"The author's exquisite portrayal of children, grownups, animals and the English countryside gives it the refreshing charm for which she is famous." (Library Journal)
A sequel to PILGRIM'S INN, THE HEART OF THE FAMILY is the third in Goudge's trilogy about the Eliot family.
|Publisher:||Hendrickson Publishers, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.90(d)|
|Age Range:||14 Years|
Read an Excerpt
The Heart of the Family
By Elizabeth Goudge
Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLCCopyright © 1981 Elizabeth Goudge
All rights reserved.
Meg, wearing mackintosh boots and a red mackintosh, and with a red sou'wester tied beneath her chin, splashed down the drive, and under the dripping oak-trees, in a state of happiness deeper and more perfect than any other she was likely to know while she lived in this world. Had she known that she would never be happy in quite this way again she would not have been so happy, but she did not know. She was four years old, and much beloved, and regarded happiness as the normal state of everybody. She was not happy when her tummy ached or she had a cold in her head, or when her mother or father went away and left her, or when the black beast pounced, at such times the depth of her misery was quite appalling, but those awful times did not come very often, and in between were these long stretches of shining joy. She thought it was a gloriously squelchy day. The drive was in a deplorable state, full of ruts and holes, and pools of rainwater brimmed them all. Meg zigzagged from one to the other, planting a booted foot firmly in the middle of each, so that fountains of water shot up into the air to descend again upon her head, together with raindrops dripping from the oak-trees, in a perfect deluge of sun-shot gleaming silveriness. Every time this happened she chuckled softly, and Mouse, running at her heels, barked joyously. Mouse, a microscopic grey cairn, was two years old. She had been given to Meg by her father when Robin, Meg's brother, had been born, so that Meg as well as her mother should have a tiny thing to care for. She had a minute pointed face, very long whiskers and a small dainty head with only two ideas in it—Meg and dinner. Of these two ideas Meg was the predominant one. She loved Meg with a love that was out of all proportion to the size of her body. She went where Meg went, loved whoever and whatever Meg loved; and as Meg loved nearly everybody, she loved nearly everybody, too. She had no life apart from Meg and would gladly have died for her. Because Meg liked splashing in the wet she liked it, too, and because Meg gloried in this day she also thought it a gift for the two of them sent straight out of heaven.
And it was a good day. The sun and the rain were flying and the whole world was washed in silver and drenched with the scents of wet earth and grass and flowers, the smell of the sea and the aromatic pungent smell of the herby things that grew in the sea-marshes beyond the oak-wood. Over her head the bits of sky that Meg could see between the wet leaves were thrilling: a patch of bright blue here, a bit of inky storm-cloud there, a bit of a rainbow somewhere else. The cry of the gulls was wild and high and excited, and within the walled garden there was a blackbird singing.
Meg looked ridiculous. Mackintoshes being the price they were, her splashing outfit had been bought large enough to allow for growth. The bottom of her mackintosh descended to her ankles and the sleeves to the tips of her fingers. The brim of her poppy hat, weighted with water, flapped to her nose in front and descended over her ears each side. There was nothing to be seen of her except a small pointed sunburnt chin with water-drops trickling off it, and yet a keen observer hidden behind the oak-trees would have known quite a lot about Meg just by watching her progress down the drive. The sheer ecstasy with which her booted feet came down in each puddle told of the depth of her capacity for happiness. And yet her chuckle was without undue excitement and devoid of squeak. It would seem she knew already, with subconscious knowledge, that restraint is estimable in women, and would love it and exercise it all her life. And she was game. It was obvious that she would not cry if she tripped over the hem of her ridiculous mackintosh and fell headlong, for not even that ungainly flapping garment could hide the trim gallantry of her little figure. She was determined, too. Though she zigzagged from puddle to puddle, she was never deflected from her determined progress down the drive. She knew where she was going and what she was going to do when she got there.
She was down! There had been treacherous foothold in one of the puddles and the toe of one boot had caught on a shifting stone. It could not have been a nastier fall. She went down flat, with her poppy hat flying off her head and her face against the stones of the drive. Yet she was up again in a moment, with no outcry. But she stood still now, unable to go on, one small brown hand, with the fingers spread out starfish-wise, pressed against her excoriated little face.
The observer who had been hidden behind the oak-trees was beside her in two strides, had picked her up and carried her to the bench just inside the gate that led from the oak-wood to the village, the marshes and the sea. He set her down and sat beside her. Mouse lay down on his feet to comfort him. She would have lain on Meg's had they been available, but Meg's did not reach the ground. Mouse always lay on people's feet when she felt they needed comfort. She did not know why with her mind, but her instinct told her that in times of desolation the extremities should always be kept warm. To make up for the lack of ideas in her head, Mouse's instincts were very highly developed.
