HILLS AND THE SEA
BY H. BELLOC
METHUEN & CO. LTD. 36 ESSEX STREET W.C. LONDON
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TO THE OTHER MAN MR PHILIP KERSHAW
There were once two men. They were men of might and breeding. They were young, they were intolerant, they were hale. Were there for humans as there is for dogs a tribunal to determine excellence; were there judges of anthropoidal points and juries to, give prizes for manly race, vigour, and the rest, undoubtedly these two men would have gained the gold and the pewter medals. They were men absolute.
They loved each other like brothers, yet they quarrelled like Socialists. They loved each other because they had in common the bond of mankind; they quarrelled because they differed upon nearly all other things. The one was of the Faith, the other most certainly was not. The one sang loudly, the other sweetly. The one was stronger, the other more cunning. The one rode horses with a long stirrup, the other with a short. The one was indifferent to danger, the other forced himself at it. The one could write verse, the other was quite incapable thereof. The one could read and quote Theocritus, the other read and quoted himself alone. The high gods had given to one judgment, to the other valour; but to both that measure of misfortune which is their Gift to those whom they cherish.
From this last proceeded in them both a great knowledge of truth and a defence of it, to the tedium of their friends: a demotion to the beauty of women and of this world; an outspoken hatred of certain things and men, and, alas! a permanent sadness also. All these things the gods gave them in the day when the decision was taken upon Olympus that these two men should not profit by any great good except Friendship, and that all their lives through Necessity should jerk her bit between their teeth, and even at moments goad their honour.
The high gods, which are names only to the multitude, visited these men. Dionysus came to them with all his company once, at dawn, upon the Surrey hills, and drove them in his car from a suburb whose name I forget right out into the Weald. Pallas Athene taught them by word of mouth, and the Cytherean was their rosy, warm, unfailing friend. Apollo loved them. He bestowed upon them, under his own hand the power not only of remembering all songs, but even of composing light airs of their own; and Pan, who is hairy by nature and a lurking fellow afraid of others, was reconciled to their easy comradeship, and would accompany them into the mountains when they were remote from mankind. Upon these occasions he revealed to them the life of trees and the spirits that haunt the cataracts, so that they heard voices calling where no one else had ever heard them, and that they saw stones turned into animals and men.
Many things came to them in common. Once in the Hills, a thousand miles from home, when they had not seen men for a very long time, Dalua touched them with his wing, and they went mad for the space of thirty hours. It was by a stream in a profound gorge at evening and under a fretful moon. The next morning they lustrated themselves with water, and immediately they were healed.
At another time they took a rotten old leaky boat they were poor and could afford no other—they took, I say, a rotten old leaky boat whose tiller was loose and whose sails mouldy, and whose blocks were jammed and creaking, and whose rigging frayed, and they boldly set out together into the great North Sea.
It blew a capful, it blew half a gale, it blew a gale: little they cared, these sons of Ares, these cousins of the broad daylight! There mere no men on earth save these two who would not have got her under a trysail and a rag of a storm-jib with fifteen reefs and another: not so the heroes. Not a stitch would they take in. They carried all her canvas, and cried out to the north-east wind: "We know her better than you! She'll carry away before she capsizes, and she'll burst long before she'll carry away." So they ran before it largely till the bows were pressed right under, and it was no human poser that saved the gybe. They went tearing and foaming before it, singing a Saga as befitted the place and time. For it was their habit to sing in every place its proper song—in Italy a Ritornella, in Spain a Segeduilla, in Provence a Pastourou, in Sussex a Glee, but an the great North Sea a Saga. And they rolled at last into Orford Haven on the very tiptop of the highest tide that ever has run since the Noachic Deluge; and even so, as they crossed the bar they heard the grating of the keel. That night they sacrificed oysters to Poseidon.
And when they slept the Sea Lady, the silver-footed one, came up through the waves and kissed them in their sleep; for she had seen no such men since Achilles. Then she went back through the waves with all her Nereids around her to where her throne is, beside her old father in the depths of the sea.
In their errantry they did great good. It was they that rescued Andromeda, though she lied, as a woman will, and gave the praise to her lover. It was they, also, who slew the Tarasque on his second appearance, when he came in a thunderstorm across the broad bridge of Beaucaire, all scaled in crimson and gold, forty foot long and twenty foot high, galloping like an angry dog and belching forth flames and smoke. They also hunted down the Bactrian Bear, who had claws like the horns of a cow, and of whom it is written in the Sacred Books of the East that:
A Bear out of Bactria came, And he wandered all over the world, And his eyes were aglint and aflame, And the tip of his caudal was curled.
Oh! they hunted him down and they cut him up, and they cured one of his hams and ate it, thereby acquiring something of his mighty spirit.... And they it was who caught the great Devil of Dax and tied him up and swinged him with an ash-plant till he swore that he would haunt the woods no more.
And here it is that you ask me for their names. Their names! Their names? Why, they gave themselves a hundred names: now this, now that, but always names of power. Thus upon that great march of theirs from Gascony into Navarre, one, on the crest of the mountains, cut himself a huge staff and cried loudly:
"My name is URSUS, and this is my staff DREADNOUGHT: let the people in the Valley be afraid!"
Whereat the other cut himself a yet huger staff, and cried out in a yet louder voice:
"My name is TAURUS, and this is my staff CRACK-SKULL: let them tremble who live in the Dales!"
And when they had said this they strode shouting down the mountain-side and conquered the town of Elizondo, where they are worshipped as gods to this day. Their names? They gave themselves a hundred names!
"Well, well," you say to me then, "no matter about the names: what are names? The men themselves concern me!... Tell me," you go on, "tell me where I am to find them in the flesh, and converse with them. I am in haste to see them with my own eyes."
It is useless to ask. They are dead. They will never again be heard upon the heaths at morning singing their happy songs: they will never more drink with their peers in the deep ingle-nooks of home. They are perished. They have disappeared. Alas! The valiant fellows!
But lest some list of their proud deeds and notable excursions should be lost on earth, and turn perhaps into legend, or what is worse, fade away unrecorded, this book has been got together; in which will be found now a sight they saw together, and now a sight one saw by himself, and now a sight seen only by the other. As also certain thoughts and admirations which the second or the first enjoyed, or both together: and indeed many other towns, seas, places, mountains, rivers, and men—whatever could be crammed between the covers.
And there is an end of it.
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Many of these pages have appeared in the "Speaker," the "Pilot," the "Morning Post," the "Daily News." the "Pall Mall Magazine," the "Evening Standard," the "Morning Leader," and the "Westminster Gazette."
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THE NORTH SEA
It was on or about a Tuesday (I speak without boasting) that my companion and I crept in by darkness to the unpleasant harbour of Lowestoft. And I say "unpleasant" because, however charming for the large Colonial yacht, it is the very devil for the little English craft that tries to lie there. Great boats are moored in the Southern Basin, each with two head ropes to a buoy, so that the front of them makes a kind of entanglement such as is used to defend the front of a position in warfare. Through this entanglement you are told to creep as best you can, and if you cannot (who could?) a man comes off in a boat and moors you, not head and stern, but, as it were, criss-cross, or slant-ways, so that you are really foul of the next berth alongside, and that in our case was a little steamer.
Then when you protest that there may be a collision at midnight, the man in the boat says merrily, "Oh, the wind will keep you off," as though winds never changed or dropped.
I should like to see moorings done that way, at Cowes, say, or in Southampton Water. I should like to see a lot of craft laid head and tail to the wind with a yard between each, and, when Lord Isaacs protested, I should like to hear the harbour man say in a distant voice, "Sic volo, sic jubeo" (a classical quotation misquoted, as in the South-country way), "the wind never changes here."
Such as it was, there it was, and trusting in the wind and God's providence we lay criss-cross in Lowestoft South Basin. The Great Bear shuffled round the pole and streaks of wispy clouds lay out in heaven.
The next morning there was a jolly great breeze from the East, and my companion said, "Let us put out to sea." But before I go further, let me explain to you and to the whole world what vast courage and meaning underlay these simple words. In what were we to put to sea?
This little boat was but twenty-five feet over all. She had lived since 1864 in inland waters, mousing about rivers, and lying comfortably in mudbanks. She had a sprit seventeen foot outboard, and I appeal to the Trinity Brothers to explain what that means; a sprit dangerous and horrible where there are waves; a sprit that will catch every sea and wet the foot of your jib in the best of weathers; a sprit that weighs down already overweighted bows and buries them with every plunge. Quid dicam? A Sprit of Erebus. And why had the boat such a sprit? Because her mast was so far aft, her forefoot so deep and narrow, her helm so insufficient, that but for this gigantic sprit she would never come round, and even as it was she hung in stays and had to have her weather jib-sheet hauled in for about five minutes before she would come round. So much for the sprit.
This is not all, nor nearly all. She had about six inches of free-board. She did not rise at the bows: not she! Her mast was dependent upon a forestay (spliced) and was not stepped, but worked in a tabernacle. She was a hundred and two years old. Her counter was all but awash. Her helm—I will describe her helm. It waggled back and forth without effect unless you jerked it suddenly over. Then it "bit," as it were, into the rudder post, and she just felt it—but only just—the ronyon!
