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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

For the next three weeks, Dr. Pawson kept Christopher so hard at work mending the house that he fell into bed each night too weary to dream. Each morning when Christopher arrived, Dr. Pawson was sitting in his armchair in the hall, waiting for him.

"To work, Chant!" he would bark.

Christopher took to replying, "Really, sir? I thought we were going to have a lazy day like yesterday." The strange thing about Dr. Pawson was that he did not mind this kind of remark in the least. Once Christopher got used to him, he discovered that Dr. Pawson rather liked people to stand up to him, and once he had discovered that, Christopher found that he did not really hate Dr. Pawson - or only in the way you hate a violent thunderstorm you happen to be caught in. He found he quite liked rebuilding the house, though perhaps the thing which he really liked was working magic that actually did something. Every spell he did had a real use. That made it far more interesting than the silly things he had tried to learn at school. And the hard work was much easier to bear when he was able to say things to Dr.Pawson that would have caused masters at school to twist his ears and threaten to cane him for insolence.

"Chant!" Dr. Pawson howled from his armchair in the middle of the lawn. "Chant! The chimney pots on the right are crooked."

Christopher was balanced on the tiles of the roof, shivering in the wind. It was raining that day, so he was having to maintain a shelter-spell for the roof and for the lawn while he worked. And he had put the chimneys straight four times already. "Yes, sir, of course, sir!" he screamed back. "Would you like them turned to gold too, sir?"

"None of that or I'll make you do it!" Dr. Pawson yelled.

When Christopher came to mend Dr. Pawson's mother's room, he made the mistake of trying to treat old Mrs. Pawson the same way. She was sitting up in a bed heaped with plaster from the ceiling, looking quite comfortable and composed, knitting something striped and long. "I saved the looking-glass, child," she remarked with a pleasant smile, "but that is as far as my powers stretch. Be good enough to mend the chamber pot first, and count yourself fortunate, child, that it had not been used. You will find it under the bed."

Christopher fished it out in three broken white pieces and got to work.

"Mend it quite straight," old Mrs. Pawson said, her knitting needles clattering away. "Make sure the handle is not crooked and the gold rim around the top is quite regular. Please do not leave any uncomfortable lumps or unsightly bulges, child."

Her voice was gentle and pleasant and it kept interrupting the spell. At length Christopher asked in exasperation, "Would you like it studded with diamonds too? Or shall I just give it a posy of roses in the bottom?"

"Thank you, child," said Mrs. Pawson. "The posy of roses, please. I think that's a charming idea."

Dr.Pawson, sitting by in his armchair, was full of glee at Christopher's discomfiture. "Sarcasm never pays, Chant," he bawled. "Roses require a creation-spell. Listen carefully."

After that, Christopher had to tackle the maids' rooms. Then he had to mend all the plumbing. Dr. Pawson gave him a day off on Sundays so that Papa could take him to church. Christopher, now he knew what he could do, toyed with the idea of making the church spire melt like a candle, but he never quite dared to do it, with Papa pacing soberly beside him. Instead, he experimented in other ways. Every morning, while he was walking up the Trumpington Road, he tried to coax the trees that lined it into a different pattern. He got so good at it that before long he could shunt them up the road in a long line and crowd them into a wood at the end. In the evenings, tired though he was, he could not resist trying to make the lodging house supper taste better. But food magic was not easy.

"What do they put in sausages these days?" Papa remarked. "These taste of strawberry."

Then came a morning when Dr. Pawson shouted from his chair in the hall, "Right, Chant, from now on you finish the mending in the afternoons. In the mornings we teach you some control."

"Control?" Christopher said blankly. By this time the house was nearly finished and he was hoping that Dr. Pawson would soon have finished with him too.

"That's right," Dr. Pawson bawled. "You didn't think I'd let you loose on the world without teaching you to control your power, did you? As you are now, you're a menace to everyone. And don't tell me you haven't been trying to see what you can do, because I won't believe you."

Christopher looked at his feet and thought of what he had just been doing with the trees in the Trumpington Road. "I've hardly done anything, sir."
"Hardly anything! What do boys know of restraint?" said Dr. Pawson. "Into the garden. We're going to raise a wind, and you're going to learn to do it without moving so much as a blade of grass."

