Literary

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Part 5

part5Dear Sidney,

No diary, but the good news is she did draw while her paper and pencil lasted. I found some sketches stuffed into a large art folio on the bottom shelf of the sitting-room bookcase. Quick line drawings that seem marvelous portraits to me: Isola caught unaware, hitting at something with a wooden spoon; Dawsey digging in a garden; Eben and Amelia with their heads together, talking.

As I sat on the floor, turning them over, Amelia dropped by for a visit. Together we pulled out several large sheets of paper, covered with sketch after sketch of Kit. Kit asleep, Kit on the move, on a lap, being rocked by Amelia, hypnotized by her toes, delighted with her spit bubbles. Maybe every mother looks at her baby that way—with that intense focus—but Elizabeth put it on paper. There was one shaky drawing of a wizened little Kit, made the day after she was born, according to Amelia.

Then I found a sketch of a man with a good, strong, rather broad face; he’s relaxed and appears to be looking over his shoulder, smiling at the artist. I knew at once it was Christian—he and Kit have a cowlick in exactly the same place. Amelia took the paper into her hands; I had never heard her speak of him before and asked if she had liked him.

“Poor boy,” she said. “I was so set against him. It seemed insane to me that Elizabeth had chosen him—an enemy, a German—and I was frightened for her. For the rest of us, too. I thought that she was too trusting, and he would betray her and us—so I told her that I thought she should break off with him. I was very stern with her.

“Elizabeth just stuck out her chin and said nothing. But the next day, he came to visit me. Oh, I was appalled. I opened the door and there was an enormous, uniformed German standing before me. I was sure my house was about to be requisitioned and I began to protest when he thrust forward a bunch of flowers—limp from being clutched. I noticed he was looking very nervous, so I stopped scolding and demanded to know his name. ‘Captain Christian Hellman,’ he said, and blushed like a boy. I was still suspicious—what was he up to?—and asked him the purpose of his visit. He blushed more and said softly, ‘I’ve come to tell you my intentions.’

“ ‘For my house?’ I snapped.

“ ‘No. For Elizabeth,’ he said. And that’s what he did—just as if I were the Victorian father and he the suitor. He perched on the edge of a chair in my drawing room and told me that he intended to come back to the Island the moment the war was over, marry Elizabeth, raise freesias, read, and forget about war. By the time he was finished speaking, I was a little in love with him myself.”

Amelia was half in tears, so we put the sketches away and I made her some tea. Then Kit came in with a shattered gull’s egg she wanted to glue together, and we were thankfully distracted.

Yesterday Will Thisbee appeared at my door with a plate of cakes iced with prune whip, so I invited him to tea. He wanted to consult with me about two different women; and which one of the two I’d marry if I were a man, which I wasn’t. (Do you have that straight?)

Miss X has always been a ditherer—she was a ten-month baby and has not improved in any material way since then. When she heard the Germans were coming, she buried her mother’s silver teapot under an elm tree and now can’t remember which tree. She is digging holes all over the Island, vowing she won’t stop till she finds it. “Such determination,” said Will. “Quite unlike her.” (Will was trying to be subtle, but Miss X is Daphne Post. She has round vacant eyes like a cow’s and is famous for her trembling soprano in the church choir.)

And then there is Miss Y, a local seamstress. When the Germans arrived, they had only packed one Nazi flag. This they needed to hang over their headquarters, but that left them with nothing to run up a flag pole to remind the Islanders they’d been conquered.

They visited Miss Y and ordered her to make a Nazi flag for them. She did—a black, nasty swastika, stitched onto a circle of dingy puce. The surrounding field was not scarlet silk, but baby-bottom-pink flannel. “So inventive in her spite,” said Will. “So forceful!” (Miss Y is Miss Le Roy, thin as one of her needles, with a lantern jaw and tight-folded lips.)

Which did I think would make the best companion for a man’s nether years, Miss X or Miss Y? I told him that if one had to ask which, it generally meant neither.

He said, “That’s exactly what Dawsey said—those very words. Isola said Miss X would bore me to tears, and Miss Y would nag me to death.

“Thank you, thank you—I shall keep up my search. She is out there somewhere.”

He put on his cap, bowed, and left. Sidney, he may have been polling the entire Island, but I was so flattered to have been included—it made me feel like an Islander instead of an Outlander.

Love,
Juliet

P.S. I was interested to learn that Dawsey has opinions on marriage. I wish I knew more about them.

From Juliet to Sidney

19th July, 1946

Dear Sidney,

Stories of Elizabeth are everywhere—not just among the Society members. Listen to this: Kit and I walked up to the churchyard this afternoon. Kit was off playing among the tombstones, and I was stretched out on Mr. Edwin Mulliss’s tombstone—it’s a table-top one, with four stout legs—when Sam Withers, the cemetery’s ancient groundskeeper, stopped beside me. He said I reminded him of Miss McKenna when she was a young girl. She used to take the sun right there on that very slab—brown as a walnut she’d get.

I sat up straight as an arrow and asked Sam if he had known Elizabeth well.

Sam said, “Well—not as to say real well, but I liked her. She and Eben’s girl, Jane, used to come up here together to that very tombstone. They’d spread a cloth and eat their picnic—right on top of Mr. Mulliss’s dead bones.”

Sam went on about what catbirds those two little girls were, always up to some mischief—they tried to raise a ghost one time and scared the daylights out of the vicar’s wife. Then he looked over at Kit, who’d reached the church gate by then and said, “That’s surely a sweet little girl of hers and Captain Hellman’s.”

I pounced on that. Had he known Captain Hellman? Had he liked him?

He glared at me and said, “Yes, I did. He was a fine fella, for all he was a German. You’re not going to throw off on Miss McKenna’s little girl because of that, are you?”