She did not reef as you and I do by sane reefing points, but in a gimcrack fashion with a long lace, so that it took half an hour to take in sail. She had not a jib and foresail, but just one big headsail as high as the peak, and if one wanted to shorten sail after the enormous labour of reefing the mainsail (which no man could do alone) one had to change jibs forward and put up a storm sail—under which (by the way) she was harder to put round than ever.
Did she leak? No, I think not. It is a pious opinion. I think she was tight under the composition, but above that and between wind and water she positively showed daylight. She was a basket. Glory be to God that such a boat should swim at all!
But she drew little water? The devil she did! There was a legend in the yard where she was built that she drew five feet four, but on a close examination of her (on the third time she was wrecked), I calculated with my companion that she drew little if anything under six feet. All this I say knowing well that I shall soon put her up for sale; but that is neither here nor there. I shall not divulge her name.
So we put to sea, intending to run to Harwich. There was a strong flood down the coast, and the wind was to the north of north-east. But the wind was with the tide—to that you owe the lives of the two men and the lection of this delightful story; for had the tide been against the wind and the water steep and mutinous, you would never have seen either of us again: indeed we should have trembled out of sight for ever.
The wind was with the tide, and in a following lump of a sea, without combers and with a rising glass, we valorously set out, and, missing the South Pier by four inches, we occupied the deep.
For one short half-hour things went more or less well. I noted a white horse or two to windward, but my companion said it was only the sea breaking over the outer sands. She plunged a lot, but I flattered myself she was carrying Caesar, and thought it no great harm. We had started without food, meaning to cook a breakfast when we were well outside: but men's plans are on the knees of the gods. The god called AEolus, that blows from the north-east of the world (you may see him on old maps—it is a pity they don't put him on the modern), said to his friends: "I see a little boat. It is long since I sank one"; and altogether they gave chase, like Imperialists, to destroy what was infinitely weak.
I looked to windward and saw the sea tumbling, and a great number of white waves. My heart was still so high that I gave them the names of the waves in the eighteenth Iliad: The long-haired wave, the graceful wave, the wave that breaks on an island a long way off, the sandy wave, the wave before us, the wave that brings good tidings. But they were in no mood for poetry. They began to be great, angry, roaring waves, like the chiefs of charging clans, and though I tried to keep up my courage with an excellent song by Mr. Newbolt, "Slung between the round shot in Nombre Dios Bay," I soon found it useless, and pinned my soul to the tiller. Every sea following caught my helm and battered it. I hung on like a stout gentleman, and prayed to the seven gods of the land. My companion said things were no worse than when we started. God forgive him the courageous lie. The wind and the sea rose.
It was about opposite Southwold that the danger became intolerable, and that I thought it could only end one way. Which way? The way out, my honest Jingoes, which you are more afraid of than of anything else in the world. We ran before it; we were already over-canvased, and she buried her nose every time, so that I feared I should next be cold in the water, seeing England from the top of a wave. Every time she rose the jib let out a hundredweight of sea-water; the sprit buckled and cracked, and I looked at the splice in the forestay to see if it yet held. I looked a thousand times, and a thousand times the honest splice that I had poked together in a pleasant shelter under Bungay Woods (in the old times of peace, before ever the sons of the Achaians came to the land) stood the strain. The sea roared over the fore-peak, and gurgled out of the scuppers, and still we held on. Till (AEolus blowing much more loudly, and, what you may think a lie, singing through the rigging, though we were before the wind) opposite Aldeburgh I thought she could not bear it any more.
I turned to my companion and said: "Let us drive her for the shore and have done with it; she cannot live in this. We will jump when she touches." But he, having a chest of oak, and being bound three times with brass, said: "Drive her through it. It is not often we have such a fair-wind." With these words he went below; I hung on for Orfordness. The people on the strand at Aldeburgh saw us. An old man desired to put out in a boat to our aid. He danced with fear. The scene still stands in their hollow minds.
As Orfordness came near, the seas that had hitherto followed like giants in battle now took to a mad scrimmage. They leapt pyramidically, they heaved up horribly under her; she hardly obeyed her helm, and even in that gale her canvas flapped in the troughs. Then in despair I prayed to the boat itself (since nothing else could hear me), "Oh, Boat," for so I was taught the vocative, "bear me safe round this corner, and I will scatter wine over your decks." She heard me and rounded the point, and so terrified was I that (believe me if you will) I had not even the soul to remember how ridiculous and laughable it was that sailors should call this Cape of Storms "the Onion."
Once round it, for some reason I will not explain, but that I believe connected with my prayer, the sea grew tolerable. It still came on to the land (we could sail with the wind starboard), and the wind blew harder yet; but we ran before it more easily, because the water was less steep. We were racing down the long drear shingle bank of Oxford, past what they call "the life-boat house" on the chart (there is no life-boat there, nor ever was), past the look-out of the coastguard, till we saw white water breaking on the bar of the Alde.
Then I said to my companion, "There are, I know, two mouths to this harbour, a northern and a southern; which shall we take?" But he said, "Take the nearest."
I then, reciting my firm beliefs and remembering my religion, ran for the white water. Before I knew well that she was round, the sea was yellow like a pond, the waves no longer heaved, but raced and broke as they do upon a beach. One greener, kindly and roaring, a messenger of the gale grown friendly after its play with us, took us up on its crest and ran us into the deep and calm beyond the bar, but as we crossed, the gravel ground beneath our keel. So the boat made harbour. Then, without hesitation, she cast herself upon the mud, and I, sitting at the tiller, my companion ashore, and pushing at her inordinate sprit, but both revelling in safety, we gave thanks and praise. That night we scattered her decks with wine as I had promised, and lay easy in deep water within.
But which of you who talk so loudly about the island race and the command of the sea have had such a day? I say to you all it does not make one boastful, but fills one with humility and right vision. Go out some day and run before it in a gale. You will talk less and think more; I dislike the memory of your faces. I have written for your correction. Read less, good people, and sail more; and, above all, leave us in peace.
The other day as I was taking my pleasure along a river called "The River of Gold," from which one can faintly see the enormous mountains which shut off Spain from Europe, as I walked, I say, along the Mail, or ordered and planted quay of the town, I heard, a long way off, a man singing. His singing was of that very deep and vibrating kind which Gascons take for natural singing, and which makes one think of hollow metal and of well-tuned bells, for it sounds through the air in waves; the further it is the more it booms, and it occupies the whole place in which it rises. There is no other singing like it in the world. He was too far off for any words to be heard, and I confess I was too occupied in listening to the sound of the music to turn round at first and notice who it was that sang; but as he gradually approached between the houses towards the river upon that happy summer morning, I left the sight of the houses, and myself sauntered nearer to him to learn more about him and his song.
I saw a man of fifty or thereabouts, not a mountaineer, but a man of the plains—tall and square, large and full of travel. His face was brown like chestnut wood, his eyes were grey but ardent; his brows were fierce, strong, and of the colour of shining metal, half-way between iron and silver. He bore himself as though he were still well able to wrestle with younger men in the fairs, and his step, though extremely slow (for he was intent upon his song), was determined as it was deliberate. I came yet nearer and saw that he carried a few pots and pans and also a kind of kit in a bag: in his right hand was a long and polished staff of ashwood, shod with iron; and still as he went he sang. The song now rose nearer me and more loud, and at last I could distinguish the words, which, were, in English, these:
"Men that cook in copper know well how difficult is the cleaning of copper. All cooking is a double labour unless the copper is properly tinned."
This couplet rhymed well in the tongue he used, which was not Languedoc nor even Bearnais, but ordinary French of the north, well chosen, rhythmical, and sure. When he had sung this couplet once, glancing, as he sang it, nobly upwards to the left and the right at the people in their houses, he paused a little, set down his kit and his pots and his pans, and leant upon his stick to rest. A man in white clothes with a white square cap on his head ran out of a neighbouring door and gave him a saucepan, which he accepted with a solemn salute, and then, as though invigorated by such good fortune, he lifted his burdens again and made a dignified progress of some few steps forward, nearer to the place in which I stood. He halted again and resumed his song.
It had a quality in it which savoured at once of the pathetic and of the steadfast: its few notes recalled to me those classical themes which conceal something of dreadful fate and of necessity, but are yet instinct with dignity and with the majestic purpose of the human will, and Athens would have envied such a song. The words were these:
"All kinds of game, Izard, Quails, and Wild Pigeon, are best roasted upon a spit; but what spit is so clean and fresh as a spit that has been newly tinned?"
When he had sung this verse by way of challenge to the world, he halted once more and mopped his face with a great handkerchief, waiting, perhaps, for a spit to be brought; but none came. The spits of the town were new, and though the people loved his singing, yet they were of too active and sensible a kind to waste pence for nothing. When he saw that spits were not forthcoming he lifted up his kit again and changed his subject just by so pinch as might attract another sort of need. He sang—but now more violently, and as though with a worthy protest:
Le lievre et le lapin, Quand c'est bien cuit, ca fait du bien.
That is: "Hare and rabbit, properly cooked, do one great good," and then added after the necessary pause and with a gesture half of offering and half of disdain: "But who can call them well cooked if the tinning of the pot has been neglected?" And into this last phrase he added notes which hinted of sadness and of disillusion. It was very fine.
As he was now quite near me and ready, through the slackness of trade, to enter into a conversation, I came quite close and said to him, "I wish you good day," to which he answered, "And I to you and the company," though there was no company.
