Sarah crossed and uncrossed her legs as she listened to the music. She was aware of a connection. She recognised notes in sequences she had never knowingly heard before. She was able to predict the theme as it developed. Sarah’s face tingled until the tingling even reached her eye sockets. Hot like a boiler house, then cold as an icy morning in pyjamas. The music settled Sarah into a trance-like state.
This was the first performance of a recently discovered piece by William Starling, a composer from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, apparently well-known in his day.
That night Sarah woke up and whimpered as she lost control of her dream. Something was trying to tell her why the music affected her the way it did – but it had gone. Sarah felt cold – as if she were standing beside someone’s graveside.
Work was hectic and so the dream and the concert faded. Over the next few days Sarah would think of that evening but it did not consume her as she had expected it would.
After three weeks Sarah drove north to a school friend’s wedding – a novel affair from the steps of a gypsy caravan, with the guests sprawled on woollen rugs in a semi-circle around the happy couple. She left as early as she was decently able and drove to a church a few miles on the other side of the village. This place had turned up in Sarah’s genealogy, so she was delighted when she found it unlocked. She went inside. The building had the usual musty smell – old stone, old wood, old hangings and carpets. Sarah read through memorial plaques to named strangers and then – one she recognised. A shiver went through her – it was her own name:
SARAH JANE ELIZABETH GREEN
1757 – 1836
Sarah ran her fingers around the letters and down the lines of the numbers, curving with the eight and remembering her childhood delight when she perfectly formed that number for the first time. The oddest thing was that there was nothing else written there. No family. No proverb. Nothing to paint a mental picture. It was clear that, at the time of her death, the lady had been fairly old. Sarah picked up a handful of faded petals – they appeared to be wild roses – and put them reverently on the small ledge beneath the plaque. She couldn’t see a vase nearby – the petals must have blown in.
Closing the heavy door behind her, Sarah walked back through the churchyard. She went slowly. She was curious. Sarah thought over her research. No one had ever turned up before with exactly her name. Once in her car she switched on the engine and, having switched it off previously without pushing the radio button, Classic FM spat out the title of the next piece to be played. It was the piece from the concert which had so moved Sarah almost a month ago now. She sat in the car and listened. When the music had finished she switched off the radio and started back towards the motorway.
As she drove through the country lanes wild roses made confetti for the hedges. The road became very bumpy. Surely it wasn’t this bumpy on the way in? Sarah slowed down and parked at the entrance to a meadow. The remains of a cottage stood in the corner of the field. It was even less than a ruin and more a hint of a building. By its side were three old trees. They appeared so venerable they might have been the dwellings of dryads. Clambering in and out and around the trees were wispy pink wild roses. Sarah leant on the wooden gate and watched soft eyed milking cows slowly trimming the grass. They weren’t the usual dairy herd – black and white with hollow sides and grotesque udders – these looked more like Jerseys – yet not quite. This was the rural idyll. Reluctantly, Sarah got back into her car and, stopping only once more at a service station on the motorway, she drove straight home.
The next day was Sunday and Sarah rose early. Filling in her diary, Sunday being the only day she wrote in the mornings, and this so that she would have plenty to write on Monday evenings – always slow nights – she wrote:
“Rose early . . . ” She paused and gazed through the window at the children across the road as they played around their father, struggling to wash the family motor.
“Rose early . . . early roses . . .wild roses . . . what was that lovely word the country folk used for wild roses?”
The kettle whistled on the hob. Sarah made up a cafetiere and took it over to her computer, enjoying her coffee as she checked her mail. She wandered onto her genealogy site and found she had a message:
“Hi, see you’re researching the Greens of Berston. I know we genealogists don’t always put our findings up straight away so I’m hoping, in spite of seeing nothing about her on your tree, that you may have some info on Sarah Jane Elizabeth Green of Eglantine Cottage. She was the sister of my 4 greats grandfather. There are curious stories about her – before and after her death. Wonder if you have any FACTS. Please forgive this intrusion but if you feel you’re able to share anything you may have on Sarah please would you get back to me? Kind regards, Tom.”
Well now, what to do? Music. Sarah found the CD she had bought at THAT concert and played the enigmatic track which had been on the car radio yesterday. She sipped her coffee and reread the message. She began to type:
“Sorry Tom – don’t have much but found a plaque in St. Mary’s, Berstoft, about 4 miles north-west of Berston. It read simply: SARAH JANE ELIZABETH GREEN (1757 – 1836) What are your stories? Regards, Sarah. ”
She cleared away her coffee things and went for a shower. Half an hour later she returned to the computer and found, immediately, what she had hoped to find:
“Hi Sarah, many thanks for getting back so promptly. Apparently Sarah Jane Elizabeth Green was a bit of a local legend. Special lady with special powers – wonder she wasn’t burned as a witch – but a very good woman – an early vet – animal doc. – whatever – called on to tend sick animals, deliver calves, lambs etc. when there were problems. Spent her life serving her community – never wanted for anything as people paid in kind. I didn’t have her dates (thanks for those) but knew she had died unmarried around the time of V’s accession. Thanks again Sarah. Keep in touch. Regards, Tom. PS Don’t know your view on such as these but spooky things occurred after her death – like wild flowers blooming around her cottage at odd times of the year. Did think I might drive over there and see if I can find it – would be great to see wild roses flowering just now since they’re supposed to be rosehips by this time of the year. Ha! Ha! Oh and there’s a family legend telling of a love affair she had with a wealthy farmer – gentleman farmer – country squire – who hired a composer to write a piece of music for her – half when the composition was started and the balance upon completion – wanted it to be called “Eglantine” because she loved wild roses so much. Sad ending I’m afraid – our Sarah never heard her music as the farmer died before being able to make the final payment. Cruel world eh? Tom.”
Sarah felt strange. HER world – ordered and straightforward as it had been for some considerable time – was now slightly bizarre, a little mystifying. It was as if someone had muddied the earth around her family tree and trampled blossoms into the mud. How sad. How odd. How disturbing. How Sarah wanted to return to the place where she had stopped the car just yesterday, and then to the church. The question was “how deep should Sarah allow herself to be immersed?” While she considered this, she congratulated herself that now she knew the answer to one question,
“What was that lovely word the country folk used for wild roses?”