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Margaret and the moth tr.., p.10

Margaret and the Moth Tree, page 10

 

Margaret and the Moth Tree
 


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  Finally, she caught sight of Pip’s familiar gray wings.

  “Pip!” she cried, shaking the branch where he slept. “Wake up! Oh, wake up!”

  Pip twitched, and mumbled, “Hmm?”

  “Pipperflit!” Margaret shouted.

  “Margaret?” Pip murmured, looking blearily up at her. “You’re early. Why don’t you come back later …”

  And he laid his head back down on the branch.

  “Pip! Don’t go back to sleep,” Margaret said quickly. “Listen to me. I know what’s been happening to the Nimblers! It’s Switch!”

  “The Switch …” muttered Pip.

  “Yes, she’s been turning them sour by tormenting us dregs!”

  “Wait,” said Pip with a shake of his head. “Did you say Nimblers?”

  “Yes!” said Margaret. “We need to get rid of Miss Switch, and then the Nimblers will go back to the way they used to be. Remember, Pip? Licorice and berries and honey? But I need your help, you and all the moths. Help me wake them up!”

  “You can count on me, Margaret,” Pip said with a yawn, nodding his head. “Down with the dungwaddler!” But then he looked around at the sleeping moths, flicking his wings uncertainly. “Only … moths don’t wake up in the daytime.”

  “Pip,” said Margaret, an idea forming in her mind. “Look at it like a game. The very greatest game you’ve ever played. A game to bring back the good Nimblers.”

  At this, Pip perked up. His wings began to twitch. Then he flew up into the air.

  “Games afoot!” he cried. “Everyone up! All moths up for the Greatest Game!”

  The tree began to stir, and the moths to grumble.

  “What’s going on?”

  “Go back to sleep, Pip. We’ll play tonight.”

  “The Greatest Game! The Greatest Game of all!” Pip cried. “It’s happening right now! And the prize is a whopping great load of Nimblers — the most tastiest Nimblers you could possibly chase down! Enough for everyone!”

  Now the tree began to rustle, as the moths began murmuring all at once.

  “What’s he saying?”

  “Nimblers?”

  “The Greatest Game!”

  “Everyone!” Margaret called out over the noise, staring up at the crowd of tiny faces. “This will be a game you’ll never forget for the rest of your lives, and you only get to play it once. If you win, it will be just as Pip said.”

  The hum in the tree grew into a quiet roar.

  And then, high up in the branches, a single voice cried, “For Nimblers!”

  “All right, Whatsit!” called Flit.

  “Now listen carefully!” Margaret said. “Here’s what we’re going to do.”

  CHAPTER 28

  The Rallying of the Dregs

  In preparation for the awards ceremony, Miss Switch had tripled her usual beauty regime. She had powdered and primped. She had creamed and curled. She had tucked and trimmed.

  She had spent hours picking an outfit that was the perfect combination of modesty and grace, and her final selection was now lying neatly on her bed. As the hour of her triumph drew near, she sat at her vanity table wearing a wrinkle-reducing face cream and practicing her acceptance speech in her head.

  But as Switch was smiling smugly at her reflection, a very different kind of preparation was underway outdoors.

  Just outside the orphanage, crouched quietly next to the side door, Margaret was waiting. When a small gray moth came flying toward her a moment later, she rose.

  “The dregs are in the underground,” said Pip, coming to land on her shoulder.

  “The basement, you mean?” said Margaret.

  “That’s the one. That wonky-nosed Pet is guarding them.”

  “And the others?” Margaret asked.

  “Sneaking snacks,” said Pip.

  Margaret nodded. Switch had ordered the dregs to rewash every piece of clothing and linen in the house so that everything would be extra clean for the photographer. And since none of the Pets wanted the job of keeping an eye on them in the steamy room, guard duty had fallen on the dreggish Pet, Agatha Spink.

  “I think I know what to do,” said Margaret.

  Treading softly, she crept through the door into the orphanage. Pip flew ahead to check on the Pets, who were now at the long carved table in the dining room.

