The Story of the Amulet
Part 2 out of 5
as hard as it could.
The children will never know what those people said, though they
knew well enough that they, the four strangers, were the subject
of the talk. They tried to comfort themselves by remembering the
girl's promise of friendliness, but of course the thought of the
charm was more comfortable than anything else. They sat down on
the sand in the shadow of the hedged-round place in the middle of
the village, and now for the first time they were able to look
about them and to see something more than a crowd of eager,
They here noticed that the women wore necklaces made of beads of
different coloured stone, and from these hung pendants of odd,
strange shapes, and some of them had bracelets of ivory and
'I say,' said Robert, 'what a lot we could teach them if we
'I expect they could teach us something too,' said Cyril. 'Did
you notice that flint bracelet the woman had that Anthea gave the
collar to? That must have taken some making. Look here, they'll
get suspicious if we talk among ourselves, and I do want to know
about how they do things. Let's get the girl to show us round,
and we can be thinking about how to get the Amulet at the same
time. Only mind, we must keep together.'
Anthea beckoned to the girl, who was standing a little way off
looking wistfully at them, and she came gladly.
'Tell us how you make the bracelets, the stone ones,' said Cyril.
'With other stones,' said the girl; 'the men make them; we have
men of special skill in such work.'
'Haven't you any iron tools?'
'Iron,' said the girl, 'I don't know what you mean.' It was the
first word she had not understood.
'Are all your tools of flint?' asked Cyril. 'Of course,' said the
girl, opening her eyes wide.
I wish I had time to tell you of that talk. The English children
wanted to hear all about this new place, but they also wanted to
tell of their own country. It was like when you come back from
your holidays and you want to hear and to tell everything at the
same time. As the talk went on there were more and more words
that the girl could not understand, and the children soon gave up
the attempt to explain to her what their own country was like,
when they began to see how very few of the things they had always
thought they could not do without were really not at all
necessary to life.
The girl showed them how the huts were made--indeed, as one was
being made that very day she took them to look at it. The way of
building was very different from ours. The men stuck long pieces
of wood into a piece of ground the size of the hut they wanted to
make. These were about eight inches apart; then they put in
another row about eight inches away from the first, and then a
third row still further out. Then all the space between was
filled up with small branches and twigs, and then daubed over
with black mud worked with the feet till it was soft and sticky
The girl told them how the men went hunting with flint spears and
arrows, and how they made boats with reeds and clay. Then she
explained the reed thing in the river that she had taken the fish
out of. It was a fish-trap--just a ring of reeds set up in the
water with only one little opening in it, and in this opening,
just below the water, were stuck reeds slanting the way of the
river's flow, so that the fish, when they had swum sillily in,
sillily couldn't get out again. She showed them the clay pots
and jars and platters, some of them ornamented with black and red
patterns, and the most wonderful things made of flint and
different sorts of stone, beads, and ornaments, and tools and
weapons of all sorts and kinds.
'It is really wonderful,' said Cyril patronizingly, 'when you
consider that it's all eight thousand years ago--'
'I don't understand you,' said the girl.
'It ISN'T eight thousand years ago,' whispered Jane. 'It's
NOW--and that's just what I don't like about it. I say, DO let's
get home again before anything more happens. You can see for
yourselves the charm isn't here.'
'What's in that place in the middle?' asked Anthea, struck by a
sudden thought, and pointing to the fence.
'That's the secret sacred place,' said the girl in a whisper.
'No one knows what is there. There are many walls, and inside
the insidest one IT is, but no one knows what IT is except the
'I believe YOU know,' said Cyril, looking at her very hard.
'I'll give you this if you'll tell me,' said Anthea taking off a
bead-ring which had already been much admired.
'Yes,' said the girl, catching eagerly at the ring. 'My father
is one of the heads, and I know a water charm to make him talk in
his sleep. And he has spoken. I will tell you. But if they
know I have told you they will kill me. In the insidest inside
there is a stone box, and in it there is the Amulet. None knows
whence it came. It came from very far away.'
'Have you seen it?' asked Anthea.
The girl nodded.
'Is it anything like this?' asked Jane, rashly producing the
The girl's face turned a sickly greenish-white.
'Hide it, hide it,' she whispered. 'You must put it back. If
they see it they will kill us all. You for taking it, and me for
knowing that there was such a thing. Oh, woe--woe! why did you
ever come here?'
'Don't be frightened,' said Cyril. 'They shan't know. Jane,
don't you be such a little jack-ape again--that's all. You see
what will happen if you do. Now, tell me--' He turned to the
girl, but before he had time to speak the question there was a
loud shout, and a man bounded in through the opening in the
'Many foes are upon us!' he cried. 'Make ready the defences!'
His breath only served for that, and he lay panting on the
ground. 'Oh, DO let's go home!' said Jane. 'Look here--I don't
She held up the charm. Fortunately all the strange, fair people
were too busy to notice HER. She held up the charm. And nothing
'You haven't said the word of power,' said Anthea.
Jane hastily said it--and still nothing happened.
'Hold it up towards the East, you silly!' said Robert.
'Which IS the East?' said Jane, dancing about in her agony of
Nobody knew. So they opened the fish-bag to ask the Psammead.
And the bag had only a waterproof sheet in it.
The Psammead was gone.
'Hide the sacred thing! Hide it! Hide it!' whispered the girl.
Cyril shrugged his shoulders, and tried to look as brave as he
knew he ought to feel.
'Hide it up, Pussy,' he said. 'We are in for it now. We've just
got to stay and see it out.'
THE FIGHT IN THE VILLAGE
Here was a horrible position! Four English children, whose
proper date was A.D. 1905, and whose proper address was London,
set down in Egypt in the year 6000 B.C. with no means whatever
of getting back into their own time and place. They could not
find the East, and the sun was of no use at the moment, because
some officious person had once explained to Cyril that the sun
did not really set in the West at all--nor rise in the East
either, for the matter of that.
The Psammead had crept out of the bass-bag when they were not
looking and had basely deserted them.
An enemy was approaching. There would be a fight. People get
killed in fights, and the idea of taking part in a fight was one
that did not appeal to the children.
The man who had brought the news of the enemy still lay panting
on the sand. His tongue was hanging out, long and red, like a
dog's. The people of the village were hurriedly filling the gaps
in the fence with thorn-bushes from the heap that seemed to have
been piled there ready for just such a need. They lifted the
cluster-thorns with long poles--much as men at home, nowadays,
lift hay with a fork.
Jane bit her lip and tried to decide not to cry.
Robert felt in his pocket for a toy pistol and loaded it with a
pink paper cap. It was his only weapon.
Cyril tightened his belt two holes.
And Anthea absently took the drooping red roses from the
buttonholes of the others, bit the ends of the stalks, and set
them in a pot of water that stood in the shadow by a hut door.
She was always rather silly about flowers.
'Look here!' she said. 'I think perhaps the Psammead is really
arranging something for us. I don't believe it would go away and
leave us all alone in the Past. I'm certain it wouldn't.'
Jane succeeded in deciding not to cry--at any rate yet.
'But what can we do?' Robert asked.
'Nothing,' Cyril answered promptly, 'except keep our eyes and
ears open. Look! That runner chap's getting his wind. Let's go
and hear what he's got to say.'
The runner had risen to his knees and was sitting back on his
heels. Now he stood up and spoke. He began by some respectful
remarks addressed to the heads of the village. His speech got
more interesting when he said--
'I went out in my raft to snare ibises, and I had gone up the
stream an hour's journey. Then I set my snares and waited. And
I heard the sound of many wings, and looking up, saw many herons
circling in the air. And I saw that they were afraid; so I took
thought. A beast may scare one heron, coming upon it suddenly,
but no beast will scare a whole flock of herons. And still they
flew and circled, and would not light. So then I knew that what
scared the herons must be men, and men who knew not our ways of
going softly so as to take the birds and beasts unawares. By
this I knew they were not of our race or of our place. So,
leaving my raft, I crept along the river bank, and at last came
upon the strangers. They are many as the sands of the desert,
and their spear-heads shine red like the sun. They are a
terrible people, and their march is towards US. Having seen
this, I ran, and did not stay till I was before you.'
'These are YOUR folk,' said the headman, turning suddenly and
angrily on Cyril, 'you came as spies for them.'
'We did NOT,' said Cyril indignantly. 'We wouldn't be spies for
anything. I'm certain these people aren't a bit like us. Are
they now?' he asked the runner.
'No,' was the answer. 'These men's faces were darkened, and
their hair black as night. Yet these strange children, maybe,
are their gods, who have come before to make ready the way for
A murmur ran through the crowd.
'No, NO,' said Cyril again. 'We are on your side. We will help
you to guard your sacred things.'
