The Magic City by Edith Nesbit Chapter 3 Lost

Philip went to sleep, and dreamed that he was at home again and that Helen had come to his bedside to call him, leading a white pony that was to be his very own. It was a pony that looked clever enough for anything, and he was not surprised when it shook hands with him; but when it said, 'Well, we must be moving,' and began to try to put on Philip's shoes and stockings, Philip called out, 'Here, I say, stop that,' and awoke to a room full of sunshine, but empty of ponies.

'Oh, well,' said Philip, 'I suppose I'd better get up.' He looked at his new silver watch, one of Helen's parting presents, and saw that it marked ten o'clock.

'I say, you know,' said he to the watch, 'you can't be right.' And he shook it to encourage it to think over the matter. But the watch still said 'ten' quite plainly and unmistakably.

Now the Grange breakfast time was at eight. And Philip was certain he had not been called.

'This is jolly rum,' he remarked. 'It must be the watch. Perhaps it's stopped.'

But it hadn't stopped. Therefore it must be two hours past breakfast time. The moment he had thought this he became extremely hungry. He got out of bed as soon as he knew exactly how hungry he was.

There was no one about, so he made his way to the bath-room and spent a happy hour with the hot water and the cold water, and the brown Windsor soap and the shaving soap and the nail brush and the flesh brush and the loofahs and the shower bath and the three sponges. He had not, so far, been able thoroughly to investigate and enjoy all these things. But now there was no one to interfere, and he enjoyed himself to that degree that he quite forgot to wonder why he hadn't been called. He thought of a piece of poetry that Helen had made for him, about the bath; and when he had done playing he lay on his back in water that was very hot indeed, trying to remember the poetry. The water was very nearly cold by the time he had remembered the poetry. It was called Dreams of a Giant Life, and this was it.


What was I once--in ages long ago? I look back, and I see myself. We grow So changed through changing years, I hardly see How that which I look back on could be me?[1]

Glorious and splendid, giant-like I stood On a white cliff, topped by a darkling wood. Below me, placid, bright and sparkling, lay The equal waters of a lovely bay. White cliffs surrounded it--and calm and fair It lay asleep, in warm and silent air.

I stood alone--naked and strong, upright My limbs gleamed in the clear pure golden light. I saw below me all the water lie Expecting something, and that thing was I.[2]

I leaned, I plunged, the waves splashed over me. I lay, a giant in a little sea.

White cliffs all round, wood-crowned, and as I lay I saw the glories of the dying day; No wind disturbed my sea; the sunlight was As though it came through windows of gold glass. The white cliffs rose above me, and around The clear sea lay, pure, perfect and profound; And I was master of the cliffs, the sea, And the gold light that brightened over me.

Far miles away my giant feet showed plain, Rising, like rocks out of the quiet main. On them a lighthouse could be built, to show Wayfaring ships the way they must not go.

I was the master of that cliff-girt sea. I splashed my hands, the waves went over me, And in the dimples of my body lay Little rock-pools, where small sea-beasts might play.

I found a boat, its deck was perforate; I launched it, and it dared the storms of fate. Its woollen sail stood out against the sky, Supported by a mast of ivory.

Another boat rode proudly to my hand, Upon its deck a thousand spears did stand; I launched it, and it sped full fierce and fast Against the boat that had the ivory mast And woollen sail and perforated deck. The two went down in one stupendous wreck!

Beneath the waves I chased with joyous hand Upon the bed of an imagined sand The slippery brown sea mouse, that still escaped, Where the deep cave beneath my knee was shaped. Caught it at last and caged it into rest Upon the shallows of my submerged breast.

Then, as I lay, wrapped as in some kind arm By the sweet world of waters soft and warm, A great voice cried, from some far unseen shore, And I was not a giant any more.

'Come out, come out,' cried out the voice of power, 'You've been in for a quarter of an hour. The water's cold--come, Master Pip--your head 'S all wet, and it is time you were in bed.'

I rose all dripping from the magic sea And left the ships that had been slaves to me-- The soap-dish, with its perforated deck, The nail-brush, that had rushed to loss and wreck, The flannel sail, the tooth-brush that was mast, The sleek soap-mouse--I left them all at last.

