Circling the seasons at Thrush Green, Miss Read looks in on a host of characters -- whimsical, eccentric, always keenly observed -- and their daily affairs. By year’s end these stories are satisfyingly interlocked, capturing a bygone era with the charm and humor that give Miss Read her enduring appeal.
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.
Read an Excerpt
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, Snow on snow.
The snow came on Twelfth Night.
Dusk was thickening over Thrush Green, and the lights in the nearby High Street at Lulling were already flickering into action.
The first flakes fluttered down so sparsely that Winnie Bailey, the doctor's widow, thought that the last pale leaf was floating by from the wisteria by the front door, as she drew the curtains against the bitter cold which had gripped Thrush Green for days.
Near by, at the most beautiful house in this Cotswold hamlet, Winnie's neighbour, Joan Young, hurrying in from the garden, caught sight of a pale fragment descending slowly. A feather, she wondered, or a particle of ash from a recent bonfire? Somehow she, in common with other Thrush Green residents, gave no thought to snow at that time.
Only Albert Piggott, the gloomy sexton at St Andrew's church on the green, realized what was falling, as he shuffled back to his cottage close by.
'It's begun,' he told his cat, as he unwound the muffler from his skinny neck. 'There'll be a foot of the dratted stuff before long.'
Albert Piggott had been expecting snow for weeks. So, for that matter, had the rest of the community, but they had waited so long for its arrival that when at last it came, on that bleak January evening, it was barely noticed.
The gripping cold had taken hold early in December, and the general talk had been about a white Christmas. The children everywhere were full of hope. Old sledges had been dug out from lofts, garden sheds and garages, dusted and oiled and put by to await a white world which failed to materialize during the whole of the Christmas holidays.
The school at Thrush Green had opened for the spring term the day before those first tentative flakes had floated down.
Alan Lester, the headmaster, heard the children's bitter comments with mixed feelings of sympathy and amusement.
'It's not fair!' cried one six-year-old. 'I was going to make a snowman.'
'So was I. My dad give me an old pipe for it. And a cap.'
'I'd got my sledge oiled up lovely, to go down the slope to Lulling Woods,' grumbled a third.
'Well,' said Alan reasonably, 'you can play with all those things after school. Or on Saturday, for that matter.'
'It's not the same!' wailed another child. 'You need all day to play in the snow!'
Clearly, there was going to be no comforting of the younger generation in the face of such injustice.
Alan Lester ushered them from the playground back to the warmth of the classroom.
His charges did not appear grateful.
It had snowed intermittently throughout Twelfth Night, but only an inch covered the iron-cold earth by morning.
But the sky was covered with dark grey clouds, and there was an ominous stillness everywhere as though the world awaited something menacing.
Joan Young, well muffled against the cold from woolly hat to Wellington boots, crossed the corner of the green to take some magazines to Winnie Bailey, who welcomed her.
'No,' said Joan, 'I won't come in, but I'm going down to Lulling and I thought I'd bring back anything you needed. Don't go out, Winnie, it's so slippery.'
'Well, you are kind! I remember Donald always said that if the wind came from Oxford or Woodstock it was time to get in the potatoes and an extra bag of flour.'
'The wind's certainly going to be there soon,' agreed Joan. 'Shall I get those potatoes and the flour?'
Winnie laughed. 'It might be as well. Then we can withstand the siege if need be.'
She watched her neighbour returning to her house, leaving black footprints in the new snow. Shivering, she returned to the warm kitchen, where Jenny, her maid and friend, was chopping onions.
'Onions keep the cold out,' said Jenny.
'We shall need a good supply then,' Winnie forecast.
Equally prudent residents of Thrush Green and Lulling were also stocking their larders.
Across the green, opposite Winnie Bailey's house, Harold Shoosmith and his wife Isobel were making a shopping list while coffee cups steamed near by.
The Shoosmiths were relative newcomers to Thrush Green. Harold had arrived first, some years earlier, a single middle-aged man of handsome appearance, recently retired from a post abroad.
He was a lifelong admirer of a former Thrush Green resident, one Nathaniel Patten, a missionary in Africa who had formed a school there and been greatly loved by all who met him. Nathaniel had long been dead when Harold came across his good works, but his influence still flourished in the African settlement, and when Harold discovered that a house in Nathaniel's birthplace was on the market, when he was house-hunting, he quickly put in his bid, and soon found himself living happily at Thrush Green.
Next door to his house was the village school, and the headmistress at that time was a competent woman, Dorothy Watson, who lived in the schoolhouse with her friend and fellow-teacher Agnes Fogerty.
All three were good friends and neighbours, and it was through Agnes that Harold eventually met his wife Isobel. She had been at college with Agnes, and the two had kept in touch throughout the years.
When she came to stay at Thrush Green with her old friend, Isobel was recently widowed. The friendship which sprang up between Harold and Isobel flourished, grew warmer, and led to an exceedingly happy marriage, to the delight of their friends at Thrush Green.
It was Harold who had instigated the setting-up of a fine statue of Nathaniel Patten on the green. He had been shocked to find that so little was known about the Victorian missionary who had done so much good overseas, and he set about educating his neighbours.