The headman seemed impressed by the fact that Cyril knew that
there WERE sacred things to be guarded. He stood a moment gazing
at the children. Then he said--
'It is well. And now let all make offering, that we may be
strong in battle.'
The crowd dispersed, and nine men, wearing antelope-skins,
grouped themselves in front of the opening in the hedge in the
middle of the village. And presently, one by one, the men
brought all sorts of things--hippopotamus flesh,
ostrich-feathers, the fruit of the date palms, red chalk, green
chalk, fish from the river, and ibex from the mountains; and the
headman received these gifts. There was another hedge inside the
first, about a yard from it, so that there was a lane inside
between the hedges. And every now and then one of the headmen
would disappear along this lane with full hands and come back
with hands empty.
'They're making offerings to their Amulet,' said Anthea. 'We'd
better give something too.'
The pockets of the party, hastily explored, yielded a piece of
pink tape, a bit of sealing-wax, and part of the Waterbury watch
that Robert had not been able to help taking to pieces at
Christmas and had never had time to rearrange. Most boys have a
watch in this condition. They presented their offerings, and
Anthea added the red roses.
The headman who took the things looked at them with awe,
especially at the red roses and the Waterbury-watch fragment.
'This is a day of very wondrous happenings,' he said. 'I have no
more room in me to be astonished. Our maiden said there was
peace between you and us. But for this coming of a foe we should
have made sure.'
The children shuddered.
'Now speak. Are you upon our side?'
'YES. Don't I keep telling you we are?' Robert said. 'Look
here. I will give you a sign. You see this.' He held out the
toy pistol. 'I shall speak to it, and if it answers me you will
know that I and the others are come to guard your sacred
thing--that we've just made the offerings to.'
'Will that god whose image you hold in your hand speak to you
alone, or shall I also hear it?' asked the man cautiously.
'You'll be surprised when you DO hear it,' said Robert. 'Now,
then.' He looked at the pistol and said--
'If we are to guard the sacred treasure within'--he pointed to
the hedged-in space--'speak with thy loud voice, and we shall
He pulled the trigger, and the cap went off. The noise was loud,
for it was a two-shilling pistol, and the caps were excellent.
Every man, woman, and child in the village fell on its face on
the sand. The headman who had accepted the test rose first.
'The voice has spoken,' he said. 'Lead them into the ante-room
of the sacred thing.'
So now the four children were led in through the opening of the
hedge and round the lane till they came to an opening in the
inner hedge, and they went through an opening in that, and so
passed into another lane.
The thing was built something like this, and all the hedges were
of brushwood and thorns: [Drawing of maze omitted.]
'It's like the maze at Hampton Court,' whispered Anthea.
The lanes were all open to the sky, but the little hut in the
middle of the maze was round-roofed, and a curtain of skins hung
over the doorway.
'Here you may wait,' said their guide, 'but do not dare to pass
the curtain.' He himself passed it and disappeared.
'But look here,' whispered Cyril, 'some of us ought to be outside
in case the Psammead turns up.'
'Don't let's get separated from each other, whatever we do,' said
Anthea. 'It's quite bad enough to be separated from the
Psammead. We can't do anything while that man is in there.
Let's all go out into the village again. We can come back later
now we know the way in. That man'll have to fight like the rest,
most likely, if it comes to fighting. If we find the Psammead
we'll go straight home.
It must be getting late, and I don't much like this mazy place.'
They went out and told the headman that they would protect the
treasure when the fighting began. And now they looked about them
and were able to see exactly how a first-class worker in flint
flakes and notches an arrow-head or the edge of an axe--an
advantage which no other person now alive has ever enjoyed. The
boys found the weapons most interesting. The arrow-heads were
not on arrows such as you shoot from a bow, but on javelins, for
throwing from the hand. The chief weapon was a stone fastened to
a rather short stick something like the things gentlemen used to
carry about and call life-preservers in the days of the
Then there were long things like spears or lances, with flint
knives--horribly sharp--and flint battle-axes.
Everyone in the village was so busy that the place was like an
ant-heap when you have walked into it by accident. The women
were busy and even the children.
Quite suddenly all the air seemed to glow and grow red--it was
like the sudden opening of a furnace door, such as you may see at
Woolwich Arsenal if you ever have the luck to be taken there--and
then almost as suddenly it was as though the furnace doors had
been shut. For the sun had set, and it was night.
The sun had that abrupt way of setting in Egypt eight thousand
years ago, and I believe it has never been able to break itself
of the habit, and sets in exactly the same manner to the present
day. The girl brought the skins of wild deer and led the
children to a heap of dry sedge.
'My father says they will not attack yet. Sleep!' she said, and
it really seemed a good idea. You may think that in the midst of
all these dangers the children would not have been able to
sleep--but somehow, though they were rather frightened now and
then, the feeling was growing in them--deep down and almost
hidden away, but still growing--that the Psammead was to be
trusted, and that they were really and truly safe. This did not
prevent their being quite as much frightened as they could bear
to be without being perfectly miserable.
'I suppose we'd better go to sleep,' said Robert. 'I don't know
what on earth poor old Nurse will do with us out all night; set
the police on our tracks, I expect. I only wish they could find
us! A dozen policemen would be rather welcome just now. But
it's no use getting into a stew over it,' he added soothingly.
And they all fell asleep.
They were awakened by long, loud, terrible sounds that seemed to
come from everywhere at once--horrible threatening shouts and
shrieks and howls that sounded, as Cyril said later, like the
voices of men thirsting for their enemies' blood.
'It is the voice of the strange men,' said the girl, coming to
them trembling through the dark. 'They have attacked the walls,
and the thorns have driven them back. My father says they will
not try again till daylight. But they are shouting to frighten
us. As though we were savages! Dwellers in the swamps!' she
All night the terrible noise went on, but when the sun rose, as
abruptly as he had set, the sound suddenly ceased.
The children had hardly time to be glad of this before a shower
of javelins came hurtling over the great thorn-hedge, and
everyone sheltered behind the huts. But next moment another
shower of weapons came from the opposite side, and the crowd
rushed to other shelter. Cyril pulled out a javelin that had
stuck in the roof of the hut beside him. Its head was of
brightly burnished copper.
Then the sound of shouting arose again and the crackle of dried
thorns. The enemy was breaking down the hedge. All the
villagers swarmed to the point whence the crackling and the
shouting came; they hurled stones over the hedges, and short
arrows with flint heads. The children had never before seen men
with the fighting light in their eyes. It was very strange and
terrible, and gave you a queer thick feeling in your throat; it
was quite different from the pictures of fights in the
illustrated papers at home.
It seemed that the shower of stones had driven back the
besiegers. The besieged drew breath, but at that moment the
shouting and the crackling arose on the opposite side of the
village and the crowd hastened to defend that point, and so the
fight swayed to and fro across the village, for the besieged had
not the sense to divide their forces as their enemies had done.
Cyril noticed that every now and then certain of the fighting-men
would enter the maze, and come out with brighter faces, a braver
aspect, and a more upright carriage.
'I believe they go and touch the Amulet,' he said. 'You know the
Psammead said it could make people brave.'
They crept through the maze, and watching they saw that Cyril was
right. A headman was standing in front of the skin curtain, and
as the warriors came before him he murmured a word they could not
hear, and touched their foreheads with something that they could
not see. And this something he held in his hands. And through
his fingers they saw the gleam of a red stone that they knew.
The fight raged across the thorn-hedge outside. Suddenly there
was a loud and bitter cry.
'They're in! They're in! The hedge is down!'
The headman disappeared behind the deer-skin curtain.
'He's gone to hide it,' said Anthea. 'Oh, Psammead dear, how
could you leave us!'
Suddenly there was a shriek from inside the hut, and the headman
staggered out white with fear and fled out through the maze. The
children were as white as he.
'Oh! What is it? What is it?' moaned Anthea. 'Oh, Psammead,
how could you! How could you!'
And the sound of the fight sank breathlessly, and swelled
fiercely all around. It was like the rising and falling of the
waves of the sea.
Anthea shuddered and said again, 'Oh, Psammead, Psammead!'
'Well?' said a brisk voice, and the curtain of skins was lifted
at one corner by a furry hand, and out peeped the bat's ears and
snail's eyes of the Psammead.
Anthea caught it in her arms and a sigh of desperate relief was
breathed by each of the four.
'Oh! which IS the East!' Anthea said, and she spoke hurriedly,
for the noise of wild fighting drew nearer and nearer.
'Don't choke me,' said the Psammead, 'come inside.'
The inside of the hut was pitch dark.
'I've got a match,' said Cyril, and struck it. The floor of the
hut was of soft, loose sand.
'I've been asleep here,' said the Psammead; 'most comfortable
it's been, the best sand I've had for a month. It's all right.
Everything's all right. I knew your only chance would be while
the fight was going on. That man won't come back. I bit him,
and he thinks I'm an Evil Spirit. Now you've only got to take
the thing and go.'
