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A short story by Edith Nesbit

Accidental Magic; Or Don't Tell All You Know

Title:     Accidental Magic; Or Don't Tell All You Know
Author: Edith Nesbit [More Titles by Nesbit]

Quentin de Ward was rather a nice little boy, but he had never been with other little boys, and that made him in some ways a little different from other little boys. His father was in India, and he and his mother lived in a little house in the New Forest. The house--it was a cottage really, but even a cottage is a house, isn't it?--was very pretty and thatched and had a porch covered with honeysuckle and ivy and white roses, and straight red hollyhocks were trained to stand up in a row against the south wall of it. The two lived quite alone, and as they had no one else to talk to they talked to each other a good deal. Mrs. de Ward read a great many books, and she used to tell Quentin about them afterwards. They were usually books about out of the way things, for Mrs. de Ward was interested in all the things that people are not quite sure about--the things that are hidden and secret, wonderful and mysterious--the things people make discoveries about. So that when the two were having their tea on the little brick terrace in front of the hollyhocks, with the white cloth flapping in the breeze, and the wasps hovering round the jam-pot, it was no uncommon thing for Quentin to say thickly through his bread and jam:--

'I say, mother, tell me some more about Atlantis.' Or, 'Mother, tell me some more about ancient Egypt and the little toy-boats they made for their little boys.' Or, 'Mother, tell me about the people who think Lord Bacon wrote Shakespeare.'

And his mother always told him as much as she thought he could understand, and he always understood quite half of what she told him.

They always talked the things out thoroughly, and thus he learned to be fond of arguing, and to enjoy using his brains, just as you enjoy using your muscles in the football field or the gymnasium.

Also he came to know quite a lot of odd, out of the way things, and to have opinions of his own concerning the lost Kingdom of Atlantis, and the Man with the Iron Mask, the building of Stonehenge, the Pre-dynastic Egyptians, cuneiform writings and Assyrian sculptures, the Mexican pyramids and the shipping activities of Tyre and Sidon.

Quentin did no regular lessons, such as most boys have, but he read all sorts of books and made notes from them, in a large and straggling handwriting.

You will already have supposed that Quentin was a prig. But he wasn't, and you would have owned this if you had seen him scampering through the greenwood on his quiet New Forest pony, or setting snares for the rabbits that _would_ get into the garden and eat the precious lettuces and parsley. Also he fished in the little streams that run through that lovely land, and shot with a bow and arrows. And he was a very good shot too.

Besides this he collected stamps and birds' eggs and picture post-cards, and kept guinea-pigs and bantams, and climbed trees and tore his clothes in twenty different ways. And once he fought the grocer's boy and got licked and didn't cry, and made friends with the grocer's boy afterwards, and got him to show him all he knew about fighting, so you see he was really not a mug. He was ten years old and he had enjoyed every moment of his ten years, even the sleeping ones, because he always dreamed jolly dreams, though he could not always remember what they were.

I tell you all this so that you may understand why he said what he did when his mother broke the news to him.

He was sitting by the stream that ran along the end of the garden, making bricks of the clay that the stream's banks were made of. He dried them in the sun, and then baked them under the kitchen stove. (It is quite a good way to make bricks--you might try it sometimes.) His mother came out, looking just as usual, in her pink cotton gown and her pink sunbonnet; and she had a letter in her hand.

'Hullo, boy of my heart,' she said, 'very busy?'

'Yes,' said Quentin importantly, not looking up, and going on with his work. 'I'm making stones to build Stonehenge with. You'll show me how to build it, won't you, mother.'

'Yes, dear,' she said absently. 'Yes, if I can.'

'Of course you can,' he said, 'you can do everything.'

She sat down on a tuft of grass near him.

'Quentin dear,' she said, and something in her voice made him look up suddenly.

'Oh, mother, what is it?' he asked.

'Daddy's been wounded,' she said; 'he's all right now, dear--don't be frightened. Only I've got to go out to him. I shall meet him in Egypt. And you must go to school in Salisbury, a very nice school, dear, till I come back.'

'Can't I come too?' he asked.

And when he understood that he could not he went on with the bricks in silence, with his mouth shut very tight.

After a moment he said, 'Salisbury? Then I shall see Stonehenge?'

'Yes,' said his mother, pleased that he took the news so calmly, 'you will be sure to see Stonehenge some time.'

He stood still, looking down at the little mould of clay in his hand--so still that his mother got up and came close to him.

'Quentin,' she said, 'darling, what is it?'

He leaned his head against her.

'I won't make a fuss,' he said, 'but you can't begin to be brave the very first minute. Or, if you do, you can't go on being.'

And with that he began to cry, though he had not cried after the affair of the grocer's boy.

