Scenes from chapter 3 that I promised last night. This is almost all the pipe I have to lay before I can let the story unfold.
ã€€ã€€ã€€Melisande left them at a turn off to a group of slate houses. “Your mother comes to town often,” said Stephanus. “Do you think it’s wise of her? We are different, you know.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”Not Mother,” said Errol. “She grew up here.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”I didn’t know that. Do you have grandparents in Hathersage, then?”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”Yes,” said Errol. “I’ve never met them. They never come to visit.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”They know about??”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”They know about everything,” said Errol. “That’s why it’s a problem. Here we are, Welkin’s.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€The front of the pet shop was a glass window and display. Inside among carpeted tubes and pads, puppies played with squeak toys, tails wagging, mute barking heard softly. Isis put a paw on the glass which made a spotted dog hunker back onto his hind legs and bark. Errol opened the door and a bell rang.
ã€€ã€€ã€€Several pet play pens, occupied by puppies, kittens, and ferrets dotted the floor. Other cats lounged on the tops of boxes. The shelves were lined with supplies. One part of the shop was devoted to small animals, one to fish, one to birds. The noise was a variety of chirps, barks and chitters. The air smell warm, like wood chips. In the middle of this, a rosy-cheeked woman sat behind a desk knitting what might be a scarf.
ã€€ã€€ã€€Isis launched herself from Errol’s shoulder and ran through a curtain at the back of the store. The woman behind the counter looked down at Errol. “Good afternoon,” she said. “Brought someone new today, I see.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€Errol bowed. “Mrs. Welkin, this is my cousin Stephanus Gale. You may have heard he and his sister have been staying with us.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”I wondered if you would ever bring him in. Stephanus, do you have a pet?”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”No!” Stephanus said. Then he realized that he had overreacted, that it was a perfectly innocent question. “Er–Isis is enough for both of us.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€Mrs. Welkin laughed. “She is quite a cat at that. Well, if you change your mind, we can certainly accommodate you. You look like a guinea pig man I think.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”Thank you, but no.” Stephanus didn’t think he’d better bring a normal animal into a house with demons in it.
ã€€ã€€ã€€”Is Amanda here yet?” Errol asked.
ã€€ã€€ã€€”She just arrived her not ten minutes ago. Why don’t you go into the storeroom and say hello? I’ll get Isis’ snacks.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”Thank you, I most certainly will.” Errol followed Isis through the curtain. Stephanus was lead down a dusty corridor lined with boxes. In front of him, he heard voices.
ã€€ã€€ã€€”That’s a good kitty!”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”I wish I had one like her!
ã€€ã€€ã€€They went through another curtain. There were three girls sitting on the floor in a circle, all wearing identical gray jumpers. One was thin, her red hair cut short. Sitting next to her was a tall one with long auburn hair partly covering her face. Completing the circle, Isis sitting in her lap, was a girl with brown hair and glasses. That girl was petting Isis under her chin, and Isis was purring her compliments.
ã€€ã€€ã€€”Left me for greener pastures, have you?” Errol asked Isis. “No wonder you were in favor of leaving Mistraldol and coming along.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€All three of the girls giggled. The brown haired girl kept stroking Isis. “This must be your cat.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”I’m afraid that she is mine. You will find her to be inconstant and fickle, rather like a cat should be, Miss??”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”Just call me Sara, all right?” She bit her lower lip. “Fickle?”
ã€€ã€€ã€€Errol made a small bow. “Errol Klarion. Um–fickle. Changes owners to suit her whim.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”Whim?” laughed the red-haired girl. “Errol, you are so funny!”
ã€€ã€€ã€€Errol grinned a little. “Whim. Completely by chance, without thinking?”
ã€€ã€€ã€€They laughed a little more. “That’s Errol?” said the girl with auburn hair.
ã€€ã€€ã€€”Sorry,” said Errol. “We seem to be speaking a different language. Isis, you have imposed on Amanda and her friends quite long enough.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”We don’t mind,” said Sara. “She’s cute.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€Errol addressed Amanda. “You’ve been telling your friends about me?”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”Mostly about Isis, but yes. Moira Stevens,” she said, indicating the auburn-haired girl. “Sara Wolf is the one that has stolen your cat.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”Amanda, this is my cousin Stephanus.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”Hello, Steve,” said Amanda.
ã€€ã€€ã€€”Stephanus,” Stephanus repeated, emphasizing every syllable.
ã€€ã€€ã€€”Stephanus, then. You Klarions are an odd bunch,” she said, rolling her eyes.
ã€€ã€€ã€€”I’m not a Klarion,” said Stephanus. “I am a Gale.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”I see,” said Amanda. “That makes all the difference.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€Isis rolled onto her back and Sara rubbed her tummy. “Who’s a good puss?” she asked. Isis purred like a motor.
ã€€ã€€ã€€”Would you like to sit down?” Moira asked Errol.
