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Title: Old Junk
Author: Tomlinson, H. M. (Henry Major), 1873-1958
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Old Junk" ***

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OLD JUNK



BY

H. M. TOMLINSON



FOREWORD BY S. K. RATCLIFFE



NEW YORK ALFRED · A · KNOPF 1920

COPYRIGHT, 1920, BY
ALFRED A. KNOPF, INC.
_Second Printing August, 1920_

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



_To

C. H. G. H.

Who saw with me so much of what is in this book_

(_Killed in action in Artois, August 27th, 1918_)



These stories of travel and chance have been selected from writings
published in various periodicals between January 1907 and April 1918,
and are arranged in order of time.



Foreword


_The author of_ OLD JUNK _has been called a legend. A colleague who
during the later stages of the war visited the western front assured me
that this was the right word by which to describe the memory left among
officers and men, not so much by his work as a war correspondent, as by
his original and fascinating character. A legend, too, he appears to be
in the newspaper world of London: but there in a different sense, by
reason of the singular contradiction between the human creature beloved
of all his fellows and the remarkable productions of his pen._

_The first thing to say about H. M. Tomlinson, the thing of which you
become acutely aware on making his acquaintance, is that he is a
Londoner. "Nearly a pure-blooded London Saxon" is his characterization
of himself. And so it is. He could have sprung from no other stock. In
person and speech, in the indefinable quality of the man, in the humour
which continually tempers his tremendous seriousness, he belongs to
London. Among the men of our time who have done creative writing I can
think of no other about whom this can be so precisely stated._

_It was in the opening years of the century that I first began to
notice his work. His name was appearing in the columns of a London
morning newspaper, since absorbed by the_ Daily News, _over articles
which, if my memory is not at fault, were mainly concerned with the
life of Thames side. They were written with extraordinary care. The man
who did them had, clearly, no competitor in Fleet Street. And he
furnishes a striking illustration of the chances and misfits of the
journalistic life. When, after some years of absence in the Far East, I
was able to fit a person to the writing which had so long attracted me,
I found H. M. Tomlinson on the regular reporting staff of a great
London newspaper. A man born for the creation of beauty in words was
doing daily turn along with the humble chronicler of metropolitan
trivialities._

_A year or two before the war the quality of his mind and of his style
was revealed in_ THE SEA AND THE JUNGLE--_a "narrative of the voyage of
the tramp steamer_ Capella, _from Swansea to Para in the Brazils, and
thence two thousand miles along the forests of the Amazon and Madeira
Rivers to the San Antonio Falls," returning by Barbados, Jamaica, and
Tampa. Its author called it merely "an honest book of travel." It is
that no doubt; but in a degree so eminent, one is tempted to say that
an honest book of travel, when so conceived and executed, must surely
count among the noblest works of the literary artist._

_The great war provided almost unlimited work for men of letters, and
not seldom work that was almost as far from their ordinary business as
fighting itself. It carried Tomlinson into the guild of war
correspondents. In the early months he represented the paper to which
for some years he had been attached, the London_ Daily News. _Later,
under the co-operative scheme which emerged from the restrictive policy
adopted by all the belligerent governments, his dispatches came to be
shared among a partnership which included the London_ Times--_as odd an
arrangement for a man like Tomlinson as could well be imagined. It
would be foolish to attempt an estimate of his correspondence from
France. It was beautiful copy, but it was not war reporting. To those
of us who knew him it remained a marvel how he could do it at all. But
there was no marvel in the fact, attested by a notable variety of
witnesses, of Tomlinson as an influence and a memory, persisting until
the dispersal of the armies, as of one who was the friend of all, a
sweet and fine spirit moving untouched amid the ruin and terror,
expressing itself everywhere with perfect simplicity, and at times with
a shattering candor._

_From France he returned, midway in the war, to join the men who, under
the Command of H. W. Massingham, make the editorial staff of the
London_ Nation _the most brilliant company of journalists in the world.
His hand may be traced week by week in many columns and especially, in
alternate issues, on the page given up to the literary_ causerie.

_To the readers of books Tomlinson is known at present by_ THE SEA
AND THE JUNGLE _alone. The war, it may be, did something to retard
its fame. But the time is coming when none will dispute its right to
a place of exceptional honour among records of travel--alongside the
very few which, during the two or three decades preceding the general
overturn, had been added to the books of the great wayfaring
companions. It is remarkably unlike all others, in its union of
accurate chronicle with intimate self-revelation; and, although it is
the sustained expression of a mood, it is extremely quotable. I choose
as a single example this scene, from the description of the_ Capella's
_first day on the Para River._

    _There was seldom a sign of life but the infrequent snowy herons,
    and those curious brown fowl, the ciganas. The sun was flaming on
    the majestic assembly of the storm. The warm air, broken by our
    steamer, coiled over us in a lazy flux.... Sometimes we passed
    single habitations on the water side. Ephemeral huts of palm-leaves
    were forced down by the forest, which overhung them, to wade on
    frail stilts. A canoe would be tied to a toy jetty, and on the
    jetty a sad woman and several naked children would stand, with
     no show of emotion, to watch us go by. Behind them was the
    impenetrable foliage. I thought of the precarious tenure on earth
    of these brown folk with some sadness, especially as the day was
    going. The easy dominance of the wilderness, and man's intelligent
    morsel of life resisting it, was made plain when we came suddenly
    upon one of his little shacks secreted among the aqueous roots of a
    great tree, cowering, as it were, between two of the giant's toes.
    Those brown babies on the jetties never cheered us. They watched
    us, serious and forlorn. Alongside their primitive huts were a few
    rubber trees, which we knew by their scars. Late in the afternoon
    we came to a large cavern in the base of the forest, a shadowy
    place where at last we did see a gathering of the folk. A number of
    little wooden crosses peeped above the floor in the hollow. The
    sundering floods and the forest do not always keep these folk from
    congregation, and the comfort of the last communion._

_If the reader is also a writer, he will feel the challenge of that
passage--its spiritual quality, its rhythm, its images. And he will
know what gifts of mind, and what toil, have gone to its making._

OLD JUNK _is not, in the same organic sense, a book. The sketches and
essays of which it is composed are of different years and, as a glance
will show, of a wide diversity of theme. The lover of the great book
will be at home with the perfect picture of the dunes, as well as with
the two brilliantly contrasted voyages; while none who can feel the
touch of the interpreter will miss the beauty of the pieces that may be
less highly wrought._

_As to Tomlinson's future I would not venture a prediction.
Conceivably, when the horror has become a memory that can be lived with
and transfused, he may write one of the living books enshrining the
experience of these last five years. But, just as likely he may not. I
subscribe, in ending this rough note, to a judgment recently delivered
by a fellow worker that among all the men writing in England today
there is none known to us whose work reveals a more indubitable sense
of the harmonies of imaginative prose._

S. K. RATCLIFFE.

_New York, Christmas, 1919._



CONTENTS


CHAPTER                                                      PAGE

FOREWORD BY S. K. RATCLIFFE                                    11

    I. THE AFRICAN COAST                                       21

   II. T HE CALL                                               47

  III. OLD JUNK                                                58

   IV. BED-BOOKS AND NIGHT-LIGHTS                              65

    V. TRANSFIGURATION                                         75

   VI. THE PIT MOUTH                                           80

  VII. INITIATION                                              86

 VIII. THE ART OF WRITING                                      92

   IX. A FIRST IMPRESSION                                     100

    X. THE DERELICT                                           107

   XI. THE VOYAGE OF THE _Mona_                               118

  XII. THE LASCAR'S WALKING-STICK                             136

 XIII. THE EXTRA HAND                                         144

  XIV. THE SOU'-WESTER                                        152

   XV. ON LEAVE                                               157

  XVI. THE DUNES                                              165

 XVII. BINDING A SPELL                                        174

XVIII. A DIVISION ON THE MARCH                                179

  XIX. HOLLY-HO!                                              185

   XX. THE RUINS                                              195

  XXI. LENT, 1918                                             201



OLD JUNK



I. The African Coast


I

She is the steamship _Celestine_, and she is but a little lady. The
barometer has fallen, and the wind has risen to hunt the rain. I do not
know where _Celestine_ is going, and, what is better, do not care. This
is December and this is Algiers, and I am tired of white glare and
dust. The trees have slept all day. They have hardly turned a leaf. All
day the sky was without a flaw, and the summer silence outside the
town, where the dry road goes between hedges of arid prickly pears, was
not reticence but vacuity. But I sail tonight, and so the barometer is
falling, and I do not know where _Celestine_ will take me. I do not
care where I go with one whose godparents looked at her and called her
that.

There is one place called Jidjelli we shall see, and there is another
called Collo; and there are many others, whose names I shall never
learn, tucked away in the folds of the North African hills where they
come down to the sea between Algiers and Carthage. They will reveal
themselves as I find my way to Tripoli of Barbary. I am bound for
Tripoli, without any reason except that I like the name and admire
_Celestine_, who is going part of the journey.

But the barometer, wherever I am, seems to know when I embark. It
falls. When I went aboard the wind was howling through the shipping in
the harbour of Algiers. And again, _Celestine_ is French, and so we can
do little more than smile at each other to make visible the friendship
of our two great nations. A cable is clanking slowly, and sailors run
and shout in great excitement, doing things I can see no reason for,
because it is as dark and stormy as the forty days.

Algiers is a formless cluster of lower stars, and presently those stars
begin to revolve about us as though the wind really had got the sky
loose. The _Celestine_ is turning her head for the sea. The stars then
speed by our masts and funnel till the last is gone. Good-bye, Algiers!

_Celestine_ begins to curtsy, and at last becomes somewhat hysterical.
At night, in a high wind, she seems but a poor little body to be out
alone, with me. Tripoli becomes more remote than I thought it to be in
the early afternoon, when the French sailor talked to me in a café
while he drank something so innocently pink that it could not account
altogether for his vivacity and sudden open friendship for a shy alien.
He wanted me to elope with _Celestine_. He wanted to show me his
African shore, to see his true Mediterranean. I had travelled from
Morocco to Algiers, and was tired of tourist trains, historic ruins,
hotels, Arabs selling picture-postcards and worse, and girls dancing
the dance of the Ouled-Nails to the privileged who had paid a few
francs to see them do it. I had observed that tranquil sea; and in
places, as at Oran, had seen in the distance terraces of coloured rock
poised in enchantment between a blue ceiling and a floor of malachite.

That sea is now on our port beam. It goes before an inshore gale, and
lifts us high, turns us giddy with a sudden betrayal and descent; and
does it again, and again. Africa has vanished. Where Algiers probably
was there are but several frail stars far away in the dark that soar in
a hurry, and then collapse into the deep and are doused.

But here is le Capitaine. There is no need, of course, to be anxious
for _Celestine_. If her master is not a sailor, then all the signs are
wrong. He looks at me roguishly. Ah! His ship rolls. But the mistake,
it is not his. What would I have? She was built in England. _Voilà!_

He is a little dark man, with quick, questioning eyes, and hair like a
clothesbrush. His short alert hair, his raised and querulous eyebrows,
his taut moustaches, and a bit of beard that hangs like a dagger from
his under lip, give him the appearance of constant surprise and
fretfulness. When he is talking to me he is embarrassingly playful--but
I shall show him presently, with fair luck, that my inelastic Saxon
putty can transmute itself, can also volatilise in abandonment to
sparkling nonsense; yet not tonight--not tonight, monsieur. He is so
gay and friendly to me whenever he sees me. But when one of the staff
does that which is not down in the book, I become alarmed. Monsieur
bangs the table till the cruet-stoppers leap out, and his eyes are
unpleasant. Yes, he is the master. He rises, and shakes his forefinger
at the unfortunate till his hand is a quivering haze and his speech a
blast. "Ou--e--e--eh!" cries the skipper at last, when the unfortunate
is on the run.

He has an idea I cannot read the menu, so when an omelette is served he
informs me, in case I should suppose it is a salad. He makes helpful
farmyard noises. There is no mistaking eggs. There is no mistaking
pork. But I think he has the wrong pantomime for the ship's beef,
unless French horses have the same music as English cows. After the
first dinner, I was indiscreet enough to refuse the cognac with the
coffee. "Ah!" he chided, smiling with craft, and shaking a knowing
finger at me. He could read my native weakness. I was discovered.
"Viskee! You 'ave my viskee!" A dreadful doubt seized me, and I would
have refused, but repressed my panic, and pretended he had found my
heart.

He rose, and shouted a peremptory order. A little private cabinet was
opened. A curious bottle was produced, having a deadly label in red,
white, and green. "Viskee!" cried the captain in exultation. (My God!)
"Aha!" said the reader of my hidden desire, pouring out the tipple for
which he imagines I am perishing in stoic British silence. "Viskee!" I
drain off, with simulated delight, my large dose of methylated spirit.
Not for worlds would I undeceive the good fellow, not if this were
train-oil. He laughs aloud at our secret insular weakness. He knows it.
But he is our very good friend.

All is not finished with the whisky. Out comes the master's English
Grammar, for he is wishful to know us better before I leave him. And he
shall. To this Frenchman I determine to be nobler than I was made. I
think I would teach him English all the way to Cochin-China. He writes
in his notebook, very slowly, while his tongue comes out to look on, a
sentence like this: "The nombres Française, they are most easy that the
English language." Then I put him right; and then he rises, reaches his
hands up to my shoulders, looks earnestly in my eyes, and la-las my
National Anthem. It may please God not to let me look so foolish as I
feel while I wait for the end of that tune; but I doubt that it does.


II

Early next morning we arrived at Bougie, to get an hour's peace with
the arm of the harbour thrown about my poor _Celestine_. The deck of a
Grimsby trawler discharging fish in the Humber on a wet December
morning is no more desolating than was the look of _Celestine_ under
the mountains of Bougie; and Bougie, if you have a memory for the
coloured posters, is in the blue Mediterranean. But do I grumble? I do
not. With all the world but slops, cold iron, and squalls of sleet, I
prefer _Celestine_ to Algiers.

Most likely you have never heard of the black Mediterranean. It is
usual to go there in winter, and write about it with a date-palm in
every paragraph, till you have got all the health and enjoyment there
is in the satisfaction of telling others that while they are choosing
cough cures you are under a sunshade on the coral strand. The truth is,
the Middle Sea in December can be as ugly as the Dogger Bank. There
were some Arab deck passengers on our coaster. One of them sat looking
at a deck rivet as motionless as a fakir, and his face had the
complexion of a half-ripe watermelon. His fellow-sufferers were only
heaps of wet and dirty linen dumped in the lee alley-way. It was bad
enough in a bunk, where you could brace your knees against the side,
and keep moderately still till you dozed off, when naturally you were
shot out sprawling into the lost drainage wandering on the erratic
floor. What those Arabs suffered on deck I cannot tell you. I never
went up to find out. At Bougie they seemed to have left it all to
Allah, with the usual result. It was clear, from a glance at those
piles of rags, that the Arab is no more native to Algeria than the
Esquimaux. I was much nearer home than the Arabs. That shining coast
which occasionally I had surprised from Oran, which seemed afloat on
the sea, was no longer a vision of magic, the unsubstantial work of
Iris, an illusionary cloud of coral, amber, and amethyst. It was the
bare bones of this old earth, as sombre and foreboding as any ruin of
granite under the wrack of the bleak north.

As for Bougie, these African villages are built but for bright
sunlight. They change to miserable and filthy ruins in the rain, their
white walls blotched and scabrous, and their paths mud tracks between
the styes. Their lissom and statuesque inhabitants become softened and
bent, and pad dejectedly through the muck as though they were ashamed
to live, but had to go on with it. The palms which look so well in
sunny pictures are besoms up-ended in a drizzle. They have not that
equality with the storm which makes the Sussex beech and oak, heavily
based and strong-armed, stand with a look of might and roar at the
charges of the Channel gale. By this you will see that Bougie must wait
until I call that way again. From the look of the sky, too, there is no
doubt we are in for a spell of the kind of weather I never expected to
meet in Africa. I was a stranger there, but I knew the language of
those squadrons of dark clouds driving into the bay.

The northern sky was full of their gloomy keels. There were intervals
when the full expanse of Bougie Bay became visible, with its concourse
of mountains crowded to the shore. At the base of the dark declivities
the combers were bursting, and the spume towered on the gale like grey
smoke. Out of the foam rose harsh rubble and screes to incline against
broken precipices, and those stark walls were interrupted by mid-air
slopes of grass which appeared ready to avalanche into the tumult
below, but remained, livid areas of a dim mass which rose into dizzy
pinnacles and domes, increasing the tumbling menace of the sky. A fleet
of clouds of deep draught ran into Africa from the north; went aground
on those crags, were wrecked and burst, their contents streaming from
them and hiding the aerial reef on which they had struck. The land
vanished, till only Bougie and its quay and the _Celestine_ remained,
with one last detached fragment of mountain high over us. That, too,
dissolved. There was only our steamer and the quay at last.

I thought our master would not dare to put out from there, but he cared
as little for the storm as for the steward. His last bales were no
sooner in the lighters than he made for Jidjelli. But Jidjelli daunted
even him. The nearer we got, the worse it looked. My own feeling was
that the gathering seas had taken charge of our scallop, a cork in the
surf, and were pitching her, helpless, towards terrible walls built of
night out of a base of thunder and bursting waters. I gripped a rail,
and saw a vague range of summits appear above the nearing walls and
steadily develop towards distinction. Then the howling gale began to
scream, the ceiling lowered and darkened, and merged with the rocks,
reducing the world but to our _Celestine_ in the midst of near flashes
of white in an uproar. When presently a little daylight came into chaos
to give it shape again, there was an inch of hail on our deck, and the
mountains had been changed to white marble. We saw a red light burn low
in the place where Jidjelli ought to be, a signal that it was
impossible to enter. Our skipper put about.

That is all I know of Jidjelli, and all I wanted to know on such an
evening. The sound of the surf on the rocks was better to hear when it
was not so close. We followed that coast all night while I lay awake,
shaking to the racing of the propeller; and I blessed the unknown
engineers of the North Country who took forethought of nights of that
kind when doing their best for _Celestine_; for, though bruised, I
still loved her above Algiers and Timgad. She had character, she had
set her course, and she was holding steadily to it, and did not pray
the uncompassionate to change its face.


III

For more than a week we washed about in the surf of a high, dark coast
towards Tunis. We might have been on the windward side of Ultima Thule.
Supposing you could have been taken miraculously from your fogs and
midday lamps of London, and put with me in the _Celestine_, and told
that that sullen land looming through the murk could be yours, if you
could guess its name, then you would have guessed nothing below the
fortieth parallel.

No matter; when you were told, you would have laughed at your loss. Now
you understood why it was called the Dark Continent. It looked the home
of slavery, murder, rhinoceroses, the Congo, war, human sacrifices, and
gorillas. It had the forefront of the world of skulls and horrors,
ultimatums, mining concessions, chains, and development. Its rulers
would be throned on bone-heaps. You will say (of course you will say)
that I saw Africa like that because I was weary of the place. Not at
all. I was merely looking at it. The feeling had been growing on me
since first I saw Africa at Oran, where I landed. The longer I stay,
the more depressed I get.

This has nothing to do with the storm. This African shadow does not
chill you because you wish you were home, and home is far away. It does
not come of your rare and lucky idleness, in which you have to do
nothing but enjoy yourself; generally a sufficient reason for
melancholy, though rarely so in my own case. No, Africa itself is the
reason. There is an invisible emanation from its soil, the aura of evil
in antiquity. You cannot see it, at first you are unaware it is there,
and cannot know, therefore, what is the matter with you. This haunting
premonition is different from mere wearying and boredom. It gets worse,
the longer you stay; it goes deeper than sadness, it descends into a
conviction of something that is without hope, that is bad in its
nature, and unrepentant in its arrogant heart. When you have got so far
down you have had time to discover what that is which has put you so
low. The day may be radiant, the sky just what you had hoped to find in
Africa, and the people in the market-place a lively and chromatic
jangle; but the shadow of what we call inhumanity (when we are trying
to persuade ourselves that humanity is something very different) chills
and darkens the heart.

Yet the common sky of North Africa might be the heaven of the first
morning, innocent of knowledge that night is to come. It is not a hard
blue roof; your sight is lost in the atmosphere which is azure. The sun
more than shines; his beams ring on the rocks, and glance in colours
from the hills. From a distance the flowers on a hill slope will pour
down to the sea in such a torrent of hues that you might think the arch
of the rainbow you saw there had collapsed in the sun and was now rills
and cascades. The grove of palms holding their plumes above a white
village might be delicate pencillings on the yellow sheet of desert.
The heat is a balm. The shadows are stains of indigo on the roads and
pale walls.


IV

One day we found Sfax. I went ashore at Sfax, interested in a name
quite new to me. The guide-book did not even mention it; perhaps it was
not worth while; no ruins, mummies, trams or hotels there, of course.
Maybe it was only the name of a man, or a grass, or a sort of
phosphate. Sfax! Well, anyhow, I had long wished for Africa, anywhere
in Africa, and here I was, not eager to get home again, but not
disinclined. What I had seen of it so far was a rather too frequented
highway opposite the coast of Europe--a complementary establishment.
Progress had macadamised it. Commerce and its wars had graded and
uniformed and drilled its life. Its silent people marched in ranks, as
it were, along mapped roads foredoomed, and its mills went round. Its
life was expressed for export. It was on the way to Manchester and
success. Of all the infernal uses to which a country can be put there
is none like development. Let every good savage make incantation
against it, or, if to some extent he has been developed, cross himself
against the fructification of the evil. As for us whites, we are
eternally damned, for we cannot escape the consequences of our past
cleverness. The Devil has us on a complexity of strings, and some day
will pull the whole lot tight. But Sfax! Had I escaped? Was there a
chance?

I found a city wall, a huge battlement, ancient and weathered, like an
unscalable cliff, and going through its gate was entering the shadows
of a cave. Out of the glare of the sun I went into the gloom of deep,
narrow, and mysterious passages. The sun was only on the parapets and
casements, which leaned towards each other confidentially, and left
only a ragged line of light above. These alley-ways were crowded with
camels, asses, and strange men. An understanding and sneering camel in
a narrow passage will force you to take what chance there is of escape
in desecrating a mosque, while Moslems watch you as the only Christian
there, or of going under its slobbering mouth and splay feet. It does
not care which.

It was market-day for Sfax. There were little piles of vivid fruit
beside white walls where a broad ray of sunlight found them. There were
silversmiths at work, tent-makers, and the makers of camel harness. The
tanners had laid skins for us to walk over. There were exotic smells. I
went exploring the crooked turnings with an indifference which was
studied. I was getting an interesting time, but was distinctly
conscious of eyes, a ceaseless stream of eyes that floated by, watchful
though making no sign. Several times I found myself jostled with some
roughness. It occurred to me that I had heard on the ship that Sfax was
the only town which had offered resistance to the French; its men have
a fine reputation throughout Tunisia, which they do something now and
then to maintain, in consequence. They certainly appeared a sturdy and
virile lot. They were not listless, like the Arabs of Algeria, who have
nothing to show for themselves but the haughty and aloof bearing of the
proud but beaten.

