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Title: Between the Larch-woods and the Weir
Author: Klickmann, Flora
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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italic text is surrounded by _underscores_.]



Between the Larch-woods and the Weir

  By
  FLORA KLICKMANN
  Editor of
  “The Girl’s Own Paper and Woman’s Magazine”
  Author of
  “The Flower-Patch among the Hills”

[Illustration]

  NEW YORK
  Frederick A. Stokes Company
  Publishers



  Dedicated to
  the Memory
  of Arthur,
  Bertie, and
  Wilfrid—my
  Brothers



          Move along these shades
  In gentleness of heart; . . .
  . . . for there is a spirit in the woods.



I

Preamble


ON one of the high hills that border the river Wye, there stands an old
cottage, perched on an outstanding bluff, with apparently no way of
approach save by airship.

Looking up at it from the river bank by the weir (the self-same weir
beside which Wordsworth sat when he wrote his famous “Lines”), you can
only glimpse the chimneys and angles of the roof, so buried is the
house in the trees that clothe the hill-slopes to a height of nearly
nine hundred feet.

The cottage is not quite at the top of the hill; behind it rise still
more woods, making the steeps in early spring a mist of purple and
brown and soft grey bursting buds, followed by pale shimmering green,
with frequent splashes of white when the hundreds of wild cherries
break into bloom.

A darker green sweeps over all with the oncoming of summer, which in
turn becomes crimson, lemon, rust-gold, bronze-green, copper and orange
in the autumn, where coppices of birch and oak, ash and beech, wild
cherry, crab apple, yew and hazel intermingle with the stately ranks of
the larch-woods that revel in the heights, and give the hills a jagged
edge against the sky.

The casual tourist who merely “does” the Wye Valley—which invariably
means scorching along the one good road the district possesses,
skirting the foot of the hills—has a clever knack of entirely
missing, as a rule, the larch-woods and the weir. Obviously, when any
self-respecting motorist finds himself on a fine road where he can
trundle along at thirty miles an hour (at the least), with seldom any
official let or hindrance, he naturally shows his friends what his car
can do! And in such circumstances it is necessary to keep the eyes
glued to the half-mile straight ahead. Even though the natives are
too virtuous to need the upkeep of many policemen, stray cattle and
slow-dragging timber-wains can be quite as upsetting as a constable;
while a landslide down the hills may precipitate huge trees across the
road any day of the year, and prove an equal hindrance.

Hence, the motorist seldom seems to have eyes to spare for anything
but the road; he takes as read the woods that climb the great green
walls towering far and yet farther above him. And as for the many weirs
he passes—who could even hear them above the hustle of a becomingly
powerful car that is hoping to boast how it covered the twenty-nine
miles from Chepstow to Ross in exactly thirty minutes! Small wonder
that such as these never see that weather-worn cottage, half-hidden
among the green.

       *       *       *       *       *

But for those who are too poor, or too rich, to need to bother about
advertising their car—those who can indulge in the luxury of walking
with no fear of losing social prestige—there is, about that cottage, a
world of eternal youth that never grows old, a world that is for ever
offering new discoveries.

And from the weir in the valley to the larch-woods at the summit,
curiously insistent voices are calling. You have but to walk along the
river bank to hear them in the tumbling, swirling waters as they pour
over, and sweep around, the boulders in the river bed. And although
the only living thing you may actually see is the blue glint of a
darting kingfisher, or a heron standing sentinel on some mossed and
water-splashed rock, or a burnished swallow skimming over the surface
of the water, you know for a certainty that there is more—much more—in
the murmur of the river and the clamour of the weir than the ear can
ever classify.

Loud as it is when the tide is going down, it is not noisy—for noise
never soothes, whereas this babbling of the waters is one of the most
restful sounds the tired mind can know.

When you leave the river, and take the path that climbs up through the
woods—the path you have to search for, so overgrown is it with nut
bushes and bracken and low hanging branches of the birches—another
sense of mystery awaits you. Though the way may get easier, and the
trail a little more defined, the higher you climb, you feel you are
penetrating a new land—that you are the first ever to come this way.

And that inexplicable lure of the unknown seizes you; though you can
see nothing ahead of you but a steep rough footpath arched over by the
branches of the trees that hedge you about on either side, you are
conscious of “something” beyond the croon of the ringdoves and the
scuttle of the rabbit. It comes to you in the odour of last year’s dead
leaves under the oaks; in the pungent warm scent of the larches in the
sun. It greets you in the army of foxgloves that have monopolized the
one bit of open sky space where a few trees were uprooted in a storm;
and in the tall clump of dark blue campanula that has sprung up in
another spot where a sun-shaft falls; and in the regiments of wild
daffodils in a clearing that so far have escaped the trowel of the
spoiler.

You sense it on an early Easter day, when you pause half-way up, and
look back on a vast tracery of bare branches and twigs, pale grey where
the light strikes on them, and bursting into smiles at intervals where
the blackthorn has come out.

It speaks to you when you come upon the smooth grey bark of the
beeches, the beautifully ribbed rind of the Spanish chestnut, and the
scaly, red trunks of the pines.

You feel it at your feet when you see the brown, uncurling fern fronds;
and it pulls at your heart when you step across a brook that is
quietly talking to itself, like a happy baby, as it wanders downhill,
unconcerned and most haphazard, amid watercress and ragged robin and
creeping jenny.

When at last you emerge for a moment—breathless—from the woods, and
come upon the cottage, standing in the midst of its gay flower-patch,
you think you have solved the mystery in the sweet smell of the newly
turned earth; or that it hovers over the crimson flame of the Herb
Robert glowing all about the tops of the grey stone walls.

       *       *       *       *       *

Yet it is not merely the birds and the flowers, the wood scents
and the trees that hold one as with a spell. Such things can be
catalogued; whereas there is something intangible among the wild woods,
something indefinable, beyond all material things, that makes in some
incomprehensible way for peace of mind and the mending of the soul.
And it is one of our greatest blessings that we cannot tabulate it, or
order it by the dozen from the Stores; that it cannot be “cornered” or
monopolized by the money grubber.

The healing of the hills cannot be purchased with gold. It is free to
all—yet it can only be had by individual, quiet seeking.

The Glory still burns in the Bush; the Light of God’s kindling can
never be extinguished. But sometimes we are too preoccupied to turn
aside to see the great sight; and sometimes we fail to put our shoes
from off our feet, forgetting that the place whereon we stand is holy
ground.



II

Enter Eileen


I HAVE no “at home” day. I confess it reluctantly, knowing what a state
of social forsakenness this implies. But it is wonderful how you can
manage to occupy your time with the simple little duties of an editor’s
office, till you never feel the lack of greater events!

Not that I am cut off from acquaintances thereby; decidedly not. They
are kind enough to turn up on Saturday afternoons and take their chance
of finding me in; and when they do, with one accord they proceed to
pity me for all the “at homes” I’ve missed during the week, and they do
their best to make me bright and happy for the short half-holiday I am
able to take from work, while I just sit with my hands in my lap and
give myself up to being entertained.

I don’t do knitting on such occasions, unlike Miss Quirker who, when
I chance to call, remarks, “You’ll excuse my going on with this sock,
won’t you?—then I shan’t feel that I’m _entirely_ wasting my time!”

For weeks I had been feeling that, no matter what happened, I simply
must get away from London for a change of scene and a change of
noise—not a holiday; holidays had been out of the question for some
time past, with the major portion of the office staff at the front.
We had been postponing and postponing going away, feeling that it was
unpatriotic to be out of town when there was so much work to do. But
at last I decided some fresh air was imperative, and arranged to spend
a little time at my cottage on the hillside, Virginia and Ursula, my
two most intimate friends, accompanying me, as the Head of Affairs was
abroad on important business.

It seemed such long, long months since I had heard anything about the
Flower-Patch. True, I had left Mrs. Widow (the villager who is supposed
to look after the house in my absence) a bundle of stamped, addressed
envelopes, when last I was down, begging her to send me an occasional
letter, giving me news of the cottage, and telling me how the flowers
were getting on, and whether the rose arches had blown down, and when
the wild snowdrops in the orchard were in bloom, and if there were
many apples on the new trees we had planted, and whether the lavender
cuttings had taken hold, etc. I felt that a few details of this
description might help to keep my brain balanced amid the tumult and
terror of the War.

Mrs. Widow wrote regularly every month, and this is the type of letter
she always sent:—

    “Dear Mam. i hope your well, my newralger has been
    cruell bad but it is Better now. my daugters baby ethel
    have two teeth. she is a smart Baby but do cry a lot.
    Mrs Greens little girl have had something in her throat
    taken out. doctor says its had a noise. John Green have
    been called up but I expec you dont know none of them
    As they lives 3 mile above Monmouth. Mrs Greens sister
    lives to Cardiff she had a boy last week. i hope the
    master is well. Its the Sunday School versary tomorror.
    Thank you for the money. glad to say everything all
    rite.

                                     Yours
                                        MRS WIDOW.”

I suppose the correct thing would be to call the letters “human
documents”; but as the humans mentioned in the documents are, as often
as not, people of whom I have never heard, the record of anniversaries,
illnesses, births, deaths, and marriages that she sends regularly each
month (as a receipt for cash received), are seldom either illuminating
or exciting. There was nothing for it but to go down and glean
impressions first hand.

It was known that I was going out of town the following week,
therefore a collection of callers had looked in, and they were doing
their utmost to “liven me up” one afternoon in February, and we were
having a lovely time explaining to each other how highly strung our
respective doctors said we were when they insisted that we must take a
complete rest. It appeared—after a lavish amount of detail—that we each
suffered from far too active a brain; I found I was by no means the
only one!

We also were most communicative about the brilliancy of our
children—not that we said it because we were their mothers, you
understand; fortunately, unlike other mothers, we were able to take
quite detached views of our own children, and regard them from a purely
impersonal standpoint; a great gain, because it enabled us to see how
really exceptional they were.

I was not expected to contribute anything under this heading, save
copious notes of exclamation on hearing what the various head masters
and mistresses had said regarding the genius of the respective
children. It was simply amazing to sit there and just contemplate how
indebted the world would ultimately be to these ladies, for having
bestowed such prodigies on their day and generation; for evidently
there wasn’t one of my guests who owned a just-ordinary child! No,
these young people were all the joy and pride of their teacher, and
the way all of them would have passed their exams, (if they hadn’t
also possessed too active brains, like their mothers), was positively
phenomenal.

There was one exception though—a boy at Dulwich, who was notorious for
his adhesion to the lowest place in the form. But his mother, not one
whit behind the others in her proud estimate of her son, confided to me
that, for her part, she shouldn’t think of allowing Claude to be high
up in the form. His ability was so marked, that the doctor said he must
at all costs be kept back. Besides, you always knew that a school that
put its brightest and most brilliant boys at the bottom of the class
never showed favouritism or forced the children unduly.

I agreed with her heartily, and then listened to the confidences
of another caller, a near neighbour (this one was without children,
brilliant or otherwise), who told me that she had felt it her patriotic
duty in war time to do all she could with her own two hands in the
house; she had therefore cut down her fourteen indoor servants to nine;
and she assured me she found that they could really manage quite well
with this small number. Of course I looked politely incredulous; who
wouldn’t, knowing that there was her husband as well as herself to be
waited upon?—and I raised my eyebrows interrogatively, as though to
inquire how she ever succeeded in getting even the simplest war-meal
served with so inadequate a staff! But before she had time to tell me
how she managed, the door opened and Mrs. Griggles was announced. And
as, whenever Mrs. Griggles is announced, it is the signal for everyone
who can to fly, I was not surprised to see furs and handbags being
collected, and in a few more minutes the newcomer and I had the drawing
room to ourselves.

Mrs. Griggles is a woman with, let us say, a dominant note; not that I
object to that; every woman nowadays simply must have a dominant note
if she is to keep her head above water (women’s war-work has proved
a boon in that respect), and some of them are more trying than Mrs.
Griggles’ pursuit of charity recipients. There is the moth-ball lady,
for instance, who’s perennial boast is that the moth never come near
_her_ furs; the nuisance is that no one else can come near them either.

Then there is the educational lady, who runs a serial story on the
iniquities of our educational methods. “The whole system is wrong,
abso-_lute_-ly wrong, from beginning to end,” she declaims. My one
consolation is, that she would be far less pleased if it were right,
since she would then have nothing to rail about.

But my greatest bugbear is the inquisitorial lady—generally eulogized
by the Vicar, when he is stuck fast for an adjective, as “_very_
capable.” She starts right away, in the middle of a piece of best
war-cake, with a clear cut inquiry such as: “Does your husband wear
striped flannel shirts under his white ones?” Hurriedly you try to
decide on the safest reply. But she has you either way! If you say Yes,
she explains how injurious it is to wear coloured stripes; they may be
a deadly skin irritant, for all you know. If you say No, she holds up
hands of amazement that any woman can neglect the man of her heart in
such a way, and instructs you in the necessity for his wearing flannel
in addition to his vests.

Mrs. Griggles is a mere picnic beside the inquisitorial lady, for at
least you know what her theme will be; whereas with the other you never
know where she will open an attack.

Mrs. Griggles’ mission in life is to be generous and charitable. “It
is so beautiful to feel that you have done another a kindness, no
matter how small,” she constantly remarks. And I’ll say this for Mrs.
Griggles, I never knew anyone able to do so many kindnesses in the
course of the year—at other people’s expense! And I never knew anyone
more generous—with other people’s possessions.

Where her own belongings are concerned, she is the very soul of rigid
economy; why they didn’t co-opt her on to the War Savings Committee I
cannot understand.

Only once has she been known to give away anything of her own, and
that was a paper pattern of a dressing jacket that she cut out in
newspaper from the tissue original which she had borrowed from a friend.

Whenever I see the lady looming in the offing, I find myself mentally
running over my wardrobe, to see what coat or skirt I can spare for
the sad case she is probably just starting in a hairdresser’s shop; or
wondering whether I have any sheets for a sick woman; or whether the
stock of knee-caps I purchased at the last Bazaar is quite exhausted;
or whether the kitchen would rebel if she does send every week for the
tea-leaves; or whether I’ve given away all the Surgical-Aid letters.

You never know what request she will make. Yet she doesn’t irritate
me, as she does some people, simply because I regard her as a
Charity-Broker; her work is distinctly useful, and, up to a certain
point, praiseworthy, if she didn’t make quite such a song about her own
benevolence and ignore the part in it played by other people.

She saves my time by hunting out cases that may, or may not, need help;
and if she glows when she bestows my money or my boots upon them—well,
I glow too, with the thought of my own kindness and beneficence. And
anything that can make anybody glow in this vale of tears, isn’t to be
despised.

Of course I wasn’t surprised when she began, with her second mouthful,
“By the way, dear, I’ve _such_ a distressing case I’m needing a little
help for; really quite _heart_-breaking.”

I’d heard it all before, and instantly decided that my mackintosh
could go; it was rather too skimpy for the fuller skirts that the
season had ushered in. Likewise the plaid blouse; the pattern was very
disappointing now it was made up; piece goods are so deceptive. And I
would gladly part with the vermilion satin cushion embroidered with
yellow eschscholtzias, that had lain in a trunk in the attic since the
last Sale of Work but two, if the distressing case could be induced to
believe that it needed propping up in bed. But the rest of my goods I
meant to cling to with all the tenacity of a war-reduced woman with no
separation allowance. I hadn’t one solitary woollen garment to spare,
no matter _how_ rheumaticky the heartbreak might be.

But it turned out that it wasn’t clothes she was wanting, at least,
only as a side issue. Her main need was for a few weeks of fresh air,
a happy home, plenty of good plain food and good influence (this last,
she told me, was _most_ important, and that was why she had thought at
once of coming to me) for a girl who had just had a bad break-down,
through overwork and underfeeding in a cheap-class boarding house where
she had been the maid of all work. Nothing the matter with her that you
could put your finger on, but just a general slump—though Mrs. Griggles
put it more choicely than that.

The girl’s biographical data included: a grandmother who attended Mrs.
Griggles’ mothers’ meeting regularly, though she had to hobble there,
one of the cleanest and most respectful women you could ever hope to
meet; a mother who had died in the Infirmary at her birth, a father who
had never been forthcoming, and an upbringing in the workhouse schools.

I hadn’t been exactly planning to take on an orphan at that time: they
are proverbial for their appetites, and the butcher’s book hadn’t led
my thoughts in that particular direction, any more than the dairyman’s
weekly bill. All the same, when Mrs. Griggles showed me how plain my
duty lay before me, naturally I said: “Send her and her grandmother
round to see me this evening.” I was even more anxious to see the
grandmother than the girl; for I had long ago given up all hope of ever
meeting again such a phenomenon (or perhaps it should be phenomena,
being feminine) as a woman who was clean as well as respectful!

       *       *       *       *       *

They arrived promptly. The grandmother seemed a sensible, hard-working
body, who had migrated from Devonshire to London when she married; for
over forty years she had lived, or rather existed, in the back-drifts
of our great city with never a glimpse of her native village. Yet——

On my writing table there stood a bowl of snowdrops, in a mass of
sweet-scented frondy moss, with sprigs of the tiny-leaved ivy; they had
arrived only that morning from the Flower-Patch among the hills. When
she saw them, the old woman clasped her hands with genuine emotion.
“Oh, ma’am, _how_ they ’mind me of when I was a girl!” she exclaimed.
“And with that moss and all! Why, I can just feel my fingers getting
all cold and damp as they used to when I did gather them in the lane
’long by our house—it seems on’y yesterday, that it do!” and tears
actually came to her eyes.

I decided on the spot that her granddaughter should have the freshest
of air and the best of food (to say nothing of unlimited good
influence) for the next month, at any rate.

As for the granddaughter herself, I think she was the most utterly
dejected, forlorn, of-no-account-looking girl I have ever set eyes
on. She told me she was twenty (though her intelligence seemed about
fourteen), and her name was Eileen. It was noticeable, however, that
her grandmother, in the fit of reminiscent absent-mindedness occasioned
by the snowdrops, called her Ann.

It wasn’t that she looked ill; hers was an expression of hopelessness;
the look that comes to a young thing from a course of systematic
unkindness from which it has neither the wit nor the courage to escape.
Since she had left the Parish Schools, she had apparently drifted
from one place to another, each worse than the last. Fortunately her
grandmother had kept a firm hold of her, and had done her best to keep
her clean—both in body and mind; but her whole appearance said as
plainly as any words, that no one else had ever taken the slightest
personal interest in her, or given her anything to hope for.

Her hair was screwed round in a small tight knot in the nape of her
neck, and kept there by two huge hairpins the size of small meat
skewers; her dress was merely a dingy-black shapeless covering, not
even a fancy button to brighten it; her hat was a plain all-black
sailor. She had that blank, dazed look that one so often sees when
lower-class children are brought up in masses, where individual
attention is impossible.

I told them that I was going down to the West of England the following
week, and if she thought she could stand the quiet, and the absence of
shops and people, Eileen could come for a month, and just breathe the
fresh air and do her best to get strong.

She was genuinely delighted—there was no mistake about that. She
seemed quite to wake up, and became almost animated at the thought of
going into the country. _That_ was the thing that appealed to her; and
she looked at me with open-eyed amazement when I told her that the
snowdrops grew wild in the orchard there.

In the orchard? And might she pick a few for herself and send one or
two to her grandmother? Wouldn’t “they” mind if anyone picked some? She
had never seen a violet or a primrose growing wild in her life, though
she had always wanted to.

And she and her grandmother looked and smiled at each other with some
new bond of sympathy.

Heredity will out!

“But,” said the grandmother firmly, almost ashamed of her own
sentimental lapse of the minute before, “of course she will work,
ma’am, and work well—or she’s no granddaughter of mine!—in return for
your great kindness in having her. She can’t pay you in money, but she
can work, and I hope you’ll find her very useful. You’ll do your best
for the lady, won’t you, Ann?”—most severely to the girl.

“Yes, grandmother,” she replied, dropping back into an attitude of meek
dejection. “Of course I’ll do my _very_ best.”

I told them there was no need for her to do more than make her own
bed. Abigail would be there to do all I needed. But the girl protested
she should be happier if she had proper work to do, if only I could
find something I wanted done; and her grandmother insisted that she
hoped she knew her place, and it wasn’t a lady she was born to be, and
therefore I must see that she didn’t sit with her hands idle.

So I said she and the housemaid must settle it between them, and I
summoned Abigail to be introduced to Eileen, and explained that they
would be spending the next week or two together.

Abigail listened, I presume, though her gaze was on the curtain-pole at
the far end of the room; and she finally departed with neither look nor
word that betrayed the slightest consciousness of Eileen’s existence;
Eileen meanwhile looked nervously frightened and more dejected than
ever.

       *       *       *       *       *

I was by no means surprised when Abigail sought me out next morning
to inquire, if it was all the same to me, might cook go down to the
country this time, in her stead? as her sister was expecting to be
married immediately—well, it might be next week, or the week after, or
next month; she couldn’t say exactly; it all depended on when her young
man got leave. But naturally she, Abigail, wanted to be present at the
wedding; and one couldn’t get up in half-an-hour from Tintern! In any
case, she was having a new dress made, in readiness for the event, and
wanted to go to the dressmaker next Friday.

It would be a most inhuman person who sought to part a girl and her
sister’s wedding; naturally I said on no account must she be away from
London on such an occasion—and please send cook to me.

She came, with pursed lips.

Of course, if Madam wished her to go down to the country, Madam had
only to give instructions, etc.—the inference being that whenever Madam
gave instructions, crowds flew to carry them out!

But her left ankle had been very troublesome lately; Madam probably
remembered that it was all due to the time she turned her foot under
on the rough path in the lower wood the very last occasion she went
down. She had thought of asking for a couple of hours off, to go to
the doctor about it to-morrow; but of course, if there wasn’t time for
that, etc.——

February in the country never did agree with her; always gave her hay
fever, she was never herself for six months after; still, if I wished
her to go next week, etc.——

Only, there was one point on which she would be glad of a clear
understanding before she went: _was she expected to wait on that young
person?_

I told her, no; and she need not wait on me either. I shouldn’t take
either of them down with me. I left it at that—to her surprise.

Then I sought out Eileen and her grandmother, asked if she felt she
could make the fires and wash up, if Mrs. Widow and I did all the rest;
as, if so, I should pay her at the same rate that I paid Abigail. You
should have seen the look of relief that came over her face when she
heard Abigail was not going.

“Oh, I could do _everything_,” she said. “I’d so much rather do it
and be by myself. I’m very strong; and I’m afraid I might upset Miss
Abigail.”

“_Miss_ Abigail!” snorted the old grandmother. “Has to earn her living
same as the rest of us, I suppose! But I’m much more easy in my mind,
ma’am, that Ann is going without her. She’ll look after you well, she
will; you’ll want nothing, her’ll see to that” (slipping back into her
old-time Devonshire), “but she’s not bin used to stuck-up society.”

Thus it came about that instead of the fashionably-attired and
efficient Abigail, I eventually went down to my cottage accompanied by
a girl who looked precisely like an estimable orphan, just stepped out
of some Early Victorian Sunday-school library book; and you felt sure
she would come to an equally virtuous end.

Nevertheless, I didn’t go the following week, as I had planned.



III

“You Never Know”


Life is full of surprises.

Virginia has always maintained that the motto of my house ought to be
“YOU NEVER KNOW,” simply because of the rapidity with which I change
my mind, and the complications and unexpected developments that follow
thereupon.

She begged me to have it carved in the wooden beams above the
mantelpiece. But as I didn’t, she brought me a Chinese tablet (her
brother is a persistent traveller, and I think she had unearthed
it from some of his effects), bearing on a red background three
imposing-looking Chinese symbols, in gold.

I asked her what they meant; though I have never embarked on any
language of China, Virginia has studied most things under the sun, and
I concluded she knew. She replied that it was the household motto: “You
never know”; and she placed it in a conspicuous position above the
fireplace in my London dining-room. And when guests asked its meaning,
of course I translated it for them, with the air of one who had spoken
Mandarin from her cradle; and they looked proportionately impressed.

One day, however, an Oriental scholar of unquestionable authority
chanced to be dining with us, and he suddenly raised his glasses and
studied the tablet with evident interest.

“May I ask why you have that above the mantelpiece?” he inquired
politely.

“Oh, it’s merely the family motto,” I answered airily, “but we have it
in Chinese to-night, in your honour.”

“Really! You do surprise me!! It seems so curious to be greeted with
that in your house!!!” And he looked at me in undisguised amazement.

Then I grew anxious, and wondered to myself what it did mean; and since
discretion is the better part of a good many things, I thought it would
be wisest to explain that I hadn’t the faintest idea what it stood for.

He smiled when I confessed. “Well, I can tell you,” he said, as he
proceeded to mumble a little in an unknown tongue to himself, reading
each collection of strokes in turn. “It means—er—let me see—well—to
translate it quite broadly, you understand, in the vernacular, the
nearest equivalent in English is ‘Beware of Pickpockets.’”

       *       *       *       *       *

Truly, you never know!

Work was extra heavy in my office that week. Like every other business
house, we were understaffed, with the majority of our expert men at the
front. Moreover, I was trying to get things a little ahead, as I was
going away on the Friday.

I did not get home till nearly nine o’clock on the Tuesday following my
adoption of Eileen, and by that time I was too tired to trouble about
matters domestic. Nevertheless I noticed that the house seemed very
draughty; but I put it down to a very high wind that had set in earlier
in the day.

As I was going upstairs to bed about half-past ten, I noticed the
powerful draught again. I like plenty of air in the house, but after
all a line should be drawn somewhere when it is blowing a hurricane,
and I said so.

“_Well_, and to think I forgot to tell you!” said Abigail cheerfully.
“The skylight’s blown clean away, and rain’s been pouring in like
anything on the top landing!” Judging by her pleased expression, you
might have thought that the deluge was in gold.

If you have ever been fortunate enough to find yourself minus a
fair-sized skylight on a stormy night, and the man of the house away on
urgent business, and not expected back for a month, you will know what
my feelings were when I heard the news. It is useless for me to try to
describe them.

Virginia and Ursula, who live near me in London, were hastily
summoned. By the time we had all done exclaiming, “Well, I never!”
singly and in chorus, and had heard full details of the catastrophe
repeated for the eighth time by Abigail, it was eleven o’clock. And as
no self-respecting builder’s man can do any work after five o’clock
(and few seem able to do any before that hour), it was obviously
useless to hope for professional aid. So we took a step-ladder to the
top landing and piled it on a table, with me on top of all, domestics
clutching the step-ladder fervently as I balanced myself on its dizzy
height, and exclaiming, “Oh, do be careful, madam!” at frequent
intervals; with Virginia and Ursula offering unlimited advice in a
running duet.

At last I was high enough to get my head out of the space where the
skylight ought to have been, and there I saw it further down the roof.
I fished for it with the crook of an umbrella-handle, and got it up at
last, though it threatened to blow away again every moment. We managed
to secure it by putting some screws in the framework of the roving
skylight, and also in the woodwork to which that skylight was supposed
to be attached, but wasn’t; and then winding copper wire round and
round both sets of screws. In this way we kept the flighty creature
anchored till the morning. I was rather proud of the neat and effectual
job I had made of it, when I surveyed it from below.

The builder smiled politely but pitifully when he gazed at my efforts
next day. He then proceeded to explain to me that though, of course, he
was quite competent to refix that skylight as it ought to be fixed (and
as, indeed, it never had been fixed since the day the house was built),
nevertheless it would be an exceedingly awkward job. From what I could
gather from his technical conversation, and diagrams made with a stubby
bit of pencil on old envelopes from his pocket, that skylight had been
placed in absolutely the most inaccessible part of the whole roof; it
would take all sorts of ladders, to say nothing of scaffolding, to
get anywhere near it, etc. It would be a dangerous job, too, and of
course he must take every precaution and run no risks. All of which I
knew from past experience was by way of letting me know that (being
the unfortunate owner of the property) I should have the privilege of
settling a nice long bill presently.

I did feebly suggest that rather than imperil the lives of his most
valuable-looking assistants, he should simplify matters by dealing with
the skylight from the inside. But he only looked at me witheringly and
said, “Madam, the hinges are outside.”

Naturally, I was humiliated and effectually silenced.

When, finally, they had accomplished the well-nigh impossible, and
reached that skylight, the builder returned to report that never, in
all his life, had he seen a roof in worse condition than mine was. It
appeared to be simply a special providence that the whole covering to
the house had not blown clean away—or else tumbled in on top of us! He
said he just wished I would come up and see it; he didn’t ask anyone
merely to take his word for it; there it was for me to see; and I might
believe him when he said that if the roof needed three new slates it
needed three hundred.

Once again I got in a gentle word to the effect that it was strange
we had never had any trouble with the roof, nor a drop of rain come
through; but the look of injured, virtuous dignity he put on at the
mere hint of doubt on my part, made me hastily beg him to proceed with
the necessary work—otherwise I saw myself sitting up another night
sick-nursing a skylight!

The builder told me I needn’t worry about the gentleman being away;
lots of gentlemen he was in the habit of working for were away just
now; he would superintend the work his own self, and he went off
assuring me that he meant to make a _good_ job of it.

Then I sent a note to Eileen, asking her kindly to postpone packing
for a few days, as I was unavoidably detained in town.

The men got on the top of the roof most mornings at about half-past
six, and apparently started to play golf up there—judging by the
sounds overhead. But they always found it too windy, or too wet, or
too something, to stay up there, once they had awakened the whole
household. So they invariably went away again till about three-thirty
in the afternoon—by which time I suppose the roof was thoroughly well
aired, and it was safe for them to sit on it and smoke a pipe or two.

It was a fortnight before that roof was finished. Finally they left.
And the kitchen staff grew pensive.

But the very day after they had cleared their ladders away, I saw a
tiny stream oozing out of the sodden grass in the front garden. I knew,
even before the builder returned and looked wise, that it was a leak in
the pipe leading from the water-main.

The pipe-mending squad that arrived next morning was not the same
as the roof-mending squad; but the kitchen, being quite impartial,
recovered its spirits immediately.

These men, evidently most competent, started work in a business-like
manner, by removing the two sets of gates, that terminate the
semi-circular carriage drive, and blocking up the stable door with
them. Next they dug what looked like a network of trenches for giants.
They piled up the edging tiles from the beds, and the gravel from the
paths, on the front door step; they banked up turf and more gravel
under the windows; they uprooted laurels and privet, and the usual
array of evergreens that are the only things that will keep alive
in a London front garden, and laid them one on top of the other,
effectually barricading the tradesmen’s entrance. And when they had
made it delightfully impossible for anyone to get either in or out of
the house, they one and all came to a halt, and leant wearily on their
picks.

Just then a brilliant idea seemed to strike one of them whereby he
might make himself a still greater nuisance, and he hurriedly turned
off the water.

They spent the remainder of the day resting on their tools—save when
they were gallantly passing in cans and jugs of water (borrowed from my
neighbour) to smiling Cook or Abigail at the side door.

It rained hard all night, and by next morning we had quite a spacious
lake in the front garden. The squad returned to the post of duty, and
once more disposed themselves like guardian angels on its banks. When,
in sheer exasperation, I asked them how long they were going to leave
things like that, and the house without a drop of water, the foreman
replied, politely but non-committally, that he couldn’t exactly say,
but the Boss was coming round to see me shortly.

The builder arrived later, to inform me that this was a most serious
leak; he didn’t know when he had seen one precisely like it before. Of
course, it was partly due to the pipe; how any man could have called
himself a plumber, and put in such a pipe as _that_!—well, words failed
him! He himself was not a man to boast of his own doings, but he didn’t
mind telling me that I could take up any piece of ground I liked, where
he had laid a pipe, and see the sort _he_ put underground.

Then it transpired that the leakage was of such a character that he
dare not proceed an inch farther with it without calling in the water
company’s officials. Did I authorise him to do so? Of course they would
charge special fees for “opening up the ground.” I wondered where else
they would find any to “open up” on my premises, seeing that by this
time the whole estate was a gaping void! As I saw the turncock and
a variety of other gentlemen with gold letters embroidered on their
collars, propping themselves up against my holly hedge, I just said,
“Oh, yes; do anything you please.”

And they did.

Some of the embroidered ones then proceeded to dig up the whole
pavement, and right out into the middle of the road (the leak being
inside the garden, close beside my front door!). It does not take long
to write about it, but I don’t want to mislead you into thinking there
was any feverish haste about their methods. Oh, no! theirs was the calm
un-hurrying work of the true artist; and the builder’s squad stood
round admiringly, most careful not to interfere.

Once again the whole lot came to a standstill, and rested on any
available implement; and they now made a goodly crowd (I had no idea
there were so many non-khaki men still loose), which was further
supplemented by a policeman, one or two aged men who had discarded the
workhouse for the more leisurely life that modern business offers,
and a variety of languid young ladies who had been sent out on urgent
errands from sundry local shops.

In the lull, the chief official from the water company sought an
interview with me, when he broke the news that never, in all his life,
had he seen a more antiquated stop-cock (which, by the way, had been
made in Germany) than the one I had had placed (apparently out of sheer
perversity or malice) in the front of my premises. It seems that there
was no key in the whole of London that would turn that stop-cock; and
when finally it had turned it, that key could not be got out again.
However, or whenever, I had managed to evade the Eye of Authority so
far as to drop that stop-cock into the ground, he could not think; but,
at any rate, out it would have to come again.

Here I managed to get in a word sideways, and told him that the much
maligned article had been placed there by another squad of men from the
same water company (after a similar harangue), and then duly “passed”
by an inspector only two years ago.

Two years ago! he exclaimed, why, _that_ inspector had been called up
in the spring, and he was no loss to the company! Not that he (the
speaker) was one to say anything against another man’s work, but if I
would just come out and examine it for myself (it was raining torrents,
and the stop-cock was an island in a watery waste) I would see that
the whole affair was scandalous. He was the last to utter an ill-word
about any man, more especially behind his back, but conscientiousness
compelled him to state that the late inspector was about as fit to be
in the employ of a water company as—“as _you_ are, ma’am.” Evidently he
could think of no more hopelessly incapable specimen of humanity.

Then it transpired that the real object of his call on me was to ask
whether I authorised him to put in a new stop-cock (more special fees,
of course).

As I didn’t seem to be left much choice in the matter, and I wasn’t
sure whether, if I left it in, after being told to take it out, the
Defence of the Realm couldn’t come and have me shot at dawn, I told him
he had my full permission to put in twenty new stop-cocks if he liked;
he was at liberty to place them as a trimming outside my garden wall,
or as an edging at the kerb, or in a fancy zigzag design around the
drive—anything—everything—whatsoever and howsoever he pleased, so long
as it enabled him, conscientiously, _to turn on my water again_.

(The lady next door had already said that while she was delighted
to give me the water, and would even throw in all the jugs and cans
she possessed, she really couldn’t spare her coachman (aged 73) for
more than half-an-hour at each delivery, as he was the one ewe-lamb
left them, since war claimed the rest, and would I kindly see that my
kitchen limited their conversation to that extent, and returned him,
carriage forward, within that time.)

The Chief Official looked at me thoughtfully for half a moment, and
then retired in silence—to have the door-mat he had just vacated
immediately monopolised by the builder, who had been waiting
respectfully in the background. (I say background, because I can’t
think of any other comprehensive term that signifies a couple of
narrow, wobbly, muddy planks, laid across a well-filled moat; _ground_
there was none.)

He congratulated me on having been let off by the Official so
easily, and cited instances of owners of property he knew who had
been compelled to lay miles of fresh pipes (or it seemed to be
miles, judging by the time he took to describe it) as the result of
inattention to Official Rules and Regulations regarding Stop-cocks. But
he intimated that he had put in a good word for me, and besought them
to deal leniently with me, “Knowing, ma’am, how generous you and the
gentleman always are.”

I didn’t respond to the hint.

Just at this point he made an opportunity to suggest that in view
of the shocking workmanship revealed in the pipes outside, it would
certainly be wise of me to have the pipes overhauled all through the
house, because one could never tell when one might burst without a
moment’s notice, and a flood of water ruin everything. It would only
necessitate his taking up the floors in the dining-room and the study
and the hall and the kitchens and the greenhouse next the house,
and possibly a landing and bath-room and dressing-room upstairs. As
it was, the pipes might be leaking terribly under the ground-floors
already, disseminating damp and disease throughout the house (though
the servants and I were particularly healthy at the time). There was
a terrible amount of illness about, he continued; next door to him
a little boy had whooping-cough, and the local undertaker, a friend
of his, had just told him trade had never been better; although they
were working day and night they could hardly manage to execute all the
orders. Of course, all this was primarily due to damp.

Even as he spoke he pressed his ample foot so heavily on the hall
floor, that but for a stout linoleum I feel sure he would have gone
through; then he said it looked to him very much as though dry rot had
set in there already, and it would probably be necessary to re-floor
the hall.

In vain I reminded him that it had rained without cessation—so far as
my distraught memory served me—for the past eighteen months, hence
_dry_ rot would seem little short of a miracle. But he only looked at
me in that pitying way builders do when any feminine owner of property
ventures a remark; and he next asked if I had noticed signs of damp
anywhere in the upstairs room? After all, the upstairs pipes might be
leaking too.

Then I remembered, and I told him there undoubtedly was damp upstairs,
now he mentioned it, one patch about two feet square, and another
smaller one. He was instantly alert, said it would certainly be one of
the pipes leading from the cistern; most dangerous, too, for you never
knew when the whole cistern might be flowing down over everything. So
I took him up and showed him the big wet patches on a ceiling, one
dripping with a melancholy hollow sound into a zinc bath Abigail had
placed below; they were on the ceiling directly under that portion of
the roof where his men had played golf each morning, the cistern being
in another part of the house, and no pipes were anywhere near.

He became silent, and I left him meditating, while I went down to see
Virginia, who had come in.

“Ursula and I have been making plans for you,” she began, “as you seem
too distracted to make any for yourself.”

“Distracted! I should think I am; so would you be if you had the
cheerful prospect of a cistern emptying itself on top of you at any
moment—that is to say, if it ever gets full again—and the whole of the
downstairs floor to come up, and dry-rot in the hall, and the Law down
on you because you’ve been harbouring an alien stop-cock, and exactly a
pint of water in the house (apart from that which is coming in through
the roof, of course), and whooping-cough and a watery grave just ahead
of you, and the undertaker too busy to bury you!”

“Just listen to me,” she said soothingly. “You are probably not aware
that you have got the back of your skirt fastened somewhere about your
left hip, and the braiding that ought to be down the centre in front,
is just at your right hand. Now when a woman puts on her clothes like
_that_, it’s a sure sign she needs a little rest. Therefore I’m going
to take you right off to the cottage first thing to-morrow morning;
I’ve told Eileen to be ready; and Ursula is coming in here to assume
charge of affairs till such time as those amiable British workmen see
fit to remove themselves.”

I protested that I was far too necessary to the well-being of London
to be spared at the moment, and widespread havoc would result if I
left town at this juncture. By way of reply, she asked if I would take
some linen blouses with me, as well as my thicker things, in case the
weather turned warmer? And then she summoned Abigail to help her do my
packing.

Next morning, as I was being tenderly placed in the one and only cab
our suburb now possesses, the whole battalion of workmen, embroidered
and otherwise, paused respectfully in the midst of further excavations
and a vastly extended scheme of earthworks they had started upon; and
I saw a look on the face of the Chief Official that plainly said he
considered they were removing me to an asylum none too soon!



IV

The Hill-Side Trail


Eileen didn’t say much on the journey, save an occasional burst of
ecstasy when she saw a rabbit sitting up and washing its face. It
was interesting to watch the Devonshire ancestry looking out through
eyes that hitherto had seen little but the sordid grey-brown grime
of London, but were now drinking in everything on that loveliest of
English lines—and where can you equal the G.W.R. for beautiful scenery,
combined with such good carriage springs, such courteous officials, and
such always-attentive guards?

Owing to the accommodating character of the Time Table, as re-arranged
by our paternal government, there was no Wye Valley connection, and
we had some time to wait at Chepstow. We went into the hotel and I
ordered a meal, Eileen choosing fried ham and eggs as the greatest
flight of luxury to which her mind could soar. I admit it was reckless
extravagance for war-time, but Virginia and I, to say nothing of
Eileen, were cold and hungry, and really one can’t be held accountable
for one’s actions under such circumstances. It was a noble dish when it
came, enough for five people.

