||[Jul. 21st, 2006|06:55 pm]
Goddess help me, I only ever get to Chapter Three
Written when my mind was supposed to be cleaning out the wardrobe. Funny how things things come to you when you're doing something mundane. I was inspired by British children's books from the 1960s and 70s; there were so many of them in that time. I wrote it for the 8-12 age gap; In the ideal world, I'll finsh this, with pictures too.
Any advice/mistake pointing out/criticisms/adorations all welcome.
In a small country on the edge of a small town, in a tumble down cottage by a big forest, Richard Postlethwaite was sitting in his room reading a large book he had found in his grandfather’s study last year. It was a big, musty old thing, full of curious old words and very few pictures. Richard didn’t mind this- he liked learning new words, and he could read quite a great deal more than most other children his age anyway. beside that, the pictures made all the reading worth while.
The book was about robbers, as far as Richard could figure; travelling around the countryside stealing valuable things from rich people. They were a like Robin Hood, but they had horses and guns instead of a bow and arrows. Guns were a nasty affair in Richard’s opinion, but he was so desperate to like the robbers that he decided they might just be for show, to make the rich people give over their jewellery.
The pictures were in black and white mostly, but every now and then there was a colour one, and it was one of these coloured ones that Richard was looking at now. The Robbers (called ‘Highwaymen’ according to the pictures title) were holding up a carriage under the light of a full moon. The people in the carriage looked very bad-tempered, and very rich. The Highwaymen (called Dean Lawry and Oliver Cobb) were laughing, holding out their hands into which a beautiful woman was putting her necklace.
Richard looked at this picture for so long that when he heard his mother calling him down to lunch he noticed his arm had gone to sleep. He put the book aside, carefully marking his place with a scrap of paper, and went downstairs, rubbing his arm to get the blood back into it. In the kitchen, Mrs. Postlethwaite had set the table with home made chicken soup, fresh bread rolls, slices of ham from the next-door neighbour’s pigs and cold potato salad. There was a large green enamel teapot steaming from the spout and a plate of scones with homemade jam and cream sitting under a fly net on the bench.
“And what have you been up to?” his mother asked him, coming out of the larder with a pot of mustard in her hands.
“Reading mostly.” Richard said, sitting down in his usual spot in front of the stove- next to the wonky chair that only the cat used. She was there now, curled up in such a tight fluffy ball that it was hard to tell which end was which. Her full name was Ragdoll Sally Miss Lazypaws, but Sally was all anybody ever called her unless she was in trouble. “Where’s Dad?” Richard asked, patting Sally.
“In the garden fetching some eggs and silver beet before it rains.” Richard’s mother replied, taking some large china teacups from the top of the stove. They lived there so they would be nice and warm when it came time to pour the tea. Richard’s mother said having warm cups was very important for a good cup of tea. Richard had never had tea from a cold cup so he couldn’t argue it.
Richard’s father came in at that moment, a basket of eggs in one hand and Barkis, the Irish Wolf hound at his feet. Barkis was too big for the tiny cottage really, but they had only just moved there last month and they had owned Barkis for a much longer time than that, so they didn’t think it right to get rid of him. Barkis wagged his tail at Richard and flopped down in front of the stove, in between Richard and Sally. Sally woke and watched him with her yellow eyes, but she didn’t move. She was used to Barkis, and although she liked to pretend sometimes that she didn’t like him, Richard had often seen them from his window, playing in the garden.
“Where’s the silver beet?” Richard’s mother asked, looking in the basket.
“Ah- I forgot that.” Richard’s father replied. “I’ll go back for it after lunch.”
“I’ll go get it Dad.” Richard said, getting up.
“After lunch then.” His mother said, motioning him down and pouring the tea.
They all sat down to lunch and piled their plates, and Richard’s father told them about the man down the road selling his antique shop. Richard’s parents loved old things and almost everything from the house to the car to the things they owned was old- even a lot of their clothes. Richard had all new clothes, but they did seem to have an old-fashioned appearance about them.
“Are you going to buy the shop then, Dad?’ Richard asked, slipping a bit of ham to Barkis.
“We’ll have to ask the bank about that.” He said. “There’s a bit of work to be done on it. Fix the gutters, paint it- there are some tiles coming off the roof and a mountain of stuff clogging up the back room. We’ll need more than just the buying money.”
“It needs a good clean, that’s for certain.” Richard’s mother.
“It does, but all the stock comes with it, so we should be able to make our money back before long, especially after everything’s cleaned and done up a bit.”
“Why’s he selling it, Dad?” Richard asked.
