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    Apple Blossoms and a Lost Village

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    Chapter 14
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    The apple has not come to its perfection this season until the middle
    of May; even here, in this west country, the very home of the spirit of
    the apple tree! Now it is, or seems, all the more beautiful because of
    its lateness, and of an April of snow and sleet and east winds, the
    bitter feeling of which is hardly yet out of our blood. If I could
    recover the images of all the flowering apple trees I have ever looked
    delightedly at, adding those pictured by poets and painters, including
    that one beneath which Fiammetta is standing, forever, with that fresh
    glad face almost too beautiful for earth, looking out as from pink and
    white clouds of the multitudinous blossoms--if I could see all that, I
    could not find a match for one of the trees of to-day. It is like
    nothing in earth, unless we say that, indescribable in its loveliness,
    it is like all other sights in nature which wake in us a sense of the
    supernatural.

    Undoubtedly the apple trees seem more beautiful to us than all other
    blossoming trees, in all lands we have visited, just because it is so
    common, so universal--I mean in this west country--so familiar a sight
    to everyone from infancy, on which account it has more associations of
    a tender and beautiful kind than the others. For however beautiful it
    may be intrinsically, the greatest share of the charm is due to the
    memories that have come to be part of and one with it--the forgotten
    memories they may be called. For they mostly refer to a far period in
    our lives, to our early years, to days and events that were happy and
    sad. The events themselves have faded from the mind, but they
    registered an emotion, cumulative in its effect, which endures and
    revives from time to time and is that indefinable feeling, that tender
    melancholy and "divine despair," and those idle tears of which the poet
    says, "I know not what they mean," which gather to the eyes at the
    sight of happy autumn fields and of all lovely natural sights familiar
    from of old.

    To-day, however, looking at the apple blooms, I find the most
    beautifying associations and memories not in a far-off past, but in
    visionary apple trees seen no longer ago than last autumn!

    And this is how it comes about. In this red and green country of Devon
    I am apt to meet with adventures quite unlike those experienced in
    other counties, only they are mostly adventures of the spirit.

    Lying awake at six o'clock last October, in Exeter, and seeing it was a
    grey misty morning, my inclination was to sleep again. I only dozed and
    was in the twilight condition when the mind is occupied with idle
    images and is now in the waking world, now in dreamland. A thought of
    the rivers in the red and green country floated through my brain--of
    the Clyst among others; then of the villages on the Clyst; of
    Broadclyst, Clyst St. Mary, Clyst St. Lawrence, finally of Clyst Hyden;
    and although dozing I half laughed to remember how I went searching for
    that same village last May and how I wouldn't ask my way of anyone,
    just because it was Clyst Hyden, because the name of that little hidden
    rustic village had been written in the hearts of some who had passed
    away long ago, far far from home:--how then could I fail to find it?--
    it would draw my feet like a magnet!

    I remembered how I searched among deep lanes, beyond rows and rows of
    ancient hedgerow elms, and how I found its little church and thatched
    cottages at last, covered with ivy and roses and creepers, all in a
    white and pink cloud of apple blossoms. Searching for it had been great
    fun and finding it a delightful experience; why not have the pleasure
    once more now that it was May again and the apple orchards in blossom?
    No sooner had I asked myself the question than I was on my bicycle
    among those same deep lanes, with the unkept hedges and the great
    hedgerow elms shutting out a view of the country, searching once more
    for the village of Clyst Hyden. And as on the former occasion, years
    ago it seemed, I would not enquire my way of anyone. I had found it
    then for myself and was determined to do so again, although I had set
    out with the vaguest idea as to the right direction.

    But hours went by and I could not find it, and now it was growing late.
    Through a gap in the hedge I saw the great red globe of the sun quite
    near the horizon, and immediately after seeing it I was in a narrow
    road with a green border, which stretched away straight before me
    further than I could see. Then the thatched cottages of a village came
    into sight; all were on one side of the road, and the setting sun
    flamed through the trees had kindled road and trees and cottages to a
    shining golden flame.

    "This is it!" I cried. "This is my little lost village found again, and
    it is well I found it so late in the day, for now it looks less like
    even the loveliest old village in Devon than one in fairyland, or in
    Beulah."

    When I came near it that sunset splendour did not pass off and it was
    indeed like no earthly village; then people came out from the houses to
    gaze at me, and they too were like people glorified with the sunset
    light and their faces shone as they advanced hurriedly to meet me,
    pointing with their hands and talking and laughing excitedly as if my
    arrival among them had been an event of great importance. In a moment
    they surrounded and crowded round me, and sitting still among them
    looking from radiant face to face I at length found my speech and
    exclaimed, "O how beautiful!"

    Then a girl pressed forward from among the others, and putting up her
    hand she placed it on my temple, the fingers resting on my forehead;
    and gazing with a strange earnestness in my eyes she said: "Beautiful?--
    only that! Do you see nothing more?"

    I answered, looking back into her eyes: "Yes--I think there is
    something more but I don't know what it is. Does it come from you--your
    eyes--your voice, all this that is passing in my mind?"

    "What is passing in your mind?" she asked.

    "I don't know. Thoughts--perhaps memories: hundreds, thousands--they
    come and go like lightning so that I can't arrest them--not even one!"

    She laughed, and the laugh was like her eyes and her voice and the
    touch of her hand on my temples.

    Was it sad or glad? I don't know, but it was the most beautiful sound I
    had ever heard, yet it seemed familiar and stirred me in the strangest
    way.

    "Let me think," I said.

    "Yes, think!" they all together cried laughingly; and then instantly
    when I cast my eyes down there was a perfect stillness as if they were
    all holding their breath and watching me.

    That sudden strange stillness startled me: I lifted my eyes and they
    were gone--the radiant beautiful people who had surrounded and
    interrogated me, and with them their shining golden village, had all
    vanished. There was no village, no deep green lanes and pink and white
    clouds of apple blossoms, and it was not May, it was late October and I
    was lying in bed in Exeter seeing through the window the red and grey
    roofs and chimneys and pale misty white sky.
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