by Dawn Knox
half a mug of strong, black coffee topped up with milk
Previously: Crispin’s scary encounter with Peggy the Pram, the unscrupulous Leprechaun and her ‘Boys’ – a Dragon and two Gargoyles – had concluded when he’d persuaded them to go into the Shed of No Return. Sadly, it hadn’t lived up to its name and Peggy is back…
Crispin leapt out of bed and skipped to the window. It was so cold he was sure it must have snowed. But it hadn’t, despite the short odds McTavish, the Marble Cherub, had been offering on a White Christmas. Not that Crispin was disappointed as he gazed out at the deep frost which coated the Garden. The sparkling, white crystals had turned everything into a winter wonderland and he knew that the chilly weather would ensure the presents he’d wrapped last night would be warmly welcomed by his friends. He’d been knitting for the last few weeks and an enormous pile of wrapped scarves waited under the Christmas tree, to be delivered as soon as Sylvester got up. There were some smaller parcels too because scarves weren’t suitable for all of his friends.
Crispin had worried that when the Wooden Robin stopped to pull up his socks, he’d trip over a scarf. Instead, he’d found some fine, purple wool and using toothpicks, he’d knitted a pair of socks so skinny, they would hug the Wooden Robin’s legs and not slip down. Well, at least he thought they’d fit, but he’d had to stop trying to judge the size by eye, when the Wooden Robin had complained that Crispin kept staring at his legs.
“They look like veins,” Sylvester had remarked when Crispin held the socks up for inspection. Crispin wasn’t sure whether that was a good thing or not.
Guessing what size to make Gusty Bob’s bobble hat had also been a problem but in the end, it seemed to have turned out quite well. He’d decided against a scarf because of Gusty Bob’s lack of neck and as the Toad’s eyes were on the top of his head, a large hat would have been out of the question. But Crispin visualised the small bobble hat that he’d made, perched on the top of Gusty Bob’s head, between his eyes, just like a crown. Well, Toads didn’t need hats for warmth; they were, after all, cold-blooded animals.
Rustling of paper in the living room broke into Crispin’s thoughts, “Sylvester!” he yelled, “Leave the presents alone!”
Wendy had invited the Elves for Christmas lunch and Crispin was grateful he didn’t have to worry about cooking and could concentrate on visiting his friends to deliver the gifts he’d made. Sylvester had complained he wanted a ‘proper’ Christmas lunch and not the bizarre meal he suspected Wendy might serve up. Crispin was relieved that for once, he didn’t have to spend hours in the kitchen and was tempted to tell Sylvester that if he wanted a home-cooked meal, he could cook it himself but after the bacon fiasco, he decided it wisest to say nothing.
“Well, if I’ve got to eat jam sandwiches for lunch, can’t we at least open our presents now?” Sylvester asked.
Crispin didn’t need much persuading and while he made toast, Sylvester went to get the parcels. He staggered into the kitchen carrying an enormous armful of presents. Actually, the pile consisted of several small parcels and one huge one which he placed in front of Crispin.
“This is from me,” he said proudly.
Sylvester had unwrapped his scarf, matching mittens and bobble hat before Crispin managed to find a square centimetre of paper on his parcel that wasn’t covered in sticky tape.
“Come on!” said Sylvester, as he ripped the paper from his last present, “Ooh! A spy kit! I’ve always wanted one of those. Thank you!” He beamed at Crispin, who was scratching in vain at the parcel, trying to find a way in.
Sylvester had tried out all the false moustaches in his spy kit before Crispin finally managed to unwrap his present.
“What is it?” Crispin asked, gingerly poking one of the many hoses that coiled around the strange-looking contraption.
“It’s a coffee machine. And I got you a jar of coffee too. D’you like them? I got them from Peggy the Pram.”
Crispin’s knees gave way.
“It’s all right,” Sylvester added, looking pained, “I’ve paid for them.”
Crispin wasn’t quite sure whether to believe him after the previous encounters he’d had with Peggy, but it was Christmas, after all. A time to remember the good things. Still, the nagging thought that Peggy’s Boys were on their way was worrying indeed.
“Look, you put the water in here and the coffee in there,” said Sylvester pointing to different openings, “…I think... Oh no, perhaps you put the coffee in here…” He lifted flaps and wiggled knobs. “If you pour water in here, then the coffee must go here,” he said, tipping granules from the jar into the funnel, “And perhaps here. Then you put the coal here and light it… just there.”