  “All clear!” he called.

  Margaret darted into the kitchen and, rummaging in the pantry, quickly gathered up two large handfuls of cookies. Then before the Pets even knew she had been there, she was gone.

  Keeping out of sight, she made her way to the basement stairs. When she reached the bottom, she found a pouting, fidgeting Agatha Spink, leaning unhappily against the doorway of the laundry room.

  Unfortunately, things had not much improved for Agatha since her efforts to win over Miss Switch. She still spent her days wishing she fitted in. She still spent her nights afraid of being tossed out in the cold. Through it all, she had grown to be the most miserable of all the orphans.

  “Hey!” she shouted when she saw Margaret approaching. “You’re supposed to be in there, with the others!” Then, realizing it was Margaret she was talking to, she clapped a hand over her mouth in horror.

  “Miss Switch sent these down for you,” Margaret said immediately, holding up the cookies with a smile. “She wants you to know that she really appreciates all the hard work you’re doing, even though she sometimes doesn’t show it. Anyway, I have to get back to work now.”

  Without giving Agatha a moment to object, Margaret pressed the cookies into her hands, strode purposefully into the laundry room and shut the door behind her. Though her heart was racing, Margaret knew that Agatha, standing wide-eyed and open-mouthed in the hallway, had believed her, if only because she so deeply wanted to.

  But Margaret didn’t have time to feel glad or proud or relieved just yet. Her real challenge was still to come.

  All around her, the dregs of the orphanage were stirring steaming pots of laundry. Their faces were red with heat, their clothes were stained with sweat, and their arms and legs had broken out in splotches where the boiling water had splashed up and burned them.

  Gathering her courage, Margaret took two steps into the room.

  Starting a revolution is a tricky thing. Usually, kings or emperors or elementary-school teachers who go around stomping on their subjects do such a good job of it that the subjects never even think of standing up to them. A very good speech is sometimes needed to get things going. And a very good speech was what Margaret had to make now, as she stood with Pip on her shoulder, looking around at the downtrodden dregs.

  “Go on, Margaret!” said Pip.

  Margaret cleared her throat.

  “Everyone,” she said. “I have something to say.”

  The dregs closest to her looked up in shock, then turned back to their work quickly. Margaret glanced at Pip, who flicked his wings encouragingly.

  She took a deep breath, walked to an overturned bucket in the center of the room and stood on top of it.

  “Dregs!” she said as loudly as she could.

  A few more dregs looked up, but most of them pretended they hadn’t heard her.

  “Listen to me!” cried Margaret. “For too long we have suffered under the rule of the Switch!”

  The splashing of the paddles quieted as several dregs stopped their stirring.

  “We’ve scrubbed and cleaned and cooked, and what has it brought us?”

  “Nothing,” said quiet Timothy Smealing, and a few more dregs turned to listen.

  “Nothing,” agreed Margaret. “Nothing but pinches and punishments. Nothing but taunts and torment. And it’s worse than it’s ever been.”

  Now the whole room was watching her, and several of the dregs were
nodding.

  “Think of Sarah Pottley! Think of Toby! Think of everything she’s done to each of you,” Margaret cried. “The time has come to act. We can’t let Switch push us around for one more second.”

  “That’s right,” said Phoebe Frizzleton. “It’s not fair!”

  “She needs to be stopped,” said Bessie Blotchly.

  Margaret nodded firmly. “We’ve got to show the world Switch’s true colors.”

  “But how can we?” said Judy, her eyes wide. “No one’s ever managed to do it before.”

  “I’m talking about joining forces,” said Margaret. “The Switch is getting an award today. A lot of people will be visiting the orphanage. We’re going to make sure that they see her the way we see her, and that she can’t talk her way out of it. Everyone will need to help if it’s going to work. So, are we in this together?”

  For a moment, no one spoke.

  “We’re with you, Margaret!” Vickram suddenly cried, his eyes shining.

  “Yeah!” cried the rest of the dregs.

