There was thunder about, though not visibly; a day both airless and pitiless; one of those days when you feel that the unseen powers are conspiring against your peace. A naked sun from a naked sky stared down upon a naked earth. It seemed to me that the hawk had been a figure of more than himself and his purpose; I saw him as Homer’s people saw their eagles. Just as he hung aloft so hung the sun, intent upon the life of our cowering ball. Not elsewhere in England have I seen so shadeless a place, or one so unfitted for human intercourse, so lacking in the comfort, which human sensibilities need. We live in nature as hunted things, beasts of chase. Every eye is upon us in fear or dislike; but in our turn, cursed as well as blessed by imagination, we people the wild with dreadful shapes of menace. The heat, the cold, the wind and the rain work as much against us as for us. We endow them with minds like our own, but magnified by our dismay to be the minds of gods maleficent. Without shelter of our own provision we are comfortless, and without comfort our souls perish, then our bodies. Salisbury Plain, swooning in the heat, is a paradise for insects. In those desolate dwellings both flies and (I am sure) fleas abounded, dreadfully healthy and alive. I only guess at the fleas, but the flies I can answer for. They swarmed on the baking walls and wove webs in the air above us. The rooms were black with them, and their humming filled them up with noise.
Here lived the shepherd, too heavily taxed as he thought for his hermitage; here lived his family of half a dozen swarthy and beautiful children; and here we discussed the state of affairs, since the shepherd was abroad, with his daughter, a flower of the field. She came out of this stivy tenement at the sound of our boiling radiator, and stood framed in the doorway, shading her eyes against the sun, a tall and graceful, very pretty girl, dressed in cool white which might have been fresh from its cardboard box, as she herself might have stepped from her typewriter and Government office at Whitehall. Gentle-voiced, quiet and self-possessed, she showed us the conditions of her lot. One living-room, two bedrooms, and a washhouse in a shed: three miles over the grass to shop, church, post-office, and doctor; half a mile to call up a neighbour in case of need. A rain-water tank, less than a quarter full of last winter’s rain, must keep clean her house and her, and for drinking she was served by a galvanised tank in full sun, which she was lucky to get filled once a week.
I tasted of it. The water was warm, flat, and not too clean. “Where does this come from?” “It is fetched in a barrel from over the hill.” “Who brings it?” “The farmer—but he makes a fuss whenever we ask for it.” “He must water the stock, surely?” “Oh yes, and the sheep, too, but—” A pregnant aposiopesis. I wondered if that tank could not be put in the shade; but it seemed that it could not. The water had to be drawn from the barrel, the barrel was on wheels; time was short, life was tough; and so—you see! We did justice to the shepherd.