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The Girl in a Swing

Richard Adams

  The Qirl in a Swing, Richard Adams's fourth major

  novel, is set, like Watership Down, in the Berkshire

  countryside. Yet the story could hardly be more

  different in content from his previous world-wide

  bestsellers. This is the haunting and haunted tale,

  set in the early 1970s, of a passionate love-affair,

  overwhelmingly beautiful but at the same time

  threatened by intimations of a frightening supernatural


  Alan Desland, living in the country town of

  Newbury, has inherited his father's business in

  antique and modern ceramics. An unlikely candidate

  for the events that are to overtake him, Alan

  appears a stable, prosperous and scholarly, if

  slightly unworldly, young man. Only one hint of the

  danger that lies ahead has been revealed: from

  adolescence he has been the unwilling, and sometimes

  unwitting, victim of occasional psychic

  experiences, whether in dreams or in his daily life.

  On a business visit to Copenhagen he meets

  Kathe Geutner, a German girl of extraordinary

  beauty. Their love is mutual and instantaneous. But

  apart from the glowing and passionate intensity of

  their pleasure in one another, what does Alan really

  know of Kathe, of her life and origins? After their

  marriage in Florida and return to England it is Kathe

  who acquires for almost nothing at a local sale the

  porcelain figure known as 'The Girl in a Swing' - a

  ceramic rarity of the greatest value. Their happiness

  should be complete - but it is not: as their life

  together is invaded by a growing fear of what has

  remained unspoken between them, the scene

  gradually darkens. Omens of impending grief

  follow upon one another, the Eumenides gather for

  vengeance, the darkest shadows close in with the

  awful inevitability of a Greek tragedy. It is a drama

  which mounts in tension to a terrible and horrifying


  (continued on back flap)

  ISBN 07139 1345 2 $12.95

  Adams, Richard George

  The girl in a swing





  Penguin Books Ltd

  536 King's Road

  London SW10 OUH

  First published 1980

  Copyright � Richard Adams, 1980

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication

  may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system,

  or transmitted in any form or by any means,

  electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording

  or otherwise, without the prior permission

  of the copyright owner.

  ISBN 0 7139 1345 2

  Set in Intertype Lectura

  V Richard Clay (The Chaucer Press), Ltd. * "

  Bungay, Suffolk

  To Rosamond,

  with love


  THIS story is such a mixture that even upon reflection I

  cannot be sure of unravelling the experienced from the

  imagined. There seemed no point in giving Bradfield a pseudonym,

  since it is widely known to be unique in having a

  Greek theatre where plays are performed in the original

  Greek. There also seemed little point in disguising the fact

  that David Raeburn produced the Agamemnon of 1958. However,

  he was not assisted by either Alan Desland or Kirsten,

  since they, like Mr and Mrs Cook, Alan's housemaster and

  the other Bradfieldians mentioned, are entirely fictitious.

  Similarly, the localities in and near Copenhagen are real though

  the 'Golden Pheasant' restaurant is not. Jarl and Jytte

  Borgen are real and so is Per Simonsen, but Mr Hansen and

  his office staff are fictitious. Both Tony Redwood and Mr

  Steinberg are fictitious, but Lee Dubose happens to be real.

  And so on.

  Newbury, like many towns in England, has changed much

  during recent times, but I have written of it con amore, as

  I remember it, and hope I may be excused any minor anachronisms

  such as, for example, mention of a building which

  may in fact no longer be there. In my day there had been for

  many years an old-established china business in Northbrook

  Street, but I wish to emphasize that its proprietor - a lifelong

  friend - and staff bear no resemblance whatever to Alan

  Desland, Mrs Taswell and Deirdre, and certainly did not in

  any way suggest the story to my mind.

  So many people have helped me in one way or another

  that they might almost be said to constitute a syndicate. I

  thank them all most warmly, viz. my daughter Rosamond,

  Robert Andrewes, Alan Barrett, Jarl and Jytte Borgen, Bob

  Chambers, Barbara Griggs, John Guest, Reginald Haggar,

  Helgi Jonsson, Bob Lamming, Don Lineback, John Mallet,

  Janet Morgan, Per Simonsen and Claire Wrench.

