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Title: Lark Rise to Candleford
Author: Flora Jane Thompson(1876-1947)
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Language: English
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: Lark Rise to Candleford
Author: Flora Jane Thompson(1876-1947)


A trilogy incorporating the three novels "Lark Rise",
"Over to Candleford", and "Candleford Green"


Introduction to the trilogy by
H. J. MASSINGHAM (1888-1952)



INTRODUCTION


By absolute values, a true writer can never be other than what he is.
But in our imperfect world his living light will only shine among men if
it appears at precisely the right time. If it does so appear, it is not
merely good luck, because the truth should also possess a
super-sensitive probe (like the woodcock's bill) for testing the subsoil
of what it works on. This is something very different from what is
called 'appealing to the popular imagination'. Flora Thompson possesses
the attributes both of sympathetic presentation and literary power to
such a degree of quality and beauty that her claims upon posterity can
hardly be questioned. Her lovers guessed it when her three memorial
volumes, _Lark Rise, Over to Candleford_, and _Candleford Green_, were
published separately; now that they form a trilogy, each part
illuminating and reflecting the others in a delicate interplay, the time
of speculation is over. This wholeness, they will say, is a triune
achievement: a triumph of evocation in the resurrecting of an age that,
being transitional, was the most difficult to catch as it flew; another
in diversity of rural portraiture engagingly blended with autobiography;
and the last in the overtones and implications of a set of values which
is the author's 'message'.

Nor will these lovers be deceived by the limitations of her range, her
personal simplicity and humility of spirit and the excellent lowness of
her voice as the narrator of these quiet annals, into withholding from
her the full measure of what is her due. Is that range so restricted?
The trilogy enables us to appreciate for the first time what she has
done both for literature and social history. By the playing of these
soft pipes the hamlet, the village, and the small market town are
reawakened at the very moment when the rich, glowing life and culture of
an immemorial design for living was passing from them, at the precise
point of meeting when the beginnings of what was to be touched the last
lingering evidences of what was departing. Of late years memorial books,
I might almost say by the score, have strained to overhear the few
fading syllables of that country civilization of which the younger
generation of today knows and can know nothing. A few of these have been
of high distinction. I have only to mention the names of George Bourne,
Adrian Bell, Walter Rose, W. R. Mottram, and the author of _How Green
was My Valley_. But none of these authors singly achieved the triple
revelation of the hamlet, the village, and the market town; none, with
the possible exception of the last, has, like Flora Thompson, chronicled
the individual life as an integral part of the group life and as the
more of an individual one for it.

Again, by these three books being subdued into sections of one whole,
Laura now emerges into her full selfhood and as the chorus of the
complete drama. Now for the first time Flora Thompson's master work in
portrait-painting is seen to be herself. But we keep on forgetting that
Laura is her own self, so subtly has our author's spiritual humility
contributed to the fineness of the self-portrait. She has lost her life
to another and so exquisitely regained it that the personal quality of
Laura, which is the key to the whole and diffuses over it a tranquil
radiance, is never mistaken as other than that of a separate person. As
remote from the present day as Uncle Tom, Queenie, or Dorcas Lane, she
is yet more living even than they. At the same time, she is something
else than the Cranfordian Miss, 'quaint and old-fashioned', as another
character calls her, something else than the lover of Nature and of
books, the questing contemplative, the solitary in the Wordsworthian,
quite un-Cranfordian sense. She is the recorder of hamlet, village, and
country town who was of them but detached from them, and whose
observation of their inmates by intimacy by no means clouded precision
of insight and an objective capacity to grasp in a few sentences the
essentials of character. One of the very best things Laura ever did was
to become assistant post-mistress at Candleford Green. The post-office
magnetized the whole village.

When George Bourne described Bettesworth and the craftsmen of his
wheelwright's shop, he made them the vehicle of an immensely valuable
inquiry into social conditions now made obsolete by urban invasion.
Flora Thompson's method is entirely different. But the result is the
same in both writers. It is the revelation of a local self-acting
society living by a fixed pattern of behaviour and with its roots warmly
bedded in the soil. The pattern was disintegrating and the roots were
loosening, but enough remained for sure inferences to be drawn from it.
Flora Thompson does not reconstruct the shattered fabric like a
historian nor illustrate and analyse it like a sociologist: she
reanimates it.

In this tripartite book we distinguish three strata of social and
economic period, cross-hatched by differences of social degree. In terms
of geological time, the lowest stratum is the old order of rural England
surviving rare but intact from a pre-industrial and pre-Enclosure past
almost timeless in its continuity. The middle stratum, particularly
represented in Lark Rise, discloses the old order impoverished, reduced
in status, dispropertied but still clinging to the old values,
loyalties, and domestic stabilities. The top stratum, symbolized in the
row of new villas that began to link up Candleford Green with Candleford
Town, is modern suburbia. This wholly novel class in itself had shed the
older differentiations and possessed no rural background other than the
accident of place. It was the vanguard of the city black-coats and
proletariat, governed by the mass-mind.

Nor is the stratification a simple one. The two lower layers are not
only hierarchical in many grades between squire and labourer, but the
upper one of the pair is dyed a different colour from that of the
natural deposit. This is the sombre tint of Victorian moralism, quite
different from the social ethics of the old order to which it was alien.
Puritanism in rural England was never a home-brew; it was always
imported from the town. The topmost layer of the three had and has no
fixed principles; its aim was quantitative imitation and to 'keep up
appearances'. Mr. Green of _Candleford Green_, who read Nat Gould and
Marie Corelli because everybody did, considered the expert craftsman as
inferior in status to himself, sitting on a stool and adding up figures.

It is clear, then, that Flora Thompson's simple-seeming chronicles of
life in hamlet, village, and market town are, when regarded as an index
to social change, of great complexity and heavy with revolutionary
meaning. But this you do not notice until you look below the surface.
The surface is the family lives and characters of Laura and her
neighbours at Lark Rise, inhabited by ex-peasants, and the two
Candlefords, where society is more mixed and occupation more varied. But
the surface is transparent, and there are threatening depths of
dislocation and frustration below it. Flora Thompson's method of
revealing them is a literary one, as was George Eliot's; that is to say,
by the selective representation of domestic interiors in which living
personages pass their daily lives. The social document is a by-product
of people's normal activities and intercourse intensely localized, just
as beauty is a by-product of the craftsman's utility-work for his
neighbours.

Thus, the commonest occurrences, the lightest of words, the very
ordinariness of the home-task are pregnant with a dual meaning. This is
the reverse of a photographic method like that of the fashionable
'mass-observation' because it looks inward to human character and
outward to changes in environment affecting the whole structure of
society and modifying, even distorting, the way people think and act.
Her art is in fact universalized by its very particularity, its very
confinement to small places and the people Laura knew. It all seems a
placid water-colour of the English school, delicately and reticently
painted in and charmed by the character of Laura herself. But it is not.
What Flora Thompson depicts is the utter ruin of a closely knit organic
society with a richly interwoven and traditional culture that had defied
every change, every aggression, except the one that established the
modern world. It is notable that, though husbandry itself plays little
part in the trilogy, it is the story of the irreparable calamity of the
English fields. In the shell of her concealed art we hear the thunder of
an ocean of change, a change tragic indeed, since nothing has taken and
nothing can take the place of what has gone.

On the bottom layer once rested all England. In the perfect economy of a
few deft and happy strokes, _Lark Rise_ reveals it as surviving
principally in two households, those of Queenie, the lace-maker and
bee-mistress, and 'Old Sally', whose grandfather, the eggler, had by his
rheumatism to 'give up giving'. The old open fields community of
co-operative self-help destroyed by the Enclosures is caught in the
words. Old Sally is so closely identified with her house and furniture,
its two-feet-thick walls making a snuggery for the gate-legged table,
the dresser with its pewter and willow-pattern ware and the
grandfather's clock, that they can no more be prised apart than the
snail from its shell. In remembering the Rise when it was common land,
Sally was carrying in her mind the England of small properties based on
the land, the England whose native land belonged to its own people, not
to a State masquerading as such, not even to the manorial lords who
exacted services, but not from a landless proletariat. Still less to big
business whose _latifundia_ are the modern plan. Sally is
self-supporting peasant England, the bedrock of all, solid as her
furniture, enduring as her walls, the last of the longest of all lines.

Moving on to Candleford, we find in Uncle Tom, the cobbler with his
apprentices, the representative of the master-craftsman who did quite
literally build England, the England that Laura at Candleford Green saw
_in articulo mortis_. Uncle Tom is a townsman, but his spiritual brother
of the fields was the yeoman. Farm and workshop both were husbanded as a
responsible stewardship and according to inalienable first principles.
For both, yeoman and master-craftsman, the holding of property was the
guarantee of economic freedom and a dutiful right. Home, as the centre
alike of the family and of industry and the nucleus of neighbourliness,
was the ruling concept for them both. _Over to Candleford_ devotes
special pains to the portraiture of Uncle Tom and his household. The
interaction between his social value to the life of the little town and
his personal integrity, his pride in his work and virile personality are
described with the intent of revealing good living and the good life as
an historical unity of the older England. In a line, Laura looking back
and seeing herself, the other Laura, reading to Uncle Tom in his
workshop-cum-home, sums up his end, both as a symbol and a
living-figure. If he were alive now, she says, he would be the manager
of a chain-store.

In _Candleford Green_, the same parable of the past is spoken, with a
difference. Dorcas Lane, the post-mistress, and her household-workshop
with Matthew the foreman of the farriery, the smithy and the
wheelwright's shop and the journeymen sitting below the salt at Miss
Lane's table, other symbols of 'an age-old discipline', these have an
obvious affinity with Uncle Tom and _his_ little commonwealth. She too
has her willow-pattern plate and other bygones. But this household seems
embalmed, a show-piece, and we feel it would be a blunder to speak of
Old Sally's and Uncle Tom's possessions as 'bygones'. Dorcas's
'modernism', her sceptical outlook and partiality for reading Darwin
lends point to the sense of preservation, not use.

In _Candleford Green_, again, Mr. Coulsdon, the Vicar, and Sir Timothy,
the Squire, are held momentarily in the light before they too pass into
limbo. But both of them cast a shadow, however soft the illumination of
Laura's lamp. They are Victorianized, and it was Victoria's reign that,
partly through their agency, but mainly by the growth of the industrial
town and the industrial mentality, ended the self-sufficient England of
peasant and craftsman. The supreme value of Flora Thompson's
presentation is that she makes us see the passing of this England, not
as a milestone along the road of inevitable progress, but as the
attempted murder of something timeless in and quintessential to the
spirit of man. A design for living has become unravelled, and there can
be no substitute, because, however imperfect the pattern, it was part of
the essential constitution of human nature. The fatal flaw of the modern
theory of progress is that it is untrue to historical reality. The
frustrations and convulsions of our own time are the effect of aiming
this mortal blow at the core of man's integral nature, which can be
perverted, but not destroyed.

In _Lark Rise_ especially, we receive an unforgettable impression of the
transitional state between the old stable, work-pleasure England and the
modern world. World because non-differentiation is the mark of it, and
all modern industrial States have a common likeness such as that of
Manchester to Stalingrad, Paris to Buenos Aires. The society of _Lark
Rise_ is one of landlabourers' families--only they are now all landless.
They have lost that which made them what they are in Part I of the
trilogy; and the whole point of it is that the reader is given a picture
of a peasant class which is still a peasantry in everything but the one
thing that makes it so--the holding of land and stock. Here, the
labourers are dispropertied, though they still have gardens; here, they
are wage-earners only, keeping their families on ten shillings a week,
though in 1540 their forefathers in another village not a score of miles
from Lark Rise, and exactly the same class as that from which they were
descended, paid the lord of the manor £46,000 as copyholders to be free
of all dues and services to him. Lark Rise in the 'eighties of last
century, admittedly but a hamlet, could certainly not have collected
46,000 farthings.

Though pauperized, they were still craftsmanly men: the day of an
emptied country-side harvested by machines and chemicals and of mass,
mobile, skill-less labour in the towns serving the combine at the
assembly line was yet to come. It is significant that Lark Rise still
called the older generation 'master' not 'mister'. Though landless, they
still kept the cottage pig, which served a social no less than a
material need. The women still went leazing in the stubble fields and
fed their families the winter through on whole-grain bread baked by
themselves, not yet bleached and a broken reed instead of the staff of
life. The hedgerows were still utilized for wines and jellies, the
gardens for fresh vegetables and herbs. They even made mead and 'yarb
(yarrow) beer'. Of Candleford Green our author writes:


'The community was largely self-supporting. Every household grew its own
vegetables, produced its new-laid eggs and cured its own bacon. Jams and
jellies, wines and pickles, were made at home as a matter of course.
Most gardens had a row of beehives. In the houses of the well-to-do
there was an abundance of such foods, and even the poor enjoyed a rough
plenty.'


The last words are true of the hamlet of Lark Rise. Because they were
still an organic community, subsisting on the food, however scanty and
monotonous, they raised themselves, they enjoyed good health and so, in
spite of grinding poverty, no money to spend on amusements and hardly
any for necessities, happiness. They still sang out-of-doors and kept
May Day and Harvest Home. The songs were travesties of the traditional
ones, but their blurred echoes and the remnants of the old salty country
speech had not yet died and left the fields to their modern silence. The
songs came from their own lips, not out of a box.

Charity (in the old sense) survived, and what Laura's mother called the
'seemliness' of a too industrious life. Yet the tradition of the old
order was crumbling fast. What suffered most visibly was the inborn
aesthetic faculty, once a common possession of all countrymen. Almanacs
for samplers, the 'Present from Brighton' for willow-pattern, novelettes
for the Bible, Richardson and travel books, coarse, machined embroidery
for point-lace, cheap shoddy for oak and mahogany. The instalment system
was beginning. The manor and the rectory ever since the Enclosures were
felt to be against the people. The more amenable of these were now
regarded as 'the deserving poor' and Cobbett's 'the commons of England'
had become 'the lower orders'. When Laura's mother was outraged at
Edmund, her son, wanting to go on the land, the end was in sight. The
end of what? Of a self-sufficient country England living by the land,
cultivating it by husbandry and associating liberty with the small
property. It was not poverty that broke it--that was a secondary cause.
It was not even imported cheap and foodless foods. It was that the
Industrial Revolution and the Enclosures between them demolished the
structure and the pattern of country life. Their traces long lingered
like those of old ploughed fields on grassland in the rays of the
setting sun. But they have been all but effaced today, and now we plough
and sow and reap an empty land: One thing only can ever re-people it-the
restoration of the peasantry. But that industrialism does not
understand. Catastrophe alone can teach it to understand.

It has been Flora Thompson's mission to represent this great tragic epic
obliquely, and by the medium of humdrum but highly individualized
country people living their ordinary lives in their own homes. As I said
at the opening of this Introduction, she has conveyed it at just the
right time--namely, when the triumphs of industrial progress are
beginning to be seen for what they are. Or, as a recent correspondent to
_The Times_ expressed it, 'peace and beauty must inevitably give way to
progress'. She has conveyed this profound tragedy through so delicate a
mastery, with so beguiling an air and by so tender an elegy, that what
she has to tell is 'felt along the heart' rather than as a spectacular
eclipse. I regard this as an achievement in literature that will outlive
her own life. Or, as the gipsy said who told Laura's fortune at
Candleford Green--'You are going to be loved by people you've never seen
and never will see.'

      H. J. MASSINGHAM

_Reddings, Long Crendon, Bucks._

_August 1944_



CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION



LARK RISE

      I. POOR PEOPLE'S HOUSES
     II. A HAMLET CHILDHOOD
    III. MEN AFIELD
     IV. AT THE 'WAGON AND HORSES'
      V. SURVIVALS
     VI. THE BESIEGED GENERATION
    VII. CALLERS
   VIII. 'THE BOX'
     IX. COUNTRY PLAYTIME
      X. DAUGHTERS OF THE HAMLET
     XI. SCHOOL
    XII. HER MAJESTY'S INSPECTOR
   XIII. MAY DAY
    XIV. TO CHURCH ON SUNDAY
     XV. HARVEST HOME


OVER TO CANDLEFORD

    XVI. AS THEY WERE
   XVII. A HAMLET HOME
  XVIII. 'ONCE UPON A TIME'
    XIX. 'A BIT OF A TELL'
     XX. MRS. HERRING
    XXI. OVER TO CANDLEFORD
   XXII. KIND FRIENDS AND RELATIONS
  XXIII. SINK OR SWIM
   XXIV. LAURA LOOKS ON
    XXV. SUMMER HOLIDAY
   XXVI. UNCLE TOM'S QUEER FISH
  XXVII. CANDLEFORD GREEN
 XXVIII. GROWING PAINS
   XXIX. EXIT LAURA


CANDLEFORD GREEN

    XXX. FROM ONE SMALL WORLD TO ANOTHER
   XXXI. ON HER MAJESTY'S SERVICE
  XXXII. THE GREEN
 XXXIII. PENNY READING
  XXXIV. NEIGHBOURS
   XXXV. AT THE POST OFFICE
  XXXVI. 'SUCH IS LIFE!'
 XXXVII. 'TA-RA-RA-BOOM-DE-AY!'
XXXVIII. LETTER-CARRIER
  XXXIX. CHANGE IN THE VILLAGE



 LARK RISE



     I

     _Poor People's Houses_

The hamlet stood on a gentle rise in the flat, wheat-growing north-east
corner of Oxfordshire. We will call it Lark Rise because of the great
number of skylarks which made the surrounding fields their springboard
and nested on the bare earth between the rows of green corn.

All around, from every quarter, the stiff, clayey soil of the arable
fields crept up; bare, brown and windswept for eight months out of the
twelve. Spring brought a flush of green wheat and there were violets
under the hedges and pussy-willows out beside the brook at the bottom of
the 'Hundred Acres'; but only for a few weeks in later summer had the
landscape real beauty. Then the ripened cornfields rippled up to the
doorsteps of the cottages and the hamlet became an island in a sea of
dark gold.

To a child it seemed that it must always have been so; but the ploughing
and sowing and reaping were recent innovations. Old men could remember
when the Rise, covered with juniper bushes, stood in the midst of a
furzy heath--common land, which had come under the plough after the
passing of the Inclosure Acts. Some of the ancients still occupied
cottages on land which had been ceded to their fathers as 'squatters'
rights', and probably all the small plots upon which the houses stood
had originally been so ceded. In the eighteen-eighties the hamlet
consisted of about thirty cottages and an inn, not built in rows, but
dotted down anywhere within a more or less circular group. A deeply
rutted cart track surrounded the whole, and separate houses or groups of
houses were connected by a network of pathways. Going from one part of
the hamlet to another was called 'going round the Rise', and the plural
of 'house' was not 'houses', but 'housen'. The only shop was a small
general one kept in the back kitchen of the inn. The church and school
were in the mother village, a mile and a half away.

A road flattened the circle at one point. It had been cut when the heath
was enclosed, for convenience in fieldwork and to connect the main
Oxford road with the mother village and a series of other villages
beyond. From the hamlet it led on the one hand to church and school, and
on the other to the main road, or the turnpike, as it was still called,
and so to the market town where the Saturday shopping was done. It
brought little traffic past the hamlet. An occasional farm wagon, piled
with sacks or square-cut bundles of hay; a farmer on horseback or in his
gig; the baker's little old white-tilted van; a string of blanketed
hunters with grooms, exercising in the early morning; and a carriage
with gentry out paying calls in the afternoon were about the sum of it.
No motors, no buses, and only one of the old penny-farthing high
bicycles at rare intervals. People still rushed to their cottage doors
to see one of the latter come past.

A few of the houses had thatched roofs, whitewashed outer walls and
diamond-paned windows, but the majority were just stone or brick boxes
with blue-slated roofs. The older houses were relics of pre-enclosure
days and were still occupied by descendants of the original squatters,
themselves at that time elderly people. One old couple owned a donkey
and cart, which they used to carry their vegetables, eggs, and honey to
the market town and sometimes hired out at sixpence a day to their
neighbours. One house was occupied by a retired farm bailiff, who was
reported to have 'well feathered his own nest' during his years of
stewardship. Another aged man owned and worked upon about an acre of
land. These, the innkeeper, and one other man, a stonemason who walked
the three miles to and from his work in the town every day, were the
only ones not employed as agricultural labourers.

Some of the cottages had two bedrooms, others only one, in which case it
had to be divided by a screen or curtain to accommodate parents and
children. Often the big boys of a family slept downstairs, or were put
out to sleep in the second bedroom of an elderly couple whose own
children were out in the world. Except at holiday times, there were no
big girls to provide for, as they were all out in service. Still, it was
often a tight fit, for children swarmed, eight, ten, or even more in
some families, and although they were seldom all at home together, the
eldest often being married before the youngest was born, beds and
shakedowns were often so closely packed that the inmates had to climb
over one bed to get into another.

But Lark Rise must not be thought of as a slum set down in the country.
The inhabitants lived an open-air life; the cottages were kept clean by
much scrubbing with soap and water, and doors and windows stood wide
open when the weather permitted. When the wind cut across the flat land
to the east, or came roaring down from the north, doors and windows had
to be closed; but then, as the hamlet people said, they got more than
enough fresh air through the keyhole.

There were two epidemics of measles during the decade, and two men had
accidents in the harvest field and were taken to hospital; but, for
years together, the doctor was only seen there when one of the ancients
was dying of old age, or some difficult first confinement baffled the
skill of the old woman who, as she said, saw the beginning and end of
everybody. There was no cripple or mental defective in the hamlet, and,
except for a few months when a poor woman was dying of cancer, no
invalid. Though food was rough and teeth were neglected, indigestion was
unknown, while nervous troubles, there as elsewhere, had yet to be
invented: The very word 'nerve' was used in a different sense to the
modern one. 'My word! An' 'aven't she got a nerve!' they would say of
any one who expected more than was reasonable.

In nearly all the cottages there was but one room downstairs, and many
of these were poor and bare, with only a table and a few chairs and
stools for furniture and a superannuated potato-sack thrown down by way
of hearthrug. Other rooms were bright and cosy, with dressers of
crockery, cushioned chairs, pictures on the walls and brightly coloured
hand-made rag rugs on the floor. In these there would be pots of
geraniums, fuchsias, and old-fashioned, sweet-smelling musk on the
windowsills. In the older cottages there were grandfathers' clocks,
gate-legged tables, and rows of pewter, relics of a time when life was
easier for country folk.

The interiors varied, according to the number of mouths to be fed and
the thrift and skill of the housewife, or the lack of those qualities;
but the income in all was precisely the same, for ten shillings a week
was the standard wage of the farm labourer at that time in that
district.

Looking at the hamlet from a distance, one house would have been seen, a
little apart, and turning its back on its neighbours, as though about to
run away into the fields. It was a small grey stone cottage with a
thatched roof, a green-painted door and a plum tree trained up the wall
to the eaves. This was called the 'end house' and was the home of the
stonemason and his family. At the beginning of the decade there were two
children: Laura, aged three, and Edmund, a year and a half younger. In
some respects these children, while small, were more fortunate than
their neighbours. Their father earned a little more money than the
labourers. Their mother had been a children's nurse and they were well
looked after. They were taught good manners and taken for walks, milk
was bought for them, and they were bathed regularly on Saturday nights
and, after 'Gentle Jesus' was said, were tucked up in bed with a
peppermint or clove ball to suck. They had tidier clothes, too, for
their mother had taste and skill with her needle and better-off
relations sent them parcels of outgrown clothes. The other children used
to tease the little girl about the lace on her drawers and led her such
a life that she once took them off and hid them in a haystack.

Their mother at that time used to say that she dreaded the day when they
would have to go to school; children got so wild and rude and tore their
clothes to shreds going the mile and a half backwards and forwards. But
when the time came for them to go she was glad, for, after a break of
five years, more babies had begun to arrive, and, by the end of the
'eighties, there were six children at the end house.

As they grew, the two elder children would ask questions of anybody and
everybody willing or unwilling to answer them. Who planted the
buttercups? Why did God let the wheat get blighted? Who lived in this
house before we did, and what were their children's names? What's the
sea like? Is it bigger than Cottisloe Pond? _Why_ can't we go to Heaven
in the donkey-cart? Is it farther than Banbury? And so on, taking their
bearings in that small corner of the world they had somehow got into.

This asking of questions teased their mother and made them unpopular
with the neighbours. 'Little children should be seen and not heard',
they were told at home. Out of doors it would more often be 'Ask no
questions and you'll be told no lies.' One old woman once handed the
little girl a leaf from a pot-plant on her window-sill. 'What's it
called?' was the inevitable question. "Tis called mind your own
business,' was the reply; 'an' I think I'd better give a slip of it to
your mother to plant in a pot for you.' But no such reproofs could cure
them of the habit, although they soon learned who and who not to
question.

In this way they learned the little that was known of the past of the
hamlet and of places beyond. They had no need to ask the names of the
birds, flowers, and trees they saw every day, for they had already
learned these unconsciously, and neither could remember a time when they
did not know an oak from an ash, wheat from barley, or a Jenny wren from
a blue-tit. Of what was going on around them, not much was hidden, for
the gossips talked freely before children, evidently considering them
not meant to hear as well as not to be heard, and, as every house was
open to them and their own home was open to most people, there was not
much that escaped their sharp ears.

The first charge on the labourers' ten shillings was house rent. Most of
the cottages belonged to small tradesmen in the market town and the
weekly rents ranged from one shilling to half a crown. Some labourers in
other villages worked on farms or estates where they had their cottages
rent free; but the hamlet people did not envy them, for 'Stands to
reason,' they said, 'they've allus got to do just what they be told, or
out they goes, neck and crop, bag and baggage.' A shilling, or even two
shillings a week, they felt, was not too much to pay for the freedom to
live and vote as they liked and to go to church or chapel or neither as
they preferred.

Every house had a good vegetable garden and there were allotments for
all; but only three of the thirty cottages had their own water supply.
The less fortunate tenants obtained their water from a well on a vacant
plot on the outskirts of the hamlet, from which the cottage had
disappeared. There was no public well or pump. They just had to get
their water where and how they could; the landlords did not undertake to
supply water.

Against the wall of every well-kept cottage stood a tarred or
green-painted water butt to catch and store the rain-water from the
roof. This saved many journeys to the well with buckets, as it could be
used for cleaning and washing clothes and for watering small, precious
things in the garden. It was also valued for toilet purposes and the
women would hoard the last drops for themselves and their children to
wash in. Rain-water was supposed to be good for the complexion, and,
though they had no money to spend upon beautifying themselves, they were
not too far gone in poverty to neglect such means as they had to that
end.

For drinking water, and for cleaning water, too, when the water butts
failed, the women went to the well in all weathers, drawing up the
buckets with a windlass and carting them home suspended from their
shoulders by a yoke. Those were weary journeys 'round the Rise' for
water, and many were the rests and endless was the gossip, as they stood
at corners in their big white aprons and crossover shawls.

A few of the younger, more recently married women who had been in good
service and had not yet given up the attempt to hold themselves a little
aloof would get their husbands to fill the big red store crock with
water at night. But this was said by others to be 'a sin and a shame',
for, after his hard day's work, a man wanted his rest, not to do
''ooman's work'. Later on in the decade it became the fashion for the
men to fetch water at night, and then, of course, it was quite right
that they should do so and a woman who 'dragged her guts out' fetching
more than an occasional load from the well was looked upon as a traitor
to her sex.

In dry summers, when the hamlet wells failed, water had to be fetched
from a pump at some farm buildings half a mile distant. Those who had
wells in their gardens would not give away a spot, as they feared if
they did theirs, too, would run dry, so they fastened down the lids with
padlocks and disregarded all hints.

The only sanitary arrangement known in the hamlet was housed either in a
little beehive-shaped building at the bottom of the garden or in a
corner of the wood and toolshed known as 'the hovel'. It was not even an
earth closet; but merely a deep pit with a seat set over it, the
half-yearly emptying of which caused every door and window in the
vicinity to be sealed. Unfortunately, there was no means of sealing the
chimneys!

These 'privies' were as good an index as any to the characters of their
owners. Some were horrible holes; others were fairly decent, while some,
and these not a few, were kept well cleared, with the seat scrubbed to
snow-whiteness and the brick floor raddled. One old woman even went so
far as to nail up a text as a finishing touch, 'Thou God seest me'--most
embarrassing to a Victorian child who had been taught that no one must
even see her approach the door.

In other such places health and sanitary maxims were scrawled with lead
pencil or yellow chalk on the whitewashed walls. Most of them embodied
sound sense and some were expressed in sound verse, but few were so
worded as to be printable. One short and pithy maxim may pass: 'Eat
well, work well, sleep well, and ---- well once a day'.

On the wall of the 'little house' at Laura's home pictures cut from the
newspapers were pasted. These were changed when the walls were
whitewashed and in succession they were 'The Bombardment of Alexandria',
all clouds of smoke, flying fragments, and flashes of explosives;
'Glasgow's Mournful Disaster: Plunges for Life from the _Daphne_', and
'The Tay Bridge Disaster', with the end of the train dangling from the
broken bridge over a boiling sea. It was before the day of Press
photography and the artists were able to give their imagination full
play. Later, the place of honour in the 'little house' was occupied by
'Our Political Leaders', two rows of portraits on one print; Mr.
Gladstone, with hawklike countenance and flashing eyes, in the middle of
the top row, and kind, sleepy-Looking Lord Salisbury in the other. Laura
loved that picture because Lord Randolph Churchill was there. She
thought he must be the most handsome man in the world.

At the back or side of each cottage was a lean-to pigsty and the house
refuse was thrown on a nearby pile called 'the muck'll'. This was so
situated that the oozings from the sty could drain into it; the manure
was also thrown there when the sty was cleared, and the whole formed a
nasty, smelly eyesore to have within a few feet of the windows. 'The
wind's in the so-and-so,' some woman indoors would say, 'I can smell th'
muck'll', and she would often be reminded of the saying, 'Pigs for
health', or told that the smell was a healthy one.

It was in a sense a healthy smell for them; for a good pig fattening in
the sty promised a good winter. During its lifetime the pig was an
important member of the family, and its health and condition were
regularly reported in letters to children away from home, together with
news of their brothers and sisters. Men callers on Sunday afternoons
came, not to see the family, but the pig, and would lounge with its
owner against the pigsty door for an hour, scratching piggy's back and
praising his points or turning up their own noses in criticism. Ten to
fifteen shillings was the price paid for a pigling when weaned, and they
all delighted in getting a bargain. Some men swore by the 'dilling', as
the smallest of a litter was called, saying it was little and good, and
would soon catch up; others preferred to give a few shillings more for a
larger young pig.

The family pig was everybody's pride and everybody's business. Mother
spent hours boiling up the 'little taturs' to mash and mix with the
pot-liquor, in which food had been cooked, to feed to the pig for its
evening meal and help out the expensive barley meal. The children, on
their way home from school, would fill their arms with sow thistle,
dandelion, and choice long grass, or roam along the hedgerows on wet
evenings collecting snails in a pail for the pig's supper. These piggy
crunched up with great relish. 'Feyther', over and above farming out the
sty, bedding down, doctoring, and so on, would even go without his
nightly half-pint when, towards the end, the barley-meal bill mounted
until 'it fair frightened anybody'.

Sometimes, when the weekly income would not run to a sufficient quantity
of fattening food, an arrangement would be made with the baker or miller
that he should give credit now, and when the pig was killed receive a
portion of the meat in payment. More often than not one-half the
pig-meat would be mortgaged in this way, and it was no uncommon thing to
hear a woman say, 'Us be going to kill half a pig, please God, come
Friday,' leaving the uninitiated to conclude that the other half would
still run about in the sty.

Some of the families killed two separate half pigs a year; others one,
or even two, whole ones, and the meat provided them with bacon for the
winter or longer. Fresh meat was a luxury only seen in a few of the
cottages on Sunday, when six-pennyworth of pieces would be bought to
make a meat pudding. If a small joint came their way as a Saturday night
bargain, those without oven grates would roast it by suspending it on a
string before the fire, with one of the children in attendance as
turnspit. Or a 'Pot-roast' would be made by placing the meat with a
little lard or other fat in an iron saucepan and keeping it well shaken
over the fire. But, after all, as they said, there was nothing to beat a
'toad'. For this the meat was enclosed whole in a suet crust and well
boiled, a method which preserved all the delicious juices of the meat
and provided a good pudding into the bargain. When some superior person
tried to give them a hint, the women used to say, 'You tell us how to
get the victuals; we can cook it all right when we've got it'; and they
could.

When the pig was fattened--and the fatter the better--the date of
execution had to be decided upon. It had to take place some time during
the first two quarters of the moon; for, if the pig was killed when the
moon was waning the bacon would shrink in cooking, and they wanted it to
'plimp up'. The next thing was to engage the travelling pork butcher, or
pig-sticker, and, as he was a thatcher by day, he always had to kill
after dark, the scene being lighted with lanterns and the fire of
burning straw which at a later stage of the proceedings was to singe the
bristles off the victim.

The killing was a noisy, bloody business, in the course of which the
animal was hoisted to a rough bench that it might bleed thoroughly and
so preserve the quality of the meat. The job was often bungled, the pig
sometimes getting away and having to be chased; but country people of
that day had little sympathy for the sufferings of animals, and men,
women, and children would gather round to see the sight.

After the carcass had been singed, the pig-sticker would pull off the
detachable, gristly, outer coverings of the toes, known locally as 'the
shoes', and fling them among the children, who scrambled for, then
sucked and gnawed them, straight from the filth of the sty and blackened
by fire as they were.

The whole scene, with its mud and blood, flaring lights and dark
shadows, was as savage as anything to be seen in an African jungle. The
children at the end house would steal out of bed to the window. 'Look!
Look! It's hell, and those are the devils,' Edmund would whisper,
pointing to the men tossing the burning straw with their pitchforks; but
Laura felt sick and would creep back into bed and cry: she was sorry for
the pig.

But, hidden from the children, there was another aspect of the
pig-killing. Months of hard work and self-denial were brought on that
night to a successful conclusion. It was a time to rejoice, and rejoice
they did, with beer flowing freely and the first delicious dish of pig's
fry sizzling in the frying-pan.

The next day, when the carcass had been cut up, joints of pork were
distributed to those neighbours who had sent similar ones at their own
pig-killing. Small plates of fry and other oddments were sent to others
as a pure compliment, and no one who happened to be ill or down on his
luck at these occasions was ever forgotten.

Then the housewife 'got down to it', as she said. Hams and sides of
bacon were salted, to be taken out of the brine later and hung on the
wall near the fireplace to dry. Lard was dried out, hogs' puddings were
made, and the chitterlings were cleaned and turned three days in
succession under running water, according to ancient ritual. It was a
busy time, but a happy one, with the larder full and something over to
give away, and all the pride and importance of owning such riches.

On the following Sunday came the official 'pig feast', when fathers and
mothers, sisters and brothers, married children and grandchildren who
lived within walking distance arrived to dinner.

If the house had no oven, permission was obtained from an old couple in
one of the thatched cottages to heat up the big bread-baking oven in
their wash-house. This was like a large cupboard with an iron door,
lined with brick and going far back into the wall. Faggots of wood were
lighted inside and the door was closed upon them until the oven was well
heated. Then the ashes were swept out and baking-tins with joints of
pork, potatoes, batter puddings, pork pies, and sometimes a cake or two,
were popped inside and left to bake without further attention.

Meanwhile, at home, three or four different kinds of vegetables would be
cooked, and always a meat pudding, made in a basin. No feast and few
Sunday dinners were considered complete without that item, which was
eaten alone, without vegetables, when a joint was to follow. On ordinary
days the pudding would be a roly-poly containing fruit, currants, or
jam; but it still appeared as a first course, the idea being that it
took the edge off the appetite. At the pig feast there would be no sweet
pudding, for that could be had any day, and who wanted sweet things when
there was plenty of meat to be had!

But this glorious plenty only came once or at most twice a year, and
there were all the other days to provide for. How was it done on ten
shillings a week? Well, for one thing, food was much cheaper than it is
to-day. Then, in addition to the bacon, all vegetables, including
potatoes, were home-grown and grown in abundance. The men took great
pride in their gardens and allotments and there was always competition
amongst them as to who should have the earliest and choicest of each
kind. Fat green peas, broad beans as big as a halfpenny, cauliflowers a
child could make an armchair of, runner beans and cabbage and kale, all
in their seasons went into the pot with the roly-poly and slip of bacon.

Then they ate plenty of green food, all home-grown and freshly pulled;
lettuce and radishes and young onions with pearly heads and leaves like
fine grass. A few slices of bread and home-made lard, flavoured with
rosemary, and plenty of green food 'went down good' as they used to say.

Bread had to be bought, and that was a heavy item, with so many growing
children to be fed; but flour for the daily pudding and an occasional
plain cake could be laid in for the winter without any cash outlay.
After the harvest had been carried from the fields, the women and
children swarmed over the stubble picking up the ears of wheat the
horse-rake had missed. Gleaning, or 'leazing', as it was called locally.

Up and down and over and over the stubble they hurried, backs bent, eyes
on the ground, one hand outstretched to pick up the ears, the other
resting on the small of the back with the 'handful'. When this had been
completed, it was bound round with a wisp of straw and erected with
others in a double rank, like the harvesters erected their sheaves in
shocks, beside the leazer's water-can and dinner-basket. It was hard
work, from as soon as possible after daybreak until nightfall, with only
two short breaks for refreshment; but the single ears mounted, and a
woman with four or five strong, well-disciplined children would carry a
good load home on her head every night. And they enjoyed doing it, for
it was pleasant in the fields under the pale blue August sky, with the
clover springing green in the stubble and the hedges bright with hips
and haws and feathery with traveller's joy. When the rest-hour came, the
children would wander off down the hedgerows gathering crab-apples or
sloes, or searching for mushrooms, while the mothers reclined and
suckled their babes and drank their cold tea and gossiped or dozed until
it was time to be at it again.

At the end of the fortnight or three weeks that the leazing lasted, the
corn would be thrashed out at home and sent to the miller, who paid
himself for grinding by taking toll of the flour. Great was the
excitement in a good year when the flour came home--one bushel, two
bushels, or even more in large, industrious families. The mealy-white
sack with its contents was often kept for a time on show on a chair in
the living-room and it was a common thing for a passer-by to be invited
to 'step inside an' see our little bit o' leazings'. They liked to have
the product of their labour before their own eyes and to let others
admire it, just as the artist likes to show his picture and the composer
to hear his opus played. 'Them's better'n any o' yer oil-paintin's,' a
man would say, pointing to the flitches on his wall, and the women felt
the same about the leazings.

Here, then, were the three chief ingredients of the one hot meal a day,
bacon from the flitch, vegetables from the garden, and flour for the
roly-poly. This meal, called 'tea', was taken in the evening, when the
men were home from the fields and the children from school, for neither
could get home at midday.

About four o'clock, smoke would go up from the chimneys, as the fire was
made up and the big iron boiler, or the three-legged pot, was slung on
the hook of the chimney-chain. Everything was cooked in the one utensil;
the square of bacon, amounting to little more than a taste each;
cabbage, or other green vegetables in one net, potatoes in another, and
the roly-poly swathed in a cloth. It sounds a haphazard method in these
days of gas and electric cookers; but it answered its purpose, for, by
carefully timing the putting in of each item and keeping the simmering
of the pot well regulated, each item was kept intact and an appetising
meal was produced. The water in which the food had been cooked, the
potato parings, and other vegetable trimmings were the pig's share.

When the men came home from work they would find the table spread with a
clean whitey-brown cloth, upon which would be knives and two-pronged
steel forks with buckhorn handles. The vegetables would then be turned
out into big round yellow crockery dishes and the bacon cut into dice,
with much the largest cube upon Feyther's plate, and the whole family
would sit down to the chief meal of the day. True, it was seldom that
all could find places at the central table; but some of the smaller
children could sit upon stools with the seat of a chair for a table, or
on the doorstep with their plates on their laps.

Good manners prevailed. The children were given their share of the food,
there was no picking and choosing, and they were expected to eat it in
silence. 'Please' and 'Thank you' were permitted, but nothing more.
Father and Mother might talk if they wanted to; but usually they were
content to concentrate upon their enjoyment of the meal. Father might
shovel green peas into his mouth with his knife, Mother might drink her
tea from her saucer, and some of the children might lick their plates
when the food was devoured; but who could eat peas with a two-pronged
fork, or wait for tea to cool after the heat and flurry of cooking, and
licking the plates passed as a graceful compliment to Mother's good
dinner. 'Thank God for my good dinner. Thank Father and Mother. Amen'
was the grace used in one family, and it certainly had the merit of
giving credit where credit was due.

For other meals they depended largely on bread and butter, or, more
often, bread and lard, eaten with any relish that happened to be at
hand. Fresh butter was too costly for general use, but a pound was
sometimes purchased in the summer, when it cost tenpence. Margarine,
then called 'butterine', was already on the market, but was little used
there, as most people preferred lard, especially when it was their own
home-made lard flavoured with rosemary leaves. In summer there was
always plenty of green food from the garden and home-made jam as long as
it lasted, and sometimes an egg or two, where fowls were kept, or when
eggs were plentiful and sold at twenty a shilling.

When bread and lard appeared alone, the men would spread mustard on
their slices and the children would be given a scraping of black treacle
or a sprinkling of brown sugar. Some children, who preferred it, would
have 'sop'--bread steeped in boiling water, then strained and sugar
added.

Milk was a rare luxury, as it had to be fetched a mile and a half from
the farmhouse. The cost was not great: a penny a jug or can,
irrespective of size. It was, of course, skimmed milk, but hand-skimmed,
not separated, and so still had some small proportion of cream left. A
few families fetched it daily; but many did not bother about it. The
women said they preferred their tea neat, and it did not seem to occur
to them that the children needed milk. Many of them never tasted it from
the time they were weaned until they went out in the world. Yet they
were stout-limbed and rosy-cheeked and full of life and mischief.

The skimmed milk was supposed by the farmer to be sold at a penny a
pint, that remaining unsold going to feed his own calves and pigs. But
the dairymaid did not trouble to measure it; she just filled the
proffered vessel and let it go as 'a pen'orth'. Of course, the jugs and
cans got larger and larger. One old woman increased the size of her
vessels by degrees until she had the impudence to take a small, new, tin
cooking boiler which was filled without question. The children at the
end house wondered what she could do with so much milk, as she had only
her husband and herself at home. 'That'll make you a nice big rice
pudding, Queenie', one of them said tentatively.

'Pudden! Lor' bless 'ee!' was Queenie's reply. 'I don't ever make no
rice puddens. That milk's for my pig's supper, an', my! ain't 'ee just
about thrivin' on it. Can't hardly see out of his eyes, bless him!'

'Poverty's no disgrace, but 'tis a great inconvenience' was a common
saying among the Lark Rise people; but that put the case too mildly, for
their poverty was no less than a hampering drag upon them. Everybody had
enough to eat and a shelter which, though it fell far short of modern
requirements, satisfied them. Coal at a shilling a hundredweight and a
pint of paraffin for lighting had to be squeezed out of the weekly wage;
but for boots, clothes, illness, holidays, amusements, and household
renewals there was no provision whatever. How did they manage?

Boots were often bought with the extra money the men earned in the
harvest field. When that was paid, those lucky families which were not
in arrears with their rent would have a new pair all round, from the
father's hobnailed dreadnoughts to little pink kid slippers for the
baby. Then some careful housewives paid a few pence every week into the
boot club run by a shopkeeper in the market town. This helped; but it
was not sufficient, and how to get a pair of new boots for 'our young
Ern or Alf' was a problem which kept many a mother awake at night.

Girls needed boots, too, and good, stout, nailed ones for those rough
and muddy roads; but they were not particular, any boots would do. At a
confirmation class which Laura attended, the clergyman's daughter, after
weeks of careful preparation, asked her catechumens: 'Now, are you sure
you are all of you thoroughly prepared for to-morrow. Is there anything
you would like to ask me?'

'Yes, miss,' piped up a voice in a corner, 'me mother says have you got
a pair of your old boots you could give me, for I haven't got any fit to
go in.'

Alice got her boots on that occasion; but there was not a confirmation
every day. Still, boots were obtained somehow; nobody went barefoot,
even though some of the toes might sometimes stick out beyond the toe of
the boot.

To obtain clothes was an even more difficult matter. Mothers of families
sometimes said in despair that they supposed they would have to black
their own backsides and go naked. They never quite came to that; but it
was difficult to keep decently covered, and that was a pity because they
did dearly love what they called 'anything a bit dressy'. This taste was
not encouraged by the garments made by the girls in school from material
given by the Rectory people--roomy chemises and wide-legged drawers made
of unbleached calico, beautifully sewn, but without an inch of trimming;
harsh, but strong flannel petticoats and worsted stockings that would
almost stand up with no legs in them--although these were gratefully
received and had their merits, for they wore for years and the calico
improved with washing.

For outer garments they had to depend upon daughters, sisters, and aunts
away in service, who all sent parcels, not only of their own clothes,
but also of those they could beg from their mistresses. These were worn
and altered and dyed and turned and ultimately patched and darned as
long as the shreds hung together.

But, in spite of their poverty and the worry and anxiety attending it,
they were not unhappy, and, though poor, there was nothing sordid about
their lives. 'The nearer the bone the sweeter the meat', they used to
say, and they were getting very near the bone from which their country
ancestors had fed. Their children and children's children would have to
depend wholly upon whatever was carved for them from the communal joint,
and for their pleasure upon the mass enjoyments of a new era. But for
that generation there was still a small picking left to supplement the
weekly wage. They had their home-cured bacon, their 'bit o' leazings',
their small wheat or barley patch on the allotment; their knowledge of
herbs for their homely simples, and the wild fruits and berries of the
countryside for jam, jellies, and wine, and round about them as part of
their lives were the last relics of country customs and the last echoes
of country songs, ballads, and game rhymes. This last picking, though
meagre, was sweet.




     II

      _A Hamlet Childhood_

Oxford was only nineteen miles distant. The children at the end house
knew that, for, while they were small, they were often taken by their
mother for a walk along the turnpike and would never pass the milestone
until the inscription had been read to them: OXFORD XIX MILES.

They often wondered what Oxford was like and asked questions about it.
One answer was that it was 'a gert big town' where a man might earn as
much as five and twenty shillings a week; but as he would have to pay
'pretty near' half of it in house rent and have nowhere to keep a pig or
to grow many vegetables, he'd be a fool to go there.

One girl who had actually been there on a visit said you could buy a
long stick of pink-and-white rock for a penny and that one of her aunt's
young gentlemen lodgers had given her a whole shilling for cleaning his
shoes. Their mother said it was called a city because a bishop lived
there, and that a big fair was held there once a year, and that was all
she seemed to know about it. They did not ask their father, although he
had lived there as a child, when his parents had kept an hotel in the
city (his relations spoke of it as an hotel, but his wife once called it
a pot-house, so probably it was an ordinary public-house). They already
had to be careful not to ask their father too many questions, and when
their mother said, 'Your father's cross again,' they found it was better
not to talk at all.

So, for some time, Oxford remained to them a dim blur of bishops (they
had seen a picture of one with big white sleeves, sitting in a
high-backed chair) and swings and shows and coconut shies (for they knew
what a fair was like) and little girls sucking pink-and-white rock and
polishing shoes. To imagine a place without pigsties and vegetable
gardens was more difficult. With no bacon or cabbage, what could people
have to eat?

But the Oxford road with the milestone they had known as long as they
could remember. Round the Rise and up the narrow hamlet road they would
go until they came to the turning, their mother pushing the baby
carriage ('pram' was a word of the future) with Edmund strapped in the
high, slippery seat or, later, little May, who was born when Edmund was
five, and Laura holding on at the side or darting hither and thither to
pick flowers.

The baby carriage was made of black wickerwork, something like an
old-fashioned bath-chair in shape, running on three wheels and pushed
from behind. It wobbled and creaked and rattled over the stones, for
rubber tyres were not yet invented and its springs, if springs it had,
were of the most primitive kind. Yet it was one of the most cherished of
the family possessions, for there was only one other baby carriage in
the hamlet, the up-to-date new bassinet which the young wife at the inn
had recently purchased. The other mothers carried their babies on one
arm, tightly rolled in shawls, with only the face showing.

As soon as the turning was passed, the flat, brown fields were left
behind and they were in a different world with a different atmosphere
and even different flowers. Up and down went the white main road between
wide grass margins, thick, berried hedgerows and overhanging trees.
After the dark mire of the hamlet ways, even the milky-white road
surface pleased them, and they would splash up the thin, pale mud, like
uncooked batter, or drag their feet through the smooth white dust until
their mother got cross and slapped them.

Although it was a main road, there was scarcely any traffic, for the
market town lay in the opposite direction along it, the next village was
five miles on, and with Oxford there was no road communication from that
distant point in those days of horse-drawn vehicles. To-day, past that
same spot, a first-class, tar-sprayed road, thronged with motor traffic,
runs between low, closely trimmed hedges. Last year a girl of eighteen
was knocked down and killed by a passing car at that very turning: At
that time it was deserted for hours together. Three miles away trains
roared over a viaduct, carrying those who would, had they lived a few
years before or later, have used the turnpike. People were saying that
far too much money was being spent on keeping such roads in repair, for
their day was over; they were only needed now for people going from
village to village. Sometimes the children and their mother would meet a
tradesman's van, delivering goods from the market town at some country
mansion, or the doctor's tall gig, or the smart turn-out of a brewer's
traveller; but often they walked their mile along the turnpike and back
without seeing anything on wheels.

The white tails of rabbits bobbed in and out of the hedgerows; stoats
crossed the road in front of the children's feet--swift, silent,
stealthy creatures which made them shudder; there were squirrels in the
oak-trees, and once they even saw a fox curled up asleep in the ditch
beneath thick overhanging ivy. Bands of little blue butterflies flitted
here and there or poised themselves with quivering wings on the long
grass bents; bees hummed in the white clover blooms, and over all a deep
silence brooded. It seemed as though the road had been made ages before,
then forgotten.

The children were allowed to run freely on the grass verges, as wide as
a small meadow in places. 'Keep to the grinsard,' their mother would
call. 'Don't go on the road. Keep to the grinsard!' and it was many
years before Laura realized that that name for the grass verges, in
general use there, was a worn survival of the old English 'greensward'.

It was no hardship to her to be obliged to keep to the greensward, for
flowers strange to the hamlet soil flourished there, eyebright and
harebell, sunset-coloured patches of lady's-glove, and succory with
vivid blue flowers and stems like black wire.

In one little roadside dell mushrooms might sometimes be found, small
button mushrooms with beaded moisture on their cold milk-white skins.
The dell was the farthest point of their walk; after searching the long
grass for mushrooms, in season and out of season--for they would not
give up hope--they turned back and never reached the second milestone.

Once or twice when they reached the dell they got a greater thrill than
even the discovery of a mushroom could give; for the gipsies were there,
their painted caravan drawn up, their poor old skeleton horse turned
loose to graze, and their fire with a cooking pot over it, as though the
whole road belonged to them. With men making pegs, women combing their
hair or making cabbage nets, and boys and girls and dogs sprawling
around, the dell was full of dark, wild life, foreign to the hamlet
children and fascinating, yet terrifying.

When they saw the gipsies they drew back behind their mother and the
baby carriage, for there was a tradition that once, years before, a
child from a neighbouring village had been stolen by them. Even the cold
ashes where a gipsy's fire had been sent little squiggles of fear down
Laura's spine, for how could she know that they were not still lurking
near with designs upon her own person? Her mother laughed at her fears
and said, 'Surely to goodness they've got children enough of their own,'
but Laura would not be reassured. She never really enjoyed the game the
hamlet children played going home from school, when one of them went on
before to hide and the others followed slowly, hand in hand, singing:


   'I hope we shan't meet any gipsies to-night!
    I hope we shan't meet any gipsies to-night!'


And when the hiding-place was reached and the supposed gipsy sprung out
and grabbed the nearest, she always shrieked, although she knew it was
only a game.

But in those early days of the walks fear only gave spice to excitement,
for Mother was there, Mother in her pretty maize-coloured gown with the
rows and rows of narrow brown velvet sewn round the long skirt, which
stuck out like a bell, and her second-best hat with the honeysuckle. She
was still in her twenties and still very pretty, with her neat little
figure, rose-leaf complexion and hair which was brown in some lights and
golden in others. When her family grew larger and troubles crowded upon
her and the rose-leaf complexion had faded and the last of the
pre-marriage wardrobe had worn out, the walks were given up; but by that
time Edmund and Laura were old enough to go where they liked, and,
though they usually preferred to go farther afield on Saturdays and
other school holidays, they would sometimes go to the turnpike to jump
over and over the milestone and scramble about in the hedges for
blackberries and crab-apples.

It was while they were still small they were walking there one day with
a visiting aunt; Edmund and Laura, both in clean, white, starched
clothes, holding on to a hand on either side. The children were a little
shy, for they did not remember seeing this aunt before. She was married
to a master builder in Yorkshire and only visited her brother and his
family at long intervals. But they liked her, although Laura had already
sensed that their mother did not. Jane was too dressy and 'set up' for
her taste, she said. That morning, her luggage being still at the
railway station, she was wearing the clothes she had travelled in, a
long, pleated dove-coloured gown with an apron arrangement drawn round
and up and puffed over a bustle at the back, and, on her head, a tiny
toque made entirely of purple velvet pansies.

_Swish, swish, swish_, went her long skirt over the grass verges; but
every time they crossed the road she would relinquish Laura's hand to
gather it up from the dust, thus revealing to the child's delighted gaze
a frilly purple petticoat. When she was grown up she would have a frock
and petticoat just like those, she decided.

But Edmund was not interested in clothes. Being a polite little boy, he
was trying to make conversation. He had already shown his aunt the spot
where they had found the dead hedgehog and the bush where the thrush had
built last spring and told her the distant rumble they heard was a train
going over the viaduct, when they came to the milestone.

'Aunt Jenny,' he said, 'what's Oxford like?'

'Well, it's all old buildings, churches and colleges where rich people's
sons go to school when they're grown up.'

'What do they learn there?' demanded Laura.

'Oh, Latin and Greek and suchlike, I suppose.'

'Do they all go there?' asked Edmund seriously.

'Well, no. Some go to Cambridge; there are colleges there as well. Some
go to one and some to the other,' said the aunt with a smile that meant
'Whatever will these children want to know next?'

Four-year-old Edmund pondered a few moments, then said, 'Which college
shall I go to when I am grown up, Oxford or Cambridge?' and his
expression of innocent good faith checked his aunt's inclination to
laugh.

'There won't be any college for you, my poor little man,' she explained.
'You'll have to go to work as soon as you leave school; but if I could
have _my_ way, you should go to the very best college in Oxford,' and,
for the rest of the walk she entertained them with stories of her
mother's family, the Wallingtons.

She said one of her uncles had written a book and she thought Edmund
might turn out to be clever, like him. But when they told their mother
what she had said she tossed her head and said she had never heard about
any book, and what if he had, wasting his time. It was not as if he was
like Shakespeare or Miss Braddon or anybody like that. And she hoped
Edmund would not turn out to be clever. Brains were no good to a working
man; they only made him discontented and saucy and lose his jobs. She'd
seen it happen again and again.

Yet she had brains of her own and her education had been above the
average in her station in life. She had been born and brought up in a
cottage standing in the churchyard of a neighbouring village, 'just like
the little girl in _We are Seven_', she used to tell her own children.
At the time when she was a small girl in the churchyard cottage the
incumbent of the parish had been an old man and with him had lived his
still more aged sister. This lady, whose name was Miss Lowe, had become
very fond of the pretty, fair-haired little girl at the churchyard
cottage and had had her at the Rectory every day out of school hours.
Little Emma had a sweet voice and she was supposed to go there for
singing lessons; but she had learned other things, too, including
old-world manners and to write a beautiful antique hand with delicate,
open-looped pointed letters and long 's's', such as her instructress and
other young ladies had been taught in the last quarter of the eighteenth
century.

Miss Lowe was then nearly eighty, and had long been dead when Laura, at
two and a half years old, had been taken by her mother to see the by
then very aged Rector. The visit was one of her earliest memories, which
survived as an indistinct impression of twilight in a room with dark
green walls and the branch of a tree against the outside of the window;
and, more distinctly, a pair of trembling, veiny hands putting something
smooth and cold and round into her own. The smooth cold roundness was
accounted for afterwards. The old gentleman, it appeared, had given her
a china mug which had been his sister's in her nursery days. It had
stood on the mantelpiece at the end house for years, a beautiful old
piece with a design of heavy green foliage on a ground of translucent
whiteness. Afterwards it got broken, which was strange in that careful
home; but Laura carried the design in her mind's eye for the rest of her
life and would sometimes wonder if it accounted for her lifelong love of
green and white in conjunction.

Their mother would often tell the children about the Rectory and her own
home in the churchyard, and how the choir, in which her father played
the violin, would bring their instruments and practise there in the
evening. But she liked better to tell of that other rectory where she
had been nurse to the children. The living was small and the Rector was
poor, but three maids had been possible in those days, a cook-general, a
young housemaid, and Nurse Emma. They must have been needed in that
large, rambling old house, in which lived the Rector and his wife, their
nine children, three maids, and often three or four young men pupils.
They had all had such jolly, happy times she said; all of them, family
and maids and pupils, singing glees and part songs in the drawing-room
in the evening. But what thrilled Laura most was that she herself had
had a narrow escape from never having been born at all. Some relatives
of the family who had settled in New South Wales had come to England on
a visit and nearly persuaded Nurse Emma to go back with them. Indeed, it
was all settled when, one night, they began talking about snakes, which,
according to their account, infested their Australian bungalow and
garden. 'Then,' said Emma, 'I shan't go, for I can't abear the horrid
creatures,' and she did not go, but got married instead and became the
mother of Edmund and Laura. But it seems that the call was genuine, that
Australia had something for, or required something of, her descendants;
for of the next generation her own second son became a fruit-farmer in
Queensland, and of the next a son of Laura's is now an engineer in
Brisbane.

The little Johnstones were always held up as an example to the end house
children. They were always kind to each other and obedient to their
elders, never grubby or rowdy or inconsiderate. Perhaps they
deteriorated after Nurse Emma left, for Laura remembered being taken to
see them before they left the neighbourhood for good, when one of the
big boys pulled her hair and made faces at her and buried her doll
beneath a tree in the orchard, with one of the cook's aprons tied round
his neck by way of a surplice.

The eldest girl, Miss Lily, then about nineteen, walked miles of the way
back home with them and returned alone in the twilight (so Victorian
young ladies were not always as carefully guarded as they are now
supposed to have been!). Laura remembered the low murmur of conversation
behind her as she rode for a lift on the front of the baby carriage with
her heels dangling over the front wheel. Both a Sir George and a Mr.
Looker, it appeared, were paying Miss Lily 'particular attention' at the
time, and their rival advantages were under discussion. Every now and
then Miss Lily would protest, 'But, Emma, Sir George paid me _particular
attention_. Many remarked upon it to Mamma,' and Emma would say, 'But,
Miss Lily, my dear, do you think he is serious?' Perhaps he was, for
Miss Lily was a lovely girl; but it was as Mrs. Looker she became a kind
of fairy godmother to the end house family. A Christmas parcel of books
and toys came from her regularly, and although she never saw her old
nurse again, they were still writing to each other in the
nineteen-twenties.

Around the hamlet cottages played many little children, too young to go
to school. Every morning they were bundled into a piece of old shawl
crossed on the chest and tied in a hard knot at the back, a slice of
food was thrust into their hands and they were told to 'go play' while
their mothers got on with the housework. In winter, their little limbs
purple-mottled with cold, they would stamp around playing horses or
engines. In summer they would make mud pies in the dust, moistening them
from their own most intimate water supply. If they fell down or hurt
themselves in any other way, they did not run indoors for comfort, for
they knew that all they would get would be 'Sarves ye right. You
should've looked where you wer' a-goin'!'

They were like little foals turned out to grass, and received about as
much attention. They might, and often did, have running noses and
chilblains on hands, feet and ear-tips; but they hardly ever were ill
enough to have to stay indoors, and grew sturdy and strong, so the
system must have suited them. 'Makes 'em hardy,' their mothers said, and
hardy, indeed, they became, just as the men and women and older boys and
girls of the hamlet were hardy, in body and spirit.

Sometimes Laura and Edmund would go out to play with the other children.
Their father did not like this; he said they were little savages
already. But their mother maintained that, as they would have to go to
school soon, it was better for them to fall in at once with the hamlet
ways. 'Besides,' she would say, 'why shouldn't they? There's nothing the
matter with Lark Rise folks but poverty, and that's no crime. If it was,
we should likely be hung ourselves.'

So the children went out to play and often had happy times, outlining
houses with scraps of broken crockery and furnishing them with moss and
stones; or lying on their stomachs in the dust to peer down into the
deep cracks dry weather always produced in that stiff, clayey soil; or
making snow men or sliding on puddles in winter.

Other times were not so pleasant, for a quarrel would arise and kicks
and blows would fly freely, and how hard those little two-year-old fists
could hit out! To say that a child was as broad as it was long was
considered a compliment by the hamlet mothers, and some of those
toddlers in their knotted woollen wrappings were as near square as
anything human can be. One little girl named Rosie Phillips fascinated
Laura. She was plump and hard and as rosy-cheeked as an apple, with the
deepest of dimples and hair like bronze wire. No matter how hard the
other children bumped into her in the games, she stood four-square, as
firm as a little rock. She was a very hard hitter and had little,
pointed, white teeth that bit. The two tamer children always came out
worst in these conflicts. Then they would make a dash on their long
stalky legs for their own garden gate, followed by stones and cries of
'Long-shanks! Cowardy, cowardy custards!'

During those early years at the end house plans were always being made
and discussed. Edmund must be apprenticed to a good trade--a
carpenter's, perhaps--for if a man had a good trade in his hands he was
always sure of a living. Laura might become a school-teacher, or, if
that proved impossible, a children's nurse in a good family. But, first
and foremost, the family must move from Lark Rise to a house in the
market town. It had always been the parents' intention to leave. When he
met and married his wife the father was a stranger in the neighbourhood,
working for a few months on the restoration of the church in a
neighbouring parish and the end house had been taken as a temporary
home. Then the children had come and other things had happened to delay
the removal. They could not give notice until Michaelmas Day, or another
baby was coming, or they must wait until the pig was killed or the
allotment crops were brought in; there was always some obstacle, and at
the end of seven years they were still at the end house and still
talking almost daily about leaving it. Fifty years later the father had
died there and the mother was living there alone.

When Laura approached school-going age the discussions became more
urgent. Her father did not want the children to go to school with the
hamlet children and for once her mother agreed with him. Not because, as
he said, they ought to have a better education than they could get at
Lark Rise; but because she feared they would tear their clothes and
catch cold and get dirty heads going the mile and a half to and from the
school in the mother village. So vacant cottages in the market town were
inspected and often it seemed that the next week or the next month they
would be leaving Lark Rise for ever; but, again, each time something
would happen to prevent the removal, and, gradually, a new idea arose.
To gain time, their father would teach the two eldest children to read
and write, so that, if approached by the School Attendance Office, their
mother could say they were leaving the hamlet shortly and, in the
meantime, were being taught at home.

So their father brought home two copies of Mavor's First Reader and
taught them the alphabet; but just as Laura was beginning on words of
one syllable, he was sent away to work on a distant job, only coming
home at week-ends. Laura, left at the 'C-a-t s-i-t-s on the m-a-t'
stage, had then to carry her book round after her mother as she went
about her housework, asking: 'Please, Mother, what does h-o-u-s-e
spell?' or 'W-a-l-k, Mother, what is that?' Often when her mother was
too busy or too irritated to attend to her, she would sit and gaze on a
page that might as well have been printed in Hebrew for all she could
make of it, frowning and poring over the print as though she would wring
out the meaning by force of concentration.

After weeks of this, there came a day when, quite suddenly, as it seemed
to her, the printed characters took on a meaning. There were still many
words, even in the first pages of that simple primer, she could not
decipher; but she could skip those and yet make sense of the whole. 'I'm
reading! I'm reading!' she cried aloud. 'Oh, Mother! Oh, Edmund! I'm
reading!'

There were not many books in the house, although in this respect the
family was better off than its neighbours; for, in addition to 'Father's
books', mostly unreadable as yet, and Mother's Bible and _Pilgrim's
Progress_, there were a few children's books which the Johnstones had
turned out from their nursery when they left the neighbourhood. So, in
time, she was able to read Grimms' _Fairy Tales_, _Gulliver's Travels_,
_The Daisy Chain_, and Mrs. Molesworth's _Cuckoo Clock_ and _Carrots_.

As she was seldom seen without an open book in her hand, it was not long
before the neighbours knew she could read. They did not approve of this
at all. None of their children had learned to read before they went to
school, and then only under compulsion, and they thought that Laura, by
doing so, had stolen a march on them. So they attacked her mother about
it, her father conveniently being away. 'He'd no business to teach the
child himself,' they said. 'Schools be the places for teaching, and
you'll likely get wrong for him doing it when governess finds out.'
Others, more kindly disposed, said Laura was trying her eyes and begged
her mother to put an end to her studies; but, as fast as one book was
hidden away from her, she found another, for anything in print drew her
eyes as a magnet draws steel.

Edmund did not learn to read quite so early; but when he did, he learned
more thoroughly. No skipping unknown words for him and guessing what
they meant by the context; he mastered every page before he turned over,
and his mother was more patient with his inquiries, for Edmund was her
darling.

If the two children could have gone on as they were doing, and have had
access to suitable books as they advanced, they would probably have
learnt more than they did during their brief schooldays. But that happy
time of discovery did not last. A woman, the frequent absences from
school of whose child had brought the dreaded Attendance Officer to her
door, informed him of the end house scandal, and he went there and
threatened Laura's mother with all manner of penalties if Laura was not
in school at nine o'clock the next Monday morning.

So there was to be no Oxford or Cambridge for Edmund. No school other
than the National School for either. They would have to pick up what
learning they could like chickens pecking for grain--a little at school,
more from books, and some by dipping into the store of others.

Sometimes, later, when they read about children whose lives were very
different from their own, children who had nurseries with rocking-horses
and went to parties and for sea-side holidays and were encouraged to do
and praised for doing just those things they themselves were thought odd
for, they wondered why they had alighted at birth upon such an
unpromising spot as Lark Rise.

That was indoors. Outside there was plenty to see and hear and learn,
for the hamlet people were interesting, and almost every one of them
interesting in some different way to the others, and to Laura the old
people were the most interesting of all, for they told her about the old
times and could sing old songs and remember old customs, although they
could never remember enough to satisfy her. She sometimes wished she
could make the earth and stones speak and tell her about all the dead
people who had trodden upon them. She was fond of collecting stones of
all shapes and colours, and for years played with the idea that, one
day, she would touch a secret spring and a stone would fly open and
reveal a parchment which would tell her exactly what the world was like
when it was written and placed there.

There were no bought pleasures, and, if there had been, there was no
money to pay for them; but there were the sights, sounds and scents of
the different seasons: spring with its fields of young wheat-blades
bending in the wind as the cloud-shadows swept over them; summer with
its ripening grain and its flowers and fruit and its thunderstorms, and
how the thunder growled and rattled over that flat land and what
boiling, sizzling downpours it brought! With August came the harvest and
the fields settled down to the long winter rest, when the snow was often
piled high and frozen, so that the buried hedges could be walked over,
and strange birds came for crumbs to the cottage doors and hares in
search of food left their spoor round the pigsties.

The children at the end house had their own private amusements, such as
guarding the clump of white violets they found blooming in a cleft of
the brook bank and called their 'holy secret', or pretending the
scabious, which bloomed in abundance there, had fallen in a shower from
the mid-summer sky, which was exactly the same dim, dreamy blue. Another
favourite game was to creep silently up behind birds which had perched
on a rail or twig and try to touch their tails. Laura once succeeded in
this, but she was alone at the time and nobody believed she had done it.

A little later, remembering man's earthy origin, 'dust thou art and to
dust thou shalt return', they liked to fancy themselves bubbles of
earth. When alone in the fields, with no one to see them, they would
hop, skip and jump, touching the ground as lightly as possible and
crying 'We are bubbles of earth! Bubbles of earth! Bubbles of earth!'

But although they had these private fancies, unknown to their elders,
they did not grow into the ultra-sensitive, misunderstood, and thwarted
adolescents who, according to present-day writers, were a feature of
that era. Perhaps, being of mixed birth with a large proportion of
peasant blood in them, they were tougher in fibre than some. When their
bottoms were soundly smacked, as they often were, their reaction was to
make a mental note not to repeat the offence which had caused the
smacking, rather than to lay up for themselves complexes to spoil their
later lives; and when Laura, at about twelve years old, stumbled into a
rickyard where a bull was in the act of justifying its existence, the
sight did not warp her nature. She neither peeped from behind a rick,
nor fled, horrified, across country; but merely thought in her
old-fashioned way, 'Dear me! I had better slip quietly away before the
men see me.' The bull to her was but a bull performing a necessary
function if there was to be butter on the bread and bread and milk for
breakfast, and she thought it quite natural that the men in attendance
at such functions should prefer not to have women or little girls as
spectators. They would have felt, as they would have said, 'a bit
okkard'. So she just withdrew and went another way round without so much
as a kink in her subconscious.

From the time the two children began school they were merged in the
hamlet life, sharing the work and play and mischief of their younger
companions and taking harsh or kind words from their elders according to
circumstances. Yet, although they shared in the pleasures, limitations,
and hardships of the hamlet, some peculiarity of mental outlook
prevented them from accepting everything that existed or happened there
as a matter of course, as the other children did. Small things which
passed unnoticed by others interested, delighted, or saddened them.
Nothing that took place around them went unnoted; words spoken and
forgotten the next moment by the speaker were recorded in their
memories, and the actions and reactions of others were impressed on
their minds, until a clear, indelible impression of their little world
remained with them for life.

Their own lives were to carry them far from the hamlet. Edmund's to
South Africa, India, Canada, and, lastly, to his soldier's grave in
Belgium. Their credentials presented, they will only appear in this book
as observers of and commentators upon the country scene of their birth
and early years.


    III

_Men Afield_

A mile and a half up the straight, narrow road in the opposite direction
to that of the turnpike, round a corner, just out of sight of the
hamlet, lay the mother village of Fordlow. Here, again, as soon as the
turning of the road was passed, the scene changed, and the large open
fields gave place to meadows and elm trees and tiny trickling streams.

The village was a little, lost, lonely place, much smaller than the
hamlet, without a shop, an inn, or a post office, and six miles from a
railway station. The little squat church, without spire or tower,
crouched back in a tiny churchyard that centuries of use had raised many
feet above the road, and the whole was surrounded by tall, windy elms in
which a colony of rooks kept up a perpetual cawing. Next came the
Rectory, so buried in orchards and shrubberies that only the chimney
stacks were visible from the road; then the old Tudor farmhouse with its
stone, mullioned windows and reputed dungeon. These, with the school and
about a dozen cottages occupied by the shepherd, carter, blacksmith, and
a few other superior farm-workers, made up the village. Even these few
buildings were strung out along the roadside, so far between and so
sunken in greenery that there seemed no village at all. It was a
standing joke in the hamlet that a stranger had once asked the way to
Fordlow after he had walked right through it. The hamlet laughed at the
village as 'stuck up'; while the village looked down on 'that gipsy lot'
at the hamlet.

Excepting the two or three men who frequented the inn in the evening,
the villagers seldom visited the hamlet, which to them represented the
outer wilds, beyond the bounds of civilisation. The hamlet people, on
the other hand, knew the road between the two places by heart, for the
church and the school and the farmhouse which was the men's working
head-quarters were all in the village. The hamlet had only the inn.

Very early in the morning, before daybreak for the greater part of the
year, the hamlet men would throw on their clothes, breakfast on bread
and lard, snatch the dinner-baskets which had been packed for them
overnight, and hurry off across fields and over stiles to the farm.
Getting the boys off was a more difficult matter. Mothers would have to
call and shake and sometimes pull boys of eleven or twelve out of their
warm beds on a winter morning. Then boots which had been drying inside
the fender all night and had become shrunk and hard as boards in the
process would have to be coaxed on over chilblains. Sometimes a very
small boy would cry over this and his mother to cheer him would remind
him that they were only boots, not breeches. 'Good thing you didn't live
when breeches wer' made o' leather,' she would say, and tell him about
the boy of a previous generation whose leather breeches were so baked up
in drying that it took him an hour to get into them. 'Patience! Have
patience, my son', his mother had exhorted. 'Remember Job.' 'Job!'
scoffed the boy. 'What did he know about patience? He didn't have to
wear no leather breeches.'

Leather breeches had disappeared in the 'eighties and were only
remembered in telling that story. The carter, shepherd, and a few of the
older labourers still wore the traditional smock-frock topped by a round
black felt hat, like those formerly worn by clergymen. But this old
country style of dress was already out of date; most of the men wore
suits of stiff, dark brown corduroy, or, in summer, corduroy trousers
and an unbleached drill jacket known as a 'sloppy'.

Most of the young and those in the prime of life were thick-set,
red-faced men of good medium height and enormous strength who prided
themselves on the weights they could carry and boasted of never having
had 'an e-ache nor a pa-in' in their lives. The elders stooped, had
gnarled and swollen hands and walked badly, for they felt the effects of
a life spent out of doors in all weathers and of the rheumatism which
tried most of them. These elders wore a fringe of grey whisker beneath
the jaw, extending from ear to ear. The younger men sported drooping
walrus moustaches. One or two, in advance of the fashion of their day,
were clean-shaven; but as Sunday was the only shaving day, the effect of
either style became blurred by the end of the week.

They still spoke the dialect, in which the vowels were not only
broadened, but in many words doubled. 'Boy' was 'boo-oy', 'coal',
'coo-al', 'pail', 'pay-ull', and so on. In other words, syllables were
slurred, and words were run together, as 'brenbu'er' for bread and
butter. They had hundreds of proverbs and sayings and their talk was
stiff with simile. Nothing was simply hot, cold, or coloured; it was 'as
hot as hell', 'as cold as ice', 'as green as grass', or 'as yellow as a
guinea'. A botched-up job done with insufficient materials was 'like
Dick's hatband that went half-way round and tucked'; to try to persuade
or encourage one who did not respond was 'putting a poultice on a wooden
leg'. To be nervy was to be 'like a cat on hot bricks'; to be angry,
'mad as a bull'; or any one might be 'poor as a rat', 'sick as a dog',
'hoarse as a crow', 'as ugly as sin', 'full of the milk of human
kindness', or 'stinking with pride'. A temperamental person was said to
be 'one o' them as is either up on the roof or down the well'. The
dialect was heard at its best on the lips of a few middle-aged men, who
had good natural voices, plenty of sense, and a grave, dignified
delivery. Mr. Frederick Grisewood of the B.B.C. gave a perfect rendering
of the old Oxfordshire dialect in some broadcast sketches a few years
ago. Usually, such imitations are maddening to the native born; but he
made the past live again for one listener.

The men's incomes were the same to a penny; their circumstances,
pleasures, and their daily field work were shared in common; but in
themselves they differed; as other men of their day differed, in country
and town. Some were intelligent, others slow at the uptake; some were
kind and helpful, others selfish; some vivacious, others taciturn. If a
stranger had gone there looking for the conventional Hodge, he would not
have found him.

Nor would he have found the dry humour of the Scottish peasant, or the
racy wit and wisdom of Thomas Hardy's Wessex. These men's minds were
cast in a heavier mould and moved more slowly. Yet there were occasional
gleams of quiet fun. One man who had found Edmund crying because his
magpie, let out for her daily exercise, had not returned to her wicker
cage, said: 'Doo'nt 'ee take on like that, my man. You goo an' tell Mrs.
Andrews about it [naming the village gossip] an' you'll hear where your
Maggie's been seen, if 'tis as far away as Stratton.'

Their favourite virtue was endurance. Not to flinch from pain or
hardship was their ideal. A man would say, 'He says, says he, that field
o' oo-ats's got to come in afore night, for there's a rain a-comin'. But
we didn't flinch, not we! Got the last loo-ad under cover by midnight.
A'moost too fagged-out to walk home; but we didn't flinch. We done it!'
Or,'Ole bull he comes for me, wi's head down. But I didn't flinch. I
ripped off a bit o' loose rail an' went for he. 'Twas him as did th'
flinchin'. He! he!' Or a woman would say, 'I set up wi' my poor old
mother six nights runnin'; never had me clothes off. But I didn't
flinch, an' I pulled her through, for she didn't flinch neither.' Or a
young wife would say to the midwife after her first confinement, 'I
didn't flinch, did I? Oh, I do hope I didn't flinch.'

The farm was large, extending far beyond the parish boundaries; being,
in fact, several farms, formerly in separate occupancy, but now thrown
into one and ruled over by the rich old man at the Tudor farmhouse. The
meadows around the farmstead sufficed for the carthorses' grazing and to
support the store cattle and a couple of milking cows which supplied the
farmer's family and those of a few of his immediate neighbours with
butter and milk. A few fields were sown with grass seed for hay, and
sainfoin and rye were grown and cut green for cattle food. The rest was
arable land producing corn and root crops, chiefly wheat.

Around the farmhouse were grouped the farm buildings; stables for the
great stamping shaggy-fetlocked carthorses; barns with doors so wide
and high that a load of hay could be driven through; sheds for the
yellow-and-blue painted farm wagons, granaries with outdoor staircases;
and sheds for storing oilcake, artificial manures, and agricultural
implements. In the rickyard, tall, pointed, elaborately thatched ricks
stood on stone straddles; the dairy indoors, though small, was a model
one; there was a profusion of all that was necessary or desirable for
good farming.

Labour, too, was lavishly used. Boys leaving school were taken on at the
farm as a matter of course, and no time-expired soldier or settler on
marriage was ever refused a job. As the farmer said, he could always do
with an extra hand, for labour was cheap and the land was well tilled up
to the last inch.

When the men and boys from the hamlet reached the farmyard in the
morning, the carter and his assistant had been at work for an hour,
feeding and getting ready the horses. After giving any help required,
the men and boys would harness and lead out their teams and file off to
the field where their day's work was to be done.

If it rained, they donned sacks, split up one side to form a hood and
cloak combined. If it was frosty, they blew upon their nails and thumped
their arms across their chest to warm them. If they felt hungry after
their bread-and-lard breakfast, they would pare a turnip and munch it,
or try a bite or two of the rich, dark brown oilcake provided for the
cattle. Some of the boys would sample the tallow candles belonging to the
stable lanterns; but that was done more out of devilry than from hunger,
for, whoever went short, the mothers took care that their Tom or Dicky
should have 'a bit o' summat to peck at between meals'--half a cold
pancake or the end of yesterday's roly-poly.

With 'Gee!' and 'Wert up!' and 'Who-a-a, now!' the teams would draw out.
The boys were hoisted to the backs of the tall carthorses, and the men,
walking alongside, filled their clay pipes with shag and drew the first
precious puffs of the day, as, with cracking of whips, clopping of
hooves and jingling of harness, the teams went tramping along the muddy
byways.

The field names gave the clue to the fields' history. Near the
farmhouse, 'Moat Piece', 'Fishponds', 'Duffus [i.e. dovehouse] piece',
'Kennels', and 'Warren Piece' spoke of a time before the Tudor house
took the place of another and older establishment. Farther on, 'Lark
Hill', 'Cuckoos' Clump', 'The Osiers', and 'Pond Piece' were named after
natural features, while 'Gibbard's Piece' and 'Blackwell's' probably
commemorated otherwise long-forgotten former occupants. The large new
fields round the hamlet had been cut too late to be named and were known
as 'The Hundred Acres', 'The Sixty Acres', and so on according to their
acreage. One or two of the ancients persisted in calling one of these
'The Heath' and another 'The Racecourse'.

One name was as good as another to most of the men; to them it was just
a name and meant nothing. What mattered to them about the field in which
they happened to be working was whether the road was good or bad which
led from the farm to it; or if it was comparatively sheltered or one of
those bleak open places which the wind hurtled through, driving the rain
through the clothes to the very pores; and was the soil easily workable
or of back-breaking heaviness or so bound together with that 'hemmed'
twitch that a ploughshare could scarcely get through it.

There were usually three or four ploughs to a field, each of them drawn
by a team of three horses, with a boy at the head of the leader and the
ploughman behind at the shafts. All day, up and down they would go,
ribbing the pale stubble with stripes of dark furrows, which, as the day
advanced, would get wider and nearer together, until, at length, the
whole field lay a rich velvety plum-colour.

Each plough had its following of rooks, searching the clods with
side-long glances for worms and grubs. Little hedgerow birds flitted
hither and thither, intent upon getting their tiny share of whatever was
going. Sheep, penned in a neighbouring field, bleated complainingly; and
above the ma-a-ing and cawing and twittering rose the immemorial cries
of the land-worker: 'Wert up!' 'Who-o-o-a!' 'Go it, Poppet!' 'Go it,
Lightfoot!' 'Boo-oy, be you deaf, or be you hard of hearin', dang ye!'

After the plough had done its part, the horse-drawn roller was used to
break down the clods; then the harrow to comb out and leave in neat
piles the weeds and the twitch grass which infested those fields, to be
fired later and fill the air with the light blue haze and the scent that
can haunt for a lifetime. Then seed was sown, crops were thinned out and
hoed and, in time, mown, and the whole process began again.

Machinery was just coming into use on the land. Every autumn appeared a
pair of large traction engines, which, posted one on each side of a
field, drew a plough across and across by means of a cable. These toured
the district under their own steam for hire on the different farms, and
the outfit included a small caravan, known as 'the box', for the two
drivers to live and sleep in. In the 'nineties, when they had decided to
emigrate and wanted to learn all that was possible about farming, both
Laura's brothers, in turn, did a spell with the steam plough, horrifying
the other hamlet people, who looked upon such nomads as social outcasts.
Their ideas had not then been extended to include mechanics as a class
apart and they were lumped as inferiors with sweeps and tinkers and
others whose work made their faces and clothes black. On the other hand,
clerks and salesmen of every grade, whose clean smartness might have
been expected to ensure respect, were looked down upon as
'counter-jumpers'. Their recognized world was made up of landowners,
farmers, publicans, and farm labourers, with the butcher, the baker, the
miller, and the grocer as subsidiaries.

Such machinery as the farmer owned was horse-drawn and was only in
partial use. In some fields a horse-drawn drill would sow the seed in
rows, in others a human sower would walk up and down with a basket
suspended from his neck and fling the seed with both hands broadcast. In
harvest time the mechanical reaper was already a familiar sight, but it
only did a small part of the work; men were still mowing with scythes
and a few women were still reaping with sickles. A thrashing machine on
hire went from farm to farm and its use was more general; but men at
home still thrashed out their allotment crops and their wives' leazings
with a flail and winnowed the corn by pouring from sieve to sieve in the
wind.

The labourers worked hard and well when they considered the occasion
demanded it and kept up a good steady pace at all times. Some were
better workmen than others, of course; but the majority took a pride in
their craft and were fond of explaining to an outsider that field work
was not the fool's job that some townsmen considered it. Things must be
done just so and at the exact moment, they said; there were ins and outs
in good land work which took a man's lifetime to learn. A few of less
admirable build would boast: 'We gets ten bob a week, a' we yarns every
penny of it; but we doesn't yarn no more; we takes hemmed good care o'
that!' But at team work, at least, such 'slack-twisted 'uns' had to keep
in step, and the pace, if slow, was steady.

While the ploughmen were in charge of the teams, other men went singly,
or in twos or threes, to hoe, harrow, or spread manure in other fields;
others cleared ditches and saw to drains, or sawed wood or cut chaff or
did other odd jobs about the farmstead. Two or three highly skilled
middle-aged men were sometimes put upon piecework, hedging and ditching,
sheep-shearing, thatching, or mowing, according to the season. The
carter, shepherd, stockman, and blacksmith had each his own specialized
job. Important men, these, with two shillings a week extra on their
wages and a cottage rent free near the farmstead.

When the ploughmen shouted to each other across the furrows, they did
not call 'Miller' or 'Gaskins' or 'Tuffrey' or even 'Bill', 'Tom', or
'Dick', for they all had nicknames and answered more readily to 'Bishie'
or 'Pumpkin' or 'Boamer'. The origin of many of these names was
forgotten, even by the bearers; but a few were traceable to personal
peculiarities. 'Cockie' or'Cock-eye' had a slight cast; 'Old Stut'
stuttered, while 'Bavour' was so called because when he fancied a snack
between meals he would say 'I must just have my mouthful of bavour',
using the old name for a snack, which was rapidly becoming modernized
into 'lunch' or 'luncheon'.

When a few years later, Edmund worked in the fields for a time, the
carter, having asked him some question and being struck with the aptness
of his reply, exclaimed: 'Why, boo-oy, you be as wise as Solomon, an'
Solomon I shall call 'ee!' and Solomon he was until he left the hamlet.
A younger brother was called 'Fisher'; but the origin of this name was a
mystery. His mother, who was fonder of boys than girls, used to call him
her 'kingfisher'.

Sometimes afield, instead of the friendly shout, a low hissing whistle
would pass between the ploughs. It was a warning-note and meant that
'Old Monday', the farm bailiff, had been sighted. He would come riding
across the furrows on his little long-tailed grey pony, himself so tall
and his steed so dumpy that his feet almost touched the ground, a rosy,
shrivelled, nutcracker-faced old fellow, swishing his ash stick and
shouting, 'Hi, men! Ho, men! What do you reckon you're doing!'

He questioned them sharply and found fault here and there, but was in
the main fairly just in his dealings with them. He had one great fault
in their eyes, however; he was always in a hurry himself and he tried to
hurry them, and that was a thing they detested.

The nickname of 'Old Monday', or 'Old Monday Morning', had been bestowed
upon him years before when some hitch had occurred and he was said to
have cried: 'Ten o'clock Monday morning! To-day's Monday, to-morrow's
Tuesday, next day's Wednesday--half the week gone and nothing done!'
This name, of course, was reserved for his absence; while he was with
them it was 'Yes, Muster Morris' and 'No, Muster Morris', and 'I'll see
what I can do, Muster Morris'. A few of the tamer-spirited even called
him 'sir'. Then, as soon as his back was turned, some wag would point to
it with one hand and slap his own buttocks with the other, saying, but
not too loudly, 'My elbow to you, you ole devil!'

At twelve by the sun, or by signal from the possessor of one of the old
turnip-faced watches which descended from father to son, the teams would
knock off for the dinner-hour. Horses were unyoked, led to the shelter
of a hedge or a rick and given their nosebags and men and boys threw
themselves down on sacks spread out beside them and tin bottles of cold
tea were uncorked and red handkerchiefs of food unwrapped. The lucky
ones had bread and cold bacon, perhaps the top or the bottom of a
cottage loaf, on which the small cube of bacon was placed, with a finger
of bread on top, called the thumb-piece, to keep the meat untouched by
hand and in position for manipulation with a clasp-knife. The
consumption of this food was managed neatly and decently, a small sliver
of bacon and a chunk of bread being cut and conveyed to the mouth in one
movement. The less fortunate ones munched their bread and lard or morsel
of cheese; and the boys with their ends of cold pudding were jokingly
bidden not to get 'that 'ere treacle' in their ears.

The food soon vanished, the crumbs from the red handkerchiefs were
shaken out for the birds, the men lighted their pipes and the boys
wandered off with their catapults down the hedgerows. Often the elders
would sit out their hour of leisure discussing politics, the latest
murder story, or local affairs; but at other times, especially when one
man noted for that kind of thing was present, they would while away the
time in repeating what the women spoke of with shamed voices as 'men's
tales'.

These stories, which were kept strictly to the fields and never repeated
elsewhere, formed a kind of rustic _Decameron_, which seemed to have
been in existence for centuries and increased like a snowball as it
rolled down the generations. The tales were supposed to be extremely
indecent, and elderly men would say after such a sitting, 'I got up an'
went over to th' osses, for I couldn't stand no more on't. The brimstone
fair come out o' their mouths as they put their rascally heads
together.' What they were really like only the men knew; but probably
they were coarse rather than filthy. Judging by a few stray specimens
which leaked through the channel of eavesdropping juniors, they
consisted chiefly of 'he said' and 'she said', together with a lavish
enumeration of those parts of the human body then known as 'the
unmentionables'.

Songs and snatches on the same lines were bawled at the plough-tail and
under hedges and never heard elsewhere. Some of these ribald rhymes were
so neatly turned that those who have studied the subject have attributed
their authorship to some graceless son of the Rectory or Hall. It may be
that some of these young scamps had a hand in them, but it is just as
likely that they sprung direct from the soil, for, in those days of
general churchgoing, the men's minds were well stored with hymns and
psalms and some of them were very good at parodying them.

There was 'The Parish Clerk's Daughter', for instance. This damsel was
sent one Christmas morning to the church to inform her father that the
Christmas present of beef had arrived after he left home. When she
reached the church the service had begun and the congregation, led by
her father, was half-way through the psalms. Nothing daunted, she sidled
up to her father and intoned:

'Feyther, the me-a-at's come, an' what's me mother to d-o-o-o w'it?'

And the answer came pat: 'Tell her to roast the thick an' boil th' thin,
an' me-ak a pudden o' th' su-u-u-u-et.' But such simple entertainment
did not suit the man already mentioned. He would drag out the filthiest
of the stock rhymes, then go on to improvise, dragging in the names of
honest lovers and making a mock of fathers of first children. Though
nine out of ten of his listeners disapproved and felt thoroughly
uncomfortable, they did nothing to check him beyond a mild 'Look out, or
them boo-oys'll hear 'ee!' or 'Careful! some 'ooman may be comin' along
th' roo-ad.'

But the lewd scandalizer did not always have everything his own way.
There came a day when a young ex-soldier, home from his five years'
service in India, sat next to him. He sat through one or two such
extemporized songs, then, eyeing the singer, said shortly, 'You'd better
go and wash out your dirty mouth.'

The answer was a bawled stanza in which the objector's name figured. At
that the ex-soldier sprung to his feet, seized the singer by the scruff
of his neck, dragged him to the ground and, after a scuffle, forced
earth and small stones between his teeth. 'There, that's a lot cleaner!'
he said, administering a final kick on the buttocks as the fellow slunk,
coughing and spitting, behind the hedge.

A few women still did field work, not with the men, or even in the same
field as a rule, but at their own special tasks, weeding and hoeing,
picking up stones, and topping and tailing turnips and mangel; or, in
wet weather, mending sacks in a barn. Formerly, it was said, there had
been a large gang of field women, lawless, slatternly creatures, some of
whom had thought nothing of having four or five children out of wedlock.
Their day was over; but the reputation they had left behind them had
given most country-women a distaste for 'goin' afield'. In the 'eighties
about half a dozen of the hamlet women did field work, most of them
being respectable middle-aged women who, having got their families off
hand, had spare time, a liking for an open-air life, and a longing for a
few shillings a week they could call their own.

Their hours, arranged that they might do their housework before they
left home in the morning and cook their husband's meal after they
returned, were from ten to four, with an hour off for dinner. Their wage
was four shillings a week. They worked in sunbonnets, hobnailed boots
and men's coats, with coarse aprons of sacking enveloping the lower part
of their bodies. One, a Mrs. Spicer, was a pioneer in the wearing of
trousers; she sported a pair of her husband's corduroys. The others
compromised with ends of old trouser legs worn as gaiters. Strong,
healthy, weather-beaten, hard as nails, they worked through all but the
very worst weathers and declared they would go 'stark, staring mad' if
they had to be shut up in a house all day.

To a passer-by, seeing them bent over their work in a row, they might
have appeared as alike as peas in a pod. They were not. There was Lily,
the only unmarried one, big and strong and clumsy as a carthorse and
dark as a gipsy, her skin ingrained with field mould and the smell of
the earth about her, even indoors. Years before she had been betrayed by
a man and had sworn she would never marry until she had brought up the
boy she had had by him--a quite superfluous oath, her neighbours
thought, for she was one of the very few really ugly people in the
world.

The 'eighties found her a woman of fifty, a creature of earth, earthy,
whose life was a round of working, eating, and sleeping. She lived alone
in a tiny cottage, in which, as she boasted, she could get her meals,
eat them, and put the things away without leaving her seat by the
hearth. She could read a little, but had forgotten how to write, and
Laura's mother wrote her letters to her soldier son in India.

Then there was Mrs. Spicer, the wearer of the trousers, a rough-tongued
old body, but independent and upright, who kept her home spotless and
boasted that she owed no man a penny and wanted nothing from anybody.
Her gentle, hen-pecked, little husband adored her.

Very different from either was the comfortable, pink-cheeked Mrs. Braby,
who always carried an apple or a paper of peppermints in her pocket, in
case she should meet a child she favoured. In her spare time she was a
great reader of novelettes and out of her four shillings subscribed to
_Bow Bells_ and the _Family Herald_. Once when Laura, coming home from
school, happened to overtake her, she enlivened the rest of the journey
with the synopsis of a serial she was reading, called _His Ice Queen_,
telling her how the heroine, rich, lovely, and icily virtuous in her
white velvet and swansdown, almost broke the heart of the hero by her
cool aloofness; then, suddenly melting, threw herself into his arms.
But, after all, the plot could not have been quite as simple as that,
for there was a villainous colonel in it. 'Oh! I do just about hate that
colonel!' Mrs. Braby ejaculated at intervals. She pronounced it
'col-on-el', as spelt, which so worked upon Laura that at last she
ventured, 'But don't they call that word "colonel", Mrs. Braby?' Which
led to a spelling lesson: 'Col-on-el; that's as plain as the nose on
your face. Whatever be you a-thinkin' of, child? They don't seem to
teach you much at school these days!' She was distinctly offended and
did not offer Laura a peppermint for weeks, which served her right, for
she should not have tried to correct her elders.

One man worked with the field women or in the same field. He was a poor,
weedy creature, getting old and not very strong and they had put him
upon half-pay. He was known as 'Algy' and was not a native, but had
appeared there suddenly, years before, out of a past he never mentioned.
He was tall and thin and stooping, with watery blue eyes and long ginger
side-whiskers of the kind then known as 'weepers'. Sometimes, when he
straightened his back, the last vestiges of a military bearing might be
detected, and there were other grounds for supposing he had at some time
been in the Army. When tipsy, or nearly so, he would begin, 'When I was
in the Grenadier Guards . . .' a sentence that always tailed off into
silence. Although his voice broke on the high notes and often
deteriorated into a squeak, it still bore the same vague resemblance to
that of a man of culture as his bearing did to that of a soldier. Then,
instead of swearing with 'd----s' and 'b----s' as the other men did, he
would, when surprised, burst into a 'Bai Jove!' which amused everybody,
but threw little light on his mystery.

Twenty years before, when his present wife had been a widow of a few
weeks' standing, he had knocked at her door during a thunderstorm and
asked for a night's lodging, and had been there ever since, never
receiving a letter or speaking of his past, even to his wife. It was
said that during his first days at field work his hands had blistered
and bled from softness. There must have been great curiosity in the
hamlet about him at first; but it had long died down and by the
'eighties he was accepted as 'a poor, slack-twisted crittur', useful for
cracking jokes on. He kept his own counsel and worked contentedly to the
best of his power. The only thing that disturbed him was the rare visit
of the German band. As soon as he heard the brass instruments strike up
and the 'pom, pom' of the drum, he would stick his fingers in his ears
and run, across fields, anywhere, and not be seen again that day.

On Friday evening, when work was done, the men trooped up to the
farmhouse for their wages. These were handed out of a window to them by
the farmer himself and acknowledged by a rustic scraping of feet and
pulling of forelocks. The farmer had grown too old and too stout to ride
horseback, and, although he still made the circuit of his land in his
high dogcart every day, he had to keep to the roads, and pay-day was the
only time he saw many of his men. Then, if there was cause for
complaint, was the time they heard of it. 'You, there! What were you up
to in Causey Spinney last Monday, when you were supposed to be clearing
the runnels?' was a type of complaint that could always be countered by
pleading. 'Call o' Nature, please, sir.' Less frequent and harder to
answer was: 'I hear you've not been too smart about your work lately,
Stimson. 'Twon't do, you know, 'twon't do! You've got to earn your money
if you're going to stay here.' But, just as often, it would be: 'There,
Boamer, there you are, my lad, a bright and shining golden
half-sovereign for you. Take care you don't go spending it all at once!'
or an inquiry about some wife in childbed or one of the ancients'
rheumatism. He could afford to be jolly and affable: he paid poor old
Monday Morning to do his dirty work for him.

Apart from that, he was not a bad-hearted man and had no idea he was
sweating his labourers. Did they not get the full standard wage, with no
deduction for standing by in bad weather? How they managed to live and
keep their families on such a sum was their own affair. After all, they
did not need much, they were not used to luxuries. He liked a cut off a
juicy sirloin and a glass of good port himself; but bacon and beans were
better to work on. 'Hard liver, hard worker' was a sound old country
maxim, and the labouring man did well to follow it. Besides, was there
not at least one good blowout for everybody once a year at his
harvest-home dinner, and the joint of beef at Christmas, when he killed
a beast and distributed the meat, and soup and milk-puddings for anybody
who was ill; they had only to ask for and fetch them.

He never interfered with his men as long as they did their work well.
Not he! He was a staunch Conservative himself, a true blue, and they
knew his colour when they went to vote; but he never tried to influence
them at election times and never inquired afterwards which way they had
voted. Some masters did it, he knew, but it was a dirty, low-down trick,
in his opinion. As to getting them to go to church--that was the
parson's job.

Although they hoodwinked him whenever possible and referred to him
behind his back as 'God a'mighty', the farmer was liked by his men. 'Not
a bad ole sort,' they said; 'an' does his bit by the land.' All their
rancour was reserved for the bailiff.

There is something exhilarating about pay-day, even when the pay is poor
and already mortgaged for necessities. With that morsel of gold in their
pockets, the men stepped out more briskly and their voices were cheerier
than ordinary. When they reached home they handed the half-sovereign
straight over to their wives, who gave them back a shilling for the next
week's pocket-money. That was the custom of the countryside. The men
worked for the money and the women had the spending of it. The men had
the best of the bargain. They earned their half-sovereign by hard toil,
it is true, but in the open air, at work they liked and took an interest
in, and in congenial company. The women, kept close at home, with
cooking, cleaning, washing, and mending to do, plus their constant
pregnancies and a tribe of children to look after, had also the worry of
ways and means on an insufficient income.

Many husbands boasted that they never asked their wives what they did
with the money. As long as there was food enough, clothes to cover
everybody, and a roof over their heads, they were satisfied, they said,
and they seemed to make a virtue of this and think what generous,
trusting, fine-hearted fellows they were. If a wife got in debt or
complained, she was told: 'You must larn to cut your coat accordin' to
your cloth, my gal.' The coats not only needed expert cutting, but
should have been made of elastic.

On light evenings, after their tea-supper, the men worked for an hour or
two in their gardens or on the allotments. They were first-class
gardeners and it was their pride to have the earliest and best of the
different kinds of vegetables. They were helped in this by good soil and
plenty of manure from their pigsties; but good tilling also played its
part. They considered keeping the soil constantly stirred about the
roots of growing things the secret of success and used the Dutch hoe a
good deal for this purpose. The process was called 'tickling'. 'Tickle
up old Mother Earth and make her bear!' they would shout to each other
across the plots, or salute a busy neighbour in passing with: 'Just
tickling her up a bit, Jack?'

The energy they brought to their gardening after a hard day's work in
the fields was marvellous. They grudged no effort and seemed never to
tire. Often, on moonlight nights in spring, the solitary fork of some
one who had not been able to tear himself away would be heard and the
scent of his twitch fire smoke would float in at the windows. It was
pleasant, too, in summer twilight, perhaps in hot weather when water was
scarce, to hear the _swish_ of water on parched earth in a garden--water
which had been fetched from the brook a quarter of a mile distant. 'It's
no good stintin' th' land,' they would say. 'If you wants anything out
you've got to put summat in, if 'tis only elbow-grease.'

The allotment plots were divided into two, and one half planted with
potatoes and the other half with wheat or barley. The garden was
reserved for green vegetables, currant and gooseberry bushes, and a few
old-fashioned flowers. Proud as they were of their celery, peas and
beans, cauliflowers and marrows, and fine as were the specimens they
could show of these, their potatoes were their special care, for they
had to grow enough to last the year round. They grew all the
old-fashioned varieties--ashleaf kidney, early rose, American rose,
magnum bonum, and the huge misshaped white elephant. Everybody knew the
elephant was an unsatisfactory potato, that it was awkward to handle
when paring and that it boiled down to a white pulp in cooking; but it
produced tubers of such astonishing size that none of the men could
resist the temptation to plant it. Every year specimens were taken to
the inn to be weighed on the only pair of scales in the hamlet, then
handed round for guesses to be made of the weight. As the men said, when
a patch of elephants was dug up and spread out, 'You'd got summat to put
in your eye and look at.'

Very little money was spent on seed; there was little to spend, and they
depended mainly upon the seed saved from the previous year. Sometimes,
to secure the advantage of fresh soil, they would exchange a bag of seed
potatoes with friends living at a distance, and sometimes a gardener at
one of the big houses around would give one of them a few tubers of a
new variety. These would be carefully planted and tended, and, when the
crop was dug up, specimens would be presented to neighbours.

Most of the men sang or whistled as they dug or hoed. There was a good
deal of outdoor singing in those days. Workmen sang at their jobs; men
with horses and carts sang on the road; the baker, the miller's man, and
the fish-hawker sang as they went from door to door; even the doctor and
parson on their rounds hummed a tune between their teeth. People were
poorer and had not the comforts, amusements, or knowledge we have
to-day; but they were happier. Which seems to suggest that happiness
depends more upon the state of mind--and body, perhaps--than upon
circumstances and events.



     IV

  _At the 'Wagon and Horses'_

Fordlow might boast of its church, its school, its annual concert, and
its quarterly penny reading, but the hamlet did not envy it these
amenities, for it had its own social centre, warmer, more human, and
altogether preferable in the taproom of the 'Wagon and Horses'.

There the adult male population gathered every evening, to sip its
half-pints, drop by drop, to make them last, and to discuss local
events, wrangle over politics or farming methods, or to sing a few songs
'to oblige'.

It was an innocent gathering. None of them got drunk; they had not money
enough, even with beer, and good beer, at twopence a pint. Yet the
parson preached from the pulpit against it, going so far on one occasion
as to call it a den of iniquity. ''Tis a great pity he can't come an'
see what it's like for his own self,' said one of the older men on the
way home from church. 'Pity he can't mind his own business,' retorted a
younger one. While one of the ancients put in pacifically, 'Well, 'tis
his business, come to think on't. The man's paid to preach, an' he's got
to find summat to preach against, stands to reason.'

Only about half a dozen men held aloof from the circle and those were
either known to 'have religion', or suspected of being 'close wi' their
ha'pence'.

The others went as a matter of course, appropriating their own special
seats on settle or bench. It was as much their home as their own
cottages, and far more homelike than many of them, with its roaring
fire, red window curtains, and well-scoured pewter.

