Magical Kids II: The Smallest Girl Ever and the Boy Who Could Fly, page 5
“A lamp of this magnitude in the hands of a child! You must be out of your mind. Did I see a wand in your suitcase too? Give it to me, please.”
The wand was put in her desk along with peashooters, stink bombs, catapults, and all the other things the children were not allowed.
After Ruby had unpacked, she was taken into the dining hall. A smell of stale cabbage greeted her. About fifty children were seated on benches at two long wooden tables.
“This is our scholarship pupil, Ruby Genie,” said Miss Pinkerton.
Ruby took her place at the table between a boy called Zack and a girl called Lily whose hair was in braids.
“You couldn’t turn this into chips and sausages with lots of tomato sauce, could you?” said Zack hopefully.
“No,” said Ruby sadly, looking down at the pale gray lumpy things that made up supper.
“It must be wonderful to be as good at magic as you,” Lily said.
Ruby smiled weakly. She wished more than anything that she was any good at all.
The next day, in the school assembly, Miss Pinkerton was in a good mood. It had been a stroke of brilliance, she thought, to offer Ruby a scholarship. It couldn’t be a better advertisement for Grimlocks and was bound to bring in other children whose parents had money that was much needed. It would also keep the Grand Wizard happy. Last year, he had nearly closed the school down due to its bad teaching and dilapidated buildings.
“Now, children,” said Miss Pinkerton, giving a rare and terrible smile. “You have by now all met our star pupil, Ruby. Ruby dear, will you come up here.”
Ruby walked up onto the stage at the end of the hall, where the staff and headmistress were seated.
“I’d like to introduce you to our staff. Miss Fisher, magimatics; Mr. Gaspard, conjuring tricks; Madame Vanish, grand illusions; and lastly myself, special effects. Now Ruby, I am sure you can’t wait to show us your magical skills, so I thought you could start by doing something simple, like a little flying or perhaps a disappearing act.”
Ruby felt her knees begin to shake. She stood in front of the whole school, hoping that the floor would open and swallow her up. There was a moment of dreadful silence as she stood frozen to the spot. Everyone was looking at her.
“Whenever you are ready,” said Miss Pinkerton impatiently.
Ruby felt herself getting smaller, a very strange sensation. Suddenly she had a brainwave.
“I’m awfully sorry, but I only ever did magic with my mom and dad. I’m not used to having so many people watching.”
Miss Pinkerton looked much relieved at this explanation and said in a very solemn voice to the whole school, “Ruby has suffered the dreadful loss of her parents, the great Mr. Genie and his wife Myrtle. We must give her time to settle down, but I’m sure in due course Ruby will amaze us with her magical ability and no doubt be able to teach all of us a thing or two.”
Ruby wasn’t sure about that. All she knew was that she felt smaller.
“That’s pretty cool,” whispered Zack as she took her seat.
“What is?” said Ruby nervously.
“The way you shrank just now.”
What on earth was happening? Ruby had no idea.
If this was what school was about, it must all be a dreadful mistake. How could any kind or loving parent send their child here? As far as Ruby could see, all the parents who had children at the school thought they were doing the very best for them. Zack’s mom worked overtime in the circus so that she could pay the school fees. Lily’s dad and mom hadn’t been on vacation for years so that they could afford to send her to Grimlocks. This seemed true for most of the pupils.
It soon became clear to Ruby that none of the teachers knew all that much about magic. She remembered her father saying in an interview for a Sunday paper that magic couldn’t be taught. It came from the heart. You either had it or you didn’t. Ruby knew she didn’t.
Ruby couldn’t make heads or tails of the lessons in magic. Madame Vanish’s classes seemed to be in another language altogether. Ruby could hardly understand one word of what she was saying, so there was no hope of her learning anything about illusions. Miss Pinkerton’s classes were the dullest, and went on forever. They had little or nothing to do with special effects, but a great deal to do with money, or rather the lack of it. Miss Pinkerton constantly reminded them how expensive it was to run a school like Grimlocks and how she needed to raise more money for a spells lab.
