I was on a high plateau, yet I felt myself to be alone with the immensity that properly belongs to plains alone. I saw the stars, and remembered how I had looked up at them on just such a night when I was close to the Pacific, bereft of friends and possessed with solitude. There was no noise; it was full darkness. The woods before and behind me made a square frame of silence, and I was enchased here in the clearing, thinking of all things.
Then a little wind passed over the vast forests of Lorraine. It seemed to wake an indefinite sly life proper to this seclusion, a life to which I was strange, and which thought me an invader. Yet I heard nothing. There were no adders in the long grass, nor any frogs in that dry square of land, nor crickets on the high part of the hill; but I knew that little creatures in league with every nocturnal influence, enemies of the sun, occupied the air and the land about me; nor will I deny that I felt a rebel, knowing well that men were made to work in happy dawns and to sleep in the night, and everything in that short and sacred darkness multiplied my attentiveness and my illusion. Perhaps the instincts of the sentry, the necessities of guard, come back to us out of the ages unawares during such experiments. At any rate the night oppressed and exalted me. Then I suddenly attributed such exaltation to the need of food.
'If we must try this bookish plan of sleeping by day and walking by night,' I thought, 'at least one must arrange night meals to suit it.
I therefore, with my mind still full of the forest, sat down and lit a match and peered into my sack, taking out therefrom bread and ham and chocolate and Brule wine. For seat and table there was a heathery bank still full of the warmth and savour of the last daylight, for companions these great inimical influences of the night which I had met and dreaded, and for occasion or excuse there was hunger. Of the Many that debate what shall be done with travelers, it was the best and kindest Spirit that prompted me to this salutary act. For as I drank the wine and dealt with the ham and bread, I felt more and more that I had a right to the road; the stars became familiar and the woods a plaything. It is quite clear that the body must be recognized and the soul kept in its place, since a little refreshing food and drink can do so much to make a man.
On this repast I jumped up merrily, lit a pipe, and began singing, and heard, to my inexpressible joy, some way down the road, the sound of other voices. They were singing that old song of the French infantry which dates from Louis XIV, and is called ‘Aupres de ma blonde'. I answered their chorus, so that, by the time we met under the wood, we were already acquainted. They told me they had had a forty-eight hours' leave into Nancy, the four of them, and had to be in by roll-call at a place called Villey the Dry. I remembered it after all those years.
It is a village perched on the brow of one of these high hills above the river, and it found itself one day surrounded by earthworks, and a great fort raised just above the church. Then, before they knew where they were, they learnt that ((10) no one could go in or out between sunset and sunrise without leave of the officer in command; (2) that from being a village they had become the 'buildings situate within Fort No. i8'; (3) that they were to be deluged with soldiers; and (4) that they were liable to evacuate their tenements on mobilization. They had become a fort unwittingly as they slept, and all their streets were blocked with ramparts. A hard fate; but they should not have built their village just on the brow of a round hill. They did this in the old days, when men used stone instead of iron, because the top of a hill was a good place to hold against enemies; and so now, these 73,426 years after, they find the same advantage catching them again to their hurt. And so things go the round.
Anyway Villey the Dry is a fort, and there my four brothers were going. It was miles off, and they had to be in by sunrise, so I offered them a pun of my wine, which, to my great joy, they refused, and we parted courteously. Then I found the road beginning to fall, and knew that I had crossed the hills. As the forest ended and the sloping fields began, a dim moon came up late in the east in the bank of fog that masked the river. So by a sloping road, now free from the woods, and at the mouth of a fine untenanted valley under the moon, I came down again to the Moselle, having saved a great elbow by this excursion over the high land. As I swung round the bend of the hills downwards and looked up the sloping dell, I remembered that these heathery hollows were called 'vallons' by the people of Lorraine, and this set me singing the song of the hunters, 'Entends tu dans nos vallons, le Chasseur sonner du clairon', which I sang loudly till I reached the river bank, and lost the exhilaration of the hills.