To spend their evenings there was, indeed, as the men argued, a saving,
for, with no man in the house, the fire at home could be let die down
and the rest of the family could go to bed when the room got cold. So
the men's spending money was fixed at a shilling a week, sevenpence for
the nightly half-pint and the balance for other expenses. An ounce of
tobacco, Nigger Head brand, was bought for them by their wives with the
groceries.

It was exclusively a men's gathering. Their wives never accompanied
them; though sometimes a woman who had got her family off hand, and so
had a few halfpence to spend on herself, would knock at the back door
with a bottle or jug and perhaps linger a little, herself unseen, to
listen to what was going on within. Children also knocked at the back
door to buy candles or treacle or cheese, for the innkeeper ran a small
shop at the back of his premises, and the children, too, liked to hear
what was going on. Indoors, the innkeeper's children would steal out of
bed and sit on the stairs in their nightgowns. The stairs went up from
the taproom, with only the back of the settle between, and it gave the
men a bit of a shock one night when what looked at first sight like a
big white bird came flopping down among them. It was little Florrie, who
had gone to sleep on the stairs and fallen. They nursed her on their
knees, held her feet to the fire, and soon dried her tears, for she was
not hurt, only frightened.

The children heard no bad language beyond an occasional 'b----' or
'd----', for their mother was greatly respected and the merest hint of
anything stronger was hushed by nudges and whispers of, 'Don't forget
Landlady', or 'Mind! 'Ooman present'. Nor were the smutty songs and
stories of the fields ever repeated there; they were kept for their own
time and place.

Politics was a favourite topic, for, under the recently extended
franchise, every householder was a voter, and they took their new
responsibility seriously. A mild Liberalism prevailed, a Liberalism that
would be regarded as hide-bound Toryism now, but was daring enough in
those days. One man who had been to work in Northampton proclaimed
himself a Radical; but he was cancelled out by the landlord, who called
himself a 'true blue'. With the collaboration of this Left and Right,
questions of the moment were thrashed out and settled to the
satisfaction of the majority.

'Three Acres and a Cow', 'The Secret Ballot', 'The Parnell Commission
and Crime', 'Disestablishment of the Church', were catchwords that flew
about freely. Sometimes a speech by Gladstone, or some other leader
would be read aloud from a newspaper and punctuated by the fervent
'Hear! Hear' of the company. Or Sam, the man with advanced opinions,
would relate with reverent pride the story of his meeting and shaking
hands with Joseph Arch, the farm-worker's champion. 'Joseph Arch!' he
would cry. 'Joseph Arch is the man for the farm labourer!' and knock on
the table and wave aloft his pewter mug, very carefully, for every drop
was precious.

Then the landlord, standing back to the fireplace with legs astride,
would say with the authority of one in his own house, 'It's no good you
chaps think'n you're goin' against the gentry. They've got the land and
they've got the money, _an_' they'll keep it. Where'd _you_ be without
them to give you work an' pay your wages, I'd like to know?' and this,
as yet, unanswerable question would cast a chill over the company until
some one conjured it away with the name of Gladstone. Gladstone! The
Grand Old Man! The People's William! Their faith in his power was
touching, and all voices would join in singing:


God bless the people's William,
 Long may he lead the van
Of Liberty and Freedom,
 God bless the Grand Old Man.


But the children, listening, without and within, liked better the
evenings of tale-telling; when, with curdling blood and creeping spine,
they would hear about the turnpike ghost, which, only a mile away from
the spot where they stood, had been seen in the form of a lighted
lantern, bobbing up and down in the path of a solitary wayfarer, the
bearer, if any, invisible. And the man in a neighbouring village who, on
his six-mile walk in the dark to fetch medicine for his sick wife, met a
huge black dog with eyes of fire--the devil, evidently. Or perhaps the
talk would turn to the old sheep-stealing days and the ghost which was
said still to haunt the spot where the gibbet had stood; or the lady
dressed in white and riding a white horse, but minus her head, who,
every night as the clock struck twelve, rode over a bridge on the way to
the market town.

One cold winter night, as this tale was being told, the doctor, an old
man of eighty, who still attended the sick in the villages for miles
around, stopped his dogcart at the inn gate and came in for hot brandy
and water.

'You, sir, now,' said one of the men. 'You've been over Lady Bridge at
midnight many's the time, I'll warrant. Can you say as you've ever seen
anything?'

The doctor shook his head. 'No,' he replied, 'I can't say that I have.
But,' and he paused to weigh his words, 'well, it's rather a curious
thing. During the fifty years I've been amongst you I've had many
horses, as you know, and not one of them have I got over that bridge at
night without urging. Whether they can see more than we can see, of
course, I don't know; but there it is for what it is worth. Good night,
men.'

In addition to these public and well-known ghost stories, there were
family tales of death warnings, or of a father, mother, or wife who had
appeared after death to warn, counsel, or accuse. But it was all
entertainment; nobody really believed in ghosts, though few would have
chosen to go at night to haunted spots, and it all ended in: 'Well,
well, if the livin' don't hurt us, the dead can't. The good wouldn't
want to come back, an' the bad wouldn't be let to.'

The newspapers furnished other tales of dread. Jack the Ripper was
stalking the streets of East London by night, and one poor wretched
woman after another was found murdered and butchered. These crimes were
discussed for hours together in the hamlet and everybody had some theory
as to the identity and motive of the elusive murderer. To the children
the name was indeed one of dread and the cause of much anguished
sleeplessness. Father might be hammering away in the shed and Mother
quietly busy with her sewing downstairs; but the Ripper! the Ripper! he
might be nearer still, for he might have crept in during the day and be
hiding in the cupboard on the landing!

One curious tale had to do with natural phenomena. Some years before,
the people in the hamlet had seen a regiment of soldiers marching in the
sky, all complete with drum and fife band. Upon inquiry it had been
found that such a regiment had been passing at the time along a road
near Bicester, six miles away, and it was concluded that the apparition
in the sky must have been a freak reflection.

Some of the tales related practical jokes, often cruel ones, for even in
the 'eighties the sense of humour there was not over-refined, and it
had, in past times, been cruder still. It was still the practice there
to annoy certain people by shouting after them a nickname or a
catchword, and one old and very harmless woman was known as 'Thick and
thin'. One winter night, years before, when the snowdrifts were
knee-high and it was still snowing, a party of thoughtless youths had
knocked at her cottage door and got her and her husband out of bed by
telling them that their daughter, married and living three miles away,
was brought to bed and had sent for her mother.

The old couple huddled on all the clothes they possessed, lighted their
lantern, and set out, the practical jokers shadowing them. They
struggled through the snowdrifts for some distance, but the road was all
but impassable, and the old man was for turning back. Not so the mother.
Determined to reach her child in her hour of need, she struggled onward,
encouraging her husband the while by coaxing, 'Come on John. Through
thick and thin!' and 'Thick and thin' she was ever after.

But tastes were changing, if slowly, by the 'eighties, and such a story,
though it might be still current, no longer produced the loud guffaws it
had formerly done. A few sniggers, perhaps, then silence; or 'I calls it
a shame, sarvin' poor old people like that. Now let's have a song to
te-ake the taste of it out of our mouths.'

All times are times of transition; but the eighteen-eighties were so in
a special sense, for the world was at the beginning of a new era, the
era of machinery and scientific discovery. Values and conditions of life
were changing everywhere. Even to simple country people the change was
apparent. The railways had brought distant parts of the country nearer;
newspapers were coming into every home; machinery was superseding hand
labour, even on the farms to some extent; food bought at shops, much of
it from distant countries, was replacing the home-made and home-grown.
Horizons were widening; a stranger from a village five miles away was no
longer looked upon as 'a furriner'.

But, side by side with these changes, the old country civilization
lingered. Traditions and customs which had lasted for centuries did not
die out in a moment. State-educated children still played the old
country rhyme games; women still went leazing, although the field had
been cut by the mechanical reaper; and men and boys still sang the old
country ballads and songs, as well as the latest music-hall successes.
So, when a few songs were called for at the 'Wagon and Horses', the
programme was apt to be a curious mixture of old and new.

While the talking was going on, the few younger men, 'boy-chaps', as
they were called until they were married, would not have taken a great
part in it. Had they shown any inclination to do so, they would have
been checked, for the age of youthful dominance was still to come; and,
as the women used to say, 'The old cocks don't like it when the young
cocks begin to crow'. But, when singing began they came into their own,
for they represented the novel.

They usually had first innings with such songs of the day as had
percolated so far. 'Over the Garden Wall', with its many parodies,
'Tommy, Make Room for Your Uncle', 'Two Lovely Black Eyes', and other
'comic' or 'sentimental' songs of the moment. The most popular of these
would have arrived complete with tune from the outer world; others,
culled from the penny song-book they most of them carried, would have to
have a tune fitted to them by the singer. They had good lusty voices and
bawled them out with spirit. There were no crooners in those days.

The men of middle age inclined more to long and usually mournful stories
in verse, of thwarted lovers, children buried in snowdrifts, dead
maidens, and motherless homes. Sometimes they would vary these with
songs of a high moral tone, such as:


        Waste not, want not,
         Some maxim I would teach;
        Let your watchword be never despair
         And practise what you preach.
        Do not let your chances like the sunbeams pass you by,
        For you'll never miss the water till the well runs dry.


But this dolorous singing was not allowed to continue long. 'Now, then,
all together, boys,' some one would shout, and the company would revert
to old favourites. Of these, one was 'The Barleymow'. Trolled out in
chorus, the first verse went:


   Oh, when we drink out of our noggins, my boys.
     We'll drink to the barleymow.
   We'll drink to the barleymow, my boys,
     We'll drink to the barleymow.
   So knock your pint on the settle's back;
     Fill again, in again, Hannah Brown,
   We'll drink to the barleymow, my boys,
     We'll drink now the barley's mown.


So they went on, increasing the measure in each stanza, from noggins to
half-pints, pints, quarts, gallons, barrels, hogsheads, brooks, ponds,
rivers, seas, and oceans. That song could be made to last a whole
evening, or it could be dropped as soon as they got tired of it.

Another favourite for singing in chorus was 'King Arthur', which was
also a favourite for outdoor singing and was often heard to the
accompaniment of the jingling of harness and cracking of whips as the
teams went afield. It was also sung by solitary wayfarers to keep up
their spirits on dark nights. It ran:


       When King Arthur first did reign,
         He ru-led like a king;
       He bought three sacks of barley meal
         To make a plum pud-ding.

       The pudding it was made
         And duly stuffed with plums,
       And lumps of suet put in it
         As big as my two thumbs.

       The king and queen sat down to it
         And all the lords beside:
       And what they couldn't eat that night
         The queen next morning fried.


Every time Laura heard this sung she saw the queen, a gold crown on her
head, her train over her arm, and her sleeves rolled up, holding the
frying-pan over the fire. Of course, a queen _would_ have fried pudding
for breakfast: ordinary common people seldom had any left over to fry.

Then Lukey, the only bachelor of mature age in the hamlet, would oblige
with:


      Me feyther's a hedger and ditcher,
        An' me mother does nothing but spin,
      But I'm a pretty young girl and
        The money comes slowly in.
Oh, dear! what can the matter be?
  Oh, dear! what shall I do?
For there's nobody coming to marry,
  And there's nobody coming to woo.

      They say I shall die an old maid,
        Oh, dear! how shocking the thought!
      For them all my beauty will fade,
        And I'm sure it won't be my own fault.
Oh, dear! what can the matter be?
  Oh, dear! what shall I do?
There's nobody coming to marry,
  And there's nobody coming to woo!


This was given point by Luke's own unmarried state. He sang it as a
comic song and his rendering certainly made it one. Perhaps, then, for a
change, poor old Algy, the mystery man, would be asked for a song and he
would sing in a cracked falsetto, which seemed to call for the tinkling
notes of a piano as accompaniment:


   Have you ever been on the Penin-su-lah?
   If not, I advise you to stay where you haw,
     For should you adore a
     Sweet Spanish senor-ah,
   She may prove what some might call sin-gu-lah.


Then there were snatches that any one might break out with at any time
when no one else happened to be singing:


         I wish, I wish, 'twer all in vain,
         I wish I were a maid again!
         A maid again I ne'er shall be
         Till oranges grow on an apple tree

or:

  Now all you young chaps, take a warning by me,
  And do not build your nest at the top of any tree,
  For the green leaves they will wither and the flowers they will decay,
  And the beauty of that fair maid will soon pass away.


One comparatively recent settler, who had only lived at the hamlet about
a quarter of a century, had composed a snatch for himself, to sing when
he felt homesick. It ran:


   Where be Dedington boo-oys, where be they now?
   They be at Dedington at the 'Plough';
   If they be-ent, they be at home,
   And this is the 'Wagon and Horses'.


But, always, sooner or later, came the cry, 'Let's give the old 'uns a
turn. Here you, Master Price, what about "It was my father's custom and
always shall be mine", or "Lord Lovell stood", or summat of that sort'
as has stood the testing o' time?' and Master Price would rise from his
corner of the settle, using the stick he called his 'third leg' to
support his bent figure as he sang:


         Lord Lovell stood at his castle gate,
 Calming his milk-white steed,
         When up came Lady Nancy Bell
 To wish her lover God-speed.

         'And where are you going, Lord Lovell?' she said.
'And where are you going?' said she.
         'Oh, I'm going away from my Nancy Bell,
 Away to a far country-tre-tre;
 Away to a far coun-tre.'

         'And when will you come back, Lord Lovell?' she said,
 'When will you come back?' said she.
         'Oh, I will come back in a year and a day,
 Back to my Lady Nancy-ce-ce-ce.
 Back to my Lady Nan-cee.'


But Lord Lovell was gone more than his year and a day, much longer, and
when he did at last return, the church bells were tolling:


         'And who is it dead?' Lord Lovell, he said.
 'And who is it dead,' said he.
         And some said, 'Lady Nancy Bell,'
 And some said, 'Lady Nancy-ce-ce-ce,
 And some said,'Lady Nan-cee.'


       .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .


 Lady Nancy died as it were to-day;
   And Lord Lovell, he died to-morrow,
 And she, she died for pure, pure grief,
   And he, he died for sorrow.

 And they buried her in the chancel high,
   And they buried him in the choir;
 And out of her grave sprung a red, red rose,
   And out of his sprung a briar.

 And they grew till they grew to the church roof,
   And then they couldn't grow any higher;
 So they twined themselves in a true lovers' knot,
   For all lovers true to admire.


After that they would all look thoughtfully into their mugs. Partly
because the old song had saddened them, and partly because by that time
the beer was getting low and the one half-pint had to be made to last
until closing time. Then some would say, 'What's old Master Tuffrey up
to, over in his corner there? Ain't heard him strike up to-night', and
there would be calls for old David's 'Outlandish Knight'; not because
they wanted particularly to hear it--indeed, they had heard it so often
they all knew it by heart--but because, as they said, 'Poor old feller
be eighty-three. Let 'un sing while he can.'

So David would have his turn. He only knew the one ballad, and that, he
said, his grandfather had sung, and had said that he had heard his own
grandfather sing it. Probably a long chain of grandfathers had sung it;
but David was fated to be the last of them. It was out of date, even
then, and only tolerated on account of his age. It ran:


An outlandish knight, all from the north lands,
  A-wooing came to me,
He said he would take me to the north lands
  And there he would marry me.

'Go, fetch me some of your father's gold
  And some of your mother's fee,
And two of the best nags out of the stable
  Where there stand thirty and three.'

She fetched him some of her father's gold
  And some of her mother's fee,
And two of the best nags out of the stable
  Where there stood thirty and three.

And then she mounted her milk-white steed
  And he the dapple grey,
And they rode until they came to the sea-shore,
  Three hours before it was day.

'Get off, get off thy milk-white steed
  And deliver it unto me,
For six pretty maids I have drowned here
  And thou the seventh shall be.

'Take off, take off, thy silken gown,
  And deliver it unto me,
For I think it is too rich and too good
  To rot in the salt sea.'

'If I must take off my silken gown,
  Pray turn thy back to me,
For I think it's not fitting a ruffian like you
  A naked woman should see.'

He turned his back towards her
  To view the leaves so green,
And she took hold of his middle so small
  And tumbled him into the stream.

And he sank high and he sank low
  Until he came to the side.
'Take hold of my hand, my pretty ladye,
  And I will make you my bride.'

'Lie there, lie there, you false-hearted man,
  Lie there instead of me,
For six pretty maids hast thou drowned here
  And the seventh hath drowned thee.'

So then she mounted the milk-white steed
  And led the dapple grey,
And she rode till she came to her own father's door,
  An hour before it was day.


As this last song was piped out in the aged voice, women at their
cottage doors on summer evenings would say: 'They'll soon be out now.
Poor old Dave's just singing his "Outlandish Knight".'

Songs and singers all have gone, and in their places the wireless blares
out variety and swing music, or informs the company in cultured tones of
what is happening in China or Spain. Children no longer listen outside.
There are very few who could listen, for the thirty or forty which
throve there in those days have dwindled to about half a dozen, and
these, happily, have books, wireless, and a good fire in their own
homes. But, to one of an older generation, it seems that a faint echo of
those songs must still linger round the inn doorway. The singers were
rude and untaught and poor beyond modern imagining; but they deserve to
be remembered, for they knew the now lost secret of being happy on
little.



     V

_Survivals_

There were three distinct types of home in the hamlet. Those of the old
couples in comfortable circumstances, those of the married people with
growing families, and the few new homes which had recently been
established. The old people who were not in comfortable circumstances
had no homes at all worth mentioning, for, as soon as they got past
work, they had either to go to the workhouse or find accommodation in
the already overcrowded cottages of their children. A father or a mother
could usually be squeezed in, but there was never room for both, so one
child would take one parent and another the other, and even then, as
they used to say, there was always the in-law to be dealt with. It was a
common thing to hear ageing people say that they hoped God would be
pleased to take them before they got past work and became a trouble to
anybody.

But the homes of the more fortunate aged were the most comfortable in
the hamlet, and one of the most attractive of these was known as 'Old
Sally's'. Never as 'Old Dick's', although Sally's husband, Dick, might
have been seen at any hour of the day, digging and hoeing and watering
and planting his garden, as much a part of the landscape as his own row
of beehives.

He was a little, dry, withered old man, who always wore his smock-frock
rolled up round his waist and the trousers on his thin legs gartered
with buckled straps. Sally was tall and broad, not fat, but massive, and
her large, beamingly good-natured face, with its well-defined moustache
and tight, coal-black curls bobbing over each ear, was framed in a white
cap frill; for Sally, though still strong and active, was over eighty,
and had remained faithful to the fashions of her youth.

She was the dominating partner. If Dick was called upon to decide any
question whatever, he would edge nervously aside and say, 'I'll just
step indoors and see what Sally thinks about it,' or 'All depends upon
what Sally says.' The house was hers and she carried the purse; but Dick
was a willing subject and enjoyed her dominion over him. It saved him a
lot of thinking, and left him free to give all his time and attention to
the growing things in his garden.

Old Sally's was a long, low, thatched cottage with diamond-paned windows
winking under the eaves and a rustic porch smothered in honeysuckle.
Excepting the inn, it was the largest house in the hamlet, and of the
two downstair rooms one was used as a kind of kitchen-storeroom, with
pots and pans and a big red crockery water vessel at one end, and
potatoes in sacks and peas and beans spread out to dry at the other. The
apple crop was stored on racks suspended beneath the ceiling and bunches
of herbs dangled below. In one corner stood the big brewing copper in
which Sally still brewed with good malt and hops once a quarter. The
scent of the last brewing hung over the place till the next and mingled
with apple and onion and dried thyme and sage smells, with a dash of
soapsuds thrown in, to compound the aroma which remained in the
children's memories for life and caused a whiff of any two of the
component parts in any part of the world to be recognized with an
appreciative sniff and a mental ejaculation of 'Old Sally's!'

The inner room--'the house', as it was called--was a perfect snuggery,
with walls two feet thick and outside shutters to close at night and a
padding of rag rugs, red curtains and feather cushions within. There was
a good oak, gate-legged table, a dresser with pewter and willow-pattern
plates, and a grandfather's clock that not only told the time, but the
day of the week as well. It had even once told the changes of the moon;
but the works belonging to that part had stopped and only the fat, full
face, painted with eyes, nose and mouth, looked out from the square
where the four quarters should have rotated. The clock portion kept such
good time that half the hamlet set its own clocks by it. The other half
preferred to follow the hooter at the brewery in the market town, which
could be heard when the wind was in the right quarter. So there were two
times in the hamlet and people would say when asking the hour, 'Is that
hooter time, or Old Sally's?'

The garden was a large one, tailing off at the bottom into a little
field where Dick grew his corn crop. Nearer the cottage were fruit
trees, then the yew hedge, close and solid as a wall, which sheltered
the beehives and enclosed the flower garden. Sally had such flowers, and
so many of them, and nearly all of them sweet-scented! Wallflowers and
tulips, lavender and sweet william, and pinks and old-world roses with
enchanting names--Seven Sisters, Maiden's Blush, moss rose, monthly
rose, cabbage rose, blood rose, and, most thrilling of all to the
children, a big bush of the York and Lancaster rose, in the blooms of
which the rival roses mingled in a pied white and red. It seemed as
though all the roses in Lark Rise had gathered together in that one
garden. Most of the gardens had only one poor starveling bush or none;
but, then, nobody else had so much of anything as Sally.

A continual subject for speculation was as to how Dick and Sally managed
to live so comfortably with no visible means of support beyond their
garden and beehives and the few shillings their two soldier sons might
be supposed to send them, and Sally in her black silk on Sundays and
Dick never without a few ha'pence for garden seeds or to fill his
tobacco pouch. 'Wish they'd tell me how 'tis done,' somebody would
grumble. 'I could do wi' a leaf out o' their book.'

But Dick and Sally did not talk about their affairs. All that was known
of them was that the house belonged to Sally, and that it had been built
by her grandfather before the open heath had been cut up into fenced
fields and the newer houses had been built to accommodate the labourers
who came to work in them. It was only when Laura was old enough to write
their letters for them that she learned more. They could both read and
Dick could write well enough to exchange letters with their own
children; but one day they received a business letter that puzzled them,
and Laura was called in, sworn to secrecy, and consulted. It was one of
the nicest things that happened to her as a child, to be chosen out of
the whole hamlet for their confidence and to know that Dick and Sally
liked her, though so few other people did. After that, at twelve years
old, she became their little woman of business, writing letters to
seedsmen and fetching postal orders from the market town to put in them
and helping Dick to calculate the interest due on their savings bank
account. From them she learned a great deal about the past life of the
hamlet.

Sally could just remember the Rise when it still stood in a wide expanse
of open heath, with juniper bushes and furze thickets and close,
springy, rabbit-bitten turf. There were only six houses then and they
stood in a ring round an open green, all with large gardens and fruit
trees and faggot piles. Laura could pick out most of the houses, still
in a ring, but lost to sight of each other among the newer, meaner
dwellings that had sprung up around and between them. Some of the houses
had been built on and made into two, others had lost their lean-tos and
outbuildings. Only Sally's remained the same, and Sally was eighty.
Laura in her lifetime was to see a ploughed field where Sally's stood;
but had she been told that she would not have believed it.

Country people had not been so poor when Sally was a girl, or their
prospects so hopeless. Sally's father had kept a cow, geese, poultry,
pigs, and a donkey-cart to carry his produce to the market town. He
could do this because he had commoners' rights and could turn his
animals out to graze, and cut furze for firing and even turf to make a
lawn for one of his customers. Her mother made butter, for themselves
and to sell, baked their own bread, and made candles for lighting. Not
much of a light, Sally said, but it cost next to nothing, and, of
course, they went to bed early.

Sometimes her father would do a day's work for wages, thatching a rick,
cutting and laying a hedge, or helping with the shearing or the harvest.
This provided them with ready money for boots and clothes; for food they
relied almost entirely on home produce. Tea was a luxury seldom indulged
in, for it cost five shillings a pound. But country people then had not
acquired the taste for tea; they preferred home-brewed.

Everybody worked; the father and mother from daybreak to dark. Sally's
job was to mind the cow and drive the geese to the best grass patches.
It was strange to picture Sally, a little girl, running with her switch
after the great hissing birds on the common, especially as both common
and geese had vanished as completely as though they never had been.

Sally had never been to school, for, when she was a child, there was no
dame school near enough for her to attend; but her brother had gone to a
night school run by the vicar of an adjoining parish, walking the three
miles each way after his day's work was done, and he had taught Sally to
spell out a few words in her mother's Bible. After that, she had been
left to tread the path of learning alone and had only managed to reach
the point where she could write her own name and read the Bible or
newspaper by skipping words of more than two syllables. Dick was a
little more advanced, for he had had the benefit of the night-school
education at first hand.

It was surprising to find how many of the old people in the hamlet who
had had no regular schooling could yet read a little. A parent had
taught some; others had attended a dame school or the night school, and
a few had made their own children teach them in later life. Statistics
of illiteracy of that period are often misleading, for many who could
read and write sufficiently well for their own humble needs would
modestly disclaim any pretensions to being what they called 'scholards'.
Some who could write their own name quite well would make a cross as
signature to a document out of nervousness or modesty.

After Sally's mother died, she became her father's right hand, indoors
and out. When the old man became feeble, Dick used to come sometimes to
do a bit of hard digging or to farm out the pigsties, and Sally had many
tales to tell of the fun they had had carting their bit of hay or
hunting for eggs in the loft. When, at a great age, the father died, he
left the house and furniture and his seventy-five pounds in the savings
bank to Sally, for, by that time, both her brothers were thriving and
needed no share. So Dick and Sally were married and had lived there
together for nearly sixty years. It had been a hard, frugal, but happy
life. For most of the time Dick had worked as a farm labourer while
Sally saw to things about home, for the cow, geese and other stock had
long gone the way of the common. But when Dick retired from wage-earning
the seventy-five pounds was not only intact, but had been added to. It
had been their rule, Sally said, to save something every week, if only a
penny or twopence, and the result of their hard work and self-denial was
their present comfortable circumstances. 'But us couldn't've done it if
us'd gone havin' a great tribe o' children,' Sally would say. 'I didn't
never hold wi' havin' a lot o' poor brats and nothin' to put into their
bellies. Took us all our time to bring up our two.' She was very bitter
about the huge families around her and no doubt would have said more had
she been talking to one of maturer age.

They had their little capital reckoned up and allotted; they could
manage on so much a year in addition to the earnings of their garden,
fowls, and beehives, and that much, and no more, was drawn every year
from the bank. 'Reckon it'll about last our time,' they used to say, and
it did, although both lived well on into the eighties.

After they had gone, their house stood empty for years. The population
of the hamlet was falling and none of the young newly married couples
cared for the thatched roof and stone floors. People who lived near used
the well; it saved them many a journey. And many were not above taking
the railings or the beehive bench or anything made of wood for firing,
or gathering the apples or using the poor tattered remnant of the flower
garden as a nursery. But nobody wanted to live there.

When Laura visited the hamlet just before the War, the roof had fallen
in, the yew hedge had run wild and the flowers were gone, excepting one
pink rose which was shedding its petals over the ruin. To-day, all has
gone, and only the limy whiteness of the soil in a corner of a ploughed
field is left to show that a cottage once stood there.

Sally and Dick were survivals from the earliest hamlet days. Queenie
represented another phase of its life which had also ended and been
forgotten by most people. She lived in a tiny, thatched cottage at the
back of the end house, which, although it was not in line, was always
spoken of as 'next door'. She seemed very old to the children, for she
was a little, wrinkled, yellow-faced old woman in a sunbonnet; but she
cannot have been nearly as old as Sally. Queenie and her husband were
not in such comfortable circumstances as Sally and Dick; but old Master
Macey, commonly called 'Twister', was still able to work part of the
time, and they managed to keep their home going.

It was a pleasant home, though bare, for Queenie kept it spotless,
scrubbing her deal table and whitening her floor with hearthstone every
morning and keeping the two brass candlesticks on her mantelpiece
polished till they looked like gold. The cottage faced south and, in
summer, the window and door stood open all day to the sunshine. When the
children from the end house passed close by her doorway, as they had to
do every time they went beyond their own garden, they would pause a
moment to listen to Queenie's old sheep's-head clock ticking. There was
no other sound; for, after she had finished her housework, Queenie was
never indoors while the sun shone. If the children had a message for
her, they were told to go round to the beehives, and there they would
find her, sitting on a low stool with her lace-pillow on her lap,
sometimes working and sometimes dozing with her lilac sunbonnet drawn
down over her face to shield it from the sun.

Every fine day, throughout the summer, she sat there 'watching the
bees'. She was combining duty and pleasure, for, if they swarmed, she
was making sure of not losing the swarm; and, if they did not, it was
still, as she said, 'a trate' to sit there, feeling the warmth of the
sun, smelling the flowers, and watching 'the craturs' go in and out of
the hives.

When, at last, the long-looked-for swarm rose into the air, Queenie
would seize her coal shovel and iron spoon and follow it over cabbage
beds and down pea-stick alleys, her own or, if necessary, other
peoples', tanging the spoon on the shovel: _Tang-tang-tangety-tang!_

She said it was the law that, if they were not tanged, and they settled
beyond her own garden bounds, she would have no further claim to them.
Where they settled, they belonged. That would have been a serious loss,
especially in early summer, for, as she reminded the children:


    A swarm in May's worth a rick of hay;
    And a swarm in June's worth a silver spoon;


while


    A swarm in July isn't worth a fly.


So she would follow and leave her shovel to mark her claim, then go back
home for the straw skep and her long, green veil and sheepskin gloves to
protect her face and hands while she hived her swarm.

In winter she fed her bees with a mixture of sugar and water and might
often have been seen at that time of the year with her ear pressed to
one of the red pan roofs of the hives, listening. 'The craturs! The poor
little craturs,' she would say, 'they must be a'most frozed. If I could
have my way I'd take 'em all indoors and set 'em in rows in front of a
good fire.'

Queenie at her lace-making was a constant attraction to the children.
They loved to see the bobbins tossed hither and thither, at random it
seemed to them, every bobbin weighted with its bunch of bright beads and
every bunch with its own story, which they had heard so many times that
they knew it by heart, how this bunch had been part of a blue bead
necklace worn by her little sister who had died at five years old, and
this other one had belonged to her mother, and that black one had been
found, after she was dead, in a work-box belonging to a woman who was
reputed to have been a witch.

There had been a time, it appeared, when lace-making was a regular
industry in the hamlet. Queenie, in her childhood, had been 'brought up
to the pillow', sitting among the women at eight years old and learning
to fling her bobbins with the best of them. They would gather in one
cottage in winter for warmth, she said, each one bringing her faggot or
shovel of coals for the fire, and there they would sit all day, working,
gossiping, singing old songs, and telling old tales till it was time to
run home and put on the pots for their husbands' suppers. These were the
older women and the young unmarried girls; the women with little
children did what lace-making they could at home. In very cold winter
weather the lace-makers would have a small earthen pot with a lid,
called a 'pipkin', containing hot embers, at which they warmed their
hands and feet and sometimes sat upon.

In the summer they would sit in the shade behind one of the 'housen',
and, as they gossiped, the bobbins flew and the lovely, delicate pattern
lengthened until the piece was completed and wrapped in blue paper and
stored away to await the great day when the year's work was taken to
Banbury Fair and sold to the dealer.

'Them wer' the days!' she would sigh. 'Money to spend.' And she would
tell of the bargains she had bought with her earnings. Good brown calico
and linsey-woolsey, and a certain chocolate print sprigged with white,
her favourite gown, of which she could still show a pattern in her big
patchwork quilt. Then there was a fairing to be bought for those at
home--pipes and packets of shag tobacco for the men, rag dolls and
ginger-bread for the 'little 'uns', and snuff for the old grannies. And
the homecoming, loaded with treasure, and money in the pocket besides.
Tripe. They always bought tripe; it was the only time in the year they
could get it, and it was soon heated up, with onions and a nice bit of
thickening; and after supper there was hot, spiced elderberry wine, and
so to bed, everybody happy.

Now, of course, things were different. She didn't know what the world
was coming to. This nasty machine-made stuff had killed the lace-making;
the dealer had not been to the Fair for the last ten years; nobody knew
a bit of good stuff when they saw it. Said they liked the Nottingham
lace better; it was wider and had more pattern to it! She still did a
bit to keep her hand in. One or two old ladies still used it to trim
their shifts, and it was handy to give as presents to such as the
children's mother; but, as for living by it, no, those days were over.
So it emerged from her talk that there had been a second period in the
hamlet more prosperous than the present. Perhaps the women's earnings at
lace-making had helped to tide them over the Hungry 'Forties, for no one
seemed to remember that time of general hardship in country villages;
but memories were short there, and it may have been that life had always
been such a struggle they had noticed no difference in those lean years.

Queenie's ideal of happiness was to have a pound a week coming in. 'If I
had a pound a week,' she would say, 'I 'udn't care if it rained hatchets
and hammers.' Laura's mother longed for thirty shillings a week, and
would say, 'If I could depend on thirty shillings, regular, I could keep
you all so nice and tidy, and keep such a table!'

Queenie's income fell far short of even half of the pound a week she
dreamed of, for her husband, Twister, was what was known in the hamlet
as 'a slack-twisted sort o' chap', one who 'whatever he died on, 'uldn't
kill hisself wi' hard work'. He was fond of a bit of sport and always
managed to get taken on as a beater at shoots, and took care never to
have a job on hand when hounds were meeting in the neighbourhood. Best
of all, he liked to go round with one of the brewers' travellers,
perched precariously on the back seat of the high dogcart, to open and
shut the gates they had to pass through and to hold the horse outside
public houses. But, although he had retired from regular farm labour on
account of age and chronic rheumatism, he still went to the farm and
lent a hand when he had nothing more exciting to do. The farmer must
have liked him, for he had given orders that whenever Twister was
working about the farmstead he was to have a daily half-pint on demand.
That half-pint was the salvation of Queenie's housekeeping, for, in
spite of his varied interests, there were many days when Twister must
either work or thirst.

He was a small, thin-legged, jackdaw-eyed old fellow, and dressed in an
old velveteen coat that had once belonged to a gamekeeper, with a
peacock's feather stuck in the band of his battered old bowler and a
red-and-yellow neckerchief knotted under one ear. The neckerchief was a
relic of the days when he had taken baskets of nuts to fairs, and,
taking up his stand among the booths and roundabouts, had shouted:
'Bassalonies big as ponies!' until his throat felt dry. Then he had
adjourned to the nearest public house and spent his takings and
distributed the rest of his stock, gratis. That venture soon came to an
end for want of capital.

To serve his own purposes, Twister would sometimes pose as a half-wit;
but, as the children's father said, he was no fool where his own
interests were concerned. He was ready at any time to clown in public
for the sake of a pint of beer; but at home he was morose--one of those
people who 'hang their fiddle up at the door when they go home', as the
saying went there.

But in old age Queenie had him well in hand. He knew that he had to
produce at least a few shillings on Saturday night, or, when Sunday
dinner-time came, Queenie would spread the bare cloth on the table and
they would just have to sit down and look at each other; there would be
no food.

Forty-five years before she had served him with a dish even less to his
taste. He had got drunk and beaten her cruelly with the strap with which
he used to keep up his trousers. Poor Queenie had gone to bed sobbing;
but she was not too overcome to think, and she decided to try an old
country cure for such offences.

The next morning when he came to dress, his strap was missing. Probably
already ashamed of himself, he said nothing, but hitched up his trousers
with string and slunk off to work, leaving Queenie apparently still
asleep.

At night, when he came home to tea, a handsome pie was placed before
him, baked a beautiful golden-brown and with a pastry tulip on the top;
such a pie as must have seemed to him to illustrate the old saying: '_A
woman, a dog and a walnut tree, the more you beat 'em the better they
be_.'

'You cut it, Tom,' said a smiling Queenie. 'I made it a-purpose for you.
Come, don't 'ee be afraid on it. 'Tis all for you.' And she turned her
back and pretended to be hunting for something in the cupboard.

Tom cut it; then recoiled, for, curled up inside, was the leather strap
with which he had beaten his wife. 'A just went as white as a ghoo-ost,
an' got up an' went out,' said Queenie all those years later. 'But it
cured 'en, it cured 'en, for's not so much as laid a finger on me from
that day to this!'

Perhaps Twister's clowning was not all affected; for, in later years, he
became a little mad and took to walking about talking to himself, with a
large, open clasp-knife in his hand. Nobody thought of getting a doctor
to examine him; but everybody in the hamlet suddenly became very polite
to him.

It was at this time he gave the children's mother the fright of her
life. She had gone out to hang out some clothes in the garden, leaving
one of her younger children alone, asleep in his cradle. When she came
back, Twister was stooping over the child with his head inside the hood
of the cradle, completely hiding the babe from her sight. As she rushed
forward, fearing the worst, the poor, silly old man looked up at her
with his eyes full of tears. 'Ain't 'ee like little Jesus? Ain't 'ee
just like little Jesus?' he said, and the little baby of two months woke
up at that moment and smiled. It was the first time he had been known to
smile.

But Twister's exploits did not always end as happily. He had begun to
torture animals and was showing an inclination to turn nudist, and
people were telling Queenie he ought to be 'put away' when the great
snowstorm came. For days the hamlet was cut off from the outer world by
great drifts which filled the narrow hamlet road to the tops of the
hedges in places. In digging a way out they found a cart with the horse
still between the shafts and still alive; but there was no trace of the
boy who was known to have been in charge. Men, women, and children
turned out to dig, expecting to find a dead body, and Twister was one of
the foremost amongst them. They said he worked then as he had never
worked before in his life; his strength and energy were marvellous. They
did not find the boy, alive or dead, for the very good reason that he
had, at the height of the storm, deserted the cart, forgotten the horse,
and scrambled across country to his home in another village; but poor
old Twister got pneumonia and was dead within a fortnight.

On the evening of the day he died, Edmund was round at the back of the
end house banking up his rabbit-hutches with straw for the night, when
he saw Queenie come out of her door and go towards her beehives. For
some reason or other, Edmund followed her. She tapped on the roof of
each hive in turn, like knocking at a door, and said, '_Bees, bees, your
master's dead, an' now you must work for your missis_.' Then, seeing the
little boy, she explained: 'I 'ad to tell 'em, you know, or they'd
all've died, poor craturs.' So Edmund really heard bees seriously told
of a death.

Afterwards, with parish relief and a little help here and there from her
children and friends, Queenie managed to live. Her chief difficulty was
to get her ounce of snuff a week, and that was the one thing she could
not do without; it was as necessary to her as tobacco is to a smoker.

All the women over fifty took snuff. It was the one luxury in their hard
lives. 'I couldn't do wi'out my pinch o' snuff,' they used to say. "Tis
meat an' drink to me,' and, tapping the sides of their snuffboxes, ''Ave
a pinch, me dear.'

Most of the younger women pulled a face of disgust as they refused the
invitation, for snuff-taking had gone out of fashion and was looked upon
as a dirty habit; but Laura's mother would dip her thumb and forefinger
into the box and sniff at them delicately, 'for manners' sake', as she
said. Queenie's snuffbox had a picture of Queen Victoria and the Prince
Consort on the lid. Sometimes, when every grain of the powder was gone,
she would sniff at the empty box and say, 'Ah! That's better. The ghost
o' good snuff's better nor nothin'.'

She still had one great day every year, when, every autumn, the dealer
came to purchase the produce of her beehives. Then, in her pantry
doorway, a large muslin bag was suspended to drain the honey from the
broken pieces of comb into a large, red pan which stood beneath, while,
on her doorstep, the end house children waited to  see 'the honeyman'
carry out and weigh the whole combs. One year--one never-to-be-forgotten
year--he had handed to each of them a rich, dripping fragment of comb.
He never did it again; but they always waited, for the hope was almost
as sweet as the honey.

There had been, when Laura was small, one bachelor's establishment near
her home. This had belonged to 'the Major', who, as his nickname
denoted, had been in the Army. He had served in many lands and then
returned to his native place to set up house and do for himself in a
neat, orderly, soldier-like manner. All went well until he became old
and feeble. Even then, for some years, he struggled on alone in his
little home, for he had a small pension. Then he was ill and spent some
weeks in Oxford Infirmary. Before he went there, as he had no relatives
or special friends, Laura's mother nursed him and helped him to get
together the few necessities he had to take with him. She would have
visited him at the hospital had it been possible; but money was scarce
and her children were too young to be left, so she wrote him a few
letters and sent him the newspaper every week. It was, as she said, 'the
least anybody could do for the poor old fellow'. But the Major had seen
the world and knew its ways and he did not take such small kindnesses as
a matter of course.

He came home from the hospital late one Saturday night, after the
children were in bed, and, next morning, Laura, waking at early dawn,
thought she saw some strange object on her pillow. She dozed and woke
again. It was still there. A small wooden box. She sat up in bed and
opened it. Inside was a set of doll's dishes with painted wax food upon
them--chops and green peas and new potatoes, and a jam tart with
criss-cross pastry. Where could it have come from? It was not Christmas
or her birthday. Then Edmund awoke and called out he had found an
engine. It was a tiny tin engine, perhaps a penny one, but his delight
was unbounded. Then Mother came into their room and said that the Major
had brought the presents from Oxford. She had a little red silk
handkerchief, such as were worn inside the coat-collar at that time for
extra warmth. It was before fur collars were thought of. Father had a
pipe and the baby a rattle. It was amazing. To be thought of! To be
brought presents, and such presents, by one who was not even a relative!
The good, kind Major was in no danger of being forgotten by the family
at the end house. Mother made his bed and tidied his room, and Laura was
sent with covered plates whenever there was anything special for dinner.
She would knock at his door and go in and say in her demure little way,
'Please, Mr. Sharman, Mother says could you fancy a little of
so-and-so?'

But the Major was too old and ill to be able to live alone much longer,
even with such help as the children's mother and other kind neighbours
could give. The day came when the doctor called in the relieving
officer. The old man was seriously ill; he had no relatives. There was
only one place where he could be properly looked after, and that was the
workhouse infirmary. They were right in their decision. He was not able
to look after himself; he had no relatives or friends able to undertake
the responsibility; the workhouse _was_ the best place for him. But they
made one terrible mistake. They were dealing with a man of intelligence
and spirit, and they treated him as they might have done one in the
extreme of senile decay. They did not consult him or tell him what they
had decided; but ordered the carrier's cart to call at his house the
next morning and wait at a short distance while they, in the doctor's
gig, drove up to his door. When they entered, the Major had just dressed
and dragged himself to his chair by the fire. 'It's a nice morning, and
we've come to take you for a drive,' announced the doctor cheerfully,
and, in spite of his protests, they hustled on his coat and had him out
and in the carrier's cart in a very few minutes.

Laura saw the carrier touch up his horse with the whip and the cart
turn, and she always wished afterwards she had not, for, as soon as he
realized where he was being taken, the old soldier, the independent old
bachelor, the kind family friend, collapsed and cried like a child. He
was beaten. But not for long. Before six weeks were over he was back in
the parish and all his troubles were over, for he came in his coffin.

As he had no relatives to be informed, the time appointed for his
funeral was not known in the hamlet, or no doubt a few of his old
neighbours would have gathered in the churchyard. As it was, Laura,
standing back among the graves, a milk-can in her hand, was the only
spectator, and that quite by chance. No mourner followed the coffin into
the church, and she was far too shy to come forward; but when it was
brought out and carried towards the open grave it was no longer
unaccompanied, for the clergyman's middle-aged daughter walked behind
it, an open prayer-book in her hand and an expression of gentle pity in
her eyes. She could barely have known him in life, for he was not a
church-goer; but she had seen the solitary coffin arrive and had hurried
across from her home to the church that he might at least have one
fellow human being to say 'Farewell' to him. In after years, when Laura
heard her spoken of slightingly, and, indeed, often felt irritated
herself by her interfering ways, she thought of that graceful action.

The children's grandparents lived in a funny little house out in the
fields. It was a round house, tapering off at the top, so there were two
rooms downstairs and only one--and that a kind of a loft, with a sloping
ceiling--above them. The garden did not adjoin the house, but was shut
away between high hedges on the other side of the cart track which led
to it. It was full of currant and gooseberry bushes, raspberry canes,
and old hardy flowers run wild, almost solid with greenery, for, since
the gardener had grown old and stiff in the joints, he had not been able
to do much pruning or trimming. There Laura spent many happy hours,
supposed to be picking fruit for jam, but for the better part of the
time reading or dreaming. One corner, overhung by a damson tree and
walled in with bushes and flowers, she called her 'green study'.

Laura's grandfather was a tall old man with snow-white hair and beard
and the bluest eyes imaginable. He must at that time have been well on
in the seventies, for her mother had been his youngest child and a
latecomer. One of her outstanding distinctions in the eyes of her own
children was that she had been born an aunt, and, as soon as she could
talk, had insisted upon her two nieces, both older than herself,
addressing her as 'Aunt Emma'.

Before he retired from active life, the grandfather had followed the old
country calling of an eggler, travelling the countryside with a little
horse and trap, buying up eggs from farms and cottages and selling them
at markets and to shopkeepers. At the back of the round house stood the
little lean-to stable in which his pony Dobbin had lived. The children
loved to lie in the manger and climb about among the rafters. The death
of Dobbin of old age had put an end to his master's eggling, for he had
no capital with which to buy another horse. Far from it. Moreover, by
that time he was himself suffering from Dobbin's complaint; so he
settled down to doing what he could in his garden and making a private
daily round on his own feet, from his home to the end house, from the
end house to church, and back home again.

At the church he not only attended every service, Sunday and weekday,
but, when there was no service, he would go there alone to pray and
meditate, for he was a deeply religious man. At one time he had been a
local preacher, and had walked miles on Sunday evenings to conduct, in
turn with others, the services at the cottage meeting houses in the
different villages. In old age he had returned to the Church of England,
not because of any change of opinion, for creeds did not trouble
him--his feet were too firmly planted on the Rock upon which they are
all founded--but because the parish church was near enough for him to
attend its services, was always open for his private devotions, and the
music there, poor as it was, was all the music left to him.

Some members of his old meeting-house congregations still remembered
what they considered his inspired preaching 'of the Word'. 'You did
ought to be a better gal, wi' such a gran'fer,' said a Methodist woman
to Laura one day when she saw her crawl through a gap in a hedge and
tear her new pinafore. But Laura was not old enough to appreciate her
grandfather, for he died when she was ten, and his loving care for her
mother, his youngest and dearest child, led to many lectures and
reproofs. Had he seen the torn pinafore, it would certainly have
provoked both. However, she had just sufficient discrimination to know
he was better than most people.

As has already been mentioned, he had at one time played the violin in
one of the last instrumental church choirs in the district. He had also
played it at gatherings at home and in neighbours' houses and, in his
earlier, unregenerate days, at weddings and feasts and fairs. Laura,
happening to think of this one day, said to her mother, 'Why doesn't
Grandfather ever play his fiddle now! What's he done with it?'

'Oh,' said her mother in a matter-of-fact tone. 'He hasn't got it any
longer. He sold it once when Granny was ill and they were a bit short of
money. It was a good fiddle and he got five pounds for it.'

She spoke as though there was no more in selling your fiddle than in
selling half a pig or a spare sack of potatoes in an emergency; but
Laura, though so much younger, felt differently about it. Though devoid
of the most rudimentary musical instinct herself, she had imagination
enough to know that to a musician his musical instrument must be a most
precious possession. So, when she was alone with her grandfather one
day, she said, 'Didn't you miss your fiddle, Granda?'

The old man gave her a quick, searching look, then smiled sadly. 'I did,
my maid, more than anything I've ever had to part with, and that's not a
little, and I miss it still and always shall. But it went for a good
cause, and we can't have everything we want in this world. It wouldn't
be good for us.' But Laura did not agree. She thought it would have been
good for him to have his dear old fiddle. That wretched money, or rather
the lack of it, seemed the cause of everybody's troubles.

The fiddle was not the only thing he had had to give up. He had given up
smoking when he retired and they had to live on their tiny savings and
the small allowance from a brother who had prospered as a coal-merchant.
Perhaps what he felt most keenly of all was that he had had to give up
giving, for he loved to give.

One of Laura's earliest memories was of her grandfather coming through
the gate and up the end house garden in his old-fashioned close-fitting
black overcoat and bowler hat, his beard nicely trimmed and shining,
with a huge vegetable marrow under his arm. He came every morning and
seldom came empty-handed. He would bring a little basket of early
raspberries or green peas, already shelled, or a tight little bunch of
sweet williams and moss rosebuds, or a baby rabbit, which some one else
had given him--always something. He would come indoors, and if anything
in the house was broken, he would mend it, or he would take a stocking
out of his pocket and sit down and knit, and all the time he was working
he would talk in a kind, gentle voice to his daughter, calling her
'Emmie'. Sometimes she would cry as she told him of her troubles, and he
would get up and smooth her hair and wipe her eyes and say, 'That's
better! That's better! Now you're going to be my own brave little wench!
And remember, my dear, there's One above who knows what's best for us,
though we may not see it ourselves at the time.'

By the middle of the 'eighties the daily visits had ceased, for the
chronic rheumatism against which he had fought was getting the better of
him. First, the church was too far for him; then the end house; then his
own garden across the road, and at last his world narrowed down to the
bed upon which he was lying. That bed was not the four-poster with the
silk-and-satin patchwork quilt in rich shades of red and brown and
orange which stood in the best downstairs bedroom, but the plain white
bed beneath the sloping ceiling in the little whitewashed room under the
roof. He had slept there for years, leaving his wife the downstair room,
that she might not be disturbed by his fevered tossing during his
rheumatic attacks, and also because, like many old people, he woke
early, and liked to get up and light the fire and read his Bible before
his wife was ready for her cup of tea to be taken to her.

Gradually, his limbs became so locked he could not turn over in bed
without help. Giving to and doing for others was over for him. He would
lie upon his back for hours, his tired old blue eyes fixed upon the
picture nailed on the wall at the foot of his bed. It was the only
coloured thing in the room; the rest was bare whiteness. It was of the
Crucifixion, and, printed above the crown of thorns were the words:


  This have I done for thee.


And underneath the pierced and bleeding feet:


  What hast thou done for me?


His, two years' uncomplaining endurance of excruciating pain answered
for him.

When her husband was asleep, or lying, washed and tended, gazing at his
picture, Laura's grandmother would sit among her feather cushions
downstairs reading _Bow Bells_ or the _Princess Novelettes_ or the
_Family Herald_. Except when engaged in housework, she was never seen
without a book in her hand. It was always a novelette, and she had a
large assortment of these which she kept tied up in flat parcels, ready
to exchange with other novelette readers.

She had been very pretty when she was young. 'The Belle of Hornton',
they had called her in her native village, and she often told Laura of
the time when her hair had reached down to her knees, like a great
yellow cape, she said, which covered her. Another of her favourite
stories was of the day when she had danced with a real lord. It was at
his coming-of-age celebrations, and a great honour, for he had passed
over his own friends and the daughters of his tenants in favour of one
who was but a gamekeeper's daughter. Before the evening was over he had
whispered in her ear that she was the prettiest girl in the county, and
she had cherished the compliment all her life. There were no further
developments. My Lord was My Lord, and Hannah Pollard was Hannah
Pollard, a poor girl, but the daughter of decent parents. No further
developments were possible in real life, though such affairs ended
differently in her novelettes. Perhaps that was why she enjoyed them.

It was difficult for Laura to connect the long, yellow hair and the
white frock with blue ribbons worn at the coming-of-age fête with her
grandmother, for she saw her only as a thin, frail old woman who wore
her grey hair parted like curtains and looped at the ears with little
combs. Still, there was something which made her worth looking at.
Laura's mother said it was because her features were good. 'My mother,'
she would say, 'will look handsome in her coffin. Colour goes and the
hair turns grey, but the framework lasts.'

Laura's mother was greatly disappointed in her little daughter's looks.
Her own mother had been an acknowledged belle, she herself had been
charmingly pretty, and she naturally expected her children to carry on
the tradition. But Laura was a plain, thin child: 'Like a moll heron,
all legs and wings,' she was told in the hamlet, and her dark eyes and
wide mouth looked too large for her small face. The only compliment ever
paid her in childhood was that of a curate who said she was 'intelligent
looking'. Those around her would have preferred curly hair and a rosebud
mouth to all the intelligence in the world.

Laura's grandmother had never tramped ten miles on a Sunday night to
hear her husband preach in a village chapel. She had gone to church once
every Sunday, unless it rained or was too hot, or she had a cold, or
some article of her attire was too shabby. She was particular about her
clothes and liked to have everything handsome about her. In her bedroom
there were pictures and ornaments, as well as the feather cushions and
silk patchwork quilt.

When she came to the end house, the best chair was placed by the fire
for her and the best possible tea put on the table, and Laura's mother
did not whisper her troubles to her as she did to her father. If some
little thing did leak out, she would only say, 'All men need a bit of
humouring.'

Some women, too, thought Laura, for she could see that her grandmother
had always been the one to be indulged and spared all trouble and
unpleasantness. If the fiddle had belonged to her, it would never have
been sold; the whole family would have combined to buy a handsome new
case for it.

After her husband died, she went away to live with her eldest son, and
the round house shared the fate of Sally's. Where it stood is now a
ploughed field. The husband's sacrifices, the wife's romance, are as
though they had never been--'melted into air, into thin air'.

Those were a few of the old men and women to whom the Rector referred as
'our old folks' and visiting townsmen lumped together as 'a lot of old
yokels'. There were a few other homes of old people in the hamlet; that
of Master Ashley, for instance, who, like Sally, had descended from one
of the original squatters and still owned the ancestral cottage and
strip of land. He must have been one of the last people to use a
breast-plough, a primitive implement consisting of a ploughshare at one
end of a stout stick and a cross-piece of shaped wood at the other which
the user pressed to his breast to drive the share through the soil. On
his land stood the only surviving specimen of the old furze and daub
building which had once been common in the neighbourhood. The walls were
of furze branches closely pressed together and daubed with a mixture of
mud and mortar. It was said that the first settlers built their cottages
of these materials with their own hands.

Then there were one or two poorer couples, just holding on to their
homes, but in daily fear of the workhouse. The Poor Law authorities
allowed old people past work a small weekly sum as outdoor relief; but
it was not sufficient to live upon, and, unless they had more than
usually prosperous children to help support them, there came a time when
the home had to be broken up. When, twenty years later, the Old Age
Pensions began, life was transformed for such aged cottagers. They were
relieved of anxiety. They were suddenly rich. Independent for life! At
first when they went to the Post Office to draw it, tears of gratitude
would run down the cheeks of some, and they would say as they picked up
their money, 'God bless that Lord George! [for they could not believe
one so powerful and munificent could be a plain 'Mr.'] and God bless
_you_, miss!' and there were flowers from their gardens and apples from
their trees for the girl who merely handed them the money.



     VI

   _The Besieged Generation_

To Laura, as a child, the hamlet once appeared as a fortress. She was
coming home alone from school one wild, grey, March afternoon, and,
looking up from her battling against the wind, got a swift new
impression of the cluster of stark walls and slated roofs on the Rise,
with rooks tumbling and clouds hurrying overhead, smoke beating down
from the chimneys, and clothes on clothes-lines straining away in the
wind.

'It's a fort! It's a fort!' she cried, and she went on up the road,
singing in her flat, tuneless little voice the Salvation Army hymn of
the day, 'Hold the fort, for I am coming'.

There was a deeper likeness than that of her childish vision. The hamlet
was indeed in a state of siege, and its chief assailant was Want. Yet,
like other citizens during a long, but not too desperate siege, its
inhabitants had become accustomed to their hard conditions and were able
to snatch at any small passing pleasure and even at times to turn their
very straits to laughter.

To go from the homes of the older people to those of the besieged
generation was to step into another chapter of the hamlet's history. All
the graces and simple luxuries of the older style of living had
disappeared. They were poor people's houses rich only in children,
strong, healthy children, who, in a few years, would be ready to take
their part in the work of the world and to provide good, healthy blood
for the regeneration of city populations; but, in the meantime, their
parents had to give their all in order to feed and clothe them.

In their houses the good, solid, hand-made furniture of their
forefathers had given place to the cheap and ugly products of the early
machine age. A deal table, the top ribbed and softened by much
scrubbing; four or five windsor chairs with the varnish blistered and
flaking; a side table for the family photographs and ornaments, and a
few stools for fireside seats, together with the beds upstairs, made up
the collection spoken of by its owners as 'our few sticks of furniture'.

If the father had a special chair in which to rest after his day's work
was done, it would be but a rather larger replica of the hard windsors
with wooden arms added. The clock, if any, was a cheap, foreign
timepiece, standing on the mantelshelf--one which could seldom be relied
upon to keep correct time for twelve hours together. Those who had no
clock depended upon the husband's watch for getting up in the morning.
The watch then went to work with him, an arrangement which must have
been a great inconvenience to most wives; but was a boon to the gossips,
who could then knock at a neighbour's door and ask the time when they
felt inclined for a chat.

The few poor crocks were not good enough to keep on show and were hidden
away in the pantry between mealtimes. Pewter plates and dishes as
ornaments had gone. There were still plenty of them to be found, kicked
about around gardens and pigsties. Sometimes a travelling tinker would
spy one of these and beg or buy it for a few coppers, to melt down and
use in his trade. Other casual callers at the cottages would buy a set
of handwrought, brass drop-handles from an inherited chest of drawers
for sixpence; or a corner cupboard, or a gate-legged table which had
become slightly infirm, for half a crown. Other such articles of
furniture were put out of doors and spoilt by the weather, for the newer
generation did not value such things; it preferred the products of its
own day, and, gradually, the hamlet was being stripped of such relics.

As ornaments for their mantelpieces and side tables the women liked
gaudy glass vases, pottery images of animals, shell-covered boxes and
plush photograph frames. The most valued ornaments of all were the white
china mugs inscribed in gilt lettering 'A Present for a Good Child', or
'A Present from Brighton', or some other sea-side place. Those who had
daughters in service to bring them would accumulate quite a collection
of these, which were hung by the handles in rows from the edge of a
shelf, and were a source of great pride in the owner and of envy in the
neighbours.

Those who could find the necessary cash covered their walls with
wall-paper in big, sprawling, brightly coloured flower designs. Those
who could not, used whitewash or pasted up newspaper sheets. On the wall
space near the hearth hung the flitch or flitches of bacon, and every
house had a few pictures, mostly coloured ones given by grocers as
almanacks and framed at home. These had to be in pairs, and lovers'
meetings lovers' partings, brides in their wedding gowns, widows
standing by newly made graves, children begging in the snow or playing
with puppies or kittens in nurseries were the favourite subjects.

Yet, even out of these unpromising materials, in a room which was
kitchen, living-room, nursery, and wash-house combined, some women would
contrive to make a pleasant, attractive-looking home. A well-whitened
hearth, a home-made rag rug in bright colours, and a few geraniums on
the window-sill would cost nothing, but make a great difference to the
general effect. Others despised these finishing touches. What was the
good of breaking your back pegging rugs for the children to mess up when
an old sack thrown down would serve the same purpose, they said. As to
flowers in pots, they didn't hold with the nasty, messy things. But they
did, at least, believe in cleaning up their houses once a day, for
public opinion demanded that of them. There were plenty of bare,
comfortless homes in the hamlet, but there was not one really dirty one.

Every morning, as soon as the men had been packed off to work, the older
children to school, the smaller ones to play, and the baby had been
bathed and put to sleep in its cradle, rugs and mats were carried out of
doors and banged against walls, fireplaces were 'ridded up', and tables
and floors were scrubbed. In wet weather, before scrubbing, the stone
floor had often to be scraped with an old knife-blade to loosen the
trodden-in mud; for, although there was a scraper for shoes beside every
doorstep, some of the stiff, clayey mud would stick to the insteps and
uppers of boots and be brought indoors.

To avoid bringing in more during the day, the women wore pattens over
their shoes to go to the well or the pigsty. The patten consisted of a
wooden sole with a leather toepiece, raised about two inches from the
ground on an iron ring. _Clack! Clack! Clack!_ over the stones, and
_Slush! Slush! Slush!_ through the mud went the patten rings. You could
not keep your movements secret if you wore pattens to keep yourself dry
shod.

A pair of pattens only cost tenpence and lasted for years. But the
patten was doomed. Vicarage ladies and farmers' wives no longer wore
them to go to and fro between their dairies and poultry yards, and newly
married cottagers no longer provided themselves with a pair. 'Too proud
to wear pattens' was already becoming a proverb at the beginning of the
decade, and by the end of it they had practically disappeared.

The morning cleaning proceeded to the accompaniment of neighbourly
greetings and shouting across garden and fences, for the first sound of
the banging of mats was a signal for others to bring out theirs, and it
would be 'Have 'ee heard this?' and 'What d'ye think of that?' until
industrious housewives declared that they would take to banging their
mats overnight, for they never knew if it was going to take them two
minutes or two hours.

Nicknames were not used among the women, and only the aged were spoken
of by their Christian names, Old Sally or Old Queenie or sometimes
Dame--Dame Mercer or Dame Morris. The other married women were Mrs. This
or Mrs. That, even with those who had known them from their cradles. Old
men were called Master, not Mister. Younger men were known by their
nicknames or their Christian names, excepting a few who were more than
usually respected. Children were carefully taught to address all as Mr.
or Mrs.

Cleaning began at about the same time in every house, but the time of
finishing varied. Some housewives would have everything spick-and-span
and themselves 'tidied up' by noon; others would still be at it at
teatime. 'A slut's work's never done' was a saying among the good
housewives.

It puzzled Laura that, although everybody cleaned up every day, some
houses looked what they called there 'a pictur' and others a muddle. She
remarked on this to her mother.

'Come here,' was the answer. 'See this grate I'm cleaning? Looks done,
doesn't it? But you wait.'

Up and down and round and round and between the bars went the brush;
then: 'Now look. Looks different, doesn't it?' It did. It had been
passably polished before; now it was resplendent. 'There!' said her
mother. 'That's the secret; just that bit of extra elbow-grease after
some folks would consider a thing done.'

But that final polish, the giving of which came naturally to Laura's
mother, could not have been possible to all. Pregnancy and nursing and
continual money worries must have worn down the strength and energy of
many. Taking these drawbacks into account, together with the
inconvenience and overcrowding of the cottages, the general standard of
cleanliness was marvellous.

There was one postal delivery a day, and towards ten o'clock, the heads
of the women beating their mats would be turned towards the allotment
path to watch for 'Old Postie'. Some days there were two, or even three,
letters for Lark Rise; quite as often there were none; but there were
few women who did not gaze longingly. This longing for letters was
called 'yearning' (pronounced 'yarnin''); 'No, I be-ant expectin'
nothin', but I be so yarnin'' one woman would say to another as they
watched the old postman dawdle over the stile and between the allotment
plots. On wet days he carried an old green gig umbrella with whalebone
ribs, and, beneath its immense circumference he seemed to make no more
progress than an overgrown mushroom. But at last he would reach and
usually pass the spot where the watchers were standing.

'No, I ain't got nothin' for you, Mrs. Parish,' he would call. 'Your
young Annie wrote to you only last week. She's got summat else to do
besides sittin' down on her arse writing home all the time.' Or, waving
his arm for some woman to meet him, for he did not intend to go a step
further than he was obliged: 'One for you, Mrs. Knowles, and, my! ain't
it a thin-roed 'un! Not much time to write to her mother these days. I
took a good fat 'un from her to young Chad Gubbins.'

So he went on, always leaving a sting behind, a gloomy, grumpy old man
who seemed to resent having to serve such humble people. He had been a
postman forty years and had walked an incredible number of miles in all
weathers, so perhaps the resulting flat feet and rheumaticky limbs were
to blame; but the whole hamlet rejoiced when at last he was pensioned
off and a smart, obliging young postman took his place on the Lark Rise
round.

Delighted as the women were with the letters from their daughters, it
was the occasional parcels of clothing they sent that caused the
greatest excitement. As soon as a parcel was taken indoors, neighbours
who had seen Old Postie arrive with it would drop in, as though by
accident, and stay to admire, or sometimes to criticise, the contents.

All except the aged women, who wore what they had been accustomed to
wearing and were satisfied, were very particular about their clothes.
Anything did for everyday wear, as long as it was clean and whole and
could be covered with a decent white apron; it was the 'Sunday best'
that had to be just so. 'Better be out of the world than out of the
fashion' was one of their sayings. To be appreciated, the hat or coat
contained in the parcel had to be in the fashion, and the hamlet had a
fashion of its own, a year or two behind outside standards, and strictly
limited as to style and colour.

The daughter's or other kinswoman's clothes were sure to be appreciated,
for they had usually already been seen and admired when the girl was at
home for her holiday, and had indeed helped to set the standard of what
was worn. The garments bestowed by the mistresses were unfamiliar and
often somewhat in advance of the hamlet vogue, and so were often
rejected for personal wear as 'a bit queer' and cut down for the
children; though the mothers often wished a year or two later when that
particular fashion arrived that they had kept them for themselves. Then
they had colour prejudices. A red frock! Only a fast hussy would wear
red. Or green--sure to bring any wearer bad luck! There was a positive
taboo on green in the hamlet; nobody would wear it until it had been
home-dyed navy or brown. Yellow ranked with red as immodest; but there
was not much yellow worn anywhere in the 'eighties. On the whole, they
preferred dark or neutral colours; but there was one exception; blue had
nothing against it. Marine and sky blue were the favourite shades, both
very bright and crude.

Much prettier were the colours of the servant girls' print morning
dresses--lilac, or pink, or buff, sprigged with white--which were cut
down for the little girls to wear on May Day and for churchgoing
throughout the summer.

To the mothers the cut was even more important than the colour. If
sleeves were worn wide they liked them to be very wide; if narrow, skin
tight. Skirts in those days did not vary in length; they were made to
touch the ground. But they were sometimes trimmed with frills or
flounces or bunched up at the back, and the women would spend days
altering this trimming to make it just right, or turning gathers into
pleats or pleats into gathers.

The hamlet's fashion lag was the salvation of its wardrobes, for a style
became 'all the go' there just as the outer world was discarding it, and
good, little-worn specimens came that way by means of the parcels. The
Sunday garment at the beginning of the decade was the tippet, a little
shoulder cape of black silk or satin with a long, dangling fringe. All
the women and some of the girls had these, and they were worn proudly to
church or Sunday school with a posy of roses or geraniums pinned in
front.

Hats were of the chimney-pot variety, a tall cylinder of straw, with a
very narrow brim and a spray of artificial flowers trained up the front.
Later in the decade, the shape changed to wide brims and squashed
crowns. The chimney-pot hat had had its day, and the women declared they
would not be seen going to the privy in one.

Then there were the bustles, at first looked upon with horror, and no
wonder! but after a year or two the most popular fashion ever known in
the hamlet and the one which lasted longest. They cost nothing, as they
could be made at home from any piece of old cloth rolled up into a
cushion and worn under any frock. Soon all the women, excepting the
aged, and all the girls, excepting the tiniest, were peacocking in their
bustles, and they wore them so long that Edmund was old enough in the
day of their decline to say that he had seen the last bustle on earth
going round the Rise on a woman with a bucket of pig-wash.

This devotion to fashion gave a spice to life and helped to make
bearable the underlying poverty. But the poverty was there; one might
have a velvet tippet and no shoes worth mentioning; or a smart frock,
but no coat; and the same applied to the children's clothes and the
sheets and towels and cups and saucepans. There was never enough of
anything, except food.

Monday was washing-day, and then the place fairly hummed with activity.
'What d'ye think of the weather?' 'Shall we get 'em dry?' were the
questions shouted across gardens, or asked as the women met going to and
from the well for water. There was no gossiping at corners that morning.
It was before the days of patent soaps and washing powders, and much
hard rubbing was involved. There were no washing coppers, and the
clothes had to be boiled in the big cooking pots over the fire. Often
these inadequate vessels would boil over and fill the house with ashes
and steam. The small children would hang round their mothers' skirts and
hinder them, and tempers grew short and nerves frayed long before the
clothes, well blued, were hung on the lines or spread on the hedges. In
wet weather they had to be dried indoors, and no one who has not
experienced it can imagine the misery of living for several days with a
firmament of drying clothes on lines overhead.

After their meagre midday meal, the women allowed themselves a little
leisure. In summer, some of them would take out their sewing and do it
in company with others in the shade of one of the houses. Others would
sew or read indoors, or carry their babies out in the garden for an
airing. A few who had no very young children liked to have what they
called 'a bit of a lay down' on the bed. With their doors locked and
window-blinds drawn, they, at least, escaped the gossips, who began to
get busy at this hour.

One of the most dreaded of these was Mrs. Mullins, a thin, pale, elderly
woman who wore her iron-grey hair thrust into a black chenille net at
the back of her head and wore a little black shawl over her shoulders,
summer and winter alike. She was one of the most common sights of the
hamlet, going round the Rise in her pattens, with her door-key dangling
from her fingers.

That door-key was looked upon as a bad sign, for she only locked her
door when she intended to be away some time. 'Where's she a prowlin' off
to?' one woman would ask another as they rested with their water-buckets
at a corner. 'God knows, an' He won't tell us,' was likely to be the
reply. 'But, thanks be, she won't be a goin' to our place now she's seen
me here.'

She visited every cottage in turn, knocking at the door and asking the
correct time, or for the loan of a few matches, or the gift of a
pin--anything to make an opening. Some housewives only opened the door a
crack, hoping to get rid of her, but she usually managed to cross the
threshold, and, once within, would stand just inside the door, twisting
her door-key and talking.

She talked no scandal. Had she done so, her visits might have been less
unwelcome. She just babbled on, about the weather, or her sons' last
letters, or her pig, or something she had read in the Sunday newspaper.
There was a saying in the hamlet: 'Standing gossipers stay longest', and
Mrs. Mullins was a standing example of this. 'Won't you sit down, Mrs.
Mullins?' Laura's mother would say if she happened herself to be seated.
But it was always, 'No, oh no, thankee. I mustn't stop a minute'; but
her minutes always mounted up to an hour or more, and at last her
unwilling hostess would say, 'Excuse me, I must just run round to the
well,' or 'I'd nearly forgotten that I'd got to fetch a cabbage from the
allotment,' and, even then, the chances were that Mrs. Mullins would
insist upon accompanying her, talking them both to a standstill every
few yards.

Poor Mrs. Mullins! With her children all out in the world, her home must
have seemed to her unbearably silent, and, having no resources of her
own and a great longing to hear her own voice, she was forced out in
search of company. Nobody wanted her, for she had nothing interesting to
say, and yet talked too much to allow her listener a fair share of the
conversation. She was that worst of all bores, a melancholy bore, and at
the sight of her door-key and little black shawl the pleasantest of
little gossiping groups would scatter.

Mrs. Andrews was an even greater talker; but, although most people
objected to her visits on principle, they did not glance at the clock
every two minutes while she was there or invent errands for themselves
in order to get rid of her. Like Mrs. Mullins, she had got her family
off hand and so had unlimited leisure; but, unlike her, she had always
something of interest to relate. If nothing had happened in the hamlet
since her last call, she was quite capable of inventing something. More
often, she would take up some stray, unimportant fact, blow it up like a
balloon, tie it neatly with circumstantial detail and present it to her
listener, ready to be launched on the air of the hamlet. She would watch
the clothesline of some expectant mother, and if no small garments
appeared on it in what she considered due time, it would be: 'There's
that Mrs. Wren, only a month from her time, and not a stitch put into a
rag yet.' If she saw a well-dressed stranger call at one of the
cottages, she would know 'for a fac'' that he was the bailiff with a
County Court summons, or that he had been to tell the parents that
'their young Jim', who was working up-country, had got into trouble with
the police over some money. She 'sized up' every girl at home on holiday
and thought that most of them looked pregnant. She took care to say
'thought' and 'looked' in those cases, because she knew that in
ninety-nine cases out of a hundred time would prove her suspicions to
have been groundless.

Sometimes she would widen her field and tell of the doings in high
society. She 'knew for a fac'' that the then Prince of Wales had given
one of his ladies a necklace with pearls the size of pigeon's eggs, and
that the poor old Queen, with her crown on her head and tears streaming
down her cheeks, had gone down on her knees to beg him to turn the whole
lot of saucy hussies out of Windsor Castle. It was said in the hamlet
that, when Mrs. Andrews spoke, you could see the lies coming out of her
mouth like steam, and nobody believed a word she said, even when,
occasionally, she spoke the truth. Yet most of the women enjoyed a chat
with her. As they said, it 'made a bit of a change'. Laura's mother was
too hard on her when she called her a pest, or interrupted one of her
stories at a crucial point to ask, 'Are you sure that is right, Mrs.
Andrews?' In a community without cinemas or wireless and with very
little reading matter, she had her uses.

Borrowers were another nuisance. Most of the women borrowed at some
time, and a few families lived entirely on borrowing the day before
pay-day. There would come a shy, low-down, little knock at the door, and
when it was opened, a child's voice would say, 'Oh, please Mrs.
So-and-So, could you oblige me mother with a spoonful of tea [or a cup
of sugar, or half a loaf] till me Dad gets his money?' If the required
article could not be spared at the first house, she would go from door
to door repeating her request until she got what she wanted, for such
were her instructions.

The borrowings were usually repaid, or there would soon have been
nowhere to borrow from; but often an insufficient quantity or an
inferior quality were returned, and the result was a smouldering
resentment against the habitual borrowers. But no word of direct
complaint was uttered. Had it been, the borrower might have taken
offence, and the women wished above all things to be on good terms with
their neighbours.

Laura's mother detested the borrowing habit. She said that when she had
first set up housekeeping she had made it her rule when a borrower came
to the door to say, 'Tell your mother I never borrow myself and I never
lend. But here's the tea. I don't want it back again. Tell your mother
she's welcome to it.' The plan did not work. The same borrower came
again and again, until she had to say, 'Tell your mother I must have it
back this time.' Again the plan did not work. Laura once heard her
mother say to Queenie, 'Here's half a loaf, Queenie, if it's any good to
you. But I won't deceive you about it; it's one that Mrs. Knowles sent
back that she'd borrowed from me, and I can't fancy it myself, out of
her house. If you don't have it, it'll have to go in the pig-tub.'

'That's all right, me dear,' was Queenie's smiling response. 'It'll do
fine for our Tom's tea. He won't know where it's been, an' 'ould'nt care
if he did. All he cares about's a full belly.'

However, there were other friends and neighbours to whom it was a
pleasure to lend, or to give on the rare occasions when that was
possible. They seldom asked directly for a loan, but would say, 'My poor
old tea-caddy's empty,' or 'I ain't got a mossel o' bread till the baker
comes.' They spoke of this kind of approach as 'a nint' and said that if
anybody liked to take it they could; if not, no harm was done, for they
hadn't demeaned themselves by asking.

As well as the noted gossips, there were in Lark Rise, as elsewhere,
women who, by means of a dropped hint or a subtle suggestion, could
poison another's mind, and others who wished no harm to anybody, yet
loved to discuss their neighbours' affairs and were apt to babble
confidences. But, though few of the women were averse to a little
scandal at times, most of them grew restive when it passed a certain
point. 'Let's give it a rest,' they would say, or 'Well, I think we've
plucked enough feathers out of her wings for one day,' and they would
change the subject and talk about their children, or the rising prices,
or the servant problem--from the maid's standpoint.

Those of the younger set who were what they called 'folks together',
meaning friendly, would sometimes meet in the afternoon in one of their
cottages to sip strong, sweet, milkless tea and talk things over. These
tea-drinkings were never premeditated. One neighbour would drop in, then
another, and another would be beckoned to from the doorway or fetched in
to settle some disputed point. Then some one would say, 'How about a cup
o' tay?' and they would all run home to fetch a spoonful, with a few
leaves over to help make up the spoonful for the pot.

Those who assembled thus were those under forty. The older women did not
care for little tea-parties, nor for light, pleasant chit-chat; there
was more of the salt of the earth in their conversation and they were
apt to express things in terms which the others, who had all been in
good service, considered coarse and countrified.

As they settled around the room to enjoy their cup of tea, some would
have babies at the breast or toddlers playing 'bo-peep' with their
aprons, and others would have sewing or knitting in their hands. They
were pleasant to look at, with their large clean white aprons and
smoothly plaited hair, parted in the middle. The best clothes were kept
folded away in their boxes from Sunday to Sunday, and a clean apron was
full dress on week-days.

It was not a countryside noted for feminine good looks and there were
plenty of wide mouths, high cheekbones, and snub noses among them; but
they nearly all had the country-bred woman's clear eyes, strong, white
teeth and fresh colour. Their height was above that of the average
working-class townswoman, and, when not obscured by pregnancy, their
figures were straight and supple, though inclining to thickness.

This tea-drinking time was the women's hour. Soon the children would be
rushing in from school; then would come the men, with their loud voices
and coarse jokes and corduroys reeking of earth and sweat. In the
meantime, the wives and mothers were free to crook their little fingers
genteely as they sipped from their teacups and talked about the, to
them, latest fashion, or discussed the serial then running in the
novelette they were reading.

Most of the younger women and some of the older ones were fond of what
they called 'a bit of a read', and their mental fare consisted almost
exclusively of the novelette. Several of the hamlet women took in one of
these weekly, as published, for the price was but one penny, and these
were handed round until the pages were thin and frayed with use. Copies
of others found their way there from neighbouring villages, or from
daughters in service, and there was always quite a library of them in
circulation.

The novelette of the 'eighties was a romantic love story, in which the
poor governess always married the duke, or the lady of title the
gamekeeper, who always turned out to be a duke or an earl in disguise.
Midway through the story there had to be a description of a ball, at
which the heroine in her simple white gown attracted all the men in the
room; or the gamekeeper, commandeered to help serve, made love to the
daughter of the house in the conservatory. The stories were often
prettily written and as innocent as sugared milk and water; but,
although they devoured them, the women looked upon novelette reading as
a vice, to be hidden from their menfolk and only discussed with fellow
devotees.

The novelettes were as carefully kept out of the children's way as the
advanced modern novel is, or should be, to-day; but children who wanted
to read them knew where to find them, on the top shelf of the cupboard
or under the bed, and managed to read them in secret. An ordinarily
intelligent child of eight or nine found them cloying; but they did the
women good, for, as they said, they took them out of themselves.

There had been a time when the hamlet readers had fed on stronger food,
and Biblical words and imagery still coloured the speech of some of the
older people. Though unread, every well-kept cottage had still its
little row of books, neatly arranged on the side table with the lamp,
the clothes brush and the family photographs. Some of these collections
consisted solely of the family Bible and a prayer-book or two; others
had a few extra volumes which had either belonged to parents or been
bought with other oddments for a few pence at a sale--_The Pilgrim's
Progress, Drelincourt on Death_, Richardson's _Pamela, Anna Lee: The
Maiden Wife and Mother_, and old books of travel and sermons. Laura's
greatest find was a battered old copy of Belzoni's _Travels_ propping
open somebody's pantry window. When she asked for the loan of it, it was
generously given to her, and she had the, to her, intense pleasure of
exploring the burial chambers of the pyramids with her author.

Some of the imported books had their original owner's book-plate, or an
inscription in faded copper-plate handwriting inside the covers, while
the family ones, in a ruder hand, would proclaim:


    George Welby, his book:
    Give me grace therein to look,
    And not only to look, but to understand,
    For learning is better than houses and land
    When land is lost and money spent
    Then learning is most excellent.


Or:


 George Welby is my name,
   England is my nation,
 Lark Rise is my dwelling place
   And Christ is my salvation.

 When I am dead and in my grave
   And all my bones are rotten,
 Take this book and think of me
   And mind I'm not forgotten.


Another favourite inscription was the warning:


       Steal not this book for fear of shame,
       For in it doth stand the owner's name,
       And at the last day God will say
       'Where is that book you stole away?'
       And if you say, 'I cannot tell;
       He'll say, 'Thou cursed, go to hell.'


All or any of these books were freely lent, for none of the owners
wanted to read them. The women had their novelettes, and it took the men
all their time to get through their Sunday newspapers, one of which came
into almost every house, either by purchase or borrowing. The _Weekly
Despatch_, _Reynolds's News_, and _Lloyd's News_ were their favourites,
though a few remained faithful to that fine old local newspaper, the
_Bicester Herald_.

Laura's father, as well as his _Weekly Despatch_, took the _Carpenter
and Builder_, through which the children got their first introduction to
Shakespeare, for there was a controversy in it as to Hamlet's words, 'I
know a hawk from a handsaw'. It appeared that some scholar had suggested
that it should read, 'I know a hawk from a heron, pshaw!' and the
carpenters and builders were up in arms. Of course, the hawk was the
mason's and plasterer's tool of that name, and the handsaw was just a
handsaw. Although that line and a few extracts that she afterwards found
in the school readers were all that Laura was to know of Shakespeare's
works for some time, she sided warmly with the carpenters and builders,
and her mother, when appealed to, agreed, for she said 'that heron,
pshaw!' certainly sounded a bit left-handed.

While the novelette readers, who represented the genteel section of the
community, were enjoying their tea, there would be livelier gatherings
at another of the cottages. The hostess, Caroline Arless, was at that
time about forty-five, and a tall, fine, upstanding woman with flashing
dark eyes, hair like crinkled black wire, and cheeks the colour of a
ripe apricot. She was not a native of the hamlet, but had come there as
a bride, and it was said that she had gipsy blood in her.

Although she was herself a grandmother, she still produced a child of
her own every eighteen months or so, a proceeding regarded as bad form
in the hamlet, for the saying ran, 'When the young 'uns begin, 'tie time
for the old 'uns to finish.' But Mrs. Arless recognized no rules,
excepting those of Nature. She welcomed each new arrival, cared for it
tenderly while it was helpless, swept it out of doors to play as soon as
it could toddle, to school at three, and to work at ten or eleven. Some
of the girls married at seventeen and the boys at nineteen or twenty.

Ways and means did not trouble her. Husband and sons at work 'brassed
up' on Friday nights, and daughters in service sent home at least half
of their wages. One night she would fry steak and onions for supper and
make the hamlet's mouth water; another night there would be nothing but
bread and lard on her table. When she had money she spent it, and when
she had none she got things on credit or went without. 'I shall feather
the foam,' she used to say. 'I have before an' I shall again, and what's
the good of worrying.' She always did manage to feather it, and usually
to have a few coppers in her pocket as well, although she was known to
be deeply in debt. When she received a postal order from one of her
daughters she would say to any one who happened to be standing by when
she opened the letter, 'I be-ant goin' to squander this bit o' money in
paying me debts.'

Her idea of wise spending was to call in a few neighbours of like mind,
seat them round a roaring fire, and despatch one of her toddlers to the
inn with the beer can. They none of them got drunk, or even fuddled, for
there was not very much each, even when the can went round to the inn a
second or a third time. But there was just enough to hearten them up and
make them forget their troubles; and the talk and laughter and scraps of
song which floated on the air from 'that there Mrs. Arless's house' were
shocking to the more sedate matrons. Nobody crooked their finger round
the handle of a teacup or 'talked genteel' at Mrs. Arless's gatherings,
herself least of all. She was so charged with sex vitality that with her
all subjects of conversation led to it--not in its filthy or furtive
aspects, but as the one great central fact of life.

Yet no one could dislike Mrs. Arless, however much she might offend
their taste and sense of fitness. She was so full of life and vigour and
so overflowing with good nature that she would force anything she had
upon any one she thought needed it, regardless of the fact that it was
not and never would be paid for. She knew the inside of a County Court
well, and made no secret of her knowledge, for a County Court summons
was to her but an invitation to a day's outing from which she would
return victorious, having persuaded the judge that she was a model wife
and mother who only got into debt because her family was so large and
she herself was so generous. It was her creditor who retired
discomfited.

Another woman who lived in the hamlet and yet stood somewhat aside from
its ordinary life was Hannah Ashley. She was the daughter-in-law of the
old Methodist who drove the breast plough, and she and her husband were
also Methodists. She was a little brown mouse of a woman who took no
part in the hamlet gossip or the hamlet disputes. Indeed, she was seldom
seen on weekdays, for her cottage stood somewhat apart from the others
and had its own well in the garden. But on Sunday evenings her house was
used as a Methodist meeting place, and then all her week-day reserve was
put aside and all who cared to come were made welcome. As she listened
to the preacher, or joined in the hymns and prayers, she would look
round on the tiny congregation, and those whose eyes met hers would see
such a glow of love in them that they could never again think, much less
say, ill of her, beyond 'Well, she's a Methody', as though that
explained and excused anything strange about her.

These younger Ashleys had one child, a son, about Edmund's age, and the
children at the end house sometimes played with him. When Laura called
at his home for him one Saturday morning she saw a picture which stamped
itself upon her mind for life. It was the hour when every other house in
the hamlet was being turned inside out for the Saturday cleaning. The
older children, home from school, were running in and out of their
homes, or quarrelling over their games outside. Mothers were scolding
and babies were crying during the process of being rolled in their
shawls for an outing on the arm of an older sister. It was the kind of
day Laura detested, for there was no corner indoors for her and her
book, and outside she was in danger of being dragged into games that
either pulled her to pieces or bored her.

Inside Freddy Ashley's home all was peace and quiet and spotless purity.
The walls were freshly whitewashed, the table and board floor were
scrubbed to a pale straw colour, the beautifully polished grate glowed
crimson, for the oven was being heated, and placed half-way over the
table was a snowy cloth with paste-board and rolling-pin upon it. Freddy
was helping his mother make biscuits, cutting the pastry she had rolled
into shapes with a little tin cutter. Their two faces, both so plain and
yet so pleasant, were close together above the pasteboard, and their two
voices as they bade Laura come in and sit by the fire sounded like
angels' voices after the tumult outside.

It was a brief glimpse into a different world from the one she was
accustomed to, but the picture remained with her as something quiet and
pure and lovely. She thought that the home at Nazareth must have been
something like Freddy's.

The women never worked in the vegetable gardens or on the allotments,
even when they had their children off hand and had plenty of spare time,
for there was a strict division of labour and that was 'men's work'.
Victorian ideas, too, had penetrated to some extent, and any work
outside the home was considered unwomanly. But even that code permitted
a woman to cultivate a flower garden, and most of the houses had at
least a narrow border beside the pathway. As no money could be spared
for seeds or plants, they had to depend upon roots and cuttings given by
their neighbours, and there was little variety; but they grew all the
sweet old-fashioned cottage garden flowers, pinks and sweet williams and
love-in-a-mist, wallflowers and forget-me-nots in spring and hollyhocks
and Michaelmas daisies in autumn. Then there were lavender and
sweetbriar bushes, and southernwood, sometimes called 'lad's love', but
known there as 'old man'.

Almost every garden had its rose bush; but there were no coloured roses
amongst them. Only Old Sally had those; the other people had to be
content with that meek, old-fashioned white rose with a pink flush at
the heart known as the 'maiden's blush'. Laura used to wonder who had
imported the first bush, for evidently slips of it had been handed round
from house to house.

As well as their flower garden, the women cultivated a herb corner,
stocked with thyme and parsley and sage for cooking, rosemary to flavour
the home-made lard, lavender to scent the best clothes, and peppermint,
pennyroyal, horehound, camomile, tansy, balm, and rue for physic. They
made a good deal of camomile tea, which they drank freely to ward off
colds, to soothe the nerves, and as a general tonic. A large jug of this
was always prepared and stood ready for heating up after confinements.
The horehound was used with honey in a preparation to be taken for sore
throats and colds on the chest. Peppermint tea was made rather as a
luxury than a medicine; it was brought out on special occasions and
drunk from wine-glasses; and the women had a private use for the
pennyroyal, though, judging from appearances, it was not very effective.

As well as the garden herbs, still in general use, some of the older
women used wild ones, which they gathered in their seasons and dried.
But the knowledge and use of these was dying out; most people depended
upon their garden stock. Yarrow, or milleflower, was an exception;
everybody still gathered that in large quantities to make 'yarb beer'.
Gallons of this were brewed and taken to work in their tea cans by the
men and stood aside in the pantry for the mother and children to drink
whenever thirsty. The finest yarrow grew beside the turnpike, and in dry
weather the whole plant became so saturated with white dust that the
beer, when brewed, had a milky tinge. If the children remarked on this
they were told, 'Us've all got to eat a peck o' dust before we dies, an'
it'll slip down easy in this good yarb beer.'

The children at the end house used to wonder how they would ever obtain
their peck of dust, for their mother was fastidiously particular. Such
things as lettuce and watercress she washed in three waters, instead of
giving them the dip and shake considered sufficient by most other
people. Watercress had almost to be washed away, because of the story of
the man who had swallowed a tadpole which had grown to a full-sized frog
in his stomach. There was an abundance of watercress to be had for the
picking, and a good deal of it was eaten in the spring, before it got
tough and people got tired of it. Perhaps they owed much of their good
health to such food.

All kinds of home-made wines were brewed by all but the poorest. Sloes
and blackberries and elderberries could be picked from the hedgerows,
dandelions and coltsfoot and cowslips from the fields, and the garden
provided rhubarb, currants and gooseberries and parsnips. Jam was made
from garden and hedgerow fruit. This had to be made over an open fire
and needed great care in the making; but the result was generally
good--too good, the women said, for the jam disappeared too soon. Some
notable housewives made jelly. Crab-apple jelly was a speciality at the
end house. Crab-apple trees abounded in the hedgerows and the children
knew just where to go for red crabs, red-and-yellow streaked crabs, or
crabs which hung like ropes of green onions on the branches.

It seemed to Laura a miracle when a basket of these, with nothing but
sugar and water added, turned into jelly as clear and bright as a ruby.
She did not take into account the long stewing, tedious straining, and
careful measuring, boiling up and clarifying that went to the filling of
the row of glass jars which cast a glow of red light on the whitewash at
the back of the pantry shelf.

A quickly made delicacy was cowslip tea. This was made by picking the
golden pips from a handful of cowslips, pouring boiling water over them,
and letting the tea stand a few minutes to infuse. It could then be
drunk either with or without sugar as preferred.

Cowslip balls were made for the children. These were fashioned by taking
a great fragrant handful of the flowers, tying the stalks tightly with
string, and pulling down the blooms to cover the stems. The bunch was
then almost round, and made the loveliest ball imaginable.

Some of the older people who kept bees made mead, known there as
'metheglin'. It was a drink almost superstitiously esteemed, and the
offer of a glass was regarded as a great compliment. Those who made it
liked to make a little mystery of the process; but it was really very
simple. Three pounds of honey were allowed to every gallon of spring
water. This had to be running spring water, and was obtained from a
place in the brook where the water bubbled up; never from the well. The
honey and water were boiled together, and skimmed and strained and
worked with a little yeast; then kept in a barrel for six months, when
the metheglin was ready for bottling.

Old Sally said that some folks messed up their metheglin with lemons,
bay leaves, and suchlike; but all she could say was that folks who'd add
anything to honey didn't deserve to have bees to work for them.

Old metheglin was supposed to be the most intoxicating drink on earth,
and it was certainly potent, as a small girl once found when, staying up
to welcome home a soldier uncle from Egypt, she was invited to take a
sip from his glass and took a pull.

All the evening it had been 'Yes, please, Uncle Reuben', and 'Very well,
thank you, Uncle Reuben' with her; but as she went upstairs to bed she
astonished every one by calling pertly: 'Uncle Reuby is a booby!' It was
the mead speaking, not her. There was a dash in her direction; but,
fortunately for her, it was stayed by Sergeant Reuben draining his
glass, smacking his lips, and declaring: 'Well, I've tasted some liquors
in my time; but this beats all!' and under cover of the fresh uncorking
and pouring out, she tumbled sleepily into bed with her white, starched
finery still on her.

The hamlet people never invited each other to a meal; but when it was
necessary to offer tea to an important caller, or to friends from a
distance, the women had their resources. If, as often happened, there
was no butter in the house, a child would be sent to the shop at the inn
for a quarter of the best fresh, even if it had to 'go down on the book'
until pay-day. Thin bread and butter, cut and arranged as in their old
days in service, with a pot of homemade jam, which had been hidden away
for such an occasion, and a dish of lettuce, fresh from the garden and
garnished with little rosy radishes, made an attractive little meal,
fit, as they said, to put before anybody.

In winter, salt butter would be sent for and toast would be made and
eaten with celery. Toast was a favourite dish for family consumption.
'I've made 'em a stack o' toast as high as up to their knees', a mother
would say on a winter Sunday afternoon before her hungry brood came in
from church. Another dish upon which they prided themselves was thin
slices of cold, boiled streaky bacon on toast, a dish so delicious that
it deserves to be more widely popular.

The few visitors from the outer world who came that way enjoyed such
simple food, with a cup of tea; and a glass of homemade wine at their
departure; and the women enjoyed entertaining them, and especially
enjoyed the feeling that they, themselves, were equal to the occasion.
'You don't want to be poor and look poor, too,' they would say; and
'We've got our pride. Yes, we've got our pride.'



    VII

 _Callers_

Callers made a pleasant diversion in the hamlet women's day, and there
were more of these than might have been expected. The first to arrive on
Monday morning was old Jerry Parish with his cartload of fish and fruit.
As he served some of the big houses on his round, Jerry carried quite a
large stock; but the only goods he took round to the doors at Lark Rise
were a box of bloaters and a basket of small, sour oranges. The bloaters
were sold at a penny each and the oranges at three a penny. Even at
these prices they were luxuries; but, as it was still only Monday and a
few coppers might remain in a few purses, the women felt at liberty to
crowd round his cart to examine and criticize his wares, even if they
bought nothing.

Two or three of them would be tempted to buy a bloater for their midday
meal, but it had to be a soft-roed one, for, in nearly every house there
were children under school age at home; so the bloater had to be shared,
and the soft roes spread upon bread for the smallest ones.

'Lor' blime me!' Jerry used to say. 'Never knowed such a lot in me life
for soft roes. Good job I ain't a soft-roed 'un or I should've got aten
up meself before now.' And he pinched the bloaters between his great red
fingers, pretended to consider the matter with his head on one side,
then declared each separate fish had the softest of soft roes, whether
it had or not. 'Oozin', simply oozin' with goodness, I tell ye!' and
oozing it certainly was when released from his grip. 'But what's the
good of one bloater amongst the lot of ye? Tell ye what I'll do,' he
would urge. 'I'll put ye in these three whoppers for tuppence-ha'penny.'

It was no good. The twopence-halfpenny was never forthcoming; even the
penny could so ill be spared that the purchaser often felt selfish and
greedy after she had parted with it; but, after a morning at the
washtub, she needed a treat so badly, and a bloater made a tasty change
from her usually monotonous diet.

The oranges were tempting, too, for the children loved them. It was one
of their greatest treats to find oranges on the mantelshelf when they
came home from school in winter. Sour they might be and hard and skinny
within; but without how rich and glowing! and what a strange foreign
scent pervaded the room when their mother divided each one into quarters
and distributed them. Even when the pulp had been eaten, the peel
remained, to be dried on the hob and taken to school to chew in class or
'swopped' for conkers or string or some other desirable object.

Jerry's cart had a great attraction for Laura. At the sound of his
wheels she would run out to feast her eyes on the lovely rich colours of
grapes and pears and peaches. She loved to see the fish, too, with their
cool colours and queer shapes, and would imagine them swimming about in
the sea or resting among the seaweed. 'What is that one called?' she
asked one day, pointing to a particularly queer-looking one.

'That's a John Dory, me dear. See them black marks? Look like
finger-marks, don't 'em? An' they do say that they be finger-marks. _He_
made 'em, that night, ye know, when they was fishin', ye know, an' _He_
took some an' cooked 'em all ready for 'em, an' ever since, they say,
that ivery John Dory as comes out o' th' sea have got _His_ finger-marks
on 'un.'

Laura was puzzled, for Jerry had mentioned no name and he was, moreover,
a drinking, swearing old man, little likely, as she thought, to repeat a
sacred legend.

'Do you mean the Sea of Galilee?' she asked timidly.

'That's it, me dear. That's what they say, whether true or not, of
course, I _don't_ know; but there be the finger-marks, right enough, an'
that's what they say in our trade.'

It was on Jerry's cart tomatoes first appeared in the hamlet. They had
not long been introduced into this country and were slowly making their
way into favour. The fruit was flatter in shape then than now and deeply
grooved and indented from the stem, giving it an almost starlike
appearance. There were bright yellow ones, too, as well as the scarlet;
but, after a few years, the yellow ones disappeared from the market and
the red ones became rounder and smoother, as we see them now.

At first sight, the basket of red and yellow fruit attracted Laura's
colour-loving eye. 'What are those?' she asked old Jerry.

'Love-apples, me dear. Love-apples, they be; though some hignorant folks
be a callin'.'em tommytoes. But you don't want any o' they--nasty sour
things, they be, as only gentry can eat. You have a nice sweet orange
wi' your penny.' But Laura felt she must taste the love-apples and
insisted upon having one.

Such daring created quite a sensation among the onlookers. 'Don't 'ee go
tryin' to eat it, now,' one woman urged. 'It'll only make 'ee sick. I
know because I had one of the nasty horrid things at our Minnie's.' And
nasty, horrid things tomatoes remained in the popular estimation for
years; though most people to-day would prefer them as they were then,
with the real tomato flavour pronounced, to the watery insipidity of our
larger, smoother tomato.

Mr. Wilkins, the baker, came three times a week. His long, lank figure,
girded by a white apron which always seemed about to slip down over his
hips, was a familiar one at the end house. He always stayed there for a
cup of tea, for which he propped himself up against the end of the
dresser. He would never sit down; he said he had not time, and that was
why he did not stop to change his flour-dusty bakehouse clothes before
he started on his round.

He was no ordinary baker, but a ship's carpenter by trade who had come
to the neighbouring village on a visit to relatives, met his present
wife, married her, and cast anchor inland. Her father was old, she was
the only child, and the family business had to be attended to; so,
partly for love and partly for future gain he had given up the sea, but
he still remained a sailor at heart.

He would stand in the doorway of Laura's home and look out at the
wheatfields billowing in the breeze and the white clouds hurrying over
them, and say: 'All very fine; but it seems a bit dead to me, right away
from the sea, like this.' And he would tell the children how the waves
pile up in a storm, 'like the wall of a house coming down on your ship',
and about other seas, calm and bright as a looking-glass, with little
islands and palm trees-but treacherous, too--and treacherous little men
living in palm leaf huts, 'their faces as brown as your frock, Laura.'
Once he had been shipwrecked and spent nine days in an open boat, the
last two without water. His tongue had stuck to the roof of his mouth
and he had spent weeks after rescue in hospital.

'And yet,' he would say, 'I'd dearly love just one more trip; but my
dear wife would cry her eyes out if I mentioned it, and the business, of
course, couldn't be left. No. I've swallowed the anchor, all right. I've
swallowed the anchor.'

Mr. Wilkins brought the image of the real living sea to the end house;
otherwise the children would have only known it in pictures. True, their
mother in her nursing days had been to the seaside with her charges and
had many pleasant stories to tell of walks on piers, digging on sands,
gathering seaweed, and shrimping with nets. But the seaside was
different--delightful in its way, no doubt, but nothing like the wide
tumbling ocean with ships on it.

The only portion of the sea which came their way was contained in a
medicine bottle which a hamlet girl in service at Brighton brought home
as a curiosity. In time the bottle of sea-water became the property of a
younger sister, a school-fellow of Laura's, who was persuaded to barter
it for a hunch of cake and a blue-bead necklace. Laura treasured it for
years.

Many casual callers passed through the hamlet. Travelling tinkers with
their barrows, braziers, and twirling grindstones turned aside from the
main road and came singing:


      Any razors or scissors to grind?
        Or anything else in the tinker's line?
      Any old pots or kettles to mend?


After squinting into any leaking vessel against the light, or trying the
edges of razors or scissors upon the hard skin of their palms, they
would squat by the side of the road to work, or start their emery wheel
whizzing, to the delight of the hamlet children, who always formed a
ring around any such operations.

Gipsy women with cabbage-nets and clothes-pegs to sell were more
frequent callers for they had a camping-place only a mile away and no
place was too poor to yield them a harvest. When a door was opened to
them, if the housewife appeared to be under forty, they would ask in a
wheedling voice: 'Is your mother at home, my dear?' Then, when the
position was explained, they would exclaim in astonished tones: 'You
don't mean to tell me you be the mother? Look at that, now. I shouldn't
have taken you to be a day over twenty.'

No matter how often repeated, this compliment was swallowed whole, and
made a favourable opening for a long conversation, in the course of
which the wily 'Egyptian' not only learned the full history of the
woman's own family, but also a good deal about those of her neighbours,
which was duly noted for future use. Then would come a request for
'handful of little 'taters, or an onion or two for the pot', and, if
these were given, as they usually were, 'My pretty lady' would be asked
for an old shift of her own or an old shirt of her husband's, or
anything that the children might have left off, and, poverty-stricken
though the hamlet was, a few worn-out garments would be secured to swell
the size of the bundle which, afterwards, would be sold to the rag
merchant.

Sometimes the gipsies would offer to tell fortunes; but this offer was
always refused, not out of scepticism or lack of curiosity about the
future, but because the necessary silver coin was not available. 'No,
thank 'ee,' the women would say. 'I don't want nothink of that sort. My
fortune's already told.'

'Ah, my lady! you med think so; but them as has got childern never
knows. You be born, but you ain't dead yet, an' you may dress in silks
and ride in your own carriage yet. You wait till that fine strappin' boy
o' yourn gets rich. He won't forget his mother, I'll bet!' and after
this free prognostication, they would trail off to the next house,
leaving behind a scent as strong as a vixen's.

The gipsies paid in entertainment for what they received. Their calls
made a welcome break in the day. Those of the tramps only harrowed the
feelings and left the depressed in spirit even more depressed.

There must have been hundreds of tramps on the roads at that time. It
was a common sight, when out for a walk, to see a dirty, unshaven man,
his rags topped with a battered bowler, lighting a fire of sticks by the
roadside to boil his tea-can. Sometimes he would have a poor bedraggled
woman with him and she would be lighting the fire while he lolled at
ease on the turf or picked out the best pieces from the bag of food they
had collected at their last place of call.

Some of them carried small, worthless things to sell--matches,
shoe-laces, or dried lavender bags. The children's mother often bought
from these out of pity; but never from the man who sold oranges, for
they had seen him on one of their walks, spitting on his oranges and
polishing them with a filthy rag. Then there was the woman who, very
early one morning, knocked at the door with small slabs of tree-bark in
her apron. She was cleaner and better-dressed than the ordinary tramp
and brought with her a strong scent of lavender. The bark appeared to be
such as could have been hacked with a clasp-knife from the nearest pine
tree; but she claimed for it a very different origin. It was the famous
lavender bark, she said, brought from foreign parts by her sailor son.
One fragment kept among clothes was not only an everlasting perfume, but
it was also death to moths. 'You just smell it, my dears,' she said,
handing pieces to the mother and the children, who had crowded to the
door.

It certainly smelt strongly of lavender. The children handled it
lovingly, fascinated by a substance which had travelled so far and smelt
so sweetly.

She asked sixpence a slab; but obligingly came down to twopence, and
three pieces were purchased and placed in a fancy bowl on the side table
to perfume the room and to be exhibited as a rarity.

Alas! the vendor had barely time to clear out of the hamlet before all
the perfume had evaporated and the bark became what it had been before
she sprinkled it with oil of lavender--just ordinary bark from a pine
trunk!

