Aug. 14, 1904.
My dear Herbert,—A curious little incident occurred to me yesterday—so curious, so inexplicable, that I cannot refrain from telling it to you, though it has no solution and no moral so far as I can see. I am staying with an old family friend, Duncan by name— you don’t know him—who is a parson near Hitchin. We were to have gone for a bicycle ride together, but he was called away on sudden business, and as the only other member of the party is my friend’s wife, who is much of an invalid, I went out alone.
I went off through Baldock and Ashwell. And I must interrupt my story for a moment to tell you about the latter. Above a large hamlet of irregularly built and scattered white houses, many of them thatched, most of them picturesque, rises one of the most beautiful, mouldering church towers I have ever seen. It is more like a weather-worn crag-pinnacle than a tower; it is of great height, and the dim and blurred outlines of its arched windows and buttresses communicate a singular grace of underlying form to the broken and fretted stone. I fear that it must before long be restored, if it is to hold together much longer; all I can say is that I am thankful to have seen it in its hour of decay. It is infinitely patient and pathetic. Its solemn, ruinous dignity, its tender grace, make it like some aged and sanctified spirit that has borne calamity and misfortune with a sweet and gentle trust. A little farther on in the village is another extraordinarily beautiful thing. The road, while still almost in the street, passes across a little embankment; and on the left hand you look down into a pit, like a quarry, full of ash-trees, and with a thick undergrowth of bushes and tall plants. From a dozen little excavations leap and bicker crystal rivulets of water, hurrying down stony channels, uniting in a pool, and then moving off, a full-fed stream, among quiet water-meadows. It is one of the sources of the Cam. The water is deliciously cool and clear, running as it does straight off the chalk. No words of mine can do justice to the wonderful purity and peace of the place. I found myself murmuring over those perfect lines of Marvell—you know them?—
“Might a soul bathe
there and be clean,
And slake its drought?”
These two sights, the tower and the well-head, put my mind into tune; and I went on my way rejoicing, with that delicate elation of spirit that rarely visits one. Everything I saw had an airy quality, a flavour, an aroma, I know not how to describe it. Now I caught the sunlight on the towering greenness of an ancient elm; now a wide view over flat pastures, with a pool fringed deep in rushes, came in sight; now an old manorial farm held up its lichened chimneys above a row of pollarded elms. I came at last, by lanes and byways, to a silent village that seemed