Then I said, "You sing and so advertise your trade?"
He answered, "I do. It lifts the heart, it shortens the way, it attracts the attention of the citizens, it guarantees good work."
"In what way," said I, "does it guarantee good work?"
"The man," he answered, "who sings loudly, clearly, and well, is a man in good health. He is master of himself. He is strict and well-managed. When people hear him they say, 'Here is a prompt, ready, and serviceable man. He is not afraid. There is no rudeness in him. He is urbane, swift, and to the point. There is method in this fellow.' All these things may be in the man who does not sing, but singing makes them apparent. Therefore in our trade we sing."
"But there must be some," I said, "who do not sing and who yet are good tinners."
At this he gave a little shrug of his shoulders and spread down his hands slightly but imperatively. "There are such," said he. "They are even numerous. But while they get less trade they are also less happy men. For I would have you note (saving your respect and that of the company) that this singing has a quality. It does good within as well as without. It pleases the singer in his very self as well as brings him work and clients."
Then I said, "You are right, and I wish to God I had something to tin; let me however tell you something in place of the trade I cannot offer you. All things are trine, as you have heard" (here he nodded), "and your singing does, therefore, not a double but a triple good. For it gives you pleasure within, it brings in trade and content from others, and it delights the world around you. It is an admirable thing."
When he heard this he was very pleased. He took off his enormous hat, which was of straw and as big as a wheel, and said, "Sir, to the next meeting!" and went off singing with a happier and more triumphant note, "Carrots, onions, lentils, and beans, depend upon the tinner for their worth to mankind."
A "Mail" is a place set with trees in regular order so as to form alleys; sand and gravel are laid on the earth beneath the trees; masonry of great solidity, grey, and exquisitely worked, surrounds the whole except on one side, where strong stone pillars carry heavy chains across the entrance. A "Mail" takes about two hundred years to mature, remains in perfection for about a hundred more, and then, for all I know, begins to go off. But neither the exact moment at which it fails nor the length of its decline is yet fixed, for all "Mails" date from the seventeenth century at earliest, and the time when most were constructed was that of Charles II's youth and Louis XIV's maturity—or am I wrong? Were these two men not much of an age?
I am far from books; I am up in the Pyrenees. Let me consider dates and reconstruct my formula. I take it that Charles II was more than a boy when Worcester was fought and when he drank that glass of ale at Hotighton, at the "George and Dragon" there, and crept along tinder the Downs to Bramber and so to Shoreham, where he took ship and was free. I take it, therefore, that when he came back in 1660 he must have been in the thirties, more or less, but how far in the thirties I dare not affirm.
Now, in 1659, the year before Charles II came back, Mazarin signed the treaty with Spain. At that time Louis XIV must have been quite a young man. Again, he died about thirty years after Charles II, and he was seventy something when he died.
I am increasingly certain that Charles II was older than Louis XIV.... I affirm it. I feel no hesitation....
Lord! How dependent is mortal man upon books of reference! An editor or a minister of the Crown with books of reference at his elbow will seem more learned than Erasmus himself in the wilds. But let any man who reads this (and I am certain five out of six have books of reference by them as they read), I say, let any man who reads this ask himself whether he would rather be where he is, in London, on this August day (for it is August), or where I am, which is up in Los Altos, the very high Pyrenees, far from every sort of derivative and secondary thing and close to all things primary?
I will describe this place. It is a forest of beech and pine; it grows upon a mountain-side so steep that only here and there is there a ledge on which to camp. Great precipices of limestone diversify the wood and show through the trees, tall and white beyond them. One has to pick one's way very carefully along the steep from one night's camp to another, and often one spends whole hours seeking up and down to turn a face of rock one cannot cross.
It seems dead silent. There are few birds, and even at dawn one only hears a twittering here and there. Swirls of cloud form and pass beneath one in the gorge and hurry up the opposing face of the ravine; they add to this impression of silence: and the awful height of the pines and the utter remoteness from men in some way enhance it. Yet, though it seems dead silent, it is not really so, and if you were suddenly put here from the midst of London, you would be confused by the noise which we who know the place continually forget—and that is the waterfalls.
All the way down the gorge for miles, sawing its cut in sheer surfaces through the rock, crashes a violent stream, and all the valley is full of its thunder. But it is so continuous, so sedulous, that it becomes part of oneself. One does not lose it at night as one falls asleep, nor does one recover it in the morning, when dreams are disturbed by a little stir of life in the undergrowth and one opens one's eyes to see above one the bronze of the dawn.
It possesses one, does this noise of the torrent, and when, after many days in such a wood, I pick my way back by marks I know to a ford, and thence to an old shelter long abandoned, and thence to the faint beginnings of a path, and thence to the high road and so to men; when I come down into the plains I shall miss the torrent and feel ill at ease, hardly knowing what I miss, and I shall recall Los Altos, the high places, and remember nothing but their loneliness and silence.
I shall saunter in one of the towns of the plain, St. Girons or another, along the riverside and under the lime trees ... which reminds me of "Mails"! Little pen, little fountain pen, little vagulous, blandulous pen, companion and friend, whither have you led me, and why cannot you learn the plodding of your trade?
THE PYRENEAN HIVE
Shut in between two of the greatest hills in Europe—hills almost as high as Etna, and covering with their huge bases half a county of land—there lies, in the Spanish Pyrenees, a little town. It has been mentioned in books very rarely, and visited perhaps more rarely. Of three men whom in my life I have heard speak its name, two only had written of it, and but one had seen it. Yet to see it is to learn a hundred things.
There is no road to it. No wheeled thing has ever been seen in its streets. The crest of the Pyrenees (which are here both precipitous and extremely high) is not a ridge nor an edge, but a great wall of slabs, as it were, leaning up against the sky. Through a crack in this wall, between two of these huge slabs, the mountaineers for many thousand years have wormed their way across the hills, but the height and the extreme steepness of the last four thousand feet have kept that passage isolated and ill-known. Upon the French side the path has recently been renewed; within a few yards upon the southern slope it dwindles and almost disappears.
As one so passes from the one country to the other, it is for all the world like the shutting of a door between oneself and the world. For some reason or other the impression of a civilisation active to the point of distress follows one all up the pass from the French railway to the summit of the range; but when that summit is passed the new and brilliant sun upon the enormous glaciers before one, the absence of human signs and of water, impress one suddenly with silence.
From that point one scrambles down and down for hours into a deserted valley—all noon and afternoon and evening: on the first flats a rude path, at last appears. A river begins to flow; great waterfalls pour across one's way, and for miles upon miles one limps along and down the valley across sharp boulders such as mules go best on, and often along the bed of a stream, until at nightfall—if one has started early and has put energy into one's going, and if it is a long summer day—then at nightfall one first sees cultivated fields—patches of oats not half an acre large hanging upon the sides of the ravine wherever a little shelf of soil has formed.
So went the Two Men upon an August evening, till they came in the half-light upon something which might have been rocks or might have been ruins—grey lumps against the moon: they were the houses of a little town. A sort of gulf, winding like a river gorge, and narrower than a column of men, was the street that brought us in. But just as we feared that we should have to grope our way to find companionship we saw that great surprise of modern mountain villages (but not of our own England)—a little row of electric lamps hanging from walls of an incalculable age.
Here, in this heap of mountain stones, and led by this last of inventions, we heard at last the sound of music, and knew that we were near an inn. The Moors called (and call) an inn Fundouk; the Spaniards call it Fonda. To this Fonda, therefore, we went, and as we went the sound of music grew louder, till we came to a door of oak studded with gigantic nails and swung upon hinges which, by their careful workmanship and the nature of their grotesques, were certainly of the Renaissance. Indeed, the whole of this strange hive of mountain men was a mixture—ignorance, sharp modernity, utter reclusion: barbaric, Christian; ruinous and enduring things. The more recent houses had for the most part their dates marked above their doors. There were some of the sixteenth century, and many of the seventeenth, but the rest were far older, and bore no marks at all. There was but one house of our own time, and as for the church, it was fortified with narrow windows made for arrows.
Not only did the Moors call an inn a Fundouk, but also they lived (and live) not on the ground floor, but on the first floor of their houses: so after them the Spaniards. We came in from the street through those great oaken doors, not into a room, but into a sort of barn, with a floor of beaten earth; from this a stair (every banister of which was separately carved in a dark-wood) led up to the storey upon which the inn was held. There was no hour for the meal. Some were beginning to eat, some had ended. When we asked for food it was prepared, but an hour was taken to prepare it, and it was very vile; the wine also was a wine that tasted as much of leather as of grapes, and reminded a man more of an old saddle than of vineyards.
The people who put this before us had in their faces courage, complete innocence, carelessness, and sleep. They spoke to us in their language (I understood it very ill) of far countries, which they did not clearly know—they hardly knew the French beyond the hills. As no road led into their ageless village, so did no road lead out of it. To reach the great cities in the plain, and the railway eighty miles away, why, there was the telephone. They slept at such late hours as they chose; by midnight many were still clattering through the lane below. No order and no law compelled them in anything.