Reluctantly, the machine juddered to life. Wheels and cogs turned, driving chains which operated pulleys and fans, all accompanied by the rumble of moving parts and the murmur of simmering water. Puffs of steam drifted out of the vents and from anywhere else that Sylvester had loosened when he’d been turning knobs, as the water in the boiler bubbled and gurgled so vigorously, the machine trembled.
“What do the instructions say we do now?” Crispin shouted, attempting to be heard above the rising whistle of the steam.
“Quick!” shrieked Crispin, grabbing a mug from the draining board and thrusting it under the nozzle from which steam and drops of water were hissing and spitting. He was just in time, as coffee erupted with volcanic ferocity into the mug and hitting the bottom with such force, it splashed out onto the worktop.
The Elves jumped backwards away from the scalding liquid and hid behind a chair while the machine continued to grumble and wheeze.
“Has it finished?” asked Crispin although he suspected Sylvester had less idea than he did. The growling and shrieking went on for some time after the delivery of coffee until the machine finally belched and was silent.
Crispin crept out from behind the chair and surveyed the puddle of coffee and scorch marks on the worktop. Raising the mug, Sylvester sniffed the contents.
“Mmm, I love the smell of fresh coffee. Milk or cream?” he asked.
Crispin, who wasn’t very keen on coffee, was tempted to tip it into the sink but it wasn’t often Sylvester made him a drink and he looked so proud of himself.
“Milk, please.” Hopefully, it would dilute the coffee.
However, even when the small amount of coffee that remained in the mug, had been topped up with milk, it was still very strong and Crispin fought the urge to grimace.
“Mmm, lovely,” he said and threw the rest down the sink while Sylvester was inspecting a hose that had become detached.
“Wow, it’s a beast of a machine, isn’t it? Shall we make some more?” asked Sylvester.
“Well, let’s wait until we’ve adjusted the machine slightly.” Crispin had no idea which part they would adjust nor how they would do it, but his nerves couldn’t stand another cup. “Anyway, we’ve got presents to deliver before Christmas dinner…”
Thankfully, Sylvester was easily distracted and ran to get his new scarf, mittens and bobble hat.
Crispin mopped up the mess and wondered which part of the machine was crucial and whether it could easily be removed and hidden, rendering it inoperable.
“Come on! I’ve packed everything up, let’s go!” called Sylvester from the hall.
“I love them!” chirped the Wooden Robin excitedly, “I’ve never seen knitted ones before!”
“But you’re wearing some,” said Crispin in surprise.
“What? French beans?” chirped the Wooden Robin.
“They’re not beans, they’re veins,” said Sylvester.
“Veins? But they’re green. You don’t get green veins,” said the Wooden Robin.
“They’re not green, they’re purple,” said Crispin and before Sylvester could say anything, he added “and they’re socks, not beans or veins.”
“Ooh!” trilled the Wooden Robin, “how marvellous!”
“You can try them on if you like,” said Crispin.
The Wooden Robin stopped hopping from foot to foot, “Um… if it’s all right with you, I’ll put them on when you’ve gone.”
“But I’d love to see if they fit…” said Crispin.
“I’m sure you would!” said the Wooden Robin in a knowing voice, “Don’t think I haven’t noticed you eyeing up my legs when you think I’m not watching…”
“What? I wasn’t eyeing up your legs!” gasped Crispin, “I was trying to work out how long the socks needed to be.”
“Really?” asked the Wooden Robin.
“Don’t be ridiculous!” said Sylvester scornfully, “Of course he wouldn’t be looking at your legs. Who’d want to look at your skinny, little, twig-like…”
The Wooden Robin’s eyes filled with tears.
“What Sylvester means,” said Crispin quickly “is that I was merely checking the length of your legs to see how skinny I needed to make the socks and how similar your legs are to fine, strong twigs…”
“Are you sure you haven’t got a leg fetish?” asked the Wooden Robin doubtfully.
“No!” said Crispin firmly, “I haven’t.”
Gusty Bob, however, tried his present on as soon as he’d unwrapped it, although it became clear he couldn’t move without the tiny, red bobble hat falling off.
“Perhaps it needs two ribbons sewn to it, to tie under your chin?” suggested Crispin.
“What chin?” asked Sylvester, “He hasn’t got one.”
“Since you so kindly pointed that out,” said Crispin tartly, “you can help solve the problem.”
“Yes,” said Crispin, taking the spy kit box from his bag, “You can give Gusty Bob some of the double-sided tape you’ve got for sticking the false moustaches on.”
