A CHRISTMAS STORY HEARD AT MIDSUMMER.
We sat and talked in the Vicarage garden overlooking Mount’s Bay. The long summer day lingered out its departure, although the full moon was up and already touching with a faint radiance the towers on St. Michael’s Mount–‘the guarded Mount’–that rested as though at anchor in the silver-grey offing. The land-breeze had died down with sunset; the Atlantic lay smooth as a lake below us, and melted, league upon league, without horizon into the grey of night. Between the Vicar’s fuchsia-bushes we looked down on it, we three– the Vicar, the Senior Tutor and I.
I think the twilit hour exactly accorded with our mood, and it did not need the scent of the Vicar’s ten-week stocks, wafted across the garden, to touch a nerve of memory. For it was twenty years since we had last sat in this place and talked, and the summer night seemed to be laden with tranquil thoughts, with friendship and old regard. . . . Twenty years ago I had been an undergraduate, and had made one of a reading-party under the Senior Tutor, who annually in the Long Vacation brought down two or three fourth-year men to bathe and boat and read Plato with him, for no pay but their friendship: and, generation after generation, we young men had been made welcome in this garden by the Vicar, who happened to be an old member of our College and (as in time I came to see) delighted to renew his youth in ours. There had been daughters, too, in the old days. . . . But they had married, and the Vicarage nest was empty long since.
The Senior Tutor, too, had given up work and retired upon his Fellowship. But every summer found him back at his old haunts; and still every summer brought a reading-party to the Cove, in conduct now of a brisk Junior Fellow, who had read with me in our time and achieved a “first.” In short, things at the Cove were pretty much the same after twenty years, barring that a small colony of painters had descended upon it and made it their home. With them the undergraduates had naturally and quickly made friends, and the result was a cricket match–a grand Two-days’ Cricket Match. They were all extremely serious about it, and the Oxford party–at their wits’ end, no doubt, to make up a team against the Artists–had bethought themselves of me, who dwelt at the other end of the Duchy. They had written–they had even sent a two-page telegram–to me, who had not handled a bat for more years than I cared to count. It is delicious to be flattered by youth, especially for gifts you never possessed or possess no longer. I yielded and came. The season was Midsummer, or a little after; the weather golden and glorious.
We had drawn stumps after the first day’s play, and the evening was to be wound up with a sing-song in the great tent erected–a marvel to the “Covers,” or native fishermen–on the cricket-field. But I no longer take kindly to such entertainments; and so, after a bathe and a quiet dinner at the inn, it came into my mind to take a stroll up the hill and along the cliffs, and pay an evening call on the old Vicar, wondering if he would remember me.
I found him in his garden. The Senior Tutor was there too–“the grave man, nicknamed Adam”–and the Vicar’s wife, seated in a bee-hive straw chair, knitting. So we four talked happily for a while, until she left us on pretence that the dew was falling; and with that, as I have said, a wonderful silence possessed the garden fragrant with memories and the night-scent of flowers. . .