Mary Cholmondeley.

The Romance of His Life online

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And Other Romances

* * * * *


UNDER ONE ROOF: A Family Record.


* * * * *


And Other Romances



Author of "Red Pottage."

John Murray, Albemarle Street W.















Most of these stories were written in a cottage in Suffolk.

For aught I know to the contrary there may be other habitable dwellings
in that beloved country of grey skies and tidal rivers, and cool sea
breezes. There certainly are other houses in our own village, some
larger, some smaller than mine, where pleasant neighbours manage to eat
and sleep, and to eke out their existence. But, of course, though they
try to hide it, they must all be consumed with envy of me, for a cottage
to equal mine I have never yet come across, nor do I believe in its

Everyone has a so-called cottage nowadays. But fourteen years ago when I
fell desperately in love with mine they were not yet the rage. The
fashion was only beginning.

Now we all know that it is a parlous affair to fall in love in middle
age. Christina Rossetti goes out of her way to warn us against these
dangerous grey haired attachments.

She says:

"Keep love for youth, and violets for the spring."

I had often read those beautiful lines and thought how true they were,
but I paid no more attention to their prudent advice the moment my
emotions were stirred than a tourist does to the word "Private" on a

It amazes me to recall that the bewitching object of my affections had
actually stood, forlorn, dishevelled, and untenanted, for more than a
year before I set my heart upon it, and the owner good naturedly gave me
a long lease of it.

Millionaires would tumble over each other to secure it now. This paper
is written partly in order to make millionaires uneasy, for I have a
theory, no, more than a theory, a conviction that they seldom obtain the
pick of the things that make life delightful.

Do you remember how the ex-Kaiser, even in his palmy days, never could
get hot buttered toast unless his daughter's English governess made it
for him, and later on chronicled the fact for the British public.

There are indications that a few millionaires and crowned heads have
dimly felt for some time past the need of cottages, but Royalty has not
yet got any nearer to one than that distressful eyesore at Kew with tall
windows, which I believe Queen Caroline built, and which Queen Victoria
bequeathed to the nation as "a thing of beauty."

* * * * *

One of the many advantages of a cottage is that the front door always
stands open unless it is wet, and as the Home Ruler and I sit at
breakfast in the tiny raftered hall we see the children running to
school, and the cows coming up the lane, and Mrs. _A's_ washing wending
its way towards her in a wheelbarrow, and Mrs. _M's_ pony and cart _en
route_ for Woodbridge. That admirable pony brings us up from the
station, and returns there for our heavy luggage, it fetches groceries,
it snatches "prime joints" from haughty butchers. It is, as someone has
truly said, "our only link with the outer world."

The village life flows like a little stream in front of us as we sip our
coffee at our small round mahogany table with a mug of flaming Siberian
wallflower on it, the exact shade of the orange curtains. Of course if
you have orange curtains you are bound to grow flowers of the same

The passers by also see us, but that is a sight to which they are as
well accustomed as to the village pump, the stocks at the Church gate,
or any other samples of "still life." They take no more heed of us than
the five young robins, who fly down from the nest in the honeysuckle
over the porch, and bicker on the foot scraper.

* * * * *

The black beam that stretches low over our heads across the little room
has a carved angel at each end, brought by the Home Ruler in pre-war
days from Belgium; and, in the middle of the beam, is a hook from which
at night a lantern is suspended, found in a curiosity shop in Kent. My
nephew, aged seven, watched me as I cautiously bought it, and whispered
to his mother:

"Why does Aunt Mary buy the lantern when, for thirty shillings, she
could get a model engine?"

"Well, you see she does not want a model engine, and she does want a
lantern, and it is not wrong of her to buy it as she has earned the

Shrill amazement of nephew.

"_What!_ Aunt Mary earned thirty shillings! How she must have _sweated_
to make as much as that!"

* * * * *

I must tell you that our cottage was once two cottages. That is why it
looks so long and pretty from the lane, pushing back the roses from its
eyes as it peers at you over its wooden fence. Consequently we have two
green front doors exactly alike, and each approached by a short brick
path edged with clipped box. Each path has its own little green wooden
gate. One of these doors has had a panel taken out by the Home Ruler,
and a wire grating stretched over the opening, as she has converted the
passage within into a larder.

Now, would you believe it? Chauffeurs, after drawing up magnificent
motors in front of the house, actually go and beat upon the _larder_
door, when, if they would only look through the iron grating, they
would see a leg of mutton hanging up within an inch of their noses - that
is in pre-war days: of course now only sixpenny worth of bones, and a
morsel of liver.

And all the time we are waiting to admit our guests at the _other_ door,
the _open_ door, the _hall_ door, the _front_ door, with an old brass
knocker on it, and an electric bell, and a glimpse within of a table
laid for luncheon, with an orange table cloth - to match the curtains!

