Authors: Diana Wynne Jones
First published by Macmillan London Ltd in 1974
This edition published by HarperCollins
is a division of HarperCollins
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Copyright © Diana Wynne Jones 1974.
Cover design © HarperCollins Publishers 2010 Illustration by David Wyatt © 2010
Diana Wynne Jones asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of the work.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
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Source ISBN: 9780007154692
Ebook Edition © SEPTEMBER 2014 ISBN: 9780007500000
For Richard, who thought of Indigo Rubber,
and Micky, who helped with the chemicals
aspar came into the hall one afternoon with a bag of books on one shoulder and a bag of football clothes on the other and saw his brother carrying a large parcel. “What’s that?” he said.
“It’s the Ogre,” Johnny said gloomily. “He’s trying to bribe me now.”
“Bribe you to do what?” said Caspar.
“Be a sweet little boy I expect,” said Johnny with the utmost disgust. “Let’s open it before Malcolm gets in, shall we?”
Caspar, very intrigued, and also quite unreasonably annoyed that Johnny should get a present and not himself, led the way to the sitting-room door and
prepared to sling his bag of books across the room into the red armchair. The bag had almost left his hand, when he saw a large pair of feet sticking out from beyond this chair. Above the chair back was an open newspaper and, below the newspaper, Caspar could just see a section of grizzled black hair. The Ogre himself was in possession. Caspar caught the bag at the top of its swing and retreated on tiptoe.
“He’s in there,” he mouthed to Johnny.
“Blast!” said Johnny, none too softly. “I thought he was in his study. Let’s go upstairs.”
They hurried up the stairs, Johnny hugging his parcel, Caspar lugging his two bags. Since Caspar was so laden and Johnny, though smaller, a great deal more hefty and very eager to open his parcel besides, their progress was noisy, and shook the house a little. It was the kind of thing the Ogre could be trusted to notice. His voice roared from beneath.
“Will you boys be
They sighed. Johnny said something under his breath. They finished climbing on tiptoe, at half-speed. Both knew, by instinct, that it would be unwise to provoke the Ogre further. So far, he had not hit any of them, but they had a feeling that it was only a matter of time before he did, and that it was an experience to be put off as long as possible.
“He’s allergic to noise,” said Johnny, as they reached their bedroom.
“And boys,” Caspar said bitterly.
The Ogre was their stepfather, and he had been married to their mother for a month now. All three
children had found it the most miserable month of their lives. They alternated between wishing themselves dead and wishing the Ogre was.
“I don’t see why she had to marry him. We were quite all right as we were,” Johnny said, as he had said several hundred times before. They halted, according to custom, at the door of their room, for Caspar to hurl his bags one after another on to his bed. Then they set out to wade through comics, books, records, toffee bars and sixteen different construction kits, to the one clear piece of floor.
The two boys had disliked the Ogre on sight, despite their mother’s glowing description of him. He was large and black-browed and not at all interested in children. He was divorced. His first wife had left him years ago and gone to live abroad – and Caspar’s opinion was that he did not blame her, considering what the Ogre and his two sons were like. Their own mother was a widow. Their father had been killed in an air crash six years before. And, as Johnny kept saying, they had all got on very nicely until the Ogre came along. Of course, they had pretended to their mother – not to hurt her feelings – that they did not think too badly of the Ogre. But, after his second visit – when they were still thinking of him as Mr McIntyre – their mother had said she was actually going to marry him. Quite appalled, they had escaped to the kitchen as soon as they could, to hold a council of war about him.
“I think he’s frightful,” Caspar had said frankly. “I bet he listens to commercial pop. He’s bound to, with low eyebrows like that.” Since then, alas, they had discovered that the Ogre listened to nothing but news, and required absolute silence while he did so.
“Stepfathers are always frightful,” Johnny had agreed, with the air of one who had got through several hundred.
“What do they do?” Gwinny asked nervously.
“Everything. They’re perfect Ogres. They eat you as soon as look at you,” Johnny had answered. Gwinny had looked tearful and said she would run away if Mr McIntyre was an Ogre. And he was. They all knew it now.
As Johnny put down his parcel in the clear patch and pushed aside a bank of other things to make more room, Gwinny came in. “Mummy thought she heard you,” she said. “Oh, what’s that?”
“A present from the Ogre, for some reason,” Johnny said. “He gave it me in the hall just now and said it might keep me out of mischief.”
