The Giftby Peter Dickinson
Davy Price, a boy with erratic telepathic powers, finds himself in touch with the mind of a violent criminal, with whom his irresponsible father is also somehow involved. Originally published in 1973, this thrilling tale is from the writer whom Philip Pullman calls "one of the real masters of children’s literature." See more details below
Davy Price, a boy with erratic telepathic powers, finds himself in touch with the mind of a violent criminal, with whom his irresponsible father is also somehow involved. Originally published in 1973, this thrilling tale is from the writer whom Philip Pullman calls "one of the real masters of children’s literature."
“One of the real masters of children’s literature.” —Philip Pullman “Peter Dickinson is a national treasure.” —The Independent “[A] master storyteller.” —School Library Journal
- Random House Children's Books
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.25(d)
- Age Range:
- 12 Years
Read an Excerpt
By Peter Dickinson
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1973 Peter Dickinson
All rights reserved.
Davy Price had first learned about his gift long ago—oh, he must have been seven or eight, a skinny dark boy wearing brown corduroy trousers with green patches on the knees. No, he couldn't have been quite eight because he still came out of school earlier than the other two, and he remembered that because it had been the first time Mum had got really fed up with Dad—everybody did, in the end—fed up enough to see the kids off to school, and ask the Mum next door to look after Davy until Ian and Penny got home, and ...
Davy couldn't remember that neighbor's name—they'd moved house so often and had so many neighbors. But he could still see in his mind's eye how her square, cheerful face went blank when Ian had come into her kitchen and said in gossipy tones, "I've come to fetch Davy. Thank you for having him. Mum's run away. She left a note on the mantelpiece for Dad, but I read it."
That neighbor's face had closed the gates of friendliness and become a wall, shutting them out. She wanted no dealings with families whose Mums ran off because their Dads were hopeless.
(Later, after the next few times, Davy had learned that families with runaway Mums and hopeless Dads wanted few dealings with neighbors. Some might be kind, and some cold, but the kindness was worse than the coldness—eager, inquisitive, excited. Nothing like love. But he hadn't realized that, first time.)
In fact, being not quite eight, he hadn't realized anything much except that he was getting off school for three weeks in the middle of term, and going away on a long, long car journey.
Davy often thought about how they had all changed since then—except Dad, of course. Now it seemed to him that three quite different children had been driven all the way to Llangollen in that smelly old car. (Dad usually managed to change his car at least twice a year, but though they rattled differently, they always smelled the same.) Penny had sat in the back, singing to her one-eyed doll. Ian had sat in front talking football with Dad and laughing with triumph when he caught Dad out pretending to have seen some match or player he'd never really seen. Davy had sat in the back with Penny and had slept quite a bit because of the early start but, when he was awake, had been caught up in the high spirits of the whole jaunt and perfectly happy.
For Dad possessed a gift, too—not quite as mysterious as Davy's but just as treacherous to its owner. Dad always managed to feel that everything was going to be all right, and somehow made anybody he was with feel just the same. All his schemes would make money, all his smelly old cars were a real bargain, every flitting from house to house was the beginning of a new, rich, carefree life. And he worked his gift hardest when things were at their worst: just after he'd been sacked from his latest job; or when the finance company men had come to repossess the fridge. He'd been like that on the road to Llangollen—probably, Davy now realized, because he hadn't been as sure as he pretended that Mum was going to come back at all, ever.
Only as the long hills of Wales began to swell and swell on the horizon had Dad's high spirits flagged. He fell silent. The late afternoon sun was well to the west, and all the hither slopes were streaked with shadows; Davy became sleepy again, but even as he closed his eyes and longed for the journey to end, he saw one of his pictures, a house with a blue slate roof. The wall of the house was low and built of mottled, flattish stones. The windows were small. A woman in a blue dress with a black apron was pumping water into a bucket by the door. It was a picture full of grief, of longing, and with that longing in his mind Davy fell asleep.
"Wake up, kid. We're there!"
(Ian's voice, cheerful and teasing. As it used to be.)
Davy had woken from a nonsense dream about rabbits to the dry-throated discomfort of having slept sitting. He eased his tingling legs to new positions and peered out. Tall hedges screened the sides, and ahead rose an incredibly steep and narrow lane up which Dad's car, smellier than ever, was growling in bottom gear. The engine didn't sound at all happy, and the exhaust behind them swirled dark as a thundercloud. And then the road leveled, the growling stopped, and Dad let the car drift to stillness in a place where the lane widened. On Davy's side of the car was a steep field of cropped grass with gorse bushes dotted about it; on the other side were farm buildings and a house with a low stone wall, small windows, and a blue slate roof. Not really blue, not as blue as it had been in the picture; dark gray, really, with bluish and purplish tints in different slates. And the woman who stood at the door was wearing a pink dress with a yellow apron and there was no pump.
She stood unsmiling on the white doorstep and watched them climbing out of the car. Davy could smell hot metal, a sharp tang in the fresh hill air.
"You've boiled her dry, Dad," said Ian. "I told you so."
