Sunday, February 3, 2013

Downland: part four

The village came into sharper focus: the square tower of St. Peter’s church significant above the tree line, the roof of the estate house, a spiral of smoke curling skywards from a gardener’s bonfire. Skirting the buildings of the estate farm on the edge of the village, Ridler felt some apprehension. There was little enough light for him to be indistinguishable but an unknown figure in the village, when all were at hostelry or home, would always arouse suspicion. The first time he had come off the Downs this way, a man had called after him as he passed the pub - Ridler had not stopped - and since then he had cut through the grounds of the estate rather than navigate the final part of the village.

Ridler paused at St. Peter’s. The path to the church was marked by the war memorial. In the weak light, he could still make out the names, those very English names. Backshall, Clouting, Collingham, Notley, Unstead: the fallen of the Great War. Ridler had not fallen; many times he thought he might fall but he had caught himself and had come through physically unscathed. Other names: Cornwall, Loftus from the second war. Ridler had tried to enlist for that one too but although the Consul in New York had been polite and accommodating, Ridler knew that he had not taken him seriously. He looked down the hedge-lined path to the church; he could see no light. At one time, he would have always chanced a visit but he had not been in for a year now, even though he had several times been in the porch, at the door, before turning away at the last thinking better of it. The village was warm, still and quiet; he could see an open-doored cottage across the way but nothing stirred within. Eating in the parlour perhaps; tending their own modest crop at the back after a day of toil at another’s; sleeping in a chair by a window. Ridler coveted the simple pleasures of these simple people but not the narrow confines of their narrow experiences. Those who saw some of the world through the prism of a war were not here now: they did not come back.

He turned again towards the church and headed down the path. Ignoring the door on the village-side of the squat, Norman church, Ridler passed clockwise around the northern end of the building before coming into the porch of the south door. At closer quarters, he had seen some feint light from within as he skirted the building; this did not mean there were occupants. The flickering of votive candles had been common when he had visited the deserted church before. He listened carefully at the door. He could hear nothing. He lifted the latch and eased the heavy oak door. Candles had been lit but, beginning to gutter now, the devotees had long gone.

No comments:

Post a Comment