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Circle of Friends

A Novel

Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy
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It began with Benny Hogan and Eve Malone, growing up, inseparable, in the village of Knockglen. Benny—the only child, yearning to break free from her adoring parents...Eve—the orphaned offspring of a convent handyman and a rebellious blueblood, abandoned by her mother's wealthy family to be raised by nuns. Eve and Benny—they knew the sins and secrets behind every villager's lace curtains...except their own.

It widened at Dublin, at the university where Benny and Eve met beautiful Nan Mahlon and Jack Foley, a doctor's handsome son. But heartbreak and betrayal would bring the worlds of Knockglen and Dublin into explosive collision. Long-hidden lies would emerge to test the meaning of love and the strength of ties held within the fragile gold bands of a...Circle Of Friends.

From the Paperback edition.
Random House Publishing Group; September 2007
ISBN 9780440337614
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: Circle of Friends
Author: Maeve Binchy
The kitchen was full of the smells of baking. Benny put down her school bag and went on a tour of inspection.

"The cake hasn't been iced yet," Patsy explained. "The mistress will do that herself."

"What are you going to put on it?" Benny was eager.

"I suppose Happy Birthday Benny." Patsy was surprised.

"Maybe she'll put Benny Hogan, Ten."

"I never saw that on a cake."

"I think it is, when it's a big birthday like being ten."

"Maybe." Patsy was doubtful.

"And are the jellies made?"

"They're in the pantry. Don't go in poking at them, you'll leave the mark of your finger and we'll all be killed."

"I can't believe I'm going to be ten," Benny said, delighted with herself.

"Ah, it's a big day all right." Patsy spoke absently as she greased the trays for the queen cakes with a scrap of butter paper.

"What did you do when you were ten?"

"Don't you know with me every day was the same," Patsy said cheerfully. "There was no day different in the orphanage until I came out of it and came here."

Benny loved to hear stories of the orphanage. She thought it was better than anything they read in books. There was the room with the twelve iron beds in it, the nice girls, the terrible girls, the time they all got nits in their hair and had their heads shaved.

"They must have had birthdays," Benny insisted.

"I don't remember them." Patsy sighed. "There was a nice nun who said to me that I was Wednesday's child, full of woe."

"That wasn't nice."

"Well, at least she knew I was born on a Wednesday . . . Here's your mother, now let me get on with the work."

Annabel Hogan came in carrying three big bags. She was surprised to see her daughter sitting swinging her legs in the kitchen.

"Aren't you home nice and early? Let me put these things upstairs."

Benny ran over to Patsy when her mother's heavy tread was heard on the stairs.

"Do you think she got it?"

"Don't ask me Benny, I know nothing."

"You're saying that because you do know."

"I don't. Really."

"Was she in Dublin? Did she go up on the bus?"

"No, not at all."

"But she must have." Benny seemed very disappointed.

"No, she's not long gone at all. . . . She was only up the town."

Benny licked the spoon thoughtfully. "It's nicer raw," she said.

"You always thought that." Patsy looked at her fondly.

"When I'm eighteen and can do what I like, I'll eat all my cakes uncooked," Benny pronounced.

"No you won't, when you're eighteen you'll be so busy getting thin you won't eat cakes at all."

"I'll always want cakes."

"You say that now. Wait till you want some fellow to fancy you."

"Do you want a fellow to fancy you?"

"Of course I do, what else is there?"

"What fellow? I don't want you to go anyway."

"I won't get a fellow, I'm from nowhere, a decent fellow wouldn't be able to talk about me and where I came from. I have no background, no life before, you see."

"But you had a great life," Benny cried. "You'd make them all interested in you."

There was no time to discuss it further. Benny's mother was back in the kitchen, her coat off and down to business with the icing sugar.

"Were you in Dublin at all today, Mother?"

"No child, I had enough to do getting things ready for the party."

"It's just I was wondering . . ."

"Parties don't run themselves you know." The words sounded sharp but the tone was kindly. Benny knew her mother was looking forward to it all too.

"And will Father be home for the cake bit?"

"Yes, he will. We've asked the people for half-past three, they'll all be here by four, so we needn't sit down to the tea until half-past five, and we wouldn't have got to the cake until your father has the business closed, and is back here."