* * * * *

The thought of school was not so terrible to Quentin as Mrs. de Ward had thought it would be. In fact, he rather liked it, with half his mind; but the other half didn't like it, because it meant parting from his mother who, so far, had been his only friend. But it was exciting to be taken to Southampton, and have all sorts of new clothes bought for you, and a school trunk, and a little polished box that locked up, to keep your money in and your gold sleeve links, and your watch and chain when you were not wearing them.

Also the journey to Salisbury was made in a motor, which was very exciting of course, and rather took Quentin's mind off the parting with his mother, as she meant it should. And there was a very grand lunch at The White Hart Hotel at Salisbury, and then, very suddenly indeed, it was good-bye, good-bye, and the motor snorted, and hooted, and throbbed, and rushed away, and mother was gone, and Quentin was at school.

I believe it was quite a nice school. It was in a very nice house with a large quiet garden, and there were only about twenty boys. And the masters were kind, and the boys no worse than other boys of their age. But Quentin hated it from the very beginning. For when his mother had gone the Headmaster said: 'School will be out in half-an-hour; take a book, de Ward,' and gave him _Little Eric and his Friends_, a mere baby book. It was too silly. He could not read it. He saw on a shelf near him, _Smith's Antiquities_, a very old friend of his, so he said: 'I'd rather have this, please.'

'You should say "sir" when you speak to a master,' the Head said to him. 'Take the book by all means.' To himself the Head said, 'I wish you joy of it, you little prig.'

When school was over, one of the boys was told to show Quentin his bed and his locker. The matron had already unpacked his box and his pile of books was waiting for him to carry it over.

'Golly, what a lot of books,' said Smithson minor. 'What's this? _Atlantis_? Is it a jolly story?'

'It isn't a story,' said Quentin. And just then the classical master came by. 'What's that about _Atlantis_?' he said.

'It's a book the new chap's got,' said Smithson.

The classical master glanced at the book.

'And how much do you understand of this?' he asked, fluttering the leaves.

'Nearly all, I think,' said Quentin.

'You should say "sir" when you speak to a master,' said the classical one; and to himself he added, 'little prig.' Then he said to Quentin: 'I am afraid you will find yourself rather out of your element among ordinary boys.'

'I don't think so,' said Quentin calmly, adding as an afterthought 'sir.'

'I'm glad you're so confident,' said the classical master and went.

'My word,' said Smithson minor in a rather awed voice, 'you did answer him back.'

'Of course I did,' said Quentin. 'Don't _you_ answer when you're spoken to?'

Smithson minor informed the interested school that the new chap was a prig, but he had a cool cheek, and that some sport might be expected.

After supper the boys had half an hour's recreation. Quentin, who was tired, picked up a book which a big boy had just put down. It was the _Midsummer Night's Dream_.

'Hi, you kid,' said the big boy, 'don't pretend you read Shakespeare for fun. That's simple swank, you know.'

'I don't know what swank is,' said Quentin, 'but I like the _Midsummer_ whoever wrote it.'

'Whoever _what_?'

'Well,' said Quentin, 'there's a good deal to be said for its being Bacon who wrote the plays.'

Of course that settled it. From that moment, he was called not de Ward, which was strange enough, but Bacon. He rather liked that. But the next day it was Pork, and the day after Pig, and that was unbearable.

He was at the bottom of his class, for he knew no Latin as it is taught in schools, only odd words that English words come from, and some Latin words that are used in science. And I cannot pretend that his arithmetic was anything but contemptible.

The book called _Atlantis_ had been looked at by most of the school, and Smithson major, not nearly such an agreeable boy as his brother, hit on a new nickname.

'Atlantic Pork's a good name for a swanker,' he said. 'You know the rotten meat they have in Chicago.'

This was in the playground before dinner. Quentin, who had to keep his mouth shut very tight these days, because, of course, a boy of ten cannot cry before other chaps, shut the book he was reading and looked up.

'I won't be called that,' he said quietly.

'Who said you wouldn't?' said Smithson major, who, after all, was only twelve. 'I say you will.'

'If you call me that I shall hit you,' said Quentin, 'as hard as I can.'

A roar of laughter went up, and cries of, 'Poor old Smithson'--'Apologise, Smithie, and leave the omnibus.'

'And what should I be doing while you were hitting me?' asked Smithson contemptuously.

'I don't know and I don't care,' said Quentin.

Smithson looked round. No master was in sight. It seemed an excellent opportunity to teach young de Ward his place.

'Atlantic pig-swine,' he said very deliberately. And Quentin sprang at him, and instantly it was a fight.

Now Quentin had only once fought--really fought--before. Then it was the grocer's boy and he had been beaten. But he had learned something since. And the chief conclusion he now drew from his memories of that fight was that he had not hit half hard enough, an opinion almost universal among those who have fought and not won.

