Ben, in the World

Ben, in the World

3.2 4
by Doris Lessing

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At eighteen, Ben is in the world, but not of it. He is too large, too awkward, too inhumanly made. Now estranged from his family, he must find his own path in life. From London and the south of France to Brazil and the mountains of the Andes. Ben is tossed about in a tumultuous search for his people, a reason for his being. How the world receives him, and, he fares

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At eighteen, Ben is in the world, but not of it. He is too large, too awkward, too inhumanly made. Now estranged from his family, he must find his own path in life. From London and the south of France to Brazil and the mountains of the Andes. Ben is tossed about in a tumultuous search for his people, a reason for his being. How the world receives him, and, he fares in it will horrify and captivate until the novel's dramatic finale.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
This "clear and horrific" sequel to Lessing's best-selling The Fifth Child "inspires true sympathy for her less-than-appealing Ben in this fish-out- of-water story. The reader is left wondering who the true savage is - modern man or the primitive?" "Another of Lessing's indictments of our species." "Surprisingly clumsy plotting for a writer of Lessing's stature." "It just didn't grab me."
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
When it appeared more than a decade ago, The Fifth Child, Lessing's powerful novel about a boy who was a freakish throwback to a primitive stage of existence, was justly praised as a shocking and memorable speculation about what happens when society is confronted with a human anomaly. This sequel continues Ben Lovatt's story, but with decidedly inferior narrative resources. Ben has run away from his upper-middle-class British family, who were humiliated by this genetic aberration. He is now 18, but with his fearsomely developed chest and arms, his squat and hairy body and his feral face, he appears to frightened observers to be a man in his 30s. Ironically, Ben himself is terrified of society. Unable to read, to handle money, to decipher even the simplest of situations, he is helpless, lonely and desperate. He realizes he must control the blood-red tides of rage that engulf his brain, lest he kill the adversaries who torment him. But in a series of lurid adventures in a plot that seems to have been made up in fits and starts, Ben is betrayed by nearly everyone. Only three women are kind to him: one is old and terminally ill, the other two are prostitutes. People who have power and money abuse him, notably an American scientist doing research in Rio de Janeiro, where bewildered Ben has been transported by a down-and-out filmmaker, who picked him up in Paris after Ben was used as a dupe in a cocaine smuggling operation. It's obvious that Lessing is making a social statement about how intellectuals acting in the name of art or science cruelly exploit simple people who can't defend themselves. The plot achieves bathetic melodrama in the deserted mining country of interior Brazil, where poor Ben, "knowing [he is] alone, used but then abandoned,'' meets his grisly fate and brings this soap-operatic story to its long-foreshadowed, tragic close. (Aug.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
This is a sequel to Lessing's acclaimed Fifth Child, which featured Ben Lovatt. Ben's abnormal appearance and strength distinguishes him from other people. Rejected by his older siblings, he is now homeless in London. He has been fed and sheltered by the sickly Mrs. Biggs, but when she enters the hospital, Ben ends up staying with a prostitute named Rita. Rita's boyfriend enlists Ben's unknowing assistance to transport drugs to Paris, where he meets Alex and is taken to Brazil to make a movie. There, Ben meets a scientist who wants to run genetic tests on him. Ben is treated inhumanely but is excited when he hears that he may meet more people like himself. The ending is, predictably, tragic. Powerful writing from an author noted by for dealing effectively with difficult human issues, this book admirably continues Ben's story. Recommended for all public and academic libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/00.]--Ann Irvine, Montgomery Cty. P.L., MD Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Michael Pye
...what Ben is, mostly, is a character who comes wrestling and reeking off the page, a monster whose humanity we must recognize when we least want to. We start off identifying with the nice family; we end up wanting to see the world through those goblin eyes. So Ben, in the World, which tells his other story, the one that belongs to him alone, is a most unusual kind of sequel: the absolutely necessary one...At times, Lessing's spare, sharp prose lets you see things as Ben sees them, as you have not seen things before. The book shares that uncanny effect with the best fiction.
The New York Times Book Review
The New Yorker
...slightly surreal, but moving...Lessing's unsentimental yet excruciating moral fable forces us to accept the Lovatts' dilemma as our own.
Kirkus Reviews
Far from resting on her laurels, Lessing—who has been publishing for 50 years, and goes from strength to strength—offers this bleak monitory sequel to her harrowing The Fifth Child (1988).

