Meet us on:
Welcome to Read Print! Sign in with
or
to get started!
 
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "Keep true to the dreams of thy youth."
     

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Chapter 2

    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 2
    Previous Chapter
    On Going Back

    In looking over the preceding chapter it occurred to me that I
    had omitted something, or rather that it would have been well
    to drop a word of warning to those who have the desire to
    revisit a place where they have experienced a delightful
    surprise. Alas! they cannot have that sensation a second
    time, and on this account alone the mental image must always
    be better than its reality. Let the image--the first sharp
    impression--content us. Many a beautiful picture is spoilt by
    the artist who cannot be satisfied that he has made the best
    of his subject, and retouching his canvas to bring out some
    subtle charm which made the work a success loses it
    altogether. So in going back, the result of the inevitable
    disillusionment is that the early mental picture loses
    something of its original freshness. The very fact that the
    delightful place or scene was discovered by us made it the
    shining place it is in memory. And again, the charm we found
    in it may have been in a measure due to the mood we were in,
    or to the peculiar aspect in which it came before us at the
    first, due to the season, to atmospheric and sunlight effects,
    to some human interest, or to a conjunction of several
    favourable circumstances; we know we can never see it again
    in that aspect and with that precise feeling.

    On this account I am shy of revisiting the places where I have
    experienced the keenest delight. For example, I have no
    desire to revisit that small ancient town among the hills,
    described in the last chapter; to go on a Sunday evening
    through that narrow gorge, filled with the musical roar of the
    church bells; to leave that great sound behind and stand again
    listening to the marvellous echo from the wooded hill on the
    other side of the valley. Nor would I care to go again in
    search of that small ancient lost church in the forest. It
    would not be early April with the clear sunbeams shining
    through the old leafless oaks on the floor of fallen yellow
    leaves with the cuckoo fluting before his time; nor would that
    straggling procession of villagers appear, headed by an old
    man in a smock frock with a big book in his hand; nor would I
    hear for the first time the strange history of the church
    which so enchanted me.

    I will here give an account of yet another of the many
    well-remembered delightful spots which I would not revisit,
    nor even look upon again if I could avoid doing so by going
    several miles out of my way.

    It was green open country in the west of England--very far
    west, although on the east side of the Tamar--in a beautiful
    spot remote from railroads and large towns, and the road by
    which I was travelling (on this occasion on a bicycle) ran or
    serpentined along the foot of a range of low round hills on my
    right hand, while on my left I had a green valley with other
    low round green hills beyond it. The valley had a marshy
    stream with sedgy margins and occasional clumps of alder and
    willow trees. It was the end of a hot midsummer day; the sun
    went down a vast globe of crimson fire in a crystal clear sky;
    and as I was going east I was obliged to dismount and stand
    still to watch its setting. When the great red disc had gone
    down behind the green world I resumed my way but went slowly,
    then slower still, the better to enjoy the delicious coolness
    which came from the moist valley and the beauty of the evening
    in that solitary place which I had never looked on before.
    Nor was there any need to hurry; I had but three or four miles
    to go to the small old town where I intended passing the
    night. By and by the winding road led me down close to the
    stream at a point where it broadened to a large still pool.
    This was the ford, and on the other side was a small rustic
    village, consisting of a church, two or three farm-houses with
    their barns and outbuildings, and a few ancient-looking stone
    cottages with thatched roofs. But the church was the main
    thing; it was a noble building with a very fine tower, and
    from its size and beauty I concluded that it was an ancient
    church dating back to the time when there was a passion in the
    West Country and in many parts of England of building these
    great fanes even in the remotest and most thinly populated
    parishes. In this I was mistaken through having seen it at a
    distance from the other side of the ford after the sun had
    set.

    Never, I thought, had I seen a lovelier village with its old
    picturesque cottages shaded by ancient oaks and elms, and the
    great church with its stately tower looking dark against the
    luminous western sky. Dismounting again I stood for some time
    admiring the scene, wishing that I could make that village my
    home for the rest of my life, conscious at the same time that
    is was the mood, the season, the magical hour which made it
    seem so enchanting. Presently a young man, the first human
    figure that presented itself to my sight, appeared, mounted on
    a big carthorse and leading a second horse by a halter, and
    rode down into the pool to bathe the animals' legs and give
    them a drink. He was a sturdy-looking young fellow with a
    sun-browned face, in earth-coloured, working clothes, with a
    small cap stuck on the back of his round curly head; he
    probably imagined himself not a bad-looking young man, for
    while his horses were drinking he laid over on the broad bare
    backs and bending down studied his own reflection in the
    bright water. Then an old woman came out of a cottage close
    by, and began talking to him in her West Country dialect in a
    thin high-pitched cracked voice. Their talking was the only
    sound in the village; so silent was it that all the rest of
    its inhabitants might have been in bed and fast asleep; then,
    the conversation ended, the young man rode out with a great
    splashing and the old woman turned into her cottage again, and
    I was left in solitude.

