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HOME > Science Fiction > The Story of the Amulet > CHAPTER 13. THE SHIPWRECK ON THE TIN ISLANDS
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‘Blue and red,’ said Jane softly, ‘make purple.’

‘Not always they don’t,’ said Cyril, ‘it has to be crimson lake and Prussian blue. If you mix Vermilion and Indigo you get the most loathsome slate colour.’

‘Sepia’s the nastiest colour in the box, I think,’ said Jane, sucking her brush.

They were all painting. Nurse in the flush of grateful emotion, excited by Robert’s border of poppies, had presented each of the four with a shilling paint-box, and had supplemented the gift with a pile of old copies of the Illustrated London News.

‘Sepia,’ said Cyril instructively, ‘is made out of beastly cuttlefish.’

‘Purple’s made out of a fish, as well as out of red and blue,’ said Robert. ‘Tyrian purple was, I know.’

‘Out of lobsters?’ said Jane dreamily. ‘They’re red when they’re boiled, and blue when they aren’t. If you mixed live and dead lobsters you’d get Tyrian purple.’

‘I shouldn’t like to mix anything with a live lobster,’ said Anthea, shuddering.

‘Well, there aren’t any other red and blue fish,’ said Jane; ‘you’d have to.’

‘I’d rather not have the purple,’ said Anthea.

‘The Tyrian purple wasn’t that colour when it came out of the fish, nor yet afterwards, it wasn’t,’ said Robert; ‘it was scarlet really, and Roman Emperors wore it. And it wasn’t any nice colour while the fish had it. It was a yellowish-white liquid of a creamy consistency.’

‘How do you know?’ asked Cyril.

‘I read it,’ said Robert, with the meek pride of superior knowledge.

‘Where?’ asked Cyril.

‘In print,’ said Robert, still more proudly meek.

‘You think everything’s true if it’s printed,’ said Cyril, naturally annoyed, ‘but it isn’t. Father said so. Quite a lot of lies get printed, especially in newspapers.’

‘You see, as it happens,’ said Robert, in what was really a rather annoying tone, ‘it wasn’t a newspaper, it was in a book.’

‘How sweet Chinese white is!’ said Jane, dreamily sucking her brush again.

‘I don’t believe it,’ said Cyril to Robert.

‘Have a suck yourself,’ suggested Robert.

‘I don’t mean about the Chinese white. I mean about the cream fish turning purple and—’

‘Oh!’ cried Anthea, jumping up very quickly, ‘I’m tired of painting. Let’s go somewhere by Amulet. I say let’s let IT choose.’

Cyril and Robert agreed that this was an idea. Jane consented to stop painting because, as she said, Chinese white, though certainly sweet, gives you a queer feeling in the back of the throat if you paint with it too long.

The Amulet was held up. ‘Take us somewhere,’ said Jane, ‘anywhere you like in the Past—but somewhere where you are.’ Then she said the word.

Next moment everyone felt a queer rocking and swaying—something like what you feel when you go out in a fishing boat. And that was not wonderful, when you come to think of it, for it was in a boat that they found themselves. A queer boat, with high bulwarks pierced with holes for oars to go through. There was a high seat for the steersman, and the prow was shaped like the head of some great animal with big, staring eyes. The boat rode at anchor in a bay, and the bay was very smooth. The crew were dark, wiry fellows with black beards and hair. They had no clothes except a tunic from waist to knee, and round caps with knobs on the top. They were very busy, and what they were doing was so interesting to the children that at first they did not even wonder where the Amulet had brought them. And the crew seemed too busy to notice the children. They were fastening rush baskets to a long rope with a great piece of cork at the end, and in each basket they put mussels or little frogs. Then they cast out the rope, the baskets sank, but the cork floated. And all about on the blue water were other boats and all the crews of all the boats were busy with ropes and baskets and frogs and mussels.

‘Whatever are you doing?’ Jane suddenly asked a man who had rather more clothes than the others, and seemed to be a sort of captain or overseer. He started and stared at her, but he had seen too many strange lands to be very much surprised at these queerly-dressed stowaways.

‘Setting lines for the dye shell-fish,’ he said shortly. ‘How did you get here?’

