The Magic City by Edith Nesbit Chapter 9 On the 'Lightning Loose'

'But how did you get here?' said Philip in Helen's arms on the island.

'I just walked out at the other side of a dream,' she said; 'how could I not come, when the door was open and you wanted me so?'

And Philip just said, 'Oh, Helen!' He could not find any other words, but Helen understood. She always did.

'Come,' she said, 'shall we go to your Palace or mine? I want my supper, and we'll have our own little blue-and-white tea-set. Yes, I know you've had your supper, but it'll be fun getting mine, and perhaps you'll be hungry again before we've got it.'

They went to the thatched cottage that was Helen's palace, because Philip had had almost as much of large buildings as he wanted for a little while. The cottage had a wide chimney and an open hearth; and they sat on the hearth and made toast, and Philip almost forgot that he had ever had any adventures and that the toast was being made on a hearth whose blue wood-smoke curled up among the enchanting tree-tops of a magic island.

And before they went to bed he had told her all about everything.

'Oh, I am so glad you came!' he said over and over again; 'it is so easy to tell you here, with all the magic going on. I don't think I ever could have told you at the Grange with the servants all about, and the--I mean Mr. Graham, and all the things as not magic as they could possibly be. Oh, Helen! where is Mr. Graham; won't he hate your coming away from him?'

'He's gone through a dream door too,' she said, 'to see Lucy. Only he doesn't know he's really gone. He'll think it's a dream, and he'll tell me about it when we both wake up.'

'When did you go to sleep?' said Philip.

'At Brussels. That telegram hasn't come yet.'

'I don't understand about time,' said Philip firmly, 'and I never shall. I say, Helen, I was just looking for the Lightning Loose, to go off in her on a voyage of discovery and find Lucy.'

'I don't think you need,' she said; 'I met a parrot on the island just before I met you and it was saying poetry to itself.'

'It would be,' said Philip, 'if it was alive. I'm glad it is alive, though. What was it saying?'

'It was something like this,' she said, putting a log of wood on the fire:

'Philip and Helen Have the island to dwell in, Hooray. They said of the island, "It's your land and my land!" Hooray. Hooray. Hooray.

'And till the ark Comes out of the dark There those two may stay For a happy while, and Enjoy their island Until the Giving Day. Hooray.

'And then they will hear the giving voice, They will hear and obey, And when people come Who need a home, They'll give the island away. Hooray.

'The island with flower And fruit and bower, Forest and river and bay, Their very own island They'll sigh and smile and They'll give their island away.'

'What nonsense!' said Philip, 'I never will.'

'All right, my Pipkin,' said Helen cheerfully; 'I only told you just to show that you're expected to stay here. "Philip and Helen have the island to dwell in." And now, what about bed?'

They spent a whole week on the island. It was exactly all that they could wish an island to be; because, of course, they had made it themselves, and of course they knew exactly what they wanted. I can't describe that week. I only know that Philip will never forget it. Just think of all the things you could do on a magic island if you were there with your dearest dear, and you'll know how Philip spent his time.

He enjoyed every minute of every hour of every day, and, best thing of all, that week made him understand, as nothing else could have done, that Helen still belonged to him, and that her marriage to Mr. Graham had not made her any the less Philip's very own Helen.

And then came a day when Philip, swinging in a magnolia tree, looked out to sea and cried out, 'A sail! a sail! Oh, Helen, here's the ark! Now it's all over. Let's have Lucy to stay with us, and send the other people away,' he added, sliding down the tree-trunk with his face very serious.

'But we can't, dear,' Helen reminded him. 'The island's ours, you know; and as long as it's ours no one else can land on it. We made it like that, you know.'

'Then they can't land?'

'No,' said Helen.

'Can't we change the rule and let them land?'

'No,' said Helen.

'Oh, it is a pity,' Philip said; 'because the island is the place for islanders, isn't it?'

'Yes,' said Helen, 'and there's no fear of the sea here; you remember we made it like that when we made the island?'

'Yes,' said Philip. 'Oh, Helen, I don't want to.'

'Then don't,' said Helen.

'Ah, but I do want to, too.'

'Then do,' said she.

'But don't you see, when you want to and don't want to at the same time, what are you to do? There are so many things to think of.'

'When it's like that, there's one thing you mustn't think of,' she said.

'What?' Philip asked.

'Yourself,' she said softly.

There was a silence, and then Philip suddenly hugged his sister and she hugged him.

'I'll give it to them,' he said; 'it's no use. I know I ought to. I shall only be uncomfortable if I don't.'

