Five Children and It
Part 2 out of 4
a hair of his head, the little picture!'
'I'd rather not,' said Anthea.
'Let me have him,' said the other woman, whose face was also of the
hue of mahogany, and her hair jet-black, in greasy curls. 'I've
nineteen of my own, so I have.'
'No,' said Anthea bravely, but her heart beat so that it nearly
Then one of the men pushed forward.
'Swelp me if it ain't!' he cried, 'my own long-lost cheild! Have
he a strawberry mark on his left ear? No? Then he's my own babby,
stolen from me in hinnocent hinfancy. 'And 'im over - and we'll
not 'ave the law on yer this time.'
He snatched the Baby from Anthea, who turned scarlet and burst into
tears of pure rage.
The others were standing quite still; this was much the most
terrible thing that had ever happened to them. Even being taken up
by the police in Rochester was nothing to this. Cyril was quite
white, and his hands trembled a little, but he made a sign to the
others to shut up. He was silent a minute, thinking hard. Then he
'We don't want to keep him if he's yours. But you see he's used to
us. You shall have him if you want him.'
'No, no!' cried Anthea - and Cyril glared at her.
'Of course we want him,' said the women, trying to get the Baby out
of the man's arms. The Lamb howled loudly.
'Oh, he's hurt!' shrieked Anthea; and Cyril, in a savage undertone,
bade her 'Stow it!'
'You trust to me,' he whispered. 'Look here,' he went on, 'he's
awfully tiresome with people he doesn't know very well. Suppose we
stay here a bit till he gets used to you, and then when it's
bedtime I give you my word of honour we'll go away and let you keep
him if you want to. And then when we're gone you can decide which
of you is to have him, as you all want him so much.'
'That's fair enough,' said the man who was holding the Baby, trying
to loosen the red neckerchief which the Lamb had caught hold of and
drawn round his mahogany throat so tight that he could hardly
breathe. The gipsies whispered together, and Cyril took the chance
to whisper too. He said, 'Sunset! we'll get away then.'
And then his brothers and sisters were filled with wonder and
admiration at his having been so clever as to remember this.
'Oh, do let him come to us!' said Jane. 'See we'll sit down here
and take care of him for you till he gets used to you.'
'What about dinner?' said Robert suddenly. The others looked at
him with scorn. 'Fancy bothering about your beastly dinner when
your br - I mean when the Baby' - Jane whispered hotly. Robert
carefully winked at her and went on:
'You won't mind my just running home to get our dinner?' he said to
the gipsy; 'I can bring it out here in a basket.'
His brother and sisters felt themselves very noble, and despised
him. They did not know his thoughtful secret intention. But the
gipsies did in a minute.
'Oh yes!' they said; 'and then fetch the police with a pack of lies
about it being your baby instead of ours! D'jever catch a weasel
asleep?' they asked.
'If you're hungry you can pick a bit along of us,' said the
light-haired gipsy woman, not unkindly. 'Here, Levi, that blessed
kid'll howl all his buttons off. Give him to the little lady, and
let's see if they can't get him used to us a bit.'
So the Lamb was handed back; but the gipsies crowded so closely
that he could not possibly stop howling. Then the man with the red
'Here, Pharaoh, make up the fire; and you girls see to the pot.
Give the kid a chanst.' So the gipsies, very much against their
will, went off to their work, and the children and the Lamb were
left sitting on the grass.
'He'll be all right at sunset,'Jane whispered. 'But, oh, it is
awful! Suppose they are frightfully angry when they come to their
senses! They might beat us, or leave us tied to trees, or
'No, they won't,' Anthea said. ('Oh, my Lamb, don't cry any more,
it's all right, Panty's got oo, duckie!) They aren't unkind people,
or they wouldn't be going to give us any dinner.'
'Dinner?' said Robert. 'I won't touch their nasty dinner. It
would choke me!'
The others thought so too then. But when the dinner was ready - it
turned out to be supper, and happened between four and five - they
were all glad enough to take what they could get. It was boiled
rabbit, with onions, and some bird rather like a chicken, but
stringier about its legs and with a stronger taste. The Lamb had
bread soaked in hot water and brown sugar sprinkled on the top. He
liked this very much, and consented to let the two gipsy women feed
him with it, as he sat on Anthea's lap. All that long hot
afternoon Robert and Cyril and Anthea and Jane had to keep the Lamb
amused and happy, while the gipsies looked eagerly on. By the time
the shadows grew long and black across the meadows he had really
'taken to' the woman with the light hair, and even consented to
kiss his hand to the children, and to stand up and bow, with his
hand on his chest - 'like a gentleman' - to the two men. The whole
gipsy camp was in raptures with him, and his brothers and sisters
could not help taking some pleasure in showing off his
accomplishments to an audience so interested and enthusiastic. But
they longed for sunset.
'We're getting into the habit of longing for sunset,' Cyril
whispered. 'How I do wish we could wish something really sensible,
that would be of some use, so that we should be quite sorry when
The shadows got longer and longer, and at last there were no
separate shadows any more, but one soft glowing shadow over
everything; for the sun was out of sight - behind the hill - but he
had not really set yet. The people who make the laws about
lighting bicycle lamps are the people who decide when the sun sets;
he has to do it, too, to the minute, or they would know the reason
But the gipsies were getting impatient.
'Now, young uns,' the red-handkerchief man said,'it's time you were
laying of your heads on your pillowses - so it is! The kid's all
right and friendly with us now - so you just hand him over and
sling that hook o' yours like you said.'
The women and children came crowding round the Lamb, arms were held
out, fingers snapped invitingly, friendly faces beaming with
admiring smiles; but all failed to tempt the loyal Lamb. He clung
with arms and legs to Jane, who happened to be holding him, and
uttered the gloomiest roar of the whole day.
'It's no good,' the woman said, 'hand the little poppet over, miss.
We'll soon quiet him.'
And still the sun would not set.
'Tell her about how to put him to bed,' whispered Cyril; 'anything
to gain time - and be ready to bolt when the sun really does make
up its silly old mind to set.'
'Yes, I'll hand him over in just one minute,' Anthea began, talking
very fast - 'but do let me just tell you he has a warm bath every
night and cold in the morning, and he has a crockery rabbit to go
into the warm bath with him, and little Samuel saying his prayers
in white china on a red cushion for the cold bath; and if you let
the soap get into his eyes, the Lamb -'
'Lamb kyes,' said he - he had stopped roaring to listen.
The woman laughed. 'As if I hadn't never bath'd a babby!' she
said. 'Come - give us a hold of him. Come to 'Melia, my
'G'way, ugsie!' replied the Lamb at once.
'Yes, but,' Anthea went on, 'about his meals; you really MUST let
me tell you he has an apple or a banana every morning, and
bread-and-milk for breakfast, and an egg for his tea sometimes, and
'I've brought up ten,' said the black-ringleted woman, 'besides the
others. Come, miss, 'and 'im over - I can't bear it no longer. I
just must give him a hug.'
'We ain't settled yet whose he's to be, Esther,' said one of the
'It won't be you, Esther, with seven of 'em at your tail a'ready.'
'I ain't so sure of that,' said Esther's husband.
'And ain't I nobody, to have a say neither?' said the husband of
Zillah, the girl, said, 'An' me? I'm a single girl - and no one
but 'im to look after - I ought to have him.'
'Hold yer tongue!'
'Shut your mouth!'
'Don't you show me no more of your imperence!'
Everyone was getting very angry. The dark gipsy faces were
frowning and anxious-looking. Suddenly a change swept over them,
as if some invisible sponge had wiped away these cross and anxious
expressions, and left only a blank.
The children saw that the sun really HAD set. But they were afraid
to move. And the gipsies were feeling so muddled, because of the
invisible sponge that had washed all the feelings of the last few
hours out of their hearts, that they could not say a word.
The children hardly dared to breathe. Suppose the gipsies, when
they recovered speech, should be furious to think how silly they
had been all day.
It was an awkward moment. Suddenly Anthea, greatly daring, held
out the Lamb to the red-handkerchief man.
'Here he is!' she said.
The man drew back. 'I shouldn't like to deprive you, miss,' he
'Anyone who likes can have my share of him,' said the other man.
'After all, I've got enough of my own,' said Esther.
'He's a nice little chap, though,' said Amelia. She was the only
one who now looked affectionately at the whimpering Lamb.
Zillah said, 'If I don't think I must have had a touch of the sun.
I don't want him.'
'Then shall we take him away?' said Anthea.
'Well, suppose you do,' said Pharaoh heartily, 'and we'll say no
more about it!'
And with great haste all the gipsies began to be busy about their
tents for the night. All but Amelia. She went with the children
as far as the bend in the road - and there she said:
'Let me give him a kiss, miss - I don't know what made us go for to
behave so silly. Us gipsies don't steal babies, whatever they may
tell you when you're naughty. We've enough of our own, mostly.
But I've lost all mine.'
She leaned towards the Lamb; and he, looking in her eyes,
unexpectedly put up a grubby soft paw and stroked her face.
'Poor, poor!' said the Lamb. And he let the gipsy woman kiss him,
and, what is more, he kissed her brown cheek in return - a very
nice kiss, as all his kisses are, and not a wet one like some
babies give. The gipsy woman moved her finger about on his
forehead, as if she had been writing something there, and the same
with his chest and his hands and his feet; then she said:
'May he be brave, and have the strong head to think with, and the
strong heart to love with, and the strong hands to work with, and
the strong feet to travel with, and always come safe home to his
own.' Then she said something in a strange language no one could
understand, and suddenly added:
'Well, I must be saying "so long" - and glad to have made your
acquaintance.' And she turned and went back to her home - the tent
by the grassy roadside.