As the fist of Smithson major described a half circle and hurt his ear very much, Quentin suddenly screwed himself up and hit out with his right hand, straight, and with his whole weight behind the blow as the grocer's boy had shown him. All his grief for his wounded father, his sorrow at the parting from his mother, all his hatred of his school, and his contempt for his schoolfellows went into that blow. It landed on the point of the chin of Smithson major who fell together like a heap of rags.

'Oh,' said Quentin, gazing with interest at his hand--it hurt a good deal but he looked at it with respect--'I'm afraid I've hurt him.'

He had forgotten for a moment that he was in an enemies' country, and so, apparently, had his enemies.

'Well done, Piggy! Bravo, young 'un! Well hit, by Jove!'

Friendly hands thumped him on the back. Smithson major was no popular hero.

Quentin felt--as his schoolfellows would have put it--bucked. It is one thing to be called Pig in enmity and derision. Another to be called Piggy--an affectionate diminutive, after all--to the chorus of admiring smacks.

'Get up, Smithie,' cried the ring. 'Want any more?'

It appeared that Smithie did not want any more. He lay, not moving at all, and very white.

'I say,' the crowd's temper veered, 'you've killed him, I expect. I wouldn't like to be you, Bacon.'

Pig, you notice, for aggravation--Piggy in enthusiastic applause. In the moment of possible tragedy the more formal Bacon.

'I haven't,' said Quentin, very white himself, 'but if I have he began--by calling names.'

Smithson moved and grunted. A sigh of relief swept the ring as a breeze sweeps a cornfield.

'He's all right. A fair knock out. Piggy's got the use of 'em. Do Smithie good.' The voices hushed suddenly. A master was on the scene--the classical master.

'Fighting?' he said. 'The new boy? Who began it?'

'I did,' said Quentin, 'but he began with calling names.'

'Sneak!' murmured the entire school, and Quentin, who had seen no reason for not speaking the truth, perceived that one should not tell all one knows, and that once more he stood alone in the world.

'You will go to your room, de Ward,' said the classical master, bending over Smithson, who having been 'knocked silly' still remained in that condition, 'and the headmaster will consider your case to-morrow. You will probably be expelled.'

Quentin went to his room and thought over his position. It seemed to be desperate. How was he to know that the classical master was even then saying to the Head:

'He's got something in him, prig or no prig, sir.'

'You were quite right to send him to his room,' said the Head, 'discipline must be maintained, as Mr. Ducket says. But it will do Smithson major a world of good. A boy who reads Shakespeare for fun, and has views about Atlantis, and can knock out a bully as well.... He'll be a power in the school. But we mustn't let him know it.'

That was rather a pity. Because Quentin, furious at the injustice of the whole thing--Smithson, the aggressor, consoled with; himself punished; expulsion threatened--was maturing plans.

'If mother had known what it was like,' he said to himself, 'she would never have left me here. I've got the two pounds she gave me. I shall go to the White Hart at Salisbury ... no, they'd find me then. I'll go to Lyndhurst; and write to her. It's better to run away than to be expelled. Quentin Durward would never have waited to be expelled from anywhere.'

Of course Quentin Durward was my hero's hero. It could not be otherwise since his own name was so like that of the Scottish guardsman.

Now the school in Salisbury was a little school for little boys--boys who were used to schools and took the rough with the smooth. But Quentin was not used to schools, and he had taken the rough very much to heart. So much that he did not mean to take any more of it.

His dinner was brought up on a tray--bread and water. He put the bread in his pocket. Then when he knew that every one was at dinner in the long dining-room at the back of the house, he just walked very quietly down the stairs, opened the side door and marched out, down the garden path and out at the tradesmen's gate. He knew better than to shut either gate or door.

He went quickly down the street, turned the first corner he came to so as to get out of sight of the school. He turned another corner, went through an archway, and found himself in an inn-yard--very quiet indeed. Only a liver-coloured lurcher dog wagged a sleepy tail on the hot flag-stones.

Quentin was just turning to go back through the arch, for there was no other way out of the yard, when he saw a big covered cart, whose horse wore a nose-bag and looked as if there was no hurry. The cart bore the name, 'Miles, Carrier, Lyndhurst.'

Quentin knew all about lifts. He had often begged them and got them. Now there was no one to ask. But he felt he could very well explain later that he had wanted a lift, much better than now, in fact, when he might be caught at any moment by some one from the school.

He climbed up by the shaft. There were boxes and packages of all sorts in the cart, and at the back an empty crate with sacking over it. He got into the crate, pulled the sacking over himself, and settled down to eat his bread.

