The Story of the Amulet by Edith Nesbit
Chapter 7. 'The Deepest Dungeon Below the Castle Moat'
The Queen threw three of the red and gold embroidered cushions off the throne on to the marble steps that led up to it.
'Just make yourselves comfortable there,' she said. 'I'm simply dying to talk to you, and to hear all about your wonderful country and how you got here, and everything, but I have to do justice every morning. Such a bore, isn't it? Do you do justice in your own country?'
'No, said Cyril; 'at least of course we try to, but not in this public sort of way, only in private.' 'Ah, yes,' said the Queen, 'I should much prefer a private audience myself--much easier to manage. But public opinion has to be considered. Doing justice is very hard work, even when you're brought up to it.'
'We don't do justice, but we have to do scales, Jane and me,' said Anthea, 'twenty minutes a day. It's simply horrid.'
'What are scales?' asked the Queen, 'and what is Jane?'
'Jane is my little sister. One of the guards-at-the-gate's wife is taking care of her. And scales are music.'
'I never heard of the instrument,' said the Queen. 'Do you sing?'
'Oh, yes. We can sing in parts,' said Anthea.
'That is magic,' said the Queen. 'How many parts are you each cut into before you do it?'
'We aren't cut at all,' said Robert hastily. 'We couldn't sing if we were. We'll show you afterwards.'
'So you shall, and now sit quiet like dear children and hear me do justice. The way I do it has always been admired. I oughtn't to say that ought I? Sounds so conceited. But I don't mind with you, dears. Somehow I feel as though I'd known you quite a long time already.'
The Queen settled herself on her throne and made a signal to her attendants. The children, whispering together among the cushions on the steps of the throne, decided that she was very beautiful and very kind, but perhaps just the least bit flighty.
The first person who came to ask for justice was a woman whose brother had taken the money the father had left for her. The brother said it was the uncle who had the money. There was a good deal of talk and the children were growing rather bored, when the Queen suddenly clapped her hands, and said--
'Put both the men in prison till one of them owns up that the other is innocent.'
'But suppose they both did it?' Cyril could not help interrupting.
'Then prison's the best place for them,' said the Queen.
'But suppose neither did it.'
'That's impossible,' said the Queen; 'a thing's not done unless someone does it. And you mustn't interrupt.'
Then came a woman, in tears, with a torn veil and real ashes on her head--at least Anthea thought so, but it may have been only road-dust. She complained that her husband was in prison.
'What for?' said the Queen.
'They said it was for speaking evil of your Majesty,' said the woman, 'but it wasn't. Someone had a spite against him. That was what it was.'
'How do you know he hadn't spoken evil of me?' said the Queen.
'No one could,' said the woman simply, 'when they'd once seen your beautiful face.'
'Let the man out,' said the Queen, smiling. 'Next case.'
The next case was that of a boy who had stolen a fox. 'Like the Spartan boy,' whispered Robert. But the Queen ruled that nobody could have any possible reason for owning a fox, and still less for stealing one. And she did not believe that there were any foxes in Babylon; she, at any rate, had never seen one. So the boy was released.
The people came to the Queen about all sorts of family quarrels and neighbourly misunderstandings--from a fight between brothers over the division of an inheritance, to the dishonest and unfriendly conduct of a woman who had borrowed a cooking-pot at the last New Year's festival, and not returned it yet.
And the Queen decided everything, very, very decidedly indeed. At last she clapped her hands quite suddenly and with extreme loudness, and said--
'The audience is over for today.'
Everyone said, 'May the Queen live for ever!' and went out.
And the children were left alone in the justice-hall with the Queen of Babylon and her ladies.
'There!' said the Queen, with a long sigh of relief. 'That's over! I couldn't have done another stitch of justice if you'd offered me the crown of Egypt! Now come into the garden, and we'll have a nice, long, cosy talk.'
She led them through long, narrow corridors whose walls they somehow felt, were very, very thick, into a sort of garden courtyard. There were thick shrubs closely planted, and roses were trained over trellises, and made a pleasant shade--needed, indeed, for already the sun was as hot as it is in England in August at the seaside.
Slaves spread cushions on a low, marble terrace, and a big man with a smooth face served cool drink in cups of gold studded with beryls. He drank a little from the Queen's cup before handing it to her.
'That's rather a nasty trick,' whispered Robert, who had been carefully taught never to drink out of one of the nice, shiny, metal cups that are chained to the London drinking fountains without first rinsing it out thoroughly.
