Lamb in Love is set in a rural English village the year of the Apollo moon landing and tells of two people surprised, halfway through their lives by...what? passion? desire? love? They haven't the experience to quite identify it.
Norris and Vida have known each other forever. Neither has had any idea how to go about falling in love.
Vida Stephen has been nanny for twenty years to the mentally handicapped son of a rich American widower. Every day for most of her life, she nods to Norris Lamb, the postmaster, when calling for her mail. Sometimes Norris offers pretty stamps to the boy. A fussy, stamp-collecting bachelor and church organist, Norris has fallen suddenly, amazingly, and secretly in love with Vida.
Witness to Norris and Vida's halting, at times embarrassing courtship is Vida's charge, Manford - mute and clumsy and yet possessed of an odd and gentle intelligence. It is through Manford, even thanks to him, that Norris and Vida finally come to recognize each other and themselves.
Carrie Brown has an affinity for the way love transforms the most ordinary and imperfect people. In Lamb in Love, she celebrates a man and a woman who discover in themselves a bravery that allows them to become the heroes of their own story.
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|Publisher:||Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill|
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
an excerpt from Chapter One of Lamb in Love
a novel by Carrie Brown
Norris sees how Manford, grown into adulthood, has become a handsome man in a way, though he appears like a child in most other respects.
Vida, who began as Manford's nanny when she was twenty-two, has been looking after him his whole life, twenty years, Norris calculates. Before starting work at Niven's, Manford had spent all his time with her. But Mrs. Blatchford, who works at Niven's, has confided to Norris that it is Vida's program to instill something of the "thrill of independence" in Manford now, by coaxing him to walk part of the way home by himself when his work is finished.
Since his infatuation with Vida began, Norris has watched very carefully as Mr. Niven escorts Manford across the Romsey Road, the baker's white apron flapping, his dusty flour cloth waving Manford along.
Stopping in the bakery for a loaf of bread late one afternoon, Norris paused at the door to watch Mr. Niven and Manford waiting at the curb. Mrs. Blatchford stepped outside at that moment and began pinching the brown leaves from the geraniums in the window boxes.
"Having his lesson," she said, following Norris's gaze to the two figures waiting patiently before the stream of traffic. "Vida's depending on us, you know." She lowered her voice, though there wasn't anyone else there to hear. "I do believe she's worrying about what will happen to him when she-you know. She wants to lengthen the reins a bit now, to prepare him."
Norris turned away from the cars on the Romsey Road and Mr. Niven and Manford waiting at the curb. He stared at Mrs. Blatchford, stricken. "When she what?" he managed finally. "What do you mean by 'you know,' said in that way?"
He felt himself growing fuzzy around the edges, the beginning of a faint-he was familiar with the symptoms. He'd fainted often when he was younger and doing most of his growing. Something to do with his blood pressure, Dr. Faber had said. "When she dies?" he asked finally, appalled.
Mrs. Blatchford glanced over at him. "Oh, tsk! Norris Lamb!" she said. "Every time someone mentions dying, all you men grow faint in the head! What a pack of ninnies you are! Vida's not going to die-at least, not before her time, we may hope," she said primly. She crumbled the dry leaves of the geranium, put them in her apron pocket. "She's just worrying about the day, whenever it may come. That's what we women do. We must worry. We're the designated worriers, if you will." She leaned over the window box.
Norris felt his heart begin beating again. He licked his lips. His mouth had gone dry.
"Of course, no one's asking me," Mrs. Blatchford went on blithely, "but I think his father might have done a bit more for him over the years. He's left him entirely in Vida's hands, you know. And he's plenty of money, I should think. He might have found a good institution for him! Left Vida to get on with her life."
Norris turned away from Mrs. Blatchford to watch Manford step down from the curb at Mr. Niven's urging, pausing in what Norris thought was a perilous manner to wave back at him. He felt distracted by the danger of their undertaking and wasn't able to pay full attention to Mrs. Blatchford. "He's not very attentive to traffic, is he?" he observed.
"What? Oh, no," Mrs. Blatchford said. "Not yet."
They watched Mr. Niven shoo Manford across. It seemed to Norris, who had little faith or understanding of Manford's dependability, a risky enterprise.
And then he turned around and looked at Mrs. Blatchford again. "An institution, did you say?" he asked abruptly, as if he'd just heard her. "Surely he doesn't need-all that?
Restraints-and so forth? Aren't they rather-grim?"