They went into the garden, where Christopher raised a whirlwind. He thought it rather expressed his feelings. Luckily it was quite small and only destroyed one rose bed. Dr. Pawson canceled it with one flap of his purple banana hand. "Do it again, Chant."

Learning control was boring, but it was a good deal more restful. Dr. Pawson obviously knew this. He began setting Christopher homework to do in the evenings. All the same, even after disentangling the interlacing spells in the problems he had been set, Christopher began to feel for the first time that he had some brain left over to think with. He thought about silver first. Keeping Uncle Ralph's silver sixpence in his pocket had stopped him doing such a lot. And that beastly tooth-brace had stopped him doing even more. What a waste! No wonder he had not been able to take the books to the Goddess until Matron made him take the brace out.

He must have been using magic to get to the Anywheres all these years without knowing it - except that he had known it, in an underneath sort of way. Tacroy had known, and he had been impressed. And the Goddess must have realized, too, when her silver bracelet turned Christopher into a ghost. Here Christopher tried to go on thinking about the Goddess, but he found he kept thinking of Tacroy instead. Tacroy would now have gone into a trance uselessly for three weeks running. Tacroy made light of it, but Christopher suspected that going into a trance took a lot out of a person. He really would have to let
Uncle Ralph know what had happened.

Glancing over at Papa, who was hard at work with a special pen marking special symbols on horoscopes under the big oil lamp, Christopher started writing a letter to Uncle Ralph, pretending it was part of his homework. The oil lamp cast shadows on Papa's face, removing the threadbare look and making him look unusually kind and stern. Christopher told himself uneasily that Papa and Uncle Ralph just did not like one another. Besides, Papa had not actually forbidden him to write to Uncle Ralph.

All the same, it took several nights to write the letter. Christopher did not want to seem disloyal to Papa. In the end, he simply wrote that Papa had taken him away from school to be taught by Dr. Pawson. It was a lot of effort for such a short letter. He posted it next day on his way up the Trumping-ton Road with a sense of relief and virtue.

Three days later, Papa had a letter from Mama. Christopher could tell at once from Papa's face that Uncle Ralph had told Mama where they were. Papa threw the letter on the fire and fetched his hat. "Christopher," he said, "I shall be coming with you to Dr.Pawson's today."

This made Christopher certain that Mama was in Cambridge too. As he walked up the Trumpington Road beside Papa, he tried to work out what his feelings were about that. But he did not have much time to think. A strong wind, scented with roses, swept around the pair of them, hurling Christopher sideways and snatching Papa's hat from his head. Papa made a movement to chase his hat - which was just rolling under a brewer's dray - and then dived around and seized Christopher's arm instead.

"Hats are expendable," he said. "Keep walking, son."

They kept walking, with the wind hurling and buffeting around them. Christopher could actually feel it trying to curl around him in order to pull him away. But for Papa's grip on his arm, he would have been carried across the road. He was impressed. He had not known Mama's magic was this strong.

"I can control it if you want," he called to Papa above the noise. "Dr.Pawson taught me wind control."

"No, Christopher," Papa panted sternly, looking strange and most undignified, with his coat flapping and his hair blowing in all directions. "A gentleman never works magic against a woman, particularly his own mama."

Gentlemen, it seemed to Christopher, made things unreasonably difficult for themselves in that case. The wind grew stronger and stronger, the nearer they got to the gate of Dr. Pawson's house. Christopher thought they would never cover the last yard or so. Papa was forced to seize the gatepost to hold them both in place while he tried to undo the latch. Whereupon the wind made a last, savage snatch. Christopher felt his feet leave the ground, and knew he was about to soar away. He made himself very heavy just in time. He did it because it was a contest, really, because he did not like being on the losing side. He would not at all have minded seeing Mama. But he very much hoped Papa would not notice the rather large dents his feet had made in the ground just outside the gate.

Inside the gate there was no more wind. Papa smoothed his hair and rang the doorbell.

"Aha!" shouted Dr.Pawson from his armchair while Mary-Ellen was opening the door. "The expected trouble has come to pass,. I see. Chant, oblige me by going upstairs and reading aloud to my mother while I talk to your father."

