Children and It By Edith Nesbit
1 Beautiful as the Day
The house was three miles from the station, but before the dusty
hired fly had rattled along for five minutes the children began to
put their heads out of the carriage window and to say, 'Aren't we
nearly there?' And every time they passed a house, which was not
very often, they all said, 'Oh, is THIS it?' But it never was,
till they reached the very top of the hill, just past the
chalk-quarry and before you come to the gravel-pit. And then there
was a white house with a green garden and an orchard beyond, and
mother said, 'Here we are!'
'How white the house is,' said Robert.
'And look at the roses,' said Anthea.
'And the plums,' said Jane.
'It is rather decent,' Cyril admitted.
The Baby said, 'Wanty go walky'; and the fly stopped with a last
rattle and jolt.
Everyone got its legs kicked or its feet trodden on in the scramble
to get out of the carriage that very minute, but no one seemed to
mind. Mother, curiously enough, was in no hurry to get out; and
even when she had come down slowly and by the step, and with no
jump at all, she seemed to wish to see the boxes carried in, and
even to pay the driver, instead of joining in that first glorious
rush round the garden and the orchard and the thorny, thistly,
briery, brambly wilderness beyond the broken gate and the dry
fountain at the side of the house. But the children were wiser,
for once. It was not really a pretty house at all; it was quite
ordinary, and mother thought it was rather inconvenient, and was
quite annoyed at there being no shelves, to speak of, and hardly a
cupboard in the place. Father used to say that the ironwork on the
roof and coping was like an architect's nightmare. But the house
was deep in the country, with no other house in sight, and the
children had been in London for two years, without so much as once
going to the seaside even for a day by an excursion train, and so
the White House seemed to them a sort of Fairy Palace set down in
an Earthly Paradise. For London is like prison for children,
especially if their relations are not rich.
Of course there are the shops and the theatres, and Maskelyne and
Cook's, and things, but if your people are rather poor you don't
get taken to the theatres, and you can't buy things out of the
shops; and London has none of those nice things that children may
play with without hurting the things or themselves - such as trees
and sand and woods and waters. And nearly everything in London is
the wrong sort of shape - all straight lines and flat streets,
instead of being all sorts of odd shapes, like things are in the
country. Trees are all different, as you know, and I am sure some
tiresome person must have told you that there are no two blades of
grass exactly alike. But in streets, where the blades of grass
don't grow, everything is like everything else. This is why so
many children who live in towns are so extremely naughty. They do
not know what is the matter with them, and no more do their fathers
and mothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, tutors, governesses, and
nurses; but I know. And so do you now. Children in the country
are naughty sometimes, too, but that is for quite different
The children had explored the gardens and the outhouses thoroughly
before they were caught and cleaned for tea, and they saw quite
well that they were certain to be happy at the White House. They
thought so from the first moment, but when they found the back of
the house covered with jasmine, an in white flower, and smelling
like a bottle of the most expensive scent that is ever given for a
birthday present; and when they had seen the lawn, all green and
smooth, and quite different from the brown grass in the gardens at
Camden Town; and when they had found the stable with a loft over it
and some old hay still left, they were almost certain; and when
Robert had found the broken swing and tumbled out of it and got a
lump on his head the size of an egg, and Cyril had nipped his
finger in the door of a hutch that seemed made to keep rabbits in,
if you ever had any, they had no longer any doubts whatever.
The best part of it all was that there were no rules about not
going to places and not doing things. In London almost everything
is labelled 'You mustn't touch,' and though the label is invisible,
it's just as bad, because you know it's there, or if you don't you
jolly soon get told.
The White House was on the edge of a hill, with a wood behind it -
and the chalk-quarry on one side and the gravel-pit on the other.
Down at the bottom of the hill was a level plain, with queer-shaped
white buildings where people burnt lime, and a big red brewery and
other houses; and when the big chimneys were smoking and the sun
was setting, the valley looked as if it was filled with golden
mist, and the limekilns and oast-houses glimmered and glittered
till they were like an enchanted city out of the Arabian Nights.
