The Story of the Amulet – Chapter 2: The Half Amulet

Long ago—that is to say last summer—the children, finding themselves embarrassed by some wish which the Psammead had granted them, and which the servants had not received in a proper spirit, had wished that the servants might not notice the gifts which the Psammead gave. And when they parted from the Psammead their last wish had been that they should meet it again. Therefore they had met it (and it was jolly lucky for the Psammead, as Robert pointed out). Now, of course, you see that the Psammead’s being where it was, was the consequence of one of their wishes, and therefore was a Psammead-wish, and as such could not be noticed by the servants. And it was soon plain that in the Psammead’s opinion old Nurse was still a servant, although she had now a house of her own, for she never noticed the Psammead at all. And that was as well, for she would never have consented to allow the girls to keep an animal and a bath of sand under their bed.

When breakfast had been cleared away—it was a very nice breakfast with hot rolls to it, a luxury quite out of the common way—Anthea went and dragged out the bath, and woke the Psammead. It stretched and shook itself.

“You must have bolted your breakfast most unwholesomely,” it said, “you can’t have been five minutes over it.”

“We’ve been nearly an hour,” said Anthea. “Come—you know you promised.”

“Now look here,” said the Psammead, sitting back on the sand and shooting out its long eyes suddenly, “we’d better begin as we mean to go on. It won’t do to have any misunderstanding, so I tell you plainly that—”

“Oh, please,” Anthea pleaded, “do wait till we get to the others. They’ll think it most awfully sneakish of me to talk to you without them; do come down, there’s a dear.”

She knelt before the sand-bath and held out her arms. The Psammead must have remembered how glad it had been to jump into those same little arms only the day before, for it gave a little grudging grunt, and jumped once more.

Anthea wrapped it in her pinafore and carried it downstairs. It was welcomed in a thrilling silence.

At last Anthea said, “Now then!”

“What place is this?” asked the Psammead, shooting its eyes out and turning them slowly round.

“It’s a sitting-room, of course,” said Robert.

“Then I don’t like it,” said the Psammead.

“Never mind,” said Anthea kindly; “we’ll take you anywhere you like if you want us to. What was it you were going to say upstairs when I said the others wouldn’t like it if I stayed talking to you without them?”

It looked keenly at her, and she blushed.

“Don’t be silly,” it said sharply. “Of course, it’s quite natural that you should like your brothers and sisters to know exactly how good and unselfish you were.”

“I wish you wouldn’t,” said Jane. “Anthea was quite right. What was it you were going to say when she stopped you?”

“I’ll tell you,” said the Psammead, “since you’re so anxious to know. I was going to say this. You’ve saved my life—and I’m not ungrateful—but it doesn’t change your nature or mine. You’re still very ignorant, and rather silly, and I am worth a thousand of you any day of the week.”

“Of course you are!” Anthea was beginning but it interrupted her.

“It’s very rude to interrupt,” it said; “what I mean is that I’m not going to stand any nonsense, and if you think what you’ve done is to give you the right to pet me or make me demean myself by playing with you, you’ll find out that what you think doesn’t matter a single penny. See? It’s what I think that matters.”

“I know,” said Cyril, “it always was, if you remember.”

“Well,” said the Psammead, “then that’s settled. We’re to be treated as we deserve. I with respect, and all of you with—but I don’t wish to be offensive. Do you want me to tell you how I got into that horrible den you bought me out of? Oh, I’m not ungrateful! I haven’t forgotten it and I shan’t forget it.”

“Do tell us,” said Anthea. “I know you’re awfully clever, but even with all your cleverness, I don’t believe you can possibly know how—how respectfully we do respect you. Don’t we?”

The others all said yes—and fidgeted in their chairs. Robert spoke the wishes of all when he said—

“I do wish you’d go on.” So it sat up on the green-covered table and went on.

“When you’d gone away,” it said, “I went to sand for a bit, and slept. I was tired out with all your silly wishes, and I felt as though I hadn’t really been to sand for a year.”

“To sand?” Jane repeated.

“Where I sleep. You go to bed. I go to sand.”

Jane yawned; the mention of bed made her feel sleepy.

“All right,” said the Psammead, in offended tones. “I’m sure I don’t want to tell you a long tale. A man caught me, and I bit him. And he put me in a bag with a dead hare and a dead rabbit. And he took me to his house and put me out of the bag into a basket with holes that I could see through. And I bit him again. And then he brought me to this city, which I am told is called the Modern Babylon—though it’s not a bit like the old Babylon—and he sold me to the man you bought me from, and then I bit them both. Now, what’s your news?”

“There’s not quite so much biting in our story,” said Cyril regretfully; “in fact, there isn’t any. Father’s gone to Manchuria, and Mother and The Lamb have gone to Madeira because Mother was ill, and don’t I just wish that they were both safe home again.”

Merely from habit, the Sand-fairy began to blow itself out, but it stopped short suddenly.

“I forgot,” it said; “I can’t give you any more wishes.”

“No—but look here,” said Cyril, “couldn’t we call in old Nurse and get her to say she wishes they were safe home. I’m sure she does.”

“No go,” said the Psammead. “It’s just the same as your wishing yourself if you get some one else to wish for you. It won’t act.”

“But it did yesterday—with the man in the shop,” said Robert.

“Ah yes,” said the creature, “but you didn’t ask him to wish, and you didn’t know what would happen if he did. That can’t be done again. It’s played out.”

“Then you can’t help us at all,” said Jane; “oh—I did think you could do something; I’ve been thinking about it ever since we saved your life yesterday. I thought you’d be certain to be able to fetch back Father, even if you couldn’t manage Mother.”

And Jane began to cry.

“Now don’t,” said the Psammead hastily; “you know how it always upsets me if you cry. I can’t feel safe a moment. Look here; you must have some new kind of charm.”

“That’s easier said than done.”

“Not a bit of it,” said the creature; “there’s one of the strongest charms in the world not a stone’s throw from where you bought me yesterday. The man that I bit so—the first one, I mean—went into a shop to ask how much something cost—I think he said it was a concertina—and while he was telling the man in the shop how much too much he wanted for it, I saw the charm in a sort of tray, with a lot of other things. If you can only buy that, you will be able to have your heart’s desire.”