Such brilliance was exceptional. Most of the tramps were plain beggars.
'Please could you give me a morsel of bread, for I be so hungry. I'm
telling God I haven't put a bite between my lips since yesterday
morning' was a regular formula with them when they knocked at the door
of a cottage; and, although many of them looked well-nourished, they
were never turned away. Thick slices, which could ill be spared, were
plastered with lard; the cold potatoes which the housewife had intended
to fry for her own dinner were wrapped in newspaper, and by the time
they left the hamlet they were insured against starvation for at least a
week. The only reward for such generosity, beyond the whining
professional 'God bless ye', was the cheering reflection that however
badly off one might be oneself, there were others poorer.

Where all these wayfarers came from or how they had fallen so low in the
social scale was uncertain. According to their own account, they had
been ordinary decent working people with homes 'just such another as
yourn, mum'; but their houses had been burned down or flooded, or they
had fallen out of work, or spent a long time in hospital and had never
been able to start again. Many of the women pleaded that their husbands
were dead, and several men came begging with the plea that, having lost
their wives, they had the children to look after and could not leave
them to work for their living.

Sometimes whole families took to the road with their bags and bundles
and tea-cans, begging their food as they went and sleeping in casual
wards or under ricks or in ditches. Laura's father, coming home from
work at dusk one night, thought he heard a rustling in the ditch by the
roadside. When he looked down into it, a row of white faces looked up at
him, belonging to a mother, a father, and three or four children. He
said that in the half light only their faces were visible and that they
looked like a set of silver coins, ranging from a florin to a threepenny
bit. Though late in the summer, the night was not cold. 'Thank God for
that!' said the children's mother when she heard about them, for, had it
been cold, he might have brought them all home with him. He had brought
home tramps before and had them sit at table with the family, to his
wife's disgust, for he had what she considered peculiar ideas on
hospitality and the brotherhood of man.

There was no tallyman, or Johnny Fortnight, in those parts; but once,
for a few months, a man who kept a small furniture shop in a
neighbouring town came round selling his wares on the instalment plan.
On his first visit to Lark Rise he got no order at all; but on his
second one of the women, more daring than the rest, ordered a small
wooden washstand and a zinc bath for washing day. Immediately washstands
and zinc baths became the rage. None of the women could think how they
had managed to exist so long without a washstand in their bedroom. They
were quite satisfied with the buckets and basins of water in the pantry
or by the fireside or out of doors for their own use; but supposing some
one fell ill and the doctor had to wash his hands in a basin placed on a
clean towel on the kitchen table! or supposing some of their town
relatives came on a visit, those with a real sink and water laid on!
They felt they would die with mortification if they had to apologize for
having no washstand. As to the zinc bath, that seemed even more
necessary. That wooden tub their mother had used was 'a girt okkard old
thing'. Although they had not noticed its weight much before, it seemed
almost to break their backs when they could see a bright, shining new
bath hanging under the eaves of the next-door barn.

It was not long before practically every house had a new bath and
washstand. A few mothers of young children went farther and ordered a
fireguard as well. Then the fortnightly payments began. One-and-six was
the specified instalment, and, for the first few fortnights, this was
forthcoming. But it was so difficult to get that eighteenpence together.
A few pence had always to be used out of the first week's ninepence,
then in the second week some urgent need for cash would occur. The
instalments fell to a shilling. Then to sixpence. A few gave up the
struggle and defaulted.

Month after month the salesman came round and collected what he could;
but he did not try to tempt them to buy anything more, for he could see
that he would never be paid for it. He was a good-hearted man who
listened to their tales of woe and never bullied or threatened to County
Court them. Perhaps the debts were not as important to him as they
appeared to his customers; or he may have felt he was to blame for
tempting them to order things they could not afford. He continued
calling until he had collected as much as he thought possible, then
disappeared from the scene.

A more amusing episode was that of the barrels of beer. At that time in
that part of the country, brewers' travellers, known locally as
'outriders', called for orders at farm-houses and superior cottages, as
well as at inns. No experienced outrider visited farm labourers'
cottages; but the time came when a beginner, full of youthful enthusiasm
and burning to fill up his order book, had the brilliant idea of
canvassing the hamlet for orders.

Wouldn't it be splendid, he asked the women, to have their own
nine-gallon cask of good ale in for Christmas, and only have to go into
the pantry and turn the tap to get a glass for their husband and
friends. The ale cost far less by the barrel than when bought at the
inn. It would be an economy in the long run, and how well it would look
to bring out a jug of foaming ale from their own barrel for their
friends. As to payment, they sent in their bills quarterly, so there
would be plenty of time to save up.

The women agreed that it would, indeed, be splendid to have their own
barrel, and even the men, when told of the project at night, were
impressed by the difference in price when buying by the nine-gallon
cask. Some of them worked it out on paper and were satisfied that,
considering that they would be spending a few shillings extra at
Christmas in any case, and that the missus had been looking rather
peaked lately and a glass of good beer cost less than doctor's physic,
and that maybe a daughter in service would be sending a postal order,
they might venture to order the cask.

Others did not trouble to work it out; but, enchanted with the idea,
gave the order lightheartedly. After all, as the outrider said,
Christmas came but once a year, and this year they would have a jolly
one. Of course there were kill-joys, like Laura's father, who said
sardonically: 'They'll laugh the other side of their faces when it comes
to paying for it.'

The barrels came and were tapped and the beer was handed around. The
barrels were empty and the brewer's carter in his leather apron heaved
them into the van behind his steaming, stamping horses; but none of the
mustard or cocoa tins hidden away in secret places contained more than a
few coppers towards paying the bill. When the day of reckoning came only
three of the purchasers had the money ready. But time was allowed. Next
month would do; but, mind! it must be forthcoming then. Most of the
women tried hard to get that money together; but, of course, they could
not. The traveller called again and again, each time growing more
threatening, and, after some months, the brewer took the matter to the
County Court, where the judge, after hearing the circumstances of sale
and the income of the purchasers, ordered them all to pay twopence
weekly off the debt. So ended the great excitement of having one's own
barrel of beer on tap.

The packman, or pedlar, once a familiar figure in that part of the
country, was seldom seen in the 'eighties. People had taken to buying
their clothes at the shops in the market town, where fashions were newer
and prices lower. But one last survivor of the once numerous clan still
visited the hamlet at long and irregular intervals.

He would turn aside from the turnpike and come plodding down the narrow
hamlet road, an old white-headed, white-bearded man, still hale and
rosy, although almost bent double under the heavy, black canvas-covered
pack he carried strapped on his shoulders. 'Anything out of the pack
to-day?' he would ask at each house, and, at the least encouragement,
fling down his load and open it on the door-step. He carried a tempting
variety of goods: dress-lengths and shirt-lengths and remnants to make
up for the children; aprons and pinafores, plain and fancy; corduroys
for the men, and coloured scarves and ribbons for Sunday wear.

'That's a bit of right good stuff, ma'am, that is,' he would say,
holding up some dress-length to exhibit it. 'A gown made of this piece'd
last anybody for ever and then make 'em a good petticoat afterwards.'
Few of the hamlet women could afford to test the quality of his piece
goods; cottons or tapes, or a paper of pins, were their usual purchases;
but his dress-lengths and other fabrics were of excellent quality and
wore much longer than any one would wish anything to wear in these days
of rapidly changing fashions. It was from his pack the soft, warm
woollen, grey with a white fleck in it, came to make the frock Laura
wore with a little black satin apron and a bunch of snowdrops pinned to
the breast when she went to sell stamps in the post office.

Once every summer a German band passed through the hamlet and halted
outside the inn to play. It was composed of an entire family, a father
and his six sons, the latter graded in size like a set of jugs, from the
tall young man who played the cornet to the chubby pink-faced little boy
who beat the drum.

Drawn up in the semicircle in their neat, green uniforms, they would
blow away at their instruments until their chubby German cheeks seemed
near to bursting point. Most of the music they played was above the
heads of the hamlet folks, who said they liked something with a bit more
'chune' in it; but when, at the end of the performance, they gave _God
Save the Queen_ the standers-by joined with gusto in singing it.

That was the sign for the landlord to come out in his shirt-sleeves with
three frothing beer mugs. One for the father, who poured the beer down
his throat like water down a sink, and the other two to be passed
politely from son to son. Unless a farmer's gig or a tradesman's trap
happened to pull up at the inn gate during the performance, the beer was
their only reward for the entertainment. They did not take their
collecting bag round to the women and children who had gathered to
listen, for they knew from experience there were no stray halfpence for
German bands in a farm labourer's wife's pocket. So after shaking the
saliva from their brass instruments, they bowed, clicked their heels,
and marched off up the dusty road to the mother village. It was good
beer and they were hot and thirsty, so perhaps the reward was
sufficient.

The only other travelling entertainment which came there was known as
the dancing dolls. These, alas! did not dance in the open, but in a
cottage to which a penny admission was charged, and, as the cottage was
not of the cleanest, Laura was never allowed to witness this
performance. Those who had seen them said the dolls were on wires and
that the man who exhibited them said the words for them, so it must have
been some kind of marionette show.

Once, very early in their school life, the end house children met a man
with a dancing bear. The man, apparently a foreigner, saw that the
children were afraid to pass, and, to reassure them, set his bear
dancing. With a long pole balanced across its front paws, it waltzed
heavily to the tune hummed by its master, then shouldered the pole and
did exercises at his word of command. The elders of the hamlet said the
bear had appeared there at long intervals for many years; but that was
its last appearance. Poor Bruin, with his mangy fur and hot, tainted
breath, was never seen in those parts again. Perhaps he died of old age.

The greatest thrill of all and the one longest remembered in the hamlet,
was provided by the visit of a cheap-jack about half-way through the
decade. One autumn evening, just before dusk, he arrived with his
cartload of crockery and tinware and set out his stock on the grass by
the roadside before a back-cloth painted with icebergs and penguins and
polar bears. Soon he had his naphtha lamps flaring and was clashing his
basins together like bells and calling: 'Come buy! Come buy!'

It was the first visit of a cheap-jack to the hamlet and there was great
excitement. Men, women, and children rushed from the houses and crowded
around in the circle of light to listen to his patter and admire his
wares. And what bargains he had! The tea-service decorated with fat,
full-blown pink roses: twenty-one pieces and not a flaw in any one of
them. The Queen had purchased its fellow set for Buckingham Palace, it
appeared. The teapots, the trays, the nests of dishes and basins, and
the set of bedroom china which made every one blush when he selected the
most intimate utensil to rap with his knuckles to show it rang true.

'Two bob!' he shouted. 'Only two bob for this handsome set of jugs.
Here's one for your beer and one for your milk and another in case you
break one of the other two. Nobody willing to speculate? Then what about
this here set of trays, straight from Japan and the peonies
hand-painted; or this lot of basins, exact replicas of the one the
Princess of Wales supped her gruel from when Prince George was born. Why
damme, they cost me more n'r that. I could get twice the price I'm
asking in Banbury to-morrow; but I'll give 'em to you, for you can't
call it selling, because I like your faces and me load's heavy for me
'oss. Alarming bargains! Tremendous sacrifices! Come buy! Come buy!'

But there were scarcely any offers. A woman here and there would give
threepence for a large pudding-basin or sixpence for a tin saucepan. The
children's mother bought a penny nutmeg-grater and a set of wooden
spoons for cooking; the innkeeper's wife ran to a dozen tumblers and a
ball of string; then there was a long pause during which the vendor kept
up a continual stream of jokes and anecdotes which sent his audience
into fits of laughter. Once he broke into song:


    There was a man in his garden walked
    And cut his throat with a lump of chalk;
    His wife, she knew not what she did,
    She strangled herself with the saucepan lid.
    There was a man and a fine young fellow
    Who poisoned himself with an umbrella.
    Even Joey in his cradle shot himself dead with a silver ladle.
    When you hear this horrible tale
    It makes your faces all turn pale,
    Your eyes go green, you're overcome,
    So tweedle, tweedle, tweedle twum.


All very fine entertainment; but it brought him no money and he began to
suspect that he would draw a blank at Lark Rise.

'Never let it be said,' he implored, 'that this is the
poverty-strickenist place on God's earth. Buy something, if only for
your own credit's sake. Here!' snatching up a pile of odd plates. 'Good
dinner-plates for you. Every one a left-over from a first-class service.
Buy one of these and you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you're
eating off the same ware as lords and dukes. Only three-halfpence each.
Who'll buy? Who'll buy?'

There was a scramble for the plates, for nearly every one could muster
three-halfpence; but every time anything more costly was produced there
was dead silence. Some of the women began to feel uncomfortable. 'Don't
be poor and look poor, too' was their motto, and here they were looking
poor indeed, for who, with money in their pockets, could have resisted
such wonderful bargains.

Then the glorious unexpected happened. The man had brought the pink rose
tea-service forward again and was handing one of the cups round. 'You
just look at the light through it--and you, ma'am--and you. Ain't it
lovely china, thin as an eggshell, practically transparent, and with
every one of them roses hand-painted with a brush? You can't let a set
like that go out of the place, now can you? I can see all your mouths
a-watering. You run home, my dears, and bring out them stockings from
under the mattress and the first one to get back shall have it for
twelve bob.'

Each woman in turn handled the cup lovingly, then shook her head and
passed it on. None of them had stockings of savings hidden away. But,
just as the man was receiving back the cup, a little roughly, for he was
getting discouraged, a voice spoke up in the background.

'How much did you say, mister? Twelve bob? I'll give you ten.' It was
John Price, who, only the night before, had returned from his soldiering
in India. A very ordinary sort of chap at most times, for he was a
teetotaller and stood no drinks at the inn, as a returned soldier should
have done; but now, suddenly, he became important. All eyes were upon
him. The credit of the hamlet was at stake.

'I'll give you ten bob.'

'Can't be done, matey. Cost me more nor that. But, look see, tell you
what I will do. You give me eleven and six and I'll throw in this
handsome silver-gilt vase for your mantelpiece.'

'Done!' The bargain was concluded; the money changed hands, and the
reputation of the hamlet was rehabilitated. Willing hands helped John
carry the tea-service to his home. Indeed, it was considered an honour
to be trusted with a cup. His bride-to-be was still away in service and
little knew how many were envying her that night. To have such a lovely
service awaiting her return, no cracked or odd pieces, every piece alike
and all so lovely; lucky, lucky, Lucy! But though they could not help
envying her a little, they shared in her triumph, for surely such a
purchase must shed a glow of reflected prosperity on the whole hamlet.
Though it might not be convenient to all of them to buy very much on
that particular night, the man must see there was a bit of money in the
place and folks who knew how to spend it.

What came after was anti-climax, and yet very pleasant from the end
house children's point of view. A set of pretty little dishes, suitable
for holding jam, butter or fruit, according to size, was being
exhibited. The price had gone down from half a crown to a shilling
without response, when once more a voice spoke up in the background.
'Pass them over, please. I expect my wife can find a use for them,' and,
behold, it was the children's father who had halted on his way home from
work to see what the lights and the crowd meant.

Perhaps in all the man took a pound that night, which was fifteen
shillings more than any one could have foretold; but it was not
sufficient to tempt him to come again, and thenceforth the year was
dated as 'that time the cheap-jack came'.



    VIII

'_The Box_'

A familiar sight at Lark Rise was that of a young girl--any young girl
between ten and thirteen--pushing one of the two perambulators in the
hamlet round the Rise with a smallish-sized, oak clothes box with black
handles lashed to the seat. Those not already informed who met her would
read the signs and inquire: 'How is your mother'--or your sister or your
aunt--'getting on?' and she, well-primed, would answer demurely, 'As
well as can be expected under the circumstances, thank you, Mrs.
So-and-So.'

She had been to the Rectory for THE BOX, which appeared almost
simultaneously with every new baby, and a gruelling time she would have
had pushing her load the mile and a half and, at the same time, keeping
it from slipping from its narrow perch. But, very soon, such small
drawbacks would be forgotten in the pleasure of seeing it unpacked. It
contained half a dozen of everything--tiny shirts, swathes, long flannel
barrows, nighties, and napkins, made, kept in repair, and lent for every
confinement by the clergyman's daughter. In addition to the loaned
clothes, it would contain, as a gift, packets of tea and sugar and a tin
of patent groats for making gruel.

The box was a popular institution. Any farm labourer's wife, whether she
attended church or not, was made welcome to the loan of it. It appeared
in most of the cottages at regular intervals and seemed to the children
as much a feature of family life as the new babies. It was so constantly
in demand that it had to have an understudy, known as 'the second-best
box', altogether inferior, which fell to the lot of those careless
matrons who had neglected to bespeak the loan the moment they 'knew
their luck again'.

The boxes were supposed to be returned at the end of a month with the
clothes freshly laundered; but, if no one else required them, an
extension could be had, and many mothers were allowed to keep their box
until, at six or seven weeks old, the baby was big enough to be put into
short clothes; so saving them the cost of preparing a layette other than
the one set of clothes got ready for the infant's arrival. Even that
might be borrowed. The stock at the end house was several times called
for in what, by a polite fiction, passed as an emergency. Other women
had their own baby clothes, beautifully sewn and laundered; but there
was scarcely one who did not require the clothes in the box to
supplement them. For some reason or other, the box was never allowed to
go out until the baby had arrived.

The little garments on loan were all good quality and nicely trimmed
with embroidery and hand tucking. The clergyman's daughter also kept two
christening robes to lend to the mothers, and made a new frock, as a
gift, for every baby's 'shortening'. Summer or winter, these little
frocks were made of flowered print, blue for the boys and pink for the
girls, and every one of the tiny, strong stitches in them were done by
her own hands. She got little credit for this. The mothers, like the
children, looked upon the small garments, both loaned and given, as a
provision of Nature. Indeed, they were rather inclined to criticize. One
woman ripped off the deep flounce of old Buckinghamshire lace from the
second-best christening robe and substituted a frill of coarse,
machine-made embroidery, saying she was not going to take her child to
church 'trigged out' in that old-fashioned trash. As she had not troubled
to unpick the stitches, the lace was torn beyond repair, and the gown
ever after was decidedly second-best, for the best one was the old
Rectory family christening robe and made of the finest lawn, tucked and
inserted all over with real Valenciennes.

When the hamlet babies arrived, they found good clothes awaiting them,
and the best of all nourishment--Nature's own. The mothers did not fare
so well. It was the fashion at that time to keep maternity patients on
low diet for the first three days, and the hamlet women found no
difficulty in following this régime; water gruel, dry toast, and weak
tea was their menu. When the time came for more nourishing diet, the
parson's daughter made for every patient one large sago pudding,
followed up by a jug of veal broth. After these were consumed they
returned to their ordinary food, with a half-pint of stout a day for
those who could afford it. No milk was taken, and yet their own milk
supply was abundant. Once, when a bottle-fed baby was brought on a visit
to the hamlet, its bottle was held up as a curiosity. It had a long,
thin rubber tube for the baby to suck through which must have been
impossible to clean.

The only cash outlay in an ordinary confinement was half a crown, the
fee of the old woman who, as she said, saw the beginning and end of
everybody. She was, of course, not a certified midwife; but she was a
decent, intelligent old body, clean in her person and methods and very
kind. For the half-crown she officiated at the birth and came every
morning for ten days to bath the baby and make the mother comfortable.
She also tried hard to keep the patient in bed for the ten days; but
with little success. Some mothers refused to stay there because they
knew they were needed downstairs; others because they felt so strong and
fit they saw no reason to lie there. Some women actually got up on the
third day, and, as far as could be seen at the time, suffered no ill
effects.

Complications at birth were rare; but in the two or three cases where
they did occur during her practice, old Mrs. Quinton had sufficient
skill to recognize the symptoms and send post haste for the doctor. No
mother lost her life in childbed during the decade.

In these more enlightened days the mere mention of the old, untrained
village midwife raises a vision of some dirty, drink-sodden old hag
without skill or conscience. But not all of them were Sairey Gamps. The
great majority were clean, knowledgeable old women who took a pride in
their office. Nor had many of them been entirely without instruction.
The country doctor of that day valued a good midwife in an outlying
village and did not begrudge time and trouble in training her. Such a
one would save him many a six or eight mile drive over bad roads at
night, and, if a summons did come, he would know that his presence was
necessary.

The trained district nurses, when they came a few years later, were a
great blessing in country districts; but the old midwife also had her
good points, for which she now receives no credit. She was no superior
person coming into the house to strain its resources to the utmost and
shame the patient by forced confessions that she did not possess this or
that; but a neighbour, poor like herself, who could make do with what
there was, or, if not, knew where to send to borrow it. This Mrs.
Quinton possessed quite a stock of the things she knew she would not
find in every house, and might often be met with a baby's little round
bath in her hand, or a clothes-horse, for airing, slung over her arm.

Other days, other ways; and, although they have now been greatly
improved upon, the old country midwives did at least succeed in bringing
into the world many generations of our forefathers, or where should we
be now?

The general health of the hamlet was excellent. The healthy, open-air
life and the abundance of coarse but wholesome food must have been
largely responsible for that; but lack of imagination may also have
played a part. Such people at that time did not look for or expect
illness, and there were not as many patent medicine advertisements then
as now to teach them to search for symptoms of minor ailments in
themselves. Beecham's and Holloway's Pills were already familiar to all
newspaper readers, and a booklet advertising Mother Siegel's Syrup
arrived by post at every house once a year. But only Beecham's Pills
were patronized, and those only by a few; the majority relied upon an
occasional dose of Epsom salts to cure all ills. One old man, then
nearly eighty, had for years drunk a teacupful of frothing soapsuds
every Sunday morning. 'Them cleans the outers,' he would say, 'an'
stands to reason they must clean th' innards, too.' His dose did not
appear to do him any harm; but he made no converts.

Although only babies and very small children had baths, the hamlet folks
were cleanly in their persons. The women would lock their cottage doors
for a whole afternoon once a week to have what they called 'a good clean
up'. This consisted of stripping to the waist and washing downward; then
stepping into a footbath and washing upward. 'Well, I feels all the
better for that; some woman would say complacently. 'I've washed up as
far as possible and down as far as possible,' and the ribald would
inquire what poor 'possible' had done that that should not be included.

Toothbrushes were not in general use; few could afford to buy such
luxuries; but the women took a pride in their strong white teeth and
cleaned them with a scrap of clean, wet rag dipped in salt. Some of the
men used soot as a tooth-powder.

After a confinement, if the eldest girl was too young and there was no
other relative available, the housework, cooking, and washing would be
shared among the neighbours, who would be repaid in kind when they
themselves were in like case.

Babies, especially young babies, were adored by their parents and loved
and petted and often spoilt by the whole family until another arrived;
then, as they used to say, its 'nose was put out of joint'; all the
adoration was centred on the newcomer, and the ex-baby was fortunate if
it had a still devoted elder sister to stand by it.

In the production of their large families the parents appeared reckless.
One obvious method of birth control, culled from the Old Testament, was
known in the hamlet and practised by one couple, which had managed to
keep their family down to four. The wife told their secret to another
woman, thinking to help her; but it only brought scorn down on her own
head. 'Did you ever! Fancy begrudging a little child a bit o' food, the
nasty greedy selfish hussy, her!' was the general verdict. But, although
they protested so volubly, and bore their own frequent confinements with
courage and cheerfulness, they must have sometimes rebelled in secret,
for there was great bitterness in the tone in which in another mood they
would say: 'The wife ought to have the first child and the husband the
second, then there wouldn't ever be any more.'

That showed how the land lay, as Laura's mother said to her in later
life. She herself lived to see the decline in the birth-rate, and, when
she discussed it with her daughter in the early 1930s, laughed heartily
at some of the explanations advanced by the learned, and said: 'If they
knew what it meant to carry and bear and bring up a child themselves,
they wouldn't expect the women to be in a hurry to have a second or
third now they've got a say in the matter. Now, if they made it a bit
easier for people, dividing it out a bit, so to speak, by taking over
some of the money worry. It's never seemed fair to my mind that the one
who's got to go through all a confinement means should have to scrape
and pinch beforehand to save a bit as well. Then there's the other child
or children. What mother wants to rob those she's already got by
bringing in another to share what there's too little of already?'

None of the unmarried hamlet girls had babies in the 'eighties, although
there must have been quite a crop of illegitimate births a few years
earlier, for when the attendance register was called out at school the
eldest children of several families answered to another surname than
that borne by their brothers and sisters and by which they themselves
were commonly known. These would be the children of couples who had
married after the birth of their first child, a common happening at that
time--and little thought of.

In the 'eighties a young woman of thirty came from Birmingham to have
her illegitimate baby at her sister's home in the hamlet, and a widow
who had already three legitimate children and afterwards married again
managed to produce two children between her two marriages. These births
passed without much comment; but when a young girl of sixteen whose home
was out in the fields near the hamlet was known to be 'in trouble'
public feeling was stirred.

One evening, a few weeks before the birth, Emily passed through the
hamlet with her father on their way to interview the young man she had
named as responsible for her condition. It was a sad little sight.
Emily, who had so recently been romping with the other children, going
slowly, unwillingly, and red-eyed from crying, her tell-tale figure
enveloped in her mother's plaid shawl, and her respectable, grey-headed
father in his Sunday suit urging her to 'Come on!' as though longing to
be through with a disagreeable business. Women came to their cottage
gates and children left their play to watch them pass by, for every one
knew or guessed their errand, and much sympathy was felt towards them on
account of Emily's youth and her parents' respectability.

The interview turned out even more mortifying than the father could have
expected, for Emily had named the young son of the house where she had
been in service, and he not only repudiated the charge, but was able to
prove that he had been away from home for some time before and after the
crucial date. Yet, in spite of the evidence, the neighbours still
believed Emily's version of the story and treated her as a wronged
heroine, to be petted and made much of. Perhaps they made too much of
her, for what should have been an episode turned into a habit, and,
although she never married, Emily had quite a good-sized family.

The hamlet women's attitude towards the unmarried mother was
contradictory. If one of them brought her baby on a visit to the hamlet
they all went out of their way to pet and fuss over them. 'The pretty
dear!' they would cry. 'How ever can anybody say such a one as him ought
not to be born. Ain't he a beauty! Ain't he a size! They always say, you
know, that that sort of child is the finest. An' don't you go mindin'
what folks says about you, me dear. It's only the good girls, like you,
that has 'em; the others is too artful!'

But they did not want their own daughters to have babies before they
were married. 'I allus tells my gals,' one woman would say
confidentially to another, 'that if they goes getting theirselves into
trouble they'll have to go to th' work'us, for I won't have 'em at
home.' And the other would agree, saying, 'So I tells mine, an' I allus
think that's why I've had no trouble with 'em.'

To those who knew the girls, the pity was that their own mothers should
so misjudge their motives for keeping chaste; but there was little room;
for their finer feelings in the hamlet mother's life. All her strength,
invention and understanding were absorbed in caring for her children's
bodies; their mental and spiritual qualities were outside her range. At
the same time, if one of the girls had got into trouble, as they called
it, the mother would almost certainly have had her home and cared for
her. There was more than one home in the hamlet where the mother was
bringing up a grandchild with her own younger children, the grandchild
calling the grandmother 'Mother'.

If, as sometimes happened, a girl had to be married in haste, she was
thought none the worse of on that account. She had secured her man. All
was well. ''Tis but Nature' was the general verdict.

But though they were lenient with such slips, especially when not in
their own families, anything in the way of what they called 'loose
living' was detested by them. Only once in the history of the hamlet had
a case of adultery been known to the general public, and, although that
had occurred ten or twelve years before, it was still talked of in the
'eighties. The guilty couple had been treated to 'rough music'. Effigies
of the pair had been made and carried aloft on poles by torchlight to
the house of the woman, to the accompaniment of the banging of pots,
pans, and coal-shovels, the screeching of tin whistles and mouth-organs,
and cat-calls, hoots, and jeers. The man, who was a lodger at the
woman's house, disappeared before daybreak the next morning, and soon
afterwards the woman and her husband followed him.

About the middle of the decade, the memory of that historic night was
revived when an unmarried woman with four illegitimate children moved
into a vacant house in the hamlet. Her coming raised a fury of
indignation. Words hitherto only heard by the children when the Lessons
were read in church were flung about freely: 'harlot' was one of the
mildest. The more ardent moralists were for stoning her or driving her
out of the place with rough music. The more moderate proposed getting
her landlord to turn her out as a bad character. However, upon closer
acquaintance, she turned out to be so clean, quiet, and well-spoken,
that her sins, which she had apparently abandoned, were forgiven her,
and one after another of the neighbours began 'passing the time of day'
with her when they met. Then, as though willing to do anything in reason
to conform to their standard, she got married to a man who had been
navvying on a stretch of new railway line and then settled down to farm
labour. So there were wedding bells instead of rough music and the
family gradually merged into ordinary hamlet life.

It was the hamlet's gain. One of the boys was musical, an aunt had
bought him a good melodeon, and, every light evening, he played it for
hours on the youths' gathering ground in front of the 'Wagon and
Horses'.

Before his arrival there had been no musical instrument of any kind at
Lark Rise, and, in those days before gramophones or wireless, any one
who liked 'a bit of a tune' had to go to church to hear it, and then it
would only be a hymn tune wheezed out by an ancient harmonium. Now they
could have all the old favourites--'Home, Sweet Home', 'Annie Laurie',
'Barbara Allen', and 'Silver Threads Among the Gold'--they had only to
ask for what they fancied. Alf played well and had a marvellous ear. If
the baker or any other caller hummed the tune of a new popular song in
his hearing, Alf would be playing it that night on his melodeon.

Women stood at their cottage gates, men leaned out of the inn window,
and children left their play and gathered around him to listen. Often he
played dance tunes, and the youths would foot it with each other as
partners, for there was seldom a grown-up girl at home and the little
ones they despised. So the little girls, too, had to dance with each
other. One stout old woman, who was said to have been gay in her time,
would come out and give them hints, or she would take a turn herself,
gliding around alone, her feet hidden by her long skirts, massively
graceful.

Sometimes they would sing to the dance music, and the standers-by would
join in:


        I have a bonnet, trimmed with blue,
        Why don't you wear it? So I do.
        When do you wear it? When I can,
        When I go out with my young man.

        My young man is gone to sea
        With silver buckles on his knee,
        With his blue coat and yellow hose,
        And that's the way the polka goes.


Or perhaps it would be:



      Step and fetch her, step and fetch her,
        Step and fetch her, pretty litle dear.
      Do not tease her, try and please her,
        Step and fetch her, pretty litle dear.


And so they would dance and sing through the long summer evenings, until
dusk fell and the stars came out and they all went laughing and panting
home, a community simple enough to be made happy by one little boy with
a melodeon.



     IX

       _Country Playtime_

'Shall we dance to-night or shall we have a game?' was a frequent
question among the girls after Alf's arrival. Until the novelty of the
dancing wore off, the old country games were eclipsed; but their day was
not over. Some of the quieter girls always preferred the games, and,
later, on those evenings when Alf was away, playing for dancers in other
villages, they all went back to the games.

Then, beneath the long summer sunsets, the girls would gather on one of
the green open spaces between the houses and bow and curtsey and sweep
to and fro in their ankle-length frocks as they went through the game
movements and sang the game rhymes as their mothers and grandmothers had
done before them.

How long the games had been played and how they originated no one knew,
for they had been handed down for a time long before living memory and
accepted by each succeeding generation as a natural part of its
childhood. No one inquired the meaning of the words of the game rhymes;
many of the girls, indeed, barely mastered them, but went through the
movements to the accompaniment of an indistinct babbling. But the rhymes
had been preserved; breaking down into doggerel in places; but still
sufficiently intact to have spoken to the discerning, had any such been
present, of an older, sweeter country civilization than had survived,
excepting in a few such fragments.

Of all the generations that had played the games, that of the 'eighties
was to be the last. Already those children had one foot in the national
school and one on the village green. Their children and grandchildren
would have left the village green behind them; new and as yet
undreamed-of pleasures and excitements would be theirs. In ten years'
time the games would be neglected, and in twenty forgotten. But all
through the 'eighties the games went on and seemed to the children
themselves and to onlookers part of a life that always had been and
always would be.

The Lark Rise children had a large repertoire, including the well-known
games still met with at children's parties, such as 'Oranges and
Lemons', 'London Bridge', and 'Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush'; but
also including others which appear to have been peculiar to that part of
the country. Some of these were played by forming a ring, others by
taking sides, and all had distinctive rhymes, which were chanted rather
than sung.

The boys of the hamlet did not join in them, for the amusement was too
formal and restrained for their taste, and even some of the rougher
girls when playing would spoil a game, for the movements were stately
and all was done by rule. Only at the end of some of the games, where
the verse had deteriorated into doggerel, did the play break down into a
romp. Most of the girls when playing revealed graces unsuspected in them
at other times; their movements became dignified and their voices softer
and sweeter than ordinarily, and when hauteur was demanded by the part,
they became, as they would have said, 'regular duchesses'. It is
probable that carriage and voice inflexion had been handed down with the
words.

One old favourite was 'Here Come Three Tinkers'. For this all but two of
the players, a big girl and a little one, joined hands in a row, and the
bigger girl out took up her stand about a dozen paces in front of the
row with the smaller one lying on the turf behind her feigning sleep.
Then three of the line of players detached themselves and, hand in hand,
tripped forward, singing:


    Here come three tinkers, three by three,
    To court your daughter, fair ladye,
    Oh, can we have a lodging here, here, here?
    Oh, can we have a lodging here?


Upon which the fair lady (pronounced 'far-la-dee') admonished her
sleeping daughter:


    Sleep, sleep, my daughter. Do not wake.
    Here come three tinkers you can't take.


Then, severely, to the tinkers:


    You cannot have a lodging here, here, here.
    You cannot have a lodging here.


And the tinkers returned to the line, and three others came forward,
calling themselves tailors, soldiers, sailors, gardeners, bricklayers,
or policemen, according to fancy, the rhymes being sung for each three,
until it was time for the climax, and, putting fresh spirit into their
tones, the conquering candidates came forward, singing:


    Here come three princes, three by three,
    To court your daughter, fair ladye,
    Oh, can we have a lodging here, here, here?
    Oh, can we have a lodging here?


At the mere mention of the rank of the princes the scene changed. The
fair lady became all becks and nods and smiles, and, lifting up her
supposedly sleeping daughter, sang:


    Oh, wake, my daughter, wake, wake, wake.
    Here come three princes you can take.


And, turning to the princes:


    Oh, you can have a lodging here, here, here.
    Oh, you can have a lodging here.


Then, finally, leading forward and presenting her daughter, she said:


    Here is my daughter, safe and sound,
    And in her pocket five thousand pound,
    And on her finger a gay gold ring,
    And I'm sure she's fit to walk with a king.


For 'Isabella' a ring was formed with one of the players standing alone
in the centre. Then circling slowly, the girls sang:


 Isabella, Isabella, Isabella, farewell.
   Last night when we parted
   I left you broken-hearted,
 And on the green gravel there stands a young man.

 Isabella, Isabella, Isabella, farewell.
 Take your choice, love, take your choice, love,
 Take your choice, love. Farewell.


The girl in the middle of the ring then chose another who took up her
position inside with her, while the singers continued:


 Put the banns up, put the banns up,
 Put the banns up. Farewell.
 Come to church, love, come to church, love. Farewell.

 Put the ring on, put the ring on,
 Put the ring on. Farewell.

 Come to supper, love, come to supper, love,
 Come to supper, love. Farewell.

 Now to bed, love, now to bed, love,
 Now to bed, love. Farewell.


With other instructions, all of which were carried out in dumb show by
the couple in the middle of the ring. Having got the pair wedded and
bedded, the spirit of the piece changed. The stately game became a romp.
Jumping up and down, still with joined hands, round the two in the
middle, the girls shouted:


 Now they're married we wish them joy,
 First a girl and then a boy,
 Sixpence married sevenpence's daughter,
 Kiss the couple over and over.


In that game the Isabella of the sad farewell to whom the sweet
plaintive tune of the rhyme originally belonged had somehow got mixed up
in a country courtship and wedding.

A pretty, graceful game to watch was 'Thread the Tailor's Needle'. For
this two girls joined both hands and elevated them to form an arch or
bridge, and the other players, in single file and holding on to each
other's skirts, passed under, singing:


        Thread the tailor's needle,
        Thread the tailor's needle.
        The tailor's blind and he can't see,
        So thread the tailor's needle.


As the end of the file passed under the arch the last two girls detached
themselves, took up their stand by the original two and joined their
hands and elevated them, thus widening the arch, and this was repeated
until the arch became a tunnel. As the file passing under grew shorter,
the tune was quickened, until, towards the end, the game became a merry
whirl.

A grim little game often played by the younger children was called
'Daddy'. For this a ring was formed, one of the players remaining
outside it, and the outside player stalked stealthily round the silent
and motionless ring and chose another girl by striking her on the
shoulder. The chosen one burst from the ring and rushed round it,
closely pursued by the first player, the others chanting meanwhile:


        Round a ring to catch a king,
        Round a ring to catch a king,
        Round a ring to catch a king----


and, as the pursuer caught up with the pursued and struck her neck with
the edge of her hand:


        Down falls Daddy!


At the stroke on the neck the second player fell flat on the turf,
beheaded, and the game continued until all were stretched on the turf.

Round _what_ ring, to catch _what_ king? And who was Daddy? Was the game
founded on some tale dished up for the commonalty of the end of one who
'nothing common did or mean'? The players did not know or care, and we
can only guess.

'Honeypots' was another small children's game. For this the children
squatted down with their hands clasped tightly under their buttocks and
two taller girls approached them, singing:


        Honeypots, honeypots, all in a row!
        Who will buy my honeypots, O?


One on each side of a squatting child, they 'tried' it by swinging by
the arms, the child's hands still being clasped under its buttocks. If
the hands gave way, the honeypot was cast away as broken; if they held,
it was adjudged a good pot.

A homely game was 'The Old Woman from Cumberland'. For this a row of
girls stood hand in hand with a bigger one in the middle to represent
the old woman from Cumberland. Another bigger girl stood alone a few
paces in front. She was known as the 'mistress'. Then the row of girls
tripped forward, singing:


      Here comes an old woman from Cumberland
      With all her children in her hand.
      And please do you want a servant to-day?


'What can they do?' demanded the mistress as they drew up before her.
Then the old woman of Cumberland detached herself and walked down the
row, placing a hand on the heads of one after another of her children as
she said:


      This can brew, and this can bake,
      This can make a wedding cake,
      This can wear a gay gold ring,
      This can sit in the barn and sing,
      This can go to bed with a king,
      And this one can do everything.


'Oh! I will have that one', said the mistress, pointing to the one who
could do everything, who then went over to her. The proceedings were
repeated until half the girls had gone over, when the two sides had a
tug-of-war.

'The Old Woman from Cumberland' was a brisk, business-like game; but
most of the rhymes of the others were long-drawn-out and sad, and
saddest of all was 'Poor Mary is A-weeping', which went:


  Poor Mary is a-weeping, a-weeping, a-weeping,
  Poor Mary is a-weeping on a bright summer's day.

  And what's poor Mary a-weeping for, a-weeping for, aweeping for?
  Oh, what's poor Mary a-weeping for on a bright summer's day?

  She's weeping for her own true love on a bright summer's own true love.
  She's weeping for her own true love on a bright summer's day.

  Then let her choose another love, another love, another love.
  Then let her choose another love on a bright summer's day.


'Waly, Waly, Wallflower' ran 'Poor Mary' close in gentle melancholy; but
the original verse in this seems to have broken down after the fourth
line. The Lark Rise version ran:


 Waly, waly, wallflower, growing up so high.
 We're all maidens, we must all die,
 Excepting So-and-So [_naming one of the players_]
 And she's the youngest maid.


Then, the tune changing to a livelier air:


         She can hop and she can skip,
         She can play the candlestick,
         Fie! Fie! Fie!
         Turn your face to the wall again.


All clasping hands and jumping up and down:


  All the boys in this town
    Lead a happy life,
  Excepting So-and-So [_naming some hamlet boy, not necessarily present_]
    And he wants a wife.
  A wife he shall have and a-courting he shall go,
  Along with So-and-So; because he loves her so.


  He kissed her, he cuddled her, he sat her on his knee,
  And he said 'My dearest So-and-So, how happy we shall be.'
  First he bought the frying-pan and then he bought the cradle
  And then he bought the knives and forks and set them on the table.

  So-and-So made a pudding, she made it very sweet,
  She daren't stick the knife in till So-and-So came home at night.
  Taste, So-and-So, taste, and do not be afraid,
  Next Monday morning the wedding day shall be,
  And the cat shall sing and the bells shall ring
  And we'll all clap hands together.


Evidently in the course of the centuries 'Waly, Waly, Wallflower' had
become mixed with something else. The youngest maid of the first verse
would never have played the candlestick or been courted by such a lover.
Her destiny was very different. But what?

'Green Gravel' was another ring game. The words were:


       Green gravel, green gravel, the grass is so green,
       The fairest young damsel that ever was seen,
       Sweet So-and-So, sweet So-and-So, your true love is dead,
       I send you a letter, so turn round your head.


And as each name was mentioned the bearer turned outwards from the
middle of the ring and, still holding hands with the others, went on
revolving. When all had turned, the girls jigged up and down, shouting:


       Bunch o' rags! Bunch o' rags! Bunch o' rags!


until all fell down.

Then there was 'Sally, Sally Waters'; who 'sprinkled in the pan'; and
'Queen Anne, Queen Anne', who 'sat in the sun'. The local version of the
first verse of the latter ran:


    Queen Anne, Queen Anne, she sat in the sun,
    She had a pair of ringlets on.
    She shook them off, she shook them on,
    She shook them into Scotland.


Which seems to suggest that the Queen Anne intended was Anne of Denmark,
consort of our James the First, and not the last of our Stuart monarchs,
as sometimes supposed. When the founders of the new royal house first
arrived in England, there would certainly be gossip about them, and
Queen Anne would most probably be supposed to favour Scotland, Scots,
and things Scottish.

The brisk and rather disagreeable little game known as 'Queen Caroline'
must have been of comparatively recent date. For this two lines of girls
stood facing each other, while one other one ran the gauntlet. As she
dashed between the lines the girls on both sides 'buffeted' her with
hands, pinafores and handkerchiefs, singing:


 Queen, Queen Caroline,
 Dipped her head in turpentine.
 Why did she look so fine?
 Because she wore a crinoline.


An echo of the coronation scene of George IV?

Contemporary with that was 'The Sheepfold', which began:


   Who's that going round my sheepfold?
   Oh, it's only your poor neighbour Dick.
   Do not steal my sheep while I am fast asleep.


But that was not a favourite and no one seemed to know the whole of it.
Then there were 'How Many Miles to Banbury Town?', 'Blind Man's Buff',
and many other games. The children could play for hours without
repeating a game.

As well as the country games, a few others, probably as old, but better
known, were played by the hamlet children. Marbles, peg-tops, and
skipping-ropes appeared in their season, and when there happened to be a
ball available a game called 'Tip-it' was played. There was not always a
ball to be had; for the smallest rubber one cost a penny, and pennies
were scarce. Even marbles, at twenty a penny, were seldom bought,
although there were a good many in circulation, for the hamlet boys were
champion marble players and thought nothing of walking five or six miles
on a Saturday to play with the boys of other villages and replenish
their own store with their winnings. Some of them owned as trophies the
scarce and valued glass marbles, called 'alleys'. These were of clear
glass enclosing bright, wavy, multicoloured threads, and they looked
very handsome among the dingy-coloured clay ones. The girls skipped with
any odd length of rope, usually a piece of their mothers' old
clothes-lines.

A simple form of hopscotch was played, for which three lines, or steps,
enclosed in an oblong were scratched in the dust. The elaborate
hopscotch diagrams, resembling an astrological horoscope, still to be
seen chalked on the roads in the West Country were unknown there.

'Dibs' was a girls' game, played with five small, smooth pebbles, which
had to be kept in the air at the same time and caught on the back of the
hand. Laura, who was clumsy with her hands, never mastered this game;
nor could she play marbles or spin tops or catch balls, or play
hopscotch. She was by common consent 'a duffer'. Skipping and running
were her only accomplishments.

Sometimes in the summer the 'pin-a-sight' was all the rage, and no girl
would feel herself properly equipped unless she had one secreted about
her. To make a 'pin-a-sight' two small sheets of glass, a piece of brown
paper, and plenty of flowers were required. Then the petals were
stripped from the flowers and arranged on one of the sheets of glass
with the other sheet placed over it to form a kind of floral sandwich,
and the whole was enveloped in brown paper; in which a little square
window was cut, with a flap left hanging to act as a drop-scene. Within
the opening then appeared a multi-coloured medley of flower petals, and
that was the 'pin-a-sight'. No design was aimed at; the object being to
show as many and as brightly coloured petals as possible; but Laura,
when alone, loved to arrange her petals as little pictures, building up
a geranium or a rose, or even a little house, against a background of
green leaves.

Usually, the girls only showed their 'pin-a-sights' to each other; but
sometimes they would approach one of the women, or knock at a door,
singing:


       A pin to see a pin-a-sight,
       All the ladies dressed in white.
       A pin behind and a pin before,
       And a pin to knock at the lady's door.


They would then lift the flap and show the 'pin-a-sight', for which they
expected to be rewarded with a pin. When this was forthcoming, it was
stuck with any others that might be received on the front of the
pinafore. There was always a competition as to who should get the
longest row of pins.

After they reached school-going age, the boys no longer played with the
girls, but found themselves a separate pitch on which to play marbles or
spin tops or kick an old tin about by way of a football. Or they would
hunt in couples along the hedgerows, shooting at birds with their
catapults, climbing trees, or looking for birds' nests, mushrooms, or
chestnuts, according to the season.

The birds'-nesting was a cruel sport, for not only was every egg taken
from every nest they found, but the nests themselves were demolished and
all the soft moss and lining feathers were left torn and scattered
around on the grass and bushes.

'Oh, dear! What must the poor bird have felt when she saw that!' was
Laura's cry when she came upon that, to her, saddest of all sad sights,
and once she even dared to remonstrate with some boys she had found in
the act. They only laughed and pushed her aside. To them, the idea that
anything so small as a mother chaffinch could feel was ridiculous. They
were thinking of the lovely long string of threaded eggshells, blue and
speckled and pearly white, they hoped to collect and hang up at home as
an ornament. The tiny whites and yolks which would come from the eggs
when blown they would make their mothers whip up and stir into their own
cup of tea as a delicacy, and their mothers would be pleased and say
what kind, thoughtful boys they had, for they, like the boys, did not
consider the birds' point of view.

No one in authority told them that such wholesale robbery of birds'
nests was cruel. Even the Rector, when he called at the cottages, would
admire the collections and sometimes even condescend to accept a rare
specimen. Ordinary country people at that time, though not actively
cruel to animals, were indifferent to their sufferings. 'Where there's
no sense there's no feeling,' they would say when they had hurt some
creature by accident or through carelessness. By sense they meant wits
or understanding, and these they imagined purely human attributes.

A few birds were sacred. No boy would rob a robin's or a wren's nest;
nor would they have wrecked a swallow's nest if they could have reached
one, for they believed that:


         The robin and the wrens
         Be God Almighty's friends.
         And the martin and the swallow
         Be God Almighty's birds to follow.


And those four were safe from molestation. Their cruelty to the other
birds and to some other animals was due to an utter lack of imagination,
not to bad-heartedness. When, a little later; country boys were taught
in school to show mercy to animals and especially to birds, one egg only
from a clutch became the general rule. Then came the splendid Boy Scout
movement, which has done more than all the Preservation of Wild Birds
Acts to prevent the wholesale raiding of nests, by teaching the boys
mercy and kindness.

In winter in the 'eighties the youths and big boys of the hamlet would
go out on dark nights 'spadgering'. For this a large net upon four poles
was carried; two bearers going on one side of a hedge and two on the
other. When they came to a spot where a flock of sparrows or other small
birds was roosting, the net was dropped over the hedge and drawn tight
and the birds enclosed were slaughtered by lantern light. One boy would
often bring home as many as twenty sparrows, which his mother would
pluck and make into a pudding. A small number of birds, or a single
bird, would be toasted in front of the fire. Many of the children and
some of the women set traps for birds in their gardens. This was done by
strewing crumbs or corn around and beneath a sieve or a shallow box set
up endways. To the top of the trap as it stood, one end of a length of
fine twine was attached and the other end was held by some one lurking
in a barn doorway or behind a hedge or wall. When a bird was in a
favourable position, the trap was jerked down upon it. One old woman in
particular excelled as a bird-trapper, and, even in snowy weather, she
might often have been seen sitting in her barn doorway with the string
of a trap in her hand. Had a kindly disposed stranger seen her, his
heart would have bled with pity for the poor old soul, so starving that
she spent hours in the snow snaring a sparrow for her supper. His pity
would have been wasted. She was quite comfortably off according to
hamlet standards, and often did not trouble to pluck and cook her bag.
She was out for the sport.

In one way and another a bird, or a few birds, were a regular feature of
the hamlet menu. But there were birds and birds. 'Do you think you could
fancy a bird, me dear?' a man would say to his ailing wife or child, and
if they thought they would the bird would appear; but it would not be a
sparrow, or even a thrush or a lark. It would be a much bigger bird with
a plump breast; but it would never be named and no feathers would be
left lying about by which to identify it. The hamlet men were no
habitual poachers. They called poaching 'a mug's game' and laughed at
those who practised it. 'One month in quod and one out,' as they said.
But, when the necessity arose, they knew where the game birds were and
how to get them.

Edmund and Laura once witnessed a neat bit of poaching. They had climbed
a ladder they had found set against the side of a haystack which had
been unthatched, ready for removal, and, after an exciting hour of
sticking out their heads and making faces to represent gargoyles on a
tower, they were lying, hidden from below, while the men on their way
home from work passed along the footpath beneath the rick.

It was near sunset and the low, level light searched the path and the
stubble and aftermath on either side of it. The men sauntered along in
twos and threes, smoking and talking, then disappeared, group by group,
over the stile at the farther side of the field. Just as the last group
was nearing the stile and the children were breathing a sigh of relief
at not having been seen and scolded, a hare broke from one of the hedges
and went bounding and capering across the field in the headlong way
hares have. It looked for a moment as if it would land under the feet of
the last group of men, who were nearing the stile; but, suddenly, it
scented danger and drew up and squatted motionless behind a tuft of
green clover a few feet from the pathway. Just then one of the men fell
behind to tie his bootlace: the others passed over the stile. The moment
they were out of sight, in one movement, the man left behind rose and
flung himself sideways over the clover clump where the hare was hiding.
There was a short scuffle, a slight raising of dust; then a limp form
was pressed into a dinner-basket, and, after a good look round to make
sure his action had not been observed, the man followed his workmates.



     X

   _Daughters of the Hamlet_

A stranger coming to Lark Rise would have looked in vain for the sweet
country girl of tradition, with her sunbonnet, hay-rake, and air of
rustic coquetry. If he had, by chance, seen a girl well on in her teens,
she would be dressed in town clothes, complete with gloves and veil, for
she would be home from service for her fortnight's holiday, and her
mother would insist upon her wearing her best every time she went out of
doors, in order to impress the neighbours.

There was no girl over twelve or thirteen living permanently at home.
Some were sent out to their first place at eleven. The way they were
pushed out into the world at that tender age might have seemed heartless
to a casual observer. As soon as a little girl approached school-leaving
age, her mother would say, 'About time you was earnin' your own livin',
me gal,' or, to a neighbour, 'I shan't be sorry when our young So-and-So
gets her knees under somebody else's table. Five slices for breakfast
this mornin', if you please!' From that time onward the child was made
to feel herself one too many in the overcrowded home; while her
brothers, when they left school and began to bring home a few shillings
weekly, were treated with a new consideration and made much of. The
parents did not want the boys to leave home. Later on, if they wished to
strike out for themselves, they might even meet with opposition, for
their money, though barely sufficient to keep them in food, made a
little more in the family purse, and every shilling was precious. The
girls, while at home, could earn nothing.

Then there was the sleeping problem. None of the cottages had more than
two bedrooms, and when children of both sexes were entering their teens
it was difficult to arrange matters, and the departure of even one small
girl of twelve made a little more room for those remaining.

When the older boys of a family began to grow up, the second bedroom
became the boys' room. Boys, big and little, were packed into it, and
the girls still at home had to sleep in the parents' room. They had
their own standard of decency; a screen was placed or a curtain was
drawn to form a partition between the parents' and children's beds; but
it was, at best, a poor makeshift arrangement, irritating, cramped, and
inconvenient. If there happened to be one big boy, with several girls
following him in age, he would sleep downstairs on a bed made up every
night and the second bedroom would be the girls' room. When the girls
came home from service for their summer holiday, it was the custom for
the father to sleep downstairs that the girl might share her mother's
bed. It is common now to hear people say, when looking at some little
old cottage, 'And they brought up ten children there. Where on earth did
they sleep?' And the answer is, or should be, that they did not all
sleep there at the same time. Obviously they could not. By the time the
youngest of such a family was born, the eldest would probably be twenty
and have been out in the world for years, as would those who came
immediately after in age. The overcrowding was bad enough; but not quite
as bad as people imagine.

Then, again, as the children grew up, they required more and more food,
and the mother was often at her wits' end to provide it. It was no
wonder her thoughts and hopes sprang ahead to the time when one, at
least, of her brood would be self-supporting. She should not have spoken
her thoughts aloud, for many a poor, sensitive, little girl must have
suffered. But the same mother would often at mealtimes slip the morsel
of meat from her own to her child's plate, with a 'I don't seem to feel
peckish to-night. You have it. You're growing.'

After the girls left school at ten or eleven, they were usually kept at
home for a year to help with the younger children, then places were
found for them locally in the households of tradesmen, schoolmasters,
stud grooms, or farm bailiffs. Employment in a public house was looked
upon with horror by the hamlet mothers, and farm-house servants were a
class apart. 'Once a farm-house servant, always a farm-house servant'
they used to say, and they were more ambitious for their daughters.

The first places were called 'petty places' and looked upon as
stepping-stones to better things. It was considered unwise to allow a
girl to remain in her petty place more than a year; but a year she must
stay whether she liked it or not, for that was the custom. The food in
such places was good and abundant, and in a year a girl of thirteen
would grow tall and strong enough for the desired 'gentlemen's service',
her wages would buy her a few clothes, and she would be learning.

The employers were usually very kind to these small maids. In some
houses they were treated as one of the family; in others they were put
into caps and aprons and ate in the kitchen, often with one or two of
the younger children of the house to keep them company. The wages were
small, often only a shilling a week; but the remuneration did not end
with the money payment. Material, already cut out and placed, was given
them to make their underwear, and the Christmas gift of a best frock or
a winter coat was common. Caps and aprons and morning print dresses, if
worn, were provided by the employer. 'She shan't want for anything while
she is with me' was a promise frequently made by a shopkeeper's wife
when engaging a girl, and many were even better than their word in that
respect. They worked with the girls themselves and trained them; then as
they said, just as they were becoming useful they left to 'better
themselves'.

The mothers' attitude towards these mistresses of small households was
peculiar. If one of them had formerly been in service herself, her
situation was avoided, for 'a good servant makes a bad missis' they
said. In any case they considered it a favour to allow their small
untrained daughters to 'oblige' (it was always spoken of as 'obliging')
in a small household. They were jealous of their children's rights, and
ready to rush in and cause an upset if anything happened of which they
did not approve; and they did not like it if the small maid became fond
of her employer or her family, or wished to remain in her petty place
after her year was up. One girl who had been sent out at eleven as maid
to an elderly couple and had insisted upon remaining there through her
teens, was always spoken of by her mother as 'our poor Em'. 'When I sees
t'other girls and how they keeps on improvin' an' think of our poor Em
wastin' her life in a petty place, I could sit down an' howl like a dog,
that I could', she would say, long after Em had been adopted as a
daughter by the people to whom she had become attached.

Of course there were queer places and a few definitely bad places; but
these were the exception and soon became known and avoided. Laura once
accompanied a schoolfellow to interview a mistress who was said to
require a maid. At ordinary times a mother took her daughter to such
interviews; but Mrs. Beamish was near her time, and it was not thought
safe for her to venture so far from home. So Martha and Laura set out,
accompanied by a younger brother of Martha's, aged about ten. Martha in
her mother's best coat with the sleeves turned back to the elbows and
with her hair, done up for the first time that morning, plaited into an
inverted saucer at the back of her head and bristling with black
hairpins. Laura in a chimney-pot hat, a short brown cape, and buttoned
boots reaching nearly to her knees. The little brother wore a pale grey
astrakan coat, many sizes too small, a huge red knitted scarf, and
carried no pocket-handkerchief.

It was a mild, grey November day with wisps of mist floating over the
ploughed fields and water drops hanging on every twig and thorn of the
hedgerows. The lonely country house they were bound for was said to be
four miles from the hamlet; but, long before they reached it, the
distance seemed to them more like forty. It was all cross-country going;
over field-paths and stiles, through spinneys and past villages. They
asked the way of everybody they met or saw working in the fields and
were always directed to some short cut or other, which seemed to bring
them out at the same place as before. Then there were delays. Martha's
newly done-up hair kept tumbling down and Laura had to take out all the
hairpins and adjust it. The little brother got stones in his shoes, and
all their feet felt tired from the rough travelling and the stiff mud
which caked their insteps. The mud was a special source of worry to
Laura, because she had put on her best boots without asking permission,
and knew she would get into trouble about it when she returned.

Still, such small vexations and hindrances could not quite spoil her
pleasure in the veiled grey day and the new fields and woods and
villages, of which she did not even know the names.

It was late afternoon when, coming out of a deep, narrow lane with a
stream trickling down the middle, they saw before them a grey-stone
mansion with twisted chimney-stacks and a sundial standing in long grass
before the front door. Martha and Laura were appalled at the size of the
house. Gentry must live there. Which door should they go to and what
should they say?

In a paved yard a man was brushing down a horse, hissing so loudly as he
did so that he did not hear their first timid inquiry. When it was
repeated he raised his head and smiled. 'Ho! Ho!' he said. 'Yes, yes,
it's Missis at the house there you'll be wanting, I'll warrant.'

'Please does she want a maid?'

'I dare say she do. She generally do. But where's the maid? Goin' to
roll yourselves up into one, all three of ye? You go on round by that
harness-room and across the lawn by the big pear trees and you'll find
the back door. Go on; don't be afraid. She's not agoin' to eat ye.'

In response to their timid knock, the door was opened by a youngish
woman. She was like no one Laura had ever seen. Very slight--she would
have been called 'scraggy' in the hamlet--with a dead white face, dark,
arched brows, and black hair brushed straight back from her forehead,
and with all this black and whiteness set off by a little scarlet jacket
that, when Laura described it to her mother later, was identified as a
garibaldi. She seemed glad to see the children, though she looked
doubtful when she heard their errand and saw Martha's size.

'So you want a place?' she asked as she conducted them into a kitchen as
large as a church and not unlike one with its stone-paved floor and
central pillar. Yes, she wanted a maid, and she thought Martha might do.
How old was she? Twelve? And what could she do? Anything she was told?
Well, that was right. It was not a hard place, for, although there were
sixteen rooms, only three or four of them were in use. Could she get up
at six without being called? There would be the kitchen range to light
and the flues to be swept once a week, and the dining-room to be swept
and dusted and the fire lighted before breakfast. She herself would be
down in time to cook breakfast. No cooking was required, beyond
preparing vegetables. After breakfast Martha would help her with the
beds, turning out the rooms, paring the potatoes and so on; and after
dinner there was plenty to do--washing up, cleaning knives and boots and
polishing silver. And so she went on, mapping out Martha's day, until at
nine o'clock she would be free to go to bed, after placing hot water in
her mistress's bedroom.

Laura could see that Martha was bewildered. She stood, twisting her
scarf, curtseying, and saying 'Yes, mum' to everything.

'Then, as wages, I can offer you two pounds ten a year. It is not a
great wage, but you are very small, and you'll have an easy place and a
comfortable home. How do you like your kitchen?'

Martha's gaze wandered round the huge place, and once more she said,
'Yes, mum.'

'You'll find it nice and cosy here, eating your meals by the fire. You
won't feel lonely, will you?'

This time Martha said, 'No, mum.'

'Tell your mother I shall expect her to fit you out well. You will want
caps and aprons. I like my maids to look neat. And tell her to let you
bring plenty of changes, for we only wash once in six weeks. I have a
woman in to do it all up,' and although Martha knew her mother had not a
penny to spend on her outfit, and that she had been told the last thing
before she left home that morning to ask her prospective employer to
send her mother her first month's wages in advance to buy necessaries,
once again she said, 'Yes, mum.'

'Well, I shall expect you next Monday, then. And, now, are you hungry?'
and for the first time there was feeling in Martha's tone as she
answered, 'Yes, mum.'

Soon a huge sirloin of cold beef was placed on the table and liberal
helpings were being carved for the three children. It was such a joint
of beef as one only sees in old pictures with an abbot carving; immense,
and so rich in flavour and so tender that it seemed to melt in the
mouth. The three plates were clean in a twinkling.

'Would any of you like another helping?'

Laura, conscious that she was no principal in the affair, and only
invited to partake out of courtesy, declined wistfully but firmly;
Martha said she would like a little more if 'mum' pleased, and the
little brother merely pushed his plate forward. Martha, mindful of her
manners, refused a third helping. But the little brother had no such
scruples; he was famishing, and accepted a third and a fourth plateful,
the mistress of the house standing by with an amused smile on her face.
She must have remembered him for the rest of her life as the little boy
with the large appetite.

It was dark before they reached home, and Laura got into trouble, not
only for spoiling her best boots, but still more for telling a lie, for
she had led her mother to believe they were going into the market town
shopping. But even when she lay in bed supperless she felt the
experience was worth the punishment, for she had been where she had
never been before and seen the old house and the lady in the scarlet
jacket and tasted the beef and seen Tommy Beamish eat four large
helpings.

After all, Martha did not go to live there. Her mother was not satisfied
with her account of the place and her father heard the next day that the
house was haunted. 'She shan't goo there while we've got a crust for
her,' said her Dad. 'Not as I believes in ghostesses--lot o' rubbish I
calls 'em--but the child might think she seed summat and be scared out
of her wits an' maybe catch her death o' cold in that girt, draughty,
old kitchen.'

So Martha waited until two sisters, milliners in the market town, wanted
a maid; and, once there, grew strong and rosy and, according to their
report, learned to say a great deal more than 'Yes, mum'; for their only
complaint against her was that she was inclined to be saucy and sang so
loudly about her work that the customers in the shop could hear her.

When the girls had been in their petty places a year, their mothers
began to say it was time they 'bettered themselves' and the clergyman's
daughter was consulted. Did she know if a scullery-maid or a tweeny was
required at any of the big country houses around? If not, she would wait
until she had two or three such candidates for promotion on her list,
then advertise in the _Morning Post_ or the _Church Times_ for
situations for them. Other girls secured places through sisters or
friends already serving in large establishments.

When the place was found, the girl set out alone on what was usually her
first train journey, with her yellow tin trunk tied up with thick cord,
her bunch of flowers and brown paper parcel bursting with left-overs.

The tin trunk would be sent on to the railway station by the carrier and
the mother would walk the three miles to the station with her daughter.
They would leave Lark Rise, perhaps before it was quite light on a
winter morning, the girl in her best, would-be fashionable clothes and
the mother carrying the baby of the family, rolled in its shawl.
Neighbours would come to their garden gates to see them off and call
after them 'Pleasant journey! Hope you'll have a good place!' or 'Mind
you be a good gal, now, an' does just as you be told!' or, more
comfortingly, 'You'll be back for y'r holidays before you knows where
you are and then there won't be no holdin' you, you'll have got that
London proud!' and the two would go off in good spirits, turning and
waving repeatedly.

Laura once saw the departure of such a couple, the mother enveloped in a
large plaid shawl, with her baby's face looking out from its folds, and
the girl in a bright blue, poplin frock which had been bought at the
second-hand clothes shop in the town-a frock made in the extreme fashion
of three years before, but by that time ridiculously obsolete. Laura's
mother, foreseeing the impression it would make at the journey's end,
shook her head and clicked her tongue and said, 'Why ever couldn't they
spend the money on a bit of good navy serge!' But they, poor innocents,
were delighted with it.

They went off cheerfully, even proudly; but, some hours later, Laura met
the mother returning alone. She was limping, for the sole of one of her
old boots had parted company with the upper, and the eighteen-months-old
child must have hung heavily on her arm. When asked if Aggie had gone
off all right, she nodded, but could not answer; her heart was too full.
After all, she was just a mother who had sent her young daughter into
the unknown and was tormented with doubts and fears for her.

What the girl, bound for a strange and distant part of the country to
live a new, strange life among strangers, felt when the train moved off
with her can only be imagined. Probably those who saw her round, stolid
little face and found her slow in learning her new duties for the next
few days would have been surprised and even a little touched if they
could have read her thoughts.

The girls who 'went into the kitchen' began as scullerymaids, washing up
stacks of dishes, cleaning saucepans and dish covers, preparing
vegetables, and doing the kitchen scrubbing and other rough work. After
a year or two of this, they became under kitchen-maids and worked up
gradually until they were second in command to the cook. When they
reached that point, they did much of the actual cooking under
supervision; sometimes they did it without any, for there were stories
of cooks who never put hand to a dish, but, having taught the
kitchen-maid, left all the cooking to her, excepting some spectacular
dish for a dinner party. This pleased the ambitious kitchen-maid, for
she was gaining experience and would soon be a professional cook
herself; then, if she attained the summit of her ambition,
cook-housekeeper.

Some girls preferred house to kitchen work, and they would be found a
place in some mansion as third or fourth house-maid and work upward.
Troops of men and maid-servants were kept in large town and country
houses in those days.

The maids on the lower rungs of the ladder seldom saw their employers.
If they happened to meet one or other of them about the house, her
ladyship would ask kindly how they were getting on and how their parents
were; or his lordship would smile and make some mild joke if he happened
to be in a good humour. The upper servants were their real mistresses,
and they treated beginners as a sergeant treated recruits, drilling them
well in their duties by dint of much scolding; but the girl who was
anxious to learn and did not mind hard work or hard words and could keep
a respectful tongue in her head had nothing to fear from them.

The food of the maids in those large establishments was wholesome and
abundant, though far from dainty. In some houses they would be given
cold beef or mutton, or even hot Irish stew for breakfast, and the
midday meal was always a heavy one, with suet pudding following a cut
from a hot joint. Their bedrooms were poor according to modern
standards; but, sleeping in a large attic, shared with two or three
others, was not then looked upon as a hardship, provided they had a bed
each and their own chest of drawers and washstands. The maids had no
bathroom. Often their employers had none either. Some families had
installed one for their own use; others preferred the individual tub in
the bedroom. A hip-bath was part of the furniture of the maids' room.
Like the children of the family, they had no evenings out, unless they
had somewhere definite to go and obtained special leave. They had to go
to church on Sunday, whether they wanted to or not, and had to leave
their best hats with the red roses and ostrich tips in the boxes under
their beds and 'make frights of themselves' in funny little flat
bonnets. When the Princess of Wales, afterwards Queen Alexandra, set the
fashion of wearing the hair in a curled fringe over the forehead, and
the fashion spread until it became universal, a fringe was forbidden to
maids. They must wear their hair brushed straight back from their brows.
A great hardship.

The wages paid would amuse the young housekeepers of to-day. At her
petty place, a girl was paid from one to two shillings a week. A
grown-up servant in a tradesman's family received seven pounds a year,
and that was about the wage of a farm-house servant. The Rectory cook
had sixteen pounds a year; the Rectory house-maid twelve; both excellent
servants. The under servants in big houses began at seven pounds a year,
which was increased at each advancement, until, as head housemaid, they
might receive as much as thirty. A good cook could ask fifty, and even
obtain another five by threatening to leave. 'Everybody who was
anything,' as they used to say, kept a maid in those days--stud grooms'
wives, village schoolmasters' wives, and, of course, inn-keepers' and
shopkeepers' wives. Even the wives of carpenters and masons paid a girl
sixpence to clean the knives and boots and take out the children on
Saturday.

As soon as a mother had even one daughter in service, the strain upon
herself slackened a little. Not only was there one mouth less to feed,
one pair of feet less to be shod, and a tiny space left free in the
cramped sleeping quarters; but, every month, when the girl received her
wages, a shilling or more would be sent to 'our Mum', and, as the wages
increased, the mother's portion grew larger. In addition to presents,
some of the older girls undertook to pay their parents' rent; others to
give them a ton of coal for the winter; and all sent Christmas and
birthday presents and parcels of left-off clothing.

The unselfish generosity of these poor girls was astonishing. It was
said in the hamlet that some of them stripped themselves to help those
at home. One girl did so literally. She had come for her holidays in her
new best frock--a pale grey cashmere with white lace collar and cuffs.
It had been much admired and she had obviously enjoyed wearing it during
her fortnight at home; but when Laura said, 'I do like your new frock,
Clem,' she replied in what was meant for an off-hand tone, 'Oh, that!
I'm leaving that for our young Sally. She hasn't got hardly anything,
and it don't matter what I wear when I'm away. There's nobody I care
about to see it,' and Clem went back in her second-best navy serge and
Sally wore the pale grey to church the next Sunday.

Many of them must have kept themselves very short of money, for they
would send half or even more of their wages home. Laura's mother used to
say that she would rather have starved than allow a child of hers to be
placed at such a disadvantage among other girls at their places in
service, not to mention the temptations to which they might be exposed
through poverty. But the mothers were so poor, so barely able to feed
their families and keep out of debt, that it was only human of them to
take what their children sent and sometimes even pressed upon them.

Strange to say, although they were grateful to and fond of their
daughters, their boys, who were always at home and whose money barely
paid for their keep, seemed always to come first with them. If there was
any inconvenience, it must not fall on the boys; if there was a limited
quantity of anything, the boys must still have their full share; the
boys' best clothes must be brushed and put away for them; their shirts
must be specially well ironed, and tit-bits must always be saved for
their luncheon afield. No wonder the fathers were jealous at times and
exclaimed, 'Our Mum, she do make a reg'lar fool o' that boo-oy!'

A few of the girls were engaged to youths at home, and, after several
years of courtship, mostly conducted by letter, for they seldom met
except during the girl's summer holiday, they would marry and settle in
or near the hamlet. Others married and settled away. Butchers and
milkmen were favoured as husbands, perhaps because these were frequent
callers at the houses where the girls were employed. A hamlet girl would
marry a milkman or a butcher's roundsman in London, or some other
distant part of the country, and, after a few years, the couple would
acquire a business of their own and become quite prosperous. One married
a butler and with him set up an apartment house on the East Coast;
another married a shopkeeper and, with astonishing want of tact, brought
a nursemaid to help look after her children when she visited her
parents. The nursemaid was invited into most of the cottages and well
pumped for information about the home life; but Susie herself was eyed
coldly; she had departed from the normal. The girls who had married away
remained faithful to the old custom of spending a summer fortnight with
their parents, and the outward and visible signs of their prosperity
must have been trying to those who had married farm labourers and
returned to the old style of living.

With the girls away, the young men of the hamlet would have had a dull
time had there not been other girls from other homes in service within
walking distance. On Sunday afternoons, those who were free would be
off, dressed in their best, with their boots well polished and a flower
stuck in the band of their Sunday hats, to court the dairy-maids at
neighbouring farms or the under-servants at the big country houses.
Those who were pledged would go upstairs to write their weekly
love-letter, and a face might often be seen at an upper window, chewing
a pen-holder and gazing sadly out at what must have appeared an empty
world.

There were then no dances at village halls and no cinemas or cheap
excursions to lead to the picking up of casual acquaintances; but, from
time to time, one or other of the engaged youths would shock public
opinion by walking out with another girl while his sweetheart was away.
When taxed with not being 'true to Nell', he would declare it was only
friendship or only a bit of fun; but Nell's mother and his mother would
think otherwise and upbraid him until the meetings were dropped or grew
furtive.

But such sideslips were never mentioned when, at last, Nellie herself
came home for her holiday. Then, every evening, neighbours peeping from
behind window-curtains would see the couple come out of their respective
homes and stroll in the same direction, but not together as yet, for
that would have been thought too brazen. As soon as they were out of
sight of the windows, they would link up, arm in arm, and saunter along
field-paths between the ripening corn, or stand at stiles, whispering
and kissing and making love until the dusk deepened and it was time for
the girl to go home, for no respectable girl was supposed to be out
after ten. Only fourteen nights of such bliss, and all the other nights
of the year blank, and this not for one year, but for six or seven or
eight. Poor lovers!

Mistresses used to say--and probably those who are fortunate enough to
keep their maids from year to year still say--that the girls are sullen
and absent-minded for the first few days after they return to their
duties. No doubt they are, for their thoughts must still be with the
dear ones left behind and the coming months must stretch out, an endless
seeming blank, before they will see them again. That is the time for a
little extra patience and a little human sympathy to help them to adjust
themselves, and if this is forthcoming, as it still is in many homes, in
spite of newspaper correspondence, the young mind will soon turn from
memories of the past to hopes for the future.

The hamlet children saw little of such love-making. Had they attempted
to follow or watch such couples, the young man would have threatened
them with what he would have called 'a good sock on the ear'ole'; but
there was always a country courtship on view if they felt curious to
witness it. This was that of an elderly pair called Chokey and Bess, who
had at that time been walking out together for ten or twelve years and
still had another five or six to go before they were married. Bessie,
then about forty, was supposed not to be strong enough for service and
lived at home, doing the housework for her mother, who was the last of
the lacemakers. Chokey was a farm labourer, a great lumbering fellow who
could lift a sack of wheat with ease, but was supposed to be 'a bit soft
in the upper storey'. He lived in a neighbouring village and came over
every Sunday.

Bessie's mother sat at the window with her lace-pillow all day long; but
her earnings must have been small, for, although her husband received
the same wages as the men who had families and they had only Bess, they
were terribly poor. It was said that when the two women fried a rasher
for their midday meal, the father being away at work, they took it in
turn to have the rasher, the other one dipping her bread in the fat, day
and day about. When they went out, they wore clothes of a bygone
fashion, shawls and bonnets, instead of coats and hats, and short skirts
and white stockings, when the rest of the hamlet world wore black
stockings and skirts touching the ground. To see them set off to the
market town for their Saturday shopping always raised a smile among the
beholders; the mother carrying an old green gig umbrella and Bessie a
double-lidded marketing basket over her arm. They were both long-faced
and pale, and the mother lifted her feet high and touched earth with her
umbrella at every step, while Bess trailed along a little in the rear
with the point of her shawl dangling below her skirt at the back. 'For
all the world like an old white mare an' her foal,' as the hamlet funny
man said.

Every Sunday evening, Chokey and Bess would appear, he in his best pale
grey suit and pink tie, with a geranium, rose, or dahlia stuck in his
hat. She in her Paisley shawl and little black bonnet with velvet
strings tied in a bow under her chin. They were not shy. It was arm in
arm with them from the door, and often a pale grey arm round the Paisley
shawl before they were out of sight of the windows; although, to be
sure, nobody took the trouble to watch, the sight was too familiar.

They always made for the turnpike and strolled a certain distance along
it, then turned back and went to Bessie's home. They seldom walked
unattended; a little band of hamlet children usually accompanied them,
walking about a dozen paces behind, stopping when they stopped and
walking on when they walked on. 'Going with Chokey and Bess' was a
favourite Sunday evening diversion. As one batch of children grew up,
another took its place; though what amusement they found in following
them was a mystery, for the lovers would walk a mile without exchanging
a remark, and when they did it would only be: 'Seems to me there's rain
in the air', or 'My! ain't it hot!' They did not seem to resent being
followed. They would sometimes address a friendly remark to one of the
children, or Chokey would say as he shut the garden gate on setting out,
'Comin' our way to-night?'

At last came their funny little wedding, with Bess still in the Paisley
shawl, and only her father and mother to follow them on foot through the
allotments and over the stile to church. After a wedding breakfast of
sausages, they went to live in a funny little house with a thatched roof
and a magpie in a wicker cage hanging beside the door.

The up-to-date lovers asked more of life than did Chokey and his Bess.
More than their own parents had done.

There was a local saying, 'Nobody ever dies at Lark Rise and nobody goes
away.' Had this been exact, there would have been no new homes in the
hamlet; but, although no building had been done there for many years and
there was no migration of families, a few aged people died, and from
time to time a cottage was left vacant. It did not stand empty long, for
there was always at least one young man waiting to get married and the
joyful news of a house to let brought his bride-to-be home from service
as soon as the requisite month's notice to her employer had expired.

The homes of these newly married couples illustrated a new phase in the
hamlet's history. The furniture to be found in them might lack the
solidity and comeliness of that belonging to their grandparents; but it
showed a marked improvement on their parents' possessions.

It had become the custom for the bride to buy the bulk of the furniture
with her savings in service, while the bridegroom redecorated the
interior of the house, planted the vegetable garden, and put a pig, or a
couple of pigs, in the sty. When the bride bought the furniture, she
would try to obtain things as nearly as possible like those in the
houses in which she had been employed. Instead of the hard windsor
chairs of her childhood's home, she would have small 'parlour' chairs
with round backs and seats covered with horsehair or American cloth. The
deal centre table would be covered with a brightly coloured woollen
cloth between meals and cookery operations. On the chest of drawers
which served as a sideboard, her wedding presents from her employers and
fellow servants would be displayed--a best tea-service, a shaded lamp, a
case of silver tea-spoons with the lid propped open, or a pair of owl
pepper-boxes with green-glass eyes and holes at the top of the head for
the pepper to come through. Somewhere in the room would be seen a few
books and a vase or two of flowers. The two wicker arm-chairs by the
hearth would have cushions and antimacassars of the bride's own working.

Except in a few cases, and those growing fewer, where the first child of
a marriage followed immediately on the ceremony, the babies did not pour
so quickly into these new homes as into the older ones. Often more than
a year would elapse before the first child appeared, to be followed at
reasonable intervals by four or five more. Families were beginning to be
reckoned in half-dozens rather than dozens.

Those belonging to this new generation of housewives were well-trained
in household work. Many of them were highly skilled in one or other of
its branches. The young woman laying her own simple dinner table with
knives and forks only could have told just how many knives, forks,
spoons, and glasses were proper to each place at a dinner party and the
order in which they should be placed. Another, blowing on her
finger-tips to cool them as she unswathed the inevitable roly-poly, must
have thought of the seven-course dinners she had cooked and dished up in
other days. But, except for a few small innovations, such as a regular
Sunday joint, roasted before the fire if no oven were available, and an
Irish stew once in the week, they mostly reverted to the old hamlet
dishes and style of cooking them. The square of bacon was cut, the
roly-poly made, and the black cooking-pot was slung over the fire at
four o'clock; for wages still stood at ten shillings a week and they
knew that their mothers' way was the only way to nourish their husbands
and children on so small a sum.

In decorating their homes and managing their housework, they were able
to let themselves go a little more. There were fancy touches, hitherto
unknown in the hamlet. Cosy corners were built of old boxes and covered
with cretonne; gridirons were covered with pink wool and tinsel and hung
up to serve as letter racks; Japanese fans appeared above picture frames
and window curtains were tied back with ribbon bows. Blue or pink ribbon
bows figured largely in these new decorative schemes. There were bows on
the curtains, on the corners of cushion covers, on the cloth that
covered the chest of drawers, and sometimes even on photograph frames.
Some of the older men used to say that one bride, an outstanding example
of the new refinement, had actually put blue ribbon bows on the handle
of her bedroom utensil. Another joke concerned the vase of flowers the
same girl placed on her table at mealtimes. Her father-in-law, it was
said, being entertained to tea at the new home, exclaimed, 'Hemmed if
I've ever heard of eatin' flowers before!' and the mother-in-law passed
the vase to her son, saying, 'Here, Georgie. Have a mouthful of sweet
peas.' But the brides only laughed and tossed their heads at such
ignorance. The old hamlet ways were all very well, some of them; but
they had seen the world and knew how things were done. It was their day
now.

Changing ideas in the outer world were also reflected in the
relationship between husband and wife. Marriage was becoming more of a
partnership. The man of the house was no longer absolved of all further
responsibility when he had brought his week's wages home; he was made to
feel that he had an interest in the management of the home and the
bringing up of the children. A good, steady husband who could be
depended upon was encouraged to keep part of his wages, out of which he
paid the rent, bought the pig's food, and often the family footwear. He
would chop the wood, sweep the path and fetch water from the well.

'So you be takin' a turn at 'ooman's work?' the older men would say
teasingly, and the older women had plenty to say about the lazy,
good-for-nothing wenches of these days; but the good example was not
lost; the better-natured among the older men began to do odd jobs about
their homes, and though, at first, their wives would tell them to 'keep
out o' th' road', and say that they could do it themselves in half the
time, they soon learned to appreciate, then to expect it.

Then the young wives, unused to never having a penny of their own and
sorely tried by their straitened housekeeping, began to look round for
some way of adding to the family income. One, with the remains of her
savings, bought a few fowls and fowl-houses and sold the eggs to the
grocer in the market town. Another who was clever with her needle made
frocks for the servants at the neighbouring farm-houses; another left
her only child with her mother and did the Rectory charring twice a
week. The old country tradition of self-help was reviving; but, although
there was a little extra money and there were fewer mouths to feed, the
income was still woefully inadequate. Whichever way the young housewife
turned, she was, as she said, 'up against it'. 'If only we had more
money!' was still the cry.

Early in the 'nineties some measure of relief came, for then the weekly
wage was raised to fifteen shillings; but rising prices and new
requirements soon absorbed this rise and it took a world war to obtain
for them anything like a living wage.



     XI

  _School_

School began at nine o'clock, but the hamlet children set out on their
mile-and-a-half walk there as soon as possible after their seven o'clock
breakfast, partly because they liked plenty of time to play on the road
and partly because their mothers wanted them out of the way before
house-cleaning began.

Up the long, straight road they straggled, in twos and threes and in
gangs, their flat, rush dinner-baskets over their shoulders and their
shabby little coats on their arms against rain. In cold weather some of
them carried two hot potatoes which had been in the oven, or in the
ashes, all night, to warm their hands on the way and to serve as a light
lunch on arrival.

They were strong, lusty children, let loose from control; and there was
plenty of shouting, quarrelling, and often fighting among them. In more
peaceful moments they would squat in the dust of the road and play
marbles, or sit on a stone heap and play dibs with pebbles, or climb
into the hedges after birds' nests or blackberries, or to pull long
trails of bryony to wreathe round their hats. In winter they would slide
on the ice on the puddles, or make snowballs--soft ones for their
friends, and hard ones with a stone inside for their enemies.

After the first mile or so the dinner-baskets would be raided; or they
would creep through the bars of the padlocked field gates for turnips to
pare with the teeth and munch, or for handfuls of green pea shucks, or
ears of wheat, to rub out the sweet, milky grain between the hands and
devour. In spring they ate the young green from the hawthorn hedges,
which they called 'bread and cheese', and sorrel leaves from the
wayside, which they called 'sour grass', and in autumn there was an
abundance of haws and blackberries and sloes and crabapples for them to
feast upon. There was always something to eat, and they ate, not so much
because they were hungry as from habit and relish of the wild food.

At that early hour there was little traffic upon the road. Sometimes, in
winter, the children would hear the pounding of galloping hoofs and a
string of hunters, blanketed up to the ears and ridden and led by
grooms, would loom up out of the mist and thunder past on the grass
verges. At other times the steady tramp and jingle of the teams going
afield would approach, and, as they passed, fathers would pretend to
flick their offspring with whips, saying, 'There! that's for that time
you deserved it an' didn't get it'; while elder brothers, themselves at
school only a few months before, would look patronizingly down from the
horses' backs and call: 'Get out o' th' way, you kids!'

Going home in the afternoon there was more to be seen. A farmer's gig,
on the way home from market, would stir up the dust; or the miller's van
or the brewer's dray, drawn by four immense, hairy-legged, satin-backed
carthorses. More exciting was the rare sight of Squire Harrison's
four-in-hand, with ladies in bright, summer dresses, like a garden of
flowers, on the top of the coach, and Squire himself, pink-cheeked and
white-hatted, handling the four greys. When the four-in-hand passed, the
children drew back and saluted, the Squire would gravely touch the brim
of his hat with his whip, and the ladies would lean from their high
seats to smile on the curtseying children.

A more familiar sight was the lady on a white horse who rode slowly on
the same grass verge in the same direction every Monday and Thursday. It
was whispered among the children that she was engaged to a farmer living
at a distance, and that they met half-way between their two homes. If
so, it must have been a long engagement, for she rode past at exactly
the same hour twice a week throughout Laura's schooldays, her face
getting whiter and her figure getting fuller and her old white horse
also putting on weight.

It has been said that every child is born a little savage and has to be
civilized. The process of civilization had not gone very far with some
of the hamlet children; although one civilization had them in hand at
home and another at school, they were able to throw off both on the road
between the two places and revert to a state of Nature. A favourite
amusement with these was to fall in a body upon some unoffending
companion, usually a small girl in a clean frock, and to 'run her', as
they called it. This meant chasing her until they caught her, then
dragging her down and sitting upon her, tearing her clothes, smudging
her face, and tousling her hair in the process. She might scream and cry
and say she would 'tell on' them; they took no notice until, tiring of
the sport, they would run whooping off, leaving her sobbing and
exhausted.

The persecuted one never 'told on' them, even when reproved by the
schoolmistress for her dishevelled condition, for she knew that, if she
had, there would have been a worse 'running' to endure on the way home,
and one that went to the tune of:


Tell-tale tit!
Cut her tongue a-slit,
And every little puppy-dog shall have a little bit!


It was no good telling the mothers either, for it was the rule of the
hamlet never to interfere in the children's quarrels. 'Let 'em fight it
out among theirselves,' the women would say; and if a child complained
the only response would be: 'You must've been doin' summat to them. If
you'd've left them alone, they'd've left you alone; so don't come
bringing your tales home to me!' It was harsh schooling; but the
majority seemed to thrive upon it, and the few quieter and more
sensitive children soon learned either to start early and get to school
first, or to linger behind, dipping under bushes and lurking inside
field gates until the main body had passed.

When Edmund was about to start school, Laura was afraid for him. He was
such a quiet, gentle little boy, inclined to sit gazing into space,
thinking his own thoughts and dreaming his own dreams. What would he do
among the rough, noisy crowd? In imagination she saw him struggling in
the dust with the runners sitting on his small, slender body, while she
stood by, powerless to help.

At first she took him to school by a field path, a mile or more round;
but bad weather and growing crops soon put an end to that and the day
came when they had to take the road with the other children. But, beyond
snatching his cap and flinging it into the hedge as they passed, the
bigger boys paid no attention to him, while the younger ones were
definitely friendly, especially when he invited them to have a blow each
on the whistle which hung on a white cord from the neck of his sailor
suit. They accepted him, in fact, as one of themselves, allowing him to
join in their games and saluting him with a grunted 'Hello, Ted,' when
they passed.

When the clash came at last and a quarrel arose, and Laura, looking
back, saw Edmund in the thick of a struggling group and heard his voice
shouting loudly and rudely, not gentle at all, 'I shan't! I won't! Stop
it, I tell you!' and rushed back, if not to rescue, to be near him, she
found Edmund, her gentle little Edmund, with face as red as a
turkey-cock, hitting out with clenched fists at such a rate that some of
the bigger boys, standing near, started applauding.

So Edmund was not a coward, like she was! Edmund could fight! Though
where and how he had learned to do so was a mystery. Perhaps, being a
boy, it came to him naturally. At any rate, fight he did, so often and
so well that soon no one near his own age risked offending him. His
elders gave him an occasional cuff, just to keep him in his place; but
in scuffles with others they took his part, perhaps because they knew he
was likely to win. So all was well with Edmund. He was accepted inside
the circle, and the only drawback, from Laura's point of view, was that
she was still outside.

Although they started to school so early, the hamlet children took so
much time on the way that the last quarter of a mile was always a race,
and they would rush, panting and dishevelled, into school just as the
bell stopped, and the other children, spick and span, fresh from their
mothers' hands, would eye them sourly. 'That gipsy lot from Lark Rise!'
they would murmur.

Fordlow National School was a small grey one-storied building, standing
at the cross-roads at the entrance to the village. The one large
classroom which served all purposes was well lighted with several
windows, including the large one which filled the end of the building
which faced the road. Beside, and joined on to the school, was a tiny
two-roomed cottage for the schoolmistress, and beyond that a playground
with birch trees and turf, bald in places, the whole being enclosed
within pointed, white-painted palings.

The only other building in sight was a row of model cottages occupied by
the shepherd, the blacksmith, and other superior farm-workers. The
school had probably been built at the same time as the houses and by the
same model landlord; for, though it would seem a hovel compared to a
modern council school, it must at that time have been fairly up-to-date.
It had a lobby with pegs for clothes, boys' and girls' earth-closets,
and a backyard with fixed wash-basins, although there was no water laid
on. The water supply was contained in a small bucket, filled every
morning by the old woman who cleaned the schoolroom, and every morning
she grumbled because the children had been so extravagant that she had
to 'fill 'un again'.

The average attendance was about forty-five. Ten or twelve of the
children lived near the school, a few others came from cottages in the
fields, and the rest were the Lark Rise children. Even then, to an
outsider, it would have appeared a quaint, old-fashioned little
gathering; the girls in their ankle-length frocks and long, straight
pinafores, with their hair strained back from their brows and secured on
their crowns by a ribbon or black tape or a bootlace; the bigger boys in
corduroys and hobnailed boots, and the smaller ones in home-made sailor
suits or, until they were six or seven, in petticoats.

Baptismal names were such as the children's parents and grandparents had
borne. The fashion in Christian names was changing; babies were being
christened Mabel and Gladys and Doreen and Percy and Stanley; but the
change was too recent to have affected the names of the older children.
Mary Ann, Sarah Ann, Eliza, Martha, Annie, Jane, Amy, and Rose were
favourite girls' names. There was a Mary Ann in almost every family, and
Eliza was nearly as popular. But none of them were called by their
proper names. Mary Ann and Sarah Ann were contracted to Mar'ann and
Sar'ann. Mary, apart from Ann, had, by stages, descended through Molly
and Polly to Poll. Eliza had become Liza, then Tiza, then Tize; Martha
was Mat or Pat; Jane was Jin; and every Amy had at least one 'Aim' in
life, of which she had constant reminder. The few more uncommon names
were also distorted. Two sisters named at the font Beatrice and Agnes,
went through life as Beat and Agg, Laura was Lor, or Low, and Edmund was
Ned or Ted.

Laura's mother disliked this cheapening of names and named her third
child May, thinking it would not lend itself to a diminutive. However,
while still in her cradle, the child became Mayie among the neighbours.

There was no Victoria in the school, nor was there a Miss Victoria or a
Lady Victoria in any of the farmhouses, rectories, or mansions in the
district, nor did Laura ever meet a Victoria in later life. That great
name was sacred to the Queen and was not copied by her subjects to the
extent imagined by period novelists of today.

The schoolmistress in charge of the Fordlow school at the beginning of
the 'eighties had held that position for fifteen years and seemed to her
pupils as much a fixture as the school building; but for most of that
time she had been engaged to the squire's head gardener and her long
reign was drawing to a close.

She was, at that time, about forty, and was a small, neat little body
with a pale, slightly pock-marked face, snaky black curls hanging down
to her shoulders, and eyebrows arched into a perpetual inquiry. She wore
in school stiffly starched, holland aprons with bibs, one embroidered
with red one week, and one with blue the next, and was seldom seen
without a posy of flowers pinned on her breast and another tucked into
her hair.

Every morning, when school had assembled, and Governess, with her
starched apron and bobbing curls appeared in the doorway, there was a
great rustling and scraping of curtseying and pulling of forelocks.
'Good morning, children,' 'Good morning, ma'am,' were the formal,
old-fashioned greetings. Then, under her determined fingers the
harmonium wheezed out 'Once in Royal', or 'We are but little children
weak', prayers followed, and the day's work began.

Reading, writing, and arithmetic were the principal subjects, with a
Scripture lesson every morning, and needlework every afternoon for the
girls. There was no assistant mistress; Governess taught all the classes
simultaneously, assisted only by two monitors--ex-scholars, aged about
twelve, who were paid a shilling a week each for their services.

Every morning at ten o'clock the Rector arrived to take the older
children for Scripture. He was a parson of the old school; a commanding
figure, tall and stout, with white hair, ruddy cheeks and an
aristocratically beaked nose, and he was as far as possible removed by
birth, education, and worldly circumstances from the lambs of his flock.
He spoke to them from a great height, physical, mental, and spiritual.
'To order myself lowly and reverently before my betters' was the clause
he underlined in the Church Catechism, for had he not been divinely
appointed pastor and master to those little rustics and was it not one
of his chief duties to teach them to realize this? As a man, he was
kindly disposed--a giver of blankets and coals at Christmas, and of soup
and milk puddings to the sick.

His lesson consisted of Bible reading, turn and turn about round the
class, of reciting from memory the names of the kings of Israel and
repeating the Church Catechism. After that, he would deliver a little
lecture on morals and behaviour. The children must not lie or steal or
be discontented or envious. God had placed them just where they were in
the social order and given them their own especial work to do; to envy
others or to try to change their own lot in life was a sin of which he
hoped they would never be guilty. From his lips the children heard
nothing of that God who is Truth and Beauty and Love; but they learned
for him and repeated to him long passages from the Authorized Version,
thus laying up treasure for themselves; so, the lessons, in spite of
much aridity, were valuable.

Scripture over and the Rector bowed and curtsied out of the door,
ordinary lessons began. Arithmetic was considered the most important of
the subjects taught, and those who were good at figures ranked high in
their classes. It was very simple arithmetic, extending only to the
first four rules, with the money sums, known as 'bills of parcels', for
the most advanced pupils.

The writing lesson consisted of the copying of copperplate maxims: 'A
fool and his money are soon parted'; 'Waste not, want not'; 'Count ten
before you speak', and so on. Once a week composition would be set,
usually in the form of writing a letter describing some recent event.
This was regarded chiefly as a spelling test.

History was not taught formally; but history readers were in use
containing such picturesque stories as those of King Alfred and the
cakes, King Canute commanding the waves, the loss of the White Ship, and
Raleigh spreading his cloak for Queen Elizabeth.

There were no geography readers, and, excepting what could be gleaned
from the descriptions of different parts of the world in the ordinary
readers, no geography was taught. But, for some reason or other, on the
walls of the schoolroom were hung splendid maps: The World, Europe,
North America, South America, England, Ireland, and Scotland. During
long waits in class for her turn to read, or to have her copy or sewing
examined, Laura would gaze on these maps until the shapes of the
countries with their islands and inlets became photographed on her
brain. Baffin Bay and the land around the poles were especially
fascinating to her.

Once a day, at whatever hour the poor, overworked mistress could find
time, a class would be called out to toe the chalked semicircle on the
floor for a reading lesson. This lesson, which should have been
pleasant, for the reading matter was good, was tedious in the extreme.
Many of the children read so slowly and haltingly that Laura, who was
impatient by nature, longed to take hold of their words and drag them
out of their mouths, and it often seemed to her that her own turn to
read would never come. As often as she could do so without being
detected, she would turn over and peep between the pages of her own
Royal Reader, and, studiously holding the book to her nose, pretend to
be following the lesson while she was pages ahead.

There was plenty there to enthral any child: 'The Skater Chased by
Wolves'; 'The Siege of Torquilstone', from _Ivanhoe_; Fenimore Cooper's
_Prairie on Fire_; and Washington Irving's _Capture of Wild Horses_.

Then there were fascinating descriptions of such far-apart places as
Greenland and the Amazon; of the Pacific Ocean with its fairy islands
and coral reefs; the snows of Hudson Bay Territory and the sterile
heights of the Andes. Best of all she loved the description of the
Himalayas, which began: 'Northward of the great plain of India, and
along its whole extent, towers the sublime mountain region of the
Himalayas, ascending gradually until it terminates in a long range of
summits wrapped in perpetual snow.'

Interspersed between the prose readings were poems: 'The Slave's Dream';
'Young Lochinvar'; 'The Parting of Douglas and Marmion'; Tennyson's
'Brook' and 'Ring out, Wild Bells'; Byron's 'Shipwreck'; Hogg's
'Skylark', and many more. 'Lochiel's Warning' was a favourite with
Edmund, who often, in bed at night, might be heard declaiming: 'Lochiel!
Lochiel! beware of the day!' while Laura, at any time, with or without
encouragement, was ready to 'look back into other years' with Henry
Glassford Bell, and recite his scenes from the life of Mary Queen of
Scots, reserving her most impressive tone for the concluding couplet:


      Lapped by a dog. Go think of it in silence and alone,
      Then weigh against a grain of sand the glories of a throne.


But long before their schooldays were over they knew every piece in the
books by heart and it was one of their greatest pleasures in life to
recite them to each other. By that time Edmund had appropriated Scott
and could repeat hundreds of lines, always showing a preference for
scenes of single combat between warrior chiefs. The selection in the
_Royal Readers_, then, was an education in itself for those who took to
it kindly; but the majority of the children would have none of it;
saying that the prose was 'dry old stuff' and that they hated 'portry'.

Those children who read fluently, and there were several of them in
every class, read in a monotonous sing-song, without expression, and
apparently without interest. Yet there were very few really stupid
children in the school, as is proved by the success of many of them in
after life, and though few were interested in their lessons, they nearly
all showed an intelligent interest in other things--the boys in field
work and crops and cattle and agricultural machinery; the girls in
dress, other people's love affairs and domestic details.

It is easy to imagine the education authorities of that day, when
drawing up the scheme for that simple but sound education, saying, 'Once
teach them to read and they will hold the key to all knowledge.' But the
scheme did not work out. If the children, by the time they left school,
could read well enough to read the newspaper and perhaps an occasional
book for amusement, and write well enough to write their own letters,
they had no wish to go farther. Their interest was not in books, but in
life, and especially the life that lay immediately about them. At school
they worked unwillingly, upon compulsion, and the life of the
schoolmistress was a hard one.

As Miss Holmes went from class to class, she carried the cane and laid
it upon the desk before her; not necessarily for use, but as a reminder,
for some of the bigger boys were very unruly. She punished by a smart
stroke on each hand. 'Put out your hand,' she would say, and some boys
would openly spit on each hand before proffering it. Others murmured and
muttered before and after a caning and threatened to 'tell me feyther';
but she remained calm and cool, and after the punishment had been
inflicted there was a marked improvement--for a time.

It must be remembered that in those days a boy of eleven was nearing the
end of his school life. Soon he would be at work; already he felt
himself nearly a man and too old for petticoat government. Moreover,
those were country boys, wild and rough, and many of them as tall as she
was. Those who had failed to pass Standard IV and so could not leave
school until they were eleven, looked upon that last year as a
punishment inflicted upon them by the school authorities and behaved
accordingly. In this they were encouraged by their parents, for a
certain section of these resented their boys being kept at school when
they might be earning. 'What do our young Alf want wi' a lot o'
book-larnin'?' they would say. 'He can read and write and add up as much
money as he's ever likely to get. What more do he want?' Then a
neighbour of more advanced views would tell them: 'A good education's
everything in these days. You can't get on in the world if you ain't had
one,' for they read their newspapers and new ideas were percolating,
though slowly. It was only the second generation to be forcibly fed with
the fruit of the tree of knowledge: what wonder if it did not always
agree with it.

Meanwhile, Miss Holmes carried her cane about with her. A poor method of
enforcing discipline, according to modern educational ideas; but it
served. It may be that she and her like all over the country at that
time were breaking up the ground that other, later comers to the field,
with a knowledge of child psychology and with tradition and experiment
behind them, might sow the good seed.

She seldom used the cane on the girls and still more seldom on the
infants. Standing in a corner with their hands on their heads was their
punishment. She gave little treats and encouragements, too, and,
although the children called her 'Susie' behind her back, they really
liked and respected her. Many times there came a knock at the door and a
smartly dressed girl on holidays, or a tall young soldier on leave, in
his scarlet tunic and pillbox cap, looked in 'to see Governess'.

That Laura could already read when she went to school was never
discovered. 'Do you know your A B C?' the mistress asked her on the
first morning. 'Come, let me hear you say it: A-B-C----'

'A--B--C----' Laura began; but when she got to F she stumbled, for she
had never memorized the letters in order. So she was placed in the class
known as 'the babies' and joined in chanting the alphabet from A to Z.
Alternately they recited it backward, and Laura soon had that version by
heart, for it rhymed:


        Z-Y-X and W-V
        U-T-S and R-Q-P
        O-N-M and L-K-J
        I-H-G and F-E-D
        And C-B-A!


Once started, they were like a watch wound up, and went on alone for
hours. The mistress, with all the other classes on her hands, had no
time to teach the babies, although she always had a smile for them when
she passed and any disturbance or cessation of the chanting would bring
her down to them at once. Even the monitors were usually engaged in
giving out dictation to the older children, or in hearing tables or
spelling repeated; but, in the afternoon, one of the bigger girls,
usually the one who was the poorest needlewoman (it was always Laura in
later years) would come down from her own form to point to and name each
letter on a wall-sheet, the little ones repeating them after her. Then
she would teach them to form pot-hooks and hangers, and, afterwards,
letters, on their slates, and this went on for years, as it seemed to
Laura, but perhaps it was only one year.

At the end of that time the class was examined and those who knew and
could form their letters were moved up into the official 'Infants'.
Laura, who by this time was reading _Old St. Paul's_ at home, simply
romped through this Little-Go; but without credit, for it was said she
'gabbled' her letters, and her writing was certainly poor.

It was not until she reached Standard I that her troubles really began.
Arithmetic was the subject by which the pupils were placed, and as Laura
could not grasp the simplest rule with such small help as the mistress
had time to give, she did not even know how to begin working out the
sums and was permanently at the bottom of the class. At needlework in
the afternoon she was no better: The girls around her in class were
making pinafores for themselves, putting in tiny stitches and biting off
their cotton like grown women, while she was still struggling with her
first hemming strip. And a dingy, crumpled strip it was before she had
done with it, punctuated throughout its length with blood spots where
she had pricked her fingers.

'Oh, Laura! What a dunce you are!' Miss Holmes used to say every time
she examined it, and Laura really was the dunce of the school in those
two subjects. However, as time went on, she improved a little, and
managed to pass her standard every year with moderate success until she
came to Standard V and could go no farther, for that was the highest in
the school. By that time the other children she had worked with had
left, excepting one girl named Emily Rose, who was an only child and
lived in a lonely cottage far out in the fields. For two years Standard
V consisted of Laura and Emily Rose. They did few lessons and those few
mostly those they could learn from books by themselves, and much of
their time was spent in teaching the babies and assisting the
schoolmistress generally.

That mistress was not Miss Holmes. She had married her head gardener
while Laura was still in the Infants and gone to live in a pretty old
cottage which she had renamed 'Malvern Villa'. Immediately after her had
come a young teacher, fresh from her training college, with all the
latest educational ideas. She was a bright, breezy girl, keen on reform,
and anxious to be a friend as well as a teacher to her charges.

