One of my favourite things about living in the countryside is having no light pollution. I tend not to carry a torch because the chicken run gate is tied up with string and needs two hands to undo it and often I don’t need one anyway. Sometimes we can barely see the darkness of the sky for the density of stars and sometimes the moon shines so brightly that everything is lit up almost as clearly as day. But sometimes you can’t see your hand held out in front of your face. And I often do hold my hand out in front of my face, partly just out of curiosity to see whether I can see it or not but mostly so I don’t bump into things.
Last Monday evening, the first night of the first day of Spring, was a nearly-too-dark-to-see-your-hand night and as I walked past the field gate I thought I could see something bundled up in the hedge but I couldn’t quite make out what it was. It seemed to be about the size of a sheep but it was making a breathless, sobbing sort of sound, perhaps a dog whimpering? I walked towards it cautiously, half expecting whatever it was to run away and wishing I’d brought a torch and wondering if I had anything about my person that would make do as an improvised lead. Then, suddenly, Poppy came dashing up to me and I was shocked to hear a voice shrill out, “Call off your dog! I beg you, call off your dog!”
And that was how Poppy and I chanced upon Mrs Hare. ‘Mrs Hare’, she told me, is not her real name but that is the name she travels under.
Once I had sent Poppy away a little distance, Mrs Hare explained to me that when she had jumped over our gate she had slipped in the mud, dropped her baggage and sprained her ankle and she allowed me to help her onto her feet. From the sound of her voice, I imagined she was fairly elderly and, when I tried to lift her, I found her surprisingly heavy. Although she was about a foot shorter than me, she seemed rather stout and felt to be wearing a heavy wool coat with lots of layers underneath. At first I thought of her as a sweet old lady and I smiled at the idea she could have jumped over the gate but her insistence that I scrabble about in the brambles searching for her baggage was less amusing. I soon found her polka dot trolly shopper but the more times she told me that her case contained her most precious belongings and the more she insisted that she had carted it all around three counties and been chased over the fields by foxes from the other side of Waldron, the more I began to wonder where she had really come from and whether the case even existed. I suggested many times that I could take her into the house and make her a cup of tea and then come back myself with a torch but she refused point blank and when I, eventually, found the heaviest square box in the world with a handle on top, I think I was almost as pleased as she was.
As Mrs Hare was afraid to wait by herself (in case the foxes came back) and could walk with support, it seemed to me, that the best plan was to help her to the house, settle her in a chair with a hot drink and phone the police to try to work out who she really was and what best to do with her. So we staggered precariously along the track with me attempting to hold her upright, pull her trolly shopper and carry her case and Mrs Hare chatting amiably about how she had come to be in our garden.
She had been a ‘general assistant’, she said, to a lady tailor, who, sadly, had died in the New Year, leaving poor Mrs Hare with no choice but to leave the cottage where she had lived for many years. Her story was fascinating. Being a tailor’s daughter myself, I empathised with her tales of standing as still as mouse on a chair for hours whilst garments were pinned and searching for dropped pins turned invisible on the wooden floorboards and sweeping up threads, although I did suspect there must have been some intervening years, most likely in a local care home, that had, perhaps, slipped her mind.
Moments later, though, she was telling me how she had danced with that same lady’s great grandmother when they were both young, how she had spent her childhood searching for the most beautiful eggs for the ‘good children’ every year at the feast of Eástre, how when she grew too old for ‘all that clambering about’ she had become a skilled egg painter and how now everyone just wants chocolate and the old skills are dying out and young ones aren’t interested anymore, which is a terrible, terrible shame. She had some pictures, she said, in her case, and she would show them to me once we got inside…
Somewhere in her case, she said, she also had the address of a distant relation of her late friend who was a sewist of some sort and might give her a position…but she had gone to look for her a month ago and she was so terrified by the big road that circled the town she had run away again without ever finding the right house (we were just getting to my door now) and she was not at all keen to go back there.
She had come to Sussex, she continued, because she had heard on the grapevine that there was a personage called Rainbow Hare who lived hereabouts – she wondered if I might know where she could find her – and she was so very much hoping this person might be able to help her…I stopped in my tracks. I must have misheard. “Who did you say you are looking for?” I asked.
“Rainbow Hare! A Hare called Rainbow,” she said, “I’ve heard there is a hare called Rainbow and that she lives somewhere around here and I am hoping that if I can find her…”
“Rainbow Hare?” I said, at last. “Are you certain that was the name?” And I tried to explain to her that there is no one called Rainbow Hare, that I supposed if Rainbow Hare was anyone it would be me but it’s really not anyone it’s just a name. And then she grew quite irritable. She said, quite rightly, that I was clearly not a hare and she accused me of talking in riddles. But eventually she agreed that she was very tired and her ankle was hurting very much and a nice hot cup of tea might not be the worst idea. So I turned the door handle and we stumbled into the hall.
Then I switched on the light and turned around to help her off with her coat.
And that was when I saw her ears.
And, after we had drunk several cups of tea and I had explained, as well as I was able, about blogs and suchlike, Mrs Hare cheered up enormously. She laughed very heartily at the idea she had expected me to be a hare before she met me. And she laughed even more heartily when I confessed that I had supposed her to be a confused elderly lady after I had met her.
And then she opened up her case and she really did have the pictures she had told me about.
But that was not all…
Having carried this, I can’t say the word ‘portable’ springs straight to my mind but it really is a delightful little machine and, although it smells a bit musty (the case, rather than the machine I think), it seems to run perfectly.
And Mrs Hare seems so very settled in the Makery that I am hoping we will have many happy sewing days ahead of us :)