Harvest – October 1918

Only one harvest day in a whole week. The floods subsided and a strong wind scattered the clouds, leaving, stretches of blue sky from which the sun sent down his beams to help in the drying of the poor weather beaten stooks.

It wasn’t possible one would think that the butt ends could be dry, but the whistling wind had effectually searched the heads and, before the morning was far advanced, the carts were rumbling over the muddy road on their way to the golden fields. It proved impossible to lead from one end of the first cut field as the ground was so soft that the wheels of an empty cart were difficult to draw through it. Nevertheless two big square stacks grew steadily in height as the carts, not so heavy laden as they would have been, went regularly to and fro.

In the afternoon it seemed as if there might be too many workers. After all it is the number of horses which decides the number of hands which can be usefully employed in housing the grain. There were all sorts and only one genuine agricultural labourer among them: four women, including two land army girls newly finished “training” —- a medical student and one of our own maids.

Leading in between to the stack near the house, were a war agricultural volunteer (otherwise a miner) and our small John smiling and saluting as he caught sight of us waving at him and splashed with mud up to his knees.

The bright day set us wondering if there would be any black berries fit for gathering. If we didn’t gather a small boiling there might never be another chance, as the school children would be sure to swarm over the hedges with their cans as soon as lessons were over. So Willie, Ailie and myself set out, I with a large tea can and they with a small one.

It was a dirty business for the ditches were all sloppy but it was surprising what a proportion of fairly firm berries were secured. I admired the ingenius reasoning of the little ones. It was understood of course that they pick the berries easily reached on the lower branches and that I climb up and reach out for those increasing in precarious and scratchy positions .

When they pointed out to me a fat black bunch they would say, “Put that in our tin; we told you where they were.” Once I mildly protested that I saw them but they replied, “We knew they was there long before you. We saw them before they were ripe didn’t us, Willie, ”and Willie paused to say, “Yes’s,” in a persuasively argumentative tone looking at me with round brown eyes of surprise at my lack of understanding. .

Afraid that the brambles might be tasteless owing to so much rain I suggested we should visit the crab tree at the top of the Ghyl which had been such a glorious vision of pink in May. Surely there would be a little fruit on it but, as we drew near, we saw the branches were hanging over a sluggish lake.

The little streamlet had overflowed and spread from bank to bank No apples were within reach being caught in tangles of grass. Waving above the surface of the flood were quantities of rosy cheeked crabs.

By means of a broken branch and at the cost of a foot wetting I got a score or two of the fallen fruit. On our way back we paused before a clump of elder trees whose ripe black fruit hung in the loveliest clusters from their branching pink and green stems. We plucked a few of the finest and returned laden.

A late houred harvest to-day provides an opportunity for getting jelly made. Now that the regulations hours are advanced from seven to five, the kitchen is ours until about half past four in the afternoon but if harvesting is continued until eight o clock or so, tea is sent out and one may go on comparatively uninterruped with the tedious business of making jelly.

Glad we were of our watery brambles when, after four o’clock, troops of boys and girls came scampering through the yard on their way to the fields with baskets and cans intent on earning their 3 p a lb.

The byre girl came in from the fields to milk and I overheard her telling the house girl tales of the harvest field with criticism of the Land Army pair, remarks about the length of their smocks and the cut of their breeches and comparisons as to girth and height.

One of them disappeared into an inner department from which she carried on a mysterious conversation with the other. Occupied with my jelly I paid scant attention until I was asked what I thought of the fit of the Land Army oil skins and turned to see them clad in borrowed coats. It is wonderful what an attractive lure are the smock and breeches.

The grocer had been induced to advance half of next weeks’ sugar supply and this was to be used for preserving a small basket full of Siberian crabs. This small fruit is not juicy and, although plenty of water was used, the juice did not run freely enough.

I tried various sieves for pressing the pulp through more or less unsuccessfully when one of the maids bethought her of the potato squeezer. This was the very thing and we generally got all the core and seeds extracted and had the pulp on the boil; the girl lightening our labours with tales of the wonderful gift for harvest art displayed by the girl medical; how in an hour or two she learned to lay the sheaves with deftness and speed on top of a stack; how when the stack grew so high that the farmer could barely reach to the top she would run down the shelving roof to catch a sheaf. The men, not prone to praise an amateur and a woman, said they could not have done it as surely and swiftly themselves.

An unusual clatter of wheels drew me out side, jam spoon in hand to see the big Canadian wagon come in with the last load of the day. It had to turn almost at right angles in the yard and pass through a gateway into the outer yard where a stake was building

And the driver aloft was not long left left school. So I had to risk the burning or boiling over of my jam in order to watch if he broke a gate post, a wheel or his neck. There was a bump, a heigh ho, a few shouts above and below and it got through triumphantly — with nothing broken.

Soon we might expect them all in for supper so, in the nick of time, my siberian jam set in its saucer and a small glass of juice was put aside to cool in the open air.

Its promise of stiffness did not satisfy me as we sampled it at the end of the meal but I was exhorted from the head of the table not to worry about a trifle like that when there was more than 100 acres of stooks exposed to repeated down down falls. And sure enough, as we talked, the rain again splashed viciously at the windows as if in spiteful rancour that it had delayed long enough to let us get a day’s housing.

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