Helen laughed. 'My boy of boys!' she said. And then she looked sad. 'Boy of my heart,' she said, 'you know it's not only giving up our island. If we give it away I must go. It's the only place that there's a door into out of my dreams.'

'I can't let you go,' he said.

'But you've got your deeds to do,' she said, 'and I can't help you in those. Lucy can help you, but I can't. You like Lucy now, don't you?'

'Oh, I don't mind her,' said Philip; 'but it's you I want, Helen.'

'Don't think about that,' she urged. 'Think what the islanders want. Think what it'll be to them to have the island, to live here always, safe from the fear!'

'There are three more deeds,' said Philip dismally; 'I don't think I shall ever want any more adventures as long as I live.'

'You'll always want them,' she said, laughing at him gently, 'always. And now let's do the thing handsomely and give them a splendid welcome. Give me a kiss and then we'll gather heaps of roses.'

So they kissed each other. But Philip was very unhappy indeed, though he felt that he was being rather noble and that Helen thought so too, which was naturally a great comfort.

There had been a good deal more of this talk than I have set down. Philip and Helen had hardly had time to hang garlands of pink roses along the quayside where the Lightning Loose, that perfect yacht, lay at anchor, before the blunt prow of the ark bumped heavily against the quayside--and the two, dropping the rest of the roses, waved and smiled to the group on the ark's terrace.

The first person to speak was Mr. Perrin, who shouted, 'Here we are again!' like a clown.

Then Lucy said, 'We know we can't land, but the oracle said come and we came.' She leaned over the bulwark to whisper, 'Who's that perfect duck you've got with you?'

Philip answered aloud:

'This is my sister Helen--Helen this is Lucy.'

The two looked at each other, and then Helen held out her hands and she and Lucy kissed each other.

'I knew I should like you,' Lucy whispered, 'but I didn't know I should like you quite so much.'

Mr. Noah and Mr. Perrin were both bowing to Helen, a little stiffly but very cordially all the same, and quite surprisingly without surprise. And the Lord High Islander was looking at her with his own friendly jolly schoolboy grin.

'If you will embark,' said Mr. Noah politely, 'we can return to the mainland, and I will explain to you your remaining deeds.'

'Tell them, Pip,' said Helen.

'We don't want to embark--at present,' said Philip shyly. 'We want you to land.'

'No one may land on the island save two,' said Mr. Noah. 'I am glad you are the two. I feared one of the two might be the Pretenderette.'

'Not much,' said Philip. 'It's Helen's and mine. We made it. And we want to give it to the islanders to keep. For their very own,' he added, feeling that it would be difficult for any one to believe that such a glorious present was really being made just like that, without speeches, as if it had been a little present of a pencil sharpener or a peg-top.

He was right.

'To keep?' said the Lord High Islander; 'for our very own? Always?'

'Yes,' said Philip. 'And there's no fear here. You'll really be "happy troops" now.'

For a moment nobody said anything, though all the faces were expressive. Then the Lord High Islander spoke.

'Well,' he said, 'of all the brickish bricks----' and could say no more.

'There are lots of houses,' said Philip, 'and room for all the animals, and the island is thirty miles round, so there's lots of room for the animals and everything.' He felt happier than he had ever done in his life. Giving presents is always enjoyable, and this was such a big and beautiful present, and he loved it so.

'I always did say Master Pip was a gentleman, and I always shall,' Mr. Perrin remarked.

'I congratulate you,' said Mr. Noah, 'and I am happy to announce that your fifth deed is now accomplished. You remember our empty silver fruit-dishes? Your fifth deed was to be the supplying of Polistarchia with fruit. This island is the only place in the kingdom where fruit grows. The ark will serve to convey the fruit to the mainland, and the performance of this deed raises you to the rank of Duke.'

'Philip, you're a dear,' said Lucy in a whisper.

'Shut up,' said Philip fiercely.

'Three cheers,' said a familiar voice, 'for the Duke of Donors.'

'Three cheers,' repeated the Lord High Islander, 'for the Duke of Donors.'

What a cheer! All the islanders cheered and the M.A.'s and Lucy and Mr. Perrin and Mr. Noah, and from the inside of the ark came enthusiastic barkings and gruntings and roarings and squeakings--as the animals of course joined in as well as they could. Thousands of gulls, circling on white wings in the sun above, added their screams to the general chorus. And when the sound of the last cheer died away, a little near familiar voice said:

'Well done, Philip! I'm proud of you.'

It was the parrot who, perched on the rigging of the Lightning Loose, had started the cheering.

