The Story of the Amulet by Edith Nesbit
Chapter 13. The Shipwreck on the Tin Islands
'Blue and red,' said Jane softly, 'make purple.'
'Not always they don't,' said Cyril, 'it has to be crimson lake and Prussian blue. If you mix Vermilion and Indigo you get the most loathsome slate colour.'
'Sepia's the nastiest colour in the box, I think,' said Jane, sucking her brush.
They were all painting. Nurse in the flush of grateful emotion, excited by Robert's border of poppies, had presented each of the four with a shilling paint-box, and had supplemented the gift with a pile of old copies of the Illustrated London News.
'Sepia,' said Cyril instructively, 'is made out of beastly cuttlefish.'
'Purple's made out of a fish, as well as out of red and blue,' said Robert. 'Tyrian purple was, I know.'
'Out of lobsters?' said Jane dreamily. 'They're red when they're boiled, and blue when they aren't. If you mixed live and dead lobsters you'd get Tyrian purple.'
'I shouldn't like to mix anything with a live lobster,' said Anthea, shuddering.
'Well, there aren't any other red and blue fish,' said Jane; 'you'd have to.'
'I'd rather not have the purple,' said Anthea.
'The Tyrian purple wasn't that colour when it came out of the fish, nor yet afterwards, it wasn't,' said Robert; 'it was scarlet really, and Roman Emperors wore it. And it wasn't any nice colour while the fish had it. It was a yellowish-white liquid of a creamy consistency.'
'How do you know?' asked Cyril.
'I read it,' said Robert, with the meek pride of superior knowledge.
'Where?' asked Cyril.
'In print,' said Robert, still more proudly meek.
'You think everything's true if it's printed,' said Cyril, naturally annoyed, 'but it isn't. Father said so. Quite a lot of lies get printed, especially in newspapers.'
'You see, as it happens,' said Robert, in what was really a rather annoying tone, 'it wasn't a newspaper, it was in a book.'
'How sweet Chinese white is!' said Jane, dreamily sucking her brush again.
'I don't believe it,' said Cyril to Robert.
'Have a suck yourself,' suggested Robert.
'I don't mean about the Chinese white. I mean about the cream fish turning purple and--"
'Oh!' cried Anthea, jumping up very quickly, 'I'm tired of painting. Let's go somewhere by Amulet. I say let's let it choose.'
Cyril and Robert agreed that this was an idea. Jane consented to stop painting because, as she said, Chinese white, though certainly sweet, gives you a queer feeling in the back of the throat if you paint with it too long.
The Amulet was held up. 'Take us somewhere,' said Jane, 'anywhere you like in the Past--but somewhere where you are.' Then she said the word.
Next moment everyone felt a queer rocking and swaying--something like what you feel when you go out in a fishing boat. And that was not wonderful, when you come to think of it, for it was in a boat that they found themselves. A queer boat, with high bulwarks pierced with holes for oars to go through. There was a high seat for the steersman, and the prow was shaped like the head of some great animal with big, staring eyes. The boat rode at anchor in a bay, and the bay was very smooth. The crew were dark, wiry fellows with black beards and hair. They had no clothes except a tunic from waist to knee, and round caps with knobs on the top. They were very busy, and what they were doing was so interesting to the children that at first they did not even wonder where the Amulet had brought them. And the crew seemed too busy to notice the children. They were fastening rush baskets to a long rope with a great piece of cork at the end, and in each basket they put mussels or little frogs. Then they cast out the rope, the baskets sank, but the cork floated. And all about on the blue water were other boats and all the crews of all the boats were busy with ropes and baskets and frogs and mussels.
'Whatever are you doing?' Jane suddenly asked a man who had rather more clothes than the others, and seemed to be a sort of captain or overseer. He started and stared at her, but he had seen too many strange lands to be very much surprised at these queerly-dressed stowaways.
'Setting lines for the dye shell-fish,' he said shortly. 'How did you get here?'
'A sort of magic,' said Robert carelessly. The Captain fingered an Amulet that hung round his neck.
