The Story Of The Treasure Seekers

E. Nesbit

Chapter 14 - The Divining-Rod


You have no idea how uncomfortable the house was on the day when we sought for gold with the divining-rod. It was like a spring-cleaning in the winter-time. All the carpets were up, because Father had told Eliza to make the place decent as there was a gentleman coming to dinner the next day. So she got in a charwoman, and they slopped water about, and left brooms and brushes on the stairs for people to tumble over. H. O. got a big bump on his head in that way, and when he said it was too bad, Eliza said he should keep in the nursery then, and not be where he'd no business. We bandaged his head with a towel, and then he stopped crying and played at being England's wounded hero dying in the cockpit, while every man was doing his duty, as the hero had told them to, and Alice was Hardy, and I was the doctor, and the others were the crew. Playing at Hardy made us think of our own dear robber, and we wished he was there, and wondered if we should ever see him any more.

We were rather astonished at Father's having anyone to dinner, because now he never seems to think of anything but business. Before Mother died people often came to dinner, and Father's business did not take up so much of his time and was not the bother it is now. And we used to see who could go furthest down in our nightgowns and get nice things to eat, without being seen, out of the dishes as they came out of the dining- room. Eliza can't cook very nice things. She told Father she was a good plain cook, but he says it was a fancy portrait. We stayed in the nursery till the charwoman came in and told us to be off - she was going to make one job of it, and have our carpet up as well as all the others, now the man was here to beat them. It came up, and it was very dusty - and under it we found my threepenny-bit that I lost ages ago, which shows what Eliza is. H. O. had got tired of being the wounded hero, and Dicky was so tired of doing nothing that Dora said she knew he'd begin to tease Noel in a minute; then of course Dicky said he wasn't going to tease anybody - he was going out to the Heath. He said he'd heard that nagging women drove a man from his home, and now he found it was quite true. Oswald always tries to be a peacemaker, so he told Dicky to shut up and not make an ass of himself. And Alice said, 'Well, Dora began' - And Dora tossed her chin up and said it wasn't any business of Oswald's any way, and no one asked Alice's opinion. So we all felt very uncomfortable till Noel said, 'Don't let's quarrel about nothing. You know let dogs delight - and I made up another piece while you were talking -

Quarrelling is an evil thing,
It fills with gall life's cup;
For when once you begin
It takes such a long time to make it up.'

We all laughed then and stopped jawing at each other. Noel is very funny with his poetry. But that piece happened to come out quite true. You begin to quarrel and then you can't stop; often, long before the others are ready to cry and make it up, I see how silly it is, and I want to laugh; but it doesn't do to say so - for it only makes the others crosser than they were before. I wonder why that is?

Alice said Noel ought to be poet laureate, and she actually went out in the cold and got some laurel leaves - the spotted kind - out of the garden, and Dora made a crown and we put it on him. He was quite pleased; but the leaves made a mess, and Eliza said, 'Don't.' I believe that's a word grown-ups use more than any other. Then suddenly Alice thought of that old idea of hers for finding treasure, and she said - 'Do let's try the divining-rod.'

So Oswald said, 'Fair priestess, we do greatly desire to find gold beneath our land, therefore we pray thee practise with the divining-rod, and tell us where we can find it.'

'Do ye desire to fashion of it helms and hauberks?' said Alice.

'Yes,' said Noel; 'and chains and ouches.'

'I bet you don't know what an "ouch" is,' said Dicky.

'Yes I do, so there!' said Noel. 'It's a carcanet. I looked it out in the dicker, now then!' We asked him what a carcanet was, but he wouldn't say.

'And we want to make fair goblets of the gold,' said Oswald.

'Yes, to drink coconut milk out of,' said H. O.

'And we desire to build fair palaces of it,' said Dicky.

'And to buy things,' said Dora; 'a great many things. New Sunday frocks and hats and kid gloves and - '

She would have gone on for ever so long only we reminded her that we hadn't found the gold yet.

By this Alice had put on the nursery tablecloth, which is green, and tied the old blue and yellow antimacassar over her head, and she said -

'If your intentions are correct, fear nothing and follow me.'

And she went down into the hall. We all followed chanting 'Heroes.' It is a gloomy thing the girls learnt at the High School, and we always use it when we want a priestly chant.

