The White Horse


Already the lights are lit in the kitchens of the houses below as Vincent’s train pulls into Brixton station. He has a feeling of superiority looking down on the village from the raised platform of the station, poised at roof height above the bustling streets. Many of the residents of this middle-class suburb can afford to keep a small carriage, though the regularity of the new railway makes it an unnecessary luxury for the majority. There are even a few Hackney carriages mixed in with the flow, though it is a well-known fact that most cabbies refuse to take a fare south of the river. These must be charging their fares a pretty penny, Vincent thinks.


His day has been a great success. He has managed to sell a small Constable landscape to a client and, despite the haggling, has sold it for the asking price. Monsieur Orbach has noticed this achievement and the polite but firm manner with which Vincent has conducted himself. Time for a celebration, perhaps? Mrs Loyer will be out shopping still with Eugenie, leaving it late so she can get a discount from the market stall holders desperate to palm off the last of their wares, so there is no point in returning yet to his lodgings. The walk up Brixton Hill has given him a thirst, which he needs to assuage with more than water.


Half way up the hill is a public house, the White Horse, whose illuminated interior beckons Vincent to a haven of jollity and good nature. Even the crudely carved and painted white horse on a pillar outside chimes in with his mood of release and success. The frontage is imposing in a brash English manner, with just a suggestion of mock Tudor crossed with hints of Gothic enhanced by the stained-glass windows on the door.




Good Friday, he stood beside the priest at the altar, gently swinging a censer as he chanted a hymn in his melodious voice. The congregation entered in small groups: families, pilgrim friends, neighbours. Each stood in amazement as they entered, gazing around at horsemen, angels, a city descending from the clouds, God in majesty, the old wooden cross growing from a painted tree. Half frightened, half amazed, the congregation buzzed like a disturbed beehive, exchanging comments on the wonders before them, much to the disquiet and frustration of the priest. He began his homily, describing Christ's entry into Jerusalem, his betrayal by Judas, Peter's denials, His judgement before Pontius Pilate and condemnation by the Pharisees. Lowering his voice, the priest described in detail the ascent of the Mount of Golgotha and the crucifixion between two thieves. 'The whole world weeps for the death of the son of God!' declaimed the priest, brushing past the now silent acolyte, throwing one arm around the shoulders of the ancient statue of St Wandrille.

(From 'BOXWOOD')



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