Authors: T. F. Powys
T. F. POWYS
the sea was its near neighbour, Mockery Gap wasn’t proud of its presence. In the direction where the sea was, the people felt that instead of all that unnecessary water there might have been a town with shops, green fields where hay could be made in the summer, or at least a heath where cows could get a modest living and where donkeys could be happy.
Mockery Gap wasn’t exactly beside the sea, though near to it. The sea was separated from the village by two or three wide meadows. Only one man, amongst the folk of Mockery who milked the cows, fed the ducks, scolded the children, told pretty tales of scandal about one another, and listened to the preaching of Mr. Pattimore against the wickedness that all young women are so fond of, had ever been known to be brave enough to try to make friends with the sea.
This brave man was Mr. Dobbin.
It is sometimes said that people who are very contrary to one another can get on very well together. But though Mr. Dobbin was very different from the sea, he could never get on with it. The sea wasn’t a monkey, and it couldn’t be petted into friendship. Mr.
Dobbin was inclined to ponder about things, the inclination of his mind was naturally towards melancholy, and any kind of noise or rudeness made Mr. Dobbin shiver. Mr. Dobbin found that the sea was a great deal too happy for him as well as too noisy.
One day in conversation he asked Mr. Caddy what he ought to do to quiet the sea, so that he shouldn’t always be losing his lobster-pots. Mr. Caddy, who of all the Mockery people was supposed to understand more about the sea than any one else, replied that the best thing Mr. Dobbin could do was to let the sea alone.
‘Don’t touch it,’ said Mr. Caddy, ‘and it won’t hurt you.’
Mr. Dobbin decided to leave the sea to his betters. He left the next day.
For a time no other fisherman tried to tame the sea or to get a living out of it.
Though the sea couldn’t be tamed, the meadows and fields of Mockery Gap were another matter. These fields partook of the customs and traditions of men and women. If you touched the fields they would respond to the touch; and only the most out-of-the-way corners had any kind of native wildness about them.
The lane to the hill, that had once in very olden times been a cliff, always recognised the pretty tread of Mary Gulliver’s feet when she
walked there leading her horse to grass; and Mr. Caddy’s pond at the end of Mr. Caddy’s lane knew Mr. Caddy so well that it was near becoming a speaking companion instead of a dumb pond. And Mr. Caddy regarded the ducks and the pond in the light of true and tried friends.
If a realm, settled and solidified, hath the three estates to boast of, so indeed have every small village. The separate conditions of men are not marked upon them alone by their polite speech or tailor-made clothes, for the very lanes they live in and the paths to their homes brand their caste upon them.
No gentleman of the first estate at Mockery could ever have been expected to get a living from the sea, and none except those who belonged to the third would ever go down to it to fish.
The second estate was represented by the village green, the roots of an elm, and a grassy path that led to Mr. Gulliver’s small farmhouse.
Beside the green was Mrs. Moggs’ shop, that had the proper appearance of modest affluence that the green also reflected because it was so near. In the shop and upon the green a decent behaviour that naturally goes with the middle order of being was expected to be seen. And when the first estate stooped to enter this domain it very properly showed
by its polite manner of speaking that every civilised village is welded and held together by its middle.
The road that typified the first estate was by the right of long custom called ‘The Church Way.’ Here there lived the Pinks and the Pattimores, and along a real drive with real gravel there lived Farmer Cheney, who by reason of his money-bags had acquired this place of honour.
The third estate was the children.
These children, though some lived along the Church Way beside the vicarage garden gate, had pulled all who belonged to them, even though their parents might wish to rise, deep down into the mire of the lowest degree. The children pulled with them their teacher Mrs. Topple who suffered from a bad leg and deserved a better one.
The village school was an unlocked prison, for it kept the children in durance for only a short part of the day; and when Mrs. Topple opened the door and let the wretches free, the two upper estates bemoaned the lack of a village constable.
The boundaries of Mockery are important.