Benny's father ran Hogan's Outfitters, the big menswear shop in the middle of Knockglen. The shop was often at its busiest on a Saturday, when the farmers came in, or the men who had a half day themselves were marched in by wives to have themselves fitted out by Mr. Hogan, or Mike the old assistant, the tailor who had been there since time immemorial. Since the days when young Mr. Hogan had bought the business.

Benny was glad that her father would be there for the cake, because that was when she might be given her present. Father had said it was going to be a wonderful surprise. Benny knew that they must have got her the velvet dress with the lacy collar and the pumps to go with it. She had wanted it since last Christmas when they went to the pantomime in Dublin and she had seen the girls on the stage dancing in pink velvet dresses like this.

They had heard that they sold them in Clerys, and that was only a few minutes from where the bus stopped when it went to Dublin.

Benny was large and square, but she wouldn't look like that in the pink velvet dress. She would be just like the fairy dancers they had seen on the stage, and her feet wouldn't look big and flat in those shoes because they had lovely pointy toes, and little pom-poms on them.

The invitations to the party had been sent out ten days ago. There would be seven girls from school, farmers' daughters mainly from outside Knockglen. And Maire Carroll, whose mother and father owned the grocery. The Kennedys from the chemist's were all boys so they wouldn't be there, and Dr. Johnson's children were all too young so they couldn't come either. Peggy Pine who ran the smart clothes shop said that she might have her young niece staying with her. Benny said she didn't want anyone they didn't know, and it was with some relief that they heard the niece Clodagh didn't want to go amongst strangers either.

Her mother had insisted she invite Eve Malone and that was bad enough. Eve was the girl who lived in the convent and knew all the nuns' secrets. Some people at school said look how Mother Francis never gives out to Eve, she's the real pet; others said the nuns had to keep her for charity and didn't like her as much as they liked the other girls whose families all contributed something to the upkeep of St. Mary's.

Eve was small and dark. She looked like a pixie sometimes, her eyes darting here and there, forever watchful. Benny neither liked Eve nor disliked her. She envied her being so fleet and lithe and able to climb walls. She knew that Eve had her own room in the convent, behind the curtain where no other girl was allowed to step. The girls said it was the room with the round window that faced down the town and that Eve could sit at the window and watch everyone and where they went and who they were with. She never went on holidays anywhere, she stayed with the nuns all the time. Sometimes Mother Francis and Mrs. Pine from the dress shop would take her on an outing to Dublin, but she had never stayed away a night.

Once, when they had gone on a nature walk, Eve had pointed to a small cottage and said that it was her house. It stood in a group of small houses, each separate and surrounded by a little stone wall. When she was older she would live in it all on her own and there would be no milk allowed in the door, and no clothes hangers. She would put all her things on the floor because it was hers to do what she liked with.

Some of them were half afraid of Eve, so nobody denied the story, but nobody really believed it either. Eve was so strange, she could make up tales and then, when everyone had got interested, she would say, "Fooled you."

Benny didn't really want her to come to the party, but for once Mother had been insistent.

"That child has no home. She must come to this one when there's a celebration."

"She has a home, Mother, she's got the run of the whole convent."

"That's not the same. She's to come here, Benny, that's my last word."

Eve had written a very neat correct letter saying that she accepted the invitation with pleasure.

"They taught her to write nicely," Eve's father had said approvingly.

"They're determined to make a lady out of her," Mother had said. No one would explain why it seemed so important.

"When it's her birthday she only gets holy pictures and holy water fonts," Benny reported. "That's all the nuns have, you see."

"God, that would turn a few of them over in their graves up there under the yew trees," Benny's father had said, but again there was no explanation of why.

"Poor Eve, what a start for her," Benny's mother sighed.

"I wonder was she born on a Wednesday like Patsy." Benny was struck by something.

"Why would that matter?"

"She'd be miserable. Wednesday's child is full of woe," Benny parroted.

"Nonsense." Her father was dismissive.

"What day was I born on?"

"A Monday, Monday September eighteenth, 1939," her mother said. "At six o'clock in the evening."

Her parents exchanged glances, looks that seemed to remember a long wait for a first and, as it turned out, an only child.

"Monday's child is fair of face," Benny said, grimacing.

"Well, that's true certainly!" her mother said.

"You couldn't have a fairer face than Mary Bernadette Hogan, spinster of this parish, almost ten years of age," said her father.

"It's not really fair, I mean I don't have fair hair." Benny struggled to fit in with the saying accurately.