Alice stopped short by the hat-stand, and held up her hands as well as she could for the tablecloth, and said -

'Now, great altar of the golden idol, yield me the divining-rod that I may use it for the good of the suffering people.'

The umbrella-stand was the altar of the golden idol, and it yielded her the old school umbrella. She carried it between her palms.

'Now,' she said, 'I shall sing the magic chant. You mustn't say anything, but just follow wherever I go - like follow my leader, you know - and when there is gold underneath the magic rod will twist in the hand of the priestess like a live thing that seeks to be free. Then you will dig, and the golden treasure will be revealed. H. O., if you make that clatter with your boots they'll come and tell us not to. Now come on all of you.'

So she went upstairs and down and into every room. We followed her on tiptoe, and Alice sang as she went. What she sang is not out of a book - Noel made it up while she was dressing up for the priestess.

Ashen rod cold
That here I hold,
Teach me where to find the gold.

When we came to where Eliza was, she said, 'Get along with you'; but Dora said it was only a game, and we wouldn't touch anything, and our boots were quite clean, and Eliza might as well let us. So she did.

It was all right for the priestess, but it was a little dull for the rest of us, because she wouldn't let us sing, too; so we said we'd had enough of it, and if she couldn't find the gold we'd leave off and play something else. The priestess said, 'All right, wait a minute,' and went on singing. Then we all followed her back into the nursery, where the carpet was up and the boards smelt of soft soap. Then she said, 'It moves, it moves! Once more the choral hymn!' So we sang 'Heroes' again, and in the middle the umbrella dropped from her hands.

'The magic rod has spoken,' said Alice; 'dig here, and that with courage and despatch.' We didn't quite see how to dig, but we all began to scratch on the floor with our hands, but the priestess said, 'Don't be so silly! It's the place where they come to do the gas. The board's loose. Dig an you value your lives, for ere sundown the dragon who guards this spoil will return in his fiery fury and make you his unresisting prey.'

So we dug - that is, we got the loose board up. And Alice threw up her arms and cried -

'See the rich treasure - the gold in thick layers, with silver and diamonds stuck in it!'

'Like currants in cake,' said H. O.

'It's a lovely treasure,' said Dicky yawning. 'Let's come back and carry it away another day.'

But Alice was kneeling by the hole.

'Let me feast my eyes on the golden splendour,' she said, 'hidden these long centuries from the human eye. Behold how the magic rod has led us to treasures more - Oswald, don't push so! - more bright than ever monarch - I say, there is something down there, really. I saw it shine!'

We thought she was kidding, but when she began to try to get into the hole, which was much too small, we saw she meant it, so I said, 'Let's have a squint,' and I looked, but I couldn't see anything, even when I lay down on my stomach. The others lay down on their stomachs too and tried to see, all but Noel, who stood and looked at us and said we were the great serpents come down to drink at the magic pool. He wanted to be the knight and slay the great serpents with his good sword - he even drew the umbrella ready - but Alice said, 'All right, we will in a minute. But now - I'm sure I saw it; do get a match, Noel, there's a dear.'

'What did you see?' asked Noel, beginning to go for the matches very slowly.

'Something bright, away in the corner under the board against the beam.'

'Perhaps it was a rat's eye,' Noel said, 'or a snake's,' and we did not put our heads quite so close to the hole till he came back with the matches.

Then I struck a match, and Alice cried, 'There it is!' And there it was, and it was a half-sovereign, partly dusty and partly bright. We think perhaps a mouse, disturbed by the carpets being taken up, may have brushed the dust of years from part of the half-sovereign with his tail. We can't imagine how it came there, only Dora thinks she remembers once when H. O. was very little Mother gave him some money to hold, and he dropped it, and it rolled all over the floor. So we think perhaps this was part of it. We were very glad. H. O. wanted to go out at once and buy a mask he had seen for fourpence. It had been a shilling mask, but now it was going very cheap because Guy Fawkes' Day was over, and it was a little cracked at the top. But Dora said, 'I don't know that it's our money. Let's wait and ask Father.'

But H. O. did not care about waiting, and I felt for him. Dora is rather like grown-ups in that way; she does not seem to understand that when you want a thing you do want it, and that you don't wish to wait, even a minute.

So we went and asked Albert-next-door's uncle. He was pegging away at one of the rotten novels he has to write to make his living, but he said we weren't interrupting him at all.