“I wouldn’t dream of it!” I said.

He waggled a finger at me. “You’d better not, missy! You’d best learn the truth of certain matters, before you go trying to write any book about the Occupation. I hated the Occupation, too. Makes me mad to think of it. Some of those blighters was purely mean—come right into your house without knocking—push you around. They was the sort to like having the upper hand, never having had it before. But not all of them was like that—not all, by a long shot.”

Christian, according to Sam, was not. Sam liked Christian. He and Elizabeth had come upon Sam in the churchyard once, trying to dig out a grave when the ground was ice-hard and as cold as Sam himself. Christian picked up the shovel and threw his back into it. “He was a strong fella, and he was done as soon as he started,” Sam said. “Told him he could have a job with me anytime, and he laughed.”

The next day, Elizabeth came out with a thermos jug full of hot coffee. Real coffee from real beans Christian had brought to her house. She gave him a warm sweater too that had belonged to Christian.

Sam said, “Truth to tell, as long as the Occupation was to last, I met more than one nice German soldier. You would, you know, seeing some of them as much as every day for five years. Greetings were bound to happen.

“You couldn’t help but feel sorry for some of them—there at the last—stuck here and knowing their folks back home were being bombed to pieces. Didn’t matter then who started it in the first place. Not to me, anyway.

“Why, there’d be soldiers riding guard in the back of potato lorries going to the army’s mess hall—children would follow them, hoping potatoes would fall off into the street. Soldiers would look straight ahead, grim-like, and then flick potatoes off the pile—on purpose.

“They did the same thing with oranges. Same with lumps of coal—my, those were precious when we didn’t have no fuel left. There was many such incidents. Just ask Mrs. Godfray about her boy. He had the pneumonia and she was worried half to death because she couldn’t keep him warm nor give him good food to eat. One day there’s a knock on her door and when she opens up, she sees an orderly from the German hospital on the step. Without a peep, he hands her a vial of that sulfonamide, tips his cap, and walks away. He had stolen it from their dispensary for her. They caught him later, trying to steal some again, and they sent him off to prison in Germany—maybe hung him. We’d not be knowing which.”

He glared at me again suddenly. “And I say that if some toffee-nosed Brit wants to call being human Collaboration, they’ll need to talk to me and Mrs. Godfray first!”

I tried to protest, but Sam turned his back and walked away. I gathered Kit up and we came on home. Between the wilted flowers for Amelia and the coffee beans for Sam Withers, I felt I was beginning to know Kit’s father—and why Elizabeth must have loved him.

Next week will bring Remy to Guernsey. Dawsey leaves for France on Tuesday to fetch her.

Love,
Juliet

From Juliet to Sophie

22nd July, 1946

Dear Sophie,

Burn this letter; I would not care to have it appear among your collected papers.

I’ve told you about Dawsey, of course. You know that he was the first here to write me; that he is fond of Charles Lamb; that he is helping to raise Kit; that she adores him.

What I haven’t told you is that on the very first evening that I arrived on the Island, the moment Dawsey held out both his hands to me at the bottom of the gangplank, I felt an unaccountable jolt of excitement. Dawsey is so quiet and composed that I had no idea if it was only me, so I’ve struggled to be reasonable and casual and usual for the last two months. And I was doing very nicely—until tonight.

Dawsey came over to borrow a suitcase for his trip to Louviers—he is going to collect Remy and bring her here. What kind of man doesn’t even own a suitcase? Kit was sound asleep, so we put my case in his cart and walked up to the headlands. The moon was coming up and the sky was colored in mother-of-pearl, like the inside of a shell. The sea for once was quiet, with only silvery ripples, barely moving. No wind. I have never heard the world be so silent before, and it dawned on me that Dawsey himself was exactly that silent too, walking beside me. I was as close to him as I’ve ever been, so I began to take particular note of his wrists and hands. I was wanting to touch them, and the thought made me light-headed. There was a knife-edgy feeling—you know the one—in the pit of my stomach.

All at once, Dawsey turned. His face was shadowed, but I could see his eyes—very dark eyes—watching me, waiting. Who knows what might have happened next—a kiss? A pat on the head? Nothing?—because in the next second we heard Wally Beall’s horse-drawn carriage (that’s our local taxi) pull up to my cottage, and Wally’s passenger called out, “Surprise, darling!”

It was Mark—Markham V. Reynolds, Junior, resplendent in his exquisitely tailored suit, with a swath of red roses over his arm.

I truly wished him dead, Sophie.

But what could I do? I went to greet him—and when he kissed me all I could think of was Don’t! Not in front of Dawsey! He deposited the roses on my arm and turned to Dawsey with his steely smile. So I introduced the two of them, wishing all the time I could crawl into a hole—I don’t know why, exactly—and watched dumbly as Dawsey shook his hand, turned to me, shook my hand, said, “Thank you for the suitcase, Juliet. Good-night,” climbed in his cart, and left. Left, without another word, without a backward glance.

I wanted to cry. Instead I invited Mark indoors and tried to seem like a woman who had just received a delightful surprise. The wagon and the introductions had awakened Kit, who looked suspiciously at Mark and wanted to know where Dawsey had gone—he hadn’t kissed her good-night. Me neither, I thought to myself.

I put Kit back to bed and persuaded Mark that my reputation would be in tatters if he didn’t go to the Royal Hotel at once. Which he did, with a very bad grace and many threats to appear on my doorstep this morning at six.

Then I sat down and chewed my fingernails for three hours. Should I take myself over to Dawsey’s house and try to pick up where we left off? But where did we leave off? I’m not sure. I don’t want to make a fool of myself. What if he looked at me with polite incomprehension—or worse yet, with pity?