In front of Mockery, to the south, was the untamed and variable element, now noisy and now quiet, now high and now low—the sea. To the north was the hill. To the east a country of stone walls, rough stony fields, and
a people who were said never to shut the door after them when they went out of a room. To the west there was the Mockery wood, the other side of which, if you walked far enough and didn’t mind being a stranger to the cows you met, you might find an aunt to talk to, or even a Squire Roddy if you reached Weyminster.
In every village almost that we can think of, and Mockery was no exception, there is a blind lane that leads nowhere, or at least, if it does lead somewhere, ’tis but to a cottage and a pond, and there the lane ends. No lane could better suggest a good path to somewhere than did Mr. Caddy’s. It curved temptingly down a little hill, and at the end of thirty yards there was the pond and nothing more, except Mr. Caddy’s cottage, that any one could see from the road, from which road a child could easily have thrown a stone into the pond.
Most of the Mockery cottages belonged, owing to the children living there, to the third estate, and clung together to the Mockery lanes like apples to their parent branch, in an amiable manner that showed friendliness. Two
, however, stood at bay and glared at one another, generally with their doors open, like angry dogs. In these two houses, near to the vicarage, lived the Prings and the Pottles, who for more than one generation had hated one another.
All the three estates of the little Mockery world were hardly ever permitted to take a moderate view of one another, because of the children, and because of the quarrel between the Prings and the Pottles; although it must be owned that a certain quieter element was always being introduced by Mr. Caddy, with his tales, rather carnal than otherwise, that he told his ducks, that acted as gentle oil upon the third estate if they happened to hear them. But we should have begun with the highest.
The vicar of Mockery, the Rev. Pattimore, who was just married, though from his sermons one wouldn’t have guessed it, was one of those people whose cheek-bones are a little too large and whose frame inclines a little to leanness, and whose mouth, though the lips are full enough, is weak. The appearance of Mr. Pattimore when watched sweeping into little heaps the autumn leaves upon his drive denoted a man ambitious to do right, and ambitious to show the world how rightly he did by becoming some one important. As a rule Mr. Pattimore wore black clothes, but he kept a grey coat to put on when he swept up the leaves. His hair was touched by new silver sixpences, and was fitted to his head a little too closely, for it never, even when his mind was troubled, became ruffled or disturbed. Mr. Pattimore was a very moral man.
Mr. Cheney, the large Mockery farmer,
who possessed money, flocks and herds, and a son named Simon, had a long beard, that he would button into his coat. He owned much, but he wanted more, and had often been noticed, when prying about in his fields, to pick up in his hands anything that looked yellow as if it might be gold.
Mrs. Cheney was a lady with long nails that were generally dirty ones.
No one even in London can control his own destiny, and no one in Mockery Gap ever tried to. In Mockery the most noisy event (if you except the doings of the sea) that could never be altered or soothed down was the quarrel between the Prings and the Pottles. In the simple and ordinary round of Mockery life this quarrel took a chief place, and who could help this—certainly not Mr. Pattimore—when the cottages stared at one another so wrathfully? The tale of this Mockery quarrel went further than the boundaries of the village. For when Mr. Told of Norbury or Mr. Tasker of Shelton happened to mention Mockery, just for something to open the way to a deal in pigs, Mockery would be set down and
with this remark, ‘’Tis where folk do quarrel, they Prings and Pottles.’
‘But Mr. Pink do live there too‚’ Mr. Tasker might say to Mr. Told, hoping thereby to prevent the farmer from looking too closely at the pigs he wished to buy. ‘So ’e do‚’
Mr. Told would reply unthinkingly. And so to the credit of Mockery Mr. Pink did, being a man who had ideas above the common, that were forgiving ones. Mr. Pink had long legs, and a head that wasn’t quite as large as it should have been for a man with such feelings.
