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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHenry Brocken - Chapter 2
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Henry Brocken - Chapter 2 Post by :drbedell Category :Long Stories Author :Walter De La Mare Date :May 2012 Read :3650

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Henry Brocken - Chapter 2

CHAPTER II

Still thou art blest compared wi' me!

--ROBERT BURNS.


It is to be wondered at that in so bleak a wind I could possibly fall into reverie. But the habit was rooted deep in me; Rosinante was prosaic and trustworthy; the country for miles around familiar to me as the palm of my hand. Yet so deeply was I involved, and so steadily had we journeyed on, that when at last I lifted my eyes with a great sigh that was almost a sob, I found myself in a place utterly unknown to me.

But more inexplicable yet, not only was the place strange, but, by some incredible wizardry, Rosinante seemed to have carried me out of a March morning, blue and tumultuous and bleak, into the grey, sweet mist of a midsummer dawn.

I found that we were ambling languidly on across a green and level moor. Far away, whether of clouds or hills I could not yet tell, rose cold towers and pinnacles into the last darkness of night. Above us in the twilight invisible larks climbed among the daybeams, singing as they flew. A thick dew lay in beads on stick and stalk. We were alone with the fresh wind of morning and the clear pillars of the East.

On I went, heedless, curious, marvelling; my only desire to press forward to the goal whereto destiny was directing me. I suppose after this we had journeyed about an hour, and the risen sun was on the extreme verge of the gilded horizon, when I espied betwixt me and the deep woods that lay in the distance a little child walking.

She, at any rate, was not a stranger to this moorland. Indeed, something in her carriage, in the grey cloak she wore, in her light, insistent step, in the old lantern she carried, in the shrill little song she or the wind seemed singing, for a moment half impelled me to turn aside. Even Rosinante pricked forward her ears, and stooped her gentle face to view more closely this light traveller. And she pawed the ground with her great shoe, and gnawed her bit when I drew rein and leaned forward in the saddle to speak to the child.

"Is there any path here, little girl, that I may follow?" I said.

"No path at all," she answered.

"But how then do strangers find their way across the moor?" I said.

She debated with herself a moment. "Some by the stars, and some by the moon," she answered.

"By the moon!" I cried. "But at day, what then?"

"Oh, then, sir," she said, "they can see."

I could not help laughing at her demure little answers. "Why!" I exclaimed, "what a worldly little woman! And what is your name?"

"They call me Lucy Gray," she said, looking up into my face. I think my heart almost ceased to beat.

"Lucy Gray!" I repeated.

"Yes," she said most seriously, as if to herself, "in all this snow."

"'Snow,'" I said--"this is dewdrops shining, not snow."

She looked at me without flinching. "How else can mother see how I am lost?" she said.

"Why!" said I, "how else?" not knowing how to reach her bright belief. "And what are those thick woods called over there?"

She shook her head. "There is no name," she said.

"But you have a name--Lucy Gray; and you started out--do you remember?--one winter's day at dusk, and wandered on and on, on and on, the snow falling in the dark, till--Do you remember?"

She stood quite still, her small, serious face full to the east, striving with far-off dreams. And a merry little smile passed over her lips. "That will be a long time since," she said, "and I must be off home." And as if it had been but an apparition of my eyes that had beset and deluded me, she was gone; and I found myself sitting astride in the full brightness of the sun's first beams, alone.

What omen was this, then, that I should meet first a phantom on my journey? One thing only was clear: Rosinante could trust to her five wits better than I to mine. So leaving her to take what way she pleased, I rode on, till at length we approached the woods I had descried. Presently we were jogging gently down into a deep and misty valley flanked by bracken and pines, from which issued into the crisp air of morning a most delicious aromatic smell, that seemed at least to prove this valley not far remote from Araby.

I do not think I was disturbed, though I confess to having been a little amazed to see how profound this valley was into which we were descending, yet how swiftly climbed the sun, as if to pace with us so that we should not be in shadow, howsoever fast we journeyed. I was astonished to see flowers of other seasons than summer by the wayside, and to hear in June, for no other month could bear such green abundance, the thrush sing with a February voice. Here too, almost at my right hand, perched a score or more of robins, bright-dyed, warbling elvishly in chorus as if the may-boughs whereon they sat were white with hoarfrost and not buds. Birds also unknown to me in voice and feather I saw, and little creatures in fur, timid yet not wild; fruits, even, dangled from the trees, as if, like the bramble, blossom and seed could live here together and prosper.

Yet why should I be distracted by these things, thought I. I remembered Maundeville and Hithlodaye, Sindbad and Gulliver, and many another citizen of Thule, and was reassured. A man must either believe what he sees, or see what he believes; I know no other course. Why, too, should I mistrust the bounty of the present merely for the scarcity of the past? Not I!

I rode on, and it seemed had advanced but a few miles before the sun stood overhead, and it was noon. We were growing weary, I think, of sheer delight: Rosinante, with her mild face beneath its dark forelock gazing this side, that side, at the uncustomary landscape; and I ever peering forward beneath my hat in eagerness to descry some living creature a little bigger than these conies and squirrels, to prove me yet in lands inhabited. But the sun was wheeling headlong, and the stillness of late afternoon on the woods, when, dusty and parched and heavy, we came to a break in the thick foliage, and presently to a green gate embowered in box.

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