Saturday, January 21, 2006

Chapter the Fourth

Jonathan decided that perhaps the best thing would be to turn around and recross the inland sea. He was certainly not afraid but he was concerned lest his mother discover his absence and fret herself unduly about his welfare. Then again, the trees behind him were at least as thick and dark and strange as those before him. He was not altogether certain which way he had come.

Being a purist in matters of navigation, Jonathan had always sailed and journeyed according to the stars without the assistance of artificial devices such as the compass. Now, of course, the stars were not visible since it was (a) daytime, (b) clouded over, and (c) generally obscure through the untimely intervention of numerous branches and as-yet-unfallen leaves. So he stiffened his upper lip and continued to explore.

Nor did he have to explore any great while ere he found something. Or rather something round him. Jonathan was in mid-stride when a screechy voice caught him and prevented his marching further. He wasn’t quite sure what the voice had said as it was at least partly nonsense. The best he could remember later ran somewhat as follows:
Gribbleda fingle
Warts on a shingle
What are you doing here
All drenched? And single?
“Banpa! That doesn’t make any sense,” objected Gwyn.

“Nothing I am telling you is going to make much sense, child,” Jonathan countered, resuming the tale.


Jonathan might have asked politely for a repetition of the question were the circumstances somewhat more ordinary. But they weren’t, and he knew the sound of a spell when he heard one and dared not risk offending the one who cast it. Besides, he realized he was frozen to the spot and was not sure he wanted to find out if he could still speak.

The person belonging to the voice, as Jonathan perceived when he turned his head to the left and slightly behind him, was an elderly woman, somewhat stooped and rather wrinkly but not altogether unkindly looking. She stood near a largish tree: an oak, thought Jonathan, except they do not grow in our fruit orchard. She wore a dress of coarse grey fabric with a black shawl and black shoes and held aloft a bright yellow bumbershoot to ward off the rain. Jonathan had no idea what to make of her but she seemed to be awaiting an answer and her eyes prompted him to reply.

“I do not care much for warts, thank you, Mum. The day, however, was such a fine one that I decided to go exploring. And here I am.”

The strange woman’s expression indicated satisfaction with this civil and rather honest response, which allayed Jonathan’s anxiety.

“It’s not often that we get such young visitors to Wolmsley Wood, lad. I do hope you can spare a few moments for tea.”

“That’s very kind of you, Mum, but wherever shall we have tea here in the orchard?”

“Why, we shan’t have it here in the Wood, child! Dear me, what is your name? I do dislike calling someone ‘child’ or ‘you there’ or ‘thingummy’.”

“Jonathan, Mum, Jonathan Grubbley.”

“Well, Grubbley, how about tea?”

“I should rather like it, thank you. And it it’s not too presumptuous, may I ask your name, Mum?”

“There are so many names by which I’m known, young Grubbley, that I find it difficult to choose. But you may call me Cluggin, or Isapheria, or Auntie Woezzl. Then again, I sometimes go by the formal title of Old Lady Dyrnmantle.”

“I should like to call you Auntie Woezzl, if I may. That seems like such a nice name.” (Jonathan decided she was rather a good sort after all. Once a chap met her it was silly to think she had cast a spell on him.)

“Marvelous, Grubbley. And now to tea.”


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