Lolly Willowes

After a few months she left off speculating about the villagers. She admitted that there was something about them which she could not fathom, but she was content to remain outside the secret, whatever it was. She had not come to Great Mop to concern herself with the hearts of men. Let her stray up the valleys, and rest in the leafless woods that looked so warm with their core of fallen red leaves, and find out her own secret, if she had one; with autumn it might come back to question her. She wondered. She thought not. She felt that nothing could ever again disturb her peace. Wherever she strayed the hills folded themselves round her like the fingers of a hand.

all her thoughts slid together again like a pack of hounds that have picked up the scent.

Beside the china-cupboard and beneath Ratafee stood Emma’s harp, a green harp ornamented with gilt scrolls and acanthus leaves in the David manner. When Laura was little she would sometimes steal into the empty drawing-room and pluck the strings which remained unbroken. They answered with a melancholy and distracted voice, and Laura would pleasantly frighten herself with the thought of Emma’s ghost coming back to make music with cold fingers, stealing into the empty drawing-room as noiselessly as she had done. But Emma’s was a gentle ghost.

During the last few years of her life Mrs. Willowes grew continually more skilled in evading responsibilities, and her death seemed but the final perfected expression of this skill. It was as if she had said, yawning a delicate cat’s yawn, “I think I will go to my grave now,” and had left the room.

Her disquiet had no relevance to her life. It arose out of the ground with the smell of the dead leaves ... She compared herself to the ripening acorn that feels through windless autumnal days and nights the increasing pull of the earth below. That explanation was very poetical and suitable. But it did not explain what she felt. She was not wildly anxious either to die or to live; why, then, should she be rent by this anxiety?

It is best as one grows older to strip oneself of possessions, to shed oneself downward like a tree, to be almost wholly earth before one dies.

It was as easy for him to quit Bloomsbury for the Chilterns as for a cat to jump from a hard chair to a soft. Now after a little scrabbling and exploration he was curled up in the green lap and purring over the landscape.

It was not beauty at all that she wanted, or depressed though she was, she would have bought a ticket to somewhere or other upon the Metropolitan railway and gone out to see the recumbent autumnal graces of the country-side. Her mind was groping after something that eluded her experience, a something that was shadowy and menacing, and yet in some way congenial; a something that lurked in waste places, that was hinted at by the sound of water gurgling through deep channels and by the voices of birds of ill-omen. Loneliness, dreariness, aptness for arousing a sense of fear, a kind of ungodly hallowedness - these were the things that called her thoughts away from the comfortable fireside.

Laura also thought that the law had done a great deal to spoil Henry. It had changed his natural sturdy stupidity into a browbeating indifference to other people's point of view. He seemed to consider himself briefed by his Creator to turn into ridicule the opinions of those who disagreed with him, and to attribute dishonesty, idiocy, or a base motive to every one who supported a better case than he.

Laura had brought her sensitive conscience into the country with her, just as she had brought her umbrella, though so far she had not remembered to use either.

Laura was not in any way religious. She was not even religious enough to speculate towards irreligion.

London life was very full and exciting [...] But in London there would be no greenhouse with a glossy tank, and no apple-room, and no potting-shed, earthy and warm, with bunches of poppy heads hanging from the ceiling, and sunflower seeds in a wooden box, and bulbs in thick paper bags, and hanks of tarred string, and lavender drying on a tea-tray.

One doesn’t become a witch to run around being harmful, or to run around being helpful either, a district visitor on a broomstick. It’s to escape all that - to have a life of one’s own, not an existence doled out to by others.

She had forgotten Henry and the unpleasant things she meant to say to him. She had come to the edge of the wood, and felt its cool breath in her face. It did not matter about the donkey, nor the house, nor the darkening orchard even. If she were not to pick fruit from her own trees, there were common herbs and berries in plenty for her, growing wherever she chose to wander. It is best as one grows older to strip oneself of possessions, to shed oneself downward like a tree, to be almost wholly earth before one dies.

She had never wavered for an instant from her conviction that she had made a compact with the Devil; now she was growing accustomed to the thought. She perceived that throughout the greater part of her life she had been growing accustomed to it; but insensibly, as people throughout the greater part of their lives grow accustomed to the thought of their death. When it comes, it is a surprise to them. But the surprise does not last long, perhaps but for a minute or two. Her surprise also was wearing off. Quite soon, and she would be able to fold her hands upon it, as the hands of the dead are folded upon their surprised hearts.

She had thrown away twenty years of her life like a handful of old rags, but the wind had blown them back again, and dressed her in the old uniform.

So Laura is placed for us: mushrooms, crushed flowers, country matters. In London she will miss the greenhouse with its glossy tank, the appleroom, everything “earthy and warm.” Laura is an anomaly in the world of easy literary symbolism: she is a spinster, completely uninterested in men. Nevertheless she belongs irrevocably to the sources of life: to earth, seeds, bulbs.

That’s why we become witches: to show our scorn of pretending life’s a safe business, to satisfy our passion for adventure. It’s not malice, or wickedness - well, perhaps it is wickedness, for most women love that - but certainly not malice, not wanting to plague cattle and make horrid children spout up pins and - what is it? - “blight the genial bed.

The amusement she had drawn from their disapproval was a slavish remnant, a derisive dance on the north bank of the Ohio. There was no question of forgiving them. She had not, in any case, a forgiving nature; and the injury they had done her was not done by them. If she were to start forgiving she must needs forgive Society, the Law, the Church, the History of Europe, the Old Testament, great-great-aunt Salome and her prayer-book, the Bank of England, Prostitution, the Architect of Apsley Terrace, and half a dozen other useful props of civilization. All she could do was to go on forgetting them. But now she was able to forget them without flouting them by her forgetfulness.

The night was at her disposal. She might walk back to Great Mop and arrive very late; or she might sleep out and not trouble to arrive till to-morrow. Whichever she did Mrs Leak would not mind. That was one of the advantages of dealing with witches; they do not mind if you are a little odd in your ways, frown if you are late for meals, fret if you are out all night, pry and commiserate when at length you return. Lovely to be with people who prefer their thoughts to yours, lovely to live at your own sweet will, lovely to sleep out all night!

The two women sat by the fire, tilting their glasses and drinking in small peaceful sips. The lamplight shone upon the tidy room and the polished table, lighting topaz in the dandelion wine, spilling pools of crimson through the flanks of the bottle of plum gin. It shone on the contented drinkers, and threw their large, close-at-hand shadows upon the wall. When Mrs Leak smoothed her apron the shadow solemnified the gesture as though she were moulding an universe. Laura's nose and chin were defined as sharply as the peaks peaks on a holly leaf.