Five Children and It
Part 4 out of 4
'Oh, Martha, we haven't been so very horrid to you, have we?' asked
'Oh, it ain't that, miss.' Martha giggled more than ever. 'I'm
a-goin' to be married. It's Beale the gamekeeper. He's been
a-proposin' to me off and on ever since you come home from the
clergyman's where you got locked up on the church-tower. And
to-day I said the word an' made him a happy man.'
Anthea put the seven-and-fourpence back in the missionary-box, and
pasted paper over the place where the poker had broken it. She was
very glad to be able to do this, and she does not know to this day
whether breaking open a missionary-box is or is not a hanging
THE LAST WISH
Of course you, who see above that this is the eleventh (and last)
chapter, know very well that the day of which this chapter tells
must be the last on which Cyril, Anthea, Robert, and Jane will have
a chance of getting anything out of the Psammead, or Sand-fairy.
But the children themselves did not know this. They were full of
rosy visions, and, whereas on other days they had often found it
extremely difficult to think of anything really nice to wish for,
their brains were now full of the most beautiful and sensible
ideas. 'This,' as Jane remarked afterwards, 'is always the way.'
Everyone was up extra early that morning, and these plans were
hopefully discussed in the garden before breakfast. The old idea
of one hundred pounds in modern florins was still first favourite,
but there were others that ran it close - the chief of these being
the 'pony each' idea. This had a great advantage. You could wish
for a pony each during the morning, ride it all day, have it vanish
at sunset, and wish it back again next day. Which would be an
economy of litter and stabling. But at breakfast two things
happened. First, there was a letter from mother. Granny was
better, and mother and father hoped to be home that very afternoon.
A cheer arose. And of course this news at once scattered all the
before-breakfast wish-ideas. For everyone saw quite plainly that
the wish for the day must be something to please mother and not to
'I wonder what she WOULD like,' pondered Cyril.
'She'd like us all to be good,' said Jane primly.
'Yes - but that's so dull for us,' Cyril rejoined; 'and, besides,
I should hope we could be that without sand-fairies to help us.
No; it must be something splendid, that we couldn't possibly get
without wishing for.'
'Look out,' said Anthea in a warning voice; 'don't forget
yesterday. Remember, we get our wishes now just wherever we happen
to be when we say "I wish". Don't let's let ourselves in for
anything silly - to-day of all days.'
'All right,' said Cyril. 'You needn't jaw.'
just then Martha came in with a jug full of hot water for the
teapot - and a face full of importance for the children.
'A blessing we're all alive to eat our breakfasses!' she said
'Why, whatever's happened?' everybody asked.
'Oh, nothing,' said Martha, 'only it seems nobody's safe from being
murdered in their beds nowadays.'
'Why,' said Jane as an agreeable thrill of horror ran down her back
and legs and out at her toes, 'has anyone been murdered in their
'Well - not exactly,' said Martha; 'but they might just as well.
There's been burglars over at Peasmarsh Place - Beale's just told
me - and they've took every single one of Lady Chittenden's
diamonds and jewels and things, and she's a-goin' out of one
fainting fit into another, with hardly time to say "Oh, my
diamonds!" in between. And Lord Chittenden's away in London.'
'Lady Chittenden,' said Anthea; 'we've seen her. She wears a
red-and-white dress, and she has no children of her own and can't
abide other folkses'.'
'That's her,' said Martha. 'Well, she's put all her trust in
riches, and you see how she's served. They say the diamonds and
things was worth thousands of thousands of pounds. There was a
necklace and a river - whatever that is - and no end of bracelets;
and a tarrer and ever so many rings. But there, I mustn't stand
talking and all the place to clean down afore your ma comes home.'
'I don't see why she should ever have had such lots of diamonds,'
said Anthea when Martha had Bounced off. 'She was rather a nasty
lady, I thought. And mother hasn't any diamonds, and hardly any
jewels - the topaz necklace, and the sapphire ring daddy gave her
when they were engaged, and the garnet star, and the little pearl
brooch with great-grandpapa's hair in it - that's about all.'