Now that I have begun to tell you about the place, I feel that I
could go on and make this into a most interesting story about all
the ordinary things that the children did - just the kind of things
you do yourself, you know - and you would believe every word of it;
and when I told about the children's being tiresome, as you are
sometimes, your aunts would perhaps write in the margin of the
story with a pencil, 'How true!' or 'How like life!'and you would
see it and very likely be annoyed. So I will only tell you the
really astonishing things that happened, and you may leave the book
about quite safely, for no aunts and uncles either are likely to
write 'How true!' on the edge of the story. Grown-up people find
it very difficult to believe really wonderful things, unless they
have what they call proof. But children will believe almost
anything, and grown-ups know this. That is why they tell you that
the earth is round like an orange, when you can see perfectly well
that it is flat and lumpy; and why they say that the earth goes
round the sun, when you can see for yourself any day that the sun
gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night like a good sun as
it is, and the earth knows its place, and lies as still as a mouse.
Yet I daresay you believe all that about the earth and the sun, and
if so you will find it quite easy to believe that before Anthea and
Cyril and the others had been a week in the country they had found
a fairy. At least they called it that, because that was what it
called itself; and of course it knew best, but it was not at all
like any fairy you ever saw or heard of or read about.
It was at the gravel-pits. Father had to go away suddenly on
business, and mother had gone away to stay with Granny, who was not
very well. They both went in a great hurry, and when they were
gone the house seemed dreadfully quiet and empty, and the children
wandered from one room to another and looked at the bits of paper
and string on the floors left over from the packing, and not yet
cleared up, and wished they had something to do. It was Cyril who
'I say, let's take our Margate spades and go and dig in the
gravel-pits. We can pretend it's seaside.'
'Father said it was once,' Anthea said; 'he says there are shells
there thousands of years old.'
So they went. Of course they had been to the edge of the
gravel-pit and looked over, but they had not gone down into it for
fear father should say they mustn't play there, and the same with
the chalk-quarry. The gravel-pit is not really dangerous if you
don't try to climb down the edges, but go the slow safe way round
by the road, as if you were a cart.
Each of the children carried its own spade, and took it in turns to
carry the Lamb. He was the baby, and they called him that because
'Baa' was the first thing he ever said. They called Anthea
'Panther', which seems silly when you read it, but when you say it
it sounds a little like her name.
The gravel-pit is very large and wide, with grass growing round the
edges at the top, and dry stringy wildflowers, purple and yellow.
It is like a giant's wash-hand basin. And there are mounds of
gravel, and holes in the sides of the basin where gravel has been
taken out, and high up in the steep sides there are the little
holes that are the little front doors of the little sand-martins'
The children built a castle, of course, but castle-building is
rather poor fun when you have no hope of the swishing tide ever
coming in to fill up the moat and wash away the drawbridge, and, at
the happy last, to wet everybody up to the waist at least.
Cyril wanted to dig out a cave to play smugglers in, but the others
thought it might bury them alive, so it ended in all spades going
to work to dig a hole through the castle to Australia. These
children, you see, believed that the world was round, and that on
the other side the little Australian boys and girls were really
walking wrong way up, like flies on the ceiling, with their heads
hanging down into the air.
The children dug and they dug and they dug, and their hands got
sandy and hot and red, and their faces got damp and shiny. The
Lamb had tried to eat the sand, and had cried so hard when he found
that it was not, as he had supposed, brown sugar, that he was now
tired out, and was lying asleep in a warm fat bunch in the middle
of the half-finished castle. This left his brothers and sisters
free to work really hard, and the hole that was to come out in
Australia soon grew so deep that Jane, who was called Pussy for
short, begged the others to Stop.
'Suppose the bottom of the hole gave way suddenly,' she said, 'and
you tumbled out among the little Australians, all the sand would
get in their eyes.'
'Yes,' said Robert; 'and they would hate us, and throw stones at
us, and not let us see the kangaroos, or opossums, or blue-gums, or
Emu Brand birds, or anything.'
Cyril and Anthea knew that Australia was not quite so near as all
that, but they agreed to stop using the spades and go on with their
hands. This was quite easy, because the sand at the bottom of the
hole was very soft and fine and dry, like sea-sand. And there were
little shells in it.
