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Beasts and Super-Beasts

The Cobweb
THE farmhouse kitchen probably stood where it did as a matter of accident or haphazard
choice; yet its situation might have been planned by a master-strategist in farmhouse
architecture. Dairy and poultry-yard, and herb garden, and all the busy places of the farm
seemed to lead by easy access into its wide flagged haven, where there was room for
everything and where muddy boots left traces that were easily swept away. And yet, for
all that it stood so well in the centre of human bustle, its long, latticed window, with the
wide window-seat, built into an embrasure beyond the huge fireplace, looked out on a
wild spreading view of hill and heather and wooded combe. The window nook made
almost a little room in itself, quite the pleasantest room in the farm as far as situation and
capabilities went. Young Mrs. Ladbruk, whose husband had just come into the farm by
way of inheritance, cast covetous eyes on this snug corner, and her fingers itched to make
it bright and cosy with chintz curtains and bowls of flowers, and a shelf or two of old
china. The musty farm parlour, looking out on to a prim, cheerless garden imprisoned
within high, blank walls, was not a room that lent itself readily either to comfort or
decoration.
"When we are more settled I shall work wonders in the way of making the kitchen
habitable," said the young woman to her occasional visitors. There was an unspoken wish
in those words, a wish which was unconfessed as well as unspoken. Emma Ladbruk was
the mistress of the farm; jointly with her husband she might have her say, and to a certain
extent her way, in ordering its affairs. But she was not mistress of the kitchen.
On one of the shelves of an old dresser, in company with chipped sauce-boats, pewter
jugs, cheese-graters, and paid bills, rested a worn and ragged Bible, on whose front page
was the record, in faded ink, of a baptism dated ninety-four years ago. "Martha Crale"
was the name written on that yellow page. The yellow, wrinkled old dame who hobbled
and muttered about the kitchen, looking like a dead autumn leaf which the winter winds
still pushed hither and thither, had once been Martha Crale; for seventy odd years she had
been Martha Mountjoy. For longer than anyone could remember she had pattered to and
fro between oven and wash-house and dairy, and out to chicken-run and garden,
grumbling and muttering and scolding, but working unceasingly. Emma Ladbruk, of
whose coming she took as little notice as she would of a bee wandering in at a window on
a summer's day, used at first to watch her with a kind of frightened curiosity. She was so
old and so much a part of the place, it was difficult to think of her exactly as a living
thing. Old Shep, the white-nozzled, stiff-limbed collie, waiting for his time to die, seemed
almost more human than the withered, dried-up old woman. He had been a riotous,
roystering puppy, mad with the joy of life, when she was already a tottering, hobbling
dame; now he was just a blind, breathing carcase, nothing more, and she still worked with
frail energy, still swept and baked and washed, fetched and carried. If there were
something in these wise old dogs that did not perish utterly with death, Emma used to
think to herself, what generations of ghost-dogs there must be out on those hills, that
Martha had reared and fed and tended and spoken a last goodbye word to in that old
kitchen. And what memories she must have of human generations that had passed away
 
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