At Englishman's Home


Mr. Beverley Metcalfe tapped the barometer in the back hall and noted with satisfaction that it had fallen several points during the night. He was by nature a sun-loving man, but he believed it was one of the marks of a true countryman to be eternally in need of rain. He had made a study and noted the points of true countrymen. Had he been of literary habit and of an earlier generation, his observations might have formed a little book of aphorisms. The true countryman wore a dark suit on Sundays unlike the flannelled tripper from the cities; he loved a bargain and would go to any expense to do his marketing by private treaty instead of through the normal channels of retail trade; while ostensibly sceptical and conservative he was readily fascinated by mechanical gadgets; he was genial but inhospitable, willing to gossip for hours across a fence with any passing stranger, but reluctant to allow his closest friends into his house..... These and a hundred other characteristics Mr. Metcalfe noted for emulation.
“That’s what we need—rain,” he said to himself, and opening the garden door stepped into the balmy morning air. There was no threat in the cloudless heavens. His gardener passed, pushing the waterbarrow.
“Good morning, Boggett. The glass has dropped, I’m glad to say.”
“Means rain.”
“Down quite low.”
“Pity to spend a lot of time watering.”
“Them’ll burn up else.”
“Not if it rains.”
“Ain’t agoin to rain. Don’t never rain around heres except you can see clear down-over.”
“See clear down-over?”
“Ur. Can always see Pilbury Steeple when rain’s a-coming.”
Mr. Metcalfe accepted this statement gravely. “These old fellows know a thing or two that the scientists don’t,” he would often remark, simulating an air of patronage which was far from sincere. Boggett, the gardener, was not particularly old and he knew very little; the seeds he planted seldom grew; he wrought stark havoc whenever he was allowed to use the pruning knife; his ambition in horticulture went no further than the fattening of the largest possible pumpkin; but Mr. Metcalfe regarded him with the simple reverence of peasant for priest. For Mr. Metcalfe was but lately initiated into the cult of the countryside, and any features of it still claimed his devotion—its agricultural processes, its social structure, its vocabulary, its recreations; the aspect of it, glittering now under the cool May sunshine, fruit trees in flower, chestnut in full leaf, the ash budding; the sound and smell of it—Mr. Westmacott calling his cows at dawn, the scent of wet earth and Boggett splashing clumsily among the wall-flowers; the heart of it—or what Mr. Metcalfe took to be its heart—pulsing all round him; his own heart beating time, for was he not part of it, a true countryman, a landowner?
He was, it is true, a landowner in rather a small way, but, as he stood on his terrace and surveyed the untroubled valley below him, he congratulated himself that he had not been led away by the house agents into the multitudinous cares of a wider territory. He owned seven acres, more or less, and it seemed to him exactly the right amount; they comprised the policies of the house and a paddock; sixty further acres of farmland had also been available, and for a day or two he had toyed with the rather inebriating idea of acquiring them. He could well have afforded it, of course, but to his habit of mind there was something perverse and downright wrong in an investment which showed a bare two per cent yield on his capital. He wanted a home, not a “seat,” and he reflected on the irony of that word; he thought of Lord Brakehurst, with whose property he sometimes liked to say that his own “marched”—there was indeed a hundred yards of ha-ha between his paddock and one of Lord Brakehurst’s pastures. What could be less sedentary than Lord Brakehurst’s life, every day of which was agitated by the cares of his great possessions? No, seven acres, judiciously chosen, was the ideal property, and Mr. Metcalfe had chosen judiciously. The house-agent had spoken no more than the truth when he described Much Malcock as one of the most unspoilt Cotswold villages. It was exactly such a place as Mr. Metcalfe had dreamed of in the long years in the cotton trade in Alexandria. Mr. Metcalfe’s own residence, known for generations by the singular name of Grumps, had been rechristened by a previous owner as Much Malcock Hall. It bore the new name pretty well. It was “a dignified Georgian house of mellowed Cotswold stone; four recep., six principal bed and dressing rooms, replete with period features.” The villagers, Mr. Metcalfe observed with regret, could not be induced to speak of it as “the Hall.” Boggett always said that he worked “up to Grumps,” but the name was not of Mr. Metcalfe’s choosing and it looked well on his notepaper. It suggested a primacy in the village that was not undisputed.