‘A sort of magic,’ said Robert carelessly. The Captain fingered an Amulet that hung round his neck.

‘What is this place?’ asked Cyril.

‘Tyre, of course,’ said the man. Then he drew back and spoke in a low voice to one of the sailors.

‘Now we shall know about your precious cream-jug fish,’ said Cyril.

‘But we never SAID come to Tyre,’ said Jane.

‘The Amulet heard us talking, I expect. I think it’s MOST obliging of it,’ said Anthea.

‘And the Amulet’s here too,’ said Robert. ‘We ought to be able to find it in a little ship like this. I wonder which of them’s got it.’

‘Oh—look, look!’ cried Anthea suddenly. On the bare breast of one of the sailors gleamed something red. It was the exact counterpart of their precious half-Amulet.

A silence, full of emotion, was broken by Jane.

‘Then we’ve found it!’ she said. ‘Oh do let’s take it and go home!’

‘Easy to say “take it”,’ said Cyril; ‘he looks very strong.’

He did—yet not so strong as the other sailors.

‘It’s odd,’ said Anthea musingly, ‘I do believe I’ve seen that man somewhere before.’

‘He’s rather like our learned gentleman,’ said Robert, ‘but I’ll tell you who he’s much more like—’ At that moment that sailor looked up. His eyes met Robert’s—and Robert and the others had no longer any doubt as to where they had seen him before. It was Rekh-mara, the priest who had led them to the palace of Pharaoh—and whom Jane had looked back at through the arch, when he was counselling Pharaoh’s guard to take the jewels and fly for his life.

Nobody was quite pleased, and nobody quite knew why.

Jane voiced the feelings of all when she said, fingering THEIR Amulet through the folds of her frock, ‘We can go back in a minute if anything nasty happens.’

For the moment nothing worse happened than an offer of food—figs and cucumbers it was, and very pleasant.

‘I see,’ said the Captain, ‘that you are from a far country. Since you have honoured my boat by appearing on it, you must stay here till morning. Then I will lead you to one of our great ones. He loves strangers from far lands.’

‘Let’s go home,’ Jane whispered, ‘all the frogs are drowning NOW. I think the people here are cruel.’

But the boys wanted to stay and see the lines taken up in the morning.

‘It’s just like eel-pots and lobster-pots,’ said Cyril, ‘the baskets only open from outside—I vote we stay.’

So they stayed.

‘That’s Tyre over there,’ said the Captain, who was evidently trying to be civil. He pointed to a great island rock, that rose steeply from the sea, crowned with huge walls and towers. There was another city on the mainland.

‘That’s part of Tyre, too,’ said the Captain; ‘it’s where the great merchants have their pleasure-houses and gardens and farms.’

‘Look, look!’ Cyril cried suddenly; ‘what a lovely little ship!’

A ship in full sail was passing swiftly through the fishing fleet. The Captain’s face changed. He frowned, and his eyes blazed with fury.

‘Insolent young barbarian!’ he cried. ‘Do you call the ships of Tyre LITTLE? None greater sail the seas. That ship has been on a three years’ voyage. She is known in all the great trading ports from here to the Tin Islands. She comes back rich and glorious. Her very anchor is of silver.’

‘I’m sure we beg your pardon,’ said Anthea hastily. ‘In our country we say “little” for a pet name. Your wife might call you her dear little husband, you know.’

‘I should like to catch her at it,’ growled the Captain, but he stopped scowling.

‘It’s a rich trade,’ he went on. ‘For cloth ONCE dipped, second-best glass, and the rough images our young artists carve for practice, the barbarian King in Tessos lets us work the silver mines. We get so much silver there that we leave them our iron anchors and come back with silver ones.’

‘How splendid!’ said Robert. ‘Do go on. What’s cloth once dipped?’

‘You MUST be barbarians from the outer darkness,’ said the Captain scornfully. ‘All wealthy nations know that our finest stuffs are twice dyed—dibaptha. They’re only for the robes of kings and priests and princes.’

‘What do the rich merchants wear,’ asked Jane, with interest, ‘in the pleasure-houses?’

‘They wear the dibaptha. OUR merchants ARE princes,’ scowled the skipper.

‘Oh, don’t be cross, we do so like hearing about things. We want to know ALL about the dyeing,’ said Anthea cordially.