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HarperCollins Publishers
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5.20(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

'How old are you?' 'Eighteen.'

    This reply did not come at once because Ben was afraid of what he knew was going to happen now, which was that the young man behind the glass protecting him from the public set down his biro on the form he was filling in, and then, with a look on his face that Ben knew only too well, inspected his client. He was allowing himself amusement that was impatient, but it was not quite derision. He was seeing a short, stout, or at least heavily built man — he was wearing a jacket too big for him — who must be at least forty. And that face! It was a broad face, with strongly delineated features, a mouth stretched in a grin — what did he think was so bloody funny? — a broad nose with flaring nostrils, eyes that were greenish, with sandy lashes, under bristly sandy brows. He had a short neat pointed beard that didn't fit with the face. His hair was yellow and seemed — like his grin — to shock and annoy, long, and falling forward in a slope, and in stiff locks on either side, as if trying to caricature a fashionable cut. To cap it all, he was using a posh voice; was he taking the mickey? The clerk was going in for this minute inspection because he was discommoded by Ben to the point of feeling angry. He sounded peevish when he said, 'You can't be eighteen. Come on, what's your real age?'

    Ben was silent. He was on the alert, every little bit of him, know- ing there was danger. He wished he had not come to this place, which could close its walls around him. He was listening to the noises from outside, for reassurance from his normality.Some pigeons were conversing in a plane tree on the pavement, and he was with them, thinking how they sat gripping twigs with pink claws that he could feel tightening around his own finger; they were contented, with the sun on their backs. Inside here, were sounds that he could not understand until he had isolated each one. Mean- while the young man in front of him was waiting, his hand holding the biro and fiddling it between his fingers. A telephone rang just beside him. On either side of him were several young men and women with that glass in front of them. Some used instruments that clicked and chattered, some stared at screens where words appeared and went. Each of these noisy machines Ben knew was probably hostile to him. Now he moved slightly to one side, to get rid of the reflections on the glass that were bothering him, and preventing him from properly seeing this person who was angry with him.

    'Yes. I am eighteen,' he said.

    He knew he was. When he had gone to find his mother, three winters ago — he did not stay because his hated brother Paul had come in — she had written in large words on a piece of card:

Your name is Ben Lovatt.
Your mother's name is Harriet Lovatt.
Your father's name is David Lovatt.
You have four brothers and sisters, Luke, Helen, Jane,
and Paul. They are older than you.
You are fifteen years old.

On the other side of the card had been:

You were born ..............
Your home address is ............

    This card had afflicted Ben with such a despair of rage that he took it from his mother, and ran out of the house. He scribbled over the name Paul, first. Then, the other siblings. Then, the card falling to the floor and picked up showing the reverse side, he scribbled with his black biro over all the words there, leaving only a wild mess of lines.

    That number, fifteen, kept coming up in questions that were always — so he felt — being put to him. 'How old are you?' Knowing it was so important, he remembered it, and when the year turned around at Christmas, which no one could miss, he added a year. Now I am sixteen. Now I am seventeen. Now, because a third winter has gone, I am eighteen. 'OK, then, when were you born?'

    With every day since he had scribbled with that angry black pen all over the back of the card he had understood better what a mistake he had made. And he had destroyed the whole card, in a culminating fit of rage, because now it was useless. He knew his name. He knew 'Harriet' and 'David' and did not care about his brothers and sisters who wished he was dead. He did not remember when he was born.

    Listening, as he did, to every sound, he heard how the noises in that office were suddenly louder, because in a line of people waiting outside one of the glass panels, a woman had begun shout- ing at the clerk who was interviewing her, and because of this anger released into the air, all the lines began moving and shuffling, and other people were muttering, and then said aloud, like a barking, short angry words like Bastards, Shits — and these were words that Ben knew very well, and he was afraid of them. He felt the cold of fear moving down from the back of his neck to his spine.

    The man behind him was impatient, and said, 'I haven't got all day if you have.'

    'When were you born? What date?'

    'I don't know,' said Ben.

    And now the clerk put an end to it, postponing the problem, with, 'Go and find your birth certificate. Go to the Records Office. That'll settle it. You don't know your last employer. You don't have an address. You don't know your date of birth.'