Presently the carrier came out, and there was talk, slow, long-drawn talk. After a long while the cart shook to the carrier's heavy climb into it, the harness rattled, the cart lurched, and the wheels were loud and bumpy over the cobble stones of the yard.

Quentin felt safe. The glow of anger was still hot in him, and he was glad to think how they would look for him all over the town, in vain. He lifted the sacking at one corner so that he could look out between the canvas of the cart's back and side, and hoped to see the classical master distractedly looking for him. But the streets were very sleepy. Every one in Salisbury was having dinner--or in the case of the affluent, lunch.

The black horse seemed as sleepy as the streets, and went very slowly. Also it stopped very often, and wherever there were parcels to leave there was slow, long talkings to be exchanged. I think, perhaps, Quentin dozed a good deal under his sacks. At any rate it was with a shock of surprise that he suddenly heard the carrier's voice saying, as the horse stopped with a jerk:

'There's a crate for you, Mrs. Baddock, returned empty,' and knew that that crate was not empty, but full--full of boy.

'I'll go and call Joe,' said a voice--Mrs. Baddock's, Quentin supposed, and slow feet stumped away over stones. Mr. Miles leisurely untied the tail of the cart, ready to let the crate be taken out.

Quentin spent a paralytic moment. What could he do?

And then, luckily or unluckily, a reckless motor tore past, and the black horse plunged and Mr. Miles had to go to its head and 'talk pretty' to it for a minute. And in that minute Quentin lifted the sacking, and looked out. It was low sunset, and the street was deserted. He stepped out of the crate, dropped to the ground, and slipped behind a stout and friendly water-butt that seemed to offer protective shelter.

Joe came, and the crate was taken down.

'You haven't seen nothing of that there runaway boy by chance?' said a new voice--Joe's no doubt.

'What boy?' said Mr. Miles.

'Run away from school, Salisbury,' said Joe. 'Telegrams far and near, so they be. Little varmint.'

'I ain't seen no boys, not more'n ordinary,' said Mr. Miles. 'Thick as flies they be, here, there, and everywhere, drat 'em. Sixpence--Correct. So long, Joe.'

The cart rattled away. Joe and the crate blundered out of hearing, and Quentin looked cautiously round the water-butt.

This was an adventure. But he was cooler now than he had been at starting--his hot anger had died down. He would have been contented, he could not help feeling, with a less adventurous adventure.

But he was in for it now. He felt, as I suppose people feel when they jump off cliffs with parachutes, that return was impossible.

Hastily turning his school cap inside out--the only disguise he could think of, he emerged from the water-butt seclusion and into the street, trying to look as if there was no reason why he should not be there. He did not know the village. It was not Lyndhurst. And of course asking the way was not to be thought of.

There was a piece of sacking lying on the road; it must have dropped from the carrier's cart. He picked it up and put it over his shoulders.

'A deeper disguise,' he said, and walked on.

He walked steadily for a long, long way as it seemed, and the world got darker and darker. But he kept on. Surely he must presently come to some village, or some signpost.

Anyhow, whatever happened, he could not go back. That was the one certain thing. The broad stretches of country to right and left held no shapes of houses, no glimmer of warm candle-light; they were bare and bleak, only broken by circles of trees that stood out like black islands in the misty grey of the twilight.

'I shall have to sleep behind a hedge,' he said bravely enough; but there did not seem to be any hedges. And then, quite suddenly, he came upon it.

A scattered building, half transparent as it seemed, showing black against the last faint pink and primrose of the sunset. He stopped, took a few steps off the road on short, crisp turf that rose in a gentle slope. And at the end of a dozen paces he knew it. Stonehenge! Stonehenge he had always wanted so desperately to see. Well, he saw it now, more or less.

He stopped to think. He knew that Stonehenge stands all alone on Salisbury Plain. He was very tired. His mother had told him about a girl in a book who slept all night on the altar stone at Stonehenge. So it was a thing that people did--to sleep there. He was not afraid, as you or I might have been--of that lonely desolate ruin of a temple of long ago. He was used to the forest, and, compared with the forest, any building is homelike.

There was just enough light left amid the stones of the wonderful broken circle to guide him to its centre. As he went his hand brushed a plant; he caught at it, and a little group of flowers came away in his hand.

'St. John's wort,' he said, 'that's the magic flower.' And he remembered that it is only magic when you pluck it on Midsummer Eve.

'And this _is_ Midsummer Eve,' he told himself, and put it in his buttonhole.

'I don't know where the altar stone is,' he said, 'but that looks a cosy little crack between those two big stones.'

He crept into it, and lay down on a flat stone that stretched between and under two fallen pillars.

The night was soft and warm; it was Midsummer Eve.

