Here is the next installment of Beatrice Allen Page’s unpublished manuscript, Landscape With Figures:
“Nothing I have written down about Mrs. McCaig in these past couple of days explains the hold this little transplanted Scots-woman has kept on my memory. I say ‘memory’ not ‘heart’ because it was not an emotional attachment I had for her. She was not the kind of woman whom children instinctively ‘take to.” She didn’t play games with me or tell me stories or make any effort to adapt her interests or conversation to my level. She was very sparing of any conversation for that matter when she took me along on one of her expeditions to look for birds or wild flowers or explore a tide pool; we maintained a mutual silence most of the time. She never used an endearment in speaking to me, she never put her arm around me or made any demonstrative gesture of affection (with one brief exception, the farewell significance of which I did not grasp at the time). Although she was by no means a cold personality, she always treated me with a certain reserve. I’m certain her love for both nature and people was deep and genuine, but it was completely lacking in the sentimental expressiveness that can be very appealing to children. In her presence I felt only a kind of impersonal warmth like that of the sun.
When I try to pin down what it was about her that gave me the impression of a mysterious secret, the closest I can come to it is to say she always wore a listening look. Even in the midst of a group of people when she was very much a part of the give and take, I felt a quiet, inner, concentrated attentiveness. She was alert, not nervously,but deep inside, to hear something. It might have been the song of a bird, the wind in the trees, the waves on the shore, a whisper, a footstep, a clock chiming, a galloping horse in the distance. But it seemed to me much more mysterious than that – a listening beyond listening, as if she were hearkening (the old-fashioned word somehow fits) to something the rest of us could not hear. I had never heard of George Herbert then or I might have thought it was ‘church bells beyond the stars.’
One night a few years ago I dreamed that I unexpectedly met her again. Actually, although I had long lost track of her even before she died, in my dreams she was as vividly alive as ever. Delighted, and no longer inhibited by childish self-consciousness, I blurted out, trying to conceal the urgency of the question by an ingratiating smile, ‘I’ve so often wondered what you were listening for. What did you hear?’
I thought at last I was going to learn the secret. I also seemed to know that I was dreaming, and I was in almost unbearable suspense for fear I’d wake up before she had time to answer.
She looked directly at me (perhaps this is where the impression of light brown eyes with gold flecks comes from) and her eyes were alight with friendliness and sympathy. Her lips parted as if she were about to speak, and I held my breath. Then the faintest touch of – mockery is too strong a word – amusement, perhaps, or better, merriment – came into her eyes and her lips closed and twitched in the little humorous smile that was characteristic of her. She lifted her hand and held out a sprig of tine lavender flowers. I recognized it as marsh rosemary, although in the dream I thought it was rue, such as I had once helped her gather in late summer to dry for a winter bouquet. As I took it from her, her eyes shifted a little and I had the feeling she was looking over my shoulder at something behind me. I turned to see what or who it was. There was nothing there. When I turned back, she was gone.
Recalling the dream now, I feel again the aching disappointment with which I woke up.”