The hut was hung with skins. Heaped in the middle were the
offerings that had been given the night before, Anthea's roses
fading on the top of the heap. At one side of the hut stood a
large square stone block, and on it an oblong box of earthenware
with strange figures of men and beasts on it.
'Is the thing in there?' asked Cyril, as the Psammead pointed a
skinny finger at it.
'You must judge of that,' said the Psammead. 'The man was just
going to bury the box in the sand when I jumped out at him and
'Light another match, Robert,' said Anthea. 'Now, then quick!
which is the East?'
'Why, where the sun rises, of course!'
'But someone told us--'
'Oh! they'll tell you anything!' said the Psammead impatiently,
getting into its bass-bag and wrapping itself in its waterproof
'But we can't see the sun in here, and it isn't rising anyhow,'
'How you do waste time!' the Psammead said. 'Why, the East's
where the shrine is, of course. THERE!'
It pointed to the great stone.
And still the shouting and the clash of stone on metal sounded
nearer and nearer. The children could hear that the headmen had
surrounded the hut to protect their treasure as long as might be
from the enemy. But none dare to come in after the Psammead's
sudden fierce biting of the headman.
'Now, Jane,' said Cyril, very quickly. 'I'll take the Amulet,
you stand ready to hold up the charm, and be sure you don't let
it go as you come through.'
He made a step forward, but at that instant a great crackling
overhead ended in a blaze of sunlight. The roof had been broken
in at one side, and great slabs of it were being lifted off by
two spears. As the children trembled and winked in the new
light, large dark hands tore down the wall, and a dark face, with
a blobby fat nose, looked over the gap. Even at that awful
moment Anthea had time to think that it was very like the face of
Mr Jacob Absalom, who had sold them the charm in the shop near
'Here is their Amulet,' cried a harsh, strange voice; 'it is this
that makes them strong to fight and brave to die. And what else
have we here--gods or demons?'
He glared fiercely at the children, and the whites of his eyes
were very white indeed. He had a wet, red copper knife in his
teeth. There was not a moment to lose.
'Jane, JANE, QUICK!' cried everyone passionately.
Jane with trembling hands held up the charm towards the East, and
Cyril spoke the word of power. The Amulet grew to a great arch.
Out beyond it was the glaring Egyptian sky, the broken wall, the
cruel, dark, big-nosed face with the red, wet knife in its
gleaming teeth. Within the arch was the dull, faint,
greeny-brown of London grass and trees.
'Hold tight, Jane!' Cyril cried, and he dashed through the arch,
dragging Anthea and the Psammead after him. Robert followed,
clutching Jane. And in the ears of each, as they passed through
the arch of the charm, the sound and fury of battle died out
suddenly and utterly, and they heard only the low, dull,
discontented hum of vast London, and the peeking and patting of
the sparrows on the gravel and the voices of the ragged baby
children playing Ring-o'-Roses on the yellow trampled grass. And
the charm was a little charm again in Jane's hand, and there was
the basket with their dinner and the bathbuns lying just where
they had left it.
'My hat!' said Cyril, drawing a long breath; 'that was something
like an adventure.'
'It was rather like one, certainly,' said the Psammead.
They all lay still, breathing in the safe, quiet air of Regent's
'We'd better go home at once,' said Anthea presently. 'Old Nurse
will be most frightfully anxious. The sun looks about the same
as it did when we started yesterday. We've been away twenty-four
hours.' 'The buns are quite soft still,' said Cyril, feeling one;
'I suppose the dew kept them fresh.'
They were not hungry, curiously enough.
They picked up the dinner-basket and the Psammead-basket, and
went straight home.
Old Nurse met them with amazement.
'Well, if ever I did!' she said. 'What's gone wrong? You've
soon tired of your picnic.'
The children took this to be bitter irony, which means saying the
exact opposite of what you mean in order to make yourself
disagreeable; as when you happen to have a dirty face, and
someone says, 'How nice and clean you look!'
'We're very sorry,' began Anthea, but old Nurse said--
'Oh, bless me, child, I don't care! Please yourselves and you'll
please me. Come in and get your dinners comf'table. I've got a
potato on a-boiling.'
When she had gone to attend to the potatoes the children looked
at each other. Could it be that old Nurse had so changed that
she no longer cared that they should have been away from home for
twenty-four hours--all night in fact--without any explanation
But the Psammead put its head out of its basket and said--
'What's the matter? Don't you understand? You come back through
the charm-arch at the same time as you go through it. This isn't
tomorrow!' 'Is it still yesterday?' asked Jane.
'No, it's today. The same as it's always been. It wouldn't do
to go mixing up the present and the Past, and cutting bits out of
one to fit into the other.'
'Then all that adventure took no time at all?'
'You can call it that if you like,' said the Psammead. 'It took
none of the modern time, anyhow.'
That evening Anthea carried up a steak for the learned
gentleman's dinner. She persuaded Beatrice, the
maid-of-all-work, who had given her the bangle with the blue
stone, to let her do it. And she stayed and talked to him, by
special invitation, while he ate the dinner.
She told him the whole adventure, beginning with--
'This afternoon we found ourselves on the bank of the River
Nile,' and ending up with, 'And then we remembered how to get
back, and there we were in Regent's Park, and it hadn't taken any
time at all.'
She did not tell anything about the charm or the Psammead,
because that was forbidden, but the story was quite wonderful
enough even as it was to entrance the learned gentleman.
'You are a most unusual little girl,' he said. 'Who tells you
all these things?'
'No one,' said Anthea, 'they just happen.'
'Make-believe,' he said slowly, as one who recalls and pronounces
a long-forgotten word.
He sat long after she had left him. At last he roused himself
with a start.
'I really must take a holiday,' he said; 'my nerves must be all
out of order. I actually have a perfectly distinct impression
that the little girl from the rooms below came in and gave me a
coherent and graphic picture of life as I conceive it to have
been in pre-dynastic Egypt. Strange what tricks the mind will
play! I shall have to be more careful.'
He finished his bread conscientiously, and actually went for a
mile walk before he went back to his work.
THE WAY TO BABYLON
'How many miles to Babylon?
Three score and ten!
Can I get there by candle light?
Yes, and back again!'
Jane was singing to her doll, rocking it to and fro in the house
which she had made for herself and it. The roof of the house was
the dining-table, and the walls were tablecloths and
antimacassars hanging all round, and kept in their places by
books laid on their top ends at the table edge.
The others were tasting the fearful joys of domestic tobogganing.
You know how it is done--with the largest and best tea-tray and
the surface of the stair carpet. It is best to do it on the days
when the stair rods are being cleaned, and the carpet is only
held by the nails at the top. Of course, it is one of the five
or six thoroughly tip-top games that grown-up people are so
unjust to--and old Nurse, though a brick in many respects, was
quite enough of a standard grown-up to put her foot down on the
tobogganing long before any of the performers had had half enough
of it. The tea- tray was taken away, and the baffled party
entered the sitting-room, in exactly the mood not to be pleased
if they could help it.
So Cyril said, 'What a beastly mess!'
And Robert added, 'Do shut up, Jane!'
Even Anthea, who was almost always kind, advised Jane to try
another song. 'I'm sick to death of that,' said she.
It was a wet day, so none of the plans for seeing all the sights
of London that can be seen for nothing could be carried out.
Everyone had been thinking all the morning about the wonderful
adventures of the day before, when Jane had held up the charm and
it had turned into an arch, through which they had walked
straight out of the present time and the Regent's Park into the
land of Egypt eight thousand years ago. The memory of
yesterday's happenings was still extremely fresh and frightening,
so that everyone hoped that no one would suggest another
excursion into the past, for it seemed to all that yesterday's
adventures were quite enough to last for at least a week. Yet
each felt a little anxious that the others should not think it
was afraid, and presently Cyril, who really was not a coward,
began to see that it would not be at all nice if he should have
to think himself one. So he said--
'I say--about that charm--Jane--come out. We ought to talk about
'Oh, if that's all,' said Robert.
Jane obediently wriggled to the front of her house and sat there.
She felt for the charm, to make sure that it was still round her
'It ISN'T all,' said Cyril, saying much more than he meant
because he thought Robert's tone had been rude--as indeed it had.
'We ought to go and look for that Amulet. What's the good of
having a first-class charm and keeping it idle, just eating its
head off in the stable.'
'I'M game for anything, of course,' said Robert; but he added,
with a fine air of chivalry, 'only I don't think the girls are
keen today somehow.'
'Oh, yes; I am,' said Anthea hurriedly. 'If you think I'm
afraid, I'm not.'
'I am though,' said Jane heavily; 'I didn't like it, and I won't
go there again--not for anything I won't.'
'We shouldn't go THERE again, silly,' said Cyril; 'it would be
some other place.'