    With these words his eyes left Ben's face, and he nodded at the man behind to come forward, displacing Ben, who went straight out of that office, feeling as if all the hairs of his body, the hairs on his head, were standing straight up, he was so trapped and afraid. Outside was a pavement, with people, a little street, full of cars, arm under the plane tree where the pigeons were moving about, cooing and complacent, a bench. He sat on it at the other end from a young woman who gave him a glance, but then another, frowned, and went off, looking back at him with that look on her face which Ben knew and expected. She was not afraid of him, but thought that she might be soon. Her body was all haste and apprehension, like one escaping. She went into a shop, glancing back.

    Ben was hungry. He had no money. There were some broken crusts on the ground, left for the pigeons. He gathered them up hastily, looking about him: he had been scolded for this before. Now an old man came to sit on the bench, and he gave Ben a long stare, but decided not to bother with what his instincts were telling him. He closed his eyes. The sun made a tiny bloom of sweat on the old face. Ben sat on, thinking how he must go back to the old woman, but she would be disappointed in him. She had told him to come to this office and claim unemployment benefit. The thought of her made him smile — a very different grin from the one that had annoyed the clerk. He sat smiling, a small smile that showed a gleam of teeth in his beard, and watched how the old man woke up, to wipe away the sweat that was running down his face, saying to the sweat, 'What? What's that?' as if it had reminded him of something. And then, to cover himself, he said sharply to Ben, 'What do you think you're laughing at?'

    Ben left the bench and the shade of the tree and the companion- ship of the pigeons, and walked through streets knowing he was going the right way, for about two miles. Now he was nearing a group of big blocks of flats. He went direct to one of them, and inside it, saw the lift come running down towards him, hissing and bumping, tried to make himself enter it, but his fear of lifts took him to the stairs. One, two, three... eleven flights of grey cold stairs, listening to the lift grumble and crash on the other side of a wall. On the landing were four doors. He went straight to one from where a rich meaty smell was coming, making his mouth fill with water. He turned the door knob, rattled it, and stood back to stare expectantly at the door, which opened. And there an old woman stood, smiling. 'Oh, Ben, there you are,' she said, and put her arm around him to pull him into the room. Inside he stood slightly crouched, darting looks everywhere, first of all to a large tabby cat that sat on a chair arm. Its fur was standing on end. The old woman went to it, and said, 'There, there, it's all right, puss,' and under her calming hand its terror abated, and it became a small neat cat. Now the old woman went to Ben, with the same words, 'There, Ben, it's all right, come and sit down.' Ben allowed his eyes to leave puss, but did not lose his wariness, sending glances in her direction.

    This room was where the old woman had her life. On a gas stove was a saucepan of meat stew, and it was this that Ben had smelled on the landing. 'It's all right, Ben,' she said again, and ladled stew into two bowls, put hunks of bread beside one, for Ben, set her own opposite him, and then spooned out a portion into a saucer for the cat, which she put on the floor by the chair. But the cat wasn't taking any chances: it sat quiet, its eyes fixed on Ben.

    Ben sat down, and his hands were already about to dig into the mound of meat, when he saw the old woman shake her head at him. He picked up a spoon and used it, conscious of every movement, being careful, eating tidily, though it was evident he was very hungry. The old woman ate a little, but mostly watched him, and when he had finished, she scraped out from the saucepan everything that was left of the stew, and put it on his plate.

    'I wasn't expecting you,' she said, meaning that she would have made more. 'Fill up on bread,'

    Ben finished the stew, and then the bread. There was nothing else to eat except some cake, which she pushed towards him, but he ignored it.

    Now his attention was free, and she said, slowly, carefully, as if to a child, 'Ben, did you go to the office?' She had told him how to get there. 'Yes.'

    'What happened?'

    'They said, "How old are you?"'

    Here the old woman sighed, and put her hand to her face, rubbing it around there, as if wiping away difficult thoughts. She knew Ben was eighteen: he kept saying so. She believed him. It was the one fact he kept repeating. But she knew that was no eighteen-year-old, sitting there in front of her, and she had decided not to go on with the thoughts of what that meant. It's not my business — what he really is, sums up what she felt. Deep waters! Trouble! Keep out!

    He sat there like a dog expecting a rebuke, his teeth revealed in that other grin, which she knew and understood now, a stretched, teeth-showing grin that meant fear.

    'Ben, you must go back to your mother and ask her for your birth certificate. She'll have it, I'm sure. It'd save you all the complications and the questions. You do remember how to get there?'

    'Yes, I know that.'

    'Well, I think you should go soon. Perhaps tomorrow?'

