Chapter Four


    Saturday morning was not a great morn- ing. Aunt Tabby was cleaning the boiler-- again. Usually I stay out of the way when Aunt Tabby goes anywhere near the boiler, but today was different. I wanted to collect new supplies of flour for my ghost box, as I thought I might be needing it soon, and Aunt Tabby keeps all her flour in the third-pantry- on-the-left-just-past-the-boiler-room.

    I had nearly passed the boiler room safely when Aunt Tabby looked up and saw me. Drat. I could see she was going to be trouble. She had a big sooty scrubbing brush in her hand, and she had just kicked over a bucket of water. I was right; she was trouble. "Araminta dear, " said Aunt Tabby, "will you please go and put Sir Horace back together. He has spent two whole days in pieces now. " Sir Horace? Since when has Aunt Tabby bothered about Sir Horace? "Do I have to?" I asked, annoyed. I had better things to do than put a heap of rusty junk back together. Why was Aunt Tabby always popping up when you least wanted to see her? "Yes, you do have to. "

    Aunt Tabby kicked the grate. "There are some people coming who want to buy the house, and I think a nice suit of armor in the hall will make a good impression. People like suits of armor. And Araminta--" "What?" I said. "I want everything left nice and tidy, please! The people are coming this afternoon. " "This afternoon?" I gasped. "But that doesn't give me nearly enough time to--" Oops. "To what?" asked Aunt Tabby suspiciously, peering at me through her sooty spectacles. "To . . . Er . . . Clean up my room, " I told her in my nicest voice. "Well, you had better get a move on then, hadn't you, dear?" said Aunt Tabby. "And take that awful old helmet back up with you. " I picked up Sir Horace's helmet and got out of Aunt Tabby's way.

    Not more people coming to see the house, I thought. Couldn't they read the sign outside? I went out into the garden to see if Aunt Tabby had changed the sign, but she hadn't. It still said:This HAUNTED House Is -- NOT for Sale I didn't understand it. Why would anyone want to buy a haunted house? But just to make sure, I added a bit more to the sign:

    This HORRIBLE HAUNTED House Is -- NOT for Sale I dumped Sir Horace's helmet on the floor in my Saturday bedroom--which is my favorite, as you can only get to it by climbing up a rope ladder and then squeezing through a small door, which keeps Aunt Tabby out. The trouble was, the rest of Sir Horace still lay all over the floor of my Thursday bed- room, so it took forever to bring all the pieces down the corridor and then throw them up through the door.

    I am a pretty good shot, but I have to admit that not all the pieces got through the door the first time. I started to put Sir Horace back together and, while I was working out which arm went where, I thought about my Plans for the afternoon. I thought that maybe I would try the Molasses on the Doorknob with the Invisible Tripwire Plan, although it might  need the Slimebucket Surprise, too, just to Q make sure. But whatever I was going to do, I had to get Sir Horace finished quickly, as Aunt Tabby was sure to come and check. Sir Horace was really difficult to put back together. There were even more dents in him now, and lots of the pieces wouldn't go back where they were meant to, no matter how hard I pounded them. It was very irritating. It was nearly lunchtime by the time I had put Sir Horace back together--all, that is, except for his left foot. His left foot was just about the most stupid left foot I have ever known. I was feeling very annoyed, so I told Sir Horace exactly what was what. "It's all right for you, Sir Horace, you moldy old rust bucket, " I said, "but I've got much more important things to do.

    If I don't get my Plans ready, then some really stupid peo- ple who can't even read a perfectly obvious sign are going to buy this house, and we will have to move out. And when we do, Aunt Tabby is going to throw you in the recycling bin. And then you'll be taken away and squashed flat like a pancake and melted down and made into hundreds of tins--which will probably be filled up with cat food. Ha-ha. " By now I was really annoyed with his left foot. I banged it upside down on the floor and it rattled. I shook it again, and then something really exciting happened--a small brass key fell out. I could tell it was a very old key, as it was worn quite smooth as if it had been in some- one's pocket for hundreds of years. But the -39- best part was that it had an old brown label tied to it, and on the label was some faint spidery writing in very old-fashioned letters. I could just about read what it said:

    This be the keye to Balconie (Doth Fitt all Doors) "Balconie" was a funny word, and I won- dered what it meant. It sounded like a faraway land or an ancient underground city. Maybe, I thought, the key belonged to a treasure chest on a desert island called Balconie. I said the word out loud to myself, imagining the palm trees swaying and the water lapping at my feet, and then I realized what Balconie was. It was only the boring old balcony above the hall. And who would want to go there?

    Me! That's who. Suddenly I knew it was the perfect place. I could do my Awful Ambush from there. And I've always wanted to do an Awful Ambush. It has just about everything in it, and it would make the Slimebucket Surprise look like a Sunday school picnic. Anyone coming to buy the house wouldn't last five seconds. I gave one last shove to Sir Horace's left foot and--yes!--it went back onto the end of his leg. So what if it was on back to front? It didn't seem to bother Sir Horace, and it certainly didn't bother me. I had more important things to think about. Like how to get to the balcony. Of course, I knew there was only one answer to that--through a secret passage.

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