The Phoenix and the Carpet by Edith Nesbit
Chapter 3. The Queen Cook
It was on a Saturday that the children made their first glorious journey on the wishing carpet. Unless you are too young to read at all, you will know that the next day must have been Sunday.
Sunday at 18, Camden Terrace, Camden Town, was always a very pretty day. Father always brought home flowers on Saturday, so that the breakfast-table was extra beautiful. In November, of course, the flowers were chrysanthemums, yellow and coppery coloured. Then there were always sausages on toast for breakfast, and these are rapture, after six days of Kentish Town Road eggs at fourteen a shilling.
On this particular Sunday there were fowls for dinner, a kind of food that is generally kept for birthdays and grand occasions, and there was an angel pudding, when rice and milk and oranges and white icing do their best to make you happy.
After dinner father was very sleepy indeed, because he had been working hard all the week; but he did not yield to the voice that said, 'Go and have an hour's rest.' He nursed the Lamb, who had a horrid cough that cook said was whooping-cough as sure as eggs, and he said--
'Come along, kiddies; I've got a ripping book from the library, called The Golden Age, and I'll read it to you.'
Mother settled herself on the drawing-room sofa, and said she could listen quite nicely with her eyes shut. The Lamb snugged into the 'armchair corner' of daddy's arm, and the others got into a happy heap on the hearth-rug. At first, of course, there were too many feet and knees and shoulders and elbows, but real comfort was actually settling down on them, and the Phoenix and the carpet were put away on the back top shelf of their minds (beautiful things that could be taken out and played with later), when a surly solid knock came at the drawing-room door. It opened an angry inch, and the cook's voice said, 'Please, m', may I speak to you a moment?'
Mother looked at father with a desperate expression. Then she put her pretty sparkly Sunday shoes down from the sofa, and stood up in them and sighed.
'As good fish in the sea,' said father, cheerfully, and it was not till much later that the children understood what he meant.
Mother went out into the passage, which is called 'the hall', where the umbrella-stand is, and the picture of the 'Monarch of the Glen' in a yellow shining frame, with brown spots on the Monarch from the damp in the house before last, and there was cook, very red and damp in the face, and with a clean apron tied on all crooked over the dirty one that she had dished up those dear delightful chickens in. She stood there and she seemed to get redder and damper, and she twisted the corner of her apron round her fingers, and she said very shortly and fiercely--
'If you please ma'am, I should wish to leave at my day month.' Mother leaned against the hatstand. The children could see her looking pale through the crack of the door, because she had been very kind to the cook, and had given her a holiday only the day before, and it seemed so very unkind of the cook to want to go like this, and on a Sunday too.
'Why, what's the matter?' mother said.
'It's them children,' the cook replied, and somehow the children all felt that they had known it from the first. They did not remember having done anything extra wrong, but it is so frightfully easy to displease a cook. 'It's them children: there's that there new carpet in their room, covered thick with mud, both sides, beastly yellow mud, and sakes alive knows where they got it. And all that muck to clean up on a Sunday! It's not my place, and it's not my intentions, so I don't deceive you, ma'am, and but for them limbs, which they is if ever there was, it's not a bad place, though I says it, and I wouldn't wish to leave, but--'
'I'm very sorry,' said mother, gently. 'I will speak to the children. And you had better think it over, and if you really wish to go, tell me to-morrow.'
Next day mother had a quiet talk with cook, and cook said she didn't mind if she stayed on a bit, just to see.
But meantime the question of the muddy carpet had been gone into thoroughly by father and mother. Jane's candid explanation that the mud had come from the bottom of a foreign tower where there was buried treasure was received with such chilling disbelief that the others limited their defence to an expression of sorrow, and of a determination 'not to do it again'. But father said (and mother agreed with him, because mothers have to agree with fathers, and not because it was her own idea) that children who coated a carpet on both sides with thick mud, and when they were asked for an explanation could only talk silly nonsense--that meant Jane's truthful statement--were not fit to have a carpet at all, and, indeed, shouldn't have one for a week!
So the carpet was brushed (with tea-leaves, too) which was the only comfort Anthea could think of) and folded up and put away in the cupboard at the top of the stairs, and daddy put the key in his trousers pocket. 'Till Saturday,' said he.
'Never mind,' said Anthea, 'we've got the Phoenix.'
