At the beginning of the Summer holidays, while Chrestomanci and his family were still in the south of France, Marianne Pinhoe and her brother, Joe, walked reluctantly up the steep main street of Ulverscote. They had been summoned by Gammer Pinhoe. Gammer was head of Pinhoe witchcraft in Ulverscote and wherever Pinhoes were, from Bowbridge to Hopton, and from Uphelm to Helm St. Mary. You did not disobey Gammer's commands.
"I wonder what the old bat wants this time," Joe said gloomily, as they passed the church. "Some new stupid thing, I bet."
"Hush," said Marianne. Uphill from the church, the Reverend Pinhoe was in the vicarage garden spraying his roses. She could smell the acid odor of the spell and hear the hoosh of the vicar's spray. It was true that Gammer's commands had lately become more and more exacting and peculiar, but no adult Pinhoe liked to hear you say so.
Joe bent his head and put on his most sulky look. "But it doesn't make sense," he grumbled as they passed the vicarage gate. "Why does she want me too?"
Marianne grinned. Joe was considered "a disappointment" by the Pinhoes. Only Marianne knew how hard Joe worked at being dis-appointing—though she thought Mum suspected it. Joe's heart was in machines. He had no patience with the traditional sort of witchcraft or the way magic was done by the Pinhoes—or the Farleighs over in Helm St. Mary, or for that matter the Cleeves in Underhelm, on the other side of Ulverscote. As far as that kind of magic went, Joe wanted to be a failure. They left him in peace then.
"It makes sense she wants you," Joe continued as they climbed the last stretch of hill up to Woods House, where Gammer lived. "You being the next Gammer and all."
Marianne sighed and made a face. The fact was that no girls except Marianne had been born to Gammer's branch of the Pinhoes for two generations now. Everyone knew that Marianne would have to follow in Gammer's footsteps. Marianne had two great-uncles and six uncles, ten boy cousins, and weekly instructions from Gammer on the witchcraft that was expected of her. It weighed on her rather. "I'll live," she said. "I expect we both will."
They turned up the weedy drive of Woods House. The gates had been broken ever since Old Gaffer died when Marianne was quite small. Their father, Harry Pinhoe, was Gaffer now, being Gammer's eldest son. But it said something about their father's personality, Marianne always thought, that everyone called him Dad, and never Gaffer.
They took two steps up the drive and sniffed. There was a powerful smell of wild animal there.
"Fox?" Joe said doubtfully. "Tomcat?"
Marianne shook her head. The smell was strong, but it was much pleasanter than either of those. A powdery, herby scent, a bit like Mum's famous foot powder.
Joe laughed. "It's not Nutcase anyway. He's been done."
They went up the three worn steps and pushed on the peeling front door. There was no one to open it to them. Gammer insisted on living quite alone in the huge old house, with only old Miss Callow to come and clean for her twice a week. And Miss Callow didn't do much of a job, Marianne thought, as they came into the wide entrance hall. Sunlight from the window halfway up the dusty oak staircase made slices of light filled thick with dust motes, and shone murkily off the glass cases of stuffed animals that stood on tables round the walls. Marianne hated these. The animals had all been stuffed with savage snarls on their faces. Even through the dust, you saw red open mouths, sharp white teeth, and glaring glass eyes. She tried not to look at them as she and Joe crossed the hall over the wall-to-wall spread of grubby coconut matting and knocked on the door of the front room.
"Oh, come in, do," Gammer said. "I've been waiting half the morning for you."
"No, you haven't," Joe muttered. Marianne hoped this was too quiet for Gammer to hear, true though it was. She and Joe had set off the moment Aunt Joy brought the message down from the Post Office.
Gammer was sitting in her tattered armchair, wearing the layers of black clothing she always wore, with her black cat, Nutcase, on her bony knees and her stick propped up by the chair. She did not seem to have heard Joe. "It's holidays now, isn't it?" she said. "How long have you got? Six weeks?"
"Nearly seven," Marianne admitted. She looked down into the ruins of Gammer's big, square, handsome face and wondered if she would look like this when she was this old herself. Everyone said that Gammer had once had thick chestnutty hair, like Marianne had, and Gammer's eyes were the same wide brown ones that Marianne saw in the mirror when she stared at herself and worried about her looks. The only square thing about Marianne was her unusually broad forehead. This was always a great relief to Marianne.
"Good," said Gammer. "Well, here's my plans for you both. Can't have the pair of you doing nothing for seven weeks. Joe first, you're the eldest. We've got you a job, a live-in job. You're going to go and be boot boy to the Big Man in You-Know-Where."
Joe stared at her, horrified. "In Chrestomanci Castle, you mean?"
"Be quiet," his grandmother said sharply. "You don't say that name here. Do you want to have them notice us? They're only ten miles away in Helm St. Mary."
"But," said Joe, "I'd got plans of my own for these holidays."
"Too bad," said Gammer. "Idle plans, stupid plans. You know you're a disappointment to us all, Joseph Pinhoe, so here's your chance to be useful for once. You can go and be our inside eyes and ears in That Castle, and send me word back by Joss Callow if they show the slightest signs of knowing us Pinhoes exist—or Farleighs or Cleeves for that matter."
Excerpted from The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Jones Copyright © 2006 by Diana Jones. Excerpted by permission.
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