27 APRIL 1951, Page 18

An Old Friend's Passing

Sixty yards from my window across the water-meadows the river bounds my little realm. On the opposite side of the stream, and reflected in its waters, grew a splendid willow whose life had nearly attained man's allotted span. In its lofty branches grew a flourishing bunch of mistletoe. But all was not well with the willow ; it failed and died, and then, a few weeks ago, in one of the fierce night gales of our strange winter. it crashed to the ground and in the morning we saw the giant lying in the meadow a stark and sorry skeleton, its mistletoe alone still clinging to life. The other day a woodman was at work on the corpse. 1 could see him on the far bank of the river as he dexterously placed and replaced his wedges and, by means of unerring strokes with his fourteen-

pound hammer, split the great sections into which the massive trunk had previously been sawn. Even on the other side of the house I could hear the rhythm of his skilful blows, for the sound of them came down my chimney and kept me in touch with the progress of his labour+ The work is nearly done now, but it has taken many days to cut up and

dispose of the timber. I walked across the meadows, by a roundabout route, to see things at close quarters and to count the annual rings from the centre of the old tree to the bark. 1 made them sixy-eight or sixty-nine.