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BOOK: i 51ddca29df3edad1

He had been proud when his first child was born and that a boy, but he had experienced no feeling of wonder until Gail had been put into his arms, and then it was as if a miracle had been performed for him alone.

He had no longer believed in miracles. He had sung of miracles in choirs and concerts for years;

miracles had been ten a penny. And then Gail happened to him.

Esther had, at first, been jealous of his feeling for the child; then the next year Terry had come, and things balanced them18

selves out. She had John and lerry, and ne nad oali. sometimes he had felt guilty about his almost utter lack of feeling for the boys and had tried to rectify this by being more friendly towards them. Yet with the insight of children they had gauged the parental balance of his affections. That was why, he had surmised, they had teased and tormented Gail until she was able to stand up for herself.

His wife came towards him now.

"I thought it would hold you up," she said.

"Another hour and the way it's coming down and it might have."

When he shivered slightly she said, "Go in the drawing-room, the meal won't be more than fifteen minutes."

As he went into the room John's voice came up through the floor again, bawling, "I can't find it, Mother." And he heard Esther exclaiming impatiently, "Leave it 1 Leave it! That'll be the day when you're able to find anything without it jumping up and hitting you."

There was a big fire roaring in the open grate. The room looked comfortable, colourful and lived in. He sat down on the couch and stretched out his feet, and all of a sudden he had a longing for a drink. That was the only thing that was lacking in his home life .

well, perhaps not the only thing, but something that became an irritation at a moment like this, a moment when he wanted to relax.

But Esther was firm that no intoxicating drink of any kind should enter the house. This was one of the standards she had brought over from her mother.

He often wondered how his father-in-law had managed over the years to cover up the smell of liquor on his breath. He didn't do it with scented cachous or mints; he must have had some special formula because he had come into this very house, his eyes hazy with whisky yet not a smell from him, and Esther had never suspected a thing. When her father was gay and he talked loudly and laughed a lot, she put it down to a business success. In a moment of weakness, once she had admitted that his manner embarrassed her at such times. He had, on this occasion, stared at her amazed, wondering how such an astute woman could be hoodwinked. But there were none so blind as those who did not wish to see. It would have been unthinkable

Saturday night, then on Sunday walk with stately step up the aisle to his pew, not paid for any longer but definitely reserved for himself and his family.

The sound of congenial commotion now came to him from the hall and he heard Esther say, "Why, Robbie, it's beautiful, but you shouldn't, you know you shouldn't," and a thick voice answered in airy tones.

"Why shouldn't I, Mrs. Blenheim? Why shouldn't I?"

"Harry 1' He hitched himself up straight on the couch and looked towards the door where Esther was entering the room carrying a square box.

"Look what Robbie's brought me for a Christmas present. It's too much I'm telling him."

He got to his feet as she came towards him and looked down at the highly polished foot square box inlaid with mother-of- pearl.

"What is it?" he said.

"A workbox. Look at it." She lifted the lid to disclose a tray of small compartments with inlaid tops and pearl knobs, holding strands of coloured silks and boot buttons studded with coloured glass.

"It's got everything," she said.

"Look!" She put it down on the couch and lifted out a tray to disclose beneath more compartments holding small bobbins of thread, needles, pins and all the accoutrements necessary for a Victorian lady's needlework.

Harry lifted his eyes to the young man standing by Esther's side.

"It's an exquisite job, Robbie," he said "Where did you pick it up?"

"Oh, you know ... I get around." Robbie laughed and his thin parted lips showed a wide set of blunt looking white teeth.

Harry laughed back into the face before him, the face that yelled out its inheritance.

Some Jewish faces were distinguished only by the shape of the nose but every feature of Robbie Dunn's face proclaimed him to be a Jew. His skin was thick and of a slightly greasy texture; his eyes were round, keen looking and black; and his hair was thick, straight and black.