When Eileen had cleared her first helping, she merely gazed at me with
a seraphic smile, still clutching her knife and fork. I asked if she
would like any more?

“No, thank you, ma’am,” she replied, in the most polite company style.
But seeing her eyes still on the dish, I pressed her to have another
slice; I knew she would have several hours of keen fresh air before we
could get our next meal.

She leant a little towards me, her knife and fork held upright on the
table the while. “Well, it’s like this,” she said, in a loud stage
whisper, that sent a ripple over the few people who were in the coffee
room. “Does you have to pay for it whether you eats it or not?”

I nodded.

“Then I _will_ have some more, thank you,” and she heaved a sigh of
deep contentment.

Perhaps it was as well Abigail didn’t come!

       *       *       *       *       *

The drive from the station to my cottage seemed to be through one long
vista of sweet odours.

Up to Monmouth the Wye is a tidal river, and the water was rushing up,
backed by a strong wind, bringing with it, faint but unmistakable, the
salt tang of the sea, that seems all the more delicious when it has
swept over woods and meadows and ploughed fields.

As we left the river bank and started the long uphill climb, the scent
of the newly-turned earth became more and more insistent as one passed
stray farms and cottages, where the most was being made of the little
bright sunshine.

Although it was only the end of February, the brave bit of sunshine had
stirred in the larches thoughts of coming spring, and already there was
a suspicion of the resinous odour that is one of their many delightful
characteristics.

But it would be impossible to name even a fraction of the perfumes
that were floating about that day: everything in Nature had responded
to the welcome sun-warmth; and incense was rising from myriads of
leaf-buds, closely sheathed as yet; from uncountable armies of grass
blades; from flowering moss, and uncurling ferns, and bursting acorns;
from the hundreds of thousands of catkins swinging on the hazels;
from primroses pushing up pink stems and yellow blossoms in sheltered
corners, where they had been protected by drifts of dead leaves. And
probably the leaves of the wild hyacinths, now an inch or so above
ground, had brought up some of the sweet earth-scents from below;
likewise the blue-green leaves of the daffodils just poking through
the soil, and the snowdrop spears, whose white flowers were nodding in
big patches in orchards and front gardens. And it is certain that some
early violets were hiding under their leaves.

It is noticeable that while the scents of autumn are often strong and
bitter, the scents of spring are usually delicate and sweet.

       *       *       *       *       *

It seems to me that in time we town-dwellers will lose our sense
of smell! The odours that pervade our cities are so surpassingly
abominable, that in sheer self-defence we have to “turn off our nose,”
if you know what I mean by that; we are getting to smell as little as
possible, just as we are getting to breathe as little as possible,
owing to the vitiated air of the great crowded centres; with the result
that we seem to be losing our power to smell sensitively and keenly, as
well as our power to breathe deeply.

In town, the winds and the seasons seem only distinguishable by the
grade of one’s underwear. Outer garments are no guide, for in December
and January one meets bare chests in the public thoroughfares and
transparent gowns indoors; while in August, with equal suitability, we
trim a chiffon blouse with fur! (and, by the way, it is instructive to
recall the fact that it was a German Court dressmaker who first set
going the inappropriate, vulgar, inartistic fashion of trimming frail
transparent dress materials with fur).

If you live in clean fresh air, however, you know the seasons by their
odours, and it is possible to distinguish with absolute certainty the
four winds of heaven by their scent, just as at sea you can smell land,
or an iceberg, before it is anywhere within sight.

The scent of the east wind is entirely different from the scent of the
north wind, though both are cold and penetrating. In the same way, the
scent of growing bracken—for instance—is entirely different from the
scent of moss. But it takes time for the town-dweller to be able to
distinguish between the more subtle of the thousand fragrances that
Nature flings broadcast about the countryside, so blunted is the sense
of smell by the coarse reek of dirt, and petrol, and chemicals, and
smoke, and over-breathed poisoned atmosphere that does duty for “air”
in the modern centres of civilisation.

       *       *       *       *       *

Virginia was vowing that she could actually smell the salmon in the
river, when we entered the village; at the same time, the fish cart
that makes a weekly tour of these hills was standing outside the “New
Inn” (dated 1724). I omitted to draw her attention to the coincidence,
because at that moment the lady of the post-office stepped out into the
road and waved a telegram at our approaching steed.

It was from the Head of Affairs, briefly stating that he had returned
home, safe and sound, that he would soon have the little mess cleared
up, and that I need not worry.

Naturally, my inclination was to turn round there and then, get back
home as soon as possible, and fall on his overcoat; but Virginia
reminded me that there was no train returning that day, and if there
were, we should probably only cross one another on the road—in
accordance with my usual method of meeting people.

So I went on, a huge load having been lifted from my brain. I
am sufficiently out-of-date and weak-minded to be profoundly
thankful when the Head of Affairs steps in and re-adjusts my
always-very-much-in-a-tangle affairs, and sets them on a business-like
basis again: and knowing his capability to deal both with mind and
matter, I didn’t worry another moment, though I was sceptical about any
speedy clearing up of the mess!

And because my heart was lighter, I seemed to see so many things I had
not noticed before. In every sheltered corner shoots were showing, and
green things starting from the earth—and every shoot set one’s mind
running on ahead to the things that were yet to be. I have heard people
deplore the fact that human nature is so prone to anticipate events; I
have been told that the reason animals live such a placid, contented
life, is because they only concentrate on the present. It may be so;
but personally, I wouldn’t be without my anticipations, even though it
may mean a loss of placidity.

The commandment is to take no _anxious_ thought for the morrow; there
is nothing said against looking ahead for happiness.

And a wander among our hills and along our lanes on a mild February
day, means that in addition to the loveliness of early spring, you
sense the beauty of summer—and much more besides.

Every soft, grey-green shoot on the tangled honeysuckle stems sets
you thinking of the yellow, rosy-tinged blossoms that will fill the
long summer evenings with fragrance; every crimson thorn and bursting
leaf on the wild rose, tells of far-flung branches that will arch the
hedges and flush them with pale-pink flowers later on; the rosettes of
foxglove leaves on the roadside banks remind you of the bells that will
be ringing all along the lanes when summer sets in.

And although the fresh green of all the courageous little things that
have braved the winds and peeped forth, is exquisite enough in itself
to satisfy that eternal craving of the human heart for something fresh
from the Hand of God, yet the promise that each proclaims carries one
into further realms of loveliness, and conjures up visions that can
never be put down in black and white.

One dimly understands how impossible was the task St. John set himself
when he tried to describe the glimpse that was permitted him of the
City not made with hands. He wrote of gold, and pearls, and crystal,
and inexhaustible gems—yet these are but cold, lifeless things, and the
list of them leaves us unmoved. With all the words at his command, with
all the similes he could muster, nothing brings us so near a conception
of that vision as his indication of the Divine understanding of poor
human needs, and the promise of a fuller, richer life, freed from
earthly disadvantages and with nothing to sever us from God.

At a time like the present, when souls innumerable are bearing silent
sorrows, and the whole earth is scarred with the iron hoof of the
Prussian beast, how much more to us than all the radiance of topaz,
jacinth, sapphire and amethyst is the assurance—“There shall be no more
death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain
. . . and there shall be no more curse: but the Throne of God and of the
Lamb shall be in it; and His servants shall serve Him: and they shall
see His Face.”

       *       *       *       *       *

At this season of new-bursting life we, too, catch a glimpse of the
Beyond, and underlying all our delight in the material beauty of
spring, is there not the still deeper joy arising from the promise
it brings of greater beauty yet unfulfilled—beauty that transcends
all earthly imaginings? The heart, whether conscious of it or not,
assuredly finds comfort in the reminder of the Resurrection that Nature
whispers wheresoever we may turn.

It is no mere haphazard chance that Easter falls about the time of the
blossoming of the bare blackthorn bough.

       *       *       *       *       *

One very satisfying feature of the landscape, about this part of the
river side, is the sight of the cottages, yellow-washed or white, that
seem literally to nestle in the hollows on the hillside. While crowded
streets hold no charm for me, and modern mansions leave me unmoved,
there is something very appealing about a little homestead standing in
its own bit of garden, with its couple of beehives beside a towering
sunflower, its few gnarled apple trees, its cow and hayrick maybe, if
there is a bit of pasture land about the cottage that has been redeemed
by the hardest of labour from the rocky hillside, its fowls clucking
about on the fringe of the small holding, its wood pile, its cabbages
and marrows and rhubarb and black currants, all according to the
season, its hedge draped with washing—too white ever to have come into
touch with that modern improvement the steam laundry. In looking at all
this, you are looking for the most part at the total worldly wealth
of the cottager, wealth, too, that has often been acquired by the
genuine sweat of his (and her) brow. It may not seem much to you when
you run your eye over it; but it speaks of home in a way that no city
dwelling has ever yet attained to. Here is not merely shelter, or just
a place wherein to spend the night; it is the very centre of life to
the inmates; the major portion of their food is either growing in, or
running about, the garden. The side of bacon on the rack in the kitchen
came from their own pigsty; the potatoes, the onions, the swedes in the
outhouse grew from their own planting; the big yellow vegetable marrows
hanging up in the kitchen, and the pots of black currant and plum
jam in the cupboard, originated in their garden. The little plot is
endeared to them because it provides them with the necessities of life,
and the dwellers in the cottages live very close to the fundamental
things that really matter, even though they may lack some of the items
that over-civilization has ticketed the refinements of life.

And after a winter in town spent in a stern wrestle for coal, potatoes,
butter and milk and bacon and many of the other necessities of life,
it is bliss indeed to land in this haven of sufficiency, where queues
are unknown, and where the cow and the hen do their duty in life each
according to her station, and the garden and the forests do much of the
rest!

Even then, one has not gone to the root of the matter. Many of these
cottages are the ancestral homes of the people who live in them, homes
that were literally wrested from the hillside by the forefathers of
those who are now living in them. And in such cases the roots go far
deeper than the surface soil. An ancestral home, no matter how small,
can mean more to the inmates than the most gorgeous pile that the
newly-rich millionaire can raise.

And to my mind, by no means the least of the many hideous sins for
which the Germans will ultimately be called to account at the world’s
Bar of Justice, will be the violation of the homes, the landmarks, and
the ancient birthrights of unoffending peoples, while they themselves
sat smug and sanctimonious under their own vines and fig trees,
self-complacent in the knowledge that they were protected from deserved
retribution by their devil-driven guns.

       *       *       *       *       *

When at last we reached the little white gate, leading into the cottage
garden, we stood for a moment, as we always do, and looked at the peak
beyond peak, and the deep lying valleys.

Sloping away from our very feet were our own orchards and coppices,
the bright lichen on the twisted old apple trees showing almost a
blue-green against the purple of the bare birch tree branches still
lower down.

The sun was dropping behind the larches that ridged the opposite
hills. Birds everywhere were explaining to each other that they
must—they really _must_—set about house-hunting the very first thing in
the morning.

Out in the lane, the mountain spring was over-full and singing a
riotous song of jubilation as it tumbled out of the little wooden
trough into the pool below, and tore away down into the valley.

“It’s a marvellous world,” said Virginia as we gazed at the vast
panorama that stretched before us; and then she added, “Do you know,
I’ve come to the conclusion that I prefer a spring of water outside the
gate to all the stop-cocks and water-mains in the world.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Next morning a letter from the Head of Affairs skipped airily over the
episode of his meeting with the builder, concentrating on the point
that I was to stay where I was, as he would join me in a few days. But
Ursula supplied the missing details.

“After I saw you off at Paddington,” she wrote, “I hurried back as
fast as I could; I felt that I should at least like to see if the four
outside walls remained of what was once your happy home. Because,
though we didn’t let you know, the builder confided to me, as you were
leaving, that he had discovered the whole front of the house was in a
most shocking condition, necessitating prompt ‘shoring-up’ (whatever
that may mean), and requiring to be underpinned immediately. But by
the time I reached the place where your gates ought to have been—but
weren’t—I found the Head of Affairs (he’d sent a wire as soon as he
landed in England, but it evidently never reached you) bestowing as
much gratuitous eloquence on the builder and the Water Company as
would have run an election. What did he say? Why, everything that is
in the English language, and in a hundred different keys! Sometimes he
singled out some separate ‘official,’ and gave it him, personally, in
considerable detail.

“His analysis of the private character of the builder was nothing short
of an epic; and as for the turncock!—what he said about turncocks was a
revelation to an unsuspecting ratepayer like myself—No, it might be as
well not to repeat it; but I feel sure that turncock won’t call, with
a long double knock, for a Christmas-box next December. Indeed, his
remarks on the mental capacity of every single person employed by the
Water Company lead me to think that your family won’t be really popular
with the Metropolitan Water Board for some time to come!

“And then, when he had said everything that could possibly be said
about each man standing there, and about water and pipes and stop-cocks
and gravel and pavement and suchlike things, he announced his intention
of going on the roof to inspect where the builder proposed to put the
pile of new slates.

“Now it’s a funny thing, but that builder was not nearly so pressing
that he should go up and see for himself, as he was when talking to
you. But he insisted, and once up, he started all over again, and made
such forceful comments on the subject of slates—and more especially the
men who put on the slates—that I was afraid they would come through the
roof.

“Well, I don’t think I ever saw a more wilted-looking blossom
than that builder when he was finally had inside and given his
marching orders. Even before the two had descended from the roof,
the embroidered men were hurriedly toppling the earth back into the
trenches. I believe they’ve had twenty-four hours allowed them to get
things put to rights again. And I think they will hurry, for they
don’t seem anxious for more of the master’s society than is absolutely
necessary. At any rate, he seemed quite able to manage matters without
any assistance from me, and so I left it in his hands, and I’m coming
down by the next train.”



V

Just Outside the Back-Door


There is one spot in the Flower-Patch that is loved by grown-ups as
well as birds. It is the little grotto that is just outside the cottage
back-door. It has made itself by making the best of circumstances. Can
I describe it so that you will see it, I wonder?

First there comes a narrow garden bed, full of old-fashioned
flowers—Bee-balm, Jacob’s Ladder, and Solomon’s Seal; then a rough
stone wall about two feet high keeps the earth above from tumbling
down on to the narrow bed below. The whole of the garden being
on a steeply sloping hillside, the earth has to be propped up at
intervals by these lovely little ranks of natural rockery, planted by
Nature with hart’s-tongue and a variety of other little ferns, with
mother-of-millions and creeping ivy, with stone-crop and house-leeks.
How _do_ the things get there? How do they plant themselves? Isn’t it
marvellous this unending gardening of Nature!

On a level with the top of the low wall is another garden bed. You
see the ground is rising, rising up to the clouds all the time at the
back of the cottage, just as it is falling, falling down to the river
in the valley all the time in front of the cottage. This next terrace
bed loses itself entirely in a miniature wild wood and drops down into
a tiny dell, just big enough for a couple of small children to give a
tea-party to the fairies in.

Here it is that the beauty of the whole place seems to climax. The
other side of the dell is bounded by a large grey boulder, about six
feet high, flanked by a few smaller ones tumbling about at various
angles. The stone was too big for the original gardener to move, so
he wisely left it where it was. They often do that on these hills. I
know one cottage that has a most substantial stone table in the centre
of the kitchen. It is just a huge stone that was too big to move by
ordinary methods when they erected the cottage, and so they simply left
it, and built the kitchen round it.

But my boulder in the grotto is not so much for use as for beauty.
True, it supports a plum tree that springs up from behind it, just
outside the orchard rails. But the way Nature has festooned that rock
is worth going a long way to study. From the ground at one side springs
a wild rose with stout stems that grow fairly straight and erect,
considering it is a wild rose, and this sends out long curved and
arched sprays, dotted with pink blossoms.

At the other side is a yellow jasmine, evidently a stray from the
garden.

The stone itself is thickly covered with moss, small-leaved ivy (and
isn’t small-leaved ivy lovely in its colouring very often, in the early
months of the year, some brown and yellow, some red and green?) and
little ferns, till scarcely a trace of the grey stone can be seen, and
where it does push through it is splashed with milky-green lichen.

Then wandering over all is a wealth of honeysuckle that catches hold
of everything impartially, and twines itself in all directions. At the
base of the precipitous boulder the grass is thick and green; violets,
the big purple-blue scented sort, cluster all around the corners, and
hold up rich-looking blossoms; primroses laugh out in the sunshine;
snowdrops dingle their bells to a delightful melody, if only our ears
were more delicately tuned to catch the music; daffodils blow their own
trumpets above their clumps of blue-green leaves; the ground-ivy creeps
and creeps and lights up the green with its lovely blue flowers that
have never received half the praise that is their due. And in a damp
spot there is a mass of blue forget-me-nots, with one clump that is
pure white.

Large ferns send up giant fronds to make cool shadows at one end. Tiny
ferns busy themselves with the decoration of odd corners. A hazel bush
reaches over and joins hands with the plum tree, to form a fitting roof
to so lovely a dell; as I write—in February—it is a mass of fluttering
catkins, and the plum tree is talking about shaking out a few flowers.
But without these the place is already full of blossoms.

In a month or six weeks the old trees in the orchard behind will be
like bouquets of pink and white blossoms.

You approach the grotto by a tiny path, about wide enough for a child;
the entrance to the path is marked by a stunted old bush of lavender
at one side, and a grey-green clump of sage at the other. They stand,
with stems twisted and rugged like gnomes, guarding the entrance to the
fairy’s playground; but if you rub them the right way they send up a
lovely fragrance, and then you know you are admitted to the freedom of
the enchanted spot.

It is so sheltered in this corner, and protected from the cold winds by
the high hill behind, that even the ferns from last year are green and
fresh-looking, you would think there had not been any winter here. And
the brambles that clamber over the orchard rail—assuring the world at
large that they are a highly respectable orchard-grown fruit tree, and
not a wild weed—are still green and crimson and a rich purple with the
lovely tints of last autumn.

The birds are fond of this grotto, and other wild things have found
it out. Last summer, when the boulder seemed to be dripping with large
juicy crimson honeysuckle berries, I watched a big bullfinch gorging to
his heart’s content, his red waistcoat mingling well with the red of
the berries. Mrs. Bullfinch was also there, in her less obtrusive grey
and browny-black dress, and she had a couple of youngsters too. But do
you think the father had any intention of sharing the delicacies? Not a
bit of it! Every time his wife approached from the rear surreptitiously
to snatch a berry, he turned round and drove her off (I really could
have pardoned her if she had joined the suffragettes on the spot). She
ranged her family along the orchard rail just above, and made various
attempts to forage for them. But it was no use. So she took up her
position beside the family on the rail and waited patiently, making
plaintive sounds the while, till Mr. Bully had stuffed to repletion and
flew away. I was glad there were a few hundred berries still left for
the family. And didn’t they have a good time!

Just now the blue tits are very busy about the fruit trees, and a robin
comes out from somewhere in the grotto at unexpected moments and stands
motionless on a stone, with a bright eye cocked up inquiringly at the
human intruder. I fancy he has chosen it for his summer residence.

A squirrel is very attached to this part of the garden. Sometimes one
sees him, when the nuts are ripe, scurrying along the orchard rail in
ever such a hurry, his chestnut-red tail bigger than himself. There are
specially good nuts on that hazel-tree.

This morning I went out of the back-door, to find a large rabbit
sitting and sunning himself at his ease among the snowdrops and violets
in the little dell—within a yard of the door.

The weather has been like April to-day, brilliant sunshine and
heavy showers. Suddenly the sky behind the cottage was lit up with a
rainbow—a glorious span of colour that seemed to be resting on the
hill-top. Then it dropped a bit lower at one end, and the big pine
trees that stand higher up at the top of the orchard looked most
majestic against it. Lower it seemed to drop, and then I distinctly
saw the place where it touched the ground. You know they say there
is a pot of gold buried at the end of the rainbow—where do you think
that rainbow pointed? Why, straight at my fairy dell! So I know there
is gold buried under that boulder, and that is why there is always
sunshine peeping through the green; first it comes out in the yellow
jasmine, then it flares in the daffodils, later you find it in the
dancing buttercups and in the lovely honeysuckle, finally it waves to
you a bright “Good-bye, Summer,” in the clump of golden-rod that is
near the entrance.



VI

Dwellers in the Flower-Patch


February on our hills may be anything—from September round to May.
Sometimes it is mild and sunny and sweet with the scent of newly-turned
earth; or it may be bitingly cold, and very bleak in the exposed parts,
with a shivery-ness even in the valleys. You just take your chance,
sure, at least, of fresh air, peace—and the birds.

That is one of the perennial joys of the place; summer or winter
you know there will be a host of little fluttering things all ready
to welcome you as a friend, if you will but show the least bit of
friendliness towards them.

Not that their greeting is entirely cordial when you arrive. The
starlings are probably the first to see you; they are arrant
busybodies, and seem to spend most of their time retailing gossip from
the ridge of the red-tiled roof. No wonder their nests are the lazy
make-shifts they are!

A perfect scandal to the bird world, Mrs. Missel-Thrush has told me;
it’s a wonder the sanitary authorities don’t insist on their being
pulled down and rebuilt! Anything, stuffed in anywhere; a handful of
straw in the chimney; dried grass and oddments of rubbish collected
in a corner under the tiles; you wouldn’t think any self-respecting
egg would consent to be hatched out in such a nest!—certainly no
young thrush would put up with so disreputable a nursery. But then,
as we all know, the thrushes come of very good family; whereas the
starlings!—well—not that one would say a word against one’s neighbours,
but since everyone can see and hear it for themselves, the starlings
are simply “impossible.”

But the starlings don’t seem to be the least bit worried by the cold
shoulder of the more exclusive residents; they gabble and bawl the
whole day long, from the top of the roof, while the one who has managed
to secure the apex of the weathercock is positively insulting. And the
moment we turn into the little white gate, they begin.

“See who’s down there? I say, everybody, look! There’s that wretched
white dog again! Remember what a perfect nuisance he was last August,
when we’d just got the youngsters out of the nest? We were afraid every
moment lest he would start to climb the trees like their old cat used
to. Hi! there, you on the barn-roof! Have you heard the news?” Shriek,
shriek! chatter, chatter, chatter! So they go on for hours at a time.

Then policeman-robin arrives. “What’s all this noise about?” he
demands, from the post of the gate leading into the upper orchard. “Oh,
good gracious! it’s that horrid white dog again! Nearly shoved his nose
right into our nest in the woodruff bank last year! Chit! chit! chit!
But don’t you worry, my dear” (this to the lady he has just married);
“I’ll drive him away; you can trust to me,” and he flicks his conceited
little tail, and flies to the top of a tree stump near by, still
calling out his “Chit! chit! chit!” in severe reprimand.

Next the blackbird, hunting for a little fresh meat among the grey,
mossed-over stones that edge the garden beds, raises his head and
cranes his neck above the overhanging heart’s-ease trails, and the
foliage of the pinks, to see what the commotion is all about.

“I say, Martha!” (to the demure body in brown, who has been meekly
tracking along behind him), “there’s that terror of a dog again!
Recollect when he was here last year? Never a chance to enjoy a snail
in peace; before you’d given the shell more than one tap on the stone,
down he’d rush. Here he comes now! Slip along quick to the laurels. I
say, that was a near shave! Chut! chut! chut! Go away! What business
have you to come here disturbing respectable old inhabitants like us?”

And so the hubbub continues, while the small white dog with the brown
ears trots in a business-like manner all over the place, making sure
that every corner-stone, and bush, and gate-post is just where he
left it last time. And having ascertained that the universe is still
intact, he sets off to a particular spot in the lower orchard, sniffs
about till he finds the identical tuft of grass he is searching for;
whereupon he eats, and eats, at the long green blades, much in the
same way as we fall on the young lettuces, or the black currants, or
whatever else may be in season when we come down. Though why this
particular tuft of grass should be the only one he selects out of the
acres and acres at his disposal, is always a mystery to us. Yet he
never forgets it; straight for that small patch in the middle of the
big orchard he makes, once he has done his tour of inspection round the
estate.

       *       *       *       *       *

Before I have been in the house half-an-hour, I start making overtures
to the birds, and they immediately respond. I proceed by way of the
bird-board.

This may need explanation.

Outside one of the living-room windows I have established a board
that projects about a foot beyond the wide window-ledge. At first I
had it resting on the window-ledge, but I found that the birds were
down out of sight, when they came up to feed, hidden by the sash and
window-frame. Therefore I had it raised to bring it exactly on a level
with the glass. It is fixed securely on supports, so that it won’t blow
away, neither would a flock of jays and wood-pigeons overbalance it. A
couple of stout bits of tree branches have been fixed upright at the
sides; these are very popular, as they make the board look less bare,
more tree-like and familiar to the birds. They love to alight on a
branch, before going down to feed, and they often return to the branch
when they have eaten their fill, saucing their relations and daring
them to touch a morsel of the food, which each bird seems to consider
its own exclusive property! Strips of narrow lath have been nailed to
the outside edges of the board, projecting about an inch above the
level of the board. This wooden rim saves the food from rolling off, or
blowing away too easily; it also gives the birds a little perch that
they love to stand on while they run their eyes over the menu.

On this board—in times of plenty—go crumbs, seed, rolled oats, maize,
peas, little bits of fat or suet, anything in fact that birds will
eat; and if the weather be cold, a lump of suet will be lashed to each
branch, for the tits to peck at, with occasional bunches of bacon rind,
hanging like tassels.

In war-time the birds just have to take what they can get.

Within twenty-four hours of our arrival, the birds have re-discovered
their food board, and over they come, from garden and adjoining
orchards and woods, with such a whirring of wings, directly they hear
the window being opened. In the apple tree, in the laburnum tree, in
the damson tree they wait, and the moment I move away from the window,
down they pounce, and such a squabbling and chatter and succession
of arguments takes place. In a few days’ time, as they get more used
to me, they flutter down before I have even spread out their meal,
perching on the edge of the board and eyeing me with the most audacious
nerve. The robin is positively impudent in his demand that I should
hurry up!

And it is not longer than a week before they come hopping right into
the room, hunting all over the breakfast table if the window be left
open, and I have not been down sufficiently early to meet their
requirements. If the days are cold, and outside food scarce, they tap
the window sharply with their beaks, to call attention to their needs,
while plaintive, appealing little faces look anxiously at me.

       *       *       *       *       *

And oh, they are such a pretty little crowd. One has no idea what
clear, beautifully bright colour our British birds can show, unless
one has seen them right away from the taint of smoke and grime. Town
environments, be they ever so rural, are always reminiscent of the
chimneys in the distance, or the railways that cut them up. But on
these hills, where cottage chimneys are very few and far between, and
what smoke there is, is usually wood smoke, some of the birds are
exceedingly lovely.

There is the great-tit, brilliantly yellow as a daffodil, with an
admixture of black velvet and pure white; he and his wife quite take
your breath away as they splash down, out of space, and flitter about
among the sober thrushes and darker blackbirds. And when, in the
summer, they bring their babies along with them, I don’t think there is
a prettier sight in creation than the little bluey-grey balls of fluff,
that peck daintily at the bits of suet, and then hiss vigorously and
scold at the big wasps that come and steal it from under their very
beaks! So tame and innocent of fear they are, that they come into the
room whenever the window is left open; and mother and father follow
them, quite as trustfully.

Then again, we all think we know the blue-tit; but when you see him in
the wilds he is a very different-looking morsel from the dirty-blue
apology you meet nearer town. On the bird-board, he is almost metallic
in the brightness of his blue-green feathers, and the lovely tint of
yellow. He raises his crest feathers, with pleasure, when he sees the
suet on the branch; and over the little acrobat goes, hanging head
downwards or clinging with one tiny claw to a piece of twig; it is all
one to him, he swings about like a bright enamel pendant.

The male chaffinch is another very gay little fellow, with his warm
red and pretty blue and yellow. He calls “Spink, spink,” in clear
penetrating notes, as he lands on the board; and up comes his wife—one
of the most shapely and elegant of all the small birds, with the
dearest little face!

Mr. and Mrs. Bullfinch invariably come together, unless she is detained
at home with the family. They perch on the edge of the drinking saucer,
side by side, like a pair of solemn paroquets; he, very beautiful in
crimson and black velvet; she, decidedly more homely and nondescript.

But I can’t go through the whole list, there is such a crowd—including
a little flock of eight goldfinches that for two winters have always
been about the garden together.

Jays, with their handsome wing feathers and ugly, very ugly, mouths,
swoop down continually, scaring the small birds to vanishing point,
and gobbling up the food by the shovelful! Magpies in plenty perch on
the garden rails, but only once has one come to the board when I have
been there, and then he got his tail so mixed up with the decorative
branches, that he had the fright of his life, and never repeated the
adventure.

Wood pigeons are regular in their attendance, when other food is
scarce. Oh, certainly, I know all that is to be said on the subject of
encouraging wood pigeons! But—have you ever studied the peacock and
wine-colour gleam on their necks, when unsmirched by smoke or grime?
If so, you will understand my admiration for them. And, in any case,
ours isn’t a farming area; there is no corn here for them to squander,
and although they sigh all summer long, in the fir trees, “Take _two_
pears, Tommy! Take _two_ pears, Tommy!—_do!_” there are very few pears
available that Tommy would even look at; most that grow in the orchards
around are the harsh, bitter variety, used for making the drink known
as “perry” (the pear equivalent of apple cider).

The wood pigeons have helped me back to health and strength many a
time, with their soft crooning in the larches, and their quiet talk
of things above the petty strife and noisy clamour of the struggling
market place. Therefore, I don’t say them nay, in times of plenty, if I
have a little to spare, and they chance to need it.

       *       *       *       *       *

Of all the bird family, however, I think the coal-tits are our
favourites—and there are _such_ a quantity of them. Coal-tits always
abound in the neighbourhood of larch woods and birches, which accounts
for the numbers that dart about my garden; there are birch woods lower
down the hill below the cottage, as well as the larch woods up above;
and both birch and larch cluster thick down one side of the house to
shield it from the cold winds.

Though the coal-tit is not brightly-coloured, like its relations, there
is something very delightful about his soft grey garb, and his black
head with its light grey or nearly white streak down the back. Like the
robin, he always looks well-tailored, not a feather out of place, not
a draggled filament anywhere. And he is so extraordinarily alert; he
doesn’t seem to give himself time to fly, he darts and dives and flits
all over the place, and seems to have an appetite proportionately equal
to that of the proverbial alderman.

Down he dives the minute the food appears. He stands very erect on his
slim little legs (no squatting down on his breast bone, as the sparrows
and even the chaffinches often do); he cocks his head from side to
side, promptly decides on the largest lump of fat he can find; seizes
it, and flies up into a big fir tree, where, apparently, he bolts the
whole lump instantaneously! At any rate, before you have time to see
where he alighted, down he dives, seizes another big piece, and off
he goes again. He seems to eat twice his own size in suet in a few
minutes! But I conclude he must drop some of it, though I’ve never been
able to prove it. And the theory of a nestful of hungry beaks doesn’t
always explain his voraciousness; for he disposes of just as much in
the winter as in nesting time.

Yet, in spite of his appetite, we love him, for he is so tiny and so
wonderfully alert; one marvels how so much energy can be boxed up in
such a small body.

       *       *       *       *       *

Visitors who have never had much to do with birds at close quarters—and
the birds may be said to be part of the family at this cottage, for
they live with us and meal with us—are usually surprised at the
differences and the distinctiveness of their various personalities.

The robin not only adopts you at once, but he proceeds to supervise
your every action, and instals himself as your personal attendant.
Probably this is all the more emphasized by the fact that he will not
allow any rival to encroach on his particular territory. Most birds
seem to peg out a claim at the beginning of the season, and to resent,
more or less, the intrusion of any other of its own kind. Swallows
and sparrows and rooks, and a few others, build in colonies, but the
majority of birds seem to prefer a little domain each to himself, wife
and family, and you will find one pair of blackbirds driving another
from the laurel bush they have chosen, or chasing strangers from the
particular garden path they call their own.

Though starlings feed—and chatter—in flocks, one particular pair of
starlings make it their business to oust any other starling that they
find on the bird board.

But the robin can be a perfect terror in the way he seeks to domineer
over the whole earth. It is a very large area that he marks off for
his individual own, and woe betide any other robin who tries to defy
him—unless he be the stronger of the two. One of our robins killed his
own wife (we conclude, as she disappeared, after a series of thrashings
he gave her daily!), and then he injured the wing of one of his own
youngsters, because we had petted them, and given them food inside the
living room.

The father used to hide behind a stone down on the garden bed, and
watch as his family—the mother and two babies—nervously and timidly
approached the bird-board, looking round anxiously lest father
should see! Then, when they started to feed, he would hiss out the
dreadfullest of wicked words at them, and fling himself on them,
bashing them with his beak—a positive little fury.

So one day I put some food on the table inside the room, and the
down-trodden ones hopped in. I shut the window before the irate father
could follow them. He seemed demented with rage, when he saw them
feeding and couldn’t get at them; he literally stamped his foot, and
viciously tossed off all the pieces of food that were on the board,
flinging them to the ground in a most highly-glazed specimen of temper!

I let the family out by a side window, instead of the bird-board
window, and they evaded their loving and affectionate relative for
a little while. But he found them at last; and went for his wife,
while the children cheeped forlornly among the pansies in the border.
We never saw her again, poor, plucky little soul; and one of the
youngsters dragged a broken wing along the path next day, explaining to
me, pitifully, that he couldn’t possibly get up to the bird-board now,
neither could he find mother anywhere.

I took him in, and tried to save his life—but it was no use. With all
our knowledge and skill and discoveries and training, what clumsy,
inadequate creatures we are in comparison with a little mother bird!

       *       *       *       *       *

Less harrowing was the incident of a robin who, on one occasion, came
inside, in order to get more than his share of provender if possible,
when he was suddenly startled by the dog running into the room. Instead
of flying through the window that was open, he made for a closed one,
banging his head with such force against the glass that the blow
stunned him, and he fell senseless to the ground.

I picked him up, and tried all the restoratives I could think of,
a drop of water on his beak, a cold splash on his head, but to no
purpose; he lay, just a tiny handful of beautiful feathers, in my hand;
so light, so helpless, so altogether pathetic—it hurt me badly to gaze
at the small mite that only the minute before had been talking to me,
and cheeking me, and liking me (yes, I am sure he did), and I unable
now to do a thing to bring back the gaiety and life and sparkle to the
poor still body.

I felt sure he was dead, yet to give him every chance, I placed him
in a nest of soft flannel out on the window-ledge; the day was warm,
but there was a breeze that might perhaps revive him. And as a last
offering—one does so try to do all one can!—I put a tempting piece of
suet near his inanimate beak. And how unnatural it seemed to see that
suet remain untouched in his vicinity!

I took my work and sat where I could see if he so much as stirred a
claw. But for a quarter of an hour there wasn’t the slightest sign of
movement, except when the wind gently ruffled his feathers—and how
exquisite they were, the blue so unlike the ordinary blue, the red much
more red than the London robins, and the bronze-brown so glinting.

At last I decided it was useless to watch any longer, for his eyelids
had never so much as flickered.

I was folding up my work, when a big yellow tit flew on to the window
ledge, hopped over inquiringly to the suet, and started to sample it.
In an instant up jumped the corpse, and with an angry “Chit! chit!”
hurled himself at the interloper; and the last I saw of him was chasing
the yellow tit all across the garden.

Don’t ask me to explain; I am only telling you what happened under my
own eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

Yes, robin _père_ can be a villain; he also can be the extreme reverse.
Like the majority of the rest of us, he shows to the most amiable
advantage when there is no rival to distract public admiration. So long
as he is the centre, as well as the beginning and the end, of the bird
universe, he is sweetness itself.

No other bird is so keenly alive to all my comings and goings. It
doesn’t matter how fully occupied he may be with the settlement of
every other bird’s affairs, I have but to go up the garden with fork or
spade or broom, and before I have turned half-a-dozen clods, or pulled
out a handful of weeds, I am conscious of a soft streak through the
air, though I hardly see it; there he sits on a low branch of a currant
bush close to my hand, or stands motionless on an edging stone at my
very feet. If I take no notice of him, in all probability he starts a
Whisper Song to call attention to himself.

Have you ever heard this? It suggests nothing so much as elf-land
music; I know no song exactly like it. You seem to hear a bird warbling
most delightfully, but it is far, far away. You raise your eyes, and
scan the trees around, but no singing bird can you discover; you decide
it must be farther off—but what a haunting charm there is about it.

Then it ceases. Mr. Robin is hoping that you have understood what he
has been saying. But no, the obtuse human just goes on weeding the path
as before; so the Whisper Song starts again. This time you think it
resembles a very mellow musical box shut up in some distant room.

Suddenly you see him, singing straight at you, so close to your hand
that it gives you quite an uncanny feeling for the moment; and you
wonder: Who is he—what is he—that he should be saying all this to me,
obviously to me, and to no one else but me?

Robin doesn’t encourage you in daydreams, however, he means business;
and once he sees that he has secured your undivided attention, he
discards the Whisper Song and comes to the point. Down on to the path
he drops, seizes an unwary worm that your energy has brought to light;
then tosses it over scornfully and flirts a contemptuous tail, which
says as plainly as any tale that was ever told, “Is _that_ the best
worm you can offer a gentleman? Pouf!”

He eats it nevertheless.

And so he follows me round the place; I never garden alone. If at first
I cannot see him, I whistle a quiet call; invariably I hear the Whisper
Song in response, and there he is—waiting, watching, missing nothing,
with his tiny throat feathers vibrating and quivering as he strives to
let me into bird-land secrets, and tells me lots and lots of wonderful
things that as yet I am too dull-witted to understand.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then there are the blackbirds—for individuality they are hard to beat;
though I admit they are always reproving someone or something, with
their “Chutter, chut, chut!”

I never knew a bird with as many grudges and grievances as Augustus
seems to have. He “chut-chuts” at me if I’m late with his breakfast,
at Abigail when she ventures to gather a few raspberries, at the dog
whenever he sees him, at the little colt for scampering down the
meadow, at the cuckoo when his voice breaks—I’ve heard him get up
after all the family had gone to bed, and roundly abuse a poor July
cuckoo who had developed a bad stutter—and every night about sundown he
admonishes the world in general, from his pulpit in a pine, despite the
fact that Martha has put the children to bed and is trying to get them
to sleep, and that every other masculine blackbird for acres round is
discoursing on the same subject.

But the poor thing has had his troubles. The first time we really
distinguished Augustus and Martha (who monopolise my bedroom window
ledge, and the pinks and pansy border) from Claude and Juliet (who
patronise the biggest mountain ash, and consider the white and red
currants and the snails in the snapdragon bed their particular
perquisites) was when the former (that means Augustus and Martha, you
know) built in the old plum tree that hangs partly over the green and
gold grotto. Though it has plenty of snowy-white flowers on its dark
stems in the spring, it has been too neglected to produce much fruit;
but it makes up in flowering ivy and heavenly-scented honeysuckle for
any other deficiencies. And it was in this tangled mass of loveliness
that Augustus and Martha first set up housekeeping. (Augustus being
always recognizable by reason of one grey feather.)

They chose it with much circumspection—Martha with an eye to the easy
building facilities offered by strands of tough woodbine, and sturdy
ivy cables, combined with stout plum branches; Augustus with his main
eye focussed on the bird-board, and the other on the accessibility of
the bird-bath (originally a sheep-trough hollowed out of a block of
rough stone, over which moss and small ivy are now trailing).

Altogether it was a most desirable site for a young couple. They were
in full view of the side window in the living room, and we watched them
flying in and out, to and fro, with beaks laden with grass and straw
and similar materials for household decorations.

Later on, when two youngsters were hatched, there were the same endless
journeyings, the same loaded beaks. But here Augustus’s perspicacity
stood him in good stead; it was a very short flight from the plum tree
down to the bird-board, and the pair must have nearly worn the air out,
judging by the number of times they made the trip!

The tragedy happened when the youngsters were nearly ready to leave the
nest. And the sad part of it was that we saw it all enacted before our
eyes, and yet were powerless to prevent it.

We had just sat down to our mid-day meal; the day seemed all blue sky
and bright flowers and gladdening sunshine—the very last day one ought
to have met trouble.

Augustus had gone off to give Claude a piece of his mind that must
have been owing for some time, judging by the heat and length of his
harangue; Martha was gathering up the biggest mouthful she could manage
(and it is astonishing how they will collect several pieces of bread,
a piece of fat and a flake of oatmeal, packing it up securely in their
beak, in order to carry it safely).

