Peace Breaks Out
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'You read her, laughing, and want to do your best to protect her characters from any reality but their own' New York Times When peace breaks out, it surprises and unsettles familiar wartime routines, and the residents of Barsetshire seem as disconcerted as they are overjoyed. Nevertheless, as the county's eligible young men return home, the social round regains its old momentum. Before long, everyone is spinning in a flurry of misunderstandings and engagements. The older generation, though, sees that the world will never be the same again.
Release date: November 3, 2016
Print pages: 300
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Peace Breaks Out
Hatch End has no great House, for the shadow of Pomfret Towers lies over this part of the Rising Valley. The nearest approach to a squire-house is not even in the village, but lies on the bank of the Rising where the ground slopes gently upwards and has all the afternoon and evening light, whereas Hatch End, nestling closely under the great downs; is in shadow for the greater part of the day and of the year; which accounts for the general mossiness of everything and the amount of rheumatics in the cottages, though since the late Lord Pomfret had the water meadow properly drained and all the sluices and hatches put in order, the cottage floors are distinctly drier. But Hatch House stands well above the river valley, high and dry at all seasons, a square red-brick house with sash windows, a gravel sweep, and a front lawn which is embanked by a brick wall above the old road to Barchester. The road is probably as old as history, always well out of reach of the higher floods, and follows the contours of the hilly land in a series of twisting ups and downs, so that no motor buses use it. This is a source of some quite unreasonable pleasure and pride to its owners, the Hallidays, who have for several generations scoured the country on horse, bicycle and foot, regarding in later years the car of the moment as a useful piece of machinery on occasion and no more, and chiefly used for taking them to the nearest main line station at Nutfield, some six or seven miles away; for the single track line that serves Little Misfit and Pomfret Madrigal ignores people foolish enough to want to go to London, looking upon even Barchester as foreign parts. It is in fact the purest democracy, being a paternal service of the locals, by the locals, for the locals, and no one has ever been allowed to miss a train so long as the guard or the engine driver could see the car, trap, or pedestrian half a mile away. There is of course the inevitable exception to prove the rule, namely the case of Sir Ogilvy Hibberd when he was trying to buy up land before the war; and old gentlemen at the Mellings Arms still discuss, with the long silences broken by a few Wessex words which are their form of Witenagemot, the day when the station-master at Pomfret Madrigal exercised a long dormant right and locked the booking office door in Sir Ogilvy’s face at the hour scheduled for the departure of the 9.43, who was still gossiping quietly with the 9.52 down. But of Sir Ogilvy we will say no more. He met more than his match in old Lord Pomfret in the matter of Pooker’s Piece and has now gone aloft, in which place his baronial title, which begins with Aber, or Inver, has reduced him to the indistinguishable level of most of his brother peers of later and unimaginative creations, and no one knows who he (or they) were.
So Mr. Halliday rode about a good deal on a hardworking conscientious horse who had no objection to giving the farm-horse a hand with carting dung or wood occasionally; and Mrs. Halliday bicycled or drove an old cob in an old pony trap; and Captain George Halliday of the Barsetshire Yeomanry when on leave rode his father’s horse, or the farm-horse or even, in vacant or in pensive mood, the cob who, he complained, made his legs stick out sideways like doing the splits.
“People’s legs don’t really stick out sideways,” said his sister Sylvia, who had been hoping for five-and-a-half years that the war would be over in time for her to go on with her dancing, but did her best for the Waafs in the meantime. “They really stick out behind and in front, like running, only much flatter and straighter. And then you turn yourself round like a corkscrew so that it takes everyone in.”
To prove which assertion she got up from the breakfast table and gave a fairly good demonstration.
“Cheating an innocent and gullible public, that’s what I call it,” said Captain Halliday. “English-Speaking Ballet, my girl. Now, look at this.”
Rising from the breakfast table he crossed his arms, crossed his feet, sank elegantly and without apparent effort to the floor, rose with the precision of a well-oiled machine, repeated the combined operation three times and sat down again.
“Blast,” he said. “That seam in my breeches has gone again.”
“I knew it would,” said Mrs. Halliday, who minded almost more about damaged clothes than broken arms or legs. “Every time you get leave, George, that seam goes again and I shall have to reinforce it this time. I think,” she pursued, contemplating with extensive view all the pieces and scraps of material that were available for patching after so many years of war, “that I might be able to get a bit out of the back seam of your father’s old hunting breeches. The tailor left a good wide turn-in at the back when he made them in 1938 because your father was getting so much stouter at that time, and now he has got so nice and thin again that the turn-in is really wasted. And if I unrip the seam of your breeches and machine a good piece of father’s onto the back of the seams where the stuff is so worn with being mended so much, and get Hubback to press it well, on the wrong side of course, it would machine up again quite nicely and I could even let it out a bit; the old seam-mark wouldn’t show much when it had been pressed with a damp cloth.”
