Read Stopping for a Spell Online
Authors: Diana Wynne Jones
After nearly an hour, when Pip was near despair, we ended up roaring through Palham, which is a village about three miles out of town. There was a Tea Shoppe with striped umbrellas. Our spirit was broken by then. We didn't even mention it. But Angus Flint stopped with a screech of brakes. “This looks as if it might do,” he said.
We all piled out and sat under an umbrella.
“Well, what will you have?” said Angus Flint.
Deep breaths were drawn, and cream teas for five were ordered. We all waited, looking forward to cream and cakes. We felt we really deserved our teas.
Angus Flint said, “I've applied for a job in your town, Margaret. The interview's tomorrow. Your husband was good enough to say that I could make my home with you. Don't you think that's a good idea?”
We stared. Had Dad said that?
“There's Cora,” Mum said. “We've no room.”
“That's no problem,” Angus Flint said. “You can put the two girls in together.”
“No!” I said. If you knew Coraâ!
“I'd pay,” Angus Flint said, joking and trying to be nice. “A nominal sumâa pound a month, say?”
Mum drew herself up resolutely, to my great relief. “No, Angus. It's absolutely out of the question. You'll have to go as soon as Cora comes back.”
Angus Flint did not answer. Instead he bounced jovially to his feet. “I have to go and see someone for a moment,” he said. “I shan't be long. Don't wait for me.” And he was back in his car and driving away before any of us could move.
They brought us five cream teas almost at once. It was a perfect revenge.
Mum could not believe that Angus Flint was not coming back. We ate our cream teas. After a while Mum let the boys eat Angus's cream tea, too, and said we could order another when he came back. When they came with the bill, she said we were expecting a friend, who would pay.
Half an hour later they began to look at us oddly.
Half an hour after that they took the umbrellas out of the tables and stood the chairs on them suggestively.
A short while after that they came and asked to be paid. They made it quite clear that they knew we were trying to cheat them. They refused Mum's desperately offered check. We had to go through all our pockets and shake Mum's bag out on the table, and even then we were two pennies short. They forgave us that, but grimly. They looked after us unlovingly as we went. Mum nearly sank under the embarrassment.
Then we had to walk home. It was still hot. Tony hates walking, and he whined. Pip got a blister and whined, too. Mum snarled, and I snapped. We were all in the worst tempers of our lives by the time we plunged up the garden path and burst into the house. We knew that Angus Flint would be standing there, upside down on the hall carpet, to meet us.
“And this time I shan't care that it's his socks I'm talking to!” I said.
But the person standing in the hall was Dad. He was the right way up, of course, and wondering where we'd all got to. Mum went for him with both fangs out. “Have you had the nerve to tell Angus Flint that he could live with us? If soâ” I felt quite sorry for my father. He admitted that in the heat of the first reunion, he might have said some such thing, butâOh, boy! Never have I heard my mother give tongue the way she did then. I couldn't do it half so well. Even Cora couldn't, the time she acted King Herod at school.
After that, for a beautiful, peaceful half evening, we thought Angus Flint had gone for good. We kept the window shut, played the piano, watched the things we wanted on the telly, and cheered Dad up by playing cards with him. We were all thoroughly happy when Angus Flint came back again. He knew we were likely to complain, I suppose, so he brought a girlfriend home with him to make sure we couldn't go for him.
The girlfriend was a complete stranger to us. Handpicked for idiocy, with glasses and a giggle.
“Teach her to play cards,” said Angus Flint. “She's quite clever really.”
She wasn't. But neither was Angus Flint when it came to cards. Have you ever played cards with somebody who thinks for twenty minutes before he puts a card down and then puts down exactly the wrong one? He played the girl's hand, too, though she was slightly better at it than he was. We went to bed after the first game. But Angus Flint didn't take the girlfriend home until well after midnight. I know, because I heard Mum let fly again when he did.
Angus Flint came back at three and woke me up hammering at the front door.
When I let him in, he said, “Didn't you hear me knocking? I might have caught my death.”
I said, “I wish you had!” and escaped into the sitting room before he could pick me up by my hair.