‘Oh, you do, do you?’ growled the man. ‘So that’s what you’re here for? Well, you won’t get the secrets of the dye trade out of ME.’

He went away, and everyone felt snubbed and uncomfortable. And all the time the long, narrow eyes of the Egyptian were watching, watching. They felt as though he was watching them through the darkness, when they lay down to sleep on a pile of cloaks.

Next morning the baskets were drawn up full of what looked like whelk shells.

The children were rather in the way, but they made themselves as small as they could. While the skipper was at the other end of the boat they did ask one question of a sailor, whose face was a little less unkind than the others.

‘Yes,’ he answered, ‘this is the dye-fish. It’s a sort of murex—and there’s another kind that they catch at Sidon and then, of course, there’s the kind that’s used for the dibaptha. But that’s quite different. It’s—’

‘Hold your tongue!’ shouted the skipper. And the man held it.

The laden boat was rowed slowly round the end of the island, and was made fast in one of the two great harbours that lay inside a long breakwater. The harbour was full of all sorts of ships, so that Cyril and Robert enjoyed themselves much more than their sisters. The breakwater and the quays were heaped with bales and baskets, and crowded with slaves and sailors. Farther along some men were practising diving.

‘That’s jolly good,’ said Robert, as a naked brown body cleft the water.

‘I should think so,’ said the skipper. ‘The pearl-divers of Persia are not more skilful. Why, we’ve got a fresh-water spring that comes out at the bottom of the sea. Our divers dive down and bring up the fresh water in skin bottles! Can your barbarian divers do as much?’

‘I suppose not,’ said Robert, and put away a wild desire to explain to the Captain the English system of waterworks, pipes, taps, and the intricacies of the plumbers’ trade.

As they neared the quay the skipper made a hasty toilet. He did his hair, combed his beard, put on a garment like a jersey with short sleeves, an embroidered belt, a necklace of beads, and a big signet ring.

‘Now,’ said he, ‘I’m fit to be seen. Come along?’

‘Where to?’ said Jane cautiously.

‘To Pheles, the great sea-captain, said the skipper, ‘the man I told you of, who loves barbarians.’

Then Rekh-mara came forward, and, for the first time, spoke.

‘I have known these children in another land,’ he said. ‘You know my powers of magic. It was my magic that brought these barbarians to your boat. And you know how they will profit you. I read your thoughts. Let me come with you and see the end of them, and then I will work the spell I promised you in return for the little experience you have so kindly given me on your boat.’

The skipper looked at the Egyptian with some disfavour.

‘So it was YOUR doing,’ he said. ‘I might have guessed it. Well, come on.’

So he came, and the girls wished he hadn’t. But Robert whispered—

‘Nonsense—as long as he’s with us we’ve got some chance of the Amulet. We can always fly if anything goes wrong.’

The morning was so fresh and bright; their breakfast had been so good and so unusual; they had actually seen the Amulet round the Egyptian’s neck. One or two, or all these things, suddenly raised the children’s spirits. They went off quite cheerfully through the city gate—it was not arched, but roofed over with a great flat stone—and so through the street, which smelt horribly of fish and garlic and a thousand other things even less agreeable. But far worse than the street scents was the scent of the factory, where the skipper called in to sell his night’s catch. I wish I could tell you all about that factory, but I haven’t time, and perhaps after all you aren’t interested in dyeing works. I will only mention that Robert was triumphantly proved to be right. The dye WAS a yellowish-white liquid of a creamy consistency, and it smelt more strongly of garlic than garlic itself does.

While the skipper was bargaining with the master of the dye works the Egyptian came close to the children, and said, suddenly and softly—

‘Trust me.’

‘I wish we could,’ said Anthea.

‘You feel,’ said the Egyptian, ‘that I want your Amulet. That makes you distrust me.’

‘Yes,’ said Cyril bluntly.

‘But you also, you want my Amulet, and I am trusting you.’

‘There’s something in that,’ said Robert.

‘We have the two halves of the Amulet,’ said the Priest, ‘but not yet the pin that joined them. Our only chance of getting that is to remain together. Once part these two halves and they may never be found in the same time and place. Be wise. Our interests are the same.’

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