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The Phoenix and the Carpet

by E. Nesbit



Mother was really a great dear. She was pretty and she was loving, and most frightfully good when you were ill, and always kind, and almost always just. That is, she was just when she understood things. But of course she did not always understand things. No one understands everything, and mothers are not angels, though a good many of them come pretty near it. The children knew that mother always WANTED to do what was best for them, even if she was not clever enough to know exactly what was the best. That was why all of them, but much more particularly Anthea, felt rather uncomfortable at keeping the great secret from her of the wishing carpet and the Phoenix. And Anthea, whose inside mind was made so that she was able to be much more uncomfortable than the others, had decided that she MUST tell her mother the truth, however little likely it was that her mother would believe it.

'Then I shall have done what's right,' said she to the Phoenix; 'and if she doesn't believe me it won't be my fault - will it?'

'Not in the least,' said the golden bird. 'And she won't, so you're quite safe.'

Anthea chose a time when she was doing her home-lessons - they were Algebra and Latin, German, English, and Euclid - and she asked her mother whether she might come and do them in the drawing-room - 'so as to be quiet,' she said to her mother; and to herself she said, 'And that's not the real reason. I hope I shan't grow up a LIAR.'

Mother said, 'Of course, dearie,' and Anthea started swimming through a sea of x's and y's and z's. Mother was sitting at the mahogany bureau writing letters.

'Mother dear,' said Anthea.

'Yes, love-a-duck,' said mother.

'About cook,' said Anthea. '_I_ know where she is.'

'Do you, dear?' said mother. 'Well, I wouldn't take her back after the way she has behaved.'

'It's not her fault,' said Anthea. 'May I tell you about it from the beginning?'

Mother laid down her pen, and her nice face had a resigned expression. As you know, a resigned expression always makes you want not to tell anybody anything.

'It's like this,' said Anthea, in a hurry: 'that egg, you know, that came in the carpet; we put it in the fire and it hatched into the Phoenix, and the carpet was a wishing carpet - and - '

'A very nice game, darling,' said mother, taking up her pen. 'Now do be quiet. I've got a lot of letters to write. I'm going to Bournemouth to-morrow with the Lamb - and there's that bazaar.'

Anthea went back to x y z, and mother's pen scratched busily.

'But, mother,' said Anthea, when mother put down the pen to lick an envelope, 'the carpet takes us wherever we like - and - '

'I wish it would take you where you could get a few nice Eastern things for my bazaar,' said mother. 'I promised them, and I've no time to go to Liberty's now.'

'It shall,' said Anthea, 'but, mother - '

'Well, dear,' said mother, a little impatiently, for she had taken up her pen again.

'The carpet took us to a place where you couldn't have whooping-cough, and the Lamb hasn't whooped since, and we took cook because she was so tiresome, and then she would stay and be queen of the savages. They thought her cap was a crown, and - '

'Darling one,' said mother, 'you know I love to hear the things you make up - but I am most awfully busy.'

'But it's true,' said Anthea, desperately.

'You shouldn't say that, my sweet,' said mother, gently. And then Anthea knew it was hopeless.

'Are you going away for long?' asked Anthea.

'I've got a cold,' said mother, 'and daddy's anxious about it, and the Lamb's cough.'

'He hasn't coughed since Saturday,' the Lamb's eldest sister interrupted.

'I wish I could think so,' mother replied. 'And daddy's got to go to Scotland. I do hope you'll be good children.'

'We will, we will,' said Anthea, fervently. 'When's the bazaar?'

'On Saturday,' said mother, 'at the schools. Oh, don't talk any more, there's a treasure! My head's going round, and I've forgotten how to spell whooping-cough.'

Mother and the Lamb went away, and father went away, and there was a new cook who looked so like a frightened rabbit that no one had the heart to do anything to frighten her any more than seemed natural to her.

The Phoenix begged to be excused. It said it wanted a week's rest, and asked that it might not be disturbed. And it hid its golden gleaming self, and nobody could find it.

