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The Village And The War Post by :harrycu Category :Essays Author :A. G. Gardiner Date :October 2011 Read :2675

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The Village And The War

"Well, have you heard the news?"

It was the landlord of the Blue Boar who spoke. He stopped me in the village street--if you can call a straggling lane with a score of thatched cottages and half a dozen barns a street--evidently bursting with great tidings. He is an old soldier himself, and his views on the war are held in great esteem. I hadn't heard the news, but, whatever it was, I could see from the landlord's immense smile that there was nothing to fear.

"Jim has got a commission," said the landlord, and he said it in a tone that left no doubt that now things would begin to move. For Jim is his son, a sergeant-major in the artillery, who has been out at the front ever since Mons.

The news has created quite a sensation. But we are getting so used to sensations now that we are becoming blase. There has never been such a year of wonders in the memory of any one living. The other day thousands of soldiers from the great camp ten miles away descended on our "terrain"--I think that's the word--and had a tremendous two-days' battle in the hills about us. They broke through the hedges, and slept in the cornfields, and ravished the apple-trees in my orchard, and raided the cottagers for tea, and tramped to and fro in our street and gave us the time of our lives.

"I never seed such a sight in my life," said old Benjamin to me in the evening. "Man and boy, I've lived in that there bungalow for eighty-five year come Michaelmas, and I never seed the like o' this before.... Yes, eighty-five year come Michaelmas. And my father had that there land on a peppercorn rent, and the way he lost it was like this--"

Happily at this moment there was a sudden alarum among the soldiers, and I was able to dodge the familiar rehearsal of old Benjamin's grievance.

And who would ever have dreamed that we should live to hear French talked in our street as a familiar form of speech? But we have. In a little cottage at the other end of the village is a family of Belgians, a fragment of the flotsam thrown up by the great inundation of 1914. They have brought the story of "frightfulness" near to us, for they passed through the terror of Louvain, hiding in the cellars for nights and days, having two of their children killed, and escaping to the coast on foot.

Every Sunday night you will see them very busy carrying their few chairs and tables into a neighbouring barn, for on Monday mornings mass is celebrated there. The priest comes up in a country cart from ten miles away, and the refugees scattered for miles around assemble for worship, after which there is a tremendous pow-pow in French and Flemish, with much laughter and gaiety.

Old Benjamin "don't hold with they priests," and he has grave suspicions about all foreign tongues, but the Belgians have become quite a part of us, and their children are learning to lisp in English down at the school in the valley.

Much less agreeable is the frame of mind towards the occupants of the cottage next to the Blue Boar. They are the wife and children of a German who had worked in this country for many years and is now in America. The woman is English and amiable, but the proximity of anything so reminiscent of Germany is painful to the village, and especially to the landlord, whose views about Germans can hardly be put into words.

"I should hope there'll be no prisoners took after this," he says grimly whenever he hears of a new outrage. "Vermin--that's what they are," he says, "and they should be treated according-ly."

The Germans, in fact, have become the substitute for every term of execration, even with mild David the labourer. He came into the orchard last evening staggering under a 15-ft. ladder. We had decided that if we were going to have the pears before the wasps had spoiled them we must pick them at once.

"It's a wunnerful crop," said David. "I've knowed this pear-tree (looking up at one of them from the foot of his ladder) for twenty-five year, and I've never seen such a crop on it afore."

Then he mounted the ladder and began to pick the fruit.

"Well, I'm blowed," he said, "if they ain't been at 'em a'ready." And he flung down pear after pear scooped out by the wasps close to the stalk. "Reg'lar Germans--that's what they are," he said. "Look at 'em round that hive," he went on. "They'll hev all the honey and them bees will starve and git the Isle o' Wight--that's what they'll git.... Lor," he added, reflectively, "I dunno what wospses are made for--wospses and Germans. It gits over me."

I said it got over me too. And then from among the branches, while I hung on to the foot of the ladder to keep it firm, David unbosomed his disquiet to me about enlisting.

"Most o' the chaps round here has gone," he said, "an' I don't like staying be'ind. Seems as though you were hanging back like. 'Taint that I shouldn't like to go; but it's this way ... (Hullo, I got my hand on a wasp that time) ... There's such a lot o' women-folk dependent on me. There's my wife and there's my mother down the village and my aunt; and not a man to do anything for 'em but me. After my work on th' farm, I keeps all three gardens going and a patch of allotment down the valley as well."

"You're growing a lot of good food, and that's military work," I said.

He seemed cheered by the idea, and asked me if I'd like to see the potatoes he had dug up that evening--they were "a wunnerful fine lot," he said.

So after he had stripped the pear-tree he shouldered the ladder, and we went down the village to David's garden. There I saw his potatoes, some lying to dry where they had been dug up, others in sacks. Also his marrows and beans and cabbages and lettuces. A little apologetically, he offered me some of the largest potatoes--"just as a hobby," he said, meaning thereby that it was only a trifle he offered.

As I went away in the gathering dark, with my hands full of potatoes, I met the landlord of the Blue Boar, his shirt sleeves rolled up as usual above his brown, muscular arms.

"Bad news that about Mrs. Lummis," he said, looking towards the cottage on the other side of the road.

"What is that?" said I. "Her son?" There had been no news of him for two months.

"Yes, poor Jack. She's got news that he was killed near la Bassee in June. Nice feller--and her only son."

Then, more cheerfully, he added, "Jim's coming home to-morrow. Going to get his officer's rig out, you know, and have a rest--the first since he went out a year ago."

"You'll be glad to see him," said I.

"Not half," said he with a vast smile.

(The end)
A. G. Gardiner's essay: Village And The War

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