Christopher went up the stairs as slowly as he dared, hoping to hear what was being said. All he caught was Dr. Pawson's voice, hardly shouting at all. "I've been in touch almost daily for a week, but they still can't - " After that the door shut. Christopher went on up the stairs and knocked at the door of old Mrs.Pawson's room.

She was sitting up in bed, still knitting. "Come and sit on that chair so that I can hear you," she said in her gentle voice, and gave him a gentle but piercing smile. "The Bible is here on the bedside table. You may start from the beginning of Genesis, child, and see how far you can get. I expect the negotiations will take time. Such things always do."

Christopher sat down and began to read. He was stumbling among the people who begat other people when Mary-Ellen came in with coffee and biscuits and gave him a welcome break. Ten minutes later, old Mrs. Pawson took up her knitting and said, "Continue, child." Christopher had got well into Sodom and Gomorrah and was beginning to run out of voice, when old Mrs. Pawson cocked her white head on one side and said, "Stop now, child. They want you downstairs in the study."

Much relieved and very curious, Christopher put the Bible down and shot to the ground floor. Papa and Dr.Pawson were sitting facing one another in Dr. Pawson's crowded room. It had become more cluttered than ever over the last weeks, since it was stacked with pieces of clocks and ornaments from all over the house, waiting for Christopher to mend. Now it looked more disorganized still. Tables and carpets had been pushed to the walls to leave a large stretch of bare floorboards, and a design had been chalked on the boards. Christopher looked at it with interest, wondering what it had to do with Mama. It
was a five-pointed star inside a circle. He looked at Papa, who was obviously delighted about something, and then at Dr.Pawson, who was just as usual.

"News for you, Chant," said Dr. Pawson. "I've run a lot of tests on you these last weeks - don't stare, boy, you didn't know I was doing it - and every one of those tests gives you nine lives. Nine lives and some of the strongest magic I've met. Naturally I got in touch with Gabriel de Witt. I happen to know he's been looking for a successor for years. Naturally all I got was a lot of guff about the way they'd already tested you and drawn a blank. That's Civil Servants for you. They need a bomb under them before they'll change their minds. So today, after the bother with your mama had given me the excuse we needed, I had a good old shout at them. They caved in, Chant. They're sending a man to fetch you to Chrestomanci Castle now."
Here Papa broke in as if he could not stop himself. "It's just what I've been hoping for, my son! Gabriel de Witt is to become your legal guardian, and in due course you will be the next Chrestomanci."

"Next Chrestomanci?" Christopher echoed. He stared at Papa, knowing there was no chance of deciding on a career for himself now. It was all settled. His visions of himself as a famous cricketer faded and fell and turned to ashes. "But I don't want..."

Papa thought Christopher did not understand. "You will become a very important man," he said. "You will watch over all the magic in this world and prevent any harm being done with it."

"But..." Christopher began angrily.

It was too late. The misty shape of a person was forming inside the five-pointed star. It solidified into a pale plump young man with a long face, very soberly dressed in a gray suit and a wide starched collar that looked much too tight for him. He was carrying a thing like a telescope. Christopher remembered him. The young man was one of the people who had been in the hospital room after everyone had thought Christopher was dead.

"Good morning," the young man said, stepping out of the star. "My name is Flavian Temple. Monsignor de Witt has sent me to examine your candidate."

"EXAMINE HIM!" shouted Dr. Pawson. "I've already DONE that! What do you people take me for?" He rolled his angry eyes at Papa. "Civil Servants!"

Flavian Temple obviously found Dr. Pawson quite as alarming as Christopher did. He flinched a bit. "Yes, doctor, we know you have. But my instructions are to verify your findings before proceeding. If this lad could just step into the pentagram."

"Go on, son," said Papa. "Stand inside the star."

With a furious, helpless feeling, Christopher stepped into the chalked pattern and stood there while Flavian Temple sighted down the telescope-thing at him. There must be a way of making yourself look as if you only had one life, he thought. There had to be! But he had no idea what it was you did.

Flavian Temple frowned. "I can only make it seven lives."

