Authors: Diana Wynne Jones
Diana Wynne Jones
To Farah, Charlie, Sharyn and all who attended
the Diana Wynne Jones conference without me.
hen Jocelyn Brandon died — at a great old age, as magicians tend to do — he left his house and his field-of-care to his grandson, Andrew Brandon Hope. Andrew himself was in his thirties. The house, Melstone House, was a simple matter of making a will. But it had been old Jocelyn’s intention to pass the field-of-care on in the proper way, personally.
He left it rather too late. He knew Andrew could reach him very quickly. If you climbed to the top of Mel Tump, the hill beyond the house, you could see the University where Andrew taught as a dark blue clot on the edge of the great blue-green plain, only half an hour’s drive away. So, when he realised he was on his deathbed, Jocelyn commanded his housekeeper, Mrs Stock, to telephone for his grandson.
Mrs Stock did telephone. But the truth is, she did not try very hard. Partly, she did not take the old man’s illness seriously; but mostly, she did not approve of the old man’s daughter for marrying a Hope (and then dying of it). She therefore also disapproved of the daughter’s son, Andrew Hope. Besides, she was waiting for the doctor and didn’t want to be on the phone when she should be answering the door. So when she had worked her way through the intricate University switchboard system and arrived at the History Department, and then to a person who described herself as a Research Assistant, who told her that Dr Hope was in a committee meeting, she simply gave up.
Andrew Hope was driving in the general direction of Melstone that evening, returning from a site connected with his research. His Research Assistant, not having the least idea where he was, had simply told Mrs Stock the lie she told everyone. Andrew had reached the curious dip in the road where, as he always said to himself, things went different. It was blue gloaming and he had just switched his headlights on. Luckily, he was not going fast. A figure was suddenly there, dashing into his headlights’ glare, dark and human and seeming to wave.
Andrew trod on his brakes. His car wove about, wheels howling, in a long, snaking skid, showing him horrendous detail of grass and blackthorn on both sides of the road,
violently lit by his headlights. It followed this by going up and over and down off something sickeningly squashy. Then it stopped.
Andrew tore open his door and jumped out. Into something squashy. This proved to be the ditch in which his nearside wheel was planted. Horrified, he squelshed out and around the bonnet and peered underneath the other three wheels. Nothing. The squashy lump must have been the wet bank between the road and the ditch. Only when he was sure of this did Andrew look round and see the human figure standing waiting for him in the beam of the headlights. It was tall and thin and very like himself, except that its hair was white, its back a little bent and it did not wear glasses like Andrew did. Jocelyn’s eyesight had always been magically good.
Andrew recognised his grandfather. “Well, at least I didn’t kill you,” he said. “Or did I?”
This last question was because he realised he could see the white line in the middle of the road through his grandfather’s body.
His grandfather shook his head, grinned a little and held something out towards him. Andrew could not see it clearly at first. He had to go nearer, remove his glasses and peer. The thing seemed to be a folded paper with some kind of black seal on one corner. The old man shook it
impatiently and held it out again. Andrew cautiously reached for it. But his fingers went right through it and grew very cold. It was like putting his hand for an instant into a freezer.
“Sorry,” he said. “I’ll come to the house and get it, shall I?”
His grandfather gave the paper in his hand a look of keen exasperation, and nodded. Then he stepped back a pace, enough to take him out of the tilted beams of the headlights, and that was all. There was only dark road in the dip.
Andrew stepped outside the light himself to make sure his grandfather was gone. Finding that he was, Andrew put his glasses back on and retrieved his right shoe from the mud in the ditch. After that he stood thinking, watching the right front wheel of his car sinking slowly deeper into the grassy ooze.
He thought movements of sky and earth, time and space. He thought Einstein and skyhooks. He thought that the position of the wheel in the ditch was only a temporary and relative fact, untrue five minutes ago and untrue five minutes from now. He thought of the power and speed of that skid, and the repelling power of the ditch. He thought of gravity reversing itself. Then he knelt down with one hand on the grassy mud and the other on the wheel and
pushed the two apart. Obediently, with some reluctant sucking and squelshing, the car moved out of the ditch and over the bank and bumped down in the road. Andrew sat himself in the driving seat to put his shoe back on, thinking ruefully that his grandfather would simply have stood in the road and beckoned to get the same result. He would have to work at the practical side of magic a bit more now. Pity. He sighed.
After that, he drove to his grandfather’s house. “He’s dead, isn’t he?” he said, when Mrs Stock opened the door to him.
Mrs Stock nodded and redeemed what little conscience she had by saying, “But I knew you’d know.”
Andrew walked through the front door and into his inheritance.