I went out of that magic sea and cried Because the time came when I must be dried And leave the splendour of a giant's joy And go to bed--a little well-washed boy.


[1] Never mind grammar.

[2] This is correct grammar, but never mind.

When he had quite remembered the poetry he had another shower-bath, and then when he had enjoyed the hot rough towels out of the hot cupboard he went back to his room to dress. He now felt how deeply he wanted his breakfast, so he dressed himself with all possible speed, even forgetting to fasten his bootlaces properly. He was in such a hurry that he dropped his collar-stud, and it was as he stooped to pick it up that he remembered his dream. Do you know that was really the first time he had thought of it. The dream--that indeed would be something to think about.

Breakfast was the really important thing. He went down very hungry indeed. 'I shall ask for my breakfast directly I get down,' he said. 'I shall ask the first person I meet.' And he met no one.

There was no one on the stairs, or in the hall, or in the dining-room, or in the drawing-room. The library and billiard-room were empty of living people, and the door of the nursery was locked. So then Philip made his way into the regions beyond the baize door, where the servants' quarters were. And there was no one in the kitchen, or in the servants' hall, or in the butler's pantry, or in the scullery, or the washhouse, or the larder. In all that big house, and it was much bigger than it looked from the front because of the long wings that ran out on each side of its back--in all that big house there was no one but Philip. He felt certain of this before he ran upstairs and looked in all the bedrooms and in the little picture gallery and the music-room, and then in the servants' bedrooms and the very attics. There were interesting things in those attics, but Philip only remembered that afterwards. Now he tore down the stairs three at a time. All the room doors were open as he had left them, and somehow those open doors frightened him more than anything else. He ran along the corridors, down more stairs, past more open doors and out through the back kitchen, along the moss-grown walk by the brick wall and so round by the three yew trees and the mounting block to the stable-yard. And there was no one there. Neither coachman nor groom nor stable-boys. And there was no one in the stables, or the coach-house, or the harness-room, or the loft.

Philip felt that he could not go back into the house. Something terrible must have happened. Was it possible that any one could want the Grange servants enough to kidnap them? Philip thought of the nurse and felt that, at least as far as she was concerned, it was not possible. Or perhaps it was magic! A sort of Sleeping-Beauty happening! Only every one had vanished instead of just being put to sleep for a hundred years.

He was alone in the middle of the stable-yard when the thought came to him.

'Perhaps they're only made invisible. Perhaps they're all here and watching me and making fun of me.'

He stood still to think this. It was not a pleasant thought.

Suddenly he straightened his little back, and threw back his head.

'They shan't see I'm frightened anyway,' he told himself. And then he remembered the larder.

'I haven't had any breakfast,' he explained aloud, so as to be plainly heard by any invisible people who might be about. 'I ought to have my breakfast. If nobody gives it to me I shall take my breakfast.'

He waited for an answer. But none came. It was very quiet in the stable-yard. Only the rattle of a halter ring against a manger, the sound of a hoof on stable stones, the cooing of pigeons and the rustle of straw in the loose-box broke the silence.

'Very well,' said Philip. 'I don't know what you think I ought to have for breakfast, so I shall take what I think.'

He drew a long breath, trying to draw courage in with it, threw back his shoulders more soldierly than ever, and marched in through the back door and straight to the larder. Then he took what he thought he ought to have for breakfast. This is what he thought:

1 cherry pie, 2 custards in cups, 1 cold sausage, 2 pieces of cold toast, 1 piece of cheese, 2 lemon cheese-cakes, 1 small jam tart (there was only one left), Butter, 1 pat.

'What jolly things the servants have to eat,' he said. 'I never knew. I thought that nothing but mutton and rice grew here.'

He put all the food on a silver tray and carried it out on to the terrace, which lies between the two wings at the back of the house. Then he went back for milk, but there was none to be seen so he got a white jug full of water. The spoons he couldn't find, but he found a carving-fork and a fish-slice. Did you ever try to eat cherry pie with a fish-slice?

