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Charmed Life

Chapters 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

It was a glorious start-of-autumn day, with everything green and gold, hot and still. There was not a soul around, and very little sound except the lonely crunch of Cat's and Janet's feet as they hurried through the formal garden.

Halfway through the orchard, Janet said, "If the garden we want looks like a ruined castle, we're going away from it now."

Cat could have sworn they were heading straight for it but, sure enough, when he stopped and looked around, the high, sun-soaked old wall was right behind them. And now he came to think of it, he could not remember how he and Gwendolen had got to it before.

They turned back and walked towards the high wall. All they found was the long, low wall of the orchard. There was no gate in it, and the forbidden garden was beyond it. They went along the orchard wall to the nearest gate. Whereupon they were in the rose garden, and the ruined wall was behind them again, towering above the orchard.

"This couldn't be an enchantment to stop people getting into it, could it?" said Janet, as they plodded through the orchard again.

"I think it must be," said Cat. And they were in the formal garden again, with the high wall behind them.

"They'll be coming out of church before we've found it, at this rate," Janet said anxiously.

"Try keeping it in the corner of your eye and not going straight to it," said Cat.

They did that. They walked slantwise with the garden, not really looking at it. It seemed to keep pace with them. And suddenly they came out somehow beyond the orchard into a steep, walled path. Up at the top of it stood the high old wall, with its stairway masked by hollyhocks and bright with snapdragons, breathing warmth out of its crumbling stones into their worried faces. Neither of them dared look straight at the tall ruins, even while they were running up the path. But the wall was still there when they reached the end, and so was the overgrown stair.

The stair made a nerve-racking climb. They had to go up it twice as high as a house, with one side of themselves pressed against the hot stones of the wall, and a sheer drop on the other side. The stairs were frighteningly old and irregular. And they grew hotter and hotter. Towards the end, Cat had to keep his head tipped up to the trees hanging over the top of the ruins, because looking anywhere else began to make him dizzy. He had glimpses of the Castle in the distance from more angles than he would have thought possible. He suspected that the ruins he was on were moving about.

There was a notch in the wall at the top, not like a proper entrance at all. They swung themselves in through it, secret and guilty, and found the ground beyond worn smooth, as if other people had been coming that way for centuries. There were trees, thick and dark and close together. It was wonderfully cool. The smoothly worn path twined among them. Janet and Cat stole along it. As they went, the trees, as closely growing trees often seem to do when you walk among them, appeared to move this way and that and spread into different distances. But Cat was not altogether sure it was only an appearance.

One new distance opened into a dell. And then they were in the dell.

"What a lovely place!" Janet whispered. "But how peculiar!"

The little dip was full of spring flowers. Daffodils, scillas, snowdrops, hyacinths, and tiny tulips were all growing there in September in the most improbable profusion. There was a slight chill in the dip, which may have accounted for it. Janet and Cat picked their way among these flowers, shivering a little. There were the scents of spring, chilly and heady, clean and wild, but strong with magic. Before they had taken two steps, Cat and Janet were smiling gently. Another step and they were laughing.

"Oh, look!" said Janet. "There's a cat."

It was a large stripy torn. It stood arched suspiciously beside a clump of primroses, not sure whether to run away or not. It looked at Janet. It looked at Cat. And Cat knew it. Though it was firmly and definitely a cat, there was just a suggestion of a violin about the shape of its face.

He laughed. Everything made him happy in that place. "That's old Fiddle," he said. "He used to be my violin. What's he doing here?"

Janet knelt down and held out her hand. "Here, Fiddle. Here, puss." Fiddle's nature must have been softened by being in that dell. He let Janet rub his chin and stroke him. Then, in the most unheard-of way, he let Janet pick him up and stand up hugging him. He even purred. Janet's face glowed. She could almost have been Gwendolen coming home from a witchcraft lesson, except that she looked kinder. She winked at Cat. "I love all kinds of Cat!"

