what shone in it so silvery was not water but white-hot molten metal.
'What a nasty place,' said the Pretenderette; 'I don't know that I could have chosen a nastier place to leave that naughty child in. He'll know who's master by the time I send to fetch him back to prison. Here, you, get back to Polistopolis as fast as you can. See? Please, I mean,' she added, and then she spoke the magic word.
Philip was peeping through the bushes close by, and he heard that magic word (I dare not tell you what it is) and he saw for the first time the face of the Pretenderette. And he trembled and shivered in his bushy lurking-place. For the Pretenderette was the only really unpleasant person Philip had ever met in the world. It was Lucy's nurse, the nurse with the grey dress and the big fat feet, who had been so cross to him and had pulled down his city.
'How on earth,' Philip wondered to himself, 'did she get here? And how on earth shall I get away from her?' He had not seen the spears and the quicksands and the molten metal, and he was waiting unhappily for her to alight, and for a game of hide and seek to begin, which he was not at all anxious to play.
Even as he wondered, the Hippogriff spread wings and flew away. And Philip was left alone on the island. But what did that matter? It was much better to be alone than with that Pretenderette. And for Philip there were no white-hot metal and spears and snares of quicksand, only dewy grass and sweet flowers and trees and safety and delight.
'If only Lucy were here,' he said.
When he was quite sure that the Pretenderette was really gone, he came out and explored the island. It had on it every kind of flower and fruit that you can think of, all growing together. There were gold oranges and white orange flowers, pink apple-blossom and red apples, cherries and cherry-blossom, strawberry flowers and strawberries, all growing together, wild and sweet.
At the back of his mind Philip remembered that he had, at some time or other, heard of an island where fruit and blossoms grew together at the same time, but that was all he could remember. He passed through the lovely orchards and came to a lake. It was frozen. And he remembered that, in the island he had heard of, there was a lake ready for skating even when the flowers and fruit were on the trees. Then he came to a little summer-house built all of porcupine quills like Helen's pen-box.
And then he knew. All these wonders were on the island that he and Helen had invented long ago—the island that she used to draw maps of.
'It's our very own island,' he said, and a glorious feeling of being at home glowed through him, warm and delightful. 'We said no one else might come here! That's why the Pretenderette couldn't land. And why they call it the Island-where-you-mayn't-go. I'll find the bun tree and have something to eat, and then I'll go to the boat-house and get out the Lightning Loose and go back for Lucy. I do wish I could bring her here. But of course I can't without asking Helen.'
The Lightning Loose was the magic yacht Helen had invented for the island.
He soon found a bush whose fruit was buns, and a jam-tart tree grew near it. You have no idea how nice jam tarts can taste till you have gathered them yourself, fresh and sticky, from the tree. They are as sticky as horse-chestnut buds, and much nicer to eat.
As he went towards the boat-house he grew happier and happier, recognising, one after the other, all the places he and Helen had planned and marked on the map. He passed by the marble and gold house with King's Palace painted on the door. He longed to explore it: but the thought of Lucy drove him on. As he went down a narrow leafy woodland path towards the boat-house, he passed the door of the dear little thatched cottage (labelled Queen's Palace) which was the house Helen had insisted that she liked best for her very own.
'How pretty it is; I wish Helen was here,' he said; 'she helped to make it. I should never have thought of it without her. She ought to be here,' he said. With that he felt very lonely, all of a sudden, and very sad. And as he went on, wondering whether in all this magic world there might not somehow be some magic strong enough to bring Helen there to see the island that was their very own, and to give her consent to his bringing Lucy to it, he turned a corner in the woodland path, and walked straight into the arms of—Helen.
ON THE 'LIGHTNING LOOSE'
'But how did you get here?' said Philip in Helen's arms on the island.
'I just walked out at the other side of a dream,' she said; 'how could I not come, when the door was open and you wanted me so?'
And Philip just said, 'Oh, Helen!' He could not find any other words, but Helen understood. She always did.