She came too early. The human material she had to work on was not ready
for such methods. On the first morning she began a little speech,
meaning to take the children into her confidence:

'Good morning, children. My name is Matilda Annie Higgs, and I want us
all to be friends----' A giggling murmur ran round the school. 'Matilda
Annie! Matilda Annie! Did she say Higgs or pigs?' The name made direct
appeal to their crude sense of humour, and, as to the offer of
friendship, they scented weakness in that, coming from one whose office
it was to rule. Thenceforth, Miss Higgs might drive her pigs in the
rhyme they shouted in her hearing; but she could neither drive nor lead
her pupils. They hid her cane, filled her inkpot with water, put young
frogs in her desk, and asked her silly, unnecessary questions about
their work. When she answered them, they all coughed in chorus.

The girls were as bad as the boys. Twenty times in one afternoon a hand
would shoot upward and it would be: 'Please, miss, can I have this or
that from the needlework box?' and poor Miss Higgs, trying to teach a
class at the other end of the room, would come and unlock and search the
box for something they had already and had hidden.

Several times she appealed to them to show more consideration. Once she
burst into tears before the whole school. She told the woman who cleaned
that she had never dreamed there were such children anywhere. They were
little savages.

One afternoon, when a pitched battle was raging among the big boys in
class and the mistress was calling imploringly for order, the Rector
appeared in the doorway.

'Silence!' he roared.

The silence was immediate and profound, for they knew he was not one to
be trifled with. Like Gulliver among the Lilliputians, he strode into
the midst of them, his face flushed with anger, his eyes flashing blue
fire. 'Now, what is the meaning of this disgraceful uproar?'

Some of the younger children began to cry; but one look in their
direction froze them into silence and they sat, wide-eyed and horrified,
while he had the whole class out and caned each boy soundly, including
those who had taken no part in the fray. Then, after a heated discourse
in which he reminded the children of their lowly position in life and
the twin duties of gratitude to and respect towards their superiors,
school was dismissed. Trembling hands seized coats and dinner-baskets
and frightened little figures made a dash for the gate. But the big boys
who had caused the trouble showed a different spirit. 'Who cares for
him?' they muttered, 'Who cares? Who cares? He's only an old parson!'
Then, when safely out of the playground, one voice shouted:


         Old Charley-wag! Old Charley-wag!
         Ate the pudden and gnawed the bag!


The other children expected the heavens to fall; for Mr. Ellison's
Christian name was Charles. The shout was meant for him and was one of
defiance. He did not recognize it as such. There were several Charleses
in the school, and it must have been inconceivable to him that his own
Christian name should be intended. Nothing happened, and, after a few
moments of tense silence, the rebels trooped off to get their own
account of the affair in first at home.

After that, it was not long before the station fly stood at the school
gate and Miss Higgs's trunk and bundles and easy-chair were hauled on
top. Back came the married Miss Holmes, now Mrs. Tenby. Girls curtsied
again and boys pulled their forelocks. It was 'Yes, ma'am', and 'No,
ma'am', and 'What did you please to say, ma'am?' once more. But either
she did not wish to teach again permanently or the education authorities
already had a rule against employing married-women teachers, for she
only remained a few weeks until a new mistress was engaged.

This turned out to be a sweet, frail-looking, grey-haired, elderly lady
named Miss Shepherd, and a gentle shepherd she proved to her flock.
Unfortunately, she was but a poor disciplinarian, and the struggle to
maintain some degree of order wore her almost to shreds: Again there was
always a buzz of whispering in class; stupid and unnecessary questions
were asked, and too long intervals elapsed between the word of command
and the response. But, unlike Miss Higgs, she did not give up. Perhaps
she could not afford to do so at her age and with an invalid sister
living with and dependent upon her. She ruled, if she can be said to
have ruled at all, by love and patience and ready forgiveness. In time,
even the blackest of her sheep realized this and kept within certain
limits; just sufficient order was maintained to avoid scandal, and the
school settled down under her mild rule for five or six years.

Perhaps these upheavals were a necessary part of the transition which
was going on. Under Miss Holmes, the children had been weaned from the
old free life; they had become accustomed to regular attendance, to
sitting at a desk and concentrating, however imperfectly. Although they
had not learned much, they had been learning to learn. But Miss Holmes's
ideas belonged to an age that was rapidly passing. She believed in the
established order of society, with clear divisions, and had done her
best to train the children to accept their lowly lot with gratitude to
and humility before their betters. She belonged to the past; the
children's lives lay in the future, and they needed a guide with at
least some inkling of the changing spirit of the times. The new
mistresses, who came from the outside world, brought something of this
spirit with them. Even the transient and unappreciated Miss Higgs,
having given as a subject for composition one day 'Write a letter to
Miss Ellison, telling her what you did at Christmas', when she read over
one girl's shoulder the hitherto conventional beginning 'Dear and
Honoured Miss', exclaimed 'Oh, no! That's a very old-fashioned
beginning. Why not say, "Dear Miss Ellison?"' An amendment which was
almost revolutionary.

Miss Shepherd went further. She taught the children that it was not what
a man or woman had, but what they were which mattered. That poor
people's souls are as valuable and that their hearts may be as good and
their minds as capable of cultivation as those of the rich. She even
hinted that on the material plane people need not necessarily remain
always upon one level. Some boys, born of poor parents, had struck out
for themselves and become great men, and everybody had respected them
for rising upon their own merits. She would read them the lives of some
of these so-called self-made men (there were no women, Laura noticed!)
and though their circumstances were too far removed from those of her
hearers for them to inspire the ambition she hoped to awaken, they must
have done something to widen their outlook on life.

Meanwhile the ordinary lessons went on. Reading, writing, arithmetic,
all a little less rather than more well taught and mastered than
formerly. In needlework there was a definite falling off. Miss Shepherd
was not a great needle-woman herself and was inclined to cut down the
sewing time to make way for other work. Infinitesimal stitches no longer
provoked delighted exclamations, but more often a 'Child! You will ruin
your eyes!' As the bigger girls left who in their time had won county
prizes, the standard of the output declined, until, from being known as
one of the first needlework schools in the district, Fordlow became one
of the last.



    XII

   _Her Majesty's Inspector_

Her Majesty's Inspector of Schools came once a year on a date of which
previous notice had been given. There was no singing or quarrelling on
the way to school that morning. The children, in clean pinafores and
well blackened boots, walked deep in thought; or, with open spelling or
table books in hand, tried to make up in an hour for all their wasted
yesterdays.

Although the date of 'Inspector's' visit had been notified, the time had
not. Some years he would come to Fordlow in the morning; other years in
the afternoon, having examined another school earlier. So, after
prayers, copybooks were given out and the children settled down for a
long wait. A few of the more stolid, leaning forward with tongues
slightly protruding, would copy laboriously, 'Lightly on the up-strokes,
heavy on the down', but most of the children were too apprehensive even
to attempt to work and the mistress did not urge them, for she felt even
more apprehensive herself and did not want nervously executed copies to
witness against her.

Ten--eleven--the hands of the clock dragged on, and forty odd hearts
might almost be heard thumping when at last came the sound of wheels
crunching on gravel and two top hats and the top of a whip appeared
outside the upper panes of the large end window.

Her Majesty's Inspector was an elderly clergyman, a little man with an
immense paunch and tiny grey eyes like gimlets. He had the reputation of
being 'strict', but that was a mild way of describing his autocratic
demeanour and scathing judgement. His voice was an exasperated roar and
his criticism was a blend of outraged learning and sarcasm. Fortunately,
nine out of ten of his examinees were proof against the latter. He
looked at the rows of children as if he hated them and at the mistress
as if he despised her. The Assistant Inspector was also a clergyman, but
younger, and, in comparison, almost human. Black eyes and very red lips
shone through the bushiness of the whiskers which almost covered his
face. The children in the lower classes, which he examined, were
considered fortunate.

The mistress did not have to teach a class in front of the great man, as
later; her part was to put out the books required and to see that the
pupils had the pens and paper they needed. Most of the time she hovered
about the Inspector, replying in low tones to his scathing remarks, or,
with twitching lips, smiling encouragement at any child who happened to
catch her eye.

What kind of a man the Inspector really was it is impossible to say. He
may have been a great scholar, a good parish priest, and a good friend
and neighbour to people of his own class. One thing, however, is
certain, he did not care for or understand children, at least not
national school children. In homely language, he was the wrong man for
the job. The very sound of his voice scattered the few wits of the less
gifted, and even those who could have done better were too terrified in
his presence to be able to collect their thoughts or keep their hands
from trembling.

But, slowly as the hands of the clock seemed to move, the afternoon wore
on. Classes came out and toed the chalk line to read; other classes bent
over their sums, or wrote letters to grandmothers describing imaginary
summer holidays. Some wrote to the great man's dictation pieces full of
hard spelling words. One year he made the confusion of their minds
doubly confused by adopting the, to them, new method of giving out the
stops by name: 'Water-fowl and other aquatic birds dwell on their banks
semicolon while on the surface of the placid water float the
wide-spreading leaves of the _Victoria regia_ comma and other lilies and
water dash plants full stop.'

Of course, they all wrote the names of the stops, which, together with
their spelling, would have made their papers rich reading had there been
any one there capable of enjoying it.

The composition class made a sad hash of their letters. The children had
been told beforehand that they must fill at least one page, so they
wrote in a very large hand and spaced their lines well; but what to say
was the difficulty! One year the Inspector, observing a small boy
sitting bolt upright gazing before him, called savagely: 'Why are you
not writing--you at the end of the row? You have your pen and your
paper, have you not?'

'Yes, thank you, sir.'

'Then why are you idling?'

'Please, sir, I was only thinking what to say.'

A grunt was the only answer. What other was possible from one who must
have known well that pen, ink, and paper were no good without at least a
little thinking.

Once he gave out to Laura's class two verses of _The Ancient Mariner_,
reading them through first, then dictating them very slowly, with an air
of aloof disdain, and yet rolling the lines on his tongue as if he
relished them:

'All in a hot and copper sky,' he bawled. Then his voice softened. So
perhaps there was another side to his nature.

At last the ordeal was over. No one would know who had passed and who
had not for a fortnight; but that did not trouble the children at all.
They crept like mice from the presence, and then, what shouting and
skipping and tumbling each other in the dust as soon as they were out of
sight and hearing!

When the papers arrived and the examination results were read out it was
surprising to find what a number had passed. The standard must have been
very low, for the children had never been taught some of the work set,
and in what they had learned nervous dread had prevented them from
reaching their usual poor level.

Another Inspector, also a clergyman, came to examine the school in
Scripture. But that was a different matter. On those days the Rector was
present, and the mistress, in her best frock, had nothing to do beyond
presiding at the harmonium for hymn singing. The examination consisted
of Scripture questions, put to a class as a whole and answered by any
one who was able to shoot up a hand to show they had the requisite
knowledge; of portions of the Church Catechism, repeated from memory in
order round the class; and of a written paper on some set Biblical
subject. There was little nervous tension on that day, for 'Scripture
Inspector' beamed upon and encouraged the children, even to the extent
of prompting those who were not word-perfect. While the writing was
going on, he and the Rector talked in undertones, laughing aloud at the
doings of 'old So-and-So', and, at one point, the mistress slipped away
into her cottage and brought them cups of tea on a tray.

The children did reasonably well, for Scripture was the one subject they
were thoroughly taught; even the dullest knew most of the Church
Catechism by heart. The written paper was the stumbling-block to many;
but this was Laura and Edmund's best subject and both succeeded in
different years in carrying off the large, calf-bound, gilt-edged 'Book
of Common Prayer' which was given as a prize--the only prize given at
that school.

Laura won hers by means of a minor miracle. That day, for the first and
last time in her life, the gift of words descended upon her. The subject
set was 'The Life of Moses', and although up to that moment she had felt
no special affection for the great law-giver, a sudden wave of
hero-worship surged over her. While her classmates were still wrinkling
their brows and biting their pens, she was well away with the baby in
the bulrushes scene. Her pen flew over her paper as she filled sheet
after sheet, and she had got the Children of Israel through the Red Sea,
across the desert, and was well in sight of Pisgah when the little bell
on the mistress's table tinkled that time was up.

The Inspector, who had been watching her, was much amused by her
verbosity and began reading her paper at once, although, as a rule, he
carried the essay away to read. After three or four pages he laughingly
declared that he must have more tea as 'that desert' made him feel
thirsty.

Such inspiration never visited her again. She returned to her usual
pedestrian style of essay writing, in which there were so many
alterations and erasures that, although she wrote a fair amount, she got
no more marks than those who got stuck at 'My dear Grandmother'.

There was a good deal of jealousy and unkindness among the parents over
the passes and still more over the one annual prize for Scripture. Those
whose children had not done well in examinations would never believe
that the success of others was due to merit. The successful ones were
spoken of as 'favourites' and disliked. 'You ain't a-goin' to tell me
that that young So-and-So did any better n'r our Jim,' some disappointed
mother would say. 'Stands to reason that what he could do our Jimmy
could do, _and_ better, too. Examinations are all a lot of humbug, if
you asks me.' The parents of those who had passed were almost
apologetic. ''Tis all luck,' they would say. 'Our Tize happened to hit
it this time; next year it'll be your Alice's turn.' They showed no
pleasure in any small success their own children might have. Indeed, it
is doubtful if they felt any, except in the case of a boy who, having
passed the fourth standard, could leave school and start work. Their
ideal for themselves and their children was to keep to the level of the
normal. To them outstanding ability was no better than outstanding
stupidity.

Boys who had been morose or rebellious during their later schooldays
were often transformed when they got upon a horse's back or were
promoted to driving a dungcart afield. For the first time in their
lives, they felt themselves persons of importance. They bandied lively
words with the men and gave themselves manly airs at home with their
younger brothers and sisters. Sometimes, when two or three boys were
working together, they were too lively, and very little work was done.
'One boy's a boy; two boys be half a boy, and three boys be no boy at
all', ran the old country saying. 'Little gallasses', the men called
them when vexed; and, in more indulgent moods, 'young dogs'. 'Ain't he a
regular young dog?' a fond parent would ask, when a boy, just starting
work, would set his cap at an angle, cut himself an ash stick, and try
to walk like a man.

They were lovable little fellows, in their stiff new corduroys and
hobnailed boots, with their broad, childish faces, powdered with
freckles and ready to break into dimples at a word. For a few years they
were happy enough, for they loved their work and did not, as yet, feel
the pinch of their poverty. The pity of it was that the calling they
were entering should have been so unappreciated and underpaid. There was
nothing the matter with the work, as work, the men agreed. It was a
man's life, and they laughed scornfully at the occupations of some who
looked down upon them; but the wages were ridiculously low and the farm
labourer was so looked down upon and slighted that the day was soon to
come when a country boy leaving school would look for any other way of
earning a living than on the land.

At that time boys of a roving disposition who wanted to see a bit of the
world before settling down went into the Army. Nearly every family in
the hamlet had its soldier son or uncle or cousin, and it was a common
sight to see a scarlet coat going round the Rise. After their Army
service, most of the hamlet-bred young men returned and took up the old
life on the land; but a few settled in other parts of the country. One
was a policeman in Birmingham, another kept a public house, and a third
was said to be a foreman in a brewery in Staffordshire. A few other boys
left the hamlet to become farm servants in the North of England. To
obtain such situations, they went to Banbury Fair and stood in the
Market to be hired by an agent. They were engaged for a year and during
that time were lodged and fed with the farmer's family, but received
little or no money until the year was up, when they were paid in a lump
sum. They were usually well treated, especially in the matter of food;
but were glad to return at the end of the year from what was, to them, a
foreign country where, at first, they could barely understand the
speech.

At 'the hiring' the different grades of farm workers stood in groups,
according to their occupations--the shepherds with their crooks, the
carters with whips and tufts of horsehair in their hats, and the
maid-servants relying upon their sex to distinguish them. The young
boys, not as yet specialists, were easily picked out by their youth and
their innocent, wondering faces. The maids who secured situations by
hiring themselves out at the Fair were farm-house servants of the
rougher kind. None of the hamlet girls attended the Fair for that
purpose.

Squire at the Manor House, known as 'our Squire', not out of any
particular affection or respect, but in contradistinction to the richer
and more important squire in a neighbouring parish, was at that time
unmarried, though verging on middle age, and his mother still reigned as
Lady of the Manor. Two or three times a year she called at the school to
examine the needlework, a tall, haughty, and still handsome old dame in
a long, flowing, pale-grey silk dustcloak and small, close-fitting,
black bonnet, with two tiny King Charles's spaniels on a leash.

It would be almost impossible for any one born in this century to
imagine the pride and importance of such small country gentlepeople in
the 'eighties. As far as was known, the Bracewells were connected with
no noble family; they had but little land, kept up but a small
establishment, and were said in the village and hamlet to be 'poor as
crows'. Yet, by virtue of having been born into a particular caste and
of living in the 'big house' of the parish, they expected to reign over
their poorer neighbours and to be treated by them with the deference due
to royalty. Like royalty, too, they could be charming to those who
pleased them. Those who did not had to beware.

A good many of the cottagers still played up to them, the women
curtseying to the ground when their carriage passed and speaking in awed
tones in their presence. Others, conscious of their own
independence--for none of the hamlet people worked on their land or
occupied their cottages--and having breathed the new free air of
democracy, which was then beginning to percolate even into such remote
places, were inclined to laugh at their pretensions. 'We don't want
nothin' from they,' they would say, 'and us shouldn't get it if us did.
Let the old gal stay at home and see that her own tea-caddy's kept
locked up, not come nosing round here axin' how many spoonsful we puts
in ours.'

Mrs. Bracewell knew nothing of such speeches. If she had, she would
probably have thought the world--her world--was coming to an end. Which
it was. In her girlhood under the Regency, she had been taught her duty
towards the cottagers, and that included reproving them for their
wasteful habits. It also included certain charities. She was generous
out of all proportion to her small means; keeping two aged women
pensioners, doling out soup in the winter to those she called 'the
deserving poor', and entertaining the school-children to a tea and a
magic-lantern entertainment every Christmas.

Meanwhile, as the old servants in and about her house died or were
pensioned off, they were not replaced. By the middle of the 'eighties
only a cook and a house-parlourmaid sat down to meals in the vast
servants' hall where a large staff had formerly feasted. Grass grew
between the flagstones in the stable yard where generations of grooms
and coachmen had hissed over the grooming of hunters and carriage
horses, and the one old mare which drew her wagonette when she paid
calls took a turn at drawing the lawn-mower, or even the plough,
betweenwhiles.

As she got poorer, she got prouder, more overbearing in manner and more
acid in tone, and the girls trembled when she came into school.
especially Laura, who knew that her sewing would never pass that eagle
eye without stern criticism. She would work slowly along the form,
examining each garment, and exclaiming that the sewing was so badly done
that she did not know what the world was coming to. Stitches were much
too large; the wrong side of the work was not as well finished as the
right side; buttonholes were bungled and tapes sewn on askew; and the
feather-stitching looked as though a spider had crawled over the piece
of work. But when she came to examine the work of one of the prize
sewers her face would light up. 'Very neat! Exquisitely sewn!' she would
say, and have the stitching passed round the class as an example.

The schoolmistress attended at her elbow, overawed, like the children,
but trying to appear at her ease. Miss Holmes, in her day, had called
Mrs. Bracewell 'ma'am' and sketched a slight curtsey as she held open
the door for her. The later mistresses called her 'Mrs. Bracewell', but
not very frequently or with conviction.

At that time the position of a village schoolmistress was a trying one
socially. Perhaps it is still trying in some places, for it is not many
years ago that the President of a Women's Institute wrote: 'We are very
democratic here. Our Committee consists of three ladies, three women,
and the village schoolmistress.' That mistress, though neither lady nor
woman, was still placed. In the 'eighties the schoolmistress was so
nearly a new institution that a vicar's wife, in a real dilemma, said:
'I should like to ask Miss So-and-So to tea; but do I ask her to kitchen
or dining-room tea?'

Miss Holmes had settled that question herself when she became engaged to
the squire's gardener. Miss Shepherd was more ambitious socially.
Indeed, democratic as she was in theory, the dear soul was in practice a
little snobbish. She courted the notice of the betters, though, she was
wont to declare, they were only betters when they were better men and
women. An invitation to tea at the Rectory was, to her, something to be
fished for before and talked about afterwards, and when the daughter of
a poor, but aristocratic local family set up as a music teacher, Miss
Shepherd at once decided to learn the violin.


Laura was once the delighted witness of a funny little display of this
weakness. It was the day of the school treat at the Manor House, and the
children had met at the school and were being marched, two and two,
through garden and shrubbery paths to the back door. Other guests, such
as the curate, the doctor's widow, and the daughters of the rich farmer,
who were to have tea in the drawing-room while the children feasted in
the servants' hall, were going to the front door.

Now, Miss Holmes had always marched right in with her pupils and sipped
her own tea and nibbled her cake between attending to their wants; but
Miss Shepherd was more ambitious. When the procession reached a point
where the shrubbery path crossed the main drive which led to the front
door, she paused and considered; then said, 'I think I will go to the
front door, dears. I want to see how well you can behave without me,'
and off she branched up the drive in her best brown frock, tight little
velvet hip-length jacket, and long fur boa wound like a snake round her
neck, followed by at least one pair of cynically smiling little eyes.

She had the satisfaction of ringing the front-door bell and drinking tea
in the drawing-room; but it was a short-lived triumph. In a very few
minutes she was out in the servants' hall, passing bread and butter to
her charges and whispering to one of her monitors that 'Dear Mrs.
Bracewell gave me my tea first, because, as she said, she knew I was
anxious to get back to my children.'

Squire himself called at the school once a year; but nobody felt nervous
when his red, jovial face appeared in the doorway, and smiles broke out
all around when he told his errand. He was arranging a concert, to take
place in the schoolroom, and would like some of the children to sing. He
took his responsibilities less seriously than his mother did hers;
spending most of his days roaming the fields, and spinneys with a gun
under his arm and a brace of spaniels at his heels, leaving her to
manage house and gardens and what was left of the family estate, as well
as to support the family dignity. His one indoor accomplishment was
playing the banjo and singing Negro songs. He had trained a few of the
village youths to support him in his Negro Minstrel Troupe, which always
formed the backbone of the annual concert programme. A few other items
were contributed by his and his mother's friends and the gaps were
filled up by the school-children.

So, after his visit, the school became animated. What should be sung and
who should sing it were the questions of the moment. Finally, it was
arranged that everybody should sing something. Even Laura, who had
neither voice nor ear for music, was to join in the communal songs.

They sang, very badly, mildly pretty spring and Nature songs from the
_School Song Book_, such as they had sung the year before and the year
before that, some of them actually the same songs. One year Miss
Shepherd thought it 'would be nice' to sing a Primrose League song to
'please Squire'. One verse ran:


       O come, ye Tories, all unite
       To bear the Primrose badge with might,
       And work and hope and strive and fight
       And pray may God defend the right.


When Laura's father heard this, he wrote a stiffly polite little note to
the mistress, saying that, as a Liberal of pronounced views, he could
not allow a child of his to sing such a song. Laura did not tell him she
had already been asked to sing very softly, not to put the other singers
out of tune. 'Just move your lips, dear,' the mistress had said. Laura,
in fact, was to have gone on to help dress the stage, where all the
girls who were taking part in the programme sat in a row throughout the
performance, forming a background for the soloists. That year she had
the pleasure of sitting among the audience and hearing the criticism, as
well as seeing the stage and listening to the programme. A good
three-pennyworth ('children, half-price').

When the great night came, the whole population of the neighbourhood
assembled, for it was the only public entertainment of the year. Squire
and his Negro Minstrel Troupe was the great attraction. They went on,
dressed in red and blue, their hands and faces blackened with burnt
cork, and rattled their bones and cracked their jokes and sang such
songs as:


       A friend of Darwin's came to me,
       A million years ago said he
       You had a tail and no great toe.
       I answered him, 'That may be so,
       But I've one now, I'll let you know--
       G-r-r-r-r-r out!'


Very few in the audience had heard of Darwin or his theory; but they all
knew what 'G-r-r-r-r-r out!' meant, especially when emphasised by a kick
on Tom Binns's backside by Squire's boot. The schoolroom rocked. 'I
pretty well busted me sides wi' laughin',' they said afterwards.

After the applause had died down, a little bell would ring and a robust
curate from a neighbouring village would announce the next item. Most of
these were piano pieces, played singly, or as duets, by young ladies in
white evening frocks, cut in a modest V at the neck, and white kid
gloves reaching to the elbow. As their contributions to the programme
were announced, they would rise from the front seat in the audience; a
gentleman--two gentlemen--would spring forward, and between them hand
the fair performer up the three shallow steps which led to the platform
and hand her over to yet another gentleman, who led her to the piano and
held her gloves and fan and turned her music pages.

'Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle', went the piano, and 'Warble, warble, warble'
went the voices, as the performers worked their conscientious way
through the show piano pieces and popular drawing-room ballads of the
moment. Each performer was greeted and dismissed with a round of
applause, which served the double purpose of encouraging the singer and
relieving the boredom of the audience. Youths and young men in the back
seats would sometimes carry this too far, drowning the programme with
their stamping and shouting until they had to be reprimanded, when they
would subside sulkily, complaining, 'Us've paid our sixpences, ain't
we?'

Once, when the athletic curate sang 'You should see Me dance the Polka'
he accompanied the song with such violent action that he polked part of
the platform down and left the double row of schoolgirls hanging in the
air on the backmost planks while he finished his song on the floor:


       You should see me dance the polka,
         You should see me cover the ground,
       You should see my coat tails flying
         As I dance my way around.


Edmund and Laura had the words and actions by heart, if not the tune,
and polked that night in their mother's bedroom until they woke up the
baby and were slapped. A sad ending to an evening of pure bliss.

When the school-children on the platform rose and came forward to sing
they, also, were applauded; but their performance and those of the young
ladies were but the lettuce in the salad; all the flavour was in the
comic items.

Now, Miss Shepherd was a poet, and had several times turned out a neat
verse to supplement those of a song she considered too short. One year
she took the National Anthem in hand and added a verse. It ran:


       May every village school
       Uphold Victoria's rule,
       To Church and State be true,
       God save the Queen.


Which pleased Squire so much that he talked of sending it to the
newspapers.

Going home with lanterns swinging down the long dark road, the groups
would discuss the evening's entertainment. Squire's Minstrels and the
curate's songs were always unreservedly praised and the young ladies'
performances were tolerated, although, often, a man would complain, 'I
don't know if I be goin' deaf, or what; but I couldn't hear a dommed
word any of 'em said.' As to the school-children's efforts, criticism
was applied more to how they looked than to their musical performance.
Those who had scuffled or giggled, or even blushed, heard of it from
their parents, while such remarks were frequent as: 'Got up to kill,
that young Mary Ann Parish was!' or 'I declare I could see the hem o'
young Rose Mitchell's breeches showin',' or 'That Em Tuffrey made a poor
show. Whatever wer' her mother a thinkin' on?' Taken all in all, they
enjoyed the concert almost as much as their grandchildren enjoy the
cinema.



    XIII

 _May Day_

After the excitement of the concert came the long winter months, when
snowstorms left patches on the ploughed fields, like scrapings of sauce
on left-over pieces of Christmas pudding, until the rains came and
washed them away and the children, carrying old umbrellas to school, had
them turned inside out by the wind, and cottage chimneys smoked and
washing had to be dried indoors. But at last came spring and spring
brought May Day, the greatest day in the year from the children's point
of view.

The May garland was all that survived there of the old May Day
festivities. The maypole and the May games and May dances in which whole
parishes had joined had long been forgotten. Beyond giving flowers for
the garland and pointing out how things should be done and telling how
they had been done in their own young days, the older people took no
part in the revels.

For the children as the day approached all hardships were forgotten and
troubles melted away. The only thing that mattered was the weather.
'Will it be fine?' was the constant question, and many an'aged eye was
turned skyward in response to read the signs of wind and cloud.
Fortunately, it was always reasonably fine. Showers there were, of
course, at that season, but never a May Day of hopelessly drenching
rain, and the May garland was carried in procession every year
throughout the 'eighties.

The garland was made, or 'dressed', in the schoolroom. Formerly it had
been dressed out of doors, or in one of the cottages, or in some one's
barn; but dressed it had been and probably in much the same fashion for
countless generations.

The foundation of the garland was a light wooden framework of uprights
supporting graduated hoops, forming a bell-shaped structure about four
feet high. This frame was covered with flowers, bunched and set closely,
after the manner of wreath-making.

On the last morning of April the children would come to school with
bunches, baskets, arms and pinafores full of flowers--every blossom they
could find in the fields and hedges or beg from parents and neighbours.
On the previous Sunday some of the bigger boys would have walked six or
eight miles to a distant wood where primroses grew. These, with violets
from the hedgerows, cowslips from the meadows, and wallflowers, oxlips,
and sprays of pale red flowering currant from the cottage gardens formed
the main supply. A sweetbriar hedge in the schoolmistress's garden
furnished unlimited greenery.

Piled on desks, table, and floor, this supply appeared inexhaustible;
but the garland was large, and as the work of dressing it proceeded, it
soon became plain that the present stock wouldn't 'hardly go nowheres',
as the children said. So foraging parties were sent out, one to the
Rectory, another to Squire's, and others to outlying farm-houses and
cottages. All returned loaded, for even the most miserly and
garden-proud gave liberally to the garland. In time the wooden frame was
covered, even if there had to be solid greenery to fill up at the back,
out of sight. Then the 'Top-knot', consisting of a bunch of crown
imperial, yellow and brown, was added to crown the whole, and the
fragrant, bowery structure was springled with water and set aside for
the night.

While the garland was being dressed, an older girl, perhaps the May
Queen herself, would be busy in a corner making the crown. This always
had to be a daisy crown; but, meadow daisies being considered too
common, and also possessing insufficient staying power, garden daisies,
white and red, were used, with a background of dark, glossy, evergreen
leaves.

The May Queen had been chosen weeks beforehand. She was supposed to be
either the prettiest or the most popular girl in the parish; but it was
more often a case of self-election by the strongest willed or of taking
turns: 'You choose me this year and I'll choose you next.' However
elected, the queens had a strong resemblance to each other, being
stout-limbed, rosy-checked maidens of ten or eleven, with great manes of
dark hair frizzed out to support the crown becomingly.

The final touches were given the garland when the children assembled at
six o'clock on May Day morning. Then a large china doll in a blue frock
was brought forth from the depths of the school needlework chest and
arranged in a sitting position on a little ledge in the centre front of
the garland. This doll was known as 'the lady', and a doll of some kind
was considered essential. Even in those parishes where the garland had
degenerated into a shabby nosegay carried aloft at the top of a stick,
some dollish image was mixed in with the flowers. The attitude of the
children to the lady is interesting. It was understood that the garland
was her garland, carried in her honour. The lady must never be roughly
handled. If the garland turned turtle, as it was apt to do later in the
day, when the road was rough and the bearers were growing weary, the
first question was always, 'Is the lady all right?' (Is it possible that
the lady was once 'Our Lady', she having in her turn, perhaps, replaced
an earlier effigy of some pagan spirit of the newly decked earth?)

The lady comfortably settled in front of the garland, a large white
muslin veil or skirt, obviously borrowed from a Victorian
dressing-table, was draped over the whole to act as drop-scene and
sunshade combined. Then a broomstick was inserted between the hoops for
carrying purposes.

All the children in the parish between the ages of seven and eleven were
by this time assembled, those girls who possessed them wearing white or
light coloured frocks, irrespective of the temperature, and girls and
boys alike decked out with bright ribbon knots and bows and sashes,
those of the boys worn crosswise over one shoulder. The queen wore her
daisy crown with a white veil thrown over it, and the other girls who
could procure them also wore white veils. White gloves were traditional,
but could seldom be obtained. A pair would sometimes be found for the
queen, always many sizes too large; but the empty finger-ends came in
handy to suck in a bashful mood when, later on, the kissing began.

The procession then formed. It was as follows:


  Boy with flag.  Girl with money box.
 THE GARLAND with two bearers.
         King and queen.
      Two maids of honour.
         Lord and lady.
      Two maids of honour.
  Footman and footman's lady.
Rank and file, walking in twos.
  Girl known as 'Mother'.   Boy called 'Ragman'.


The 'Mother' was one of the most dependable of the older girls, who was
made responsible for the behaviour of the garlanders. She carried a
large, old-fashioned, double-lidded marketing basket over her arm,
containing the lunches of the principal actors. The boy called 'Ragman'
carried the coats, brought in case of rain, but seldom worn, even during
a shower, lest by their poverty and shabbiness they should disgrace the
festive attire.

The procession stepped out briskly. Mothers waved and implored their
offspring to behave well; some of the little ones left behind lifted up
their voices and wept; old people came to cottage gates and said that,
though well enough, this year's procession was poor compared to some
they had seen. But the garlanders paid no heed; they had their feet on
the road at last and vowed they would not turn back now, 'not if it
rained cats and dogs'.

The first stop was at the Rectory, where the garland was planted before
the front door and the shrill little voices struck up, shyly at first,
but gathering confidence as they went on:


    A bunch of may I have brought you
      And at your door it stands.
    It is but a sprout, but It's well put about
      By the Lord Almighty's hands.

    God bless the master of this house
      God bless the mistress too,
    And all the little children
      That round the table go.

    And now I've sung my short little song
      I must no longer stay.
    God bless you all, both great and small,
      And send you a happy May Day.


During the singing of this the Rector's face, wearing its mildest
expression, and bedaubed with shaving lather, for it was only as yet
seven o'clock, would appear at an upper window and nod approval and
admiration of the garland. His daughter would be down and at the door,
and for her the veil was lifted and the glory of the garland revealed.
She would look, touch and smell, then slip a silver coin into the
money-box, and the procession would move on towards Squire's.

There, the lady of the house would bow haughty approval and if there
were visiting grandchildren the lady would be detached from the garland
and held up to their nursery window to be admired. Then Squire himself
would appear in the stable doorway with a brace of sniffing, suspicious
spaniels at his heels. 'How many are there of you?' he would call.
'Twenty-seven? Well, here's a five-bob bit for you. Don't quarrel over
it. Now let's have a song.'

'Not "A Bunch of May,"' the girl called Mother would whisper, impressed
by the-five-shilling piece; 'not that old-fashioned thing. Something
newer,' and something newer, though still not very new, would be
selected. Perhaps it would be:


         All hail gentle spring
 With thy sunshine and showers,
         And welcome the sweet buds
 That burst in the bowers;
         Again we rejoice as thy light step and free
         Brings leaves to the woodland and flowers to the bee,
         Bounding, bounding, bounding, bounding,
 Joyful and gay,
         Light and airy, like a fairy,
 Come, come away.


Or it might be:


Come see our new garland, so green and so gay;
'Tis the firstfruits of spring and the glory of May.
Here are cowslips and daisies and hyacinths blue,
Here are buttercups bright and anemones too.


During the singing of the latter song, as each flower was mentioned, a
specimen bloom would be pointed to in the garland. It was always a point
of honour to have at least one of each named in the several verses;
though the hawthorn was always a difficulty, for in the south midlands
May's own flower seldom opens before the middle of that month. However,
there was always at least one knot of tight green flower buds.

After becoming duty had been paid to the Rectory and Big House, the
farm-house and cottages were visited; then the little procession set out
along narrow, winding country roads, with tall hedges of blackthorn and
bursting leaf-buds on either side, to make its seven-mile circuit. In
those days there were no motors to dodge and there was very little other
traffic; just a farm cart here and there, or the baker's white-tilted
van, or a governess car with nurses and children out for their airing.
Sometimes the garlanders would forsake the road for stiles and footpaths
across buttercup meadows, or go through parks and gardens to call at
some big house or secluded farmstead.

In the ordinary course, country children of that day seldom went beyond
their own parish bounds, and this long trek opened up new country to
most of them. There was a delightful element of exploration about it.
New short cuts would be tried, one year through a wood, another past the
fishponds, or across such and such a paddock, where there might, or
might not, be a bull. On one pond they passed sailed a solitary swan; on
the terrace before one mansion peacocks spread their tails in the sun;
the ram which pumped the water to one house mystified them with its
subterranean thudding. There were often showers, and to Laura, looking
back after fifty years, the whole scene would melt into a blur of wet
greenery, with rainbows and cuckoo-calls and, overpowering all other
impressions, the wet wallflower and primrose scent of the May garland.

Sometimes on the road a similar procession from another village came
into view; but never one with so magnificent a garland. Some of them,
indeed, had nothing worth calling a garland at all; only nosegays tied
mopwise on sticks. No lord and lady, no king and queen; only a rabble
begging with money-boxes. Were the Fordlow and Lark Rise folks sorry for
them? No. They stuck out their tongues, and, forgetting their pretty May
songs, yelled:


        Old Hardwick skags!
        Come to Fordlow to pick up rags
        To mend their mothers' pudding-bags,
        Yah!Yah!


and the rival troop retaliated in the same strain.

At the front-door calls, the queen and her retinue stood demurely behind
the garland and helped with the singing, unless Her Majesty was called
forward to have her crown inspected and admired. It was at the back
doors of large houses that the fun began. In country houses at that date
troops of servants were kept, and the May Day procession would find the
courtyard crowded with house-maids and kitchen-maids, dairy-maids and
laundry-maids, footmen, grooms, coachmen, and gardeners. The songs were
sung, the garland was admired; then, to a chorus of laughter, teasing
and urging, one Maid of Honour snatched the cap from the King's head,
the other raised the Queen's veil, and a shy, sheepish boy pecked at his
companion's rosy cheek, to the huge delight of the beholders.

'Again! Again!' a dozen voices would cry and the kissing was repeated
until the royal couple turned sulky and refused to kiss any more, even
when offered a penny a kiss. Then the lord saluted his lady and the
footman the footman's lady (this couple had probably been introduced in
compliment to such patrons), and the money-box was handed round and
began to grow heavy with pence.

The menservants, with their respectable side-whiskers, the maids in
their little flat caps like crocheted mats on their smoothly parted
hair, and their long, billowing lilac or pink print gowns, and the
children in their ribbon-decked poverty, alike belong to a bygone order
of things. The boys pulled forelocks and the girls dropped curtseys to
the upper servants, for they came next in importance to 'the gentry'.
Some of them really belonged to a class which would not be found in
service to-day; for at that time there was little hospital nursing,
teaching, typing, or shop work to engage the daughters of small farmers,
small shopkeepers, innkeepers, and farm bailiffs. Most of them had
either to go out to service or remain at home.

After the mansion, there were the steward's, the head gardener's and the
stud-groom's houses to visit with the garland; then on through gardens
and park and woods and fields to the next stopping-place. Things did not
always go smoothly. Feet got tired, especially when boots did not fit
properly or were worn thin. Squabbles broke out among the boys and
sometimes had to be settled by a fight. Often a heavy shower would send
the whole party packing under trees for shelter, with the unveiled
garland freshening outside in the rain; or some irate gamekeeper would
turn the procession back from a short cut, adding miles to the way. But
these were slight drawbacks to happiness on a day as near to perfection
as anything can be in human life.

There came a point in the circuit when faces were turned towards home,
instead of away from it; and at last, at long last, the lights in the
Lark Hill windows shone clear through the spring twilight. The great day
was over, for ever, as it seemed, for at ten years old a year seems as
long as a century. Still, there was the May money to be shared out in
school the next morning, and the lady to be stroked before being put
back in her box, and the flowers which had survived to be put in water:
even to-morrow would not be quite a common day. So the last waking
thoughts blended with dreams of swans and peacocks and footmen and sore
feet and fat cooks with pink faces wearing daisy crowns which turned
into pure gold, then melted away.



    XIV

     _To Church on Sunday_

If the Lark Rise people had been asked their religion, the answer of
nine out of ten would have been 'Church of England', for practically all
of them were christened, married, and buried as such, although, in adult
life, few went to church between the baptisms of their offspring. The
children were shepherded there after Sunday school and about a dozen of
their elders attended regularly; the rest stayed at home, the women
cooking and nursing, and the men, after an elaborate Sunday toilet,
which included shaving and cutting each other's hair and much puffing
and splashing with buckets of water, but stopped short before lacing up
boots or putting on a collar and tie, spent the rest of the day eating,
sleeping, reading the newspaper, and strolling round to see how their
neighbours' pigs and gardens were looking.

There were a few keener spirits. The family at the inn was Catholic and
was up and off to early Mass in the next village before others had
turned over in bed for an extra Sunday morning snooze. There were also
three Methodist families which met in one of their cottages on Sunday
evenings for prayer and praise; but most of these attended church as
well, thus earning for themselves the name of 'Devil dodgers'.

Every Sunday, morning and afternoon, the two cracked, flat-toned bells
at the church in the mother village called the faithful to worship.
_Ding-dong, Ding-dong, Ding-dong_, they went, and, when they heard them,
the hamlet churchgoers hurried across fields and over stiles, for the
Parish Clerk was always threatening to lock the church door when the
bells stopped and those outside might stop outside for all he cared.

With the Fordlow cottagers, the Squire's and farmer's families and
maids, the Rectory people and the hamlet contingent, the congregation
averaged about thirty. Even with this small number, the church was
fairly well filled, for it was a tiny place, about the size of a barn,
with nave and chancel only, no side aisles. The interior was almost as
bare as a barn, with its grey, roughcast walls, plain-glass windows, and
flagstone floor. The cold, damp, earthy odour common to old and unheated
churches pervaded the atmosphere, with occasional whiffs of a more
unpleasant nature said to proceed from the stacks of mouldering bones in
the vault beneath. Who had been buried there, or when, was unknown, for,
excepting one ancient and mutilated brass in the wall by the font, there
were but two memorial tablets, both of comparatively recent date. The
church, like the village, was old and forgotten, and those buried in the
vault, who must have once been people of importance, had not left even a
name. Only the stained glass window over the altar, glowing jewel-like
amidst the cold greyness, the broken piscina within the altar rails, and
a tall broken shaft of what had been a cross in the churchyard, remained
to witness mutely to what once had been.

The Squire's and clergyman's families had pews in the chancel, with
backs to the wall on either side, and between them stood two long
benches for the school-children, well under the eyes of authority. Below
the steps down into the nave stood the harmonium, played by the
clergyman's daughter, and round it was ranged the choir of small
school-girls. Then came the rank and file of the congregation, nicely
graded, with the farmer's family in the front row, then the Squire's
gardener and coachman, the schoolmistress, the maidservants, and the
cottagers, with the Parish Clerk at the back to keep order.

'Clerk Tom', as he was called, was an important man in the parish. Not
only did he dig the graves, record the banns of marriage, take the chill
off the water for winter baptisms, and stoke the coke stove which stood
in the nave at the end of his seat; but he also took an active and
official part in the services. It was his duty to lead the congregation
in the responses and to intone the 'Amens'. The psalms were not sung or
chanted, but read, verse and verse about, by the Rector and people, and
in these especially Tom's voice so drowned the subdued murmur of his
fellow worshippers that it sounded like a duet between him and the
clergyman--a duet in which Tom won easily, for his much louder voice
would often trip up the Rector before he had quite finished his portion,
while he prolonged his own final syllables at will.

The afternoon service, with not a prayer left out or a creed spared,
seemed to the children everlasting. The school-children, under the stern
eye of the Manor House, dared not so much as wriggle; they sat in their
stiff, stuffy, best clothes, their stomachs lined with heavy Sunday
dinner, in a kind of waking doze, through which Tom's 'Amens' rang like
a bell and the Rector's voice buzzed beelike. Only on the rare occasions
when a bat fluttered down from the roof, or a butterfly drifted in at a
window, or the Rector's little fox terrier looked in at the door and
sidled up the nave, was the tedium lightened.

Edmund and Laura, alone in their grandfather's seat, modestly situated
exactly half-way down the nave, were more fortunate, for they sat
opposite the church door and, in summer, when it was left open, they
could at least watch the birds and the bees and the butterflies crossing
the opening and the breezes shaking the boughs of the trees and ruffling
the long grass on the graves. It was interesting, too, to observe some
woman in the congregation fussing with her back hair, or a man easing
his tight collar, or old Dave Pridham, who had a bad bunion, shuffling
off a shoe before the sermon began, with one eye all the time upon the
clergyman; or to note how closely together some newly married couple
were sitting, or to see Clerk Tom's young wife suckling her baby. She
wore a fur tippet in winter and her breast hung like a white heather
bell between the soft blackness until it was covered up with a white
handkerchief, 'for modesty'.

Mr. Ellison in the pulpit was the Mr. Ellison of the Scripture lessons,
plus a white surplice. To him, his congregation were but children of a
larger growth, and he preached as he taught. A favourite theme was the
duty of regular churchgoing. He would hammer away at that for forty-five
minutes, never seeming to realize that he was preaching to the absent,
that all those present were regular attendants, and that the stray sheep
of his flock were snoring upon their beds a mile and a half away.

Another favourite subject was the supreme rightness of the social order
as it then existed. God, in His infinite wisdom, had appointed a place
for every man, woman, and child on this earth and it was their bounden
duty to remain contentedly in their niches. A gentleman might seem to
some of his listeners to have a pleasant, easy life, compared to theirs
at field labour; but he had his duties and responsibilities, which would
be far beyond their capabilities. He had to pay taxes, sit on the Bench
of Magistrates, oversee his estate, and keep up his position by
entertaining. Could they do these things? No. Of course they could not;
and he did not suppose that a gentleman could cut as straight a furrow
or mow or thatch a rick as expertly as they could. So let them be
thankful and rejoice in their physical strength and the bounty of the
farmer, who found them work on his land and paid them wages with his
money.

Less frequently, he would preach eternal punishment for sin, and touch,
more lightly, upon the bliss reserved for those who worked hard, were
contented with their lot and showed proper respect to their superiors.
The Holy Name was seldom mentioned, nor were human griefs or joys, or
the kindly human feelings which bind man to man. It was not religion he
preached, but a narrow code of ethics, imposed from above upon the lower
orders, which, even in those days, was out of date.

Once and once only did inspiration move him. It was the Sunday after the
polling for the General Election of 1886, and he had begun preaching one
of his usual sermons on the duty to social superiors, when, suddenly
something, perhaps the memory of the events of the past week, seemed to
boil up within him. Flushed with anger--'righteous anger', he would have
called it--and his frosty blue eyes flashing like swords, he cast
himself forward across the ledge of his pulpit and roared: 'There are
some among you who have lately forgotten that duty, and we know the
cause, the bloody cause!'

Laura shivered. Bad language in church! and from the Rector! But, later
in life, she liked to think that she had lived early enough to have
heard a mild and orthodox Liberalism denounced from the pulpit as 'a
bloody cause'. It lent her the dignity of an historical survival.

The sermon over, the people sprang to their feet like Jacks-in-a-box.
With what gusto they sang the evening hymn, and how their lungs expanded
and their tongues wagged as they poured out of the churchyard! Not that
they resented anything that was said in the Rector's sermons. They did
not listen to them. After the Bloody Cause sermon Laura tried to find
out how her elders had reacted to it; but all she could learn was: 'I
seems to have lost the thread just then,' or, more frankly, 'I must've
been nodding'; the most she could get was one woman's, 'My! didn't th'
old parson get worked up today!'

Some of them went to church to show off their best clothes and to see
and criticize those of their neighbours; some because they loved to hear
their own voices raised in the hymns, or because churchgoing qualified
them for the Christmas blankets and coals; and a few to worship. There
was at least one saint and mystic in that parish and there were several
good Christian men and women, but the majority regarded religion as
something proper to extreme old age, for which they themselves had as
yet no use.

'About time he wer' thinkin' about his latter end,' they would say of
one who showed levity when his head and beard were white, or of anybody
who was ill or afflicted. Once a hunchback from another village came to
a pig feast and distinguished himself by getting drunk and using bad
language, and, because he was a cripple, his conduct was looked upon
with horror. Laura's mother was distressed when she heard about it. 'To
think of a poor afflicted creature like that cursing and swearing,' she
sighed. 'Terrible! Terrible!' and when Edmund, then about ten, looked up
from his book and said calmly, 'I should think if anybody's got a right
to swear it's a man with a back like that,' she told him he was nearly
as bad to say such a thing.

The Catholic minority at the inn was treated with respect, for a
landlord could do no wrong, especially the landlord of a free house
where such excellent beer was on tap. On Catholicism at large, the Lark
Rise people looked with contemptuous intolerance, for they regarded it
as a kind of heathenism, and what excuse could there be for that in a
Christian country? When, early in life, the end house children asked
what Roman Catholics were, they were told they were 'folks as prays to
images', and further inquiries elicited the information that they also
worshipped the Pope, a bad old man, some said in league with the Devil.
Their genuflexions in church and their 'playin' wi' beads' were
described as 'monkey tricks'. People who openly said they had no use for
religion themselves became quite heated when the Catholics were
mentioned. Yet the children's grandfather, when the sound of the Angelus
bell was borne on the wind from the chapel in the next village, would
take off his hat and, after a moment's silence, murmur, 'In my Father's
house are many mansions.' It was all very puzzling.

Later on, when they came to associate more with the other children, on
the way to Sunday school they would see horses and traps loaded with
families from many miles around on their way to the Catholic church in
the next village. 'There go the old Catholics!' the children would cry,
and run after the vehicles shouting: 'Old Catholics! Old lick the cats!'
until they had to fall behind for want of breath. Sometimes a lady in
one of the high dogcarts would smile at them forbearingly, otherwise no
notice was taken.

The horses and traps were followed at a distance by the young men and
big boys of the families on foot. Always late in starting, yet always in
time for the service, how they legged it! The children took good care
not to call out after them, for they knew, whatever their haste, the boy
Catholics would have time to turn back and cuff them. It had happened
before. So they let them get on for quite a distance before they started
to mock their gait and recite in a snuffling sing-song:


     'O dear Father, I've come to confess.'
     'Well, my child, and what have you done?'
     'O dear Father. I've killed the cat.'
     'Well, my child, and what about that?'
     'O dear Father, what shall I do?'
     'You kiss me and I'll kiss you.'


a gem which had probably a political origin, for the seeds of their
ignorant bigotry must have been sown at some time. Yet, strange to say,
some of those very children still said by way of a prayer when they went
to bed:


        Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,
        Bless the bed where I lie on.
        Four corners have I to my bed;
        At them four angels nightly spread.
        One to watch and one to pray
        And one to take my soul away.


At that time many words, phrases, and shreds of customs persisted which
faded out before the end of the century. When Laura was a child, some of
the older mothers and the grandmothers still threatened naughty children
with the name of Cromwell. 'If you ain't a good gal, old Oliver
Crummell'll have 'ee!' they would say, or 'Here comes old Crummell!'
just as the mothers of southern England threatened their children with
Napoleon. Napoleon was forgotten there; being far from the sea-coast,
such places had never known the fear of invasion. But the armies of the
Civil War had fought ten miles to the eastward, and the name still
lingered.

The Methodists were a class apart. Provided they did not attempt to
convert others, religion in them was tolerated. Every Sunday evening
they held a service in one of their cottages, and, whenever she could
obtain permission at home, it was Laura's delight to attend. This was
not because the service appealed to her; she really preferred the church
service; but because Sunday evening at home was a trying time, with the
whole family huddled round the fire and Father reading and no one
allowed to speak and barely to move.

Permission was hard to get, for her father did not approve of 'the
ranters'; nor did he like Laura to be out after dark. But one time out
of four or five when she asked, he would grunt and nod, and she would
dash off before her mother could raise any objection. Sometimes Edmund
would follow her, and they would seat themselves on one of the hard,
white-scrubbed benches in the meeting house, prepared to hear all that
was to be heard and see all that was to be seen.

The first thing that would have struck any one less accustomed to the
place was its marvellous cleanliness. The cottage walls were whitewashed
and always fresh and clean. The everyday furniture had been carried out
to the barn to make way for the long white wooden benches, and before
the window with its drawn white blind stood a table covered with a linen
cloth, on which were the lamp, a large Bible, and a glass of water for
the visiting preacher, whose seat was behind it. Only the clock and a
pair of red china dogs on the mantelpiece remained to show that on other
days people lived and cooked and ate in the room. A bright fire always
glowed in the grate and there was a smell compounded of lavender,
lamp-oil, and packed humanity.

The man of the house stood in the doorway to welcome each arrival with a
handshake and a whispered 'God bless you!' His wife, a small woman with
a slight spinal curvature which thrust her head forward and gave her a
resemblance to an amiable-looking frog, smiled her welcome from her seat
near the fire-place. In twos and threes, the brethren filed in and took
their accustomed places on the hard, backless benches. With them came a
few neighbours, not of their community, but glad to have somewhere to
go, especially on wet or cold Sundays.

In the dim lamplight dark Sunday suits and sad-coloured Sunday gowns
massed together in a dark huddle against the speckless background, and
out of it here and there eyes and cheeks caught the light as the
brethren smiled their greetings to each other.

If the visiting preacher happened to be late, which he often was with a
long distance to cover on foot, the host would give out a hymn from
Sankey and Moody's Hymn-Book, which would be sung without musical
accompaniment to one of the droning, long-drawn-out tunes peculiar to
the community. At other times one of the brethren would break into
extempore prayer, in the course of which he would retail the week's news
so far as it affected the gathering, prefacing each statement with 'Thou
knowest', or 'As thou knowest, Lord'. It amused Laura and Edmund to hear
old Mr. Barker telling God that it had not rained for a fortnight and
that his carrot bed was getting 'mortal dry'; or that swine fever had
broken out at a farm four miles away and that his own pig didn't seem
'no great shakes'; or that somebody had mangled his wrist in a turnip
cutter and had come out of hospital, but found it still stiff; for, as
they said to each other afterwards, God must know already, as He knew
everything. But these one-sided conversations with the Deity were
conducted in a spirit of simple faith. 'Cast your care upon Him' was a
text they loved and took literally. To them God was a loving Father who
loved to listen to His children's confidences. No trouble was too small
to bring to 'the Mercy Seat'.

Sometimes a brother or a sister would stand up to 'testify', and then
the children opened their eyes and ears, for a misspent youth was the
conventional prelude to conversion and who knew what exciting
transgressions might not be revealed. Most of them did not amount to
much. One would say that before he 'found the Lord' he had been 'a
regular beastly drunkard'; but it turned out that he had only taken a
pint too much once or twice at a village feast; another claimed to have
been a desperate poacher, 'a wild, lawless sort o' chap'; he had snared
an occasional rabbit. A sister confessed that in her youth she had not
only taken a delight in decking out her vile body, forgetting that it
was only the worm that perishes; but, worse still, she had imperilled
her immortal soul by dancing on the green at feasts and club outings,
keeping it up on one occasion until midnight.

Such mild sins were not in themselves exciting, for plenty of people
were still doing such things and they could be observed at first hand;
but they were described with such a wealth of detail and with such
self-condemnation that the listener was for the moment persuaded that he
or she was gazing on the chief of sinners. One man, especially, claimed
that pre-eminence. 'I wer' the chief of sinners,' he would cry; 'a real
bad lot, a Devil's disciple. Cursing and swearing, drinking and
drabbing, there were nothing bad as I didn't do. Why, would you believe
it, in my sinful pride, I sinned against the Holy Ghost. Aye, that I
did,' and the awed silence would be broken by the groans and 'God have
mercy's of his hearers while he looked round to observe the effect of
his confession before relating how he 'came to the Lord'.

No doubt the second part of his discourse was more edifying than the
first, but the children never listened to it; they were too engrossed in
speculations as to the exact nature of his sin against the Holy Ghost,
and wondering if he were really as thoroughly saved as he thought
himself; for, after all, was not that sin unpardonable? He might yet
burn in hell. Terrible yet fascinating thought!

But the chief interest centred in the travelling preacher, especially if
he were a stranger who had not been there before. Would he preach the
Word, or would he be one of those who rambled on for an hour or more,
yet said nothing? Most of these men, who gave up their Sunday rest and
walked miles to preach at the village meeting houses, were farm
labourers or small shopkeepers. With a very few exceptions they were
poor, uneducated men. 'The blind leading the blind,' Laura's father said
of them. They may have been unenlightened in some respects, but some of
them had gifts no education could have given. There was something fine
about their discourses, as they raised their voices in rustic eloquence
and testified to the cleansing power of 'the Blood', forgetting
themselves and their own imperfections of speech in their ardour.

Others were less sincere, and some merely self-seeking _poseurs_ who
took to preaching as the only means of getting a little limelight shed
on their undistinguished lives. One such was a young shop assistant from
the market town, who came, stylishly dressed, with a bunch of violets in
his buttonhole, smoothing his well-oiled hair with his hand and shaking
clouds of scent from his large white handkerchief. He emphatically did
not preach the Word. His perfume and buttonhole and pseudo-cultured
accent so worked upon the brethren that, after he had gone, they for
once forgot their rule of no criticism and exclaimed: 'Did you ever see
such a la-de-da in all your draggings-up?'

Then there was the elderly man who chose for his text: 'I will sweep
them off the face of the earth with the besom of destruction', and
proceeded to take each word of his text as a heading. '_I_ will sweep
them off the face of the earth. I _will_ sweep them off the face of the
earth. I will _sweep_ them off the face of the earth', and so on. By the
time he had finished he had expounded the nature of God and justified
His ways to man to his own satisfaction; but he made such a sad mess of
it that the children's ears burned with shame for him.

Some managed to be sincere Christians and yet quicker of wit and lighter
of hand. The host keeping the door one night was greeted by the arriving
minister with 'I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God,'
and capped it with 'than dwell in the tents of the ungodly.'

Methodism, as known and practised there, was a poor people's religion,
simple and crude; but its adherents brought to it more fervour than was
shown by the church congregation, and appeared to obtain more comfort
and support from it than the church could give. Their lives were
exemplary.

Many in the hamlet who attended neither church nor chapel and said they
had no use for religion, guided their lives by the light of a few homely
precepts, such as 'Pay your way and fear nobody'; 'Right's right and
wrong's no man's right'; 'Tell the truth and shame the devil', and
'Honesty is the best policy'.

Strict honesty was the policy of most of them; although there were a few
who were said to 'find anything before 'tis lost' and to whom findings
were keepings. Children were taught to 'Know it's a sin to steal a pin',
and when they brought home some doubtful finding, saying they did not
think it belonged to anybody, their mothers would say severely, 'You
knowed it didn't belong to you, and what don't belong to you belongs to
somebody else. So go and put it back where you found it, before I gets
the stick to you.'

Liars were more detested than thieves. 'A liar did ought to have a good
memory,' they would say, or, more witheringly, 'You can lock up from a
thief, but you can't from a liar.' Any statement which departed in the
least degree from plain fact was a lie; any one who ate a plum from an
overhanging bough belonging to a neighbour's tree was a thief. It was a
stark code in which black was black and white was white; there were no
intermediate shades.

For the afflicted or bereaved there was ready sympathy. Had the custom
of sending wreaths to funerals been general then, as it is to-day, they
would certainly have subscribed their last halfpenny for the purpose.
But, at that time, the coffins of the country poor went flowerless to
the grave, and all they could do to mark their respect was to gather
outside the house of mourning and watch the clean-scrubbed farm wagon
which served as a hearse set out on its slow journey up the long,
straight road, with the mourners following on foot behind. At such times
the tears of the women spectators flowed freely, little children howled
aloud in sympathy, and any man who happened to be near broke into
extravagant praise of the departed. 'Never speak ill of the dead' was
one of their maxims and they carried it to excess.

In illness or trouble they were ready to help and to give, to the small
extent possible. Men who had been working all day would give up their
night's rest to sit up with the ill or dying, and women would carry big
bundles of bed-linen home to wash with their own.

They carried out St. Paul's injunction to weep with those who weep; but
when it came to rejoicing with those who rejoiced they were less ready.
There was nothing they disliked more than seeing one of their number
doing better or having more of anything than themselves. A mother whose
child was awarded a prize at school, or whose daughter was doing better
than ordinary in service, had to bear many pin-pricks of sarcasm, and if
a specially devoted young married couple was mentioned, some one was
bound to quote, 'My dear to-day'll be my devil to-morrow.' They were, in
fact, poor fallible human beings.

The Rector visited each cottage in turn, working his way conscientiously
round the hamlet from door to door, so that by the end of the year he
had called upon everybody. When he tapped with his gold-headed cane at a
cottage door there would come a sound of scuffling within, as unseemly
objects were hustled out of sight, for the whisper would have gone round
that he had been seen getting over the stile and his knock would have
been recognized.

The women received him with respectful tolerance. A chair was dusted
with an apron and the doing of housework or cooking was suspended while
his hostess, seated uncomfortably on the edge of one of her own chairs,
waited for him to open the conversation. When the weather had been
discussed, the health of the inmates and absent children inquired about,
and the progress of the pig and the prospect of the allotment crops,
there came an awkward pause, during which both racked their brains to
find something to talk about. There was nothing. The Rector never
mentioned religion. That was looked upon in the parish as one of his
chief virtues, but it limited the possible topics of conversation. Apart
from his autocratic ideas, he was a kindly man, and he had come to pay a
friendly call, hoping, no doubt, to get to know and to understand his
parishioners better. But the gulf between them was too wide; neither he
nor his hostess could bridge it. The kindly inquiries made and answered,
they had nothing more to say to each other, and, after much 'ah-ing' and
'er-ing', he would rise from his seat, and be shown out with alacrity.

His daughter visited the hamlet more frequently. Any fine afternoon she
might have been seen, gathering up her long, full skirts to mount the
stile and tripping daintily between the allotment plots. As a widowed
clergyman's only daughter, parochial visiting was, to her, a sacred
duty; but she did not come in any district-visiting spirit, to criticize
household management, or give unasked advice on the bringing up of
children; hers, like her father's, were intended to be friendly calls.
Considering her many kindnesses to the women, she might have been
expected to be more popular than she was. None of them welcomed her
visits. Some would lock their doors and pretend to be out; others would
rattle their teacups when they saw her coming, hoping she would say, as
she sometimes did, 'I hear you are at tea, so I won't come in.'

The only spoken complaint about her was that she talked too much. 'That
Miss Ellison; she'd fair talk a donkey's hind leg off,' they would say;
but that was a failing they tolerated in others, and one to which they
were not averse in her, once she was installed in their best chair and
some item of local gossip was being discussed.

Perhaps at the root of their unease in her presence was the subconscious
feeling of contrast between her lot and theirs. Her neat little figure,
well corseted in; her dear, high-pitched voice, good clothes, and faint
scent of lily-of-the-valley perfume put them, in their workaday garb and
all blowsed from their cooking or water-fetching, at a disadvantage.

She never suspected she was unwanted. On the contrary, she was most
careful to visit each cottage in rotation, lest jealousy should arise.
She would inquire about every member of the family in turn, listen to
extracts from letters of daughters in service, sympathize with those who
had tales of woe to tell, discuss everything that had happened since her
last visit, and insist upon nursing the baby the while, and only smile
good-naturedly when it wetted the front of her frock.

Her last visit of the day was always to the end house, where, over a cup
of tea, she would become quite confidential. She and Laura's mother were
'Miss Margaret' and 'Emma' to each other, for they had known each other
from birth, including the time when Emma was nurse to Miss Margaret's
young friends at the neighbouring rectory.

Laura, supposed to be deep in her book, but really all ears, learnt
that, surprisingly, Miss Ellison, the great Miss Ellison, had her
troubles. She had a brother, reputed 'wild' in the parish, whom her
father had forbidden the house, and much of their talk was about 'my
brother Robert', or 'Master Bobbie', and the length of time since his
last letter, and whether he had gone to Brazil, as he had said he
should, or whether he was still in London. 'What I feel, Emma, is that
he is such a boy, and you know what the world is--what perils----' Then
Emma's cheerful rejoinder: 'Don't you worry yourself, Miss Margaret. He
can look after himself all right, Master Bob can.'

Sometimes Emma would venture to admire something Miss Margaret was
wearing. 'Excuse me, Miss Margaret, but that mauve muslin really does
become you'; and Miss Ellison would look pleased. She had probably few
compliments, for one of her type was not likely to be admired in those
days of pink and white dollishness, although her clear, healthy pallor,
with only the faintest flush of pink, her broad white brow, grey eyes,
and dark hair waving back to the knot at her nape were at least
distinguished looking. And she could not at that time have been more
than thirty, although to Laura she seemed quite old, and the hamlet
women called her an old maid.

Such a life as hers must have been is almost unimaginable now. Between
playing the harmonium in church, teaching in Sunday school, ordering her
father's meals and overseeing the maids, she must have spent hours doing
needlework. Coarse, unattractive needlework, too, cross-over shawls and
flannel petticoats for the old women, flannel shirts and long, thick
knitted stockings for the old men, these, as well as the babies' print
frocks, were all made by her own hands. Excepting a fortnight's visit a
year to relatives, the only outing she was known to have was a weekly
drive to the market town, shopping, in her father's high, yellow-wheeled
dogcart, with the fat fox-terrier, Beppo, panting behind.

Half-way through the decade, the Rector began to feel the weight of his
seventy odd years, and a succession of curates came to share his work
and to provide new subjects of conversation for his parishioners.
Several appeared and vanished without leaving any definite impression,
beyond those of a new voice in church and an extraordinary bashfulness
before the hamlet housewives; but two or three stayed longer and became,
for a time, part of the life of the parish. There was Mr. Dallas, who
was said to be 'in a decline'. A pale, thin wraith of a man, who, in
foggy weather wore a respirator, which looked like a heavy black
moustache. Laura remembered him chiefly because when she was awarded the
prize for Scripture he congratulated her--the first time she was ever
congratulated upon anything in her life. On his next visit to her home
he asked to see the prize prayerbook, and when she brought it, said:
'The binding is calf--my favourite binding--but it is very susceptible
to damp. You must keep it in a room with a fire.' He was talking a
language foreign to the children, who knew nothing of bindings or
editions, a book to them being simply a book; but his expression and the
gentle caressing way in which he turned the pages, told Laura that he,
too, was a book-lover.

After he had left came Mr. Alport; a big, fat-faced young man, who had
been a medical student. He kept a small dispensary at his lodgings and
it was his delight to doctor any one who was ailing, both advice and
medicine being gratis. As usual, supply created demand. Before he came,
illness had been rare in the hamlet; now, suddenly, nearly every one had
something the matter with them. 'My pink pills', 'my little tablets',
'my mixture', and 'my lotion' became as common in conversation as
potatoes or pig's food. People asked each other how their So-and-So was
when they met, and, barely waiting for an answer, plunged into a
description of their own symptoms.

Mr. Alport complained to the children's father that the hamlet people
were ignorant, and some of them certainly were, on the subjects in which
he was enlightened. One woman particularly. On a visit to her house he
noticed that one of her children, a tall, thin, girl of eleven or twelve
was looking rather pale. 'She is growing too fast, I expect,' he
remarked. 'I must give her a tonic'; which he did. But she was not
allowed to take it. 'No, she ain't a goin' to take that stuff,' her
mother told the neighbours. 'He said she was growin' too tall, an' it's
summat to stunt her. I shan't let a child o' mine be stunted. Oh, no!'

When he left the place and the supply of physic failed, all the invalids
forgot their ailments. But he left one lasting memorial. Before his
coming, the road round the Rise in winter had been a quagmire. 'Mud up
to the hocks, and splashes up to the neck,' as they said. Mr. Alport,
after a few weeks' experience of mud-caked boots and mud-stained
trouser-ends, decided to do something. So, perhaps in imitation of
Ruskin's road-making at Oxford, he begged cartloads of stones from the
farmer and, assisted by the hamlet youths and boys, began, on light
evenings, to work with his own hands building a raised foot-path. Laura
always remembered him best breaking stones and shovelling mud in his
beautifully white shirt-sleeves and red braces, his clerical coat and
collar hung on a bush, his big, smooth face damp with perspiration and
his spectacles gleaming, as he urged on his fellow workers.

Neither of the curates mentioned ever spoke of religion out of church.
Mr. Dallas was far too shy, and Mr. Alport was too busy ministering to
peoples' bodies to have time to spare for their souls. Mr. Marley, who
came next, considered their souls his special care.

He was surely as strange a curate as ever came to a remote agricultural
parish. An old man with a long, grey beard which he buttoned inside his
long, close-fitting, black overcoat. Fervour and many fast days had worn
away his flesh, and he had hollow cheeks and deep-set, dark eyes which
glowed with the flame of fanaticism. He was a fanatic where his Church
and his creed were concerned; otherwise he was the kindest and most
gentle of men. Too good for this world, some of the women said when they
came to know him.

He was what is now known as an Anglo-Catholic. Sunday after Sunday he
preached 'One Catholic Apostolic Church' and 'our Holy Religion' to his
congregation of rustics. But he did not stop at that: he dealt often
with the underlying truths of religion, preaching the gospel of love and
forgiveness of sins and the brotherhood of man. He was a wonderful
preacher. No listener nooded or 'lost the thread' when he was in the
pulpit, and though most of his congregation might not be able to grasp
or agree with his doctrine, all responded to the love, sympathy, and
sincerity of the preacher and every eye was upon him from his first word
to his last. How such a preacher came to be in old age but a curate in a
remote country parish is a mystery. His eloquence and fervour would have
filled a city church.

The Rector by that time was bedridden, and a scholarly, easy-going,
middle-aged son was deputizing for him; otherwise Mr. Marley would have
had less freedom in the church and parish. When officiating, he openly
genuflected to the altar, made the sign of the cross before and after
his own silent devotions, made known his willingness to hear
confessions, and instituted daily services and weekly instead of monthly
Communion.

This in many parishes would have caused scandal; I but the Fordlow
people rather enjoyed the change, excepting the Methodists, who, quite
rightly according to their tenets, left off going to church, and a few
other extremists who said he was 'a Pope's man'. He even made a few
converts. Miss Ellison was one, and two others, oddly enough, were a
navvy and his wife who had recently settled near the hamlet. The latter
had formerly been a rowdy couple and it was strange to see them, all
cleaned up and dressed in their best on a week-day evening, quietly
crossing the allotments on their way to confession.

Of course, Laura's father said they were 'after what they could get out
of the poor old fool'. That couple almost certainly were not; but others
may have been, for he was a most generous man, who gave with both hands,
'_and_ running over', as the hamlet people said. Not only to the sick
and needy, although those were his first care, but to anybody he thought
wanted or wished for a thing or who would be pleased with it. He gave
the schoolboys two handsome footballs and the girls a skipping-rope
each--fine affairs with painted handles and little bells, such as they
had never seen in their lives before. When winter came he bought three
of the poorest girls warm, grey ulsters, such as were then fashionable,
to go to church in. When he found Edmund loved Scott's poems, but only
knew extracts from them, he bought him the _Complete Poetical Works_,
and, that Laura might not feel neglected, presented her at the same time
with _The Imitation of Christ_, daintily bound in blue and silver. These
were only a few of his known kindnesses; there were signs and rumours of
dozens of others, and no doubt many more were quite unknown except to
himself and the recipient.

He once gave the very shoes off his feet to a woman who had pleaded that
she could not go to church for want of a pair, and had added, meaningly,
that she took a large size and that a man's pair of light shoes would do
very well. He gave her the better of the two pairs he possessed, which
he happened to be wearing, stipulating that he should be allowed to walk
home in them. The wearing of them home was a concession to convention,
for he would have enjoyed walking barefoot over the flints as a follower
of his beloved St. Francis of Assisi, towards whom he had a special
devotion twenty years before the cult of the Little Poor Man became
popular. He gave away so much that he could only have kept just enough
to keep himself in bare necessaries. His black overcoat, which he wore
in all weathers, was threadbare, and the old cassock he wore indoors was
green and falling to pieces.

Laura's mother, whose religion was as plain and wholesome as the food
she cooked, had little sympathy with his 'bowings and crossings'; but
she was genuinely fond of the old man and persuaded him to look in for a
cup of tea whenever he visited the hamlet. Over this simple meal he
would tell the children about his own childhood. He had been the bad boy
of the nursery, he said, selfish and self-willed and given to fits of
passionate anger. Once he had hurled a plate at his sister (here the
children's mother frowned and shook her head at him and that story
trailed off lamely); but on another day he told them of his famous ride,
which ever after ranked with them beside Dick Turpin's.

The children of his family had a pony which they were supposed to ride
in turn; but, in time, he so monopolized it that it was known as his
Moppet, and once, when his elders had insisted that another brother
should ride that day, he had waited until the party had gone, then taken
his mother's riding horse out of the stable, mounted it with the help of
a stable boy who had believed him when he said he had permission to do
so, and gone careering across country, giving the horse its head, for he
had no control over it. They went like the wind, over rough grass and
under trees, where any low-hanging bough might have killed him, and, at
that point in the story, the teller leaned forward with such a flush on
his cheek and such a light in his eye that, for one moment, Laura could
almost see in the ageing man the boy he had once been. The ride ended in
broken knees for the horse and a broken crown for the rider. 'And a
mercy 'twas nothing worse,' the children's mother commented.

The moral of this story was the danger of selfish recklessness; but he
told it with such relish and so much fascinating detail that had the end
house children had access to anybody's stable they would have tried to
imitate him. Edmund suggested they should try to mount Polly, the
innkeeper's old pony, and they even went to the place where she was
pegged out to reconnoitre; but Polly had only to rattle her tethering
chain to convince them they were not cut out for Dick Turpins.

All was going well and Mr. Marley was talking of teaching Edmund Latin,
when, in an unfortunate moment, finding the children's father at home,
he taxed him with neglect of his religious duties. The father, who never
went to church at all and spoke of himself as an agnostic, resented this
and a quarrel arose, which ended in Mr. Marley being told never to
darken that door again. So there were no more of those pleasant teas and
talks, although he still remained a kind friend and would sometimes come
to the cottage door to speak to the mother, scrupulously remaining
outside on the doorstep. Then, in a few months, the Rector died, there
were changes, and Mr. Marley left the parish.

Five or six years afterwards, when Edmund and Laura were both out in the
world, their mother, sitting by her fire one gloomy winter afternoon,
heard a knock at her door and opened it to find Mr. Marley on her
doorstep. Ignoring the old quarrel, she brought him in and insisted upon
making tea for him. He was by that time very old and she thought he
looked very frail; but in spite of that he had walked many miles across
country from the parish where he was doing temporary duty. He sat by the
fire while she made toast and they talked of the absent two and of her
other children and of neighbours and friends. He stayed a long time,
partly because they had so much to say to each other and partly because
he was very tired and, as she thought, ill.

Presently the children's father came in from his work and there was a
strained moment which ended, to her great relief, in a polite handclasp.
The old feud was either forgotten or repented of.

The father could see at once that the old man was not in a fit state to
walk seven or eight miles at night in that weather and begged him not to
think of doing so. But what was to be done? They were far from a railway
station, even had there been a convenient train, and there was no
vehicle for hire within three miles. Then some one suggested that Master
Ashley's donkey-cart would be better than nothing, and the father
departed to borrow it. He brought it to the garden gate, for he had to
drive it himself, and this, surprisingly, he was ready to do although he
had just come in tired and damp from his work and had had no proper
meal.

With his knees wrapped round in an old fur coat that had once belonged
to the children's grandmother and a hot brick at his feet, the visitor
was about to say 'Farewell,' when the mother, Martha like, exclaimed:
'I'm sorry it's such a poor turn-out for a gentleman like you to ride
in.'

'Poor!' he exclaimed. 'I'm proud of it and shall always remember this
day. My Master rode through Jerusalem on one of these dear patient
beasts, you know!'

A fortnight afterwards she read in the local paper that the Rev. Alfred
Augustus Peregrine Marley, who was relieving the Vicar of Such-and-such
a parish, had collapsed and died at the altar while administering Holy
Communion.



     XV

         _Harvest Home_

If one of the women was accused of hoarding her best clothes instead of
wearing them, she would laugh and say: 'Ah! I be savin' they for high
days an' holidays an' bonfire nights.' If she had, they would have
lasted a long time, for there were very few holidays and scarcely any
which called for a special toilet.

Christmas Day passed very quietly. The men had a holiday from work and
the children from school and the churchgoers attended special Christmas
services. Mothers who had young children would buy them an orange each
and a handful of nuts; but, except at the end house and the inn, there
was no hanging up of stockings, and those who had no kind elder sister
or aunt in service to send them parcels got no Christmas presents.

Still, they did manage to make a little festival of it. Every year the
farmer killed an ox for the purpose and gave each of his men a joint of
beef, which duly appeared on the Christmas dinner-table together with
plum pudding--not Christmas pudding, but suet duff with a good
sprinkling of raisins. Ivy and other evergreens (it was not a holly
country) were hung from the ceiling and over the pictures; a bottle of
home-made wine was uncorked, a good fire was made up, and, with doors
and windows closed against the keen, wintry weather, they all settled
down by their own firesides for a kind of super-Sunday. There was little
visiting of neighbours and there were no family reunions, for the girls
in service could not be spared at that season, and the few boys who had
gone out in the world were mostly serving abroad in the Army.

There were still bands of mummers in some of the larger villages, and
village choirs went carol-singing about the country-side; but none of
these came to the hamlet, for they knew the collection to be expected
there would not make it worth their while. A few families, sitting by
their own firesides, would sing carols and songs; that, and more and
better food and a better fire than usual, made up their Christmas cheer.

The Sunday of the Feast was more exciting. Then strangers, as well as
friends, came from far and near to throng the houses and inn and to
promenade on the stretch of road which ran through the hamlet. On that
day the big ovens were heated and nearly every family managed to have a
joint of beef and a Yorkshire pudding for dinner. The men wore their
best suits, complete with collar and tie, and the women brought out
their treasured finery and wore it, for, even if no relatives from a
distance were expected, some one might be 'popping in', if not to
dinner, to tea or supper. Half a crown, at least, had been saved from
the harvest money for spending at the inn, and the jugs and beer-cans
went merrily round the Rise. 'Arter all, 'tis the Feast,' they said;
'an't only comes once a year,' and they enjoyed the extra food and drink
and the excitement of seeing so many people about, never dreaming that
they were celebrating the dedication five hundred years before of the
little old church in the mother village which so few of them attended.

Those of the Fordlow people who liked to see life had on that day to go
to Lark Rise, for, beyond the extra food, there was no celebration in
the mother village. Some time early in that century the scene of the
Feast had shifted from the site of the church to that of the only inn in
the parish.

At least a hundred people, friends and strangers, came from the market
town and surrounding villages; not that there was anything to do at Lark
Rise, or much to see; but because it was Fordlow Feast and a pleasant
walk with a drink at the end was a good way of spending a fine September
Sunday evening.

The Monday of the Feast--for it lasted two days--was kept by women and
children only, the men being at work. It was a great day for tea
parties; mothers and sisters and aunts and cousins coming in droves from
about the neighbourhood. The chief delicacy at these teas was 'baker's
cake', a rich, fruity, spicy dough cake, obtained in the following
manner. The housewife provided all the ingredients excepting the dough,
putting raisins and currants, lard, sugar, and spice in a basin which
she gave to the baker, who added the dough, made and baked the cake, and
returned it, beautifully browned in his big oven. The charge was the
same as that for a loaf of bread the same size, and the result was
delicious. 'There's only one fault wi' these 'ere baker's cakes,' the
women used to say; 'they won't keep!' And they would not; they were too
good and there were too many children about.

The women made their houses very clean and neat for Feast Monday, and,
with hollyhocks nodding in at the open windows and a sight of the clean,
yellow stubble of the cleared fields beyond, and the hum of friendly
talk and laughter within, the tea parties were very pleasant.

At the beginning of the 'eighties the outside world remembered Fordlow
Feast to the extent of sending one old woman with a gingerbread stall.
On it were gingerbread babies with currants for eyes, brown-and-white
striped peppermint humbugs, sticks of pink-and-white rock, and a few
boxes and bottles of other sweets. Even there, on that little old stall
with its canvas awning, the first sign of changing taste might have been
seen, for, one year, side by side with the gingerbread babies, stood a
box filled with thin, dark brown slabs packed in pink paper. 'What is
that brown sweet?' asked Laura, spelling out the word 'Chocolate'. A
visiting cousin, being fairly well educated and a great reader, already
knew it by name. 'Oh, that's chocolate,' he said off-handedly. 'But
don't buy any; it's for drinking. They have it for breakfast in France.'
A year or two later, chocolate was a favourite sweet even in a place as
remote as the hamlet; but it could no longer be bought from the
gingerbread stall, for the old woman no longer brought it to the Feast.
Perhaps she had died. Except for the tea-drinkings, Feast Monday had
died, too, as a holiday.

The younger hamlet people still went occasionally to feasts and club
walkings in other villages. In larger places these were like small
fairs, with roundabouts, swings, and coconut shies. At the club walkings
there were brass bands and processions of the club members, all wearing
their club colours in the shape of rosettes and wide sashes worn across
the breast. There was dancing on the green to the strains of the band,
and country people came from miles around to the village where the feast
or club walking was being held.

Palm Sunday, known locally as Fig Sunday, was a minor hamlet festival.
Sprays of soft gold and silver willow catkins, called 'palm' in that
part of the country, were brought indoors to decorate the houses and be
worn as buttonholes for church-going. The children at the end house
loved fetching in the palm and putting it in pots and vases and hanging
it over the picture frames. Better still, they loved the old custom of
eating figs on Palm Sunday. The week before, the innkeeper's wife would
get in a stock to be sold in pennyworths in her small grocery store.
Some of the more expert cooks among the women would use these to make
fig puddings for dinner and the children bought pennyworths and ate them
out of screws of blue sugar paper on their way to Sunday school.

The gathering of the palm branches must have been a survival from old
Catholic days, when, in many English churches, the willow served for
palm to be blessed on Palm Sunday. The original significance of eating
figs on that day had long been forgotten; but it was regarded as an
important duty, and children ordinarily selfish would give one of their
figs, or at least a bite out of one, to the few unfortunates who had
been given no penny.

No such mystery surrounded the making of a bonfire on November 5th.
Parents would tell inquiring children all about the Gunpowder Plot and
'that unked ole Guy Fawkes in his black mask', as though it had all
happened recently; and, the night before, the boys and youths of the
hamlet would go round knocking at all but the poorest doors and
chanting:


     Remember, remember, the fifth of November,
       The gunpowder treason and plot.
     A stick or a stake, for King James's sake
       Will you please to give us a faggot?
     If you won't give us one, we'll take two!
       The better for us and the worse for you.


The few housewives who possessed faggot stacks (cut from the undergrowth
of woods in the autumn and sold at one and sixpence a score) would give
them a bundle or two; others would give them hedge-trimmings, or a piece
of old line-post, or anything else that was handy, and, altogether, they
managed to collect enough wood to make a modest bonfire which they lit
on one of the open spaces and capered and shouted around and roasted
potatoes and chestnuts in the ashes, after the manner of boys
everywhere.

Harvest time was a natural holiday. 'A hemmed hard-worked 'un,' the men
would have said; but they all enjoyed the stir and excitement of getting
in the crops and their own importance as skilled and trusted workers,
with extra beer at the farmer's expense and extra harvest money to
follow.

The 'eighties brought a succession of hot summers and, day after day, as
harvest time approached, the children at the end house would wake to the
dewy, pearly pink of a fine summer dawn and the _swizzh, swizzh_ of the
early morning breeze rustling through the ripe corn beyond their
doorstep.

Then, very early one morning, the men would come out of their houses,
pulling on coats and lighting pipes as they hurried and calling to each
other with skyward glances: 'Think weather's a-gooin' to hold?' For
three weeks or more during harvest the hamlet was astir before dawn and
the homely odours of bacon frying, wood fires and tobacco smoke
overpowered the pure, damp, earthy scent of the fields. It would be
school holidays then and the children at the end house always wanted to
get up hours before their time. There were mushrooms in the meadows
around Fordlow and they were sometimes allowed to go picking them to fry
for their breakfast. More often they were not; for the dew-soaked grass
was bad for their boots. 'Six shillingsworth of good shoe-leather gone
for sixpen'orth of mushrooms!' their mother would cry despairingly. But
some years old boots had been kept for the purpose and they would dress
and creep silently downstairs, not to disturb the younger children, and
with hunks of bread and butter in their hands steal out into the dewy,
morning world.

Against the billowing gold of the fields the hedges stood dark, solid
and dew-sleeked; dewdrops beaded the gossamer webs, and the children's
feet left long, dark trails on the dewy turf. There were night scents of
wheat-straw and flowers and moist earth on the air and the sky was
fleeced with pink clouds.

For a few days or a week or a fortnight, the fields stood 'ripe unto
harvest'. It was the one perfect period in the hamlet year. The human
eye loves to rest upon wide expanses of pure colour: the moors in the
purple heyday of the heather, miles of green downland, and the sea when
it lies calm and blue and boundless, all delight it; but to some none of
these, lovely though they all are, can give the same satisfaction of
spirit as acres upon acres of golden corn. There is both beauty and
bread and the seeds of bread for future generations.

Awed, yet uplifted by the silence and clean-washed loveliness of the
dawn, the children would pass along the narrow field paths with rustling
wheat on each side. Or Laura would make little dashes into the corn for
poppies, or pull trails of the lesser bindweed with its pink-striped
trumpets, like clean cotton frocks, to trim her hat and girdle her
waist, while Edmund would stump on, red-faced with indignation at her
carelessness in making trails in the standing corn.

In the fields where the harvest had begun all was bustle and activity.
At that time the mechanical reaper with long, red, revolving arms like
windmill sails had already appeared in the locality; but it was looked
upon by the men as an auxiliary, a farmers' toy; the scythe still did
most of the work and they did not dream it would ever be superseded. So
while the red sails revolved in one field and the youth on the driver's
seat of the machine called cheerily to his horses and women followed
behind to bind the corn into sheaves, in the next field a band of men
would be whetting their scythes and mowing by hand as their fathers had
done before them.

With no idea that they were at the end of a long tradition, they still
kept up the old country custom of choosing as their leader the tallest
and most highly skilled man amongst them, who was then called 'King of
the Mowers'. For several harvests in the 'eighties they were led by the
man known as Boamer. He had served in the Army and was still a fine,
well-set-up young fellow with flashing white teeth and a skin darkened
by fiercer than English suns.

With a wreath of poppies and green bindweed trails around his wide,
rush-plaited hat, he led the band down the swathes as they mowed and
decreed when and for how long they should halt for 'a breather' and what
drinks should be had from the yellow stone jar they kept under the hedge
in a shady corner of the field. They did not rest often or long; for
every morning they set themselves to accomplish an amount of work in the
day that they knew would tax all their powers till long after sunset.
'Set yourself more than you can do and you'll do it' was one of their
maxims, and some of their feats in the harvest field astonished
themselves as well as the onlooker.

Old Monday, the bailiff, went riding from field to field on his
long-tailed, grey pony. Not at that season to criticize, but rather to
encourage, and to carry strung to his saddle the hooped and handled
miniature barrel of beer provided by the farmer.

One of the smaller fields was always reserved for any of the women who
cared to go reaping. Formerly all the able-bodied women not otherwise
occupied had gone as a matter of course; but, by the 'eighties, there
were only three or four, beside the regular field women, who could
handle the sickle. Often the Irish harvesters had to be called in to
finish the field.

Patrick, Dominick, James (never called Jim), Big Mike and Little Mike,
and Mr. O'Hara seemed to the children as much a part of the harvest
scene as the corn itself. They came over from Ireland every year to help
with the harvest and slept in the farmer's barn, doing their own cooking
and washing at a little fire in the open. They were a wild-looking lot,
dressed in odd clothes and speaking a brogue so thick that the natives
could only catch a word here and there. When not at work, they went
about in a band, talking loudly and usually all together, with the
purchases they had made at the inn bundled in blue-and-white check
handkerchiefs which they carried over their shoulders at the end of a
stick. 'Here comes they jabberin' old Irish,' the country people would
say, and some of the women pretended to be afraid of them. They could
not have been serious, for the Irishmen showed no disposition to harm
any one. All they desired was to earn as much money as possible to send
home to their wives, to have enough left for themselves to get drunk on
a Saturday night, and to be in time for Mass on a Sunday morning. All
these aims were fulfilled; for, as the other men confessed, they were
'gluttons for work' and more work meant more money at that season; there
was an excellent inn handy, and a Catholic church within three miles.

After the mowing and reaping and binding came the carrying, the busiest
time of all. Every man and boy put his best foot forward then, for, when
the corn was cut and dried it was imperative to get it stacked and
thatched before the weather broke. All day and far into the twilight the
yellow-and-blue painted farm wagons passed and repassed along the roads
between the field and the stack-yard. Big cart-horses returning with an
empty wagon were made to gallop like two-year-olds. Straws hung on the
roadside hedges and many a gatepost was knocked down through hasty
driving. In the fields men pitchforked the sheaves to the one who was
building the load on the wagon, and the air resounded with _Hold tights_
and _Wert ups_ and _Who-o-oas_. The _Hold tight!_ was no empty cry;
sometimes, in the past, the man on top of the load had not held tight or
not tight enough. There were tales of fathers and grandfathers whose
necks or backs had been broken by a fall from a load, and of other fatal
accidents afield, bad cuts from scythes, pitchforks passing through
feet, to be followed by lockjaw, and of sunstroke; but, happily, nothing
of this kind happened on that particular farm in the 'eighties.

At last, in the cool dusk of an August evening, the last load was
brought in, with a nest of merry boys' faces among the sheaves on the
top, and the men walking alongside with pitchforks on shoulders. As they
passed along the roads they shouted:


         Harvest home! Harvest home!
         Merry, merry, merry harvest home!


and women came to their cottage gates and waved, and the few passers-by
looked up and smiled their congratulations. The joy and pleasure of the
labourers in their task well done was pathetic, considering their very
small share in the gain. But it was genuine enough; for they still loved
the soil and rejoiced in their own work and skill in bringing forth the
fruits of the soil, and harvest home put the crown on their year's work.

As they approached the farm-house their song changed to:


   Harvest home! Harvest home!
   Merry, merry, merry harvest home!
   Our bottles are empty, our barrels won't run,
   And we think it's a very dry harvest home.


and the farmer came out, followed by his daughters and maids with jugs
and bottles and mugs, and drinks were handed round amidst general
congratulations. Then the farmer invited the men to his harvest home
dinner, to be held in a few days' time, and the adult workers dispersed
to add up their harvest money and to rest their weary bones. The boys
and youths, who could never have too much of a good thing, spent the
rest of the evening circling the hamlet and shouting 'Merry, merry,
merry harvest home!' until the stars came out and at last silence fell
upon the fat rickyard and the stripped fields.

On the morning of the harvest home dinner everybody prepared themselves
for a tremendous feast, some to the extent of going without breakfast,
that the appetite might not be impaired. And what a feast it was! Such a
bustling in the farm-house kitchen for days beforehand; such boiling of
hams and roasting of sirloins; such a stacking of plum puddings, made by
the Christmas recipe; such a tapping of eighteen-gallon casks and baking
of plum loaves would astonish those accustomed to the appetites of
to-day. By noon the whole parish had assembled, the workers and their
wives and children to feast and the sprinkling of the better-to-do to
help with the serving. The only ones absent were the aged bedridden and
their attendants, and to them, the next day, portions, carefully graded
in daintiness according to their social standing, were carried by the
children from the remnants of the feast. A plum pudding was considered a
delicate compliment to an equal of the farmer; slices of beef or ham
went to the 'better-most poor'; and a ham-bone with plenty of meat left
upon it or part of a pudding or a can of soup to the commonalty.

Long tables were laid out of doors in the shade of a barn, and soon
after twelve o'clock the cottagers sat down to the good cheer, with the
farmer carving at the principal table, his wife with her tea urn at
another, the daughters of the house and their friends circling the
tables with vegetable dishes and beer jugs, and the grandchildren, in
their stiff, white, embroidered frocks, dashing hither and thither to
see that everybody had what they required. As a background there was the
rickyard with its new yellow stacks and, over all, the mellow sunshine
of late summer.

Passers-by on the road stopped their gigs and high dog-carts to wave
greetings and shout congratulations on the weather. If a tramp looked
wistfully in, he was beckoned to a seat on the straw beneath a rick and
a full plate was placed on his knees. It was a picture of plenty and
goodwill.

It did not do to look beneath the surface. Laura's father, who did not
come into the picture, being a 'tradesman' and so not invited, used to
say that the farmer paid his men starvation wages all the year and
thought he made it up to them by giving that one good meal. The farmer
did not think so, because he did not think at all, and the men did not
think either on that day; they were too busy enjoying the food and the
fun.

After the dinner there were sports and games, then dancing in the home
paddock until twilight, and when, at the end of the day, the farmer,
carving indoors for the family supper, paused with knife poised to
listen to the last distant 'Hooray!' and exclaimed, 'A lot of good
chaps! A lot of good chaps, God bless 'em!' both he and the cheering men
were sincere, however mistaken.

But these modest festivals which had figured every year in everybody's
life for generations were eclipsed in 1887 by Queen Victoria's Golden
Jubilee.

Up to the middle of the 'eighties the hamlet had taken little interest
in the Royal House. The Queen and the Prince and Princess of Wales were
sometimes mentioned, but with little respect and no affection. 'The old
Queen', as she was called, was supposed to have shut herself up in
Balmoral Castle with a favourite servant named John Brown and to have
refused to open Parliament when Mr. Gladstone begged her to. The Prince
was said to be leading a gay life, and the dear, beautiful Princess,
afterwards Queen Alexandra, was celebrated only for her supposed
make-up.

By the middle of the decade a new spirit was abroad and had percolated
to the hamlet. The Queen, it appeared, had reigned fifty years. She had
been a good queen, a wonderful queen, she was soon to celebrate her
jubilee, and, still more exciting, they were going to celebrate it, too,
for there was going to be a big 'do' in which three villages would join
for tea and sports and dancing and fireworks in the park of a local
magnate. Nothing like it had ever been known before.

As the time drew nearer, the Queen and her jubilee became the chief
topic of conversation. The tradesmen gave lovely coloured portraits of
her in her crown and garter ribbon on their almanacks, most of which
were framed at home and hung up in the cottages. Jam could be bought in
glass jugs adorned with her profile in hobnails and inscribed '1837 to
1887. Victoria the Good', and, underneath, the national catchword of the
moment: 'Peace and Plenty.' The newspapers were full of the great
achievements of her reign: railway travel, the telegraph, Free Trade,
exports, progress, prosperity, Peace: all these blessings, it appeared,
were due to her inspiration.

Of most of these advantages the hamlet enjoyed but Esau's share; but, as
no one reflected upon this, it did not damp the general enthusiasm.
'Fancy her reigning fifty years, the old dear, her!' they said, and
bought paper banners inscribed 'Fifty Years, Mother, Wife, and Queen' to
put inside their window panes. 'God Bless Her. Victoria the Good. The
Mother of Her People.'

Laura was lucky enough to be given a bound volume of _Good Words_--or
was it _Home Words_?--in which the Queen's own journal, _Leaves From Her
Majesty's Life in the Highlands_, ran as a serial. She galloped through
all the instalments immediately to pick out the places mentioned by her
dear Sir Walter Scott. Afterwards the journal was re-read many times, as
everything was re-read in that home of few books. Laura liked the
journal, for although the Queen kept to the level of meals and drives
and seasickness and the 'civility' of her hosts and hostesses, and only
mentioned the scenery (Scott's scenery!) to repeat what 'Albert said'
about it--and he always compared it to some foreign scene--there was a
forthright sincerity about the writing which revealed a human being
behind all the glitter and fuss.

By the end of May everybody was talking about the weather. Would it be
fine for the great drive through London; and, still more important,
would it be fine for the doings in Skeldon Park? Of course it would be
fine, said the more optimistic. Providence knew what He was about. It
was going to be a glorious June. Queen's weather, they called it. Hadn't
the listener heard that the sun always shone when the Queen drove out?

Then there were rumours of a subscription fund. The women of England
were going to give the Queen a jubilee present, and, wonder of wonders,
the amount given was not to exceed one penny. 'Of course we shall give,'
they said proudly. 'It'll be our duty an' our pleasure.' And when the
time came for the collection to be made they had all of them their
pennies ready. Bright new ones in most cases, for, although they knew
the coins were to be converted into a piece of plate before reaching Her
Majesty, they felt that only new money was worthy of the occasion.

The ever-faithful, ever-useful clergyman's daughter collected the pence.
Thinking, perhaps, that the day after pay-day would be most convenient,
she visited Lark Rise on a Saturday, and Laura, at home from school, was
clipping the garden hedge when she heard one neighbour say to another:
'I want a bucket of water, but I can't run round to the well till Miss
Ellison's been for the penny.'

'Lordy, dear!' ejaculated the other. 'Why, she's been an' gone this
quarter of an hour. She's a-been to my place. Didn't she come to yourn?'

The first speaker flushed to the roots of her hair. She was a woman
whose husband had recently had an accident afield and was still in
hospital. There were no Insurance benefits then, and it was known she
was having a hard struggle to keep her home going; but she had her penny
ready and was hurt, terribly hurt, by the suspicion that she had been
purposely passed over.

'I s'pose, because I be down on me luck, she thinks I ain't worth a
penny,' she cried, and went in and banged the door.

'There's temper for you!' the other woman exclaimed to the world at
large and went about her own business. But Laura was distressed. She had
seen Mrs. Parker's expression and could imagine how her pride was hurt.
She, herself, hated to be pitied. But what could she do about it?

She went to the gate. Miss Ellison had finished collecting and was
crossing the allotments on her way home. Laura would just have time to
run the other way round and meet her at the stile. After a struggle with
her own inward shrinking which lasted about two minutes, but was
ridiculously intense, she ran off on her long, thin legs, and popped up,
like a little jack-in-the-box, on the other side of the stile which the
lady was gathering up her long frilly skirts to mount.

'Oh, please, Miss Ellison, you haven't been to Mrs. Parker's, and she's
got her penny all ready and she wants the Queen to have it so much.'

'But, Laura,' said the lady loftily, surprised at such interference, 'I
did not intend to call upon Mrs. Parker to-day. With her husband in
hospital, I know she has no penny to spare, poor soul.'

But, although somewhat quelled, Laura persisted: 'But she's got it all
polished up and wrapped in tissue paper, Miss Ellison, and 'twill hurt
her feelings most awful if you don't go for it, Miss Ellison.'

At that, Miss Ellison grasped the situation and retraced her steps,
keeping Laura by her side and talking to her as to another grown-up
person.

'Our dear Queen,' she was saying as they passed Twister's turnip patch,
'our dear, good Queen, Laura, is noted for her perfect tact. Once, and I
have this on good authority, some church workers were invited to visit
her at Osborne. Tea was served in a magnificent drawing-room, the Queen
actually partaking of a cup with them, and this, I am told, is very
unusual--a great honour, in fact; but no doubt she did it to put them at
their ease. But in her confusion, one poor lady, unaccustomed to taking
tea with royalty, had the misfortune to drop her slice of cake on the
floor. Imagine that, Laura, a slice of cake on the Queen's beautiful
carpet; you can understand how the poor lady must have felt, can't you
dear? One of the ladies-in-waiting smiled at her discomfiture, which
made her still more nervous and trembling; but our dear Queen--she has
sharp eyes, God bless her!--saw at once how matters stood. She asked for
a slice of cake, then purposely dropped it, and commanded the lady who
had smiled to pick up both pieces at once. Which she did quickly, you
may be sure, Laura, and there were no more smiles. What a lesson! What a
lesson, Laura!'

Cynical little Laura wondered for whom the lesson was intended; but she
only said meekly: 'Yes, indeed, Miss Ellison,' and this brought them to
Mrs. Parker's door, where she had the satisfaction of hearing Miss
Ellison say: 'Oh, dear, Mrs. Parker, I nearly overlooked your house. I
have come for your contribution to the Queen's jubilee present.'

The great day dawned at last and most of the hamlet people were up in
time to see the sun burst in dazzling splendour from the pearly pink
east and mount into a sky unflecked by the smallest cloud. Queen's
weather, indeed! Arid as the day began it continued. It was very hot;
but nobody minded that, for the best hats could be worn without fear of
showers, and those who had sunshades put by for just such an occasion
could bring them forth in all their glory of deep lace or long,
knotted, silk fringe.

By noon all the hamlet children had been scrubbed with soap and water
and arrayed in their best clothes. 'Every bit clean, right through to
the skin,' as their mothers proudly declared. Then, after a snack,
calculated to sustain the family during the walk to the park, but not to
spoil the appetite for tea, the mothers went upstairs to take out their
own curl papers and don their best clothes. A strong scent of camphor
and lavender and closely shut boxes pervaded the atmosphere around them
for the rest of the day. The colours and styles did not harmonize too
well with the midsummer country scene, and many might have preferred to
see them in print frocks and sunbonnets; but they dressed to please
themselves, not to please the artistic taste of others, and they were
all the happier for it.

Before they started there was much running from house to house and
asking: 'Now, _should_ you put on another bow just here!' or 'Do you
think that ostrich tip our young Em sent me'd improve my hat, or do you
think the red roses and black lace is enough?' or 'Now, tell me true, do
you like my hair done this way?'

The men and boys with shining faces and in Sunday suits had gone on
before to have dinner at the farm before meeting their families at the
cross-roads. They would be having cuts off great sirloins and Christmas
pudding washed down with beer, just as they did at the harvest home
dinner.

The little party from the end house walked alone in the straggling
procession; the mother, still rather pale from her recent confinement,
pushing the baby carriage with little May and baby Elizabeth; Laura and
Edmund, on tiptoe with excitement, helping to shove the carriage over
the rough turf of the park. Their father had not come. He did not care
for 'do's', and had gone to work at his bench at the shop alone while
his workmates held high holiday. There were as yet no trade union laws
to forbid such singularity.

There were more people in the park than the children had ever seen
together, and the roundabouts, swings, and coconut shies were doing a
roaring trade. Tea was partaken of in a huge marquee in relays, one
parish at a time, and the sound of the brass band, roundabout
hurdy-gurdy, coconut thwacks, and showmen's shouting surged round the
frail, canvas walls like a roaring sea.

Within, the mingled scents of hot tea, dough cake, tobacco smoke, and
trampled grass lent a holiday savour to a simple menu. But if the
provisions were simple in quality, the quantity was prodigious. Clothes
baskets of bread and butter and jam cut in thick slices and watering
cans of tea, already milked and sugared, were handed round and
disappeared in a twinkling. 'God bless my soul,' one old clergyman
exclaimed. 'Where on earth do they put it all!' They put three-fourths
of it in the same handy receptacle he himself used for his four-course
dinners; but the fourth part went into their pockets. That was their
little weakness--not to be satisfied with a bellyful, but to manage
somehow to secure a portion to take home for next day.

After tea there were sports, with races, high jumps, dipping heads into
tubs of water to retrieve sixpences with the teeth, grinning through
horse-collars, the prize going to the one making the most gtotesque
face, and, to crown all, climbing the greased pole for the prize leg of
mutton. This was a tough job, as the pole was as tall and slender as a
telephone post and extremely slippery. Prudent wives would not allow
their husbands to attempt it on account of spoiling their clothes, so
the competition was left to the ragamuffins and a few experts who had
had the foresight to bring with them a pair of old trousers. This
competition must have run concurrently with the other events, for all
the afternoon there was a crowd around it, and first one, then another,
would 'have a go'. It was painful to watch the climbers, shinning up a
few inches, then slipping back again, and, as one retired, another
taking his place, until, late in the afternoon, the champion arrived,
climbed slowly but steadily to the top and threw down the joint, which,
by the way, must have been already roasted after four or five hours in
the burning sun. It was whispered around that he had carried a bag of
ashes and sprinkled them on the greasy surface as he ascended.