"You have the most beautiful hair I have ever seen." Her mother stroked Benny's long chestnut locks.

"Do I really look nice?" she asked.

They reassured her that she looked beautiful, and she knew they had bought the dress for her. She had been worried for a bit but now she was certain.

At school next day, even the girls who hadn't been asked to the party wished her a happy birthday.

"What are you getting?"

"I don't know, it's a surprise."

"Is it a dress?"

"Yes, I think so."

"Ah, go on, tell us."

"I don't know yet, really. I won't have it till the party."

"Was it got in Dublin?"

"I think so."

Eve spoke suddenly. "It might have been got here, there's lots of things in Mrs. Pine's."

"I don't think so." Benny tossed her head.

Eve shrugged. "Okay."

The others had gone away.

Benny turned on Eve. "Why did you say it was got in Mrs. Pine's? You don't know, you don't know anything."

"I said okay."

"Have you got a frock?"

"Yes, Mother Francis got one at Mrs. Pine's. I don't think it's new. I think someone gave it back because there was something wrong with it."

Eve wasn't apologetic. Her eyes flashed, she was ready with the explanation before anyone else could make the accusation.

"You don't know that."

"No, but I think it. Mother Francis wouldn't have the money to buy me a new frock."

Benny looked at her with admiration. She softened in her own attack.

"Well, I don't know either. I think they got me this lovely velvet one. But they mightn't."

"They got you something new anyway."

"Yes, but I'd really look great in this," Benny said. "It would make anyone look great."

"Don't think about it too much," Eve warned.

"Maybe you're right."

"It's nice of you to ask me. I didn't think you liked me," Eve said.

"Oh, I do." Poor Benny was flustered.

"Good. Just as long as you weren't told to, or anything."

"No! Heavens no!" Benny was far too vehement.

Eve looked at her with a measured glance. "Right," she said. "See you this afternoon."

They went to school on Saturday mornings, and at twelve-thirty when the bell went they all poured out of the school gates. All except Eve, who went to the convent kitchen.

"We'll have to feed you up with a good meal before you go," said Sister Margaret.

"We wouldn't want them to think that a girl from St. Mary's would eat all before her when she went out to tea," said Sister Jerome. They didn't want to spell it out too much for Eve, but it was a big event, the child they had brought up being invited out to a party. The whole community was delighted for her.

As Benny had walked down the town, Mr. Kennedy called her into the chemist's.

"A little bird told me it was your birthday," he said.

"I'm ten," Benny said.

"I know. I remember when you were born. It was in the Emergency. Your Mam and Dad were so pleased. They didn't mind at all that you weren't a boy."

"Did they want a boy do you think?"

"Everyone with a business wants a boy. But I don't know, I've three of them, and I don't think one of them will ever run this place for me." He sighed heavily.

"Well, I suppose I'd better be . . ."

"No, no. I brought you in to give you a present. Here's a pack of barley sugar all for you."

"Oh, Mr. Kennedy . . ." Benny was overwhelmed.

"Not at all. You're a grand girl. I always say to myself, there's that little barrel Benny Hogan coming along."

A bit of the sunlight went out of the barley sugar. Moodily Benny tore the corner off the packet and began to eat a sweet.

Dessie Burns, whose hardware shop was next door to Kennedy's, gave her a shout of approval.

"That's it, Benny, like myself, always head in the nosebag. How are you in yourself these days?"

"I'm ten today, Mr. Burns."

"Jaysus isn't that great, if you were six years older I'd take you into Shea's and put you up on my knee and buy you a gin and It."

"Thank you Mr. Burns." She looked at him fearfully.

"What's your father doing over there? Don't tell me he's after hiring new staff. Half the country taking the emigrant ship and Eddie Hogan decides to expand."

Dessie Burns had small piggy eyes. He looked across the street toward Hogan's Gentleman's Outfitters with huge unconcealed interest. Her father was shaking hands with a man--or a boy, it was hard to see. He looked about seventeen, Benny thought, thin and pale. He had a suitcase in his hand. He was looking up at the sign over the door.

"I don't know anything about it, Mr. Burns," she said.

"Good girl, keep your mind out of business, let me tell you it's a heart scald. If I were a woman I wouldn't have the slightest interest in it either. I'd just get myself a fine eejit of a man to keep me in barley sugar all day."

