Today I introduce the enigmatic Jade Finn. The girl who throws a spanner in the works of Robbie and Louise's love life and seemingly the quest for the black prism too.
Here's Robbie as he first sees her from the hill named Tor Capella, which overlooks Jade's back yard. Robbie is staking out Jade's property with a view to robbing it for the money and clothes he and Louise will need to survive in Oakwood.
Suddenly a tall girl appeared, struggling from the outhouse with a wicker basket full of washing. Robbie eased back a little from the hawthorn to watch her. Neither Tudor nor savage, wearing an emerald green dress to the calf, she was svelte with lovely dark-brown hair hanging about her shoulders in loose coils. She set down the basket, took out a white linen petticoat and pegged it to the line.
She held the next peg to be used in her lips, and Robbie watched her put out a baggy white shirt, a sleeveless garment similar to a waistcoat in maroon, a pair of knee breeches to match, and another petticoat. Her face was light-brown, broad at the cheekbone, vaguely exotic, and very attractive if not beautiful, and her long golden earrings glinted within her glorious locks as her head moved with the work. And yet, despite all this charm, which quite frankly had caused Robbie’s mind to wander from the job at hand, her big dark eyes were sullen and she seemed bored hanging out her washing, for she’d pause before dipping into the basket as if wishing the next item would be the last. Bloke trouble, speculated the distracted observer – but what sort of mug would get shut of a girl like that?
‘Jade!’ a woman’s voice called shrilly.
The girl turned her head towards the open portal, ‘Yes mother?’ Her voice was not high, but a little husky.
‘Have you taken out the pie?’
‘Just a moment.’
The girl turned on her heels and swiftly entered the house. Robbie was left with a slight gutted sensation as if short changed. Then he became aware of the smell of good cooking, of hot pastry, luscious beef stew and lashings of thick gravy, all this emanating from the open kitchen door to rise up and jab its savoury fingers into his flared nostrils. He realised then that he had not eaten since teatime yesterday. And the gutted feeling widened alarmingly to a horrible ache in the pit of his stomach.
He gazed into town to take his mind of it and thought about the girl and her situation. About nineteen or twenty, still at home with her mum – waistcoat and breeches probably her dad’s. People were emerging from alleys on the spine of the high street with a spontaneity that suggested attendance at a mass event. Like the girl, the women wore colourful dresses under their shoulder cloaks, some of the older ones covering their heads with scarves or bonnets. Across the way, a lady wearing a pinafore over a long matronly dress appeared at her front door to wave off her husband, who wore a cloak and tall hat. Though typical attire, long coats appeared equally popular among the gents, as were wide-brimmed hats, and all manner of tunics, even the silk doublet. Children now played happily, dancing noisily through the litter in the high street, whirling their colours in a riot of vivid dresses and two-piece suits. And the appearance of a few handcarts here and there, pushed by labouring types dressed not too differently from Robbie, signalled that the clean-up operation had begun.
Suddenly a crow startled Robbie. It flew close over his head beating its wings violently. He was always a bit frightened of birds and foolishly let his eyes follow the crow’s bobbing flight over the roofs of the town, over the huge temple and beyond, until it was but a speck in the blue sky above the pastures sloping to the silver river.
When his gaze returned to the yard below, the girl had returned. She was pegging out a crimson dress, a colour seemingly popular among the women in the high street. In design it was similar to the green dress she was wearing, with a chain of golden oak leaves around the hem and square neckline. But, for some reason, the girl looked a whole lot happier now and hummed a little tune as she put out the rest of the washing with newfound alacrity. Robbie’s eyes roved the red highlights in her dark hair, the golden earrings gleaming within those curls, her bare ankles and crimson toenails peeping from her flat sandals.
Without warning, she raised her chin and looked Robbie straight in the eye. A shock of adrenaline surged through him, and instantly he realised she had seen him when he had been gawping after the bird. But she was smiling wonderfully and, unless he was very much mistaken, though this was entirely possible given his limited experience, was giving him the glad eye. Quite involuntarily he smiled back at her, tingling in awe of the pleasure that now sparkled in her big dark eyes.
‘Jade, we must be on our way now,’ the shrill voice called from inside the house.
The girl wiggled her fingers at Robbie in a little gesture of goodbye, and then took her basket towards the house. At the door, she stopped and gave him a rather wistful look. Her eyes were soft and gentle, and he had to swallow hard to avoid choking. Then she was gone. The door shut tightly and the bolts clattered home.
Later that day, when the house is only occupied by Jade's brother Jason, Robbie fires the barn next to the property. Jason is drawn out to the fire and leaves the back door open. Robbie steals money, food and the clothes off the line, including Jade's red dress. The dress, which is a little tight on Louise, proves to be a fatal mistake as we shall see in the next blog.