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The Magic City by Edith Nesbit Chapter 12 The End

Philip tore back to the prison, to be met at the door by Lucy.

'I hate you,' she said briefly, and Philip understood.

'I couldn't help it,' he said; 'I did want to do something by myself.'

And Lucy understood.

'And besides,' he said, 'I was coming back for you. Don't be snarky about it, Lu. I've called up Caesar himself. And you shall see him before he goes back into the book. Come on; if we're sharp we can hide in the ruins of the Justice Hall and see everything. I noticed there was a bit of the gallery left standing. Come on. I want you to think what message to send by the Hippogriff to Mr. Noah.'

'Oh, you needn't trouble about that,' said Lucy in an off-hand manner. 'I sent the parrot off ages ago.'

'And you never told me! Then I think that's quits; don't you?'

Lucy had a short struggle with herself (you know those unpleasant and difficult struggles, I am sure!) and said:


And together they ran back to the Justice Hall.

The light was growing every moment, and there was now a sound of movement in the city. Women came down to the public fountains to draw water, and boys swept the paths and doorsteps. That sort of work goes on even when barbarians are surrounding a town. And the ordinary sounds of a town's awakening came to Lucy and Philip as they waited; crowing cocks and barking dogs and cats mewing faintly for the morning milk. But it was not for those sounds that Lucy and Philip were waiting.

So through those homely and familiar sounds they listened, listened, listened; and very gradually, so that they could neither of them have said at any moment 'Now it has begun,' yet quite beyond mistake the sound for which they listened was presently loud in their ears. And it was the sound of steel on steel; the sound of men shouting in the breathless moment between sword-stroke and sword-stroke; the cry of victory and the wail of defeat.

And, presently, the sound of feet that ran.

And now a man shot out from a side street and ran across the square towards the Palace of Justice where Lucy and Philip were hidden in the gallery. And now another and another all running hard and making for the ruined hall as hunted creatures make for cover. Rough, big, blond, their long hair flying behind them, and their tunics of beast-skins flapping as they ran, the barbarians fled before the legions of Caesar. The great marble-covered book that looked like a marble tomb was still open, its cover and fifteen leaves propped up against the tall broken columns of the gateway of the Justice Hall. Into that open book leapt the first barbarian, leapt and vanished, and the next after him and the next, and then, by twos and threes and sixes and sevens, they leapt in and disappeared, amid gasping and shouting and the nearing sound of the bucina and of the trumpets of Rome.

Then from all quarters of the city the Roman soldiers came trooping, and as the last of the barbarians plunged headlong into the open book, the Romans formed into ordered lines and waited, while a man might count ten. Then, advancing between their ranks, came the spare form and thin face of the man with the laurel crown.

Twelve thousand swords flashed in air and wavered a little like reeds in the breeze, then steadied themselves, and the shout went up from twelve thousand throats:

'Ave Caesar!'

And without haste and without delay the Romans filed through the ruins to the marble-covered book, and two by two entered it and disappeared. Each as he passed the mighty conqueror saluted him with proud mute reverence.

When the last soldier was hidden in the book, Caesar looked round him, a little wistfully.

'I must speak to him; I must,' Lucy cried; 'I must. Oh, what a darling he is!'

She ran down the steps from the gallery and straight to Caesar. He smiled when she reached him, and gently pinched her ear. Fancy going through the rest of your life hearing all the voices of the world through an ear that has been pinched by Caesar!

'Oh, thank you! thank you!' said Philip; 'how splendid you are. I'll swot up my Latin like anything next term, so as to read about you.'

'Are they all in?' Lucy asked. 'I do hope nobody was hurt.'

Caesar smiled.

'A most unreasonable wish, my child, after a great battle!' he said. 'But for once the unreasonable is the inevitable. Nobody was hurt. You see it was necessary to get every man back into the book just as he left it, or what would the schoolmasters have done? There remain now only my own guard who have in charge the false woman who let loose the barbarians. And here they come.'

Surrounded by a guard with drawn swords the Pretenderette advanced slowly.

'Hail, woman!' said Caesar.

'Hail, whoever you are!' said the Pretenderette very sulkily.

'I hail,' said Caesar, 'your courage.'

Philip and Lucy looked at each other. Yes, the Pretenderette had courage: they had not thought of that before. All the attempts she had made against them--she alone in a strange land--yes, these needed courage.

'And I demand to know how you came here?'