    Ben's eyes did not leave her face, taking in every little move- ment of eyes, mouth, her smile, her insistence. It was not the first time she had told him to go home to find his mother. He did not want to. But if she said he must... For him what was difficult was this: here there was friendship for him, warmth, kindness, and here, too, insistence that he must expose himself to pain and confusion, and danger. Ben's eyes did not leave that face, that smiling face, for him at this moment the bewildering face of the world.

    'You see, Ben, I have to live on my pension. I have only so much money to live on. I want to help you. But if you got some money — that office would give you money — and that would help me. Do you understand, Ben?' Yes, he did. He knew money. He had learned that hard lesson. Without money you did not eat.

    And now, as if it was no great thing she wanted him to do, just a little thing, she said, 'Good, then that is settled.'

    She got up. 'Look, I've got something I think would be just right for you.'

    Folded over a chair was a jacket, which she had found in a charity shop, searching until there was one with wide shoulders. The jacket Ben had on was dirty, and torn, too.

    He took it off. The jacket she had found fitted his big shoulders and chest but was loose around the waist. 'Look, you can pull it in.' There was a belt, which she adjusted. And there were trousers, too. 'And now I want you to have a bath, Ben.'

    He took off the new jacket and his trousers, obedient, watching her all the time.

    'I'm going to put away these trousers, Ben.' She did so. 'And I have got new underpants, and vests.'

    He was standing naked there, watching, while she went next door to a little bathroom. His nostrils flared, taking in the smell of water. Waiting, he checked all the smells in the room, the fading aromas of the good stew, a warm friendly smell; the bread, which smelled like a person; then a rank wild smell — the cat, still watching him; the smell of a slept-in bed, where the covers had been pulled up covering the pillows, which had a different smell. And he listened, too. The lift was silent, behind two walls. There was a rumbling in the sky, but he knew aeroplanes, was not afraid of them. The traffic down there he did not hear at all — he had shut it out of his awareness.

    The old woman came back, and said, 'Now, Ben.' He followed her, clambered into the water, and crouched in it. 'Do sit down,' she said. He hated the submission to the dangerous slipperiness, but now he was sitting in hot water to his waist. He shut his eyes, and with his teeth bared, this time in a grin of resignation, he let her wash him. He knew this washing was something he had to do, from time to time. It was expected of him. In fact he was beginning to enjoy water.

    Now the old woman, Ben's eyes no longer fastened on her face, allowed herself to show the curiosity she felt, which could never be assuaged — or indulged in.

    Under her hands was a strong broad back, with fringes of brown hair on either side of the backbone, and on the shoulders a mat of wet fur: it felt like that, as if she were washing a dog. On the upper arms there was hair, but not so much, not more than could be on an ordinary man. His chest was hairy, but it wasn't like fur, it was a man's chest. She handed him the soap but he let it slide into the water, and dug around furiously for it. She found it, and lathered him vigorously, and then used a little hand-shower to get it all off. He bounded out of the bath, and she made him go back, and she washed his thighs, his backside, and then, his genitals. He had no self-consciousness about these, and so she didn't either. And then, he could get out, which he did laughing, and shaking himself into the towel she held. She enjoyed hearing him laugh: it was like a bark. Long ago she had a dog who barked like that.

    She dried him, all over, and then led him back to the other room, naked, and made him put on his new underpants, his new vest, a charity shop shirt, his trousers. Then she put a towel around his shoulders and as he began to jerk about in protest, she said, 'Yes, Ben, you have to.'

    She trimmed his beard first. It was stiff and bristly, but she was able to make a good job of it. And now his hair, and that was a different matter, for it was coarse and thick. The trouble was his double crown which, if cut short, showed like stubbly whorls on the scalp. It was necessity that had left the hair on the top of his head long, and at the sides. She told him that one of these new clever hairdressers would make him look like a film star, but since he did not take this in, she amended it to, 'They could make you look so smart, Ben, you'd not know yourself.'

    But he didn't look too bad now, and he smelled clean.

    It was early evening and she did what she would have done alone: she brought out cans of beer from her fridge, filled her glass, and then she filled one for him. They were going to spend the evening doing what he liked best, watching television.

    First she found a piece of paper and wrote on it:

Mrs Ellen Biggs
11 Mimosa House
Halley Street, London SE6.

    She said, 'Ask your mother for your birth certificate. If she has to send for it, then tell her she can always write to you care of me — and here is the address.'

    He did not answer: he was frowning.