'Whatever's happened,' said Philip to himself, through the cherry pie, 'and whatever happens it's as well to have had your breakfast.' And he bit a generous inch off the cold sausage which he had speared with the carving-fork.

And now, sitting out in the good sunshine, and growing less and less hungry as he plied fish-slice and carving-fork, his mind went back to his dream, which began to seem more and more real. Suppose it really had happened? It might have; magic things did happen, it seemed. Look how all the people had vanished out of the house--out of the world too, perhaps.

'Suppose every one's vanished,' said Philip. 'Suppose I'm the only person left in the world who hasn't vanished. Then everything in the world would belong to me. Then I could have everything that's in all the toy shops.' And his mind for a moment dwelt fondly on this beautiful idea.

Then he went on. 'But suppose I vanished too? Perhaps if I were to vanish I could see the other people who have. I wonder how it's done.'

He held his breath and tried hard to vanish. Have you ever tried this? It is not at all easy to do. Philip could not do it at all. He held his breath and he tried and he tried, but he only felt fatter and fatter and more and more as though in one more moment he should burst. So he let his breath go.

'No,' he said, looking at his hands; 'I'm not any more invisible than I was before. Not so much I think,' he added thoughtfully, looking at what was left of the cherry pie. 'But that dream----'

He plunged deep in the remembrance of it that was, to him, like swimming in the waters of a fairy lake.

He was hooked out of his lake suddenly by voices. It was like waking up. There, away across the green park beyond the sunk fence, were people coming.

'So every one hasn't vanished,' he said, caught up the tray and took it in. He hid it under the pantry shelf. He didn't know who the people were who were coming and you can't be too careful. Then he went out and made himself small in the shadow of a red buttress, heard their voices coming nearer and nearer. They were all talking at once, in that quick interested way that makes you certain something unusual has happened.

He could not hear exactly what they were saying, but he caught the words: 'No.'

'Of course I've asked.'



'Yes, of course.'

'Better make quite sure.'

Then every one began speaking all at once, and you could not hear anything that anybody said. Philip was too busy keeping behind the buttress to see who they were who were talking. He was glad something had happened.

'Now I shall have something to think about besides the nurse and my beautiful city that she has pulled down.'

But what was it that had happened? He hoped nobody was hurt--or had done anything wrong. The word police had always made him uncomfortable ever since he had seen a boy no bigger than himself pulled along the road by a very large policeman. The boy had stolen a loaf, Philip was told. Philip could never forget that boy's face; he always thought of it in church when it said 'prisoners and captives,' and still more when it said 'desolate and oppressed.'

'I do hope it's not that,' he said.

And slowly he got himself to leave the shelter of the red-brick buttress and to follow to the house those voices and those footsteps that had gone by him.

He followed the sound of them to the kitchen. The cook was there in tears and a Windsor arm-chair. The kitchenmaid, her cap all on one side, was crying down most dirty cheeks. The coachman was there, very red in the face, and the groom, without his gaiters. The nurse was there, neat as ever she seemed at first, but Philip was delighted when a more careful inspection showed him that there was mud on her large shoes and on the bottom of her skirt, and that her dress had a large three-cornered tear in it.

'I wouldn't have had it happen for a twenty-pun note,' the coachman was saying.

'George,' said the nurse to the groom, 'you go and get a horse ready. I'll write the telegram.'

'You'd best take Peppermint,' said the coachman. 'She's the fastest.'

The groom went out, saying under his breath, 'Teach your grandmother,' which Philip thought rude and unmeaning.

Philip was standing unnoticed by the door. He felt that thrill--if it isn't pleasure it is more like it than anything else--which we all feel when something real has happened.

But what had happened. What?

'I wish I'd never come back,' said the nurse. 'Then nobody could pretend it was my fault.'

'It don't matter what they pretend,' the cook stopped crying to say. 'The thing is what's happened. Oh, my goodness. I'd rather have been turned away without a character than have had this happen.'

'And I'd rather anything,' said the nurse. 'Oh, my goodness me. I wish I'd never been born.'

