The Story of the Amulet/Chapter 9
You will understand that the adventure of the Babylonian queen in London was the only one that had occupied any time at all. But the children's time was very fully taken up by talking over all the wonderful things seen and done in the Past, where, by the power of the Amulet, they seemed to spend hours and hours, only to find when they got back to London that the whole thing had been briefer than a lightning flash.
They talked of the Past at their meals, in their walks, in the dining-room, in the first-floor drawing-room, but most of all on the stairs. It was an old house; it had once been a fashionable one, and was a fine one still. The banister rails of the stairs were excellent for sliding down, and in the corners of the landings were big alcoves that had once held graceful statues, and now quite often held the graceful forms of Cyril, Robert, Anthea, and Jane.
One day Cyril and Robert in tight white underclothing had spent a pleasant hour in reproducing the attitudes of statues seen either in the British Museum, or in Father's big photograph book. But the show ended abruptly because Robert wanted to be the Venus of Milo, and for this purpose pulled at the sheet which served for drapery at the very moment when Cyril, looking really quite like the Discobolos—with a gold and white saucer for the disc—was standing on one foot, and under that one foot was the sheet.
Of course the Discobolos and his disc and the would-be Venus came down together, and everyone was a good deal hurt, especially the saucer, which would never be the same again, however neatly one might join its uneven bits with Seccotine or the white of an egg.
'I hope you're satisfied,' said Cyril, holding his head where a large lump was rising.
'Quite, thanks,' said Robert bitterly. His thumb had caught in the banisters and bent itself back almost to breaking point.
'I am so sorry, poor, dear Squirrel,' said Anthea; 'and you were looking so lovely. I'll get a wet rag. Bobs, go and hold your hand under the hot-water tap. It's what ballet girls do with their legs when they hurt them. I saw it in a book.'
'What book?' said Robert disagreeably. But he went.
When he came back Cyril's head had been bandaged by his sisters, and he had been brought to the state of mind where he was able reluctantly to admit that he supposed Robert hadn't done it on purpose.
Robert replying with equal suavity, Anthea hastened to lead the talk away from the accident.
'I suppose you don't feel like going anywhere through the Amulet,' she said.
'Egypt!' said Jane promptly. 'I want to see the pussy cats.'
'Not me—too hot,' said Cyril. 'It's about as much as I can stand here—let alone Egypt.' It was indeed, hot, even on the second landing, which was the coolest place in the house. 'Let's go to the North Pole.'
'I don't suppose the Amulet was ever there—and we might get our fingers frost-bitten so that we could never hold it up to get home again. No thanks,' said Robert.
'I say,' said Jane, 'let's get the Psammead and ask its advice. It will like us asking, even if we don't take it.'
The Psammead was brought up in its green silk embroidered bag, but before it could be asked anything the door of the learned gentleman's room opened and the voice of the visitor who had been lunching with him was heard on the stairs. He seemed to be speaking with the door handle in his hand.
'You see a doctor, old boy,' he said; 'all that about thought-transference is just simply twaddle. You've been over-working. Take a holiday. Go to Dieppe.'
'I'd rather go to Babylon,' said the learned gentleman.
'I wish you'd go to Atlantis some time, while we're about it, so as to give me some tips for my Nineteenth Century article when you come home.'
'I wish I could,' said the voice of the learned gentleman. 'Goodbye. Take care of yourself.'
The door was banged, and the visitor came smiling down the stairs—a stout, prosperous, big man. The children had to get up to let him pass.
'Hullo, Kiddies,' he said, glancing at the bandages on the head of Cyril and the hand of Robert, 'been in the wars?'
'It's all right,' said Cyril. 'I say, what was that Atlantic place you wanted him to go to? We couldn't help hearing you talk.'
'You talk so very loud, you see,' said Jane soothingly.
'Atlantis,' said the visitor, 'the lost Atlantis, garden of the Hesperides. Great continent—disappeared in the sea. You can read about it in Plato.'
'Thank you,' said Cyril doubtfully.
'Were there any Amulets there?' asked Anthea, made anxious by a sudden thought.