By this time her son and daughter, who were used to their mother’s household soliloquies, had begun to talk quietly about other matters till the sound of his own name pulled George’s attention back.
“So,” his mother was continuing, “if you will take those breeches off, George, and let me have them, I am sure I can make a good job of them. But I must have them now, because of all sorts of things.”
“But I’ll tell you what you can’t do,” said Sylvia, suddenly emerging from a profound and thoughtful silence. “You can’t sit down with your legs beside you.”
“I always rather wanted to have a wooden leg when I was small,” said George reflectively, “I mean a proper wooden leg like a leg of mutton, so that I could take it off and throw it at people.”
“So if you will take off those breeches, George darling,” said Mrs. Halliday, getting up, “I’ll see about them now.”
“Or one could give it to a poor old cottage woman who was too weak to get firewood from the Squire’s woods and anyway he’d have had her transported if she had,” said Sylvia, warming to the subject, “and be a Ministering Angel.”
“I simply can’t take off these breeches now, mother,” said George. “I don’t mean not in the dining-room, for heaven knows nothing is sacred since you and Hubback would try on Sylvia’s camiknicks or whatever it was in here because it was the only fire in the house last winter, but I’m going down to the village now and I must have my breeches on.”
“But the place will get worse,” said his mother.
“It won’t go any further,” said George. “They split about forty times in Normandy and my batman got the little jigger from the adjutant’s office that sticks papers together with bits of hairpin and stamped some of them on so that it couldn’t come undone any further. I do miss Jones. I hope he’ll be there all right when I get back to wherever my lot have gone to.”
“I think it is quite dreadful that none of you know how to sew properly,” said Mrs. Halliday severely. “It is like that dreadful batman of yours who put nails through your breeches, right through the material, to hold your braces up when the buttons came off.”
“I put the nails in, mother,” said George. “They worked awfully well. In fact one of them is still there, because a button you sewed on came off again.”
“Then I must have your breeches at once,” said Mrs. Halliday. “That settles it. A nail might get shot right into you at any minute.”
“So might a button” said George. “All right, mother, I’ll give them you to-night.”
“You mean ‘I’ll give you them,’” said Sylvia. “If you say, ‘I’ll give them you,’ it means ‘I’ll give you to them,’ like giving Christians to the lions.”
George said it didn’t. It meant, he said, ‘I will give them to you’ and if he said ‘I’ll give you them’ it would mean ‘I will give—I will give—’ “Oh gosh,” he added, “I don’t know, but anyway you’re wrong. And what’s this about sitting down beside your legs anyway?”
Sylvia stood up, and quietly sat down on the floor, the lower part of each leg doubled up neatly on the carpet alongside its upper part.
“Good God,” said George.
“Elementary, my dear Watson,” said Sylvia, rising as smoothly as she had sunk. “Only I bet you can’t do it.”
“OW!” said George as he nearly twisted his knees out of their sockets and had to save himself from falling in a heap by clutching at his sister’s skirt. “It isn’t fair. You’ve got double joints.”
“Doubles muscles,” said Mrs. Halliday, one of whose unexpected gifts was excellent French.
Her offspring stared uncomprehendingly. Mrs. Halliday, who had long ago accepted the fact that her children were by her standards illiterate, and knew that if she said Tartarin they would be no wiser than before, seized the moment of George’s discumfiture to tell him that she was quite sure the seam had opened a bit more with all those gymnastics, and he had better let her have his breeches before he went down to the village.
“I say, father,” said George to Mr. Halliday, who came in at that moment. “Do save me from your wife. She wants to mend my breeches and I can’t spare them.”
“Look, my dear,” said Mr. Halliday, holding up a pair of riding breeches for his wife’s inspection. “It’s that button again. Hubback put it on for me last week, but her buttons never last. One might as well use a nail as we used to in the old war. I wish you would sew it on for me, Ellie, if you’ve time. No—not the back button—that front one.”
“I was only looking,” said Mrs. Halliday in a fateful voice, which would not have been unworthy of Norna of the Fitful Head in one of her pythonic moments, “to see how much stuff there was on the back seam. All right, Leonard, I’ll do it now. And if you will let me have those riding breeches of yours, George,” she continued, “I will start the patch at once.”