'So that's all right,' it said, fluttered on to Philip's shoulder and added, 'I've heard you calling for me on the island all the week. But I felt I needed a rest. I've been talking too much. And that Pretenderette. And that cage. I assure you I needed a little time to get over my adventures.'

'We have all had our adventures,' said Mr. Noah gently. And Helen said:

'Won't you land and take possession of the island? I'm sure we are longing to hear each other's adventures.'

'You first,' said Mr. Noah to the Lord High Islander, who stepped ashore very gravely.

When Helen saw him come forward, she suddenly kissed Philip, and as the Lord High Islander's foot touched the shore of that enchanted island, she simply and suddenly vanished.

'Oh!' cried Philip, 'I wish I hadn't.' And his mouth trembled as girls' mouths do if they are going to cry.

'The more a present costs you, the more it's worth,' said Mr. Noah. 'This has cost you so much, it's the most splendid present in the world.'

'I know,' said Philip; 'make yourselves at home, won't you?' he just managed to say. And then he found he could not say any more. He just turned and went into the forest. And when he was alone in a green glade, he flung himself down on his face and lay a long time without moving. It had been such a happy week. And he was so tired of adventures.

When at last he sniffed with an air of finality and raised his head, the first thing he saw was Lucy, sitting quite still with her back to him.

'Hullo!' he said rather crossly, 'what are you doing here?'

'Saying the multiplication table,' said Lucy promptly and turned her head, 'so as not even to think about you. And I haven't even once turned round. I knew you wanted to be alone. But I wanted to be here when you'd done being alone. See? I've got something to say to you.'

'Fire ahead,' said Philip, still grumpy.

'I think you're perfectly splendid,' said Lucy very seriously, 'and I want it to be real pax for ever. And I'll help you in the rest of the adventures. And if you're cross, I'll try not to mind. Napoleon was cross sometimes, I believe,' she added pensively, 'and Julius Caesar.'

'Oh, that's all right,' said Philip very awkwardly.

'Then we're going to be real chums?'

'Oh yes, if you like. Only--I don't mind just this once; and it was decent of you to come and sit there with your back to me--only I hate gas.'

'Yes,' said Lucy obediently, 'I know. Only sometimes you feel you must gas a little or burst of admiration. And I've got your proper clothes in a bundle. I've been carrying them about ever since the islanders' castle was washed away. Here they are.'

She produced the bundle. And this time Philip was really touched.

'Now I do call that something like,' he said. 'The seaweed dress is all right here, but you never know what you may have to go through when you're doing adventures. There might be thorns or snakes or anything. I'm jolly glad to get my boots back too. I say, come on. Let's go to Helen's palace and get a banquet ready. I know there'll have to be a banquet. There always is, here. I know a first-rate bun-tree quite near here.'

'The cocoa-nut-ice plants looked beautiful as I came along,' said Lucy. 'What a lovely island it is. And you made it!'

'No gas,' said Philip warningly. 'Helen and I made it.'

'She's the dearest darling,' said Lucy.

'Oh, well,' said Philip with resignation, 'if you must gas, gas about her.'

The banquet was all that you can imagine of interesting and magnificent. And Philip was, of course, the hero of the hour. And when the banquet was finished and the last guest had departed to its own house--for the houses on the island were of course all ready to be occupied, furnished to the last point of comfort, with pin-cushions full of pins in every room, Mr. Noah and Lucy and Philip sat down on the terrace steps among the pink roses for a last little talk.

'Because,' said Philip, 'we shall start the first thing in the morning. So please will you tell me now what the next deed is that I have to do?'

'Will you go by ark?' Mr. Noah asked, rolling up his yellow mat to make an elbow rest and leaning on it; 'I shall be delighted.'

'I thought,' said Philip, 'we might go in the Lightning Loose. I've never sailed her yet, you know. Do you think I could?'

'Of course you can,' said Mr. Noah; 'and if not, Lucy can show you. Your charming yacht is steered on precisely the same principle as the ark. And in this land all the winds are favourable. You will find the yacht suitably provisioned. And I may add that you can go most of the way to your next deed by water--first the sea and then the river.'

'And what,' asked Philip, 'is the next deed?'