“Yes, in fact, I think it’s the least you can do. Perhaps you’d like to throw in a false moustache too…”
Crispin took the roll of tape and a rather fine bushy, ginger moustache out of the box before Sylvester could object and stuck a large strip of tape to the bobble hat before placing it on Gusty Bob’s head.
“There, that should hold it until I can make something more permanent,” said Crispin, holding a small mirror for Gusty Bob to admire his new hat and moustache.
“That was really unfair,” grumbled Sylvester as they walked through the Garden to deliver the other presents, “you gave one of my moustaches away.”
“It’s Christmas,” said Crispin, “a time of good cheer and being nice to people, not commenting on people’s thin legs or lack of chin. Anyway, I thought you wanted to be like a spy. You have to be smooth, suave and dashing, not critical and obnoxious. Spies don’t upset people.”
“I bet it would upset you if a spy killed you. Anyway, I can be smooth, suave and dashing…”
“Well, perhaps you could practise while we deliver the rest of the presents…” said Crispin and then hastily added, “I mean being smooth, suave and dashing. Not killing people.”
Their last stop before getting to the Wendy House was Nina the Ninja’s Toadstool. Crispin’s bag was no lighter than it had been when he’d left home, as each time they’d stopped to deliver parcels, they’d also received presents. So far, everyone had loved their scarves. Each one had been specially customised, either with the recipient’s name or some other feature. For example, Jubbly’s scarf had the Mexican flag at one end and a pretty fringe at the other, so it would suit all occasions and personas. Crispin had knitted Nina’s scarf in red, orange and green to go with her hair and favourite outfit and he’d warned Sylvester not to mention traffic lights. For Doggett, Crispin had used fire-retardant wool to knit a black scarf with blue lightning flashes.
“How thoughtful,” said Doggett, wrapping it tightly around his neck, “This one won’t go up in flames.”
“My scarf matches my hair,” said Nina, trying it on and admiring herself in the mirror over the mantelpiece.
“Yes, it’s…” said Sylvester.
Don’t mention traffic lights, Crispin mouthed at Sylvester.
“Don’t mention what?” asked Sylvester out loud.
Nina swung round and looked at Sylvester, who was looking at Crispin.
“Did I miss something?” she asked.
“No,” said Crispin, “Gosh, is that the time? We’d best be off…”
“Ow! Oooh! Mmm!” said Sylvester, quickly patting Doggett’s arm, afraid he’d be dragged out before he got a dose of Christmas tingles.
Crispin grabbed him by the arm and pulled him to the door.
“What’s the matter?” Sylvester asked.
“When I mouth something to you, it’s because I want to send you a secret message. What you don’t do, is to ask me to repeat it out loud because then everyone knows I’ve just tried to say something to you without them knowing. You’ll never make a spy if you can’t master that! Honestly!”
Sylvester was still sulking by the time they reached the Wendy House.
He’d put on a pair of sunglasses, a Fedora hat which he pulled low over one eye and stuck a large handlebar moustache on his upper lip.
“I’m sure Wendy will love your outfit,” said Crispin in an attempt to stop the sulk.
“She might. But if she’s made jam sandwiches for lunch I’m going to…”
“Don’t be so ungrateful,” said Crispin losing patience, “it was nice of her to ask us.”
“Not if she gives us jam sandwiches,” said Sylvester. “I’m starving.”
“It could be worse, she might give us a bag of barley sugars and a gobstopper.”
“You might be right,” said Sylvester gloomily.
“I was only joking,” said Crispin “although it is a distinct possibility,” he added anxiously.
Wendy opened the door, wearing a paper hat and carrying an armful of Christmas crackers.
“Oh! Thylvethter, aren’t you handthome!”
“How did you know it was me?”
“Only you and Cwithpin are coming. It couldn’t be anyone elthe. Oooh! I love Chrithmath, don’t you?”
“I love Christmas dinner,” said Sylvester.
Don’t be so rude! Crispin mouthed at Sylvester.
“Don’t what?” Sylvester said out loud.
Wendy peered at them, “Are you playing a Chrithmath game?”
“Yes, said Crispin, with his fingers crossed behind his back.
“Oooh, how wonderful! You can teach me how to play it after dinner.”
She led them into the dining room, where the doll’s table was set for lunch.
“When you’ve taken off that mouthtache, Thylvethter, I’ll give you a kith under the mithletoe.”
Sylvester pressed the moustache firmly in place.
“It’s a real moustache,” he lied.
Crispin sighed. This Christmas Day had the makings of a disaster. Thankfully, it improved significantly when Wendy poured the Elves a glass of sloe gin.