'Hundreds, I should think. So he's been talking to you?'
'Yes, often. He's very kind to us. We like him awfully.'
'Well, what he wants is a holiday; you persuade him to take one. What he wants is a change of scene. You see, his head is crusted so thickly inside with knowledge about Egypt and Assyria and things that you can't hammer anything into it unless you keep hard at it all day long for days and days. And I haven't time. But you live in the house. You can hammer almost incessantly. Just try your hands, will you? Right. So long!'
He went down the stairs three at a time, and Jane remarked that he was a nice man, and she thought he had little girls of his own.
'I should like to have them to play with,' she added pensively.
The three elder ones exchanged glances. Cyril nodded.
'All right. Let's go to Atlantis,' he said.
'Let's go to Atlantis and take the learned gentleman with us,' said Anthea; 'he'll think it's a dream, afterwards, but it'll certainly be a change of scene.'
'Why not take him to nice Egypt?' asked Jane.
'Too hot,' said Cyril shortly.
'Or Babylon, where he wants to go?'
'I've had enough of Babylon,' said Robert, 'at least for the present. And so have the others. I don't know why,' he added, forestalling the question on Jane's lips, 'but somehow we have. Squirrel, let's take off these beastly bandages and get into flannels. We can't go in our unders.'
'He wished to go to Atlantis, so he's got to go some time; and he might as well go with us,' said Anthea.
This was how it was that the learned gentleman, permitting himself a few moments of relaxation in his chair, after the fatigue of listening to opinions (about Atlantis and many other things) with which he did not at all agree, opened his eyes to find his four young friends standing in front of him in a row.
'Will you come,' said Anthea, 'to Atlantis with us?'
'To know that you are dreaming shows that the dream is nearly at an end,' he told himself; 'or perhaps it's only a game, like "How many miles to Babylon?".' So he said aloud: 'Thank you very much, but I have only a quarter of an hour to spare.'
'It doesn't take any time,' said Cyril; 'time is only a mode of thought, you know, and you've got to go some time, so why not with us?'
'Very well,' said the learned gentleman, now quite certain that he was dreaming.
Anthea held out her soft, pink hand. He took it. She pulled him gently to his feet. Jane held up the Amulet.
'To just outside Atlantis,' said Cyril, and Jane said the Name of Power.
'You owl!' said Robert, 'it's an island. Outside an island's all water.'
'I won't go. I won't,' said the Psammead, kicking and struggling in its bag.
But already the Amulet had grown to a great arch. Cyril pushed the learned gentleman, as undoubtedly the first-born, through the arch—not into water, but on to a wooden floor, out of doors. The others followed. The Amulet grew smaller again, and there they all were, standing on the deck of a ship whose sailors were busy making her fast with chains to rings on a white quay-side. The rings and the chains were of a metal that shone red-yellow like gold.
Everyone on the ship seemed too busy at first to notice the group of newcomers from Fitzroy Street. Those who seemed to be officers were shouting orders to the men.
They stood and looked across the wide quay to the town that rose beyond it. What they saw was the most beautiful sight any of them had ever seen—or ever dreamed of.
The blue sea sparkled in soft sunlight; little white-capped waves broke softly against the marble breakwaters that guarded the shipping of a great city from the wilderness of winter winds and seas. The quay was of marble, white and sparkling with a veining bright as gold. The city was of marble, red and white. The greater buildings that seemed to be temples and palaces were roofed with what looked like gold and silver, but most of the roofs were of copper that glowed golden-red on the houses on the hills among which the city stood, and shaded into marvellous tints of green and blue and purple where they had been touched by the salt sea spray and the fumes of the dyeing and smelting works of the lower town.
Broad and magnificent flights of marble stairs led up from the quay to a sort of terrace that seemed to run along for miles, and beyond rose the town built on a hill.
The learned gentleman drew a long breath. 'Wonderful!' he said, 'wonderful!'
'I say, Mr—what's your name,' said Robert.
'He means,' said Anthea, with gentle politeness, 'that we never can remember your name. I know it's Mr De Something.'
'When I was your age I was called Jimmy,' he said timidly. 'Would you mind? I should feel more at home in a dream like this if I—— Anything that made me seem more like one of you.'