And besides—what am I thinking? Mark is here. Mark, who is rich and debonair and wants to marry me. Mark, whom I was doing very well without. Why can’t I stop thinking about Dawsey, who probably doesn’t give a hoot about me. But maybe he does. Maybe I was about to find out what’s on the other side of that silence.

Damn, damn, and damn.

It’s two in the morning, I have not a fingernail to my name, and I look at least a hundred years old. Maybe Mark will be repulsed by my haggard mien when he sees me. Maybe he will spurn me. I don’t know that I will be disappointed if he does.

Love,
Juliet

From Amelia to Juliet (left under Juliet’s door)

23rd July, 1946

Dear Juliet,

My raspberries have come in with a vengeance. I am picking this morning and making pies this afternoon. Would you and Kit like to come for tea (pie) this afternoon?

Love,
Amelia

From Juliet to Amelia

23rd July, 1946

Dear Amelia—

I’m terribly sorry, I can’t come. I have a guest.

Love,
Juliet

P.S. Kit is delivering this in hopes of getting some pie. Can you keep her for the afternoon?

From Juliet to Sophie

24th July, 1946

Dear Sophie,

You should probably burn this letter as well as the last one. I’ve refused Mark finally and irrevocably, and my elation is indecent. If I were a properly brought-up young lady, I’d draw the curtains and brood, but I can’t. I’m free! Today I bounced out of bed feeling frisky as a lamb, and Kit and I spent the morning running races in the pasture. She won, but that’s because she cheats.

Yesterday was a horror. You know how I felt when Mark appeared, but the next morning was even worse. He turned up at my door at seven, radiating confidence and certain that we’d have a wedding date set by noon. He wasn’t the least bit interested in the Island, or the Occupation, or Elizabeth, or what I’d been doing since I arrived—didn’t ask a single question about any of it. Then Kit came down to breakfast. That surprised him—he hadn’t really registered her the night before. He had a nice way with her—they talked about dogs—but after a few minutes, it was obvious he was waiting for her to clear off. I suppose in his experience, nannies whisk the children away before they can annoy their parents. Of course, I tried to ignore his irritation and made Kit her breakfast as usual, but I could feel his displeasure billowing across the room.

At last Kit went outside to play, and the minute the door closed behind her, Mark said, “Your new friends must be damned smart—they’ve managed to saddle you with their responsibilities in less than two months.” He shook his head—pitying me for being so gullible.

I just stared at him.

“She’s a cute kid, but she’s got no claim on you, Juliet, and you’re going to have to be firm about it. Get her a nice dolly or something and say good-bye, before she starts thinking you’re going to take care of her for the rest of her life.”

Now I was so angry I couldn’t talk. I stood there, gripping Kit’s porridge bowl with white knuckles. I didn’t throw it at him, but I was close to it. Finally, when I could speak again, I whispered, “Get out.”

“Sorry?”

“I never want to see you again.”

“Juliet?” He really had no idea what I was talking about.

So I explained. Feeling better by the minute, I told him that I would never marry him or anyone else who didn’t love Kit and Guernsey and Charles Lamb.

“What the hell does Charles Lamb have to do with anything?” he yelped (as well he might).

I declined to elucidate. He tried to argue with me, then to coax me, then to kiss me, then to argue with me again, but—it was over, and even Mark knew it. For the first time in ages—since February, when I met him—I was completely sure that I had done the right thing. How could I ever have considered marrying him? One year as his wife, and I’d have become one of those abject, quaking women who look at their husbands when someone asks them a question. I’ve always despised that type, but I see how it happens now.

Two hours later, Mark was on his way to the airfield, never (I hope) to return. And I, disgracefully un-heartbroken, was gobbling raspberry pie at Amelia’s. Last night, I slept the sleep of the innocent for ten blissful hours, and this morning I feel thirty-two again, instead of a hundred.

Kit and I are going to spend this afternoon at the beach, hunting for agates. What a beautiful, beautiful day.

Love,
Juliet

P.S. None of this means anything with regard to Dawsey. Charles Lamb just popped out of my mouth by coincidence. Dawsey didn’t even come to say good-bye before he left. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that he turned on the cliff to ask if he could borrow my umbrella.

From Juliet to Sidney

27th July, 1946

Dear Sidney,

I knew that Elizabeth had been arrested for sheltering a Todt worker, but I hadn’t known she had an accomplice until a few days ago, when Eben happened to mention Peter Sawyer, “who was arrested with Elizabeth.” “WHAT?” I screeched, and Eben said he’d let Peter tell me about it.

Peter is living now in a nursing home near Le Grand Havre in Vale, so I telephoned him, and he said he’d be very glad to see me—especially if I had a tot of brandy about me.

“Always,” I said.

“Lovely. Come tomorrow,” he replied, and rang off.

Peter is in a wheelchair, but what a driver he is! He races it around like a madman, cuts round corners and can turn on a sixpence. We went outside, sat under an arbor, and he tippled while he talked. This one time, Sidney, I took notes—I couldn’t bear to lose a word.

Peter was already in the wheelchair, but still living in his home in St. Sampson’s, when he found the Todt worker, Lud Jaruzki, a sixteen-year-old Polish boy.

Many of the Todt workers were permitted to leave their pens after dark to scrounge for food—as long as they came back. They were to return for work the next morning—and if they didn’t, a hunt went up for them. This “parole” was one way the Germans had to see the workers didn’t starve—without wasting too much of their own foodstuffs on them.

Almost every Islander had a vegetable garden—some had hen houses and rabbit hutches—a rich harvest for foragers. And that is what the Todt slave workers were—foragers. Most Islanders kept watch over their gardens at night—armed with sticks or poles to defend their vegetables.

Peter stayed outside at night too, in the shadows of his hen house. No pole for him, but a big iron skillet and metal spoon to bang it with and sound the alarm for neighbors to come.

