The Privet Hedge
J. E. BUCKROSE
[Transcriber's note: J. E. Buckrose is the pseudonym for Annie Edith
By the Same Author
THE HOUSE WITH THE GOLDEN WINDOWS
THE GIRL IN FANCY DRESS
MARRIAGE WHILE YOU WAIT
THE GOSSIP SHOP
THE SILENT LEGION
THE TALE OF MR. TUBBS
DOWN OUR STREET
A LITTLE GREEN WORLD
BECAUSE OF JANE
LOVE IN A LITTLE TOWN
THE GREY SHEPHERD
Hodder and Stoughton Limited
I THE COTTAGE
III THE PROMENADE
IV THE THREE MEN
V THE DANCE ON THE PROMENADE
VI MORNING CALLS
VIII THE HEIGHT OF THE SEASON
IX WEDDING CLOTHES
X SUNDAY NIGHT
XI THE GALA
XII THE END OF THE GALA
XIII NEXT MORNING
XIV THE CLIFF TOP
XV THE CINEMA
XVII THE BENEFIT CONCERT
XIX A WINDY MORNING
XXI ST. MARTIN'S SUMMER
XXIII ON THE SHORE
At the far end of Thorhaven towards the north was a little square house
surrounded by a privet hedge. It had a green door under a sort of
with two flat windows on either side, and seemed to stand
there defying the rows and rows of terraces, avenues and meanish
semi-detached villas which were creeping up to it. Behind lay the flat
fields under a wide sky just as they had lain for centuries, with the
gulls screaming across them inland
from the mud cliffs, and so the
cottage formed a sort of outpost, facing alone the hordes of
jerry-built houses which threatened to sweep on and surround it.
The ladies who lived at the Cottage had once been nicknamed the Misses
Canute--which showed how plainly
all this could be seen, as a sort of
symbol, by anyone in the least imaginative; though it was a rather
unsatisfactory curate from Manchester who actually
gave them the name.
No one felt surprised when he afterwards offended his bishop
into the motor business, for he suffered from that constitutional
ability to take people as seriously
as they wished to be taken, which
is so bad for any career.
Thus the curate departed, but his irreverence lived on after him for
quite a long time, because many people like a mild joke which every one
must see at once--which is ready-made--and for which they cannot be
held responsible. So this became for a little while the family jest of
Thorhaven, in no way spoiled by the fact that one sister had married a
man called Bradford and was now a widow, while the other retained the
The two ladies were walking together on this twenty-sixth of March, by
the side of the privet hedge which divided their garden from the large
field beyond and hid from them everything which they did not care to
Miss Ethel's name was entirely unsuited to her, but she had received it
at a period when Ethels were as thick as blackberries in every girls'
school of any pretensions; and she was not in the very least like any
Miss Amelia out of a book, though she possessed an elder sister and had
reached fifty-five without getting married. On the contrary, she
carried her head with great assurance
on her spare shoulders, put her
hair in curling pins each night as punctually as she said her prayers,
and wore a well-cut, shortish tweed skirt with sensible
face was thin and she had a delicately-shaped, rather long nose,
together with a charmingly-shaped mouth that had grown compressed
lost its sweetness. A mole over her right eyebrow
habit of twitching that side of her face a little when she was nervous
But she was calm now, walking there with her sister, enjoying the keen
air warmed with sunshine
which makes life on such a day in Thorhaven
sparkle with possibilities.
"I'm glad," she said, "that we decided
not to clip the hedge. It has
grown up until it hides that odious
Emerald Avenue entirely from the
"I can still see it from my bedroom window all the same," said Mrs.
"Don't look out of your window, then!" retorted Miss Ethel sharply.
"You take care of that," said Mrs. Bradford. "You have made the short
blinds so high that I can scarcely see over them."
"Do you want the people in those awful little houses to see you
undressing?" demanded Miss Ethel.
