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Full Online Book HomeEssaysThe Silent Isle - Chapter 56
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The Silent Isle - Chapter 56 Post by :Yeraj Category :Essays Author :Arthur C. Benson Date :May 2012 Read :2080

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The Silent Isle - Chapter 56

CHAPTER LVI

It was by what we clumsily call _chance but really by what I am learning to perceive to be the subtlest and prettiest surprises of the Power that walks beside us, that I found myself in Ely yesterday morning--the first real day of summer. The air was full of sunshine, like golden dust, and all the plants had taken a leap forward in the night, and were unfurling their crumpled flags as speedily as they might. I came vaguely down to the river, guided by the same good spirit, and there at the boat-wharf I found a little motor-launch lying, which could be hired for the day. I took it, like the Lady of Shalott; but I did not write my name on the prow, because it had already some silly, darting kind of name. A mild, taciturn man took charge of my craft; and without delay we clicked and gurgled out into the stream.

I wish I could describe the day, for it was sweeter than honey and the honeycomb; and I should like to pour out of my stored sweetness for others. But I can hardly say what happened. It was all just like the tale of Shalott, with this difference, that there was no shadow of doom overhanging me; I felt more like a fairy prince with some pretty adventure awaiting me as soon as the town, with gardens and balconies, should begin to fringe the stream; perhaps a hand would be waved from the lawn, embowered in lilacs, of some sequestered house by the water-side. There was no singing aloud of mournful carols either, but my heart made a quiet and wistful music of its own.

I thought that I should have liked a more grave and ancient mode of conveyance; but how silly to desire that! The Lady of Shalott's boat was no doubt of the latest and neatest trim, fully up to her drowsy date; and as for quaintness, no doubt a couple of hundred years hence, when our river-craft may be cigar-shaped torpedoes of aluminium for all I know, a picture of myself in my homely motor-boat, with antiquated hat and odd grey suit, will appear quaint and old-timed enough. And, anyhow, the ripple gurgled under the prow, the motor ticked tranquilly, and the bubbles danced in the wake. We went on swiftly enough, and every time that I turned the great towers had grown fainter in the haze; we slid by the green flood-banks, with here and there a bunch of kingcups blazing in glory, the elbows of the bank full of white cow-parsley, comfrey, and water-dock. I heard the sedge-warbler whistle drily in the willow-patch, and a nightingale sang with infinite sweetness in a close of thorn-bushes now bursting into bloom; blue sky above, a sapphire streak of waterway ahead, green banks on either side; a little enough matter to fill a heart with joy. Once I had a thrill when a pair of sandpipers flicked out of a tiny cove and flew, glancing white, with pointed wings ahead of us. Again we started them, and again, till they wearied of the chase and flew back, with a wide circuit, to their first haunt. A cuckoo in a great poplar fluted solemnly and richly as we murmured past; the world was mostly hidden from us, but now and then a church tower looked gravely over the bank, and ran beside us for a time, or the lowing of cattle came softly from a pasture, or I heard the laughter of unseen children from a cottage garth. Once or twice we passed an inn, with cheerful, leisurely people sitting smiling together on a lawn, like a scene out of a romance; and then at last, on passing Baitsbite lock, we slipped into a merrier world. Here we heard the beat of rowlocks, the horse-hoofs of a coach thudded on the bank, and a crew of jolly young men went gliding past, with a cox shouting directions, just as I might have been doing thirty years ago! Thirty years ago! And it seems like yesterday, and I not a scrap older or wiser, though, thank God, a good deal happier. Even so we drift on to the unseen. Then we passed a village, the thatched cottages with their white gables rising prettily from the blossoming orchards. Ditton on its little hill; and the old iron bridge thundered and clanked with a passing train; then came the rattle of the grinds; and the mean houses of Barnwell; and soon we were gliding up among the backs, under the bridge of St. John's, by the willow-hung walks of Trinity, by the ivied walls and trim gardens of Clare, past the great white palace-front of King's, and so by the brick gables and oriels of Queens' into the Newnham mill-pool. It was somehow not like Cambridge, but like some enchanted town of palaces; and I would not break the spell; so we swung about, made no stay, and then slowly reversed the whole panorama again, through the long, still afternoon.

The old life of Cambridge--it was all there, after the long years, just the same, full of freshness and laughter; but I came into it as a _revenant_, and yet with no sense of sadness, rather of joy that it should all be so continuous and bright. I did not want it back; I did not desire any part in it, but was merely glad to watch and remember. I thought of myself as a fitful boy full of dreams and hopes, some fulfilled, some unfulfilled; those that I have realised so strangely unlike what I expected, those unrealised still beckoning with radiant visage. I did not even desire any companionship, any interchange of thought and mood. Was it selfish, dull, unenterprising to be so content? I do not think so, for a stream of gentle emotion, which I know was sweet and which I think was pure, lapsed softly through my mind all day. It is not always thus with me, and I took the good day from the hands of God as a perfect gift; and though it would be easy to argue that I could have been better employed, a deeper instinct said to me that I was meant to be thus, and that, after all, God sends us into the world to live, though often enough our life tosses like a fretful stream among rocky boulders and under troubled skies. God can give and he can withhold; I do not question his power or his right; I mourn over the hard gifts from his hand; but when he sends me a sweet gift, let me try to realise, what I do not doubt, that indeed he wishes me well.

Once in the afternoon we stayed our boat, and I climbed to the top of the flood-bank and sate looking out over the wide fen; I saw the long dykes run eastward, the far-off churches, the distant hazy hills; and I thought of all the troubles that men make for each other, adding so wantonly to the woes of the world. And I wondered what was this strange fibre of pain so inwoven in the life of the world, wondered wistfully and rebelliously, till I felt that I drew nearer in that quiet hour to the Heart of God. I could not be mistaken. There was peace hidden there, the peace that to-day brooded over the kindly earth, all carpeted with delicate green, in the cool water lapping in the reeds, in the green thorn-bush and the birds' sudden song, even in this restless heart that would fain find its haven and its home.

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