The Queen overheard him.
'Not at all,' said she. 'Ritti-Marduk is a very clean man. And one has to have some one as taster, you know, because of poison.'
The word made the children feel rather creepy; but Ritti-Marduk had tasted all the cups, so they felt pretty safe. The drink was delicious--very cold, and tasting like lemonade and partly like penny ices.
'Leave us,' said the Queen. And all the Court ladies, in their beautiful, many-folded, many-coloured, fringed dresses, filed out slowly, and the children were left alone with the Queen.
'Now,' she said, 'tell me all about yourselves.'
They looked at each other.
'You, Bobs,' said Cyril.
'No--Anthea,' said Robert.
'No--you--Cyril,' said Anthea. 'Don't you remember how pleased the Queen of India was when you told her all about us?'
Cyril muttered that it was all very well, and so it was. For when he had told the tale of the Phoenix and the Carpet to the Ranee, it had been only the truth--and all the truth that he had to tell. But now it was not easy to tell a convincing story without mentioning the Amulet--which, of course, it wouldn't have done to mention--and without owning that they were really living in London, about 2,500 years later than the time they were talking in.
Cyril took refuge in the tale of the Psammead and its wonderful power of making wishes come true. The children had never been able to tell anyone before, and Cyril was surprised to find that the spell which kept them silent in London did not work here. 'Something to do with our being in the Past, I suppose,' he said to himself.
'This is most interesting,' said the Queen. 'We must have this Psammead for the banquet tonight. Its performance will be one of the most popular turns in the whole programme. Where is it?'
Anthea explained that they did not know; also why it was that they did not know.
'Oh, that's quite simple,' said the Queen, and everyone breathed a deep sigh of relief as she said it.
'Ritti-Marduk shall run down to the gates and find out which guard your sister went home with.'
'Might he'--Anthea's voice was tremulous--'might he--would it interfere with his meal-times, or anything like that, if he went now?'
'Of course he shall go now. He may think himself lucky if he gets his meals at any time,' said the Queen heartily, and clapped her hands.
'May I send a letter?' asked Cyril, pulling out a red-backed penny account-book, and feeling in his pockets for a stump of pencil that he knew was in one of them.
'By all means. I'll call my scribe.'
'Oh, I can scribe right enough, thanks,' said Cyril, finding the pencil and licking its point. He even had to bite the wood a little, for it was very blunt.
'Oh, you clever, clever boy!' said the Queen. 'Do let me watch you do it!'
Cyril wrote on a leaf of the book--it was of rough, woolly paper, with hairs that stuck out and would have got in his pen if he had been using one, and ruled for accounts.
'Hide it most carefully before you come here,' he wrote, 'and don't mention it--and destroy this letter. Everything is going A1. The Queen is a fair treat. There's nothing to be afraid of.'
'What curious characters, and what a strange flat surface!' said the Queen. 'What have you inscribed?'
'I've 'scribed,' replied Cyril cautiously, 'that you are fair, and a--and like a--like a festival; and that she need not be afraid, and that she is to come at once.'
Ritti-Marduk, who had come in and had stood waiting while Cyril wrote, his Babylonish eyes nearly starting out of his Babylonish head, now took the letter, with some reluctance.
'O Queen, live for ever! Is it a charm?' he timidly asked. 'A strong charm, most great lady?'
'Yes,' said Robert, unexpectedly, 'it is a charm, but it won't hurt anyone until you've given it to Jane. And then she'll destroy it, so that it can't hurt anyone. It's most awful strong!--as strong as--Peppermint!' he ended abruptly.
'I know not the god,' said Ritti-Marduk, bending timorously.
'She'll tear it up directly she gets it,' said Robert, 'That'll end the charm. You needn't be afraid if you go now.'
Ritti-Marduk went, seeming only partly satisfied; and then the Queen began to admire the penny account-book and the bit of pencil in so marked and significant a way that Cyril felt he could not do less than press them upon her as a gift. She ruffled the leaves delightedly.
'What a wonderful substance!' she said. 'And with this style you make charms? Make a charm for me! Do you know,' her voice sank to a whisper, 'the names of the great ones of your own far country?'
'Rather!' said Cyril, and hastily wrote the names of Alfred the Great, Shakespeare, Nelson, Gordon, Lord Beaconsfield, Mr Rudyard Kipling, and Mr Sherlock Holmes, while the Queen watched him with 'unbaited breath', as Anthea said afterwards.
