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CHAPTER 12 THE SORRY-PRESENT AND THE EXPELLED LITTLE BOY
'Look here, said Cyril, sitting on the dining-table and swinging his legs; 'I really have got it.'
'Got what?' was the not unnatural rejoinder of the others.
Cyril was making a boat with a penknife and a piece of wood, and the girls were making warm frocks for their dolls, for the weather was growing chilly.
'Why, don't you see? It's really not any good our going into the Past looking for that Amulet. The Past's as full of different times as - as the sea is of sand. We're simply bound to hit upon the wrong time. We might spend our lives looking for the Amulet and never see a sight of it. Why, it's the end of September already. It's like looking for a needle in - '
'A bottle of hay - I know,' interrupted Robert; 'but if we don't go on doing that, what ARE we to do?'
'That's just it,' said Cyril in mysterious accents. 'Oh, BOTHER!'
Old Nurse had come in with the tray of knives, forks, and glasses, and was getting the tablecloth and table-napkins out of the chiffonier drawer.
'It's always meal-times just when you come to anything interesting.'
'And a nice interesting handful YOU'D be, Master Cyril,' said old Nurse, 'if I wasn't to bring your meals up to time. Don't you begin grumbling now, fear you get something to grumble AT.'
'I wasn't grumbling,' said Cyril quite untruly; 'but it does always happen like that.'
'You deserve to HAVE something happen,' said old Nurse. 'Slave, slave, slave for you day and night, and never a word of thanks. ...'
'Why, you do everything beautifully,' said Anthea.
'It's the first time any of you's troubled to say so, anyhow,' said Nurse shortly.
'What's the use of SAYING?' inquired Robert. 'We EAT our meals fast enough, and almost always two helps. THAT ought to show you!'
'Ah!' said old Nurse, going round the table and putting the knives and forks in their places; 'you're a man all over, Master Robert. There was my poor Green, all the years he lived with me I never could get more out of him than "It's all right!" when I asked him if he'd fancied his dinner. And yet, when he lay a-dying, his last words to me was, "Maria, you was always a good cook!"' She ended with a trembling voice.
'And so you are,' cried Anthea, and she and Jane instantly hugged her.
When she had gone out of the room Anthea said -
'I know exactly how she feels. Now, look here! Let's do a penance to show we're sorry we didn't think about telling her before what nice cooking she does, and what a dear she is.'
'Penances are silly,' said Robert.
'Not if the penance is something to please someone else. I didn't mean old peas and hair shirts and sleeping on the stones. I mean we'll make her a sorry-present,' explained Anthea. 'Look here! I vote Cyril doesn't tell us his idea until we've done something for old Nurse. It's worse for us than him,' she added hastily, 'because he knows what it is and we don't. Do you all agree?'
The others would have been ashamed not to agree, so they did. It was not till quite near the end of dinner - mutton fritters and blackberry and apple pie - that out of the earnest talk of the four came an idea that pleased everybody and would, they hoped, please Nurse.
Cyril and Robert went out with the taste of apple still in their mouths and the purple of blackberries on their lips - and, in the case of Robert, on the wristband as well - and bought a big sheet of cardboard at the stationers. Then at the plumber's shop, that has tubes and pipes and taps and gas-fittings in the window, they bought a pane of glass the same size as the cardboard. The man cut it with a very interesting tool that had a bit of diamond at the end, and he gave them, out of his own free generousness, a large piece of putty and a small piece of glue.
While they were out the girls had floated four photographs of the four children off their cards in hot water. These were now stuck in a row along the top of the cardboard. Cyril put the glue to melt in a jampot, and put the jampot in a saucepan and saucepan on the fire, while Robert painted a wreath of poppies round the photographs. He painted rather well and very quickly, and poppies are easy to do if you've once been shown how. Then Anthea drew some printed letters and Jane coloured them. The words were:
'With all our loves to shew
We like the thigs to eat.'
And when the painting was dry they all signed their names at the bottom and put the glass on, and glued brown paper round the edge and over the back, and put two loops of tape to hang it up by.
