Since her cousin's caravan lay en route, Lanky Linda collected Terry every morning to walk him to school Terry then insisted on rounding up first Sam and then Clive for the last half-mile straggle. Linda suffered for this. Almost eleven years old, she sensed keenly and intuitively the mysterious veil drawing back, the curtain that would give way to the sublime and transcendant state of adulthood. But this insight made her act strangely. Lately she had taken to wearing white lace gloves to and from school every day. Her parents summarized her condition as moody. When she wasn't known as Lanky Linda she was known as Moody Linda.
It was painful for her, trembling on the threshold of maturity as she was, to have to escort three ugly, bawling, runny-nosed boys to school and then back again, so that the prospect and retrospect of the day, and everything between, was sullied. It was like an exquisite form of punishment meted out by the gods of Ancient Greece. The boys were always ten or fifteen yards behind her, dragging chains, voicing abuse, spoiling the dazzling purity of her white, white gloves.
"You'll be late!" Linda screamed through the mist. "Late for school!"
An early autumn fog draped the fields and the hedgerows and the pavements like fine muslin cloth. The houses, the bus shelters and the telegraph poles had lost all definition. The bloodless silver-gray world needed a transfusion of color. But the hedgerows were jeweled and spangled with spider's webs, gossamer nets dripping silver balls of moisture. Linda made the mistake that morning of bending a twig into a sprung loop, a tool for collecting webbing from the hedgerows. "Look," she said. "Fairy wings."
The three boys were enormously impressed by this trick. Linda felt so encouraged that the boys now realized she had a store of knowledge to offer that she taught them all how to make a twig loop, so they could collect fairy webs for themselves.
"Late! Late! You'll be late!" she screamed again. They were now boisterously intent on thoroughly denuding the webbing from the 200-yard stretch of hedgerow. A kind of competition developed among them, poking and twirling, jabbing and twisting. It was a scene of carnage and plunder, in which the boys were cheerfully responsible for a local ecological catastrophe.
"Stop!" Linda bellowed. They ignored her. "STOOOOPPPP! STOOOOOOPPPPPPPP!"
They stopped. Linda was red in the face. The boys regarded her with astonishment. But now she'd succeeded in winning their attention she didn't know what to say to them. "If yhou take too much of that spider's web," she said, "you know what happens."
"What?" said Sam. "What happens?"
Linda was obviously thinking on her feet. "Fairy wings. Nothing left. For fairies. To make their wings."
"Ha!" spat Terry. He lobbed a tiny white ball of spittle and contempt into the gutter.
"And," Linda almost shouted, "spiders catch flies."
"So?" said Clive.
"Then there will be an epidemic of flies. Millions and millions of flies. And you know what that means."
"What?" said Sam.
"What?" said Terry.
"Plague." Linda turned on her heels and marched in the direction of school. She stopped after a few yards and turned back. The three boys stared at her with appalled, bulging eyes.
It was Clive who broke the silence. Clive, at moments like this, had a smile like the lace in an old-style football. Anyone could be forgiven for wanting to boot it. "Are you certain?" he challenged.
Linda felt her cheeks flaming. Her white-lace gloves flew to her face. She narrowed her eyes and smiled evilly. "Bubonic plague. If you don't believe me, why don't you just try it? Go on."
But the point had been won. Linda turned again and set off at a brisk pace. The boys hurried behind her in chastened silence. When they reached the sweet shop before taking the turning for the school, they each abandoned their twig loops of gray webbing. In any event the webs had surrendered all of their beauty. They were no longer silver or gosssamer or sparkling. As the school handbell was heard to ring from the playground, they were discarded at the roadside with the dirty sweet wrappers and the fallen leaves.