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The Magic City by Edith Nesbit Chapter 8 Ups and Downs

We left Lucy in tears and Philip in the grasp of the hateful Pretenderette, who, seated on the Hippogriff, was bearing him away across the smooth blueness of the wide sea.

'Oh, Mr. Noah,' said Lucy, between sniffs and sobs, 'how can she! You did say the Hippogriff could only carry one!'

'One ordinary human being,' said Mr. Noah gently; 'you forget that dear Philip is now an earl.'

'But do you really think he's safe?' Lucy asked.

'Yes,' said Mr. Noah. 'And now, dear Lucy, no more questions. Since your arrival on our shores I have been gradually growing more accustomed to being questioned, but I still find it unpleasant and fatiguing. Desist, I entreat.'

So Lucy desisted and every one went to bed, and, for crying is very tiring, to sleep. But not for long.

Lucy was awakened in her bed of soft dry seaweed by the sound of the castle alarm bell, and by the blaring of trumpets and the shouting of many voices. A bright light shone in at the window of her room. She jumped up and ran to the window and leaned out. Below lay the great courtyard of the castle, a moving sea of people on which hundreds of torches seemed to float, and the sound of shouting rose in the air as foam rises in the wind.

'The Fear! The Fear!' people were shouting. 'To the ark! to the ark!' And the black night that pressed round the castle was loud with the wild roar of waves and the shriek of a tumultuous wind.

Lucy ran to the door of her room. But suddenly she stopped.

'My clothes,' she said. And dressed herself hastily. For she perceived that her own petticoats and shoes were likely to have better wearing qualities than seaweed could possess, and if they were all going to take refuge in the ark, she felt she would rather have her own clothes on.

'Mr. Noah is sure to come for me,' she most sensibly told herself. 'And I'll get as many clothes on as I can.' Her own dress, of course, had been left at Polistopolis, but the ballet dress would be better than the seaweed tunic. When she was dressed she ran into Philip's room and rolled his clothes into a little bundle and carried it under her arm as she ran down the stairs. Half-way down she met Mr. Noah coming up.

'Ah! you're ready,' he said; 'it is well. Do not be alarmed, my Lucy. The tide is rising but slowly. There will be time for every one to escape. All is in train, and the embarkation of the animals is even now in progress. There has been a little delay in sorting the beasts into pairs. But we are getting on. The Lord High Islander is showing remarkable qualities. All the big animals are on board; the pigs were being coaxed on as I came up. And the ant-eaters are having a late supper. Do not be alarmed.'

'I can't help being alarmed,' said Lucy, slipping her free hand into Mr. Noah's, 'but I won't cry or be silly. Oh, I do wish Philip was here.'

'Most unreasonable of girl children,' said Mr. Noah; 'we are in danger and you wish him to be here to share it?'

'Oh, we are in danger, are we?' said Lucy quickly. 'I thought you said I wasn't to be alarmed.'

'No more you are,' said Mr. Noah shortly; 'of course you're in danger. But there's me. And there's the ark. What more do you want?'

'Nothing,' Lucy answered in a very small voice, and the two made their way to a raised platform overlooking the long inclined road which led up to the tower on which the ark had been built. A long procession toiled slowly up it of animals in pairs, urged and goaded by the M.A.'s under the orders of the Lord High Islander.

The wild wind blew the flames of the torches out like golden streamers, and the sound of the waves was like thunder on the shore.

Down below other M.A.'s were busy carrying bales tied up in seaweed. Seen from above the busy figures looked like ants when you kick into an ant-hill and the little ant people run this way and that way and every way about their little ant businesses.

The Lord High Islander came in pale and serious, with all the calm competence of Napoleon at a crisis.

'Sorry to have to worry you, sir,' he said to Mr. Noah, 'but of course your experience is invaluable just now. I can't remember what bears eat. Is it hay or meat?'

'It's buns,' said Lucy. 'I beg your pardon, Mr. Noah. Of course I ought to have waited for you to say.'

'In my ark,' said Mr. Noah, 'buns were unknown and bears were fed entirely on honey, the providing of which kept our pair of bees fully employed. But if you are sure bears like buns we must always be humane, dear Lucy, and study the natural taste of the animals in our charge.'

'They love them,' said Lucy.

'Buns and honey,' said the Lord Islander; 'and what about bats?'

'I don't know what bats eat,' said Mr. Noah; 'I believe it was settled after some discussion that they don't eat cats. But what they do eat is one of the eleven mysteries. You had better let the bats fast.'

'They are, sir,' said the Lord High Islander.

'And is all going well? Shall I come down and lend a personal eye?'

