Read Stopping for a Spell Online

Authors: Diana Wynne Jones

Stopping for a Spell (3 page)

Chair Person held up the pepper mill and shook it. It was empty. So he put it down at last and picked up the spoon. He did seem to know how to eat, but he did it very badly, snuffling and snorting, with ends dangling out of his mouth. Gray juice dripped through his smashed-hedgehog beard and ran down his striped front. But the pepper did not seem to worry him at all. Simon was thinking that maybe Chair Person did not have taste buds like other people when the back door opened and Mum and Dad came in.

“What happened to the rest of the sundial?” said Mum. “I leave you alone just for—” She saw Chair Person and stared.

“What have you kids done to those apples?” Dad began. Then he saw Chair Person and stared, too.


A Busy Night

Both Simon and Marcia had had a sort of hope that Chair Person would vanish when Mum and Dad came home, or at least turn back into an armchair. But nothing of the sort happened. Chair Person stood up and bowed.

“Er, hn hm,” he said. “I am Chair Person. Good snuffle evening.”

Mum's eyes darted to the ink blot on Chair Person's waving sleeve, then to the coffee stain, and then on to the damp smear on his front. She turned and dashed away into the garden.

Chair Person's arms waved like someone conducting an orchestra. “I am the one causing you all this trouble with your apples,” he said, in his most crawlingly humble way. “You are so kind to—hn hm—forgive me so quickly.”

Dad clearly could not think what to say. After gulping a little, he said in a social sort of way, “Staying in the neighborhood, are you?”

Here Mum came dashing back indoors. “The old chair's not in the shed anymore,” she said. “Do you think he

Chair Person turned to her. His arms waved as if he were a conductor expecting Mum to start singing. “Your—hn hm—husband has just made me a very kind offer,” he said. “I shall be delighted to stay in this house.”

“I—” Dad began.

“Er, hn hm, needless to say snuffle,” said Chair Person, “I shall not cause you more trouble than I have to. Nothing more than—hn hm—a good bed and a television set in my room.”

“Oh,” said Mum. It was clear she could not think what to say either. “Well, er, I see you've had some supper—”

“Er, hn hm, most kind,” said Chair Person. “I would love to have some supper as soon as possible. In the meantime, a snuffle flask of wine would be most—hn hm—welcome. I appear to have a raging thirst.”

Marcia and Simon were not surprised Chair Person was thirsty after all that pepper. They got him a carton of orange juice and a jug of water before they all hurried away to put a camp bed in Simon's room and make Marcia's bedroom ready for Chair Person. Marcia could see that Mum and Dad both had the same kind of dazed, guilty feelings about Chair Person that she had. Neither of them quite believed he was really their old armchair, but Mum put clean sheets on the bed and Dad carried the television up to Marcia's room. Chair Person seemed to get people that way.

When they came downstairs, the fridge door was open and the table was covered with empty orange juice cartons.

“I—hn hm—appear to have drunk all your orange juice,” Chair Person said. “But I would be willing to drink lemon squash instead. I happen snuffle to know that it has added glucose, which puts pep into the poorest parts.”

He sat at the table and slurped lemon squash while Marcia helped Mum get supper. Simon went to look for Dad, who was hiding behind a newspaper in the living room. “Did you buy a new armchair?” Simon asked.

“Yes,” said Dad. “Hush. That thing in the kitchen might get jealous.”

“So you
believe he is the armchair!” Simon said.

“I don't
!” Dad groaned.

“I think he is,” Simon said. “I'm quite sorry for him. It must be hard to suddenly start being a person. I expect he'll learn to speak and breathe and behave like a real person quite soon.”

“I hope you're right,” said Dad. “If he just learns to stop waving his arms in that spooky way, I shall be quite pleased.”

For supper, Chair Person ate five pizzas and six helpings of chips. In between, he waved his arms and explained, “I—hn hm—have a large appetite for my size, though I do not always need to snuffle eat. I am strange that way. Could I trouble you for some Mannings' fruity brown sauce? I appear to have eaten all your ketchup. I think I shall enjoy my—hn hm—life with you here. I suggest that tomorrow we go on—hn hm—a short tour of Wales. I think I should go to snuffle Snowdon and then down a coal mine.”

“I'm sorry—” Dad began.

“Er, hn hm, Scotland then,” said Chair Person. “Or would you rather charter an aeroplane and take me to France?”

“We can't go anywhere tomorrow,” Mum said firmly. “There's Auntie Christa's party in the evening and the coffee morning for African Aid before that.”

