London, England, c. 1870 Two Missing Boys The front door was painted black, with a shiny brass knocker that made a satisfying noise when Alfred used it. Rat-tat-tat. Birdie spied a lace curtain twitching in the drawing room window. "Someone's at home," she remarked. Alfred said nothing. He looked tired after their long walk--but then again he always looked tired. His gray mustache drooped. His shoulders were bent. His brown eyes sagged at the corners under his wide, floppy hat brim. Suddenly the door was flung open. a housemaid in a white cap peered at them suspiciously, her gaze lingering on Alfred's frayed canvas trousers and baggy green coat. "Yes?" she asked. "What's yer business?" Alfred removed his hat. "The name is Bunce," he replied in his gravelly voice. "I came here on account of I were sent for." "Sent for?" The housemaid echoed. "A Miss Ellen Meggs sent for me, by passing word through Tom Cobbings." "Oh!" The housemaid put a hand to her mouth. "Are you the Go-devil Man?" "The bogler. Aye." "And I'm Birdie. I'm the 'prentice." Because Birdie was very small and thin and pale, she was often ignored. So she liked to wear the most colorful clothes she could find. This summer her dress was a dull cotton drab, but she had added a little cape made of yellow satin, very soiled and creased, and there were red feathers on her battered straw hat. Stepping out of her master's shadow, she beamed up at the housemaid, eager to make friends. The housemaid, however, was too flustered to notice Birdie. "Oh, why did you knock on this door?" she lamented. "The hawker's door is down by the coal hole! Come in quick, afore the neighbors see you both." Hustling Alfred and Birdie across the threshold, she slammed the door and said, " I'm Ellen Meggs. I'm the one as sent for you. My mistress knows nothing o' this, nor won't neither, if I have my way." "Ain't she in?" Birdie asked shrewdly, glancing through the door to her left. It opened off a handsome entrance hall that Birdie thought finer than anything she had ever seen in her life--a lofty space with carpet on the stairs and paper on the walls and a bronze statue in one corner. The cedar joinery gleamed, and the air smelled of lemon. But there was a broom propped against the hat stand. And through the door that she'd spotted, Birdie could make out furniture swathed in dust sheets. "Mrs. Plumeridge is at the seaside for her health," Ellen replied. "Oh, but there's other old cats across the way that never leave their parlor windows, and they'll have seen you come in, sure as eggs!" She stamped her foot in frustration, her round, pink face growing even pinker under its frizz of sandy hair. Alfred sighed. His shoulders were slumped beneath the weight of his sack, which he never let his apprentice carry, no matter how desperately she pleaded. "What's yer particulars, Miss Meggs?" He inquired. "Tom Cobbings had none to give, save for yer name and where I'd find you. Is there a bogle in this house?" Ellen opened her mouth, then hesitated. Her gaze had fallen on Birdie, whose blue eyes, freckled nose, and flyaway curls looked as delicate as fine china. Birdie knew exactly what the housemaid was thinking, because everyone always thought the same thing. Only Alfred understood that Birdie was a heroine, brave and quick and valiant. "I ain't afeared o' bogles, Miss Meggs," Birdie announced. "Though I'm only ten years old, I've helped bring down many a one. Ain't that so, Mr. Bunce?" "Aye, but we've heard enough from you, lass." Alfred was growing impatient. Birdie could tell by the way he shifted from one ill-shod foot to the other. "What's yer particulars, Miss Meggs?" he repeated. "Who gave you me nam?" "A friend," Ellen answered. "She's Scotch but lives here in London. She said you got rid of a worricow, or some such thing, as lived in a coal hole in Hackney and took a little shoe binder's child." she threw him a questioning glance. When Alfred nodded, she continued hastily. "Hearing that made me wonder about the chimney sweep's boys. For we've lost two in the past month, and I cannot believe they both ran away." By now she was anxiously fiddling with her apron, crushing it between her restless hands, then smoothing it out again. "In the Dane Hills, where my Ma were raised, a creature they called Black Annis used to eat children. And would tan their skins for its adornment, or so i've heard-" "Tell me about the sweep's boys," Alfred interrupted. "They went missing, you say?" "From this house," Ellen assured him solemnly. "They disappeared up the dining room chimney, and no one's seen 'em since." "Perhaps they're stuck," Birdie proposed. She knew that sweep's boys often became wedged in chimneys, where they sometimes died. "No." Ellen shook her head. "That chimney draws as well as it ever did, and there's been no stink." Lowering her voice, she added, "The sweep told me them boys must have climbed to the rooftops and run away. they