By the author of “Three Men in a Boat,” “Three Men on the Bummel,” “Diary of a Pilgrimage,” “Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow,” “Stage-Land,” “Paul Kelver,” etc. First published 1909.
J. and his family acquire a country house, along with with an early-rising cow and a stubborn donkey with epicurean tastes. J. and the children (Dick, age 21; Robina, 20; and Veronica, 9), leaving “the Little Mother” at home, go to take occupancy and arrange for re-modeling. Great adventures, and many chuckles, lie ahead.
“And what is this place like?” demanded Robin, “this place you have bought.”
“The agent,” I explained, “claims for it that it is capable of improvement. I asked him to what school of architecture he would say it belonged; he said he thought that it must have been a local school, and pointed out — what seems to be the truth — that nowadays they do not build such houses.”
“Near to the river?” demanded Dick.
“Well, by the road,” I answered, “I daresay it may be a couple of miles.”
“And by the shortest way?” questioned Dick.
“That is the shortest way,” I explained; “there’s a prettier way through the woods, but that is about three miles and a half.”
“But we had decided it was to be near the river,” said Robin.
“We also decided,” I replied, “that it was to be on sandy soil, with a south-west aspect. Only one thing in this house has a south-west aspect, and that’s the back door. I asked the agent about the sand. He advised me, if I wanted it in any quantity, to get an estimate from the Railway Company. I wanted it on a hill. It is on a hill, with a bigger hill in front of it. I didn’t want that other hill. I wanted an uninterrupted view of the southern half of England. I wanted to take people out on the step, and cram them with stories about our being able on clear days to see the Bristol Channel. They might not have believed me, but without that hill I could have stuck to it, and they could not have been certain — not dead certain — I was lying.
“Personally, I should have liked a house where something had happened. I should have liked, myself, a blood-stain — not a fussy blood-stain, a neat unobtrusive blood-stain that would have been content, most of its time, to remain hidden under the mat, shown only occasionally as a treat to visitors. I had hopes even of a ghost. I don’t mean one of those noisy ghosts that doesn’t seem to know it is dead. A lady ghost would have been my fancy, a gentle ghost with quiet, pretty ways. This house — well, it is such a sensible-looking house, that is my chief objection to it. It has got an echo. If you go to the end of the garden and shout at it very loudly, it answers you back. This is the only bit of fun you can have with it. Even then it answers you in such a tone you feel it thinks the whole thing silly — is doing it merely to humour you. It is one of those houses that always seems to be thinking of its rates and taxes.”
“Any reason at all for your having bought it?” asked Dick.
“Yes, Dick,” I answered. “We are all of us tired of this suburb. We want to live in the country and be good. To live in the country with any comfort it is necessary to have a house there. This being admitted, it follows we must either build a house or buy one. I would rather not build a house. Talboys built himself a house. You know Talboys. When I first met him, before he started building, he was a cheerful soul with a kindly word for everyone. The builder assures him that in another twenty years, when the colour has had time to tone down, his house will be a picture. At present it makes him bilious, the mere sight of it. Year by year, they tell him, as the dampness wears itself away, he will suffer less and less from rheumatism, ague, and lumbago. He has a hedge round the garden; it is eighteen inches high. To keep the boys out he has put up barbed-wire fencing. But wire fencing affords no real privacy. When the Talboys are taking coffee on the lawn, there is generally a crowd from the village watching them. There are trees in the garden; you know they are trees — there is a label tied to each one telling you what sort of tree it is. For the moment there is a similarity about them. Thirty years hence, Talboys estimates, they will afford him shade and comfort; but by that time he hopes to be dead. I want a house that has got over all its troubles; I don’t want to spend the rest of my life bringing up a young and inexperienced house.”
Except for a frontispiece, no illustrations this time. Choose Drop-caps or simple Large-caps.
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