    'Do you understand, Ben?'


    She did not know whether he did or not, but thought so.

    He was looking at the television. She got up, switched it on, and came back by way of the cat. 'There, there puss, it's all right.' But the cat never for one moment took its eyes off Ben.

    And now it was an easy pleasant evening. He did not seem to mind what he saw. Sometimes she switched to another channel, thinking he was bored. He did like wildlife programmes, but there wasn't one tonight. This was a good thing, really, because he sometimes got too excited: she knew wild instincts had been aroused. She had understood from the start that he was controlling instincts she could only guess at. Poor Ben — she knew he was that, but not how, or why.

    At bedtime she unrolled on to the floor the futon he slept on, and put blankets beside it in case: he usually did not use coverings. The cat, seeing that this enemy was on the floor, leaped up on to the bed and lay close against the old woman's side. From there she could not watch Ben, but it was all right, she felt safe. When the lights were off the room was not really dark, because there was a moon that night.

    The old woman listened for Ben's breathing to change into what she called his night breathing. It was, she thought, like listening to a story, events or adventures that possibly the cat would understand. In his sleep Ben ran from enemies, hunted, fought. She knew he was not human: 'not one of us' as she put it. Perhaps he was a kind of yeti. When she had seen him first, in a supermarket, he was prowling — there was only that word for it — as he reached out to grab up loaves of bread. She had had a glimpse of him then, the wild man, and she had never forgotten it. He was a controlled explosion of furious needs, hungers and frustrations, and she knew that even as she said to the attendant, 'It's all right, he is with me.' She handed him a pie she had just bought for her lunch, and he was eating it as she led him out of the place. She took him home, and fed him. She washed him, though he had protested that first time. She saw how he reacted to some cold meat — quite alarming it was; but she bought extra meat for him. It was just here where he was most different; meat, he could not get enough. And she was an old woman, eating a little bit of this here, a snack there — an apple, cheese, cake, a sandwich. The stew that day had been just luck: she ate that kind of meal so seldom.

    One night, when the three of them had gone to bed, and to sleep, she had woken because of a pressure along her legs. Ben had crept up and laid himself down, his head near her feet, his legs bent. It was the cat's distress that had woken her. But Ben was asleep. It was how a dog lays itself down, close, for company, and her heart ached, knowing his loneliness. In the morning he woke embarrassed. He seemed to think he had done wrong, but she said, 'It's all right, Ben. There's plenty of room.' It was a big bed, the one she had had when she was married.

    She thought that he was like an intelligent dog, always trying to anticipate wants and commands. Not like a cat at all: that was a different kind of sensitivity. And he was not like a monkey, for he was slow and heavy. Not like anything she had known. He was Ben, he was himself — whatever that was. She was pleased he was going to find his family. He was hardly communicative, but she had gathered it was a well-off family. And there was his accent which was not what you'd expect, from how he looked. He seemed to like his mother. If she herself could be good to Ben — so Ellen Biggs saw it — then his family could too. But if it didn't work, and he turned up here again, then she would go with him to the Public Records Office and find out about his age. She was so confused about this she had given up trying to puzzle it out. He repeated that he was eighteen, and she had to believe him. In many ways he was childish, and yet when she took a good look at that face she could even think him middle-aged, with those lines around his eyes. Little ones, but still: no eighteen-year- old could have them. She had actually gone so far in her thoughts to wonder if the people he belonged to, whoever they were, matured early, in which case they would die young, according to our ideas. Middle-aged at twenty, and old at forty, whereas she, Ellen Biggs, was eighty and only just beginning to feel her age to the point that she hoped she would not have to make that annoying journey to the Records Office, and then stand in a line: the thought made her tired and cross. She fell asleep, listen- ing to Ben dream, and woke to find him gone. The paper with her address had gone, and the ten-pound note she had left for him. Although she had expected it, now she had to sit down, her hand pressing on a troubled heart. Since he had come into her life, weeks ago, foreboding had come too. Sitting alone when he had gone off somewhere she was thinking, Where's Ben? What is he doing? Was he being cheated again? Far too often had she heard from him, 'They took my money,' — 'They stole everything.' The trouble was, information came out of him in a jumble.

    'When was that, Ben?'

    'It was summer.'

    'No, I mean, what year?'

    'I don't know. It was after the farm.'

    'And when was that?'

    'I was there two winters.'

    She knew he was about fourteen when he left his family. So what had he been doing for four years?

