Mairelon the magician, p.1

Mairelon the Magician, page 1

 

Mairelon the Magician



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Mairelon the Magician


  ONE

  Kim walked slowly through the crowd, slipping in and out of the traffic almost without thinking She enjoyed the noise and bustle Common to all the London markets, but Hungerford was her favorite Though it was small by comparison to Covent Garden or Leadenhall, it was very busy Carts stood hub-to-hub along the sides of the street, leaving only narrow aisles for the customers The more fortunate among the sellers had permanent stalls, others displayed their shoes or brooms or baskets on bare strips of pavement Still others walked through the crowd with baskets of turnips, apples, parsnips, onions, or cress, crying their wares in unmusical voices

  Kim let the flow of traffic carry her closer to the market's most recent addition, eyeing it with a mingling of curiosity

  and professional appraisal It was a wagon painted in sunbleached yellow and gold, its tall red wheels half hidden by the stalls on either side Two large doors made up the end of the wagon that faced the street, and they were fastened with a rusty padlock The doors carried a rough painting of a man in a black top hat, with a string of incomprehensible but decorative letters Just below him.

  The wagoneer had bagged one of the best spots in the

  market, right between Jamie the Tailor and Red Sal's fish

  stand. Kim frowned. Sal was a good sort, but she wouldn't

  take kindly to having Kim lighten a wagon next to her- Even

  if "lightening" wasn't exactly what Kim planned to do. Jamie

  was more irritable but not so noticing- Kim's frown deepened.

  She wondered, not for the first time, whether she'd been wise

  to take this job. Tofts were trouble, no two ways, and a toff

  knowing enough to find Kim in the back streets of

  London.

  Firmly Kim brought her mind back to the business at hand.

  The wagon was close enough to Red Sal's to have scraped the

  paint off the side of the stall, had there been any paint to

  scrape- Small as she was, Kim would never be able to squeeze

  through. She'd have to go in past Jamie's, then, and time

  things so he was busy with a customer. She looked at the

  wagon with misgiving.

  A man came around the corner of the wagon and began

  undoing the latches at the rear- He was tall and thin and

  everything about him seemed to droop, from his baggy trou-

  sers to his sloping shoulders to the brim of his slouch hat.

  Even his mustache drooped, and as he worked he chewed

  absently first on one end and then the other.

  The doors swung open, and Kim blinked in surprise- The

  entire rear end of the wagon was occupied by a tiny stage. A

  faded red curtain separated the back of the stage from the

  wagon's interior, Kim forgot her eventual goal and slid closer,

  fascinated. The droopy man swung a small ladder down at the

  right side of the stage and latched it in place, then climbed

  onto the stage itself. He vanished behind the curtain, only to

  reappear a moment later carrying a table, which he set care-

  hilly in the middle of the stage. Then he began hanging lan-

  terns on either side.

  A crowd began to collect around the end of the wagon,

  drawn by the curious spectacle of something being set up in

  the market in complete silence Some of the bystanders of-

  fered comments as the lanterns were hung and lit—"Waste o'

  good oil, that," and "Bit crooked, ain't she?" The droopy man

  chewed on his mustache, but gave no sign that he had heard.

  He finished his work and disappeared once more behind

  the curtain For a long moment there was no further activity,

  and the small crowd murmured in disappointment. Before

  they could begin to drift away, there was a loud crash, and a

  thick cloud of white smoke enveloped the stage

  "Come one, come all!" called a ringing voice from the cen-

  ter of the smoke. "Prepare to be amazed and astonished by

  the one, the only—Mairelon the Magician!"

  With the last words, the smoke dissipated. In the center of

  the stage stood a man- His hair was dark above a rounded

  face, and he had a small, neat mustache but no beard. He

  wore a black opera cape and a top hat, which made it difficult

  to assess his height; Kim judged him middling tall. His right

  hand held a silver-headed walking stick, "Another toff'" Kim

  thought with disgust. She did not for a moment believe that

  he was a real magician; if he were, he would never waste his

  time working the market. Still, she felt a twinge of un-

  easiness.

  The man held his pose for a moment, then threw back his

  cape. "I am Mairelon the Magician!" he announced. "Lend me

  your attention and I will show you wonders. The knowledge

  of the East and the West is mine, and the secrets of the mys-

  terious cults of Africa and India! Behold!"

  Mairelon pulled a silk handkerchief from his pocket and

  displayed both sides- "A perfectly ordinary handkerchief—as

  ordinary, that is, as the finest silk may be- Stuff of such

  worth should be kept close." The crowd chuckled as he

  stuffed it into his closed fist and it vanished.