The local gentlepeople promenaded the ground in parties: stout,
red-faced squires, raising their straw hats to mop their foreheads;
hunting ladies, incongruously garbed in silks and ostrich-feather boas;
young girls in embroidered white muslin and boys in Eton suits. They had
kind words for everybody, especially for the poor and lonely, and, from
time to time, they would pause before some sight and try to enter into
the spirit of the other beholders; but everywhere their arrival hushed
the mirth, and there was a sigh of relief when they moved on. After
dancing the first dance they disappeared, and 'now we can have some
fun', the people said.

All this time Edmund and Laura, with about two hundred other children,
had been let loose in the crowd to spend their pennies and watch the
fun. They rode on the wooden horses, swung in the swing-boats, pried
around coconut shies and shooting booths munching coconut or rock or
long strips of black liquorice, until their hands were sticky and their
faces grimed.

Laura, who hated crowds and noise, was soon tired of it and looked
longingly at the shady trees and woods and spinneys around the big open
space where the fair was held. But before she escaped a new and
wonderful experience awaited her. Before one of the booths a man was
beating a drum and before him two girls were posturing and pirouetting.
'Walk up! Walk up!' he was shouting. 'Walk up and see the tightrope
dancing! Only one penny admission. Walk up! Walk up!' Laura paid her
penny and walked up, as did about a dozen others, the man and girls came
inside, the flap of the tent was drawn, and the show began.

Laura had never heard of tightrope dancing before and she was not sure
she was not dreaming it then. The outer tumult beat against the frail
walls of the tent, but within was a magic circle of quiet. As she
crossed to take her place with the other spectators, her feet sank deep
into sawdust; and, in the subdued light which filtered through the
canvas, the broad, white, pock-marked face of the man in his faded red
satin and the tinsel crowns and tights of the girls seemed as unreal as
a dream.

The girl who did the tightrope dancing was a fair, delicate-looking
child with grey eyes and fat, pale-brown ringlets, a great contrast to
her dark, bouncing gipsy-looking sister, and when she mounted to the
rope stretched between two poles and did a few dance steps as she swayed
gracefully along it, Laura gazed and gazed, speechless with admiration.
To the simple country-bred child the performance was marvellous. It came
to an end all too soon for her; for not much could be done to entertain
a house which only brought a shilling or so to the box office; but the
impression remained with her as a glimpse into a new and fascinating
world. There were few five-barred gates in the vicinity of Laura's home
on which she did not attempt a little pirouetting along the top bar
during the next year or two.

The tightrope dancing was her outstanding memory of the great Queen's
Jubilee; but the merrymaking went on for hours after that. All the way
home in the twilight, the end house party could hear the popping of
fireworks behind them and, turning, see rockets and showers of golden
rain above the dark tree-tops. At last, standing at their own garden
gate, they heard the roaring of cheers from hundreds of throats and the
band playing 'God save the Queen'.

They were first home and the hamlet was in darkness, but the twilight
was luminous over the fields and the sky right round to the north was
still faintly pink. A cat rubbed itself against their legs and mewed;
the pig in the sty woke and grunted a protest against the long day's
neglect. A light breeze rustled through the green corn and shivered the
garden bushes, releasing the scent of stocks and roses and sunbaked
grass and the grosser smells of cabbage beds and pigsties. It had been a
great day--the greatest day they were ever likely to see, however long
they lived, they were told; but it was over and they were home and home
was best.

After the jubilee nothing ever seemed quite the same. The old Rector
died and the farmer, who had seemed immovable excepting by death, had to
retire to make way for the heir of the landowning nobleman who intended
to farm the family estates himself. He brought with him the new
self-binding reaping machine and women were no longer required in the
harvest field. At the hamlet several new brides took possession of
houses previously occupied by elderly people and brought new ideas into
the place. The last of the bustles disappeared and leg-o'-mutton sleeves
were 'all the go'. The new Rector's wife took her Mothers' Meeting women
for a trip to London. Babies were christened new names; Wanda was one,
Gwendolin another. The innkeeper's wife got in cases of tinned salmon
and Australian rabbit. The Sanitary Inspector appeared for the first
time at the hamlet and shook his head over the pigsties and privies.
Wages rose, prices soared, and new needs multiplied. People began to
speak of 'before the jubilee' much as we in the nineteen-twenties spoke
of 'before the war', either as a golden time or as one of exploded
ideas, according to the age of the speaker.

And all the time boys were being born or growing up in the parish,
expecting to follow the plough all their lives, or, at most, to do a
little mild soldiering or go to work in a town. Gallipoli? Kut? Vimy
Ridge? Ypres? What did they know of such places? But they were to know
them, and when the time came they did not flinch. Eleven out of that
tiny community never came back again. A brass plate on the wall of the
church immediately over the old end house seat is engraved with their
names. A double column, five names long, then, last and alone, the name
of Edmund.





       OVER TO CANDLEFORD



    XVI

         _As They Were_

'Come the summer, we'll borrow old Polly and the spring cart from the
"Wagon and Horses" and all go over to Candleford', their father said,
for the ten-millionth time, thought Laura. Although he had said it so
often they had never been. They had not been anywhere farther than the
market town for the Saturday shopping.

Once, when some one asked them how long they had lived in their cottage,
Laura had replied, 'Oh, for years and years,' and Edmund had said
'Always'; but his always was only five years and her years and years
were barely seven. That was why, when their mother told them that the
greatest mistake in life is to be born poor, they did not realize that
they themselves had made that initial blunder. They were too young and
had no means of comparison.

Their home was one of a group of small cottages surrounded by fields,
three miles from the nearest small town and fifty from a city. All
around was rich, flat farming country, which, at the end of a lifetime,
remained obstinately in the memory as stretch after stretch of
brown-ribbed ploughland patterned with quickset hedges and hedgerow
elms. That picture was permanent; others could be called up at will, of
acres of young green wheat swept by chasing cloud-shadows; of the gold
of harvest fields, or the billowing whiteness of snow upon which the
spoor of hares and foxes could be traced from hedgerow to hedgerow.

On a slight rise in the midst of this brown or green or whiteness stood
the hamlet, a huddle of grey stone walls and pale slated roofs with only
the bushiness of a fruit-tree or the dark line of a yew hedge to relieve
its colourlessness. To a passer-by on the main road a mile away it must
often have appeared a lone and desolate place; but it had a warmth of
its own, and a closer observer would have found it as seething with
interest and activity as a molehill.

All the cottages in the group were occupied by poor families. Some,
through old age, or the possession of a larger family than ordinary, had
a little less, and two or three in more favourable circumstances had a
little more comfort than their neighbours, but in every house money was
scarce.

If any one wanted to borrow, they knew better than to ask for more than
sixpence, and if the expression with which their request was received
was discouraging they would add hurriedly: 'If you can't manage it, I
think tuppence'd see me through.' The children were given halfpennies or
even farthings to spend on sweets when the travelling grocer's van
called. For even the smaller sum they got enough hardbake or peppermint
rock to distend their cheeks for hours. It took the parents months to
save up to buy a young pig for the sty or a few score of faggots for the
winter. Apart from the prudent, who had these small hoards, people were
penniless for days towards the end of the week.

But, as they were fond of saying, money isn't everything. Poor as they
were, every one of the small cottages, so much alike when seen from the
outside, had for its inmates the unique distinction of being 'our place'
or 'ho-um'. After working in the pure cold air of the fields all day,
the men found it comforting to be met by, and wrapped round in, an
atmosphere of chimney-smoke and bacon and cabbage-cooking; to sink into
'feyther's chair' by the hearth, draw off heavy, mud-caked boots, take
the latest baby on their knee and sip strong, sweet tea while 'our Mum'
dished up the tea-supper.

The elder children were either at school all day or lived out of doors
in fine weather; but, as their mothers said, they knew which house to go
to when they felt hungry, and towards dusk they made for their supper
and bed like homing pigeons, or rabbits scurrying to their burrow.

To the women, home was home in a special sense, for nine-tenths of their
lives were spent indoors. There they washed and cooked and cleaned and
mended for their teeming families; there they enjoyed their precious
half-hour's peace with a cup of tea before the fire in the afternoon,
and there they bore their troubles as best they could and cherished
their few joys. At times when things did not press too heavily upon them
they found pleasure in re-arranging their few poor articles of
furniture, in re-papering the walls and making quilts and cushions of
scraps of old cloth to adorn their dwelling and add to its comfort, and
few were so poor that they had not some treasure to exhibit, some
article that had been in the family since 'I dunno when', or had been
bought at a sale of furniture at such-and-such a great house, or had
been given them when in service.

Such treasures in time gained a reputation of fabulous value. Bill's
grandfather had refused an offer of twenty pounds for that corner
cupboard, or grandfather's clock, said one; another that a mysterious
gentleman had once told her that the immense rubies and emeralds which
studded a shabby old metal photograph frame were real stones. She was
always saying that she would take it to a jeweller at Sherton and get it
valued, 'come Fair time', but she never did. Like the rest of us, she
knew better than to put her favourite illusion to the test.

None of the listeners cast doubt upon the value of such treasures. It
would not have been 'manners', and, besides, nearly everybody had got
some article with a similar legend. At home, the children's father
laughed and said that as none of the Braby family had ever had more than
twenty shillings at one time in their lives an offer of twenty pounds
would soon have been snapped at; and as to Mrs. Gaskin's rubies and
emeralds, anybody with half an eye could see that they came from the
same mine as the stuff used to make penny tumblers.

'What's the odds, if thinking so makes them happy?' asked his wife.

They were a hardworking, self-reliant, passably honest people.
'Providence helps them as has got the sense to look out for theirselves'
was a motto often quoted. They had not much original wit, but had
inherited a stock of cheerful sayings which passed as such. A neighbour
called in to help move a heavy piece of furniture would arrive spitting
on his palms and saying, 'Here I be, ready an' willin' to do as much for
half a crown as I 'ud for a shillin'.' Which mild joke, besides the
jumbled arithmetic, had the added point of the fantastic sum suggested
as a reward. A glass of beer, or the price of one, was the current
payment for that and some more considerable services.

One who had helped a neighbour to solve some knotty problem would quote
the old proverb: 'Two heads be better n'r one,' and the other would
retort, 'That's why fools get married,' or, if materially minded, 'Aye,
specially if 'um be sheep's heads.' A proverb always had to be capped.
No one could say, 'There's more ways of killing a dog than hanging it'
without being reminded, 'nor of choking it with a pound of fresh
butter', and any reference to money as the root of all evil would be
followed by, 'Same time, I 'udn't say no to anybody as offered me a slip
off that root.'

The discussion of their own and their neighbours' affairs took the place
occupied by books and films in the modern outlook. Nothing of outside
importance ever happened there and their lives were as unlike as
possible the modern conception of country life, for Lark Rise was
neither a little hotbed of vice nor a garden of all the Arcadian
virtues. But the lives of all human beings, however narrow, have room
for complications for themselves and entertainment for the onlooker, and
many a satisfying little drama was played out on that ten-foot stage.

In their daily life they had none of the conveniences now looked upon as
necessities: no water nearer than the communal well, no sanitation
beyond the garden closet, and no light but candles and paraffin lamps.
It was a hard life, but the hamlet folks did not pity themselves. They
kept their pity for those they thought really poor.

The children brought home from the Sunday School Lending Library books
about the London slums which their mothers also read. This was then a
favourite subject with writers of that class of fiction; their object
apparently being not so much to arouse indignation at the terrible
conditions as to provide a striking background for some ministering lady
or child. Many tears were shed in the hamlet over _Christie's Old Organ_
and _Froggy's Little Brother_, and everybody wished they could have
brought those poor neglected slum children there and shared with them
the best they had of everything. 'Poor little mite. If we could have got
him here, he could have slept with our young Sammy and this air'd have
set him up in no time,' one woman said of Froggy's poor dying little
brother, forgetting that he was, as she would have said at another time,
'just somebody in a book'.

But, saddening as it was to read about the poor things, it was also
enjoyable, for it gave one a cheering sense of superiority. Thank God,
the reader had a whole house to herself with an upstairs and downstairs
and did not have to 'pig it' in one room; and real beds, and clean ones,
not bundles of rags in corners, to sleep on.

To them, as to the two children learning to live among them, the hamlet
life was the normal life. On one side of that norm were the real poor,
living in slums, and, on the other, 'the gentry'. They recognized no
other division of classes; although, of course, they knew there were a
few 'bettermost people' between. The visiting clergyman and that kind
friend of them all, the doctor in the market town, had more money and
better houses than theirs, and though they were both 'gentlemen born'
they did not belong to the aristocracy inhabiting the great country
houses or visiting the hunting boxes around. But these were,
indulgently, 'th' ole parson', and, affectionately, 'our doctor'; they
were not thought of as belonging to any particular class of society.

The gentry flitted across the scene like kingfishers crossing a flock of
hedgerow sparrows. They saw them sweeping through the hamlet in their
carriages, the ladies billowing in silks and satins, with tiny
chenille-fringed parasols held at an angle to protect their complexions.
Or riding to hounds in winter, the men in immaculate pink, the women
sitting their side-saddles with hour-glass figures encased in skin-tight
black habits. '_Looks for all the world as if she'd been melted and
poured into it, now don't she?_' On raw, misty mornings they would trot
their horses through on their way to the Meet, calling to each other in
high-pitched voices it was fun to imitate.

Later in the day they would often be seen galloping full-stretch over
the fields and then the men at work there would drop their tools and
climb on the five-barred gates for a better view, or stop their teams
and straighten their backs at the plough-tail to cup their hands to
their mouths and shout: 'Tally-ho: A-gallop, a-gallop, a-lye, a-lye,
Tally-ho.'

When the carriages passed through, many of the women would set down the
buckets they were carrying and curtsy, and the boys would pull their
forelocks and the girls bob their knees, as they had been taught to do
at school. This was an awkward moment for Laura, because her father had
said, while he had no objection to Edmund saluting any lady--though he
hoped, for heaven's sake, he would not do it by pulling his own hair,
like pulling a bell-rope--he was determined that no daughter of his
should bow the knee, excepting at 'The Name' in church or to Queen
Victoria, if ever she happened to pass that way. Their mother laughed.
'When at Rome do as the Romans do,' she said.

'This is not Rome,' their father retorted. 'It's Lark Rise--the spot God
made with the left-overs when He'd finished creating the rest of the
earth.'

At that their mother tossed her head and clicked her tongue against the
roof of her mouth. She had, as she said, no patience with some of his
ideas.

Apart from the occasional carriages and the carrier's cart twice a week,
there was little traffic on that road beyond the baker's van and the
farm carts and wagons. Sometimes a woman from a neighbouring village or
hamlet would pass through on foot, shopping basket on arm, on her way to
the market town. It was thought nothing of then to walk six or seven
miles to purchase a reel of cotton or a packet of tea, or sixpen'orth of
pieces from the butcher to make a meat pudding for Sunday. Excepting the
carrier's cart, which only came on certain days, there was no other way
of travelling. It was thought quite dashing to ride with Old Jimmy, but
frightfully extravagant, for the fare was sixpence. Most people
preferred to go on foot and keep the sixpence to spend when they got
there.

But, although it was not yet realized, the revolution in transport had
begun. The first high 'penny-farthing' bicycles were already on the
roads, darting and swerving like swallows heralding the summer of the
buses and cars and motor cycles which were soon to transform country
life. But how fast those new bicycles travelled and how dangerous they
looked! Pedestrians backed almost into the hedges when they met one of
them, for was there not almost every week in the Sunday newspaper the
story of some one being knocked down and killed by a bicycle, and
letters from readers saying cyclists ought not to be allowed to use the
roads, which, as everybody knew, were provided for people to walk on or
to drive on behind horses. 'Bicyclists ought to have roads to
themselves, like railway trains' was the general opinion.

Yet it was thrilling to see a man hurtling through space on one high
wheel, with another tiny wheel wobbling helplessly behind. You wondered
how they managed to keep their balance. No wonder they wore an anxious
air. 'Bicyclist's face', the expression was called, and the newspapers
foretold a hunchbacked and tortured-faced future generation as a result
of the pastime.

Cycling was looked upon as a passing craze and the cyclists in their
tight navy knickerbocker suits and pillbox caps with the badge of their
club in front were regarded as figures of fun. None of those in the
hamlet who rushed out to their gates to see one pass, half hoping for
and half fearing a spill, would have believed, if they had been told,
that in a few years there would be at least one bicycle in every one of
their houses, that the men would ride to work on them and the younger
women, when their housework was done, would lightly mount 'the old bike'
and pedal away to the market town to see the shops. They would have been
still more incredulous had they been told that many of them would live
to see every child of school age in the hamlet provided by a kind County
Council with a bicycle on which they would ride to school, 'all free,
gratis, and for nothing', as they would have said.

In the outer world men were running up tall factory chimneys and
covering the green fields for miles with rows of mean little houses to
house the workers. Towns which were already towns were throwing out
roads and roads of suburban villas. New churches and chapels and railway
stations and schools and public houses were being built to meet the
needs of a fast-growing population. But the hamlet people saw none of
these changes. They were far from the industrial districts and their
surroundings remained as they had been from the time of their birth. No
cottage had been added to the little group in the fields for many years,
and, as it turned out, none were to be added for at least a half
century; perhaps never, for the hamlet stands to-day unchanged in its
outward appearance.

Queen Victoria was on the throne. She had been well established there
before either of Laura's parents were born, and it seemed to her and her
brother that she had always been Queen and always would be. But plenty
of elderly people could remember her Coronation and could tell them what
church bells had pealed all day in the different villages and what oxen
had been roasted whole and what bonfires had been lighted at night.

'Our little English rose', the Rector said had then been her subjects'
name for her, and Laura often thought of that when she studied the
portrait which hung, framed and glazed, in the place of honour in many
of the cottages. It was that of a stout, middle-aged, rather
cross-looking lady with a bright blue Garter ribbon across her breast
and a crown on her head so tiny that it made her face look large.

'How does she keep it on?' asked Laura, for it looked as if the
slightest movement would send it toppling.

'Don't you worry about that,' said her mother comfortably, 'she'll
manage to keep that on for a good many more years, you'll see'; and she
did, for another twenty.

To the country at large, the Queen was no longer 'Our little English
rose'. She had become 'The Queen-Empress' or 'Victoria the Good, the
mother of her people'. To the hamlet she was 'th' old Queen', or,
sometimes 'th' poor old Queen', for was she not a widow? And it was said
she was having none too easy a time with that son of hers, either. But
they all agreed she was a good Queen, and when asked why, would reply,
'Because she's brought the price of the quartern loaf down' or 'Well, we
have got peace under her, haven't we?'

Peace? Of course there was peace. War was something you read about in
books, something rather exciting, if only the poor soldiers had not had
to be killed, but all long ago and far away, something that could not
possibly happen in our time.

But there had been a war not so very long ago, their father told them.
He himself had been born on the day of the Battle of Alma. We had been
fighting the Russians then, a hard and cruel lot who had thought might
was right, but had found themselves mistaken. They couldn't make slaves
of a free people.

Then there was the old man who came round every few months playing a
penny whistle and begging. He was known as 'One-eyed Peg-leg' because he
had lost an eye and part of a leg fighting before Sevastopol. His
trouser leg was cut short at the knee, which was supported by what was
then called a 'wooden leg', although it did not resemble a human leg
very closely, being but a plain wooden stump, tapering slightly at the
bottom, where it was finished off by a ferrule. 'Dot and carry one',
they called the sound he made when walking.

Laura once heard old Peg-leg telling a neighbour about the loss of his
living member. After a hit with a cannon-ball he had lain for
twenty-four hours unattended on the battlefield. Then a surgeon had come
and, without more ado, had sawn off the shattered portion. 'And didn't I
just holler,' he said; ''specially when he dipped the stump into a bucket
of boiling tar. That was afore th' nusses come.'

Before the nurses came. Laura knew what that meant, for there was a
picture of Florence Nightingale in a book she had and her mother had
read to her about 'the Lady with the Lamp', whose shadow was kissed by
the wounded.

But these rumours of the war in the Crimea did not seem to the children
to bring it any nearer to their own lifetime, and when, later, they read
in their old-fashioned story books of families of good children helping
their mothers to knit and roll bandages for the soldiers in Russia, it
still seemed as unreal as any fairy tale.

The soldiers who had their homes in the hamlet were not looked upon as
fighting men, but as young adventurers who had enlisted as the only way
of seeing the world before they settled down to marriage and the
plough-tail. Judging from their letters, often read aloud to groups at
cottage doors, the only enemies they had to face were sand-storms,
mosquitoes, heat stroke, or ague.

The children's Uncle Edmund's trials were of a different nature, because
he was in Nova Scotia, where noses got frozen. But he, of course, was in
the Royal Engineers, as all the soldiers on their father's side of the
family were, for had they not got a trade in their hands? The family was
a bit snobbish about this. In those simple days a man whose parents had
apprenticed him to a trade was looked upon as established for life. 'Put
a trade in his hands and he'll always be sure of a good living,' people
would say of a promising boy. They had yet to learn the full meaning of
such words as 'depression' and 'unemployment'. So it was always the
_Royal_ Engineers, even with the mother at the end house. Her own family
favoured the Field Artillery, which, to be sure, was Royal, too,
although this was not insisted upon.

Both Engineers and Artillery looked down a little on the county
regiment, and that, in its turn, looked down on the Militia. No doubt
the Militiamen had their standards, too; probably they looked down upon
the unenterprising youths left at home, 'chaps as hadn't the sprawl to
go a-soldiering'. Those who timidly ventured to join the Militia seldom
remained in it long. Almost always, before their first season's training
was over, they wrote to their parents to say that they found soldiering
such a fine life they had decided to transfer to 'the Regulars'. Then
they came home on furlough in their scarlet tunics and pill-box caps and
strolled around the hamlet twirling their canes and caressing their new
moustaches before disappearing overseas to India or Egypt. For those
left at home there was little excitement. Christmas, the Harvest Home
and the Village Feast were the only holidays. No cinemas, no wireless,
no excursions or motor coaches or dances in village halls in those days!
A few of the youths and younger men played cricket in the summer. One
young man was considered a good bowler locally and he would sometimes
get up a team to play one of the neighbouring villages. This once led to
a curious little conversation on his doorstep. A lady had alighted from
her carriage to ask or, rather, command him to get up a team to play
'the young gentlemen', meaning her sons, on holidays from school, and a
few of their friends. Naturally, Frank wanted to know the strength of
the team he was to be up against. 'You'd want me to bring a good team, I
suppose, ma'am?' he asked respectfully.

'Well, yes,' said the lady. 'The young gentlemen would enjoy a good
game. But don't bring too good a team. They wouldn't want to be beaten.'

'That's what she calls cricket,' said Frank, grinning broadly at her
retreating figure.

This country scene is only a little over fifty years distant from us in
time; but in manners, customs and conditions of life, it is centuries
away. Except that slates were superseding thatch for roofing and the old
open hearth was giving place to the built-in grate, the cottages were as
the dwellings of the poor had been for generations. The people still ate
the old country fare, preferring it, so far, to such of the new
factory-made products as had come their way. The smock frock was still
worn by the older men, who declared that one well-made smock would
outlast twenty of the new machine-made suits the younger men were
buying. The smock, with its elaborately stitched yoke and snow-white
home laundering, was certainly more artistic than the coarse,
badly-fitting 'reach-me-downs', as they were sometimes called.

The women were more fashion-minded than the men, but their efforts to
keep up-to-date were confined to the 'Sunday best' which they seldom
took from their boxes upstairs. For everyday wear, they contented
themselves with a large, well-ironed white apron to cover their patches
and darns. To go to the well, or from house to house in the hamlet, they
threw a plaid woollen shawl over their shoulders, or, in bad weather,
drew it up to cover their heads. Then, with a strong pair of pattens
under their feet, they were ready for anything.

They were still much as their forefathers had been; but change was
creeping in, if slowly. A weekly newspaper came into every house, either
by purchase or borrowing, and although these were still written by
educated men for the educated, and our hamlet intellects had sometimes
to reach up a little for their ideas, ideas were slowly percolating.

Having to reach up for ideas came naturally to a generation brought up
on the Bible. Their fathers had looked upon 'the Word' as their one
unfailing guide in life's difficulties. It was their story book, their
treasury of words and sayings, and, for those who could appreciate it,
their one book of poetry. Many of the older people still believed every
word in the Bible to be literally true. Others were not so sure; that
tale of Jonah and the whale, for instance, took a good deal of
swallowing. But the newspaper everybody believed in. 'I seed it in the
paper, so it must be true' was a saying calculated to clinch any
argument.



    XVII

        _A Hamlet Home_

Laura arrived on this scene on a cold December morning when snow lay in
deep drifts over the fields and blocked the roads. There were no
fireplaces in cottage bedrooms such as her mother's was, and the relays
of hot bricks, baked in the oven and swathed in flannel, lost their
warmth coming upstairs. 'Oh, we were so cold, so cold,' her mother would
say when telling the story, and Laura liked that 'we'. It showed that
even a tiny baby who had never been outside the room in which she was
born was already a person.

Her parents' life was not quite so hard as that of most of their
neighbours, for her father was a stonemason and earned more money than
the farm-workers, although in the eighteen-eighties a skilled craftsman,
such as he was, received little more in wages than to-day's unemployment
pay.

He was not a native of those parts, but had been brought there a few
years earlier by a firm of builders engaged in the restoration of some
of the churches of the countryside. He was an expert workman and loved
his craft. It was said that he would copy some crumbling detail of
carving and fit it in in such a way that the original carver could not
have detected the substitution. He did carving at home, too, in the
little workshop he had built at the side of their cottage. A few of his
attempts stood about as ornaments in the house, a lion, lilies of the
valley growing at the base of a tree trunk, and a baby's head, perhaps
Edmund's or Laura's. Whether these were well done or not Laura never
knew, for before she was old enough to discriminate they had become
grimy and been swept off to the rubbish heap; but it pleased her to know
that he had at least the impulse to create and the skill to execute,
however imperfectly.

By the time the restoration work was finished he had married and had two
children and, though he never cared for the hamlet or became one with
the little community there, as his wife and children did, he stayed
behind when his workmates left and settled down to work as an ordinary
stonemason.

There was still a good deal of building in stone going on in that part
of the country. One country house had been burnt down and had to be
rebuilt; another had a new wing added, and, afterwards, he would make a
tombstone, build a cottage or wall, set a grate, or lay a few bricks as
required. Workmen were expected to turn their hands to anything within
the limits of their trade, and he who could do most was considered the
better workman. The day of the specialist was in the future. Each
workman must keep to his trade, however. Laura remembered that once,
when frost prevented him from working, he happened to say to her mother
that the carpenters had plenty to do, and when her mother, knowing that
he had been through all the shops, as was the custom with builders' sons
at that time, asked why he could not ask to be allowed to do some
carpentering, he laughed and said: 'The carpenters would have something
to say about that! They would say I was poaching, and tell me to keep to
my own trade.'

For thirty-five years he was employed by a firm of builders in the
market town, walking the three miles, night and morning, at first;
cycling later. His hours were from six in the morning to five in the
afternoon, and to reach his work in time he had for the greater part of
the year to leave home before daylight.

As Laura first remembered him he was a slim, upright young man in the
late twenties, with dark, fiery eyes and raven-black hair, but fair,
fresh-coloured complexion. On account of the dusty-white nature of his
work, he usually wore clothes of some strong light-grey worsted
material. Years after he had died, an old and embittered man, she could
see him, a white apron rolled up around his middle, a basket of tools
slung over his shoulder and a black billycock hat set at an angle on his
head, swinging along on the crown of the road on his way home from work,
looking, as the hamlet people said, 'as if he had bought all the land on
one side of the road and was thinking of buying that on the other side'.

Even in darkness his step could be distinguished, for it was lighter and
sharper than that of the other men. His mind moved more quickly, too,
and his tongue was readier, for he belonged to another breed and had
been brought up in another environment.

Some of the neighbours thought him proud and 'set up with himself', but
he was tolerated for his wife's sake and his relations with the
neighbours were at least outwardly friendly--especially at Election
time, when he mounted a plank supported by two beer-barrels and
expounded the Gladstonian programme, while Laura, her eyes on a level
with his best buttoned boots, quaked inwardly lest he should be laughed
at.

His audience of twenty or so laughed quite a lot, but with him, not at
him, for he was an amusing speaker. None of them knew and probably he
himself had not begun to suspect that they were listening to a lost and
thwarted man, one who had strayed into a life to which he did not belong
and one whose own weakness would keep him there for the rest of his
days.

Already he was beginning to keep irregular hours. Their mother, telling
them a bedtime story, would glance up at the clock and say: 'Wherever
has Daddy got to?' or, later in the evening, more severely, 'Your
father's staying late again', and when he came in his face would be
flushed and he would be more than usually talkative. But that was only
the beginning of his downfall. Things went well, or fairly well, for
several years after that.

Their cottage belonged to a Mrs. Herring. She and her husband had lived
there for some time before Laura's parents had rented it, but, as he was
an ex-stud groom with a pension and she prided herself on her
superiority, they had never been happy or popular there. Her superiority
might have been borne, or even played up to, for 'you've got to hold a
candle to the fire', as some of the neighbours said, but it was
accompanied by the to them intolerable vice of meanness. Not only had
she kept herself to herself, as she boasted, but she had also kept her
belongings to herself, down to the last shred of 'scratchings' when she
boiled down her lard and the last cabbage-stalk from her garden. 'She
wer' that near she 'udn't give away enough to make a pair of leggings
for a skylark' was the reputation she left behind her.

She, on her side, had complained that the hamlet people were a rough,
unmannerly lot. There was nobody fit to ask in for a game of cards and
she did so like a bit of society, and she had long wanted to go to live
nearer her married daughter, when, one Saturday afternoon, the
children's father came, looking for a cottage not too far from his work.
She made a great favour of getting out quickly, but her new tenants were
not impressed, for she was asking a high rent, half a crown a week, more
than anyone else in the hamlet paid. The neighbours had thought she
would never let her house, for who could afford to pay that sum?

Laura's parents, with more knowledge of town prices, thought the house
was well worth the rent, for it was two small thatched cottages made
into one, with two bedrooms and a good garden. Of course, as they said,
it had not the conveniences of a town house. Until they themselves had
bought an oven grate and put it in the second cottage downstairs room,
known as 'the wash-house', there was nowhere to bake the Sunday joint,
and it was tiresome to have to draw water up from a well and irritating
in wet weather to have to walk under an umbrella half way down the
garden to the earth closet. But the cottage living-room was a pleasant
place, with its well-polished furniture, shelves of bright crockery, and
red-and-black rugs laid down to 'take the tread' on the raddled tile
floor.

In summer the window stood permanently open and hollyhocks and other
tall flowers would push their way in and mingle with the geraniums and
fuchsias on the window-sill.

This room was the children's nursery. Their mother called it that
sometimes when they had been cutting out pictures and left scraps of
paper on the floor. 'This room's nothing but a nursery,' she would say,
forgetting for the moment that the nurseries she had presided over in
her pre-marriage days were usually held up by her as patterns of
neatness.

The room had one advantage over most nurseries. The door opened straight
out on to the garden path and in fine weather the children were allowed
to run in and out as they would. Even when it rained and a board was
slipped, country fashion, into grooves in the doorposts to keep them in,
they could still lean out over it and feel the rain splash on their
hands and see the birds flicking their wings in the puddles and smell
the flowers and wet earth while they sang: 'Rain, rain, go away, Come
again another day.'

They had more garden than they needed at that time and one corner was
given up to a tangle of currant and gooseberry bushes and raspberry
canes surrounding an old apple tree. This jungle, as their father called
it, was only a few feet square, but a child of five or seven could hide
there and pretend it was lost, or hollow out a cave in the greenery and
call it its house. Their father kept saying that he must get busy and
lop the old unproductive apple tree and cut down the bushes to let in
the light and air, but he was so seldom at home in daylight that for a
long time nothing was done about it and they still had their hidy-houses
and could still swing themselves up and ride astride on the low-hanging
limb of the apple tree.

From there they could see the house and their mother going in and out,
banging mats and rattling pails and whitening the flagstones around the
doorway. Sometimes, when she went to the well, they would run after her
and she would hold them tight and let them look down to where, framed in
the green-slimy stones, the water reflected their faces, very small and
far down.

'You must never come here alone,' she would say. 'I once knew a little
boy who was drowned in a well like this.' Then, of course, they wanted
to know where and when and why he was drowned, although they had heard
the story as long as they could remember. 'Where was his mother?' 'Why
was the well lid left open?' 'How did they get him out?' and 'Was he
quite, quite dead? As dead as the mole we saw under the hedge one day?'

Beyond their garden in summer were fields of wheat and barley and oats
which sighed and rustled and filled the air with sleepy pollen and earth
scents. These fields were large and flat and stretched away to a distant
line of trees set in the hedgerows. To the children at that time these
trees marked the boundary of their world. Tall trees and smaller trees
and one big bushy squat tree like a crouching animal--they knew the
outline of each one by heart and looked upon them as children in more
hilly districts look upon the peaks of distant, unvisited, but familiar
mountains.

Beyond their world, enclosed by the trees, there was, they were told, a
wider world, with other hamlets and villages and towns and the sea, and,
beyond that, other countries where the people spoke languages different
from their own. Their father had told them so. But, until they learned
to read, they had no mental picture of these, they were but ideas,
unrealized; whereas, in their own little world within the tree boundary,
everything appeared to them more than life-size and more richly
coloured.

They knew every slight rise in the fields and the moist lower places
where the young wheat grew taller and greener, and the bank where the
white violets grew, and the speciality of every hedgerow--honeysuckle,
crab apples, misty purple sloes, or long trails of white bryony berries
through which the sun shone crimson as it did through the window at
church: '_But you must not even touch one or your hand will poison your
food_.'

And they knew the sounds of the different seasons, the skylarks singing
high up out of sight over the green corn; the loud, metallic chirring of
the mechanical reaper, the cheerful 'Who-o-as' and 'Werts up' of the
ploughmen to their teams, and the rush of wings as the starlings wheeled
in flocks over the stripped stubble.

There were other shadows than those of chasing clouds and wheeling bird
flocks over those fields. Ghost stories and stories of witchcraft
lingered and were half believed. No one cared to go after dark to the
cross roads where Dickie Bracknell, the suicide, was buried with a stake
through his entrails, or to approach the barn out in the fields where he
had hung himself some time at the beginning of the century. Bobbing
lights were said to have been seen and gurgling sounds heard there.

Far out in the fields by the side of a wood was a pool which was said to
be bottomless and haunted by a monster. No one could say exactly what
the monster was like, for no one living had seen it, but the general
idea was that it resembled a large newt, perhaps as big as a bullock.
Among the children this pool was known as 'the beast's pond' and none of
them ever went near it. Few people went that way, for the pond was cut
off from the fields by a piece of uncultivated waste, and there was no
path anywhere near it. Some fathers and mothers did not believe there
was a pond there. It was just a silly old tale, they said, that folks
used at one time to frighten themselves with. But there was a pond, for,
towards the end of their schooldays, Edmund and Laura plodded over
several ploughed fields and scrambled through as many hedges and pushed
their way through a waste of dried thistles and ragwort and stood at
last by a dark, still, tree-shadowed pool. No monster was there, only
dark water, dark trees and a darkening sky and a silence so deep they
could hear their own hearts pounding.

Nearer home, beside the brook, was an old elder tree which was said to
bleed human blood when cut, and that was because it was no ordinary
tree, but a witch. Men and boys of a former generation had caught her
listening outside the window of a neighbour's cottage and chased her
with pitchforks until she reached the brook. Then, being a witch, she
could not cross running water, so had turned herself into an elder tree
on the bank.

She must have turned herself back again, for, the next morning, she was
seen fetching water from the well as usual, a poor, ugly, disagreeable
old woman who denied having been outside her own door the night before.
But the tree, which hitherto no one had noticed, still stood beside the
brook and was still standing there fifty years later. Edmund and Laura
once took a table knife, intending to cut it, but their courage failed
them. 'What if it should really bleed? And what if the witch came out of
it and ran after us?'

'Mother,' asked Laura one day, 'are there any witches now?' and her
mother answered seriously, 'No. They seem to have all died out. There
haven't been any in my time; but when I was your age there were plenty
of old people alive who had known or even been ill-wished by one. And,
of course,' she added as an afterthought, 'we know there were witches.
We read about them in the Bible.' That settled it. Anything the Bible
said must be true.

Edmund was at that time a quiet, thoughtful little boy, apt to ask
questions which it puzzled his mother to answer. The neighbours said he
thought too much and ought to be made to play more; but they liked him
because of his good looks and quaint, old-fashioned good manners. Except
when he fired questions at them.

'I shan't tell you,' some one would say when cornered by him. 'If I told
you that you'd know as much as I do myself. Besides, what do it matter
to you what makes the thunder and lightning. You sees it and hears it
and are lucky if you're not struck dead by it, and that ought to be
enough for you.' Others, more kindly disposed, or more talkative, would
tell him that the thunder was the voice of God. Somebody had been
wicked, perhaps Edmund himself, and God was angry; or that thunder was
caused by the clouds knocking together; or warn him to keep away from
trees during a thunderstorm because they had known a man who was struck
dead while sheltering and the watch in his pocket had melted and run
like quicksilver down his legs. Others would quote:


         Under oak there comes a stroke,
         Under elm there comes a calm,
         And under ash there comes a crash,


and Edmund would retire into himself to sort out this information.

He was a tall, slender child with blue eyes and regular features. When
she had dressed him for their afternoon walk, his mother would kiss him
and exclaim: 'I do declare he might be anybody's child. I can't see any
difference between him and a young lord, and as for intelligence, he's
too intelligent!'

Setting out on these walks, Laura must have looked a prim, old-fashioned
little thing in her stiffly starched frock, with a white silk scarf tied
in a bow under her chin and a couple of inches of knicker frill showing.
'Odd', the neighbours called her when discussing her in her presence,
for she had dark eyes and pale yellow hair, and they did not approve of
the mixture. 'Pity she ain't got your eyes,' they would say to her
mother whose own eyes were blue; 'or even if she had dark hair like her
father, 'twouldn't be so bad, but, as 'tis, she ain't neither one thing
nor t'other. Cross-grained, they say them folks is whose eyes and hair
don't match. But'--turning to Laura--'never you mind, my poppet. Good
looks ain't everything, and you can't help it if you did happen to be
behind the door when they were being given out. And, after
all'--comfortingly to her mother--'she don't hurt, really. She's got a
nice bit of colour in her cheeks.'

'You're all right. Always keep yourself clean and neat and try to have a
pleasant, good-tempered expression, and you'll pass in a crowd,' her
mother told her.

But that did not satisfy Laura. She was bent on improvement. She could
not alter her eyes, but she tried to darken her hair with ink, put on in
streaks with her father's new toothbrush. That only resulted in a sore
bottom and lying in bed by daylight with her newly washed hair in tiny
tight plaits which hurt her head. However, to her great joy, her hair
soon began to darken naturally, and, after many false alarms, one of
which was the fear it was turning red, it became a respectable brown,
quite unnoticeable.

Other memories of those early years remained with her as little
pictures, without background, and unrelated to anything which went
before or came after. One was of walking over frosty fields with her
father, her small knitted-gloved hand reaching up to his big
knitted-gloved hand and the stubble beneath their feet clinking with
little icicles until they came to a pinewood and crept under a rail and
walked on deep, soft earth beneath tall, dark trees.

The wood was so dark and silent at first that it was almost frightening;
but, soon, they heard the sounds of axes and saws at work and came out
into a clearing where men were felling trees. They had built themselves
a little house of pine branches and before it a fire was burning. The
air was full of the sharp, piny scent of the smoke which drifted across
the clearing in blue whorls and lay in sheets about the boughs of the
unfelled trees beyond. Laura and her father sat on a tree-trunk before
the fire and drank hot tea, which was poured for them from a tin can.
Then her father filled the sack he had brought with logs and Laura's
little basket was piled with shiny brown pine-cones and they went home.
They must have gone home, although no trace of memory remained of the
backward journey: only the joy of drinking hot tea so far from a house
and the loveliness of shooting flames and blue smoke against blue-green
pine boughs survived.

Another memory was of a big girl, with red hair, in a bright blue frock
billowing over a green field, looking for mushrooms, and a man at the
gate taking his clay pipe from his mouth to whisper behind his hand to a
companion: 'That gal'll tumble to bits before they get her to church if
they don't look sharp.'

'Patty tumble to bits? Tumble to bits? How could she?' Laura's mother
looked rather taken aback when asked, and told her little daughter she
must never, never listen to men talking. It was naughty to do that. Then
she explained, rather lamely for her, that Patty must have done
something wrong. Perhaps she'd told a lie, and Mr. Arliss was afraid she
might be struck dead, like the man and woman in the Bible. 'You remember
them? I told you about them when you said you saw a ghost coming out of
the clothes closet upstairs.'

That reference to her own misdeed sent Laura out to creep under the
gooseberry bushes in the garden, where she thought it would puzzle even
God to find her; but she was not satisfied. Why should Mr. Arliss mind
if Patty had told a lie? Plenty of people told them and no one, so far,
had been struck dead at Lark Rise.

Forty years after, her mother laughed when reminded of this. 'Poor old
Pat!' she said. 'She was a regular harum-scarum and no mistake. But they
did just manage to get her to church, although it was said at the time
they had to give her a sup of brandy in the porch. Howsoever, she
recovered enough to dance at the wedding, I heard, and a fine sight she
must have looked in a white frock with blue bows all down the front. I
think that was the last time I ever heard of taking round the hat to
collect for the cradle at a wedding. It used to be quite the usual thing
with that class of people at one time.'

Then there was the picture of a man lying on straw at the bottom of a
farm cart with a white cloth over his face. The cart had halted outside
one of the houses and apparently the news of its arrival had not got
round, for, at first, only Laura was standing by. The tailboard of the
cart had been removed and she could see the man plainly, lying so still,
so terribly still, that she thought he was dead. It seemed a long time
to her before his wife rushed out, climbed into the cart, and calling,
'My dear one! My poor old man!' took the cloth from his face, revealing
a face almost as white, excepting for one long dark gash from lips to
one ear. Then he groaned and Laura's heart began beating again.

The neighbours gathered round and the story spread. He was a stockman
and had been feeding his fattening beasts when one of them had
accidentally caught a horn in his mouth and torn his cheek open. He was
taken at once to the Cottage Hospital in the market town and his wound
soon healed.

An especially vivid memory was of an April evening when Laura was about
three. Her mother had told her that the next day was May Day and that
Alice Shaw was going to be May Queen and wear a daisy crown. 'I should
like to be May Queen and wear a daisy crown. Can't I have one, too,
Mother?' asked Laura.

'So you shall,' her mother replied. 'You run down to the play place and
pick some daisies and I'll make you a crown. You shall be our May
Queen.'

Off she ran with her little basket, but by the time she reached the plot
of rough grass where the hamlet children played their country games it
was too late; the sun had set, and the daisies were all asleep. There
were thousands and thousands of them, but all screwed up, like tightly
shut eyes. Laura was so disappointed that she sat down in the midst of
them and cried. Only a few tears and very soon dried, then she began to
look about her. The long grass in which she sat was a little wet,
perhaps with dew, or perhaps from an April shower, and the pink-tipped
daisy buds were a little wet, too, like eyes that had gone to sleep
crying. The sky, where the sun had set, was all pink and purple and
primrose. There was no one in sight and no sound but the birds singing
and, suddenly, Laura realized that it was nice to be there, out of doors
by herself, deep in the long grass, with the birds and the sleeping
daisies.


A little later in her life came the evening after a pig-killing when she
stood alone in the pantry where the dead animal hung suspended from a
hook in the ceiling. Her mother was only a few feet away. She could hear
her talking cheerfully to Mary Ann, the girl who fetched their milk from
the farm and took the children for walks when their mother was busy.
Through the thin wooden partition she could hear her distinctive giggle
as she poured water from a jug into the long, slippery lengths of
chitterlings her mother was manipulating. Out there in the wash-house
they were busy and cheerful, but in the pantry where Laura stood was a
dead, cold silence.

She had known that pig all its life. Her father had often held her over
the door of its sty to scratch its back and she had pushed lettuce and
cabbage stalks through the bars for it to enjoy. Only that morning it
had routed and grunted and squealed because it had had no breakfast. Her
mother had said its noise got on her nerves and her father had looked
uncomfortable, although he had passed it off by saying: 'No. No
breakfast to-day, piggy. You're going to have a big operation by and by
and there's no breakfast before operations.'

Now it had had its operation and there it hung, cold and stiff and so
very, very dead. Not funny at all any more, but in some queer way
dignified. The butcher had draped a long, lacy piece of fat from its own
interior over one of its forelegs, in the manner in which ladies of that
day sometimes carried a white lacy shawl, and that last touch seemed to
Laura utterly heartless. She stayed there a long time, patting its hard,
cold side and wondering that a thing so recently full of life and noise
could be so still. Then, hearing her mother call her, she ran out of the
door farthest from where she was working lest she should be scolded for
crying over a dead pig.

There was fried liver and fat for supper and when Laura said, 'No, thank
you,' her mother looked at her rather suspiciously, then said: 'Well,
perhaps better not, just going to bed and all; but here's a nice bit of
sweetbread. I was saving it for Daddy, but you have it. You'll like
that.' And Laura ate the sweetbread and dipped her bread in the thick,
rich gravy and refused to think about the poor pig in the pantry, for,
although only five years old, she was learning to live in this world of
compromises.



   XVIII

      '_Once Upon a Time_'

No one who saw Laura's mother at that time would have wondered at the
hasty, youthful marriage which turned her husband's contemplated sojourn
of a few months into a permanent abode. She was a slight, graceful girl
with a wild-rose complexion and hair the colour of a new penny which she
parted in the middle and drew down to a knot at the back of her head
because a gentleman of the family, where she had been nurse to the
children before her marriage, had told her she ought always to do it
like that.

'A pocket Venus,' she said he had called her. 'But quite nicely,' she
hastened to assure her listener, 'for he was a married gentleman with no
nonsense about him.' Another thing she told her children about her
nursing days was that when visitors were staying in the house it was the
custom for some member of the family to bring them up to the nursery
after dinner to listen to the bedtime stories she was telling the
children. 'A regular amusement,' she said it was with them, and her own
children did not think that at all strange, for the bedtime stories were
now being told to them and they knew how exciting they were.

Some of them were short stories, begun and finished in an evening, fairy
stories and animal stories and stories of good and bad children, the
good ones rewarded and the bad ones punished, according to the
convention of that day. A few of these were part of the stock-in-trade
of all tellers of stories to children, but far more of them were of her
own invention, for she said it was easier to make up a tale than to try
to remember one. The children liked her own stories best. 'Something out
of your own head, Mother,' they would beg, and she would wrinkle up her
brow and pretend to think hard, then begin: 'Once upon a time.'

One story remained with Laura long after hundreds of others had become a
blur of pleasurable memory. Not because it was one of her mother's best,
for it was not, but because it had a colour scheme which appealed to a
childish taste. It was about a little girl who crept under a bush on a
heath, 'just like Hardwick Heath, where we went blackberrying, you
know', and found a concealed opening which led to an underground palace
in which all the furniture and hangings were pale blue and silver.
'Silver tables and silver chairs and silver plates to eat off and all
the cushions and curtains made of pale blue satin.' The heroine had
marvellous adventures, but they left no impression on Laura's mind,
while the blue and silver, deep down under the earth, shone with a kind
of moonlight radiance in her imagination. But when her mother, at her
urgent request, tried to tell the story again the magic was gone,
although she introduced silver floors and silver ceilings, hoping to
please her. Perhaps she overdid it.

Then there were serial stories which went on in nightly instalments for
weeks, or perhaps months, for nobody wanted them to end and the teller's
invention never flagged. There was one, however, which came to a sudden
and tragic conclusion. One night when it was bedtime, or past bedtime,
and the children had begged for more and been given it and were still
begging for more, their mother lost patience and startled them both by
saying, 'and then he came to the sea and fell in and was eaten by a
shark, and that was the end of poor Jimmy', and the end of their story,
too, for what further developments were possible?

Then there were the family stories, each one of which they knew by heart
and could just as well have told to each other. Their favourite was the
one they called 'Granny's Golden Footstool'. It was short and simple
enough. Their father's parents had at one time kept a public-house and
livery stables in Oxford and the story ran that, either going to, or
coming from, the 'Horse and Rider', their grandfather had handed their
grandmother into the carriage and placed a box containing a thousand
pounds in gold at her feet, saying: 'It's not every lady who can ride in
her own carriage with a golden footstool.'

They must have been on their way there with the purchase money, for they
can have brought no golden footstool away with them. Before that
adventure, made possible by a legacy left to the grandmother by one of
her relatives, the grandfather had been a builder in a small way, and,
after it, he went back to building again, in a still smaller way,
presumably, for by the time Laura was born the family business had
disappeared and her father was working for wages.

The thousand pounds had vanished as completely as Jimmy after the shark
had eaten him, and all they could do about it was to try to imagine what
so much gold together must have looked like and to plan what they would
do with such a sum if they had it now. Even their mother liked talking
about it, although, as she said, she had no patience with wasteful,
extravagant ways, such as some people she knew had got, and them proud
and set up when they ought to be ashamed of themselves for coming down
in the world.

And, just as they prided themselves on the golden footstool and the
accompanying tradition that their grandmother was 'a lady by birth' who
had made a runaway marriage with their grandfather, almost every family
in the hamlet prided itself upon some family tradition which, in its own
estimation, at least, raised it above the common mass of the wholly
uninteresting. An uncle or a great-uncle had owned a cottage which, in
the course of time, had been magnified into a whole row of houses; or
some one in the family had once kept a shop or a public-house, or farmed
his own land. Or they boasted of good blood, even if it came
illegitimately. One man claimed to be the great-grandson of an earl, 'on
the wrong side of the blanket, of course,' he admitted; but he liked to
talk about it, and his listener, noticing, perhaps for the first time,
his fine figure and big, hooked nose, and considering the reputation of
a certain wild young nobleman of a former generation, would feel
inclined to believe there was some foundation for his story.

Another of Edmund and Laura's family stories, more fantastic, though not
so well substantiated as that of the golden footstool, was that one of
their mother's uncles, when a very young man, shut his father in a box
and himself ran away to the Australian goldfields. In answer to their
questions as to why he had shut his father up in a box, how he had got
him into it, and how the father had got out again, their mother could
only say that she did not know. It had all happened before her own
father was born. It was a large family and he was the youngest. But she
had seen the box: it was a long oak coffer that could well have held a
man, and that was the story she had been told as long as she could
remember.

That must have been eighty years before, and the uncle was never heard
of again, but they never tired of talking about him and wondering if he
found any gold. Perhaps he had made a fortune at the diggings and died
without children and without making a will. Then the money would be
theirs, wouldn't it? Perhaps it was even now in Chancery, waiting for
them to claim it. Several families in the hamlet had money in Chancery.
They knew it was there because one of the Sunday newspapers printed each
week a list of names of people who had fortunes waiting, and their names
had been there, in print, 'as large as life and twice as natural'. True,
as the children's father said, most of their names were common ones, but
if this was pointed out to them they were quite offended and hinted that
when they could raise a few pounds to 'hire a lawyer chap' to set about
claiming it, no disbeliever would participate.

The children had not seen their names in print, but they enjoyed
planning what they would do with their Chancery money. Edmund said he
would buy a ship and visit every country in the world. Laura thought she
would like a house full of books in the middle of a wood, and their
mother declared she would be quite satisfied if she had an income of
thirty shillings a week, 'paid regular and to be depended upon'.

Their Chancery money was a chimera, and none of them throughout their
lives had more than a few pounds at a time, but their wishes were more
or less granted. Edmund crossed the sea many times and saw four out of
the five continents; Laura had her house full of books, if not actually
in a wood, with a wood somewhere handy; and their poor mother, towards
the end of her life, got her modest thirty shillings a week, for that
was the exact sum to which the Canadian Government made up her small
income when granting her her Mother's Pension. The memory of that wish
gave an added bitterness to the tears she shed for the first few years
when the monthly cheque arrived.

But all that was far in the future on those winter evenings when they
sat in the firelight, the two children on little stools at their
mother's feet, while she knitted their socks and told them stories or
sang. They had had their evening meal and their father's plate stood
over a saucepan of water on the hob, keeping warm. Laura loved to watch
the warm light flickering on the walls, lighting up one thing after
another and casting dark shadows, including their own, more than
life-size and excitingly grotesque.

Edmund joined in the chorus of such things as 'There is a Tavern' and
'Little Brown Jug' but Laura refrained, by special request, for she had
no ear for music and they said her singing put them out of tune. But she
loved to watch the firelight shadows and to hear her mother's voice
singing to sweet melancholy airs of a pale host of fair maidens who
pined and faded for love. There was 'Lily Lyle, Sweet Lily Lyle', which
began:


         'Twas a still, calm night and the moon's pale light
   Shone over hill and dale
         When friends mute with grief stood around the deathbed
   Of their loved, lost Lily Lyle.
   Heart as pure as forest lily,
       Never knowing guile,
   Had its home within the bosom
       Of sweet Lily Lyle.


Several other dying maidens were celebrated in similar words to similar
airs. Then there was 'The Old Armchair' and 'The Gipsy's Warning' and a
group of cottage songs apparently dating from the beginning of the
century, such as:


'Twas a fine clear night and the moon shone bright
  When the village clock struck eight
And Mary hastened with delight
  Unto the garden gate.

But what was there that made her sad?
  The gate was there, but not the lad,
Which caused poor Mary to sigh and say,
  'He never shall make a goose of me.'

She traced the garden here and there and the village clock struck nine,
  Which caused poor Wary to sigh and say
'He never shall be mine.'

She traced the garden here and there and the village clock struck ten,
  Young William caught her in his arms,
Never to part again.

Now he'd been to buy the ring that day and he had been such a long,
      long way,
  So how could Mary so cruel prove
As to banish the lad whom she dearly loved?

So down in a cot by the riverside
William and Mary now reside.
And she's blessed the hour that she did wait
For her absent lover at the garden gate.


Sometimes the children would talk about what they would do when they
were grown up. Their future had already been mapped out for them. Edmund
was to be apprenticed to a trade--a carpenter's, their mother thought;
it was cleaner work than that of a mason and carpenters did not drink in
public-houses as masons did, and people respected them more.

Laura was to go as nursemaid under one of her mother's old nurse friends
with whom she had kept up a correspondence. Then, in time, she would be
head nurse herself in what was then known as 'a good family'; where, if
she did not marry, she would be sure of a home for life, for the
imaginary good family her mother had in mind was of the kind where loved
old nurses dressed in black silk and had a room of their own in which to
receive confidences. But these ideas did not interest the children so
much as that of having houses of their own in which they could do as
they liked. 'And you'll come to stay with me and I shall spring-clean
the house and bake some pies the day before,' promised Laura, who knew
from her mother's example what was due to an honoured guest. Edmund's
idea was that he would have treacle mixed with milk for dinner without
any bread at all, but then he was much younger than she was.

Neither story-telling, singing, nor talking could go on for ever. The
time always came, and always came too soon for them, when their mother
would whisk them off to bed, 'For your father cannot be much longer
now,' and stay to hear them say their prayers, 'Our Father' and 'Gentle
Jesus', then 'Gawbless dear Mammy an' Daddy an' dear little brother [or
sister] an' all kind friends an' alations. . . .'

Laura was not sure who the friends were, but she knew that the relations
included the Candleford aunts, her father's sisters, who sent them nice
parcels at Christmas, and the cousins whose wardrobes she inherited. The
aunts were kind--she knew that, for when she opened the parcels her
mother would say, 'It's very kind of Edith, I'm sure,' or, more warmly,
although the parcel might not be as exciting, 'If ever there was a good
kind soul in this world, it's your Aunt Ann.'

Candleford was a wonderful place. Her mother said there were rows of
shops there, simply stuffed with toys and sweets and furs and muffs and
watches and chains and other delightful things. 'You should see them at
Christmas,' she said, 'all lit up like a fair. All you want then is a
purseful of money!' The Candleford people had pursefuls of money, for
wages were higher there, and they had gas to light them to bed and drew
their water out of taps, instead of up from a well. She had heard her
parents say so. 'What he wants is a job at some place such as
Candleford,' her father would say of some promising boy. 'He'd do
himself some good there. Here, there's nothing.' This surprised Laura,
for she had thought there were many exciting things about the hamlet.
'Is there a brook there?' she asked, rather hoping there was not, and
she was told there was a river, which was wider than any brook and had a
stone bridge, instead of a rickety old plank to cross by. A magnificent
place, indeed, and she hoped soon to see it. 'Come the summer' her
father had said, but the summer had come and gone again and nothing more
had been said about borrowing Polly and the spring cart. Then, always,
something or other happened to push the idea of Candleford to the back
of her mind. One dreary November the pigs were ill. They refused to eat
and became so weak they had to lean against the rails of their sties for
support. Some of them died and were buried in quicklime, which was said
to burn up their bodies in no time. Horrible thought to be dead and
buried in quicklime and soon nothing left of what had been so much
alive! Her mother said it was a far worse thought that the poor people
had lost their pigs, after paying for their food all those months, too,
and when their own pigs were killed--both had escaped--she was more than
usually generous with the plates of liver and fat and other oddments
always sent to neighbours as a compliment. Many of the people who had
lost their pigs still owed for the food. They had depended upon being
able to pay for that in kind when the animal was fattened. One man took
to poaching and was caught and sent to prison, then every one had to
take half loaves and small screws of tea and sugar to help his wife to
keep the home going, until the whisper went round that she had three
different lots of butter in the house, given by different people to whom
she had pleaded poverty, and that the J.P. himself had sent a sovereign.
People looked sourly upon her after that was known, and said, 'Crime
seems to pay nowadays.'



    XIX

      '_A Bit of a Tell_'

Sometimes, instead of saying, 'Here there's nothing,' her father would
say, 'Here there's nobody,' meaning nobody he thought worth considering.
But Laura never tired of considering the hamlet neighbours, and, as she
grew older, would listen to, and piece together, the things they said
until she had learned quite a lot from them. She liked the older women
best, such as Old Queenie, Old Sally, and Old Mrs. Prout, old
countrywomen who still wore sun-bonnets and stayed in their own homes
and gardens and cared not at all about what was in fashion and very
little for gossip. They said they did not hold with gadding about from
house to house. Queenie had her lacemaking and her beehives to watch;
Old Sally her brewing and her bacon to cure; if anybody wanted to see
them, they knew where to find them. 'Crusty old dames', some of the
younger women called them, especially when one of them had refused to
lend them something. To Laura they seemed like rocks, keeping firm in
their places, while those about them drifted around, always on the
look-out for some new sensation. But only a few were left who kept to
the old country ways, and the other women were interesting, too.
Although they wore much the same kind of clothes and lived in similar
houses, no two of them were really alike.

In theory all the hamlet women were on friendly terms with each other,
at least as far as 'passing the time of day' when they met, for they had
an almost morbid dread of giving offence and would go out of their way
to be pleasant to other women they would rather not have seen. As
Laura's mother said: 'You can't _afford_ to be on bad terms with anybody
in a small place like this.' But in that, as in more sophisticated
societies, there was a tendency to form sets. The members of the
slightly more prosperous of these, consisting mostly of the newly
married and those of the older women whose children were grown up and
off their hands, would change into a clean apron in the afternoon and
stay quietly at home, sewing or ironing, or put on their hats and go out
to call upon their friends, carefully knocking at the door before they
lifted the latch. The commoner kind burst hatless into their neighbour's
houses to borrow something or to relate some breathless item of news, or
they would spend the afternoon shouting it across gardens or from
doorsteps, or hold long, bantering conversations with the baker, or the
oilman, or any one else who happened to call and found themselves unable
to get away without downright rudeness.

Laura's mother belonged to the first category and those who came to her
house were mostly her own special friends. They had a few other callers,
however, and those Laura thought far more interesting than young Mrs.
Massey, who was always making baby's clothes, although at that time she
had no baby (Laura thought afterwards, when a baby arrived for her, it
was a lucky coincidence), or Mrs. Hadley, who was always talking about
her daughter in service, or Mrs. Finch, who was 'not too strong' and had
to be given the best seat, nearest the fire. The only interesting thing
about her was the little blue bottle of smelling-salts she carried, and
that ceased to interest after she had handed it to Laura, telling her to
give a good sniff, then laughed when the tears ran down her cheeks. Not
at all Laura's idea of a joke!

She liked Rachel much better. Although never invited, she would drift in
sometimes, 'just to have a tell', as she expressed it. Her 'tells' were
worth hearing, for she knew everything that happened, 'and a good lot
more, too', her enemies said. 'Ask Rachel,' some one would say with a
shrug if the whole of the facts of a happening were not known, and
Rachel, when appealed to, if she, too, were not quite sure, would say in
her loud, hearty voice, 'Well to tell the truth, I haven't ever quite
got to the bottom of that business. But I 'ull know, that I 'ull, for
I'll go to th' fountain-head and ax.' And off she would march with all
the good-natured effrontery imaginable to ask Mrs. Beaby if it was 'a
fac'' that her young Em was leaving her place before her year was up, or
Charley's mother if it was true that he and Nell had quarrelled coming
home from church last Sunday, and had they made it up, or were they
still 'off at hooks', as they called an estrangement.

When Rachel dropped in for a tell, others were sure to follow. Laura,
lying on her stomach on the hearthrug with a picture book propped up
before her, or cutting out patterns from paper in a corner, would hear
their voices rising and falling or dropping to a whisper when some item
they were discussing was not considered suitable for children's ears.
She would sometimes long to ask questions, but dare not, for it was a
strict rule there that children should be seen, but not heard. It was
better not even to laugh when something funny was said, for that might
call attention to oneself and some one might say: 'That child's gettin'
too knowin'. I hope she ain't goin' to turn out one of them forrard
sort, for I can't abide 'em.' At that her mother would bridle and say
that, far from being forward, she was rather young for her age, and as
to being knowing, she didn't suppose she had heard what was said, but
had laughed because they were laughing. At the same time, she took care
to send Laura upstairs, or out into the garden for something, when she
thought the conversation was taking an unsuitable turn.

Sometimes one of them would let fall a remark about the vague
far-distant days before the children were born. 'My ole gran-fer used to
say that all the land between here and the church wer' left by will to
th' poor o' th' parish in the old times; all common land of turf and
fuzz 'twas then; but 'twer' all stole away an' cut up into fields,' and
another would agree, 'Yes, so I've allus heard.'

Sometimes one of them would bring out some surprising saying, as Patty
Wardup did when the rest of the company were discussing Mrs. Eames's fur
cape: she couldn't have bought it and it certainly did not grow upon her
back, yet she had appeared in it last Sunday at church, and not so much
as a word to anybody as to how she had got it. True, as Mrs. Baker
suggested, it did look something like a coachman's shoulder
tippet--dark, thick fur, bearskin, they called it--and she had once said
she had a brother who was a coachman somewhere up country. Then Patty,
who had been pensively twisting her doorkey between her fingers and
taking no part in the conversation, said quietly: 'The golden ball rolls
to everybody's feet once in a lifetime. That's what my Uncle Jarvis used
to say and I've seen it myself, over and over.'

What golden ball? And who was her Uncle Jarvis? And what had a golden
ball to do with Mrs. Eames's fur tippet? No wonder they all laughed and
said, 'She's dreaming as usual!'

Patty was not a native of those parts, but had come there only a few
years before as housekeeper to an elderly man whose wife had died. As
was the custom when no relative was available, he had applied to the
Board of Guardians for a housekeeper and Patty had been selected as the
most suitable inmate of the workhouse at the time. She was a plump
little woman with pale brown, satin-sleek hair and mild blue eyes, well
set off on her arrival by the bunch of forget-me-nots in her bonnet. How
she had come to be in the workhouse was a mystery, for she was still in
the forties, able-bodied, and evidently belonging to a slightly higher
stratum of society than her new employer. She told her story to no one
and no one asked her for it. 'Ax no questions and you'll be told no
lies, although you may hear a few without axing' was the hamlet motto.
But she was generally acknowledged to be 'superior', for did she not
plait her hair in fives every day, instead of in threes all the week and
in fives on Sunday, and exchange her white apron after dinner for a
small black satin one with beaded trimming? She was a good cook, too.
Amos was lucky. On the very first Sunday after she arrived she made a
meat pudding with a crust so light a puff of wind would have blown it
away and with thick, rich gravy that gushed out in a stream when the
knife was stuck into it. Old Amos said the very smell made his mouth
water and began inquiring how soon after his wife's death it would be
decent to put up the banns. It was tacitly understood that such
engagements would lead to marriage.

But she did not marry Old Amos. He had a son--Old Amos and Young Amos to
the hamlet--and Young Amos got in his proposal first and was accepted.
The hamlet women did not hold, as they said, with the wife being older
than the husband and Patty was a good ten years older than her intended;
but they thought Young Amos had done well for himself, especially when,
immediately before the wedding, a cartload of furniture arrived,
together with a trunk of clothes which Patty had somehow managed to save
from the wreck of her fortunes and hide up somewhere.

They had already thought Patty was superior and they were sure of it
when it became known that the furniture included a feather-bed, a
leather-covered couch with chairs to match and a stuffed owl in a glass
case. Somehow they learned, or perhaps Young Amos told them, for he was
inclined to be boastful, that Patty had been married before--to a
publican, if you please! And then to come down to the workhouse, poor
thing! But what a mercy she'd had the wit to hide up her good things. If
she hadn't, the Guardians would have had them.

Patty and Amos were a model couple when they went to the market town to
shop on a Saturday night, Patty in her black silk with flounces, her
good Paisley shawl and her ivory-handled umbrella, rolled up in its
shiny black macintosh case to preserve the silk cover. But, gradually,
another side of the picture emerged. Patty was fond of her glass of
stout. Nobody blamed her for that, for it was well known she could
afford it and she must have been used to it in her public-house days.
Presently it was noticed that on their marketing nights Amos and Patty
came later and later from town, and then, one sad night, somebody passed
them on the road and reported that Patty had had so many glasses of
stout, or of something stronger, that it was as much as Amos could do to
coax her along. Some said he was carrying her. That accounted for the
workhouse, they said, and they waited for Amos to begin beating her. But
he never did, nor did he ever mention her weakness or complain about her
to anybody.

Her lapses occurred only at week-ends and she was not noisy or
quarrelsome, only helpless. The hamlet would be in darkness and most of
the people in bed when they stole home silently and Amos carried Patty
upstairs. He may even have thought that none of the neighbours knew of
his wife's failing. If so, it was a vain hope. It sometimes seemed as if
the very hedges had eyes and the roadway ears, for, next morning, the
whisper ran round as to which public-house Patty had favoured, the
nature and number of her drinks, and how far she had got on her homeward
way before her potations overcame her. But if Amos did not mind, why
should other folks? 'Twas not as if she'd made a beast of herself in
public. So Patty and Amos, with that one reservation, were still looked
upon as a model couple.

It was one of the children's treats to be invited into her house to see
her stuffed owl and other treasures, which included some pressed flowers
from the Holy Land in a frame made of olive wood from the Mount of
Olives. Another treasure was a fan made of long white ostrich feathers
which she would take out of its case and show them, then fan herself
gently as she reclined on her couch with her feet up. 'I've seen better
times,' she would say in her more talkative moods. 'Yes, I've seen
better times, but I've never seen a better husband than Amos, and I like
this little house where I can shut the door and do as I like. After all,
a public's never your own. Anybody who's got two pennies to rub together
can come in and out as they like, without so much as a knock at the door
or a "by your leave", and what's grand furniture as isn't your own, for
you can't call it that when other people have the use of it.' And she
would curl up on her couch and shut her eyes, for, although she was
never known to get tipsy at home, her breath sometimes had a queer,
sweetish smell which an older person might have recognized as that of
gin. 'Now, run along,' she would say, opening one eye; 'and lock the
door behind you and put the key on the window-sill. I don't want any
more visitors and I'm not going out. This isn't one of my visiting
days.'

Then there was a young married woman named Gertie who passed as a
beauty, entirely on the strength of a tiny waist and a simpering smile.
She was a great reader of novelettes and had romantic ideas. Before her
marriage she had been a housemaid at one of the country mansions where
men-servants were kept, and their company and compliments had spoiled
her for her kind, honest great cart-horse of a husband. She loved to
talk about her conquests, telling of the time Mr. Pratt, the butler, had
danced with her four times at the servants' ball, and how jealous her
John had been. He had been invited for her sake, but could not dance,
and had sat there all the evening, like a great gowk, in his light-grey
Sunday suit, with his great red hands hanging down between his knees,
and a chrysanthemum in his buttonhole as big as a pancake.

She had worn her white silk, the one she was afterwards married in, and
her hair had been curled by a real hairdresser--the maids had dubbed
together to pay for his attendance, and he had afterwards stayed for the
dancing and paid special attention to Gertrude. 'And you should've seen
our John, his eyes simply rolling with jealousy. . . .' But, if she
managed to get so far, she was then interrupted. No one wanted to hear
about her conquests, but they were willing to hear about the dresses.
What did the cook wear? Black lace over a red silk underslip. That
sounded handsome. And the head housemaid and the stillroom maid, and so
on, down to the tweeny, who, it had to be confessed, could afford
nothing more exciting than her best frock of grey cloth.

Gertie was the only one of them all who discussed her relations with her
husband. 'I don't think our Johnny loves me any more,' she would sigh,
'He went off to work this morning without kissing me.' Or, 'Our John's
getting a regular chawbacon. He went to sleep and snored in his chair
after tea last night. I felt that lonely I could have cried me eyes
out.' And the more robust characters would laugh and ask her what more
she expected of a man who had been at work in the fields all day, or
say, 'Times is changed, my gal. You ain't courtin' no longer.'

Gertie was a fool and the hamlet laughing-stock for a year or so; then
young John arrived and the white silk was cut up to make him a
christening robe and Gertie forgot her past triumphs in the more recent
one of producing such a paragon. 'Isn't he lovely?' she would say,
exhibiting her red, shapeless lump of a son, and those who had been most
unsympathetic with her former outpourings would be the first to declare
him a marvellous boy. 'He's the very spit of his dad; but he's got your
eyes, Gertie. My word! He's going to break some hearts when the time
comes, you'll see.' As time went on, Gertie grew red and lumpy herself.
Gone were the wasp waist and the waxen pallor she had thought so
genteel. But she still managed to keep her romantic ideas, and the last
time Laura saw her, by that time a middle-aged woman, she assured her
that her daughter's recent marriage to a stable-boy was 'a regular
romance in real life', although, as far as her listener could gather, it
was what the hamlet people of the preceding generation would have called
'a pushed on, hugger-mugger sort of affair'.

Laura did not like Gertie's face. Her features were not bad, but she had
protruding pale blue eyes of which the whites were always faintly
bloodshot, and her complexion was of a sickly yellowish shade. Even her
small mouth, so much admired by some of the hamlet judges of beauty, was
repulsive to a child. It was drawn up so close that the lips made tiny
wrinkles, like stitches round a buttonhole. 'A mouth like a hen's
backside', one rude man said of it.

But there was one visiting neighbour Laura loved to look at, for her
face reminded her of that on the cameo brooch her mother used to pin her
lace collar on Sundays, and her black hair rippled down from its centre
parting as though that also was carved. Her fine head had a slight droop
that showed up the line of her neck and shoulders and, although her
clothes were no better than those of other people, they looked better on
her. She was always in black, for no sooner was the year and a half
mourning up for one great-uncle or first or second cousin than another
died. Or, failing an actual death, she decided it would not be worth
while to 'bring out her colours' with some distant relative over eighty
or 'just at the last'. If she knew that black suited her, she was too
wise to mention that fact. People would have thought her vain, or
peculiar, to wear black for choice, whereas mourning there was no
gainsaying.

'Mother,' said Laura one day after this neighbour had gone, 'doesn't
Mrs. Merton look lovely?'

Her mother laughed. 'Lovely? No. Though some might think her
good-looking. She's too pale and melancholy for my taste and her nose is
too long.'

Mrs. Merton, as Laura remembered her in after years, might have sat for
a picture as the Tragic Muse. She was of a melancholy nature. 'I've
supped sorrow with a spoon,' she was never tired of saying. 'I've supped
sorrow with a spoon and sorrow will always be my lot.' Yet, as the
children's mother reminded her, she had little to complain of. She had a
good husband and not too large a family. As well as the distant
relations, some of whom she had never seen, she had lost one child in
infancy and her father had recently died of old age, and the loss of her
pig from swine fever two years before was admittedly a serious
affliction; but these were losses such as any one might experience. Many
had, and yet managed to get over them without talking about supping
sorrow.

Does melancholy attract misfortune? Or is it true that past, present and
future are one, only divided by our time sense? Mrs. Merton was fated to
become in her old age the tragic figure she had looked when young. Her
husband was already dead when her only son and two grandsons were killed
in the 1914-18 War and she was left practically alone in the world.

By that time she had gone to live in another village, and Laura's
mother, herself bereaved by the War, walked over to see her and
sympathize. She found her a sad but resigned old woman. There was no
longer any talk about supping sorrow, no mourning her own woes, but a
quiet acceptance of the world as it then was and a resolute attempt at
cheerfulness.

It was spring and her room had flowers in pots and vases. The air was
rather faint with the scent of them, her visitor noticed; then, looking
more closely, she found they were not garden flowers. Every pot and jug
and vase was filled with hawthorn blossom.

She was rather shocked at this, for, although less superstitious than
many countrywomen, she herself would not have brought may blossom
indoors. It might be unlucky, or it might not, but there was no sense in
running unnecessary risks.

'Aren't you afraid all this may'll bring you bad luck?' she asked Mrs.
Merton as they sipped their tea.

Mrs. Merton smiled, and a smile from her was almost as unusual as to see
may indoors. 'How can it?' she said. 'I've got nobody else to lose. I've
always been fond of those flowers. So I thought I'd bring some of them
in and enjoy them. My thread's spun as far as luck's concerned.'

Politics were seldom mentioned by the women. If they did come up it was
usually by way of comment on some husband's excessive zeal. 'Why can't
he leave such things alone? 'Tis no business of his'n,' some wife would
say. 'What does it matter to him who governs? Whoever 'tis they won't
give us nothing, and they can't take nothing away from us, for you can't
get blood from a stone.'

Some would discriminate and say it was a pity the men had taken up with
these Liberal notions. 'If they've got to vote, why not vote Tory and
keep in with the gentry? You never hear of Liberals giving the poor a
bit of coal or a blanket at Christmas.' As, indeed, you did not, for
there was no Liberal in the parish but bought his own coals by the
hundredweight and might think himself lucky if his wife had a blanket
for each bed.

A few of the older men were equally poor-spirited. One election day the
children, coming home from school, met an old, semi-bedridden neighbour,
riding, propped up with cushions, in a luxurious carriage to the polling
station. A few days afterwards, when Laura had taken him some small
delicacy from her mother, he whispered to her at parting: 'Tell y're dad
I voted Liberal. He! He! They took th' poor old hoss to th' water, but
he didn't drink out o' their trough. Not he!'

When Laura gave her father the message he did not seem as pleased as
their neighbour had expected. He said he thought it was 'a bit low down
to roll up in anybody's carriage to vote against them'; but her mother
laughed and said: 'Serves 'em right for dragging the poor old hunks out
of bed in that weather.'

Apart from politics, the hamlet people's attitude towards those they
called 'the gentry' was peculiar. They took a pride in their rich and
powerful country-house neighbours, especially when titled. The old Earl
in the next parish was spoken of as 'our Earl' and when the flag, flown
from the tower of his mansion to show he was in residence, could be seen
floating above tree-tops they would say: 'I see our family's at home
again.'

They sometimes saw him pass through the hamlet in his carriage, an old,
old man, sunk deep in cushions and half-buried in rugs, often too
comatose to be aware of, or acknowledge, their curtsies. He had never
spoken to them or given them anything, for they did not live in his
cottages, and in the way of Christmas coals and blankets he had his own
parish to attend to; but the men worked on his land, though not directly
employed by him, and by some inherited instinct they felt he belonged to
them.

For wealth without rank or birth they had small respect. When a rich
retired hatter bought a neighbouring estate and set up as a country
gentleman, the hamlet was scandalized. 'Whoo's he?' they said. 'Only a
shopkeeper pretending to be gentry. I 'udn't work for him, no, not if he
paid me in gold!' One man who had been sent to clean out a well in his
stable-yard and had seen him, said: 'I'd a good mind to ask him to sell
me a hat'; and that was repeated for weeks as a great joke. Laura was
told in after years that their better-educated neighbours were almost as
prejudiced; they did not call on the newly rich family. That was before
the days when a golden key could open any door.

Landowners of established rank and stern or kindly J.P.s and their
ladies were respected. Some of the sons or grandsons of local families
were said to be 'wild young devils' and were looked upon with a kind of
horrified admiration. The traditions of the Hell-Fire Club had not
entirely faded, and one young nobleman was reputed to have 'gambled
away' one of his family estates at one sitting. There were hints of more
lurid orgies in which a bunch of good-looking country girls were
supposed to figure, and a saintly curate, an old white-haired man, went
to admonish the young spark, at that time living alone in a wing of the
otherwise deserted family mansion. There was no record of the
conversation, but the result was known. The older man was pushed or
kicked down the front door flight of steps and the door was banged and
bolted against him. Then, the story went, he raised himself to his knees
and prayed aloud for 'the poor sinful child' within. The gardener,
greatly daring, supported him to his cottage and made him rest before
attempting to walk home.

But the great majority of the country gentlepeople lived decent, if,
according to hamlet standards, not particularly useful lives. In summer
the carriage was at the door at three o'clock in the afternoon to take
the lady of the house and her grown-up daughters, if any, to pay calls.
If they found no one in, they left cards, turned down at the corner, or
not turned down, according to etiquette. Or they stayed at home to
receive their own callers and played croquet and drank tea under
spreading cedars on exquisitely kept lawns. In winter they hunted with
the local pack; and, summer and winter, they never failed to attend
Sunday morning service at their parish church. They had always a smile
and a nod for their poorer neighbours who saluted them, with more
substantial favours for those who lived in the cottages on their
estates. As to their inner lives, the commonalty knew no more than the
Britons knew of the Romans who inhabited the villas dotted about the
countryside; and it is doubtful if the county families knew more of
their poorer neighbours than the Romans did of theirs, in spite of
speaking the same language.

Here and there the barrier of caste was overstepped. Perhaps by some
young man or girl who, in advance of their time, realized that the
population beyond their park gates were less 'the poor' in a lump than
individual men and women who happened to have been born to poverty. Of
such it was sometimes said: 'He's different, Master Raymond is; you can
say anything to him, he's more like one of ourselves than one of the
gentry. Makes you split your sides, he does, with some of his tales, and
he's got a feeling heart, too, and don't button his pockets too tight.
Good thing if there were more like him.' Or: 'Miss Dorothy, now, she's
different. No asking questions and questions when she comes to see
anybody; but she sets her down and if you've a mind to tell her
anything, you can and know it won't go no further. I udn't mind seeing
her come in when I was in the godspeed of washday, and that's saying
something.'

On the other hand, there were old nurses and trusted maids who had come
to be regarded as individuals and loved as true friends, irrespective of
class, by those they served. And the name of 'friend', when applied to
them in words, gave them a deeper satisfaction than any material
benefit. A retired lady's maid, whom Laura knew later, spoke to her many
times with much feeling of what she evidently regarded as the crown of
her experiences. She had been for many years maid to a titled lady
moving in high society, had dressed her for royal courts, undressed and
put her to bed in illness, travelled with her, indulged her innocent
vanities, and knew, for she could not help knowing, being so near her
person, her most intimate griefs. At last 'Her Ladyship', grown old, lay
upon her deathbed and her maid, who was helping to nurse her, happened
to be alone in the room with her, her relatives, none of whom were very
near ones, being downstairs at dinner. '"Raise me up," she said, and I
raised her up, and when she put her arms round my neck to help lift her,
she kissed me and said, "_My friend_,"' and Miss Wilson, twenty years
after, considered that kiss and those two words a more ample reward for
her years of devotion than the nice cottage and annuity she received
under the will of the poor lady.



     XX

         _Mrs. Herring_

When Laura said she had seen a ghost coming out of the clothes closet in
the bedroom she had not meant to tell a lie. She really believed she had
seen one. One evening, before it was quite dark and yet the corners of
the room were shadowy her mother had sent her upstairs to fetch
something out of the chest, and, as she leant over it, with one eye
turned apprehensively towards the clothes closet corner, she thought she
saw something move. At the time she felt sure she saw something move,
though she had no clear idea of what it was that was moving. It may have
been a lock of her own hair, or the end of a window-curtain stirring, or
merely a shadow seen sideways; but, whatever it was, it was sufficient
to send her screaming and stumbling downstairs.

At first, her mother was sorry for her, for she thought she had fallen
down a step or two and hurt herself; but when Laura said that she had
seen a ghost she put her off her lap and began to ask questions.

At that point the fibbing began. When asked what the ghost was like, she
first said it was dark and shaggy, like a bear; then that it was tall
and white, adding as an after-thought that it had eyes like lanterns and
she thought it was carrying one, but was not sure. 'I don't suppose you
are sure,' said her mother dryly. 'If you ask me, it's all a parcel of
fibs, and if you don't look out you'll be struck dead, like Ananias and
Sapphira in the Bible,' and she proceeded to tell their story as a
warning.

After that, Laura never spoke of the closet to any one else but Edmund;
but she was still desperately afraid of it, as she had been as long as
she could remember. There was something terrifying about a door which
was never unlocked, and a door in such a dark corner. Even her mother
had never seen inside it, for the contents belonged to their landlady,
Mrs. Herring, who when she moved out of the house had left some of her
belongings there, saying she would fetch them as soon as possible. 'What
was inside it?' the children used to ask each other. Edmund thought
there was a skeleton, for he had heard his mother say, 'There's a
skeleton in every cupboard,' but Laura felt it was nothing as harmless.

After they were in bed and their mother had gone downstairs at night,
she would turn her back on the door, but, if she peeped round, as she
often did--for how otherwise could she be sure that it was not slowly
opening?--all the darkness in the room seemed to be piled up in that
corner. There was the window, a grey square, with sometimes a star or
two showing, and there were the faint outlines of the chair and the
chest, but where the closet door should have been was only darkness.

'Afraid of a locked door!' her mother exclaimed one night when she found
her sitting up in bed and shivering. 'What's inside it? Only a lot of
old lumber, you may be sure. If there was anything much good, she'd have
fetched it before now. Lie down and go to sleep, do, and don't be
silly!' _Lumber! Lumber!_ What a queer word, especially when said over
and over beneath the bedclothes. It meant odds and ends of old rubbish,
her mother had explained, but, to her, it sounded more like black
shadows come alive and ready to bear down on one.

Her parents disliked the closet, too. They paid the rent of the house
and did not see why even a small part of it should be reserved for the
landlady's use; and, until the closet was cleared, they could not carry
out their plan of removing the front, throwing the extra space into the
room, and then running up a wooden partition to make a small separate
bedroom for Edmund. So her father wrote to Mrs. Herring, and one day she
arrived and turned out to be a little, lean old lady with a dark brown
mole on one leathery cheek and wearing a black bonnet decorated with jet
dangles, like tiny fishing rods. The children's mother had asked her
when she arrived if she would not like to take off her bonnet, but she
had said she could not, for she had not brought her cap; and, to make it
look less formal for indoor wear, she had untied the ribbon bow beneath
her chin and flung a bonnet string over each shoulder. Thus unmoored,
the bonnet had grown more and more askew, which went oddly with her
genteel manner.

Edmund and Laura sat on the bed and watched her shake out old garments
and examine them for moth holes and blow the dust off crockery with her
bellows which she had borrowed, until the air of the clean, bright room
was as thick with dust as that of a lime kiln. 'Plenty of dust!' their
mother said, wrinkling her pretty nose distastefully. But Mrs. Herring
did nothing to abate it. Why should she? She was in her own house; her
tenants were privileged to be allowed to live there. At least that was
what Laura read in the upward movement of her little pointed nose.

Now that the closet door was thrown back it revealed a deep, whitewashed
den going back to the eaves of the cottage. It was crammed with the
hoarding of years, with old clothes and shoes, legless chairs, empty
picture frames, handleless cups and spoutless teapots. The best things
had gone downstairs already; the lace-pillow on a stand, the huge green
gig umbrella with whale-bone ribs, and the nest of copper preserving
pans that Laura's mother said afterwards were worth a mint of money.
From the window, Mr. Herring could be seen arranging them in the spring
cart, his thin legs straddling in drab gaiters. There would not be room
in the cart for everything, and the hire of it for the day was too
costly to make another journey possible. The time had come for Mrs.
Herring to decide what was best worth taking.

'I wonder what I'd better do,' she kept saying to the children's mother,
but she got no helpful suggestions from one who detested what she called
'a lot of old clutter laid up in dark corners'.

'She's an old hoarder: A regular old hoarder!' she whispered to Laura
when Mrs. Herring had gone downstairs to consult her husband. 'And don't
let me see you mess with that old rubbish she's given you. Put it down,
and when she's gone it can be cleaned or burnt.' They put down their
presents reluctantly. Edmund had been pleased with his broken corkscrew
and coil of short lengths of string, and Laura had admired her
flannel-leaved needlebook with 'Be Diligent' worked in cross-stitch on
its canvas cover. The needles inside were all rusty, but that did not
matter; it was as a work of art she valued it. But before they had time
to protest, Mrs. Herring's head appeared round the banisters, her bonnet
more than ever askew by that time and her face smutted by cobwebs.
'Would these be any good to you, my dear?' she asked, handing down a
coil of light steel hoops from a nail in the wall of the closet.

'It's very kind of you, I'm sure,' was the guarded response; 'but,
somehow, I don't see myself wearing a crinoline again.'

'No. Right out of fashion,' Mrs. Herring admitted. 'Pity, too, for it
was a handy fashion for young married women. I've known some, wearing a
good-sized crinoline, go right up to the day of their confinement
without so much as their next-door neighbour suspecting. Now look at the
brazen trollops! And here's a lovely picture of the Prince Consort, and
that's somebody you've never heard of, I'll lay,' turning to the
children.

Oh, yes, they had. Their mother had told them that when the Prince
Consort died every lady in the land had gone into mourning, and, no
matter how often they were told this, they always asked, 'And did you go
into mourning, too, Mother?' and were told that she had been only a girl
at the time, but she had had a black sash and ribbons. And they knew he
had been the Queen's husband, though, oddly enough, not the King, and
that he had been so good that nobody had liked him in his lifetime,
excepting the Queen, who 'fairly doted'. They had heard all this by
degrees because a neighbour called 'Old Queenie' had portraits of him
and the Queen on the lid of her snuffbox.

But Mrs. Herring was back in the closet and, since she could not take
all her things away with her, was determined to be generous. 'Now,
here's a nice little beaded footstool. Come out of Tusmore House that
time the fire was, so you may be sure it's good. You have it, my dear.
I'd like you to have it.' Their mother eyed the little round stool with
the claw legs and beaded cover. She would really have liked that, but
had made up her mind to accept nothing. Perhaps she reflected, too, that
it would be hers in any case, as what Mrs. Herring could not take she
would have to leave, for she said again: 'It's very kind of you, I'm
sure, but I don't know that I've any use for it.'

'Use! Use!' echoed Mrs. Herring. 'Keep a thing seven years and you'll
always find a use for it! Besides,' she added, rather sharply, 'it's
just the thing to have under your feet when you're suckling, and you
can't pretend you'll not be doing that again, _and_ a good many times,
too, at your age.'

Fortunately, at that moment, Mr. Herring was heard calling upstairs that
the cart was so chock-a-block that he couldn't get so much as another
needle in edgeways, and, with a deep sigh his wife said she supposed
she'd have to leave the rest. 'Perhaps you could sell some of the best
things and send the money on with the rent,' she suggested hopefully,
but the children's mother thought a bonfire in the garden would be the
best way of disposing of them. However, after she had gone, a number of
things were picked out and cleaned and kept, including the beaded
footstool, a brass ladle, and a little travelling clock, which, when
repaired, delighted the children by playing a little tune after striking
the hours. 'Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle, tink, tink, tink' it went, night and
day, for another forty years! then, its works worn out at last, retired
to a shelf in Laura's attic.

Downstairs, the table was laid with a 'visitor's tea'. There were the
best tea things with a fat pink rose on the side of each cup; hearts of
lettuce, thin bread and butter, and the crisp little cakes that had been
baked in readiness that morning. Edmund and Laura sat very upright on
their hard windsor chairs. Bread and butter first. Always bread and
butter first: they had been told that so many times that it had the
finality of a text of Scripture. But Mr. Herring, who was the eldest
present and ought to have set a good example, began with the little
cakes, picking up and examining each one closely before disposing of it
in two bites. However, while there were still a few left, Mrs. Herring
placed bread and butter on his plate and handed him the lettuce
meaningly; and when he twisted the tender young hearts of lettuce into
tight rolls and dipped them into the salt-cellar she took the spoon and
put salt on the side of his plate.

Mrs. Herring ate very genteelly, crumbling her cake on her plate and
picking out and putting aside the currants, because, she explained, they
did not agree with her. She crooked the little finger of the hand which
held her teacup and sipped its contents like a bird, with her eyes
turned up to the ceiling.

While they sat there, the door wide open, with the scent of flowers and
the humming of bees and the waving of fruit-tree tops, seeming to the
children to say that the stiff, formal tea-drinking would soon be over
and that they were all waiting for them in the garden, a woman paused at
the gate, looked the spring cart well over, set down her water-buckets
and opened the gate. 'Why, it's Rachel. Whatever can she want?' said the
children's mother, rather vexed at the intrusion. What Rachel wanted was
to know who the visitors were and why they had come.

'Why, if it ain't Mrs. Herring--and Mr. Herring, too!' she cried in a
tone of joyful recognition as she reached the door. 'An' you've come to
clear out that old closet of yours, I'll be bound. I thought to meself
when I saw the spring cart at th' gate, "That's Mrs. Herring come to
fetch away her old lumber at last." But I weren't quite sure, because
you've got that waterproof cover over it all. How be ye both, and how do
ye like it up yonder?'

During this speech Mrs. Herring had frozen visibly. 'We are well, thank
you,' she said, 'and we like our present residence very much, though
what business it is of yours to inquire, I _don't_ know.'

'Oh, no offence intended, no offence,' said Rachel, somewhat abashed. 'I
only come to inquire, just friendly like,' and off she stumped down the
path, throwing another inquisitive glance at the cart as she passed it.

'There! Did you ever!' Mrs. Herring exclaimed. 'I never saw such a lot
of heathen Turks in my life! A woman I took good care barely to pass the
time of day with when I lived here to come hail-fellow-well-metting me
like that!'

'She didn't mean any harm,' apologized Laura's mother. 'There's so
little going on here that when anybody does come the folks take more
interest than they would in a town.'

'I'd interest her! I'd hail-fellow-well-met her!' exclaimed Mr. Herring,
who had so far sat mute. 'I'd teach her how to behave to her betters, if
I had my way.'

'God knows I did my best to put them in their places when we were living
here,' sighed Mrs. Herring, her anger subsiding, 'but 'twas no good. Why
we ever thought to live in such a place I couldn't tell you if you asked
me, unless it was that the house was going cheap at the time Mr. Herring
retired and a nice bit of ground went with it. It's very different at
Candleford. Of course, there are poor people there, but we don't have to
associate with them; they keep to their part of the town and we keep to
ours. You should see our house: nice iron railings in front and an entry
where the stairs go up, not like this, with the door opening straight
out on the path and anybody right on top of you before you know where
you are. Not but what this is a nice little house,' she added hastily,
remembering that she owned it, 'but you know what I mean. Candleford's
different. Civilized, that's what my son-in-law calls it, and he works
at the biggest grocer's in the town, so he ought to know. It's
civilized, he says, and he's right. You can't call a place like this
civilized, now can you?'

Laura thought it must be a fine thing to be civilized until, later, she
asked her mother what the word meant and her mother replied: 'A
civilized place is where the people wear clothes and don't run naked
like savages.' So it meant nothing, for everybody in this country wore
clothes. One old Lark Rise woman wore three flannel petticoats in
winter. She thought that if all the Candleford people were like Mr. and
Mrs. Herring she would not like them much. How rude they had been to
poor Rachel!

But they were funny. When her father came home from work that night her
mother told him about the visit, imitating first Mrs. Herring's voice,
then that of Mr. Herring, and making the one even more carefully genteel
than it had been and the other more sudden and squeaky.

They all laughed a good deal, then her father said: 'I forgot to tell
you I saw Harris last night and he says we can have the pony and cart
any Sunday we like now.'

The children were so pleased they made a little song about it:


We're going over to Candleford,
  To Candleford, to Candleford,
We're going over to Candleford
  To see our relations,


and they sang it about the house so often that their mother said it just
about drove her melancholy mad. The loan of the pony and cart was not
everything, it appeared; the half-year's rent had to be got together and
taken because, big as Candleford was, the Herrings would know they had
been. They knew everything, nosy parkers as they were, and if the rent,
then about due, was not taken, they would think their tenants had not
the money. That would never do. 'Don't be poor and look poor, too,' was
a family maxim. Then the Sunday outfits had to be overhauled and a few
small presents purchased to take with them. Planning a summer Sunday
outing in those days meant more than turning over the leaves of a bus
time-table.


    XXI

      _Over to Candleford_

Very early one Sunday morning, while the rest of the hamlet was still
asleep and the sky was still pink and the garden flowers and currant
bushes were still greyish-rough with dew, they heard the sound of wheels
drawing up at their gate and knew that the innkeeper's old pony had come
with the spring cart to take them.

Father and Mother rode on the front seat, Father in his best black coat
and grey-striped trousers and Mother resplendent in her pale grey
wedding gown with rows and rows of narrow blue velvet ribbon edging its
many flounces. The wedding bonnet had long been cast aside, for, as she
often said, 'headgear does date so', and on this occasion she wore a
tiny blue velvet bonnet, like a little flat mat on her hair, with wide
velvet strings tied in a bow under her chin,--a new bonnet, the
procuring of which had helped to delay the expedition. Upon her lap she
nursed a basket containing the presents; a bottle of her elderberry
wine, a fowl she had specially fattened, and a length of pillow-lace,
made to order by a neighbour, which she thought would make nice
neckfrills for the cousins' best frocks. Their father, not to be outdone
in generosity, at the last moment filled the back of the cart, where
Edmund and Laura were to sit, with a selection of his choicest
vegetables, so that, throughout the drive, Laura's legs rested higher
than her seat on a sack of spring cabbage, the first of the season.

At last the children were strapped into the high, narrow seat with their
backs to those of their parents and off they went, their father coaxing
the old grey mare past her stable door, which she made determined
efforts to enter, with: 'Come on', Polly, old girl. Not tired already.
Why, we haven't started yet.' Later on, he lost patience and called her
'a measley old screw', and once, when she stopped dead in the middle of
the road, he said, 'Damn the mare!' and their mother looked back over
the shoulder as though she feared the animal's owner might hear. Between
the stops, she trotted in little bursts, and the children bumped up and
down in their seat like rubber balls bouncing. All of which was as
exciting to them as a flight in an aeroplane would be to a modern child.

From their high seat they could see over hedges into buttercup meadows
where cows lay munching the wet grass and big cropping cart-horses
loomed up out of the morning mist. In one place the first wild roses
were out in the hedge and their father lassoed a spray with his whip and
passed it over his shoulder to Laura. The delicate pale pink cups had
dew in them. Farther on, he stopped Polly, handed the reins to their
mother and leapt down. 'Ah! I thought so!' he said as he plunged his arm
into the hedge at a spot from which he had seen a bird flutter out, and
he came back with two bright blue eggs in his palm and let them all feel
and stroke them before putting them back in the nest. They were warm and
as soft as satin.

'Pat, pat, pat', went Polly's hooves in the dust, 'creak, creak, creak',
went the harness, and 'rattle, rattle, rattle', went the iron-tyred
wheels over the stony places. The road might have been made entirely for
their convenience. There was no other vehicle upon it. The farm carts
and bakers' vans which passed that way on weekdays were standing in
yards with their shafts pointing skyward; the gentry's carriages reposed
in lofty, stone-paved coach-houses, and coachmen and carters and drivers
were all still in bed, for it was Sunday.

The blinds of roadside cottages were drawn and their gardens were
deserted of all but a prowling cat or a thrush cracking a snail on a
stone, and the children bumped and jolted on through this early morning
world with their hearts full of blissful expectation.

They were going over to Candleford. It was always called 'going over',
for the country people never spoke of just plain going anywhere; it had
to be going up or down or round or over to a place, and there were so
many ups and downs, so many small streams to cross and so many gates
across roads to open between their home and Candleford that 'going over'
seemed best to describe the journey.

Towards midday they passed through a village where the people, in their
Sunday best, were streaming towards the lych-gate of the church. The
squire and the farmers wore top hats, and the squire's head gardener and
the schoolmaster and the village carpenter. The farm labourers wore
bowlers, or, the older men, soft, round black felts. With the top-hatted
men were women in rich, dark, heavy dresses who clung to their husband's
arms while their children walked meekly in front or, not so meekly,
behind them. Other villagers in workday clothes, with very clean shirts
and their boots unlaced for greater Sunday ease, carried their dinners
to the baker's, or stood in a group at the bakehouse door; while slowly
up and down the road in front of them paced a handsome pair of greys
with a carriage behind them and a coachman and a footman on the box with
cockades in their glossy hats. Shepherded by their teachers, the
school-children marched two and two to church from the Sunday School.

This village was so populous and looked so fine, with its pretty
cottages standing back on each side of an avenue of young chestnut
trees, that Laura thought at first it was Candleford. But, no, she was
told; it was Lord So-and-So's place. No doubt the carriage and greys
belonged to him. It was what was called a model village, with three
bedrooms to every house and a pump to supply water to each group of
cottages.

Only good people were allowed to live there, her father said. That was
why so many were going to church. He seemed to speak seriously, but her
mother clicked her tongue, and, to placate her, he said that he thought
the bakehouse was a good idea. 'How would you like to send your Sunday
joint out to be baked and find it just done to a turn when you came out
of church?' he asked their mother. But that did not seem to please her
either; she said more went to the cooking of a good dinner than just
baking the meat, and, besides, how could you be sure of getting all your
dripping? It was a funny thing bakers so often had dripping to sell.
They said they bought it from the cooks at big houses. But did they?

Soon after the model village was left behind Polly got tired and stood
stockstill in the road, and their mother suggested a rest and a nosebag
for her and some food for them. So they all got out and sat on a
stone-heap like gipsies and ate little cakes and drank milk out of a
bottle while they listened to the skylarks overhead and smelt the wild
thyme at their feet. They were in a new country by then, a country of
large grass fields dotted with trees where herds of bullocks grazed, or
peered at them through the iron railings by the roadside. Their father
pointed out some earthworks, which he said were thrown up by the Romans
and described those old warriors in their brass helmets so well that the
children seemed to see them; but neither he, nor they, dreamed that
another field within sight would one day be surrounded by buildings
called 'hangars', or that one day, within their own lifetimes, other
warriors would soar from it into the sky, armed with more deadly weapons
than the Romans ever knew. No, that field lay dreaming in the sunshine,
flat and green, waiting for a future of which they knew nothing.

Soon after that Candleford came out to meet them. First, wayside
cottages embowered in flower gardens, then cottages in pairs with iron
railings enclosing neat little front plots and tiled paths leading up to
the doors. Then the gasometer (for they actually had gas at Candleford!)
and the railway station, which made the town accessible to all but such
cross-country districts as theirs. Then came pavements and lamp-posts
and people, more people than they had ever seen together in their lives
before. But, while they were still on the outskirts, they felt their
mother nudge their father's arm and heard her ejaculate: 'There's pomp
for you! Feathers, if you please!' Then, throwing her voice ahead: 'Why,
it's Ethel and Alma, coming to meet us. Here are your cousins. Turn
round and wave to them, dears!' Still held by the strap, Laura wriggled
round and saw, coming towards them, two tall girls in white.

The feathers that had shocked her mother, partly, perhaps, because of
the contrast between their richness and Laura's plain little hat of
white chip with its pink ribbon tied round in a bow to match her pink
frock, were long white ostrich plumes wreathed round floppy leghorn
hats. The hats were exactly alike and the feathers of the same fullness
down to the last strand. The white embroidered muslin dresses they wore
were also replicas of each other, for it was the fashion then to dress
sisters alike, regardless of type. But the girls had seen them and came
running towards the spring cart with a twinkle of long, black-stockinged
legs and shiny patent-leather best shoes. After the health of
themselves, their parents, and the rest of the family had been inquired
into, they came round to the back of the cart.

'So this is Laura? And this is dear little Edmund? How do you do? How do
you do, dear?' Alma was twelve and Ethel thirteen, but their cool,
grown-up manner might have belonged to twenty-five and thirty. Laura
began to wish herself back at home as, one blush of embarrassment all
over, she answered for herself and Edmund. She could scarcely believe
that these two tall, well-dressed, nearly grown-up girls were her
cousins. She had expected something quite different.

However, things were easier when their equipage moved on, with Ethel and
Alma holding on, one on each side of the tail board, and smiling a
little as they answered their uncle's shouted questions. 'Yes, Uncle',
Alma was still at the Candleford school; but Ethel was at Miss
Bussell's, a weekly boarder; she came home on Friday night and went back
on Monday morning. She was going to stay there until she was old enough
to go to the Training College for Schoolteachers. 'That's right!' called
Laura's father. 'Stuff your own brains now and you'll be able to stuff
other people's hereafter. And Alma, is she going to be a teacher, too?'
Oh, no, when she left school she was going to be apprenticed to a Court
dressmaker in Oxford. 'That's first-rate,' said their uncle. 'Then when
Laura is presented at Court she'll be able to make her dress for her.'
The girls laughed uncertainly, as if they were not sure if that was
meant for a joke or not, and his wife told him not to be 'a great
donkey', but Laura felt uncomfortable. The only Court she had heard of
was the County Court, to which a neighbour had recently been summoned,
and the idea of being presented there was far from pleasant.

It had been arranged that the Lark Rise family should have dinner at
Ethel and Alma's home, not because her parents happened to be the most
prosperous of their Candleford kin, but because their house came first
as they entered the town. Afterwards they were to go on to see another
family of cousins. Laura thought her mother would have preferred to go
there at once, for, when their arrangements had been discussed at home,
she had said something about hating a lot of fuss and show-off, and that
money wasn't everything, though some folks who had plenty might think
so. 'But,' she had concluded, 'they are your relations, not mine, and I
expect you understand them better than I do. But, for goodness' sake,
don't get on to politics with James, like you did at our wedding. If you
two talked till you were black in the face you'd never agree, so what's
the good of arguing'; and her husband had promised, quite meekly for
him, that he would not be the first to bring up the subject.