“His brother used to help him run it, but the brother hasn’t been well and stuck in bed since last year and the old boy’s having trouble with the up-keep. He wants to move to the sea.”
“Do his brother a world of good.” Richard’s mother said, buttering a roll.
Richard nodded- he knew that if you were old or just very ill, the sea air was the best thing for it. He supposed it was because of the saltiness or the availability of fresh fish all the time. Richard also knew that fish was very good for you.
As his parents began having a very boring grown up talk about equity and bank loans, Richard’s mind wandered, thinking about the hidden treasures that might lay curled up and forgotten in the back room. He had been into the shop once before when his father had gone looking for a big kitchen table (the very one they were now sitting at).
It had been hanging from the roof, and while Richard’s father and the old man had been getting it down Richard was able to sneak off down the shop for a look at other things. He had come up with an old model of a ship, stuffed under a table between a box of mismatched china plates and a dinted bread bin. The sails were missing and a few masts were cracked, but the old man said he could have it for nothing so he took it home.
His mother borrowed a book on model ships from the library, so Richard and his father sat up in the study one night and fixed up the old model. Richard’s father was very crafty with his hands, and his mother who was excellent at sewing made up some sails out of a couple of handkerchiefs, so between the three of them they came up with a fine ship. They christened her the Grey Lady (after Richard’s favourite ghost story) and sat her on the top of Richard’s chest of drawers, where the moonlight would cast shadows of it on the wall.
Barkis pressed his cold nose against Richard’s bare ankle and gave him a look that clearly said ‘give me more ham.’ Richard cast a side glance at his parents- his father was concentrating on getting the last of his soup out of the bowl and his mother had gotten up to fetch the plate of scones, so Richard slipped the rest of his roll to Barkis, going back to his dreams of hidden treasures.
Early the next week, when Richard had almost forgotten about the shop and was sitting at the kitchen table eating brownies and attempting to build the world’s longest house of Cards (the rain prevented any outdoor fun), his father came rushing in from the car waving a letter in his hand. The bank had agreed on the loan, and Richard’s parent’s spent a few minutes laughing happily and dancing around the kitchen. Richard smiled to seem them doing it, but was a little annoyed when the vibrations from it razed his Castle of Cards.
“So we own an antique shop now?” Richard said, picking up his cards.
“Well, we have the money for it.” Richard’s mother said, dropping into a chair and fanning herself with the letter.
“It’s up to the old man, if he still wants to sell it.” Richard’s father said. “I hope he does, but t he money can always go on this place if he changes his mind I suppose. We could do with a new roof…”
“He won’t change his mind Dad, he wants to move to the sea, remember?”
His father laughed and tousled Richard’s hair. “That he does. Come on, let’s go down and see him now.”
“Now?” Richard’s mother said, turning to look out the window. “It’s pouring down!”
“It’s only a bit of rain!” Richard’s father said, getting their jackets off the peg in the hall.
“Well you two can carry on, I’m going to stay here and put a pie on for supper.”
This part occurs a little later when they've bought the shop and are in the process of cleaning it out.
Richard could hardly believe it. The whole room was filled to picture rail height with a very orderly pile of old suitcases- and every one of them, on inspection, was filled with bits and pieces. Around the edges of the suitcase mountain were more cardboard boxes filled with things and a few bits of furniture.
In the first ten minutes they uncovered Bowler hats, top hats and straw boaters, fox furs with bright glass eyes, some ratty looking stuffed birds under a glass dome, a biscuit tin full of coins and metal badges, three sewing machines and five photo albums full of black and white photos of stern looking people.
While Richard’s father was telling Mrs. Postlethwaite that he was starting to feel bad for paying as little as he did for the place (‘there’s got be enough in here to pay half the loan off!’) Richard sat on a dusty armchair by the kitchenette door.
He had found a small golden key in a pocket of a man’s jacket in one of the first suitcases, and now he had come across a tin with a tiny lock on it. Richard reached into his own pocket where he’d put the key (thinking it was too small to leave lying around but too interesting to put back again) and tried it. They key slipped in and the lock gave a tiny click. Richard lifted the lid and the dull light of the back room fell upon an ornate necklace.
“Cor Dad, look at this!” Richard exclaimed, fishing the piece out of the tin and holding it into a shaft of sunlight. Richard’s father came over, wiping his brow.
“Gosh, that’s a stunning piece, isn’t it?” he said, taking the necklace. “Shame the clasp’s broken.”
