Authors: H.E. Bates
H. E. BATES
I have always believed that H.E. Bates was the absolute master of short story writing. He managed to create a little world for you to enter into, and that soft focus world would stay with you long after you'd finished the story.
When I first started writing I tried my hand at short stories, assuming quite wrongly it would be easier than attempting a book. Bates was my guiding light; there appeared to be a simplicity about his work that I sought to emulate. I did get a few short stories accepted by magazines, but they could never be in his league. I certainly never created anything as lovely as âThe Watercress Girl'. Did any writer before or since? I think I found it in a magazine and read it curled up in my aunt's spare room one wet school holiday and then went on to rush to the library to find more of his work.
Fair Stood the Wind for France
was the first book I borrowed and I was totally hooked on his work, but it was always the short stories I really admired the most.
Lesley Pearse, 2015
My grandfather, although best known and loved by many readers all over the world for creating the Larkin family in his bestselling novel
The Darling Buds of May
, was also one of the most prolific English short story writers of the twentieth century, often compared to Chekhov. He wrote over 300 short stories and novellas in a career spanning six decades from the 1920s through to the 1970s.
My grandfather's short fiction took many different forms, from descriptive country sketches to longer, sometimes tragic, narrative stories, and I am thrilled that Bloomsbury Reader will be reissuing all of his stories and novellas, making them available to new audiences, and giving them â especially those that have been out of print for many years or only ever published in obscure magazines, newspapers and pamphlets â a new lease of life.
There are hundreds of stories to discover and re-discover, from H. E. Bates's most famous tales featuring Uncle Silas, or the critically acclaimed novellas such as
to little, unknown gems such as âThe Waddler', which has not been reprinted since it first appeared in the
in 1926, when my grandfather was just twenty, or âCastle in the Air', a wonderful, humorous story that was lost and unknown to our family until 2013.
If you would like to know more about my grandfather's work I encourage you to visit the
H.E. Bates Companion
â a brilliant comprehensive online resource where detailed bibliographic information, as well as articles and reviews, on almost all of H. E. Bates's publications, can be found.
I hope you enjoy reading all these evocative and vivid short stories by H. E. Bates, one of the masters of the art.
Tim Bates, 2015
We would like to spread our passion for H. E. Bates's short fiction and build a community of readers with whom we can share information on forthcoming publications, exclusive material such as free downloads of rare stories, and opportunities to win memorabilia and other exciting prizes â you can sign up to the H. E. Bates's mailing list
. When you sign-up you will immediately receive an exclusive short work by H. E. Bates.
Alexander went down the farm-yard past the hay stacks and the bramble cart-shed and out into the field beyond the sycamore trees, looking for the white pony. The mist of the summer morning lay cottoned far across the valley, so that he moved in a world above clouds that seemed to float upward and envelop him as he went down the slope. Here and there he came across places in the grass where the pony had lain during the night, buttercups and moon-daisies pressed flat as in a prayer-book by the fat flanks, and he could see where hoofs had broken the ground by stamping and had exploded the ginger ant-hills. But there was no white pony. The mist was creeping rapidly up the field and soon he could see nothing except grass and the floating foam of white and golden flowers flowing as on a smooth tide out of the mist, and could hear nothing except the blunted voices of birds in the deep mist-silence of the fields.
The pony was a week old. Somewhere, for someone
else, he had had another life, but for Alexander it had no meaning. All of his life that mattered had begun from the minute, a week past, when Uncle Bishop had bought him to replace the rough chestnut, and a new life had begun for Alexander. To the boy the white pony was now a miracle. âSee how straight he stands,' he had heard a man say. âBreedin' there. Mighta bin a race-horse.' They called him Snowy, and he began to call the name as he went down the field, singing it, low and high, inverting the sound of the cuckoos coming from the spinneys. But there was still no pony and he went down to the farthest fences without seeing him. The pony had been there, kicking white scars into the ashpales sometime not long before, leaving fresh mushrooms of steaming dung in the grass. The boy stood swinging the halter like a lasso, wishing it could be a lasso and he himself a wild boy alone in a wild world.
After a minute he moved away, calling again, wondering a little, and at that instant the mist swung upwards. It seemed to lift with the suddenness of a released balloon, leaving the field suffused with warm apricot light, the daisies china-white in the sun, and in the centre of it the white pony
standing dead still, feet together, head splendidly aloof and erect, a statue of chalk.
Seeing him, Alexander ran across the field, taking two haunches of bread out of his pocket as he went. The pony waited, not moving. âSnowy', the boy said, âSnowy.' He held the bread out in one hand, flat, touching the pony's nose with the other, and the pony lowered his head and took the bread, the teeth warm and slimy on the palm of the boy's hand. After the bread had gone, Alexander fixed the halter. âSnowy', he kept saying, âGood boy, Snowy', deeply glad of the moment of being alone there with the horse, smelling the strong warm horse smell, feeling the sun already warm on his own neck and on the body of the horse as he led him away.