"He's already lost TWO, you fat young fool!" Dr. Pawson bellowed. "Didn't they tell you anything? Tell him, Chant."

"I've lost two lives already," Christopher found himself saying. There was some kind of spell on the pattern. Otherwise he would have denied everything.

"SEE?" howled Dr. Pawson.

Flavian Temple managed to turn a wince into a polite bow. "I do see, doctor. That being the case, I will of course take the boy to be interviewed by Monsignor de Witt. Any final decision has to be Monsignor de Witt's."

Christopher perked up at this. Perhaps it was not settled after all. But Papa seemed to think it was. He came and laid an arm around Christopher's shoulders. "Good-bye, my son. This makes me a very proud and happy man. Say good-bye to Dr.Pawson."

Dr. Pawson behaved as if it were settled too. His chair trundled forward and he held out a big purple banana finger to Christopher. "Bye, Chant. Take no notice of the official way they go on. This Flavian's a fool Civil Servant like the rest of them."

As Christopher shook the purple finger, old Mrs. Pawson materialized, sitting on the arm of Dr.Pawson's chair in her crisp white nightdress, holding her knitting wrapped into a stripey bundle. "Good-bye, child," she said. "You read very nicely. Here is the present I've knitted for you. It's full of protection spells." She leaned forward and draped the knitting around Christopher's neck. It was a scarf about ten feet long, striped in the colors of the rainbow.

"Thank you," Christopher said politely.

"Just move up - er, Christopher - but don't leave the pentagram," said Flavian. He stepped back inside the chalk marks, taking up more than half the space, and took hold of Christopher's arm to keep him inside it. Old Mrs. Pawson waved a withered hand. And without anything more being said, Christopher found himself somewhere quite different. It was even more disconcerting than being carried off from school by Papa.

He and Flavian were standing in a much bigger pentagram that was made of white bricks, or tiles, built into the floor of a lofty space with a glass dome high overhead. Under the glass dome, a majestic pink marble staircase curled up to the next floor. Stately paneled doors with statues over them opened off the space all around - the most stately had a clock above it as well as a statue - and an enormous crystal chandelier hung from the glass dome on a long chain. Behind Christopher, when he twisted around to look, was a very grand front door. He could see he was in the front hall of a very big mansion, but nobody thought to tell him where he was.

There were people standing around the tiled pentagram, waiting for them. And a stately, dismal lot they looked too! Christopher thought. All of them, men and women alike, were dressed in black or gray. The men wore shiny white collars and cuffs and the women all wore neat black lace mittens. Christopher felt their eyes on him, sizing up, disapproving, coldly staring. He shrank into a very small grubby boy under those eyes and realized that he had been wearing the same set of clothes ever since he had left school.

Before he had a chance to do more than look around, a man with a little pointed gray beard stepped up to him and took the striped scarf away. "He won't be needing this," he said, rather shocked about it.

Christopher thought the man was Gabriel de Witt and was all prepared to hate him, until Flavian said, "No, of course, Dr. Simonson," apologizing for Christopher. "The old lady gave it to him, you know. Shall I..?"

Christopher decided to hate the bearded man anyway.

One of the ladies, a small plump one, stepped forward then. "Thank you, Flavian," she said in a final, bossy sort of way. "I'll take Christopher to Gabriel now. Follow me, young man." She turned and went swishing off towards the pink marble stairs. Flavian gave Christopher a nudge, and Christopher stepped out of the tiled pattern and followed her, feeling about a foot high and dirty all over. He knew his collar was sticking up at one side, and that his shoes were dusty, and he could feel the hole in his left sock sliding out of its shoe and showing itself to everyone in the hall as he went upstairs after the lady.

At the top of the stairs was a very tall solid-looking door, the only one in a row of doors that was painted black. The lady swished up to the black door and knocked. She opened it and pushed Christopher firmly inside. "Here he is, Gabriel," she said. Then she shut the door behind him and went away, leaving Christopher alone in an oval-shaped room where it seemed to be twilight or sunset.

