Open the gate to Fairacre, America’s favorite English village.
The two-hundred-year-old cottages known as Tyler’s Row, with charming leaded-glass windows and an arched thorn hedge over the gateway, are supposed to provide a haven of peace for their new owners, Peter and Diana Hale. They plan to convert the middle two cottages into one, to create their own rural refuge. But beset by carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and bills, as well as their neighboring tenants, the redoubtable Sergeant Barnaby and the sour Mrs. Fowler, both longtime residents of Tyler's Row, the couple soon have cause to ponder their decision. Fairacre is not the utopia they expect, and the Hales must adapt to ordinary life in a village full of extraordinary quirks.
|Publisher:||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
|Product dimensions:||8.50(w) x 5.50(h) x 0.60(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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Up For Sale
NOBODY knows who Tyler was.
In fact, the general feeling in Fairacre is that there never was a Tyler, male or female.
'I can assure you, Miss Read,' the vicar, Gerald Partridge, told me one day when I enquired about the subject, 'that there is not one Tyler in the parish register! It's my belief that someone called Taylor built the four cottages. Taylor, as you know from your own school register, is a very common name in these parts.'
He rubbed his chin reflectively, a little concerned, I could see, about further explanation. The vicar, a living saint, dislikes hurting people's feelings, but is transparently truthful.
'"Taylor" can be so easily debased to "Tyler" if the diction is at all impure. It must have occurred many years ago, before schooling was so er — um ...'
'Exactly. I doubt if it could happen now.'
I was not in agreement with the vicar on this last point, but forbore to say so. I am constantly correcting 'pile' for 'pail', 'tile' for 'tale'; arguing about 'pines of glass', 'rine-drops', and people arriving 'lite' for school. The vicar, though, would be most distressed at the thought of casting aspersions on my teaching, or the purity of the vowels of my pupils.
'I'm sure you're right about it once being "Taylor's Row",' I agreed. 'But it's too late to change it now.' We parted amicably.
Although mystery surrounds Tyler of Tyler's Row, yet the date of the building is in no doubt, for on the end cottage of the four is a carved stone bearing the inscription:
in beautiful curlicues, now much weathered by the sunshine and storms of two centuries, but still decipherable.
The row of four cottages stands at right-angles to the village street and faces south. Under its dilapidated thatch, it drowses in the sun behind a thorn hedge, causing cries of admiration from visitors who are charmed by the tiny diamond-paned windows and the ancient beams which criss- cross the brickwork.
'Pretty enough to look at from outside,' I tell them, 'but you wouldn't want to live there. All four riddled with damp, and there's no proper drainage.'
'I expect plenty of people lived happily enough in them, over the years,' they retort defensively, still dazzled by Tyler's Row's outer beauty. One tenant, years ago, trained the thorn hedge into an arch over the gateway, and this enhances the charm of the view beyond.
A brick path, rosy with age and streaked with moss, runs along the front of the row, and there are narrow flower borders beneath the windows. There's no doubt about it. On a fine summer's day, with the pansies turning up their kitten-faces to the sun, Tyler's Row makes a perfect subject for a 'Beautiful Britain' calendar. After a spell of drenching rain and wind, when the sagging thatch is dark with moisture, and the brick path is running with the rain from the roof, Tyler's Row looks what it is — a building fast reaching the end of its days unless something drastic is done to restore it.
Of course, as the besotted visitors point out, it has housed generations of Fairacre folk. Carters and ploughmen have brought up their families here — mother, father and the latest baby in one bedroom, girls in the other, and boys downstairs. Shepherds and shoe-menders, dress-makers and washerwomen, all have called Tyler's Row home over the years. At one time, at the end of Victoria's reign, there was even a poet beneath the thatch. He lived there alone, when his mother died, for many years, and the older people in Fairacre remember him.
Mr Willet, who is my school caretaker, sexton to St Patrick's, our parish church, and holder of a dozen or so important positions in our village, told me a little about him. The poor fellow had been christened Aloysius (locally pronounced as Loyshus), and was much given to reciting his works at local functions, if given half a chance.