Gwinny had been looking offended, and a trifle puzzled. The Ogre could not be said to be friendly with any of them, but, of all three, it was Johnny he liked least. But this explanation relieved her mind. “Oh,
kind of present,” she said, and even smiled.
Caspar shot a sharp look at her. Gwinny, perhaps from being the youngest and a girl, sometimes showed a regrettable tendency to like the Ogre. It was Gwinny who had first met him, in fact. She had tried to go to the Library by herself and had got off the bus at quite the wrong stop. She had wandered for an hour, miserable and lost, with tears trickling down her face, and people passing to right and left taking no notice of her condition whatsoever. Then the Ogre had stopped and asked her what was the matter. And Caspar conceded that Gwinny had a right to be grateful. The Ogre had taken her to the
Library, then to a café for ice cream, and finally brought her home in his car when Caspar and Johnny were out looking for her and only their mother was at home. Caspar often thought that, if only he or Johnny (preferably both) had been at home when the Ogre and Gwinny arrived, the worst would never have happened. But that, as they all knew, had been the sole act of kindness ever performed by the Ogre. Therefore Caspar looked at Gwinny.
“I’m not weakening!” she said indignantly. “I’ve learnt the error of my ways. So there. Oh look, Caspar!”
Caspar looked, to find that Johnny had taken the paper off the parcel to reveal an enormous chemistry set, which he was contemplating with a mixture of exasperation and grudging pleasure. “I’ve got one of these already,” he said.
“But only half that size and almost used up,” Gwinny said consolingly.
“Yes, just think of the smells you can make now,” Caspar added kindly. He was not at all interested in chemistry himself. The mere sight of the rows of little tubes and the filter paper and the spirit lamp made him want to yawn. And when Johnny lifted out the whole lot in its white plastic container and discovered a second layer of packed tubes and chemicals underneath, it was as much as Caspar could do to show polite interest. “Just like chocolates,” he said, and threw himself down on his bed. There, by sweeping aside a pile of books and scattering Johnny’s coloured crayons, he was able to reach the electric point which controlled his record player and turn it on. The LP left ready on the turntable
began to revolve. Caspar dropped the needle into the groove and lay back to listen to his favourite group.
Johnny, squatting over the ranks of chemicals, was now grinning happily. “I say, there’s everything here,” he said. “I can do things we don’t even do at school. What do you think this is?” He lifted out a tube labelled
Gwinny had no idea. Caspar shook his head, and shouted above the mounting wail of a synthesiser and a roll of drums: “I don’t know. Shut up for this guitar-solo!”
Johnny continued to lift out tubes and bottles full of substances he had never seen before:
Irid. col., Animal Spirits, Misc. pulv., Magn. pulv., Noct. vest., Dens drac
. and many more. There was a pipette, glass rods, a stand for test tubes, a china crucible. It really was a magnificent set. He was forced to admit that the Ogre had done him proud – although Gwinny could not hear him admit it, because Caspar’s record had reached its loudest track by then.
At that moment, someone thumped on the door. They all looked at one another. “Wait for it!” said Caspar. Then he shouted, “
” knowing it would be useless.
Sure enough, the door opened and Malcolm, the Ogre’s younger son, stood in the entrance looking righteous. By that time, Johnny had whipped the brown paper wrapping across the open chemistry set, and he and Gwinny had moved in front of it.
“My father says you’re to turn that damned thing off,” reported Malcolm. His eyes wandered disapprovingly round the room as he said it. “At once.”
“Oh he does, bay jewve, does he?” said Caspar. Malcolm’s posh accent always set his teeth on edge. “Suppose Ay dewn’t?”
“Then you’ll catch it, won’t you?” Malcolm retorted coolly. He was quite equal to anything Caspar could say or do, although he was a year younger. They suspected that his dreadful pallid coolness came from having been at a posh boarding school until this term. Now, alas, Malcolm went to the same school as Caspar and Johnny.
Unfortunately, as so often, Malcolm’s remark was true. Well aware that he
catch it, Caspar grudgingly leant over and turned the sound down, right in the middle of the best song.
“He said off,” Malcolm pointed out.
As if to underline his correctness, the Ogre’s voice boomed out from downstairs. “
Right off, I said!
Caspar obeyed, with black hatred in his heart.
Malcolm, meanwhile, looked coolly on to where Johnny and Gwinny were crouching in front of the chemistry set. “What are you sitting on there, Melchior?” he said.
Johnny ground his teeth. “None of your business.”
