Mairelon the magician, p.1
Mairelon the Magician, page 1
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
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-
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
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-
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
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
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
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
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
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
by Patricia C. Wrede / Young Adult / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes