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An essay by A. A. Milne

The Pond

Title:     The Pond
Author: A. A. Milne [More Titles by Milne]

My friend Aldenham's pond stands at a convenient distance from the house, and is reached by a well-drained gravel path; so that in any weather one may walk, alone or in company, dry shod to its brink, and estimate roughly how many inches of rain have fallen in the night. The ribald call it the hippopotamus pond, tracing a resemblance between it and the bath of the hippopotamus at the Zoo, beneath the waters of which, if you particularly desire to point the hippopotamus out to somebody, he always lies hidden. To the rest of us it is known simply as "the pond"--a designation which ignores the existence of several neighbouring ponds, the gifts of nature, and gives the whole credit to the handiwork of man. For "the pond" is just a small artificial affair of cement, entirely unpretentious.

There are seven steps to the bottom of the pond, and each step is 10 in. high. Thus the steps help to make the pond a convenient rain- gauge; for obviously when only three steps are left uncovered, as was the case last Monday, you know that there have been 40 in. of rain since last month, when the pond began to fill. To strangers this may seem surprising, and it is only fair to tell them the great secret, which is that much of the surrounding land drains secretly into the pond too. This seems to me to give a much fairer indication of the rain that has fallen than do the official figures in the newspapers. For when your whole day's cricket has been spoilt, it is perfectly absurd to be told that .026 of an inch of rain has done the damage; the soul yearns for something more startling than that The record of the pond, that there has been another 5 in., soothes us, where the record of the ordinary pedantic rain-gauge would leave us infuriated. It speaks much for my friend Aldenham's breadth of view that he understood this, and planned the pond accordingly.

A most necessary thing in a country house is that there should be a recognized meeting-place, where the people who have been writing a few letters after breakfast may, when they have finished, meet those who have no intention of writing any, and arrange plans with them for the morning. I am one of those who cannot write letters in another man's house, and when my pipe is well alight I say to Miss Robinson--or whoever it may be--"Let's go and look at the pond." "Right oh," she says willingly enough, having spent the last quarter of an hour with The Times Financial Supplement, all of the paper that is left to the women in the first rush for the cricket news. We wander down to the pond together, and perhaps find Brown and Miss Smith there. "A lot of rain in the night," says Brown. "It was only just over the third step after lunch yesterday." We have a little argument about it, Miss Robinson being convinced that she stood on the second step after breakfast, and Miss Smith repeating that it looks exactly the same to her this morning. By and by two or three others stroll up, and we all make measurements together. The general opinion is that there has been a lot of rain in the night, and that 43 in. in three weeks must be a record. But, anyhow, it is fairly fine now, and what about a little lawn tennis? Or golf? Or croquet? Or---? And so the arrangements for the morning are made.

And they can be made more readily out of doors; for--supposing it is fine--the fresh air calls you to be doing something, and the sight of the newly marked tennis lawn fills you with thoughts of revenge for your accidental defeat the evening before. But indoors it is so easy to drop into a sofa after breakfast, and, once there with all the papers, to be disinclined to leave it till lunch-time. A man or woman as lazy as this must not be rushed. Say to such a one, "Come and play," and the invitation will be declined. Say, "Come and look at the pond," and the worst sluggard will not refuse such gentle exercise. And once he is out he is out.

All this for those delightful summer days when there are fine intervals; but consider the advantages of the pond when the rain streams down in torrents from morning till night. How tired we get of being indoors on these days, even with the best of books, the pleasantest of companions, the easiest of billiard tables. Yet if our hostess were to see us marching out with an umbrella, how odd she would think us. "Where are you off to?" she would ask, and we could only answer lamely, "Er--I was just going to-- er--walk about a bit." But now we tell her brightly, "I'm going to see the pond. It must be nearly full. Won't you come too?" And with any luck she comes. And you know, it even reconciles us a little to these streaming days to reflect that it all goes to fill the pond. For there is ever before our minds that great moment in the future when the pond is at last full. What will happen then? Aldenham may know, but we his guests do not. Some think there will be merely a flood over the surrounding paths and the kitchen garden, but for myself I believe that we are promised something much bigger than that. A man with such a broad and friendly outlook towards rain-gauges will be sure to arrange something striking when the great moment arrives. Some sort of fete will help to celebrate it, I have no doubt; with an open-air play, tank drama, or what not. At any rate we have every hope that he will empty the pond as speedily as possible so that we may watch it fill again.

I must say that he has been a little lucky in his choice of a year for inaugurating the pond. But, all the same, there are now 45 in. of rain in it, 45 in. of rain have fallen in the last three weeks, and I think that something ought to be done about it.

[The end]
A. A. Milne's essay: Pond