I saw a big bird swoop down on to the branch beside the nest; but big
birds are so plentiful with us, it conveyed nothing out of the ordinary
to me. It looked like a shrike, but I couldn’t be certain. Everything
happened so quickly. It seized one of the little ones, killed it
outright with one vicious toss, while the other baby called out in wild
terror.

In far less time than it takes me to write this, the whole air seemed
teeming with screaming blackbirds, dozens of them. They went for the
murderer, trying to attack him with their beaks; but he flew off into
the woods, followed by a crowd of threatening and bewailing birds; one
could hear them in the distance when they were no longer in sight.

Of course we had all rushed out into the garden; but we could do
nothing; the nest was too high up to be reached without a ladder.

Then an unusual silence fell over the garden; the majority of the birds
having joined the crowd of pursuers. It is strange how we all bury our
hatchets in face of a common danger!

It seemed almost death-like for the moment, till, from the top of a
larch, a chaffinch bubbled forth. At least there was one happy bird
left. Then I bethought me about baby-blackbird No. 2. The villain had
only carried off one. We got a ladder, but no bird was in the nest!

We decided it must have fallen out in the scrimmage, and searched
carefully. After a while we found it, helpless and terrified, among the
ferns, just where it had fallen, in the grotto.

As it didn’t seem able to walk or fly, we left it there, and sat down
to watch events. Back came poor Martha presently. She looked in the
nest, then flew distractedly about. But I suppose the baby was too
dazed with fright to do a thing, at any rate it never uttered a sound
or call; and the distressed mother flew off again to the woods on her
hopeless quest.

We remained on watch the whole afternoon and evening; but neither
parent returned. Then I began to get anxious. I put a little food near
the frightened crouching thing, but it took no notice. Only once it
gave a piteous cry; how I wished it would keep it up! That at least
would surely reach the mother in time. But it didn’t repeat the call.

At last we had to go in, because it was getting dark, and every
bird but our poor little baby was safely in bed. We tried to console
ourselves by saying that it would probably be all right, and it was
wonderful how birds survived all sorts of dangers. But, all the same,
we none of us believed we should ever see him again; and we shook our
heads silently next morning, when we found an empty space under the
ferns, where we had left him overnight.

During the day, my suspicions were aroused by the fact that Augustus
returned again and again to the bird-board and stuffed his beak full of
provender, which he carried off in the good old way. But the moment I
tried to follow him, he merely went into a near-by tree, and tried to
say “Chut! chut!” with his mouth full!

It took me all the afternoon, and used up all the stealth and
cautiousness I possess, to track him. He would not fly any more than
he could help; he kept right down on the ground, running along with
his head slightly lowered, keeping close to the shadow of the wall,
slipping under hedges and low growths, always looking about from side
to side, standing stock still when he scented danger—in this way he
got up the hill, and right across a field, to where a big Wellingtonia
stands like a pyramid, against a stone wall, its outspreading branches
drooping protectingly, and hiding all sorts of secrets in its dark
green depths.

Behold, there was Martha, anxiously waiting on the doorstep, so to
speak, for Augustus to return. She was as cautious in her movements as
he was, but she couldn’t help uttering a low “Chut! chut!” of pleasure
when she saw his beak so crammed with good things. Both slipped in
under the lowest branch.

I bided my time. I didn’t want to add one single extra anxiety to the
little mother heart that was already so burdened with care. But when
at length I saw both birds slink off in search of food, I parted the
branches and looked in. For some time I could see nothing, it was so
dark and mysterious under the heavily plumed boughs, but the little
one had learnt to use its voice by now; “Cheep” came vigorously from
within; and then I saw our baby comfortably ensconced on a drift of
pine needles against the wall.

I slipped away quietly, wondering and wondering how in the world those
little birds had managed to get that fat youngster up that hill and
into the tree that was fully three minutes’ walk, even for me, from the
old nest!

The baby flourished apace, and before we returned to town, it was
brought along to the pansy border, and told to stay there quite still
for a moment, while mother got it something to eat. But it didn’t do
anything of the sort; directly her back was turned, it hopped into
the bird’s bath, and splashed joyously till its expostulating parents
returned, alarmed out of their senses lest it should be drowned!

       *       *       *       *       *

After thinking it over, I fancy that for all-round serviceability you
cannot do better than the blackbird. He starts singing in January, as
a rule, and keeps at it till August, always a beautiful song, but not
always the same song.

It is a clear-blue message of hope, as it rings out on a cold winter’s
day.

As the spring progresses, it becomes a cascade that overflows with
bubbling sound and ends with a challenge: “Let any blackbird dare to
say he can sing that cadenza as brilliantly as I can, and I’ll know the
reason why!”

Later on, when the nestlings keep up a constant demand for “more,” he
only manages to get in an occasional stanza; and that, I am inclined to
think, is when he has a difference of opinion with another of his kind;
though sometimes he sings a rippling, pulsating song to the setting sun.

But best of all I love him when the summer has run well on into July.
He is getting tired then; two families—possibly with four in the nest
at a time—are something of a handful to cater for. He has become
draggled and weary in appearance. His yellow-ringed eyes do not seem as
sparkling as they were. But he still tries to do his best, and towards
sundown you may hear him singing; one of those in my garden seems to
have a preference for an underbough on a tall pine, where he stands
almost hidden from sight, and whistles gently and softly—though not to
me personally, as the robin does; apparently he is talking to himself.

Gone is the buoyancy of his early spring song; gone the
self-assertiveness, the boastfulness and dominating clamour of his
early married life. Now, his song is much subdued, gentler, and
strangely suggestive of a quiet, almost saddened reminiscence.

Is it that his family have failed to come up to his expectations? Is
his song tinged with regret for the lost happiness of those first glad
days of spring? Or is it the reflection of the tranquillity that comes
to those who bravely shouldered life’s responsibility when the time
came for leaving behind the things of youth?

Who knows what that subdued but exquisite little song means, as it
falls, like a rain of soft, gentle sounds from the branches above?

I cannot tell, but it stirs something strangely responsive in my own
heart; I sense far-back things that I cannot take hold of, or put into
tangible shape, and for the moment I feel mysteriously akin to the
unseen singer in the blue-green depths of the old and rugged pine.



VII

Only Small Talk


I SEEM to have wandered a long way from Eileen, but it was really she
who brought the birds to my mind.

I got up early the morning after our arrival, in order to show her the
way about, and because it is not one of my daily duties to be the first
down in the morning, I noticed all the more how the opening of the
doors and windows, to let in the day, is something much more than the
mere undoing of locks and latches. There is nothing to compare with the
inrush of sweet morning air that greets you on the threshold, as you
take your first look-out on a dew-sparkling garden, probably all alive
with the songs and chirps and twitters of the birds, and teeming with
the scents of things seen and unseen, each pouring forth its gratitude
in its own way for the ever-new miracle of the sun’s return.

This letting in of light and clean air, sunshine, song and scent, after
the inanimate darkness of the night, is so wonderfully symbolic that it
seems a mistake that it has come to be regarded as one of the inferior
domestic tasks, relegated to the minor members of the household.
And though I am not one of those exceptionally virtuous people who
habitually rise at six o’clock, waking every one else within earshot
and taking vain pride in their performances, whenever I chance to be
the first one to welcome the morning and let in the day, I feel there
are decided compensations for the wrench of getting out of bed minus a
cup of tea.

I also realize how easy it is, in the flush of exhilaration produced by
the early morning air, to make oneself a nuisance to all who are less
energetic. For some unaccountable reason, when I am down extra early,
I always want to bustle about, and do all sorts of rackety things that
never occur to me on the days when I do not put in an appearance till
breakfast is ready.

I had opened the windows in the living-room, and had set Eileen to
make the fire, and was seeing to things in the kitchen, when she
followed me with an excited squawk: “Oh, ma’am, there’s somebody has
lost their canary! It was on the window ledge just now, and it’s flown
into a tree. Have you got a bird-cage handy? I expect I could catch
it. There it is again”—pointing to a handsome yellow and black tit who
was pecking eagerly at some bacon rind I had just hung up outside the
window.

I explained.

“Wild, is he? _Wild?_” she exclaimed; “and don’t they charge you
nothing for them?”

She finished the room with one eye perpetually on the windows.

Having a healthy appetite, that had been touched up a little extra with
the hill-top air, she was more than willing to help me get the meal
ready. I made the usual preliminary inquiries as to her experience in
regard to cooking, and was surprised to hear that she had actually won
a silver medal at a Cookery Exhibition.

Surely this was unexpected good fortune, and I asked myself if I really
deserved such a heaven-sent boon as a silver-medalled cook! I decided,
however, that in view of all I had undergone in the past at the hands
of those who were not so decorated, it was nothing more than my due
that I should be so blessed in my declining years. My only regret was
that war-time would allow so little scope for her genius!

Feeling very light-hearted, and wondering how she would get on with
Abigail when cook gave one of her periodical notices and I placed
Eileen on the permanent staff, I said: “Then I needn’t bother about the
breakfast! We will have poached eggs on toast. I’ll lay the cloth while
you get them ready.”

But she looked at me doubtfully. “We didn’t ever have _poached_ eggs at
the boarding-house,” she began. “But I think I know how to do ’em. You
just break them on the gridiron over the top of the fire, don’t you?”

After all, it was I who poached the eggs, while Eileen explained that
the medal had been awarded to the cookery class at the orphanage _en
bloc_, for making a Swiss roll. . . . No, unfortunately, she didn’t know
how to make Swiss roll either, as she had been down with scarlet fever
that term. Still, it was her class that got the medal, so of course she
had as much right to it as anyone else.

I trust I bore the disappointment complacently. I’m fairly hardened to
such sudden drops in the kitchen thermometer.

The great thing about Eileen was her willingness, and her anxiety to
learn.

When I was seeking to impart knowledge, however, she seemed to think
it was for her also to contribute some general information. Hence our
duologues often ran on these lines:—

“When you make the tea or coffee, be sure that the water is _quite_
boiling; or else——”

“Yes, ma’am. Do you know, one of the young gentlemen where I used to
live, couldn’t help being bald, no matter if he used a whole bottle of
hair restorer every day. It ran in his fambly.”

“Really! Well, now we’ll fry some bacon. You put a little of the bacon
fat from this jar into the pan first of all to get hot. Like this.”

“Yes, ma’am. Isn’t it strange, grandmother won’t never have red roses
in her bonnet. Can’t bear red.”

She also excelled in asking questions; from morn till eve life seemed
one long series of conundrums which I was expected to answer. I never
realized before how many queries country life presents; hitherto it had
seemed to me such a simple, straightforward state of existence.

An old man had been secured to do an occasional odd day’s work (at
highest London prices). He described some misfortune that, last autumn,
had befallen “Hussy,” the cow who comes for change of air into my
orchard at intervals—an apple she had eaten (one of mine, of course)
being blamed for the fact that her milk turned off, “like vinegar
’twas.”

Eileen—in common with every other young human under twenty years of
age—thrilled at the word apple, and inquired if “Hussy” had stolen it
off a tree?

“Stolen it off a tree!” scoffed the man; “and why should she bother to
creek her neck up’ards when they was lying by the thousand as thick on
the ground in that thur orchard as—as—well, as apples!”

Eileen looked incredulous.

“Yes, by the thousand they was, and not wuth picking up, no one wanted
’em; no men to make cider; no sugar to jam ’em; child’un all got colic
a’ready as bad as bad could be, couldn’t swaller no more; too damp to
keep. Ay, and we that short o’ cider as we be!” And the aged one—who
had been coining money hand over fist, with letter carrying, and the
sale of eggs and poultry, and a couple of pigs, and the hay in his
paddock, to say nothing of gilt-edged easy little jobs waiting for him
all about the place at any price per hour he cared to charge, and old
age pensions paid regularly to himself and wife—paused to shake his
head and sigh over the misfortunes of the times.

Eileen was likewise moved. To think of it—unwanted apples! And no one
to eat them! She reverted to the phenomenon several times that day,
with such queries as these:—If eating one apple turns the cow’s milk
to vinegar, would eating fifty turn it to cider? If so, wouldn’t it be
cheaper to make the cow grow cider, as the old man said cider had riz
to 7_d._ a quart, and milk was only 6_d._ You would then make a penny a
quart profit that you could put into the Savings Bank to help the War.

After watching some vegecultural operations she inquired: “Why is it,
when he puts potatoes in the ground and beans in the ground all the
same way, the beans come out at the top of the plant and the potatoes
come out at the bottom?”

Another time it was: “What do they use the sting of the nettle for?”
And when she had enlarged her garden vocabulary, she inquired: “Is a
spider an annual or a perennial?”

“I can’t find a tap out there to turn off the water,” and she indicated
the spring outside the gate, tumbling out of a little wooden trough
wedged in among the rocks, into a pool below. “I suppose they stop it
at the main. What time do they turn it off? . . . _Never?_ It runs like
that always! Then how long is it before the whole lot runs away and
it’s all dried up? And don’t they ever come down on you for wasting the
water?”

       *       *       *       *       *

Yet more accomplished people than Eileen have often surprised one by
their ignorance. An experienced and supposed-to-be-highly-qualified
cook came to me one day with the sad news that we couldn’t have any
stuffing with the duck for dinner that day as there wasn’t a single
bottle of herbs in the house. I reminded her that there was an almost
unlimited amount of everything in the garden, including a sage bush
growing on a wall that now measures 15 feet by 6 feet. “In the garden?”
she repeated in surprise. “But I didn’t know it was good unless it was
bottled! You don’t mean that country people use those things raw?”

I felt such an apologetic cannibal as I explained!

She it was who split up the chopping board to light the fire, the
first morning after her arrival, because she couldn’t find a bundle
of firewood anywhere. On being referred to the stack of dry kindling
wood in the coal shed—she had never heard of lighting fires with trees
before; never thought, indeed, to live with a family that expected you
to do such things!

       *       *       *       *       *

On one occasion, when I was in one of the largest and poorest of the
London Elementary Schools, where the children looked as pitifully
sordid and poverty-stricken as I have ever seen them, I asked a few
questions of one small girl in the front row of a class. Her outside
dress consisted of an old dilapidated waistcoat worn over a dingy
flannelette nightgown, while a ragged piece of serge fastened around
the waist with a safety-pin did duty for a skirt. But she was only one
among a classful of rags and tatters.

“What is your name?” I asked, by way of starting conversation.

“Victorine,” the forlorn-looking little thing replied.

“And what is your lesson about?” I then inquired.

“Therdelfykorrickul,” she informed me.

Seeing the bewildered look on my face, the head mistress, who was
showing me round, said, “Enunciate your words more carefully,
Victorine, and speak slowly.”

Victorine understood what “speak slowly” meant, and so she said very
deliberately, “The—Delphic—Horricul.”

“So you are learning about the Delphic Oracle. And what are you going
to do when you grow up?” was my next query.

“I’m going to work in the laundry like muvver!”

We went into another classroom; here more ragged unwashed clothes
greeted me on every hand. I had no need to ask the subject of the
lesson, for the girls were facing a blackboard on which was written
“The Characteristics of Shelley’s Poetry.”

After I had seen more tatters in a third room, where a lesson was being
given on “Infinitive Verbs,” I said to the head mistress, “If I had
this school, do you know what I should do? I should take a class at a
time, and give out needles and cotton, and tell them to do the best
they could to sew up the rags in their dresses and their pinafores.
I would not mind if they did not put on patches even to a thread in
the regulation way, so long as they made some attempt to run together
those rents and slits and yawning gaps. I would let the other lessons
go till this was done. And I would not let a girl take her place in a
class in the morning till she had mended as well as she could any rents
she had worn to school.”

The head mistress shook her head. “That would not be practical; you
see, it isn’t in the Syllabus.”

I don’t pretend to understand the inwardness of syllabuses, but I
couldn’t help wondering if there wasn’t an opening here for a new one.
While so much unpractical stuff is taught to the poorer classes in
elementary schools, is it any wonder that the children know so little
of the things appertaining to daily life?

Eileen didn’t exactly suffer from rags. She was as neat and patched and
wholesome as her clean, sensible grandmother could make her; but she
was forlorn-looking to the last degree. One of the first things I tried
to do was to get her to take a little pride in her personal appearance.
And it was wonderful how she responded. With her hair released from the
uncompromising, tight screw that had been kept in place by three big
iron-looking hair-pins, and done higher up, and more loosely over the
forehead, and a pretty collar and blue bow for her Sunday blouse, she
looked a different being.

“Poor little thing, she has never had a soul take any interest in how
she looks,” Ursula remarked to me. “And even though we’re not allowed
to cast our bread upon the waters, nowadays, they haven’t said anything
officially about ribbons.” And so we searched our drawers for suitable
finery that might bring a little colour into Eileen’s hitherto drab
outlook. Virginia followed suit, remarking that she liked to scatter
little seeds of kindness by the wayside, since you never know what may
result.

True! She didn’t!

Meanwhile, Eileen gloated over the odds and ends, fixing weird and
crazy-looking bows to her black sailor hat, draping her shoulders with
bits of lace to see if they would make a collar, and standing in front
of the kitchen glass trying the effect of pinks and purples under her
chin.

For a time, the questions ceased.



VIII

A Cold Snap


FOR a couple of days the sun was radiant, and the air actually warm. We
agreed with each other that Italy and the South of France weren’t in it.

We started gardening with all the zest of backwoods-women, who know
that the only vegetables they can hope for are those they themselves
grow. Unlike the majority of Londoners, the War had not added much to
our knowledge in this direction. I had not owned a house in the country
many months before I learnt the value of first-hand home production.
Hence, when the allotment fever set in, we were quite able to keep pace
with the rest of the world despite our failing intellects. The only
thing that differentiated us from the remainder of our fellow-citizens
in the Metropolis, was the fact that we appeared to be the only ones
who did not feel themselves competent to bestow unlimited information
and advice, in season and out of season, to all and sundry, on every
imaginable and unimaginable point connected with the raising of food
crops.

One of the many reasons for the charm that envelops our life at the
hillside cottage lies in the fact that it brings us much closer to
the fundamental principle of keeping alive than is ever possible in
town with its over-civilization. Of course, it isn’t desirable that our
mental and spiritual interests should centre in the question of what we
shall eat and what we shall drink, and wherewithal shall we keep warm
and comfortable, but I think a woman suffers a distinct loss when she
eliminates these matters entirely from her horizon.

I know, from personal experience, that there comes a period in our
lives when we women feel that there are much higher enterprises
beckoning us, that we (individually, not collectively) are called to
do some work in the world that is far greater than seeing to meals,
and keeping the household machinery moving unobtrusively and with
regularity; but it is fortunate that there eventually returns to us (if
we are properly balanced) a realization that some of our very best work
can be put into the making of a home, and that far from it being narrow
and sordid and selfish to devote a large part of ourselves to household
administration, it is in reality one of the widest spheres that a woman
can choose, and one that will give her the biggest scope for bringing
happiness and strength and health to others—and, after all, isn’t that
the avowed aim of the most advanced of modern feminists?

Still, I admit that our cramped surroundings and jaded, strained
existence in cities do not always make a round of domestic duties
seem alluring to the woman who has to cram her belongings and her
aspirations into a small modern flat, or who has to do her cooking
in one of the unhealthy, sunless basements that prevail in the older
houses in towns. A woman needs fresh air, sunshine and a garden if the
best is to be brought out of her. Oh, yes, I know some few women have
done great things without one or another of these items—but probably
they would have done still more if they had had the opportunity to come
to their full development under more favourable circumstances.

I’m not surprised that women, whose existence is limited by the narrow
environment of towns, so continually beat the air with a longing to
do something more than seems possible in the flat or dull suburban
villa. Civilization has taken out of their hands so many of the useful
occupations that formerly kept women busy—and worthily busy too; and
it is not to be wondered at that they cry out for something to do, and
invent Causes on which to expend their zeal and energy. The preparation
of food, the laundry work, and indeed most household duties are now
done for us in cities on the “penny-in-the-slot” principle (only we
have to put a shilling in the slot, as a rule, for the pennyworth of
result that we receive); and it is small wonder that so few of us can
work up any interest in the process.

But how are matters to be altered? you ask me. I don’t know! Pray don’t
think I’m proposing to find solutions for grave problems in these
stories! I’m only giving you a record of facts, just simple everyday
little happenings “of no value to anyone save the owner.” And we’ll
leave it at that, if you don’t mind, and return to the garden.

       *       *       *       *       *

Before the War labour was not so scarce, and there was no need for us
to plant the vegetables ourselves, unless we desired to do so. Now,
however, one’s own personal work was a valuable asset, and we put our
backs into it—at least Ursula and I did; Virginia was engaged most of
the time in describing the sort of tools she would make, if she were
in that line of business, to obviate the grave spinal trouble she was
certain she was developing.

I don’t mean to imply that Virginia isn’t a good gardener; she can
be an excellent one when she likes, for she knows what gardening
really stands for in the way of hard work. Whereas some of my
would-be assistant gardeners seem to think the chief requisites are a
comfortable hammock and a book; or, at most, a “picture” muslin frock
and a pretty basket and a pair of baby scissors. Such girls remind me
of many who write and inquire if I have a vacancy for a sub-editor in
my office, the chief qualification stated in their letters being that
they “do so love to browse among books.”

Virginia isn’t like that; she puts on a business-like garb, and
knows—and annexes—a good tool when she sees it. But it is her bright
ideas that are the hindrance to progress. She wasted ten minutes that
morning explaining to me that she was sure, if I would only have
turnips planted in the mint bed, it would be another war economy, as
the mint flavour might permeate the turnips, and thus save double
expense with lamb.

And then another ten minutes went in enlarging on the grasping nature
of the makers of gardening gloves in not supplying four pairs of extra
thumbs with each pair, since any intelligent gardener could wear out
eight thumbs with one pair in the simplest day’s gardening. She offered
to let me use the idea free of charge in my magazine, if I would
undertake to keep her supplied with gardening gloves for the rest of
her natural life; but she stipulated that they must be proper leather
ones, not the four-and-sixpenny war variety she was then wearing,
composed of unbleached calico, with merely a chamois postage-stamp
stuck on the front of each finger and thumb.

In the intervals of conversation she aided us with our digging, yet, in
spite of the National Call to spend as much on seed potatoes as would
keep the family in vegetables for a couple of years, we continually
found ourselves drifting away from the ground we were trenching, for
the violets were already out, also some early primroses, and little
white stars were showing on the wild strawberry trails in sheltered
corners under walls that faced south.

And the garden is full of sheltered nooks, despite its being so high
up. As the ground slopes towards the south, every wall that props up
the garden—and there are so many, like giant steps down the steep
hillside—gives protection from the cold winds to the little growing
things that nestle in every crevice and on the ground below. Everywhere
the pennywort was sending out clear green disks from the mysterious
depths of crannies in the wall. Crocuses were showing orange buds in
the garden beds. One precocious pansy held up a white flower, streaked
and splashed with purple.

“Spring has really come,” we all chorused. And oh, how good it seemed
to be done with the winter; such a winter too! Surely the longest and
most awful winter humanity has ever known!

With spring and summer immediately before us, as it seemed, we decided
to leave the trenching just for that day, and explore the lanes and
woods. The lichens and mosses were at the height of their beauty—a
beauty that would fade once the sun got any power. The wall-stones
were splashed with browns and greys, rust-colour and orange, black and
olive, and one particular lichen that is our especial joy tints the
stone a milky pea-green shade that is unlike any other colour I can
recall.

Last year’s bramble leaves were purple and scarlet and crimson and
yellow. Where the small ivy creeping up the walls had been touched
by the frost, it had turned a vivid yellow mottled with warm brown
and crimson. And it is surprising, once you take note of it, how much
crimson is used by Nature where you would expect to find only green;
and not merely a dull red, it is a brilliant, vivid carmine that is
dropped about in quiet, unsuspected places, lighting up dark patches,
emphasizing sombre details that one might otherwise overlook.

We were turning over a handful of brown leaves under an oak tree in
the wood; there we found the streak of crimson showing inside an acorn
that had just burst to let out a young shoot that was seeking about
for roothold below and light up above. Not only one, but hundreds of
similar brilliant touches were scattered about where the fertile acorns
lay among the moss and last year’s fern.

In one secluded spot, where the cold had not been severe enough to
wither last year’s foliage on the undergrowth, long sprays of ground
ivy, climbing over a fallen branch, had turned to deep wine colour,
stems and all, and lay, as Eileen said, “beautiful enough for one of
them lovely wreaths of leaves they put round best hats.” Certainly it
looked more artificial than natural, if one didn’t happen to know that
ground ivy often takes on this tint in its declining days.

Thanks to Tennyson, we all know that rosy plumelets tuft the larch; but
it doesn’t matter how many times you see them, they are always worth
looking at—and marvelling at—again.

And there seems no limit to the crimson splashes. Is there anything
anywhere that can compare with the Herb Robert, its leaves far more
radiant than its blossoms; or the leaves of the evening primrose when
they start to fade at the bottom of the stem; or the waning foliage of
the sorrel?

To make a list of the crimson touches (as distinct from the
reddish-brown) that one finds on stems and foliage any day in the
country, would be a revelation to most of us.

       *       *       *       *       *

Though the sun had been so bright when we started, it doesn’t do to
trust too much in an English spring, and we presently noticed a very
decided change; the temperature dropped with great rapidity, as clouds
came up and hid the sun, and the hills that towered about us suddenly
loomed gloomy and forbidding. The wind veered round from south-west to
north-east; and by evening it was piercingly, bitterly cold.

Taking a last look round with the lantern before we locked up for the
night, not a sound could be heard; everything was absolutely still,
with that unearthly silence of a land suddenly gripped by overpowering
cold. I glanced at the thermometer hanging on the outside wall; it
already registered three degrees below freezing; it would probably be
ten before morning.

We bolted the door and shut out the cold, hoping no one was wandering
lost on the hills that night (not that anyone ever is, but it is
pleasant to have kind charitable thoughts like that, on a bleak night,
as you put yet another log on the fire).

       *       *       *       *       *

Next morning, as it was colder and more perishing than ever, I decided
to cope with several days’ arrears of office work, piling itself up
in all directions. Virginia said it was just as well the weather
necessitated our remaining indoors, as she could now get on with _her_
work. Of course we asked: What work?

She informed us that she was engaged upon an anthology, “Shakespeare
and the Great War.” She felt that “Shakespeare and Everything Else” had
been done pretty thoroughly—by less competent people than herself, it
is true; but, all the same, the poet had been dealt with exhaustively
from every point of view but that of the War. Also, the War had been
dealt with, _in extenso_, from every point of view but Shakespeare’s.
Hence, her present literary effort.

And would I kindly give her any quotations I could think of, that had
any bearing on this world-crisis.

All my brain was equal to was—

    “Tell me, where is fancy bred?”

which undoubtedly indicated that the War Loaf was known to pall on the
public taste even in Shakespeare’s time.

She said she had expected me to say that, it was so obvious.
Nevertheless, I noticed she hurriedly jotted it down.

We asked her to read her MS. so far as she had gone; it seemed a pity
for us to overlap.

“I’ve made a fair start,” she explained, “but the trouble is they all
turn out so awkwardly. For instance, the first quotation I have down is—

     ‘She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat
         to her household’

—anyone can see Daylight Saving there——”

Naturally, I opened my mouth to speak, but she cut me short, testily:

“Of course I know as well as you that it isn’t Shakespeare—at least I
wasn’t reared a heathen!—but that’s just the tiresome part of it. Every
quotation I think of isn’t Shakespeare at all. Here’s another that
would do beautifully (and take up a nice bit of space on the page too),

      ‘The upper air burst into life!
         And a hundred fire-flags’ sheen,
       To and fro they were hurried about!
       And to and fro, and in and out,
         The wan stars danced between.’

“Even a child could tell you they were the searchlights trying to spot
a Zepp.—only it isn’t Shakespeare! It’s very worrying. Yet I know if
only I could get the book done, there would be a fortune in it. W. S.
always sells, and he’s so respectable too!”

I said I was sorry my office duties had prior claim on my time, and
I urged Ursula to do her sisterly part. But she said she couldn’t be
bothered just then; her mind was more than fully occupied in trying to
lay the blame for everything on the right person.

So I took Virginia’s MS. and read it down.

      “How full of briars is this working-day world.”

    This proves that barbed wire entanglements were known
    in the seventeenth century.

      “How far that little candle throws his beams!”

    This indicates clearly that Shakespeare was fined for
    failing to comply with the Lighting Restrictions.

    That he was compelled to pay War Profits out of the
    “royalties” on his plays is evidenced by these poignant
    words in _Macbeth_:—

      “Nought’s had, all’s spent,”

    and doubtless there was a subtle reference to War
    taxation in

    “Age cannot wither nor custom stale her infinite
    variety.”

    The unfailing hold of Shakespeare on humanity is the
    fact that he touched upon all phases of life. (This
    sentence was Virginia’s own literary contribution to
    the “Anthology.”) For example (she went on), even a
    sugar shortage was known in his day. To what else could
    he have been referring when he wrote

      “Sweet are the uses of adversity,”

    and can anyone doubt that

      “Double, double, toil and trouble,
       Fire burn and cauldron bubble,”

    points to meatless days?

Here we were interrupted by a knock at the door. It was Miss Primkins,
an elderly lady who lives by herself (or at least with Rehoboam, her
cat) in a pretty little cottage further down the hill. Miss Primkins
has been hard hit by the War, but no matter how she has to skimp and
save in other ways, she never relaxes her work for the wounded.

And it was about her contribution to Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild that
she came up to consult me. Not that we started there straight away—of
course not. We talked about the shortage of sugar, and the high cost
of boots, and the scarcity of chicken food, and the price of meat,
and the difficulty of knowing how to feed Rehoboam adequately and yet
in strict accordance with official regulations, and the colour of the
bread, and “what are we coming to,” and other topical matters like
that. Then, when I had pressed Miss Primkins several times to stay to
our midday meal, and she had as many times assured me that she must not
stay another minute, grateful though she was for my kind invitation, as
she had put on the potatoes to boil before she came out, she produced
(in an undertone) a paper parcel from her bag, and with much hesitation
explained that she wanted advice on a private matter.

I was all attention.

Undoing the paper, she displayed what looked like a round bolster
case made of pink and blue striped flannelette. As she held it up for
inspection, it “flared” at the top (to use a dressmaker’s term) with
merely a small round opening at the bottom.

I glanced it over as intelligently as I knew how, and then inquired
what it was.

“It’s a pyjama for a soldier,” she murmured modestly, in a very low
voice. “I’ve cut it exactly by the paper pattern, yet Miss Judson, who
saw it yesterday, says she doesn’t believe it’s right. We’ve neither of
us ever made one before, so I thought I would run up to you with it;
you would be _sure_ to know.”

“Er—h’m—ah—yes,” I said, as light dawned. “It’s all right so far as it
goes; but where’s the other leg?”

“The other leg?” she echoed, “there was only one in the pattern.”

“Of course; but you should have cut it out in double material; the
garment requires two legs, you know.”

“Does it!” she exclaimed in genuine surprise. “Why, I thought it must
be intended for a soldier who had had his other leg amputated!”

       *       *       *       *       *

Before Virginia put away her “Anthology,” preparatory to having lunch,
she added another quotation to her list—

      “For never anything can be amiss
       When simpleness and duty tender it,”

and against this she scribbled, “one-legged pyjamas”—doubtless for
elucidation and amplification at a later date. I hope I haven’t
forestalled her.



IX

Snowdrifts


IT was later in the day, and the zest for Shakespeare had waned.
Virginia had moved from beside the fire and was sitting nearer the
window, in order to get what light there was from the sun just
disappearing behind the opposite hills. She was very busy with some
crochet edging she had lately started. It was the first time within the
memory of living woman that Virginia had been seen with a crochet-hook
in her hand—fancy-work had never been her strong point—hence the
inordinate pride with which she patted out the short fragment on any
available surface at frequent intervals, surveying it from different
points of view with her head cricked at various angles, and calling
upon all and sundry to admire.

After moving nearer the window she again patted out the seven small
scallops on her knee, as usual, and then became meditative. No one
paid much attention to her, however. I was sitting on the settle, with
a heaped-up table before me, absorbed in MSS., which I was reading,
and then sorting into various piles—for printer, for reserve, for
return—and arranging these on the seat beside me; important work, which
accounted for my preoccupation.

Ursula was busily engaged in the laudable endeavour to construct a pair
of child’s knickers out of two pairs of stocking legs. Someone had told
her this could be done. It had appealed to her as a serviceable way to
use up done-with stockings (and she assured me the problem of what to
do with these “done-withs” had been a long-standing mental burden),
while at the same time one might be conferring a benefit upon the
poor. The fact that the modern “poor” would have scorned anything so
economical did not worry her.

At last Virginia broke the silence. “It’s really quite remarkable! I
don’t know that I’ve met with a more extraordinary crochet pattern than
this,” she said thoughtfully.

“Where did you get it from?” I asked rather absently, as I went on with
my work.

“From one of the magazines you are supposed to edit,” she said blandly.

“What is there extraordinary about it?” I inquired, now thoroughly
roused up to give the matter all my attention, while Ursula laid down
the dislocated stocking leg she had been wrestling with.

“Well, it’s like this. There is the pattern, you see,” pointing to a
picture I had seen before, “and there are the directions. When you’ve
worked them through once, that makes one scallop. Do you see?”

We said we saw it quite plainly.

“Then, you notice it says at the very end, ‘go back and repeat from the
first row’? Now this is the extraordinary part of the affair; every
time I go back and repeat from the first row it makes an entirely
different scallop. The last time but one, you see, the scallop came
on the opposite side of the sewing-on edge; I thought _that_ was
interesting enough! But now I find this last scallop has _turned a
corner_. Funny, isn’t it?”

For the first time we gave Virginia’s bit of edging serious attention.
What she had done with those directions it was impossible to say, but
the result was certainly peculiar.

“That will be a valuable piece of lace by the time it’s finished,” I
said. “What are you going to do with it?”

“I’m making it as a Christmas present for you,” she replied sweetly.
“I think it may help to promote conversation if you display it at your
social functions. I know you’re going to say how unselfish it is of me.
I think, myself, I mellow as I age.”

“Not at all,” I replied politely, and suggested that we should go for a
walk, lest such concentrated thinking should be too much for her.

“If you’d been a properly-minded hostess you would have proposed that
long ago. I’ve been waiting anxiously for it, only there is Ursula
absorbed in that outfit that no masculine infant anywhere would
recognise——”

“Oh, I’ve given up the knicker idea long ago,” interrupted Ursula.
“I’ve turned them into chest-protectors for the old people in the
infirmary. And now, as a war economy, I’m going to enlarge your vests
(I neither ask for, nor expect, gratitude!). The laundry having shrunk
them to waistbands, I shall add an upper and a lower storey.”

“—and _you_ sit hour after hour reading MSS. What are they all about?
What’s that one in your hand, for instance?”

“This one,” holding up some sheets of violently-written paper that
almost burst through the envelope, “is an anonymous letter from some
irate lady who objects to something or someone appearing in our pages.
I haven’t time to read it, but if you care to wade through it——”

“Anonymous letters are so futile.”

“Anything but,” I told her. “It is always a pleasant thing, at the end
of the day, to feel that you have, even in a slight way, contributed
to anyone’s happiness. And I’m sure the lady who dug her pen into
that anonymous letter was very happy when she posted it. Glad am I,
therefore, to be the unworthy instrument permitted to promote her joy!”

Virginia merely snorted. “What’s the next MS. about?”

“This is a very long poem on the War, and the writer explains that she
has made all the lines run straight on in order to save paper, but
doubtless I can find out where it rhymes. It begins ‘Hail, proud mother
of nations who dwell in these sea-girt islands for centuries past and
centuries yet to be——’”

Virginia said she’d skip the rest, please, and wasn’t there a little
light fiction anywhere in the chaos before me?

“This is a story of a beautiful Russian princess who was doomed to live
in a lonely castle, with no one but her aged and decrepit nurse, in
the very centre of a pathless Siberian forest, hundreds of miles from
everybody, until the spell should be broken——”

“What spell?” inquired Ursula.

“(I don’t know—the writer doesn’t say)—until the spell should be
broken, when she would be free. She was the most exquisite vision that
ever burst upon human sight. Not only were her features perfect, and
her hair a rippling cascade of gold, but her dress was grace and beauty
combined.”

“Then it wasn’t one of _this_ season’s models!” ejaculated Ursula,
“hence it must have been out-of-date. All the same, I’d like to know
who was her dressmaker. Did they think to mention the name?”

(“No, that is not stated.)—She used to spend her days listening to
the wolves who congregated all around the castle howling and gnashing
their horrid fangs, till one day an honest, sturdy forester approached,
and with one fell swoop slew dozens of them. Whereupon the Princess
Elizabeth—for such was her name—opened the door and cried, ‘Welcome,
deliverer!’ and in less time than it takes me to tell you, that aged
and decrepit nurse had prepared, all unaided, a sumptuous wedding
banquet, while gorgeously apparelled guests arrived in battalions from
nowhere. Then, just as they were about to be married, the honest,
sturdy forester, no longer able to conceal his identity, confessed that
he was indeed the Prince.”

“What Prince?” inquired the interrupter again.

“I don’t know, and the writer doesn’t say, and I wish you would
remember, Ursula, that in the larger proportion of MSS. sent to editors
it is customary for the writers to omit the essential details!”

“Then I’d just as soon go for a walk as hear any more,” she said with
decision.

Whereupon we got into big coats and thick gloves and tied on our hats
with motor scarfs, I don’t mean the filmy wisps one wears when motoring
in the park, but those large, solid, thick, brown, woollen scarves
that look as though they had been made from a horse-blanket—the sort
that the West End window dresser in desperation labels “dainty!” But
the air was bitingly cold, and we were so high up among the hills,
that no wraps would have been too warm that day. Then we started off,
after I had said a final word to Eileen about the necessity for keeping
the kettle boiling, as we shouldn’t be gone long. She had assured me
many times already that she wasn’t the least bit nervous about being
left alone—rather liked it, in fact. She was blissfully engaged at the
moment in trying to construct a “dainty evening camisole” (as per some
penny weekly she had bought coming down) out of the satin ribbon and
lace from Virginia’s last year’s hat.

The small white dog with the brown ears accompanied us to the gate, but
decided that, with the thermometer just where it was at that moment,
home-keeping hearts were happiest; so he promptly returned to the
hearthrug.

The sun had disappeared, but there was still light on the hill-tops,
though the valley below was fast settling down to darkness. Virginia
suggested the lantern, but I thought we should not need it, more
especially as a moon was due immediately. So we set off at a swinging
pace.

Already, owing to the severity of the frost, the roads rang like
iron to our tread. Every stalk and twig was glistening with rime and
feathered with hoar-frost. No sign of life did we see in all that
walk. Where were the birds, and squirrels, and rabbits, and pheasants,
and all the hundreds of timid wild things we were accustomed to meet
on our summer rambles? We hoped they were safely tucked away in barns
or burrows, or sleeping in warm hayricks, for nothing else above
ground would give them any shelter. I thought of the row of twittering
swallows that always perch themselves along the ridge of the cottage
roof on hot summer afternoons, and felt glad they had gone off to a
warmer climate.

But for ourselves, we would not have exchanged the weather that moment
for any other, no matter how balmy. There is something remarkably
exhilarating in the clear cold air of such a day on the hilltops, and
as we mounted up and up our spirits rose with us—even though the roads
were rough and terribly hard on war-time leather.

I once remarked to a local resident that I found our stony hillside
roads a bit trying, to say nothing of the side paths.

“Well now, I do be s’prised to hear ’ee a-say that,” he replied. “For
the on’y time I were up to Lunnon—I went for a day scursion—d’you know
my legs did that _hake_ when I got back, I were a week getting over
it. It were all along o’ they flat stones what they do have up there;
why, if you believe me, I was a-near toppling over every other minute.
There weren’t ne’er a blessed thing to catch holt onter with your toes!
I felt as though the pavemint was a-coming up to knock my head. Now on
these here roads o’ ourn you can’t slip far, because there’s always
summat of a rock or big stone to trip up agin.”

For myself, however, I sometimes think I would prefer the said rocks
and stones if they were boiled a bit, and then mangled.

       *       *       *       *       *

At last we reached the crest of the hill, and paused to get our breath.
The silence was awe-inspiring. At all other times there is a persistent
hum of insects, or cheep of birds, or the rustling of leaves and
swaying grasses—movement and sound somewhere, night as well as day.
But when the earth has been swept by the magic of frost, then there is
silence indeed. From where we stood, we might have been alone on the
very edge of the world. No house was visible, and although we knew that
the little village lay in the valley below us, we could see nothing of
it.

