An Episode of Sparrows | Chapter 19 of 35

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

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CHAPTER X

MRS. MASON had been home for three weeks—“Three years,” said Cassie, and Lovejoy did not contradict her—when Vincent announced he was taking Lovejoy for a walk.

Now and again, on a Sunday, Vincent went for a walk; it was almost an expedition as far away as he could get in spirit from the Street; “I need—I need to breathe a different air,” said Vincent. “Somewhere—elegant,” he said, breathing through his nostrils as he did when he was offended. It was no use taking Mrs. Combie; loyal as she was, elegance was wasted on her; the perfect companion for these walks was Lovejoy. “She doesn’t know anything,” said Vincent, “but she has feeling,” and together they visited St. James’ or Berkeley Square or Bond Street and looked, not enviously but most fastidiously, into the windows of the little shops; Lovejoy would instruct Vincent about the clothes and he would instruct her about the furniture, the china and glass, and the pictures. Sometimes they walked in streets of private houses, catching glimpses of expensive rooms, of a moulded panel, a curtain, a lampshade made of silk or lace, a vase of flowers.

As Lovejoy walked along, her head just touching Vincent’s sleeve, the only thing she wished was that she and Vincent were more fitted to be where they were. Vincent, in his outdoor clothes, looked small and shabby and dusty; his overcoat was worn to threadbare places, its tweed had lost its shape and sagged, his hat and scarf were stained, and he had not any gloves. Lovejoy knew that her own coat, the dog-tooth check, was too short; her socks were short too and left too long an expanse of leg between; if she moved her elbows at all the coat split, and the red shoes hurt her so much that she had to go along like a crab, but while she had any clothes left at all Lovejoy would not have forgone those Sunday walks.

“It’s not Sunday,” she said now in surprise when Vincent asked her. Mrs. Combie was surprised too, but, “Come along,” said Vincent firmly. He and Lovejoy went on a bus all the way to Hyde Park Corner and walked down Knightsbridge to Sloane Square; when they came back Mrs. Mason had gone.

“She had a telegram from the Blue Moons,” said Mrs. Combie. Vincent opened his lips but shut them again; Mrs. Combie and Lovejoy were looking at each other with radiant faces. “She went at once,” said Mrs. Combie.

“Of course,” said Lovejoy.

The Blue Moons! Lovejoy had forgotten how the Blue Moons governed their life—mine and Mother’s, she thought, lifting her chin proudly. She had often resented them but now they were dear, familiar, the dear Blue Moons. The stiffness went out of her bones, the pain and jealousy out of her heart. “Where? Where are they?” she asked.

“Brighton. She said it was a wonderful booking; they hadn’t one for Easter, that’s why she was so worried.” Mrs. Combie’s face looked easy and clear; she seemed to feel the same as Lovejoy. “Tell you what,” said Mrs. Combie, “you and me’ll go down and see her one weekend. She gave me fifteen pounds. Now go and tidy the bedroom, dearie; I must help Mr. Vincent with the lunches.” Neither of them had noticed that Vincent had gone into the kitchen without saying a word.

The bedroom needed tidying; it looked as if a whirlwind had been through it and had swept it almost bare; Lovejoy’s clothes were thrown down in a corner of the cupboard, but her handkerchiefs were gone. “She even took my toothpaste,” she said afterwards, “and my shoe cream and my soap.” The cupboard doors were open, the drawers wide, bits of paper and old tickets and labels lay on the floor; the wastepaper basket was full of bottles and there were wisps of hair and cotton wool, red with lipstick, on the dressing-table; Lovejoy thought of how it had all been carefully made ready, and tears pricked her eyes.

The room still smelled of her mother; when Lovejoy burrowed her face against that spot on the armchair, instead of hard plush she seemed to be burrowing against the warm, soft flesh she knew so well, which smelled of scent—gone a little stale, thought Lovejoy—of scent and powder and perspiration—Cassie had taught Lovejoy never to say sweat—of clothes and the warm elastic of stays, of cigarette smoke and drink; it was not altogether a pleasant smell, but it was the smell of Lovejoy’s babyhood, of her kitten-dance time, when she had been sweet and the world was safe.

“And when’s your mother going to buy you all those new clothes?” Cassie had asked.

Lovejoy could still hear Cassie asking it and she bit her lip as she stared at the wall.

“Your clothes are perfectly good,” Mrs. Mason had said.

“Yes, but Mother, I’ve grown,” said Lovejoy and she had shown how the pleated skirt and the check coat were far, far too short.

“They must be let down,” said Mrs. Mason sharply.

“It’s here, as well,” said Lovejoy, showing how tight and stretched the coat and suit-jacket were under her arms.

“You must manage.”

“But I can’t breathe,” said Lovejoy.

Mrs. Mason had not even objected to the plimsolls; she had not seemed to notice them. “It doesn’t matter what you look like,” she had said.

“Doesn’t matter!” That was blasphemy to Lovejoy. She had had to persist, but when she showed how the red shoes had given her corns Mrs. Mason was angry. “You seem to think I’m made of money,” she said.

“I don’t,” said Lovejoy, “but what can I do?”

“And what can I do?” asked Mrs. Mason.

