The following story by T.F. Powys was published in 1930. Powys (whose initials stand for “Theodor Francis”) is a name likely to be unfamiliar to many readers, but if this story sparks any interest, you might also want to check out one of his other works, Mr. Weston’s Good Wine (published in 1927).
Uncle Tiddy stood in the road watching the leaves. The leaves spun around him in the wind, for the October frosts had turned them yellow, and the November blasts had shaken them from the trees.
Uncle Tiddy watched the leaves anxiously. He believed they were speaking to him. The yellow leaves were driven here and there; there was no rest for them, for one gust followed another to whirl them about.
Uncle Tiddy remained still and watched the leaves. The wind grew quiet and the driven leaves settled down into the shape of a key. Uncle Tiddy rejoiced. He believed that, one day, he would possess again the key of the field. . . .
The field belonged to Squire Jar of Madder Hall. There was no better field in the whole world than this field.
The field consisted of twelve acres of the richest pasture. The grass grew luxuriously, and in the middle of the field there was a fine oak-tree that gave a welcome shelter to the cows during the hot summer weather.
The field had once—so Neddy, one of the oldest residents in Madder, used to say—been a portion of the Squire’s garden, but the Squire—a worthy man who did not wish to keep all the best of everything for himself—built a low wall, and separated the new field from his old garden, hoping that the field would give to one or other of his tenants a lasting happiness.
But, for all the Squire’s generosity—he dearly loves those who live upon his lands—Mr. Jar was a man who did not like to be too closely looked upon. And, so in order to prevent any other than his chosen tenants from walking too near his pleasure-garden where the choicest fruits and flowers grew, and where his friends were entertained all the year round, the Squire enclosed the field with high palings—the same that are used by noblemen for their deer parks—and also had a strong iron gate built, that was locked by a massive key.
The first tenant of the field, to whom the Squire’s steward—a learned man, though somewhat old—handed the key, was Uncle Tiddy.
Uncle Tiddy was a proper man for the field, for, besides being a good husbandman, he was never a one to pry into other people’s doings. Also his wife was dead, which may have been a reason—other than Uncle Tiddy’s honesty—for choosing him as a tenant. For Squire Jar, as all people know, is a little afraid of women.
He had no objection, however, to Uncle Tiddy’s niece, Lily, who was hardly more than a child, being between sixteen and seventeen years old—a girl who could dance and run as well as the best, and could skip better, since she was six years old, than any other maid in the village.
If Lily had a fault—and she was so well-grown and comely a girl that anyone might expect her to wish to be a wanton, it was that her heart was responsive to the slightest touch of love, though she seemed kinder to her Uncle than to any other man.
Who then should have been more happy than Uncle Tiddy with kind Lily to tend him, with the Squire’s favour, and with the key of the field in his possession?
But even with a field so well worth having, Uncle Tiddy failed to prosper in his business, and old Grandmother Trott, his near neighbour, told a sad story about him, in which she said that Uncle Tiddy was little better than a sinner—indeed, she believed him to be one.
Grandmother Trott lived with her son John—a widower—and her two grandsons, that were as good as grown men, and ever since the new field was made, the garden hedge removed, palings and a gate set up, this family had envied Uncle Tiddy and desired, with all their hearts, to take the key from him and so to have the field.Continue reading “The Key of the Field”