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HOME > Science Fiction > The Story of the Amulet > CHAPTER 14. THE HEART’S DESIRE
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If I only had time I could tell you lots of things. For instance, how, in spite of the advice of the Psammead, the four children did, one very wet day, go through their Amulet Arch into the golden desert, and there find the great Temple of Baalbec and meet with the Phoenix whom they never thought to see again. And how the Phoenix did not remember them at all until it went into a sort of prophetic trance—if that can be called remembering. But, alas! I HAVEN’T time, so I must leave all that out though it was a wonderfully thrilling adventure. I must leave out, too, all about the visit of the children to the Hippodrome with the Psammead in its travelling bag, and about how the wishes of the people round about them were granted so suddenly and surprisingly that at last the Psammead had to be taken hurriedly home by Anthea, who consequently missed half the performance. Then there was the time when, Nurse having gone to tea with a friend out Ivalunk way, they were playing ‘devil in the dark’—and in the midst of that most creepy pastime the postman’s knock frightened Jane nearly out of her life. She took in the letters, however, and put them in the back of the hat-stand drawer, so that they should be safe. And safe they were, for she never thought of them again for weeks and weeks.

One really good thing happened when they took the Psammead to a magic-lantern show and lecture at the boys’ school at Camden Town. The lecture was all about our soldiers in South Africa. And the lecturer ended up by saying, ‘And I hope every boy in this room has in his heart the seeds of courage and heroism and self-sacrifice, and I wish that every one of you may grow up to be noble and brave and unselfish, worthy citizens of this great Empire for whom our soldiers have freely given their lives.’

And, of course, this came true—which was a distinct score for Camden Town.

As Anthea said, it was unlucky that the lecturer said boys, because now she and Jane would have to be noble and unselfish, if at all, without any outside help. But Jane said, ‘I daresay we are already because of our beautiful natures. It’s only boys that have to be made brave by magic’—which nearly led to a first-class row.

And I daresay you would like to know all about the affair of the fishing rod, and the fish-hooks, and the cook next door—which was amusing from some points of view, though not perhaps the cook’s—but there really is no time even for that.

The only thing that there’s time to tell about is the Adventure of Maskelyne and Cooke’s, and the Unexpected Apparition—which is also the beginning of the end.

It was Nurse who broke into the gloomy music of the autumn rain on the window panes by suggesting a visit to the Egyptian Hall, England’s Home of Mystery. Though they had good, but private reasons to know that their own particular personal mystery was of a very different brand, the four all brightened at the idea. All children, as well as a good many grown-ups, love conjuring.

‘It’s in Piccadilly,’ said old Nurse, carefully counting out the proper number of shillings into Cyril’s hand, ‘not so very far down on the left from the Circus. There’s big pillars outside, something like Carter’s seed place in Holborn, as used to be Day and Martin’s blacking when I was a gell. And something like Euston Station, only not so big.’

‘Yes, I know,’ said everybody.

So they started.

But though they walked along the left-hand side of Piccadilly they saw no pillared building that was at all like Carter’s seed warehouse or Euston Station or England’s Home of Mystery as they remembered it.

At last they stopped a hurried lady, and asked her the way to Maskelyne and Cooke’s.

‘I don’t know, I’m sure,’ she said, pushing past them. ‘I always shop at the Stores.’ Which just shows, as Jane said, how ignorant grown-up people are.

It was a policeman who at last explained to them that England’s Mysteries are now appropriately enough enacted at St George’s Hall.

So they tramped to Langham Place, and missed the first two items in the programme. But they were in time for the most wonderful magic appearances and disappearances, which they could hardly believe—even with all their knowledge of a larger magic—was not really magic after all.

‘If only the Babylonians could have seen THIS conjuring,’ whispered Cyril. ‘It takes the shine out of their old conjurer, doesn’t it?’

‘Hush!’ said Anthea and several other members of the audience.

