Sacred Country

Sacred Country by Rose Tremain Read Free Book Online

Book: Sacred Country by Rose Tremain Read Free Book Online
Authors: Rose Tremain
the universe and never finding it because his balloon travelled as fast as the sun. He found Australia instead and decided to stay there and then on his first night in an Australian jungle, surrounded by parrots and kangaroos all chattering and jabbering in a language he couldn’t understand, he looked up at the sky and saw it there,the universe, and thought, oh bother it, oh sacrébleu, it’s too far away to find. Australia’s better.
    There was quite a lot in this story that Pearl didn’t understand, but it sent her to sleep and that was the idea of it, to get her to sleep and start snoring, so that I could just lie there and listen to her, like you listen to the sea, not thinking of anything at all except the sound.
    In the morning, Irene told me about Mr Harker giving her the sack and going off to France. She said: ‘I don’t know why I’m telling you this, Mary.’
    I told her I would take Pearl to school with me. She could do her Knitting Nancy under Miss McRae’s desk. She could look after our silkworms.
    Irene said Miss McRae would never allow this, but I said: ‘Miss McRae looks like a fir tree, but inside she’s kind.’
    Irene kept shaking her head and saying no, no, so I told Irene a thing I never told my mother or father, that I was Miss McRae’s best pupil, with my drawings of clouds on the wall and thirteen stars against my name on the star chart and that I had no friends at all.
    ‘Well,’ said Irene, ‘it’d only be for the mornings …’
    So I began it the following day, taking Pearl to school with me while Irene went to Mr Harker’s and set to work polishing everything for his return from France. I told Miss McRae this was a temporary arrangement, that Pearl could be a silkworm monitor and that if she wasn’t allowed to be there, I wouldn’t be able to come to school. She shook her head, just like Irene had done, turning it from side to side, so that little thin hairpins fell out of her grey bun, but then she found a small chair and desk and put it by hers and sat Pearl in it.
    ‘Luckily for you, Mary,’ she said, ‘I was born in a lighthouse, or I would not be the kind of person I am.’
    I stayed at Irene’s for a week. My father came while I was at school and told her this would be best and gave her ten shillings for my food.
    In my life to come, I would sometimes remember it, my week at Irene’s when I couldn’t say the syllables of Marguerite’s name.
    I remember the feel of my body, trying to grow its man’s skin between the settee cushions and the green eiderdown.
    I remember Pearl’s love of the silkworms.
    I remember the marmalade sandwiches.
    I remember Irene at the bedroom door, saying: ‘Goodnight, my doves, and dream of princes.’

CHAPTER THREE
1955
‘The Last Loomis’
    Learning to yodel was far more terrible than Walter had imagined.
    Pete said it was a sound born in the mountains, where a man could hear his own echo. He said it was a shame there were no mountains in Suffolk.
    Walter tried to teach himself by copying Jimmie Rodgers. Then, on his parents’ wireless, he heard a Canadian singer named Hank Snow, known as ‘The Yodelling Ranger’, making that same easy, high-spilling sound and he said to Pete: ‘This confirms me in what I’m doing.’ Snow sang a song so sad, it made Walter’s spine ache. The song was called ‘I Don’t Hurt Anymore’.
    Customers to the Loomis shop sometimes caught an unexpected burst of Walter’s yodel-practice coming from the yard and the Misses Cunningham, in particular, were not at ease with it. ‘You know, Amy,’ said one sister to the other, ‘I think Loomis must be killing things more slowly, in a way that makes them sound human.’
    The task was so hard. Perhaps it would kill him? It was like trying to put fizz into something still. It was difficult for Pete to believe that all this struggle had arisen from a night of rain and booze. He warned Walter not to push himself. He became aware that the boy was running a

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