The children looked after her till she was out of sight. Then
Robert said, 'How silly of her! Even sunset didn't put her right.
What rot she talked!'
'Well,' said Cyril, 'if you ask me, I think it was rather decent of
'Decent?' said Anthea; 'it was very nice indeed of her. I think
she's a dear.'
'She's just too frightfully nice for anything,' said Jane.
And they went home - very late for tea and unspeakably late for
dinner. Martha scolded, of course. But the Lamb was safe.
'I say - it turned out we wanted the Lamb as much as anyone,' said
'But do you feel different about it now the sun's set?'
'No,' said all the others together.
'Then it's lasted over sunset with us.'
'No, it hasn't,' Cyril explained. 'The wish didn't do anything to
US. We always wanted him with all our hearts when we were our
proper selves, only we were all pigs this morning; especially you,
Robert.' Robert bore this much with a strange calm.
'I certainly THOUGHT I didn't want him this morning,' said he.
'Perhaps I was a pig. But everything looked so different when we
thought we were going to lose him.'
The next day was very wet - too wet to go out, and far too wet to
think of disturbing a Sand-fairy so sensitive to water that he
still, after thousands of years, felt the pain of once having had
his left whisker wetted. It was a long day, and it was not till
the afternoon that all the children suddenly decided to write
letters to their mother. It was Robert who had the misfortune to
upset the ink-pot - an unusually deep and full one - straight into
that part of Anthea's desk where she had long pretended that an
arrangement of gum and cardboard painted with Indian ink was a
secret drawer. It was not exactly Robert's fault; it was only his
misfortune that he chanced to be lifting the ink across the desk
just at the moment when Anthea had got it open, and that that same
moment should have been the one chosen by the Lamb to get under the
table and break his squeaking bird. There was a sharp convenient
wire inside the bird, and of course the Lamb ran the wire into
Robert's leg at once; and so, without anyone's meaning to, the
secret drawer was flooded with ink. At the same time a stream was
poured over Anthea's half-finished letter. So that her letter was
something like this:
DARLING MOTHER, I hope you are quite well, and I hope Granny is
better. The other day we ...
Then came a flood of ink, and at the bottom these words in pencil
It was not me upset the ink, but it took such a time clearing up,
so no more as it is post-time. - From your loving daughter,
Robert's letter had not even been begun. He had been drawing a
ship on the blotting-paper while he was trying to think of what to
say. And of course after the ink was upset he had to help Anthea
to clean out her desk, and he promised to make her another secret
drawer, better than the other. And she said, 'Well, make it now.'
So it was post-time and his letter wasn't done. And the secret
drawer wasn't done either.
Cyril wrote a long letter, very fast, and then went to set a trap
for slugs that he had read about in the Home-made Gardener, and
when it was post-time the letter could not be found, and it never
was found. Perhaps the slugs ate it.
jane's letter was the only one that went. She meant to tell her
mother all about the Psammead - in fact -they had all meant to do
this - but she spent so long thinking how to spell the word that
there was no time to tell the story properly, and it is useless to
tell a story unless you do tell it properly, so she had to be
contented with this -
MY DEAR MOTHER DEAR,
We are all as as good as we can, like you told us to, and the Lamb
has a little cold, but Martha says it is nothing, only he upset the
goldfish into himself yesterday morning. When we were up at the
sand-pit the other day we went round by the safe way where carts
go, and we found a --
Half an hour went by before Jane felt quite sure that they could
none of them spell Psammead. And they could not find it in the
dictionary either, though they looked. Then Jane hastily finished
We found a strange thing, but it is nearly post-time, so no more at
present from your little girl,
Ps. - If you could have a wish come true, what would you have?
Then the postman was heard blowing his horn, and Robert rushed out
in the rain to stop his cart and give him the letter. And that was
how it happened that, though all the children meant to tell their
mother about the Sand-fairy, somehow or other she never got to
know. There were other reasons why she never got to know, but
these come later.
The next day Uncle Richard came and took them all to Maidstone in
a wagonette - all except the Lamb. Uncle Richard was the very best
kind of uncle. He bought them toys at Maidstone. He took them
into a shop and let them choose exactly what they wanted, without
any restrictions about price, and no nonsense about things being
instructive. It is very wise to let children choose exactly what
they like, because they are very foolish and inexperienced, and
sometimes they will choose a really instructive thing without
meaning to. This happened to Robert, who chose, at the last
moment, and in a great hurry, a box with pictures on it of winged
bulls with men's heads and winged men with eagles' heads. He
thought there would be animals inside, the same as on the box.
When he got it home it was a Sunday puzzle about ancient Nineveh!
The others chose in haste, and were happy at leisure. Cyril had a
model engine, and the girls had two dolls, as well as a china
tea-set with forget-me-nots on it, to be 'between them'. The boys'
'between them' was bow and arrows.
Then Uncle Richard took them on the beautiful Medway in a boat, and
then they all had tea at a beautiful pastrycook's, and when they
reached home it was far too late to have any wishes that day.
They did not tell Uncle Richard anything about the Psammead. I do
not know why. And they do not know why. But I daresay you can
The day after Uncle Richard had behaved so handsomely was a very
hot day indeed. The people who decide what the weather is to be,
and put its orders down for it in the newspapers every morning,
said afterwards that it was the hottest day there had been for
years. They had ordered it to be 'warmer - some showers', and
warmer it certainly was. In fact it was so busy being warmer that
it had no time to attend to the order about showers, so there
Have you ever been up at five o'clock on a fine summer morning? It
is very beautiful. The sunlight is pinky and yellowy, and all the
grass and trees are covered with dew-diamonds. And all the shadows
go the opposite way to the way they do in the evening, which is
very interesting and makes you feel as though you were in a new
Anthea awoke at five. She had made herself wake, and I must tell
you how it is done, even if it keeps you waiting for the story to
You get into bed at night, and lie down quite flat on your little
back with your hands straight down by your sides. Then you say 'I
must wake up at five' (or six, or seven, or eight, or nine, or
whatever the time is that you want), and as you say it you push
your chin down on to your chest and then bang your head back on the
pillow. And you do this as many times as there are ones in the
time you want to wake up at. (It is quite an easy sum.) Of course
everything depends on your really wanting to get up at five (or
six, or seven, or eight, or nine); if you don't really want to,
it's all of no use. But if you do - well, try it and see. Of
course in this, as in doing Latin proses or getting into mischief,
practice makes perfect. Anthea was quite perfect.
At the very moment when she opened her eyes she heard the
black-and-gold clock down in the dining-room strike eleven. So she
knew it was three minutes to five. The black-and-gold clock always
struck wrong, but it was all right when you knew what it meant. It
was like a person talking a foreign language. If you know the
language it is just as easy to understand as English. And Anthea
knew the clock language. She was very sleepy, but she jumped out
of bed and put her face and hands into a basin of cold water. This
is a fairy charm that prevents your wanting to get back into bed
again. Then she dressed, and folded up her nightgown. She did not
tumble it together by the sleeves, but folded it by the seams from
the hem, and that will show you the kind of well-brought-up little
girl she was.
Then she took her shoes in her hand and crept softly down the
stairs. She opened the dining-room window and climbed out. It
would have been just as easy to go out by the door, but the window
was more romantic, and less likely to be noticed by Martha.
'I will always get up at five,' she said to herself. 'It was quite
too awfully pretty for anything.'
Her heart was beating very fast, for she was carrying out a plan
quite her own. She could not be sure that it was a good plan, but
she was quite sure that it would not be any better if she were to
tell the others about it. And she had a feeling that, right or
wrong, she would rather go through with it alone. She put on her
shoes under the iron veranda, on the red-and-yellow shining tiles,
and then she ran straight to the sand-pit, and found the Psammead's
place, and dug it out; it was very cross indeed.
'It's too bad,' it said, fluffing up its fur like pigeons do their
feathers at Christmas time. 'The weather's arctic, and it's the
middle of the night.'
'I'm so sorry,' said Anthea gently, and she took off her white
pinafore and covered the Sand-fairy up with it, all but its head,
its bat's ears, and its eyes that were like a snail's eyes.
'Thank you,' it said, 'that's better. What's the wish this
'I don't know,' said she; 'that's just it. You see we've been very
unlucky, so far. I wanted to talk to you about it. But - would
you mind not giving me any wishes till after breakfast? It's so
hard to talk to anyone if they jump out at you with wishes you
don't really want!'
'You shouldn't say you wish for things if you don't wish for them.
In the old days people almost always knew whether it was
Megatherium or Ichthyosaurus they really wanted for dinner.'
'I'll try not,' said Anthea, 'but I do wish -'
'Look out!' said the Psammead in a warning voice, and it began to
blow itself out.
'Oh, this isn't a magic wish - it's just - I should be so glad if
you'd not swell yourself out and nearly burst to give me anything
just now. Wait till the others are here.'
'Well, well,' it said indulgently, but it shivered.
'Would you,' asked Anthea kindly - 'would you like to come and sit
on my lap? You'd be warmer, and I could turn the skirt of my frock
up round you. I'd be very careful.'