'Thank you—Jimmy,' said Anthea with an effort. It seemed such a cheek to be saying Jimmy to a grown-up man. 'Jimmy, dear,' she added, with no effort at all. Jimmy smiled and looked pleased.
But now the ship was made fast, and the Captain had time to notice other things. He came towards them, and he was dressed in the best of all possible dresses for the seafaring life.
'What are you doing here?' he asked rather fiercely. 'Do you come to bless or to curse?'
'To bless, of course,' said Cyril. 'I'm sorry if it annoys you, but we're here by magic. We come from the land of the sun-rising,' he went on explanatorily.
'I see,' said the Captain; no one had expected that he would. 'I didn't notice at first, but of course I hope you're a good omen. It's needed. And this,' he pointed to the learned gentleman, 'your slave, I presume?'
'Not at all,' said Anthea; 'he's a very great man. A sage, don't they call it? And we want to see all your beautiful city, and your temples and things, and then we shall go back, and he will tell his friend, and his friend will write a book about it.'
'What,' asked the Captain, fingering a rope, 'is a book?'
'A record—something written, or,' she added hastily, remembering the Babylonian writing, 'or engraved.'
Some sudden impulse of confidence made Jane pluck the Amulet from the neck of her frock.
'Like this,' she said.
The Captain looked at it curiously, but, the other three were relieved to notice, without any of that overwhelming interest which the mere name of it had roused in Egypt and Babylon.
'The stone is of our country,' he said; 'and that which is engraved on it, it is like our writing, but I cannot read it. What is the name of your sage?'
'Ji-Jimmy,' said Anthea hesitatingly.
The Captain repeated, 'Ji-jimmy. Will you land?' he added. 'And shall I lead you to the Kings?'
'Look here,' said Robert, 'does your King hate strangers?'
'Our Kings are ten,' said the Captain, 'and the Royal line, unbroken from Poseidon, the father of us all, has the noble tradition to do honour to strangers if they come in peace.'
'Then lead on, please,' said Robert, 'though I should like to see all over your beautiful ship, and sail about in her.'
'That shall be later,' said the Captain; 'just now we're afraid of a storm—do you notice that odd rumbling?'
'That's nothing, master,' said an old sailor who stood near; 'it's the pilchards coming in, that's all.'
'Too loud,' said the Captain.
There was a rather anxious pause; then the Captain stepped on to the quay, and the others followed him.
'Do talk to him—Jimmy,' said Anthea as they went; 'you can find out all sorts of things for your friend's book.'
'Please excuse me,' he said earnestly. 'If I talk I shall wake up; and besides, I can't understand what he says.'
No one else could think of anything to say, so that it was in complete silence that they followed the Captain up the marble steps and through the streets of the town. There were streets and shops and houses and markets.
'It's just like Babylon,' whispered Jane, 'only everything's perfectly different.'
'It's a great comfort the ten Kings have been properly brought up—to be kind to strangers,' Anthea whispered to Cyril.
'Yes,' he said, 'no deepest dungeons here.'
There were no horses or chariots in the street, but there were handcarts and low trolleys running on thick log-wheels, and porters carrying packets on their heads, and a good many of the people were riding on what looked like elephants, only the great beasts were hairy, and they had not that mild expression we are accustomed to meet on the faces of the elephants at the Zoo.
'Mammoths!' murmured the learned gentleman, and stumbled over a loose stone.
The people in the streets kept crowding round them as they went along, but the Captain always dispersed the crowd before it grew uncomfortably thick by saying—
'Children of the Sun God and their High Priest—come to bless the City.'
And then the people would draw back with a low murmur that sounded like a suppressed cheer.
Many of the buildings were covered with gold, but the gold on the bigger buildings was of a different colour, and they had sorts of steeples of burnished silver rising above them.
'Are all these houses real gold?' asked Jane.
'The temples are covered with gold, of course,' answered the Captain, 'but the houses are only oricalchum. It's not quite so expensive.'