  Special thanks are due to my wife Elizabeth, for her invaluable

  help on ceramics; and to my secretary, Janice

  Kneale, whose patience and accuracy in typing and other

  labours were of the greatest value.


  No phonetics, of course, convey the exact German inflexion, but

  a reader who pronounces 'Kathe' to rhyme with the English word

  'later' will be near enough.

  Translations of the lines from German poems, etc., mentioned

  by Alan and Kathe (together with a very brief note on the opening

  of the Agamemnon) are given at the end of the book.

  How do you like to go up in a swing,

  Up in the air so blue?

  Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing

  Ever a child can dol

  Up in the air and over the wall,

  Till I can see so wide,

  Rivers and trees and cattle and all

  Over the countryside Till

  I look down on the garden green,

  Down on the roof so brown Up

  in the air I go flying again,

  Up in the air and down!



  ALL day it has been windy - strange weather for late July the

  wind swirling through the hedges like an invisible floodtide

  among seaweed; tugging, compelling them in its own

  direction, dragging them one way until the patches of elder

  and privet sagged outward from the tougher stretches of

  blackthorn on either side. It ripped the purple clematis from

  its trellis and whirled away twigs and green leaves from the

  oaks at the bottom of the shrubbery.

  An hour ago it left the garden, but now, as evening falls,

  I can see it still tussling along the ridge of the downs four

  miles to southward. The beeches of Cottington's Clump stand

  out plainly, swaying in turmoil against the pale sky, though

  here not a breath remains to move a blade of grass: and

  scarcely a sound; the blackbirds silent as the grasshoppers,

  the crickets, within their thick, yellow-leaved holly-bush,

nbsp; not yet roused to their nightly chirping. Colours change in

  twilight. The blooms of the giant dahlias - Black Monarch

  and Anna Benedict - no longer glow dark-red, but loom

  ashen-dusky, like great, lightless lanterns tied to their stakes.

  The downs have come close - junipers, beeches and yews

  so distinct that you might imagine you could toss a stone

  onto the slope of Cottington's Hill. Yet this aspect, which

  seems an illusion, is natural, a magnification brought about

  by the rain-laden air. Rain will follow the wind, probably

  before midnight; a steady, quenching rain on the hollyhocks

  and lilies, the oaks and the acres of wheat and barley stretching

  beyond the lane.

  Kathe was sensitive as a dragon-fly to wind, sun and

  weather. On a wet evening, having opened the French windows

  to let in the sound and smell of the rain, she would

  play the piano in a gentle, melancholy largo of response to

  the pouring from grey clouds to the lawn and the glistening

  branches: so that as I came home, up the length of the garden

  lying easy under the summer downpour, I would recognize

  at one and the same time the clamour of a thrush and

  - it might be - a Chopin prelude. As I stepped in she would

  break off, smiling, raise her hands from the keys and open her

  arms in a magnificent gesture of warmth and welcome - the

  attitude of Hera or Demeter; as though both to thank me

  for the gift of all that lay around her and to invite - to

  summon - me to receive it again in her embrace. Upon such

  an evening our bodies, lying clasped together, would drift scarcely

  even glide - to harbour, almost without propulsion

  or guidance, down a gentle stream of pleasure, into and at

  length out of the smooth current, grounding at last with the

  faintest, mutual shuddering along their length; and then

  would return the sound of the rain, the smell of the wet garden

  outside, and on the nearby wall the moving shadows of

  the leaves and the quick, here-and-gone gleam of a silver sunset.

  How should I not weep?