Of course everyone saw when too late that there were not enough letters in 'things', so the missing 'n' was put in. It was impossible, of course, to do the whole thing over again for just one letter.
'There!' said Anthea, placing it carefully, face up, under the sofa. 'It'll be hours before the glue's dry. Now, Squirrel, fire ahead!'
'Well, then,' said Cyril in a great hurry, rubbing at his gluey hands with his pocket handkerchief. 'What I mean to say is this.'
There was a long pause.
'Well,' said Robert at last, 'WHAT is it that you mean to say?'
'It's like this,' said Cyril, and again stopped short.
'Like WHAT?' asked Jane.
'How can I tell you if you will all keep on interrupting?' said Cyril sharply.
So no one said any more, and with wrinkled frowns he arranged his ideas.
'Look here,' he said, 'what I really mean is - we can remember now what we did when we went to look for the Amulet. And if we'd found it we should remember that too.'
'Rather!' said Robert. 'Only, you see we haven't.'
'But in the future we shall have.'
'Shall we, though?' said Jane.
'Yes - unless we've been made fools of by the Psammead. So then, where we want to go to is where we shall remember about where we did find it.'
'I see,' said Robert, but he didn't.
'_I_ don't,' said Anthea, who did, very nearly. 'Say it again, Squirrel, and very slowly.'
'If,' said Cyril, very slowly indeed, 'we go into the future - after we've found the Amulet - '
'But we've got to find it first,' said Jane.
'Hush!' said Anthea.
'There will be a future,' said Cyril, driven to greater clearness by the blank faces of the other three, 'there will be a time AFTER we've found it. Let's go into THAT time - and then we shall remember HOW we found it. And then we can go back and do the finding really.'
'I see,' said Robert, and this time he did, and I hope YOU do.
'Yes,' said Anthea. 'Oh, Squirrel, how clever of you!'
'But will the Amulet work both ways?' inquired Robert.
'It ought to,' said Cyril, 'if time's only a thingummy of whatsitsname. Anyway we might try.'
'Let's put on our best things, then,' urged Jane. 'You know what people say about progress and the world growing better and brighter. I expect people will be awfully smart in the future.'
'All right,' said Anthea, 'we should have to wash anyway, I'm all thick with glue.'
When everyone was clean and dressed, the charm was held up.
'We want to go into the future and see the Amulet after we've found it,' said Cyril, and Jane said the word of Power. They walked through the big arch of the charm straight into the British Museum.
They knew it at once, and there, right in front of them, under a glass case, was the Amulet - their own half of it, as well as the other half they had never been able to find - and the two were joined by a pin of red stone that formed a hinge.
'Oh, glorious!' cried Robert. 'Here it is!'
'Yes,' said Cyril, very gloomily, 'here it is. But we can't get it out.'
'No,' said Robert, remembering how impossible the Queen of Babylon had found it to get anything out of the glass cases in the Museum - except by Psammead magic, and then she hadn't been able to take anything away with her; 'no - but we remember where we got it, and we can - '
'Oh, DO we?' interrupted Cyril bitterly, 'do YOU remember where we got it?'
'No,' said Robert, 'I don't exactly, now I come to think of it.'
Nor did any of the others!
'But WHY can't we?' said Jane.
'Oh, _I_ don't know,' Cyril's tone was impatient, 'some silly old enchanted rule I suppose. I wish people would teach you magic at school like they do sums - or instead of. It would be some use having an Amulet then.'
'I wonder how far we are in the future,' said Anthea; the Museum looks just the same, only lighter and brighter, somehow.'
'Let's go back and try the Past again,' said Robert.
'Perhaps the Museum people could tell us how we got it,' said Anthea with sudden hope. There was no one in the room, but in the next gallery, where the Assyrian things are and still were, they found a kind, stout man in a loose, blue gown, and stockinged legs.
'Oh, they've got a new uniform, how pretty!' said Jane.
