"Please, God,' Ruth would pray, 'don't let me be competitive. Let me realize what a privilege it is to study. Let me remember that knowledge must be pursued for its own sake and please, please stop me wanting to beat Verena Plackett in the exams.' She prayed hard and she meant what she said. But God was busy that autumn as the International Brigade came back, defeated, from Spain, Hitler's bestialities increased, and sparrows everywhere continued to fall."