Menace was there. He crawled nervously out from under the piano to be stroked.
“Menace,” I said. “Where's your spirit? Can't you bite Angus Flint?”
Then I thought that I didn't dare bite Angus Flint either, and got so miserable that I went wandering around the room. I patted the uncomfortable chairs and the poor ugly tables and stroked the piano.
“Chairs,” I said, “stand up for yourselves! He insults you all the time. Tables,” I said, “he said you ought to be burned! Piano, he told Mum to sell you. Do something, all of you! Furniture of the world, unite!” I made them a very stirring speech, all about the rights of oppressed furniture, and it made me feel much better. Not that I thought it would do any good. But I thought it was a very good idea.
Next morning Angus Flint ate my breakfast as usual, and Mum and Dad went out together to make friends again. Leaving us alone with Angus Flint, yet again!
At least there was something “very profound” on the telly that afternoon. First I ever knew that racehorses were profound, but it meant twenty minutes' peace. I did some practice. The piano sounded lovely. My elfin elephants shrank in size and were beginning to sound like mere hobnailed goblins when the door was torn open. I knew it was Angus Flint and dived for safety.
He was in a very bad temper. I think his horse lost. As I crawled out from under the piano, he sat down at it, grumbling, and started to hammer out a sonata. I was surprised to see that he knew how to play. But he played very badly. Menace began to whine under his cupboard.
Angus Flint thumped both hands down with a jangle. “This is a horrible piano,” he said. “It's got a terrible tone, and it needs tuning.”
Rotten slander. I don't blame the piano for getting annoyed. Its curved black rear shuddered. One of its stumpy front legs pawed the ground. Then its lid shut with a clap on Angus Flint's fingers. Now I know why Mum got it for only Â£10. Angus Flint dragged his fingers free with such a yell that Pip and Tony came to see what was happening.
By the time they got there, both the new ugly little tables were stealing toward Angus Flint for a surprise attack, each with its three legs twinkling cautiously over the carpet. Angus Flint saw one out of the corner of his eye and turned to Stare at it. It stood where it was, looking innocent. But the piano stool spun itself around and tipped him on the floor. I think that was very loyal of the stool, because it must have been the one piece of furniture Angus Flint had not insulted. And while Angus Flint was sprawling on the floor, the best chair trundled up and did its best to run him over. He scrambled out of its way with a howl. And the nearest bookcase promptly showered him with books. While he was trying to get up, the piano lowered its music stand and charged.
I don't blame Angus Flint for being terrified. The piano was gnashing its keys at him and kicking out with its pedals and snorting through the holes in its music stand. And it went galloping around the room after Angus Flint on its three brass casters like a mad black bull. The rest of the furniture kept blundering across his path. Tables knocked him this way and that, and chairs herded him into huddles of other chairs. But they always left him a free way to run when the piano charged, so that he had a thoroughly frightening time. They never once tried to hurt the three of us.
I stuffed myself into a corner and admired. That piano was an expert. It would come thundering down on Angus Flint. When he tore off frantically sideways, it stopped short and banged its lid down within inches of his trouser seat. It could turn in its own length and be after him again before you could believe it to be possible. Angus Flint dashed around and around the sitting room, and the piano thundered after him, and when the boys had to leave the doorway, one of the new bookcases dodged over and stood across it, so that Angus Flint was utterly trapped.
“Do something, can't you!” he kept howling at me, and I only laughed.
The reason the boys had to leave the doorway was that the dining room table had heard the fun going on and wanted to join in. The trouble was, both its rickety wings were spread out and it was too wide to get through the dining room door. It was in the doorway, clattering its feet and banging furiously for help. Tony and Pip took pity on it and took its wings down. It then scuttled across the hall, nudged aside the bookcase, and dived into the sitting room after Angus Flint, flapping both wings like a great angry bird. And it wasn't going to play cat and mouse like the piano. It was out to get Angus Flint. He had some very narrow escapes and howled louder than ever.
I thought the time had come to widen the scene a little. I made my way around the walls, with tables and chairs trundling this way and that all around me, and opened the window.