THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 132
(Archived material may be found at tonycrosscolumn.org.uk)
[Comments on this article welcomed:
Their quarrel had escalated from a minor disagreement into a towering rage on both sides. Things had been said that could never be unsaid, never forgotten. Insults had been traded, but even worse was the contempt they seemed to have developed for each other after all the years together. Best not to think of the past - it was over and done with. Now he was on a journey towards a new start. It was not a new start yet. It was a transition time. He shifted in his seat. The car was travelling fast and his companion - and older man with grizzled chin - seemed to be anxious to get wherever he was going.
The driver stared stolidly ahead. No hint of curiosity or enquiry showed. He was concentrating on driving out of London and seemed almost oblivious of his hitchhiker. Several hours later they turned off the motorway and were soon threading their way through villages, into the country. Fields and sheep and trees merged into a continuous frieze on each side of the car. Night followed dusk. The passenger sat back at ease, unworried where they would end up. He had no definite destination in mind and when the car driver had stopped and answered ‘Scotland’ he had nodded and slid into the front seat gratefully. He just wanted to head north. Each was grateful for the silence.
That night at the small pub the younger man and the old man ate together - largely in silence. When they had just their mugs of beer in front of them the old man started probing - ‘Going far?’ It was the moment for a decision - either to open up or to fend off the question. He decided to be frank. ‘Just a rest in the country’ he said. There was a silence for a few moments and then he felt more was needed. ‘I had a disagreement with someone’.
The old man nodded - as if he knew all about disagreements and could guess the rest. Suddenly the young man felt that he could talk to this man - he was someone who understood. Maybe it was his age. He started explaining, and very soon was deep in remembering the debacle. By trying to explain to a complete stranger he found somehow that he was able to strip the situation down to its essentials. He could see it all much more clearly. Five years of relationship were graphically described in a few sentences. The injustices and betrayals of the past weeks were detailed. The deep anger came flooding out. The pain and the regret at what he had himself said started to show.
The old man waited until the young man finally ran out of things to say. There was a long silence, made more loud by the background chatter of others in the pub. Finally the old man quietly said ‘Do you still love him?’ The young man was silent, while he struggled with the question. Did he still love him, even after all that had happened, culminating in today, when he had stormed out?
Next morning they breakfasted together and then the old man climbed in his car and, with a wave of his hand was gone. The younger man waited for the bus to the railway station where he could get a train for London.
Their horses were getting tired. They had come far since the attack. The group of brigands that had surprised them far outnumbered them. The group had had to split up. Together, the two of them had veered away to the east into wild country, off the road. With their day armour they were a heavy load for the horses and they needed to rest for the night and then get back onto the road for the Holy City. With luck and by God’s grace they would meet up again with the main party at the next big town en route to the Holy Land. If the others in their party had been crushed, then they would have to make it alone for the next Crusader castle - and that would be Krak des Chevalier.
Thomas looked anxiously at the older man riding alongside him. He had taken several blows in the fighting, and his face was grey though his spirits seemed undampened. He must support and encourage him. As his Lord, he owed him all he was and all that he had. And two were safer than one in this God-forsaken land, where robbers lay in wait along the road.
Two days later they rode up to the gates of the castle called Chevaliers, where the walls were a hundred feet thick. Sir John was quickly taken to a chamber and placed onto a pallet while doctors fussed around, showing deep concern. Later that evening Thomas went to see how he was. He found the older man propped against pillows. ‘Listen, I have something to tell you, my son.’ The old man looked deep into the eyes of the younger man and grasped his hand. ‘You must achieve our pilgrimage and go to Jerusalem for both of us. I chose you all those years ago and have never regretted it, and now you must go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for both of us. I shall never see it again - my days will end here. But you - you must go and you must pray for my Lady wife who is so ill. Then you must return to England and tell her everything that has happened. This ring shall be your authority, and may God protect you all the way.’
As the Cliffs of Dover came into view Thomas grasped the ring in his hand, remembering the trust older man had had in him through the years. He would remain true to that trust, and he would swear allegiance to his Lady wife - now a widow. Through the trust placed in him he had grown - both morally and spiritually, and now he was ready to fight and die for the King and for right. What is the purpose of life if it is not to have a much bigger goal than oneself? He knew now that his life had purpose and direction. He was no longer a follower, but a leader.
They had walked over fifteen miles that day. The hills around Edale were lovely in the Autumn sun. They would sleep well that night - where was it they were staying? The name of the pub? They only had another three miles or so to go, and that would be downhill all the way.
