This extract from Mary Webb’s novel, The Golden Arrow, follows on well from Chesterton’s Donkey yesterday, and from the posts about Saints Augustine and Monica. Let’s pray that we may be alive to the silver flutes playing at the great moments of our lives, and when we are amid the encircling gloom, may we follow the kindly light.
As we begin reading, Stephen has come home to Deborah after a hard day at work. It is December and they are seated together before the fire.
He turned restlessly.
‘Stroke more!’ he said imperiously, ‘and sing! don’t talk.’
She began to sing in a hushed voice, while the firelight stole up and down the walls, and the wind lashed itself into the yelping fury of starved hounds.
‘We have sought it, we have sought the golden arrow!
(bright the sally-willows sway)
Two and two by paths low and narrow,
Arm in crook along the mountain way.
Break o’ frost and break o’ day!
Some were sobbing through the gloom
When we found it, when we found the golden arrow –
Wand of willow in the secret cwm.’
She looked down in the silence afterwards; he was asleep. She took up the small woollen boots. She would be doing them when he awoke, and he would ask what they were.
I know right well what he’ll say,’ she thought. ‘He’ll say, “What the devil are those doll’s leggings?” – for he calls all my stockings leggings and my nightgown a shirt, him being such a manly chap, and nothing of the ‘ooman in him, thank goodness!’
She crocheted in a maze of delight at this thought and at the prospect of telling him her news.
But when Stephen awoke, he oly wanted to go to bed, and never noticed the boots. It is the tragedy of the self-absorbed that when the great moments of their lives go by in royal raiment with a sound of silver flutes, they are so muffled in self and the present that they neither hear nor see.
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The next day Stephen left her, oblivious to her news.