The Two Men were asleep after this first astonishing glimpse of forgotten men and of a strange country. In the stifling air outside there was a clattering of the hoofs of mules and an argument of drivers. A long way off a man was playing a little stringed instrument, and there was also in the air a noise of insects buzzing in the night heat; when all of a sudden the whole place awoke to the noise of a piercing cry which but for its exquisite tone might have been the cry of pain, so shrill was it and so coercing to the ear. It was maintained, and before it fell was followed by a succession of those quarter-tones which only the Arabs have, and which I had thought finally banished from Europe. To this inhuman and appalling song were set loud open vowels rather than words.
Of the Two Men, one leapt at once from his bed crying out, "This is the music! This is what I have desired to hear!" For this is what he had once been told could be heard in the desert, when first he looked out over the sand from Atlas: but though he had travelled far, he had never heard it, and now he heard it here, in the very root of these European hills. It was on this account that he cried out, "This is the music!" And when he had said this he put on a great rough cloak and ran to the room from which the song or cry proceeded, and after him ran his companion.
The Two Men stood at the door behind a great mass of muleteers, who all craned forward to where, upon a dais at the end of the room, sat a Jewess who still continued for some five minutes this intense and terrible effort of the voice. Beside her a man who was not of her race urged her on as one urges an animal to further effort, crying out, "Hap! Hap!" and beating his palms together rhythmically and driving and goading her to the full limit of her power.
The sound ceased suddenly as though it had been stabbed and killed, and the woman whose eyes had been strained and lifted throughout as in a trance, and whose body had been rigid and quivering, sank down upon herself and let her eyelids fall, and her head bent forward.
There was complete silence from that moment till the dawn, and the second of the Two Men said to the first that they had had an experience not so much of music as of fire.
Delft is the most charming town in the world. It is one of the neat cities: trim, small, packed, self-contained. A good woman in early middle age, careful of her dress, combined, orderly, not without a sober beauty—such a woman on her way to church of a Sunday morning is not more pleasing than Delft. It is on the verge of monotony, yet still individual; in one style, yet suggesting many centuries of activity. There is a full harmony of many colours, yet the memory the place leaves is of a united, warm, and generous tone. Were you suddenly put down in Delft you would know very well that the vast and luxuriant meadows of Holland surrounded it, so much are its air, houses, and habits those of men inspired by the fields.
Delft is very quiet, as befits a town so many of whose streets are ordered lanes of water, yet one is inspired all the while by the voices of children, and the place is strongly alive. Over its sky there follow in stately order the great white clouds of summer, and at evening the haze is lit just barely from below with that transforming level light which is the joy and inspiration of the Netherlands. Against such an expanse stands up for ever one of the gigantic but delicate belfries, round which these towns are gathered. For Holland, it seems, is not a country of villages, but of compact, clean towns, standing scattered over a great waste of grass like the sea.
This belfrey of Delft is a thing by itself in Europe, and all these truths can be said of it by a man who sees it for the first time: first, that its enormous height is drawn up, as it were, and enhanced by every chance stroke that the instinct of its slow builders lit upon; for these men of the infinite flats love the contrast of such pinnacles, and they have made in the labour of about a thousand years a landscape of their own by building, just as they have made by ceaseless labour a rich pasture and home out of those solitary marshes of the delta.
Secondly, that height is inhanced by something which you will not see, save in the low countries between the hills of Ardennes and the yellow seas—I mean brick Gothic; for the Gothic which you and I know is built up of stone, and, even so, produces every effect of depth and distance; but the Gothic of the Netherlands is often built curiously of bricks, and the bricks are so thin that it needs a whole host of them in an infinity of fine lines to cover a hundred feet of wall. They fill the blank spaces with their repeated detail; they make the style (which even in stone is full of chances and particular corners) most intricate, and—if one may use so exaggerated a metaphor—"populous." Above all, they lead the eye up and up, making a comparison and measure of their tiny bands until the domination of a buttress or a tower is exaggerated to the enormous. Now the belfry of Delft, though all the upper part is of stone, yet it stands on a great pedestal (as it were) of brick—a pedestal higher than the houses, and in this base are pierced two towering, broad, and single ogives, empty and wonderful and full of that untragic sadness which you may find also in the drooping and wide eyes of extreme old age.
Thirdly, the very structure of the thing is bells. Here the bells are more than the soul of a Christian spire; they are its body too, its whole self. An army of them fills up all the space between the delicate supports and framework of the upper parts; for I know not how many feet, in order, diminishing in actual size and in the perspective also of that triumphant elevation, stand ranks on ranks of bells from the solemn to the wild, from the large to the small; a hundred or two hundred or a thousand. There is here the prodigality of Brabant and Hainaut and the Batavian blood, a generosity and a productivity in bells without stint, the man who designed it saying: "Since we are to have bells, let us have bells: not measured out, calculated, expensive, and prudent bells, but careless bells, self-answering multitudinous bells; bells without fear, bells excessive and bells innumerable; bells worthy of the ecstasies that are best thrown out and published in the clashing of bells. For bells are single, like real pleasures, and we will combine such a great number that they shall be like the happy and complex life of a man. In a word, let us be noble and scatter our bells and reap a harvest till our town is famous for its bells." So now all the spire is more than clothed with them; they are more than stuff or ornament; they are an outer and yet sensitive armour, all of bells.
Nor is the wealth of these bells in their number only, but also in their use; for they are not reserved in any way, but ring tunes and add harmonies at every half and quarter and at all the hours both by night and by day. Nor must you imagine that there is any obsession of noise through this; they are far too high and melodious, and, what is more, too thoroughly a part of all the spirit of Delft to be more than a perpetual and half-forgotten impression of continual music; they render its air sacred and fill it with something so akin to an uplifted silence as to leave one—when one has passed from their influence—asking what balm that was which soothed all the harshness of sound about one.
Round that tower and that voice the town hangs industrious and subdued—a family. Its waters, its intimate canals, its boats for travel, and its slight plashing of bows in the place of wheels, entered the spirit of the traveller and gave him for one long day the Right of Burgess. In autumn, in the early afternoon—the very season for those walls—it was easy for him to be filled with a restrained but united chorus, the under-voices of the city, droning and murmuring perpetually of Peace and of Labour and of the wild rose—Content....
Peace, labour, and content—three very good words, and summing up, perhaps, the goal of all mankind. Of course, there is a problem everywhere, and it would be heresy to say that the people of Delft have solved it. It is Matter of Breviary that the progress of our lives is but asymptotic to true joy; we can approach it nearer and nearer, but we can never reach it.
Nevertheless, I say that in this excellent city, though it is outside Eden, you may, when the wind is in the right quarter, receive in distant and rare appeals the scent and air of Paradise; the soul is filled.
To this emotion there corresponds and shall here be quoted a very noble verse, which runs—or rather glides—as follows:—
Satiety, that momentary flower Stretched to an hour— These are her gifts which all mankind may use, And all refuse.
Or words to that effect. And to think that you can get to a place like that for less than a pound!
THE WING OF DALUA
Time was, and that not so long ago, when the Two Men had revealed to them by their Genius a corner of Europe wherein they were promised more surprises and delights than in any other.
It was secretly made known to them that in this place there were no pictures, and no one had praised its people, and further that no Saint had ever troubled it; and the rich and all their evils (so the Two Men were assured) had never known the place at all.
It was under the influence of such a message that they at once began walking at a great speed for the river which is called the River of Gold, and for the valleys of Andorra; and since it seemed that other men had dared to cross the Pyrenees and to see the Republic, and since it seemed also, according to books, records, and what not, that may have been truth or may have been lies, that common men so doing went always by one way, called the Way of Hospitalet, the Two Men determined to go by no such common path, but to march, all clothed with power, in a straight line, and to take the main range of the mountains just where they chose, and to come down upon the Andorrans unexpectedly and to deserve their admiration and perhaps their fear.
They chose, therefore, upon the map the valley of that torrent called the Aston, and before it was evening, but at an hour when the light of the sun was already very ripe and low, they stood under a great rock called Guie, which was all of bare limestone with facades as bare as the Yosemite, and almost as clean. They looked up at this great rock of Guie and made it the terminal of their attempt. I was one and my companion was the other: these were the Two Men who started out before a sunset in August to conquer the high Pyrenees. Before me was a very deep valley full of woods, and reaching higher and higher perpetually so that it reminded me of Hyperion, but as for my companion, it reminded him of nothing, for he said loudly that he had never seen any such things before and had never believed that summits of so astonishing a height were to be found on earth. Not even at night had he imagined such appalling upward and upward into the sky, and this he said though he had seen the Alps, of which it is true that when you are close to them they are very middling affairs; but not so the Pyrenees, which are not only great but also terrible, for they are haunted, as you shall hear. But before I begin to write of the spirits that inhabit the deserts of the Aston, I must first explain, for the sake of those who have not seen them, how the awful valleys of the Pyrenees are made.
All the high valleys of mountains go in steps, but those of the Pyrenees in a manner more regular even than those of the Sierra Nevada out in California, which the Pyrenees so greatly resemble. For the steps here are nearly always three in number between the plain and the main chain, and each is entered by a regular gate of rock. So it is in the valley of the Ariege, and so it is in that of the Aston, and so it is in every other valley until you get to the far end where live the cleanly but incomprehensible Basques. Each of these steps is perfectly level, somewhat oval in shape, a mile or two or sometimes five miles long, but not often a mile broad. Through each will run the river of the valley, and upon either side of it there will be rich pastures, and a high plain of this sort is called a jasse, the same as in California is called a "flat": as "Dutch Flat," "Poverty Flat," and other famous flats.
