An Episode of Sparrows | Chapter 27 of 35

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

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CHAPTER XVIII

THE old woman in the vinegar bottle went too far; there came a day when the little fish, tired out, said, “Go back to your vinegar bottle,” and the house, furniture, new clothes, maid, and pony-carriage disappeared, but Vincent and Lovejoy had not heard any more than Tip or Mrs. Combie of that story.

With the old woman it had been a car; the pony-carriage, she complained, was too slow. With Vincent it was the big refrigerator. A duck had gone bad in the larder, and Vincent brought up, for the hundredth time, it seemed to Mrs. Combie, the question of the big refrigerator. “I tell you we must have it,” said Vincent.

“We can’t, George. We can’t pay for it.”

“Then we must borrow. Now, now is the moment,” cried Vincent. “At last it has happened what I said. I begin to gather my clientele, the clientele I want.” If Vincent were moved he grew foreign. “No, not want,” said Vincent passionately. “Not want, deserve. Without a big refrigerator—” he began.

“George, a big refrigerator costs—”

“You’re always dinning figures into me,” shouted Vincent. “Figures, and it hurts.”

Mrs. Combie might have said that it was Vincent who dinned figures into her where they hurt much more; she had had a very painful interview with Mr. Edwards, the bank-manager, that weekend and now she had to persist. “Why not wait?” she asked in a breathless voice, twisting the overall strings tightly round her finger. “Wait till more people like the lady and gentleman come.”

“And give them duck gone bad?” asked Vincent icily.

“Would you care to try something else tonight?” said Vincent to Mr. Manley. “Something more interesting. Aiguillettes de canard sauvage?” said Vincent smoothly. “Chicken sauté à l’ancienne?” That was Vincent’s specialty. “Or may I suggest fillet of sole à la Russe?”

“You’re very splendiferous,” said Mr. Manley.

“Yes,” said Vincent, and his smile was almost a smirk. The refrigerator had gone to his head and he had had an orgy of cooking. “At last we are equipped, almost,” said Vincent. There was still the question of the dishwasher. “I’m happy to say we have installed a full-sized refrigerator.”

“Umph!” said Mr. Manley. He ordered a plain rump steak.

With Vincent it was the big refrigerator; with Lovejoy it was the wreath flowerpot.

For several days after she put it in the garden Tip had not come near her. “I won’t get more earth,” he had said flatly and gone away. When Lovejoy caught him in the Street he would not talk to her. “I’ve got things to do,” he said.

“What things?” asked Lovejoy.

“Things with the boys,” said Tip. “Boys!” he bellowed as if he were desperate. A sudden wisdom told Lovejoy to leave him alone.

I don’t miss him, she told herself proudly and, as a matter of fact, she did not miss him as badly as she would have done a little time ago. These days the statue seemed to be with her in a way that was companionable. I don’t mind her now, thought Lovejoy, I quite like her.

She’s always been here, thought Lovejoy easily; why should I mind her? She knows all about me, thought Lovejoy.

Mary was Jesus’ mother, even the ignorant Lovejoy knew that, but she was also, according to Tip, everyone’s mother. “I’ve got a mother of my own,” Lovejoy told her jealously.

It was mysterious, but Tip seemed content to let it be mysterious. There was the question of the baby who was Jesus, for instance. Tip said that Jesus was God but he also said God was so big and powerful that no one could measure Him—Lovejoy, in her mind’s eye, immediately saw the power station—then how could He be a little baby? “How can He?” she had asked challengingly.

“Easily,” said Tip.

That was too much for Lovejoy, but Mary she could understand. “Well, that’s all right,” said Tip. “Perhaps it begins with her.” Mary, Lovejoy gathered, was a real mother; there were many things that Tip must, or must not, do. I wish I must and mustn’t, thought Lovejoy yearningly, and she thought that when her mother came back she would tell her a thing or two; and while Mary was stern, she was—reliable was the word Lovejoy wanted—and she had given excellent advice about the pansies. Yes, taking all things together, thought Lovejoy, she was glad the statue was in the garden, she had grown used to it, but, “When my mother comes back I won’t need you,” said Lovejoy; that sounded rude and perhaps ungrateful, and after a while she found a potted-meat jar and washed it so clean that it sparkled, filled it with pansies, and took it into the church. People often put bunches of flowers round the pedestal, and Lovejoy put her jar at its foot. “When these are dead I’ll bring you some more,” she said, kindly.