Candleford seemed a very large and grand place to Laura, with its
several streets meeting in a square where there were many large shop
windows, with the blinds drawn because it was Sunday, and a doctor's
house with a red lamp over the gate, and a church with a tall spire, and
women and girls in light summer frocks and men in smart suits and white
straw, boater-shaped hats.

But they were pulling-up at a tall white house set back on a little
green with a chestnut tree supporting scaffold poles and ladders and a
sign which informed the public that James Dowland, Builder and
Contractor, was ready and competent to undertake 'Constructions,
Renovations, and Sanitary Work. Estimates Free'.

Readers have no doubt noticed how seldom builders live in houses of
their own construction. You will find a town or village expanding in all
directions with their masterpieces of modernity in the way of houses and
bungalows; but the builder himself you will usually find living nearer
the heart of things, snugly and comfortably housed in some more
substantial, if less convenient, building of less recent date. Uncle
James Dowland's house was probably Georgian. The eight windows with
their clinging wreaths of wistaria were beautifully spaced and the
flight of steps which led up to the hooded front door was guarded by the
low white posts and chains which enclosed the little green. But, before
Laura could get more than a general impression and think 'what a nice
house', she was in the comfortable arms of her Aunt Edith, who was sure
they were all tired out after that long drive in the hot sun and would
be glad to rest, and Uncle would be here soon. He was a Churchwarden now
and had to attend the morning service; and if Robert would take the
horse and cart round to the yard gate--'You haven't forgotten the way,
Robert?'--Alma would call the boy to see to the pony. 'He comes in for
an hour or two on Sunday mornings to clean the boots and the knives, you
know, Emmie, and I've kept him on to-day on purpose. Now, you come
upstairs with me and I'll find some lotion for Laura's freckles; then
you must all have a glass of wine to refresh you. It's all of my own
making, so you need not be afraid of it for the children. James would
never allow intoxicating liquor in this house.'

The inside of the house seemed like a palace to Laura, after their own
homely cottage. There were two parlours, one on each side of the front
door, and in one of them a table was spread with decanters and
wineglasses and dishes of cakes and fruit and biscuits. 'What a lovely
dinner,' Laura whispered to her mother when they happened to be alone in
the room for a moment.

'That's not dinner. It's refreshments,' she whispered back, and Laura
thought 'refreshments' meant an extra nice dinner provided on such
occasions. Then her father and Edmund came back from their hand-washing,
Edmund bubbling over with some tale of a chain you could pull which
brought water pouring down, 'More water than there is in the brook at
home,' and their mother said, 'S-s-hush!' and added that she would
explain later. Laura had not seen this marvel. She and her mother had
taken off their hats and washed their hands in the best bedroom, a
magnificent room with a four-poster bed with green curtains and a double
washstand with a jug and basin each for them. 'You'll find the commode
in that corner,' her auntie had said, and the commode turned out to be a
kind of throne with carpeted steps and a lid which opened. But Laura was
older than Edmund and knew it was rude to mention such things.

Uncle James Dowland now came in. He was a big man and an
important-looking one, and seemed to fill even that large,
well-proportioned room with his presence. At his approach Aunt Edith's
stream of good-natured chatter ran dry, and Alma, who had been tiptoeing
round the table, helping herself to a little from most of the dishes,
sank down on the couch and pulled her short skirt over her knees. After
she had been greeted by a heavy pat on the head, Laura shrank back
behind her mother. Uncle James was so tall and stout and dark, with
eyebrows so bushy and so thick a moustache, with so glossy a Sunday suit
and so heavy a gold watchchain that, before him, the others present
seemed to fade into the background. Except Laura's father, who nearly as
tall as he was, though slighter, stood with him on the hearthrug,
talking about their trade. It turned out afterwards to be the only safe
subject.

Uncle James Dowland was one of those leading spirits found at that time
in every country town or large village. In addition to attending to his
own not inconsiderable business of building new houses, renovating old
ones, and keeping everybody's roofs and drains in order, he was People's
Churchwarden, choirman, and occasional organist, a member of every
committee, and auditor of all charity accounts. But his chief interest
was in the temperance movement, at that time a regular feature of
parochial life. His hatred of intoxicating drink amounted to a phobia,
and he used to say that if he saw a workman of his entering a
public-house, he would not be his workman much longer. But he was not
content with ruling his own home and business in this respect; the whole
town was his mission field, and if he could coax or bribe some unhappy
workman into signing away his nightly half-pint he became as exhilarated
as if his tender for building a mansion had been accepted.

To him the smallest child was worth winning as a temperance convert. He
would guide their tiny hands as they signed the temperance pledge, and
to keep them in the fold he had established a Band of Hope which met
once a week to eat buns and drink lemonade at his expense and to sing to
his accompaniment on the school harmonium such rousing ditties as 'Pray
sell no more drink to my father' or:


Father, dear Father, come home with me now,
  The clock in the steeple strikes one.
You promised, dear Father, that you would come home
  As soon as your day's work was done


while, all the time, their own excellent fathers, after a modest
half-pint at their favourite inn, were already at home and the singers
themselves were likely to get into trouble for being out late.

Edmund and Laura, that first Sunday, wrote their names on a handsome
blue-and-gold illuminated pledge card, thereby promising they would
henceforth touch no intoxicating liquor, 'so help me God'. They were not
quite sure what intoxicating liquor was, but they liked the cards and
were pleased when their uncle offered to have them framed to hang over
their beds at home.

Their Aunt Edith was more attractive to children. She was pink and plump
and had wavy grey hair and kind grey eyes. She was dressed in grey silk
and when she stirred there was a faint scent of lavender. She looked
kind and was kind; but, that discovered and acknowledged, there was
little more to be said about her. Away from her husband and daughters
she was talkative, running on from subject to subject, like a brook
babbling. She greatly admired her husband, and every moment when alone
with Laura's mother was devoted to his praise. It was James says this,
and James did that, and stories to show how important and respected he
was. In his presence she seemed a little afraid of him and she was
certainly afraid of her daughters. It was 'What do you think, dear?' or
'What would you do if you were me?' to the girls before she would
express an opinion or make an arrangement. Then, to her sister-in-law,
'Of course, you see, Emmie, they've got different ideas to us, with all
this education and getting to know people.' She had already informed her
that they sometimes played tennis at the Rectory.

Laura thought the girls were conceited, and, although she could not have
put it into words, felt they patronized her mother and her as poor
relations; but perhaps she was wrong. It may only have been that they
were so far removed in circumstances and interests that they had nothing
in common. That was the only time Laura was to meet them upon anything
like equal terms. They were away from home at the time of her next visit
and grown-up before she saw them again. She was only just in time to
catch the last flick of their skirts as they began to climb the social
ladder which would take them right out of her own life.

The dinner which speedily followed the refreshments was superlative. At
one end of the table was a leg of lamb, roasted before an open fire to
conserve the juices; at the other a couple of boiled fowls garnished
with slices of ham. There were jellies and cheese-cakes, and gooseberry
tart with cream.

'The girl' brought in and cleared away the dishes. The maid in a
tradesman's family was then always known as 'the girl', irrespective of
age. In this case she was a girl of about fifty, who had been with Aunt
Edith from the day she was married and was to remain with her as long as
she lived. According to Laura's mother, she was overworked, but, if so,
it appeared to agree with her, for she was rosy and round as a tub, and
the only complaint she was ever known to make was that 'the Missis'
would always make the pastry herself, although she knew that she
(Bertha) had a lighter hand with a rolling-pin. She kept the whole of
the fair-sized house cleaned and polished and whitestoned, helped the
washer-woman on Mondays, cooked the meals, and mended the stockings, and
all for twelve pounds a year. She was kind, too. Seeing on that first
visit Laura had no appetite for dinner after the refreshments, she
whisked her scarcely touched plate away while the others were talking.

It was all very rich and fine, but frightfully dull to a child who had
come with such high expectations. They were back in the first parlour.
The refreshments had disappeared and there was a green plush cloth on
the table. Ethel and Alma had gone to Sunday School, where both took
classes, and Laura had been given a book with views of Ramsgate to look
at. The window blinds were drawn, for the sun was hot on the panes, and
the room smelt of best clothes, furniture polish, and potpourri. Edmund
was already asleep on his mother's knee and Laura was getting drowsy
when the soft buzz of grown-up conversation which had been going on over
her head was broken by sharp cries of 'Ireland', 'Home Rule', 'Gladstone
says . . .' 'Lord Hartington says . . .' 'Joey Chamberlain says . . .'
The two men had got on to the subject which her mother had dreaded.

'They're subjects of Queen Victoria, ain't they, same as we are,' her
uncle insisted. 'Well, then, let 'em behave as such and be thankful to
have a decent Government over 'em. Nice thing they'd make of governing
themselves, and they no better than a lot of drunken savages.'

'How'd you like it if a foreign country invaded, England . . .' her
father began.

'I'd like to see 'em try it,' interposed her uncle.

'. . . invaded England and shed blood like water and burnt down your
house and workshops and interfered with your religion. You'd want to get
rid of 'em, I'll bet, and get back your independence.'

'Well, we did conquer 'em, didn't we? So let 'em learn who's their
masters, I say, and if they won't toe the line, let our soldiers go over
and make them.'

'How many Irishmen have you ever known personally?'

'If I'd only known one it'd be one too many; but, as a matter of fact,
I've had several working for me at different times. Then there was
Colonel Dimmock at Bradley, went bankrupt and let me in for more money
than you're ever likely to earn.'

'Now, Bob!' pleaded Laura's mother.

'Now, James!' urged her aunt. 'You're not at a meeting now, but at home,
and it's Sunday. What's Ireland to either of you. You've never been
there and are never likely to, so have done with your arguing.'

Both men laughed a little and seemed ashamed of their vehemence, but her
uncle could not forbear a parting shot. 'Tell you what,' he said,
probably meaning it for a joke. 'In my opinion, the best way to settle
the question would be to send over a shipload of whisky one day and a
shipload of guns the next and they'd all get raving drunk and kill one
another and save us the trouble.'

Robert stood up and his face was white with anger, but he only said a
cold 'Good day' as he made for the door. His wife and sister ran to him
and seized an arm each and his brother-in-law told him not to be a fool.
'It's only politics,' he said. 'You take things too seriously. Come, sit
down, and Edith'll tell the girl to bring in a cup of tea before you go
on to Ann's.' But Robert walked out of the house and away down the
street after saying over his shoulder to his wife, 'See you later.'

He had no sense of humour. None of them had at that moment. Laura's
mother was all apologies. Her uncle, still angry, but a little ashamed,
said he was sorry for her. Her aunt wiped her eyes on a pretty
lace-edged handkerchief and Laura's needed wiping, for was not their
long-looked-for day ruined if their lovely drive behind Polly had only
led to this.

It was her mother, who did not pretend to be well-bred, yet always
managed to do or say the right thing, who eased the situation by saying:
'Well, he'll have to come back presently to harness the horse and he'll
be sorry enough by that time, I dare say, and I think I will have that
cup of tea, if Bertha's got the kettle boiling. Just a cup to drink.
Nothing more to eat, really. Then we must be getting on.'



    XXII

  _Kind Friends and Relations_

After a decent interval, during which everybody tried to talk as though
nothing had happened, the two children with their mother set out to
follow their father to Aunt Ann's, Laura dragging behind a little, for
the sun was hot and she was tired and not sure that she liked
Candleford.

She soon cheered up; there was so much to see. Houses, houses all the
way, not rows of houses, all alike, like peas in a pod, but big and
little, tall and low, with old grey walls between with broken
bottle-glass on the coping and fruit trees waving in gardens behind, and
queer door-knockers and little shed-like porches, and people walking in
their thin best shoes on the cobblestones with bunches of flowers, or
prayerbooks, or beer jugs in their hands.

Once, at a turning, they caught a glimpse of a narrow lane of poor
houses with ragged washing slung on lines between windows and children
sitting on doorsteps. 'Is that a slum, Mother?' asked Laura, for she
recognized some of the features described in the Sunday-school stories.

'Of course not,' said her mother crossly; then, after they had passed
the turning: 'Don't speak so loud. Somebody might hear you and not like
it. Folks who live in slums don't call them that. They're used to it and
it seems all right to them. And why should you worry about things like
that. You'd do better to mind your own business.'

Her own business! Wasn't it her business to be sorry for people who
lived in slums and had no food or bed and a drunken father, or a
landlord ready to turn them out in the snow. Hadn't her mother herself
nearly cried when she read _Froggy's Little Brother_ aloud to them?
Laura could have cried then, in the middle of Candleford, at the thought
of the time when Froggy took home the bloater as a treat and his poor
little brother was too ill to eat any.

But they had come to a place where they could see green fields and a
winding river with willows beside it. Facing them with its back to the
fields was a row of shops, the last in the town on that side, and in the
window of the shop they were approaching was nothing but one lady's top
boot, beautifully polished and standing on an amber velvet cushion with
an amber velvet curtain behind it. Above the window was a notice,
unreadable to Laura then, but read by her many times afterwards, which
said: 'Ladies' boots and shoes made to order. Best Materials. Perfect
Workmanship. Fit Guaranteed. Ladies' Hunting Boots a Speciality.'

Their Uncle Tom had what was at that time called 'a snug little
business'. It was a common thing then for people of all classes,
excepting the very poorest, to have their footwear made to measure. In a
large workshop across the yard at the back of the house and shop,
workmen and apprentices scraped and hammered and sewed all day, making
and mending. Uncle Tom's own workshop was a back room of the house, with
a door opening out on to the yard, across which he came and went dozens
of times a day to and from the main workshop. He made the hunting boots
there and sewed the uppers of the more delicate makes, and there he
fitted the customers, excepting the hunting ladies, who tried their
boots on in the best parlour, Uncle Tom kneeling on the carpet before
them like a courtier before a queen.

But all this Laura found out afterwards. On that first visit the front
door flew open before they had reached it and they were surrounded by
cousins and kissed and hugged and led to where Aunt Ann stood in the
doorway.

Laura had never known any one like her Aunt Ann. The neighbours at home
were kind in their rough way, but they were so bent on doing their best
for themselves and those belonging to them that, excepting in times of
illness or trouble, they had little feeling to spare for others. Her
mother was kind and sensible and loved her children dearly, but she did
not believe in showing too much tenderness towards them or in 'giving
herself away' to the world at large. Aunt Ann gave herself away with
every breath she drew. No one who heard her gentle voice or looked into
her fine dark eyes could doubt her loving nature. Her husband laughed at
what he called her 'softness' and said that customers calling in a great
rage to complain that their shoes had not been delivered to time had
stayed to tell the full story of their lives. For her own children she
had sweet, pet names, and Edmund was soon her 'little lover' and Laura
her 'Pussikins'. Except for her eyes and the dark, satiny hair which
rippled in waves flat to her head, she was a plain-looking woman, pale
and thin of face and of figure so flat that, with her hair parted in the
middle and in the long, straight frocks she wore, she reminded Laura of
Mrs. Noah in the toy ark she had given Edmund at Christmas. That
impression, a bony embrace, and a soft, warm kiss were all Laura had
time for before she was borne on a stream of cousins straight through
the house to an arbour in the garden where her father and uncle sat with
a jug and glasses on a table between them and their pipes in their
mouths. They were talking amiably together, although, only that morning,
her father had spoken of her uncle as 'a snob' and her mother had
protested, 'But he's not a common cobbler, Bob. He's a master man, and
he makes more than he mends.'

If Laura's Uncle Tom was a snob by trade, there was nothing else
snobbish about him, for he was one of the most liberal-minded men she
was ever to know and one of the wisest. He was a Liberal in politics,
too, and no doubt that accounted for her father's air of friendliness
and ease. They were settling the Irish question, for the old familiar
catchwords caught her ear, and it was rather an absent-minded uncle who
stroked her hair and told the girls to take her to play in the orchard,
but not to let the little boy go tumbling in the river, or their mother
would have all those cakes she had been making left on her hands.

The orchard consisted of about a score of old apple and plum trees on a
square of rough grass at the bottom of the garden, beyond which ran the
small, sluggish stream, half choked with rushes and bordered with
willows. Laura, who had felt so tired before, suddenly felt tired no
more, but ran and shouted and played 'tig' with the others around the
tree trunks. The apple blossom was nearly over and the petals were
falling and they all tried to catch a petal or two because one of the
cousins said that for every petal they caught they would have a happy
month. Then there were small green gooseberries to crunch and
forget-me-nots to pick. Laura filled her hands with these and carried
them about until they drooped and had to be thrown into the river.

Gradually, she became able to distinguish between the new faces and to
discover the name for each. There was Molly, the eldest, a motherly
little person with a plump, soft figure, red-gold hair, and freckles on
the bridge of her nose. Annie had reddish hair, too, but was smaller
than Molly and had no freckles. Nelly was dark, quick in her movements,
and said things that made people laugh. 'Sharp as a needle,' said
Laura's father afterwards. Amy, the youngest girl, was Laura's own age.
She had a red bow on her dark curls, but Laura did not need to look at
the bow, except to admire it, because Amy was smaller than the others.

Johnny was the youngest of all, but by far the most important, for he
was a boy, and a boy who came at the end of a long string of girls.
Johnny must have anything he wanted, no matter to whom it belonged. If
Johnny fell down, he must be picked up and comforted, and around Johnny,
when he approached the river, red heads and dark heads drew to form a
bodyguard. Rather a baby, thought Laura, although the same age as
Edmund, who needed no attention at all, but went and stood on the bank
and threw down twigs to float and called them ships; then ran, throwing
up his heels like a young colt and lay on his back in the grass with his
legs sticking up.

A shabby old flat-bottomed boat was moored beneath the bank, and when
they were tired of their play, some one suggested that they should go
and sit in it. 'But may we?' asked Laura, rather nervously, for it was
the first boat she had seen outside a picture-book, and the water looked
deep and wide to her, after the brook at home. But Edmund was more
enterprising; he slid down the bank into the boat at once, crying: 'Come
on! Hurry up! Our ship's just starting to Australia!' So, with the
little boys holding an oar each and pretending to row, and the girls
packed into the stern, well out of the way of chance knocks with the
oars, and the willow leaves silvery against the blue sky, and the air
flavoured with mint and the raw dankness of water weeds, they set out on
their imaginary voyage. And, all the time, there was that stout, strong
rope holding the boat safely to shore. All the joys of adventure without
its perils.

When discussing the family afterwards, Laura's mother said Molly was a
little woman, 'a regular second mother to the younger ones', and her own
mother must have trusted her, for the children were left to themselves
the whole of that afternoon. Or it may have been that the father and
uncle had so much to settle about Ireland and the mother and aunt were
so busy indoors inspecting wardrobes and discussing family affairs.

The children, too, had plenty to discuss. 'Can you read?' 'When are you
going to school?' 'What's Lark Rise like?' 'Only a few houses--all
fields?' 'Where do you buy things if there are no shops?' 'Do you like
Molly's hair? Most people hate red and they call her "ginger" at school;
but Mr. Collier, that's our Vicar, says it's lovely, and a customer told
Mother that if she liked to have it cut off she could sell it for pounds
and pounds. Some ladies would pay anything to have it to put on their
own heads. Yes, didn't you know that some people wear false hair? Aunt
Edith has a switch? I've seen it, hanging on her dressing table in the
morning; that's what makes her hair bunch out so at the back.' 'And your
hair's nice, too, Laura,' said Molly generously, picking out Laura's
best feature. 'I like the way it runs like water all down your back.'

'My mother can sit on her hair when it's down,' boasted Laura, and the
cousins were impressed, for a great deal was thought of quantity in
those days, of hair as of other things.

All the girls were going to school in the town as yet, but soon Molly
and Nellie were to go to Miss Bussell's for a year each to be
'finished'. When, later, Laura asked her father if Johnny would go to
Miss Bussell's, too, he laughed and said, 'Of course not. It's a girls'
school. For the daughters of gentlemen, says the brass plate on the
door, and that means for the daughters of a chimney sweep, if he can
afford to pay.'

'Then where will Johnny go?' she persisted, and her father said, 'Eton,
I s'pose,' which rather alarmed Laura because she thought he had said
'eaten'. She was relieved when he added, 'But I doubt if that'll be good
enough. They'll have to build a special school on purpose for Johnny.'

What surprised Laura most as she listened to her cousins that afternoon
was that they spoke of school as if they liked it. The hamlet children
hated school. It was prison to them, and from the very beginning they
counted the years until they would be able to leave. But Molly and
Nellie and Amy said school was great fun. Annie did not like it so much.

'A-h-h! Who's bottom of her class!' laughed Nell. But Molly said, 'Never
mind her, Annie. She may be good at lessons, but she can't sew for nuts,
and you're going to get the needlework prize with that baby's frock
you're making. Ask her what Miss Pridham said when she examined her
herring-boning.'

Then a voice from the upper garden called them in to tea. Just the kind
of tea Laura liked, bread and butter and jam and a cake and some little
cakes, a little more of everything than they had at home, but not the
rich, bewildering abundance of the 'refreshments'.

She liked her cousins' house, too. It was old, with little flights of
steps going up or down in unexpected places. Aunt Ann's parlour had a
piano across one corner and a soft green carpet the colour of faded
moss. The windows were wide open and there was a delicious scent of
wallflowers and tea and cake and cobbler's wax. They had tea out of the
silver teapot at the large round table in the parlour that day.
Afterwards, they always had tea in the kitchen, much the nicest room in
the house, with its two windows with window seats and brass warming pans
and candlesticks and strips of red-and-blue striped matting on the stone
floor.

That day, because they were having tea in the parlour, there was not
room at the table for all, and Edmund and Johnny were seated at a side
table with their backs to the wall, so that their respective mothers
could keep an eye on them. But there was still so much talking going on
among the elders that the little boys were forgotten until Johnny asked
for more cake. When his mother handed him a slice he said it was too
large, and, when halved, too small, and, finally, left the portion he
had accepted in crumbs upon his plate, which shocked Edmund and Laura,
who, at home, had to eat whatever was put upon their plates, and 'no
leavings allowed'.

'Spoilt to death, regularly spoilt' was their mother's verdict when
Johnny was spoken of afterwards, and perhaps at that time he was spoilt.
He could scarcely escape spoiling, being the only and long-desired boy,
coming after so many girls and then turning out to be the only delicate
one of the family. He was young for his age and slow in developing; but
there was fine stuff in Johnny. As a young man he was deeply religious,
a non-smoker, a non-drinker and a non-cardplayer, and served the altar
set up on many a battlefield during the 1914-18 War, and all this needed
character in the atmosphere of Army life.

That Sunday afternoon Laura saw only a little boy with a pale, freckled
face and thin fair hair. A spoilt child, of whom even his parents looked
a little ashamed. But, in after years, she also saw Johnny as a sick
soldier shut up in Kut, emaciated by illness and hunger and tormented by
heat and flies; and that same soldier, once the adored little boy with
his bodyguard of sisters, thrown out bodily after an exchange of sick
prisoners with a last kick from his native jailor and a 'You can have
this one for a makeweight. He's no good'. Or the same Johnny, lying for
a whole summer on a long chair in the orchard, fed, every few minutes,
as it seemed, with broth, or eggs beaten up in milk, out of teacups,
until home and rest and his mother's nursing had strengthened him
sufficiently to pass his Board and be sent to the trenches in France.
For, as we grow older, we see in memory not only our friends as they
appeared to us as children, but also as they were to become in later
years. The first sharp impression remains with us as a picture.
Subsequent ones as a chain of episodes in a story, less positive, but
more enlightening.



   XXIII

         _Sink or Swim_

That journey to Candleford marked the end of Laura's childhood. Soon
afterwards her schooldays began and she passed in one day from a
protected home life to one where those who could had to fight for a
place and maintain it by fighting.

The National School for the parish had been built in the mother village,
a mile and a half from the hamlet. Only about a dozen children lived
there and more than three times that number lived at Lark Rise; but, as
the Church was there and the Rectory and the Manor House, it far
outweighed the hamlet in importance. Up and down the long, straight road
between the two places, the hamlet children travelled in bands. No
straggling was allowed. An inclination to walk alone, or in twos or
threes, was looked upon as an unpleasant eccentricity.

Most of the children were clean and at least moderately tidy when they
left home, although garments might be too large or too small or much
patched. 'Patch upon patch is better'n holes' was one of the hamlet
mothers' maxims. The girls wore large white or coloured print pinafores
over their ankle-length frocks, and their hair was worn scraped back
from the brow and tied on the crown or plaited into a tight pigtail.
Laura appeared on the first morning with her hair pushed back with an
Alice in Wonderland comb under a porkpie hat which had belonged to one
of her cousins, but this style of headgear caused so much mirth that she
begged that evening to be allowed to wear 'a real hat' and to have her
hair plaited.

Her companions were strong, well-grown children between the ages of four
and eleven. They ran and shouted and wrestled the whole way, or pushed
each other over stoneheaps or into ditches, or stopped to climb into the
hedges, or to make sorties into fields for turnips or blackberries, or
to chase the sheep, if the shepherd was not handy.

Every one of the stoneheaps which dotted the grass margins at intervals
for road-mending was somebody's castle. 'I'm the king of the castle. Get
down, you dirty rascal!' was the cry of the first to reach and mount it,
and he, or she, would hold it against all comers with kicks and blows.
Loud cries of 'You're a liar!' 'You're another!' 'You daren't!' 'Yes, I
dare, then!' 'Let's see you do it!' punctuated even their most peaceful
games. There was no 'Sez you', or 'O.K., Chief', for the 'pictures' had
not been invented, and the more civilizing wireless, with its Children's
Hour, was still farther in the future. Even compulsory education was
comparatively new. They were an undiluted native product.

There were times when they walked quietly, the elder ones talking like
little old men and women, while the younger ones enlarged their
knowledge of life by listening. Perhaps they would discuss the story of
the snake, as thick as a man's thigh and yards long, which the shepherd
had seen crossing that same road a few feet in front of him as he came
home in the early morning from his lambing fold. Rather a puzzle to
older people, that snake, for snakes are not usually abroad at lambing
time, so it could not have been an English grass snake, magnified. Yet
David was a sober, middle-aged man, unlikely to have invented the story.
He must have seen something. Or perhaps the children would discuss their
own and each other's chances of passing the next school examination. The
shadow of a coming exam might account for their sedate behaviour. Or
some one would relate how such-and-such a man had treated the foreman
when he had 'tried to come it over him'; or the news would go round that
So-and-So's mother was 'like to have another', much to the embarrassment
of poor So-and-So. They talked about procreation and birth as soberly as
little judges. 'What's the good of having a lot of brats you can't
afford to feed,' one would say. 'When I'm married I shall only have one,
or maybe two, in case one of 'em dies.'

The morning after a death in the hamlet would see them with serious
faces discussing the signs which were supposed to have foretold it: the
ticking of a deathwatch spider, the unexplained stopping of a clock, the
falling of a picture from the wall, or the beating of a bird's wings
against the window. The formalities of the death chamber fascinated
them. They knew why and in what manner the chin was tied up, of the
plate of salt placed on the breast of a corpse, and the new pennies used
to weight down the eyelids. This led naturally to ghost stories, and the
smaller children on the edge of the group would cease whispering among
themselves and press tightly in to the main throng for protection.

They did not mean to be cruel; but they were strong, hardy children,
without much imagination, and overflowing with energy and high spirits
which had to find an outlet. There was some bullying and a great deal of
boisterous teasing.

Once, on their way home from school, they overtook an old man. So old
that, as he dragged slowly along, his head was bent to the level of the
top of the stick which supported his footsteps. He was a stranger, or
the children would never have dared to mock, mob, and insult him as they
did. They knew that their parents and the schoolmistress were unlikely
to hear of it.

They did not actually strike him, but they hustled and pushed him from
behind, shouting: 'Old Benbow! Old Benbow!' Why 'Benbow', nobody knew,
unless it was because his back was so bent. At first he pretended to
laugh at their attentions as a joke; but, soon, growing tired of the
pace they were forcing on him, he stood still with them all about him,
looked upward, shook his stick at them and muttered a curse. At that
they fell off, laughing, and ran.

It was a grey winter afternoon and, to Laura's eyes, the ancient,
solitary figure of the old man stood for a type of extreme desolation.
He had been young once, she thought, and strong; they would not have
dared to molest him then. Indeed, they were afraid of able-bodied tramps
and would run and hide from them. Now he was old and poor and weak, and
homeless, perhaps. Nobody cared for him any more. What was the use of
living at all if it was to end like this, thought little eight-year-old,
and spent the rest of the time going home in making up a story in which
he figured as a rich, handsome young man, until ruined by a bank failure
(bank failures were frequent in juvenile fiction just then) and his
lovely young wife died of smallpox and his only son was drowned at sea.

During her first year or two at school Laura came in for a good deal of
teasing which she shared with two or three others whose looks, voices,
parents or clothes did not please the majority. Not that there was
anything objectionable about them, according to outside standards; it
was only that they were a little different in some way from the accepted
school pattern.

For instance, long frocks down to the ankles were still the hamlet wear
for girls of all ages, while, in the outer world, the fashion had
changed and little girls' frocks were worn extremely short. As Laura was
fortunate, or unfortunate, enough to have the reversion of her cousins'
wardrobes, she was put into short frocks prematurely. She was a little
pleased and proud when she started off for school one morning in a cream
cotton frock patterned with red dots that just touched her knees,
especially as her mother, at the last moment, had found and ironed out a
red hair-ribbon to go with it. But her pride had a fall when she was
greeted with laughter and cries of 'Hamfrill!' and 'Longshanks!' and was
told seriously by a girl who was usually friendly that she wondered that
a nice woman like Laura's mother could allow her to go out like that.

She arrived home that evening a deplorable sight, for she had been
tripped up and rolled in the dust and had cried so much that her face
was streaked, and her mother--sympathetic for once, although she did not
fail to remind her that 'sticks and stones break your bones, but calling
names hurts nobody'--set to work upon the short frock and lengthened it
sufficiently to reach to the calves of her legs. After which, if she
stooped a little when any one looked directly at her, it passed muster.

There was one girl named Ethel Parker who at this time made Laura's life
a misery to her. She professed friendship and would call for her every
morning. 'So nice of Ethel,' Laura's mother said. Then, as soon as they
were out of sight of the windows, she would either betray her to the
gang--once by telling them Laura was wearing a red flannel petticoat--or
force her to follow her through thorn hedges and over ploughed fields
for some supposed short cut, or pull her hair, or wrench her arms, 'to
try her strength', as she told her.

At the age of ten she was as tall and much stronger than most girls of
fourteen. 'Our young Et's as strong as a young bullifant,' her father
would say proudly. She was a fair-haired girl with a round, plump face
and greenish eyes, the shape and almost the colour of a gooseberry. She
had for cold weather a scarlet cloak, a survival of a fashion of some
years before, and in this she must have looked a magnificent specimen of
country childhood.

One of her pleasures was to make Laura gaze steadily at her. 'Now, see
if you can stare me out,' she would say, and Laura would gaze slavishly
into those hard, green eyes until her own fell before them. The penalty
for flinching was a pinch.

As they grew older she used less physical violence, though she would
still handle Laura pretty roughly under the pretence of play. She was
what they called there 'an early-ripe' and, as she grew up, Laura's
mother did not like her so much and told Laura to have as little to do
with her as possible, adding, 'But don't offend her, mind. You can't
afford to offend anybody in a place like this.' Then Ethel went away to
a place in service and, a year or two later, Laura also left home and
did not expect to see Ethel again.

But, fifteen years after, when living in Bournemouth, Laura, walking on
the West Cliff one afternoon, a little out of her usual beat on some
errand or other, saw coming towards her a large, fair young woman in a
smartly-tailored suit with a toy dog under one arm and a pack of
tradesmen's books in her hand. It was Ethel, by that time a
cook-housekeeper, and out paying the household accounts and giving the
family dog an airing.

She was delighted to see Laura, 'such an old friend and playmate'. What
splendid times they had had and what scrapes they had got into together!
Ah! There were no days like childhood's days and no friends like the old
friends. Didn't Laura think so?

She was so enthusiastic and had so obviously forgotten everything
unpleasant in their former association that Laura was almost persuaded
that they really had been happy together, and was just going to ask
Ethel to come to tea with her when the little dog under her arm began to
fidget and she gave him a nip in the neck which quieted him. Laura knew
that nip which made his eyes bulge, for she herself had felt it many
times, and she knew that, beneath the smart clothes and improved
manners, there was still the old Ethel. That was the last Laura ever saw
of her; but she heard afterwards that she had married an ex-butler and
opened a boarding-house. It is to be hoped that her guests were all
people of strong character, for it is easy to imagine weaker ones
quailing before those gooseberry eyes if they dared to make a request.

But the girls were not all like Ethel. Except when in contact with her
and others of her kind, many were friendly, and Laura soon found out
that her special mission in life was to listen to confidences. 'You are
such a quiet little thing,' they would say, 'I know you won't tell
anybody'; and, afterwards: 'We've had such a nice talk,' although they
had done every bit of the talking themselves, Laura's part in the
conversation being limited to 'Yes' and 'No' and other sympathetic
monosyllables.

Those girls who had sweethearts would talk about them by the hour. Did
Laura not think Alfie good-looking? And he was strong, so strong that
his father said he could carry a sack of potatoes that he himself could
scarce lift, and his mother said he ate twice as much as his brothers;
and, although you might not think it, he could be very agreeable when he
chose. Only 'Saturday was a week' he had allowed the speaker to pick up
and hold his catapult while he climbed down from a tree; 'that one in
the corner of the meadow where the blacksmith's shop is, you know,
Laura; there's nobody else in the school could climb it. That'll show
you!' The remarkable thing about these love affairs was that the boys
involved were usually unaware of them. A girl picked out a boy to be her
sweetheart and sang his praises (to Laura, at least) and dreamed about
him at night (or so she said) and treasured some worthless article which
had belonged to him, and the utmost the boy did in return was to say
'Hullo!' when they met.

Sometimes it was difficult to decide upon a sweetheart. Then an ash leaf
with nine leaflets had to be searched for, and, when found, placed in
the seeker's bosom with the incantation:


 Here's an ash leaf with nine leaves on.
   Take it and press it to your heart
 And the first chap you meet'll be your sweetheart.
 If he's married let him pass by.
 If he's single, let him draw nigh,


and that usually did the trick, as there was but one side to that
bargain.

Confidences about quarrels with other girls were even more frequent.
What 'she said' and what 'I said', and how long it was since they had
spoken to each other. But nearly every one had something to tell, if
only what they had had for dinner on Sunday, or about the new frock they
hoped to wear to church on Easter Day. This usually began as a red or
blue velvet and ended by being 'that one of our young Nell's, turned and
made shorter'. Laura would try to get in a word edgeways here, for she
was fond of planning clothes. Her ideal frock at that time was a pale
blue silk trimmed with white lace, and she always imagined herself
riding in the station fly in it, as one of her aunts had ridden from the
station when she came to them on a visit.

These confidences were all very well, if sometimes boring; but there
were others which filled Laura's thoughts and weighed heavily upon her.
Only one girl in the hamlet had a stepmother, and she was a model
stepmother, according to hamlet standards, for she had no children of
her own, and did not beat or starve her stepchildren. One of Laura's
earliest memories was of the day on which Polly's own mother died.
Polly, although a little older than Laura, could not remember so far
back, and Laura must have been a very small child at the time. She was
standing on the doorstep of her home on a misty morning when she heard a
cock crow, very loudly and shrilly, and her mother, standing close
behind her, said: 'At the house where that cock is crowing a little
girl's mammy has died this morning.'

At the time of the school confidences, Polly was an unattractive-looking
little girl, fat and pale, with scanty mouse-coloured hair, and heavy
and clumsy in her movements. She breathed very heavily and had a way of
getting very close to the person to whom she was talking. Laura almost
hated herself for not liking her more; but she was really sorry for her.
The stepmother, so fair-spoken to outsiders, was a tyrant indoors, and
the stepchildren's lives were made miserable by her nagging. Every
day--or every day when Polly could buttonhole Laura--there was some
fresh story of persecution to be told and listened to. 'I know. I know,'
Laura would say sympathetically, meaning that she understood, and Polly
would retort, 'No, you don't know. Nobody could but them as has to put
up with her,' and Laura would feel that her heart must break with the
hopeless misery of it all. Her mother found her crying one day after one
of Polly's confidences and demanded to be told the reason. 'Polly's not
happy,' was all Laura could say, for she had sworn never to repeat what
Polly had told her.

'Polly not happy? I dare say not,' said her mother dryly. 'None of us
can be happy all the time; but your being unhappy as well doesn't seem
to me to improve matters. It's no good, my girl, you've got to learn you
can't take other people's troubles' upon you. Do anything you can to
help them, by all means, but their troubles are their own and they've
got to bear them. You'll have troubles of your own before you have done,
and perhaps by that time Polly'll be at the top of the tree of
happiness. We all have our turn, and it only weakens us when our turn
comes to have always been grieving about things we couldn't help. So,
now, dry your eyes and come in and lay the table for tea and don't let
me catch you crying again.' But Laura only thought her mother heartless
and continued to grieve, until one day it suddenly struck her that it
was only when she was alone with herself that Polly was miserable. When
in company with the other girls she forgot her troubles and was as
cheerful as her nature permitted, and, from that time, she took care to
be less often alone with Polly.

No country child could be unhappy for long together. There were happy
hours spent blackberrying, or picking bluebells or cowslips with a
friend, or sitting in the long meadow grass making daisy or buttercup
chains to be worn on the hair as a crown or as necklaces or girdles.
When Laura was too old (according to others) to wear these herself, they
could still be made for one of the younger children, who would stand,
like a little statue, to be hung from head to foot with flowers,
including anklets and earrings.

Sliding on the ice in winter was another joy. Not on the big slide,
which was as smooth as glass and reached the whole length of the pond.
That was for the strong, fighting spirits who could keep up the pace,
and when tripped up themselves would be up in a moment and tripping up
the tripper. Edmund was soon one of the leaders there, but Laura
preferred some small private slide made by herself and a few friends and
as near the bank as possible. How the cheeks glowed and the whole body
tingled with warmth and excitement in the frosty air! And what fun it
was to pretend that the arms stretched out for balance were wings and
that the slider was a swallow!

Not such fun for Laura was the time when the ice gave way under her, and
she found herself suddenly plunged into icy water. This was not the big
pond, but a small, deep pool to which she and two other small girls had
gone without asking permission at home. When they saw Laura drowning, as
they thought, her companions ran off screaming for help, and Laura, left
alone, was in danger of being sucked down under the ice; but she was
near the bank and managed to grasp the branch of a bush and pull herself
out before she realized her danger.

As she walked home across the fields her wet clothes froze upon her, and
when she arrived dripping on the doorstep her mother was so cross that
smacks, as well as hot bricks in bed, were administered to warm her. The
wetting did her no harm. She did not even have a cold afterwards,
although her mother had prophesied pneumonia. Another instance, she was
told, of the wicked flourishing like a green bay-tree.



    XXIV

        _Laura Looks On_

Occasionally, during school hours, something exciting would happen. Once
a year the German band came and the children were marched out into the
playground to listen. The bandsmen gave of their best at the school, for
the mistress not only put a whole shilling in the collecting cap, but
gave it with smiles and thanks and told the children to clap, and they
clapped heartily, as they would have clapped anything which brought them
out into the sunshine for a few minutes. When their shilling programme
was finished, before playing 'God Save the Queen,' the leader asked in
his broken English if there was anything special 'the gracious lady'
would like them to play. 'Home, Sweet Home' was the usual choice, but,
one year, the mistress asked for 'When the Dewy Light was Fading', a
Sankey and Moody hymn which had just then taken the neighbourhood by
storm. When the musician shook his head and said, 'Sorry, not know,' his
reputation went down considerably.

Once a grand funeral procession passed and the mistress told the
children they might go out and watch it. It might be their last
opportunity of seeing such a procession, she said, for times were
changing and such deep, very deep mourning was becoming out of date.

It was the time of year when the buttercups were out on the road-margins
and the hedges were white with may, and between them, at a snail's pace,
came swaying a huge black hearse, draped with black velvet and
surmounted at the four corners with bunches of black ostrich plumes. It
was drawn by four coal-black horses with long, flowing tails, and driven
and attended by undertaker's men with melancholy faces and with long
black crape streamers floating from their top hats. Behind it came
carriage after carriage of mourners, spaced out to make the procession
as long as possible, and every carriage was drawn by its own black
horse.

It passed slowly between the rows of open-mouthed, wondering children.
There was plenty of time to look at it; but to Laura it did not seem
real. Against the earth's spring loveliness the heavy black procession
looked dream-like, like a great black shadow, Laura thought. And, in
spite of the lavish display of mourning, it did not touch her as the
country funerals did with their farm-wagon hearse and few poor, walking
mourners crying into their handkerchiefs.

But she was so much impressed that she unintentionally started a rumour
by saying that she thought such a grand funeral must be that of an earl.
There was an aged nobleman living in the neighbourhood whose time must
soon come in the course of Nature, and her 'an earl' became 'the earl'
before it had been many times repeated. Fortunately for Laura, the
schoolmistress heard this and corrected it by telling the children that
it was the funeral of a farmer whose family had formerly lived in the
parish and had a family burying place in the churchyard. Such a man
would now be carried to his last resting-place in one of his own farm
wagons and be followed by his near relatives in a couple of cars.

Then there was the day of the General Election, when little school work
was done because the children could hear bands of voters passing beneath
the school windows and shouts of 'Maclean! Maclean for Freedom! Maclean!
Maclean! He be the boy for the farm labourer!' and they wished their
schoolroom had been chosen for the polling station instead of the
schoolroom in the next village. There was an uneasy feeling, too,
because they knew their fathers were voting Liberal, and the mistress
was wearing a bright blue rosette, the Conservative colour, which
proclaimed her one with the Rectory and the Manor House, and against the
villagers. The children were forbidden to wear the deep crimson which
stood for the Liberal cause, but most of them carried a scrap of red in
their pockets to wear going home and two or three of the more daring
girls sported a red hair ribbon. The mistress was at liberty, too, to
look out of the window, which they were not, and she made the most of
this advantage, tiptoeing to open or shut it or arrange the blind
whenever voices were heard. On one of these occasions she looked round
at her scholars and said: 'Here, now, are two respectable men going
quietly to vote; and as you may guess they are voting for law and order.
It's a pity more in this parish are not like Mr. Price and Mr. Hickman'
(the parson's factotum and the squire's gardener). At that, faces flared
up and mouths grew sulky-looking, for the more intelligent took it as a
reflection on their own fathers; but all such resentment was wiped out
when she said at three o'clock: 'I think we had better dismiss now. You
had better get home early, as it is Election Day.' Although it was a
pity she added 'there may be drunken men about'.

But the most memorable day for Laura was that on which the Bishop came
to consecrate an extension of the churchyard and walked round it in his
big lawn sleeves, with a cross carried before him and a book in his
hands, and the clergy of the district following. The schoolchildren,
wearing their best clothes, were drawn up to watch. 'It makes a nice
change from school,' somebody said, but to Laura the ceremony was but a
prelude.

For some reason she had lingered after the other children had gone home,
and the schoolmistress, who, after all, had not been invited to the
Rectory to tea as she had hoped, took her round the church and told her
all she knew of its history and architecture, then took her home to tea.

A small, two-roomed cottage adjoining the school was provided for the
schoolmistress, and this the school managers had furnished in the
manner, they thought suitable for one of her degree. 'Very comfortable,'
they had stated in their advertisement; but to a new tenant it must have
looked bare. The downstairs room had a deal table for meals, four
cane-bottomed chairs of the type until recently seen in bedrooms, a
white marble-topped sideboard stood for luxury and a wicker armchair by
the hearth for comfort. The tiled floor was partly covered with brown
matting.

But Miss Shepherd was 'artistic' and by the time Laura saw the room a
transformation had taken place. A green art serge cloth with bobble
fringe hid the nakedness of the deal centre table; the backs of the cane
chairs were draped with white crocheted lace, tied with blue bows, and
the wicker chair was cushioned and antimacassared. The walls were so
crowded with pictures, photographs, Japanese fans, wool-work
letter-racks, hanging pincushions, and other trophies of the present
tenant's skill that, as the children used to say: 'You couldn't so much
as stick a pin in.'

'Don't you think I've made it nice and cosy, dear?' said Miss Shepherd,
after Laura had been shown and duly admired each specimen of her
handiwork, and Laura agreed heartily, for it seemed to her the very
height of elegance.

It was her first invitation to grown-up tea, with biscuits and jam--not
spread on her bread for her, as at home, but spooned on to her plate by
herself and spread exactly as she had seen her father spread his. After
tea, Miss Shepherd played the harmonium and showed Laura her photographs
and books, finally presenting her with one called _Ministering Children_
and walking part of the way home with her. How thrilled Laura was when,
at their parting, she said: 'Well, I think we have had quite a nice
little time, after all, Laura.'

But, at the time of that tea-drinking, Laura must have been eleven or
twelve, one of Miss Shepherd's 'big girls' and no longer an object of
persecution. By that time the play was becoming less rough and bullying
rarer, for the older children of her early schooldays had left school
and none who came after were quite so belligerent. Civilization was
beginning to tame them.

But, even in her earlier days, her life was easier after Edmund began
school, for he was better-liked than she was; moreover, he could fight,
and, unlike most of the other boys, he was not ashamed to be seen with
his sister.

Often, on their way to school, Laura and he would take a field path
which led part of the way by a brook backed by a pinewood where
wood-pigeons cooed. By leaping the little stream, they could visit 'the
graves'. These were two, side by side, in the deepest shade of the
pines, and the headstones said: 'In Memory of Rufus' and 'In Memory of
Bess'. They both knew very well that Rufus and Bess had been favourite
hunters of a former owner of the estate; but they preferred to think of
them as human beings--lovers, perhaps, who in life had been used to meet
in that deep, mysterious gloom.

On other days they would scramble down the bank of the brook to pick
watercress or forget-me-nots, or to build a dam, or to fish for minnows
with their fingers. But, very often, they would pass along the bank
without seeing anything, they would be so busy discussing some book they
had read. They were voracious readers, although their books were few and
not selected, but came to them by chance. There were the books from the
school library, which, though better than nothing to read, made little
impression upon them, for they were all of the goody-goody,
Sunday-school prize type. But their father had a few books and others
were lent to them, and amongst these were a few of the Waverley Novels.
_The Bride of Lammermoor_ was one of the first books Laura read with
absorbed interest. She adored the Master of Ravenswood, his dark,
haughty beauty, his flowing cloak and his sword, his ruined castle, set
high on its crag by the sea, and his faithful servant Caleb and the
amusing shifts he made to conceal his master's poverty. She read and
re-read _The Bride_ and dipped into it betweenwhiles, until the heathery
hills and moors of Scotland became as real to her as her fiat native
fields, and the lords and ladies and soldiers and witches and old
retainers as familiar as the sober labouring people who were her actual
neighbours.

At seven years old _The Bride_ made such an impression upon her that she
communicated her excitement to Edmund, himself as yet unable to read,
and one night in their mother's bedroom they enacted the scene in the
bridal chamber; Edmund insisting that he should be Lucy and Laura the
bridegroom, although she had told him that a bridegroom was usually one
of his own sex.

'Take up your bonny bridegroom!' he cried, so realistically that their
mother came running upstairs thinking he was in pain. She found Laura.
crouching on the floor in her nightdress while Edmund stood over her
with a dagger which looked very much like his father's two-foot rule. No
wonder she said, 'Whatever will you two be up to next!' and took _The
Bride of Lammermoor_ away and hid it.

Then a neighbour who had bought a bundle of old books for a few pence at
a sale lent them _Old Saint Paul's_, and the outhouse door was soon
chalked with a cross and the wheelbarrow trundled round the garden to
the cry of 'Bring out your dead!'

Between the ages of seven and ten, Laura became such a confirmed reader
that, when other books failed, she would read her father's dictionary,
until this disappeared because her mother thought the small print was
bad for her eyes. There was still the Bible, which could not be
forbidden, and she spent many an hour over that, delighting in the Old
Testament stories of the Pillar of Fire, and of Ruth and Esther and
Samuel and David, and of Jonah and the whale, or learning by heart the
parables in the New Testament to repeat at Sunday School. At one time
she had a passion for the Psalms, not so much from religious fervour as
from sheer delight in the language. She felt these ought to be read
aloud, and, as she dare not read them aloud herself, lest she should be
overheard, she would persuade Edmund or some other child to read them
with her, verse and verse about.

Once, when Edmund was upstairs in bed with measles and her mother was
out, she and another girl were having a fine time imitating the parson
and clerk reading the Psalms in church, when Edmund, who could hear all
that was going on downstairs, called out to ask whose Bible Alice was
using. She was using his and when Edmund had his suspicions confirmed he
was so enraged that he dashed downstairs in his nightshirt and chased
Alice all down the garden to the gate. If his mother could have seen him
out of doors with his spots, in his nightshirt, brandishing his Bible
and threatening the retreating Alice, she would have been horrified, for
measles patients were then told that they must not put so much as a hand
out of bed or the spots would 'go inward' and the simple measles would
turn to black measles, when they would probably die. But no one saw him
and he returned to his bed, apparently not a ha'penny the worse for his
airing.

A little later, Scott's poems came into their lives and Edmund would
swing along the field path to school reciting 'The way was long, the
night was cold', or stop to strike an attitude and declaim,


      Come one, come all! this rock shall fly
      From its stern base as soon as I,


or wave Laura on with 'Charge, Chester, charge! On, Stanley, on!' At
that time their conversation when alone together was tinged with the
language of their favourite romances. Sometimes Edmund would amuse his
sister and himself by translating, when a battered old zinc bucket
became 'ye antique pail', or a tree slightly damaged by the wind 'yon
lightning-blasted pine', while some good neighbour of theirs whom they
could see working in the fields would have given Edmund what he would
have called 'a darned good bommicking' if he had heard himself referred
to as 'yon caitiff hind'.

Sometimes they tried their hand at writing a little verse themselves.
Laura was guilty of a terrible moral story in rhyme about a good child
who gave his birthday sixpence to a beggar, and Edmund wrote a poem
about sliding on the ice with the refrain 'Slide, glide, glide, slide,
over the slippery pond'. Laura liked that one and used to sing it. She
also sang one of her own, beginning, 'The snowdrop comes in winter
cold', which ran, with a stanza for every flower, through the seasons,
and to which she added yet another stanza every time she saw or
remembered a flower hitherto neglected. One day her mother asked her
what that 'unked thing' she was trying to sing was about, and, in an
unguarded moment, she brought out the scraps of paper on which it was
written. She did not scold or even laugh at her folly; but Laura could
feel that she was not pleased, and, later that evening, she lectured her
soundly on her needlework. 'You can't _afford_ to waste your time,' she
said. 'Here you are, eleven years old, and just look at this seam!'

Laura looked; then turned away her face to hide her confusion. She did
try to sew well; but, however hard she tried, her cotton would knot and
her material pucker. She was supposed to be making stays for herself
from narrow strips of calico left over from cutting out larger things,
which, when finished with buttons and shoulder straps would make a
lasting and comfortable garment. Laura always wore such stays; but not
of her own making. If she had ever finished those she was working on,
they would, by that time, have been too small to go round her. She saw
them thirty years later in an old trunk of oddments with the strips
puckered and the needle rusted into the material half way up a seam, and
remembered then the happy evening when her mother told her to put it
aside and get on with her knitting.

By the eighteen-eighties the fine sewing of the beginning of the century
was a lost art. Little children of six were no longer kept indoors to
work samplers, whip cambric frills or stitch seams with stitches so tiny
that a microscope was needed to examine them. Better uses had been found
for young eyesight. But plain sewing was still looked upon as an
important part of a girl's education, both at school and at home, for it
was expected that for the rest of her life any ordinary girl would have
at least to make her own underclothes. Ready-made clothes were beginning
to appear in the shops, but those such as working people were able to
buy were coarse, ugly, and of inferior quality. Calico stiffened with
dressing which would all come out in the wash and leave the material
like butter muslin, edging which looked like notched tape, and all put
together with the proverbial hot needle and burning thread, tempted few
people with self-respect to give up making their own underclothes.

If those who gave up outdoor pleasure and worked so busily in order that
they might, as they said, know that all was good 'right to the skin'
could have seen in a vision the lovely garments made of rayon and other
materials of to-day, sold at less than their lengths of material cost,
and all ready to step into, they would have thought the millennium was
approaching.

But perhaps not. They might have thought the material too insubstantial
to 'stand the wash' and so filmy it might show the figure through. Their
taste ran to plenty of trimming; lace and insertion and
feather-stitching on under-garments, flounces on frocks and an erection
of ribbon and artificial flowers on hats. Laura's mother showed an
almost revolutionary taste when she said: 'I don't care so much for an
important-looking hat. I like something small and natty. But,' she would
add apologetically to her listener, 'that may be because my face is
small. I couldn't carry anything off like you can.'

The masterpiece of fashion during Laura's schooldays was what was known
as the kilted frock. The skirt of this, over a pleated bottom part, had
a kind of apron of the same material drawn up in folds round the hips
and bunched out behind. It was a long time before any one in the hamlet
possessed a kilted frock, but they were seen in church, and the girls in
service came home for their holidays in them; then, as the fashion waned
in the outer world, they began to arrive, either as gifts, or as copies
of gifts made by some village dressmaker. And, with them, came the story
that some great Parisian dress designer had invented the style after
seeing a fisherwoman on the beach with her frock drawn up over her
kilted petticoat, just in that manner. 'It's a corker to me how the
de'il these 'oomen get to know such things,' said the men.



    XXV

        _Summer Holiday_

After that first visit to Candleford, it became the custom for Laura's
parents to hire the innkeeper's horse and cart and drive there one
Sunday in every summer; and, every summer, on the Sunday of the village
feast, their Candleford aunt and uncle and cousins drove over to Lark
Rise.

Then, one day when Laura was eleven and Edmund nine years old, their
mother astonished them by asking if they thought they could walk over,
just the two of them, by themselves. They had often walked to the market
town and back, she reminded them. That was six miles and Candleford only
eight. But did they think they could be trusted not to stray from the
road ('No going into fields to pick flowers, Laura!') and would they be
sure not to get into conversation with any strangers they might meet on
the road, or be persuaded to follow them anywhere? It was their summer
holiday from school and their Aunt Ann had written to ask them to spend
a week or two with her and their cousins.

Could they manage the walk? What a question! Of course they could, and
Edmund began to draw a map of the road to convince her. When could they
go? Not before Saturday? What a long time to wait. But she said she must
write to their aunt to tell her they were coming, then, perhaps, some of
their cousins would walk out to meet them.

Saturday came at last and their mother waved to them from the gate and
called out a last injunction not to forget the turnings, and, above all,
not have anything to do with strange men. She was evidently thinking of
a recent kidnapping case which had been front-page news in the Sunday
newspaper; but she need not have been afraid, no criminal was likely to
be prowling about those unfrequented byways, and, had there been, the
appearance of the two children did not suggest worthwhile victims.

'For comfort,' as their mother had said, they both wore soft, old cotton
clothes: Laura a green smock which had seen better days but did not look
too bad, well washed and ironed, and Edmund an ex-Sunday white sailor
suit, disqualified for better wear because the sleeves of the blouse and
the legs of the knickers had been let down and the join showed. Both
wore what were then known as Zulu hats, plaited of rushes and very wide
brimmed, beneath which they must have looked like a couple of walking
mushrooms. Most of the things necessary for their stay had been sent on
by parcel post, but they still bulged with food packets, presents for
the cousins, and coats for themselves in case of rain. Laura had
narrowly escaped carrying an umbrella, for, as her mother persuasively
said, if there was no rain she could use it as a sunshade; but, at the
last minute, she had managed to put this down in a corner and 'forget'
it.

They left home at seven o'clock on a lovely August morning. The mounting
sun drew moisture in a mist from the stooks of corn in the partly
stripped harvest fields. By the roadside all the coarse yellow flowers
of later summer were out: goat's beard and lady's finger, tall thickets
of ragwort and all the different hawkbits; the sun shone softly through
mist; altogether, it was a golden morning.

A new field had been thrown open for gleaning and, for the first mile,
they walked with some of their schoolfellows and their mothers, all very
jolly because word had gone round that young Bob Trevor had been on the
horse-rake when the field was cleared and had taken good care to leave
plenty of good ears behind for the gleaners. 'If the foreman should come
nosing round, he's going to tell him that the ra-ake's got a bit out of
order and won't clear the stubble proper. But that corner under the two
hedges is for his mother. Nobody else is to leaze there.' One woman
after another came up to Laura and asked in a whisper how her mother was
keeping and if she found the hot weather trying. Laura had answered a
good many such inquiries lately.

But the gleaners soon trooped through a gate and dispersed over the
stubble, hurrying to stake out their claims. Then Edmund and Laura
passed the school and entered on less familiar ground. They were out on
their first independent adventure and their hearts thrilled to the new
sense of freedom. Candleford waited so many miles ahead of them and it
was nice to know that supper and a bed were assured to them there; but
the pleasure they felt in the prospect of their holiday visit was
nothing compared to the joy of the journey. On the whole, they would
rather not have known where they were bound for. They would have liked
to be genuine explorers, like Livingstone in Africa; but, as their
destination had been decided for them, their exploring had to be
confined to wayside wonders.

They found plenty of these, for it did not take much to delight them. A
streak of clear water spouting from a pipe high up in the hedgerow bank
was to them what a cataract might have been to more seasoned travellers;
and the wagons they met, with names of strange farmers and farms painted
across the front, were as exciting as hearing a strange language. A band
of long-tailed tits, flitting from bush to bush, a cow or two looking at
them over a wall, and the swallows strung out, twittering, along the
telegraph wire, made cheerful and satisfying company. But, apart from
these, it was not a lonely road, for men were working in the harvest
fields on either side and they passed on the road wagons piled high with
sheaves and saw other wagons go clattering, empty, back for other loads.
Sometimes one of the wagoners would speak to them and Edmund would
answer their 'An' where do 'ee s'pose you be off to, young shaver?' with
'We are going over to Candleford'; and they would both smile, as
expected, when they were told, 'Keep puttin' one foot in front o'
t'other an' you'll be there before dark.'

One exciting moment was when they passed through a village with a shop
and went in boldly and bought a bottle of gingerade to wash down their
sandwiches. It cost twopence and when they were told they must pay a
halfpenny on the bottle they hesitated. But, remembering in time that
they each had a whole shilling to spend, more than they had ever had at
one time in their lives before, they paid up, like millionaires, and
also invested in a stick of pink and white rock each, and, with one end
wrapped in paper to keep it from sticking to their fingers, went off
down the road sucking.

But eight miles is a long walk for little feet in hot August weather,
and the sun scorched their backs and the dust made their eyes smart and
their feet ached and their tempers became uncertain. The tension between
them reached breaking point when they met a herd of milking cows,
ambling peacefully, but filling the narrow road, and Laura ran back and
climbed over a gate, leaving Edmund to face them alone. Afterwards, he
called her a coward, and she thought she would not speak to him for a
long time. But, like most of her attempted sulks, it did not last, for
she could not bear to be on bad terms with any one. Not from generosity
of heart, for she often did not really forgive a real or imagined
injury, but because she so much wanted to be liked that she would
sometimes apologize when she knew the fault had not been hers.

Edmund was of a quite different nature. What he said he held to, like a
rock. But then he did not say hasty, thoughtless things: what he said he
meant and if any one was hurt by it, well, they were hurt. That did not
change the truth, as he saw it. When he told Laura she was a coward he
had not meant it unkindly; he was simply stating a fact and there was
more of sorrow than of anger in his tone. And Laura only minded what he
said so much because she was afraid it was true. If he had said she was
stupid or greedy, she would only have laughed, because she knew she was
neither.

Fortunately, soon after this, they saw what must have looked like a
girls' school out for a walk advancing between the hedgerows to meet
them. It was a relief party, consisting of the cousins and as many of
their school friends as they could muster, with a large tin can of
lemonade and some cakes in a basket. They all flopped down beside a
little brook which crossed the road at that point and the girls fanned
themselves with bunches of willowherb and took off their shoes to
search for stones, then dipped their toes in the water, and, before
long, the whole party was paddling and splashing, which astonished
Laura, who had always been told it would 'give anybody their death' to
put the feet in cold water.

After that, it did not seem long before Candleford was reached and the
travellers were being welcomed and made much of. 'They've walked!
They've walked the whole way!' called their aunt to a friend who
happened to be passing her door, and the friend turned and said,
'Regular young travellers, aren't they?' which made them again feel like
the explorers they admired.

Then there was tea and a bath and bed, though not to sleep for a long
time, for Laura had a bed in her two middle cousins' room and they
talked a great deal. Talking in bed was a novelty to her, for it would
not have been permitted at home. In her cousins' home there was more
liberty. That night, once or twice one of their parents called upstairs
telling them to be quiet and let poor little Laura get to sleep; but the
talking went on, a little more quietly, until long after they heard the
front door bolt shot and the window sashes in the lower rooms pushed up.
What do little girls talk about when they are alone together? If we
could remember that, we should understand the younger generation better
than we do. All Laura could remember was that that particular
conversation began with a cousin saying, 'Now, Laura, we want to know
all about you,' and that in the course of it one of them asked her: 'Do
you like boys?'

When she said, 'I like Edmund,' they laughed and she was told: 'I mean
boys, not brothers.'

Laura thought at first they meant sweethearts and grew very hot and shy;
but, no, she soon found they just simply meant boys to play with. She
found afterwards that the boys they knew talked to them freely and let
them join in their games, which surprised her, for the boys at home
despised girls and were ashamed to be seen talking to one. The hamlet
mothers encouraged this feeling. They taught their boys to look down
upon girls as inferior beings; while a girl who showed any disposition
to make friends of, or play games with, the boys was 'a tomboy' at best,
or at worst 'a fast, forward young hussy'. Now she had come to a world
where boys and girls mixed freely. Their mothers even gave parties to
which both were invited; and the boys were told to give up things to the
girls, not the girls to the boys--'Ladies first, Willie!' How queer it
sounded!

Candleford was but a small town and their cousins' home was on the
outskirts. To children from a city theirs would have been a country
holiday. to Laura it was both town and country and in that lay part of
its charm. It was thrilling, after being used to walking miles to buy a
reel of cotton or a packet of tea, to be able to dash out without a hat
to fetch something from a shop for her aunt, and still more thrilling to
spend whole sunny mornings gazing into shop windows with her cousins.
There were marvellous things in the Candleford shops, such as the wax
lady dressed in the height of fashion, with one of the new bustles, at
the leading drapers; and the jeweller's window, sparkling with gold and
silver and gems, and the toy shops and the sweet shops and, above all,
the fishmonger's where a whole salmon reposed on a bed of green reeds
with ice sprinkled over (ice in August! They would never believe it at
home), and an aquarium with live goldfish swimming round and round stood
near the desk where they took your money.

But it was just as pleasant to take out their tea in the fields (Laura's
first experience of picnics), or to explore the thickets on the river
banks, or to sit quietly in the boat and read when all the others were
busy. Several times their uncle took them out for a row, right up the
stream where it grew narrower and narrower and the banks lower and lower
until they seemed to be floating on green fields. In one place they had
to pass under a bridge so low that the children had to lie down in the
boat and their uncle had to bow down his head between his knees until it
almost touched the bottom. Laura did not like that bridge, she was
always afraid that the boat would stick half way through and they would
never get out again. How lovely it was to glide through the farther arch
and see the silvery leaves of the willows against the blue sky and the
meadowsweet and willowherb and forget-me-nots!

Her uncle exchanged 'Good mornings' and words about the weather with the
men working in the fields on the banks, but he did not often address
them by name, for they were not close neighbours as the field workers
were at home; and the farmers themselves, in this strange place, were
not reigning kings, as they were at home, but mere men who lived by
farming, for the farms around Candleford were much smaller.

On one of the first days of their holiday they went harvesting in the
field of one of their uncle's customers, their share of the work, after
they had dragged a few sheaves to the wagon, being to lie in the shade
of the hedge and take care of the beer-cans and dinner baskets of the
men, with occasional spells of hide-and-seek round the stocks, or rides
for the lucky ones on the top of a piled-up wagon.

They had taken their own lunch, which they ate in the field, but at
teatime they were called in by the farmer's wife to such a tea as Laura
had never dreamed of. There were fried ham and eggs, cakes and scones
and stewed plums and cream, jam and jelly and junket, and the table
spread in a room as large as their whole house at home, with three
windows with window seats in a row, and a cool, stone-flagged floor and
a chimney corner as large as Laura's bedroom. No wonder Mr. Partington
liked that kitchen so much that his wife, as she told them, could never
get him to set foot in the parlour. After he had gone back to the field,
Mrs. Partington showed them that room with its green carpet patterned
with pink roses, its piano and easy chairs, and let them feel the plush
of the upholstery to see how soft and deep it was, and admire the
picture of the faithful dog keeping watch on its master's grave, and the
big photograph album which played a little tune when you pressed it.

Then Nellie had to play something on the piano, for no friendly call was
then considered complete without some music. People said Nellie played
well, but of this Laura was no judge, although she much admired the
nimble way in which her hands darted over the keyboard.

Afterwards they straggled home through the dusk with a corncrake
whirring and cockchafers and moths hitting their faces, and saw the
lights of the town coming out, one by one, like golden flowers, as they
entered. There was no scolding for being late. There was stewed fruit on
the kitchen table and a rice pudding in the oven, of which those who
felt hungry partook, and glasses of milk all round. And, even then, they
did not have to go to bed, but went out to help water the garden, and
their uncle told them to take off their shoes and stockings, then turned
the hose upon them. Wet frocks and petticoats and knicker legs resulted;
but their aunt only told them to bundle them all up and put them into
the cupboard under the attic stairs. Mrs. Lovegrove was coming to fetch
the washing on Monday. It was a surprising household.

Every few days, when they were out in the town, they would call at Aunt
Edith's, at their Aunt Ann's request, 'in case she should be hurt, if
neglected'. Uncle James would be about his business; the girls were away
on a visit, and even Aunt Edith herself would often be out shopping, or
at a sewing party, or gone to the dressmaker's. Then Bertha would take
them straight through to her kitchen and give them cups of milk in order
to detain them, for although so silent as to be thought simple in the
presence of the elders, with the children alone she became talkative.
What did Molly, or Nellie, think of so-and-so, which had happened in the
town? What was Mr. Snellgrave up to when he fell down those stone steps?
'Was he a bit tight, think you?' She had heard, though it wouldn't do
for Master to know, that he called at the 'Crown' for his glass every
night, and him a sidesman and all. Still, it might, as Molly suggested,
have been that the steps were slippery after the shower. But you
couldn't help thinking! And had they heard that her Ladyship up at
Bartons was getting up one of these new fancy bazaars? It was to be held
in the picture gallery and anybody could go in who cared to pay
sixpence; but she expected they'd have to buy something--crocheted
shawls and hand-painted plates and pincushions and hair-tidies--all
given by the gentry to sell for the heathens. 'No, not the Candleford
heathens. Don't be cheeky, young Nell. The heathen blacks, who all run
naked in foreign parts, like they have the collection for in church on
missionary Sundays. I expect the Mis'is will go and your mother and some
of you. They say there's tea going to be sold at sixpence a cup.
Robbery, I call it! but there's them as'd pay as much as a pound only to
get their noses inside Bartons, let alone sitting down and drinking tea
with the nobs.'

Bertha was not above school gossip, either. She took great interest in
children's squabbles, children's tea parties and children's holidays.
'There, did you ever!--I wonder, now, at that!' she would ejaculate on
hearing the most commonplace tittle-tattle and remember it and comment
on it long after the squabble had been made up and the party forgotten
by all but her.

In spite of her spreading figure and greying hair, there was something
childlike about Bertha. She was excessively submissive before her
employers, but, alone with the children, with whom she apparently felt
on a level footing, she was boisterous and slangy. Then she was so
pleased with little things and so easily persuaded, that she actually
seemed unable to make up her mind on any subject until given a lead. She
had an impulsive way, too, of telling something, then begging that it
might never be repeated. 'I've been and gone and let that blasted old
cat out of the bag again,' she would say, 'but I know I can trust you.
You won't tell nobody.'

She let a very big cat out of the bag to Laura a year or two later.
Laura had gone to the house alone, found her Aunt Edith out, and was
sipping the usual cup of milk in the kitchen and paying for it with
small talk, when a very pretty young girl came to the back door with a
parcel from Aunt Edith's dressmaker and was introduced to her as 'our
young Elsie'. Elsie could not stay to sit down, but she kissed Bertha
affectionately and Bertha waved to her from the doorway as she crossed
the yard.

'What a pretty girl!' exclaimed Laura. 'She looks like a robin with
those rosy cheeks and all that soft brown hair.'

Bertha looked pleased. 'Do you see any likeness?' she asked, drawing up
her figure and brushing her hair from her forehead.

Laura could not; but, as it seemed to be expected, she ventured: 'Well,
perhaps the colour of her cheeks . . .'

'What relation would you take her for?'

'Niece?' suggested Laura.

'Nearer than that. You'll never guess. But I'll tell you if you'll swear
finger's wet, finger dry, never to tell a soul.'

Not particularly interested as yet, but to please her, Laura wetted her
finger, dried it on her handkerchief, drew her hand across her throat
and swore the required oath; but Bertha, her cheeks redder than ever,
only sighed and looked foolish. 'I'm making a fool of myself again, I
know,' she said at last, 'but I said I'd tell you, and, now you have
sworn, I must. Our young Elsie's my own child. I gave birth to her
myself. I'm her mother, only she never calls me that. She calls our Mum
at home Mother and me Bertha, as if I was her sister. Nobody here knows,
only the Mis'is, and I expect the Master and your Aunt Ann, though
they've never either of them mentioned it, even with their eyes, and I
know I oughtn't to be telling you at your age, but you are such a quiet
little thing, and you saying she was pretty and all, I felt I must claim
her.'

Then she told the whole story, how she had, as she said, made a fool of
herself with a soldier when she was thirty and ought to have known
better at that age, and how Elsie had been born in the Workhouse and how
Aunt Edith, then about to be married, had helped her to send the baby
home to her mother and advanced money from her future wages to get
herself clothes, and taken her into her new home as a maid.

Laura felt honoured, but also burdened, by such a confidence; until one
day, when they were speaking of Bertha, Molly said, 'Has she told you
about Elsie?' Laura must have looked confused, for her cousin smiled and
went on, 'I see she has. She's told me and Nellie, too, at different
times. Poor old Bertha, she's so proud of "our young Elsie" she must
tell somebody or burst.'

Except for these calls and a formal tea-drinking at Aunt Edith's once or
twice in every holiday, the children spent their time at Aunt Ann's.

The class to which she and her husband belonged is now extinct. Had
Uncle Tom lived in these days, he would probably have been manager of a
branch of one of the chain stores, handling machine-made footwear he had
not seen until it came from the factory. Earning a good salary, perhaps,
but subject to several intermediary 'superiors' between himself and the
head of the firm and without personal responsibility for, or pride in,
the goods he handled: a craftsman turned into a salesman. But his day
was still that of the small business man who might work by his own
methods at his own rate for his own hours and, afterwards, enjoy the
fruits of his labour and skill, both in the way of satisfaction in
having turned out good things, and in that of such comforts for himself
and his family as his profits could afford. What these profits should
be, his customers decided; if he could please them they came again and
again and sent others and that meant success. Except his own conscience
as a craftsman, he had nothing but his customers to consider. Twice a
year he went to Northampton to buy leather, choosing his own and knowing
what he chose was good because, owing no merchant a long bill, he was
not tied to any and could choose where he would. It was a simple life
and one which many might well envy in these days of competition and
carking care.

His was a half-way house between the gorgeous establishment of their
other uncle and their own humble home. There was nothing pretentious.
Far from it, for pretentiousness was the one unpardonable sin in such
homes. But there was solid comfort and not too close a scrutiny of every
shilling spent. When Aunt Ann wrote out her grocery list, she did not
have to cut out and cut out items, as their mother had to do, and they
never once heard from her the familiar 'No, no. It can't be done' they
were so used to hearing at home.

There were other advantages. Water had not to be drawn up from a well,
but came from a bright brass tap over the kitchen sink, and the sink was
another novelty; at home the slops were put in a pail which, when full,
had to be carried out of doors and emptied on the garden. And the
w.c.--a real w.c.--although not actually indoors, was quite near, in a
corner of the yard, and reached by a covered pathway. Then there was no
big washing-day to fill the house with the steam of suds and leave
behind a mass of wet clothes to be dried indoors in bad weather, for a
woman came every Monday morning and carried the week's washing away, and
when she brought it back clean at the end of the week she stayed to
scrub out the stone-floored kitchen and passage, sluice down the
courtyard and clean the windows.

The water was pumped up to a cistern in the roof every morning by the
boy who swept out the shop and carried the customers' parcels and, in
between, was supposed to be learning the trade, although, as Uncle Tom
told him, he would never make a good snob, his backside was too
round--meaning that he would never sit still long enough. Benny was a
merry, good-natured lad who performed all kinds of antics and made
ridiculous jokes, which the children relished greatly. Sometimes, as a
great favour, he would let them take a turn with the pump-handle. But he
soon seized it again, for he could not stand still a moment. He would
jump on the pump-handle and ride it; or stand on his head, or turn
somersaults, or swarm up a water-pipe to an outhouse roof and sit,
grimacing like a monkey, on the ridge tiles. He never walked, but
progressed by hopping and skipping or galloping like a horse, and all
this out of sheer light-heartedness.

Poor Benny! he was then fourteen and had all the play of a lifetime to
crowd into a very few years. He was an orphan who had been brought up in
the Workhouse, where, as he told the children, 'em 'udn't let you speak
or laugh or move hardly,' and the recent release of his high spirits
seemed to have intoxicated him.

He did not live in the house, but had been put out to board with an
elderly couple, and Aunt Ann was so afraid that they would forget he was
a growing boy that she seldom saw him without giving him food. A cup of
milk and a doorstep of bread and jam rewarded him for the pumping every
morning and he never returned from an errand for her but she put an
apple or a bun or a slice of something into his hand. No baking was
complete without a turnover of the oddments being made for Benny.

All, excepting the poorest, kept house extravagantly in those days of
low prices. Food had to be of the best quality and not only sufficient,
but 'a-plenty', as they expressed their abundance. 'Do try to eat this
last little morsel. You can surely find room for that and it's a pity to
waste it,' they would say to each other at table and some one or other
would make room for the superfluous plateful; or, if no human
accommodation could be found, there were the dogs and cats or a poorer
neighbour at hand.

Many of the great eaters grew very stout in later life; but this caused
them no uneasiness; they regarded their expanding girth as proper to
middle age. Thin people were not admired. However cheerful and energetic
they might appear, they were suspected of 'fretting away their fat' and
warned that they were fast becoming 'walking miseries'.

Although Laura's Aunt Ann happened to be exceptionally thin and her
uncle was no more than comfortable of figure, the usual abundance
existed in their home. There were large, local-grown joints of beef or
lamb, roasted in front of the fire to preserve the juices; an abundance
of milk and butter and eggs, and cakes and pies made at a huge baking
once or twice a week. People used to say then, 'I'd think no more of
doing it than of cracking an egg,' little dreaming, dear innocents, that
eggs one day would be sixpence each. A penny each for eggs round about
Christmas was then thought an exorbitant price. For her big sponge cake,
a speciality of hers, Aunt Ann would crack half a dozen. The mixture had
to be beaten for half an hour and the children were allowed to take
turns at her new patent egg-beater with its handle and revolving wheels.
Another wonder of her kitchen was the long fish kettle which stood under
the dresser. That explained what was meant by 'a pretty kettle of fish'.
Laura had always imagined live fish swimming round and round in a tea
kettle.

Before they had been at Candleford a week a letter came from their
father to say they had a new little sister, and Laura felt so relieved
at this news that she wanted to stand on her head, like Benny. Although
no hint had been dropped by her elders, she had known what was about to
happen. Edmund had known, too, for several times when they had been
alone together he had said anxiously, 'I hope our mother's all right.'
Now she was all right and they could fully enjoy their holiday.

Ordinary mothers of that day would put themselves to any inconvenience
and employ any subterfuge to prevent their children suspecting the
advent of a new arrival. The hint of a stork's probable visit or the
addition of a clause to a child's prayers asking God to send them a new
little brother or sister were devices of a few advanced young parents in
more educated circles; but even the most daring of these never thought
of telling a child straightforwardly what to expect. Even girls of
fifteen were supposed to be deaf and blind at such times and if they
accidentally let drop a remark which showed they were aware of the
situation they were thought disagreeably 'knowing'. Laura's
schoolmistress during Bible reading one day became embarrassed over the
Annunciation. She had mentioned the period of nine months; then, with
blushing cheeks and downcast eyes, said hastily: 'I think nine months is
the time a mother has to pray to God to give her a baby before her
prayer is answered.' Nobody smiled or spoke, but hard, cold eyes looked
at her from the front row where her elder pupils sat, eyes which said as
plainly as words, 'You must think we're a lot of softies.'

After the baby's arrival, if the younger children of the family asked
where it had come from, they were told from under a gooseberry bush, or
that the midwife had brought it in her basket, or the doctor in his
black bag. Laura's mother was more sensible than most parents. When
asked the question by her children when very small she replied: 'Wait
until you get older. You're too young to understand, and I'm sure I'm
not clever enough to tell you.' Which perhaps was better than confusing
their young minds with textbook talk about pollen and hazel catkins and
bird's eggs, and certainly better than a conversation between a mother
and child on the subject which figured in a recent novel. It ran
something like this:

'Mother, where did Auntie Ruth get her baby?'

'Uncle Ralph and she made it.'

'Will they make some more?'

'I don't think so. Not for some time at any rate. You see, it is a very
messy business and frightfully expensive.'

That would not have passed with a generation which knew its Catechism
and could repeat firmly: 'God made me and all the world.'

What impressed Laura most about Candleford, on that first holiday there,
was that, every day, there was something new to see or do or find out
and new people to see and talk to and new places to visit, and this gave
a colour and richness to life to which she was unaccustomed. At home,
things went on day after day much in the same manner; the same people,
all of whom she knew, did the same things at the same time from weekend
to week-end. There you knew that, while you were having your breakfast,
you would hear Mrs. Massey clattering by on her pattens to the well, and
that Mrs. Watts would have her washing out first on the line and Mrs.
Broadway second every Monday morning, and that the fish-hawker would
come on Monday and the coalman on Friday and the baker three times a
week, and that no one else was likely to come nearer than the turning
into the main road.

Of course, there were the changes of the seasons. It was delightful on
some sunny morning in February, one of those days which older people
called 'weather-breeders', to see the hazel catkins plumping out against
the blue sky and to smell the first breath of spring in the air.
Delightful, too, when spring was nearer, to search the hedgerows for
violets, and to see the cowslips and bluebells again and the may, and
the fields turning green, then golden. But all these delights you
expected; they could not fail, for had not God Himself said that
seedtime and harvest, summer and winter, should endure as long as the
world lasted? That was His promise when He painted the first rainbow and
set it in the sky as a sign.

But at Candleford these things did not seem so important to Laura as
they did at home. You had to be alone to enjoy them properly; while
games and fun and pretty clothes and delicious food demanded company.
For about a week of her visit Laura wished she had been born at
Candleford; that she was Aunt Ann's child and had lots of nice things
and was never scolded. Then, as the week or two for which they had been
invited drew out to nearly a month, she began to long for her home; to
wonder how her garden was looking and what the new baby was like and if
her mother had missed her.

The last day of their holiday was wet and one of the cousins suggested
they should go and play in the attic, so they went up the bare, steep
stairs, Laura and Ann and Amy and the two little boys, while the two
elder girls were having a lesson in pastry-making. The attic, Laura
found, was a storehouse of old, discarded things, much like the
collection Mrs. Herring had stored in the clothes closet at home. But
these things did not belong to a landlady; they were family possessions
with which the children might do as they liked. They spent the morning
dressing up for charades, an amusement Laura had not heard of before,
but now found entrancing. Dressed in apron and shawl, the point of the
latter trailing on the ground behind her, she gave her best imitation of
Queenie, an old neighbour at home who began most of her speeches with
'Lawks-a-mussy!' Then, draped in an old lace curtain for veil, with a
feather duster for bouquet, she became a bride. Less realistically, no
doubt, for she had never seen a bride in conventional attire--the girls
at home wore their new Sunday frock to be married--but her cousins said
she did it well and she became very pleased with herself and full of
ideas for illustrating words which she kept to herself for future use at
home, for she felt too much of a novice to venture suggestions.

All the morning, first one cousin then another had been running down to
the kitchen to ask for suggestions for the charades. They always came
back munching, or wiping crumbs from their mouths, and once or twice
they brought tit-bits for the whole party. At last they all disappeared,
Edmund included, and Laura was left alone in her bridal finery, which
she took the opportunity of examining in a tall, cracked mirror which
leaned against one wall. But her own reflection did not hold her more
than a moment, for she saw in the glass a recess she had not noticed
before packed with books. Books on shelves, books in piles on the floor,
and still other books in heaps, higgledy-piggledy, as though they had
been turned out of sacks. Which they had, no doubt, for she was told
afterwards that the collection was the unsaleable remains of a library
from one of the large houses in the district. Her uncle, who was known
to be a great reader, had been at the sale of furniture and been told
that he might have what books were left if he cared to cart them away. A
few of the more presentable bindings had already been taken downstairs;
but the bulk of the collection still awaited the time when he should not
be too busy to look through them.

That attic was very quiet for the next quarter of an hour, for Laura,
still in her bridal veil, was down on her knees on the bare boards, as
happy and busy as a young foal in a field of green corn.

There were volumes of old sermons which she passed over quickly; a
natural history of the world which might have detained her had there not
been so many other vistas to explore; histories and grammars and
lexicons and 'keepsakes' with coloured pictures of beautiful languishing
ladies bending over graves beneath weeping willows, or standing before
mirrors dressed for balls, with the caption 'Will he come to-night?'
There were old novels, too, and poetry. The difficulty was to know what
to look at first.

When they missed her downstairs and came to call her to dinner she was
deep in Richardson's _Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded_, and it was afterwards
a standing joke against her that she had jumped and looked dazed when
Amy hissed into her ear, 'Do you like apple dumplings?'

'Laura's a bookworm, a bookworm, a bookworm!' she sang to her sisters
with the air of having made an astonishing discovery, and Laura wondered
if a bookworm might not be something unpleasant, until she added: 'A
bookworm, like Father.'

She had brought the first volume of _Pamela_ down with them to
illustrate Laura's bookworminess and now asked her mother if Laura might
not have it to keep. After glancing through it, her mother looked
doubtful, for she gathered that it was a love story, though not,
perhaps, the full extent of its unsuitability for a reader of such
tender age. But Uncle Tom, coming in just then to his dinner and hearing
the whole story, said: 'Let her keep it. No book's too old for anybody
who is able to enjoy it, and none too young, either, for that matter.
Let her read what she likes, and when she's tired of reading to herself
she can come to my shop and read to me while I work.'

'Poor Laura! You're in for it!' laughed mischievous Nell. 'Once you
start reading to Dad, he'll never let you go. You'll have to sit in his
smelly old shop and read his dry old books for ever.'

'Now! Now! The less you say about that the better, my girl. Who was it
came to read to me and made such a hash of it that I never asked her to
come again?'

'Me,' and 'Me,' and 'Me', cried the girls simultaneously, and their
father laughed and said: 'You see, Laura, what a lot of dunces they are.
Give them one of their mother's magazines, with fashion pictures and
directions for making silk purses out of sows' ears and pretty little
tales that end in wedding bells, and they'll lap it up like a cat
lapping cream; but offer them something to read that needs a bit of
biting on and they're soon tired, or too hot, or too cold, or they can't
stand the smell of cobbler's wax, or think they hear somebody knocking
at the front door and have to go to open it. Molly started reading _The
Pilgrim's Progress_ to me over a year ago--her own choice, because she
liked the pictures--and got the poor fellow as far as the Slough of
Despond. Then she had to take an afternoon off to get a new frock
fitted. Then there was something else, and something else, and poor
Christian is still bogged up in the slough for all she knows or cares.
But we won't have _The Pilgrim's Progress_ when you read to me, Laura.
That is a shade dull for some young people. I've read it a good many
times and hope to read it a good many more before I wear my eyesight out
getting a living for these ungrateful young besoms. A grand old book,
_The Pilgrim's Progress_! But I've something here you'll like better.
_Cranford_. Ever heard of it, Laura? No, I thought not. Well, you've got
a treat in store.'

They sampled _Cranford_ that afternoon, and how Laura loved dear Miss
Matty! Her uncle was pleased with her reading, but not too pleased to
correct her faults.

Seated on the end of the bench on which he worked, with both arms
extended as he drew the waxed thread through the leather, his eyes
beaming mildly through his spectacles, he would say: 'Not too fast now,
Laura, and not too much expression. Don't overdo things. These were
genteel old bodies, very prim and proper, who would not have raised
their voices much if they'd heard the last trump sounding.' Or, more
gently, in a matter-of-fact tone, as if, although it did not matter much
how words were pronounced as long as one knew their meaning, it might
still be just as well to conform to usage: 'I think that word is
pronounced so-and-so, Laura,' and Laura would repeat the syllables after
him until she had got it more or less correctly. Having read so much to
herself and being a rapid reader, she knew the meanings of hundreds of
words which she had never even attempted to pronounce until she came to
read aloud to her uncle. Though he must have been sorely tempted to do
so, he never once smiled, even at her most grotesque efforts. Years
later in conversation he pronounced magician 'magicun' and added, 'as
Laura once called one of that kidney', and they both laughed heartily at
the not altogether inapt rendering.



    XXVI

    _Uncle Tom's Queer Fish_

The readings were continued the next summer, when Laura again spent her
summer holidays with her cousins, and afterwards, when Candleford became
for several years her second home. Every afternoon when her cousins
could be persuaded to go out or do what they wanted to do without her,
she would tap at the door of her uncle's workshop and hear the familiar
challenge, 'Who goes there?' and reply, 'Bookworms, Limited,' and,
receiving the password, go in and sit by the open window looking out on
the garden and river and read while her uncle worked.

Their reading was often interrupted, for customers came and went, or sat
down to chat in a special chair with a cushion, 'the customer's chair'.
Many sat in that chair who were not there on business, for her uncle had
many friends who liked to look in when passing, especially on days when
there was something of special interest in the newspaper. 'Just wanted
to know what you thought of it,' they would say, and Laura noticed that
whatever opinion he had given them was adopted so thoroughly that it was
often advanced as their own before they left.

In the evening his workshop became a kind of a club for the young
working-men of the neighbourhood, who would sit around on upturned
boxes, smoking and talking or playing draughts or dominoes. Uncle Tom
said he liked to see their young faces round him, and it kept them out
of the 'pub'. Their arrival was the signal for Laura to take up her book
and depart; but, when a day caller arrived, she would sit still in her
corner, reading, or trying to solve that maddening puzzle of the day,
'Getting the teeth in the nigger's mouth'. The mouth belonged to a face
enclosed in a circular glass case and the teeth were small metal balls
which were easier to scatter than to get into place: One, two, or three,
might with infinite patience be coaxed to rest between the thick lips,
but the next gentle jerk, intended to place a fourth, would send them
all rolling around beneath the glass again. Laura never got more than
three in. But perhaps she did not persevere sufficiently; it was much
more interesting to listen.

Uncle Tom had many friends. Some of these, as might have been expected,
were fellow tradesmen of the town who looked in upon him to pass the
time of day, as they said, or to discuss the news or some business
complication. Others were poor people who came to ask his advice on some
point, or to ask him to sign a paper, or to bring him something out of
their gardens, or merely to rest and talk a few minutes. Few of these
ever spoke to Laura, beyond a casual greeting, but she came to know them
and could remember their faces and voices when those of others who had
been more to her had become dim. But it was those Nellie described as
'Dad's queer fish' that she liked best of all. There was Miss Connie,
who wore a thick tweed golf cape and spiked boots, even in August. 'Let
Laura take your cape and sit down and cool off a bit,' Uncle Tom would
say to her when the sun was raging and there was scarcely a breath of
air in the shop, even with both windows wide open. 'No. No, thanks, Tom.
Don't touch it, please, Laura. I wear it to keep the heat from the
spine. The spine should always be protected.'

Miss Constance kept nineteen cats in the big house where she lived
alone, for she could not trust servants; she thought they would always
be spying upon her. Sometimes a kitten would thrust its head between the
edges of her cape as she talked. 'Now, don't you worry, Miss Constance,'
Uncle Tom would be saying. 'You'll get your money all right come quarter
day. Some lawyers are rogues, we know, but not Mr. Steerforth. And
nobody can harm you for keeping your cats, for your house is your own.
And don't take any notice of what you heard Mrs. Harmer say; though, if
you'll excuse me for saying it, Miss Constance, I do think you've got
quite enough of them. I wouldn't save any more kittens, if I were you;
and, if you can't bear a maid about the place, why not get some decent,
respectable woman to come in once or twice a week and clean up a bit?
Somebody who likes cats. No. She wouldn't poison them, nor steal your
things. Bless you, there are very few thieves about compared to the
number of honest people in the world. And don't you worry, Miss
Constance, or you'll lose all your pussies. Worry killed the cat, you
know,' and at that often-repeated joke Miss Constance would smile and
the smile would transform the poor, half-mad recluse she was fast
becoming to something resembling the bright, happy girl who had danced
all night and ridden to hounds in the days when Uncle Tom had first
fitted her for her country shoes.

But even Miss Constance was not quite so strange as the big fat man who
wore the dark inverness cloak and soft black felt hat. He was a poet,
Laura was told, and that was why he dressed like that and wore his hair
so long. He came every market day, having walked from a village called
Isledon, six or seven miles away, and, after puffing and blowing and
mopping his brow, he would draw out a paper from his breast pocket and
say, 'I must read you this, Tom,' and Uncle Tom would say, 'So you've
been at it again. Oh, you poets!' To her great disappointment, although
she listened intently, Laura could never grasp exactly what his poems
were about. There were eagles in most of them, but not the kind of
eagles she had read of, which circled over mountains and carried off
lambs and babies; these eagles of his were eagles one moment and Pride
or Hate the next; and if there were flowers in his poems he had always
chosen the ugliest, such as nightshade or rue. But it all sounded very
learned and grand, read in his rich, sonorous voice, and she had the
comfort of knowing that, if she could not make much sense of it, her
uncle could not either, for she heard him say many times: 'You know I'm
no judge of poetry. If it were prose now. . . . But it's certainly got a
fine roll and swell to it. That I do know.'

After the reading, they would settle down to talk about flowers and
birds and what was going on in the fields, for the poet loved all these,
although he did not write about them. Or sometimes he would talk of his
home and children and praise his wife for allowing him to come away into
the country alone for a whole summer to write. 'Shows she believes in
you as a poet,' Uncle Tom said once, and the poet drew himself up from
his chair and said, 'She does and she'll be justified, though perhaps
not in my lifetime. Posterity will judge.'

'Fine words! Fine words!' said Uncle Tom after he had gone. 'But I doubt
it. I doubt.'

Less odd, and therefore less interesting to Laura, though dearer to her
Uncle Tom's heart, was the young doctor with the keen, eager face and
grey eyes set deep under heavy dark brows. From what she heard then, she
thought, looking back in after years, that he was trying to work up a
practice and finding it heavy going. He certainly had a good deal of
spare time.

'It's a rotten shame,' he would begin, as he burst into the workshop and
turned up the tails of his frock coat to keep them from contact with the
customers' chair. 'It's a rotten shame' was the beginning of most of his
conversations. It was a rotten shame that cottage roofs should leak,
that children living on farms should not know the taste of fresh milk,
that wells should be in use of which the water was contaminated, or that
families should have to sleep eight in a room.

Uncle Tom was just as sorry about it all as he was; but he was not so
angry; though Laura did once hear him say that something they were
talking about was damnable. 'You take things too hard,' Laura once heard
him say. 'You fret, and it's no good fretting. You can only do what you
can, and God knows you're doing your full share. Things'll be better in
time. You mark my words, they will. They're better already: you should
have seen Spittals' Alley when I was a boy!' And when the young man had
taken down his top hat from the shelf which was kept covered with clean
paper for its reception, and jammed it down on his head and gone out,
still declaring that it was a rotten shame, her uncle said, perhaps to
her, perhaps to himself: 'That young fellow-me-lad's going to make a big
stir in the world, or else he's going to build up a fat practice, marry
and settle down, and I don't know which to wish for him.'

It was the young doctor who named Laura 'the mouse'. 'Hullo, Mouse!' he
would say if he happened to notice her. That seldom happened, for he had
no eye for plain little girls with books on their knees, unless they
were ill or hungry. When one of her pretty cousins burst in at the door,
her healthy high spirits stirring the air like a breeze, his face lit
up, for she was the type of what he believed all children would be, if
they could be properly fed and cared for.

Excepting the doctor, none of those known as Uncle Tom's 'queer fish'
seemed to have any work to do or business to attend to, and, excepting
Miss Connie, none of them were Candleford people. Some were regular
visitors to farmhouses where boarders were taken; others were staying
for the fishing at village inns, or had their own homes in one of the
surrounding villages. Uncle Tom's chief friend among them, a Mr. Mostyn,
took a furnished cottage outside the town every summer. How they had
first become acquainted, Laura never heard, but by the time of her
regular visits to Candleford he was a frequent visitor.

Even in his holiday attire of shabby Norfolk suit and sandals, no one
could have mistaken Mr. Mostyn for anything but what was then spoken of
openly and unashamedly as 'a gentleman'. Uncle Tom was a country
shoemaker. He had black thumbs, worked in an apron, and carried the
odours of leather and wax about with him; but he was the least
class-conscious man on earth, and Mr. Mostyn appeared equally so, though
breeding may have had something to do with that on his side. While Uncle
Tom sewed, they would talk by the hour; about books, about historical
characters, new discoveries in science or exploration, with many a
tit-bit of local gossip thrown in and many a laugh, especially when Tom
told some story in dialect. Or they would sit silent if that suited
either of them better than talking. Mr. Mostyn would take a book out of
his pocket and read; or, in the midst of a conversation, Tom would say,
'Not another word, now, till I've got this seam joined up. I've cut the
toecap a bit short, I find.' In fact, they were friends.

But one year, when Laura arrived, she found things had changed between
them. Mr. Mostyn still called at the workshop once or twice a week and
they still talked--talked more than ever before, indeed--but upon a new
subject. Mr. Mostyn was thinking of changing his creed, 'going over to
Rome', Uncle Tom called it, and, surprisingly, for a man who believed in
perfect freedom of thought, he did not approve of this step.

It was strange to see how earnest he was about it; for, although he went
to church every Sunday, he had never appeared to take any special
interest in religion. Mr. Mostyn, probably, had hitherto taken less.
Laura had often heard him say that he preferred a good long tramp on a
Sunday to church-going. Now, something had stirred him; he had been
reading Catholic doctrine for months and was on the brink of being
received into the Catholic Church.

Uncle Tom must have read, too, at some time, for he appeared to know the
authors his friend quoted. 'That's Newman;' he said once. 'Methinks his
lordship doth protest too much'; and, at another time, 'He can write
like an angel, I grant you, but it's all spellbinding.'

Mr. Mostyn gritted his teeth. 'Tom, Tom,' he said, 'your other name is
Didymus!'

'Now, look here,' said Tom. 'We've got to get to grips with this. If you
want everything thought out for you and to be told what to think and do,
give your conscience to some priest to keep; go over to Rome. You
couldn't do better. It'll be a rest for you, I don't deny, for you've
had your problems, as many and hard as most men; but if, as a reasoning
being, you prefer to accept full responsibility for your own soul, you
are going the wrong road--you are, indeed!' Then Mr. Mostyn said
something about peace, and Tom retorted, 'Peace in exchange for
liberty!' and Laura heard, or understood, no more.

'Another good man gone over to the old enchantress,' he said, as the
door closed behind his friend; and Laura, who was by that time nearly
fourteen, asked, 'Do you think it wrong to be a Catholic, Uncle?'

It was some time before he answered. She thought he had forgotten her
presence and had been talking to himself. But, after he had polished his
spectacles and taken up his work, he answered, 'Wrong? No, not for those
born to it or suited to it. I've known some good Catholics in my time;
some the religion suited like the glove the hand. It was a good thing
for them, but it won't be for him. He's been over a year thinking it out
and studying books about it, and if you have to spend a year worrying
and arguing yourself into a thing, that thing's against your nature. If
he'd been cut out for a Catholic, he'd have just sunk down into it
months ago, as easy as falling into a feather bed, and not had to lash
and worry himself and read his eyes out. But, for all that, I've been a
fool to try to influence him, trying to influence him against being
influenced. Never try to influence anybody, Laura. It's a mistake. Other
people's lives are their own and they've got to live them, and often
when we think they are doing wrong they are doing right--right for them,
although it might not be right for us. Come, get that book and see how
Lucy Snowe's getting on with her Frenchman, and I'll stick to my last,
as every good shoemaker should do, and not go airing my opinions
again--until the next time.'

Once a commercial traveller called at the workshop to have a stitch or
two put in the shoes he was wearing. He was a stranger to Laura; but not
to her uncle, for one of the first questions he asked was, 'How is your
wife?'

'Lazier and more contrary than ever,' was the unconventional reply.

Uncle Tom looked grave, but he said nothing. The visitor needed no
encouragement, however; he was soon launched on a long story of how he
had that very morning taken up his wife's breakfast to her in bed--so
many rashers, so many eggs, and toast and marmalade. Breakfast in bed
for any one who was not ill was a novel idea to Laura; but her Uncle Tom
seemed to look upon it as a slight attention any good husband might pay
his wife, for he only said, 'That was very kind of you.'

'And what did I get for my kindness?' almost shouted the husband. 'No
thanks, you'll bet! but only black looks and an order to be home on time
to-night for once in my life. Home on time! Me, who, as she ought to
know by this time, might be held up for hours on end by a customer. Of
all the spiteful, contrary cats. . . .'

Uncle Tom looked distressed. 'Hush! Hush! my lad,' he interposed. 'Don't
say things you'll be sorry for after. How long have you been married?
Two years, and no child yet? Well, you wait till you've been married ten
before You begin talking like that, and by that time, if vou do as you
should yourself, it's ten to one you'll not need to. Some women simply
can't understand what business is unless they see for themselves. Why
not take her out on the round a time or two in that smart little outfit
of yours with the high-stepper. The firm's done you well this time, I
see, in that respect. A nice bit of horseflesh, if I'm any judge! If you
do that, she'll see for herself, and the outing will do her good. It's
dull for a young woman, shut up by herself in the house all day, and
when, towards night, her man's supper's drying up in the oven through
waiting, it gets on her nerves and maybe her welcome's not all a husband
might wish, after a trying day and not too many orders in his notebook.
And when you get a bit nettled yourself, bite on it, bite on it, my boy;
don't go opening your mouth to fill other folks's. They won't think any
better of you if you do. Truth of the matter is, most married folks have
their little upsets, especially for the first year or two; but they
manage to pretend that all is well and that everything in the garden of
matrimony looks lovely, and, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred,
before they know where they are, all _is_ well, or as well as can be
expected in this imperfect world.'

During this long speech the young man had broken in several times with
such ejaculations as 'That's all very well' or 'Not half', but he was
spared the necessity for any formal comment upon what was almost a
lecture by a sound of scuffling and 'Whoa-a-s!' and 'Come up nows!' in
the street, which caused him to cram on the shoe which Tom had been
attending to and run. But, a few minutes later, very flushed and
hot-looking, he came to the open window and said: 'That mare of mine's
got the spirit of a racehorse. A moment more and she'd been off! Got an
idea I'll bring my wife next week; she could hold the reins and read her
book while I was inside anywhere, and the outing might do her good. So
long, Mr. Whitbread. I must go or she'll kick the cart to bits.'

Laura never knew if the mare kicked the cart to bits; or if the young
couple's own little applecart of happiness was overturned or steadied;
but she can still see the young husband's face, flushed and distorted
with indignation beneath the white straw 'boater', moored so modishly to
his button-hole by a black cord, and her Uncle Tom's pale and grizzled
and serious, looking up at him through his spectacles as he said: 'Bite
on it, my boy. Bite on it.'



   XXVII

       _Candleford Green_

On one of her visits to Candleford, Laura herself found a friend, and
one whose influence was to shape the whole outward course of her life.

An old friend of her mother's named Dorcas Lane kept the Post Office at
Candleford Green, and one year, when she heard that Laura was staying so
near her, she asked her and her cousins to go over to tea. Only Molly
would go; the others said it was too hot for walking, that Miss Lane was
faddy and old-fashioned, and that there was no one to talk to at
Candleford Green and nothing to see. So Laura, Edmund, and Molly went.

Candleford Green was at that time a separate village. In a few years it
was to become part of Candleford. Already the rows of villas were
stretching out towards it; but as yet the green with its spreading oak
with the white-painted seats, its roofed-in well with the chained
bucket, its church spire soaring out of trees, and its clusters of old
cottages, was untouched by change.

Miss Lane's house was a long, low white one, with the Post Office at one
end and a blacksmith's forge at the other. On the turf of the green in
front of the door was a circular iron platform with a hole in the middle
which was used for putting on tyres to wagon and cart wheels, for she
was wheelwright as well as blacksmith and postmistress. She did not work
in the forge herself; she dressed in silks of which the colours were
brighter than those usually worn then by women of her age and had tiny
white hands which she seldom soiled. Hers was the brain of the business.

To go to see Cousin Dorcas, as they had been told to call her, was an
exciting event to Laura and Edmund, for they hoped to be shown her
famous telegraph machine. There had been some talk about it at home when
their parents heard it had been installed, and their mother, who had
seen one, described it as a sort of clock face, but with letters instead
of figures, 'and when you turn the handle,' she said, 'the hand goes
round and you can spell out words on it, and that sends the hand round
on the clock face at the other Post Office where it's for, and they just
write it down, pop it into an envelope, and send it where it's
addressed.'

'And then they know somebody's going to die,' put in Edmund.

'After they've paid three and sixpence,' said their father, rather
bitterly, for an agitation was being worked up in the hamlet against
having to pay that crushing sum for the delivery of a telegram. 'For
Hire of Man and Horse, 3s. 6d.' was written upon the envelope and that
sum had to be found and paid before the man on the horse would part with
the telegram. But about that time, the innkeeper, tired of having to
lend three and sixpence with little prospect of getting it back, every
time the news arrived that some neighbour's father or mother or sister
or aunt was 'sinking fast' or had 'passed peacefully away this morning',
had, in collaboration with a few neighbours of whom the children's
father was one, written a formal and much-thought-out protest to the
Postmaster General, which resulted in men coming with long chains to
measure the whole length of the road between the hamlet and the Post
Office in the market town. The distance was found to be a few feet
under, instead of over, the three-miles limit of the free delivery of
telegrams. This made quite an interesting little story for Laura to tell
Cousin Dorcas. 'And to think of those poor things having paid that sum!
As much as a man could earn in a day and a half's hard work,' was her
comment, and there was something in the way she said it that made Laura
feel that, although, as her cousins said, Miss Lane might be peculiar,
it was a nice kind of peculiarity.

