It was a happy hour—and good thing, because of the rest of the day was dismal. He passed Charming Tom on the street at one point, whistling and looking as if he were headed nowhere, with no cares. As he passed Gifflet, he winked and said, “How’re the beasties treating you today?”—a clear reference to the horrible images Gifflet had been plagued with lately. It set Gifflet’s teeth on edge. And with the very next song he sang, a green and brown monstrosity appeared on the wall next to him, with evil eyes and metallic red scales, and a jungle of wicked teeth protruding at strange angles from misshapen jaws. People had cried out for him to stop, and he rushed away. Even more galling, not more than a few minutes later, when the apparition had cleared, Charming Tom came and set up in the very same spot, unfolding his little black table and putting out his paraphernalia. He usually started with card tricks and worked his way up to bigger illusions once a crowd had gathered. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the most wondrous, the greatest, the surprising and breathtaking and most charming magician of our age! I am at your service—Charming Tom!” He bowed and the crowd clapped and cheered. And without Charming Tom having done even one act, the air was filled with floating paper lanterns, glittering in many colours. Though each lasted only an instant before disappearing, the crowd surged forward and exclaimed and sighed. Gifflet turned away in disgust. He knew magic tricks weren’t easy, but he’d watched Charming Tom. He didn’t do many tricks. He mostly smiled with all his teeth and bantered with the audience. It was fluff, and yet the people and the very universe loved him.
Gifflet walked away, past the cafés and flower shops and wound down the crowded high street of the Water Market until he came to Laura’s kiosk. He fished out the book he’d been carrying all day in his little side pouch
“I’ve got the novel I told you about. Are you done with yours?”
“Yes, two days ago. I stayed up till three in the morning finishing it! I couldn’t put it down. I’m still catching up on my sleep, so be warned.”
They swapped, and Gifflet bought his rations and headed to The Old Boathouse. He was just settling in with his new book when there was a knock at his door and he heard Arrietty shouting from down the other end of the skip, “It’s us, Gifflet!”
“Shhh,” said Brasilia’s voice, “just wait there! Gifflet, could you do me a big favour?”
“What is it?”
“I have to go out for a while—till after Arrietty’s bedtime. Can you watch her and put her to bed?”
“Thank you, Gifflet, you’re a lifesaver.” Brasilia’s face was anxious.
“Is everything okay?”
“Yes, yes,” she said, but in a distracted way. “Arrietty, come please,” and Gifflet heard Arrietty’s little feet pounding down the boards. A moment later he staggered under the force of her running hug.
“Gifflet!” she shrieked.
“Shh, Arrietty, calm down a bit, hey? Listen to Gifflet and do everything he says.”
“And no noise down at this end of the boathouse. You know that Doctor Dolci likes his quiet in the evenings.”
“I know! No noise!” shouted Arrietty.
“Try to have her in bed by eight.”
Gifflet nodded. He knew Arrietty’s schedule by heart.
“Thank you, thank you Gifflet,” said Brasilia, and she rushed off.
Gifflet spent a lot of time with Arrietty, but hardly ever in the evenings. Brasilia was very careful not to impose on Gifflet’s free time—though, he’d have gladly spent any amount of time with Arrietty—and the worry on Brasilia’s face disquieted him a little.