I was blessed with the happiest of childhoods. My parents loved me and spent time with me. My aunt – my guardian angel – took care of my every need. My two other aunts pampered me whenever I came to stay with them. The phrase “let’s go to the beach” was a synonym to “let’s go for a walk”. And among this endless bliss, the sweetest memories I have are from the time I spent in my aunt’s countryside house.
As I’ve already mentioned, my aunt was exceptionally good when it came to making the land produce. It seemed that she had to sprawl herself across her vegetable patches only once, and the unstoppable process of growth started. It was unstoppable to the point that even when sometimes my aunt wanted it to stop, it wouldn’t. I remember giving away buckets and baskets of apples, cucumbers, and redcurrant back at home in town. We still had plenty of everything when everyone with whom we could share didn’t have free space to store the gifts from our garden.
There was a certain magic in it. It seemed that my aunt was a kind of nature whisperer. Every time we arrived at the countryside house, the vegetable patches were bursting with crops. Almost metre-long zucchinis, cucumbers looking more like zucchinis, huge pumpkins, and an awful lot of apples. We had a collection of apple trees that provided us with fruit all summer long and way into autumn. When we couldn’t look – let alone eat – those white, soft apples that are the first ones to arrive, we waited for a crispier, smaller sort to ripen, the one that got red on one side.
Well, dear Diary, and here I am, babbling about my aunt’s vegetables, having planned to tell you about my wanderings around the countryside. The truth is that at that time, it didn’t seem unique or extraordinary. It was simply the way things were. My aunt had a garden and, logically, we were getting vegetables, fruit, and berries from it. Only now, after decades, do I realise that it was as close as one gets to pure magic.
In my defence, I can assure you that the countryside around my aunt’s house was a source of endless wonders.
The colonies of water striders parading over the surface of the shallow river like soldiers on a drill field, forming squares and oblongs with their thin-limbed bodies. Brown cows, looking as if they’ve solved the mystery of achieving a state of perfect zen. Wooden benches under the natural roof of intertwined tree branches. And, of course, an old manor nestled amid the park that had seen better days. Probably because of its state of mysterious decay, it was so irresistibly intriguing.
I don’t remember who told me the legend of this old manor. I hadn’t thought about its authenticity back then. I’d been charmed by its tragic nature. After all, it was a story of young lovers and death.
Dear Diary, I’m not sure if I haven’t told you about this legend before. So, I hope you won’t mind if I repeat myself.
Just like such stories go, there lived two young and beautiful people. She was a daughter of a local baron. The baron was rich and very important. He was so important that his daughter spent most of her time abroad since she was a little girl. The baron had two great passions in life: his manor and his dogs. He was absolutely mad about his dogs – and I can’t say that I don’t understand him there.
Baron’s daughter loved taking rides in his father’s posh carriage. And after a short while – oh, the promptness of youth! – she realised that she also loved the stable boy who managed the horses.
Young lovers knew that the great baron would never agree to their marriage and decided to elope. On the night of the elopement, the girl was waiting for her betrothed by the small rotunda where they met so many times before and exchanged vows and words of love. She didn’t think about the difficulties she and her lover would have to face. It probably hadn’t crossed her mind that her life would change drastically without her father’s money. No, the girl’s head was spinning intoxicated by young love. She dreamt about the bliss of living together with a man who took her breath away every time she looked at him.
As they had planned, the stable boy arrived with two horses. A new life was so close! It seemed that it was within their reach. But before the two lovers managed to get far, someone alerted the baron. Enraged, the baron whose honour had been deeply wounded, set his beloved dogs loose, so they could chase the escapees. The beasts had been trained to hunt people.
Alas, his noble rage evaporated the moment he saw his beautiful daughter savaged by his precious dogs. The animals were used to the stable boy’s smell and didn’t see him as a threat. While the baron’s daughter was a stranger to them…
The dogs were put down, the baron’s daughter was buried, but the baron had lost his mind. Who can say now what shattered him most: the death of his only daughter and the loss of his dogs… Since those days, people often report that they’ve heard dogs howling in the manor’s park during a stormy night, while others claim they’ve seen a figure of a woman dressed in white wander around the stone rotunda.
I’ve wandered around the manor’s park numerous times. And I’ve always spent time in the pretty rotunda imagining the scene of young lovers exchanging tender promises to love each other forever. I haven’t heard the dogs and I haven’t seen the lady in white. The only thing that had satiated my romantic craving was a smashed golden ring with a green stone I found among the rubble of the collapsed bridge.