'Lived to a great age, Loyshus did,' commented Mr Willet. 'Well, to tell you the truth, Miss Read, he didn't do much to wear himself out. That garden of his was like a jungle. The neighbours in Tyler's Row went on somethin' shockin' about it. No, he never put hisself out much. Never even bothered to wash hisself the last year or so. Smelt like a proper civet's paradise that house of his, when they finally came to clear up after him.'
Aloysius's poems are sometimes quoted in The Caxley Chronicle. In our part of the country, at least, a prophet is not without honour. Occasionally someone writes a short article about our local poet. The poems are pretty dreadful. He had a great fondness for apostrophes, and one of his better known works begins with the formidable lines:
'Ere e'en falls dewy o'er the dale, Mine eyes discern 'twixt glim and gloam'
It goes on, if I remember rightly, for a hundred and sixty lines, with apostrophes scattered among them like a hatful of tadpoles.
'He were a holy terror at church socials,' recalls Mr Willet. 'Get old Loyshus on the platform, mumbling into his beard, and you could count on a good half-hour gettin' on with your game of noughts and crosses in the back row. 'Twere easy enough to get him up there, but getting him down was murder. They took to putting him on just before the Glee Singers. They used to get so wild waitin' about sucking cough-drops ready for "When you Come Down The Vale, Love," that they fairly man-handled Loyshus back to his chair, as soon as he stopped to take a breath.'
'He sounds as though he was a problem,' I said.
'A problem, yes,' agreed Mr Willet, 'but then, you must remember, he was a poet. Bound to turn him funny, all that rhyming. We was half-sorry for Loyshus, really,' said Mr Willet tolerantly. 'I've met a sight of folk far worse than Loyshus. But not,' he added, with the air of one obliged to tell the truth, 'as smelly.'
When I first became head teacher at Fairacre School, Tyler's Row belonged to an old soldier called Jim Bennett. The rent for each cottage was three shillings a week, and had remained at this ridiculous sum for many years. With his twelve shillings a week income, poor Jim Bennett could do nothing in the way of repairs to his property, and he hated coming to collect his dues and to face the complaints of the tenants, most of whom were a great deal better off than he was himself.
The Coggs family lived in one cottage. Arthur Coggs was, and still is, the biggest ne'er-do-well in Fairacre, a drunkard and a bully. His wife and children had a particularly hard time of it when they lived at Tyler's Row. Joseph Coggs and his twin sisters frequently arrived at school hungry and in tears. Things seem a little better now that they have been moved to a council house.
The Waites lived next door, a bright, respectable family who also moved later into a council house.
An old couple, called John and Mary White, both as deaf as posts, sweet, vague and much liked in the village, occupied another cottage, and a waspish woman, named Mrs Fowler, lived at the last house. She was a trouble-maker, if ever there was one, and Jim Bennett quailed before the lash of her complaining tongue when he called for his modest dues.
The Coggs were moved out first, and an old comrade-in-arms, who had served in the Royal Horse Artillery with Jim Bennett in the First World War begged to be allowed to rent the house. Jim Bennett agreed readily. Sergeant Burnaby was old, and in poor health. His liver had suffered from the curries of India, when he had been stationed there, and bouts of malaria had added to the yellowness of his complexion. But he was upright and active, and managed his lone affairs very well.
The Waites moved and their cottage remained empty for some time, and then, soon afterwards the old couple grew too frail to manage for themselves, and went to live with a married daughter.
Now the two middle cottages of the row were empty, and Jim Bennett decided that it was as good a time as any to sell the property as a whole. Mrs Fowler at one end, and Sergeant Burnaby at the other, were not ideal tenants, and the fact that they were there at all must detract from the value of Tyler's Row, he knew well. But frankly, he had had enough of it, and he told his sister so.
They lived together at Beech Green in a cottage quite as inconvenient and dilapidated as any at Tyler's Row.
They sat on a wooden bench at the back of the house, in the hot July sunshine. The privet hedge was in flower, scenting the air with its cloying sweetness. Blackbirds fluted from the old plum tree, and gazed with bright, dark eyes at the black-currant bushes. Old white lace curtains had been prudently draped over them by Alice Bennett to protect the fruit from these marauders. From the plum tree they watched for an opportunity to overcome this challenge.