'I think I'm managing all right, sir,' said the Lord High Islander modestly. 'You see it's a great honour for me. The M.A.'s are carrying in the provisions, the boys are stowing them and also herding the beasts. They are very good workers, sir.'

'Are you frightened?' Lucy whispered, as he turned to go back to his overseeing.

'Not I,' said the Lord High Islander. 'Don't you understand that I've been promoted to be Lord Vice-Noah of Polistarchia? And of course the hearts of all Vice-Noahs are strangers to fear. But just think what a difficult thing Fear would have been to be a stranger to if you and Philip hadn't got us the ark!'

'It was Philip's doing,' said Lucy; 'oh, do you think he's all right?'

'I think his heart is a stranger to fear, naturally,' said the Lord High Islander, 'so he's certain to be all right.'

When the last of the animals had sniffed and snivelled its way into the ark--it was a porcupine with a cold in its head--the islanders, the M.A.'s, Lucy and Mr. Noah followed. And when every one was in, the door of the ark was shut from inside by an ingenious mechanical contrivance worked by a more than usually intelligent M.A.

You must not suppose that the inside of the ark was anything like the inside of your own Noah's ark, where all the animals are put in anyhow, all mixed together and wrong way up as likely as not. That, with live animals and live people, would, as you will readily imagine, be quite uncomfortable. The inside of the ark which had been built under the direction of Mr. Noah and Mr. Perrin was not at all like that. It was more like the inside of a big Atlantic liner than anything else I can think of. All the animals were stowed away in suitable stalls, and there were delightful cabins for all those for whom cabins were suitable. The islanders and the M.A.'s retired to their cabins in perfect order, and Lucy and Mr. Noah, Mr. Perrin and the Lord High Islander gathered in the saloon, which was large and had walls and doors of inlaid mother-of-pearl and pink coral. It was lighted by glass globes filled with phosphorus collected by an ingenious process invented by another of the M.A.'s.

'And now,' said Mr. Noah, 'I beg that anxiety may be dismissed from every mind. If the waters subside, they leave us safe. If they rise, as I confidently expect them to do, our ark will float, and we still are safe. In the morning I will take soundings and begin to steer a course. We will select a suitable spot on the shore, land and proceed to the Hidden Places, where we will consult the oracle. A little refreshment before we retire for what is left of the night? A captain's biscuit would perhaps not be inappropriate?' He took a tin from a locker and handed it round.

'That's A1, sir,' said the Lord High Islander, munching. 'What a head you have for the right thing.'

'All practice,' said Mr. Noah modestly.

'Thank you,' said Lucy, taking a biscuit; 'I wish. . . .'

The sentence was never finished. With a sickening suddenness the floor of the saloon heaved up under their feet, a roaring surging battering sound broke round them; the saloon tipped over on one side and the whole party was thrown on the pink silk cushions of the long settee. A shudder seemed to run through the ark from end to end, and 'What is it? Oh! what is it?' cried Lucy as the ark heeled over the other way and the unfortunate occupants were thrown on to the opposite set of cushions. (It really was, now, rather like what you imagine the inside of your Noah's ark must be when you put in Mr. Noah and his family and a few hastily chosen animals and shake them all up together.)

'It's the sea,' cried the Lord High Islander; 'it's the great Fear come upon us! And I'm not afraid!' He drew himself up as well as he could in his cramped position, with Mr. Noah's elbow pinning his shoulder down and Mr. Perrin's boot on his ear.

With a shake and a shiver the ark righted itself, and the floor of the saloon got flat again.

'It's all right,' said Mr. Perrin, resuming control of his boot; 'good workmanship, it do tell. She ain't shipped a drop, Mr. Noah, sir.'

'It's all right,' said Mr. Noah, taking his elbow to himself and standing up rather shakily on his yellow mat.

'We're afloat, we're afloat On the dark rolling tide; The ark's water-tight And the crew are inside.

'Up, up with the flag Let it wave o'er the sea; We're afloat, we're afloat-- And what else should we be?'

'I don't know,' said Lucy; 'but there isn't any flag, is there?'

'The principle's the same,' said Mr. Noah; 'but I'm afraid we didn't think of a flag.'

'I did,' said Mr. Perrin; 'it's only a Jubilee hankey'--he drew it slowly from his breast-pocket, a cotton Union Jack it was--'but it shall wave all right. But not till daylight, I think, sir. Discretion's the better part of--don't you think, Mr. Noah, sir? Wouldn't do to open the ark out of hours, so to speak!'

'Just so,' said Mr. Noah. 'One, two, three! Bed!'

The ark swayed easily on a sea not too rough. The saloon passengers staggered to their cabins. And silence reigned in the ark.

