Saturday, October 16, 2010

Eva Burfield’s 1961 cricket short story

This year I visited Auckland’s Hard to Find Books owned by poet/small press publisher Warwick Sven Jordan (Hard Echo Press). Upstairs in the New Zealand room I found 34 issues of Arena magazine edited by journalist/poet Noel Farr Hoggard (1913-75). I bought the copies to give to the Poetry Archive of New Zealand Aotearoa. Arena is a collectible literary magazine. I know of two book collectors who have full sets. Peter Andrews has made a complete bibliography to Hoggard’s literary magazines (New Triad as well as Arena).
Arena was painstakingly handset by Hoggard’s Handcraft Press in Pukerua Bay, Wellington. It began as Letters for the first 10 issues and after became Arena up to issue 81 in 1975, when Hoggard died. Hoggard is one of the unsung heroes of New Zealand writing, encouraging and nurturing talent for 40 years. He was refreshingly open in his selection policy giving space to older generations as well as the more radical baby boomers emerging in the late 1960s. It is possible he had an interest in cricket.
Arena, No. 51, Autumn 1961, contains a rare cricket short story by a New Zealand writer Eva Burfield. Rob Franks’ bibliography, Kiwi Cricket Pages, lists around a dozen local works of cricket fiction (including Michael O’Leary’s Out of It) but it does not explore short story publication in journals and newspapers. I know of a few more cricket short stories written by New Zealand writers, e.g. Janet Frame, Elizabeth Smither and Tim Jones.
Further checking of the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington shows that Eva Burfield’s real or preferred name is Eva Frances Ebbett, born 1925. The Turnbull has a transcript of the story as well as the correspondence between Ebbett and Hoggard. In the National Library catalogue Ebbett is listed as the author of eight popular fiction-romance novels (under the name of Eva Burfield) published in England by Wright & Brown, London, from the 1950s to the 1960s. Ulverscroft Large Print Books, Leicester, England, reissued her novels from 1986-1997. Under the name of Eva Ebbett, she has one title: Waipukurau School Centenary, 1967. Under the name of Eve Ebbett she has published further works of fiction (Give Them Swing Bands) and non-fiction (Victoria’s Daughters: New Zealand Women of the Thirties and When The Boys Were Away: New Zealand Women in World War II). Critic Joan Stevens mentions her early novels in The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965 (available online at the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre), and she is interviewed by Rachel McAlpine in The Passionate Pen: New Zealand’s Romance Writers Talk to Rachel McAlpine (Hazard Press, Christchurch, 1998). Yet there is virtually no mention or record of her in either the Oxford History of New Zealand Literature or Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature. The Oxford History contains a mention of her non-fiction under the name of Eve Ebbett. Her author names do turn up on the internet and there seems to be plenty of her books for sale through second-hand booksellers and on Trade Me.
I’d like to share the Arena short story with you here:


A Game of Cricket

When george opened the door after the light knock, it was Miss Simmons from the flat upstairs. Poor old Miss Simmons, Emily used to call her. But she wasn’t really old. Possibly younger than Emily herself.
He had seen her coming along the street, walking briskly, bent slightly against a frisky breeze. One of the front windows had rattled in the wind and he was standing there closing it. It was a lovely spring evening that reminded him of Emily and sitting on the porch overlooking the street. It was sheltered on the porch. On summer nights they would walk along to the park on the corner to see the cricket, but, at this time of the year, Emily had needed to be careful and watch her chest. It got chilly later on.
‘Oh, Mr Jennings,’ Miss Simmons murmured just a little too brightly, kind but ill-at-ease. ‘I was just on my way up to my flat when I realized you must be alone...’ She waved her hand vaguely. ‘I mean there are no cars outside. There’s been so many people coming and going since the funeral, I didn’t like to intrude. But now I feel I just simply must come in and say how sorry I am about Mrs Jennings.
He held the door open a little wider.
‘Er ... come in,’ he invited, wishing that she had not caught him in his slippers with his waistcoat undone. His free hand fumbled with the buttons.
‘I was amazed to see the notice in the paper. I mean she seemed so well. It was so sudden. Was it her heart?’
‘Well, yes. In a way. It was weakened by her bronchitis. The last attack was too much for it.’ Poor Emily. Such a patient sufferer.
‘And not very old at all,’ the bright little voice went on.
‘She was sixty. That’s all. Just sixty.’ He could hear the kettle boiling over on the gas and there was a suggestive smell of burning paper coming from the oven. His dinner. He had popped the fish and chips, still in their newspaper wrapping, into the oven while the kettle boiled for the tea.
‘Excuse me.’ He hurried into the kitchenette off the living room and turned off the gas jet. He lowered the oven temperature and peeked inside. Caught in time. The paper was not yet alight. He poured the water from the hissing kettle into the tea pot. He was visible from the living-room and there was nothing else for it. The poor old girl was probably exhausted after battling home from the office against that wind.
‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ he asked her. ‘Just made one.’
‘Why, yes, thank you, Mr Jennings. That would be nice; if it’s not too much trouble.’
He pulled a tray out of a cupboard and set it with two cups and saucers, the sugar basin, and the milk jug into which he hastily emptied milk from the bottle.
Sitting in the living-room, Miss Simmons looked round with interest. This was the first time she had been in the flat though they had been neighbours for ten months. Really the place already suffered for want of a woman’s hand. Last night’s newspaper was spread over the sofa, tonight’s lay on the floor by an easy chair. Mr Jennings’ shoes were in the centre of the room and his working jacket hung behind the door. Her fingers itched to straighten it all out. He carried the tray in from the kitchenette and placed it on a small table.
‘You take milk?’ he asked.
‘Oh, do let me do that,’ she cried, standing up and grasping the tea pot. Women know about these things.’ She pushed him lightly into her vacant chair. ‘Now, do you take milk?’
She held up a warning finger to silence him. ‘Don’t tell me, let me guess,’ she went on. ‘Of course you do. Being alone you wouldn’t buy milk if you didn’t take it, would you?’
She poured two cups of tea, handed him one and sat down opposite him on the overloaded sofa. She was suddenly very serious.
‘Mr Jennings, I want you to know you do have my deepest sympathy. I have noticed in the past how – how close you and Mrs Jennings were. So fond of each other. It must be a terrible blow for you. Your children will be a great comfort to you.’
‘I have no children,’ he told her, sipping the tea and hoping she would soon go and leave him in peace.
‘Oh –’ She coloured violently and gestured towards the two photographs on the mantlepiece. ‘I thought ...’
‘They are both dead,’ he said flatly. ‘The boy was killed in the war and the girl was a – a spastic. She died when she was five .. .’
‘Oh dear.’ She was so genuinely distressed, he felt sorry for her. ‘That is terrible; just when you need them so much,’ she added oddly. ‘Perhaps you have other close relations. Brothers or sisters maybe?’ She was really concerned for him.
‘I did have them,’ he admitted, ‘but I’m afraid I’ve outlived them all. I was the youngest, you see. No, there’s no one.’
She digested this in stunned silence. He could just feel the waves of sympathy flowing out to him. She leaned towards him intensely.
‘But you have had them, Mr Jennings. You must be consoled by that. You have known what it is like to love and be loved, to have someone care what happens to you, someone to think about...’
She put the cup and saucer back on the table and stood up. Surprised, he watched her pace about the room, her hands clasped before her.
Swinging round towards him, she went on: ‘I envy you, Mr Jennings. You have no one now, but I have never had anyone.’ She breathed deeply. ‘I’ve never had anyone. I was an orphan brought up in a home. All my life I’ve longed for what you have had. Parents, brothers and sisters, marriage and children. Even marriage has eluded me. I used to console myself in the orphanage with the thought that one day I would be married and have children to fuss over and worry about. I never had the opportunity...’ Turning away from him, she blew delicately into her handkerchief.
‘Would you like another cup of tea?’ he asked, foolishly.
She sat down again. ‘No. No, thank you. I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean to burden you with my troubles. I meant to – to console you in your loss. Try to be grateful for the past...’
The past. He stared at the photographs of his children on the mantlepiece. Frail little Ellie. The awful anxiety came back. Tom. All he could remember of Tom was the terrible concern for his safety that he and Emily had borne while Tom was overseas.
Miss Simmons stood up. She was still fighting for composure, smoothing her skirt, removing a hair pin and replacing it more firmly.
‘I must go now,’ she said. She brightened. ‘Thank you so much for the tea, Mr Jennings. You must let me return it sometime. Yes, please do let me. Let me cook your dinner some night. I’m a good cook. I really am, you know. I should love to have you to dinner one evening.’ She was her anxious-to-please self again. ‘And if you have any washing you would like done, I would be so glad to do it. Just ask me any time.’
She was in the doorway, ready to depart.
‘Don’t stay home too much on your own,’ she warned him intensely. ‘Believe me I know what it is like to be lonely. Dusk is the time; yes dusk. The evenings are the worst time.’
He closed the door behind her. His fish and chips would be hard and inedible. ‘Funny old thing,’ he said aloud.
The breeze had dropped. He went across to the window and opened it again. A lovely spring evening. Tonight he would walk along to the park and watch the cricket for a while. He always did like a game of cricket. And coming home afterwards he might stop and have a cup of coffee at that dimly-lit little coffee shop that was open all night. No need to hurry home.
Funny old Miss Simmons. He should feel depressed, he told himself, but he didn’t. No one to love, no one to care about, no one to worry about.

(from Arena, No. 55, Autumn 1961)

Article © Mark Pirie, 2010

Bibliography of Eva Burfield:

Yellow Kowhai, Wright & Brown, London, 1957; reissued Ulverscroft, Leicester, 1987.
A Chair to Sit On, Wright & Brown, London, 1958; reissued Ulverscroft, Leicester, 1986.
The Long Winter, Wright & Brown, London, 1964; reissued Ulverscroft, Leicester, 1992.
After Midnight, Wright & Brown, London, 1965; reissued Ulverscroft, Leicester, 1988.
Out of Yesterday, Wright & Brown, London, 1965; reissued Ulverscroft, Leicester, 1987.
The White Prison, Wright & Brown, London, 1965; reissued Ulverscroft, Leicester, 1992.
The New Mrs. Rainer, Wright & Brown, London, 1967; reissued Ulverscroft, Leicester, 1992.
The Last Day of Summer, Wright & Brown, London, 1968; reissued Ulverscroft, Leicester, 1986.

Bibliography of Eva Ebbett:

Waipukurau School Centenary, Waipukerau School, 1967.

Bibliography of Eve Ebbett:

Give Them Swing Bands, Hale, London/Whitcombe & Tombs, Christchurch, 1969; reissued Ulverscroft, Leicester, 1996.
To the Garden Alone, Hale, London/Whitcombe & Tombs, Christchurch, 1970; reissued Ulverscroft, Leicester, 1997.
In True Colonial Fashion: A Lively Look At What New Zealanders Wore, Reed, Wellington, 1977.
Victoria’s Daughters: New Zealand Women of the Thirties, Reed, Wellington, 1981.
When The Boys Were Away: New Zealand Women in World War II, Reed, Wellington, 1984.

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