So that when Wednesday afternoon brought an unexpected holiday, and every one decided to go somewhere on the carpet, the journey had to be undertaken without the Phoenix. They were debarred from any carpet excursions in the evening by a sudden promise to mother, exacted in the agitation of parting, that they would not be out after six at night, except on Saturday, when they were to go to the bazaar, and were pledged to put on their best clothes, to wash themselves to the uttermost, and to clean their nails - not with scissors, which are scratchy and bad, but with flat-sharpened ends of wooden matches, which do no harm to any one's nails.

'Let's go and see the Lamb,' said Jane.

But every one was agreed that if they appeared suddenly in Bournemouth it would frighten mother out of her wits, if not into a fit. So they sat on the carpet, and thought and thought and thought till they almost began to squint.

'Look here,' said Cyril, 'I know. Please carpet, take us somewhere where we can see the Lamb and mother and no one can see us.'

'Except the Lamb,' said Jane, quickly.

And the next moment they found themselves recovering from the upside-down movement - and there they were sitting on the carpet, and the carpet was laid out over another thick soft carpet of brown pine-needles. There were green pine-trees overhead, and a swift clear little stream was running as fast as ever it could between steep banks - and there, sitting on the pine-needle carpet, was mother, without her hat; and the sun was shining brightly, although it was November - and there was the Lamb, as jolly as jolly and not whooping at all.

'The carpet's deceived us,' said Robert, gloomily; 'mother will see us directly she turns her head.'

But the faithful carpet had not deceived them.

Mother turned her dear head and looked straight at them, and DID NOT SEE THEM!

'We're invisible,' Cyril whispered: 'what awful larks!'

But to the girls it was not larks at all. It was horrible to have mother looking straight at them, and her face keeping the same, just as though they weren't there.

'I don't like it,' said Jane. 'Mother never looked at us like that before. Just as if she didn't love us - as if we were somebody else's children, and not very nice ones either - as if she didn't care whether she saw us or not.'

'It is horrid,' said Anthea, almost in tears.

But at this moment the Lamb saw them, and plunged towards the carpet, shrieking, 'Panty, own Panty - an' Pussy, an' Squiggle - an' Bobs, oh, oh!'

Anthea caught him and kissed him, so did Jane; they could not help it - he looked such a darling, with his blue three-cornered hat all on one side, and his precious face all dirty - quite in the old familiar way.

'I love you, Panty; I love you - and you, and you, and you,' cried the Lamb.

It was a delicious moment. Even the boys thumped their baby brother joyously on the back.

Then Anthea glanced at mother - and mother's face was a pale sea-green colour, and she was staring at the Lamb as if she thought he had gone mad. And, indeed, that was exactly what she did think.

'My Lamb, my precious! Come to mother,' she cried, and jumped up and ran to the baby.

She was so quick that the invisible children had to leap back, or she would have felt them; and to feel what you can't see is the worst sort of ghost-feeling. Mother picked up the Lamb and hurried away from the pinewood.

'Let's go home,' said Jane, after a miserable silence. 'It feels just exactly as if mother didn't love us.'

But they couldn't bear to go home till they had seen mother meet another lady, and knew that she was safe. You cannot leave your mother to go green in the face in a distant pinewood, far from all human aid, and then go home on your wishing carpet as though nothing had happened.

When mother seemed safe the children returned to the carpet, and said 'Home' - and home they went.

'I don't care about being invisible myself,' said Cyril, 'at least, not with my own family. It would be different if you were a prince, or a bandit, or a burglar.'

And now the thoughts of all four dwelt fondly on the dear greenish face of mother.

'I wish she hadn't gone away,' said Jane; 'the house is simply beastly without her.'

'I think we ought to do what she said,' Anthea put in. 'I saw something in a book the other day about the wishes of the departed being sacred.'

