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Authors: Lynne Reid Banks

The Backward Shadow

BOOK: The Backward Shadow
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About the Book

About the Author

Also by Lynne Reid Banks


Title Page

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21


About the Book

Jane has had her baby and is living along with him in a country cottage. Her idyllic time there is soon complicated by the arrival of Toby, the love of her life, and her friend Dorothy. The two women start up a shop in the village, and it is their changing fortunes and feelings for the men on whom so much of their lives are staked which form the core of this funny and vividly told novel.

About the Author

Lynne Reid Banks was born in London in 1929 and was evacuated to the Canadian prairies during the war. On her return to England she studied at RADA and was an actress in the early 1950s; later she became one of the first two women reporters on British television. Her first book,
The L-Shaped Room
, was published in 1960 and was an instant and lasting best-seller. Lynne Reid Banks is also a best-selling author of books for children and young adults. Her classic children's novel,
The Indian in the Cupboard
, has sold over ten million copies worldwide. She lives in London.


The L-Shaped Room

Two Is Lonely

Fair Exchange

Dark Quartet

For Pat, who helped so much,
and my menfolk, who didn't.


The Backward
Chapter 1

know exactly when the restlessness began. I think it must have been round about September. That would fit in with my normal pattern, wherein autumn is always the vigorous, renaissance time. Besides, the lovely novelty of David was beginning to wear off. Not that he was any the less interesting at four months than he had been in the weeks after his early birth; he grew more fascinating daily. But very young babies do have a way of just
there for a lot of the time, leaving any but the most besotted mother (and I was reasonably besotted when he was awake and reacting) with a lot of thinking time on her hands.

During the first few months of David's life, I was content just to enjoy him, and life in Addy's cottage. It was such a marvellous place, full of nooks and beams and angles and little irrelevant flights of stairs, strange-shaped rooms (though none L-shaped) with uneven floors, low ceilings and wide fireplaces. I spent hours and days happily examining it in all its enchanting detail and marvelling at my ownership of it. Strangely, there was very little sadness left over from Addy. She must have been very happy in it, and even as her intentionally lonely death approached, her own natural strength and quietness of spirit must have kept her from destroying the peaceful atmosphere of her home with an overspill of disquiet or fear.

She was still in evidence everywhere—in her books, her arrangements of furniture (always for convenience and comfort, without regard to conventional taste), in her garden, and, it sometimes seemed to me when I was sitting quietly alone, in some less tangible way. Being far too down-to-earth a person to give much credence to ‘that sort of thing' generally, I hesitated to confirm this to myself, but in the end I came around irresistibly to believing that there was something of Addy left to keep me company. How else to explain why I was
never lonely? I am far too gregarious to take kindly to living alone in the depths of the country.

‘Aren't you nervous-like, alone here at nights?' Mrs. Griffiths, my bi-weekly charlady from the village, would often ask. ‘Miles from anywhere—wouldn't do me, I don't mind admitting. Ever so brave you are, or silly, one or the other.' Her voice dropped. ‘You hear about Mrs. Stubbs?'

I had, many times, heard about Mrs. Stubbs, who had been strangled (or stabbed, or beaten—it varied) to death one dark night by a demented chalk-pit worker. Only as it happened in 1928, and as nothing, not even the War, had since disturbed the tranquillity of this remote Surrey backwater, I didn't let the poor lady's fate disturb me overmuch—or Mrs. G's ghoulish retelling of it.

Of course I was never alone for more than a few days at a time. Father liked to come down at week-ends, and it was surprising how many other people could manage to get hold of cars and make the journey to the country when they knew that a pretty period cottage equipped with all mod cons and feather beds, an outstandingly attractive baby with an intriguing ‘past', and, if I do say it, some rather splendid meals, were waiting at the other end. Most of them nevertheless were full of complaints about how difficult it was to find the way, and how their cars had suffered from the last half-mile of rutted track. They never failed to ask how I could bear to be stuck such miles away from civilisation, or to relate gruesome Mrs.-Stubbs-like tales, the way women delight regaling their pregnant friends with the horrid details of their own deliveries. Furthermore my relations—aunts and uncles on my father's side—actually had the nerve to tut over David's head and mutter about what a shame it was, all right while he was a baby of course, they don't need their fathers then, but what about later? … All this, while I was laying on a huge great meal for them, and in point of fact hadn't invited them in the first place.

However, I shut my ears to these and similar Cassandral prophesies regarding the future. The policy of getting through
one day at a time—or even one minute, when things were really bad—had worked admirably while David was pending, and while he was being born. It seemed fairly fruitless to fret myself to a frazzle now about how I would cope five years ahead. Besides, worry wouldn't do my milk any good. Or so I told myself as an excuse for being happy.