'In the extreme north of Polistarchia,' said Mr. Noah instructively, 'lies a town called Somnolentia. It used to be called Briskford in happier days. A river then ran through the town, a rapid river that brought much gold from the mountains. The people used to work very hard to keep the channel clear of the lumps of gold which continually threatened to choke it. Their fields were then well-watered and fruitful, and the inhabitants were cheerful and happy. But when the Hippogriff was let out of the book, a Great Sloth got out too. Evading all efforts to secure him, the Great Sloth journeyed northward. He is a very large and striking animal, and by some means, either fear or admiration, he obtained a complete ascendancy over the inhabitants of Briskford. He induced them to build him a temple of solid gold, and while they were doing this the river bed became choked up and the stream was diverted into another channel far from the town. Since then the place is fallen into decay. The fields are parched and untilled. Such water as the people need for drinking is drawn by great labour from a well. Washing has become shockingly infrequent.'

'Are we to teach the dirty chaps to wash?' asked Philip in disgust.

'Do not interrupt,' said Mr. Noah. 'You destroy the thread of my narrative. Where was I?'

'Washing infrequent,' said Lucy; 'but if the fields are dried up, what do they live on?'

'Pine-apples,' replied Mr. Noah, 'which grow freely and do not need much water. Gathering these is the sole industry of this degraded people. Pine-apples are not considered a fruit but a vegetable,' he added hastily, seeing another question trembling on Philip's lips. 'Whatever of their waking time can be spared from the gathering and eating of the pine-apples is spent in singing choric songs in honour of the Great Sloth. And even this time is short, for such is his influence on the Somnolentians that when he sleeps they sleep too, and,' added Mr. Noah impressively, 'he sleeps almost all the time. Your deed is to devise some means of keeping the Great Sloth awake and busy. And I think you've got your work cut out. When you've disposed of the Great Sloth you can report yourself to me here. I shall remain here for some little time. I need a holiday. The parrot will accompany you. It knows its way about as well as any bird in the land. Good-night. And good luck! You will excuse my not being down to breakfast.'

And the next morning, dewy-early, Philip and Lucy and the parrot went aboard the yacht and loosed her from her moorings, and Lucy showed Philip how to steer, and the parrot sat on the mast and called out instructions.

They made for the mouth of a river. ('I never built a river,' said Philip. 'No,' said the parrot, 'it came out of the poetry book.') And when they were hungry they let down the anchor and went into the cabin for breakfast. And two people sprang to meet them, almost knocking Lucy down with the violence of their welcome. The two people were Max and Brenda.

'Oh, you dear dogs,' Lucy cried, and Philip patted them, one with each hand, 'how did you get here?'

'It was a little surprise of Mr. Noah's,' said the parrot.

Max and Brenda whined and barked and gushed.

'I wish we could understand what they're saying,' said Lucy.

'If you only knew the magic word that the Hippogriff obeys,' said the parrot, 'you could say it, and then you'd understand all animal talk. Only, of course, I mustn't tell it you. It's one of the eleven mysteries.'

'But I know it,' said Philip, and at once breathed the word in the tiny silky ear of Brenda and then in the longer silkier ear of Max, and instantly--

'Oh, my dears!' they heard Brenda say in a softly shrill excited voice; 'oh, my dearie dears! We are so pleased to see you. I'm only a poor little faithful doggy; I'm not clever, you know, but my affectionate nature makes me almost mad with joy to see my dear master and mistress again.'

'Very glad to see you, sir,' said Max with heavy politeness. 'I hope you'll be comfortable here. There's no comfort for a dog like being with his master.'

And with that he sat down and went to sleep, and the others had breakfast. It is rather fun cooking in yachts. And there was something new and charming in Brenda's delicate way of sitting up and begging and saying at the same time, 'I do hate to bother my darling master and mistress, but if you could spare another tiny bit of bacon--Oh, thank you, how good and generous you are!'

They sailed the yacht successfully into the river which presently ran into the shadow of a tropical forest. Also out of a book.

'You might go on during the night,' said the parrot, 'if the dogs would steer under my directions. You could tie one end of a rope to their collars and another to the helm. It's easier than turning spits.'

'Delighted!' said Max; 'only, of course, it's understood that we sleep through the day?'

'Of course,' said everybody. So that was settled. And the children went to bed.

It was in the middle of the night that the parrot roused Philip with his usual gentle beak-touch. Then--

'Wake up,' it said; 'this is not the right river. It's not the right direction. Nothing's right. The ship's all wrong. I'm very much afraid some one has been opening a book and this river has got out.'

Philip hurried out on deck, and by the light of the lamps from the cabin, gazed out at the banks of the river. At least he looked for them. But there weren't any banks. Instead, steep and rugged cliffs rose on each side, and overhead, instead of a starry sky, was a great arched roof of a cavern glistening with moisture and dark as a raven's feathers.