'Mother isn't going till the twenty-sixth,' he told himself. 'I sha'n't bother about hotels. I shall send her a telegram in the morning, and get a carriage at the nearest stables and go straight back to her. No, she won't be angry when she hears all about it. I'll ask her to let me go to sea instead of to school. It's much more manly. Much more manly ... much much more, much.'

He was asleep. And the wild west wind that swept across the plain spared the little corner where he lay asleep, curled up in his sacking with the inside-out school cap, doubled twice, for pillow.

He fell asleep on the smooth, solid, steady stone.

He awoke on the stone in a world that rocked as sea-boats rock on a choppy sea.

He went to sleep between fallen moveless pillars of a ruin older than any world that history knows.

He awoke in the shade of a purple awning through which strong sunlight filtered, and purple curtains that flapped and strained in the wind; and there was a smell, a sweet familiar smell, of tarred ropes and the sea.

'I say,' said Quentin to himself, 'here's a rum go.'

He had learned that expression in a school in Salisbury, a long time ago as it seemed.

The stone on which he lay dipped and rose to a rhythm which he knew well enough. He had felt it when he and his mother went in a little boat from Keyhaven to Alum Bay in the Isle of Wight. There was no doubt in his mind. He was on a ship. But how, but why? Who could have carried him all that way without waking him? Was it magic? Accidental magic? The St. John's wort perhaps? And the stone--it was not the same. It was new, clean cut, and, where the wind displaced a corner of the curtain, dazzlingly white in the sunlight.

There was the pat pat of bare feet on the deck, a dull sort of shuffling as though people were arranging themselves. And then people outside the awning began to sing. It was a strange song, not at all like any music you or I have ever heard. It had no tune, no more tune than a drum has, or a trumpet, but it had a sort of wild rough glorious exciting splendour about it, and gave you the sort of intense all-alive feeling that drums and trumpets give.

Quentin lifted a corner of the purple curtain and looked out.

Instantly the song stopped, drowned in the deepest silence Quentin had ever imagined. It was only broken by the flip-flapping of the sheets against the masts of the ship. For it was a ship, Quentin saw that as the bulwark dipped to show him an unending waste of sea, broken by bigger waves than he had ever dreamed of. He saw also a crowd of men, dressed in white and blue and purple and gold. Their right arms were raised towards the sun, half of whose face showed across the sea--but they seemed to be, as my old nurse used to say, 'struck so,' for their eyes were not fixed on the sun, but on Quentin. And not in anger, he noticed curiously, but with surprise and ... could it be that they were afraid of him?

Quentin was shivering with the surprise and newness of it all. He had read about magic, but he had not wholly believed in it, and yet, now, if this was not magic, what was it? You go to sleep on an old stone in a ruin. You wake on the same stone, quite new, on a ship. Magic, magic, if ever there was magic in this wonderful, mysterious world!

The silence became awkward. Some one had to say something.

'Good-morning,' said Quentin, feeling that he ought perhaps to be the one.

Instantly every one in sight fell on his face on the deck.

Only one, a tall man with a black beard and a blue mantle, stood up and looked Quentin in the eyes.

'Who are you?' he said. 'Answer, I adjure you by the Sacred Tau!' Now this was very odd, and Quentin could never understand it, but when this man spoke Quentin understood _him_ perfectly, and yet at the same time he knew that the man was speaking a foreign language. So that his thought was not, 'Hullo, you speak English!' but 'Hullo, I can understand your language.'

'I am Quentin de Ward,' he said.

'A name from other stars! How came you here?' asked the blue-mantled man.

'_I_ don't know,' said Quentin.

'He does not know. He did not sail with us. It is by magic that he is here,' said Blue Mantle. 'Rise, all, and greet the Chosen of the Gods.'

They rose from the deck, and Quentin saw that they were all bearded men, with bright, earnest eyes, dressed in strange dress of something like jersey and tunic and heavy golden ornaments.

'Hail! Chosen of the Gods,' cried Blue Mantle, who seemed to be the leader.

'Hail, Chosen of the Gods!' echoed the rest.

'Thank you very much, I'm sure,' said Quentin.

'And what is this stone?' asked Blue Mantle, pointing to the stone on which Quentin sat.

And Quentin, anxious to show off his knowledge, said:

'I'm not quite sure, but I _think_ it's the altar stone of Stonehenge.'

'It is proved,' said Blue Mantle. 'Thou art the Chosen of the Gods. Is there anything my Lord needs?' he added humbly.

'I ... I'm rather hungry,' said Quentin; 'it's a long time since dinner, you know.'

They brought him bread and bananas, and oranges.

'Take,' said Blue Mantle, 'of the fruits of the earth, and specially of this, which gives drink and meat and ointment to man,' suddenly offering a large cocoa-nut.

Quentin took, with appropriate 'Thank you's' and 'You're very kind's.'

