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Mr. Mac and Me

Mr. Mac and Me

Автор Esther Freud

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Mr. Mac and Me

Автор Esther Freud

4.5/5 (3 оценки)
314 страниц
6 часов
Jan 27, 2015


1914. Thomas Maggs is thirteen and lives with his parents and sister at the Blue Anchor pub, in the village of Dunwich on the Suffolk coast. Born in winter while the sea stormed, Thomas is the youngest child, and the only son surviving. In Dunwich, life is quiet and shaped by the seasons: fishing and farming, the summer visitors, and the girls who come down from the Highlands to gut and pack the herring. Thomas visits his brothers' grave in the churchyard, sketches the boats from the harbor, and longs for adventure -- a chance to go to sea.

Then one day a mysterious Scotsman and his red-haired wife arrive in the village. The man's name is Charles Rennie Mackintosh, but the locals are soon calling him Mac. Mac and his wife are both artists, regarded as eccentrics in town, but a source of wonder and fascination for Thomas.

Yet just as Thomas and Mac's friendship begins to bloom, war with Germany is declared. The summer guests flee, replaced by regiments of soldiers on their way to Belgium. And as the war weighs increasingly heavily on the community, the villagers on the home front become increasingly suspicious of Mac and his curious behavior.

Mr. Mac and Me is the story of an unlikely friendship, and a vivid portrait of one of the most brilliant and misunderstood artists of his generation.
Jan 27, 2015

Об авторе

Esther Freud is the great-granddaughter of Sigmund Freud and the daughter of the painter Lucian Freud. She trained as an actress before writing her first novel. Her books have been translated into thirteen languages. She lives in London.

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Mr. Mac and Me - Esther Freud


Chapter 1

I was born upstairs in the small bedroom, not in the smallest room with the outshot window, where I sleep now, or the main room that is kept for guests – summer visitors who write and let us know that they are coming and how long they plan to stay. Sometimes, after a night’s drinking, folk may rest there, although Mother always takes their money off them first. If she doesn’t they wake up and protest they don’t know how they came to be lying in that fine wide bed, say they’ve been apprehended and held there, in comfort against their will. But that is at harvest time, when men and boys come to wash away the wheat chaff tickling their throats, or in high summer when they’ve spent the day thinning out the wild oats from hay. But I was born in winter, the sea storming on the beach beyond, roaring through the night, louder than my mother, whose ninth child I was.

My father was over at Sogg’s Fen searching out a rabbit, and when he came back in he brought with him news that three fishermen from Dunwich had been lost at sea. The bell was ringing in the church there, Mother swore she could hear it through the storm, and she laid me against her chest and cried so hard she nearly drowned me with her tears. ‘What is it?’ my sister Mary was tending her. ‘Will he not feed neither?’ But Mother said she knew someone had to be taken that night, and sinful as it was, she was just so very grateful that it wasn’t me.

My father gave the rabbit to Mary to skin and gut, and he climbed into bed himself, knocked sideways with the spirits he’d drunk to keep away his fright.

‘We can’t both be lying down,’ my mother shoved him, ‘or this boy will have survived for nothing.’ And when he didn’t rouse himself she got up and careful as she could she climbed down the ladder, and leaving me beside him, she laid a fire in the public bar in case anyone should come in for a sup.

It was Mother, more than anyone, who had the village in her blood. Born and reared up near the common where her father was a pig man. She’d never wanted to leave, never planned to, but one afternoon she was out on the street when a man pedalled by and winked his eye at her. ‘Knives to grind,’ he sang over his shoulder and she smiled right back at him. He was an older man, halfway to her father’s age, with a ragged look as if he needed someone’s caring. But he was smiling as he wheeled around, smiling as he asked her name, and soon he was offering to sharpen the family knives half price. He had his own grinder, made a fair profit if he worked all hours, and when he and Mother married he carried her away to Dunwich where he set himself up as a pork butcher. Mother said she hadn’t known how much she liked the pigs till then, their bristly grey bodies, rootling and bathing in the sun, the happy way they let their babies snuffle round them, and it pained her to hear their screams rising up from the slaughterhouse beside the shop. She’d never imagined either how much she’d miss the village. She missed the washing flapping on the green, the geese that guarded it, the paths that led away towards the river and the sea. She missed the bracken unfurling in the spring, the pheasants that rose out of it, strolling glossily across the land. ‘There’s bracken here,’ my father told her. ‘Up on the heath, and pheasants too, and there’s deer as well that come out of the forest.’ But what he couldn’t know was that they weren’t the ones she recognised, they weren’t the ones she’d always felt were hers.