Now there was a vacant seat next to Robert. And it was when all eyes were fixed on the stage where Mr Devant was pouring out glasses of all sorts of different things to drink, out of one kettle with one spout, and the audience were delightedly tasting them, that Robert felt someone in that vacant seat. He did not feel someone sit down in it. It was just that one moment there was no one sitting there, and the next moment, suddenly, there was someone.

Robert turned. The someone who had suddenly filled that empty place was Rekh-mara, the Priest of Amen!

Though the eyes of the audience were fixed on Mr David Devant, Mr David Devant’s eyes were fixed on the audience. And it happened that his eyes were more particularly fixed on that empty chair. So that he saw quite plainly the sudden appearance, from nowhere, of the Egyptian Priest.

‘A jolly good trick,’ he said to himself, ‘and worked under my own eyes, in my own hall. I’ll find out how that’s done.’ He had never seen a trick that he could not do himself if he tried.

By this time a good many eyes in the audience had turned on the clean-shaven, curiously-dressed figure of the Egyptian Priest.

‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ said Mr Devant, rising to the occasion, ‘this is a trick I have never before performed. The empty seat, third from the end, second row, gallery—you will now find occupied by an Ancient Egyptian, warranted genuine.’

He little knew how true his words were.

And now all eyes were turned on the Priest and the children, and the whole audience, after a moment’s breathless surprise, shouted applause. Only the lady on the other side of Rekh-mara drew back a little. She KNEW no one had passed her, and, as she said later, over tea and cold tongue, ‘it was that sudden it made her flesh creep.’

Rekh-mara seemed very much annoyed at the notice he was exciting.

‘Come out of this crowd,’ he whispered to Robert. ‘I must talk with you apart.’

‘Oh, no,’ Jane whispered. ‘I did so want to see the Mascot Moth, and the Ventriloquist.’

‘How did you get here?’ was Robert’s return whisper.

‘How did you get to Egypt and to Tyre?’ retorted Rekh-mara. ‘Come, let us leave this crowd.’

‘There’s no help for it, I suppose,’ Robert shrugged angrily. But they all got up.

‘Confederates!’ said a man in the row behind. ‘Now they go round to the back and take part in the next scene.’

‘I wish we did,’ said Robert.

‘Confederate yourself!’ said Cyril. And so they got away, the audience applauding to the last.

In the vestibule of St George’s Hall they disguised Rekh-mara as well as they could, but even with Robert’s hat and Cyril’s Inverness cape he was too striking a figure for foot-exercise in the London streets. It had to be a cab, and it took the last, least money of all of them. They stopped the cab a few doors from home, and then the girls went in and engaged old Nurse’s attention by an account of the conjuring and a fervent entreaty for dripping-toast with their tea, leaving the front door open so that while Nurse was talking to them the boys could creep quietly in with Rekh-mara and smuggle him, unseen, up the stairs into their bedroom.

When the girls came up they found the Egyptian Priest sitting on the side of Cyril’s bed, his hands on his knees, looking like a statue of a king.

‘Come on,’ said Cyril impatiently. ‘He won’t begin till we’re all here. And shut the door, can’t you?’

When the door was shut the Egyptian said—

‘My interests and yours are one.’

‘Very interesting,’ said Cyril, ‘and it’ll be a jolly sight more interesting if you keep following us about in a decent country with no more clothes on than THAT!’

‘Peace,’ said the Priest. ‘What is this country? and what is this time?’

‘The country’s England,’ said Anthea, ‘and the time’s about 6,000 years later than YOUR time.’

‘The Amulet, then,’ said the Priest, deeply thoughtful, ‘gives the power to move to and fro in time as well as in space?’

‘That’s about it,’ said Cyril gruffly. ‘Look here, it’ll be tea-time directly. What are we to do with you?’

‘You have one-half of the Amulet, I the other,’ said Rekh-mara. ‘All that is now needed is the pin to join them.’

