quotes_aug3_2014.htm

(August 4th to 22nd)



Format: Triple

When Anna at last ran in, she found her mistress on her knees, busily cleaning the floor with the lace cover from the radiator, because, she explained, it was all spotted with the blood of five children—she was perfectly certain there could not be more than five in the whole world—who had gone away for the moment, but were now waiting round the corner, and Anna was to find them and give them cakes to stop the bleeding, while her mistress swept and garnished that Our dear Lord when He came might find everything as it should be.

  

This is from “Swept and Garnished”, first published in January 1915, and colleted in “A Diversity of Creatures”.

In the early weeks of the Great War. Frau Ebermann, a well to do elderly woman, in her well appointed Berlin flat, has a touch of influenza. Suddenly she sees a young child in the room, and soon after, four more. She tells them to go home, but they tell her they have no homes to go to; ‘there isn’t anything left’. They have been told to wait until their people come for them. They are from two villages whose names Frau Ebermann knows, because she had read in the papers that those Belgian villages had been punished, ‘wiped out, stamped flat.’ Her son had sent letters from the front, saying that some children had been hurt by the horses and guns. The little visitors tell her that there are hundreds and thousands of them. One little boy is badly hurt, with an empty sleeve where he may have lost his arm. They show her their wounds, and leave, saying au revoir.

Frau Ebermann is found on her knees by the maid, mopping the floor because it was spotted with blood.


By its light she saw, half hidden behind a laurel not five paces away, a bareheaded man sitting very stiffly at the foot of one of the oaks. A broken branch lay across his lap—one booted leg protruding from beneath it. His head moved ceaselessly from side to side, but his body was as still as the tree’s trunk. He was dressed—she moved sideways to look more closely—in a uniform something like Wynn’s, with a flap buttoned across the chest. For an instant, she had some idea that it might be one of the young flying men she had met at the funeral. But their heads were dark and glossy. This man’s was as pale as a baby’s, and so closely cropped that she could see the disgusting pinky skin beneath. His lips moved…

   

This is from “Mary Postgate” first published in September 1915 and collected in A Diversity of Creatures. Harry Ricketts decribes Mary as: “the middle-aged, unimaginative and deeply repressed companion of a Miss Fowler. When the latter’s orphaned young nephew, Wynn, entered the household, Mary became his surrogate mother and `always his butt and his slave’. Wynn joined the Flying Corps on the outbreak of war and was soon killed on a trial flight, without having been in action. The two women decided that Mary should burn all his more personal effects in ‘the destructor’, the garden-incinerator.

“Going to the village for paraffin Mary witnessed the death of the publican’s small daughter, killed by a bomb dropped by a German plane. Later, while burning Wynn’s possessions, she discovered the German airman, who – after dropping the bomb – had fallen from his plane and was now dying. Mary, tending the bonfire, watched with mounting pleasure as the German slowly died.”


‘It was a bit by Sampoux, that we had taken over from the French. They’re tough, but you wouldn’t call ’em tidy as a nation. They had faced both sides of it with dead to keep the mud back. All those trenches were like gruel in a thaw. Our people had to do the same sort of thing—elsewhere; but Butcher’s Row in French End was the—er—show-piece. Luckily, we pinched a salient from Jerry just then, an’ straightened things out—so we didn’t need to use the Row after November. You remember, Strangwick?’

‘My God, yes! When the Buckboard-slats were missin’ you’d tread on ’em, an’ they’d creak.’

   

This is from “A Madonna of the Trenches” collected in Debits and Credits (1926).,

After the war, a disturbed young soldier, Clem Strangwick, remembers the horrors of the trenches. He is brought to admit that the cause of his trouble is not these but the suicide of Sergeant Godsoe, who had been a father figure in his childhood. Clem says that Godsoe and his aunt had been deeply in love, though married to others. He had only found this out when the aunt died of breast cancer and her ghost appeared to Clem and “Uncle John” in a remote trench, by an empty dug-out. Godsoe had taken two charcoal braziers, gone into the dug-out with the ghost, wedged up the door, and stifled to death. Clem then had a breakdown from which he has still not recovered.

Leave a comment