The room was paneled in dark brown wood, with a dark brown carpet on the floor. The only furniture seemed to be a huge dark desk. As Christopher came in, a long thin figure reared up from behind the desk - about six-foot-six of skinny old man, Christopher realized, when his heart stopped thumping. The old man had a lot of white hair and the whitest face and hands Christopher had ever seen. His eyebrows jutted and his cheeks stood out in wide peaks, making the eyes between them look sunken and staring. Below that was a hooked beak of nose. The rest of the old man's face went into a small, sharp point,
containing a long grim mouth. The mouth opened to say, "I am Gabriel de Witt. So we meet again, Master Chant."

Christopher knew he would have remembered if he had ever seen this old man before. Gabriel de Witt was even more memorable than Dr. Pawson. "I've never seen you in my life before," he said.

"I have met you. You were unconscious at the time," Gabriel de Witt said. "I suppose this accounts for our being so strangely mistaken in you. I can see now at a glance that you do indeed have seven lives and should have nine."

There were quite a lot of windows in the twilight room, Christopher saw, at least six of them, in a high curving row near the ceiling. The ceiling was a sort of orange, which seemed to keep all the light from the windows to itself. All the same, it was a mystery to Christopher how a room with quite so many windows could end up being so very dark.

"In spite of this," Gabriel de Witt said, "I am very dubious about taking you on. Your heredity frankly appalls me. The Chants give themselves out as a race of respectable enchanters, but they produce a black sheep every generation, while the Argents, though admittedly gifted, are the kind of people I would not nod to in the street. These traits have come out in both your parents. I gather your father is bankrupt and your mother a contemptible social climber."

Even Cousin Francis had not said anything quite as bald as this. Anger flared through Christopher. "Oh thank you, sir," he said. "There's nothing I like more than a polite warm welcome like that."

The old man's eagle eyes stared. He seemed puzzled. "I felt it only fair to be frank with you," he said. "I wished you to understand that I have agreed to become your legal guardian because we do not consider either of your parents a fit person to have charge of the future Chrestomanci."

"Yes, sir," said Christopher, angrier than ever. "But you needn't bother. I don't want to be the next Chrestomanci. I'd rather lose all my lives first."

Gabriel de Witt simply looked impatient. "Yes, yes, this is often the way, until we realize the job needs doing," he said. "I refused the post myself when it was first offered to me, but I was in my twenties and you are a mere child, even less capable of deciding than I was. Besides, we have no choice in the matter. You and I are the only nine-lifed enchanters in all the Related Worlds." He made a gesture with one white hand. A small bell chimed somewhere and the plump young lady swished into the room. "Miss Rosalie here is my chief assistant," Gabriel de Witt said. "She will show you to your room and get you settled in. I have allotted Flavian Temple to you as a tutor, though I can ill spare him, and I will of course be teaching you myself twice a week as well."

Christopher followed Miss Rosalie's swishing skirt past the line of doors and down a long corridor. Nobody seemed to care what he felt. He wondered whether to show them by raising another whirlwind. But there was a spell on this place, a strong, thick spell. After Dr. Pawson's teaching, Christopher was sensitive to all spells, and though he was not sure what this one did, he was fairly sure it would make things like whirlwinds pretty useless. "Is this Chrestomanci Castle?" he asked angrily.

"That's right," Miss Rosalie said. "The Government took it over two hundred years ago after the last really wicked enchanter was beheaded." She turned to smile at him over her shoulder. "Gabriel de Witt's a dear, isn't he? I know he seems a bit dry at first, but he's adorable when you get to know him."
Christopher stared. Dear and adorable seemed to him the last words he would ever use to describe Gabriel de Witt.

Miss Rosalie did not see him stare. She was throwing open a door at the end of the corridor. "There," she said, rather proudly. "I hope you like it. We're not used to having children here, so we've all been racking our brains over how to make you feel at home."

There was not much sign of it, Christopher thought, staring around a large brown room with one high white bed looking rather lonely in one corner. "Thanks," he said glumly. When Miss Rosalie left him, he found there was a brown spartan washroom at the other end of the room and a shelf by the window. There was a teddy bear on the shelf, a game of Snakes and Ladders and a copy of "The Arabian Nights" with all the dirty bits taken out. He put them in a heap on the floor and jumped on them. He knew he was going to hate Chrestomanci Castle.

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