All was grey, merging into indigo in the depths of the coombes. Grey
were the trees on the farther hills, grey unrelieved by the lights and
shadows that gaily chase each other over the steeps in sunny weather,
as the white clouds sail across the sky above them.

Near at hand the trees took on more individuality. The straight columns
of the larches were mysterious-looking and awe-inspiring, suggesting
regiments of soldiers suddenly called to a halt. Pale grey beeches,
that in damp weather show a vivid emerald green down the north side
of their huge trunks, where moss flourishes undisturbed, were now
stretching out strong bare arms over the carpet of many years’ leaves
lying thickly beneath them. Silver birch stems gleamed in contrast
to the glossy dark green of innumerable aged yews that dotted the
woods—ancient inhabitants, indeed, standing hoary and heroic like some
dark-visaged guardians of the forest, among a host of newcomers of a
far younger generation.

       *       *       *       *       *

But while we were standing there, a sound suddenly broke the stillness,
a sound I have heard hundreds of times on those hills, yet never
without an eerie feeling. It begins far away, a low undertone murmur;
gradually it comes nearer and nearer, getting louder and louder, till
it becomes almost a roar, and then—_diminuendo_—it passes on and is
finally lost in the far distance.

It is only the wind as it suddenly rushes through the river gorge; but
as it tears at the forests on the hillsides, and lashes the branches
together, it produces a strangely uncanny sound, more especially when
the trees are bare and extremely vibrant.

Hearing this, one can understand the origin of the old-time legends
about headless horsemen galloping past on windy nights, and similar
hair-raising stories. As a child, when I often visited at another house
in this region (for four generations of us have climbed these hills and
explored the valleys), I heard these same “headless horsemen” gallop
along the slopes on many stormy nights; and despite my years and my
common sense, I still feel the same creepy shiver in the back of my
neck when they have a particularly mad stampede past my cottage door,
for then they always pause to give the weirdest of howls through the
keyholes!

“How dark it is getting!” exclaimed Ursula. “Where is your moon? And
just hear the wind coming up the valley!”

It had not reached us as yet, but the words had scarcely left her lips
before it came—swish—full upon us. We had to grip each other and plant
our walking-sticks firmly on the ground to keep our feet. And then
we knew what the sudden change meant, for next moment down came the
snow—snow such as the town-dweller knows nothing about, for in cities
there are buildings to break the force of the elements; but on these
heights there is nothing to impede the fury of the storm as it gallops
over the upper regions, crashing and smashing as it goes.

The snow dashed in our eyes; it got inside our coat-collars; it clogged
up our hair; it swirled and “druv” (as they say locally) till it made
our heads dizzy, and our eyes smarted with trying to see through the
whirling mass.

Owing to our exposed position we felt the full force of the storm, and
it was a difficult matter to make headway in the blinding flakes and
stinging wind.

“There is a short cut through the wood, further along the road; let us
get home as soon as we can,” I said, leading the way, and we staggered
on against the blizzard, till we came to the wood, and plunged from
the road into its recesses. But I soon found it is one thing to know
the way through a dense mass of trees in bright sunshine with a
path clearly defined, and quite another thing to find one’s way in
the twilight, with a gale blowing in one’s teeth and every landmark
obliterated by the rapidly falling snow.

We stumbled along for some time, over the rough stones and great
boulders, lovely enough in summer with their coverings of ivy, moss,
and fern, but very painful and cold for the shins when you tumble
over them in the snow. Before long it was quite evident to me that
we were merely wandering at large among the trees, and scrambling
among the undergrowth of stalks and bracken, our hats catching in the
hanging branches, our skirts being clutched at by the all-pervading
bramble—path there was none. I had to admit I had lost my bearings,
though as we were going steadily downhill, I knew we should arrive at
the other side presently, as downhill was our destination. What little
conversation we indulged in—beyond the usual exclamations every time we
tripped over something—had to be done in shouts, so high was the wind.

In this way we tumbled on for about half an hour. Just as Virginia was
confiding to me—_fortissimo_ above the blizzard—how she wished she
had been nicer to her family when she had the opportunity, and how
sweet and forgiving she would have been to them all had she but known
that I was going to take her out to an arctic grave, the snow ceased,
the clouds broke, the moon appeared, and at the same time we cleared
the wood and struck a familiar lane—“Agag’s Path” we had named it, on
account of the need for walking delicately.

By way of keeping up our spirits, Ursula began to chant, to some
lilting, sprightly tune, that most lugubrious poem, “Lucy Gray.”

       “The storm came up before its time,
          She wandered up and down;
        And many a hill did Lucy climb,
          But never reached the town.”

When she got to the verse—

      “They followed from the snowy bank
         Those footmarks, one by one,
       Into the middle of the plank,
         And farther there were none!”—

Virginia exclaimed, “For mercy sake, if you _must_ wail, do wail
something cheerful and lively. ‘The Boy stood on the Burning Deck,’ for
instance, would warm one up a bit, instead of that other shivery thing.”

By the time we reached our gate the storm was over, though the wind
was still sweeping restlessly over the hills. A dog belonging to a
neighbouring farmer jumped over the garden wall. He had evidently
called in the hope of getting a chance to settle a long-standing score
he had against my own innocent-looking animal, who was ever a terrible
fighter! We paid no attention to the dog, however, but hurried up the
path, only too thankful to see the lights of home, and glad that Eileen
had forgotten to pull down the dark blinds. Nevertheless, I wondered
that she did not open the door so soon as she heard the gate. I put my
hand on the latch, but to my surprise the door was locked! I rattled
the latch and knocked. The dog whined inside and gave impatient little
short barks which always mean a summons to someone to open the door and
let me in. But the door remained locked.

Then Eileen’s voice within—

“Are you quite by yourselves? Has the wolf gone?”

“Open the door at once, and don’t talk nonsense,” I said firmly, trying
not to sound as irritated as I felt.

“Oh, but it isn’t nonsense. I’ve seen them out there! One was there
just now. And I’m not going to risk my life by opening the door if he’s
there still.”

Evidently _our_ lives were unimportant! “If you don’t open the door
this very instant,” I said, “I’ll get in through the window. You must
be out of your senses, and you have always professed to be so brave!”

The key grated in the lock, and the door opened half an inch, while
Eileen’s nose peeped at the crack, to make sure we were not the
wolf. Then she explained, “If you’d been here for hours and hours,
as I have”—(we had actually been gone an hour and a half, though
I could understand the sudden storm, and our delay, had made her
nervous)—“hearing those wolves outside a-howling and howling and
gnashing their horrid fangs, you wouldn’t wonder I was afraid to open
the door. I saw one skulking off just before you came in.”

I understood the situation immediately. “Eileen,” I said severely,
“what have you been reading?”

“I couldn’t help just seeing what it was all about when I spread the
sheets on the dresser. You said I must have fresh papers for the
dresser and shelves——”

“Fresh paper on the dresser?” I exclaimed, and went hurriedly into the
kitchen. Sure enough, the dresser, the pantry and scullery shelves, and
all other available surfaces, including the deep window-sill and the
tops of the safes, had been carefully covered with white paper; prompt
investigation proved them to be pages from some of the various MSS. I
had left in piles on the settle when I went out. Of course the writing
was face downwards. I lifted things and examined what was beneath. The
vegetable dishes on the dresser were reposing on portions of a serial
story; canisters, saltbox and biscuit-tins shared the back of one of
a series of Nature Study articles; the Siberian wolves were gnashing
their horrid fangs beneath the knife-machine. I left the anonymous
letter to an amiable if inglorious end, laid along the saucepan shelf,
but I hurriedly collected the rest to the accompaniment of Eileen’s
plaintive tones—

“I thought you had put them there for waste paper. And the back of
every sheet was so beautifully clean, and I had made my kitchen look
_so_ nice with them.”

All of which goes to illustrate the risk one runs in sending MSS. to
editors, more especially to feminine editors possessed of kitchens.

       *       *       *       *       *

Though the fall of snow did not last very long, the wind howled and
moaned around the house all the evening, and roared in the wide
chimneys like a 32-feet open diapason pedal pipe. Virginia suggested
to Eileen that she should go out and put a little salt on the wolves’
tails to see if that would quiet them.

I thoroughly enjoy the moaning of the wind if I am surrounded by
creature comforts—a big fire, a good cup of tea, or something
interesting in that line. I never feel a desire for intellectual
or introspective pursuits when the moan is most robust. When a raw
nor’wester or a bullying sou’wester howls outside the door and windows,
making the pine trees creak and groan like the wheels of an old timber
waggon, and the evergreen firs wildly wave their branches like long
dark plumes, I want to be able to hug myself to myself in the midst
of warmth and good cheer, and in the company of some congenial fellow
being. Then I give the fire a further poke and another log, remarking
contentedly: “Just _hark_ at the wind! _What_ a night! Isn’t it cosy
indoors!” And the brass candlesticks on the mantelpiece, and the plates
and jugs and dishes on the dresser blink acquiescence.

Under such circumstances I love the howlers on these hills. But if
I were a studious ascetic, burning the midnight oil—and very little
else—I’m afraid that the sound of the wailing up and down the scale in
minor sixths, coupled with the lack of comforting food and blazing fire
and sympathetic companionship, would make me desperately melancholy
indeed.

Now we were indoors we could defy the weather, and here at least
firewood was plentiful—not the “five sticks a penny, take it or leave
it,” that had been our portion in town, but as much as ever one wanted,
and plenty more where the last came from. We soon had crackling blazes
all over the house, and you should have seen Eileen’s almost awestruck
countenance when she was told to make herself a fire in her own
bedroom! “_Now_ I know what it’s like to be the Queen!” she exclaimed.

I had been literally fire-starved, owing to the need for economizing
on fuel in town; and now I was loose among my own woods again, with
snapped branches lying in all directions among the undergrowth, I went
in for an orgy of warmth. Large chunks of apple wood and stubby bits
the wind had tossed down from the creaking fir-trees, made crackling
glowing fires in the big open grates. An absurd butterfly unthawed
itself from some crevice among the ceiling beams and came walking
deliberately down the window curtain, evidently under the impression
that he was in for a sultry summer.

       *       *       *       *       *

For some time we sat and watched the splendour of it all.

When you are burning logs from old, sea-going ships, you see again the
blue and saffron of the sky, and the green and peacock tints of the
ocean; and in like manner you can see leaping from our forest logs the
crimson and yellow and gold that once blazed in the autumn glory of the
tree-covered hills, and the glow of the fire gives back the warmth and
the sunshine that the trees caught in their leaves and cherished in
their rugged branches.

       *       *       *       *       *

I dropped off to sleep that night with the flickering fire-glow
whispering of comfort and rest for body and brain. Yes, despite the
soothing balm of it all, and the certainty of safety from “the terror
that walks by night” so that one could sleep without that sense of
constant listening that has become second nature with those of us who
live in town, I could not enjoy it with the old-time zest. Who could,
with the thought ever on one’s heart: what about this lad, and that
one? where are _they_ lying this bitter night?

Physical sense becomes numbed when one lives perpetually in the shadow
of possible tragedy.

       *       *       *       *       *

Probably it was the after-effect of our struggle with the wind and
weather that caused us all to sleep very soundly that night; at any
rate, it was broad daylight before anyone stirred in the cottage next
morning, and we missed the doings of the storm king in the interval.
When I first opened my eyes I wondered what the white light could be
that was reflected on the ceiling. Then I looked out of the window, and
what a scene it was! The whole earth, so far as the eye could see, was
one vast fairyland of snow; moreover, the face of creation appeared
to have risen three or four feet nearer the bedroom window since
last I had looked out, though the full import of this did not occur
to me at the moment. I could merely look and look at the wonderful
transformation that had been effected so rapidly and so silently while
we slept. All trace of the garden had disappeared; shrubs and trees
alike were bowed down with billows of snow. In the more exposed places,
the wind had blown some of the snow from the firs and larches, but for
the most part the trees on the hillside were as laden with snow as
those in the garden. We might have been high up in the Alps. The sun
was trying to shine, and bringing a gleam and glint out of every snow
crystal, but the sky still looked leaden in the north.

Eileen, bringing the morning tea, imparted the thrilling intelligence
that the snow was several feet deep outside the doors, the outhouses
inaccessible.

“Then we must clear the snow from the path ourselves,” I said. “There
is nothing else for it.” The handy man was laid up with influenza in
his home several fields away. And there was small likelihood of any
other man coming our way. But the question of a few shovels of snow did
not seem a serious matter; we were quite lighthearted about it.

When we made our first survey of the situation, however, we found that
the snow was far higher outside the door than we had at first imagined.
Owing to the position of the house, and the way it nestles back in a
little hollow that has been cut out of the hillside to give it level
standing room, special inducement had been offered to the snow to pile
itself up in drifts and block each door in a most effectual manner.
Still—that snow had to be cleared away somehow, and we stood in the
doorway and discussed methods.

Hitherto I had always held the idea that people who allowed themselves
to remain “snowed up” were very dull-witted and lacking in enterprise.
Why not start clearing from the inside, beginning with the spadeful
nearest the doorstep, and so go on clearing, space after space, until
they had got through to the outer world? To me it seemed quite an easy
thing to do if you went about it systematically. But one slight detail
had never occurred to me, viz., what should be done with the first
spadeful of snow when you shovelled it up from beside the doorstep, to
say nothing of the next and the next! That was one of the questions
that bothered us now, though it was not the first difficulty we
encountered.

At the very outset, of course, we all said, “Just get a spade!” But,
alas, the spade was locked up in one of the inaccessible outhouses!
Next we called for a broom, but all brooms were in the same building.
Then I said, “Well, bring some shovels.”

“Here’s the kitchen shovel,” said Eileen (Ursula pounced on that at
once), “and here’s the scoop from the coal-scuttle, and here’s one of
the small brass shovels from upstairs.”

“But where is the big iron shovel?” I asked.

“That’s in the coal-shed” (likewise inaccessible!). Virginia turned a
deaf ear on the bedroom shovel, and possessed herself of the scoop. I
had no alternative but to start work with the small brass affair that
was about as effective as a fish-slice would have been!

We each shovelled up a mass (most of it tumbling off the shovel again
before we got it into mid-air), and then we looked at each other and
enquired what we were to do with it. It did not seem advisable to carry
it inside the house; and the only alternative was to toss it a foot or
two away from us; but then, that only meant adding to the pile already
there, which in any case we should have to clear away before we could
get anywhere! It _was_ a problem.

In the end we managed to clear about a square foot, and make a few
small burrows in the mound around us, by throwing the snow as far away
as we could each time. But what was that foot! We were still yards
away from the coal-shed and the wood-house, with only a limited supply
indoors, and still further away from the water. We had been working for
a solid hour, and seemed to have raised a haystack of snow a little way
off, where we had tossed our meagre shovelfuls. And then—as though to
mock our feeble attempts—down came the snow again, and covered up the
space we had cleared with such effort!

We looked at it in absolute despair.

“Why was I born an unmarried spinster?” exclaimed Ursula. “Oh, that a
man would hove in sight—or whatever the present tense of ‘hove’ may be.”

But no man obligingly hove in response!



X

Footprints


THE snow was meaning to have a good time of it; there was no question
about that. Further work in the clearing line was obviously impossible.

Virginia tilted up her coal-scoop in the porch, beside the pathetic
remains of small brass shovel No. 1 (which broke in half quite early in
the proceedings), and small brass shovel No. 2 (which also was giving
wobbly indications of impending collapse). Ursula, possessing the only
serviceable tool in the whole collection, had with unusual forethought
carried in the kitchen shovel, and hidden it surreptitiously—realising
that it was a much-coveted treasure at that moment.

But she did suggest that if we just took the ladder upstairs and let
it down out of the end bedroom window she could climb down, and that
would bring her close to the wood shed; she could get from the roof of
that on to a low wall, and walk along the wall to the gate, which she
would then climb over (as it was blocked each side with snow), and in
this way she could get out into the lane to the spring of water, and
bring back a can of water by the same route. This she would tie to a
cord let down from the bedroom window, which could then be hauled up.
Then she would get into the wood shed—which would not be difficult, as
the door opened inwards, and would not be blocked by the snow on the
inside; getting together some logs, she would next lash them up so that
they also could be hauled up like the water; finally, she would herself
return, _viâ_ the roof and the ladder and the bedroom window, to the
bosom of the family.

This suggestion was received with gratitude, only everyone else wanted
to take Ursula’s place, and make the tour instead of her. We pointed
out to her that, as she had already meanly annexed the only workable
shovel, she ought at least to relinquish the rôle of leading lady in
this expedition. We might have wasted much time in arguing with her
had not Eileen reminded us that the ladder—like everything else we
needed—was up the garden safely snowed up under the laurel hedge. So
that project fell through.

“We may as well leave that collection of old metal in the porch,” said
Virginia, “since there is no fear of callers arriving and putting us
to the blush this afternoon.” Then there was nothing left to do but
to stamp off the snow, and shed rubbers, and ulsters, and scarfs, and
woollen gloves, and possess our souls in patience indoors, till such
time as the snow should give over.

“And to think how I’ve always prided myself on going away from home
prepared for _every_ emergency!” sighed Virginia. “My dressing-case
is simply crammed with such valuable data as a bandage for a possible
sprained ankle, court plaster, a pocket-knife with a corkscrew on it, a
specially strong smelling-bottle for fainty ones, a nightlight, a box
of matches, ammoniated quinine, wedges for rattling windows, a box of
tin-tacks—no, not a hammer, I always use the heel of my shoe—a two-foot
rule—what should I want that for? I’m sure I don’t know, but then you
never can tell! But with all my precautions, it never occurred to me to
pack a spade and broom in with my luggage. This snowstorm has shown me
the weak points in my outfit.”

“It has shown _me_ the weak points in my joints,” groaned Ursula. “And,
moreover, I never knew before how many parts of us there were that
could ache. I’m just painful from head to foot. I never realised what
a noble, self-sacrificing calling snow-shovelling is. And when I think
of the men who come round in town, offering to sweep the snow from the
path—and a good long path too—for a few pence, it seems a positive
scandal that they should get so little. I’m sure there is quite ten
shillings’ worth of me used up already!”

We certainly did ache. And only those who have been suddenly called
upon to attack a bank of snow, with inexperience and feeble tools,
can know the extent of our stiffness. We were content to let it snow,
without the slightest desire to crick our backs any further. And after
all there is something exceedingly restful and soothing to over-worked
brain and over-strained nerves, in merely sitting in a low chair by a
roaring fire, taking only such exercise as is required to put on an
extra log, secure in the knowledge that neither telegram, nor visitor,
nor any communication whatsoever from the outside world can possibly
break in upon the quiet and peace. You need to spend your life in the
heart of the great metropolis, amid the never-ceasing turmoil of London
streets, with your days one long maddening distraction of callers,
telephone bells, endless queries and perpetual noise, to appreciate the
joy of the solitude in that snowed-up cottage among the hills.

       *       *       *       *       *

For long months and months the guns in Flanders had sent a muffled boom
over my London garden every hour of the day, and had shaken my windows
violently every hour of the night; and there is no need to set down in
writing the ache and the anxiety that each dull thud brought to the
heart. Every one who has husband or brother or son out yonder knows
what question comes wafted over each time the guns send out their
deadly roll.

But our craving for quiet was not a desire to get out of earshot of the
guns. It dated farther back than the War; it was the inevitable outcome
of the over-wrought hurry of the twentieth century, when one’s nerves
get so frazzled in the vain attempt to do everything, and do it all at
once, that at last life is simply one intense longing for that “nest in
the wilderness” out of reach of the clamour of the market-place and the
vain, foolish, soul-wearing struggle for material things.

In that enchanted period of life, known as “before the War,” we used
often to discuss the desirability of moving to an uninhabited island
and spending the rest of our days there in unalloyed peace. It had
been an absorbing dream with me, ever since I first read Sarah Orne
Jewett’s book, _The Country of the Pointed Firs_. I dare say it was
selfish to think of being _quite_ out of reach of the noise and dirt
and bustle and din of cities, and where there would be no next-door
piano, and no gramophone in the house the other side, and no soots
floating in the windows—but it was a very pleasant one, and I used to
add to it occasionally by imagining what it would be like to wake up
one morning and find that some unknown but generous friend had left me
an uninhabited island as a legacy; one not far from the mainland, and
somewhere around the British Isles, of course.

When such a thing happens, it will find me quite prepared, for we have
built the house there, and furnished it, and mapped out our life there
many and many a time; all I am waiting for is—the island! That seems
hard to come by! I’ve had one or two offered me (not as gifts, but to
purchase), like Lundy, for instance, but they cost too much and are not
uninhabited. So we have still to content ourselves with plans only.

We were recalled to The Island (we always refer to it in capital
letters) as we sat round the fire, by Virginia inquiring what books I
should take with me when I moved there. She said she concluded that,
being a booky sort of a person, a library would be an essential.

But I set my face firmly against taking unnecessary literature. My
house gets choked with books, ninety per cent. of which I never open
a second time. I am for ever turning them out, and yet they go on
accumulating. Virginia has a perfect mania for hoarding impossible
books, that she could never find time to read through again if she
lived to be the age of Methuselah; yet she keeps them all, on the
chance that some day she may require to refer to a solitary sentence
in one of them. Her cupboards are full, and her shelves are packed
behind and before, and she has had sets of drawers made just to hold
“papers”; which means hundredweights of abstruse pamphlets, and learned
magazines, and cuttings—well, I dare say you know the sort of girl she
is, and what it’s like when their flat gets spring-cleaned, and she
insists that no one must lay a finger on _her_ books!

Ursula isn’t much better; but at least she is more practical, and
believes in spring cleaning; hence, in _her_ case, she does have a
turn-out occasionally, and just throws away indiscriminately whole
shelf-loads of books in a fit of desperation, when she has managed to
get every article in the flat jumbled up in a heap in the room it has
no business in, and no one can find anything. I believe at such time
she surreptitiously disposes of some of Virginia’s tomes, too; but this
I only suspect. At any rate, Virginia is always bewailing a number of
“_most_ important books” that never can be found after one of Ursula’s
domestic upheavals.

Knowing all this, I said that only a definite number of books would be
allowed on The Island. Both girls said it would be impossible to fix
any limit that would meet the case. I said I was quite sure humanity,
more especially the intellectual feminine portion of it, could do with
far less books than they thought they could.

Vehement protests!

Then I suggested, to prove my words, that we should each start to
make out a list of the books we couldn’t possibly do without on The
Island—_only_ those we couldn’t possibly do without—and see what it
amounted to. “Jot down any book or author that occurs to us as being
essential, irrespective of any sort of classification,” I said. “And we
had better compare notes every ten books, as we go along.”

Forthwith, we each scribbled down our first ten _absolutely
indispensable_ books (they were to be exclusive of religious and
devotional works). When we compared notes in a few minutes’ time, these
were our lists:—


VIRGINIA.

  Encyclopædia.
  A Dictionary.
  Jane Austen’s Novels.
  “The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain.”
  A Time Table.
  Franklin’s “Voyages.”
  “Punch” (regularly).
  A good Atlas.
  “The Spectator” (regularly).
  “A Child’s Garden of Verse.” R. L. Stevenson.


URSULA.

  A good Guide to London.
  A large selection of Needlework and Crochet Books.
  My old Scrapbook.
  Mudie’s Catalogue.
  An Almanac giving the changes of the moon.
  “The Old Red Sandstone.” Hugh Miller.
  The Stores Price List.
  Mrs. Hemans’ Poems.
  The Scottish Student’s Song Book.
  Kipling’s “Kim.”


SELF.

  All Ruskin’s Works.
  “The Wide, Wide World.”
  “The Country of the Pointed Firs.” S. O. Jewett.
  All my Gardening Books and Florists’ Seed Catalogues.
  All my Wild Flower Books.
  “A Little Book of Western Verse.” Eugene Field.
  Poems by Ann and Jane Taylor.
  All my Cookery Books.
  All the Board of Agriculture’s Leaflets.
  A Book on Deer Culture.

Of course, we each gazed in profound surprise and contempt on the
others’ lists, and asked why this and that had been put down. Why did
Ursula want a guide to London, when the object of going to The Island
was to get away from London?

She said she thought you ought to keep in touch with things even if you
were away; and if it came to that, why did I want a Deer book, since I
couldn’t look at venison?

I said I felt it in me that I should start keeping deer as soon as I
landed, and there was more sense in doing that than in reading a Time
Table, for instance!

Virginia protested a Time Table was absolutely essential, else how
would you ever be able to get away when you wanted to? And you never
knew _when_ you might be summoned to anyone’s funeral in a hurry, and
was she supposed to be cut off from _all_ human enjoyment? Whereas no
one could possibly want a Student’s Song Book, when they couldn’t sing
two notes in tune; and, also, why Mrs. Hemans, might she venture to ask?

“Yes, who would dream of carting around a Mrs. Hemans in these days?” I
scoffed.

“The frontispiece engraving of Mrs. Hemans always reminded me of
mother’s Aunt Matilda,” said Ursula impressively. “I only saw her
twice, but on the first occasion she gave me a doll, and on the second
a blue and white bead necklace; I’ve got three of the beads left, in my
workbox. And I’ve always loved beads, and I loved her in consequence,
and I wouldn’t dream of being parted from Mrs. Hemans. And, in any
case, why bring a Dictionary?”

“Because I may require to look up a more expressive word occasionally,
or enlarge my flow of vocabulary,” Virginia explained. “And I conclude
I’m not expected to be absolutely dumb when we get there!”

Of course, I don’t mean to imply that these are necessarily the books
we should have named had we sat down thoughtfully to compile a list
most representative of our tastes and needs; but whatever list I had
made, I’m sure I should have included the volumes I named; and it goes
to show that the books that make an individual appeal to us are not
necessarily those that our friends expect us to name.

The library catalogue was never completed, for, before we had time
further to criticize each other’s preferences, we were pulled up short
by a sound.

We all stopped our chatter on an instant, for surely and certainly
there could be no mistaking it, there was the ring of an iron spade
chinking on stone! When last we had looked out, just after breakfast,
not a stone had been visible for a spade to chink against in the whole
vicinity. We flew to the door, and there, touching his hat with a
smiling “Good morning, ma’am,” stood the elderly handy man who ought
to have been in bed with his bad cold; and behold, a clear path to the
lane. He had worked from the gate inwards, and we had been so busy
with our discussions indoors, we had not heard him till he reached the
porch.

“I was only able to get down downstairs yesterday,” the invalid
explained. “But in any case it wasn’t no good coming over till that
spell o’ snow was down, even if I’d been fit to come out.” Then, after
a detailed description of symptoms and sufferings and so forth—“Yes, I
think there’s a good bit more to come down yet. Nothing won’t be able
to be got up from the village yet awhile; they tell me the drifts is
eight feet deep in places. Maybe in a few days I’ll be able to get
down. I’ll be wanting some sharps soon myself for the fowls, so I’ll
have to try and get down by the end of the week. And the butcher’s
killing himself this week, I could bring you up a j’int. I’ve knocked
up a good bit of kindling wood in the wood shed, so you’ll be all right
now.”

Yes, we were all right now, from one point of view; but I devoutly
hoped he would not wait till the end of the week before he went for
those “sharps,” for I had discovered that we had _only one loaf in the
house_! And as they only bake twice a week in our village, and everyone
knows how long war bread won’t keep, I need only add that already we
had to cut off all the outside before bringing it to table, and by
to-morrow it would be quite gorgonzola-ish right through!

As soon as he had gone, Ursula burst forth, “Don’t talk to me any more
of the rights of women”—no one had been, but we let it pass—“don’t
tell me they are the equals of men, and that all they want is a good
education and scope for their energies. Look at us, haven’t _we_ all
had good educations?” (Ursula and her sister are thoroughly acquainted
with the literature of several European countries; they read Plato in
the original; and can give you reliable information on such points
as the similarity between the tribes on the borders of Tibet and the
Patagonians—if any exists. They can certainly be called well educated.)
“And wasn’t there scope enough for our energies out there? And then
consider what we accomplished! While a man like that comes along—says
he never went to school in his life, just risen from a sick bed, too,
so none too strong—yet in an hour or so he’s done what _we_ should not
have got through in a month. And look at the neat job he’s made of it,
with the snow banked up trimly on each side; why, we were about as
effective and as artistic as three fowls scratching on the surface of
things. And then look at the stack of wood he got ready in no time. I’m
sure I blushed to see him gazing at that collection of decrepit shovels
standing in the porch——”

“And well you might blush,” edged in Virginia, “remembering how you
selfishly stuck to the only decent shovel there was, with never so
much as an offer to either of us to have a turn.”

“—Yes, we ought to have votes, we’re so—capable!” Ursula went on, but I
begged her not to worry her head about votes just now, as the question
of food was of greater national importance.

At the word “food” of course everyone was all attention, and we made
ourselves into a Privy Council, and they appointed me Food Controller,
because it would give them the right to do all the grumbling. But the
matter was not quite as much of a joke as they thought. For so long
they had been accustomed to a pantry stocked with bottles and tins and
stores of all descriptions (and Virginia once remarked that to read
the labels alone—if you had lost the tin-opener—was quite as good as a
seven-course meal at a fashionable restaurant), that they forgot things
were not like that now! In the dairy, too (which we use as a larder),
it was the usual pre-war thing to see large open jam tarts in deep
dishes, with a fancy trellis work over the top of the jam, and large
pies with lovely water-lilies, made from the scraps of paste, on top,
and spicy brown cakes, with a delicious odour, standing on the stone
slabs—Abigail being a capital hand at pastry and cakes. The dairy is
built on the north side, close under the hill, and the great stone wall
that keeps the hill from tumbling down on top of the dairy is packed
with hart’s-tongue and the British maiden-hair fern, and rosettes of
the pretty little scaly spleenwort, and lacy tufts of wall rue, and
practically every other kind of fern that loves damp shade and the
English climate. And ivy runs over the lot right up to the top, where
wild roses and honeysuckle and blackberry ramp about in the sunshine,
and often peep down to see how it fares with their comrades in the cool
ravine below. The long fronds of the fern wave in at the dairy window,
and the ivy sends out little fingers, catching hold wherever it can,
and creeping in, very much at home, through the wire-netting that does
duty for a window. My guests always like to go into the dairy to see
the wonderful array of ferns; but I sometimes suspect it is also to
gaze on the appetizing-looking things that appeal irresistibly to all
who have spent an hour or two in our hungry air!

But war had made a considerable difference alike to pantry and
store-cupboard and larder, and we had to trust to the promise of Miss
Jarvis, the lady at the village shop—and one of the most valuable
members of the community—that we should not actually starve! As the
stocks had been used, they had not been replenished. Cinnamon buns,
lemon-curd cheese cakes, fruit cakes with a nice crack in the top, were
no longer piled up in the larder. No home-cured ham, sewn up in white
muslin, hung from the big hook in the kitchen ceiling. No large, dried,
golden-coloured vegetable marrows hung up beside it for winter use.

We had plenty of potatoes, fortunately (and never had we valued
potatoes as we did this year!), and we had the usual “remains” that
are in the larder, when the butcher has not called for a few days and
a family lives from hand to mouth, as one has had to do recently, lest
one should be suspected of hoarding!

There was a tin of lunch biscuits, some cheese, and cereals; but the
rest of the store cupboard seemed exasperatingly useless when it
came to sustaining life in a snow-bound household. What good was a
tin of linseed, for instance, or a bottle of cayenne, or a bottle of
evaporated horse-radish (with the sirloin presumably still gambolling
about somewhere in the valley)? Why had I ever laid in a bottle of
tarragon vinegar, a bottle of salad dressing, a box of rennet tablets,
a tin of curry powder, desiccated cocoanut, a bottle of chutney? Even
the tin of baking powder and the nutmegs and capers seemed extravagant
and superfluous. Oh, for a simple glass of tongue—but we had opened our
only one the day we arrived!

One thing was certain: while the snow remained at its present depth,
to say nothing of an increase, no provisions could be got up from the
village. The steep roads were like glass the last time we were out;
now they would be impassable for horses or vehicles, even though a
man might manage to get over them somehow. Milk we could obtain from
a neighbouring farm, perhaps a few eggs, possibly a fowl as a very
special favour, now that our path was cleared; but that was the utmost
we could hope to raise locally. The point to be considered was: How
long could we hold out?

“Well, there is only one other thing I can think of,” said Virginia;
“you must fly signals of distress, and hoist a flag up at the top of
the chimney—they always do in books. . . . How are you to get the flag
up the chimney? I’m sure _I_ don’t know if you don’t! What’s the good
of being an editor if you don’t know a simple little thing like that?”

But the problem was solved for me by a tap at the door, and then one
realised the superiority of the servants of the Crown over all ordinary
individuals. It was the postman. He said “Good morning” with the modest
air of one who knows he has accomplished a great deed, but leaves it
for others to extol.

“I’ve brought up the letters,” he said; “but I couldn’t get up the
parcels to-day. There are a good many.” I knew what that meant. My post
is necessarily a very heavy one, more especially when I am away from
town, and great packages of things are sent down daily. “Is there
anything I can take back with me?” he inquired.

I hastily scribbled some telegrams on urgent matters, glad of this
chance to get them sent off; and I knew the Head of Affairs would be
glad to hear we were all well. As I handed them to the man, he rather
hesitatingly produced a bulky newspaper parcel that had been hidden
under his big mackintosh cape, with an apologetic look, as it were, to
the Crown, that the garment should have been put to so unofficial an
use. Then in an undertone, lest the Postmaster-General in London might
overhear, he said—

“Miss Jarvis was afraid you might be running short of things.” The
thoughtful Lady of the Village Shop had sent up a loaf, a piece of
bacon and a pound of sugar. How I blessed her!

Next day he managed to get up some of the small postal packages. The
first one I opened was from one of the Assistant Editors in town.

“I see in the papers that you’ve had a heavy fall of snow,” she wrote,
“and as there was not a solitary line from you this morning, I’m
wondering if you are isolated? At any rate, I’m sending you a home-made
cake and a box of smoked sausages by this post (instead of MSS.) in
case you may be cut off from supplies.”

“If that isn’t bed-rock common sense,” said Ursula. “Most intelligent
girls would have improved the occasion by sending you newspaper
cuttings with statistics of the latest submarine sinkings, to keep your
spirits up.”

Another slight fall of snow was all the late afternoon brought us, not
enough to spoil the newly cleared path, but sufficient to reveal the
fact next morning that someone with large masculine boots had been
promenading round the cottage, for there were the footprints, a clear
track that even a detective could not have failed to see, leading
from the gate to the outhouses, from the outhouses to the scullery
door, from the scullery door to the best door (it’s absurd to call it
the front door, because each side is as much the front as the other
excepting the part that backs into the hill!), from the best door to
the door with the porch, and so on, out of the gate again.

As none of us knew anything about them, we concluded the handy man must
have returned, bent on some new errand of mercy. But he disowned them;
had not been near the place since the previous forenoon, and the snow
had not fallen till five o’clock. It looked exceedingly queer, not to
say uncanny, and we recalled the fact that the dog had barked violently
after we were in bed. So far as I knew, there was no resident on those
hills who would think of wandering round the house after dark; and no
tramp or odd wayfarer would ever scale those heights unless he had some
very urgent reason for so doing, and had a definite destination. It is
too stiff a climb to take on a casual chance of picking up anything;
moreover, unless a man knew his way, he would soon lose himself. Though
the footprints really perplexed me, I did not say very much about them;
but Eileen did.

When Mr. Jones from a neighbouring farm arrived with milk, I heard the
full description being given him at the kitchen door. He expressed
due interest, and described a mysterious case he had just read about,
in the weekly paper, of a servant who had disappeared from a house in
London where she had been in service for years, and no trace of her
had been found since. Eileen and he agreed as to the many points of
similarity between the two cases.

When the lad from the butcher’s came to know what portion I wished to
bespeak of the sheep they would be killing, come Friday, I heard Eileen
once more going through the story of the footprints, combined with
details of the missing domestic. He, in turn, told her how a burglar
had been one morning in a house next door to his grandmother’s in
Bristol, and how, when they chased him, he jumped right over the garden
wall, into the very dish of potatoes his aunt was peeling for his
dinner. (The pronouns were confusing, but I don’t think it was for the
burglar’s dinner the potatoes were intended.)

The farmer’s daughter who came to inquire if I would like a fowl, after
hearing the story, offered to lend Eileen a novelette she had just been
reading, where there were footprints exactly like these; and in the
last chapter it turns out that the footprints were those of—I forget
who or what, but it was very enthralling, and Eileen gratefully jumped
at the offer of the loan.

The old man who came to say that they couldn’t deliver any coals till
the weather broke, remarked that he didn’t like the look of it at all,
and said he should be quite nervous if he were she, and asked her if
she had heard about the old woman who had been found dead in her bed
in Yorkshire, died of cold, and fifty golden sovereigns tied up in the
middle of her pillow? Eileen had not heard of it. The old man said it
was as well to keep your eyes open, as there were funny people in the
world, and this seemed to him just such another affair.

And much more to the same effect.

       *       *       *       *       *

That night I was suddenly awakened by a sound, though at first I
could not tell what it was. I lay wide awake, holding my breath: then
it came again, a gentle rasp, rasp, as though someone were scraping
something with a metal tool. At the same moment I heard Virginia and
Ursula stirring in the next room. I stole in to them; they too were
listening. And then we realised that the burglar had really come! From
the direction of the sound we knew he was scraping away the putty,
or something of the sort, from a pane of glass that was let into the
scullery door. If he managed to get through that, he could undo the
bolt, and would be free of the place.

What were we to do, we asked each other in whispers? Of course,
previously, I had always known what I should do if a burglar ever came
to my house. I should go downstairs, throw open the door and confront
him unafraid, asking him in a firm but most melodious voice what had
brought him to such a low moral depth, and urging him to better things.
He would be so undone by the sight of me and the sound of the music of
my voice, that he would crumple up at my feet and confess all his past
burglaries. Whereupon, I should motion him to come in and take a seat,
while I hastily prepared a cup of Bovril, and cut him a large plate of
cold roast beef; and on his observing that I had passed him the mustard
pot without first removing the silver spoon, he would be so overcome
by my confidence in him that he would voluntarily vow to turn over a
new leaf. He would leave with half-a-crown in his pocket. And years
afterwards a prosperous man would knock at my door, bearing in his
hand half-a-crown, etc.

But this particular case did not seem to fit in with my previous
programme for the reception of burglars. In the first place there was
no Bovril in the house; and secondly, there was no beef, only a tiny
piece of cold mutton in the larder—and you can’t do anything heroic
with only cold mutton.

Meanwhile the man was scraping away downstairs, and we did not know but
what he would be in upon us any moment.

“Shall we let the dog loose?” said Virginia.

“The dog!” I repeated. “Why, where _is_ the dog? Why isn’t he barking?”
Until that moment we had forgotten him entirely. There was no sound
of him below; and he is a ferocious little thing if strangers come
anywhere near the place.

“Oh, then they’ve poisoned him!” gasped Ursula, almost in tears.
“They’ve got some poisoned meat in to him somehow, under the door
perhaps, and he’ll be lying there a corpse, and we never thinking
of him.” We all three crept as silently as we could downstairs, to
find “the corpse” remarkably cheerful, with his nose at the crack of
an outer door, every hair of his body on end with tension, his ears
cocked up, and every muscle of him on the alert—but not a ghost of a
bark did he give, only a perfunctory waggle of his tail, just as an
acknowledgment of our presence, and an apology that he was too much
engaged at the moment to give us more attention. There was not much
poison about that dog! As the scraping got louder, and my teeth were
chattering violently (but only with the cold, as I explained to the
other two), I fled upstairs again, and they followed.

“What _do_ you usually do when burglars come?” whispered Virginia.

“I don’t know. I’ve never had one before,” I moaned.

“Didn’t you once tell me you had a bell, or something of the sort?”
said Ursula.

“Why, yes; I had forgotten that.” I keep a huge bell under the bed at
the head, and I always intended to ring it violently out of the window
if a burglar ever came. (Scrape, scrape, scrape, continued down below.)
“I don’t suppose anyone on these hills would wake up to listen; but, at
any rate, it might worry the burglar and send him off.”