Laura liked her looks, too. She was then about fifty, a little, birdlike
woman in her kingfisher silk dress, with snapping black eyes, a longish
nose, and black hair plaited into a crown on the top of her head.

The famous telegraph instrument stood on a little table under her
parlour window. There was a small model office for the transaction of
ordinary postal business, but 'the telegraph' was too secret and sacred
to be exposed there. When not in use, the dial with its brass studs, one
for every letter of the alphabet, was kept under a velvet cover of her
own devising, resembling a tea-cosy. She removed this to show the
children the instrument and even allowed Laura to spell out her own name
on the brass studs--without putting the switch over, of course, or, as
she said, Head Office would wonder what they were up to.

Edmund preferred the forge to the telegraph office, and Molly the garden
where Zillah, the maid, was picking greengages bursting with ripeness.
Laura liked all these; but, best of all, she liked Cousin Dorcas
herself. She said such quick, clever things and seemed to know what one
was thinking before a word was spoken. She showed Laura her house, from
attic to cellar, and what a house it was! Her parents had lived in it.
and her grandparents, and it was her delight to keep all the old family
possessions just as she had inherited them. Other people might scrap
their solid old furniture and replace it with plush-covered suites and
what-nots and painted milking-stools and Japanese fans; but Dorcas had
the taste to prefer good old oak and mahogany and brass, and the
strength of mind to dare to be thought old-fashioned. So the
grandfather's clock in the front kitchen still struck the hours as it
had done on the day of the Battle of Waterloo. The huge, heavy oak table
at the head of which she carved for the workmen and maid, sitting in
higher or lower seats according to degree, was older still. There was a
legend that it had been made in the kitchen by the then village
carpenter and was too large to remove without taking it to pieces. The
bedrooms still had their original four-posters, one of them with
blue-and-white check curtains, the yarn of which had been spun by her
grandmother on the spinning wheel lately rescued from the attic,
repaired and placed with the telegraph instrument in the parlour. On the
dresser shelves were pewter plates and dishes, with a few pieces of old
willow-pattern 'to liven them up', as she said; and in the chimney
corner, where Laura sat looking up into the square of blue sky through
the black furry walls, a flint and tinder box, used for striking lights
before matches were in common use, stood on one ledge, and on another
stood a deep brass vessel with a long point for sticking down into the
embers to heat beer. There were brass candlesticks on the mantelpiece,
and, flanking it, a pair of brass warming-pans hung on the wall. These
were no longer in use, nor was the sandbox for drying wet ink instead of
using blotting-paper, nor the nest of wooden chopping bowls, nor the big
brewing copper in the back kitchen, but they were piously preserved in
their old places, and, with them, as many of the old customs as could be
made to fit in with modern requirements.

The grandfather's clock was kept exactly half an hour fast, as it had
always been, and, by its time, the household rose at six, breakfasted at
seven and dined at noon; while mails were despatched and telegrams timed
by the new Post Office clock, which showed correct Greenwich time,
received by wire at ten o'clock every morning.

Miss Lane's mind kept time with both clocks. Although she loved the past
and tried to preserve its spirit as well as its relics, in other ways
she was in advance of her own day. She read a good deal, not poetry, or
pure literature--she had not the right kind of mind for that--but she
took in _The Times_ and kept herself well-informed of what was going on
in the world, especially in the way of invention and scientific
discovery. Probably she was the only person on or around the Green who
had heard the name of Darwin. Others of her interests were international
relationships and what is now called big business. She had shares in
railways and the local Canal Company, which was daring for a woman in
her position, and there was an affair called the Iceland Moss Litter
Company for news of which watch had to be kept when, later, Laura was
reading the newspaper aloud to her.

Had she lived later she must have made her mark in the world, for she
had the quick, unerring grasp of a situation, the imagination to foresee
and the force to carry through, which mean certain success. But there
were few openings for women in those days, especially for those born in
small country villages, and she had to be content to rule over her own
small establishment. She had been thought queer and rather improper
when, her father having died and left his business to her, his only
child, instead of selling out and retiring to live in ladylike leisure
at Leamington Spa or Weston-super-Mare, as her friends had expected, she
had simply substituted her own name for his on the billheads and carried
on the business.

'And why not?' she asked. 'I had kept the books and written the letters
for years, and Matthew is an excellent foreman. My father himself had
not put foot inside the shop for ten months before he died.'

Her neighbours could have given her many reasons why not, the chief one
being that a woman blacksmith had never been known in those parts
before. A draper's or grocer's shop, or even a public-house, might be
inherited and carried on by a woman; but a blacksmith's was a man's
business, and they thought Miss Lane unwomanly to call herself one. Miss
Lane did not mind being thought unwomanly. She did not mind at all what
her neighbours thought of her, and that alone set her apart from most
women of her day.

She had consented to house the Post Office temporarily in the first
place, because it was a convenience badly needed on and around the
Green, and no one else could be found willing to undertake the
responsibility. But the work soon proved to be a pleasure to her. There
was something about the strict working to a time-table, the idea of
being a link in a great national organization and having some small
measure of public authority which appealed to her businesslike mind. She
liked having an inside knowledge of her neighbours' affairs too--there
is no denying that--and to have people coming in and out, some of them
strangers and interesting. As she ran the office, she had many of the
pleasures of a hostess without the bother and expense of entertaining.

She had arranged her Post Office with its shining counter, brass scales,
and stamps, postal orders, and multiplicity of official forms neatly
pigeonholed, in what had been a broad passage which ran through the
house from the front door to the garden. The door which led from this
into the front kitchen, where meals were taken, marked the boundary
between the new world and the old. In after days, when Laura had read a
little history, it gave her endless pleasure to notice the sudden
transition from one world to the other.

It was still the custom in that trade for unmarried workmen to live-in
with the families of their employers; and, at meal-times, when the
indoor contingent was already seated, sounds of pumping and sluicing
water over hands and faces would come from the paved courtyard outside.
Then 'the men', as they were always called, would appear, rolling their
leather aprons up around their waists as they tiptoed to their places at
table.

The foreman, Matthew, was a bow-legged, weak-eyed little man with sandy
whiskers, as unlike as possible the popular picture of a village
blacksmith. But he was a trustworthy foreman, a clever smith, and, in
farriery, was said to approach genius. The three shoeing-smiths who
worked under him were brawny fellows, all young, and all of them bashful
indoors; although, by repute, 'regular sparks' when out in the village,
dressed in their Sunday suits. Indoors they spoke in a husky whisper;
but in the shop, on the days when they were all three working there
together, their voices could be heard in the house, above the roaring of
the bellows and the cling-clang of the anvil as they intoned their
remarks and requests to each other, or sang as an anthem some work-a-day
sentence, such as 'Bil-h-l-l, pass me o-o-o-ver that s-m-m-a-ll
spanner.' When Matthew was out of the way, they would stand at the shop
door for 'a breather', as they called it, and exchange pleasantries with
passers-by. One had recently got into trouble with Cousin Dorcas for
shouting 'Whoa, Emma!' after a girl; but no one who only saw him at
table would have thought him capable of it.

There, the journeymen's place was definitely below the salt. At the head
of the long, solid oak table sat 'the mistress' with an immense dish of
meat before her, carving knife in hand. Then came a reserved space,
sometimes occupied by visitors, but more often blank table-cloth; then
Matthew's chair, and, after that, another, smaller, blank space, just
sufficient to mark the difference in degree between a foreman and
ordinary workmen. Beyond that, the three young men sat in a row at the
end of the table, facing the mistress. Zillah, the maid, had a little
round table to herself by the wall. Unless important visitors were
present, she joined freely in the conversation; but the three young men
seldom opened their mouths excepting to shovel in food. If, by chance,
they had something they thought of sufficient interest to impart, they
always addressed their remarks to Miss Lane, and prefixed them by
'Ma-am'. 'Ma-am, have you heard that Squire Bashford's sold his Black
Beauty?' or 'Ma-am, I've heard say that two ricks've bin burnt down at
Wheeler's. A tramp sleeping under set 'em afire, they think.' But,
usually, the only sound at their end of the table was that of the
scraping of plates, or of a grunt of protest if one of them nudged
another too suddenly. They had special cups and saucers, very large and
thick, and they drank their beer out of horns, instead of glasses or
mugs. There were certain small delicacies on the table which were never
offered them and which they took obvious pains not to appear to notice.
When they had finished their always excellent meal, one of them said
'Pardon, Ma-am,' and they all tiptoed out. Then Zillah brought in the
tea-tray and Matthew stayed for a cup before he, too, withdrew. At
tea-time they all had tea to drink, but Miss Lane said this was an
innovation of her own. In her father's time the family had tea alone, it
was their one private meal, and the men had what was called 'afternoon
bavour', which consisted of bread and cheese and beer, at three o'clock.

As a child, Laura thought the young men were poorly treated and was
inclined to pity them; but, afterwards, she found they were under an
age-old discipline, supposed, in some mysterious way, to fit them for
becoming in their turn master-men. Under this system, such and such an
article of food was not suitable for the men; the men must have
something substantial--boiled beef and dumplings, or a thick cut off a
gammon, or a joint of beef. When they came in to go to bed on a cold
night, they could be offered hot spiced beer, but not elderberry wine.
They must not be encouraged to talk and you must never discuss family
affairs in their presence, or they might become familiar; in short, they
must be kept in their place, because they were 'the men'.

Until that time, or a few years earlier in more advanced districts,
these distinctions had suited the men as well as they had done the
employers. Their huge meals and their beds in a row in the large attic
were part of their wages, and as long as it was excellent food and the
beds were good feather beds with plenty of blankets, they had all they
expected or wished for indoors. More would have embarrassed them. They
had their own lives outside.

When a journeyman was about to marry, it was the rule for him to leave
and find a shop where the workers lived out. There was no difficulty
about this, especially in towns, where the living-out system was
extending, and a good workman was always sure of employment. The young
men who still lived in did so from choice; they said they got better
food than in lodgings, better beds, and had not to walk to their work at
six o'clock in the morning.

Miss Lane's own father had come to the Green as a journeyman, wearing a
new leather apron and with a basket of tools slung over his shoulder. He
had walked from Northampton, not on account of poverty, for his father
was a master-man with a good smithy in a village near that town; but
because it was the custom at that time that, after apprenticeship, a
young smith should travel the country and work in various shops to gain
experience. That was why they were called 'journeymen', Miss Lane said,
because they journeyed about.

But her own father journeyed no farther, for his first employer had a
daughter, Miss Lane's mother. She was an only child and the business was
a flourishing one, and, although the new journeyman was the son of
another master-smith, her parents had objected to the match.

According to her daughter's story, the first intimation they had of the
budding attachment was when her mother found her Katie darning the
journeyman's socks. She snatched them out of her hand and threw them
into the fire and her father told her he would rather see her in her
coffin than married to a mere journeyman. After all they had done for
her, she should marry at least a farmer. However, they must have become
reconciled to the match, for the young couple married and lived with the
parents until the father died and they inherited the house and business.
There was a painting of them in their wedding clothes in the parlour;
the bridegroom in lavender trousers and white kid gloves (How did he
manage to squeeze his smith's horny and ingrained hands into them?), and
the dear little bride in lavender silk with a white lace fichu and a
white poke bonnet encircled with green leaves.

When she was old enough, little Dorcas had been sent to school as a
weekly boarder and the school must have been even more old-fashioned
than her home. The girls, she said, addressed each other as Miss
So-and-So, even during playtime, and spent some time every day lying
flat on the bare board floor of their bedroom to improve their figures.
Their punishments were carefully calculated to fit their crimes. The one
she remembered best and often laughed about later was for pride or
conceit, which was standing in a corner of the schoolroom and repeating
'Keep down, proud stomach', patting the said organ meanwhile. They
learned to write a beautifully clear hand, to 'cast up accounts', and to
do fine needlework, which was considered a sufficient education for a
tradesman's daughter eighty or ninety years ago.

Once, when she was turning out a drawer to show Laura some treasure, she
came upon a white silk stocking, which she held up for inspection. 'How
do you like my darning?' she asked; but it was not until Laura had drawn
the stocking over her own hand to examine it more closely that she saw
that the heel and the instep and part of the toe were literally made of
darns. The silk of the original fabric had been matched exactly and the
work had been exquisitely done in a stitch which resembled knitting.

'It must have taken you ages,' was the natural comment.

'It took me a whole winter. Time thrown away, for I never wore it. My
mother turned it out from somewhere and gave it me to darn at such times
as the men were indoors. It was not thought proper then to do ordinary
sewing before men, except men's shirts, of course; never our own
underclothes, or anything of that kind; and as to reading, that would
have been thought a waste of time; and one must not sit idle, that would
have been setting a bad example; but cutting holes in a stocking foot
and darning them up again was considered industrious. Be glad you
weren't born in those days.'

Although she could darn so beautifully, she no longer darned her own
stockings. She left them to Zillah, whose darns could easily be seen
across the room. Probably she felt she had done enough darning for one
lifetime.

Belonging to the establishment was a light spring-cart and a bright
chestnut mare named Peggy and, three times a week, Matthew and two of
the shoeing smiths drove off with strings of horseshoes and boxes of
tools to visit the hunting stables. Sometimes the remaining smith was
out also and the forge was left, cold and silent and dark, save for the
long streamers of daylight which filtered through the cracks in the
shutters. Then Laura would steal in through the garden door and inhale
the astringent scents of iron and oil and ashes and hoof-parings; and
pull the bellows handle and see the dull embers turn red; and lift the
big sledge hammer to feel its weight and made the smaller ones tinkle on
the anvil. Another lovely sound belonging to the forge was often heard
at night when the household was in bed, for then the carrier, returning
from market, would fling down on the green in front of the shop the long
bars of iron for making horseshoes. _Cling-cling, cling_, it would go,
like a peal of bells. Then the carrier would chirrup to his tired horse
and the heavy wheels would move on.

All kinds of horses came to the forge to be shod: heavy cart-horses,
standing quiet and patient; the baker's and grocer's and butcher's van
horses; poor old screws belonging to gipsies or fish-hawkers; and an
occasional hunter, either belonging to some visitor to the neighbourhood
or one from a local stable which had cast a shoe and could not wait
until the regular visiting day. There were a few donkeys in the
neighbourhood, and they, too, had to be shod; but always by the youngest
shoeing smith, for it would have been beneath the dignity of his seniors
to become the butt for the wit of the passers-by. 'He-haw! He-haw!' they
would shout. 'Somebody tell me now, which is topmost, man or beast, for
danged if I can see any difference betwixt 'em?'

Most of the horses were very patient; but a few would plunge and kick
and rear when approached. These Matthew himself shod and, under his
skilful handling, they would quiet down immediately. He had only to put
his hand on the mane and whisper a few words in the ear. It was probably
the hand and voice which soothed them; but it was generally believed
that he whispered some charm which had power over them, and he rather
encouraged this idea by saying when questioned: 'I only speaks to 'em in
their own language.'

The local horses were all known to the men and addressed by them by
name. Even the half-yearly bills were made out: 'To So-and-So, Esq. For
shoeing Violet, or Poppet, or Whitefoot, or The Grey Lady.' 'All round',
or 'fore', or 'hind', as the case might demand. Strings of horseshoes,
made in quiet intervals, hung upon the shop walls, apparently ready to
put on; but there was usually some little alteration to be made on the
anvil while the horse waited. 'No two horses' feet are exactly alike,'
Matthew told Laura. 'They have their little plagues and peculiarities,
like you and me do.' And the parting words from man to beast were often:
'There, old girl, that's better. You'll be able to run ten miles without
stopping with them shoes on your feet.'

Other items which figured in the bills were making hinges for doors,
flaps for drains, gates and railings and tools and household
requirements. On one occasion a bill was sent out for 'Pair of Park
Gates to your own design, _£_20', and Matthew said it should have been
fifty, for he had worked on them for months, staying in the shop hours
after the outer door was closed, and rising early to fit in another hour
or two before the ordinary work of the day began. But it was a labour of
love, and, after they were hung, he had his reward when he, who so
seldom went out for pleasure, dressed on a Sunday and took a walk that
way in order to admire and enjoy his own handicraft.

So the days went on, and, secure in the knowledge of their own
importance in the existing scheme of things, the blacksmiths boasted:
'Come what may, a good smith'll never want for a job, for whatever may
come of this new cast-iron muck in other ways, the horses'll always have
to be shod, and they can't do that in a foundry!'

Yet, as iron will bend to different uses, so will the workers in iron.
Twenty years later the younger of that generation of smiths were
painting above their shop doors, 'Motor Repairs a Speciality', and,
greatly daring, taking mechanism to pieces which they had no idea how
they were going to put together again. They made many mistakes, which
passed undetected because the owners had no more knowledge than they had
of the inside of 'the dratted thing', and they soon learned by
experiment sufficient to enable them to put on a wise air of authority.
Then the legend over the door was repainted, 'Motor Expert', and expert
many of them became in a surprisingly short time, for they brought the
endless patience and ingenuity of the craftsman to the new mechanism,
plus his adaptable skill.



   XXVIII

        _Growing Pains_

But the holidays at Candleford only occupied a small part of Laura's
year. At the end of a month or so a letter would come saying that school
would begin on the following Monday and she had to return. Excepting the
arrival of a new baby or two, or the settling of a stray swarm of bees
on somebody's apple-tree, nothing ever seemed to have happened in the
hamlet while she had been away. The neighbours would still be discussing
the same topics. The crops were good, or 'but middling', according to
the season. Someone had nearly a half-bushel more corn from their
gleanings than the rest of the hamlet, and that was a mystery to others,
who declared they had worked just as hard and spent even more hours
afield. '_A bit of rick-pulling there, I'll warrant_.' After a dry
summer the water in the wells would be dangerously low, but it had not
given out yet, and, 'Please God, us shall get a nice drop of rain 'fore
long. The time of year's getting on to when we may look for it.' 'Look
for it! He! He! It'll come whether you looks for it or not. Nice weather
for young ducks and mud up to y'r knees when you goes round to the well,
_you'll_ see, before you knows where _you_ are.'

She found the hamlet unchanged every year; but, beyond the houses,
everything had altered, for it was still summer when she went away and
when she returned it was autumn. Along the hedgerows hips and haws and
crab-apples were ripe and the ivory parchment flowers of the traveller's
joy had become silver and silky. The last of the harvest had been
carried and already the pale stubble was greening over. Soon the sheep
would be turned into the fields to graze, then the ploughs would come
and turn the earth brown once more.

At home, the plums on the front wall of the house were ripe and the
warm, fruity smell of boiling jam drew all the wasps in the
neighbourhood. Other jams, jellies, and pickles already stood on the
pantry shelves. Big yellow vegetable marrows dangled from hooks, and
ropes of onions and bunches of drying thyme and sage. The faggot pile
was being replenished and the lamp was again lighted soon after tea.

For the first few days after her return the house would seem small and
the hamlet bare, and she was inclined to give herself the airs of a
returned traveller when telling of the places she had seen and the
people she had met on her holiday. But that soon wore off and she
slipped back into her own place again. The visits to Candleford were
very pleasant and the conveniences of her cousins' home and their way of
life had the charm of novelty; but the plain spotlessness of her own
home, with few ornaments and no padding to obscure the homely outline,
was good, too. She felt she belonged there.

Her freedom of the fields grew less every year, however, for, by the
time her last year at school approached, her mother had five children.
One little sister shared her bed and another slept in the same room; she
had to go to bed very quietly in the dark, not to awaken them. In the
day-time, out of school hours, the latest baby, a boy, had to be nursed
indoors or taken out for his airing. These things, in themselves, were
no hardship, for she adored the baby, and the little sisters, who held
on, one on each side of the baby-carriage, were dears, one with brown
eyes and a mop of golden curls, and the other a fat, solemn child with
brown hair cut in a straight fringe across her forehead. But Laura could
no longer read much indoors or roam where she would when out, for the
baby-carriage had to be kept more or less to the roads and be pushed
back punctually at baby's feeding-time. Her mother's bedtime stories
were still a joy, although no longer told to Edmund and her, but to the
younger children, for Laura loved to listen and to observe the effect
each story had on her little sisters. She was also rather fond of
correcting her mother when her memory went astray in telling the old
familiar true stories, which did not add to her popularity, of which she
had little enough already. She had come to what the hamlet called 'an
ok'ard age, neither 'ooman nor child, when they oughter be shut up in a
box for a year or two'.

At school about this time she made her first girl friend and wearied her
mother by saying, 'Emily Rose does this,' 'Emily Rose does that,' and
'That is what Emily Rose says,' until she said she was sick of the sound
of Emily Rose's name, and could not Laura talk about somebody else for a
change.

Emily Rose was the only child of elderly parents who lived on the other
side of the parish in a cottage like a picture on a Christmas card. It
had the same diamond-paned windows and pointed thatched roof and the
same mass of old-fashioned flowers around the doorway. There was even a
winding footpath leading across a meadow to its rustic gate. Laura often
wished she lived in such a house, away from interfering neighbours, and
sometimes almost wished she was an only child like Emily Rose.

Emily Rose was a strong, sturdy little girl with faintly pink cheeks,
wide blue eyes and a flaxen pigtail. Some pigtails in the school were as
thin as rats' tails and others stuck out at an angle behind the head of
the wearer, but Emily Rose's pigtail was thick as a rope and hung
heavily to her waist, where it was finished off with a neat ribbon bow
and a fluff of little loose curls. She had a way of drawing it up over
her shoulder and stroking her cheek with this soft end, which Laura
thought very captivating.

Her parents were in somewhat more comfortable circumstances than the
hamlet folk; for not only had they but one child to keep, instead of the
usual half-dozen or more, but her father, being a shepherd, had slightly
higher wages and her mother took in needlework. So Emily Rose had pretty
clothes to set off her flaxen pigtail, a pleasant, comfortable home, and
the undivided affection of both parents. But, although she had the
self-confidence of one who was seldom thwarted, Emily Rose was not a
spoilt child. Nothing could have spoiled one of her calm, well-balanced,
straightforward disposition. Hers was one of those natures which are
good all through, good-tempered, good-natured, and thorough in all they
do; a little obstinate, perhaps, but, as they are usually obstinate with
good cause, that also counts as a virtue.

Laura thought Emily Rose's bedroom was worthy of a princess, with its
white walls scattered with tiny pink rosebuds, little white bed and
frilly white window-curtains tied up with pink bows. There were no
babies for her to nurse, and apparently no household tasks were expected
of her. She could have read all day and in bed at night, if she had
cared to, for her room was well apart from that of her parents. But she
did not want to read; her delight was in needlework, at which she
excelled, and in wading through brooks and climbing trees. Her way home
from school skirted a wood, and she boasted that she had climbed every
tree by the pathway at some time or other and this for her own pleasure,
without spectators, not because she had been dared to do it.

At home she was petted and made much of. She was asked what she would
like to eat, instead of being given whatever was on the table, and if
the food she fancied were not forthcoming her mother was quite
apologetic. But there were delicious things to eat at Cold Harbour.
Once, when Laura called for Emily Rose during school holidays they had
sponge fingers and cowslip wine, which Emily Rose poured out herself
into real wineglasses. On another of Laura's visits there was lambs'
tail pie. The tails in the pie were those of still living lambs which
had been cut off while their owners were still very young, because,
Laura was told, if sheep were allowed to have long tails they would, in
wet weather, become heavy with wet and mud and injure or irritate them.
So the shepherd docked them and took the tails home to be made into a
pie, or gave bundles of them to friends as a great favour. Laura did not
like the idea of eating the tails of live lambs; but it had to be done,
for she had been told it was rude to leave anything at all, excepting
bones or fruitstones, on one's plate.

At school, that last year, Emily Rose and Laura were known as Class I
and had several advantages, although these did not include much
education. They were trusted with the _Key_ containing the answers to
their sums and heard each other's spellings, or anything else that had
to be committed to memory. This was partly because the schoolmistress,
with all the other classes in the school on hand, had no time at all to
devote to them; but also as a mark of her confidence. 'I know I can
trust my big girls,' she would say. There were but the two of them and
no boys at all in Class I. Most of the children who had been with Laura
in the lower classes had by that time left school for work, or, having
failed to pass their examinations, were being kept back in Standard IV
to make another attempt at the next examination.

In summer the two 'big girls' were allowed to take out their lessons and
do them under the lilac tree in the mistress's garden, and, in winter,
they sat cosily by the fire in her cottage living-room, the condition
attached to this latter privilege being that they kept up the fire and
put on the potatoes to cook for her dinner at the appropriate time.
Laura owed these advantages to Emily Rose. She was the show pupil of the
school; good at every subject and exceptionally good at needlework. She
was so good a needlewoman that she was trusted to make garments for the
mistress's own wear, and perhaps that was the chief reason for their
being given the freedom of the sitting-room, for Laura remembered her
sitting with her feet on a hassock with yards, and yards of white
nainsook around her, putting thousands of tiny stitches into the
nightdress she was feather-stitching, while Laura herself knelt before
the fire toasting a kipper for the mistress's tea.

That picture remained with her because it was the day after St.
Valentine's Day, and Emily Rose was telling her about the valentine she
had found awaiting her when she reached home the evening before. She had
brought it to show Laura, pressed between cardboard and wrapped in
layers of notepaper, all silver lace and silk-embroidered flowers, with
the words:


      Roses are red
        And violets blue,
      Carnations sweet,
        And so are you,


and when Laura asked if she knew who had sent it, she pretended she had
lost her needle and bent down to the floor, looking for it, and, when
pressed again, told Laura that her kipper would never be cooked if she
pointed it at the window, instead of at the fire.

The lessons set them by their kind but overworked mistress, learning
long columns of spelling words, or of the names of towns, or countries,
or of kings and queens, or sums to be worked out of which Laura had
never grasped the rules, were waste of time as far as she was concerned.
The few scraps of knowledge she managed to pick up were gleaned from the
school books, in which she read the history and geography portions so
many times over that certain paragraphs remained with her, word for
word, for life. There were stories of travel, too, and poems, and when
these were exhausted there was the mistress's own bookshelf.

The lessons were soon finished; the long lists repeated to each other,
parrot fashion; Emily Rose had done Laura's sums for her and Laura had
written Emily Rose's essay for her to copy, and the spare hour or two
was passed pleasantly enough over _Ministering Children_, or _Queechy_,
or _The Wide, Wide World_ or Laura would knit while Emily Rose sewed,
for she liked knitting, and they would sit there, very cosily, while the
fire flared up and the kettle sang on the hob and the school sounds came
faint and subdued through the dividing wall.

During their last few months at school they had plenty to talk about,
for Emily Rose was in love and Laura was her confidante. It was no
childish fancy, she was really deeply in love, and it was one of those
rare cases where first love was to lead to marriage and last a lifetime.

Her Norman was the son of their nearest neighbours, who lived about a
mile from their cottage. On the evenings when Emily Rose stayed after
school for choir practice he would meet her and they would walk through
the wood arm in arm, like grown-up lovers. 'But you must only kiss me
when we say good night, Norman,' said sensible little Emily Rose,
'because we are too young yet to be properly engaged.' She did not tell
Laura what Norman said to that, or whether he always observed her rule
about kissing; but when asked what they found to talk about her blue
eyes opened wide and she said, 'Just about us,' as though there were no
other possible subject.

They had made up their minds to marry when they were old enough and
nothing on earth could have shaken that resolve; but, as it turned out,
they met with no opposition. When, a year or two later, their respective
parents discovered the state of things between them, they were at once
asked to each other's houses as accepted lovers, and when Emily Rose
went as an apprentice to a dressmaker in a neighbouring village she
already wore a little gold ring with clasped hands on her finger and
Norman came openly to fetch her home on dark evenings.

The last time Laura saw her she was as little changed as anything human
could be after a decade. A little fuller of figure, perhaps, and with
her flaxen hair wreathed in coils round her head instead of hanging in a
pigtail, but with speedwell eyes as innocently candid and milk-and-rose
complexion as fresh as ever. She had two lovely children in a
perambulator, 'The very spit and moral of herself,' another stander-by
assured her; and, according to the same observer, the kind, steady
husband who stood by her side would not have let the wind blow upon her
if he could have helped it. She was still the same Emily Rose, kind,
straightforward and a little dictatorial; convinced that the world was a
very nice place for well-behaved people.

Laura felt old and battered beside her, a sensation she enjoyed, for
that was in the 'nineties, when youth loved to pose as world-weary and
disillusioned, the sophisticated product of a dying century. Laura's
friends away from the hamlet called themselves _fin de siècle_ and their
elders called them fast, although the fastness went no further than
walking, hatless, over Hindhead at night in a gale, bawling Swinburne
and Omar Khayyam to each other above the storm.

But the 'nineties were barely beginning when Laura left school and where
she would be and what she would be doing when they ended she had no
idea. For some months that was her great trouble, that, and the changed
conditions at home and a growing sense of inability to fit herself into
the scheme of things as she knew it.

Her mother, with five children to keep and care for, was hard-pressed,
especially as she still insisted upon living up to her old standard of
what she called 'seemliness'. Her idea of good housekeeping was that
every corner of the house should be clean, clean sheets should be on the
beds, clean clothes on every one of the seven bodies for which she was
responsible, a good dinner on the table and a cake in the pantry for tea
by noon every Sunday. She would sit up sewing till midnight and rise
before daybreak to wash clothes. But she had her reward. She was
passionately fond of little children, the younger and more helpless the
better, and would talk by the hour in baby language to the infant in the
cradle or upon her lap, pouring out love and lavishing endearments upon
it. Often when Laura began speaking she would cut her short with a
request to go and do something, or take no notice at all of what she
said, not from deliberate unkindness, but simply because she had no
thought to spare for her older children. At least, so it appeared to
Laura.

Her mother told her in after years that she had been anxious about her
at that time. She was outgrowing her strength, she thought, and was too
quiet and had queer ideas and did not make friends of her own age, which
she thought unnatural. Her future and that of Edmund were also causing
her anxiety.

Her plans had not changed: Laura was to be a nurse and Edmund a
carpenter; but the children themselves had changed. Edmund was the first
to protest. He did not want to be a carpenter; he thought it was a very
good trade for those who wanted one; but he didn't, he said firmly. 'But
it is so respectable and the pay's good. Look at Mr. Parker,' she urged,
'with his good business and nice house and even a top hat for funerals.'

But now it seemed that Edmund had no ambition to wear a top hat or to
officiate at funerals. He did not want to be a carpenter at all, or a
mason. He would not have minded being an engine-driver; but what he
really wanted was to travel and see the world. That meant being a
soldier, she said, and what was a soldier when his time had expired,
regularly ruined for ordinary life, with his roving ideas and, more than
likely, a taste for drink. Look at Tom Finch, as yellow as a guinea and
eaten up with ague, putting in a day or two here and there on the land
and but half alive, for you couldn't call it living, between one pension
day and another. Even if he had been well he had no trade in his hands,
and what was land work for a young chap, anyhow?

Then Edmund surprised and hurt her more than he had ever done in his
life before. 'What's the matter with the land?' he asked. 'Folks have
got to have food and somebody's got to grow it. The work's all right,
too. I'd rather turn a good straight furrow any day than mess about
making shavings in a carpenter's shop. If I can't be a soldier and go to
India, I'll stop here and work on the land.' She cried a little at that;
but afterwards cheered up and said he was too young to know his own
mind. Boys did sometimes have these fancies. He'd come to his senses
presently.

Laura's failure troubled her more because she was two years older than
Edmund and the time was nearer when she would have to earn her own
living. Perhaps she had had doubts about her vocation for some time and
that was why she had seemed cold and reserved towards her. The situation
came to a head one day when Laura was nursing the baby with a book in
her hand and, absent-mindedly, put down the little hand which was trying
to clutch her long hair.

'Laura, I'm sorry to say it, but I'm downright disappointed in you,'
said her mother solemnly. 'I've been watching you for the last ten
minutes with that little innocent on your lap and your head stuck in
that nasty old book and not so much as one look at his pretty ways.
(Didums, didums neglect him then, the little precious! Anybody who could
read a book with you on their lap must have a heart of stone. Come to
mum-mums, then. _She'll_ not push, you pretty pawdy away when you try to
play with _her_ hair!) No, it won't do, Laura. You'll never make a
nurse, sorry as I am to say so. You're fond enough of the baby, I know,
but you just haven't got the knack of nursing. A child'd grow up a
perfect dummy if it had to depend upon you. You want to talk to them and
play with them and keep them amused. There, don't cry. You are as you're
made, I suppose. We shall have to think of something else for you to do.
Perhaps I could get Cousin Rachel to take you as apprentice to her
dressmaking. But, there, that's no good either, for your sewing's worse
than your nursing. We shall have to see what turns up; but there's no
denying it's a great disappointment to me, after having had the promise
of a start for you and all.'

So there was Laura at thirteen with her life in ruins, not for the last
time, but she grieved more over that than her later catastrophes, for
she had not then experienced the rebound or learned that no beating is
final while life lasts. It was not that she had particularly wanted to
be a nurse. She had often wondered if she were suitable for the life.
She loved children, but had she the necessary patience? She could keep
the older ones amused, she knew; but she was nervous and clumsy with
babies. It was the sense of defeat, of having been tried and found
wanting, which crushed her.

There was also the question of what she could do for a living. She
thought she would like to work on the land, like Edmund. It was long
before the day of the landgirl; but a few of the older women in the
hamlet worked in the fields. Laura wondered if the farmer would employ
her. She was afraid not; and if he had been willing, her parents would
not consent to it. But when she said this to Edmund, who had found her
crying in the woodshed, he said, 'Why not?' Then, it appeared, he
already had a plan. They would have a little house together and both
work on the land; Laura could do the housework, for field-women's hours
were shorter than those of the men; or perhaps Laura need not go out to
work at all, but just stay at home and keep house as other women did for
their husbands. They talked this over every time they were alone
together and even chose their cottage and discussed their meals. Treacle
tarts were to figure largely on their menu. But when at last they told
their mother of their plan she was horrified. 'Don't either of you so
much as mention such a silly idea again,' she said sternly, and 'for
goodness' sake don't go telling anybody else. You haven't, have you?
Then don't, unless you want to be thought mad; for mad it is, and I'm
downright ashamed of you for such a low-down idea. You're going to get
on in the world, if I have any say in it, and leave working on the land
to them as can't do better for themselves. And not a word to your father
about this. I haven't told him yet what Edmund said about working on the
land, for I know he'd never allow it. And as to you, Laura, you're the
eldest and ought to know better than to put such silly ideas into your
brother's head.'

So that would not do; even Edmund was convinced of that, though he still
said to Laura in private that he would not be apprenticed. 'I want to
get about and see things,' he said, 'if it's only things growing.'
Evidently the craftsman spirit of his ancestors on one side of the
family had passed over his head to come out again in some future
generation.

There was scarlet fever at Candleford that year and Laura did not go
there for her usual holiday. Johnny came to stay with them instead, and
did not bring the infection; he had been too carefully guarded. But he
made one more in the already overcrowded home; although it must be said
that he improved marvellously under her mother's firm rule. It was no
longer 'Johnny, would you like this or that?' but 'Now, Johnny, my man,
eat up your dinner or you'll be all behind when the next helping's given
out.' The fine air and the simple food must have been good for him, for
he put on weight and started to shoot up in height. Or perhaps his being
there at the time of the turning-point of his health was a lucky
accident for which Laura's mother got the credit.

All that winter Laura went on with her brooding. Then spring came and
the bluebells were out and the chestnut candles and young bracken fronds
were unrolling; but, for the first time since she could remember, she
had no joy in such things. She sat one day on the low-hanging bough of a
beech and looked at them all. 'Here I am,' she thought, 'and here are
all these lovely things and I don't care for them a bit this year. There
must be something the matter with me.'

There was. She was growing up, and growing up, as she feared, into a
world that had no use for her. She carried this burden of care for
months, not always conscious of it; sometimes she would forget, and in
the reaction become noisy and boisterous; but it was always there,
pressing down upon her, until the neighbours noticed her melancholy
expression and said: 'That child looks regular hag-rid.'

This accumulated depression of months slid from her at last in a moment.
She had run out into the fields one day in a pet and was standing on a
small stone bridge looking down on brown running water flecked with
cream-coloured foam. It was a dull November day with grey sky and mist.
The little brook was scarcely more than a trench to drain the fields;
but overhanging it were thorn bushes with a lacework of leafless twigs;
ivy had sent trails down the steep banks to dip in the stream, and from
every thorn on the leafless twigs and from every point of the ivy leaves
water hung in bright drops, like beads.

A flock of starlings had whirred up from the bushes at her approach and
the _clip, clop_ of a cart-horse's hoofs could be heard on the nearest
road, but these were the only sounds. Of the hamlet, only a few hundred
yards away, she could hear no sound, or see as much as a chimney-pot,
walled in as she was by the mist.

Laura looked and looked again. The small scene, so commonplace and yet
so lovely, delighted her. It was so near the homes of men and yet so far
removed from their thoughts. The fresh green moss, the glistening ivy,
and the reddish twigs with their sparkling drops seemed to have been
made for her alone and the hurrying, foam-flecked water seemed to have
some message for her. She felt suddenly uplifted. The things which had
troubled her troubled her no more. She did not reason. She had already
done plenty of reasoning. Too much, perhaps. She simply stood there and
let it all sink in until she felt that her own small affairs did not
matter. Whatever happened to her, this, and thousands of other such
small, lovely sights would remain and people would come suddenly upon
them and look and be glad.

A wave of pure happiness pervaded her being, and, although it soon
receded, it carried away with it her burden of care. Her first reaction
was to laugh aloud at herself. What a fool she had been to make so much
of so little. There must be thousands like her who could see no place
for themselves in the world, and here she had been, fretting herself and
worrying others as if her case were unique. And, deeper down, beneath
the surface of her being, was the feeling, rather than the knowledge,
that her life's deepest joys would be found in such scenes as this.



    XXIX

_Exit Laura_

Her mother was stooping to take something out of the oven and, as she
looked down upon her, Laura noticed for the first time that her looks
were changing. The blue eyes were bluer than ever, but the pink and
white of her face was weathering. Her figure was hardening, too; slim
young grace was turning to thin wiriness; and a few grey threads showed
in her hair at the temples. Her mother was growing old, soon she would
die, thought Laura with sudden compunction, and then how sorry she would
be for giving her so much trouble.

But her mother, still on the right side of forty, did not think of
herself as ageing and had no thought of dying for a good many more years
to come. As it turned out, barely half of her life was over.

'Gracious, how you are shooting up!' she said cheerfully, as she rose
and stretched herself. 'I shall soon have to stand tiptoe to tie your
hair-ribbon. Have a potato cake? I found young Biddy had laid an egg
this morning, her first and not very big, so I thought I'd make us a
cake for tea of those cold potatoes in the pantry. A bit of sugar can
always be spared. That's cheap enough.'

Laura ate the cake with great relish, for it was delicious, straight
from the oven, and it was also a mark of her mother's favour; the little
ones were not allowed to eat between meals.

Her father had put up a swing for the younger children in the
wash-house. She could hear one of them now, crying, 'Higher! Higher!'
Except for the baby, asleep in the cradle, her mother and she were alone
in the room, which, on that dull day, was aglow with firelight. Her
mother's pastry board and rolling-pin still stood on a white cloth on
one end of the table, and the stew for dinner, mostly composed of
vegetables, but very savoury-smelling, simmered upon the hob. She had a
sudden impulse to tell her mother how much she loved her; but in the
early 'teens such feelings cannot be put into words, and all she could
do was to praise the potato cake.

But perhaps her look conveyed something of what she felt, for, that
evening, her mother, after speaking of her own father, who had been dead
three or four years, added: 'You are the only one I can talk to about
him. Your father and he never got on together and the others were too
young when he died to remember him. Lots of things happened before they
were born that you'll always remember, so I shall always have somebody
to talk to about the old times.'

From that day a new relationship was established and grew between them.
Her mother was not kinder to Laura than she had been, for she had always
been kindness itself, but she took her more into her confidence, and
Laura was happy again.

But, as so often happens when two human beings have come to understand
each other, they were soon to be parted. In the early spring a letter
came from Candleford saying that Dorcas Lane wanted a learner for her
Post Office work and thought Laura would do, if her parents were
willing. Although she was not one for much gadding about, she said, it
was irksome to be always tied to the house during Post Office hours.
'Not that I expect her to stay with me for ever,' she added. 'She'll
want to do better for herself later on, and, when that time comes, I'll
speak to Head Office and we shall see what we shall see.'

So, one morning in May, Polly and the spring-cart drew up at the gate
and Laura's little trunk, all new and shiny black with her initials in
brass-headed nails, was hoisted into the back seat, and Laura in a new
frock--grey cashmere with a white lace collar and the new leg-of-mutton
sleeves--climbed up beside her father, who was taking a day off to drive
Polly.

'Good-bye, Laura. Good-bye. Good-bye. Don't forget to write to me.'

'And to me, and address it to my very own self,' cried the little
sisters.

'You be a good gal an' do what you're told an' you'll get on like a
house afire,' called a kindly neighbour from her doorway.

'Wrap every penny stamp up in a smile,' advised the innkeeper, closing
his double gates after Polly's exit.

As Polly trotted on, Laura turned to look across fields green with
spring wheat to the huddle of grey cottages where she knew her mother
was thinking about her, and tears came into her eyes.

Her father looked at her in surprise, then said kindly but grudgingly:
'Well, 'tis your home, such as it is, I suppose.'

Yes, with all its limitations, the hamlet was home to her. There she had
spent her most impressionable years and, although she was never to live
there again for more than a few weeks at a time, she would bear their
imprint through life.





        CANDLEFORD GREEN



    XXX

         _From One Small World to Another_

Laura sat up beside her father on the high front seat of the spring-cart
and waved to the neighbours. 'Goodbye, Laura! Good-bye!' they called.
'Mind you be a good gal, now!' and Laura, as she turned to smile and
wave back to them, tried not to look too conscious of her new frock and
hat and the brand-new trunk (with her initials) roped on to the back
seat.

As the cart moved on, more women came to their doors to see what the
sound of wheels meant at that time in the morning. It was not the
coalman's or the fish-hawker's day, the baker was not due for hours, and
the appearance of any other wheeled vehicle than theirs always caused a
mild sensation in that secluded hamlet. When they saw Laura and her new
trunk, the women remained on their doorsteps to wave their farewells,
then, before the cart had turned into the road from the rutted lane,
little groups began forming.

Her going seemed to be causing quite a stir in the hamlet. Not because
the sight of a young girl going out in the world to earn her own living
was an uncommon one there--all the hamlet girls left home for that
purpose, some of them at a much earlier age than Laura--but they usually
went on foot, carrying bundles, or their fathers pushed their boxes on
wheelbarrows to the railway station in the nearest town the night
before, while, for Laura's departure, the innkeeper's pony and cart had
been hired.

That, of course, was because Candleford Green, although only eight miles
distant, was on another line of railway than that which ran through the
market town, and to have gone there by train would have meant two
changes and a long wait at the Junction; but the spring-cart brought a
spice of novelty into her departure which made 'something to talk
about', as the saying went there. At the beginning of the
eighteen-nineties any new subject for conversation was precious in such
places.

Laura was fourteen and a half, and the thick pigtail of hair which had
so far hung down her back had that morning been looped up once and tied
with a big black ribbon bow on her neck. When they had first known that
she was to go to work in the Post Office at Candleford Green her mother
had wondered if she ought not to wear her hair done up with hairpins,
grown-up fashion, but when she saw a girl behind the Post Office counter
at Sherston wearing hers in a loop with a bow she had felt sure that
that was the proper way for Laura to do hers. So the ribbon was
bought--black, of course, for her mother said the bright-coloured
ribbons most country girls wore made them look like horses, all plaited
and beribboned for a fair. 'And mind you sponge and press it often,' she
had said, 'for it cost good money. And when you come to buy your own
clothes, always buy the best you can afford. It pays in the end.' But
Laura could not bear to think of her mother just then; the parting was
too recent.

So she thought of her new trunk. This contained--as well as her everyday
clothes and her personal treasures, including her collection of pressed
flowers, a lock of her baby brother's fair hair, and a penny exercise
book, presented by her brother Edmund and inscribed by him _Laura's
Journal_, in which she had promised to write every night--what her
mother had spoken of as 'three of everything', all made of stout white
calico and trimmed with crochet edging.

'No child of mine,' her mother had often declared, 'shall go out in the
world without a good outfit. I'd rather starve!' and when the time had
come to get Laura ready for Candleford Green the calico, bought secretly
from time to time in lengths, had been brought out from its hiding-place
to be made up and trimmed with the edging she had been making for
months. 'I told you it would come in handy for something at some time,'
she had said, but Laura knew by her arch little smile she had meant it
for her all along.

Her father had made and polished the trunk and studded it with her
initials in bright, brass-headed nails, and, deep down in one corner of
it, wrapped in tissue paper, was the new half-crown he had given her.

The contents of the trunk, the clothes she was wearing, youth and
health, and a meagre education, plus a curious assortment of scraps of
knowledge she had picked up in the course of her reading, were her only
assets. In fitting her out, her parents had done all they could for her.
They had four younger children now to be provided for. Her future must
depend upon herself and what opportunities might offer. But she had no
idea of the slenderness of her equipment for life and no fears for the
distant future which stretched before her, years and years in which
anything might happen. She could not imagine herself married, or old,
and it did not seem possible that she would ever die.

Any qualms she felt were for the immediate future, when she, who had so
far only known her cottage home and the homes of a few relatives, would
be living in some one else's house, where she would work and be paid for
her work and where the work she was to do had still to be learnt. She
was much afraid she would not know what she ought to do, or where to
find things, or would make mistakes and be thought stupid.

The postmistress of Candleford Green, it was true, was no stranger, but
an old girlhood's friend of her mother. Laura had been to her house
several times and had liked her, and she thought Miss Lane had liked
her. But that only seemed to make the new relationship more difficult.
Should she treat Miss Lane as an old friend of the family, or strictly
as a new employer? Her mother, when appealed to, had laughed and said:
'God bless the child! always looking for trouble! What is there to worry
about? Just be your own natural self and Dorcas I'm sure'll be hers.
Though, when it comes to that, perhaps you'd better not go on Cousin
Dorcasing her. That was all right when you were a visitor, but now it'd
better be "Miss Lane".

As they lurched out of the rutted road which led round the hamlet, her
father urged on the pony. He was not a patient man and there had been
too many farewells to suit his taste. 'What a lot!' he muttered. 'You
can't so much as hire a horse and cart for a day without creating a nine
days' wonder in this place!' But Laura thought it was kind of the
neighbours to wish her well. 'Go and get rich and fat,' kind old Mrs.
Braby had advised; 'and whatever y'do, don't 'ee forget them at home.'
Rich she could never be, her starting salary of half a crown a week
would leave no margin for saving, and getting fat seemed more improbable
still to tall, lanky fourteen--'like a molern, all legs and wings', as
the neighbours had often called her--but she would never forget those at
home: that she could promise.

She turned and looked back over green cornfields at the huddle of grey
cottages, one of which was her home, and pictured her mother ironing and
her little sisters playing round the doorway, and wondered if her
favourite brother would miss her when he came home from school and if he
would remember to water her garden and give her white rabbit, Florizel,
plenty of green leaves, and if he would care to read her new journal
when she sent it to him, or would think it silly, as he sometimes did
her writing.

But it was May and the warm wind dried her eyes and soothed her sore
eyelids, and the roadside banks were covered with the tiny spring
flowers she loved, stitchwort and celandine and whole sheets of
speedwell, which Laura knew as angel's eyes, and somewhere in the
budding green hedgerow a blackbird was singing. Who could be sad on such
a day! At one place she saw cowslips in a meadow and asked her father to
wait while she gathered a bunch to take as an offering to Miss Lane.
Back in her seat, she buried her face in the big fragrant bunch and,
ever after, the scent of cowslips reminded her of that morning in May.

When, about midday, they passed through a village, she held the reins
while her father went into the inn for a pint of ale for himself and
brought out for her a tall tumbler of sweet, fizzing orangeade. She sat
in state on her high seat and sipped it gently in the grown-up way she
had seen farmers' wives in gigs sipping their drinks before the inn at
home, and it pleased her to imagine that the elderly clergyman who
glanced her way in passing was wondering who that interesting-looking
girl in the spring-cart could be, although she knew very well in sober
fact he was more probably thinking about his next Sunday's sermon, or
trying to decide whether or not he owed a parochial call at the next
house he had to pass. At fourteen it is intolerable to resign every
claim to distinction. Her hair was soft and thick and brown and she had
rather nice brown eyes and the fresh complexion of country youth, but
those were her only assets in the way of good looks. '_You'll_ never be
annoyed by people turning round in the street to have another look at
you,' her mother had often told her, and sometimes, if Laura looked
dashed, she would add: 'But that cuts both ways: if you're no beauty, be
thankful you're not a freak.' So she had nothing to pride herself upon
in that respect, and, being country born and with little education, she
knew herself to be ignorant, and as to goodness, well, no one but
herself knew how far she fell short of that, so, rather than sink into
nothingness in her own estimation, she chose to imagine herself
interesting-looking.

Candleford Green was taking its afternoon nap when they arrived. The
large irregular square of turf which gave the village its name was
deserted but for one grazing donkey and a flock of geese which came
cackling with outstretched necks towards the spring-cart to investigate.
The children who at other times played there were in school and their
fathers were at work in the fields, or in workshops, or at their
different jobs in Candleford town. The doors of the row of shops which
ran along one side of the green were open. A man in a white grocer's
apron stood yawning and stretching his arms in one doorway, an old grey
sheepdog slept in the exact middle of the road, the church clock chimed,
then struck three, but those were the only signs of life, for it was
Monday and the women of the place were too busy with their washing to
promenade with their perambulators in front of the shops as on other
afternoons.

On the farther, less-populated side of the green a white horse stood
under a tree outside. the smithy waiting its turn to be shod and, from
within, as the spring-cart drew up, the ring of the anvil and the roar
of the bellows could be heard.

Attached to the smithy was a long, low white house which might have been
taken for an ordinary cottage of the more substantial kind but for a
scarlet-painted letter-box let into the wall beneath a window at one
end. Over the window was a painted board which informed the public that
the building was CANDLEFORD GREEN POST AND TELEGRAPH OFFICE. At the
other end of the building, above the door of the smithy, was another
board which read: DORCAS LANE, SHOEING AND GENERAL SMITH.

Except for the sounds of the forge and the white horse dozing beneath
the oak tree, that side of the green appeared even more somnolent than
the shopping side. Their arrival had not been unobserved, however, for,
as the cart drew up, a young smith darted from the forge and, seizing
Laura's trunk, bore it away on his shoulder as if it weighed no more
than a feather. 'Ma'am! The new miss has come,' they heard him call as
he reached the back door of the house, and, a moment later, the Post
Office door-bell went _ping-ping_ and Miss Lane herself stepped out to
welcome her new assistant.

Miss Lane was not a tall woman and was slightly built, but an erect
carriage, a commanding air, and the rustle as she walked of the rich
silks she favoured gave her what was then known as a 'presence'. Bright,
dark, almost black eyes were the only noticeable feature in her sallow
but not otherwise unpleasing countenance. Ordinarily quietly observant,
those eyes could disconcert with a flash of recognition of motives,
sparkle with malice, or, more rarely, soften with sympathy. That
afternoon, over a deep prune-coloured gown, she wore a small black satin
apron embroidered almost to stiffness with jet beads, and, in accordance
with fashion, her still luxurious black hair was plaited into a coronet
above a curled fringe.

Not quite the Dorcas Lane, Shoeing and General Smith, that might have
been expected after reading her signboard. Had she lived a century
earlier or half a century later, she would probably have been found at
the forge with a sledge-hammer in her hand for she had indomitable
energy and a passion for doing and making things. But hers was an age
when any work outside the four walls of a home was taboo for any woman
who had any pretensions to refinement, and she had to content herself
with keeping the books and attending to the correspondence of the old
family business she had inherited. She had found one other outlet for
her energy in her post office work, which also provided her with
entertainment in the supervision of her neighbours' affairs and the
study and analysis of their motives.

This may sound terrifying as now related, but there was nothing
terrifying about Miss Lane. She kept the secrets with which she was
entrusted in the course of her official duties most honourably, and if
she laughed at some of her customers' foibles she laughed secretly.
'Clever' was the general village description of her. 'She's a clever
one, that Miss Lane, as sharp as vinegar, but not bad in her way,'
people would afterwards say to Laura. Only her two or three enemies said
that if she had lived at one time she'd have been burned as a witch.

That afternoon she was in her most gracious mood. 'You've come just at
the right time,' she said, kissing Laura. 'I've had a most terrible
rush, half a dozen in at once for postal orders and what not, and the
telegraph bell ringing like mad all the while. But it's over now, I
think, for the time being, and the afternoon mail is not due for an
hour, so come inside, do, both of you, and we'll have a nice cup of tea
before the evening's work begins.'

Laura experienced a slight shock when she heard of this recent pressure
of business. How, she thought, would she ever be able to cope with such
rushes. But she need not have feared: the rushes at Candleford Green
Post Office existed chiefly in the imagination of the postmistress, who
loved to make her office appear more busy and important than it was in
reality.

Her father could not stay to tea, as he had his Candleford relations to
visit, and Laura watched him drive away with the sinking feeling of one
whose last link with a known world is vanishing. But, before the day was
out, her childhood's life seemed long ago and far away to her, there was
so much to see and hear and try to grasp in the new one.

As she followed her new employer through the little office and out to
the big front living kitchen, the hands of the grandfather's clock
pointed to a quarter to four. It was really only a quarter past three
and the Post Office clock gave that time exactly, but the house clocks
were purposely kept half an hour fast and meals and other domestic
matters were timed by them. To keep thus ahead of time was an old custom
in many country families which was probably instituted to ensure the
early rising of man and maid in the days when five or even four o'clock
was not thought an unreasonably early hour at which to begin the day's
work. The smiths still began work at six and Zillah, the maid, was
downstairs before seven, by which time Miss Lane and, later, Laura, was
also up and sorting the morning mail.

The kitchen was a large room with a flagstone floor and two windows,
beneath which stood a long, solid-looking table large enough to
accommodate the whole household at mealtimes. The foreman and three
young unmarried smiths lived in the house, and each of these had his own
place at table. Miss Lane, in a higher chair than the others, known as a
carving-chair, sat enthroned at the head of the table, then, on the side
facing the windows, came Laura and Matthew, the foreman, with a long
space of tablecloth between them, supposed to be reserved for visitors.
Laura's seeming place of honour had, no doubt, been allotted to her for
handiness in passing cups and plates. The young smiths sat three abreast
at the bottom end of the table and Zillah, the maid, had a small
side-table of her own. All meals excepting tea were taken in this order.

Cooking and washing-up were done in the back kitchen; the front kitchen
was the family living- and dining-room. In the fireplace a small
sitting-room grate with hobs had replaced the fire on the hearth of a
few years before; but the open chimney and chimney-corners had been
left, and from one of these a long, high-backed settle ran out into the
room. In the space thus enclosed a red-and-black carpet had been laid to
accommodate Miss Lane's chair at the head of the table and a few
fireside chairs. This little room within a room was known as the
hearthplace. Beyond it the stone floor was bare but for a few mats.

Brass candlesticks and a brass pestle and mortar ornamented the high
mantelshelf, and there were brass warming-pans on the walls, together
with a few coloured prints; one of the first man in this country to
carry an umbrella--rain was coming down in sheets and he was followed by
a jeering but highly ornamental crowd. A blue-and-white dish of oranges
stuck with cloves stood upon the dresser. They were dry and withered at
that time of the year, but still contributed their quota to the
distinctive flavour of the air.

Everything there was just as Miss Lane had inherited it. Except for a
couple of easy chairs by the hearth, she had added nothing. 'What was
good enough for my parents and grandparents is good enough for me,' she
would say when some of her more fashionable friends tried to persuade
her to bring her house up to date. But family loyalty was rather an
excuse than a reason for her preference; she kept the old things she had
inherited because she enjoyed seeing and owning them.

That afternoon, when Laura arrived, a little round table in the
hearthplace had already been laid for tea. And what a meal! There were
boiled new-laid eggs and scones and honey and home-made jam and, to
crown all, a dish of fresh Banbury cakes. The carrier had a standing
order to bring her a dozen of those cakes every market day.

It seemed a pity to Laura that the first time she had been offered two
eggs at one meal she could barely eat one and that the Banbury cake,
hitherto to her a delicious rarity only seen in her home when purchased
by visiting aunts, should flake and crumble almost untasted upon her
plate because she felt too excited and anxious to eat. But Miss Lane ate
enough for the two of them. Food was her one weakness. She loaded her
scone, already spread with fresh farm butter, with black currant jam and
topped it with cream while she inquired about the health of Laura's
mother and told Laura what her new duties would be. Once or twice during
tea the Post Office door-bell tinkled and she wiped her mouth and sailed
majestically off to sell stamps, but the hour of her early tea was the
quietest hour of the day; after that what she called her 'rush hour'
began, and for that Laura was allowed to accompany her.

With what expert speed Miss Lane stamped letters and made up the mail,
and with what ceremonious courtesy she answered questions which sounded
like conundrums to Laura, was a wonder to hear and see.

The door-bell tinkled all the time as people came in to collect their
afternoon mail. There was a delivery of letters in the morning, and the
poorer inhabitants of the place only called in the afternoon when they
were expecting a letter. 'I s'pose there isn't nothing for me, Miss
Lane?' they would say almost apologetically, and would look pleased or
disappointed according to her reply. Those of more assured position
called regularly and these often would not speak at all, but put their
heads inside the door and raise their eyebrows inquiringly. None of them
gave their names or addresses, because Miss Lane knew everybody on and
around the green and she seldom had to look in the pigeonholes labelled
'A' to 'Z', because she had sorted the letters and could answer from
memory. She often knew from whom the letter was expected and what its
contents were likely to be and would console the disappointed callers
with: 'Better luck in the morning. There's barely time for an answer as
yet.'

Out in the kitchen Zillah and the workmen were at tea. The rattle of
their teacups and the subdued hum of their conversation could be heard
in the office. This was the only meal of the day at which Miss Lane
herself did not preside. Zillah poured out, but she did not occupy her
mistress's seat at the head of the table--that was sacred; between each
pouring out she retired to her own seat on the settle with her own
little table before her. At the other, more formal, meals, the
conversation was carried on by Miss Lane and her foreman, with an
occasional reference to Zillah when any item of local interest was under
discussion, while the young smiths at the foot of the table munched in
silence. At tea, with the mistress engaged elsewhere, there was more
freedom, and sometimes Zillah's shrill laughter would break through a
chorus of guffaws from the younger workmen. In moderation this was
tolerated, but one day, when some one rapped loudly upon the table with
a teacup and said (Miss Lane said 'shouted'), 'Another pint, please,
landlady!' the office door opened and a voice as severe as that of a
schoolmistress admonishing her class called for 'Less noise there,
please!' None of them resented being spoken to like children, nor did
the young journeymen resent being placed below the salt, nor Zillah at
her separate table. To them these things were all part of an established
order. To that unawakened generation freedom was of less account than
good food, and of that in that household there was an abundance.

Tea was not considered a substantial meal. It was for the workmen, as
Miss Lane counted time, an innovation. She could remember when bread and
cheese and beer were at that hour taken to the forge for the men to
consume standing. 'Afternoon bavour', they had called it. Now a
well-covered table awaited them indoors. Each man's plate was stacked
with slices of bread and butter, and what was called 'a relish' was
provided. 'What can we give the men for a relish at tea-time?' was an
almost daily question in that household. Sometimes a blue-and-white
basin of boiled new-laid eggs would be placed on the table. Three eggs
per man was the standard allowance, but two or three extra were usually
cooked 'in case', and at the end of the meal the basin was always empty.
On other afternoons there would be brawn, known locally as 'collared
head', or soused herrings, or a pork pie, or cold sausages.

As the clock struck five the scraping of iron-tipped boots would be
heard and the men, with leather aprons wound up around their waists, and
their faces, still moist from their visit to the pump in the yard,
looking preternaturally clean against their work-soiled clothes, would
troop into the kitchen. While they ate they would talk of the horses
they had been shoeing. 'That new grey o' Squire's wer' as near as dammit
to nippin' my ear. A groom ought'r stand by and hold th' young devil',
or 'Poor old Whitefoot! About time he wer' pensioned off. Went to sleep
an' nearly fell down top of me to-day, he did. Let's see, how old is he
now, do you reckon?' 'Twenty, if he's a day. Mus' Elliott's father used
to ride him to hounds and he's bin dead this ten 'ears. But you leave
old Whitefoot alone. He'll drag that station cart for another five
'ears. What's he got to cart? Only young Jim, and he's a seven-stunner,
if that, and maybe a bit of fish and a parcel or two. No, you take my
word for't, old Whitefoot ain't going to die while he can see anybody
else alive.' Or they would talk about the weather or the crops or some
new arrival in the place, extracting the last grain of interest from
every trifling event, while, separated from them by only a closed door,
the new activities of a more sophisticated day were beginning.

On her first day in the office, Laura stood awkwardly by Miss Lane,
longing to show her willingness to help, but not knowing how to begin.
Once, when there was a brisk demand for penny stamps and the telegraph
bell was ringing, she tried timidly to sell one, but she was pushed
gently aside, and afterwards it was explained to her that she must not
so much as handle a letter or sell a stamp until she had been through
some mysterious initiation ceremony which Miss Lane called being 'sworn
in'. This had to take place before a justice of the Peace, and it had
been arranged that she should go the next morning to one of the great
houses in the locality for that purpose. And she would have to go alone,
for until she herself had qualified, Miss Lane could not leave home
during office hours, and she feared she would not know which doorbell to
ring or what to say when she came into the great man's presence. Oh
dear! this new life seemed very complicated.

The dread of this interview haunted her until, at Miss Lane's
suggestion, she went out for a turn in the garden, where, she was told,
she might always go for a breath of fresh air between busy times in the
office. She had been in that garden before, but never in May, with the
apple-blossom out and the wallflowers filling the air with their
fragrance.

Narrow paths between high, built-up banks supporting flower borders,
crowded with jonquils, auriculas, forget-me-nots and other spring
flowers, led from one part of the garden to another. One winding path
led to the earth closet in its bower of nut-trees halfway down the
garden, another to the vegetable garden and on to the rough grass plot
before the beehives. Between each section were thick groves of bushes
with ferns and capers and Solomon's seal, so closed in that the long,
rough grass there was always damp. Wasted ground, a good gardener might
have said, but delightful in its cool, green shadiness.

Nearer the house was a portion given up entirely to flowers, not growing
in beds or borders, but crammed together in an irregular square, where
they bloomed in half-wild profusion. There were rose bushes there and
lavender and rosemary and a bush apple-tree which bore little red and
yellow-streaked apples in later summer, and Michaelmas daisies and
red-hot pokers and old-fashioned pompom dahlias in autumn and peonies
and pinks already budding.

An old man in the village came one day a week to till the vegetable
garden, but the flower garden was no one's especial business. Miss Lane
herself would occasionally pull on a pair of wash-leather gloves and
transplant a few seedlings: Matthew would pull up a weed or stake a
plant as he passed, and the smiths, once a year, turned out of the shop
to dig between the roots and cut down dead canes. Betweenwhiles the
flowers grew just as they would in crowded masses, perfect in their
imperfection.

Laura, who came from a district often short of water, was amazed to find
no less than three wells in the garden. There was the well beneath the
pump near the back door which supplied the house with water; a middle
well outside the inner smithy door used only for trade purposes, and
what was called the 'bottom well' near the beehives. The bottom well was
kept padlocked. Moss grew on its lid and nettles around it. At one time
it had supplied the house with drinking water, but that was a long time
ago.

Every one in any way connected with the place knew the story of the
wells. No one had suspected the existence of the one near the house
until, one day, while Miss Lane was still a small child, a visitor who
had come to tea was on her way to what was still known as 'the little
house' half way down the garden. When she had gone a few yards from the
back door a flagstone on the path gave way beneath her feet and she
found herself slipping into a chasm. Fortunately, she was a
substantially built woman and, by flinging out her arms, she was able to
support her upper part above ground while her legs dangled in space. Her
screams soon brought assistance and she was hauled to safety, and, the
modern treatment of bed and hot-water bottles for shock being as yet
undiscovered, Miss Lane's mother did what she could by well lacing the
patient's tea with rum, which remedy acted so well that, when passing
her cup a third time, she actually giggled and said: 'This tastes a lot
better than that old well water'd have done!'

When or why the well had been abandoned and not properly filled in no
one ever knew. Miss Lane's grandparents had had no knowledge of it, and
they had come to live there early in the century and both they and her
parents and herself as a child had walked gaily over it thousands of
times, little suspecting the danger that lurked below. However, all
ended well. After the well had been thoroughly cleansed and the water
tested, it provided an excellent supply close at hand for the house.

When Laura went to bed that night in her new little bedroom with its
pink-washed walls, faded chintz curtains, and chest of drawers all for
her own use, she was too tired to write more in her new journal than:
'Came to live at Candleford Green to-day, Monday.' After she was in bed
she heard Zillah call the cat, then plod, flat-footed, upstairs. Then
the men came up, pad-padding in their stockinged feet, and, last of all,
Miss Lane, tap-tapping on her high heels.

Laura sat up in bed and drew aside the window curtain. Not a light to be
seen, only darkness, thick and moist and charged with the scent of damp
grass and cottage garden flowers. All was silent except for the sharp,
sudden swish of a breeze in the smithy tree. And so it would be all
night unless the hoof-sounds of a galloping horse rang out, followed by
the pealing of the doctor's bell. There was no ordinary night traffic on
country roads in those days.



    XXXI

   _On Her Majesty's Service_

The interview next morning did not turn out so terrifying as Laura had
expected. Sir Timothy smiled very kindly upon her when the footman
ushered her into his Justice Room, saying: 'The young person from the
Post Office, please, Sir Timothy.'

'What have you been up to? Poaching, rick-burning, or petty larceny?' he
asked when the footman had gone. 'If you're as innocent as you look, I
shan't give you a long sentence. So come along,' and he drew her by the
elbow to the side of his chair. Laura smiled dutifully, for she knew by
the twinkle of his keen blue eyes beneath their shaggy white eyebrows
that Sir Timothy was joking.

As she leaned forward to take up a pen with which to sign the thick blue
official document he was unfolding, she sensed the atmosphere of
jollity, good sense, and good nature, together with the smell of
tobacco, stables, and country tweeds he carried around like an aura.

'But read it! Read!' he cried in a shocked voice. 'Never put your name
to anything before you have read it or you'll be signing your own death
warrant one of these days.' And Laura read out, as clearly as her
shyness permitted, the Declaration which even the most humble candidate
for Her Majesty's Service had in those serious days to sign before a
magistrate.

'I do solemnly promise and declare that I will not open or delay or
cause or suffer to be opened or delayed any letter or anything sent by
the post', it began, and went on to promise secrecy in all things.

When she had read it through, she signed her name. Sir Timothy signed
his, then folded the document neatly for her to carry back to Miss Lane,
who would send it on to the higher authorities.

Sir Timothy could not have been very busy that morning, for he kept her
talking a long time, asking her age and where she came from and how many
brothers and sisters she had and what she had learnt at school and if
she thought she would like the post office business. 'You've been well
brought up,' he said at last, as weightily as if pronouncing sentence in
Court. 'And you should do well. Miss Lane is an excellent woman--most
efficient, and kind, too, to those of whom she approves, though I should
not like to offend her myself. By gad! I should not! I remember one day
when she was a girl--but perhaps I had better not tell you that story.
Now, I expect you would be glad of some refreshment. Ask Purchase, or
Robert, to show you the way to the housekeeper's room. There's sure to
be tea or coffee or something going there at this time,' and Laura
dropped a little curtsy as she said 'No, thank you, Sir Timothy. No,
thank you,' and passed through the door which he courteously held open
and down the long, resounding stone passage which led to the side door,
and was very glad that she saw no one, for when she arrived the footman
had teasingly pulled her hair and asked for a kiss.

Out in the park, she turned and looked back at the long, white,
battlemented façade of the mansion, with its terraces, fountains, and
flower-beds, and thought: 'Thank goodness that's over. I don't suppose I
shall ever see this place again.' But she erred in her supposition. She
was to cross the park, come clanging through the iron swing gate, and
pass beneath the tall, rook-noisy elms to the mansion every morning in
all weathers for nearly three years.

For the first few days Laura feared she would never learn her new
duties. Even in that small country Post Office there was in use what
seemed to her a bewildering number and variety of official forms, to all
of which Miss Lane who loved to make a mystery of her work referred by
number, not name. But soon, in actual practice, 'A/B35', 'K.21',
'X.Y.13', or what not became 'The blue Savings Bank Form', 'The Postal
Order Abstract', 'The Cash Account Sheet', and so on, and Laura found
herself flicking them out of their pigeonholes and carrying them without
a moment's hesitation to where Miss Lane sat doing her accounts at the
kitchen table.

Then the stamps! The 1d. and ½d. ones she already knew by sight were in
10s. and 5s. sheets which hot, nervous hands were inclined to tear, and
those of higher value, neatly hinged in a cardboard-leaved book, ready
to be sold for parcels and telegrams, had to be detached just so,
working up from the left-hand bottom corner. And the cash drawer, with
its three wooden bowls for gold, silver, and copper, and all three bowls
at least half full, even the one for sovereigns and half-sovereigns!
What a lot of money there must be in the world! Laura would run her
fingers through the shining gold coins when the cash was counted at
night and placed in the black japanned box ready to be taken upstairs,
wrapped in an old woolly shawl as disguise, and stood on the top shelf
of Miss Lane's clothes cupboard. Occasionally there was a banknote in
the japanned box, but no Treasury notes, for there were none issued;
there was plenty of gold to serve as currency in those days. Gold in
plenty flowed through the country in a stream, but a stream to which
only the fortunate had access. One poor half-sovereign was doled out on
Saturday night to the lowest-paid workers; men who had a trade might get
a whole sovereign and a few pieces of silver.

At first, when giving change, Laura boggled and hesitated and counted
again, but although she had learned little arithmetic at school she was
naturally quick at figures, and that part of her work soon became easy
to her. And she liked seeing and speaking and being spoken to by the
post office customers, especially the poorer ones, who would tell her
about their affairs and sometimes ask her advice. The more important at
first would ignore her if Miss Lane was present, or, if she was absent,
would ask to see her; but they soon got used to seeing a new face there,
and once, when Laura had gone indoors to tea, a gentleman farmer from a
neighbouring hamlet actually inquired what had become of 'that charmin'
young gal you've got now'. That set the seal of acceptance upon her and,
fortunately, it was the only compliment so definitely expressed. Further
inquiries of the kind might not have pleased Miss Lane. She liked Laura
and was glad to find she was giving satisfaction, but naturally expected
to stand first in her customers' regards.

Working hours in such small post offices as that where Laura was
employed were then from the arrival of the seven o'clock morning mail
till the office was closed at night, with no weekly half-day off and
Sunday not entirely free, for there was a Sunday morning delivery of
letters and an outward mail to be made up in the evening. Slave's hours,
she was told by those employed directly by Government in the larger post
offices, where they worked an eight-hour-day. And so they would have
been had life moved at its present-day pace. At that time life moved in
a more leisurely manner; the amount of business transacted in such
village post offices was smaller and its nature more simple, there were
no complicated forms with instructions for filling in to be dealt out to
the public, no Government allowances to be paid, and the only pensions
were the quarterly ones to ex-Service men, of whom there would not be
more than three or four in such a place. During the day there were long,
quiet intervals in which meals could be taken in comparative peace, or
reading or knitting were possible, while where two were engaged in the
business, as at Candleford Green, there were opportunities of getting
out into the fresh air.

Most important of all, there was leisure for human contacts. Instead of
rushing in a crowd to post at the last moment, villagers would stroll
over the green in the afternoon to post their letters and stay for a
chat, often bringing an apple or a pear or a nosegay from their gardens
for Laura. There was always at least one pot of cut flowers in the
office, pink moss-roses, sweet williams and lad's love in summer, and in
autumn the old-fashioned yellow-and-bronze button chrysanthemums which
filled cottage gardens at that time.

In time Laura came to know these regular customers well. Some letter or
telegram they had received or were sending opened the way to confidences
and often, afterwards, she was treated as an old friend and would ask if
the daughter in Birmingham had made a good recovery from her
confinement, or if the son in Australia was having better luck, or how
the wife's asthma was, or if the husband had succeeded in getting the
job he was trying for. And they would ask Laura if her people at home
were well, or compliment her upon a new cotton frock she was wearing, or
ask her if she liked such-and-such a flower, because they had some at
home they could bring her.

The morning mail arrived from the head office by walking postman at
seven o'clock, and it was Laura's first duty of the day to attend to the
opening of the mailbag and the distribution of its contents in what had
in times past been one of the numerous out-buildings of the house,
wash-house, brew-house, or pantry. New-floored and new-ceiled and with
sorting-benches placed around, it made a convenient little sorting
office, although, with no other means of heating than an oil stove, it
was cold there in winter.

Every morning, the postman who had brought the mail remained to sort out
his own letters for the village delivery, and the two women
letter-carriers who did cross-country deliveries to outlying houses and
farms had their own sorting. The elder woman, Mrs. Gubbins, was an old
country-woman who wore for her round a lilac sunbonnet with apron and
shawl. She was a crabbed old creature who seldom spoke beyond grunting a
'Good morning', except when some local scandal was afoot, when she could
be voluble enough. The other postwoman was still in her thirties and as
pleasant in manner as Mrs. Gubbins was uncouth. Her name was Mrs. Macey,
and more will be told about her later.

The morning postman, Thomas Brown, was a stockily built man with greying
hair, who had, as far as was known, always led a quiet, respectable
life. Until recently he had taken great interest in local affairs and
had had such good judgement that he had occasionally been asked to
arbitrate in local disputes. A teetotaller and a non-smoker, his only
known vice had been an addiction to grumbling, especially about the
weather, which, he seemed convinced, was ordered by some one with a
special grudge against postmen.

Then, just before Laura knew him, he had been converted at a chapel
revivalist meeting and the people who had formerly lain in wait for him
on his round to ask his advice about their worldly affairs--what, for
instance, could they ask from the M.F.H. for those three hens that old
fox'd carried off in the night, or for the cabbage patch the hunt had
trampled--now almost ran in the opposite direction when they saw him
coming, lest he should ask impertinent questions about their souls. 'How
is it with your soul?' he would unblushingly inquire of any chance-met
acquaintance, or, more directly, 'Have you found salvation?' and, in
face of a question like that, what could a man or woman do but mumble
and look silly.

All but Miss Lane, who, suddenly asked in an earnest tone, 'Miss Lane,
are you a Christian?' replied haughtily, 'I do not see that whether I am
or not is any business of yours, but, if you particularly want to know,
I am a Christian in the sense that I live in a Christian country and try
to order my life according to Christian teaching. Dogma I leave to those
better qualified than myself to expound, and I advise you to do the
same.'

That last was a shrewd thrust, because he had recently become a local
preacher, but he did not feel it as such, for he only shook his grey
head and said mournfully, 'Ah, I see you've not found Christ yet.'

Laura was pleased when she heard that his wife had been converted, for,
outside his home, he found little sympathy. His position seemed to her
quite clear. He had found, as he thought, a priceless treasure which all
mankind might share if they would, and he wanted to make it known to
them. The pity was that he himself was so poor an advertisement of the
change of heart he wished them to experience. His expression and voice
when he spoke of Divine Love failed to light up or to soften, and,
although he now declared that he had been the chief of sinners, his
outward life had always been so exemplary that there could be no sudden
change there to illustrate and enforce his new faith. Moreover, he was
still grumbling and censorious.

But at least he had the courage of his convictions. Laura discovered
that in him once when one of the higher officials was paying the office
a visit of inspection. He was a very great man officially and had
arrived, wearing a top-hat and an immaculate morning suit, in the
station fly. When the office had been surveyed and a few criticisms
made, none of them very severe, because the business was really well run
and the delicious tea which followed the survey had softened the edges
before they were delivered, he announced that he had to see Postman
Brown, then about due with a letter-box collection. Laura, quietly
sorting the night mail, could not help hearing what was said at this
interview.

'About this new Sunday evening collection, now, began the surveyor in
his high-pitched, public-school-boyish accent, 'I hear you object to
doing it.'

_Postman_ (subdued, but not intimidated): 'Yes, sir, I do object.'

_Surveyor_: 'On what grounds, may I ask? Your colleagues have agreed,
and there is extra pay for it. It is your place, my man, to carry out
the duties laid down for you by the Department, and I advise you for
your own good to withdraw your objection immediately.'

_Postman_ (firmly): 'I can't, sir.'

_Surveyor_: 'But why, man, why? What do you usually do on a Sunday
evening? Got another job? Because, if so, I warn you that to undertake
outside employment of any kind is against the regulations.'

_Postman_ (manfully and with spirit): 'My job on Sunday evenings, sir,
is to worship my Creator, who Himself laid down the law, "Keep holy the
Sabbath Day", and I can't go against that, sir.'

By that time the man was trembling. He knew that his post and the
pension he had so nearly earned hung in the balance. He drew out a big
red, white-spotted handkerchief and mopped his forehead. Yet there was
still a certain dignity about him far removed from his ordinary
demeanour.

The gentleman appeared to less advantage. His easy, urbane,
authoritative manner dropped from him, and there was an ugly sneer in
the way he pronounced the words: 'Takes a lot out of you, I suppose,
this worshipping business! Better attend to the work which provides you
with bread and butter. But you can go now. I will report what you have
said and you will hear further about it.' Then, to Laura, as Brown went
out with a humble 'Good night, sir': 'A cantankerous man. I know his
kind. Out to make trouble. But he will find he will have to fit in the
Sunday evening work with his psalm-singing.'

But, although highly placed, it appeared that Mr. Cochrane was not
all-powerful. Some one at headquarters was more sympathetically disposed
to Sabbatarian principles, or perhaps the head postmaster, who was a bit
of a psalm-singer himself, interceded for Brown, for, after a few weeks
of suspense, he was excused Sunday evening attendance. The other postmen
did his collection with pleasure, for it brought them in a little extra
pay, and he continued to add to his already high weekly walking mileage
by tramping the countryside to preach in little local chapels.

Twice a year the head postmaster from Candleford came to audit the
accounts and made a general survey of the office. This was officially
supposed to be a surprise visit, with the object of detecting any
shortage of cash or neglect of duty, but Mr. Rushton and Miss Lane were
on such terms that on the morning of the day of his intended visitation
the head postmaster would himself come to the telegraph instrument and
with his own hands signal to Laura: 'Please tell Miss Lane I shall be
paying her a surprise visit this afternoon.'

That saved trouble all round. By the time Mr. Rushton's pony-carriage
drew up at the post office door, the account books, sheets of stamps,
postal orders, licences, and so on, together with the cash,
ready-counted in neat piles, would be arranged in readiness on the
kitchen table. So the official business did not take long and, that
despatched, the occasion became a social one.

Tea was laid on the round table in the parlour for Mr. Rushton's visits,
with Miss Lane in her best silk, and a long gold chain twice round her
neck and tucked into her waistband, pouring out tea from the best silver
teapot, Mr. Rushton doing full justice to the country fare (there was
once cold duck on the table), and Laura bobbing in and out between her
calls to the post office counter. The first time she was trusted to warm
the pot and put in the tea from the special caddy for this function, she
forgot to put in the tea and nearly dropped on the floor with nervous
terror when the other two stared blankly at the crystal stream
proceeding from the teapot.

After tea the garden and chickens and pigs had to be surveyed and the
pony-cart loaded up with country produce, including a huge,
old-fashioned bouquet of flowers for Mrs. Rushton.

It was an old-fashioned way of conducting business and Mr. Rushton was
an old-fashioned postmaster. He was a neat, middle-aged little man, very
precise in his speech and manner, and with what many considered an
exaggerated sense of his own importance. Pleasant, if somewhat
patronizing to well-doers on his staff, but a terror to the careless and
slipshod worker. He was under the impression that his own office staff
adored him. 'The crew of my little ship', he would say when speaking of
those under him, 'the crew of my little ship know who is captain.' It is
sad to have to record that the crew in private spoke of their captain as
'Holy Joe'.

That was because in private life Mr. Rushton was a pillar of the
Methodist Connexion in Candleford town, Sunday School superintendent,
occasional preacher, and the ready host of visiting ministers, a great
man locally in his Church. Which perhaps accounted for his style of
dress. In his black, or very dark grey clothes and round, black soft
felt hat, driving his fat grey pony in the lanes, he might himself have
been taken for a minister, or even for a clergyman of the Established
Church. On his salary of at most two hundred and fifty a year, he was
able in those spacious days to keep his own pony carriage, a maid for
his wife, and to entertain his friends and educate his children.

He was liked by the Candleford townspeople, but with those in the big
country houses he was not a favourite. They thought him a too pedantic
stickler for official rules. 'That little jack-in-office', one of the
squires called him, and there was a story of a fox-hunting baronet who
had terminated an interview in the private office marked 'Postmaster' by
hurling a stone bottle of ink at the official head. It missed its mark,
fortunately, but some of the younger clerks in his office still took a
pride in pointing out the faint remaining traces of the splashes on the
wallpaper.

At an early stage of their acquaintance, Mr. Rushton promised Laura the
offer of the next vacancy for a learner in his office. But the vacancy
never occurred. His only two women clerks were the daughters of a
minister, a friend of his own, and boarded with his family. They were
quiet, refined, pleasant young women in the early thirties, of a type to
which most women clerks in the post office at that time belonged. The
'young ladies' with the artificial pearls and bad manners belonged to
the early years of this century and disappeared before the last war. In
Laura's time post office employment was largely the preserve of
ministers' and schoolmasters' daughters. It had not become popularized.
The pay of a learner in the larger offices was very small, not nearly
sufficient to live upon away from home, and the smaller offices, where
learners were boarded, demanded a premium. Laura had crept in by a kind
of back door and later she was sometimes reminded of that fact. 'Why
should I teach you? My parents paid for me to learn' was a spirit not
unknown in the service.

For some time Laura hoped one of the Miss Rapleys would marry; but
neither of them showed the least disposition to oblige her in that
manner, and gradually her hopes of a Candleford vacancy faded. And no
other offered which it was possible for her to accept. This is no
success story. She remained what was officially known as an assistant
throughout her brief official career. But there were compensations,
which might not have appealed to everybody, but appealed to her.

The telegraph instrument had been installed in the parlour, where its
scientific-looking white dials and brass trimmings looked strikingly
modern against Miss Lane's old rosewood and mahogany furniture. It was
what was known as the 'ABC' type of instrument, now long superseded even
in such small offices by the telephone. But it served very well in its
day, being easy to learn and reliable in working. Larger and busier
offices had Sounder and Single Needle instruments, worked by the Morse
code and read by sound. The ABC was read by sight. A handle, like that
of a coffee mill, guided a pointer from letter to letter on a dial which
had the alphabet printed around it, clockwise, and this came out and was
read on a smaller dial at the other end of the circuit. Surrounding the
operating dial were brass studs, or keys, one for each letter, and the
operator, turning the handle with one hand, depressed the keys with the
fingers of the other, and by so doing spelt out the words of a telegram.
A smaller dial above, known as the 'receiver', recorded incoming
messages.

For a few days Laura, with a book propped open before her to supply the
words, practised sending. Round and round went the handle and _blick,
blick, blick_, went the keys, slowly and jerkily at first, then more
smoothly and quickly. Sometimes a bell attached to the instrument would
ring and a real telegram come through, which Miss Lane would take off
while Laura tried hard to follow the pointer on the smaller, upper dial.
It whirled round so madly that she feared her eyes would never be able
to follow it, but, gradually, they became accustomed to note its brief
pauses and in about a week she was able to take charge of the simple
apparatus.

How to get the telegrams delivered promptly was one of Miss Lane's
problems. A girl named Minnie, who lived in one of the cottages near,
could usually be depended upon to do this if she happened to be at home;
but although there were only about a dozen incoming telegrams a day on
the average, they were apt to come in rushes with long intervals
between, and often Minnie had barely had time to get out of hailing
distance before another telegram arrived. Then there was running to and
fro to find another messenger, or Zillah or the apprentice from the
blacksmith's shop would be pressed into the service. Neither of these
went willingly, and often they could ill be spared from their work, but
it was a strict rule of the establishment that no telegram must be
delayed. Another worrying thing about the delivery of telegrams was that
even when two came fairly close together they were bound to be for
addresses in opposite directions. Many were for farms or for country
houses two or even three miles distant, and Minnie trailed many miles
about the countryside in a day.

Trailing is the only way to describe her method of progress, for she had
an apparently slow, languid walk, which was, in fact, deceptive, as she
managed to cover long distances and usually be back to time. She was a
pretty, doll-faced country girl of fifteen, with wide, rather
vacant-looking blue eyes and a great love of finery. She usually
appeared at the office in a very clean, if sometimes old, print frock
and a flower-wreathed hat. One very hot day in a very hot summer, Miss
Lane brought forth from her hoard an old white silk parasol with a deep
cream lace frill and presented it to Minnie. Her face as she went off
beneath it to deliver her telegram wore an expression Laura never
forgot. It was one of utter felicity.

Miss Lane's parlour door opened out into the public portion of the
office and it sometimes happened that after attending to the telegraph
instrument Laura found herself cut off from the inner side of the
counter by what appeared to be a private and confidential conversation
between Miss Lane and a customer. Then she would close the door softly
and go straight to the bookcase. A few books, such as _Cooking and
Household Management_, _The Complete Farrier_, and Dr. Johnson's
_Dictionary_, were kept on one of the kitchen window-seats, but all the
best books were kept behind glass doors above the bureau in the parlour.
When one of these was lent to Laura, it had first to be fitted with a
brown-paper jacket, for Miss Lane was very particular about her books,
most of which had belonged to her father.

The collection was an unusual one to be found in a tradesman's parlour
at that time; but her father had been an unusual man, a lover of poetry,
especially of Shakespeare, and a student of history and astronomy.

There were _The Works of William Shakespeare_ in two large, flat
volumes, and Hume's _History of England_ in at least a dozen small fat
ones, Scott's _Poetical Works_ and a number of the Waverley Novels,
Cowper's poems and Campbell's and Gray's, Thomson's _Seasons_ and many
other such books. Any of these, she was told, she might borrow; with one
exception. That was Byron's _Don Juan_, a terrible book, she was told,
and most unfit for her reading. 'I don't know why I haven't destroyed it
long ago,' said Miss Lane. 'Next time there's a bonfire in the garden, I
must see about it.'

Laura knew she ought to be, and was, ashamed of herself when, at every
opportunity, she stood before the bookcase with goggling eyes and many a
guilty glance at the door, devouring another half-canto of _Don Juan_.
She slipped the book into her pocket one night and took it to read in
bed and narrowly escaped detection when Miss Lane came suddenly into her
room to give some instruction about the next morning's mail. She saved
herself by tucking the book down into the bed beside her, but the feel
of its sharp edges against her side made her so incoherent that Miss
Lane glanced round suspiciously. 'No reading in bed, now,' she said.
'You've got no need to wear out your eyesight, and I'm sure I don't
fancy being burnt to death in my sleep.' And Laura replied in a small,
meek voice, 'No, Miss Lane.'

But she went on reading. She could not help it. How fascinating the book
was! She felt she simply had to know what came next, and the blue skies
and seas of those foreign shores and the seaside caves and golden sands
and the wit of the author and the felicity of his language and the
dexterity of his rhymes enchanted her. She was shocked by some of the
hero's adventures, but more often thrilled. Laura learned quite a lot by
reading _Don Juan_.

When she had finished eating that forbidden fruit, she turned to
Shakespeare. Miss Lane said Shakespeare was the greatest poet who ever
lived and vowed that when she had time she would re-read every one of
the plays herself. But she never did. She had read them all at some
time, probably to please her father, and still remembered the stories
and a few lines here and there of the poetry. Sometimes, when she was in
a good mood, Laura would begin: 'Good morrow, Father,' and she would
reply, 'Benedicite. What early tongue so sweet saluteth me?' and go on
being the Friar to Laura's Romeo. But much more often, in their off-duty
hours, she was deep in _The Origin of Species_, or one of the hooks on
human psychology she had bought at a doctor's sale of furniture. Such
books as those and the leading articles in _The Times_ were the kind of
reading she liked. But, because of her father, she could understand
Laura's love of quite other literature.

When Laura had read most of the parlour books, Miss Lane suggested that,
as she was fond of reading, she should take out a library ticket at the
Mechanics' Institute in Candleford town. Laura took out the ticket and,
within a year, she had read and laughed and cried over the works of
Charles Dickens, read such of the Waverley Novels as had not before come
her way, and made the acquaintance of many other writers hitherto
unknown to her. _Barchester Towers_ and _Pride and Prejudice_ gave her a
taste for the work of Trollope and Jane Austen which was to be a
precious possession for life.

The caretaker at the Institute acted as librarian during the day. He was
a one-legged man named Hussey, and his manners and qualifications bore
no resemblance to those of librarians to-day. He seemed to bear a
positive grudge against frequent borrowers. 'Carn't y'make up y'r mind?'
he would growl at some lingerer at the shelves. 'Te-ak th' first one
y'comes to. It won't be no fuller o' lies than tothers,' and, if that
admonition failed, he would bring his broom and sweep close around the
borrower's feet, not sparing toes or heels. Laura sometimes wondered if
his surname was inherited from some virago of a maternal ancestor.

But there was no dearth of books. After she left home, Laura never
suffered in that way. Modern writers who speak of the booklessness of
the poor at that time must mean books as possessions; there were always
books to borrow.



   XXXII

_The Green_

In Laura's time Candleford Green was still a village, and, in spite of
its nearness to a small country town which was afterwards to annex it,
the life lived there was still village life. And this, she soon
discovered, was as distinct from that of a hamlet, such as that in which
she had been bred, as the life of a country town was from that of a
city.

In the hamlet there lived only one class of people; all did similar
work, all were poor and all equal. The population of Candleford Green
was more varied. It had a clergyman of its own and doctor and
independent gentlewomen who lived in superior cottages with stabling
attached, and artisans and labourers who lived in smaller and poorer
ones, though none so small and poor as those of the hamlet. Then there
were shopkeepers and the schoolmaster and a master builder and the villa
people who lived on the new building estate outside the village, most of
whom worked in Candleford town, a couple of miles away. The village was
a little world in itself; the hamlet was but a segment.

In the large country houses around lived squires and baronets and lords
who employed armies of indoor servants, gardeners, and estate workers.
The village was their village, too: they attended its church, patronized
its shops, and had influence upon its affairs. Their ladies might be
seen, in mellow tweeds and squashed hats, going in and out of the shops
in the morning, or bringing flowers with which to decorate the church
for some festival, or popping into the village school to see that all
was going on there as they thought it should be. In the afternoon the
same ladies in silks and satins and huge feather boas would pass through
the village in their carriages, smiling and bowing to all they met, for
it was part of their duty, as they conceived it, to know every
inhabitant. Some of the older village women still curtsied in
acknowledgement, but that pretty, old-fashioned if somewhat servile
custom was declining, and with the younger, or more enlightened, or
slightly higher socially, smiles and a jerk of the head by way of a bow
had become the usual response.

Every member of the community knew his or her place and few wished to
change it. The poor, of course, wished for higher wages, the shopkeepers
for larger shops and quicker turnovers, and the rich may have wished for
higher rank and more extensive estates, but few wished to overstep the
boundaries of class. Those at the top had no reason to wish for change
and by others the social order was so generally accepted that there was
no sense of injustice.

If the squire and his lady were charitable to the poor, affable to the
tradesmen, and generous when writing out a cheque for some local
improvement, they were supposed to have justified the existence of their
class. If the shopkeeper gave good value and weight and reasonable
credit in hard times, and the skilled workman had served his
apprenticeship and turned out good work, no one grudged them their
profits or higher wages. As to the labouring class, that was the most
conservative of all. 'I know my place and I keep it,' some man or woman
would say with a touch of pride in the voice, and if one of the younger
and more spirited among them had ambition, those of their own family
would often be the first to ridicule and discourage them.

The edifice of society as it then stood, apparently sound but already
undermined, had served its purpose in the past. It could not survive in
a changing world where machines were already doing what had been men's
work and what had formerly been the luxuries of the few were becoming
necessities of the many; but in its old age it had some pleasant aspects
and not everything about it was despicable.

Along one side of the large oblong stretch of greensward which gave the
village its name ran the road into Candleford town, a pleasant two
miles, with its raised footpath and shady avenue of beech trees. Facing
the road and the green on that side, shops and houses and garden walls
were strung closely enough together to form a one-sided street. This was
known as 'the best side of the green' and many who lived there
complained of the Post Office having been established on the opposite,
quieter side 'so out of the way and ill-convenient'. The Post Office
side of the green was known as 'the dull side', but Miss Lane did not
find it dull, for, from the vantage point of her windows, she had a good
view of the more populous road and of all that was going on there.

The quieter road had only the Post Office and the smithy and one tall
old red-brick Georgian farmhouse where, judging by its size and
appearance, people of importance must once have lived, but where then
only an old cowman and his wife occupied one corner. The windows of
their rooms had white lace curtains and pot plants; the other windows
stared blankly in long rows out on the green. Rumour said that on
certain nights of the year ghostly lights might be seen passing from
window to window of the upper storey, for the house was supposed to be
haunted, as all unoccupied or partly occupied large houses were supposed
to be at that date. But old Cowman Jollife and his wife laughed at these
stories and declared that they were too cosy in their own rooms on
winter nights to go looking for ghosts in the attics. 'Us knows when we
be well off,' John would say, 'wi' three good rooms rent-free, an' milk
an' taties found; we ain't such fools as to go ferritin' round for that
which might fritten us away!'

Between these few buildings on the quiet side were rickyard and orchard
and garden walls with lilacs, laburnums, and fruit trees overhanging.
This greenery with the golden or dun thatch of the pointed-topped ricks
and the sights and sounds of the farmyard and smithy gave this side of
the green a countryfied air which some of the more go-ahead spirits of
the place resented. They said the land occupied by the gardens and
orchards ought to be developed. There was room there for a new Baptist
chapel and a row of good shops, and these would bring more trade to the
place and encourage people to build more houses. But, for a few more
years, the dull side of the green was to remain as it was. The farmyard
sounds of cock-crow and milking-time and the _tang, tang_ of the forge
were to blend with the strains of gramophone music and the hooting of
motor horns before the farmhouse was demolished and its stock driven
farther afield and the smithy gave place to an up-to-date motor garage
with petrol pumps and advertisement hoardings.

Except for the church and vicarage, which stood back among trees at one
end of the green with only the church tower showing, and roomy old inn
which had known coaching days and now, after a long eclipse, was
beginning to call itself an hotel, at the other, these two roads were
almost all there was of the village. There were labourers' cottages out
in the fields and a group of these called 'Hungry End' stood just
outside the village at the farther end, and there was the new building
estate on the Candleford road, but neither of these was included in the
view from the Post Office.

Between the two roads lay the green with its daisies and dandelions and
grazing donkey and playing children and old men sunning themselves on
the two backless benches: or, in rainy weather, deserted but for a few
straggling figures crossing from various angles with umbrellas and
letters to post in their hands.

The road past the shops was the favourite promenade and meeting place,
but on a few occasions the green itself became the focus of attention,
and the greatest of these was when, on the morning of the first Saturday
in January, the Hunt met there in front of the roomy old inn. Then
riders in scarlet would rein in their mounts to reach down for a
stirrup-cup, and their ladies, in tight-fitting habits with long,
flowing skirts, would turn on their side-saddles to wave their
hunting-crops to their friends, or gather in groups to gossip while
their mounts backed and fidgeted, and the waving white sterns of the
pack moved hither and thither in massed formation at the word of command
of the Huntsman, there known as the whipper-in. If one of the hounds
strayed a yard, he would call it by name: 'Hi, Minnie!' or Spot, or
Cowslip, or Trumpeter, and the animal would look lovingly into his face
as it turned in meek obedience, which always seemed wonderful to Laura,
in view of the fact that within a few hours the same animal might be
helping to tear a living fellow creature limb from limb.

But few there thought of the fox, beyond hoping that the first covert
would be successfully drawn and that the day's sport would be good.

The whole neighbourhood turned out to see the Meet. Both roadways were
lined with little low basketwork pony-carriages with elderly ladies in
furs, governess-cars with nurses and children, farm carts with forks
stuck upright in loads of manure, and butcher's and grocer's carts and
baker's white-tilted vans, and donkey-barrows in which red-faced,
hoarse-shouting hawkers stood up for a better view. Matthew used to say
that it was a funny thing that everybody's errand led them in that
direction on Meet Morning.

On the green itself school-teachers, curates, men in breeches and
gaiters with ash sticks, men in ragged coats and mufflers, smartly
dressed girls from Candleford town, and local women in white aprons with
babies in their arms pressed forward to see all there was to be seen,
while older children rushed hither and thither shouting, 'Tally-ho!
Tally-ho!' and only missed by a miracle being hit by the horses' hoofs.

Every year, as soon as the Meet had assembled, Matthew would hang up his
leather apron, slip into his second-best coat, and say that he must just
pop across the green for a moment; Squire, or Sir Austin, or Muster
Ramsbottom of Pilvery had asked him to run his hand over his mare's
fetlock. But the smiths were to get on with their work, none of their
'gaping an' gazing', they had seen 'osses before and them that rode on
'em though to judge by some of their doings you'd think they didn't know
the near from the off side.

As soon as he had disappeared, the smiths left anvil and tools and forge
and fire to take care of themselves and hurried out to a little hillock
a few yards from the smithy door, where they stood close-packed with
their fringed leather aprons flapping about their legs.

No one was likely to have business at the Post Office counter that
morning, but the telegraph instrument had to be attended to, and,
although that was furnished with a warning bell which could be heard all
over the house, both Miss Lane and Laura found it necessary to be in
constant attendance.

From the window near the instrument the green, with its restive horses
and swaying crowds, its splashes of scarlet coats and its white splash
of hounds, could be viewed in comfort. Miss Lane could recognize at
sight almost every one there and give little character sketches of many
for Laura's benefit. That gentleman there on the tall grey was
'out-running the constable'; he had got through a fortune of so much in
so many years and was now in 'queer street'. The very horse he sat upon
did not belong to him; he had got it to try out, as she happened to
know; Tom Byles, the vet., had told her only yesterday. And that lady
there with the floating veil was a perfect madam; just look at all those
men around her, did you ever, now! And that pretty quiet little thing
was a cousin of Sir Timothy's, and that fine, handsome young fellow was
only a farmer.

'Poor young things!' she said one day when a man and a girl rider had,
ostensibly to soothe the restlessness of their mounts, detached
themselves from the main body of the Hunt and were riding at a walking
pace backwards and forwards before the Post Office windows. 'Poor young
things, trying to get in a word together. Think they are alone, no
doubt, and them with the eyes of all the field upon them. Ah, I thought
so! Here comes her mother. It'll never do, my poor dears, it'll never
do, with him a younger son without a penny to bless himself, as the
saying goes.'

But Laura, as yet, had less sympathy with lovers. Her eyes were fixed on
a girl of about her own age in a scarlet coat and a small black velvet
jockey cap, whose pony was giving her trouble. A groom came up quickly
and took its reins. Laura thought she would like to be dressed like that
girl and to ride to hounds across fields and over streams on that mild
January morning. In imagination she saw herself flying across a brook,
_her_ hair streaming and _her_ gloved hands holding the reins in such a
masterly fashion that other riders near called out 'Well done!' as she
had heard riders near her home call out when witnessing a feat of
horsemanship.

When the Hunt moved off to draw the appointed cover, men and women and
boys and girls would follow on foot as long as their breath lasted. Two
or three working men of the tougher kind would follow the Hunt all day,
pushing through thorn hedges and leaping or wading brooks, ostensibly on
the chance of earning a sixpence or two for opening gates for the timid
or pointing out directions to the lagging horsemen; but, actually, for
the fun of the sport, which they thought well worth the loss of a day's
pay and a good dressing down by the Mis'is when they got home torn and
tired and hungry at night.

In summer what grass there was on the green was cut with the scythe by
the man who owned the donkey which grazed there. It is doubtful if he
had any legal right to the grass, but even if not, his gain in donkey
fodder was well repaid to the community by the newly-cut-hay scent which
seemed to hang about the village all the summer. One of Laura's most
lasting impressions of Candleford Green was that of leaning out of her
bedroom window one soft, dark summer night when the air was full of
new-made-hay and elderflower scents. It could not have been late in the
evening, for a few dim lights still showed on the opposite side of the
green and some boy or youth, on his way home, was whistling 'Annie
Laurie'. Laura felt she could hang there for ever, drinking in the soft,
scented night air.

One other scene she remembered at the time of year when it is still
summer, but the evenings are closing in. Then youths were on the green
flying kites on which they had contrived to fix lighted candle-ends. The
little lights floated and flickered like fireflies against the dusk of
the sky and the darker tree-tops. It was a pretty sight, although,
perhaps, the sport was a dangerous one, for one of the kites caught fire
and came down as tinder. At that, some men, drinking their pints outside
the inn door for coolness, rushed forward and put a stop to it. Madness,
they called it, stark staring madness, and asked the youths if they
wanted to set the whole place on fire. But how innocent and peaceful
compared with our present menace from the air!

Those who did not care for the dull side of the green would point with
pride to the march of progress on the opposite side. To the fine new
plate-glass window at the grocer's; the plaster-of-paris model of a
three-tiered wedding cake which had recently appeared among the buns and
scones at the baker's next door; and the fishmonger's where, to tell the
truth, after the morning orders for the big houses had gone out, the
principal exhibits were boxes of bloaters. But how many villages had a
fishmonger at all? And the corner shop, known as the 'Stores', where the
latest (Candleford Green) fashions might be studied. Only the butcher
lagged behind. His shop stood back in a garden, and the lambs and hares
and legs of mutton behind its one small window were framed in roses and
honeysuckle.

Interspersing the shops were houses; one, a long, low brown one where
Doctor Henderson lived. His red lamp, when lighted at night, made a
cheerful splash of colour. Less appreciated by those who lived near was
the disturbing peal of his night bell followed by some anxious voice
bawling up to him through the speaking-tube. Some of his night calls
came from outlying hamlets and farms, six, eight, or even ten miles
distant, and those from the poor had to be brought on foot, for bicycles
were still rare and the telephone was, as yet, unknown there.

The doctor, dragged from his warm bed at midnight, had often to saddle
or harness his own horse before he could start on his long ride or
drive, for even if he kept a man to drive him around in the day time,
that man might not be available for night work. And yet, swear as he
might, and often did, on the journey, damning horse, messenger, roads,
and weather, the doctor brought cheer and skill and kindness to his
patient's bedside.

'She'll be all right now our doctor's come,' the women downstairs would
say, 'and he's that cheerful he's making her laugh between her pains.
"That's my fifth cup of tea," he says. "If I have any more"--but I'd
better not say what he said'd happen--only it made Maggie laugh and she
can't be so bad if she's laughing.' And that was said of a man who,
after a hard day's work, had been dragged from his bed to spend the
night in a tiny, fireless bedroom overseeing a difficult delivery.