Having discovered that the enemy was vulnerable though strong, the men
of Sfax go through the day now with the directed activity of those who
once had got the worst of it, but have a hope of doing better next
time. They gave me a lively and adventurous scene. They moved with
silent and stealthy quickness. Their eyes glanced sideways from under
their cowls. Their hands were hidden under their jibbahs. A few of them
stared with the hate of the bereft. It is not possible to face
everybody in a press which moves in all directions, and I was the only
European who was there.

Passing a mosque, where I noticed the Moslems had attempted, but had
not completed, the obliteration of some representations of birds,--so
the mosque was once, evidently, a place where other gods had been
worshipped,--I hesitated, wishing to look closer into this curiosity,
but recollected myself, and was passing on. An Arab in the turban of
one who had been to Mecca was squatting cross-legged on the old marble
pavement outside the mosque, and I just took in that he was a fine
venerable fellow with an important beard, with a look of wisdom and
experience in his steady glance from under the strong arches of his
eyebrows that made me wish I knew Arabic, and could squat beside him,
and gossip of the wide world. As I turned he said quietly, "Good day!"

Now I thought perhaps I was bewitched, but turned and looked at him.
"How are you?" he asked. At that moment, when his eyes looking upward
had a smile of understanding mischief, and in such an alien city as
Sfax, I was prepared to declare there is but one God and Mahomet is His
prophet. For that sort of thing comes easy to me; and would have been
quite true, as far as it went. Then I went back to him, and fearing
that after all I might be addressing but the parrot which had already
exhausted its vocabulary, I tried it on him: "Shall I take my boots off
here, father, or may I sit down with you?"

"Sit down," he said.

He was a man of medicine. He sold there prophylactics against
small-pox, adultery, blindness, the evil eye, sterility, or any other
trouble which you thought threatened you. If a man feared for the
faithfulness of his spouse, it seems Father the Hadj could secure it
with a charm, and so allow him to spend the night elsewhere in perfect
enjoyment and content. That is what the quiet old cynic told me, and
invited me to inspect his display of amulets and fetishes, coloured
glass tablets with Arabic inscriptions, and a deal of stuff which
looked unreasonable to me, articles the holy man either could not or
would not resolve into sense.

His English, which he had learned as a shipping agent for the pilgrim
traffic, soon reached its narrow limits, to my sorrow. When it left
common objects and we wished to compare our world (for there is no
doubt he was an experienced and understanding elder who knew to within
a little what he might expect of his God and of his fellows), we were
left smiling at each other, and had to guess the rest. Yet at least the
bazaar could witness this good Moslem of age and admitted wisdom
sitting opposite a dubious Christian in a companionable manner; and
there was that testimony to my advantage. They even watched him draw
his finger across his throat in serious and energetic pantomime, and
saw me nod in grave appreciation, when he was trying to make me
understand what was his sympathy for the Christian conquerors of Sfax.

I went outside the landward gate of the city, and looked out over the
level of brilliant sand which stretched out from there to Lake Tchad.
What a voyage! What a lure! Perhaps there is no more perilous journey
on earth than that, and if a traveller would vanish into the past, into
such Oriental countries as the voyagers of Hakluyt saw with wonder,
then to leave Sfax, and go across country to the Niger, would equal
what once came of fooling with the arcana of the Djinn. Though, after
all, one would like to emerge again, to tell the tale to the children;
and the whole dubiety of it is in that last difficulty. It is almost
certain the magic would be too powerful.

About the bright yellow sea of the desert which came up to the high
cliffs of the town, the squatting camels made dark hummocks. Strings of
donkeys converged on the city gate bearing water-pots and baskets of
charcoal. Sometimes a line of camels swayed outwards through the crowd,
disappeared among the shrines, going south. Watching such a caravan go
was the same as watching a ship leave port.

By the wayside was a huckster. He banged a tomtom till he had gathered
a crowd from the loose concourse of men who had come long journeys with
esparto grass, or gums and ostrich plumes, and much else from the
secret region inland. He was selling cotton shirts, and was an
entertaining villain. By the corners of his mouth his humour was leery.
He did not laugh, but his grimaces were funny. The variegated crowd and
that huckster was too enticing, and forgetting I had not seen one of my
own kind since leaving the ship, and that my face among those black and
brown masks was as loud as the tomtom, I mingled my outrageous tourist
tweeds with the graceful folds of the robes. The huckster kept glancing
at me, and from grave side-long glances that crowd of men went to the
extraordinary length of grim smiles. Suddenly I recognized the trick of
that Arab cheapjack. It may be seen at work in Poplar, my native parish
to which the ships come, when a curious and innocent Chinaman joins the
group about the fluent quack in the market place.

As soon as dignity permitted I passed on, and my dignity did not keep
me waiting for any length of time.

Uncertain, and not a little nervous, I wandered among some plantations
of olives and false peppers, where the domes of the tombs floated like
white bubbles on the foliage. Here an Arab beckoned to me, and told me
he had been watching me for some time--for he was an English medical
missionary in disguise--and warned me that these gardens and shrines
were quite the wrong place to wander in alone. It appears that only a
few days since the flame of insurrection flashed down the bazaar,
licked up a few French soldiers who happened to be there, and had
almost got a hold before the garrison appeared and doused it. He took
me to his house, with its windows heavily barred, for there his
predecessor had been murdered. (If this could happen at the
starting-place for Lake Tchad, then let the idea go.)

From the flat roof of the doctor's house I smelt the dung of ages,
fought with legions of flies, and looked down on a large quadrangle of
hay and stable muck, where camels had carefully folded themselves on
the ground, and chewed reflectively, their eyes half closed; and large
drowsy asses mechanically fanned their ears at the loathly swarms. The
missionary surmised that the caravanserai below was the perfect
reflection of one we had heard more about, which was once at Bethlehem.
The square was enclosed with flat-roofed stables, and it being a busy
time they were all occupied. The first one, immediately below us, was
filled with a family of Kabyles, which consisted chiefly of a
magnificent virago of a wife, tattooed, with a fine gold ring in her
nostrils, who seemed to have a trying life with her mild and
contemplative old husband. She had more children than one could count
without giving the matter that close attention which might be
misinterpreted. She cradled them in the manger every night. Loud as her
voice was, though, I could almost hear the old man smile as he walked
away from her. They had two contemptuous camels who never lifted an
eyelid when she raised her voice to them, but chewed calmly on, with
faces turned impassively towards the New Jerusalem of camels, where
viragoes are not; and several resigned asses who appeared to have
handed their souls back to their Maker, because souls are but extra
trammels in this place of sorrow.

Next door to them was a regular tenant who bred goats, and fed them out
of British biscuit-tins. Beyond them the stable was occupied by a party
of swarthy ruffians who had arrived with a cargo of esparto grass. In
the far corner, a family, crowded out, had been living for weeks under
a structure of horrible rags. Smoke, issuing from a dozen seams, gave
their home the look of a smouldering manure heap.



V

You probably know there are place-names which, when whispered
privately, have the unreasonable power of translating the spirit east
of the sun and west of the moon. They cannot be seen in print without a
thrill. The names in the atlas which do that for me are a motley lot,
and you, who see no magic in them, but have your own lunacy in another
phase, would laugh at mine. Celebes, Acapulco, Para, Port Royal,
Cartagena, the Marquesas, Panama, the Mackenzie River, Tripoli of
Barbary. They are some of mine. Rome should be there, I know, and
Athens, and Byzantium. But they are not, and that is all I can say
about it.

Why give reasons for our preferences? How often have our preferences
any reason? Maybe some old scoundrel of an ancestor who made a fortune
(all lost since) as a thief on the Spanish main, whispers Panama to me
when my mind is tired. Others may make magic with Ostend, Biarritz, or
Ancoats; and they are just as lucky as the man who obtains the spell by
looking at the Dry Tortugas on the map.

When I set out from Newport on this voyage, I did not expect to see
Tripoli of Barbary. We have never considered the possibility that our
favourite place-names really do stand for stones that have veritable
shapes and smells under a sun which comes and goes daily. Nor was my
steamer exactly the sort of craft which could, by the look of her, ever
attain to the coast of Barbary. What would a steamer know about it? She
would never fetch the landfall of a dream. I was not surprised,
therefore, when she fetched Tripoli quite wrong; not the place at all
for which I was looking on the southern horizon. But then, she was but
taking crockery there, in crates; and crockery is less vulnerable, is
rough freight, compared to a fancy. The crockery, however, got to its
Tripoli quite safely.

We anchored; and there was Tripoli, standing round a little bay, with
its buildings, variously coloured, crowded to the west, and slender
minarets standing as masts over the flat decks of the houses. I landed
at a narrow water-gate, and the Turkish officials regarded me as though
I had come to remove the country. When I wished to embark again, these
curious people in uniform were even more serious than when I arrived.
After a long hesitation, permission was given me niggardly to leave
Tripoli, and my ship's boatmen pointed out the urgent need to supply a
certain rowboat in the bay with that morsel of paper. To lose that tiny
document would have a shocking result, for a warship was in the bay to
support the rowboat. We passed that warship. Some day a hilarious
traveller will tear his document into fragments, and that warship will
fire at him, and sink. The system here, a mere tabulation of fear and
suspicion, those reflexes of evildoers who have the best of reasons to
be jealous of their neighbours, is protective exclusiveness in its
perfect flower, and perhaps it would be better to be really dead than
to live under it as a warm, law-abiding corpse.

I should guess that, with a slight magnification to make the object
plainer, there are three soldiers to each worker in North Africa. On
from Oran the gaudy fellow in uniform has been very conspicuous, the
most leisured and prosperous of the inhabitants, and one came
unwillingly to the conclusion that it is more profitable to smoke
cigarettes in a country than to grow corn in it. As for Tripoli, its
uniformed protectors hide the protected; but perhaps its natives have
learned how to live by killing one another. It is possible I have not
divined the more subtle ways of God's providence.

Tripoli, like other towns oh these shores, looks as though it were
sloughing away. Where stones fall, there they lie. In the centre of the
town is a marble triumphal arch in honour of Marcus Aurelius. Age would
account for much of its ruin, but not all; yet it still stands cold,
haughty, austere, though decrepit, in Tripolitan mud, with mean stucco
and plaster buildings about it. The arch itself is filled in, and is
used as a dwelling. Its tenant is a greengrocer, and the monument to
Marcus Aurelius has an odour of garlic; but it need not be supposed
that that was specially repugnant to me. How could the white marble of
Marcus, to say nothing of a warmer philosophy no less austere, be
acceptable to our senses unless translated, with a familiar odour of
garlic, by modern greengrocers? I shall think more of Tripoli of
Barbary in future, when looking back at it through a middle-aged pipe,
when the chains have got me at last.

_January 1907._



II. The Call


When the train left me at Clayton Station, the only passenger to
alight, its hurried retreat down the long straight of converging
metals, a rapidly diminishing cube, seemed to be measuring for me the
isolation of the place. Clayton appeared to be two railway platforms
and a row of elms across an empty road. After the last rumble of the
train, which had the note of a distant cry of derision, there closed in
the quiet of a place where affairs had not even begun. It was raining,
there was a little luggage, I did not know the distance to the village,
and the porter had disappeared. A defective gutter-spout overhead was
the leaking conduit for all the sounds and movement of the countryside.

Then I saw a boy humped into the shelter of a shrub which leaned over
the station fence. He was reading. Before him was a hand-cart lettered
"Humphrey Monk, Grocer and General Dealer, Clayton." The boy wore
spectacles which, when he looked at me, magnified his eyes so that the
lad seemed a luminous and disembodied stare. I saw only the projection
of his enlarged gaze. He promised to take my luggage to Clayton. I
walked through three miles of steady rain to the village, by a stretch
of marshland so hushed by the nearness of the draining sky that the
land might have been what it seemed at a little distance: merely a
faint presentment of fields solvent in the wet. Its green melted into
the outer grey at a short distance where rows of elms were smeared.
There was nothing beyond.

This old village of Clayton is five miles inland from Clayton-on-Sea,
that new and popular resort hardened with asphalt and concrete, to
which city folk retire for a change in the summer. During the winter
months many of the shops of the big town are closed till summer brings
the holiday-makers again. The porticoes of the abandoned premises fill
with street litter, old paper, and straws. The easterly winds cut the
life out of the streets, the long ranks of automatic machines look out
across the empty parade, and rust, and the lines of the pier-deck
advance desolately far into the wind and grey sea, straight and
uninterrupted. It is more than barren then, Clayton-on-Sea, for man has
been there, builded busily and even ornately, loaded the town with
structures for even his minor whims in idleness; and forsaken it all.
So it will look on the Last Day. The advertisements clamour pills and
hair-dye to a town which seems as if the Judgment Day has passed and
left the husk of life. So I was driven to the original Clayton, the
place which gave the name, the little inland village that did, when I
found it, show some signs of welcome life. It was a clump of white
cottages in a vague cloud of trees. It had some chimneys smoking, there
was a man several fields away, and a dog sitting in a porch barked at
me. Here was a little of the warmth of human contiguity.

When night came, and the village was but a few chance and unrelated
lights, there was the choice between my bedroom and the taproom of the
inn where I lodged. In the bedroom, crowning a chest of drawers, was a
large Bible, and on the wall just above was a glass case of shabby
sea-birds, their eyes so placed that they appeared to be looking up
from Holy Writ with a look of such fatuous rapture that one's idea of
immortality became associated with bodies dusty, stuffed, and wired.
(Oh, the wind and the rain!) Yet there was left the bar-parlour; and
there, usually, was a dim lamp showing but a table with assorted empty
mugs, a bar with bottles and a mirror, but nobody to serve, and a
picture of Queen Victoria in her coronation robes.

There was but one other light in Clayton which showed sanctuary after
dark for the stranger. It was in Mr. Monk's shop. His shop at least had
its strange interests in its revelation of the diverse needs of
civilized homes, for Mr. Monk sold everything likely to be wanted
urgently enough by his neighbours to make a journey to greater Clayton
prohibitive. In one corner of his shop a young lady was caged, for it
was also the post office. The interior of the store was confused with
boxes, barrels, bags, and barricades of smaller tins and jars, with
alleys for sidelong progress between them. I do not think any order
ever embarrassed Mr. Monk. Without hesitation he would turn, sure of
his intricate world, from babies' dummies to kerosene. There were cards
hanging from the rafters bearing briar pipes, bottles of lotion for the
hair of schoolchildren, samples of sauce, and stationery.

His shop had its own native smell. It was of coffee, spices, rock-oil,
cheese, bundles of wood, biscuits, and jute bags, and yet was none of
these things, for their separate flavours were so blended by old
association that they made one indivisible smell, peculiar, but not
unpleasant, when you were used to it. I found Mr. Monk's barrel of soda
quite a cherishable seat on a dull night, for the grocer's lamp was
then the centre of a very dark world. Around it and beyond was only the
blackness and silence of vacuity. And the grocer himself, if not busy,
would give me his casual and valuable advice on the minor frailties of
the human, and they seemed as engaging and confusing in their
directness as a child's; for Mr. Monk was large and bland, with a pale,
puffy, and unsmiling face, and only betrayed his irony with a slow wink
when he was sure you were not deceived. He knew much about the gentry
around, those bored and weary youths in check coats, riding breeches,
and large pipes, and the young ladies in pale homespun costumes who had
rude and familiar words to all they judged were their equals, and were
accompanied invariably by Aberdeen terriers.

One evening I spoke to Mr. Monk of his boy. The boy, I said, seemed a
strange little fellow. Mr. Monk, in his soiled, white apron, turned on
me, and said nothing at first, but tapped his bald head solemnly.
"Can't make him out," he said. "I think this is where it is"--and
pressed a fat thumb against his head again. "But you have to put up
with any boy you can get here." He sighed. "The bright kids go. Clear
out. There's nothing fer 'em here but farm labour an' the poor rate. I
don't know how the farmers about here could make a do of it if we
didn't pay rates to keep their labourers from dying off. My boys get
fed up. Off they go, 'nd I doan' blame 'em. One of 'em's in a racin'
stable now, doin' well. Another's got a potman's job London somewhere.
Doin' well. But the kid I've got now, he'll stop. No ginger in that
boy. Can't see anything five minutes off, either. Must be under his
nose, and your finger shouting at it. He's got a cloudy mind. Yet he's
clever, in his way. There's the door-mat of the shop. As soon as any
one puts a foot on that mat, the clock in my kitchen strikes two. All
his fake. But he does rile the customers. Silly young fool. If there's
two parcels to deliver, it's the wrong one gets first chance."

In a land where discovery had not gone beyond the blacksmith's forge
and the arable fields, a native boy who had turned a door-mat into a
watchdog was an interesting possibility. There the boy was at that
moment, stepping off his responsive mat, ill-clad, the red nose of his
meagre face almost as evident as his magnified stare of surprised
inquiry, and his mouth open. Mr. Monk chaffed him. I spoke with some
seriousness to him, but he was shy, and gave no answer except some
throat noises. Yet presently he ceased to rub a boot up and down one
leg, and became articulate. He mumbled that he knew the telegraph
instrument too. ("Oho!" said Mr. Monk, looking interested. "You do, do
yer? What about learning not to leave Mrs. Brown's parcel at Mrs.
Pipkin's?") Had I ever been to London, the boy asked, his big eyes full
on my face. Had I ever seen a Marconi station? I talked to him, perhaps
unwisely, of some of the greater affairs. He said nothing. His mouth
remained open and his stare full-orbed.

There was one grey, still Sunday when it was not raining, the grey sky
being exhausted, and I met the grocer's boy a little distance from the
village, sitting on a fence, reading. The boy closed his book when he
saw me, but not before I had noticed that the volume was open at a page
showing one of those highly technical diagrams of involved machinery
which only the elect may read. I took the book--it was a manual of
civil engineering--and asked questions with some humility; for before
the man who understands the manipulating of metals and can make living
servants for himself out of pipes, wheels, and valves, I stand as would
a primitive or an innocent and confiding girl before the magician who
interprets for them oracles. With the confidence of long familiarity
and the faint hauteur of shyness he explained some of the diagrams in
which, at that moment, he was interested.

We talked of them, and of Clayton; for I wished to know how this
grocer's boy, who went about masked with a mouth open a little
fatuously, an insignificant face, goggles, and a hand-truck, himself of
no account in a flat and unremarkable place aside from the press of
life's affairs, had discovered there were hills to which he could lift
his eyes after those humiliating interviews with Mr. Monk concerning
the wrong delivery of cheese and bacon. I was aware of the means by
which news of the outer world got to Clayton. It came in a popular
halfpenny paper, and that outer world must therefore have seemed to
Clayton to be all aeroplanes, musical-comedy girls, dog shows, and Mr.
Lloyd George. The grocer's boy got his tongue free at last, and talked.
He was halt and obscure, but I thought I saw a mind beating against the
elms and stones of the village, and repelled by the concrete, asphalt,
and lodging-houses of the seaside place. But I am impressionable, too.
It may have been my fancy. What the boy finished with was: "There's no
chance here. You never hear of anything."

You never heard of anything. That countryside really looked remote
enough from the centre of affairs, from the place where men,
undistracted by the news and pictures of the halfpenny illustrated
Press, were getting work done. Clayton was deaf and dumb. Some miles
away the smoke of the London train was streaming across the dim fields
like a comet. We both stood watching that comet going sure and bright
to its destiny, leaving Clayton behind, regardless of us, and as though
all we there were nothing worth. We were outside the pull of life's
spinning hub. Beyond and remote from us things would be happening; but
no voice or pulse of life could vibrate us, merged as we were within
the inelastic silence of Clayton.

We walked back to the village, and the boy said good-night, passing
through a white gate to a cottage unseen at that late hour of the
evening. Near midnight I left my stuffed birds, with their fixed and
upturned gaze, and went into the open, where above the shapeless lumps
of massive dark of Clayton the stars were detaching their arrows, for
the night was clear and frosty at last. Sirius, pulsing and
resplendent, seemed nearer and more vital than anything in the village.

I walked as far as the white gate of the cottage where I had left Mr.
Monk's boy; and there he was again, to my surprise, at that hour. He
came forward. At first he appeared to be agitated; but as he talked
brokenly I saw he was exalted. He was no grocer's boy then. The lad
half dragged me, finding I did not understand him, towards his home. We
went round to the back of the sleeping cottage, and found a little
shed. On a bench in that shed a candle was burning in a ginger-beer
bottle. By the candle was a structure meaningless to me, having nothing
of which I could make a guess. It was fragmentary and idle, the
building which a child makes of household utensils, naming it anything
to its fancy. There were old jam-pots, brass door-knobs, squares of
india-rubber, an electric bell, glass rods, cotton reels, and thin
wires which ran up to the roof out of sight.

"Listen!" said the grocer's boy imperatively, holding up a finger. I
remained intent and suspicious, wondering. Nothing happened. I was
turning to ask the lad why I should listen, for the shed was very
still, and then I saw the hammer of the bell lift itself, as though
alive. Some erratic and faint tinkling began. "That's my wireless,"
said the grocer's boy, his eyes extraordinarily bright. "I've only just
finished it. Who is calling us?"



III. Old Junk


Business had brought the two of us to an inn on the West Coast, and all
its windows opened on a wide harbour, hill-enclosed. Only small
coasting craft were there, mostly ketches; but we had topsail schooners
also and barquantines, those ascending and aerial rigs that would be
flamboyant but for the transverse spars of the foremast, giving one who
scans them the proper apprehension of stability and poise.

To come upon a craft rigged so, though at her moorings and with sails
furled, her slender poles upspringing from the bright plane of a
brimming harbour, is to me as rare and sensational a delight as the
rediscovery, when idling with a book, of a favourite lyric. That when
she is at anchor; but to see her, all canvas set for light summer airs,
at exactly that distance where defects and harshness in her apparel
dissolve, but not so far away but the white feathers at her throat are
plain, is to exult in the knowledge that man once reached such
greatness that he imagined and created a thing which was consonant with
the stateliness of the slow ranging of great billows, and the soaring
density of white cumulus clouds, and with the brightness and compelling
mystery of the far horizon at sundown.

Some mornings, when breakfast-time came with the top of the tide, we
could look down on the plan of a deck beneath, with its appurtenances
and junk, casks, houses, pumps, and winches, rope and spare spars,
binnacle and wheel, perhaps a boat, the regular deck seams curving and
persisting under all. An old collier ketch she might be, with a name
perhaps as romantic as the _Mary Ann_; for the owners of these little
vessels delight to honour their lady relatives.