“Let’s ring it now,” said Virginia eagerly, “and then, when he is well
_outside_ the gate, of course, we’ll let the dog run out after him.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “But first I want to go into Eileen’s room, and peep
out of her window and see _who_ is below. Her window is just over the
scullery door, and is always open at night. If it is anyone from the
district—though I don’t believe it is—I should recognise him.”

So we tip-toed into Eileen’s room, where she lay sound asleep.

“When I give the signal, you ring,” I said.

Cautiously, slowly, silently, I got my head a little further and
further out of the window, shaking with ague from head to foot. And
there I saw the burglar—he was Farmer Jones’s dog (alias the wolf, you
remember), and he had got hold of a sardine tin that had been emptied
that day. He was having a lovely time, licking that tin out, and as
he licked, so it scraped and scraped on the stones. No wonder my own
dog did not bark; he knew it was his ancient enemy without, and the
instinct of the dog of war was to wait stealthily till the foe should
get within his reach.

“Don’t ring the bell!” I whispered hoarsely, and we crept out of the
room.

“I think it’s just as well Eileen did not wake,” I said, as we made
ourselves a midnight cup of tea before turning in again, “for I’ve no
desire to hear _this_ episode being related all day long at the kitchen
door!”

       *       *       *       *       *

Have you ever sat by the fire indoors, when the ground has been covered
with snow, and the sky grey and heavy, till you have been “absolutely
_perished_ with the cold,” and then someone has come and dragged you
out (or, if you have wonderfully uncommon sense, you have dragged
yourself out), and plunged right into it—a shrivelled-up martyr! After
ten minutes spent in trying to sweep the snow from the path, what have
you felt like?

I plunged right out into it—simply because the two girls were bragging
such a deal about their own heroic fortitude in forsaking the fireside
at the call of life’s stern duties, or something like that. But first
of all I put on a knitted hug-me-tight; then my leather motoring
undercoat; then my big cloth coat; and finally, my mackintosh. I tied
on a woollen sports cap with a winter motor scarf; I turned up my coat
collar, and put on a fur necklet; and, of course, I didn’t forget
gaiters and warm gloves.

Then I stood on the doorstep and looked out—if you believe me, the cold
went right through me, and fairly rattled my bones inside.

Still, I wasn’t going to be outdone in misery by the other two, and
noticing that the bushes were actually breaking down under the load of
snow, I seized a broom and sallied forth. After all, if one has to die
a martyr’s death, one may as well occupy the final moments in doing
useful kindnesses for one’s family.

It is some sort of solace to picture how they will eventually say, “To
think of her doing all that, when——”; or, “To the last she never gave
in; why only the very day——!”; or, “Ah! how often have I seen the poor
dear——!” etc.

So I made for the pink rhododendron, that was suffering badly; being
evergreen, its large rosettes of leaves, surrounding each flower-bud
of the future, had caught and held great masses of snow; the lower
branches were literally buried beneath the heavy drifts.

But as I found I couldn’t get at it without clearing a way through
a three-foot bank of snow, I set to work with a spade. It sounds
simple enough, I know; but unless you’ve been getting your living at
snow-clearing, you would never believe what a lot there is to it, when
you start to make a nice serviceable path through a drift from two to
three feet deep, and six feet long.

I reached the pink rhododendron at last. Getting my broom against a
main stem, I shook it gently. What a lovely shower came down! I don’t
know that I needed it all over me, personally; nor was it necessary to
choke up half the cutting I had just made. Still, down it came, white
billows and a rain of silver powder. I never knew what snow was really
like, till I shook it all over me, and the sun suddenly came out and
turned the cascade to a gleaming white radiance.

Having got well smothered to start with, I decided I might just as
well go on; and that I could dispense with the motor undercoat, which I
left hanging on the bush. Lower down the garden I could hear the clink
and scrape of shovel and spade against the stones, as the other two
cleared the snow from the various little flights of rough stone steps
that take you up or down, from one level of the garden to another.
But I didn’t feel like clearing steps just then; it was too niggly. I
wanted something bigger than that, and I somehow had a desire to work
alone, so I struck a path that went up the garden, and began to work my
way towards the top gate, clearing as I went.

As I bent over the smooth glistening surface, I was amazed to see the
number of messages written there for those who know the language of the
wilds well enough to read them! What a scurrying to and fro of little
feet had been going on since the snowfall, all on the one quest—food
and water! Birds innumerable had left their signatures; some I knew,
some I could not identify, save that they were birds. Rabbits I could
trace; stoats, too, might have made some of the writing in the snow;
and there were bigger tracks—perhaps a fox.

Everywhere there were tidings of other wayfarers, other workers, other
seekers—the many other dwellers who have their homes somewhere between
the larch-woods and the weir. The moment before the place had seemed a
frost-locked, deserted, uninhabitable waste of snow; now I saw it was
teeming with life, brave, persistent, not-to-be-daunted life, that in
spite of cold and hardship and privation and a universal stoppage of
supplies, still set out, with unquenchable faith, on the quest for the
food which they have learnt to know is invariably forthcoming, “in due
season.”

The surprising thing to me is the fact that such small bodies can ever
survive such a welter of snow. Aren’t they afraid they will sink down
and be swallowed up in it? Have they no fear lest they lose their way,
with the old landmarks obliterated? Doesn’t it strike terror to the
heart when they find their doorway blocked, and themselves snowed up in
burrow or hole? Yet, judging by outside evidence, it would seem that
none of these things daunt them; an obstacle is merely something to be
surmounted.

To my mind the most pathetic thing about it all is the fact that their
chief fear seems to be fear of human beings, a dread of the very ones
who could, and ought to, befriend them.

In my clearing I moved a small wooden box that had been used for
seedlings, and since had lain unnoticed beside a hedge. Underneath a
tiny field mouse had taken refuge. It seemed almost paralysed with
terror when I suddenly lifted the box, and escape was blocked on
every side by banks of snow. The poor little thing just sat up on its
hind legs and looked at me most pitifully. I can’t say that I exactly
cultivate mice, in an ordinary way, but—here was a fellow-creature in
distress, such a little one too; I couldn’t have refused its appeal. I
quickly put the box over it again, and clearing a space by the hole it
had used as a door, I put down some bird-seed—I always carry something
in my coat pocket for the birds—and I went away. Ten minutes later,
every bit was gone.

       *       *       *       *       *

Working my way round to another thicket of rhododendrons, that is
a bank of purple and creamy white in June, once more I sent the
silver-dust flying with my trusty broom. As one great mass came
hurtling down, it so deluged me that for the moment I had to hold my
breath, shut my eyes, and clutch on to a branch to keep myself from
being buried under it. And then I heard a tragic whimper.

Turning round, I saw the small white dog, shaking himself out of the
mass—and such a dingy-dirty object his _passé_ white coat looked
against the snow! I had left him indoors, a melancholy little figure,
very sorry for himself, by reason of a swelled face. He will persist in
lying with his nose to the bottom crack of the back door, irrespective
of wind or weather, ever hopeful that a hare or a fox may come
trailing by; and then—oh joy! what a turmoil there is within (he quite
fancies he is “baying”), and what a scurrying of fur and feet without!

Having got him in, and rubbed him down, and wrapped him up in his
favourite bit of old blanket, and given him a bone (which he couldn’t
eat, poor little chap, but he had it in his basket with him, against
such times as his mouth was in working order again), I returned to the
garden—you couldn’t have kept me out of it now! I found I didn’t need
the hug-me-tight, however, and I left it on the orchard gate.

What a work it was, tumbling over stone edgings one forgot were there,
tripping over tree trunks and logs—the whole place seemed strewn with
obstacles one never noticed until the snow covered them over.

I picked myself up continually, and worked on with my broom. Virginia
came up once to point out to me my appalling lack of scientific method;
but as I have never had any illusions on this point, it didn’t worry
me. Ursula volunteered the information that I looked like Don Quixote
tilting at a windmill, each time I attacked a bush or tree. I knew she
was merely jealous of my ability. I’m not one to let a little thing
like that deter me from my course of well-doing. I merely took off
my fur necklet and thick motor scarf, and left them on a stile, so
sunburnt was I getting beneath them.

And how grateful even the dry cracking twigs of the rose bushes seemed
to be for the lifting of the load that bowed down one and all. The
hollies had been trying bravely to hold up their heads, but it was
hard work; every leaf had held out a little curved hand to catch a
few snowflakes as they fell, and the total result was a mound that
threatened to break the trees to pieces. They, too, shook themselves
cheerfully, when I relieved them of their burden.

I could not do much to help the lesser plants; they were mostly buried
beneath the snow, and I hoped they were the warmer in consequence. The
poor wallflowers, that had been so sprightly with opening yellow buds
when we arrived, now showed only shrivelled branches above the snow.

As I broomed my way towards the vegetable garden, I noticed that the
birds were gathering near—they had kept away before, while the dog was
about. But now the starlings began to shriek from the roof of the big
barn. “Look at her! Look at her! What’s the use of wasting time on rose
trees! No grub’s there! Look at her! Shaking snow down! Just as though
there wasn’t enough on the ground before!”

“Oh, do be quiet!” shouted back a rook. “Just look at our nest! It
would have been such an up-to-date affair, too; wife built it on the
new war-economy lines—clever bird my wife is—only three sticks, you
know; saves waste; and _now_ look at it! Wife can’t even find the
sticks!”

“Serves her right,” cawed a neighbour (a lady, I feel sure). “She
shouldn’t have started so early—always trying to get ahead of everyone
else with her spring cleaning!”

       *       *       *       *       *

The sun had got the better of the clouds, and had changed the whole
earth from grey to gold, from dead white to a gleaming brilliance,
yellow in the sunlight, blue—undiluted blue—in the shade. I had seen
blue snow in pictures, and had hitherto regarded it as an artistic
exaggeration. But now I saw the blue with my own eyes on the north
side of the walls and barns, and where long shadows were cast by the
Wellingtonia, the hollies, and the evergreen firs. The mist still
hovered over the valleys, and shut us off from the lower lands, but it
was no longer cold and sombre; indeed, it was no longer mist at all; it
seemed just light enmeshed, a liquid golden atmosphere.

The snow gleamed and scintillated with its diamond-dusted surface; the
trunks of the Scots firs surprised one with the sudden warmth of red
they showed when struck by the sunbeams, and the lovely colour still
left in their blue-green foliage.

Far and wide the birds answered the call of the sun. Big pinions flew
across the sky, casting shadows on the snow-scape as they passed;
small birds darted in and out of holes in tree trunks, or crannies
under the eaves; there was a cheeping and a chattering all over the
garden and the orchard; while up and down the larches flitted the
tits—the blue-tits swinging upside down, almost turning somersaults,
as the notion chanced to take them; the coal-tits, any number of them,
skipping about from branch to branch, never still a moment, always
talking in their brisk little twitter; while over all there rang
incessantly the “Pinker, pinker, peter, peter,” of the great-tit.

Near at hand, robin, my little garden companion, was having a good deal
to say. At first I think he was reiterating what he had often said
before: that he considered the dog a nuisance that ought to be banished
from any properly conducted garden, since his habit of chasing every
moving object within sight was disturbing, to say the least of it, to a
conscientious worm-hunter.

Having finished on this subject, he began to talk about other things;
but try as I would, I could not understand what he said; yet I knew
he was trying to tell me _something_. He kept taking short flights
over to the wall, and then back to some branch near at hand. “Twitter,
twitter,” he kept on saying; yet he never even noticed the path I was
clearing, back he would fly to the wall.

At last, as he impatiently fluffed out his feathers, perched on a
white currant bush, till he looked like a ball, saying a lot more the
while, I made my way through the snow to the wall. He darted after me,
and stood on top of a mound of leaves that had been swept together
last autumn, and left to stand till the spring digging should start.
Being on the south side of the wall, and sheltered a little by the
wide-spreading branches of a big Spanish chestnut, it had escaped a
good deal of the snow, though it was frozen hard on the surface.

Here robin stood, and when he saw I was looking at him, he pecked
several times with his beak at the solid mass. Then he flicked his tail
and gazed at me. “Surely you understand what I want?” he said with
his beady eyes. “No? Oh! how stupid human beings are! Well, watch me
again!” Dab, dab, dab, went the small beak once more, without making
the slightest impression on the ice-bound lumps.

Then I grew intelligent.

“Out of the way,” I said to him, and he flew to a low branch of the
tree and watched me critically, while I drove the spade well into the
mass.

“That’s right,” he chirped out excitedly, as I turned it over and got
down to the softer portion, spreading the leaves about. “Why on earth
couldn’t you have done that sooner!” as he swooped down to my very feet
and seized something wriggly—gulp! I looked away.

What ninety-ninth sense is it, I wonder, that tells birds when food is
about? One moment robin and I had the chestnut tree and its environment
to ourselves. Next moment, directly I turned away, down came thrushes,
and blackbirds, and starlings; and though robin put his foot down
firmly, said it was all his, every worm of it, and dared anyone else
to touch so much as a caterpillar-egg, or he’d know the reason why, he
was outdone by numbers, and finally lost what he might have had because
he considered it his duty to chastise Mr. Over-the-wall-robin, who had
presumed to say that the leaf-heap belonged to him!

       *       *       *       *       *

At last I got to the top gate, which is about one hundred feet higher
than the lower part of the garden. What a wonderful world I gazed
upon, so weird, so immensely mysterious it looked under the great snow
covering. The valleys where the sun did not penetrate were entirely
blotted out by soft mist. One seemed to be alone, high up in space,
girdled about by white and grey, gold and mauve and steely-blue; I
wanted to push on and on, to walk miles and miles, to fly if I could.
The fact was, the exhilaration of the keen pure atmosphere was already
beginning to tell on me, and was fast mounting to my head.

One thing I caught sight of on the opposite hills gave me pause for
thought: it was a larch-wood in which every tree was blown so far
over to one side, that there would be but little chance of their ever
recovering or getting into the upright. I remembered that the handy
man had told us trees were lying in all directions out in the main
road. I decided to climb still higher up the hill and see what my own
woods looked like. First, however, I took off the big coat, and left it
hanging on the under bough of a larch inside the gate.

Out of the top gate I went, and along the lane that now showed a
moderately hard path along the centre, where one and another had
trampled it down. A few yards brought me to a field that in June is one
dazzling, waving mass of moon daisies, mauve pyramidal orchises, rich
purple orchises, quaking grass, and a hundred other flowers besides.
Not a first class hay-crop, I admit; still, a fair-sized rick stands in
one corner. And although it may not possess strong feeding qualities
for cattle, this field has wonderful feeding qualities for mind and
soul; I’ve lived on it many and many a day through dreary London fogs
and amid dirty City pavements and sordid-looking bricks and mortar. And
when town has seemed unendurable, with its noise and its hustle and
its brain-and-body-wearying chase after the unnecessary, I’ve thought
of the brook that slips out from among a great mass of Hard Fern in the
birch and hazel coppice up above, and wanders across the orchis field,
with ragged robins fluttering their tattered pink petals beside the
sterner browns and greens of flowering reeds, and broad masses of marsh
mint—that is a mass of bluey-mauve in August—spreading in big clumps
and bosses wherever it can find a bit of damp earth.

I’ve shut my eyes in the noisy City train, and in a moment I’ve
gathered a big bunch of the quaking grass, brown, with a tinge of
purple, and the yellow stamens dangling from each little tuft. And the
comfort that the brook and the orchises and the reeds and the under
carpet of tiny flowers have brought me, has been worth more to me,
personally, than the money that twenty haystacks might have realised.

But to-day the field was just one white sheet, like all the rest of the
landscape. Along the south side of the wall the snow was not so heavy,
and using the broom as an alpenstock, I plodded up the field—giving a
wide berth to the place where the brook was down below—till at last
I reached the woods, first a coppice of birch and hazel and oak, and
adjoining it a larch-wood.

Once under the trees, the going was “all according”! It depended on
whether the snow was still on the branches, or had come down in small
avalanches to the ground beneath. But I determined to struggle on. I
was warmer than I had been since the previous summer, and more pleased
with life than I had been since before the War started. The larch-wood
offered the easier travelling, since there are not the down-drooping,
low-lying branches of sundries that are always catching at one’s hat
and hair in the mixed woods. With the larches you know just what to
expect and where to find it. The needles make a fairly soft carpet,
brambles are rare, and all you have to do is to gauge the level of the
lowest of the bare brown branches, and pitch your head accordingly.

I looked at the wood before I ventured in. Everything seemed as usual.
The outside trees that border the field are mixed firs, pines, and
Wellingtonia. These do not shed their leaves as the larches do, and
they stood up strong and erect, save where the heaviest laden boughs
were bending under their weight of snow.

For the first few yards the trees were normal, standing in orderly
ranks, much like the aisles of an old ruined cathedral, wherein the
snow has freedom of entry. Every twig, every cone, had its glistening
decoration. When a gust of wind shook tree or branches, down came the
snow, in powder for the most part, for the under branches broke the
masses as they fell, and sent them flying in all directions.

Suddenly I emerged from the sombre half light of the wood, into
brilliant sunshine, with clear space above. Yet—I wasn’t through the
wood; what did it mean? And what were these great white masses that
blocked all further progress? I had never seen this spot before, though
I know every tree in that wood; to me they are like individual children.

Then I saw that what lay before me was a piled-up mass of trees, torn
bodily up by the roots and lying in all directions one on top of each
other. For a moment something almost akin to fear seized me, the
awesomeness that comes over one when in the presence of a force that
is utterly beyond one’s puny power to compass or restrain. Here was a
footprint, indeed, of the storm that had done this stupendous thing.

The fringe of the wood all round was intact; the blizzard seemingly
having swirled down, a veritable whirlwind, into the very centre of
the plantation, tearing the trees out of the ground, and flinging them
about in uncontrolled fury.

It was an impressive sight—even with the kindly snow covering up the
wounds and the gashes, and doing its best to obliterate the harsh look
of devastation that lay over the scene.

Retracing my steps, I ran into another explorer who was likewise
trying to dodge a snow-bath round a tree trunk.

It was Virginia.

“I’m sorry to interrupt your meditations,” she said politely, “and I
won’t detain you a moment. I’ve merely come to ask if you would mind
lending me your rubbers—not your best ones you have on, but the second
best with the seven holes in the soles and one heel gone—in order that
I may go to the neighbours and borrow a slice of bread. ‘We ain’t
like them as asks,’” she went on, quoting a favourite expression of a
well-known whiner in the village, whose practice is to take without
asking, “‘but it do seem hard when you see yer own flesh and blood
a-crying for vittels.’ Not that I would presume to interfere with your
household arrangements and upset your meals, but what with Ursula in
a dead faint making her will, and Eileen packing up to return to her
grandmother in order to get something to eat——”

“What’s the time?” I cut her short.

“It was two when last I saw the clock, but I’ve wandered miles since
then in search of you, hence the fact that my own rubbers are worn out.”

Then I remembered that I had never mentioned the matter of meals to
Eileen that morning; though, in any case, there wasn’t much that could
be cooked till that sheep was killed, come Friday: we had naught but
the remains of a shoulder of mutton.

“How did you find where I was?” I enquired, as we ploughed our way back.

“Footprints, oh, blessed word!” she said. “In any case, you shed your
garments wherever you went, and thoughtfully left your coat hanging in
the larch avenue; Eileen saw it in the distance and came shrieking to
us that the burglar had evidently hung himself from a tree by the top
gate!”

As there proved to be nothing at all on the mutton bone, we decided
to reckon it a meatless day, and we sat down to a lunch of bread and
cheese and coffee—each reading a cookery book the while. The Food
Authorities surely couldn’t object to _that_!—and you’ve no idea what a
fillip it gives to a war-meal, if you’ve never tried it.

Collecting cookery books, ancient and modern, being one of my hobbies,
there was a fine assortment to choose from. I selected “Ten Minutes
with my Chafing Dish,” and what that author did in the time you would
never credit! My bread and cheese became, in turn, braised terrapin,
crayfish omelette, creamed oysters with Spanish onions, escalloped
chicken with mushrooms, and fricaseed trout with paprika sauce.

I had it all at the one meal, no questions asked about the number of
courses and the ounces of flour, and it only cost me about sixpence
including the coffee.

Ursula, who had annexed a 1724 volume, ate her frugalities to the
accompaniment of Double Rum Shrub; but, as I told her, I was thankful I
had been better brought up.

Virginia chose “The Scientific Adjustment of Food Values”; and,
before she had got through the first chapter, started to blame me
for giving them cheese _and_ butter, when I might know that both
contained a sweeping majority of proteids. Whereas, what she found
she really needed was cheese and water-melon (though cantaloupe might
take its place), and why wasn’t there water-melon (or cantaloupe) on
the table? She had known all her life long that she needed it—always
had an undefinable longing steal o’er her about twelve o’clock midday
and again at four-thirty—but her want had never been made articulate
before, simply because she wasn’t sure of the name of the missing link.
Now, however, if I expected to retain my hold on their affections, she
must really ask me to see that water-melon——

But I was too deep in the enjoyment of a dish of anchovy and caviare
canapes at the moment to interfere. I left her at it.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the afternoon, as we were short of milk, I suggested that we should
go ourselves to the Jones’s farm in search of more. There was a beaten
track along the lanes now, so we took the tin milk-can and started off
uphill, thereby just missing the Head of Affairs, who came swinging
up the road from the village. Having seen the finally departing back
of the very last workman, he had caught the next train and arrived
unannounced.

The wind was keen when he got up out of the valley, so he turned up his
coat collar and rammed his cap well on his head. Finding the cottage
door locked, he knocked briskly and started to inquire for me, when
Eileen (whom he had never seen before, remember) opened the door in
response to his knock. But, to his amazement, before he got a couple
of words out, the door was banged to, in his face, and he was informed
through the large keyhole—

“The lady is not—I mean—she _is_ at home, but she is engaged; she
is—er—she is entertaining friends and can’t see anyone.”

Exceedingly bewildered, the caller waited a minute, trying in vain to
catch sounds of hilarity within, and then rapped again; and, as the
keyhole seemed the correct channel of communication, he said through
the aperture—

“Kindly tell your mistress that her husband is here.”

There was a pause, then the voice within said—

“The lady is sorry she can’t see _anyone_ to-day, as she is ill in bed.”

The mystery thickened. Going round to the back door, which was also
locked, the caller rapped more vigorously still. This time an agitated
voice wailed from the inside—

“Are you still there? Oh, _please_ go away!”

But, though he was exceedingly astonished at this curious reception, he
had no intention of going, and he said so. Eileen’s next question was
unexpected.

“What is your Christian name?” she began. He told her. “What is the
colour of your hair?”

He proceeded to describe himself, and added—

“If you have any doubt about me, let the dog out, he’ll soon tell you
if I’m a genuine case or an impostor.”

The dog was whining inside, and trying frantically to get out. The girl
debated, and then said—

“All right; but you won’t mind waiting a minute?”

“Oh, not at all!” he replied, with sweet sarcasm. “I don’t mind in the
least how long I stand here in the cold. I quite enjoy it.”

Then suddenly the door was flung open, and Eileen, holding a photo of
the Head of Affairs in her hand, which she had fetched down from my
bedroom, started to compare it carefully with the original.

“Yes,” she sighed; “you are something like it.”

But the visitor had walked in unceremoniously, with the joyful dog
leaping around.

“Now,” he said severely, as he took off his coat. “Where is your
mistress?”

Eileen looked mournful. “If you please, sir, I’m _very_ sorry, but I
told you a _wicked_ story just now. The mistress isn’t entertaining
friends”—that was self-evident, as the cottage living-rooms were empty,
and it was hardly the kind of day one would choose to entertain friends
in the garden—“and she isn’t ill in bed neither. She isn’t here at all.
But I didn’t like to say so at first. I was afraid, not knowing who you
were, and coming after the shock. Have you heard the awful news?”

“No!” exclaimed the harassed, hungry man, jumping to his feet again in
alarm. “What’s happened?”

“Haven’t you heard?” and Eileen lowered her voice to an hysterical
whisper. “_We’ve discovered footprints!_”

By this time the Head of Affairs was quite convinced in his mind that
either the girl was not in the full possession of her senses, or else
she had been to see a Robinson Crusoe pantomime, and it had turned her
brain, so he merely said—

“Well, perhaps you’ll now try if you can discover some coffee, and that
as quickly as possible.” And he dismissed her when he had ascertained
where we had gone, as he was rather weary of the whole performance.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile my guests and I were making a few neighbourly calls in
passing. In a scattered community that is often cut off by the weather
from intercourse with its fellow-kind, a little gossip is always
welcome. Not idle gossip, I would have you understand; but talk on
things of serious import. For instance, I was naturally very glad to
learn from one of my neighbours that old Mrs. Blossom had not been
secretly harbouring a German spy after all, as it turned out that the
masculine under-vests that had been hung out each week lately with the
wash really belonged to her late husband; and after cherishing them for
five years, she had decided it was more patriotic to wear them herself
at a time like this, than to buy herself new ones when wool was so
badly needed for the troops.

It was a real satisfaction to get this mystery cleared up at last, as
her clothes-line each Monday morning (when the weather was fine) had
worried us greatly. When I say “us” I don’t mean myself necessarily,
because I fear I hadn’t kept track of her washing as I ought to have
done if I called myself a friend and neighbour. Most remiss of me,
of course. Still, there it was; and I had no need now to creep along
beside the hedge and take an inventory of her garments; neither need I
fear for the safety of our hill.

Fortunately, with us time is of no importance, the clock really doesn’t
signify, even if it goes, which isn’t guaranteed; we divide the day
into three meals, which are regulated by the three trains that puff up
the valley, week-days only. Sunday is more of a problem, if you have
children to be got off to Sunday-school; but as Mrs. Jasper has the
one reliable clock up in our corner of the hills, her children set the
pace; and when Maudie Jasper’s starched China silk Sunday frock is
seen to be coming along the lane, accompanied by other little Jaspers
in Lord Fauntleroy blue velvet suits and a bunch of everlasting pea,
blush roses and southernwood for teacher, then the two or three other
cottages in the vicinity hurry up and add their quota to the little
procession that walks decorously (so long as it is in sight of maternal
eyes) down the hillside trail to the Sunday-school in the valley.

Of course awkward mistakes sometimes happen, as they do in the best
of well-regulated families. It was so on the occasion of the first
introduction of Daylight Saving. Naturally the weekly newspaper and the
vicar and the schoolmaster, and everybody, had explained to everybody
else that on a certain Saturday night the clock must be put forward
one hour, etc. We are anything but behind the times on our hills,
and no clocks in the whole of the British Isles were set forward an
hour more eagerly than ours were; only, obviously, if you haven’t a
clock that goes, you can’t set it forward; therefore our little corner
looked feverishly in the direction of the Jasper clock, and frequently
reminded the Jaspers of their national duty.

To make quite sure that the important rite wasn’t overlooked, Mrs.
Jasper put the hands of the clock on an hour when first she got up
on the Saturday morning, instead of last thing at night, as the
authorities had decreed. An hour more or less made no difference to the
family, seeing that it was Saturday and no school to be thought of.
Meals came as a matter of course, and quite irrespective of clocks.
Mrs. Jasper knew that if she didn’t see to the thing no one else would.
So she got it off her mind nice and early.

Later in the day Mr. Jasper thought of the new official regulations
_re_ Daylight Saving; and knowing the uselessness of ever hoping to get
a brain that was merely feminine to grasp any great truth as set forth
in newspapers, he himself put the clock on an hour; as master of the
house he regarded it as his peculiar office to see that the law was
duly enforced. He didn’t mention the matter to his wife; what would be
the good? And it wasn’t her concern anyhow; but as he shut the door of
the clock, he wondered where indeed the household would be if it were
not for him and his thoughtful habits!

Then there was Maudie Jasper. Being a bright child of twelve, brought
up on modern educational lines, naturally she had no very high opinion
of her parents’ intellects. Since it was she who illumined the home
with the torch of learning, she felt it devolved on her to see that
the clock kept abreast of current events. Besides, she was a shining
example in the matter of Sunday-school tickets; she didn’t intend to be
late next morning. So she, too, put on the hands an hour.

It was just as Mrs. Jasper was going upstairs to bed at night, tired
out with the Saturday night bathing of the children, that the clock
stared her in the face, and the question arose: Had she, or had she
not, put on that clock an hour as she had meant to? Her memory isn’t
good at the best of times, and she was especially done up with a day
that somehow had not seemed _nearly_ long enough for its accustomed
duties, though she couldn’t make out why. But to make quite sure,
she gave the hands a flick round; better be quite certain than have
Maudie late for Sunday-school. Only she did wish they didn’t leave
_everything_ for her to do!

Next morning, when the Vicar drew up his blind at 7 A.M., as is his
unfailing wont, he saw a small group of children standing forlornly
outside the Sunday-school door, waiting for the 10 o’clock opening!

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Jasper’s was the next cottage we called at, to inquire after her
husband, who was now at the front. Mrs. Jasper was delighted to see us,
and of course asked if we had further news of the burglar, the fame of
our footprints having spread far and wide. She told us all about the
neuralgia in her head, and seemed much relieved when we assured her
that it was not at all likely to turn to appendicitis.

She had had a lurking fear that if it became appendicitis, she would
have to go to a hospital, and she hadn’t much belief in hospitals.
There was her sister’s little boy Tommy, up in London, just four years
old, and all nerves, as you may say; screamed and kicked like anything
if you didn’t give him what he wanted the moment he asked for it. They
couldn’t do nothing with him.

At last they decided to take him to a hospital; so her sister-in-law
and “his” mother went with her. And what do you think the doctor said,
after they’d told him the symptoms? “Temper,” he says; “just bad
temper. Take him home, and spank him next time it comes on.” And that
was all they got!—cost them fivepence each for car-fares too!

We asked after her own family. Maudie was getting on splendidly at
school, “really a first-class scholard she is, although it’s I that say
it. Can read the Bible beautifully now—or at any rate the Testament”
(with a desire to be absolutely truthful). “And when I’m writing to her
father, and can’t quite rec’lect how to spell a word, she can tell me
two or three different ways of spelling it, right off pat!”

At the next cottage we stopped to inquire after a man who had met
with an accident, which necessitated the amputation of one leg below
the knee. Having given him all our own “Surgical Aid” letters, and
fleeced our friends of theirs, I naturally asked why he wasn’t
wearing the artificial limb that had been procured? (it was reposing
artistically on the top of the chest of drawers in the kitchen,
a stuffed sea-gull under a glass shade on one side, balanced by
a wedding-cake-top-ornament under glass on the other). Wasn’t it
comfortable? I asked. Didn’t it fit?

“Oh, yes’m, thank you; it fits beautiful. But that’s my _best_ leg; and
the missus likes me to keep it there where she can show it to everyone,
and I only uses it for Sundays and Bank ’Ollerdis.”

Then we looked in on Mrs. Granger, a happy-go-lucky widow who is always
passing round the hat. When we knocked at the kitchen door, she was
pouring down the sink the liquor in which she had just boiled a piece
of bacon. I couldn’t help asking mildly and deferentially: “Have you
ever tried using the liquor of boiled bacon for making pea-soup? It’s
very nourishing, as well as tasty.”

Mrs. Granger smiled at me indulgently. “Well, ma’am, seeing that I’ve
buried two husbands and three children, no one, I fancy, can give _me_
points about feeding a family!”

At Mrs. Jones’s we made a longer call; we simply had to, as we were
wanting milk, and she made no move to get it, but merely stood talking.
There was the mirror over the parlour mantelpiece, she particularly
wanted us to see that. Arundel Jones (aged eleven) had smashed a hole
right through the glass when practising bomb-throwing in there. But
would you ever know it, the way Patricia (aged seventeen) had decorated
it? And as we couldn’t think what to say, we looked long and earnestly
at the bunch of artificial and rather faded roses from Patricia’s hat
that had been stuck in the hole, with some green paint daubed around on
the glass to represent leaves. Fortunately, Mrs. Jones didn’t wait for
our opinion—took it for granted, indeed, since there could only be one
opinion about such a masterpiece—and proceeded to ask what I thought
could be done with so artistic a girl.

And that reminded her, could I tell her where she could write to in
London for some Loop Canvas at a penny a yard? Patricia wanted to make
some slippers for a young man friend of hers who was at the front, and
sweetly pretty too, with forget-me-nots all over; but it said you must
have penny Loop Canvas. She had asked for it in Chepstow, but they had
never heard of it, the cheapest they had was 1_s._ 4¾_d._, and no loops
in it at that. But, of course, you could get everything in London.

I had never heard of the canvas myself (and I thought I knew most that
was going!), but in any case, she wouldn’t get any canvas at 1_d._
a yard now, I told her; she had evidently got hold of some very old
directions.

No, she hadn’t; it was in last week’s _Home Snippets_, and she got
the periodical out from among an assortment of similar data under the
horse-hair sofa squab, to show me.

There, under the heading—

    “A DAINTY COSY-COMFORT FOR YOUR BOY IN THE TRENCHES,”

it described how to make a pair of wool-work slippers, commencing with
“Get a yard of Penelope canvas.”

Then Mrs. Jones was uneasy about her step-daughter, Kathleen, who was
in service near Chepstow. “The food’s all right; but the lady isn’t
what I call a good wife—never thinks of brushing her husband’s best
clothes and putting them away for him of a Monday morning, and yet I’ve
never once missed doing that since I married Jones. And I assure you,
when I married him, he hadn’t a darned sock to his back. I’m sorry
Kathleen hasn’t a better example before her, for she’s inclined to be
flighty. She’s got a week’s holiday next month, and nothing will do
but she must go and visit her cousin, who is working at munitions in
Cardiff. I say to her, ‘Cardiff’s a nasty noisy place; why don’t you
go and visit your Aunt Lizzie at Penglyn, she’s so worried she can
hardly hold her head up some days, and cries from morning till night;
and would be thankful to have someone to talk things over with; or your
father’s Cousin Ann at Caerleon, they’ve had a sight of trouble there,
and never see a soul nor go out of the house from week end to week end;
they’d love to have you.’ But no, it’s Cardiff she wants,” and Mrs.
Jones sighed at the unaccountable taste of one-and-twenty!

“Ah, no one knows what an anxiety that girl’s been to me,” went on the
buxom, good-natured woman, who in reality never makes a trouble of
anything, and has been a real mother to Kathleen. “I sometimes wonder
why I married her father! But there, I will say it looks better on your
tombstone to have ‘The beloved wife of,’ rather than plain Martha
Miggins (as I was), all unbelongst to no one, as it were.”

Don’t imagine for a moment that this implied matrimonial divergence
on the part of Mr. and Mrs. Jones, for a more contented couple you
couldn’t find in the village. It is merely the polite way we have,
locally, of discounting our blessings, lest we should seem to be
flaunting our happiness in the face of less fortunate people.

“By the way,” she said, as we were going out of the door, “have you
heard who it was walked around your place the other night? Well, now,
to think I should have forgotten to mention it, but it was no one,
after all, but the policeman! My husband was over to the police-station
this morning about that mare we’ve lost, and he mentioned it; and, sure
enough, the policeman had got it down in his book that he crossed the
hill by our road that night, and had looked over your house.”

And then I remembered that there was a police-station in the next
village, that did duty for a very wide area of miles. And it was usual
for the policeman to patrol from one village to another, by various
routes, last thing at night, ascertaining if the inhabitants’ doors _en
route_ were all duly locked. We were much relieved in our minds, and
started for home discussing the situation, when Virginia suddenly said—

“Surely that is our dog barking further along the lane?”

We paused to listen.

“Yes, it is,” I said in surprise. “Whatever can he be doing out here?”
and we hurried on; for the dog is a valuable one, and is never let out
without an escort. A turn in the lane brought us face to face with a
tall, familiar masculine figure.

“Why, wherever have you come from?” I exclaimed.

“I’ve just made my escape from the tame lunatic who seems to be in
charge of the cottage,” said the Head of Affairs cheerfully, as he
relieved Ursula of the quart of milk. “And I would suggest, my dear,
that the next time you propose to turn your house into a sanatorium for
‘Mentally Deficients,’ you might give your family due notice. A shock
like that isn’t good for one after climbing such a hill.”

       *       *       *       *       *

And he might not have been particularly mollified when, later in the
evening, Eileen offered the following apology:—

“I’m very sorry, sir, that I kept you waiting outside all that time in
the cold; only how was I to know you were a gentleman, sir, when you
looked so _exactly_ like a burglar?”

But, fortunately, in the interval he had discovered, in his
dressing-room, a new-but-forgotten pair of boots, and a
not-at-all-bad-considering-it’s-war-time overcoat; and, naturally, he
was inclined to take a roseate view of life.



XI

Exit Eileen


IT was six months later, and about as broiling a Sunday afternoon as
London can produce. Virginia and I were reading in the coolest spot in
the garden, when Abigail came out and announced, with slight acidity,
“That young person wants to know if she can see you, madam. I told her
you were engaged, but she said she would wait.”

“What is her name?” I queried; there are so many young persons in the
world.

“That Eileen!” she answered, this time with a definite sniff.

“She can come out here,” I said, and forthwith there sailed across the
lawn a vision such as never before had graced my garden.

Eileen was wearing a white Jap silk skirt; a transparent rose pink
blouse, that revealed the satin ribbon and lace camisole beneath; pink
cotton open-work stockings; white shoes; one of those long stoles made
of metallic-looking, lustre-brown fur, so beloved of the laundry girl;
a big white hat, trimmed with the most violent of tangerine-coloured
velvet, said velvet hanging in festoons down the back, and loops of
it caught round the front and fastened to the fur stole—on one side
with a large would-be-diamond lizard, about four inches long, and on
the other with a crescent of similar make. Her hair, which was done in
a wild imitation of the latest eccentricity of fashion, was radiant
with more crescents and a sparkling three-tiered back comb. A string of
large pearls adorned her neck.

To say I was taken aback at the sight, is to put it mildly; I was
fairly dumb with astonishment. Where in the world had that demure,
mouse-like orphan been to pick up such ideas! Even though I knew she
had gone to work in a munition factory, I wasn’t prepared for such
developments. She soon enlightened us.

After mutual polite inquiries about each other’s health, and a few more
relative to the grandmother, she folded her hands in her lap, sat as
though posing for a photograph, and then said: “And please, how do you
think I look?”

“You are certainly very bright,” I stammered, striving valiantly after
truth.

“Yes, I look very nice, don’t I?” she went on; “and I felt I ought
to come round and show you, because, as I tell everybody, it’s all
entirely due to _you_, ma’am, that I’m so stylish. I shouldn’t never
have _thought_ to dress like this, if you hadn’t taught me how. And now
I’m going round to show myself to Mrs. Griggles.”



XII

The Old Wood-House


THE old wood-house stands on the lee-side of a belt of trees, part of
the Squirrels’ Highway, as we call it, that runs down one side of the
Flower-patch, sheltering it from the bleak north winds.

Picture to yourself a building rather smaller than a very small church,
built of great blocks of grey stone, with walls nearly two feet thick
in places, a red-tiled pointed roof, a door at one end; and in case the
walls should prove too flimsy to stand the winter gales, huge stone
buttresses prop it up on the “off” side (i.e. the side where the ground
goes on running downhill), lest the structure should take it into its
head to run down-hill too!

In place of a spire, above the door, a weathercock swings its arrow
to the winds—at least, it would swing it on any well-conducted apex,
but being merely mine it permanently points south. Not that it is
particular where it points; all it asks is to be left in peace to close
its eyes in meditative contemplation of the landscape. We occasionally
get a ladder and then a long stick, and move it round, trying to
urge it to deeds of derring-do, but it falls asleep the moment our
ministrations cease.

The last time, it was a neighbouring farmer who climbed the ladder to
reason with it, after I had assured him there was no penalty under
the Defence of the Realm Act for regulating weathercocks. He was a
bit reluctant to touch it at first; as he said, what with clocks not
being allowed to tick as they pleased, and the time being jiggered
with anyhow, you didn’t know where you was with nothing. But once I
had taken full responsibility for the affair, he went up with right
goodwill, and—forgetting that it was the arrow alone that needed
to move—he gave a sturdy tug to the north, south, east, and west
arrangement, and sent the arms of that in all directions.

Then when we wanted to fix it up again, the question arose, which was
the north? A local light supposed to know everything, who chanced to be
passing, was summoned for consultation. After carefully surveying the
various corners of heaven, as though looking for enemy air-craft, he
said he didn’t know as he could say ezackly which wur the north, unless
he had summat to tell him (we all felt like that, too!); but if we
would a-float a needle on the top of a basin of water, then either the
point of the needle—or—le’s see? maybe ’twas the heye, he wasn’t quite
certain which—would point to the north, for sure.

