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Apple Blossoms and a Lost Village

The apple has not come to its perfection this season until the middle
of May; even here, in this west country, the very home of the spirit of
the apple tree! Now it is, or seems, all the more beautiful because of
its lateness, and of an April of snow and sleet and east winds, the
bitter feeling of which is hardly yet out of our blood. If I could
recover the images of all the flowering apple trees I have ever looked
delightedly at, adding those pictured by poets and painters, including
that one beneath which Fiammetta is standing, forever, with that fresh
glad face almost too beautiful for earth, looking out as from pink and
white clouds of the multitudinous blossoms--if I could see all that, I
could not find a match for one of the trees of to-day. It is like
nothing in earth, unless we say that, indescribable in its loveliness,
it is like all other sights in nature which wake in us a sense of the
supernatural.

Undoubtedly the apple trees seem more beautiful to us than all other
blossoming trees, in all lands we have visited, just because it is so
common, so universal--I mean in this west country--so familiar a sight
to everyone from infancy, on which account it has more associations of
a tender and beautiful kind than the others. For however beautiful it
may be intrinsically, the greatest share of the charm is due to the
memories that have come to be part of and one with it--the forgotten
memories they may be called. For they mostly refer to a far period in
our lives, to our early years, to days and events that were happy and
sad. The events themselves have faded from the mind, but they
registered an emotion, cumulative in its effect, which endures and
revives from time to time and is that indefinable feeling, that tender
melancholy and "divine despair," and those idle tears of which the poet
says, "I know not what they mean," which gather to the eyes at the
sight of happy autumn fields and of all lovely natural sights familiar
from of old.

To-day, however, looking at the apple blooms, I find the most
beautifying associations and memories not in a far-off past, but in
visionary apple trees seen no longer ago than last autumn!

And this is how it comes about. In this red and green country of Devon
I am apt to meet with adventures quite unlike those experienced in
other counties, only they are mostly adventures of the spirit.

Lying awake at six o'clock last October, in Exeter, and seeing it was a
grey misty morning, my inclination was to sleep again. I only dozed and
was in the twilight condition when the mind is occupied with idle
images and is now in the waking world, now in dreamland. A thought of
the rivers in the red and green country floated through my brain--of
the Clyst among others; then of the villages on the Clyst; of
Broadclyst, Clyst St. Mary, Clyst St. Lawrence, finally of Clyst Hyden;
and although dozing I half laughed to remember how I went searching for
that same village last May and how I wouldn't ask my way of anyone,
just because it was Clyst Hyden, because the name of that little hidden
rustic village had been written in the hearts of some who had passed
away long ago, far far from home:--how then could I fail to find it?--
it would draw my feet like a magnet!

I remembered how I searched among deep lanes, beyond rows and rows of
ancient hedgerow elms, and how I found its little church and thatched
cottages at last, covered with ivy and roses and creepers, all in a
white and pink cloud of apple blossoms. Searching for it had been great
fun and finding it a delightful experience; why not have the pleasure
once more now that it was May again and the apple orchards in blossom?
No sooner had I asked myself the question than I was on my bicycle
among those same deep lanes, with the unkept hedges and the great
hedgerow elms shutting out a view of the country, searching once more
for the village of Clyst Hyden. And as on the former occasion, years
ago it seemed, I would not enquire my way of anyone. I had found it
then for myself and was determined to do so again, although I had set
out with the vaguest idea as to the right direction.

But hours went by and I could not find it, and now it was growing late.
Through a gap in the hedge I saw the great red globe of the sun quite
near the horizon, and immediately after seeing it I was in a narrow
road with a green border, which stretched away straight before me
further than I could see. Then the thatched cottages of a village came
into sight; all were on one side of the road, and the setting sun
flamed through the trees had kindled road and trees and cottages to a
shining golden flame.

"This is it!" I cried. "This is my little lost village found again, and
it is well I found it so late in the day, for now it looks less like
even the loveliest old village in Devon than one in fairyland, or in
Beulah."

When I came near it that sunset splendour did not pass off and it was
indeed like no earthly village; then people came out from the houses to
gaze at me, and they too were like people glorified with the sunset
light and their faces shone as they advanced hurriedly to meet me,
pointing with their hands and talking and laughing excitedly as if my
arrival among them had been an event of great importance. In a moment
they surrounded and crowded round me, and sitting still among them
looking from radiant face to face I at length found my speech and
exclaimed, "O how beautiful!"

Then a girl pressed forward from among the others, and putting up her
hand she placed it on my temple, the fingers resting on my forehead;
and gazing with a strange earnestness in my eyes she said: "Beautiful?--
only that! Do you see nothing more?"

I answered, looking back into her eyes: "Yes--I think there is
something more but I don't know what it is. Does it come from you--your
eyes--your voice, all this that is passing in my mind?"

"What is passing in your mind?" she asked.

"I don't know. Thoughts--perhaps memories: hundreds, thousands--they
come and go like lightning so that I can't arrest them--not even one!"

She laughed, and the laugh was like her eyes and her voice and the
touch of her hand on my temples.

Was it sad or glad? I don't know, but it was the most beautiful sound I
had ever heard, yet it seemed familiar and stirred me in the strangest
way.

"Let me think," I said.

"Yes, think!" they all together cried laughingly; and then instantly
when I cast my eyes down there was a perfect stillness as if they were
all holding their breath and watching me.

That sudden strange stillness startled me: I lifted my eyes and they
were gone--the radiant beautiful people who had surrounded and
interrogated me, and with them their shining golden village, had all
vanished. There was no village, no deep green lanes and pink and white
clouds of apple blossoms, and it was not May, it was late October and I
was lying in bed in Exeter seeing through the window the red and grey
roofs and chimneys and pale misty white sky.

W. H. Hudson