'What is this place?' asked Cyril.
'Tyre, of course,' said the man. Then he drew back and spoke in a low voice to one of the sailors.
'Now we shall know about your precious cream-jug fish,' said Cyril.
'But we never said come to Tyre,' said Jane.
'The Amulet heard us talking, I expect. I think it's most obliging of it,' said Anthea.
'And the Amulet's here too,' said Robert. 'We ought to be able to find it in a little ship like this. I wonder which of them's got it.'
'Oh--look, look!' cried Anthea suddenly. On the bare breast of one of the sailors gleamed something red. It was the exact counterpart of their precious half-Amulet.
A silence, full of emotion, was broken by Jane.
'Then we've found it!' she said. 'Oh do let's take it and go home!'
'Easy to say "take it",' said Cyril; 'he looks very strong.'
He did--yet not so strong as the other sailors.
'It's odd,' said Anthea musingly, 'I do believe I've seen that man somewhere before.'
'He's rather like our learned gentleman,' said Robert, 'but I'll tell you who he's much more like--' At that moment that sailor looked up. His eyes met Robert's--and Robert and the others had no longer any doubt as to where they had seen him before. It was Rekh-mara, the priest who had led them to the palace of Pharaoh--and whom Jane had looked back at through the arch, when he was counselling Pharaoh's guard to take the jewels and fly for his life.
Nobody was quite pleased, and nobody quite knew why.
Jane voiced the feelings of all when she said, fingering their Amulet through the folds of her frock, 'We can go back in a minute if anything nasty happens.'
For the moment nothing worse happened than an offer of food--figs and cucumbers it was, and very pleasant.
'I see,' said the Captain, 'that you are from a far country. Since you have honoured my boat by appearing on it, you must stay here till morning. Then I will lead you to one of our great ones. He loves strangers from far lands.'
'Let's go home,' Jane whispered, 'all the frogs are drowning now. I think the people here are cruel.'
But the boys wanted to stay and see the lines taken up in the morning.
'It's just like eel-pots and lobster-pots,' said Cyril, 'the baskets only open from outside--I vote we stay.'
So they stayed.
'That's Tyre over there,' said the Captain, who was evidently trying to be civil. He pointed to a great island rock, that rose steeply from the sea, crowned with huge walls and towers. There was another city on the mainland.
'That's part of Tyre, too,' said the Captain; 'it's where the great merchants have their pleasure-houses and gardens and farms.'
'Look, look!' Cyril cried suddenly; 'what a lovely little ship!'
A ship in full sail was passing swiftly through the fishing fleet. The Captain's face changed. He frowned, and his eyes blazed with fury.
'Insolent young barbarian!' he cried. 'Do you call the ships of Tyre little? None greater sail the seas. That ship has been on a three years' voyage. She is known in all the great trading ports from here to the Tin Islands. She comes back rich and glorious. Her very anchor is of silver.'
'I'm sure we beg your pardon,' said Anthea hastily. 'In our country we say "little" for a pet name. Your wife might call you her dear little husband, you know.'
'I should like to catch her at it,' growled the Captain, but he stopped scowling.
'It's a rich trade,' he went on. 'For cloth once dipped, second-best glass, and the rough images our young artists carve for practice, the barbarian King in Tessos lets us work the silver mines. We get so much silver there that we leave them our iron anchors and come back with silver ones.'
'How splendid!' said Robert. 'Do go on. What's cloth once dipped?'
'You must be barbarians from the outer darkness,' said the Captain scornfully. 'All wealthy nations know that our finest stuffs are twice dyed--dibaptha. They're only for the robes of kings and priests and princes.'
'What do the rich merchants wear,' asked Jane, with interest, 'in the pleasure-houses?'
'They wear the dibaptha. Our merchants are princes,' scowled the skipper.
'Oh, don't be cross, we do so like hearing about things. We want to know all about the dyeing,' said Anthea cordially.
