Authors: H.E. Bates
and other stories
H. E. BATES
My grandfather, although best known and loved by many readers all over the world for creating the Larkin family in his bestselling novel
The Darling Buds of May
, was also one of the most prolific English short story writers of the twentieth century, often compared to Chekhov. He wrote over 300 short stories and novellas in a career spanning six decades from the 1920s through to the 1970s.
My grandfather's short fiction took many different forms, from descriptive country sketches to longer, sometimes tragic, narrative stories, and I am thrilled that Bloomsbury Reader will be reissuing all of his stories and novellas, making them available to new audiences, and giving them â especially those that have been out of print for many years or only ever published in obscure magazines, newspapers and pamphlets â a new lease of life.
There are hundreds of stories to discover and re-discover, from H. E. Bates's most famous tales featuring Uncle Silas, or the critically acclaimed novellas such as
to little, unknown gems such as âThe Waddler', which has not been reprinted since it first appeared in the
in 1926, when my grandfather was just twenty, or âCastle in the Air', a wonderful, humorous story that was lost and unknown to our family until 2013.
If you would like to know more about my grandfather's work I encourage you to visit the
H.E. Bates Companion
â a brilliant comprehensive online resource where detailed bibliographic information, as well as articles and reviews, on almost all of H. E. Bates's publications, can be found.
I hope you enjoy reading all these evocative and vivid short stories by H. E. Bates, one of the masters of the art.
Tim Bates, 2015
We would like to spread our passion for H. E. Bates's short fiction and build a community of readers with whom we can share information on forthcoming publications, exclusive material such as free downloads of rare stories, and opportunities to win memorabilia and other exciting prizes â you can sign up to the H. E. Bates's mailing list
. When you sign-up you will immediately receive an exclusive short work by H. E. Bates.
I have always believed that H.E. Bates was the absolute master of short story writing. He managed to create a little world for you to enter into, and that soft focus world would stay with you long after you'd finished the story.
When I first started writing I tried my hand at short stories, assuming quite wrongly it would be easier than attempting a book. Bates was my guiding light; there appeared to be a simplicity about his work that I sought to emulate. I did get a few short stories accepted by magazines, but they could never be in his league. I certainly never created anything as lovely as âThe Watercress Girl'. Did any writer before or since? I think I found it in a magazine and read it curled up in my aunt's spare room one wet school holiday and then went on to rush to the library to find more of his work.
Fair Stood the Wind for France
was the first book I borrowed and I was totally hooked on his work, but it was always the short stories I really admired the most.
Lesley Pearse, 2015
It was lonely up at the farm after his mother died. It was a little farm and he was the only son.
A track leading to the place went over flat fields between dry stone walls that in summer were yellow with stonecrop and lichen, and at the end stood the square grey house. He had lived there all his life, about thirty-five years, but he could not remember anyone ever painting it. Not that it mattered. Nobody ever came up there. A big walnut tree stood in the farmyard, by a stone barn, and a few damson trees along the banks of a pond. Every autumn most of the walnuts and damsons were blown off by wind and fell into the water, and the long uncut grass and the tall coffee-brown docks. It was seven or eight miles into market, and by the time you got the damsons gathered or the walnuts splashed and loaded them up into the back of the Morris, and by the time you counted petrol and time and the auctioneer's fee and everything else, it was hardly worth the trouble. Besides this he could not read or write very well. He had always been able to read print a little, but not written words. He had to take figures, like many other things, on trust. All this was because he had never been to school very much. In winter the weather was often too bad for the three-mile journey; in summer there were crops to be hoed and harvested and his father needed him more. Then his father had died when he was seventeen, and after that it was a struggle to pay the rent, buy seed, and save enough to buy the ten-year-old car. All his time had been occupied with working. He was a big man now, with square heavy shoulders and mild trustful grey eyes and a way of biting his lips when he was thinking. His name was Tom Richards, and whenever he had occasion to write it he would still pause a moment before putting it down.
âYou want to put it in the advertisement?' the girl said.
âPut your name in. Or do you want a box number?'
âIt's instead of your name.'
âAh?' He stood biting his lips, puzzled, watching her.
âIf there are any replies, you see,' she said, âthey come here. Then you can pick them up and nobody need know who you are. I think if I were you I'd have a box number.'
âAll right, then, all right.'
She began to add up the words of the advertisement with her pencil point, and then paused. âWould you like to read it over again?'
âSure I don't know, I don't know.' He put his large hands on the counter of the office, feeling them warm with sweat. âNo,' he said, âyou read it. You. You writ it, didn't you?'
