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Authors: Jane Langton

The Dragon Tree

BOOK: The Dragon Tree
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JANE LANGTON

The Hall Family Chronicles

For Nathan, James and Paul

Mythology is … the great dragon-tree
of the Western Isles, as old as mankind.

—H
ENRY
D
AVID
T
HOREAU
              

C
ONTENTS

1. NO PRINCE EITHER

2. THE STUCK-UP GIRL

3. THE RABBLE

4. LEFTOVER MAGIC

5. THE SWELLING IN THE GROUND

6. THE LEAFY STICK

7. BEING NICE

8. THE TERRIBLE TEA PARTY

9. THE TREE FROM FAIRYLAND

10. IT’S OUR TREE

11. THE DANGEROUS WEED

12. THE DECLARATION OF WAR

13. HALF AND HALF

14. MY HALF!

15. THE SAINTS OF OLD

16. THE LURKING OF MORTIMER MOON

17. THE VIGIL

18. THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE NOBLE TREE

19. THE NOBLE KNIGHTS

20. UGLINESS NOW

21. THE MATCHBOOK

22. THE FLOWERING TREE

23. SIDNEY’S FATHER’S SUSPENDERS

24. MORE ROPE

25. THE INVISIBLE KNIGHT

26. IT’S ME, THE MOSS!

27. THE GOOD SNAKE

28. HUMPTY DUMPTY

29. THE DRAGON TREE

30. UGGA-UGGA

31. THE FIRST NOTE

32. THE SECOND NOTE

33. THE WILD WIND

34. ESCAPE!

35. THE WRONG PRINCESS

36. THE APPLE BARREL

37. POOR LITTLE MORTIMER

38. WICKEDNESS OVERLOAD

39. THE GRAND OLD TREE

THE HALL FAMILY CHRONICLES

Copyright

About the Publisher

1
NO PRINCE EITHER

“C
ONGRATULATIONS, DEAR
Mortimer and Margery!”

Annabelle Broom, the real estate lady, had come to welcome Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer Moon to their new Concord home. As the moving van drove away from No. 38 Walden Street, the proud owners stood smiling on their very own front porch.

“Why, thank you, Annabelle!” said Mrs. Moon, beaming at her over an armful of teddy bears.

“Oh, don’t thank me,” said Annabelle, shaking her head. “I’ve also come to warn you about the neighbors.”

“The neighbors?” Mrs. Moon glanced nervously at the house next door, where a lanky redheaded boy was loping up the walk.

Her husband frowned. “What’s the matter with the neighbors?”

“Oh, they’re all right, really,” said Annabelle. “In fact Mr. Hall is supposed to be this big important professor.” She rolled her eyes comically. “But as for the children!” She moved closer and lowered her voice to a whisper. “Dear people, I must warn you, because I see you have a teenage daughter.”

“You don’t mean Emerald?” Margery Moon laughed merrily. “She’s not our daughter. She’s my husband’s second cousin, three times removed.”

“The poor child was an orphan, you see,” explained Mortimer Moon. “So we took her in.”

“How generous of you!” said Annabelle.

“And not only that.” Margery cuddled her teddy bears. “We gave her a job as our maid-of-all-work.”

“How kind of you!” said Annabelle as the screen door opened and a pale girl stepped out on the porch.

“Oh, Emerald,” said Mrs. Moon, “I want you to be extremely careful unloading the car. My crystal goblets are extremely fragile.”

The girl said, “Okay, Mrs. Moon,” and hurried down the steps.

Annabelle watched with narrowed eyes, noting the way the girl’s yellow hair floated out behind her. “Well, just the same, a word of warning. You see, there are three children in the house next door.”

Mortimer Moon raised his eyebrows. “Juvenile delinquents, you mean?”

“Well, no, I wouldn’t say that. The girls are fairly harmless, I suppose, and anyway the older girl’s away in Paris, France. Georgie, the little one, is fairly harmless. But there is also a son named Edward.” Annabelle corrected herself. “Or perhaps he’s a nephew. Whatever.”

“He’s the delinquent?” Margery Moon turned her head and stared fearfully at the neighboring house, where the redheaded boy was lingering on the porch with his hands in his pockets.

“Not delinquent exactly,” said Annabelle. “But
he’s part of a gang, a whole crowd of kids. The rabble, I call them. As far as I know, Edward has never actually been in trouble with the police, but …”

“But what?” said Margery and Mortimer together.

“Just take care, that’s all. I urge you to keep an eye on your maid, Ruby.”

“Emerald,” corrected Margery.

“Of course. I knew it was some precious stone.” Then Annabelle spoke firmly. “If I were you, I’d forbid her to have anything to do with those people. Anything
what-so-ever
.”

“Goodness me!” Margery stared keenly at her husband’s second cousin, three times removed, as she heaved a large box out of the trunk of the car.

“And there’s something else about Number Forty Walden Street,” said Annabelle. “I suppose I should have warned you about it before.”

“Warned us about what?” said Mortimer Moon, frowning.

But then his wife screeched at the maid-of-all-work as she staggered up the walk with the box. “Be careful, Emerald!”

Emerald nodded and struggled up the steps. But as she tottered across the porch, Mrs. Moon shook a warning finger and said, “Those goblets must be washed at once, do you hear me, Emerald?”

Clutching the heavy box, Emerald turned the handle of the screen door with two fingers, bumped the door open with her knee, and kept it open by leaning against it. “Okay, Mrs. Moon,” she said, edging sideways into the house.

“And don’t forget, Emerald,” exclaimed Mrs. Moon, raising her voice, “the shelves must be scrubbed first.”

“Right.” Emerald gasped, feeling the box begin to slip and taking a firmer hold.

