A COUNTRY LANE: A MEMORY FROM ABROAD

I was looking at a vision of the world upside down, mirrored in the deep
blue of a still sea. Where the inverted picture of my boat gleamed
white, and the rope that moored her to a tree showed grey, I saw the
dark fir trees growing upside down, the bank of emerald grass looking
more brilliant because of the grey-green lichened rocks; a black rock,
glistening, hung with brown seaweed, made the vision clear, and, over
all, clouds chased each other in the sky, seemingly below me. They were
those round fleecy clouds, like sheep, and they reminded me of something
I could not quite arrest.

A fish swam—dash—across my mirror, another and another, rippling the
sky, the trees, the bank, distorting everything. Then I looked up and
saw a fishing-boat come sailing by with its great orange and tawny sails
all set out to catch the land breeze; and bright blue nets hung out
ready, floating and billowing in the slight wind. There was a creaking
of ropes and a hum of Breton as the sailors talked. From my moorings by
the island I watched her sail—_Saint Nicholas_ she was called, and had a
little figure of the Madonna on her stern. Out of the land-locked
harbour she slipped, tacking to make the neck that led to the outer
harbour, and there she was going to meet other gaily coloured ships and
sail with them to the sardine grounds off the coast of Spain.

After she had passed, leaving her wide white wake in the still waters, I
followed her in my mind, seeing the nets cast and the shimmering silver
fish drawn up, and the long loaves of bread eaten, with wine and onions,
until the waters round me were quiet again, and I could look once more
into my mirror and wonder what it was the flocks of clouds said to my
brain.

It came in a flash. Big Claus said to Little Claus, “After I threw you
into the river in the sack, where did you get all those sheep and
cattle?” And Little Claus said, “Out of the river, brother, for there I
came upon a man in beautiful meadows, and he was tending the sheep and
cattle. There were so many that he gave me a flock of sheep and a herd
of cattle for myself, and I drove them out of the river and up here to
graze.” Now they were looking over the bridge at the time, and the
description Little Claus gave of the meadows and the sheep below in the
river made the mouth of Big Claus begin to water with greed. As they
looked, Little Claus pointed excitedly at the water, and said, “Look,
brother, there go a flock of sheep under your very nose.” It was,
really, nothing but the reflection of the clouds in the water, but Big
Claus was too interested to think of this, and he implored his brother
to tie him in a sack and push him into the water, that he, too, might
get some of these wonderful herds. This Little Claus did, and that was
the end of Big Claus.

How well I remember now—so well that when I looked into the water and
saw the fleecy clouds go floating by, the picture changed for me and I
saw an English country lane, and a small boy sitting under a hedge out
of a summer shower, and he was deep in dreams over an old brown volume
of “Grimm’s Fairy Tales.”

How wonderful the lane smelt after the rain! The Honeysuckle filled the
air and mingled with the smell of warm wet earth. It was a deep lane,
with the high hedges grown so rank and wild that they nearly crossed
overhead, and the curved arms of the Dog Roses criss-crossed against the
patch of turquoise sky. The thin new thread of a single wire crossed
high overhead, shining like gold in the sun. It went, I knew, to the
Coast Guard Station below me, and I remember clearly how I used to
wonder what flashed across the wire to those fortunate men: news of
thrilling wrecks, of smugglers creeping round the point, of battle-ships
put out to sea, and other tales the sailors told me.




The lane was deep and twisted, and so narrow that when a flock of sheep
was driven down it, the dogs ran across the backs of the sheep to head
off stragglers. What a cloud of white dust they made, and how thick it
lay on the leaves and flowers until the rain washed them clean again.

On the day of which I was dreaming, there had been one of those sharp
angry storms, very short and fierce, with growling thunder in the
distance, and purple and deep grey clouds flying along with torn,
rust-coloured edges. I had sheltered under a quick-set hedge (set, that
is, while the thorn was alive—quick, and bent into a kind of wattle
pattern by men with sheepskin gloves) and where I sat, under a wayfaring
tree (the Guelder Rose), the lane had a double turn, fore and aft, so
that a space of it was quite shut off, like an island. I had my garden
here and knew all the flowers and the butterflies.

On this day the rain washed the Foxgloves and made them gay and bright,
each bell with a sparkling drop of water on its lips. The Brambles had
long rows of drops on them, all shining like jewels, until a
yellow-hammer perched on one of the arched sprays and shook all the
raindrops off in a fluster of bright light.

Behind me, and in front, trailing Black Bryony twisted its arms round
Traveller’s Joy, Honeysuckle and Wild Roses. Here and there, pink and
white Bindweed hung, clinging to the hedge. By me, on the bank,
Monkshood, Our Lady’s Cushion, and Butterfly Orchis grew, all shining
with the rain, and the Silverweed shone better than them all.

Presently came two great cart horses, their trappings jingling, down my
lane, and on the back of one, riding sideways, a small boy, swaying as
he rode. His face was a perfect country poem, blue eyes, shaded by a
battered hat of felt, into the band of which a Dog Rose was stuck. His
hair, like Corn, shone in the sun, and his face, red and freckled, a
blue shirt, faded by many washings and sun-bleached to a fine colour,
thick boots, a hard horny young fist, and in his mouth a long stem of
feathery grass. He looked as much part of Nature as the flowers
themselves. There was some sort of greeting as he passed. I can see the
group now; the slow patient horses, the boy, the yellow canvas coat
slung to dry across the horse’s neck, a straw basket, from which a
bottle neck protruded, hitched on the horse’s collar. They passed the
bend in the lane and the boy began to whistle an aimless tune, but very
good to hear. And it was England, every bit of it, the kind of thing one
hungers for when a southern sun is beating pitilessly on one’s head, or
when the rains in the tropics bring out overpowering scents, heavy and
stifling.

So I might have dreamed on about this garden lane I carried in my mind,
had not the tide turned and little waves begun to lop the sides of my
boat.

I slipped my moorings, shipped the oars, and sailed home quietly on the
tide under a clear blue sky from which all the clouds had vanished like
my dream.

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