'I daresay; a place with lions and tigers in it as likely as
Seeing Jane so frightened, made the others feel quite brave.
They said they were certain they ought to go.
'It's so ungrateful to the Psammead not to,' Anthea added, a
Jane stood up. She was desperate.
'I won't!' she cried; 'I won't, I won't, I won't! If you make me
I'll scream and I'll scream, and I'll tell old Nurse, and I'll
get her to burn the charm in the kitchen fire. So now, then!'
You can imagine how furious everyone was with Jane for feeling
what each of them had felt all the morning. In each breast the
same thought arose, 'No one can say it's OUR fault.' And they at
once began to show Jane how angry they all felt that all the
fault was hers. This made them feel quite brave.
'Tell-tale tit, its tongue shall be split,
And all the dogs in our town shall have a little bit,'
'It's always the way if you have girls in anything.' Cyril spoke
in a cold displeasure that was worse than Robert's cruel
quotation, and even Anthea said, 'Well, I'M not afraid if I AM a
girl,' which of course, was the most cutting thing of all.
Jane picked up her doll and faced the others with what is
sometimes called the courage of despair.
'I don't care,' she said; 'I won't, so there! It's just silly
going to places when you don't want to, and when you don't know
what they're going to be like! You can laugh at me as much as
you like. You're beasts--and I hate you all!'
With these awful words she went out and banged the door.
Then the others would not look at each other, and they did not
feel so brave as they had done.
Cyril took up a book, but it was not interesting to read. Robert
kicked a chair-leg absently. His feet were always eloquent in
moments of emotion. Anthea stood pleating the end of the
tablecloth into folds--she seemed earnestly anxious to get all
the pleats the same size. The sound of Jane's sobs had died
Suddenly Anthea said, 'Oh! let it be "pax"--poor little
Pussy--you know she's the youngest.'
'She called us beasts,' said Robert, kicking the chair suddenly.
'Well, said Cyril, who was subject to passing fits of justice,
'we began, you know. At least you did.' Cyril's justice was
'I'm not going to say I'm sorry if you mean that,' said Robert,
and the chair-leg cracked to the kick he gave as he said it.
'Oh, do let's,' said Anthea, 'we're three to one, and Mother does
so hate it if we row. Come on. I'll say I'm sorry first, though
I didn't say anything, hardly.'
'All right, let's get it over,' said Cyril, opening the
Far away up the stairs a voice could be heard singing brokenly,
but still defiantly--
'How many miles (sniff) to Babylon?
Three score and ten! (sniff)
Can I get there by candle light?
Yes (sniff), and back again!'
It was trying, for this was plainly meant to annoy. But Anthea
would not give herself time to think this. She led the way up
the stairs, taking three at a time, and bounded to the level of
Jane, who sat on the top step of all, thumping her doll to the
tune of the song she was trying to sing.
'I say, Pussy, let it be pax! We're sorry if you are--'
It was enough. The kiss of peace was given by all. Jane being
the youngest was entitled to this ceremonial. Anthea added a
special apology of her own.
'I'm sorry if I was a pig, Pussy dear,' she said--'especially
because in my really and truly inside mind I've been feeling a
little as if I'd rather not go into the Past again either. But
then, do think. If we don't go we shan't get the Amulet, and oh,
Pussy, think if we could only get Father and Mother and The Lamb
safe back! We MUST go, but we'll wait a day or two if you like
and then perhaps you'll feel braver.'
'Raw meat makes you brave, however cowardly you are,' said
Robert, to show that there was now no ill-feeling, 'and
cranberries--that's what Tartars eat, and they're so brave it's
simply awful. I suppose cranberries are only for Christmas time,
but I'll ask old Nurse to let you have your chop very raw if you
'I think I could be brave without that,' said Jane hastily; she
hated underdone meat. 'I'll try.'
At this moment the door of the learned gentleman's room opened,
and he looked out.
'Excuse me,' he said, in that gentle, polite weary voice of his,
'but was I mistaken in thinking that I caught a familiar word
just now? Were you not singing some old ballad of Babylon?'
'No,' said Robert, 'at least Jane was singing "How many miles,"
but I shouldn't have thought you could have heard the words
He would have said, 'for the sniffing,' but Anthea pinched him
just in time.
'I did not hear ALL the words,' said the learned gentleman. 'I
wonder would you recite them to me?'
So they all said together--
'How many miles to Babylon?
Three score and ten!
Can I get there by candle light?
Yes, and back again!'
'I wish one could,' the learned gentleman said with a sigh.
'Can't you?' asked Jane.
'Babylon has fallen,' he answered with a sigh. 'You know it was
once a great and beautiful city, and the centre of learning and
Art, and now it is only ruins, and so covered up with earth that
people are not even agreed as to where it once stood.'
He was leaning on the banisters, and his eyes had a far-away look
in them, as though he could see through the staircase window the
splendour and glory of ancient Babylon.
'I say,' Cyril remarked abruptly. 'You know that charm we showed
you, and you told us how to say the name that's on it?'
'Well, do you think that charm was ever in Babylon?'
'It's quite possible,' the learned gentleman replied. 'Such
charms have been found in very early Egyptian tombs, yet their
origin has not been accurately determined as Egyptian. They may
have been brought from Asia. Or, supposing the charm to have
been fashioned in Egypt, it might very well have been carried to
Babylon by some friendly embassy, or brought back by the
Babylonish army from some Egyptian campaign as part of the spoils
of war. The inscription may be much later than the charm. Oh
yes! it is a pleasant fancy, that that splendid specimen of yours
was once used amid Babylonish surroundings.' The others looked at
each other, but it was Jane who spoke.
'Were the Babylon people savages, were they always fighting and
throwing things about?' For she had read the thoughts of the
others by the unerring light of her own fears.
'The Babylonians were certainly more gentle than the Assyrians,'
said the learned gentleman. 'And they were not savages by any
means. A very high level of culture,' he looked doubtfully at
his audience and went on, 'I mean that they made beautiful
statues and jewellery, and built splendid palaces. And they were
very learned- they had glorious libraries and high towers for the
purpose of astrological and astronomical observation.'
'Er?' said Robert.
'I mean for--star-gazing and fortune-telling,' said the learned
gentleman, 'and there were temples and beautiful hanging
'I'll go to Babylon if you like,' said Jane abruptly, and the
others hastened to say 'Done!' before she should have time to
change her mind.
'Ah,' said the learned gentleman, smiling rather sadly, 'one can
go so far in dreams, when one is young.' He sighed again, and
then adding with a laboured briskness, 'I hope you'll have
a--a--jolly game,' he went into his room and shut the door.
'He said "jolly" as if it was a foreign language,' said Cyril.
'Come on, let's get the Psammead and go now. I think Babylon
seems a most frightfully jolly place to go to.'
So they woke the Psammead and put it in its bass-bag with the
waterproof sheet, in case of inclement weather in Babylon. It
was very cross, but it said it would as soon go to Babylon as
anywhere else. 'The sand is good thereabouts,' it added.
Then Jane held up the charm, and Cyril said--
'We want to go to Babylon to look for the part of you that was
lost. Will you please let us go there through you?'
'Please put us down just outside,' said Jane hastily; 'and then
if we don't like it we needn't go inside.'
'Don't be all day,' said the Psammead.
So Anthea hastily uttered the word of power, without which the
charm could do nothing.
'Ur--Hekau--Setcheh!' she said softly, and as she spoke the charm
grew into an arch so tall that the top of it was close against
the bedroom ceiling. Outside the arch was the bedroom painted
chest-of-drawers and the Kidderminster carpet, and the
washhand-stand with the riveted willow-pattern jug, and the faded
curtains, and the dull light of indoors on a wet day. Through
the arch showed the gleam of soft green leaves and white
blossoms. They stepped forward quite happily. Even Jane felt
that this did not look like lions, and her hand hardly trembled
at all as she held the charm for the others to go through, and
last, slipped through herself, and hung the charm, now grown
small again, round her neck.
The children found themselves under a white-blossomed,
green-leafed fruit-tree, in what seemed to be an orchard of such
trees, all white-flowered and green-foliaged. Among the long
green grass under their feet grew crocuses and lilies, and
strange blue flowers. In the branches overhead thrushes and
blackbirds were singing, and the coo of a pigeon came softly to
them in the green quietness of the orchard.
'Oh, how perfectly lovely!' cried Anthea.
'Why, it's like home exactly--I mean England--only everything's
bluer, and whiter, and greener, and the flowers are bigger.'
The boys owned that it certainly was fairly decent, and even Jane
admitted that it was all very pretty.
'I'm certain there's nothing to be frightened of here,' said
'I don't know,' said Jane. 'I suppose the fruit-trees go on just
the same even when people are killing each other. I didn't half
like what the learned gentleman said about the hanging gardens.