'When I found he'd been at his building again,' she said, pointing a contemptuous thumb at Philip, 'I was just going to pull it down, and I knocked down a brick or two with my sleeve, and not thinking what I was doing I built them up again; and then I got a bit giddy and the whole thing seemed to begin to grow--candlesticks and bricks and dominoes and everything, bigger and bigger and bigger, and I looked in. It was as big as a church by this time, and I saw that boy losing his way among the candlestick pillars, and I followed him and I listened. And I thought I could be as good a Deliverer as anybody else. And the motor veil that I was going to catch the 2.37 train in was a fine disguise.'

'You tried to injure the children,' Caesar reminded her.

'I don't want to say anything to make you let me off,' said the Pretenderette, 'but at the beginning I didn't think any of it was real. I thought it was a dream. You can let your evil passions go in a dream and it don't hurt any one.'

'It hurts you,' Caesar said.

'Oh! that's no odds,' said the Pretenderette scornfully.

'You sought to injure and confound the children at every turn,' said Caesar, 'even when you found that things were real.'

'I saw there was a chance of being Queen,' said the Pretenderette, 'and I took it. Seems to me you've no occasion to talk if you're Julius Caesar, the same as the bust in the library. You took what you could get right enough in your time, when all's said and done.'

'I hail,' said Caesar again, 'your courage.'

'You needn't trouble,' she said, tossing her head; 'my game's up now, and I'll speak my mind if I die for it. You don't understand. You've never been a servant, to see other people get all the fat and you all the bones. What you think it's like to know if you'd just been born in a gentleman's mansion instead of in a model workman's dwelling you'd have been brought up as a young lady and had the openwork silk stockings and the lace on your under-petticoats.'

'You go too deep for me,' said Caesar, with the ghost of a smile. 'I now pronounce your sentence. But life has pronounced on you a sentence worse than any I can give you. Nobody loves you.'

'Oh, you old silly,' said the Pretenderette in a burst of angry tears, 'don't you see that's just why everything's happened?'

'You are condemned,' said Caesar calmly, 'to make yourself beloved. You will be taken to Briskford, where you will teach the Great Sloth to like his work and keep him awake for eight play-hours a day. In the intervals of your toil you must try to get fond of some one. The Halma people are kind and gentle. You will not find them hard to love. And when the Great Sloth loves his work and the Halma people are so fond of you that they feel they cannot bear to lose you, your penance will be over and you can go where you will.'

'You know well enough,' said the Pretenderette, still tearful and furious, 'that if that ever happened I shouldn't want to go anywhere else.'

'Yes,' said Caesar slowly, 'I know.'

Lucy would have liked to kiss the Pretenderette and say she was sorry, but you can't do that when it is all other people's fault and they aren't sorry. And besides, before all these people, it would have looked like showing off. You know, I am sure, exactly how Lucy felt.

The Pretenderette was led away. And now Caesar stood facing the children, his hands held out in farewell. The growing light of early morning transfigured his face, and to Philip it suddenly seemed to be most remarkably like the face of That Man, Mr. Peter Graham, whom Helen had married. He was just telling himself not to be a duffer when Lucy cried out in a loud cracked-sounding voice, 'Daddy, oh, Daddy!' and sprang forward.

And at that moment the sun rose above the city wall, and its rays gleamed redly on the helmet and the breastplate and the shield and the sword of Caesar. The light struck at the children's eyes like a blow. Dazzled, they closed their eyes and when they opened them, blinking and confused, Caesar was gone and the marble book was closed--for ever.

* * * * * * *

Three days later Mr. Noah arrived by elephant, and the meeting between him and the children is, as they say, better imagined than described. Especially as there is not much time left now for describing anything. Mr. Noah explained that the freeing of Polistopolis from the Pretenderette and the barbarians counted as the seventh deed and that Philip had now attained the rank of King, the deed of the Great Sloth having given him the title of Prince of Pine-apples. His expression of gratitude and admiration were of the warmest, and Philip felt that it was rather ungrateful of him to say, as he couldn't help saying:

'Now I've done all the deeds, mayn't I go back to Helen?'

'All in good time,' said Mr. Noah; 'I will at once set about the arrangements for your coronation.'

The coronation was an occasion of unexampled splendour. There was a banquet (of course) and fireworks, and all the guns fired salutes and the soldiers presented arms, and the ladies presented bouquets. And at the end Mr. Noah, with a few well-chosen words which brought tears to all eyes, placed the gold crown of Polistarchia upon the brow of Philip, where its diamonds and rubies shone dazzlingly.

