Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Fallen Apples

Fallen Apples and Tree, Loughborough University by The Griffin

I had passed the Cromarch Estate many times as I walked along the road from the True Love Inn to visit Lady March. At one point along my walk, beside a large grey brick building that seemed forbidding and definitely loomed beside the path, a small apple tree had been planted. It seemed as if someone had tried to relieve the gloomy wall by planting the tree. In Spring it blossomed and with all its leaves, one did not notice the wall for the sheer abundant beauty of leaf and flower. In Autumn, the bright orange-red apples seemed like a blaze against the pale grey-brown of the branches and the darker greys of the brick wall and only in Winter did the tree almost merge with the brick of the wall.

I remarked upon this tree to Lady March who was staying at that point with her dear friend, Lady Carisonne a woman 'of infinite jest' as my good landlady Mrs Tuppence told me with a smile. She made me sure that Lady Carisonne was not a frivolous woman, but always ready with a witty remark and a smile. Indeed, I had hopes that my Lady Carisonne might also be a friend to myself as she was to Lady March. I liked the woman for her good humour and her kindness - and I admit it, for her cats. They would follow me into her drawing room and allow me to sit before looking pointedly at my lap until I invited them upon to it. There they would sit purring while I stroked them and talked softly to them. I believe the Lady liked that in me, for many men are more familiar with dogs than cats and dislike cats altogether. For myself, I am amiable with any creature if it will show its friendliness to me, but I am partial to a cat.

I remarked as I say upon the tree to Lady March and Lady Carisonne for the first time in my company looked sadly. 

"You must forgive Mr Pelland, Florisette. He can spot a story anywhere and longs to hear them. I believe myself that his nurse was deficient in telling him stories as a child and he has been compensating for it ever since," Lady March remarked lightly, but shooting me a warning glance.

"I apologise Lady if I have unwittingly given offence," I said softly, "My Lady March is quite right, my nurse was never one for telling me stories. Only at scrubbing my face and making sure I knew how to behave properly in polite company. As a result I have resisted anyone coming too near my face with a handkerchief and have never behaved well since I was free of her influence."

At that, Lady Carisonne chuckled and asked me to forgive her for I could not know the tale of the apple tree. She answered that she was glad I was not about to behave myself for she could not abide propriety in company. 

"There is, my dear Mr Pelland, nothing worse than being boring. I consider it unforgivable. As both Strangeways and Smudge are fond of you, I am quite sure you are not horribly well-behaved. Like attracts like as they say!" she added.

I laughed and stroked both cats gently leading to an outbreak of purring. Lady March sat back upon the sopha and smiled, a sure sign that a story was in the offing. I too made myself carefully comfortable and waited. It did not take long before Lady Carisonne sighed and glancing at both of us took Lady March's hand in hers and smiled.

"Oh very well, I know when I'm invited. You know that the brick building was once intended to be a Gothic pavilion of a sort. It was built in the late 17th century and after a little while, became the gardener's cottage. I am sure I don't know why, it must be a gloomy gardener that would want to live there. Beyond the wall where the path passes by was not Cromarch land, so the outer wall served also to mark the boundary of the land.

Now if you had looked up you would have seen a now bricked up window space. That was done some fifty years ago after the events I shall relate. It seems that the path was once frequented by many village folk from Hard Riding to Little Hallamswyck. One such passer by was a young woman called Rose Littleton."

She paused and turning to Lady March remarked on the Littleton family being originally from Saddler's Down and having moved when one of the Littleton ancestors had seduced a local girl and basely abandoned her. 

"In any case, that is another story, which I shall leave until Mr Pelland shall come by here again. Rose was a most comely girl with dark hair, pale, clear skin and the green eyes of a faerie. Indeed it was often said that her beauty must have come from the faeries. This was part admiration and part malice if I am honest. Still and all, she was a sweet and lovely young woman and most people loved her.

The Cromarch gardener at that time was a man called Abel Worthy, a very fine gardener but not alas well favoured with beauty as Rose Littleton. Having once seen her pass by he was instantly smitten with love. Mark me, I do not mean that his affection was born of lust that he glorified with a greater name. No, he was full of a longing to be with her at all times. He loved nothing more than to gaze upon her loveliness as she passed. He loved her at a distance, sure that his own ill-favoured looks must play against his own heart's longing. He had plenty of examples of that happening and did not wish his heart to be broken again. Too much mockery will break a loving heart so that it is rarely mended if ever. My darling husband knew that and I had all I could to assure him that I loved him truly. Yet once he knew it, ah well we had a long and happy marriage until he died."

She sighed again and then looking directly at me she smiled and continued.

Abel was not the only man who loved Rose, many a man in both Hard Riding and Little Hallamswyck had their eye on Rose for a wife. But she, while she was aware of the attention ignored it. She knew only too well what many of those men wanted and she was not about to be ruined by them for it. She wanted a love as true as steel and as strong and she meant to have it.

