E. V. Lucas & Betty

A few years ago, my wife's Great Aunt Betty died... She had never married, and had doted on my wife as if she were her Grandmother... When she died, I helped gather up all of her things from her house in Glasgow, and among her many possessions was a large collection of antique books.

Being a lover of books, my Father-in-law gave me one from her collection that I had been leafing through...it is a tiny little thing...a school primer....entitled "Modern Poetry"...it was printed around 1920...after we finished clearing out her home, we drove back to Montrose in a gloomy mood. We sat around the dinner table that night talking about Betty, and her life, and I began turning the pages of that little primer....and I found this poem...I read it out loud to everyone at the table as we finished our meal...I don't know why I just remembered this....but, here it is...

Jack

Every village has its Jack, but no village ever had quite so fine a Jack as ours:
So picturesque,
Versatile,
Irresponsible,
Powerful,
Hedonistic,
And lovable a Jack as ours.

How Jack lived none knew, for he rarely did any work.
True, he set nightlines for eels, and invariably caught one,
Often two,
Sometimes three;
While very occasionally he had a day's harvesting or hay-making.
And yet he always found enough money for tobacco,
With a little over for beer, though he was no soaker.

Jack had a wife.
A soulless, savage woman she was, who disapproved voluably of his idle ways.
But the only result was to make him stay out longer.
(Like Rip Van Winkle).

Jack had a big, black beard, and a red shirt, which was made for another.
And no waistcoat.
His boots were somebody else's;
He wore the Doctor's coat,
And the Vicar's trousers.
Personally, I gave him a hat, but it was too small.

Everybody liked Jack.
The Vicar liked him, although he never went to church.
Indeed, he was a cheerful Pagan, with no temptation to break more than the Eighth Commandment, and no ambition as a sinner.
The Curate liked him, although he had no simpering daughters.
The Doctor liked him, although he was never ill.
I liked him too - chiefly because of his perpetual good temper, and his intimacy with Nature, and his capacity for colouring cutties.
The girls liked him, because he brought them the first wild roses and the sweetest honeysuckle;
Also, because he could flatter so outrageously.

But the boys loved him.
They followed him in little bands:
Jack was their hero.
And no wonder, for he could hit a running rabbit with a stone.
And cut them long, straight fishing-poles and equilateral catty forks;
And he always knew of a fresh nest.
Besides, he could make a thousand things with his old pocket-knife.

How good he was a cricket too!
On the long summer evenings he would saunter to the green and watch the lads at play, and by and by someone would offer him a few knocks.
Then the Doctor's coat would be carefully detached, and Jack would spit on his hands, and brandish the bat, and away the ball would go, north and south and east and west, and sometimes bang into the zenith.
For Jack had little science:
Upon each ball he made the same terrific and magnificent onslaught,
Whether half volley, or full pitch, or long hop, or leg break, or off break, or shooter, or yorker.
And when the stumps fell he would cheerfully set them up again, while his white teeth flashed in the recesses of his beard.

The only persons who were not conspicuously fond of Jack were his wife, and the schoolmaster, and the head-keeper.
The schoolmaster had an idea that if Jack were hanged there would be no more truants; His wife would attend the funeral without an extraordinary show of grief; And the head-keeper would mutter, "There's one poacher less."

Jack was quite as much a part of the village as the church spire;
And if any of us lazied along by the river in the dusk of the evening - Waving aside nebulae of gnats,
Turning head quickly at the splash of a jumping fish, Peering where the water chucked over a vanishing water-rat - And saw not Jack's familiar form bending over his lines,
And smelt not his vile shag,
We should feel a loneliness, a vague impression that something is wrong.

For ten years Jack was always the same,
Never growing older,
Or richer,
Or tidier,
Never knowing that we had a certain pride in possessing him.
Then there came a tempter with tales of easily acquired wealth, and Jack went away in his company.

He has never come back,
And now the village is like a man who has lost an eye.
In the gloaming, no slouching figure, with colossal idleness in every line, leans against my garden wall, with prophecies of the morrow's weather;
And those who reviled Jack most wonder now what it was they found fault with.
We feel our bereavement deeply.

The Vicar, I believe, would like to offer public prayer for the return of the wanderer.
And the Doctor, I know, is a little unhinged, and curing people out of pure absence of mind.
For my part, I have hope; and the trousers I discarded last week will not be given away just yet.

E.V. Lucas.

by Eric on December 07, 2003 | Comments(1) | SWG Stories

Comments so far:

Ahh! The simple life !

posted by: siso on December 7, 2003 11:39 AM