• 20 Apr - 26 Apr, 2024
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

At eleven o’clock the tea-room was empty when Mr Greenidge stomped in with Liesel. Mrs Greenidge must have come back then.

‘Why are you doing this to me?’ he hissed, frightening me, when I brought him coffee.

‘Doing what?’

‘You know exactly what you’re doing. Playing hard to get. Bringing your friend round when you knew it was our last chance to be alone. Avoiding me. How can you be so cruel? Don’t you love me any more?’

‘Everything all right, Mr G?’

Percy came through from the kitchen where he, Betty and Ruby were making sandwiches for the artists’ picnic lunch.

‘Right as a trivet, Percy, right as rain. Lot of queer types about this morning though.’

‘Bohemians,’ said Percy. ‘From the art school. W’ve doing the catering.’

‘Art school, my eye,’ Mr Greenidge spluttered into his coffee. ‘I’d keep an eye on Missy here if I were you. Hardly the sort of company I’d care for my daughter to keep. If I had been blessed in that way.’

‘Oh, they’re all right. Takes all sorts, eh?’

He took a salt cellar from a table and went back to his work.

‘When can I see you?’

Mr Greenidge’s eyes were glittery, as if he were going to cry.

‘Monday. After school.’ Anything to make him go away. ‘Did Liesel like her bone?’

‘What? Madam’s back in residence so it’s no good you coming to the house. Meet me by the phone box, we’ll have to go for a walk.’

‘I’ll ry. It’s difficult. Ruby expects me to play with her.’

‘Get rid of her. Make some excuse. Please, April. Do it for me.’

‘Get rid of her’ sounded as if Ruby were rubbish, or a stray dog that followed me around.

I had to break my promise not to enter Boddy’s the Butcher when I was sent round to collect pork chops for the evening supper. Ruby understood, because she had been forced to go there herself on occasion. Charmaine Vinnegar handed me the pieces of dead pigs in a large paper bag. Little Juney was playing quietly with a bucket and spade in the sawdust chewing something, and Sorrel Marlowe wasthere with her mother, who was being served by Mr Boddy in his straw boater. I hadn’t seen Sorrel since the Lady Marlene incident and she stuck her nose in the air.

‘Stop eating the meat, Juney, I’ve told you,’ said Charmaine. ‘It’ll give you worms.’

‘Well really!’ said Mrs Marlowe, going pale as the slab of lard.

I ran out of the shop, my stomach heaving as I with raw meat and white fat.

Brown Windsor soup, pork chops with roast potatoes and cabbage, blackberry and apple crumble was the menu for tonight. Betty cooked the cabbage with bay leaves to take away the smell and sprinkled it with caraway seeds. From time to time the baby kicked hard and you could almost see its foot through her white apron.

‘He wants to come out and help with the washing up,’ said Percy.


Ruby and I stared as if the baby might burst through my mother’s stomach clutching a washing-up mop.

Professor Linus Scoley was due to arrive on the 2 o’clock train from London.

‘Somebody should meet him,’ Dittany worried.

‘We’ll meet him, won’t we, April?’ Ruby volunteered.

‘Bless you, that would be wonderful. You’ll recognize him at once he’s exactly like the Henry Lamb portrait of Lytton Strachey.’

‘Who’s he when he’s at home?’ I thought, and Ruby said.

‘Oh, silly of me. Professor Scoley is tall, with a beard and long tubular legs. Make sure you bring him straight to Beulah House, won’t you, so that he can have some refreshment before his lecture at 3 o’clock.’

‘We could take Boy,’ said Ruby.

‘Off you go then, girls,’ Percy said at half-past one. ‘And remember, this bloke’s a dead ringer for Lytton Strachey.’ He winked.

‘If we were in a William book we’d come back with the wrong professor,’ I said.

‘Or an escaped lunatic,’ said Ruby, clipping on Boy’s lead.

A smell of Sunday dinners drifted over the High Street as we walked along with Boy capering like a little lamb beside us. I picked a dahlia from somebody’s allotment and tucked it in his collar. Doreen Vinnegar passed us, on the handlebars of her brother Sack’s bicycle and called out, ‘Why wasn’t you two in Sunday School this morning?’

