The wheel of the puppet theatre caught on the curb. Grisini, at the front of the caravan, waited for Lizzie Rose to lift it free. Lizzie Rose grasped the underside of the cart and jerked upward. For the thousandth time she read the legend on the back: THE PHENOMENAL PROFESSOR GRISINI AND HIS VENETIAN FANTOCCINI. The letters were jet- black, adorned with gold curlicues. Lizzie Rose had watched Grisini repaint them a week ago. Grisini painted with his eyes half shut and his brush looping crazily: first the letters and then a canal scene of Venice, with winged lions and gondolas and a dancer in a black mask. The colors were weirdly bright and the letters almost too fancy to read, but the effect could not have been bettered. That, too, was Grisini: a bad guardian, a bad man perhaps, but a matchless artist.
" Foxy-Loxy," hissed Parsefall, "it's my turn to push."
Lizzie Rose ignored him. She knew she looked like a fox, with her reddish hair and narrow face, but she wasn't going to put up with being called Foxy-Loxy. Her father had named her for a queen, and her mother had named her for a flower. She tossed her hair over her shoulders, lips prim.
"Ain't you tired?" persisted Parsefall.
"Don't say 'ain't,' " Lizzie Rose corrected him. She went on pushing the puppet theatre. The little caravan was top-heavy, and the wheels were worn. Even with Grisini pulling it, it wasn't easy to maneuver. The two children generally took turns at the back end, but Lizzie Rose tried to make sure she had the lion's share of the pushing. Parsefall wasn't much younger than she, but he was considerably smaller, and to Lizzie Rose he looked frail.
Lizzie Rose worried about Parsefall. She had lived with Grisini less than two years, and Parsefall was still a mystery to her. Five years ago, Grisini had taken him from the workhouse to serve as apprentice; before that, the boy seemed to have no past. He was skillful with the puppets and practiced ferociously, almost if he were trying to get back at someone who had wronged him. Sometimes Lizzie Rose came upon him working the puppets with his legs crossed and a look of anguish on his face; he was so caught up with his work that he had forgotten to empty his bladder.
Except for his industry, he had few good qualities. He was selfish and rude, and his personal habits were disgusting. Nevertheless, Lizzie Rose loved him, as she might have loved a small wild animal she was trying to tame. She had a chivalrous tenderness for anyone weaker than herself, and she knew Parsefall was often afraid. Lizzie Rose's sense of smell was extraordinarily acute, and the stench of fear was unmistakable.
Parsefall reeked of it, especially when Grisini was in his darker moods. The boy had nightmares; sometimes such bad nightmares that he wet the bed.
"Come on," Parsefall urged her obstinately. " 'S'my turn." He turned his back to her so that she could drag the canvas sack off his shoulders and ease it onto her own. He took the back handle of the puppet stage and began to steer it through the streets.
Lizzie Rose gave in. It was a relief to be able to walk without banging her knees against the caravan. She patted Parsefall's shoulder by way of a thank-you. She knew that he disliked being touched, but she didn't care. She needed to pet someone, and nobody could pet Grisini.
They passed a tea stall. Lizzie Rose's stomach growled again. She felt in her pocket and found threepence. On the way home, the buns would be marked down to two a penny. Parsefall adored buns. It would serve him right if I didn't share, thought Lizzie Rose, but she knew she would share. She would even keep a morsel of bread in her pocket for Ruby, Mrs. Pinchbeck's spaniel.
She sighed. The takings from the puppet theatre had been poor lately. Grisini was surly, and she dared not ask him for money, but she and Parsefall needed many things that Grisini never bothered to provide. Parsefall's boots were riddled with holes, and his cleanest shirt was dark with grime. Lizzie Rose was tall for her age and growing rapidly; her frocks were much too small. The late Mrs. Fawr had lavished love and skill on her daughter's clothes. They had been made of the best cloth she could afford, with tucks to let out and hems to let down. Now, a year and a half after her mother's death, Lizzie Rose had opened the last of the tucks and pressed the hem flat. The skirt was still too short.
Excerpted from Splendors and Glooms by Laura A Schlitz. Copyright © 2012 by Laura A Schlitz. Excerpted by permission of Candlewick Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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