Another short story from my teenage years in Ramsgate, that everybody seems to be taking a great interest in. Thank you all for the lovely emails.I have had a wonderful life and these are just a few of the memories I have of home.
This next one is not in any way meant to be a criticism, because reading the Thanet Blog’s and Web pages there are many in the town who are doing their utmost to preserve the Heritage, give their time and effort to upkeep and repair the damage that time has inflicted on our beautiful town.
This is written how I remember it happening one sunny afternoon, the profound effect it had on me cannot be expressed or calculated, because it made me realise the cost paid by many of our ancestors who have made possible the security we take for granted.
An Unlikely Companion
(In Ellington Park)
‘A J loves A M’‘Always’
Reverently tracing his small finger round the engraving on the trunk of the colossus that had stood silent witness to his devotion, the mighty chestnut had grown, cherishing its mission to preserve for all time a promise. It seemed part of a religious emblem, so old, time had gnarled the bark through winters and summers turning the letters into an inscription of beauty so hallowed by so many who had sat under its mighty branches over the seven decades that had passed. A statement that hadn’t altered over the years could never be misconstrued to mean anything other than what was intended. Always!I sat there on the Victorian bench in the sunshine and had been admiring the excellent arrangement of floral fauna spread out in front of me in full bloom, I remember feeling a little melancholy and sorry for myself, for once I was all alone. A gentleman immaculately dressed in tweeds and cravat, so erect in his stance, so proud and fine but seeming of a great age caught my attention; once again as if his senses commanded it he reached out his hand and gently caressed the bark of the huge chestnut tree, an action that in any other circumstance would have caused me to smile if it hadn’t been so respectfully done by someone so mature.
He turned and saw me watching, and I noticed he had, if not a sad appearance, a distant longing on his weathered face; he just nodded to me “May I sit with you?” he asked. “Of course you may” I replied and moved up on the bench to make room for him. His appearance and manner with which he carried himself made me emulate his speech as best as I knew how, resulting in my answer. Like all youngsters in their early ‘teens my command of English left a lot to be desired, the gentleman, when he sat next to me not only commanded my behaviour in a manner my parents no doubt would approve of, but I found I had straightened my shoulders to replicate his.
The music coming from the bandstand a short distance away, and the main reason for my presence that afternoon as I sat there in the sunshine, had obviously caught the gentleman’s attention, we both sat there listening in silence together, no more than a foot apart from each other. The harmonies of the brass ensemble floated across the balmy air sending shivers of ecstasy through my young body, the pure pitch perfect notes of a horn floated on the air, resonating and echoing around the park to reach me and my unlikely companion.
Turning to remark on the particular piece that had just been so excellently performed, I was taken a little aback at seeing tears falling from the gentleman’s eyes, unashamed at his unmanly emotion and without any effort to conceal them. Taking out the hankie that, for people that do not know me, my mother ‘bless her’ always insisted I carry, I handed the precisely folded and ironed cotton kerchief to him.
With a hand that was imperceptibly shaking, my companion nodded his thanks and took it from me. No words were necessary to spoil the moment for him, be it sadness or sorrow, joy or happiness to cause the sentiment; those moments are personal, very precious to oneself, rarely do you want to share with anyone a memory of joy, a moment of sadness in those circumstances, this I felt was one of those times and instinctively I seemed to know it was sadness for this grand old gentleman.
Sitting there that afternoon in complete silence for long periods, my thoughts of the music in my heart as well as the soft melodies coming from the bandstand I longed for the companionship of my soul mate to share my joy, her absence from my side so rare I cannot remember why I was on my own, but my solitude began to depress me to such an extent I felt like joining the gentleman in his sorrowful appearance.
“You are judicious and sensitive young man, which defies your age.” He eventually said, breaking the silence between us. “May I ask how old you are?”
“Fourteen next birthday Sir” I thought that sounded better than thirteen and would put me in a better light.
“And do you like this music they are playing this afternoon?”
“ I love the classics, but any music really, ‘Big Band’ ‘Brass’ ‘Dance Music’”
He fell silent again as both of us were lost in another world listening to the next part of the afternoon program coming from the bandstand.
My thoughts I have realised over the years take unexpected diversions, wandering off sometimes in a fanciful direction. The reader of this account would probably refer to it as daydreaming, but in my long life I have deduced it to be more of an inquisitive nature as I try to envisage the circumstances which has caused an event.
Looking again at the inscription so beautifully preserved on the majestic trunk, which it was now part of, I marvelled at the dexterity of the human hand that inscribed the perfectly formed characters. The tree had taken the wilful damage inflicted on its young trunk all those years ago, nursed its wound to form for all time a thing of beauty for countless occupants of the seat which my companion and I presided on.
