(2) 'The Elms'
(by Michael Smith)
Our flight from Torquay ended almost by instinct at Rottingdean where the beloved Aunt and Uncle had their holiday house, and where I had spent my very last days before sailing for India fourteen years back. In 1882 there had been but one daily bus from Brighton, which took forty minutes, and when a stranger appeared on the village green the native young would stick out their tongues at him. The Downs poured direct into the one village street and lay out eastward towards Russia Hill above Newhaven. My cousin Stanley Baldwin had married the eldest daughter of the Ridsdales out of the Dene – the big house that flanked one side of the green. My uncle’s North End House commanded the other, and a third house opposite the church was waiting to be taken according to the decrees of Fate. The Baldwin marriage, then, made us free of the joyous young brotherhood and sisterhood of the Dene and its friends.At 'North End House'
The Aunt and Uncle had said to us: ‘Let the child that is coming to you be born in our house’ and had effaced themselves till my son John arrived on a warm August night of ’97, under what seemed every good omen.As Rudyard had recently been a guest of a naval friend on fleet trials he amusingly described the birth in appropriately nautical terms to his friend W.J.Harding.
Ref: t.b.d. [torpedo boat destroyer] trials. My attention is at present taken up by small craft recently launched from my own works – weight (approx) 8.957 lbs: h.p (indicated) 2.0464, consumption of fuel unrecorded but fresh supplies needed every 2 ˝ hrs. The vessel at present needs at least 15 years for full completion but at the end of that time may be an efficient addition to the Navy, for which service it is intended. Date of launch Aug.17th 1.50 a.m. No casualties. Christened John. You will understand that the new craft requires a certain amount of attention – but I trust ere long to be able to attend a t.b.d. trial.'The Elms'
Meantime, we had rented by direct interposition of Fate that third house opposite the church on the green. It stood in a sort of little island behind flint walls which we then though high enough, and almost beneath some big ilex trees. It was small, none too well built, but cheap, and so suited us who still remembered a little affair at Yokohama. Then there grew up great happiness between ‘The Dene,’ ‘North End House,’ and ‘The Elms.’ One could throw a cricket-ball from any one house to the other, but, beyond turning out at 2 a.m. to help a silly foxhound puppy who had stuck in a drain, I do not remember any violent alarms and excursions other than packing farm-carts filled with mixed babies – Stanley Baldwin’s and ours – and despatching them into the safe clean heart of the motherly Downs for jam-smeared picnics. Those Downs moved me to write some verses called “Sussex.”
The deep sense of religious feeling and moral obligation which has coloured the whole of the Queen’s life will bring her heartily into unison with the spirit of the fine poem by Mr. Rudyard Kipling which we print this morning. There is a tendency, in these days, to rush into dithy-rambic rapture of every great exhibition of national power. It is well that we should be reminded by a poet, who more perhaps than any other living man, has been identified with the pride of Empire and with confidence in the destinies of our race, that there is a spiritual as well as material side to national greatness.Rudyard's recent time with the fleet, which had now dispersed to far stations at the end of the Review by the Queen, and their attendance at the celebratory bonfire on Beacon Hill were reflected in some of the lines.
Far-called our navies melt away;As a memorable footnote to the poem it brought, years later, Dr Hubert Eaton, an American looking for inspiration for chapels to be built in his Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. He was enchanted with St. Margaret’s for he reasoned that the village church of such a poet would be perfect for his plans. He built an exact replica and since its dedication in 1941 it has been known as “The Church of the Recessional”.
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre !
They ….. strolled over the Downs to the dull evening sea. The tide was dead low under the chalk cliffs, and the little wrinkled waves grieved along the sands up the coast to Newhaven and down the coast to long, grey Brighton, whose smoke trailed out across the channel. They walked to the Gap where the cliff is only a few feet high. A windlass for hoisting shingle from the beach below stands at the edge of it. The Coastguard cottages are a little further on, and an old ship’s figure-head of a Turk in a turban stared at them over the wall.The story, which introduces a local smuggling family, has a few line of a little song – "Telscombe Tye" – the unpublished complete manuscript of which lies within the Kipling Papers at the University of Sussex. "Brother Square-Toes" is preceded in Rewards and Fairies" by “The Knife and the Naked Chalk” where again he drew on local material. Whereas normally Kipling plucked local names and attached them to different characters in this story he describes both name and character. Ben Dudeney, a local shepherd, lived at Mill Cottage at the top of what later became Bazehill Road. He is introduced in the most practical of terms. As before, John and Elsie as Dan and Una have returned to the village to stay with Aunt Georgie.