‘Don’t you think it,’ said Robert. ‘The half you’ve got is the same half as the one we’ve got.’

‘But the same thing cannot be in the same place and the same time, and yet be not one, but twain,’ said the Priest. ‘See, here is my half.’ He laid it on the Marcella counterpane. ‘Where is yours?’

Jane watching the eyes of the others, unfastened the string of the Amulet and laid it on the bed, but too far off for the Priest to seize it, even if he had been so dishonourable. Cyril and Robert stood beside him, ready to spring on him if one of his hands had moved but ever so little towards the magic treasure that was theirs. But his hands did not move, only his eyes opened very wide, and so did everyone else’s for the Amulet the Priest had now quivered and shook; and then, as steel is drawn to the magnet, it was drawn across the white counterpane, nearer and nearer to the Amulet, warm from the neck of Jane. And then, as one drop of water mingles with another on a rain-wrinkled window-pane, as one bead of quick-silver is drawn into another bead, Rekh-mara’s Amulet slipped into the other one, and, behold! there was no more but the one Amulet!

‘Black magic!’ cried Rekh-mara, and sprang forward to snatch the Amulet that had swallowed his. But Anthea caught it up, and at the same moment the Priest was jerked back by a rope thrown over his head. It drew, tightened with the pull of his forward leap, and bound his elbows to his sides. Before he had time to use his strength to free himself, Robert had knotted the cord behind him and tied it to the bedpost. Then the four children, overcoming the priest’s wrigglings and kickings, tied his legs with more rope.

‘I thought,’ said Robert, breathing hard, and drawing the last knot tight, ‘he’d have a try for OURS, so I got the ropes out of the box-room, so as to be ready.’

The girls, with rather white faces, applauded his foresight.

‘Loosen these bonds!’ cried Rekh-mara in fury, ‘before I blast you with the seven secret curses of Amen-Ra!’

‘We shouldn’t be likely to loose them AFTER,’ Robert retorted.

‘Oh, don’t quarrel!’ said Anthea desperately. ‘Look here, he has just as much right to the thing as we have. This,’ she took up the Amulet that had swallowed the other one, ‘this has got his in it as well as being ours. Let’s go shares.’

‘Let me go!’ cried the Priest, writhing.

‘Now, look here,’ said Robert, ‘if you make a row we can just open that window and call the police—the guards, you know—and tell them you’ve been trying to rob us. NOW will you shut up and listen to reason?’

‘I suppose so,’ said Rekh-mara sulkily.

But reason could not be spoken to him till a whispered counsel had been held in the far corner by the washhand-stand and the towel-horse, a counsel rather long and very earnest.

At last Anthea detached herself from the group, and went back to the Priest.

‘Look here,’ she said in her kind little voice, ‘we want to be friends. We want to help you. Let’s make a treaty. Let’s join together to get the Amulet—the whole one, I mean. And then it shall belong to you as much as to us, and we shall all get our hearts’ desire.’

‘Fair words,’ said the Priest, ‘grow no onions.’

‘WE say, “Butter no parsnips”,’ Jane put in. ‘But don’t you see we WANT to be fair? Only we want to bind you in the chains of honour and upright dealing.’

‘Will you deal fairly by us?’ said Robert.

‘I will,’ said the Priest. ‘By the sacred, secret name that is written under the Altar of Amen-Ra, I will deal fairly by you. Will you, too, take the oath of honourable partnership?’

‘No,’ said Anthea, on the instant, and added rather rashly. ‘We don’t swear in England, except in police courts, where the guards are, you know, and you don’t want to go there. But when we SAY we’ll do a thing—it’s the same as an oath to us—we do it. You trust us, and we’ll trust you.’ She began to unbind his legs, and the boys hastened to untie his arms.

When he was free he stood up, stretched his arms, and laughed.