Caspar’s rage grew. If anything, he hated Malcolm calling Johnny Melchior even more than Johnny did, because he knew it was a dig at his own absurd name. It was typical of Malcolm to find a convenient way of insulting them both at once. He had called Gwinny Balthazar – only Gwinny had mistaken what he said and had gone to her mother in tears because Malcolm said she was going bald. After that, Malcolm stuck simply to Melchior, and maddening it was too.
Malcolm ran his eyes once more over the crowded room and turned to leave. “I must say,” he said, “I kept this room—”
But he had said this too often before. All three of them joined in: “—much taidier when it was maine.”
“Well I did,” said Malcolm. “It’s a perfect pigsty now.”
Caspar lost his temper and threw himself off his bed and across the room, stumbling and crunching among the things on the floor. “
Get out, you!
” Malcolm prudently dodged out on to the landing, sniggering slightly. The snigger was too much for Caspar. He dived out after Malcolm, roaring insults, and the other two followed hastily to see, as they hoped, justice done.
From below, the Ogre roared once again for silence. No one attended. For, out on the landing, Malcolm was standing defensively above a chemistry set identical with the one the Ogre had given Johnny.
“Look at that!” Gwinny said shrilly.
“If you spoil it,” Malcolm said, shriller still, “I’ll tell my father.”
“As if I wanted to touch it!” said Johnny. “I’ve got one the same. So there!”
“So you’re not the little favourite you thought you were,” added Caspar.
“It isn’t fair!” proclaimed Gwinny, voicing Caspar’s secret thoughts on the subject too. “Why does he give you two a present and not us?”
“Because you’re such little frights,” said Malcolm. “And Douglas hasn’t got anything either.”
“That’s because he’s a big fright,” said Caspar. “Beside Douglas, even your frightfulness pales.”
At this, Malcolm put his head down and tried to charge Caspar in the stomach. Caspar dodged. Malcolm ran on into the bannisters, so that the house shook with the impact. Gwinny and Johnny cheered. The Ogre shouted for quiet. Again no one attended. Caspar saw he now had Malcolm at his mercy and caught his head under one arm. Malcolm yelled and kicked to get free, but Caspar had a whole month of sneers and sniggers to revenge and not even the Ogre would have made him let go just then. Gwinny shouted encouragements. Johnny shrieked advice about where to hit Malcolm next.
The door on the other side of the landing was torn open and Douglas, like a giant aroused, entered the fray. Douglas was almost as tall as the Ogre, and old enough for his voice to have broken, so that the roar with which he charged down on Caspar was shattering. “
Leave him alone! He’s younger than you!
” He tore Caspar and Malcolm apart. The bannisters reverberated. Caspar protested. Malcolm accused. Johnny and Gwinny yelled at Douglas. Below, the roars of the Ogre became a continuous bull-like bellowing.
Caspar looked up under Douglas’s arm. His mother was standing at the head of the stairs, looking hurt and harassed. Since she had married the Ogre, that hurt and harassed look had scarcely ever left her face. It did not help to make them feel kindly towards the Ogre.
Nobody spoke. Douglas shoved Caspar away and backed to the other side of the landing, beside Malcolm. Caspar backed similarly, between Johnny and Gwinny,
and both families stood glowering at one another, breathing heavily.
Sally McIntyre looked from one side to the other and sighed. “I wish you’d all try to remember there are five of you now,” she said. “This was the most awful din.”
“Sorry, Sally,” said Malcolm and Douglas at once, in a well-behaved chorus.
“And Caspar,” said Sally, “Jack says you’re welcome to play records any time he’s out.”
“Big deal!” said Caspar, not at all well-behaved. “What am I supposed to do when he’s always
“Do without,” said Douglas. “
could do without Indigo Rubber too, for that matter. They stink.”
“So does your guitar playing,” Johnny retorted, in Caspar’s defence.
“Now, now, Johnny,” said his mother. “Will you three all come in here a minute, please.”
They herded moodily back into the boys’ room and looked mournfully at their mother’s harrowed face.
“Gracious, what a mess!” was the first thing she said. Then, “Listen, all of you, how many times have I got to tell you to be considerate to poor Malcolm and Douglas? It’s very hard on them, because they’ve had to give up having separate rooms and change schools too. They’re having a far more difficult time than you are.” There was a heavy-breathing silence, in which Caspar managed not to point out that Malcolm, in particular, made sure that they had a difficult time too.