    Still I lingered: I could not go just yet; the chances were
    that I should never again see that sweet village in that
    beautiful aspect at the twilight hour.

    For now it came into my mind that I could not very well settle
    there for the rest of my life; I could not, in fact, tie
    myself to any place without sacrificing certain other
    advantages I possessed; and the main thing was that by taking
    root I should deprive myself of the chance of looking on still
    other beautiful scenes and experiencing other sweet surprises.
    I was wishing that I had come a little earlier on the scene to
    have had time to borrow the key of the church and get a sight
    of the interior, when all at once I heard a shrill voice and a
    boy appeared running across the wide green space of the
    churchyard. A second boy followed, then another, then still
    others, and I saw that they were going into the church by the
    side door. They were choir-boys going to practice. The
    church was open then, and late as it was I could have half an
    hour inside before it was dark! The stream was spanned by an
    old stone bridge above the ford, and going over it I at once
    made my way to the great building, but even before entering it
    I discovered that it possessed an organ of extraordinary power
    and that someone was performing on it with a vengeance.
    Inside the noise was tremendous--a bigger noise from an organ,
    it seemed to me, than I had ever heard before, even at the
    Albert Hall and the Crystal Palace, but even more astonishing
    than the uproar was the sight that met my eyes. The boys,
    nine or ten sturdy little rustics with round sunburnt West
    Country faces, were playing the roughest game ever witnessed
    in a church. Some were engaged in a sort of flying fight,
    madly pursuing one another up and down the aisles and over the
    pews, and whenever one overtook another he would seize hold of
    him and they would struggle together until one was thrown and
    received a vigorous pommelling. Those who were not fighting
    were dancing to the music. It was great fun to them, and they
    were shouting and laughing their loudest only not a sound of
    it all could be heard on account of the thunderous roar of the
    organ which filled and seemed to make the whole building
    tremble. The boys took no notice of me, and seeing that there
    was a singularly fine west window, I went to it and stood
    there some time with my back to the game which was going on at
    the other end of the building, admiring the beautiful colours
    and trying to make out the subjects depicted. In the centre
    part, lit by the after-glow in the sky to a wonderful
    brilliance, was the figure of a saint, a lovely young woman in
    a blue robe with an abundance of loose golden-red hair and an
    aureole about her head. Her pale face wore a sweet and placid
    expression, and her eyes of a pure forget-me-not blue were
    looking straight into mine. As I stood there the music, or
    noise, ceased and a very profound silence followed--not a
    giggle, not a whisper from the outrageous young barbarians,
    and not a sound of the organist or of anyone speaking to them.
    Presently I became conscious of some person standing almost
    but not quite abreast of me, and turning sharply I found a
    clergyman at my side. He was the vicar, the person who had
    been letting himself go on the organ; a slight man with a
    handsome, pale, ascetic face, clean-shaven, very dark-eyed,
    looking more like an Italian monk or priest than an English
    clergyman. But although rigidly ecclesiastic in his
    appearance and dress, there was something curiously engaging
    in him, along with a subtle look which it was not easy to
    fathom. There was a light in his dark eyes which reminded me
    of a flame seen through a smoked glass or a thin black veil,
    and a slight restless movement about the corners of his mouth
    as if a smile was just on the point of breaking out. But it
    never quite came; he kept his gravity even when he said things
    which would have gone very well with a smile.

    "I see," he spoke, and his penetrating musical voice had, too,
    like his eyes and mouth, an expression of mystery in it, "that
    you are admiring our beautiful west window, especially the
    figure in the centre. It is quite new--everything is new
    here--the church itself was only built a few years ago. This
    window is its chief glory: it was done by a good artist--he
    has done some of the most admired windows of recent years; and
    the centre figure is supposed to be a portrait of our generous
    patroness. At all events she sat for it to him. You have
    probably heard of Lady Y--?"

    "What!" I exclaimed. "Lady Y--: that funny old woman!"

    "No--middle-aged," he corrected, a little frigidly and perhaps
    a little mockingly at the same time.

    "Very well, middle-aged if you like; I don't know her
    personally. One hears about her; but I did not know she had a
    place in these parts."

    "She owns most of this parish and has done so much for us that
    we can very well look leniently on a little weakness--her wish
    that the future inhabitants of the place shall not remember her
    as a middle-aged woman not remarkable for good looks--'funny,'
    as you just now said."

    He was wonderfully candid, I thought. But what extraordinary
    benefits had she bestowed on them, I asked, to enable them to
    regard, or to say, that this picture of a very beautiful young
    female was her likeness!

    "Why," he said, "the church would not have been built but for
    her. We were astonished at the sum she offered to contribute
    towards the work, and at once set about pulling the small old
    church down so as to rebuild on the exact site."

    "Do you know," I returned, "I can't help saying something you
    will not like to hear. It is a very fine church, no doubt,
    but it always angers me to hear of a case like this where some
    ancient church is pulled down and a grand new one raised in
    its place to the honour and glory of some rich parvenu with or
    without a brand new title."