She took the book and hid it reverently among the bright folds of her gown.
'You shall teach me later to say the great names,' she said. 'And the names of their Ministers--perhaps the great Nisroch is one of them?'
'I don't think so,' said Cyril. 'Mr Campbell Bannerman's Prime Minister and Mr Burns a Minister, and so is the Archbishop of Canterbury, I think, but I'm not sure--and Dr Parker was one, I know, and--'
'No more,' said the Queen, putting her hands to her ears. 'My head's going round with all those great names. You shall teach them to me later--because of course you'll make us a nice long visit now you have come, won't you? Now tell me--but no, I am quite tired out with your being so clever. Besides, I'm sure you'd like me to tell you something, wouldn't you?'
'Yes,' said Anthea. 'I want to know how it is that the King has gone--'
'Excuse me, but you should say "the King may-he-live-for-ever",' said the Queen gently.
'I beg your pardon,' Anthea hastened to say--'the King may-he-live-for-ever has gone to fetch home his fourteenth wife? I don't think even Bluebeard had as many as that. And, besides, he hasn't killed you at any rate.'
The Queen looked bewildered.
'She means,' explained Robert, 'that English kings only have one wife--at least, Henry the Eighth had seven or eight, but not all at once.'
'In our country,' said the Queen scornfully, 'a king would not reign a day who had only one wife. No one would respect him, and quite right too.'
'Then are all the other thirteen alive?' asked Anthea.
'Of course they are--poor mean-spirited things! I don't associate with them, of course, I am the Queen: they're only the wives.'
'I see,' said Anthea, gasping.
'But oh, my dears,' the Queen went on, 'such a to-do as there's been about this last wife! You never did! It really was too funny. We wanted an Egyptian princess. The King may-he-live-for-ever has got a wife from most of the important nations, and he had set his heart on an Egyptian one to complete his collection. Well, of course, to begin with, we sent a handsome present of gold. The Egyptian king sent back some horses--quite a few; he's fearfully stingy!--and he said he liked the gold very much, but what they were really short of was lapis lazuli, so of course we sent him some. But by that time he'd begun to use the gold to cover the beams of the roof of the Temple of the Sun-God, and he hadn't nearly enough to finish the job, so we sent some more. And so it went on, oh, for years. You see each journey takes at least six months. And at last we asked the hand of his daughter in marriage.'
'Yes, and then?' said Anthea, who wanted to get to the princess part of the story.
'Well, then,' said the Queen, 'when he'd got everything out of us that he could, and only given the meanest presents in return, he sent to say he would esteem the honour of an alliance very highly, only unfortunately he hadn't any daughter, but he hoped one would be born soon, and if so, she should certainly be reserved for the King of Babylon!'
'What a trick!' said Cyril.
'Yes, wasn't it? So then we said his sister would do, and then there were more gifts and more journeys; and now at last the tiresome, black-haired thing is coming, and the King may-he-live-for-ever has gone seven days' journey to meet her at Carchemish. And he's gone in his best chariot, the one inlaid with lapis lazuli and gold, with the gold-plated wheels and onyx-studded hubs--much too great an honour in my opinion. She'll be here tonight; there'll be a grand banquet to celebrate her arrival. She won't be present, of course. She'll be having her baths and her anointings, and all that sort of thing. We always clean our foreign brides very carefully. It takes two or three weeks. Now it's dinnertime, and you shall eat with me, for I can see that you are of high rank.' She led them into a dark, cool hall, with many cushions on the floor. On these they sat and low tables were brought--beautiful tables of smooth, blue stone mounted in gold. On these, golden trays were placed; but there were no knives, or forks, or spoons. The children expected the Queen to call for them; but no. She just ate with her fingers, and as the first dish was a great tray of boiled corn, and meat and raisins all mixed up together, and melted fat poured all over the tray, it was found difficult to follow her example with anything like what we are used to think of as good table manners. There were stewed quinces afterwards, and dates in syrup, and thick yellowy cream. It was the kind of dinner you hardly ever get in Fitzroy Street.
After dinner everybody went to sleep, even the children.
The Queen awoke with a start.
'Good gracious!' she cried, 'what a time we've slept! I must rush off and dress for the banquet. I shan't have much more than time.'
'Hasn't Ritti-Marduk got back with our sister and the Psammead yet?' Anthea asked.