'Nothing,' said Blue Mantle, 'is too good for the Chosen of the Gods. All that we have is yours, to the very last day of your life you have only to command, and we obey. You will like to eat in seclusion. And afterwards you will let us behold the whole person of the Chosen of the Gods.'

Quentin retired into the purple tent, with the fruits and the cocoa-nut. As you know, a cocoa-nut is not handy to get at the inside of, at the best of times, so Quentin set that aside, meaning to ask Blue Mantle later on for a gimlet and a hammer.

When he had had enough to eat he peeped out again. Blue Mantle was on the watch and came quickly forward.

'Now,' said he, very crossly indeed, 'tell me how you got here. This Chosen of the Gods business is all very well for the vulgar. But you and I know that there is no such thing as magic.'

'Speak for yourself,' said Quentin. 'If I'm not here by magic I'm not here at all.'

'Yes, you are,' said Blue Mantle.

'I know I am,' said Quentin, 'but if I'm not here by magic what am I here by?'

'Stowawayishness,' said Blue Mantle.

'If you think that why don't you treat me as a stowaway?'

'Because of public opinion,' said Blue Mantle, rubbing his nose in an angry sort of perplexedness.

'Very well,' said Quentin, who was feeling so surprised and bewildered that it was a real relief to him to bully somebody. 'Now look here. I came here by magic, accidental magic. I belong to quite a different world from yours. But perhaps you are right about my being the Chosen of the Gods. And I sha'n't tell you anything about my world. But I command you, by the Sacred Tau' (he had been quick enough to catch and remember the word), 'to tell me who you are, and where you come from, and where you are going.'

Blue Mantle shrugged his shoulders. 'Oh, well,' he said, 'if you invoke the sacred names of Power.... But I don't call it fair play. Especially as you know perfectly well, and just want to browbeat me into telling lies. I shall not tell lies. I shall tell you the truth.'

'I hoped you would,' said Quentin gently.

'Well then,' said Blue Mantle, 'I am a Priest of Poseidon, and I come from the great and immortal kingdom of Atlantis.'

'From the temple where the gold statue is, with the twelve sea-horses in gold?' Quentin asked eagerly.

'Ah, I knew you knew all about it,' said Blue Mantle, 'so I don't need to tell you that I am taking the sacred stone, on which you are sitting (profanely if you are a mere stowaway, and not the Chosen of the Gods) to complete the splendid structure of a temple built on a great plain in the second of the islands which are our colonies in the North East.'

'Tell me all about Atlantis,' said Quentin. And the priest, protesting that Quentin knew as much about it as he did, told.

And all the time the ship was ploughing through the waves, sometimes sailing, sometimes rowed by hidden rowers with long oars. And Quentin was served in all things as though he had been a king. If he had insisted that he was not the Chosen of the Gods everything might have been different. But he did not. And he was very anxious to show how much he knew about Atlantis. And sometimes he was wrong, the Priest said, but much more often he was right.

'We are less than three days' journey now from the Eastern Isles,' Blue Mantle said one day, 'and I warn you that if you are a mere stowaway you had better own it. Because if you persist in calling yourself the Chosen of the Gods you will be expected to act as such--to the very end.'

'I don't call myself anything,' said Quentin, 'though I am not a stowaway, anyhow, and I don't know how I came here--so of course it was magic. It's simply silly your being so cross. _I_ can't help being here. Let's be friends.'

'Well,' said Blue Mantle, much less crossly, 'I never believed in magic, though I _am_ a priest, but if it is, it is. We may as well be friends, as you call it. It isn't for very long, anyway,' he added mysteriously.

And then to show his friendliness he took Quentin all over the ship, and explained it all to him. And Quentin enjoyed himself thoroughly, though every now and then he had to pinch himself to make sure that he was awake. And he was fed well all the time, and all the time made much of, so that when the ship reached land he was quite sorry. The ship anchored by a stone quay, most solid and serviceable, and every one was very busy.

Quentin kept out of sight behind the purple curtains. The sailors and the priests and the priests' attendants and everybody on the boat had asked him so many questions, and been so curious about his clothes, that he was not anxious to hear any more questions asked, or to have to invent answers to them.

And after a very great deal of talk--almost as much as Mr. Miles's carrying had needed--the altar stone was lifted, Quentin, curtains, awning and all, and carried along a gangway to the shore, and there it was put on a sort of cart, more like what people in Manchester call a lurry than anything else I can think of. The wheels were made of solid circles of wood bound round with copper. And the cart was drawn by--not horses or donkeys or oxen or even dogs--but by an enormous creature more like an elephant than anything else, only it had long hair rather like the hair worn by goats.

You, perhaps, would not have known what this vast creature was, but Quentin, who had all sorts of out-of-the-way information packed in his head, knew at once that it was a mammoth.