Well, all hands rushed for basins and needles, as you may suppose;
because, whether it was the point or the eye didn’t matter much, since
we knew the direction in which the north lay; all we wanted was the
precise angle. But alas, every needle promptly sank to the bottom of
the basin, without so much as a kick!

Eventually we refixed the north pole approximately, pending such time
as the Head of Affairs should arrive, when I knew we could rely on the
small compass at the end of his watch chain. But Virginia, who uses
the weathercock more than most of us, as she sees it from her bedroom
window, and says it is so useful to dress by, was lugubriously certain
his watch would be stolen on the next journey down, and begged me
to place the arrow—still asleep—pointing south; even an approximate
south, she said, might at least help to keep her spirits up, when a
northeaster was blowing.

And south it remaineth unto this day, despite all our blandishments,
and probably will do so till the end of the War, when the retirement of
the Food Controller—who, presumably, supervises weathercocks—may permit
of our using a modicum of grease.

       *       *       *       *       *

The old wood-house (which, by the way, was originally used for coals,
though no trace of this is left upon its clean, lime-washed interior)
is the first building you run across as you enter by the top gate,
which is the widest entrance we possess. Here you step from the lane
right into a tiny larch plantation, and the path to the cottage is
arched over with the boughs of the trees, while the brown cones crunch
under your boots, or roll away down the steep incline of the path
when your foot touches them. It was among these trees that a small
clearing was made in the distant past to accommodate this particular
out-building; though why the coal-house was considered the most
artistic bit of bric-à-brac to greet you as you enter the main gate is
not clear.

The actual outline of the building is not remarkable, being merely four
walls and a pointed roof, with a door and a window; but at least it
looks simple, dignified, and solid, and what it lacks in architectural
decoration has been supplied by Nature herself. When we first saw it,
we called it the private chapel; but later on I found Abigail & Co.
calling it the picture palace.

At any rate, there it stands, shadowed by great oaks seemingly
immovable, with their gnarled wide-stretching arms spread as in
blessing over the lowlier woodland things; a big Spanish chestnut,
though tardy in coming into leaf, scatters worthless burrs around later
on, with generous goodwill; a walnut-tree invites the passer-by to rub
its aromatic leaves, and is there any treasure-trove quite like the
walnuts that one finds in the long wet grass on a windy autumn morning?
Larches and firs make shady colonnades, with their straight uprising
shafts, and dark drooping branches; silver birches, always graceful,
no matter how they may have had to twist their trunks to accommodate
themselves to their environment, give lightness and vivacity to the
whole.

Incense there is in abundance. The warm resinous odour of the larches
is always abroad; mountain-ash-trees load the air with scent in the
late spring, and are ablaze with crimson in August. Two or three
lichen-covered, twisted old apple-trees hang out bunches of pale-green
mistletoe, for all to see during the winter months, and then surprise
one with a bride-like flush of white and pink in the spring. Where the
sun is brightest, a big hawthorn carpets the ground with white petals
in May.

Then there are the lovely limes—and the lime-tree is much more of a
stately lady than is realized by those who only know the sad, maimed
and distorted stumps that disfigure suburban gardens in London. But
see this lime-tree that forms a link in the Squirrels’ Highway! Its
trunk measures about ten feet round. Under the shadow of its drooping
far-sweeping branches you could give a small Sunday-school treat.
Though the lowest branches spring from the trunk at least nine feet
from the ground, their far ends touch the grass, forming a complete
tent of translucent green and gold as you look upwards, through a
multitude of layers of leaves, to a sun you cannot see, but which seems
to have turned the whole tree into a rippling mass of molten colour.
And when it shakes out its bunches of scented yellow blossoms, and
trails them by the thousand down each branch and stem, then indeed the
lime-tree is a lovely lady, and the bees and the butterflies come from
far and near to pay her homage.

And each tree has a special and distinct winter-beauty of its own in
the outline of branches and stems and twigs—a beauty that is lost to
us once the leaves appear, but which suggests an exquisite etching in
winter when the dark lines are silhouetted against the sky. The most
graceful is the birch, with its light tracery of fine filaments, often
with tassel-like catkins dangling at the end. The oak and beech give
the impression of enormous strength in the ease with which they fling
outright their massive arms with seldom any tendency to droop.

And each tree has its special and distinct melody when the wind signals
the forest orchestra; there is the sea-surge of the beeches, the swish
of the heavily plumed firs, the rain-sound of the twinkling aspen, the
soft whisper of the birches, the æolian hum of the pines, and the
sibilant rustle of the dead leaves still clinging to the winter oak.

       *       *       *       *       *

Outside the wood-house door there is a little clearing adjoining the
grove of trees, where a perfect thicket of wild flowers smiles at
you for the greater part of the year. First come the early violets
clustering about the roots of the trees, and in the shelter of the
grey rock fragments; while primroses dot the grass with their crinkly
leaves, and then send up pink stems covered with silver sheen, and
delicately scented flowers each as big as a penny. Oxlips grow on the
bank that borders one side of the clearing.

Later, it is an expanse of moon-daisies—thousands of them swaying the
whole day long to the motion of the wind like the ever-restless surface
of the sea. And with the moon-daisies are buttercups, crimson clover,
rosy-purple knapweed, spikes of pink orchis delicately pencilled with
mauve—all trying to grow to the height of the big yellow-eyed daisies;
while here and there ruddy spears of sorrel out-top them all.

Tall grasses of every kind are here, some like a fine translucent veil
of purple, others grey, or a pinky-green; some shaking out yellow or
heliotrope stamens; some ever trembling like the quaking-grass—but all
mingling with the tall flowers, softening the surface of the mass of
white blossoms that seem in the sunshine almost too dazzling to look
upon, were it not for the mist of the grasses that envelops them.

Underneath the tall flowers there is a wonderful carpet of
lesser-growing things—masses of trefoil, the yellow blossoms often
touched with fiery orange; patches of heath bed-straw, with its myriads
of tiny gleaming white flowers, cling to any spot where the grasses
leave it room to breathe, its first cousin, the woodruff, preferring
a shadier part of the bank at the side—the bank where the wild
strawberries grow to a luscious size, and whortleberry bushes add a
touch of wildness to the spot.

The smaller clovers, both yellow and white, seem to thrive under the
bigger flowers, where most else would suffocate. Pink-tipped daisies
bloom wherever they can find room to hold up a little face. Rosy-pink
vetches wander about at pleasure, and pretend they are going to do
great things when they start to climb the stems of the moon-daisies.

Where the big fir trees throw a shadow, and the sun only touches the
grass when it is getting round to the west, foxgloves send up shafts of
colour and the pale-blue spiked veronica carpets the ground.

Still further back, where the sunshine never penetrates, even here
something strives to give beauty to barrenness and soften austerity,
for the small-leaved ivy starts to climb the hard tree trunks,
undoubtedly one of the most beautiful of the many living things that
are neighbour to the old wood-house.

And always in the grass there lie the snapped-off twigs and branches
of the larches, with their brown picots up stems that are studded with
exquisite cones. We strive hard to better Nature, to make new designs,
to evolve fresh beauty; but with all our skill and experiments we have
yet to improve on the cone as a design, with its rhythmic re-iteration
of the one small motif and the perfection of its proportions. In my
mind it ranks with the smoked-silver seed ball of the dandelion, both
of them examples of absolute beauty derived from the simplest of
outlines.

       *       *       *       *       *

The walls of the wood-house have their share of green; on the north
side an ivy, with a gnarled main stem the size of a fair sized tree
trunk, sends evergreen branches over roof as well as walls. Outside the
door, which opens to the south, stone-crop has planted itself in masses
among the stones, a perfect carpet of it, that in June is a bright
yellow. In the “good old times,” before my day, the stone-crop served
as a convenient spot on which to dump the coal sacks!

On the western side where the ground drops down—a warm, snug and
sheltered bank—in the long grass white violets bloom by the thousand
in the early spring, their sweet little blossoms streaked with mauve,
nestling up to the old grey walls with the trustfulness of little
children. Add to this long-fronded ferns growing out from among the
wall stones, and you have an idea of the geography of the place.

On a hot day the cool shade on the north side is an ideal resting
place; on a chilly day the south side gives you a shield from the wind.
A pile of tree trunks and old logs lying outside fairly ask you to sit
for a moment and take in some of the loveliness of the scene—you can
never exhaust the whole of it—and if you sit for a minute you will
probably sit there for hours.

Here is absolute quiet of spirit, but never silence. The trees are
seldom still; all day and all night the wind upon these hills sways
the tall, lithe tops of the larches to and fro, to and fro; the leaves
and the catkins of the birches are for ever fluttering; the vibrant
branches of the pines hum and sing in the breezes, summer or winter;
the music of it all never ceases though it varies in volume according
to the season. On the hottest summer days the grasses still sigh; the
bees hum all day long in the clover; the blue-tits tweet and twitter
as they swing about the birches, and their cousins the coal-tits keep
up an endless run of comment in the larches. In May the nightingale
comes into the grove to sing; in June rival chaffinches perch on the
top spikes of certain spruce trees—always the same bird on the same
spike—and defy each other and the world in general. The stock-dove
croons over its nest in the tallest firs, and the reddy-brown squirrel
scolds you severely if you are coming too near his own particular
chosen tree.

       *       *       *       *       *

Inside the wood-house you may find many things; some you are prepared
for, some you are not. In theory, it is sacred to the use of the Head
of Affairs, a sort of play-house and workshop combined, wherein no
handy man is supposed to set foot, and no prying eyes are supposed to
discover that the owner is working in a jersey, with no qualms over the
absence of waistcoat and stiff collar.

But I often go in when I am anxious to be alone and wanting many
things that one cannot put down in words. And knowing this, the Head
of Affairs doesn’t keep his best saws there!—not the splendid big
“Farmer’s Saw,” with its doubly notched teeth, that run through big fir
trunks with amazing ease; nor the finer tools that deal with the short
snappy branches. No, the saw that is left for such emergencies is a
nondescript article that has now a wavy—very wavy—edge, and a few of
its teeth doubled over; a saw that seems as though you can never get
it well into the wood, and once you have got it in, it can’t be got
out again, much less be made to move with soft purring motion.

You see, I have individuality where sawing is concerned, but it is
useless to talk about it, for I’ve come to the conclusion that whatever
other moral improvements a woman may manage to effect in the man she
marries, it is a lifework to get him to a proper appreciation of her
method of goffering a saw!

But I must beg you not to picture the wood-house as the home of the
miscellaneous collection of nondescript oddments so indescribably
dear to every masculine heart. There is an outhouse elsewhere that
accommodates short lengths of chain, pieces of wire netting, old locks,
bits of copper wire, staples and hooks, broken hinges (that _might_
be made do duty again, if any one ever has a gate that prefers its
hinges to be broken), oil cans, a piece of lead pipe, various lengths
of iron rods, broom handles, stale putty, old keys, a couple of
invalided padlocks, and—well, you know the type of things that every
self-respecting man likes to gather around him, and keep handy, in case
he might need them at any moment.

Unfortunately one of the many blighting influences of town-life, for
ever hindering the full flowering of one’s better nature, is the lack
of the necessary space to stock such useful items. But in the country
one is not so hampered, and one’s private marine store grows apace, and
differs only according to the temperament of the collector. Indeed,
I have come to the conclusion that country air develops in man and
woman alike that tendency to hoard, which is so noticeable in early
childhood, when the small girl collects buttons and clippings from her
mother’s sewing-room, and the small boy bulges the blouse of his sailor
suit with string and “conquers” and coloured chalks, and old penknives
and young frogs.

In town a woman’s only outlet, as a rule, is the bargain counter
or annual sale or remnant day. These dissipations are denied us in
the country, but we make up for it in many other directions. My own
particular weakness is jam-jars, and the way I pounce on any round
pot, be it glass or earthenware, that looks as though it might be made
to hold jelly or jam, is quite a study in efficiency. And, like all
expert collectors, my collection has sub-divisions, or perhaps you
would call them ramifications; cups that have lost their handles, jugs
ditto, glasses that once held a rolled tongue, or fish paste, are all
included; and friends, as they bring round a portmanteau full of empty
jars at Christmas or on my birthday, say, “It is so nice in your case
that one knows what you actually want; so much better to give anyone
what they really like, and will use, rather than some useless bit of
jewellery.” And I quite agree.

There was one moment when I feared my jars would have to go in the
general rending asunder of domestic life caused by the War, even though
I had determined to stick to them as long as I could. But when that
“one clear call” came for jam-pots, naturally I couldn’t be a traitor
to my country, and I decided the jars at least must go, even though I
might perhaps retain the handleless cups and jugs. So I told Abigail to
let me know when the grocer called.

I interviewed the young lady wearing high white kid boots and an
amethyst pendant on her bare chest, who brought my next large
consignment of groceries, that had to be bought in order to secure a
little sugar. But when she heard that there were jam-jars to go back,
she looked at me coldly from the doorstep, and hurriedly pushing her
basket further up her arm (lest I should attempt to force them into it,
I presume), the Abyssinian gold bracelets clanking the while, haughtily
informed me that her motor was for delivery only, not for the cartage
of empties, and suggested that I should write the manager and see if he
would consent to receive them.

I’m only human after all, and naturally any woman’s temperature would
rise in the face of such spurning of her free-will offerings. I didn’t
write, and I’m using the jam-jars still. The nation doesn’t seem any
the worse off—though Virginia points out to me that the War _might_
have ended sooner had I insisted on handing them over; she says every
little helps, as is proved by the fact that the very week she put her
first 15_s._ 6_d._ into Exchequer Bonds the Government got the first
“tank.”

At any rate, as I never eat preserves myself, I can still, even with
a restricted sugar allowance, enjoy the peculiar pleasure that arises
within a woman’s soul when she is occasionally able to say, quite
casually as it were, to a friend: “Would you care to have a pot of my
new gooseberry and cinnamon jam? They say it’s rather good, though of
course—etc.” And the friend replies: “Oh, I should _love_ it, dear;
_such_ a treat; that jar of ginger marmalade I took home last time was
positively _delicious_. Everyone said—etc.”

One favourite item for collection among the cottagers is old bottles,
and the stock you will see in some of their outhouses is often most
extensive and varied. On one occasion an old man who was doing some odd
days’ work for me about the garden, in the absence of the handyman, was
deploring the way the rabbits devastated the cabbages.

“I’ll get rid on ’em for ’ee if you’ll leave ’em to me!” he assured me.
I said I only wished he would, as they are a real plague at times.

Imagine my horror a few days later when I took some friends along to
see the vegetables, to discover a legion of empty whisky bottles,
labels intact, neck downwards in the soil, and dotted about the
vegetable garden in all directions. The old man explained that they
were put there to skeer they rabbits, as they was dreadful frit of
bottles! But my friends refused to believe that so honest-looking an
old Amos could have brought them with him!

       *       *       *       *       *

The inside of the wood-house is as aloof as are the hills from our
machinery-driven, smoke-begrimed, petrol-flavoured twentieth century.
Even when work is in progress, here is no hustle; there are no short
cuts to the other side of a larch log; the saw must go steadily,
patiently, almost slowly, if it hopes to get through the tree at one
standing.

To step from the hot noonday glare, on a summer day, into the cool
seclusion of these thick stone walls, is to enter a haven of peace and
quiet that would seem to belong to the forest primeval rather than to
this noise-stricken age.

The window opening to the north excludes the fierce sun, but the
yellow-washed walls give light and cheeriness. And the ivy, that
ubiquitous plant that scorns all disadvantages, and overcomes every
obstacle, has crept in under the red tiles and hangs in festoons from
the dark rafters; while in other places its pale green shoots have
found for themselves a way clean through the thickness of the wall,
pushing along crevices and around the stones, till at last they have
come to light on the inner side, where they immediately proceed to
drape lopped trunks and big branches standing in the corner.

It is no mere accumulation of timber and sticks that is housed within
these rough old walls. The very spirit of the forest seems to permeate
the place; everything is part and parcel of the big outside—the stones
that pave the floor; the heap of cones in one corner, waiting to
brighten up smouldering winter fires and set them all aglow; the solid
sections of some sturdy oak, cut to just the right height for seats;
the bark stripped from a birch-tree, silver white even now, with grey
and pinkish paper-like peelings and black breathing marks; and the
great brown branches of larch, a tracery of studded twigs and stems
and cones, that have been placed across the end of the wood-house, and
sweep the rafters at the top, looking, as you enter the door, like some
wonderful rood-screen, dark brown with age, shutting off an ancient,
yellow-washed chancel—though such a screen no mortal hand could ever
carve!

The larch is always in evidence, and gives a resinous odour to the
place, as does the sawdust by the bench, a rich brown pile, for
very little of our hillside wood is white; most of it ranges from
reddish-brown to mahogany colour. Though here is a small creamy-white
gate in course of construction—merely a little wicket to keep the
calves out of the orchard—that is made of straight, round branches,
slit down the centre, so that one side of each is flat and the other
semicircular. The design is simplicity itself, some uprights with a
few cross-pieces to hold them together and suggest a trellis; yet the
rich cream colour and the satiny surface of the wood make it a thing of
distinct beauty. This is only a branch of the lime-tree, with the bark
peeled off.

In an ordinary way we seldom have a chance to notice the intrinsic
beauty of wood itself. Of course we see it in its polished perfection
when it comes to us in some choice piece of furniture, or panelling;
but this is not exactly the beauty to which I refer. Each branch, each
tree trunk, has, in its unpolished state, definite characteristics
of its own, quite distinct from those we see in the finished
product civilization regards as the one end to be aimed for. These
characteristics may be rough, and are frequently rugged; but their
appeal is often all the stronger for this fact.

Look at the wonderful ribbing on the rind of this Spanish chestnut;
what is it that wakes up in you when you study its lines and formation?
You cannot say, yet you respond to it in an indefinable manner. These
branches of apple-wood, only gnarled old things, twisted and crooked
and all out of shape some people would say; yet you know that they
would not have been nearly so lovely had they been straight as a dart.
The larches with their strong bark showing grey and red and green, and
furrowed like the sea sand—isn’t there something in this that calls to
you from back recesses of your being, and reminds you of the time when
you—no, not you, but your ancestors, centuries ago, lived not so much
in cities and houses made with hands, as out of doors, finding mystery
in the green-roofed aisles and the cathedral dimness of forests long
since felled?

To those of us who spend much time among these hills, each tree within
the wood-house comes as a friend, with a definite personality and
distinct association, and we regret its individual “going out,” even
though we know it to be inevitable.

This giant, that leans against the outside wall, with no possibility
of ever getting inside the door until it has been sawn in half, is a
big fir (where a squirrel nested) that heeled right over in a blizzard.
Here is the tall cherry-tree that died of a hollow heart, so beloved
of the birds that they left us never a one if we got up later than
half-past four the morning the cherries were ripe. This is the bough
from the big plum-tree that broke down last August under its weight
of fruit. These branches of old apple-trees are some of the winter
wreckage that was strewn about the orchards; see the lichen that covers
them, could anything be more satisfying to look upon? And these are
some of the birches that seemed so frail as they bent to the wind on
the slopes, with purple twigs and green leaves always moving; until
you have actually handled them you scarcely realize the strength and
toughness of the delicate-looking bark, and you henceforth take a much
more personal interest in Hiawatha and his canoe, even though his tree
was another member of the family. And that convenient stump you are
sitting upon is part of a hoary pear, that used annually to clothe
itself in white—and then contribute more gallons of perry than it does
to think of in these more sober days!

But no mere catalogue of contents can describe the charm of this little
wind-swept place. To realise it you must first of all stand in need of
quiet and retreat. When the craving comes upon you that impels us all,
at one time or another, to get away from “things” and be alone with
ourselves and Nature that we may re-discover our souls, take a book if
you will (it matters not what, for you won’t read it, but to some it
is essential that a book be in the hand if they are to sit still for a
moment!) and climb the hill to that wood-house.

Take a seat on the beech log by the door, and let yourself absorb some
of the spirit of your environment. Keep quite still when the squirrel
trails his bushy tail down the path, he won’t inquire after your
National Registration card; neither will the pheasant, even though
he raises his head with a suspicious jerk as he is feeding among the
grass. Little rabbits will dart in and out of their burrows among the
bracken; the woodpecker will mock at you from a tree that waves above
the roof; a robin will streak down from nowhere, like a flash, and
stand as erect as a drill-sergeant on the corner of the work-bench
while he inquires—but, there is an interruption; he excuses himself for
a moment while he goes off to thrash his wife who ventured to peep in
at the window. Let them all have their way, they are as much a part of
the general atmosphere of the place as the sweet scent of the evening
dew upon the grass, and the ceaseless soughing of the wind in the
branches; moreover, this is home to them.

The little folk of the forests are so companionable when you know
them; even the same butterflies will come again and again. I recently
spent two hours a day for a fortnight in this spot, and all the time
apparently the same butterfly hovered about the door, resting every few
minutes on the warm rock among the stone-crop and fiercely chasing off
any other butterfly that came within its evidently marked-out domain.
And the little folk never bore you with their boastings, nor weary you
with platitudes. They are content to let you think your own thoughts,
to take you as you are, if you will but recollect that theirs are
ancient privileges that have descended to them as a world-old heritage.
It is you who, helpless in the grip of civilisation, sold your forest
“hearth-rights” long since, and are now but a stranger, or at best a
passing guest, in this out-door world that was man’s first home.

       *       *       *       *       *

Gradually quiet possesses you, and you hear the trees talking of
things that have far outstripped the clash and turmoil of modernity.
What is it they say, those swaying boughs and branches that throb with
every wind, and these that stand around you, silently, waiting their
last service to man, each with some final sacrificial offering—the
apple-wood giving in incense, the oak giving in strength, and the
laurel giving in flame?

Theirs is a blessing rather than a message; a lifting of a load from
the over-burdened heart rather than the teaching of stern lessons. And
as you shake off some of the dust of earth that has clogged your soul,
you find yourself sending out thoughts in directions long forgotten;
the things of earth take on new proportions, the first being often
last, and the last becoming first.

       *       *       *       *       *

The ministry of the forest trees can never be entirely explained; but
one remembers with reverence that our Lord Himself worked in some such
little wood-house, where He touched the trees and fashioned the timber
with His sacred Hands.

Haply He left His Benediction when He passed that way.



XIII

Abigail’s “Lonely Sailor”


I’M sure I didn’t start my career of usefulness with any intention of
adopting a “lonely sailor.” It was Abigail who bestowed him upon me.

So far as I remember, it was something like this.

Abigail had joined “The Domestic Helpers’ Branch” of a Guild, organised
by some well-meaning souls, for the purpose of befriending those men in
the Army and Navy who are supposed to be without feminine kith or kin
of any description to take an interest in them.

She had been lured to a Guild meeting by her friend Pamela.

Pamela, it should be explained, was my parlour-maid, originally, but
when the national trumpet sounded for the reduction of one’s staff
of employees, she had moved a little further along the road, to “The
Gables,” a household that fancied they needed a parlour-maid worse than
I did.

We were mutually quite satisfied with the transference; she had
recently had a sister enter the service of a ducal family, and I had
found the effort necessary to keep pace with the duchess exceedingly
wearing. Kind hearts may be more than coronets, but they don’t always
show to such advantage, since one has to wear them inside.

As we had parted with no recriminations on either side, naturally I
begged Pamela to make my house “a home away from home” whenever she
pleased, which she accordingly did; and it was on one of her many “runs
in” that she had expatiated on the Guild in question, and induced
Abigail to sample it.

       *       *       *       *       *

And thus, Abigail had returned from the meeting moved to the very core
of her kind heart by the harrowing details the speaker had related of
fine, daring, courageous, and magnificent specimens of British and
Colonial manhood, left desolate and uncared for, pining for a word of
sympathy and understanding from someone in the home-land—a word that
never came, alas!

Abigail said it had quite put her off her supper that night, thinking
of all those brave men, defending us and our homes right up to their
very last breath—and yet, never a woman to get them a clean pair of
socks or a hot meal when all was over; not a letter of sympathy, nor a
card with a line on it (here cook told her that funeral cards had quite
gone out), not so much as a word of encouragement from any relative
under the sun, every woman at home selfishly engaged with her own
concerns—— Why, it was a disgrace to the country that our heroes should
be neglected and put upon by the women of the land in any such way!
And please would I mind her sending off a cake as soon as possible?
as of course she had adopted a lonely sailor, wouldn’t have it on her
conscience not to; and cook was quite willing to make it, there was
plenty of dripping, and we still had a fair amount of carraway seeds
left, and they wouldn’t come as expensive as currants—cook’s cousins
at the Crystal Palace liked carraways _quite_ as well as currants if
plenty of spice and peel was put in. The fried potatoes had nearly
_choked_ her, when she was telling cook about it all . . . no, not
because she was talking with her mouth full; she meant that the very
thought of those poor lonely men was like eating sawdust. The speaker
at the meeting had said he was sure each one present had only to ask
her employer, and permission would be given immediately and gladly for
a cake or potted meat or some other little delicacy to be sent once a
week, as a sign of sympathy and understanding, to one of these grand
yet lonely souls.

Of course I immediately and gladly gave permission for the concrete
sympathy to be sent once a week, but stipulated that it was to be a
cake; five shillings’ worth of meat, as per my butcher’s charges, goes
positively nowhere when “potted.” I reckoned that a good dripping cake
would give the desolate one a deal more sympathy for the money.

(At the same time, to keep our rations properly balanced I cut off the
small plate of spice buns, our only cake luxury, which had been in the
habit of adorning our Sunday afternoon tea-table.)

And oh! the care with which we sewed up that first box of sympathy
in a remnant of cretonne, carefully putting it on wrong side out (to
preserve its beauty), and hoping that when he undid it he would notice
what a charming pattern of purple dahlias and blue roses was on the
inside, and how the cretonne was just a nice size to make up into a
boot bag if he chanced to be needing a new one.

       *       *       *       *       *

I pass over the next few weeks while we waited anxiously for the
“lonely sailor” to materialise. He was engaged on board H.M.S. “The
North Sea,” and sailors, we know, are subject to wind and weather.
Abigail said she almost wished now that she had selected a lonely
soldier; she could have had one if she had liked; but she had chosen
a sailor because she thought he might wear better. The German sailors
didn’t seem so pigheadedly bent on fighting as the German soldiers
were.

We did our best to keep the time from hanging idly on our hands by
devising as much variety as possible for future menus, discussing the
respective merits of cinnamon _versus_ cocoanut as a flavouring, and
wondering whether after all we shouldn’t be more likely to buck up his
desolate spirits (and more particularly his pen) if we sent a sultana
cake next week, rather than gingerbread.

I never before knew Abigail so prompt in her attendance upon the
postman’s knock as she was during those blank weeks that accompanied
the first half-dozen cakes. And then, when she was in a very slough of
dark despondency, and constantly wondering who _had_ eaten them, since
they had evidently never reached _him_, a letter arrived, and forthwith
Abigail trod upon air—figuratively, I mean, not literally; in reality
I never heard her so noisy; she went up and down, up and down the
stairs past my study door where I was working, as though she had lost
a step and was looking for it! Finally, when I heard her singing “Days
and moments quickly flying” as she O-cedar-mopped some neighbouring
polished boards, I knew something must have happened, and I opened the
door and asked if anything was the matter? Whereupon she produced the
letter from the bib of her apron—would have brought it before, only
knew I liked everything to be perfectly quiet when I was working—and
didn’t I think it was a lovely letter?

Though the handwriting wasn’t much to boast of, and the spelling even
worse, it was a straightforward, man-like letter; he was evidently very
pleased to have the cakes, and quite touched that the young lady should
have been so kind as to think of him. He said his people were too far
off to send him anything like that: his father and mother had gone out
to Canada when he was ten years old. No one had sent him a _parcel_ so
far, therefore it was quite a surprise packet when the first one came.
It was kind of her to ask if he would like some more; all he could say
was—“the more the merrier,” if the young lady felt like it.

And he signed himself, her faithful friend, Dick.

After that Dick’s name became so all-insistent in our midst that the
whole household appeared to exist solely for the purpose of revolving
round him. So constantly was it wafted on the four winds of heaven,
that I remarked to the Head of Affairs: it seemed for all the world as
though we had adopted a pet canary, and were everlastingly wondering if
his seed glass had been replenished.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was only one slight shadow falling athwart the sunshine. Pamela
(who was a great authority on “How to tell your character by your
handwriting,” having had her own delineated by her favourite penny
weekly) had declared that Dick was anæmic and delicate; she knew,
because his handwriting sloped downwards—a sure sign; it was also
cramped and irregular, an unfailing indication of a mean and grasping
nature; while the heavy downstrokes and the absence of punctuation
proved as plain as plain could be that he was unreliable.

Poor Pamela had had her own disappointments in life, and had been
warped a little thereby.

Of course Abigail said she did not believe a word of such rubbish,
and she rather liked the funny-shaped letters, and thought the black
strokes looked particularly strong and healthy.

Nevertheless, it was surprising how that trifle of seed, carelessly
dropped, took root in our minds, and how from that date onwards we all
regarded Dick as anæmic and in need of strenuous nourishment; while if
more than a month elapsed between his communications, we couldn’t help
just wondering whether, after all, he might not be a _little_ mean and
grasping, and six weeks demonstrated with absolute certainty that he
was unreliable!

       *       *       *       *       *

A month after we received his first letter, there came another, and of
course we all fluttered with excitement.

Dick still approved of the cakes, I was glad to hear; and since
the young lady had asked if there was anything else she could send,
he wasn’t one to cadge for himself, but there was his mate Mick; he
wanted to put in a word for him. Mick, it appeared, was even more
lonely, more ignored by the world of women, more in need of sympathetic
understanding than he was; and—what was more to the point—was badly in
want of a large scarf. Not that Mick would have asked for it himself,
very independent Mick was; but since he had so enjoyed half of every
cake, and the nights were very cold this time of the year, and he had
been his pal for years, why, he felt sure the young lady wouldn’t mind
his just mentioning it, as he couldn’t think of telling her how short
he was of socks himself.

_Mind!_ Why, we all regarded Dick as a public benefactor! Abigail
discovered that Dick and Mick rhymed, and as she said, you didn’t
have poetry like that brought to the door _every_ day! She suddenly
developed the airs of a society belle; she borrowed my copy of “The
Modern Knitting Book;” and, might she just run out for an hour in the
afternoon to get some wool—you needed thicker wool for scarves than for
socks—as the shops were so dark at night?

Cook, with her numerous cousins on H.M.S. “Crystal Palace” (a near
neighbour of ours), was given to understand that she could now take a
second place! There was no getting away from the fact that Mr. Dick
and Mr. Mick were actually engaged in the defence of the realm, while
cook’s cousins appeared to do nothing more than take joy-rides in
motor-lorries to and fro along our road.

Pamela alone was sceptical; she said she should go cautiously, you
never knew! But then, she had every reason to be a pessimist; even
her “lonely soldier” had been sent out to China, and, naturally, you
can’t sympathise so understandingly with anyone when it takes a couple
of months before you get an answer to your letter (if even he should
chance to write by return), as when he is only across the Straits of
Dover. She said she got tired of keeping copies of her letters, so that
she might know what he was talking about when he wrote back—only he
never did!

Surmising that Abigail would have her hand over-full if she took on the
wants of both men, I said to her, “I think _I_ had better adopt Mr.
Mick, as I am sure you will have enough to do to provide et-ceteras for
Mr. Dick! You can take all the credit for it, and write the letters,
but I will settle the bills.”

And having some socks and a large muffler all ready for dispatch to
some needy man, I gave them to her and said I would pay the postage, if
she would save me the trouble of doing them up and taking them to the
post office. I also added that a cake had better be sent once a week
to Mr. Mick in addition to the one sent to Mr. Dick. I know something
of the appetite of the Navy—and what is one simple cake between two
hearty men!

Abigail was effusively grateful, took it quite as a personal favour;
you might have thought I was settling an annuity on her own father!
She explained that naturally she felt more interest in Dick, and was
more anxious to spend her money on him; at the same time, she should
certainly mention my name to Mr. Mick; it wouldn’t be fair to take all
the credit to herself.

So we left it at that.

I consulted with cook on the subject of securing ample and pleasing
variety, combined with unquestionable nourishment; and judging by the
amount of information she was able to give me as to what “they” like,
you would have thought she had reared a whole family of husbands!

Forthwith, the house was steeped in a perpetual aroma of baking cakes
(of course the cousins couldn’t be neglected either), till I got
nervous lest the Food Controller should make it his business to call.
Upstairs we not only went cakeless, but in order to make sugar-ends
meet, we drank unsweetened tea and coffee, a trial to all of us! And
stewed fruit requiring sugar was also taboo.

On second consideration, I am inclined to think that it was not,
first and foremost, my benevolence that led me to adopt Mick: it
was primarily a matter of self-interest! Even in war time it is
necessary to have a _little_ work done, if only occasionally, in
the home; and if the household helpers were to take on yet another
outside responsibility, in addition to the many already on their
hands, I didn’t see where my work would come in at all—and I can’t do
_everything_ in the evening, after I get home from town. As it was, we
were already knitting morning, noon, and night, for every branch of the
Services!

       *       *       *       *       *

I put the collection of figures and capital letters that represented
Mick’s address, into my pocket-book with other similar data.
Periodically I handed Abigail pairs of socks or mittens, a body-belt,
handkerchiefs, and similar utilities; and when any sea-going event,
such as a raid on a submarine base, or a “scrap” in the North Sea, or a
warship mined, brought the Navy specially to my mind, I would go into
the Stores and order a parcel to be sent to Mick, adding one for Dick
also, if the occasion happened to be a harrowing one. At such times one
feels one cannot do enough for our men; and Dick and Mick little knew
how often they benefited by the misfortunes of others.

The first time I received a letter from my devoted friend Michael
McBlaggan, I admit I was a trifle bewildered, as I couldn’t for the
moment “place” any member of the McBlaggan family; but when I read the
document through and noted how kind he considered it that my friend
Miss Abigail should have introduced us, light dawned, and I sent him
a post-card saying I hoped he would always let me know if he wanted
anything further in the way of woollens.

And thus the months wore on, punctuated by laboriously written
communications from Dick, with an occasional card from Mick, who kept
more in the background. The great attraction, undoubtedly, was Dick.
He entered into personal details, asked if the young lady had made
the cakes herself. Here I understand cook was not too absorbed in
her own relations to insist that full credit should be given to the
right person; and Abigail wrote explaining that as she was very much
occupied, and too busy to attend to the cooking, a friend who lived
with her always made the cakes. Whereupon by return post _I_ received a
sloping, heavy-downstroked letter of thanks from the dutiful Dick!

On another occasion, Dick sent his photo (after being asked for it
times out of number, I believe). It was not as satisfactory as it might
have been, because it was an amateur snapshot group, and you know how
easy it is to decipher the features when the hand camera has stood a
quarter of a mile away (so as to include as much of the landscape as
possible), and everyone’s face is in black shadow under a hat brim that
has been tilted forward to exclude the full glare of the sun.

Unfortunately he omitted to put a =X= against himself, and as there
were a dozen men in the group all in slouch hats and farm attire (to
say nothing of the women and children), there was little to help us!

But he did say that, as Abigail had told him Canada was the one place
above all others that she longed to see, and how she was hoping to go
there as soon as the war was over, he had sent his picture taken on a
Canadian farm. It was just a little gathering photographed on someone’s
birthday.

Still, as he hadn’t given us any help in the matter, we had to decide
ourselves which was the lonely sailor (though, as Abigail commented,
she couldn’t understand how, with such a large collection of friends,
he could ever have come to be so alone in the world). We picked out a
thin, anæmic-looking young man, who was standing beside a comfortable,
matronly woman in a shady hat and a big apron; and as her age might
have been anything from thirty to sixty, we decided she was his mother,
and I remarked what a nice homely soul she looked in her checked apron,
and no wonder he was devoted to her, and how proud she must be of the
dear lad—all of which Abigail accepted as a personal compliment.

       *       *       *       *       *

Winter gave way to spring, and in like rotation mince pies were
superseded by Swiss roll (to make which eggs were struck off our
breakfast menu), and marmalade replaced the figs and dates in the
parcels that went out to some unknown spot on the world’s ocean-spaces,
all of which our wonderful Navy now controls.

Likewise, cretonne gave place to unbleached calico, my remnants being
exhausted.

Existence downstairs fluctuated between heights of excitement and
depths of gloom. The Crystal Palace authorities had a most unreasonable
way of shipping men off to Mesopotamia, Salonika, Hongkong, Archangel,
or anywhere else where they thought the air would prove salubrious,
without a single word of inquiry as to whether the transfer met with
cook’s approval. Hence, there was a series of constantly recurring
blanks to mar what would otherwise have been a life of unsullied
joyousness; and at such times of depression cook darkly hinted that
punching tram tickets and ordering people to “move up a little on that
side, please,” would be a deliriously exhilarating occupation compared
with the monotony of cake-making for nobody-knows-who!

As every gift-giver is aware, there is invariably a grey hiatus
between the sending off of the gift and the arrival of the recipient’s
gratitude; hence, the bustle and excitement of getting off each parcel
of eatables and pair of socks and tin of tobacco was always followed by
a spell of wistful longing, while the postal authorities, out of sheer
perversity (we presumed), held back the letter that would have meant so
much to Abigail.

Moreover, Pamela was doing anything but contribute to the gaiety of
nations! She was often in with Abigail on her spare evenings; and
seemed to devote the time to perpetual croaks, on one occasion ending
with the assurance that, for _her_ part, she should have nothing to do
with a man who was merely a common sailor; self-respect, if nothing
else, would make her look for something better than that.

I am glad to say Abigail had sufficient spirit left to retort that
if he was good enough to fight for her, he was good enough for the
bestowal of a cake. Nevertheless, a decided coolness sprang up between
them; and for a week or two after this exchange of confidences, Abigail
appeared to be sinking in a rapid “decline” (as they used to call it),
and I felt I was positively inhuman to expect her to do a hand’s turn
in the house.

Yet life was not entirely bereft of purple patches. The gloom
consequent upon the Silence of the Navy lifted occasionally. As,
for instance, when we had a bomb drop in our road. Yes, in our very
road!—or, at any rate, it was only just round the corner; and, as
everybody knows, one affectionately appropriates as one’s own all
neighbouring roads (quite irrespective of the rentals, too) if they
chance to possess a bomb. And, in any case, it _would_ have dropped in
our road if only it had been a hundred yards nearer this way.

Ours was quite an up-to-date bomb, one of the sort that “went clean
through the wood pavement to the depth of a couple of feet, and made
a hole large enough to bury a man in, and not a sound window within a
mile radius.” That’s the kind of bomb _ours_ was! And it was trimmed
in the latest fashion, with a policeman, and a cord right round it,
and two gentlemen with pickaxes who scratched the surface of the wood
blocks occasionally in the intervals of looking important. They were
wearing them like that in London at the time.

Of course we, in common with the whole parish, swelled with pride; for
a while all social distinction was waived, rich and poor alike took
the same interest in the bomb, or at least in the hole it had made;
the bomb itself was removed so quickly that no local eye save that of
the police and the pickaxe gentlemen ever saw it; though the milkman
averred that, as he was driving to the station in the early dawn, he
saw a van going in the opposite direction; he couldn’t see what was in
it, hence it certainly was carrying away the bomb.

For the rest of us, however, we had to be content with a brave effort
to get as near to the cord as we could, and crane our heads above our
shorter brethren in order to catch a glimpse of the gaping void, while
a thrill went down every spine, irrespective of bank balances.

And we might have remained in that splendidly democratic frame of back
unto this day (no one being anxious to have any closer acquaintance
than his neighbour with the bomb), had it not been that a piece of
shrapnel was discovered in the garden next us. Whereupon the owner
developed much upliftedness, and his servants bragged amain.

My own staff took it even more to heart than I did; and it was amazing
how much time it was necessary for all hands to spend in the garden
in order to cut a cabbage or gather three sprigs of parsley. Between
them they didn’t leave an inch of the garden unexplored, and it is a
fair-sized one.