  “Tell us what you need us to do!” piped Timothy Smealing.

  “Right,” said Margaret. “Bessie Blotchly, I need you to go up on the roof and sit by the chimney. When you get the signal, I want you to start knocking on it. Phoebe Frizzleton, you and Vickram will have to take care of Agatha Spink. Make sure she doesn’t raise the alarm. Helen and Timothy, in exactly ten minutes, gather the rest of the dregs and wait in the front hall for when the grown-ups come. No more games and smiles this time.”

  “Got it,” said Bessie Blotchly.

  “Aye, aye!” said Phoebe Frizzleton.

  “We’re with you, Margaret!” said Helen Ravish.

  “And Judy,” Margaret said. “You’re with me. We’re going to take care of the Pets.”

  Judy looked nervous, but nodded bravely.

  “Okay, everyone,” Margaret said. “Let’s go!”

  And as if she had just blown the Switch’s golden whistle, the dregs burst through the basement door.

  “But Margaret,” Judy said, as the pair of them passed a hollering Agatha Spink being pushed into a broom cupboard, “there’s no way the two of us are any match for all the Pets.”

  “It’s not just the two of us,” Margaret said. “Just wait and see.”

  CHAPTER 29

  Pets, Petrified

  If Margaret had mentioned that her great plan rested on nothing more than a treeful of small gray moths, Judy might have been less willing to “just wait and see.” But Margaret didn’t mention it, because Judy didn’t yet know one very important fact: that small creatures are sometimes capable of great things.

  “Wait here,” Margaret said. “As soon as you see me coming around the corner, call for Lacey as loud as you can.”

  Judy nodded.

  Margaret slipped down the hall and around the corner to an open window.

  “All right, Pip,” said Margaret. “It’s time. Send up the signal.”

  “Right!” cried Pip, flicking his wings with excitement. Flying out the window, he zipped around in three big loop-de-loops. Margaret held her breath, staring out at the yard.

  Sure enough, after only a moment, she saw the slightest movement of another tiny moth rising up from the vegetable garden. The moth returned Pip’s loop-de-loop signal, then came zooming toward the window.

  “Here they come!” cried Pip, landing on the sill near Margaret.

  The new moth came zipping through the window, and was followed by another. Then another. And then a hundred more! Soon the air was filled with an enormous stream of moths, flying right through the window and coming to land at Margaret’s feet. She could hear their tiny laughing voices, saying, “Right, Finkripple,” and “The Greatest Game!” and “Whizwinger, watch my foot!”

  “All right, moths,” Margaret whispered. “Form up!”

  “Right!” called the moths.

  With a flurry of wings, a group of about twenty moths fluttered into a flat circular formation about the size of a dinner plate and landed on the floor. Once they’d done that, a second group gathered to flutter right above them, making another plate-sized layer. Groups of moths continued to pile one on top of the other, fluttering above the moths below them, until the column of moths was a head taller than Margaret herself.

  The sight was astonishing to behold! The tower of moths fluttered and wiggled and swayed like some strange sea creature.

  “Perfect!” said Margaret. “Is everyone ready?”

  “Ready!” called the moths.

  Margaret ran back around the corner and waved at Judy.

  “Lacey!” Judy began yelling. “Come quick! Lacey!”

  Margaret only had time to whisper “Don’t worry, they’re on our side” to Judy before the monstrous moth creature appeared around the corner, swaying and floating slowly toward them.

  “Yikes!” screamed Judy in real fear. “Lacey, Pets, hurry!”

  A moment later, Lacey herself appeared.

  “What is it, dreg?” she shouted at Judy, looking ready to pummel her. But then her eye caught sight of the massive beast at the end of the hall.

  Just as it is rather satisfying to see nasty tyrants get a taste of their own medicine, it is extremely pleasant to see someone who has spent her whole life scaring people have her own wits scared silly.