"They couldn't--not unless they used a telescope
or opera glasses,"
said Mrs. Bradford. And she managed to convey, by some subtle
inflexion of voice and expression--though she was a dull woman--that if
you had been married, you were not so pernickitty about such things;
and, finally, that if Emerald Avenue cared to go to that trouble it was
welcome, because she remained always invested with the mantle
As a matter of fact, she had--in a way--spent her life for some years
in echoing that romanticdeclaration
of the lady in the play: "I have
lived and loved." Only she had never said anything so vivid as
that--she simply sat down on the fact for the rest of her life in a
sort of comatose triumph.
Her husband had been a short, weasely man of bilious temperament;
still, he sufficed; and his death at the end of two years from
whooping-cough only added to Mrs. Bradford's complacency. She came
back home again to the Cottage, feeling as immeasurably superior to her
unmarried sister as only a woman of that generation
could feel, who had
found a husband while most of her female
relatives remained spinsters.
She at once caused the late Mr. Bradford's photograph to be
enlarged--the one in profile
where the eyebrows had been strengthened,
and the slight squint was of course invisible--and she referred to him
in conversation as "such a fine intellectual-looking man." After a
while, she began to believe her own words more and more thoroughly, so
that at the end of ten years she would not have recognized him at all
had he appeared in the flesh.
"At any rate," she remarked, "our field won't be built over."
"No, thank goodness!" assented Miss Ethel emphatically, her left
eyebrow twitching a little. "The Warringborns will never sell their
other people do. I remember grandfather
telling us how
he was ordered out of the room by old Squire Warringborn when he once
went to suggest buying this field. Oh, no; the Warringborns won't
sell. Not the least fear of that."
But she only talked in this way because she was afraid--trying to keep
her heart up, as she saw in her mind's eye that oncoming horde of
Before Mrs. Bradford could reply about the Warringborns, there came a
sound of voices in the great field which stretched park-like beyond the
privet hedge. "Butcher Walker putting some sheep in, I expect," said
Mrs. Bradford. "He has the lease of it now."
But even as she spoke, her heavy jaw dropped and she stood staring.
Miss Ethel swerved quickly round in the same direction, and her pale
eyes focused. Neither of them uttered a sound as they looked at the
square board which rose slowly above the privet hedge. They could not
see the pole on which it was supported from that position in the
garden, and so it appeared to them like a banner
upheld by unseen
"Well," said Mrs. Bradford at last, "we mustn't clip the hedge this
year, that's all. Then----"
"Hedge!" cried Miss Ethel. "What's the use of talking about the hedge
when our home is spoilt? Look! Read!" She pointed
to that square
object which flaunted now in all its glaring black and white newness--a
blot against the grey sky.
FOR THE ERECTION OF VILLAS AND BUNGALOWS
APPLY MESSRS. GLATT & WILSON
Miss Ethel could not have felt deeper dismay
if the square notice board
on the pole had been indeed held aloft by the very Spirit of Change
itself, with streaming hair still all aflame from rushing too closely
past a bursting sun. Only those who hate change as she did could ever
understand her dismay.
"We shall be driven
out of our house. We shall have to leave," she
said, very pale. "After all these years, we shall have to go. We
_can't_ stand all their nasty little back ways!"
"Where are we to go to?" said Mrs. Bradford. She paused a moment.
"It's the same everywhere. Besides, the houses are not built yet."
There was nothing for them to do but to turn their backs on the board
and walk quietly away, filled with that aching home-sickness for the
quiet past which thousands of middle-aged
people were feeling at that
moment all over Europe. Everything was so different, and the knowledge
of it gave to Miss Ethel a constant
sense of exasperated discomfort,
like the ache of an internal
disease which she could not forget for a
"I expect," she said after a while, "that Mrs. Graham will once more
tell us to let ourselves go with the tide and not worry. Thank God, I
never was a supine jelly-fish, and I can't start being one now."