'Oh, you do, do you?' growled the man. 'So that's what you're here for? Well, you won't get the secrets of the dye trade out of me.'
He went away, and everyone felt snubbed and uncomfortable. And all the time the long, narrow eyes of the Egyptian were watching, watching. They felt as though he was watching them through the darkness, when they lay down to sleep on a pile of cloaks.
Next morning the baskets were drawn up full of what looked like whelk shells.
The children were rather in the way, but they made themselves as small as they could. While the skipper was at the other end of the boat they did ask one question of a sailor, whose face was a little less unkind than the others.
'Yes,' he answered, 'this is the dye-fish. It's a sort of murex--and there's another kind that they catch at Sidon and then, of course, there's the kind that's used for the dibaptha. But that's quite different. It's--'
'Hold your tongue!' shouted the skipper. And the man held it.
The laden boat was rowed slowly round the end of the island, and was made fast in one of the two great harbours that lay inside a long breakwater. The harbour was full of all sorts of ships, so that Cyril and Robert enjoyed themselves much more than their sisters. The breakwater and the quays were heaped with bales and baskets, and crowded with slaves and sailors. Farther along some men were practising diving.
'That's jolly good,' said Robert, as a naked brown body cleft the water.
'I should think so,' said the skipper. 'The pearl-divers of Persia are not more skilful. Why, we've got a fresh-water spring that comes out at the bottom of the sea. Our divers dive down and bring up the fresh water in skin bottles! Can your barbarian divers do as much?'
'I suppose not,' said Robert, and put away a wild desire to explain to the Captain the English system of waterworks, pipes, taps, and the intricacies of the plumbers' trade.
As they neared the quay the skipper made a hasty toilet. He did his hair, combed his beard, put on a garment like a jersey with short sleeves, an embroidered belt, a necklace of beads, and a big signet ring.
'Now,' said he, 'I'm fit to be seen. Come along?'
'Where to?' said Jane cautiously.
'To Pheles, the great sea-captain, said the skipper, 'the man I told you of, who loves barbarians.'
Then Rekh-mara came forward, and, for the first time, spoke.
'I have known these children in another land,' he said. 'You know my powers of magic. It was my magic that brought these barbarians to your boat. And you know how they will profit you. I read your thoughts. Let me come with you and see the end of them, and then I will work the spell I promised you in return for the little experience you have so kindly given me on your boat.'
The skipper looked at the Egyptian with some disfavour.
'So it was your doing,' he said. 'I might have guessed it. Well, come on.'
So he came, and the girls wished he hadn't. But Robert whispered--
'Nonsense--as long as he's with us we've got some chance of the Amulet. We can always fly if anything goes wrong.'
The morning was so fresh and bright; their breakfast had been so good and so unusual; they had actually seen the Amulet round the Egyptian's neck. One or two, or all these things, suddenly raised the children's spirits. They went off quite cheerfully through the city gate--it was not arched, but roofed over with a great flat stone--and so through the street, which smelt horribly of fish and garlic and a thousand other things even less agreeable. But far worse than the street scents was the scent of the factory, where the skipper called in to sell his night's catch. I wish I could tell you all about that factory, but I haven't time, and perhaps after all you aren't interested in dyeing works. I will only mention that Robert was triumphantly proved to be right. The dye was a yellowish-white liquid of a creamy consistency, and it smelt more strongly of garlic than garlic itself does.
While the skipper was bargaining with the master of the dye works the Egyptian came close to the children, and said, suddenly and softly--
'I wish we could,' said Anthea.
'You feel,' said the Egyptian, 'that I want your Amulet. That makes you distrust me.'
'Yes,' said Cyril bluntly.
'But you also, you want my Amulet, and I am trusting you.'
'There's something in that,' said Robert.
'We have the two halves of the Amulet,' said the Priest, 'but not yet the pin that joined them. Our only chance of getting that is to remain together. Once part these two halves and they may never be found in the same time and place. Be wise. Our interests are the same.'