Cat laughed. He put out his left hand and stroked Fiddle's head. It felt strange. He could feel the wood of the violin. He took his hand away quickly.

They went on through a white spread of narcissi, smelling like paradise, Janet still carrying Fiddle. There had been no white flowers until then. Cat began to be almost sure that the garden was moving around them of its own accord. When he stepped among bluebells, and then big red tulips, he was sure. He almost - but not quite - saw the trees softly and gently sliding about at the sides of what he could see. They slid him among buttercups and cow-parsley, into a sunny, sloping stretch. And here was a wild rose, tangled with a creeper covered in great blue flowers. Cat could definitely feel the sliding movement now. They were being moved around and down somehow. If he thought about the way the garden had also been moving about in the Castle grounds, he started to feel almost as sick as he did in the car. He found it was best just to keep walking and looking.

When they slid through the trees among flowers of high summer, Janet noticed too. "Aren't we getting a lightning tour of the year?" she said. "I feel as if I'm running down a moving staircase."

It was more than the ordinary year. Fig trees, olives, and date palms moved them around into a small desert, where there were cacti like tormented cucumbers and spiny green armchairs. Some had bright flowers on them. The sun burned down. But they had hardly time to get uncomfortable before the trees circled around them again and brought them into a richer, sadder light, and autumn flowers. They had barely got used to that when the trees put out berries, turned amber and lost their leaves. They moved towards a thick holly, full of red berries. It was colder. Fiddle did not like this part. He struggled out of Janet's arms and ran away to warmer climes.

"Which are the gates to other worlds?" Janet said, brought back to a sense of purpose.

"Soon, I think," said Cat. He felt them coming to the center of the garden. He had seldom felt anything magical so strongly.

The trees and bushes around them now were embalmed in frost. They could see bright berries in bright casings of ice. Yet Janet had scarcely time to rub her arms and shiver before a tree met them that was a wintry mass of pink blossom. Straight stalks of winter jasmine hung from the next, in lines of small yellow stars. And then came a mighty black thorn tree, twisted in all directions. It was just putting out a few white blossoms.

As it took them in under its dark hood, Janet looked up into its black twistings. "The one at Glastonbury looks like this," she said. "They say it blooms at Christmas."

Then Cat knew they were in the heart of the garden. They were in a small bowl of meadowland. All the trees were up around the edges, except one. And here it seemed the right season of the year, because the apples were just ripening on that one tree. It stood leaning over the center of the meadow, not quite overshadowing the queer ruin there. As Janet and Cat passed quietly towards this place, they found a little spring of water near the roots of the apple tree, which bubbled up from nowhere, and bubbled away again into the earth almost at once. Janet thought the clear water looked unusually golden. It reminded her of the water from the shower when it stopped Cat from burning.

The ruins were two sides of a broken archway.

There was a slab of stone which must have fallen from the top of the arch lying nearby at the foot of the tree. There was no other sign of a gate.

"I think this is it," said Cat. He felt very sad to be leaving.

"I think it is too," Janet agreed in an awed, muffled voice. "I feel a bit miserable to be going, as a matter of fact. How do we go?"

"I'm going to try sprinkling a pinch of dragons' blood in the archway," said Cat.

He fumbled out the crucible wrapped in his handkerchief from his pocket. He smelled the strong smell of the dragons' blood and knew he was doing wrong. It was wrong to bring this harmful stuff into a place that was so strongly magic in such a different way.

But, since he did not know what else to do, Cat carefully took a pinch of the smelly brown powder between the finger and thumb of his right hand, wrapped the crucible away again with his left hand, and then, carefully and guiltily, sprinkled the powder between the pillars of broken stone.

The air between the pillars quivered like air that is hot. The piece of sunny meadow they could see beyond grew misty, then milky pale, then dark. The darkness cleared slowly, away into the corners of the space, and they found they could see into a huge room. There seemed acres of it. All of it was covered in a carpet of a rather ugly playing-card sort of design in red, blue, and yellow. The room was full of people. They reminded Cat of playing cards too, because they were dressed in stiff, bulky clothes in flat, bright colors. They were all trailing about, this way and that, looking important and agitated. The air between them and the garden was still quivering and, somehow, Cat knew they would not be able to get into the huge room.

