The Scarecrow and His ServantPhilip Pullman
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Additional Acclaim for
THE SCARECROW AND HIS SERVANT
“Witty, affectionate, and fun.”
“The book is a perfectly made gem, full of fun, fireworks, and wit. We continue to be lucky to have Philip Pullman writing for us.”
“Philip Pullman, now acknowledged as one of the greatest children's authors of our time, is also one of the funniest and most accessible.”
“[Pullman's] touch is so sure, his plotting so flawless, that you know a new Pullman means a rare treat. The Scarecrow and His Servant does not disappoint.”
“A picaresque adventure, with a dash of Dr. Dolittle, a touch of The Wizard of Oz, and a hefty dose of Cervantes…. A tale of great charm and wit.”
“Wonderful banter between clueless master and wily, kindhearted servant brings joy to the ear…. Give your little reader a copy or read a chapter aloud at bedtime—just be prepared for the inevitable clamor for more Scarecrow when it's time to turn out the lights.”
Also by PHILIP PULLMAN
* * *
HIS DARK MATERIALS
The Golden Compass
The Subtle Knife
The Amber Spyglass
THE SALLY LOCKHART MYSTERIES
The Ruby in the Smoke
The Shadow in the North
The Tiger in the Well
The Tin Princess
The Broken Bridge
The White Mercedes
I Was a Rat!
Puss in Boots
THE SCARECROW AND HIS SERVANT
2. The Brigands
3. A Story by the Fireside
4. The Traveling Players
5. Scarecrow for Hire
6. A Serenade
7. The Misty Cart
8. The Pride of the Regiment
9. The Battle
11. An Invitation
12. The Grand Congress
13. The Assizes
14. A Surprise Witness
15. A Medical Mystery
16. Spring Valley
One day old Mr. Pandolfo, who hadn't been feeling at all well, decided that it was time to make a scarecrow. The birds had been very troublesome. Come to that, his rheumatism had been troublesome, and the soldiers had been troublesome, and the weather had been troublesome, and his cousins had been troublesome. It was all getting a bit too much for him. Even his old pet raven had flown away.
He couldn't do anything about his rheumatism, or the soldiers, or the weather, or his cousins, who were the biggest problem of all. There was a whole family of them, the Buffalonis, and they wanted to get hold of his land and divert all the springs and streams, and drain all the wells, and put up a factory to make weedkiller and rat poison and insecticide.
All those troubles were too big for old Mr. Pandolfo to manage, but he thought he could do something about the birds, at least. So he put together a fine-looking scarecrow, with a big solid turnip for a head and a sturdy broomstick for a backbone, and dressed him in his old tweed suit, and stuffed him tightly with straw. Then he tucked a short letter inside him, wrapped in oilskin for safety, to show where he belonged.
“There you are,” he said. “Now you remember what your job is, and remember where you belong. Be courteous, and be brave, and be honorable, and be kind. And the best of blooming luck.”
He stuck the scarecrow into the middle of the wheat field and went home to lie down because he wasn't feeling well at all.
That night another farmer came along and stole the scarecrow, being too lazy to make one himself. And the next night someone else came along and stole him again.
So little by little the scarecrow moved away from the place where he was made, and he got more and more tattered and torn, and finally he didn't look nearly as smart as he had when Mr. Pandolfo put him together. He stood in the middle of a muddy field, and he stayed there.
But one night there was a thunderstorm. It was a very violent one, and everyone in the district shivered and trembled and jumped as the thunder went off like cannon fire and the lightning lashed down like whips. The scarecrow stood there in the wind and the rain, taking no notice.
And so he might have stayed; but then there came one of those million-to-one chances that are like winning the lottery. All his molecules and atoms and elementary particles and whatnot were lined up in exactly the right way to switch on when the lightning struck him, which it did at two in the morning, fizzing its way through his turnip and down his broomstick and into the mud.
The Scarecrow blinked with surprise and looked all around. There wasn't much to see except a field of mud, and not much light to see it by except the flashes of lightning.
Still, there wasn't a bird in sight. “Excellent,” said the Scarecrow. On the same night a small boy called Jack happened to be sheltering in a barn not far away. The thunder was so loud that it woke him out of his sleep with a jump. At first he thought it was cannon fire, and he sat up terrified with his eyes wide open. He could think of nothing worse than soldiers and guns; if it weren't for the soldiers, he'd still have a family and a home and a bed to sleep in.
But as he sat there with his heart thumping, he heard the downpour of the rain on the roof and realized that the bang had only been thunder and not gunfire. He gave a sigh of relief and lay down again, shivering and sneezing and turning over and over in the hay trying to get warm, until finally he fell asleep.
By the morning the storm had cleared away, and the sky was a bright cold blue. Jack woke up again feeling colder than ever, and hungry, too. But he knew how to look for food, and before long he'd gathered up some grains of wheat and a couple of turnip tops and a limp carrot, and he sat down in the doorway of the barn in the sunlight to eat them.
