Thornycroft Farm, near Barbury Green, July 1, 190-.
In alluding to myself as a Goose Girl, I am using only the most modest of my titles; for I am also a poultry-maid, a tender of Belgian hares and rabbits, and a shepherdess; but I particularly fancy the rôle of Goose Girl, because it recalls the German fairy tales of my early youth, when I always yearned, but never hoped, to be precisely what I now am.
As I was jolting along these charming Sussex roads the other day, a fat buff pony and a tippy cart being my manner of progression, I chanced upon the village of Barbury Green.
One glance was enough for any woman, who, having eyes to see, could see with them; but I made assurance doubly sure by driving about a little, struggling to conceal my new-born passion from the stable-boy who was my escort. Then, it being high noon of a cloudless day, I descended from the trap and said to the astonished yokel: “You may go back to the Hydropathic; I am spending a month or two here. Wait a moment—I’ll send a message, please!”
I then scribbled a word or two to those having me in custody.
“I am very tired of people,” the note ran, “and want to rest myself by living a while with things. Address me (if you must) at Barbury Green post-office, or at all events send me a box of simple clothing there—nothing but shirts and skirts, please. I cannot forget that I am only twenty miles from Oxenbridge (though it might be one hundred and twenty, which is the reason I adore it), but I rely upon you to keep an honourable distance yourselves, and not to divulge my place of retreat to others, especially to—you know whom! Do not pursue me. I will never be taken alive!”
Having cut, thus, the cable that bound me to civilisation, and having seen the buff pony and the dazed yokel disappear in a cloud of dust, I looked about me with what Stevenson calls a “fine, dizzy, muddle-headed joy,” the joy of a successful rebel or a liberated serf. Plenty of money in my purse—that was unromantic, of course, but it simplified matters—and nine hours of daylight remaining in which to find a lodging.
The village is one of the oldest, and I am sure it must be one of the quaintest, in England. It is too small to be printed on the map (an honour that has spoiled more than one Arcadia), so pray do not look there, but just believe in it, and some day you may be rewarded by driving into it by chance, as I did, and feel the same Columbus thrill running, like an electric current, through your veins. I withhold specific geographical information in order that you may not miss that Columbus thrill, which comes too seldom in a world of railroads.
The Green is in the very centre of Barbury village, and all civic, political, family, and social life converges there, just at the public duck-pond—a wee, sleepy lake with a slope of grass-covered stones by which the ducks descend for their swim.
The houses are set about the Green like those in a toy village. They are of old brick, with crumpled, up-and-down roofs of deep-toned red, and tufts of stonecrop growing from the eaves. Diamond-paned windows, half open, admit the sweet summer air; and as for the gardens in front, it would seem as if the inhabitants had nothing to do but work in them, there is such a riotous profusion of colour and bloom. To add to the effect, there are always pots of flowers hanging from the trees, blue flax and yellow myrtle; and cages of Java sparrows and canaries singing joyously, as well they may in such a paradise....