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The Ogre of Oglefort

The Ogre of Oglefort


    The Ogre of Ogleford

    An imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

    A division of Penguin Young Readers Group
    Published by the Penguin Group * Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. * Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) * Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England * Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd) * Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd) * Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi - 110 017, India * Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.) * Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa * Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
    This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
    Text copyright © 2011 by Eva Ibbotson
    Illustrations © 2011 by Lisa K. Weber
    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a review written for inclusion in a magazine, newspaper, or broadcast.
    The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
    CIP Data is available.
    Published in the United States by Dutton Children’s Books,
    a division of Penguin Young Readers Group
    345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014
    Originally published in Great Britain 2010 by Macmillan Children’s Books, London
    Designed by Jason Henry
    First American Edition * ISBN 9781101563519

    For Laura
    3 THE BOY
    10 CHARLIE
    16 THE NORNS
    Most people are happier when their feet are dry. They do not care to hear squelchy noises in their shoes or feel water seeping between their toes—but the Hag of the Dribble was different. Having wet feet made her feel better: it reminded her of the Dribble where she had been born and lived for the first seventy-eight years of her life, and now she dipped her socks into the washbasin and made sure they were thoroughly soaked before she put them on her feet and went downstairs to make porridge for herself and her lodgers.
    The Hag did not care for porridge—being fond of porridge is quite difficult—but she was glad to be busy; it helped her to cope with the terrible homesickness which attacked her each morning when she woke and saw the sooty brick wall of the house opposite instead of the wide sky and scudding clouds of the place where she had lived so long.
    It is not easy to describe a Dribble. A Dribble is not exactly a marsh, nor is it really a bog or a water meadow, but it’s a bit like all of these. Anyone who has been brought up in a Dribble suffers terribly when they have to leave: it is so quiet and so peaceful; the damp air is so soft. You are never alone in a Dribble—there are frogs and newts under your feet, and birds wheeling overhead, and dragonflies hovering over the pools, but often you do not see a human being for days on end.
    Hags live for a very long time, and she had expected to end her days there, and sink peacefully into the marshy ground when her life was done—but one day men had come with machines—more and more men and more and more machines, and had started to drain the Dribble and turn it into a building site.
    So the Hag had come to London, not because she liked cities, she detested them, but because she needed to find work—and the work she found was running a boardinghouse for other Unusual Creatures like herself—displaced witches or exhausted wizards or weary water sprites who had to do ordinary jobs because the time for magic seemed to be past.
    The kettle had just come to a boil when she heard a noise like thunder coming from the room on the first floor where the troll was getting out of bed, and then a roar of fury. Ulf Oakroot also felt homesick when he woke up, but his homesickness was not a damp, dreamy homesickness like the Hag’s—it was a wild and angry longing for the forests of Northern Sweden where he had been born.
    Trolls are fierce and hairy and extremely strong, and they have violent tempers. They can throw boulders for miles across fields and lift up small houses, but they love the woods in which they live and will do anything to protect them. So when the men had come with great saws and started to cut down the forests—not felling carefully—just destroying everything in their path, the trolls’ world had been destroyed, too. Ulf’s brother had been killed trying to protect his home. And the men just came with more trucks and bigger saws—until they had turned whole hillsides into a wasteland.
    After the death of his brother, Ulf had left his homeland and taken a ship to Great Britain and moved into a room in the Hag’s boardinghouse. Now he worked as a hospital porter, and because he was so strong and didn’t put up with any nonsense, the patients loved him. No one was ever kept waiting on a trolley in the corridor when Ulf was on duty. He just put his huge hairy hand on the handle of the trolley and with a great cry of “Out of my way” he shot off, with the patient shouting gleefully as they passed everybody else.
    The Hag and the troll were good friends, and by the time they had drunk three cups of tea they felt better. After all when so many Unusual Creatures were going through bad times, losing their homes, doing jobs they would never have thought of doing in the olden days, it was wrong to grumble, and life at 26 Whipple Road was really not too bad.
    “Where’s Gertie?” rumbled the troll, spearing a sausage. “Still in the bathroom, I suppose?”
