Farther Afield

Farther Afield

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780618884360
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 11/07/2007
Series: Fairacre Series
Pages: 226
Sales rank: 269,560
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Miss Read (1913-2012) was the pseudonym of Mrs. Dora Saint, a former schoolteacher beloved for her novels of English rural life, especially those set in the fictional villages of Thrush Green and Fairacre. The first of these, Village School, was published in 1955, and Miss Read continued to write until her retirement in 1996. In the 1998, she was awarded an MBE, or Member of the Order of the British Empire, for her services to literature. 

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CHAPTER 1

End of Term

When do we come back?' said Joseph Coggs.

He stood close by my chair, rubbing the crepe sole of his sandal up and down the leg. A rhythmic squeaking, as of mice being tortured, had already turned my teeth to chalk. I turned to answer the child, anxious to put us both at ease, but again I was interrupted.

In the midst of the hubbub caused by end-of-term clearing-up, Patrick and Ernest had come to grips, and were fighting a silent, but vicious, battle.

Without a word, I left Joseph, moved swiftly into the arena, and plucked the two opponents apart with a practised hand. With a counter-movement I flung them into their desk seats where they sat panting and glowering at each other.

Despite all the modern advice by the pundits about irreparable damage to the child's ego, I continue to use out-dated but practical methods on an occasion like this, and find they work excellently. Sweet reasoning will not be any more effective with two young males in conflict than it will with a dogfight on one's hands. The first objective is to part them; the second to find out why it happened.

In this case, a revoltingly dirty lump of bubblegum had been prised from under a desk, and both boys laid claim to it.

Both are well-nourished children, from decent homes, whose mothers would have been as disgusted as I was by this filthy and aged sweetmeat finding its way into their hands, let alone their mouths.

I held out my hand, and Patrick put the clammy object into it. For once, it landed in the waste-paper basket, without mishap, and the incident was closed.

Patrick and Ernest returned to their desk-polishing, much refreshed by the tussle, and at last I found time to answer Joseph Coggs.

'Term begins on September 5th,' I told him.

He sighed.

'It's a long time,' he said mournfully.

'A very long time,' I agreed, beaming upon him.

No matter how devoted, dedicated, conscientious and altogether noble, a teacher is, I feel pretty sure that each and everyone feels the same sense of freedom and relief from her chains when the end-of-term arrives.

And of all end-of-terms, the most blissful is the end of the summer term, when six weeks or more stretch ahead, free of time-tables, bells, children and their parents. Six weeks in which to call your soul your own, to enjoy the garden, to think about next year's border plants, and of stocking up the log shed, even, perhaps, a little house decoration and tidying cupboards, although the thought of Mrs Pringle over-seeing the latter operation cast a cloud upon the sunny scene.

Mrs Pringle, school cleaner and general factotum to Fairacre School, sometimes obliges by giving me an extra hour or two on Wednesdays. I greet her offers with mixed feelings. On the one hand, the house certainly benefits from her ministrations, but her gloomy forebodings and her eloquent dissertations on the deplorable way I manage my house-keeping affairs are enough to dash the stoutest heart.

I had already determined to assist Mrs Pringle in her 'bottoming', as she terms a thorough cleaning, and to behave in as kind and Christian a manner as was possible under extreme provocation. If, as I knew from experience, Mrs Pringle's needling became intolerable, I could always put some cheese, biscuits and fruit in the car, with the current book and that day's crossword puzzle to solve, and drive to one of the nearby peaceful spots, far from Mrs Pringle's nagging tongue and the reek of unnecessarily strong disinfectant.

'After all,' I told myself, 'I can take quite a lot of Mrs P. It's when Mrs Hope is dragged up and flaunted before me that I crack.'

Mrs Hope was the wife of a former headmaster, and had lived in the school house as I do now. She must have had a dog's life, for her husband drank, and she found solace in unceasing work in the little house.

'From dawn to dusk, from morning till night,' Mrs Pringle has told me, far too often, 'Mrs Hope kept at it. Never without a duster in her hand, and anybody invited to tea was met on the doorstep, and offered a clothes brush and a pair of slippers so as not to soil the place.'

'I shouldn't think many returned.'

