Authors: Nina Bawden
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Animals, #General
THE PEPPERMINT PIG
Nina Bawden grew up in different parts of Britain: in London, in Norfolk, in Shropshire, and in South Wales, where she was evacuated during the war. She worked on farms in the holidays and, when she graduated from Somerville College, Oxford, she began to write. She has written seventeen novels for children and twenty-one for adults, most of which are still in print. She has four children and nine grandchildren and lives, with her husband, Austen Kark, in London in the winter and Greece in the summer. She likes friends and parties and swimming and travelling, often in quite dangerous parts of the world. In 1995 she went to Buckingham Palace, where she was given a CBE by the Queen.
Other books by Nina Bawden
GRANNY THE PAG
A HANDFUL OF THIEVES
OFF THE ROAD
THE OUTSIDE CHILD
THE REAL PLATO JONES
REBEL ON A ROCK
THE RUNAWAY SUMMER
THE SECRET PASSAGE
THE WITCH’S DAUGHTER
The Peppermint Pig
Published by the Penguin Group
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in the United States by J. B. Lippincott 1975
First published in Great Britain by Victor Gollancz 1975
Published in Puffin Books 1977
Copyright © Nina Bawden, 1975
All rights reserved
Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
In happy memory of my grandmother
had her finger chopped off in the butcher’s when she was buying half a leg of lamb. She had pointed to the place where she wanted her joint to be cut but then she decided she needed a bigger piece and pointed again. Unfortunately, Mr Grummett, the butcher, was already bringing his sharp chopper down. He chopped straight through her finger and it flew like a snapped twig into a pile of sawdust in the corner of the shop. It was hard to tell who was more surprised, Granny Greengrass or the butcher. But she didn’t blame him. She said, ‘I could never make up my mind and stick to it, Mr Grummett, that’s always been my trouble.’
Of course I can’t be certain Granny Greengrass said this because she died so long ago, years and years before I was born, before there were motor cars on
the streets or electricity in the houses or aeroplanes in the sky, but my grandmother, Emily Greengrass, told me she said it and I believe her, as her children, Poll and Theo and Lily and George, always believed her.
Emily Greengrass was very good at telling stories. Most of her best ones were about the town in Norfolk where she was born and lived until she grew up and married James Greengrass and moved into London. There was one famous tale about a poor Swineherd whose pigs had died and whose wife and children were starving. He was in despair until one night a monk appeared to him in a dream and told him that if he dug under a certain oak tree he would find a chest of gold buried there. Poll and Theo had enjoyed this story when they were younger but now they preferred to hear about Granny Greengrass whose finger had been chopped off by Grummett the butcher. It was more interesting than a fairy story, partly because it had happened in their own family and partly because they were, naturally, a bloodthirsty pair.
Not that they looked it. Poll was nine years old with a soft, rosy face and long yellow hair the colour of duckling’s down, and although Theo was ten and a half most people thought he was younger than Poll because he was so small and thin. ‘About as thick through as a darning needle,’ was how their mother, who was a dressmaker, always described him, and his delicate features and wide, shy, blue eyes made him
look, to anyone who didn’t know him, as innocent as a baby angel.
But it was Theo who said, when their mother told them the story about Granny Greengrass for about the hundredth time one dark November afternoon, ‘What happened afterwards? Did she spout
‘No, it was a clean cut,’ Mother said. ‘Hardly a drop spilled – or no more than when you bite off a young puppy’s tail. Or so your Aunt Sarah said. She was there, you know, but not much help by the sound of it. What she should have done was sew it back on but Sarah was never very practical.’ She gave a faint sniff. ‘Though clever at her school books, of course.’
‘You’d have sewn it on, wouldn’t you, Mother?’ Theo said confidently. ‘What a shame you weren’t there! But d’you think the
would have joined up?’
Mother held up the cambric petticoat she was making for Poll and examined the tucks on the bodice. ‘That I can’t tell. It might have done. She was a big healthy woman.’
Poll said, ‘What do you mean about biting off puppies’ tails?’
‘That’s what the groom at the Manor House used to do. My mother was cook there, you know. I’ve seen that groom pick up a new litter one after the other, bite off the tail at the joint and spit it out, quick as a flash. The kindest way, he always said, no fuss and tarradiddle, and barely a squeak from the pup.’
Poll squeaked herself at this thought and Lily, who
was rising fourteen, closed her eyes and moaned softly. George, a year older, cleared his throat, pushed his glasses up on his nose and slammed his book shut. He thought he was too old for his mother’s stories now, and had been pretending not to listen.
Poll and Theo looked at Lily. She had stopped laying the table for tea and was standing still with closed eyes and a hand on her heart as if she had suddenly been seized by a terrible pain. Lily was a good actress – as good an actress as her mother was a story-teller. When she was certain she had everyone’s attention she opened her eyes, shook her head sadly, and sighed. Then she looked at her mother and said in a soft, reproachful voice, ‘I really felt quite faint for a minute. Why do you tell them such dreadful tales?’