Before anyone could say more the skipper came back, and with him the dye-master. His hair and beard were curled like the men's in Babylon, and he was dressed like the skipper, but with added grandeur of gold and embroidery. He had necklaces of beads and silver, and a glass amulet with a man's face, very like his own, set between two bull's heads, as well as gold and silver bracelets and armlets. He looked keenly at the children. Then he said--
'My brother Pheles has just come back from Tarshish. He's at his garden house--unless he's hunting wild boar in the marshes. He gets frightfully bored on shore.'
'Ah,' said the skipper, 'he's a true-born Phoenician. "Tyre, Tyre for ever! Oh, Tyre rules the waves!" as the old song says. I'll go at once, and show him my young barbarians.'
'I should,' said the dye-master. 'They are very rum, aren't they? What frightful clothes, and what a lot of them! Observe the covering of their feet. Hideous indeed.'
Robert could not help thinking how easy, and at the same time pleasant, it would be to catch hold of the dye-master's feet and tip him backward into the great sunken vat just near him. But if he had, flight would have had to be the next move, so he restrained his impulse.
There was something about this Tyrian adventure that was different from all the others. It was, somehow, calmer. And there was the undoubted fact that the charm was there on the neck of the Egyptian.
So they enjoyed everything to the full, the row from the Island City to the shore, the ride on the donkeys that the skipper hired at the gate of the mainland city, and the pleasant country--palms and figs and cedars all about. It was like a garden--clematis, honeysuckle, and jasmine clung about the olive and mulberry trees, and there were tulips and gladiolus, and clumps of mandrake, which has bell-flowers that look as though they were cut out of dark blue jewels. In the distance were the mountains of Lebanon. The house they came to at last was rather like a bungalow--long and low, with pillars all along the front. Cedars and sycamores grew near it and sheltered it pleasantly.
Everyone dismounted, and the donkeys were led away.
'Why is this like Rosherville?' whispered Robert, and instantly supplied the answer.
'Because it's the place to spend a happy day.'
'It's jolly decent of the skipper to have brought us to such a ripping place,' said Cyril.
'Do you know,' said Anthea, 'this feels more real than anything else we've seen? It's like a holiday in the country at home.'
The children were left alone in a large hall. The floor was mosaic, done with wonderful pictures of ships and sea-beasts and fishes. Through an open doorway they could see a pleasant courtyard with flowers.
'I should like to spend a week here,' said Jane, 'and donkey ride every day.'
Everyone was feeling very jolly. Even the Egyptian looked pleasanter than usual. And then, quite suddenly, the skipper came back with a joyous smile. With him came the master of the house. He looked steadily at the children and nodded twice.
'Yes,' he said, 'my steward will pay you the price. But I shall not pay at that high rate for the Egyptian dog.'
The two passed on.
'This,' said the Egyptian, 'is a pretty kettle of fish.'
'What is?' asked all the children at once.
'Our present position,' said Rekh-mara. 'Our seafaring friend,' he added, 'has sold us all for slaves!'
A hasty council succeeded the shock of this announcement. The Priest was allowed to take part in it. His advice was 'stay', because they were in no danger, and the Amulet in its completeness must be somewhere near, or, of course, they could not have come to that place at all. And after some discussion they agreed to this.
The children were treated more as guests than as slaves, but the Egyptian was sent to the kitchen and made to work.
Pheles, the master of the house, went off that very evening, by the King's orders, to start on another voyage. And when he was gone his wife found the children amusing company, and kept them talking and singing and dancing till quite late. 'To distract my mind from my sorrows,' she said.
'I do like being a slave,' remarked Jane cheerfully, as they curled up on the big, soft cushions that were to be their beds.
It was black night when they were awakened, each by a hand passed softly over its face, and a low voice that whispered--
'Be quiet, or all is lost.'
So they were quiet.
'It's me, Rekh-mara, the Priest of Amen,' said the whisperer. 'The man who brought us has gone to sea again, and he has taken my Amulet from me by force, and I know no magic to get it back. Is there magic for that in the Amulet you bear?'
