Read Pure Juliet Online

Authors: Stella Gibbons

Pure Juliet

CONTENTS
About the Book

Creepy. Peculiar. Fairy. Goblin. Liar. Weirdo. Crank. Genius.

No one knows what to make of Juliet Slater, not even her mother. And clothes, boys, school, friends, the changing seasons and what other people think – none of these things seem to matter to Juliet. She spends hours in her room with incomprehensible mathematical text books, her mind voyaging in strange seas of thought, alone. Is she a genius? It might take the rest of her life to find out.

While Stella Gibbons was celebrated for her beloved bestseller
Cold Comfort Farm
, the manuscript for
Pure Juliet
lay unseen and forgotten until it was brought to light by her family in 2014, and is published here for the first time in Vintage Classics. A tale that travels from an eco-millionaire's British country idyll to an
Arabian Nights
-style fantasy of the Middle East, this is a treat for fans of this witty, curious and always surprising author.

About the Author

Stella Gibbons was born in London in 1902. She went to the North London Collegiate School and studied journalism at University College, London. She then spent ten years working for various newspapers, including the
Evening Standard
. Stella Gibbons is the author of twenty-seven novels, three volumes of short stories, and four volumes of poetry. Her first publication was a book of poems,
The Mountain Beast
(1930), and her first novel
Cold Comfort Farm
(1932) won the Femina Vie Heureuse Prize for 1933. Among her works are
Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm
(1940),
Westwood
(1946),
Conference at Cold Comfort Farm
(1959) and
Starlight
(1967). She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1950. In 1933 she married the actor and singer Allan Webb. They had one daughter. Stella Gibbons died in 1989.

ALSO BY STELLA GIBBONS

Cold Comfort Farm

Bassett

Enbury Heath

Nightingale Wood

My American

Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm

The Rich House

Ticky

The Bachelor

Westwood

The Matchmaker

Conference at Cold Comfort Farm

Here Be Dragons

White Sand and Grey Sand

The Charmers

Starlight

For Rosemary Steiner

STELLA GIBBONS
Pure Juliet

‘Yet once in a while the miracle seems to occur; an effect of great splendour is produced without visible cause. There will be a sort of immaculate conception, and a mind of great power and originality will develop, where heredity and environment would lead one least to expect it, engendering in itself, apparently without any fertilizing contact, a violent impulse towards some science, some art, which it pursues with unaccountable love.'

Margaret Lane, in an essay on
‘The Boyhood of Fabre'

‘La demarche scientifique . . . est une patiente
recherche, une minutieuse comparaison d'un petit
nombre de facteurs, dont le savant essaie les rapports
profonds, cachés sons des apparences superficielles.'

Pierre Gaxotte, de l'Académie française

‘Theory is grey, but green-gold is the tree of life.'

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

BOOK ONE
1

‘I'll be
more
than glad to see the back of
that
one.'

Miss Roberts jerked her head towards a solitary figure moving swiftly across the otherwise deserted playground of Hawley Road Comprehensive School.

‘Why 'specially her? She's extra bright, and doesn't muck about in class. I hardly notice her.'

‘She gives me the creeps.'

‘God knows there are enough things here to give anyone the creeps. Thank Him we shan't be seeing any of them for six weeks. Come on.'

Mrs Arrowby flung a bright scarf about her neck, shook back a shock of ragged hair, snatched up a case heavy with books, and stood impatiently while Miss Roberts hauled up her jeans and adjusted her linen jacket. The women teachers' cloakroom was empty now but for these two.

‘Get your skates on, Mary. I can't wait to get out of this place,' Mrs Arrowby said.

It was the end of July, but not the end of summer. Roofs and houses baked in the late, blazing light that filled the horizon
and, beyond the silent expanse of playground, home-going traffic was beginning to roar.

‘She gone?'

Miss Roberts opened the cloakroom door a little wider and took a longish look. ‘Of course she's gone. You are jittery, aren't you? Halfway home by now . . . Where does she live, by the way?'

‘Oh somewhere on one of those new estates between here and the Archway – I don't remember . . . We're off, Peters, bye-bye until September,' she called to the school caretaker, who was approaching with keys swinging from a finger.

