Chapter Twenty Six
“Get yourselves up here now! Thank Heavens you’re okay Felix!” Ms Flapp shouted down in a rather uncharacteristic way and they all bolted obediently towards her.
They might have been a wolf-girl, a shaven-headed kidnap victim and the evil that was predicted to destroy the whole of Murkle but the three Third Years knew they ought do what they were told when they were at school.
Jinger had hoped she would get the opportunity to see the observatory properly ever since she had noticed the domed glass tower sticking out from the top of the building on her first exploratory tour. She had also long-hoped that she might see her grandad again. Finding what she thought might have been his fishing boat up at the lake tonight had made that hope so strong that she was not sure if it was actually more sensible to think he might be alive. She had had to tell herself sternly several times since leaving the woods that she was being silly.
Now that she was both standing in the observatory and looking at her grandad, she could not help but wonder if Murkle was conspiring to surprise her.
This grandad was not, of course, the man she remembered. It was simply Mr Oldham the astronomer who sometimes came to sit and listen to Ms Flapp’s lessons. Jinger could not imagine why he had said such a cruel thing. She had always liked him before; he was funny and friendly and was what her dad and Helen would definitely have called eccentric. He had long silver hair almost to his shoulders and his dark eyes twinkled in the way that only elderly people’s ever seemed to do. He had also told the class more than once that he was a hundred years older than they were. Jinger liked stories and it had not mattered that she was not sure whether she really believed him.
But now looking at him sitting with an empty stained cup next to him and biscuit crumbs scattered down his bow-tie and jumper, Jinger hated the old man.
Ms Flapp busied herself putting the kettle on and Tabs stared at all the maps and charts on the walls. Felix stroked the big black telescope in the middle of the floor in a pointed way, as though he was hoping someone might ask him if he would like a go.
“You’re Baldwin’s boy, aren’t you? So glad you’ve made it back to us. Would you like to look, my dear?” Mr Oldham said.
Mr Oldham struggled out of his chair and indicated that Felix should get on the floor under the instrument. Felix eagerly lay down and Jinger wondered how he could forget his ordeal so quickly.
While the old man explained what Felix could see and Tabs fiddled with a model solar system (containing twenty three of Murkle’s finest planets), Jinger and Ms Flapp waited for the kettle to boil. The teacher smiled shyly at her pupil.
“So just keep moving it ever so slightly west... no... that way. Towards the wall. The other wall. That’s it,” Mr Oldham said patiently to Felix.
“What were you doing up there? You should have been in bed,” Ms Flapp said while inspecting the inside of some of their spare mugs. Looking doubtful, she swapped one for another then swapped it back. She lined up eight mugs in total, looking down the row to see if she could find a good reason to discard any. Jinger crossed the room and selected the cleanest looking five.
“We went for Felix,” Jinger explained, knowing that Ms Flapp would not be satisfied with the answer.
“Why would you do that? It’s so dangerous out there in the woods.”
“We needed Felix back. Besides, those Woodcutters probably want Jinger because she’s evil,” Tabs said mildly, spinning a tiny plastic planet on its cotton axis with her finger.
“Oh, Jinger is an eve baby, is she? And you’re okay are you Felix? The Woodcutters didn’t hurt you?” Ms Flapp asked.
“Only his hair,” Tabs smirked.
“I’m fine. I escaped,” Felix said grandly, ignoring Tabs.
“And did you find anything out? Did they shoot the wolves they took?” Ms Flapp asked, ignoring Tabs, too.
“Don’t bother asking him. He doesn’t know anything,” Tabs interrupted again.
“I do know! I met them all. They’re fine. It’s not so bad up there, really,” Felix insisted.
“Oh!” Tabs said, “You liked it with them, did you? Are they your new bestest friends?”
“No, but…” Felix did not finish his sentence.
Jinger felt like everyone was forgetting to tell her something very important. Now would be a great time to tell her why everyone kept saying she was evil.
Ms Flapp finally seemed to notice Jinger’s agitation. “I think we’d better tell you what’s going on,” she said. Jinger could hardly agree more.
Mr Oldham left Felix on the floor and sat back in his chair. “I’m your grandfather!” he beamed.
Jinger sighed and only just managed not to roll her eyes, which she knew from watching Jessica do it so many times was something grown-ups thought was very rude. Mr Oldham was clearly not as healthy in his mind as he had once been.
“I meant about her being evil. Not that you are, Jinger. Hardly anyone is going to think so, anyway,” Ms Flapp reassured her weakly.
Jinger sat on one of the empty office chairs and waited to hear the explanation. Just as Mr Oldham and Ms Flapp exchanged the glances which seemed to decide that the old man would do the talking, the heavy wood in the observatory door began to splinter and split.
“Little pigs! Little pigs! Let us come in!” shouted the voice just outside the observatory.
Jinger wondered if she would live long enough to find out Murkle’s secrets or ever see her dad again.