A Surprise Visitor Shakes Up a Sleepy Village
WE used to spend part of the summer in a fishing village in Kintyre, Scotland, entering a kind of dreamy timelessness, especially in the old gray church each Sunday. Nothing there had changed for centuries. The sunlight fell over the black oak pews, and from far off came the surging of the sea and a rustling of wind in the trees round the graveyard.
The minister's voice fell into the stillness, giving - rather than a sermon - vague musings over life and the truths of Scripture. His congregation was made up of fishermen, farmers, and their families; sometimes their dogs came slinking in at their masters' heels and fell fast asleep under the pew. The children whispered among themselves, peeping cautiously at their drowsing parents. When they all clumped out of church they'd say, ''A fine sermon, Minister,'' even if they had slumbered through most of it.
The minister became our friend, often leading us into his book-crammed study, lifting down old volumes among clouds of dust. He recalled memories of his student days, then, sometimes losing the thread, his voice would trail away so that the only sound was the ticking of the grandfather clock and the snoring of his ancient collie.
Then, one summer, he had news for us, unheard of in his uneventful life: His cousin Robert, dearest companion of his youth, was coming over from a town called Boston for their first reunion in 50 years. ''Rob won't have changed in half a century,'' he said, relieved. ''He'll never change.'' We saw this Cousin Rob as a character out of Henry James, a Lambert Strether or Adam Verver, perhaps a Mr. Longdon, sensitive and gentle.
He was expected early on that Saturday, but there was no sign of him. Then, into the shimmering White Nights of July came a clanking and rattling, and a car drove up to the manse. Our old friend stood bemused, surveying the wonders. What phenomenon had transformed his elderly cousin Rob into the tall, exuberant young man who sprang from the car, lifted the minister up in the air, hugging him, then shaking hands with us as if we had been acquainted for years?
''I've come instead of Pa,'' he explained. ''At the last minute he wasn't fit to travel, so he sent me as his ambassador. I hope you can put up with me. Pa said you would.''
The Bostonian was in church next morning, appraising the congregation. ''It won't do,'' he said to us as we walked together through the graveyard after the service. ''They're like Tennyson's Lotus Eaters here, it's Sleepy Valley! Some politician spoke about a wind of change blowing across Africa. Here they need a hurricane blasting across Kintyre! Cousin Richard's never been out of this place. I've only a week to drive him around in my hired car, but a lot can be done in one week.''
''Like the Creation?''
''Oh, I've heard of it!'' said the Bostonian, grinning. ''Just watch, you two, I'll drive him out of yesterday into tomorrow.''
THE next morning as they rattled off, our friend flung us a look impossible to interpret. Was it a cry for help or of eager anticipation? Was he waving or drowning? Speculation grew: ''Och, he'll be after killing the good old man!'' ''On the other hand, the young fellow may liven him up.''
There was no doubt that the Bostonian was a lively presence. He created a stir wherever he went. Children followed him about, fascinated. ''Take us a hurl in yon car,'' they begged him, and he swept them along the seashore, bumping and bounding. He exchanged yarns with the fishermen, promising that he'd go out night fishing with them, perhaps taking cousin Richard, too. The fishermen burst out laughing, ''Och, the poor man! That's not for the likes of him.''
Each evening we saw more clearly that our friend was definitely changing. We listened to the Bostonian's tales about his father, then to the minister's recollections of childhood adventures with Cousin Rob. We'd never heard the old man laugh before - but now he was always laughing. At midnight, when they started a discussion about time and eternity we tiptoed off; they were far too absorbed to notice our going.
Sunday was the Bostonian's last day. The church was filled with its summer-day slumber. ''My sermon today,'' the minister began, ''is rather an account of a remarkable week.'' One of the farm dogs let out a sharp yelp, as if sensing something fresh afoot. A stirring went along the pews, from sleep to wakefulness.
''Our friend here from Boston took me off on a voyage of discovery,'' he went on. He told them of the new landscapes he'd seen, the various revelations that had come to him. ''Many are about myself,'' he added with a funny smile. ''I've learned that I've dwelt too much on the past, lived in it so much that I've become its prisoner.'' The congregation was now all ears. Their minister had never spoken in such a way before. ''The main thing I've learned is that we must pass on what's best in our past or we're betraying the future - our children.''
By the time he had finished no one was asleep. ''A real sermon, Minister,'' they said as they left.
Outside the church the four of us stood alone: time to say goodbye. ''Tell your father how I'll miss you,'' said the minister.
''We'll miss you, too,'' we told him. ''In a week you've worked wonders.''
''I've learned a lot in a week, too,'' the Bostonian said.
''What on earth have you to learn?''
''Now you're laughing at me! I've learned how to keep quiet, not always jumping about, you know how I do. Thanks to my dear good cousin, I know how to be still as a stone, listening to the grass and the trees growing, till I feel the silence creeping up on me and become part of it.''
He hugged the old man, lifting him up and holding him tight. ''I'll be back,'' he said. We watched him drive away, with small members of the younger generation racing after the car, shouting joyfully. There was no chance of forgetting that wind of change blowing out of Boston.