'We must turn back,' said Philip. 'I don't like this at all.'

'Unfortunately,' said the parrot, 'there is no room to turn back, and the Lightning Loose is not constructed for going backwards.'

'Oh, dear,' whispered Brenda, 'I wish we hadn't come. Dear little dogs ought to be taken comfortable care of and not be sent out on nasty ships that can't turn back when it's dangerous.'

'My dear,' said Max with slow firmness, 'dear little dogs can't help themselves now. So they had better look out for chances of helping their masters.'

'But what can we do, then?' said Philip impatiently.

'I fear,' said the parrot, 'that we can do nothing but go straight on. If this river is in a book it will come out somewhere. No river in a book ever runs underground and stays there.'

'I shan't wake Lucy,' said Philip; 'she might be frightened.'

'You needn't,' said Lucy, 'she's awake, and she's no more frightened than you are.'

('You hear that,' said Max to Brenda; 'you take example by her, my dear!')

'But if we are going the wrong way, we shan't reach the Great Sloth,' Lucy went on.

'Sooner or later, one way or another, we shall come to him,' said the parrot; 'and time is of no importance to a Great Sloth.'

It was now very cold, and our travellers were glad to wrap themselves in the flags of all nations with which the yacht was handsomely provided. Philip made a sort of tabard of the Union Jack and the old Royal Arms of England, with the lilies and leopards; and Lucy wore the Japanese flag as a shawl. She said the picture of the sun on it made her feel warm. But Philip shivered under his complicated crosses and lions, as the Lightning Loose swept on over the dark tide between the dark walls and under the dark roof of the cavern.

'Cheer up,' said the parrot. 'Think what a lot of adventures you're having that no one else has ever had: think what a lot of things you'll have to tell the other boys when you go to school.'

'The other boys wouldn't believe a word of it,' said Philip in gloom. 'I wouldn't unless I knew it was true.'

'What I think is,' said Lucy, watching the yellow light from the lamps rushing ahead along the roof, 'that we shan't want to tell people. It'll be just enough to know it ourselves and talk about it, just Philip and me together.'

'Well, as to that----' the parrot was beginning doubtfully, when he broke off to exclaim:

'Do my claws deceive me or is there a curious vibration, and noticeable acceleration of velocity?'

'Eh?' said Philip, which is not manners, and he knew it.

'He means,' said Max stolidly, 'aren't we going rather fast and rather wobbly?'

We certainly were. The Lightning Loose was going faster and faster along that subterranean channel, and every now and then gave a lurch and a shiver.

'Oh!' whined Brenda; 'this is a dreadful place for dear little dogs!'

'Philip!' said Lucy in a low voice, 'I know something is going to happen. Something dreadful. We are friends, aren't we?'

'Yes,' said Philip firmly.

'Then I wish you'd kiss me.'

'I can like you just as much without that,' said Philip uneasily. 'Kissing people--it's silly, don't you think?'

'Nobody's kissed me since daddy went away,' she said, 'except Helen. And you don't mind kissing Helen. She said you were going to adopt me for your sister.'

'Oh! all right,' said Philip, and put his arm round her and kissed her. She felt so little and helpless and bony in his arm that he suddenly felt sorry for her, kissed her again more kindly and then, withdrawing his arm, thumped her hearteningly on the back.

'Be a man,' he said in tones of comradeship and encouragement. 'I'm perfectly certain nothing's going to happen. We're just going through a tunnel, and presently we shall just come out into the open air again, with the sky and the stars going on as usual.'

He spoke this standing on the prow beside Lucy, and as he spoke she clutched his arm.

'Oh, look,' she breathed, 'oh, listen!'

He listened. And he heard a dull echoing roar that got louder and louder. And he looked. The light of the lamps shone ahead on the dark gleaming water, and then quite suddenly it did not shine on the water because there was no longer any water for it to shine on. Only great empty black darkness. A great hole, ahead, into which the stream poured itself. And now they were at the edge of the gulf. The Lightning Loose gave a shudder and a bound and hung for what seemed a long moment on the edge of the precipice down which the underground river was pouring itself in a smooth sleek stream, rather like poured treacle, over what felt like the edge of everything solid.

The moment ended, and the little yacht, with Philip and Lucy and the parrot and the two dogs, plunged headlong over the edge into the dark unknown abyss below.

'It's all right, Lu,' said Philip in that moment. 'I'll take care of you.'

And then there was silence in the cavern--only the rushing sound of the great waterfall echoed in the rocky arch.