Chapter 11 - Before Pharaoh
It was the day after the adventure of Julius Caesar and the Little Black Girl that Cyril, bursting into the bathroom to wash his hands for dinner (you have no idea how dirty they were, for he had been playing shipwrecked mariners all the morning on the leads at the back of the house, where the water-cistern is), found Anthea leaning her elbows on the edge of the bath, and crying steadily into it.
'Hullo!' he said, with brotherly concern, 'what's up now? Dinner'll be cold before you've got enough salt-water for a bath.'
'Go away,' said Anthea fiercely. 'I hate you! I hate everybody!'
There was a stricken pause.
'I didn't know,' said Cyril tamely.
'Nobody ever does know anything,' sobbed Anthea.
'I didn't know you were waxy. I thought you'd just hurt your fingers with the tap again like you did last week,' Cyril carefully explained.
'Oh - fingers!' sneered Anthea through her sniffs.
'Here, drop it, Panther,' he said uncomfortably. 'You haven't been having a row or anything?'
'No,' she said. 'Wash your horrid hands, for goodness' sake, if that's what you came for, or go.'
Anthea was so seldom cross that when she was cross the others were always more surprised than angry.
Cyril edged along the side of the bath and stood beside her. He put his hand on her arm.
'Dry up, do,' he said, rather tenderly for him. And, finding that though she did not at once take his advice she did not seem to resent it, he put his arm awkwardly across her shoulders and rubbed his head against her ear.
'There!' he said, in the tone of one administering a priceless cure for all possible sorrows. 'Now, what's up?'
'Promise you won't laugh?'
'I don't feel laughish myself,' said Cyril, dismally.
'Well, then,' said Anthea, leaning her ear against his head, 'it's Mother.'
'What's the matter with Mother?' asked Cyril, with apparent want of sympathy. 'She was all right in her letter this morning.'
'Yes; but I want her so.'
'You're not the only one,' said Cyril briefly, and the brevity of his tone admitted a good deal.
'Oh, yes,' said Anthea, 'I know. We all want her all the time. But I want her now most dreadfully, awfully much. I never wanted anything so much. That Imogen child - the way the ancient British Queen cuddled her up! And Imogen wasn't me, and the Queen was Mother. And then her letter this morning! And about The Lamb liking the salt bathing! And she bathed him in this very bath the night before she went away - oh, oh, oh!'
Cyril thumped her on the back.
'Cheer up,' he said. 'You know my inside thinking that I was doing? Well, that was partly about Mother. We'll soon get her back. If you'll chuck it, like a sensible kid, and wash your face, I'll tell you about it. That's right. You let me get to the tap. Can't you stop crying? Shall I put the door-key down your back?'
'That's for noses,' said Anthea, 'and I'm not a kid any more than you are,' but she laughed a little, and her mouth began to get back into its proper shape. You know what an odd shape your mouth gets into when you cry in earnest.
'Look here,' said Cyril, working the soap round and round between his hands in a thick slime of grey soapsuds. 'I've been thinking. We've only just PLAYED with the Amulet so far. We've got to work it now - WORK it for all it's worth. And it isn't only Mother either. There's Father out there all among the fighting. I don't howl about it, but I THINK - Oh, bother the soap!' The grey-lined soap had squirted out under the pressure of his fingers, and had hit Anthea's chin with as much force as though it had been shot from a catapult.
'There now,' she said regretfully, 'now I shall have to wash my face.'
'You'd have had to do that anyway,' said Cyril with conviction. 'Now, my idea's this. You know missionaries?'
'Yes,' said Anthea, who did not know a single one.
'Well, they always take the savages beads and brandy, and stays, and hats, and braces, and really useful things - things the savages haven't got, and never heard about. And the savages love them for their kind generousness, and give them pearls, and shells, and ivory, and cassowaries. And that's the way - '
'Wait a sec,' said Anthea, splashing. 'I can't hear what you're saying. Shells and - '
'Shells, and things like that. The great thing is to get people to love you by being generous. And that's what we've got to do. Next time we go into the Past we'll regularly fit out the expedition. You remember how the Babylonian Queen froze on to that pocket-book? Well, we'll take things like that. And offer them in exchange for a sight of the Amulet.'
'A sight of it is not much good.'