His face was long and if it had followed its structural design would have ended in a pointed chin, but here it levelled itself out, leaving the jaw square, which in a subtle way emphasised the whole.

jmjuuic uuiiii, ai mneieen, was only nve root six and a halt, but he was thick set, and if when he spoke, he had hunched his shoulders and stretched out his hands, the onlooker wouldn't have been surprised; but when he did speak his voice surprised most people because be spoke with the idiom of the workingclass Tynesider.

Robbie Dunn, like most of his race, had a business head on his shoulders and was out to make money. He was both calculating and discerning. There were in him two strong and overpowering emotions: one was gratitude even for the smallest kindness, the other was hate for even the smallest insult. He had brought Esther Blenheim a present but it was out of gratitude to her husband, because it was Harry Blenheim who had helped his mother when she had needed help most, at the time when she was left without a husband, mother or father, all three being killed in an old car that should never have been on the road. And it was this man who had given him ten pounds to get started.

He hadn't loaned him ten pounds, he had given it to him.

Robbie now stood looking at Esther as she went into ecstasy over the box. Then his eyes came to rest again on Harry. He liked Harry Blenheim. He was a nice bloke, a good bloke was Harry Blenheim. If he told the truth he was the only one he liked out of the whole bunch; except perhaps Mrs. O'Toole, the grannie. He wondered why he didn't cotton on to Gail because she had always been nice to him, but he had the idea she was tarred with the same brush as her brothers.

"It's a beautiful thing, Robbie," said Harry now, 'but as Mrs.

Blenheim says'--he nodded towards Esther as he gave her her full title, which he always did when speaking of her to either Janet or Robbie because she had made this a stipulation of the association between them and the Dunns--'it' would bring a good few pounds today. It's real Victoriana. "

"Dare say," said Robbie nonchalantly; 'but I only paid fifteen bob for it. Honest. " He nodded.

"Fifteen bob in a village yon side of the river, down by Washington way you know. But I've cleaned it up a bit since I got it. There was a hairn playing with it on the steps of a house, pulling all the buttons out. I went straight up and knocked on the door and said, " That's too it. " Quick as lightning she said, " You'll not, you know. "

"All right," I said, "fifteen."

"I'll take it," she said, an' whipped it up out of the hairn's hands and set it screaming, and I didn't linger to do any comforting but made off with me box, and here it is. "

They were all laughing now. Robbie could spin a yarn. He'd always had the power to make Harry laugh. His tales very seldom enhanced him, they were nearly always told against himself, which was clever Harry thought, as it tended to make people like him rather than otherwise.

Harry had not the slightest doubt that Robbie would one day get where he wanted to go, and he would take pleasure in climbing the obstacles that were set up against him. And he was aware inwardly that Robbie hadn't to go any further than this house to find barricades being erected against him. But as he had told himself before, it was as well to ignore them. Young men garnered wisdom as they garnered years, at least he hoped that this would happen to his sons, especially his eldest.

Gail came running into the room now, she rarely ever walked anywhere.

She was saying loudly, "Gran's starving, and she's not the only one."

Then she broke off and exclaimed, "Oh, hello, Robbie ... Coo 1 what's that ? Who's that for ?"

"It's for me, madam," her mother said, inclining her head slowly towards her daughter.

"And remember that."

"Oh, isn't it sweet!" Gail was fingering the tiny bobbins of thread.

"Did you bring it, Robbie?"

For reply he jerked his head, and again she said, "It's lovely." Then looking at her mother she remarked bluntly, "You won't use it, Mother."

Esther Blenheim closed her eyes and pressed her lips together and assumed annoyance before she said, "Well, if I don't use it. Miss, I can assure you you're not going to get the chance."

"Oh!" Gail flounced now.

"It'll be mine some day." She grinned at her father, and as her mother exclaimed on a high note, "Really!" Harry Blenheim burst out laughing again.

It was at this moment that John came into the room. He stopped just within the door and surveyed the group; then said sullenly, "Gran's waiting."

as his father was dark. All his features and colouring were those of his mother. His appearance in the room changed the whole attitude of the group, even Gail stopped her chattering.