Now it happened that Abel watched over her as she passed for some time. In the winter when she went past, she would find a fine shawl left draped over the wooden fence for her, with her name upon the card by it. She took it but did not know who had left it for her.Her father insisted she hand it in to the Cromarch family, but she would not. It had been given to her and in all good faith she had received it. Still every day she got up to walk the path to work and every morning she put on the shawl. She left a note where the shawl had been to thank whoever had left it for her, but got no reply. Abel was too shy for that, but watched her every morning passing by and delighted in her beauty. Every day that love he had grew deeper without him even realising the depths of it. Her passing by was a moment he waited for and treasured, even as he cared for the first new flowers in the gardens to bud and blossom or the vegetable garden to show signs of produce.

In the winter, he also planted an apple tree and when he could he tended it well. Passers by saw yet another plant and did not remark it, but through the following Spring the plant grew up reaching for the warmth of the come-again sun. Abel left Rose a dress and a hooded cape to keep her warm and to keep the rain from her dark tresses.

In the summer he had left her a dress of fine stuff and bouquets of flowers. In the autumn he left her apples from the orchards. In the winters he left her other delights for her to find. She did not know who her benefactor was, but she came to love him, guessing him to be young, strong and handsome. She did not guess him to be strong, a little older than her and not especially handsome.

However, the story of this benefactor came to the ears of the Cromarch family and while many of them wondered who Rose's unknown friend might be, Lady Cromarch guessed when she walked the path for herself. Being kind and romantic by nature, she pitied Abel, seeing that Rose who might have any young handsome lad from either village would not look twice upon him. Yet, she knew his kind and gentle nature and wished for his sake that he might find someone who might see these things in him. One day she decided to act and visited Rose while the young woman was at lunch. She asked Rose if she knew Abel Worthy, her gardener.

"Oh everyone knows old Abel," Rose replied with a smile.

She went on innocently talking about how he was a rough-looking man, but he seemed kind enough. She would not see that he was the one who loved her. Instead, she talked about her mysterious friend describing him in glorious colours as her imagination would have her believe. Eventually, Lady Cromarch lost patience with Rose and told her,

"Madam, Abel is your benefactor and no other. He is who he is, yet you do not see his decent and gentle heart or his kindness. You look only for the look of a man without understanding his inner nature. Yet Abel who would not dare to speak to you in case you heard his heart beat in him. Abel who is not one of your handsome young men but a gentle and kind soul with a love that is true steel... him you would not look on twice. Madam you disappoint me, I had thought your heart to be as beautiful as your looks but I was mistaken. I will say this to you Rose Littleton - when you are old and grey and your fresh young looks are gone, who will love you for them then?"

Rose frowned and Lady Cromarch left her with much to think on. Rose walked home that evening quiet and wondering, but said not a word. When she got home she spoke to her father who agreed that her looks would not last and she must find someone who loved her not her looks. Rose became quieter over the years. She would not go out to talk to other men and instead continued to pass the tree that grew and spread its branches.

Every day she found some little gift for her and every day she would look up to the window and wonder at the man who loved her but would not speak his love. She came to understand his fear and to feel compassion. Age will do that sometimes if we allow it to happen. Five years later when the apple tree had grown, she was called away and went to West Passington in Sambleshire. For months she stayed and wondered until she had made her decision. She returned to Hard Riding and went directly to the Cromarch House to speak with Lady Cromarch.

Lady Cromarch was now older as was Rose but neither had forgotten their conversation many years ago. Rose asked after Abel and Lady Cromarch bowed her head sadly before informing Rose of his death three years ago.

"You did not pass by and he missed you. I know that he longed to find you, but he could not and without good reason, your father would not tell anyone. He pined away thinking of you and your beauty. He believed to the last that your heart was as beautiful as your looks a mistake I once thought I'd made," she told Rose.

Rose wept and informed Lady Cromarch that she had come to ask him to marry her and without his kindness to her she wanted no other.

"I was young my Lady," she said, "That is all my excuse for not seeing a true heart in front of me. I realised my error too late and now he is lost to me."

She went out into the evening and walked around to the wall. The new gardener had drawn curtains across the window, shutting out the world. But in the autumn evening, the apple tree still stood against the wall, its branches pale grey and mossy green against the darker grey of the brick. About it's trunk lay many fallen apples, bright in their red and orange skins. Like the love that had ripened and fallen with no-one to catch it. Then Rose went away again and never returned. Yet it is said sometimes that in autumn when the trees blaze in their finery a young woman walks that path and pauses at the apple tree.

That Mr Pelland is the sad tale of the apple tree. I know it because Rose Littleton was my sister and never married."


Freyalyn said...

Heartbreaking. Beautifully and precisely written. Archaic and so touching.

Griffin said...

Thank you, Freyalyn, glad you liked it. I am amazed going round the prosaic university that there are little bits of beauty largely un-noticed. This tree is passed by cars every day, but I walk past it and see it in all it's changes.

Moonroot said...

Such a sad story. So beautifully told. Thank you!