First, then, will come a great gorge through which one marches up from the plain, and then at the head of it very often a waterfall of some kind, along the side of which one forces one's way up painfully through a narrow chasm of rock and finds above one The great green level of the first jasse with the mountains standing solemnly around it. And then when one has marched all along this level one will come to another gorge and another chasm, and when one has climbed over the barrier of rock and risen up another 2000 feet or so, one comes to a second jasse, smaller as a rule than the lower one; but so high are the mountains that all this climbing into the heart of them does not seem to have reduced their height at all. And then one marches along this second jasse and one comes to yet another gorge and climbs up just as one did the two others, through a chasm where there will be a little waterfall or a large one, and one finds at the top the smallest and most lonely of the jasses. This often has a lake in it. The mountains round it will usually be cliffs, forming sometimes a perfect ring, and so called cirques, or, by the Spaniards, cooking-pots; and as one stands on the level floor of one such last highest jasse and looks up at the summit of the cliffs, one knows that one is looking at the ridge of the main chain. Then it is one's business, if one desires to conquer the high Pyrenees, to find a sloping place up the cliffs to reach their summits and to go down into the further Spanish valleys. This is the order of the Pyrenean dale, and this was the order of that of the Aston.
Up the gorge then we went, my companion and I; the day fell as we marched, and there was a great moon out, filling the still air, when we came to the first chasm, and climbing through it saw before us, spread with a light mist over its pastures, the first jasse under the moonlight. And up we went, and up again, to the end of the second jasse, having before us the vast wall of the main range, and in our hearts a fear that there was something unblessed in the sight of it. For though neither I told it to my companion nor he to me, we had both begun to feel a fear which the shepherds of these mountains know very well. It was perhaps midnight or a little more when we made our camp, after looking in vain for a hut which may once have stood there, but now stood no longer. We lit a fire, but did not overcome the cold, which tormented us throughout the night, for the wind blew off the summits; and at last we woke from our half-sleep and spent the miserable hours in watching the Great Bear creeping round the pole, and in trying to feed the dying embers with damp fuel. And there it was that I discovered what I now make known to the world, namely, that gorse and holly will burn of themselves, even while they are yet rooted in the ground. So we sat sleepless and exhausted, and not without misgiving, for we had meant that night before camping to be right under the foot of the last cliffs, and we were yet many miles away. We were glad to see the river at last in the meadows show plainly under the growing light, the rocks turning red upon the sky-line, and the extinction of the stars. As we so looked north and eastward the great rock of Guie stood up all its thousands of feet enormous against the rising of the sun.
We were very weary, and invigorated by nothing but the light, but, having that at least to strengthen us, we made at once for the main range, knowing very well that, once we were over it, it would be downhill all the way, and seeing upon our maps that there were houses and living men high in the further Andorran valley, which was not deserted like this vale of the Aston, but inhabited: full, that is, of Catalans, who would soon make us forget the inhuman loneliness of the heights, for by this time we were both convinced, though still neither of us said it to the other, that there was an evil brooding over all this place.
It was noon when, after many hours of broken marching and stumbling, which betrayed our weakness, we stood at last beside the tarn in which the last cliffs of the ridge are reflected, and here was a steep slope up which a man could scramble. We drank at the foot of it the last of our wine and ate the last of our bread, promising ourselves refreshment, light, and peace immediately upon the further side, and thus lightened of our provisions, and with more heart in us, we assaulted the final hill; but just at the summit, where there should have greeted us a great view over Spain, there lowered upon us the angry folds of a black cloud, and the first of the accidents that were set in order by some enemy to ruin us fell upon my companion and me.
For a storm broke, and that with such violence that we thought it would have shattered the bare hills, for an infernal thunder crashed from one precipice to another, and there flashed, now close to us, now vividly but far off, in the thickness of the cloud, great useless and blinding glares of lightning, and hailstones of great size fell about us also, leaping from the bare rocks like marbles. And when the rain fell it was just as though it had been from a hose, forced at one by a pressure instead of falling, and we two on that height were the sole objects of so much fury, until at last my companion cried out from the rock beneath which he was cowering, "This is intolerable!" And I answered him, from the rock which barely covered me, "It is not to be borne!" So in the midst of the storm we groped our way down into the valley beneath, and got below the cloud; and when we were there we thought we had saved the day, for surely we were upon the southern side of the hills, and in a very little while we should see the first roofs of the Andorrans.
For two doubtful hours we trudged down that higher valley, but there were no men, nor any trace of men except this, that here and there the semblance of a path appeared, especially where the valley fell rapidly from one stage to another over smooth rocks, which, in their least dangerous descent, showed by smooth scratches the passage of some lost animal. For the rest, nothing human nor the memory of it was there to comfort us, though in one place we found a group of cattle browsing alone without a master. There we sat down in our exhaustion and confessed at last what every hour had inwardly convinced us of with greater strength, that we were not our own masters, that there was trouble and fate all round us, that we did not know what valley this might be, and that the storm had been but the beginning of an unholy adventure. We had been snared into Fairyland.
We did not speak much together, for fear of lowering our hearts yet more by the confession one to the other of the things we knew to be true. We did not tell each other what reserve of courage remained to us, or of strength. We sat and looked at the peaks immeasurably above us, and at the veils of rain between them, and at the black background of the sky. Nor was there anything in the landscape which did not seem to us unearthly and forlorn.
It was, in a manner, more lonely than had been the very silence of the further slope: there was less to comfort and support the soul of a man; but with every step downward we were penetrated more and more with the presence of things not mortal and of influences to which any desolation is preferable. At one moment voices called to us from the water, at another we heard our names, but pronounced in a whisper so slight and so exact that the more certain we were of hearing them the less did we dare to admit the reality of what we had heard. In a third place we saw twice in succession, though we were still going forward, the same tree standing by the same stone: for neither tree nor stone were natural to the good world, but each had been put there by whatever was mocking us and drawing us on.
Already had we stumbled twice and thrice the distance that should have separated us from the first Andorran village, but we had seen nothing, not a wall, nor smoke from a fire, let alone the tower of a Christian church, or the houses of men. Nor did any length of the way now make us wonder more than we had already wondered, nor did we hope, however far we might proceed, that we should be saved unless some other influence could be found to save us from the unseen masters of this place. For by this time we had need of mutual comfort, and openly said it to one another—but in low tones—that the valley was Faery. The river went on calling to us all the while. In places it was full of distant cheering, in others crowded with the laughter of a present multitude of tiny things, and always mocking us with innumerable tenuous voices. It grew to be evening. It was nearly two days since we had seen a man.
There stood in the broader and lower part of the valley to which we had now come, numerous rocks and boulders; for our deception some one of them or another would seem to be a man. I heard my companion call suddenly, as though to a stranger, and as he called I thought that he had indeed perceived the face of a human being, and I felt a sort of sudden health in me when I heard the tone of his voice; and when I looked up I also saw a man. We came towards him and he did not move. Close up beside his form we put out our hands: but what we touched was a rough and silent stone.
After that we spoke no more. We went on through the gathering twilight, determined to march downwards to the end, but knowing pretty well what the end would be. Once only did we again fall into the traps that were laid about us, when we went and knocked at the hillside where we thought we had seen a cottage and its oaken door, and after the mockery of that disappointment we would not be deceived again, nor make ourselves again the victims of the laughter that perpetually proceeded from the torrent. The path led us onwards in a manner that was all one with the plot now woven round our feet. We could but follow the path, though we knew with what an evil purpose it was made: that it was as phantom as the rest. At one place it invited us to cross, upon two shaking pine trunks, the abyss of a cataract; in another it invited us to climb, in spite of our final weariness, a great barrier of rock that lay between an upper and a lower jasse. We continued upon it determinedly, with heads bent, barely hoping that perhaps at last we should emerge from this haunted ground, but the illusions which had first mocked us we resolutely refused. So much so, that where at one place there stood plainly before us in the gathering darkness a farm-house with its trees and its close, its orchard and its garden gate, I said to my companion, "All this place is cursed, and I will not go near." And he applauded me, for he knew as well as I that if we had gone a few steps towards that orchard and that garden close, they would have turned into the bracken of the hillside, bare granite and unfruitful scree.
The main range, where it appeared in revelations behind us through the clouds, was far higher than mountains ever seem to waking men, and it stood quite sheer as might a precipice in a dream. The forests upon either side ran up until they were lost miles and miles above us in the storm.
Night fell and we still went onward, the one never daring to fall far behind the other, and once or twice in an hour calling to each other to make sure that another man was near; but this we did not continue, because as we went on each of us became aware under the midnight of the presence of a Third.
There was a place where the path, now broad and plain, approached a sort of little sandy bay going down towards the stream, and there I saw, by a sudden glimpse of the moon through the clouds, a large cave standing wide. We went down to it in silence, we gathered brushwood, we lit a fire, and we lay down in the cave. But before we lay down I said to my companion: "I have seen the moon—she is in the north. Into what place have we come?" He said to me in answer, "Nothing here is earthly," and after he had said this we both fell into a profound sleep in which we forgot not only cold, great hunger, and fatigue, but our own names and our very souls, and passed, as it were, into a deep bath of forgetfulness.