Could be worse, he said to himself.
He ate very slowly to make it last, and then he just sat there, getting warm. Someone would come along soon to chase him away, but for the moment he was safe.
Then he heard a voice calling from across the fields. Jack was curious, so he stood up and shaded his eyes to look. The shouting came from somewhere in the field beyond the road, and since he had nothing else to do, he stood up and walked along toward it.
The shouts came from a scarecrow, in the middle of the muddiest field in sight, and he was waving his arms wildly and yelling at the top of his voice and leaning over at a crazy angle.
“Help!” he was shouting. “Come and help me!”
I think I'm going mad, said Jack to himself. Still, look at that poor old thing—I'll go and help him, anyway. He looks madder than I feel.
So he stepped onto the muddy field and struggled out to the middle, where the scarecrow was waiting.
To tell the truth, Jack felt a little nervous, because it isn't every day you find a scarecrow talking to you.
“Now tell me, young man,” said the scarecrow, as soon as Jack was close enough to hear, “are there any birds around? Any crows, for example? I can't see behind me. Are they hiding?”
His voice was rich and sonorous. His head was made of a great knobbly turnip, with a broad crack for a mouth and a long thin sprout for a
nose and two bright little stones for eyes. He had a tattered straw hat, now badly singed, a soggy woolen scarf, and an old tweed jacket full of holes, and his rake-handle arms had gloves stuffed with straw on the ends of them, one glove leather and the other wool. He also had a pair of threadbare trousers, but since he only had one leg, the empty trouser leg trailed down beside him. Everything was the color of mud. Jack scratched his head and looked all around.
“No,” he said, “no crows anywhere. No birds at all.”
“That's a good job done,” said the Scarecrow. “Now I want to move on, but I need another leg. If you go and find me a leg, I shall be very obliged. Just like this one, only the opposite,” he added, lifting his trouser leg daintily to show a stout stick set firmly in the earth.
“All right,” said Jack. “I can do that.”
So he set off toward the wood at the edge of the field and clambered through the undergrowth looking for the right sort of stick. He found one before long and took it back to the Scarecrow.
“Let me see,” said the Scarecrow. “Hold it up beside me. That's it. Now slide it up inside the leg of my trousers.”
The end of the stick was broken and splintered, and it wasn't easy to push it up the soggy, muddy trouser leg, but Jack finally got it all the way up, and then he jumped, because he felt it twitch in his hand.
He let go, and the new leg swung itself down beside the other. But as soon as the Scarecrow tried to move, the new foot became stuck just like the first one. The harder he struggled, the deeper he sank.
Finally, he stopped and looked at Jack. It was astonishing how much expression he could manage with his gash mouth and stone eyes.
“Young man,” he said, “I have a proposition to make. Here you are, an honest and willing youth, and here am I, a Scarecrow of enterprise and talent. What would you say if I offered you the position of my personal servant?”
“What would my duties be?” said Jack.
“To accompany me throughout the world, to fetch and carry, to wash, cook, and attend to my needs. In return, I have nothing to offer but excitement and glory. We might sometimes go hungry, but we shall never want for adventure. Well, my boy? What do you say?”
“I'll do it,” said Jack. “I've got nothing else to do except starve, and nowhere to live except ditches and empty barns. So I might as well have a job, and thank you, Mr. Scarecrow, I'll take it.”
The Scarecrow extended his hand, and Jack shook it warmly.
“Your first job is to get me out of this mud,” said the Scarecrow.
So Jack heaved the Scarecrow's two legs out of the mud and carried him to the road. He hardly weighed anything at all.
“Which way shall we go?” said Jack.
They looked both ways. In one direction there was a forest, and in the other there was a line of hills. There was no one in sight.
“That way!” said the Scarecrow, pointing to the hills.
So they set off, with the sun on their backs and the green hills ahead.
In a farmhouse not far behind them, a lawyer was explaining something to a farmer.
“My name is Cercorelli,” he said, “and I specialize in finding things for my employers, the distinguished and highly respectful Buffaloni Corporation, of Bella Fontana.”
The farmer gasped. He was a stout, red-faced, idle character, and he was afraid of this lean and silky lawyer, who was dressed entirely in black.
“Oh! The Buffalonis! Yes, indeed, Mr. Cercorelli,” he said. “What can I do to help? Anything! Just name it!”
“It's a small matter,” said the lawyer, “but one of sentimental importance to my clients. It concerns a scarecrow. It was made by a distant cousin of the Chairman of the Corporation, and it seems to have vanished from its place of origin. My client Mr. Luigi Buffaloni is a very warmhearted and family-minded man, and he would like to restore the scarecrow to its original home, in memory of his dear cousin who made it.”
The lawyer looked through some papers, and the farmer ran his finger around the inside of his shirt collar and gulped.
“Well, I, um …,” he said faintly.
