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HOME > Science Fiction > The Story of the Amulet > CHAPTER 10. THE LITTLE BLACK GIRL AND JULIUS CAESAR
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A great city swept away by the sea, a beautiful country devastated by an active volcano—these are not the sort of things you see every day of the week. And when you do see them, no matter how many other wonders you may have seen in your time, such sights are rather apt to take your breath away. Atlantis had certainly this effect on the breaths of Cyril, Robert, Anthea, and Jane.

They remained in a breathless state for some days. The learned gentleman seemed as breathless as anyone; he spent a good deal of what little breath he had in telling Anthea about a wonderful dream he had. ‘You would hardly believe,’ he said, ‘that anyone COULD have such a detailed vision.’

But Anthea could believe it, she said, quite easily.

He had ceased to talk about thought-transference. He had now seen too many wonders to believe that.

In consequence of their breathless condition none of the children suggested any new excursions through the Amulet. Robert voiced the mood of the others when he said that they were ‘fed up’ with Amulet for a bit. They undoubtedly were.

As for the Psammead, it went to sand and stayed there, worn out by the terror of the flood and the violent exercise it had had to take in obedience to the inconsiderate wishes of the learned gentleman and the Babylonian queen.

The children let it sleep. The danger of taking it about among strange people who might at any moment utter undesirable wishes was becoming more and more plain.

And there are pleasant things to be done in London without any aid from Amulets or Psammeads. You can, for instance visit the Tower of London, the Houses of Parliament, the National Gallery, the Zoological Gardens, the various Parks, the Museums at South Kensington, Madame Tussaud’s Exhibition of Waxworks, or the Botanical Gardens at Kew. You can go to Kew by river steamer—and this is the way that the children would have gone if they had gone at all. Only they never did, because it was when they were discussing the arrangements for the journey, and what they should take with them to eat and how much of it, and what the whole thing would cost, that the adventure of the Little Black Girl began to happen.

The children were sitting on a seat in St James’s Park. They had been watching the pelican repulsing with careful dignity the advances of the seagulls who are always so anxious to play games with it. The pelican thinks, very properly, that it hasn’t the figure for games, so it spends most of its time pretending that that is not the reason why it won’t play.

The breathlessness caused by Atlantis was wearing off a little. Cyril, who always wanted to understand all about everything, was turning things over in his mind.

‘I’m not; I’m only thinking,’ he answered when Robert asked him what he was so grumpy about. ‘I’ll tell you when I’ve thought it all out.’

‘If it’s about the Amulet I don’t want to hear it,’ said Jane.

‘Nobody asked you to,’ retorted Cyril mildly, ‘and I haven’t finished my inside thinking about it yet. Let’s go to Kew in the meantime.’

‘I’d rather go in a steamer,’ said Robert; and the girls laughed.

‘That’s right,’ said Cyril, ‘BE funny. I would.’

‘Well, he was, rather,’ said Anthea.

‘I wouldn’t think, Squirrel, if it hurts you so,’ said Robert kindly.

‘Oh, shut up,’ said Cyril, ‘or else talk about Kew.’

‘I want to see the palms there,’ said Anthea hastily, ‘to see if they’re anything like the ones on the island where we united the Cook and the Burglar by the Reverend Half-Curate.’

All disagreeableness was swept away in a pleasant tide of recollections, and ‘Do you remember...?’ they said. ‘Have you forgotten...?’

‘My hat!’ remarked Cyril pensively, as the flood of reminiscence ebbed a little; ‘we have had some times.’

‘We have that,’ said Robert.

‘Don’t let’s have any more,’ said Jane anxiously.

‘That’s what I was thinking about,’ Cyril replied; and just then they heard the Little Black Girl sniff. She was quite close to them.

She was not really a little black girl. She was shabby and not very clean, and she had been crying so much that you could hardly see, through the narrow chink between her swollen lids, how very blue her eyes were. It was her dress that was black, and it was too big and too long for her, and she wore a speckled black-ribboned sailor hat that would have fitted a much bigger head than her little flaxen one. And she stood looking at the children and sniffing.