"This is not right," said Janet. "Where is it?" Cat was just about to say that he did not know either, when he saw Gwendolen. She was being carried by, quite near, on a sort of bed with handholds. The eight men carrying it all wore bulky golden uniforms. The bed was gold, with gold hangings and gold cushions. Gwendolen was dressed in even bulkier clothes than the rest, that were white and gold, and her hair was done up into a high golden headdress which may have been a crown. From the way she was behaving, she was certainly a queen. She nodded to some of the important people and they leaped eagerly to the side of her bed and listened with feverish intelligence to what she was saying. She waved to some others, and they ran to do things. She made a sign at another person and he fell on his knees, begging for mercy. He was still begging when other people dragged him away. Gwendolen smiled as if this amused her. By this time, the golden bed was right beside the archway, and the space was a turmoil of people racing to do what Gwendolen wanted.

And Gwendolen saw Cat and Janet. Cat knew she did, from the expression of surprise and faint annoyance on her face. Maybe she worked some magic of her own, or maybe the magic in the dragons' blood was simply used up. Whatever it was, the broken archway turned dark again, then milky, then to mist; and finally, there was nothing but meadow again between the pillars, and the air had stopped shimmering.

"That was Gwendolen," Cat said.

"I thought it was," Janet said unappreciatively. "She'll get fat if she has herself carried about like that all the time."

"She was enjoying herself," Cat said wistfully.

"I could see that," said Janet. "But how do we find my world?"

Cat was not at all sure. "Shall we try going around to the other side of the arch?"

"Seems reasonable," Janet agreed. She started to walk around the pillars, and stopped. "We'd better get it right this time, Cat. You can only afford one more try. Or didn't you lose a life on that one?"

"I didn't feel..." Cat began.

Then Mr.Nostrum was suddenly standing in the broken arch. He was holding the postcard Cat had sent to Mrs.Sharp, and he was cross and flustered.

"My dear boy," he said to Cat, "I told you two-thirty, not midday. It was the merest chance that I had my hand on your signature. Let us hope all is not lost." He turned and called over his shoulder, apparently into the empty meadow, "Come on, William. The wretched boy seems to have misunderstood me, but the spell is clearly working. Don't forget to bring the... ah... equipment with you."

He stepped out from between the pillars, and Cat backed away before him. Everything seemed to have gone very quiet. The leaves of the apple tree did not stir, and the small, small bubbling from the little spring changed to a soft, slow dripping. Cat had a strong suspicion that he and Janet had done something terrible. Janet was beyond the archway with her hands to her mouth, looking horrified. She was suddenly hidden by the large figure of Mr.William Nostrum, who popped into being from nowhere between the two pillars. He had a coil of rope around one arm, and there were shiny things sticking out of the pockets of his frock coat. His eyes were swiveling in an agitated way. He was a little out of breath.

"Premature but successful, Henry," he puffed. "The rest have been summoned."

William Nostrum stepped imposingly out beneath the apple tree beside his brother. The ground shook a little. The garden was quite silent. Cat backed away again and found that the little spring had stopped flowing. There was nothing but a muddy hole left. Cat was quite certain now that he and Janet had done something terrible.

Behind the Nostrums, other people came hurrying through the broken archway. The first one who came was one of the Accredited Witches from farther down Coven Street, puce in the face and very startled. She had been to church in her Sunday best: a monster of a hat with fruit and flowers in it, and a black and red satin dress. Most of the people who followed her were in Sunday best too: warlocks in blue serge and hard hats, witches in silk and bombazine and hats of all shapes and sizes, respectable-looking necromancers in frock coats like William Nostrum's, skinny sorcerers in black, and quite a sprinkling of impressive wizards, who had either been to church in long black cloaks, or playing golf in very freckled plus fours. They came crowding between the pillars, first by twos and threes and then by sixes and sevens, all a little hasty and startled. Among them Cat recognized most of the witches and fortune-tellers from Coven Street, though he did not see either Mrs.Sharp or Miss Larkins - but this may have been simply that, in no time at all, he was being jostled this way and that in the middle of a large and steadily growing crowd.

