Fifth Martha and Charles Darwin (cont.)

My first granddaughter, who is named Martha (the fifth Martha in a row, we are stuck with the name), lives in the town of Shrewsbury, in Shropshire, and when we go to the library to get a new book, she always lingers at the statue. "Was Charles Darwin old or was he sick? Did Charles Darwin mind dying?"

This handsome town library was once his school, where he taught the boys of the town. The library's architects have done a brilliant job of preserving the best details of the original structure. Fifth Martha doesn't know it, but her parents, long before it was turned into the library, camped in the ruined shell of this building in a tent they pitched on the roofless mosaic floor, while they excavated and recorded the venerable old school. That was when they were students and spent their summers digging or recording ancient ruins. The townspeople who lived in the Edwardian terrace across the main road often walked over and offered them a hot bath.

Yes, Charles Darwin died, Fifth Martha is told. Her questions start me thinking about Darwin. I go for long periods quite willing to explain myself by evolution, and my mother and my grandmother and my daughter, Martha number four, and my granddaughter, the remarkable inheritor of this ordinary name. But, evolutionist that I am, I can't help wondering: Is science entirely sufficient to explain my questioning granddaughter?

My daughter, my son-in-law, and my granddaughter, this little family, live in a 300-year-old farmhouse with stone floors, the reason I rarely visit in the winter. They heat the house by chopping wood. A cold wind from Wales blows under my door unless I fold up my coat and use it as a stopper.

When I stand at the sink in my daughter's kitchen, I can see the hills of Wales to the west. In the other direction, fairly close, I can see a mountain called the Wrekin. Its broad dome is in view of every house in this part of the Severn Valley. It is closer than the hills you see down the rail track toward Wolverhampton, and it is certainly closer than the distant blue Welsh hills that are framed by my daughter's kitchen windows. And yet when local people want to express a great distance, they say, "It's as far as the Wrekind." Or, "I would walk to the Wrekin for that."

I went over to Shropshire for the birth of my first grandchild. Wanting to be near, but not in the way, I stayed at a bed and breakfast at a nearby farm, only a short walk away. And there was a telephone, I could be summoned. But the baby was late. I worried about all sorts of things, not the least about Fourth Martha, for my daughter was bursting with all that was inside her - food and blood and the solid curve of the baby. Then the baby was born suddenly. We were almost accustomed to waiting for her, and there she was.

My daughter called me from the hospital the next morning, asking me if I had seen her husband. No, but I was ready to walk over to the farmhouse to see if he was there, and if he was all right. But the house was empty.

I drove to the hospital, stopping for flowers and a book. I sat with Fourth Martha for an hour or two, and then my son-in-law arrived. I was too shy to ask, "Where were you?" so I left it to my daughter to ask. (cont.)

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