Then Mr. Moon shouted through the screen door, “Oh, and Emerald, when you’re finished in the kitchen, please mow the backyard.”

Emerald leaned against the kitchen counter, set down the box, and took a deep breath, remembering an old story about a ragged girl, a stepmother, a couple of stepsisters, a fairy godmother, and a prince.

In her own case the stepsisters were missing
and there was certainly no fairy godmother. And no prince either.

Back on the front porch, Annabelle Broom said crisply, “Mr. and Mrs. Moon, do I have your full attention?”

“Certainly,” said Mortimer Moon.

“Because there’s something else you should know about the house next door.”

“What?” said Margery and Mortimer together.

“It’s jam-packed with something truly horrible.” Annabelle looked at her watch, squealed, “Sorry, gotta go,” and scuttled down the porch steps.

“Wait a minute!” shrieked Margery Moon.

“Jam-packed with what?” bellowed Mortimer Moon.

Annabelle called something over her shoulder as she galloped to her car, but they didn’t hear. “What did you say?” screamed Margery.

Leaping in behind the wheel, Annabelle slammed the car door, leaned out the car window, and shouted her warning again as she zoomed away. This time they heard it clearly: “
Watch out for weirdness buildup
.”

2
THE STUCK-UP GIRL

A
S SHE LUGGED
the box of glassware into the house, Emerald heard the news about the scary boy, and then the warning about his dangerous house. Therefore, as she trundled the lawnmower out of the garage, she was careful not to glance at the alarming porches and threatening gables and bulging tower of the house next door.

But the scary boy who lived in the house was not afraid to look at his new neighbor. While Emerald leaned forward to push the lawnmower through the thick grass, then heaved it backwards and swerved it around bushes and trees, Eddy Hall
just happened to be feeding Aunt Alex’s chickens.

Normally it was Georgie’s job, but today he had offered to help. “Well, okay,” said Georgie, handing him the pail.

But Eddy wasn’t paying attention to the chickens. After tossing a handful of cracked corn over the fence, he turned to wave at the girl with yellow hair and shout, “Hi there!”

But she only gave him a frightened glance, then turned her back and threw herself at the lawnmower, shoving it rapidly away and vanishing behind the far side of the house.

“She’s stuck-up, I guess,” murmured Eddy, crestfallen.

“She has green eyes,” whispered Georgie.

3
THE RABBLE

A
NNABELLE
B
ROOM HAD CALLED
them a rabble. But the family at No. 40 Walden Street was really just an ordinary mixture of human beings, chickens, and a cross-eyed cat—unless you also counted the statuary.

  1. Professor Frederick Hall was the head of the household. Part of the time Uncle Fred was a Concord selectman, but most of the time he sat at his desk writing a book about that great genius Henry Thoreau, who had lived down the road at Walden Pond a long time ago and written
    a masterpiece called
    Walden
    . Everybody expected Uncle Fred’s book to be another masterpiece—that is, if he could ever calm down enough to finish it.

  2. Professor Alexandra Hall. Aunt Alex was another fan of Henry Thoreau, but instead of springing joyfully out of her chair to quote magnificent passages, she kept them in her heart.

  3. Eleanor Hall was their niece. At the moment, Eleanor was studying abroad, but she wrote excited letters home:
    “Paris is just so incredibly awesome!”
    or
    “Paris really sucks!”

  4. Her brother, Edward Hall, wore a gold stud in one ear and his baggy pants hung from his hip bones, but, delinquent or not (probably not), he was a big man at high school. Eddy was cool, really cool, a noisy comedian who liked to talk about himself in the third person:

    “Gallantly our hero took out the garbage.”

    “With saintly benevolence our hero
    assisted his aged aunt.”

    “Modestly our hero bowed to the cheering crowd.”

  5. Georgie Hall was a sixth grader in the Alcott School. Georgie was a quiet and obedient little girl, but when she made up her mind about something important, there was no stopping her. Once she had walked all the way to Washington to talk to the President. She had begun her march all by herself, but by the time her great Children’s Crusade reached the White House, it was sixteen thousand strong. To Uncle Fred, Georgie was like a force of nature.

  6. Henry Thoreau had been dead for years, but in a way he too was a resident of No. 40 Walden Street. Uncle Freddy’s hero was only a bust on a tall stand in the front hall, but the gaze of his plaster eyes seemed to pierce the wall as though he could see all the way to Walden Pond, where long ago the real Henry had written his famous book.

  7. The other piece of statuary was a tall bronze woman on the newel post of the staircase, a majestic sort of light fixture. The word TRUTH was inscribed across her metal dress like a motto, as though she were saying, “Now hear this!”

  8. The rest of the rabble didn’t live at No. 40 Walden Street. They were a flock of noisy kids in the neighborhood: Eddy’s friends Oliver Winslow and Hugo Von Bismarck and Georgie’s classmates Frieda Caldwell, Cissie Updike, Otis Fisher, Sidney Bloom, and Rachel Adzarian. After school they milled around in each other’s houses and messed up their mothers’ kitchens and watched TV in each other’s living rooms and drove their parents crazy.

  9. And then there was the Oversoul. Well, it’s probably silly to call the Oversoul a member of the household, but Uncle Fred could feel it looming over the roof in a kindly cloud. No wonder he was so often carried away by fits of excitement. Not
    only did the Oversoul shower him with lofty thoughts from above, but the statuary in the front hall did the same thing, only sideways, as though reaching out to pluck his sleeve whenever he walked by.

  10. Last of all, there was the house itself. Was No. 40 Walden Street really infected with “weirdness buildup”? Or was it filled to overflowing with something else entirely?

BOOK: The Dragon Tree
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