Everything had been—queer, thought Lovejoy. At the Agency, Montague and Blewitt’s, Mrs. Mason and Lovejoy had always gone straight in. “Mr. Montague’s expecting you,” the secretary would say and smile. Mr. Montague had a photograph of Lovejoy in her kitten dress on his office wall—or used to have, thought Lovejoy; she was not sure because everything seemed changed; they had gone to see Mr. Montague four times in these three weeks and had not seen him once. The last time Mrs. Mason would not let Lovejoy go in with her but told her to wait in the street—because of my clothes, thought Lovejoy, and her lips shook; but there had been something even worse than the clothes.

When Lovejoy took her nose away from the armchair she smelled another smell; on the table was a tumbler with a little whisky in it and an ashtray that held the butt of a dead cigar; the smell of them was stronger than the smell of her mother. Lovejoy took the tumbler and ashtray and put them outside the door; then she opened the window wide.

“Who is this gentleman that comes to see your mother?” Cassie had asked.

“Colonel Baldcock,” said Lovejoy stiffly.

“As much Colonel as that cup!” said Cassie, and for once Lovejoy had agreed with her.

The other gentlemen had gone away; the colonel did not go away, and Mrs. Mason told Lovejoy to call him Uncle Francis.

“I won’t,” said Lovejoy.

Children are shocked when they first see grown people lovemaking but Lovejoy’s ideas were, in some ways, the reverse of most children’s. “But it’s grown-ups who kiss,” she was to say to Tip in surprise. To her it was an entirely grown-up occupation, like being cuddled and held on knees. “That’s not for children!” she was to say, shocked in her turn. It was for ladies and gentlemen, she knew that; then why did it seem so terrible when the lady was her mother and the gentleman was Uncle Francis? And the strange part, she said to herself now, as she began to make the bed, the strange part is that she didn’t like him either. Who could like him? thought Lovejoy, seeing again his red wet forehead and thick fat hands. He was thick all over, she thought, wrinkling her nose in disgust, and his clothes were horrid and he smelled, like the old ashtray and the dirty glass. Then why, she thought in anguish, did she let him stay and put me out?

Lovejoy had fought; she had brought out all her reserves. “I’ve got a secret,” she had said.

“Have you, lovey?” asked Mrs. Mason idly.

“It’s a garden.” Lovejoy had said it with a rush because she had not really wanted to tell about it, even to her mother. Suppose she wants to see it? she had thought. She need not have worried.

“Think of that!” said Mrs. Mason and put up a hand to hide a yawn.

“You go to the pictures,” the colonel said and gave Lovejoy ninepence. It was hard to refuse that, but Lovejoy put it coldly on the table.

He tried to wheedle her. “Go and buy yourself a nice ice cream.”

“I don’t like ice creams,” said Lovejoy, which was a lie.

Well, he’s gone now, she thought. She had finished the room and she picked up the tumbler and ashtray and took them downstairs.

“Wash them and put them away,” said Vincent. He did not meet Lovejoy’s eyes, nor did she look at him.

Once or twice the colonel and Mrs. Mason had had dinner in the restaurant and Vincent had served them silently, going back to his desk between each course and leaving them alone.

“It brings you business,” said Mrs. Combie helplessly.

She was trying to find a bright side, but, “I don’t want that business, thank you,” said Vincent.

After dinner they would go out, as they went out every evening. Later Vincent heard them come in but he did not hear the colonel go home, and the child is there, thought Vincent. Once or twice he got up and stood hesitating, then he shrugged and sat down again.

One night it had been even later than usual when Vincent switched off the restaurant light to go to bed. Mrs. Combie always left a gas jet burning for him on the second floor, and by its faint glimmer, as he came up, he had seen something white. It was Lovejoy as he had first seen her, sitting on the stairs. But it’s one o’clock! thought Vincent. She was in her ragged pyjamas, a blanket had been put round her, but when he touched her bare feet they were as cold as stones; her head leaned against the banister, and her cheek, when he brushed it with his finger, was wet.

Vincent stood up, his mouth in a small straight line. He had stayed for a moment, looking at the closed door; then he picked Lovejoy up, carried her downstairs, put her on the old sofa in the kitchen, tucked the blanket round her, and went back. After a moment he had quietly and firmly knocked.

Now Lovejoy, washing the ashtray and emptying the dregs of the whisky down the sink, began to sing one of her mother’s songs. Vincent heard her little pipe and sat still listening. Thoughtfully he drew circles on his pad, but Lovejoy was not thinking of Vincent. Tonight, or tomorrow night, thought Lovejoy, her mother would be back in her place, Bertha Serita, in the blue dress, the silver ruff, the little saucy hat, the glittering sequins, her big throaty voice floating out across the audience in the Pier Theatre? The Pavilion Rooms? The Winter Garden? One of them; it did not matter which. Presently the song ceased; Lovejoy had gone back upstairs.

Though the bedroom was perfectly tidy she began to dust it again, wiping down the window with her duster. The glass was dirty with steam and smoke, and slowly, with her finger, she began to write on it. Mother, wrote Lovejoy. Mother. She got as far as the second M when the letters all ran together in a blur. She rubbed them out with the duster and then knelt down, her head on the window sill.

She had meant to cry, but before any tears could come she saw on the sill, level with her eyes but hidden under the curtain where it had been forgotten all these days, the pillbox of seeds.

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

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