Away in mid-stream the _Mary Ann_ would seem but a trivial affair, no
match for the immensities about her, diminished by the vistas of shores
and beaches, and the hills. But seen close under our window you
understood why her men would match her, and think it no hardihood, with
gales and the assaults of ponderous seas. Her many timbers, so well
wrought as to appear, at a distance, a delicate and frail shape, are
really heavy. Even in so small a craft as a ketch they are massive
enough to surprise you into wondering at the cunning of shipwrights,
those artists who take gross lumps of intractable timber and metal, and
compel them to subtle mouldings and soft grace, to an image which we
know means life that moves in rhythmic loveliness.

Talk of the art of book and picture making! There is an old fellow I
met in this village who will take the ruins of a small forest, take
pine boles, metal, cordage, and canvas, and without plans, but from the
ideal in his eye, build you the kind of lithe and dainty schooner that,
with the cadences of her sheer and moulding, and the soaring of her
masts, would keep you by her side all day in harbour; build you the
kind of girded, braced, and immaculate vessel, sound at every point,
tuned and sweet to a precision that in a violin would make a musician
flush with inspiration, a ship to ride, lissom and light, the uplifted
western ocean, and to resist the violence of vaulting seas and the
drive of hurricane. She will ride out of the storm afterwards, none to
applaud her, over the mobile hills travelling express, the rags of her
sails triumphant pennants in the gale, the beaten seas pouring from her
deck.

He, that modest old man, can create such a being as that; and I have
heard visitors to this village, leisured and cultured folk, whose own
creative abilities amount to no more than the arranging of some
decorative art in strata of merit, talk down to the old fellow who can
think out a vessel like that after supper, and go out after breakfast
to direct the laying of her keel--talk down to him, kindly enough, of
course, and smilingly, as a "working man."

I told you there were two of us, at this inn. We met at meals. I think
he was a commercial traveller. A tall young fellow, strongly built, a
pleasure to look at; carefully dressed, intelligent, with hard and
clear grey eyes. He had a ruddy but fastidious complexion, though he
was, I noticed, a hearty and careless eater. He was energetic and swift
in his movements, as though the world were easily read, and he could
come to quick decisions and successful executions of his desires. He
had no moments of laxity and hesitation, even after a breakfast, on a
hot morning, too, of ham and eggs drenched in coffee. He made me feel
an ineffective, delicate, and inferior being.

He would bang out to business, after breakfast and a breezy chat with
me; and I lapsed, a lazy and shameless idler, into the window, to
wonder among the models outside, the fascinating curves of ships and
boats, as satisfying and as personal to me as music I know, as the lilt
of ballads and all that minor rhythm which wheels within the enclosing
harmonies and balance of stars and suns in their orbits. Those forms of
ships and boats are as satisfying as the lines which make the strength
and swiftness of salmon and dolphins, and the ease of the flight of
birds with great pinions; and, in a new schooner which passed this
window, on her first voyage to sea--a tall and slender ship, a being so
radiant in the sun as to look an evanescent and immaterial vision--as
inspiring and awful as the remoteness of a spiritual and lovely woman.

"I can't make out what you see in those craft," said my companion one
morning. "They're mostly ancient tubs, and at the most they only muck
about the coast. Now a P. & O. or a Cunarder! That's something to look
at." He was looking down at me, and there was a trace of contempt in
his smile.

He was right in a way. I felt rebuked and embarrassed, and could not
explain to him. These were the common objects of the Channel after all,
old and weather-broken, sea wagons from the Cowes point of view, source
of alarm and wonder to passengers on fine liners when they sight them
beating stubbornly against dirty winter weather, and hanging on to the
storm. Why should they take my interest more than battleships and
Cunarders? Yet I could potter about an ancient hooker or a tramp
steamer all day, when I wouldn't cross a quay to a great battleship. I
like the pungent smells of these old craft, just as I inhale the health
and odour of fir woods. I love their men, those genuine mariners, the
right diviners of sky, coast, and tides, who know exactly what their
craft will do in any combination of circumstances as well as you know
the pockets of your old coat; men who can handle a stiff and cranky
lump of patched timbers and antique gear as artfully as others would
the clever length of hollow steel with its powerful twin screws.

But when my slightly contemptuous companion spoke I had no answer, felt
out of date and dull, a fogey and an idle man. I had no answer
ready--none that would have satisfied this brisk young man, none that
would not have seemed remote and trivial to him.

He left me. Some other visitor had left behind Stevenson's _Ebb Tide_,
and trying to think out an excuse that would quiet the qualms I began
to feel for this idle preference of mine for old junk, I began picking
out the passages I liked. And then I came on these words of Attwater's
(though Stevenson, for certain, is speaking for himself): "Junk ...
only old junk!... Nothing so affecting as ships. The ruins of an empire
would leave me frigid, when a bit of an old rail that an old shellback
had leaned on in the middle watch would bring me up all standing."



IV. Bed-Books and Night-Lights


The rain flashed across the midnight window with a myriad feet. There
was a groan in outer darkness, the voice of all nameless dreads. The
nervous candle-flame shuddered by my bedside. The groaning rose to a
shriek, and the little flame jumped in a panic, and nearly left its
white column. Out of the corners of the room swarmed the released
shadows. Black spectres danced in ecstasy over my bed. I love fresh
air, but I cannot allow it to slay the shining and delicate body of my
little friend the candle-flame, the comrade who ventures with me into
the solitudes beyond midnight. I shut the window.

They talk of the candle-power of an electric bulb. What do they mean?
It cannot have the faintest glimmer of the real power of my candle. It
would be as right to express, in the same inverted and foolish
comparison, the worth of "those delicate sisters, the Pleiades." That
pinch of star dust, the Pleiades, exquisitely remote in deepest night,
in the profound where light all but fails, has not the power of a
sulphur match; yet, still apprehensive to the mind though tremulous on
the limit of vision, and sometimes even vanishing, it brings into
distinction those distant and difficult hints--hidden far behind all
our verified thoughts--which we rarely properly view. I should like to
know of any great arc-lamp which could do that. So the star-like candle
for me. No other light follows so intimately an author's most ghostly
suggestion. We sit, the candle and I, in the midst of the shades we are
conquering, and sometimes look up from the lucent page to contemplate
the dark hosts of the enemy with a smile before they overwhelm us; as
they will, of course. Like me, the candle is mortal; it will burn out.

                     *      *      *      *      *

As the bed-book itself should be a sort of night-light, to assist its
illumination, coarse lamps are useless. They would douse the book. The
light for such a book must accord with it. It must be, like the book, a
limited, personal, mellow, and companionable glow; the solitary taper
beside the only worshipper in a sanctuary. That is why nothing can
compare with the intimacy of candle-light for a bed-book. It is a
living heart, bright and warm in central night, burning for us alone,
holding the gaunt and towering shadows at bay. There the monstrous
spectres stand in our midnight room, the advance guard of the darkness
of the world, held off by our valiant little glim, but ready to flood
instantly and founder us in original gloom.

The wind moans without; ancient evils are at large and wandering in
torment. The rain shrieks across the window. For a moment, for just a
moment, the sentinel candle is shaken, and burns blue with terror. The
shadows leap out instantly. The little flame recovers, and merely looks
at its foe the darkness, and back to its own place goes the old enemy
of light and man. The candle for me, tiny, mortal, warm, and brave, a
golden lily on a silver stem!

"Almost any book does for a bed-book," a woman once said to me. I
nearly replied in a hurry that almost any woman would do for a wife;
but that is not the way to bring people to conviction of sin. Her idea
was that the bed-book is a soporific, and for that reason she even
advocated the reading of political speeches. That would be a dissolute
act. Certainly you would go to sleep; but in what a frame of mind! You
would enter into sleep with your eyes shut. It would be like dying, not
only unshriven, but in the act of guilt.

What book shall it shine upon? Think of Plato, or Dante, or Tolstoy, or
a Blue Book for such an occasion! I cannot. They will not do--they are
no good to me. I am not writing about you. I know those men I have
named are transcendent, the greater lights. But I am bound to confess
at times they bore me. Though their feet are clay and on earth, just as
ours, their stellar brows are sometimes dim in remote clouds. For my
part, they are too big for bedfellows. I cannot see myself, carrying my
feeble and restricted glim, following (in pyjamas) the statuesque
figure of the Florentine where it stalks, aloof in its garb of austere
pity, the sonorous deeps of Hades. Hades! Not for me; not after
midnight! Let those go who like it.

As for the Russian, vast and disquieting, I refuse to leave all,
including the blankets and the pillow, to follow him into the gelid
tranquillity of the upper air, where even the colours are prismatic
spicules of ice, to brood upon the erratic orbit of the poor mud-ball
below called earth. I know it is my world also; but I cannot help that.
It is too late, after a busy day, and at that hour, to begin overtime
on fashioning a new and better planet out of cosmic dust. By
breakfast-time, nothing useful would have been accomplished. We should
all be where we were the night before. The job is far too long, once
the pillow is nicely set.

For the truth is, there are times when we are too weary to remain
attentive and thankful under the improving eye, kindly but severe, of
the seers. There are times when we do not wish to be any better than we
are. We do not wish to be elevated and improved. At midnight, away with
such books! As for the literary pundits, the high priests of the Temple
of Letters, it is interesting and helpful occasionally for an acolyte
to swinge them a good hard one with an incense-burner, and cut and run,
for a change, to something outside the rubrics. Midnight is the time
when one can recall, with ribald delight, the names of all the Great
Works which every gentleman ought to have read, but which some of us
have not. For there is almost as much clotted nonsense written about
literature as there is about theology.

                     *      *      *      *      *

There are few books which go with midnight, solitude, and a candle. It
is much easier to say what does not please us then than what is exactly
right. The book must be, anyhow, something benedictory by a sinning
fellow-man. Cleverness would be repellent at such an hour. Cleverness,
anyhow, is the level of mediocrity today; we are all too infernally
clever. The first witty and perverse paradox blows out the candle. Only
the sick in mind crave cleverness, as a morbid body turns to drink. The
late candle throws its beams a great distance; and its rays make
transparent much that seemed massy and important. The mind at rest
beside that light, when the house is asleep, and the consequential
affairs of the urgent world have diminished to their right proportions
because we see them distantly from another and a more tranquil place in
the heavens where duty, honour, witty arguments, controversial logic on
great questions, appear such as will leave hardly a trace of fossil in
the indurated mud which presently will cover them--the mind then
certainly smiles at cleverness.

For though at that hour the body may be dog-tired, the mind is white
and lucid, like that of a man from whom a fever has abated. It is bare
of illusions. It has a sharp focus, small and star-like, as a clear and
lonely flame left burning by the altar of a shrine from which all have
gone but one. A book which approaches that light in the privacy of that
place must come, as it were, with honest and open pages.

                     *      *      *      *      *

I like Heine then, though. His mockery of the grave and great, in those
sentences which are as brave as pennants in a breeze, is comfortable
and sedative. One's own secret and awkward convictions, never expressed
because not lawful and because it is hard to get words to bear them
lightly, seem then to be heard aloud in the mild, easy, and confident
diction of an immortal whose voice has the blitheness of one who has
watched, amused and irreverent, the high gods in eager and secret
debate on the best way to keep the gilt and trappings on the body of
the evil they have created.

That first-rate explorer, Gulliver, is also fine in the light of the
intimate candle. Have you read lately again his Voyage to the
Houyhnhnms? Try it alone again in quiet. Swift knew all about our
contemporary troubles. He has got it all down. Why was he called a
misanthrope? Reading that last voyage of Gulliver in the select
intimacy of midnight I am forced to wonder, not at Swift's hatred of
mankind, not at his satire of his fellows, not at the strange and
terrible nature of this genius who thought that much of us, but how it
is that after such a wise and sorrowful revealing of the things we
insist on doing, and our reasons for doing them, and what happens after
we have done them, men do not change. It does seem impossible that
society could remain unaltered, after the surprise its appearance
should have caused it as it saw its face in that ruthless mirror. We
point instead to the fact that Swift lost his mind in the end. Well,
that is not a matter for surprise.

Such books, and France's _Isle of Penguins_, are not disturbing as
bed-books. They resolve one's agitated and outraged soul, relieving it
with some free expression for the accusing and questioning thoughts
engendered by the day's affairs. But they do not rest immediately to
hand in the bookshelf by the bed. They depend on the kind of day one
has had. Sterne is closer. One would rather be transported as far as
possible from all the disturbances of earth's envelope of clouds, and
_Tristram Shandy_ is sure to be found in the sun.

But best of all books for midnight are travel books. Once I was lost
every night for months with Doughty in the _Arabia Deserta_. He is a
craggy author. A long course of the ordinary facile stuff, such as one
gets in the Press every day, thinking it is English, sends one
thoughtless and headlong among the bitter herbs and stark boulders of
Doughty's burning and spacious expanse; only to get bewildered, and the
shins broken, and a great fatigue at first, in a strange land of fierce
sun, hunger, glittering spar, ancient plutonic rock, and very Adam
himself. But once you are acclimatized, and know the language--it takes
time--there is no more London after dark, till, a wanderer returned
from a forgotten land, you emerge from the interior of Arabia on the
Red Sea coast again, feeling as though you had lost touch with the
world you used to know. And if that doesn't mean good writing I know of
no other test.

Because once there was a father whose habit it was to read with his
boys nightly some chapters of the Bible--and cordially they hated that
habit of his--I have that Book too; though I fear I have it for no
reason that he, the rigid old faithful, would be pleased to hear about.
He thought of the future when he read the Bible; I read it for the
past. The familiar names, the familiar rhythm of its words, its
wonderful well-remembered stories of things long past,--like that of
Esther, one of the best in English,--the eloquent anger of the prophets
for the people then who looked as though they were alive, but were
really dead at heart, all is solace and home to me. And now I think of
it, it is our home and solace that we want in a bed-book.



V. Transfiguration


There it is, thirty miles wide between the horns of the land, a bay
opening north-west upon the Atlantic, with a small island in the midst
of the expanse, a heap of sundered granite lying upon the horizon like
a faint sunken cloud, like the floating body of a whale, like an area
of opalescent haze, like an inexplicable brightness at sea when no
island can be seen. The apparition of that island depends upon the
favour of the sun. The island is only a ghost there, sometimes
invisible, sometimes but an alluring and immaterial fragment of the
coast we see far over the sea in dreams; a vision of sanctuary, of the
place we shall never reach, a frail mirage of land then, a roseous spot
which is not set in the sea, but floats there only while the thought of
a haven of peace and secure verities is still in the mind, and while
the longing eye projects it on the horizon.

The sun sets behind the island. On a clear day, at sundown, the island
behaves so much like a lump of separated earth, a piece of the black
world we know, that I can believe it is land, something to be found on
the map, a place where I could get ashore, after toil and adventures.
At sundown a low yellow planet marks its hiding-place.

If the island in the bay is usually but a coloured thought in the mind,
a phantom and an unattainable refuge by day, and a star by night, the
real coast which stretches seaward to it, marching on either hand into
the blue, confident and tall, is hardly more material, except by the
stones of my outlook. The near rocks are of indubitable earth.

Beyond them the coloured fabric of the bay becomes diaphanous, and I
can but wonder at the permanence of such a coast in this wind, for in
it the delicate cliffs and the frail tinted fields inclined above them
seem to tremble, as though they would presently collapse and tear from
their places and stream inland as torn flimsies and gossamer.

It is the sublimation of earth. Our own shining globe floats with the
others in a sea of light. Here in the bay on a September morning, if
our world till then had been without life and voice, with this shine
that is an impalpable dust of gold, the quickened air, and the seas
moving as though joyous in the first dawn, Eros and Aurora would have
known the moment, and a child would have been born.

None but the transcendent and mounting qualities of our elements, and
the generative day which makes the surf dazzling, and draws the
passionate azure of the bugloss from hot and arid sand, and makes the
blobs of sea-jelly in the pools expand like flowers, and ripens the
clouds, nothing but the indestructible essence of life, life uplifted
and dominant, shows now in this world of the bay.

Below the high moors which enclose the bay, those distant sleepy
uplands where the keels of the cumulus clouds are grounded, there are
saline meadows, lush and warm, where ditches serpentine between
barriers of meadowsweet, briers and fat grasses. Nearer to the sea the
levels are of moist sand covered with a close matting of thyme, and
herbage as close and resilient as moss, levels that are not green, like
fields, but golden, and of a texture that reflects the light, so that
these plains seem to have their own brightness.

The sea plains finish in the sandhills. In this desert you may press a
hand into the body of earth, and feel its heat and pulse. The west wind
pours among the dunes, a warm and heavy torrent. There is no need to
make a miracle of the appearance of life on our earth. Life was at the
happy incidence of the potent elements on such a strand as this.
Aphrodite was no myth. Our mother here gave birth to her.

The sea is kept from the dunes by a high ridge of blue water-worn
pebbles, and beyond the pebbles at low water is the wet strand over
which she came wading to give the earth children in her own likeness.
The Boy and Miss Muffet beside me are no surprise. They are proper to
the place. The salt water and the sand are still on their brown limbs,
and in the Boy's serious eyes and Miss Muffet's smile there is
something outside my knowledge; but I know that in the depth of that
mystery is security and content.

There is a fear I have, though, when they trip it over the solid and
unquestionable stones, and leave the stones to fly off into the wind
down that shining entrance to the deep. For the strand has no
substance. Their feet move over a void in which far down I see another
sky than ours. They go where I doubt that I can follow. I cannot leave
my hold upon the rocks and enter the place to which their late and
aerial spirits are native. It is plain the earth is not a solid body.
As their bodies, moving over the bright vacuity, grow unsubstantial and
elfin with distance, and they approach that line where the surf
glimmers athwart the radiant void, I have a sudden fear that they may
vanish quite, and only their laughter come at me mockingly from the
near invisible air. They will have gone back to their own place.



VI. The Pit Mouth


There was Great Barr, idle, still, and quiet. Through the Birmingham
suburbs, out into the raw, bleak winter roads between the hedges, quite
beyond the big town smoking with its enterprising labours, one
approached the village of calamity with some awe and diffidence. You
felt you were intruding; that you were a mere gross interloper, coming
through curiosity, that was not excused by the compunction you felt, to
see the appearance of a place that had tragedy in nearly all its homes.
Young men streamed by on bicycles in the same direction, groups were
hurrying there on foot.

The road rose in a mound to let the railway under, and beyond the far
dip was the village, an almost amorphous group of mean red dwellings
stuck on ragged fields about the dominant colliery buildings. Three
high, slim chimneys were leisurely pouring smoke from the grotesque
black skeleton structures above the pits. The road ran by the boundary,
and was packed with people, all gazing absorbed and quiet into the
grounds of the colliery; they were stacked up the hedge banks, and the
walls and trees were loaded with boys.

A few empty motor-cars of the colliery directors stood about. A
carriage-horse champed its bit, and the still watchers turned at once
to that intrusive sound. Around us, a lucid winter landscape (for it
had been raining) ran to the distant encompassing hills which lifted
like low ramparts of cobalt and amethyst to a sky of luminous saffron
and ice-green, across which leaden clouds were moving. The country had
that hard, coldly radiant appearance which always impresses a sad man
as this world's frank expression of its alien disregard; this world not
his, on which he has happened, and must endure with his trouble for a
brief time.

As I went through the press of people to the colliery gates, the women
in shawls turned to me, first with annoyance that their watching should
be disturbed, and then with some dull interest. My assured claim to
admittance probably made them think I was the bearer of new help
outside their little knowledge; and they willingly made room for me to
pass. I felt exactly like the interfering fraud I was. What would I not
have given then to be made, for a brief hour, a nameless
miracle-worker.

In the colliery itself was the same seeming apathy. There was nothing
to show in that yard, black with soddened cinders and ash muck, where
the new red-brick engine-houses stood, that somewhere half a mile
beneath our feet were thirty men, their only exit to the outer world
barred by a subterranean fire. Nothing showed of the fire but a whitish
smoke from a ventilating shaft; and a stranger would not know what that
signified. But the women did. Wet with the rain showers, they had been
standing watching that smoke all night, and were watching it still, for
its unceasing pour to diminish. Constant and unrelenting, it streamed
steadily upward, as though it drew its volume from central fires that
would never cease.

The doors of the office were thrown open, and three figures emerged.
They broke into the listlessness of that dreary place, where nothing
seemed to be going on, with a sudden real purpose, fast but unhurried,
and moved towards the shaft. Three Yorkshire rescue experts--one of
them to die later--with the Hamstead manager explaining the path they
should follow below with eager seriousness. "Figures of fun"! They had
muzzles on their mouths and noses, goggles on their eyes, fantastic
helms, and queer cylinders and bags slung about them. As they went up
the slope of wet ash, quick and full of purpose, their comical gear and
coarse dress became suddenly transfigured; and the silent crowd cheered
emotionally that little party of forlorn hope.

They entered the cage, and down they went. Still it was difficult for
me to think that we were fronting tragedy, for no danger showed. An
hour and more passed in nervous and dismal waiting. There was a signal.
Some men ran to the pit-head carrying hot bricks and blankets. The
doctors took off their coats, and arranged bottles and tinkling
apparatus on chairs stuck in the mud. The air smelt of iodoform. A
cloth was laid on the ground from the shaft to the engine-house, and
stretchers were placed handy. The women, some carrying infants, broke
rank. That quickly up-running rope was bringing the first news. The
rope stopped running and the cage appeared. Only the rescue party came
out, one carrying a moribund cat. They knew nothing; and the
white-faced women, with hardly repressed hysteria, took again their
places by the engine-house. So we passed that day, watching the place
from which came nothing but disappointment. Occasionally a child, too
young to know it was adding to its mother's grief, would wail
querulously. There came a time when I and all there knew that to go
down that shaft was to meet with death. The increasing exhaustion and
pouring sweat of the returning rescue parties showed that. Yet the
miners who were not selected to go down were angry; they violently
abused the favouritism of the officials who would not let all risk
their lives.

I have a new regard for my fellows since Great Barr. About you and me
there are men like that. There is nothing to distinguish them. They
show no signs of greatness. They have common talk. They have coarse
ways. They walk with an ugly lurch. Their eyes are not eager. They are
not polite. Their clothes are dirty. They live in cheap houses on cheap
food. They call you "sir." They are the great unwashed, the mutable
many, the common people. The common people! Greatness is as common as
that. There are not enough honours and decorations to go round. Talk of
the soldier! _Vale_ to Welsby of Normanton! He was a common miner. He
is dead. His fellows were in danger, their wives were white-faced and
their children were crying, and he buckled on his harness and went to
the assault with no more thought for self than great men have in a
great cause; and he is dead. I saw him go to his death. I wish I could
tell you of Welsby of Normanton.

