Curious, If True
by Elizabeth Gaskell (1860)
(Extract from a letter from Richard Whittingham, Esq.)
You were formerly so much amused at my pride in my descent from that sister of Calvin’s, who married a Whittingham, Dean of Durham, that I doubt if you will be able to enter into the regard for my distinguished relation that has led me to France, in order to examine registers and archives, which, I thought, might enable me to discover collateral descendants of the great reformer, with whom I might call cousins. I shall not tell you of my troubles and adventures in this research; you are not worthy to hear of them; but something so curious befell me one evening last August, that if I had not been perfectly certain I was wide awake, I might have taken it for a dream.
Aspen are remarkable and unique trees. In fact they are so different that it may be better not to think of aspens as trees. First of all, a stand of aspen is really only one huge organism where the main life force is underground.
Aspis, the aspen’s Greek name, means shield and amongst the Celts its lightweight wood was indeed favoured for making shields. These shields were more than mere physical barriers between warrior and enemy; they were imbued with additional magical, protective qualities to shield the bearer from psychic as well as physical harm.
For a long time, she’d never connected that word on paper with the word as it’s said out loud. When she read it, she’d pronounced it in her mind as “mizzled” — like “puzzled”. So gentle when pronounced that way, like the papery sound of the aspen leaves above her, trembling and shimmering in the breeze.
But the real word: mis-led. Heavy, solid, cold. So fitting to the feeling in her stomach and chest as she sat by the river, re-reading the letter. The letter he hadn’t even left on her desk, merely handed to a library aide, addressed to her. She tore it to bits.
As she released the scraps from her hands, the breeze picked up, ruffling her hair the way her mother used to do to comfort her. The slender trunks of the aspens leaned in the wind, bending down over her head. The leaves rustled harder, like applause. The bits of the letter blew away, following the river. And she cried.
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