Everyone was instantly awake by now.
'We can go after him,' said Cyril, leaping up; 'but he might take ours as well; or he might be angry with us for following him.'
'I'll see to that,' said the Egyptian in the dark. 'Hide your Amulet well.'
There in the deep blackness of that room in the Tyrian country house the Amulet was once more held up and the word spoken.
All passed through on to a ship that tossed and tumbled on a wind-blown sea. They crouched together there till morning, and Jane and Cyril were not at all well. When the dawn showed, dove-coloured, across the steely waves, they stood up as well as they could for the tumbling of the ship. Pheles, that hardy sailor and adventurer, turned quite pale when he turned round suddenly and saw them.
'Well!' he said, 'well, I never did!'
'Master,' said the Egyptian, bowing low, and that was even more difficult than standing up, 'we are here by the magic of the sacred Amulet that hangs round your neck.'
'I never did!' repeated Pheles. 'Well, well!'
'What port is the ship bound for?' asked Robert, with a nautical air.
But Pheles said, 'Are you a navigator?' Robert had to own that he was not.
'Then,' said Pheles, 'I don't mind telling you that we're bound for the Tin Isles. Tyre alone knows where the Tin Isles are. It is a splendid secret we keep from all the world. It is as great a thing to us as your magic to you.'
He spoke in quite a new voice, and seemed to respect both the children and the Amulet a good deal more than he had done before.
'The King sent you, didn't he?' said Jane.
'Yes,' answered Pheles, 'he bade me set sail with half a score brave gentlemen and this crew. You shall go with us, and see many wonders.' He bowed and left them.
'What are we going to do now?' said Robert, when Pheles had caused them to be left along with a breakfast of dried fruits and a sort of hard biscuit.
'Wait till he lands in the Tin Isles,' said Rekh-mara, 'then we can get the barbarians to help us. We will attack him by night and tear the sacred Amulet from his accursed heathen neck,' he added, grinding his teeth.
'When shall we get to the Tin Isles?' asked Jane.
'Oh--six months, perhaps, or a year,' said the Egyptian cheerfully.
'A year of this?' cried Jane, and Cyril, who was still feeling far too unwell to care about breakfast, hugged himself miserably and shuddered. It was Robert who said--
'Look here, we can shorten that year. Jane, out with the Amulet! Wish that we were where the Amulet will be when the ship is twenty miles from the Tin Island. That'll give us time to mature our plans.'
It was done--the work of a moment--and there they were on the same ship, between grey northern sky and grey northern sea. The sun was setting in a pale yellow line. It was the same ship, but it was changed, and so were the crew. Weather-worn and dirty were the sailors, and their clothes torn and ragged. And the children saw that, of course, though they had skipped the nine months, the ship had had to live through them. Pheles looked thinner, and his face was rugged and anxious.
'Ha!' he cried, 'the charm has brought you back! I have prayed to it daily these nine months--and now you are here? Have you no magic that can help?'
'What is your need?' asked the Egyptian quietly.
'I need a great wave that shall whelm away the foreign ship that follows us. A month ago it lay in wait for us, by the pillars of the gods, and it follows, follows, to find out the secret of Tyre--the place of the Tin Islands. If I could steer by night I could escape them yet, but tonight there will be no stars.'
'My magic will not serve you here,' said the Egyptian.
But Robert said, 'My magic will not bring up great waves, but I can show you how to steer without stars.'
He took out the shilling compass, still, fortunately, in working order, that he had bought off another boy at school for fivepence, a piece of indiarubber, a strip of whalebone, and half a stick of red sealing-wax.
And he showed Pheles how it worked. And Pheles wondered at the compass's magic truth.
'I will give it to you,' Robert said, 'in return for that charm about your neck.'
Pheles made no answer. He first laughed, snatched the compass from Robert's hand, and turned away still laughing.
'Be comforted,' the Priest whispered, 'our time will come.'
The dusk deepened, and Pheles, crouched beside a dim lantern, steered by the shilling compass from the Crystal Palace.