When they asked him their question he showed them a label on the case. It said, 'From the collection of - .' A name followed, and it was the name of the learned gentleman who, among themselves, and to his face when he had been with them at the other side of the Amulet, they had called Jimmy.
'THAT'S not much good,' said Cyril, 'thank you.'
'How is it you're not at school?' asked the kind man in blue. 'Not expelled for long I hope?'
'We're not expelled at all,' said Cyril rather warmly.
'Well, I shouldn't do it again, if I were you,' said the man, and they could see he did not believe them. There is no company so little pleasing as that of people who do not believe you.
'Thank you for showing us the label,' said Cyril. And they came away.
As they came through the doors of the Museum they blinked at the sudden glory of sunlight and blue sky. The houses opposite the Museum were gone. Instead there was a big garden, with trees and flowers and smooth green lawns, and not a single notice to tell you not to walk on the grass and not to destroy the trees and shrubs and not to pick the flowers. There were comfortable seats all about, and arbours covered with roses, and long, trellised walks, also rose-covered. Whispering, splashing fountains fell into full white marble basins, white statues gleamed among the leaves, and the pigeons that swept about among the branches or pecked on the smooth, soft gravel were not black and tumbled like the Museum pigeons are now, but bright and clean and sleek as birds of new silver. A good many people were sitting on the seats, and on the grass babies were rolling and kicking and playing - with very little on indeed. Men, as well as women, seemed to be in charge of the babies and were playing with them.
'It's like a lovely picture,' said Anthea, and it was. For the people's clothes were of bright, soft colours and all beautifully and very simply made. No one seemed to have any hats or bonnets, but there were a great many Japanese-looking sunshades. And among the trees were hung lamps of coloured glass.
'I expect they light those in the evening,' said Jane. 'I do wish we lived in the future!'
They walked down the path, and as they went the people on the benches looked at the four children very curiously, but not rudely or unkindly. The children, in their turn, looked - I hope they did not stare - at the faces of these people in the beautiful soft clothes. Those faces were worth looking at. Not that they were all handsome, though even in the matter of handsomeness they had the advantage of any set of people the children had ever seen. But it was the expression of their faces that made them worth looking at. The children could not tell at first what it was.
'I know,' said Anthea suddenly. 'They're not worried; that's what it is.'
And it was. Everybody looked calm, no one seemed to be in a hurry, no one seemed to be anxious, or fretted, and though some did seem to be sad, not a single one looked worried.
But though the people looked kind everyone looked so interested in the children that they began to feel a little shy and turned out of the big main path into a narrow little one that wound among trees and shrubs and mossy, dripping springs.
It was here, in a deep, shadowed cleft between tall cypresses, that they found the expelled little boy. He was lying face downward on the mossy turf, and the peculiar shaking of his shoulders was a thing they had seen, more than once, in each other. So Anthea kneeled down by him and said -
'What's the matter?'
'I'm expelled from school,' said the boy between his sobs.
This was serious. People are not expelled for light offences.
'Do you mind telling us what you'd done?'
'I - I tore up a sheet of paper and threw it about in the playground,' said the child, in the tone of one confessing an unutterable baseness. 'You won't talk to me any more now you know that,' he added without looking up.
'Was that all?' asked Anthea.
'It's about enough,' said the child; 'and I'm expelled for the whole day!'
'I don't quite understand,' said Anthea, gently. The boy lifted his face, rolled over, and sat up .
'Why, whoever on earth are you?' he said.
'We're strangers from a far country,' said Anthea. 'In our country it's not a crime to leave a bit of paper about.'
'It is here,' said the child. 'If grown-ups do it they're fined. When we do it we're expelled for the whole day.'
'Well, but,' said Robert, 'that just means a day' s holiday.'
'You MUST come from a long way off,' said the little boy. 'A holiday's when you all have play and treats and jolliness, all of you together. On your expelled days no one'll speak to you. Everyone sees you're an Expelleder or you'd be in school.'
'Suppose you were ill?'