'Come,' she said, 'shall we go to your Palace or mine? I want my supper, and we'll have our own little blue-and-white tea-set. Yes, I know you've had your supper, but it'll be fun getting mine, and perhaps you'll be hungry again before we've got it.'
They went to the thatched cottage that was Helen's palace, because Philip had had almost as much of large buildings as he wanted for a little while. The cottage had a wide chimney and an open hearth; and they sat on the hearth and made toast, and Philip almost forgot that he had ever had any adventures and that the toast was being made on a hearth whose blue wood-smoke curled up among the enchanting tree-tops of a magic island.
And before they went to bed he had told her all about everything.
'Oh, I am so glad you came!' he said over and over again; 'it is so easy to tell you here, with all the magic going on. I don't think I ever could have told you at the Grange with the servants all about, and the—I mean Mr. Graham, and all the things as not magic as they could possibly be. Oh, Helen! where is Mr. Graham; won't he hate your coming away from him?'
'He's gone through a dream door too,' she said, 'to see Lucy. Only he doesn't know he's really gone. He'll think it's a dream, and he'll tell me about it when we both wake up.'
'When did you go to sleep?' said Philip.
'At Brussels. That telegram hasn't come yet.'
'I don't understand about time,' said Philip firmly, 'and I never shall. I say, Helen, I was just looking for the Lightning Loose, to go off in her on a voyage of discovery and find Lucy.'
'I don't think you need,' she said; 'I met a parrot on the island just before I met you and it was saying poetry to itself.'
'It would be,' said Philip, 'if it was alive. I'm glad it is alive, though. What was it saying?'
'It was something like this,' she said, putting a log of wood on the fire:
'Philip and Helen Have the island to dwell in, Hooray. They said of the island, "It's your land and my land!" Hooray. Hooray. Hooray.
'And till the ark Comes out of the dark There those two may stay For a happy while, and Enjoy their island Until the Giving Day. Hooray.
'And then they will hear the giving voice, They will hear and obey, And when people come Who need a home, They'll give the island away. Hooray.
'The island with flower And fruit and bower, Forest and river and bay, Their very own island They'll sigh and smile and They'll give their island away.'
'What nonsense!' said Philip, 'I never will.'
'All right, my Pipkin,' said Helen cheerfully; 'I only told you just to show that you're expected to stay here. "Philip and Helen have the island to dwell in." And now, what about bed?'
They spent a whole week on the island. It was exactly all that they could wish an island to be; because, of course, they had made it themselves, and of course they knew exactly what they wanted. I can't describe that week. I only know that Philip will never forget it. Just think of all the things you could do on a magic island if you were there with your dearest dear, and you'll know how Philip spent his time.
He enjoyed every minute of every hour of every day, and, best thing of all, that week made him understand, as nothing else could have done, that Helen still belonged to him, and that her marriage to Mr. Graham had not made her any the less Philip's very own Helen.
And then came a day when Philip, swinging in a magnolia tree, looked out to sea and cried out, 'A sail! a sail! Oh, Helen, here's the ark! Now it's all over. Let's have Lucy to stay with us, and send the other people away,' he added, sliding down the tree-trunk with his face very serious.
'But we can't, dear,' Helen reminded him. 'The island's ours, you know; and as long as it's ours no one else can land on it. We made it like that, you know.'
'Then they can't land?'
'No,' said Helen.
'Can't we change the rule and let them land?'
'No,' said Helen.
'Oh, it is a pity,' Philip said; 'because the island is the place for islanders, isn't it?'
'Yes,' said Helen, 'and there's no fear of the sea here; you remember we made it like that when we made the island?'
'Yes,' said Philip. 'Oh, Helen, I don't want to.'
'Then don't,' said Helen.
'Ah, but I do want to, too.'
'Then do,' said she.
'But don't you see, when you want to and don't want to at the same time, what are you to do? There are so many things to think of.'
'When it's like that, there's one thing you mustn't think of,' she said.
'What?' Philip asked.
'Yourself,' she said softly.
There was a silence, and then Philip suddenly hugged his sister and she hugged him.