'No, silly. But, don't you see, when we've seen it we shall know where it is, and we can go and take it in the night when everybody is asleep.'
'It wouldn't be stealing, would it?' said Anthea thoughtfully, 'because it will be such an awfully long time ago when we do it. Oh, there's that bell again.'
As soon as dinner was eaten (it was tinned salmon and lettuce, and a jam tart), and the cloth cleared away, the idea was explained to the others, and the Psammead was aroused from sand, and asked what it thought would be good merchandise with which to buy the affection of say, the Ancient Egyptians, and whether it thought the Amulet was likely to be found in the Court of Pharaoh.
But it shook its head, and shot out its snail's eyes hopelessly.
'I'm not allowed to play in this game,' it said. 'Of course I COULD find out in a minute where the thing was, only I mayn't. But I may go so far as to own that your idea of taking things with you isn't a bad one. And I shouldn't show them all at once. Take small things and conceal them craftily about your persons.'
This advice seemed good. Soon the table was littered over with things which the children thought likely to interest the Ancient Egyptians. Anthea brought dolls, puzzle blocks, a wooden tea-service, a green leather case with Necessaire written on it in gold letters. Aunt Emma had once given it to Anthea, and it had then contained scissors, penknife, bodkin, stiletto, thimble, corkscrew, and glove-buttoner. The scissors, knife, and thimble, and penknife were, of course, lost, but the other things were there and as good as new. Cyril contributed lead soldiers, a cannon, a catapult, a tin-opener, a tie-clip, and a tennis ball, and a padlock - no key. Robert collected a candle ('I don't suppose they ever saw a self-fitting paraffin one,' he said), a penny Japanese pin-tray, a rubber stamp with his father's name and address on it, and a piece of putty.
Jane added a key-ring, the brass handle of a poker, a pot that had held cold-cream, a smoked pearl button off her winter coat, and a key - no lock.
'We can't take all this rubbish,' said Robert, with some scorn. 'We must just each choose one thing.'
The afternoon passed very agreeably in the attempt to choose from the table the four most suitable objects. But the four children could not agree what was suitable, and at last Cyril said -
'Look here, let's each be blindfolded and reach out, and the first thing you touch you stick to.'
This was done.
Cyril touched the padlock.
Anthea got the Necessaire.
Robert clutched the candle.
Jane picked up the tie-clip.
'It's not much,' she said. 'I don't believe Ancient Egyptians wore ties.'
'Never mind,' said Anthea. 'I believe it's luckier not to really choose. In the stories it's always the thing the wood-cutter's son picks up in the forest, and almost throws away because he thinks it's no good, that turns out to be the magic thing in the end; or else someone's lost it, and he is rewarded with the hand of the King's daughter in marriage.'
'I don't want any hands in marriage, thank you.' said Cyril firmly.
'Nor yet me,' said Robert. 'It's always the end of the adventures when it comes to the marriage hands.'
'ARE we ready?' said Anthea.
'It IS Egypt we're going to, isn't it? - nice Egypt?' said Jane. 'I won't go anywhere I don't know about - like that dreadful big-wavy burning-mountain city,' she insisted.
Then the Psammead was coaxed into its bag. 'I say,' said Cyril suddenly, 'I'm rather sick of kings. And people notice you so in palaces. Besides the Amulet's sure to be in a Temple. Let's just go among the common people, and try to work ourselves up by degrees. We might get taken on as Temple assistants.'
'Like beadles,' said Anthea, 'or vergers. They must have splendid chances of stealing the Temple treasures.'
'Righto!' was the general rejoinder. The charm was held up. It grew big once again, and once again the warm golden Eastern light glowed softly beyond it.
As the children stepped through it loud and furious voices rang in their ears. They went suddenly from the quiet of Fitzroy Street dining-room into a very angry Eastern crowd, a crowd much too angry to notice them. They edged through it to the wall of a house and stood there. The crowd was of men, women, and children. They were of all sorts of complexions, and pictures of them might have been coloured by any child with a shilling paint-box. The colours that child would have used for complexions would have been yellow ochre, red ochre, light red, sepia, and indian ink. But their faces were painted already - black eyebrows and lashes, and some red lips. The women wore a sort of pinafore with shoulder straps, and loose things wound round their heads and shoulders. The men wore very little clothing - for they were the working people - and the Egyptian boys and girls wore nothing at all, unless you count the little ornaments hung on chains round their necks and waists. The children saw all this before they could hear anything distinctly.