Lord Brakehurst, of course, was in a class apart; he was Lord Lieutenant of the County with property in fifty parishes. Lady Brakehurst had not in fact called on Mrs. Metcalfe, living as she did in a world where card-leaving had lost its importance, but, of the calling class, there were two other households in Much Malcock, and a borderline case—besides the vicar, who had a plebeian accent and an inclination to preach against bankers.
The rival gentry were Lady Peabury and Colonel Hodge, both, to the villagers, newcomers, but residents of some twenty years priority to Mr. Metcalfe.
Lady Peabury lived at Much Malcock House, whose chimneys, soon to be hidden in the full foliage of summer, could still be seen among its budding limes on the opposite slope of the valley. Four acres of meadowland lay between her property and Mr. Metcalfe’s, where Westmacott’s plump herd enriched the landscape and counter-balanced the slightly suburban splendour of her flower gardens. She was a widow and, like Mr. Metcalfe, had come to Much Malcock from abroad. She was rich and kind and rather greedy, a diligent reader of fiction, mistress of many Cairn terriers and of five steady old maidservants who never broke the Crown Derby.
Colonel Hodge lived at the Manor, a fine gabled house in the village street, whose gardens, too, backed on to Westmacott’s meadow. He was impecunious but active in the affairs of the British Legion and the Boy Scouts; he accepted Mr. Metcalfe’s invitation to dinner, but spoke of him, in his family circle, as “the cotton wallah.”
These neighbours were of unequivocal position; the Hornbeams at the Old Mill were a childless, middle-aged couple who devoted themselves to craftsmanship. Mr. Hornbeam senior was a genuine, commercial potter in Staffordshire; he supported them reluctantly and rather exiguously, but this backing of unearned quarterly cheques placed them definitely in the upper strata of local society. Mrs. Hornbeam attended church and Mr. Hornbeam was quite knowledgeable about vegetables. In fact, had they preferred a tennis court to their herb garden, and had Mr. Hornbeam possessed an evening-suit, they might easily have mixed with their neighbours on terms of ostensible equality. At the time of the Peace Ballot, Mrs. Hornbeam had canvassed every cottage in bicycling distance, but she eschewed the Women’s Institute, and in Lady Peabury’s opinion failed to pull her weight in the village. Mr. Metcalfe thought Mr. Hornbeam Bohemian, and Mr. Hornbeam thought Mr. Metcalfe Philistine. Colonel Hodge had fallen out with them some time back, on a question relating to his Airedale, and cut them year in, year out, three or four times a day.
Under their stone-tiled roofs the villagers derived substantial comfort from all these aliens. Foreign visitors impressed by the charges of London staurants and the splendour of the more accessible ducal palaces often express wonder at the wealth of England. A half has not been told them. It is in remote hamlets like Much Malcock that the great reservoirs of national wealth seep back to the soil. The villagers had their Memorial Hall and their club. In the rafters of their church the death-watch beetle had been expensively exterminated for them; their scouts had a bell tent and silver bugles; the district nurse drove her own car; at Christmas their children were surfeited with trees and parties and the cottagers loaded with hampers; if one of them was indisposed port and soup and grapes and tickets for the seaside arrived in profusion; at evening their menfolk returned from work laden with perquisites, and all the year round they feasted on forced vegetables. The vicar found it impossible to interest them in the Left Book Club.
“God gave all men all earth to love,” Mr. Metcalfe quoted, dimly remembering the lines from a calendar which had hung in his office in Alexandria, “but since our hearts are small, Ordained for each one spot should prove, Beloved over all.”
