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"The Lives of Christopher Chant"

Chapters 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Christopher went back to school the next day. He was rather afraid that Mama was going to be disappointed in him when he turned out to be a professional cricketer, but that did not alter his ambition in the least.

Everyone at school treated him as if he were a miracle. Oneir apologized, almost in tears. That was the only thing which made Christopher uncomfortable. Otherwise he basked in the attention he got. He insisted on playing cricket just as before, and he could hardly wait for next Thursday to come so that he could tell Tacroy all his adventures.

On Wednesday morning the Headmaster sent for Christopher. To his surprise, Papa was there with the Head, both of them standing uneasily beside the Head's mahogany desk.

"Well, Chant," the Head said, "we shall be sorry to lose our nine-days' wonder so quickly. Your father has come to fetch you away. It seems you are to go to a private tutor instead."

"What? Leave school, sir?" Christopher said. "But it's cricket practice this afternoon, sir!"

"I have suggested to your father that you might remain at least until the end of term," the Head said, "but it seems that the great Dr. Pawson will not agree to it."

Papa cleared his throat. "These Cambridge Dons," he said. "We both know what they are, Headmaster." He and the Head smiled at one another, rather falsely.

"Matron is packing you a bag now," said the Head. "In due course, your box and your school report will be sent after you. Now we must say good-bye, as I gather your train leaves in half an hour." He shook hands with Christopher, a brisk, hard, Headmasterly shake, and Christopher was whisked away, there and then, in a cab with Papa, without even a chance to say good-bye to Oneir and Fenning. He sat in the train seething about it, staring resentfully at Papa's whiskered profile.

"I was hoping to get into the school cricket team," he said pointedly, when Papa did not seem to be going to explain.

"Shame about that," Papa said, "but there will be other cricket teams no doubt. Your future is more important than cricket, my son."

"My future is cricket," Christopher said boldly. It was the first time he had come right out with his ambition to an adult. He went hot and cold at his daring in speaking like this to Papa. But he was glad, too, because this was an important step on the road to his career.

Papa gave a melancholy smile. "There was a time when I myself wanted to be an engine driver," he said. "These whims pass. It was more important to get you to Dr. Pawson before the end of term. Your mama was planning to take you abroad with hex then.."

Christopher's teeth clenched so tightly with anger that his tooth-brace cut his lip. Cricket a whim indeed! "Why is it so important?"

"Dr. Pawson is the most eminent Diviner in the country," said Papa. "I had to pull a few strings to get him to take you on at such short notice, but when I put the case to him, he himself said that it was urgent not to give de Witt time to forget about you. De Witt will revise his opinion of you when he finds you have a gift for magic after all."

"But I can't do magic," Christopher pointed out.

"And there must be some reason why not," said Papa. "On the face of it, your gifts should be enormous, since I am an enchanter, and so are both my brothers, while your mama - this I will grant her - is a highly gifted sorceress. And her brother, that wretched Argent fellow, is an enchanter, too."

Christopher watched houses rushing past behind Papa's profile as the train steamed into the outskirts of London, while he tried to digest this. No one had told him about his heredity before. Still, he supposed there were duds born into the most wizardly families. He thought he must be a dud. So Papa was truly an enchanter? Christopher resentfully searched Papa for the signs of power and riches that went with an enchanter, and the signs did not seem to be there. Papa struck him as threadbare and mournful. The cuffs of his frock coat were worn and his hat looked dull and unpros-perous. Even the black whiskers were thinner than Christopher remembered, with streaks of gray in them.

But the fact was, enchanter or not, Papa had snatched him out of school in the height of the cricket season, and from the way the Head had talked, he was not expected to go back. Why not? Why had Papa taken it into his head to do this to him?

Christopher brooded about this while the train drew into the Great Southern terminus and Papa towed him through the bustle to a cab. Galloping and rattling towards St. Pancras Cross, he realized that it was going to be difficult even to see Tacroy and get some cricket coaching that way. Papa had told him to have nothing to do with Uncle Ralph, and Papa was an enchanter.