'When I'm grown up I'll buy mother no end of diamonds,' said
Robert, 'if she wants them. I shall make so much money exploring
in Africa I shan't know what to do with it.'
'Wouldn't it be jolly,' said Jane dreamily, 'if mother could find
all those lovely things, necklaces and rivers of diamonds and
'TI--ARAS,' said Cyril.
'Ti--aras, then - and rings and everything in her room when she
came home? I wish she would.' The others gazed at her in horror.
'Well, she WILL,' said Robert; 'you've wished, my good Jane - and
our only chance now is to find the Psammead, and if it's in a good
temper it MAY take back the wish and give us another. If not -
well - goodness knows what we're in for! - the police, of course,
and - Don't cry, silly! We'll stand by you. Father says we need
never be afraid if we don't do anything wrong and always speak the
But Cyril and Anthea exchanged gloomy glances. They remembered how
convincing the truth about the Psammead had been once before when
told to the police.
It was a day of misfortunes. Of course the Psammead could not be
found. Nor the jewels, though every one Of the children searched
their mother's room again and again.
'Of course,' Robert said, 'WE couldn't find them. It'll be mother
who'll do that. Perhaps she'll think they've been in the house for
years and years, and never know they are the stolen ones at all.'
'Oh yes!' Cyril was very scornful; 'then mother will be a receiver
of stolen goods, and you know jolly well what THAT'S worse than.'
Another and exhaustive search of the sand-pit failed to reveal the
Psammead, so the children went back to the house slowly and sadly.
'I don't care,' said Anthea stoutly, 'we'll tell mother the truth,
and she'll give back the jewels - and make everything all right.'
'Do you think so?' said Cyril slowly. 'Do you think She'll believe
us? Could anyone believe about a Sammyadd unless they'd seen it?
She'll think we're pretending. Or else she'll think we're raving
mad, and then we shall be sent to Bedlam. How would you like it?'
- he turned suddenly on the miserable Jane - 'how would you like
it, to be shut up in an iron cage with bars and padded walls, and
nothing to do but stick straws in your hair all day, and listen to
the howlings and ravings of the other maniacs? Make up your minds
to it, all of you. It's no use telling mother.'
'But it's true,' said Jane.
'Of course it is, but it's not true enough for grown-up people to
believe it,' said Anthea. 'Cyril's right. Let's put flowers in
all the vases, and try not to think about diamonds. After all,
everything has come right in the end all the other times.'
So they filled all the pots they could find with flowers - asters
and zinnias, and loose-leaved late red roses from the wall of the
stable-yard, till the house was a perfect bower.
And almost as soon as dinner was cleared away mother arrived, and
was clasped in eight loving arms. It was very difficult indeed not
to tell her all about the Psammead at once, because they had got
into the habit of telling her everything. But they did succeed in
not telling her.
Mother, on her side, had plenty to tell them - about Granny, and
Granny's pigeons, and Auntie Emma's lame tame donkey. She was very
delighted with the flowery-boweryness of the house; and everything
seemed so natural and pleasant, now that she was home again, that
the children almost thought they must have dreamed the Psammead.
But, when mother moved towards the stairs to go UP to her bedroom
and take off her bonnet, the eight arms clung round her just as if
she only had two children, one the Lamb and the other an octopus.
'Don't go up, mummy darling,' said Anthea; 'let me take your things
up for you.'
'Or I will,' said Cyril.
'We want you to come and look at the rose-tree,' said Robert.
'Oh, don't go up!' said Jane helplessly.
'Nonsense, dears,' said mother briskly, 'I'm not such an old woman
yet that I can't take my bonnet off in the proper place. Besides,
I must wash these black hands of mine.'
So up she went, and the children, following her, exchanged glances
of gloomy foreboding.
Mother took off her bonnet - it was a very pretty hat, really, with
white roses on it - and when she had taken it off she went to the
dressing-table to do her pretty hair.
On the table between the ring-stand and the pincushion lay a green
leather case. Mother opened it.
'Oh, how lovely!' she cried. It was a ring, a large pearl with
shining many-lighted diamonds set round it. 'Wherever did this
come from?' mother asked, trying it on her wedding finger, which it
fitted beautifully. 'However did it come here?'