These days were peaceful. Some of them were rainy but then Lovejoy sat under the tombstone and kept dry. It was good to watch the flowers drinking, without all that work, thought Lovejoy. It was a terrible work to water even that small patch of garden.

It needed two; taking filled jam jars or bottles down the wall was difficult and dangerous, as Lovejoy had found when she tried and fell, broke a jar, and cut herself. After that Tip had fixed a piece of old waterpipe against the wall, tying it to the sharp, sticking-out bits of brick with string because he dared not make a noise knocking nails in; the pipe was shaky but it acted as a channel, and if he poured water in from an old cider bottle at the top, Lovejoy could catch it in her jam jar below. Even then it was work that took patience so that, Tip being away, it was double luck that there was rain; when it rained the garden watered itself and afterwards Lovejoy came out and smelled the earth and it was miraculously fresh. To smell it she had to get down on her hands and knees, and that brought another revelation. “If you stand up the garden’s little,” she told Tip. “If you get right down and look along the paths, squint and screw your eyes up, it’s big.”

One evening, on her way home, Lovejoy had reached the Street when she went back to the garden for the shovel.

Mr. Isbister had told her that, besides watering, she should feed her plants. “Feed them?” Lovejoy had asked astonished.

“Think you’re the only one what needs to eat?” said Mr. Isbister and he told her how to make liquid food with manure and water.

It sounded complicated to Lovejoy, but she did her best. Like a real sparrow pecking at dung, she scooped a horse-dollop off the road with Tip’s shovel. It was a good thing Cassie did not see her, but to a chemist nothing is unclean and, highly pleased, Lovejoy shook the dung up in a jam jar of water, kept it a few days—Mr. Isbister had said it should be old—and fed the pansies.

She made a fresh supply every few days, and that evening Lucy had been by and there were beautiful fresh dollops still smoking on the road; it was worth the trouble of going back, but Lovejoy had scooped up only one shovelful when, down the Street, came the big green car.

It came quickly but not as quickly as Lovejoy went; crimson with shame, she fled back up the steps. They would come now! she thought wrathfully; all the same she did not drop her dollop but took it safely over the wall. She did not come up until she heard Charles and Liz go into the church; then slowly, hoping they had not seen her shame, she came up the wall, climbed over, settled her clothes and hair, and waited by the bell. Charles and Liz! thought Lovejoy. Perhaps, perhaps they didn’t see. Shivers of excitement and hero-worship went over her, and when they came up the crypt steps she made them the curtsy she had learned long ago for the stage; nothing less seemed to fit the occasion. “Hello!” said Charles. He had just put on his hat; he swept it off again. To me! thought Lovejoy. How she wished Cassie could see.

“It’s the little saint,” said Liz.

“The sinner,” said Charles.

Lovejoy noticed that he held Liz’s arm. That was enough for Lovejoy. They’re engaged! she thought. Liz had gloves on, so that Lovejoy could not see the ring, but she knew at once what it was. A great big diamond! thought Lovejoy.

Liz was wearing—the same suit! thought Lovejoy, disappointed. She had thought Liz, like the queen, or as Lovejoy imagined the queen, would wear a new dress every day; she saw a maid, like a maid on the films in a black dress and little cap and apron, showing Liz suit after suit, dress after dress; but no, it was the same suit, same hat, gloves, and stole.

Lovejoy followed them down to the car and stayed on the pavement looking into it, at its mole-coloured leather—she knew mole, it was a fashionable colour—the plaid rug, the wood and silver and glass. There were a little clock, a radio. “Like a drive?” asked Charles.

Lovejoy had never thought that Charles and Liz might be kind to her—when Liz gave her the shilling it had seemed the work of the statue, not Liz; Lovejoy had not thought of herself in connection with them at all, except as a pair of eyes watching them perhaps, and she was startled when Charles spoke. “Like a drive?” said Charles in his lazy, offhand voice. “Just round a street or two?”