'That means when they've departed farther off,' said Cyril. 'India's coral or Greenland's icy, don't you know; not Bournemouth. Besides, we don't know what her wishes are.'

'She SAID' - Anthea was very much inclined to cry - 'she said, "Get Indian things for my bazaar;" but I know she thought we couldn't, and it was only play.'

'Let's get them all the same,' said Robert. 'We'll go the first thing on Saturday morning.'

And on Saturday morning, the first thing, they went.

There was no finding the Phoenix, so they sat on the beautiful wishing carpet, and said -

'We want Indian things for mother's bazaar. Will you please take us where people will give us heaps of Indian things?'

The docile carpet swirled their senses away, and restored them on the outskirts of a gleaming white Indian town. They knew it was Indian at once, by the shape of the domes and roofs; and besides, a man went by on an elephant, and two English soldiers went along the road, talking like in Mr Kipling's books - so after that no one could have any doubt as to where they were. They rolled up the carpet and Robert carried it, and they walked bodily into the town.

It was very warm, and once more they had to take off their London-in-November coats, and carry them on their arms.

The streets were narrow and strange, and the clothes of the people in the streets were stranger and the talk of the people was strangest of all.

'I can't understand a word,' said Cyril. 'How on earth are we to ask for things for our bazaar?'

'And they're poor people, too,' said Jane; 'I'm sure they are. What we want is a rajah or something.'

Robert was beginning to unroll the carpet, but the others stopped him, imploring him not to waste a wish.

'We asked the carpet to take us where we could get Indian things for bazaars,' said Anthea, 'and it will.'

Her faith was justified.

Just as she finished speaking a very brown gentleman in a turban came up to them and bowed deeply. He spoke, and they thrilled to the sound of English words.

'My ranee, she think you very nice childs. She asks do you lose yourselves, and do you desire to sell carpet? She see you from her palkee. You come see her - yes?'

They followed the stranger, who seemed to have a great many more teeth in his smile than are usual, and he led them through crooked streets to the ranee's palace. I am not going to describe the ranee's palace, because I really have never seen the palace of a ranee, and Mr Kipling has. So you can read about it in his books. But I know exactly what happened there.

The old ranee sat on a low-cushioned seat, and there were a lot of other ladies with her - all in trousers and veils, and sparkling with tinsel and gold and jewels. And the brown, turbaned gentleman stood behind a sort of carved screen, and interpreted what the children said and what the queen said. And when the queen asked to buy the carpet, the children said 'No.'

'Why?' asked the ranee.

And Jane briefly said why, and the interpreter interpreted. The queen spoke, and then the interpreter said -

'My mistress says it is a good story, and you tell it all through without thought of time.'

And they had to. It made a long story, especially as it had all to be told twice - once by Cyril and once by the interpreter. Cyril rather enjoyed himself. He warmed to his work, and told the tale of the Phoenix and the Carpet, and the Lone Tower, and the Queen-Cook, in language that grew insensibly more and more Arabian Nightsy, and the ranee and her ladies listened to the interpreter, and rolled about on their fat cushions with laughter.

When the story was ended she spoke, and the interpreter explained that she had said, 'Little one, thou art a heaven-born teller of tales,' and she threw him a string of turquoises from round her neck.

'OH, how lovely!' cried Jane and Anthea.

Cyril bowed several times, and then cleared his throat and said -

'Thank her very, very much; but I would much rather she gave me some of the cheap things in the bazaar. Tell her I want them to sell again, and give the money to buy clothes for poor people who haven't any.'

'Tell him he has my leave to sell my gift and clothe the naked with its price,' said the queen, when this was translated.

But Cyril said very firmly, 'No, thank you. The things have got to be sold to-day at our bazaar, and no one would buy a turquoise necklace at an English bazaar. They'd think it was sham, or else they'd want to know where we got it.'

So then the queen sent out for little pretty things, and her servants piled the carpet with them.

'I must needs lend you an elephant to carry them away,' she said, laughing.