“Oh, all right mother,” said George, with a fairly good grace. “I’ll put them in your room.”
“What’s your mother up to?” asked Mr. Halliday. “Is she cutting up your breeches to patch mine?”
“Cutting up yours, father, to patch mine,” said George, and went out of the room in better spirits.
“Good God, Ellie! You’re not going to touch my breeches,” said Mr. Halliday much alarmed.
“It is quite all right, Leonard,” said his wife. “George was exaggerating. And don’t forget we are having tea at the Deanery to-day. Will you be in for lunch?”
A little more exchange of plans took place and then Mr. Halliday went away. Sylvia had meanwhile removed the breakfast things and washed them up under the disapproving yet complacent eye of Hubback, daughter of old Mrs. Hubback at The Shop, servant in the Halliday family by right of long village ties as under-housemaid, head-housemaid and now as much a maid of all work as her mistress. Old Mrs. Fothergill was, it is true, nominally cook, but her age and her legs told upon her more and more, and when she was not having a nice cup of tea, or a quiet lay down, or a nice quiet time with the wireless, she was doing something else of a nice and quiet nature. However she was faithful and honest, and as she never went out Mrs. Halliday could always leave the house with a quiet mind.
So George took off his breeches and put on his old grey flannel trousers, very frayed round the turn-ups, and his sister tied her head up in a scarlet handkerchief and took her brother George’s Burberry, and they prepared to go for a walk by the sunken lane which represents what is left of Gundric’s Fossway in those parts, under the steep escarpment of Fresh-down, once Frey’s Down, and so to the bold eminence of Bolder’s Knob where no tree has ever grown since St. Ewold, in an access of slum-clearance, caused the sacred oak grove to be cut down. But all those pleasant plans were swept away, as remorselessly as St. Ewold had swept away the Druid’s oaks, by the irruption into the hall of Hubback, holding a large basket in what appeared to the young Hallidays to be an ominous, nay minatory manner.
“As you are going down to the village, Miss Sylvia,” said Hubback, “you can look in at Mother’s and see if there’s any biscuits come. And there’s some other things ought to have come in by now and if Vidler’s boy has been over from Northbridge she’ll be able to let you have a bit of fish. Here’s the basket and a nice bit of paper to wrap the fish in.”
So saying she thrust into Sylvia’s unwilling hand a recent number of the Sunday Express, with a good deal of dirt and grease on it.
“Oughtn’t I to have a cleaner bit for the fish?” said Sylvia.
“Not for Vidler’s fish,” said Hubback scornfully. “If you was to see the back of Vidler’s shop, Miss Sylvia, you’d never touch another piece. You wouldn’t credit there was so many flies in the world, and all the year round too. And don’t forget the beer, Master George. They can’t send now at the Arms, so what you want you’ll have to carry. There’s plenty of room in the basket.”
Without waiting for her young master and mistress’s protests, she went back to the kitchen, giving the door that led to the servants’ quarters a hearty slam. But this was taken by the young Hallidays in the spirit in which it was meant; namely, not as a display of temper, but as the only method of making the door shut. Hardly had the noise of the slam stopped resounding through the hall and up the stairs when Hubback opened it again.
“If I’ve told that Caxton once I’ve told him a dozen times,” she said vengefully, “that what this door needs is a good looking at. If you see him anywhere about you can tell him so.”
She withdrew and ostentatiously closed the door quietly. It at once sprang open again.
“Don’t say I didn’t say so,” said Hubback, poking her face through the opening; and slammed the door again till the house reeled.
“Better get out now,” said Sylvia, “or she’ll send us to find Caxton in the workshop and he’ll keep us for hours. Come on.”
They shut the front door behind them, for the Spring day was grey and cold. Before them lay the velvet-soft lawn with its two great cedars. Beyond the cedars was the low red brick wall with its stone coping and its stone urns at regular intervals, and an eight foot drop on its far side to the old Barchester Road. In all the Springs the young Hallidays could remember, before the German Chancellor had changed the face of the whole world with evil intent, the water meadows in late spring, richly green from the winter flooding, with promise of yellow iris, forget-me-not, and the scent of wild mint crushed as one walked, with dog-roses and meadow-sweet to come, had been part of one’s life at Hatch End. To-day, when a war against the powers of darkness was well into its sixth year, when the older people were living valiantly with tiredness and even hopelessness as their constant companions, when even the young were wondering if anything really mattered or if one might as well gamble away all one had, a chill spring wind was battering the reeds along the water channels and turning the leaves of the aspens till everything looked as grey as steel, and even the waters were wrinkled with cold, while depressed cows stood with their patient backs to the blast and chewed without enthusiasm.
