A Pocketful of Pebbles

As she walked past a cab rank in Pont Street, Mrs. Miniver heard a very fat taxi-driver with a bottle nose saying to a very old taxi-driver with a rheumy eye: "They say it's all a question of your subconscious mind."

Enchanted, she put the incident into her pocket for Clem. It jostled, a bright pebble, against several others: she had had a rewarding day. And Clem, who had driven down to the country to lunch with a client, would be pretty certain to come back with some good stuff, too. This was the cream of marriage, this nightly turning out of the day's pocketful of memories, this deft habitual sharing of two pairs of eyes, two pairs of ears. It gave you, in a sense, almost a double life: though never, on the other hand, quite a single one.

She found herself involuntarily rehearsing her pebble as she walked. "It was pure New Yorker. Just as I went past, the fat one said to the old one . . ." And then it would be Clem's turn: "There was a superb horsy man there, like a prawn with a regimental tie. He said: 'What I always say is, there's gone in the wind and -- er -- gone in the wind.'" And then she could bring out Mary's engagement, heard of by telephone after Clem had left the house; and the joke which Toby had made on the way to school; and, best of all, a beautiful saga about the woman who had sat next to her at lunch. Mrs. Miniver had not heard her name at all, but if she had invented her she would have called her Burfish. Lady Constance Burfish, probably: or perhaps Mrs. Charles Burfish would be subtler. Anyway, it appeared that she lived in Gloucestershire: where did Mrs. Miniver live? In London, but they had a small house in Kent.

"In Kent? How nice," said Mrs. Burfish. Her tone conveyed that Kent was not quite out of the top drawer.

The talk turned, inevitably, on to the evacuation and billeting of children. Mrs Miniver said they had offered to take six at Starlings, or more if the Government would provide enough beds to turn the oast-house playroom into a dormitory.

"Wonderful of you," said Mrs. Burfish. "But, you know, a small house is rather different. I mean, one doesn't expect -- does one? -- to keep up quite the same standards. ..."

Mrs. Miniver, whose standards of comfort, like Clem's, were almost reprehensibly high, mentally compared the compact warmth of Starlings with some of the bedrooms she had occupied in large country houses. But she said nothing: she did not want to interrupt what promised to be an enjoyable turn.

"Of course," went on Mrs. Burfish (no, she would have to be Lady Constance after all), "I was perfectly civil to the little woman they sent round. In fact, I felt quite sorry for her. I said: 'What an unpleasant job it must be for you, having to worm your way into people's houses like this.' But you know, she didn't seem to mind. I suppose some people aren't very sensitive."

"No," said Mrs. Miniver, "I suppose not."

"And I said to her quite plainly, 'If there's a war you'll find me only too willing to do my duty. But I cannot see the point,' I said, ‘of tying oneself down publicly beforehand and upsetting the servants.'"

What luck I do have, thought Mrs. Miniver gratefully. She had, of course, read about this kind of thing in the papers, but a friend of hers who had helped with the billeting survey had assured her that it was mercifully rare. So that now, face to face -- or rather, elbow to elbow with an authentic example of it, she was filled with the same sense of privileged awe which had overcome her when, emerging suddenly from a painful encounter with a juniper thicket in Teesdale, she had once seen a startled woodcock unmistakably carrying off its young between its feet. Looking, fascinated, at Lady Constance, she almost felt that she ought to write a letter to The Field. Moreover, Lady Constance seemed bent upon giving good measure. For she went on:-

"And, of course, I said to her before she left: 'Even if the worst does come to the worst, you must make it quite clear to the authorities that I can only accept Really Nice Children.'"

"And where," Mrs. Miniver could not restrain herself from asking, "are the other ones to go?"

"There are sure to be camps," said Lady Constance firmly.

The talk swung in the opposite direction. A few minutes later Mrs. Miniver heard Lady Constance’s other neighbour, who bore one of the famous Norfolk surnames, saying politely: "In Gloucestershire? How nice."

Kent was avenged.


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