    "You are not hurting me in the least," he replied, with that
    change which came from time to time in his eyes as if the
    flame behind the screen had suddenly grown brighter. "I agree
    with every word you say; the meanest church in the land should
    be cherished as long as it will hold together. But
    unfortunately ours had to come down. It was very old and
    decayed past mending. The floor was six feet below the level
    of the surrounding ground and frightfully damp. It had been
    examined over and over again by experts during the past forty
    or fifty years, and from the first they pronounced it a
    hopeless case, so that it was never restored. The interior,
    right down to the time of demolition, was like that of most
    country churches of a century ago, with the old black worm-
    eaten pews, in which the worshippers shut themselves up as if
    in their own houses or castles. On account of the damp we
    were haunted by toads. You smile, sir, but it was no smiling
    matter for me during my first year as vicar, when I discovered
    that it was the custom here to keep pet toads in the church.
    It sounds strange and funny, no doubt, but it is a fact that
    all the best people in the parish had one of these creatures,
    and it was customary for the ladies to bring it a weekly
    supply of provisions--bits of meat, hard-boiled eggs chopped
    up, and earth-worms, and whatever else they fancied it would
    like--in their reticules. The toads, I suppose, knew when it
    was Sunday--their feeding day; at all events they would crawl
    out of their holes in the floor under the pews to receive
    their rations--and caresses. The toads got on my nerves with
    rather unpleasant consequences. I preached in a way which my
    listeners did not appreciate or properly understand,
    particularly when I took for my subject our duty towards the
    lower animals, including reptiles."

    "Batrachians," I interposed, echoing as well as I could the
    tone in which he had rebuked me before.

    "Very well, batrachians--I am not a naturalist. But the
    impression created on their minds appeared to be that I was
    rather an odd person in the pulpit. When the time came to
    pull the old church down the toad-keepers were bidden to
    remove their pets, which they did with considerable
    reluctance. What became of them I do not know--I never
    inquired. I used to have a careful inspection made of the
    floor to make sure that these creatures were not put back
    in the new building, and I am happy to think it is not
    suited to their habits. The floors are very well cemented,
    and are dry and clean."

    Having finished his story he invited me to go to the parsonage
    and get some refreshment. "I daresay you are thirsty," he
    said.

    But it was getting late; it was almost dark in the church by
    now, although the figure of the golden-haired saint still
    glowed in the window and gazed at us out of her blue eyes. "I
    must not waste more of your time," I added. "There are your
    boys still patiently waiting to begin their practice--such
    nice quiet fellows!"

    "Yes, they are," he returned a little bitterly, a sudden
    accent of weariness in his voice and no trace now of what I
    had seen in his countenance a little while ago--the light that
    shone and brightened behind the dark eye and the little play
    about the corners of the mouth as of dimpling motions on the
    surface of a pool.

    And in that new guise, or disguise, I left him, the austere
    priest with nothing to suggest the whimsical or grotesque in
    his cold ascetic face. Recrossing the bridge I stood a little
    time and looked once more at the noble church tower standing
    dark against the clear amber-coloured sky, and said to myself:
    "Why, this is one of the oddest incidents of my life! Not
    that I have seen or heard anything very wonderful--just a
    small rustic village, one of a thousand in the land; a big new
    church in which some person was playing rather madly on the
    organ, a set of unruly choir-boys; a handsome stained-glass
    west window, and, finally, a nice little chat with the vicar."
    It was not in these things; it was a sense of something
    strange in the mind, of something in some way unlike all other
    places and people and experiences. The sensation was like
    that of the reader who becomes absorbed in Henry Newbolt's
    romance of The Old Country, who identifies himself with the
    hero and unconsciously, or without quite knowing how, slips
    back out of this modern world into that of half a thousand
    years ago. It is the same familiar green land in which he
    finds himself--the same old country and the same sort of
    people with feelings and habits of life and thought
    unchangeable as the colour of grass and flowers, the songs
    of birds and the smell of the earth, yet with a difference.
    I recognized it chiefly in the parish priest I had been
    conversing with; for one thing, his mediaeval mind evidently
    did not regard a sense of humour and of the grotesque as out
    of place in or on a sacred building. If it had been lighter I
    should have looked at the roof for an effigy of a semi-human
    toad-like creature smiling down mockingly at the worshippers
    as they came and went.

    On departing it struck me that it would assuredly be a mistake
    to return to this village and look at it again by the common
    lights of day. No, it was better to keep the impressions I
    had gathered unspoilt; even to believe, if I could, that no
    such place existed, but that it had existed exactly as I had
    found it, even to the unruly choir-boys, the ascetic-looking
    priest with a strange light in his eyes, and the worshippers
    who kept pet toads in the church. They were not precisely
    like people of the twentieth century. As for the eccentric
    middle-aged or elderly person whose portrait adorned the west
    window, she was not the lady I knew something about, but
    another older Lady Y--, who flourished some six or seven
    centuries ago.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 2
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a W. H. Hudson essay and need some advice, post your W. H. Hudson essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Finished
    Want to read
    Abandoned

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?