‘Oh, dear!’ said Anthea, jumping up. ‘Whatever is the matter?’

She put her hand on the little girl’s arm. It was rudely shaken off.

‘You leave me be,’ said the little girl. ‘I ain’t doing nothing to you.’

‘But what is it?’ Anthea asked. ‘Has someone been hurting you?’

‘What’s that to you?’ said the little girl fiercely. ‘YOU’RE all right.’

‘Come away,’ said Robert, pulling at Anthea’s sleeve. ‘She’s a nasty, rude little kid.’

‘Oh, no,’ said Anthea. ‘She’s only dreadfully unhappy. What is it?’ she asked again.

‘Oh, YOU’RE all right,’ the child repeated; ‘YOU ain’t agoin’ to the union.’

‘Can’t we take you home?’ said Anthea; and Jane added, ‘Where does your mother live?’

‘She don’t live nowheres—she’s dead—so now!’ said the little girl fiercely, in tones of miserable triumph. Then she opened her swollen eyes widely, stamped her foot in fury, and ran away. She ran no further than to the next bench, flung herself down there and began to cry without even trying not to.

Anthea, quite at once, went to the little girl and put her arms as tight as she could round the hunched-up black figure.

‘Oh, don’t cry so, dear, don’t, don’t!’ she whispered under the brim of the large sailor hat, now very crooked indeed. ‘Tell Anthea all about it; Anthea’ll help you. There, there, dear, don’t cry.’

The others stood at a distance. One or two passers-by stared curiously.

The child was now only crying part of the time; the rest of the time she seemed to be talking to Anthea.

Presently Anthea beckoned Cyril.

‘It’s horrible!’ she said in a furious whisper, ‘her father was a carpenter and he was a steady man, and never touched a drop except on a Saturday, and he came up to London for work, and there wasn’t any, and then he died; and her name is Imogen, and she’s nine come next November. And now her mother’s dead, and she’s to stay tonight with Mrs Shrobsall—that’s a landlady that’s been kind—and tomorrow the Relieving Officer is coming for her, and she’s going into the union; that means the Workhouse. It’s too terrible. What can we do?’

‘Let’s ask the learned gentleman,’ said Jane brightly.

And as no one else could think of anything better the whole party walked back to Fitzroy Street as fast as it could, the little girl holding tight to Anthea’s hand and now not crying any more, only sniffing gently.

The learned gentleman looked up from his writing with the smile that had grown much easier to him than it used to be. They were quite at home in his room now; it really seemed to welcome them. Even the mummy-case appeared to smile as if in its distant superior ancient Egyptian way it were rather pleased to see them than not.

Anthea sat on the stairs with Imogen, who was nine come next November, while the others went in and explained the difficulty.

The learned gentleman listened with grave attention.

‘It really does seem rather rough luck,’ Cyril concluded, ‘because I’ve often heard about rich people who wanted children most awfully—though I know I never should—but they do. There must be somebody who’d be glad to have her.’

‘Gipsies are awfully fond of children,’ Robert hopefully said. ‘They’re always stealing them. Perhaps they’d have her.’

‘She’s quite a nice little girl really,’ Jane added; ‘she was only rude at first because we looked jolly and happy, and she wasn’t. You understand that, don’t you?’

‘Yes,’ said he, absently fingering a little blue image from Egypt. ‘I understand that very well. As you say, there must be some home where she would be welcome.’ He scowled thoughtfully at the little blue image.

Anthea outside thought the explanation was taking a very long time.

She was so busy trying to cheer and comfort the little black girl that she never noticed the Psammead who, roused from sleep by her voice, had shaken itself free of sand, and was coming crookedly up the stairs. It was close to her before she saw it. She picked it up and settled it in her lap.

‘What is it?’ asked the black child. ‘Is it a cat or a organ-monkey, or what?’

And then Anthea heard the learned gentleman say—

‘Yes, I wish we could find a home where they would be glad to have her,’ and instantly she felt the Psammead begin to blow itself out as it sat on her lap.

