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Authors: Edward Eager

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BOOK: Seven-Day Magic
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"Slow," warned the sign. "Cats, et cetera."

In the past the five children had often stopped and waited by the driveway, in hope that something other than a cat would come out. But up till this second nothing had.

At this second (which happened to be the fifty-ninth since Fredericka had made her wish), something did.

What came out was a dragon.

2. Using It

The dragon was bright red all over, except for its eyes, which were green. It was flying low over the driveway, puffing purple smoke as it came.

Abbie stopped short and clutched the others. But Fredericka pressed forward curiously. And the dragon seemed just as curious as Fredericka. It hovered over her in hawklike circles, peering down. For a moment their eyes met. Then it scooped her up in its scaly grasp and flew away with her, over the trees.

"Stop!" cried John, starting to run in the direction it had taken.

"Do something!" cried Abbie, pulling at Barnaby. "Use the book! Wish!" She turned to Susan.

"Wait," said Barnaby. He was as pale as the others, but he was having ideas, all the same. "You'll never find it that way," he called to John. "It's prob'ly over some other county by now."

John stopped running, for indeed the dragon (and Fredericka) had disappeared in the far distance, and the last puff of purple smoke was merging into the clouds.

"And let's not make any more wishes without stopping to think," Barnaby went on. "Fredericka did that, and look what happened! But she asked for a magic adventure and this is it. I think we ought to start by finding out whose dragon it
is.
"

"Look!" said Susan, pointing up the driveway.

A ground-floor window of the house was open, and a face was staring out at the four children. The face wore a surprised expression.

Abbie, usually so timid, ran right across the lawn and up to the face, and the others followed.

"Was that your dragon?" she demanded sternly.

"Oh dear," said the face. "Is
that
what it was? I was
afraid
that was what it was!"

"Well, you ought to be more careful!" Abbie scolded. "You let it get away, and now it's stolen my little sister!"

"Oh dear," said the face again. "I
am
sorry."

Now that they were near, the four children could see that the face belonged to a little round gentleman with a bald head. He wore an old-fashioned long coat, a fancy vest, and a flowing tie. In his hand was a tall silk hat, which he was regarding in a distracted manner.

"I don't know what can have gone wrong," he went on. "Such a thing never happened before. I was practicing my tricks the way I always do after breakfast, and I reached into my hat to pull out a rabbit, and
something
came out, only it was something
else
!"

"It certainly
was!"
said John.

"I could tell it wasn't a rabbit," said the round gentleman, "from the feel. But I didn't dare to look. Then it went whoosh, and it was gone."

Barnaby turned to the others. "You can see what prob'ly happened. Fredericka prob'ly made her wish at that exact minute, and that prob'ly did it."

The round gentleman did not appear to have heard this. "I'm sorry to have inconvenienced any sister of yours," he went on. "Still, it shows I haven't lost my knack, doesn't it?"

Barnaby looked at him. And he remembered the rest of Fredericka's wish. "You must be a wizard," he said.

The round gentleman looked pleased. "How did you guess? It is true that is my profession, though 'magician' is the proper term. In vaudeville they called me The Great Oswaldo."

"What's Vaudeville?" whispered Abbie to Barnaby.

"It's a kind of show they used to have, back before television," he whispered back.

"Oh," said Abbie. She had thought Vaudeville might be a magic kingdom, rather like Oz or Narnia. Still, at a time like this, even a stage wizard was probably better than no wizard at all. And the round gentleman appeared kind. So she said, "You'll help us, won't you? You'll find my sister for us?"

The round gentleman looked uncertain. "Well, I'll
try,
" he said. "Won't you come in?" And he left the window.

"Shall we?" said Susan.

"Proceed as the door opens," said Barnaby.

But when the round gentleman opened the door of the house, the four children hesitated. The hall inside looked dark and spooky, and there were sounds, a furry flumping and a padding and a purring and a murmur of mews.

"Better not. He's got more wild beasts!" warned John.

"Merely a few household pets," said the round gentleman. "When I retired, I thought a cat would be company, but they mounted up." And he switched on the hall light.

