The elderly Mr. Lucas has been a Grecophile for forty years. Now in declining health, he has decided to see Greece for himself. What he really seeks during his travels is restoration of youth. He is aware of a diminution in his mental power and seems to understand that his independence will soon end. Although he finds Athens overly dusty and Delphi too wet, his disappointment in the trip stirs feelings of discontent that contrast with his usual indifference.
Traveling on muleback through Messenia, a coastal province southeast of Athens, he presses his mount ahead of his companions and arrives early at a small country inn located among a grove of imposing plane trees, where they plan to have lunch. To his surprise, he discovers water flowing across the road; even more surprising, it comes from a huge, hollowed-out plane tree that leans over the small inn.
Regaining some of his lost confidence, Lucas thinks about the tree and its mysterious spring and decides to enter and possess it. When he enters the hollow space seeking the water’s source, he discovers that the tree’s interior, the origin of the spring, has been transformed into a variously decorated shrine. Deriving a sense of spiritual fulfillment from the tree, the flowing water, the people living in the inn, and the surroundings, Lucas resolves to remain there for a time. He has acquired a sense of unity that extends to everything in his environment and anticipates that some profoundly moving experience will take place. Although he has found Greece’s most famous places boring, he is deeply affected by this obscure country setting.
When the others in Lucas’s party arrive, they join him in his admiration of the setting. When he suggests to his daughter, Ethel, that they delay their trip and spend an extra day there, she suggests a week. For her, this response represents a moment of uncharacteristic enthusiasm, but Lucas takes her words seriously. Their travel guide, Mrs. Forman, who earlier...