In the small sooty carriage of the train to Cambridge, Christopher asked resentfully, "Papa, what made you decide to take me to Dr. Pawson?"

"I thought I had explained," Papa said. That, for a while, seemed all he was going to say. Then he turned towards Christopher, sighing rather, and Christopher saw that he had just been gathering himself for a serious talk. "Last Friday," he said, "you were certified dead, my son, by two doctors and a number of other people. Yet when I arrived to identify your body on Saturday, you were alive and recovering and showing no signs of injury. This made me certain that you had more than one life - the more so as I suspect that this has happened once before. Tell me, Christopher, that time last year when they told me a curtain pole had fallen on you - you were mortally injured then, weren't you? You may confess to me. I shan't be angry."

"Yes," Christopher said reluctantly. "I suppose I was."

"I thought so!" Papa said with dismal satisfaction. "Now, my son, those people who are lucky enough to have several lives are always, invariably, highly gifted enchanters. It was clear to me last Saturday that you are one. This was why I sent for Gabriel de Witt. Now Monsignor de Witt" - here Papa lowered his voice and looked nervously around the sooty carriage as if he thought Monsignor de Witt could hear - "is the strongest enchanter in the world. He has nine lives. Nine, Christopher. This makes him strong enough to control the practice of magic throughout this world and several others. The Government has given him that task. For this reason you will hear some people call him the Chrestomanci. The post bears that title."

"But," said Christopher, "what has all this and the krest-oh-man-see got to do with pulling me out of school?"
"Because I wish de Witt to take an interest in your case," said Papa. "I am a poor man now. I can do nothing for you. I have made considerable sacrifices to afford Dr. Pawson's fee, because I think de Witt was wrong when he said you were a normal boy with only one life. My hope is that Dr. Pawson can prove he was wrong and that de Witt can then be persuaded to take you onto his staff. If he does, your future is assured."

Take me onto his staff, Christopher thought. Like Oneir in his father's business having to start as an office boy. "I don't think," he said, "that I want my future assured like that."

His father looked at him sorrowfully. "There speaks your mama in you," he said. "Proper tuition should cure that sort of levity."

This did nothing to reconcile Christopher to Papa's plans. But I said that for myself! he thought angrily. It had nothing to do with Mama! He was still in a state of seething resentment when the train steamed into Cambridge, and he walked with Papa through streets full of young men in gowns like the coats people wore in Series Seven, past tall tur-reted buildings that reminded him of the Temple of Asheth, except that the Cambridge buildings had more windows. Papa had rented rooms in a lodging house, a dark, mingy place that smelled of old dinners.

"We shall be staying here together while Dr. Pawson sorts you out," he told Christopher. "I have brought ample work with me, so that I can keep a personal eye on your well-being."

This about put the lid on Christopher's angry misery. He wondered if he dared go to The Place Between to meet Tacroy on Thursday with a full-grown enchanter keeping a careful eye on him. To crown it all, the lodging house bed was even worse than the beds at school and twanged every time he moved. He went to sleep thinking he was about as miserable as he could be. But that was before he saw Dr. Pawson and realized his miseries had only just begun.

Papa delivered him to Dr. Pawson's house in the Trumpington Road at ten the next morning. "Dr. Pawson's learning gives him a disconcerting manner at times," Papa said, "but I know I can trust my son to bear himself with proper politeness notwithstanding."

This sounded ominous. Christopher's knees wobbled while the housemaid showed him into Dr. Pawson's room. It was a bright, bright room stuffed full of clutter. A harsh voice shouted out of the clutter.

"Stop!"

Christopher stood where he was, bewildered.

"Not a step further. And keep your knees still, boy! Lord, how the young do fidget!" the harsh voice bellowed. "How am I to assess you if you won't stay still? Now, what do you say?"