One night he heard—then saw—Lud crawl through a gap in his hedgerow. Peter waited; the boy tried to stand but fell down, he tried to get up again, but couldn’t—he just lay there. Peter wheeled over and stared down at the boy.

“He was a child, Juliet. Just a child—lying faceup in the dirt. Thin, my God he was thin, wasted and filthy, in rags. He was covered with vermin; they came out from under his hair, crawled across his face, crawled over his eyelids. That poor boy didn’t even feel them—no flicker, no nothing. All he’d wanted was a goddamned potato—and he didn’t even have the strength to dig it up. To do this to boys!

“I tell you, I hated those Germans with all my heart. I couldn’t bend down to see if he was breathing, but I got my feet off my chair pedals and managed to prod and poke him until I got his shoulders turned near me. Now, my arms are strong, and I pulled the boy halfway onto my lap. Somehow, I got us both up my ramp and into the kitchen—there, I let the boy fall on the floor. I built up my fire, got a blanket, heated water; I wiped his poor face and hands and drowned every louse and maggot I picked off him.”

Peter couldn’t ask his neighbors for help—they might report him to the Germans. The German Commandant had said anyone who sheltered a Todt worker would be sent to a concentration camp or shot where they stood.

Elizabeth was coming to Peter’s house the next day—she was his Nursing Aid and she visited once a week, sometimes more. He knew Elizabeth well enough to be pretty certain that she’d help him keep the boy alive and she’d keep quiet about it.

“She arrived around mid-morning next day. I met her by the door and said I had trouble waiting inside and if she didn’t want trouble she shouldn’t come in. She knew what I was trying to say, and she nodded and stepped right in. Her jaw clenched when she knelt by Lud on the floor—he smelled something fierce—but she got down to business. She cut off his clothes and burned them. She bathed him, shampooed his hair with tar soap—that was a jolly mess, we did laugh, if you can believe it. Either that or the cold water woke him up some. He was startled—scared till he saw who we were. Elizabeth, she kept speaking softly, not that he could understand a word she said, but he was soothed. We hauled him into my bedroom—we couldn’t keep him in my kitchen, neighbors might come in and see him. Well, Elizabeth nursed him. There wasn’t any medicine she could get—but she got soup bones for broth and real bread, on the Black Market. I had eggs, and bit by bit, day by day, he got his strength back. He slept a lot. Sometimes Elizabeth had to come after dark, but before curfew. It wouldn’t do for anyone to see her coming to my house too often. People told on their neighbors, you know—trying to curry favor, or food, from the Germans.

“But someone did notice, and someone did tell—I don’t know who it was. They told the Feldpolizei, and they came on that Tuesday night. Elizabeth had bought some chicken meat, stewed it, and was feeding Lud. I sat by his bedstead.

“They surrounded the house, all quiet until they busted in. Well—we was caught, fair and square. Taken that night, all of us, and God knows what they did to that boy. There wasn’t any trial, and we was put on a boat to St. Malo the next day. That’s the last I saw of Elizabeth, led into the boat by one of the guards from the prison. She looked so cold. I didn’t see her after, when we got to France, and I didn’t know where they sent her. They sent me to the federal prison in Coutances, but they didn’t know what to do with a prisoner in a wheelchair, so they sent me home again after a week. They told me to be grateful for their leniency.”

Peter said he knew Elizabeth had left Kit with Amelia whenever she came to his house. Nobody knew Elizabeth was helping with the Todt worker. He believes she let everyone think she had hospital duty.

Those are the bare bones, Sidney, but Peter asked if I would come back again. I said, yes, I’d love to—and he told me not to bring brandy—just myself. He did say he would like to see some picture magazines if I had any to hand. He wants to know who Rita Hayworth is.

Love,
Juliet

From Dawsey to Juliet

7th July, 1946

Dear Juliet,

It will soon be time for me to gather Remy from the hospice, but as I have a few minutes, I will use them to write to you.

Remy seems stronger now than she was last month, but she is very frail yet. Sister Touvier drew me aside to caution me—I must see to it that she gets enough to eat, that she stays warm, that she’s not upset. She must be around people—cheerful people, if possible.

I’ve no doubt that Remy will get nourishing food, and Amelia will see to it that she’s warm enough, but how am I to serve up good cheer? Joking and such is not natural to me. I didn’t know what to say to the Sister, so I just nodded and tried to look jolly. I think I was not a success, for Sister glanced at me sharply.

Well, I will do my best, but you, blessed as you are with a sunny nature and light heart, would make a better companion for Remy than I. I don’t doubt she will take to you as we all have, these last months, and you will do her good.

Give Kit a hug and kiss for me. I will see you both on Tuesday.

Dawsey

From Juliet to Sophie

29th July, 1946

Dear Sophie,

Please ignore everything I have ever said about Dawsey Adams.

I am an idiot.

I have just received a letter from Dawsey praising the medicinal qualities of my “sunny nature and light heart.”

A sunny nature? A light heart? I have never been so insulted. Light-hearted is a short step from witless in my book. A cackling buffoon—that’s what I am to Dawsey.

I am also humiliated—while I was feeling the knife-edge of attraction as we strolled through the moonlight, he was thinking about Remy and how my light-minded prattle would amuse her.

No, it’s clear that I was deluded and Dawsey doesn’t give two straws for me.

I am too irritated to write more now.

Love always,
Juliet

From Juliet to Sidney

1st August, 1946

Dear Sidney,

Remy is here at last. She is petite and terribly thin, with short black hair and eyes that are nearly black too. I had imagined that she would look wounded, but she doesn’t, except for a little limp, which shows itself as a mere hesitancy in her walk, and a rather stiff way of moving her neck.