I left that place where the star-shine was showing the grim skeleton of
the shaft-work overhead in the night, and where men moved about below
in the indeterminate dark like dismal gnomes. There was a woman whose
cry, when Welsby died, was like a challenge.

Next morning, in Great Barr, some blinds were down, the street was
empty. Children, who could see no reason about them why their fathers
should not return as usual, were playing foot-ball by the tiny church.
A group of women were still gazing at the grotesque ribs and legs of
the pit-head staging as though it were a monster without ruth.

_November 1907._



VII. Initiation


As to what the Boy will become, that is still with his stars; and
though once we thought he was much impressed by the dignity of the man
controlling a road roller, for it seemed it would be well to be that
slow herald in front with a little red flag, he has shown but the
faintest regard for the offices of policeman, engine-driver, and
soldier. It is clear there is but one good thing left for his choice,
and so the house is littered with drawings of ships. There has been
some advance from that early affair of black angles which, without
explanation, might have stood for anything, but was meant for a cutter.
Now, in a manner which a careless visitor could think was the hauteur
of an artist who is too sure of himself to care what you think of his
work, but is really acute shyness, he will present you at short notice
with a sketch in colours of a topsail schooner beating off a lee shore,
if your variety of beard does not rouse his suspicion. As art, such
paintings have their faults; but as delineations of that sort of ship
they have technical exactitude not common even in the studios.

In fact, he has found an old manual of seamanship, and the
illustrations get more attention than some people give to Biblical
subjects. During vacant afternoons there is an uncanny calm in the
house, a silence which makes people think they have forgotten something
important; but it is only that the Boy is absent with the argonauts. He
is in tow of Argo, as it were, one of its heroes, surging astern in a
large easy-chair, viewing golden landfalls that are still under their
early spell in seas that ships have never sailed. There are no such
voyages in later life, none with quite that glamour, for we have tried
and know. Lucky Boy, sailing the greatest voyage of his life!
Occasionally, when a real ship is home again, and some one calls to see
if we still live there, the Boy is allowed to go to bed late, and there
he sits and fills his mind.

"And what," said this deponent one evening, "about taking His Nibs with
me?" (There was some sea to be crossed.) Most certainly not! Well--!
still--! Would he be all right? But as he got to hear about this it was
hardly so certainly not as it seemed. There are times when he can
concentrate on a subject with awful pertinacity, though the occasions
are infrequent. This was one, however. He went. I knew he would
go--when he heard about it.

A day came when we were at the railway station, and he was to cross the
sea for the first time. He was quite collected. His quiet eye
enumerated the baggage in one careless side-glance which detected there
was a strap undone and that a walking-stick was missing. In all that
crowded tumult converging on the stroke of the hour his seemed to be
the only apart and impassive face, and I began to think he was
indifferent; he merely looked at the cover of one magazine, and then
turned to the window and observed the world leaping past with the
detachment of a small immortal who was watching man's fleeting affairs.
Nothing to do with him.

Once he caught my intent eye--for I thought he was a trifle pale--and
then he passed a radiant wink, and one of his dangling legs began to
swing as though that were the sole limb to be joyful. An hour later,
his face still to the glass, he was shaking with internal mirth. I
asked him to let me share it with him. "Did you see that old man at the
station when the train was starting?" he whispered. "He couldn't find
the carriage where his things were--he was running up and down without
a hat. Perhaps he was left behind." What do man's misfortune's matter
to the gods who live for ever?

                     *      *      *      *      *

Through sections of the quayside sheds he caught sight of near funnels,
businesslike with smoke, and a row of ports. It was then I had to tell
him there was plenty of time. "Two funnels," I heard him say in
surprise, and there is no doubt at that moment some of the importance
of the occasion was reflected on myself. That extra funnel told him, I
hope, I was doing this business in no meagre spirit. None of your
single-funnel ships for our affairs. At the quay end of the gangway he
stopped me, interrupting the whole concourse to do so. "Where's that
other bag?" he demanded severely. I was annoyed--like the people who
were following us--but I had to admire him all the same. At his age no
doubt it may be demanded that a ship be put about for a bag left
behind. When this childish egoism is maintained well into life, large
fortunes may be made. It is, perhaps, the only way. As soon as a man
can relate his personal affairs to those of the world, and understands
how unimportant he really is, from that moment he becomes a failure.
Some men never do it, and thus succeed. Therefore I allowed the Boy to
lead me aboard, and so secured a good berth at once, to the envy of
those who were unaided by a child. Already I was informed that, after
due inspection, the steamer had plenty of boats, "so it won't matter if
we sink." In five minutes we had discovered the companions to
everywhere on that ship, and were, I believe, the only passengers who
could find our way about her before she left port.

But a glance seaward, and a word with an officer, gave me a thought or
two, and I broke off the Boy's interesting conversation with a fatherly
French quartermaster to take him where he could at least begin with
some food. "What a lark if there's a storm," laughed His Nibs, removing
a sandwich to say so. The fiddles were on the tables. We were off.

                     *      *      *      *      *

The ship gave a lurch, a ham leaped to the floor, some plates crashed,
and then the row of ports alongside us were darkened by the run of a
wave. The Boy made an exclamation partly stifled, and looked at me
quickly. I did not look at him, but went on with the food. He stopped
eating, and remained with his gaze fixed on the ports, gripping his
chair whenever they went dark. He said nothing about it, but he must
have been thinking pretty hard. "I suppose this is a strong ship, isn't
it?" he questioned once.

As we were about to emerge into the open, the wet, deserted deck fell
away, and a grey wave which looked as aged as death, its white hair
streaming in the wind, suddenly reared over the ship's side, as though
looking for us, and then fled phantom-like, with dire cries. The Boy
shrank back for a moment, horrified, but then moved on. I think I heard
him sigh. It was no summer sea. The dark bales of rain were speeding up
from the south-west, low over waters which looked just what the sea
really is.

I am glad he saw it like that. He hung on in a shelter with a
needlessly tight grip, and there was something of consternation in his
eye. But I enjoyed the cry of surprise he gave once when we were
getting used to it. A schooner passed us, quite close, a midget which
fairly danced over the running hills, lifting her bows and soaring
upwards, light as a bird, and settling in the hollows amid a white
cloud. "Isn't she brave!" said the Boy.

_December 1910._



VIII. The Art of Writing


Whether I placed the writing-pad on my knees in a great chair, or on
the table, or on the floor, nothing happened to it. I can only say that
that morning the paper was full of vile hairs, which the pen kept
getting into its mouth--enough to ruin the goodwill of any pen. Yet all
the circumstances of the room seemed luckily placed for work to flow
with ease; but there was some mysterious and inimical obstruction. The
fire was bright and lively, the familiar objects about the table
appeared to be in their right place. Again I examined the gods of the
table to be sure one had not by mischance broken the magic circle and
interrupted the current of favour for me. They were rightly
orientated--that comic pebble paper-weight Miss Muffet found on the
beach of a distant holiday, the chrysanthemums which were fresh from
that very autumn morning, stuck in the blue vase which must have got
its colour in the Gulf Stream; and the rusty machete blade from Peru,
and the earthenware monkey squatting meekly in his shadowy niche,
holding the time in his hands. The time was going on, too.

I tried all the tricks I knew for getting under way, but the pen
continued to do nothing but draw idle faces and pick up hairs, which it
held firmly in its teeth. Then the second telegram was brought to me.
"What about Balkan article?" it asked, and finished with a studied
insult, after the manner of the editor-kind, whose assurance that the
function of the universe is only fulfilled when they have published the
fact makes them behave as would Jove with a thick-headed immortal.
"These Balkan atrocities will never cease," I said, dropping the
telegram into the fire.

Had I possessed but one of those intelligent manuals which instruct the
innocent in the art, not only of writing, but of writing so well that a
very disappointed and world-weary editor rejoices when he sees the
manuscript, puts his thumbs up and calls for wine, I would have
consulted it. (I should be glad to hear if there is such a book, with a
potent remedy for just common dulness--the usual opaque, gummous, slow,
thick, or fat head.) As for me, I have nothing but a cheap dictionary,
and that I could not find. I raised my voice, calling down the hollow,
dusty, and unfurnished spaces of my mind, summoning my servants, my
carefully chosen but lazy and wilful staff of words, to my immediate
aid. But there was no answer; only the cobwebs moved there, though I
thought I heard a faint buzzing, which might have been a blow-fly. No
doubt my staff--small blame to them--were dreaming somewhere in the
sun, dispersed over several seas and continents.

Well, a suburb of a big town, and such jobs as I find for them to do,
are grey enough for them in winter. I have no doubt some were nooning
it in Algiers, and others were prospecting the South Seas, flattering
themselves, with gross vanity, how well they could serve me there, if
only I would give them a chance with those coloured and lonely islands;
and others were in the cabins of ships far from any land, gossiping
about old times; and these last idle words, it is my experience, are
the most stubborn of the lot, usually ignoring all my efforts to get
them home again and to business. I could call and rage as I chose, or
entreat them, showing them the urgency of my need. But only a useless
and indefinite article came along, as he usually does, hours and hours
before the arrival of a lusty word which could throw about the
suggestions quicker than they may be picked up and examined.

Very well. There was nothing for it but to fill another pipe, and dwell
with some dismay upon such things as, for instance, the way one's light
grows smoky with age. Is there a manual which will help a man to keep
his light shining brightly--supposing he has a light to keep? But if he
has but the cheapest of transient glims, good and bright enough for its
narrow purpose, is it any wonder it burns foul, seeing what business
usually it gets to illuminate in these exciting and hurried times. What
work! I think it would make rebels of the most quiet, unadventurous,
and simple-featured troop of words that ever a man gathered about him
for the plain domestic duties to employ them regularly, for example, in
sweeping up into neat columns such litter as the House of Commons
makes. It would numb the original heart of the bonniest set of words
that rightly used would have made some people happy--sterilize them,
make them anaemic and pasty-faced, so that they would disturb the peace
of mind of all compassionate men who looked upon them. That my own
staff of words refused my summons....

But what was it I said I wanted them for just now? I gazed round the
walls upon the portraits of the great writers of the past, hoping for
inspiration. Useless! Upon Emerson's face there was a faint smile of
most infuriating benevolence. Lamb--but I am getting tired of his
smirk, which might be of irony or kindness. He would look savage enough
today, hearing his constantly returning Dissertation on Roast Pig thump
the door-mat four times a week; for that, he can be assured, is the way
editors would treat it now, and without even preliminary consultations
with lady typist-secretaries. Of the whole gallery of the great I felt
there was not one worth his wall room. They are pious frauds. This
inspiration business is played out. I have never had the worth of the
frames out of those portraits.... Ah, the Balkans. That was it. And of
all the flat, interminable Arctic wastes of bleak wickedness and frozen
error that ever a shivering writer had to traverse....

My head was in my hands, and I was trying to get daylight and direction
into the affair with my eyes shut, when I felt a slight touch on my
arm. "I'm sorry we're in your way. Are you praying? Look who's here."

I looked. It was Miss Muffet who spoke. She shook the gold out of her
eyes and regarded me steadily. Well she knew she had no right there,
for all her look of confident and tender solicitude. The Boy, who is a
little older (and already knows enough to place the responsibility for
intrusion on his sister with her innocent eyes and imperturbable calm
and golden hair), stood a little in the background, pretending to be
engrossed with a magnet, as though he were unaware that he was really
present. Curls hopped about on one leg frankly, knowing that the others
would be blamed for any naughtiness of hers. Her radiant impudence
never needs any apology. What a plague of inconsequential violators of
any necessary peace! When would my lucky words come now?

The Boy probably saw a red light somewhere. "Haven't you finished uncle
we thought you had has a topsail schooner got two or three masts I saw
a fine little engine up in the town today and an aeroplane it was only
seventeen shillings do you think that is too much?"

"I am learning the sailors' hornpipe at school," said Miss Muffet,
slowly and calmly; "you watch my feet. Do I dance it nicely?"

I watched her feet. Now it is but fair to say that when Miss Muffet
dances across a room there is no international crisis in all this world
which would distract any man's frank admiration. When Miss Muffet steps
it on a sunny day, her hair being what it is, and her little feet in
her strap shoes being such as they are, then your mood dances in
accord, and your thoughts swing in light and rhythmic harmony. I got
up. And Curls, who is one of those who must mount stairs laboriously,
secure to the rails--she has black eyes only the bright light of which
is seen through her mane--she reached up for my hand, for she cannot
imitate her sister's hornpipe without holding on.

Miss Muffet reached a corner of the room, and swung round, light as a
fairy, her hands on her hips, and said, "What do you think of that?"
Some of my lucky words instantly returned. I suppose it was more to
their mind. But I had nothing to give them to do. They could just stand
around and look on now, for when Curls seriously imitates her sister,
and then laughs heartily at her own absurd failure, because her feet
are irresponsible, that is the time when you have nothing to do, and
would not do anything if it had to be done....

What time it was the next interruption came--it was another telegram--I
don't know. Time had been obliterated. But then it began to flow again;
though not with a viscid and heavy measure. And when I took up my light
and ready pen, there, standing at eager attention, was all my staff,
waiting the call. What had happened to bring them all back? If the
writers of literary manuals will explain that secret to me, I should
acquire true wealth.



IX. A First Impression


Certainly it was an inconsiderate way of approaching the greatest city
of the Americas, but that was not my fault. I wished for the direct
approach, the figure of Liberty to rise, haughty and most calm, a noble
symbol, as we came in from overseas; then the wide portals; then New
York. But the erratic tracks of a tramp steamer go not as her voyagers
will. They have no control over her. She moves to an enigmatic will in
London. It happens, then, that she rarely shows a wonder of the world
any respect. She arrives like sudden rain, like wind from a new
quarter. She is as chance as the fall of a star. None knows the day nor
the hour. At the most inconvenient time she takes the wonder's visitors
to the back door.

We went, light ship from the South, to Barbados, for orders; and
because I wanted New York, for that was the way home, we were sent to
Tampa for phosphates. As to Tampa, its position on the globe is known
only to underwriters and shipbrokers; it is that sort of place. It is a
mere name, like Fernando de Noronha, or Key West, which one meets only
in the shipping news, idly wondering then what strange things the
seafarer would find if he went.

Late one night, down a main street of Tampa, there came, with the
deliberate movement of fate, a gigantic corridor train, looming as high
as a row of lighted villas, and drawn by the awful engine of a dream.
That train behaved there as trams do at home, presently stopping
alongside a footway.

Behind me was a little wooden shop. In front was the wall of a
carriage, having an entrance on the second storey, and a roof athwart
the meridian stars. One of its wheels was the nearest and most dominant
object in the night to me, a monstrous bright round resting on a muddy
newspaper in the road. It absorbed all the light from the little wooden
shop. Now, I had hunted throughout Tampa for its railway terminus,
fruitlessly; but here its train had found me, keeping me from crossing
the road.

"Where do I board this train for New York?" I asked. (I talked like a
fool, I know; it was like asking a casual wayfarer in East Ham whether
that by the kerb is the Moscow express. Yet what was I to do?) "Board
her right here," said the fellow, who was in his shirt sleeves.
Therefore I delivered myself, in blind faith, to the casual gods who
are apt to wake up and by a series of deft little miracles get things
done fitly in America when all seems lost and the traveller has even
bared his resigned neck to the stroke.

But I had not the least hope of seeing New York and a Cunarder; not
with such an unpropitious start as that. With an exit like Euston one
never doubts sure direction, and arrival at the precise spot at the
exact moment. You feel there it was arranged for in Genesis. The
officials cannot alter affairs. They are priests administering
inviolate rites, advancing matters fore-ordained by the unseen, and so
no more able to stay or speed this cosmic concern than the astronomer
who schedules the planets. The planets take their heavenly courses. But
I had never been to the United States before, did not know even the
names of their many gods, and New York was at the end of a great
journey; and the train for it stopped outside a tobacco shop in the
road, like a common tram.

There was another night when, with the usual unreason, the swift and
luxurious glide, lessening through easy gradations, ceased. I saw some
lights in the rain outside. How should I know it was New York? We had
even changed climates since we started. The passengers of my early days
in the train had passed away. There was nothing to show. More, I felt
no exultation--which should have been the first of warnings. Merely we
got to a railway station one night, and a negro insisted that I should
get out and stop out. This was N' Yark, he said.

It was night, I repeat; there was a row of cabs in a dolorous rain. I
saw a man in a shiny cape under the nearest lamp, and beyond him a
vista of reflections from vacant stones, which to me always, more than
bleak hills or the empty round of the sea, is desolation. There were no
spacious portals. There was no figure of Liberty, haughty but
welcoming. There was rain, and cabs that waited without hope. There was
exactly what you find at the end of a twopenny journey when your only
luggage is an evening paper, an umbrella, and that tired feeling. Not
knowing where to go, and little caring, I followed the crowd, and so
found myself in a large well-lighted hall. Having no business there--it
was a barren place--I pushed on, and came suddenly to the rim of the
world.

Before me was the immensity of dark celestial space in which wandered
hosts of uncharted stars; and below my feet was the abyss of old night.
Just behind me was a woman telling her husband that they had forgotten
Jimmy's boots, and couldn't go back now, for the ferry was just coming.

Jimmy's boots! Now, when you are a released soul, ascending the night,
and the earth below is a bright silver ball, not so very big, and some
other viewless soul behind you, still with thoughts absent on worldly
trifles, mutters concerning boots when in the Milky Way, you will know
how I felt. Here was the ultimate empty dark in which the sun could
never shine. The sun had not merely left the place. It had never been
there. It was a remote star, one of myriads in the constellations at
large, the definite groups which occulted in the void before me.
Looking at those swiftly moving systems, I watched for the flash of
impact; but no great light of collision broke. The groups of lights
passed and repassed noiselessly.

Then one constellation presently detached itself, and its orbit
evidently would intersect our foothold. It came nearer out of the
night, till I could see plainly that it appeared to be a long section
of a well-lighted street, say, like a length of Piccadilly. It
approached end-on to where I stood, and at last impinged. It actually
was a length of street, and I could continue my walk. The street
floated off again into the night, with me, Jimmy's father and mother,
and all of us, and the vans and motor-cars; and the other square end of
it soon joined a roadway on the opposite shore. The dark river was as
full of mobile lengths of bright roadway as Oxford Circus is of
motor-buses; and the fear of the unknown, as in the terrific dark of a
dream where flaming comets stream on undirected courses, numbed my
little mind. I had found New York.

I had found it. Its bulk was beyond the mind, its lights were falling
star systems, and its movements those of general cataclysm. I should
find no care for little human needs there. One cannot warm one's hands
against the flames of earthquake. There is no provision for men in the
welter, but dimly apprehended in the night, of blind and inhuman
powers.

Therefore, the hotel bedroom, when I got to it, surprised and steadied
me with its elaborate care for the body. But yet I was not certain.
Then I saw against the wall a dial, and reading a notice over it I
learned that by working the hands of this false clock correctly I could
procure anything, from an apple to the fire brigade. Now this was
carrying matters to the other extreme; and I had to suppress a desire
to laugh hysterically. I set the hands to a number; waited one minute;
then the door opened, and a waiter came in with a real tray, conveying
a glass and a bottle. So there was a method then in this general
madness after all. I tried to regard the wonder as indifferently as the
waiter's own cold and measuring eyes.

_March 1910._



X. The Derelict


In a tramp steamer, which was overloaded, and in midwinter, I had
crossed to America for the first time. What we experienced of the
western ocean during that passage gave me so much respect for it that
the prospect of the return journey, three thousand miles of those seas
between me and home, was already a dismal foreboding. The shipping
posters of New York, showing stately liners too lofty even to notice
the Atlantic, were arguments good enough for steerage passengers, who
do, I know, reckon a steamer's worth by the number of its funnels; but
the pictures did nothing to lessen my regard for that dark outer world
I knew. And having no experience of ships installed with racquet
courts, Parisian cafés, swimming baths, and pergolas, I was naturally
puzzled by the inconsequential behaviour of the first-class passengers
at the hotel. They were leaving by the liner which was to take me, and,
I gathered, were going to cross a bridge to England in the morning. Of
course, this might have been merely the innocent profanity of the
simple-minded.

Embarking at the quay next day, I could not see that our ship had
either a beginning or an end. There was a blank wall which ran out of
sight to the right and left. How far it went, and what it enclosed,
were beyond me. Hundreds of us in a slow procession mounted stairs to
the upper floor of a warehouse, and from thence a bridge led us to a
door in the wall half-way in its height. No funnels could be seen.
Looking straight up from the embarkation gangway, along what seemed the
parapet of the wall was a row of far-off indistinguishable faces
peering straight down at us. There was no evidence that this building
we were entering, of which the high black wall was a part, was not an
important and permanent feature of the city. It was in keeping with the
magnitude of New York's skyscrapers, which this planet's occasionally
non-irritant skin permits to stand there to afford man an apparent
reason to be gratified with his own capacity and daring.

But with the knowledge that this wall must be afloat there came no
sense of security when, going through that little opening in its
altitude, I found myself in a spacious decorated interior which hinted
nothing of a ship, for I was puzzled as to direction. My last ship
could be surveyed in two glances; she looked, and was, a comprehensible
ship, no more than a manageable handful for an able master. In that
ship you could see at once where you were and what to do. But in this
liner you could not see where you were, and would never know which way
to take unless you had a good memory. No understanding came to me in
that hall of a measured and shapely body, designed with a cunning
informed by ages of sea-lore to move buoyantly and surely among the
ranging seas, to balance delicately, a quick and sensitive being, to
every precarious slope, to recover a lost poise easily and with the
grace natural to a quick creature controlled by an alert mind.

There was no shape at all to this structure. I could see no line the
run of which gave me warrant that it was comprised in the rondure of a
ship. The lines were all of straight corridors, which, for all I knew,
might have ended blindly on open space, as streets which traverse a
city and are bare in vacancy beyond the dwellings. It was possible we
were encompassed by walls, but only one wall was visible. There we
idled, all strangers, and to remain strangers, in a large hall roofed
by a dome of coloured glass. Quite properly, palms stood beneath. There
were offices and doors everywhere. On a broad staircase a multitude of
us wandered aimlessly up and down. Each side of the stairway were
electric lifts, intermittent and brilliant apparitions. I began to
understand why the saloon passengers thought nothing of the voyage.
They were encountering nothing unfamiliar. They had but come to another
hotel for a few days.

I attempted to find my cabin, but failed. A uniformed guide took care
of me. But my cabin, curtained, upholstered, and warm, with mirrors and
plated ware, sunk somewhere deeply among carpeted and silent streets
down each of which the perspective of glow-lamps looked interminable,
left me still questioning. The long walk had given me a fear that I was
remote from important affairs which might be happening beyond. My
address was 323. The street door--I was down a side turning,
though--bore that number. A visitor could make no mistake, supposing he
could find the street and my side turning. That was it. There was a
very great deal in this place for everybody to remember, and most of us
were strangers. No doubt, however, we were afloat, if the lifebelts in
the rack meant anything. Yet the cabin, insulated from all noise, was
not soothing, but disturbing. I had been used to a ship in which you
could guess all that was happening even when in your bunk; a sensitive
and communicative ship.