‘We had better things to do,’ Ruby replied cheerily. ‘So there, Vinegar Bottle.’

Two lady artists, guests at Beulah House, came flying down the church path in a whirl of skirts and smocks and folding easels, spilling tubes of paint, with Mr Seabrook the verger chasing after them, waving a spade and shouting, ‘Go on. ‘op it! Get them pointy-legged things out of my graveyard, making holes in my lawn! Call yourselves artists! You couldn’t creosote a fence, none of you!’

We were laughing with our left arms linked behind our backs and Boy’s lead in my right hand, when I realized we were approaching Kirriemuir.

‘Cross over the road,’ I said.

But Boy started yapping and we heard Liesel going frantic running up and down the hedge barking and Mr and Mrs Greenidge appeared at the gate. She held the scrabbling Liesel in her arms.

‘Poor Liesel,’ Mrs Greenidge soothed her. ‘Poor old girl. Never mind, then.’

Mr Greenidge just looked down at Boy’s drooping dahlia and back at me. I dropped my eyes.

‘Who’s your smart new little friend with the gay flower in his collar?’ Mrs Greenidge asked.

I remembered that she did not like dahlias.

‘He’s not really my friend. We’ve got to take him to the station to meet a professor. I still like Liesel best,’ I tried to explain.

‘His name’s called Boy. He’s a Bedlington terrier,’ said Ruby, sadly. ‘Don’t forget your old friends entirely, April.’

I shook my head.

‘Come on or we’ll be late,’ said Ruby. ‘What did she ask what his name was for, if she already knew?’ she complained as we walked on.

‘Don’t ask me. I expect she’s a loony.’

I saw myself in their bedroom again, playing with the magical cabinet, squeezing her turquoise scent spray; her silver brushes and combs, her yellow beads, the corner of the high bed with the rose-pink quilt reflected in the mirror.

‘What’s up with you?’


Station Hill smelled of leaf mould and the unripe conkers, brought down by a night of rain, that studded the broken tarmac at the sides of the road in drifts of twiggy debris. The sky was blue between gold-tinged leaves.

‘You know that man with a sack and a knife who jumped out on Charmaine Vinnegar? I said. ‘Well, why did he have a sack?’

‘To hide her ugly face. To stop her screaming.’

‘They never caught him though, did they? He could be here now, behind a tree. In broad daylight.’

Suddenly broad daylight was a terrifying place.

The three of us tore uphill through the autumnal tunnel of trees, three harsh breaths panting across the station yard, through the booking hall and onto the platform where Ruby and I collapsed on the seat. Behind us, on the fence, was an enamel advertisement that said, ‘Virol. Anaemic Girls Need It.’

‘Oi, you kids! Platform tickets, if you please,’ came the voice of the station-master.

‘Pretend we’re deaf and dumb,’ said Ruby.

The train’s face was visible down the track, growing bigger as it came towards us. It pulled into the platform and we stood up nervously. The guard’s van opened and men in shorts handed out bicycles to each other. Mr and Mrs Smith from the post office stepped out of a compartment, slamming the door loudly in the warm air.

‘He’s not here. What shall we do?’

The guard was waving his green flag to the driver, and in the blast of a whistle a carriage door few open spilling a long, reddish-bearded man, with hat, stick, briefcase and glasses onto the plat form. He stood, like a bewildered daddy-long-legs in green tweed. As we approached him a winged sycamore seed spiralled slowly down from the sky and settled on his hat.

‘Go on, then, say hello.’

‘No, you.’

We nudged each other along giggling. Then I stopped dead. Behind the other cyclists, apart from them, wheeling his bike towards us, was Rodney Pegg. We stared in silent mutual horror.

‘Come on.’ Ruby tugged my arm. Boy pulled on his lead.

‘Excuse me, are you Professor Linus Scoley?’

‘Why?’ His voice was reedy and suspicious. ‘Who wants to know?’

