【明報專訊】Sheep, cows, ducks and geese once roamed freely down the narrow road in front of Binton's St Peter's Church, so to get to the entrance one has to clamber over a low stone wall by way of a wooden stile. Once over it, a path leads through the yard to the side of the church, and at the very rear of it is its ancient wooden door. Standing in the shade of the entrance you can look out over the many tilted and weathered headstones of the church cemetery. In the distance beyond them rise the indefinite, undulating hills of Warwickshire. Then, giving a stiff pull on the handle of the large wooden door, you are inside the foyer where it takes several long moments for your eyes to become accustomed to the dim light. Eventually they do, and that's when you see another hand-lettered notice that directs you ahead to The Scott Expedition.
Vague sunlight filtered in through stained glass windows, and apart from the sound of the closing door and the cooing of the doves in the belfry, I stood alone, enveloped in silence, looking at a series of bulletin boards and folding screens that contained a fascinating array of sepia photographs, yellowed newspaper clippings and faded handwritten letters with their original stamped envelopes tacked to the corkboards. The letters, dating from 1910 and 1911, were addressed to the village rector and his wife. The writer, who signed his name Robert, spoke of happy days and golden hours spent in Binton surrounded by warm and generous friends, and he thanked them for their kindness. In the bleak wastes of Antarctica, he said, the rectory and the village were often in his thoughts, and he was eternally grateful to them for having had him as a guest in their home prior to his leaving England. The letters, of course, were written by Captain Robert Falcon Scott, and they had been mailed to his sister Kathleen and his brother-in-law, the Reverend Lloyd Harvey Bruce. Somehow, even a flag that Scott had taken to the South Pole had found its way back to Binton and had become a part of the display. Only when I paused and looked up did I realise that the story of Scott's ill-fated adventure was being retold in four large stained-glass panels. A gift, a notice explained, from the Reverend Lloyd Harvey Bruce.
I spent a considerable amount of time there, studying the assorted memorabilia (紀念品), looking again and again at the photographs, and when at last I made for the door I stepped out into a late afternoon of brilliant sunshine. The rectory, so fondly recalled in Scott's letters, was sheltered under several ancient trees in a ravine just to the side and below the church, and around the home the gardens bloomed with daffodils and tulips. A large bridal wreath beside the house was white with flowers, and in the hills beyond I saw orchards awash with the pink of blooming plum and cherry trees. The air was scented with their fragrance, and I stood in the sunshine and inhaled deeply. The church bells chimed, doves scattered, and a blackbird called from afar. How any man could have given up all of that to journey to the vast frigid wastes of the Antarctic was completely beyond me.
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̷̷ by John Bell Smithback ̷
© John Bell Smithback