  Last night I dreamt that I woke to hear some strange,

  barely audible sound from downstairs - a kind of thin tintinnabulation,

  like those coloured-glass bird-scarers which in

  my childhood were still sold for hanging up to glitter and

  tinkle in the garden breeze. I thought I went downstairs to

  the drawing-room. The doors of the china cabinets were

  standing open, but all the figures were in their places - the

  Bow Liberty and Matrimony, the Four Seasons of Neale

  earthenware, the Reinicke girl on her cow; yes, and she herself

  - the Girl in a Swing. It was from these that the sound

  came, for they were weeping. Their tears were falling in tiny

  crystals, flakes minute as grains of sand; and had covered,

  as with snow, the dark-green cloth of the shelves on which

  they stood. In these fragments their glaze and decoration had

  dropped away. Already some were almost unrecognizable.

  The collection was ruined. I fell on my knees, crying, like a

  child, 'Come back! O please come back!' and woke to find

  myself weeping in reality.

  I knew, of course, that nothing could be amiss with the

  collection, yet still I got up and went downstairs; perhaps to


  prove to myself that there remained something for which I

  cared enough to walk twenty yards in the middle of the

  night. I took out the Copenhagen plate, with its underglaze

  blue wave mark, and for a time sat looking at the gilt dentil

  edge and Rosa Mundi spray, designed when Mozart was still

  in his twenties and thirty years before Napoleon sent half a

  million men to grief in the Russian snows. More fragile than

  they, it had had no part in that huge disaster - and now it

  had survived my own. At length, having sat for an hour and

  watched the first light come into the sky, I went back to bed.

  I suppose I cannot truthfully say that I have always loved

  ceramics; yet even as a small boy I took an unconscious delight

  and pleasure in going down to the shop; in its abundance

  of pretty, bright-coloured objects, better than toys;

  ladies and gentlemen and animals; its displays of cut-glass

  and forty-two-piece dinner services - Susie Cooper or Wedgwood

  Strawberry Hill - though in those days, of course, I

  did not know their names. A Goss cow or Rockingham stag

  could only have strayed, so I thought, from some wonderful

  Noah's ark full of porcelain. Indeed, I remember once, since

  I couldn't see it anywhere about, asking old Miss Lee where

  the ark was kept.

  'Oh, they don't need no ark. Master Alan,' she answered.

  'The flood - that's over now, you see. And God promised

  there won't be another, not no more there won't.'

  'But -' Yet before I could point out that ordinary, wooden

  animals still had their arks notwithstanding, Miss Lee, with

  'Be a good boy, now, and remember don't go touchin' none

  of 'em,' was off to serve some imperious, fur-coated customer.

  The prohibition on touching - which I intuitively

  sensed to be strict - excited rather than frustrated me, for it

  showed that these must indeed be valuable things. I had

  heard even grown-up people - customers - politely asked not

  to touch them: and one day, at home, I saw my mother close

  to tears after she had accidentally chipped the flowers on

  the lid of a china box on her dressing-table. 'It can be

  mended, dear, I'm sure it can,' she said, though I had not

  asked her; and then set to work to gather every smallest


  fragment into an envelope. I knew also, without being told,

  that our living came from these precious, fragile wares.

  The shop, too, was different from all other shops in its

  clean, light smell - the smell of wooden packing-cases, shavings

  and sawdust - in its quietness and clear daylight, and

  the tiled floor across which the feet of Miss Lee and Miss

  Flitter went tip-tap, tip-tap so surely and purposefully, to

  produce some jug or teapot whose whereabouts they precisely

  knew. 'If you'd just care to step this way, 'm, I think

  we've got what you want down the passage.' For the passage

  - no ordinary passage - was very much part of the shop;

  frosted-paned, glass-roofed, five-tier-shelved along both

  walls, with cups, saucers, plates, jugs, sauce-boats, teapots

  and animals' drinking-bowls all in their places. A vine grew

  all along its length, half-concealing the roof, and it ended in

  a little fern-garden and a green door leading into the warehouse.

  Dimly I remember an old-fashioned, mahogany and

  glass-panelled cash desk, but this must have gone while I

  was still no more than three or four years old.

