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Bedknob and Broomstick, Page 2

Mary Norton

  Paul made a little wriggling movement in his chair. "Now she's getting wicked," he whispered to Carey in a pleased voice.

  Carey drew away from him as if she had not heard. She looked worried. "What do you mean, Miss Price? You mean we mustn't tell anyone that—" She hesitated.

  "That you're a witch?" put in Paul.

  But Miss Price was still staring, as if she neither heard nor saw. "In just a minute I'll think of something," she said, as if to herself. "In just a minute—"

  Then Carey did something that Charles thought very brave. She got up from her chair and sat down beside Miss Price on the sofa.

  "Listen, Miss Price," she said. "We did try to help you when you hurt your ankle. There isn't any need to use any kind of nasty magic on us. If you want to stop us telling, you could do it in a nice kind of way."

  Miss Price looked at her. "How could I do it in a nice kind of way?" she asked, but she sounded more reasonable.

  "Well," said Carey, "you could give us something—something magic—and if we told anyone about you, we'd have to forfeit it. You know, like a game. Directly we told, the thing would stop being magic."

  "What sort of thing?" asked Miss Price, but as if the idea held possibilities.

  Charles leaned forward. "Yes," he put in, "a ring or something that we could twist and a slave comes. And, if we told about you, the slave wouldn't come anymore. Couldn't you do that?"

  Miss Price looked thoughtful. "I couldn't manage a slave," she said after a moment.

  "Well, something like that."

  Miss Price sat very quiet. She was thinking hard. "I know," she said after a while. Suddenly, she seemed quite nice and cheerful again. "There's something I've been wanting to try out. Mind you, I'm not sure that it will work. Has anybody got a ring on them?"

  Alas, none of them had. Paul felt in his pockets, just in case, but found nothing but the brass knob he had unscrewed from his bed that morning.

  "Well, anything. A bracelet would do. It should be something you can twist."

  But unfortunately, Carey could not produce a bracelet either. "I have one at home," she said, "but I only wear it on Sundays."

  "You can twist this," cried Paul suddenly, holding out the bed-knob. "That's just what it does. It twists and it twists and it twists. I twisted it off," he added rather unnecessarily.

  Miss Price took the bed-knob and held it thoughtfully between her clean, bony fingers.

  "Let me see..." she said slowly. Then suddenly she looked up, as if surprised. "Paul, I believe this is the best thing you could have given me." Paul squirmed, pleased but bashful. "Now, I could do a wonderful spell with this—but I must think it out very carefully. Now, be quiet, children, and let me think—so that I can get this right." Her fingers closed gently round the shining brass. "This should be very good indeed. Now, quiet, please!"

  The children sat like statues. Even Paul forgot to fidget. A bumblebee came in through the window and buzzed heavily about the room. Except for this, the silence was complete.

  After what seemed a long while, Miss Price opened her eyes. And then she sat up, blinking and smiling. "There you are, Paul," she said brightly, and handed him back the bed-knob.

  He took it reverently. "Is it done?" he asked in an awestricken voice. It looked just the same to him.

  "Yes, it's quite done," Miss Price told him. "And it's a very good spell indeed. This is something you'll enjoy. Only don't get yourselves into trouble."

  Carey and Charles were looking enviously at Paul.

  "What must we do with it?" asked Charles.

  "Just take it home and screw it back on the bed. But don't screw it right up. Screw it about halfway."

  "And then?"

  "And then?" Miss Price smiled. "Twist it a little and wish—and the bed will take you to wherever you want to go!"

  The children gazed unbelievingly at the gleaming ball in Paul's rather grubby fingers.

  "Really?" asked Carey with a little gasp.

  Miss Price was still smiling. She seemed very pleased with herself.

  "Well, try it."

  "Oh, Miss Price!" breathed Carey, still gazing at the knob. "Thank you."

  "Don't thank me," said Miss Price, taking up her knitting again. "Remember the conditions. One word about me and the spell is broken."

  "Oh, Miss Price!" said Carey again. She was quite overcome.

  "Well, now off you go. It's getting late. As I say, don't get yourselves into trouble and don't go gallivanting around all night. There should be moderation in all things—even in magic."

