From The Sussex County Magazine 1931
A Sussex Goodnight
By Eileen Wildish
The city man’s "Goodnight" is the briefest of affairs. Two figures pass each other at breakneck speed, hurl a "Hello! Goodnight, old man" over the shoulder, and dash wildly onwards to their objective – probably a bus rapidly retreating into the fog.
Far otherwise is the "Goodnight" of the Sussex man. It takes time and is a matter of some moment. To disregard or skip heedlessly over any of its rites would be to miss its full savour.
It is late spring, and dusk is falling quickly. Above, the sky is clear and pearly green in the west, with one pale star glinting. Leaning over a five-barred gate and gazing meditatively across the valley towards the west is an old Sussex labourer. He is hoary with the years and "wrinkled deep in time," but under the bushy grey eyebrows are those merry childlike blue eyes which are the heritage of the Saxon folk.
There is silence, broken only by the sound of a cow’s slow steady munching in the long shadows by the stream. After a few moments another sound falls on the quiet air – the sound of slow deliberate steps and the thump of an ashen staff on the roadway which leads up from the village. a dark form looms in the shadows between the dusky hedgerows, and then the sound of footsteps ceases and a second figure is leaning over the gateway.
Five minutes of silence follow, and the smoke from an old clay winds slowly upwards and is lost in the shadows of the darkening sky.
"Well, John, ‘ow be the old wife gittin’ on?"
Three long pulls at the clay, and then the unhurried answer,
"Only middlin’, ‘Arry. Rector e’s bin with ‘er this evnin’ a bit and e’ said as ‘ow ‘is grandmother – no, ‘is great-aunt, I think t’was, the sister of old Lady Cecil up at the Manor House – she ‘ad the same complaint. Real bad it took ‘er; she never lasted mor’n a couple o’ weeks, not with all them London doctors; and the wife she’s bin in bed three months come Thursday. Real pleased to see ‘im she was; seemed to buck ‘er up like."
"Did it now? Well, I reckon it did," and ‘Arry shifts his position, turning to lean more comfortably against the gateway.
I was up the Manor ‘Ouse way today – ‘ad to go up for faggots. Squire ‘e said master could ‘ave just a few o’ them what lies up the end o’ the Forewood, where old Daisy got in the ditch a couple o’ year back. Well, after bait – no, t’was just as we was goin’ to ‘ave our bait – master ‘e said to me, ‘e said, "You take Blossom and Duke and fetch them faggots," ‘e said, "and mind as ‘ow you bring a good load," ‘e said, "and don’t you be long about it."
A white owl swooped across to the barn and blundered in the open window.
"Well, we ‘ad not bin gone mor’n ‘alf an hour when we passed old Tom Noakes, and ‘e was running that ‘ard, reg-lar warm ‘e was. "What, Tom," I says, "lost yer pig?" I says. Ha! Ha! Ha! I laffed I did, but it took ‘im a long while afore ‘e saw the joke. "What!" I says, "lost yer pig?" Tom ‘e stopped ‘e did. "’Ere," ‘e says "give me a ‘and. All the ship what master bought at market they be all gone through that ‘ere ‘edge and got mixed along o’ Mas’r Wybourne’s ship, an’ blessed if I can git ‘em out agin. You just stay by that ‘edge," ‘e says, "while I run and git Watch from the farm." I stood there maybe twenty minutes, then dang me id ‘e did not come back without Watch!
"Why, man," I says, "lost yer dog this time?" "No," ‘e says, "Master ‘es took ‘er up Cadborough way for to get the tegs in for drenching." "Well," I says, "best let me come along o’ you and get ‘em out while Owen minds the ‘osses. Owen ‘e’s a good boy with the ‘osses, minds me o’ my young days ‘e does, standing there with a bit o’ ash whip in ‘is ‘and."
"Aye, ‘e be a good boy, ‘e be."
Meditative silence for a while, and then, "And I reckon a good old job you ‘ad?"
The last red glow died from the sky as the answer came, "Aye, that we did. We gets ourselves a bit o’ ‘azel each first, and then we druv ‘em this way and we druv ‘em that way, and at the end them ship they was more mixed than ever. Then Tom ‘e says, "Best make a pound out o’ them ‘urdles," ‘e says, so ‘e goes and gets the ‘op pitcher up the farm, and we put them ‘urdles in proper, and a very nice little pound it was when we ‘ad finished. Then we druv ‘em all up together again, and they was just in the pound when dang me if that old black eared ‘un did not knock one o’ them ‘urdles out!"
"Did she now? Well, I be blowed! I recollect six years ago t’was come next ‘edge brishing, when old Mas’r Muggridge was alive, them ship o’ is down Cinder Brook . . . "
I must have dozed in the summer house up behind the hazels, for after a while I woke to hear the tramp of footsteps parting the ways in the darkness, and the sound of words which the night air bore clearly up to me.
"Well, goodnight, John."
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
When I shall quit this mortal shore
And nosey round the earth no more
Don't weep, don't sigh, don't sob
I may have struck a better job
Don't go and buy a large boquet
For which you'll find it hard to pay
Don't hang around me looking blue
I may be better off than you
Don't tell folks that I was a saint
Or an old thing that I aint
If you have dope like that to spread
Please hand it out before I'm dead
If you have roses, bless your soul
Just put them in my button hole
Today, when I'm alive and well
Not wait till I am safe in Hell