Three marshes spread across the triangle made by the Royal Military Canal and the coasts of Sussex and Kent. The Military Canal runs from Hythe to Rye, beside the Military Road; between it and the flat, white beaches of the Channel lie Romney Marsh, Dunge Marsh and Walland Marsh, from east to west. Walland Marsh is sectored by the Kent Ditch, which draws huge, straggling diagrams here, to preserve ancient rights of parishes and the monks of Canterbury. Dunge Marsh runs up into the apex of the triangle at Dunge Ness, and adds to itself twenty feet of shingle every year. Romney Marsh is the sixth continent and the eighth wonder of the world.
The three marshes are much alike; indeed to the foreigner they are all a single spread of green, slatted with watercourses. No river crosses them, for the Rother curves close under Rye Hill, though these marshes were made by its ancient mouth, when it was the River Limine and ran into the Channel at Old Romney. There are a few big watercourses—the New Sewer, the Yokes Sewer, the White Kemp Sewer—there are a few white roads, and a great many marsh villages—Brenzett, Ivychurch, Fairfield, Snargate, Snave—each little more than a church with a farmhouse or two. Here and there little deserted chapels lie out on the marsh, officeless since the days of the monks of Canterbury; and everywhere there are farms, with hundreds of sheep grazing on the thick pastures.
Little Ansdore Farm was on Walland Marsh, three miles from Rye, and about midway between the villages of Brodnyx and Pedlinge. It was a sea farm. There were no hop-gardens, as on the farms inland, no white-cowled oasts, and scarcely more than twelve acres under the plough. Three hundred acres of pasture spread round Ansdore, dappled over with the big Kent sheep—the road from Pedlinge to Brodnyx went through them, curling and looping and doubling to the demands of the dykes. Just beyond Pedlinge it turned northward and crossed the South Eastern Railway under the hills that used to be the coast of England, long ago when the sea flowed up over the marsh to the walls of Lympne and Rye; then in less than a mile it had crossed the line again, turning south; for some time it ran seawards, parallel with the Kent Ditch, then suddenly went off at right angles and ran straight to the throws where the Woolpack Inn watches the roads to Lydd and Appledore.
On a dim afternoon towards the middle of October in the year 1897, a funeral procession was turning off this road into the drive of Little Ansdore. The drive was thick with shingle, and the mourning coaches lurched and rolled in it, spoiling no doubt the decorum of their occupants. Anyhow, the first two to get out at the farmhouse door had lost a little of that dignity proper to funerals. A fine young woman of about twenty-three, dressed handsomely but without much fashion in black crape and silk, jumped out with a violence that sent her overplumed black hat to a rakish angle. In one black kid-gloved hand she grasped a handkerchief with a huge black border, in the other a Prayer Book, so could not give any help to the little girl of ten who stumbled out after her, with the result that the child fell flat on the doorstep and cut her chin. She immediately began to cry.