But Anthea said, 'If the queen will lend us a comb and let us wash our hands and faces, she shall see a magic thing. We and the carpet and all these brass trays and pots and carved things and stuffs and things will just vanish away like smoke.'

The queen clapped her hands at this idea, and lent the children a sandal-wood comb inlaid with ivory lotus-flowers. And they washed their faces and hands in silver basins. Then Cyril made a very polite farewell speech, and quite suddenly he ended with the words -

'And I wish we were at the bazaar at our schools.'

And of course they were. And the queen and her ladies were left with their mouths open, gazing at the bare space on the inlaid marble floor where the carpet and the children had been.

'That is magic, if ever magic was!' said the queen, delighted with the incident; which, indeed, has given the ladies of that court something to talk about on wet days ever since.

Cyril's stories had taken some time, so had the meal of strange sweet foods that they had had while the little pretty things were being bought, and the gas in the schoolroom was already lighted. Outside, the winter dusk was stealing down among the Camden Town houses.

'I'm glad we got washed in India,' said Cyril. 'We should have been awfully late if we'd had to go home and scrub.'

'Besides,' Robert said, 'it's much warmer washing in India. I shouldn't mind it so much if we lived there.'

The thoughtful carpet had dumped the children down in a dusky space behind the point where the corners of two stalls met. The floor was littered with string and brown paper, and baskets and boxes were heaped along the wall.

The children crept out under a stall covered with all sorts of table-covers and mats and things, embroidered beautifully by idle ladies with no real work to do. They got out at the end, displacing a sideboard-cloth adorned with a tasteful pattern of blue geraniums. The girls got out unobserved, so did Cyril; but Robert, as he cautiously emerged, was actually walked on by Mrs Biddle, who kept the stall. Her large, solid foot stood firmly on the small, solid hand of Robert and who can blame Robert if he DID yell a little?

A crowd instantly collected. Yells are very unusual at bazaars, and every one was intensely interested. It was several seconds before the three free children could make Mrs Biddle understand that what she was walking on was not a schoolroom floor, or even, as she presently supposed, a dropped pin-cushion, but the living hand of a suffering child. When she became aware that she really had hurt him, she grew very angry indeed. When people have hurt other people by accident, the one who does the hurting is always much the angriest. I wonder why.

'I'm very sorry, I'm sure,' said Mrs Biddle; but she spoke more in anger than in sorrow. 'Come out! whatever do you mean by creeping about under the stalls, like earwigs?'

'We were looking at the things in the corner.'

'Such nasty, prying ways,' said Mrs Biddle, 'will never make you successful in life. There's nothing there but packing and dust.'

'Oh, isn't there!' said Jane. 'That's all you know.'

'Little girl, don't be rude,' said Mrs Biddle, flushing violet.

'She doesn't mean to be; but there ARE some nice things there, all the same,' said Cyril; who suddenly felt how impossible it was to inform the listening crowd that all the treasures piled on the carpet were mother's contributions to the bazaar. No one would believe it; and if they did, and wrote to thank mother, she would think - well, goodness only knew what she would think. The other three children felt the same.

'I should like to see them,' said a very nice lady, whose friends had disappointed her, and who hoped that these might be belated contributions to her poorly furnished stall.

She looked inquiringly at Robert, who said, 'With pleasure, don't mention it,' and dived back under Mrs Biddle's stall.

'I wonder you encourage such behaviour,' said Mrs Biddle. 'I always speak my mind, as you know, Miss Peasmarsh; and, I must say, I am surprised.' She turned to the crowd. 'There is no entertainment here,' she said sternly. 'A very naughty little boy has accidentally hurt himself, but only slightly. Will you please disperse? It will only encourage him in naughtiness if he finds himself the centre of attraction.'

The crowd slowly dispersed. Anthea, speechless with fury, heard a nice curate say, 'Poor little beggar!' and loved the curate at once and for ever.

Then Robert wriggled out from under the stall with some Benares brass and some inlaid sandalwood boxes.