On Sundays, in that first year, he gave in to her desire to be back home. He’d sit her on the seat of the old knife-grinding bicycle, and pedal her back across the marshes, through mud and sedge, along sheep paths less than a foot wide, screaming as they nearly tipped into the river. They had to get off to lift the bicycle over a stile at Bridge Farm and wheel it across a cattle grid at the start of Dingle Marsh, but once she was heavy with her first child, they took to walking, stretching their steps against the drawing in of evening, until the days grew too short and she too large. Then, often as not, they stayed in Dunwich where they went to the lepers’ church up by the turning. She knelt by her husband’s side, pressing her swollen knees into the wood, and wished herself thankful for everything she had.

Chapter 2

Father took on the lease of the Blue Anchor Inn when my sisters, Mary and Ann, were little more than babies. ‘It’ll bring us luck,’ Mother told him, ‘bless us with a boy,’ although why she thought it might be lucky I don’t know when the landlord before him, a Mr Frederick Easy, had fallen so far into arrears with his rent that there’d been a sale of his effects out on the street. Mother bought a tablecloth, embroidered, she was told, by his daughter Grace who’d drowned herself the year before in the water butt, and whenever she spread it out I’d think of that girl and the strength she must have had to hold herself under. What I didn’t know then was how much more strength you’d need to hold yourself afloat, and the first thing I did when I remembered how I’d heard the well shaft sighing in the darkness and decided it was most likely a ghost, was I took that tablecloth and I dug a hole and buried it in the garden.

Father would have been grateful to have been buried in the earth – all his life he feared he’d end up in the sea, ever since he’d been apprenticed, aged eleven, to the captain of the Irwell who’d docked unexpectedly at Southwold when his cargo of rags caught fire. The last boy, it seemed, had perished in the blaze. But my father was from a family of sailors, his grandfather, father, his brother too, gone to sea before him, so when the captain came ashore my father was the first boy to be offered up. I know this although Father prefers to remain silent. His life began, it seems, when he pedalled that knife-grinding bicycle down the lane towards my mother. But I ask him sometimes when he’s soft with drink what work he had to do on board, and how it felt to be sleeping in a bunk when the waves came high and rocked him nearly to the side as I’d seen in pictures in the Sailors’ Reading Room. And he looks at me as if he might tell – a strange, sad look – but instead he talks about his days as a pork butcher and how he was sure he could have made a living if the shrieking of the animals and the smell of blood hadn’t nearly parted my mother from her wits. ‘But an innkeeper is a fine job, if you can make it pay,’ he says and I catch him staring at my twisted foot, and I swear that more than once I’ve seen him smile as I limp away.

Chapter 3

My mother warned me early that I’d never go to sea. She’d caught me down by the harbour looking at the boats, watching and waiting for my chance to get offshore. ‘That’ll never do for you,’ she told me. And she turned my face inland and sent me on my way.

Right from the start she’d been saving and scheming, and by the time I was eight she’d got a place for me with Mr Runnicles at his school in Wenhaston. You’ll need to use your brains, she told me, and every morning I was to wait out on the road up by the Manor Farm for a lift from Mr Button who drove by in his cart. Mother herself had learnt her letters at Sunday School, with a stick and a sand tray out in the churchyard, and on weekday afternoons there was help to be had at the Wesleyan chapel on Mill Lane. ‘Make the most of this chance,’ she told me, fierce, and I stepped away from the flat of her hand.

Even now I’m the only boy from our village at Mr Runnicles’ school. There are three boys there, older, including the son of a glazier, and two boys younger, brothers from the Lodge over at St Cross. Mostly what we have to do is copying. ‘No blots, mind,’ Mr Runnicles tells us, and he sits at the desk and works at his own ledger, copying his own small words into a black book, while we scratch and smudge and stare out of the window at the day going by without us.

Sometimes at Runnicles’, when my copying is finished, I make sketches of the brigs moored up in the harbour. I draw them from memory with their masts and sails, but when Runnicles sees the black marks in the margin his face grows red and his eyes look ready to split open. ‘Spoiled!’ he says and he holds up my page as a warning to the others.