'I quite forgot to ask. I'm sorry,' said the Queen. 'And of course they wouldn't announce her unless I told them to, except during justice hours. I expect she's waiting outside. I'll see.'
Ritti-Marduk came in a moment later.
'I regret,' he said, 'that I have been unable to find your sister. The beast she bears with her in a basket has bitten the child of the guard, and your sister and the beast set out to come to you. The police say they have a clue. No doubt we shall have news of her in a few weeks.' He bowed and withdrew.
The horror of this threefold loss--Jane, the Psammead, and the Amulet--gave the children something to talk about while the Queen was dressing. I shall not report their conversation; it was very gloomy. Everyone repeated himself several times, and the discussion ended in each of them blaming the other two for having let Jane go. You know the sort of talk it was, don't you? At last Cyril said--
'After all, she's with the Psammead, so she's all right. The Psammead is jolly careful of itself too. And it isn't as if we were in any danger. Let's try to buck up and enjoy the banquet.'
They did enjoy the banquet. They had a beautiful bath, which was delicious, were heavily oiled all over, including their hair, and that was most unpleasant. Then, they dressed again and were presented to the King, who was most affable. The banquet was long; there were all sorts of nice things to eat, and everybody seemed to eat and drink a good deal. Everyone lay on cushions and couches, ladies on one side and gentlemen on the other; and after the eating was done each lady went and sat by some gentleman, who seemed to be her sweetheart or her husband, for they were very affectionate to each other. The Court dresses had gold threads woven in them, very bright and beautiful.
The middle of the room was left clear, and different people came and did amusing things. There were conjurers and jugglers and snake-charmers, which last Anthea did not like at all.
When it got dark torches were lighted. Cedar splinters dipped in oil blazed in copper dishes set high on poles.
Then there was a dancer, who hardly danced at all, only just struck attitudes. She had hardly any clothes, and was not at all pretty. The children were rather bored by her, but everyone else was delighted, including the King.
'By the beard of Nimrod!' he cried, 'ask what you like girl, and you shall have it!'
'I want nothing,' said the dancer; 'the honour of having pleased the King may-he-live-for-ever is reward enough for me.'
And the King was so pleased with this modest and sensible reply that he gave her the gold collar off his own neck.
'I say!' said Cyril, awed by the magnificence of the gift.
'It's all right,' whispered the Queen, 'it's not his best collar by any means. We always keep a stock of cheap jewellery for these occasions. And now--you promised to sing us something. Would you like my minstrels to accompany you?'
'No, thank you,' said Anthea quickly. The minstrels had been playing off and on all the time, and their music reminded Anthea of the band she and the others had once had on the fifth of November--with penny horns, a tin whistle, a tea-tray, the tongs, a policeman's rattle, and a toy drum. They had enjoyed this band very much at the time. But it was quite different when someone else was making the same kind of music. Anthea understood now that Father had not been really heartless and unreasonable when he had told them to stop that infuriating din.
'What shall we sing?' Cyril was asking.
'Sweet and low?' suggested Anthea.
'Too soft--I vote for "Who will o'er the downs". Now then--one, two, three.
'Oh, who will o'er the downs so free, Oh, who will with me ride, Oh, who will up and follow me, To win a blooming bride? Her father he has locked the door, Her mother keeps the key; But neither bolt nor bar shall keep My own true love from me.'
Jane, the alto, was missing, and Robert, unlike the mother of the lady in the song, never could 'keep the key', but the song, even so, was sufficiently unlike anything any of them had ever heard to rouse the Babylonian Court to the wildest enthusiasm.
'More, more,' cried the King; 'by my beard, this savage music is a new thing. Sing again!'
So they sang:
'I saw her bower at twilight gray, 'Twas guarded safe and sure. I saw her bower at break of day, 'Twas guarded then no more. The varlets they were all asleep, And there was none to see The greeting fair that passed there Between my love and me.'
Shouts of applause greeted the ending of the verse, and the King would not be satisfied till they had sung all their part-songs (they only knew three) twice over, and ended up with 'Men of Harlech' in unison. Then the King stood up in his royal robes with his high, narrow crown on his head and shouted--
'By the beak of Nisroch, ask what you will, strangers from the land where the sun never sets!'
'We ought to say it's enough honour, like the dancer did,' whispered Anthea
'No, let's ask for it,' said Robert.
'No, no, I'm sure the other's manners,' said Anthea. But Robert, who was excited by the music, and the flaring torches, and the applause and the opportunity, spoke up before the others could stop him.