No one ever knew how the other ship sailed, but suddenly, in the deep night, the look-out man at the stern cried out in a terrible voice--
'She is close upon us!'
'And we,' said Pheles, 'are close to the harbour.' He was silent a moment, then suddenly he altered the ship's course, and then he stood up and spoke.
'Good friends and gentlemen,' he said, 'who are bound with me in this brave venture by our King's command, the false, foreign ship is close on our heels. If we land, they land, and only the gods know whether they might not beat us in fight, and themselves survive to carry back the tale of Tyre's secret island to enrich their own miserable land. Shall this be?'
'Never!' cried the half-dozen men near him. The slaves were rowing hard below and could not hear his words.
The Egyptian leaped upon him; suddenly, fiercely, as a wild beast leaps. 'Give me back my Amulet,' he cried, and caught at the charm. The chain that held it snapped, and it lay in the Priest's hand.
Pheles laughed, standing balanced to the leap of the ship that answered the oarstroke.
'This is no time for charms and mummeries,' he said. 'We've lived like men, and we'll die like gentlemen for the honour and glory of Tyre, our splendid city. "Tyre, Tyre for ever! It's Tyre that rules the waves." I steer her straight for the Dragon rocks, and we go down for our city, as brave men should. The creeping cowards who follow shall go down as slaves--and slaves they shall be to us--when we live again. Tyre, Tyre for ever!'
A great shout went up, and the slaves below joined in it.
'Quick, the Amulet,' cried Anthea, and held it up. Rekh-mara held up the one he had snatched from Pheles. The word was spoken, and the two great arches grew on the plunging ship in the shrieking wind under the dark sky. From each Amulet a great and beautiful green light streamed and shone far out over the waves. It illuminated, too, the black faces and jagged teeth of the great rocks that lay not two ships' lengths from the boat's peaked nose.
'Tyre, Tyre for ever! It's Tyre that rules the waves!' the voices of the doomed rose in a triumphant shout. The children scrambled through the arch, and stood trembling and blinking in the Fitzroy Street parlour, and in their ears still sounded the whistle of the wind, and the rattle of the oars, the crash of the ships bow on the rocks, and the last shout of the brave gentlemen-adventurers who went to their deaths singing, for the sake of the city they loved.
'And so we've lost the other half of the Amulet again,' said Anthea, when they had told the Psammead all about it.
'Nonsense, pooh!' said the Psammead. 'That wasn't the other half. It was the same half that you've got--the one that wasn't crushed and lost.'
'But how could it be the same?' said Anthea gently.
'Well, not exactly, of course. The one you've got is a good many years older, but at any rate it's not the other one. What did you say when you wished?'
'I forget,' said Jane.
'I don't,' said the Psammead. 'You said, "Take us where you are"--and it did, so you see it was the same half.'
'I see,' said Anthea.
'But you mark my words,' the Psammead went on, 'you'll have trouble with that Priest yet.'
'Why, he was quite friendly,' said Anthea.
'All the same you'd better beware of the Reverend Rekh-mara.'
'Oh, I'm sick of the Amulet,' said Cyril, 'we shall never get it.'
'Oh yes we shall,' said Robert. 'Don't you remember December 3rd?'
'Jinks!' said Cyril, 'I'd forgotten that.'
'I don't believe it,' said Jane, 'and I don't feel at all well.'
'If I were you,' said the Psammead, 'I should not go out into the Past again till that date. You'll find it safer not to go where you're likely to meet that Egyptian any more just at present.'
'Of course we'll do as you say,' said Anthea soothingly, 'though there's something about his face that I really do like.'
'Still, you don't want to run after him, I suppose,' snapped the Psammead. 'You wait till the 3rd, and then see what happens.'
Cyril and Jane were feeling far from well, Anthea was always obliging, so Robert was overruled. And they promised. And none of them, not even the Psammead, at all foresaw, as you no doubt do quite plainly, exactly what it was that would happen on that memorable date.