But whatever he says, and however much my mother needs me, after school I go down to the river to see if any new boat has come in. I traipse past the summer visitors with their watercolours set up in the dunes and the wooden huts some rent to store their easels and their turps. I nod to old Danky who stands on the bridge in his cord cap and his fisherman’s boots and accepts payment from anyone who might like to use him in one of their paintings, the way he looks so fetching, with his white beard, and dark jacket, against the old Japanese bridge.

‘Come in and keep me company,’ Danky says, rattling the coins in his pocket, but I never could go into the Bell, even if nothing passed my lips, because if my father heard of it, he’d catch me by the throat and shake me till I wept. The Blue Anchor is the farmers’ pub, and the Bell is for the fishermen. Once there was some kind of battle on the green, near midnight, on a warm clear night, and my father, although he was injured in the attack, still talks of it as a marvel. ‘They had oars and great thick snakes of tarry rope,’ he says, ‘while we carried pitchforks and mallets.’ My father limped home in the early hours of that morning with his shoulder shattered, and for all his talk of marvels he curses every time he has to lift the kegs, for the pain that still shoots through him.

I wait for Danky on the rise of grass outside the inn to come back out with his ale, and when he’s eased his thirst he’ll tell me tales of the sea, and I’ll close my eyes and memorise the words he uses, the boom, the block, the bailer, the clew and cleat and daggerboard, and I wish, whatever my father says about my being a cripple and suited to some other kind of work, that I could be apprenticed like he was, and set off on a voyage that might take me up as far as Newcastle, or further, round the tip of Britain or off across the German Sea.

Chapter 4

My name is Thomas Maggs. Although I’m known as Tommy, and Tom is what I tell people if I’m asked. I’m the youngest son of William and Mary Maggs, and the only son surviving. First there was William, but he only lived a day. Then came another William who lasted long enough to see my brother James before they were both struck down by measles. I should add that my sisters started with it. But they’re strong girls. Even now. And it only made them stronger. Mary is in service. Working for the master at Blyfield House. And Ann helps Mother with the inn, washes the tiles on the floor, polishes the tankards, cooks. Although sometimes at night she whispers to me how she dreams of joining Mary and wearing a white apron and eating in the big kitchen twice a day. They were born first, my sisters, before we even had the inn. But I’m forgetting. After James, there was another William, and then another James, who clung on past his first year, and a Thomas, all born before me. But I was determined from the first. Red in the face, and all over too, from the fight of being born. ‘I’m not letting this one go,’ my mother said as the bells tolled for the fishermen from Dunwich. ‘This one’s staying here with me.’

I never asked her if she said the same to those that went before. But she still says it now, reaching for me as I run past. Not that I’m ever caught. Not even with my twisted foot. I run past her, out through the back gate, across the clover field to the river and when my leg gives out I lie down and watch the sky until it’s swallowed me up and I’m flying, floating through the clouds, and I can see the moon, a white shadow against blue, and little trails of birds too busy to look down although if they did they’d laugh to see us, my mother toiling till her hands are raw, and my father, pickled with the drink, slumped in the best chair.

On Sundays before Mother goes into the church she takes a walk around the graveyard. I used to go with her, keeping to the paths, my toes itching to climb on to the graves. Now that I’m thirteen I sit on the wall and watch. Our plot is at the far end by the lane, but instead of heading straight towards it, she follows the path, looking politely at the other headstones, at the angel sitting on the Doys’ family plot, at the Prettyman girl who has a grave all to herself. Our boys are in together. Their names and dates are like the letters and numbers Runnicles makes me copy, winding round each other, crossing over themselves. Sometimes my mother presses flowers into the pot that sits on their grave. Daffodils, or celandines, or if there is nothing else to be found in the garden a cloud of cow parsley from the lane, which smells of summer and everything they’ve missed.