"That was a bad fall, wasn't it?" said the man who had picked Meg up. "Might I see your nose?"
Meg, her starfish hand still flat against her face, shook her head. This person was a stranger to her, and she had her dignity. She could feel the blood running down from inside her nose and she knew she must look a mess. She did not like to be looked at by a strange man when she was a mess. But she felt very desolate, and had an awful feeling that the black beast was just round the corner somewhere, waiting to pounce. Her father and mother were not home yet, and the French Mademoiselle who helped her mother look after her and Robin was cross today. Mrs. Wilkes, who came up each day from the village to help with the cooking and cleaning and washing-up, was not cross, because she never was, but she was in that rather difficult mood which very good people get into when if they were not so good they would be very cross indeed. She did not feel a bit nice, and there was no one to help her to bear it. A small strangled sob broke from her, but was instantly repressed, for she had her pride as well as her dignity.
The stranger produced a large pocket handkerchief. "I must mop up your nose," he said firmly. "If you please."
Meg had been trained to obedience, and she recognized the voice of authority as well as the note of repressed exasperation to which she was well accustomed in the voices of grown-ups. They were always in such a hurry, and arguments that delayed them in their perpetual rush from one task to another could bring that edge even to her mother's warm and pretty voice, as she ran from the washing-up to the butcher waiting to be paid at the back door, and from the butcher to Daddy, who had lost his spectacles again, and from Daddy to Robin, who had fallen out of the pram and was dangling by the straps. She removed her hand.
"Bluggy," she said.
"A merely temporary affliction," said the stranger, and he mopped her up expertly but with such quick jerky movements that she felt like a kitten with its fur stroked backwards.
"You're in a hurry," she said, a rather sad little statement of fact that made him feel oddly reproached. He put his handkerchief back in his pocket and tried to relax. He took off his hat and held it between his knees. Then, catching sight of his thin nervous hands clenched on the hat, as though he were clinging to a lifebelt, he gave an impatient exclamation and dropped it on the ground, letting his hands dangle.
"I'm not in a hurry," he said gently.
"I'm not either," said Meg.
He smiled down at the top of her head. "You seemed to be, coming down the drive."
"I wasn't in a hurry," said Meg. "I was just going somewhere. I was going to look at the gulls at the harbour. I needn't."
"Then we'll stay here for a bit, shall we?"
"Yes," whispered Meg. She felt a little shy, and still shaken, and would have liked to go back to the house to Zelle, but she wanted to oblige.
The warm sun of the stormy August day was out again and it beat down upon them. Here in the sheltered drive, with the rampart of the oak-trees between them and the marshes, they did not feel the wind from the sea. Through the wrought-iron gate in the wall the man could see the golden and orange glow of autumn flowers, the tall and gracious trees of an old and matured garden, and, beyond, the irregular roof of the house. To ease his restlessness he had chosen to walk from the station instead of taking a taxi. He had asked his way in Radford and taken the coast road through the marshes carrying his bag, a thing the doctor had forbidden him to do, but the beauty of the walk had made him forget the weight of it. To his right the marshes had been splashed with color like a painter's palette; to his left, just at the corner of the lane that led down from the high-road, there had been a cornfield bending beneath the wind. On the horizon he had seen the silver line of the sea and the estuary, with the cliffs of the Island beyond, at one moment half hidden in mists of driving rain, remote and far away, at the next leaping out under the sun in such clear distinctness that they looked like the longed-for Celestial Mountains at the end of the unending way. Then he had reached the harbour, with wild sea-asters growing beside the harbour wall and fishing-boats and yachts rocking peacefully at anchor. Clustered about it, the small grey houses of the village, their gardens bright with tamarisk trees and fuchsia bushes, had had a look of weatherbeaten enduring strength that had brought him ease. A swan had flown overhead, the rhythmic beating of its wings adding to the note of strength, and everywhere, in the wind and sun and rain, the gulls had been flying and calling. He had asked an old salt seated upon the harbour wall the way to Damerosehay, and a pipe-stem had been jerked towards the broken gate propped open by a stone, leading into the oak-wood. He had gone through the gate, and the trees had taken possession of him.
It had been a queer experience. He knew little of rural England and he had not realized that the pools of country quiet that still existed, wedged in between the din of towns and factories and the bungaloid growth of seaside resorts, had such intense individuality. To turn down the lane from the high-road had been to enter a new world, quiet in spite of momentary turmoils of wind and water, clean and immensely invigorating, holding within it a sort of leaping up of heavenly freshness from depths that were older than time and yet forever new. And then, when the storm-twisted oak-trees took hold of him, it had been different again. Nothing primeval now, but a sense almost of homecoming that deepened when he saw a child running to meet him. He remembered just in time that this was not his home, and never would be. He was coming here to work for a short time for a man he disliked, and he was not expected by this child, who would merely be repelled by his ugly face. He had turned aside into the trees so as not to startle her.
