A Modern Wizard by Unknown

'Come along, Gussie, quick! Here! in by the garden-door.'

'Oh! what is it, Jack?'

'S—sh! Can't you make less noise? Just like a girl!'

Grumbling and muttering, he stole into the schoolroom—deserted now at three o'clock in the afternoon—followed on tip-toe by his younger sister, Augusta.

She eyed his movements eagerly, as he let down the Venetian shutters, drew together the heavy serge curtains, and poked up the sleepy fire till little tongues of red light darted mysteriously about the room. Then he thrust his hand into his pocket, and drew out something!

Gussie retreated into a corner, and clasped her hands together.

'Not a mouse, Jack? Oh! I can't bear them—please, please——!'

'Are you nine, or are you two, Gussie?' asked Master Twelve-year-old.

He put a dirty, yellowish mass on the table. Gussie approached it anxiously. It might have been anything in that ghostly light—but, at least, it did not move.

'Wax!' announced Jack, triumphantly.

'Nasty, dirty stuff!' sniffed Gussie.

'Oh, very well! If you're going to talk like that, you can go away,' said her brother, turning his back on her.

'No, no, Jack! I want to see what you are going to do with it. Please let me stay!'

'Then lock the door, and don't make a row over it.'

The boy was bending over the fire, and moulding the messy lump between his fingers as he spoke.

'What is all that stuff for?' pleaded Gussie, anxiously.

'It isn't stuff, I tell you. It's wax. Can't you see what I am doing?'

'It's so dark!' expostulated the child, peeping over his shoulder. Then she gave a cry of delight.

'Why, Jack you are making—I know!—a little man! It's just like the idol Uncle Joe brought Lilian from Burmah. Is it an idol, really? I thought it was naughty to make idols.'

The boy held the little figure up, and surveyed it with pride.

'Of course it's a man! What should I want to make an idol for?'

'What do you want to make a man for?' wondered Gussie.

'Half a minute, and I will tell you. I must paint the thing now, and I can't see properly. Get a candle, and I will light up.'

He drew a small match-box from his pocket, and lit the candle with excited fingers.

'Blue trousers,' he murmured, dabbing on streaks of paint—'bother! a blue coat too. So dull! If only he was a soldier, now!'

'Oh, won't you tell me what it is for?' asked once more his sorely tried sister, her patience nearly at breaking point.

'You are such a ninny. You would go and tell.'

'No, I won't! I promise, Jack.'

'Lots of gold buttons,' continued that exasperating boy, splodging them about in great abundance; 'and black eyebrows, and a red nose. Like a Pirate King, you know. Dare say he is a pirate in disguise, if only one knew. It's Captain Halliard, Gussie!'

'Is he as ugly as that?' asked the little sister; 'he doesn't look so in his photograph.'

'You can't tell from photographs,' said Jack—adding, 'I expect he is a good deal uglier! He must be, or he wouldn't want to take Lilian away.'

'I thought he was going to marry her. I'm to be a bridesmaid, you know, and wear a white frock, with—— '

'That's all you girls care about!' said Jack, with contempt. 'Did you think he would bring her back here afterwards?'

'Of course. Where else should she go?'

'I dare say they would not tell a kid like you,' he answered loftily. 'They have taken a house at Southsea—miles away from here. Now do you see why I have made this figure?'

'No-o-o!' she said, half crying.

'Oh, do dry up, Gussie, or I won't tell you anything! Don't you remember in the history lesson this morning, Miss Gower told us that when people hated one another, ages ago, they got wizards to make wax images of their enemies, and let them melt slowly away, and as they melted, the other fellow began to get thin and ill—and went on getting thinner and iller, till—— '

'Till he died!' shrieked Gussie. 'Oh, Jack, you won't do that?'

The boy blew out the candle, and placed the figure opposite the fire, just inside the fender.

'We shall see!' he said mysteriously. 'I shall do it very slowly, a little bit each day, and watch the effect on Captain Halliard. He's coming here this evening, you know. Of course, Lilian will never want to marry a man who gets thinner and iller every day; but if that's not enough, and he still wants to carry off my sister, I'll just—— '

'Children! children! open the door, quick! The hall is full of smoke.'

The girlish tones were emphasised by most undoubtedly manly thumps. Jack hesitated, but Gussie flew to turn the key.

Lilian Phillips rushed in, followed closely by a tall stranger. The draught from the open door located the origin of the smoke only too easily. The schoolroom curtains burst into flames!

Gussie ran up to her elder sister. Jack, the bold, the self-reliant, was momentarily paralysed.

It was the stranger who jumped on the sofa, and tore those curtains down—crushing them with his hands—- stamping on them till the flames were extinguished, finally emerging from the smoking curtain with singed hair and beard, and shaking his scorched fingers, but otherwise calm and unruffled.

'Hullo, young man! Are you responsible for all this? What had you been up to? Guy Fawkes' Day is long past. All right, Lilian, don't bother about me. I'm not hurt—though I'm afraid as much cannot be said for the curtains.

'Oh, George, what should we have done without you? What a mercy it was you caught the afternoon train. What were you two children doing?' gasped Lilian, almost in one breath.

'Gussie wasn't doing anything!' asserted Jack, stoutly. 'I had lit a candle. I don't see how that could have set the curtains on fire, though,' he added, gazing open-eyed at the stranger called 'George,' and trying to get between him and the fender.

'What did you do with the match?' demanded George, curtly.

'Chucked it away!' came the reply, with equal brevity.

The grown-ups exchanged significant glances.

'Why did you lock yourselves up here?' asked Lilian, laying gentle hands on her small brother's shoulders, and turning him round on the hearthrug to face her.

It was seldom that Jack resisted Lilian, and he did not do so now, though he wriggled, and cast a nervous glance over his shoulder.

'I—I——,' he began hesitatingly, when a loud laugh from George interrupted him.

'By Jove! here's a funny little image, Lilian! A sailor too, by all that's curious! Not me, eh?' he roared good-temperedly, as he fished the blue-bedaubed figure out of the fender, and, holding it at arm's length, surveyed it by the now cheerful blaze of the fire.

Jack wriggled himself free from his elder sister's grasp, and faced round.

'Are you Captain Halliard?'

"'It's Captain Halliard!'"

"'It's Captain Halliard!'"

 

'Certainly, young man.'

'Then I'm sorry I made that.'

'Why! it is I, then? What should you be sorry for?' he asked, bewildered; 'it's not at all bad, for a young 'un—bar likeness, I hope! Never mind, though, if you don't want to tell me,' he added, good-naturedly, sorry for the boy's evident embarrassment.

But Jack continued: 'It is you—and I made it of wax, so that it should melt, and you should get ill, and—— '

'Oh! you wicked boy!' exclaimed Lilian, aghast; 'what harm had George done you?'

'He wanted to take you away,' explained Jack sullenly, 'and I don't want him to. But I tell you I am sorry now about the image.'

'Why?' demanded Captain Halliard.

'You are a brave man. You pulled those curtains down. I couldn't have done that! I don't care if you do marry my sister now.'

'Hooray!' shouted Gussie, capering wildly about; 'and now you'll let me be a bridesmaid, won't you, Jack? I didn't—oh, I didn't want that nasty wax image to melt all away!'

And so Jack learnt that magic is not only silly, but wrong, and found that Captain Halliard was after all not so terrible as to need a wizard to drive him away.