Now I’ve made her sound waiflike, and she isn’t, really. You might think so from a distance, but never up close. There is a grave intensity in her that is almost unnerving. She is not cold and certainly not unfriendly, but she seems to be leery of spontaneity. I suppose if I had been through her experience, I would be the same—a bit removed from daily life.

You can cross out all of the above when Remy is with Kit. At first, she seemed inclined to follow Kit around with her eyes instead of talking to her, but that changed when Kit offered to teach her how to lisp. Remy looked startled, but she agreed to take lessons and they went off to Amelia’s greenhouse together. Her lisp is hampered by her accent, but Kit doesn’t hold that against her and has generously given her extra instructions.

Amelia had a small dinner party the evening Remy arrived. Everyone was on their best behavior—Isola arrived with a big bottle of tonic under her arm, but she thought better of it once she had a look at Remy. “Might kill her,” she muttered to me in the kitchen, and stuffed it in her coat pocket. Eli shook her hand nervously and then retreated—I think he was afraid he’d hurt her accidentally. I was pleased to see that Remy was comfortable with Amelia—they will enjoy each other’s company—but Dawsey is her favorite. When he came into the sitting room—he was a little later than the rest—she relaxed visibly and even smiled at him.

Yesterday was cold and foggy, but Remy and Kit and I built a sandcastle on Elizabeth’s tiny beach. We spent a long time on its construction, and it was a fine, towering specimen. I had made a thermos of cocoa, and we sat drinking and waiting impatiently for the tide to come in and knock the castle down.

Kit ran up and down the shoreline, inciting the waters to rush in farther and faster. Remy touched my shoulder and smiled. “Elizabeth must have been like that once,” she said, “the Empress of the seas.” I felt as if she had given me a gift—even such a tiny gesture as a touch takes trust—and I was glad she felt safe with me.

While Kit danced in the waves, Remy spoke about Elizabeth. She had intended to keep her head down, conserve the strength she had left, and come home as quickly as she could after the war. “We thought it would be possible. We knew of the invasion, we saw all the Allied bombers flying over the camp. We knew what was happening in Berlin. The guards could not keep their fear from us. Each night we lay sleepless, waiting to hear the Allied tanks at the gates. We whispered that we could be free the next day. We did not believe we would die.”

There didn’t seem to be anything else to say after that—though I was thinking, if only Elizabeth could have held on for a few more weeks, she could have come home to Kit. Why, why, so close to the end, did she attack the overseer?

Remy watched the sea breathe in and out. Then she said, “It would have been better for her not to have such a heart.”

Yes, but worse for the rest of us.

The tide came in then: cheers, screams, and no more castle.

Love,
Juliet

From Isola to Sidney

1st August, 1946

Dear Sidney,

I am the new Secretary of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I thought you might like to see a sample of my first minutes, being as how you are interested in anything Juliet is interested in. Here they are:

30th July–1946–7:30 P.M.

Night cold. Ocean noisy. Will Thisbee was host. House dusted, but curtains need washing.

Mrs. Winslow Daubbs read a chapter from her autobiography, The Life and Loves of Delilah Daubbs. Audience attentive—but silent afterwards. Except for Winslow, who wants a divorce.

All were embarrassed, so Juliet and Amelia served the dessert they’d made earlier—a lovely ribbon cake, on real china plates—which we don’t usually run to.

Miss Minor then rose to ask if we were going to start being our own authors, could she read from a book of her very own thoughts? Her text is called The Common Place Book of Mary Margaret Minor.

Everybody already knows what Mary Margaret thinks about everything, but we said “Aye” because we all like Mary Margaret. Will Thisbee ventured to say that perhaps Mary Margaret will edit herself in writing, as she has never done in talking, so it might not be so bad.

I moved we have a specially called meeting next week so I don’t have to wait to talk about Jane Austen. Dawsey seconded! All said, “Aye.” Meeting adjourned.

Miss Isola Pribby,

Official Secretary to the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Now that I’m Official Secretary, I could swear you in for a member if you’d like to be one. It’s against the rules, because you’re not an Islander, but I could do it in secret.

Your friend,
Isola

From Juliet to Sidney

3rd August, 1946

Dear Sidney,

Someone—and I can’t imagine who—has sent Isola a present from Stephens & Stark. It was published in the mid-1800s and is named The New Illustrated Self-Instructor in Phrenology and Psychiatry: with Size and Shape Tables and Over One-Hundred Illustrations. If that is not enough, there’s a sub-title: Phrenology: the Science of Interpreting Bumps on the Head.

Eben had Kit and me, Dawsey, Isola, Will, Amelia, and Remy over for supper last night. Isola arrived with tables, sketches, graph paper, a measuring tape, calipers, and a new notebook. Then she cleared her throat and read the advertisement on the first page: “You too can learn to read Head Bumps! Stun Your Friends, Confound Your Enemies with Indisputable Knowledge of Their Human Faculties or Lack of Them.”

She thumped the book onto the table. “I’m going to become an adept,” she announced, “in time for the Harvest Festival.”

She has told Pastor Elstone she will no longer dress up in shawls and pretend to read palms. No, from now on she will see the future in a Scientific way, by reading head bumps! The church will make far more money from head bumps than Miss Sybil Beddoes does with her booth, WIN A KISS FROM SYBIL BEDDOES.

Will said she was exactly right; Miss Beddoes wasn’t a good kisser and he for one was tired of kissing her, even for Sweet Charity’s sake.

Sidney, do you realize what you have unleashed on Guernsey? Isola’s already read the lumps on Mr. Singleton’s head (his stall is next to hers at market) and told him his Love of Fellow Creatures Bump had a shallow trench right down the middle—which was probably why he didn’t feed his dog enough.