  "Dear me, i seem to have lost it in spite of my efforts," the

  magician went on, opening his fist "Now, where . , ahl"

  He reached down toward a pretty muffin-maid standing in

  front of the stage and pulled the handkerchief out of her bon-

  net, A string of colored scarves came with it, knotted end-to-

  end. Mairelon frowned. "Now, what am I to do with all of

  these?" he mused. Carefully he folded them into a compact

  ball and wrapped the ball in the white handkerchief. When

  he shook it out, the scarves were gone,

  The flow of chatter continued as Mairelon borrowed a

  penny from a man in the crowd and made it pass through his

  handkerchief, then vanish and reappear. He pulled an egg

  from behind another man's ear, broke it into his hat, then

  reached into the hat and removed a live dove. He covered it

  briefly with his cloak, then drew the cloak aside to reveal a

  large wicker cage with the dove inside. He placed cage and

  dove on the floor of the stage and gestured with his walking

  stick, and they vanished in a puff of smoke and flame. He

  showed the crowd a shallow bowl and had one of the barrow

  boys fill it with water, then dropped a sheet of paper in and

  pulled out ten tiny Chinese lanterns made of folded paper.

  Kim watched the show with unabashed enjoyment. Near

  the end, the droopy man reappeared, carrying an ancient

  tambourine. As Mairelon finished his performance, his com-

  panion circulated among the crowd, collecting pennies and

  shillings from the onlookers.

  Reluctantly Kim pulled her mind away from the fascinating

  sight of Mairelon the Magician juggling eggs that, as they

  passed between his agile fingers, changed from white to red

  to blue to yellow in rapid succession. This was the first time

  both men had been outside at once, and she had to know

  how long the wagon would be empty,

  She started singing "Darlin' Jenny" in her head to
mark the

  time, and scowled in irritation Her dislike for this job was

  growing stronger every minute- Nicking a purse or pocket

  watch from the swells in the High Street had never bothered

  her, but she'd always hated working the markets Hungerford

  was the nearest she'd had to a home since old Mother Tibb

  dangled from the nubbing cheat, and even if all she had to do

  this time was a bit of snooping, it felt the same as nabbing a

  haddock from Red Sal's stand when her back was turned- Kim

  contemplated conveniently forgetting to return to the public

  house where the toff had arranged to meet her, but the mem-

  ory of the pound notes the stranger had offered held her like

  an iron chain.

  Five pounds was a fortune by Kirn's standards; she could

  eat well and sleep dry for months and still have enough left to

  replace the ragged jacket and boy's breeches she wore. If she

  played her cards right, she might even get out of the streets

  for good. It was time and past that she did so; she was, she

  thought, nearing seventeen, and her long-delayed growth was

  finally arriving- She wouldn't be able to play the boy much

  longer. A chill ran down her spine, and she pushed the

  thought, and the darker knowledge of the inevitable con-

  sequences that would follow the end of her masquerade, reso-

  lutely from her mind. Mairelon the Magician was, for the

  moment at least, of far greater importance than her own un-

  certain future.

  Mairelon finished his show in a flurry of flashing knives and

  whirling scarves, and bowed deeply. "Thank you for your at-

  tention—and for your gracious contributions." He waved at

  the tambourine his dour assistant carried, and the crowd

  chuckled. "That concludes this performance, but soon Mair-

  elon the Magician will return to perform even more wondrous

  feats for your delight and astonishment! Until then, my

  friends!" In a second puff of smoke and flame, the magician

  vanished-

  Kim stopped midway through the eighth verse of "Darlin'

  Jenny" and slipped away as the crowd began to disperse. She

  did not want Sal or Jamie spotting her and remembering it

  later Once she was safely away from Mairelon's wagon, she

  breathed more easily. She couldn't do anything about the ma-

  gician until the end of his next show. She had time, now, to

  enjoy the market.

  She stopped an ancient woman in a faded kerchief and ex-

  changed one of her carefully hoarded pennies for a bag of

  roasted chestnuts. She ate them slowly as she walked, savor-

  ing the taste The unaccustomed warmth in her stomach

  made her feel more cheerful, though she still wasn't too keen

  on the idea of mucking about in Mairelon's wagon. For one

  thing, she didn't like the look of the skinny toff who'd hired

  her.

  Unconsciously she flexed her fingers, making the bag rus-

  tle. Five pounds would buy a lot more than chestnuts. The

  skinny toff hadn't asked her to nick anything, she reminded

  herself, just to look around and tell him what she saw and

  whether the magician kept a particular bowl in his wagon.

  The toff had claimed it was a bet- He might even be telling

  the truth; swells'd bet on anything.

  She stepped aside to let an oyster-seller push his barrow

  past. It didn't feel right. The gentry cove had been too keen

  on her finding that bowl. He'd gotten positively excited when

  he started describing it—silver, he'd said, with a lot of carv-

  ings and patterns whose details Kirn had seen no reason to

  bother remembering,

  Kirn frowned. Curiosity was her besetting weakness. And

  five pounds was five pounds- it wasn't as if she'd be doing any

  harm. She finished the last of the chestnuts and stuffed the

  bag into one of her many pockets, in case she found a use for

  it later. She'd do it just the way the toff had asked: go in,

  look around, and slip out- Mairelon would never know any-

  one had been there.