When we woke at the same moment, it was dawn.
We stood up in the clear and happy light and found that everything was changed. We poured water upon our faces and our hands, strode out a hundred yards and saw again the features of a man. He had a kind face of some age, and eyes such as are the eyes of mountaineers, which seem to have constantly contemplated the distant horizons and wide plains beneath their homes. We heard as he came up the sound of a bell in a Christian church below, and we exchanged with him the salutations of living men. Then I said to him: "What day is this?" He said "Sunday," and a sort of memory of our fear came on us, for we had lost a day.
Then I said to him: "What river are we upon, and what valley is this?"
He answered: "The river and the valley of the Aston." And what he said was true, for as we rounded a corner we perceived right before us a barrier, that rock of Guie from which we had set out. We had come down again into France, and into the very dale by which we had begun our ascent.
But what that valley was which had led us from the summits round backward to our starting-place, forcing upon us the refusal of whatever powers protect this passage of the chain, I have never been able to tell. It is not upon the maps; by our description the peasants knew nothing of it. No book tells of it. No men except ourselves have seen it, and I am willing to believe that it is not of this world.
There are two ways by which a man may acquire any kind of learning or profit, and this is especially true of travel.
Everybody knows that one can increase what one has of knowledge or of any other possession by going outwards and outwards; but what is also true, and what people know less, is that one can increase it by going inwards and inwards. There is no goal to either of these directions, nor any term to your advantage as you travel in them.
If you will be extensive, take it easy; the infinite is always well ahead of you, and its symbol is the sky.
If you will be intensive, hurry as much as you like you will never exhaust the complexity of things; and the truth of this is very evident in a garden, or even more in the nature of insects; of which beasts I have heard it said that the most stolid man in the longest of lives would acquire only a cursory knowledge of even one kind, as, for instance, of the horned beetle, which sings so angrily at evening.
You may travel for the sake of great horizons, and travel all your life, and fill your memory with nothing but views from mountain-tops, and yet not have seen a tenth of the world. Or you may spend your life upon the religious history of East Rutland, and plan the most enormous book upon it, and yet find that you have continually to excise and select from the growing mass of your material.
* * * * *
A wise man having told me this some days before (and I having believed it), it seemed to me as though a new entertainment had been invented for me, or rather as though I had found a bottomless purse; since by this doctrine there was manifestly no end to the number of my pleasures, and to each of this infinite number no possibility of exhaustion; but I thought I would put it to the test in this way: putting aside but three days, I determined in that space to explore a little corner of this country.
Now, although I saw not one-hundredth of the buildings or the people in this very small space, and though I knew nothing of the birds or the beasts or the method of tillage, or of anything of all that makes up a land, yet I saw enough to fill a book. And the pleasure of my thoughts was so great that I determined to pick out a bit here and a bit there, and to put down the notes almost without arrangement, in order that those who cannot do these things (whether from lack of leisure or for some other reason) may get some part of my pleasure without loss to me (on the contrary, with profit); and in order that every one may be convinced of what this little journey finally taught me, and which I repeat—that there is an inexhaustible treasure everywhere, not only outwards, but inwards.
I had known the Ouse—(how many years ago!)—had looked up at those towers of Ely from my boat; but a town from a river and a town from the street are two different things. Moreover, in that time I speak of, the day years ago, it was blowing very hard from the south, and I was anxious to be away before it, and away I went down to Lynn at one stretch; for in those days the wind and the water seemed of more moment than old stones. Now (after how many years!) it was my business to go up by land, and as I went, the weight of the Cathedral filled the sky before me.
Impressions of this sort are explained by every man in his own way—for my part I felt the Norman.
I know not by what accident it was, but never had I come so nearly into the presence of the men who founded England. The isolation of the hill, the absence of clamour and false noise and everything modern, the smallness of the village, the solidity and amplitude of the homes and their security, all recalled an origin.
I went into the door of the Cathedral under the high tower. I noted the ponderous simplicity of the great squat pillars, the rough capitals—plain bulges of stone without so much as a pattern cut upon them—the round arch and the low aisles; but in one corner remaining near the door—a baptistery, I suppose—was a crowd of ornament which (like everything of that age) bore the mark of simplicity, for it was an endless heap of the arch and the column and the zigzag ornament—the broken line. Its richness was due to nothing but the repetition of similar forms, and everywhere the low stature, the muscles, the broad shoulders of the thing, proved and reawoke the memory of the Norman soldiers.
They have been written of enough to-day, but who has seen them from close by or understood that brilliant interlude of power?
The little bullet-headed men, vivacious, and splendidly brave, we know that they awoke all Europe, that the first provided settled financial systems and settled governments of land, and that everywhere, from the Grampians to Mesopotamia, they were like steel when all other Christians were like wood or like lead.
We know that they were a flash. They were not formed or definable at all before the year 1000; by the year 1200 they were gone. Some odd transitory phenomenon of cross-breeding, a very lucky freak in the history of the European family, produced the only body of men who all were lords and who in their collective action showed continually nothing but genius.
We know that they were the spear-head, as it were, of the Gallic spirit: the vanguard of that one of the Gallic expansions which we associate with the opening of the Middle Ages and with the crusades. ... We know all this and write about it; nevertheless, we do not make enough of the Normans in England.
Here and there a man who really knows his subject and who disdains the market of the school books, puts as it should be put their conquest of this island and their bringing into our blood whatever is still strongest in it. Many (descended from their leaders) have remarked their magical ride through South Italy, their ordering of Sicily, their hand in Palestine. As for the Normans in Normandy, of their exchequer there, of what Rouen was—all that has never been properly written down at all. Their great adventure here in England has been most written of by far; but I say again no one has made enough of them; no one has brought them back out of their graves. The character of what they did has been lost in these silly little modern quarrels about races, which are but the unscholarly expression of a deeper hypocritical quarrel about religion.
Yet it is in England that the Norman can be studied as he can be studied nowhere else. He did not write here (as in Sicily) upon a palimpsest. He was not merged here (as in the Orient) with the rest of the French. He was segregated here; he can be studied in isolation; for though so many that crossed the sea on that September night with William, the big leader of them, held no Norman tenure, yet the spirit of the whole thing was Norman: the regularity the suddenness, the achievement, and, when the short fighting was over the creation of a new society. It was the Norman who began everything over again—the first fresh influence since Rome.
The riot of building has not been seized. The island was conquered in 1070. It was a place of heavy foolish men with random laws, pale eyes, and a slow manner; their houses were of wood: sometimes they built (but how painfully, and how childishly!) with stone. There was no height, there was no dignity, there was no sense of permanence. The Norman Government was established. At once rapidity, energy, the clear object of a united and organised power followed. And see what followed in architecture alone, and in what a little space of the earth, and in what a little stretch of time—less than the time that separates us to-day from the year of Disraeli's death or the occupation of Egypt.
The Conquest was achieved in 1070. In that same year they pulled down the wooden shed at Bury St Edmunds, "unworthy," they said, "of a great saint," and began the great shrine of stone. Next year it was the castle at Oxford, in 1075 Monkswearmouth, Jarrow, and the church at Chester; in 1077 Rochester and St Albans; in 1079 Winchester. Ely, Worcester, Thorney, Hurley, Lincoln, followed with the next years; by 1089 they had tackled Gloucester, by 1092 Carlisle, by 1093 Lindisfarne, Christchurch, tall Durham.... And this is but a short and random list of some of their greatest works in the space of one boyhood. Hundreds of castles, houses, village churches are unrecorded.
Were they not indeed a people?... And all that effort realised itself before Pope Urban had made the speech which launched the armies against the Holy Land. The Norman had created and founded all this before the Mass of Europe was urged against the flame of the Arab, to grow fruitful and to be transformed.
One may say of the Norman preceding the Gothic what Dante said of Virgil preceding the Faith: Would that they had been born in a time when they could have known it! But the East was not yet open. The mind of Europe had not yet received the great experience of the Crusades; the Normans had no medium wherein to express their mighty soul, save the round arch and the straight line, the capital barbaric or naked, the sullen round shaft of the pillar—more like a drum than like a column. They could build, as it-were, with nothing but the last ruins of Rome. They were given no forms but the forms which the fatigue and lethargy of the Dark Ages had repeated for six hundred years. They were capable, even in the north, of impressing even these forms with a superhuman majesty.
* * * * *
Was I not right in saying that everywhere in the world one can look in and in and never find an end to one's delight? I began to explore but a tiny corner of England, and here in one corner of that corner, and in but one thought arising from this corner of a corner, I have found these things.
* * * * *
But England is especially a garden of this sort, or a storehouse; and in nothing more than in this matter of the old architecture which perpetuates the barbaric grandeur of the eleventh century—the time before it was full day.
When the Gothic came the whole of northern Europe was so enamoured of it that common men, bishops, and kings pulled down and rebuilt everywhere. Old crumbling walls of the Romanesque fell at Amiens; you can still see them cowering at Beauvais; only an accident of fire destroyed them in Notre Dame. In England the transition survived; nowhere save in England is the Northern Romanesque triumphant, not even at Caen. Elsewhere the Gothic has conquered. Only here in England can you see the Romanesque facing, like an equal, newer things, because here only was there a great outburst of building—a kind of false spring before the Gothic came, because here only in Europe had a great political change and a great flood of wealth come in before the expansion of the twelfth century began.