Everyone was shouting so.
But a voice sounded above the other voices, and presently it was speaking in a silence.
'Comrades and fellow workers,' it said, and it was the voice of a tall, coppery-coloured man who had climbed into a chariot that had been stopped by the crowd. Its owner had bolted, muttering something about calling the Guards, and now the man spoke from it. 'Comrades and fellow workers, how long are we to endure the tyranny of our masters, who live in idleness and luxury on the fruit of our toil? They only give us a bare subsistence wage, and they live on the fat of the land. We labour all our lives to keep them in wanton luxury. Let us make an end of it!'
A roar of applause answered him.
'How are you going to do it?' cried a voice.
'You look out,' cried another, 'or you'll get yourself into trouble.'
'I've heard almost every single word of that,' whispered Robert, 'in Hyde Park last Sunday!'
'Let us strike for more bread and onions and beer, and a longer mid-day rest,' the speaker went on. 'You are tired, you are hungry, you are thirsty. You are poor, your wives and children are pining for food. The barns of the rich are full to bursting with the corn we want, the corn our labour has grown. To the granaries!'
'To the granaries!' cried half the crowd; but another voice shouted clear above the tumult, 'To Pharaoh! To the King! Let's present a petition to the King! He will listen to the voice of the oppressed!'
For a moment the crowd swayed one way and another - first towards the granaries and then towards the palace. Then, with a rush like that of an imprisoned torrent suddenly set free, it surged along the street towards the palace, and the children were carried with it. Anthea found it difficult to keep the Psammead from being squeezed very uncomfortably.
The crowd swept through the streets of dull-looking houses with few windows, very high up, across the market where people were not buying but exchanging goods. In a momentary pause Robert saw a basket of onions exchanged for a hair comb and five fish for a string of beads. The people in the market seemed better off than those in the crowd; they had finer clothes, and more of them. They were the kind of people who, nowadays, would have lived at Brixton or Brockley.
'What's the trouble now?' a languid, large-eyed lady in a crimped, half-transparent linen dress, with her black hair very much braided and puffed out, asked of a date-seller.
'Oh, the working-men - discontented as usual,' the man answered. 'Listen to them. Anyone would think it mattered whether they had a little more or less to eat. Dregs of society!' said the date-seller.
'Scum!' said the lady.
'And I've heard THAT before, too,' said Robert.
At that moment the voice of the crowd changed, from anger to doubt, from doubt to fear. There were other voices shouting; they shouted defiance and menace, and they came nearer very quickly. There was the rattle of wheels and the pounding of hoofs. A voice shouted, 'Guards!'
'The Guards! The Guards!' shouted another voice, and the crowd of workmen took up the cry. 'The Guards! Pharaoh's Guards!' And swaying a little once more, the crowd hung for a moment as it were balanced. Then as the trampling hoofs came nearer the workmen fled dispersed, up alleys and into the courts of houses, and the Guards in their embossed leather chariots swept down the street at the gallop, their wheels clattering over the stones, and their dark- coloured, blue tunics blown open and back with the wind of their going.
'So THAT riot's over,' said the crimped-linen-dressed lady; 'that's a blessing! And did you notice the Captain of the Guard? What a very handsome man he was, to be sure!'
The four children had taken advantage of the moment's pause before the crowd turned to fly, to edge themselves and drag each other into an arched doorway.
Now they each drew a long breath and looked at the others.
'We're well out of THAT,' said Cyril.
'Yes,' said Anthea, 'but I do wish the poor men hadn't been driven back before they could get to the King. He might have done something for them.'
'Not if he was the one in the Bible he wouldn't,' said Jane. 'He had a hard heart.' 'Ah, that was the Moses one,' Anthea explained. 'The Joseph one was quite different. I should like to see Pharaoh's house. I wonder whether it's like the Egyptian Court in the Crystal Palace.'
'I thought we decided to try to get taken on in a Temple,' said Cyril in injured tones.
