Monday, 26 March 2012

'Confessions' from The Old Presbytery, my nest in France

It is a balmy, hot evening, the sun having baked the ground dry with its merciless heat from early morning. At the bottom of our garden in the grounds of The Old Presbytery, Ron and I survey our wilting crops.  Two expats from Ireland, building a new nest in the South West of France.

Gone are our city suits, replaced by the hot dust of the French terroir, clinging to our sticky sun-tanned bodies, the sound of crickets ringing in our ears and our pace of life driven effortlessly by the church bell’s hourly chime.

Leaning intrepidly over the stonewall of our ancient well, we gaze searchingly thirty feet down through the darkness to the glint of water reflecting the last of the sun’s fading rays.  Somewhere in its murky depths lies the metal bucket that up to now has been a lifeline to our slowly wilting vegetable plot. 

According to our French neighbour, a grappling hook is the answer to our problem. And so we find ourselves tying the aforesaid rusty item in place, ready to lower into the depths of the well. I can’t help but feel like we are in some kind of giant fairground game, wondering what the darkness will yield up, as Ron turns the handle and the giant hook descends 30 feet into the shadowy water below.  It seems an age before the stillness of the sultry evening is rocked by the splash of the hook hitting the water and we wait in silence until the rope slackens and it slowly comes to rest on the bottom.

“C’est bien!” exclaims our neighbour, Frank, “Allez-y!” Off you go! Ron starts to turn the handle again.  Slowly the grappling hook rises from the bottom of the well. “I think I’ve got it, just a few more turns and it should break the surface!” Peering into the darkness, the water reflects the two curious faces of Frank and myself, as we search the depths, eager to be the first to see what treasure our ancient well will reveal. 

Suddenly, thousands of water droplets, sparkling like crystal in the last rays of the fading sun, send Frank and me scurrying to dry ground. Not quickly enough though. I feel the icy water soak my clothes and run in rivulets down my dusty arms.  Ron falls back onto the dry parched grass, as the grappling hook, free from the pull of the water flies into the air, not holding the expected bucket but holding something. A secret perhaps, released from the murky depths to tell its story?

Gathering round, Ron pulls the hook towards him, being careful not to accidentally loose its precious cargo and brings our treasure to rest on dry land, with a gentle thud.  Three curious faces stare down at the object on the grass, a beautiful piece of intricate wrought ironwork, about the size of a tiny window and gothic in style; it stares back at us from somewhere in the past.  Bending down and lifting it in my hand, it feels heavy and cold to the touch and as the sun sets behind the old presbytery, I place our treasure carefully in the barn and wonder if it will ever reveal its secret?

We only have to wait a day or two however, until a surprise visit from Pierre, a friend from the village provides us with an answer.  Showing him our mystery object and explaining its miraculous appearance from the bottom of the well, I am astonished to realise he recognises it at once. 

Pierre having grown up in the village is now in his early sixties, but remembers as a child going to confession in the little church next to the Presbytery.  He explains our mystery object is in fact, the ornate grid through which he whispered his childish confessions to the village priest. The church had been renovated some years ago and the confessional replaced, but how our beautiful piece of gothic ironwork, with all its secrets, managed to end up at the bottom of the well, is a mystery for another day. In the meantime I treasure my little piece of local history and imagine in its ancient past, what confessions where whispered through its ornate framework?

Leaning back against the cool stonewall of the barn, I gaze up into the warm sunshine and find myself wondering if perhaps it brought with it a blessing; for the next time we drop the rusty hook into the well, it does indeed produce the long lost bucket!
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