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The Silent Isle - Chapter 55 Post by :Yeraj Category :Essays Author :Arthur C. Benson Date :May 2012 Read :2174

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The Silent Isle - Chapter 55

CHAPTER LV

I have had a fortnight of perfect weather here--the meteorologists call it by the horrible and ugly name of "anticyclone," which suggests, even more than the word "cyclone" suggests, the strange weather said by the Psalmist to be in store for the unrighteous--"Upon the ungodly he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, storm and tempest." I have often wondered what the fields would look like after a rain of snares! The word "cyclone" by itself suggests a ghastly whorl of high vapours, and the addition of "anti" seems to make it even more hostile. But an anticyclone in the springtime is the opening of a door into paradise. Day after day the fields have lain calm beneath a cool and tranquil sun, with a light breeze shifting from point to point in the compass. Day after day I have swept along the great fen-roads, descending from my little hill-range into the flat. Day by day I have steered slowly across the gigantic plains, with the far-off farms to left and right across acres of dark plough-land, rising in dust from the feet of horses dragging a harrow. Every now and then one crosses a great dyke, a sapphire streak of calm water between green flood-banks, running as straight as a line from horizon to horizon. One sweeps through a pretty village at long intervals, with its comfortable yellow-brick houses, and an old church standing up grey in the sun. It was on a day always to be marked with letters of gold in my calendar that I found the house of Bellasyze in a village in the fen. Imagine a great red-brick wall running along by the high road, with a pair of huge gate-posts in the centre, with big stone wyverns on the top. Inside, a little park of ancient trees, standing up among grass golden with buttercups. A quarter of a mile away in the park, an incredibly picturesque house of red brick, with an ancient turreted gate-house, innumerable brick chimney-stacks, gables, mullioned windows, and oriels, rising from great sprawling box-trees and yews. By a stroke of fortune, the young kindly squire was coming out at the gate as I stood gazing, and asked me if I would care to look round. He led me up to the gate-house, and then into a great hall, with vast doors of oak, flagged with stone. "There is our ugliest story!" he said, pointing to the flags. I do not profess to explain what I saw; but there was in one place a stain looking like dark blood just sopped up; and close by, outlined in a damp dimness, the rough form of a human body with outstretched arms, just as though a warm corpse had been lying on the cold stones. "That was where the young heir was killed by his father," said the squire; "his blood fell down here--he was stabbed in the back--and he stumbled a pace or two and fell; we can't scrub it out or dry it out." "I suppose you are haunted?" I said. He laughed. "Well,-it is a great convenience," he said. "I only live here in the summer; I have a little house which is more convenient in the winter, a little distance away. I can never get a caretaker here for the winter--but, bless you, if I left every door and window open, there is not a soul in the place that would come near it!" He led me through ranges of rooms panelled, recessed, orieled--there were staircases, turret-chambers, galleries in every direction. I think there must have been nearly fifty rooms in the house, perhaps half-a-dozen of them inhabited. At one place he bade me look out of a little window, and I saw below a small court with an ancient chapel on the left, the windows bricked up. It had a sinister and wicked air, somehow. The squire told me that they had unearthed a dozen skeletons in that little yard as they were laying a drain, and had buried them in the neighbouring churchyard. But the back of the house was still more ravishing than the front; surrounded by great brick walls, curving outwards, lay a grassy garden, with huge box-trees at the sides, and in the centre many ancient apple-trees in full bloom. The place was bright with carelessly ordered flowers; and behind, the ground fell a little to some great pools full of sedge, some tumbled grassy hillocks covered with blackthorns, and a little wood red with buds and full of birds, called by the delicious name of "My Lord's Wood." The great flat stretched for miles round.

One of the singular charms of the place was that it had never undergone a restoration; it had only been carefully patched just as it needed it. I never saw a place so soaked with charm from end to end, its very wildness giving it a grace which trimness would have utterly destroyed. I stood for a while beside the pool, with a woodpecker laughing in the holt, to watch the long roofs and huddled chimneys rise above the white-flowered orchard. Perhaps in a stormy, rugged day of November it would be sad and mournful enough in its solitary pastures; but on this spring day, with the sun lying warm on the brickwork, it seemed to have a perfection of charm about it like the design of a mind intent upon devising as beautiful a thing as could be made. The old house seemed to have grown old and mellow like a rock or crag; to have sprung up out of the ground; and nature, working patiently with rain and sun and wind, drooping the stonecrop from the parapet, fringing the parapets with snapdragons and wallflowers, touching the old roofs with orange and grey lichens, had done the rest. No one shall learn from me where the House of Bellasyze lies; but I will revisit it spring by spring, like a hidden treasure of beauty.

The result of these perfect days, full of life and freshness, with all the loveliness and without the languors of spring, is to produce in me a perfectly inconsequent mood of happiness, which is better than any amount of philosophical consolation. The air, the breeze, the flying hour are all full of delight. Everything is touched with a fine savour and quality, whether it be the wide view over the dappled plain, the blue waters of the lonely dyke, the old farm-house blinking pleasantly among its barns and outbuildings, the tall church-tower that you see for miles over the flat, the busy cawing of rooks in the village grove; the very people that one meets wear a smiling and friendly air, from the old labourer trudging slowly home, to the jolly, smooth-faced ploughboy riding a big horse, clanking and plodding down the highway. One sees the world as it was meant to be made; a life in the open air, labour among the wide fields, seems the joyful lot of man. The very food that one eats by the quick-set thorn on the edge of a dyke, where the fish poise and hang in dark pools, has a finer savour, and is like a sacrament of peace; hour after hour, from morning to sunset, one can range without weariness and without care, one's thoughts reduced to a mere flow of gentle perceptions, murmuring along like a clear stream. Pleasant, too, is the return home when one swings in at the familiar gate; and then comes the quiet solitary evening when one recounts the hoarded store of delicate impressions. Then follow hours of dreamless sleep, till one wakes again upon a bright world, with the thrushes fluting in the shrubbery and the morning sun flooding the room.

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