Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Long Path

Bradgate Park, Leicestershire taken by the Griffin

Mariel, a very dear friend of mine mentioned to me about the Long Path. The phrase stayed with me for some time, though I did not know what it meant. Then one day we went for a walk through the country up to an old Victorian Gothic ruin. The ruin had been an old house and there were still traces of the stone frames to the windows and the great pointed arches of the doorways. Other than that, great rocks had pushed up through the soil around it. We walked up at a slow pace talking of various things and I remember using the phrase, 'the Long Path', though I forget the context. Mariel glanced sideways at me and said nothing at first. Then she continued with the chat until we reached the ruin.

For a while we stood in silence, regarding the remains of what must at one time have been a remarkable building had it not come into disrepair.

"Let us sit upon the stones and have tea," Mariel said quietly.

Tea sounded a good idea and I had made some honey cakes for us both. We sat upon the remains of a wall and gazed over the green and almost bluish landscape. In the distance our town seemed small and insignificant. Fields and even the distant reservoir were more important and grander. The reflections of clouds could just be seen passing over the reservoir for it was spring and the wind was fresh but not chill. On the other side of us a forest grew thickly and holly bushes gleamed with their glossy leaves among the sycamores and oaks. Green in many gorgeous shades surrounded us interspersed with the stubbornly grey rocks mottled with lichens. High over our heads the sky was pale and clouds raced each other, merging and separating from each other.

"Did I ever explain the Long Path, love?" Mariel asked me.

I answered that she hadn't but I used it as a metaphor for something that would take a long time to achieve but was worth doing. She smiled and sipped her tea for a moment. Then, she lowered her cup to her lap and gazing out over the landscape she said tenderly,

"It wasn't quite that," she said wistfully.

She took a deep breath and straightened up. Still she did not speak, but took another sip of tea. I turned my head to gaze at the trees and only turned back to her when I felt the warm softness of her hand on mine. She looked into my eyes then with great tenderness and smiled. Her grey eyes were soft and yet there seemed to be sorrow in them also. She was not an old woman, yet she had, so I had been told, seen a great deal in her young life.

"I hope you never have to walk the Long Path sweetheart, for if you do then you have already lost a great deal," she said.

"You've done it then?" I asked her.

She shook her head and sighed sitting up straight again and releasing my hand. But I reached across and took her hand in both of mine and softly spoke her name. I might not be in love with her, but she has always been one of the dearest of my friends.

She turned to me then and spoke.

"Many years ago, I was briefly married. I loved him but I was not blind and soon enough his wickedness showed itself. This was not a ruin then. People think it was ruined in the Victorian age, but it was ruined soon after I married him. We lived here then. It was a beautiful house and you can see it was a lovely view as well. Where the trees now stand there was a garden once.

But my husband as he then was would talk with all kinds of men and was utterly unscrupulous. He delighted in cheating and defrauding men when he might legally get away with it. He seemed to believe that it showed his cleverness but it only showed the cheapness and cunning of his character. I felt cheated myself for I had married him with love and in good faith. I at least had the sense to keep my money separate from him. My mother always told me to keep my own money separate for a woman must always have money to keep her independence.

One day he had gone out when I felt the most horrible feeling of danger in the house. I ignored it and yet it grew. My husband returned an hour later and grinned. I did not know why but I could guess. Yet for all his grinning and exulting over his triumph his dark hair was now utterly bone white. He kissed me and told me that he was about to make a vast amount of money from a gentleman he'd met. A gentleman dressed in red and green who did not have the sense he was born with. Or so my husband thought. I had been brought up on folktales and loved them as a girl. When I heard my husband's story then and felt the growing sense of danger I listened to my heart and told him to come away for the day. He ridiculed me and locked himself in what was the library and I, seeing I could do nothing for him gathered what I could and left the house.

There was a pathway then, the grass has grown over it now I suspect, but it was clear enough then. It meandered down the hillside towards the road to town. I had often got a bus from the road into town. I was out of the house when I met a man. He was a short man with a wizened face like an old apple and he was dressed in red and green. He smiled at me for a moment and stared into my eyes. Oh what a gaze it was. It felt as if he were reading my very heart and my thoughts. After the moment passed he said gently,

"It's a long path to walk mistress. If you will walk it you might save all you have or lose all you have. Take the Long Path and at it's end you will have what your heart truly desires. It's truest desires mind."

I nodded cautiously and dashed down the pathway to the road. I was so frightened that I dare not look behind though I wanted to. I truly wanted to. The sky began to darken and the ground beneath my feet seemed to tremble with my own horrors. Only near the end of the path did I turn and look up the hill. I swear to you I saw the head of some great beast push up through the earth. A head that seemed almost like the very rocks and yet not a part of them. This great beast opened its large jaws and bit down hard upon the house pulling what it had beneath the soil with it. Then rocks were flung up and I cried out and fled to the road. I did not wait for the bus to come, I ran towards the town with my heart racing and beating as if it would escape from my chest.

I left the town then and went as you know to India. It took me a long time to return home and discover that I was a widow and that all I had was my own money and nothing more. I promise you, it took me longer to take a long path back up to what remains here. I have never seen my husband again and never expect to either. The Long Path. A path that leads to what your heart truly desires even if you deny it to yourself. I have gone back to my own name and I have a new life now. But sometimes I come up here and remember what I once had and lost. It reminds me not to hang on to everything I have as if it were everything there is. There now, I beg of you, please don't mention that path again," she said.

I promised I would not and after we had eaten and drunk we walked about the ruins and through the forest. I heard a light laugh behind us and when I turned my head quickly I was sure I glimpsed a movement of red and green, but I could not swear to it.

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