An Episode of Sparrows | Chapter 28 of 35

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

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CHAPTER XIX

OLIVIA always spoke of “that morning,” but it really began the evening before, the evening Jiminy Cricket came.

Lovejoy did not have to go and find Tip. He came to the garden; he had been having a strange nagging of conscience. “Why? I don’t belong to her,” he said, trying to convince himself, but he had been pulled all the time. He had brought Lovejoy half a bag of all-sorts but when he saw the little rose he stopped. “Where did you get that?” he asked suspiciously. When Lovejoy, still dazed by her luck, told him he said, “You shouldn’t take presents from people you don’t know.”

That was one of Mrs. Malone’s maxims but it was news to Lovejoy; she had always supposed one should take all one could get. “And I do know Charles,” she said, which was an unfortunate remark.

“If you’ve got him, you don’t want me,” said Tip and turned away with his bag of sweets.

“I do want you,” said Lovejoy, running round in front of him. There was no mistaking her agitation. “Oh, please! I can’t do without you,” said Lovejoy.

“Honest?” said Tip, and a glow began to come on his sullen face. “You’re not kidding?”

“Oh no!” said Lovejoy earnestly. “You see, we must get that earth tonight.

“Why have you gone all cross again?” she asked.

“Think why,” growled Tip, but Lovejoy could not think and she began to wheedle him.

“It only needs one more bucket of earth,” she crooned, “one bucket and the garden’s made. Tip. Help me. We must get that earth tonight. . . .

“But that evening wasn’t only for us, it was for everybody,” said Lovejoy. It was strange how it came together for all of them—for instance, Vincent.

Earlier that evening Vincent, coming out on the pavement to breathe a little air after the stuffiness of the kitchen, had seen the green car when it was higher up the Street, outside the Priest’s House. Charles and Liz had been to see Father Lambert before they went to look at the church. For one moment Vincent had gazed at the car, then he dived back into the restaurant, calling, “Ettie. Ettie.”

“What is it, George?” Mrs. Combie was alarmed.

“Quick. They’re coming,” said Vincent. He was moving vases and clearing the tables. “The one night I hadn’t changed the cloths,” he lamented. “That’s you and your economy,” but he did not sound cross. “Come along. Help,” he said and gave her an affectionate slap. “They’re coming.”

“The lady and gentleman, George?”

“Who else?” said Vincent. “Now are you glad we have the refrigerator?” he said. His eyes grew wide. “I shall make them something they’ll remember. They shall have langouste. Thank God we have langouste, and, yes, my chicken sauté à l’ancienne.”

“Will you have time?” asked Mrs. Combie.

“They’ll wait,” said Vincent. “They’ll have apéritifs.”

Once again Mrs. Combie’s doubt gave way to pride and awe; it was always the same when she watched Vincent cooking; this chicken sauté, to Mrs. Combie, was a queer and unappetizing dish; to her the white wine spoiled good chicken, but still she was fascinated as she watched. She was not allowed to stand and watch for long. “Put some roses on their table, Ettie,” said Vincent. “They’ll want the same one. Is Lovejoy in?”

“No, she’s out somewhere,” said Mrs. Combie.

“Then you must go, Ettie, quick as you can, go to the dairy and get some cream and to Driscoll’s for mushrooms.” Mrs. Combie hesitated. “Ettie, I must have cream and mushrooms. There’s just enough time and I can’t make this else, and, Ettie, get some raspberries.”

“Have you any money, George?” asked Mrs. Combie.

I?” said Vincent in astonishment; she had never asked him that before.

“They won’t let us have them, George, unless we pay. We owe too much at the dairy, and Mr. Driscoll has sent a registered letter.”

“Then pay for them,” snapped Vincent. “There’s eleven shillings in the till from those two lunches, if you could call them lunches. ‘An omelette and a cup of coffee,’” he mimicked. “Go on, Ettie.” Mrs. Combie hesitated, and Vincent stood up. “Ettie, when I am right, proved right, will you not do as I say?”

When Mrs. Combie came back the restaurant was filled with succulent smells. “Is the car still at the church?” asked Vincent.