The learned gentleman, now very pale, stumbled along in a dazed way, repeating:
'Don't be frightened,' said Anthea; 'we can get home in a minute, just by holding up the charm. Would you rather go back now? We could easily come some other day without you.'
'Oh, no, no,' he pleaded fervently; 'let the dream go on. Please, please do.'
'The High Ji-jimmy is perhaps weary with his magic journey,' said the Captain, noticing the blundering walk of the learned gentleman; 'and we are yet very far from the Great Temple, where today the Kings make sacrifice.'
He stopped at the gate of a great enclosure. It seemed to be a sort of park, for trees showed high above its brazen wall.
The party waited, and almost at once the Captain came back with one of the hairy elephants and begged them to mount.
This they did.
IT WAS A GLORIOUS RIDE.
It was a glorious ride. The elephant at the Zoo—to ride on him is also glorious, but he goes such a very little way, and then he goes back again, which is always dull. But this great hairy beast went on and on and on along streets and through squares and gardens. It was a glorious city; almost everything was built of marble, red, or white, or black. Every now and then the party crossed a bridge.
It was not till they had climbed to the hill which is the centre of the town that they saw that the whole city was divided into twenty circles, alternately land and water, and over each of the water circles were the bridges by which they had come.
And now they were in a great square. A vast building filled up one side of it; it was overlaid with gold, and had a dome of silver. The rest of the buildings round the square were of oricalchum. And it looked more splendid than you can possibly imagine, standing up bold and shining in the sunlight.
'You would like a bath,' said the Captain, as the hairy elephant went clumsily down on his knees. 'It's customary, you know, before entering the Presence. We have baths for men, women, horses, and cattle. The High Class Baths are here. Our Father Poseidon gave us a spring of hot water and one of cold.'
The children had never before bathed in baths of gold.
'It feels very splendid,' said Cyril, splashing.
'At least, of course, it's not gold; it's or—what's its name,' said Robert. 'Hand over that towel.'
The bathing hall had several great pools sunk below the level of the floor; one went down to them by steps.
'Jimmy,' said Anthea timidly, when, very clean and boiled-looking, they all met in the flowery courtyard of the Public, 'don't you think all this seems much more like now than Babylon or Egypt——? Oh, I forgot, you've never been there.'
'I know a little of those nations, however,' said he, 'and I quite agree with you. A most discerning remark—my dear,' he added awkwardly; 'this city certainly seems to indicate a far higher level of civilization than the Egyptian or Babylonish, and——'
'Follow me,' said the Captain. 'Now, boys, get out of the way.' He pushed through a little crowd of boys who were playing with dried chestnuts fastened to a string.
'Ginger!' remarked Robert, 'they're playing conkers, just like the kids in Kentish Town Road!'
They could see now that three walls surrounded the island on which they were. The outermost wall was of brass, the Captain told them; the next, which looked like silver, was covered with tin; and the innermost one was of oricalchum.
And right in the middle was a wall of gold, with golden towers and gates.
'Behold the Temples of Poseidon,' said the Captain. 'It is not lawful for me to enter. I will await your return here.'
He told them what they ought to say, and the five people from Fitzroy Street took hands and went forward. The golden gates slowly opened.
'We are the children of the Sun,' said Cyril, as he had been told, 'and our High Priest, at least that's what the Captain calls him. We have a different name for him at home.' 'What is his name?' asked a white-robed man who stood in the doorway with his arms extended.
'Ji-jimmy,' replied Cyril, and he hesitated as Anthea had done. It really did seem to be taking a great liberty with so learned a gentleman. 'And we have come to speak with your Kings in the Temple of Poseidon—does that word sound right?' he whispered anxiously.
'Quite,' said the learned gentleman. 'It's very odd I can understand what you say to them, but not what they say to you.'
'The Queen of Babylon found that too,' said Cyril; 'it's part of the magic.'
'Oh, what a dream!' said the learned gentleman.
The white-robed priest had been joined by others, and all were bowing low.
'Enter,' he said, 'enter, Children of the Sun, with your High Ji-jimmy.'
In an inner courtyard stood the Temple—all of silver, with gold pinnacles and doors, and twenty enormous statues in bright gold of men and women. Also an immense pillar of the other precious yellow metal.
