'Lob?' said Grandpa Will, in the summer garden. 'Oh, he's older than anyone can tell. Older than the trees. Older than anybody.'
'And what does he do?' asked Lucy. She knew the answer, but liked Grandpa to tell her.
'Lob-work, that's what he does. Odd jobs around the place.' He always said it like that--Lob-work. Whenever he and Lucy were out here, Grandpa would look at a well-tended onion bed, or a watering can filled and ready, and he'd smile. And sometimes he'd look towards the hedge, as if someone was there. When Lucy looked, too, she'd see only a quiver in the leaves; a mouse, perhaps, or a spider. The thing about Lob was that not everyone could see him. Most people couldn't.
'How long has Lob been here?' Lucy asked. She knew the story, but liked hearing it over and over again.
'Oh, a long, long time. Long before you were born. Before your dad was born,' Grandpa said, his voice settling comfortably into the telling. 'It was just after your gran and I got married, and came to live here. I was chopping wood one evening, when all of a sudden I knew I was being watched. So I stopped chopping and turned round. In the corner of my eye I saw him. There he stood'--he turned round to look--'just there, by the bench. But I could only see him sidelong. When I stared straight at him, he faded away. Still, I knew who he was, knew at once. I'd heard about Lob from my grandfather, and he'd heard from his grandfather, and so on, back and back and back. There's always been Lob. He walks the roads, that's what he does. He walks and he walks, and he looks for the right person. When he finds that person, he stays around for a very long time. So I hoped he'd stay with me, and when he did I knew how lucky I was.'
'Lob chose you!'
'Will he always stay?'
'Till I die, I hope,' said Grandpa, looking round as if he wanted Lob to hear.
'But you're not going to die, are you, Grandpa?'
'We all will, in the end,' Grandpa said. 'But we needn't worry ourselves. I'm not expecting it for a while yet.'
They walked down to the end of the vegetable garden. Just the two of them, or perhaps it was the three of them.
'Is he here now?' Lucy asked, peering into the thicket of raspberry canes. 'Can you see him?'
'He'll be around somewhere. He don't always choose to be seen, Lob doesn't.'
'Will I see him?'
'I wouldn't be at all surprised,' said Grandpa. 'You're good at seeing.'
Lucy wanted and wanted and wanted to be a Lob person. She squeezed her hands into fists with wanting; she clenched her eyes tight shut, and hoped that Lob would be there when she opened them.
He wasn't. But she was sure that one day he would be.
The others--Mum and Dad and Granny Annie--thought Lob was just a game, though Grandpa often mentioned him.
'It's lucky I've got Lob,' Grandpa would say, sitting down on the bench for a rest. 'I'd find it all a bit much, these days.' And always he said, 'Thank you, my friend'--first thing in the morning, and every time he finished work and went indoors.
'Don't fill the child's head with your nonsense!' Granny would tell him, tutting. And she'd look at Lucy and shake her head, smiling, as if Lucy was old enough to know better, and Grandpa was the child.
Whatever the grown-ups said, Lucy knew there was special magic here.
She knew it whenever she came to Granny and Grandpa's. On summer mornings, early, when the grass glittered with dew. On winter nights, looking through the window of her attic room. The darkness out there was giddy with stars, and she heard the cry of an owl, or a fox, or a something, from down in the woods.
Garden magic tingled through her, from her hair to her toe-nails.
Mum said that the magic was in Grandpa's fingers. Green fingers, Mum said he had. And Lucy giggled, imagining Grandpa with green pointy fingers like an elf. In fact his hands were square and stubby, with tough, cracked nails, from all the garden work he did. He had to do a lot of scrubbing to get his hands clean when he came indoors.
Every day, Grandpa Will worked on his vegetable patch. He grew peas and runner beans, raspberries and gooseberries, carrots and parsnips, lettuces and onions and potatoes: all in neat rows, in beds that were perfectly dug and weeded.
It was a lot for him to do, all by himself. But of course, according to Grandpa, he didn't do it on his own; he was helped by Lob, in all sorts of ways. When Lob wasn't skittering about the woods or sleeping in the hedge, he found jobs to do. He collected logs, swept up piles of leaves, cleaned the tools, weeded the beds, and picked off slugs and snails.
Lob only did it when no one was looking, Grandpa said. And only when he wanted.
'You can't give him orders, tell him what to do,' Grandpa told Lucy. 'He does what he likes, Lob does.'
Often, Lucy tried to spy on Lob, hoping for just a glimpse. She'd dart out of the back door, or stalk round the corner of the cottage. But she'd never seen him, no matter how hard she searched or how cold she got, lurking in wait.
It was the beginning of June. The sky stretched high and higher, streaked with cloud. Lucy and Grandpa Will were down in the garden, planting out runner beans.