Lovejoy did not mean to be rude but she seemed to have lost her voice. Charles opened the car door for her—“As if I was a lady,” she told Tip afterwards—shut her in, shut in Liz, came round to his place, and started the car. As it pulled away from the curb and down the road it felt like gliding, floating. If Vincent could see me now, thought Lovejoy as they passed the restaurant, or, better than Vincent, Cassie, or, better even than Cassie, Tip, Tip and his whole blasted gang. Lovejoy sat so stiffly erect and proud as they swept round the corner by the river that she overbalanced and fell forward against the front seat. It was then she saw what Liz held on her lap.

Liz had lifted a globe of tissue paper to look at it; Lovejoy looked too and stayed, glued where she was, her hands clutching the front seat. She did not know it but she had given a little gasp. Charles glanced round. “Did I go too fast?” he asked, “I’m sorry.” But Lovejoy had forgotten she was in a car.

“Is it real?” she whispered.

Liz turned her head to look at Lovejoy; Lovejoy’s face was just beside her own, gazing down, and Lovejoy’s hand crept forward. “Could I—could I touch it?”

She had hardly dared to ask, but Liz twisted right round and lifted it up. Lovejoy, steadying herself on her elbows, took it into her hands. “It’s a rose!” she said, stunned.

“A tiny standard rose,” said Liz.

“Alive!” Lovejoy was faint with wonder.

There was cause for wonder. The rosetree was not more than nine inches high, planted in a pot, its tiny leaves making the correct standard bush, and on it were six deep pink-orange roses. Each minute rose was perfectly formed, the petals curled, each flower no bigger than a sixpence. “It even has a scent,” said Liz, “and it’s hardy too.”

“Would it live in a garden?”

“Yes,” said Liz. “But it would have to be a very little garden.”

“Yes,” breathed Lovejoy.

She was oblivious that they had come round to the church again and the car had stopped. All she saw was the rose.

“Where did you find it?”

“Charles gave it to me. It was a special present,” said Liz.

Special! and I thought I knew what special was! Lovejoy had thought pansies were beautiful—and all the time there was this, she thought. The garden with its joined stone edges, its mustard and cress, seemed a child’s play-garden now; I thought I knew, thought Lovejoy sorrowfully, and all the time there were things like this—she kept coming back to the rose. She felt ashamed; this is what Mr. Isbister meant when he said “something special,” while I—But I never dreamed, I never thought—thought Lovejoy and gave a miserable little choke. She handed the rose back to Liz and blindly put out her hand to find the door. She felt that they were looking at her in surprise but she could not help it.

“Wait,” said Charles suddenly. He got out, opened Lovejoy’s door, but stood blocking it. “Have you got a garden?” he asked.

Lovejoy nodded. “We got the pot,” she said huskily. “We were getting the earth.” Tip had said he would not get it, but that, she knew, could have been settled. “The earth,” she repeated and swallowed. “It doesn’t matter now.” Her voice died away and she bent her head so that the two sides of her hair swung forward and hid her face, showing her neck. Tip could have told Charles how potent that was.

“Well. Well. Well,” said Charles. There was such a long silence that Lovejoy raised her head. He was looking across at Liz and Liz was looking back at him. This time it was Liz who nodded.

“First present I give you, you give away,” said Charles, pretending to grumble. “I suppose I can get you another,” and he reached in and took the rose from Liz and set it in Lovejoy’s lap.

When the heavens open one does not say thank you. Lovejoy gazed dumbly at the rose, at Liz, at Charles, until, “You’re in the car,” Charles prompted gently. “You must get out now.” He helped her out, closed the door, lifted his hat again, and got back in the driving seat, but before he could start the car Liz beckoned. Lovejoy ran round in the road to Liz’s window.

“You’ll take care of it?” said Liz. “And you must transplant it. That means put it in another pot, a bigger one; spread the roots out and press the earth down well. Do you know how?”

“Yes,” said Lovejoy huskily.

“And wouldn’t you like to know what it is?” asked Liz. “It has a name, you know.”

“I know,” said Lovejoy.

“It’s a Robin Hood rose called ‘Little Monarch’!” But to Lovejoy it could only have one name.

“It’s called Jiminy Cricket,” said Lovejoy firmly.

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

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