I suppose they have gardens on purpose to hang people in. I do
hope this isn't one.'
'Of course it isn't,' said Cyril. 'The hanging gardens are just
gardens hung up--_I_ think on chains between houses, don't you
know, like trays. Come on; let's get somewhere.'
They began to walk through the cool grass. As far as they could
see was nothing but trees, and trees and more trees. At the end
of their orchard was another one, only separated from theirs by a
little stream of clear water. They jumped this, and went on.
Cyril, who was fond of gardening--which meant that he liked to
watch the gardener at work--was able to command the respect of
the others by telling them the names of a good many trees. There
were nut-trees and almond-trees, and apricots, and fig-trees with
their big five-fingered leaves. And every now and then the
children had to cross another brook.
'It's like between the squares in Through the Looking-glass,'
At last they came to an orchard which was quite different from
the other orchards. It had a low building in one corner.
'These are vines,' said Cyril superiorly, 'and I know this is a
vineyard. I shouldn't wonder if there was a wine-press inside
that place over there.'
At last they got out of the orchards and on to a sort of road,
very rough, and not at all like the roads you are used to. It
had cypress trees and acacia trees along it, and a sort of hedge
of tamarisks, like those you see on the road between Nice and
Cannes, or near Littlehampton, if you've only been as far as
And now in front of them they could see a great mass of
buildings. There were scattered houses of wood and stone here
and there among green orchards, and beyond these a great wall
that shone red in the early morning sun. The wall was enormously
high--more than half the height of St Paul's--and in the wall
were set enormous gates that shone like gold as the rising sun
beat on them. Each gate had a solid square tower on each side of
it that stood out from the wall and rose above it. Beyond the
wall were more towers and houses, gleaming with gold and bright
colours. Away to the left ran the steel-blue swirl of a great
river. And the children could see, through a gap in the trees,
that the river flowed out from the town under a great arch in the
'Those feathery things along by the water are palms,' said Cyril
'Oh, yes; you know everything,' Robert replied. 'What's all that
grey-green stuff you see away over there, where it's all flat and
'All right,' said Cyril loftily, '_I_ don't want to tell you
anything. I only thought you'd like to know a palm-tree when you
saw it again.'
'Look!' cried Anthea; 'they're opening the gates.'
And indeed the great gates swung back with a brazen clang, and
instantly a little crowd of a dozen or more people came out and
along the road towards them.
The children, with one accord, crouched behind the tamarisk
'I don't like the sound of those gates,' said Jane. 'Fancy being
inside when they shut. You'd never get out.'
'You've got an arch of your own to go out by,' the Psammead put
its head out of the basket to remind her. 'Don't behave so like
a girl. If I were you I should just march right into the town
and ask to see the king.'
There was something at once simple and grand about this idea, and
it pleased everyone.
So when the work-people had passed (they WERE work-people, the
children felt sure, because they were dressed so plainly--just
one long blue shirt thing--of blue or yellow) the four children
marched boldly up to the brazen gate between the towers. The
arch above the gate was quite a tunnel, the walls were so thick.
'Courage,' said Cyril. 'Step out. It's no use trying to sneak
past. Be bold!'
Robert answered this appeal by unexpectedly bursting into 'The
British Grenadiers', and to its quick-step they approached the
gates of Babylon.
'Some talk of Alexander,
And some of Hercules,
Of Hector and Lysander,
And such great names as these.
But of all the gallant heroes ...'
This brought them to the threshold of the gate, and two men in
bright armour suddenly barred their way with crossed spears.
'Who goes there?' they said.
(I think I must have explained to you before how it was that the
children were always able to understand the language of any place
they might happen to be in, and to be themselves understood. If
not, I have no time to explain it now.)
'We come from very far,' said Cyril mechanically. 'From the
Empire where the sun never sets, and we want to see your King.'
'If it's quite convenient,' amended Anthea. 'The King (may he
live for ever!),' said the gatekeeper, 'is gone to fetch home his
fourteenth wife. Where on earth have you come from not to know
'The Queen then,' said Anthea hurriedly, and not taking any
notice of the question as to where they had come from.
'The Queen,' said the gatekeeper, '(may she live for ever!) gives
audience today three hours after sunrising.'
'But what are we to do till the end of the three hours?' asked
The gatekeeper seemed neither to know nor to care. He appeared
less interested in them than they could have thought possible.
But the man who had crossed spears with him to bar the children's
way was more human.
'Let them go in and look about them,' he said. 'I'll wager my
best sword they've never seen anything to come near our
little--village.' He said it in the tone people use for when they
call the Atlantic Ocean the 'herring pond'.
The gatekeeper hesitated.
'They're only children, after all,' said the other, who had
children of his own. 'Let me off for a few minutes, Captain, and
I'll take them to my place and see if my good woman can't fit
them up in something a little less outlandish than their present
rig. Then they can have a look round without being mobbed. May
'Oh yes, if you like,' said the Captain, 'but don't be all day.'
The man led them through the dark arch into the town. And it was
very different from London. For one thing, everything in London
seems to be patched up out of odds and ends, but these houses
seemed to have been built by people who liked the same sort of
things. Not that they were all alike, for though all were
squarish, they were of different sizes, and decorated in all
sorts of different ways, some with paintings in bright colours,
some with black and silver designs. There were terraces, and
gardens, and balconies, and open spaces with trees. Their guide
took them to a little house in a back street, where a kind-faced
woman sat spinning at the door of a very dark room.
'Here,' he said, 'just lend these children a mantle each, so that
they can go about and see the place till the Queen's audience
begins. You leave that wool for a bit, and show them round if
you like. I must be off now.'
The woman did as she was told, and the four children, wrapped in
fringed mantles, went with her all about the town, and oh! how I
wish I had time to tell you all that they saw. It was all so
wonderfully different from anything you have ever seen. For one
thing, all the houses were dazzlingly bright, and many of them
covered with pictures. Some had great creatures carved in stone
at each side of the door. Then the people--there were no black
frock-coats and tall hats; no dingy coats and skirts of good,
useful, ugly stuffs warranted to wear. Everyone's clothes were
bright and beautiful with blue and scarlet and green and gold.
The market was brighter than you would think anything could be.
There were stalls for everything you could possibly want--and for
a great many things that if you wanted here and now, want would
be your master. There were pineapples and peaches in heaps--and
stalls of crockery and glass things, beautiful shapes and
glorious colours, there were stalls for necklaces, and clasps,
and bracelets, and brooches, for woven stuffs, and furs, and
embroidered linen. The children had never seen half so many
beautiful things together, even at Liberty's. It seemed no time
at all before the woman said--
'It's nearly time now. We ought to be getting on towards the
palace. It's as well to be early.' So they went to the palace,
and when they got there it was more splendid than anything they
had seen yet.
For it was glowing with colours, and with gold and silver and
black and white--like some magnificent embroidery. Flight after
flight of broad marble steps led up to it, and at the edges of
the stairs stood great images, twenty times as big as a
man--images of men with wings like chain armour, and hawks'
heads, and winged men with the heads of dogs. And there were the
statues of great kings.
Between the flights of steps were terraces where fountains
played, and the Queen's Guard in white and scarlet, and armour
that shone like gold, stood by twos lining the way up the stairs;
and a great body of them was massed by the vast door of the
palace itself, where it stood glittering like an impossibly
radiant peacock in the noon-day sun.
All sorts of people were passing up the steps to seek audience of
the Queen. Ladies in richly-embroidered dresses with fringy
flounces, poor folks in plain and simple clothes, dandies with
beards oiled and curled.
And Cyril, Robert, Anthea and Jane, went with the crowd.
At the gate of the palace the Psammead put one eye cautiously out
of the basket and whispered--
'I can't be bothered with queens. I'll go home with this lady.
I'm sure she'll get me some sand if you ask her to.'
'Oh! don't leave us,' said Jane. The woman was giving some last
instructions in Court etiquette to Anthea, and did not hear Jane.
'Don't be a little muff,' said the Psammead quite fiercely.
'It's not a bit of good your having a charm. You never use it.
If you want me you've only got to say the name of power and ask
the charm to bring me to you.'
'I'd rather go with you,' said Jane. And it was the most
surprising thing she had ever said in her life.
Everyone opened its mouth without thinking of manners, and
Anthea, who was peeping into the Psammead's basket, saw that its
mouth opened wider than anybody's.
'You needn't gawp like that,' Jane went on. 'I'm not going to be
bothered with queens any more than IT is. And I know, wherever
it is, it'll take jolly good care that it's safe.'
'She's right there,' said everyone, for they had observed that
the Psammead had a way of knowing which side its bread was
She turned to the woman and said, 'You'll take me home with you,
won't you? And let me play with your little girls till the
others have done with the Queen.'
'Surely I will, little heart!' said the woman.