Anthea had never expected that it would, but it did.
'Thank you,' it said; 'you really are rather thoughtful.' It crept
on to her lap and snuggled down, and she put her arms round it with
a rather frightened gentleness. 'Now then!' it said.
'Well then,' said Anthea, 'everything we have wished has turned out
rather horrid. I wish you would advise us. You are so old, you
must be very wise.'
'I was always generous from a child,' said the Sand-fairy. 'I've
spent the whole of my waking hours in giving. But one thing I
won't give - that's advice.'
'You see,' Anthea went on, it's such a wonderful thing - such a
splendid, glorious chance. It's so good and kind and dear of you
to give us our wishes, and it seems such a pity it should all be
wasted just because we are too silly to know what to wish for.'
Anthea had meant to say that - and she had not wanted to say it
before the others. It's one thing to say you're silly, and quite
another to say that other people are.
'Child,' said the Sand-fairy sleepily, 'I can only advise you to
think before you speak -'
'But I thought you never gave advice.'
'That piece doesn't count,' it said. 'You'll never take it!
Besides, it's not original. It's in all the copy-books.'
'But won't you just say if you think wings would be a silly wish?'
'Wings?' it said. 'I should think you might do worse. Only, take
care you aren't flying high at sunset. There was a little Ninevite
boy I heard of once. He was one of King Sennacherib's sons, and a
traveller brought him a Psammead. He used to keep it in a box of
sand on the palace terrace. It was a dreadful degradation for one
of us, of course; still the boy was the Assyrian King's son. And
one day he wished for wings and got them. But he forgot that they
would turn into stone at sunset, and when they did he fell slap on
to one of the winged lions at the top of his father's great
staircase; and what with HIS stone wings and the lions' stone wings
- well, it's not a pretty story! But I believe the boy enjoyed
himself very much till then.'
'Tell me,' said Anthea, 'why don't our wishes turn into stone now?
Why do they just vanish?'
'Autres temps, autres moeurs,' said the creature.
'Is that the Ninevite language?' asked Anthea, who had learned no
foreign language at school except French.
'What I mean is,' the Psammead went on, 'that in the old days
people wished for good solid everyday gifts - Mammoths and
Pterodactyls and things - and those could be turned into stone as
easy as not. But people wish such high-flying fanciful things
nowadays. How are you going to turn being beautiful as the day, or
being wanted by everybody, into stone? You see it can't be done.
And it would never do to have two rules, so they simply vanish. If
being beautiful as the day COULD be turned into stone it would last
an awfully long time, you know - much longer than you would. just
look at the Greek statues. It's just as well as it is. Good-bye.
I AM so sleepy.'
It jumped off her lap - dug frantically, and vanished.
Anthea was late for breakfast. It was Robert who quietly poured a
spoonful of treacle down the Lamb's frock, so that he had to be
taken away and washed thoroughly directly after breakfast. And it
was of course a very naughty thing to do; yet it served two
purposes - it delighted the Lamb, who loved above all things to be
completely sticky, and it engaged Martha's attention so that the
others could slip away to the sand-pit without the Lamb.
They did it, and in the lane Anthea, breathless from the scurry of
that slipping, panted out -
'I want to propose we take turns to wish. Only, nobody's to have
a wish if the others don't think it's a nice wish. Do you agree?'
'Who's to have first wish?' asked Robert cautiously.
'Me, if you don't mind,' said Anthea apologetically. 'And I've
thought about it - and it's wings.'
There was a silence. The others rather wanted to find fault, but
it was hard, because the word 'wings' raised a flutter of joyous
excitement in every breast.
'Not so dusty,' said Cyril generously; and Robert added, 'Really,
Panther, you're not quite such a fool as you look.'
Jane said, 'I think it would be perfectly lovely. It's like a
bright dream of delirium.'
They found the Sand-fairy easily. Anthea said:
'I wish we all had beautiful wings to fly with.'
The Sand-fairy blew himself out, and next moment each child felt a
funny feeling, half heaviness and half lightness, on its shoulders.
The Psammead put its head on one side and turned its snail's eyes
from one to the other.
'Not so dusty,' it said dreamily. 'But really, Robert, you're not
quite such an angel as you look.' Robert almost blushed.
The wings were very big, and more beautiful than you can possibly
imagine - for they were soft and smooth, and every feather lay
neatly in its place. And the feathers were of the most lovely
mixed changing colours, like the rainbow, or iridescent glass, or
the beautiful scum that sometimes floats on water that is not at
all nice to drink.
'Oh - but can we fly?'Jane said, standing anxiously first on one
foot and then on the other.
'Look out!' said Cyril; 'you're treading on my wing.'
'Does it hurt?' asked Anthea with interest; but no one answered,
for Robert had spread his wings and jumped up, and now he was
slowly rising in the air. He looked very awkward in his
knickerbocker suit - his boots in particular hung helplessly, and
seemed much larger than when he was standing in them. But the
others cared but little how he looked - or how they looked, for
that matter. For now they all spread out their wings and rose in
the air. Of course you all know what flying feels like, because
everyone has dreamed about flying, and it seems so beautifully easy
- only, you can never remember how you did it; and as a rule you
have to do it without wings, in your dreams, which is more clever
and uncommon, but not so easy to remember the rule for. Now the
four children rose flapping from the ground, and you can't think
how good the air felt running against their faces. Their wings
were tremendously wide when they were spread out, and they had to
fly quite a long way apart so as not to get in each other's way.
But little things like this are easily learned.
All the words in the English Dictionary, and in the Greek Lexicon
as well, are, I find, of no use at all to tell you exactly what it
feels like to be flying, so I Will not try. But I will say that to
look DOWN on the fields and woods, instead of along at them, is
something like looking at a beautiful live map, where, instead of
silly colours on paper, you have real moving sunny woods and green
fields laid out one after the other. As Cyril said, and I can't
think where he got hold of such a strange expression, 'It does you
a fair treat!' It was most wonderful and more like real magic than
any wish the children had had yet. They flapped and flew and
sailed on their great rainbow wings, between green earth and blue
sky; and they flew right over Rochester and then swerved round
towards Maidstone, and presently they all began to feel extremely
hungry. Curiously enough, this happened when they were flying
rather low, and just as they were crossing an orchard where some
early plums shone red and ripe.
They paused on their wings. I cannot explain to you how this is
done, but it is something like treading water when you are
swimming, and hawks do it extremely well.
'Yes, I daresay,' said Cyril, though no one had spoken. 'But
stealing is stealing even if you've got wings.'
'Do you really think so?' said Jane briskly. 'If you've got wings
you're a bird, and no one minds birds breaking the commandments.
At least, they MAY mind, but the birds always do it, and no one
scolds them or sends them to prison.'
It was not so easy to perch on a plum-tree as you might think,
because the rainbow wings were so very large; but somehow they all
managed to do it, and the plums were certainly very sweet and
Fortunately, it was not till they had all had quite as many plums
as were good for them that they saw a stout man, who looked exactly
as though he owned the plum-trees, come hurrying through the
orchard gate with a thick stick, and with one accord they
disentangled their wings from the plum-laden branches and began to
The man stopped short, with his mouth open. For he had seen the
boughs of his trees moving and twitching, and he had said to
himself, 'The young varmints - at it again!' And he had come out
at once, for the lads of the village had taught him in past seasons
that plums want looking after. But when he saw the rainbow wings
flutter up out of the plum-tree he felt that he must have gone
quite mad, and he did not like the feeling at all. And when Anthea
looked down and saw his mouth go slowly open, and stay so, and his
face become green and mauve in patches, she called out:
'Don't be frightened,' and felt hastily in her pocket for a
threepenny-bit with a hole in it, which she had meant to hang on a
ribbon round her neck, for luck. She hovered round the unfortunate
plum-owner, and said, 'We have had some of your plums; we thought
it wasn't stealing, but now I am not so sure. So here's some money
to pay for them.'
She swooped down towards the terror-stricken grower of plums, and
slipped the coin into the pocket of his jacket, and in a few flaps
she had rejoined the others.
The farmer sat down on the grass, suddenly and heavily.
'Well - I'm blessed!' he said. 'This here is what they call
delusions, I suppose. But this here threepenny' - he had pulled it
out and bitten it - 'THAT'S real enough. Well, from this day forth
I'll be a better man. It's the kind of thing to sober a chap for
life, this is. I'm glad it was only wings, though. I'd rather see
birds as aren't there, and couldn't be, even if they pretend to
talk, than some things as I could name.'
He got up slowly and heavily, and went indoors, and he was so nice
to his wife that day that she felt quite happy, and said to
herself, 'Law, whatever have a-come to the man!' and smartened
herself up and put a blue ribbon bow at the place where her collar
fastened on, and looked so pretty that he was kinder than ever. So
perhaps the winged children really did do one good thing that day.
If so, it was the only one; for really there is nothing like wings
for getting you into trouble. But, on the other hand, if you arc
in trouble, there is nothing like wings for getting you out of it.
This was the case in the matter of the fierce dog who sprang out at
them when they had folded up their wings as small as possible and
were going up to a farm door to ask for a crust of bread and
cheese, for in spite of the plums they were soon just as hungry as
Now there is no doubt whatever that, if the four had been ordinary
wingless children, that black and fierce dog would have had a good
bite out of the brown-stockinged leg of Robert, who was the
nearest. But at first growl there was a flutter of wings, and the
dog was left to strain at his chain and stand on his hind-legs as
if he were trying to fly too.
