Authors: Odo Hirsch
Tags: #Ages 8 & Up
was born in Australia where he studied medicine and worked as a doctor. He now lives in London. His books for children are favourites with young and old and have been translated into several languages.
Praise for Odo Hirsch
‘Odo Hirsch’s books for children have a zany flavour and wide appeal.’
The Sunday Age
‘Strange, delicate, delightful’ Philip Pullman,
‘Those who love writing and performing plays will treasure
Antonio S and the Mystery of Theodore Guzman
, as will many others who are willing to be entranced by magic in all it’s forms… [This story is] something out of the ordinary.’
The Weekend Australian
‘Hazel Green is a memorable character, a child full of ingenuity and determination… Not to be missed!’
Bartlett and the Ice Voyage
absolutely confirms Hirsch’s skills and presages an enduring career for him as a premier children’s novelist.’ Kevin Steinberger,
First published in 2007
Copyright © Odo Hirsch, 2007
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The
Australian Copyright Act 1968
(the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or ten per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.
National Library of Australia
Amelia Dee and the peacock lamp.
ISBN 9781741753011 (pbk.).
Cover design by Design By Committee
Front cover illustration (peacock pattern) by Ali Durham
Back cover illustrations by Elise Hirst (house) and Josh Durham (car)
Set in 10.5pt/16 pt Sabon by Midland Typesetters, Australia
Printed in Australia by Mcphersons Printing Group
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Amelia Dee lived in the green house on Marburg Street. Everyone in the area knew the green house. A plaque above the door said that it had been built by a man called Solomon J Wieszacker, and the date on the plaque was more than a hundred years old.
Solomon J Wieszacker hadn’t built the green house with his own two hands, of course, but had paid people to build it for him. Money was no object for Solomon Weiszacker, who had made a fortune importing coffee and exporting coral. He had made a lot of money from red coral, in particular, and quite a lot from yellow coral. Purple coral, to Solomon Weiszacker’s surprise, didn’t bring in much money at all, and after a while he had stopped dealing in it.
Solomon Weiszacker believed that Marburg Street was going to be a delightful boulevard at the centre of an exclusive suburb, lined with fashionable town houses and attractive shops. This was in the days when the city was growing in all directions, and Marburg Street itself was nothing more than a stretch of road running between empty fields. The city council had just started selling the land alongside it. So Solomon Weiszacker bought a plot about half a kilometre along the stretch of road that had just been laid, with fields on one side and fields on the other, and there he built his house.
It was four storeys high, tall and narrow, as a townhouse should be. Since money was no object to Solomon Weiszacker, no expense was spared. The front of the house was ornamental and elegant. The top floor had a sculpture of a woman seated in a niche between two windows, holding a cup of coffee in one hand and a sprig of coral in the other, looking down over the street. The walls at the sides of the house, however, were blank, without a single window or any decoration, because Solomon was sure that one day the land along Marburg Street would be so expensive that the town houses would stand literally wall to wall. Behind the house was a long garden that Solomon enclosed by building a fence to separate it from the fields all around.
When the house was finished, Solomon Weiszacker put the plaque above the door and the entire front of the house, even the sculpted lady, was painted green, which was his favourite colour. But the side walls were left as bare, grey brick, because Solomon was certain that soon they would be obscured by the other tall, fashionable town houses that were sure to be built on either side.
Things didn’t turn out quite as Solomon Weiszacker expected. For some reason, wealthy people went to live in other parts of the growing city, and the houses that sprang up along Marburg Street, instead of being tall and fashionable, were small and ordinary, only a single storey high. They had shops in the front and living areas in the back. Eventually they ran from one end of Marburg Street to the other, and the green house stood alone amongst them, rising four storeys up, like a tree that had been planted by mistake in the middle of a hedge, with the bare, windowless walls at the sides visible for all the world to see.
After Solomon Weiszacker died, the green house was sold, and sold again, and one family after another lived in it. Each family left its mark, knocking down walls inside, or building them up, putting in cupboards and installing fittings, or taking them out, according to their needs. At some point the ground floor had been turned into a shop, with its own door and a big curved window on the street. But no matter what else was done to it, the front of the house was always painted green. Originally it had been a kind of sea green, but this was very faded by the time old Solomon Weiszacker died. Then it was olive green, and for a brief time it was lemon green, and then it was lime green, and there was even a period when it was emerald green. The general opinion in Marburg Street in those days was that emerald green was far too bright and preposterous for the old house of Solomon Weiszacker, and there was a general sense of relief when a new family moved in and repainted it a respectable myrtle green. Yet no one ever painted the front any colour but green, nor did anyone ever paint the bare brick walls at the side, or even seem to consider it.