She jumped up lifting the Psammead in her skirt, and holding Imogen by the hand, rushed into the learned gentleman’s room.

‘At least let’s keep together,’ she cried. ‘All hold hands—quick!’

The circle was like that formed for the Mulberry Bush or Ring-o’-Roses. And Anthea was only able to take part in it by holding in her teeth the hem of her frock which, thus supported, formed a bag to hold the Psammead.

‘Is it a game?’ asked the learned gentleman feebly. No one answered.

There was a moment of suspense; then came that curious upside-down, inside-out sensation which one almost always feels when transported from one place to another by magic. Also there was that dizzy dimness of sight which comes on these occasions.

The mist cleared, the upside-down, inside-out sensation subsided, and there stood the six in a ring, as before, only their twelve feet, instead of standing on the carpet of the learned gentleman’s room, stood on green grass. Above them, instead of the dusky ceiling of the Fitzroy Street floor, was a pale blue sky. And where the walls had been and the painted mummy-case, were tall dark green trees, oaks and ashes, and in between the trees and under them tangled bushes and creeping ivy. There were beech-trees too, but there was nothing under them but their own dead red drifted leaves, and here and there a delicate green fern-frond.

And there they stood in a circle still holding hands, as though they were playing Ring-o’-Roses or the Mulberry Bush. Just six people hand in hand in a wood. That sounds simple, but then you must remember that they did not know WHERE the wood was, and what’s more, they didn’t know WHEN then wood was. There was a curious sort of feeling that made the learned gentleman say—

‘Another dream, dear me!’ and made the children almost certain that they were in a time a very long while ago. As for little Imogen, she said, ‘Oh, my!’ and kept her mouth very much open indeed.

‘Where are we?’ Cyril asked the Psammead.

‘In Britain,’ said the Psammead.

‘But when?’ asked Anthea anxiously.

‘About the year fifty-five before the year you reckon time from,’ said the Psammead crossly. ‘Is there anything else you want to know?’ it added, sticking its head out of the bag formed by Anthea’s blue linen frock, and turning its snail’s eyes to right and left. ‘I’ve been here before—it’s very little changed.’ ‘Yes, but why here?’ asked Anthea.

‘Your inconsiderate friend,’ the Psammead replied, ‘wished to find some home where they would be glad to have that unattractive and immature female human being whom you have picked up—gracious knows how. In Megatherium days properly brought-up children didn’t talk to shabby strangers in parks. Your thoughtless friend wanted a place where someone would be glad to have this undesirable stranger. And now here you are!’

‘I see we are,’ said Anthea patiently, looking round on the tall gloom of the forest. ‘But why HERE? Why NOW?’

‘You don’t suppose anyone would want a child like that in YOUR times—in YOUR towns?’ said the Psammead in irritated tones. ‘You’ve got your country into such a mess that there’s no room for half your children—and no one to want them.’

‘That’s not our doing, you know,’ said Anthea gently.

‘And bringing me here without any waterproof or anything,’ said the Psammead still more crossly, ‘when everyone knows how damp and foggy Ancient Britain was.’

‘Here, take my coat,’ said Robert, taking it off. Anthea spread the coat on the ground and, putting the Psammead on it, folded it round so that only the eyes and furry ears showed.

‘There,’ she said comfortingly. ‘Now if it does begin to look like rain, I can cover you up in a minute. Now what are we to do?’

The others who had stopped holding hands crowded round to hear the answer to this question. Imogen whispered in an awed tone—

‘Can’t the organ monkey talk neither! I thought it was only parrots!’

‘Do?’ replied the Psammead. ‘I don’t care what you do!’ And it drew head and ears into the tweed covering of Robert’s coat.

The others looked at each other.

‘It’s only a dream,’ said the learned gentleman hopefully; ‘something is sure to happen if we can prevent ourselves from waking up.’

And sure enough, something did.

The brooding silence of the dark forest was broken by the laughter of children and the sound of voices.

‘Let’s go and see,’ said Cyril.

‘It’s only a dream............
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