There is one little corner of England; here is another.
The Isle of Ely lying on the fens is like a starfish lying on a flat shore at low tide. Southward, westward, and northward from the head or centre of the clump (which is where the Cathedral stands) it throws out arms every way, and these arms have each short tentacles of their own. In between the spurs runs the even fen like a calm sea, and on the crest of the spurs, radiating also from Ely, run the roads. Long ago there was but one road of these that linked up the Isle with the rest of England. It was the road from the south, and there the Romans had a station; the others led only to the farms and villages dependent upon the city. Now they are prolonged by artifice into the modern causeways which run over the lower and new-made land.
The Isle has always stood like a fortress, and has always had a title and commandership, which once were very real things; the people told me that the King of England's third title was Marquis of Ely, and I knew of myself that just before the civil wars the commandership of the Isle gave the power of raising men.
The ends of many wars drifted to this place to die. Here was the last turn of the Saxon lords, and the last rally of the feudal rebellions of the thirteenth century.
Not that the fens were impassable or homeless, but they were difficult in patches; their paths were rare and laid upon no general system. Their inhabited fields were isolated, their waters tidal, with great banks of treacherous mud, intricate and unbridged; such conditions are amply sufficient for a defensive war. The flight of a small body in such a land can always baffle an army until that small body is thrust into some one refuge so well defended by marsh or river that the very defence cuts off retreat: and a small body so brought to bay in such a place has this further advantage, that from the bits of higher land, the "Islands," one of the first requirements of defence is afforded—an unbroken view of every avenue by which attack can come. There is no surprising such forts.
So much is in Ely to-day and a great deal more. For instance (a third and last idea out of the thousand that Ely arouses), Ely is dumb and yet oracular. The town and the hill tell you nothing till you have studied them in silence and for some considerable time. This boast is made by many towns, that they hold a secret. But Ely, which is rather a village than a town, has alone a true claim, the proof of which is this, that no one comes to Ely for a few hours and carries anything away, whereas no man lives in Ely for a year without beginning to write a book. I do not say that all are published, but I swear that all are begun.
THE INN OF THE MARGERIDE
Whatever, keeping its proportion and form, is designed upon a scale much greater or much less than that of our general experience, produces upon the mind an effect of phantasy.
A little perfect model of an engine or a ship does not only amuse or surprise; it rather casts over the imagination something of that veil through which the world is transfigured, and which I have called "the wing of Dalua"; the medium of appreciations beyond experience; the medium of vision, of original passion and of dreams. The principal spell of childhood returns as we bend over the astonishing details. We are giants—or there is no secure standard left in our intelligence.
So it is with the common thing built much larger than the million examples upon which we had based our petty security. It has been always in the nature of worship that heroes, or the gods made manifest, should be men, but larger than men. Not tall men or men grander, but men transcendent: men only in their form; in their dimension so much superior as to be lifted out of our world. An arch as old as Rome but not yet ruined, found on the sands of Africa, arrests the traveller in this fashion. In his modern cities he has seen greater things; but here in Africa, where men build so squat and punily, cowering under the heat upon the parched ground, so noble and so considerable a span, carved as men can carve under sober and temperate skies, catches the mind and clothes it with a sense of the strange. And of these emotions the strongest, perhaps, is that which most of those who travel to-day go seeking; the enchantment of mountains; the air by which we know them for something utterly different from high hills. Accustomed to the contour of downs and tors, or to the valleys and long slopes that introduce a range, we come to some wider horizon and see, far off, a further line of hills. To hills all the mind is attuned: a moderate ecstasy. The clouds are above the hills, lying level in the empty sky; men and their ploughs have visited, it seems, all the land about us; till, suddenly, faint but hard, a cloud less varied, a greyer portion of the infinite sky itself, is seen to be permanent above the world. Then all our grasp of the wide view breaks down. We change. The valleys and the tiny towns, the unseen mites of men, the gleams or thread of roads, are prostrate, covering a little watching space before the shrine of this dominant and towering presence.
It is as though humanity were permitted to break through the vulgar illusion of daily sense, and to learn in a physical experience how unreal are all the absolute standards by which we build. It is as though the vast and the unexpected had a purpose, and that purpose were the showing to mankind in rare glimpses what places are designed for the soul—those ultimate places where things common become shadows and fail, and the divine part in us, which adores and desires, breathes its own air, and is at last alive.
* * * * *
This awful charm which attaches to the enormous envelops the Causse of Mende; for its attributes are all of them pushed beyond the ordinary limit.
Each of the four Causses is a waste; but the Causse of Mende is utterly bereft of men. Each is a high plateau; but this, I believe, the highest in feet, and certainly in impression. You stand there as it were upon the summit of a lonely pedestal, with nothing but a rocky edge around you. Each is dried up; but the Catisse of Mende is without so much as a dew-pan or a well; it is wrinkled, horny, and cauterised under the alternate frost and flame of its fierce open sky, as are the deserts of the moon. Each of the Causses is silent; but the silence of the Causse of Mende is scorched and frozen into its stones, and is as old as they: all around, the torrents which have sawn their black canons upon every side of the block frame this silence with their rumble. Each of the Causses casts up above its plain fantastic heaps of rock consonant to the wild spirit of its isolation; but the Causse of Mende holds a kind of fortress—a medley so like the ghost of a dead town that, even in full daylight, you expect the footsteps of men; and by night, as you go gently, in fear of waking the sleepers, you tread quite certainly among built houses and spires. This place the peasants of the canons have called "The Old City"; and no one living will go near it who knows it well.
The Causses have also this peculiar to them: that the ravines by which each is cut off are steep and sudden. But the cliffs of the Causse of Mende are walls. That the chief of these walls may seem the more terrible, it is turned northwards, so that by day and night it is in shadow, and falls sheer.
* * * * *
It was when I had abandoned this desolate wonder (but with its influence strong upon me) that I left the town of Mende, down on the noise of its river, and began to climb the opposing mountain of the Margeride.
It was already evening, though as yet there were no stars. The air was fresh, because the year was at that season when it is summer in the vineyard plains, but winter in the hills. A twilight so coloured and translucent as to suggest cold spanned like an Aurora the western mouth of the gully. Upon my eastward and upward way the full moon, not yet risen, began to throw an uncertain glory over the sky.
This road was made by the French kings when their influence had crept so far south as to control these mountains. They became despots, and their despotism, which was everywhere magnificent, engraved itself upon these untenanted bare rocks. They strengthened and fortified the road. Its grandeur in so empty and impoverished a land was a boast or a threat of their power. The Republic succeeded the kings, the Armies succeeded the Republic, and every experiment succeeded the victories and the breakdown of the Armies. The road grew stronger all the while, bridging this desert, and giving pledge that the brain of Paris was able, and more able, to order the whole of the soil. So then, as I followed it, it seemed to me to bear in itself, and in its contrast with untamed surroundings, the history and the character of this one nation out of the many which live by the tradition of Europe. As I followed it and saw its exact gradient, its hard and even surface, its square border stones, and, every hundred yards, its carved mark of the distance done, these elaborations, standing quite new among the tumbled rocks of a vague upland, made one certain that Paris had been at work. Very far back (how far was marked on the milestone) the road had left the swarming gate of Toulouse. Very far on (how far was marked on the milestone) it was to cross the Saone by its own bridge, and feed the life of Lyons. In between it met and surmounted (still civilised, easy, complete) this barbaric watershed of the Margeride.
As I followed it, law—good law and evil—seemed to go with me up the mountain side.
There was more sound than on the arid wastes of the Causse. There were trees, and birds in the trees, moving faintly. The great moon, which had now risen, shone also upon scanty grass and (from time to time) upon the trickle of water passing in runnels beneath the road.
The torrent in the depth below roared openly and strong, and, beyond it, the black wall of the Causse, immense and battlemented above me under the moon, made what poor life this mountain supported seem for a moment gracious by comparison. I remembered that sheep and goats and men could live on the Margeride.
But the Margeride has rightly compelled its 'very few historians to melancholy or fear.
It is a district, or a mountain range, or a single summit, which cuts off the east from the west, the Loire from the Gironde: a long, even barrow of dark stone. Its people are one, suspicious of the plains. Its line against the sky is also one: no critical height in Europe is so strict and unbroken. You may see it from a long way east—from the Velay, or even from the last of the Forez, and wonder whether it is a land or a sullen bar of black cloud.
All the world knows how snow, even in mere gullies and streaks, uplifts a mountain. Well, I have seen the dull roof-tile of the Margeride from above Puy in spring, when patches of snow still clung to it, and the snow did no more than it would have done to a plain. It neither raised nor distinguished this brooding thing.
But it is indeed a barrier. Its rounded top is more formidable than if it were a ridge of rock; its saddle, broad and indeterminate, deceives the traveller, with new slight slopes following one upon the other when the sharp first of the ascent is done.