They went through the doors, and the priest led them up a stair into a gallery from which they could look down on to the glorious place.
'The ten Kings are even now choosing the bull. It is not lawful for me to behold,' said the priest, and fell face downward on the floor outside the gallery. The children looked down.
The roof was of ivory adorned with the three precious metals, and the walls were lined with the favourite oricalchum.
At the far end of the Temple was a statue group, the like of which no one living has ever seen.
It was of gold, and the head of the chief figure reached to the roof. That figure was Poseidon, the Father of the City. He stood in a great chariot drawn by six enormous horses, and round about it were a hundred mermaids riding on dolphins.
Ten men, splendidly dressed and armed only with sticks and ropes, were trying to capture one of some fifteen bulls who ran this way and that about the floor of the Temple. The children held their breath, for the bulls looked dangerous, and the great horned heads were swinging more and more wildly.
Anthea did not like looking at the bulls. She looked about the gallery, and noticed that another staircase led up from it to a still higher storey; also that a door led out into the open air, where there seemed to be a balcony.
So that when a shout went up and Robert whispered, 'Got him,' and she looked down and saw the herd of bulls being driven out of the Temple by whips, and the ten Kings following, one of them spurring with his stick a black bull that writhed and fought in the grip of a lasso, she answered the boy's agitated, 'Now we shan't see anything more,' with—
'Yes we can, there's an outside balcony.'
So they crowded out.
But very soon the girls crept back.
'I don't like sacrifices,' Jane said. So she and Anthea went and talked to the priest, who was no longer lying on his face, but sitting on the top step mopping his forehead with his robe, for it was a hot day.
'It's a special sacrifice,' he said; 'usually it's only done on the justice days every five years and six years alternately. And then they drink the cup of wine with some of the bull's blood in it, and swear to judge truly. And they wear the sacred blue robe, and put out all the Temple fires. But this today is because the City's so upset by the odd noises from the sea, and the god inside the big mountain speaking with his thunder-voice. But all that's happened so often before. If anything could make me uneasy it wouldn't be that.'
'What would it be?' asked Jane kindly.
'It would be the Lemmings.'
'Who are they—enemies?'
'They're a sort of rat; and every year they come swimming over from the country that no man knows, and stay here awhile, and then swim away. This year they haven't come. You know rats won't stay on a ship that's going to be wrecked. If anything horrible were going to happen to us, it's my belief those Lemmings would know; and that may be why they've fought shy of us.'
'What do you call this country?' asked the Psammead, suddenly putting its head out of its bag.
'Atlantis,' said the priest.
'Then I advise you to get on to the highest ground you can find. I remember hearing something about a flood here. Look here, you'—it turned to Anthea; 'let's get home. The prospect's too wet for my whiskers.'
The girls obediently went to find their brothers, who were leaning on the balcony railings.
'Where's the learned gentleman?' asked Anthea.
'There he is—below,' said the priest, who had come with them. 'Your High Ji-jimmy is with the Kings.'
The ten Kings were no longer alone. The learned gentleman—no one had noticed how he got there—stood with them on the steps of an altar, on which lay the dead body of the black bull. All the rest of the courtyard was thick with people, seemingly of all classes, and all were shouting, 'The sea—the sea!'
'Be calm,' said the most kingly of the Kings, he who had lassoed the bull. 'Our town is strong against the thunders of the sea and of the sky!'
'I want to go home,' whined the Psammead.
'We can't go without him,' said Anthea firmly.
'Jimmy,' she called, 'Jimmy!' and waved to him. He heard her, and began to come towards her through the crowd.
They could see from the balcony the sea-captain edging his way out from among the people. And his face was dead white, like paper.
'To the hills!' he cried in a loud and terrible voice. And above his voice came another voice, louder, more terrible—the voice of the sea.
The girls looked seaward.
Across the smooth distance of the sea something huge and black rolled towards the town. It was a wave, but a wave a hundred feet in height, a wave that looked like a mountain—a wave rising higher and higher till suddenly it seemed to break in two—one half of it rushed out to sea again; the other——
'Oh!' cried Anthea, 'the town—the poor people!'