“Thit down and I’ll bring dinner.” After placing a cracker by each place setting, Wendy went into the kitchen. As Sylvester drank, the sloe gin dissolved the adhesive on the sticky tape attaching the moustache to his upper lip and it slithered into the glass. Once he’d fished it out of his drink, it appeared more like a dead caterpillar than facial hair, so he tucked it in his pocket, then quickly grabbed a handful of moustaches from his spy kit, stuck one to his face and put the rest in his other pocket. It wouldn’t do to be caught without a moustache while there was mistletoe around. And there appeared to be rather a lot of it.
Sylvester sat at the table and groaned. “It’s worse than I thought. She’s gonna play ‘Doll’s Tea Party’.”
“It’s where she pours imaginary tea into a doll’s cup and then you have to pretend to drink it with your pinkie like this,” Sylvester held his little finger up in an exaggerated curve. “And then she serves imaginary cakes and you have to describe them and say how delicious they are. I don’t think I can bear it…”
“You seem to know a lot about playing ‘Doll’s Tea Party’.”
“The last time I came over, she wouldn’t let me go until I’d served all the dolls… She’s got a lot of dolls,” he added indignantly.
Wendy reappeared with a tray piled high with plates, dishes and a large, steaming roast turkey.
“Could one of you fetch the vegetableth and the thtuffing, pleathe?”
Sylvester nearly knocked her over as he rushed past her to get the rest of the food.
“This is wonderful, Wendy! I didn’t realise you could cook,” said Crispin as they tucked into turkey and all the trimmings.
“Oh, I can’t,” she said.
“But?” Crispin held up his loaded fork and gestured towards it.
“My chum Fwank Fowle cooked it for me.”
Crispin froze. His fork remained in the air as he eyed it with suspicion, remembering Frank with his finger up his nose, cooking at Bartrum’s dinner party.
“Don’t worry, I know exthactly what you’re thinking…”
“Yeth, but it’th okay.”
Crispin’s fork still hovered in front of his mouth.
“Oh, yeth, I thorted him out.”
“You did?” Crispin asked, wondering how she’d persuaded the Troll to keep his finger out of his nostril. He placed the fork in his mouth and started chewing.
“Yeth, I showed him the pwoper way to hold a wooden thpoon. He thaid he pweferred to hold it by the bowl but he’d have a go.”
Crispin gagged on his half-chewed food.
But it was amazing how after several glasses of Wendy’s sloe gin, Crispin was finding it hard to recall the image of Frank and his probing finger. He was finding it hard to remember who Frank Fowle was at all.
“Pudding?” asked Wendy as she cleared the plates away.
“Do we have to describe it? And does it involve feeding Milly and Rosie?” Sylvester asked, nodding at the two dolls who were sitting at the table with them.
“Only if you want to,” said Wendy, “they had thuch fun when you were here the other day…”
Sylvester assured her he was quite happy to eat pudding himself and while she was in the kitchen, he scooped up the two dolls and dropped them behind the sofa.
“Bye-bye, Silly and Dozy,” he said as he dusted his hands together. Crispin looked at him in disapproval.
“Their eyes were following me,” Sylvester said defensively, “If you’d been here at the Doll’s Tea Party, you’d know what I mean. I’m probably scarred for life.”
“Where are Milly and Rothie?” Wendy asked as she came in with an enormous Christmas pudding.
“Gone for a walk,” said Sylvester quickly.
“I hope they’ll come back thoon or there won’t be any pudding left.”
“Yes,” agreed Sylvester, helping himself to another large spoonful.
“That was lovely,” said Crispin, patting his stomach.
“Thank you,” said Wendy, “but I’m getting a bit worried about Milly and Rothie. I think we ought to go out and look for them.”
Sylvester looked out of the window at the frosty landscape and shivered.
Serves you right, mouthed Crispin.
“Serves what?” said Sylvester out loud.
“Ooh, you’re playing that funny game again! Let me play! What do I have to do?”
“I know,” said Sylvester, “let’s open our presents. I’ll show you my spy kit and if you like, you can wear a false moustache. Then if Silly…err, I mean Milly and Rosie aren’t back, we’ll have a game of hide and seek. I’m sure they’ll turn up by then.”
Wendy squealed with delight at her scarf, bobble hat and mittens. They were in her favourite shade of pink and Crispin had sewn some pockets on the scarf and the hat where she could store her sweets. There was a small, pink scarf for Trilby too and Wendy went into the kitchen to fetch him, to try it on. When she came back, she had the struggling cat under her arm, screeching in protest.