They tried several other farms, but at those where there were no
dogs the people were far too frightened to do anything but scream;
and at last when it was nearly four o'clock, and their wings were
getting miserably stiff and tired, they alighted on a church-tower
and held a council of war.
'We can't possibly fly all the way home without dinner or tea,'
said Robert with desperate decision.
'And nobody will give us any dinner, or even lunch, let alone tea,'
'Perhaps the clergyman here might,' suggested Anthea. 'He must
know all about angels -'
'Anybody could see we're not that,' said Jane. 'Look at Robert's
boots and Squirrel's plaid necktie.'
'Well,' said Cyril firmly, 'if the country you're in won't SELL
provisions, you TAKE them. In wars I mean. I'm quite certain you
do. And even in other stories no good brother would allow his
little sisters to starve in the midst of plenty.'
'Plenty?' repeated Robert hungrily; and the others looked vaguely
round the bare leads of the church- tower, and murmured, 'In the
'Yes,' said Cyril impressively. 'There is a larder window at the
side of the clergyman's house, and I saw things to eat inside -
custard pudding and cold chicken and tongue - and pies - and jam.
It's rather a high window - but with wings -'
'How clever of you!' said Jane.
'Not at all,' said Cyril modestly; 'any born general - Napoleon or
the Duke of Marlborough - would have seen it just the same as I
'It seems very wrong,' said Anthea.
'Nonsense,' said Cyril. 'What was it Sir Philip Sidney said when
the soldier wouldn't stand him a drink? - "My necessity is greater
'We'll club our money, though, and leave it to pay for the things,
won't we?' Anthea was persuasive, and very nearly in tears,
because it is most trying to feel enormously hungry and unspeakably
sinful at one and the same time.
'Some of it,' was the cautious reply.
Everyone now turned out its pockets on the lead roof of the tower,
where visitors for the last hundred and fifty years had cut their
own and their sweethearts' initials with penknives in the soft
lead. There was five-and-sevenpence-halfpenny altogether, and even
the upright Anthea admitted that that was too much to pay for four
peoples dinners. Robert said he thought eighteen pence.
And half-a-crown was finally agreed to be 'hand- some'.
So Anthea wrote on the back of her last term's report, which
happened to be in her pocket, and from which she first tore her own
name and that of the school, the following letter:
DEAR REVEREND CLERGYMAN,
We are very hungry indeed because of having to fly all day, and we
think it is not stealing when you are starving to death. We are
afraid to ask you for fear you should say 'No', because of course
you know about angels, but you would not think we were angels. We
will only take the nessessities of life, and no pudding or pie, to
show you it is not grediness but true starvation that makes us make
your larder stand and deliver. But we are not highwaymen by trade.
'Cut it short,' said the others with one accord. And Anthea
Our intentions are quite honourable if you only knew. And here is
half-a-crown to show we are sinseer and grateful. Thank you for
your kind hospitality.
FROM Us FOUR.
The half-crown was wrapped in this letter, and all the children
felt that when the clergyman had read it he would understand
everything, as well as anyone could who had not seen the wings.
'Now,' said Cyril,"of course there's some risk; we'd better fly
straight down the other side of the tower and then flutter low
across the churchyard and in through the shrubbery. There doesn't
seem to be anyone about. But you never know. The window looks out
into the shrubbery. It is embowered in foliage, like a window in
a story. I'll go in and get the things. Robert and Anthea can
take them as I hand them out through the window; and Jane can keep
watch - her eyes are sharp - and whistle if she sees anyone about.
Shut up, Robert! she can whistle quite well enough for that,
anyway. It ought not to be a very good whistle - it'll sound more
natural and birdlike. Now then - off we go!'
I cannot pretend that stealing is right. I can only say that on
this occasion it did not look like stealing to the hungry four, but
appeared in the light of a fair and reasonable business
transaction. They had never happened to learn that a tongue -
hardly cut into - a chicken and a half, a loaf of bread, and a
syphon of soda-water cannot be bought in shops for half-a-crown.
These were the necessaries of life, which Cyril handed out of the
larder window when, quite unobserved and without hindrance or
adventure, he had led the others to that happy spot. He felt that
to refrain from jam, apple turnovers, cake, and mixed candied peel
was a really heroic act - and I agree with him. He was also proud
of not taking the custard pudding - and there I think he was wrong
- because if he had taken it there would have been a difficulty
about returning the dish; no one, however starving, has a right to
steal china pie-dishes with little pink flowers on them. The
soda-water syphon was different. They could not do without
something to drink, and as the maker's name was on it they felt
sure it would be returned to him wherever they might leave it. If
they had time they would take it back themselves. The man appeared
to live in Rochester, which would not be much out of their way
Everything was carried up to the top of the tower, and laid down on
a sheet of kitchen paper which Cyril had found on the top shelf of
the larder. As he unfolded it, Anthea said, 'I don't think THAT'S
a necessity of life.'
'Yes, it is,' said he. 'We must put the things down somewhere to
cut them up; and I heard father say the other day people got
diseases from germans in rain-water. Now there must be lots of
rain-water here - and when it dries up the germans are left, and
they'd get into the things, and we should all die of scarlet
'What are germans?'
'Little waggly things you see with microscopes,' said Cyril, with
a scientific air. 'They give you every illness you can think of!
I'm sure the paper was a necessary, just as much as the bread and
meat and water. Now then! Oh, my eyes, I am hungry!'
I do not wish to describe the picnic party on the top of the tower.
You can imagine well enough what it is like to carve a chicken and
a tongue with a knife that has only one blade - and that snapped
off short about half-way down. But it was done. Eating with your
fingers is greasy and difficult - and paper dishes soon get to look
very spotty and horrid. But one thing you CAN'T imagine, and that
is how soda-water behaves when you try to drink it straight out of
a syphon - especially a quite full one. But if imagination will
not help you, experience will, and you can easily try it for
yourself if you can get a grown-up to give you the syphon. If you
want to have a really thorough experience, put the tube in your
mouth and press the handle very suddenly and very hard. You had
better do it when you are alone - and out of doors is best for this
However you eat them, tongue and chicken and new bread are very
good things, and no one minds being sprinkled a little with
soda-water on a really fine hot day. So that everyone enjoyed the
dinner very much indeed, and everyone ate as much as it possibly
could: first, because it was extremely hungry; and secondly,
because, as I said, tongue and chicken and new bread are very nice.
Now, I daresay you will have noticed that if you have to wait for
your dinner till long after the proper time, and then eat a great
deal more dinner than usual, and sit in the hot sun on the top of
a church-tower - or even anywhere else - you become soon and
strangely sleepy. Now Anthea and Jane and Cyril and Robert were
very like you in many ways, and when they had eaten all they could,
and drunk all there was, they became sleepy, strangely and soon -
especially Anthea, because she had got up so early.
One by one they left off talking and leaned back, and before it was
a quarter of an hour after dinner they had all curled round and
tucked themselves up under their large soft warm wings and were
fast asleep. And the sun was sinking slowly in the west. (I must
say it was in the west, because it is usual in books to say so, for
fear careless people should think it was setting in the east. In
point of fact, it was not exactly in the west either - but that's
near enough.) The sun, I repeat, was sinking slowly in the west,
and the children slept warmly and happily on - for wings are cosier
than eiderdown quilts to sleep under. The shadow of the
church-tower fell across the churchyard, and across the Vicarage,
and across the field beyond; and presently there were no more
shadows, and the sun had set, and the wings were gone. And still
the children slept. But not for long. Twilight is very beautiful,
but it is chilly; and you know, however sleepy you are, you wake up
soon enough if your brother or sister happens to be up first and
pulls your blankets off you. The four wingless children shivered
and woke. And there they were - on the top of a church-tower in
the dusky twilight, with blue stars coming out by ones and twos and
tens and twenties over their heads - miles away from home, with
three-and-three-halfpence in their pockets, and a doubtful act
about the necessities of life to be accounted for if anyone found
them with the soda-water syphon.
They looked at each other. Cyril spoke first, picking up the
'We'd better get along down and get rid of this beastly thing.
It's dark enough to leave it on the clergyman's doorstep, I should
think. Come on.'
There was a little turret at the corner of the tower, and the
little turret had a door in it. They had noticed this when they
were eating, but had not explored it, as you would have done in
their place. Because, of course, when you have wings, and can
explore the whole sky, doors seem hardly worth exploring.
Now they turned towards it.
'Of course,' said Cyril, 'this is the way down.'
It was. But the door was locked on the inside!
And the world was growing darker and darker. And they were miles
from home. And there was the soda-water syphon.
I shall not tell you whether anyone cried, nor if so, how many
cried, nor who cried. You will be better employed in making up
your minds what you would have done if you had been in their place.
Whether anyone cried or not, there was certainly an interval during
which none of the party was quite itself. When they grew calmer,
Anthea put her handkerchief in her pocket and her arm round Jane,
'It can't be for more than one night. We can signal with our
handkerchiefs in the morning. They'll be dry then. And someone
will come up and let us out -'
'And find the syphon,' said Cyril gloomily; 'and we shall be sent
to prison for stealing -'
'You said it wasn't stealing. You said you were sure it wasn't.'
'I'm not sure NOW,' said Cyril shortly.
'Let's throw the beastly thing slap away among the trees,' said
Robert, 'then no one can do anything to us.'
