to decide on her mission that afternoon. Close to the vale's bed she -came to a low, mud-built little house set among dilapidated sheds and rough pasture. This miserable smallholding wore a forlorn, uncared-for look; the fences were falling to ruin, the two cows out on pasture looked nervously bony and robbed of the serenity natural in these meritorious beasts that have remained loyal to us for so long. A broken- down bedstead served for a gate from the lane. Mair, her fancy shoes avoiding dung on the path, knocked on the house door. A sharp-eyed woman in a stringy black shawl opened it. She looked at the gaily-clad visitor with a ready down-turning of her mouth, appealing for mercy. 'I haven't been able to come up this week with the money,' she began, overdoing the sing-song whine. 'You heard we lost the calving cow?' Mair's face held no frown as she followed the woman into the living- room. 'It was a bad loss for you,' she said, smiling as though she was bringing compensation to the bereaved house-which, in a way, was true. But the woman still peered at her in overloaded fright, whimper- ing of other unlucky blows-her husband's ailments, Timotheus, her son, gone off to the Army, the inclement weather, her own aching legs. Mair sat in the cinnamon light of the stark little room, all its con- tents strictly for use and not a decoration anywhere except the photo- graph of Timotheus on the mantelpiece. Gazing up at the photograph, she began to giggle. Although he was so young, he looked ferocious in the guardsman's uniform. 'I haven't come to see you because of the money,' she said. Yet still Mrs Watkins continued to complain; perhaps she didn't trust that smile or the giggle. She insisted on describing the death of the calving cow. The birth labours had been so prolonged and difficult that her husband had tied a rope to the half emerged calf, fastened the other end to his van, and driven the van a yard or two. But he drove or jerked too fast: both cow and calf had died. Mair tactfully allowed her hostess to wallow on. The truth was that Watkins was a stupid man and a scandalously bad farmer. He escaped from unpleasant facts into ima- ginery illnesses, and his wife knew it; the latest blight was his bladder. Mair smiled at her beautiful shoe. Her father held the deeds of the unlucky little farm as security for a loan of five hundred pounds at four per cent. Less than a hundred pounds had been paid off in three years: Mrs Watkins would call in at the Lion nearly every week with such shillings as she had scraped together. It was far-seeing Mair who had