I had now come some twelve miles from my starting-place, and it was midnight. The plain, the level road (which often rose a little), and the dank air of the river began to oppress me with fatigue. I was not disturbed by this, for I had intended to break these nights of marching by occasional repose, and while I was in the comfort of cities -- especially in the false hopes that one got by reading books-I had imagined that it was a light matter to sleep in the open. Indeed, I had often so slept when I had been compelled to it in Manoeuvres, but I had forgotten how essential was a rug Of some kind, and what a difference a fire and comradeship could make. Thinking over it all, feeling my tiredness, and shivering a little in the chill under the moon and the clear sky, I was very ready to capitulate and to sleep in bed like a Christian at the next opportunity. But there is some influence in vows or plans that escapes our power of rejudgment. All false calculations must be paid for, and I found, as you will see, that having said I would sleep in the open, I had to keep to it in spite of all my second thoughts.
I passed one village and then another in which everything was dark,
and in which I could waken nothing but dogs, who thought me an enemy, till
at last I saw a great belt of light in the fog above the Moselle.
Here there was a kind of town or large settlement where there were ironworks,
and where, as I thought, there would be houses open, even after midnight.
I first found the old town, where just two men were awake at some cooking
work or other. I found them by a chink of light streaming through
their door; but they gave me no hope, only advising me to go across the
river and try in the new town where the forges and the ironworks were.
'There,' they said, 'I should certainly find a bed.'
I crossed the bridge, being now much too weary to notice anything, even the shadowy hills, and the first thing I found was a lot of wagons that belonged to a caravan or fair. Here some men were awake, but when I suggested that they should let me sleep in their little houses on wheels, they told me it was never done; that it was all they could do to pack in themselves; that they had no straw; that they were guarded by dogs; and generally gave me to understand (though without violence or unpoliteness) that I looked as though I were the man to steal their lions and tigers. They told me, however, that without doubt I should find something open in the centre of the workmen's quarter, where the great electric lamps now made a glare over the factory.
I trudged on unwillingly, and at the very last house of this detestable industrial slavery, a high house with a gable, I saw a window wide open, and a blonde man smoking a cigarette at a balcony. I called to him at once, and asked him to let me a bed. He put to me all the questions he could think of Why was I there? Where had I come from ? Where (if I was honest) had I intended to sleep ? How came I at such an hour on foot ? and other examinations. I thought a little what excuse to give him, and then, determining that I was too tired to make up anything plausible, I told him the full truth; that I had meant to sleep rough, but had been overcome by fatigue, and that I had walked from Toul, starting at evening. I conjured him by our common Faith to let me in. He told me that it was impossible, as he had but one room in which he and his family slept, and assured me he had asked all these questions out of sympathy and charity alone. Then he wished me goodnight, honestly and kindly, and went in.
By this time I was very much put out, and began to be angry. These straggling French towns give no opportunity for a shelter. I saw that I should have to get out beyond the market gardens, and that it might be a mile or two before I found any rest. A clock struck one. I looked up and saw it was from the belfry of one of those new chapels which the monks are building everywhere, nor did I forget to curse the monks in my heart for building them. I cursed also those who started smelting works in the Moselle valley; those who gave false advice to travelers; those who kept lions and tigers in caravans, and for a small sum I would have cursed the whole human race, when I saw that my bile had hurried me out of the street well into the countryside, and that above me, on a bank, was a patch of orchard and a lane leading up to it. Into this I turned, and, finding a good deal of dry hay lying under the trees, I soon made myself an excellent bed, first building a little mattress, and then piling on hay as warm as a blanket.
I did not he awake (as when I planned my pilgrimage I had Promised myself
I would do), looking at the sky through the
branches of trees, but I slept at once without dreaming, and woke up to find it was broad daylight, and the sun ready to rise. Then, stiff and but little tested by two hours of exhaustion, I took up my staff and my sack and regained the road.
I should very much like to know what those who have an answer to everything can say about the food requisite to breakfast ? Those great men Marlowe and Jonson, Shakespeare, and Spenser before him, drank beer at rising, and tamed it with a little bread. In the regiment we used to drink black coffee without sugar, and cut off a great hunk of stale crust, and eat nothing more till the halt: for the matter of that, the great victories Of '93 were fought upon such unsubstantial meals; for the Republicans fought first and ate afterwards, being in this quite unlike the Ten Thousand. Sailors I know eat nothing for some hours-I mean those who turn out at four in the morning; I could give the name of the watch, but that I forget it and will not be plagued to look up technicalities. Dogs eat the first thing they come across, cats take a little milk, and gentlemen are accustomed to get up at nine and eat eggs, bacon, kidneys, ham, cold pheasant, toast, coffee, tea, scones, and honey, after which they will boast that their race is the hardiest in the world and ready to bear every fatigue in the pursuit of Empire. But what rule governs all this ? Why is breakfast different from all other things, so that the Greeks called it the best thing in the world, and so that each of us in a vague way knows that he would eat at breakfast nothing but one special kind of food, and that he could not imagine breakfast at any other hour in the day?