'Nobody is - hardly. If they are, of course they wear the badge, and everyone is kind to you. I know a boy that stole his sister's illness badge and wore it when he was expelled for a day. HE got expelled for a week for that. It must be awful not to go to school for a week.'
'Do you LIKE school, then?' asked Robert incredulously.
'Of course I do. It's the loveliest place there is. I chose railways for my special subject this year, there are such splendid models and things, and now I shall be all behind because of that torn-up paper.'
'You choose your own subject?' asked Cyril.
'Yes, of course. Where DID you come from? Don't you know ANYTHING?'
'No,' said Jane definitely; 'so you'd better tell us.'
'Well, on Midsummer Day school breaks up and everything's decorated with flowers, and you choose your special subject for next year. Of course you have to stick to it for a year at least. Then there are all your other subjects, of course, reading, and painting, and the rules of Citizenship.'
'Good gracious!' said Anthea.
'Look here,' said the child, jumping up, 'it's nearly four. The expelledness only lasts till then. Come home with me. Mother will tell you all about everything.'
'Will your mother like you taking home strange children?' asked Anthea.
'I don't understand,' said the child, settling his leather belt over his honey-coloured smock and stepping out with hard little bare feet. 'Come on.'
So they went.
The streets were wide and hard and very clean. There were no horses, but a sort of motor carriage that made no noise. The Thames flowed between green banks, and there were trees at the edge, and people sat under them, fishing, for the stream was clear as crystal. Everywhere there were green trees and there was no smoke. The houses were set in what seemed like one green garden.
The little boy brought them to a house, and at the window was a good, bright mother-face. The little boy rushed in, and through the window they could see him hugging his mother, then his eager lips moving and his quick hands pointing.
A lady in soft green clothes came out, spoke kindly to them, and took them into the oddest house they had ever seen. It was very bare, there were no ornaments, and yet every single thing was beautiful, from the dresser with its rows of bright china, to the thick squares of Eastern-looking carpet on the floors. I can't describe that house; I haven't the time. And I haven't heart either, when I think how different it was from our houses. The lady took them all over it. The oddest thing of all was the big room in the middle. It had padded walls and a soft, thick carpet, and all the chairs and tables were padded. There wasn't a single thing in it that anyone could hurt itself with.
'What ever's this for? - lunatics?' asked Cyril.
The lady looked very shocked.
'No! It's for the children, of course,' she said. 'Don't tell me that in your country there are no children's rooms.'
'There are nurseries,' said Anthea doubtfully, 'but the furniture's all cornery and hard, like other rooms.'
'How shocking!' said the lady;'you must be VERY much behind the times in your country! Why, the children are more than half of the people; it's not much to have one room where they can have a good time and not hurt themselves.'
'But there's no fireplace,' said Anthea.
'Hot-air pipes, of course,' said the lady. 'Why, how could you have a fire in a nursery? A child might get burned.'
'In our country,' said Robert suddenly, 'more than 3,000 children are burned to death every year. Father told me,' he added, as if apologizing for this piece of information, 'once when I'd been playing with fire.'
The lady turned quite pale.
'What a frightful place you must live in!' she said. 'What's all the furniture padded for?' Anthea asked, hastily turning the subject.
'Why, you couldn't have little tots of two or three running about in rooms where the things were hard and sharp! They might hurt themselves.'
Robert fingered the scar on his forehead where he had hit it against the nursery fender when he was little.
'But does everyone have rooms like this, poor people and all?' asked Anthea.
'There's a room like this wherever there's a child, of course,' said the lady. 'How refreshingly ignorant you are! - no, I don't mean ignorant, my dear. Of course, you're awfully well up in ancient History. But I see you haven't done your Duties of Citizenship Course yet.'
'But beggars, and people like that?' persisted Anthea 'and tramps and people who haven't any homes?'
'People who haven't any homes?' repeated the lady. 'I really DON'T understand what you're talking about.'