Back at the fence he drew the horse closely parallel to the rails and then climbed up and got on. He sat well up, knees bent. The flanks of the pony under his bare knees seemed smoother and more friendly than anything on earth and as he moved forward the boy felt that he and the pony were part of each other, indivisible in a new affection. He moved gently and as the boy called him again âSnowy, giddup, Snowy', the ears flickered
and were still in a second of response and knowledge. And suddenly, from the new height of the pony's back, the boy felt extraordinarily excited and solitary, completely alone in the side of the valley, with the sun breaking the mist and the fields lining up into distant battalions of colour and the farms waking beyond the river.
As he began to ride back to the farm the mood of pride and delight continued: his pony, his world, his time to use as he liked. He smoothed his hand down the pony's neck. The long muscles rippled like a strong current of water under his hand and he felt a sudden impulse to gallop. He took a quick look behind him and then let the pony go across the broad field, that was shut away from the farm-house by the spinneys. He dug his knees hard into the flanks and held the halter grimly with both hands and it seemed as if the response of the horse were electric. He's got racing blood all right, he thought. He's got it. He's a masterpiece, a wonder. The morning air was warm already as it rushed past his face and he saw the ground skidding dangerously away from him as the pony rose to the slope, his heart panting deeply as they reached the hurdle by the spinney, the beauty and exhilaration of speed
exciting him down to the extreme tips of his limbs.
He dismounted at the hurdle and walked the rest of the way up to the house, past cart sheds and stacks and into the little rectangular farm-yard flanked by pig-sties and hen-houses. He led the horse with a kind of indifferent sedateness: the idea being innocence. âDon't you let that boy gallop that horse â you want to break his neck?' he remembered his Aunt Bishop's words, and then his Uncle Bishop's â âShe says if you gallop him again she'll warm you and pack you back home.' But as he led the pony over to the stables there was no warning shout from anybody or anywhere. The yard was dead quiet, dung-steeped and drowsy already with sun, the pigs silent.
Suddenly, this deep silence seemed ominous.
He stopped by the stable door. Now, from the far side of the yard, from behind the hen-houses, he could hear voices. They seemed to be strange voices. They seemed to be arguing about something. Not understanding it, he listened for a moment and then tied the pony to the stable door and went across the yard.
âTh'aint bin a fox yit as could unscrew the side
of a hen-place and walk out wi' the hens under his arm. So don't try and tell me they is.'
âOh! What's this then? Ain't they fox-marks? Just by your feet there? Plain as daylight.'
âNo, they ain't. Them are dug prints. I know dug prints when I see 'em.'
âYis, an' I know fox prints. I seen 'em afore.'
âOver at Jim Harris's place. When they lost that lot o' hens last Michaelmas. That was a fox all right, and so was this, I tell y'.'
âYis? I tell y' if this was a fox it was a two-legged 'un. Thass what it was.'
Alexander stood by the corner of the hen-roost, listening, his mouth open. Three men were arguing: his Uncle Bishop, limbs as fat as bladders of lard in his shining trousers, a policeman in plain clothes, braces showing from under his open sports jacket, police boots gleaming from under police trousers, and Maxie, the cow-man, a cunning little man with small rivet eyes and a striped celluloid collar fixed with a brass stud and no tie.
It was Maxie who said: âFox? If that was a fox I'm a bloody cart-horse. Ain't a fox as ever took twenty hens in one night.'
âOnly a two-legged fox,' Uncle Bishop said.
âOh, ain't they?' the policeman said.
âNo, they ain't,' Uncle Bishop said, âand I want summat done.'
âWell,' the policeman said, âjist as you like, jist as you like. Have it your own way. I'll git back to breakfast now and be back in hour and do me measurin' up. But if you be ruled by me you'll sit up with a gun to-night.'
An hour later that morning Alexander sat on a wooden bin in the little hovel next to the stable where corn was kept for the hens and pollard for the pigs, and Maxie sat on another bin, thumb on cold bacon and bread, jack-knife upraised, having his breakfast.
âYis, boy,' Maxie said, âit's a two-legged fox or else my old woman's a Dutchman, and she ain't. It's a two-legged fox and we're goin' to git it. To-night.'
âWe're jis goin' wait,' Maxie said, âjis goin' wait wi' a coupla guns. Thass all. And whoever it is 'll git oles blown in 'is trousis.'
âSupposing he don't come to-night?'
âThen we're goin' wait till he does come. We'll wait till bull's noon.'
Maxie took a large piece of cold grey-red bacon on the end of his knife and with it a large piece of bread and put them both into his mouth. His little eyes bulged and stared like a hare's and something in his throat waggled up and down like an imprisoned frog. Alexander stared, fascinated, and said âYou think you know who it is, Maxie?'