'Yes, but we've got to know someone first. Couldn't we make friends with a Temple doorkeeper - we might give him the padlock or something. I wonder which are temples and which are palaces,' Robert added, glancing across the market-place to where an enormous gateway with huge side buildings towered towards the sky. To right and left of it were other buildings only a little less magnificent.
'Did you wish to seek out the Temple of Amen Ra?' asked a soft voice behind them, 'or the Temple of Mut, or the Temple of Khonsu?'
They turned to find beside them a young man. He was shaved clean from head to foot, and on his feet were light papyrus sandals. He was clothed in a linen tunic of white, embroidered heavily in colours. He was gay with anklets, bracelets, and armlets of gold, richly inlaid. He wore a ring on his finger, and he had a short jacket of gold embroidery something like the Zouave soldiers wear, and on his neck was a gold collar with many amulets hanging from it. But among the amulets the children could see none like theirs.
'It doesn't matter which Temple,' said Cyril frankly.
'Tell me your mission,' said the young man. 'I am a divine father of the Temple of Amen Ra and perhaps I can help you.'
'Well,' said Cyril, 'we've come from the great Empire on which the sun never sets.'
'I thought somehow that you'd come from some odd, out-of-the-way spot,' said the priest with courtesy.
'And we've seen a good many palaces. We thought we should like to see a Temple, for a change,' said Robert.
The Psammead stirred uneasily in its embroidered bag.
'Have you brought gifts to the Temple?' asked the priest cautiously.
'We HAVE got some gifts,' said Cyril with equal caution. 'You see there's magic mixed up in it. So we can't tell you everything. But we don't want to give our gifts for nothing.'
'Beware how you insult the god,' said the priest sternly. 'I also can do magic. I can make a waxen image of you, and I can say words which, as the wax image melts before the fire, will make you dwindle away and at last perish miserably.'
'Pooh!' said Cyril stoutly, 'that's nothing. I can make FIRE itself!'
'I should jolly well like to see you do it,' said the priest unbelievingly.
'Well, you shall,' said Cyril, 'nothing easier. Just stand close round me.'
'Do you need no preparation - no fasting, no incantations?' The priest's tone was incredulous.
'The incantation's quite short,' said Cyril, taking the hint; 'and as for fasting, it's not needed in MY sort of magic. Union Jack, Printing Press, Gunpowder, Rule Britannia! Come, Fire, at the end of this little stick!'
He had pulled a match from his pocket, and as he ended the incantation which contained no words that it seemed likely the Egyptian had ever heard he stooped in the little crowd of his relations and the priest and struck the match on his boot. He stood up, shielding the flame with one hand.
'See?' he said, with modest pride. 'Here, take it into your hand.'
'No, thank you,' said the priest, swiftly backing. 'Can you do that again?'
'Then come with me to the great double house of Pharaoh. He loves good magic, and he will raise you to honour and glory. There's no need of secrets between initiates,' he went on confidentially. 'The fact is, I am out of favour at present owing to a little matter of failure of prophecy. I told him a beautiful princess would be sent to him from Syria, and, lo! a woman thirty years old arrived. But she WAS a beautiful woman not so long ago. Time is only a mode of thought, you know.'
The children thrilled to the familiar words.
'So you know that too, do you?' said Cyril.
'It is part of the mystery of all magic, is it not?' said the priest. 'Now if I bring you to Pharaoh the little unpleasantness I spoke of will be forgotten. And I will ask Pharaoh, the Great House, Son of the Sun, and Lord of the South and North, to decree that you shall lodge in the Temple. Then you can have a good look round, and teach me your magic. And I will teach you mine.'
This idea seemed good - at least it was better than any other which at that moment occurred to anybody, so they followed the priest through the city.
The streets were very narrow and dirty. The best houses, the priest explained, were built within walls twenty to twenty-five feet high, and such windows as showed in the walls were very high up. The tops of palm-trees showed above the walls. The poor people's houses were little square huts with a door and two windows, and smoke coming out of a hole in the back.
'The poor Egyptians haven't improved so very much in their building since the first time we came to Egypt,' whispered Cyril to Anthea.
The huts were roofed with palm branches, and everywhere there were chickens, and goats, and little naked children kicking about in the yellow dust. On one roof was a goat, who had climbed up and was eating the dry palm-leaves with snorts and head-tossings of delight. Over every house door was some sort of figure or shape.