'Oh yes' - Cyril's laugh was not a lighthearted one - 'and hit some
chap on the head, and be murderers as well as - as the other
'But we can't stay up here all night,' said Jane; 'and I want my
'You CAN'T want your tea,' said Robert; 'you've only just had your
'But I do want it,' she said; 'especially when you begin talking
about stopping up here all night. Oh, Panther - I want to go home!
I want to go home!'
'Hush, hush,' Anthea said. 'Don't, dear. It'll be all right,
somehow. Don't, don't -'
'Let her cry,' said Robert desperately; 'if she howls loud enough,
someone may hear and come and let us out.'
'And see the soda-water thing,' said Anthea swiftly. 'Robert,
don't be a brute. Oh, Jane, do try to be a man! It's just the
same for all of us.'
Jane did try to 'be a man' - and reduced her howls to sniffs.
There was a pause. Then Cyril said slowly, 'Look here. We must
risk that syphon. I'll button it up inside my jacket - perhaps no
one will notice it. You others keep well in front of me. There
are lights in the clergyman's house. They've not gone to bed yet.
We must just yell as loud as ever we can. Now all scream when I
say three. Robert, you do the yell like the railway engine, and
I'll do the coo-ee like father's. The girls can do as they please.
One, two, three!'
A fourfold yell rent the silent peace of the evening, and a maid at
one of the Vicarage windows paused with her hand on the blind-cord.
'One, two, three!' Another yell, piercing and complex, startled
the owls and starlings to a flutter of feathers in the belfry
below. The maid fled from the Vicarage window and ran down the
Vicarage stairs and into the Vicarage kitchen, and fainted as soon
as she had explained to the man-servant and the cook and the cook's
cousin that she had seen a ghost. It was quite untrue, of course,
but I suppose the girl's nerves were a little upset by the yelling.
'One, two, three!' The Vicar was on his doorstep by this time, and
there was no mistaking the yell that greeted him.
'Goodness me,' he said to his wife, 'my dear, someone's being
murdered in the church! Give me my hat and a thick stick, and tell
Andrew to come after me. I expect it's the lunatic who stole the
The children had seen the flash of light when the Vicar opened his
front door. They had seen his dark form on the doorstep, and they
had paused for breath, and also to see what he would do.
When he turned back for his hat, Cyril said hastily:
'He thinks he only fancied he heard something. You don't half
yell! Now! One, two, three!'
It was certainly a whole yell this time, and the Vicar's wife flung
her arms round her husband and screamed a feeble echo of it.
'You shan't go!' she said, 'not alone. Jessie!' - the maid
unfainted and came out of the kitchen - 'send Andrew at once.
There's a dangerous lunatic in the church, and he must go
immediately and catch it.'
'I expect he WILL catch it too,' said Jessie to herself as she went
through the kitchen door. 'Here, Andrew,' she said, there's
someone screaming like mad in the church, and the missus says
you're to go along and catch it.'
'Not alone, I don't,' said Andrew in low firm tones. To his master
he merely said, 'Yes, sir.'
'You heard those screams?'
'I did think I noticed a sort of something,' said Andrew.
'Well, come on, then,' said the Vicar. 'My dear, I MUST go!' He
pushed her gently into the sitting-room, banged the door, and
rushed out, dragging Andrew by the arm.
A volley of yells greeted them. As it died into silence Andrew
shouted, 'Hullo, you there! Did you call?'
'Yes,' shouted four far-away voices.
'They seem to be in the air,' said the Vicar. 'Very remarkable.'
'Where are you?' shouted Andrew: and Cyril replied in his deepest
voice, very slow and loud:
'CHURCH! TOWER! TOP!'
'Come down, then!' said Andrew; and the same voice replied:
'CAN'T! DOOR LOCKED!'
'My goodness!' said the Vicar. 'Andrew, fetch the stable lantern.
Perhaps it would be as well to fetch another man from the village.'
'With the rest of the gang about, very likely. No, sir; if this
'ere ain't a trap - well, may I never! There's cook's cousin at
the back door now. He's a keeper, sir, and used to dealing with
vicious characters. And he's got his gun, sir.'
'Hullo there!' shouted Cyril from the church-tower; 'come up and
let us out.'
'We're a-coming,' said Andrew. 'I'm a-going to get a policeman and
'Andrew, Andrew,' said the Vicar, 'that's not the truth.'
'It's near enough, sir, for the likes of them.'
So Andrew fetched the lantern and the cook's cousin; and the
Vicar's wife begged them all to be very careful.
They went across the churchyard - it was quite dark now - and as
they went they talked. The Vicar was certain a lunatic was on the
church-tower - the one who had written the mad letter, and taken
the cold tongue and things. Andrew thought it was a 'trap'; the
cook's cousin alone was calm. 'Great cry, little wool,' said he;
'dangerous chaps is quieter.' He was not at all afraid. But then
he had a gun. That was why he was asked to lead the way up the
worn steep dark steps of the church-tower. He did lead the way,
with the lantern in one hand and the gun in the other. Andrew went
next. He pretended afterwards that this was because he was braver
than his master, but really it was because he thought of traps, and
he did not like the idea of being behind the others for fear
someone should come soffly up behind him and catch hold of his legs
in the dark. They went on and on, and round and round the little
corkscrew staircase - then through the bell-ringers' loft, where
the bell-ropes hung with soft furry ends like giant caterpillars -
then up another stair into the belfry, where the big quiet bells
are - and then on, up a ladder with broad steps - and then up a
little stone stair. And at the top of that there was a little
door. And the door was bolted on the stair side.
The cook's cousin, who was a gamekeeper, kicked at the door, and
'Hullo, you there!'
The children were holding on to each other on the other side of the
door, and trembling with anxiousness - and very hoarse with their
howls. They could hardly speak, but Cyril managed to reply
'Hullo, you there!'
'How did you get up there?'
It was no use saying 'We flew up', so Cyril said:
'We got up - and then we found the door was locked and we couldn't
get down. Let us out - do.'
'How many of you are there?' asked the keeper.
'Only four,' said Cyril.
'Are you armed?'
'Are we what?'
'I've got my gun handy - so you'd best not try any tricks,' said
the keeper. 'If we open the door, will you promise to come quietly
down, and no nonsense?'
'Yes - oh YES!' said all the children together.
'Bless me,' said the Vicar, 'surely that was a female voice?'
'Shall I open the door, Sir?' said the keeper. Andrew went down a
few steps, 'to leave room for the others' he said afterwards.
'Yes,' said the Vicar, 'open the door. Remember,' he said through
the keyhole, 'we have come to release you. You will keep your
promise to refrain from violence?'
'How this bolt do stick,' said the keeper; 'anyone 'ud think it
hadn't been drawed for half a year.' As a matter of fact it
When all the bolts were drawn, the keeper spoke deep-chested words
through the keyhole.
'I don't open,' said he, 'till you've gone over to the other side
of the tower. And if one of you comes at me I fire. Now!'
'We're all over on the other side,' said the voices.
The keeper felt pleased with himself, and owned himself a bold man
when he threw open that door, and, stepping out into the leads,
flashed the full light of the stable lantern on to the group of
desperadoes standing against the parapet on the other side of the
He lowered his gun, and he nearly dropped the lantern.
'So help me,' he cried, 'if they ain't a pack of kiddies!'
The Vicar now advanced.
'How did you come here?' he asked severely. 'Tell me at once. '
'Oh, take us down,' said Jane, catching at his coat, 'and we'll
tell you anything you like. You won't believe us, but it doesn't
matter. Oh, take us down!'
The others crowded round him, with the same entreaty. All but
Cyril. He had enough to do with the soda-water syphon, which would
keep slipping down under his jacket. It needed both hands to keep
it steady in its place.
But he said, standing as far out of the lantern light as possible:
'Please do take us down.'
So they were taken down. It is no joke to go down a strange
church-tower in the dark, but the keeper helped them - only, Cyril
had to be independent because of the soda-water syphon. It would
keep trying to get away. Half-way down the ladder it all but
escaped. Cyril just caught it by its spout, and as nearly as
possible lost his footing. He was trembling and pale when at last
they reached the bottom of the winding stair and stepped out on to
the flags of the church-porch.
Then suddenly the keeper caught Cyril and Robert each by an arm.
'You bring along the gells, sir,' said he; 'you and Andrew can
'Let go!' said Cyril; 'we aren't running away. We haven't hurt
your old church. Leave go!'
'You just come along,' said the keeper; and Cyril dared not oppose
him with violence, because just then the syphon began to slip
So they were all marched into the Vicarage study, and the Vicar's
wife came rushing in.
'Oh, William, are you safe?' she cried.
Robert hastened to allay her anxiety.
'Yes,' he said, 'he's quite safe. We haven't hurt him at all. And
please, we're very late, and they'll be anxious at home. Could you
send us home in your carriage?'
'Or perhaps there's a hotel near where we could get a carriage
from,' said Anthea. 'Martha will be very anxious as it is.'
The Vicar had sunk into a chair, overcome by emotion and amazement.
Cyril had also sat down, and was leaning forward with his elbows on
his knees because of that soda-water syphon.
'But how did you come to be locked up in the church-tower?' asked
'We went up,' said Robert slowly, 'and we were tired, and we all
went to sleep, and when we woke up we found the door was locked, so
'I should think you did!' said the Vicar's wife. 'Frightening
everybody out of their wits like this! You ought to be ashamed of
'We are,' said Jane gently.