But, as it happened, they hadn't. The Phoenix was nowhere to be found, and everything had suddenly settled down from the rosy wild beauty of magic happenings to the common damp brownness of ordinary November life in Camden Town--and there was the nursery floor all bare boards in the middle and brown oilcloth round the outside, and the bareness and yellowness of the middle floor showed up the blackbeetles with terrible distinctness, when the poor things came out in the evening, as usual, to try to make friends with the children. But the children never would.
The Sunday ended in gloom, which even junket for supper in the blue Dresden bowl could hardly lighten at all. Next day the Lamb's cough was worse. It certainly seemed very whoopy, and the doctor came in his brougham carriage.
Every one tried to bear up under the weight of the sorrow which it was to know that the wishing carpet was locked up and the Phoenix mislaid. A good deal of time was spent in looking for the Phoenix.
'It's a bird of its word,' said Anthea. 'I'm sure it's not deserted us. But you know it had a most awfully long fly from wherever it was to near Rochester and back, and I expect the poor thing's feeling tired out and wants rest. I am sure we may trust it.'
The others tried to feel sure of this, too, but it was hard.
No one could be expected to feel very kindly towards the cook, since it was entirely through her making such a fuss about a little foreign mud that the carpet had been taken away.
'She might have told us,' said Jane, 'and Panther and I would have cleaned it with tea-leaves.'
'She's a cantankerous cat,' said Robert.
'I shan't say what I think about her,' said Anthea, primly, 'because it would be evil speaking, lying, and slandering.'
'It's not lying to say she's a disagreeable pig, and a beastly blue-nosed Bozwoz,' said Cyril, who had read The Eyes of Light, and intended to talk like Tony as soon as he could teach Robert to talk like Paul.
And all the children, even Anthea, agreed that even if she wasn't a blue-nosed Bozwoz, they wished cook had never been born.
But I ask you to believe that they didn't do all the things on purpose which so annoyed the cook during the following week, though I daresay the things would not have happened if the cook had been a favourite. This is a mystery. Explain it if you can. The things that had happened were as follows:
Sunday.--Discovery of foreign mud on both sides of the carpet.
Monday.--Liquorice put on to boil with aniseed balls in a saucepan. Anthea did this, because she thought it would be good for the Lamb's cough. The whole thing forgotten, and bottom of saucepan burned out. It was the little saucepan lined with white that was kept for the baby's milk.
Tuesday.--A dead mouse found in pantry. Fish-slice taken to dig grave with. By regrettable accident fish-slice broken. Defence: 'The cook oughtn't to keep dead mice in pantries.'
Wednesday.--Chopped suet left on kitchen table. Robert added chopped soap, but he says he thought the suet was soap too.
Thursday.--Broke the kitchen window by falling against it during a perfectly fair game of bandits in the area.
Friday.--Stopped up grating of kitchen sink with putty and filled sink with water to make a lake to sail paper boats in. Went away and left the tap running. Kitchen hearthrug and cook's shoes ruined.
On Saturday the carpet was restored. There had been plenty of time during the week to decide where it should be asked to go when they did get it back.
Mother had gone over to granny's, and had not taken the Lamb because he had a bad cough, which, cook repeatedly said, was whooping-cough as sure as eggs is eggs.
'But we'll take him out, a ducky darling,' said Anthea. 'We'll take him somewhere where you can't have whooping-cough. Don't be so silly, Robert. If he does talk about it no one'll take any notice. He's always talking about things he's never seen.'
So they dressed the Lamb and themselves in out-of-doors clothes, and the Lamb chuckled and coughed, and laughed and coughed again, poor dear, and all the chairs and tables were moved off the carpet by the boys, while Jane nursed the Lamb, and Anthea rushed through the house in one last wild hunt for the missing Phoenix.
'It's no use waiting for it,' she said, reappearing breathless in the breakfast-room. 'But I know it hasn't deserted us. It's a bird of its word.'
'Quite so,' said the gentle voice of the Phoenix from beneath the table.
Every one fell on its knees and looked up, and there was the Phoenix perched on a crossbar of wood that ran across under the table, and had once supported a drawer, in the happy days before the drawer had been used as a boat, and its bottom unfortunately trodden out by Raggett's Really Reliable School Boots on the feet of Robert.
'I've been here all the time,' said the Phoenix, yawning politely behind its claw. 'If you wanted me you should have recited the ode of invocation; it's seven thousand lines long, and written in very pure and beautiful Greek.'