  3. A False Start

  At about ten o'clock next morning, the children were back again. Their faces were serious and their manner was uncertain.

  "Could I—" said Carey to the cheerful Agnes, "could we see Miss Price?" She gave a little swallow, as if she felt nervous.

  "Miss Price is engaged at the moment," replied Agnes. "Is there a message?"

  "Well—" Carey hesitated. How much did Agnes know? She looked around at the others. Charles stepped forward.

  "Could you just tell her," he said, "that it didn't work?"

  "It didn't work?" repeated Agnes.

  "Yes. Just say, 'It didn't work.'"

  "It didn't work," repeated Agnes to herself, as if memorizing the message. She disappeared down the passage, leaving the front door open. They heard her knock. Then, after a minute, Agnes returned.

  "Miss Price says will you step in."

  They were shown once more into the sitting room. Each chose a chair and sat on the edge of it.

  "I bet she'll be angry," whispered Paul, breaking the silence.

  "Shush," said Carey. She looked a little pale.

  Suddenly the door opened and Miss Price limped in. Her foot was bandaged, and she wore a carpet slipper, but she was able to walk without a stick. She looked round from face to face. "It didn't work?" she said slowly.

  "No," replied Carey, clasping her hands together in her lap.

  Miss Price sat down in the center of the sofa. They all stared at each other in silence.

  "Are you sure you did it right?"

  "Yes, just what you said. We half screwed it on, then turned it a little and wished."

  "And what happened?"

  "Nothing," said Carey. Paul's eyes, round with accusation, were fixed on Miss Price's face.

  "I can't understand it," said Miss Price after a moment. She thought awhile. "Have you got it with you?" she asked.

  Yes, Carey had it, in a checked sponge bag. Miss Price drew out the golden ball and gazed at it nonplussed.

  "Didn't the bed move at all?"

  "Only by Paul bouncing on it."

  "It's rusty here at the bottom," said Miss Price.

  "It was always like that," Carey told her.

  "Well, I don't know." Miss Price stood up, gingerly putting her strained foot to the floor. "I'll take it along and test it."

  She made a move toward the door.

  "Could we watch you?"

  Miss Price turned back slowly. The circle of eager eyes seemed to hold her. They saw her hesitate. "Please, Miss Price!" urged Carey.

  "No one has seen my workroom," said Miss Price. "Not even Agnes."

  Carey was going to say, "But we're in the secret," but she thought better of it and kept quite quiet. Their longing eyes spoke for all of them.

  "Well, I'll just send Agnes off for the groceries and then I'll see."

  She went out. And it seemed an eternity before she called them. Eagerly they ran out into the passage. Miss Price was putting on a white overall. In her hand was a key. They followed her down two or three steps into a short dark passage. They heard the key turn in a well-oiled lock. Miss Price went in first, then stood aside.

  "Quietly," she said, beckoning them in. "And careful what you touch."

  The room must at one time have been a larder. There were marble slabs and wooden shelves above the slabs. The first thing Carey noticed were the glass jars, each with its typewritten label. Miss Pri
ce, a spot of proud pink in each cheek, ran a hand along the rows.

  "Toads, hares' feet, bats' wings—oh, dear!" She picked up an empty jar to which a few damp balls still clung. "I'm out of newts' eyes!" She peered into the jar before she stood it back upon the shelf; then, taking up a pencil, she made a note on a memo pad that hung upon the wall. "They're almost impossible to get nowadays," she said with a sigh. "But we mustn't grumble. This is my little filing cabinet where I record results, successful—and unsuccessful, too, I'm afraid. My notebooks..."

  Carey, leaning forward, saw these were stout exercise books, neatly labeled.

  "Spells ... Charms ... Incantations," she read aloud.

  "And I don't suppose any of you know," said Miss Price brightly, "the difference between a spell and a charm."

  "I thought they were the same thing," said Charles.

  "A-ha," replied Miss Price darkly, but her face was alight with hidden knowledge. "I only wish a spell were as easy as a charm."

  She lifted a spotless piece of butter muslin, and the children peered, not without a shudder, at what appeared to be a greenish slab of meat. It lay symmetrically in a gleaming porcelain dish and smelled faintly of chemicals.