'It's all different in our country,' said Cyril carefully; and I have read it used to be different in London. Usedn't people to have no homes and beg because they were hungry? And wasn't London very black and dirty once upon a time? And the Thames all muddy and filthy? And narrow streets, and - '
'You must have been reading very old-fashioned books,' said the lady. 'Why, all that was in the dark ages! My husband can tell you more about it than I can. He took Ancient History as one of his special subjects.'
'I haven't seen any working people,' said Anthea.
'Why, we're all working people,' said the lady; 'at least my husband's a carpenter.'
'Good gracious!' said Anthea; 'but you're a lady!'
'Ah,' said the lady, 'that quaint old word! Well, my husband WILL enjoy a talk with you. In the dark ages everyone was allowed to have a smoky chimney, and those nasty horses all over the streets, and all sorts of rubbish thrown into the Thames. And, of course, the sufferings of the people will hardly bear thinking of. It's very learned of you to know it all. Did you make Ancient History your special subject?'
'Not exactly,' said Cyril, rather uneasily. 'What is the Duties of Citizenship Course about?'
'Don't you REALLY know? Aren't you pretending - just for fun? Really not? Well, that course teaches you how to be a good citizen, what you must do and what you mayn't do, so as to do your full share of the work of making your town a beautiful and happy place for people to live in. There's a quite simple little thing they teach the tiny children. How does it go ...?
'I must not steal and I must learn,
Nothing is mine that I do not earn.
I must try in work and play
To make things beautiful every day.
I must be kind to everyone,
And never let cruel things be done.
I must be brave, and I must try
When I am hurt never to cry,
And always laugh as much as I can,
And be glad that I'm going to be a man
To work for my living and help the rest
And never do less than my very best.'
'That's very easy,' said Jane. '_I_ could remember that.'
'That's only the very beginning, of course,' said the lady; 'there are heaps more rhymes. There's the one beginning -
'I must not litter the beautiful street
With bits of paper or things to eat;
I must not pick the public flowers,
They are not MINE, but they are OURS.'
'And "things to eat" reminds me - are you hungry? Wells, run and get a tray of nice things.'
'Why do you call him "Wells"?' asked Robert, as the boy ran off.
'It's after the great reformer - surely you've heard of HIM? He lived in the dark ages, and he saw that what you ought to do is to find out what you want and then try to get it. Up to then people had always tried to tinker up what they'd got. We've got a great many of the things he thought of. Then "Wells" means springs of clear water. It's a nice name, don't you think?'
Here Wells returned with strawberries and cakes and lemonade on a tray, and everybody ate and enjoyed.
'Now, Wells,' said the lady, 'run off or you'll be late and not meet your Daddy.'
Wells kissed her, waved to the others, and went.
'Look here,' said Anthea suddenly, 'would you like to come to OUR country, and see what it's like? It wouldn't take you a minute.'
The lady laughed. But Jane held up the charm and said the word.
'What a splendid conjuring trick!' cried the lady, enchanted with the beautiful, growing arch.
'Go through,' said Anthea.
The lady went, laughing. But she did not laugh when she found herself, suddenly, in the dining-room at Fitzroy Street.
'Oh, what a HORRIBLE trick!' she cried. 'What a hateful, dark, ugly place!'
She ran to the window and looked out. The sky was grey, the street was foggy, a dismal organ-grinder was standing opposite the door, a beggar and a man who sold matches were quarrelling at the edge of the pavement on whose greasy black surface people hurried along, hastening to get to the shelter of their houses.
'Oh, look at their faces, their horrible faces!' she cried. 'What's the matter with them all?'
'They're poor people, that's all,' said Robert.
'But it's NOT all! They're ill, they're unhappy, they're wicked! Oh, do stop it, there's dear children. It's very, very clever. Some sort of magic-lantern trick, I suppose, like I've read of. But DO stop it. Oh! their poor, tired, miserable, wicked faces!'
The tears were in her eyes. Anthea signed to Jane. The arch grew, they spoke the words, and pushed the lady through it into her own time and place, where London is clean and beautiful, and the Thames runs clear and bright, and the green trees grow, and no one is afraid, or anxious, or in a hurry. There was a silence. Then -
'I'm glad we went,' said Anthea, with a deep breath.