He pottered round to the engine-house where his chauffeur was brooding over batteries. He popped his head into another outbuilding and saw that no harm had befallen the lawnmower during the night. He paused in the kitchen garden to nip the blossom off some newly planted black-currant which must not be allowed to fruit that summer. Then, his round finished, he pottered in to breakfast.
His wife was already there.
“I’ve done my round,” he said.
“Yes, dear.”
“Everything coming along very nicely.”
“Yes, dear.”
“You can’t see Pilbury Steeple, though.”
“Good gracious, Beverley, why should you want to do that?”
“It’s a sign of rain when you can.”
“What a lot of nonsense. You’ve been listening to Boggett again.”
She rose and left him with his papers. She had to see the cook. Servants seem to take up so much time in England; she thought wistfully of the white-gowned Berber boys who had pattered about the cool, tiled floors of her house in Alexandria.
Mr. Metcalfe finished his breakfast and retired to his study with pipe and papers. The Gazette came out that morning. A true countryman always reads his “local rag” first, so Mr. Metcalfe patiently toiled through the columns of Women’s Institute doings and the reports of a Council meeting on the subject of sewage, before he allowed himself to open The Times.
Serene opening of a day of wrath!


Towards eleven o’clock Mr. Metcalfe put aside the crossword. In the lobby by the garden-door he kept a variety of garden implements specially designed for the use of the elderly. Selecting from among them one which had newly arrived, he sauntered out into the sunshine and addressed himself to the plantains on the lawn. The tool had a handsomely bound leather grip, a spliced cane handle and a head of stainless steel; it worked admirably, and with a minimum of effort Mr. Metcalfe had soon scarred a large area with neat little pits.
He paused and called towards the house, “Sophie, Sophie, come and see what I’ve done.”
His wife’s head emerged from an upper window. “Very pretty, dear,” she said.
Encouraged, he set to work again. Boggett passed.
“Useful little tool this, Boggett.”
“Think we ought to sow some seed in the bare patches?”
“You think the grass will grow over them?”
“Noa. Plantains’ll come up again.”
“You don’t think I’ve killed the roots?”
“Noa. Makes the roots powerful strong topping ’em off same as you’ve done.”
“Well, what ought I to do?”
“Bain’t nothing you can do with plantains. They do always come up again.”
Boggett passed. Mr. Metcalfe looked at his gadget with sudden distaste, propped it petulantly against the sundial, and with his hands in his pockets stared out across the valley. Even at this distance Lady Peabury’s aubretias struck a discordant note. His eyes dropped and he noticed, casually at first, then with growing curiosity, two unfamiliar figures among Westmacott’s cows. They were young men in dark, urban clothes, and they were very busy about something. They had papers in their hands which they constantly consulted; they paced up and down the field as though measuring it; they squatted on their haunches as though roughly taking a level; they pointed into the air, to the ground, and to the horizon.
“Boggett,” said Mr. Metcalfe sharply, “come here a minute.”
“Do you see two men in Mr. Westmacott’s field?”
“You don’t?”
“’Er bain’t Mr. Westmacott’s field. ’E’ve a sold of ’er.”
“Sold it! Good heavens! Who to?”
“Couldn’t rightly say who ’e’ve a sold ’er to. Gentleman from London staying at the Brakehurst. Paid a tidy price for ’er too I’ve a heard said.”
“What on earth for?”
“Couldn’t rightly say, but I reckon it be to build hisself a house.”
Build. It was a word so hideous that no one in Much Malcock dared use it above a whisper. “Housing scheme,” “Development,” “Clearance,” “Council houses,” “Planning”—these obscene words had been expunged from the polite vocabulary of the district, only to be used now and then, with the licence allowed to anthropologists, of the fierce tribes beyond the parish boundary. And now the horror was in their midst, the mark of Plague in the court of the Decameron.
After the first moment of shock, Mr. Metcalfe rallied for action, hesitated for a moment whether or not to plunge down the hill and challenge the enemy on his own ground, and decided against it; this was the moment to act with circumspection. He must consult Lady Peabury.
