As Provost, I found myself in that agreeable position rare of antiquarian scholars in that my summer was unplanned. I (in those days of my earthbound hubris, a Prospero of the sciences man can measure) decided on the Purbecks, perhaps playing the links of Swyre Head. Rambles along the Suffolk beaches had lately bored me and I longed for the drama of Dorset’s Jurassic coastline.
1922 suffered the queerest weather. Misted yellow mornings lingered till noon; stormy nights would yield to blistering heat the following morn; the sun frequently vanished behind clouds of iron, hidden for hours. The day of my strange hike, sunrise came as if angered, beating my shoulders from Worth Matravers all the way to Black Man’s Stile, whence a rimy fog stole across the sea.
‘Hie!’ a man shouted from the swirling vapours but I did not see him – an African, unmistakably – till he was upon me.
‘Now look here, man!’ I cried but he seized me with such strength, I dropped my greatcoat.
He, sodden and panting, dragged me till at once we arrived at the base of Albion’s smoothest cliff.
Wind sought my marrow as a dark battalion of shadowy figures rolled within the fog, holding loops and links.
He produced charcoal and scratched furiously, dotted lines on the rock. Gone were the Euclidean geometries of my alma mater, and lo! I witnessed a man fold stone along dotted lines, and soon a doorless house was born thereof.
He pushed me through the cold stone, safe from the misty horde, yet sealed like Tutankhamun! There was no sign of my saviour either. From the light of my starving match, all I could see was his charcoal amidst a salty puddle.
I began to draw, racing my own life against that of the match.