Mr. Gaspard’s conjuring classes were the best. Everyone enjoyed them. In his youth he had starred at the Lyceum Theater, but it burned down in mysterious circumstances. What these were he wouldn’t say, but a lot of his conjuring involved smoke and most of his lessons ended in a loud bang. He was kind to Ruby and seemed to understand that she was doing her best.
What saved Ruby and made her more friends than any amount of magic was reading. No other child in the school could read. Reading, writing, and arithmetic were not on the school curriculum. The theory was that truly magical children didn’t need to be taught these harmful subjects. Reading gave children the wrong ideas.
Ruby’s success lay in her old fairy tale book, which she read to her friends after lights out at night. All her friends agreed that reading was quite an amazing magic trick and they all wanted to be able to do it. Mr. Gaspard would let Ruby off having to do any magic, as long as she read aloud to the class. So Ruby managed to get out of having to do anything spectacular—but it couldn’t last. Miss Fisher, who taught magimatics, did not like it one little bit when she found that Ruby could read, and she told Miss Pinkerton so.
“What we need,” said Miss Fisher, “is a scholarship student who excels in magimatics, not reading.”
Miss Pinkerton agreed. “Her father, you know, was an exceptionally clever genie. Perhaps he felt it was all right for her to read.”
Miss Fisher sniffed. “So far she has shown no ability at all in the field of magic.”
“I’m sure,” said Miss Pinkerton, “that when she has settled down, we will find that we made an excellent choice in giving her a scholarship.”
“Well, I hope you’re right, Headmistress, because I don’t think it will go down well with the Grand Wizard if he finds out that we have given our one and only scholarship to a dud.”
It was the time of year when the Grand Wizard made his annual visit, and Miss Pinkerton was in a panic. She knew he would not hesitate to close the school down if things hadn’t improved.
On the whole, there was very little magic attached to getting the school ready for inspection. It was more like a lot of hard work. It was generally agreed that rain would be a bad idea, so a shabby old marquee was put up in the grounds and Madame Vanish did a magic spell to keep the rain away (well, that was what everyone thought she was doing).
Mr. Gaspard was hard at work in the kitchen, trying to conjure up a magnificent tea. Lily was helping him. After a lot of explosions with flour, Miss Pinkerton said it would be better to order some cakes from the bakery.
As for Ruby, she was sitting alone in an empty classroom, wondering what she was going to do. Miss Pinkerton had given her a list of tricks she was expected to perform for the Grand Wizard, and she was excused from all the classes so she could practice. But it was no good. She still hadn’t done one thing to merit a place, let alone a scholarship, at Grimlocks.
Her friends Lily and Zack tried their best to help her. Lily wondered if she could make a smokescreen to distract the Grand Wizard, since she was one of Mr. Gaspard’s star pupils. Zack felt the best thing she could do would be to disappear for the day, but this didn’t look possible, not with Miss Pinkerton’s beady eye on her.
In the end, Lily said, “You could try reading him a story. Perhaps he can’t read either.”
Finally the day of the visit arrived, and it rained. The children were all neatly turned out and if you half shut your eyes, the school looked passable. Miss Pinkerton had ma
The Grand Wizard was a tall man with a long beard that trailed on the floor. He didn’t seem much impressed with anything Grimlocks School had to offer. He watched despairingly as one of the juniors did a piece of magic involving fire and smoke that nearly set the marquee alight. He sat, grim-faced, as a senior did a mysterious disappearing act and failed to reappear. Lunch did not make things any better. The sandwiches were soggy from the rain and the water that had been used to put out the fire. And for some reason, the cook had gone missing, as had all the cakes that Miss Pinkerton had ordered at vast expense from the local bakery.
In short, the Grand Wizard was not in a good mood.
“We have of course our scholarship student,” said Miss Pinkerton desperately. “I’m sure, Grand Wizard, you would like to see some of her truly amazing magic.”
