Jinny the Carrier
Jinny the Carrier
LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN
Dear Mistress of Bassetts,
You and Audrey have so often proclaimed the need—inour world of sorrow and care—of a “bland” novel,defining it as one to be read when in bed with a sore throat,that as an adventurer in letters I have frequently felttempted to write one for you. But the spirit blowethwhere it listeth, and seemed perversely to have turnedagainst novels altogether, perhaps because I had beenlabelled “novelist,” as though one had set up a factory.(Two a year is, I believe, the correct output.) However,here is a novel at last—my first this century—and thereis a further reason for presuming to associate you with it,because it is largely from the vantage-point of your Essexhomestead that I have, during the past twenty years,absorbed the landscape, character, and dialect which finallyinsisted on finding expression, first in a little play, and nowin this elaborate canvas. How often have I passed overHigh Field and seen the opulent valley—tilth and pastureand ancient country seats—stretching before me like a greatpoem, with its glint of winding water, and the exquisiteblue of its distances, and Bassetts awaiting me below,snuggling under its mellow moss-stained tiles, a true Englishhome of “plain living and high thinking,” and latterly of therural Muse! I can only hope that some breath of the inspirationwhich has emanated from Bassetts in these latterdays, and which has set its picturesquely clad poetessesturning rhymes as enthusiastically as clods, and weavingrondels as happily as they bound the sheaves, has beenwafted over these more prosaic pages—something of that“wood-magic” which your granddaughter—soul of theidyllic band—has got into her song of your surroundings.
The glint of blue where the estuary flows,
Or a shimmering mist o’er the vale’s green and gold:
A little grey church which ’mid willow-trees shows;
A house on the hillside so good to behold
With its yellow plaster and red tiles old,
The clematis climbing in purple and green,
And down in the garden ’mid hollyhocks bold
Sit Kathleen, Ursula, Helen, and Jean.
And yet it must not be thought that either “Bassetts”or “Little Baddow” figures in the “Little Bradmarsh”of my story. The artist cannot be tied down: he createsa composite landscape to his needs. Moreover, in these lastfour or five years a zealous constabulary can testify outof what odds and ends the strange inquiring figure, whowalked, cycled, or rode in carriers’ carts to forgotten hamletsor sea-marshes, has composed his background. Nor have Ifollowed photographic realism even in my dialect, deemingthe Cockneyish forms, except when unconsciously amusing,too ugly to the eye in a long sustained narrative, thoughenjoyable enough in those humorous sketches which myfriend Bensusan, the true conquistador of Essex, pours forthso amazingly from his inexhaustible cornucopia. I differ—inall diffidence—from his transcription on the sole pointthat the Essex rustic changes “i” into “oi” in words like“while,” though why on the other hand “boil” should goback to “bile” can be explained only by the perversitywhich insists on taking aspirates off the right words andclapping them on the wrong, much as Cockney youths andgirls exchange hats on Bank Holiday. I have limited myown employment of this local vowelling mainly to the firstperson singular as sufficiently indicative of the rest. In theold vexed question of the use of dialect, my feeling is thatits value is simply as colour, and that the rich old words,obsolete or unknown elsewhere, contribute this more effectivelyand far more beautifully than vagaries of pronunciation,itself a very shifting factor of language even in thebest circles. It is not even necessary for the artistic effectthat the reader should understand the provincial words,though the context should be so contrived as to makethem fairly intelligible. In short, art is never nature,though it should conceal the fact. Even the slowness andminuteness of my method—imposed as it is by the attemptto seize the essence of Essex—are immeasurable velocity andbreadth compared with the scale of reality.
In bringing this rustic complex under the category ofcomedy I clash, I am aware, with literary fashion, whichdemands that country folk should appear like toiling insectscaught in the landscape as in a giant web of Fate, thoughwhy the inhabitants of Belgravia or Clapham escape thistragic convention I cannot understand. But I do not thinkthat you, dear Aunt by adoption, see the life around you likethat. Even, however, had you and I seen more gloomily,the fashionable fatalistic framework would have been clearlyinconsistent with the “blandness” of your novel. Sucha novel must, I conceive, begin with “once upon a time”and end with “they all lived happy ever after,” so that mytask was simply to fill in the lacuna between these twopoints, and supply the early-Victorian mottoes, while eventhe material was marked out for me by Dr. Johnson’s definitionof a novel as “a story mainly about love.” I am hopefulthat when you come to read it (not, I trust, with a sorethroat), you will admit that I have at least tried to make mydear “Jinny” really “live happy ever after,” even though—inthe fierce struggle for literary survival—she is far fromlikely to do so. But at any rate, if only for the moment,I should be glad if I had succeeded in expressing throughher my grateful appreciation of the beautiful country inwhich my lot, like Jinny’s, has been cast, with its manylovable customs and simple, kindly people.