Do you see where this could lead? Someday she’ll find someone with a Latent Killer Knot, and he’ll shoot her—if Miss Beddoes doesn’t get her first.

One wonderful, unexpected thing did come from your present. After dessert Isola began to read the bumps on Eben’s head—dictating the measurements for me to write down. I glanced over at Remy, wondering what she would make of Eben’s hair standing on end, and Isola rummaging through it. Remy was trying to stifle a smile, but she couldn’t manage it and burst out laughing. Dawsey and I stopped dead and stared at her!

She is so quiet, not a one of us could imagine such a laugh. It was like water. I hope I’ll hear it again.

Dawsey and I have not been as easy with one another as we once were, though he still comes often to visit Kit, or to walk Remy over to see us. Hearing Remy laugh is the first time we’ve caught eyes for a fortnight. But perhaps he was only admiring how my sunny nature had rubbed off on her. I do, according to some people, have a sunny nature, Sidney. Did you know that?

Billee Bee sent a copy of Screen Gems magazine to Peter. There was a photo essay on Rita Hayworth—Peter was delighted, though surprised to see Miss Hayworth posing in her nightdress! Kneeling on a bed! What was the world coming to?

Sidney, isn’t Billee Bee tired of being sent on personal errands for me?

Love,
Juliet

From Susan Scott to Juliet

5th August, 1946

Dear Juliet,

You know Sidney does not keep your letters clasped next to his heart; he leaves them open on his desk for anyone to see, so of course I read them.

I am writing to reassure you about Billee Bee’s errand-running. Sidney doesn’t ask her. She begs to perform any little service she can for him, or you, or “that dear child.” She all but coos at him and I all but gag at her. She wears a little angora cap with a chin bow—the kind that Sonja Henie skates in. Need I say more?

Also, contrary to what Sidney thinks, she isn’t an angel straight from Heaven, she’s from an employment agency. Meant to be temporary, she has dug herself in—and is now indispensable and permanent. Can’t you think of some living creature Kit would like to have from the Galapagos? Billee Bee would sail on the next tide for it—and be gone for months. Possibly forever, if some animal there would just eat her.

All my best to you and Kit,
Susan

From Isola to Sidney

5th August, 1946

Dear Sidney,

I know it was you who sent The New Illustrated Self-Instructor in Phrenology and Psychiatry: with Size and Shape Tables and Over One-Hundred Illustrations. It is a very useful book and I thank you for it. I’ve been studying hard, and I’ve got so I can finger through a whole headful of bumps without peeking into the book more than three or four times. I hope to make a mint for the church at the Harvest Festival, as who would not desire to have their innermost workings—good and rotten—revealed by the Science of Phrenology? No one, that’s who.

It’s a real lightning bolt, this Science of Phrenology. I’ve found out more in the last three days than I knew in my whole life before. Mrs. Guilbert has always been a nasty one, but now I know that she can’t help it—she’s got a big pit in her Benevolence spot. She fell in the quarry when she was a girl, and my guess is she cracked her Benevolence and was never the same since.

Even my own friends are full of surprises. Eben is Garrulous! I never would have thought it of him, but he’s got bags under his eyes and there’s no two ways about it. I broke it to him gently. Juliet didn’t want to have her bumps read at first, but she agreed when I told her that she was standing in the way of Science. She’s awash in Amativeness, is Juliet. Also Conjugal Love. I told her it was a wonder she wasn’t married, with such great mounds.

Will cackles up, “Your Mr. Stark will be a lucky man, Juliet!” Juliet blushed red as a tomato, and I was tempted to say he didn’t know much because Mr. Stark is a homosexual, but I recollected myself and kept your secret like I promised.

Dawsey up and left then, so I never got to his lumps, but I’ll pin him down soon. I think I don’t understand Dawsey sometimes. For a while there, he was downright chatty, but these days he doesn’t have two words to rub together.

Thank you again for the fine book.

Your friend,
Isola

Telegram from Sidney to Juliet

6th August, 1946

BOUGHT A SMALL BAGPIPE FOR DOMINIC AT GUNTHERS YESTERDAY. WOULD KIT LIKE ONE? LET ME KNOW SOONEST AS THEY ONLY HAVE ONE LEFT. HOW’S THE WRITING? LOVE TO YOU AND KIT. SIDNEY

From Juliet to Sidney

7th August, 1946

Dear Sidney,

Kit would love a bagpipe. I would not.

I think the work is going splendidly, but I’d like to send you the first two chapters—I won’t feel settled until you’ve read it. Do you have the time?

Every biography should be written within a generation of its subject’s life, while he or she is still in living memory. Think what I could have done for Anne Brontë if I’d been able to speak to her neighbors. Perhaps she wasn’t really meek and melancholy—perhaps she had a screaming temper and dashed the crockery to the floor regularly once a week.

Each day I learn something new about Elizabeth. How I wish I had known her myself! As I write, I catch myself thinking of her as a friend, remembering things she did as though I’d been there—she’s so full of life that I have to remind myself she’s dead, and then I feel the wrench of losing her again.

I heard a story about her today that made me want to lie down and weep. We had supper with Eben this evening, and afterward Eli and Kit went out to dig for earthworms (a chore best done by the light of the moon). Eben and I took our coffee outside, and for the first time he chose to talk about Elizabeth to me.

It happened at the school where Eli and the other children were waiting for the Evacuation ships to come. Eben was not there, because the families were not allowed, but Isola saw it happen, and she told him about it that night.

She said the room was full of children, and Elizabeth was buttoning up Eli’s coat, when he told her he was scared about getting on the boat—going away from his mother and his home. If their ship was bombed, he asked, who would he say good-bye to? Isola said that Elizabeth took her time, like she was studying his question. Then she pulled up her sweater and took a pin off her blouse. It was her father’s medal from the first war, and she always wore it.