It was three-quarters of a mile to the house; the lane ran past the gate which gave access to Westmacott’s field; a crazily-hung elm gate and deep cow-trodden mud, soon in Mr. Metcalfe’s imagination, to give place to golden privet and red gravel. Mr. Metcalfe could see the heads of the intruders bobbing beyond the hedge; they bore urban, purposeful black hats. He drove on, miserably.
Lady Peabury was in the morning room reading a novel; early training gave a guilty spice to this recreation, for she had been brought up to believe that to read a novel before luncheon was one of the gravest sins it was possible for a gentlewoman to commit. She slipped the book under a cushion and rose to greet Mr. Metcalfe.
“I was just getting ready to go out,” she explained.
Mr. Metcalfe had no time for politenesses.
“Lady Peabury,” he began at once, “I have very terrible news.”
“Oh dear! Is poor Mr. Cruttwell having trouble with the Wolf Cub account again?”
“No; at least, he is; there’s another fourpence gone astray; on the credit side this time, which makes it more worrying. But that isn’t what I came about. It is something that threatens our whole lives. They are going to build in Westmacott’s field.” Briefly, but with emotion, he told Lady Peabury what he had seen.
She listened gravely. When he had finished there was silence in the morning room; six little clocks ticked among the chintzes and the potted azaleas. At last Lady Peabury spoke:
“Westmacott has behaved very badly,” she said.
“I suppose you can’t blame him.”
“I do blame him, Mr. Metcalfe, very severely. I can’t understand it at all. He always seemed a very decent man..... I was thinking of making Mrs. Westmacott secretary of the Women’s Institute. He had no right to do a thing like that without consulting us. Why, I look right on to that field from my bedroom windows. I could never understand why you didn’t buy the field yourself.”
It was let for £3 18s.; they had asked £170 for it; there was tithe and property tax on top of that. Lady Peabury knew this.
“Any of us could have bought it at the time of sale,” said Mr. Metcalfe rather sharply.
“It always went with your house.”
In another minute, Mr. Metcalfe felt, she would be telling him that he had behaved very badly; that he had always seemed a very decent man.
She was, in fact, thinking on just those lines at the moment. “I daresay it’s not too late even now for you to make an offer,” she said.
“We are all equally threatened,” said Mr. Metcalfe. “I think we ought to act together. Hodge won’t be any too pleased when he hears the news.”
Colonel Hodge had heard, and he was none too pleased. He was waiting at the Hall when Mr. Metcalfe got back.
“Do you know what that scoundrel Westmacott has done?”
“Yes,” said Mr. Metcalfe rather wearily, “I know.” The interview with Lady Peabury had not gone off quite as he had hoped. She had shown no enthusiasm for common action.
“Sold his field to a lot of jerry builders.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Funny, I always thought it was your field.”
“No,” said Mr. Metcalfe, “never.”
“It always used to go with this house.”
“Yes, I know, but I didn’t happen to want it.”
“Well, it’s put us all in a pretty nasty fix, I must say. D’you suppose they’d sell it back to you now?”
“I don’t know that I want to buy it. Why, they’ll probably want a building-land price—seventy or eighty pounds an acre.”
“More, I daresay. But, good heavens man, you wouldn’t let that stop you. Think how it would depreciate your property having a whole town of bungalows right under your windows.”
“Come, come, Hodge. We’ve no reason to suppose that it will be bungalows.”
“Well, villas then. You surely aren’t sticking up for the fellows?”
“Certainly not. We shall all suffer very much from any development there. My belief is that it can be stopped by law; there’s the Society for the Protection of Rural England. We could interest them in it. The County Council could be approached. We could write letters to the papers and petition the Office of Works. The great thing is that we must all stand together over this.”
“Fat lot of change we shall get out of that. Think of the building that’s gone on over at Metbury.”
Mr. Metcalfe thought, and shuddered.
“I should say that this was one of the times when money talked loudest. Have you tried Lady Peabury?”
For the first time in their acquaintance Mr. Metcalfe detected a distinctly coarse strain in Colonel Hodge. “I have discussed it with her. She is naturally very much concerned.”
