Diary of a Goose Girl by Kate Douglas Wiggin
by the author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm - Chapter 1

 

CHAPTER I.

THORNYCROFT FARM, near Barbury Green, July 1, 190-.

In alluding to myself as a Goose Girl, I am using only the most modest of
my titles; for I am also a poultry-maid, a tender of Belgian hares and
rabbits, and a shepherdess; but I particularly fancy the role of Goose
Girl, because it recalls the German fairy tales of my early youth, when I
always yearned, but never hoped, to be precisely what I now am.

As I was jolting along these charming Sussex roads the other day, a fat
buff pony and a tippy cart being my manner of progression, I chanced upon
the village of Barbury Green.

One glance was enough for any woman, who, having eyes to see, could see
with them; but I made assurance doubly sure by driving about a little,
struggling to conceal my new-born passion from the stable-boy who was my
escort. Then, it being high noon of a cloudless day, I descended from
the trap and said to the astonished yokel: "You may go back to the
Hydropathic; I am spending a month or two here. Wait a moment--I'll send
a message, please!"

I then scribbled a word or two to those having me in custody.

"I am very tired of people," the note ran, "and want to rest myself by
living a while with things. Address me (if you must) at Barbury Green
post-office, or at all events send me a box of simple clothing
there--nothing but shirts and skirts, please. I cannot forget that I am
only twenty miles from Oxenbridge (though it might be one hundred and
twenty, which is the reason I adore it), but I rely upon you to keep an
honourable distance yourselves, and not to divulge my place of retreat to
others, especially to--you know whom! Do not pursue me. I will never be
taken alive!"

Having cut, thus, the cable that bound me to civilisation, and having
seen the buff pony and the dazed yokel disappear in a cloud of dust, I
looked about me with what Stevenson calls a "fine, dizzy, muddle-headed
joy," the joy of a successful rebel or a liberated serf. Plenty of money
in my purse--that was unromantic, of course, but it simplified
matters--and nine hours of daylight remaining in which to find a lodging.

The village is one of the oldest, and I am sure it must be one of the
quaintest, in England. It is too small to be printed on the map (an
honour that has spoiled more than one Arcadia), so pray do not look
there, but just believe in it, and some day you may be rewarded by
driving into it by chance, as I did, and feel the same Columbus thrill
running, like an electric current, through your veins. I withhold
specific geographical information in order that you may not miss that
Columbus thrill, which comes too seldom in a world of railroads.

The Green is in the very centre of Barbury village, and all civic,
political, family, and social life converges there, just at the public
duck-pond--a wee, sleepy lake with a slope of grass-covered stones by
which the ducks descend for their swim.

The houses are set about the Green like those in a toy village. They are
of old brick, with crumpled, up-and-down roofs of deep-toned red, and
tufts of stonecrop growing from the eaves. Diamond-paned windows, half
open, admit the sweet summer air; and as for the gardens in front, it
would seem as if the inhabitants had nothing to do but work in them,
there is such a riotous profusion of colour and bloom. To add to the
effect, there are always pots of flowers hanging from the trees, blue
flax and yellow myrtle; and cages of Java sparrows and canaries singing
joyously, as well they may in such a paradise.

The shops are idyllic, too, as if Nature had seized even the man of trade
and made him subservient to her designs. The general draper's, where I
fitted myself out for a day or two quite easily, is set back in a tangle
of poppies and sweet peas, Madonna lilies and Canterbury bells. The shop
itself has a gay awning, and what do you think the draper has suspended
from it, just as a picturesque suggestion to the passer-by? Suggestion I
call it, because I should blush to use the word advertisement in
describing anything so dainty and decorative. Well, then, garlands of
shoes, if you please! Baby bootlets of bronze; tiny ankle-ties in
yellow, blue, and scarlet kid; glossy patent-leather pumps shining in the
sun, with festoons of slippers at the corners, flowery slippers in
imitation Berlin wool-work. If you make this picture in your mind's-eye,
just add a window above the awning, and over the fringe of marigolds in
the window-box put the draper's wife dancing a rosy-cheeked baby. Alas!
my words are only black and white, I fear, and this picture needs a
palette drenched in primary colours.

Along the street, a short distance, is the old watchmaker's. Set in the
hedge at the gate is a glass case with _Multum in Parvo_ painted on the
woodwork. Within, a little stand of trinkets revolves slowly; as slowly,
I imagine, as the current of business in that quiet street. The house
stands a trifle back and is covered thickly with ivy, while over the
entrance-door of the shop is a great round clock set in a green frame of
clustering vine. The hands pointed to one when I passed the watchmaker's
garden with its thicket of fragrant lavender and its murmuring bees; so I
went in to the sign of the "Strong i' the Arm" for some cold luncheon,
determining to patronise "The Running Footman" at the very next
opportunity. Neither of these inns is starred by Baedeker, and this fact
adds the last touch of enchantment to the picture.

The landlady at the "Strong i' the Arm" stabbed me in the heart by
telling me that there were no apartments to let in the village, and that
she had no private sitting-room in the inn; but she speedily healed the
wound by saying that I might be accommodated at one of the farm-houses in
the vicinity. Did I object to a farm-'ouse? Then she could cheerfully
recommend the Evan's farm, only 'alf a mile away. She 'ad understood
from Miss Phoebe Evan, who sold her poultry, that they would take one
lady lodger if she didn't wish much waiting upon.

In my present mood I was in search of the strenuous life, and eager to
wait, rather than to be waited upon; so I walked along the edge of the
Green, wishing that some mentally unbalanced householder would take a
sudden fancy to me and ask me to come in and lodge awhile. I suppose
these families live under their roofs of peach-blow tiles, in the midst
of their blooming gardens, for a guinea a week or thereabouts; yet if
they "undertook" me (to use their own phrase), the bill for my humble
meals and bed would be at least double that. I don't know that I blame
them; one should have proper compensation for admitting a world-stained
lodger into such an Eden.

When I was searching for rooms a week ago, I chanced upon a pretty
cottage where the woman had sometimes let apartments. She showed me the
premises and asked me if I would mind taking my meals in her own dining-
room, where I could be served privately at certain hours: and, since she
had but the one sitting-room, would I allow her to go on using it
occasionally? also, if I had no special preference, would I take the
second-sized bedroom and leave her in possession of the largest one,
which permitted her to have the baby's crib by her bedside? She thought
I should be quite as comfortable, and it was her opinion that in making
arrangements with lodgers, it was a good plan not to "bryke up the 'ome
any more than was necessary."

"Bryke up the 'ome!" That is seemingly the malignant purpose with which
I entered Barbury Green.
 

 

 

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