"She was talking about servants," said Mrs. Bradford, who was troubled,
but not so troubled, because she took things differently. "I expect
she only meant we should never get another like Ellen; but we can't
expect to do so after having her for eleven years."
"No. We are lucky to have Ellen's niece coming. But I wish she were a
little older," said Miss Ethel. "Nineteen is very young."
"Yes," replied Mrs. Bradford, letting the conversation drop, for she
was not very fond of talking. And in the silence they looked back; and
to both of them nineteen seemed a rather ridiculous
age--even for a servant, who is supposed
to be rather young.
Then Miss Ethel began again--talking on to try and banish
vision in her mind's eye of that square board over the privet hedge,
which she knew herself foolish to dwell upon. "I wish Caroline had not
lived with Ellen's sister and gone out as a day-girl to that little
grocer's shop in the Avenue. I'm afraid that may have spoilt her. But
it is Caroline or nobody. We may want a sensiblemiddle-aged
in these days it isn't what you want--it's what you can get."
Mrs. Bradford nodded; and again they felt all over them that resentful
home-sickness for the past.
"One thing--we must begin as we mean to go on," said Miss Ethel. "If
mistresses were only firmer there would never be such ridiculous
proceedings as one hears about; but they are so afraid of losing maids
that they put up with anything. No wonder the girls find this out and
cease to have any respect for them. Look at Mrs. Graham! A latch-key
allowed, and no caps or aprons. That's swimming with the tide, with a
"There's no fear of Caroline wanting
anything of that sort," said Mrs.
Bradford. "Ellen's sister, Mrs. Creddle, is as steady as Ellen."
"She'd need to be, with four children on her hands, and a husband like
one of those coco-nuts at Hull fair that have the husk partly
said Miss Ethel. "I never could understand how a nice-looking girl,
such as Mrs. Creddle was then, came to marry such a man."
Mrs. Bradford looked down at her fat hands and smiled a little, seeming
to see things in the matrimonial philosophy
that no spinster was likely
to understand. Then after opening
the door they both turned again,
from force of long habit, to look across the garden, and saw the square
board more plainly
now than they had done when close under the hedge.
It stood there in the midst of the grass field--as if it were leading
on--while in the distance the wind from the east was blowing the smoke
like flags from the long row of chimney-tops in Emerald Avenue.
At last Miss Ethel said with a sort of doubtful
hopefulness, as if
keeping her courage up before those advancing hordes: "Perhaps nobody
will want to buy the land there. Always heard it was boggy."
Mrs. Bradford shook her head silently
and went in, followed by her
sister: in a world where all things were now odiously possible, one had
to take what came and make the best of it.
But Miss Ethel already experienced
the faint beginning
of a state of
suspense which was never to cease, day or night, though at times she
was not conscious
of it. She fancied that every person who crossed the
field was an intending buyer, and woke with a start when the old
wardrobe gave the sudden "pop!" in the night to which she had been long
accustomed, thinking for the moment that she heard the first stroke of
a workman's hammer. In truth she was run down with doing most of the
work of the house since Ellen's departure
to look after an invalid
mother, besides suffering
from several severe
colds during the winter,
so that the possibility
of new houses being built close at hand had got
on her nerves, and gained an almost ridiculous
She and her sister had thought, like so many others, that they could
escape change by living in one place, but it had followed them, as it
always inexorably does. Shut their eyes as they might, they had to see
neighbours leaving, neighbours dying. And even those who remained did
not continue the same. One day Miss Ethel was obliged to notice how
grey little Mrs. Baker at the newspaper shop was going--and that
brought to mind that she had been married thirty years come Christmas.
Thirty years! It seemed incredible
that so much of life had slipped
almost imperceptibly away.
All the same, she _ached_ to stand still. She simply could not realize
that perhaps some other generation
would look back on hers as she did
on the past. One Saturday the following lines in the local corner of
the _Thorhaven and County Weekly Budget_--between an advertisement
food and a notice of a fine goat for sale--did express a
little of her state of mind, though they were written by a retired