'Amulets,' the priest explained, 'to keep off the evil eye.'
'I don't think much of your "nice Egypt",' Robert whispered to Jane; 'it's simply not a patch on Babylon.'
'Ah, you wait till you see the palace,' Jane whispered back.
The palace was indeed much more magnificent than anything they had yet seen that day, though it would have made but a poor show beside that of the Babylonian King. They came to it through a great square pillared doorway of sandstone that stood in a high brick wall. The shut doors were of massive cedar, with bronze hinges, and were studded with bronze nails. At the side was a little door and a wicket gate, and through this the priest led the children. He seemed to know a word that made the sentries make way for him.
Inside was a garden, planted with hundreds of different kinds of trees and flowering shrubs, a lake full of fish, with blue lotus flowers at the margin, and ducks swimming about cheerfully, and looking, as Jane said, quite modern.
'The guard-chamber, the store-houses, the queen's house,' said the priest, pointing them out.
They passed through open courtyards, paved with flat stones, and the priest whispered to a guard at a great inner gate.
'We are fortunate,' he said to the children, 'Pharaoh is even now in the Court of Honour. Now, don't forget to be overcome with respect and admiration. It won't do any harm if you fall flat on your faces. And whatever you do, don't speak until you're spoken to.'
'There used to be that rule in our country,' said Robert, 'when my father was a little boy.'
At the outer end of the great hall a crowd of people were arguing with and even shoving the Guards, who seemed to make it a rule not to let anyone through unless they were bribed to do it. The children heard several promises of the utmost richness, and wondered whether they would ever be kept.
All round the hall were pillars of painted wood. The roof was of cedar, gorgeously inlaid. About half-way up the hall was a wide, shallow step that went right across the hall; then a little farther on another; and then a steep flight of narrower steps, leading right up to the throne on which Pharaoh sat. He sat there very splendid, his red and white double crown on his head, and his sceptre in his hand. The throne had a canopy of wood and wooden pillars painted in bright colours. On a low, broad bench that ran all round the hall sat the friends, relatives, and courtiers of the King, leaning on richly-covered cushions.
The priest led the children up the steps till they all stood before the throne; and then, suddenly, he fell on his face with hands outstretched. The others did the same, Anthea falling very carefully because of the Psammead.
'Raise them,' said the voice of Pharaoh, 'that they may speak to me.'
The officers of the King's household raised them.
'Who are these strangers?' Pharaoh asked, and added very crossly, 'And what do you mean, Rekh-mara, by daring to come into my presence while your innocence is not established?'
'Oh, great King,' said the young priest, 'you are the very image of Ra, and the likeness of his son Horus in every respect. You know the thoughts of the hearts of the gods and of men, and you have divined that these strangers are the children of the children of the vile and conquered Kings of the Empire where the sun never sets. They know a magic not known to the Egyptians. And they come with gifts in their hands as tribute to Pharaoh, in whose heart is the wisdom of the gods, and on his lips their truth.'
'That is all very well,' said Pharaoh, 'but where are the gifts?'
The children, bowing as well as they could in their embarrassment at finding themselves the centre of interest in a circle more grand, more golden and more highly coloured than they could have imagined possible, pulled out the padlock, the Necessaire, and the tie-clip. 'But it's not tribute all the same,' Cyril muttered. 'England doesn't pay tribute!'
Pharaoh examined all the things with great interest when the chief of the household had taken them up to him. 'Deliver them to the Keeper of the Treasury,' he said to one near him. And to the children he said -
'A small tribute, truly, but strange, and not without worth. And the magic, O Rekh-mara?'
'These unworthy sons of a conquered nation ...' began Rekh-mara.
'Nothing of the kind!' Cyril whispered angrily.
'... of a vile and conquered nation, can make fire to spring from dry wood - in the sight of all.'
'I should jolly well like to see them do it,' said Pharaoh, just as the priest had done.
So Cyril, without more ado, did it.
'Do more magic,' said the King, with simple appreciation.
'He cannot do any more magic,' said Anthea suddenly, and all eyes were turned on her, 'because of the voice of the free people who are shouting for bread and onions and beer and a long mid-day rest. If the people had what they wanted, he could do more.'
