‘And I thought you were knowledgeable! A Bufo bufo is the correct Latin term for the species common toad. Although badness knows I am not common. I, the Great Glubbslyme, familiar to the wise and wicked witch Rebecca Cockgoldde, the largest, wartiest, moistest, and most magical of toads.’
‘You belong to a real witch?’ said Rebecca. ‘But I didn’t think there were any left.’
‘Alas! You are correct,’ said Glubbslyme, and his hideous head drooped right onto his knobbly knees. There was no mistaking his tears now. His shoulders heaved as he sobbed. ‘Oh how I miss my wonderful weird witch, my own Rebecca. But they seized her, in spite of all my most venomous efforts, they tortured and tormented her, and then they threw her down into the depths of this very pond.’
‘But she should have floated if she was a real witch.’
‘She had a seizure at the shock of the cold water and expired,’ Glubbslyme sobbed.
‘I knew it was horribly unfair,’ said Rebecca. ‘But my Dad said it was hundreds of years ago.’
‘He is correct,’ said Glubbslyme. ‘My Rebecca was cast down to the depths in the seventeenth century. I am not certain of the exact date. No matter, all days have been black since dear Rebecca departed this world. I will show you her memorial tablet.’
He puffed up a little and hopped down the bank of the pond. He scrabbled at the overhanging ferns and managed to push them aside. There was a large stone embedded in the earth and when Rebecca hung precariously over the edge she saw that someone had scored the stone with rather shaky lettering. Rebecca Cockgoldde, R.I.P.
‘Rebecca Cockgoldde, Rest In Peace,’ she read.
‘Rebecca Cockgoldde, Rotting In Pond,’ Glubbslyme corrected her. He traced the letters lovingly with his little black fingers. ‘At first I did cast myself down into the dark depths with my poor mistress and determined to rot there too. I lay motionless for many years, mourning bitterly. But I could not die. Magical toads are notorious for their longevity. And then my mistress slowly sank down into the deep mud and the pond dried out and became unpleasantly overcrowded and I could no longer languish in solitude. Eventually a fool of a female frog festooned me with frog-spawn and no one can mourn immobile whilst tormented by tickling tadpoles. So I swam to the surface and carved the memorial, and whenever I do catch a particularly tempting morsel of dragonfly or whatever, I leave it in front of the tablet as a small token of respect.’
‘How nice,’ said Rebecca.
‘Your vocabulary seems very impoverished,’ said Glubbslyme severely. ‘Although I am not surprised. I read the potato crisp packets and comic papers carelessly cast into the pond.’ He shook his head in disgust. He sounded like a little old man. But then he
old – hundreds of years old. Rebecca’s Dad told her she should try to be extra polite and patient with elderly people. Glubbslyme was very elderly indeed – and she hadn’t treated him with the right sort of respect.
‘I don’t think you’re a bit u-g-l-y now,’ she said, trying to make amends. ‘I think you look very . . .’ She tried hard to think of the right word. ‘Very distinguished.’
It was exactly the right word. Glubbslyme puffed and preened, practically doubling his size.
‘Quite’, he said. ‘I do so agree. You will never see a toad even half as distinguished.’ He hopped up to her, showing himself off, bouncing about like a ball. He bounced nearer and nearer, bobbing right up in Rebecca’s face and back again. She hoped very hard that he wouldn’t land on her head. He reached out in mid-air and she flinched, but he was simply deftly extracting something from her hair. A green ribbon of pondweed.
‘Oh dear,’ said Rebecca. She felt in her hair herself, combing it with her fingers. And then there was her dress.
!’ Rebecca cried.
She had been so involved with Glubbslyme that she’d forgotten all about her best dress. She’d been dimly aware that she was shivering but she hadn’t quite worked out why. Her dress was soaked. She stood up and it clung to her limply, little trickles of water dribbling down her legs onto her toes.
‘What am I going to do?’ Rebecca said, and she started to cry.
Glubbslyme blinked up at her, stretching his own watertight limbs thoughtfully.
‘I have always considered clothing an encumbrance. My own Rebecca cast off her garments on the night of a full moon. Perhaps you might care to do likewise?’
‘I can’t go home without any clothes!’ Rebecca sobbed. Then she looked down at her soaked dress. ‘But I can’t go home like this either. Oh what am I going to do? I look such a sight and I’ve ruined my best dress and my Dad’s going to be so cross.’ Rebecca cried harder.
‘Desist!’ said Glubbslyme. ‘There is no need for all this wailing and gnashing of teeth. I will solve your trivial problem. Kindly remember I am Glubbslyme, ex magical familiar to the great Rebecca Cockgoldde.’
‘Can you really do magic?’ said Rebecca. ‘Can you make my dress as good as new?’
‘Of course,’ said Glubbslyme. ‘If you utter the correct magical command.’
‘And what’s that?’ Rebecca asked eagerly.
‘Repeat my illustrious name seven times.’
‘Glubbslyme, Glubbslyme, Glubbslyme—’ Rebecca began.
‘Desist!’ said Glubbslyme, sighing irritably. ‘It is not quite that simple.’
‘I didn’t think you could,’ said Rebecca.
‘You dare to doubt me?’ said Glubbslyme.