The chain was linked with other smaller chains, each one leading to an oval stone and then back to the larger chain. Each oval setting (of which there was about 15) had a cluster of what could have been diamonds, and then another oval hanging off the bottom. There was something about the necklace that interested Richard very much, and although he wasn’t exactly sure what it was, he liked it a lot. It was almost alive.
Richard’s father tilted it gently so the stones made little rainbows on the ceiling. “You know, Rich,” his father said slowly, “I wouldn’t be surprised if they were real diamonds in there.” His father gave it back to him and he lowered it gently back into the tin. “They’re worth lots aren’t they?” Richard said, remembering the colour plate in the book at home.
“They certainly are.” Richard’s father said, leaning against the wall. “Tell you what. Your mum knows a lot about jewellery. Take it back home to her, see what she thinks.” Richard’s father fished about in his pocket for a five dollar bill. ‘Get yourself some hot chips on the way- and don’t lose that tin!”
Richard took the money and shoved the tin in the belt of his trousers and the tiny key back into his pocket with the money. He left the shop on a mission of hot chips and diamonds, his secret cargo making him feel like an international spy in foreign waters.
Inside the fish shop it was hot, but Richard didn’t want to take off his jumper for risk of attracting interest to the tin. The man behind the counter took far too long to make the chips in Richard’s opinion. Something about the whole situation was making him nervous, and although he tried to reason with himself that it was just the fact that he had a secret diamond necklace in his trousers, he couldn’t help feeling there was something more.
When the chips were finally done them Richard took them and tore off down the road like something possessed, looking behind him every few minutes and jumping suddenly when a cat came out of a nearby gate. He reached the front of the cottage in a sweat, feeling that he was almost finally safe.
He was almost about to turn into his gate when Barkis came bounding out of it. He collided with Richard and knocked the parcel of chips out of his hands. He felt immediately for the tin, which was safely wedged where he’d first put it.
“Watch where you’re going, stupid dog!” Richard shouted getting up, and then felt immediately awful. He had never yelled at Barkis before, and the chips hadn’t split open- why was he so touchy all of a sudden?
He ripped the top off the package and dropped a few chips for the dog by way of apology, gave him a rough part on the head and scuffed inside, feeling slightly bruised in the ribs where Barkis’ giant head had hit him.
“What’re you doing back so quickly?” Richard’s mother asked, coming through the loungeroom door with the ironing in her hands. Richard dumped the chips on the hall table and fished in his pants. He bought out the tin and passed it to his mother, then picked up the chips again and, feeling much more relaxed, wandered into the kitchen.
“Dad sent me home for lunch, and told me to give that tin to you.”
Getting himself a glass of lemonade, Richard suddenly realised his mother had gone very quiet. He walked across the hall back into the lounge and saw here sitting pale faced and wide eyed in the chair, staring down at the open tin. She looked up at Richard and grinned rather stupidly, then lifted the necklace out of the tin. It seemed to be even more alive than before- its shining stones sending tiny rainbows bouncing off the walls.
“Did you find this-?” Richard’s mother began.
“In the shop yeah.” He finished. “In a suitcase in the back room.”
“Oh Richard, it’s so lovely.”
“Dad said you could tell if they were diamonds.” He replied, finding himself gazing dully at the necklace.
The way it hung loose and heavy in his mother’s hands… it was hypnotic to look at. It was as if every rocking of its lower oval was a lead-up to another sparkle of rainbow light.
“I’ve no doubt about it.” Richard’s mother whispered. She shook herself slightly, coming out of her trance. “Richard, this is a very valuable necklace. Very valuable.”
“We shouldn’t keep it here.” Said Richard, becoming wary again. “Someone could take it.” He felt suddenly as if everyone in the village magically knew it was there, and that they were planning to break in the night to steal it.
“Well you didn’t tell anyone we had it did you?” his mother asked, putting it back in the tin, but setting aside, leaving the lid open so she could glance at it. Richard shook his head no.
“Well then, there’s no need to worry.” She replied. “All the same…”
Perhaps Richard’s wariness was catching, because she sprang up suddenly and took the tin with her to the mantelpiece, where a very large old wooden clock sat on the mantel. She reached around behind it and opened the back, then tucked the tin inside.
“There. Now no one knows it’s there but you and me. It’s our secret.” She said, putting her hands on his shoulders. They both stood silent for am minute looking at the clock, as if waiting for something to happen. Then Richard’s mother made a small sighing noise and picked up the ironing again.
“Get on and eat you chips love, before they get cold.” She said, disappearing up the stairs. Richard nodded mutely and turned back into the kitchen, his mind filled with thoughts of double checking the door locks before bed.