"It's a long way up," said Dad. "Hello, Mam. What've you done with the pump?"
"We have pipes now," she said.
"You got the telegram?" said Dad.
She nodded, and looked in turn at the three children. Davy stared back. Her face was closed. She looked as though she had never smiled, nor ever would. It was a flattish face, wide at the top and pointy at the chin. Her eyes were dark and wide-set, her nose and mouth small. Her hair was gray and held into tight curls with a lot of different-colored hairpins, some brown, some black. She was no taller than Ian.
"We'll have them," she said. "I hope your wife is not sick."
"Rita?" said Dad. "Oh ... no she suddenly decided that she had to have a holiday. She's had a lot of bother, you know."
It was the first time Davy had heard Dad tell a lie so awkwardly—and it was hardly even a lie.
"Ian," said the woman. "And Penelope ..."
"Penny," muttered Penny without looking up from her doll.
"Penny it is," said the woman. "And David."
"Davy," said Davy. In those days he had usually preferred to be called David, because it made him sound less babyish. But at that moment he'd copied Penny in asserting his own individuality.
"Who chose it that way?" said the woman, smiling less than ever.
"This is your Granny, kids," said Dad quickly. "My Mam. You're going to stay with her for a bit, till Mum comes back from her holiday, and if you don't treat her right, I'll do you."
It was his usual threat, a family joke. There, in the hill lane, in the May evening, it sounded feeble.
"You're our other Granny?" said Penny, looking up with sudden interest from her doll. "Real Granny? Dad's Mum?"
"I am real enough," she said. "You can call me Nain if you want to tell me apart from your other Granny. That's the Welsh way."
"We'll call you Granny," said Penny.
"We call the other one Granny when she's there and Grumble when she isn't," explained Ian perkily. (That had begun as Dad's way of teasing Mum, but the children had taken it up and now Granny in Watford was more Grumble than Granny.)
"Not respectful, that is," said this new Granny sharply. Her lips stayed straight as ever, but there was something odd about the glance she flashed at Dad.
"Where's Dadda?" he asked.
"Milking," she said. "You come in, children. Tea's been waiting for you two hours."
She turned into the dark doorway. Davy waited for a moment, breathing the hill air that was faintly sweetened with cow odors, and watching Dad pick a path in town shoes through a miry gateway beside the house. Then he found his way to the kitchen by the smell of new-baked bread.
Dad didn't come in to what this new Granny called tea, but which included boiled beef and apple pie as well as cocoa and doughnuts. They hadn't finished eating when he called from the hall, "I'm off now," and they rushed out into the dusk to say good-bye to him. He rumpled their hair and said to Penny, "Smile, sweetheart, and I'll bring you a new doll when I come back. With two eyes."
"Dolls don't need two eyes," said Penny. You learned to answer Dad's promises like that; it gave him an excuse when he didn't keep them and saved you the ache of disappointment. He got into the car and started the engine.
"Lights!" yelled Ian.
They blinked on and moved away. Two seconds later they were gone, screened by the tall hedges.
When the children got back to finish their tea, they found their new grandfather sitting at the table, a dark little wrinkled man who smiled at them and said nothing. They were told to call him Dadda.
Five days later Davy had twisted his ankle, badly, climbing in the huge old slate quarry where they weren't supposed to go alone. A few yards down from the farm, on the other side of the road, was a gateway which led into the steep field with the gorse bushes in it. You climbed up there, panting before you reached the ridge, and suddenly you came to this marvelous place. The grass stopped at a low, ragged wall of stone; beyond that were heather and bent and blueberry scrub covering a broad, molded spur of the main mountain, Moel Mawr, which hummocked up away to the left. You stood on the spur, gulping the mountain air and looking west across the brown, infolded hills. And at your feet was the quarry.
First, a vast bite had been chewed from the hillside, leaving a semicircle of blue cliffs, two hundred yards long and about thirty feet high at the southern end. The floor of the quarry was not flat but was a series of terraced levels along which little trucks had once run. Roofless sheds and huts stood about. In places you could see where the quarrymen had mined into the hillside, following the layers of high-grade slate that the shaping pressures of the hills had made there. And from each level, especially below the largest shed, gray screes of waste stone spilled down the slope. Where the quarry had stopped somebody had come and taken all the movable iron for scrap—the winding wheels and the engines and the rails—but you could still occasionally find a lever poking through the obliterating grass, or follow the line where some engine had run back and forth and left a trail of still-poisoned vegetation to show its path. The mining shafts had been deliberately caved in when the men left, but it was still a dangerous place. Dadda had showed them why, on the very first day.
He had said, "Will you come with me, now?" and had taken them up the hill and shown them the quarry. Without a word he had led them to the top of the scree below the big shed; he had looked at it, humming, with his head cocked on one side, and then he had taken a fence post and levered free a large stone near the top. The stone crashed away down the slope, slithering at first, then bouncing in increasing leaps; the stones that it had held in place moved, too; with a shuddering grumble the whole surface of the scree had shrugged itself downward and at last slowly resettled—hundreds of tons of grinding boulders. Gray dust hung above it for a moment, like smoke.