Already the last edge of the Causse beyond the valley had disappeared, and already had the great road taken me higher than the buttress which holds up that table-land, when, thinking I had gained the summit, I turned a corner in the way and found a vague roll of rising land before me. Upon this also, under the strong moonlight, I saw the ruin of a mill. Water, therefore, must have risen behind it. I expected and found yet another uncertain height, and beyond it a third, and, a mile beyond, another. This summit was like those random marshy steps which rise continually and wearily between the sluggish rivers of the prairies.
I passed the fields that gave his title to La Peyrouse. The cold, which with every hundred feet had increased unnoticed, now first disturbed me. The wind had risen (for I had come to that last stretch of the glacis, over which, from beyond the final height, an eastern wind can blow), and this wind carried I know not what dust of ice, that did not make a perceptible fall, yet in an hour covered my clothes with tiny spangles, and stung upon the face like Highland snow in a gale. With that wind and that fine, powdery frost went no apparent clouds. The sky was still clear above me. Such rare stars as can conquer the full moon shone palely; but round the moon herself bent an evanescent halo, like those one sees over the Channel upon clear nights before a stormy morning. The spindrift of fine ice had, I think, defined this halo.
How long I climbed through the night I do not know. The summit was but a slight accident upon a tumbled plain. The ponds stood thick with ice, the sound of running water had ceased, when the slight downward of the road through a barren moor and past broad undrained films of frozen bog, told me that I was on the further northern slope. The wind also was now roaring over the platform of the watershed, and great patches of whirling snow lay to the right and left like sand upon the grassy dunes of a coast.
Through all this loneliness and cold I went down, with the great road for a companion. Majesty and power were imposed by it upon these savage wilds. The hours uncalculated, and the long arrears of the night, had confused my attention; the wind, the little arrows of the ice, the absence of ploughlands and of men. Those standards of measure which (I have said) the Causses so easily disturb would not return to me. I took mile after mile almost unheeding, numbed with cold, demanding sleep, but ignorant of where might be found the next habitation.
It was in this mood that I noticed on a distant swirl of rocks before me what might have been roofs and walls; but in that haunted country the rocks play such tricks as I have told. The moonlight also, which seems so much too bright upon a lonely heath, fails one altogether when distinction must be made between distant things, and when men are near. I did not know that these rocks (or houses) were the high group of Chateauneuf till I came suddenly upon the long and low house which stands below it on the road, and is the highway inn for the mountain town beyond.
I halted for a moment, because no light came from the windows. Just opposite the house a great tomb marked the fall of some hero. The wind seemed less violent. The waters of the marshy plain had gathered. They were no longer frozen, and a little brook ran by. As I waited there, hesitating, my fatigue came upon me, and I knocked at their great door. They opened, and light poured upon the road, and the noise of peasants talking loudly, and the roaring welcome of a fire. In this way I ended my crossing of these sombre and unrecorded hills.
* * * * *
I that had lost count of hours and of heights in the glamour of the midnight and of the huge abandoned places of my climb, stepped now into a hall where the centuries also mingled and lost their order. The dancing fire filled one of those great pent-house chimneys that witness to the communal life of the Middle Ages. Around and above it, ironwork of a hundred years branched from the ingle-nooks to support the drying meats of the winter provision. A wide board, rude, over-massive, and shining with long usage, reflected the stone ware and the wine. Chairs, carved grotesquely, and as old almost as the walls about me, stood round the comfort of the fire. I saw that the windows were deeper than a man's arms could reach, and wedge-shaped—made for fighting. I saw that the beams of the high roof, which the firelight hardly caught, were black oak and squared enormously, like the ribs of a master-galley, and in the leaves and garden things that hung from them, in the mighty stones of the wall, and the beaten earth of the floor, the strong simplicity of our past, and the promise of our endurance, came upon me.
The peasants sitting about the board and fire had risen, looking at the door; for strangers were rare, and it was very late as I came out of the empty cold into that human room. Their dress was ancestral; the master, as he spoke to me, mixed new words with old. He had phrases that the Black Prince used when he went riding at arms across the Margeride. He spoke also of modern things, of the news in the valley from which I had come, and the railway and Puy below us. They put before me bread and wine, which I most needed. I sat right up against the blaze. We all talked high together of the things we knew. For when I had told them what news there was in the valley, they also answered my questions, into which I wove as best I could those still living ancient words I had caught from their mouths. I asked them whose was that great tomb under the moonlight, at which I had shuddered as I entered their doors. They told me it was Duguesclin's tomb; for he got his death-wound here under the walls of the town above them five hundred years ago, and in this house he had died. Then I asked what stream that was which trickled from the half-frozen moss, and led down the valley of my next day's journey. They told me it was called the River Red-cap, and they said that it was Faery. I asked them also what was the name of the height over which I had come; they answered, that the shepherds called it "The King's House," and that hence, in clear weather, under an eastern wind, one could see far off, beyond the Velay, that lonely height which is called "The Chair of God."
So we talked together, drinking wine and telling each other of many things, I of the world to which I was compelled to return, and they of the pastures and the streams, and all the story of Lozere. And, all the while, not the antiquity alone, but the endurance of Christendom poured into me from every influence around.
They rose to go to the homes which were their own, without a lord. We exchanged the last salutations. The wooden soles of their shoes clattered upon the stone threshold of the door.
The master also rose and left me. I sat there for perhaps an hour, alone, with the falling fire before me and a vision in my heart.
Though I was here on the very roof and centre of the western land, I heard the surge of the inner and the roll of the outer sea; the foam broke against the Hebrides, and made a white margin to the cliffs of Holy Ireland. The tide poured up beyond our islands to the darkness in the north. I saw the German towns, and Lombardy, and the light on Rome. And the great landscape I saw from the summit to which I was exalted was not of to-day only, but also of yesterday, and perhaps of to-morrow.
Our Europe cannot perish. Her religion—which is also mine—has in it those victorious energies of defence which neither merchants nor philosophers can understand, and which are yet the prime condition of establishment. Europe, though she must always repel attacks from within and from without, is always secure; the soul of her is a certain spirit, at once reasonable and chivalric. And the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.
She will not dissolve by expansion, nor be broken by internal strains. She will not suffer that loss of unity which would be for all her members death, and for her history and meaning and self an utter oblivion. She will certainly remain.
Her component peoples have merged and have remerged. Her particular, famous cities have fallen down. Her soldiers have believed the world to have lost all, because a battle turned against them, Hittin or Leipsic. Her best has at times grown poor, and her worst rich. Her colonies have seemed dangerous for a moment from the insolence of their power, and then again (for a moment) from the contamination of their decline. She has suffered invasion of every sort; the East has wounded her in arms and has corrupted her with ideas; her vigorous blood has healed the wounds at once, and her permanent sanity has turned such corruptions into innocuous follies. She will certainly remain.
* * * * *
So that old room, by its very age, reminded me, not of decay, but of unchangeable things.
All this came to me out of the fire; and upon such a scene passed the pageantry of our astounding history. The armies marching perpetually, the guns and ring of bronze; I heard the chant of our prayers; and, though so great a host went by from the Baltic to the passes of the Pyrenees, the myriads were contained in one figure common to them all.
I was refreshed, as though by the resurrection of something loved and thought dead. I was no longer afraid of Time.
That night I slept ten hours. Next day, as I swung out into the air, I knew that whatever Power comforts men had thrown wide open the gates of morning; and a gale sang strong and clean across that pale blue sky which mountains have for a neighbour.
I could see the further valley broadening among woods, to the warmer places; and I went down beside the River Red-cap onwards, whither it pleased me to go.
A FAMILY OF THE FENS
Upon the very limit of the Fens, not a hundred feet in height, but very sharp against the level, there is a lonely little hill. From the edge of that hill the land seems very vague; the flat line of the horizon is the only boundary, and that horizon mixes into watery clouds. No countryside is so formless until one has seen the plan of it set down in a map, but on studying such a map one understands the scheme of the Fens.
The Wash is in the shape of a keystone with the narrow side towards the sea and the broad side towards the land. Imagine the Wash prolonged for twenty or thirty miles inland and broadened considerably as it proceeded as would a curving fan, or better still, a horseshoe, and you have the Fens: a horseshoe whose points, as Dugdale says, are the corners of Lincolnshire and Norfolk.
All around them is land of some little height, and quite dry. It is ooelitic on the east, chalky on the south, and the old towns and the old roads look from all round this amphitheatre of dry land down upon the alluvial flats beneath. Peterboro', Cambridge, Lynn, are all just off the Fens, and the Ermine street runs on the bank which forms their eastern frontier.
This plain has suffered very various fortunes. How good the land was and how well inhabited before the ruin of the monasteries is not yet completely grasped, even by these who love these marshes and who have written their history. Yet there is physical evidence of what was once here: masses of trees but just buried, grass lying mown in swathes beneath the moss-land, the implements of men where now no men can live, the great buried causeway running right across from east to west.
Beyond such proofs there are the writers who, rare as are the descriptions of medieval scenery, manage to speak of this. For Henry of Huntingdon it was a kind of garden. There were many meres in it, but there were also islands and woods and orchards. William of Malmesbury writes of it with delight, and mentions even its vines. The meres were not impassable marshes; for instance, in Domesday you find the Abbot of Ramsay owning a vessel upon Whittlesea Mere. The whole impression one gets from the earlier time is that of something like the upper waters of the rivers in the Broads: much draining and a good many ponds, but most of the land firm with good deep pastures and a great diversity of woods.