    The Hag nodded. “She’s had a bit of trouble with her lip. She tried to kiss a frog she found in a pet shop because she thought it might turn into a prince, but it was the wrong kind of frog and she came up in awful blisters.”
    The troll was not surprised. People were always being brought into the hospital with blisters from kissing the wrong kind of animal.
    Gertie was an enchantress, though you wouldn’t think it to look at her. She was rather a silly girl but she had a kind heart and the Hag was fond of her.
    The other lodgers at Whipple Road were sisters, henkies—those faeries who limp and have hollow backs. They worked as dinner ladies in a school and were no trouble at all. There was also a man called Mr. Prendergast, an absolutely ordinary man without a trace of magic in his blood. He had been living in the house when the Hag took it over and saw no reason to leave.
    They were all sitting around the kitchen table when the postman came by with an exciting letter. It was an invitation to the Summer Meeting of Unusual Creatures, which was just a week away.
    Everyone was pleased. The Summer Meeting was important. It was there that they were told what the Summer Task was going to be, and it was always something nice. Last year they had all gone to the seaside at Southend to put the evil eye on a plague of jellyfish which were bothering vacationers, and had spent a happy week in a Grand Hotel. The year before they had gone to Scotland in two charabancs to deal with a gang of cattle rustlers who were threatening a herd of Highland cows. The scenery had been quite beautiful, and everyone had come back feeling strong and well.
    It was always fun, the Summer Task; it meant that they met all the other Unusual Creatures like themselves and had a break from their daily lives. And the meeting gave them a chance to dress up a bit and show that they were still important.
    “I’ll go and tell Gladys,” said the Hag, “so that she can prepare herself.”
    Because the Hag was a kind of witch (most Hags are, one way or another) she had a familiar—an animal that helped her with her magic. The Hag had brought her from the Dribble; they had been together for years.
    Gladys was a toad. She lived in the backyard under a stone and had grown fat on the worms and beetles that the Hag’s lodgers brought her.
    So now the Hag went out to give Gladys the good news.
    “We’re off to the meeting next week, Gladys,” said the Hag, and waited for her to come out for her worm and look pleased.
    But Gladys did not move.
    “Did you hear me, Gladys?” asked the Hag. “It’s the Summer Meeting on Saturday.” Gladys came out from under the stone. She came out very, very slowly. She opened one eye. Then she shut it again—and said a single word.
    “Tired,” said Gladys.
    “What do you mean, tired,” said the Hag crossly. “I’m tired. Everyone’s tired. London’s full of people who are tired. They got tired in the war when their houses were bombed and food was rationed and all that, and they’ve been tired ever since. But we have to do our work.”
    Gladys did not shake her head. Even toads who are familiars find it difficult to do that because their necks are so thick. All she did was repeat the same word.
    “Tired,” she said.
    Gladys had never been a nice toad, but this didn’t matter. Familiars aren’t meant to be nice, they are meant to be powerful. Now she turned her back on the Hag and began to crawl toward her stone.
    “Are you telling me you aren’t coming to the meeting?” cried the Hag.
    Gladys did not answer, but her back end looked obstinate and nasty.
    “But I can’t go to the meeting without a familiar; it’s impossible. I should feel undressed. I should feel stripped and naked!”
    The troll shook his head. “It’s a bad business,” he said, “but it’s no good forcing her. She was always a bad-tempered animal. Goodness knows what she might get up to if you dragged her to the meeting against her will.”
    “Yes, but what am I going to do?” cried the Hag.
    “Could you perhaps get another familiar?” suggested Mr. Prendergast. Being a completely ordinary person who worked in a bank made him see things simply. “There’s a whole week to go.”
    “A week’s nothing,” cried the poor Hag. “Oh, why is everything against me? Nothing’s gone right since I left the Dribble!”
    The other lodgers came out then and stood round, looking worried. Once the Hag got upset she was apt to go downhill very fast and remember sad things like that she was an orphan. People are often orphans when they are eighty-two, but it is true that when you have no mother or father you can feel very lonely at any age.
