THE PORTRAITCategory: Land + People
If you walk down the village street of Fairacre you will come before long to “The Beetle and Wedge” on the left-hand side. It is a long, low public house, sturdily built of brick and flint, and so attractive to the eye that it is easy to miss the narrow lane which runs between its side aid the three cottages, also of brick and flint, which stand next to it.
This lane leads to the downs which shelter our village from the north-east wind. It begins, fairly respectably, with a tarred and gravelled surface, but after a quarter of a mile such refinement ends; the road narrows suddenly, the tarmac finishes, and only a muddy track makes its way uphill to peter out eventually on the windy slopes high above the village.
Here, where the hard surface ends and the rutted lane begins, stands a pair of dour grey houses which bear no resemblance to the cheerful brick-and-tliatch architecture of most of Fairacre. They are faced with grey cement which has fallen off, here and there, leaving several scabrous patches. Each has a steep gable terminating in a formidable spike, and the roofs are of cold grey slate. Even on a day of shimmering heat, when the small blue butterflies of the chalk downs hover in the still gardens before them, these two houses present a chilly visage to the passer-by.
They were built in the latter half of Queen Victoria’s reign by a well-to-do retired ironmonger from Caxley. At the same time he had built a larger and more imposing residence in the village street for his own use. This was called Jasmine Villa and boasted a black and white tiled path, an ornate veranda of iron trelliswork, and was magnificently out of keeping with the modest dwellings nearby.
It was one of those bell-like May evenings described by Edmund Blunden. A sharp shower had left the village street glistening and the bushes and trees quivering with bright drops. Now, bathed in evening sunlight, the village sparkled. Scent rose from the wallflowers and polyanthuses in the cottage gardens, and blackbirds scolded from the plumed lilac bushes. Our village of Fairacre is no lovelier than many others. We have rats as well as roses in our back gardens, scoundrels as well as stalwarts ploughing our fields, and plenty of damp and dirt hidden behind the winsome exteriors of our older cottages. But at times it is not only home to us but heaven too; and this was just such an occasion.
As I waited in the porch, cradling the trivet, I wondered if there would be the usual delay in answering a country front door. A back door is usually open, or quickly answered, but I knew from experience that rusty bolts and heavy chains are often involved in front-door transactions in Fairacre. Only on formal occasions do we call at front doors, but this, I felt, was one of them.
(From Over the Gate by Miss Read)