Chair Person did not seem at all disappointed. He said, “I shall enjoy that. I happen to—hn hm—know a great deal about Africa. At the end of the day it must be snuffle said that not nearly enough is being done to help Africa and the third world. Why, in Kenya alone…” And he was talking almost word for word—apart from the snuffles—the way last night's television program on Africa had talked.

Before long Simon and Marcia had both had enough. They tiptoed away to Simon's room and went to bed early.

“I suppose he's here for good,” Simon said.

“He hasn't any other home,” Marcia said, wriggling her way into the uncomfortable camp bed. “And he
lived here for years in a sort of way. Do you think it was the stuff that dripped from the crystal ball that brought him alive? Or Auntie Christa tapping him with the wand? Or both?”

“Perhaps she could look after him,” Simon said hopefully. “She does good works. Someone's going to have to teach him all the things that aren't on television.”

They could hear Chair Person's voice droning away downstairs. It was a loud voice, with a bleat and a bray to it, like a cow with a bad cold. After an hour or so it was clear that Mum and Dad could not stand any more of it either. Simon and Marcia heard them coming to bed early, too. They heard Chair Person blundering upstairs after them.

“Er, hn hm—oh, dear!” his voice brayed. “I appear to have broken this small table.”

After that there was a lot of confused moving about and then the sound of running water. Chair Person's voice bleated out again. “Tell me—er, hn hm—is the water supposed to run all over the bathroom floor?”

They heard Mum hurry to the bathroom and turn the taps off. “There are such a lot of things he doesn't know,” Marcia said sleepily.

“He'll learn. He'll be better tomorrow,” Simon said.

They went to sleep then. There was the first frost of winter that night. They woke up much earlier than they had hoped because it was so cold. Their blankets somehow seemed far too thin and there was white frost on the inside of the bedroom window. They stared at it, with their teeth chattering.

“I've never seen that before,” said Simon.

“It's all feathery. It would be pretty if it wasn't so cold,” said Marcia.

As she said it, they heard Dad shouting from the bathroom. “What the devil has happened to the heating boiler? It's gone

Chair Person's feet blundered in the passage. “Er, hn hm, I appeared to get very cold in the night,” his voice brayed. “But I happen to know a lot about snuffle technology. I adjusted the boiler. High-speed gas for warmth and snuffle efficiency.”

“It's not gas, it's
!” Dad roared. “You turned the whole system off, you fool!”

“Oil?” said Chair Person, not in the least worried. “Liquid engineering. I happen to know—hn hm—that both oil and gas come from the North Sea, where giant oil rigs—”

Dad made a sort of gargling noise. His feet hammered away downstairs. There were a few clangs and a clank and the sound of Dad swearing. After a while the house started to get warm again. The frost on the window slid away to the corners and turned to water.

Marcia looked at Simon. She wanted to say that Simon was the one who had said Chair Person would be better today. But she could see Simon knew he was just the same. “Do you still think he'll learn?” she said.

so,” said Simon, though he knew he was going to have to work quite hard to go on feeling sorry for Chair Person at this rate.


Coffee Morning

Chair Person ate four boiled eggs and half a packet of shredded wheat for breakfast. He drank what was left of the milk with loud, slurping sounds while he told them about oil rigs and then about shipbuilding. “Er, hn hm,” he said. “Studies at the dockyards reveal that less than ten snuffle slurp percent of ships now being built are launched by the Queen. Oh, dear, I appear to have drunk all your—hn hm—milk.”

Dad jumped up. “I'll buy more milk,” he said. “Give me a list of all the other things you want for the coffee morning and I'll buy them, too.”

“Coward!” Mum said bitterly when Dad had gone off with orders to buy ten cake mixes, milk, and cookies. She was in a great fuss. She told Chair Person to go upstairs and watch television. Chair Person went crawlingly humble and went away saying he knew he was—hn hm—being a lot of trouble. “And I hope he stays there!” said Mum. She made Simon help in the kitchen and told Marcia to find twenty chairs—which were all the chairs in the house—and put them in a circle in the living room. “And I suppose it's too much to hope that Auntie Christa will come in and help!” Mum added.

too much to hope. Auntie Christa did turn up. She put her head around the back door as Simon was fetching the sixth tray of cakes out of the oven. “I won't interrupt,” she said merrily. “I have to dash down to the Community Hall. Don't forget you're all helping with the party this evening.” And away she went and did not come back until Mum and Simon had heaped cakes on ten plates and Dad and Marcia were counting coffee cups. “You
done well!” Auntie Christa said. “We must have African Aid here every week.”

Dad started to groan and then stopped, with a thoughtful look on his face.

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