The largest thing among the clutter was a fat armchair. Dr. Pawson was sitting in it, not moving a muscle except for a quiver from his vast purple jowls. He was probably too fat to move. He was vastly, hugely, grossly fat. His belly was like a small mountain with a checked waistcoat stretched over it. His hands reminded Christopher of some purple bananas he had seen in Series Five. His face was stretched, and purple too, and out of it glared two merciless, watery eyes.

"How do you do, sir?" Christopher said, since Papa trusted him to be polite.

"No, no!" shouted Dr. Pawson. "This is an examination, not a social call. What's your problem - Chant your name is, isn't it? State your problem, Chant."

"I can't do magic, sir," Christopher said.
"So can't a lot of people. Some are born that way," Dr. Pawson bawled. "Do better than that, Chant. Show me. Don't do some magic and let me see."

Christopher hesitated, out of bewilderment mostly.

"Go on, boy!" howled Dr. Pawson. "Don't do it!"

"I can't not do something I can't do," Christopher said, thoroughly harassed.

"Of course you can!" yelled Dr. Pawson. "That's the essence of magic. Get on with it. Mirror on the table beside you. Levitate it and be quick about it!"

If Dr. Pawson hoped to startle Christopher into succeeding, he failed. Christopher stumbled to the table, looked into the elegant silver-framed mirror that was lying there, and went through the words and gestures he had learned at school. Nothing at all happened.

"Hm," said Dr. Pawson. "Don't do it again." Christopher realized he was supposed to try once more. He tried, with shaking hands and voice, and exasperated misery growing inside him. This was hopeless! He hated Papa for dragging him off to be terrorized by this appalling fat man. He wanted to cry, and he had to remind himself, just as if he were his own governess, that he was far too big for that. And, as before, the mirror simply lay where it was.

"Urn," said Dr. Pawson. "Turn around, Chant. No, right around, boy, slowly, so that I can see all of you. Stop!"

Christopher stopped and stood, and waited. Dr. Pawson shut his watery eyes and lowered his purple chins. Christopher suspected he had gone to sleep. There was utter silence in the room except for clocks ticking among the clutter. Two clocks were the kind with all the works showing, one was a grandfather, and one was a mighty marble timepiece that looked as if it had come off someone's grave. Christopher nearly jumped out of his skin when Dr. Pawson suddenly barked at him like the clap of doom.

"EMPTY YOUR POCKETS, CHANT!"

Eh? thought Christopher. But he did not dare disobey. He began hurriedly unloading the pockets of his Norfolk jacket: Uncle Ralph's sixpence which he always kept, a shilling of his own, a grayish handkerchief, a note from Oneir about algebra, and then he was down to shaming things like string and rubber bands and furry toffees. He hesitated.

"All of it!" yelled Dr. Pawson. "Out of every single pocket. Put it all down on the table."

Christopher went on unloading: a chewed rubber, a bit of pencil, peas for Fenning's pea-shooter, a silver threepenny bit he had not known about, a cough drop, fluff, more fluff, string, a marble, an old pen nib, more rubber bands, more fluff, more string. And that was it.

Dr. Pawson's eyes glared over him. "No, that's not all! What else have you got on you? Tiepin. Get rid of that too."

Reluctantly Christopher unpinned the nice silver tiepin Aunt Alice had given him for Christmas. And Dr. Pawson's eyes continued to glare at him.

"Ah!" Dr. Pawson said. "And that stupid thing you have on your teeth. That's got to go too. Get it out of your mouth and put it on the table. What the devil's it for anyway?"

"To stop my teeth growing crooked," Christopher said rather huffily. Much as he hated the tooth-brace, he hated even more being criticized about it.

"What's wrong with crooked teeth?" howled Dr. Pawson, and he bared his own teeth. Christopher rather started back from the sight. Dr. Pawson's teeth were brown, and they lay higgledy-piggledy in all directions, like a fence trampled by cows. While Christopher was blinking at them, Dr. Pawson bellowed, "Now do that levitation spell again!"