“Yes,” said Mrs. Combie. It had driven Lovejoy round, but Mrs. Combie had missed that and Vincent had been too busy to see.

“Good,” said Vincent. “You take over the soup, Ettie, while I wash. I have to arrange the raspberries. Then everything is ready.” He paused. “Last time she had a red Kauffman plate; get a blue.”

Smooth and polished in his tail coat and carefully creased trousers, fresh linen, and his watch chain, Vincent went into the restaurant. When he saw the pink roses Mrs. Combie had arranged he frowned, took them out, and did them again; then he wiped the vase, put it back on the table, and gave the two cocked napkins a touch. The bread was cut, the new menus were written, two good red and white wines were out, one warming, the other cooling. Jauntily he went to the door and looked up the road.

The car was gone.

When life gives a blow it often gives another; that happened to Mrs. Combie that night.

Vincent was serving coffee in the restaurant—there were three people in, but even to Mrs. Combie they did not seem to be people now—when there came a knock at the side door. “Will you go?” said Vincent. He spoke in a stunned, respectful way as if she, or he, were dead; which of us? thought Mrs. Combie, but if Vincent died, she died too. “Will you go, Ettie?” he asked, and, leaving the littered kitchen, Mrs. Combie took her tired body to the door.

“Why haven’t you people got a telephone?”

The voice was so loud and jovial that it jarred. We’re unhappy here, speak softly, Mrs. Combie wanted to say. Vincent went quickly into the restaurant, but she had to stand and listen. “Had to drag all the way here,” it complained. “Is Bertha in?”

“Bertha?” Mrs. Combie held the doorjamb.

“Bertha. Mrs. Mason. I’m Mr. Montague, her agent. Doesn’t she live here?”

“Yes, but she’s in Brighton with the Blue Moons,” said Mrs. Combie, silently taking in the good blue overcoat, black hat, red face, and smell of soap and brilliantine and cigars.

“With the Blue Moons?”

“Yes, in Brighton.” Mrs. Combie held the doorjamb tighter.

“So that’s her line,” said Mr. Montague. He spoke softly as if to himself, but Mrs. Combie heard. “Oh well!” he said and lifted his hat. “In that case, good night.”

“But—wait.” Mrs. Combie was collecting herself. “Isn’t that all right?”

He shrugged. “Maybe, for all I know,” he said. Then perhaps he saw Mrs. Combie’s face more clearly, because he said, “One thing I do know. She isn’t with the Blue Moons.”

“Why? Why not?” said Mrs. Combie faintly. Her voice had reeled away.

“They’re in Jersey, dear, be there all summer. I ought to know. I booked them there myself. Look here,” he said. “Have some sense. Bertha hasn’t been with the Blue Moons for years. Three years, to be exact. She’s not in their class now. Right out, in fact. She’s had odd jobs here and there, that’s all. I can’t do miracles. They will go on, you know, and nobody wants them. Won’t listen,” said Mr. Montague. “I had a fill-in job that might have helped for a week or two, but if she’s not here—”

“If she isn’t with the Blue Moons in Brighton,” said Mrs. Combie slowly, “where is she?”

“Haven’t the faintest,” said Mr. Montague. “Well, no use my waiting. Good night.”

“One moment,” said Mrs. Combie, coming to life. “You’re her agent.”

“A theatrical agent has no responsibility,” said Mr. Montague. It was as if a comfortable sleek car had suddenly become armoured and put out steel guns. “And there’s no money owing to her, none. In fact the boot’s on the other foot. She’s been drawing on us.”

“But—” Mrs. Combie caught at his sleeve. “Wait, Mr. Montague. There’s Lovejoy. You remember Lovejoy.”

“The kiddy?” For a moment Mr. Montague seemed troubled. “Did Bertha do that? I wouldn’t have thought it of her.” Then he withdrew behind his guns. “So she’s made a muggins of you? Bad luck. Well, I must be off.”

“But—” cried Mrs. Combie wildly.

He stepped back out of her reach. “I told you, she owes us money. Good night.”

It was that evening too that Angela discovered that Lucas had disobeyed her and the Garden Committee, and had not slept in the shed. “Not even once,” said Angela.

