13 December 2008

from Jane and Prudence, chapter 16 (Barbara Pym)

'Have the Clevelands a young child?' the Canon asked his wife as they drove away.

'I believe their daughter is about eighteen. She is at Oxford, I think.'

'A strange thing that,' said the Canon, changing gear. 'One would have thought there was a child about the place. The soap in the wash-basin was modelled in the form of a rabbit, and there were other animals too, a bear and an elephant.'

'And you washed your hands with a soap rabbit?' asked his wife seriously.

'Certainly. There was no other soap. I wonder if Mrs Cleveland put them there; she seems rather an unusual woman.'

'Yes, there is something strange about her.'

'I think Cleveland is quite sound,' went on the Canon. 'None of this Modern Churchman's Union or any of that dangerous stuff ...' He hesitated, perhaps meditating on the soap animals and what they could signify.

Jane and Mrs Glaze were also talking about them. Jane had thanked her for bringing in the coffee and biscuits at such an opportune time and for providing the clean towel.

'Oh, madam,' said Mrs Glaze, 'but I couldn't find a new tablet of soap.'

'Wasn't there any in the cloakroom?'

'Only the animals, madam.'

'Well, I believe it's quite good soap. I expect the Canon would enjoy using them. Men are such children in many ways.' Though perhaps not all in the same way, Jane thought. He may have regarded them as some dangerous form of idolatry.

'I was hoping he might think they belonged to Miss Flora,' said Mrs Glaze.

'Yes, he might have thought that. After all she is still a child, really.' And yet even she was old enough to enjoy doing Milton with Lord Edgar Ravenswood and to fall in love with a young man called Paul who was reading Geography. Could children do these things?

Nicholas appeared just before lunch and Jane told him of her eventful morning. They had a good laugh about the soap animals.

'I wonder if he will tell the Bishop,' said Nicholas.

'It would be rather ominous if he kept it to himself,' said Jane; 'it would seem as if he considered it rather important, not a matter for joking.'

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