ã€€ã€€ã€€”I just wanted to say hello,” said Errol, “and introduce Stephanus. We’re on our way to Milo’s. It’s Christmas break for you soon, isn’t it?”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”In a fortnight.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”I wondered if you might like to come up to the house,” said Errol. “All of you, of course. I think Stephanus could do with some proper company.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€The three girls giggled. “I’ll ask my mother,” said Amanda. “Will you invite Milo?”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”Oh yes,” said Errol. “All his brothers too. We’ll have a holiday soiree.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”Soiree,” Moira repeated.
ã€€ã€€ã€€”A party,” Errol said. “My treat.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€Mrs. Welkin’s voice called them from the front of the store. Errol bowed at the girls. “Come, Isis.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€Isis gave Sara a nose kiss and padded to Errol’s feet, where she allowed herself to be picked up. As they headed back to the front of the store, Stephanus heard in a giggled voice, “I think Amanda fancies Errol!” The statement was followed by a giggled “Shut it!” As soon as Errol paid for the cat treats, they were back in the cold air.
ã€€ã€€ã€€”Was that wise, inviting them to the house?” Stephanus asked.
ã€€ã€€ã€€”Of course it was,” said Errol. “I’ve never had Amanda to one of our birthday parties, and her family has always been kind to Isis, so an invitation is past due. Besides, I think you could use company.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”Don’t worry about me,” said Stephanus. “I can certainly take care of myself!”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”I’ve never doubted that one bit,” said Errol. “Still, I think a man does better when he has someone else taking care of him as well. That’s what Father says at any rate.” They waited until an old man passed them on the sidewalk before Errol spoke again. “It’s always nice to go to the Hamwiches” he said. “We don’t have to pretend.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”I don’t care for them,” said Stephanus.
ã€€ã€€ã€€”I don’t think you care for anyone,” said Errol. “You have to admit, Milo is an excellent fellow.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”He is. I don’t like Edward much though.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€In the middle of the front yard of one of the stone houses was a mountain of boys. “Hello,” said Errol.
ã€€ã€€ã€€”Errol!” A tall teenager climbed out from the bottom, clutching a football. Two younger boys tried to stop him from getting up, a slightly pudgy one clinging to his leg, and another one trying to pull on his arm.
ã€€ã€€ã€€”Stay down, Peter!”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”Hello, Errol. Hello, Stephanus,” said the boy holding the leg. “Want to help us tackle Peter?”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”No, thanks, Milo,” said Errol. “Not today. Is your mum inside?”
ã€€ã€€ã€€Milo detached himself, while Peter dragged Edward around the yard. He tried to wipe mud off his pants, but instead smeared it onto his hands. “Your mum too. Mum’s made some excellent ginger bread.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”We should go inside,” said Stephanus.
ã€€ã€€ã€€Edward raced up breathlessly. “Come on, lads! Let’s go a game!” He hit Stephanus in the arm. Stephanus scowled. Peter put a large hand on Edward’s head and held him while the three boys went inside.
ã€€ã€€ã€€Milo took coats and scarves. Errol gave Isis a cat treat and she nestled among the coats on the bed in the spare room, napping. In the dining room, Aunt Melisande and Mrs. Hamwich were laughing. As they passed through the living room, Michael Hamwich, an intense second year student at the grammar school, glanced up from a book. Stephanus stopped and examined the title. “Do you really think Nostradamus could tell the future?” he asked.
ã€€ã€€ã€€”No,” said Michael. “His predictions are too broad to be accurate. Most people read what they want to into them.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”I agree,” said Stephanus. “I’m not certain there’s any real way to predict the future. I think that you can change your own future.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€Michael glanced up from the book. “That’s a very Western philosophy,” he said. “In the East, the philosophy is that you must live the life that you are destined to live, and there is very little you can do about it.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€Stephanus chewed on the idea. “What do you think?”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”I think a bit of both,” said Michael. Milo and Errol arrived with slices of gingerbread and hot tea. “I think that certain events are fated to happen, but that you can make choices that change other events. Or, you can choose all you want, but you might be doing exactly what you were fated to do anyway.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€Errol handed Stephanus a piece of gingerbread. “I think the latter. I agree with that one, Michael.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”I think you read too much, Michael,” joked Milo. “You should play more rugby.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”What I want to know,” said Michael, ignoring his brother, “is if you and Errol can teach me to predict the future.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€Stephanus shook his head. Errol shrugged. “Isis has never taught me, but I could ask her if it’s possible.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”Isn’t there some sort of rule about you two teaching other people magic?” said Milo.
ã€€ã€€ã€€”Well,” said Errol, “technically, it’s not a good idea. I bet Professor Borgia would, if you asked him, and if your parents paid for lessons. You do need some aptitude for it though, and it’s not all fun and games.”
ã€€ã€€ã€€”None of it is fun at all,” said Stephanus. “I don’t think I’d learn it if I didn’t have to.”