“No more earth has been taken,” said Lucas defensively.

“That’s not the point.”

“We’ve scared them off.”

“That’s not the point,” said Angela again. “You were given orders.”

Lucas looked sullen.

“Orders that were meant to be obeyed. Perhaps you prefer to leave?” asked Angela. Lucas looked still more sullen.

“I didn’t say that,” said Lucas. His small eyes blinked.

“If you don’t want to leave,” said Angela, “you will sleep in the shed tonight.”

Lucas cast an appealing glance at Olivia, who deliberately looked at the floor; at the admiral, who cleared his throat and looked out of the window; Mr. Donaldson was still at the office so there was no one else to meet Lucas’s eye except Angela herself, and she was implacably stern. “Very well,” said Lucas.

Tip had difficulty in getting Sparkey. “Last time I let him go with you he was tired out,” said Sparkey’s mother. “You must have sat up all night talking.”

“We didn’t,” said Tip and Sparkey truthfully.

“And he got a shocking cold,” said Sparkey’s mother.

“That was my May cold,” said Sparkey.

“And if you get another that’ll be your June cold, I suppose?”

“Yes,” said Sparkey.

“Let him come,” begged Tip.

Sparkey’s mother wanted to go away for the night and did not want to take Sparkey with her; Tip’s proposal suited her exactly, but she was still thinking of that talking in bed. “Promise you’ll keep a blanket round him,” she said.

She would not let Sparkey go until they had promised, though they knew it would be a singularly awkward promise to keep. “I don’t want a blanket,” said Sparkey miserably.

“We’ll tie it round you,” said Tip.

It was at half-past five the next morning that Tip put Lovejoy and Sparkey, impeded by the blanket, over the Square gardens palings. From the beginning it felt disastrous; it was raining hard; even bundled as he was, Sparkey was soaked already. “You’re wet through,” said Tip, worried.

“I’m wet too,” said Lovejoy, but Tip took no notice of that.

Lovejoy was not popular with Tip that morning. She was never popular with Sparkey, who turned his big eyes on her with hate.

No whisper had come to Lovejoy of what had happened last night, but when she had come in Vincent had gone into the restaurant without speaking to her and Mrs. Combie had told her to go to bed in such a flat, dull way that Lovejoy thought they must have quarrelled again.

“Are you tired?” Lovejoy asked Mrs. Combie. She did not know what else to say for comfort.

“Yes, I’m tired,” said Mrs. Combie. She added that the kitchen table wanted scrubbing but she did not get up and scrub it. “I’ll do it,” Lovejoy offered, but Mrs. Combie said, “No,” and told her to go to bed. Then Mrs. Combie took down her old coat, and Lovejoy heard her open the restaurant door and say, “George, I’m going to the police.”

“Tonight?” asked Vincent, coming to the door. “Wait till the morning, dear.” Dear! then they haven’t quarrelled, thought Lovejoy.

“I can’t wait, I must know,” said Mrs. Combie.

Lovejoy did not know what the trouble was—perhaps somebody’s stolen something, she thought—but it filled the house and she had never been more glad to see Tip the next morning; but for Sparkey she would have snuggled against him, rubbing her head on his shoulder. In a passion of warmth and gratitude she had said, “Hello Tip,” and now Tip was being unkind. “It’s the last time,” she told him earnestly. “I’ll never bother you again.”

“Don’t tell lies,” said Tip. He did not lift her carefully but jounced her up on top of the folded raincoat they put for a pad on the palings, as if he were glad to get rid of her. She slipped as she jumped down. “Ooh!” said Lovejoy and whimpered.

“Get on with it,” said Tip.

The rain dripped off her nose as she dug; the handle of the shovel grew slimy with mud and put mud on her hands; her feet felt as if her socks and shoes were made of mud. It was cold and ugly, her misery increased, and all Sparkey did was to stand by her and sniff. “Stop it,” she said sharply to Sparkey; he wiped his nose with the back of his wet hand and sniffed worse than ever; the end of his blanket trailed in the mud.

“Hurry up,” hissed Tip.