'No, that's true,' said Mrs Pringle thoughtfully. 'But then Mrs Hope was very particular who came to the house.'

This was a side-swipe at me whose door stands open for all to enter.

Mrs Hope, so I am told, was always at the wash-tub before seven, twice a week, and even scrubbed out the laundry basket each time. Like Mrs Tiggywinkle she was 'an excellent clear-searcher', and naturally nothing, not even heavy bedspreads and curtains, was ever sent to the laundry.

'Mrs Hope would have scorned such a thing, and anyway laundries don't get the linen really clean. And, what's more they use chemicals!'

If she had said that the dirty linen was prodded by devils with pitchforks, she could not have sounded more scandalised.

The introduction of Mrs Hope into any conversation was usually breaking point for me, and I could foresee many alfresco meals whilst Mrs Pringle was obliging.

There are many places within a quarter of an hour's drive from Fairacre which make glorious picnic spots. There are hollows in the downs, sheltered from the winds, where the views are breathtaking, and the clouds throw little shadows like scurrying sheep on to the green flanks of the hills.

There are copses murmurous with cooing wood pigeons, and fragrant with damp moss and aromatic woodland flowers. But my favourite spot is by the upper reaches of the River Cax, before it wanders into Caxley, and threads between the rosy houses to find its way eastward into the Thames.

Here the wild cresses grow in the shallows, their white flowers dazzling against the darker water. Little water-voles splash from the bank into the stream, stopping occasionally to nibble a succulent shoot, or to chase another of their kind. And here too a heron can be seen upstream, standing like some shabby furled umbrella, dark, gaunt and motionless upon the bank.

It is here, particularly on a sunny day, that its magic works most strongly. It is the 'balm of hurt minds'. No human being is in sight. No human habitation distracts the eye. The slow-moving water flows at the same pace as it has always done, sheltering and giving life to fish, plants and insects. Thirsty bees cling to the muddy brink. Dragon-flies dart, shimmering, across the surface, and the swallows swoop to drink. Below, in the murk, among the drifting water weeds, the dappled trout lie motionless. Life, in its infinite forms, pursues its unchanging course, timeless and unhurried, and a man's cares fall from him as the things that matter – sunshine, moving water, birds and small beasts – combine to cast their spell upon him.

I was snatched from my reverie by Linda Moffat's voice.

Where, she was demanding, should she put the two dozen or so fish-paste jars she had just collected and washed 'off of the nature table?'

'Never use "off of",' I replied mechanically, for the two thousandth time that term. A losing battle this, I thought resignedly, but one must soldier on. 'Having a lend of or 'a borrow of is a similar enemy, while 'she never learnt me nothing' or 'I never got teached proper', pose particular problems to those attempting to explain the niceties of English usage.

'Try the map cupboard,' I suggested, watching the child transferring a black smear from her hand to a freshly-starched linen skirt. Poor Mrs Moffat, I thought compassionately, and the child at home for six weeks!

'Miss,' shouted Ernest, above the din, 'it's home time.'

'Two minutes to finish clearing up,' I directed, fortissimo.

Within three, they rose for prayers. The class-room was bare, ready for Mrs Pringle's ministrations during the coming week, and the wastepaper basket was overflowing.

'Hands together, eyes closed.'

I waited until the seats had stopped banging upright, and the fidgeting had stopped.

'Lord, keep us safe this night,
Amen.'

If this was taken at a more spanking pace than usual, why not? Ahead stretched freedom, fresh air, bathing and fishing in the infant Cax, wrestling and jumping, rejoicing in growing strength, and, no doubt, eating all day long – ice-cream, potato crisps, biscuits and loathsome bubble-gum, in an endless stream.

'Make sure you take everything home, and enjoy your holidays. When do you come back?'

'September the fifth, miss,' they chanted.

'Very well. Good afternoon, children.'

'Good afternoon, miss.'

And then began the stampede to get out into the real world which was theirs for six whole weeks.

I remained behind for a few minutes, locking drawers and cupboards, and retrieving a few stray papers to add to the load in the wastepaper basket.