âAll right.' The girl began to read what she had written for him because she thought he had been too embarrassed to write it himself. â“Lonely young farmer seeks young lady as companion housekeeper. 35. Own car. Strictest confidence.” You think that's all right?' she said.
âI want somebody as'll work,' he said.
âYes, I know,' she said. âI know that. But I hardly know if I'd put that in.'
âNo? All right, all right,' he said. âIf you think it'll do. How much'll it be?'
She added up the words again, and then looked up. âThree and six. That's just the one week.'
âWhen'll I come in?'
âTry Saturday,' she said.
He went out of the newspaper office with relief and stood on the pavement outside, biting his lips. It was early summer. The sun struck hot on the pavements. Soon he would be needing someone for hay-time and harvest. He wanted a good, strong person, a good-looking person, but a hard-working person. That was his trouble. And as he stood there wondering what a hard-working person would look like and how he could tell, he remembered something.
He went back into the office. âI just thought of something,' he said. âA photograph. We never said that.'
âNo,' the girl said. âWe could put that.'
âYou think it's a good idea? It's all right?'
âYes,' the girl said. âWe'll put “photograph appreciated.” You'll get it in for the same money.'
He had a three-acre piece of mangels on the south side of the house where the wind was broken by a ten-foot blackberry hedge. The blackberries were in flower, mauve and pink and white, and in the hot shelter of the hedge the mangels were growing fast. He began to hoe them that week, and as he moved up and down the rows, and still more as he stopped to give the hoe a touch with the file and stood looking back on the weeds that were already dying grey in the sun, he would think about the advertisement and what might come out of it. He thought of having someone who would do the housework and the cooking in the mornings, someone to come out into the fields round about milking-time or the early evening and help him. He thought of a woman who could hoe as well as a man or turn the hay-rows or help shock the wheat. His trouble, and his mother's trouble, had always been how to get help up there and how to afford it. For some time now he had had a man named Jack Emmett coming up in the afternoons. Emmett had a milk-round down in Milton, the nearest town, and after he had finished the milk-round he drove out to the farm in a three-wheeler van and helped Tom Richards for four or five hours till dark. It didn't really cost Tom anything in the way of ready money because Emmett bought the day's milk supply of Tom's four black Ayrshires and collected up a few eggs and then deducted the money for his own time, twenty-five shillings a week generally, out of the money he owed Tom for the milk and eggs. The trouble was to get Emmett to pay the rest. The Ayrshires didn't give a great lot, but it varied and it mounted up, and there were always eggs, though Tom never knew how many. Emmett was always slow paying up, but what with people not paying him and the damn government putting restrictions on you for this and that, he would say, it was as much as he could do to keep going at all. When he finally paid up after four or five months, Tom was so glad to see the money for cake or seed that he was beyond arguing whether it was right or wrong. He took Emmett's figures, like Emmett's time and Emmett's talk, on trust.
Once or twice that week, as he and Emmett hoed mangels in the early evenings after milking was done, he thought of telling Emmett about the advertisement. But he decided against it. There were days when he felt that Emmett mesmerized him. Every day he talked, with a thick, rapid drip of words that were like warm candle-grease, about horse-racing. His pockets were always full of newspaper cuttings about form and prices and runners and tips, and sometimes he would stand for five or even ten minutes at the end of the field and go over the Grand National for 1932 or the Cesarewitch for 1935 or some other race, waving his thin hands about excitedly. He was a man of twenty-seven with small dark eyes like shoe-buttons, and black, thinning hair, and a skin that never tanned. His face, as if from long talking and dreaming about horses, had become long and bony, with fleshy lips that dribbled in moments of excitement. âWhyn't you do a little bettin', Tom?' he'd say. âWhyn't you bet? Too slow be half, Tom, that's what y'are. Too slow. You know how I work it? I tell you. Play 'em every day, Tom, see, play 'em every day. Select 'em and play 'em, see? Then whatever you win you put twenty per cent back in a pool, see? Whatever you win. Win a quid and you put four bob in the pool, see, see what I mean, Tom, see? You put it in and you never touch it, never touch it. It jis mounts up, twenty per cent, twenty per cent, twenty per cent all the time. So whatever you do, Tom, you win both ways, see, you win both ways, see, Tom, see what I mean, you allus win both ways.'
As Emmett talked it sounded important and businesslike and clever, and because of it he did not tell Emmett about the advertisement. He felt that Emmett might take the idea and somehow turn it into a smart business-like proposition. He didn't want that. He was going to give a home to someone who would cook his food and make his bed and help in the fields, and perhaps, in time, get fond of him. That was simple enough. He didn't want to be mesmerized by Emmett into any idea about winning both ways.