The provocation to this inquiry (which I have here no time to pursue)
lies in the extraordinary distaste that I conceived that morning for Brule
wine. My ham and bread and chocolate I had consumed over night.
I thought, in my folly, that I could break my fast on a swig of what had
seemed to me, only the night before, the best revivifier and sustenance
possible. In the harsh dawn it turned out to be nothing but a bitter
and intolerable vinegar. I make no attempt to explain this, nor to
say why the very same wine that had seemed so good in the forest (and was
to seem so good again later on by the canal) should now repel me.
I can only tell you that this heavy disappointment convinced me of a great
truth that a Politician once let slip in my hearing, and that I have never
'Man,' said the Director of the State, 'man is but the creature of
As it was, I lit a pipe of tobacco and hobbled blindly along for miles under and towards the brightening east. just before the sun rose I turned and looked backward from a high bridge that recrossed the river. The long effort of the night had taken me well on my way. I was out of the familiar region of the garrison. The great forest-hills that I had traversed stood up opposite the dawn, catching the new light; heavy, drifting but white clouds, rare at such an hour, sailed above them. The valley of the Moselle, which I had never thought of save as a half mountainous region, had fallen, to become a kind of long garden, whose walls were regular, low, and cultivated slopes. The main waterway of the valley was now not the river but the canal that fed from it.
The tall grasses, the leaves, and poplars bordering the river and the canal seemed dark close to me, but the valley as a whole was vague, a mass of trees with one Lorraine church-tower showing, and the delicate slopes bounding it on either side.
Descending from this bridge I found a sign-post, that told me I had walked thirty-two kilometres -which is twenty miles-from Toul; that it was one kilometre to Flavigny, and heaven knows how much to a place called Charmes. The sun rose in the mist that lay up the long even trends of the vale, between the low and level hills, and I pushed on my thousand yards towards Flavigny. There, by a special providence, I found the entertainment and companionship whose lack had left me wrecked all these early hours.
As I came into Flavigny I saw at once that it was a place on which a book might easily be written, for it had a church built in the seventeenth century, when few churches were built outside great towns, a convent, and a general air of importance that made of it that grand and noble thing, that primary cell of the organism of Europe, that best of all Christian associations-a large village.
I say a book might be written upon it, and there is no doubt that a great many articles and pamphlets must have been written upon it, for the French are furiously given to local research and reviews, and to glorifying their native places; and when they cannot discover folk4ore they enrich their beloved homes by inventing it.
There was even a man (I forget his name) who wrote a delightful book called 'Popular and Traditional Songs of my Province', which book, after he was dead, was discovered to be entirely his own invention, and not a word of it familiar to the inhabitants of the soil. He was a large, laughing man that smoked enormously, had great masses of hair, and worked by night; also he delighted in the society of friends, and talked continuously. I wish he had a statue somewhere, and that they would pull down to make room for it any one of those useless bronzes that are to be found even in the little villages, and that commemorate solemn, whiskered men, pillars of the state. For surely this is the habit of the true poet, and marks the vigour and recurrent origin of poetry, that a man should get his head full of rhythms and catches, and that they should jumble up somehow into short songs of his own. What could more suggest (for instance) a whole troop of dancing words and lovely thoughts than this refrain from the Tourdenoise-
... Son beau co?ps est en terre
Son time en Paradis
Tu ris ?
Er ris, tu ris, ma Bergire,
Ris, ma Bergere, tu ris.
That was the way they set to work in England before the Puritans came,
when men were not afraid to steal verses from one another, and when no
one imagined that he could live by letters, but when every poet took a
patron, or begged or robbed the churches. So much for the poets.