I locked the Victorian piano. How much longer would it hang together, I wondered? The tortoise stove stood cold and dusty now, but Mrs Pringle's hand and plenty of black lead would prepare it for the autumn term. There would be the familiar battle I supposed, about 'the right day' to light it, Mrs Pringle playing for time, whilst I pleaded, cajoled, and finally ordered, the stove to be lit.

But what did that matter now? 'Seize the moments as they pass,' said the poet, I intended to follow his sound advice, and locking the school door, emerged into the sunshine.

There was a welcoming chirrup from Tibby as I entered the front door of the school house. She was at the top of the stairs, yawning widely, her claws gripping the carpet rhythmically as she stretched.

Plain Wilton carpet costs an enormous amount of money, as I discovered when I was driven to replace the threadbare stair carpet last year. Tibby has seen to it that the top and bottom stair are generously tufted, much to the horror of Mrs Pringle, and to my lesser sorrow.

It is sad, I know, to see such maltreatment of one's furnishings, but one must look realistically at life. Either one has no cat and plain Wilton, or one has a cat and tufted Wilton. I prefer the latter.

Tibby, I knew, had just arisen from her resting place on my eiderdown – another habit which Mrs Pringle deplores.

'Cats' fleas cause cholera', she told me once with such conviction that I almost believed her. She followed up the attack with a vivid account of someone she knew who had allowed their child – or maybe it was their second cousin's child – to bite the skin of a banana. The result was a rash, diagnosed on the spot by the doctor as leprosy, and the child was never seen again by the family.

Although I did not believe a word of this cautionary tale at the time, so downright was Mrs Pringle's maimer whilst telling it, that I still find myself opening a banana with careful fingers and making sure that the children do the same. The cholera I have decided to ignore. A school teacher's life is too busy to follow up every precaution suggested, and in any case, Tibby, I tell Mrs P. robustly, has no fleas.

The cat sprang down the stairs and accompanied me into the kitchen, watching the kettle being filled, the tray being set, and all the familiar routine leading to a few drops of milk in a saucer for her, as I drank my tea.

A quarter of an hour later, my second cup steaming beside me, I watched her as she lapped. Eyes half-closed in bliss, her pink tongue made short work of the milk.

'We've broken up, Tib,' I told her. 'Broken up at last.'

I leant back and thought idly about the hundred and one domestic affairs I must see to. There was Mr Willet to consult about a load of logs. And then I had promised the vicar I would play the organ whilst the regular organist, Mr Annett, had his annual holiday. I must check the dates. And the sitting room curtains were in need of attention. Ever since their return from the cleaners, the lining had hung down a good three inches, so that even I had been irritated by their slip-shod appearance.

Then I really ought to tidy all the drawers in the house. The kitchen table drawer jammed itself stubbornly on the fish-slice every time it was opened. But where could the fish-slice go? And the paper-bag drawer had so many stuffed into it that half of them had fallen over the back into the bottling jar cupboard below.

Never mind, I told myself bravely, with all this time before me the place would soon be in apple-pie order. Why, I might even get round to labelling all those holiday prints of yesteryear before I clean forgot the names of the places.

It was pleasant lying back in the armchair reviewing all the jobs waiting to be done, confident that all would be accomplished in the golden weeks that lay ahead. I should tackle them methodically and fairly soon, I told myself, stretching as luxuriously as Tibby. No need to rush. And later on I should take myself for a short holiday somewhere pleasant – Wales, perhaps, or Northumberland, or the Peak District. Or what about Dorset? Very attractive, Dorset, they said...

Near to slumber, I basked in my complacency. The teapot cooled, the cat purred and a bumble bee meandered murmurously up and down the lavender hedge outside.

Months later, looking back, I realised that that blissful hour was the high-light of the entire summer holiday.

CHAPTER 2

Struck Down

Dawn breaks with particular beauty on the first day of the holidays, no matter what the weather. On this occasion, the sun fairly gilded the lily, rousing me with its beams, and dappling the dewy garden with light and shade.

I took my coffee cup outside, and sniffed the pinks in the border. This was the life! Even the thought of Mrs Pringle, due to arrive at 9.30 for a 'bottoming' session, failed to quench my spirits.