Christopher ground his teeth - which felt quite straight by contrast and very smooth without the brace - and turned to the mirror again. Once more he looked into it, once more said the words, and once more raised his arms aloft. And as his arms went up, he felt something come loose with them - come loose with a vengeance.

Everything in the room went upwards except Christopher, the mirror, the tiepin, the tooth-brace and the money. These slid to the floor as the table surged upwards, but were collected by the carpet which came billowing up after it. Christopher hastily stepped off the carpet and stood watching everything soar around him - all the clocks, several tables, chairs, rugs, pictures, vases, ornaments, and Dr. Pawson too. He and his armchair both went up, majestically, like a balloon, and bumped against the ceiling. The ceiling bellied upwards and the chandelier plastered itself sideways against it. From above came crashings, shrieks, and an immense airy grinding. Christopher could feel that the roof of the house had come off and
was on its way to the sky, pursued by the attics. It was an incredible feeling.

"STOP THAT!" Dr. Pawson roared. Christopher guiltily took his arms down.

Instantly everything began raining back to the ground again. The tables plunged, the carpets sank, vases, pictures and clocks crashed to the floor all around. Dr. Pawson's armchair plummeted with the rest, followed by pieces of the chandelier, but Dr. Pawson himself floated down smoothly, having clearly done some prudent magic of his own. Up above, the roof came down thunderously. Christopher could hear tiles falling and chimneys crashing, as well as smashings and howls from upstairs. The upper floors seemed now to be trying to get through to the ground. The walls of the room buckled and oozed plaster, while the windows bent and fell to pieces. It was about five minutes before the slidings and smashings died away, and the dust settled even more slowly. Dr. Pawson sat among the wreckage and the blowing dust and stared at Christopher. Christopher stared back, very much wanting to laugh.

A little old lady suddenly materialized in the armchair opposite Dr. Pawson's. She was wearing a white nightgown and a lacy cap over her white hair. She smiled at Christopher in a steely way. "So it was you, child," she said to Christopher. "Mary-Ellen is in hysterics. Don't ever do that again, or I'll put a Visitation on you. I'm still famed for my Visitations, you know." Having said this, she was gone as suddenly as she had come.

"My old mother," said Dr. Pawson. "She's normally bedridden, but as you can see, she's very strongly moved. As is almost everything else." He sat and stared at Christopher awhile longer, and Christopher went on struggling not to laugh. "Silver," Dr. Pawson said at last.

"Silver?" asked Christopher.

"Silver," said Dr. Pawson. "Silver's the thing that's stopping you, Chant. Don't ask me why at the moment. Maybe we'll never get to the bottom of it, but there's no question about the facts. If you want to work magic, you'll have to give up money except for coppers and sovereigns, throw away that tiepin, and get rid of that stupid brace."

Christopher thought about Papa, about school, about cricket, in a flood of anger and frustration which gave him courage to say, "But I don't think I do want to work magic, sir."
"Yes you do, Chant," said Dr. Pawson. "For at least the next month." And while Christopher was wondering how to contradict him without being too rude, Dr. Pawson gave out another vast bellow. "YOU HAVE TO PUT EVERYTHING BACK, CHANT!"

And this is just what Christopher had to do. For the rest of the morning he went around the house, up to every floor and then outside into the garden, while Dr. Pawson trundled beside him in his armchair and showed him how to cast holding-spells to stop the house falling down. Dr. Pawson never seemed to leave that armchair. In all the time Christopher spent with him, he never saw Dr. Pawson walk. Around midday, Dr. Pawson sent his chair gliding into the kitchen, where a cook-maid was sitting dolefully in the midst of smashed butter crocks, spilled milk, bits of basin and dented saucepans, and dabbing at her eyes with her apron.

"Not hurt in here are you?" Dr. Pawson barked. "I put a holder on first thing to make sure the range didn't burst and set the house on fire - that sort of thing. That held, didn't it? Water pipes secure?"

"Yes, sir," gulped the cook-maid. "But lunch is ruined, sir."