'I'll give it to them,' he said; 'it's no use. I know I ought to. I shall only be uncomfortable if I don't.'
Helen laughed. 'My boy of boys!' she said. And then she looked sad. 'Boy of my heart,' she said, 'you know it's not only giving up our island. If we give it away I must go. It's the only place that there's a door into out of my dreams.'
'I can't let you go,' he said.
'But you've got your deeds to do,' she said, 'and I can't help you in those. Lucy can help you, but I can't. You like Lucy now, don't you?'
'Oh, I don't mind her,' said Philip; 'but it's you I want, Helen.'
'Don't think about that,' she urged. 'Think what the islanders want. Think what it'll be to them to have the island, to live here always, safe from the fear!'
'There are three more deeds,' said Philip dismally; 'I don't think I shall ever want any more adventures as long as I live.'
'You'll always want them,' she said, laughing at him gently, 'always. And now let's do the thing handsomely and give them a splendid welcome. Give me a kiss and then we'll gather heaps of roses.'
So they kissed each other. But Philip was very unhappy indeed, though he felt that he was being rather noble and that Helen thought so too, which was naturally a great comfort.
There had been a good deal more of this talk than I have set down. Philip and Helen had hardly had time to hang garlands of pink roses along the quayside where the Lightning Loose, that perfect yacht, lay at anchor, before the blunt prow of the ark bumped heavily against the quayside—and the two, dropping the rest of the roses, waved and smiled to the group on the ark's terrace.
The first person to speak was Mr. Perrin, who shouted, 'Here we are again!' like a clown.
Then Lucy said, 'We know we can't land, but the oracle said come and we came.' She leaned over the bulwark to whisper, 'Who's that perfect duck you've got with you?'
Philip answered aloud:
'This is my sister Helen—Helen this is Lucy.'
The two looked at each other, and then Helen held out her hands and she and Lucy kissed each other.
'I knew I should like you,' Lucy whispered, 'but I didn't know I should like you quite so much.'
Mr. Noah and Mr. Perrin were both bowing to Helen, a little stiffly but very cordially all the same, and quite surprisingly without surprise. And the Lord High Islander was looking at her with his own friendly jolly schoolboy grin.
'If you will embark,' said Mr. Noah politely, 'we can return to the mainland, and I will explain to you your remaining deeds.'
'Tell them, Pip,' said Helen.
'We don't want to embark—at present,' said Philip shyly. 'We want you to land.'
'No one may land on the island save two,' said Mr. Noah. 'I am glad you are the two. I feared one of the two might be the Pretenderette.'
'Not much,' said Philip. 'It's Helen's and mine. We made it. And we want to give it to the islanders to keep. For their very own,' he added, feeling that it would be difficult for any one to believe that such a glorious present was really being made just like that, without speeches, as if it had been a little present of a pencil sharpener or a peg-top.
He was right.
'To keep?' said the Lord High Islander; 'for our very own? Always?'
'Yes,' said Philip. 'And there's no fear here. You'll really be "happy troops" now.'
For a moment nobody said anything, though all the faces were expressive. Then the Lord High Islander spoke.
'Well,' he said, 'of all the brickish bricks——' and could say no more.
'There are lots of houses,' said Philip, 'and room for all the animals, and the island is thirty miles round, so there's lots of room for the animals and everything.' He felt happier than he had ever done in his life. Giving presents is always enjoyable, and this was such a big and beautiful present, and he loved it so.
'I always did say Master Pip was a gentleman, and I always shall,' Mr. Perrin remarked.
'I congratulate you,' said Mr. Noah, 'and I am happy to announce that your fifth deed is now accomplished. You remember our empty silver fruit-dishes? Your fifth deed was to be the supplying of Polistarchia with fruit. This island is the only place in the kingdom where fruit grows. The ark will serve to convey the fruit to the mainland, and the performance of this deed raises you to the rank of Duke.'
'Philip, you're a dear,' said Lucy in a whisper.
'Shut up,' said Philip fiercely.
'Three cheers,' said a familiar voice, 'for the Duke of Donors.'