“That field has always been known as Lower Grumps,” said the Colonel, reverting to his former and doubly offensive line of thought. “It’s not really her chicken.”
“It is all our chickens,” said Mr. Metcalfe, getting confused with the metaphor.
“Well, I don’t know what you expect me to do about it,” said Colonel Hodge. “You know how I’m placed. It all comes of that parson preaching Bolshevism Sunday after Sunday.”
“We ought to get together and discuss it.”
“Oh, we’ll discuss it all right. I don’t suppose we shall discuss anything else for the next three months.”
No one in Much Malcock took the crisis harder than the Hornbeams. News of it reached them at midday by means of the village charwoman, who dropped in twice a week to despoil their larder. She told them with some pride, innocently assuming that all city gentlemen—as she continued to regard Mr. Hornbeam, in spite of his home-spuns and his beard—would welcome an addition to their numbers.
Nervous gloom descended on the Old Mill. There was no explosion of wrath as there had been at the Manor; no moral condemnation as at the House; no call to action as had come from the Hall. Hopeless sorrow reigned unrelieved. Mrs. Hornbeam’s pottery went to pieces. Mr. Hornbeam sat listless at the loom. It was their working hour; they sat at opposite ends of the raftered granary. Often, on other afternoons, they sang to one another catches and refrains of folk music as their busy fingers muddled with the clay and the shuttles. Today they sat in silence each, according to a Japanese mystical practice, attempting to drive the new peril into the World of Unbeing. It had worked well enough with Colonel Hodge and the Airedale, with the Abyssinian War, and with Mr. Hornbeam senior’s yearly visit, but by sunset the new peril remained obstinately concrete.
Mrs. Hornbeam set their simple meal of milk, raisins, and raw turnip; Mr. Hornbeam turned away from his elm platter. “There is no place for the Artist in the Modern World,” he said. “We ask nothing of their brutish civilization except to be left alone, to be given one little corner of land, an inch or two of sky where we can live at peace and occupy ourselves with making seemly and beautiful things. You wouldn’t think it was too much to ask. We give them the entire globe for their machines. But it is not enough. They have to hunt us out and harry us. They know that as long as there is one spot of loveliness and decency left it is a standing reproach to them.”
It was growing dark; Mrs. Hornbeam struck a flint and lit the rush lights. She wandered to the harp and plucked a few poignant notes. “Perhaps Mr. Metcalfe will stop it,” she said.
“That we should be dependent for the essentials of life upon a vulgarian like that.....”
It was in this mood that he received an invitation from Mr. Metcalfe to confer with his neighbours at Much Malcock House on the following afternoon.
The choice of meeting place had been a delicate one, for Lady Peabury was loth to abdicate her position of general leadership or to appear as leader in this particular matter; on the other hand, it touched her too closely for her to be able to ignore it. Accordingly the invitations were issued by Mr. Metcalfe, who thereby accepted responsibility for the agenda, while the presence of the meeting in her morning room gave something of the atmosphere of a Cabinet meeting at the Palace.
Opinion had hardened during the day and there was general agreement with Colonel Hodge’s judgment: “Metcalfe has got us into this hole by not buying the field in the first place; it’s up to him to get us out of it.” Though nothing as uncompromising as this was said in front of Mr. Metcalfe, he could feel it in the air. He was the last to arrive. Lady Peabury’s welcome to her guests had been lukewarm. “It is very kind of you to come. I really cannot think that it is necessary, but Mr. Metcalfe particularly wished it. I suppose he intends telling us what he is going to do.” To Mr. Metcalfe she said, “We are full of curiosity.”
“Sorry to be late. I’ve had a day of it, I can tell you. Been to all the local offices, got on to all the Societies, and I may as well tell you at once, there’s nothing doing from that end. We are not even scheduled as a rural area.”
“No,” said Colonel Hodge, “I saw to that. Halves the potential value of one’s property.”
“Schedules,” moaned Mr. Hornbeam, “that is what we have become. We must be scheduled to lead a free life.”
