The Borrowers

The Borrowers by Mary Norton Read Free Book Online Page B

Book: The Borrowers by Mary Norton Read Free Book Online
Authors: Mary Norton
felt tender and living in her hands and was covered with silvery hairs, and when she held the flower, like a parasol, between her eyes and the sky, she saw the sun's pale light through the veined petals. On a piece of bark she found a wood louse and she struck it lightly with her swaying flower. It curled immediately and became a ball, bumping softly away downhill in amongst the grass roots. But she knew about wood lice. There were plenty of them at home under the floor. Homily always scolded her if she played with them because, she said, they smelled of old knives. She lay back among the stalks of the primroses and they made a coolness between her and the sun, and then, sighing, she turned her head and looked sideways up the bank among the grass stems. Startled, she caught her breath. Something had moved above her on the bank. Something had glittered. Arrietty stared.

Chapter Nine
    I T WAS an eye. Or it looked like an eye. Clear and bright like the color of the sky. An eye like her own but enormous. A glaring eye. Breathless with fear, she sat up. And the eye blinked. A great fringe of lashes came curving down and flew up again out of sight. Cautiously, Arrietty moved her legs: she would slide noiselessly in among the grass stems and slither away down the bank.

    "Don't move!" said a voice, and the voice, like the eye, was enormous but, somehow, hushed—and hoarse like a surge of wind through the grating on a stormy night in March.
    Arrietty froze. "So this is it," she thought, "the worst and most terrible thing of all: I have been 'seen'! Whatever happened to Eggletina will now, almost certainly, happen to me!"
    There was a pause and Arrietty, her heart pounding in her ears, heard the breath again draw swiftly into the vast lungs. "Or," said the voice, whispering still, "I shall hit you with my ash stick."

    Suddenly Arrietty became calm. "Why?" she asked. How strange her own voice sounded! Crystal thin and harebell clear, it tinkled on the air.
    "In case," came the surprised whisper at last, "you ran toward me, quickly, through the grass ... in case," it went on, trembling a little, "you came and scrabbled at me with your nasty little hands."

    Arrietty stared at the eye; she held herself quite still. "Why?" she asked again, and again the word tinkled—icy cold it sounded this time, and needle sharp.
    "Things do," said the voice. "I've seen them. In India."

    Arrietty thought of her Gazetteer of the World. "You're not in India now," she pointed out.
    "Did you come out of the house?"
    "Yes," said Arrietty.
    "From whereabouts in the house?"
    Arrietty stared at the eye. "I'm not going to tell you," she said at last bravely.
    "Then I'll hit you with my ash stick!"
    "All right," said Arrietty, "hit me!"
    "I'll pick you up and break you in half!"
    Arrietty stood up. "All right," she said and took two paces forward.
    There was a sharp gasp and an earthquake in the grass: he spun away from her and sat up, a great mountain in a green jersey. He had fair, straight hair and golden eyelashes. "Stay where you are!" he cried.
    Arrietty stared up at him. So this was "the boy"! Breathless, she felt, and light with fear. "I guessed you were about nine," she gasped after a moment.
    He flushed. "Well, you're wrong, I'm ten." He looked down at her, breathing deeply. "How old are you?"
    "Fourteen," said Arrietty. "Next June," she added, watching him.
    There was silence while Arrietty waited, trembling a little. "Can you read?" the boy said at last.
    "Of course," said Arrietty. "Can't you?"
    "No," he stammered. "I mean—yes. I mean I've just come from India."

    "What's that got to do with it?" asked Arrietty.
    "Well, if you're born in India, you're bilingual. And if you're bilingual, you can't read. Not so well."
    Arrietty stared up at him: what a monster, she thought, dark against the sky.
    "Do you grow out of it?" she asked.
    He moved a little and she felt the cold flick of his shadow.
    "Oh yes," he said, "it wears off. My sisters were

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