'A rude-spoken girl,' said Pharaoh. 'But give the dogs what they want,' he said, without turning his head. 'Let them have their rest and their extra rations. There are plenty of slaves to work.'
A richly-dressed official hurried out.
'You will be the idol of the people,' Rekh-mara whispered joyously; 'the Temple of Amen will not contain their offerings.'
Cyril struck another match, and all the court was overwhelmed with delight and wonder. And when Cyril took the candle from his pocket and lighted it with the match, and then held the burning candle up before the King the enthusiasm knew no bounds.
'Oh, greatest of all, before whom sun and moon and stars bow down,' said Rekh-mara insinuatingly, 'am I pardoned? Is my innocence made plain?'
'As plain as it ever will be, I daresay,' said Pharaoh shortly. 'Get along with you. You are pardoned. Go in peace.' The priest went with lightning swiftness.
'And what,' said the King suddenly, 'is it that moves in that sack?
Show me, oh strangers.'
There was nothing for it but to show the Psammead.
'Seize it,' said Pharaoh carelessly. 'A very curious monkey. It will be a nice little novelty for my wild beast collection.'
And instantly, the entreaties of the children availing as little as the bites of the Psammead, though both bites and entreaties were fervent, it was carried away from before their eyes.
'Oh, DO be careful!' cried Anthea. 'At least keep it dry! Keep it in its sacred house!'
She held up the embroidered bag.
'It's a magic creature,' cried Robert; 'it's simply priceless!'
'You've no right to take it away,' cried Jane incautiously. 'It's a shame, a barefaced robbery, that's what it is!'
There was an awful silence. Then Pharaoh spoke.
'Take the sacred house of the beast from them,' he said, 'and imprison all. Tonight after supper it may be our pleasure to see more magic. Guard them well, and do not torture them - yet!'
'Oh, dear!' sobbed Jane, as they were led away. 'I knew exactly what it would be! Oh, I wish you hadn't!'
'Shut up, silly,' said Cyril. 'You know you WOULD come to Egypt. It was your own idea entirely. Shut up. It'll be all right.'
'I thought we should play ball with queens,' sobbed Jane, 'and have no end of larks! And now everything's going to be perfectly horrid!'
The room they were shut up in WAS a room, and not a dungeon, as the elder ones had feared. That, as Anthea said, was one comfort. There were paintings on the wall that at any other time would have been most interesting. And a sort of low couch, and chairs. When they were alone Jane breathed a sigh of relief. 'Now we can get home all right,' she said.
'And leave the Psammead?' said Anthea reproachfully.
'Wait a sec. I've got an idea,' said Cyril. He pondered for a few moments. Then he began hammering on the heavy cedar door. It opened, and a guard put in his head.
'Stop that row,' he said sternly, 'or - '
'Look here,' Cyril interrupted, 'it's very dull for you isn't it?just doing nothing but guard us. Wouldn't you like to see some magic? We're not too proud to do it for you. Wouldn't you like to see it?'
'I don't mind if I do,' said the guard.
'Well then, you get us that monkey of ours that was taken away, and we'll show you.'
'How do I know you're not making game of me?' asked the soldier. 'Shouldn't wonder if you only wanted to get the creature so as to set it on me. I daresay its teeth and claws are poisonous.' 'Well, look here,' said Robert. 'You see we've got nothing with us? You just shut the door, and open it again in five minutes, and we'll have got a magic - oh, I don't know - a magic flower in a pot for you.'
'If you can do that you can do anything,' said the soldier, and he went out and barred the door.
Then, of course, they held up the Amulet. They found the East by holding it up, and turning slowly till the Amulet began to grow big, walked home through it, and came back with a geranium in full scarlet flower from the staircase window of the Fitzroy Street house.
'Well!' said the soldier when he came in. 'I really am - !'
'We can do much more wonderful things than that - oh, ever so much,' said Anthea persuasively, 'if we only have our monkey. And here's twopence for yourself.'
The soldier looked at the twopence.
'What's this?' he said.
Robert explained how much simpler it was to pay money for things than to exchange them as the people were doing in the market. Later on the soldier gave the coins to his captain, who, later still, showed them to Pharaoh, who of course kept them and was much struck with the idea. That was really how coins first came to be used in Egypt. You will not believe this, I daresay, but really, if you believe the rest of the story, I don't see why you shouldn't believe this as well.