“One might almost think that scarecrows had the power of movement!” said Mr. Cercorelli, smiling in a sinister way. “This fellow has been wandering. I've traced him through several farms already, and now I discover that he made his way to yours.”
“I—er—I think I know the scarecrow you mention,” said the farmer. “I st— I bought him from someone else, who didn't need him no more.”
“Oh, good. May we go and see if he is the right one?”
“Well, of course, I'd do anything for the Buffalonis, important people, wouldn't want to upset them, but … well, he's gone.”
“Gone—again?” said the lawyer, narrowing his eyes.
“I went out this morning, to—er—to tidy him up a bit, and he wasn't there. Mind you, there was a big storm last night. He might have blown away.”
“Oh, dear. That is very unfortunate. Mr. Buffaloni takes a dim view of people who do not look after his property. I think I can say that his degree of disappointment will be considerable.”
The farmer was quaking with alarm.
“If I ever hear anything about the scarecrow,” he said, “anything at all, I'll report to you at once.”
“I think that would be very wise,” said Mr. Cercorelli. “Here is my card. Now show me the field from which the scarecrow vanished.”
The Scarecrow and his servant set a good pace as they walked along. On the way, they passed a field of cabbages, in the middle of which stood another scarecrow, but he was a mournful-looking fellow whose arms dropped feebly at his side.
“Good day to you, sir!” called the Scarecrow, waving to him cheerfully.
But the scarecrow in the field took no notice.
“You see,” the Scarecrow explained to Jack, “there's a man whose mind is on his job. He's concentrating hard. Quite right.”
“Nice-looking cabbages,” said Jack.
He left the cabbages reluctantly and ran to catch up with the Scarecrow, who was striding ahead like a champion. Presently they found the road getting steeper and the fields getting rockier, and finally there were no fields at all and the road was only a track. It was very hot.
“Unless we find something to eat and drink very soon,” said Jack, “I'm going to snuff it.”
“Oh, we'll find something,” said the Scarecrow, patting him on the shoulder. “I have every confidence in you. Besides, we understand springs and streams and wells where I come from. Fountains, too. You take it from me, we'll find a spring before long.”
They walked on, and the Scarecrow pointed out curious features of geology, such as a rock that looked like a pigeon, and botany, such as a bush with a robin's nest in it, and entomology, such as a beetle that was as black as a crow.
“You know a lot about birds, master,” said Jack.
“I've made them my lifetime study, my boy. I do believe I could scare any bird that ever lived.”
“I bet you could. Oh! Listen! What's that?”
It was the sound of someone crying, and it came from around the corner. Jack and the Scarecrow hurried on and found an old woman sitting at a crossroads, with a basket of provisions all scattered on the ground. She was weeping and wailing at the top of her voice.
“Madam!” the Scarecrow said, raising his straw hat very politely. “What wicked bird has done this to you?”
The old woman looked up and gave a great gulp of astonishment. Her mouth opened and shut several times, but not a sound came out. Finally, she struggled to her feet and curtsied nervously.
“It was the brigands,” she said, “begging your pardon, my lord. There's a gang of terrible brigands living in these hills, robbing travelers and making life a misery for us poor people, and they just came galloping past and knocked me over and rode away laughing, the cowardly rogues.”
The Scarecrow was amazed.
you mean to say that this was the work of human beings?” he said.
“Indeed, yes, your honor,” said the old woman.
“Jack, my boy—tell me it's not so—”
Jack was gathering up the things that had fallen out of her basket: apples, carrots, a lump of cheese, a loaf of bread. It was very difficult to do it without dribbling.
“I'm afraid it is, master,” said Jack. “There's a lot of wicked people about. Tell you what—let's turn around and go the other way.”
“Not a bit of it!” said the Scarecrow sternly. “We're going to teach these villains a lesson. How dare they treat a lady in this disgraceful way? Here, madam—take my arm.”
He was so courteous to the old woman, and his manner was so graceful, that she very soon forgot his knobbly turnip face and his rough wooden arms and talked to him as if he were a proper gentleman.
“Yes, sir—ever since the wars began, first the soldiers came through and took everything, and then the brigands came along, robbing and murdering and taking what they wanted. And they say the chief brigand is related to the Buffalonis, so they've got political protection, too. We don't know where to turn!”
“Buffalonis, you say? I don't like the sound of them. What are they?”
“A very powerful family, sir. We don't dare cross the Buffalonis.”
“Well, fear no more,” said the Scarecrow resolutely. “We shall scare the brigands away, and they'll never trouble you again.”
“Nice-looking apples,” said Jack hopefully, handing the old woman her basket.
“Ooh, they are,” she said.
“Tasty-looking bread, too.”
“Yes, it is,” said the old woman, tucking it firmly under her arm.
“Yes, I like a piece of cheese. Goes down a treat with a drop of beer.”
“You haven't got any beer, have you?” said Jack, looking all around.