Laura's mother used to say. 'All doctors are heroes', and she spoke
feelingly, for the night before Laura was born the doctor came from the
nearest town through one of the worst snowstorms in then living memory.
He had to leave his horse and gig at a farmhouse on the main road and
walk the last mile, for the by-road to the hamlet was blocked to wheeled
traffic by drifts. No wonder he said when Laura at last put in an
appearance: 'There you are! Here is the person who has caused all this
pother. Let us hope she will prove worth it!' Which saying was kept as a
rod in pickle to be repeated to Laura when she misbehaved during her
childhood.

From her Post Office window in summer, Laura could see the grey church
tower with its flagstaff and the twisted red-brick chimneys of the
Vicarage rising out of massed greenery. In winter, when the trees were
bare, there were glimpses of the outer tracery of the east window of the
church and the mellow brick front of the Vicarage with rooks tumbling
and cawing above the high elm-tops where they nested in early spring.

At the time when Laura arrived at Candleford Green a clergyman of the
old type held the cure of souls of its inhabitants. He was an elderly
man with what was then known as a fine presence, being tall and large
rather than stout, with rosy cheeks, a lion-like mane of white hair, and
an air of conscious authority. His wife was a dumpy little roly-poly of
a woman who wore old, comfortable clothes about the village because, as
she was once heard to say, 'Everybody here knows who I am, so why bother
about dress?' For church and for afternoon calls upon her equals, she
dressed in the silks and satins and ostrich feathers befitting her rank
as the granddaughter of an earl and the wife of a vicar with large
private means. She was said by the villagers to be 'a bit managing',
but, on the whole, she was popular with them. When visiting the
cottagers or making purchases at the shops, she loved to hear and
discuss the latest tit-bit of gossip, which she was not above
repeating--some said with additions.

The church services were long, old-fashioned and dull, but all was done
decently and in order, and the music and singing were exceptionally good
for a village church at that date. Mr. Coulsdon preached to his poorer
parishioners contentment with their divinely appointed lot in life and
submission to the established order of earthly things. To the rich, the
responsibilities of their position and their obligations in the way of
charity. Being rich and highly placed in the little community and
genuinely loving a country life, he himself naturally saw nothing wrong
in the social order, and, being of a generous nature, the duty of
helping the poor and afflicted was also a pleasure to him.

In cold, hard winters soup was made twice a week in the vicarage
washing-copper, and the cans of all comers were filled without question.
It was soup that even the very poor--connoisseurs from long and varied
experience of charity soups--could find no fault with--rich and thick
with pearl barley and lean beef gobbets and golden carrot rings and fat
little dumplings--so solidly good that it was said that a spoon would
stand in it upright. For the sick there were custard puddings, home-made
jellies and half-bottles of port, and it was an unwritten law in the
parish that, by sending a plate to the vicarage at precisely 1.30 on any
Sunday, a convalescent could claim a dinner from the vicarage joint.
There were blankets at Christmas, unbleached calico chemises for girls
on first going out in service, flannel petticoats for old women, and
flannel-lined waistcoats for old men.

So it had been for a quarter of a century, and Mr. and Mrs. Coulsdon and
their fat coachman, Thomas, and Hannah, the parlourmaid who doctored the
villagers' lesser ailments with herb tea and ointments, and Gantry, the
cook, and the spotted Dalmatian dog which ran behind Mrs. Coulsdon's
carriage, and the heavy carved mahogany furniture and rich damask
hangings of the vicarage seemed to the villagers almost as firmly
established and enduring as the church tower.

Then, one summer afternoon, Mrs. Coulsdon, dressed in her best, drove
off in her carriage to attend a large and fashionable bazaar and sale of
work got up by the county notabilities, and, in addition to her many
purchases, brought back with her the germ which killed her within a
week. Her husband caught the infection and followed her a few days later
and they were buried in one grave, to which their coffins were followed
by the entire population of the parish, and sincerely mourned, for that
one day at least, even by those who had scarcely given them a thought
before. The _Candleford News_ had a three-column account of the funeral,
headed: 'The Candleford Green Tragedy, Funeral of Beloved Vicar and His
Wife', and the grave and the surrounding sward, covered with wreaths and
crosses and pathetic little bunches of cottage-garden flowers, was
photographed and copies were sold at fourpence each and framed and hung
upon cottage walls.

Then the parishioners began to wonder what the new Vicar would be like.
'We shall be lucky if we get another as good as Mr. Coulsdon,' they
said. 'He was a gentleman as was a gentleman, and she was a lady. Never
interfered with anybody's business, he didn't, and was good to the
poor'; and 'Dealt with the local shops and paid on the nail,' added the
shopkeepers.

Months later, after every room in the vicarage had been overhauled by
workmen and the greater part of the garden and paddock had been torn up
to get at the drains, which were naturally suspect, the new Vicar
arrived, but he and his family belonged so much to the new order of
things that they must be given a later place in this record.

It sometimes seems to us that some impression of those now dead must be
left upon their familiar earthly surroundings. We saw them, on such a
day, in such a spot, in such an attitude, smiling--or not smiling--and
the impression of the scene is so deeply engraved upon our own hearts
that we feel they must have left some more enduring trace, though
invisible to mortal eyes. Or perhaps it would be better to say at
present invisible, for the discovery of sound waves has opened up
endless possibilities.

If any such impressions of good old Mr. Coulsdon remain, one may be of
him as Laura once saw him, brought to a halt on one of his daily
progresses round the green. He stood, well-fed and well-groomed, in a
world that seemed made for him, gravely shaking his head at a distant
view of the gambols of the village idiot, as if asking himself the
frequent question of lesser mortals, 'Why? Why?'

For Candleford Green had its village idiot in the form of a young man
who had been born a deaf mute. At birth he was probably not mentally
deficient, but he had been born too early to profit by the marvellous
modern system of training such unfortunates, and had, as a child, been
allowed to run wild while other children were in school, and the
isolation and the absence of all means of communicating with his fellows
had told upon him.

At the time when Laura knew him, he was a full-grown man, powerfully
built, with a small golden beard his mother kept clipped and, in his
quieter moments, an innocent rather than a vacant expression. His
mother, who was a widow, took in washing, and he would fetch and carry
her clothes-baskets, draw water from the well, and turn the handle of
the mangle. At home the two of them used a rough language of signs which
his mother had invented, but with the outside world he had no means of
communication and, for that reason, coupled with that of his occasional
fits of temper, although he was strong and probably capable of learning
to do any simple manual work, no one would give him employment. He was
known as Luney Joe.

Joe spent his spare time, which was the greater part of each day,
lounging about the green, watching the men at work at the forge or in
the carpenter's shop. Sometimes, after watching quietly for some time,
he would burst into loud, inarticulate cries which were taken for
laughter, then turn and run quickly out into the country, where he had
many lairs in the woods and hedgerows. Then the men would laugh and say:
'Old Luney Joe's like the monkeys. They could talk if they'd a mind to,
but they think if they did we'd set 'em to work.'

If he got in the way of the workmen, they would take him by the
shoulders and run him outside, and it was chiefly his wild gestures,
contortions of feature, and loud inarticulate cries at such times which
had earned him his name.

'Luney Joe! Luney Joe!' the children would call out after him, secure in
the knowledge that, whatever they said, he could not hear them. But,
although he was deaf and dumb, Joe was not blind, and, once or twice,
when he had happened to look round and see them following and mocking
him, he had threatened them by shaking the ash stick he carried. The
story of this lost nothing in the telling, and people were soon saying
that Joe was getting dangerous and ought to be put away. But his mother
fought stoutly for his liberty, and the doctor supported her. Joseph was
sane enough, he said; his seeming strangeness came from his affliction.
Those against him would do well to see that their own children were
better behaved.

What went on in Joe's mind nobody knew, though his mother, who loved
him, may have had some idea. Laura many times saw him standing to gaze
on the green with knitted brows, as though puzzling as to why other
young men should be batting and bowling there and himself left out. Once
some men unloading logs to add to Miss Lane's winter store allowed Joe
to hand down from the cart some of the heaviest, and, for a time, his
face wore an expression of perfect happiness. After a while,
unfortunately, his spirits soared and he began flinging the logs down
wildly and, as a result, hit one of the men on the shoulder, and was
turned away roughly. At that, he fell into one of his passions and,
afterwards, people said that Luney Joe was madder than ever.

But he could be very gentle. Once Laura met him in a lonely spot between
trees and she felt afraid, for the path was narrow and she was alone.
But she felt ashamed of her cowardice afterwards, for, as she passed
him, so closely that their elbows touched, the big fellow, gentle as a
lamb, put out his hand and stroked some flowers she was carrying. With
nods and smiles, Laura passed on, rather hurriedly, it must be
confessed, but wishing more than ever she could do something to help
him.

Some years after Laura had left the district she was told that, after
his mother's death, Luney Joe had been sent to the County Asylum. Poor
Joe! the world which went very well for some people in those days was a
harsh one for the poor and afflicted. For the old and poor, too. That
was long before the day of the Old Age Pension, and for many who had
worked hard all their lives and had preserved their self-respect, so
far, the only refuge in old age was the Workhouse. There old couples
were separated, the men going to the men's side and the women to that of
the women, and the effect of this separation on some faithful old hearts
can be imagined. With the help of a few shillings a week, parish relief,
and the still fewer shillings their children--mostly poor, like
themselves--could spare, some old couples contrived to keep their own
roof over their heads. Laura knew several such couples well. The old
man, bent nearly double upon his stick, but clean and tidy, would appear
at the Post Office periodically to cash some postal order for a tiny
amount sent by a daughter in service or a married son. 'Thank God we've
got good children,' he would say, with pride as well as gratitude in his
tone, and Laura would answer: 'Yes, isn't Katie'--or Jimmy--'splendid!'

In those days, if any one in a village was ill, it was the custom for
neighbours to send them little dainties. Even Laura's mother, out of her
poverty, would send a little of anything she thought a sick neighbour
might fancy. Miss Lane, who had ten times the resources of Laura's
mother, did things in style. In cases of sickness, as soon as she heard
the patient had 'turned the corner', she would kill or buy and have
cooked a fowl in order to send a dinner, and Laura, being the quickest
walker, was deputed to carry the covered plate across the green. It was
an act of kindness which blessed giver and receiver alike, for the best
cut from the breast of the bird was always reserved for Miss Lane's own
dinner. But perhaps that was not a bad plan; anticipation of the
enjoyment of her own tit-bit may have acted as a stimulus to her good
intention, and the invalids got the next-best cuts and broth was made
from the bones for them later.

Zillah could be trusted to cook the chicken, but, once, when one of Miss
Lane's own friends fell ill, she herself brought out from somewhere a
cooking apron of fine white linen and, with her own hands, made him a
wine jelly. The history of that jelly was far removed from that of those
we now buy in bottles from the grocer. To begin upon, calf's feet were
procured and simmered for the better part of a day to extract the
nourishment.

Then the contents of the stewpan were strained and the stock had another
long boiling in order to render it down to the desired strength and
quantity. Then more straining and sweetening and lacing with port,
sufficient to colour it a deep ruby, and clearing with eggshells, and
straining and straining. Then it was poured into a flannel jellybag, the
shape of a fool's cap, which had to hang from a hook in the larder
ceiling all night to let its contents ooze through into the vessel
placed beneath, without squeezing, and when, at last, all the
complicated processes were completed, it was poured into a small mould
and allowed yet one more night in which to set. No gelatine was used.

What Miss Lane called 'a taster' was reserved for herself in a teacup,
and of this she gave Laura and Zillah a teaspoonful each that they might
also taste. To Laura's untutored palate, it tasted no better than the
red jujube sweets of which she was fond, but Zillah, out of her greater
experience, declared that a jelly so strong and delicious would 'a'most
raise the dead'.

Few would care to take that trouble for the sake of a few spoonfuls of
jelly in these days. Laura's aunts delighted in such cookery and her
mother would have enjoyed doing it had her means permitted, but already
it was thought a waste of time in many households. On the face of it, it
does seem absurd to spend the inside of a week making a small jelly, and
women were soon to have other uses for their time and energy, but those
who did such cookery in those days looked upon it as an art, and no time
or trouble was thought wasted if the result were perfection. We may call
the Victorian woman ignorant, weak, clinging and vapourish--she is not
here to answer such charges--but at least we must admit that she knew
how to cook.

Another cooking process Laura was never to see elsewhere and which
perhaps may have been peculiar to smithy families was known as
'salamandering'. For this thin slices of bacon or ham were spread out on
a large plate and taken to the smithy, where the plate was placed on the
anvil. The smith then heated red-hot one end of a large, flat iron
utensil known as the 'salamander' and held it above the plate until the
rashers were crisp and curled. Shelled boiled, or poached, eggs were
eaten with this dish.

Bath nights at Candleford Green were conducted on the old country
system. There was near the back door an old out-building formerly used
as a brew-house. Miss Lane could remember when all the beer for the
house and the smiths was brewed there. In Laura's time it came from the
brewery in nine-gallon casks. The custom of home brewing was fading out
in farmers' and tradesmen's households; it saved trouble and expense to
buy the beer from the brewery in barrels; but a few belonging to the
older generation still brewed at home for themselves and their workmen.
At the Candleford Green Post Office Laura issued about half a dozen
four-shilling home-brewing licences a year. One woman there kept an
off-licence and brewed her own beer. There was a large old yew tree at
the bottom of her garden, and her customers sat beneath its spreading
branches on the green, just outside her garden wall, and consumed their
drinks 'off the premises' in compliance with the law. But, as she brewed
for sale, hers must have been a more expensive licence, probably issued
by the magistrates.

Miss Lane's brew-house had become a bath-house. It was not used by Miss
Lane or by Zillah. Miss Lane took what she called her 'canary dip' in a
large, shallow, saucer-shaped bath in her bedroom in a few inches of
warm rain water well laced with _eau de cologne_. In winter she had a
bedroom fire on her weekly bath night, and in all seasons the bath was
protected by a screen--not, as might be supposed, to preserve Victorian
modesty, but to keep off draughts. On the farm churning days a quart of
buttermilk was delivered for Miss Lane's toilet. That was for her face
and hands. When, where, and how Zillah bathed was a mystery. When baths
in general were mentioned, she said she hoped she knew how to keep
herself clean without boiling herself like a pig's cheek. As she always
appeared very fresh and clean, Laura supposed she must have bathed by
the old cottage method of washing all over in a basin. The smiths, on
account of the grubby, black nature of their work, needed baths
frequently, and for them, in the first place, the brew-house had been
turned into a bathroom. Wednesdays and Saturdays were their bath nights.
Laura's was Friday.

In one corner of the bath-house stood the old brewing copper, now
connected by a length of hose-pipe, passing through the window, with the
pump in the yard for filling purposes. A tap a few feet above floor
level served to draw off the water when hot. On the brick floor stood
the deep, man-length zinc bath used by the smiths, and standing up-ended
in a corner when not in use was the hip bath for Laura and for any
visitor to the house who preferred, as they said, 'a good hot soak to
sitting in a saucer'. There was a square of matting rolled up, ready to
be put down by the bather, and a curtain at the window and another over
the door to keep out prying eyes and cold air.

To Laura the brew-house baths seemed luxurious. She had been used to
bathing at home in the wash-house in water heated over the fire in a
cauldron, but there every drop of water had to be fetched from a well
and, fuel being equally precious, the share of hot water for each person
was small. 'A good scrub all over and a rinse and make way for the next'
were her mother's instructions. At Candleford Green there was unlimited
hot water--boiling water which filled the small building with steam, for
the fire beneath it had been lighted by the smithy apprentice before he
left work, and by eight o'clock the water in the copper was bubbling.
With curtains drawn over window and door and red embers glowing beneath
the copper, Laura would sit, with her knees drawn up, in hot water up to
her neck and luxuriate.

She was often to think of those baths in later years when she stepped
into or out of the few inches of tepid water in her clean but cold
modern bathroom or looked at the geyser, ticking the pennies away, and
wondered if it would be too extravagant to let it run longer. But
perhaps the unlimited hot water did less to make the brew-house baths
memorable than the youth, health, and freedom from care of the bather.

The community was largely self-supporting. Every household grew its own
vegetables, produced its new-laid eggs and cured its own bacon. Jams and
jellies, wines and pickles, were made at home as a matter of course.
Most gardens had a row of beehives. In the houses of the well-to-do
there was an abundance of such foods, and even the poor enjoyed a rough
plenty. The problem facing the lower-paid workers was not so much how to
provide food for themselves and their families as how to obtain the
hundred and one other things, such as clothing, boots, fuel, bedding and
crockery ware, which had to be paid for in cash.

Those with an income of ten or twelve shillings a week often had to go
short of such things, although the management and ingenuity of some of
the women was amazing. Every morsel of old rag they could save or beg
was made into rugs for the stone floors, or cut into fragments to make
flocks to stuff bedding. Sheets were turned outsides into middle and,
after they had again become worn, patched and patched again until it was
difficult to decide which part of a sheet was the original fabric. 'Keep
the flag flying!' they would call to each other when they had their
Monday morning washing flapping on the line, and the seeing eye and the
feeling heart, had the possessor of these been present, would have read
more than was meant into the saying. They kept the flag flying nobly,
but the cost to themselves was great.



   XXXIII

        _Penny Reading_

In those days, when young or progressive inhabitants of Candleford Green
complained of the dullness of village life, the more staid would say,
'It may be dull in some villages; but not here. Why, there's always
something going on!' which the dissatisfied could not deny, for,
although there was none of the amusement they desired, amusements of a
kind were plentiful.

No films, of course, for twenty years had yet to pass before Candleford
town had its Happidrome, and no dancing for the ordinary villager except
dancing on the green at holiday times in summer. But there were in
winter the Church Social, with light refreshments and indoor games, and
monthly Penny Readings, and a yearly concert in the schoolroom. Between
these highlights of the social year, there were sewing parties which met
at each of the members' houses in turn, when one of the members read
aloud while the others sewed garments for the heathen or for the poor in
cities, and tea was provided by the hostess of the occasion. The work
parties were for the better-to-do. The cottagers had their Mothers'
Meetings, which were very similar, except that there the members sewed
for themselves and their families materials provided at under cost price
by the ladies of the Committee, and there was no tea.

The reading aloud must have made slow progress, judging by the amount of
talking done at both types of sewing party. The repetition of every
spicy item of village gossip was prefaced by: 'Mrs. So-and-So was saying
at the working party----' Or: 'I heard somebody say at the Mothers'
Meeting----' The fact was that both were clearing-houses for gossip, but
that did not make them less enjoyable.

In summer there were 'the outings'. That of the Mothers' Meeting, after
weeks of discussion of more or less desirable seaside resorts, always
decided for London and the Zoo. The Choir Outing left in the small hours
of the morning for Bournemouth or Weston-super-Mare; and the Children's
School Treat Outing went, waving flags and singing, in a horse wagonette
to the vicarage paddock in a neighbouring village, where tea and buns
were partaken of at a long trestle table under some trees. After tea
they ran races and played games, and returned home, tired and grubby,
but still noisy, to find even a larger crowd than had seen them off
waiting on the green to welcome them and join in their 'Hip-hip-hooray!'

The Penny Reading was a form of entertainment already out of date in
most places; but at Candleford Green it was still going strong in the
'nineties. For it the schoolroom was lent, free of charge, 'By kind
permission of the Managers', as stated upon the handbills, and the
pennies taken at the door paid for heating and light. It was a popular
as well as an inexpensive entertainment. Everybody went; whole families
together, and all agreed that the excitement of going out after dark,
carrying lanterns, and sitting in a warm room with rows and rows of
other people, was well worth the sum of one penny, apart from the
entertainment provided.

The star turn was given by an old gentleman from a neighbouring village,
who, in his youth, had heard Dickens read his own works in public and
aimed at reproducing in his own rendering the expression and mannerisms
of the master.

Old Mr. Greenwood put a tremendous amount of nervous energy into his
reading. His features expressed as much as his voice, and his free hand
was never still, and if the falsetto of his female characters sometimes
rose to a screech, his facetious young men were almost too slyly
humorous, and some of his listeners felt embarrassed when the deep, low
voice he kept for pathetic passages broke and he had to pause to wipe
away real tears, his rendering still had an authentic ring which to
Dickens lovers was, as the villagers said about other items, 'well worth
listening to'.

The bulk of his audience did not criticize; it enjoyed. The comic
passages, featuring Pickwick, Dick Swiveller, or Sairy Gamp, were
punctuated with bursts of laughter. Oliver Twist asking for more and the
deathbed of Little Nell drew tears from the women and throat-clearings
from the men. The reader was so regularly encored that he had been
obliged to cut down his items on the programme to two; which, in effect,
was four, and, when he had finished his last reading and, with his hand
on his heart, had bowed himself from the platform, people would sigh and
say to each other: 'Whatever comes next'll sound dull after that!'

They showed so much interest that one would naturally have expected them
to get Dickens's books, of which there were several in the Parish
Library, to read for themselves. But, with a very few exceptions, they
did not, for, although they liked to listen, they were not readers. They
were waiting, a public ready-made, for the wireless and the cinema.

Another penny reader whose items Laura enjoyed was a Mrs. Cox, who lived
in the Dower House on one of the neighbouring estates and was said to be
an American by birth. She was middle-aged, dressed unconventionally in
loose, collarless frocks, usually green, and had short iron-grey hair
which hung loose in curls, like a modern bob. She always read from
_Uncle Remus_, and her rendering of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox and the
tar-baby may have owed something to some old black mammy of her
childhood. The rich huskiness of her tone, her plantation dialect, and
her flashing smile when delivering some side-thrust of wit were
charming.

For the rest, some of the readings were well chosen, some ill chosen. A
few poems were interspersed between the prose passages, but these seldom
rose higher than 'Excelsior', or 'The Village Blacksmith', or 'The Wreck
of the Hesperus'. Once Laura had the honour of choosing two passages for
the father of one of her friends, who had been invited to read and could
not, as he said, think of anything likely, not if his life depended upon
it. She chose the scene from _The Heart of Midlothian_ in which Jeanie
Deans is granted an audience by Queen Caroline and the chapter about the
Battle of Waterloo from _Vanity Fair_ which ends: 'Darkness came down on
the field and city; and Amelia was praying for George, who was lying on
his face, dead, with a bullet through his heart.' The man who read them
said he thought they went down very well with the audience, but Laura
did not notice any marked interest.

For the homely Penny Reading, second-best wear was considered
sufficient; that being the last outfit before the newest, which, sponged
and pressed and smartened up by the addition of a new ribbon bow and
lace collar, had to serve another term for better wear before being
taken into everyday use. At the annual concert the audience appeared in
churchgoing Sunday best. The young ladies contributing to the programme
wore white or pale-coloured frocks with a modest 'v' neck and elbow
sleeves, and the village girls who appeared on the platform their last
summer's frock with a flower in their hair, or an ivy wreath, or a
bright ribbon bow. For the Church Social, summer frocks were worn by the
girls--last year's in most cases, but, in a few, next year's made in
advance and worn with the collar tucked in to give it an evening-dress
appearance. The older women wore black silk, if they had it; if not, the
stiffest and richest fabric they possessed or could afford to buy for
the occasion.

The fashion in dress was by that time more simple than it had been. The
bustle had long passed away, and with it had gone panniers, waterfall
backs, and other drapings on skirts. The new plain skirt was long and
full and slightly stiffened at the hem to make it stand out well round
the ankles, and, with it went a blouse or bodice, as the upper part of a
frock was still called, with balloon sleeves and a full, loose front,
often of a contrasting colour. Small waists were still fashionable, but
the standard of smallness had changed. Women no longer aimed at an
eighteen- or twenty-inch span, but were satisfied with one of
twenty-two, three, or four inches, and that had to be attained by
moderate compression; the old savage tight-lacing was a thing of the
past.

In hairdressing, the Royal, or Alexandra, fringe was the rage. For this
the hair was cut above the forehead and curled, or, rather, frizzed, to
reach back almost to the crown. Considering that this style of
hairdressing was introduced by the then Princess of Wales, whose beauty
and goodness and taste as a leader of fashion were unchallenged, it is
strange that it should have been condemned by many as 'fast'. As in the
case of bobbing during the last war, men and older women objected
extravagantly to the fringe; but they had to get used to it, for, like
the bob, it was a becoming fashion and it had come to stay. Fringes were
worn all through the 'nineties.

Laura, dressing for the Church Social in the cream nun's veiling frock
in which she had been confirmed and in which her cousins Molly and
Nellie had been confirmed before her, wondered if she might venture to
cut and curl a few locks on her own forehead. If Miss Lane or her mother
noticed them and objected, she could say they were little loose ends she
had curled up to make them tidier, or, if they passed unnoticed, she
could cut and curl more, and so get a fringe by instalments. The stem of
a new clay pipe borrowed from Matthew's bedroom served her as a
substitute for curling-tongs when heated in the flame of her candle, and
she pushed her hat low down on her brow before going downstairs. There
were comments and some criticism afterwards. Her brother told her she
looked like a young prize bull, and her mother said, 'It suits you, of
course, but you're too young to go thinking of fashions.' But, by
degrees, she got her fringe, and a troublesome job it was to keep it in
curl in wet weather.

The Church Social was strictly a villagers' affair. No one came from the
great houses and the clergyman only looked in once during the evening.
The presence of the curate and Sunday-School teachers guaranteed
propriety. When the mothers had assisted with clearing away the tea and
the long trestle tables had been removed, they seated themselves around
the walls to watch the games. After 'Postman's Knock' and 'Musical
Chairs' and 'Here we go round the Mulberry Bush', a large ring was
formed for 'Dropping the Handkerchief' and the fun of the evening began.
'_I wrote a letter to my love and on the way I dropped it. One of you
has picked it up and put it in your pocket_,' chanted the odd man or
girl out as they circled the ring, handkerchief in hand, until they came
to the back of the person they wished to choose and placed the
handkerchief on his or her shoulder. The chase which followed took so
long, round and round the ring and always eventually out of one of the
several doors, that two separate handkerchiefs kept two couples going in
the Church Social version of the game. There was supposed to be no
kissing, as it was a Church function, but when the pursuer caught the
pursued somewhere beyond the door with a smudged roller towel upon it,
who could say what happened. Perhaps the youth sketched a stage kiss.
Perhaps not.

As the evening went on, the women and girls and young men and boys in
the ring whirled hand in hand, faster and faster, the girls' blue and
pink and green skirts standing out like bells and the young men's faces
getting redder, until some one called out, 'Time for "Auld Lang Syne"!'
and hands were crossed and the old song was sung and people went home,
in families or couples, according to age. Dancing would have been better
perhaps, but 'Dropping the Handkerchief' served much the same purpose in
that unsophisticated day.

From such festivities some of the older girls were seen home by young
men. The engaged, of course, were already provided with an escort, and
for that office to certain unattached pretty and popular girls there was
keen rivalry. The young and not in any way outstanding girls, such as
Laura, had to find their way home through the darkness alone, or join up
with some family or group of friends which happened to be going their
way.

One year and one year only at the Church Social, after the singing of
'Auld Lang Syne', a young man approached Laura and said, bowing gravely
as was the custom, 'May I have the pleasure of seeing you home?' This
caused quite a sensation among those immediately surrounding the pair,
for the young man was the reporter for the local newspaper and so looked
upon as an outsider at such gatherings. His predecessor had sat about
with a bored air, between his dashes out to the 'Golden Lion', and once,
when invited to join hands in the final singing, had refused and stood
aloof in a corner scribbling in his note-book. But he was a middle-aged
man and inclined to give himself airs. This new reporter, who had
appeared for the first time at Candleford Green that evening, was only a
year or two older than Laura, and he had joined in the games and laughed
and shouted as loudly as anybody. He had nice blue eyes and an
infectious laugh, and, of course, the note-book in which he scribbled
shorthand notes was also attractive to Laura. So, when he asked her if
he might see her home, she was delighted to murmur the conventional
'That would be very kind of you'.

As they circled the green in the mild, damp air of the winter night, he
told Laura about himself. He had only left school a few months before
and was being given a month's trial by the Editor of the _Candleford
News_. The month of trial was almost over and he would be leaving
Candleford in a day or two, not because he had proved unsatisfactory--at
least he hoped not--but because a much better opening had now been found
for him by his parents on a newspaper in his home town, far up in the
midlands. 'After that, Fleet Street, I suppose?' suggested Laura, and
they both laughed at that as an excellent joke and agreed that they both
felt they must have met before at some time, somewhere. Then they had to
discuss the party they had come from and to laugh at some of the
oddities there. Which was wrong of Laura, who had been carefully trained
never to make fun of the absent. The only excuse that can be found for
her is that it was the first time she met any one from the outside world
near her own age and upon anything like equal terms, and that may have
gone to her head a little.

They laughed and chattered until they came to the Post Office door; then
stood talking in hushed voices until their feet grew cold and her
companion suggested that they should take another turn round the green
to restore their circulation. They took several turns, for they began
talking about books and forgot how late it was growing, and they might,
indeed, have continued walking and talking all night had not a light
appeared at the Post Office door, when Laura, after a hasty 'Good
night', hurried there to find Miss Lane looking out for her.

Laura never saw Godfrey Parrish again, but for some years they wrote to
each other. His were amusing letters, written on the best editorial
notepaper, thick and good, with a black embossed heading. As his letters
often ran to seven or eight pages, his editor must sometimes have
marvelled at the rapidity with which his private stock of notepaper
became depleted. In return, Laura told him of any amusing little
incident which occurred and what books she was reading, until, at last,
the correspondence languished, then ceased, in the usual manner of such
pen-friendships.

Beyond having a friend or relative to stay with her occasionally, Miss
Lane did little entertaining. She said she saw as much of her neighbours
as she desired at the Post Office counter. But once a year she gave what
she called her 'hay-home supper', and that to those of her household was
a great occasion.

She had two small paddocks beyond her garden in one or other of which
Peggy, the old chestnut mare, took her ease when her services were not
required to draw the smiths with their tools in the spring-cart to the
hunting stables. Every spring one of the paddocks was shut up for hay.
Its yield was one small haystack, a quantity quite out of proportion to
the bustle and excitement of the hay-home supper, but the making of hay
for the pony's winter fodder and the supper for all those who had worked
for her in any capacity during the year was part of the traditional
business and domestic economy handed down to Miss Lane by her parents
and grandparents. Excepting Laura, the younger smiths, and Miss Lane
herself, who was ageless, all at the hay-home supper were elderly or
old. There were grey and white heads all around the table and the custom
itself was so hoary that that must have been one of its last
manifestations.

For the haymaking a queer old couple named Beer were engaged, not for
the day, week, or season, but permanently. On some fine summer morning,
without previous notice, Beer would come with his scythe to the back
door and say: 'Tell Mis'is that grass be in fine fettle now an' th'
weather don't look too unkid, like; and with her permission I be now
about to begin on't.' When he had the grass lying in swathes, his wife
appeared, and together they raked and turned and tossed and tedded,
refreshed at short intervals by jugs of beer or tea provided by Miss
Lane and carried to them by Zillah.

Beer was a typical old countryman, ruddy and wizened, with very bright
eyes; shrivelled and thin of figure and sagging at the knees, but still
sprightly. His wife was also ruddy of face, but her figure was as round
as a barrel. Instead of the usual sunbonnet, she wore for the haymaking
a white muslin frilled cap tied under the chin, and over it a
broad-brimmed black straw hat, which made her look like an old-fashioned
Welshwoman. She was a merry old soul with a fat, chuckling laugh, and
when she laughed her face wrinkled up until her eyes disappeared. She
was much in request as a midwife.

When the hay was dried and in cocks, Beer came to the door again:
'Ma'am, ma'am!' he would call. 'We be ready.' That was the signal for
the smiths to turn out and build the hayrick, with Peggy herself and her
spring-cart to do the carrying. All that day there was much running to
and fro and shouting and merriment. Indoors, the kitchen table was laid
with pies and tarts and custards and, in the place of honour at the head
of the table, the dish of the evening, a stuffed collar chine of bacon.
When the company assembled, large, foaming jugs of beer would be drawn
for the men and for those of the women who preferred it. A jug of
home-made lemonade with a sprig of borage floating at the top circulated
at the upper end of the table.

For the stuffed chine the largest dish in the house had to be used. It
was a great round joint, being the whole neck of a pig, cut and cured
specially for the hay-home supper. It was lavishly stuffed with sage and
onions and was altogether very rich and highly-flavoured. It would not
have suited modern digestion, but most of those present at the hay-home
supper ate of it largely and enjoyed it. Old Mr. Beer, in the little
speech he made after supper, never forgot to mention the chine. 'I've
been a-meakin' hay in them fields f'r this forty-six 'ears,' he would
say, 'in your time, ma'am, an' y'r feather's an' y'r gran'fer's before
yet, an' th' stuffed chines I've a-eaten at the suppers've always bin of
the best; but of all the chines I've tasted in this kitchen that of
which I sees the remains before me--if remains they can be called, f'r
you wants to put on y'r spectacles to see 'em--wer' the finest an'
fattest an' teastiest of any.'

After Miss Lane had replied to the speech of thanks, home-made wine was
brought out, tobacco and snuff handed round, and songs were sung. It was
a point of strict etiquette that every guest should contribute something
to the programme, irrespective of musical ability. The songs were sung
without musical accompaniment and many of them without a recognizable
tune, but what they may have lacked in harmony was more than made up for
in length.

Every year when Laura was present Mr. Beer obliged with his famous
half-song, half-recitation, relating the adventures of an Oxfordshire
man on a trip to London. It began:


Last Michaelmas I remember well, when harvest wer' all over,
Our chaps had stacked up all the be-ans an' re-aked up all th' clover,


which lull in the year's work gave one Sam the daring idea of taking a
trip to Town:


For Sal went there a year ago, along wi' Squire Brown,
Housemaid or summat, doan't know what,
To live in Lunnon town,
An' they behaved right well to Sal an' give her cloathes an' that,
An' Sal 'aved nation well to them and got quite tall and fat.


So Sam thought, if 'Measter' approved, he would pay his sister a visit.
'If 'Measter refused permission', Sam said in quite a modern spirit:


Old Grograin then must give I work, a rum old fellow he!
He grumbles when he sets us on, but, dang it! what care we.


But he had still his mother to deal with. She 'cried aloud to break her
heart at parting thus with me'; but cheered up and began to look into
ways and means:


Well, since you 'ull so headstrong be, some rigging we must get,
I'll wash 'ee out another shirt, an' sprig 'ee up a bit,


and gave as her parting advice:


Now, Sam, 'ave well where you be gwain,
Whatever others does to sou, be sure don't turn again.


To which Sam replied:


Yes, very purty, fancy that now, blow me jacket tight!
If they begins their rigs wi' me, I'll putty soon show fight,


and cut himself a good stout ash stick before setting out in his
'holland smock, as good as new' on foot to 'Lunnon town'.

To her children's disgust in after years, Laura's memory left him, newly
arrived, on London Bridge, asking passers-by if they knew 'our Sal, or
mayhap Squire Brown', but there were stanzas and stanzas after
that--that one song, in fact, accounted for a good part of the evening.
But no one then present found it too long, for the younger smiths had
slipped, one by one, out of the door, and those left, excepting Laura
and Miss Lane, were old and loved the old, slow, country manner of
rejoicing.

They sat around the table. Mrs. Beer with her arms folded on her
comfortable stomach and one ear always open to catch what she called 'a
bidding', for 'My dear, 'tis a mortal truth that babbies likes to come
arter dark. For why? So's nobody should see their blessed little spirits
come winging'; Beer himself beaming on all and inclined to hiccups
towards the end of the evening; the old washerwoman's worn fingers
fingering her muslin cap, only worn on special occasions; Zillah,
important and fussy, acting the part of a second hostess; and Matthew,
with his old blue eyes shining with gratification at the laughter which
greeted his jokes. Miss Lane, very upright at the head of the table in
her claret-coloured silk, looked like a visitant from another sphere,
well weighted down to earth, though, by her gold chains and watch and
brooches and locket; and Laura, in pink print, ran in and out with
plates and glasses, because it was Zillah's evening off. That was the
hay-home supper, a survival, though perhaps not more ancient than a
couple of hundred years or so--a mere babe of a survival compared to the
Village Feast.

The maypole had long been chopped up for firewood, the morris dance was
fading out as one after another the old players died, and Plough Monday
had become an ordinary working day; but at Candleford Green the Feast
was still a general holiday, as it must have been from the day upon
which the church was dedicated, far back in the centuries.

Some kind of feast may have been held on the green before that time,
some pagan rite, for even in the respectable latter part of the
nineteenth century there was more of a pagan than a Christian spirit
abroad at the Feast celebrations.

It was essentially a people's holiday. The clergy and the local
gentle-people had no hand in it. They avoided the green on that day.
Even the youngest of country house-parties had not yet discovered the
delights of hurdy-gurdy music and naphtha flares, of shouting oneself
hoarse in swingboats and waving paper streamers while riding mechanical
ostriches. With one exception to be mentioned hereafter, only a few of
the under-servants from the great houses appeared on the green on Feast
Monday.

For those who liked feasts there were booths and stalls and coconut
shies and shooting-galleries and swingboats and a merry-go-round and a
brass band for dancing. All the fun of the fair, in fact. From early
morning people poured in from the neighbouring villages and from
Candleford town.

Candleford Green people were proud of this display. It showed how the
place had come on, they said, for the largest and most brilliantly
painted and lit merry-go-round in the county to find it worth while to
attend their Feast. Old men could remember when there had been only one
booth with a two-headed calf or a fat-lady, and a few poor stalls
selling ginger bread or the pottery images still to be seen in some of
their cottages, representing a couple in bed in nightcaps, and the
bedroom utensil showing beneath the bed-valance.

In those early days there had been no merry-go-round, but for the
children, they said, there was Old Hickman's whirligig, apparently the
parent' of the modern merry-go-round. It was made entirely of wood, with
an outside circle of plain wooden seats which revolved by means of a
hand-turned device in the centre. It was a one-man show. When Old
Hickman grew tired, a boy bystander was invited to take his place at the
handle, the promised reward being a ride for every twenty minutes'
labour. While the old men were still boys, this primitive merry-go-round
collapsed and they made a rhyme about it, which ran:


      Old Jim Hickman's whirligig broke down,
      Broke and let the wenches down.
      If that'd been made of ash or oak,
      I'll be blowed if that'd have broke.


Old Hickman's whirligig had broken down and gone to the bonfire fifty
years before, and only Laura cared to hear about it. That, she was told,
was because she was 'one of the quiet, old-fashioned sort'. But 'still
waters run deep', they would remind her, and there were plenty of
sweethearts to go round and suit all.

There were plenty of sweethearts on the green on Feast Monday, pairs and
pairs and pairs of them, the girls in their best summer frocks, with
flowers or feathers in their hats, and the young men in their Sunday
suits, with pink or blue ties. With arms round each other's waists, they
strolled from one sight to the next, eating sweets or sections of
coconut; or took turns on the merry-go-round or in the swingboats. All
day the roundabout organ ground out its repertoire of popular tunes, in
competition with the brass band playing a different tune at the other
end of the green. Swingboats appeared and disappeared over the canvas
roofs of the booths, and the occupants, now head upwards, now feet
upwards, shrieked with excitement and cheered each other on to go higher
and still higher, while, below, on the trampled turf, people of all ages
threaded the narrow passages between the shows, laughing and shouting
and eating--always eating.

'What crowds!' people cried. 'It's the best Feast we've ever had. If the
green could only always look like this! And I do dearly love a bit of
good music.'

The noise was deafening. The few quiet people who stayed indoors put
cotton-wool in their ears. One year when a poor woman was dying on Feast
Monday in a cottage near the green her friends went out and begged that
the band would stop playing for an hour. The band, of course, could not
stop playing, but the bandsmen offered to muffle the drumsticks, and,
for the rest of the afternoon the drum's _dum, dum, dum_ sounded a
_memento mori_ amidst the rejoicings. Very few noticed it, the other
noises were too many and too loud, and by teatime its resonance was
restored, for the woman had died.

Every year, among the cottagers and show folk and maid-servants and
farm-hands at the Feast, there was one aristocratic figure. It was that
of a young man, the eldest son of a peer, who for years frequented all
the feasts and fairs and club-walkings of the countryside. Laura knew
him well by sight, for his ancestral mansion was not far from her own
home. From her window at Candleford Green Post Office she once saw him,
leaning languidly against the pay-box of a coconut shy, surrounded by a
bevy of girls who were having 'tries' at the coconuts at his expense.
His dress was that of a country gentleman of his time, tweed Norfolk
suit and deerstalker cap, and that, and his air of ironic detachment,
set him apart from the crowd and helped out his Childe Harold pose.

All day he was surrounded by village girls, waiting to be treated to the
different shows, and from these he would select one favourite with whom
to dance the evening through. His group was a centre of interest. 'Have
'ee seen Lord So-and-So?' people would ask, just as they might have
asked, 'Have 'ee seen the fat lady?' or 'the peep-show?' and they openly
pointed him out to each other as one of the sights of the Feast.

The heroine of a modern novel would have seized such an opportunity to
go out into the throng and learn a little at first-hand about life; but
this is a true story, and Laura was not of the stuff of which heroines
are made. A born looker-on, she preferred to watch from her window,
excepting one year when her brother Edmund came and took her out and
knocked off so many coconuts from the 'shy' that its proprietor refused
his penny for another go, saying in aggrieved tones: 'I know your sort.
You bin practising.'

Early in the evening the merry-go-round packed up and departed. It had
only stopped there to put in a day on its way to a larger and more
remunerative fair in the locality. After its organ had gone, the strains
of the band music could be heard and the number of dancers increased.
Shop girls and their swains arrived from Candleford town, farm workers
from out-lying villages came, arm in arm with their girls; men- and
maidservants from the great houses stole out for an hour, and an
occasional passer-by, attracted by the sounds of revelry, came forward
and found a partner.

Stalls and booths were taken down and their owners departed; tired
family parties trailed home through the dust and unattached men retired
to the public-houses, but for many there the fun was only beginning. The
music went on and the pale summer frocks of the girl dancers glimmered
on in the twilight.



   XXXIV

_Neighbours_

In the early 'nineties the change which had for some time been going on
in the outer world had reached Candleford Green. A few old-fashioned
country homes, such as that of Miss Lane, might still be seen there,
especially among those of the farming class, and long-established family
businesses still existed, side by side with those newly-established or
brought up to date; but, as the older householders died and the
proprietors of the old-fashioned businesses died or retired, the old
gave place to the new.

Tastes and ideas were changing. Quality was less in demand than it had
been. The old solid, hand-made productions, into which good materials
and many hours of patient skilled craftsmanship had been put, were
comparatively costly. The new machine-made goods cost less and had the
further attraction of a meretricious smartness. Also they were
fashionable, and most people preferred them on that account.

'Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away,' and its
daughters, too, and the tastes and ideas of each generation, together
with its ideals and conventions, go rolling downstream with it like so
much debris. But, because the generations overlap, the change is
gradual. In the country at the time now recorded, the day of the old
skilled master-craftsman, though waning, was not over.

Across the green, almost opposite to the post office, stood a
substantial cottage, end to end with a carpenters' shop. In most
weathers the big double door of the workshop stood open and
white-aproned workmen with their feet ankle-deep in shavings could be
seen sawing and planing and shaping at the benches, with, behind them, a
window framing a glimpse of a garden with old-fashioned flowers and a
grape-vine draping a grey wall.

There lived and worked the three Williams, father, son, and grandson.
With the help of a couple of journeymen, they not only did all the
carpentry and joinery of the district at a time when no doors or
mantelpieces or window-frames came ready made from abroad, but they also
made and mended furniture for the use of the living and made coffins for
the dead. There was no rival shop. The elder William was the carpenter
of the village, just as Miss Lane was the postmistress and Mr. Coulsdon
the vicar.

Although less popular than the smithy as a gathering place, the
carpenters' shop had also its habitués: older and graver men, as a rule,
especially choirmen, for the eldest William played the organ in church
and the middle William was choirmaster. Old Mr. Stokes not only played
the organ, but he had built it with his own hands, and these services to
the Church and to music had given him a unique local standing. But he
was almost as much valued for his great experience and his known wisdom.
To him the villagers went in trouble or difficulty, and he was never
known to fail them. He had been Miss Lane's father's close and intimate
friend and was then her own.

At the time Laura knew him he was nearly eighty and much troubled by
asthma, but he still worked at his trade occasionally, with his long,
lean form swathed in a white apron and his full white beard buttoned
into his waistcoat; and, on summer evenings, when the rolling peal of
the organ came from the open door of the church, passers-by would say:
'That's old Mr. Stokes playing, I'll lay! And he's playing his own
music, too, I shouldn't wonder.' Sometimes he _was_ playing his own
music, for he would improvise for hours, but he loved more to play for
his own pleasure the music of the masters.

The second William was unlike his father in appearance, being short and
thick of figure while his father was as straight and almost as thin as a
lath. His face resembled that of Dante Gabriel Rossetti so closely that
Laura, on seeing the portrait of that poet-painter in later years,
exclaimed, 'Mr. William!' For, of course, he was called 'Mr. William'.
His father was always spoken of respectfully as 'Mr. Stokes', and his
nephew as 'Young Willie'.

Like his father, Mr. William was both musician and craftsman of the old
school, and it was naturally expected that as a matter of course these
gifts would descend to the third William. It had been a proud day for
old Mr. Stokes when young Willie's indentures were signed, for he
thought he saw in them an assured future for the old family business.
When he was at rest, and his son, there would still be a William Stokes,
Carpenter and Joiner, of Candleford Green, and, after that, perhaps,
still another William to follow.

But Willie himself was not so sure. He had been legally apprenticed to
his grandfather's business, as was the custom in family establishments
in those days, rather because it was the line laid down for him than
because he desired to become a carpenter. His work in the shop was to
him but work, not a fine art or a religion, and for the music so sacred
to his elders he had but a moderate taste.

He was a tall, slim boy of sixteen, with beautiful hazel eyes and a
fair--too fair--pink-and-white complexion. Had his mother or his
grandmother been alive, his alternating fits of lassitude and
devil-may-care high spirits would have been recognized as a sign that he
was outgrowing his strength and that his health needed care. But the
only woman in his grandfather's house was a middle-aged cousin of the
middle William, who acted as housekeeper: a hard, gaunt, sour-looking
woman whose thoughts and energies were centred upon keeping the house
spotless. When the front door of their house was opened upon the small
bare hall, with its grandfather's clock and oilcloth floor-covering
patterned with lilies, an intruding nose was met by the clean, cold
smell of soap and furniture polish. Everything in that house which could
be scrubbed was scrubbed to a snowy whiteness; not a chair or a rug or a
picture-frame was ever a hairbreadth out of place; horsehair chair and
sofa coverings were polished to a cold slipperiness, tabletops might
have served as mirrors, and an air of comfortless order pervaded the
whole place. It was indeed a model house in the matter of cleanliness,
but as a home for a delicate, warm-hearted orphan boy it fell short.

The kitchen was the only inhabited room. There the three generations of
Williams took their meals, and there they carefully removed their shoes
before retiring to the bedrooms which were sleeping-places only. To come
home with wet clothes on a rainy day was accounted a crime. The drying
of them 'messed up the place', so Willie, who was the only one of the
three to be out in such weather, would change surreptitiously and leave
his clothes to dry as they might, or not dry. His frequent colds left
him with a cough that lingered every year into the spring. 'A churchyard
cough,' the older villagers said, and shook their heads knowingly. But
his grandfather did not appear to notice this. Although he loved him
tenderly, he had too many other interests to be able to keep a close
watch over his grandson's physical well-being. He left that to the
cousin, who was absorbed in her housework and already felt it a hardship
to have what she called 'a great hulking hobble-de-hoy' in the house to
mess up her floors and rugs and made enough cooking and washing up for a
regiment.

Willie did not care for the music his grandfather and uncle loved. He
preferred the banjo and such popular songs as 'Oh, dem Golden Slippers'
and 'Two Lovely Black Eyes' to organ fugues--except in church, where he
sometimes sang the anthem, looking like an angel in his white surplice.

Yet, in other ways, he had a great love of and craving for beauty. 'I do
like deep, rich colours--violet and crimson and the blue of those
delphiniums--don't you?' he said to Laura in Miss Lane's garden one day.
Laura loved those colours, too. She was almost ashamed to answer the
questions in the Confession Books of her more fashionable friends:
_Favourite colours?_ Purple and crimson. _Favourite flowers?_ The red
rose. _Favourite poet?_ Shakespeare. The answers made her appear so
unoriginal. She almost envied previous writers in the books their
preferences when she read: _Favourite flower?_ Petunia, orchid, or
sweet-pea; but she had not as yet the social wit to say, 'Favourite
flower? After the rose, of course?' or to pay mere lip service to
Shakespeare, so she was obliged to appear obvious.

Willie was fond of reading, too, and did not object to poetry. Somehow
he had got possession of an old shattered copy of an anthology called _A
Thousand and One Gems_, and when he came to tea with Miss Lane, who had
known his mother and had a special affection for him, he would bring
this book, and after office hours Laura and he would sit among the
nut-trees at the bottom of the garden and take turns at reading aloud
from it.

Those were the days for Laura when almost everything in literature was
new to her and every fresh discovery was like one of Keats's own _Magic
casements opening on the foam_. Between the shabby old covers of that
one book were the 'Ode to a Nightingale', Shelley's 'Skylark',
Wordsworth's 'Ode to Duty', and other gems which could move to a
heart-shaking rapture. Willie took their readings more calmly. He liked
where Laura loved. But he did honestly like, and that meant much to
Laura, for none of those she had previously known in her short life,
except her brother Edmund, cared twopence for poetry.

But one incident she shared with Willie remained more vivid in her
memory than the poetry readings or the scrapes he got into with other
boys, such as being let down into a well by the chain to rescue a duck
which had spent a day and a night, quacking loudly, as it searched in
vain for a shore to that deep, narrow pool into which it had tumbled, or
the time when the hayrick was on fire and, against the advice of older
men, he climbed to the top to beat the burning thatch with a rake.

She had gone one day to his home with a message from Miss Lane to the
housekeeper and, finding no one at home in the house, had crossed the
yard to a shed where Willie was working. He was sorting out planks and,
intending to tease and perhaps to shock her, he showed her a pile at the
farther end of the shed in the semi-darkness. 'Just look at these,' he
said. 'Here! Come right in and put your hand on them. Know what they're
for? Well, I'll tell you. They're all and every one of them sides for
coffins. I wonder who this one's for, and this and this. This nice
little narrow one may be for you; it looks about the right size. And
this one at the bottom'--touching it with his toes--'may be for that
very chap we can hear kicking up such a row with his whistling outside.
They're all booked for somebody, mostly somebody we know, but there
aren't any names written on them.'

Laura pretended to laugh and called him a horrid boy, but the bright day
seemed to her suddenly to become dark and cold, and, afterwards,
whenever she passed that shed she shivered and thought of the pile of
coffin boards waiting in the half-darkness until they should be needed
to make coffins for people now going happily about the green on their
business and passing the shed without a shudder. The elm or the oak
which had yet to make her coffin must then have been growing green,
somewhere or other, and Willie had no coffin tree growing for him, for
his was a soldier's grave out on the veld in South Africa.

He, the youngest, was the first of the three Williams to go. Soon after,
the middle William died suddenly while working at his bench, and his
father followed him next winter. Then the carpenters' shop was
demolished to make way for a builder's showroom with baths and tiled
fireplaces and w.c. pans in the window, and only the organ in church and
pieces of good woodwork in houses remained to remind those who had known
them of the three Williams.

Squeezed back to leave space for a small front garden, between the
Stores and the carpenters' shop, was a tall, narrow cottage with three
sash windows, one above the other, which almost filled the front wall.
In the lowest window stood a few bottles of bullseyes and other boiled
sweets, and above them hung a card which said: _Dressmaking and Plain
Sewing_. This was the home of one of the two postwomen who, every
morning, carried the letters to outlying houses off the regular
postman's beat.

Unlike her colleague, who was old, grumpy and snuffy, Mrs. Macey was no
ordinary countrywoman. She spoke well and had delicate, refined, if
somewhat worn, features, with nice grey eyes and a figure of the kind of
which country people said: 'So-and-So'd manage to look well-dressed if
she went around wrapped in a dishcloth.' And Mrs. Macey did manage to
look well-dressed, although her clothes were usually shabby and
sometimes peculiar. For most of the year on her round she wore a long
grey cloth coat of the kind then known as an 'ulster', and, for
headgear, a man's black bowler hat draped with a black lace veil with
short ends hanging at the back. This hat, Miss Lane said, was a survival
of a fashion of ten years before. Laura had never seen another like it,
but worn as Mrs. Macey wore it, over a head of softly waving dark hair
drawn down into a little tight knob on the neck, it was decidedly
becoming. Instead of plodding or sauntering country fashion, Mrs. Macey
walked firmly and quickly, as if with a destination in view.

Excepting Miss Lane, who was more of a patron than a friend, Mrs. Macey
had no friends in the village. She had been born and had lived as a
child on a farm near Candleford Green where her father was then bailiff;
but before she had grown up her family had gone away and all that was
known locally of fifteen years of her life was that she had married and
lived in London. Then, four or five years before Laura knew her, she had
returned to the village with her only child, at that time a boy of
seven, and taken the cottage next to the Stores and put the card in the
window. When the opportunity offered, Miss Lane obtained for her the
letter-carrier's post and, with the four shillings a week pay for that,
a weekly postal order for the same amount from some mysterious
organization (the Freemasons, it was whispered, but that was a mere
guess) and the money earned by her sewing, she was able in those days
and in that locality to live and bring up her boy in some degree of
comfort.

She was not a widow, but she never mentioned her husband unless
questioned, when she would say something about 'travelling abroad with
his gentleman', leaving her hearer to conclude that he was a valet or
something of that kind. Some people said she had no husband and never
had had one, she had only invented one as a blind to account for her
child, but Miss Lane nipped such suspicions in the bud by saying
authoritatively that she had good reasons which she was not at liberty
to reveal for saying that Mrs. Macey had a husband still living.

Laura liked Mrs. Macey and often crossed the green to her house in the
evening to buy a screw of sweets or to try on a garment which was being
made or turned or lengthened for her. It was as cosy a little place as
can be imagined. The ground floor of the house had formerly been one
largish room with a stone floor, but, by erecting a screen to enclose
the window and fireplace and cut off the draughty outer portion, where
water vessels and cooking utensils were kept, Mrs. Macey had contrived a
tiny inner living-room. In this she had a table for meals, a sofa and
easy chair, and her sewing-machine. There were rugs on the floor and
pictures on the walls and plenty of cushions about. These were all of
good quality--relics, no doubt, of the much larger home she had had
during her married life.

There Laura would sit by the fire and play ludo with Tommy, with
Snowball, the white cat, on her knee, while Mrs. Macey, on the other
side of the hearth, stitched away at her sewing. She did not talk much,
but she would sometimes look up and her eyes would smile a welcome. She
seldom smiled with her lips and scarcely ever laughed and, because of
this, some villagers called her 'sour-looking'. 'A sour-looking
creature,' they said, but any one with more penetration would have known
that she was not sour, but sad. 'Ah! you're young!' she once said when
Laura had been talking a lot, 'You've got all your life before you!' as
though her own life was over, although she was not much over thirty.

Her Tommy was a quiet, thoughtful little lad with the man-of-the-house
air of responsibility sometimes worn by fatherless only sons. He liked
to wind up the clock, let out the cat, and lock the house door at night.
Once when he had brought home a blouse which Mrs. Macey had been making
out of an old muslin frock for Laura and with it the bill, for some now
incredibly small amount--a shilling at the most, probably
ninepence--Laura, by way of a mild joke, handed him her pencil and said,
'Perhaps you'll give me a receipt for the money?' 'With pleasure,' he
said in his best grown-up manner. 'But it's really not necessary. We
shan't charge you for it again.' Laura smiled at that 'we', denoting a
partnership in which the junior partner was so very immature, then felt
sad as she thought of the two of them, entrenched in that narrow home
against the world with some mysterious background which could be felt
but not fathomed.

Whatever the nature of the mystery surrounding the father, the boy knew
nothing about it, for twice in Laura's presence he asked his mother,
'When will our Daddy come home?' and his mother, after a long pause,
replied: 'Oh, not for a long time yet. He's travelling abroad, you know,
and his gentleman's not ready to come home.' The first time she added,
'I expect they're shooting tigers', and the next, 'It's a long way to
Spain.'

Once Tommy, in all innocence, brought out and showed Laura his father's
photograph. It was that of a handsome, flashy-looking man posing before
the rustic-work background of a photographer's studio. A top-hat and
gloves were carefully arranged on a little table beside him. Not a
working man, evidently, and yet he did not look quite like a gentleman,
thought Laura, but it was no business of hers, and when she saw Mrs.
Macey's pained look as she took away the photograph she was glad that
she had barely glanced at it.

At one end of the green, balancing the doctor's house at the other end,
stood what was known there as a quality house, which meant one larger
than a cottage, but smaller than a mansion. There were several such
houses in the neighbourhood of Candleford Green, mostly occupied by
ladies, elderly maiden or widowed, but here there lived only one
gentleman. It was a white house with a green-painted balcony, green
outside shutters, and a beautifully kept lawn with clipped yew trees. It
was a quiet house, for Mr. Repington was a very old gentleman and there
were no young people to run in and out or to go to parties or hunting.
His maidservants were elderly and uncommunicative, and his own man, Mr.
Grimshaw, was as white-headed as his master and as unapproachable.

Sometimes, on summer afternoons, a carriage with champing horses,
glittering harness, and cockaded coachman and footman would stand at the
gate, while, from within, through the open windows, came the sounds of
tinkling teacups and ladies' voices, gossiping pleasantly, and every
year, at strawberry time, Mr. Repington gave one garden party to which
the local gentlepeople came on foot because his stabling accommodation
and that of the inn was strained to the utmost by the equipages of
guests from farther afield. That was all he did in the way of
entertaining. He had long given up dining out or dining others, on
account of his age.

Every morning, at precisely eleven o'clock, Mr. Repington would emerge
from his front door, held ceremoniously open for him by Grimshaw, visit
the Post Office and the carpenters' shop, stand for a few minutes to
talk to the Vicar or any one else of his own class whom he happened to
meet, pat a few children on the head and give a knob of sugar to the
donkey. Then, having made the circuit of the green, he would disappear
through his own doorway and be seen no more until the next morning.

His dress was a model of style. The pale grey suits he favoured in
summer always looked fresh from the tailor's hand, and his spats and
grey suede gloves were immaculate. He carried a gold-headed cane and
wore a flower in his button-hole, usually a white carnation or a
rosebud. Once when he met Laura out in the village he swept off his
Panama hat in a bow so low that she felt like a princess. But his
manners were always courtly. It was not at all surprising to be told
that he had formerly held some position at the Court of Queen Victoria.
Which perhaps he had, perhaps not, for nothing was really known about
him, excepting that he was apparently rich and obviously aged. Laura and
Miss Lane knew and the postman may have noticed that he had many letters
with crests and coronets on the flap of the envelope, and Laura knew
that he had once sent a telegram signed with his Christian name to a
very great personage indeed. But, his servants being what they were,
such things were not matter for village gossip.

Like all those of good birth Laura met when in business, his voice was
quiet and natural, and he was pleasant in his manner towards her. One
morning he found her alone in the office, and perhaps intending to cheer
what he may have thought her loneliness, he asked: 'Do you like
ciphers?' Laura was not at all sure what kind of a cipher he meant--it
could not be the figure nought, surely--but she said, 'Yes, I think so,'
and he wrote with a tiny gold pencil on a leaf torn from his
pocket-book:


  U O A O, but I O thee.
  I give thee A O, but O O me,


which, seeing her puzzled look, he interpreted:


    'You sigh for a cipher, but I sigh for thee.
    I give thee a cipher, but O sigh for me.'


And, on another occasion, he handed her the riddle:


 The beginning of Eternity,
   The end of Time and Space,
 The beginning of every end
   And the end of every place,


to which she soon discovered that the answer was the letter 'E'.

Laura wondered in riper years how many times and in how many different
environments he had written those very puzzles to amuse other girls,
unlike her in everything but age.

There were a number of small cottages around the green, most of them
more picturesque than that occupied by Mrs. Macey. Of these Laura knew
every one of the occupants, at least well enough to be on speaking
terms, through seeing them at the post office. She did not know them as
intimately as she had known similar families in her native hamlet, where
she had been one of them and had had a lifelong experience of their
circumstances. At Candleford Green she was more in the position of an
outside observer aided by the light of her previous experiences. They
appeared to have a similar home life to that of the Lark Rise people,
and to possess much the same virtues, weaknesses, and limitations. They
spoke with the same country accent and used many of the old homely
expressions. Their vocabulary may have been larger, for they had adopted
most of the new catchwords of their day, but, as Laura thought
afterwards, they used it with less vigour. One new old saying, however,
Laura heard for the first time at Candleford Green. It was used on an
occasion when a woman, newly widowed, had tried to throw herself into
her husband's grave at his funeral. Then some one who had witnessed the
scene said dryly in Laura's hearing: 'Ah, you wait. The bellowing cow's
always the first to forget its calf.'

The Candleford Green workers lived in better cottages and many of them
were better paid than the Lark Rise people. They were not all of them
farm labourers; there were skilled craftsmen amongst them, and some were
employed to drive vans by the tradesmen there and in Candleford town.
But wages for all kinds of work were low and life for most of them must
have been a struggle.

The length of raised sidewalk before the temptingly dressed windows of
the Stores was the favourite afternoon promenade of the women, with or
without perambulators. There _The Rage_ or _The Latest_, so ticketed,
might be seen free of charge, and the purchase of a reel of cotton or a
paper of pins gave the right of entry to a further display of fashions.
On Sundays the two Misses Pratt displayed the cream of their stock upon
their own persons in church. They were tall, thin young women with
frizzy Alexandra fringes of straw-coloured hair, high cheek-bones and
anaemic complexions which they touched up with rouge.

At the font they had been given the pretty, old-fashioned names of
Prudence and Ruth, but for business purposes, as they explained, they
had exchanged them for the more high-sounding and up-to-date ones of
Pearl and Ruby. The new names passed into currency sooner than might
have been expected, for few of their customers cared to offend them.
They might have retaliated by passing off on the offender an unbecoming
hat or by skimping the sleeves of a new Sunday gown. So, to their faces,
they were 'Miss Pearl' and 'Miss Ruby', while, behind their backs, as
often as not, it would be 'That Ruby Pratt, as she calls herself', or
'Pearl as ought to be Prudence'.

Miss Ruby ran the dressmaking department and Miss Pearl reigned in the
millinery showroom. Both were accepted authorities upon what was being
worn and the correct manner of wearing it. If any one in the village was
planning a new summer outfit and was not sure of the style, she would
say, 'I must ask the Miss Pratts,' and although some of the resulting
creations might have astonished leaders of fashion elsewhere, they were
accepted by their customers as models. In Laura's time the Pratts'
customers included the whole feminine population of the village,
excepting those rich enough to buy elsewhere and those too poor to buy
at all at first-hand.

They were good enough girls, enterprising, hard-working, and clever, and
if Laura thought them conceited, that may have been because she had been
told that Miss Pearl had said to a customer in the showroom that she
wondered that Miss Lane had not been able to find some one more genteel
than that little country girl to assist her in her office.

At the time of her marriage, it was said, their mother had been looked
upon as an heiress, having not only inherited the Stores, then a plain
draper's shop with rolls of calico and red flannel in the window, but
also cottages and grazing land, bringing in rent, so it may be supposed
she felt justified in marrying where her fancy led her. It led her to
marriage with a smart young commercial traveller whose round had brought
him to the shop periodically, and together they had introduced modern
improvements.

When the new plate-glass windows had been put in, the dressmaking and
millinery departments established, and the shop re-named 'The Stores',
the husband's efforts had ended, and for the rest of his life he had
felt himself entitled to spend most of his waking hours in the bar
parlour of the 'Golden Lion' laying down the law to other commercial
gentlemen who had not done so well for themselves. 'There goes that old
Pratt again, shaking like a leaf and as thin as a hurdle,' Miss Lane
would say when taking her morning survey of the green from her window,
and Laura, glancing up from her work, would see the thin figure in loud
tweeds and white bowler hat making for the door of the inn and know,
without looking at the clock, that it was exactly eleven. Some time
during the day he would go home for a meal, then return to his own
special seat in the bar parlour, where he would remain until closing
time.

At home his wife grew old and shrivelled and complaining, while the
girls grew up and shouldered the business, just in time to stop its
decline. At the time Laura knew them their 'Ma', as her daughters called
her, had become an invalid on whom they lavished the tenderest care,
obtaining far-fetched dainties to tempt her appetite, filling her room
with flowers, and staging there a private show of their latest novelties
before they were displayed to the public. 'No. Not that one, please,
Mrs. Perkins,' Miss Pearl said to a customer in Laura's hearing one day.
'I'm ever so sorry, but it's the new fashion, only just come in, and
Ma's not seen it yet. I'd take it upstairs now to show her, but she
takes her little siesta at this hour. Well, if you really don't _mind_
stepping round again in the morning. . . .'

If, through absent-mindedness or a lost sense of direction, Pa wandered
in his hat and coat into the showroom, he was gently but firmly led out
by a seemingly playful daughter. 'Dear Papa!' Miss Pearl would exclaim.
'He does take such an interest. But come along, darling. Come with your
own little Pearlie. Mind the step, now! Gently does it. What you want is
a nice strong cup of tea.'

No wonder the Pratt girls looked, as some people said, as if they had
the weight of the world on their shoulders. They must in reality have
carried a biggish burden of trouble, and if they tried to hide it with a
show of high spirits and simpering smiles, plus a little harmless
pretension, that should have been put down to their credit. Human nature
being what it is, their shifts and pretences only served to provoke a
little mild amusement. But, by the time Laura went to live at Candleford
Green the Pratts' was an old story, until, one summer morning, a
first-class sensation was provided for the villagers by the news that
Mr. Pratt had disappeared.

He had left the inn at the usual time, closing time, but had never
reached home. His daughters had sat up for him, gone after midnight to
the 'Golden Lion' to inquire, and then headed the search in the lanes in
the early dawn, but there was still no trace, and the police were about,
asking questions of early workmen. Would they circulate his photograph?
Would there be a reward? And, above all, what had become of the man?
'Thin as he was, he couldn't have fallen down a crack, like!'

The search went on for days. Stationmasters were questioned, woods were
searched foot by foot, wells and ponds were dragged, but no trace could
be found of Mr. Pratt, dead or alive.

Ruby and Pearl, their first grief abating, took counsel with friends as
to whether or not to wear mourning. But, no, they decided. Poor Pa might
yet return, and they compromised by appearing in church in lavender
frocks with touches of mauve, half, or perhaps quarter, mourning. As
time went on, the back door, which, so far, had been left on the latch
at night in case of the return of the prodigal father, was again locked,
and perhaps, when alone with Ma, they admitted with a sigh that all
might be for the best.

But they had not heard the last of poor Pa. One morning, nearly a year
later, when Miss Ruby had got up very early and, the maid still being in
bed, had herself gone to the wood-shed for sticks to boil a kettle to
make tea, she found her father peacefully sleeping on a bed of
brushwood. Where he had been all those months he could not or would not
say. He thought, or pretended to think, that there had been no interval
of time, that he had come home as usual from the 'Golden Lion' the night
before he was found and, finding the door locked and not liking to
disturb the household, had retired to the woodshed. The one and only
clue to the mystery, and that did not solve it, was that in the early
dawn of the day before that of his reappearance a cyclist on the Oxford
road, a few miles out of that city, had passed on the road a tall, thin
elderly man in a deerstalker cap walking with his head bent and sobbing.

Where he had been and how he had managed to live while he was away was
never found out. He resumed his visits to the 'Golden Lion' and his
daughters shouldered their burden again. By them the episode was always
afterwards referred to as 'Poor Pa's loss of memory'.

The grocer's business next door to the Pratts was also a thriving and
long-established one. From a business point of view, 'Tarman's' had one
advantage over the Stores, for while the draper's depended chiefly on
the middle state of village society, the poor not being able to afford
to buy their models and the gentry despising them, the grocer catered
for all. At that time the more important village people, such as the
doctor and clergyman, bought their provisions at the village shops as a
matter of principle. They would have thought it mean to go further
afield for the sake of saving a few shillings, and even the rich who
spent only part of the year at their country houses or their hunting
boxes believed it to be their duty to give the local tradesmen a turn.
If there happened to be more businesses than one of a kind in a village,
orders were placed with each alternately. Even Miss Lane had two bakers,
one calling one week and the other the next, but in her case it may have
been more a matter of business than of principle, as both bakers had
horses to be shod.

This custom of local dealing benefited all the inhabitants. The
shopkeeper was able to keep more varieties of goods in stock and often
of a better quality than he would otherwise have done, his cheerful,
well-lighted shop brightened the village street, and he himself made
enough money in the way of profit to enable him to live in substantial
comfort. A grocer had to be a grocer then, for his goods did not come to
him in packets, ready to be handed over the counter, but had to be
selected and blended and weighed out by himself, and for quality he was
directly responsible to his customers. The butcher, too, received no
stiff, shrouded carcasses by rail, but had to be able to recognize the
points in the living animal at the local market sufficiently quickly and
well to be able to guarantee the succulent joints and the old-fashioned
chops and steaks would melt in the mouth. Even his scrag ends of mutton
and sixpen'orth of pieces of beef which he sold to the poor were tasty
and rich with juices which the refrigerator seems to have destroyed in
present-day meat. However, we cannot have it all ways, and most
villagers would agree that the attractions of films and wireless and
dances and buses to town, plus more money in the pocket, outweigh the
few poor creature comforts of their grandparents.

Above the grocer's shop, in their large, comfortable rooms, lived the
grocer, his wife, and their growing-up family. This family was not liked
by all; some said they had ideas above their station in life, chiefly
because the children were sent to boarding-school; but practically every
one dealt at their shop, for not only was it the only grocery
establishment of any size in the place, but the goods sold there could
be relied upon.

Mr. Tarman was a burly giant in a very white apron. When he leaned
forward and rested his hands on the counter to speak to a customer, the
solid mahogany seemed to bend beneath the strain. His wife was what was
called there 'a little pennicking bit of a woman', small and fair and,
by that time, a little worn, though still priding herself upon her
complexion, which she touched with nothing but warm rain water. In spite
of the fine lines round her mouth and eyes, which the rain water had not
been able to prevent, the effect justified her faith in its efficiency,
for her cheeks were as fresh and delicately tinted as those of a child.
She was a generous, open-handed creature who gave liberally to every
good cause. The poor had cause to bless her, for their credit there in
bad times was unlimited, and many families had a standing debt on her
books that both debtor and creditor knew could never be paid. Many a
cooked ham-bone with good picking still left on it and many a hock-end
of bacon were slipped by her into the shopping baskets of poor mothers
of families, and the clothes of her children when new were viewed by
appraising eyes by those who hoped to inherit them when outgrown.

By neighbours of her own class she was said to be extravagant, and
perhaps she was. Laura ate strawberries and cream for the first time at
her table, and her own clothes and those of her girls were certainly not
bought at the Miss Pratts'.

The baker and his wife were chiefly remarkable for their regularity in
adding a new unit to their family every eighteen months. They already
had eight children and the entire energies of the mother and any margin
the father might have left after earning their living were devoted to
nursing the younger and keeping in order the elder members of their
brood. But theirs was a cheerful, happy-go-lucky household. The only dig
ill-natured neighbours could get in at Mrs. Brett was the old one then
often heard by young mothers: 'Ah! You wait! They makes your arms ache
now, but they'll make your heart ache when they get older.'

The parents were too old and too otherwise engaged and the children were
too young to be friends for Laura, and she never heard what became of
them; but it would not be surprising to learn that those healthy,
intelligent, if somewhat unmanageable Brett children all turned out
well.

There were a few other, lesser shops around the green, including the one
which was really a cottage where an old dame sold penny plates of cooked
prunes and rice to the village boys in the evening. She also made what
was known as sticky toffee, so soft it could be pulled out in lengths,
like elastic. She took snuff so freely that no one over twelve years of
age would eat this.

But we must return to the Post Office, where Laura in the course of her
duties was to come to know almost every one.



    XXXV

      _At the Post Office_

Sometimes Sir Timothy would come in, breathing heavily and mopping his
brow if the weather were warm. 'Ha! ha!' he would say. 'Here is our
future Postmistress-General. What is the charge for a telegram of
thirty-three words to Timbuctu? Ah! I thought so. You don't know without
looking it up in a book, so I'll send it to Oxford instead and hope
you'll be better informed next time I ask you. There! Can you read my
handwriting? I'm dashed if I can always read it myself. Well, well. Your
eyes are young. Let's hope they'll never be dimmed with crying, eh, Miss
Lane? And I see you are looking as young and handsome as ever yourself.
Do you remember that afternoon I caught you picking cowslips in Godstone
Spinney? Trespassing, you were, trespassing; and I very properly fined
you on the spot, although not as yet a J.P.--not by many a year. I let
you off lightly that time, though you made such a fuss about a mere----'

'Oh, Sir Timothy, how you do rake up things! And I wasn't trespassing,
as you very well knew; it was a footpath your father ought never to have
closed.'

'But the game birds, woman, the game birds----' And, if no one else
happened to come in, they would talk on of their youth.

For Lady Adelaide, Sir Timothy's wife, the footman usually did business
while she sat in her carriage outside, but occasionally she herself
would come rustling in, bringing with her a whiff of perfume, and sink
languidly down in the chair provided for customers on their side of the
counter. She was a graceful woman, and it was a delight to watch her
movements. Laura, who sat behind her in church, admired the way she
knelt for the prayers, not plumping down squarely with one boot-sole on
each side of a substantial posterior, as most other women of her age
did, but slanting gracefully forward with the sole of one dainty shoe in
advance of the other. She was tall and thin and, Laura thought,
aristocratic-looking.

For some time she took no more notice of Laura than one would now of an
automatic stamp-delivering machine. Then, one day, she did her the
honour of personally inviting her to join the Primrose League, of which
she was a Dame and the chief local patroness. A huge fête, in which
branches from the surrounding villages joined, was held in Sir Timothy's
park every midsummer, and there were day excursions and winter-evening
entertainments for the benefit of Primrose League members. It was no
wonder the pretty little enamelled primrose badge, worn as a brooch or
lapel ornament, was so much in evidence at church on Sundays.

But Laura hesitated and grew red as a peony. In view of her Ladyship's
graciousness, it seemed churlish to refuse to join; but what would her
father, a declared Liberal in politics and an opponent of all that the
Primrose League stood for, say if she went over to the enemy?

And she herself did not really wish to become a member; she never did
wish to do what everybody else was doing, which showed she had a
contrary nature, she had often been told, but it was really because her
thoughts and tastes ran upon different lines than those of the majority.

The lady looked her in the face, her expression showing more interest
than formerly. Perhaps she noticed her embarrassment, and Laura, who
admired her sincerely and wanted to be liked by her, was about to cave
in when 'Dare to be a Daniel!' said an inward voice. It was a catchword
of the moment derived from the Salvation Army hymn, 'Dare to be a
Daniel. Dare to stand alone', and was more often used as a laughing
excuse for refusing a glass of beer in company or adopting a new style
of hairdressing than seriously as a support to conscience; but it
served.

'But we are Liberals at home,' said Laura apologetically, and, at that,
the lady smiled and said kindly: 'Well, in that case, you had better ask
your parents' permission before joining,' and that was the end of the
matter as far as she was concerned. But it was a landmark in Laura's
mental development. Afterwards she laughed at herself for daring to be a
Daniel on so small a matter. The mighty Primrose League, with its
overwhelming membership, was certainly not in need of another small
member. Her Ladyship, she realized, had asked her to join out of
kindness, in order that she might qualify for a ticket for the
approaching celebrations, and had probably already forgotten the
episode. It was better to say clearly and simply just what one meant,
whoever one was talking to, and always to remember that what one said
was probably of no importance whatever to one's listener.

That was the only decided stand Laura ever took in party politics. For
the rest of her life she was too ready to admire the good and to detest
what she thought the bad points in all parties to be able to adhere to
any. She loved the Liberals, and afterwards the Socialists, for their
efforts to improve the lot of the poor. Stories and poems of hers
appeared before the 1914 War in the _Daily Citizen_, and, after the war,
her poems were among the earliest to appear in the _Daily Herald_ under
Mr. Gerald Gould's literary editorship; but, as we know on good
authority, 'every boy and every girl that's born into this world alive,
Is either a little Liberal, Or else a little Conserva_tive_', and, in
spite of her early training, the inborn cast of her mind, with its love
of the past and of the English countryside, often drew her in the
opposite direction.

A frequent caller at the Post Office was an old Army pensioner named
Benjamin Trollope, commonly called 'Old Ben'. He was a tall, upright old
fellow, very neat and well-brushed in appearance, with a brown wrinkled
face and the clear, straight gaze often seen in ex-Service men. He kept
house with an old companion-in-arms in a small thatched cottage outside
the village, and their bachelor establishment might have served as a
model of order and cleanliness. In their garden the very flowers looked
well-drilled, geraniums and fuchsias stood in single file from the gate
to the doorway, every plant staked and in exact alinement.

Ben's friend and stable-companion, Tom Ashley, was of a more retiring
disposition than Ben. He was one of those old men who seem to have
shrunken in stature and, by the time Laura knew them, he had become
little and bent and wizened. He stayed mostly indoors and made their
beds and curry and cobbled their garments, only coming once a quarter to
the Post Office for his Army pension, when, no matter what time of year
or what kind of weather, he complained of feeling cold. Ben did the
gardening, shopping, and other outdoor jobs, being, as it were, the man
of the house while Tom acted as housewife.

Ben told Laura that they had decided to rent that particular cottage
because it had jessamine over the porch. The scent of it reminded them
of India. India! That name was the key to Ben's heart. He had seen long
service there and the glamour of the East had taken hold of his
imagination. He talked well, and his talk gave Laura a vivid impression
of hot, dry plains, steaming jungles, heathen temples, and city bazaars
crowded with the colourful life of the land he had loved and could never
forget. But there was something more which he felt, but could not
express, sights and scents and sounds of which he could only say: 'It
seems to get hold of you like, somehow.'

Once, when he was telling her of a journey he had once made to the hills
with a surveying party in some humble capacity, he said: 'I wish you
could have seen the flowers. Never saw anything like it, never in my
life! Great sheets of scarlet as close-packed as they grasses on the
green, and primulas and lilies and things such as you only see here in a
hothouse, and, rising right out of 'em, great mountains all covered with
snow. Ah! 'twas a sight--a sight! My mate says to me this mornin' when
we found it was rainin' and his ague shakin' him again, "Oh Ben," he
says, "I do wish we were back in India with a bit of hot sun"; and I
said to him, "'Tain't no good wishin', Tom. We've had our day and that
day's over. We shan't see India no more."'

It was strange, thought Laura, that other pensioners she knew who had
served in India had left that land with no regrets and very few
memories. If asked about their adventures, they would say: 'The places
have got funny names and it's very hot out there. In the Bay of Biscay
on the way out every man jack of us was seasick.' Most of them were
short-service men, and they had returned cheerfully to the plough-tail.
They appeared to be happier than Ben, but Laura liked him best.

One day a man known as 'Long Bob', a lock-keeper on the canal, came in
with a small package which he wished to send by registered post. It was
roughly done up in soiled brown paper, and the string, although much
knotted, was minus the wax seals required by the regulations. When Laura
offered him the loan of the office sealing-wax, he asked her to seal and
make tidy the package for him, saying that his fingers were all thumbs
and he hadn't got no 'ooman now to do such fiddling little jobs for him.
'But maybe,' he added, 'before you start on it, you'd like to have a
look at that within.'

He then opened the package and brought forth and shook out a panel of
coloured embroidery. It was a needlework picture of Adam and Eve,
standing one on each side of the Tree of Knowledge with a grove of
flowering and fruiting trees behind them and a lamb, a rabbit, and other
small creatures in the foreground. It was exquisitely executed and the
colours, though faded in places, were beautifully blended. The hair of
Adam and Eve was embroidered with real human hair and the fur of the
furry animals of some woolly substance. That it was very old even the
inexperienced Laura could sense at the first glance, more by something
strange and antique-looking about the nude human figures and the shape
of the trees than by any visible sign of wear or decay in the fabric.
'It's very old, isn't it?' she asked, expecting Long Bob to say it had
belonged to his grandmother.

'Very old and ancient indeed,' he replied, 'and I'm told there's some
clever men in London who'll like to see that pictur'. All done by hand,
they say, oh, long agone, before old Queen Bess's day.' Then, seeing
Laura all eyes and ears, he told her how it had come into his
possession.

About a year before, it appeared, he had found the panel on the
towing-path of the canal, carelessly screwed up in a sheet of newspaper.
Inspired rather by strict principles of honesty than by any idea that
the panel was valuable, he had taken it to the Police Station at
Candleford, where the sergeant in charge had asked him to leave it while
inquiries were made. It had then, apparently, been examined by experts,
for the next thing Long Bob heard from the police was that the panel was
old and valuable and that inquiries as to its ownership were in
progress. It was thought that it must have been part of the proceeds of
some burglary. But there had been no burglary in that part of the county
for several years, and the police could get no information of any more
distant one where such an article was missing. The owner was never
found, and, at the end of the time appointed by law, the panel was
handed back to the finder, together with the address of a London
sale-room to which he was advised to send it. A few weeks later he
received the, to him, large sum of five pounds which its sale had
realized.

That was the recent history of the needlework panel. What of its past?
How had it come to lie, wrapped in a fairly recent newspaper, on the
canal tow-path that foggy November morning?

Nobody ever knew. Miss Lane and Laura thought that by some means it had
come into the possession of a cottage family, which, though ignorant of
its value, had treasured it as a curiosity. Then, perhaps, it may have
been sent by a child as a present to some relative, or as part of an
inheritance from some old grandmother who had recently died. The loss by
a child of 'that old sampler of Granny's' would be but a matter for
cuffing and scolding; poor people would not dream of making what they
called a 'hue and cry' about such a loss, or of going to the police. But
this was mere supposition; the ownership of the panel and how it came to
be found in such an unlikely place remained a mystery.

The office was closed to the public at eight, but, every year, for
several Saturday evenings in later summer, Laura was in attendance until
9.30. Then, as she sat behind closed doors reading or knitting, she
would hear a scuffle of feet outside and open the door to one, two, or
more wild-looking men with touzled hair and beards, sun-scorched faces,
and queerly cut clothes with coloured shirts which always seemed to be
sticking out of their trousers somewhere. These were the Irish farm
workers who came over to England to help with the harvest. They were
keen workers, employed on piecework, who could not afford to lose one of
the daylight hours. By the time they had finished work all the post
offices were closed, postal orders could not be procured on Sunday, and
they had to send part of their wages to their wives and families in
Ireland, so, to help them solve their difficulty, Miss Lane had for some
years sold them postal orders, secretly, after official hours. Now she
authorized Laura to sell them.

Laura had been used to seeing the Irish harvesters from a child. Then
some of the neighbours at home had tried to frighten her when naughty by
saying, 'I'll give you to them old Irishers; see if I don't, then!' and
although not alarmed at the threat beyond infancy--for who could be
afraid of men who did no one any harm, beyond irritating them by talking
too much and working harder and by so doing earning more money than they
did?--they had remained to her strangers and foreigners who came to her
neighbourhood for a season, as the swallows came, then disappeared
across the sea to a country called 'Ireland' where people wanted Home
Rule and said 'Begorra' and made things called 'bulls' and lived
exclusively upon potatoes.

Now she knew the Irish harvesters by name--Mr. McCarthy, Tim Doolan, Big
James and Little James and Kevin and Patrick, and all the other
harvesters working in the district. More and more came from farther
afield as the knowledge spread that at Candleford Green there lived a
sympathetic postmistress who would let a man have his postal order for
home after his week's work was done. By the time Laura left the village,
the favour had had to be extended to Sunday morning, and Miss Lane was
trying to harden her heart and invent some reason for withdrawing the
privilege which had become a serious addition to her work.

At the time now recorded there were perhaps a dozen of these
Saturday-evening clients. None of the older men among them could write,
and when Laura first knew them these would bring their letters to their
wives in Ireland already written by one of their younger workmates. But
soon she had these illiterates coming stealthily alone. 'Would ye be an
angel, Missie darlint, an' write just a few little words for me on this
sheet of paper I've brought?' they would whisper, and Laura would write
to their dictation such letters as the following:


'MY DEAR WIFE,--Thanks be to God, our Blessed Lady and the saints, this
leaves me in the best of health, with work in plenty and money coming in
to give us all a better winter than last year, please God.'


Then, after inquiries about the health of 'herself' and the children,
the old father and mother, Uncle Doolan, Cousin Bridget, and each
neighbour by name, the real reason for getting the letter written
surreptitiously would emerge. The wife would be told to 'pay off at the
shop', or to ask such and such a price for something they had to sell,
or not to forget to 'lay by a bit in the stocking'; but she was not to
deny herself anything she fancied; she should live like a queen if the
sender of the letter had his way, and he remained her loving husband.

Laura noticed that when these letters were dictated there were none of
the long pauses usual when she was writing a letter for one of her own
old countrymen, as she sometimes did. Words came freely to the Irishman,
and there were rich, warm phrases in his letters that sounded like
poetry. What Englishman of his class would think of wishing his wife
could live like a queen? 'Take care of yourself' would be the fondest
expression she would find in his letters. The Irishman, too, had better
manners than the Englishman. He took off his hat when he came in at the
door, said 'please', or, rather, 'plaze', more frequently, and was
almost effusive in his thanks for some small service. The younger men
were inclined to pay compliments, but they did so in such charming words
that no one could have felt offended.

Many gipsies frequented the neighbourhood, where there were certain
roadside dells which they used as camping-grounds. These, for weeks
together, would be silent and deserted, with only circles of black ash
to show where fires had been and scraps of coloured rag fluttering from
bushes. Then one day, towards evening, tents would be raised and fires
lighted, horses would be hobbled and turned out to graze, and men with
lurchers at their heels would explore the field hedgerows (not after
rabbits. Oh, no! Only to cut a nice ash stick with which to make their
old pony go), while the women and children around the cooking pots in
the dell shouted and squabbled and called out to the men in a different
language from that they used for business purposes at cottage doors.

'There's them ole gipos back again,' the villagers would say when they
saw blue smoke drifting over the treetops. 'Time they was routed out o'
them places, the ole stinkin' lot of 'em. If a poor man so much as looks
at a rabbit he soon finds hisself in quod, but their pot's never empty.
Says they eat hedgehogs! Hedgehogs! He! He! Hedgehogs wi' soft
prickles!'

Laura liked the gipsies, though she did sometimes wish they would not
push with their baskets into the office, three or four at a time. If a
village woman happened to be there before them she would sidle out of
the door holding her nose, and their atmosphere was, indeed,
overpowering, though charged as much with the odours of wood-smoke and
wet earth as with that of actual uncleanliness.

There was no delivery of letters at their tents or caravans. For those
they had to call at the Post Office. 'Any letters for Maria Lee?' or for
Mrs. Eli Stanley, or for Christina Boswell, they would say, and, if
there were none, and there very often were not, they would say: 'Are you
quite sure now, dearie? Do just look again. I've left my youngest in
Oxford Infirmary,' or 'My daughter's expecting an increase,' or 'My
boy's walking up from Winchester to join us, and he ought to be here by
now.'

All this seemed surprisingly human to Laura, who had hitherto looked
upon gipsies as outcasts, robbers of henroosts, stealers of children,
and wheedlers of pennies from pockets even poorer than their own. Now
she met them on a business footing, and they never begged from her and
very seldom tried to sell her a comb or a length of lace from their
baskets, but one day an old woman for whom she had written a letter
offered to tell her fortune. She was perhaps the most striking-looking
person Laura ever saw in her life: tall for a gipsy, with flashing black
eyes and black hair without a fleck of grey in it, although her cheeks
were deeply wrinkled and leathery. Some one had given her a man's
brightly-coloured paisley-patterned dressing-gown, which she wore as an
outdoor garment with a soft billy-cock hat. Her name was Cinderella Doe
and her letters came so addressed, without a prefix.

The fortune was pleasing. Whoever heard of one that was not? There was
no fair man or dark man or enemy to beware of in it, and though she
promised Laura love, it was not love of the usual kind. 'You're going to
be loved,' she said; 'loved by people you've never seen and never will
see.' A graceful way of thanking one for writing a letter.

Friends and acquaintances who came to the Post Office used often to say
to Laura: 'How dull it must be for you here.' But although she sometimes
agreed mildly for the sake of not appearing peculiar, Laura did not find
life at the Post Office at all dull. She was so young and new to life
that small things which older people might not have noticed surprised
and pleased her. All day interesting people were coming in--interesting
to her, at least--and if there were intervals between these callers,
there was always something waiting to be done. Sometimes, in a few spare
moments, Miss Lane would come in and find her reading a book from the
parlour or the Mechanics' Institute. Although she had not actually
forbidden reading for pleasure on duty, she did not altogether approve
of it, for she thought it looked unbusinesslike. So she would say,
rather acidly: 'Are you sure you can learn nothing more from the Rule
Book?' and Laura would once more take down from its shelf the large,
cream, cardboard-bound tome she had already studied until she knew many
of the rules word for word. From even that dry-as-dust reading she
extracted some pleasure. On one page, for instance, set in a paragraph
composed of stiff, official phrases, was the word 'mignonette'. It
referred only to the colour of a form, or something of that kind, but to
Laura it seemed like a pressed flower, still faintly scented.

And, although such callers as the gipsies and the Irish harvesters
appealed to her imagination because they were out of the ordinary, she
was even more interested in the ordinary country people, because she
knew them better and knew more of their stories. She knew the girl in
love with her sister's husband, whose hands trembled while she tore open
her letters from him; and the old mother who had not heard for three
years from her son in Australia, but still came every day to the Post
Office, hoping; and the rough working man who, when told for the first
time, ten years after marriage, that his wife had an illegitimate
daughter of sixteen and that that daughter was stricken with
tuberculosis, said: 'You go and fetch her home at once and look after
her. Your child's my child and your home's her home'; and she knew
families which put more money in the Savings Bank every week than they
received in wages, and other families which were being dunned for the
payment of bills, and what shop in London supplied Mrs. Fashionable with
clothes, and who posted the box containing a dead mouse to Mrs.
Meddlesome. But those were stories she would never be at liberty to tell
in full, because of the Declaration she had signed before Sir Timothy.

And she had her own personal experiences: her moments of ecstasy in the
contemplation of beauty; her periods of religious doubt and hours of
religious faith; her bitter disillusionments on finding some people were
not what she had thought them, and her stings of conscience over her own
shortcomings. She grieved often for the sorrows of others and sometimes
for her own. A sudden chance glimpse of animal corruption caused her to
dwell for weeks on the fate of the human body. She fell into
hero-worship of an elderly nobleman and thought it was love. If he
noticed her at all, he must have thought her most attentive and obliging
over his post-office business. She never saw him outside the office. She
learned to ride a bicycle, took an interest in dress, formed her own
taste in reading, and wrote a good deal of bad verse which she called
'poetry'.

But the reactions to life of a sensitive, imaginative adolescent have
been so many times described in print that it is not proposed to give
yet one more description in this book. Laura's mental and spiritual
development can only be interesting in that it shows that those of a
similar type develop in much the same way, however different the
environment.

A number of customers rode up to the Post Office door on horseback. A
mounting-block by the doorstep, with an iron hook in the wall above to
secure the reins, had been provided for these. But the hook was seldom
used out of school hours, for, if boys were playing on the green, half a
dozen of them would rush forward, calling: 'Hold your 'oss, sir?' 'Let
me, sir.' 'Let me!' and, unless the horse was of the temper called
'froxy', one of the tallest and stoutest of the boys would be chosen and
afterwards rewarded with a penny for his pains. This arrangement
entailed frequent dashes to the door by the customer to see what 'that
young devil' was 'up to', and a worrying haste with the business within,
but no horseman thought of refusing the job to a boy who asked for it,
because it was the custom. The boys claimed the job and the reward of
one penny as their right.

The gentlemen farmers to whom most of the horses belonged, had fresh,
ruddy faces and breezy manners and wore smartly cut riding breeches and
coats. Some of them were hunting men with lady wives, and children away
at boarding schools. Their farmhouses were comfortably furnished and
their tables well covered with the best of food and drink, for everybody
seemed in those days to do well on the land, except the farm labourer.
Occasionally the rider would be a stud groom from one of the hunting
stables. Then, after doing what little business he had, he would ask for
Miss Lane, pass through to the kitchen, from which the chinking sound of
glasses would soon proceed. Bottles of brandy and whisky were kept for
these in a cupboard called 'the stud-grooms' cupboard'. No one in the
house ever touched these drinks, but they had to be provided in the way
of business. It was the custom.

The sound of a bicycle being propped against the wall outside was less
frequent than that of a horse's hoofs; but there were already a few
cyclists, and the number of these increased rapidly when the new low
safety bicycle superseded the old penny-farthing type. Then, sometimes,
on a Saturday afternoon, the call of a bugle would be heard, followed by
the scuffling of dismounting feet, and a stream of laughing, jostling
young men would press into the tiny office to send facetious telegrams.
These members of the earliest cycling clubs had a great sense of their
own importance, and dressed up to their part in a uniform composed of a
tight navy knickerbocker suit with red or yellow braided coat and a
small navy pill-box cap embroidered with their club badge. The leader
carried a bugle suspended on a coloured cord from his shoulder. Cycling
was considered such a dangerous pastime that they telegraphed home news
of their safe arrival at the farthest point in their journey. Or perhaps
they sent the telegrams to prove how far they really had travelled, for
a cyclist's word as to his day's mileage then ranked with an angler's
account of his catch.

'Did run in two hours, forty and a half minutes. Only ran down two
fowls, a pig, and a carter', is a fair sample of their communications.
The bag was mere brag; the senders had probably hurt no living creature;
some of them may even have dismounted by the roadside to allow a horsed
carriage to pass, but every one of them liked to pose as 'a regular
devil of a fellow'.

They were townsmen out for a lark, and, after partaking of refreshment
at the hotel, they would play leap-frog or kick an old tin about the
green. They had a lingo of their own. Quite common things, according to
them, were 'scrumptious', or 'awfully good', or 'awfully rotten', or
just 'bally awful'. Cigarettes they called 'fags'; their bicycles their
'mounts', or 'my machine' or 'my trusty steed'; the Candleford Green
people they alluded to as 'the natives'. Laura was addressed by them as
'fair damsel', and their favourite ejaculation was 'What ho!' or 'What
ho, she bumps!'

But they were not to retain their position as bold pioneer adventurers
long. Soon, every man, youth and boy whose families were above the
poverty line was riding a bicycle. For some obscure reason, the male sex
tried hard to keep the privilege of bicycle riding to themselves. If a
man saw or heard of a woman riding he was horrified. 'Unwomanly. Most
unwomanly! God knows what the world's coming to,' he would say; but,
excepting the fat and elderly and the sour and envious, the women
suspended judgement. They saw possibilities which they were soon to
seize. The wife of a doctor in Candleford town was the first woman
cyclist in that district. 'I should like to tear her off that thing and
smack her pretty little backside,' said one old man, grinding his teeth
with fury. One of more gentle character sighed and said: ''T'ood break
my heart if I saw my wife on one of they', which those acquainted with
the figure of his middle-aged wife thought reasonable.

Their protestations were unavailing; one woman after another appeared
riding a glittering new bicycle. In long skirts, it is true, but with
most of their petticoats left in the bedroom behind them. Even those
women who as yet did not cycle gained something in freedom of movement,
for the two or three bulky petticoats formerly worn were replaced by
neat serge knickers--heavy and cumbersome knickers, compared with those
of to-day, with many buttons and stiff buttonholes and cambric linings
to be sewn in on Saturday nights, but a great improvement on the
petticoats.

And oh! the joy of the new means of progression. To cleave the air as
though on wings, defying time and space by putting what had been a day's
journey on foot behind one in a couple of hours! Of passing garrulous
acquaintances who had formerly held one in one-sided conversation by the
roadside for an hour, with a light _ting, ting_ of the bell and a casual
wave of recognition.

At first only comparatively well-to-do women rode bicycles; but soon
almost every one under forty was awheel, for those who could not afford
to buy a bicycle could hire one for sixpence an hour. The men's shocked
criticism petered out before the _fait accompli_, and they contented
themselves with such mild thrusts as:


     Mother's out upon her bike, enjoying of the fun,
     Sister and her beau have gone to take a little run.
     The housemaid and the cook are both a-riding on their wheels;
     And Daddy's in the kitchen a-cooking of the meals.


And very good for Daddy it was. He had had all the fun hitherto; now it
was his wife's and daughter's turn. The knell of the selfish,
much-waited-upon, old-fashioned father of the family was sounded by the
bicycle bell.



   XXXVI

       '_Such is Life!_'

Candleford was a pleasant and peaceful place, but it was no second
Garden of Eden. Every now and again, often after months of placidity,
something would occur to disturb the even current of village life.

Sometimes these events were sad ones: a man was gored by a bull, or
broke his neck by falling from a loaded wagon in the harvest field, or a
mother died, leaving a brood of young children, or a little boy, playing
by the river, fell in and was drowned. Such tragedies brought out all
that was best in village life. Neighbours would flock to comfort the
mourners, to take the motherless children into their own care until
permanent homes could be found for them, or to offer to lend or give
anything they possessed which they thought might be of use to the
afflicted.

But there were other happenings, less tragic, but even more disturbing.
A hitherto quiet and inoffensive man got drunk and staggered across the
green shouting obscenities, an affiliation case brought unsavoury
details to light, a sweetheart of ten years' standing was deserted for a
younger and fresher girl, a child or an animal was ill-treated, or the
usually mild and comparatively harmless village gossip suddenly became
venomous. Such things made the young and inexperienced feel that life
was not as it had appeared; that there were hitherto unsuspected dark
depths beneath the sunny surface.

Older and more experienced people saw things more in proportion, for
they had lived long enough to learn that human nature is a curious
mixture of good and evil--the good, fortunately, predominating. 'Such is
life!' Miss Lane would sigh when something of the kind came to her ears,
and once she continued in the same breath, but more briskly, 'Have
another jam tart, Laura?'

Laura was shocked, for she then thought tart and tears should be
separated by at least a decent interval. She had yet to learn that
though sorrow and loss and the pain of disillusionment must come to all,
if not at one time then at another, and those around the sufferer will
share his or her sorrow to some extent, life must still go on in the
ordinary way for those not directly implicated.

At Candleford Green there was no serious crime. Murder and incest and
robbery with violence were to its inhabitants just things read about in
the Sunday newspapers--things to horrify and to be discussed and to form
theories on, but far removed from reality. The few local court cases
were calculated rather to cause a little welcome excitement than to
shock or grieve.

Two men were charged with poaching, and as this had taken place on Sir
Timothy's estate he retired from the Bench while the case was tried. But
not, it was said, before he had asked his fellow magistrates to deal
lightly with the offenders. 'For,' he was supposed to have added, 'who's
going to stump up to keep their families while they are in gaol if I
don't.' Sentence was passed with due regard to Sir Timothy's pocket.
That case caused but a mild interest and no dissension. A poacher, it
was agreed, knew the risks he was running, and if he thought the game
was worth the candle, well, let him take the consequences.

Then there was the case of the man who had systematically stolen pigwash
from a neighbour. The neighbour, who kept several pigs on an allotment
some distance from his dwelling, had bought and collected the pigwash
from an institution in Candleford town. The thief had risen early and
fed his own pig from his neighbour's pig-tubs every morning for weeks
before the leakage was discovered, a watch set, and he was caught,
dipper in hand. 'A dirty, mean trick!' the villagers said. A fortnight
in gaol was too short a sentence.

But over the case of Sam and Susan, neighbours quarrelled and friends
were divided. They were a young married couple with three small children
and had, as far as was known, always lived peaceably together until one
evening when a dispute arose between them, in the course of which Sammy,
who was a great, strapping fellow, fell upon his frail-looking little
wife and gave her a bad beating. When this was known, as it was almost
immediately, for such bruises and such a black eye as Susan's cannot
long be hidden, there was a general outcry. Not that a wife's black eye
was an entirely unknown spectacle in the village, though it was a rare
one, most of the village couples being able to settle their disputes, if
any, in private, but on account of the relative sizes of the couple.
Sammy was so very big and tall and strong and Susie so slight and
childish-looking, that every one who heard of or saw the black eye
called out at once, 'The great big bully, him!' So far opinion was
unanimous.

But Susie did not take her whacking in the ordinary way. Other wives who
had in the past appeared with an eye blackened had always accounted for
it by saying that they had been chopping firewood and a stick had flown
up and hit them. It was a formula, as well understood and recognized as
their more worldly sisters' 'Not at home', and good manners demanded
that it should be accepted at its face value. But Susan gave no
explanation at all of her state. She went in and out of her cottage in
her usual brisk and determined way about her daily affairs and asked
neither sympathy nor advice of her neighbours. Indeed, several days had
passed before it became known that, with her black eye and her bruises
still fresh, she had gone to the Police Station at Candleford town and
had taken out a summons for Sammy.

Then, indeed, the village had something to talk about, and talk it did.
Some people professed to be horrified that a great, strapping young
fellow like Sam should have been such a brute as to lay hands on his
nice little wife, good mother and model housewife as she was, and far
and away too good for him. They thought she did quite right to go to the
police. It showed her spirit, that it did! Others said Susan was a
shrew, as all those thin, fair-haired, vinegarish little women were
bound to be, and nobody knew what that poor fellow, her husband, may
have had to put up with. It was nag, nag, nag, they'd be bound, every
moment he was at home, and the house kept that beastly clean he had to
take off his coal-heaving clothes in the shed and wash himself before he
was allowed to sit down to his supper. Two parties sprang quickly into
being. To one Sam was a brute and Susan a heroine, and if the other did
not actually hold up Sam as a hero, they maintained that he was an
ill-used young man and that Susan was a hussy. It was a case of one
quarrel breeding many.

But Susan had another surprise in store for them. In due course, Sam
came up before the Court and was sentenced to one month's imprisonment
for wife-beating. Susan came home from the Court and, still without
saying a word as to her intention to any one, packed her three small
children into the perambulator, locked up the house, and marched off to
Candleford Workhouse, as it appeared she had then the right to do,
having no official means of support while her husband was in prison. She
could quite well have stayed at home, for the tradesmen would have given
her credit and the neighbours would have helped, or she could have gone
to her parents' home in a neighbouring village, but she chose her own
course. The step lost her many of her warmest supporters, who had been
looking forward to standing by her with sympathy and material aid, and
caused the opposition to condemn her more fiercely. She said afterwards
she did it to shame Sam, and in this no doubt she succeeded, for it must
have added to his humiliation to know that his wife and children were
chargeable to the parish. But the period spent in the poorhouse must
have been punishment to herself as well. It was comm