* * * * * * *

I am sorry to say that the Pretenderette dropped the wicker cage containing the parrot into the sea--an unpardonable piece of cruelty and revenge; unpardonable, that is, unless you consider that she did not really know any better. The Hippogriff's white wings swept on; Philip, now laid across the knees of the Pretenderette (a most undignified attitude for any boy, and I hope none of you may be placed in such a position), screamed as the cage struck the water, and, 'Oh, Polly!' he cried.

'All right,' the parrot answered; 'keep your pecker up!'

'What did it say?' the Pretenderette asked.

'Something about peck,' said Philip upside down.

'Ah!' said the Pretenderette with satisfaction, 'he won't do any more pecking for some time to come.' And the wide Hippogriff wings swept on over the wide sea.

Polly's cage fell and floated. And it floated alone till the dawn, when, with wheelings and waftings and cries, the gulls came from far and near to see what this new strange thing might be that bobbed up and down in their waters in the light of the new-born day.

'Hullo!' said Polly in bird-talk, clinging upside down to the top bars of the cage.

'Hullo, yourself,' replied the eldest gull; 'what's up? And who are you? And what are you doing in that unnatural lobster pot?'

'I conjure you,' said the parrot earnestly, 'I conjure you by our common birdhood to help me in my misfortune.'

'No gull who is a gull can resist that appeal,' said the master of the sea birds; 'what can we do, brother-bird?'

'The matter is urgent,' said Polly, but quite calmly. 'I am getting very wet and I dislike salt water. It is bad for my plumage. May I give an order to your followers, bird-brother?'

'Give,' said the master gull, with a graceful wheel and whirl of his splendid wings.

'Let four of my brothers raise this detested trap high above the waves,' said the parrot, 'and let others of you, with your brave strong beaks, break through the bars and set me free.'

'Delighted,' said the master gull; 'any little thing, you know,' and his own high-bred beak was the first to take hold of the cage, which presently the gulls lifted in the air and broke through, setting the parrot free.

'Thank you, brother-birds,' the parrot said, shaking wet wings and spreading them; 'one good turn deserves another. The beach yonder was white with cockles but yesterday.'

'Thank you, brother-bird,' they all said, and flew fleetly cocklewards.

And that was how the parrot got free from the cage and went back to the shore to have that little talk with the blugraiwee which I told you about in the last chapter.

* * * * * * *

The ark was really very pleasant by daylight with the sun shining in at its windows. The sun shone outside as well, of course, and the Union Jack waved cheerfully in the wind. Breakfast was served on the terrace at the end of the ark--you know--that terrace where the boat part turns up. It was a very nice breakfast, and the sea was quite smooth--a quite perfect sea. This was rather fortunate, for there was nothing else. Sea on every side of the ark. No land at all.

'However shall we find the way,' Lucy asked the Lord High Islander, 'with nothing but sea?'

'Oh,' he answered, 'that's all the better, really. Mr. Noah steers much better when there's no land in sight. It's all practice, you know.'

'And when we come in sight of land, will he steer badly then?'

'Oh, anybody can steer then,' said Billy; 'you if you like.' So it was Lucy who steered the ark into harbour, under Mr. Noah's directions. Arks are very easy to steer if you only know the way. Of course arks are not like other vessels; they require neither sails nor steam engines, nor oars to make them move. The very arkishness of the ark makes it move just as the steersman wishes. He only has to say 'Port,' 'Starboard,' 'Right ahead,' 'Slow' and so on, and the ark (unlike many people I know) immediately does as it is told. So steering was easy and pleasant; one just had to keep the ark's nose towards the distant domes and pinnacles of a town that shone and glittered on the shore a few miles away. And the town grew nearer and nearer, and the black streak that was the people of the town began to show white dots that were the people's faces. And then the ark was moored against a quay side, and a friendly populace cheered as Mr. Noah stepped on to firm land, to be welcomed by the governor of the town and a choice selection of eminent citizens.

'It's quite an event for them,' said Mr. Perrin. 'They don't have much happening here. A very lazy lot they be, almost as bad as Somnolentia.'

'What makes them lazy?' Lucy asked.

'It's owing to the onions and potatoes growing wild in these parts, I believe,' said the Lord High Islander. 'They get enough to eat without working. And the onions make them sleepy.'

They talked apart while Mr. Noah was arranging things with the Governor of the town, who had come down to the harbour in a hurry and a flurry and a furry gown.

'I've arranged everything,' said Mr. Noah at last. 'The islanders and the M.A.'s and the animals are to be allowed to camp in the public park till we've consulted the oracle and decided what's to be done with them. They must live somewhere, I suppose. Life has become much too eventful for me lately. However there are only three more deeds for the Earl of Ark to do, and then perhaps we shall have a little peace and quietness.'