'I'll never throw paper about again as long as I live,' said Robert.
'Mother always told us not to,' said Jane.
'I would like to take up the Duties of Citizenship for a special subject,' said Cyril. 'I wonder if Father could put me through it. I shall ask him when he comes home.'
'If we'd found the Amulet, Father could be home NOW,' said Anthea, 'and Mother and The Lamb.'
'Let's go into the future AGAIN,' suggested Jane brightly. 'Perhaps we could remember if it wasn't such an awful way off.'
So they did. This time they said, 'The future, where the Amulet is, not so far away.'
And they went through the familiar arch into a large, light room with three windows. Facing them was the familiar mummy-case. And at a table by the window sat the learned gentleman. They knew him at once, though his hair was white. He was one of the faces that do not change with age. In his hand was the Amulet - complete and perfect.
He rubbed his other hand across his forehead in the way they were so used to.
'Dreams, dreams!' he said; 'old age is full of them!'
'You've been in dreams with us before now,' said Robert, 'don't you remember?'
'I do, indeed,' said he. The room had many more books than the Fitzroy Street room, and far more curious and wonderful Assyrian and Egyptian objects. 'The most wonderful dreams I ever had had you in them.'
'Where,' asked Cyril, 'did you get that thing in your hand?'
'If you weren't just a dream,' he answered, smiling, you'd remember that you gave it to me.'
'But where did we get it?' Cyril asked eagerly.
'Ah, you never would tell me that,' he said, 'You always had your little mysteries. You dear children! What a difference you made to that old Bloomsbury house! I wish I could dream you oftener. Now you're grown up you're not like you used to be.'
'Grown up?' said Anthea.
The learned gentleman pointed to a frame with four photographs in it.
'There you are,' he said.
The children saw four grown-up people's portraits - two ladies, two gentlemen - and looked on them with loathing.
'Shall we grow up like THAT?' whispered Jane. 'How perfectly horrid!'
'If we're ever like that, we sha'n't know it's horrid, I expect,' Anthea with some insight whispered back. 'You see, you get used to yourself while you're changing. It's - it's being so sudden makes it seem so frightful now.'
The learned gentleman was looking at them with wistful kindness. 'Don't let me undream you just yet,' he said. There was a pause.
'Do you remember WHEN we gave you that Amulet?' Cyril asked suddenly.
'You know, or you would if you weren't a dream, that it was on the 3rd December, 1905. I shall never forget THAT day.'
'Thank you,' said Cyril, earnestly; 'oh, thank you very much.'
'You've got a new room,' said Anthea, looking out of the window, 'and what a lovely garden!'
'Yes,' said he, 'I'm too old now to care even about being near the Museum. This is a beautiful place. Do you know - I can hardly believe you're just a dream, you do look so exactly real. Do you know ...' his voice dropped, 'I can say it to YOU, though, of course, if I said it to anyone that wasn't a dream they'd call me mad; there was something about that Amulet you gave me - something very mysterious.'
'There was that,' said Robert.
'Ah, I don't mean your pretty little childish mysteries about where you got it. But about the thing itself. First, the wonderful dreams I used to have, after you'd shown me the first half of it! Why, my book on Atlantis, that I did, was the beginning of my fame and my fortune, too. And I got it all out of a dream! And then, "Britain at the Time of the Roman Invasion" - that was only a pamphlet, but it explained a lot of things people hadn't understood.'
'Yes,' said Anthea, 'it would.'
'That was the beginning. But after you'd given me the whole of the Amulet - ah, it was generous of you! - then, somehow, I didn't need to theorize, I seemed to KNOW about the old Egyptian civilization. And they can't upset my theories' - he rubbed his thin hands and laughed triumphantly - 'they can't, though they've tried. Theories, they call them, but they're more like - I don't know - more like memories. I KNOW I'm right about the secret rites of the Temple of Amen.'
