When William Came HTML version

Mrs. Kerrick sat at a little teak-wood table in the verandah of a low-pitched teak-built
house that stood on the steep slope of a brown hillside. Her youngest child, with the
grave natural dignity of nine-year old girlhood, maintained a correct but observant
silence, looking carefully yet unobtrusively after the wants of the one guest, and checking
from time to time the incursions of ubiquitous ants that were obstinately disposed to treat
the table-cloth as a foraging ground. The wayfaring visitor, who was experiencing a
British blend of Eastern hospitality, was a French naturalist, travelling thus far afield in
quest of feathered specimens to enrich the aviaries of a bird-collecting Balkan King. On
the previous evening, while shrugging his shoulders and unloosing his vocabulary over
the meagre accommodation afforded by the native rest-house, he had been enchanted by
receiving an invitation to transfer his quarters to the house on the hillside, where he found
not only a pleasant-voiced hostess and some drinkable wine, but three brown-skinned
English youngsters who were able to give him a mass of intelligent first-hand information
about the bird life of the region. And now, at the early morning breakfast, ere yet the sun
was showing over the rim of the brown-baked hills, he was learning something of the life
of the little community he had chanced on. “I was in these parts many years ago,”
explained the hostess, “when my husband was alive and had an appointment out here. It
is a healthy hill district and I had pleasant memories of the place, so when it became
necessary, well, desirable let us say, to leave our English home and find a new one, it
occurred to me to bring my boys and my little girl here—my eldest girl is at school in
Paris. Labour is cheap here and I try my hand at farming in a small way. Of course it is
very different work to just superintending the dairy and poultry-yard arrangements of an
English country estate. There are so many things, insect ravages, bird depredations, and
so on, that one only knows on a small scale in England, that happen here in wholesale
fashion, not to mention droughts and torrential rains and other tropical visitations. And
then the domestic animals are so disconcertingly different from the ones one has been
used to; humped cattle never seem to behave in the way that straight-backed cattle would,
and goats and geese and chickens are not a bit the same here that they are in Europe—and
of course the farm servants are utterly unlike the same class in England. One has to
unlearn a good deal of what one thought one knew about stock-keeping and agriculture,
and take note of the native ways of doing things; they are primitive and unenterprising of
course, but they have an accumulated store of experience behind them, and one has to
tread warily in initiating improvements.”
The Frenchman looked round at the brown sun-scorched hills, with the dusty empty road
showing here and there in the middle distance and other brown sun-scorched hills
rounding off the scene; he looked at the lizards on the verandah walls, at the jars for
keeping the water cool, at the numberless little insect-bored holes in the furniture, at the
heat-drawn lines on his hostess’s comely face. Notwithstanding his present wanderings
he had a Frenchman’s strong homing instinct, and he marvelled to hear this lady, who
should have been a lively and popular figure in the social circle of some English county
town, talking serenely of the ways of humped cattle and native servants.