James takes the bag and stares at the old man. He listens as the old man tells him to put the crystals in water, add 10 of his own hairs, and drink the mixture when it bubbles. At this point, the old man says, steam will pour from James’s mouth and marvelous things will start to happen. James will never be miserable again. The old man tells James to keep the crystals away from his aunts and to take care to not spill them—they’ll give their magic to whatever they touch. At this, the old man disappears into the bushes.
Even though the old man is trying to help James, it’s significant that he essentially cautions James to be selfish with the crystals. This tracks with the novel’s insistence that many adults have selfish tendencies, even if they might not be as strong as Aunt Sponge’s or Aunt Spiker’s. The absurdity of this situation, though, suggests that what’s ahead will be just as nonsensical.