Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Stories: "In the Gardens"

"In the Gardens"

I left the crowds milling around near the entrance, picnicking on the lawns or lying by the flowerbeds in the warm sun, and wandered off into the glades. After a while I came upon a long avenue of great chestnuts in bloom, all scarlet and white, and at the end stood the Crimson Pagoda. I walked towards it and saw it was very tall. But it was not what I had come to see.

There were fewer people in this part of the gardens, and they were mostly middle-aged or elderly. Some were walking about with a purposeful air, but most were sitting silent and alone on benches under the trees. I approached one greyheaded man, and when he showed no sign of acknowledging my presence, coughed discreetly to attract his attention.

"Excuse me", I ventured apologetically, "Could you tell me the way to the Queen's House, please?"

He glanced up. There was an annoyed expression on his aquiline face. "Over there through the trees", he said, making a vague gesture with his left hand, and then closed his eyes to indicate the interview was over. Somewhat daunted by this abrupt reception, I walked quickly away.

There was a path that seemed to run in the direction indicated, but it proved to be very serpentine and confusing. No-one had bothered to putup signposts in this part of the gardens. After a while I became convinced that the path was doubling back on itself, so I abandoned it and tried to cut across country. The grass was long and damp. Bluebells carpeted the shady places and there were snowy islands of cow-parsley. Huge clumps of holly and rhododendron loomed up to block a straight path. After I had wandered for some time I caught sight of the Crimson Pagoda, and realised I must have walked in a circle.

I felt hot and tired as well as irritated by my mistake, but I did not intend to be defeated so easily. A glance at my watch told me that it was only ten minutes past three, and I did not need to leave the gardens for quite some time yet.

I tried asking the way again, this time from an old lady with a stick, but her reply was not very helpful. Now my travels took me into untended thickets of willow, where I soon became hopelessly disorientated; then I found my way barred by dense hawthorn all strewn with may-flowers. There was still no sign of the Queen's House. I wished I had taken the trouble to map of the gardens before setting out. Soon the familiar outline of the Crimson pagoda came into view again.

I lost track of how many times I wandered around in these meaningless circles, and after a while I was no longer certain I could even find my way back to the entrance. My feet were burning and I badly needed a rest. There was a secluded wooden bench beneath a gigantic copper beech. The leaves cast dappled shadows and the air was very still. I saw down, stretched out my legs, turned my face skywards and closed my eyes. The Queen's House would just have to wait .......

I snapped awake suddenly and looked at my watch. It still said ten past three and had plainly stopped, but this caused me no great alarm. Even if I was completely lost, I would be rescued eventually. The park-keeper must surely come round and usher everyone out before locking up for the night. Meanwhile the day was still warm, and it was very pleasant just to sit and let the scents of spring waft over me. When I had rested I could resume my search, if I wished. What was so special about seeing the Queen's House anyway? No doubt it was worth a visit, but it would be empty: everyone knew it was many years since the Queen had lived there .....
The sun hung motionless in the sky and the warm afternoon lasted for ever .....

An unwelcome noise disturbed my reverie. It was a young fellow asking his way to the Queen's House. His face, his tone of voice, his whole manner irritated me. "Over there through the trees", I said, waving my arm at random. "You can't miss it" I was glad to be rid of him.

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