ISEB Set 4 English

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This extract is from the beginning of the novel


1     Rebecca Winter, talented, cheerful, and poor, had arrived at the age of sixteen without once seeing a bomb go off.
       That was not hard to do; London, in 1882, was no more explosive than it is now; though it was not less explosive,
       either, dynamite being already a vigorous instrument of politics.

2     However, on this fine May morning, Becky was not thinking of bombs. The sun was bright and the sky was dotted
        with fat little clouds like dabs of flake white on a wash of ultramarine, and Becky was walking down a tree-lined
        road in St. John’s Road in north London, thinking about German verbs. She was on her way to meet her new pupil
        – her first pupil, in fact; and she was anxious to make a good impression and acquit herself well.

3     Her cloak was a little shabby and her bonnet was unfashionable, and there was a hole in the sole of her right boot.
        But that didn’t matter. The road was dry and the air was fresh, and that young man in the straw boater had given her
        what might have been an interested look, and Becky felt splendid, for she was an independent woman –or nearly,
        anyway. Her head high, she ignored the speculative young man in the boater, checked the road sign, and turned
        up into an avenue lined with comfortable villas.

4     German was Becky’s first language. Her second was English, her third Italian, her fourth French, her fifth Spanish;
        she was in the process of mastering Russian, and she could swear in Polish and Lithuanian. She lived with her mother
        and grandmother in a plain boarding-house in the most modest corner of Maida Vale, where her mother worked as
        an illustrator of cheap novels and sensational periodicals. They had lived there ever since they had been forced
        into exile from central Europe, when Becky was three, sustained by each other’s diligence and by the local network
        of exiles from their own country and others: a poor, noisy, quarrelsome, generous, vigorously-gifted bunch of people
        from almost every country in Europe. It was as natural for Becky to think in several languages as it was to assume
        that she would have to earn a living; it seemed only sensible to put the two things together.

5     At the same time, she chafed at the limitations hemming her in. Like all people with an unromantic appearance
        (just on the sturdy side of plump, with bright, black inquisitive eyes, cheeks that flushed too easily, unruly dark hair)
        she had, she was sure, the soul of a brigand. She hungered for romance. The only romance she’d known so far had
        been a liaison with a butcher’s boy when she was twelve. He had sold her a cigarette in exchange for a kiss, but
        she hadn’t even smoked it all, because he said it was dangerous for women to smoke cigarettes in case they went mad.
        So they sat in the bushes and shared it, and she was sick over his boots, which served him right. Somehow, though,
        it hadn’t satisfied her soul. She longed for cutlasses, pistols and brandy; she had to make do with coffee, and pencils,
        and verbs.

6     She was genuinely fascinated by how languages worked, and if she couldn’t live with a band of robbers in
        a Sicilian cave, she was prepared to study linguistics at university. But that cost money. So she had done what many
        of her fellow exiles did, she placed and advertisement offering her services as a language tutor, specialising
        in German and Italian.

7     It had drawn a reply almost at once.