The Darling Buds of May by H. E. Bates

This year we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the publication of The Darling Buds of May. Read on for an excerpt from H. E. Bates' classic novella in which the Larkin family go for a drive in 'perfick wevver!

Darling Buds of May

'I'm from the office of the Inspector of Taxes.' Pop stood blank and innocent, staggered by the very existence of such a person.

Pop walked across the yard towards the horsebox. He owned two horses, one a young black mare for Mariette, the other a piebald pony for the other kids. Mariette, who was crazy about horses, rode to point-to-points, sometimes went hunting, and even jumped at shows. She was wonderful about horses. She looked amazing on a horse. Perfick, he thought.

'Hullo, hullo, hullo,' he said. 'Good morning, afternoon rather. Looking for me?'

The man, young, spectacled, pale-faced, trilby-hatted, with a small brown toothbrush moustache, carried a black briefcase under his arm.

'Mr Sidney Larkin?'

'Larkin, that's me,' Pop said. He laughed in ringing fashion. 'Larkin by name, Larkin by nature. What can I do for you? Nice wevver.'

'I'm from the office of the Inspector of Taxes.'

Pop stood blank and innocent, staggered by the very existence of such a person.

'Inspector of what?'

'Taxes. Inland Revenue.'

'You must have come to the wrong house,' Pop said.

'You are Mr Sidney Larkin?' The young man snapped open the briefcase, took out a paper, and glanced at it quickly, nervously touching his spectacles with the back of his hand. 'Sidney Charles Larkin.'

'That's me. That's me all right,' Pop said.

‘According to our records,' the young man said, 'you have made no return of income for the past year.'

'Return?' Pop said. 'What return? Why? Nobody asked me.'

'You should have had a form,' the young man said. He took a yellow-buff sheet of paper from the briefcase and held it up. 'One like this.'

'Form?' Pop said. 'Form?'

Ma was crossing the yard with a box of groceries under one arm and a bag of fruit in the other. Three big ripe pineapples stuck cactus-like heads from the top of the huge paper bag. The twins loved pineapple. Especially fresh. Much better than tinned, they thought.

'Ma, did we have a form like this?' Pop called. 'Never had no form, did we?'

'Never seen one. Sure we never.'

'Come over here, Ma, a minute. This gentleman's from the Inspector of Summat or other.'

'I got dinner to get,' Ma said and strode blandly on with groceries and pineapples, huge as a buffalo. 'You want your dinner, don't you?'

Pop turned with an air of balmy indifference to the young man, who was staring incredulously at the receding figure of Ma as if she were part of the menagerie of hens, goats, ducks, and horses.

'No, never had no form. Ma says so.'

'You should have done. Two at least were sent. If not three.'

‘Well, Ma says so. Ma ought to know. Ma's the one who does the paperwork.’

The young man opened his mouth to speak and for a moment it was as if a strangled, startled gurgle came out. His voice choked itself back, however, and in reality the sound came from a drove of fifteen young turkeys winding down from the strip of wood land.

Won't hurt you,' Pop said. 'How about a nice hen-bird for Christmas? Put your name on it now.'

'This form has to be returned to the Inspector,' the young man said. 'There is a statutory obligation -'

'Can't return it if I ain't got it,' Pop said. 'Now can I?'

'Here's another.'

As he recoiled from the buff-yellow sheet of paper Pop saw Mariette walking across the yard, slender, long-striding, on her way to the wooden, brush-roofed stable where both pony and horse were kept.

'I got no time for forms,' Pop said. 'Gawd Awmighty, I got pigs to feed. Turkeys to feed. Hens to feed. Kids to feed. I ain't had no dinner. Nobody ain't had no dinner.'

Suddenly the young man was not listening. With amazement he was following the progress of Mariette's dark, yellow-shirted figure across the yard.

'My eldest daughter,' Pop said. 'Crazy on horses. Mad on riding. You do any riding, Mister - Mister - I never caught your name.


'Like to meet her, Mister Charlton?' Pop said. The young man was still staring, mouth partly open. Between his fingers the tax form fluttered in the breezy sunlit air.

'Mariette, come over here a jiff. Young man here's crazy on horses, like you. Wants to meet you. Comes from the Ministry of Revenue or summat.'

In astonished silence the young man stared at the new celestial body, in its yellow shirt, as it floated across the background of rusty iron, pigsties, abandoned oildrums, goat-chewn hawthorn bushes, and dusty earth.

'Mister Charlton, this is my eldest, Mariette. The one who's mad on horses. Rides everywhere. You've very like seen her picture in the papers.'

'Hullo,' Mariette said. 'I spotted you first.'

'That's right, she saw you,' Pop said. Who's that nice young feller in the yard, she said.'

'So you,' Mariette said, 'like riding too?'

The eyes of the young man groped at the sunlight as if still unable correctly to focus the celestial body smiling at him from three feet away.

'I say every kid should have a horse,' Pop said. 'Nothing like a horse. I'm going to get every one of my kids a horse.'

Suddenly the young man woke from mesmerism, making a startling statement.

'I saw you riding over at Barfield,' he said. 'In the third race. At Easter. You came second.'

'I hope you won a bob or two on her,' Pop said.

Again he laughed in ringing fashion, bringing from beyond the stable an echo of goose voices as three swaggering grey­ white birds emerged from a barricade of nettles, to be followed presently by the half-sleepy, dainty figures of a dozen guinea fowl.

'Pity we didn't know you were coming,' Pop said. 'We're killing a goose tomorrow. Always kill a goose or a turkey or a few chickens at the weekend. Or else guinea fowl. Like guinea fowl?'

If the young man had any kind of answer ready it was snatched from him by the voice of Ma, calling suddenly from the house:

'Dinner's nearly ready. Anybody coming in or am I slaving for nothing?'

We're coming, Ma!' Pop turned with eager, tempting relish to the young man, still speechless, still struggling with his efforts to focus correctly the dark-haired girl. Well, we got to go, Mister Charlton. Sorry. Ma won't have no waiting.'

'Now, Mr Larkin, about this form -'

'Did you see me at Newchurch?' Mariette said. 'I rode there too.'

‘As a matter of fact, I did - I did, yes - But, Mr Larkin, about this form -'

What form?' Mariette said.

'Oh! some form, some form,' Pop said. 'I tell you what, Mister Charlton, you come in and have a bite o' dinner with us. No, no trouble. Tons o' grub –’

'I've eaten, thank you. I've eaten.'

‘Well, cuppa tea then. Cuppa coffee. Bottle o' beer. Bottle o' Guinness. Drop o' cider.'

The entire body of the young man seemed to swirl helplessly, as if half-intoxicated, out of balance, on its axis.

'Oh! yes, do,' Mariette said and by the time he had recovered he found himself being led by Pop Larkin towards the house, from which Ma was already calling a second time:

'If nobody don't come in three minutes I'll give it to the cats.'

'Know anybody who wants a pure white kitten?' Pop said. 'Don't want a pure white kitten, do you?'

'So you were at Newchurch too,' Mariette  said. 'I wish I'd known.'

A moment later Pop threw up his hands in a gesture of near ecstasy at the overpowering beauty, which suddenly seemed to strike him all afresh, of the May afternoon.

'Beautiful, ain't it?' he said. 'Perfick. I got a beautiful place here. Don't you think I got a beautiful place here, Mister Charlton?'

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