Table of Contents
Evil breeds evil
Archibald sat listening until the chaplain’s heavy, plodding footsteps receded below stairs. A slow smile stole across his spotty face, growing into a maniacal grin. Leaping up, he went into a frenzied dance around the room, his eyes glittering with villainous delight. He had just found a victim for the Ribbajack he was intent on conjuring. Old Reverend Dusty Miller, the Sky Pilot! Revengeful spite and pent-up malice poured from him like sewage squirting from a cracked cess tank. When he first heard of the Ribbajack, all he desired was to see what it looked like. Now he had a definite aim for the horror he was about to create. The removal of his newfound enemy! The moment that dog-collared old buffoon had mispronounced his name, Archibald Smith knew the chaplain was going to be the first victim of the monster. Putting pen to paper, he began composing a verse as an aid to materialising his own personal Ribbajack.
O nightmare beyond all dreaming,
Dark Lord of the single eye . . .
THE REDWALL BOOKS
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Outcast of Redwall
Pearls of Lutra
The Long Patrol
The Legend of Luke
The Great Redwall Feast (picture book)
A Redwall Winter’s Tale (picture book)
Seven Strange and Ghostly Tales
Castaways of the Flying Dutchman
The Angel’s Command
The Tale of Urso Brunov (picture book)
TO MY SONS, MARC AND DAVID
Published by the Penguin Group
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Registered Offices: Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in the United States of America by Philomel,
a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2004
Published by Puffin, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2006
Text copyright © Redwall La Dita Ltd., 2004
All rights reserved
THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS HAS CATALOGED THE PHILOMEL EDITION AS FOLLOWS:
The Ribbajack & other curious yarns / Brian Jacques.
Summary: A collection of six short stories which feature a variety of monstrous
creatures by the author of the Redwall series.
Contents: The Ribbajack—A smile and a wave—The All Ireland Champion
versus the Nye Add—The mystery of Huma D’Este—Miggy Mags and
the Malabar Sailor—Rosie’s pet.
1. Monsters—Juvenile Fiction. 2. Children’s stories, English. [1. Horror tales,
English. 2. Monsters—Fiction. 3. Horror stories. 4. Short stories.]
I. Title: Ribbajack and other curious yarns. II. Title.
PZ7.J15317Ri 2004 [Fic]—dc21 2003066448
eISBN : 978-1-101-14395-7
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.
GENTLE READER, HEED MY PLEA,End of Term, Summer 1937
pray witness now this shocking tale,
’twas told to me by one, forsooth,
who vowed he spoke the honest truth,
he took an oath, he told no lies,
and swore it on his own three eyes!
Archibald Smifft was worse than any plague or pestilence known to man. This was the unanimous consensus of opinion by all at the boarding school of Duke Crostacious the Inviolate. Teachers, pupils, groundsmen, cooks and all ancillary staff were in total agreement on this, and who, pray, would deny their assessment?
A single glance at the boy in question would confirm the fears of even a stranger. Archibald Smifft was indeed the raw material from which nightmares were made. From the top of his scrofulous bullet-shaped head, with its jug-handle ears and ski-jump nose, the beady eyes (which had often been compared to those of an ill-tempered cobra) glaring out from the spotted moon crater of a face, right down from his rounded shoulders, pot belly and wart-scarred knees, to the fallen arches of his flat feet, the Smifft boy was the very portrait of villainy, viciousness and malicious intent.
He had been abandoned as a baby on the school driveway, sitting smugly in an outrageously expensive bassinet. In one hand the child clutched a chamois bag containing a king’s ransom in uncut rubies; in the other, a recently dead frog. Attached to his satin pillow was a note: “Deer sur. Pleez giv Archibald a gud ejercayshun an bring him up propper. Maw roobeez to folloh. Singed, X Smifft. Pee yess. He lykes byting thingz.”
The headmaster, a gentle, trusting man named Aubrey Plother, I.O.U.E. (Institute of Unskilled Educators), and the matron, Mrs. Twogg, were the two who found the infant. Trying hard to avoid Archibald’s malevolent smirk, Mr. Plother’s heart softened. He snatched the bag of rubies, declaring charitably, “Mrs. Twogg, marm, I feel we would be neglecting our Christian duty were we not to adopt and care for this unfortunate waif. I have decided he shall receive the benefits of a thorough education here at my establishment!”
The matron, who had left her glasses indoors and would never admit she had dreadful eyesight, swept the babe up in her huge pink arms. She tickled its bottom lip fondly. “Oh, bless you for the kindly soul you are, Headmaster. Poor little mite, shame on the one who abandoned you. Coochy-cooch, my little cherub!”
