Read The Mystery of the Cupboard Online

Authors: Lynne Reid Banks

The Mystery of the Cupboard

BOOK: The Mystery of the Cupboard

For my family.

The Longhouse

ut Mum, I don't want to move house again!”

Omri's mother stared at him with her mouth slightly ajar. She turned away for a moment as if she simply couldn't think of a thing to say, and then swiftly turned back.

“Omri, you know what, you're incredible. Ever since we moved here you've done nothing but moan. You hated the district, you hated the street, you hated the house—”

“I never said I hated the house! I like the house. I love the garden. Anyway, even if I did hate it, I wouldn't want
to move. All that packing and general hassle last time, it was awful! Why do we have to move

“Listen, darling. You remember the freak storm?”

Omri stared at her. Remember it? Could anyone who'd survived it possibly ever forget it?

“Stupid me, of course you do, I only meant— well, it wrecked the greenhouse—”

“It wrecked
my room

“The chimney fell off, the roof had to be—”

“But Mum, that was all months ago. It's all been mended, pretty well.”

“At vast cost,” put in his father, who was sitting at the breakfast-room table writing out a description of their house. It was coming home unexpectedly early and catching his father on the phone to an estate agent that had tipped Omri off that his parents were thinking about selling and moving.

“Yes, and now with a new roof and everything, it's a good time to sell. Besides, Dad really hates living in town.”

Now it was Omri's turn to have his mouth hanging open.

“You mean we're not going to live in London?”

“No. We're going to live in the country.”

Omri sat up sharply. “The
he almost shouted, as dismayed as if his father had announced they were going to live at the bottom of the sea.

“Yes, dear, the country,” said his mother. “That big green place with all the trees - you know, you've seen it
through the car window when we've been racing from one hideous town to another.”

Omri ignored her sarcasm. “Would it be Kent?” His best friend, Patrick, lived in Kent.


That put the lid on any thoughts that it might not be so bad.

“But - but - are we just moving because of Dad?”

“Certainly not,” his father said promptly. “We're also moving because the local high school, which your brothers already go to and which you will, in theory, be starting at in September, is a sink. It's enough that two of my sons come home two days out of five looking as if they've fallen under a bus. It's enough that Gillon's marks are in steady decline. I'm not going to compound my mistake by sending
there too.”

But Omri had stopped listening and was halfway to the door.

“Do Adiel and Gillon know?”

“We were going to have a family conference tonight after supper. Only you wrung it out of me,” said his father. “And you don't have to go telling them straight away—”

But Omri was already charging up the stairs. At the top he burst into the first room he came to, which was Gillon's.

“We're going to live in the country!” he exploded.

Gillon, who had jumped up guiltily from his bed
(where he'd been lying reading a magazine instead of doing homework) because he thought it was a parent, slumped back again and stared at Omri, stunned.

“The country!” he repeated in exactly the same tone as Omri had used. “We can't be! What'll we do there? There's nothing to do in the country, we'll be bored out of our minds!”

But Omri had already vanished and was beating on Adiel's door. Adiel really was doing homework, and had locked his door to keep out intruders.

“Get lost!” he yelled from his desk.

“Ad, listen! Dad's just told me. We're going to live in the country!”

There was a pause, then the bolt was drawn, the door opened, and Adiel's face appeared. He stared at Omri in silence for a few seconds.

“Good,” he said maddeningly, and shut the door in his face.

“Are you crazy?” Omri called through the door. Gillon had come out and was standing next to him.

“He said ‘good'!” Omri told him indignantly.

“Ask him if he's crazy.”

“I just have!”

“Are you crazy?” Gillon shouted at the top of his voice through the door.

“Boys, stop that row, that's enough! Come down and we'll talk about it!” came their father's irritated voice from the foot of the stairs.

Omri and Gillon trailed down and back into the breakfast room. After a few minutes, Adiel, looking studiedly unconcerned, joined them.

“Now then. Listen first,
blow your tops, okay? This house, due to a fluke in the housing market, is suddenly worth a lot of money.”

“How much?” said Gillon, for whom money was the most important thing in life.

“A lot more than we paid for it. Just because it's in London and lots of people, whom I can only regard as totally insane, want to live in London.”

“And at the precise moment when we were thinking of selling anyway,” put in their mother eagerly, “something really wonderful has happened. I've inherited a lovely house.”

“Inherited? Does that mean we get it for nothing?”

“Yes! Isn't it incredible?”