Mr. Pink lived with his sister, Miss Pink, who had her feelings too, loving feelings, and she once went so far as to write a letter to Mr. Gulliver, a widower and the smaller farmer of Mockery, about them, handing the said letter to Mr. Pring, who was known to be the safest deliverer of a note or message that ever was.
Every one in Mockery, as elsewhere, has a special elevation that can be noted and watched with interest. For no human being can live anywhere without showing some fine attribute—though this may be more imaginary than real—that can bring him to honour. To this, of course, there must ever be an exception—the young girls. They have their natural
, but these inclinations never become fixed in any art or fancy that can separate them from others of their kind. The young girls can be only said to make a number of tales and stories of sufficient variety to be worth the telling to Mr. Caddy’s ducks, but none of their arts or actions show that individuality of character that can set a person aside to be pointed out by his neighbours to be a wonder.
It could never have been said about a young Mockery girl, as it was about Mr. Pattimore, that, besides having to his credit the most moral of sermons, he was also supposed to be extremely clever in the art of flying a kite.
One fact of Mockery life we may note here, for it refers to the acts by the doing of which a man is most honoured; and that is, that what a man did was never placed so importantly as what a man was supposed to understand or what he was supposed to be able to do.
No one ever honoured Mr. Caddy the more for his stories, though so much bedroom
came into them; but every one knew, and gave Mr. Caddy the right praise for it, that he was the only one in Mockery who understood the ways, the manners, and the customs of the sea.
‘Don’t ’ee never go down there‚’ was the wise advice that Mrs. Pring gave to Mr. Dobbin when he first visited the village, ‘without thee speak to Mr. Caddy about thik sea.’
And when Mr. Dobbin was leaving the village to go to Maidenbridge, where Mr. James Tarr lived who had once employed him, he couldn’t help remarking to Mr. Caddy, whom he met in the road, ‘If I had only asked you, Mr. Caddy, how to take a green lobster out of a pot I would never have missed half a finger.’
‘’Tis its manners‚’ replied Mr. Caddy,
nodding his head to the sea as if he knew it only too well, ‘that bain’t particular.’
Mr. Caddy looked at his ducks, that had wandered, as they often used to do, into the road.
‘’Tain’t every one that do understand they waves and fishes,’ he said.
Mr. Dobbin looked moodily at Mr. Caddy.
It is not easy to be exactly sure, as every writer should be, how the people of Mockery, who were no book-readers, came to regard Mr. Gulliver as a traveller to far countries and as a viewer of strange fowls and creatures in them. This idea could hardly have arisen in the Mockery mind because Mr. Gulliver’s boots were always so old and worn and his hair so dishevelled, as though he had lived for a long time in a country where there were no barbers or cobblers. It is more likely that Mr. Gulliver’s reputation as a traveller may have come from a tale of his own experiencing when one market day he had gone to
to buy a new churn. A train had stopped at Tadnol, and Mr. Gulliver had stepped into it supposing that it must also stop at Stonebridge for him to step out again. In the railway carriage there happened to be a reverend gentleman who liked to know about other people, and who looked for some minutes very hard at the farmer as if to read his very soul.
‘I believe your name is——?’ requested the gentleman. ‘Gulliver,’ replied the farmer. ‘A traveller‚’ said the gentleman, ‘to strange places.’
Mr. Gulliver felt his importance growing very high. He was indeed become a traveller, for the train, an express, had only stopped at Tadnol because the signal was against it, and now ran through Stonebridge.
Besides Gulliver, Mrs. Topple too was praised for what she never had done or never could do. Mrs. Topple was the schoolmistress of Mockery, and every one believed that no one beside her could so well control the ill-doings of a naughty child.
When any child in the village performed some doughty act more than usually atrocious, such as spitting at or kicking his own parent, Mrs. Topple would be sent for. And when she came she would take a cup of tea and complain about her bad leg, and now and again she would look at the child as though it ought never to have been there. She had once remarked into her teacup, ‘I fear they leave all their best manners behind in the school.’