The four children regarded the scene inside with interest. Cats wreathed about the round gentleman's feet, and the bottoms of his trousers were patterned with their paw prints. And the children knew now what the "et cetera" on the sign had stood for. The "et cetera" was kittens. They sat on the stair and stared through the banisters and played on the plate rail.

"Aw!" said Abbie, running to pick up the smallest and fluffiest kitten and hold it against her. And the other three followed her into the hall. As they did so, a woman appeared from the back of the house.

"Who are all these?" she said. "Feet on my good rugs. As if them cats weren't enough!"

"It's all right, Mrs. Funkhouser," said the round gentleman. "These visitors are for
me.
Mrs. Funkhouser is my landlady," he went on, when the woman had muttered herself away. "A good woman, but not much artistic temperament. And now if you'll step this way?"

He went through a door at the end of the hall, and the four children followed. When they saw the room beyond the door, Abbie's eyes grew wide with wonder, and John said, "Whew!"

The room looked very much as yours does when you have played with your Mysto-Magic set and forgotten to pick it up and then the cat has got in. Only in this case it was more like twenty magic sets and thirty cats. Crystal balls and bottles of colored liquid and jars of colored powder and phials and retorts and spirit lamps were on every table and shelf. But most of the bottles were tipped over and most of the powder was spilled. Cats and kittens moved among the remains.

"I'm afraid we're a little untidy this morning," said the round gentleman. "I don't know what Mrs. Funkhouser would say."

The four children thought they knew what she would say all too well.

"However," the gentleman went on, looking at the litter of paraphernalia and fluttering his hands in rather a helpless way, "we'll see what we can do. I'm afraid I may be a bit rusty. It's years now since my farewell appearance. And I never found a lost girl, even in the old days. I'm not quite certain how it's done. I used to saw a lady in half at one time, but it's not quite the same thing."

"It certainly isn't!" said Susan indignantly.

"I might try the hat trick again and see what comes out
this
time," suggested the round gentleman.

But when he put his hand in the hat, what came out wasn't Fredericka or even a white rabbit. What came out was the smallest kitten, who had left Abbie's shoulder and crawled into the hat when no one was looking.

"Sorry," said the gentleman. "I suppose it would be more to the point to get the dragon back
into
the hat, wouldn't it? Or transform him to some more harmless form. Where's my box of tricks?" He found a card index and riffled through it. "Transformations," he muttered. "There's only one listed here, but as I remember, it was always colorful."

He found a blue handkerchief in the litter on the nearest table and drew it through a wooden ring.

The handkerchief was transformed from blue to red, but Fredericka did not return. And if the dragon (wherever it was by now) was altered in any way, it did not put in an appearance to make the fact known.

"You're not trying," said Abbie accusingly. She was beginning to suspect that the round gentleman might be a
good
wizard without being very good
at
it.

"Yes, I am," said the round gentleman. "The third time's always the one that works." His eyes roamed the room, rather desperately Susan thought. "There's
this,
" he said, picking up a bottle of purple liquid, seemingly at random.

"What does it do?" said John.

"It's
supposed
to make a red flare," said the round gentleman, "but the way things have been going this morning,
anything
might happen!" And he emptied the bottle into a bowl.

As he did so, Susan had an idea.

She wasn't sure yet just how the magic of the book worked. It had already proved it could get them
into
adventures, but after that, did it just sit back and watch or would it help?

Who could say? Still, there was no harm in trying. And she felt sorry for the round gentleman and wanted to help him (to say nothing of Fredericka). So she held the book firmly in both hands and wished with all her might that this time the magic would prove successful.

The round gentleman struck a match and lit the fluid in the bowl. It made a red flare, all right. But other things happened, too. There was a whooshing noise, followed by a whirring one.

"It wasn't supposed to do
that,
" said the round gentleman. "Or
that,
either," he added, as there was a sudden jolt, and everybody's stomach felt the way yours does when you're in an elevator and it starts going up too fast.