The infant left off chewing his frog long enough to inflict a bite on Mrs. Twogg’s index finger that a tiger shark would have envied. The matron wore her glasses at all times after that afternoon so that she would be able to immediately decipher further communications left on the pillows of abandoned children. That is how Archibald Smifft came to be inflicted on his present school.
For my more gentle and nervous readers, I will draw a veil over the intervening eleven years. Except to mention, in passing, four teachers’ resignations (diagnosed as mentally traumatised), an explosion in the pupils’ chemistry laboratory, the disappearance of four cats belonging to the gardener’s wife, several major floods in the washrooms, a fire which destroyed the sports pavilion and a school mastiff that vanished without trace. These, and a host of other indignities, atrocities and miscellaneous mishaps—students absconding to foreign territories, etc.—were all in one way or another attributable to said Archibald Smifft. However, the headmaster’s kind heart, plus the prompt arrival each term of a bag containing rubies by special delivery to Aubrey Plother, I.O.U.E., insured the boy’s continuance at Crostacious the Inviolate Boarding School for young gentlemen. Granted, there were frequent staff walkouts, but the headmaster furthered his name as a good man by rewarding injured, faithful and long-serving staff members by giving them a ruby apiece as an annual incentive.
Archibald’s dormitory was a long, draughty room. It contained only two boys besides himself. Wilton Minor and Peterkin Soames were far too frightened to cut and run like the others—they lived in constant terror of their small but vengeful roommate. Together each night, the wretched pair huddled on their beds at the room’s far end, constantly casting fearful glances at Archibald’s den. This was a high screen of assorted rubbish which he had coerced them into building at the other end of the dormitory. Wilton and Soames both had families posted overseas in the military and colonial services. As a result, they were permanent boarders, spending all holidays, vacations and non-term times on the school premises, with Archibald Smifft for company. He delighted in terrorising the hapless duo, each day bringing fresh horrors for Wilton and Soames. Wilton Minor, the more delicate of the two, had found grey hairs whilst parting his hair on his eleventh birthday! Both boys had a wan-faced, hunted look about them.
One day close to the summer term break, all the pupils were taken on an educational trip to a local dairy farm. Everybody, even Archibald, was required to go. This provided the headmaster and matron with a golden opportunity to inspect the Smifft dormitory. They were forced into this task frequently. The area occupied by Archibald was a place where any intruder had to tread with extreme caution. It was a task which Mr. Plother and Mrs. Twogg did not relish. However, if the dormitory where the Smifft boy laid his scheming little head to rest each night went unchecked, the possible consequences could prove both horrendous and dire.
Filled with trepidation, the pair made their way upstairs. The headmaster was armed with a pair of fire-side tongs, some stout leathern gauntlets and a golf club. Mrs. Twogg carried a furled umbrella, a bottle of strong disinfectant, a sharp knitting needle and a flashlight.
A notice was posted on the dormitory door, pinned to the tail of a rat skeleton.
KEEYP OWT WEN A. SMIFFT IZ NOT HEER.
YOO HAV BEAN WORNED!
Being a more regular visitor to boys’ dormitories than her superior, the matron placed herself in front, reas surring him, “Stand back, Headmaster, I’ll deal with this!”
Keeping her distance, the intrepid lady took a fencing stance, then lunged, giving the door a sharp push with her brolly tip. The customary avalanche of flour, soot, glue and sour milk thundered down as the booby-trapped door swung inward.
The headmaster’s knuckles whitened as he gripped his golf club. “Capital work, Matron, you’re an absolute brick!”
He ventured forward, but Mrs. Twogg thrust him aside with a cry. “Wait!” With a neat twist of her knitting needle, she snapped the almost invisible length of black cotton which was stretched across the threshold.
A lethal-looking spear stood quivering in the door-post at neck height. She studied it and identified the weapon.
“Hmm, Jivaro headhunting spear, probably tipped with some kind of poison. Curare, I suspect. Don’t touch it, Headmaster.”
Shaking his head, Aubrey Plother entered the room. “That’s odd. Smifft got an F minus in geography and chemistry last term.”
Mrs. Twogg gave the headmaster another shove, which sent him skittering in a semicircle. “Don’t step on that floorboard—as I recall, that’s the one with the steel-jawed foxtrap beneath it!”
Mr. Plother stepped gingerly around the offending timber. “A revelation indeed, Matron. Smifft showed no interest in either carpentry or nature study. Hmm, resourceful boy, eh?”
Mrs. Twogg narrowed her eyes. “Right, let’s see what holds the little villain’s attention these days, Headmaster.”
Their search brought forward the usual stuff. Some detonators, various stink bombs, a complete flea circus and an inflatable rubber cushion capable of producing a variety of extremely rude noises. Mrs. Twogg surveyed the haul. “Nothing of any great note here. Anything under there, Headmaster?”