An Episode of Sparrows | Chapter 24 of 35

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

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CHAPTER XV

“IT’S TOO late to plant seeds,” said Mr. Isbister.

“Even grass?” asked Lovejoy.

Mr. Isbister grunted, which meant “Even grass.”

“There, you see,” said Lovejoy bitterly to Tip, “that’s what you’ve done with your penance.”

Lovejoy was tenacious in getting her way, even with her mother—though there she had not been very successful—even with the Virgin Mary, and there she had been singularly successful. She believed she could bend most things to her will. “You can’t plant seeds now,” said Mr. Isbister.

“What if I will?” asked Lovejoy.

Mr. Isbister spat on the area ground before he answered. “In England,” he said, “there’s—five months when grass—will grow. April to September.” Lovejoy opened her lips. “But not in London,” said Mr. Isbister. “Least, not in Catford Street. Hot spell, ground bakes—hard as a plate unless you can water, sprinkle—the whole blasted time.”

“We can’t,” said Lovejoy. “How could we? There’s no water where we are.”

“Then leave grass alone,” said Mr. Isbister, “and for flowers get—seedlings.”

“Get seedlings.” Lovejoy was beginning to learn that, as a gardener, she was one of a confraternity, moving in rhythm; as needs arose, things appeared to match them. She would once have said that not much gardening went on round Catford Street; then why, in every greengrocer’s shop, on the counters at Woolworth’s, had boxes and boxes of seedlings appeared? She tried the patience of the shopgirls asking what they were; some of the plants had flowers on them, so that she knew them, pansies—she had a particular affection for pansies, with their wise faces—geraniums, double daisies, but the others were just clumps of green.

“What are those?”

“Alyssum.”

“What are those?”

“African marigolds.”

“What are those?”

“Antirrhinums, snapdragons.”

Lovejoy’s eyes raked the stiff, queer plants, trying to imagine what kind of flowers they would be.

After a great deal of hovering with Tip’s and the dinner sixpences, she bought two marigolds, two alyssums, a daisy, and a snapdragon.

One?” said the shopgirl when Lovejoy bought the snapdragon. “We sell them by the dozen,” and, “Don’t ruin yourself,” said the girl when Lovejoy bought the daisy.

The garden was not ready, she had no pots, and she had to plant the seedlings out in tins, a golden syrup tin, two cocoa tins, and a child’s old seaside pail she found in a dustbin. “Just for now,” said Lovejoy. “Till we’re ready.” She looked at the long roots of the snapdragon. “When we put them in the beds, we’ll have to plant them deep,” she said. She brooded over them, and went to tell Mr. Isbister.

“Must take care of them,” said Mr. Isbister. “Young plants are the same—as babies; that’s why they call—a seedling bed—a nursery. They need—food and—warmth and quiet and—loving,” brought out Mr. Isbister.

“Loving?” asked Lovejoy, astounded. She had never thought of plants as being loved, but, “Yes,” said Mr. Isbister curtly.

He was giving a coat of green paint to an empty half-barrel in his barrel garden.

“Why is it empty?” asked Tip, looking at the way the other barrels were crowded. Nowadays Tip sometimes came with Lovejoy to see Mr. Isbister. “Why is that one empty?”

“That’s my summer holiday,” said Mr. Isbister. Tip and Lovejoy looked so blankly at the half-barrel that he chuckled. Lovejoy had never heard him do that before; it sounded as if he were excited. Then he straightened his back and told them. Every July since they were married—“Fifty-three years now,” said Mr. Isbister—he and Mrs. Isbister had gone on an excursion to the sea, but this year Mrs. Isbister was going alone.

“Why is she?” asked Lovejoy dutifully as he paused dramatically.

That was the right question.

“Because I need m’ticket money,” said Mr. Isbister in glee, “t’buy something special.” He was going to the Chelsea Flower Show, he told them—“Well, every year I go,” he said, “but I’ve never ordered anything. The prices is wicked, but this year, for once, just for once before I’m too old, I’m going to buy, up to twenty-nine-and-six, that’s the price of the ticket and what we’d spend. You don’t buy straight off, mind. You order. I’ll order from one of those big slap-up nurseries,” boasted Mr. Isbister.

“What will you order?” asked Lovejoy.

Mr. Isbister did not answer at once; then, “Might be a fuchsia,” he said, “and a new chrysanth—but I’d have to wait till the autumn shows for that—or it might be a rose.” When he said “rose” his voice took on a deeper, more respectful note. “Last year there was a new little rose, a polyanth,” said Mr. Isbister; he was looking up at them through the railings but now his eyes looked over their heads. “’Twasn’t even on order then, but it will be now; I saw it in the catalogue, pink-orange, coppery, it was; they called it flame. Costs a guinea,” said Mr. Isbister.

A guinea to Lovejoy was rich and exclusive; the things in the shops she looked into with Vincent, if they were marked at all, were marked in guineas. She had assessed Liz’s suit in guineas. “Guineas used to be gold,” Vincent had told her and she saw them as rare little round gold moons. “Can a plant cost a guinea?” she asked.

“It can,” said Mr. Isbister proudly. “Look,” and he searched among the catalogues he kept in a pile, took out a new-looking one, wet his thumb, and turned over the pages and then held one up for her to see; it was a coloured photograph of a copper-pink rose.

“I don’t think it says ‘rose,’” said Lovejoy, peering down as she tried with her usual difficulty to spell out what it did say. “Jim—Jim.”