‘Well,’ said Rebecca. She took hold of her sodden hem and squeezed. The trickles merged and became a minor waterfall. ‘I don’t see how anyone could dry my dress just like that.’
‘I can. In my own way. Magic is a science as well as an art. One must work it out logically. Now, your strange shift-like garment is soaking wet, agreed? So we have to find a magical means of drying it. Well, that is easy enough. The sun shall come out.’
Rebecca looked up at the grey clouds overhead.
‘Have a little faith, please!’ said Glubbslyme. ‘Utter the magical command.’
Rebecca took a deep breath and then said, ‘Glubbslyme, Glubbslyme, Glubbslyme, Glubbslyme, Glubbslyme, Glubbslyme, Glubbslyme,’ counting on her fingers to make sure she’d got it right.
Glubbslyme settled himself on the bank, looking up at the sky. His bulbous eyes protruded until they looked as if they might pop out altogether. Then they started revolving. They turned slowly round and round in an anti-clockwise direction, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven times.
And then the sun came out. The clouds parted. There were grey clouds to the left and grey clouds to the right, but there was a brilliant blue patch of sky directly overhead. The sun shone down fiercely.
‘You did it, Glubbslyme! You made the sun come out!’ Rebecca shrieked.
‘Of course I did it. Manipulation of weather. A mere apprentice task. Now stand still and hold out your garments.’
Rebecca did as she was told. The sun shone down, so hot that Rebecca went red in the face.
‘Mmm, I think I might partake of a nap,’ said Glubbslyme. ‘Do not disturb me until you are dry.’
He stretched out and soaked up the sun, his eyes closed. Rebecca stood still, holding out her frock. It was getting hotter and hotter. Steam rose from her dress. She started to feel very sticky. But she wasn’t soaked through any more. She was getting dryer and dryer. And very soon she seemed to be dry all over. She smoothed her dress as best she could. It was badly crumpled and stained a little green in places, but it was completely dry.
‘Glubbslyme? Glubbslyme!’ She had to shake him before he woke up. His sun-warmed skin didn’t feel anywhere near as unpleasant now. ‘Glubbslyme, I’m ready. Look at my dress, it’s dry. You’re
Glubbslyme nodded complacently.
‘I think I ought to be going home soon,’ said Rebecca.
Glubbslyme blinked, still basking. Then he stretched, snapped up three flies in a row, and smiled at her.
‘I always feel uncommon hungry after a slumber,’ he said, smacking his lips. ‘Right, my child.’ He held out his arms expectantly.
Rebecca stared at him. He seemed to set much store by old-fashioned manners so she bent down and shook his right paw vigorously.
‘Whatever are you doing?’ Glubbslyme enquired.
‘I’m shaking your paw.’
‘I am aware of that. Cease immediately lest you jar my entire forearm. Did I not tell you about the unpleasant encounter with the fish-hook? Might I enquire the reason
you are shaking my person in this uncouth manner?’
‘I was only trying to be polite,’ said Rebecca, rather hurt. ‘Oh well. Goodbye then, Glubbslyme. Thank you again for drying my dress. It’s been very nice meeting you.’
‘Nice!’ Glubbslyme mocked. ‘And why do you say goodbye? I am coming with you.’
Rebecca stared at him, her mouth open.
will catch a fly if you do not close that mouth,’ said Glubbslyme. ‘Pray pick me up at once. And do it with the utmost care, if you please. I require adequate support under the armpits.’
Rebecca still hesitated. Glubbslyme twitched once or twice.
‘I see,’ he said, his eyes clouding.‘You are still repelled by my person.’
‘No I’m not. No, I think you’re distinguished, I said. And handsome. And clever. And – and lots of other things,’ said Rebecca hurriedly. ‘It’s just that I don’t understand. Why do you want to come home with me?’
‘To be your familiar,’ said Glubbslyme.
‘Oh. I see. Well, thank you very much. It’s just . . . my Dad won’t let me have any more pets until I’m a bit older.’
Rebecca was speaking the truth. She had once kept a guinea pig and had forgotten to feed it. She still sometimes cried about poor Dandelion in the middle of the night. Her eyes stung a little now as she remembered.
‘I am not a
,’ said Glubbslyme, obviously insulted. ‘Now cease this quibble and take me home.’
Rebecca picked him up gingerly. She supported him under his arms as he’d asked, but he still winced and fussed and said she was squashing him.
‘I’m sorry. It’s just you’re such an awkward shape. Do keep still, Glubbslyme, I’m scared I’ll drop you.’
‘Pray do not do anything of the sort,’ Glubbslyme commanded. ‘I have a very delicate constitution. And why do you refer to my shape as “awkward”?’
‘You’re so fat and so fiddly,’ said Rebecca unwisely.
Glubbslyme swelled with indignation and became even harder to hold. It would have been much easier if Rebecca could get a tight grip on him, but he objected fiercely. She wondered about making a little chair for him out of her hands but he wouldn’t sit still properly and nearly tipped himself out.
‘How did your old witch Rebecca carry you?’ Rebecca asked.
‘She tucked me within the bodice of her gown. However, I do not think we are sufficiently well acquainted for such an intimate mode of transport.’
Rebecca felt very thankful. They paused to give each other a rest. Two little boys bicycled past and then stopped and stared.
‘What’s that black thing you’ve got there?’ one asked.