    His mother had been wrong, thinking he had gone right away. He and his gang of truants from school were camping in an empty house on the edge of their town, and from there made forays, shoplifting, breaking into shops at night, and at weekends went to nearby towns to hang about the streets with the local youths, hoping for a fight and some fun. Ben was their leader because he was so strong, and stood up for them. So they thought, but really the reason was that inwardly he was mature, he was a grown man, more of a parent, whereas they were still children. One by one they were caught, sent to borstal, or returned to parents and school. One evening he was standing on the edge of a crowd of fighting youngsters — he did not fight, he was afraid of his strength, his rage — and he realised he was alone, without companions. For a while he was one of a gang of much older youths, but he did not dominate them as he had the young ones. They forced him to steal for them, made fun of him, jeered at his posh accent. He left them and drifted down to the West Country where he fell in with a motorbike gang, which was engaged in warfare with a rival gang. He longed to drive a motorcyde, but could not get the hang of it. But it was enough to be near them, these machines, he loved them so. The gang used him to guard their bikes when they went into a caff, or a pub. They gave him food, and even a little money sometimes. One night the rival gang found him standing over half a dozen machines, beat him up, twelve to one, and left him bleeding. His own gang returned to find a couple of their machines gone, and were ready to beat him up again but found this apparently slow stupid oaf transformed into a whirling screaming fighting madman. He nearly killed one of them. Setting on him all together they subdued him, no bones broken, but again, he was bleeding and sick. He was taken into a pub by a girl who worked there. She washed him down, sat him in a corner, gave him something to eat, talked him into sense again. He was quiet at last, dazed perhaps.

    A man came to him, sat down, and asked if he was looking for work. This was how Ben found himself on the farm. He went with Matthew Grindly because he knew that from now on any member of the two gangs seeing him would summon his mates, and he would be beaten up again.

    The farm was well away from any main road, down an over- grown and muddy lane. It was neglected, and so was the house, which was large, and bits of it were shut off where the roof leaked too badly. This farm had been left twenty years before by their father to Mary Grindly, Matthew Grindly, and Ted Grindly. A farm, but no money. They were pretty well self-sufficient, living off their animals, fruit trees, the vegetable garden. What fields there were — one after another they had been sold off to neigh- bouring farmers — grew fodder. Once a month, Mary and Matthew — now Mary and Ben — walked into the village three miles off to buy groceries, and liquor for Ted. They walked because their car was rusting in a yard.

    When money was needed for food, electricity, rates, Mary said to Matthew, 'Take that beast to market and get what you can for it.' But bills were ignored for months at a time, and often not paid at all.

    This disgraceful place tended to be forgotten by everyone: the locals were part ashamed because of it, and part sorry for the Grindlys. It was known that 'the boys' — but they were getting old now — were not far off feeble-minded. They were illiterate, too. Mary had expected to marry, but it had come to nothing. It was she who ran the farm. She told her brothers what to do: mend that fence ... clean out that byre ... take the sheep for shearing ... plant the vegetables. She was at them all day and bitter because she had to be. Then it was Matthew who was doing all the work: Ted was drinking himself to death quietly in his room. He was no trouble, but he couldn't work. Matthew was getting arthritic, and he had chest problems, and soon the hard work was beyond him too. He fed the chickens and looked after the vegetables, but that was about it.

    Ben was given a room, with poor furniture in it — very different from the pleasant rooms he had been brought up in. He could eat as much as he wanted. He worked from daylight to dark, every day. He did know that he did most of the work, but not that without him the farm would collapse. This farm, or anything like it, would soon become impossible, when the European Com- mission issued its diktats, and its spy-eyes circled for ever overhead. The place was a scandal, and a waste of good land. People came tramping along the lane and through the farmyard, hoping to buy it — the telephone had been cut off, for non-payment — and they would be met by Mary, an angry old woman, who told them to go away, and slammed the door in their face.

    When on the neighbouring farms they were asked about the Grindlys, people tended to equivocate, siding with them against officialdom and the curious. If they lost the farm, what would happen to those poor derelicts, Ted and Matthew? They would find themselves in a Home, that's what. And Mary? No, let the poor things live out their time. And they had that chap there who'd come from somewhere, no one knew where, a kind of yeti he looked like, but he did the work well enough.

    Once, when Ben had gone with Mary to the village to carry groceries back, he was stopped by a man who said to him, 'You're with the Grindlys, they say. Are they doing right by you?'