'Couldn't you tell it us in English?' asked Anthea.
'It's rather long, isn't it?' said Jane, jumping the Lamb on her knee.
'Couldn't you make a short English version, like Tate and Brady?'
'Oh, come along, do,' said Robert, holding out his hand. 'Come along, good old Phoenix.'
'Good old beautiful Phoenix,' it corrected shyly.
'Good old beautiful Phoenix, then. Come along, come along,' said Robert, impatiently, with his hand still held out.
The Phoenix fluttered at once on to his wrist.
'This amiable youth,' it said to the others, 'has miraculously been able to put the whole meaning of the seven thousand lines of Greek invocation into one English hexameter--a little misplaced some of the words--but
'Oh, come along, come along, good old beautiful Phoenix!'
'Not perfect, I admit--but not bad for a boy of his age.'
'Well, now then,' said Robert, stepping back on to the carpet with the golden Phoenix on his wrist.
'You look like the king's falconer,' said Jane, sitting down on the carpet with the baby on her lap.
Robert tried to go on looking like it. Cyril and Anthea stood on the carpet.
'We shall have to get back before dinner,' said Cyril, 'or cook will blow the gaff.'
'She hasn't sneaked since Sunday,' said Anthea.
'She--' Robert was beginning, when the door burst open and the cook, fierce and furious, came in like a whirlwind and stood on the corner of the carpet, with a broken basin in one hand and a threat in the other, which was clenched.
'Look 'ere!' she cried, 'my only basin; and what the powers am I to make the beefsteak and kidney pudding in that your ma ordered for your dinners? You don't deserve no dinners, so yer don't.'
'I'm awfully sorry, cook,' said Anthea gently; 'it was my fault, and I forgot to tell you about it. It got broken when we were telling our fortunes with melted lead, you know, and I meant to tell you.'
'Meant to tell me,' replied the cook; she was red with anger, and really I don't wonder--'meant to tell! Well, I mean to tell, too. I've held my tongue this week through, because the missus she said to me quiet like, "We mustn't expect old heads on young shoulders," but now I shan't hold it no longer. There was the soap you put in our pudding, and me and Eliza never so much as breathed it to your ma--though well we might--and the saucepan, and the fish-slice, and--My gracious cats alive! what 'ave you got that blessed child dressed up in his outdoors for?'
'We aren't going to take him out,' said Anthea; 'at least--' She stopped short, for though they weren't going to take him out in the Kentish Town Road, they certainly intended to take him elsewhere. But not at all where cook meant when she said 'out'. This confused the truthful Anthea.
'Out!' said the cook, 'that I'll take care you don't;' and she snatched the Lamb from the lap of Jane, while Anthea and Robert caught her by the skirts and apron. 'Look here,' said Cyril, in stern desperation, 'will you go away, and make your pudding in a pie-dish, or a flower-pot, or a hot-water can, or something?'
'Not me,' said the cook, briefly; 'and leave this precious poppet for you to give his deathercold to.'
'I warn you,' said Cyril, solemnly. 'Beware, ere yet it be too late.'
' Late yourself the little popsey-wopsey,' said the cook, with angry tenderness. 'They shan't take it out, no more they shan't. And--Where did you get that there yellow fowl?' She pointed to the Phoenix.
Even Anthea saw that unless the cook lost her situation the loss would be theirs.
'I wish,' she said suddenly, 'we were on a sunny southern shore, where there can't be any whooping-cough.'
She said it through the frightened howls of the Lamb, and the sturdy scoldings of the cook, and instantly the giddy-go-round-and-falling-lift feeling swept over the whole party, and the cook sat down flat on the carpet, holding the screaming Lamb tight to her stout print-covered self, and calling on St Bridget to help her. She was an Irishwoman.
The moment the tipsy-topsy-turvy feeling stopped, the cook opened her eyes, gave one sounding screech and shut them again, and Anthea took the opportunity to get the desperately howling Lamb into her own arms.
'It's all right,' she said; 'own Panther's got you. Look at the trees, and the sand, and the shells, and the great big tortoises. Oh dear, how hot it is!'