William Nostrum was shouting to each group who hurried through, "Spread out. Spread out up the meadow. Surround the gate there! Leave no avenue of escape."

Janet forced her way among them and seized Cat's arm. "Cat! What have we done? Don't tell me these aren't all witches and warlocks, because I won't believe you!"

"Ah, my dear Gwendolen!" said Mr.Henry Nostrum. "Plan Two is under way."

By this time, the sloping sides of the meadow were crowded with witches and warlocks. The ground quivered to their trampling and buzzed with their cheerful conversation. There were hundreds of them - a nodding of garish hats and shiny toppers, like the audience at the opening of a bazaar.

As soon as the last necromancer had hurried between the pillars, Henry Nostrum put a heavy possessive hand on Cat's shoulder. Cat wondered uneasily whether it was just an accident that it was the same hand which held his postcard to Mrs.Sharp. He saw that the Willing Warlock had stationed himself by one of the broken pillars, blue-chinned and cheerful as ever in his tight Sunday suit. Mr.William Nostrum had put as much of himself as would go behind the other pillar and, for some reason, he had taken off his heavy silver watch-chain and was swinging it in one hand.

"Now, my dear Gwendolen," said Henry Nostrum, "would you care for the honor of summoning Chrestomanci?"

"I... I'd rather not," said Janet.

"Then I'll take it upon myself," said Henry Nostrum, perfectly well pleased. He cleared his throat and shouted in a fluting tenor, "Chrestomanci! Chrestomanci! Come to me."

And Chrestomanci was standing between the pillars.

Chrestomanci must have been on his way up the avenue from church. He had his tall gray hat in one hand and, with the other, he was in the act of putting his prayer book into the pocket of his beautiful dove-gray coat. The assembled witches and necromancers greeted him with a sort of groaning sigh. Chrestomanci blinked around at them, in his mildest and most bewildered way. He became even vaguer and more bewildered when he happened to see Cat and Janet.

Cat opened his mouth to shout at Chrestomanci to go away. But the Willing Warlock leaped on Chrestomanci the moment he appeared. He was growling. His fingernails were growing into claws and his teeth into fangs.

Chrestomanci stuffed the prayer book into his pocket and turned his vague look on the Willing Warlock. The Willing Warlock stood still in midair and shrank. He shrank so fast, he made a whirring sound. Then he was a small brown caterpillar. He dropped to the grass and wriggled there. But, while he was still shrinking, William Nostrum pounced out from behind the other pillar and deftly wrapped his watch-chain around Chrestomanci's right hand.

"Behind you!" shrieked Cat and Janet, too late.

After barely one wriggle, the caterpillar burst up out of the grass and became the Willing Warlock again, a little disheveled, but very pleased with himself. He threw himself on Chrestomanci again. As for Chrestomanci, it was plain that the watch-chain had somehow disabled him completely. There was a second or so of furious struggle in the archway, while the Willing Warlock tried to grab Chrestomanci in both brawny arms, and Chrestomanci tried to get the watch-chain off his wrist using his left hand, and William Nostrum hung on to it fiercely. None of them used any magic, and Chrestomanci seemed only able to shoulder the Willing Warlock weakly aside. After two attempts, the Willing Warlock wrapped his arms around Chrestomanci from behind and William Nostrum dragged a pair of silver handcuffs from his pocket and snapped them on both Chrestomanci's wrists.