A steward appeared at my door, a stranger out of nowhere, and asked
whether I had seen a bag not mine in the cabin. He might have been
created merely to put that question, for I never saw him again on the
voyage. This liner was a large province having irregular and shifting
bounds, permitting incontinent entrance and disappearance. All this
should have inspired me with an idea of our vastness and importance,
but it did not. I felt I was one of a multitude included in a nebulous
mass too vague to hold together unless we were constantly wary.

In the saloon there was the solid furniture of rare woods, the ornate
decorations, and the light and shadows making vague its limits and
giving it an appearance of immensity, to keep the mind from the thought
of our real circumstances. At dinner we had valentine music, dreamy
stuff to accord with the shaded lamps which displayed the tables in a
lower rosy light. It helped to extend the mysterious and romantic
shadows. The pale, disembodied masks of the waiters swam in the dusk
above the tinted light. I had for a companion a vivacious American lady
from the Middle West, and she looked round that prospect we had of an
expensive café, and said, "Well, but I am disappointed. Why, I've been
looking forward to seeing the ocean, you know. And it isn't here."

"Smooth passage," remarked a man on the other side. "No sea at all
worth mentioning." Actually, I know there was a heavy beam sea running
before a half-gale. I could guess the officer in charge somewhere on
the exposed roof might have another mind about it; but it made no
difference to us in our circle of rosy intimate light bound by those
vague shadows which were alive with ready servitude.

"And I've been reading _Captains Courageous_ with this voyage in view.
Isn't this the month when the forties roar? I want to hear them roar,
just once, you know, and as gently as any sucking dove." We all
laughed. "We can't even tell we're in a ship."

She began to discuss Kipling's book. "There's some fine seas in that.
Have you read it? But I'd like to know where that ocean is he pretends
to have seen. I do believe the realists are no more reliable than the
romanticists. Here we are a thousand miles out, and none of us has seen
the sea yet. Tell me, does not a realist have to magnify his awful
billows just to get them into his reader's view?"

I murmured something feeble and sociable. I saw then why sailors never
talk directly of the sea. I, for instance, could not find my key at
that moment--it was in another pocket somewhere--so I had no iron to
touch. Talking largely of the sea is something like the knowing talk of
young men about women; and what is a simple sailor man that he should
open his mouth on mysteries?

Only on the liner's boat-deck, where you could watch her four funnels
against the sky, could you see to what extent the liner was rolling.
The arc seemed to be considerable then, but slowly described. But the
roll made little difference to the promenaders below. Sometimes they
walked a short distance on the edges of their boots, leaning over as
they did so, and swerving from the straight, as though they had turned
giddy. The shadows formed by the weak sunlight moved slowly out of
ambush across the white deck, but often moved indecisively, as though
uncertain of a need to go; and then slowly went into hiding again. The
sea whirling and leaping past was far below our wall side. It was like
peering dizzily over a precipice when watching those green and white
cataracts.

The passengers, wrapped and comfortable on the lee deck, chatted as
blithely as at a garden-party, while the band played medleys of
national airs to suit our varied complexions. The stewards came round
with loaded trays. A diminutive and wrinkled dame in costly furs
frowned through her golden spectacles at her book, while her maid sat
attentively by. An American actress was the centre of an eager group of
grinning young men; she was unseen, but her voice was distinct. The two
Vanderbilts took their brisk constitutional among us as though the
liner had but two real passengers though many invisible nobodies. The
children, who had not ceased laughing and playing since we left New
York, waited for the slope of the deck to reach its greatest, and then
ran down towards the bulwarks precipitously. The children, happy and
innocent, completed for us the feeling of comfortable indifference and
security which we found when we saw there was more ship than ocean. The
liner's deck canted slowly to leeward, went over more and more, beyond
what it had done yet, and a pretty little girl with dark curls riotous
from under her red tam-o'-shanter, ran down, and brought up against us
violently with both hands, laughing heartily. We laughed too. Looking
seawards, I saw receding the broad green hill, snow-capped, which had
lifted us and let us down. The sea was getting up.

Near sunset, when the billows were mounting express along our run,
sometimes to leap and snatch at our upper structure, and were rocking
us with some ease, there was a commotion forward. Books and shawls went
anywhere as the passengers ran. Something strange was to be seen upon
the waters.

It looked like a big log out there ahead, over the starboard bow. It
was not easy to make out. The light was failing. We overhauled it
rapidly, and it began to shape as a ship's boat. "Oh, it's gone,"
exclaimed some one then. But the forlorn object lifted high again, and
sank once more. Whenever it was glimpsed it was set in a patch of foam.

That flotsam, whatever it was, was of man. As we watched it intently,
and before it was quite plain, we knew intuitively that hope was not
there, that we were watching something past its doom. It drew abeam,
and we saw what it was, a derelict sailing ship, mastless and awash.
The alien wilderness was around us now, and we saw a sky that was
overcast and driven, and seas that were uplifted, which had grown
incredibly huge, swift, and perilous, and they had colder and more
sombre hues.

The derelict was a schooner, a lifeless and soddened hulk, so heavy and
uncontesting that its foundering seemed at hand. The waters poured back
and forth at her waist, as though holding her body captive for the
assaults of the active seas which came over her broken bulwarks, and
plunged ruthlessly about. There was something ironic in the
indifference of her defenceless body to these unending attacks. It
mocked this white and raging post-mortem brutality, and gave her a
dignity that was cold and superior to all the eternal powers could now
do. She pitched helplessly head first into a hollow, and a door flew
open under the break of her poop; it surprised and shocked us, for the
dead might have signed to us then. She went astern of us fast, and a
great comber ran at her, as if it had but just spied her, and thought
she was escaping. There was a high white flash, and a concussion we
heard. She had gone. But she appeared again far away, on a summit in
desolation, black against the sunset. The stump of her bowsprit, the
accusatory finger of the dead, pointed at the sky.

I turned, and there beside me was the lady who had wanted to find the
sea. She was gazing at the place where the wreck was last seen, her
eyes fixed, her mouth a little open in awe and horror.

_April 1910._



XI. The Voyage of the _Mona_


There was the _Mona_, Yeo's boat, below the quay wall; but I could not
see her owner. The unequal stones of that wall have the weathered
appearance of a natural outcrop of rock, for they were matured by the
traffic of ships when America was a new yarn among sailors. They are
the very stones one would choose to hear speak. Yet the light of early
morning in that spacious estuary was so young and tenuous that you
could suppose this heavy planet had not yet known the stains of night
and evil; and the _Mona_, it must be remembered, is white without and
egg-blue within. Such were the reflections she made, lively at anchor
on the swirls of a flood-tide bright enough for the sea-bottom to have
been luminous, that I felt I must find Yeo. The white houses of the
village, with shining faces, were looking out to sea.

Another man, a visitor from the cities of the plains, was gazing down
with appreciation at the _Mona_. There was that to his credit. His
young wife, slight and sad, and in the dress of the promenade of a
London park, was with him. She was not looking on the quickness of the
lucent tide, but at the end of a parasol, which was idly marking the
grits. I had seen the couple about the village for a week. He was big,
ruddy, middle-aged, and lusty. His neck ran straight up into his round
head, and its stiff prickles glittered like short ends of brass wire.
It was easy to guess of him, without knowing him and therefore
unfairly, that, if his wife actually confessed to him that she loved
another man, he would not have believed her; because how was it
possible for her to do that, he being what he was? His aggressive face,
and his air of confident possession, the unconscious immodesty of the
man because of his important success at some unimportant thing or
other, seemed an offence in the ancient tranquillity of that place,
where poor men acknowledged only the sea, the sun, and the winds.

I found Yeo at the end of the quay, where round the corner to seaward
open out the dunes of the opposite shore of the estuary, faint with
distance and their own pallor, and ending in the slender stalk of a
lighthouse, always quivering at the vastness of what confronts it. Yeo
was sitting on a bollard, rubbing tobacco between his palms. I told him
this was the sort of morning to get the _Mona_ out. He carefully poured
the grains into the bowl of his pipe, stoppered it, glanced slowly
about the brightness of the river mouth, and shook his head. This was a
great surprise, and anybody who did not know Yeo would have questioned
him. But it was certain he knew his business. There is not a more
deceptive and difficult stretch of coast round these islands, and Yeo
was born to it. He stood up, and his long black hair stirred in the
breeze under the broad brim of a grey hat he insists on wearing. The
soft hat and his lank hair make him womanish in profile, in spite of a
body to which a blue jersey does full justice, and the sea-boots; but
when he turns his face to you, with his light eyes and his dark and
leathery face, you feel he is strangely masculine and wise, and must be
addressed with care and not as most men. He rarely smiles when a
foolish word is spoken or when he is contradicted boldly by the
innocent. He spits at his feet and contemplates the sea, as though he
had heard nothing.

The visitor came up, followed reluctantly by his wife. "Are you Yeo?
How are you, Yeo? What about a sail? I want you to take us round to
Pebblecombe."

That village is over the bar and across the bay. Yeo looked at the man,
and shook his head.

"Why not?" asked the visitor sharply, as though he were addressing the
reluctance of the driver of his own car.

The sailor pointed a stern finger seawards, to where the bar is shown
in charts, but where all we could make out was the flashing of
inconstant white lines.

"Well?" questioned the man, who glanced out there perfunctorily. "What
of it?"

"Look at it," mildly insisted the sailor, speaking for the first time.
"Isn't the sea like a wall?" The man's wife, who was regarding Yeo's
placid face with melancholy attention, turned to her husband and placed
a hand of nervous deprecation on his arm. He did not look at her.

"Oh, of course, if you don't want to go, if you don't want to go...."
said the visitor, shaking his head as though at rubbish, and rising
several times on his toes. "Perhaps you've a better job," he added,
with an unpleasant smile.

"I'm ready to go if you are, sir," said Yeo, "but I shall have to take
my friend with me." The sailor nodded my way.

The man did not look at me. I was not there to him. He gave an
impatient jerk to his head. "Ready to go? Of course I'm ready to go! Of
course. Why do you suppose I asked?"

Yeo went indoors, came out with a bundle of tarpaulins for us, and
began moving with deliberation along to the _Mona_. Something was said
by the woman behind us, but so quietly I did not catch it. Her husband
made confident noises of amusement, and replied in French that it was
always the way with these local folk--always the way. The result, I
gathered, of a slow life, though that was hardly the way he put it.
Nothing in it, she could be sure. These difficulties were made to raise
the price. The morning was beautiful. Still, if she did not want to go
... if she did not want to go. And his tone was that perhaps she would
be as absurd as that. I heard no more, and both followed us.

I got out to the _Mona_, cast off her stern mooring, got in the anchor,
and the pull on that brought us to the stone steps of the
landing-stage. While I made the seats ready for the voyagers and handed
them in, Yeo took two reefs in the lug-sail (an act which seemed, I
must say, with what wind we felt there, to be carrying his prescience
to bold lengths) and hauled the sail to its place. I went forward to
lower the centre keel as he came aft with the sheet in his hand. The
_Mona_ sidled away, stood out, and then reached for the distant
sandhills. The village diminished and concentrated under its hill.

When clear of the shelter of the hill, on the lee foot of which the
village shelters from the westerly winds, the _Mona_ went over suddenly
in a gust which put her gunwale in the wash and kept it there. The
dipper came adrift and rattled over. Yeo eased her a bit, and his
uncanny eyes never shifted from their fixed scrutiny ahead. Our
passenger laughed aloud, for his wife had grasped him at the unexpected
movement and the noise. "That's nothing," he assured her. "This is
fine."

We cleared the shallows and were in the channel where the weight of the
incoming tide raced and climbed. The _Mona's_ light bows, meeting the
tide, danced ecstatically, sending over us showers which caught in the
foot of the sail. The weather in the open was bright and hard, and the
sun lost a little of its warmth in the wind, which was north of west.
The dunes, which had been evanescent through distance in the wind and
light, grew material and great. The combers, breaking diagonally along
that forsaken beach, had something ominous to say of the bar. Even I
knew that, and turned to look ahead. Out there, across and above the
burnished sea, a regular series of long shadowy walls were forming.
They advanced slowly, grew darker, and grew higher; then in their
parapets appeared arcs of white, and at once, where those lines of
sombre shadows had been, there were plunging strata of white clouds.
Other dark bands advanced from seaward continuously. There was a tremor
and sound as of the shock and roll of far thunder.

We went about again, steering for the first outward mark of the
fairway, the Mullet Buoy. Only the last house of the village was now
looking at us remotely, a tiny white cube which frequently sank, on its
precarious ledge of earth, beneath an intervening upheaval of the
waters. The sea was superior now, as we saw the world from our little
boat. The waters moved in from the outer with the ease of certain
conquest, and the foundering shores vanished under each uplifted send
of the ocean. We rounded the buoy. I could see the tide holding it down
aslant with heavy strands of water, stretched and taut. About we went
again for the lifeboat-house.

There was no doubt of it now. We should be baling soon. Yeo, with one
brown paw on the sheet and the other on the tiller, had not moved, nor
even, so he looked, blinked the strange, unfrowning eyes peering from
under the brim of his hat. The _Mona_ came on an even keel by the
lifeboat-house, shook her wing for a moment as though in delight, and
was off again dancing for the Mid Buoy. She was a live, responsive, and
happy bird. "Now, Yeo," said the passenger beside the sailor, beaming
in proper enjoyment of this quick and radiant experience. "Didn't I
tell you so? What's the matter with this?"

There was nothing the matter with that. The sea was blue and white. The
frail coast, now far away, was of green and gold. The sky was the
assurance of continued good. Our boat was buoyant energy. That bay,
when in its uplifted and sparkling mood, with the extent of its liberty
and the coloured promise of its romantic adventure, has no hint at all
of the startling suddenness of its shadow, that presage of its complex
and impersonal malice.

Yeo turned the big features of his impassive face to his passenger,
looked at him as he would at a wilful and ill-mannered child, and said,
"In five minutes we shall be round the Mid Buoy. Better go back. If you
want to go back, say so now. Soon you won't be able to. We may be kept
out. If we are, don't blame me."

"Oh, go on, you," the man said, smiling indulgently. He was not going
to relinquish the fine gift of this splendid time.

Yeo put his pipe in his mouth and resumed his stare outwards. He said
no more. On we went, skimming over inflowing ridges with exhilarating
undulations, light as a sandpiper. It was really right to call that a
glorious morning. I heard the curlews fluting among the stones of the
Morte Bank, which must then have been almost awash; but I did not look
that way, for the nearing view of the big seas breaking ahead of us
fixed my mind with the first intentness of anxiety. Though near the top
of the flood, the fairway could not be made out. What from the distance
had appeared orderly ranks of surf had become a convulsive wilderness
of foam, piled and dazzling, the incontinent smother of a heavy ground
swell; for after all, though the wind needed watching, it was nothing
much. The _Mona_ danced on towards the anxious place. Except the
distant hills there was no shore. Our hills were of water now we neared
the bar. They appeared ahead with surprising suddenness, came straight
at us as though they had been looking for us, and the discovery made
them eager; and then, when the head of the living mass was looking over
our boat, it swung under us.

We were beyond the bar before we knew it. There were a few minutes
when, on either hand of the _Mona_, but not near enough to be more than
an arresting spectacle, ponderous glassy billows ceaselessly arose,
projected wonderful curves of translucent parapets which threw shadows
ahead of their deliberate advance, lost their delicate poise, and
became plunging fields of blinding and hissing snow. We sped past them
and were at sea. Yeo's knowledge of his work gives him more than the
dexterity which overcomes difficulties as it meets them; it gives him
the prescience to avoid them.

The steady breeze carried away from us the noise of that great tumult
on the bar, and here was a sunny quietude where we heard nothing but
the wing of the _Mona_ when it fluttered. The last of the land was the
Bar Buoy, weltering and tolling erratically its melancholy bell in its
huge red cage. That dropped astern. The _Mona_, as though she had been
exuberant with joy at the promise of release, had come out with whoops
and a fuss, but, being outside, settled down to enjoy liberty in quiet
content. The little lady with us, for the first time, appeared not
sorry to be there. The boat was dry. The scoured thwarts were even hot
to the touch. Our lady held the brim of her big straw hat, looking out
over the slow rhythm of the heavy but unbroken seas, the deep
suspirations of the ocean, and there was even a smile on her delicate
face. She crouched forward no longer, and did not show that timid
hesitation between her fear of sudden ugly water, when she would have
inclined to her husband's side, and her evident nervousness also of her
mate. She sat erect, enjoying the slow uplift and descent of the boat
with a responsive body. She gazed over-side into the transparent deeps,
where large jellyfish were shining like sunken moons. I got out my
pipe. This suggested something to our other passenger, and he got out
his. He fumbled out his pouch and filled up. He then regarded the
loaded pipe thoughtfully, but presently put it away, and leaned
forward, gazing at the bottom of the boat. I caught Yeo's eye in a very
solemn wink.

The _Mona_, lost in the waste, coursed without apparent purpose.
Sometimes for a drowsy while we headed into the great light shining
from all the Atlantic which stretched before us to America; and again
we turned to the coast, which was low and far beyond mounting seas. By
watching one mark ashore, a grey blur which was really the tower of a
familiar village church, it was clear Yeo was not making Pebblecombe
with any ease. I glanced at him, and he shook his head. He then nodded
it towards the western headland of the bay.

That was almost veiled by a dark curtain, though not long before the
partitioned fields and colours of its upper slopes were clear as a
mosaic; so insidiously, to the uninitiated, do the moods of this bay
change. Our lady was at this moment bending solicitously towards her
husband, whose head was in his hands. But he shook her off, turning
away with a face not quite so proud as it had been, for its complexion
had become that of a green canary's. He had acquired an expression of
holiness, contemplative and sorrowful. The western coast had
disappeared in the murk. "Better have something to eat now," said Yeo,
"while there's a chance."

The lady, after a hesitating glance at her husband, who made no sign,
his face being hidden in his arms, got out the luncheon-basket. He
looked up once with a face full of misery and reproach, and said,
forgetting the past with boldness, "Don't you think we'd better be
getting back? It's looking very dark over there."

Yeo munched with calm for a while, swallowed, and then remarked, while
conning the headland, "It'll be darker yet, and then we shan't go back,
because we can't."

The _Mona_ continuously soared upwards on the hills and sank again,
often trembling now, for the impact of the seas was sharper. The man
got into the bottom of the boat and groaned.

Light clouds, the feathery growth of the threatening obscurity which
had hidden the western land, first spread to dim the light of the sun,
then grew thick and dark overhead too, leaving us, after one ray that
sought us out again and at once died, in a chill gloom. The glassy seas
at once became opaque and bleak. Their surface was roughened with
gusts. The delicate colours of the world, its hopeful spaciousness, its
dancing light, the high blue vault, abruptly changed to the dim, cold,
restricted outlook of age. We waited.

As Yeo luffed the squall fell on us bodily with a great weight of wind
and white rain, pressing us into the sea. The _Mona_ made ineffective
leaps, trying to get release from her imprisonment, but only succeeded
in pouring water over the inert figure lying on the bottom boards. In a
spasm of fear he sprang up and began to scramble wildly towards his
wife, who in her nervousness was gripping the gunwale, but was facing
the affair silently and pluckily. "Keep still there!" peremptorily
ordered the sailor; and the man bundled down without a word, like a
dog, an abject heap of wet rags.

The first weight of the squall was released. The _Mona_ eased. But the
rain set in with steadiness and definition. Nothing was in sight but
the waves shaping in the murk and passing us, and the blurred outline
of a ketch labouring under reduced canvas to leeward. The bundle on the
boat's floor sat up painfully and glanced over the gunwale. He made no
attempt to disguise his complete defeat by our circumstances. He saw
the ketch, saw she was bigger, and humbly and loudly implored Yeo to
put him aboard. He did not look at his wife. His misery was in full
possession of him. When near to the ketch we saw something was wrong
with a flag she was flying. We got round to her lee quarter and hailed
the three muffled figures on her deck.

"Can we come aboard?" roared Yeo.

One of the figures came to the ship's side and leaned over. "All
right," we heard, "if you don't mind sailing with a corpse."

Yeo put it to his passengers. The woman said nothing. Her pale face,
pitifully tiny and appealing within a sailor's tarpaulin hat, showed an
innocent mind startled by the brutality of a world she did not know,
but a mind controlled and alert. You could guess she expected nothing
now but the worst, and had been schooling herself to face it. Her
husband, when he knew what was on that ship, repudiated the vessel with
horror. Yet we had no sooner fallen slightly away than he looked up
again, was reminded once more that she stood so much higher than our
boat, and cried, "Yes, yes!"

The two craft imperceptibly approached, as by gravitation. The men of
the ketch saw we had changed our minds, and made ready to receive us.
On one noisy uplift of a wave we got the lady inboard. Waiting another
opportunity, floundering about below the black wall of the ship,
presently it came, and we shoved over just anyhow the helpless bulk of
the man. He disappeared within the ship like a shapeless sack, and
bumped like one. When I got over, I saw the _Mona's_ mast, which was
thrusting and falling by the side of the ketch, making wild
oscillations and eccentrics, suddenly vanish; and then appeared Yeo,
who carried a tow-line aft and made fast.

The skipper of the ketch had been drowned, we were told. They were
bringing his body home. The helmsman indicated a form lashed in a
sail-cloth to the hatch. They were standing on and off, waiting to get
it over the bar. Yeo they knew so well that hardly any words passed
between them. They were glad to put the piloting in his hands. He took
the wheel of the _Judy of Padstow_.

The substantial deck of the _Judy_ was a great relief after the dizzy
gyrations of the aerial _Mona_; and our lady, with a half-glance at
what on the hatch was so grimly indifferent to all that could happen
now, even smiled again, perhaps with a new sense of safety. She saw her
husband settled in a place not too wet, and got about the venerable
boards of the _Judy_, looking at the old gear with curiosity, glancing,
with her head dropped back, into the dark intricacy of rigging upheld
by the ponderous mainmast as it swayed back and forth. Every time the
men went hurriedly trampling to some point of the running gear she
watched what they were at. For hours we beat about, in a great noise of
waters, waiting for that opportunity at the entrance to home and
comfort. Once Yeo took us as far towards the vague mist of surf as the
dismal tolling of the Bar Buoy, but evidently did not like the look of
it, and stood out again.

At last, having decided, he shouted orders, there was a burst of
activity, and we headed for the bad place. Soon we should know.