"We're moving," said Barnaby. "Flying, I
think.
"

John ran to the window. "That's right, we're right off the ground. We're heading the same way the dragon did, too!"

Two treetops passed by the window, going from left to right, just to prove it.

"Oh dear," said the round gentleman, turning pale. "What will Mrs. Funkhouser say? She always claims she runs a well-run house, but I don't think she'd want it to
fly!"

What Mrs. Funkhouser would say was soon made clear.

"Mr. Oswaldo," she said, appearing sternly in the doorway, "you put this house down right this minute!"

The round gentleman shook his head. "I would if I could," he said, "but I can't. I don't know how."

"This," said Mrs. Funkhouser, "is the last straw. Mama always said never rent to theatricals or they'd raise the roof. If we ever get back to lower Weed Street, your room'll be wanted!"

"I'm sorry," said the round gentleman. But he didn't look sorry. He was smiling. "Still, it's a good trick, isn't it? I didn't know I had it in me!"

Susan said nothing. But she gave the book a grateful pat.

Barnaby saw her do it. Their eyes met, and he seemed to put two and two together. He nodded to himself. Then he turned to the round gentleman.

"You keep it up," he said kindly. "You're doing fine."

 

When the dragon first flew away with Fredericka, she thought her last hour had come. But as the minutes went by and it didn't actually bite, her hopes rose. Dragon stories in books sometimes had happy endings. Maybe a prince would come and rescue her. Or maybe Barnaby would.

By the time she dared to look down, the landscape beneath wasn't modern Connecticut any more. The country below had a long-ago, fairy-tale look. There were rings in the grass that could be fairy rings and caves in the mountains that might belong to gnomes.

"Where am I?" she murmured.

"In magic realms, of course," said the dragon, "and faery lands forlorn. That was what you wished for, wasn't it?"

Fredericka jumped (as well as she could in the dragon's grasp). She hadn't expected an answer. Then she took courage. If the dragon could talk, it was probably a superior type, perhaps even a friendly one. "How do wishes work,
exactly
?" she said. "I've always wanted to know."

"I don't know how they work for
you
," said the dragon, "but for us magic things they're sort of doorways into the real world. We'll always get in if we can. Only there aren't many doors left. You must have found one of the last."

"Oh," said Fredericka. She thought for a minute. "But if you wanted to get into
our
world, why didn't you stay there?"

"What's even better," said the dragon, "is to steal somebody out of your world into
ours.
The door works both ways. You've heard of fairies kidnaping children. It's the same with dragons. Only different."

Fredericka cleared her throat. "Different in what way?" she asked cautiously. "Where are you taking me?"

"To my lair, of course," said the dragon.

"Why?" said Fredericka.

The dragon appeared embarrassed. "For the usual purpose," it said finally. "Let's not talk about it."

"You mean...?" said Fredericka.

"
You
know," said the dragon.

"Oh," said Fredericka, in a small voice.

There was a pause.

"Why?" said Fredericka. "Why are you so mean?"

"Made that way," said the dragon, shrugging its wings (and causing rather a bumpy downdraft).

"Have you ever thought," suggested Fredericka, "of going on a vegetable diet? Trees might be tasty."

The dragon shook its head. "Meat," it said, "is meat and drink to me. Of course I prefer princess, but it's almost gone off the market lately. Damsel generally does as well. Or maiden. I've never tried small girl before, but it should be tender, from the feel." And it gripped her tighter in its steely claws.

Fredericka tried to square her jaw. "I'm
not,
" she said. "I'm tough as
anything!"
And she made up her mind that she would
try
to be when the time came.

But in spite of herself, her lip trembled and her spirits faltered and her heart sank. She wondered where Barnaby and the others were, and if pretty soon they would wish on the book and everything would come out right, or if her own wish had foiled the book and the magic had gone out of it and she would never see her family and friends and the real world again.

And the dragon flew on.

 

Meanwhile, a few miles back, so did Mrs. Funkhouser's house. And now Abbie, at the window, was looking down on the same fairy-tale landscape Fredericka had observed a few minutes before.

BOOK: Seven-Day Magic
7.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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