    'What do you want?' asked Ben.

    'What are they paying you? Not much if I know the Grindlys. I'll make it worth your while to come to me. I'm Tom Wandsworth...' — he repeated the name, and then again, '...and anyone around here will tell you how to get to my farm. Think about it.'

    'What did he say?' Mary asked, and Ben told her.

    Ben had never been given a pay-book, and terms and conditions of work had not been mentioned. Mary had given him a couple of quid when they went to the village so he could buy toothpaste, that kind of thing. She was impressed that he cared about his personal cleanliness, and liked his clothes neat.

    Now she said, 'I'm keeping your wages for you, Ben. You know that.'

    How could he know? This was the first time he had heard about it. Mary believed that he was stupid, like her brothers, but now saw trouble loom.

    'You don't want to leave us, Ben,' she said. 'You'd not do better with anyone else. I've got a good little bit of money put aside for you. You can have it any time.'

    She pointed to a high-up drawer in her room. Then she fetched a chair, made him stand on it, and held the back steady. There were rolls of notes in the drawer. To Ben it seemed more money than he had imagined possible. 'Is that mine?' he asked.

    'Half of it is yours,' said Mary.

    And when he had gone out of the room, she hid it somewhere else.

    It was Mary he did not want to leave, though he was fond of the cow and enjoyed the antics of the pigs. He thought Mary was good to him. She mended his clothes, bought him a new thick jersey for the winter, and gave him plenty of meat to eat. She was never cross with him, as she was with her brothers.

    He had a life the others did not guess at. They all went to bed early, with nothing to occupy their minds, and no television: Ted was usually drunk and snoring by nine or ten, and Mary listened to the news on the radio, and went to her room afterwards. Ben slid out over the sill of his window when the house was quiet, and went about the fields and woods, alone and free — himself. He would catch and eat little animals, or a bird. He crouched behind a bush for hours to watch fox cubs playing. He sat with his back against a tree trunk and listened to the owls. Or he stood by the cow with his arm around her neck, nuzzling his face into her; and the warmth that came into him from her, and the hot sweet blasts of her breath on his arms and legs when she turned her head to sniff at him meant the safety of kindness. Or he stood leaning on a fence post staring up at the night sky, and on clear nights he sang a little grunting song to the stars, or he danced around, lifting his feet and stamping. Once old Mary thought she heard a noise that needed investigation, went to a window, and caught a glimpse of Ben, and crept down in the dark to watch and listen. It really did make her scalp prickle and her flesh go cold. But why should she care what he did for fun? Without him the animals would be unfed, the cows would stay unmilked, the pigs would have to live in their dirt. Mary Grindly was curious about Ben, but not much. She had had too much trouble in her life to care about other people. Ben's coming to the farm she saw as God's kindness to her.

    Then Ted fell down some steps when drunk, and died. Surely Matthew should have been next, the half-crippled coughing man, but it was Mary who had a heart attack. Officials of all kinds suddenly became curious, and one of them, demanding to see accounts, asked Ben questions about himself. Ben was going to say something about the money owed to him, but his instincts shouted at him, Danger — and he ran away.

    He picked apples on a cider farm, and then he picked rasp- berries. The other pickers were Poles, mostly students, flown in by a contractor of labour, jolly young people determined to have a good time in spite of the long hours they had to work. Ben was silent and watchful, on his guard. There were caravans to sleep in, but he hated that closeness, and the bad air, and when he had finished eating with them, at night, listening to their songs and their jokes and their laughter, he took a sleeping bag into a wood.

    When the picking was finished he had a good bit of money, and he was happy, because he knew that it was having no money that made him helpless. One of the singing and joking young people stole his money from his jacket that was hanging above him on a bush where he lay asleep. Ben made himself go back to the farm, thinking of all that money in the drawer, and half of it belonging to him, but the house was locked, the animals were gone, and there were already nettles growing close up around the house. He did not care about Matthew, who had scarcely spoken to him except for unkind remarks such as when the old dog died — 'We don't need another dog, we've got Ben.'

    He went home to find his mother but she had moved again. He had to use his wits to find where she was. A house, but nothing like the one he thought of as home. He could not make himself go in, because he saw Paul there, and the rage that was his enemy nearly overcame him.

    So he took the old, old road to London, rich London, where surely there must be a little something for him too. There he did find work, was cheated again, lost heart, and Ellen Briggs found him starving in a supermarket.

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