'But who locked the door?' asked the Vicar.
'I don't know at all,' said Robert, with perfect truth. 'Do please
send us home.'
'Well, really,' said the Vicar, 'I suppose we'd better. Andrew,
put the horse to, and you can take them home.'
'Not alone, I don't,' said Andrew to himself.
'And,' the Vicar went on, 'let this be a lesson to you ...' He
went on talking, and the children listened miserably. But the
keeper was not listening. He was looking at the unfortunate Cyril.
He knew all about poachers of course, so he knew how people look
when they're hiding something. The Vicar had just got to the part
about trying to grow up to be a blessing to your parents, and not
a trouble and a disgrace, when the keeper suddenly said:
'Arst him what he's got there under his jacket'; and Cyril knew
that concealment was at an end. So he stood up, and squared his
shoulders and tried to look noble, like the boys in books that no
one can look in the face of and doubt that they come of brave and
noble families and will be faithful to the death, and he pulled out
the soda-water syphon and said:
'Well, there you are, then.'
There was a silence. Cyril went on - there was nothing else for
'Yes, we took this out of your larder, and some chicken and tongue
and bread. We were very hungry, and we didn't take the custard or
jam. We only took bread and meat and water - and we couldn't help
its being the soda kind -just the necessaries of life; and we left
half-a-crown to pay for it, and we left a letter. And we're very
sorry. And my father will pay a fine or anything you like, but
don't send us to prison. Mother would be so vexed. You know what
you said about not being a disgrace. Well, don't you go and do it
to us - that's all! We're as sorry as we can be. There!'
'However did you get up to the larder window?' said Mrs Vicar.
'I can't tell you that,' said Cyril firmly.
'Is this the whole truth you've been telling me?' asked the
'No,' answered Jane suddenly; 'it's all true, but it's not the
whole truth. We can't tell you that. It's no good asking. Oh, do
forgive us and take us home!' She ran to the Vicar's wife and
threw her arms round her. The Vicar's wife put her arms round
Jane, and the keeper whispered behind his hand to the Vicar:
'They're all right, sir - I expect it's a pal they're standing by.
Someone put 'em up to it, and they won't peach. Game little kids.'
'Tell me,' said the Vicar kindly, 'are you screening someone else?
Had anyone else anything to do with this?'
'Yes,' said Anthea, thinking of the Psammead; 'but it wasn't their
'Very well, my dears,' said the Vicar, 'then let's say no more
about it. Only just tell us why you wrote such an odd letter.'
'I don't know,' said Cyril. 'You see, Anthea wrote it in such a
hurry, and it really didn't seem like stealing then. But
afterwards, when we found we couldn't get down off the
church-tower, it seemed just exactly like it. We are all very
'Say no more about it,' said the Vicar's wife; 'but another time
just think before you take other people's tongues. Now - some cake
and milk before you go home?'
When Andrew came to say that the horse was put to, and was he
expected to be led alone into the trap that he had plainly seen
from the first, he found the children eating cake and drinking milk
and laughing at the Vicar's jokes. Jane was sitting on the Vicar's
So you see they got off better than they deserved.
The gamekeeper, who was the cook's cousin, asked leave to drive
home with them, and Andrew was only too glad to have someone to
protect him from the trap he was so certain of.
When the wagonette reached their own house, between the
chalk-quarry and the gravel-pit, the children were very sleepy, but
they felt that they and the keeper were friends for life.
Andrew dumped the children down at the iron gate without a word.
'You get along home,' said the Vicarage cook's cousin, who was a
gamekeeper. 'I'll get me home on Shanks' mare.'
So Andrew had to drive off alone, which he did not like at all, and
it was the keeper that was cousin to the Vicarage cook who went
with the children to the door, and, when they had been swept to bed
in a whirlwind of reproaches, remained to explain to Martha and the
cook and the housemaid exactly what had happened. He explained so
well that Martha was quite amiable the next morning.
After that he often used to come over and see Martha; and in the
end - but that is another story, as dear Mr Kipling says.
Martha was obliged to stick to what she had said the night before
about keeping the children indoors the next day for a punishment.
But she wasn't at all snarky about it, and agreed to let Robert go
out for half an hour to get something he particularly wanted.
This, of course, was the day's wish.
Robert rushed to the gravel-pit, found the Psammead, and presently
wished for - But that, too, is another story.
A CASTLE AND NO DINNER
The others were to be kept in as a punishment for the misfortunes
of the day before. Of course Martha thought it was naughtiness,
and not misfortune - so you must not blame her. She only thought
she was doing her duty. You know grown-up people often say they do
not like to punish you, and that they only do it for your own good,
and that it hurts them as much as it hurts you - and this is really
very often the truth.
Martha certainly hated having to punish the children quite as much
as they hated to be punished. For one thing, she knew what a noise
there would be in the house all day. And she had other reasons.
'I declare,' she said to the cook, 'it seems almost a shame keeping
of them indoors this lovely day; but they are that audacious,
they'll be walking in with their heads knocked off some of these
days, if I don't put my foot down. You make them a cake for tea
to-morrow, dear. And we'll have Baby along of us soon as we've got
a bit forrard with our work. Then they can have a good romp with
him out of the way. Now, Eliza, come, get on with them beds.
Here's ten o'clock nearly, and no rabbits caught!'
People say that in Kent when they mean 'and no work done'.
So all the others were kept in, but Robert, as I have said, was
allowed to go out for half an hour to get something they all
wanted. And that, of course, was the day's wish.
He had no difficulty in finding the Sand-fairy, for the day was
already so hot that it had actually, for the first time, come out
of its own accord, and it was sitting in a sort of pool of soft
sand, stretching itself, and trimming its whiskers, and turning its
snail's eyes round and round.
'Ha!' it said when its left eye saw Robert; 'I've been looking out
for you. Where are the rest of you? Not smashed themselves up
with those wings, I hope?'
'No,' said Robert; 'but the wings got us into a row, just like all
the wishes always do. So the others are kept indoors, and I was
only let out for half-an-hour - to get the wish. So please let me
wish as quickly as I can.'
'Wish away,' said the Psammead, twisting itself round in the sand.
But Robert couldn't wish away. He forgot all the things he had
been thinking about, and nothing would come into his head but
little things for himself, like toffee, a foreign stamp album, or
a clasp- knife with three blades and a corkscrew. He sat down to
think better, but it was no use. He could only think of things the
others would not have cared for - such as a football, or a pair of
leg-guards, or to be able to lick Simpkins minor thoroughly when he
went back to school.
'Well,' said the Psammead at last, 'you'd better hurry up with that
wish of yours. Time flies.'
'I know it does,' said Robert. 'I can't think what to wish for.
I wish you could give one of the others their wish without their
having to come here to ask for it. Oh, DON'T!'
But it was too late. The Psammead had blown itself out to about
three times its proper size, and now it collapsed like a pricked
bubble, and with a deep sigh leaned back against the edge of its
sand-pool, quite faint with the effort.
'There!' it said in a weak voice; 'it was tremendously hard - but
I did it. Run along home, or they're sure to wish for something
silly before you get there.'
They were - quite sure; Robert felt this, and as he ran home his
mind was deeply occupied with the sort of wishes he might find they
had wished in his absence. They might wish for rabbits, or white
mice, or chocolate, or a fine day to-morrow, or even - and that was
most likely - someone might have said, 'I do wish to goodness
Robert would hurry up.' Well, he WAS hurrying up, and so they
would have their wish, and the day would be wasted. Then he tried
to think what they could wish for - something that would be amusing
indoors. That had been his own difficulty from the beginning. So
few things are amusing indoors when the sun is shining outside and
you mayn't go out, however much you want to. Robert was running as
fast as he could, but when he turned the corner that ought to have
brought him within sight of the architect's nightmare - the
ornamental iron-work on the top of the house - he opened his eyes
so wide that he had to drop into a walk; for you cannot run with
your eyes wide open. Then suddenly he stopped short, for there was
no house to be seen. The front-garden railings were gone too, and
where the house had stood - Robert rubbed his eyes and looked
again. Yes, the others HAD wished - there was no doubt about that
- and they must have wished that they lived in a castle; for there
the castle stood black and stately, and very tall and broad, with
battlements and lancet windows, and eight great towers; and, where
the garden and the orchard had been, there were white things dotted
like mushrooms. Robert walked slowly on, and as he got nearer he
saw that these were tents) and men in armour were walking about
among the tents - crowds and crowds of them.
'Oh, crikey!' said Robert fervently. 'They HAVE! They've wished
for a castle, and it's being besieged! It's just like that
Sand-fairy! I wish we'd never seen the beastly thing!'
At the little window above the great gateway, across the moat that
now lay where the garden had been but half an hour ago, someone was
waving something pale dust-coloured. Robert thought it was one of
Cyril's handkerchiefs. They had never been white since the day
when he had upset the bottle of 'Combined Toning and Fixing
Solution' into the drawer where they were. Robert waved back, and
immediately felt that he had been unwise. For his signal had been
seen by the besieging force, and two men in steel-caps were coming
towards him. They had high brown boots on their long legs, and
they came towards him with such great strides that Robert
remembered the shortness of his own legs and did not run away. He
knew it would be useless to himself, and he feared it might be
irritating to the foe. So he stood still, and the two men seemed
quite pleased with him.