'Fancy it having been wet sea here once, all sloppy and shiny,'
said Jane, 'with fishes and conger-eels and coral and mermaids.'
'And masts of ships and wrecked Spanish treasure. I wish we could
find a gold doubloon, or something,' Cyril said.
'How did the sea get carried away?' Robert asked.
'Not in a pail, silly,' said his brother. 'Father says the earth
got too hot underneath, like you do in bed sometimes, so it just
hunched up its shoulders, and the sea had to slip off, like the
blankets do off us, and the shoulder was left sticking out, and
turned into dry land. Let's go and look for shells; I think that
little cave looks likely, and I see something sticking out there
like a bit of wrecked ship's anchor, and it's beastly hot in the
The others agreed, but Anthea went on digging. She always liked to
finish a thing when she had once begun it. She felt it would be a
disgrace to leave that hole without getting through to Australia.
The cave was disappointing, because there were no shells, and the
wrecked ship's anchor turned out to be only the broken end of a
pickaxe handle, and the cave party were just making up their minds
that the sand makes you thirstier when it is not by the seaside,
and someone had suggested going home for lemonade, when Anthea
'Cyril! Come here! Oh, come quick! It's alive! It'll get away!
They all hurried back.
'It's a rat, I shouldn't wonder,' said Robert. 'Father says they
infest old places - and this must be pretty old if the sea was here
thousands of years ago.'
'Perhaps it is a snake,' said Jane, shuddering.
'Let's look,' said Cyril, jumping into the hole. 'I'm not afraid
of snakes. I like them. If it is a snake I'll tame it, and it
will follow me everywhere, and I'll let it sleep round my neck at
'No, you won't,' said Robert firmly. He shared Cyril's bedroom.
'But you may if it's a rat.'
'Oh, don't be silly!' said Anthea; 'it's not a rat, it's MUCH
bigger. And it's not a snake. It's got feet; I saw them; and fur!
No - not the spade. You'll hurt it! Dig with your hands.'
'And let IT hurt ME instead! That's so likely, isn't it?' said
Cyril, seizing a spade.
'Oh, don't!' said Anthea. 'Squirrel, DON'T. I - it sounds silly,
but it said something. It really and truly did.'
'It said, "You let me alone".'
But Cyril merely observed that his sister must have gone off her
nut, and he and Robert dug with spades while Anthea sat on the edge
of the hole, jumping up and down with hotness and anxiety. They
dug carefully, and presently everyone could see that there really
was something moving in the bottom of the Australian hole.
Then Anthea cried out, 'I'M not afraid. Let me dig,' and fell on
her knees and began to scratch like a dog does when he has suddenly
remembered where it was that he buried his bone.
'Oh, I felt fur,' she cried, half laughing and half crying. 'I did
indeed! I did!' when suddenly a dry husky voice in the sand made
them all jump back, and their hearts jumped nearly as fast as they
'Let me alone,' it said. And now everyone heard the voice and
looked at the others to see if they had too.
'But we want to see you,' said Robert bravely.
'I wish you'd come out,' said Anthea, also taking courage.
'Oh, well - if that's your wish,' the voice said, and the sand
stirred and spun and scattered, and something brown and furry and
fat came rolling out into the hole and the sand fell off it, and it
sat there yawning and rubbing the ends of its eyes with its hands.
'I believe I must have dropped asleep,' it said, stretching itself.
The children stood round the hole in a ring, looking at the
creature they had found. It was worth looking at. Its eyes were
on long horns like a snail's eyes, and it could move them in and
out like telescopes; it had ears like a bat's ears, and its tubby
body was shaped like a spider's and covered with thick soft fur;
its legs and arms were furry too, and it had hands and feet like a
'What on earth is it?' Jane said. 'Shall we take it home?'
The thing turned its long eyes to look at her, and said: 'Does she
always talk nonsense, or is it only the rubbish on her head that
makes her silly?'
It looked scornfully at Jane's hat as it spoke.
'She doesn't mean to be silly,' Anthea said gently; we none of us
do, whatever you may think! Don't be frightened; we don't want to
hurt you, you know.'