  I suppose that without thinking about it, I felt proud of

  the Northbrook Street shop for its uniqueness, its cleanness

  and myriad, faintly-glistening goods, which to me seemed

  precious simply because of their fragility. Nevertheless, it

  formed only a small part of all that made up my childhood. Ir />
  did not often go there, for we did not live 'over the shop',

  but out at Wash Common, in those days a village more than

  a mile south of Newbury, above the town and the Kennet

  valley. The house - tile-roofed, gabled and half-timbered is

  called 'Bull Banks' - a whim of the original owner, who

  apparently knew and admired Beatrix Potter; not only, someone

  once told me, for the quality of her writing, but also for

  her early example of feminine independence against odds. I

  have never had or wished to have any other home.

  Lying awake on a warm, open-windowed night, I used to

  hear the distant trains shunting in Newbury station below,

  and the faint chiming of the town hall clock. In June the

  smell of azaleas or night-scented stock would steal in and

  away, here and gone. Sometimes a roaming mosquito might

  come in handy as an excuse for a little attention after lights12

  out. 'Mummy, there's a buzzy biter in my room!' Or one

  could risk the onslaughts of the buzzy biters, get out of bed

  and lean at the window-sill, looking out towards Cottington's

  Clump on the skyline; or hope for a sight of an owl gliding

  silently over the midsummer haycocks in the wilderness beyond

  the lawn. In August the harvest moon would rise

  enormous on the left, its misty, Gloucester-cheese red slowly

  gaining to silver as it cleared the oak trees and lit the acres

  of sheaves in the great field on the further side of the lane.

  On green March evenings thrushes would shout from the

  tops of the silver birches along the edge of the lawn. My

  father would apostrophize them. 'Yes, I can hear you, and a

  nasty, vulgar bawling it is! Give me a good blackbird any

  day.' The big, half-wild garden was full of birds, to which

  he paid attention all the year round. In summer he would sit

  in a deck-chair on the lawn, the newspaper a mere pretence

  on his knee, his real purpose and pleasure being to watch and

  listen. 'There's a willow-warbler somewhere down there', he

  would say, pointing, when I came to tell him tea was ready.

  'I can't see the chap, but I can hear him." And then he would

  teach me to recognize the characteristic dying fall of the

  song. He never used binoculars, but sometimes, putting on

  his glasses, would get up and make a cautious approach for

  a closer sight of a nuthatch, perhaps, or it might be a treecreeper

  in the pines beyond the rhododendrons. 'You have to

  be able to recognize a bird by its behaviour, my boy. As often

  as not you can't get a proper look at the beggar, because he's

  against the light, you see.' Although it infuriated him to see

  a bullfinch pulling buds off the prunus tree, he would not

  interfere with it.

  My sister - three years older - and I hung up bones for the

  tits and put out old bread and bacon-rinds for the starlings

  and wagtails running on the rain-pooled lawn. Once, a lesser

  spotted woodpecker flew full-tilt into a glass pane at one

  end of the verandah and died a minute later in my father's

  hand. I have never seen one since. During the five years I

  spent at school at Bradfield I would usually, towards the end

  of March, receive a postcard from him saying simply, 'I have

  heard the chiff-chaff.'


  They say - at least, Thomas Hughes says, and various

  people have been saying it ever since - that if you don't

  want to be knocked about at a public school you have to be

  able to stick up for yourself, but I can't say I found it so,

  particularly. During my time at Bradfield both headmasters

  (for at the end of my second year there was a change) were

  humane men, setting little store by severity, and from them,

  on the whole, both staff and boys took their tone. But anyway

  boys have, I think, a kind of natural respect for consistency

  of behaviour and the faculty of self-adjustment. Certainly

  an aggressive or self-opinionated boy will need to be

  able either to stick up for himself or else to endure others'

  dislike or contempt. But one who makes no particular claims

  and whom others perceive to be content to comply with convention

  and live his own inoffensive life, is usually, in my experience,

  taken at his own valuation and left in peace, with

  no need to resort to any self-defence except that of his

  natural dignity. At any rate, it was so with me. I passed a

  quiet, uneventful five years, and although I made one or two

  friends, felt no particular desire to keep up with them after I

  left. They clearly felt the same of me. I see now that I lacked