'We'll have to face it, Alice,' said Jim. 'The time's coming when we'll have to find a little place in Caxley — one of these old people's homes, something like that. If we sell up Tyler's Row we should have enough to see us pretty comfortable, with our pensions, until we snuff it.'
'You'll miss the rent,' said Alice. Her brother laughed scornfully.
'A good miss, too! Traipsing out to Fairacre every week, to be growled at by Mrs Fowler, isn't my idea of pleasure. I'll be glad to see the back of Tyler's Row, and let someone else take it on.'
'Who'd want it?' asked Alice reasonably. 'With those two still there?'
'We'll see. I'm going into Caxley tomorrow to get Masters and Jones to put it on their books. Some young couple might be glad to knock a door between those middle cottages to make a real nice little house.'
'They won't fancy old Burnaby rapping on the wall one side, and Mrs Vinegar Fowler on the other, if I know anything about it.'
'That's as may be. I'm getting too old to trouble about Tyler's Row. I'm content to take what the agents can get for it, and be shot of the responsibility.'
He knocked out his cherrywood pipe with finality. Alice, knowing when she was beaten, rose without a word, and went indoors to cut bread and butter for tea. Jim might be getting on for eighty, but there was no doubt he could still make up his mind.
And what was more, thought Alice, his decisions were usually right.
In no time at all it was common knowledge in Fairacre, Beech Green, and as far afield as the market town of Caxley, that Tyler's Row was up for sale. No advertisement had appeared, no sales board had been erected, but nevertheless everyone knew it for a fact.
The reasons given varied considerably. Some said that Mrs Fowler was buying it, having won several thousands from
a. the football pools
b. a tea competition
c. an appearance on a T.V. commercial advertisement.
('What for?' asked one wit. '"Use our face cream, or else?"')
Others held the view that the Sanitary People had condemned the property and it was going to be pulled down anyway.
Nearer the mark were those who guessed that Jim Bennett had had enough, and he was selling whilst there was a chance of making a few hundred.
The wildest theory of all was put forward by no less a person than the vicar, who was positive that he had heard that a society for the revival of Victorian poetry was buying the property, and proposed to open it to the public as a shrine to Aloysius's memory.
Certainly, within a week of the conversation between Jim and his sister in the privacy of their garden, everyone knew of the intended sale. He had told his tenants, of course, as soon as he had made up his mind, but they had said little. It was yet another case of air-borne gossip, so usual in a village as to be completely unremarkable.
Mrs Pringle, a glumly formidable dragon who keeps Fairacre School clean, and who polishes the tortoise stoves with a ferocity which has to be seen to be believed, told me the news with her usual pessimism.
'So poor old Jim Bennett's having to sell Tyler's Row.'
'Is he?' I said, rising to the bait.
'Some say he's hard put to it to manage on his bit of pension, but I reckons there's more to it than that.'
There was a smugness about the way Mrs Pringle pulled in her three chins, and the purse of her downward-curving mouth which told me that I should hear more.
She put a pudgy hand on my desk and leant forward to address me conspiratorially.
'It's my belief he's Got Something. Something the doctors can't do anything about.'
'Oh, really. ...' I began impatiently, but was swept aside.
'Mark my words, Jim Bennett knows his Time Has Come, and he's putting his affairs in order. By the time that sales board goes up, we'll know the worst, no doubt.'
An expression of the utmost satisfaction spread over her face, and she made for the lobby with never a trace of a limp — a sure sign that, for once in her martyred existence, Mrs Pringle was enjoying life.
BUT, amazingly, the board did not go up. While Fairacre speculated upon this, the firm of estate agents in Caxley had informed several clients already seeking country houses that Tyler's Row was now for sale, and they enclosed glowing reports on the desirability of the property.
Among those who received a letter from Masters and Jones was Peter Hale, a schoolmaster in his fifties. He sat at his breakfast table, toast in one hand, the letter in the other and read hastily through the half-glasses on the end of his nose.