And then Anthea hurriedly stroked the Psammead and embraced Jane,
who took the woman's hand, and trotted contentedly away with the
Psammead's bag under the other arm.
The others stood looking after her till she, the woman, and the
basket were lost in the many-coloured crowd. Then Anthea turned
once more to the palace's magnificent doorway and said--
'Let's ask the porter to take care of our Babylonian overcoats.'
So they took off the garments that the woman had lent them and
stood amid the jostling petitioners of the Queen in their own
English frocks and coats and hats and boots.
'We want to see the Queen,' said Cyril; 'we come from the far
Empire where the sun never sets!'
A murmur of surprise and a thrill of excitement ran through the
crowd. The door-porter spoke to a black man, he spoke to someone
else. There was a whispering, waiting pause. Then a big man,
with a cleanly-shaven face, beckoned them from the top of a
flight of red marble steps.
They went up; the boots of Robert clattering more than usual
because he was so nervous. A door swung open, a curtain was
drawn back. A double line of bowing forms in gorgeous raiment
formed a lane that led to the steps of the throne, and as the
children advanced hurriedly there came from the throne a voice
very sweet and kind.
'Three children from the land where the sun never sets! Let them
draw hither without fear.'
In another minute they were kneeling at the throne's foot,
saying, 'O Queen, live for ever!' exactly as the woman had taught
them. And a splendid dream-lady, all gold and silver and jewels
and snowy drift of veils, was raising Anthea, and saying--
'Don't be frightened, I really am SO glad you came! The land
where the sun never sets! I am delighted to see you! I was
getting quite too dreadfully bored for anything!'
And behind Anthea the kneeling Cyril whispered in the ears of the
'Bobs, don't say anything to Panther. It's no use upsetting her,
but we didn't ask for Jane's address, and the Psammead's with
'Well,' whispered Robert, 'the charm can bring them to us at any
moment. IT said so.'
'Oh, yes,' whispered Cyril, in miserable derision, 'WE'RE all
right, of course. So we are! Oh, yes! If we'd only GOT the
Then Robert saw, and he murmured, 'Crikey!' at the foot of the
throne of Babylon; while Cyril hoarsely whispered the plain
'Jane's got the charm round her neck, you silly cuckoo.'
'Crikey!' Robert repeated in heart-broken undertones.
'THE DEEPEST DUNGEON BELOW THE CASTLE MOAT'
The Queen threw three of the red and gold embroidered cushions
off the throne on to the marble steps that led up to it.
'Just make yourselves comfortable there,' she said. 'I'm simply
dying to talk to you, and to hear all about your wonderful
country and how you got here, and everything, but I have to do
justice every morning. Such a bore, isn't it? Do you do justice
in your own country?'
'No, said Cyril; 'at least of course we try to, but not in this
public sort of way, only in private.' 'Ah, yes,' said the Queen,
'I should much prefer a private audience myself--much easier to
manage. But public opinion has to be considered. Doing justice
is very hard work, even when you're brought up to it.'
'We don't do justice, but we have to do scales, Jane and me,'
said Anthea, 'twenty minutes a day. It's simply horrid.'
'What are scales?' asked the Queen, 'and what is Jane?'
'Jane is my little sister. One of the guards-at-the-gate's wife
is taking care of her. And scales are music.'
'I never heard of the instrument,' said the Queen. 'Do you
'Oh, yes. We can sing in parts,' said Anthea.
'That IS magic,' said the Queen. 'How many parts are you each
cut into before you do it?'
'We aren't cut at all,' said Robert hastily. 'We couldn't sing
if we were. We'll show you afterwards.'
'So you shall, and now sit quiet like dear children and hear me
do justice. The way I do it has always been admired. I oughtn't
to say that ought I? Sounds so conceited. But I don't mind with
you, dears. Somehow I feel as though I'd known you quite a long
The Queen settled herself on her throne and made a signal to her
attendants. The children, whispering together among the cushions
on the steps of the throne, decided that she was very beautiful
and very kind, but perhaps just the least bit flighty.
The first person who came to ask for justice was a woman whose
brother had taken the money the father had left for her. The
brother said it was the uncle who had the money. There was a
good deal of talk and the children were growing rather bored,
when the Queen suddenly clapped her hands, and said--
'Put both the men in prison till one of them owns up that the
other is innocent.'
'But suppose they both did it?' Cyril could not help
'Then prison's the best place for them,' said the Queen.
'But suppose neither did it.'
'That's impossible,' said the Queen; 'a thing's not done unless
someone does it. And you mustn't interrupt.'
Then came a woman, in tears, with a torn veil and real ashes on
her head--at least Anthea thought so, but it may have been only
road-dust. She complained that her husband was in prison.
'What for?' said the Queen.
'They SAID it was for speaking evil of your Majesty,' said the
woman, 'but it wasn't. Someone had a spite against him. That
was what it was.'
'How do you know he hadn't spoken evil of me?' said the Queen.
'No one could,' said the woman simply, 'when they'd once seen
your beautiful face.'
'Let the man out,' said the Queen, smiling. 'Next case.'
The next case was that of a boy who had stolen a fox. 'Like the
Spartan boy,' whispered Robert. But the Queen ruled that nobody
could have any possible reason for owning a fox, and still less
for stealing one. And she did not believe that there were any
foxes in Babylon; she, at any rate, had never seen one. So the
boy was released.
The people came to the Queen about all sorts of family quarrels
and neighbourly misunderstandings--from a fight between brothers
over the division of an inheritance, to the dishonest and
unfriendly conduct of a woman who had borrowed a cooking-pot at
the last New Year's festival, and not returned it yet.
And the Queen decided everything, very, very decidedly indeed.
At last she clapped her hands quite suddenly and with extreme
loudness, and said--
'The audience is over for today.'
Everyone said, 'May the Queen live for ever!' and went out.
And the children were left alone in the justice-hall with the
Queen of Babylon and her ladies.
'There!' said the Queen, with a long sigh of relief. 'THAT'S
over! I couldn't have done another stitch of justice if you'd
offered me the crown of Egypt! Now come into the garden, and
we'll have a nice, long, cosy talk.'
She led them through long, narrow corridors whose walls they
somehow felt, were very, very thick, into a sort of garden
courtyard. There were thick shrubs closely planted, and roses
were trained over trellises, and made a pleasant shade--needed,
indeed, for already the sun was as hot as it is in England in
August at the seaside.
Slaves spread cushions on a low, marble terrace, and a big man
with a smooth face served cool drink in cups of gold studded with
beryls. He drank a little from the Queen's cup before handing it
'That's rather a nasty trick,' whispered Robert, who had been
carefully taught never to drink out of one of the nice, shiny,
metal cups that are chained to the London drinking fountains
without first rinsing it out thoroughly.
The Queen overheard him.
'Not at all,' said she. 'Ritti-Marduk is a very clean man. And
one has to have SOME ONE as taster, you know, because of poison.'
The word made the children feel rather creepy; but Ritti-Marduk
had tasted all the cups, so they felt pretty safe. The drink was
delicious--very cold, and tasting like lemonade and partly like
'Leave us,' said the Queen. And all the Court ladies, in their
beautiful, many-folded, many-coloured, fringed dresses, filed out
slowly, and the children were left alone with the Queen.
'Now,' she said, 'tell me all about yourselves.'
They looked at each other.
'You, Bobs,' said Cyril.
'No--Anthea,' said Robert.
'No--you--Cyril,' said Anthea. 'Don't you remember how pleased
the Queen of India was when you told her all about us?'
Cyril muttered that it was all very well, and so it was. For
when he had told the tale of the Phoenix and the Carpet to the
Ranee, it had been only the truth--and all the truth that he had
to tell. But now it was not easy to tell a convincing story
without mentioning the Amulet--which, of course, it wouldn't have
done to mention--and without owning that they were really living
in London, about 2,500 years later than the time they were
Cyril took refuge in the tale of the Psammead and its wonderful
power of making wishes come true. The children had never been
able to tell anyone before, and Cyril was surprised to find that
the spell which kept them silent in London did not work here.
'Something to do with our being in the Past, I suppose,' he said
'This is MOST interesting,' said the Queen. 'We must have this
Psammead for the banquet tonight. Its performance will be one of
the most popular turns in the whole programme. Where is it?'
Anthea explained that they did not know; also why it was that
they did not know.
'Oh, THAT'S quite simple,' said the Queen, and everyone breathed
a deep sigh of relief as she said it.
'Ritti-Marduk shall run down to the gates and find out which
guard your sister went home with.'
'Might he'--Anthea's voice was tremulous--'might he--would it
interfere with his meal-times, or anything like that, if he went
'Of course he shall go now. He may think himself lucky if he
gets his meals at any time,' said the Queen heartily, and clapped
'May I send a letter?' asked Cyril, pulling out a red-backed
penny account-book, and feeling in his pockets for a stump of
pencil that he knew was in one of them.
