"Back to Normal"

"And a Welsh rabbit," said Mrs. Miniver. "Vin'll be spending the night here, and he likes that. Why, Mrs. Adie, what's the matter?"

"It's nothing, madam," said Mrs. Adie, fumbling in vain for a handkerchief and finally wiping her eyes on her apron. "It's only, it's so nice to be back to normal again." A wintry smile re-established itself on her thin lips; she went out of the room, sniffing. It was the first sign of emotion she had shown since the Crisis began.

Back to normal. No, thought Mrs. Miniver, standing by the window and looking out into the square, they weren't quite back to normal, and never would be; none of them, except perhaps Toby. He was at an age when shapes, colours, and textures still meant more to him (as they do to some people throughout life) than human relationships. Therefore, his treasure was safe: there would always be warm moss and pink shells and smooth chestnuts. But the rest of them -- even, to a slight degree, Judy -- would never be exactly the same again. Richer and poorer, but not the same. Poorer by a few layers of security, by the sense of material permanence, by the conviction, when planting a bulb, that one would pretty certainly be there to see the daffodil in flower. But richer by several things, of which the most noticeable was a quickened eyesight. On the drive up from Starlings, a casual glimpse through the window had reminded her of De La Mare's "Fare Well":-

May the rusting harvest hedgerow
Still the Traveller's joy entwine
And as happy children gather
Posies once mine.

And when things grew really serious -- when Clem had gone off with his Anti-Aircraft Battery, and Vin had been sent up to Quern, and the children's day school had been evacuated to the west country, and the maids had gone down to Starlings to prepare it for refugees, and she herself, staying at her sister's flat, had signed on as an ambulance driver -- during all the rather grim little bouts of staff-work which these arrangements entailed, she had been haunted day and night by the next two lines of the same poem:-

Look the last on all things lovely
Every hour....

For even if none of them was killed or injured, and even if their house did not, after all, attract one of the high-explosive bombs intended for the near-by power station, yet these possibilities had been abruptly and urgently mooted: and they had found themselves looking at each other, and at their cherished possessions, with new eyes. Small objects one could send to the country -- a picture or two, the second edition of Donne, and the little antelope made of burnt jade; others, like the furniture, one could more or less replace: but one couldn't send away, or replace, the old panelling on the stairs, or the one crooked pane in the dining-room window which made the area railings look bent, or the notches on the nursery door-post where they had measured the children every year. And these, among their material belongings, were the ones that had suddenly seemed to matter most.

Another thing they had gained was an appreciation of the value of dullness. As a rule, one tended to long for more drama, to feel that the level stretches of life between its high peaks were a waste of time. Well, there had been enough drama lately. They had lived through seven years in as many days; and Mrs. Miniver, at any rate, felt as though she had been wrung out and put through a mangle. She was tired to the marrow of her mind and heart, let alone her bones and ear-drums: and nothing in the world seemed more desirable than a long wet afternoon at a country vicarage with a rather boring aunt. A mountain range without valleys was merely a vast plateau, like the central part of Spain: and just about as exhausting to the nerves.

The third and most important gain was a sudden clarifying of intentions. On one of the blackest evenings of all several of their friends had dropped in to listen to the news and exchange plans. Among them were Badgecumbe, the old bio-chemist, and a young man called Flint, who wrote poetry and rather neat essays. When Mrs. Miniver switched off the set on a note of gloom they sat for a few moments too stunned to speak. Then Johnny Flint said :-

"I suppose that play of mine won't get written now. I've been talking about it for years. Oh, God. Nothing but a slim vol. and a bunch of light rniddles."

And old Badger said in a tired growl from the depths of his armchair:-

"At least you'll still be young, Johnny, if you come through it at all. But I wish I'd left all the small stuff and concentrated on the I.P. experiments."

"I know," said Mrs. Miniver. "I haven’t got a pen like you, Johnny, or a laboratory like Badger. But there were a lot of things I wanted to do, too, that seemed fairly important. Only one never got around to them, somehow."

"'Time's wing'ed chariot,"' said Johnny bitterly. "It's caught us up this time all right."

"Looks like it," said Mrs. Miniver. "But if by any miraculous chance it hasn't ..."

Well, it hadn't, after all. As she turned away from the window the date on her writing-table calendar caught her eye. Just a year ago, she remembered, she had stood at that same window putting the summer away and preparing to enjoy the autumn. And here she was again: only this time it wasn't chrysanthemums she was rearranging, but values.

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Internet Edition 2001 The Estate of Jan Struther