'Hurt ME!' it said. 'ME frightened? Upon my word! Why, you talk
as if I were nobody in particular.' All its fur stood out like a
cat's when it is going to fight.
'Well,' said Anthea, still kindly, 'perhaps if we knew who you are
in particular we could think of something to say that wouldn't make
you cross. Everything we've said so far seems to have. Who are
you? And don't get angry! Because really we don't know.'
'You don't know?' it said. 'Well, I knew the world had changed -
but - well, really - do you mean to tell me seriously you don't
know a Psammead when you see one?'
'A Sammyadd? That's Greek to me.'
'So it is to everyone,' said the creature sharply. 'Well, in plain
English, then, a SAND-FAIRY. Don't you know a Sand-fairy when you
It looked so grieved and hurt that Jane hastened to say, 'Of course
I see you are, now. It's quite plain now one comes to look at
'You came to look at me, several sentences ago,' it said crossly,
beginning to curl up again in the sand.
'Oh - don't go away again! Do talk some more,' Robert cried. 'I
didn't know you were a Sand-fairy, but I knew directly I saw you
that you were much the wonderfullest thing I'd ever seen.'
The Sand-fairy seemed a shade less disagreeable after this.
'It isn't talking I mind,' it said, 'as long as you're reasonably
civil. But I'm not going to make polite conversation for you. If
you talk nicely to me, perhaps I'll answer you, and perhaps I
won't. Now say something.'
Of course no one could think of anything to say, but at last Robert
thought of 'How long have you lived here?' and he said it at once.
'Oh, ages - several thousand years,' replied the Psammead.
'Tell us all about it. Do.'
'It's all in books.'
'You aren't!' Jane said. 'Oh, tell us everything you can about
yourself! We don't know anything about you, and you are so nice.'
The Sand-fairy smoothed his long rat-like whiskers and smiled
'Do please tell!' said the children all together.
It is wonderful how quickly you get used to things, even the most
astonishing. Five minutes before, the children had had no more
idea than you that there was such a thing as a sand-fairy in the
world, and now they were talking to it as though they had known it
all their lives. It drew its eyes in and said:
'How very sunny it is - quite like old times. Where do you get
your Megatheriums from now?'
'What?' said the children all at once. It is very difficult always
to remember that 'what' is not polite, especially in moments of
surprise or agitation.
'Are Pterodactyls plentiful now?' the Sand-fairy went on.
The children were unable to reply.
'What do you have for breakfast?' the Fairy said impatiently, 'and
who gives it you?'
'Eggs and bacon, and bread-and-milk, and porridge and things.
Mother gives it us. What are Mega-what's-its-names and
Ptero-what-do-you-call-thems? And does anyone have them for
'Why, almost everyone had Pterodactyl for breakfast in my time!
Pterodactyls were something like crocodiles and something like
birds - I believe they were very good grilled. You see it was like
this: of course there were heaps of sand-fairies then, and in the
morning early you went out and hunted for them, and when you'd
found one it gave you your wish. People used to send their little
boys down to the seashore early in the morning before breakfast to
get the day's wishes, and very often the eldest boy in the family
would be told to wish for a Megatherium, ready jointed for cooking.
It was as big as an elephant, you see, so there was a good deal of
meat on it. And if they wanted fish, the Ichthyosaurus was asked
for - he was twenty to forty feet long, so there was plenty of him.
And for poultry there was the Plesiosaurus; there were nice
pickings on that too. Then the other children could wish for other
things. But when people had dinner-parties it was nearly always
Megatheriums; and Ichthyosaurus, because his fins were a great
delicacy and his tail made soup.'
'There must have been heaps and heaps of cold meat left over,' said
Anthea, who meant to be a good housekeeper some day.
'Oh no,' said the Psammead, 'that would never have done. Why, of
course at sunset what was left over turned into stone. You find
the stone bones of the Megatherium and things all over the place
even now, they tell me.'
'Who tell you?' asked Cyril; but the Sand-fairy frowned and began
to dig very fast with its furry hands.
'Oh, don't go!' they all cried; 'tell us more about it when it was
Megatheriums for breakfast! Was the world like this then?'
It stopped digging.