'The Earl of Ark?' Lucy repeated.

'Philip, you know. I do wish you'd try to remember that he's an earl now. Now you and I must take camel and be off.'

And now came seven long days of camel travelling, through desert and forest and over hill and through valley, till at last Lucy and Mr. Noah came to the Hidden Place where the oracle is, and where that is I may not tell you--because it's one of the eleven mysteries. And I must not tell you what the oracle is because that is another of the mysteries. But I may tell you that if you want to consult the oracle you have to go a long way between rows of round pillars, rather like those in Egyptian tombs. And as you go it gets darker and darker, and when it is quite dark you see a little, little light a very long way off, and you hear very far away, a beautiful music, and you smell the scent of flowers that do not grow in any wood or field or garden of this earth. Mixed with this scent is the scent of incense and of old tapestried rooms, where no one has lived for a very long time. And you remember all the sad and beautiful things you have ever seen or heard, and you fall down on the ground and hide your face in your hands and call on the oracle, and if you are the right sort of person the oracle answers you.

Lucy and Mr. Noah waited in the dark for the voice of the oracle, and at last it spoke. Lucy heard no words, only the most beautiful voice in the world speaking softly, and so sweetly and finely and bravely that at once she felt herself brave enough to dare any danger, and strong enough to do any deed that might be needed to get Philip out of the clutches of the base Pretenderette. All the tiredness of her long journey faded away, and but for the thought that Philip needed her, she would have been content to listen for ever to that golden voice. Everything else in the world faded away and grew to seem worthless and unmeaning. Only the soft golden voice remained and the grey hard voice that said, 'You've got to look after Philip, you know!' And the two voices together made a harmony more beautiful than you will find in any of Beethoven's sonatas. Because Lucy knew that she should follow the grey voice, and remember the golden voice as long as she lived.

But something was tiresomely pulling at her sleeve, dragging her away from the wonderful golden voice. Mr. Noah was pulling her sleeve and saying, 'Come away,' and they turned their backs on the little light and the music and the enchanting perfumes, and instantly the voice stopped and they were walking between dusky pillars towards a far grey speck of sunlight.

It was not till they were once more under the bare sky that Lucy said:

'What did it say?'

'You must have heard,' said Mr. Noah.

'I only heard the voice and what it meant. I didn't understand the words. But the voice was like dreams and everything beautiful I've ever thought of.'

'I thought it a wonderfully straight-forward business-like oracle,' said Mr. Noah briskly; 'and the voice was quite distinct and I remember every word it said.'

(Which just shows how differently the same thing may strike two people.)

'What did it say?' Lucy asked, trotting along beside him, still clutching Philip's bundle, which through all these days she had never let go.

And Mr. Noah gravely recited the following lines. I agree with him that, for an oracle, they were extremely straightforward.

'You had better embark Once again in the Ark, And sailing from dryland Make straight for the Island.'

'Did it really say that?' Lucy asked.

'Of course it did,' said Mr. Noah; 'that's a special instruction to me, but I daresay you heard something quite different. The oracle doesn't say the same thing to every one, of course. Didn't you get any special instruction?'

'Only to try to be brave and good,' said Lucy shyly.

'Well, then,' said Mr. Noah, 'you carry out your instructions and I'll carry out mine.'

'But what's the use of going to the island if you can't land when you get there?' Lucy insisted. 'You know only two people can land there, and we're not them, are we?'

'Oh, if you begin asking what's the use, we shan't get anywhere,' said Mr. Noah. 'And more than half the things you say are questions.'

* * * * * * *

I'm sorry this chapter is cut up into bits with lines of stars, but stars are difficult to avoid when you have to tell about a lot of different things happening all at once. That is why it is much better always to keep your party together if you can. And I have allowed mine to get separated so that Philip, the parrot and the rest of the company are going through three sets of adventures all at the same time. This is most trying for me, and fully accounts for the stars. Which I hope you'll excuse. However.

We now come back by way of the stars to Philip wrong way up in the clutches of the Pretenderette. She had breathed the magic word in the Hippogriff's ear, but she had not added any special order. So the Hippogriff was entirely its own master as far as the choice of where it was to go was concerned. It tossed its white mane after circling three times between air and sky, made straight for the Island-where-you-mayn't-go. The Pretenderette didn't know that it was the Island-where-you-mayn't-go, and as they got nearer and she could see plainly its rainbow-coloured sands, its palms and its waterfalls, its cool green thickets and many tinted flowers and glowing fruits, it seemed to her that she might do worse than land there and rest for a little while. For even the most disagreeable people get tired sometimes, and the Pretenderette had had a hard day of it. So she made no attempt to check the Hippogriff or alter its course. And when the Hippogriff was hovering but a few inches from the grass of the most beautiful of the island glades, she jerked Philip roughly off her knee and he fell all in a heap on the ground. With great presence of mind our hero--if he isn't a hero by now he never will be--picked himself up and bolted into the bushes. No rabbit could have bolted more instantly and fleetly.