“Twilby ith behaving very, very badly.” She frowned as she held him down while Crispin tied the scarf in a bow around his neck. Trilby thanked Crispin by sinking tiny, needle-like teeth in his hand.
“Oh, Twilby, you naughty kitty!”
The naughty kitty took full advantage of the mayhem and fled to the kitchen where he lapped up the remaining milk in his saucer, to try to get rid of the taste of Elf before disappearing through the cat flap.
“That was a surprisingly nice day,” said Crispin, rubbing his distended stomach and swapping the heavy bag of presents to his other shoulder. They’d decided to take a detour to Nina’s Toadstool so that Doggett could heal Crispin’s bite wound before they returned home, and Sylvester had grabbed the opportunity to get a bonus dose of Christmas tingles.
“I’ll make us a nice cup of coffee when we get in and then we can unwrap all our pressies,” Sylvester said once the tingles had worn off and the sloppy grin had faded.
Crispin didn’t fancy coffee at all. The messages his brain was sending to the rest of his body seemed to have been intercepted, and in the absence of sensible instructions, his feet were acting independently of each other. He also had the irresistible urge to giggle.
Too much sloe gin, he thought. A cup of strong coffee might be just the thing.
Sylvester’s attempts to evade Wendy under the mistletoe had also been thwarted by the sloe gin which had displaced four moustaches in total. She’d finally seized the end of one that was still successfully sticking to his lip and with a flick of her wrist, she’d pulled it off. But the sloe gin had slowed Sylvester down and before he could react, she’d planted a kiss firmly on his cheek.
“I wonder if that’s why they call it ‘slow gin’,” Sylvester mused remembering the indignity and wiping his cheek at the memory.
“Well, ‘ello, me old China…” said a cheery voice.
Peggy the Pram stepped out from behind a tree.
An enormous jolt of adrenalin banished all traces of sloe gin from Crispin’s brain and it fired multiple messages to his feet telling them to run. Unfortunately, the messages didn’t agree on which direction each foot was to go. He spun on the spot and tripped, dropping the bag and spilling presents over the ground. Peggy helped him pick them up.
“I ‘ear you been givin’ everyone scarves this year…”
Crispin gulped and nodded, his eyes nearly popping out.
“And other knitted stuff?” Peggy asked.
Crispin nodded again. He wanted to put his hands over his brows to protect them but his arms seemed to be paralysed.
“I’ll be over to see you boys tomorrow. I’ve got a business proposition for you both.”
“Both?” asked Crispin.
“Yeah. I’m interested in you supplying me with goods. ’Ow about ‘alf a dozen scarves to begin with and as your young friend is about to get ‘is winnin’s from McTavish, I thought ‘e might like to invest it in my business. Like a sleepin’ partner.”
And with that, Peggy was gone.
“Well, it could be worse,” said Sylvester to Crispin who was still kneeling on the ground, “we might make our fortunes. And I think she’s definitely forgotten about you sending her to the Shed of No Return…”
“Shhh!” said Crispin looking around in alarm, “She might hear you! And I assure you that if there are fortunes to be made, we won’t be making them.”
“But being a sleeping partner can’t be too hard.”
“When she says ‘sleeping’, she probably means something altogether more permanent than you have in mind…” said Crispin, getting to his feet. “Anyway, what did she mean when she said your ‘winnings’?”
“Oh that,” said Sylvester airily, “I placed a bet against it being a White Christmas with McTavish…”
“You placed a bet on Christmas?” Crispin was incensed.
“There’s no need to sound so cross. Wendy placed a bet with McTavish too.”
“That’s not the point. It’s Christmas. You can’t go around betting on it. It’s not right. And now, thanks to you and your gambling, we’re unlikely to see the New Year.”
The two Elves walked home in silence, each lost in his own thoughts and therefore unaware that Trilby was following at a safe distance with a pink scarf around his neck that he had been unable to remove.
He had revenge on his mind.
“I know,” said Sylvester as they neared the Toadstool, “tomorrow, we’ll put on disguises from my spy kit and Peggy’ll never know it’s us.”
Crispin ran his fingers along his eyebrows. It had taken so long for them to grow back properly after one of Peggy and the Boys’ previous visits. Putting on a false moustache would just give the Dragon more to aim at. Unless…
“I’ve got a better idea,” said Crispin, “quickly, open the door, I’ve got a lot to do before morning. And I’m going to need coffee—lots of coffee—so you’d better fire up the Beast.”