Flavigny then, I say (for I seem to be digressing), is a long street of houses all built together as animals build their communities. They are all very old, but the people have worked hard since the Revolution, and none of them are poor, nor are any of them very rich. I saw but one gentleman’s house, and that, I am glad to say, was in disrepair. Most of the peasant's houses had, for a ground floor, cavernous great barns out of which came a delightful smell of morning-that is, of hay, fitter, oxen, and stored grains and old wood; which is the true breath of morning, because it is the scent that all the human race worth calling human first meets when it rises, and is the association of sunrise in the minds of those who keep the world alive: but not in the wretched minds of townsmen, and least of all in the minds of journalists, who know nothing of morning save that it is a time of jaded emptiness when you have just done prophesying (for the hundredth time) the approaching end of the world, when the floors are beginning to tremble with machinery, and when, in a weary kind of way, one feels hungry and alone: a nasty life and usually a short one.
To return to Flavigny. This way of stretching a village all along
one street is Roman, and is the mark of civilization. When I was
at college I was compelled to read a work by the crabbed Tacitus on the
Germans, where, in the midst of a deal that is vague and fantastic nonsense
and much that is willful lying, comes this excellent truth, that barbarians
build their houses separate, but civilized men together. So whenever
you see a lot of red roofs nestling, as the phrase goes, in the woods of
a hillside in south England, remember that all that is savagery; but when
you see a hundred whitewashed houses in a row along a dead straight road,
lift up your hearts, for you are in civilization again.
But I continue to wander from Flavigny. The first thing I saw as I came into the street and noted how the level sun stood in a haze beyond, and how it shadowed and brought out the slight irregularities of the road, was a cart drawn by a galloping donkey, which came at and passed me with a prodigious clatter as I dragged myself forward. In the cart were two nuns, each with a scythe; they were going out mowing, and were up the first in the village, as Religious always are. Cheered by this happy omen, but not yet heartened, I next met a very old man leading out a horse, and asked him if there was anywhere where I could find coffee and bread at that hour; but he shook his head mournfully and wished me good-morning in a strong accent, for he was deaf and probably thought I was begging. So I went on still more despondent till I came to a really merry man of about middle age who was going to the fields, singing, with a very large rake over his shoulder. When I had asked him the same question he stared at me a little and said of course coffee and bread could be had at the baker's, and when I asked him how I should know the baker's he was still more surprised at my ignorance, and said, 'By the smoke coming from the large chimney.' This I saw rising a short way off on my right, so I thanked him and went and found there a youth of about nineteen, who sat at a fine oak table and had coffee, rum, and a loaf before him. He was waiting for the bread in the oven to be ready; and meanwhile he was very courteous poured out coffee and rum for me and offered me bread. It is a matter often discussed why bakers are such excellent citizens and good men. For while it is admitted in every country I was ever in that cobblers arc argumentative and atheists (I except the cobbler under Plinlimmon, concerning whom would to heaven I had the space to tell you all here, for he knows the legends of the mountain), while it is public that barbers are garrulous and servile, that millers are cheats (we say in Sussex that every honest Miller has a large tuft of hair on the palm of his hand), yet-with every trade in the world having some bad quality attached to it-bakers alone are exempt, and every one takes it for granted that they are sterling: indeed, there are some societies in which, no matter how gloomy and churlish the conversation may have become, you have but to mention bakers for voices to brighten suddenly and for a good influence to pervade every one. I say this is known for a fact, but not usually explained; the explanation is, that bakers are always up early in the morning and can watch the dawn, and that in this occupation they live in lonely contemplation enjoying the early hours.
So it was with this baker of mine in Flavigny, who was a boy. When he heard that I had served at Toul he was delighted beyond measure; he told me of a brother of his that had been in the same regiment, and he assured me that he was himself going into the artillery by special enlistment, having got his father's leave. You know very little if you think I missed the opportunity of making the guns seem terrible and glorious in his eyes. I told him stories enough to waken a sentry of reserve, and if it had been possible (with my youth so obvious) I would have woven in a few anecdotes of active service, and described great shells bursting under my horses and the teams shot down, and the gunners all the while impassive; but as I saw I should not be believed I did not speak of such things, but confined myself to what he would see and hear when he joined.