“Filthy it all looks,” said George Halliday.
“Perfectly foul,” said Sylvia Halliday. “Come on. If we get Hubback’s fish in time, we might go up to Bolder’s Knob before lunch.”
George knew that a visit to the village made anything else, especially a two mile walk each way, or two and a half if you kept to Gundric’s Fossway and didn’t cut up by the chalk quarry, quite out of the question. And he knew that his sister knew this as well as he did and was only playing the game, by now so threadbare and boring, of making the best of things, or looking on the bright side of them; though no side seemed to him brighter or better than any other side, all being pretty dull and depressing. But it was no good talking about these things, so he and Sylvia went down the sloping drive to the road. At the gate they paused, a habit formed in their childhood when to go out onto the road without looking might mean sudden death, not only in the imagination of their nurses, but in the sad fact of the nursery dog who rushed joyfully down the drive and straight under a motor coach of the Southbridge United Viator Passenger Coy., which should never have been allowed to use the narrow Old Road with its sudden ups and downs, its twists and turns. But for a long time no motor coaches had come along the Old Road, no tradesmen’s vans came out from Barchester. An occasional convoy that had lost its way in Barsetshire lanes, or coming over the downs, would bump and rattle past in the early hours of the morning, or a car marked Red Cross, W.V.S. or Doctor would pass the gates, but for the most part the road was deserted except for bicycles, and even they avoided it if possible, for there were some hills, notably the hill with the sudden turn in it going down from Hatch House Farm to Nether Hatch, which not even bad little boys could force a bicycle up, let them stand first on one pedal and then on the other as they would. Jimmy Panter, an extremely bad little boy, grandson of Mrs. Hubback at The Shop, had several times ridden down it, but only by keeping both hobnailed feet firmly on the tyre of the front wheel (whose mudguard he had long ago broken and lost) so ripping the tyre to pieces and getting a good thrashing from his father, Mr. Halliday’s carter Panter, who had lost an arm in Ypres salient beside his master, but could handle horses as well as any man in the neighbourhood.
Without further words George and his sister walked a hundred yards or so to where a narrow road, carried high on stone arches, spanned the water meadows above the reach of any floods. The older wooden bridge which had been there since time immemorial (or in other words since 1721, the year in which Hatch House was built by one of Mr. Halliday’s ancestors, Wm. Halliday, Gent., who had a passion for building and had married a young lady of property), was carried away in the great flood of 1863 when the waters of the Rising got entirely out of hand and the two sides of the river were completely cut off from one another for seven or eight miles, and a jackass was found in a willow tree, unhurt, but extremely difficult to extricate. The New Bridge, as it is still called, was built by the sixth Earl of Pomfret at his own expense; the seventh earl, as we have before mentioned, had the water channels, sluices and hatches put into proper order, and no modern child has ever had the pleasure of seeing a proper flood, though after heavy snowfall or rainfall with the wind blowing upstream the water sometimes laps right over the road at Hatch End and into any cottages that are below road level.
As George and Sylvia walked across the bridge, feeling cross, and also annoyed with themselves for being cross, their attention was agreeably distracted by the sight of Mr. Scatcherd, sitting on a camp stool like a real artist in the shelter of one of the arches, his feet on a bit of linoleum, industriously sketching. Moved by a common impulse they stopped, leaned their elbows on the parapet, and entered upon the countryman’s eternal job of looking at other people working.
Mr. Middleton of Laverings, who being an architect was supposed by such of the county as ever thought about art to be an authority on it, had once said that Mr. Scatcherd was a museum piece and ought to be preserved in a glass case in the Barchester Museum as a type of Late Nineteenth Century Artist. To his contemporaries this was quite clear. To George and Sylvia it would have meant very little, as indeed it would to most of their contemporaries, had they not been brought up in a home which possessed a complete set of Punch. This series showed with most other complete sets the peculiarity of having several volumes missing, but the years between 1870 and 1896 were in perfect condition and from them the young Hallidays had been able to reconstruct a good deal of England’s Lost Civilisation.