‘Now,’ he said, ‘I am stronger than you and my oath is void. I have sworn by nothing, and my oath is nothing likewise. For there IS no secret, sacred name under the altar of Amen-Ra.’

‘Oh, yes there is!’ said a voice from under the bed. Everyone started—Rekh-mara most of all.

Cyril stooped and pulled out the bath of sand where the Psammead slept. ‘You don’t know everything, though you ARE a Divine Father of the Temple of Amen,’ said the Psammead shaking itself till the sand fell tinkling on the bath edge. ‘There IS a secret, sacred name beneath the altar of Amen-Ra. Shall I call on that name?’

‘No, no!’ cried the Priest in terror.

‘No,’ said Jane, too. ‘Don’t let’s have any calling names.’

‘Besides,’ said Rekh-mara, who had turned very white indeed under his natural brownness, ‘I was only going to say that though there isn’t any name under—’

‘There IS,’ said the Psammead threateningly.

‘Well, even if there WASN’T, I will be bound by the wordless oath of your strangely upright land, and having said that I will be your friend—I will be it.’

‘Then that’s all right,’ said the Psammead; ‘and there’s the tea-bell. What are you going to do with your distinguished partner? He can’t go down to tea like that, you know.’

‘You see we can’t do anything till the 3rd of December,’ said Anthea, ‘that’s when we are to find the whole charm. What can we do with Rekh-mara till then?’

‘Box-room,’ said Cyril briefly, ‘and smuggle up his meals. It will be rather fun.’

‘Like a fleeing Cavalier concealed from exasperated Roundheads,’ said Robert. ‘Yes.’

So Rekh-mara was taken up to the box-room and made as comfortable as possible in a snug nook between an old nursery fender and the wreck of a big four-poster. They gave him a big rag-bag to sit on, and an old, moth-eaten fur coat off the nail on the door to keep him warm. And when they had had their own tea they took him some. He did not like the tea at all, but he liked the bread and butter, and cake that went with it. They took it in turns to sit with him during the evening, and left him fairly happy and quite settled for the night.

But when they went up in the morning with a kipper, a quarter of which each of them had gone without at breakfast, Rekh-mara was gone! There was the cosy corner with the rag-bag, and the moth-eaten fur coat—but the cosy corner was empty.

‘Good riddance!’ was naturally the first delightful thought in each mind. The second was less pleasing, because everyone at once remembered that since his Amulet had been swallowed up by theirs—which hung once more round the neck of Jane—he could have no possible means of returning to his Egyptian past. Therefore he must be still in England, and probably somewhere quite near them, plotting mischief.

The attic was searched, to prevent mistakes, but quite vainly.

‘The best thing we can do,’ said Cyril, ‘is to go through the half Amulet straight away, get the whole Amulet, and come back.’

‘I don’t know,’ Anthea hesitated. ‘Would that be quite fair? Perhaps he isn’t really a base deceiver. Perhaps something’s happened to him.’

‘Happened?’ said Cyril, ‘not it! Besides, what COULD happen?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Anthea. ‘Perhaps burglars came in the night, and accidentally killed him, and took away the—all that was mortal of him, you know—to avoid discovery.’

‘Or perhaps,’ said Cyril, ‘they hid the—all that was mortal, in one of those big trunks in the box-room. SHALL WE GO BACK AND LOOK?’ he added grimly.

‘No, no!’ Jane shuddered. ‘Let’s go and tell the Psammead and see what it says.’

‘No,’ said Anthea, ‘let’s ask the learned gentleman. If anything has happened to Rekh-mara a gentleman’s advice would be more useful than a Psammead’s. And the learned gentleman’ll only think it’s a dream, like he always does.’

They tapped at the door, and on the ‘Come in’ entered. The learned gentleman was sitting in front of his untasted breakfast.

Opposite him, in the easy chair, sat Rekh-mara!

‘Hush!’ said the learned gentleman very earnestly, ‘please, hush! or the dream will go. I am learning... Oh, what ............
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