She held it in her hand and explained to him that it was a magic badge, that nothing bad could happen to him while he wore it. Then she had Eli spit on it twice to call up the charm. Isola saw Eli’s face over Elizabeth’s shoulder and told Eben that it had that beautiful light children have before the Age of Reason gets at them.

Of all the things that happened during the war, this one—making your children go away to try to keep them safe—was surely the most terrible. I don’t know how they endured it. It defies the animal instinct to protect your young. I see myself becoming bearlike around Kit. Even when I’m not actually watching her, I’m watching her. If she’s in any sort of danger (which she often is, given her taste in climbing), my hackles rise—I didn’t even know I had hackles before—and I run to rescue her. When her enemy, the parson’s nephew, threw plums at her, I roared at him. And through some queer sort of intuition, I always know where she is, just as I know where my hands are—and if I didn’t, I should be sick with worry. This is how the species survives, I suppose, but the war threw a wrench in all that. How did the mothers of Guernsey live, not knowing where their children were? I can’t imagine.

Love,
Juliet

P.S. How about a flute?

From Juliet to Sophie

9th August, 1946

Darling Sophie,

What lovely news—a new baby! Wonderful! I do hope you won’t have to eat dry biscuits and suck lemons this time. I know you two don’t care which/what/who you have, but I would love a girl. To that end, I am knitting a tiny matinee jacket and cap in pink wool. Of course Alexander is delighted, but what about Dominic?

I told Isola your news, and I’m afraid she may send you a bottle of her Pre-Birthing Tonic. Sophie—please don’t drink it and don’t dispose of it where the dogs might find it. There may not be anything actually poisonous in her tonics, but I don’t think you should take any chances.

Your inquiries about Dawsey are misdirected. Send them to Kit—or Remy. I scarcely see the man anymore, and when I do, he is silent. Not silent in a romantic, brooding way, like Mr. Rochester, but in a grave and sober way that indicates disapproval. I don’t know what the trouble is, truly I don’t. When I arrived in Guernsey, Dawsey was my friend. We talked about Charles Lamb and we walked all over the Island together—and I enjoyed his company as much as that of anyone I’ve ever known. Then, after that appalling night on the headlands, he stopped talking—to me, at any rate. It’s been a terrible disappointment. I miss the feeling that we understood one another, but I begin to think that was only my delusion all along.

Not being silent myself, I am wildly curious about people who are. Since Dawsey doesn’t talk about himself—doesn’t talk at all, to me—I was reduced to questioning Isola about his head bumps to get information about his past life. But Isola is beginning to fear that the lumps may lie after all, and she offered as proof the fact that Dawsey’s Violence-Prone Node isn’t as big as it should be, given he almost beat Eddie Meares to death!!!!

Those exclamations are mine. Isola seemed to think nothing at all of it.

It seems Eddie Meares was big and mean and gave/traded/sold information to the German authorities for favors from them. Everyone knew, which didn’t seem to bother him, since he’d go to a bar to brag and show off his new wealth: a loaf of white bread, cigarettes, and silk stockings—which, he said, any girl on the Island would surely be plenty grateful for.

A week after Elizabeth and Peter were arrested, he was showing off a silver cigarette case, hinting it was a reward for reporting some goings-on he’d seen at Peter Sawyer’s house.

Dawsey heard of it and went to Crazy Ida’s the next night. Apparently, he went in, walked up to Eddie Meares, grabbed him by the shirt collar, lifted him up off his bar stool, and began banging his head on the bar. He called Eddie a lousy little shit, pounding his head down between each word. Then he yanked Eddie off the stool and they set to it on the floor.

According to Isola, Dawsey was a mess: nose, mouth bleeding, one eye puffed shut, one rib cracked—but Eddie Meares was a bigger mess: two black eyes, two ribs broken, and stitches. The Court sentenced Dawsey to three months in the Guernsey jail, though they let him out in one. The Germans needed their jail space for more serious criminals—like Black Marketeers and the thieves who stole petrol from army lorries.

“And to this day, when Eddie Meares spies Dawsey coming through the door of Crazy Ida’s, his eyes go shifty and his beer spills and not five minutes later, he’s sidling out the back door,” Isola concluded.

Naturally, I was agog and begged for more. Since she’s disillusioned with bumps, Isola moved on to actual facts.

Dawsey did not have a very happy childhood. His father died when he was eleven, and Mrs. Adams, who’d always been poorly, grew odd. She became fearful, first of going into town, then of going into her own yard, and finally, she wouldn’t leave the house at all. She would just sit in the kitchen, rocking and staring out at nothing Dawsey could ever see. She died shortly before the war began.

Isola said that what with all of this—his mother, farming, and stuttering so bad at one time—it came to pass that Dawsey was always shy and never, except for Eben, had any ready-made friends. Isola and Amelia were acquainted with him, but that was about all.

That was how matters stood until Elizabeth came—and made him be friends. Forced him, really, into the Literary Society. And then, Isola said, how he did blossom! Now he had books to talk about instead of swine fever—and friends to talk with. The more he talked, says Isola, the less he stuttered.

He’s a mysterious creature, isn’t he? Perhaps he is like Mr. Rochester, and has a secret sorrow. Or a mad wife down in his cellar. Anything is possible, I suppose, but it would have been difficult to feed a mad wife on one ration book during the war. Oh dear, I wish we were friends again (Dawsey and I, not the mad wife).

I meant to dispatch Dawsey in a terse sentence or two, but I see that he has taken several sheets. Now I must rush to make myself presentable for tonight’s meeting of the Society. I have exactly one decent skirt to my name, and I have been feeling dowdy. Remy, for all she’s so frail and thin, manages to look stylish at every turn. What is it about French women?