'I'm so glad you're rich,' said Anthea. 'You weren't, you know, at Fitzroy Street.'
'Indeed I wasn't,' said he, 'but I am now. This beautiful house and this lovely garden - I dig in it sometimes; you remember, you used to tell me to take more exercise? Well, I feel I owe it all to you - and the Amulet.'
'I'm so glad,' said Anthea, and kissed him. He started.
'THAT didn't feel like a dream,' he said, and his voice trembled.
'It isn't exactly a dream,' said Anthea softly, 'it's all part of the Amulet - it's a sort of extra special, real dream, dear Jimmy.'
'Ah,' said he, 'when you call me that, I know I'm dreaming. My little sister - I dream of her sometimes. But it's not real like this. Do you remember the day I dreamed you brought me the Babylonish ring?'
'We remember it all,' said Robert. 'Did you leave Fitzroy Street because you were too rich for it?'
'Oh, no!' he said reproachfully. 'You know I should never have done such a thing as that. Of course, I left when your old Nurse died and - what's the matter!'
'Old Nurse DEAD?' said Anthea. 'Oh, NO!'
'Yes, yes, it's the common lot. It's a long time ago now.'
Jane held up the Amulet in a hand that twittered.
'Come!' she cried, 'oh, come home! She may be dead before we get there, and then we can't give it to her. Oh, come!'
'Ah, don't let the dream end now!' pleaded the learned gentleman.
'It must,' said Anthea firmly, and kissed him again.
'When it comes to people dying,' said Robert, 'good-bye! I'm so glad you're rich and famous and happy.'
'DO come!' cried Jane, stamping in her agony of impatience. And they went. Old Nurse brought in tea almost as soon as they were back in Fitzroy Street. As she came in with the tray, the girls rushed at her and nearly upset her and it.
'Don't die!' cried Jane, 'oh, don't!' and Anthea cried, 'Dear, ducky, darling old Nurse, don't die!'
'Lord, love you!' said Nurse, 'I'm not agoin' to die yet a while, please Heaven! Whatever on earth's the matter with the chicks?'
'Nothing. Only don't!'
She put the tray down and hugged the girls in turn. The boys thumped her on the back with heartfelt affection.
'I'm as well as ever I was in my life,' she said. 'What nonsense about dying! You've been a sitting too long in the dusk, that's what it is. Regular blind man's holiday. Leave go of me, while I light the gas.'
The yellow light illuminated four pale faces. 'We do love you so,' Anthea went on, 'and we've made you a picture to show you how we love you. Get it out, Squirrel.'
The glazed testimonial was dragged out from under the sofa and displayed.
'The glue's not dry yet,' said Cyril, 'look out!'
'What a beauty!' cried old Nurse. 'Well, I never! And your pictures and the beautiful writing and all. Well, I always did say your hearts was in the right place, if a bit careless at times. Well! I never did! I don't know as I was ever pleased better in my life.'
She hugged them all, one after the other. And the boys did not mind it, somehow, that day.
'How is it we can remember all about the future, NOW?' Anthea woke the Psammead with laborious gentleness to put the question. 'How is it we can remember what we saw in the future, and yet, when we WERE in the future, we could not remember the bit of the future that was past then, the time of finding the Amulet?'
'Why, what a silly question!' said the Psammead, 'of course you cannot remember what hasn't happened yet.'
'But the FUTURE hasn't happened yet,' Anthea persisted, 'and we remember that all right.'
'Oh, that isn't what's happened, my good child,' said the Psammead, rather crossly, 'that's prophetic vision. And you remember dreams, don't you? So why not visions? You never do seem to understand the simplest thing.'
It went to sand again at once.
Anthea crept down in her nightgown to give one last kiss to old Nurse, and one last look at the beautiful testimonial hanging, by its tapes, its glue now firmly set, in glazed glory on the wall of the kitchen.
'Good-night, bless your loving heart,' said old Nurse, 'if only you don't catch your deather-cold!'
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER 13 THE SHIPWRECK ON THE TIN ISLANDS