'I don't know,' said each of the children truthfully.
'Father must have told Martha to put it here,' mother said. 'I'll
run down and ask her.'
'Let me look at it,' said Anthea, who knew Martha would not be able
to see the ring. But when Martha was asked, of course she denied
putting the ring there, and so did Eliza and cook.
Mother came back to her bedroom, very much interested and pleased
about the ring. But, when she opened the dressing-table drawer and
found a long case containing an almost priceless diamond necklace,
she was more interested still, though not so pleased. In the
wardrobe, when she went to put away her 'bonnet', she found a tiara
and several brooches, and the rest of the jewellery turned up in
various parts of the room during the next half-hour. The children
looked more and more uncomfortable, and now Jane began to sniff.
Mother looked at her gravely.
'Jane,' she said, 'I am sure you know something about this. Now
think before you speak, and tell me the truth.'
'We found a Fairy,' said Jane obediently.
'No nonsense, please,' said her mother sharply.
'Don't be silly, Jane,' Cyril interrupted. Then he went on
desperately. 'Look here, mother, we've never seen the things
before, but Lady Chittenden at Peasmarsh Place lost all her
jewellery by wicked burglars last night. Could this possibly be
All drew a deep breath. They were saved.
'But how could they have put it here? And why should they?' asked
mother, not unreasonably. 'Surely it would have been easier and
safer to make off with it?'
'Suppose,' said Cyril, 'they thought it better to wait for - for
sunset - nightfall, I mean, before they went off with it. No one
but us knew that you were coming back to-day.'
'I must send for the police at once,' said mother distractedly.
'Oh, how I wish daddy were here!'
'Wouldn't it be better to wait till he DOES come?' asked Robert,
knowing that his father would not be home before sunset.
'No, no; I can't wait a minute with all this on my mind,' cried
mother. 'All this' was the heap of jewel-cases on the bed. They
put them all in the wardrobe, and mother locked it. Then mother
'Martha,' she said, 'has any stranger been into MY room since I've
been away? Now, answer me truthfully.'
'No, mum,' answered Martha; 'leastways, what I mean to say -'
'Come,' said her mistress kindly; 'I see someone has. You must
tell me at once. Don't be frightened. I'm sure you haven't done
Martha burst into heavy sobs.
'I was a-goin' to give you warning this very day, mum, to leave at
the end of my month, so I was - on account of me being going to
make a respectable young man happy. A gamekeeper he is by trade,
mum - and I wouldn't deceive you - of the name of Beale. And it's
as true as I stand here, it Was your coming home in such a hurry,
and no warning given, out of the kindness of his heart it was, as
he says, "Martha, my beauty," he says - which I ain't and never
was, but you know how them men will go on - "I can't see you
a-toiling and a-moiling and not lend a 'elping 'and; which mine is
a strong arm and it's yours, Martha, my dear," says he. And so he
helped me a-cleanin' of the windows, but outside, mum, the whole
time, and me in; if I never say another breathing word it's the
'Were you with him the whole time?' asked her mistress.
'Him outside and me in, I was,' said Martha; 'except for fetching
up a fresh pail and the leather that that slut of a Eliza 'd hidden
away behind the mangle.'
'That will do,' said the children's mother. 'I am not pleased with
you, Martha, but you have spoken the truth, and that counts for
When Martha had gone, the children clung round their mother.
'Oh, mummy darling,' cried Anthea, 'it isn't Beale's fault, it
isn't really! He's a great dear; he is, truly and honourably, and
as honest as the day. Don't let the police take him, mummy! oh,
don't, don't, don't!'
It was truly awful. Here was an innocent man accused of robbery
through that silly wish of Jane's, and it was absolutely useless to
tell the truth. All longed to, but they thought of the straws in
the hair and the shrieks of the other frantic maniacs, and they
could not do it.
'Is there a cart hereabouts?' asked mother feverishly. 'A trap of
any sort? I must drive in to Rochester and tell the police at
All the children sobbed, 'There's a cart at the farm, but, oh,
don't go! - don't go! - oh, don't go! - wait till daddy comes
Mother took not the faintest notice. When she had set her mind on
a thing she always went straight through with it; she was rather
like Anthea in this respect.