'Liberty!' cried Miss Peasmarsh. 'Then Charles has not forgotten, after all.'

'Excuse me,' said Mrs Biddle, with fierce politeness, 'these objects are deposited behind MY stall. Some unknown donor who does good by stealth, and would blush if he could hear you claim the things. Of course they are for me.'

'My stall touches yours at the corner,' said poor Miss Peasmarsh, timidly, 'and my cousin did promise - '

The children sidled away from the unequal contest and mingled with the crowd. Their feelings were too deep for words - till at last Robert said -

'That stiff-starched PIG!'

'And after all our trouble! I'm hoarse with gassing to that trousered lady in India.'

'The pig-lady's very, very nasty,' said Jane.

It was Anthea who said, in a hurried undertone, 'She isn't very nice, and Miss Peasmarsh is pretty and nice too. Who's got a pencil?'

it was a long crawl, under three stalls, but Anthea did it. A large piece of pale blue paper lay among the rubbish in the corner.

She folded it to a square and wrote upon it, licking the pencil at every word to make it mark quite blackly: 'All these Indian things are for pretty, nice Miss Peasmarsh's stall.' She thought of adding, 'There is nothing for Mrs Biddle;' but she saw that this might lead to suspicion, so she wrote hastily: 'From an unknown donna,' and crept back among the boards and trestles to join the others.

So that when Mrs Biddle appealed to the bazaar committee, and the corner of the stall was lifted and shifted, so that stout clergymen and heavy ladies could get to the corner without creeping under stalls, the blue paper was discovered, and all the splendid, shining Indian things were given over to Miss Peasmarsh, and she sold them all, and got thirty-five pounds for them.

'I don't understand about that blue paper,' said Mrs Biddle. 'It looks to me like the work of a lunatic. And saying you were nice and pretty! It's not the work of a sane person.'

Anthea and Jane begged Miss Peasmarsh to let them help her to sell the things, because it was their brother who had announced the good news that the things had come. Miss Peasmarsh was very willing, for now her stall, that had been SO neglected, was surrounded by people who wanted to buy, and she was glad to be helped. The children noted that Mrs Biddle had not more to do in the way of selling than she could manage quite well. I hope they were not glad - for you should forgive your enemies, even if they walk on your hands and then say it is all your naughty fault. But I am afraid they were not so sorry as they ought to have been.

It took some time to arrange the things on the stall. The carpet was spread over it, and the dark colours showed up the brass and silver and ivory things. It was a happy and busy afternoon, and when Miss Peasmarsh and the girls had sold every single one of the little pretty things from the Indian bazaar, far, far away, Anthea and Jane went off with the boys to fish in the fishpond, and dive into the bran-pie, and hear the cardboard band, and the phonograph, and the chorus of singing birds that was done behind a screen with glass tubes and glasses of water.

They had a beautiful tea, suddenly presented to them by the nice curate, and Miss Peasmarsh joined them before they had had more than three cakes each. It was a merry party, and the curate was extremely pleasant to every one, 'even to Miss Peasmarsh,' as Jane said afterwards.

'We ought to get back to the stall,' said Anthea, when no one could possibly eat any more, and the curate was talking in a low voice to Miss Peas marsh about 'after Easter'.

'There's nothing to go back for,' said Miss Peasmarsh gaily; 'thanks to you dear children we've sold everything.'

'There - there's the carpet,' said Cyril.

'Oh,' said Miss Peasmarsh, radiantly, 'don't bother about the carpet. I've sold even that. Mrs Biddle gave me ten shillings for it. She said it would do for her servant's bedroom.'

'Why,' said Jane, 'her servants don't HAVE carpets. We had cook from her, and she told us so.'

'No scandal about Queen Elizabeth, if YOU please,' said the curate, cheerfully; and Miss Peasmarsh laughed, and looked at him as though she had never dreamed that any one COULD be so amusing. But the others were struck dumb. How could they say, 'The carpet is ours!' For who brings carpets to bazaars?