“I can’t. It’s wet and heavy,” said Lovejoy.

“Sparkey, for Pete’s sake help her,” said Tip impatiently.

“Lemme dig,” said Sparkey.

“You can’t,” said Lovejoy.

“I can.”

“You can’t. You’re only a baby.”

Sparkey gave the shovel a sharp kick; it jerked up, throwing a shower of wet earth in Lovejoy’s face. “It’s in my eye,” she screamed.

“Shh! Shh!” said Tip, but Lovejoy would not shh.

“He’s thrown mud in my eye.”

“Never mind. Get on.”

“I do mind.”

“Bring the bucket and I’ll take it out for you,” said Tip angrily. Lovejoy stood up, sobbing loudly enough for Tip to hear. Sparkey noticed that, though she was so hurt, she filled the bucket to the brim. Together they lugged it to the palings; the wet earth was very heavy and it took all their strength to lift it up. “Push, can’t you?” said Lovejoy fiercely.

“I am pushing.”

“Useless brat!”

“’F you call me names I’ll drop it.”

“Shut up. Both of you,” hissed Tip.

At last Tip’s hand caught the handle and they could hoist it to the top. “Feels as if you’d got the whole blasted garden,” said Tip so crossly that Lovejoy began to whimper again. “My eye hurts,” she said, “my eye hurts.”

“Well, come out,” said Tip, exasperated. Lovejoy shinned up the tree that overhung the palings and began to wriggle out along the branch.

“Wait. You haven’t helped me,” said Sparkey.

“I can’t lift you in that blanket.”

“Take the blanket off. Help me,” said Sparkey.

“You help yourself,” said Lovejoy.

“You know I can’t.”

“Try,” said Lovejoy lightly. Sparkey could not believe she could be so treacherous, but already she was out along the branch.

“I can’t. I can’t reach,” said Sparkey frantically. Now he was alone in the garden all his bravado left him. “Lovejoy,” he screamed.

“Jump,” said Lovejoy and she dropped off the branch into the road and ran wailing to Tip.

No one can jump if he is wrapped in a blanket. Sparkey tried. He tried to get off the ground, to leap and catch the branch.

“Where’s Spark?” he heard Tip say.

“Coming,” said Lovejoy glibly.

Sparkey was too frightened to call; he tried to run, but he was caught, blanket and all, from behind, and a hand was clapped over his mouth.

If Lucas had known how big Tip was he would not have come round into the road but locked Sparkey in the shed and gone for Angela or the admiral. As it was, hearing Lovejoy wailing in the road, he concluded they were all small and, walking craftily on the grass, holding Sparkey under his arm, he undid the gate and came stealthily round on the outside of the pavement.

With a corner of his not very clean handkerchief, Tip was wiping out Lovejoy’s eye and he had his arm round her to steady her; he was bending down so that Lucas could not see his height; Lucas saw their two heads together, and they looked small children to him; he also saw the bucket in the road. “Got the lot red-handed,” he said and pulled Angela’s whistle out of his pocket and blew it.

The steadiness of Tip showed at that whistle; he and Lovejoy both jumped—“Out of our skins,” said Lovejoy resentfully; it was days before she felt she was truly back in hers—but Tip had taken almost the last grits of earth out of her eye and he did not loose his hold. “Stand still,” said Tip. “We can run much faster than he can.” He drew the last grit out, and, “C’mon,” he said, picking up the bucket. It was then he saw that Lucas had Sparkey. “Run. Leave the bucket. Run,” he told Lovejoy and went to meet Lucas.

At the same moment Sparkey wriggled free; while Lucas had been carrying him, the knot where Tip had fastened the blanket had slowly come undone, and Sparkey wriggled himself from its folds. Lucas snatched at him, but it is difficult to find a hold on a thin small boy, slippery with rain, and Sparkey twisted away. There was only one way to stop him and Lucas kicked his legs. With a scream of real pain—quite unlike Lovejoy’s—Sparkey doubled up on the pavement.

It was too much for Tip. “Kick someone y’r own size y’old b——,” he shouted at Lucas.