And by that he knew, too, that he had slipped back many thousands of years, because, of course, it is a very long time indeed since there were any mammoths alive, and able to draw lurries. And the car and the priest and the priest's retinue and the stone and Quentin and the mammoth journeyed slowly away from the coast, passing through great green forests and among strange gray mountains.

Where were they journeying?

Quentin asked the same question you may be sure, and Blue Mantle told him--

'To Stonehenge.' And Quentin understood him perfectly, though Stonehenge was not the word Blue Mantle used, or anything like it.

'The great temple is now complete,' he said, 'all but the altar stone. It will be the most wonderful temple ever built in any of the colonies of Atlantis. And it will be consecrated on the longest day of the year.'

'Midsummer Day,' said Quentin thoughtlessly--and, as usual, anxious to tell all he knew. 'I know. The sun strikes through the arch on to the altar stone at sunrise. Hundreds of people go to see it: the ruins are quite crowded sometimes, I believe.'

'Ruins?' said the priest in a terrible voice. 'Crowded? Ruins?'

'I mean,' said Quentin hastily, 'the sun will still shine the same way even when the temple is in ruins, won't it?'

'The temple,' said the priest, 'is built to defy time. It will never be in ruins.'

'That's all _you_ know,' said Quentin, not very politely.

'It is not by any means all I know,' said the priest. 'I do not tell all I know. Nor do you.'

'I used to,' said Quentin, 'but I sha'n't any more. It only leads to trouble--I see that now.'

Now, though Quentin had been intensely interested in everything he had seen in the ship and on the journey, you may be sure he had not lost sight of the need there was to get back out of this time of Atlantis into his own time. He knew that he must have got into these Atlantean times by some very simple accidental magic, and he felt no doubt that he should get back in the same way. He felt almost sure that the reverse-action, so to speak, of the magic would begin when the stone got back to the place where it had lain for so many thousand years before he happened to go to sleep on it, and to start--perhaps by the St. John's wort--the accidental magic. If only, when he got back there he could think of the compelling, the magic word!

And now the slow procession wound over the downs, and far away across the plain, which was almost just the same then as it is now, Quentin saw what he knew must be Stonehenge. But it was no longer the grey pile of ruins that you have perhaps seen--or have, at any rate, seen pictures of.

From afar one could see the gleam of yellow gold and red copper; the flutter of purple curtains, the glitter and dazzle of shimmering silver.

As they drew near to the spot Quentin perceived that the great stones he remembered were overlaid with ornamental work, with vivid, bright-coloured paintings. The whole thing was a great circular building, every stone in its place. At a mile or two distant lay a town. And in that town, with every possible luxury, served with every circumstance of servile homage, Quentin ate and slept.

I wish I had time to tell you what that town was like where he slept and ate, but I have not. You can read for yourself, some day, what Atlantis was like. Plato tells us a good deal, and the Colonies of Atlantis must have had at least a reasonable second-rate copy of the cities of that fair and lovely land.

That night, for the first time since he had first gone to sleep on the altar stone, Quentin slept apart from it. He lay on a wooden couch strewn with soft bear-skins, and a woollen coverlet was laid over him. And he slept soundly.

In the middle of the night, as it seemed, Blue Mantle woke him.

'Come,' he said, 'Chosen of the Gods--since you _will_ be that, and no stowaway--the hour draws nigh.'

The mammoth was waiting. Quentin and Blue Mantle rode on its back to the outer porch of the new temple of Stonehenge. Rows of priests and attendants, robed in white and blue and purple, formed a sort of avenue up which Blue Mantle led the Chosen of the Gods, who was Quentin. They took off his jacket and put a white dress on him, rather like a night-shirt without sleeves. And they put a thick wreath of London Pride on his head and another, larger and longer, round his neck.

'If only the chaps at school could see me now!' he said to himself proudly.

And by this time it was gray dawn.

'Lie down now,' said Blue Mantle, 'lie down, O Beloved of the Gods, upon the altar stone, for the last time.'

'I shall be able to go, then?' Quentin asked. This accidental magic was, he perceived, a tricky thing, and he wanted to be sure.

'You will not be able to stay,' said the priest. 'If going is what you desire, the desire of the Chosen of the Gods is fully granted.'

The grass on the plain far and near rustled with the tread of many feet; the cold air of dawn thrilled to the awed murmured of many voices.

Quentin lay down, with his pink wreaths and his white robe, and watched the quickening pinkiness of the East. And slowly the great circle of the temple filled with white-robed folk, all carrying in their hands the faint pinkiness of the flowers which we nowadays call London Pride.

And all eyes were fixed on the arch through which, at sunrise on Midsummer Day, the sun's first beam should fall upon the white, new, clean altar stone. The stone is still there, after all these thousands of years, and at sunrise on Midsummer Day the sun's first ray still falls on it.

