By Eleanor Halton | BA English, Stage 2
‘Thank God I have the Seeing Eye, that is to say, as I lie in bed I can walk step
by step on the fells and rough land seeing every stone and flower and patch of
bog and cotton pass where my old legs will never take me again’
Beatrix Potter Journals 1881–1897
Rain patters delicately on slate window ledges. An amber fire flickers and crackles in a cast iron stove, the sides of which have been weathered by dense, smothering soot which chokes the dainty and exquisite engravings on the hearth beneath. There’s a warm and almost musty, yet homely and familiar scent in the room. I can’t decide whether it is as a result of the dry smouldering moss clinging to logs in the fireplace, curling as it burns with glowing copper fingertips, or the leaves of tightly packed leather bound books huddling for warmth on the rotting shelves. A brittle wicker dog basket lies empty in the corner of the room draped with a ragged rust coloured blanket and a collection of etched scratch marks decorate the bottom left hand side of the door leading to the kitchen; a wonderfully real detail, but no one else seems to have noticed. I wonder which dog made the marks. I see Kep the Rough Collie, his head cocked to one side and his caramel mottled ears fixed forwards, scraping desperately at the door at the spitting hiss of grilling bacon inside. Meanwhile, Spot, the now largely deaf Springer Spaniel, is snoozing, sprawled out besides the armchair in front of the fire. His freckled paws twitch involuntarily and his eyes dart about behind his eyelids. I imagine him dreaming about his younger days, spent leaping from rut to rut on craggy peaks, and swimming in the biting, black water of the tarns.
A large chestnut bureau leans against the back wall. At this time of morning, it is dappled by a thawing spring sunlight that peers in through tiny rectangles of leaded glass longing to replenish the desperately cold dreary room. Fine bone china teacups line the top shelf of the bureau. Decorated with beautiful duck egg blue spirals and mango orange flowers with lime green stems and delicately hand-painted leaves, the charming crockery in the emerging morning sunlight illuminates the entire room. Little brass globes are symmetrically fixed to each drawer front and engraved vintage shire brasses hang either side on cracking leather harnesses. The metal has become burnished and smooth as a result of age and use, yet little tinsel beads of honey gold still glow in the glittering sunlight. Yet nothing seems to have changed. Plump blue tits and copper breasted robins practice their delicate choral hum outside, just as they would have in previous times, and I imagine Tabitha the tabby cat snoozing in the porch on uneven slate slabs, unaware of the chaos her frolicsome kittens were no doubt causing in Mr. McGregor’s vegetable garden.
In the centre of the room, a large desk stands, at once proud and modest, the legs creating little craters in the tired olive tapestry rug. A lemon-yellow china vase rests on the corner of the table, holding powder pink hyacinths and velvet mulberry foxgloves in green water. I notice paint stains and scratches that mark the otherwise smooth oak surface of the table and I see Peter Rabbit dozing in his teal cotton jacket besides a glass pot of ink. Tom Kitten mischievously paws at flower petals and traipses tiny fragile paw prints all over manuscripts and watercolour paintings whilst the Flopsy Bunnies huddle on the chair by the fire, their soft pink noses twitching and their fawn russet brown coats standing on end in the heat of the glowing fire.
A wooden staircase at the back of the room spirals to the first floor. There is a small landing half way up where a noble grandfather clock is elegantly poised, his experienced ivory face thoughtfully observing a bleak landscape of peaty lakes and craggy fells out of a large sash window. At his heart, tangled brass cogs pivot and click methodically in hypnotic accordance with one another. The soothing ticks seem to embody the heartbeat of the cottage and contrasts with the otherwise tranquil hush. Beside him, there is a tall burgundy and sage arras, of which the fringe has been nibbled at and chewed. I wonder where Samuel Whiskers is hiding, and what he is plotting against poor Tom Kitten. I imagine him in his mustard corduroy waistcoat, the buttons bursting and popping off as he scurries slyly beneath the floorboards in search of the scraps of cheese and bacon that so often mysteriously disappear from the pantry.
The teasing April shower returns and, as I peer through a small sash window, I see Jemima Puddle-Duck with her peacock blue bonnet and salmon pink shawl waddling through the puddles in the courtyard. Beyond a pear-green gateway, a large vegetable patch dominates a tranquil yet vastly overgrown garden. Delicate shoots blossom evenly from long furrows of perfectly ploughed reddish earth, and an abundance of wild flowers and reedy grasses, trampled by a long winter of Cumbrian rain, collect around such immaculately cultivated beds. Satin cobwebs ornamented with tiny pearls of dew veil every crevice and, beyond a crumbling red brick wall, several cherry blossom trees assemble, their freshly bloomed coral flowers wincing under the weight of the persistent plump raindrops. Squirrel Nutkin huddles on a swaying branch cradling precious berries. His maroon flossy tail curls up behind his back, the black tip almost reaching his dainty feathered ears. His beady eyes glimmer like sloe berries in anticipation for the appearance of Mr. McGregor. Desolate tawny crags begin to reveal themselves from beneath the murky mist, reflecting in the sombre lakes, where Mr. Jeremy Fisher emerges from his little damp house amongst the buttercups and hops and lollops across lily-leaves in his macintosh, curling ripples of water dispersing into the surrounding glassy stillness.