And then and there, before the astonished eyes of Philip, she began to behave as any nice person might--she began to cry.

'It wouldn't have happened,' said the cook, 'if the master hadn't been away. He's a Justice of the Peace, he is, and a terror to gipsies. It wouldn't never have happened if----'

Philip could not bear it any longer.

'What wouldn't have happened if?' he asked, startling everybody to a quick jump of surprise.

The nurse stopped crying and turned to look at him.

'Oh, you!' she said slowly. 'I forgot you. You want your breakfast, I suppose, no matter what's happened?'

'No, I don't,' said Philip, with extreme truth. 'I want to know what has happened?'

'Miss Lucy's lost,' said the cook heavily, 'that's what's happened. So now you know. You run along and play, like a good little boy, and don't make extry trouble for us in the trouble we're in.'

'Lost?' repeated Philip.

'Yes, lost. I expect you're glad,' said the nurse, 'the way you treated her. You hold your tongue and don't let me so much as hear you breathe the next twenty-four hours. I'll go and write that telegram.'

Philip thought it best not to let any one hear him breathe. By this means he heard the telegram when nurse read it aloud to the cook.

'Peter Graham, Esq.,

Hotel Wagram,


Miss Lucy lost. Please come home immediately.


That's all right, isn't it?'

'I don't see why you sign it Philkins. You're only the nurse--I'm the head of the house when the family's away, and my name's Bobson,' the cook said.

There was a sound of torn paper.

'There--the paper's tore. I'd just as soon your name went to it,' said the nurse. 'I don't want to be the one to tell such news.'

'Oh, my good gracious, what a thing to happen,' sighed the cook. 'Poor little darling!'

Then somebody wrote the telegram again, and the nurse took it out to the stable-yard, where Peppermint was already saddled.

'I thought,' said Philip, bold in the nurse's absence, 'I thought Lucy was with her aunt.'

'She came back yesterday,' said the cook. 'Yes, after you'd gone to bed. And this morning that nurse went into the night nursery and she wasn't there. Her bed all empty and cold, and her clothes gone. Though how the gipsies could have got in without waking that nurse is a mystery to me and ever will be. She must sleep like a pig.'

'Or the seven sleepers,' said the coachman.

'But what would gipsies want her for?' Philip asked.

'What do they ever want anybody for?' retorted the cook. 'Look at the heirs that's been stolen. I don't suppose there's a titled family in England but what's had its heir stolen, one time and another.'

'I suppose you've looked all over the house,' said Philip.

'I suppose we ain't deaf and dumb and blind and silly,' said the cook. 'Here's that nurse. You be off, Mr. Philip, without you want a flea in your ear.'

And Philip, at the word, was off. He went into the long drawing-room, and shut the door. Then he got the ivory chessmen out of the Buhl cabinet, and set them out on that delightful chess-table whose chequers are of mother-of-pearl and ivory, and tried to play a game, right hand against left. But right hand, who was white, and so moved first, always won. He gave up after awhile, and put the chessmen away in their proper places. Then he got out the big book of photographs of pictures, but they did not seem interesting, so he tried the ivory spellicans. But his hand shook, and you know spellicans is a game you can't play when your hand shakes. And all the time, behind the chess and the pictures and the spellicans, he was trying not to think about his dream, about how he had climbed that ladder stair, which was really the yard-stick, and gone into the cities that he had built on the tables. Somehow he did not want to remember it. The very idea of remembering made him feel guilty and wretched.

He went and looked out of the window, and as he stood there his wish not to remember the dream made his boots restless, and in their shuffling his right boot kicked against something hard that lay in the folds of the blue brocade curtain.

He looked down, stooped, and picked up little Mr. Noah. The nurse must have dropt it there when she cleared away the city.

And as he looked upon those wooden features it suddenly became impossible not to think of the dream. He let the remembrance of it come, and it came in a flood. And with it the remembrance of what he had done. He had promised to be Lucy's noble friend, and they had run together to escape from the galloping soldiers. And he had run faster than she. And at the top of the ladder--the ladder of safety--he had not waited for her.