As they approached the crossroads they saw the Pub sign swinging in the wind, and both felt relieved - a good meal, a pint of beer and then to bed ready for tomorrow. As they turned into the yard the older man turned to the younger and thanked him for his company that day. The younger man was slightly embarrassed, but shortly they were inside and on the way to a hot bath and a good meal.
Afterwards, as they sat feeling well satisfied and content with life, a third man joined them at the fire. Soon they were exchanging pleasantries and talking about the moors. They had finally come across what is known locally as the ’bog trot’ above Edale - the narrow path through a marshy and treacherous area. Tomorrow they were to go on round the circle of hills and finish their two day walk on Mam Tor. The stranger told them stories of strange events that had happened in the area and of walkers who had disappeared in the mist, never to be seen again. They smiled and nodded their heads. Sometimes there were things that no one could explain satisfactorily.
Next morning was bright and crisp - the Autumn air was sharp but it promised a good day for walking and they set off in high spirits. Before long they had passed up through the tree belt and soon had reached the open moors. The views should have been magnificent, but as they walked on a mist started to drift around them. It was thin and wispy at first but as they trudged steadily on it thickened and within half an hour they were in an impenetrable mist, cold and dank. They got out their compasses and map and started to pay great attention to the path before them. Before long there were sheep trails going off to left and right and it was hard to tell which was path and which was sheep trail. A cold feeling of quiet anxiety began to reverberate in the young man’s mind. They were hours away from the floor of the valley. They had at least ten miles to go before they crossed the main road on their way to Mam Tor.
He remembered that Mam Tor means the shaking mountain. He remembered the stories of the stranger the previous evening and he was profoundly grateful that he was not alone. The presence of the other man helped a lot. Especially as that man was older, more experienced and accustomed to all sorts of walking conditions.
Later in the day, as they swung through the last field towards the pub where they were to stay that night, he turned to thank the older man for his company that day. And they both knew that they now shared the joy of genuine companionship and mutual support.
The last of his money had gone long before lunch - he had needed that hamburger - he had been ravenous. Now he was facing the need to find somewhere to sleep. Maybe find a hostel or someone who wanted to take him in? Would he have to sing for his supper?
The car was large and quiet. When it stopped beside him and the driver opened the door on the passengers side, asking him where he was going, he knew that it was now or never. This might be a meal - or at least some money.
The driver was not young - not like Jason. More likely in his forties or even his fifties. He hadn’t made any obvious demands or requests - simply told him to get in. The car was comfortable and warm and there was some quiet background music from the speakers. He snuggled down, though with a vague feeling of apprehension.
When they reached the man’s house he said ‘This is where I stop. Do you want to come in?’ Jason hesitated only for a fraction of a second. He had committed himself by getting into the car - now he would see it through, whatever it meant he had to do.
The garage door rose at the touch of a button and soon they were walking through the side door into the house. It was dark inside - no one else was home. Jason had hoped that maybe there would be a family - some kids or at least a wife.
‘Something to drink?’ Asked the man. Jason decided that if he was in for a penny he may as well be in for a pound. ‘Yes please - whatever you are having.’ The man mixed a generous gin and tonic with a slice of lime - and Jason sat alone to drink it while the man went upstairs - he said he wanted to change from his office clothes.
Jason came round very slowly. The first thing he was aware of was a wonderful feeling of comfort - he was alone in a spacious bed and he could hear birdsong beyond the wide windows of the room. The first thing he saw was a small crucifix on the wall opposite the bed. He looked for evidence of any other person - there was none. He was alone and apparently had been alone all night! He put his feet over the side of the bed - onto soft, warm carpet. He had difficulty remembering exactly what had happened last night. In fact the last thing he could remember was having that drink.
There was a knock at the door. Hesitantly he said ‘Come in’ - and the door opened and a middle aged lady entered. She smilingly offered him a cup of tea on a tray. ‘My husband thought you should be woken by nine if you had not already stirred’ she said. ‘The bathroom is next door and you can have a bath if you want, and then come down when you are ready for some breakfast.’
Funny how suspicious he had been - a suspicion born of past encounters. But this house had a different atmosphere. He recognised he was in the presence of something unusual - something outside his experience. He didn’t know exactly what it was yet, but he liked the feel. He was in a Christian home - a place of safety and support. That chance encounter was the turning point of his life and in after years he would say that, actually, it was not chance but all in the purpose of God.