It certainly was; for the trusty carpet had laid itself out on a southern shore that was sunny and no mistake, as Robert remarked. The greenest of green slopes led up to glorious groves where palm-trees and all the tropical flowers and fruits that you read of in Westward Ho! and Fair Play were growing in rich profusion. Between the green, green slope and the blue, blue sea lay a stretch of sand that looked like a carpet of jewelled cloth of gold, for it was not greyish as our northern sand is, but yellow and changing--opal-coloured like sunshine and rainbows. And at the very moment when the wild, whirling, blinding, deafening, tumbling upside-downness of the carpet-moving stopped, the children had the happiness of seeing three large live turtles waddle down to the edge of the sea and disappear in the water. And it was hotter than you can possibly imagine, unless you think of ovens on a baking-day.
Every one without an instant's hesitation tore off its London-in-November outdoor clothes, and Anthea took off the Lamb's highwayman blue coat and his three-cornered hat, and then his jersey, and then the Lamb himself suddenly slipped out of his little blue tight breeches and stood up happy and hot in his little white shirt.
'I'm sure it's much warmer than the seaside in the summer,' said Anthea. 'Mother always lets us go barefoot then.'
So the Lamb's shoes and socks and gaiters came off, and he stood digging his happy naked pink toes into the golden smooth sand.
'I'm a little white duck-dickie,' said he--'a little white duck-dickie what swims,' and splashed quacking into a sandy pool.
'Let him,' said Anthea; 'it can't hurt him. Oh, how hot it is!'
The cook suddenly opened her eyes and screamed, shut them, screamed again, opened her eyes once more and said--
'Why, drat my cats alive, what's all this? It's a dream, I expect.
Well, it's the best I ever dreamed. I'll look it up in the dream-book to-morrow. Seaside and trees and a carpet to sit on. I never did!'
'Look here,' said Cyril, 'it isn't a dream; it's real.'
'Ho yes!' said the cook; 'they always says that in dreams.'
'It's real, I tell you,' Robert said, stamping his foot. 'I'm not going to tell you how it's done, because that's our secret.' He winked heavily at each of the others in turn. 'But you wouldn't go away and make that pudding, so we had to bring you, and I hope you like it.'
'I do that, and no mistake,' said the cook unexpectedly; 'and it being a dream it don't matter what I say; and I will say, if it's my last word, that of all the aggravating little varmints--' 'Calm yourself, my good woman,' said the Phoenix.
'Good woman, indeed,' said the cook; 'good woman yourself' Then she saw who it was that had spoken. 'Well, if I ever,' said she; 'this is something like a dream! Yellow fowls a-talking and all! I've heard of such, but never did I think to see the day.'
'Well, then,' said Cyril, impatiently, 'sit here and see the day now. It's a jolly fine day. Here, you others--a council!' They walked along the shore till they were out of earshot of the cook, who still sat gazing about her with a happy, dreamy, vacant smile.
'Look here,' said Cyril, 'we must roll the carpet up and hide it, so that we can get at it at any moment. The Lamb can be getting rid of his whooping-cough all the morning, and we can look about; and if the savages on this island are cannibals, we'll hook it, and take her back. And if not, we'll leave her here.'
'Is that being kind to servants and animals, like the clergyman said?' asked Jane.
'Nor she isn't kind,' retorted Cyril.
'Well--anyway,' said Anthea, 'the safest thing is to leave the carpet there with her sitting on it. Perhaps it'll be a lesson to her, and anyway, if she thinks it's a dream it won't matter what she says when she gets home.'
So the extra coats and hats and mufflers were piled on the carpet. Cyril shouldered the well and happy Lamb, the Phoenix perched on Robert's wrist, and 'the party of explorers prepared to enter the interior'.
The grassy slope was smooth, but under the trees there were tangled creepers with bright, strange-shaped flowers, and it was not easy to walk.
'We ought to have an explorer's axe,' said Robert. 'I shall ask father to give me one for Christmas.'
There were curtains of creepers with scented blossoms hanging from the trees, and brilliant birds darted about quite close to their faces.
'Now, tell me honestly,' said the Phoenix, 'are there any birds here handsomer than I am? Don't be afraid of hurting my feelings--I'm a modest bird, I hope.'
'Not one of them,' said Robert, with conviction, 'is a patch upon you!'
'I was never a vain bird,' said the Phoenix, 'but I own that you confirm my own impression. I will take a flight.' It circled in the air for a moment, and, returning to Robert's wrist, went on, 'There is a path to the left.'
And there was. So now the children went on through the wood more quickly and comfortably, the girls picking flowers and the Lamb inviting the 'pretty dickies' to observe that he himself was a 'little white real-water-wet duck!'
And all this time he hadn't whooping-coughed once.
