From accounts of the exhausting and long continued spell of heat, I was afraid to go South, and was agreeably surprised to find the air become cooler as the train sped through the parched country. So cool was it that I had to button my coat round my throat as the draught struck the side of my head, and the woman next to me wore a fur all the way to Euston.
As we neared London the sky grew blacker, and the atmosphere was so thick that I felt sure we should cross the city in torrential rain. I thought better of it, however, and held up until I reached my destination, when, as I set foot on an open platform, a big drop made a sharp report on my hat.
I hastily covered myself up in a raincoat, and prepared to enjoy the spectacle of heavy rain wetting the brown pastures. But it was a false signal. No second drop followed, and the next day broke cloudless, all signs of rain gone, but the air no warmer than it has been farther North.
Evening saw the clouds gather again in battalions as if they were being marshalled for some definite purpose. I had been planning all day that I should sleep out in a rustic summer house. It seemed ridiculous to mention rain which threatened for months and never came, so that a hole or two in the heather-thatched roof did not matter. But the wind began to blow very strongly from the S.E., and at 9 pm had increased so that I decided upon the solid shelter of a bedroom.
Through the night, the gale made a great noise among the trees, and at dawn I rose to see if it had brought moisture with it. Sure enough those grey sheets driven before the blast were like what we used to call rain, and one side of the flower-beds looked slightly damp. About 6 am a loud crack set me speculating whether some tiles had blown off the roof, or a heavy old gate had snapped, or some hen-coops had been driven to disaster.
When I was dressing, I wondered to see cattle huddled around a tree which had not been there an hour previously. Then I saw that it was half a tree —- the beautiful half of a fine old elm. There were three raw wounds high up where the rich leafy pendent used to wave. In an incredibly short time the fallen branches were bare as far up as the cattle could reach. How sweet those green leaves would taste after a diet of dried brown grass.
And thus the drought broke in savage fury. If the corn could have lain it would, but it was too short for that. In spite of the sullen sky and tearing wind, and drifting sheets of rain, we were doubtful whether there was enough to lay the dust of the harvest field for the tractor had been raising clouds of dust which clogged the mechanism and powdered the driver almost beyond recognition.
When the rain ceased in the course of the forenoon, the gauge registered .38 in. The next was a heavenly day of calm sunshine. Two days later, sky, and wind and cloud, sunrise and sunset, again look ominous but why behold tantalising “signs?”