"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 Polonaise.
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."
"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! 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 Lutz.
"Is there something else you wish to say?"
"Which is it, please? No? Or yes?"
"Sir, have you yourself ever told a lie?" said Peter.
"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.
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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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