An Episode of Sparrows | Chapter 18 of 35

Author: Rumer Godden | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1204 Views | Add a Review

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CHAPTER IX

WHAT happens when a sin is committed? Usually the sinner flourishes.

Lovejoy bought the fork and trowel from Mr. Dwight and dug up the ground, doing her best, with the small fork, to make the earth smooth and fine, like the beds in the Square gardens. She sowed the cornflowers at either end of the garden, trying to put the seeds in rows like cabbages in an allotment, but they got lost in the furrows; she sowed them as evenly as she could and scattered earth over them. There had been three-and-eightpence in the candle box and from the one-and-fivepence she had over she bought grass seed to grow in the centre. “How much would I need,” she asked Mr. Isbister, “to make that much grass?” She showed him the length and width with her arms.

Mr. Isbister paused and then grunted, “Half an ounce.”

Lovejoy knew how to sow grass. She had watched the men doing it when the new council flats were made; they had lawns, not asphalt, and she had seen the men sow the seed and then stretch nets over the places to keep off the sparrows and children. Lovejoy, of course, had no net but that was soon solved. She had stolen the money, so it seemed to make no difference now if she stole a net, and she took the cat net off a perambulator when the baby was put outside to sleep. First she unfastened the net—if anybody comes I can pretend I’m looking at the baby, she thought; they’ll scold me but that’s all they can do—then she waited, looking up and down the Street and into the baby’s house through the windows; the moment came; she dexterously peeled the net off, slid it under her coat, and sauntered away.

That gave her a bad few minutes in bed that night. People put nets over perambulators in case cats—Mrs. Cleary’s or Miss Arnot’s, perhaps—sat down on the babies’ faces and smothered them. “Old women’s tales,” said Vincent, but Lovejoy could see how a cat could sit on a baby who had no net; the warmth, the soft pillow, would tempt it. The thought of the weight—of Istanbul, for instance, on a baby’s face—filled the night with horror; she saw the baby choking in the tabby fur, beating with helpless fists, writhing, and no one would hear. In the night she decided to take the net back; I should be a murderer, thought Lovejoy, but in the light of morning she went firmly to the garden shop and spent twopence on a dozen small wooden name-pegs, took them to the garden, and, after sticking them where the grass was sown, stretched the cat net over them; when it was done it looked so professional that she was charmed.

“If it was stolen, it couldn’t have been a good garden,” Tip was to say.

“It was a good garden,” said Lovejoy, which was true. It all seemed to come together under her hand—“And why not?” asked Lovejoy defensively. It was not her fault, she argued, if she stole. The comics were unguarded on the stand, the little boys looked away from their ice-cream cornets, Sparkey had stood right out on the pavement to look at the flowers on the packet, the baby was left out with the net, the candle box was open. “What do you expect?” asked Lovejoy furiously.

Now the garden was ready to grow. In the earth the seeds were changing into plants—“or presently they’ll change,” said Lovejoy when she dug one up with her finger and found it was still the same.

“Hey! give them time,” said Mr. Isbister.

“But how much time?” asked the impatient Lovejoy.

At night now, when she went to bed, she did not lie awake feeling the emptiness; she thought about the garden, the seeds, their promised colours. She had never before thought of colours—except in clothes, thought Lovejoy; now she saw colours everywhere, the strong yellow of daffodils, the blue and clear pink—or hideous pink—of hyacinths, the deep colours of anemones; she was learning all their names; she saw how white flowers shone and showed their shape against the London drab and grey. She was filled with her own business. She had never had her own business before; directly after breakfast, on her way to school, she went to the garden and was thinking about it all day long.

Each day she discovered something new. In Woolworth’s she haunted the garden counter. It was piled high with packets of seeds and she needed seed; she had ambitions beyond cornflowers now. It’s no use trying to swipe a whole packet, thought Lovejoy longingly but she found that if she handled them as if she were turning them over, she could, by pinching sharply and quickly, make a little hole in the paper and sometimes a seed, or a few seeds, trickled out. It took time. She did not dare to go often in case the girls grew suspicious; though there was always a crowd round the counter, they might notice her; there was danger too from the people on each side, but with cunning and caution Lovejoy managed it. The packets looked as though a mouse had nibbled them, or a bird had pecked them. “But no birds come in here,” said the manager. By the time she got them home Lovejoy did not know what the seeds were; she kept them in an old pillbox of Mrs. Combie’s and slept with it under her pillow at night. When she had a dozen she sowed them an inch apart. She had no idea how close to put them or how big they would be but—“Love-in-a-mist, mignonette, alyssum,” as if they were a charm she said them when anything unpleasant came into her mind; there were several sharp-edged things that came: “If I had a little girl I’d come from John o’Groat’s . . .” “You’ll be landed, Ettie . . .”