'Give us the half of the Amulet that has on it the name Ur Hekau Setcheh,' he said, adding as an afterthought, 'O King, live-for-ever.'
As he spoke the great name those in the pillared hall fell on their faces, and lay still. All but the Queen who crouched amid her cushions with her head in her hands, and the King, who stood upright, perfectly still, like the statue of a king in stone. It was only for a moment though. Then his great voice thundered out--
'Guard, seize them!'
Instantly, from nowhere as it seemed, sprang eight soldiers in bright armour inlaid with gold, and tunics of red and white. Very splendid they were, and very alarming.
'Impious and sacrilegious wretches!' shouted the King. 'To the dungeons with them! We will find a way, tomorrow, to make them speak. For without doubt they can tell us where to find the lost half of It.'
A wall of scarlet and white and steel and gold closed up round the children and hurried them away among the many pillars of the great hall. As they went they heard the voices of the courtiers loud in horror.
'You've done it this time,' said Cyril with extreme bitterness.
'Oh, it will come right. It must. It always does,' said Anthea desperately.
They could not see where they were going, because the guard surrounded them so closely, but the ground under their feet, smooth marble at first, grew rougher like stone, then it was loose earth and sand, and they felt the night air. Then there was more stone, and steps down.
'It's my belief we really are going to the deepest dungeon below the castle moat this time,' said Cyril.
And they were. At least it was not below a moat, but below the river Euphrates, which was just as bad if not worse. In a most unpleasant place it was. Dark, very, very damp, and with an odd, musty smell rather like the shells of oysters. There was a torch--that is to say, a copper basket on a high stick with oiled wood burning in it. By its light the children saw that the walls were green, and that trickles of water ran down them and dripped from the roof. There were things on the floor that looked like newts, and in the dark corners creepy, shiny things moved sluggishly, uneasily, horribly.
Robert's heart sank right into those really reliable boots of his. Anthea and Cyril each had a private struggle with that inside disagreeableness which is part of all of us, and which is sometimes called the Old Adam--and both were victors. Neither of them said to Robert (and both tried hard not even to think it), 'This is your doing.' Anthea had the additional temptation to add, 'I told you so.' And she resisted it successfully.
'Sacrilege, and impious cheek,' said the captain of the guard to the gaoler. 'To be kept during the King's pleasure. I expect he means to get some pleasure out of them tomorrow! He'll tickle them up!'
'Poor little kids,' said the gaoler.
'Oh, yes,' said the captain. 'I've got kids of my own too. But it doesn't do to let domestic sentiment interfere with one's public duties. Good night.'
The soldiers tramped heavily off in their white and red and steel and gold. The gaoler, with a bunch of big keys in his hand, stood looking pityingly at the children. He shook his head twice and went out.
'Courage!' said Anthea. 'I know it will be all right. It's only a dream really, you know. It must be! I don't believe about time being only a something or other of thought. It is a dream, and we're bound to wake up all right and safe.'
'Humph,' said Cyril bitterly. And Robert suddenly said--
'It's all my doing. If it really is all up do please not keep a down on me about it, and tell Father-- Oh, I forgot.'
What he had forgotten was that his father was 3,000 miles and 5,000 or more years away from him.
'All right, Bobs, old man,' said Cyril; and Anthea got hold of Robert's hand and squeezed it.
Then the gaoler came back with a platter of hard, flat cakes made of coarse grain, very different from the cream-and-juicy-date feasts of the palace; also a pitcher of water.
'There,' he said.
'Oh, thank you so very much. You are kind,' said Anthea feverishly.
'Go to sleep,' said the gaoler, pointing to a heap of straw in a corner; 'tomorrow comes soon enough.'
'Oh, dear Mr Gaoler,' said Anthea, 'whatever will they do to us tomorrow?'
'They'll try to make you tell things,' said the gaoler grimly, 'and my advice is if you've nothing to tell, make up something. Then perhaps they'll sell you to the Northern nations. Regular savages they are. Good night.'
'Good night,' said three trembling voices, which their owners strove in vain to render firm. Then he went out, and the three were left alone in the damp, dim vault.
'I know the light won't last long,' said Cyril, looking at the flickering brazier.
'Is it any good, do you think, calling on the name when we haven't got the charm?' suggested Anthea.
'I shouldn't think so. But we might try.'
So they tried. But the blank silence of the damp dungeon remained unchanged.