    But she was a brave person and soon pulled herself together—and the next day the hunt for a new familiar began.
    The news that the Hag’s familiar had gone on strike spread through the community of Unusual Creatures like wildfire. Gladys had never been popular, and now everyone was bitter and angry that the toad had deserted her mistress just before an important meeting.
    The Hag’s friends did their best to help. The fishmonger, whose mother had been a selkie (one of those people that is a seal by day and a human at night) took her into the shop and offered her the pick of his fish. Not the dead fish on the slab, of course—a dead familiar would be very little use—but the live ones in a tank that he kept for customers who liked their fish to be absolutely fresh.
    “There’s a nice flounder there,” he said.
    But though flounders are interesting because they are related to the famous fish who reared out of the sea and granted wishes, the Hag was doubtful.
    “It’s really kind of you,” she said. “But fish are so difficult to transport.”
    Two witches who worked as nannies, wheeling babies through the park, took her to Kensington Gardens because they had seen a Tufted Duck on the pond that they thought might be trained to be magical, but when they got up to it they saw at once that it wouldn’t do. It was sitting on a clutch of eggs and looking broody, and one thing that familiars never do is sit on nests and breed.
    The next day the Hag took a bus to Trafalgar Square, where she remembered having seen a pigeon with a mad gleam in its eyes. The Square was absolutely crammed with pigeons in those days, but though she paced backward and forward among the birds for a whole hour, she couldn’t see that particular bird again.
    “We’d better try the zoo,” said the troll. So on his afternoon off from the hospital they took the bus to Regent’s Park.
    For someone looking for a familiar, the zoo is a kind of paradise. There were lynxes and pumas and jaguars that seemed perfect, but the Hag knew that they would not be happy in the backyard of 26 Whipple Road, and though she was annoyed with Gladys, the Hag did not want her to be eaten.
    There were cages of aye-ayes and lemurs and meerkats with huge eyes full of sorrow and strangeness, and there was a darkened room full of vampire bats and kiwis.
    “A vampire bat would be wonderful,” said the Hag, and she imagined herself sweeping into the meeting with the bloodsucking creature dribbling on her shoulder.
    But even in the zoo everything was not quite right. Not one of the creatures she saw really met her eye. The harpy eagles seemed to be half asleep; the serpents lay under their sunlamps and wouldn’t move.
    “Oh what is the matter with the world?” cried the Hag when she got home again. “It’s as though nobody cares anymore. When I was young, any animal worth its salt would have been proud to serve a hag or a wizard or a witch.”
    They were sitting sadly at the kitchen table when there was a knock at the door and Mrs. Brainsweller came to borrow some sugar.
    “I’ve had so many funerals this week I hardly know which way up I am,” she said, “and it’s made me all behind with the shopping.”
    Mrs. Brainsweller was a banshee—one of those tall, thin feys who wail when people die, and they are very much in demand at funerals. She could also levitate, that is to say she could float up to the ceiling and lie on her back looking down on the room, so she was a person who missed very little.
    “You look a bit down in the mouth,” she said when the Hag had fetched the sugar. So they told her what had happened at the zoo.
    Mrs. Brainsweller hit her forehead. “Of course, I should have thought of it sooner,” she said. “Bri-Bri will make you a familiar. There’s nothing he couldn’t do if he tried.”
    The troll and the Hag looked at each other. Making familiars can be done, but it is very difficult magic indeed.
    Bri-Bri was the banshee’s only son. He was a wizard, a small man with thin arms and legs and an absolutely enormous head almost entirely filled with brains. His name was Dr. Brian Brainsweller and there was nothing he hadn’t learned. He had learned spells for turning cows blue and spells for turning sausages into boxing gloves and spells for making scrambled eggs come out of people’s ears, and he had seven university degrees: one in necromancy, one in soothsaying, one in alchemy, and four in wizardry.
    But he didn’t have any degrees in Everyday Life. Though he was thirty-four years old he was not good at tying his shoelaces or putting on his pajamas the right way around, and he would have eaten furniture polish if you had put it before him on a plate.