There was of course a great deal of business involved, not only in Melstone and in Melton, the town nearby, but also in the University, because Andrew decided almost at once to leave the University and live in Melstone House. His parents had left him money and he thought that, with what old Jocelyn had left him, he had enough to give up teaching and write the book he had always wanted to write. He wanted to give the world a completely new view of history. He was glad to leave the University, and particularly glad to leave his Research Assistant. She was
such a liar. Amazing that he had wanted to marry her a year ago. But Andrew felt he had to make sure she was safely shunted to another post, and so he did.
One way or another, it was nearly a year before Andrew could move in to Melstone House. Then he had to make sure that the various small legacies in his grandfather’s will were paid, and he did that too; but he was vaguely puzzled that this will, when he saw it, was quite a different size and shape from the paper his grandfather’s ghost had tried to give him. He shrugged and gave Mrs Stock her five hundred pounds.
“And I do hope you’ll continue to work for me just as you did for my grandfather,” he said.
To which she retorted, “I don’t know what you’d do if I didn’t. You live in a world of your own, being a professor.”
Andrew took this to mean yes. “I’m not a professor,” he pointed out mildly. “Just a mere academic.”
Mrs Stock took no notice of this. To her mind this was just splitting hairs.
at a university was to her a professor, unless they were students of course, and therefore even worse. So she told everyone in Melstone that old Jocelyn’s grandson was a professor. Andrew soon became accustomed to being addressed as “Professor”, even by people who wrote to him from elsewhere about
details of folklore or asking questions about magic.
He went to give Mr Stock the gardener
legacy of five hundred pounds. “And I do hope you’ll continue your admirable work for me too,” he said.
Mr Stock leaned on his spade. He was no relation to Mrs Stock, not even by marriage. It was simply that a good half of the people in Melstone were called Stock. Both Mr and Mrs Stock were extremely touchy on this matter. They did not like one another. “I suppose that old bossyboots says she’s carrying on for you?” Mr Stock asked aggressively.
so,” Andrew said.
“Then I’m staying to see fair play,” Mr Stock said and went on banking up potatoes.
In this way, Andrew found himself employing two tyrants.
He did not see them this way of course. To him the two Stocks were fixtures, his grandfather’s faithful servants, who had worked at Melstone House since Andrew had first visited the house as a child. He simply could not imagine the place without them.
Meanwhile, he was extremely happy, unpacking his books, going for walks and simply
in the house where he had spent so many fine times as a boy. There was a smell here — beeswax, mildew, paraffin and a spicy scent
he could never pin down — which said
to Andrew. His mother had never got on with old Jocelyn. “He’s a superstitious old stick-in-the-mud,” she said to Andrew. “Don’t let me find you believing in the stuff he tells you.” But she sent Andrew to stay there most holidays to show that she had not exactly
with her father.
So Andrew had gone to stay with old Jocelyn and the two of them had walked, over fields, through woods and up Mel Tump, and Andrew had learned many things. He did not remember old Jocelyn teaching him about anything magical particularly; but he did remember companionable nights by the fire in the musty old living room, with the curtains drawn over the big French windows, when his grandfather taught him other things. Old Jocelyn Brandon had a practical turn of mind. He taught his grandson how to make flies for fishing, how to mortice joints, and how to make runestones, origami figures and kites. They had invented riddles together and made up games. It was enough to make the whole place golden to Andrew — though he had to admit that, now he was living here, he missed the old man rather a lot.
But owning the place made up for that somewhat. He could make what changes he pleased. Mrs Stock thought he should buy a television for the living room, but Andrew disliked television so he didn’t. Instead, he bought a freezer
and a microwave, ignoring the outcry from Mrs Stock, and went over the house to see what repairs were needed.
“A freezer and a microwave!” Mrs Stock told her sister Trixie. “Does he think I’m going to freeze good food solid, just for the pleasure of thawing it again with
Trixie remarked that Mrs Stock had both amenities in her own house.
“Because I’m a working woman,” Mrs Stock retorted. “That’s not the point. I tell you, that man lives in a world of his own!”
Great was her indignation when she arrived at the house next day to find that Andrew had moved all the furniture around in the living room, so that he could see to play the piano and get the best armchair beside the fire. It took Mrs Stock a whole morning of grunting, heaving and pushing to put it all back where it had been before.
Andrew came in from inspecting the roof and the outhouse in the yard after she had gone, sighed a little and moved everything to where he wanted it again.
Next morning, Mrs Stock stared, exclaimed and rushed to haul the piano back to its hallowed spot in the darkest corner. “World of his own!” she muttered, as she pushed and kicked at the carpet. “These professors!” she said, heaving the armchair, the sofa, the table and the standard lamps back to their traditional places.
added, finding that the carpet had now acquired a long slantwise ruck from corner to corner. “And the
!” she exclaimed, once she had jerked the carpet flat. It took her all morning to clean up the dust.