Father doesn’t go near the grave. He goes into the church because he must, he won’t be thrown in with the likes of Buck from Dingle Farm who they say is a cannibal because he sluices out his outhouse on a Sunday. But for all his protest­ations Father likes the church. He likes the talking before, and the chat after, and Ann looking so pretty in her bonnet in the pew beside, and Mary who gets the afternoon off from her work up at the big house. He likes the folk complaining about the weather, one old girl who looks up at the sky, whatever it’s like, and says when she was a child the warm days lasted all of six months and now, if it wasn’t for the leaves on the trees, you wouldn’t know it was even summer. And it makes me happy to see him there because it’s the one day of the week he doesn’t have a drink, not so much as a thimbleful till after lunch.

Danky comes by with his sister – a smart God-fearing woman who keeps an eye on him – and he tells Father, when he asks, that his own mother may be doing well for ninety, but all day she sits by the fire as miserable as a cat.

The church lies inside the ruins of a larger church that was made from stones brought up from the beach. Sometimes I meet Ellen there – her father is the blacksmith – and we play coppen ball among the ruins. We let the ball land on the graves, and when we find it we read out the names of the people who lie under. Albert Crisp and his devoted wife Ermentruda. That makes us laugh. Robert English. His daughter Florence, sadly taken from us. We’re always hoping for something funny, so we’re careful when we play never to let the ball fly down to the far end of the churchyard, so we don’t have to read the names on the short grey stone beneath my mother’s flowers.

Chapter 5

The summer I turned twelve I got myself a job. I’d heard the rope-maker George Allard needed a boy to turn the wheel. And I saw him one morning as I was shifting about down by the harbour, watching old Danky standing on the bridge in his fisherman’s hat and rolled-over boots while two lady painters made a likeness of him in oils. Danky stands there half the day when he isn’t on his boat, and even when he should be on it – the fish aren’t going to catch themselves – and then he takes the money he makes from ‘modelling’, as he calls it, straight into the Bell and drinks it down in beer. If only he’d come into the Blue Anchor, just once in a while to keep my father company, but the fishermen stick to their pub and the farmers to theirs and the truth is there’s not really need in the village for both. ‘You can start next week,’ George Allard told me when I asked after the job. And he promised to pay me a shilling at the end of every month.

These last long years George Allard’s been working for a rope-maker at Lavenham, but now he’s home again and set up on his own – Allard’s Rope, Twine and Norsel Works – using his garden as his walk and, if need be, the path that runs outside the gate and down across the fields to the marsh. My job is to turn the wheel while he teases out the hemp, walking backwards, easing it out slowly from the strick around his waist. ‘Keep your wits about you and you can learn a trade,’ he tells me as he goes, ‘you don’t want to be following your father into the licensing business. No good comes of that. Feeding the devil, that’s the truth.’ And as I turn the wheel he tells me about London and how if there’s a war, we’ll have to stay here on the coast and defend it from the enemy.

‘A war, with who?’ I ask. I’m sleepy from our early start, and he tells me the story of the Battle of Sole Bay, how in the first hours of the morning of the 28th May, a French frigate sailed into Southwold and roused the town with news that a Dutch fleet were little more than two hours away. The town was full of sailors resting while their ships were fitted up, and their commander, the Earl of Sandwich, was in an upstairs room at Sutherland House, too distracted by the charms of a young chambermaid to notice at first the seriousness of the threat. But by dawn, despite the chambermaid, every vessel at anchor on the lee shore had put out to sea and between them, the French and English had seventy-one ships, each with forty guns.

‘On the 28th May?’ My eyes are wide. It is only the middle of June now. But Allard shakes his head. ‘Don’t they teach you anything at that fancy school of yours?’

He gathers up his twine and comes back to where I’m sitting at the wheel. ‘This battle was fought two hundred and fifty years ago.’ He stops, and I stop turning. ‘But that’s not to say it couldn’t happen today. Ships were set on fire, men were thrown into the sea, and the thunder of the guns brought people hurrying from all the villages around to stand in a crowd along the cliff. But as the day went on the news for our side was not good. Not after the French disappeared over the horizon, by accident or design we’ll never know, and soon we heard that the Duke of York’s two ships were destroyed and that Lord Sandwich was last seen leaping into the waves.’ George Allard turns his stormy eyes on me as if he’d been there himself. ‘An order went out that no person was to leave the town. And so they stood all day, the men, women and children of this region, stones in their hands ready to defend the land. But the Dutch never did come ashore. At sunset the battle ended. The Dutch sailed away. And both sides declared victory. But over the weeks that followed, close to two thousand bodies were washed up along the coast. Even Lord Sandwich could only be known by the Star and Garter stitched into his clothes, and to this day if you go into Sutherland House and stand quite still and quiet, you’ll hear the weeping of the little chambermaid who haunts the upstairs rooms.’