The sky grew lighter and lighter, and at last the sun peered redly over the down, and the first ray of the morning sunlight fell full on the altar stone and on the face of Quentin.

And, as it did so, a very tall, white-robed priest with a deer-skin apron and a curious winged head-dress stepped forward. He carried a great bronze knife, and he waved it ten times in the shaft of sunlight that shot through the arch and on to the altar stone.

'Thus,' he cried, 'thus do I bathe the sacred blade in the pure fountain of all light, all wisdom, all splendour. In the name of the ten kings, the ten virtues, the ten hopes, the ten fears I make my weapon clean! May this temple of our love and our desire endure for ever, so long as the glory of our Lord the Sun is shed upon this earth. May the sacrifice I now humbly and proudly offer be acceptable to the gods by whom it has been so miraculously provided. Chosen of the Gods! return to the gods who sent thee!'

A roar of voices rang through the temple. The bronze knife was raised over Quentin. He could not believe that this, this horror, was the end of all these wonderful happenings.

'No--no,' he cried, 'it's not true. I'm not the Chosen of the Gods! I'm only a little boy that's got here by accidental magic!'

'Silence,' cried the priest, 'Chosen of the Immortals, close your eyes! It will not hurt. This life is only a dream; the other life is the real life. Be strong, be brave!'

Quentin was not brave. But he shut his eyes. He could not help it. The glitter of the bronze knife in the sunlight was too strong for him.

He could not believe that this could really have happened to him. Every one had been so kind--so friendly to him. And it was all for this!

Suddenly a sharp touch at his side told him that for this, indeed, it had all been. He felt the point of the knife.

'Mother!' he cried. And opened his eyes again.

He always felt quite sure afterwards that 'Mother' was the master-word, the spell of spells. For when he opened his eyes there was no priest, no white-robed worshippers, no splendour of colour and metal, no Chosen of the Gods, no knife--only a little boy with a piece of sacking over him, damp with the night dews, lying on a stone amid the grey ruins of Stonehenge, and, all about him, a crowd of tourists who had come to see the sun's first shaft strike the age-old altar of Stonehenge on Midsummer Day in the morning. And instead of a knife point at his side there was only the ferrule of the umbrella of an elderly and retired tea merchant in a mackintosh and an Alpine hat,--a ferrule which had prodded the sleeping boy so unexpectedly surprised on the very altar stone where the sun's ray now lingered.

And then, in a moment, he knew that he had not uttered the spell in vain, the word of compelling, the word of power: for his mother was there kneeling beside him. I am sorry to say that he cried as he clung to her. _We_ cannot all of us be brave, always.

The tourists were very kind and interested, and the tea merchant insisted on giving Quentin something out of a flask, which was so nasty that Quentin only pretended to drink, out of politeness. His mother had a carriage waiting, and they escaped to it while the tourists were saying, 'How romantic!' and asking each other whatever in the world had happened.

* * * * *

'But how _did_ you come to be there, darling?' said his mother with warm hands comfortingly round him. 'I've been looking for you all night. I went to say good-bye to you yesterday--Oh, Quentin--and I found you'd run away. How _could_ you?'

'I'm sorry,' said Quentin, 'if it worried you, I'm sorry. Very, very. I was going to telegraph to-day.'

'But where have you been? What have you been doing all night?' she asked, caressing him.

'Is it only one night?' said Quentin. 'I don't know exactly what's happened. It was accidental magic, I think, mother. I'm glad I thought of the right word to get back, though.' And then he told her all about it. She held him very tightly and let him talk.

Perhaps she thought that a little boy to whom accidental magic happened all in a minute, like that, was not exactly the right little boy for that excellent school in Salisbury. Anyhow she took him to Egypt with her to meet his father, and, on the way, they happened to see a doctor in London who said: 'Nerves' which is a poor name for accidental magic, and Quentin does not believe it means the same thing at all.

Quentin's father is well now, and he has left the army, and father and mother and Quentin live in a jolly, little, old house in Salisbury, and Quentin is a 'day boy' at that very same school. He and Smithson minor are the greatest of friends. But he has never told Smithson minor about the accidental magic. He has learned now, and learned very thoroughly, that it is not always wise to tell all you know. If he had not owned that he knew that it was the Stonehenge altar stone!

* * * * *

You may think that the accidental magic was all a dream, and that Quentin dreamed it because his mother had told him so much about Atlantis. But then, how do you account for his dreaming so much that his mother had never told him? You think that that part wasn't true, well, it may have been true for anything I know. And I am sure you don't know more about it than I do.

[The end]
Edith Nesbit's short story: Accidental Magic; Or Don't Tell All You Know