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Sandra Belloni's Pinewood Post by :nabdavis Category :Essays Author :Richard Le Gallienne Date :August 2011 Read :1313

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Sandra Belloni's Pinewood


I felt jaded and dusty, I needed flowers and sunshine; and remembering that some one had told me--erroneously, I have since discovered!--that the pinewood wherein Sandra Belloni used to sing to her harp, like a nixie, in the moonlit nights, lay near Oxshott in Surrey, I vowed myself there and then to the Meredithian pilgrimage.

The very resolution uplifted me with lyric gladness, and I went swinging out of the old Inn where I live with the heart of a boy. Across Lincoln's Inn Fields, down by the Law Courts, and so to Waterloo. I felt I must have a confidante, so I told the slate-coloured pigeons in the square where I was off--out among the thrushes, the broom, and the may. But they wouldn't come. They evidently deemed that a legal purlieu was a better place for 'pickings.'

Half-a-crown return to Oxshott and a train at 12.35. You know the ride better than I, probably, and what Surrey is at the beginning of June. The first gush of green on our getting clear of Clapham was like the big drink after an afternoon's haymaking. There was but one cloud on the little journey. She got into the next carriage.

I dreamed all the way. On arriving at Oxshott I immediately became systematic. Having a very practical belief in the material basis of all exquisite experience, I simply nodded to the great pinewoods half a mile off, on the brow of long heathy downs to the left of the railway bridge--as who should say, 'I shall enjoy you all the better presently for some sandwiches and a pint of ale'--and promptly, not to say scientifically, turned down the Oxshott road in search of an inn.

Oxshott is a quaint little hamlet, one of the hundred villages where we are going to live when we have written great novels; but I didn't care for the village inn, so walked a quarter of a mile nearer Leatherhead, till the Old Bear came in sight.

There I sat in the drowsy parlour, the humming afternoon coming in at the door, 'the blue fly' singing on the hot pane, dreaming all kinds of gauzy-winged dreams, while my body absorbed ham sandwiches and some excellent ale. Of course I did not leave the place without the inevitable reflection on Lamb and the inns _he_ had immortalised. Outside again my thoughts were oddly turned to the nature of my expedition by two figures in the road--an unhappy-looking couple, evidently 'belonging to each other,' the young woman with babe at breast, trudging together side by side--

'One was a girl with a babe that throve,
Her ruin and her bliss;
One was a youth with a lawless love,
Who claspt it the more for this.'

The quotation was surely inevitable for any one who knows Mr. Meredith's tragic little picture of 'The Meeting.'

Thus I was brought to think of Sandra again, and of the night when the Brookfield ladies had heard her singing like a spirit in the heart of the moon-dappled pinewood, and impresario Pericles had first prophesied the future prima donna.

Do you remember his inimitable outburst?--'I am made my mind! I send her abroad to ze Academie for one, two, tree year. She shall be instructed as was not before. Zen a noise at La Scala. No--Paris! No--London! She shall astonish London fairst. Yez! if I take a theatre! Yez! if I buy a newspaper! Yez! if I pay feefty-sossand pound!'

Of course, as one does, I had gone expecting to distinguish the actual sandy mound among the firs where she sat with her harp, the young countryman waiting close by for escort, and the final 'Giles Scroggins, native British, beer-begotten air' with which she rewarded him for his patience in suffering so much classical music. Mr. Meredith certainly gives a description of the spot close enough for identification, with time and perseverance. But, reader, I had gone out this afternoon in the interest rather of fresh air than of sentimental topography; and it was quite enough for me to feel that somewhere in that great belt of pinewood it had all been true, and that it was through those fir-branches and none other in the world that that 'sleepy fire of early moonlight' had so wonderfully hung.

After crossing the railway bridge the road rises sharply for a few yards, and then a whole stretch of undulating woodland is before one: to the right bosky green, but on the left a rough dark heath with a shaggy wilderness of pine for background, heightened here and there with a sudden surprise of gentle silver birch. How freshly the wind met one at the top of the road: a southwest wind soft and blithe enough to have blown through 'Diana of the Crossways.'

'You saucy south wind, setting all the budded beech boughs swinging
Above the wood anemones that flutter, flushed and white,
When far across the wide salt waves your quick way you were winging,
Oh! tell me, tell me, did you pass my sweetheart's ship last night?

Ah! let the daisies be,
South wind! and answer me;
Did you my sailor see?
Wind, whisper very low,
For none but you must know
I love my lover so.'

I had been keeping that question to ask it for two or three days, since a good friend had told me of some lyrics by Miss Frances Wynne; and the little volume, charmingly entitled _Whisper_, was close under my arm as I turned from the road across the heath--a wild scramble of scrubby chance-children, wind-sown from the pines behind. And then presently, like a much greater person, 'I found me in a gloomy wood astray.'

But I soon realised that it wasn't the day for pinewoods, however rich in associations. Dark days are their Opportunity. Then one is in sympathy. But on days when the sunshine is poured forth like yellow wine, when the broom is ablaze, and the sky blue as particular eyes, the contrast of those dark aisles without one green blade is uncanny. Its listening loneliness almost frightens one. Brurrhh! One must find a greenwood where things are companionable: birds within call, butterflies in waiting, and a bee now and again to bump one, and be off again with a grumbled 'Beg your pardon. Confound you!' So presently imagine me 'prone at the foot of yonder' sappy chestnut, nice little cushions of moss around me, one for _Whisper_, one for a pillow; above, a world of luminous green leaves, filtered sunlight lying about in sovereigns and half-sovereigns, and at a distance in the open shine a patch of hyacinths, 'like a little heaven below.'

_Whisper_! Tis the sweetest little book of lyrics since Mrs. Dollie Radford's _Light Load_. Whitman, you will remember, always used to take his songs out into the presence of the fields and skies to try them. A severe test, but a little book may bear it as well as a great one. The _Leaves of Grass_ claims measurement with oaks; but _Whisper_ I tried by speedwell and cinquefoil, and many other tiny sweet things for which I know no name, by all airs and sounds coming to me through the wood, quaint little notes of hidden birds,--and the songs were just as much at home there as the rest, because they also had grown out of Nature's heart, and were as much hers as any leaf or bird. So I dotted speedwell all amongst them, because I felt they ought to know each other.

I wonder if you love to fill your books with flowers. It is a real bookish delight, and they make such a pretty diary. My poets are full of them, and they all mean a memory--old spring mornings, lost sunsets, walks forgotten and unforgotten. Here a buttercup pressed like finely beaten brass, there a great yellow rose--in my Keats; my Chaucer is like his old meadows, 'ypoudred with daisie,' and my Herrick is full of violets. The only thing is that they haunt me sometimes. But then, again, they bloom afresh every spring. As Mr. Monkhouse sings:--

'Sweet as the rose that died last year is the rose that is born to-day.'

But I grow melancholy with an Englishman's afterthought, for I coined no such reflections dreaming there in the wood. It is only on paper that one moralises--just where one shouldn't.

My one or two regrets were quite practical--that I had not learnt botany at school, and that the return train went so early.

(The end)
Richard Le Gallienne's Essay: Sandra Belloni's Pinewood

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