'Three cheers,' repeated the Lord High Islander, 'for the Duke of Donors.'
What a cheer! All the islanders cheered and the M.A.'s and Lucy and Mr. Perrin and Mr. Noah, and from the inside of the ark came enthusiastic barkings and gruntings and roarings and squeakings—as the animals of course joined in as well as they could. Thousands of gulls, circling on white wings in the sun above, added their screams to the general chorus. And when the sound of the last cheer died away, a little near familiar voice said:
'Well done, Philip! I'm proud of you.'
It was the parrot who, perched on the rigging of the Lightning Loose, had started the cheering.
'So that's all right,' it said, fluttered on to Philip's shoulder and added, 'I've heard you calling for me on the island all the week. But I felt I needed a rest. I've been talking too much. And that Pretenderette. And that cage. I assure you I needed a little time to get over my adventures.'
'We have all had our adventures,' said Mr. Noah gently. And Helen said:
'Won't you land and take possession of the island? I'm sure we are longing to hear each other's adventures.'
'You first,' said Mr. Noah to the Lord High Islander, who stepped ashore very gravely.
When Helen saw him come forward, she suddenly kissed Philip, and as the Lord High Islander's foot touched the shore of that enchanted island, she simply and suddenly vanished.
'Oh!' cried Philip, 'I wish I hadn't.' And his mouth trembled as girls' mouths do if they are going to cry.
'The more a present costs you, the more it's worth,' said Mr. Noah. 'This has cost you so much, it's the most splendid present in the world.'
'I know,' said Philip; 'make yourselves at home, won't you?' he just managed to say. And then he found he could not say any more. He just turned and went into the forest. And when he was alone in a green glade, he flung himself down on his face and lay a long time without moving. It had been such a happy week. And he was so tired of adventures.
When at last he sniffed with an air of finality and raised his head, the first thing he saw was Lucy, sitting quite still with her back to him.
'Hullo!' he said rather crossly, 'what are you doing here?'
'Saying the multiplication table,' said Lucy promptly and turned her head, 'so as not even to think about you. And I haven't even once turned round. I knew you wanted to be alone. But I wanted to be here when you'd done being alone. See? I've got something to say to you.'
'Fire ahead,' said Philip, still grumpy.
'I think you're perfectly splendid,' said Lucy very seriously, 'and I want it to be real pax for ever. And I'll help you in the rest of the adventures. And if you're cross, I'll try not to mind. Napoleon was cross sometimes, I believe,' she added pensively, 'and Julius Caesar.'
'Oh, that's all right,' said Philip very awkwardly.
'Then we're going to be real chums?'
'Oh yes, if you like. Only—I don't mind just this once; and it was decent of you to come and sit there with your back to me—only I hate gas.'
'Yes,' said Lucy obediently, 'I know. Only sometimes you feel you must gas a little or burst of admiration. And I've got your proper clothes in a bundle. I've been carrying them about ever since the islanders' castle was washed away. Here they are.'
She produced the bundle. And this time Philip was really touched.
'Now I do call that something like,' he said. 'The seaweed dress is all right here, but you never know what you may have to go through when you're doing adventures. There might be thorns or snakes or anything. I'm jolly glad to get my boots back too. I say, come on. Let's go to Helen's palace and get a banquet ready. I know there'll have to be a banquet. There always is, here. I know a first-rate bun-tree quite near here.'
'The cocoa-nut-ice plants looked beautiful as I came along,' said Lucy. 'What a lovely island it is. And you made it!'
'No gas,' said Philip warningly. 'Helen and I made it.'
'She's the dearest darling,' said Lucy.
'Oh, well,' said Philip with resignation, 'if you must gas, gas about her.'
The banquet was all that you can imagine of interesting and magnificent. And Philip was, of course, the hero of the hour. And when the banquet was finished and the last guest had departed to its own house—for the houses on the island were of course all ready to be occupied, furnished to the last point of comfort, with pin-cushions full of pins in every room, Mr. Noah and Lucy and Philip sat down on the terrace steps among the pink roses for a last little talk.