Then the following morning Abigail rushed in excitedly with the news
that she had discovered a piece of shrapnel in the bonfire débris. I
went down to inspect, and was shown an oblong piece of curved iron,
wider at one end than the other, and with a sharp spike at the wider
end. I confess that to me it was wonderfully reminiscent of the old
trowel that had lost its wooden handle and had lain unhonoured and
unsung for a year in the leaf-heap; but I said nothing about _that_.
Whatever its origin, it was crumpled up a bit with heat, one could
see—not surprising either, as we had had a roaring bonfire two days
running and burnt up all the pile of dead leaves.

When I was devising plans for its removal, they said, Hadn’t it better
wait there till the master came home?

But the Head of Affairs is celebrated for his truthfulness; and he
and that old trowel had lived on terms of unalloyed friendship for
years (till the split came over the handle), and—well, I merely said I
thought we would deal with it at once; no need to add to the master’s
many worries.

Cook said: Oughtn’t it to be immersed in a pail of water? Her cousin at
the Crystal Palace had told her that——, etc.

So we got a pail of water; I bade them stand well out of harm’s way,
while I put it in. Of course they feebly offered to do it for me, but
seemed relieved when I insisted on taking all risks; one ran to one
side of the garden and one to the other, and then decided they should
feel safer if they both stood close together.

Just as I was about to pick it up, cook shrieked out to me not to touch
it with my hands, as it might be poisoned. I said I would take it up
with a pair of tongs; but she said she thought it ought to be insulated
with china. It might be electrified with the shock; you never knew what
inventions those fiends were up to, and one of her cousins who was in
the electricians’ corp (or something like that) had told her that——,
etc.

So we compromised with a large china soup ladle and a big wooden spoon,
which I used like chop sticks, and at last got the shrapnel into the
water. Of course it was disappointing when it dropped heavily to the
bottom without so much as a sizzle, much less a bang. Still—we had the
comfortable feeling that we were on the safe side now.

Eventually I had it in my study. I said it would be safer there. But
though the neighbourhood was thus debarred from seeing and handling
it, the fame of it spread with amazing rapidity; and the lady across
the road arrived quite early in the afternoon, having heard from her
housemaid, who had heard it from her gardener, who had heard it from
the road-sweeper, who had heard it from the grocer’s man, who had heard
it from my cook, that I had a huge shell weighing half-a-hundredweight,
covered with venomous spikes, all deadly poison, that had dropped down
the chimney right into the centre of the kitchen fire, where it had
been found, still hissing, when they went to rake out the ashes in the
morning.

I didn’t display the fragment to my neighbour, nor to subsequent
callers; it is such a pity to rob people of happiness. I merely said I
thought it better to keep it well away from all vibration, as so far
it hadn’t exploded. And one and all assured me I was very wise, and
remembered pressing engagements elsewhere.

I reached the zenith of my fame when a police inspector, accompanied by
a subordinate, rang the front door bell, and understood that I had in
my possession a portion of a Zeppelin that had foundered on my lawn.
It appeared that he had been up all night, and had worn out miles of
shoe leather, hunting for the missing half of that Zeppelin; and had I
the gondola as well? He seemed to suspect that I might be holding that
back in order to have it stuffed and put under a glass shade in the
drawing-room.

He looked disappointed when I showed him the fragment of iron; said
they had plenty of bits that size; but he admitted that none of them
had a spike like that at one end, and darkly hinted that it might
be just the missing link they were looking for. Then he and the
subordinate tenderly carried it away between them.

We all intend to visit the War Museum later on. Personally, I’m very
keen to see what they ticket it.

       *       *       *       *       *

Nevertheless, when each little excitement subsided, reaction set in,
and Abigail’s spirits promptly dropped to zero. But at length a post
card arrived in time to save her (and us) from utter collapse, and the
bath-taps were once more polished to the tune of “Days and moments
quickly flying.”

Thus, as I have already stated, winter merged into spring; and then
spring made way for early summer (as I’ve known it do before), and we
racked our brains to find a suitable substitute for pork pie.

Oh, yes, we had departed months ago from the “nothing but cake”
rule. We decided that a thin, anæmic-looking young man (as per the
photographic group) needed still more feeding up, and there wasn’t a
sufficiency of body-building material in modern cake, as everyone knows
who has sampled war-flour, even with currants _as well_ as carraways.
So the Head of Affairs and I stoically relinquished the one thin slice
of breakfast bacon that we had shared between us each morning, and
devoted the proceeds to pork pies for the Navy—in accordance with the
highest ideals of the Food Controller.

But, as every good housewife knows, you mustn’t feed your family—let
alone your friends—on pork pie when there isn’t an R in the month;
and with April nearing its end, and May looming, what was to take its
place? As cook said, you are so dreadfully handicapped when you have to
sew up your parcel in calico; you can’t send soused mackerel, or Welsh
rabbit with Red Tape tied round you like that!

Abigail suggested potted shrimps; but cook scornfully reminded her that
seafaring men, living in the midst of shrimps and salt fish all their
days, weren’t likely to hanker after it at meal times. We compromised
on savoury cheese patties—a come-down after the pork pie, we admitted;
only we could think of nothing else equally nutritive and seasonable.

Unfortunately, when I ordered extra cheese to be sent weekly to meet
the naval demands (and up to that time I hadn’t seen any rules for
rationing cheese), the Stores “greatly regretted,” etc., but there was
a scarcity at the moment; they could let me have a tin of golden syrup,
however, or, they had a fair stock of candles.

So we removed cheese from our upstairs dietary, consoling ourselves
with the thought that, at best, it was only half a course.

Meanwhile it was pleasant to know that the fleet had voted the cheese
patties “A 1,” due, so cook said, to the fact that she had told Dick
to put the patties into a _slow_ oven for ten or twelve minutes before
eating, as “it made all the difference.”

       *       *       *       *       *

I was beginning to get nervy with the strain of it all. You see, if a
letter delayed in coming, then the question arose: Did they like the
last parcel? or, had we sent, by chance, something they didn’t care
for? And then my household assistants looked darkly at me; _I_ was to
blame for ever having suggested lemon curd tartlets. As Abigail said,
probably lemon didn’t agree with Dick, it didn’t always with thin
people.

Cook acquiesced, adding that you never can tell! There was her eldest
sister’s husband, a perfect terror for temper; yet look what he saved
her in doctor’s bills—he might have had epileptic fits instead!

On the other hand, there was her uncle (no relation to her really, only
her aunt’s husband, and second husband at that), do what you would, you
couldn’t rouse him to take an interest in his food or anything else.
Her poor aunt had spent a little fortune on medicine; and as bright a
house as you could want, not shut off with a whole lot of garden like
my house, but nice and close on to the pavement, with heaps of traffic
going by. And exactly opposite, the broken railings that the motor-van
ran into and killed the driver; heaps of people came to look at the
place Sunday afternoons. But her uncle never took a bit of notice of it.

No, you _never_ can tell!

       *       *       *       *       *

All the same, I felt guilty, and began to wonder how long I should be
able to hold out! And then——

It was a lovely Saturday in May. We had just got up from a late lunch
when there came a violent ring at the door bell. The Head of Affairs
was in the hall at the moment, and he opened the door—to find two big
sailor-men on the doorstep, each carrying a parcel. They inquired for
me.

Now, like most other households, khaki and navy blue always find a
welcome at our door for the sake of our own who are away, serving their
country, and those who have already laid down their lives in the cause
of Right and Justice.

So the Head of Affairs walked them straight in upon me, without waiting
to ask for their birth certificates.

Did I say they were big? That isn’t the word for it! They were
more than that, they were massive; tall, broad, well-made, and
tough-looking, with beaming, round, red faces; they ought to have been
pictured, just as they were, for a naval recruiting poster.

They looked a little confused, for the moment, at finding themselves
precipitated into an unexpected drawing room; but they made straight
for me, with that large, rolling stride inseparable from the British
sailor. Fortunately the room isn’t beset in the orthodox fashion with
a multitude of bric-à-brac obstacles in the way of small chairs and
tables, for they seemed to sweep the decks fore and aft as they strode
over the carpet, and I thought I should never find my hand again after
they had both given it a hearty shake.

As I looked at the big, burly fellows, both of them well on to
forty I should say, I knew instinctively that these were our two
forlorn sailor-lads—our poor anæmic, lonely Dick, and desolate,
unsympathised-with Mick. And I must say I never saw two men bear
neglect more bravely!

At first, conversation seemed all on my side: they sat stiffly on the
extreme edge of their chairs, while Dick answered in monosyllables,
Mick seeming permanently tongue-tied! But the Head of Affairs produced
cigars warranted to banish all nervous embarrassment and to induce a
man to sit comfortably anywhere; and soon they were giving us details
of their homes and relatives—small things, perhaps, that are apparently
the same the world over, but mean so much to each individual. It was
still Dick who did most of the talking. He was undoubtedly the more
attractive of the two.

As they were constantly making wild clutches at their parcels which
threatened to tumble off their knees without the slightest provocation,
we offered to put them on the table. But Dick explained, with almost
child-like confusion, that they were presents for me and the other
lady. And would I mind taking them? He made Mick open his bundle first.
There came to light an anchor, the like of which I had never seen
before, though I had heard of their existence. It was about eighteen
inches long, made of red velvet stuffed with sawdust so as to form an
immense pin cushion. This was most elaborately decorated with beads—as
I thought at first—but it proved to be pins with coloured glass heads.
Lengthwise down the anchor was this inscription, carried out in large
white-headed pins,

      “AFFECTION’S OFFERING.”

There were various ribbon bows, and ends and tags finished off with
beads, and a cord for hanging it on the wall; altogether, it was a most
ornate, glittering creation!

Keeping company with the anchor was a wooden rolling pin, that had been
enamelled a delicate pink, with hand-painted sprays of forget-me-nots
at intervals. This also had bows and ends and a ribbon to hang it on
the wall; it likewise bore an inscription:

      “TO GREET YOU.”

While I praised the colouring, and the workmanship of both, I promptly
chose the rolling pin.

Mick looked a trifle disappointed, and explained that he had really
intended the anchor for me; and thought the rolling pin would be nice
for the lady who had sent the cakes.

But I clung to the rolling pin; even though it wasn’t quite in line
with my ideas of decorative art, its sentiment was so non-committal!
Besides, I wanted Abigail to have the anchor. Even though it be but a
passing incident, it is pleasant to receive an “affection’s offering”
occasionally, when we are young.

Dick’s parcel contained a large box covered with shells, and very
pretty it was. In a smaller packet he had a coral necklace. I chose—and
praised—the box with a perfectly clear conscience this time. You have
to go to a great deal of trouble before you can vulgarise a sea-shell;
and, fortunately, the box-maker hadn’t taken any trouble at all; he had
merely stuck them haphazard over the cardboard lid, with a border of
small ones round the edges, and the effect was lovely. I also knew that
Abigail would much prefer the necklace. You can’t carry a big box about
with you, to display it casually to your friends.

My genuine pleasure over the presents thawed them to such an extent,
that Dick then explained they had come round with the intention
of taking us out to a picture palace; Mick wanted to take me, and
he, Dick, would take Miss Abigail. But, he added hesitatingly, that
perhaps, after all, that wasn’t the sort of thing I would care about;
and he looked rather beseechingly at the Head of Affairs, hoping we
should understand what he couldn’t manage to put very clearly into
words.

We did understand. Gratitude is none too plentiful in these days
that we could afford to flout it because it chanced to appear in
unconventional guise. We appreciated all that they had planned to do by
way of saying thank you for what we had done for them—and it was little
enough we had done, when one considers our debt to such men as these!

I explained that though _I_ was engaged that evening, Abigail was not;
and they must now show her those parcels.

She had no knowledge that they were in the house; and you should have
seen her face when she answered the bell and I introduced Mr. Dick and
Mr. Mick.

In reply to my inquiries as to what she could do in the way of
hospitality, she was certain that cook could get a really nice meal
ready for them in a few minutes; and if even cook couldn’t she,
Abigail, could, and Pamela had just come in, and she would help; it
wasn’t the slightest trouble—and she looked positively radiant as she
took the two in tow.

Having told them that we would wait on ourselves for the rest of the
day, and no one need stay in, I was not surprised to hear a gay party
setting off a little later on; but I _was_ surprised to see that it was
Pamela, and not cook, who made the fourth in the quartette!

Pamela and Abigail hadn’t spoken since the episode previously
mentioned. It was curious that she should have chanced to call for the
purpose of burying the hatchet, the very afternoon that the “common
sailors,” as she had called them, should be there!

For the time of the sailors’ leave I cut the housework down to the
minimum and arranged a week of cold dinners, Spartan-like in their
simplicity, for ourselves, so that “evenings out” could be taken as
often as my household assistants pleased.

I hoped to find the kitchen radiating sunshine in consequence. Picture
my consternation, therefore, when I came upon Abigail weeping her
eyes out in their sitting-room one afternoon (when only half of the
leave had expired too!), the coral necklace flung into one corner, and
“affection’s offering” lying face downwards under the table.

To give her opportunity to pull herself together, I picked up the coral
necklace and inquired what Mr. Dick would be likely to think if he saw
it there. She sobbed that she didn’t know and she didn’t care.

“That Pamela——” Then I saw it all in a flash!

Well, to make a long story short, Pamela, whom I had long known to be
as unscrupulous as she was good-looking, had stepped in and carried
off Dick right from under Abigail’s nose! She had seen the two men
arrive on the previous Saturday afternoon, and that accounted for her
unexpected call. She had appropriated Dick from the first minute she
saw him.

“And now,” said Abigail into her handkerchief, “just ten minutes ago,
when I ran out to post some letters, who should I see coming out of The
Gables, but Dick and that creature, starting off together for all the
world as though they had known each other all their lives. Only last
night she had the sauce to say _she_ was going out to Canada when the
war was over!”

I felt truly sorry for the girl, and it was some satisfaction to me to
reflect that Pamela wasn’t quite as successful as she imagined!

“I don’t think she will see much of Dick even if she does go out to
Canada,” I said; “I don’t think his wife would have a room to spare
to invite her there—with seven children. I daresay Dick told you that
the lady in the checked apron was Mrs. Dick?” I stooped to pick up
the forlorn anchor, and dusted it most carefully, to give her time to
recover.

“No!” she gasped, and then went on bitterly, “he hasn’t had a chance
to tell me a _thing_, with Pamela talking to him the whole time! But,
of course, I guessed all along he was married.” She meant to take her
disappointment bravely. “_I_ don’t want to marry anyone; men are all
alike. But it does make you wild, when——”

I was facing the window, but Abigail had her back to it. Therefore she
did not see what I saw coming along the road—a large bunch of flowers,
surmounted by Mick’s round, jovial face.

“I think I should hang this up,” I interrupted her, having thoroughly
dusted the anchor; “after all, Mick has no wall of his own to hang it
on; he isn’t like Dick, with a home and wife and family—and one doesn’t
get ‘affection’s offering’ every day!”

“Oh, but that wasn’t really meant for me,” and Abigail’s grief
threatened to break out afresh. “Mick was so taken with the lovely
parcels you sent, and he thought as you lived with me you were a widow,
and——”

Fortunately, I was spared the rest, for the downstairs door bell rang
with a vehemence that was now most familiar, and Abigail, patting her
hair and her cap into shape, went smilingly down the passage to answer
the side door.



XIV

The Bonfire


I HAD pointed out, quite nicely and kindly, to Virginia, that she was
not clipping the top of the square box-tree table straight and even;
and she had pointed out, quite witheringly, to me that she was cutting
it by perspective, adding that if I had only been privileged to learn
perspective when I was young, I should have known that for a thing to
be correct in its outlines and proportions it must necessarily run
askew and aslant and out-at-corners, just as the top of the box-tree
table was now doing. She assured me, however, that it would appear
all right, she thought, if I looked at it from an airship above, with
half-closed eyes.

And then she advised me to do a little hoeing.

I ignored her sarcasm, knowing full well that a pair of shears, applied
by amateur hands to tough overgrown greenstuff, is apt to provoke
cutting remarks when the wielder has got to the moist stage and the
hedge is looking like a ploughed field.

You see, there was an inwardness in her last remark; for hoeing looks
an easy, graceful, carefree occupation—till you try it. My own
method is distinctive; I didn’t invent it, it came to me as a natural
inspiration. I find I invariably start to hoe with my back, doubling up
more and more, and aching more and more, as I proceed with the hacking.
Then, as I warm to the work (and it’s very much warm as a rule), I
likewise hoe with my teeth. By the time I have set and ground these
nearly to nothing—my hands all the while getting lower and lower down
the handle of my tool—I find myself beginning to hoe quite viciously
with my head.

When I have extracted all the motive power I can from this part of
me, and have projected it so far in front of the rest of me—hoe
included—that I almost lose my balance, the only thing left for me to
do, by way of piling up yet more energy and effort, appears to be to
go down on all fours, seeing that by this time I am clasping the hoe
handle at about a foot from the ground.

Fortunately, it is just here that I usually realize what I am doing,
and I straighten my rounded back, and undo my teeth (that doesn’t
sound polite, but you know what I mean), and return my head to its
proper place. I then remind myself that I am not hoeing at all
scientifically, that most of the energy I have been putting forth has
been waste—because misdirected—force.

Whereupon I stand at ease, and other things like that. Maintaining the
upright as far as I can, I take hold of the top end of the long handle
of my weapon, and, still keeping quite in the perpendicular, I merely
hoe with my arms, thus saving the rest of me quite a considerable
number of unclassified aches. So long as I can remember to keep my
vertebræ like this, all is well, and I really get through a fair amount
of work. But, alas, I soon forget.

One thing I have never yet managed to do is to keep cool and collected,
my misfortune being that I boil up so soon. My hat gets out of angle,
my hair flattens out where it ought to be wavy, and waves around where
it ought to lie flat; and—worst of all—it ceases to worry me that these
things are so.

And then I open a periodical wherein some unknown celebrity has
been photographed “at home”; and she is sure to be shown “in the
garden,” where, behold! you see her in the airiest of fashionable
nothings in the way of a white frock, accompanied by a ten-guinea
hat, a twenty-guinea dog, and a sixpence-halfpenny trowel—all worn
with consummate photographic grace, as she artlessly sets to work to
transplant a hoary wistaria that has smothered the (photographer’s)
verandah for fifty years, explaining to the interviewer, meanwhile, how
she simply adores gardening, how she gets all her ideas for the dresses
she wears in the third act from her pet bed of marigolds, and how she
never dreams of taking part in a first night performance without having
previously run the lawn-mower twice round the gravel paths.

Clever creature; you don’t wonder she is labelled a celebrity;
any woman who can keep that hat on while using that trowel, has
accomplished something!

       *       *       *       *       *

I didn’t feel like hoeing just then, no matter what the cost of
my gardening outfit. The moment seemed to call for non-strenuous
occupation that would admit of leisurely movement and unlimited pauses
with nothing doing—which is what I find a mind like mine requires.

Of course there was plenty of hoeing waiting to be done, there always
is; I never knew a soil so chock-full of weed-seeds as ours seems to
be, and I never knew a place where folks are so little worried by them.
Where things grow as easily as they do about our hills and valleys (and
where the angle of the garden is just what ours is), you will find that
the native reduces land-labour to the minimum, and nothing is disturbed
unless absolutely necessary. Reasonably, if you have left the hoe at
the top of the garden, and the top is a hundred feet above the bottom
of the garden where you are standing, you think twice before you climb
up and fetch it.

As one result of this universal conservation of energy, our local
nettle crop is one of the finest in the kingdom, I verily believe.

“Why are those things left standing in every field corner?” I asked a
farmer on one occasion, pointing to the usual grey-green waving jungle
of weeds.

“They nettles?” he questioned, in surprise; “well, what’s the good of
wasting attention on ’em? They don’t hurt no one!”

Incidentally I may say it is always well to criticize the methods
employed on other people’s land rather than those practised on your
own, since most right-minded employés resent any implication, no matter
how politely you wrap it up, that improvement is possible; and if you
question the why and wherefore of anything, it may be mistaken for
fault-finding in this imaginative age. Hence, unless the handy man
chances to be one of exceptional make up, I go farther afield when
gleaning information.

One day I watched a man very leisurely inspecting a thistle in a meadow
by the weir, and then, with a deliberation that was most restful to
a harried, hustled, war-time Londoner, he tenderly and carefully cut
it off near the ground with a scythe. After he had decapitated about
twenty thistles in this way, he naturally needed a little time for
recuperation, and sat down on the river bank to meditate. I hadn’t
liked to interrupt him when he was working, because so far as I
could roughly estimate, there were thirteen thousand four hundred and
fifty-three thistles in the meadow—approximately, you understand—and
we don’t work according to trade union hours here; sometimes we start
an hour later and leave off an hour earlier, and miss out several
in between. But since he had evidently reached his rest-hour—and
remembering that one of my own fields was plentifully dotted with
thistles at the moment, and feeling quite equal myself to that gentle
picturesque swish of the scythe—I asked him whether that process killed
the thistle right out? (My business instinct forbade my wasting time on
the job if it would all have to be done over again later on.)

No, he said, he didn’t think as how it would kill the thistles right
out.

Then why did he do it that way? I asked, instead of spudding the thing
right up by the root?

“Well”—and he scratched his head thoughtfully—“doing it like this
jest diskerridges of ’em a bit, and isn’t sech a deluge o’ trouble as
mooting ’em right out would be.” And with that he promptly dropped
thistles, and proceeded to discuss the fiendishness of the Germans.

He had a long talk (there wasn’t room for me to say anything), and gave
recipes for annihilating completely everything connected with them
(excepting thistles; I presume they have some; they deserve a good
crop, anyhow), finishing up with—

“But thur—what I says about ’em I won’t exackly repeat in yer presence,
m’m; for my wife often says to me, ‘It won’t do nobody no pertickler
good,’ she says, ‘if you gets yerself shut out o’ Heaven by yer
langidge,’ she says, ‘just to spite they Huns, what don’t even _hear_
it!’”

For a full two minutes he worked that scythe with real zest, as though
onslaughting the enemy.

Perhaps his method is right (in regard to thistles, I mean), perhaps
it is wrong; I’ve never gone sufficiently deep into the subject to be
competent to pass an opinion. But I do know that the larger proportion
of handy men who have honoured me with their patronage (though there
are conspicuous exceptions) invariably weed on these lines of least
resistance, and “jest diskerridge ’em”—though I own it takes a lot to
discourage _our_ weeds!

       *       *       *       *       *

Not feeling like diskerridging weeds at the moment, I asked Ursula
to suggest some occupation for my idle hands, though I didn’t put it
like that; I inquired which of the many jobs needing urgent attention
I had better tackle next. (It came to the same thing in the end; but
instead of advertising my natural indolence, I hoped it would convey an
impression that I was rushing pell-mell through an endless succession
of tasks.)

Ursula was sitting on a pile of logs under a big fir tree inside the
orchard gate—oh yes, there are firs in the orchard, and lilacs, and
daffodils, and snowdrops, and a huge Wellingtonia, and a trickle of
water with forget-me-nots and mint on its brink; we’re not at all
particular about classification. She was darning a stocking, and it
seemed a lengthy job. Not that there was any large, vulgar gash in the
stocking; it was merely suffering from general war-time debility, and
was one of those that you can go on and on darning, and still find more
thin places to run up and down.

Have you ever noticed what a snare a stocking of this description can
be? You can sit at it for an hour or so, until it seems easier to go
on darning it than to bestir yourself to do anything else. In the end,
you haven’t accomplished much, considering the time you’ve been about
it, but you have acquired a large dose of the virtuous and exemplary
feeling that is always the outcome of stocking-darning.

Ursula had got like that, though I wouldn’t have you think I
under-estimated her efforts, for it was my apparel she was darning.

“I often think that a garden embodies all the philosophy of life,” she
replied to my query, in a detached way, as she closely inspected the
stocking foot drawn over her hand, in order to pounce upon any further
signs of impending dissolution.

“I seem to fancy I’ve heard that——”

“Oh, I’ve no doubt someone has said it before me. I’ve noticed over and
over again that people plagiarize my really cleverest remarks before
I’ve actually had time to say them myself; and I think something ought
to be done to prevent the infringement of copyright in this barefaced
way. But all the same, whether anyone has, or has not, already helped
themselves to this unique creation of my brain, the fact remains that I
thought it out for myself, alone and unaided. And the more I meditate
upon it, the more I notice what heaps of things in the garden resemble
life.”

“As for example——?”

“Well, slugs, for instance, and the bindweed, and the rabbits, and
the broad beans. They all seem to typify that here we have no abiding
anything.”

I agreed mournfully, as I thought of the succulent, hopeful-looking
scarlet runners that the slugs had eaten right through the tender main
stems close to the ground. It was a sad awakening for us the day we
found a few score of limp and dying remains, where over-night we had
watered as promising a row of youngsters as one could have wished to
see. To our grieving spirits, it seemed as though it wouldn’t have
been nearly so bad if they had eaten the leaves and left us the stems,
at least more leaves might have grown, whereas now——!

And the bindweed—where could you find a more striking analogy to
original sin? Flaunting beautiful flowers (which I greatly love), yet
all the while spreading wicked roots out of sight, choking everything
it lays hold of, turning up in the most unlooked-for places—but there
is no need to write more under this heading; a healthy crop of bindweed
(and I never knew one that wasn’t most irritatingly healthy) could give
points to a preacher every Sunday in the year, and then have enough to
spare for the week-night services. And when he had done with bindweed,
he could start afresh on mint.

Rabbits, again, are dear things, with an appeal that is quite different
from that of any other of the wild things. Sometimes in the past,
when I have been doomed to sit for an hour or so in the airlessness
and weariness of crowded hall or place of entertainment, or in the
loneliness of a congested social function, where everybody is too
buzzingly busy with “being social” to have time to say a word to
anyone, I just switch my mind right off the glare and the heat and
the stuffiness and the superficiality and the heartlessness, and take
a look at the little orchard adjoining the cottage garden, and for
just a minute I watch the rabbits, nibbling the grass, sitting up on
their hind legs to get a better view of any possible enemy-approach,
and scampering back to cover in the coppice with a bobbing of white
tails, at the least suspicion of danger. To a woman there is something
very touching about the timidity of these little brown things. I always
wish I could make them understand that I am their friend and not their
enemy—but this is a difficult matter, because there is the small white
dog to be considered in the compact, and there is no sentimentality
about him where rabbits are concerned!

I wouldn’t be without these little furry families in the coppice, but
oh, I do wish they would leave the young cabbages alone, or at any rate
spare the tenderest of the green leaves! It is a bit damping even to
ardour like ours to be greeted, when we arrive from town, by a gardener
waving a deprecating hand over rows of hardy cabbage stumps bereft of
leaves. At such times it seems as though it wouldn’t have been nearly
so bad if they had eaten the stems and left us the leaves, at least we
could have cooked them, whereas now——!

Rabbits certainly emphasize the fact that life grows thistles as well
as figs.

       *       *       *       *       *

With regard to the beans, it is difficult to be philosophical. I can
be to some extent resigned when my misfortunes are handed out to me by
Nature, but it is a different thing when they are manufactured for me
(at my expense, too) by my fellow-creatures.

On the whole, I cannot speak too highly of the men who have worked for
me about the Flower-patch; I have been exceedingly well served, but
now and again one comes upon misfortune, and on one occasion I found I
had engaged an Ananias of the most proficient type. During his brief
_régime_ the weeds thrived apace, while the choicest bulbs and flowers
took on a world of diskerridgement. When the black pansies, and the
heliotrope Spanish iris feathered with white and yellow, and the rare
delphiniums, and the yellow arum lily disappeared at one fell swoop,
Ananias shook his head sadly and put their defalcation down to the rush
of the rain and the angle of the earth.

“Everything do simply run off this soil!” he explained.

Quite true; it certainly did. And two legs invariably ran with it.

And the vegetables seemed as subject to diskerridgement as the flowers,
though it was always referred to as “blight.”

There were the broad beans, for instance; I had given him two quarts
of seed, and indicated where I would like them planted. They were a
special prize strain that had been sent to me by a famous firm of
seedsmen, who had been moved to this generous deed on reading some of
the chronicles of the Flower-patch when they were first published in
_The Woman’s Magazine_. The head of the firm wrote me that they were a
new mammoth variety, and they would be pleased if I would try them in
my cottage garden.

We planned great things when those broad beans should be ready.
Two quarts would make about ten rows, we reckoned, quite a goodly
plantation for us; and we decided that as we should have plenty,
considering our small household, we would be extravagant and gather our
first dishful when they were quite young and in that deliciously tender
state that is unknown to the town dweller, who seldom sees a broad bean
till it is a tough old patriarch, and in such a condition considers it
a coarse vegetable.

It was a cold day in February when I handed the seed to Ananias; we
were returning to London the same day, so we beguiled part of the long
journey discussing whether that first dish should be accompanied by
parsley sauce and boiled ham, or whether to fry the ham and have the
broad beans given one turn in the frying-pan after they were boiled.

The subject seemed more and more vital the further we got along the
road, for we couldn’t get luncheon baskets (no, not the War; it was
before that event, and due to one of the many cheerful strikes with
which our pre-war existence was punctuated), and the bananas and
Banbury cakes we purchased _en route_ seemed woefully unsatisfying.
Hence, it was pleasant, but very tantalizing, to contemplate that dish
of beans, and we finally agreed that the ham should be fried, and that
we would dig some new potatoes specially for the occasion. We sat and
meditated on that meal, as the winter landscape flew past us, and the
more we meditated the more violently hungry we got.

You see, the beans really assumed more than ordinary importance.

But alas, when bean time came, all that decorated the bean plot was one
miserable row of wretched-looking stalks.

“It’s that thur blight agin,” remarked Ananias; “I watched it a-comin’
up the valley.”

“But why didn’t you pinch off the tops, if they were showing blight?” I
inquired; “then they would have made fresh shoots lower down.”

He shook his head and looked at me pityingly: “We don’t do our beans
like that a-here.”

“And where are all the other rows,” I asked; “I suppose blight didn’t
carry off roots and all of the remainder?”

“No, ’twere slugs, I warrant, or birds, or else the seed were stale,
maybe.”

Ursula carefully turned over the rest of the ground later on, but
never a glimmer of a benighted bean did she find.

Still, Ananias was, as usual, quite willing to be obliging. “My
beans has done uncommon well this year,” he continued. “It’s jest
all accordin’ how it takes ’em; sometimes mine does well and t’other
people’s doesn’t; and then agin t’other people’ll have a fine crop
and I won’t have a bean. I can let you have some o’ mine if you like.
I know you’re powerful fond o’ broad beans. I allus say you’re jest
like my missus.” (I’m sorry I haven’t a portrait of stout, unwashed,
sixty-five-year-old Sapphira to reproduce; without it you cannot
possibly understand how pleased I was!)

He brought over half a bushel, explaining that he had to charge
twopence a pound more than other people, as these were specially large
and good yielders, that were expensive in the first place.

They were remarkably fine beans, indeed as fine as I have ever seen;
and I wrote to the firm of seedsmen and told them their mammoth variety
had proved all they claimed for it.

I conclude the miserable row in my garden was a twopenny packet bought
from the travelling huckster who peddles seeds around the villages at
suitable seasons.

       *       *       *       *       *

These instances are sufficient to indicate the trend of Ursula’s
thoughts when she started to philosophize on the garden. She
interrupted her valuable remarks, however, to exclaim: “Do look at that
wench!” And Virginia might well be looked at! Her exertions had turned
her the colour of a peony; down her face streamed copious “extract of
forehead.” The clipping mania had got thorough hold of her, and she
was trying to trim every hedge about the place, leaving in her wake a
trail of clippings for someone else to clear up—as is the way with all
first-class amateurs.

The next task pointed out itself. Ursula got a birch broom, while I
trundled the wheelbarrow out of the tool barn; and seeing that there
was already a pile of greenstuff waiting disposal, I started a bonfire,
while Ursula swept up and supplied extra fuel.

I feel sorry for the town dweller; he knows nothing of the real charm
of a bonfire. All too often the word stands to him for nothing more
than a mass of damp and decaying leaves that simply won’t burn. He
can only attend to it after his return from business, unless he be
one of the favoured few in town who have gardens sufficiently large
to allow of their keeping regular gardeners. And unfortunately the
lighting restrictions of the present day give no real scope to the
bonfire maker—even if he has anything worth burning. His dank mass
smoulders to death, or he adds paraffin to encourage it, and the
neighbours close their windows with meaning violence, while the parish
reeks of the obnoxious odour. Seldom has he air enough to fan anything
like a good fire; and at length, after burning the dozenth newspaper,
and listening to minute statistical particularization on the part of
his wife regarding the present price of matches, collectively and
individually (with deviations _re_ sultanas, lemon soles, kitchen tea,
coal-cards, sugar for the charwoman, ½_d._ per lb. for delivery,
soda, a financial comparison of pre-war sirloin with modern soup-bones,
and the antiquity of the new-laid hen), he flings himself disgustedly
indoors again, depositing a layer of greasy town-garden soil and
dead leaves on the door-mat, and perchance trailing it up to his
dressing-room.

The town bonfire is usually an abomination; the country bonfire is
often sheer delight; and the reason for this difference is due to the
fact that the shut-in nature of the average town back-plot seldom
supplies the good current of air that a bonfire needs to get it going
full-swing; and more than this, the refuse that collects in a town
garden is often sooty, unsanitary and malodorous. Whereas in the
country there is a great diversity of stuff to be burnt, and much of
it is delightfully aromatic. Also, the wind that sweeps continually
over our hills, for instance, dries up the rubbish pile—unless it be
actually raining; we seldom get that dank sodden stuff that is the
bane of the town gardener. We can always get a current of air, if
not a stiff breeze, to fan the first stages; and being unhampered by
the claims of city offices, we can start it in the morning, and keep
it going the whole day long. Our only trouble is to get the red-hot
mass to slumber through the night; it has such a trick of suddenly
bursting out again about 2 A.M., lighting up the cottage in the dark,
and flaming forth a vivid beacon worthy of the men of Harlech, and
recalling stirring scenes in old romance—only the local constabulary
have no poetic leanings, and merely see in it a case for a £10 fine
under the Defence of the Realm Act.

I started the bonfire—not with newspapers, these are far too few and
precious; why, our very paper bags are smoothed out and treasured in
a dresser drawer; some done-with straw and dry leaves make a good
beginning, with some of the dead twigs from the larches. If there are
laurel clippings to put on next, and there usually are, then success is
assured.

Soon the flames were licking up my initial work, and I proceeded to
pile on hedge trimmings, the sweepings-up of an apple-tree that had
blown down and been sawn up—and how sweet they made the air! Thistles,
nettles, brambles, surplus raspberry canes that spring up everywhere, a
holly-bush that had lately been cut down, worthless gooseberry bushes,
piles of ivy that had been cut from the walls, more barrow-loads of
stuff tipped on by Ursula—how the laurel flared and the yew crackled,
and one’s eyes smarted as the smoke swept round like a whirlwind
and enveloped one at times! I am a great believer in the burning of
all refuse vegetation; it does away with so much blight and vermin
and plant disease, and clears out mosquito haunts, and is generally
sanitary.

Virginia had betaken herself to cooler climes, but Ursula and I worked
at that heap, forking on new stuff to stop up flame bursts, till we too
were shedding dew from our foreheads, and our hands were almost sore
with wielding the heavy forks.

Yet a fascination keeps you at it, till you are smoke-dried and
fire-toasted and arm-aching to the last degree. When the shades of
evening finally call you in (as a rule, meals are most perfunctory when
a bonfire is in progress) you are saturated from head to foot with the
bonfire, your very hair has absorbed the time-old pungent odour of the
smoke of forest fires.

And maybe months and months afterwards you open a seldom used wardrobe,
where old gardening gear and shabby mackintoshes are kept, and suddenly
you are overwhelmed with the scent of burning pear and birch leaves and
yew; the lure of the woods calls aloud to you; you feel the sweep of
the winds on the hills alternating with the great swirls of grey-blue
bonfire smoke; the cramped town vanishes, and you are in free open
spaces once more——

And all because a certain tweed skirt, or light gardening coat is
hanging in the corner of the wardrobe.

       *       *       *       *       *

If you want a bonfire with a delicious scent that will haunt you with a
poignant memory long after its ashes have gone the way of all things,
pile up dead apple leaves and twigs, pine needles, beech leaves, the
trimmings of the sweet bay bushes, brambles, rose-stalks and larch—and
the incense of the forest will be yours, bringing with it a mystic
sense of nearness to primæval things that no perfume sold in cut-glass
bottles has yet been able to conjure up.

       *       *       *       *       *

We didn’t wait till sun-down, however, that day; for we were in the
most thrilling part of the afternoon forking-up, and our complexions
were at their very, _very_ worst, when Abigail tripped out and
announced:

“The Rector. . . . Oh, you needn’t worry about your appearance, ma’am.
Miss Virginia’s talking to him. . . . Yes, she’s changed _her_ dress,
and is telling him just what you look like.”



XV

The Meeting at the Cottage


“I HAVE been wondering,” the Rector began, “if it would be possible for
you to let us have a Temperance Meeting here in your cottage? I feel
sure it would be productive of good, and we sadly need more aggressive
Temperance work in this parish. And a little gathering in a private
house would be more of a novelty than one held in the Parish Room, or
at the Rectory.”

“A Temperance Meeting!” I repeated, rather hesitatingly, I confess.
I knew well enough that there was work waiting to be done in this
direction, but whether those who most needed reforming could be got
inside my door was quite another matter.

“Oh, but I am not meaning an evening meeting for the purpose of
reaching the men themselves,” the Rector explained. “My idea is to
have an afternoon Ladies’ Meeting to discuss more particularly the
question of prohibition. We might eventually get up a week of meetings
in various parts of the district. Only it all wants talking over.
There are a number of ladies who would be willing to aid, if only
some definite scheme were put before them. If you would issue the
invitations, I know they would be only too pleased to come; and we
could possibly get a committee appointed as the initial step in the
proceedings.”

I saw at once that the idea was a practical one. Quite a goodly handful
of ladies would be available from houses dotted here and there upon the
hillside. So we made a list of those living near enough to me to be
invited.

“Now, have we overlooked anybody?” I said finally, going down the list
once more. It included the Manor House and one or two other large
country houses where I knew the people would be sympathetic, the rest
being cottage-residences and small places inhabited by people of the
educated classes, who kept simple, unassuming establishments—some from
choice, some because their means were small. In several cases the
ladies dispensed with any servant, finding that life’s problems and
breakages and fingermarks were much reduced when they did the work
themselves!

“By the way, there are two visitors in the place at present, who would
like to come, I am sure,” said the Rector, “One is a very nice girl,
who has been doing V.A.D. work since the beginning of the War. She
is here recruiting after a nervous breakdown; and is boarding at the
Jones’s farm—I know she would appreciate an invitation.” I duly wrote
down her name.

“And the other, Miss Togsie, is a literary lady, and is lodging with
old Mrs. Perkins; do you happen to know her name?”

I had never heard it before.

“Ah! neither had I. But then that would not be remarkable. Only she
seemed surprised to think I did not know of her, though, so far as
I can ascertain, she has never actually published anything. She is
engaged on some book of research, which she regards as an important
contribution to the literature of the times, though for the moment
the subject has escaped my memory. She is so exceedingly anxious to
meet you; in fact, she—er—suggested that I should take her with me
to call on you; but I told her that you come down here for rest and
quiet, and to escape the conventionalities of society. She is rather
a—er—persistent lady, however; and she says her admiration for you
is unbounded. So possibly, if you have no objection, it might make a
pleasant interlude if she were invited also.”

I was not very anxious to have her, but I agreed, as the Rector seemed
to wish it. Still, I am afraid my smile was a trifle ironical, as I
tailed the list with her name.

Unfortunately, the very day of the meeting was the one suddenly
selected by Abigail’s sister for her wedding; of course, I insisted
that Abigail must not miss the function, and sent her back to town the
day before. But when the preparations were divided between the three of
us, they did not amount to much in the way of extra work; and Ursula
made herself responsible for the fresh relays of tea that would be
necessary for new arrivals.

As is the custom in the country, everybody walked round the garden
to see how the things were coming on, and we all compared notes with
each other’s gardens, and, of course, everybody complimented me on the
forwardness of my things—as in duty bound, seeing they were drinking my
tea!

The V.A.D. proved a delightful girl, very nervous at first, but very
appreciative. And as all my other visitors were fully engaged in
chatting together in twos and threes, I devoted myself to the shy
outsider. The Literary Lady had not yet appeared.

“I come up every day and look over the wall at your flowers,” the girl
said. “I believe they’ve done me far more good than the tonic I’ve been
taking.”