'Not a bit,' it said; 'it was nearly all sand where I lived, and
coal grew on trees, and the periwinkles were as big as tea-trays -
you find them now; they're turned into stone. We sand-fairies used
to live on the seashore, and the children used to come with their
little flint-spades and flint-pails and make castles for us to live
in. That's thousands of years ago, but I hear that children still
build castles on the sand. It's difficult to break yourself of a
'But why did you stop living in the castles?' asked Robert.
'It's a sad story,' said the Psammead gloomily. 'It was because
they WOULD build moats to the castles, and the nasty wet bubbling
sea used to come in, and of course as soon as a sand-fairy got wet
it caught cold, and generally died. And so there got to be fewer
and fewer, and, whenever you found a fairy and had a wish, you used
to wish for a Megatherium, and eat twice as much as you wanted,
because it might be weeks before you got another wish.'
'And did YOU get wet?' Robert inquired.
The Sand-fairy shuddered. 'Only once,' it said; 'the end of the
twelfth hair of my top left whisker - I feel the place still in
damp weather. It was only once, but it was quite enough for me.
I went away as soon as the sun had dried my poor dear whisker. I
scurried away to the back of the beach, and dug myself a house deep
in warm dry sand, and there I've been ever since. And the sea
changed its lodgings afterwards. And now I'm not going to tell you
'Just one more, please,' said the children. 'Can you give wishes
'Of course,' said it; 'didn't I give you yours a few minutes ago?
You said, "I wish you'd come out," and I did.'
'Oh, please, mayn't we have another?'
'Yes, but be quick about it. I'm tired of you.'
I daresay you have often thought what you would do if you had three
wishes given you, and have despised the old man and his wife in the
black-pudding story, and felt certain that if you had the chance
you could think of three really useful wishes without a moment's
hesitation. These children had often talked this matter over, but,
now the chance had suddenly come to them, they could not make up
'Quick,' said the Sand-fairy crossly. No one could think of
anything, only Anthea did manage to remember a private wish of her
own and jane's which they had never told the boys. She knew the
boys would not care about it - but still it was better than
'I wish we were all as beautiful as the day,' she said in a great
The children looked at each other, but each could see that the
others were not any better-looking than usual. The Psammead pushed
out its long eyes, and seemed to be holding its breath and swelling
itself out till it was twice as fat and furry as before. Suddenly
it let its breath go in a long sigh.
'I'm really afraid I can't manage it,' it said apologetically; 'I
must be out of practice.'
The children were horribly disappointed.
'Oh, DO try again!' they said.
'Well,' said the Sand-fairy, 'the fact is, I was keeping back a
little strength to give the rest of you your wishes with. If
you'll be contented with one wish a day amongst the lot of you I
daresay I can screw myself up to it. Do you agree to that?'
'Yes, oh yes!' said Jane and Anthea. The boys nodded. They did
not believe the Sand-fairy could do it. You can always make girls
believe things much easier than you can boys.
It stretched out its eyes farther than ever, and swelled and
swelled and swelled.
'I do hope it won't hurt itself,' said Anthea.
'Or crack its skin,' Robert said anxiously.
Everyone was very much relieved when the Sand-fairy, after getting
so big that it almost filled up the hole in the sand, suddenly let
out its breath and went back to its proper size.
'That's all right,' it said, panting heavily. 'It'll come easier
'Did it hurt much?' asked Anthea.
'Only my poor whisker, thank you,' said he, 'but you're a kind and
thoughtful child. Good day.'
It scratched suddenly and fiercely with its hands and feet, and
disappeared in the sand. Then the children looked at each other,
and each child suddenly found itself alone with three perfect
strangers, all radiantly beautiful.
They stood for some moments in perfect silence. Each thought that
its brothers and sisters had wandered off, and that these strange
children had stolen up unnoticed while it was watching the swelling
form of the Sand-fairy. Anthea spoke first -
'Excuse me,' she said very politely to Jane, who now had enormous
blue eyes and a cloud of russet hair, 'but have you seen two little
boys and a little girl anywhere about?'