  "What is it?" asked Carey.

  Miss Price eyed the dish dubiously. "It's poisoned dragon's liver," she said uncertainly.

  "Oh," said Carey politely.

  Paul pushed up close. "Did you poison the dragon, Miss Price? Or just the liver?" he added.

  "Well," admitted the truthful Miss Price, "as a matter of fact, it came ready prepared. It's part of the equipment."

  "It all looks very hygienic," ventured Carey timidly.

  "My dear Carey," said Miss Price reprovingly, "we have progressed a little since the Middle Ages. Method and prophylactics have revolutionized modern witchcraft."

  Carey felt Miss Price was quoting from a book, and she longed to know a little more. "Could I just see Lesson I?" she asked.

  Miss Price glanced quickly at a pile of folders on an upper shelf, and then she shook her head. "I'm sorry, Carey. This course is absolutely confidential. 'Any infringement of this regulation,'" she quoted, "'entails a fine of not less than two hundred pounds and condemns the offender to chronic, progressively recurring, attacks of Cosmick Creepus.'"

  Paul looked pensive. "It's cheaper to spit in a bus," he announced, after some seconds of silent thought.

  Gradually, the children discovered other treasures: a chart on which the signs of the zodiac were nicely touched up by Miss Price in watercolor; a sheep's skull; a chocolate box full of dried mice; herbs in bunches; a pot of growing hemlock and one of witch's bane; a small stuffed alligator, which hung by two wires from the ceiling.

  "What are alligators used for, Miss Price?" asked Paul.

  Again Miss Price's long training in truthfulness overcame her longing to impress. "Nothing much," she said. "They're out of date now. I like to have it there for the look of it."

  "It does look nice," Paul agreed rather envi ously. He stuck his hands in his pockets. "I had a dead hen once," he added carelessly.

  But Miss Price did not hear him. She was arranging three hazel twigs on a shelf in the form of a triangle. In the center of this, she set the bed-knob.

  "Now pass me that red notebook, just by your hand, Carey."

  "The one marked 'Spells, Elementary'?"

  "No, dear. The one marked 'Spells, Advanced, Various.' Really, Carey," Miss Price exclaimed, as Carey passed her a book, "can't you read? This is 'Six Easy Curses for Beginners'..."

  "Oh, I'm sorry," cried Carey quickly, and looked again. "This is it, I think."

  Miss Price took the book. She put on her spectacles and spent some time gazing at the open page. Picking up a pencil, she scribbled a few figures on a piece of shelf paper. She stared at these, and then she rubbed them out with the other end of the pencil.

  "Miss Price—" began Paul.

  "Don't interrupt me," murmured Miss Price. "Hellebore, henbane, aconite ... glowworm fire and firefly light ... Better pull down the shades, Carey."

  "The shades, Miss Price?"

  "Yes, over the window. Or we shan't be able to see this experiment."

  Carey pulled down the shades and adjusted them. As the room became dark, Miss Price exclaimed, "Now, isn't that pretty!" She sounded surprised and delighted. The children crowded round her and saw that the bed-knob glowed with a gentle light—pale as early dawn. As they watched, Miss Price twisted the knob a little, and the pale light turned to rose.

  "There, you see!" Miss Price said triumphantly. "What's wrong with that, I'd like to know? Pull up the blinds again, Carey."

  Carey rolled up the blinds and hooked the oilcloth on its little hook. Miss Price slipped an elastic band round the three hazel twigs and tidied up the notebooks.

  "Come along," she said cheerfully, opening the door. "The spell works perfectly. Better than I hoped. I can't imagine where you went wrong."

  They followed Miss Price up the stairs, down the passage, and out through the open door into the garden, where the air was sweet with the smell of sun-warmed earth. Butterflies balanced precariously on the spears of lavender, and bumblebees hung in the foxglove bells. A milkman's cart stopped at the gate. There was a clang of bottles.

  "Thank you ever so much," said Carey. "We'll try it again this evening. I did just what you said. I didn't screw it tight at all. I—"

  "You?" said Miss Price. "You did it, Carey?"

  "Yes. I did it myself. I was very careful. I—"

  "But, Carey," said Miss Price, "I gave the spell to Paul."