'Because,' said Philip, 'we shall start the first thing in the morning. So please will you tell me now what the next deed is that I have to do?'
'Will you go by ark?' Mr. Noah asked, rolling up his yellow mat to make an elbow rest and leaning on it; 'I shall be delighted.'
'I thought,' said Philip, 'we might go in the Lightning Loose. I've never sailed her yet, you know. Do you think I could?'
'Of course you can,' said Mr. Noah; 'and if not, Lucy can show you. Your charming yacht is steered on precisely the same principle as the ark. And in this land all the winds are favourable. You will find the yacht suitably provisioned. And I may add that you can go most of the way to your next deed by water—first the sea and then the river.'
'And what,' asked Philip, 'is the next deed?'
'In the extreme north of Polistarchia,' said Mr. Noah instructively, 'lies a town called Somnolentia. It used to be called Briskford in happier days. A river then ran through the town, a rapid river that brought much gold from the mountains. The people used to work very hard to keep the channel clear of the lumps of gold which continually threatened to choke it. Their fields were then well-watered and fruitful, and the inhabitants were cheerful and happy. But when the Hippogriff was let out of the book, a Great Sloth got out too. Evading all efforts to secure him, the Great Sloth journeyed northward. He is a very large and striking animal, and by some means, either fear or admiration, he obtained a complete ascendancy over the inhabitants of Briskford. He induced them to build him a temple of solid gold, and while they were doing this the river bed became choked up and the stream was diverted into another channel far from the town. Since then the place is fallen into decay. The fields are parched and untilled. Such water as the people need for drinking is drawn by great labour from a well. Washing has become shockingly infrequent.'
'Are we to teach the dirty chaps to wash?' asked Philip in disgust.
'Do not interrupt,' said Mr. Noah. 'You destroy the thread of my narrative. Where was I?'
'Washing infrequent,' said Lucy; 'but if the fields are dried up, what do they live on?'
'Pine-apples,' replied Mr. Noah, 'which grow freely and do not need much water. Gathering these is the sole industry of this degraded people. Pine-apples are not considered a fruit but a vegetable,' he added hastily, seeing another question trembling on Philip's lips. 'Whatever of their waking time can be spared from the gathering and eating of the pine-apples is spent in singing choric songs in honour of the Great Sloth. And even this time is short, for such is his influence on the Somnolentians that when he sleeps they sleep too, and,' added Mr. Noah impressively, 'he sleeps almost all the time. Your deed is to devise some means of keeping the Great Sloth awake and busy. And I think you've got your work cut out. When you've disposed of the Great Sloth you can report yourself to me here. I shall remain here for some little time. I need a holiday. The parrot will accompany you. It knows its way about as well as any bird in the land. Good-night. And good luck! You will excuse my not being down to breakfast.'
And the next morning, dewy-early, Philip and Lucy and the parrot went aboard the yacht and loosed her from her moorings, and Lucy showed Philip how to steer, and the parrot sat on the mast and called out instructions.
They made for the mouth of a river. ('I never built a river,' said Philip. 'No,' said the parrot, 'it came out of the poetry book.') And when they were hungry they let down the anchor and went into the cabin for breakfast. And two people sprang to meet them, almost knocking Lucy down with the violence of their welcome. The two people were Max and Brenda.
'Oh, you dear dogs,' Lucy cried, and Philip patted them, one with each hand, 'how did you get here?'
'It was a little surprise of Mr. Noah's,' said the parrot.
Max and Brenda whined and barked and gushed.
'I wish we could understand what they're saying,' said Lucy.
'If you only knew the magic word that the Hippogriff obeys,' said the parrot, 'you could say it, and then you'd understand all animal talk. Only, of course, I mustn't tell it you. It's one of the eleven mysteries.'
'But I know it,' said Philip, and at once breathed the word in the tiny silky ear of Brenda and then in the longer silkier ear of Max, and instantly—
'Oh, my dears!' they heard Brenda say in a softly shrill excited voice; 'oh, my dearie dears! We are so pleased to see you. I'm only a poor little faithful doggy; I'm not clever, you know, but my affectionate nature makes me almost mad with joy to see my dear master and mistress again.'