'By all means. I'll call my scribe.'
'Oh, I can scribe right enough, thanks,' said Cyril, finding the
pencil and licking its point. He even had to bite the wood a
little, for it was very blunt.
'Oh, you clever, clever boy!' said the Queen. 'DO let me watch
you do it!'
Cyril wrote on a leaf of the book--it was of rough, woolly paper,
with hairs that stuck out and would have got in his pen if he had
been using one, and ruled for accounts.
'Hide IT most carefully before you come here,' he wrote, 'and
don't mention it--and destroy this letter. Everything is going
A1. The Queen is a fair treat. There's nothing to be afraid
'What curious characters, and what a strange flat surface!' said
the Queen. 'What have you inscribed?'
'I've 'scribed,' replied Cyril cautiously, 'that you are fair,
and a--and like a--like a festival; and that she need not be
afraid, and that she is to come at once.'
Ritti-Marduk, who had come in and had stood waiting while Cyril
wrote, his Babylonish eyes nearly starting out of his Babylonish
head, now took the letter, with some reluctance.
'O Queen, live for ever! Is it a charm?' he timidly asked. 'A
strong charm, most great lady?'
'YES,' said Robert, unexpectedly, 'it IS a charm, but it won't
hurt anyone until you've given it to Jane. And then she'll
destroy it, so that it CAN'T hurt anyone. It's most awful
strong!--as strong as--Peppermint!' he ended abruptly.
'I know not the god,' said Ritti-Marduk, bending timorously.
'She'll tear it up directly she gets it,' said Robert, 'That'll
end the charm. You needn't be afraid if you go now.'
Ritti-Marduk went, seeming only partly satisfied; and then the
Queen began to admire the penny account-book and the bit of
pencil in so marked and significant a way that Cyril felt he
could not do less than press them upon her as a gift. She
ruffled the leaves delightedly.
'What a wonderful substance!' she said. 'And with this style you
make charms? Make a charm for me! Do you know,' her voice sank
to a whisper, 'the names of the great ones of your own far
'Rather!' said Cyril, and hastily wrote the names of Alfred the
Great, Shakespeare, Nelson, Gordon, Lord Beaconsfield, Mr Rudyard
Kipling, and Mr Sherlock Holmes, while the Queen watched him with
'unbaited breath', as Anthea said afterwards.
She took the book and hid it reverently among the bright folds of
'You shall teach me later to say the great names,' she said.
'And the names of their Ministers--perhaps the great Nisroch is
one of them?'
'I don't think so,' said Cyril. 'Mr Campbell Bannerman's Prime
Minister and Mr Burns a Minister, and so is the Archbishop of
Canterbury, I think, but I'm not sure--and Dr Parker was one, I
'No more,' said the Queen, putting her hands to her ears. 'My
head's going round with all those great names. You shall teach
them to me later--because of course you'll make us a nice long
visit now you have come, won't you? Now tell me--but no, I am
quite tired out with your being so clever. Besides, I'm sure
you'd like ME to tell YOU something, wouldn't you?'
'Yes,' said Anthea. 'I want to know how it is that the King has
'Excuse me, but you should say "the King may-he-live-for-ever",'
said the Queen gently.
'I beg your pardon,' Anthea hastened to say--'the King
may-he-live-for-ever has gone to fetch home his fourteenth wife?
I don't think even Bluebeard had as many as that. And, besides,
he hasn't killed YOU at any rate.'
The Queen looked bewildered.
'She means,' explained Robert, 'that English kings only have one
wife--at least, Henry the Eighth had seven or eight, but not all
'In our country,' said the Queen scornfully, 'a king would not
reign a day who had only one wife. No one would respect him, and
quite right too.'
'Then are all the other thirteen alive?' asked Anthea.
'Of course they are--poor mean-spirited things! I don't
associate with them, of course, I am the Queen: they're only the
'I see,' said Anthea, gasping.
'But oh, my dears,' the Queen went on, 'such a to-do as there's
been about this last wife! You never did! It really was TOO
funny. We wanted an Egyptian princess. The King
may-he-live-for-ever has got a wife from most of the important
nations, and he had set his heart on an Egyptian one to complete
his collection. Well, of course, to begin with, we sent a
handsome present of gold. The Egyptian king sent back some
horses--quite a few; he's fearfully stingy!--and he said he liked
the gold very much, but what they were really short of was lapis
lazuli, so of course we sent him some. But by that time he'd
begun to use the gold to cover the beams of the roof of the
Temple of the Sun-God, and he hadn't nearly enough to finish the
job, so we sent some more. And so it went on, oh, for years.
You see each journey takes at least six months. And at last we
asked the hand of his daughter in marriage.'
'Yes, and then?' said Anthea, who wanted to get to the princess
part of the story.
'Well, then,' said the Queen, 'when he'd got everything out of us
that he could, and only given the meanest presents in return, he
sent to say he would esteem the honour of an alliance very
highly, only unfortunately he hadn't any daughter, but he hoped
one would be born soon, and if so, she should certainly be
reserved for the King of Babylon!'
'What a trick!' said Cyril.
'Yes, wasn't it? So then we said his sister would do, and then
there were more gifts and more journeys; and now at last the
tiresome, black-haired thing is coming, and the King
may-he-live-for-ever has gone seven days' journey to meet her at
Carchemish. And he's gone in his best chariot, the one inlaid
with lapis lazuli and gold, with the gold-plated wheels and
onyx-studded hubs--much too great an honour in my opinion.
She'll be here tonight; there'll be a grand banquet to celebrate
her arrival. SHE won't be present, of course. She'll be having
her baths and her anointings, and all that sort of thing. We
always clean our foreign brides very carefully. It takes two or
three weeks. Now it's dinnertime, and you shall eat with me, for
I can see that you are of high rank.' She led them into a dark,
cool hall, with many cushions on the floor. On these they sat
and low tables were brought--beautiful tables of smooth, blue
stone mounted in gold. On these, golden trays were placed; but
there were no knives, or forks, or spoons. The children expected
the Queen to call for them; but no. She just ate with her
fingers, and as the first dish was a great tray of boiled corn,
and meat and raisins all mixed up together, and melted fat poured
all over the tray, it was found difficult to follow her example
with anything like what we are used to think of as good table
manners. There were stewed quinces afterwards, and dates in
syrup, and thick yellowy cream. It was the kind of dinner you
hardly ever get in Fitzroy Street.
After dinner everybody went to sleep, even the children.
The Queen awoke with a start.
'Good gracious!' she cried, 'what a time we've slept! I must
rush off and dress for the banquet. I shan't have much more than
'Hasn't Ritti-Marduk got back with our sister and the Psammead
yet?' Anthea asked.
'I QUITE forgot to ask. I'm sorry,' said the Queen. 'And of
course they wouldn't announce her unless I told them to, except
during justice hours. I expect she's waiting outside. I'll
Ritti-Marduk came in a moment later.
'I regret,' he said, 'that I have been unable to find your
sister. The beast she bears with her in a basket has bitten the
child of the guard, and your sister and the beast set out to come
to you. The police say they have a clue. No doubt we shall have
news of her in a few weeks.' He bowed and withdrew.
The horror of this threefold loss--Jane, the Psammead, and the
Amulet--gave the children something to talk about while the Queen
was dressing. I shall not report their conversation; it was very
gloomy. Everyone repeated himself several times, and the
discussion ended in each of them blaming the other two for having
let Jane go. You know the sort of talk it was, don't you? At
last Cyril said--
'After all, she's with the Psammead, so SHE'S all right. The
Psammead is jolly careful of itself too. And it isn't as if we
were in any danger. Let's try to buck up and enjoy the banquet.'
They did enjoy the banquet. They had a beautiful bath, which was
delicious, were heavily oiled all over, including their hair, and
that was most unpleasant. Then, they dressed again and were
presented to the King, who was most affable. The banquet was
long; there were all sorts of nice things to eat, and everybody
seemed to eat and drink a good deal. Everyone lay on cushions
and couches, ladies on one side and gentlemen on the other; and
after the eating was done each lady went and sat by some
gentleman, who seemed to be her sweetheart or her husband, for
they were very affectionate to each other. The Court dresses had
gold threads woven in them, very bright and beautiful.
The middle of the room was left clear, and different people came
and did amusing things. There were conjurers and jugglers and
snake-charmers, which last Anthea did not like at all.
When it got dark torches were lighted. Cedar splinters dipped in
oil blazed in copper dishes set high on poles.
Then there was a dancer, who hardly danced at all, only just
struck attitudes. She had hardly any clothes, and was not at all
pretty. The children were rather bored by her, but everyone else
was delighted, including the King.