Amelia couldn’t remember living in any other house. Her parents had bought it when she was one, and very few people, if any, can remember anything from before they’re one, and Amelia Dee wasn’t one of them. The green house was far too large for a family with only a single child, of course, but Amelia’s mother, who was of an artistic temperament, had fallen in love with it. She had a room for her painting, and a room for her weaving, and a room in which to make her sculptures, most of which ended up in the long, narrow garden behind the house. At the back of the garden was a big shed, which was perfect for Amelia’s father, who was of an inventive temperament.
There was a housekeeper, as well, whose name was Mrs Ellis. She didn’t live in the green house, but she almost might as well have, considering how much time she spent there. She did not only the housekeeping, but the shopping, the cooking, and everything else that Amelia’s mother and father were too busy to do. Which was just about everything. Mrs Ellis and Amelia’s mother frequently got into fierce arguments. When Amelia was smaller, she had been terrified that after one of these fights her mother might tell Mrs Ellis to go away and never come back, or Mrs Ellis might decide not to come back even without being told, and then who would do everything that needed to be done? But as she got older, Amelia realised that nothing ever came of these fights, and she learned to ignore them, just as her father did.
As a young man, Amelia’s father had made a fortune from a powder he had invented that made everyone sneeze, even when applied in only minute amounts. He hadn’t been trying to invent a powder to make people sneeze – which was hardly necessary, considering how often people sneeze by themselves – but that was what he had ended up doing. To the surprise of everyone, including Amelia’s father, the powder turned out to be incredibly irritating not only to human noses but to ants, cockroaches, earwigs, silverfish and members of the insect kingdom in general. A single sprinkling of the powder could clear an entire building. It was very fortunate there were so many ants, cockroaches, earwigs and silverfish to be got rid of, Amelia often thought, because she had no idea what her father would have done if he hadn’t made a fortune from his powder and had had to hold down a regular job for a living. As for inventing, he had never produced anything remotely as useful again. That didn’t stop him trying. The house was cluttered with contraptions and mechanisms that he had installed, removed, ‘improved’ and reinstalled, usually a number of times.
Across the stairs, for instance, ran a series of almost invisible wires. They were the relic of an idea Amelia’s father had for stopping people getting hurt if they fell downstairs. The wires were connected to sensors, and if one of the sensors detected a heavy blow on a stair, as if someone was falling, big balloon-like bags were supposed to suddenly inflate from all over the place – under the stairs, beside the stairs, on the landings – to cushion the fall. There was nothing wrong with the theory, it was only the practice that created problems. The bags had an unfortunate habit of inflating without warning, and without the slightest blow being detected. The sight of twenty big orange balloons suddenly bursting out all over the stairs was enough to give anyone a fright, even Mrs Ellis, and make her drop the soup, or whatever else she was carrying. Not to mention the fourteen times – because Mrs Ellis counted – that a bag had simply blown up as she passed by and bowled her over. Or the fact that Amelia, who was younger then, had a habit of stamping on the stairs to make the bags inflate and then throwing herself into them. She just didn’t have a habit of admitting she had done it. Eventually Mrs Ellis demanded that Amelia’s father dismantle the system. No, he couldn’t ‘improve’ it, she insisted, he had ‘improved’ it enough! Either it went, or she did. He took out the balloons, but vowed that he would perfect the system, whatever Mrs Ellis said, and left the wires in readiness. But some other invention took his attention, as often happened, and then another, and another, and the perfection of this particular one had been left for later, together with so many other half-finished devices that needed completion. So the wires remained, and over time they had worked themselves loose and become a trap to trip people over, and the invention, which had been designed to keep people safe, had ended up doing exactly the opposite.
Yet the most interesting thing in the house, for Amelia, had nothing to do with her father’s inventions. It was a large, exceptionally intricate metalwork lamp that hung at the top of the stairs. The lamp was one of the things that had been installed at some point and then left behind when one family moved out and another moved in, and no one could say where it had come from or when. It hung outside the door to Amelia’s room, which was on the top floor, just beyond the banister. Every time she went in or out of her room, Amelia passed it. No one else in the house knew the lamp as Amelia did. No one else knew the secrets that were contained within it, the extraordinary things that the lamp’s creator had hidden within the fine details of its metalwork.