He really was a most wonderful baby. He had one fundamental good quality on which all the rest were built—he didn't seem to resemble his father in any particular. He didn't resemble me either, that I could detect, which also struck me as no bad thing. He was not one of these big flabby babies, but small and neat, with very dark hair and beautifully marked eyebrows, which even the doctor said was most unusual. He was remarkably self-contained, almost from birth, seldom crying except politely to call my attention to the fact that he was wet or hungry, or that he wanted a cuddle. He never made unreasonable demands on me, such as that I should stick strictly to a schedule, something I would have found a great bore as I've always loathed routine. If we were out in the woods, which we often were during the long dappled summer days, and I was doing something interesting like making a moss garden, or reading, or watching a spider, he was content to lie on his rug and stare upwards at the leaf-filtered sky until I was ready to feed him.

It was lovely to sit under the trees in the long grass with the breeze unfamiliarly touching my secret flesh through which the warm milk was drawn into David's strong little body. Nobody ever disturbed us. The birds sang and the sun shone warm and God-like on our faces. Half-naked and close to the earth, we sat together, the scents of the woods mingling with the smell of fresh milk, my function and David's clearly and simply interlocking like the function of lovers, each to solve the need of the other. Once as we sat like that the sun went in and the sky darkened, and soon a summer rain was pattering on us through the leaves. As the first cool drops fell on my breast and on the baby's little upturned face, he drew away and sneezed, and my impulse was to cover us both up and go
home. But after a puzzled moment, he seemed to accustom himself to this new prickly feeling. He made anxious goldfish faces until I restored the nipple to him, whereupon he closed his eyes again in his customary bliss and went on sucking, unaware of the rain which tapped his skin and ran down my breast and into his mouth with the milk. I sheltered him in my arms and stayed where I was until he'd finished, and then carried him slowly home as usual; he laughed briefly and then slept, with the rain still gently falling on him.

So he grew, and I seemed to grow as well. At moments I felt I was growing strong and quiet inside, like Addy. I was sure all this peace, this closeness to nature, was the way to wisdom and self-knowledge. At other times I knew, with equal certainty, that it was the way to complacent cabbage-hood. Here there were no problems, no decisions, nothing to face up to—just day after day of tranquillity and pleasure. It was not real life at all, just as my stay here with Addy during my pregnancy had not been real life, just time out of time, a resting space, a period of gathering-together for the plunge back into the complex of living, facing, feeling, deciding.

Here, it was too easy to believe that nothing was more natural than to bring a child into the world, that being married or not married was the merest formality which did not in any way affect the rightness of furthering nature's cycle. My visitors from ‘outside', with their reminders of the world's codes, could not really touch me here. I was armed against their strictures by the strong, primitive inner conviction, reinforced each time I looked at David's healthy body, that I had done well. It was what I had felt making love to my Toby. The word ‘immoral' had no meaning whatever in the face of the essential goodness of it.

Among the innumerable books on Addy's shelves was one by Ernest Hemingway in which I found these words:

‘What is moral is what you feel good after. What is immoral is what you feel bad after.'

Emerging from the dazzle of finding something which so simply and exactly expressed what I felt, I thought: Nothing
that parents, or the Church, or Society can say can basically affect this fundamental truth. One can even tell
that one is wicked, sinful, immoral, or whatever; if one
feels good
, one doesn't believe a word of it. Yet there must be women who sleep night after night with their husbands in perfect rectitude and feel so guilty and misused afterwards that the mere fact that Society smiles on their state cannot convince them that they are anything but the most depraved and miserable of sinners.

On the same basis, no amount of rationalisation can save you from a sense of sin if you
done something immoral, by Hemingway's definition. I suffered cruelly from it after Terry and I had conceived David so stupidly and lovelessly. I didn't suffer from it after Toby, despite everything, despite the circumstances—it felt
, and I felt right about David now. The trouble with this concept was, it didn't give you any real guide to living. There was no way of knowing in advance. I had thought I loved Terry; I had no idea of loving Toby. I'd known Terry for seven years (on and off); I'd known Toby a few weeks. Why was it ‘immoral' with Terry and ‘moral' with Toby? Why was the conception of David immoral, and yet his birth moral? Could the whole business of morality be based on nothing more stable and predictable than hindsight? Were there no workable rules, only one's fundamental instincts to go by—and at that, instincts which were only wise after the event?

All these sincere, and sometimes comforting, reflections did not cure my periodic unease. I knew the place protected me, as the L-shaped room in which I had awaited David's birth had shielded me, as much from my own pusillanimousness as from the world's censure. I knew that, however much I might arm myself with self-confidence
, it was all likely to crumble into enforced guilt and ruin when the full pressure of public opinion hit me amidships on my return to ‘civilisation'.

BOOK: The Backward Shadow
3.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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