Excerpt of The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
(Page 2 of 3)
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"The elephant," said the fortuneteller.
"What?" he said. He opened his eyes, certain
that he had misunderstood.
"You must follow the elephant," said the
fortuneteller. "She will lead you there."
Peters heart, which had risen up high
inside of him, now sank slowly back to its normal
resting place. He put his hat on his head.
"You are having fun with me," he said. "There
are no elephants here."
"Just as you say," said the fortuneteller.
"That is surely the truth, at least for now. But
perhaps you have not noticed: the truth is
forever changing." She winked at him. "Wait
awhile," she said. "You will see."
Peter stepped out of the tent. The sky was
gray and heavy with clouds, but everywhere
people talked and laughed. Vendors shouted
and children cried and a beggar with a black
dog at his side stood in the center of it all and
sang a song about the darkness.
There was not a single elephant in sight.
Still, Peters stubborn heart would not
be silenced. It beat out the two simple,
impossible words over and over again: She
lives, she lives, she lives.
Could it be?
No, it could not be, for that would mean
that Vilna Lutz had lied to him, and it was
not at all an honorable thing for a soldier,
a superior officer, to lie. Surely, Vilna Lutz
would not lie. Surely he would not.
"It is winter," sang the beggar. "It is dark
and cold, and things are not what they seem,
and the truth is forever changing."
"I do not know what the truth is," said
Peter, "but I do know that I must confess.
I must tell Vilna Lutz what I have done." He
squared his shoulders, adjusted his hat, and
began the long walk back to the Apartments
As he walked, the winter afternoon turned
to dusk and the gray light gave way to gloom,
and Peter thought, The fortuneteller is lying; no,
Vilna Lutz is lying; no, it is the fortuneteller who
lies; no, no, it is Vilna Lutz . . . on and on like
that, the whole way back.
And when he came to the Apartments
Polonaise, he climbed the stairs to the attic
apartment very slowly, putting one foot carefully
in front of the other, thinking with each
step: He lies; she lies; he lies; she lies.
The old soldier was waiting for him, sitting
in a chair at the window, a single candle lit, the
papers of a battle plan in his lap, his shadow
cast large on the wall behind him.
"You are late, Private Duchene," said Vilna
Lutz. "And you are empty-handed."
"Sir," said Peter. He took off his hat. "I
have no fish and no bread. I gave the money to
"A fortuneteller?" said Vilna Lutz. "A
fortuneteller!" He tapped his left foot, the
one made of wood, against the floorboard.
"A fortuneteller? You must explain yourself."
Peter said nothing.
Tap, tap, tap went Vilna Lutzs wooden foot,
tap, tap, tap. "I am waiting," he said. "Private
Duchene, I am waiting for you to explain."
"It is only that I have doubts, sir," said
Peter. "And I know that I should not have
"Doubts! Doubts? Explain yourself."
"Sir, I cannot explain myself. I have been
trying the whole way here. There is no explanation
that will suffice."
"Very well, then," said Vilna Lutz. "You
will allow me to explain for you. You have
spent money that did not belong to you. You
have spent it in a foolish way. You have acted
dishonorably. You will be punished. You will
retire without your evening rations."
"Sir, yes, sir," said Peter, but he continued
to stand, his hat in his hands, in front of Vilna
"Is there something else you wish to say?"
"Which is it, please? No? Or yes?"
"Sir, have you yourself ever told a lie?" said
"Yes," said Peter. "You. Sir."
Vilna Lutz sat up straighter in his chair. He
raised a hand and stroked his beard, tracing
the line of it, making certain that the hairs
were arranged just so, that they came together
in a fine, military point. At last he said, "You,
who spend money that is not yours - you who
spend the money of others like a fool - you will
speak to me of who lies?"
Excerpted from The Magician's Elephant
by Kate DiCamillo Copyright © 2009 by Kate DiCamillo. Excerpted by
permission of Candlewick Press. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.