The path turned and twisted, and, always threading their way amid a tangle of flowers, the children suddenly passed a corner and found themselves in a forest clearing, where there were a lot of pointed huts--the huts, as they knew at once, of savages.
The boldest heart beat more quickly. Suppose they were cannibals. It was a long way back to the carpet.
'Hadn't we better go back?' said Jane. 'Go now,' she said, and her voice trembled a little. 'Suppose they eat us.'
'Nonsense, Pussy,' said Cyril, firmly. 'Look, there's a goat tied up. That shows they don't eat people.'
'Let's go on and say we're missionaries,' Robert suggested.
'I shouldn't advise that,' said the Phoenix, very earnestly.
'Well, for one thing, it isn't true,' replied the golden bird.
It was while they stood hesitating on the edge of the clearing that a tall man suddenly came out of one of the huts. He had hardly any clothes, and his body all over was a dark and beautiful coppery colour--just like the chrysanthemums father had brought home on Saturday. In his hand he held a spear. The whites of his eyes and the white of his teeth were the only light things about him, except that where the sun shone on his shiny brown body it looked white, too. If you will look carefully at the next shiny savage you meet with next to nothing on, you will see at once--if the sun happens to be shining at the time--that I am right about this.
The savage looked at the children. Concealment was impossible. He uttered a shout that was more like 'Oo goggery bag-wag' than anything else the children had ever heard, and at once brown coppery people leapt out of every hut, and swarmed like ants about the clearing. There was no time for discussion, and no one wanted to discuss anything, anyhow. Whether these coppery people were cannibals or not now seemed to matter very little.
Without an instant's hesitation the four children turned and ran back along the forest path; the only pause was Anthea's. She stood back to let Cyril pass, because he was carrying the Lamb, who screamed with delight. (He had not whooping-coughed a single once since the carpet landed him on the island.)
'Gee-up, Squirrel; gee-gee,' he shouted, and Cyril did gee-up. The path was a shorter cut to the beach than the creeper-covered way by which they had come, and almost directly they saw through the trees the shining blue-and-gold-and-opal of sand and sea.
'Stick to it,' cried Cyril, breathlessly.
They did stick to it; they tore down the sands--they could hear behind them as they ran the patter of feet which they knew, too well, were copper-coloured.
The sands were golden and opal-coloured--and bare. There were wreaths of tropic seaweed, there were rich tropic shells of the kind you would not buy in the Kentish Town Road under at least fifteen pence a pair. There were turtles basking lumpily on the water's edge--but no cook, no clothes, and no carpet.
'On, on! Into the sea!' gasped Cyril. 'They must hate water. I've--heard--savages always--dirty.'
Their feet were splashing in the warm shallows before his breathless words were ended. The calm baby-waves were easy to go through. It is warm work running for your life in the tropics, and the coolness of the water was delicious. They were up to their arm-pits now, and Jane was up to her chin.
'Look!' said the Phoenix. 'What are they pointing at?'
The children turned; and there, a little to the west was a head--a head they knew, with a crooked cap upon it. It was the head of the cook.
For some reason or other the savages had stopped at the water's edge and were all talking at the top of their voices, and all were pointing copper-coloured fingers, stiff with interest and excitement, at the head of the cook.
The children hurried towards her as quickly as the water would let them.
'What on earth did you come out here for?' Robert shouted; 'and where on earth's the carpet?'
'It's not on earth, bless you,' replied the cook, happily; 'it's under me--in the water. I got a bit warm setting there in the sun, and I just says, "I wish I was in a cold bath"--just like that--and next minute here I was! It's all part of the dream.'
Every one at once saw how extremely fortunate it was that the carpet had had the sense to take the cook to the nearest and largest bath--the sea, and how terrible it would have been if the carpet had taken itself and her to the stuffy little bath-room of the house in Camden Town!
'Excuse me,' said the Phoenix's soft voice, breaking in on the general sigh of relief, 'but I think these brown people want your cook.'
'To--to eat?' whispered Jane, as well as she could through the water which the plunging Lamb was dashing in her face with happy fat hands and feet.
'Hardly,' rejoined the bird. 'Who wants cooks to eat? Cooks are engaged, not eaten. They wish to engage her.'
'How can you understand what they say?' asked Cyril, doubtfully.