“... And so,” persisted Mr. Metcalfe, in his boardroom manner, “we are left to find the solution ourselves. Now this young man has no particular reason, I imagine, for preferring this district above any other in the country. The building has not yet begun; he has no commitments. I cannot help feeling that if he were tactfully approached and offered a reasonable profit on the transaction, he might be induced to re-sell.”
“I am sure,” said Lady Peabury, “we shall all owe a deep debt of gratitude to Mr. Metcalfe.”
“Very public spirited of you,” said Colonel Hodge.
“Profits, the cancer of the age ...”
“I am perfectly willing,” said Mr. Metcalfe, “to bear my share of the burden.....” At the word “share” his hearers stiffened perceptibly. “My suggestion is that we make a common fund proportionate to our present land holdings. By a rough calculation I work that out as being in the ratio of one to Mr. Hornbeam, two to Colonel Hodge, two to myself, and five to our hostess here. The figures could be adjusted,” he added as he noted that his suggestion was falling a little flat.
“You can count me out,” said Colonel Hodge. “Couldn’t possibly run to it.”
“And me,” said Mr. Hornbeam.
Lady Peabury was left in, with a difficult hand to stake. Delicacy forbade recognition of the vital fact that Mr. Metcalfe was very much the richer—delicacy tempered with pride. The field must be saved, but there seemed no system of joint purchase by which she could honourably fail to bear the largest part. Duty called, clearly and unmistakably, to Mr. Metcalfe alone. She held her cards and passed the bidding. “Surely,” she said, “as a businessman you must see a great many objections to joint ownership. Do you propose to partition the field, or are we all to share the rent, the tithe and the tax? It would be highly inconvenient. I doubt if it is even legal.”
“Certainly, certainly. I merely wished to assure you of my readiness to co-operate. The field, as such, is of no interest to me, I can assure you. I would willingly stand down.”
There was a threat, almost a lack of politeness in his tone. Colonel Hodge scented danger.
“Wouldn’t it be best,” he said, “to find out first if this fellow is willing to re-sell? Then you can decide which of you keep it.”
“I am sure we shall be very interested to hear the results of Mr. Metcalfe’s negotiations,” said Lady Peabury.
She should not have said that. She would gladly have recalled the words the moment after they were uttered. She had vaguely wanted to say something disagreeable, to punish Mr. Metcalfe for the discomfort in which she found herself. She had not meant to antagonize him, and this she had unmistakably done.
Mr. Metcalfe left the House abruptly, almost precipitately, and all that evening he chafed. For fifteen years Mr. Metcalfe had been president of the British Chamber of Commerce. He had been greatly respected by the whole business community. No one could put anything across him, and he would not touch anything that was not aboveboard. Egyptian and Levantine merchants who tried to interest Metcalfe in shady business went away with a flea in the ear. It was no good trying to squeeze Metcalfe. That was his reputation in the Union Club, and here, at home, in his own village, an old woman had tried to catch him napping. There was a sudden change. He was no longer the public-spirited countryman; he was cards-on-the-table-brass-tacks-and-twenty-shillings-in-the-pound-treat-him-fair-or-mind-your-step Metcalfe, Metcalfe with his back up, fighting Metcalfe once again, Metcalfe who would cut off his nose any day to spite his face, sink any ship for a ha’p’orth of tar that was not legally due, Metcalfe the lion of the Rotarians.
“She should not have said that,” said Colonel Hodge, reporting the incident to his wife over their horrible dinner. “Metcalfe won’t do anything now.”
“Why don’t you go and talk to the man who’s bought the field?” said Mrs. Hodge.
“I might ... I think I will..... Tell you what, I’ll go now.”
He went.
He found the man without difficulty, since there was no other visitor staying at the Brakehurst Arms. An enquiry from the landlord elicited his name—Mr. Hargood-Hood. He was sitting alone in the parlour, sipping whisky and soda and working at The Times’ crossword.
The Colonel said, “Evening. My name is Hodge.”