As Esther now said, "We're coming, we're coming," Robbie Dunn walked down the room towards John Blenheim, and the nearer he approached him the shorter he felt, but he kept his eyes on him, and the tall boy returned his stare. It wasn't until Robbie was at the room door that he said in a casual way and over his shoulder, "I'll wait for me mother if you don't mind, Mrs. Blenheim. It's pretty rough out; I had to leave the car on the main road."

"You've got a car now?" Gall's voice was high as she pushed past him into the hall before confronting him squarely.

He looked at her for a moment in silence, then said, "Aye, I've got a car."

"You don't mean the van?"

"No, not the van. I've still got the van, but I've got a car an'


And I'll tell you something' else. " His glance now swept from Harry Blenheim to his wife, then to their son before it returned to Gail, and again he allowed a silence to elapse before delivering his news:

"I've taken a shop the day, in Pine Street off the Market."

The silence was engendered now by amazement. It went on and on until Harry Blenheim said quietly, "You've taken a shop in Pine Street, Robbie?"

"Aye, Mr. Blenheim, a shop, I'm goin' in for antiques."

Harry shook his head slowly. At fifteen Robbie Dunn had started with a fruit barrow. He had given him the money to get going. He had only kept on fruit for six months, then had taken a stall in the Market, a cheap-jack stall selling tawdry souvenirs and throw-outs from the warehouses, a stall at which John had once said only mentals or dim-wits would leave their money. When he was sixteen he had gone in for secondhand clothes. But that didn't last very long; there were too many at that game, at least in the Market. And then he had taken up the white elephant trade. Going round the jumble sales he had collected enough bric-a-brac to fill his stall and when it went in almost a day he said he knew that this was the line he had to He had made enough money on a Wednesday and a Saturday to provide him with a van and to pay three women on a Satur day to do the jumble sales. And now, here he was saying he had a car and he was taking a shop in Pine Street, and rents in Pine Street were to be reckoned with.

He had to hand it to him, he had push. He only hoped that John, in his way, would show as much initiative when the time came. He dismissed the doubts that rose to the surface of his mind and said, "Does your mother know this?"

"No." Robbie grinned now at Harry.

"I was keepin' it for a sort of Christmas box for her, but ... but somehow it just came out."

It came out, Harry knew, because he wanted John to hear it. It was odd about the feeling between his son and Janet's son. They had never hit it off from the first moments they had come into contact when Robbie was seven and John was five. The feeling between these two boys had worried him at tiroes, It was a feeling that was not the result of association; it had been from the beginning a feeling that stemmed from a deep elemental knowledge of an old hate, a hate that was beyond their consciousness, a hate that went far back down into the rock of time but which was held to the present by a gossamer thread of awareness racial awareness.

Janet Dunn came into the hall now. She looked at Esther Blenheim and said, "Mrs. O'Toole's getting restless," and Esther said, "All right, Janet. And look, don't you stay, you get off with Robbie here. I suppose you've seen this wonderful present he's brought me." Without waiting for Janet's comment she went on laughingly, "I'll enlist the battalion to see to the dishes, But anyway, you get yourself off now.

And Robbie wants to talk to you, he's got something to tell you. "

Janet Dunn looked towards her son. Her eyebrows werci raised in enquiry, but her face held a blank look, giving nothing away. She said flatly, "That'll be the day when he hasn't got| something to tell me."

The remark too was flat, seemingly1 holding no meaning except to convey that this mother was used' to her son's chatter; yet when they exchanged glances there passed between them a language that only they could read, and across the hall and through the door that led into the kitchen, and the Blenheim family went into the dining-room, there to be met by Mary O'Toale, Harry Blenheim's grandmother.

"Is nobody hungry in this house except me?"

"It won't be a minute," said Esther Blenheim, going down the length of the room to the hatch at the bottom.

Taking her seat by her great-grandmother, Gail leant towards her and said under her breath, "You've got a tapeworm Gran."

"Watch it 1 Watch it!"

This remark sent Gail off into high peals of laughter and she leant her head against the old woman's arm and hung on to it. She loved her great Grannie O'Toole; she was more with it than some of her own pals.

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