28 APRIL 1939, Page 13



HEARD the other day of a great house where the major 1 domo said to the head gardener, "Keep the cuckoos away from His Grace's window in the morning." Whether these outrageous birds were kept away I know not, but the very thought suggests true greatness. There has been nothing like it since the French peasants, so we are told, had to spend their nights afield quieting the frogs lest their croaking should disturb Monseigneur's slumbers. It is superb, and yet in itself it does not make me want to be a duke. I agree with George Borrow who agreed with Jasper that the cuckoo is "a pleasant funny bird and its presence and voice give a great charm to the green trees and fields." I wish he would come to my window and sing to his heart's content.

Whether it be agreeable or whether it be tiresome, that song is one of the sounds that bring to mind sunshine and peace and summertime. The coming, in a flash, of the hot weather at Easter brought with it all manner of these drowsy hummings and buzzings, for which we had been longing with- out perhaps exactly defining our desires beyond the departure of the north-east wind. They were suddenly released for our benefit and we found that we had not heard them for a long time. Sunshiny weather in the country has so many of these sounds, half-forgotten till they are joyfully temembered again, and nearly all of them possess youthful associations. We have been remembering them for many years, and in- deed some of them belong only to the past. Others, how- ever familiar, can never seem anything but modern and a little intrusive, although to the child of today they will doubtless be numbered among the sacred and eternal things of home. Such, for instance, are the aeroplanes which all through the Easter holiday droned overhead, glittering in the sunlight. In themselves, and apart from their present implications, they have much of the desired quality, sum- mery and somnolent; a little too fierce and stirring, perhaps, when they draw near, but essentially soothing as they fade away into no more than the faintest pulsation, which mingles in the general hum. Still, we cannot rid ourselves of the feeling that their presence is in the nature of a liberty ; they used not to be there in the best summers.

By contrast the sound of a well-wheel belongs, save for the very lucky, wholly to memory. Austin Dobson's old gentleman, whose name was Leisure, "loved the well-wheel's creaking tongue," and there is no sound more tranquil and less suggestive of hurry. It suggests the carrying of brown cans of water up flights of stairs and brown baths set out with blankets underneath them. This well must have been cut very deep in the chalk, for the bucket seemed to take hours to reappear out of the darkness. The well-house, an indefinably sinister building, black, deeply stained with green, stood on the top of a little mound, shrouded by dark box and laurel. Its roof consisted of two flaps or hinged doors, and when the bucket reached at last the end of its journey it flung the doors open before it. I have been pleased to find that my father shared my feelings for it. "We believed," he wrote, "the well to be 365 feet deep— also that this was the height of St. Paul's—I have never tested the truth of either statement." Neither have I, but my faith is strong. There was, too, another sound connected with the well, positively awe-inspiring, that of a stone dropped into the deeps below ; it seemed that the splash would never come. A quarter of an hour's walk would take me to the place where the well-house nestled in its bushes behind the mulberry; but alas! as Mr. Sergeant Buzfuz would observe, the ruthless dcstroyer of that oasis has choked up the well and thrown ashes on the sward, and the usurpers now exist in a commonplace manner on the company's water.

Then, and this is among the external sounds, there is the purring of the mowing-machine on the lawn—up and down, up and -down, and that other, on a far grander scale, of the haycutting machine in the field beyond. It purred but it also swished, in a venomous and retributive manner. and it had the charm of growing faint and far away in the distance, as it travelled to the little wood that was world's end, and of swelling louder and louder till it reached the railings again. To mature eyes the seat of that machine has a chilly and un- compromising air, a hard iron seat with small holes in it and a curly edge; yet it was possessed of an unspeakable romance, and there was a passionate yearning to be allowed to sit in it if but for a moment. The sharpening of scythes belongs likewise to this snnshioy chorus, and the scythe can only be sharpened by one man, a mysterious little man, very upright of deportment, who ever and anon takes off a soft black hat and mops his brow. So square were his shoulders, so noticeably military his carriage, that he was traditionally believed to have been a deserter. He appeared in the village from nobody knew where, and ihough he worked in the garden for years he dropped no hint of any belongings or any early background to his life. He was so secretive that When he died he was found to have left no will and his considerable little hoard of savings was swept into the coffers of the Government whose service he had deserted. Perhaps he had no secret after all except that of sharpening scythes, but he did that beautifully.

The haycutting marhine was a noble instrument, but it was not to be compared with the traction engine which periogically advanced down the narrow lane. There was one place from which to see it, a gap in the ivy on the coping of a flint wall, looking right down upon the road. There was a corner just before this spot was reached and another wall came bulging out, hiding what was to come and so heighten- ing the drama. Long before the engine appeared the earth trembled beneath that tremendous onslaught. When the sus- pense had become almost unbearable there came a man with red and green flags; they were like the flags carried by the naughty little boys who were dipped in ink by the Tall Agrippa in Shock-headed Peter. Then-0 heavens l—it was right upon one, breathing fire and smoke. For fifty yards one could-watch it, leaning ever further over the wall, some- times held in an undignified manner from behind, and then came another corner and it vanished; but since the road wound back its surge and thunder could still be heard as it passed through the village and beyond. The kitchen-maid and the house-maid who had been looking through the gate of the stableyard went back to work and gradually life became normal again, but in those few moments had been concen- trated all the majesty and excitement of all the processions in the world.

The cuckoo, before mentioned, is not of the noble order of traction engines, but his song is one of the indisputable hot- weather sounds in a way given to that of no mere bird. And yet there is for me one other bird having some claims. That is the stork who came in spring to stand on one leg in his nest on the -roof in a deserted village of Macedonia. When the storks flew they -made a flapping with their wings that resembled the craclding of machine-guns. That is not an agreeable sound in itself,-but it suggests a scene which, please heaven, I shall never see again—blazing sunshine, turf car- peted with little pink and yellow flowers, a dry river-bed, and, beyond, the quince blossoms against the mud walls of the village. But I.ought to apologise for introducing a foreign bird, and will end -at least with a truly English sound, that of the ball against the bat. The lawn-tennis ball has a pleasant ping, the golf ball a cheerful crack, but cricket ball and bat when they meet in full accord have a richer and a deeper note. For old Nyren it was mingled with the cries of a great match—" Go hard, go hard, rich and turn, tich and turn." For =hers it brings back memories from more casual playing -fields, the gentle tap-tapping of a private knock-up, and then, when the batsman has suddenly opened his shoul- ders and encroached on another's ground, the cry of "Thank you, hall.'