George Allard takes a long step back. ‘So keep a watch, my boy, as I have done. Keep your eyes on the horizon and your ear to the ground. It’s our job now. If the enemy is to land anywhere, this is where they’ll land.’ He teases out more hemp and backs towards the gate, and at a nod I start up the wheel, keeping it smooth and regular even as my thoughts are spinning fast. I picture an army docking at the pier. They’ll come across from Holland with felt waistcoats and wooden shoes and as the men and women stream out to defend Southwold, I’ll make a drawing of their boats. My drawings will be needed. Evidence. I may even hand them in to Runnicles, and let him record my findings in his black ledger of facts. And he’ll see that I am useful after all. My name will be there for ever in his diary. Thomas Maggs.

Chapter 6

There are two seals who’ve made their home downriver of the ferry. I watch them with their rubbery heads, their small bald eyes blinking, and I think that if I slide into the mudflats by the jetty and slip and roll and flap my arms, surely I’ll soon learn to swim. I ask my sister Ann but she says she has no time for swimming and I daren’t ask Father anything about the sea. He hasn’t set foot on the beach, he says, for twenty years, and if it was up to him he never would again. He says it as if he’s under threat of being forced down there regular to do chores, but it’s Mother and me that goes poltering when the tide is out, catching up the coal to place into a sack, although he’s happy as the rest of them to sit by the smoulders of the fire.

Danky can swim. He didn’t know he could, but one dark morning a storm blew up from nowhere and he was thrown from his fishing boat and tipped into the wash. Dinks and Benny both went down, lost in the waves for ever, but before he knew it Danky was paddling like a dog. In with the tide he came, flapping and heaving up on to the shore, and crawled into the Bell where they pulled off his boots, tipped the water out, and poured warm brandy down his throat until he started raving and they knew he’d be all right.

‘So why did you never learn?’ I ask when I find him on his bench, and he looks at me sideways and mutters, ‘Bad luck to learn. Best to hope you’ll never need to know.’ And when I keep on about the seals he turns to me. ‘Have nothing to do with it,’ he says. ‘If God had wanted us to swim he’d have given us fins. Keep to the spinning, that’s the way.’ And he winks at me and starts in on a song, so low and gravelly I have to bend my ear towards him.

‘In the merry month of June, when all the flowers were in bloom

I took a stroll around my father’s farm.

And I met a pretty miss, and I asked her for a kiss

And to wind up . . . her little ball of yarn.’

Danky grins, and although I’m blushing, I keep my ear bent for more.

‘Oh no, kind sir, says she, you’re a stranger unto me

Perhaps you have some other little charm?

Oh no, my turtle dove, you’re the only one I love

Let me roll up . . . your little ball of yarn.’

Two men come out of the pub. Gory, from Lowestoft, moved into the village not more than five years since. And Tibbles, who mends boats.

‘Sure I took this fair young maid, just to dwell beneath the shade . . .’

‘You coming, Danky?’ they say to him, and he heaves his body up and stamps away with them towards the sea.

Chapter 7

In the cellar where the beer is kept there’s a trapdoor. I come across it one evening when father is too unsteady to go down, and a splash of light from the lamp I’m carrying falls across the hinge. I kneel on the cool stone and try to inch it open. But it doesn’t budge so I take the shovel and I ease it up. Inside there are steps. ‘Mam,’ I scream, ‘Mam,’ and she hurries down, her face white, her hands bunched into fists, and when she sees me, standing there, grinning, she cuffs me – once for giving her a fright, and again for sneaking where I shouldn’t.