    Fortunately this didn’t happen because Dr. Brainsweller lived with his mother.
    “What are you doing, Bri-Bri?” she would cry as he came down to breakfast with both his legs in one trouser leg, or tried to go to bed in the bath.
    It was Mrs. Brainsweller who had seen to it that Brian took all his wizardry exams, and stopped him when he wanted to do ordinary things like riding a bicycle or eating an ice cream, because she knew that if you want to get to the top in anything you must work at it all the time.
    The Brainswellers lived two doors down from the Hag’s boardinghouse, and Brian had a workshop in the garden where he spent the day boiling things and stirring things and shaking things. Though he was shy, the wizard was a kind man, and he listened carefully, pushing his huge spectacles up and down, while the Hag and the troll explained what they wanted.
    “Your mother thought you might make me a familiar,” said the Hag. “It could be something quite simple—a spotted salamander perhaps?”
    Dr. Brainsweller looked worried.
    “Oh dear,” he said. “Of course if Mummy thinks . . . But I tried once and . . . well, come and look.”
    He led them to a cupboard and pulled out a plate with something on it. It looked like a very troubled banana which had died in its sleep.
    After that, the Hag lost heart completely. When she got back to her kitchen at Number 26, she found it full of friends who had come from all over the town to drink tea and tell her how sorry they were to hear of her trouble. A retired River Spirit, a man who now worked for the Water Board, offered to climb into the drains and look for an animal that had been flushed down: perhaps a water snake or a small alligator which someone had got for Christmas and didn’t want anymore. But the Hag said it was now clear to her that she wasn’t meant to have a familiar, and that the Powers-That-Be intended her to be shamed at the meeting, if indeed she went to the meeting at all.
    And when all her visitors had gone, she put on her hat and smeared some white toothpaste on her blue tooth and left the house. She wanted to put magic and strangeness behind her and talk to someone who belonged to a different world. Someone completely ordinary, and friendly—and young!
    The Riverdene Home for Children in Need was not a cheerful place. It was in one of the most run-down and shabby parts of the city. Everything about it was gray: the building, the scuffed piece of earth which passed for a garden, the walls that surrounded it. Even when the children were taken out, walking in line through the narrow streets, they saw nothing green or colorful. Though the war against Hitler had been over for years, the bomb craters were still there; the people they met looked weary and shuffled along in dingy clothes.
    Ivo had been in the Home since he was a baby, and he did not see how his life was ever going to change. He was not exactly unhappy but he was desperately bored. He knew that on Monday lunch would be claggy gray meat with dumplings, and on Tuesday it would be mashed potato with the smallest sausage in the world, and on Wednesday it would be cheese pie—which meant that on Wednesday the boy called Jake who slept next to him would be sick, because while cheese is all right and pies are all right, the two together are not at all easy to digest. He knew there would be lumps in the mashed potato and lumps in the custard and lumps even in the green jelly which they had every Saturday, though it is quite difficult to get lumps into jelly.
    He knew that Matron would wear her purple starched overall till Thursday and then change it for a brown one, that the girl who doled out the food would have a drop on the end of her nose from September to April, and that the little plant which grew by the potting shed would be trampled flat as soon as its shoots appeared above the ground.
    Ivo’s parents had been killed in a car accident; there seemed to be no one else to whom he belonged, and he did his best to make a world for himself. There was an ancient encyclopedia in the playroom—a thick tattered book into which one could almost climb, it was so big—and a well at the bottom of the sooty garden—covered up and long gone dry—but sitting on the edge of it one could imagine going down and down into some other place. There was a large oak tree just outside the back gate which dropped its acorns into the sooty soil of the orphanage garden.
    It was at the back gate that Ivo liked to stand, looking out between the iron bars onto the narrow street. Sometimes people would stop and talk to him; most of them were busy and only said a word or two, but there was one person—a most unlikely person—who talked to him properly and who had become a friend. The other boys always scuttled away when they saw her coming, and she certainly looked odd, but Ivo was always pleased when she came. She was someone who said things one did not expect and he did not know anybody else like that.