Wednesday, March 14, 2007

At 'The Laurels'

'It was a big old-fashioned kitchen, stone-flagged like the hall. There was an oak dresser filled with cheap china, a large table covered with a scarlet cloth and a low, whitewashed ceiling. She saw to her relief that the original range had been replaced by a modern Rayburn that was alight and filling the kitchen with warmth. A kettle was singing on the hob and a white cloth covered one half of the table. On it was set out an exquisite Staffordshire tea-service, deep mulberry-colour with a pattern of vine leaves. One plate was filled with door-step slices of bread and butter and another supported a grocer's cake of a strange shade of yellow. There was milk and sugar and a painted tin tea-caddy. Mrs. Baker's tea? Or hers? She had left the door into the hall ajar and the smell of lilies of the valley was drifting in to her. Yet there had been none in the hall. She told herself she must be getting tired and confused. There was a window opening on to a small walled kitchen garden, beside the half-open back door, and she went to the door and looked out. There was a bed of lilies of the valley growing under the window, nearly strangled by weeds but smelling like heaven. She was tired and confused indeed, for the next thing she knew she was outside on her knees grubbing up the weeds to give the lilies light and air. And then she was picking a bunch of them.

"There now," said a voice behind her. "I'd just gone down behind the apple trees to bring in the tea towels, what I washed this morning, and just that minute you come. Would you believe it? And I've been to the front door ten times if once this last hour, to welcome you like. Had a good journey, dear?"

Mary got to her feet and found herself confronting a little woman whose head scarcely reached her shoulder. Sparse gray hair was done up in an old-fashioned bun and very bright hazel eyes twinkled in a brown wrinkled face. She wore a white apron over an electric blue cardigan and a purple skirt, and her hands were full of clean tea towels. Her smile was wise and loving and there breathed from her whole person that sense of comfort and security, spiced with severity, that in the days of Mary's childhood had characterized the best nannies. She knew in one glance at Mrs. Baker that she had met her best friend, the best she had ever had or would have.

"Yes, I had a good journey," she said, "but it seemed a long way and I'm dying for a cup of tea."

"Come along in then, miss," said Mrs. Baker. "It's all ready."'

~from The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge

1 comment:

Melissa said...

I love how passages like this one--full of rest, comfort, joy, hope--lead through a back door of remembrance or longing to whet our appetite for Rest, Comfort, Joy, Hope. Thank you for printing this treasure out, Kate. Time for a cup of tea...