'I was just going to ask you that,' said Jane. And then Cyril
'Why, it's YOU! I know the hole in your pinafore! You ARE Jane,
aren't you? And you're the Panther; I can see your dirty
handkerchief that you forgot to change after you'd cut your thumb!
Crikey! The wish has come off, after all. I say, am I as handsome
as you are?'
'If you're Cyril, I liked you much better as you were before,' said
Anthea decidedly. 'You look like the picture of the young
chorister, with your golden hair; you'll die young, I shouldn't
wonder. And if that's Robert, he's like an Italian organ-grinder.
His hair's all black.'
'You two girls are like Christmas cards, then - that's all - silly
Christmas cards,' said Robert angrily. 'And jane's hair is simply
It was indeed of that Venetian tint so much admired by artists.
'Well, it's no use finding fault with each other,' said Anthea;
'let's get the Lamb and lug it home to dinner. The servants will
admire us most awfully, you'll see.'
Baby was just waking when they got to him, and not one of the
children but was relieved to find that he at least was not as
beautiful as the day, but just the same as usual.
'I suppose he's too young to have wishes naturally,' said Jane.
'We shall have to mention him specially next time.'
Anthea ran forward and held out her arms.
'Come to own Panther, ducky,' she said.
The Baby looked at her disapprovingly, and put a sandy pink thumb
in his mouth, Anthea was his favourite sister.
'Come then,' she said.
'G'way long!' said the Baby.
'Come to own Pussy,' said Jane.
'Wants my Panty,' said the Lamb dismally, and his lip trembled.
'Here, come on, Veteran,' said Robert, 'come and have a yidey on
'Yah, narky narky boy,' howled the Baby, giving way altogether.
Then the children knew the worst. THE BABY DID NOT KNOW THEM!
They looked at each other in despair, and it was terrible to each,
in this dire emergency, to meet only the beautiful eyes of perfect
strangers, instead of the merry, friendly, commonplace, twinkling,
jolly little eyes of its own brothers and sisters.
'This is most truly awful,' said Cyril when he had tried to lift up
the Lamb, and the Lamb had scratched like a cat and bellowed like
a bull. 'We've got to MAKE FRIENDS with him! I can't carry him
home screaming like that. Fancy having to make friends with our
own baby! - it's too silly.'
That, however, was exactly what they had to do. It took over an
hour, and the task was not rendered any easier by the fact that the
Lamb was by this time as hungry as a lion and as thirsty as a
At last he consented to allow these strangers to carry him home by
turns, but as he refused to hold on to such new acquaintances he
was a dead weight and most exhausting.
'Thank goodness, we're home!' said Jane, staggering through the
iron gate to where Martha, the nursemaid, stood at the front door
shading her eyes with her hand and looking out anxiously. 'Here!
Do take Baby!'
Martha snatched the Baby from her arms.
'Thanks be, HE'S safe back,' she said. 'Where are the others, and
whoever to goodness gracious are all of you?'
'We're US, of course,' said Robert.
'And who's US, when you're at home?' asked Martha scornfully.
'I tell you it's US, only we're beautiful as the day,' said Cyril.
'I'm Cyril, and these are the others, and we're jolly hungry. Let
us in, and don't be a silly idiot.'
Martha merely dratted Cyril's impudence and tried to shut the door
in his face.
'I know we LOOK different, but I'm Anthea, and we're so tired, and
it's long past dinner-time.'
'Then go home to your dinners, whoever you are; and if our children
put you up to this playacting you can tell them from me they'll
catch it, so they know what to expect!' With that she did bang the
door. Cyril rang the bell violently. No answer. Presently cook
put her head out of a bedroom window and said:
'If you don't take yourselves off, and that precious sharp, I'll go
and fetch the police.' And she slammed down the window.
'It's no good,' said Anthea. 'Oh, do, do come away before we get
sent to prison!'
The boys said it was nonsense, and the law of England couldn't put
you in prison for just being as beautiful as the day, but all the
same they followed the others out into the lane.
'We shall be our proper selves after sunset, I suppose,' said Jane.
'I don't know,' Cyril said sadly; 'it mayn't be like that now -
things have changed a good deal since Megatherium times.'
