WHEN we were children our father often worked on the night-shift. Once it was spring-time, and he used to arrive home, black andtired, just as we were downstairs in our night-dresses. Then nightmet morning face to face, and the contact was not always happy. Perhaps it was painful to my father to see us gaily entering uponthe day into which he dragged himself soiled and weary. He didn’tlike going to bed in the spring morning sunshine.
But sometimes he was happy, because of his long walk throughthe dewy fields in the first daybreak. He loved the open morning,the crystal and the space, after a night down pit. He watchedevery bird, every stir in the trembling grass, answered thewhinneying of the pee-wits and tweeted to the wrens. If he could,he also would have whinnied and tweeted and whistled, in a nativelanguage that was not human. He liked non-human things best.
One sunny morning we were all sitting at table when we heardhis heavy slurring walk up the entry. We became uneasy. His wasalways a disturbing presence, trammeling. He passed the windowdarkly, and we heard him go into the scullery and put down his tinbottle. But directly he came into the kitchen. We felt at oncethat he had something to communicate. No one spoke. We watchedhis black face for a second.
“Give me a drink,” he said.
My mother hastily poured out his tea. He went to pour it outinto the saucer. But instead of drinking, he suddenly putsomething on the table, among the tea-cups. A tiny brown rabbit! A small rabbit, a mere morsel, sitting against the bread as stillas if it were a made thing.
“A rabbit!A young one!Who gave it you, father?”
But he laughed enigmatically, with a sliding motion of hisyellow-grey eyes, and went to take off his coat. We pounced on therabbit.
“Is it alive?Can you feel its heart beat?”
My father came back and sat down heavily in his arm-chair. He dragged his saucer to him, and blew his tea, pushing outhis red lips under his black moustache.
“Where did you get it, father?”
“I picked it up,” he said, wiping his naked forearm over hismouth and beard.
“Is it a wild one?” came my mother’s quick voice.
“Yes, it is.”
“Then why did you bring it?” cried my mother.
“Oh, we wanted it,” came our cry.
“Yes, I’ve no doubt you did—” retorted my mother. But shewas drowned in our clamour of questions.
On the field path, my father had found a dead mother rabbitand three dead little ones—this one alive, but unmoving.
“But what had killed them, Daddy?”
“I couldn’t say, my child. I s’d think she’d eatensomething.”
“Why did you bring it!” again my mother’s voice ofcondemnation.”You know what it will be.”
My father made no answer, but we were loud in protest.
“He must bring it. It’s not big enough to live by itself. Itwould die,” we shouted.
“Yes, and it will die now. And then there’ll be anotheroutcry.”
My mother set her face against the tragedy of dead pets. Ourhearts sank.
“It won’t die, father, will it?Why will it?It won’t.”
“I s’d think not,” said my father.
“You know well enough it will. Haven’t we had it allbefore—!” said my mother.
“They dunna always pine,” replied my father testily.
But my mother reminded him of other little wild animals he hadbrought, which had sulked and refused to live, and brought stormsof tears and trouble in our house of lunatics.
Trouble fell on us. The little rabbit sat on our lap,unmoving, its eye wide and dark. We brought it milk, warm milk,and held it to its nose. It sat as still as if it was far away,retreated down some deep burrow, hidden, oblivious. We wetted itsmouth and whiskers with drops of milk. It gave no sign, did noteven shake off the wet white drops. Somebody began to shed a fewsecret tears.