Back in the old tights- and- doublets days of the Swift family, every child had been named either Mary or John. It got terribly confusing at dinner time when someone asked a John to pass the potatoes and ten hands shot out at once, and so Mary Swift XXXV had begun the tradition of naming her children using the Family Dictionary. The idea stuck, and the Swifts prospered.

People often overlook a Mary or a John, but they seldom forget a person named Meretricious or Flinch. Shenanigan couldn’t remember the day she was born, but she could picture it very well: the hospital room, the nurses, her mother, tired and smiling as Shenanigan’s father fussed over her pillows. She pictured herself too, wrapped up like a little peanut with a shock of disobedient hair already erupting out of her head.

She pictured the Dictionary – and this part was easier, because she was looking at it – an ancient, leather-bound monster of a book, bursting its bindings with pages of calfskin and parchment and paper, with entries in crisp modern fonts, wonky typewritten letters, and hand- scrawled script with long S’s that looked like F’s.

The Dictionary would have been brought in, set on the bed (Shenanigan pictured the nurses’ noses wrinkling in distaste) and opened at random by Shenanigan’s mother. Her eyes would have been closed. She would have run her nger down the page and stopped on the word and definition that would become her child’s name.

Shenanigan could picture this so well because every Swift’s fist day began in exactly the same way. The only exception, as far as she knew, was Arch-Aunt Schadenfreude. She’d been born five weeks early on a Family trip to Germany, and her parents had had to make do with what was available.
Felicity dashed off upstairs before Aunt Inheritance had finished speaking, Aunt Schadenfreude was immediately embroiled in a menu discussion with Cook, and Maelstrom began to inspect the fountain-pen attachment of his penknife.

Finding herself roundly ignored, Aunt Inheritance approached the great glass case that housed the Dictionary. It was open at the title page. “Illuminated” has two definitions, one being “lit up” and the other “decorated with intricate, coloured designs,” and this page was both. The illuminated illuminated page had a dedication printed in complicated letters:

of the House of

Aunt Inheritance stepped forward until her nose was almost touching the case. She took out a small key from a chain round her neck. Carefully, reverently, she unlocked the door, and with trembling, white- gloved fingers reached out to touch a yellowed page. From the floor above there came a sound like someone riffling through the pages of a large book, and a rising shriek, and then Felicity barrelled on to the landing. Behind her, pursuing her fleeing figure down the length of the grand staircase, were the moths.

Shenanigan smiled.

A few days after the Siegemaster 5000’s destruction, Shenanigan had picked up the post from Suleiman. Addressed to her had been a small square package with holes poked in the top, and inside were dozens of caterpillars she had ordered from an advert at the back of a wildlife magazine. Shenanigan had crawled into Felicity’s cavernous wardrobe, opened the box, and let the caterpillars feast on Felicity’s clothes. They had chewed through wool and silk and cotton, growing fat and sleepy, spinning their cocoons inside the warm, dry, dark space.

Now it seemed the cocoons had hatched.

Shenanigan wished she had been there for the moment Felicity had opened her wardrobe to see the moths glaring back at her. Each velvet body was the size of Shenanigan’s palm, with two enormous yellow eyes on the wings that were supposed to fool predators.

They moved in a furiously blinking whirlwind towards the chandelier, scattering dust. Their wings brushed Shenanigan’s face. She thought it was rather nice – like being in the centre of a soft tornado – but, judging from the way her aunt was howling and batting at her hair, Inheritance disagreed. One of the moths, lured by the light illuminating the Dictionary, had got into the glass case. When Aunt Inheritance saw it, she screamed as if someone was holding a match to the Mona Lisa.

Amid the noise and chaos, Phenomena calmly flicked on the light switch. Confused, the moths scattered – some further into the House, but most through the open door and out into the noonday sun to terrify the local birds.

Shenanigan burst out laughing.

Felicity spun round, her eyes bright and wet and utterly furious.

“Look what you did!” she shrieked, holding up a scrap of blue silk. It might once have been a dress, but the moths had chewed so many holes that now it could have been a swimsuit for an octopus. The sight only made Shenanigan laugh harder.

Excerpted with permission from The Swifts, Beth Lincoln, illustrations by Claire Powell, Puffin.