Mr. Scatcherd was indeed a remarkable relic of the past, or of a conglomeration of pasts. His Norfolk jacket with belt, his knickerbockers buttoning below the knee, his deerstalker hat with several flies stuck in it, would alone have been enough to mark him as different from other men. When to these we add a silken scarf passed through a kind of flat ring, in itself a monument of antiquity, a drooping walrus moustache, and in bad weather a heavy tweed Inverness cape, or, hardly expecting to be believed, mention the green veil with which he swathed his battered Panama in the summer against midges, it will at once be realised that Hatch End was highly privileged. And Hatch End was worthy of its privileges. Real R.A.’s had come over to Hatch End from one or other of the big houses, and setting up an easel had roughed in an oil sketch later to be expanded to thirty square feet of canvas called “The Rising Valley from Hatch End.” Artists of more promise than fame had made oil sketches apparently through sepia-coloured glasses and shown them at the Set of Five exhibition held in a room off Tottenham Court Road, as “The Rising Valley at Hatch End.” Other artists of a good deal more fame than promise had done pen and ink sketches with a livid wash of black and yellow called “Hatch End: Rising Valley.” Julian Rivers, who had been unwillingly absorbed by the Army, and been rescued from it as being an artist of National Importance by people who ought to have known better, had made a picture of Hatch End and the river valley from old Tube tickets and some blotting-paper from the Red Tape and Sealing Wax Office given to him by Geoffrey Harvey and called it derisively “What we are fighting for.” But as no one except his mother and a girl in trousers who thought she was in love with him came to the exhibition, the derision was quite wasted.
Hatch End had watched all those gentlemen at work, and thought poorly of their efforts, partly because they did the job that quick it didn’t seem it could be any good like, partly because they did not sit for hours in or outside the Mellings Arms, slowly drinking what beer there was to be got and saying nothing, which everyone knows is the way to paint pictures, drive a cart, shoe a horse, or even mend a car. But Mr. Scatcherd, ah, there was a man as studied what he was doing. Slow and sure, that was the way Mr. Scatcherd worked, and you could see his pictures at The Shop any day. And it stood to reason, said Mrs. Hubback at The Shop, that if a gentleman hadn’t got Wellingtons, nasty things they were, too and drew the feet, the next best was to put an old bit of lino under his boots.
“Good-morning, Mr. Scatcherd,” said Sylvia from the bridge.
Mr. Scatcherd looked up and courteously removed his deerstalker.
“Good-morning to you, Miss Sylvia,” he replied. “You see me wooing Nature as of old.”
“George is on leave,” said Sylvia. “Can we come and look?”
Without waiting for permission she climbed down from the bridge, followed by George, and went through the rushes to Mr. Scatcherd’s arch.
“You will excuse me getting up, or rather not getting up, I am sure,” said Mr. Scatcherd. “Everything falls down if I do. This is merely an idea, a very rough idea as yet.”
“It’s awfully nice,” said Sylvia, looking at his sketch-block, upon which she distinctly recognised the course of the Rising among a lot of criss-cross scratchings that were obviously reeds and bulrushes.
“I am delighted that it gives you satisfaction,” said Mr. Scatcherd. “I always do my best to oblige. You notice of course the focal point of the trifling sketch.”
Neither George nor Sylvia had noticed it, nor could they see anything which to them looked more focal than anything else, unless it were a bulrush which rose rather more proudly than its fellows. George said would Mr. Scatcherd explain exactly the idea that lay behind it, and Sylvia looked admiringly at him.
“Now, that is an article that very few people realise the value of,” said Mr. Scatcherd, evidently gratified. “When I make up my mental accounts—you follow me in this?—” Sylvia and George said with one untruthful voice that they did—“ I put to the credit side those members of the public who understand what lies behind a sketch. For it is not so much what I put onto the paper, if you follow me, as the mental conception of what I am driving at. And here I think I have summed up Everything.”
Sylvia said it was quite wonderful. George said it was much better than a lot of exhibitions he’d seen in London, and anyway he didn’t understand art much, and he thought they ought to be getting on as they had to fetch the fish and get some beer.
“Vidler hasn’t been round yet,” said Mr. Scatcherd, shedding the artist and suddenly becoming extremely practical. “I see every single thing that passes on the road. And the Arms ran out of beer last night.”
“Good Lord!” said George. “Are you sure?”
“Fack,” said Mr. Scatcherd. “But there is another line I might suggest. If you and Miss Sylvia come up to Rokeby I’ll show you my latest sketches and my niece will give you some parsnip wine. She made it last year and it’s about ready to blow the jar up. You can see Vidler’s van from the house.”
So depressed were George and Sylvia by the weather and the thought of his twenty-eight days’ leave, of which there were only twenty-six left to run, that they accepted with gratitude an offer which in better times they would have declined. Mr. Scatcherd packed his drawing materials into a black-japanned box, put the box, the piece of linoleum and the camp stool into a suit case and led the way along the trodden path, with flagstones at regular intervals, through the rushes, up to the road. Here they turned to the left and walked along the village street for about a quarter of a mile to w
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