'It's all thousands of years ago, really,' said Robert but his voice trembled. They hid their eyes for a moment. They could not bear to look down, for the wave had broken on the face of the town, sweeping over the quays and docks, overwhelming the great storehouses and factories, tearing gigantic stones from forts and bridges, and using them as battering rams against the temples. Great ships were swept over the roofs of the houses and dashed down halfway up the hill among ruined gardens and broken buildings. The water ground brown fishing-boats to powder on the golden roofs of Palaces.
Then the wave swept back towards the sea.
'I want to go home,' cried the Psammead fiercely.
'Oh, yes, yes!' said Jane, and the boys were ready—but the learned gentleman had not come.
Then suddenly they heard him dash up to the inner gallery, crying—
'I must see the end of the dream.' He rushed up the higher flight.
The others followed him. They found themselves in a sort of turret—roofed, but open to the air at the sides.
The learned gentleman was leaning on the parapet, and as they rejoined him the vast wave rushed back on the town. This time it rose higher—destroyed more.
THEY ALL HID THEIR EYES FOR A MOMENT.
'Come home,' cried the Psammead; 'that's the last, I know it is! That's the last—over there.' It pointed with a claw that trembled.
'Oh, come!' cried Jane, holding up the Amulet.
'I will see the end of the dream,' cried the learned gentleman.
'You'll never see anything else if you do,' said Cyril.
'Oh, Jimmy!' appealed Anthea. 'I'll never bring you out again!'
'You'll never have the chance if you don't go soon,' said the Psammead.
'I will see the end of the dream,' said the learned gentleman obstinately.
The hills around were black with people fleeing from the villages to the mountains. And even as they fled thin smoke broke from the great white peak, and then a faint flash of flame. Then the volcano began to throw up its mysterious fiery inside parts. The earth trembled; ashes and sulphur showered down; a rain of fine pumice-stone fell like snow on all the dry land. The elephants from the forest rushed up towards the peaks; great lizards thirty yards long broke from the mountain pools and rushed down towards the sea. The snows melted and rushed down, first in avalanches, then in roaring torrents. Great rocks cast up by the volcano fell splashing in the sea miles away.
'Oh, this is horrible!' cried Anthea. 'Come home, come home!'
'The end of the dream,' gasped the learned gentleman.
'Hold up the Amulet,' cried the Psammead suddenly. The place where they stood was now crowded with men and women, and the children were strained tight against the parapet. The turret rocked and swayed; the wave had reached the golden wall.
Jane held up the Amulet.
'Now,' cried the Psammead, 'say the word!'
And as Jane said it the Psammead leaped from its bag and bit the hand of the learned gentleman.
At the same moment the boys pushed him through the arch and all followed him.
He turned to look back, and through the arch he saw nothing but a waste of waters, with above it the peak of the terrible mountain with fire raging from it.
He staggered back to his chair.
'What a ghastly dream!' he gasped. 'Oh, you're here, my—er—dears. Can I do anything for you?'
'You've hurt your hand,' said Anthea gently; 'let me bind it up.'
The hand was indeed bleeding rather badly.
The Psammead had crept back to its bag. All the children were very white.
'Never again,' said the Psammead later on, 'will I go into the Past with a grown-up person! I will say for you four, you do do as you're told.'
'We didn't even find the Amulet,' said Anthea later still.
'Of course you didn't; it wasn't there. Only the stone it was made of was there. It fell on to a ship miles away that managed to escape and got to Egypt. I could have told you that.'
'I wish you had,' said Anthea, and her voice was still rather shaky. 'Why didn't you?'
'You never asked me,' said the Psammead very sulkily. 'I'm not the sort of chap to go shoving my oar in where it's not wanted.'
'Mr Ji-jimmy's friend will have something worth having to put in his article now,' said Cyril very much later indeed.
'Not he,' said Robert sleepily. 'The learned Ji-jimmy will think it's a dream, and it's ten to one he never tells the other chap a word about it at all.'
Robert was quite right on both points. The learned gentleman did. And he never did.