'I'll teach you,' said the furious Pretenderette, preparing to alight. She looked down to find a soft place to jump on. And then she saw that every blade of grass was a tiny spear of steel, and every spear was pointed at her. She made the Hippogriff take her to another glade--more little steel spears. To the rainbow sands--but on looking at them she saw that they were quivering quicksands. Wherever green grass had grown the spears now grew; and wherever the sand was it was a terrible trap of quicksand. She tried to dismount in a little pool, but fortunately for her she noticed in time that what shone in it so silvery was not water but white-hot molten metal.

'What a nasty place,' said the Pretenderette; 'I don't know that I could have chosen a nastier place to leave that naughty child in. He'll know who's master by the time I send to fetch him back to prison. Here, you, get back to Polistopolis as fast as you can. See? Please, I mean,' she added, and then she spoke the magic word.

Philip was peeping through the bushes close by, and he heard that magic word (I dare not tell you what it is) and he saw for the first time the face of the Pretenderette. And he trembled and shivered in his bushy lurking-place. For the Pretenderette was the only really unpleasant person Philip had ever met in the world. It was Lucy's nurse, the nurse with the grey dress and the big fat feet, who had been so cross to him and had pulled down his city.

'How on earth,' Philip wondered to himself, 'did she get here? And how on earth shall I get away from her?' He had not seen the spears and the quicksands and the molten metal, and he was waiting unhappily for her to alight, and for a game of hide and seek to begin, which he was not at all anxious to play.

Even as he wondered, the Hippogriff spread wings and flew away. And Philip was left alone on the island. But what did that matter? It was much better to be alone than with that Pretenderette. And for Philip there were no white-hot metal and spears and snares of quicksand, only dewy grass and sweet flowers and trees and safety and delight.

'If only Lucy were here,' he said.

When he was quite sure that the Pretenderette was really gone, he came out and explored the island. It had on it every kind of flower and fruit that you can think of, all growing together. There were gold oranges and white orange flowers, pink apple-blossom and red apples, cherries and cherry-blossom, strawberry flowers and strawberries, all growing together, wild and sweet.

At the back of his mind Philip remembered that he had, at some time or other, heard of an island where fruit and blossoms grew together at the same time, but that was all he could remember. He passed through the lovely orchards and came to a lake. It was frozen. And he remembered that, in the island he had heard of, there was a lake ready for skating even when the flowers and fruit were on the trees. Then he came to a little summer-house built all of porcupine quills like Helen's pen-box.

And then he knew. All these wonders were on the island that he and Helen had invented long ago--the island that she used to draw maps of.

'It's our very own island,' he said, and a glorious feeling of being at home glowed through him, warm and delightful. 'We said no one else might come here! That's why the Pretenderette couldn't land. And why they call it the Island-where-you-mayn't-go. I'll find the bun tree and have something to eat, and then I'll go to the boat-house and get out the Lightning Loose and go back for Lucy. I do wish I could bring her here. But of course I can't without asking Helen.'

The Lightning Loose was the magic yacht Helen had invented for the island.

He soon found a bush whose fruit was buns, and a jam-tart tree grew near it. You have no idea how nice jam tarts can taste till you have gathered them yourself, fresh and sticky, from the tree. They are as sticky as horse-chestnut buds, and much nicer to eat.

As he went towards the boat-house he grew happier and happier, recognising, one after the other, all the places he and Helen had planned and marked on the map. He passed by the marble and gold house with King's Palace painted on the door. He longed to explore it: but the thought of Lucy drove him on. As he went down a narrow leafy woodland path towards the boat-house, he passed the door of the dear little thatched cottage (labelled Queen's Palace) which was the house Helen had insisted that she liked best for her very own.

'How pretty it is; I wish Helen was here,' he said; 'she helped to make it. I should never have thought of it without her. She ought to be here,' he said. With that he felt very lonely, all of a sudden, and very sad. And as he went on, wondering whether in all this magic world there might not somehow be some magic strong enough to bring Helen there to see the island that was their very own, and to give her consent to his bringing Lucy to it, he turned a corner in the woodland path, and walked straight into the arms of--Helen.

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