THE day has progressed from wild beginnings to limpid sunshine;
so no need to have put friends off. It leaves me, however, with the
best thing ever - a day in hand.
For the white cat, it is always a day in hand. She murmurs at
departing birds. Bunches of blackberries, tomatoes, and grapes hang
heavily in the thinning leaves. A palaeontologist holds forth on
the radio, learned and enticing. BC and AD become mere yesterdays.
The years, the years!
And stony evidence of immense time in the Stour Valley, some of
it fixed in the church tower and scrubbed by our weather. "Read
Wisdom," the lectionary orders. I am reading Mrs Stevenson's intro-
duction to her husband's prayers on Samoa, however. She called him
Robert; their household called him Tusitala,
And thus evensong. A hundred years later, I find them apt for
our household the Church. The Samoans blew a war conch to summon
people to prayer; but all that I can hear when I put the South Sea
shell to my ear, as I did as a child, is the faraway and wonderful
sounds of Pacific waves, distant yet always close. Friends'
children listen to them, and are mesmerised.
"I don't think it ever occurred to us that there was any
incongruity in the use of the war conch for the peaceful invitation
to prayer," Stevenson's wife wrote. "The Samoans trooped in through
all the open doors, some carrying lanterns if the evening were
dark, all moving quietly, and dropping with Samoan decorum in a
wide semicircle on the floor beneath the great lamp that hung from
the ceiling. . . Often, we were forced to pause until the strangely
savage, monotonous noise had ceased."
Poor young Robert was dying, and he like everyone else with a
fresh flower daily stuck behind his ear, and the stories tumbling
out of him. He wrote torrentially on anything and everything,
feeling time running him into the ground. And he so young. The
When I was a boy, I was taken to see a dying girl, Lily, but all
I saw was her waxen loveliness. All that the Samoans heard was the
Edin- burgh voice running on, ravished as it was with words.
Stevenson has been ordered south. "And yet the ties that still
attach him to the world are many and kindly. The sight of children
has a significance for him, as it may have for the aged also, but
not for others. If he has been used to feel humanely, and to look
upon life somewhat more widely than from the narrow loophole of
personal pleasure and advancement, it is strange how small a
portion of his thoughts will be changed or embittered by this
proximity of death.
"He knows that already, in English counties, the sower follows
the ploughman up the face of the field, and the rooks follow the
sower; and he knows also that he may not live to go home again and
see the corn spring and ripen, and be cut down at last, and brought
home with gladness."
The farmers apart, I doubt if anyone in the village experiences
gladness when they see a combine and its lone driver at work. But
the stubble invites young riders. Harvest opportunists, girls wave
as he drives past. Gulls fly in stages over the fields, which have
been lightly turned over, crying wildly.