"There is water in the hillside, you see?" Dadda had murmured when the upland quiet had settled around them again. "The stones are heavy, and the water changes the ground under them, and then they fall. You will not be coming here alone, please. It is a dangerous place, for men, even."
He turned and looked at the jagged curve of the cliffs. Speaking softly as ever he added, "My own brother died in this place."
When Davy hurt his ankle, Ian was helping Dadda mend the milking machine. Penny said Davy mustn't go to the quarry, which was another reason for doing so, and if he was going to be wicked, Penny thought she might as well, too. And then he put his foot into a hidden runnel and fell, with his foot trapped fast.
When he finished weeping from the pain, Penny ran back to the farm. Davy waited, moaning a little, and at last Dadda walked along the level below him, climbed carefully up, and stood looking down at him, shaking his head. His thin arms lifted Davy with no effort at all and carried him back to the farmhouse kitchen. Then Dadda started his old, old Morris up. Granny sat beside him with Davy on her lap, and they drove down to Llangollen.
The X ray showed no bones broken, but the doctor said Davy must not put his weight on that foot for at least four days.
When they got back, Granny wanted Dadda to take a strap to Penny for letting Davy climb in the quarry.
"It's my fault," said Davy. "I started it. Penny tried to stop me."
"You're punished already," said Granny.
"If you do anything to Penny," shouted Ian, "I won't forgive you. Ever. Nor will any of us."
So far, from the moment Davy was carried into the kitchen, her face had not changed at all. But now every muscle in it hardened, her mouth became a thin line, and two red spots appeared on her cheeks. Davy was very frightened indeed.
"Forgiving and not forgiving," sighed Dadda. "Enough of that we've had, haven't we?"
Granny glanced sideways at him and started to say something, but Dadda sighed again and shrugged, and she turned away, biting her lip; she moved the two black swans farther apart on the mantelpiece and riddled the range and shifted the stockpot and turned back to the room. Her face was calm now, but her eyes were still bleak.
"Ian," she said, "will you help Dadda bring the long chair from the front room? Davy must lie up in here and be company for me. Tomorrow, after tea, Ian and Penny and Dadda will sing me 'All Through the Night'—Ar hyd y nos—in Welsh. Dadda shall teach you and you shall learn, and that will be the three of you punished for climbing in the quarry and speaking so to the woman of the house. Davy is punished already, with the pain and with lying still for four days, when he's here in the hills, in May."
The singing went well. Ian had always been in the choir of any school they were at, and Penny could sing on the note. But Dadda turned out to have a voice such as you sometimes hear on a request program on the radio when a listener asks for a famous old tenor singing a forgotten ballad, a voice as soft and as strong as the west wind.
"That is good," said Granny, almost smiling. "Hasn't Ian a fine voice? Dadda, when these children go back to England, people will be asking them whether they have heard any Welsh singing. Why don't we have a little party Sunday evening?"
She suggested a few names. Dadda suggested a few more.
"It's going to be a rather large little party," said Ian at last.
So on Sunday morning Granny didn't go to Chapel but baked instead. Davy lay on the long chair and watched her, very bored. The kitchen smelled sleepy with risen dough and the black clock tocked in its long case and the blue plates gleamed on the dresser but not so bluely as the sky outside, on the hills, where it was May and Davy couldn't go. Granny had sung to him and told him old stories while she mixed and kneaded, so he had been entertained in his mind, but all his body was restless with health and good air and good food, and the restlessness infected his mind and made him bored. And now he was sleepy, too, with the warmth and idleness and cooking smells.
But he was still wide-awake when he saw the picture. It was not part of any dream.
"Funny hat," he murmured.
Granny's hand stilled for a moment at the oven door.
"What's on the mantelpiece?" she said as she opened it.
"Those two black swans and some brass candlesticks."
"This room, is it?"
"No ... the mantelpiece is lower and the walls are green."
"But what is funny about the hat?"
"It's gone now. It's all gone."
That always happened when Davy tried to concentrate on one of his pictures.
"But you can remember the hat?" said Granny.
"Oh, it was black and tall and pointy, like a witch's, but she didn't look like a witch. And she had a lace shawl and a black glove on one hand but not the other, and she was sitting in a black wooden chair."
"Yesss. Her, that is."
"My Nain. Your great-great-granny. Were you knowing you had the gift, Davy?"
"It was like a picture you saw of her?"
"Um ... they aren't quite like that. They aren't flat, I mean. You can see into them. Why?"
"And they come often?"
"Not very. I don't know. They're only a sort of dream, really. The last one was when Dad was driving us here, and I saw a picture of a house just like this, only there was a pump at the door and the lady who was working it was like you except she had a blue dress and a black apron and her hair was dark. That was funny, wasn't it?"
"Words do you hear, ever?"
"I don't think so. Only sometimes I feel feelings. Why?"
Excerpted from The Gift by Peter Dickinson. Copyright © 1973 Peter Dickinson. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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