The _Judy_ began to plunge alarmingly. The incoming rollers at times
swept her along with a rush, and Yeo had his hands full. Her bowsprit
yawned, rose and fell hurriedly, the _Judy's_ unsteady dexter pointing
in nervous excitement at what was ahead of her. But Yeo held her to it,
though those heavy following seas so demoralized the _Judy_ that it was
clear it was all Yeo could do to keep her to her course. Columns of
spray exploded ahead, driving in on us like shot.

"Look out!" cried Yeo. I looked. Astern was a grey hill, high over us,
fast overtaking us, the white turmoil of its summit already streaming
down its long slope. It accelerated, as if it could see it would soon
be too late. It nearly was, but not quite. A cataract roared over the
poop, and Yeo vanished. The _Judy_, in a panic, made an attempt at a
move which would have been fatal then; but she was checked and her head
steadied. I could do nothing but hold the lady firm and grasp a pin in
its rail. The flood swept us, brawling round the gear, foundering the
hatch. For a moment I thought it was a case, and saw nothing but
maniacal water. Then the foam subsided to clear torrents which flung
about violently with the ship's movement. The men were in the rigging.
Yeo was rigid at the wheel, his eyes on the future. I could not see the
other passenger till his wife screamed, and then I saw him. Two figures
rolled in a flood that was pouring to the canting of the deck, and one
of them desperately clutched at the other for aid. But the other was
the dead skipper, washed from his place on the hatch.

We were over the bar again, and the deck became level. But it remained
the bottom of a shallow well in which floated with indifference the
one-time master of the _Judy_, face downwards, and who presently
stranded amidships. Our passenger reclined on the vacated hatch, his
eyes wide with childish and unspoken terror, and fixed on his wife,
whose ministering hands he fumbled for as does a child for his mother's
when he wakes at night after a dream of evil.



XII. The Lascar's Walking-Stick


The big face of Limehouse Church clock stared through the window at us.
It is rather a senseless face, because it is so full of cracks that you
can find any hour in it you do not want, especially when in a hurry.
But nobody with a life that had not wide areas of waste leisure in it
would ever visit Hammond now, where he lives in a tenement building, in
a room which overlooks the roofs and railway arches of Limehouse. Just
outside his window the tower of the church is rather too large and too
close.

Hammond has rooms in the tenement which are above the rest of the
street. He surmounts many layers of dense humanity. The house is not
the usual model dwelling. Once it knew better days. Once it was the
residence of a shipowner, in the days when the London docks were full
of clippers, and shipowners husbanded their own ships and liked to live
near their work. The house has a broad and noble staircase, having a
carved handrail as wide as a span; but much of the old and carved
interior woodwork of the house is missing--firewood sometimes runs
short there--and the rest is buried under years of paint and dirt.

Hammond never knows how many people share the house with him. "I've
tried to find out, but the next day one of 'em has died and two more
are born." It is such a hive that most of Hammond's friends gave up
visiting him after discovering in what place he had secluded himself;
but there he stays with his books and his camera, his pubs and his
lightermen, Jews, Chinamen, sailors, and dock-labourers. Occasionally a
missionary from the studios of Hempstead or Chelsea goes down to sort
out Hammond from his surroundings, and to look him over for damage,
when found.

"Did I ever tell you about Jabberjee?" Hammond asked me that afternoon.

No, he hadn't. Some of Hammond's work, which he had been showing me,
was scattered over the floor, and he stepped among the litter and came
and looked through the window with me. "A funny thing happened to me
here," he said, "the other evening. A pal of mine died. The bills which
advertise for the recovery of his body--you can see 'em in any pub
about here--call him Joseph Cherry, commonly called Ginger. He was a
lighterman, you know. There was a sing-song for the benefit of his wife
and kids round at the George and Dragon, and I was going.

"On my way I stopped to look in at my favourite pawnshop. Do you know
the country about here? Well, you have to mind your eye. You never know
what will turn up. I never knew such a place. Not all of Limehouse gets
into the Directory, not by a lot. It is bound on the east by China, on
the north by Greenland, on the south by Cape Horn, and on the west by
London Bridge.

"The main road near here is the foreshore of London. There's no doubt
the sea beats on it--unless you are only a Chelsea chap, with your eyes
bunged up with paint. All sorts of things drift along. All sorts of
wreckage. It's like finding a cocoanut or a palm hole stranded in a
Cornish cove. The stories I hear--one of you writer fellers ought to
come and stay here, only I suppose you are too busy writing about
things that really matter. You are like the bright youths in the art
schools, drawing plaster casts till they don't know life when they see
it.

"Well, about this pawnshop. It's a sort of pocket--you know those
places on the beach where a lot of flotsam strands--oceanic
treasure-trove. I suppose the currents, for some reason sailors could
explain, eddy round this pawnshop and leave things there. That pawnshop
is the luckiest corner along our beach, and I stopped to turn over the
sea litter.

"Of course, there was a lot of chronometers, and on top of a pile of
'em was a carved cocoanut. South Sea Islands, I suppose. Full of
curious involuted lines--a mist of lines--with a face peering through
the mist, if you looked close enough. Rows of cheap watches hung on
their chains, and there was a lot of second-hand meerschaum pipes, and
a walrus tusk, carved about a little. What took my eye was an old
Chinese bowl, because inside it was a little jade idol--a fearful
little wretch, with mother-o'-pearl eyes. It would squat in your
thoughts like a toad, that idol--eh, where does Jabberjee come in?
Well, here he comes.

"I didn't know he was coming at all, you understand. I shouldn't have
jumped more if the idol had winked at me.

"There stood Jabberjee. I didn't know that was his name, though. He was
christened Jabberjee after the trouble, by a learned Limehouse
schoolboy, who wore spectacles. Do I make myself clear?"

I murmured that I was a little dense, but time might carry out
improvements. Hammond was talking on, though, without looking at me.
"There the Lascar was. Lots of 'em about here, you know. He was the
usual bundle of bones and blue cotton rags, and his gunny bags flapped
on his stick legs like banners. He looked as uncertain as a
candle-flame in a draught. Perhaps he was sixteen. I dunno. Maybe he
was sixty. You can't tell these Johnnies. He had a shaven cranium, and
his tight scalp might have been slipped over the bony bosses of his
head with a shoehorn.

"I don't know what he was saying. He cringed, and said something very
quickly; I thought he was speaking of something he had concealed on his
person. Smuggled goods, likely. Tobacco.

"Looking over his shoulder, wishing he would go away, I saw a policeman
in the dusk at the opposite corner, with his eye on us.

"Then I could see something was concealed under the Lascar's flimsies.
He seemed trying to keep it quiet. He kept on talking, and I couldn't
make out what he was driving at. I was looking at his clothes,
wondering what the deuce he had concealed there. At last something came
out of his rags. Talk about making you jump! It really did look like
the head of a snake. It was, too, but attached to a walking-stick--sort
of handle. A scaly head it was, in some shiny material. Its eyes were
like a pair of rubies. They picked up the light somehow, and glittered.

"Now listen. I looked up then into the Lascar's face. I was surprised
to find he was taller. Much taller. He put his face forward and down,
so that I wanted to step back.

"He had an ugly look. He was smiling; the sweep was smiling, as though
he knew he was a lot cleverer than I. Another thing. The place was
suddenly quiet, and the houses and shops seemed to have fallen far
back. The pavement was wider.

"There was something else, I noticed. The bobby had left the street
corner, and was walking our way. The curious thing was, though, the
more he walked the farther off he got, as though the road was being
stretched under his feet.

"Mind you, I was still awake and critical. You know there is a
substratum of your mind which is critical, when you are dreaming,
standing looking on outside you, like a spectator.

"Then the stick touched my hand. I shouted. I must have yelled jolly
loud, I think. I couldn't help it. That horrible thing seemed to
wriggle in my fingers.

"It was the shout which brought the crowd. There was the policeman. I
can't make out how he got there. 'Now, what's your little game?' he
said. That brought the buildings up with a rush, and broke the road
into the usual clatter.

"It was all quite simple. There was nothing in it then out of the
ordinary. Just a usual Lascar, very frightened, waving a cheap cane
with a handle like a snake's head. Then another policeman came up in a
hurry, and pushed through the crowd. The crowd was on my side, maudlin
and sympathetic. They knew all about it. The coolie had tried to stab
me. An eager young lady in an apron asked a boy in front--he had just
forced through--what was the matter. He knew all about it.

"'The Indian tried to bite the copper.'

"'Tried to bite him?'

"'Not 'arf he didn't.'

"The Hindoo was now nearly hysterical, and the kiddies were picking up
his language fast. 'Now then, old Jabberjee,' said one nipper in
spectacles. The crowd was laughing, and surging towards the police. I
managed to edge out of it.

"'What's the trouble?' I asked a carman.

"'You see that P. and O. Johnny?' he said. 'Well, he knocked down that
kid'--indicating the boy in spectacles--'and took tuppence from him.'

"I thought a lot about the whole thing on the way home," said Hammond.
"I tell you the yarn for you to explain to the chaps who like to base
their beliefs on the sure ground of what they can understand."



XIII. The Extra Hand


Old George Galsworthy and I sat on the headland above the estuary,
looking into the vacancy which was the Atlantic on an entranced silver
evening. The sky was overcast. There was no wind, and no direct sun.
The light was refined and diffused through a thin veiling of pearl. Sea
and sky were one. As though they were suspended in space we saw a tug,
having a barque in tow, far but distinct, in the light of the bay, tiny
models of ebony set in a vast brightness. They were poised in the
illumination, and seemed to be motionless, but we knew they were moving
down on us. "Here she comes," said the seaman, "and a fine evening it
is for the end of her last voyage." Shipbreakers had bought that
barque. She was coming in to be destroyed.

The stillness of the world, and its lustre in which that fine black
shape was centred and was moving to her end, made me feel that
headlands, sea, and sky knew what was known to the two watchers on the
hill. She was condemned. The ship was central, and the regarding world
stood about her in silence. Sombre and stately she came, in the manner
of the tragic proud, superior to the compelling fussiness of little
men, making no resistance. The spring tide was near full. It had
flooded the marsh lands below us, but not with water, for those
irregular pools resplendent as mirrors were deeps of light. The
hedgerows were strips of the earth's rind remaining above a profound.
The light below the lines of black hedges was antipodean. The barque
moved in slowly. She did not go past the lighthouse, and past our hill,
into the harbour beyond, like a ship about the business of her life.
She turned into the shallows below us, and stood towards the foot of
the hill.

"She's altered a little," meditated Galsworthy. "They've shortened her
sticks, those Norwegians, and painted her their beastly mustard colour
and white. She's hogbacked, too. Well, she's old." The old man
continued his quiet meditation. He was really talking to himself, I
think, and I was listening to his thoughts.

"Look!" cried Galsworthy, suddenly rising, his hand gripping my
shoulder. The tug had cast off and was going about. The ship came right
on. There was an interval of time between her and the shore which was
breathless and prolonged.

"She's aground!" exclaimed the old man to himself, and the hand on my
shoulder gripped harder. He stood regarding her for some time. "She's
done," he said, and presently released me, sitting down beside me
again, still looking at her moodily, smoking his pipe. He was silent
for a time. Perhaps he had in his mind that he too had taken the
ground. It was sunset, and there she was, and there was he, and no more
sparkling morning tides out of port for them any more.

Presently he turned to me. "There's a queer story about her. She
carried an extra hand. I'll tell you. It's a queer yarn. She had one
man at a muster more than signed for her. At night, you couldn't get
into the rigging ahead of that chap. There you'd find him just too much
ahead of the first lad who had jumped at the call to be properly seen,
you know. You could see him, but you couldn't make him out. So the chap
behind him was in no hurry, after the first rush. Well, it made it
pretty hard for her old man to round up a crew. He had to find men who
didn't know her. Men in Poplar who didn't know her, those days, were
scarce. She was a London clipper and she carried a famous flag.
Everybody knew her but men who weren't sailors.

"Well, the boys said she had a bit of gibbet-post about her somewhere.
Ah! maybe. I don't know. Anyway, I say she was a fine clipper. I knew
her. She was the pick of the bunch, to my eye. But she was full of
trouble. I must say that. When she was launched she killed a man. First
she stuck on the ways, and then she went off all unexpected, like a
bird. That was always a trick of hers. You never knew her. And when she
was tired of headwinds, she'd find a dead calm. That was the kind of
ship she was. A skipper would look at her, and swear she was the ship
for him. The other chaps didn't understand her, he'd say. A ship like
that's sure to be good, he'd tell you. But when he'd got her she'd turn
his hair grey. She was that sort.

"One voyage she was six weeks beating to westward round Cape Horn. We
had a bad time. I'd never seen such seas. We could do no good there. It
was a voyage and a half. She lost the second mate overboard, and she
lost gear. So the old man put back to the Plate. And, of course, all
her crowd deserted, to a man. They said they wanted to see their homes
again before they died. They said there was something wrong about that
ship, and they left all their truck aboard, and made themselves scarce.
The old man scraped up a new crowd. They came aboard at dusk, one day,
and they stared about them. 'Look, sir,' said one of them, 'what's that
up there? What's that figgerhead in y'r main to'gallan' cross-tree?' I
was the mate, you know. I talked to that chap. He learned something
about getting the booze out of him before he came aboard. He got a move
on.

"We were over four months making 'Frisco that voyage, and she the
sailer she was. Why, she's logged thirteen knots. But she could get
nothing right, not for long. She was like those fine-looking women men
can't live without, and can't live with. She'd break a man's heart.
When we got back to Blackwall we heard she was sold to foreigners ...
but there she is now, come home to die. I bet old Yeo don't care much
about her troubles, though. He'll break her up, troubles and all, and
she's for firewood ... there you are, my dear, there you are ... but
you should have seen her at Blackwall, in the old days ... what's the
East India Dock Road like, these times?"

The next day, at low water, I stood beneath her, and watched a cascade
pouring incessantly from a patched wound in her side, for she had been
in collision, and that was why she was condemned. She was careened,
like a slain thing, and with the dank rocks and weeds about, and that
monotonous pour from her wound, she might have been a venerable sea
monster from which the life was draining. Yeo hailed me from above, and
up the lively rope ladder I went. She had a Norwegian name, but that
was not her name. All Poplar knew her once. There she was born. She was
one of ours. That stone arch of John Company, the entrance to the East
India Dock, once framed her picture, and her topmasts looked down to
the Dock Road, when she was at home. I could believe Galsworthy. She
was not so empty as she seemed. She had a freight, and Yeo did not know
it. Poplar and the days of the clippers! I knew she was invisibly
peopled. Of course she was haunted.

The shipwrecker and I went about her canted decks, groped through dark
recesses where it might have been the rats we heard, and peered into
the sonorous shades of the empty cargo spaces. In the cabins we puzzled
over those relics left by her last crew, which, without their
associations, seemed to have no reason in them. There was a mocking
silence in the cabins. What sort of men were they who were familiar
with these doors? And before the northmen had her, and she was English,
trim, and flew skysails and studding-sails, and carried lady
passengers, who were the Poplar boys that laughed and yarned here? She
was more mine than Yeo's. Let him claim her timber. All the rich
freight of her past was mine. I was the intimate of every ghost she
had.

We sat in a cabin which had been her skipper's. There was a litter on
the floor of old newspapers and documents, receipts for harbour dues,
the captain's copies of bills of lading, store lists, and some
picture-postcards from the old man's family. A lump of indurated
plum-duff, like a geological specimen, was on the table. There was a
slant of sunshine through a square port window, and it rested on a
decayed suit of oilskins. We sat silent, the shipbreaker having
finished estimating to me, with enthusiasm, what she had of copper. He
was now waiting for his men to return to work. They were going to take
the masts out of her. But I was wondering what I could do to lay that
ghost of my old shipping parish which this craft had conjured in my
mind. And as we both sat there, looking at nothing, we heard, at the
end of the alley-way, a door stealthily latch.

Yeo sprang to his feet at once, staring and listening. He looked at me,
surprised and puzzled. "Of all the----" he began, and stopped. He took
his seat again. "Why, of course," he said. "She's settling. That's what
it is. She's settling. But my men, the fools, will have it there's some
one pottering about this ship."

_May 1909._



XIV. The Sou'-Wester


The trees of the Embankment Gardens were nearly stripped of their
leaves, and were tossing widely. Shutting the eyes, you could think you
heard the sweep of deep-water seas with strident crests. The greater
buildings, like St. Paul's, might have been promontories looming in a
driving murk. The low sky was dark and riven, and was falling headlong.
But I liked the look of it. Here, plainly, was the end of the halcyon
days,--good-bye to the sun,--but I felt, for a reason I could not
remember and did not try to recall, pleased and satisfied with this
gale and its wrack. The clouds seemed curiously familiar. I had seen
them before somewhere; they were reminding me of a lucky but forgotten
occasion of the past. Whatever it was, no doubt it was better than
anything likely to happen today. It was something good in an old world
we have lost. But it was something of that old world, like an old book
which reads the same today; or an old friend surviving, who would help
to make endurable the years to come. I need not try to remember it. I
had got it, whatever it was, and that was all the assurance of its
wealth I wanted. Then from the river came a call, deep, prolonged, and
melancholy....

So that was it! No wonder the low clouds driving, and the wind in the
trees, worked that in my mind. The tide was near full. There was a
steamer moving in the Pool. She was outward bound.

Outward bound! I saw again the black buildings of a Welsh coaling port
at evening, and a vague steamer (but no liner, that was plain enough,
no liner), and two men beside me, who were going out with me in her,
watching her. She was little more than a shadow with a port light. She
gave a deep, shuddering warning. She was off. We had been for a last
run round the town. We were to board her in the outer lock. The wind
was whining in the telegraph-wires. It was hazing the pools of rain,
which were bright and bleak with the last of a brazen yellow sunset.
"Happy days!" said one of us. "Who wouldn't sell that little farm?...
Now we're in for it. It will be the devil of an old, tough night."
(Where this night is that friend? Mine-sweeping? Patrolling? Or is
he---- But I hope not. He was a good fellow and a sailor.)

We were better off than we knew then, though then we thought it would
be hard luck for a dog. Our thoughts turned to the snug indoor places
of the lighted town behind us; for in the small hours we should be
plunging off Hartland; with the Wolf to come, and the Bay after that;
and the glass falling. But youth did know it was young, and that this
night, wild and forbidding, and the old _Sirius_ rolling away into it,
would look fine when seen through tobacco smoke in the years to come.

For the light we saw at sea never fades. It survives our voyaging. It
shines into the mind and abides there. We watched the horizon
steadfastly for lands we did not know. The sun came up each day to a
world that was not the same, no matter how it looked. At night we
changed our stars. We heard nothing but the wind and the waves, and the
quiet voice of a shipmate yarning with his pipe in his mouth. The
elements could interrupt us, but not the world. Not a gull of that was
left.

And somehow the beginning of a voyage seemed to be always in westerly
weather, at the beginning of winter. The English land to me is a
twilight coast with clouds like iron above it poised in a windy light
of aquamarine, and a sunset of lucid saffron. Against that western
light, bright, bare, and penetrating as the ruthless judgment of
impersonal divinity, the polished waves mount, outlined as hard as jet,
and move towards us. The ship's prow rises to cut out segments of the
west; falls into the dark hollows of waves. The wind pours over us, an
icy and ponderable flood, and is increasing. Where England has sunk in
the dark one clear eye, like a yellow planet, comes out to watch us.

One thinks of the sea now as something gone, like the old world. There
once a voyager was sundered from insistent trifles. He was with simple,
elemental things that have been since time began, and he had to meet
them with what skill he had, the wind for his friend and adversary, the
sun his clock, the stars for counsel, and the varying wilderness his
hope and his doubt. But the cruel misery of man did not intrude. He was
free from that. All men at sea were his fellows, whatever their
language, an ancient fraternity whose bond was a common but unspoken
knowledge of a hidden but imminent fate. They could be strangers
ashore, but not at sea.

But that is gone now. The sea is poisoned with a deadly sorrow not its
own, which man has put there. The spaciousness of the great vault above
the round of waters is soiled by the gibbering anxieties of a thousand
gossipers of evil, which the ship catches in its wires, to darken the
night of its little company with surmises of distant malignity and woe.
It is something to retain a little of the light of the days at sea
which have passed. They too had their glooms, but they came of the
dignity of advancing storms, and the fear which great seas put in men
who held a resolute course nevertheless, knowing that their weird was
one which good seamen have faced since first the unknown beyond the
land was dared; faith, courage, and the loyalty of comrades, which all
the waters of the world cannot drown. But the heart of man, which will
face the worst the elements can do, sickens at the thought of the
perverse and inexplicable cruelty of his fellows.

_October 1917._



XV. On Leave


Coming out of Victoria Station into the stir of London again, on leave
from Flanders, must give as near the sensation of being thrust suddenly
into life from the beyond and the dead as mortal man may expect to
know. It is a surprising and providential wakening into a world which
long ago went dark. That world is strangely loud, bright, and alive.
Plainly it did not stop when, somehow, it vanished once upon a time.
There its vivid circulation moves, and the buses are so usual, the
people so brisk and intent on their own concerns, the signs so
startlingly familiar, that the man who is home again begins to doubt
that he has been absent, that he has been dead. But his uniform must
surely mean something, and its stains something more!

And there can be no doubt about it, as you stand there a trifle dizzy
in London once more. You really have come back from another world; and
you have the curious idea that you may be invisible in this old world.
In a sense you know you are unseen. These people will never know what
you know. There they gossip in the hall, and leisurely survey the
bookstall, and they would never guess it, but you have just returned
from hell. What could they say if you told them? They would be
embarrassed, polite, forbearing, kindly, and smiling, and they would
mention the matter afterwards as a queer adventure with a poor devil
who was evidently a little over-wrought; shell shock, of course.
Beastly thing, shell shock. Seems to affect the nerves.

They would not understand. They will never understand. What is the use
of standing in veritable daylight, and telling the living, who have
never been dead, of the other place?

I know now how Rip Van Winkle felt about it. But his was a minor
trouble. All he lost was some years. He had not changed, except that
his beard was longer. But the man who comes back from the line has lost
more than years. He has lost his original self. People failed to
recognize Rip because they did not know his beard. Our friends do
recognize us when they greet us on our return from the front, but they
do not know us because we are not the men they remember. They are the
same as ever; but when they address us, they talk to a mind which is
not there, though the eyes betray nothing of the difference. They talk
to those who have come back to life to see them again, but who cannot
tell them what has happened, and dare not try.

Between that old self and the man they see, there is an abyss of dread.
He has passed through it. To them the war is official _communiqués_,
the amplifying dispatches of war correspondents, the silence of absent
friends in danger, the shock of a telegram, and rather interesting
food-rationing. They think it is the same war which the leave-man
knows. He will tell them all about it, and they will learn the truth at
last.