Benny went on down the street, past the empty shop which people said that a real Italian from Italy was going to open up. She passed the cobbler's shop where Paccy Moore and his sister Bee waved out to her. Paccy had a twisted leg. He didn't go to mass, but it was said that the priests came down to him once a month and heard his confession and gave him Holy Communion. Benny had heard that they had sent to Dublin and maybe even Rome for him to have a dispensation, and it wasn't a question of his being a sinner or outside the Church or anything. And then she was home to Lisbeg. The new dog, which was half collie, half sheepdog, sat sleepily on the step loving the September sunshine.

Through the window she could see the table set for the party. Patsy had cleaned the brasses specially, and Mother had tidied up the front garden. Benny swallowed the barley sugar rather than be accused of eating sweets in the public view, and let herself in the back.

"Not a word out of that dog to let you know I was coming," her mother said crossly.

"He shouldn't bark at you, you're family," Benny defended him.

"The day Shep barks for anything except his own amusement there'll be white blackbirds. Tell me did you have a nice day at school, did they make a fuss of you?"

"They did, Mother."

"That's good. Well they won't know you when they see you this afternoon."

Benny's heart soared. "Will I be getting dressed, like in anything new, before the party?"

"I think so. I think we'll have you looking like the bees knees before they come in."

"Will I put it on now?"

"Why not." Benny's mother seemed excited about seeing the new outfit herself. "I'll lay it out for you on the bed. Come up and give yourself a bit of a wash and we'll put it on."

Benny stood patiently in the big bathroom while the back of her neck was washed. It wouldn't be long now.

Then she was led into her bedroom.

"Close your eyes," said Mother.

When Benny opened them she saw on the bed a thick navy skirt, a Fair Isle jumper in navy and red. A big sturdy pair of navy shoes lay in their box and chunky white socks folded nice and neatly beside them. Peeping out of tissue paper was a small red shoulder bag.

"It's an entire outfit," cried Mother. "Dressed from head to foot by Peggy Pine . . ."

Mother stood back to see the effect of the gift.

Benny was wordless. No velvet dress, no lovely soft crushed velvet that you could stroke, with its beautiful lacy trim. Only horrible harsh rough things like horsehair. Nothing in a misty pink, but instead good plain sensible colors. And the shoes! Where were the pumps with the pointed toes?

Benny bit her lip and willed the tears back into her eyes.

"Well, what do you think?" Her mother was beaming proudly. "Your father said you must have the handbag and the shoes as well, it would make it a real outfit. He said that going into double figures must be marked."

"It's lovely," Benny muttered.

"Isn't the jumper perfect? I'd been asking Peggy to get something like that for ages. I said I didn't want anything shoddy . . . something strong that would stand up to a bit of rough-and-tumble."

"It's gorgeous," Benny said.

"Feel it," her mother urged.

She didn't want to. Not while she still had the velvet feel in her mind.

"I'll put it on myself, Mother, then I'll come and show you," she said.

She was holding on by a thread.

Fortunately, Annabel Hogan needed to go and supervise the shaking of hundreds-and-thousands on the trifle. She was just heading off downstairs when the telephone rang. "That'll be your father." She sounded pleased and her step was quicker on the stair.

Through her sobs, which she choked into the pillow, Benny heard snatches of the conversation.

"She loved it, Eddie, you know I think it was almost too much for her, she couldn't seem to take it all in, so many things, a bag and shoes, and socks, on top of everything. A child of that age isn't used to getting all that much at once. No, not yet, she's putting it on. It'll look fine on her . . ."

Slowly Benny got off her bed and went over to the mirror on the wardrobe to see if her face looked as red and tearstained as she feared. She saw the chunky figure of a child in vest and knickers, neck red from scrubbing, eyes red from weeping. She was not a person that anyone would ever dream of putting in a pink velvet dress and little pumps with pointed toes. For no reason at all she remembered Eve Malone. She remembered her small earnest face warning her not to think about the dress from Dublin too much.

Perhaps Eve knew all the time, maybe she had been in the shop when Mother was buying all this . . . all this horrible stuff. How awful that Eve knew before she did. And yet Eve had never had anything new, she knew that whatever dress she got for today would be a reject. She remembered the way Eve had said "They got you something new anyway." She would never let them guess how disappointed she was. Never.