'Any old hero would have waited for her, and let her go first,' he told himself. 'Any gentleman would--even any man--let alone a hero. And I just bunked down the ladder and forgot her. I left her there.'

Remorse stirred his boots more ungently than before.

'But it was only a dream,' he said. And then remorse said, as he had felt all along that it would if he only gave it a chance:

'But suppose it wasn't a dream--suppose it was real. Suppose you did leave her there, my noble friend, and that's why she's lost.'

Suddenly Philip felt very small, very forlorn, very much alone in the world. But Helen would come back. That telegram would bring her.

Yes. And he would have to tell her that perhaps it was his fault.

It was in vain that Philip told himself that Helen would never believe about the city. He felt that she would. Why shouldn't she? She knew about the fairy tales and the Arabian Nights. And she would know that these things did happen.

'Oh, what shall I do? What shall I do?' he said, quite loud. And there was no one but himself to give the answer.

'If I could only get back into the city,' he said. 'But that hateful nurse has pulled it all down and locked up the nursery. So I can't even build it again. Oh, what shall I do?'

And with that he began to cry. For now he felt quite sure that the dream wasn't a dream--that he really had got into the magic city, had promised to stand by Lucy, and had been false to his promise and to her.

He rubbed his eyes with his knuckles and also--rather painfully--with Mr. Noah, whom he still held. 'What shall I do?' he sobbed.

And a very very teeny tiny voice said:

'~Put me down.~'

'Eh?' said Philip.

'~Put me down~,' said the voice again. It was such a teeny tiny voice that he could only just hear it. It was unlikely, of course, that the voice could have been Mr. Noah's; but then whose else could it be? On the bare chance that it might have been Mr. Noah who spoke--more unlikely things had happened before, as you know--Philip set the little wooden figure down on the chess-table. It stood there, wooden as ever.

'Put who down?' Philip asked. And then, before his eyes, the little wooden figure grew alive, stooped to pick up the yellow disc of wood on which Noah's Ark people stand, rolled it up like a mat, put it under his arm and began to walk towards the side of the table where Philip stood.

He knelt down to bring his ears nearer the little live moving thing.

'What did you say?' he asked, for he fancied that Mr. Noah had again spoken.

'~I said, what's the matter?~' said the little voice.

'It's Lucy. She's lost and it's my fault. And I can only just hear you. It hurts my ears hearing you,' complained Philip.

'~There's an ear-trumpet in a box on the middle of the cabinet~,' he could just hear the teeny tiny voice say; '~it belonged to a great-aunt. Get it out and listen through it~.'

Philip got it out. It was an odd curly thing, and at first he could not be sure which end he ought to put to his ear. But he tried both ends, and on the second trial he heard quite a loud, strong, big voice say:

'That's better.'

'Then it wasn't a dream last night,' said Philip.

'Of course it wasn't,' said Mr. Noah.

'Then where is Lucy?'

'In the city, of course. Where you left her.'

'But she can't be,' said Philip desperately. 'The city's all pulled down and gone for ever.'

'The city you built in this room is pulled down,' said Mr. Noah, 'but the city you went to wasn't in this room. Now I put it to you--how could it be?'

'But it was,' said Philip, 'or else how could I have got into it.'

'It's a little difficult, I own,' said Mr. Noah. 'But, you see, you built those cities in two worlds. It's pulled down in this world. But in the other world it's going on.'

'I don't understand,' said Philip.

'I thought you wouldn't,' said Mr. Noah; 'but it's true, for all that. Everything people make in that world goes on for ever.'

'But how was it that I got in?'

'Because you belong to both worlds. And you built the cities. So they were yours.'

'But Lucy got in.'

'She built up a corner of your city that the nurse had knocked down.'

'But you,' said Philip, more and more bewildered. 'You're here. So you can't be there.'

'But I am there,' said Mr. Noah.

'But you're here. And you're alive here. What made you come alive?'

'Your tears,' said Mr. Noah. 'Tears are very strong magic. No, don't begin to cry again. What's the matter?'

'I want to get back into the city.'

'It's dangerous.'

'I don't care.'