And here they were sitting companionably together on a seat in the sunshine, taking for the moment no notice of each other. Sebastian was glad to sit still. Though he had enjoyed it, that walk from the station carrying his bag had been a crazy undertaking for a man in his state of health, and his heart was banging about most uncomfortably inside him. He breathed quickly while the familiar hot waves and cold douches broke over him, then impatiently detached his mind from his detested body and looked down at the child beside him.
Though her gallant little figure had so stirred him, the poppy hat had prevented him from seeing anything of her face except her pointed chin, and now when he looked down at her he saw only the top of a smooth fair head. Her hair, cut short, was fine and soft as silk, of a shining almost silvery pale gold. David Eliot, his employer, had hair of the same color, and in Eliot it was a source of profound exasperation to him, for he rated it high amongst those many levers to fame which the man possessed entirely by fortunate accident, and yet carried with such an intolerable air of courtly arrogance. Was this child Eliot's child? He couldn't believe it. He couldn't reconcile this child with David Eliot, any more than he could realize that this was Eliot's home. He couldn't see Eliot's lacquered smartness in this fairy wood, or visualize him with a muddy little child in his arms. Yet he had been told that he had children.
Meg suddenly looked up, and she was very like her father. She had his blue eyes, very deeply set and a little disconcerting in their steady appraising glance, his broad low forehead and beautifully modeled cheek-bones. But there the resemblance ended, for her bloodied button nose, her soft little mouth and tiny pointed chin bore no resemblance to her father's much-photographed classic profile. Then she smiled, and when Meg smiled it was obvious that she was somebody very special. It was not the smile that her father bestowed on strangers, charming but a little wary, as though, taught by troublesome experience, he deliberately withheld himself, but a smile of such all-embracing warmth that the smiled upon were taken captive forever. Sebastian was no exception to the rule and capitulated on the spot.
Meg laid her hand, fingers still spread wide, upon his knee. It was an exceedingly dirty hand, but delightfully dimpled over the knuckles, with minute nails like sea-shells, of a shade of pink wthat blended quite perfectly with the golden sunburn of her skin. She would have been pale but for the sunburn, and in spite of the dimples she was too thin, but the little hollows at wrists and temples, and below the cheekbones, gave added beauty to the play of light and shadow that is so exquisite upon the perfect texture of a child's clear skin. It was so long since he had looked with normal attention upon a lovely happy child that she seemed like a vision from another world. He had seen many children since the war had ended, but in the early years they had been mostly travesties of childhood, heartbreaking to look upon; and then when in America he had seen normal children again he had seen each one always with his small son Josef standing beside him, and had clenched his hands that he might not strike a fist against the rosy mouth that had always had all the food it wanted. But Meg's mouth was not rosy, it was pale and in spite of her happiness a little poignant, and he looked at her now without bitterness, seeing only herself. Or was it that this wood had done something to him? Had the shining leaves and the glancing sunlight momentarily come down like a curtain between him and that bitterness?
In any case, for the first time in a long while, a child was not afraid of him. But, then, this was the first time in a long while that he had been able to look at a thing of beauty with no emotion at all but that of humble reverence.
"Did you come on the twelve-five?" asked Meg.
"Yes, I came on the twelve-five," said Sebastian.
"And did you walk from the station?"
"Yes, I walked from the station."
"Dinner," said Meg briefly, and levered herself forward on the seat, lowering her mackintosh boots towards the ground. On her feet again, she picked up the poppy hat and put it on, so that she was once more obliterated. She did this with great absorption, and no hurry, and, unhurried himself for the first time in months, Sebastian replaced his own hat with slow deliberation, tipped Mouse gently off his feet and picked up his suitcase. Hand in hand, preceded by Mouse, they strolled slowly towards the house.
"Have you come to stay?" asked Meg.
"I have," said Sebastian. "Do you object at all?"
"No," Meg assured him equably. "Do you like cod?"
"Not very much," said Sebastian.
"It's for dinner," Meg warned him. "But with baked apples after, Zelle said, to make it nicer. We don't have cod when Daddy is here because he won't eat it. He'd sooner starve, he says."
"There he deceives himself," said Sebastian grimly, yet his face twisted into the grimace which did duty with him for a smile, for this mutual dislike of cod was a point of contact with David Eliot, and as such it had its value.
Excerpted from The Heart of the Family by Elizabeth Goudge. Copyright © 1981 Elizabeth Goudge. Excerpted by permission of Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC.
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.