'By my halidom,' said one, 'a brave varlet this!'
Robert felt pleased at being CALLED brave, and somehow it made him
FEEL brave. He passed over the 'varlet'. It was the way people
talked in historical romances for the young, he knew, and it was
evidently not meant for rudeness. He only hoped he would be able
to understand what they said to him. He had not always been able
quite to follow the conversations in the historical romances for
'His garb is strange,' said the other. 'Some outlandish treachery,
'Say, lad, what brings thee hither?'
Robert knew this meant, 'Now then, youngster, what are you up to
here, eh?' - so he said:
'If you please, I want to go home.'
'Go, then!' said the man in the longest boots; 'none hindereth, and
nought lets us to follow. Zooks!' he added in a cautious
undertone, 'I misdoubt me but he beareth tidings to the besieged.'
'Where dwellest thou, young knave?' inquired the man with the
'Over there,' said Robert; and directly he had said it he knew he
ought to have said 'Yonder!'
'Ha - sayest so?' rejoined the longest boots. 'Come hither, boy.
This is a matter for our leader.'
And to the leader Robert was dragged forthwith - by the reluctant
The leader was the most glorious creature Robert had ever seen. He
was exactly like the pictures Robert had so often admired in the
historical romances. He had armour, and a helmet, and a horse, and
a crest, and feathers, and a shield, and a lance, and a sword. His
armour and his weapons were all, I am almost sure, of quite
different periods. The shield was thirteenth-century, while the
sword was of the pattern used in the Peninsular War. The cuirass
was of the time of Charles I, and the helmet dated from the Second
Crusade. The arms on the shield were very grand - three red
running lions on a blue ground. The tents were of the latest brand
and the whole appearance of camp, army, and leader might have been
a shock to some. But Robert was dumb with admiration, and it all
seemed to him perfectly correct, because he knew no more of
heraldry or archaeology than the gifted artists who usually drew
the pictures for the historical romances. The scene was indeed
'exactly like a picture'. He admired it all so much that he felt
braver than ever.
'Come hither, lad,' said the glorious leader, when the men in
Cromwellian steel-caps had said a few low eager words. And he took
off his helmet, because he could not see properly with it on. He
had a kind face, and long fair hair. 'Have no fear; thou shalt
take no scathe,' he said.
Robert was glad of that. He wondered what 'scathe' was, and if it
was nastier than the senna tea which he had to take sometimes.
'Unfold thy tale without alarm,' said the leader kindly. 'Whence
comest thou, and what is thine intent?'
'My what?' said Robert.
'What seekest thou to accomplish? What is thine errand, that thou
wanderest here alone among these rough men-at-arms? Poor child,
thy mother's heart aches for thee e'en now, I'll warrant me.'
'I don't think so,' said Robert; 'you see, she doesn't know I'm
The leader wiped away a manly tear, exactly as a leader in a
historical romance would have done, and said:
'Fear not to speak the truth, my child; thou hast nought to fear
from Wulfric de Talbot.'
Robert had a wild feeling that this glorious leader of the
besieging party - being himself part of a wish - would be able to
understand better than Martha, or the gipsies, or the policeman in
Rochester, or the clergyman of yesterday, the true tale of the
wishes and the Psammead. The only difficulty was that he knew he
could never remember enough 'quothas' and 'beshrew me's', and
things like that, to make his talk sound like the talk of a boy in
a historical romance. However, he began boldly enough, with a
sentence straight out of Ralph de Courcy; or, The Boy Crusader. He
'Grammercy for thy courtesy, fair sir knight. The fact is, it's
like this - and I hope you're not in a hurry, because the story's
rather a breather. Father and mother are away, and when we were
down playing in the sand-pits we found a Psammead.'
'I cry thee mercy! A Sammyadd?' said the knight.
'Yes, a sort of - of fairy, or enchanter - yes, that's it, an
enchanter; and he said we could have a wish every day, and we
wished first to be beautiful.'
'Thy wish was scarce granted,' muttered one of the men-at-arms,
looking at Robert, who went on as if he had not heard, though he
thought the remark very rude indeed.
'And then we wished for money - treasure, you know; but we couldn't
spend it. And yesterday we wished for wings, and we got them, and
we had a ripping time to begin with -'
'Thy speech is strange and uncouth,' said Sir Wulfric de Talbot.
'Repeat thy words - what hadst thou?'
'A ripping - I mean a jolly - no - we were contented with our lot
- that's what I mean; only, after that we got into an awful fix.'
'What is a fix? A fray, mayhap?'
'No - not a fray. A - a - a tight place.'
'A dungeon? Alas for thy youthful fettered limbs!' said the
knight, with polite sympathy.
'It wasn't a dungeon. We just - just encountered undeserved
misfortunes,' Robert explained, 'and to-day we are punished by not
being allowed to go out. That's where I live,' - he pointed to the
castle. 'The others are in there, and they're not allowed to go
out. It's all the Psammead's - I mean the enchanter's fault. I
wish we'd never seen him.'
'He is an enchanter of might?'
'Oh yes - of might and main. Rather!'
'And thou deemest that it is the spells of the enchanter whom thou
hast angered that have lent strength to the besieging party,' said
the gallant leader; 'but know thou that Wulfric de Talbot needs no
enchanter's aid to lead his followers to victory.'
'No, I'm sure you don't,' said Robert, with hasty courtesy; 'of
course not - you wouldn't, you know. But, all the same, it's
partly his fault, but we're most to blame. You couldn't have done
anything if it hadn't been for us.'
'How now, bold boy?' asked Sir Wulfric haughtily. 'Thy speech is
dark, and eke scarce courteous. Unravel me this riddle!'
'Oh,' said Robert desperately, 'of course you don't know it, but
you're not REAL at all. You're only here because the others must
have been idiots enough to wish for a castle - and when the sun
sets you'll just vanish away, and it'll be all right.'
The captain and the men-at-arms exchanged glances, at first
pitying, and then sterner, as the longest-booted man said, 'Beware,
noble my lord; the urchin doth but feign madness to escape from our
clutches. Shall we not bind him?'
'I'm no more mad than you are,' said Robert angrily, 'perhaps not
so much - only, I was an idiot to think you'd understand anything.
Let me go - I haven't done anything to you.'
'Whither?' asked the knight, who seemed to have believed all the
enchanter story till it came to his own share in it. 'Whither
wouldst thou wend?'
'Home, of course.' Robert pointed to the castle.
'To carry news of succour? Nay!'
'All right then,' said Robert, struck by a sudden idea; 'then let
me go somewhere else.' His mind sought eagerly among his memories
of the historical romance.
'Sir Wulfric de Talbot,' he said slowly, 'should think foul scorn
to - to keep a chap - I mean one who has done him no hurt - when he
wants to cut off quietly - I mean to depart without violence.'
'This to my face! Beshrew thee for a knave!' replied Sir Wulfric.
But the appeal seemed to have gone home. 'Yet thou sayest sooth,'
he added thoughtfully. 'Go where thou wilt,' he added nobly, 'thou
art free. Wulfric de Talbot warreth not with babes, and Jakin here
shall bear thee company.'
'All right,' said Robert wildly. 'Jakin will enjoy himself, I
think. Come on, Jakin. Sir Wulfric, I salute thee.'
He saluted after the modern military manner, and set off running to
the sand-pit, Jakin's long boots keeping up easily.
He found the Fairy. He dug it up, he woke it up,
he implored it to give him one more wish.
'I've done two to-day already,' it grumbled, 'and one was as stiff
a bit of work as ever I did.'
'Oh, do, do, do, do, DO!' said Robert, while Jakin looked on with
an expression of open-mouthed horror at the strange beast that
talked, and gazed with its snail's eyes at him.
'Well, what is it?' snapped the Psammead, with cross sleepiness.
'I wish I was with the others,' said Robert. And the Psammead
began to swell. Robert never thought of wishing the castle and the
siege away. Of course he knew they had all come out of a wish, but
swords and daggers and pikes and lances seemed much too real to be
wished away. Robert lost consciousness for an instant. When he
opened his eyes the others were crowding round him.
'We never heard you come in,' they said. 'How awfully jolly of you
to wish it to give us our wish!'
'Of course we understood that was what you'd done.'
'But you ought to have told us. Suppose we'd wished something
'Silly?' said Robert, very crossly indeed. 'How much sillier could
you have been, I'd like to know? You nearly settled ME - I can
Then he told his story, and the others admitted that it certainly
had been rough on him. But they praised his courage and cleverness
so much that he presently got back his lost temper, and felt braver
than ever, and consented to be captain of the besieged force.
'We haven't done anything yet,' said Anthea comfortably; 'we waited
for you. We're going to shoot at them through these little
loopholes with the bow and arrows uncle gave you, and you shall
have first shot.'
'I don't think I would,' said Robert cautiously; 'you don't know
what they're like near to. They've got REAL bows and arrows - an
awful length - and swords and pikes and daggers, and all sorts of
sharp things. They're all quite, quite real. It's not just a - a
picture, or a vision, or anything; they can hurt us - or kill us
even, I shouldn't wonder. I can feel my ear all sore still. Look
here - have you explored the castle? Because I think we'd better
let them alone as long as they let us alone. I heard that Jakin
man say they weren't going to attack till just before sundown. We
can be getting ready for the attack. Are there any soldiers in the
castle to defend it?'