'Oh,' cried Anthea suddenly, 'perhaps we shall turn into stone at
sunset, like the Megatheriums did, so that there mayn't be any of
us left over for the next day.'
She began to cry, so did Jane. Even the boys turned pale. No one
had the heart to say anything.
It was a horrible afternoon. There was no house near where the
children could beg a crust of bread or even a glass of water. They
were afraid to go to the village, because they had seen Martha go
down there with a basket, and there was a local constable. True,
they were all as beautiful as the day, but that is a poor comfort
when you are as hungry as a hunter and as thirsty as a sponge.
Three times they tried in vain to get the servants in the White
House to let them in and listen to their tale. And then Robert
went alone, hoping to be able to climb in at one of the back
windows and so open the door to the others. But all the windows
were out of reach, and Martha emptied a toilet-jug of cold water
over him from a top window, and said:
'Go along with you, you nasty little Eyetalian monkey."
It came at last to their sitting down in a row under the hedge,
with their feet in a dry ditch, waiting for sunset, and wondering
whether, when the sun did set, they would turn into stone, or only
into their own old natural selves; and each of them still felt
lonely and among strangers, and tried not to look at the others,
for, though their voices were their own, their faces were so
radiantly beautiful as to be quite irritating to look at.
'I don't believe we SHALL turn to stone,' said Robert, breaking a
long miserable silence, 'because the Sand-fairy said he'd give us
another wish to-morrow, and he couldn't if we were stone, could
The others said 'No,' but they weren't at all comforted.
Another silence, longer and more miserable, was broken by Cyril's
suddenly saying, 'I don't want to frighten you girls, but I believe
it's beginning with me already. My foot's quite dead. I'm turning
to stone, I know I am, and so will you in a minute.'
'Never mind,' said Robert kindly, 'perhaps you'll be the only stone
one, and the rest of us will be all right, and we'll cherish your
statue and hang garlands on it.'
But when it turned out that Cyril's foot had only gone to sleep
through his sitting too long with it under him, and when it came to
life in an agony of pins and needles, the others were quite cross.
'Giving us such a fright for nothing!' said Anthea.
The third and miserablest silence of all was broken by Jane. She
said: 'If we DO come out of this all right, we'll ask the Sammyadd
to make it so that the servants don't notice anything different, no
matter what wishes we have.'
The others only grunted. They were too wretched even to make good
At last hunger and fright and crossness and tiredness - four very
nasty things - all joined together to bring one nice thing, and
that was sleep. The children lay asleep in a row, with their
beautiful eyes shut and their beautiful mouths open. Anthea woke
first. The sun had set, and the twilight was coming on.
Anthea pinched herself very hard, to make sure, and when she found
she could still feel pinching she decided that she was not stone,
and then she pinched the others. They, also, were soft.
'Wake up,' she said, almost in tears of joy; 'it's all right, we're
not stone. And oh, Cyril, how nice and ugly you do look, with your
old freckles and your brown hair and your little eyes. And so do
you all!' she added, so that they might not feel jealous.
When they got home they were very much scolded by Martha, who told
them about the strange children.
'A good-looking lot, I must say, but that impudent.'
'I know,' said Robert, who knew by experience how hopeless it would
be to try to explain things to Martha.
'And where on earth have you been all this time, you naughty little
'In the lane.'
'Why didn't you come home hours ago?'
'We couldn't because of THEM,' said Anthea.
'The children who were as beautiful as the day. They kept us there
till after sunset. We couldn't come back till they'd gone. You
don't know how we hated them! Oh, do, do give us some supper - we
are so hungry.'
'Hungry! I should think so,' said Martha angrily; 'out all day
like this. Well, I hope it'll be a lesson to you not to go picking
up with strange children - down here after measles, as likely as
not! Now mind, if you see them again, don't you speak to them -
not one word nor so much as a look - but come straight away and
tell me. I'll spoil their beauty for them!'
'If ever we DO see them again we'll tell you,' Anthea said; and
Robert, fixing his eyes fondly on the cold beef that was being
brought in on a tray by cook, added in heartfelt undertones -
'And we'll take jolly good care we never DO see them again.'
And they never have.
on to Chapter Two