As Sylvester took his hands out of his pockets, the damp, false moustaches which had come off in the sloe gin, fell out on the ground but neither Elf spotted them, in their haste to get into the Toadstool.
The closer Trilby got to the Toadstool, the more he could smell the two evil Elves and he shivered in distaste. Quite how he was going to exact his revenge, he had no idea, but he was sure something would come to him. However, two things were worrying him. Firstly, he’d definitely heard the older Elf say something about a beast and he feared they’d got some sort of guard dog—or worse. Secondly, he’d found what looked like little bits of hairy, animal skin by the front door. It was as if something furry had been torn limb from limb and all that remained were scraps of its pelt.
Having second thoughts, Trilby backed away from the Toadstool, down the path towards the gate. Perhaps he’d come back in the daylight when things didn’t look so scary. As he turned, his scarf caught on the gate catch, nearly garrotting him. That was the final indignation and Trilby saw red. As if it wasn’t enough to have one of those monsters tie something around his neck that he couldn’t get off, the something was pink and it would be the death of him. But not if he struck back first. Finally, he freed the scarf and crept back up the path. The older Elf had pulled the curtains in the living room, so he tiptoed around the back to the kitchen and waited in the shadows. When one of the Elves came into the Garden to put the rubbish in the bin, he would sneak into the Toadstool and… well he wasn’t sure what he’d do then, but he was resourceful and patient and what’s more, he had the element of surprise on his side. And he was sure by then he’d at least have control of two of his knocking knees.
It was going to be a long night. But Sylvester was up to it—especially if Crispin was doing all the hard work. Clicking and clacking came from the living room as Crispin knitted furiously. He’d explained to Sylvester that as well as the six scarves, he needed to make four balaclavas before Peggy came with her Boys in the morning.
“What’s a balaclava?”
“It’s a sort of large sock that goes over your head and has holes for your eyes.”
“Oh, I see,” said Sylvester, who didn’t see at all why anyone would put a sock on their head, “but Peggy only asked for scarves.”
“They’re presents for Peggy and the Boys.”
“Why don’t you just make them scarves?”
“Because a Dragon can’t breathe flames through a fire-retardant balaclava and Gargoyles aren’t so scary if you can’t see the faces they’re pulling.”
“Brilliant!” said Sylvester, “But why d’you have to make Peggy one? She doesn’t breathe flames or make scary faces.”
He’s so clever, thought Sylvester as he went into the kitchen, relieved he couldn’t knit and therefore didn’t have to spend the evening wiggling needles. He’d been desperate to have a go on the new machine and now, he had the perfect opportunity to play with it and to keep Crispin well-fuelled with coffee and pieces of the homemade fudge Wendy had given them for Christmas. He popped a piece in his mouth and chewed as he poured water into the ‘Beast’ and tipped coffee into the chamber. Once he’d lit the coal in the tiny furnace, he stood back out of range of the intense heat and waited. He wondered whether Crispin might knit him a fire-retardant balaclava for when he made coffee.
Crispin had been right when he’d referred to the machine as a ‘Beast’. It even sounded like an animal, with its hissing, spitting and growling. Sylvester suddenly realised the fudge he’d been eating had become rather chewy and had a distinctly bubble gum flavour. He took another square from the box and cut it in half. Trust Wendy to have combined bubble gum and fudge. She’d recently challenged him to a bubble blowing contest but once he’d seen the size of the bubbles she blew, he told her he was too grown-up for such baby stuff. He had a feeling it was harder than it looked. But now was a perfect time to try—away from prying eyes. He could practise and then when he’d perfected it, he’d nonchalantly blow a bubble the next time he saw Wendy. His first effort resulted in him spitting it halfway across the kitchen but after a few more attempts, he managed to blow small bubbles and with a flick of the tongue, took them back inside his mouth for further chewing and moulding. He crouched down behind the kitchen table, blowing bubbles and watching for signs the ‘Beast’ had finished.
Steam whistled through various orifices until the vibrating appliance was enveloped in a cloak of mist. Sylvester started to blow an enormous bubble. He had a feeling this one was going to be a success and he went cross-eyed as he watched it grow and fill his vision. This one, he decided, would be as big as his head. There was a hiccup from the machine and a gurgling, just as he remembered he hadn’t put anything under the coffee nozzle. The pink bubble bobbed and dipped in front of his nose, as he rushed out from behind the table, grabbed a mug and thrust it into the machine. Coffee was ejected so forcibly from the nozzle, it ricocheted out of the mug and flying upwards, it hit the bubble, rupturing it with a loud pop. A film of gooey gum smeared itself over the contours of his face in a pink, featureless mask. Sylvester staggered backwards blindly, arms flailing, knocking over the table and smashing everything in his path. He tried to scream but the sound and his breath were trapped inside the gum which inflated to another bubble and then inverted into Sylvester’s mouth as he inhaled in panic.