'We don't know,' said Cyril. 'You see, directly I'd wished we were
in a besieged castle, everything seemed to go upside down, and,when
it came straight we looked out of the window, and saw the camp and
things and you - and of course we kept on looking at everything.
Isn't this room jolly? It's as real as real!'
It was. It was square, with stone walls four feet thick, and great
beams for ceiling. A low door at the corner led to a flight of
steps, up and down. The children went down; they found themselves
in a great arched gatehouse - the enormous doors were shut and
barred. There was a window in a little room at the bottom of the
round turret up which the stair wound, rather larger than the other
windows, and looking through it they saw that the drawbridge was up
and the portcullis down; the moat looked very wide and deep.
Opposite the great door that led to the moat was another great
door, with a little door in it. The children went through this,
and found themselves in a big paved courtyard, with the great grey
walls of the castle rising dark and heavy on all four sides.
Near the middle of the courtyard stood Martha, moving her right
hand backwards and forwards in the air. The cook was stooping down
and moving her hands, also in a very curious way. But. the oddest
and at the same time most terrible thing was the Lamb, who was
sitting on nothing, about three feet from the ground, laughing
The children ran towards him. Just as Anthea was reaching out her
arms to take him, Martha said crossly, 'Let him alone - do, miss,
when he is good.'
'But what's he DOING?' said Anthea.
'Doing? Why, a-setting in his high chair as good as gold, a
precious, watching me doing of the ironing. Get along with you, do
- my iron's cold again.'
She went towards the cook, and seemed to poke an invisible fire
with an unseen poker - the cook seemed to be putting an unseen dish
into an invisible oven.
'Run along with you, do,' she said; 'I'm behindhand as it is. You
won't get no dinner if you come a-hindering of me like this. Come,
off you goes, or I'll pin a dishcloth to some of your tails.'
'You're sure the Lamb's all right?' asked Jane anxiously.
'Right as ninepence, if you don't come unsettling of him. I
thought you'd like to be rid of him for to-day; but take him, if
you want him, for gracious' sake.'
'No, no,' they said, and hastened away. They would have to defend
the castle presently, and the Lamb was safer even suspended in
mid-air in an invisible kitchen than in the guardroom of a besieged
castle. They went through the first doorway they came to, and sat
down helplessly on a wooden bench that ran along the room inside.
'How awful!' said Anthea and Jane together; and Jane added, 'I feel
as if I was in a mad asylum.'
'What does it mean?' Anthea said. 'It's creepy; I don't like it.
I wish we'd wished for something plain - a rocking-horse, or a
donkey, or something.'
'It's no use wishing NOW,' said Robert bitterly; and Cyril said:
'Do dry up a sec; I want to think.'
He buried his face in his hands, and the others looked about them.
They were in a long room with an arched roof. There were wooden
tables along it, and one across at the end of the room, on a sort
of raised platform. The room was very dim and dark. The floor was
strewn with dry things like sticks, and they did not smell nice.
Cyril sat up suddenly and said:
'Look here - it's all right. I think it's like this. You know, we
wished that the servants shouldn't notice any difference when we
got wishes. And nothing happens to the Lamb unless we specially
wish it to. So of course they don't notice the castle or anything.
But then the castle is on the same place where our house was - is,
I mean - and the servants have to go on being in the house, or else
they would notice. But you can't have a castle mixed up with our
house - and so we can't see the house, because we see the castle;
and they can't see the castle, because they go on seeing the house;
and so -'
'Oh, DON'T!' said Jane; 'you make my head go all swimmy, like being
on a roundabout. It doesn't matter! Only, I hope we shall be able
to see our dinner, that's all - because if it's invisible it'll be
unfeelable as well, and then we can't eat it! I KNOW it will,
because I tried to feel if I could feel the Lamb's chair, and there
was nothing under him at all but air. And we can't eat air, and I
feel just as if I hadn't had any breakfast for years and years.'
'It's no use thinking about it,' said Anthea. 'Let's go on
exploring. Perhaps we might find something to eat.'
This lighted hope in every breast, and they went on exploring the
castle. But though it was the most perfect and delightful castle
you can possibly imagine, and furnished in the most complete and
beautiful manner, neither food nor men-at-arms were to be found in
'If only you'd thought of wishing to be besieged in a castle
thoroughly garrisoned and provisioned!' said Jane reproachfully.
'You can't think of everything, you know,' said Anthea. 'I should
think it must be nearly dinner-time by now.'
It wasn't; but they hung about watching the strange movements of
the servants in the middle of the courtyard, because, of course,
they couldn't be sure where the dining-room of the invisible house
was. Presently they saw Martha carrying an invisible tray across
the courtyard, for it seemed that, by the most fortunate accident,
the dining-room of the house and the banqueting-hall of the castle
were in the same place. But oh, how their hearts sank when they
perceived that the tray was invisible!
They waited in wretched silence while Martha went through the form
of carving an unseen leg of mutton and serving invisible greens and
potatoes with a spoon that no one could see. When she had left the
room, the children looked at the empty table, and then at each
'This is worse than anything,' said Robert, who had not till now
been particularly keen on his dinner.
'I'm not so very hungry,' said Anthea, trying to make the best of
things, as usual.
Cyril tightened his belt ostentatiously. Jane burst into tears.
A SIEGE AND BED
The children were sitting in the gloomy banqueting-hall, at the end
of one of the long bare wooden tables. There was now no hope.
Martha had brought in the dinner, and the dinner was invisible, and
unfeelable too; for, when they rubbed their hands along the table,
they knew but too well that for them there was nothing there BUT
Suddenly Cyril felt in his pocket.
'Right, oh!' he cried. 'Look here! Biscuits.'
Rather broken and crumbled, certainly, but still biscuits. Three
whole ones, and a generous handful of crumbs and fragments.
'I got them this morning - cook - and I'd quite forgotten,' he
explained as he divided them with scrupulous fairness into four
They were eaten in a happy silence, though they tasted a little
oddly, because they had been in Cyril's pocket all the morning with
a hank of tarred twine, some green fir-cones, and a ball of
'Yes, but look here, Squirrel,' said Robert; 'you're so clever at
explaining about invisibleness and all that. How is it the
biscuits are here, and all the bread and meat and things have
'I don't know,' said Cyril after a pause, 'unless it's because WE
had them. Nothing about us has changed. Everything's in my pocket
'Then if we HAD the mutton it would be real,' said Robert. 'Oh,
don't I wish we could find it!'
'But we can't find it. I suppose it isn't ours till we've got it
in our mouths.'
'Or in our pockets,' said Jane, thinking of the biscuits.
'Who puts mutton in their pockets, goose-girl?' said Cyril. 'But
I know - at any rate, I'll try it!'
He leaned over the table with his face about an inch from it, and
kept opening and shutting his mouth as if he were taking bites out
'It's no good,' said Robert in deep dejection. 'You'll only -
Cyril stood up with a grin of triumph, holding a square piece of
bread in his mouth. It was quite real. Everyone saw it. It is
true that, directly he bit a piece off, the rest vanished; but it
was all right, because he knew he had it in his hand though he
could neither see nor feel it. He took another bite from the air
between his fingers, and it turned into bread as he bit. The next
moment all the others were following his example, and opening and
shutting their mouths an inch or so from the bare-looking table.
Robert captured a slice of mutton, and - but I think I will draw a
veil over the rest of this painful scene. It is enough to say that
they all had enough mutton, and that when Martha came to change the
plates she said she had never seen such a mess in all her born
The pudding was, fortunately, a plain suet roly-poly, and in answer
to Martha's questions the children all with one accord said that
they would NOT have treacle on it - nor jam, nor sugar - 'Just
plain, please,' they said. Martha said, 'Well, I never - what
next, I wonder!' and went away.
Then ensued another scene on which I will not dwell, for nobody
looks nice picking up slices of suet pudding from the table in its
mouth, like a dog.
The great thing, after all, was that they had had dinner; and now
everyone felt more courage to prepare for the attack that was to be
delivered before sunset. Robert, as captain, insisted on climbing
to the top of one of the towers to reconnoitre, so up they all
went. And now they could see all round the castle, and could see,
too, that beyond the moat, on every side, the tents of the
besieging party were pitched. Rather uncomfortable shivers ran
down the children's backs as they saw that all the men were very
busy cleaning or sharpening their arms, re-stringing their bows,
and polishing their shields. A large party came along the road,
with horses dragging along the great trunk of a tree; and Cyril
felt quite pale, because he knew this was for a battering-ram.
'What a good thing we've got a moat,' he said; 'and what a good
thing the drawbridge is up - I should never have known how to work
'Of course it would be up in a besieged castle.'
'You'd think there ought to have been soldiers in it, wouldn't
you?' said Robert.
'You see you don't know how long it's been besieged,' said Cyril
darkly; 'perhaps most of the brave defenders were killed quite
early in the siege and all the provisions eaten, and now there are
only a few intrepid survivors - that's us, and we are going to
defend it to the death.'
'How do you begin - defending to the death, I mean?' asked Anthea.
'We ought to be heavily armed - and then shoot at them when they
advance to the attack.'
'They used to pour boiling lead down on besiegers when they got too
close,' said Anthea. 'Father showed me the holes on purpose for
pouring it down through at Bodiam Castle. And there are holes like
it in the gate-tower here.'
'I think I'm glad it's only a game; it IS only a game, isn't it?'
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