The children were now thoroughly wretched. But I am glad to say that their wretchedness did not make them forget their manners, as it does sometimes, even with grown-up people, who ought to know ever so much better.

They said, 'Thank you very much for the jolly tea,' and 'Thanks for being so jolly,' and 'Thanks awfully for giving us such a jolly time;' for the curate had stood fish-ponds, and bran-pies, and phonographs, and the chorus of singing birds, and had stood them like a man. The girls hugged Miss Peasmarsh, and as they went away they heard the curate say -

'Jolly little kids, yes, but what about - you will let it be directly after Easter. Ah, do say you will - '

And Jane ran back and said, before Anthea could drag her away, 'What are you going to do after Easter?'

Miss Peasmarsh smiled and looked very pretty indeed. And the curate said -

'I hope I am going to take a trip to the Fortunate Islands.'

'I wish we could take you on the wishing carpet,' said Jane.

'Thank you,' said the curate, 'but I'm afraid I can't wait for that. I must go to the Fortunate Islands before they make me a bishop. I should have no time afterwards.'

'I've always thought I should marry a bishop,' said Jane: 'his aprons would come in so useful. Wouldn't YOU like to marry a bishop, Miss Peasmarsh?'

It was then that they dragged her away.

As it was Robert's hand that Mrs Biddle had walked on, it was decided that he had better not recall the incident to her mind, and so make her angry again. Anthea and Jane had helped to sell things at the rival stall, so they were not likely to be popular.

A hasty council of four decided that Mrs Biddle would hate Cyril less than she would hate the others, so the others mingled with the crowd, and it was he who said to her -

'Mrs Biddle, WE meant to have that carpet. Would you sell it to us? We would give you - '

'Certainly not,' said Mrs Biddle. 'Go away, little boy.'

There was that in her tone which showed Cyril, all too plainly, the hopelessness of persuasion. He found the others and said -

'It's no use; she's like a lioness robbed of its puppies. We must watch where it goes - and - Anthea, I don't care what you say. It's our own carpet. It wouldn't be burglary. It would be a sort of forlorn hope rescue party - heroic and daring and dashing, and not wrong at all.'

The children still wandered among the gay crowd - but there was no pleasure there for them any more. The chorus of singing birds sounded just like glass tubes being blown through water, and the phonograph simply made a horrid noise, so that you could hardly hear yourself speak. And the people were buying things they couldn't possibly want, and it all seemed very stupid. And Mrs Biddle had bought the wishing carpet for ten shillings. And the whole of life was sad and grey and dusty, and smelt of slight gas escapes, and hot people, and cake and crumbs, and all the children were very tired indeed.

They found a corner within sight of the carpet, and there they waited miserably, till it was far beyond their proper bedtime. And when it was ten the people who had bought things went away, but the people who had been selling stayed to count up their money.

'And to jaw about it,' said Robert. 'I'll never go to another bazaar as long as ever I live. My hand is swollen as big as a pudding. I expect the nails in her horrible boots were poisoned.'

Just then some one who seemed to have a right to interfere said -

'Everything is over now; you had better go home.'

So they went. And then they waited on the pavement under the gas lamp, where ragged children had been standing all the evening to listen to the band, and their feet slipped about in the greasy mud till Mrs Biddle came out and was driven away in a cab with the many things she hadn't sold, and the few things she had bought - among others the carpet. The other stall-holders left their things at the school till Monday morning, but Mrs Biddle was afraid some one would steal some of them, so she took them in a cab.

The children, now too desperate to care for mud or appearances, hung on behind the cab till it reached Mrs Biddle's house. When she and the carpet had gone in and the door was shut Anthea said -

'Don't let's burgle - I mean do daring and dashing rescue acts - till we've given her a chance. Let's ring and ask to see her.'

The others hated to do this, but at last they agreed, on condition that Anthea would not make any silly fuss about the burglary afterwards, if it really had to come to that.