But it’s too late. I’ve seen them. There are steps leading down from the trapdoor, dug into the earth, and my mother has to tell me, when she has the trapdoor firmly down, how years ago, before the lighthouse, smugglers would watch out for the wrecks and bring the cargo in to land. Smugglers’ tunnels. I’d heard stories, but we have one right under our house. And now I watch from my window for ships, lost and struggling, listing to the side. At night I scour the waves, the silvery tips, hoping for small black vessels heading out to relieve them of their bounty. But all I ever see is the beam from the lighthouse at Southwold, built for the new century, a year before I was born, flashing out

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  • (5/5)
    Charles Rennie Macintosh is the Mr Mac in Freud's beautiful, sensitive story. By looking at Mr Mac through the eyes of an 11-year old boy Freud shows the architect's vulnerability following his rejection after completing the design of the Glasgow School of Art. He and his wife, Margaret MacDonald, also a gifted artist, retreated to Suffolk in 1914. The story yields an amazing amount of information about Macintosh, Margaret, and the the culture of the times. Freud's story also points to the moment in our history when craftsmanship was being replaced by mass production. I've always been an admirer of Mackintosh designs but now I feel like I have known him for a short while. Wonderful, highly recommended. The author notes at the end reminds the reader that the Glasgow School of Art, one of Mackintosh's great achievements, burned just as Freud's book was going to print.
  • (4/5)
    I would maybe give this four stars if I was a bigger fan of historical fiction, since the writing was flawless. Taking place at the onset of WWI in Ireland, it is a lovely (and at times harrowing) tale of a young boy who befriends the famous Scottish architect, Charles R. Macintosh, and and his famous artist wife Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh. A nice, well written period piece.
  • (4/5)
    William is 14 yrs. Old, living in Suffolk, with his mom, dad and older sister. His parents run a local eating and drinking establishment, and he had six older brothers born before him, though none survived. He was born healthy, strong though with a twisted foot. His life is fairly simple, helping his mother at the inn, working part time for the local rope maker, wandering through the town and the woods. He knows all the flowers, birds, loves to fish and because he is everywhere and people are used to seeing him he manages to over hear things and in this way he knows things many don't. Things are notCompletely rosy though, when his father drinks he becomes abusive.Mac is Charles Ronnie Mackintosh, an architect and painter from Glasgow, come to the coast with his wife for health reasons. William takes to following Mac and eventually becomes wrapped up with him and Margaret. Things are fairly normal until Germany infiltrates France and Suffolk, on the coast, becomes a prime target. This is a simple story, a story about villagers living their lives. Some struggle financially, some are afraid of losing their livelihoods, there are tragedies and times of joy. Many of the things we all experience in our own lives.The war will change these people, make villagers suspicious of each other and particularly of strangers. I embraced this touching story, loved William, all his thoughts and deductions. How he wanted to keep everyone he loved safe. Charles Ronnie and his wife, who was an artist in her own right, were not recognized for their work during their lifetimes. As with what happens with many artists, their genius would not be recognized until after their deaths. Enjoyed the many descriptions in this novel, the setting and the flowers and plants Mac so painstakingly paints. The ending took a turn I didn't expect but it was right, fitting and poignant.ARC from NetGalley.
  • (5/5)
    Mr. Mac is the famed Scottish architect and artist Charles Rennie Macintosh. Me is young Thomas Maggs, son of the local pub managers. Maggs is club footed and has a talent for drawing; his fondest wish is to get out of little seaside village he lives in and see the world. His family spends its time working hard and trying to not upset his drunken, abusive father. When Macintosh and his beautiful, red haired, wife rent a tiny cottage in the seaside village, Maggs suddenly has someone who appreciates and even encourages his sketching of boats in the margins of his schoolwork. Soon Maggs is entangled in the lives of the Macintoshs as he sees lives that are very different from any he’s seen in the village. This budding relationship is threatened by the onset of WW 1 and the warnings the British government publish about spies and traitors; Macintosh speaks with a heavy accent- could he be German? He walks the cliffs at all hours, frequently using binoculars. There are German words in pamphlets in his house; he even corresponds with a German! Could he be in the village to spy for the Germans?This is a coming of age story; young Maggs has his first romantic relationship, works for a rope maker to help support the family, learns to look at the world with new eyes, and learns horrid fear as Zeppelins fly overhead. It’s also a story about how abruptly lives can change; a village that people come to to enjoy holiday becomes a watchful town with soldiers billeted in it, handmade rope is being replaced by barbed wire, a Scotch artist is suddenly seen as a German spy, people die or nearly die, and people are changed in ways no one thought they could be. The prose is just lovely; it’s like the words were lovingly set by a jewel maker. Freud made me able to see this little village and feel the fear of the Zeppelins. It was a delight to read.