'It's as easy as kissing your claw,' replied the bird. 'I speak and understand all languages, even that of your cook, which is difficult and unpleasing. It's quite easy, when you know how it's done. It just comes to you. I should advise you to beach the carpet and land the cargo--the cook, I mean. You can take my word for it, the copper-coloured ones will not harm you now.'
It is impossible not to take the word of a Phoenix when it tells you to. So the children at once got hold of the corners of the carpet, and, pulling it from under the cook, towed it slowly in through the shallowing water, and at last spread it on the sand. The cook, who had followed, instantly sat down on it, and at once the copper-coloured natives, now strangely humble, formed a ring round the carpet, and fell on their faces on the rainbow-and-gold sand. The tallest savage spoke in this position, which must have been very awkward for him; and Jane noticed that it took him quite a long time to get the sand out of his mouth afterwards.
'He says,' the Phoenix remarked after some time, 'that they wish to engage your cook permanently.'
'Without a character?' asked Anthea, who had heard her mother speak of such things.
'They do not wish to engage her as cook, but as queen; and queens need not have characters.'
There was a breathless pause.
'Well,' said Cyril, 'of all the choices! But there's no accounting for tastes.'
Every one laughed at the idea of the cook's being engaged as queen; they could not help it.
'I do not advise laughter,' warned the Phoenix, ruffling out his golden feathers, which were extremely wet. 'And it's not their own choice. It seems that there is an ancient prophecy of this copper-coloured tribe that a great queen should some day arise out of the sea with a white crown on her head, and--and--well, you see! There's the crown!'
It pointed its claw at cook's cap; and a very dirty cap it was, because it was the end of the week.
'That's the white crown,' it said; 'at least, it's nearly white--very white indeed compared to the colour they are--and anyway, it's quite white enough.'
Cyril addressed the cook. 'Look here!' said he, 'these brown people want you to be their queen. They're only savages, and they don't know any better. Now would you really like to stay? or, if you'll promise not to be so jolly aggravating at home, and not to tell any one a word about to-day, we'll take you back to Camden Town.'
'No, you don't,' said the cook, in firm, undoubting tones. 'I've always wanted to be the Queen, God bless her! and I always thought what a good one I should make; and now I'm going to. If it's only in a dream, it's well worth while. And I don't go back to that nasty underground kitchen, and me blamed for everything; that I don't, not till the dream's finished and I wake up with that nasty bell a rang-tanging in my ears--so I tell you.'
'Are you sure,' Anthea anxiously asked the Phoenix, 'that she will be quite safe here?'
'She will find the nest of a queen a very precious and soft thing,' said the bird, solemnly.
'There--you hear,' said Cyril. 'You're in for a precious soft thing, so mind you're a good queen, cook. It's more than you'd any right to expect, but long may you reign.'
Some of the cook's copper-coloured subjects now advanced from the forest with long garlands of beautiful flowers, white and sweet-scented, and hung them respectfully round the neck of their new sovereign.
'What! all them lovely bokays for me!' exclaimed the enraptured cook. 'Well, this here is something like a dream, I must say.'
She sat up very straight on the carpet, and the copper-coloured ones, themselves wreathed in garlands of the gayest flowers, madly stuck parrot feathers in their hair and began to dance. It was a dance such as you have never seen; it made the children feel almost sure that the cook was right, and that they were all in a dream. Small, strange-shaped drums were beaten, odd-sounding songs were sung, and the dance got faster and faster and odder and odder, till at last all the dancers fell on the sand tired out.
The new queen, with her white crown-cap all on one side, clapped wildly.
'Brayvo!' she cried, 'brayvo! It's better than the Albert Edward Music-hall in the Kentish Town Road. Go it again!'
But the Phoenix would not translate this request into the copper-coloured language; and when the savages had recovered their breath, they implored their queen to leave her white escort and come with them to their huts.
'The finest shall be yours, O queen,' said they.
'Well--so long!' said the cook, getting heavily on to her feet, when the Phoenix had translated this request. 'No more kitchens and attics for me, thank you. I'm off to my royal palace, I am; and I only wish this here dream would keep on for ever and ever.'
She picked up the ends of the garlands that trailed round her feet, and the children had one last glimpse of her striped stockings and worn elastic-side boots before she disappeared into the shadow of the forest, surrounded by her dusky retainers, singing songs of rejoicing as they went.
'Well!' said Cyril, 'I suppose she's all right, but they don't seem to count us for much, one way or the other.'