…..and lived in a flint village on the bare windy Downs, quite thirty miles from home. They made friends with an old shepherd, called Mr.Dudeney. ….. He had a tiny cottage about half a mile from the village, where his wife made mead from thyme honey, and nursed sick lambs in front of a coal fire, while Old Jim, who was Mr.Dudeney’s sheep-dog’s father, lay at the door. ….. One afternoon when the village water-cart had made the street smell specially townified, they went to look for their shepherd as ususal, and, as usual, Old Jim crawled over the door-step and took them in charge. …. Two kestrels hung bivvering and squealing above them. A gull flapped lazily along the white edges of the cliffs. The curves of the Downs shook a little in the heat, and so did Mr.Dudeney’s distant head. They walked toward it very slowly and found themselves staring into a horse-shoe-shaped hollow a hundred feet deep, whose steep sides were laced with tangled sheep-tracks. The flock grazed on the flat at the bottom, under the charge of Young Jim. Mr Dudeney sat comfortably knitting on the edge of the slope, his crook between his knees.After the day’s adventuring when they meet a Neolithic man and learn of his sacrifice, the return home is exquisitely described:
The Downs which looked so bare and hot when they came, were full of delicious shadow-dimples; the smell of the thyme and the salt mixed together on the south-west drift from the still sea; their eyes dazzled with the low sun, and the long grass under it looked golden. The sheep knew where their fold was, so Young Jim came back to his master, and they all four strolled home, the scabious-heads swishing about their ankles, and their shadows streaking behind them like the shadows of giants.Josephine was a particularly lively, fair-haired girl, who enjoyed the company of other children, acting out all sorts of dramas from characters in English history. Angela Mackail, later Angela Thirkell, described the fun they had in a loving memoir. Another friend was Christabel Macnaghten, whose uncle was the squire of the nearby village of Ovingdean. Once when she had walked over Long Hill she was with Josephine and her father in the garden of 'The Elms'. Carrie wanted Josephine who went into the house and Rudyard was left with Christabel. Being a sympathetic and enquiring companion he asked her how she had liked her recent holiday in the New Forest. She responded by saying that although most of it was thoroughly enjoyable she was scared when in a wood which seemed rather menacing. Rudyard offered to write a poem for her about a ghostly wood, which he did. It became "The Way through the Woods" and was published later in “Marklake Witches” in Rewards and Fairies, but Christabel, later Lady Aberconway, rued the fact that he didn’t send her the manuscript.
Mr. Harmsworth has brought down one of those motor-car things. Come and try it ! It was a twenty minute trip. We returned white with dust and dizzy with noise. But the poison worked from that very hour.The Rottingdean years saw much unpredictable and adventurous pioneer motoring. The hired “Embryo” gave way to a "Locomobile", used as a leading character in “Steam Tactics”, which was delivered to 'The Elms' on June 18th 1901. In a letter to John Phillips he wrote:
...her lines are lovely; her form is elegant; the curves of her buggy-top are alone worth the price of admission, but – as a means of propulsion she is today a nickel-plated fraud.The locomobile was nicknamed “the Holy Terror” or “Coughing Jane”, who:
..on a trip to Crowborough lay down on a hill and dissolved into clouds of steam and oil and water. She did everything vile a motor could do and we wearily tramped the roads till we found a cottage and a kind Irishman who fed us on chicken and ham sandwiches and beer and was an angel unto us.The car provided the means, usually, to search for the house which would remove the family from the heartache of Josphine and the insistent interest of “trippers”. No journey was wasted for each provided material for the descriptive setting for “They” in Traffics and Discoveries) His words recapture the essence of the beauty of the Sussex countryside as it was a century ago.