Trilby cowered in the bushes. The sounds coming from the Elves’ kitchen were like nothing he’d ever heard before. He couldn’t imagine what type of animal was inside and he was reconsidering his position on taking revenge. Perhaps he could live with his dislike of the Elves without demanding a settling of scores. Yes, the more he thought about it, the more he was sure he could.
The noises grew in volume and tempo. What kind of animal could roar, hiss and squeak at the same time? There was an enormous thud, followed by the crash of breaking china and glass and one of the Elves began shouting. What was happening in the kitchen? Had the Beast turned on the Elves? Hope rose in Trilby’s heart. He wanted—no, he needed—to see what was happening. He crept forward and leapt up onto the dustbin. He’d be safe outside, surely? With both front paws on the windowsill, he craned his neck to get a better look. The kitchen appeared to be full of fog, which was surprising because behind him, in the Garden, the night was clear. Suddenly out of the misty depths burst a terrifying sight and Trilby fell backwards off the dustbin onto the grass. It was a sight that would haunt his nightmares for some time to come. A terrifying monster had stared at him… Well, that wasn’t strictly true because in order to stare, a monster has to have eyes and this monster had no eyes, in fact, no features at all. There was a lump where the nose should have been. Where you might expect a mouth, there was an oval, concave depression. There was just a head covered in bare, wrinkly, pink skin and to make matters worse—the monster clutched at what should have been its face as if trying to scratch it off.
Trilby lay on the grass, petrified with shock.
And then, the kitchen window opened.
Trilby had never run so fast in his life.
Crispin managed to make a hole in the bubble gum for Sylvester to breathe and painstakingly peeled the rest of the goo off his skin, although so much of it was stuck in his hair, Crispin suspected a trip to the barbers would be necessary. He doused the flames in the coffee machine’s furnace and opened the window to let out the steam, although so much had been produced that droplets had condensed on the ceiling and were still dripping down like rain. He mopped up the puddle of coffee and swept up the broken crockery and glass, then made Sylvester a calming mug of hot chocolate before resuming his knitting.
Sylvester was too disturbed to sleep and he sat up watching the mesmerising motion of Crispin’s knitting needles, sipping his hot chocolate.
“I’ve never seen anyone knit as fast as you,” he remarked.
“That’s because our lives depend upon it.”
“Haven’t you done enough yet? I’m getting quite tired,” Sylvester said after a few hours. His eyes had started to droop.
“No, I haven’t done enough until I have four balaclavas and the six scarves that Peggy wants by tomorrow—well actually by later today. But you go to bed. I’ve only got two balaclavas left to make.”
By the time Peggy and the Boys arrived, Crispin had just finished the last balaclava.
“Well,” she said cheerily, “we’ll ‘ave a nice cup o’ Rosie Lee* and talk terms.”
‘Terms’ seemed to involve Sylvester handing over his winnings and Crispin handing over his scarves with the promise of more orders.
‘Threat’ of more orders, thought Crispin wryly.
“Here,” he said as cheerily as he could, “Merry Christmas,” and he handed Peggy and the Boys their balaclavas.
“Perhaps you could try them on, so I could see if they fit? Please?” Crispin’s voice had risen an octave with fear.
But he needn’t have worried because the Gargoyles couldn’t wait to try theirs on and after some help, the Dragon managed to get his over the spines on his neck. Even Peggy removed her green cap and pulled hers over her head.
Crispin felt slightly safer as it would take the Dragon a while to get his balaclava off and so there’d be time to duck if he decided to throw flames about. And the Gargoyles looked quite benign with their balaclavas on. They even looked slightly cuddly. However, it didn’t seem to matter what headgear Peggy was wearing, she still exuded menace, and she now brought the subject back to business.
There was no escape. Crispin handed over the scarves and looked at Sylvester who was hopping nervously from foot to foot.
“Um, there’s a slight problem,” he whispered.
“Go on,” said Peggy threateningly, through the balaclava.
“Well, McTavish hasn’t paid me yet.”
“I see. Well, we’ll take an IOU, won’t we boys?”
But there was no reply because the Boys were looking intently out of the window.
