A Severe Mercyby Sheldon Vanauken
Beloved, profoundly moving account of the author's marriage, the couple's search for faith and friendship with C. S. Lewis, and a spiritual strength that sustained Vanauken after his wife's untimely death. See more details below
Beloved, profoundly moving account of the author's marriage, the couple's search for faith and friendship with C. S. Lewis, and a spiritual strength that sustained Vanauken after his wife's untimely death.
Read an Excerpt
The country road stretched ahead white in the moonlight and deserted. A single car, an MG-TD two-seater, was creeping along with its lights off and its top down. The driver looked intently at every tree and contour. The few houses were dark and silent, for it was long past midnight. The moon was full, high in the dome of heaven, and the June air was mild, carrying the scent of flowers and growing things.
Ahead on the right appeared a white board fence set back a ways from the road, the long x's, formed by the diagonal boards, running parallel to the road and disappearing over a low hill. The car came to a momentary halt, then moved on a few yards and crept off the road beneath a big oak. The driver uncoiled his long frame and climbed out.
The night was very still, only the faintest rustle of leaves above him betrayed some stir in the air. Somewhere in the distance a lonesome dog barked in a patient and leisurely way.
The traveller, a tall man in the late thirties, stood looking up into the branches of the oak and then began to walk with an easy stride along the road with the white fence on his right. Behind it he could see an old cherry tree: he remembered suddenly the sharp sweetness of sun-warmed red cherries and birds chirping crossly at a boy in their tree. A few hundred yards farther on, over the hill, he came to massive stone gateposts. The gates of Glenmerle. A brief smile touched his lips as he looked at the left-hand gatepost and remembered his small brother on top of it--it was easy to climb from the fence-waving frantically and unnecessarily at the fire engine that had cometo put out a minor fire in a servant's room. Between the gateposts the driveway lay white and still in the moonlight, running straight in to where it curved down a hill into the trees of the park. The house itself, up a further hill, was hidden.
He stood there in the stillness, looking. A tiny breeze touched his face like a brief caress. He closed his eyes for a second or two, fancying as always that she was in the wind. 'Davy?' he murmured. `Dearling ?' Then he walked in through the gates, the gravel crunching where he trod. On either side beyond the poplars that began the avenue lay the gate meadows where the wild strawberries grew. An image leaped into his mind of a sunny white tablecloth and a blue and white bowl heaped with small exquisite red strawberries and flaky shortcake in the thick yellow Jersey cream from the near-by Glenmerle Farm. He swallowed and walked on.
Past the meadows the drive curved steeply down into big trees where the blackbirds lived, and the gravel became dappled with light and shadow. Now, as he descended, he could hear a ripple of water on the left where the stream flowed, and he could see gleams of silver where the moonlight fell upon it. In the shadows fireflies danced. At the bottom of the hill a little glade opened on the right, and--yes, there it was, the round lily pond: but dry now with grass bending over its edge. He looked at it, and suddenly it was full of water, and children stood around it in the sunlight. On its surface sailed a tiny frigate--a present from far-away England--with all sails set and flying the white ensign, followed by a beautifully sailing sloop; he waded in to rescue the frigate when she drove into the lilies. He looked again, and the pool was dry. He went on in the moonlight.
At length he came to a sturdy wooden bridge. Here, long ago, he had said goodbye to his brother and Davy--Davy laughing with sunbeams filtering through the trees upon her brown hair--when he left to join the fleet. Davy, though, a few months later had come eagerly across the blue Pacific to be near him. The real farewell, not even dreamt of then, had been farewell to Glenmerle; for in the war years that were approaching, his youthful vigorous father had died and the estate had had to go. Now, more than a decade later, he stood again upon the old bridge; and Davy, unbelievablyespecially here-was dead, too. And Glenmerle, unchanged as far, as he could see, save for the dry lily pond, lay serene and lovely under the moon.
Across the bridge the driveway swept up another, gentler hill to the house. He could see it plainly now in the flood of moonlight, long and white and spacious. Once, in the years that were gone, there would have been lights whatever the hour, if only a dim glow from his mother's room; but tonight all was dark. He could of course have come in the daytime and been welcomed by the present owner, but he would not see others in this place. Indeed, he would go no farther than the bridge. He looked up the hill at the big comfortable country house with the dark woods behind and the lawns sweeping away in front, first down from the house and then up to South Hill, where he had so often lain as a boy, tracing the stars with his father's shooting telescope. Below the hill in the far lawn stood one willow tree. It seemed bigger than he remembered it. Now that he thought of it, so did the elm in the driveway circle and the cone of shadow that was the blue spruce in the near lawn: it looked more than twice as tall as his tall father. Beyond the spruce the ground sloped down, except for Sycamore Point, a peninsula in a sea of grass where his father had loved to sit beneath the many-trunked sycamore. Beyond the house, towering far above its three storeys, was the mighty beech that he, to his mother's suppressed alarm, had loved to climb; perched twice as high as the house, he would feel the great tree sway in the wind. Far beyond the house and the cottage and the other outbuildings came the grape arbour and then the orchard, stretching back to the tall forest trees. The far corner of the orchard, with woods on two sides, had been called 'his acre'.
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