“It would make a change, Miss Pinkerton, to see anything magical at this school,” replied the Grand Wizard.
“Ruby, come here, my dear,” called Miss Pinkerton. “Grand Wizard, this is Ruby. Her parents—”
“Yes, yes,” said the Grand Wizard. “Do you think that we could get to the magic? I do have a dinner appointment at Wizodean Academy that I would like to keep.”
This was the moment that Ruby had been dreading. She had been practicing a little magic show that involved pulling a rabbit from a hat, followed by three doves. The rabbit and doves were under the table in two separate baskets. The trouble was she hadn’t mastered how to get the rabbit and the doves from the baskets into the hat. She could do it if no one was looking. But everybody was looking and Miss Pinkerton, in particular, was looking furious. Mr. Gaspard was looking worried, Madame Vanish was looking bored, and Miss Fisher was looking smug.
At that moment, Ruby knocked over the baskets. The rabbit hopped out from under the table and started nibbling the Grand Wizard’s beard as the doves flew away into the rafters.
Once again, Ruby felt herself shrinking with fear, getting smaller by the second. Nothing to do but tell the truth, she thought.
“I can’t do magic! It’s all been a terrible mistake. I can read, and I can write, but I can’t do magic. My parents could, but I can’t.” At that moment, a dove’s poo plopped onto the Grand Wizard’s shoulder.
The Grand Wizard stared hard at Ruby and turned pale.
“What is the name of this girl?” he asked, pointing at her.
“Ruby Genie,” said Miss Pinkerton apologetically. “Don’t worry, Grand Wizard, she’s in good hands.”
It had gone worse than even Ruby had thought possible. The Grand Wizard had stared at her for a long time and then left without saying a word. Miss Pinkerton frogmarched Ruby into her office.
“How, I would like to know, did two such brilliant magicians manage to have such a stupid daughter?” shouted Miss Pinkerton, going purple with rage.
“You have let me down, young lady, and the whole school as well,” she yelled above the deafening noise of the chiming clocks. “I would like you to leave immediately, but unfortunately I find, much to my annoyance, that there is nowhere to send you. So, for the time being, you will have to stay here and help in the kitchen.”
“It’s not as bad as all that,” said Lily later, trying to sound cheerful.
“How do you make that out?” said Ruby gloomily. “I’m no good at magic. I have just upset the Grand Wizard. The school is probably going to be shut down. I have to work in the kitchen, and to make matters worse, I won’t ever get my lamp or wand back.”
“If the school shuts down you can come home with me,” said Lily brightly. “Mom and Dad would know what to do. I’m sure they could help.”
“Thanks,” said Ruby.
“I’m sure something will turn up,” said Lily, trying to sound encouraging.
What turned up was as much a surprise to Ruby as it was to Miss Pinkerton. It seemed that Ruby had an uncle.
Ruby’s uncle was a large, jolly man who looked like an actor in need of a theater.
“I have searched the four corners of the globe to find my little niece, and here she is, hidden away in your excellent school,” he boomed to Miss Pinkerton. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am the Great Alfonso, brother of the late Mr. Genie, and devoted uncle of Ruby Genie.” He looked a little taken aback by the sight of Ruby.
“Are you telling me, Miss Pinkerton, that this wee girl is ten? She looks more like six to my untrained eye. What have you done, starved her?”
Miss Pinkerton looked flustered. “No, no such thing. Ruby has just gotten smaller, all of her own accord. Nothing, I can assure you, to do with us.”
“Oh, my poor little niece,” said Alfonso. “Tell me, what have they done to you?”
Ruby wasn’t sure what to say. Miss Pinkerton was glaring at her.
“Never mind,” said Alfonso. “Put it all behind you. We have the future in front of us.” He paused, then said, “The lamp, where is the lamp?”
Miss Pinkerton looked quite put out.
“I feel that as Ruby has caused us so much trouble and expense, the lamp is a small price to pay for her school fees.”