So they knocked and rang, and a scared-looking parlourmaid opened the front door. While they were asking for Mrs Biddle they saw her. She was in the dining-room, and she had already pushed back the table and spread out the carpet to see how it looked on the floor.

'I knew she didn't want it for her servants' bedroom,' Jane muttered.

Anthea walked straight past the uncomfortable parlourmaid, and the others followed her. Mrs Biddle had her back to them, and was smoothing down the carpet with the same boot that had trampled on the hand of Robert. So that they were all in the room, and Cyril, with great presence of mind, had shut the room door before she saw them.

'Who is it, Jane?' she asked in a sour voice; and then turning suddenly, she saw who it was. Once more her face grew violet - a deep, dark violet. 'You wicked daring little things!' she cried, 'how dare you come here? At this time of night, too. Be off, or I'll send for the police.'

'Don't be angry,' said Anthea, soothingly, 'we only wanted to ask you to let us have the carpet. We have quite twelve shillings between us, and - '

'How DARE you?' cried Mrs Biddle, and her voice shook with angriness.

'You do look horrid,' said Jane suddenly.

Mrs Biddle actually stamped that booted foot of hers. 'You rude, barefaced child!' she said.

Anthea almost shook Jane; but Jane pushed forward in spite of her.

'It really IS our nursery carpet,' she said, 'you ask ANY ONE if it isn't.'

'Let's wish ourselves home,' said Cyril in a whisper.

'No go,' Robert whispered back, 'she'd be there too, and raving mad as likely as not. Horrid thing, I hate her!'

'I wish Mrs Biddle was in an angelic good temper,' cried Anthea, suddenly. 'It's worth trying,' she said to herself.

Mrs Biddle's face grew from purple to violet, and from violet to mauve, and from mauve to pink. Then she smiled quite a jolly smile.

'Why, so I am!' she said, 'what a funny idea! Why shouldn't I be in a good temper, my dears.'

Once more the carpet had done its work, and not on Mrs Biddle alone. The children felt suddenly good and happy.

'You're a jolly good sort,' said Cyril. 'I see that now. I'm sorry we vexed you at the bazaar to-day.'

'Not another word,' said the changed Mrs Biddle. 'Of course you shall have the carpet, my dears, if you've taken such a fancy to it. No, no; I won't have more than the ten shillings I paid.'

'It does seem hard to ask you for it after you bought it at the bazaar,' said Anthea; 'but it really IS our nursery carpet. It got to the bazaar by mistake, with some other things.'

'Did it really, now? How vexing!' said Mrs Biddle, kindly. 'Well, my dears, I can very well give the extra ten shillings; so you take your carpet and we'll say no more about it. Have a piece of cake before you go! I'm so sorry I stepped on your hand, my boy. Is it all right now?'

'Yes, thank you,' said Robert. 'I say, you ARE good.'

'Not at all,' said Mrs Biddle, heartily. 'I'm delighted to be able to give any little pleasure to you dear children.'

And she helped them to roll up the carpet, and the boys carried it away between them.

'You ARE a dear,' said Anthea, and she and Mrs Biddle kissed each other heartily.

'WELL!' said Cyril as they went along the street.

'Yes,' said Robert, 'and the odd part is that you feel just as if it was REAL - her being so jolly, I mean - and not only the carpet making her nice.'

'Perhaps it IS real,' said Anthea, 'only it was covered up with crossness and tiredness and things, and the carpet took them away.'

'I hope it'll keep them away,' said Jane; 'she isn't ugly at all when she laughs.'

The carpet has done many wonders in its day; but the case of Mrs Biddle is, I think, the most wonderful. For from that day she was never anything like so disagreeable as she was before, and she sent a lovely silver tea-pot and a kind letter to Miss Peasmarsh when the pretty lady married the nice curate; just after Easter it was, and they went to Italy for their honeymoon.

Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER 5 THE TEMPLE

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