THE PHOENIX AND THE CARPET
THE PHOENIX AND THE CARPET
1 The Egg
2 The Topless Tower
3 The Queen Cook
4 Two Bazaars
5 The Temple
6 Doing Good
7 Mews from Persia
8 The Cats the Cow and the Burglar
9 The Burglar's Bride
10 The Hole in the Carpet
11 The Beginning of the End
12 The End of the End
It began with the day when it was almost the Fifth of November and
a doubt arose in some breast--Robert's I fancy--as to the quality
of the fireworks laid in for the Guy Fawkes celebration.
'They were jolly cheap' said whoever it was and I think it was
Robert 'and suppose they didn't go off on the night? Those
Prosser kids would have something to snigger about then.'
'The ones _I_ got are all right' Jane said; 'I know they are
because the man at the shop said they were worth thribble the
'I'm sure thribble isn't grammar' Anthea said.
'Of course it isn't' said Cyril; 'one word can't be grammar all by
itself so you needn't be so jolly clever.'
Anthea was rummaging in the corner-drawers of her mind for a very
disagreeable answer when she remembered what a wet day it was and
how the boys had been disappointed of that ride to London and back
on the top of the tram which their mother had promised them as a
reward for not having once forgotten for six whole days to wipe
their boots on the mat when they came home from school.
So Anthea only said 'Don't be so jolly clever yourself Squirrel.
And the fireworks look all right and you'll have the eightpence
that your tram fares didn't cost to-day to buy something more
with. You ought to get a perfectly lovely Catharine wheel for
'I daresay' said Cyril coldly; 'but it's not YOUR eightpence
'But look here' said Robert 'really now about the fireworks. We
don't want to be disgraced before those kids next door. They think
because they wear red plush on Sundays no one else is any good.'
'I wouldn't wear plush if it was ever so--unless it was black to be
beheaded in if I was Mary Queen of Scots' said Anthea with scorn.
Robert stuck steadily to his point. One great point about Robert
is the steadiness with which he can stick.
'I think we ought to test them' he said.
'You young duffer' said Cyril 'fireworks are like postage-stamps.
You can only use them once.'
'What do you suppose it means by "Carter's tested seeds" in the
There was a blank silence. Then Cyril touched his forehead with
his finger and shook his head.
'A little wrong here' he said. 'I was always afraid of that with
poor Robert. All that cleverness you know and being top in
algebra so often--it's bound to tell--'
'Dry up' said Robert fiercely. 'Don't you see? You can't TEST
seeds if you do them ALL. You just take a few here and there and
if those grow you can feel pretty sure the others will be--what do
you call it?--Father told me--"up to sample". Don't you think we
ought to sample the fire-works? Just shut our eyes and each draw
one out and then try them.'
'But it's raining cats and dogs' said Jane.
'And Queen Anne is dead' rejoined Robert. No one was in a very
good temper. 'We needn't go out to do them; we can just move back
the table and let them off on the old tea-tray we play toboggans
with. I don't know what YOU think but _I_ think it's time we did
something and that would be really useful; because then we
shouldn't just HOPE the fireworks would make those Prossers sit
up--we should KNOW.'
'It WOULD be something to do' Cyril owned with languid approval.
So the table was moved back. And then the hole in the carpet that
had been near the window till the carpet was turned round showed
most awfully. But Anthea stole out on tip-toe and got the tray
when cook wasn't looking and brought it in and put it over the
Then all the fireworks were put on the table and each of the four
children shut its eyes very tight and put out its hand and grasped
something. Robert took a cracker Cyril and Anthea had Roman
candles; but Jane's fat paw closed on the gem of the whole collection
the Jack-in-the-box that had cost two shillings and one at least of the
party--I will not say which because it was sorry afterwards--declared
that Jane had done it on purpose. Nobody was pleased. For the worst of
it was that these four children with a very proper dislike of anything
even faintly bordering on the sneakish had a law unalterable as those
of the Medes and Persians that one had to stand by the results of a
toss-up or a drawing of lots or any other appeal to chance however
much one might happen to dislike the way things were turning out.
'I didn't mean to' said Jane near tears. 'I don't care I'll
'You know jolly well you can't' said Cyril bitterly. 'It's
settled. It's Medium and Persian. You've done it and you'll have
to stand by it--and us too worse luck. Never mind. YOU'LL have
your pocket-money before the Fifth. Anyway we'll have the
Jack-in-the-box LAST and get the most out of it we can.'
So the cracker and the Roman candles were lighted and they were
all that could be expected for the money; but when it came to the
Jack-in-the-box it simply sat in the tray and laughed at them as
Cyril said. They tried to light it with paper and they tried to
light it with matches; they tried to light it with Vesuvian fusees
from the pocket of father's second-best overcoat that was hanging
in the hall. And then Anthea slipped away to the cupboard under
the stairs where the brooms and dustpans were kept and the rosiny
fire-lighters that smell so nice and like the woods where
pine-trees grow and the old newspapers and the bees-wax and turpentine
and the horrid an stiff dark rags that are used for cleaning brass and
furniture and the paraffin for the lamps. She came back with a little
pot that had once cost sevenpence-halfpenny when it was full of
red-currant jelly; but the jelly had been all eaten long ago and now
Anthea had filled the jar with paraffin. She came in and she threw the
paraffin over the tray just at the moment when Cyril was trying with the
twenty-third match to light the Jack-in-the-box. The
Jack-in-the-box did not catch fire any more than usual but the
paraffin acted quite differently and in an instant a hot flash of
flame leapt up and burnt off Cyril's eyelashes and scorched the
faces of all four before they could spring back. They backed in
four instantaneous bounds as far as they could which was to the
wall and the pillar of fire reached from floor to ceiling.
'My hat' said Cyril with emotion 'You've done it this time
The flame was spreading out under the ceiling like the rose of fire
in Mr Rider Haggard's exciting story about Allan Quatermain.
Robert and Cyril saw that no time was to be lost. They turned up
the edges of the carpet and kicked them over the tray. This cut
off the column of fire and it disappeared and there was nothing
left but smoke and a dreadful smell of lamps that have been turned
All hands now rushed to the rescue and the paraffin fire was only
a bundle of trampled carpet when suddenly a sharp crack beneath
their feet made the amateur firemen start back. Another crack--the
carpet moved as if it had had a cat wrapped in it; the
Jack-in-the-box had at last allowed itself to be lighted and it
was going off with desperate violence inside the carpet.
Robert with the air of one doing the only possible thing rushed
to the window and opened it. Anthea screamed Jane burst into
tears and Cyril turned the table wrong way up on top of the carpet
heap. But the firework went on banging and bursting and
spluttering even underneath the table.
Next moment mother rushed in attracted by the howls of Anthea and
in a few moments the firework desisted and there was a dead
silence and the children stood looking at each other's black
faces and out of the corners of their eyes at mother's white
The fact that the nursery carpet was ruined occasioned but little
surprise nor was any one really astonished that bed should prove
the immediate end of the adventure. It has been said that all
roads lead to Rome; this may be true but at any rate in early
youth I am quite sure that many roads lead to BED and stop
there--or YOU do.
The rest of the fireworks were confiscated and mother was not
pleased when father let them off himself in the back garden though
he said 'Well how else can you get rid of them my dear?'
You see father had forgotten that the children were in disgrace
and that their bedroom windows looked out on to the back garden.
So that they all saw the fireworks most beautifully and admired
the skill with which father handled them.
Next day all was forgotten and forgiven; only the nursery had to be
deeply cleaned (like spring-cleaning) and the ceiling had to be
And mother went out; and just at tea-time next day a man came with