Chepstow

Summer Breeze

A SUMMER BREEZE by Barbara Girardet

A summer breeze drifted slowly, lazily up the shady tree-lined avenue and swirled through the black iron of the gates, rattling them and making the rusty hinges squeak. Entering the silent walled garden, somnolent in the afternoon sun, it fanned out over the lawns and flower beds, skimming over the grass, teasing the ivy, scrambling over the mellow red and amber bricks of the enclosing wall. Sliding around the ancient oak, it whirled up along its sturdy branches, setting the lacy-edged leaves into a noisy, slapping merriment and ruffling the feathers of the sleepy robin taking refuge from the heat of the day, awakening it from its slumber.

Startled, the bird opened his throat wide and filled the air with cascading arpeggios of beautiful sound, before flying off to find a safer perch. A deep quiet and stillness returned as the breeze moved on. Exploring every corner of the garden, the breeze was having fun, playing, making friends, setting leaves and flowers dancing, rushing headlong through dense hedges, delighting in boisterously tugging at the shrubs, swirling and coming back for more.

Rounding the corner of a tall shrubbery, it came upon a gently sloping, neatly trimmed lawn, filled with the golden light of sunshine. Two young women, evidently sisters from the strong resemblance they bore to one another, were seated a little to one side by the stone fountain, its sparkling waters cooling the air. One sat on a chair reading, her hand resting gently on the other’s shoulder as she knelt on the grass beside her, leaning into her, smiling, giggling, laughing out loud as she dangled a ball of wool before a mischievous, multi-coloured kitten who was leaping up, clawing at it, rolling over and over and becoming hopelessly entangled in its many strands. Looking smilingly, indulgently at one another, the sisters shared a close moment of pure joy at the little creature’s cheeky antics.

The breeze floated over and around them, catching at their hair and the hems of their skirts. Then, as if beckoning to the kneeling girl, it made its way across the terrace, past the old man asleep in his deckchair, his panama over his face, a shield against the heat and light of the sun, and around to the back of the house. Getting to her feet the girl ran, following the breeze, eager, curious.

“Where are you going? Do be careful,” her sister called after her.

The girl ran, urged on by the beckoning breeze. She only stopped when the breeze suddenly dropped. She became aware of her bare feet on the cool green sward, studded all over with flowers. There were golden dandelions, buttercups and celandines, pink and purple aquilegias, orange shepherd’s purses, lime green lady’s mantle, pure white tiny innocent daisies, scarlet poppies, aromatic chamomile all in full bloom. A carpet of “mille fleurs” tickled at her legs. Jewelled butterflies fluttered and tumbled past her.

At the opposite end of this garden was a small, neatly thatched summerhouse. A banner of golden fleur de lis, on a royal blue ground, waved in the breeze above it. A woman sat in its cool shade. She wore a richly embroidered, red velvet surcoat edged with ermine, over a simple blue silk gown, drawn in at her waist with a golden girdle. A young handmaiden sat beside her, holding a silver casket. A sleek white greyhound lay motionless at her feet, his head resting on his front paws, his hazel eyes vigilant.

The woman was writing on small sheets of creamy parchment, totally absorbed in her work. She did not look up when the girl entered the garden on the wind, but made it clear with a slight inclination of her head that she was aware of her presence. A ghost of a smile flitted across her placid face and the girl was at once transfixed, enchanted, cast under the magical, mystery of the lady. Spellbound, the girl felt rooted to the ground where she stood, unable to look away.

The lady finished her writing, placed the small squares of parchment into the silver casket and closed the lid. Carrying the casket carefully in her hands, the little maid stepped lightly over the flowered lawn and placed it at the feet of the young girl.

The breeze, springing up again, floated over the flowering lawn and, gaining strength, rushed forcefully into the vast maize field that marked the outer limits of the garden, roughly rattling the tall hollow stems together and rustling the flat dark green leaves with a papery crinkling sound. An eerie shiver rippled through the whole field.

At this moment, a milk white unicorn emerged from out of the maize field and stepped daintily out onto the lawn, its one silver horn and silver hooves gleaming like liquid mercury in the light of the sun, its sapphire blue eyes glistening and sparkling as it looked around. It tossed its head as the breeze played with its curly mane and whipped at its long silky tail. It stood pawing the ground, its body quivering, whinnying quietly.

The lady descended from the summerhouse and, reaching out, patted the unicorn, whispering in its ear. The tossing, pawing, and quivering stopped as the animal calmed. It knelt down before her and she climbed up onto its back. The young maid, taking the girl’s hand, gently led her across to the lady and helped her to mount up behind her. The unicorn rose smoothly onto its feet, and guided by the little maid, walked back into the field. The tall stalks closed behind them, whispering, sighing sibilantly. In a few moments they had disappeared from sight. A cloud drifted over the face of the sun, casting a deep shadow over the earth. A chill descended on the garden.

Putting her book down, the woman followed her sister anxiously to the back of the house. She saw the old summerhouse with its dilapidated thatch, and felt the weedy grass prickle her feet. She stumbled over something cold and hard, and bending down, picked up the silver casket. Opening it, she just had time to see the neat script on the topmost page.
“Notes from a Life”
Then the breeze whipped all the pages out of the casket, sending them spiralling up into the sky like a flock of doves into the silver lining, as the sun emerged from the wandering cloud. She stood watching them go, then, retracing her steps, sat down on the terrace beside the still sleeping old man. A butterfly came to rest on his hand. Tenderly she rested her head on his shoulder. A single tear fell and was absorbed into the fabric of his jacket.

The breeze circled them, wrapping them closely together in its comforting, soothing breath. Leaving them, it glided through the flower-beds and drifted out of the iron gates and back down the tree lined avenue.

A single golden rose petal, blushed with coral, fell silently to the ground. A sweet perfume lingered on the air.