I have no patience with chauffeurs. They observe nothing.

That reminds me that a friend of ours, with that same chauffeur, was
driving swiftly in her car the other day, and ran into a butcher's boy
on his bicycle. As I have already remarked, chauffeurs never recognize
meat when they see it unless it is on a plate. The boy was knocked over.
My friend saw the overturned bicycle in the ditch; and a string of
sausages festooned on the hedge, together with a piece of ribs of beef,
and a pound of liver caught on a sweet-briar, and imagined that they
were the scattered internal fittings of the butcher's boy, until he
crawled out from under the car uninjured. She did not recover from the
shock for several days.

* * * * *

To return to the cottage. I am not going to pretend that it had no
drawbacks. There were painful surprises, especially in the honeymoon
period of my affections. Most young couples, if they were honest, which
they never are, would admit that they emerged stunned, if not partially
paralysed, from the strain of the first weeks of wedded life. I was
stunned, but I remembered it was the common lot and took courage. Yes,
there were painful surprises. Ants marched up in their cohorts between
the bricks in the pantry floor. When we enquired into this phenomenon,
behold! there _was_ no floor. For a moment I was as "dumbfounded" as the
bridegroom who discovers a plait of hair on his bride's dressing table.
The bricks were laid in noble simplicity on Mother Earth, no doubt as in
the huts of our forefathers, in the days when they painted themselves
with wode, and skirmished with bows and arrows. I had to steel my heart
against further discoveries. Rats raced in battalions in the walls at
night. Plaster and enormous spiders dropped (not, of course in
collusion) from the ceilings in the dark. Upper floors gave signs of
collapse. Two rooms which had real floors, when thrown into one, broke
our hearts by unexpectedly revealing different levels. That really was
not playing fair.

Frogs, large, active, shiny Suffolk frogs had a passion for leaping in
at the drawing room windows in wet weather. The frogs are my department,
for the Home Ruler, who fears neither God nor man, hides her face in her
hands and groans when the frogs bound in across the matting; and I, _moi
qui vous parle_, I pursue them with the duster, which, in every well
organised cottage, is in the left hand drawer of the writing table.

The great great grandchildren of the original jumpers, jump in to this
day, in spite of the severity with which they and their ancestors from
one generation to another have been gathered up in dusters, and cast
forth straddling and gasping on to the lawn. Frogs seem as unteachable
as chauffeurs!

* * * * *

Very early in the day we realised that in the principal bedroom a rich
penetrating aroma of roast hare made its presence felt the moment the
window was shut. Why this was so I do not know. The room was not over
the kitchen. We have never had a hare roasted on the premises during all
the years we have lived in that delectable place. We have never even
partaken of jugged hare within its walls. But the fact remains: when the
window is shut the hare steals back into the room. Perhaps it is a

I never thought of that till this moment. I feel as if I had read
somewhere about a ghost which always heralds its approach by a smell of
musk. And then I remember also hearing about an old woman who after her
death wanted dreadfully to tell her descendants that she had hidden the
lost family jewels in the chimney. But though she tried with all her
might to warn them she never got any nearer to it than by appearing as
a bloodhound at intervals. Everyone who saw her was terrified, and the
jewels remained in the chimney.

Is it possible that I have not taken this aroma of roast hare
sufficiently seriously! Perhaps it is a portent. Perhaps it is an
imperfect manifestation - like the bloodhound - of someone on the other
side who is trying to confide in me.

* * * * *

Yes, we sustained shocks not a few, but there was in store for us at any
rate one beautiful surprise which made up for them all.

One bedroom (the one with the hare in it, worse luck) possessed an oak
floor, fastened with the original oak pins. It had likewise a Tudor
door, but the rest of the chamber was commonplace with oddly bulging
walls, covered with a garish flowery wallpaper.

We stripped it off. There was another underneath it. There always is. We
stripped that off, then another, and another, and yet another. (The
reader will begin to think the roast hare is not so mysterious after

We got down at last to that incredibly ugly paper which in my childhood
adorned every cottage bedroom I visited in my native Shropshire. Do you
know it, reader, a realistic imitation of brickwork? It seems to have
spread itself over Suffolk as well as the Midlands.

After stripping off seven papers the beautiful upright beams revealed
themselves, and the central arch, all in black oak like the floor.

We whitewashed the plaster between the beams, scratched the beams
themselves till they were restored to their natural colour, and rejoiced
exceedingly. We rejoice to this day.

But the hare is still there.