'Look here, Cyril,' she said, sticking on her hat with long sharp
violet-headed pins, 'I leave you in charge. Stay in the
dressing-room. You can pretend to be swimming boats in the bath,
or something. Say I gave you leave. But stay there, with the
landing door open; I've locked the other. And don't let anyone go
into my room. Remember, no one knows the jewels are there except
me, and all of you, and the wicked thieves who put them there.
Robert, you stay in the garden and watch the windows. If anyone
tries to get in you must run and tell the two farm men that I'll
send up to wait in the kitchen. I'll tell them there are dangerous
characters about - that's true enough. Now, remember, I trust you
both. But I don't think they'll try it till after dark, so you're
quite safe. Good-bye, darlings.'
And she locked her bedroom door and went off with the key in her
The children could not help admiring the dashing and decided way in
which she had acted. They thought how useful she would have been
in organizing escape from some of the tight places in which they
had found themselves of late in consequence of their ill-timed
'She's a born general,' said Cyril - 'but I don't know what's going
to happen to us. Even if the girls were to hunt for that beastly
Sammyadd and find it, and get it to take the jewels away again,
mother would only think we hadn't looked out properly and let the
burglars sneak in and nick them - or else the police will think
WE'VE got them - or else that she's been fooling them. Oh, it's a
pretty decent average ghastly mess this time, and no mistake!'
He savagely made a paper boat and began to float it in the bath, as
he had been told to do.
Robert went into the garden and sat down on the worn yellow grass,
with his miserable head between his helpless hands.
Anthea and Jane whispered together in the passage downstairs, where
the coconut matting was - with the hole in it that you always
caught your foot in if you were not careful. Martha's voice could
be heard in the kitchen - grumbling loud and long.
'It's simply quite too dreadfully awful,' said Anthea. 'How do you
know all the diamonds are there, too? If they aren't, the police
will think mother and father have got them, and that they've only
given up some of them for a kind of desperate blind. And they'll
be put in prison, and we shall be branded outcasts, the children of
felons. And it won't be at all nice for father and mother either,'
she added, by a candid afterthought.
'But what can WE do?' asked Jane.
'Nothing - at least we might look for the Psammead again. It's a
very, very hot day. He may have come out to warm that whisker of
'He won't give us any more beastly wishes to-day,' said Jane
flatly. 'He gets crosser and crosser every time we see him. I
believe he hates having to give wishes.'
Anthea had been shaking her head gloomily - now she stopped shaking
it so suddenly that it really looked as though she were pricking up
'What is it?' asked Jane. 'Oh, have you thought of something?'
'Our one chance,' cried Anthea dramatically; 'the last lone-lorn
forlorn hope. Come on.'
At a brisk trot she led the way to the sand-pit. Oh, joy! - there
was the Psammead, basking in a golden sandy hollow and preening its
whiskers happily in the glowing afternoon sun. The moment it saw
them it whisked round and began to burrow - it evidently preferred
its own company to theirs. But Anthea was too quick for it. She
caught it by its furry shoulders gently but firmly, and held it.
'Here - none of that!' said the Psammead. 'Leave go of me, will
But Anthea held him fast.
'Dear kind darling Sammyadd,' she said breathlessly.
'Oh yes - it's all very well,' it said; 'you want another wish, I
expect. But I can't keep on slaving from morning till night giving
people their wishes. I must have SOME time to myself.'
'Do you hate giving wishes?' asked Anthea gently, and her voice
trembled with excitement.
'Of course I do,' it said. 'Leave go of me or I'll bite! - I
really will - I mean it. Oh, well, if you choose to risk it.'
Anthea risked it and held on.
'Look here,' she said, 'don't bite me - listen to reason. If
you'll only do what we want to-day, we'll never ask you for another
wish as long as we live.'
The Psammead was much moved.
'I'd do anything,' it said in a tearful voice. 'I'd almost burst
myself to give you one wish after another, as long as I held out,
if you'd only never, never ask me to do it after to-day. If you
knew how I hate to blow myself out with other people's wishes, and
how frightened I am always that I shall strain a muscle or
something. And then to wake up every morning and know you've GOT
to do it. You don't know what it is - you don't know what it is,
you don't!' Its voice cracked with emotion, and the last 'don't'
was a squeak.
