22 September 2011

from The First Four Years, part 4, A Year of Grace (Laura Ingalls Wilder)

Manly and Peter were putting up hay on some land two miles away a week later.  Laura started the fire for supper in the kitchen stove.  The summer fuel was old, tough, long, slough hay, and Manly had brought an armful into the kitchen and put it down near the stove.

After lighting the fire and putting the tea kettle on, Laura went back into the other part of the house, shutting the kitchen door.

When she opened it again, a few minutes later, the whole inside of the kitchen was ablaze: the ceiling, the hay, and the floor underneath and wall behind.

As usual, a strong wind was blowing from the south, and by the time the neighbours arrived to help, the whole house was in flames.

Manly and Peter had seen the fire and come on the run with the team and the load of hay.

Laura had thrown one bucket of water on the fire in the hay, and then, knowing she was not strong enough to work the pump for more water, taking the little deed-box from the bedroom and Rose by the hand, she ran out and dropped on the ground in the little half-circle drive before the house.  Burying her face on her kneees she screamed and sobbed, saying over and over, 'Oh, what will Manly say to me?'  And there Manly found her and Rose, just as the house roof was falling in.

The neighbours had done what they could but the fire was so fierce that they were unable to go into the house.

Mr Sheldon had gone in through the pantry window and thrown all the dishes out through it towards the trunk of the little cottonwood tree, so the silver wedding knives and forks and spoons rolled up in their wrappers had survived.  Nothing else had been saved from the fire except the deed-box, a few work clothes, three sauce dishes from the first Christmas, and the oval glass bread plate around the margin of which were the words, 'Give us this day our daily bread'.

And the young cottonwood stood by the open cellar hole, scorched and blackened and dead.

After the fire Laura and Rose stayed at her Pa's for a few days.  The top of Laura's head had been blistered from the fire and something was wrong with her eyes.  The doctor said the heat had injured the nerves and so she rested for a little at her old home, but at the end of the week Manly came for her.

Mr Sheldon needed a housekeeper and gave Laura and Manly houseroom and use of his furniture in return for board for himself and his brother.  Now Laura was so busy she had no time for worry, caring for her family of three men, Peter, and Rose, through the rest of the haying and while Manly and Peter built a long shanty, three rooms in a row, near the ruins of their house.  It was built of only one thickness of boards and tar-papered on the outside, but it was built tightly, and being new, it was very snug and quite warm.

September nights were growing cool when the new house was ready and moved into.  The twenty-fifth of August had passed unnoticed and the year of grace was ended.

13 September 2011

from An Enemy at Green Knowe (Lucy M. Boston)

The entrance hall was delightfully enclosing and reassuring, full as always of flowers and birds' nests, the lights relayed from mirror to mirror all down its length, and all the scatter of happy living - secateurs, baskets, books, letters and anything-to-hand lying on the tables.  The coloured stairs led up invitingly, but to get to the attic you had to pass through the Knights' Hall, which, if it had been alone for some hours, had a habit of slipping back to its own century.  However much you loved it, Tolly thought, it always needed a little resolution to break away into its privacy at night.

'You didn't tell us anything about the witchball,' he reminded Mrs Oldknow, to postpone the moment.  'May we see it, please?'

The witchball was hanging from the middle beam of the room nearest the front door.  It was made of looking-glass and had a diameter of about eighteen inches.  The glass was old and the silvering was old.  It did not glitter like modern glass, but reflected in an almost velvety way.  Being round, what it reflected was a spherical room, something difficult to look at because impossible to imagine.  There were no straight lines at all, no right angles.  Floor, ceiling, doors, windows, tables and chairs all curved softly around its shape.  Ping and Tolly, standing underneath looking up at it, appeared to be diving out of it face first, their bodies foreshortened and tapering, like tadpoles.

'You see,' said Mrs Oldknow, 'it reflects everything, even what is behind it, though that for some reason is upside down, which is supposed to be how our eyes really see things.'

'What is it used for, Granny?'

'Is it for seeing the future?'

'It looks as though it should be.  You could easily see strange things in a spherical mirror-room where even ordinary things look so queer.  Something could be there for quite a long time before you noticed it.  Besides, it's always easier to see visions in a glass than in reality.  But I believe it was supposed to keep away demons.  I don't know why.  Perhaps because if anyone had an attendant demon and came anywhere near the witchball they would risk the demon being seen.  You must admit it looks magic enough for anything.'

'You would have to learn how to look into it,' said Tolly sensibly.  'It is difficult to recognize things in it, especially upside down.'

'A demon, if there was one,' said Ping, 'wouldn't like being reflected, even if no one saw.  It might steal some of his power.'

'I'm sure that's right, Ping,' said the old lady.  'Unlike ghosts who want to be seen and use looking-glasses to do it.'

'I suppose that is why you have so many looking-glasses in the hall,'  said Tolly.  'I like the house-ghosts too.  But I think I would be happier tonight if the witchball was hanging in our bedroom.  May we take it up?  I don't want any of Dr Vogel's companions clutching at me.'

Mrs Oldknow laughed.  'Don't tell me you have sold your soul so young!  I am counting on you to be one of the stalwart guardians of the place.  You should be clutching demons by the tail, not they you.'

'Green Knowe doesn't need guardians,' said Tolly, showing in his face how proud he was of it.  'It can't have any enemies.'

'It has enemies and it needs guarding all the time,' said the old lady.  'In spite of all the Preservation Societies it wouldn't be there another five years if we stopped watching and guarding it.  The very fact that it has lasted so long makes some people impatient.  Time it went, they say, without further argument.  The fact that it is different from anywhere else, with memories and standards of its own, makes quite a lot of people very angry indeed.  Things have no right to be different.  Everything should be alike.  Over and above all the rest, it seems to me to have something I can't put a name to, which always has had enemies.  Lift the witchball down, Tolly.  We'll take it up to the attic.  It is wasted in my workroom.  It really is a beauty.'

They carried it carefully upstairs and hung it from a beam.  It was a great addition.  It reflected back Ping and Tolly in their beds, though even when they sat up and waved their arms it was difficult to find themselves in it.  One is not used to seeing one's self feet upwards.

04 September 2011

from How to Run Your Home without Help, chapter XIX, Entertaining with Enjoyment (Kay Smallshaw)

'Having friends in' or 'throwing a party' according to your vocabulary and the kind of hospitality you like to offer, can be one of the pleasanter things in life.  It can also be disappointingly hard work.  No one really enjoys being entertained when the preparation has obviously tired out the hostess in advance.  Yet the welcome seems to lack some warmth when no effort has been made to make the occasion something a little out of the ordinary.  Single-handed, you mustn't be too ambitious, although very naturally you want your guests to feel that visiting you is a delightful event in every way.

The kind of hospitality you offer will depend upon your own temperament, as well as your pocket.  If you're gregarious you'll like to have plenty of visitors, even if it means that there can't be very much in the way of refreshments.  On the other hand, you may get more satisfaction from inviting one or two friends to tea, or to a little dinner-party every so often, knowing that, in a simple way, everything is perfect.  So set your own style; and choose your guests to match.  Then if you plan carefully, everyone, host and hostess included, should have a good time.

But whatever the usual programme, you'll want to show, once or twice at least, what you can do in the way of a sit-down evening meal.  In-laws will like to see the new home, and you want to exhibit your skill as both hostess and cook.  Combining these two rôles successfully is quite a test, but if your husband says afterwards: 'You did wonderfully', everything will have been worthwhile.