The rest of the day wasn't very clear to Benny because of the heavy cloud of disappointment that seemed to hang over the whole proceedings. For her anyway. She remembered making the right sounds and moving like a puppet as the party began. Maire Carroll arrived wearing a proper party dress. It had an underskirt that rustled. It had come from America in a parcel.

There were games with a prize for everyone. Benny's mother had bought cones of sweets in Birdie Mac's shop, each one wrapped in different colored paper. They were all getting noisy but the cake had to be delayed until Mr. Hogan returned from the shop.

They heard the Angelus ringing. The deep sound of the bells rolled through Knockglen twice a day, at noon and at six in the evening, great timekeepers as much as reminders to pray. But there was no sign of Benny's father.

"I hope he wasn't delayed ramishing on with some customer today of all days," Benny heard her mother say to Patsy.

"Not at all Mam. He must be on his way. Shep got up and gave himself a good stretch. It's always a sign that the master is heading home to us."

And indeed he was. Half a minute later Benny's father came in full of anxiety.

"I haven't missed it, we're not too late."

He was patted down and given a cup of tea and a sausage roll to bolster him up while the children were gathered and the room darkened in anticipation.

Benny tried not to feel the rough wool of the jumper at her neck. She tried to smile a real smile at her father, who had run down the town to be here for the big moment.

"Do you like your outfit . . . your first entire outfit?" he called over to her.

"It's lovely, Father, lovely. Do you see I'm wearing it all."

The other children in Knockglen used to giggle at Benny for saying "Father." They used to call their fathers Daddy or Da. But by now they were used to it. It was part of the way things were. Benny was the only one they knew without brothers and sisters, most of them had to share a mam and a dad with five or six others. An only child was a rare occurrence. In fact they didn't know any, except for Benny. And Eve Malone of course. But that was different. She had no family at all.

Eve was standing near Benny as the cake came in.

"Imagine that's all for you," she whispered in awe.

Eve wore a dress that was several sizes too big for her. Sister Imelda, the only nun in the convent who was good with the needle, had been in her sickbed so a very poor job had been done on taking up the hem. The rest of it hung around her like a curtain.

The only thing in its favor was that it was red and obviously new. There was no way that it could be admired or praised, but Eve Malone seemed to have risen above this. Something about the way she stood in the large unwieldy garment gave Benny courage. At least her horrible outfit fitted her, and though it was far from being a party dress, let alone the dress of her dreams, it was reasonable, unlike Eve's. She put her shoulders back and smiled suddenly at the smaller girl.

"I'll give you some of the cake to take back if there's any left over," she said.

"Thanks. Mother Francis loves a slice of cake," Eve said.

Then it was there, the blurry light of the candles and the singing happy birthday and the big whoosh . . . and the clapping and when the curtains were open again Benny saw the thin young man that her father had been shaking hands with. He was far too old for the party. They must have brought him back to tea with the grown-ups who would come later. He was very thin and pale, and he had a cold hard stare in his eyes.

"Who was he?" Eve asked Benny on Monday.

"He's the new assistant come to work with my father in the shop."

"He's awful isn't he?"

They were friends now, sitting on a school-yard wall together at break.

"Yes, he is. There's something wrong with his eyes I think."

"What's his name?" Eve asked.

"Sean. Sean Walsh. He's going to live in the shop."

"Ugh!" said Eve. "Will he go to your house for meals?"

"No, that's the great thing. He won't. Mother asked him to come to Sunday lunch and he made some awful speech about not assuming, or something."


"Yes, well whatever it is he's not going to do it and it seems to mean coming to meals. He'll fend for himself he said."

"Good." Eve approved of that.

Benny spoke hesitantly.

"Mother said . . ."


"If you'd like to come anytime . . . that would be . . . it would be all right."

Benny spoke gruffly as if fearing the invitation would be spurned.

"Oh, I'd like that," Eve said.

"Like to tea on an ordinary day, or maybe midday dinner on a Saturday or Sunday."

"I'd love Sunday. It's a bit quiet here on Sundays, a lot of praying you see."

"Right, I'll tell her." Benny's brow had cleared.

"Oh, there is one thing though . . ."

"What is it?" Benny didn't like the intense look on Eve's face.

"I won't be able to ask you back. Where they eat and I eat, it's beyond the curtain you see."

"That doesn't matter at all." Benny was relieved that this was the only obstacle.

"Of course, when I'm grown up and have my own place, you know, my cottage, I could ask you there," Eve said earnestly.