"We'll have to have a scratch lunch for once," said Dr. Pawson. His chair swung around to face Christopher. "By this evening," he said, "this kitchen is going to be mended. Not holding-spells. Everything as new. I'll show you how. Can't have the kitchen out of action. It's the most important place in the house."

"I'm sure it is, sir," Christopher said, eyeing Dr. Pawson's mountain of a stomach.

Dr. Pawson glared at him. "I can dine in college," he said, "but my mother needs her nourishment."

For the rest of that day Christopher mended the kitchen, putting crockery back together, recapturing spilled milk and cooking sherry, taking dents out of pans, and sealing a dangerous split at the back of the range. While he did, Dr. Pawson sat in his armchair warming himself by the range fire and barking things like, "Now put the eggs together, Chant. You'll need the spell to raise them first, then the dirt-dispeller you used on the milk. Then you can start the mending-spell." While Christopher labored, the cook-maid, who was obviously even more frightened of Dr. Pawson than Christopher was, edged around him trying to bake a cake and prepare the roast for supper.

One way and another, Christopher probably learned more practical magic that day than he had in two and a half terms at school. By the evening he was exhausted. Dr. Pawson barked, "You can go back to your father for now. Be here at nine tomorrow prompt. There's still the rest of the house to see to."

"Oh Lord!" Christopher groaned, too weary to be polite. "Can't someone help me at all? I've learned my lesson."

"What gave you the idea there was only one lesson to learn?" bawled Dr. Pawson.

Christopher tottered back to the lodging house carrying the tooth-brace, the money, and the tiepin wrapped in the gray handkerchief. Papa looked up from a table spread with horoscope sheets. "Well?" he asked with gloomy eagerness.

Christopher fell into a lumpy chair. "Silver," he said. "Silver stops me working magic. And I hope I have got more than one life because Dr. Pawson's going to kill me at this rate."

"Silver?" said Papa. "Oh dear! Oh dear, dear!" He was very sad and silent all through the cabbage soup and sausages the lodging house provided for supper. After supper, he said, "My son, I have a confession to make. It is my fault that silver stops you working magic. Not only did I cast your horoscope when you were born, but I also cast every other spell I knew to divine your future. And you can imagine my horror when each kind of forecast foretold that silver would mean danger or death to you." Papa paused, drumming his fingers on the horoscope sheets and staring absently at the wall. "Argent," he said musingly. "Argent means silver. Could I have got it wrong?" He pulled himself sadly back together. "Well it is too late to do anything about that, except to warn you again to have nothing to do with your Uncle Ralph."

"But why is it your fault?" Christopher asked, very uncomfortable at the way Papa's thoughts were going.

"There is no getting around Fate," Papa said, "as I should have known. I cast my strongest spells and put forth all my power to make silver neutral to you. Silver - any contact with silver - seems to transform you at once into an ordinary person without a magic gift at all - and I see now that this could have its dangers. I take it you can work magic when you are not touching silver?"

Christopher gave a weary laugh. "Oh yes. Like anything."

Papa brightened a little. "That's a relief. Then my sacrifice here was not in vain. As you know, Christopher, I very foolishly lost your mama's money and my own by investing it where I thought my horoscopes told me to." He shook his head sadly. "Horoscopes are tricky, particularly with money. Be that as it may, I am finished. I regard myself as a failure. You are all I have left to live for, my son. Any success I am to know, I shall know through you."

If Christopher had not been so tired, he would have found this decidedly embarrassing. Even through his weariness, he found he was annoyed that he was expected to live for Papa and not on his own account. Would it be fair, he wondered, to use magic to make yourself a famous cricketer? You could make the ball go anywhere you wanted. Would Papa regard this as success? He knew perfectly well that Papa would not. By this time, his eyes were closing themselves and his head was nodding. When Papa sent him off to bed, Christopher fell onto the twanging mattress and slept like a log. He had meant, honestly meant, to go to The Place Between and tell Tacroy all that had happened, but either he was just too tired or too scared that Papa would guess. Whatever the reason was, he did not have any dreams of any kind that night.

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