More anon.

Love,
Juliet

From Juliet to Sidney

11th August, 1946

Dear Sidney,

I am happy that you are happy with my progress on Elizabeth’s biography. But more about that later—for I have something to tell you that simply cannot wait. I hardly dare believe it myself, but it’s true. I saw it with my own eyes!

If, and mind you only if, I am correct, Stephens & Stark will have the publishing coup of the century. Papers will be written, degrees granted, and Isola will be pursued by every scholar, university, library, and filthy-rich private collector in the Western Hemisphere.

Here are the facts—Isola was to speak at last night’s Society meeting on Pride and Prejudice, but Ariel ate her notes right before supper. So, in lieu of Jane, and in a desperate hurry, she grabbed up some letters written to her dear Granny Pheen (short for Josephine). They, the letters, made up a kind of a story.

She pulled the letters out of her pocket, and Will Thisbee, seeing them swathed in pink silk and tied with a satin bow, cried out, “Love letters, I’ll be bound! Will there be secrets? Intimacies? Should gentlemen leave the room?”

Isola told him to hush up and sit down. She said they were letters to her Granny Pheen from a very kind man—a stranger—when she was but a little girl. Granny had kept them in a biscuit tin and had often read them to her, Isola, as a bedtime story.

Sidney, there were eight letters, and I’m not going to attempt to describe their contents to you—I’d fail miserably.

Isola told us that when Granny Pheen was nine years old, her father drowned her cat. Muffin had apparently climbed onto the table and licked the butter dish. That was enough for Pheen’s beastly father—he thrust Muffin into a burlap bag, added some rocks, tied up the sack, and flung Muffin into the ocean. Then, meeting Pheen walking home from school, he told her what he’d done—and good riddance, too.

He then toddled off to the tavern and left Granny sitting plumb in the middle of the road, sobbing out her heart.

A carriage, driving far too fast, came within a whisker of running her down. The coachman rose from his seat and began to curse her, but his passenger—a very big man, in a dark coat with a fur collar, jumped out. He told the driver to be quiet, leaned over Pheen, and asked if he could help her.

Granny Pheen said no, no—she was beyond help. Her cat was gone! Her Pa had drowned Muffin, and now Muffin was dead—dead and gone forever.

The man said, “Of course Muffin’s not dead. You do know cats have nine lives, don’t you?” When Pheen said yes, she had heard of such before, the man said, “Well, I happen to know your Muffin was only on her third life, so she has six lives left.”

Pheen asked how he knew. He said he just did, He Always Knew—it was a gift he’d been born with. He didn’t know how or why it happened, but cats would often appear in his mind and chat with him. Well, not in words of course, but in pictures.

Then he sat down in the road beside her and said for them to keep still—very still. He would see if Muffin wanted to visit with him. They sat in silence for several minutes, when suddenly the man grabbed Pheen’s hand!

“Ah—yes! There she is! She’s being born this minute! In a mansion—no, a castle. I think she’s in France—yes, she’s in France. There’s a little boy petting her—stroking her fur. He loves her already, and he’s going to name her—how strange, he is going to name her Solange. That’s a strange name for a cat, but still. She is going to live a long, lovely venturesome life. This Solange has great spirit, great verve, I can tell already!”

Granny Pheen told Isola she was so rapt by Muffin’s new fate, she quit crying. But she told the man she would still miss Muffin so much. The man lifted her to her feet and said of course she would—she should mourn for such a fine cat as Muffin had been and she would grieve for some time yet.

However, he said, he would call on Solange every once in a while and find out how she was faring and what she was up to. He asked Granny Pheen’s name and the name of the farm where she lived. He wrote her answers down in a small notebook with a silver pencil, told her she’d be hearing from him, kissed her hand, got back into the carriage, and left.

Absurd as all this sounds, Sidney, Granny Pheen did receive letters. Eight long letters over a year—all about Muffin’s life as the French cat Solange. She was, apparently, something of a feline Musketeer. She was no idle cat, lolling about on cushions, lapping up cream—she lived through one wild adventure after another—the only cat ever to be awarded the red rosette of the Legion of Honor.

What a story this man made up for Pheen—lively, witty, full of drama and suspense. I can only tell you the effect it had on me—on all of us. We sat enchanted—even Will was left speechless.

But here, at last, is why I need a sane head and sober counsel. When the program was over (and much applauded), I asked Isola if I could see the letters, and she handed them to me.

Sidney, the writer had signed his letters with a grand flourish:

Very Truly Yours,
O. F. O’F. W. W.

Sidney, do you suppose? Could it possibly be that Isola has inherited eight letters written by Oscar Wilde? Oh God, I am beside myself.

I believe it because I want to believe it, but is it recorded anywhere that Oscar Wilde ever set foot on Guernsey? Oh, bless Speranza, for giving her son such a preposterous name as Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde.

In haste and love and please advise at once—I’m having difficulty breathing.

Juliet

Night Letter from Sidney to Juliet

13th August, 1946

Let’s believe it! Billee did some research and discovered that Oscar Wilde visited Jersey for a week in 1893, so it’s possible he went to Guernsey then. The noted graphologist Sir William Otis will arrive on Friday, armed with some borrowed letters of Oscar Wilde’s from his university’s collection. I’ve booked rooms for him at the Royal Hotel. He’s a very dignified sort, and I doubt he’d want Zenobia roosting on his shoulder.

If Will Thisbee finds the Holy Grail in his junkyard, don’t tell me. My heart can’t stand much more.

Love to you and Kit and Isola,
Sidney

From Isola to Sidney

14th August, 1946

One thought on “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Part 5

  1. Wilde unsettled the distinction between journalism and literature, turning a fashion magazine into a literary venture

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