There was a scream of triumph from under the nodding hats of the audience - the scream of true witchcraft, which made the sunlight tremble. Chrestomanci, even more disheveled than the Willing Warlock, was dragged out from between the pillars. His tall gray hat rolled near Cat's feet and Henry Nostrum stamped on it, with the greatest satisfaction. Cat tried to get out from under Henry Nostrum's hand while he did it. And he found he could not move. Mr. Nostrum had seen to that with Mrs.Sharp's postcard. Cat had to face the fact that he was as helpless as Chrestomanci seemed to be.

"So it is true!" Henry Nostrum said joyously, as the Willing Warlock bundled Chrestomanci towards the apple tree. "The touch of silver conquers Chrestomanci - the great Chrestomanci!"

"Yes. Isn't it a nuisance?" Chrestomanci remarked. He was dragged to the apple tree and pushed against it. William Nostrum hurried over to his brother and pulled the watch-chain off Henry's bulging waistcoat. Two silver watch-chains from two such ample brothers were more than enough to tie Chrestomanci to the tree. William Nostrum hastily twisted the ends into two charmed knots and stood back rubbing his hands. The audience screamed eldritch laughter and clapped. Chrestomanci sagged as if he were tired. His hair hung over his face, his tie was under his left ear, and there was green from the bark of the tree all over his dove-gray coat. Cat felt somehow ashamed to look at him in that state. But Chrestomanci seemed quite composed. "Now you've got me all tied up in silver, what do you propose doing?" he said.

William Nostrum's eyes swirled joyfully about. "Oh, the worst we can, my dear sir," he said. "Be assured of that. We're sick of you imposing restraints on us, you see. Why shouldn't we go out and conquer other worlds? Why shouldn't we use dragons' blood? Why shouldn't we be as wicked as we want? Answer me that, sir!"

"You might find the answer for yourself, if you thought," Chrestomanci suggested. But his voice was drowned in the yelling from the assembled witches and necromancers. While they shouted, Janet began edging quietly towards the tree. She supposed Cat dared not move with Henry Nostrum's hand on his shoulder, and she felt someone ought to do something.

"Oh, yes," said Henry Nostrum, cock-a-hoop with pleasure. "We are taking the arts of magic into our own hands today. This world will be ours by this evening. Come Halloween, dear sir, we shall be going out to conquer every other world we know. We are going to destroy you, my dear fellow, and your power. But before we do that, of course, we shall have to destroy this garden."

Chrestomanci looked thoughtfully down at his hands, hanging limply in the silver handcuffs. "I shouldn't advise that," he said. "This garden has things in it from the dawn of all the worlds. It's a good deal stronger than I am. You'd be striking at the roots of witchcraft - and you'd find it shockingly hard to destroy."

"Ah," said Henry Nostrum. "But we know we can't destroy you unless we destroy the garden, my wily sir. And don't think we don't know how to destroy the garden." He lifted his free hand and clapped Cat on the other shoulder with it. "The means are here."

Janet, at that moment, stumbled over the block of stone that lay in the grass near the apple tree. "Dratitude!" she said and fell heavily across it. The audience pointed and screamed with laughter, which annoyed her very much. She glared around the circle of Sunday bonnets and hats.

"Up you get, dear Gwendolen," Henry Nostrum said gleefully. "It's young Cat who has to go on there." He put an arm around the helpless Cat, plucked him off the ground, and carried him towards the block of stone. William Nostrum bustled up, beaming and uncoiling his rope. The Willing Warlock bounced up willingly to help too.

Cat was so terrified that he managed somehow to break the spell. He twisted out of Henry Nostrum's arms and ran for all he was worth towards the two pillars, trying to fetch out his dragons' blood as he ran. It was only a few steps to run. But naturally every witch, warlock, necromancer, and wizard there instantly cast a spell. The thick smell of magic coiled around the meadow. Cat's legs felt like two lead posts. His heart hammered. He felt himself running in slow motion, slower and slower, like a clockwork toy running down. He heard Janet scream at him to run, but he could not move any longer. He stuck just in front of the ruined archway, and he was stiff as a board. It was all he could do to breathe.