“Jiminy Cricket,” said Tip, looking over her shoulder.

“That’s its name,” said Mr. Isbister complacently.

“Do roses have names?” To Lovejoy it made them come almost into the category of people.

“All special flowers have names,” said Mr. Isbister. Not people, Somebodies, thought Lovejoy.

“Jiminy Cricket.” She tried it over on her tongue. “Jiminy Cricket.” For a moment she too was dazzled, then she sighed and came back to her own garden. It had too many problems to let her have guinea-visions just now.

The eight little plants looked naked and solitary against the pair of long stone-edged beds, each six feet long and nine inches wide. “I had dozens of cornflowers, but how can we buy dozens? How can we get them?” asked Lovejoy. “They’re four shillings a box, that’s twopence each, and the pansies are fivepence.”

“I’ll get you some,” said Tip.

“It took ages to get the candle money.” Lovejoy did not mean to be ungrateful but she was beginning to know how quick was time, how inexorable; even her stiff little neck had to bow to that. The earth in the beds was not even dug, she saw the whole garden doomed, and her voice was sharp as she said, “And all that time you only got sixpence!”

Tip did not answer. Soon the silence seemed so long that Lovejoy looked up. He was sitting on his usual bit of stone but he was not whittling anything with his old knife, not knocking anything with his shoe or a bit of stone; he was quite still; his head was bent and he was looking at a piece of skin on his fingers. “What’s the matter?” said Lovejoy.

“Nothin’,” said Tip. That was true; there was nothing the matter with his finger; it was Tip himself who was hurt.

A new feeling began to be in Lovejoy; it was the first time she had ever hurt anyone and minded. The unkind words seemed to go on and on in the air. Lovejoy suddenly found she could not bear Tip’s stillness, his bent head and hidden face. She could not take the words back—words never will come back—and she looked round for something she could do. With the fork she began to dig up the earth in the beds; she was not really thinking of what she was doing but of Tip; she put in the fork, and there was a small hard sound as if it had hit something; she brought the fork up, put it in, and the sound came again. She looked down the hole she had dug, remembered the length of the snapdragon roots, and looked up with a horrified face. “Tip! Tip!” she cried.

No answer. Tip looked at his fingers.

Tip.”

The unhappiness in her voice reached him. “What?” said Tip unwillingly.

And Lovejoy answered, as if the end of the world had come, “Tip, there isn’t enough earth in these beds.”

The little garden was laid out, enclosed in its stone; round the space that was to be the lawn they had made a path with the old grave’s marble chippings; the broken pillar rose gracefully with its ivy trail at one end; the beds were outlined; at the entrance were two corner stones embossed with lions. The lions had wings, they were supernatural lions; Tip had found them on a shattered monument, and Lovejoy had identified them. There never would have been such a garden, but it seemed almost treacherous now. “We could have found a way to get the seedlings.” Lovejoy lifted a stricken face. “We could have tried to sow the grass but we can’t do anything, anything at all, without earth.”

“Let me see,” said Tip, but it was true; there was a depth of perhaps four inches of soil before the fork struck stone. Lovejoy threw the fork down in despair, but, “There’s more earth underneath,” said Tip.

“We can’t get through to it.”

“No,” said Tip. He knelt, tapping the fork, which he had picked up. “Don’t do that,” said Lovejoy irritably.

“I’m thinkin’,” said Tip with dignity. At last he said, “Flowers grow in window boxes and boxes have hard bottoms and are not very deep.”

“Deeper’n that,” said Lovejoy.

“We must build the beds up with earth,” said Tip.

There was plenty of earth, of course, under the rubble, but there was no hope of moving the heavy pieces of stone; it had been as much as their hands could do to bring the bits they had used. Earth was there, as it was under everything, under the church, under the houses and the Street, the whole of London. “Why, the world’s made of earth,” said Tip.

“And we can’t get through to it,” said Lovejoy. She sat down on her chosen stone by the garden and began to cry.

It was a strange thing that Lovejoy, who before had scarcely ever cried, and certainly would have let no one see her, cried continually with Tip; as on the first day, he seemed to encourage her to cry and, when she did it, an equally strange thing happened to Tip; he became both weak and strong. The weakness seemed to come from somewhere above his stomach, where his counterpart, Adam, had lost a rib, perhaps, and it was sweet and powerful, a tug, as if the rib were attached and pulling; it made him do—“Anything,” said Tip helplessly. Wrong things, silly things. Well, a man can’t go against his own rib, he might have said. Tip—and probably Adam—had judgments of their own, good judgments, and knew they were running into trouble, but Eve, Lovejoy, made them feel strong, big and invulnerable, sometimes stronger than they could conveniently be, and now, “Stop crying,” said Tip. “I’ll get you some earth.”

He meant, bring it from the old garden. After all, it’s my bomb-ruin, he thought. I kin bring it when the boys won’t be there; but Lovejoy’s eyes, though they were still wet, were looking a long, long way beyond Tip. “Good garden earth?” asked Lovejoy tremulously.

That was something new to Tip. All dirt’s the same, he would have said. “Wasn’t your old garden good garden earth?” he asked.

“No,” said Lovejoy firmly.

“What is good garden earth?”

“The—the Square.”

Tip took a deep breath. “Oh well,” he said magnificently, “I’ll get it from the Square.”

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

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