  Lacey shrieked, jumped in the air and began running in circles and screaming. The sound of Lacey screaming in fear was something that had never been heard before within the walls of the Hopeton Orphanage, and the noise drew the rest of the Pets to the hallway in an instant. When they saw the swaying moth tower, they followed Lacey’s example and began to scream, too.

  “What is that?!” they shrieked.

  “Goodness!” said Margaret loudly. “It’s a carnivorous Flapdragon! I’ve read about them. They’re so deadly that one bite will kill you in a heartbeat.”

  This news made Lacey even more hysterical, and as she ran in circles she started screaming, “What do we do? What do we do?!”

  “The Flapdragon can’t open doors!” Margaret cried. “Quick, the bedroom! You’ll be safe in there!”

  Margaret didn’t need to say another word. The Pets stampeded into their bedroom like a herd of antelopes fleeing from a hungry lion.

  “Do you want me to shut the door?” Margaret asked them.

  “Yes!” cried the Pets. “Shut it! Shut it quickly!”

  “Shall I lock it, too, just to be safe?”

  “Yes!” screamed the Pets. “For goodness’ sake, lock it!”

  “Okay,” said Margaret. Slamming the door shut with a satisfying bang, she lowered the latch, and the Pets were trapped.

  Margaret smiled and nodded to the moths, who fell away from their tower and fluttered all around her in a great cheering cloud.

  “Thanks, everyone!” she whispered. “We did it!”

  “Anytime, Margaret!” said the chorus of voices. “On to the next!”

  And in a jumble of loop-de-loops, they headed back out the open window.

  “It worked!” laughed Pip, landing on Margaret’s shoulder.

  “Moths!” breathed Judy. “That was amazing! I never knew moths could do a thing like that!”

  “Yes,” said Margaret. “Moths can do all sorts of things.”

  But she didn’t tell Judy anything more right then, for there was still work to be done.

  With pounding hearts, the two orphans and the moth headed straight for the bedroom of the Switch.

  CHAPTER 30

  The Greatest Game

  For anyone who didn’t know better, the simple wooden door to Switch’s private sitting room might not have looked like anything much.

  Most people wouldn’t have noticed the rich polish of the wood or the shine of the silv
er doorknob, or paused to smell the expensive perfumes wafting from inside. Most people would never have suspected that the door hid anything very remarkable.

  But as Margaret, Pip and Judy reached the end of Switch’s corridor, they noticed all these things, and they knew that what was waiting for them behind the door must be very remarkable indeed.

  “All right, Pip,” Margaret said. “This is it.”

  Judy stared open-mouthed as, on cue, Pip flew from Margaret’s shoulder and crept under the door.

  “All clear!” he called from inside.

  Margaret nodded at Judy and slowly turned the silver knob. The door opened with the tiniest of squeaks, and Margaret and Judy slipped inside.

  A dazzling sight met their eyes.

  Switch’s sitting room had three layers of Turkish rugs, tapestries on the walls, and dozens of vases, statues and candelabras. Margaret recognized some of them from her very first day in the orphanage when they had decorated the ground floor. Just like a magpie hoarding shiny objects in its nest, Switch had greedily gathered all the treasures of the house for her own enjoyment.

  Moving farther into the room, Margaret and Judy came to another door, this one painted bright gold, and with a crystal knob. It was a door lavish enough for a queen. The door to Switch’s bedroom.

  Margaret put her eye to the keyhole and squinted.

  The room was filled with clothes, shoes, hats, handbags and jewelry — gold and silver, diamonds and pearls. Switch had stuffed the high-ceilinged room so full that it looked like the den of a fashionable dragon. Stacks of glossy magazines were crammed wherever they could fit, and on every wall was a mirror, which made the hoard seem even bigger.

  “I can hear her unscrewing a jar,” Margaret whispered.

  “It’s such an important day,” Judy whispered back. “I bet she wants to look extra beautiful.”

  “Pip, can you get a closer look?”

  “’Course,” said Pip. He crept through the crack under the door. “Yep,” he said. “She’s putting stuff on her face. Looks like she’s almost finished.”

 
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