One view called me to another; one hilltop to its fellow, half across the county, and since I could answer at no more trouble than the snapping forward of a lever, I let the country flow under my wheels. The orchid-studded flats of the East gave way to the thyme, ilex and grey grass of the Downs; these again to the rich cornland and fig-trees of the lower coast, where you carry the beat of the tide on your left hand for fifteen level miles; and when at last I turned inland through a huddle of rounded hills and woods I had run myself clean out of my known marks. Beyond that precise hamlet which stands godmother to the capital of the United States, I found hidden villages, where bees, the only things awake, boomed in eighty-foot lindens that overhung grey Norman churches; miraculous brooks diving under stone bridges built for heavier traffic than would ever vex them again; tithe-barns larger than their churches, and an old smithy that cried aloud how it had once been a hall of the Knights of the Temple. Gipsies I met on a common where the gorse, brackens, and heath fought it out together up a mile of Roman road; and a little farther on I disturbed a red fox rolling dog-fashion in the naked sunlight.This is an amazingly accurate description of the journey past Brighton and Shoreham to Worthing where the inland turn is made. The little village of Washington stands beneath Chanctonbury Ring, sadly devastated in the 1987 hurricane and no longer the eye-catching feature of before. And then to the 'ancient house of lichened and weather-worn stone'. Some of the features are clearly drawn from 'Bateman’s', the house in the village of Burwash to which the Kiplings were to move. The black and white chequered tiles, the deep grate, the eagle-topped convex mirror are in the hall there, and there are slim chimneys and a dovecot too. But the ornate topiary peacocks are, I think, drawn from an elegant half-timbered house, 'Ravello' at Rusthall near Tunbridge Wells in Kent, the county next door.
As the wooded hills closed about me I stood up in the car to take the bearings of that great Down whose ringed head is a landmark for fifty miles across the low countries. I judged the lie of the country would bring me across some westward running road that went to his feet, but I did not allow for the confusing veils of the woods. A quick turn plunged me first into a cutting brim-full of liquid sunshine; next into a gloomy tunnel where last year’s dead leaves whispered and scuffled about my tyres. The strong hazel stuff meeting overhead had not been cut for a couple of generations as least, nor had any axe helped the moss-cankered oak and beech to spring above them. Here the road changed frankly into a carpeted ride on whose brown velvet spent primrose-clumps showed like jade, and a few sickly, white-stalked blue-bells nodded together. As the slope favoured I shut off the power and slid over the whirled leaves, expecting every moment to meet a keeper; but I only heard a jay, far off, arguing against the silence under the twilight of the trees.
There came at last a brilliant day, swept clear from the south-west, that brought the hills within hand’s reach – a day of unstable airs and high filmy clouds. ……. As I reached the crest of the Downs I felt the soft air change, saw it glaze under the sun; and looking down at the sea, in that instant beheld the blue of the Channel turn through polished silver and dulled steel to dingy pewter.In Something of Myself Kipling claims to have first approached Bateman’s by locomobile, but we know from Carrie Kipling's diary that the car had let them down and that they went via Etchingham by train. Their disappointment that the house was no longer on the market delayed matters and the same predicament presented itself. The Locomobile and the later Lanchesters gave joy and frustration in equal measure, but they served their purpose. What he didn’t make clear in “They” was that he never drove himself, although he was greatly interested in and knowledgeable about how motors worked. He always employed a chauffeur, the term appositely used from the days of steam-powered automobiles.
Know, O my masters and noble persons, there was in the days of the Caliph Haroun Alrashid, a certain Afrit of little sense and great power, named Beiman Be-uql, dwelling in the city of Bagdad, who had devised brazen engines that ran on iron roads. These by the perfection of their operation, dilated the heart with wonder and the eye with amazement, for they resembled, as it were, litters drawn by fire-breathing dragons. Now the Afrit did not make benefactions for the sake of the approbation of Allah, but for money.The towns linked in this way were given Arabian sounding names. Bagdad seems to be Brighton, but the rest are more closely linked to their derivatives. On the London line we have Tabriziz (Three Bridges), Raidill (Redhill) and Krahidin (Croydon). To the east we have Lawaz (Lewes), ‘Alisham (Hailsham) and Isbahan (Eastbourne) while to the west we have Sh’am (Shoreham) and Harundil (Arundel). The cheerful porter is included ; Then came a servant of the Afrit clad in bluish raiment, and cried; ‘With thy permission !’ and smote the legs of Giaffar from under him by means of a small wheeled cart which he wheeled in haste.