“I daresay you know who I am.”
“I’m very sorry, I’m afraid ...”
“I own the Manor. My garden backs on to Westmacott’s field—the one you’ve bought.”
“Oh,” said Mr. Hargood-Hood, “was he called Westmacott? I didn’t know. I leave all these things to my lawyer. I simply told him to find me a suitable, secluded site for my work. He told me last week he had found one here. It seems very suitable. But he didn’t tell me anyone’s name.”
“You didn’t pick this village for any particular reason?”
“No, no. But I think it perfectly charming,” he added politely.
There was a pause.
“I wanted to talk to you,” said Colonel Hodge superfluously. “Have a drink.”
“Thank you.”
Another pause.
“I’m afraid you won’t find it a very healthy site,” said the Colonel. “Down in the hollow there.”
“I never mind things like that. All I need is seclusion.”
“Ah, a writer no doubt.”
“A painter?”
“No, no. I suppose you would call me a scientist.”
“I see. And you would be using your house for weekends?”
“No, no, quite the reverse. I and my staff will be working here all the week. And it’s not exactly a house I’m building, although of course there will be living quarters attached. Perhaps, since we are going to be such close neighbours, you would like to see the plans.....”
“... You never saw such a thing,” said Colonel Hodge next morning to Mr. Metcalfe. “An experimental industrial laboratory he called it. Two great chimneys—have to have those, he said, by law, because of poison fumes, a water tower to get high pressures, six bungalows for his staff ... ghastly. The odd thing was he seemed quite a decent sort of fellow. Said it hadn’t occurred to him anyone would find it objectionable. Thought we should all be interested. When I brought up the subject of re-selling—tactful, you know—he just said he left all that to his lawyer.....”


Much Malcock Hall.
Dear Lady Peabury,
In pursuance of our conversation of three days ago, I beg to inform you that I have been in communication with Mr. Hargood-Hood, the purchaser of the field which separates our two properties, and his legal representative. As Col. Hodge has already informed you, Mr. Hargood-Hood proposes to erect an experimental industrial laboratory fatal to the amenities of the village. As you are doubtless aware, work has not yet been commenced, and Mr. Hargood-Hood is willing to re-sell the property if duly compensated. The price proposed is to include re-purchase of the field, legal fees and compensation for the architect’s work. The young blackguard has us in a cleft stick. He wants £500. It is excessive, but I am prepared to pay half of this if you will pay the other half. Should you not accede to this generous offer I shall take steps to safeguard my own interests at whatever cost to the neighbourhood.
Yours sincerely,
Beverley Metcalfe.
P.S.—I mean I shall sell the Hall and develop the property as building lots. Much Malcock House.
Lady Peabury begs to inform Mr. Metcalfe that she has received his note of this morning, the tone of which I am unable to account for. She further begs to inform you that she has no wish to increase my already extensive responsibilities in the district. She cannot accept the principle of equal obligation with Mr. Metcalfe as he has far less land to look after, and the field in question should rightly form part of your property. She does not think that the scheme for developing his garden as a housing estate is likely to be a success if Mr. Hargood-Hood’s laboratory is as unsightly as is represented, which I rather doubt.
“All right,” said Mr. Metcalfe. “That’s that and be damned to her.”


It was ten days later. The lovely valley, so soon to be defiled, lay resplendent in the sunset. Another year, thought Mr. Metcalfe, and this fresh green foliage would be choked with soot, withered with fumes; these mellow roofs and chimneys which for two hundred years or more had enriched the landscape below the terrace, would be hidden by functional monstrosities in steel and glass and concrete. In the doomed field Mr. Westmacott, almost for the last time, was calling his cattle; next week building was to begin and they must seek other pastures. So, in a manner of speaking, must Mr. Metcalfe. Already his desk was littered with house-agents’ notices. All for £500, he told himself. There would be redecorations; the cost and loss of moving. The speculative builders to whom he had viciously appealed showed no interest in the site. He was going to lose much more than £500 on the move. But so, he grimly assured himself, was Lady Peabury. She would learn that no one could put a fast one over on Beverley Metcalfe.