'What was the name the Queen said?' asked Cyril suddenly. 'Nisbeth--Nesbit--something? You know, the slave of the great names?'
'Wait a sec,' said Robert, 'though I don't know why you want it. Nusroch--Nisrock--Nisroch--that's it.'
Then Anthea pulled herself together. All her muscles tightened, and the muscles of her mind and soul, if you can call them that, tightened too.
'Ur Hekau Setcheh,' she cried in a fervent voice. 'Oh, Nisroch, servant of the Great Ones, come and help us!'
There was a waiting silence. Then a cold, blue light awoke in the corner where the straw was--and in the light they saw coming towards them a strange and terrible figure. I won't try to describe it, because the drawing shows it, exactly as it was, and exactly as the old Babylonians carved it on their stones, so that you can see it in our own British Museum at this day. I will just say that it had eagle's wings and an eagle's head and the body of a man.
It came towards them, strong and unspeakably horrible.
'Oh, go away,' cried Anthea; but Cyril cried, 'No; stay!'
The creature hesitated, then bowed low before them on the damp floor of the dungeon.
'Speak,' it said, in a harsh, grating voice like large rusty keys being turned in locks. 'The servant of the Great Ones is your servant. What is your need that you call on the name of Nisroch?'
'We want to go home,' said Robert.
'No, no,' cried Anthea; 'we want to be where Jane is.'
Nisroch raised his great arm and pointed at the wall of the dungeon. And, as he pointed, the wall disappeared, and instead of the damp, green, rocky surface, there shone and glowed a room with rich hangings of red silk embroidered with golden water-lilies, with cushioned couches and great mirrors of polished steel; and in it was the Queen, and before her, on a red pillow, sat the Psammead, its fur hunched up in an irritated, discontented way. On a blue-covered couch lay Jane fast asleep.
'Walk forward without fear,' said Nisroch. 'Is there aught else that the Servant of the great Name can do for those who speak that name?'
'No--oh, no,' said Cyril. 'It's all right now. Thanks ever so.'
'You are a dear,' cried Anthea, not in the least knowing what she was saying. 'Oh, thank you thank you. But do go now!'
She caught the hand of the creature, and it was cold and hard in hers, like a hand of stone.
'Go forward,' said Nisroch. And they went.
'Oh, my good gracious,' said the Queen as they stood before her. 'How did you get here? I knew you were magic. I meant to let you out the first thing in the morning, if I could slip away--but thanks be to Dagon, you've managed it for yourselves. You must get away. I'll wake my chief lady and she shall call Ritti-Marduk, and he'll let you out the back way, and--'
'Don't rouse anybody for goodness' sake,' said Anthea, 'except Jane, and I'll rouse her.'
She shook Jane with energy, and Jane slowly awoke.
'Ritti-Marduk brought them in hours ago, really,' said the Queen, 'but I wanted to have the Psammead all to myself for a bit. You'll excuse the little natural deception?--it's part of the Babylonish character, don't you know? But I don't want anything to happen to you. Do let me rouse someone.'
'No, no, no,' said Anthea with desperate earnestness. She thought she knew enough of what the Babylonians were like when they were roused. 'We can go by our own magic. And you will tell the King it wasn't the gaoler's fault. It was Nisroch.'
'Nisroch!' echoed the Queen. 'You are indeed magicians.'
Jane sat up, blinking stupidly.
'Hold It up, and say the word,' cried Cyril, catching up the Psammead, which mechanically bit him, but only very slightly.
'Which is the East?' asked Jane.
'Behind me,' said the Queen. 'Why?'
'Ur Hekau Setcheh,' said Jane sleepily, and held up the charm.
And there they all were in the dining-room at 300, Fitzroy Street.
'Jane,' cried Cyril with great presence of mind, 'go and get the plate of sand down for the Psammead.'
'Look here!' he said quickly, as the sound of her boots grew less loud on the stairs, 'don't let's tell her about the dungeon and all that. It'll only frighten her so that she'll never want to go anywhere else.'
'Righto!' said Cyril; but Anthea felt that she could not have said a word to save her life.
'Why did you want to come back in such a hurry?' asked Jane, returning with the plate of sand. 'It was awfully jolly in Babylon, I think! I liked it no end.'
'Oh, yes,' said Cyril carelessly. 'It was jolly enough, of course, but I thought we'd been there long enough. Mother always says you oughtn't to wear out your welcome!'