Your affectionate Nephew,
New Year 1919
|I.||BUNDOCK ON HIS BEAT||4|
|II.||JINNY ON HER ROUNDS||34|
|III.||JINNY AT HER HOMES||70|
|IV.||WILL ON HIS WAY||100|
|V.||WILL AT HOME||154|
|VI.||SUNDAY AT CHIPSTONE||195|
|VII.||COMEDY OF CORYDON AND AMARYLLIS||234|
|VIII.||CUPID AND CATTLE||264|
|IX.||TWO OF A TRADE||320|
|X.||HORSE, GROOM, AND BRIDE||357|
|XII.||WRITTEN IN WATER||472|
|XIII.||THE COURSE OF TRUE LOVE||503|
JINNY THE CARRIER
I’ll tell you who Time ambles withal.
“As You Like It.”
Once upon a time—but then it was more than once, it was, infact, every Tuesday and Friday—Jinny the Carrier, of BlackwaterHall, Little Bradmarsh, went the round with her tilt-cartfrom that torpid Essex village on the Brad, through LongBradmarsh (over the brick bridge) to worldly, bustling Chipstone,and thence home again through the series of droughty hamletswith public pumps that curved back—if one did not take thewrong turning at the Four Wantz Way—to her too aqueousbirthplace: baiting her horse, Methusalem, at “The BlackSheep” in Chipstone like the other carters and wagoners, sportinga dog with a wicked eye and a smart collar, and even blowing ahorn as if she had been the red-coated guard of the Chelmsfordcoach sweeping grandly to his goal down the High Street ofChipstone.
Do you question more precisely when this brazen femaleflourished? The answer may be given with the empty exactitudeof science and scholarship. Her climacteric was to the globe atlarge the annus mirabilis of the Great Exhibition, when the lionand the lamb lay down together in Hyde Park in a crystalcage. But though the advent of the world-trumpeted Millenniumcould not wholly fail to percolate even to Little Bradmarsh, amore veracious chronology, a history truer to local tradition,would date the climax of Jinny’s unmaidenly career as “beforethe Flood.”
Not, of course—as the mention of Methusalem might misleadyou into thinking—the Flood which is still commemorated intoyshops and Babylonian tablets, and anent which Germanscholars miraculously contrive to be dry; but the more momentouslocal Deluge when the Brad, perversely swollen, washedaway cattle, mangold clamps, and the Holy Sabbath in one fellsurge, leaving the odd wooden gable of Frog Farm loomingabove the waste of waters as nautically as Noah’s Ark.
In those antediluvian days, and in that sequestered hundred,farm-horses were the ruling fauna and set the pace; the averageof which Methusalem, with his “jub” or cross between a lazytrot and a funeral procession, did little to elevate. It was nottill the pride of life brought a giddier motion that the Flood—butwe anticipate both moral and story. Let us go rather atthe Arcadian amble of the days before the Deluge, when thebicycle—even of the early giant order—had not yet arisen toterrorize the countryside with its rotiferous mobility, still lessthe motor-mammoth swirling through the leafy lanes in a dust-fogand smelling like a super-skunk, or the air-monster out-soaringand out-Sataning the broomsticked witch. It is truethat Bundock, Her Majesty’s postman, had once brought wordof a big-bellied creature, like a bloated Easter-egg, hovering overthe old maypole as if meditating to impale itself thereon, like abladder on a stick. But normally not even the mail or a post-chaisedivided the road with Master Bundock; while, as for thesnorting steam-horse that bore off the young Bradmarshians,once they had ventured as far as roaring railhead, it touched thepostman’s imagination no more than the thousand-ton sea-monsterswith flapping membranes or cloud-spitting gullets thatrapt them to the lands of barbarism and gold.
Blessèd Bundock, genial Mercury of those days before theFlood, if the rubbered wheel of the postdiluvian age might havebetter winged thy feet, yet thy susceptible eye—that rested all-embracinglyon female gleaners—was never darkened by thesight of the soulless steel reaper, cropping close like a giantgoose, and thou wast equally spared that mechanic flail-of-all-workthat drones through the dog-days like a Brobdingnagianbumble-bee. For thine happier ear the cottages yet hummedwith the last faint strains of the folk-song: unknown in thysylvan perambulations that queer metallic parrot, hoarser eventhan the raucous reality, which now wakens and disenchantsevery sleepy hollow with echoes of the London music-hall.
Rural Essex was long the unchanging East, and there are stillploughmen who watch the airmen thunder by, then plunge intotheir prog again. The shepherds who pour their fleecy streamsbetween its hedgerows are still as primitive as the herdsmen ofChaldea, and there are yokels who dangle sideways from theirslow beasts as broodingly as the Bedouins of Palestine. Evento-day the spacious elm-bordered landscapes through whichJinny’s cart rolled and her dog circumambiently darted, lieignored of the picture postcard, and on the red spinal chimney-shaftof Frog Farm the doves settle with no air of perching fortheir photographs. Little Bradmarsh is still Little, still themost reclusive village of all that delectable champaign; theBrad still glides between its willows unruffled by picnic partiesand soothed