'Very glad to see you, sir,' said Max with heavy politeness. 'I hope you'll be comfortable here. There's no comfort for a dog like being with his master.'
And with that he sat down and went to sleep, and the others had breakfast. It is rather fun cooking in yachts. And there was something new and charming in Brenda's delicate way of sitting up and begging and saying at the same time, 'I do hate to bother my darling master and mistress, but if you could spare another tiny bit of bacon—Oh, thank you, how good and generous you are!'
They sailed the yacht successfully into the river which presently ran into the shadow of a tropical forest. Also out of a book.
'You might go on during the night,' said the parrot, 'if the dogs would steer under my directions. You could tie one end of a rope to their collars and another to the helm. It's easier than turning spits.'
'Delighted!' said Max; 'only, of course, it's understood that we sleep through the day?'
'Of course,' said everybody. So that was settled. And the children went to bed.
It was in the middle of the night that the parrot roused Philip with his usual gentle beak-touch. Then—
'Wake up,' it said; 'this is not the right river. It's not the right direction. Nothing's right. The ship's all wrong. I'm very much afraid some one has been opening a book and this river has got out.'
Philip hurried out on deck, and by the light of the lamps from the cabin, gazed out at the banks of the river. At least he looked for them. But there weren't any banks. Instead, steep and rugged cliffs rose on each side, and overhead, instead of a starry sky, was a great arched roof of a cavern glistening with moisture and dark as a raven's feathers.
'We must turn back,' said Philip. 'I don't like this at all.'
'Unfortunately,' said the parrot, 'there is no room to turn back, and the Lightning Loose is not constructed for going backwards.'
'Oh, dear,' whispered Brenda, 'I wish we hadn't come. Dear little dogs ought to be taken comfortable care of and not be sent out on nasty ships that can't turn back when it's dangerous.'
'My dear,' said Max with slow firmness, 'dear little dogs can't help themselves now. So they had better look out for chances of helping their masters.'
'But what can we do, then?' said Philip impatiently.
'I fear,' said the parrot, 'that we can do nothing but go straight on. If this river is in a book it will come out somewhere. No river in a book ever runs underground and stays there.'
'I shan't wake Lucy,' said Philip; 'she might be frightened.'
'You needn't,' said Lucy, 'she's awake, and she's no more frightened than you are.'
('You hear that,' said Max to Brenda; 'you take example by her, my dear!')
'But if we are going the wrong way, we shan't reach the Great Sloth,' Lucy went on.
'Sooner or later, one way or another, we shall come to him,' said the parrot; 'and time is of no importance to a Great Sloth.'
It was now very cold, and our travellers were glad to wrap themselves in the flags of all nations with which the yacht was handsomely provided. Philip made a sort of tabard of the Union Jack and the old Royal Arms of England, with the lilies and leopards; and Lucy wore the Japanese flag as a shawl. She said the picture of the sun on it made her feel warm. But Philip shivered under his complicated crosses and lions, as the Lightning Loose swept on over the dark tide between the dark walls and under the dark roof of the cavern.
'Cheer up,' said the parrot. 'Think what a lot of adventures you're having that no one else has ever had: think what a lot of things you'll have to tell the other boys when you go to school.'
'The other boys wouldn't believe a word of it,' said Philip in gloom. 'I wouldn't unless I knew it was true.'
'What I think is,' said Lucy, watching the yellow light from the lamps rushing ahead along the roof, 'that we shan't want to tell people. It'll be just enough to know it ourselves and talk about it, just Philip and me together.'
'Well, as to that——' the parrot was beginning doubtfully, when he broke off to exclaim:
'Do my claws deceive me or is there a curious vibration, and noticeable acceleration of velocity?'
'Eh?' said Philip, which is not manners, and he knew it.
'He means,' said Max stolidly, 'aren't we going rather fast and rather wobbly?'