A country bus drew
up below the church and a young man got out. This he had to do
carefully because he had a peg leg.
The roadway was
It was a summer
day in England. Rain clouds were amassed back of a church tower which
stood on rising ground. As he looked up he noticed well those slits,
built for defence, in the blood coloured brick. Then he ran his eye
with caution over cypresses and between gravestone. He might have been
watching for a trap, who had lost his leg in France for not noticing the
gun beneath a rose.
around and up these trees of mourning, was rose after rose, while, here
and there, the spray overburdened by the mass of flower, a live wreath
lay fallen on a wreath of stone, or on a box in marble colder than this
day or onto frosted paper blooms which, under glass, marked each bed of
earth wherein the dear departed encouraged life above in the green
grass, in the cypresses and in those roses gay and bright which, as
still as this dark afternoon, stared at whosoever looked, or hung their
heads to droop, to grow stained, to die when their turn came.
It was a time
of war. The young man in pink tweeds had been repatriated from a
prisonersí camp on the other side. Now, at the first opportunity, he
He had known
the village this church stood over, but not well. He had learned the
walks before he turned soldier, though he had met few of those who lived
by. The graveyard he had never entered. But he came now to visit
because someone he loved, a woman, who, above all at night, had been in
his feelings when he was behind barbed wire, had been put there while he
was away, and her name, of all names, was Rose.
The bus, with
its watching passengers, departed. In the silence which followed he
began to climb the path leading to those graves, when came a sudden
upthrusting cackle of geese in a panic, the sound of which brought home
to him a stack of faggots
he had seen blown high by a grenade, each stick separately stabbing the
air in a frieze
which he had watched fall back, as an opened fan closes. So, while the
geese quietened, he felt what he had seen until the silence which
followed, when he at once forgot.
But there was
left him an idea that he had been warned.
himself on his stick, he moved slowly up that path to the wicket gate
between two larger cypresses. He felt more than ever that he did not
wish to be observed. So he no longer watched the roses. As if to do
his best to become unseen, he kept his eyes on the gravel over which he
was dragging the peg leg.
For there was a
bicycle bell, ringing closer and closer by the church, clustering spray
upon spray of sound which wreathed the air much as those roses grew
around the headstones, whence, so he felt, they narrowly regarded him
him to stop dead when a boy of about six came, over the hill on a
tricycle, past the porch; then, as the machine got up speed, he stood to
one side, in spite of the gate still being closed between the two of
them. He sharply stared but, as he took in the childís fair head, he
saw nothing, nothing was brought back. He did not even feel a pang, as
well he might if only he had known.
irritated when the boy, after getting off to open the gate, and climbing
onto his machine again, shrilly rang the bell as he dashed past. Then
the young man started slowly on his way once more. And he forgot the
boy who was gone, who spelled nothing to him.
For Rose had
died while he was in France, he said over and over under his breath.
She was dead, and he did not hear until he was a prisoner. She had
died, and this sort of sad garden was where they had put her without
him, and, as he looked about while he leaned on the gate, he felt she
must surely have come as a stranger when her time came, that if a
personís nature is at all alive after he or she has gone, then she could
never have imagined herself here nailed into a box, in total darkness,
briar roots pushing down to the red hair of which she had been so proud
and fond. He could not even remember her saying that she had been in
this churchyard, which was now the one place one could pay a call on
Rose, whom he could call to mind, though never all over at one time, or
at all clearly, crying, dear Rose, laughing, mad Rose, holding her baby,
or, oh Rose, best of all in bed, her glorious locks abounding.
Henry Green, the opening paragraphs
of the novel Back (1946)