do that sometimes, he said. But he won't come back, which is strange. And I'll not send for another sweep, no matter what the mistress wants. Not if there's a bad'un up there." "We'll find out soon enough," Alfred assured her. Then he raised the subject of his fee. "It'll be fivepence for the visit and six shillings a bogle, with the cost o' the salt on top. Did Tom mention that?" The housemaid gave a grunt. she seemed resigned to the expense, which wasn't unreasonable. "Ma's paying," she admitted. "She won't have me in any house that's bedeviled, but this is a good situation. If I'm to stay, I must stump up, for Mrs. Plumeridge never will. Mrs. Plumeridge don't believe in bogles or the like. No, not even white ladies." She stopped for a moment to draw breath, giving Birdie a chance to inform her that the first fivepence had to be paid in advance. It was Birdie's job to ask, because Alfred often forgot. Once Ellen had agreed to these terms, they all trooped into the dining room, which opened off the hall. It was a very dark room, with maroon walls and a thick Axminster carpet. But the white dust sheets on the tables, chairs, and sideboard lightened the atmosphere a little--as did the muslin roses in the fireplace. Ellen pointed at these roses, saying, "Mrs. Plumeridge dines in here only at Christmas, or when her nephew comes, for she likes to eat off trays. so we rarely light a fire in this room." "Then why clean the chimney?" It seemed like a foolish extravagance to Birdie, who was finding it hard enough to understand why one person would want so many rooms, let alone so many fireplaces. Ellen explained that her mistress, who was "very particular," had a morbid fear of rats' nests in her unused chimneys. Meanwhile, Alfred was examining the marble mantelpiece and shiny steel grate. "Have you lit a fire in here since the boys vanished?" he asked Ellen gruffly. "Only once, to see if it would draw." "Did it smoke?" "No." "You've smelled nothing? Seen no strange marks, no heard any peculiar noises? Ellen thought hard for a moment. Finally she said, "No." It was Alfred's turn to grunt. then he surveyed the room, frowning, and told her in an undertone, "We must move that table. and the chairs." "Oh, but--" "Else I'll catch nothing, and you'll have wasted yer five pence." So Ellen helped Afred to shift the table, while Birdie moved the chairs. All the furniture was extremely heavy. After a generous space had been cleared in front of the fireplace, Ellen went downstairs to fetch Alfred's fee, leaving him to make his preparations. First he rolled up the carpet until a wide expanse of parquet floor was showing. Then he took a bag of salt from his sack and traced a large circle on the ground. But the circle wasn't perfect; he left a small break in its smooth line just opposite the hearthstone. When Ellen returned, he was carefully unwrapping a short staff, which had a sharp end like a spearhead. On catching sight of it, the housemaid blanched. "Oh, you'll not be making a mess in here?" she exclaimed. "I'll lose my place if you do!" Alfred put a finger to his lips. Birdie, who was by the door, took Ellen's arm and nudged her into the hall, saying, "there's a puddle or two on occasion, but nothing to fret about." "Oh dear . . ." "And you must air the room after. And if you stay to watch, you must keep to the hall, quiet as a mouse." Though Birdie spoke with confidence, in a calm and steady voice, her stomach was starting to knot and her heart to pound. These familiar symptoms overtook her before every job. But she had learned to ignore them. "And the door must stand open," she finished. "Open and clear. Whatever you do, don't shut the door--else how shall I escape when the time comes?" By this time Ellen was wringing her hands. "Must I stay?" she whimpered. "No. Some like to, on account of they don't trust us and think we're running a caper." Birdie grinned suddenly, recalling one man who'd paid for his suspicions with a bump on the head. He'd fallen over in a dead faint and had afterward sicked up all his tea. "Once they see the bogle, they soon change their tune," she remarked, "Though they're in no great danger." "I'll stand clear," said Ellen. "Beside the front door." Birdie inclined her head. "With a poker," Ellen added. Birdie didn't tell her that a poker would have little effect on a monster, because she knew that Ellen wouldn't need to defend herself. No customer ever had, and none ever would. Not while Alfred was in charge. Not while Birdie was his apprentice. "There's nothing to fear," she insisted, patting the older girl's apron bow. "Why, it's no more'n catching a rat. For there's rats as big as bogles where I come from, and they ain't never eaten us yet!" Then Birdie laughed gaily, and took Ellen's fivepence, and went to help Alfred bait his trap. Excerpted from How to Catch a Bogle by Catherine Jinks All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.