Rock of Ages Cleft

Chapter 15. Anne – Two Walks: A Long One on the Mendips in Somerset and a Short One on the Downs in Bristol

“Rock of Ages” by Odd Wellies is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Wimbledon was over and so were two test matches against Australia, and summer was moving on. It was late July and the day was bright with some wind, some rain and some sun. It was, in short, a normal day for late July in the west of England. After all, the sun had to take a rest from time to time and it often chose the skies of Somerset to do this in. But this was a day for getting on and doing things.  It was a day when walking was a pleasure, and the miles fell behind with no effort. How far this was from the sapping days of sun of the Mediterranean where people are imprisoned behind the blinds of the house until eight in the evening and then finally venture out bravely into the street where the white walls of the houses still reflect the heat of the day.

Anne was walking alone on the paths among the bracken on the Mendip Hills above Darrington. It was Sunday afternoon.  She thought more clearly when she was walking, and she thought most clearly when she was walking on the Mendips.  A west wind, hurrying from the Bristol Channel on its way towards London, blew straight into her face.  Brean Down, hazy in the distance,  was the last fling of the Mendips. It was the hill which lay down and stretched out into the sea and pointed a toe towards Wales, like a lazy giant on the beach.  After Brean Down came the grey line of the Bristol Channel and finally, if she looked harder through the drizzle, Anne could see the island of Steep Holm and then the dark hills of Wales.  All this was home.  Yes, this was home.

“When I have the Mendips at my back,

When I see Steep Holm out at sea,

There’s nothing then that man or beast

Can do to harm or worry me.”

Who wrote that? Anne had never known, but she sometimes walked for miles repeating it again and again.  It was her Somerset mantra.

Talking of Somerset mantras, take the Rock of Ages.  It is still there, this cleft in the rock. The old hymn is still valid today and it began right here where Anne was walking. In the 1760s the local vicar was caught in a storm.  Well, this happens to us all on the Mendips from time to time, and he sheltered in the immense gap in the rocks in Darrington Combe not far from his church, and then he wrote the hymn.

“Rock of Ages, cleft for me,

Let me hide myself in Thee.”

How often Anne had sung it.  It had been sung by many generations. In the western films when a hymn is sung in church, it is sure to be ‘Rock of Ages’. The settlers moving west across America in their wagon trains had sung it on the prairies, and when they settled down and built their little group of homesteads and a little white wooden church, they sang it there. 

And it all began here in a Somerset rainstorm.

Anne walked on, head down, and pulled her coat closer around her.  Here too it began to rain, and as the rain fell harder, she tightened her hood.  Then she clenched her fist, said, “Yes, I will.  Yes, I will marry Quentin and everything’s going to be OK.” 

It seemed the right and sensible course to take, and she’d try to do what was sensible and right. After all, Quentin was fairly good company, he was clever, he clearly felt a great deal for her, and marriage was the logical way forward.

Emma Woodhouse was handsome, clever and rich.  We have Jane Austen’s word for it.  Anne was definitely handsome and clever, and she was certainly not poor.  And what is “rich”?  Anne remembered Harvey saying that “rich” was being able to choose food in a good restaurant without first looking across at the price on the menu.  Harvey’s standards of wealth were not demanding.  Anne could now afford not to look at the price on the menu.  (Harvey usually chose food without bothering about the price anyway, and he could afford it far less than Anne.)  She was now a barrister.  She was clever, skilful and conscientious, and she was young.  She was, in fact, 24, and isn’t it 25 when youth says goodbye, hands us over to the next stage and goes back to hurry the next pilgrim soul along the road?

Anne walked on through the old Iron Age hill fort, down a wide stony track, across the A38, up a path that was always muddy, even in July, and on to the wide track called the Batch where she had left her car.  Then she drove back to Bristol.

That evening she worked on the case that she thought would last three days.  It finished on Wednesday afternoon, as planned, and Anne won, as hoped.  She felt good, and on Wednesday evening, she saw Quentin. 

They had arranged to meet at five o´clock on The Downs in Bristol.  It was ten to five. Ten more minutes and it was getting cold, but Quentin was there. He was never late. He made a point of it. Just after five Anne came hurrying up. Her eyes sparkled, her hair tumbled over her eyes. Breathless, she was even more attractive. She put her hand in Quentin’s.  His hand, though, was cold.  ‘Cold hands, warm heart?  Possibly. I hope so’, Anne thought.  At five past five, as they were walking on the Downs, Quentin launched himself into the speech he had written, corrected, practised and memorised.

“I’ve been thinking, Anne, a lot.  I’ve been turning things over. Why don’t we get married?  It makes sense.  We can afford it.  We’re both earning well. What do you think?  Why don´t we get married, not now of course, but let’s say in a few months’ time?”

As he said all this, Quentin was not looking at Anne, First he looked down at the grass and then up at the clouds, but not at Anne.  It was a straightforward proposition.  No frills.  And it was rational.  Mr Collins would have been proud of him.

Anne, fresh from the self-persuasion on her Sunday walk, full of good resolutions and absolutely determined to make a go of things, said, “Yes”.  So they became engaged, and, if pressed, if pressed very hard, they would both have said that they were happy.

What made Anne want to marry Quentin?  What made her go to work every morning?  Our actions are clear for all to see, but what about our minds?   Most of an iceberg is deep under water.   What about our own block of ice?  Take Anne, for instance.  What do we find?