'I say,' said Anthea, struck by a sudden thought, 'I suppose it'll be all right about those workmen? The King won't go back on what he said about them just because he's angry with us?'
'Oh, no,' said the soldier, 'you see, he's rather afraid of magic. He'll keep to his word right enough.'
'Then THAT'S all right,' said Robert; and Anthea said softly and coaxingly -
'Ah, DO get us the monkey, and then you'll see some lovely magic. Do - there's a nice, kind soldier.'
'I don't know where they've put your precious monkey, but if I can get another chap to take on my duty here I'll see what I can do,' he said grudgingly, and went out.
'Do you mean,' said Robert, 'that we're going off without even TRYING for the other half of the Amulet?'
'I really think we'd better,' said Anthea tremulously. 'Of course the other half of the Amulet's here somewhere or our half wouldn't have brought us here. I do wish we could find it. It is a pity we don't know any REAL magic. Then we could find out. I do wonder where it is - exactly.'
If they had only known it, something very like the other half of the Amulet was very near them. It hung round the neck of someone, and that someone was watching them through a chink, high up in the wall, specially devised for watching people who were imprisoned. But they did not know.
There was nearly an hour of anxious waiting. They tried to take an interest in the picture on the wall, a picture of harpers playing very odd harps and women dancing at a feast. They examined the painted plaster floor, and the chairs were of white painted wood with coloured stripes at intervals.
But the time went slowly, and everyone had time to think of how Pharaoh had said, 'Don't torture them - YET.'
'If the worst comes to the worst,' said Cyril, 'we must just bunk, and leave the Psammead. I believe it can take care of itself well enough. They won't kill it or hurt it when they find it can speak and give wishes. They'll build it a temple, I shouldn't wonder.'
'I couldn't bear to go without it,' said Anthea, 'and Pharaoh said "After supper", that won't be just yet. And the soldier WAS curious. I'm sure we're all right for the present.'
All the same, the sounds of the door being unbarred seemed one of the prettiest sounds possible.
'Suppose he hasn't got the Psammead?' whispered Jane.
But that doubt was set at rest by the Psammead itself; for almost before the door was open it sprang through the chink of it into Anthea's arms, shivering and hunching up its fur.
'Here's its fancy overcoat,' said the soldier, holding out the bag, into which the Psammead immediately crept.
'Now,' said Cyril, 'what would you like us to do? Anything you'd like us to get for you?'
'Any little trick you like,' said the soldier. 'If you can get a strange flower blooming in an earthenware vase you can get anything, I suppose,' he said. 'I just wish I'd got two men's loads of jewels from the King's treasury. That's what I've always wished for.'
At the word 'WISH' the children knew that the Psammead would attend to THAT bit of magic. It did, and the floor was littered with a spreading heap of gold and precious stones.
'Any other little trick?' asked Cyril loftily. 'Shall we become invisible? Vanish?'
'Yes, if you like,' said the soldier; 'but not through the door, you don't.'
He closed it carefully and set his broad Egyptian back against it.
'No! no!' cried a voice high up among the tops of the tall wooden pillars that stood against the wall. There was a sound of someone moving above.
The soldier was as much surprised as anybody.
'That's magic, if you like,' he said.
And then Jane held up the Amulet, uttering the word of Power. At the sound of it and at the sight of the Amulet growing into the great arch the soldier fell flat on his face among the jewels with a cry of awe and terror.
The children went through the arch with a quickness born of long practice. But Jane stayed in the middle of the arch and looked back.
The others, standing on the dining-room carpet in Fitzroy Street, turned and saw her still in the arch. 'Someone's holding her,' cried Cyril. 'We must go back.'
But they pulled at Jane's hands just to see if she would come, and, of course, she did come.
Then, as usual, the arch was little again and there they all were.
'Oh, I do wish you hadn't!' Jane said crossly. "It WAS so interesting. The priest had come in and he was kicking the soldier, and telling him he'd done it now, and they must take the jewels and flee for their lives.'
'And did they?'
'I don't know. You interfered,' said Jane ungratefully. 'I SHOULD have liked to see the last of it.'
As a matter of fact, none of them had seen the last of it - if by 'it' Jane meant the adventure of the Priest and the Soldier.