These leafy little plants had grown from the beans they'd sown in small pots, last time Lucy stayed. That was magic, if anything was! The mottled pinkish beans had been dry, rattling from their packet as Grandpa shook them into his hand. Lucy couldn't believe there was life in them, but Grandpa soaked them overnight, and next day showed Lucy how they'd plumped up, how a tiny tip of root was starting to feel its way. Now--now look! There were leaves, and stems that twined up their sticks, reaching for the sky.
Grandpa (and Lob, he said) had made the soil ready, digging and digging, adding dark compost, till the earth was as rich and moist as fruit cake. He'd put up wigwams of canes for the bean plants to climb. Now he and Lucy worked together with trowel and watering can. Lucy carried the plants to Grandpa, who tipped each one out of its pot, settled it in its hole, then pushed and firmed the soil with the tips of his fingers.
Lucy sprinkled water, making a small puddle round each plant.
'Will they grow?' she asked.
'Oh, they will, sure as ninepence,' said Grandpa.
Just then, Granny Annie shouted and waved at them from the back door. Someone had come from the village to see Grandpa.
'Want to carry on, Lucy love?' Grandpa straightened, and wiped his hands on his trousers. 'You know what to do.'
Lucy felt important. She had to do it right.
She crouched by the canes and reached for the trowel. When she'd dug the right-sized hole, she filled it from her can; then, when the water had drained away, she copied Grandpa, tapping a plant free from its pot and holding it carefully in her hands. She put it in the hole, and felt which way it wanted to face. Then she trowelled the earth around it, and pressed it close with her fingertips, as if tucking the plant up in bed.
'Grow!' she told it.
Had she done it well? Would the roots reach down and the plant grow strong? Did she have magic in her fingers?
When she'd planted them all, she went to the water-butt by the shed to refill her can. It was heavy to carry, and she sloshed water into her shoes. Concentrating hard, she didn't notice at first, but then she did.
In the gooseberry bushes near the cane wigwams, there was a flicker of movement. A tremor of greeny-brown. The flash of an eye, a bright green eye. It looked at her and seemed amused by what it saw; then blinked, and was gone.
'Lob?' she whispered.
All she saw now was leaves and grass. The gooseberry stems prickled her hands as she pushed them aside. Her ears caught a rustle that could have been laughter; then no more. Whatever it was, it was gone.
Lucy knew from Grandpa Will that Lob was a wild thing, who wouldn't let himself be caught or touched, or even stared at for long. But she'd seen him at last--seen him, all by herself!--and that made her feel special. Lob magic, garden magic--she was part of it now. It was part of her. She danced a little jig of celebration. When Grandpa came back to see how she was getting on, she rushed up to him.
'Grandpa, Grandpa! I've seen Lob!' She pulled at his sleeve, guiding him towards the gooseberries. 'There! He was sort of greeny, and he was looking at me. I think he was laughing.'
Grandpa was delighted. 'Yes! That's him, all right. Excellent! You're learning to see. I thought so. Most people don't. They look straight at Lob and have no idea he's there.'
Lucy soon realized that she wouldn't always see Lob; only sometimes, and only quick glimpses. Once she saw an old face, gnarled and barky; sometimes there was a shiver in the long grass, as if a snake was sliding through.
But even without seeing, Lucy knew he was there, from the way she felt inside. There was a sparking of mischief in her head, a tingle of energy in her arms and legs. She wanted to run, jump, climb, be everywhere at once. And she knew that Lob made Grandpa feel the same, even though he didn't run, or jump, or climb. He just moved around the grass paths and the tool shed in his usual way, slowly, surely and a little stiffly.
'Oh, you and your Lob!' the others would say to Grandpa--Dad, and Mum, and Granny Annie. They'd exchange grins that said Let him play his little game.
Lucy had to feel sorry for them. They had no idea. And she and Grandpa Will exchanged secret smiles of their own.
In the car on the long journey back to London, Mum said, 'You know Lob's not real, don't you, Lucy-Lu? It's just Grandpa's story. He likes making up special stories, just for you. There isn't really a Lob.'
'But there is, there is! I've seen him!'
'No, Lucy, you haven't. Not really. You just think you have.'
Lucy began to fear they might be right. Was Lob just a game she played with Grandpa?
Next time she went to Clunny Cottage, she was afraid that the Lob feeling wouldn't be the same.
But--yes! As soon as she got out of the car, and stretched, and hugged Granny and Grandpa, she felt Lob-magic everywhere. In the quiver of a leaf. In the deep shadows of the ash tree. In the small breeze that stirred the leaves. Here he was. Her heart lifted; she felt it rise and swell in her chest, warming her with happiness. She felt bigger and more alive here than anywhere else.
'Hello, Lob,' she whispered.
Of course he was here. Of course he was real. Now, and for ever and ever and ever.
Excerpted from Lucy and the Green Man by Linda Newbery. Copyright © 2010 by Linda Newbery. Excerpted by permission of David Fickling Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.