  "You mean Paul should've—?"

  "Of course. Paul should have done it. No wonder it didn't work."

  Slowly, wonderingly, a grin of ecstasy began to stretch itself across Paul's face. His eyes gleamed moistly with an almost holy joy.

  Carey and Charles looked at him as though they had never seen him before.

  "Well?" said Miss Price rather sharply.

  Charles found his voice. "He's sort of young," he pointed out, "for so much responsibility."

  But Miss Price was firm. "The younger the better, as I know to my cost. Now run along, children." She turned away, but almost immediately she turned back again, lowering her voice. "Oh, by the way, I meant to tell you something else. You know I said the spell was better than I hoped. Well, if you twist it one way, the bed will take you where you want, in the present. Twist it the other way and the bed will take you back into the past."

  "Oh, Miss Price!" exclaimed Carey.

  "What about the future?" asked Charles.

  Miss Price looked at him as the bus conductor looks when you ask for a ticket to a place off the bus route. Charles blushed and churned up the gravel path with the toe of his shoe.

  "Now, remember what I said," went on Miss Price. "Have a good time, keep to the rules, and allow for the bed."

  She turned to the milkman, who had been waiting patiently by the step. "Half a pint, please, Mr. Bisselthwaite, and my butter."

  4. The Preliminary Canter

  It was hard to get through the rest of the day, but evening came at last; by the time it was Paul's bedtime, anticipation had made them tired and excitement had grown stale.

  "Look here, Paul," said Carey suddenly, as Paul was brushing his teeth. "You wouldn't go and do it by yourself. You'll lie still till Charles and I come to bed, won't you?"

  Paul looked at her over the slowly revolving brush.

  "If you went off on that bed by yourself," continued Carey, "and it went wrong, no one could save you. You might get stuck in the past or anything."

  Paul spat into the hole in the basin. He watched the hole, and then, carefully, he spat again. He felt aggrieved; from the moment he had screwed on the bed-knob, after getting back from Miss Price's, Carey and Charles had not let him out of their sight for an instant. It was his bed after all, and, what was more, his bed-knob. They might have let him have a trial run, just to the bottom of the garden, say, and back. He hadn't want
ed to go far, but he had wanted to know if it really worked.

  "You see, Paul," went on Carey, "suppose Elizabeth came upstairs with your milk, and the bed was gone. What then? We've got to be very careful. It may seem deceitful, but we did promise Miss Price. You can't go tearing about on the bed in broad daylight, and things like that."

  Paul rinsed his mouth and swallowed the water, as was his custom.

  "Do you see, Paul? We've got to wait until they're all in bed. Come here, and I'll comb your hair while it's wet."

  They followed him into his bedroom. They sat on the bed. They all looked at the bed-knob, just above Paul's right ear; it looked just like the other three.

  "I bet it doesn't work," said Charles. "I bet you anything."

  "Shush," said Carey, as Elizabeth came in with their milk on a tray.

  "Don't spill on the sheet, now," she said, panting, "and bring the tray down, Miss Carey, please; it's my evening out."

  "Your evening out?" repeated Carey. She began to smile.

  "Nothing funny in that, I hope," said Elizabeth tartly. "I've earned it. And no tricks, now; your aunt's not herself. She's gone to bed."

  "Gone to bed?" echoed Carey again. She caught back the rest of her smile just in time. Elizabeth looked at her curiously.

  "No tricks, now," she repeated. "There's something funny about you children. Butter wouldn't melt in your mouths, but I'm not so sure."

  They heard her sigh on the landing. They heard her turn the corner. Then they kicked off their slippers and danced. Noiselessly, tensely, breathlessly, they gyrated and whirled and leaped; then, panting, they fell onto Paul's bed.

  "Where shall we go?" whispered Carey, her eyes shining.

  "Let's try a South Sea island," said Charles.

  Paul bit deeply into his bread. His cheeks bulged and his jaws moved slowly. He was the calmest of the three.

  "The Rocky Mountains," suggested Carey.

  "The South Pole," said Charles.

  "The Pyramids."


  "The moon."

  "Where would you like to go, Paul?" asked Carey suddenly. Happiness had made her unselfish.