'By the beard of Nimrod!' he cried, 'ask what you like girl, and
you shall have it!'
'I want nothing,' said the dancer; 'the honour of having pleased
the King may-he-live-for-ever is reward enough for me.'
And the King was so pleased with this modest and sensible reply
that he gave her the gold collar off his own neck.
'I say!' said Cyril, awed by the magnificence of the gift.
'It's all right,' whispered the Queen, 'it's not his best collar
by any means. We always keep a stock of cheap jewellery for
these occasions. And now--you promised to sing us something.
Would you like my minstrels to accompany you?'
'No, thank you,' said Anthea quickly. The minstrels had been
playing off and on all the time, and their music reminded Anthea
of the band she and the others had once had on the fifth of
November--with penny horns, a tin whistle, a tea-tray, the tongs,
a policeman's rattle, and a toy drum. They had enjoyed this band
very much at the time. But it was quite different when someone
else was making the same kind of music. Anthea understood now
that Father had not been really heartless and unreasonable when
he had told them to stop that infuriating din.
'What shall we sing?' Cyril was asking.
'Sweet and low?' suggested Anthea.
'Too soft--I vote for "Who will o'er the downs". Now then--one,
'Oh, who will o'er the downs so free,
Oh, who will with me ride,
Oh, who will up and follow me,
To win a blooming bride?
Her father he has locked the door,
Her mother keeps the key;
But neither bolt nor bar shall keep
My own true love from me.'
Jane, the alto, was missing, and Robert, unlike the mother of the
lady in the song, never could 'keep the key', but the song, even
so, was sufficiently unlike anything any of them had ever heard
to rouse the Babylonian Court to the wildest enthusiasm.
'More, more,' cried the King; 'by my beard, this savage music is
a new thing. Sing again!'
So they sang:
'I saw her bower at twilight gray,
'Twas guarded safe and sure.
I saw her bower at break of day,
'Twas guarded then no more.
The varlets they were all asleep,
And there was none to see
The greeting fair that passed there
Between my love and me.'
Shouts of applause greeted the ending of the verse, and the King
would not be satisfied till they had sung all their part-songs
(they only knew three) twice over, and ended up with 'Men of
Harlech' in unison. Then the King stood up in his royal robes
with his high, narrow crown on his head and shouted--
'By the beak of Nisroch, ask what you will, strangers from the
land where the sun never sets!'
'We ought to say it's enough honour, like the dancer did,'
'No, let's ask for IT,' said Robert.
'No, no, I'm sure the other's manners,' said Anthea. But Robert,
who was excited by the music, and the flaring torches, and the
applause and the opportunity, spoke up before the others could
'Give us the half of the Amulet that has on it the name UR HEKAU
SETCHEH,' he said, adding as an afterthought, 'O King,
As he spoke the great name those in the pillared hall fell on
their faces, and lay still. All but the Queen who crouched amid
her cushions with her head in her hands, and the King, who stood
upright, perfectly still, like the statue of a king in stone. It
was only for a moment though. Then his great voice thundered
'Guard, seize them!'
Instantly, from nowhere as it seemed, sprang eight soldiers in
bright armour inlaid with gold, and tunics of red and white.
Very splendid they were, and very alarming.
'Impious and sacrilegious wretches!' shouted the King. 'To the
dungeons with them! We will find a way, tomorrow, to make them
speak. For without doubt they can tell us where to find the lost
half of It.'
A wall of scarlet and white and steel and gold closed up round
the children and hurried them away among the many pillars of the
great hall. As they went they heard the voices of the courtiers
loud in horror.
'You've done it this time,' said Cyril with extreme bitterness.
'Oh, it will come right. It MUST. It always does,' said Anthea
They could not see where they were going, because the guard
surrounded them so closely, but the ground under their feet,
smooth marble at first, grew rougher like stone, then it was
loose earth and sand, and they felt the night air. Then there
was more stone, and steps down.
'It's my belief we really ARE going to the deepest dungeon below
the castle moat this time,' said Cyril.
And they were. At least it was not below a moat, but below the
river Euphrates, which was just as bad if not worse. In a most
unpleasant place it was. Dark, very, very damp, and with an odd,
musty smell rather like the shells of oysters. There was a
torch--that is to say, a copper basket on a high stick with oiled
wood burning in it. By its light the children saw that the walls
were green, and that trickles of water ran down them and dripped
from the roof. There were things on the floor that looked like
newts, and in the dark corners creepy, shiny things moved
sluggishly, uneasily, horribly.
Robert's heart sank right into those really reliable boots of
his. Anthea and Cyril each had a private struggle with that
inside disagreeableness which is part of all of us, and which is
sometimes called the Old Adam--and both were victors. Neither of
them said to Robert (and both tried hard not even to think it),
'This is YOUR doing.' Anthea had the additional temptation to
add, 'I told you so.' And she resisted it successfully.
'Sacrilege, and impious cheek,' said the captain of the guard to
the gaoler. 'To be kept during the King's pleasure. I expect he
means to get some pleasure out of them tomorrow! He'll tickle
'Poor little kids,' said the gaoler.
'Oh, yes,' said the captain. 'I've got kids of my own too. But
it doesn't do to let domestic sentiment interfere with one's
public duties. Good night.'
The soldiers tramped heavily off in their white and red and steel
and gold. The gaoler, with a bunch of big keys in his hand,
stood looking pityingly at the children. He shook his head twice
and went out.
'Courage!' said Anthea. 'I know it will be all right. It's only
a dream REALLY, you know. It MUST be! I don't believe about
time being only a something or other of thought. It IS a dream,
and we're bound to wake up all right and safe.'
'Humph,' said Cyril bitterly. And Robert suddenly said--
'It's all my doing. If it really IS all up do please not keep a
down on me about it, and tell Father-- Oh, I forgot.'
What he had forgotten was that his father was 3,000 miles and
5,000 or more years away from him.
'All right, Bobs, old man,' said Cyril; and Anthea got hold of
Robert's hand and squeezed it.
Then the gaoler came back with a platter of hard, flat cakes made
of coarse grain, very different from the cream-and-juicy-date
feasts of the palace; also a pitcher of water.
'There,' he said.
'Oh, thank you so very much. You ARE kind,' said Anthea
'Go to sleep,' said the gaoler, pointing to a heap of straw in a
corner; 'tomorrow comes soon enough.'
'Oh, dear Mr Gaoler,' said Anthea, 'whatever will they do to us
'They'll try to make you tell things,' said the gaoler grimly,
'and my advice is if you've nothing to tell, make up something.
Then perhaps they'll sell you to the Northern nations. Regular
savages THEY are. Good night.'
'Good night,' said three trembling voices, which their owners
strove in vain to render firm. Then he went out, and the three
were left alone in the damp, dim vault.
'I know the light won't last long,' said Cyril, looking at the
'Is it any good, do you think, calling on the name when we
haven't got the charm?' suggested Anthea.
'I shouldn't think so. But we might try.'
So they tried. But the blank silence of the damp dungeon
'What was the name the Queen said?' asked Cyril suddenly.
'Nisbeth--Nesbit--something? You know, the slave of the great
'Wait a sec,' said Robert, 'though I don't know why you want it.
Then Anthea pulled herself together. All her muscles tightened,
and the muscles of her mind and soul, if you can call them that,
'UR HEKAU SETCHEH,' she cried in a fervent voice. 'Oh, Nisroch,
servant of the Great Ones, come and help us!'
There was a waiting silence. Then a cold, blue light awoke in
the corner where the straw was--and in the light they saw coming
towards them a strange and terrible figure. I won't try to
describe it, because the drawing shows it, exactly as it was, and
exactly as the old Babylonians carved it on their stones, so that
you can see it in our own British Museum at this day. I will
just say that it had eagle's wings and an eagle's head and the
body of a man.
It came towards them, strong and unspeakably horrible.
'Oh, go away,' cried Anthea; but Cyril cried, 'No; stay!'
The creature hesitated, then bowed low before them on the damp
floor of the dungeon.
'Speak,' it said, in a harsh, grating voice like large rusty keys
being turned in locks. 'The servant of the Great Ones is YOUR
servant. What is your need that you call on the name of
'We want to go home,' said Robert.
'No, no,' cried Anthea; 'we want to be where Jane is.'
Nisroch raised his great arm and pointed at the wall of the
dungeon. And, as he pointed, the wall disappeared, and instead
of the damp, green, rocky surface, there shone and glowed a room
with rich hangings of red silk embroidered with golden
water-lilies, with cushioned couches and great mirrors of
polished steel; and in it was the Queen, and before her, on a red
pillow, sat the Psammead, its fur hunched up in an irritated,
discontented way. On a blue-covered couch lay Jane fast asleep.
'Walk forward without fear,' said Nisroch. 'Is there aught else
that the Servant of the great Name can do for those who speak
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