There was an extra crown for Lucy, made of silver and pearls and pale silvery moonstones.

You have no idea how the Polistarchians shouted.

'And now,' said Mr. Noah when it was all over, 'I regret to inform you that we must part. Polistarchia is a Republic, and of course in a republic kings and queens are not permitted to exist. Partings are painful things. And you had better go at once.'

He was plainly very much upset.

'This is very sudden,' said Philip.

And Lucy said, 'I do think it's silly. How shall we get home? All in a hurry, like this?'

'How did you get here?'

'By building a house and getting into it.'

'Then build your own house. Oh, we have models of all the houses you were ever in. The pieces are all numbered. You only have to put them together.'

He led them to a large room behind the hall of Public Amusements and took down from a shelf a stout box labelled 'The Grange.' On another box Philip saw 'Laburnum Cottage.'

Mr. Noah, kneeling on his yellow mat, tumbled the contents of the box out on the floor, and Philip and Lucy set to work to build a house with the exquisitely finished little blocks and stones and beams and windows and chimneys.

'I cannot bear to see you go,' said Mr. Noah. 'Good-bye, good-bye. Remember me sometimes!'

'We shall never forget you,' said the children, jumping up hugging him.

'Good-bye!' said the parrot who had followed them in.

'Good-bye, good-bye!' said everybody.

'I wish the Lightning Loose was not lost,' Philip even at this parting moment remembered to say.

'She isn't,' said Mr. Noah. 'She flew back to the island directly you left her. Sails are called wings, are they not? White wings that never grow weary, you know. Relieved of your weight, the faithful yacht flew home like any pigeon.'

'Hooray!' said Philip. 'I couldn't bear to think of her rotting away in a cavern.'

'I wish Max and Brenda had come to say good-bye,' said Lucy.

'It is not needed,' said Mr. Noah mysteriously. And then everybody said good-bye again, and Mr. Noah rolled up his yellow mat, put it under his arm again, and went--for ever.

The children built the Grange, and when the beautiful little model of that house was there before them, perfect, they stood still a moment, looking at it.

'I wish we could be two people each,' said Lucy, 'and one of each of us go home and one of each of us stay here. Oh!' she cried suddenly, and snatched at Philip's arm. For a slight strange giddiness had suddenly caught her. Philip too swayed a little uncertainly and stood a moment with his hand to his head. The children gazed about them bewildered and still a little giddy. The room was gone, the model of the Grange was gone. Over their heads was blue sky, under their feet was green grass, and in front stood the Grange itself, with its front door wide open and on the steps Helen and Mr. Peter Graham.

That telegram had brought them home.

* * * * * * *

You will wonder how Lucy explained where she had been when she was lost. She never did explain. There are some things, as you know, that cannot be explained. But the curious thing is that no one ever asked for an explanation. The grown-ups must have thought they knew all about it, which, of course, was very far from being the truth.

When the four people on the doorstep of the Grange had finished saying how glad they were to see each other--that day on the steps when Philip and Lucy came back from Polistarchia, Helen and Mr. Peter Graham came back from Belgium--Helen said:

'And we've brought you each the loveliest present. Fetch them, Peter, there's a dear.'

Mr. Peter Graham went to the stable-yard and came back followed by two long tan dachshunds, who rushed up to the children frisking and fawning in a way they well knew.

'Why Max! why Brenda!' cried Philip. 'Oh, Helen! are they for us?'

'Yes, dear, of course they are,' said Helen; 'but how did you know their names?'

That was one of the things which Philip could not tell, then.

But he told Helen the whole story later, and she said it was wonderful, and how clever of him to make all that up, and that when he was a man he would be able to be an author and to write books.

'And do you know,' she said, 'I did dream about the island--quite a long dream, only when I woke up I could only remember that I'd been there and seen you. But no doubt I dreamed about Mr. Noah and all the rest of it as well, only I forgot it.'

* * * * * * *

And Max and Brenda of course loved every one. Their characters were quite unchanged. Only the children had forgotten the language of animals, so that conversation between them and the dogs was for ever impossible. But Max and Brenda understand every word you say--any one can see that.

* * * * * * *

You want to know what became of the redheaded, steely-eyed nurse, the Pretenderette, who made so much mischief and trouble? Well, I suppose she is still living with the Halma folk, teaching the Great Sloth to like his work and learning to be fond of people--which is the only way to be happy. At any rate no one that I know of has ever seen her again anywhere else.


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