The Nostrum brothers and the Willing Warlock collected him from there, and wound the rope around his stiff body. Janet did her best to prevent them.

"Oh, please stop! What are you doing?"

"Now, now, Gwendolen," Henry Nostrum said, rather perplexed. "You know perfectly well. I explained to you most carefully that the garden has to be disenchanted by cutting the throat of an innocent child on that slab of stone there. You agreed it must be so."

"I didn't! It wasn't me!" said Janet.

"Be quiet!" Chrestomanci said from the tree. "Do you want to be put in Cat's place?"

Janet stared at him, and went on staring as all the implications struck her. While she stared, Cat, stiff as a mummy and wound in rope, was carried by the Willing Warlock and dumped rather painfully down on the block of stone. Cat stared resentfully at the Willing Warlock. He had always seemed so friendly. Apart from that, Cat was not as frightened as he might have been. Of course Gwendolen had known he had lives to spare. But he hoped his throat would heal after they cut it. He was bound to be very uncomfortable until it did. He turned his eyes up to Janet, meaning to give her a reassuring look.

To his astonishment, Janet was snatched away backwards into nothingness. The only thing which remained of her was a yell of surprise. And the same yell rumbled around the meadow. Everyone there was quite as astonished as Cat.

"Oh, good!" Gwendolen said, from the other side of the stone. "I got here in time."

Everyone stared at her. Gwendolen came from between the pillars, dusting off the dragons' blood from her fingers with one of Cat's school essays. Cat could see his signature at the top: Eric Emelius Chant, 26 Coven St., Wolvercote, England, Europe, The World, The Universe - it was his, all right. Gwendolen still had her hair up in that strange headdress, but she had taken off the massive golden robes. She had on what must have amounted to underclothes in her new world. They were more magnificent than any of Chrestomanci's dressing gowns.

"Gwendolen!" exclaimed Henry Nostrum. He pointed to the space Janet had vanished from. "What... who...?"

"Just a replacement," Gwendolen explained, in her airiest way. "I saw her and Cat here just now, so I knew..." She noticed Chrestomanci limply tied to the apple tree. "Oh, good! You caught him! Just a moment." She marched over to Chrestomanci and held up her golden underclothes in order to kick him hard on both shins. "Take that! And that!" Chrestomanci did not try to pretend the kicks did not hurt. He doubled up. The toes of Gwendolen's shoes were as pointed as nails.

"Now, where was I?" Gwendolen said, turning back to the Nostrum brothers. "Oh, yes. I thought I'd better come back because I wanted to see the fun, and I remembered I'd forgotten to tell you Cat has nine lives. You'll have to kill him several times, I'm afraid."

"Nine lives!" shouted Henry Nostrum. "You foolish girl!"

After that, there was such a shouting and outcry from every witch and warlock in the meadow, that no one could have heard anything else. From where Cat lay, he could see William Nostrum leaning towards Gwendolen, red in the face, both eyes whirling, bawling furiously at her, and Gwendolen leaning forward to shout back. As the noise died down a little, he heard William Nostrum booming, "Nine lives! If he has nine lives, you stupid girl, that means he's an enchanter in his own right!"

"I'm not stupid!" Gwendolen yelled back. "I know that as well as you do! I've been using his magic ever since he was a baby. But I couldn't go on using it if you were going to kill him, could I? That's why I had to go away. I think it was nice of me to come back and tell you. So there!"

"How can you have used his magic?" demanded Henry Nostrum, even more put out than his brother.

"I just did," said Gwendolen. "He never minds."

"I do mind, rather," Cat said from his uncomfortable slab. "I am here, you know."

Gwendolen looked down at him as if she was rather surprised that he was. But before she could say anything to Cat, William Nostrum was loudly shushing for silence. He was very agitated. He took a long shiny thing out of his pocket and nervously bent it about.