“Time to go,” said the Dragon, trying to pull the balaclava off. It remained bunched up over his eyes and he tripped over the coffee table, knocking the Gargoyles off balance. Peggy leapt to her feet and jumping over the Boys, she rushed into the kitchen. Crispin heard the back door open and slam shut. The Boys untangled themselves just as there was a loud knock at the door.
Now what? Crispin wondered.
It was Bartrum.
“Where’s that swindling, cheating Leprechaun?” he demanded.
“That way!” the Elves said, pointing to the kitchen door which had just swung closed as the last of the Boys disappeared.
Bartrum thundered through the living room in hot pursuit.
A few minutes later, he returned, red-cheeked, wheezing and clutching his heart.
“They… got…away…” he finally managed to get out and collapsed on the sofa.
“Shall I fetch Doggett?” Crispin asked.
Bartrum shook his head, “Just… need… to get… my breath,” he gasped.
Overall, it had been an excellent Christmas, reflected Crispin. True, the coffee machine had been removed from the Toadstool and had been destroyed, on health and safety grounds. Apparently, there was a high risk of explosion, as Mrs Bartrum had discovered the first time she’d used hers. But Doggett had been on hand to heal Mrs Bartrum’s burns and she was apparently quite pleased that her kitchen would now be completely refitted. Bartrum was not so pleased. Like Sylvester, he too, had bought the machine from Peggy the Pram and he was keen to get his money back—or else. Peggy would be unlikely to return for some time and when she reappeared, if indeed, she ever did, Crispin hoped she’d have forgotten about her business proposal. She might have run off with Crispin’s scarves but she hadn’t got her hands on Sylvester’s winnings, which McTavish delivered shortly after Peggy had fled.
Crispin had woken quite refreshed after a few hours’ sleep and just as he had been wondering what to make for lunch, Wendy had arrived with Millie and Rosie and two enormous plates of sandwiches.
“I made turkey and jam,” she said “I hope you like them.”
Don’t take the biggest one… Crispin had mouthed as Sylvester reached out to the plate Wendy had placed on the table.
“Don’t what?” Sylvester had enquired out loud, as he took the largest sandwich with turkey spilling out of it and crammed it in his mouth. He froze.
“There’s jam in this sandwich!” he said aghast, his mouth still full of half-chewed food.
I told you they were turkey and jam, Wendy mouthed at him, “I think I’m getting the hang of thith game. Can we get your thpy kit out? I’d like to twy on a dithguithe…” she added out loud.
The Wooden Robin had been seen strutting about the Garden in his new purple socks, without having to stop to pull them up and people strolled past the Toadstool with colourful scarves wrapped around their necks. From time to time, if Crispin looked out of the window towards the begonias, a small, red bobble hat repeatedly shot skyward; each flight accompanied by a triumphant fanfare as it spun and landed back in the begonias to be retrieved and propelled upwards again.
Yes, all in all, it had been a fine Christmas.
About the author
Dawn’s two previous books in the ‘Chronicles Chronicles’ series are ‘The Basilwade Chronicles’ and ‘The Macaroon Chronicles’ both published by Chapeltown Publishing.
The Crispin Chronicles
Links to the previous chapters:
Chapter 1 – Her Ladyship’s Garden - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/04/the-crispin-chronicles-1-her-ladyships.html
Chapter 2 – The Letter from OFSGAR - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/search/label/The%20Crispin%20Chronicles%20-%20The%20Letter%20from%20OFSGAR
Chapter 3 -The Sweet Smell of Success - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/05/the-crispin-chronicles-3-sweet-smell-of.html
Chapter 4 – A Visit from Peggy the Pram - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/05/the-crispin-chronicles-4-visit-from.html
Chapter 5 – Nightly Disturbances - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/05/the-crispin-chronicles-5-nightly.html
Chapter 6 – Just Desserts - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/05/the-crispin-chronicles-6-just-desserts.html
Chapter 7 – A Little Girl at Large - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/06/the-crispin-chronicles-7-little-girl-at.html
Chapter 8 – The Halloween Party - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/06/the-crispin-chronicles-8-halloween-party.html
Chapter 9 – A Glimmer of an Idea - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/07/the-crispin-chronicles-9-glimmer-of-idea.html
Chapter 10 – Doggett Sees the Light - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/07/the-crispin-chronicles-10-doggett-sees.html
Chapter 11 – Doggett’s Blues – https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/07/the-crispin-chronicles-11-doggetts-blues.html
Chapter 12 – A Genie out of the Bottle - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/08/the-crispin-chronicles-12-genie-out-of.html
* Cockney Rhyming Slang—Rosie Lee = Tea