The cupboard under the stairs of the Dickens household was occupied by Gibbering Jane. She spent her days in the darkness, alongside a variety of mops, buckets, and brooms, mumbling about "hospital corners" and "ruckled chenille." She never came out and was fed slices of ham and any other food that was thin enough to slip under the bottom of the door.
The reason why Mr. and Mrs. Dickens had rustling brown paper sheets and blankets was that this was a part of the Treatment. Dr. Muffin was always giving very strict instructions about the Treatment.
The smell of old hot-water bottles had almost reached "unbearable" on Eddie's what-I'm-prepared-to-breathe scale, and he held his hanky up to his face.
"You'll have to leave the room, my boy," said his father.
"You'll have to leave the house," said his mother. "We can't risk you going all yellow and crinkly and smelling horrible. It would be a terrible waste of all that money we spent on turning you into a little gentleman."
"Which is why we're sending you to stay with Mad Uncle Jack," his father explained.
"I didn't know I had a Mad Uncle Jack," gasped Eddie. He'd never heard of him. He sounded rather an exciting relative to have.
"I didn't say your Mad Uncle Jack. He's my Mad Uncle Jack," said his father. "I do wish you'd listen. That makes him your great-uncle."
"Oh," said Eddie, disappointed. "You mean Mad Great-uncle Jack." Then he realized that he hadn't heard of him either and he sounded just as exciting as the other one. "When will I meet him?"
"He's in the wardrobe," said his mother, pointing at in the huge wardrobe at the foot of the bed, case her son had forgotten what a wardrobe looked like.
Eddie Dickens pulled open the door to the wardrobe, gingerly. (it was a ginger wardrobe.)
Inside, among his mother's dresses, stood a very, very, very tall and very, very, very thin man with a nose that made a parrot's beak look not so beaky. "Hullo," he said, with a u and not with an e. It was very definitely a "hullo" and not a "hello." Mad Uncle Jack put out his hand.
Eddie shook it. His little gentleman lessons hadn't been completely wasted.
Copyright © 2002 Philip Ardagh
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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