And she, on the opposing slope, surveyed the scene with corresponding melancholy. The great shadows of the cedars lay across the lawn; they had scarcely altered during her long tenancy, but the box hedge had been of her planting; it was she who had planned the lily pond and glorified it with lead flamingoes; she had reared the irregular heap of stones under the west wall and stocked it with Alpines; the flowering shrubs were hers; she could not take them with her where she was going. Where? She was too old now to begin another garden, to make other friends. She would move, like so many of her contemporaries, from hotel to hotel, at home and abroad, cruise a little, settle for prolonged rather unwelcome visits, on her relatives. All this for £250, for £12 10s. a year, for less than she gave to charity. It was not the money; it was Principle. She would not compromise with Wrong; with that ill-bred fellow on the hill opposite.
Despite the splendour of the evening an unhappy spirit obsessed Much Malcock. The Hornbeams moped and drooped; Colonel Hodge fretted. He paced the threadbare carpet of his smoking room. “It’s enough to make a fellow turn Bolshie, like that parson,” he said. “What does Metcalfe care? He’s rich. He can move anywhere. What does Lady Peabury care? It’s the small man, trying to make ends meet, who suffers.”
Even Mr. Hargood-Hood seemed affected by the general gloom. His lawyer was visiting him at the Brakehurst. All day they had been in intermittent, rather anxious consultation. “I think I might go and talk to that Colonel again,” he said, and set off up the village street, under the deepening shadows, for the Manor House. And from this dramatic, last-minute move for conciliation sprang the great Hodge Plan for appeasement and peace-in-our-time.


“... the Scouts are badly in need of a new hut,” said Colonel Hodge.
“No use coming to me,” said Mr. Metcalfe. “I’m leaving the neighbourhood.”
“I was thinking,” said Colonel Hodge, “that Westmacott’s field would be just the place for it.....”
And so it was arranged. Mr. Hornbeam gave a pound, Colonel Hodge a guinea, Lady Peabury £250. A jumble sale, a white-elephant-tea, a raffle, a pageant, and a house-to-house collection, produced a further 30s. Mr. Metcalfe found the rest. It cost him, all told, a little over £500. He gave with a good heart. There was no question now of jockeying him into a raw deal. In the rôle of public benefactor he gave with positive relish, and when Lady Peabury suggested that the field should be reserved for a camping site and the building of the hut postponed, it was Mr. Metcalfe who pressed on with the building and secured the old stone tiles from the roof of a dismantled barn. In the circumstances, Lady Peabury could not protest when the building was named the Metcalfe-Peabury Hall. Mr. Metcalfe found the title invigorating and was soon in negotiation with the brewery for a change of name at the Brakehurst Arms. It is true that Boggett still speaks of it as “the Brakehurst,” but the new name is plainly lettered for all to read: The Metcalfe Arms.
And so Mr. Hargood-Hood passed out of the history of Much Malcock. He and his lawyer drove away to their home beyond the hills. The lawyer was Mr. Hargood-Hood’s brother.
“We cut that pretty fine, Jock. I thought, for once, we were going to be left with the baby.”
They drove to Mr. Hargood-Hood’s home, a double quadrangle of mellow brick that was famous far beyond the county. On the days when the gardens were open to the public, record crowds came to admire the topiary work, yews and boxes of prodigious size and fantastic shape which gave perpetual employment to three gardeners. Mr. Hargood-Hood’s ancestors had built the house and planted the gardens in a happier time, before the days of property tax and imported grain. A sterner age demanded more strenuous efforts for their preservation.
“Well, that has settled Schedule A for another year and left something over for cleaning the fishponds. But it was an anxious month. I shouldn’t care to go through it again. We must be more careful next time, Jock. How about moving east?”
Together the two brothers unfolded the inch ordnance map of Norfolk, spread it on the table of the Great Hall and began their preliminary, expert search for a likely, unspoilt, well-loved village.