Sometimes Lovejoy was back in the church with the candles shining and the statue looking into her; it never looked at her, always into her, and she wriggled uncomfortably because, unaccountably, it seemed to find something in Lovejoy that matched it. How did it know that inside the hard, tough Lovejoy was something as gentle as those eyes? The something that worried about the baby not having a net, for instance? Lovejoy resented it; she felt as if she were being poked by a sharp pointed stick.

A murderer, they say, always goes back to the scene of his crime; Lovejoy went back to the church; she slipped in up the side aisle and stopped, quivering with shock. “Coo!” whispered Lovejoy. “Coo!” The hairs seemed to rise on the back of her neck and her legs felt cold. The statue was covered up.

Standing there, Lovejoy looked slowly round; all the statues were covered up; the altar candles, the vases of flowers were gone, everything was swathed in purple, and the hooded figures were frightening. Lovejoy had never heard of Holy Week but she felt as if a cataclysm had happened, and a tumult of grief and fear lifted up in her. “Coo!” she said again. “Cripes!”—and turned and ran.

When she came out she did not go to the garden; she had a sudden odd distaste for it and she walked down the Street, kicking her shoes crossly on the pavement.

The distaste did not last; she went to Woolworth’s and from a packet she stole a big round seed; “And I know what it is,” she told Mr. Isbister triumphantly. “It’s a nasturtium, Golden Gleam.” The nasturtium took the feeling of sadness and wrong away. With all the troubles that rose up in Lovejoy’s mind at night, she had only to put out her finger and touch the pillbox and begin to intone, “Nasturtium, love-in-a-mist, mignonette, alyssum,” and she was asleep.

“What have you been doing with yourself?” asked Vincent. “You look”—and he considered her—“fatter,” said Vincent, but that was not quite the right word. “And younger,” he said suddenly.

“I don’t know what’s happened to that child,” said Mrs. Combie. “She’s dirty.”

That was a nuisance Mrs. Combie had never had with Lovejoy but, oddly, she was glad. “Perhaps she is a child after all,” she said. Then, in the midst of this happiness, the postcard came.

It came at breakfast time and was addressed to Mrs. Combie. Expect me Thursday. Love to my baby. Bertha.

The postmark was Harrogate. “That’s where she has been,” said Mrs. Combie. “Harrogate’s a good-class place.” She turned the postcard over to look at the picture, which showed a panorama of good-class hotels in the distance, green lawns and red and yellow flower beds near to. The Valley Gardens, read Mrs. Combie with admiration. “So much for Cassie,” she said.

Her whole face looked smoothed as she poured herself out another cup of tea; her hand was steady and her eyes looked happy. Then she was afraid, thought Lovejoy.

She, Lovejoy, felt as if a thunderbolt had gone through her she was so surprised—surprised at herself, not at the postcard. When Mrs. Combie had read it out, it felt like—an interruption, thought Lovejoy. I shan’t be able to garden, she had thought at once, and into her mind had flashed the undeniable thought that when her mother was there she, Lovejoy, spent most of her time waiting—waiting still as a mummy, hushed as a mouse, for her mother to wake in the mornings; waiting to go out while her mother talked to Mrs. Combie or Vincent or anyone—anyone! thought Lovejoy, annoyed—waiting in the shops while her mother tried on clothes; waiting in Mr. Montague, the agent’s, waiting room, or outside dressing-room doors, outside pubs, or in restaurants; waiting at home, sitting on the stairs. Why did people take it for granted that children had all that time to waste? I want to garden not wait, she thought rebelliously.

It was only for a moment; as if a spell had lifted and come down again, a moment later she was shocked. Garden! when Mother . . . she thought and she began to quiver.

“When is she coming? When?”

“Thursday,” said Vincent.

“This Thursday? That’s tomorrow.”

“Yes, Maundy Thursday,” said Mrs. Combie.

“Why do we shut on Good Friday, Ettie?” said Vincent. “On a holiday somebody might come. Do you think your mother’ll bring you an Easter egg?” he said teasingly to Lovejoy, but Lovejoy had wrinkled her forehead and the old peaked look had come back.

“Coming at Easter,” she said, and she looked from Vincent to Mrs. Combie. “That’s queer. We never could get away at Easter time.”

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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