  And if she did happen to find that bowl, maybe she'd see

  what was so special about it. But she wouldn't mention it to

  die skinny toff. She'd collect her money and leave- She might

  even come back and warn Mairelon about the swell that was

  showing so much interest. Market folk should stick together,

  after all- She smiled to herself; that'd serve the skinny toff a

  bit of his own soup! Whistling cheerfully, she strolled off to

  see if the puppet show was still stopping at the far end of the

  market.

  Evening found her lurking near Mairelon's wagon once

  more. This time she stood in the shadows next to Jamie's

  stall, leaning on one of its support posts- As the crowd grew

  larger, she let herself be pushed back until the open rear door

  of the wagon, which formed one side of Mairelon's stage, all

  but hid the performance from her sight.

  Mairelon was as good as his word. He did not, as far as

  Kirn could tell, repeat any of the tricks he had used in his

  earlier performance. This time, he made three unbroken silver

  rings pass through each other, locking and interlocking them

  in intricate patterns- He bought an apple from a passing

  vendor and cut it open to reveal a shilling at its core- The

  apple seller was promptly surrounded by hopeful customers,

  but his remaining wares proved disappointingly ordinary.

  Meanwhile, the magician went smoothly on with his act.

  He borrowed a hat from one of the men in the crowd, boiled

  an egg in it, and returned the hat to its owner unharmed.

  Then he brought out a pack of playing cards and ran through

  a series of increasingly elaborate tricks,

  Kirn was so enthralled by the show that she almost missed

  seeing a small door open near the front of the wagon. The

  jingling noise of the tambourine caught her attention at last,

  Hastily she mashed herself flat against the side ofJamie's stall,

  holding one ragged sleeve up to obscure her face. Mairelon's

  droopy henchman glanced in her direction as he passed, but

  his eyes moved on once her dirty and impecunious appear-

  ance sank in-

  As soon as the man had been absorbed into the audience,

  Kirn darted for the wagon door, hoping Mairelon's show and

  the growing shadows would keep her from being noticed.

  Her luck held; no shouts followed her down the narrow aisle,

  and when she reached it, the door was unlocked. Kirn pushed

  it open and half jumped, half fell into the wagon's interior,

  the first chorus of "Darlin' Jenny" echoing through her mind.

  She paused briefly to get her breath back and look around-

  Once again, she found herself staring in surprise- The

  wagon's interior was paneled in dark wood, polished to a high

  gloss. Rows of cupboards ran down one side, topped by a

  shelf of smooth grey tile. A long chest was built into the

  other wall, from the neat roll of blankets at one end, Kim

  guessed that it doubled as a bed- Presumably the droopy man

  slept on the Hoor, or perhaps under the wagon, for she saw

  no si
gn of a second bed.

  A small lamp, which K.im decided had to be pewter be-

  cause it could not possibly be silver, hung near the door. Its

  light threw back rich highlights from the walls and cupboard

  doors. A wool carpet, deep red with strange designs in black

  and cream, covered the floor. Kim had never been anywhere

  half so elegant in her entire life; even the back room of Gen-

  tleman Jerry's was nothing to it.

  The faded curtain at the far end of the wagon swayed as

  Mairelon crossed his little stage. Kim came out of her daze as

  she realized that the curtain was all that separated her from

  discovery. She could hear the magician's patter quite clearly.

  He would be able to hear her just as easily, should she be

  clumsy or careless.

  Kim glanced around the wagon again, painfully aware of

  the need for haste. She had wasted nearly a whole verse in

  her musing. The cupboards were the most likely place to

  start She stepped forward, like a cat stalking a particularly

  suspicious mouse, and opened the first door.

  The cupboard was filled with dishes. Three mismatched

  plates and a shallow ceramic soup bowl occupied the lowest

  shelf, a row of china teacups hung from hooks on the bottom

  of the shelf above. The upper part of the cupboard contained

  a neat stack of copper pans, iron pots, and assorted lids. Kim

  took long enough to make sure there was nothing hidden in

  or behind any of them, then went on. Her hasty search re-

  vealed nothing of any interest in the remaining cupboards,

  and she turned to the long chest

  The lid did not respond to her careful tug. Closer inspec-

  tion revealed a hidden lock. Kim hesitated. She had nearly

  three full verses of "Darlin' Jenny" left, even if she allowed

  herself all of the last one as a safety margin. And the skinny

  toff would hardly be pleased if all she had to tell him was that

  Mairelon the Magician kept pots in his cupboards and his

 
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