* * * * *

Our cottage is on the edge of a little wood. Great forest trees stand
like sentinels within a stone's throw of the house. In front of the
drawing room windows is a tiny oasis of mown lawn, bounded by a low wall
clambered over by humps of jasmine and montana, and that loveliest of
single roses scinica anemone. The low wall divides the mown grass from
the rough broken ground which slopes upwards behind it till it loses
itself among the tree trunks. Here tall families of pink and white
foxgloves and great yellow lupins jostle each other, and it is all the
Home Ruler can do to keep the peace between them, and to persuade them
to abide in their respective places between stretches of shining ground
ivy and blue periwinkle; all dappled and checkered by the shadows of the
over-arching trees.

If you walk down that narrow path between the leaning twisted hollies
you come suddenly upon an opening in the thicket, and a paved path leads
you into another little garden.

This also has its bodyguard of oaks and poplars on the one side, and on
the other the high hedge dividing it from the lane, over which tilt the
red roofs of the cottages.

Within the enclosure a family of giant docks spread themselves in the
long grass, and ancient fruit trees sprawl on their hands and knees,
each with a rose tree climbing over its ungainliness, making a low inner
barrier between the tall trees, and the little low-lying burnished
garden in the midst. Here ranged and grouped colonies of rejoicing
plants follow each other into flower in an ordered sequence, all
understood and cherished by the earth-ingrained hands of the Home Ruler.

Some few disappointments there are, but many successes. Wire worm may
get in. Cuttings may "damp off." Brompton stocks may not always "go
through the winter." But the flowers respond in that blessed little
place. They do their best, for the best has been done for them. If it is
essential to their well being that their feet should be shaded from the
sun, their feet _are_ shaded, by some well-bred low growing plant in
front of them, which does not interfere with them. If they need the
morning sun they are placed where its rays can pour upon them.

It is a garden of vivid noonday sunshine, when we sit and bask among the
rock pinks on the central bit of brickwork; and of long velvet afternoon
shadows: a garden of quiet conversation, and peaceful intercourse, and
of endless, endless loving labour in sun and rain.

I contribute the quiet conversation, and the Home Ruler contributes the
loving labour; and, while we thus each do our share, the manifold
voices of the village reach us through the tall hedge: the cries of the
children playing by the bridge, the thin complaint of the goats, the
jingle of harness, and the thud of ponderous slow stepping hoofs, the
whistle of the lad sitting sideways on the leading horse; all the
_paisible rumeur_ of the pleasant communal life of which we are a part.

* * * * *

Our village is not really called Riff. It has a beautiful and ancient
name, which I shall not disclose, but I don't mind telling you that it
is close to Mouse Hold,[1] a hamlet in the boggy meadows beyond the
Deben; and not so very far from Gobblecock Hall. Of course if you are
not Suffolk born and bred you will think I am trying to be humourous and
that I have invented this interesting old English name. I can only say.
Look in any good map of Suffolk. You will find Gobblecock Hall on it
near the coast. Riff is only a few miles from Kesgrave Church, where you
can still see the tombstone of the gipsy queen in the churchyard. The
father of one of the oldest inhabitants of Riff witnessed the immense
concourse of gipsies who attended the funeral.

[1] Probably originally Morass Hold.

Riff is within an easy walk of Boulge, where Fitzgerald lies under his
little Persian rose tree, covered in summer with tiny yellow roses. You
see how central Riff is. And, if you cross the Deben, and walk steadily
up the low hill to that broomy, gorsy, breezy upland, Bromswell Heath,
then you stand on the very spot where, a little over a hundred years
ago, British troops were encamped to await Napoleon. And a few years ago
our soldiers assembled there once more to resist the invasion which
Kitchener at any rate expected, and which it now seems evident Germany

* * * * *

We in Riff learned the meaning of war early in the day. Which of us will
forget the first Zeppelin raid, and later on the sight of torn,
desolated Woodbridge the day after it was bombed: the terrified blanched
faces peeping out from the burst doorways, the broken smoking buildings,
the high piles of shredded matchwood that had been houses yesterday, the
blank incredulous faces of friends and neighbours. No doubt our faces
were as incredulous as those we saw around us. It seemed as if it could
not, could not be! We had seen photographs of similar havoc in Belgium
and France, but Woodbridge! our own Woodbridge, that pleasant shopping
town on its tidal river with the wild swans on it. _It could not be!_
But so it was.

Yes, the war reached us early, and it left us late. Riff suffered as
every other village in Great Britain suffered. Our ruddy cheerful lads
went out one after another. Twenty-two came back no more.

As the years passed we became inured to raids. Nevertheless, just as we
remember the first, so all of us at Riff remember the last in the small
hours of Sunday morning, June 17th, 1917.

I was awakened as often before, by what seemed at first a distant
thunderstorm, at about 3 o'clock in the morning.