‘Bye-bye. Enjoy your hols. And if you can't be good, be careful.'

‘Saucy old . . .' The sentence was lost in a wave to the man as the two young women left the building and began to cross the playground.

They spoke no more. The exhaustion of the school year fell upon them, together with the unnatural silence that had invaded the shabby building with the departure of the twelve hundred adolescents who, every day, had tramped through its corridors, sending their ugly fresh voices ringing about its great rooms. The shadows of one or two plane trees, their trunks deeply scarred with initials in spite of the wire fences surrounding them, drifted over the two women as they passed beneath.

‘Well, you won't have to get the creeps over Slater next term,' said Mrs Arrowby, as they reached the gates.

‘She hasn't left!'

‘She has, though,' Mrs Arrowby nodded. ‘No university entrance exams for her.'

‘What – after all those bloody A levels?' Miss Roberts marched on. ‘I thought she'd be a cert.'

‘No. We did write to the father, of course, pointing out how bright she is and so on – blah blah blah. And the Head got a letter back, quite well written and spelled, I heard, just saying Julie was going out to work like any other girl and no thank you.'

‘What did
she
say?'

‘I never asked her. Come on, we'll miss our train.'

They began to walk fast, and their footsteps died away under larger trees, covered in the swart green of late summer, until they were lost in the crowds of the high street.

The person described as giving Miss Roberts the creeps proceeded at a swift pace ahead of the two teachers. She was noticeable for this unusual quickness of movement; for her hair, which was so fair as to look silver in certain lights; and for the expression in her eyes, small and so full of light that their colour was hard to name. These eyes remained fixed steadily ahead of her, looking unseeingly down the long, ugly, crammed street, with an inward gaze. Her sallow face was expressionless. She was thinking. A forehead too high and her lack of colour, added to a breast almost as flat as a boy's, made her unattractive. But it was another quality, difficult to define, that had given Miss Roberts the creeps.

She was carelessly dressed in that global uniform of the young, a shabby T-shirt and denim jeans; and she carried a case full of books. A cigarette stuck out between her thin lips, and as she smoked one down, she paused to light another.

Presently she turned aside, and left the crowded high street, following quieter and ever more ruinous roads in process of demolition, until she reached a block of new council flats. The lowest storey was sunk below pavement level behind a tiny garden and a wall some six feet high – a sign of the times (vandals might hesitate to jump down into a place whence a sudden leap back was not possible).

Juliet Slater glanced down at the garden as she passed: grass was clipped and smooth; beds were weeded and bearing the dahlias, Japanese chrysanthemums and late geraniums as if autumn had come early. Ivy and passionflower twined up a plastic trellis beside shut French windows curtained in snowy nylon.

A look of interest came into her eyes as she glanced down into the little wells of greenery. She turned, and went up a railed ramp leading to the front doors at the back of the row, secured at night by massive locked gates.

She rang the bell of the fifth door, and soft chimes sounded inside.

In a moment, slow footsteps were audible.

‘Hullo, Julie,' said the woman who stood there, drowsily. ‘Didn't expect you yet. I was having a kip. I knew there'd be a bit of a party, seeing it's the last day . . .'

‘There was. I came away, couldn't stick it.'

She pushed past her mother. Mrs Slater put out a hand uncertainly, then withdrew it as Juliet went down the narrow passage, glancing as she went into a brightly coloured living-room, where a budgerigar perched on top of an armchair screamed and fluttered.

‘He wants his drink, bless him.' Mrs Slater was slowly following. ‘I'll just get it . . . D'you want your tea, love? I've got some pork luncheon – too hot for cooking.'

‘I don't mind, Mum. If it's ready.'

Juliet's voice came from her own room, a slip of a place furnished with a narrow, gaily covered bed, a wardrobe and chest of drawers painted pale blue and, in front of the window, a bare, square table that looked too large for the room. Juliet set down her case of books, called an impatient answer to a distant question from her mother, then glanced at the alarm clock ticking on the chest of drawers. It was just five o'clock.

She drew in a breath, not deep, not agitated, yet as if some inner pressure had forced it to come, then stealthily moved across the room and noiselessly locked the door.

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