Trying to look upon the lady inscribed that the promise had been made to. Her Victorian dress I had only read about in novels of ‘Hardy’ and ‘Dickens’ at school, to be honest I hadn’t paid that much of a particular notice, so my vision that afternoon would have been a poor description of a typical Victorian young lady. Never the less I elaborated on her beauty, did they really have a chaperon to accompany them wherever they went, I’d read somewhere they did, how awful I pondered, imagining someone at my side making sure I behaved in a gentlemanly manner, not touching, not holding her tiny hand, not being close in any way with my constant companion of that time.
The dress I envisaged her wearing, perhaps sitting on the same seat I occupied all those years ago of delicate muslin, a light and flighty fabric with hand woven lace round her neck and sleeves, perhaps a straw woven hat that encompassed a ribbon of pink falling over the sides onto her beautifully styled hair, keeping the sun from tanning her face. Perhaps a parasol I thought, elegant in its fine feminine construction of more lace and frills, this held above her head by a gloved hand casting a shadow over a gorgeous young face adding an air of mystery to her appearance.
Then again it could have been winter time, this was a little bit more difficult to imagine, but a vision of tiny flakes of snow falling on a fur covered cloak encompassing her lovely frame, cheeks flushed with the cold wind blowing across the Park looking up into the eyes of her dear love, Always!. . . Forever! . . . to my last breath, had they been alone, was there no one to witness that promise?
I turned again to see my companion staring at me; he had the palest of blue eyes that were emphasised by white eyebrows, and clean-shaven, many lines of age, slightly regal if there is such a thing. He was smiling at me, not laughing or mocking, but the faintest of curiosity was showing on his appearance,
“You were far away from this place young man, were you not?” he asked.
I thought for a while, wondering how to answer without showing my bad manners to such a well appointed gent’
“No Sir, I was right here, on this very spot, but envisaging what happened that day back in 1875”
He just sat there looking at me for a long while after I had replied to his question, so much so that I began to feel a little uncomfortable at his gaze.
“And what did you see on that day may I ask?”
I nervously began to convey my thoughts of how I imagined the young lady sitting on the bench we were both occupying. The dress she was wearing, her hat, and the parasol that I thought she might have carried to keep the sun off her lovely face.
As I carried on, seeing he was taking great interest in my description, my confidence grew, describing her beauty and fine airs of the period, my enthusiasm continued to grow. Elaborating on my previous thoughts I continued for a good while, surprising myself at how well I had described the event.
I contemplated a little, “I wonder if she had a chaperon.” looking at him for an answer, “I wonder, such an unfair custom don’t you think Sir?”
He didn’t offer an opinion, just enquired if I had a young lady friend I was fond of.
“I do, Sir, and I am missing her very much on this glorious afternoon, we are both so very fond of music, I know she will be sorry to have missed this concert.”
On that point a long period of silence between us commenced, I could tell he was retracing his years, remembering perhaps, I thought, all the good times in his life. I began to realise I was sitting next to the person responsible for the legend on the tree.
I waited for quite a while before plucking up courage to ask,
“Was she very beautiful Sir?”
There was another long silence, as he seemed to drift back in time, he wiped his eyes again with my hankie, folded it neatly and handed it back to me.“Yes young man, she was very beautiful, and you described her dress on that day so well.” he replied.
After another period of silence, as the musicians were packing up for the afternoon he accounted in a few short words his life to me
“Serving under Hicks in Egypt, for long periods we were separated, each time I returned to these shores she was waiting on the quay to welcome me home, every time an arrangement was made to marry, I was called to arms in another campaign. The long years passed, with only one blessing, although many times in the thick of a conflict I was mercifully saved from any injury, but such terrible sights did I see, each time seeming to be more terrible than the last.”“On returning home in 1889 I took to my bed with a fever that lasted an age, nursing me through many sleepless nights I gradually recovered, with loving care, attentive to every one of my needs she stayed by my side. My love for her knew no bounds as the weeks turned into months, I couldn’t bare to let her out of my sight, and the thought of serving abroad again without her with me, brought on nightmares of great proportions.”
“We married in St. George’s church in 1890. That same year I had her by my side as we set sail to India, at long last we had managed to complete our teenage love, we were both of us thirty-three years old, mid life in those days, but our adventure lasted another sixty glorious years.”
He stood up to leave, and turned to face me, “It was blue.” He said, “the ribbon was blue, and no, she didn’t have a chaperon.”
Returning six decades later to remember that afternoon, to sit on the seat and admire the legend on the trunk of that tree, I was so saddened to find all traces of it had been removed. The seat was no longer there, the flowers and balustrades had gone and been replaced by iron railings, the bandstand was falling apart and the echoes of the music we all loved haunted that park. A little bit of history and the promise he had made could not be seen by the descendants of that fine old gentleman, who served his country for so many years, it had all disappeared forever. Perhaps though, this account would be cherished by his descendents still living in the town, and the lifetime of service he gave for his country still echoing to the sound of the trees left in the park on a sunny afternoon. The haunting sound of the music coming from the bandstand as the kind hearts of the Friends of Ellington Park try to refurbish such a beautiful monument is being watched over by all those who have passed and are resting from a lifetime of service for their country that we all love so much.
Thanks for stopping by.