Across the empty playground stood the silent school. No bell would toll today in that little bell-tower. No jarring foot would jangle the metal door scraper. No yells, no screams, no infant wailings would make the air hideous. Fairacre School was as peaceful as the graveyard nearby – a place of hushed rest, of gathering dust, given over to the little lives of spiders and curious field mice.

Not for long, of course. Within a few days Mrs Pringle would begin her onslaught. Buckets, scrubbing brushes, sacking aprons, kneelers, and a lump of tough yellow soap prised from the long bar with a shovel, with an array of bottles containing disinfectant, linseed oil and vinegar, and other potions of cleanliness, would assault the peaceful bidding under the whirlwind direction of Mrs Pringle herself. Woe betide any stray beetle or ladybird lurking behind cupboards or skirting boards! By the time Mrs Pringle's ministrations were over, the place would be as antiseptic as a newly-scrubbed hospital ward.

In the far distance I could hear sheep bleating and a tractor chugging about its business. A car hooted, a man shouted, a dog barked. The life of the village went on as usual. The baker set out his new loaves, the butcher festooned his window with sausages, the housewife banged her mats against the wall, and the liberated children beset them all.

Only I, it seemed, was idle, glorying in my inactivity as happily as the small ruffled robin who sat sunning himself on a hawthorn twig nearby. But such pleasant detachment could not last.

St Patrick's had long ago struck nine o'clock, and the crunch of gravel under foot now told of Mrs Pringle's arrival.

I sighed and went to greet her.

Mrs Pringle's black oil-cloth bag, in which she carries her cretonne apron and any shopping she has done on the way, was topped this morning by a magnificent crisp lettuce, the size of a football.

'Thought you could do with it,' she said, presenting it to me. 'I know you don't bother to cook in the holidays, and I noticed all yourn had bolted. Willet said you was to pull 'em up unless you wanted to be over run with earry-wigs.'

I thanked her sincerely for the present, and the second-hand advice.

'Tell you what,' went on the lady, struggling into her overall, 'if you pull them up just before I go, I can throw them to my chickens. They can always do with a bit of fresh green.'

I promised to do so.

'Well, now,' said Mrs Pringle, rolling up her sleeves for battle, 'what about them kitchen cupboards?'

'Very well,' I replied meekly. 'Which shall we start on?'

Mrs Pringle cast a malevolent eye upon the cupboards under the sink, those on the wall holding food, and the truly dreadful one which houses casseroles, pie-dishes, lemon-squeezers and ovenware of every shape and size, liable to cascade from their confines every time the door opens.

'We start at the top,' Mrs Pringle told me, 'and work down.' She sounded like a competent general issuing orders for the day to a remarkably inefficient lieutenant.

I watched her mount the kitchen chair, fortunately a well-built piece of furniture capable of carrying Mrs Pringle's fourteen stone.

'Get a tray,' directed the lady, 'and pack it with all this rubbish as I hand it down. We'll have to have a proper sort-out of this lot.'

Obediently, I stacked packets of gravy powder, gelatine, haricot beans, semolina and a collection of other cereals and dry goods which I had no idea I was housing.

'Now, why should I have three packets of arrowroot?' I wondered aloud.

'Bad management,' snorted Mrs P. There seemed no answer to that.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Farther Afield"
by .
Copyright © 2000 D.J. Saint.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Table of Contents,
Dedication,
Copyright,
Contents,
Part One,
1 End of Term,
2 Struck Down,
3 Medical Matters,
4 Amy Takes Command,
5 Recovery at Bent,
6 Amy Needs Help,
7 Flying Away,
Part Two,
8 In Crete,
9 At Knossos,
10 Amy Works Things Out,
11 Toplou,
12 The Last Day,
13 Going Home,
Part Three,
14 Mrs Pringle Falls Ill,
15 Term Begins,
16 Gerard and Vanessa,
17 A Visit From Miss Clare,
18 Autumn Pleasures,
19 James Comes Home,
20 The Final Scene,
About the Author,
The Fairacre Series,

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Farther Afield 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is my all-time fovarite series, but I am disappointed that there are some strange incorrect words & it could use some editing. Always a refreshing visit to a country village in spite of the glitches.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Picture were to small hard to stay in the lines with my large crayons