‘He’s drunk!’ Ruby whispered.

‘How do you know?’

She looked at me pityingly.

‘How do you think?’

Now I could smell his metallic breath. His eyes glittering behind his thick spectacles added to his insect-like aspect.

‘We’ve come to meet you, to take you to Beulah Hosue. Miss Codrington and Miss Rix sent us. For your lecure…’

Whether it was the word lecture or the names of his hostesses that did it, Professor Scoley crumpled.

‘Oh, God. Is that what I’m doing here? I can’t, I simply can’t. All those, those bacchantes with sketchbooks, tearing me to pieces.’

But what was Rodney Pegg doing here? I felt faint.

‘Come on, you’ve got to. Everybody’s waiting. My mum’s making a special afternoon tea.’

‘That,’ said Professor Scoley, ‘puts the tin lid on it.’

I took hold of one of his arms and Ruby grabbed the other, retrieving his briefcase which had fallen to the platform, and we pulled him along towards the booking hall where the station-master was waiting.

‘Have you got your ticker?’ I asked.

He tried to flap ineffectually at his pockets, which was difficult as he was holding his stick and we were holding him up.

‘Never mind. Just pretend to be deaf and dumb if he also for it.’

Professor Scoley shrugged us off and straightened up.

‘Good evening, officer,’ he said to the station-master. ‘These young ladies and I are all deaf and dumb.’

The man let us pass, saying.

‘You’re that red-headed kid from the Rising Sun, aren’t you? I’ll be having a word with your dad later on.’

‘No, I’m not her. She hasn’t got a dog.’

‘Where is the car?’ asked Professor Scoley.

‘What car?’

‘The car to take me to my doom. The hearse. Why aren’t those two harpies Bobs and Dittany here to look after me? Dobs and Bitterly.’

‘They haven’t got a car. We’ve got to walk, but it’s not far. Come on, we’ll be late.’

‘This is monstrous. A monumental discourtesy. Gimme my briefcase, you girl.’

He took a long swig from a silver flask.

‘My dad’ll kill me,’ said Ruby. ‘Shall we just leave him here and run away? Go and live in the railway carriage? Please?’

‘We can’t. Anyway he might not tell.’

Professor Scoley lurched to the side of the road and fumbled with his trouser buttons.

‘Walk on, quick. Don’t look.’

We heard it gushing onto fallen leaves, a watering can full, a hosepipe full. When it stopped at last, we turned round to see Professor Scoley slumped against a tree trunk, apparently asleep.

‘This is hopeless. Go and get my did. I’ll stay here with Boy to guard him. Go on, Ruby. Run!’

She ran off down the road leaving me with the Professor and Boy. After a while he opened one eye, looked at Boy, and said, ‘Why is that sheep here?’

The church clock stuck half-past two. A middle-aged man and woman hand-in-hand came down the hill. They stared at us as they passed, walked on a few paces, stopped and turned back.

‘Is your father ill, dear?’ the woman asked.

‘He’s not my father.’

‘Best not get involved dearest,’ the man murmured. ‘You never know… can’t afford to get caught up in any situation.’

‘He’s an escaped lunatic. I’m just guarding him ill the police get here.’

‘Jolly good,’ said the man. ‘That’s the ticker.’

Off they went. Professor Scoley was snoring and a blood-sucker was walking up his beard towards his open mouth.

I flicked it off with a twig. I thought of all the scones and sandwiches and cakes in our kitchen waiting to be carried round to Beulah House. Dittany and Bobs going mad with anxiety. Professor Scoley’s teeth were yellow, his shirt gaped open under the bow-tie half-hidden in the rivulets of his beard, his flies were buttoned wrong. Boy sniffed at a tallow shin above a fallen woollen sock. The church clock was striking the quarter when Percy came round the corner with our wheel-barrow, Ruby running at his side.

We pushed the Professor through the village with his long green herring-boned legs doubled up and his arms draped over the sides of the wheelbarrow. Needless to ay there was a bunch of boys hanging about on the steps

of the rec.