Anthea set it down gently on the sand.
'It's all over now,' she said soothingly. 'We promise faithfully
never to ask for another wish after to-day.'
'Well, go ahead,' said the Psammead; 'let's get it over.'
'How many can you do?'
'I don't know - as long as I can hold out.'
'Well, first, I wish Lady Chittenden may find she's never lost her
The Psammead blew itself out, collapsed, and said, 'Done.'
'I wish, said Anthea more slowly, 'mother mayn't get to the
'Done,' said the creature after the proper interval.
'I wish,' said Jane suddenly, 'mother could forget all about the
'Done,' said the Psammead; but its voice was weaker.
'Wouldn't you like to rest a little?' asked Anthea considerately.
'Yes, please,' said the Psammead; 'and, before we go further, will
you wish something for me?'
'Can't you do wishes for yourself?'
'Of course not,' it said; 'we were always expected to give each
other our wishes - not that we had any to speak of in the good old
Megatherium days. just wish, will you, that you may never be able,
any of you, to tell anyone a word about ME.'
'Why?' asked Jane.
'Why, don't you see, if you told grown-ups I should have no peace
of my life. They'd get hold of me, and they wouldn't wish silly
things like you do, but real earnest things; and the scientific
people would hit on some way of making things last after sunset, as
likely as not; and they'd ask for a graduated income-tax, and
old-age pensions and manhood suffrage, and free secondary
education, and dull things like that; and get them, and keep them,
and the whole world would be turned topsy-turvy. Do wish it!
Anthea repeated the Psammead's wish, and it blew itself out to a
larger size than they had yet seen it attain.
'And now,' it said as it collapsed, 'can I do anything more for
'Just one thing; and I think that clears everything up, doesn't it,
Jane? I wish Martha to forget about the diamond ring, and mother
to forget about the keeper cleaning the windows.'
'It's like the "Brass Bottle",' said Jane.
'Yes, I'm glad we read that or I should never have thought of it.'
'Now,' said the Psammead faintly, 'I'm almost worn out. Is there
'No; only thank you kindly for all you've done for us, and I hope
you'll have a good long sleep, and I hope we shall see you again
'Is that a wish?' it said in a weak voice.
'Yes, please,' said the two girls together.
Then for the last time in this story they saw the Psammead blow
itself out and collapse suddenly. It nodded to them, blinked its
long snail's eyes, burrowed, and disappeared, scratching fiercely
to the last, and the sand closed over it.
'I hope we've done right?' said Jane.
'I'm sure we have,' said Anthea. 'Come on home and tell the boys.'
Anthea found Cyril glooming over his paper boats, and told him.
Jane told Robert. The two tales were only just ended when mother
walked in, hot and dusty. She explained that as she was being
driven into Rochester to buy the girls' autumn school-dresses the
axle had broken, and but for the narrowness of the lane and the
high soft hedges she would have been thrown out. As it was, she
was not hurt, but she had had to walk home. 'And oh, my dearest
dear chicks,' she said, 'I am simply dying for a cup of tea! Do
run and see if the kettle boils!'
'So you see it's all right,'Jane whispered. 'She doesn't
'No more does Martha,' said Anthea, who had been to ask after the
state of the kettle.
As the servants sat at their tea, Beale the gamekeeper dropped in.
He brought the welcome news that Lady Chittenden's diamonds had not
been lost at all. Lord Chittenden had taken them to be re-set and
cleaned, and the maid who knew about it had gone for a holiday. So
that was all right.
'I wonder if we ever shall see the Psammead again,' said Jane
wistfully as they walked in the garden, while mother was putting
the Lamb to bed.
'I'm sure we shall,' said Cyril, 'if you really wished it.'
'We've promised never to ask it for another wish,' said Anthea.
'I never want to,' said Robert earnestly.
They did see it again, of course, but not in this story. And it
was not in a sand-pit either, but in a very, very, very different
place. It was in a -- But I must say no more.
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