"Silence!" he said. "We've gone too far to draw back now. We'll just have to discover the boy's weak point. We certainly can't kill him unless we find it. He must have one. All enchanters do." So saying, William Nostrum rounded on Cat and pointed the shiny thing at him. Cat was appalled to see that it was a long silver knife. The knife pointed at his face, even though William Nostrum's eyes did not. "What is your weak point, boy? Out with it."

Cat was not saying. It seemed the only chance he had of keeping any of his lives.

"I know," said Gwendolen. "I did it. I put all his lives into a book of matches. They were easier to use like that. It's in my room in the Castle. Shall I get it?"

Everyone Cat could see from his uncomfortable position looked relieved to hear this. "That's all right, then," said Henry Nostrum. "Can he be killed without burning a match?"

"Oh, yes," said Gwendolen. "He drowned once."

"So the question," said William Nostrum, very much relieved, "is simply how many lives he has left. How many have you, boy?" The knife pointed at Cat again.

Again Cat was not saying.

"He doesn't know," Gwendolen said impatiently. "I had to use quite a few. He lost one being born and another being drowned. And I used one to put him in the book of matches. It gave him cramps, for some reason. Then that toad tied up in silver there wouldn't give me magic lessons and took my witchcraft away, so I had to fetch another of Cat's lives in the night and make it send me to my nice new world. He was awfully disobliging about it, but he did it. And that was the end of that life. Oh, I nearly forgot! I put his fourth life into that violin he kept playing, to turn it into a cat - Fiddle - remember, Mr.Nostrum?"

Henry Nostrum clutched his two wings of hair. Consternation broke out around the meadow again. "You are a foolish girl! Someone took that cat away. We can't kill him at all!"

For a moment, Gwendolen looked very dashed. Then an idea struck her. "If I go away again, you can use my replacem..."

The watch-chains around Chrestomanci chinked. "Nostrum, you're upsetting yourself needlessly. It was I who had the cat-violin removed. The creature's around in the garden somewhere."

Henry Nostrum swung around to look at Chrestomanci suspiciously, still hanging on to his two wings of hair as if that kept his mind in place. "I doubt you, sir, very seriously. You are known to be a very wily person."

"You flatter me," said Chrestomanci. "Unfortunately I can't speak anything but the truth tied up in silver like this."

Henry Nostrum looked at his brother. "That is correct," William said, dubiously. "Silver constrains him to utter facts. Then I suppose the boy's missing life must be here somewhere."

This was enough for Gwendolen, the Willing Warlock, and for most of the witches and necromancers. Gwendolen said, "I'll go and find it, then," and minced up the meadow towards the trees as fast as she could in her pointed shoes, with the Willing Warlock bouncing ahead. As they pushed past a witch in a high green hat, the witch said, "That's right, dear. We must all hunt for the pussy." She turned to the crowd with a witch's piercing scream. "Hunt for pussy, everyone!"

And everyone raced off to do it, picking up skirts and holding on Sunday hats. The meadow emptied. The trees around it shook and waved and crashed. But the garden would not let anyone get very far. Brightly colored witches, cloaked wizards, and dark warlocks kept being spilled out of the trees into the meadow again. Cat heard Chrestomanci say, "Your friends seem very ignorant, Nostrum. The way out is widdershins. Perhaps you should tell them so. The cat will certainly be in summer or spring."

William Nostrum gave him a swirling glare and hurried off shouting, "Widdershins, brothers and sisters! Widdershins!"

"Let me tell you, sir," Henry Nostrum said to Chrestomanci, "you are beginning to annoy me considerably." He hovered for a second but, as quite a crowd of people, with Gwendolen and the Willing Warlock among them, were whirled out of the trees into the meadow again, and seemed very indignant about it, Henry Nostrum set off trotting towards them, calling, "No, my dear friends! My dear pupil! Widdershins. You have to go widdershins."

Cat and Chrestomanci were left alone for the time being by the broken arch and the apple tree.

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