"Is it really your cottage?"

"I told everyone." Eve was belligerent.

"I thought it might only be a pretend cottage," Benny said apologetically.

"How could it be pretend? It's mine. I was born there. It belonged to my mother and my father. They're both dead, it's mine."

"Why can't you go there now?"

"I don't know. They think I'm too young to live on my own."

"Well, of course you're too young to live on your own," Benny said. "But to visit?"

"Mother Francis said it was sort of serious, my own place, my inheritance she calls it. She says I shouldn't be treating it as a dolls' house, a playing place when I'm young."

They thought about it for a while.

"Maybe she's right," Benny said grudgingly.

"She could be."

"Have you looked in the windows?"


"Nobody's gone and messed it all up on you?"

"No, nobody goes there at all."

"Why's that? It's got a lovely view down over the quarry."

"They're afraid to go there. People died there."

"People die everywhere." Benny shrugged.

This pleased Eve. "That's true. I hadn't thought of that."

"So who died in the cottage?"

"My mother. And then a bit later my father."


Benny didn't know what to say. This was the first time Eve had ever talked about her life. Usually she flashed back with a Mind Your Own Business, if anyone asked her a question.

"But they're not in the cottage, they're in heaven now," Benny said eventually.

"Yes, of course."

There seemed to be another impasse.

"I'd love to go and look through the window with you sometime," Benny offered.

Eve was about to reply when Maire Carroll came by.

"That was a nice party, Benny," she said.


"I didn't know it was meant to be fancy dress though."

"What do you mean?" Benny asked.

"Well, Eve was in fancy dress, weren't you Eve? I mean that big red thing, that wasn't meant to be ordinary clothes was it?"

Eve's face tightened into that hard look that she used to have before. Benny hated to see the expression come back.

"I thought it was quite funny myself," Maire said with a little laugh. "We all did when we were coming home."

Benny looked around the school yard. Mother Francis was looking the other way.

With all her strength Benny Hogan launched herself off the wall down on Maire Carroll. The girl fell over, winded.

"Are you all right Maire?" Benny asked, in a falsely sympathetic tone.

Mother Francis came running, her habit streaming behind her.

"What happened child?" She was struggling to get Maire's breath back, and raise her to her feet.

"Benny pushed me . . ." Maire gasped.

"Mother, I'm sorry, I'm so clumsy, I was just getting off the wall."

"All right, all right, no bones broken. Get her a stool." Mother Francis dealt with the panting Maire.

"She did it purposely."

"Shush, shush, Maire. Here's a little stool for you, sit down now."

Maire was crying. "Mother, she just jumped down from the wall on me like a ton of bricks . . . I was only saying . . ."

"Maire was telling me how much she liked the party Mother. I'm so sorry," Benny said.

"Yes, well Benny, try to be more careful. Don't throw yourself around so much. Now, Maire, enough of this whining. It's not a bit nice. Benny has said she was sorry. You know it was an accident. Come along now and be a big girl."

"I'd never want to be as big a girl as Benny Hogan. No one would."

Mother Francis was cross now. "That's quite enough Maire Carroll. Quite enough. Take that stool and go inside to the cloakroom and sit there until you're called by me to come away from it."

Mother Francis swept away. And as they all knew she would, she rang the bell for the end of break.

Eve looked at Benny. For a moment she said nothing, she just swallowed as if there were a lump in her throat.

Benny was equally at a loss, she just shrugged and spread out her hands helplessly.

Suddenly Eve grasped her hand. "Someday, when I'm big and strong, I'll knock someone down for you," she said. "I mean it, I really will."

"Tell me about Eve's mother and father," Benny asked that night.

"Ah, that's all long ago now," her father said.

"But I don't know it. I wasn't there."

"No point in raking over all that."

"She's my friend. I want to know about her."

"She used not to be your friend. I had to plead with you to let her come to the party," Mother said.

"No, that's not the way it was." Benny couldn't believe now that this was so.

"I'm glad the child's coming here to her dinner on Sunday," Eddie Hogan said. "I wish we could persuade that young skinnymalinks above in the shop to come too, but he's determined not to trespass, as he calls it."

Benny was pleased to hear that.

"Is he working out well, Eddie?"

"The best you ever saw, love. We'll be blessed with him I tell you. He's so eager to learn he almost quivers like Shep there, he repeats everything over and over again, as if he's learning it off by heart."

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