'My hero's folly has involved him in a difficulty,' he said. 'It is his own fault. I will leave him to meditate on the incredible fatuity - the hare-brained recklessness - which have brought him to this pass. It will be a lesson to him. I, meantime, will give myself unreservedly to the pleasures of your conversation.'

That's one thing I like Albert's uncle for. He always talks like a book, and yet you can always understand what he means. I think he is more like us, inside of his mind, than most grown-up people are. He can pretend beautifully. I never met anyone else so good at it, except our robber, and we began it, with him. But it was Albert's uncle who first taught us how to make people talk like books when you're playing things, and he made us learn to tell a story straight from the beginning, not starting in the middle like most people do. So now Oswald remembered what he had been told, as he generally does, and began at the beginning, but when he came to where Alice said she was the priestess, Albert's uncle said -

'Let the priestess herself set forth the tale in fitting speech.'

So Alice said, 'O high priest of the great idol, the humblest of thy slaves took the school umbrella for a divining-rod, and sang the song of inver - what's-it's-name?'

'Invocation perhaps?' said Albert's uncle. 'Yes; and then I went about and about and the others got tired, so the divining-rod fell on a certain spot, and I said, "Dig", and we dug - it was where the loose board is for the gas men - and then there really and truly was a half- sovereign lying under the boards, and here it is.'

Albert's uncle took it and looked at it.

'The great high priest will bite it to see if it's good,' he said, and he did. 'I congratulate you,' he went on; 'you are indeed among those favoured by the Immortals. First you find half-crowns in the garden, and now this. The high priest advises you to tell your Father, and ask if you may keep it. My hero has become penitent, but impatient. I must pull him out of this scrape. Ye have my leave to depart.'

Of course we know from Kipling that that means, 'You'd better bunk, and be sharp about it,' so we came away. I do like Albert's uncle.

I shall be like that when I'm a man. He gave us our Jungle books, and he is awfully clever, though he does have to write grown-up tales.

We told Father about it that night. He was very kind. He said we might certainly have the half-sovereign, and he hoped we should enjoy ourselves with our treasure-trove.

Then he said, 'Your dear Mother's Indian Uncle is coming to dinner here to-morrow night. So will you not drag the furniture about overhead, please, more than you're absolutely obliged; and H. O. might wear slippers or something. I can always distinguish the note of H. O.'s boots.'

We said we would be very quiet, and Father went on -

'This Indian Uncle is not used to children, and he is coming to talk business with me. It is really important that he should be quiet. Do you think, Dora, that perhaps bed at six for H. O. and Noel - '

But H. O. said, 'Father, I really and truly won't make a noise. I'll stand on my head all the evening sooner than disturb the Indian Uncle with my boots.'

And Alice said Noel never made a row anyhow. So Father laughed and said, 'All right.' And he said we might do as we liked with the half- sovereign. 'Only for goodness' sake don't try to go in for business with it,' he said. 'It's always a mistake to go into business with an insufficient capital.'

We talked it over all that evening, and we decided that as we were not to go into business with our half-sovereign it was no use not spending it at once, and so we might as well have a right royal feast. The next day we went out and bought the things. We got figs, and almonds and raisins, and a real raw rabbit, and Eliza promised to cook it for us if we would wait till tomorrow, because of the Indian Uncle coming to dinner. She was very busy cooking nice things for him to eat. We got the rabbit because we are so tired of beef and mutton, and Father hasn't a bill at the poultry shop. And we got some flowers to go on the dinner-table for Father's party. And we got hardbake and raspberry noyau and peppermint rock and oranges and a coconut, with other nice things. We put it all in the top long drawer. It is H. O.'s play drawer, and we made him turn his things out and put them in Father's old portmanteau. H. O. is getting old enough now to learn to be unselfish, and besides, his drawer wanted tidying very badly. Then we all vowed by the honour of the ancient House of Bastable that we would not touch any of the feast till Dora gave the word next day. And we gave H. O. some of the hardbake, to make it easier for him to keep his vow. The next day was the most rememorable day in all our lives, but we didn't know that then. But that is another story. I think that is such a useful way to know when you can't think how to end up a chapter. I learnt it from another writer named Kipling. I've mentioned him before, I believe, but he deserves it!