Harold's enthusiasm had been infectious, and now the memory of one of Thrush Green's most famous sons was a source of pride in the community, and his statue and memory greatly revered.
This morning a sprinkling of snow spattered Nathaniel's head and shoulders, and a noisy family of starlings squabbled on the white ground around him. Near by, the children's voices, as noisy as the starlings', had suddenly ceased.
'Alan's getting the children in,' commented Harold, looking at the kitchen clock. 'I'll get down to Lulling before things get too busy.'
He went to wrap up well before crunching his way to the garage through the bitter cold.
An hour later, his shopping done, Harold pushed open the door of the Fuchsia Bush, Lulling's most notable restaurant in the High Street.
Harold was not a frequent visitor to this establishment, but he was so cold that he felt that a cup of coffee would thaw him before he visited the bank and the local building society, the last duties to perform before driving home.
The Fuchsia Bush was warm and welcoming. Coffee was provided promptly, and soon the ample form of Nelly Piggott appeared from the kitchen bearing a tray of scones hot from the oven.
She greeted Harold with affection. 'Nice to see you, Mr Shoosmith. Parky today, isn't it?'
'That's putting it mildly,' said Harold. 'May I have one of those delicious scones? I can't resist your cooking.'
Nelly beamed at the compliment, and Harold wondered, yet again, how such an attractive woman as this buxom one before him could ever have taken miserable Albert Piggott for a husband.
It had always been a mystery to Thrush Green, this marriage of two such opposites. Even Charles Henstock, the much-loved rector of Thrush Green, had doubted if the marriage would last.
In fact, it was the Fuchsia Bush which had rescued that marriage from the rocks some years earlier. Nelly had always been a first-class cook, and had very little chance to use her skill when catering for Albert. He suffered from peptic ulcers, and Nelly's use of cream, butter, plenty of sugar, honey and golden syrup did nothing to help his digestion. It was a happy day for her when the owner of the Fuchsia Bush appeared on Nelly's doorstep to ask if she could help at the restaurant while the cook was ill.
This had led eventually to a thriving partnership between Nelly and Mrs Peters and to the Fuchsia Bush gaining a name in the neighbourhood for delicious food.
To Nelly it was her whole life. She set off for work every day in the highest of spirits. The kitchen at the Fuchsia Bush was her kingdom, the compliments from customers balm to her spirit. Nelly was probably the happiest worker in Lulling, and even Albert's gloomy company could not quell her new-found ebullience.
'And how's Mrs Shoosmith?' asked Nelly, putting a plate before him. 'Had her flu jabs, I hope. They say this new flu's a real killer.'
'Months ago,' Harold assured her, spreading butter.
'Good,' said Nelly. 'Well, I must get back to the oven. I've got some brandy snaps in at the moment, and you know how quickly they catch.'
Harold did not, but watched her bustle away to her duties.
As he put the car away in the garage, he saw his friend and neighbour Edward Young emerging from his house.
'I was just coming to see you,' called Edward.
'Come indoors,' said Harold, but Edward, who always seemed to be in a hurry, refused the invitation.
'It's about the fête,' said Edward, banging his gloved hands together to keep warm.
'But that's not till July,' protested Harold.
'I know, I know! But the fact is that we are trying to plan a holiday while young Paul's home from school, and I don't want to be tied down this year with fête arrangements. Could you possibly have the administration side at your house?' 'No bother at all,' replied Harold. 'You go ahead and leave the fête to me this time.'
Edward clapped his friend rather painfully on his shoulder. 'That's a great relief. Terribly grateful, old boy. Must dash now. I've got some urgent posting to do, and I want to get back by the fire pretty soon.'
'Don't we all,' agreed Harold, turning home.
By midday a vicious little wind had sprung up. It threw a spattering of dead leaves against the window of the Youngs' house where Joan was watering a bowl of early hyacinths.
She looked across the garden, and saw the branches of a lime tree tossing in the wind, and its last few leaves being swept away.
She heard the slamming of the back door, and her husband's voice, and went to greet him in the kitchen.
He was standing with his back to the Aga, rubbing his cold hands together. Molly Curdle, once Molly Piggott, daughter of Albert, was rolling out pastry at the kitchen table. She and her husband Ben Curdle lived in a cottage which the Youngs had converted from their stables for Joan's parents, now both dead.
Molly had started working for Edward and Joan when their son Paul was a little boy. She had taken him for walks, played with him, bathed him and put him to bed. The bond between them had strengthened over the years, and although Paul was now away at boarding school, it was Molly he rushed to greet first on coming home.
'Wind's getting up,' commented Edward. 'And due north-east too.'
The sky grew darker. Black clouds gathered ominously, swept along by a bitter and relentless wind. Dead leaves, twigs and a couple of paper bags eddied across Thrush Green, now airborne, now dashed spasmodically along the ground.
There was a howling in the trees in the garden, and an even more intense roaring in the avenue of horse chestnut trees outside the Youngs' house.
By three o'clock the snow was whirling across the scene, blotting out the view of St Andrew's church and the wind-tossed trees surrounding it. It was a wild and fearsome landscape, suddenly devoid of human figures. Joan Young, watching from her windows, thought of arctic wastes, of the cruelty of nature and of man's sudden diminution in the face of weather extremes.