All about it! If an apparition of the battle-line in eruption were to
form over London, over Paris, over Berlin, a sinister mirage, near,
unfading, and admonitory, with spectral figures moving in its reflected
fires and its gloom, and the echoes of their cries were heard, and
murmurs of convulsive shocks, and the wind over the roofs brought
ghostly and abominable smells into our streets; and if that were to
haunt us by day and night, a phantom from which there was no escape, to
remain till the sins of Europe were expiated, we should soon forget
politics and arguments, and be in sackcloth and ashes, positive no
longer, but down on our knees before Heaven in awe at this revelation
of social guilt, asking simply what we must do to be saved.

Your revival at home, when on leave, is full of wonderful commonplaces,
especially now, with summer ripening. The yellow-hammer is heard on the
telegraph wire, and the voices of children in the wood, and the dust of
white English country roads is smelled at evening. All that is a
delight which is miraculous in its intensity. But it is very lonesome
and far. It is curious to feel that you are really there, delighting in
the vividness of this recollection of the past, and yet balked by the
knowledge that you are, nevertheless, outside this world of home,
though it looks and smells and sounds so close; and that you may never
enter it again. It is like the landscape in a mirror, the luminous
projection of what is behind you. But you are not there. It is
recognized, but viewed now apart and aloof, a chance glimpse at the
secure and enduring place from which you came, vouchsafed to one who
must soon return to the secret darkness in his mind.

The home folk do not know this, and may not be told--I mean they may
not be told why it is so. The youngster who is home on leave, though he
may not have reasoned it out, knows that what he wants to say, often
prompted by indignation, cannot be said. He feels intuitively that this
is beyond his power to express. Besides, if he were to begin, where
would he end? He cannot trust himself. What would happen if he
uncovered, in a sunny and innocent breakfast-room, the horror he knows?
If he spoke out? His people would not understand him. They would think
he was mad. They would be sorry, dammit. Sorry for him! Why, he is not
sorry for himself. He can stand it now he knows what it is like. He can
stand it--if they can. And he realizes they can stand it, and are
merely anxious about his welfare, the welfare which does not trouble
him in the least, for he has looked into the depth of evil, and for him
the earth has changed; and he rather despises it. He has seen all he
wants to see of it. Let it go, dammit. If they don't mind the change,
and don't kick, why should he? What a hell of a world to be born into;
and once it did look so jolly good, too! He is shy, cheery, but
inexorably silent on what he knows. Some old fool said to him once, "It
must be pretty bad out there?" Pretty bad! What a lark!

But for his senior, who also knows, though the feeling is the same, the
nature of the combative adult male is less shy, and not merely
negatively contemptuous, but aggressive. It is difficult for him to
endure hearing the home folk speak with the confidence of special
revelation of the war they have not seen, when he, who has been in it,
has contradictory minds about it. They are so assured that they think
there can be no other view; and they bear out their mathematical
arguments with maps and figures. It might be a chess tournament. He
feels at last his anger beginning to smoulder. He feels a bleak and
impalpable alienation from those who are all the world to him. He
understands at last that they also are in the mirror, projected from
his world that was, and that now he cannot come near them. Yet though
he knows it, they do not. The greatest evil of war--this is what
staggers you when you come home, feeling you know the worst of it--is
the unconscious indifference to war's obscene blasphemy against life of
the men and women who have the assurance that they will never be called
on to experience it. Out there, comrades in a common and unlightened
affliction shake a fist humorously at the disregarding stars, and mock
them. Let the Fates do their worst. The sooner it is over, the better;
and, while waiting, they will take it out of Old Jerry. He is the only
one out of whom they can take it. They are to throw away their world
and die, so they must take it out of somebody. Therefore Jerry "gets it
in the neck." Men under the irrefragable compulsion of a common spell,
who are selected for sacrifice in the fervour of a general obsession,
but who are cooly awake to the unreason which locks the minds of their
fellows, will burst into fury at the bond they feel. The obvious
obstruction is the obstinate "blighter" with a machine-gun in front of
them. At least, they are free to "strafe" him.

But what is the matter with London? The men on leave, when they meet
each other, always ask that question without hope, in the seclusion of
their confidence and special knowledge. They feel perversely they would
sooner be amid the hated filth and smells of the battle-ground than at
home. Out there, though possibly mischance may suddenly extinguish the
day for them, they will be with those who understand, with comrades who
rarely discuss the war except obliquely and with quiet and bitter
jesting. Seeing the world has gone wrong, how much better and easier it
is to take the likelihood of extinction with men who have the same
mental disgust as your own, and can endure it till they die, but who,
while they live in the same torment with you, have the unspoken but
certain conviction that Europe is a decadent old beast eating her young
with insatiable appetite, than to sit in sunny breakfast-rooms with the
newspaper maps and positive arguments of the unsaved!

_Autumn 1917._



XVI. The Dunes


The dunes are in another world. They are two miles across the uncertain
and hazardous tide races of the estuary. The folk of the village never
go over. The dunes are nothing. They are the horizon. They are only
seen in idleness, or when the weather is scanned, or an incoming ship
is marked. The dunes are but a pallid phantom of land so delicately
golden that it is surprising to find it constant. The faint glow of
that dilated shore, quavering just above the sea, the sea intensely
blue and positive, might wreathe and vanish at any moment in the pour
of wind from the Atlantic, whose endless strength easily bears in and
over us vast involuted continents of white cloud. The dunes tremble in
the broad flood of wind, light, and sea, diaphanous and fading, always
on the limit of vision, the point of disappearing, but are established.
They are soundless, immaterial, and far, like a pleasing and personal
illusion, a luminous dream of lasting tranquillity in a better but an
unapproachable place, and the thought of crossing to them never
suggests anything so obvious as a boat. They look like no coast that
could be reached.

It was a perverse tide on a windless day which drifted me over. The
green mounds of water were flawless, with shadows of mysteries in their
clear deeps. The boat and the tide were murmuring to each other
secretly. The boat's thwarts were hot and dry in the sun. The serene
immensity of the sky, the warmth and dryness of the boat's timbers, the
deep and translucent waters, and the coast so low and indistinct that
the silent flashing of the combers there might have been on nothing
substantial, were all timeless, and could have been but a thought and a
desire; they were like a memorable morning in a Floridan cay
miraculously returned. The boat did not move; the shore approached,
revealed itself. It was something granted on a lucky day. This country
would not be on the map.

I landed on a broad margin of sand which the tide had just left. It was
filmed with water. It was a mirror in which the sky was inverted. When
a breath of air passed over that polished surface it was as though the
earth were a shining bubble which then nearly burst. To dare that
foothold might precipitate the intruder on ancient magic to cloudland
floating miles beneath the feet. But I had had the propriety to go
barefooted, and had lightened my mind before beginning the voyage. Here
I felt I was breaking into what was still only the first day, for man
had never measured this place with his countless interruptions of
darkness. I don't know whether that mirror had ever been darkened till
I put my foot in it. After the news I had heard on the quay that
morning before starting out, news just arrived from London, the dunes
were an unexpected assurance that the earth has an integrity and purity
of its own, a quality which even man cannot irreparably soil; that it
maintains a pristine health and bloom invulnerable to the best our
heroic and intelligent activities can accomplish, and could easily
survive our extinction, and even forget it once supported us.

I found an empty bottle among the dry litter and drift above the
tide-mark, sole relic, as far as could be seen there, of man. No
message was in the bottle. The black bottle itself was forlornly the
message, but it lay there unregarded by the bright immemorial genius of
that coast. Yet it settled one doubt. This was not a land which had
never known man. It had merely forgotten it had known him. He had been
there, but whatever difference he had made was of the same significance
now as the dry bladder-wrack, the mummied gull near by, and the
bleached shells. The next tide probably would hide the memento for
ever. At the time this did not seem an unhappy thought, though the
relic had been our last witness, so enduring was the tenuous brightness
of the place, the shrine of our particular star, the visible aura of
earth. We rarely see it. It is something to be reminded it is not lost;
that we cannot, whatever else we can do, put out a celestial light.

Above the steep beach a dry flat opened out, reached only by gales and
the highest of the spring tides, a wilderness of fine sand, hot and
deep, its surface studded with the opaque blue of round pebbles and
mussel shells. It looked too arid to support life, but sea-rocket with
fleshy emerald stems and lilac flowers was scattered about. Nothing
moved in the waste but an impulsive small butterfly, blue as a fragment
of sky. The silence of the desert was that of a dream, but when
listening to the quiet, a murmur which had been below hearing was
imagined. The dunes were quivering with the intensity of some latent
energy, and it might have been that one heard, or else it was the
remembrance held by that strand of a storm which had passed, or it
might have been the ardent shafts of the sun. At the landward end of
the waste, by the foot of the dunes, was an old beam of a ship, harsh
with barnacles, its bolt-holes stopped with dust. A spinous shrub grew
to one side of it. A solitary wasp, a slender creature in black and
gold, quick and emotional, had made a cabin of one of the holes in the
timber. For some reason that fragment of a barque was more eloquent of
travel, and the work of seamen gone, than any of the craft moored at
the quay I left that morning. I smoked a pipe on that timber--for all I
knew, not for the first time--and did not feel at all lonely, nor that
voyages for the discovery of fairer times were finished.

Now the dunes were close they appeared surprisingly high, and were
formed, not like hills, but like the high Alps. They had the peaks and
declivities of mountains. Their colour was of old ivory, and the long
marram grass which grew on them sparsely was as fine as green hair. The
hollowed slope before me was so pale, spacious, and immaculate that
there was an instinctive hesitation about taking it. A dark ghost began
slowly to traverse it with outspread arms, a shade so distinct on that
virgin surface that not till the gull, whose shadow it was, had gone
inland, following its shadow over the high yellow ridge, did I know
that I had not been looking at the personality. But the surface had
been darkened, and I could overcome my hesitation.

From the ridge, the country of the dunes opened inland with the
enlarged likeness of a lunar landscape surveyed in a telescope. It
merely appeared to be near. The sand-hills, with their acute outlines,
and their shadows flung rigidly from their peaks across the pallor of
their slopes, were the apparition of inviolable seclusion. They could
have been waiting upon an event secret from our knowledge, larger than
the measure of our experience; so they had still the aspect of a
strange world, not only infinitely remote, but superior with a greater
destiny. They were old, greatly older than the ancient village across
the water. Ships left the village and went by them to sea gay with the
bunting of a first voyage, with a fair wind, and on a fine morning; and
when such a ship came back long after as an old plank bearded with sea
moss, to the dunes under which it stranded the day was still the same,
vestal and innocent; for they were on a voyage of greater length and
import. They had buried many ships; but, as time moved to them, all on
the same day.

Only when resting on a knoll of one of the slopes, where the shadows of
a tuft of marram grass above my head lay as thin black wire on the
sand, were the dunes caught in part of their secret. There was no
sound. I heard the outer world from which I had come only as the
whistle of a curlew. It was far away now. To this place, the news I had
heard on the quay that morning would have sounded the same as Waterloo,
which was yesterday, or the Armada, which was the same day--wasn't
it?--or the day before, or as the whistle of a curlew. Here we were
outside time. Then I thought I heard a faint whisper, but when I looked
round nothing had altered. The shadows of the grass formed a fixed
metallic design on the sand. But I heard the whisper again, and with a
side glance caught the dune stealthily on the move.

It was alive. When you were not attentive, some of its grains would
start furtively, pour in increasing mobility fanwise, and rest
instantly when looked at. This hill was fluid, and circulated. It
preserved an outline that was fixed through the years, a known, named,
and charted locality, only to those to whom one map would serve a
lifetime. But it was really unknown. It was on its way. Like the ships
that were passing, it also was passing. It was only taking its own
time.

Secluded within the inner ranges were little valleys, where, for a
while, the dunes had ceased to travel, and were at leisure. I got into
a hollow which had a floor of hoary lichen, with bronze hummocks of
moss. In this moment of pause it had assumed a look of what we call
antiquity. The valley was not abundant with vegetation, but enamelled
and jewelled. A more concentrated, hectic, and volatile essence sent up
stalks, blades, and sprays, with that direction and restraint which
perfection needs. More than in a likelier and fecund spot, in this
valley the ichor showed the ardour and flush of its early vitality.
Even now it could shape like this, and give these dyes! Chosen by an
earth astringent and tonic, the forms were few and personal. Here you
should see to what influences our planet is still subject. The shapes
in that valley were more than coloured; they were rare jets of light,
emerald, orange, blue, and scarlet. Life burned with an original force,
a steady virtue. What is "good news"? It depends on the sort of
evidence for which we look.

Just showing in the drift on the seaward side of the valley were some
worked stones and a little brickwork. When the sandhill paused, it had
almost covered a building where man once worshipped. I could find
nobody afterwards who remembered the church, or had even heard of it.
Yet the doom of this temple, prolonged in its approach but inevitable,
to those to whom the altar once had seemed as indestructible as hope,
must on a day have struck the men who saw at last their temple's end
was near as a hint, vague but glacial, of the transience of all their
affairs.

But what were their affairs? We should have to know them before we
could regret the dry sand which buried them. The valley looked very
well as it was. It showed no sign of failure. Over one of the stones of
the forgotten altar was a casual weed which stood like a sign of
success and continuance. It was as indecipherable as the stone, but the
blue of its flowers, still and deep as rapture, surprising and
satisfying as an unexpected revelation of good, would have been better
worth reading for a knowledge of the heart from which could be drawn
the temper and intensity of that faith.

_August 1917._



XVII. Binding a Spell


You may never have addressed a meeting of the public, but you have long
cherished a vision of a figure (well known to your private mirror)
standing where it overlooks an intent and silent multitude to which it
communicates with apt and fluent words those things not seen by mortal
eyes, the dream of a world not ours.... You know what I mean. (Loud and
prolonged applause.)

"I should be glad," wrote one who is still unashamed to call himself my
friend, "if you could run down here one evening and address a meeting
on your experiences. Just conversationally, you know."

A casual sort of letter. Designedly so. But I could see through it. It
was an invitation which did not wish to scare me from accepting it. I
smiled with serene amusement at its concluding sentence.
Conversationally! Why, that would be merely talking; tongue-work;
keeping on and on after one usually, if merciful to a friend, lets him
off. I felt instantly that for once it might be even more pleasant to
entertain an audience than to be one of the crowd and bored. And it
happened that my experiences really did give me something to say, and
were exactly what an audience, in war-time, might be glad to hear. I
therefore wrote a brief note of acceptance, as one to whom this sort of
thing comes ten times a day; and thought no more about it.

No more, that is to say, till I saw the local paper announced me as a
coming event, a treat in store. I was on the list. There were those
that evening who, instead of going to a theatre, a concert, or to see
Vesta Tilley, would come to hear me. I felt then the first cold
underdraught of doubt, the chilling intimation from the bleak unknown,
where it is your own affair entirely whether you flourish or perish.
What a draught! I got up, shut the door, and looked at the day of the
month.

That was all right; yet another fortnight!

But what weakness was this? Anybody, could do it, if they knew as much
of my subject as did I. Many men would do it, without a tremor, without
shame, if they knew next to nothing about it. Look at old Brown, for
example, whose only emotions are evoked by being late for dinner, the
price of building materials, the scandalous incapacity of workmen, and
the restriction of the liberty of the subject by trade unions! He will
sit, everybody knows, while wearing plaid trousers and side-whiskers,
on the right hand of a peer, in full view of thousands, at a political
meeting, untroubled, bland, conscious of his worth, and will rise at
the word, thumbs carelessly thrust into his waistcoat pockets, begin
with a jest (the same one), and for an hour make aspirates as uncommon
as are bathrooms in his many houses.

He has nothing to say, and could not say it if he had; but he can speak
in public. You will observe the inference is obvious. One who is really
capable of constructive thought (like you and me); who has a wide range
of words to choose from even when running; who is touched, by events,
to admiration, to indignation, to alarm, to--to all that sort of thing,
he could ... the plastic audience would be in his skilful hands, there
is no doubt. (Hear, hear!)

Time passed. As Mr. A. Ward once pointed out, it is a way time has. The
night came, as at last I began to fear it would. My brief notes were in
my pocket, for I had resolutely put from me the dishonourable and
barren safety of a written lecture. In the train--how cold was the
night--I wished I had gone more fully into the matter. Slightly
shivering, I tried to recall the dry humour of those carefully prepared
opening sentences which shortly would prove to my audience that I had
their measure, and was at ease; would prove that my elevation on the
platform was not merely through four feet of deal planking, but was a
real overlooking. But those delicate sentences had broken somehow. They
were shards, and not a glitter of humour was sticking to the fragments.

I felt I would rather again approach one of those towns in France,
where it was likely you would run into the Uhlans, than go to that
lecture hall. No doubt, too, my friend had explained to them what a
clever fellow I was, in order to get some reflected glory out of it.
Then it would serve him right; there would be two of us.

The hall was nearly full. What surprises one is to find so many ladies
present. A most disquieting fact, entirely unforeseen. They sit in the
front rows and wait, evidently in a tranquil, alert, and mirthful mind,
for you to begin. I could hear their leisurely converse and occasional
subdued laughter (about what?) even where, in a sort of frozen, lucid
calm, indifferent to my fate, the mood of all Englishmen in moments of
extreme peril, I was handing my hat and coat to my friend in a room
behind the platform. All those people out there were waiting for me.

When we got on the platform the chairman told them something about me,
I don't know what, but when I looked up it was to find, like the soul
in torment, that a multitude of bodiless eyes had fixed me--eyes
intent, curious, passionless.

"I call upon--" said the chairman.

I stood up. The sound of my voice uplifted in that silence was the most
startling sound I have ever heard. Shortly after that there came the
paralysing discovery that it is a gift to be able to think while
hundreds wait patiently to see what the thought is like when it comes.
This made my brow hot. There was a boy in an Eton suit, sitting in
front with his legs wide apart, who was grinning at me through his
spectacles. How he got there I don't know. I think he was the gift of
the gods. His smile so annoyed me that I forgot myself, which saved me.
I just talked to that boy.

Once there was loud laughter. Why? It is inexplicable. I talked for
about an hour. About what? Heaven knows. The chairman kindly let me out
through a side entrance.



XVIII. A Division on the March


We passed a division on the march the other day. Though the British
occupy this country, it is not often one sees them as a multitude. When
in the trenches, you are concerned with but a handful of your fellows.
But just then an interminable river of steel helmets poured along in
regular waves.

It is something to be able to say you have seen a British army moving
down the straight leagues of a French road through its guarding avenue
of trees. My own brother may have been in that host.... Yet I never
thought of him. A torrent of sounds swamped and submerged my
thoughts--the clangour of chains, the rumbling of wheels, the deep
growling of guns; and that most ominous and subduing sound in war, the
ceaseless rhythmic tramp of armed men marching without music or song,
men who, except the menace of their measured progress, that intimation
of destiny and fate irresistible, are but a multitude of expressionless
masks that glance at you, and pass.

These men are all dressed alike; they are a tide of men. They all look
alike. Their mouths are set. They move together with the common,
irresistible, uncritical urge of migratory animals. Their eyes fix you
in a single ceaseless interrogation. About what?

There is no knowing. Don't ask me what the men are thinking in
Flanders; I don't know, and I have been with them since the beginning.
And I don't think any one else does.

But once, as this division was passing, one of those little go-carts on
perambulator wheels in which the men, holding drag-ropes, transport
their own personal belongings, upset a few books. You would have
recognized their popular covers; and the anxiety, instantly shown, to
recover those treasures, broke up the formation there for a few moments
into something human and understandable. The wind took a few escaped
leaves and blew them to me. The _Pickwick Papers_!

It was as though the inscrutable eye of the army had tipped me a wink.

I got the hint that I was, in the right sense, on the same road as
these men. My brother was certainly there. For sometimes, you know, one
has a bleak sense of doubt about that, a feeling of extreme isolation
and polar loneliness. You wonder, at times, mixed up here in the
mysterious complexities of that elemental impulse which is visible as
ceaseless clouds of fire on the Somme, whether you are the last man,
witnessing in helpless and mute horror the motiveless upheaval of earth
in final ruin.

So that, even as I write this, and glance, safe for tonight, at the
strangeness of this French house, I see everything about me with
astonishment, and feel I may wake at any moment to the familiar things
of that home in which I fell asleep to dream of calamity.

Moving about this dubious and unauthentic scene of war, an atom of a
fortuitous host, each one of the host glancing at me with inscrutable
eyes which seem to show in passing--if they show anything at all--a
faint hint of reproach, the interruption of war by the page of a
familiar book, and the sudden anxious effort by one of the uniformed
phantoms to recover words which you remember well enough were once
worth hearing, was like momentary recovery. An unexpected revelation.
For a moment I saw the same old enduring earth under us. All was well.

I often doubt here the existence of a man who is talking to me. He
seems altogether incredible. He might be talking across the Styx; and I
am not sure at the moment on which side of that river I stand. Is he on
the right side or am I? Which of us has got the place where a daily sun
still rises? Yes, it is the living men here who are the uncanny
spectres.

I have come in a lonely spot upon a little cross by the wayside, and
have been stopped by a familiar name on it. Dead? No. There, right
enough, is my veritable friend, as I knew and admired him. He cannot be
dead. But those men in muddy clothes who sometimes consort with me
round the burning logs on the hearth of an old château at night, I look
across the floor at them as across countless ages, and listen to their
voices till they sound unintelligibly from a remote and alien past. I
do not know what they say to me. I am encompassed by dark and insoluble
magic, and have forgotten the Open Sesame, though I try hard to
remember it; for these present circumstances and the beings who move in
them are of a world unreal and unreasonable.

I get up from the talk of war by that fireside of an old château built
on a still more ancient field where English archers fought a famous
battle six hundred years ago. A candle stands on a bracket beneath a
portrait of a lady. The lady is in the dress of the days of the French
Revolution. She is young and vivid, and looks down at me under lowered
eyelids in amused and enticing scrutiny. Her little mouth has the
faintest trace of a contemplative smile; and as I look at her I could
swear the corners of her mouth twitch, as if in the restraint of
complete understanding.

She is long gone. She was executed at Arras. But I know her well. The
château is less cold and lonely than it was.

Old stairs wind upwards to a long corridor, the distant ends of which
are unseen. A few candles gutter in the draughts. The shadows leap. The
place is so still that I can hear the antique timbers talking. But
something is without which is not the noise of the wind. I listen, and
hear it again, the darkness throbbing; the badly adjusted horizon of
outer night thudding on the earth--the incessant guns of the great war.

And I come, for this night at least, to my room. On the wall is a tiny
silver Christ on a crucifix; and above that the portrait of a child,
who fixes me in the surprise of innocence, questioning and loveable,
the very look of warm April and timid but confiding light. I sleep with
the knowledge of that over me, an assurance greater than that of all
the guns of all the hosts. It is a promise. I may wake to the earth I
used to know in the morning.

