Henry Ryecroft, a contemplative man, formerly a hack writer but able now through the legacy of a friend to live quietly in a comfortable cottage in rural Devon, writing only when he chooses to. He enjoys wandering about the countryside observing the common plants and learning their names. He thinks often of his hack writing days and of the conditions under which he had lived. Like Charles Lamb, he was always a lover of books and purchased them out of his meager earnings; people nowadays read newspapers, not books. He remembers also the happy excursions on which his family went along the English coast in his childhood. He contrasts the Sundays of old, when he wrote his sharpest satire, with his quiet, peaceful ones now. He thinks of the decline of English taste in food. A successful writer friend visits him, and they talk over the old days of struggle. He misses the London concerts and picture galleries. He muses on Darwinism and its effects on English thought, and he considers his own indifference to odd fads and scientific discoveries. He finds comfort in the Stoics’ views about death. He meditates on two great sources of England’s strength: Puritanism and the Old Testament. One set moral standards; the other reminded the English that they were a chosen people. If in recent times conventional religion has declined and materialism grown, at least the old prudishness has been replaced by a new strength. He looks back on his varied life, which now seems fully rounded, the best life he could make it; he is content for it to end at any time.
Mrs. M., Ryecroft’s excellent housekeeper, a quiet woman of discreet age who keeps an orderly house and does not obtrude on his meditations or bother about his comings and goings.
N———, Ryecroft’s writer friend who pays a two-day visit.