But, as she watched the fury of the blizzard sweeping across Thrush Green, she saw signs of humanity.
From the school on her right a few small figures emerged, as two cars drew up at the gate. The children were bundled up in coats with upturned collars and hats pulled down over their ears, and some had long scarves round their necks, tied crosswise round their swaddled bodies to form a bustle at the back. They clambered into the cars, and drove away through the whirling maelstrom, out of Joan's sight.
Soon, she knew, others would be collected, and for the few who lived along the lane to Nod and Nidden, no doubt, kind and conscientious Alan Lester would act as taxi-man in his own car. The numbers at Thrush Green school did not warrant a school bus.
Shivering in the draught from the window, Joan crossed the room to add logs to the fire. She reviewed the food situation as she went about her duties. Had she forgotten anything vital should the snow keep them penned indoors?
Bread, flour, potatoes, root vegetables and all those things which her old friend Donald Bailey had advised his neighbours to get in, once the wind had taken up its unwelcome quarter in the north-east, she thought she had remembered. But it was other vital things which invariably escaped the memory. Salt, sugar, the special Frank Cooper's marmalade which Edward so much relished — all these, in the past, had been casualties of the demands of emergencies, and no doubt would be again sometime.
The wind howled in the chimney, and every now and again there would be a sharp hiss from the logs on the fire as a snowflake descended to a fiery death. A particularly violent gust sent a puff of smoke into the room, and Joan went across to pull the curtains against the bitter world outside.
It was almost dark, and one or two lights were showing in the houses round the empty green. The children had gone, though the lights showed in the schoolroom. Normally, Betty Bell from Lulling Woods arrived to clean up at about this time, but Joan doubted if she would be able to make the journey in such conditions.
She drew the heavy velvet curtains together, grieving for any living thing that had to endure that world behind the windows, and thankful that she had warmth and shelter and, she hoped, adequate provisions under her own roof.
The violent wind continued to batter all in its path until the early hours of the morning.
Then it died down, but still the snow fell, thickly and silently, for the rest of the night. It was still coming down when the first grey light appeared.
Harold Shoosmith woke to see the strange light upon his bedroom ceiling, and knew at once what caused it. He slipped from his bed and went to look upon the white world of Thrush Green through the snow-spattered window. Behind him his wife Isobel still lay in sleep.
The view was awe-inspiring in its strange beauty. Snow had drifted in the fierce winds into fantastic shapes of varying depths. The statue of Nathaniel Patten close by wore a deep skirt of snow, covering the base and extending halfway up the plinth. Nathaniel's shoulders wore a cape of snow and his head a round white cap.
The railings of St Andrew's church were engulfed and the oak tubs, which stood each side of the doorway into the Two Pheasants hard by, were also hidden beneath a snowy blanket. Swirls and hillocks, gullies and valleys, banks and little cliffs stretched in every direction. It was an arctic landscape which Harold viewed with mixed wonder and fear. What damage, he mused, would the Cotswold world discover when the short hours of daylight finally arrived?
He looked down upon his own front garden, now a smooth white sheet of snow covering path, flower beds and lawn. Only the tops of the gateposts broke that surface, and brought home to the watcher the necessity of getting downstairs and finding a spade for a good deal of hard work.
At that moment, Isobel sat up and stretched her arms.
'Well, what's it like?'
'Siberia! But superb,' said her husband.
Later that morning there was plenty of activity on Thrush Green, as Harold and his neighbours set out to clear their paths to the road.
It was a Saturday, so the school was empty, but Alan Lester was hard at work, digging with the rest to clear the access to the schoolhouse which was next door to Harold's home.
Occasionally they stopped to rest on their spades, their breath blowing out in small clouds in the frosty air.
'I've asked the Cooke boys to give me a hand with the playground,' said Alan surveying the vast waste behind them. 'I only hope we don't get more tonight.'
'How did you get in touch? Are the phones still working?'
'Luckily, yes. But Albert Piggott says they're sagging dangerously across to Lulling Woods.'
'Well, you know Albert!' commented Harold, looking farther along the road to where the bent figure of the sexton of St Andrew's was plying a stiff broom.
'Always looking on the bright side,' agreed Alan, with a smile.
They returned to their labours.
Turning over this brief exchange as he made his arduous way towards the gateposts, Harold thought of his old friend Dotty Harmer who lived at Lulling Woods. Would she be engulfed? The house was in a lonely spot, and years before, he remembered, in just such weather, he had collected a rescue party to fetch the old lady on a sledge.
That, of course, was when she lived there alone. Things were better now, for her niece Connie and her husband lived with her, and would look after her.
Nevertheless, Harold promised himself that he would telephone Dotty as soon as he went back to the house.
'Coffee!' called his wife from the window.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Year at Thrush Green"
Copyright © 1996 Miss Read.
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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
If you want to read something that just makes you feel good, this is it. No one recreates Village Life like Miss Read.
The illustrations included? they are hslf the charm and you can buy used soft covers as were reprinted in 1987