Every now and again he glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. At half-past eight every morning of term time, for just over thirty years, Peter Hale had set off down the hill to Caxley Grammar School where he taught mathematics and history to the lower forms.
He walked the half-mile or so regularly, for the good of his health. As a young man he had been a sprinter and a hurdler, and the thought of losing his athletic figure, as so many of his fellow colleagues had done, was anathema to him. To tell the truth, exercise was something of a fetish with Peter Hale, and his family and friends were sometimes amused, sometimes irritated, by his earnest recommendations of a 'good five-mile walk', or 'a run before breakfast' for any minor illnesses, ranging from a cold in the head to a wasp sting. His wife declared that he had once advised one of these sovereign remedies for her sprained ankle. It might just have been possible.
She was a small, plump, pretty woman with a complexion like a peach. Once fair, her hair was now silvery-grey and softly curled. She was very little changed from the girl Peter had met and married within a year. There was a gentle vagueness about her which won most people's affection. The less charitable dismissed Diana Hale as 'rather bird- brained', which she most certainly was not. Beneath the feminine softness and the endearing good manners was a quick intelligence. Her anxiety not to hurt people kept her sharpness sheathed like a sword in its scabbard; but it was there, nevertheless, and this awareness of the ridiculous and the incongruous gave her much secret amusement.
The clock said twenty-five past eight and Diana waited for the last quick gulp of coffee and the rolling of her husband's table napkin.
He tossed the letter across to her, and lifted his cup.
'What do you think of it? Shall we go and have a look?'
'Fairacre,' said Diana slowly. 'Wouldn't it be rather far?'
'Six miles or so. Not much more. And lovely country — good downland walks. High too. Wonderful air.'
Peter Hale tucked his spectacles into their case, checked that he had his red marking pen safely in his inner pocket, his handkerchief in another and his wallet in the back pocket or his trousers. 'So much more convenient for the pickpockets', as Diana had told him once.
'Must be off. I'll be late back. Staff meeting after school.'
He gave her forehead a quick peck, and was gone.
Diana poured a second cup of coffee and thought about this proposed move.
She wasn't at all sure that she wanted to move anyway. They had lived in the present house for almost twenty years and she had grown very attached to it.
It had been built early in the century, in common with many others, on the hill south of Caxley. Mostly they had been taken by professional and business people in the town, who wanted to move away from their working premises, yet did not want to be too far off.
They were well-built, with ample gardens whose trees were now mature and formed a screen against the increased traffic in the road. Diana had worked hard in the garden, scrapping the enormous herbaceous border which had been the pride of a full-time gardener in earlier and more affluent times, and the dozen or so geometrically- shaped garden beds which had been so beautifully set out with wall- flowers, and then geraniums, in days gone by.
The two long rose-beds were her own creation, and a new shrubbery, well planted with bulbs, gave her much satisfaction and less backbreaking work. She would hate to leave her handiwork to others.
The house too, though originally built with accommodation for at least one resident maid, was easily managed. Here she and Peter had brought up their two sons, both now in the Navy, and the place was full of memories.
And Caxley itself was dear to her. She enjoyed shopping in the town, meeting her friends for coffee, hearing the news of their sons and daughters, taking part in such innocent and agreeable activities as the Operatic Society and the Floral Club. Her nature made her averse to committee work. She lacked the drive and concentration needed, and had never been able to whip up the moral indignation she witnessed in some of her friends who were engaged in public works. She admired their zeal sincerely, but she knew she was incapable of emulating them.
Excerpted from "Tyler's Row"
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
Up For Sale,
Mrs Pringle Smells Trouble,
Making a Start,
The Problem of Tyler's Row,
SOME SQUALLY SHOWERS,
An Exhausting Evening,
A Village Quiz,
A Fateful Day,
SETTLED, WITH SOME SUNSHINE,
Sergeant Burnaby Falls Ill,
Speculation in Fairacre,
End of Term,
The Last Battle,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have really enjoyed Miss Read's Fairacre Series. The books have simple plots and are such delightful reading. It is easy to picture the little village and the people who make it so special. Tyler's Row was no exception. I like the change of pace from all the frantic noise and rush of today's world.