Alfonso’s face clouded over. “You toy with me, the Great Alfonso, at your peril,” he said. “My brother’s lamp in exchange for a stay at your school! Madam, have you completely lost your marbles? That lamp is priceless,” he said, putting an arm around Ruby. “Priceless to us, his only remaining family.”
Miss Pinkerton looked suddenly defeated and handed over the lamp. As Alfonso took it from her, the frown lifted from his face. He waved his arms and the lamp vanished into his coat. Ruby looked on, amazed.
“My mother’s wand,” she whispered to Alfonso. Miss Pinkerton realized she had met her match. She went over to her desk and handed the wand to Alfonso. In the twinkling of an eye, the wand vanished too.
“How do you do that?” said Ruby, really impressed.
“Later, my dear child, later.” He turned and bowed to Miss Pinkerton. “I hope, dear lady,” he said, taking her hand and kissing it, “that with a little extra tuition Ruby will soon be taking up her place again at Grimlocks.”
Miss Pinkerton looked doubtful and was about to say so when she was rudely interrupted by all the clocks striking twelve.
“Is that your tummy rumbling or distant thunder?” said Alfonso merrily as they were driving away from Grimlocks.
“It’s my tummy,” said Ruby. “It seems like ages since I’ve eaten.”
“Well then, lunch is the order of the day.”
They stopped at a little café. Alfonso ordered a huge plate of scrambled eggs, tea, toast, scones, jam and cream, plus an extra plate of cream cakes.
“Eat up, my dear girl. There’s plenty more where that came from.”
Ruby was still uncertain what to make of her newly acquired uncle. He seemed pleasant enough. She knew he had a temper because she had seen how he’d behaved toward Miss Pinkerton—not that she didn’t deserve it. The most important thing was that he’d gotten back the lamp and wand, so he couldn’t be all bad, could he?
“You don’t look one little bit like my father,” she said, feeling braver.
“No, my dear little girl,” said Alfonso. “We were as different as chalk and cheese. Alas, your father was the golden boy—I had nothing like his talents. However, I hope I don’t over-flatter myself by saying that I am now a magician to be reckoned with.”
“I wonder why my father never said anything about you,” said Ruby.
“It breaks my heart,” said Alfonso, “to remember these sad things, but when your father and I were little boys, we would fight, as boys do. I am sorry to say I was jealous of him. To my everlasting regret, we fell out and I swore I would never see him again. So many years have passed; so much water has flowed under the bridge . . . When I heard of his tragic end, it broke my heart, dear girl.”
He brought out a large spotted hanky and blew his nose like a trumpet. The little café went quiet, and everyone turned to look.
“You see, dear girl,” he said, “they all recognize the Great Alfonso.” He had now lost all interest in talking about anything other than himself, a subject he knew a lot about.
It was early in the evening when they arrived in Fizzlewick. Ruby was pleased to see Alfonso lived above a small magic shop. As he parked outside she caught glimpses of all sorts of interesting boxes and books, cloaks and hats in the window.
Above the door a painted sign creaked in the wind. It read:ALFONSO
SpELS AnD MaJIC
“Excuse me,” said Ruby, “why does your sign say—”
“Wonderful, isn’t it?” interrupted Alfonso. “I painted it myself. I bought the shop off an old magician friend of mine, after a fortune cookie prophesied ‘the door to your future is in a basement. ’ I like a good riddle, my dear child!”
Ruby was baffled. “Why did you buy this shop if your future lay in a basement?” she asked.
“Well, my friend said the shop had gotten the better of him,” said Alfonso. “There was a door in the basement that wouldn’t open. He was convinced there was some great secret behind it. He tried everything to get it open, and in the end he decided to give up and retire to the seaside. When I heard the words ‘door’ and ‘basement’, I knew I must buy the shop. One should never underestimate a fortune cookie!” said Alfonso grandly.
“And have you opened the door in the basement?” asked Ruby.
“That’s quite enough questions for one day, dear girl,” said Alfonso, sounding a little irritated. Ruby didn’t dare ask anything else.
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