'Oh,' said the Phoenix, 'they think you're merely dreams. The prophecy said that the queen would arise from the waves with a white crown and surrounded by white dream-children. That's about what they think you are!'
'And what about dinner?' said Robert, abruptly.
'There won't be any dinner, with no cook and no pudding-basin,' Anthea reminded him; 'but there's always bread-and-butter.'
'Let's get home,' said Cyril.
The Lamb was furiously unwishful to be dressed in his warm clothes again, but Anthea and Jane managed it, by force disguised as coaxing, and he never once whooping-coughed.
Then every one put on its own warm things and took its place on the carpet.
A sound of uncouth singing still came from beyond the trees where the copper-coloured natives were crooning songs of admiration and respect to their white-crowned queen. Then Anthea said 'Home,' just as duchesses and other people do to their coachmen, and the intelligent carpet in one whirling moment laid itself down in its proper place on the nursery floor. And at that very moment Eliza opened the door and said--
'Cook's gone! I can't find her anywhere, and there's no dinner ready. She hasn't taken her box nor yet her outdoor things. She just ran out to see the time, I shouldn't wonder--the kitchen clock never did give her satisfaction--and she's got run over or fell down in a fit as likely as not. You'll have to put up with the cold bacon for your dinners; and what on earth you've got your outdoor things on for I don't know. And then I'll slip out and see if they know anything about her at the police-station.'
But nobody ever knew anything about the cook any more, except the children, and, later, one other person.
Mother was so upset at losing the cook, and so anxious about her, that Anthea felt most miserable, as though she had done something very wrong indeed. She woke several times in the night, and at last decided that she would ask the Phoenix to let her tell her mother all about it. But there was no opportunity to do this next day, because the Phoenix, as usual, had gone to sleep in some out-of-the-way spot, after asking, as a special favour, not to be disturbed for twenty-four hours.
The Lamb never whooping-coughed once all that Sunday, and mother and father said what good medicine it was that the doctor had given him. But the children knew that it was the southern shore where you can't have whooping-cough that had cured him. The Lamb babbled of coloured sand and water, but no one took any notice of that. He often talked of things that hadn't happened.
It was on Monday morning, very early indeed, that Anthea woke and suddenly made up her mind. She crept downstairs in her night-gown (it was very chilly), sat down on the carpet, and with a beating heart wished herself on the sunny shore where you can't have whooping-cough, and next moment there she was.
The sand was splendidly warm. She could feel it at once, even through the carpet. She folded the carpet, and put it over her shoulders like a shawl, for she was determined not to be parted from it for a single instant, no matter how hot it might be to wear.
Then trembling a little, and trying to keep up her courage by saying over and over, 'It is my duty, it is my duty,' she went up the forest path.
'Well, here you are again,' said the cook, directly she saw Anthea.
'This dream does keep on!'
The cook was dressed in a white robe; she had no shoes and stockings and no cap and she was sitting under a screen of palm-leaves, for it was afternoon in the island, and blazing hot. She wore a flower wreath on her hair, and copper-coloured boys were fanning her with peacock's feathers.
'They've got the cap put away,' she said. 'They seem to think a lot of it. Never saw one before, I expect.'
'Are you happy?' asked Anthea, panting; the sight of the cook as queen quite took her breath away.
'I believe you, my dear,' said the cook, heartily. 'Nothing to do unless you want to. But I'm getting rested now. Tomorrow I'm going to start cleaning out my hut, if the dream keeps on, and I shall teach them cooking; they burns everything to a cinder now unless they eats it raw.'
'But can you talk to them?'
'Lor' love a duck, yes!' the happy cook-queen replied; 'it's quite easy to pick up. I always thought I should be quick at foreign languages. I've taught them to understand "dinner," and "I want a drink," and "You leave me be," already.'
'Then you don't want anything?' Anthea asked earnestly and anxiously.
'Not me, miss; except if you'd only go away. I'm afraid of me waking up with that bell a-going if you keep on stopping here a-talking to me. Long as this here dream keeps up I'm as happy as a queen.'
'Goodbye, then,' said Anthea, gaily, for her conscience was clear now.
She hurried into the wood, threw herself on the ground, and said 'Home'--and there she was, rolled in the carpet on the nursery floor.
'She's all right, anyhow,' said Anthea, and went back to bed. 'I'm glad somebody's pleased. But mother will never believe me when I tell her.'
The story is indeed a little difficult to believe. Still, you might try.