‘She enjoys them herself, that’s why,’ George said. ‘They’ve got the taste from her.’
‘She shouldn’t encourage it, then.’ Lily sighed again, very deeply. ‘If you must tell them stories, Mother, why don’t you tell them something nice? Something that might do them
? Read to them out of
Books For The Bairns
, as Father does. Or,
‘I can’t see that a bit of real life does them much harm,’ Mother said, speaking more mildly than she usually did when one of them criticized her. She was always gentle with Lily and this annoyed Poll, who could never see why she should be. Did she love Lily
best? If she didn’t, why was she smiling at her like that, as if coaxing her tall, pretty daughter to smile back at her? Oh, it made Poll’s blood boil!
George said, ‘Of course it doesn’t.’ He put his book down with a bang on the table, making the cups jump, and stood up, stretching and yawning and grinning down at his mother. ‘No harm at all – as long as they’re sitting nice and safe by the fire with the gas lit and the curtains drawn and the tea on the table. Mother’s stories just make it seem cosier!’
George was often right about things – which was something else that annoyed Poll occasionally – and he was right about this. Poll and Theo enjoyed dreadful tales because their own lives were so comfortable: nothing dreadful had ever happened to them, nor ever seemed likely to. How could it? Their family’s solid brick villa in a leafy suburb of London was the sort people think of when they say
safe as houses
and there was plenty of money to keep them warm and well fed inside it. Their father was a coach painter in the firm of Rowland and Son and his special job was to paint coats of arms on the doors of rich people’s carriages. This was delicate work and he was paid three pounds ten shillings a week, which was a good wage at the time, enough for their mother to employ a young maid, called Ruby, to help with the housework and for the girls to have real lace on their
drawers and Theo a green velvet suit for best with lace on the collar.
They had more important things, too: a lively young mother and a tall, handsome father who took them out every Sunday, to Kew or to Hampton Court, and sometimes, on Saturdays, to a Fair or a Carnival, or to the theatre to see Dan Leno the Clown, or the Siamese Twins, joined back to back like two stiff little dolls, each playing a xylophone. He was always bringing them presents. Not just on birthdays and St Valentine’s Eve and at Christmas, but on other days, too – and not ordinary presents, either. He used gold leaf for the coats of arms on the carriages and sometimes he brought home small, leftover slivers for his children to make Christmas cards with. The week before the dreadful thing happened, the thing that was to change their whole lives for ever, he had brought home a tin full; tiny scrapings of real yellow gold, thin as tissue…
Poll was the naughtiest one of the family and the dreadful thing happened on one of her naughty days; a dark day of thick, mustardy fog that had specks of grit in it she could taste on her tongue. Theo was not allowed out because of his delicate chest and by the time Poll got home from school she was already angry. She had been in a cold classroom all day, some of the time stuck in the corner with the Dunce’s Cap on, made of green drawing paper and smelling of
gum, while Mother and Theo had been cosy at home, sharing secrets. Poll loved Theo but she was jealous by nature and when she came coughing in from the fog, hands and feet cold as toads, and found him sitting on Mother’s lap by the fire where she wanted to be, she wished he was dead.
was supposed to be the baby, wasn’t she?
She was naughty at tea. Children were expected to behave well in those days and although Emily Greengrass was less strict in some ways than most mothers, she was firm about table manners. It was always, ‘Sit up straight.’ ‘Don’t talk with your mouth full.’ ‘Elbows off the table, I won’t tell you again.’
That afternoon, Poll had to be told once too often. Her mother said, ‘I’ve had enough, my girl. Under the table!’
Poll didn’t mind. She had eaten as much as she wanted – she always ate a great deal, very fast, unlike Theo, who chewed every mouthful so slowly that Mother’s fresh scones, crisp and warm from the oven and dripping with butter, might have been dry lumps of old cardboard – and with a good tea inside her it was pleasant under the table. The starched white cloth hung down almost to the floor, making a good, private place where she could behave as she liked and no one to see. The linoleum was brown and patterned in criss-cross stripes of a lighter shade. Poll thought these looked like little gates and, pretending to be a baby again, tried to push them open with her
fingers. She spat on the floor and blew on the spit, to see the colours change in the bubble. There were spiders in the dusty underside of the table and she fetched one down and teased him by letting him run and then barring his way until she felt sorry and took off her shoe to give him a ride in it.
By this time she was yawning. Someone – George, probably, he was always kind to Poll when she was punished – had pushed a small green hassock under the table and she rested her head on it. She didn’t go to sleep properly, just dozed off and on, listening to the voices above her head and watching the feet round the table through the furry fringe of her lashes: George’s heavy shoes, Lily’s neat, black-buttoned boots, and her mother’s slippers that had silver buckles in the shape of small roses.
She must have slept in the end because suddenly her father’s boots were where George’s had been and his voice was saying, ‘I am so sorry about this, Emily dear.’