'You were glad enough to get away,' said Mr. Noah.

'I know: that's the worst of it,' said Philip. 'Oh, isn't there any way to get back? If I climbed in at the nursery windows and got the bricks and built it all up and----'

'Quite unnecessary, I assure you. There are a thousand doors to that city.'

'I wish I could find one,' said Philip; 'but, I say, I thought time was all different there. How is it Lucy is lost all this time if time doesn't count?'

'It does count, now,' said Mr. Noah; 'you made it count when you ran away and left Lucy. That set the clocks of the city to the time of this world.'

'I don't understand,' said Philip; 'but it doesn't matter. Show me the door and I'll go back and find Lucy.'

'Build something and go through it,' said Mr. Noah. 'That's all. Your tears are dry on me now. Good-bye.' And he laid down his yellow mat, stepped on to it and was just a little wooden figure again.

Philip dropped the ear-trumpet and looked at Mr. Noah.

'I don't understand,' he said. But this at least he understood. That Helen would come back when she got that telegram, and that before she came he must go into the other world and find the lost Lucy.

'But oh,' he said, 'suppose I don't find her. I wish I hadn't built those cities so big! And time will go on. And, perhaps, when Helen comes back she'll find me lost too--as well as Lucy.'

But he dried his eyes and told himself that this was not how heroes behaved. He must build again. Whichever way you looked at it there was no time to be lost. And besides the nurse might occur at any moment.

He looked round for building materials. There was the chess-table. It had long narrow legs set round it, rather like arches. Something might be done with it, with books and candlesticks and Japanese vases.

Something was done. Philip built with earnest care, but also with considerable speed. If the nurse should come in before he had made a door and got through it--come in and find him building again--she was quite capable of putting him to bed, where, of course, building is impossible. In a very little time there was a building. But how to get in. He was, alas, the wrong size. He stood helpless, and once more tears pricked and swelled behind his eyelids. One tear fell on his hand.

'Tears are a strong magic,' Mr. Noah had said. And at the thought the tears stopped. Still there was a tear, the one on his hand. He rubbed it on the pillar of the porch.

And instantly a queer tight thin feeling swept through him. He felt giddy and shut his eyes. His boots, ever sympathetic, shuffled on the carpet. Or was it the carpet? It was very thick and---- He opened his eyes. His feet were once more on the long grass of the illimitable prairie. And in front of him towered the gigantic porch of a vast building and a domino path leading up to it.

'Oh, I am so glad,' cried Philip among the grass. 'I couldn't have borne it if she'd been lost for ever, and all my fault.'

The gigantic porch lowered frowningly above him. What would he find on the other side of it?

'I don't care. I've simply got to go,' he said, and stepped out bravely. 'If I can't be a hero I'll try to behave like one.'

And with that he stepped out, stumbling a little in the thick grass, and the dark shadow of the porch received him.

* * * * * * *

'Bother the child,' said the nurse, coming into the drawing-room a little later; 'if he hasn't been at his precious building game again! I shall have to give him a lesson over this--I can see that. And I will too--a lesson he won't forget in a hurry.'

She went through the house, looking for the too bold builder that she might give him that lesson. Then she went through the garden, still on the same errand.

Half an hour later she burst into the servants' hall and threw herself into a chair.

'I don't care what happens now,' she said. 'The house is bewitched, I think. I shall go the very minute I've had my dinner.'

'What's up now?' the cook came to the door to say.

'Up?' said the nurse. 'Oh, nothing's up. What should there be? Everything's all right and beautiful, and just as it should be, of course.'

'Miss Lucy's not found yet, of course, but that's all, isn't it?'

'All? And enough too, I should have thought,' said the nurse. 'But as it happens it's not all. The boy's lost now. Oh, I'm not joking. He's lost I tell you, the same as the other one--and I'm off out of this by the two thirty-seven train, and I don't care who knows it.'

'Lor!' said the cook.

* * * * * * *

Before starting for the two thirty-seven train the nurse went back to the drawing-room to destroy Philip's new building, to restore to their proper places its books, candlesticks, vases, and chessmen.

There we will leave her.