“But what's it like? Have you seen it?”

“Well, er - no, not yet. But it sounds beautiful. Not as big as this one—”

“WHAT!” all the boys - even Adiel - yelled in chorus.

“But that won't matter,” put in their father quickly, “because we will not be surrounded on all sides by this stinking, overcrowded, crime-ridden city where you can't snatch a breath of clean air or walk ten yards without being mugged—”

“Lionel, there's no need to exaggerate, none of us has ever been mugged—”

“—Or at least tripping over litter, and we will live in peace and safety and beauty, in a much nicer, if
smaller, house with much more land, and we'll have a better life. Now what on this polluted earth, may I ask, is wrong with that?”

Silence. Then Adiel said, “Sounds okay to me. Only where would we go to school?”

Their father and mother gave each other a little married look. Their father cleared his throat and said, “Well. What would you say to boarding?”

He was looking only at Adiel when he said it, and Adiel didn't flinch. But Gillon gave a great screech and fell off his chair onto the floor, where he lay spread-eagled and twitching.

“Oh, get up,” said his mother, hauling on one arm. “You clown. He didn't mean you.”

Gillon sat up sharply.

“He didn't? Why not? Aren't I good enough to go to boarding school?”

“No,” said Adiel. “At boarding school you're not only expected to work, you have to keep your room tidy. You'd be kicked out in a week.”

Gillon uttered a short word under his breath and slumped back onto the floor. From there he said, “I suppose we couldn't have a dog.”

“A dog!” exclaimed Omri. “What about Kitsa?” Kitsa was his cat.

“It would eat her,” said Gillon cheerfully. “Bit of a
laugh, eh?” He sat up again. “It'd be good, we might get a rottweiler and then it would eat you, too.”

“What we might actually get,” remarked their mother, “is a pony.”

The boys all looked at one another in bewilderment. None of them had ever shown the faintest interest in riding. Only for Omri did the idea of a horse have any associations. But they were very pleasant ones.

He said slowly, “That might be all right. I wouldn't mind that.”

“Are you crazy? You've never even sat on a horse!” said Gillon.

“I'd like to, though,” said Omri.

His vision of ‘the country' as a barren wilderness devoid of all entertainment blurred a little, and out of the mist rode a familiar figure: an American Indian, seated astride a strong, alert brown pony, with his hand raised in stern greeting. He cocked one buckskin-clad leg over the pony's neck and slid to the ground, where he stood knee-deep in lush English grass. What was odd was, in Omri's vision, he was the same size as Omri - well, bigger, obviously, because he was a man. The odd thing about this was that Omri had only ever seen him small. But often in Omri's night- and day- dreams, he appeared full size.

Now, in the daydream, the Indian made a stirrup of both hands and gestured with his head. Without hesitating, Omri ran up to him, put his left foot in the
hands and felt himself lifted. A moment later he was on the pony's warm back.

It felt terrific. He looked down at the Indian - his friend - and the Indian narrowed his black eyes at him approvingly and gestured with both fists. Omri understood him instantly and echoed that squeezing movement with his legs. The pony started forward…

“What are you grinning at?” asked Adiel, who was watching him. “You've got your loopy look.”

Omri hastily banished Little Bull from his mind and rearranged his face into solemn lines. “Nothing, I was just thinking. And where would me and Gillon go to school?”

“Gillon and I,”
corrected his father between his teeth for the three thousandth time. “Locally. We're looking into it now.”

“It'll be some tinny little country school with eight pupils,” said Gillon.

“Oh, come on, boys, cheer up. It won't happen till the summer at the very earliest. And meanwhile there's all the fun of going to see our new place. We're going this weekend.”

“Is it by the sea?”

“Not far — about six miles.”

Gillon scrambled up. His eyes were on Omri. In them, Omri discerned a brotherly signal:
might not be so bad, what d'you think?
Omri gave an almost imperceptible nod. His heart felt suddenly, unaccountably light.


Visiting the new house was quite a lot of fun, apart from the long car journey, which was obviously hard to take, especially as their parents had recently gone on a health kick and flatly refused to take them to motorway service stops where they insisted you could only buy junk food. They had to wait till they were off the motorway, by which time the pubs had stopped serving lunch and the next meal would be tea. However, by the time they found a tea place they were
so hungry that health was forgotten and they stuffed themselves with tea cakes and scones and thick cream and strawberry jam and flapjacks till they nearly burst. They might as well have had the hamburger-and-chips meal in the first place.

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