I had gone no more than two steps when what did I see but a red-haired country girl about my age come skittering round the corner. She wore a dark stuff frock and plaid shawl and she was dragging a box along the ground by means of a leather strap. Even though she was in a queer hurry, she was laughing away to herself like a woman possessed. The most notable thing about her was her skin, very rough and red it was like she had had a go at her phiz with a nutmeg grater. I stepped out her road and gave her good afternoon as she passed. But she just cackled in my face and carried on stumbling towards the Great Road, dragging her box behind her, there was not much would surprise me then nor now, but all the same you expect more manners from country folk.
The lane in front of me dipped right then left through fields, climbed again and after about ten minutes walking it passed the gate of a big mansion house in amongst a scutter of trees. I could see no castle but there was a woman running about the gravel drive and lawn. This way and that she went, waggling her hands in the air and every so often clapping. At first I thought she was gobaloon but then I looked over the wall and seen she was only chasing a pig. It looked like tremendous fun.
'Wait on, missus,' I says, 'I'll give you a hand.'
Did you ever try to catch a pig? It's not as easy as you think. That bucker had us running in circles. He shot round the back of the house to the yard and we followed. I nearly got him the once but he was a slippery old wretch he squirmed out my grasp like he was buttered. I would have dove after him but I did not want to ruin my good frock. Your woman kept shouting instructions to me, 'Quickly!' she goes and 'Watch out!' She was English, I realised. I had met English people before but never an English woman. At last the two of us cornered the pig by the hen run. We chased him along a fence then shooed him back into the sty and your woman slammed the gate shut.
I watched her as she stood there panting a moment or two. She would have been about 27 then. Her back was slender though it looked as though she didn't wear stays. And the colour was high in her cheeks with all the running but you could see by her forehead that her skin was pale as cream, there was not a freckle on her, she was alabaster. The frock she wore was silk, a watery shade, more blue than green, she struck me as being shockingly well dressed for running about after pigs.
In due course she got her breath back. 'Treacherous trollop,' she says through her teeth. For a minute I thought she was talking about the pig until she added, 'If I ever see her again, I'll take her and I'll -' She clenched her fists but did not finish the sentence.
The red-haired girl dragged her box through my minds eye. 'Did somebody do you wrong, missus?' I says.
Your woman looked at me startled, I think she had forgot I was there. 'No,'
she says. 'The gate of the sty was left open. Probably an accident.' Then she frowned at me and says, 'What are you exactly?'
This threw me into confusion. 'What am I?' I says. 'Well, I was a - I suppose you could say I was a housekeeper for a -'
'No, no,' she says. 'What I mean is are you a Highlander?'
'Indeed not,' I says most indignant. 'I've never been near the Highlands.'
She was still looking at me so I says, 'I was born Irish. But I'm more of the Scottish persuasion now.'
'I am between places,' I says. 'My Mr Levy he died on me and I am just now on my way to Edinburgh to find another situation.'
Copyright Jane Harris 2006. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Viking Press. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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