The winter had set in earlier than usual. It was the beginning of November and already wet snow was scudding about, driven along by a storm. Sometimes it seemed as though the wind, rising after a breathing space, would smash the row of low houses and scatter their remains.
Henry stood in the narrow bay window of the front room and stared into the flying snow.
“I know the soft wood’s growing,” he said to himself. “But it has to be put where it’s safe. I’ll have to find a safe place and plant it there if the storms go on. Before it’s too late.”
After each gust of wind, a tremendous howling could be heard as the storm threw itself upon the wood opposite the house. A number of branches had already been torn off from the most exposed of the trees.
The house was on the Eastern outskirts of the town. Its window looked out on what was an almost open stretch of country where the storm could sweep along without any obstacle in its way. Directly opposite the house, however, the view was broken by a wood which had been a reserve belonging to a mill-owner, and once it was supposed to have contained deer. When planted, it had been half an hour’s distance from town, but now, suburbs had reached it and had begun to surround it. Wide strips of land were being prepared for building and farms had disappeared on both sides of it. The wood itself would soon disappear as well. This had been decided years before and it had not been cared for since. It was enclosed by a high fence made of iron bars with barbed wire at the top, but the foundations of the fence had decayed, so that it leaned outward and was broken in places.
When Henry was a boy, it had been an adventure to steal into the wood, for then there had nearly always been foresters on their rounds. Now, however, it was no longer guarded. Henry sometimes walked there under the motionless, dead branches spanned by webs, along paths almost impossible to see because of the load of soaked dead leaves which were never removed. What had previously been small ponds had turned into expanses of stagnant water which were shallow and filthy because the wooden borders had mouldered away and the earth of the embankments had fallen in. He had encountered frightened birds and squirrels in it, but had never seen a deer.
Behind him, in the living room, his mother was sitting at the table, listening to the storm. Now and then she looked with concern at some plants on a flower stand in the front room and wondered if they were too near the window, even though rugs had been put both on the sill and against the lower part of the frame.
“Neighbor Tonia said she’d move our gladiolus plant into the middle of the garden,” she said. “Because it couldn’t be seen. It was growing at the outer end, the farthest end of the garden. But she didn’t do it right, and now it’s dead. A gladiolus is such a delicate flower.” She shook her head. “It’s such a pity about that nice plant. It’s such a pity.” Neighbor Tonia had moved many years ago to another town.
Henry walked into the sitting room and sat down at the end of the divan where he began to stare at a newspaper. It was difficult to read because the sky was very dark.