Lucas was in a temper. The shed had been uncomfortable, he had not slept all night, his little eyes were red, and he was full of resentment and dislike. The new hole in his garden, the trampled bed, drove him to fury. “Kicking’s too good for you little swine,” he said. Sparkey tried to get up, and Lucas booted him again.

Tip looked at the black boots and leather gaiters, the warm box-cloth breeches, and at Sparkey trying to get up, rising and falling like a hurt fledgling on the pavement. Tip’s cheeks grew red and he lowered his head and ran at Lucas; his head hit Lucas full in his soft old stomach; Lucas gave a sound as if a gust of air had blown out of him and, like Sparkey, doubled up; then his knees crumpled and he sank down on the pavement.

Is he dead? thought Tip, crouching down. As he thought it a hand took him by the collar; he could not see whose hand it was, but it felt authoritative; he was put smartly on his feet, the hand still holding him, and he knew it was the police. With all the force of his lungs Tip bellowed at Sparkey and Lovejoy, “Run. Run.”

Sparkey obeyed. Without looking back, hopping and limping, limping and hopping, he ran down the Square towards Motcombe Terrace, but Lovejoy would not leave the bucket. “Leave it, you little fool. Run,” shouted Tip, but through all her panic and dismay she would not let it go. The bucket was too heavy for her by herself, but she lugged it along, bumping it on the pavement, her arms nearly pulled from the sockets. She heard the short blasts on another whistle; windows were pushed up in the houses, doors opened, but she kept on.

At the edge of the palings she turned to see how close the police were and knew she need not hurry. The policeman was not coming after her; still holding Tip, he was bending over Lucas, who was twisting and writhing on the pavement. Tip did that to him, knocked him down, a big man, thought Lovejoy with pride. Then round the corner came a second policeman, and a voice floated out from the steps of Number Eleven. “Constable, I am Miss Chesney of the Garden Committee. That is the gardener who is hurt. Bring him in here.” Her voice was clear in the Square, high and imperious, a lady’s voice—the blue-winged lady, thought Lovejoy, and shrank back against the palings. The two policemen bent to lift Lucas, though the first still kept his hold on Tip. Now’s my chance, thought Lovejoy, who had to cross the road, but oddly enough she did not take the chance; she stood and looked back at Tip, left there with the policemen.

Tip. Lovejoy had a sudden feeling of his arm round her, of the way he had pressed her to him when he thought she was hurt. “Leave the earth. Go back to him,” the feeling said to her. Tip. Tip! Lovejoy began to tremble; then her coolness came back. “He’s caught. There’s nothing you can do and you must save the earth,” said the coolness, and she picked up the bucket and staggered across the road. As she reached the pavement and dumped the bucket down, there was a sound of sobbing and hobbling. It was Sparkey.

“They’ve got Tip,” cried Sparkey, anguished. “I didn’t know they’d got Tip,” and he ran past her.

“Sparkey, come back,” commanded Lovejoy. “Spar-key! Come back. They’ll catch you too. Come back.” But he went on running, still limping, and bellowing “Tip.” He’s doing what I wanted to do, thought Lovejoy. Half ashamed, half jealous, she hung between running back and going.

The policemen were going in at Number Eleven; one had taken Lucas, the other marched Tip, and Tip was fighting. With a sudden sinking of her selfish little stomach, Lovejoy watched. Sparkey ran full tilt into them. “Don’t be silly,” Lovejoy told herself and picked up the bucket again.

One person had seen her. While they were busy bringing in Lucas and the uncontrollable boy, Olivia kept out of the way; she did not like to look at the boy, the indignant way in which he fought was too genuine; she removed herself to the side of the steps and looked as far away as she could down the Square. “Olivia will never cooperate,” said Angela, annoyed.

Looking away, Olivia saw a very small boy, running and hopping towards them, and, far away on the corner, a girl. She had something in a bucket and was making off with it—something heavy, thought Olivia. Was it the swag? She watched Lovejoy drag it round the corner.

“Only one of them?” Angela was saying to the policeman.

“One and a half,” said the policeman as Sparkey came panting up. “But I think we’ve caught the one we want,” said the policeman, holding Tip down in a chair.

Olivia said nothing.

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

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