“I invariably take a dose of them myself, when I’m run down,” I
replied. We were wandering around the narrow paths, between the beds
edged with pieces of grey stone. The paths were beginning to be weedy;
and the garden was a mixture of early and late spring flowers, owing to
the undue length of the winter.

But for the V.A.D. there were no imperfections. “I’ve never seen
cowslips like these before,” and she stooped and touched them lovingly.
“Those mahogany-coloured ones are so rich. And I like the deep
reddy-orange ones too. Oh—I like them all!” she added, with a sigh of
pleasure. “And when I was ill in London, before they sent me down here,
I felt as though I should die if I couldn’t get away somewhere, where
there were flowers and sunshine and where the trees and foliage were
fresh and clean. Wherever I looked there were grey skies, and dingy
houses, and discoloured paint, and dirty streets, and miserable-looking
squares and sooty stuff that it was pitiful to call grass, and smoke
and mud all the same colour and equally stupefying. Do you think that
dirt can get on people’s nerves?”

I nodded. Don’t I know only too well how the grime and gloom and
all-pervading sordidness of big cities can get on one’s nerves! Don’t
I know how in time they seem to corrode one’s very soul, and dull
one’s vision, till faith itself can become clouded, and hope goes, and
all one’s work seems of no avail! But the merciful Lord has provided
an antidote. It was a Tree He showed at the waters of Marah; and the
leaves of the Tree are for the healing of the nations in more senses
than one.

The girl continued her confidences: “When I lay awake at nights with
insomnia, I used to shut my eyes and think out the garden I wanted
to find. It wasn’t a grand garden, or a gorgeous one that I used to
plan—carpet bedding and terraces with beds of geraniums and peacocks
would have tired me to arrange in proper style just then. The garden I
wanted was the sort of happy place where flowers seem to grow of their
own accord with no one to worry them about tidy habits!

“And then, it was quite remarkable, the day after I arrived here, I
chanced upon the lane leading to your cottage, and there I saw the very
garden I had been so longing for, and the masses of flowers and colour
I had been quite hungry to see. I could hardly tear myself away from
the little gate. Of course, the florists wouldn’t think much of me
for saying it, but although I admire with real wonder the magnificent
blooms they exhibit at shows, I would rather have that piece of rocky
wall, with its wallflowers on the top, than the most expensive orchids
they could show me. But perhaps all this seems rather childish to you?”

Yet it didn’t! I knew exactly what she meant; and every flower-lover
will understand it too. There are times when I go a good deal farther
than the V.A.D., and actually object to some of the improvements on
Nature horticulturists think they can make. What is gained by trying
to produce rhododendrons looking like gypsophila, while at the same
time they are trying to get gypsophila looking like pæonies? What
purpose is served in the modern craze for getting every flower to
look like any other flower excepting itself? While I don’t mean to
imply that I am so narrow as to object to attempts at horticultural
development, there certainly are limits to desirable expansion—as
Shakespeare very well knew.

But I had no time to say more, for as she was speaking I caught sight
in the distance of a stalwart, aggressive-looking female, with an
armful of MSS. and walking-stick clasped to her waistbelt, and clad in
a long, loose, tussore silk coat (we were all wearing them short at
the moment) that she clutched to her chest with her other hand, as it
had lost its fastenings, and was threatening to blow away. Her hat was
of the fluffy “girlie” description, somewhat bizarre in shape, which
looked preposterous above the lady’s mature locks, more especially
as she had put it on hind part front, not even bothering herself to
ascertain its compass points.

Miss Togsie was blandly unconscious of any incongruity in her personal
appearance, and entered the gate with the assured step of “mind quite
oblivious of matter.” Precipitating herself on Ursula—the only hatless
person in sight, hence evidently not a fellow guest—she exclaimed in a
strident voice, “The Editor of _The Woman’s Magazine_, I believe? _So_
glad to meet you. I’ve been _longing_ to know you. _So_ kind of you to
ask me to this _delightful_ gathering——” etc.

Now, as I told Ursula later, if she had been a true friend, she would
merely have smiled sweetly and wafted the new arrival into the house,
and silenced her with refreshments. Instead of which, she meanly
disclaimed all editorial connections, and piloted her up the garden
to me. Whereupon we began all over again. I waited patiently till she
reached a semicolon, and then invited her to come indoors and have some
tea.

“No tea for _me_, thank you!” she exclaimed, in tones of stern
disapproval. “I never touch tea.”

“Perhaps you would like some milk and a sandwich?”

“Oh, no! I never take flesh foods of any description. I adhere strictly
to the fruit diet which Nature has so bountifully provided for our use.
If you happen to have a banana, or a few muscatels——” I hadn’t.

“It’s of no consequence,” she said, with an air of kindly tolerance
for my shortcomings. “I’m perfectly happy here under the blue dome of
heaven.” My other guests seemed to have had enough of her already, and
were making their way towards the house, as it was nearly time to
start the meeting; but Virginia linked her arm in that of the V.A.D.,
and followed close at my heels; for her, the lady promised to be
interesting.

“Oh, what adorable kroki!” the newcomer went on, without any break,
apostrophising a few late crocuses that were already looking jaded.
“And those daisies! I do so _love_ daisies, don’t you? ‘Wee modest
crimson-tipped flowers’—you remember the poet’s allusion, of course?
So appropriate.” The flowers she was pointing at with her knotty
walking-stick were particularly large, buxom-looking red double
daisies, a prize variety, that not even the imagination of a poet could
have described as “wee”!

“It’s wonderful how literature opens one’s eyes to the beauties of
nature. I always say ‘Read the poets,’ then it will not matter whether
you stay in town or country, nature will be an open book to you.”
(Undoubtedly the Literary Lady had arrived; and she was bent either
on improving or on impressing us!) “The poets take you into the very
_heart_ of things. ‘A primrose by a river’s brim’; where can you find a
truer picture of the simple wayside flower? And isn’t that an exquisite
line, ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’? I entirely agree
with Shakespeare in this” (which was nice of her!); “it is just as I
was saying, it really doesn’t matter whether you know a single flower
individually—or whether you have ever seen a flower, in fact—all nature
can be yours. I consider it criminal to neglect the poets. Wherever the
eye wanders,” she went on, “it recalls some great truth that has been
crystallised for us by literary men” (evidently the flowers themselves
were of small count; all that mattered was what pen-and-ink could make
out of them).

“And Ladysmocks all silver white.” It was evident that she was
warming to the work and going farther afield, for here the stick
took a dangerous sweep round in mid-air (Virginia saved her head by
dodging it), and was now pointing into the copse the other side of the
garden-wall, where the anemones were still in bloom. “I simply revel
in Lady’s Smocks, don’t you?” she said ardently to Virginia, and then
smiled expansively into the copse, though there wasn’t a solitary
Lady’s Smock there.

“For my own part, I must say I prefer Doxies,” said Virginia sweetly.
“‘The Doxy over the dale,’ as Shakespeare so beautifully expresses it.
Don’t you just _love_ them?”

The V.A.D. had turned her back on us and was studying the distant hills.

“Virginia,” I interpolated hurriedly, for I scented trouble immediately
ahead, “isn’t that the Rector coming up the lane? Then we must be
getting indoors.”

But the Literary Lady had not nearly said all she had come intending
to say; so she told me as we walked to the house that she herself was
engaged on a most exhaustive literary work, entitled, “The Cosmic
Evidences of Woman’s Supremacy.”

“Yes,” I said, in a blank tone of voice that wasn’t intended to commit
me to anything. I’ve handled many similarly exhaustive MSS. in my time,
and I’ve met many authoresses of the same, and my one terror was lest
she should start to give me a detailed synopsis of each chapter. But
fortunately we reached the house before she could get fairly launched.

       *       *       *       *       *

After the opening hymn and prayer, the Rector briefly sketched his idea
in calling the meeting together, and, after reminding us how desirable
it was at a time like this that some active campaign should be set
afoot to combat the drunkenness that had been such a bane to our land,
he asked if any ladies who had suggestions to make would kindly speak
briefly and to the point. Hardly had he sat down before the Literary
Lady was on her feet urging upon us all the necessity for giving up our
inebriate habits! You would have thought she was addressing loafers
inside a public-house.

I sat as patiently as I could waiting for her to sit down and give
place to someone else, who, at least, knew whom they were addressing.
But next moment I found, to my amazement, that she was lecturing us
on the advantages of a fruitarian diet, assuring us that most of the
evils flesh is heir to (including drunkenness) would be done away with
if we only chained our appetites to fruit. She was blissfully unaware
that the cause of all the trouble in our district was—cider! After
every form of food that was not fruit had been abused, she passed on—by
a transition that seemed easy to her, but unaccountable to everyone
else—to the question of woman’s suffrage, and we learnt that another
cause for drunkenness was to be found in the fact that women had had no
votes. And then it dawned upon me that we had let ourselves in for an
afternoon with some irresponsible crank.

It really seemed as though she meant to go on for ever. The Rector’s
gentle and courteous attempts to stem the rushing torrent were not of
the slightest avail. He tried to interpolate a remark now and again,
but she never even heard him; she was addressing us at the very top of
her voice. Of course he ought to have stopped her at the very outset;
but then the situation was one he had never before been called upon to
face in the whole of his seventy years; hers was the first female voice
to be raised in our parish in defiance of the Rector!

Equally, of course, I ought to have stopped her; but one hesitates
to take the initiative in such a case when there is a chairman, and
eventually I let matters get quite beyond me. I did rise at the back of
the room and try to ask a few questions, but all in vain; the speaker
never paused, and at last I meekly sat down again, while Virginia and
Ursula, with the V.A.D. between them, suffocated in their handkerchiefs
and showed distinct signs of getting out of hand! Besides what _can_
anyone do under such circumstances? I asked Ursula, who once attended
election meetings, what it was usual to do, and she said, “You just
turn them out when they talk too much.” But who was to turn her out?
And how do you set about it?

It was evident from her absurd and illogical statements that neither
the Fruitarians nor the Woman’s Suffrage party owned her or would have
authorised her to advocate their claims. She was merely one of those
women one meets occasionally who take up every new craze that comes
along, and get on their feet and speak about their latest hobby, in
season and out of season, having not the slightest sense of proportion,
and of the fitness of things. Such a woman loves to hear her own voice,
and imagines that other people love to hear it too!

After half an hour of this sort of thing the lady of the Manor took her
departure—not very quietly either! As I stepped outside in the porch
to bid her a mournful “Good-bye,” she pressed my hand and murmured—

“You poor dear! Do let me know who finally chokes her!”

       *       *       *       *       *

How we should have silenced her eventually I don’t know, but the matter
was taken out of our hands by no less important a personage than
Johnny, the boy who delivered the bread from the village shop.

Unable to find any Abigail at the kitchen door, he had come along to
the other door to know how many loaves I required. From my seat in the
room I tried to indicate, by dumb pantomime, that I wanted one loaf;
Miss Smith caught sight of him, and remembering that she was two miles
away from any bread if he overlooked her, she told him in a clear voice
not to forget to leave her a loaf. Then everyone else in the room woke
up to the fact that Johnny was outside, and with one accord they all
asked him if he had remembered them, or told him how many loaves to
leave, and no one troubled in the slightest whether it interfered with
the speaker or not. In fact, they seemed to enjoy the clatter they were
making.

Johnny, being attacked by so many voices at once, stood on the doorstep
and addressed the room stolidly and respectfully—

“I’ve lef’ your loaf on the window-ledge, Miss Primkins; an’ I put
two for you in the fork of the apple-tree, Miss Robinson, so’s the
dog can’t get at it, as he’s loose; an’ Miss Jones, your’n is on the
garden seat; and I’ve a-put Mrs. Wilson’s a-top of the wood-pile wiv
a bit of paper under it”—(undue favouritism to Mrs. Wilson, we all
thought!)—“an’ I’ve lef’ your nutmegs and soda and coffee on the
doorstep, Miss White; and I driv a cow out of your garden, what had got
in, Miss Parker; the gate was lef’ open; but he’s latched up all right
now——”

At this intelligence the room gave a general shuffle, preparatory to a
stampede. Why, a cow might have got into every garden! Who could tell?
And only those who have cherished gardens in the country know what
terrible import lurked in the words, “The gate was lef’ open!”

The Rector, seeing where matters were trending, said we would close
with a hymn. Before he had given out more than one line, Ursula did
what she had never done before, and has never done since—raised the
tune! She said it was sheer hysterics made her do so. At any rate we
all took it up vigorously, because we saw the Literary Lady was trying
to add a postscript to her previous remarks. It’s true, Ursula started
us on a six-lined tune, whereas the verses were only four lines each,
but I fortunately discovered it in time, and repeated the last two
lines to save the situation.

The people all left hurriedly as soon as the Benediction had been
pronounced; most of them looking unutterable things at me for having
let them in for such a time! The Literary Lady alone seemed to have
enjoyed herself, and went away leaving the bundle of MSS. she had
brought, after telling me that she intended to call on me the very
next afternoon and bring me “The Cosmic Evidences,” as she felt sure
it would be the very thing for my magazine. The unkindest cut of all,
however, was the farewell remark made by the Vicar’s niece, as she was
adjusting her bonnet-strings—

“I can’t think why on earth you ever asked that individual to address
us; but I suppose she is some personal friend of yours?”

       *       *       *       *       *

When the two girls and I were left alone with the general disorder that
always prevails after one’s guests have gone, Ursula made some tea, and
Virginia brought in what was left of the festal fare, and we sat around
the fire and ate in melancholy silence.

“I’m going to town by the very first train to-morrow,” I said at last.

“So ’m I!” fervently ejaculated the other two in unison. “And may I
never set eyes or ears on that fruit creature again,” added Virginia,
as she set down her plate, with an air of a pain in her chest, after
her sixth cucumber sandwich.

But, though I escaped the lady’s next call, I had not got to the
end of her. She sent an avalanche of MSS. to my office, and called
persistently in person. Howbeit, she never was troubled to walk beyond
the inquiry office, and her MSS. were always returned to her with the
utmost promptitude.

       *       *       *       *       *

Some weeks later Virginia and I, after doing some shopping in the
stores, turned into the refreshment-room for lunch. I do not know any
place where a more varied assortment of feminine idiosyncrasies thrust
themselves upon one’s notice than in the ladies’ luncheon-room; neither
do I know any place where you can hear, within a given space of time,
more particulars of the births, marriages, ailments and deaths—plus a
wealth of intervening data—of people you know nothing about, than in
that self-same room.

We had hardly taken our seats at a table before we were accompanying
our next-door neighbour to a dentist, she being in a state of
_complete_ nervous prostration (full symptoms given), and having four
teeth extracted (_most_ obstinate one that came out in eleven separate
pieces) with gas that wouldn’t “take” (italicised description of
what the victim underwent, and was conscious of, in her half-gone
condition). After this we dallied through an exceedingly comprehensive
catalogue of what she had been able to take in the way of nourishment
since the momentous occasion; and finally received, with breathless
interest, the important information as to the exact date when she would
be once more fully equipped for dinner-parties.

On our right two more were discussing, with gusto, the doings (none
of them, apparently, what she ought to have done) of a bride who had
recently entered their family.

Our own corner of the room was so engaging that we did not notice
the newcomers who were finding seats at other tables. But suddenly,
above the general chatter, there arose the sound of a strident voice
that there was no possibility of mistaking. Virginia and I gasped
simultaneously; and there, a short distance away from us (though,
fortunately with its back towards us), we beheld the fluffy hat
(rightside front this time), above a screw of hair, and the long
tussore coat of recent blessed memories! The Literary Lady had a friend
with her, but obviously the friend didn’t count for much, she hadn’t
a chance; at most she only squeezed in a word when the other made a
semi-pause for breath. We sat spell-bound, and this is what we heard:

“Now, dear, what are you going to have? They have soup, roast beef,
roast lamb and mint sauce, roast mutton” (and so on, she declaimed
the menu to the bitter end, while a long-suffering waitress stood
first on one tired foot and then on the other). “Oh, but you must
have something more than a bun. . . . Nonsense, that was hours ago;
I had mine late, too, but I’m quite ready for lunch. . . . On strict
diet, are you? That doesn’t count. Specialists always say that sort of
thing; that’s what you pay the money for; but it doesn’t follow that
you do what they say. Why, you’d starve to death if you did, and then
you’d have to go to them again and pay another fee—though I dare say
that’s their idea. . . . You would like a little roast lamb? Well, I
might manage a little, too, if it is _very_ hot; but I expect they’ve
only got it about lukewarm. If the roast lamb isn’t quite . . . what?
It’s _cold_? All the joints are cold? The waitress says it’s _cold_,
dear! Isn’t it simply ridiculous in a place like London never to be
able to get a hot lunch! . . . What? The grill is hot? But, my good
girl, I don’t want any grill. . . . And the soup and fish? I don’t want
either soup or fish. . . . No, and I don’t want hot steak-and-kidney
pie. I wanted hot roast lamb. Still, if you haven’t it, I suppose it
isn’t your fault. All the same, it does seem as if you are—— . . . .
Sausages, did you say? They would be rather nice. Now are _they_ hot
or cold, which? . . . _Smoked??_ Only _smoked_ sausages?? Did you ever
know such a place! . . . What do you say to oysters? . . . You thought
I only took fruit? I tried that for a little while; my last doctor but
one was very keen on it; but if you believe me, I was losing _pounds_
a week! I should have been a perfect skeleton by now if I’d gone on.
So I went to another man, and he insisted—absolutely _insisted_ that I
must take food containing a larger percentage of proteids. And I wasn’t
sorry; I never had any faith in that fruit idea, only I met that doctor
when I was at the Hydro, and he begged me to try it. A most charming
man, and he took the _greatest_ interest in my writings; but someone
told me only last week that he has a wife who is a positive—— . . .
. Salmon? Is there salmon? I didn’t notice it. That wouldn’t be bad,
would it? and the very best thing you could have as you’re dieting; so
digestible, I always find. Now where’s that girl gone? I declare they
slip away the minute your back’s turned, and they don’t give you a
moment to look at the menu. Is that our waitress over there? I think it
is; she has on an apron just like the girl who was here. . . . That’s
true, now you mention it; their aprons are all alike. Still, I think
that was the one, and she’s gone over there on purpose to be out of
reach. But I’ll go to her.”

Here Virginia and I narrowly escaped detection, for the Literary Lady
strode across the room, knocking down other people’s umbrellas in
passing, brushing one lady’s velvet stole from the back of a chair, and
kicking over a tray that had been put down in, apparently, the most
out-of-the-way spot in the room. Clutching the arm of the waitress who
belonged to our table and had no dealings with the other end of the
room, she demanded immediate service. Instinctively Virginia and I bent
our heads forward as low as possible over our plates, and fortunately
the wide brims of our hats helped to conceal our features. But we only
breathed freely when she returned to her seat to report to her friend—

“That waitress says the other girl will be back in a minute; but
I doubt it. There; now _she’s_ gone off too! Ah, here’s ours—at
last! Now, dear, you said sausage, didn’t you? Or did we decide on
oysters? . . . You’re right; it was salmon. I always think that
salmon—— . . . . What did you say? . . . Why, of _course_ we want
bread! We couldn’t eat it without, could we? . . . Oh, I see, you mean
bread or roll? She says will you have bread or roll, dear? . . . Yes,
rolls would be nice, but—— Waitress! Not crusty ones! . . . Well,
perhaps bread _would_ be softer for you under the circumstances. Stale
bread, waitress! Those rolls are usually as hard as—— . . . . Yes,
perhaps we _had_ better decide on what we will have to drink. I’m
going to have lime-juice. You’d better have some too. It goes so well
with salmon. . . . Of course they have coffee, if you really prefer
it; but I do think that lime-juice—— Well, if that girl hasn’t gone
off again! They do nothing but run about from pillar to post. Oh, she
is bringing the other things! _That_ isn’t brown bread, waitress! I
said _brown_ bread surely? I _must_ have said brown bread, because I
positively cannot touch anything else. Don’t you remember I called you
back and said, ‘_Brown_ bread, waitress?’ Well, if you can change it,
that’s all right. Wait a minute, though; after all, I think I’ll have
white. . . . Yes, you can leave it; but all the same, I can’t think why
people never listen to what one says.”

Here half the room broke out into an unconcealed smile; _i.e._, the
half that had found it impossible to raise their voices above hers, and
so had finally given it up as hopeless, and now devoted themselves to
listening. But all oblivious of everything but herself, she continued—

“I don’t like the look of that salmon. I feel sure it’s been frozen. Is
that the best you have? It looks to me like New Zealand or Canterbury
salmon! Really, _everything_ seems to be made in Germany nowadays,
doesn’t it? And no mayonnaise. . . ? It’s in the cruet? I never care
for that bottled stuff. . . . Oh, yes, leave it; but I wish now that
we had had oysters. . . . It’s no use offering to change it; we’ve done
nothing else so far but have wrong things brought us to have changed—or
at least it would have been changed if I hadn’t consented to put up
with the white bread. But you can bring us some lime-juice. Now don’t
forget _this_ time and bring ginger-beer. . . . Yes, lime-juice for
two. . . . But I thought you agreed to lime-juice just now? . . . Oh,
have what you like by all means; _I_ don’t mind what it is; I only
advised lime-juice because coffee is so _very_ bad for anyone on diet,
and you can’t be too careful; still, please yourself, only _do_ let us
decide on _something_, or she’ll be off again. . . . That’s it, one
coffee and one lime-juice. . . . Yes, with plenty of milk. . . . Now,
I wonder if that scatter-brained girl will go and put the milk in the
lime-juice?

“You were surprised to hear I was back in town? I returned last week.
I absolutely couldn’t have _existed_ on that benighted hill-top
another hour. . . . I knew the moment I set eyes on it that it wasn’t
sufficiently cooked. No one could be expected to eat it. She must
get us something else. Waitress! This salmon isn’t _half_-done. It’s
as soft as. . . . Oh, I see; yours is hard? Well, at any rate, it
isn’t what it ought to be. Mine is quite spongy, and this lady’s is
as hard as . . . the skin, is it? . . . this lady’s skin is just
like leather. . . . I suppose it had better be oysters. . . . Now I
wonder how much longer she’ll keep us waiting? But as I was saying,
they were the dullest, most bucolic set of people I ever came across;
not a thought above their fowls and cabbages. I tried to discuss
Art and Literature with them—simple things, not too far above their
heads, you know, just to draw them out; but they merely gazed at me
in utter blankness. . . . Yes, she has a cottage there; I’d forgotten
I mentioned it in my letter. . . . Oh, yes, I met her; in fact she
persuaded me to address a drawing-room meeting at her house; she
got it up on purpose, hearing I was in the district. I could ill
afford to spare the time from my book; but she wrote and made _such_
a point of it, that I could hardly refuse without seeming rude. She
invited a number of the local people to meet me; but a more stupid,
unimpressionable collection of—— . . . what is she like? _Most_
ordinary. As you know, I’m endowed with unusual intuition, and can
gauge people and sum them up in a _moment_, and I must say I found her
a _very_ uninteresting person—not to say exceedingly heavy.”

       *       *       *       *       *

“Which only proves,” said Virginia when we got outside, “that even the
worst of us may profit by hearing the truth spoken in love!”



XVI

Moon-Gold in the Garden


THE flame of August is over all the garden, a blaze of yellow and
scarlet, orange and red, for most of the blues and pinks go out with
July, though the lavender flowers are opening intensely blue, and big
clumps of eryngium, with blue stems as well as blue flower-heads, make
masses of contrasting colour amidst the sunflowers, single and double,
and the eschscholtzias and marigolds glowing golden and undaunted by
the hottest sunshine. The flowers of the Red-hot-poker rival their
namesakes; broad spreading clumps of montbretia, each waving hundreds
of fiery orange and red blossoms, have sprung into existence, since
last we were here, from lowly modest-looking patches of green blades.

The second crop of Gloire-de-Dijon roses are out, likewise holding in
their hearts remembrance of the hot sunshine that pervades the earth.
Geraniums, turned out of doors “to get a little air” (though there
certainly isn’t much to get just now!), are shouting aloud in pride of
their heavy, scarlet bosses. The mountain-ash trees contribute plenty
of colour, each branch bent down with a smother of bunches of berries,
which are being eagerly devoured by blackbirds, thrushes and hawfinches.

Tall red and yellow hollyhocks try to persuade you that they are nearly
as high, and quite as brilliant, as the mountain-ash.

Nasturtiums trail all over the place, climbing where there is next
to nothing to support them, with flowers so thick you lose count of
the foliage. And what a dazzling mass they make, touched apparently
with every shade of yellow and brown and red, from blossoms of palest
primrose marked with vivid scarlet, past salmon-colour streaked with
orange, and lemon yellow splashed with chocolate, to dark mahogany-red
smoked with deep purple-brown. They smother weeds (that gain in
impudence as the season advances), and cover bare places where bulbs
and earlier blooming plants have died down. They hang over the tops
of walls; they crowd the border pinks into the paths; they get mixed
up with the hedges, and surprise you by sending out vermilion flowers
at the top of a sedate old box-tree clipped to look like a solid
square table. They run out of the little white gate into the lane, and
they creep under the rails into the orchard. Indeed, there are times
when their exuberance almost makes one tired, more especially if the
thermometer favours the nineties!

The garden walls are teeming with colour. Sweet Alyssum has seeded
itself wherever it can find a spare niche—rather a difficulty, unless
a plant goes house-hunting quite early in the season! Though the white
and purple arabis finished flowering months ago, it contributes crimson
and purple to the colour scheme, as its foliage ripens in the hot sun.

Any intelligent gardener can tell me that the top of a sunny wall is
far too hot for a fuschia. Certainly; and of course it is—especially
in August. Yet some misguided person had one planted there—just where
the wall has a break in it, and a flight of steps leads down to the
next level. It is the lovely old-fashioned bush sort, smothered with
slender drooping blossoms; and it reaches out long arms that arch right
over the steps, and as you go down, unless you lower your head, you set
a-tinkling scores of crimson bells with rich blue-purple centres.

And people who understand all about fuchsias glare at it severely, and
then at me, and remark, “A most unsuitable position!”

And where nothing else in particular is making any sort of a show, the
ubiquitous Herb Robert spreads itself about, on the top of the walls,
or roots in crevices down the sides—it isn’t particular where; so long
as there are stones that need clothing with loveliness, there you will
find it, laying its crimson leaves with a lacy airiness over the stern
surface of the rock.

The very scents of the garden are hot and pungent, as one rubs against
thyme and marjoram, or the great sage bush that smothers one wall. The
trees of sweet bay were cut in the morning; the rosemary bushes had to
be trimmed where their branches were lying on the ground; someone has
stepped on pieces in passing.

All day long the heat strikes down on the parched, cracking earth,
baking the stones, shrivelling up any fern fronds that chance to catch
its direct rays, drying up the little brook, and testing the powers
of endurance of the scarlets and yellows, orange and reds, that are
flaunting themselves in the face of the sun.

To sit out of doors is only possible beneath the firs and larches, in
the green shade by the wood house, where the sun never penetrates; and
even here it makes one warm to watch the glare beyond the thicket of
trees, the hot air quivering, nothing but butterflies and dragon flies
about, and nought to break a breathless silence but the twitter of the
tits, grub-hunting in the larches, and the perpetual hum of uncountable
insects, who seem to find no heat too great.

       *       *       *       *       *

But presently the shadows of the pines begin to lengthen, and in the
shade thrown by the larches along the meadow side blackbirds are
seen making short runs along the ground on foraging expeditions.
Chaffinches, tits, linnets, and bullfinches come out from green hiding
places and go down to the birds’ bath to drink.

Longer grow the shadows, the swallows rise and take high curving sweeps
in the upper air—wonderful little aeronauts whom no man has trained.

As the sun touches the top of the opposite hills a breeze wakes up
the birch wood, whispering that the sunset will soon be here, and the
leaves start talking about the stifling heat that so exhausted them
through the day.

The sun drops lower behind the hill; rabbits peep out from beneath the
brambles, then make for the hummocky field that adjoins my cabbages,
the field where the big oaks stretch wide arms over soft, green,
luscious grass—Offa’s Oaks we have named these ancient giants, because
they border Offa’s Dyke; and they have so often described to the more
youthful birch trees the time when they saw Offa, King of Mercia, come
marching past in 765 A.D., that at length they have actually come to
believe they were alive and flourishing in his day! We humour their age
by pretending that it was so.

At last the sun disappears, flaming to the last in crimson and gold,
orange and red. The breeze gets lustier after the sun has gone under,
and a squirrel comes scampering head first down a tall fir-tree, in
search of a delicious toadstool that he sometimes finds at its base.
Pheasants strut up out of the coppice, and roam about the pasture.

Imperceptibly, you know not whence it comes, there steals over the
earth the cool, refreshing scent of dew-drenched bracken, mingling with
the sweet wistful evening incense of some late honeysuckle.

And as you watch the fading after-glow of pink and saffron, sea-green
and tawny-rose, you sense that in some mysterious way the face of the
garden has entirely changed. Gone is the fire of the scarlet geraniums;
lost is the vermilion of the nasturtiums; even the sunflowers hang
their heads, and the hollyhocks have turned off their lights. The
marigolds have closed their eyes, and the eschscholtzias have folded up
their brave flowers, the tired little heads bowing over, thankful for
this respite.

Then, as the montbretias toll the Angelus from crowds of golden
throated bells, the evening primroses, silently, gratefully, open a
thousand blossoms and bathe the garden in a wondrous gleam.

Such a clear, clean yellow it is; so quiet and yet so penetrating; it
seems in some strange way to hold the radiance of heaven and focus it
on the sleeping Flower-patch, subduing all that would strike a glaring
note, hiding the ragged deficiencies of fading leaves and withering
seed-pods.

By day one scarcely noticed the straggling plants at all, save perhaps
to remark on their rather shabby appearance. But now they shine from
terraces and wall-tops; from crannies in the rough stone steps they
send up tall shafts, bearing aloft their evening lamps; about the
garden beds, among the currant bushes, at the edge of the gravel walk,
between the stones in the paved path, wherever they can find root-room,
they have taken hold—for they were ever wanderers, and given to
exploring the farthermost corner of any garden wherein they have made
themselves at home.

       *       *       *       *       *

The last rose-pink flush has faded from the clouds; not even a sleepy
twitter is heard from bush or bough; the wind soughs softly in the
pine-trees, those harps of endless strings. From out her hidden stores
of abundance, Nature has given moisture to the grass, refreshment
to the fainting foxglove leaves, and damped the forest fern. Then,
breathing quiet on a weary world, has bidden it take rest.

Yet all are not asleep. Standing like sentinels through the darkest
hours of night, the evening primroses, adding scent to scent, flood
the garden from end to end with a veritable glory of swaying, gleaming
moon-gold.



XVII

The Carillon of the Wilds


OF all the host of alluring things that make for themselves homes on
our hillside, one of the most lovely is the foxglove. Yet there is
no blatancy about its beauty, nor a great blaze of light as when the
ox-eye daisies wave over the fields in June.

There is something more subtle than even its colouring that attracts
one to this flower, for there is mind-rest, there is balm for anxious
hearts, there is new hope and new courage, with whispers of happiness,
in the depths of a foxglove bell.

If you doubt this, go on a foxglove quest; leave everything bearing the
hall-mark of advanced up-to-dateness far behind you—though I’ve nothing
to say against the train that takes you away from towns to the place
where the foxgloves grow! Forget all the regulation ways of enjoying
yourself, and search out the haunts of the carillon of the wilds.

You will find them on the shady sides of the hedges, their spikes of
bells pushing up through hawthorn and sloe, through the tangle of
bramble and bryony, cleavers and dog rose that scramble over the
pollarded nut-bushes, beeches, elm-stumps, and ash-boles, amid all
the dear delights that go to make that poem of loveliness—an English
hedgerow.

You will also find them in little hollows and dells, in small ravines
and in craggy places—in any spot where they can get a little moisture
for the roots and occasional sunshine for the flowers, with a certain
amount of immunity from the devastating hand of the human marauder.
Give them but a ghost of a chance to seed themselves (though this is
what the greedy flower-gatherer invariably denies them), and they will
spread with great rapidity, and paint the face of nature with a rich
glowing carmine that almost makes you hold your breath when first you
see the broad sweeps of colour on certain hillsides in mid-June.

When you have found them, in any of their haunts, lift one of the bells
and look right into it, delighting in the splashes and markings, the
fine filaments and the silken texture, the pink and purple and crimson,
the dark brown and white, the poise of the stalk, the droop of the
bells, the balance that the leaf-arrangement gives to the whole plant,
and the many other characteristics that go to make up one of the most
exquisite of nature’s products.

The trouble is that in sparse soil, or in wind-swept places, the plant
does not grow so tall as in a protected and secluded spot. Hence when
we meet it in the open, its bells hang downwards below the eye-line,
and we do not often remember to stoop and lift one, to see what message
the bee left for us. Perhaps that is one reason why it seems to me
that, while sunflowers and hollyhocks spend their days in gazing after
grown-ups, foxgloves are for ever nodding smilingly and encouragingly
to little children.

To those who are accustomed to agricultural scenery, where the
landscape shows far expanses of pasture-land and cornfields, with wide
spreading low-roofed farms clustered around with barns and ricks, our
hills come as a surprise with their uneven surfaces, and the scarcity
of soil in comparison with the superabundance of rock.

And even taking into consideration all the cleared spaces and small
farms, the outstanding feature of the country, so far as the eye can
see, is timber. This is a region of woods and coppices, with springs
that bubble up at the roots of sturdy trees, protected by their
thick leafage from the onslaughts of the sun. This is a land of dim
grey-green mystery, of silences that make one tread with reverent awe
till one is brought back to earth, by the ring of the woodman’s axe,
the leisurely song of his saw, and the crish-crash of a tree as it
falls.

In the course of time, the woods have to be cut; some are cut every
fourteen years; others are left much longer; it all depends on the
kind of tree and the purpose for which it is being grown.

But though the woods are cut periodically, it is not so devastating
a process as one might imagine. For one thing, it is clean work; for
another, it is surface work; and then it is all done in the open air,
with hand-tools and no machinery, and it is carried out on nature’s own
lines. Hence there is no underground disturbance that would prevent
further growth, and no smoke of power-driven machinery pollutes the
earth and air.

Yet there would be something very pathetic about the felling of the
trees, as you walk over ground that has been cut, were it not for the
magical display of beauty nature puts forth in such circumstances,
multitudes of flowers springing into being that otherwise would not
have come to birth.

At first you see but the prostrate trunks of the trees, with ivy still
clinging to the bark; there they lie, with branches lopped, each
surrounded by piles of small timber cut into regulation lengths for
various commercial purposes; with “cords” of faggots for firing, and
stacks of stuff for pea sticks and similar purposes.

Yet you are not long wandering over the newly-cleared slopes before you
see things that were not evident before.

In winter you discover a red-gold carpet—too golden to be brown, too
brown to be red—where lie the leaves of the beeches that you never
noticed when the trees were standing.

Then, as spring breathes life into the sleeping earth, the dead leaves
stir, silently, mysteriously, no human ear can detect the rustle, no
human eye can see the movement, yet the leaves lift and move apart,
disclosing the yellow and green, and silvery-pink of the primrose buds.

Still further the dead leaves lift, and the violets look out, and then
run all over the place. The wind-flowers push up next, and before you
realize what has happened, the place is literally dancing with them.
Where did they all come from?

Last spring you went through this very wood and saw only a few
scattered about at wide distances, where there chanced to be a filter
of light through the dense branches overhead. Now the place is an open
air ball-room of curtesying sprites.

Such are the wonderful ways of the woods!

In sheltered spots where the cold winds cannot reach, cushions
of wood-sorrel unfurl their pale-green leaves, and then send up,
cautiously and shyly, the fragile bells that look as though a breath
would blow them away. The woodruff also sets to work, for there must be
beauty of odour as well as beauty of colour and form, and something
will be needed to take the place of the violets when they go.

By this time the bluebells are ready to come out; but there is no
shyness about these, sturdy in their growth, no obstacle seems to
hinder them; up come the green spears, making their own way through
dead leaves and twigs and moss and acorn cup, through thickets of
low-lying bramble, through carpets of close-growing ivy; if a dead
branch or a tree trunk lies in their way, they peep out at one side,
“Is there a trifle of daylight here?” And up they come, carpeting with
blue the open spaces between the huge masses of rock that lie pell-mell
about the surface; while the humble little ground-ivy lays cool green
fingers, and a little later its violet-blue flowers, over the cream
and silver of the birches, the soft grey of the beeches, and the rough
bark of the oaks, where the felled trunks lie among the up-springing
grass, sensing for the last time the coming of spring and summer on the
hillside.

Then it is, when the bluebells have turned to papery seed-pods, and the
primroses have paled away into space, that the foxgloves begin to shake
out their flowers and the hillside glows and palpitates with colour.
They flourish with a joyous abandon that is positively infectious,
and makes one feel there is still much left to live for. The way they
suddenly appear when the trees are down—whole battalions of them—where
only a season before there were regiments of larches, or thick woods
of mixed timber, is really marvellous. Undoubtedly the ground must be
packed with seed; more than this, there must always be young seedlings
coming up among the undergrowth or in sheltered crevices where the
larch needles do not penetrate; for no sooner are the trees cut than
foxgloves start to spread their leaves to the light, and by the
following summer, often before half the timber has been carried, you
find them by the thousand—and that is a very low estimate—dotted all
over the rough land, and, with a host of ferns, trying to cover up
all that is maimed, and bare, and jagged, to hide the scars where the
mighty have fallen, to give beauty for ashes in a very literal sense.

Moreover, there seems an almost uncanny intelligence in the way they
adapt themselves to their environment. You would think they knew that
the winds from the far-off Channel blow strong at times, across these
high open spaces; for you find that they invariably place themselves in
the shelter of a big boulder, or settle down in a little hollow with a
protecting flank of rockery, evidently conscious that their tall stems
would be lashed down flat if exposed to the full force of the wind. Or
you find them growing, it may be, at the foot of a crumbling gate post,
or against an ivy-covered rock, or rows of them nestling close up to a
lichen-covered stone wall; and in this way their beauty is enhanced by
the background.

And when they find themselves in an uncongenial setting—springing up in
the very centre of a woodland path perhaps, or out in the open where
the woodmen have been lopping the branches from a felled tree, and
there is much devastation to be covered over and atoned for—there the
foxglove lays its leaves as flat as possible against the earth, so as
to offer the least inducement to the passer-by to injure it. And though
it still sends up its flowers as bravely as it knows how, they are only
a foot high, not the five and six feet of the foxglove in the shelter.
Yet if it be possible, in the least bit possible, it leans against the
pile of faggots, or gently touches the desolate trunk of what was once
a majestic old tree—and who dare say that the silent companionship
counts for nothing?

       *       *       *       *       *

As I write this, in a year of the Awful War, there are some who would
tell me that foxgloves will not find the people in food; while others
see no value in the larches apart from their service as mine-props.

Yet, while I would not under-estimate the utilitarian worth of crops
and timber, the age-old truth is still insistent: Man cannot live by
bread alone.

You may clear from the surface of the land every plant that is not
edible; you may fell every tree that does not serve for telegraph
pole or pit wood; you may tabulate the food-productive qualities of
the whole earth, and serve it out in a blue-book as literature for
the people; you may manufacture electricity till there is no longer
any night, and the mysteries of the twilight and the moonlight and
the starlight are lost to us for ever; you may destroy the birds till
there isn’t one Glad-song left in the caterpillar-riddled orchards
and gardens; you may harness the rivers and streams for mechanical
purposes, and drown the voices of the weir in the whirr of wheels,
till there isn’t an ounce of energy flowing to waste throughout the
length and breadth of the country; you may turn all Nature into a huge
commercial enterprise that is the last word in economics and efficient
organization—and what will be the result?

Machines in place of souls!

Germany strove to subserve everything to her own materialistic ends,
and the price of her hideous and colossal crime is a world’s agony.

Though this may seem but a parable, to some the reading will be clear:
Where there is no vision, the people perish.

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber’s Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors repaired.

Page 112, “contribubution” changed to “contribution” (own literary
contribution)

Page 167, “away” changed to “way” (my way round)

Page 178, “seach” changed to “search” (in search of you)

Page 200, “aromati” changed to “aromatic” (its aromatic leaves)

Page 244, “bric” changed to “brac” of “bric-à-brac”





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