I got up and went downstairs in the dark. By this time the bombs were
falling nearer and nearer. As I felt my way down the narrow staircase it
seemed as if the trembling walls were no stronger than paper. The
cottage shook and shook as in a palsy, and C. and E. and I took refuge
in the garden. M. kept watch in the lane. It was, as far as I could see,
pitch dark, but their younger eyes descried, though mine did not, the
wounded Zeppelin lumber heavily over us inland, throwing out its bombs.
Our ears were deafened by the sharp rat-tat-tat of the machine guns, and
by our own frantic anti-aircraft fire. In that pandemonium we stood, how
long I know not, unaware that a neighbour's garden was being liberally
plastered by our own shrapnel. Then, for the second time, the stricken
airship blundered over us, this time in the direction of the sea.

When it had passed overhead we groped our way through the cottage, and
came out on its eastern side. A mild light met our eyes. The dawn was at
hand. It trembled, flushed and stainless as the heart of a wild rose,
behind the black clustered roofs of the village, and the low church

And above the roofs, some miles away, outlined against the sky, hung the
crippled Zeppelin, motionless, tilted. We watched it fascinated. Slowly
we saw it right itself, and begin to move. It headed towards the coast,
but it could only flee into its worst enemy - the dawn. It travelled, it
dwindled. The sea haze began to enfold it. The clamour of our gun fire
suddenly ceased. It toiled like a wounded sea bird towards its only
hope - the sea.

As we watched it fierce wings whirred unseen overhead. Our aeroplanes
had taken up the chase.

The Zeppelin travelled, travelled.

_What was that?_

A spark of light appeared upon it. It stretched, it leaped into a great
flame. The long body of the Zeppelin was seen to be alight from end to

Then rose simultaneously from every throat in Riff a shout of triumph,
the shrill cries of the children joining with the voices of the elders.

And, after that one cry, silence fell upon us, as we watched that
towering furnace of flame, freighted with agony, sink slowly to the
earth. At last it sank out of sight, leaving a pillar of smoke to mark
its passing.

So windless was the air that the smoke remained like some solemn
upraised finger pointing from earth to heaven.

No one stirred. No one spoke. The light grew. And, in the silence of our
awed hearts, a cuckoo near at hand began calling gently to the new day,
coming up in peace out of the shining east.

The Romance of His Life

I have always believed that the exact moment when the devil entered into
Barrett was four forty-five p.m. on a certain June afternoon, when he
and I were standing at Parker's door in the court at - - s. He says
himself that he was as pure as snow till that instant, and that if the
_entente cordiale_ between himself and that very interesting and
stimulating personality had not been established he is convinced he
would either have died young of excessive virtue, or have become a
missionary. I don't know about that. I only know the consequences of the
_entente_ aged me. But then Barrett says I was born middle-aged like
Maitland himself, the hero of this romance, if so it can be called.
Barrett calls it a romance. I call it - I don't know what to call it, but
it covers me with shame whenever I think of it.

Barrett says that shame is a very wholesome discipline, a great
eye-opener and brain stretcher, and one he has unfortunately never had
the benefit of, so he feels it a duty to act so as to make the
experience probable in the near future.

On this particular afternoon we had both just bicycled back together
from lunching with Parker's aunt at Ely, and she had given me a great
bunch of yellow roses for Parker and a melon, and we were to drop them
at Parker's. And here we were at Parker's, and apparently he was out or
asleep, and not to be waked by Barrett's best cat-call. And as we stood
at his door, Barrett clutching the melon, I found the roses were not in
my hand. Where on earth had I put them down? At Maitland's door,
perhaps, where we had run up expecting to find him, or at Bradley's,
where we had stopped a moment. Neither of us could remember.

I was just going back for them when whom should we see coming sailing
across the court in cap and gown but old Maitland in his best attitude,
chin up, book in hand, signet ring showing.

Parker's aunt used to chaff us for calling him old, and said we thought
everyone of forty-five was tottering on the brink of the tomb. And so
they mostly are, I think, if they are Dons. I have heard other men who
have gone down say that you leave them tottering, and you come back ten
years later and there they are, still tottering.

Barrett said Maitland did everything as if his portrait was being taken
doing it, and that his effect on others was never absent from his mind.
I don't know about that, but certainly in his talk he was always trying
to impress on us his own aspect of himself.

If it was a fine morning and he wished to be thought to be enjoying it,
he would rub his hands and say there was not a happier creature on God's
earth than himself. He pined to be thought unconventional, and after
drawing our attention to some microscopic delinquency, he would regret
that there had been no fairy godmother at hand at his christening to
endow him with a proper deference for social conventions. If he gave a

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Online LibraryMary CholmondeleyThe Romance of His Life → online text (page 1 of 13)