54: School Stories (Lady Godiva)


Lady Godiva

Emulating the flutter of a falling leaf, Lady Mary Anne Hulett floated down from the attic atop the tower of the old Rob Roy hotel. She could do so because she was a ghost.

Sometimes she liked to copy the motions of the natural world left behind after her passing in 1915.

Thus it was a soothing slow side to side rocking of big leaves she had in mind, the ones that fell from the bower of the big Plane Trees gracing the verges of the walkway into her sanctuary, the school chapel. Their final fall flutter, was like that of her heart before it stopped forever.

As with a horizontal look at anyone’s life, it was a matter of perspective, their flip flop, flop flip fall, being as its ups and downs.

But it had a certain beautiful cadence, and it was that cadence which she sought to capture.

Her flutterings over, Lady H stood for a moment on the terrace facing out over ‘The Valley of a Thousand Hills’.

Since its conversion to an old age home the hotel had lost most of its vibrancy.  

Like its occupants it had also become a shell of its past. Gone were the days of romantic weekends for young couples. Gone were the beat of drums as the ethnic dances performed for the crowds on the terrace where she now stood. Gone was the old English Elegance of tea on the terrace. Gone were the staggers of the drunks from that bar at the back.

It was at times like these, when her mind was on reminiscences that Lady H like to take the long way back to her sanctuary.

This time she emulated the ravens which nested on the low clips of Alveston looking down on the other side of the valley behind the hotel.

Like the birds she was a superb flyer. She could feel the rise and fall and buffetts of the aerial eddies as she moved through them. She could circle high on a convection, then slip its push to slide down the air over the old main road and the blue gums beyond.

Now drifting lower into the bed of the valley, she passed over the dark red bricks of the Chantecler hotel where it nestled curled into the trees beyond a bend in its road. At least it was still a place for lovers to meet, out of the way and hidden from prying eyes. A place of seclusion and a favorite spot for the reunion of a alumni meetings.

Drifting further down the valley towards where its neck was pinched between the rise of Alverston and the College ridge peering down from the East, Lady H passed over the gate which once, in the 60’s, had led up to the farm house where the young girl lived.

It was from here that she had set forth, for a brief period, to bring the magic of her movements, which so upset the staidness of the college.

Movement and motion, especially that of a young rubenesque girl, is so beautiful. Even more so when she is cantering bareback on a horse.

Lady H thought, what a time of fluidity, of the body, the mind and the spirit. That period when the flow of character is still filling the molds proffered by the institutions of education. That time before the brittleness of age and the crumbles of senility have set in.

That young lass must surely be a grandmother today.

Lady H now let gravity pull her spirit along like so much water flowing down the ruts in the road. It was the path the young lass had ridden her chestnut gelding. Where the toe of Bothas Hill kicked at Alverston, the dirt track she had been following joined the asphalt road which led on over Alverston’s slopes and down towards the horse racing facilities of Shongweni.

Instead of following along the asphalt, Lady H deviated up the steep heel of Bothas Hill .

In those long ago days of the lasses rides there had only been pine trees and their needles scuffed by the pounding feet of boys on cross-country runs.

Back in those days Lady H had watched as the gelding had carefully stepped up the slope so that it did not slip on the pine needles until they passed Gibbo’s house.

From there the horse did not need to be guided, it knew where to turn behind Finningley, then turn again to follow the road past the dining hall..

For drama to be effective, timing is everything, and Lady H had to admire the young lasses sense of timing, for it was precisely as the evening dinner concluded, and the boys of the college, all resplendent in grey evening longs with white shirts and ties, was streaming out of the dining halls, that the young lass kicked her sandal clad heels into the bare flanks of her steed. Whereupon the chestnut gelding obediently cantered undulatingly slowly, bare-backedly, past the gawking and expectant eyes of hordes of young men. With already simmering hormones, watching the rounded and ample rump of the rider matching the rhythmic thrust and parry on the rippling ride of her mount, was, in some cases too much to beare.

With their seathing hormones heated to boiling point, Lady Mary Anne had watched as the vapors of desire super-heated the minds of many of the lass’s audience, thereby causing some to sneak away from prying eyes. Others did likewise later, after prep, or surreptitiously pretended to be asleep. Anywhere to relieve that young Godiva’s maddening cadence.

But as she floated in the wake of the long gone echoes of the cantering horse, Lady Mary Anne Hulett, thought how some otherwise good and harmless events are ended almost even before they begin. Before the youth that is the only time to reap the benefits is over as well.

As a horsey lady herself, Lady H thought it a pity that this had not become a school ritual. ‘The running of the horses’ to borrow from Hemingway. Maybe the week before Founders day. A week of cantering horses each evening to ease the tensions of young boys. After all is not 13 the age of initiation in many cultures.

Some of the powers that be at the time considered this a form of temptation as dire as that presented in Genesis.

Thus Lady Mary Anne was not quite sure if it it had been the concern about the effect on the mental morality of the boys, or hair on the hand, which was the motivating factor in banning that young Godiva’s cantering. The cantering as seductive and pivotal as any in the Garden of Eden.