"Oh, we're not in the Victorian age anymore, you know, Mr. Lamb. I think some of them are very modern, like individual flats and so forth. Atriums and lifts and craft circles and whatnot. Latest techniques, you know." Mrs. Blatchford leaned toward the geraniums again and wrenched at a brown stalk. "It's not that he's a bother. I like having him about. Makes one feel-quite homey, actually. I would have suggested it myself long ago, if I'd thought of it. But it's a shame for Vida, I say. Wild horses couldn't tear him from her now. Attached like a leech, he is."
"But she-cares for him." Norris felt squirmy at the mention of leeches.
Mrs. Blatchford dusted her hands on her apron. "Why, she loves him. I should say she does. Anyone would," she said defiantly, as if Norris had just contradicted her. "Why, you've only to spend a day with him and you'd see it," she went on. "So eager to please. That's just it."
"Well-that's not a bad thing then, is it?"
Mrs. Blatchford sighed and looked out across the Romsey Road. "No, not bad. Just-rather difficult. For her, I mean."
Norris turned and watched Manford disappear round the corner. Mr. Niven came back into the courtyard, stood in the doorway of the bakery, and lifted his face to the weak afternoon sun. His cheeks were bruised looking, crosshatched with dozens of broken capillaries.
"Bunch of lunatics they hire to drive those lorries," he said. He squinted at Mrs. Blatchford and Norris. "You know, I was born here-1901, it was"-at this remark Mrs. Blatchford rolled her eyes toward Norris; Mr. Niven was famous for hating change of any sort in Hursley-"and I never thought that one day I'd see the Romsey Road turned into a motor speedway. I'd have said you were mad! But there it is. Those idiots will make a puddle of Manford one day, mark my words."
Norris glanced at the street, the blur of traffic. He thought unpleasantly of Manford reduced to a vague shape splayed across the tarmac.
"We should have a sign installed," Mrs. Blatchford offered. "They have them for blind children, I think."
"That's deaf, you twit." Mr. Niven snorted. "What would a blind child be doing crossing the road?"
"You know what I meant!" Mrs. Blatchford looked offended. "It's the notion of it."
"Yes, but what would it say? Idiot crossing? With a little silhouette of Manford on it?"
"Oh. Really." Mrs. Blatchford shook her apron at him. "What a thought."
Mr. Niven shrugged. "Well, I can't be seeing to him every minute, can I?"
Norris was unsettled by this conversation but grasped quickly the opportunity it presented. He now closes the post office just before four and walks down the road to see Manford (as unobtrusively as he can-he doesn't wish to excite scrutiny) safely to the entrance to the lane.
It is fortunate that he has done so, for twice now he has saved Manford from some possibly terrible fate, favors of which Vida is unaware.
Once, having safely crossed the Romsey Road, Manford became distracted by a rare commotion at the blacksmith's, which stands almost directly across the street from Niven's Bakery. The two institutions-along with the church and the pub and a few of the older houses-fall into the category Mr. Niven refers to as Hursley's historic jewels. It is true that few English villages still have a working blacksmith in 1969, though Norris sometimes thinks people continue to bring their horses and broken tools to Fergus simply because they are afraid not to, so foul is Fergus's temper. On the first occasion of Norris's acting as Manford's anonymous protector, Fergus had been busy shoeing a difficult mare, and sparks flew from the fire. Manford ambled slowly toward the flame. Fergus, busy with the struggling horse, his own implements, and the glowing shoe, which had fallen with a clatter to the floor, failed to notice Manford sidling toward the fire; but Norris, loitering a ways down the pavement and trying not to appear unduly attentive, suddenly realized the danger. Who knew whether Manford understood fire at all?
Though Norris hurried forward, he felt unsure about how to approach Manford, how to divert him. But as soon as Norris cried his name in alarm, Manford turned toward him. Thinking quickly-he was proud of himself later, for this-Norris fished a butterscotch from his pocket. Holding Manford's eyes in his own with what he hoped was a conjurer's hypnotic trance, he stepped slowly backward, proffering the butterscotch and urging Manford along with his beckoning hand. "Come," he said slowly, in a low, commanding tone. "Come this way, Manford." And Manford followed Norris obediently out the door of the blacksmith's. He took, when Norris jiggled it in his palm, the sticky sweet. And then, apparently recalling what he was about, he trotted off in the right direction.
Norris, who is not really a religious man despite his weekly employment at St. Alphage, closed his eyes briefly and made the sign of the cross over his heart. Then he went back to the post office, only to find several annoyed customers there in a queue outside, trying to look under the black shade pulled down at the window.
Copyright (c) 1999 by Carrie Brown. All rights reserved.