_Winter 1917._



XIX. Holly-Ho!


In the train bound for the leave boat, just before Christmas, the
Knight-Errant, who also was returning to the front, re-wrote the
well-known hymn of Phillips Brooks for me, to make the time pass. It
began:

    "Oh little town of Bethlehem,
      To thee we give the lie."

So you may guess, though I shan't tell you, how it continued. For the
iron was in the soul of the Knight and misery was twisting it. I cannot
pretend it was a pleasure trip. This was to be our third Christmas in
Flanders. Is it any good trying to pass on the emotion common to men
who go to that place because they must? No, it is not. Yet, throughout
the journey to the boat, I was not astonished at the loud gaiety of
many of our passengers. I have got used to it; for they were like that
when they landed at Boulogne in August 1914; and they will be no
different when they come back for good, to comfortable observers who
prefer to be satisfied easily.

There was a noise of musical instruments and untractable boots on the
floor-boards. While waiting in the nervous queue on the Day of Judgment
one of those fellows will address a mouth organ to the responsive feet
of a pal, and the others will look on with intent approval, indifferent
to Gabriel. Having watched disaster experiment variously with my
countrymen for three years, I begin to understand why once the French
hated us, why lately they have learned to admire us and to be amused by
us, why the blunders of our governing classes don't damage us vitally
(which seems miraculous unless you know the reason); and, indeed, why
that blessed flag has braved a thousand years the battle and the
breeze.

It is because the quality of our Nobodies (about whom a great epic will
get written when a poet is born good enough and big enough to receive
the inspiration), it is because any average Nobody has a cool
impregnability to the worst bad luck can do which is supernal. That
gives the affair something of the comic. That is what makes the humour
of the front. And after the first silent pause of respect and wonder at
one more story of the sort a journalist knows so well who knows but a
little of railway men and miners, seamstresses and the mothers in mean
streets, and ships and the sea, one cannot help chuckling. Again, the
sons of Smith and Jones and Robin! The well-born, the clever, the
haughty, and the greedy, in their fear, pride, and wilfulness, and the
perplexity of their scheming, make a general mess of the world.
Forthwith in a panic they cry, "Calamity cometh!"

Then out from their obscurity, where they dwelt because of their low
worth, arise the Nobodies; because theirs is the historic job of
restoring again the upset balance of affairs. They make no fuss about
it. Theirs is always the hard and dirty work. They have always done it.
If they don't do it, it will not be done. They fall with a will and
without complaint upon the wreckage wilfully made of generations of
such labour as theirs, to get the world right again, to make it
habitable again, though not for themselves; for them, they must spend
the rest of their lives recreating order out of chaos. A hopeless task;
but they continue at it unmurmuring, giving their bodies without stint,
as once they gave their labour, to the fields and the sea. And some day
the planet will get back to its old place under the sun; but not for
them, not for them.

A Nobody never seems to know anything, but by the grace of God he gets
there just the same. I was not far from Ypres and the line of the Yser
during the first battle for the Channel ports. Do you know how near we
were to the edge of the precipice not long before that Christmas? We
were on the verge. We were nearly over. I knew it then. So when, later
still, I used to meet in France an enigmatic, clay-coloured figure with
a visage seamed with humorous dolours, loaded with pioneering and
warlike implements, rifles, knives, tin hats, and gas masks, I always
felt I ought to get down and walk. Instead of which he used to salute
me as smartly as he could. He will never know how cheap and embarrassed
he used to make me feel. I wish I knew enough to do him some justice.

And here once more is the leave boat, and this is another Christmas
Eve. It was a still twilight, with a calm sea and a swell on our
starboard beam. We rolled. We looked back on England sinking in the
night. A black smudge of a destroyer followed us over with its eye on
us. The main deck was crowded with soldiers--you could not get along
there--singing in their lifebelts; at times the chorus, if approved,
became a unanimous roar. They didn't want to be there. They didn't want
to die. They wanted to go home. But they sang with dolorous joy. The
chorus died; and we heard again the deep monody of the sea, like the
admonitory voice of fate. The battles of the Somme were to come before
the next Christmas; though none of us on that boat knew it then. And
where is the young officer who went ashore under the electric glare of
the base port, singing also, and bearing a Christmas tree? Where is
that wild lieutenant of the Black Watch--he had a splendid eye, and a
voice for a Burns midnight--who cried rollicking answers from the back
of the crowd to the peremptory megaphone of the landing officer, till
the ship was loud and gay, and the authorities got really wild? And the
boy of a new draft, whose face, as I passed him where he had fallen
in,--the light dropped to it,--was pale and nervous, and his teeth
chattering! Ah, the men we met in France, and the faces we saw briefly,
but remember, that were before the Somme! Shadows, shadows.

It rained next morning. This was Christmas Day. We were going to the
trenches. Christians awake, salute the happy morn. There was a prospect
of straight road with an avenue of diminishing poplars going east, in
an inky smear, to the Germans and infinity. The rain lashed into my
northerly ear, and the A.S.C. motor-car driver, who was mad, kept
missing three-ton lorries and gun-limbers by the width of the paint.
One transport mule, who pretended to be frightened of us, but whose
father was the devil and his mother an ass, plunged into a pond of
black Flanders mud as we passed, and raked us with solvent filth. We
wiped it off our mouths. God rest you merry, gentlemen. A land so
inundated that it inverted the raw and alien sky was on either hand.
The mud clung to the horses and mules like dangling walnuts and bunches
of earthy and glistening grapes. The men humped themselves in soddened
khaki. The noise of the wheels bearing guns was like the sound of doom.
The rain it rained. O come, all ye faithful!

We got to a place where there was no more wheeled traffic. There was
nothing moving, nothing alive. That country was apparently abandoned.
To our front and left, for no apparent reason, three little dirty
yellow clouds burst simultaneously over a copse, with a smash which
made you feel you ought to be tolerant to men with shell-shock. On our
right was an empty field. Short momentary flames leaped constantly from
its farthermost hedge, with a noise like the rapid slamming of a row of
iron doors. Heavy eruptions, as though subterranean, were going on all
the time, the Lord knew where. But not a man was in sight till we got
to a village which looked like Gomorrah the day after it happened. Some
smoke and red dust were just settling by one of the ruins, and a man
lay there motionless with his face in the rubbish....

There was a habitation where sacking kept the wind and rain from
unlucky holes, with holly behind pictures tacked to its walls, and a
special piece of inviting mistletoe over a saucy lady from _La Vie
Parisienne_. There was an elderly and serious colonel, who had an
ancestor at Chevy Chase, but himself held independent views on war; and
a bunch of modest boys with sparkling eyes and blithe and ironic
comments. They also did not discuss the war in the way it is discussed
where war is but lowered street lights. We had bully beef, the right
sort of pudding,--those boys must have had very nice sisters,--and
frosted cake. There were noises without, as the book of the play has
it, and plenty of laughter within, and I enjoyed myself with a sort of
veiled, subconscious misery; for I liked those lads; and we are so
transitory today.

Then one of them took me for a Christmas walk in his country. "Have you
got your gas helmet?" he said. "That's right. It makes your eyes stream
with tears, and you look such a silly ass." On we went. I began
Christmas Day in the trenches by discovering the bottom of the mud too
late; though you never can tell, when a noise like the collapse of an
iron roof goes off behind you, where you are going to put your feet at
that moment. We went through a little wood, where the trees were like
broken poles with chewed ends. Over our heads were invisible things
which moaned, shrieked, and roared in flight. It was astonishing that
they were invisible. Sometimes the bottom of the mud of that
communication trench was close, and sometimes not; you knew when you
had tried. And as the parapets usually had dissolved at the more
dubious places, and I was told and heard that Fritz had machine guns
trained on them, I did not waste much time experimenting.

I found the firing-line, as one usually does, with surprise. There was
a barrier of sandbags, oozing grey slime, and below, in a sort of
little cave, with his body partly resting in a pool of water, a soldier
asleep. Just beyond was a figure so merged in the environment of
aqueous muck and slime that I did not see him till he moved, and his
boots squelched. He lifted a wet rag in the grey wall and got
surprisingly rapid with a rifle which was thrust through the hole and
went off; and then turned to look at us. "That fellow opposite is a
nuisance," said my officer. "He's always potting at this corner." "Yes,
sir," said the figure of mud, darkly louring under its tin hat, "but I
know where the blighter is now, and I'll get the beggar yet." With a
sudden recollection he then touched iron, and grinned.

Slithering above the ankles in well-worked paste, and leaning against a
wall of slime, I tried to find "the nuisance opposite" with a
periscope; but before me was only a tangle of rusty wire, a number of
raw holes in shabby green grass, some objects lying about which looked
like tailors' dummies discarded to the weather, and an awe-inspiring
stillness.

There were some interchanges with serious men, who did not sing, but
who sat about in mud, or leaned against it, and were covered with it,
or who were waiting with rifles ready, or looking through periscopes,
or doing things over fires which smoked till the eyes were red. "Come
and see our mine crater," said my guide. "It's a topper. Fritz made it,
but we've got it."

I knew where that crater would be, and I thought the less of it as a
spectacle. But "out there" one must follow one's leader wherever he
goes. He was going to make me crawl after him in "No Man's Land," and
it was not dark yet. So I acquired that sinking sensation described in
the pill advertisements. The mud got down our collars; but we arrived,
though I don't know how, because I was thinking too much. It was only a
deep yellow hole in the ground, too, that crater, with barbed wire
spilled into it and round it; and you were warned to breathe gently in
it, for Fritz might lob a bomb over. He was six yards off.

In the forlorn and dying light of that Christmas Day I then noticed a
muffled youngster beside me, who might have been your son, alone,
gripping a rifle with a fixed bayonet, his thoughts Heaven knows where,
a box of bombs ready to hand in the filth; and his charge was to give
first warning of movement in that stillness beyond. As we crawled away,
leaving him there, I turned to look at that boy of yours, and his eyes
met mine....

_December 1916._



XX. The Ruins


For more than two years this town could not have been more remote from
us if it had been in another planet. We were but a few miles from it,
but the hills hid it, and the enemy was between us and the hills. This
town was but a name, a legend.

Now the enemy had left it. When going into it for the first time you
had the feeling that either you or the town was bewitched. Were you
really there? Were time and space abolished? Or perhaps the town itself
was supernatural; it was spectral, projected by unknowable evil. And
for what purpose? Suspicious of its silence, of its solitude, of all
its aspects, you verified its stones by touching them, and looked about
for signs that men had once been there.

Such a town, which has long been in the zone of fire, and is then
uncovered by the foe, gives a wayfarer who early ventures into it the
feeling that this is the day after the Last Day, and that he has been
overlooked. Somehow he did not hear Gabriel's trumpet; everybody else
has gone on. There is not a sound but the subdued crackling of flames
hidden somewhere in the overthrown and abandoned. There is no movement
but where faint smoke is wreathing slowly across the deserted streets.
The unexpected collapse of a wall or cornice is frightful. So is the
silence which follows. A starved kitten, which shapes out of nothing
and is there complete and instantaneous at your feet--ginger stripes,
and a mew which is weak, but a veritable voice of the living--is first
a great surprise, and then a ridiculous comfort. It follows you about.
When you miss it, you go back to look for it--to find the miserable
object racing frantically to meet you. Lonely? The Poles are not more
desolate. There is no place as forlorn as that where man once was
established and busy, where the patient work of his hands is all round,
but where silence has fallen like a secret so dense that you feel that
if it were not also so desperately invisible you could grasp a corner
of it, lift the dark veil, and learn a little of what was the doom of
those who have vanished. What happened to them?

It cannot be guessed. House fronts have collapsed in rubble across the
road. There is a smell of opened vaults. All the homes are blind. Their
eyes have been put out. Many of the buildings are without roofs, and
their walls have come down to raw serrations. Slates and tiles have
avalanched into the street, or the roof itself is entire, but has
dropped sideways over the ruin below as a drunken cap over the
dissolute. The lower floors are heaps of damp mortar and bricks. Very
rarely a solitary picture hangs awry on the wall of a house where there
is no other sign that it was ever inhabited. I saw in such a room the
portrait of a child who in some moment long ago laughed while it
clasped a dog in a garden. You continue to gaze at a sign like that,
you don't know why, as though something you cannot name might be
divined, if you could but hit upon the key to the spell. What is the
name of the evil that has fallen on mankind?

The gardens beyond are to be seen through the thin and gaping walls of
the streets, and there, overturned and defaced by shell-bursts and the
crude subsoil thrown out from dug-outs, a few ragged shrubs survive. A
rustic bower is lumbered with empty bottles, meat tins, a bird-cage,
and ugly litter and fragments. It is the flies which find these gardens
pleasant. Theirs is now the only voice of Summer, as though they were
loathly in the mouth of Summer's carcase. It is perplexing to find how
little remains of the common things of the household: a broken doll, a
child's boot, a trampled bonnet. Once in such a town I found a
corn-chandler's ledger.

It was lying open in the muck of the roadway, wet and discoloured. Till
that moment I had not come to the point of believing the place. The
town was not humane. It was not credible. It might have been, for all I
could tell, a simulacrum of the work of men. Perhaps it was the patient
and particular mimicry of us by an unknown power, a power which was
alarmingly interested in our doings; and in a frenzy over its partial
failure it had attempted to demolish its laborious semblance of what we
do. Was this power still observant of its work, and conscious of
intruders? All this was a sinister warning of something invisible and
malign, which brooded over our affairs, knew us too well, though
omitting the heart of us, and it was mocking us now by defiling in an
inhuman rage its own caricature of our appearance.

But there, lying in the road, was that corn-chandler's ledger. It was
the first understandable thing I had seen that day. I began to believe
these abandoned and silent ruins had lived and flourished, had once a
warm kindred life moving in their empty chambers; enclosed a
comfortable community, like placid Casterbridge. Men did stand here on
sunny market days, and sorted wheat in the hollows of their hands. And
with all that wide and hideous disaster of the Somme around it was
suddenly understood (as when an essential light at home, but a light
that has been casually valued, goes out, and leaves you to the dark)
that an elderly farmer, looking for the best seed corn in the
market-place, while his daughter the dairymaid is flirting with his
neighbour's son, are more to us than all the Importances and the Great
Ones who in all history till now have proudly and expertly tended their
culture of discords.

I don't know that I ever read a book with more interest than that
corn-chandler's ledger; though at one time, when it was merely a
commonplace record of the common life which circulated there,
testifying to its industry and the response of earth, it would have
been no matter to me. Not for such successes are our flags displayed
and our bells set pealing. It named customers at Thiepval, Martinpuich,
Courcelette, Combles, Longueval, Contalmaison, Pozières, Guillemont,
Montauban. It was not easy to understand it, my knowledge of those
places being what it was. Those villages did not exist, except as
corruption in a land that was tumbled into waves of glistening clay
where the bodies of men were rotting disregarded like those of dogs
sprawled on a midden. My knowledge of that country, got with some
fatigue, anxiety, fright and on certain days dull contempt for the
worst that could happen, because it seemed that nothing could matter
any more, my idea of that country was such that the contrast of those
ledger accounts was uncanny and unbelievable. Yet amid all the misery
and horror of the Somme, with its shattering reminder of finality and
futility at every step whichever way you turned, that ledger in the
road, with none to read it, was the gospel promising that life should
rise again; the suggestion of a forgotten but surviving virtue which
would return, and cover the dread we knew, till a ploughman of the
future would stop at rare relics, holding them up to the sun, and dimly
recall ancient tales of woe.

_Spring 1917._



XXI. Lent, 1918


It was Meredith's country, and Atlantic weather in Lent. The downs were
dilated and clear as though seen through crystal. A far company of
pines on the high skyline were magnified into delicate inky figures.
The vacant sward below them was as lucent as the slope of a vast
approaching wave. A blackbird was fluting after a shower, for the sky
was transient blue with the dark rags of the squall flying fast over
the hill towards London. The thatched roof of a cottage in the valley
suddenly flamed with a light of no earthly fire, as though a god had
arrived, and that was the sign. Miss Muffet, whose profile, having the
breeze and the surprise of the sun in her hair, was dedicated with a
quivering and aureate nimbus, pulled aside the brush of a small yew,
and exclaimed; for there, neatly set in the angle of the bough, was a
brown cup with three blue eggs in it. I saw all this, and tried my best
to get back to it; but I was not there. I saw it clearly--the late
shower glittered on my coat and on the yew with the nest in it--but it
was a scene remote as a memorable hour of a Surrey April of years ago.
I could not approach; so I went back into the house.

But there was no escape. For I freely own that I am one of those who
refused to believe there would be "a great offensive." (Curse such
trite and sounding words, which put measureless misery through the mind
as unconsciously as a boy repeats something of Euclid.) I believe that
no man would now dare to order it. The soldiers, I knew, with all the
signs before them, still could not credit that it would be done. The
futile wickedness of these slaughters had been proved too often. They
get nowhere. They settle nothing. This last, if it came, would be worse
than all the rest in its magnitude and horror; it would deprive Europe
of a multitude more of our diminishing youth, and end, in the
exhaustion of its impetus, with peace no nearer than before. The old
and indurated Importances in authority, safe far behind the lines,
would shrink from squandering humanity's remaining gold of its life,
even though their ignoble ends were yet unachieved. But it had been
ordered. Age, its blind jealousy for control now stark mad, impotent in
all but the will and the power to command and punish, ignoring every
obvious lesson of the past, the appeal of the tortured for the sun
again and leisure even to weep, and the untimely bones of the young as
usual now as flints in the earth of Europe, had deliberately put out
the glimmer of dawn.

Well for those who may read the papers without personal knowledge of
what happens when such a combat has begun; but to know, and to be
useless; to be looking with that knowledge at Meredith's country in
radiant April! There are occasions, though luckily they come but once
or twice in life, when the mind is shocked by the basal verities
apparently moving as though they were fugitive; thought becomes dizzy
at the daylight earth suddenly falling away at one's feet to the
vacuity of the night. Some choice had to be made. I recalled another
such mental convulsion: by Amiens Cathedral, near midnight, nearly four
years ago, with the French guns rumbling through the city in retreat,
and the certainty that the enemy would be there by morning on his way
to Paris. One thing a campaigner learns: that matters are rarely quite
so bad or so good as they seem. Saying this to my friend, the farmer
(who replied that, in any case, he must go and look to the cows), I
turned to some books.

Yet resolution is needed to get the thoughts indoors at such a time.
They are out of command. A fire is necessary. You must sit beside a
company of flames leaping from a solidly established fire, flames
curling out of the lambent craters of a deep centre; and steadily look
into that. After a while your hand goes out slowly for the book. It has
become acceptable. You have got your thoughts home. They were of no use
in France, dwelling upon those villages and cross-roads you once knew,
now spouting smoke and flames, where good friends are waiting, having
had their last look on earth, as the doomed rearguards.

The best books for refuge in times of stress are of the "notebook" and
"table-talk" kind. Poetry I have tried, but could not approach it. It
is too distant. Romance, which many found good, would never hold my
attention. But I had Samuel Butler's _Note Books_ with me for two years
in France, and found that the right sort of thing. You may begin
anywhere. There are no threads to look for. And you may stop for a
time, while some strange notion of the author's is in contest for the
command of the intelligence with your dark, resurgent thoughts; but
Butler always won. His mental activity is too fibrous, masculine, and
unexpected for any nonsense. But I had to keep a sharp eye on Butler.
His singular merits were discovered by others who had no more than
heard of him, but found he was exactly what they wanted. If his volume
of _Note Books_ is not the best example of its sort we have, then I
should be glad to learn the name of the best. This Lent I tried
Coleridge again. But surely one's mind must be curiously at random to
go to such woolgathering. I found him what I fear Lamb and his friends
knew him to be--a tireless and heavy preacher through the murk of whose
nebulous scholarship and philosophy the revealing gleams of wisdom are
so rare that you are almost too weary to open the eyes to them when
they flash. Selden is better, but abstract, legal, and dry.

Hazlitt compelled a renewal of an old respect; his humanity, his
instinct for essentials, his cool detection of pretence and cant,
however finely disguised, and his English with its frank love for the
embodying noun and the active verb, make reading very like the clear,
hard, bright, vigorous weather of the downs when the wind is
up-Channel. It is bracing. But I discovered another notebook, of which
I have heard so little that it shows what good things may be lost in
war; for this book was published in 1914. It is the _Impressions and
Comments_ of Havelock Ellis. There have been in the past critics of
life and the things men do who have been observers as acute, as
well-equipped in knowledge, and have had a command of English as free
and accurate, as the author of "Impressions and Comments"; but not
many. Yet such judgments of men, their affairs and their circumstances,
could have been written in no other time than the years just before the
war--the first note is dated July, 1912. The reflections are often
chill and exposed; but so is a faithful mirror bleak, though polished
and gleaming, when held up to grey affairs in the light of a day which
is ominous. You seem to feel in this book the cold draught moving
before the storm which has not come--the author knew of no storm to
come, and does not even hint at it; but the portents, and the look of
the minds of his fellows, make him feel uncomfortable, and he asks what
ails us. Now we know. It is strange that a book so wise and enlivening,
whether it is picturing the Cornish coast in spring, the weakness of
peace propaganda, Bianca Stella, Rabelais, the Rules of Art, the Bayeux
Tapestry, or Spanish cathedrals, should have been mislaid and
forgotten....

The fire is dying. It is grey, fallen, and cold. The house is late and
silent. There is no sound but the ghostly creaking of a stair; our
thoughts are stealing away again. We creep out after them to the outer
gate. What are books and opinions? The creakings of an old house uneasy
with the heavy remembrances and the melancholy of antiquity, and with
some midnight presage of its finality.

The wind and rain have passed. There is now but the icy stillness and
quiet of outer space. The earth is Limbo, the penumbra of a dark and
partial recollection; the shadow, vague and dawnless, over a vast stage
from which the consequential pageant has gone, and is almost forgotten,
the memory of many events merged now into formless night itself, and
foundered profoundly beneath the glacial brilliance of a clear heaven
alive with stars. Only the stars live, and only the stars overlook the
place that was ours. The war--was there a war? It must have been long
ago. Perhaps the shades are troubled with vestiges of an old and
dreadful sin. If once there were men who heard certain words and became
spellbound, and in the impulse of that madness forgot that their earth
was good, but very brief, and turned from their children and women and
the cherished work of their hands to slay each other and destroy their
communities, it all happened just as the leaves of an autumn that is
gone once fell before the sudden mania of a wind, and are resolved.
What year was that? The leaves of an autumn that is long past are
beyond time. The night is their place, and only the unknowing stars
look down to the little blot of midnight which was us, and our pride,
and our wisdom, and our heroics.

_April 1918._


THE END





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