Meanwhile the good warm food and the rising morning had done two things; they had put much more vigour into me than I had had when I slunk in half an hour before, but at the same time (and this is a thing that often comes with food and with rest) they had made me feel the fatigue of so long a night. I rose up, therefore, determined to find some place where I could sleep. I asked friend of mine how much there was to pay, and he said 'fourpence.' Then we exchanged ritual; salutations, and I took the road. I did not leave the town or village without noticing one extraordinary thing at the far end of it, which was that, whereas most places in France are proud of their town-hall and make a great show of it, here in Flavigny they had taken a great house and written over it ECOLE COMMUNALE in great letters, and then they had written over a kind of lean-to or out-house of this big place the words 'Hotel de ville' in very small letters, so small that I had a doubt for a moment if the citizens here were good republicans-a treasonable thought on all this frontier.
Then, a mile onward, I saw the road cross the canal and run parallel to it. I saw the canal run another mile or so under a fine bank of deep woods. I saw an old bridge leading over it to that inviting shade, and as it was now nearly six and the sun was gathering strength, I went, with slumber overpowering me and my feet turning heavy beneath me, along the tow-path, over the bridge, and lay down on the moss under these delightful trees. Forgetful of the penalty that such an early repose would bring, and of the great heat that was to follow at midday, I quickly became part of the life of that forest and fell asleep.
The Aar was a shallow brawling torrent, thick with melting ice and snow
and mud. Coarse grass grew on the rocks sparsely; there were no flowers.
The mist overhead was now quite near, and I still went on and steadily
up through the half-light. It was as lonely as a calm at sea, except
for the noise of the river. I had overworn myself, and that sustaining
surface which hides from us in our health the abysses below the mind-I
felt it growing weak and thin. My fatigue bewildered me. The
occasional steeps beside the road, one especially beneath a high bridge
where a tributary falls into the Aar in a cascade, terrified me.
They were like the emptiness of dreams. At last it being now dark,
and I having long since entered the upper mist, or rather cloud (for I
was now as high as the clouds), I saw a light gleaming through the fog,
just off the road, through pine-trees. It was time. I could
not have gone much further.
To this I turned and found there one of those new hotels, not very large, but very expensive. They knew me at once for what was, and welcomed me with joy. They gave me hot rum and sugar, a fine warm bed, told me I was the first that had yet stopped there that year, and left me to sleep very deep and yet in pain, as men sleep who are stunned. But twice that night I woke suddenly, staring at darkness. I had outworn the physical network upon which the soul depends, and I was full of terrors.
Next morning I had fine coffee and bread and butter and the rest, like a rich man; in a gilded dining-room all set out for the rich, and served by a fellow that bowed and scraped. Also they made me pay a great deal, and kept their eyes off my boots, and were still courteous to me, and I to them. Then I brought wine of them-the first wine not of the country that I had drunk on this march, a Burgundy- and putting it in my haversack with a nice white roll, left them to wait for the next man whom the hills might send them.
The clouds, the mist, were denser than ever in that early morning; one
could only see the immediate road. The cold was very great; my clothes
were not quite dried, but my heart was high, and I pushed along well enough,
though stiffly, till I came to what they call the Hospice, which was once
a monk-house, I suppose, but is now an inn. I had brandy there, and
on going out I found that it stood at the foot of a sharp ridge which was
the true Grimsel Pass, the neck which joins the Bernese Oberland to the
eastern group of high mountains. This ridge or neck was steep like
a pitched roof- very high I found it, and all of black glassy rock, with
here and there snow in sharp, even, sloping sheets just holding to it.
I could see but little of it at a time on account of the mist.
Hitherto for all these miles the Aar had been my companion, and the road, though rising always, had risen evenly and not steeply. Now the Aar was left behind in the icy glen where it rises, and the road went in an artificial and carefully built set of zigzags up the face of the cliff. There is a short cut, but I could not find it in the mist. It is the old mule-path. Here and there, however, it was possible to cut off long comers by scrambling over the steep black rock and smooth ice, and all the while the cold, soft mist wisped in and out around me. After a thousand feet of this I came to the top of the Grimsel, but not before I had passed a place where an avalanche had destroyed the road and where planks were laid. Also before one got to the very summit, no short cuts or climbing were possible. The road ran deep in a cutting like a Devonshire lane. Only here the high banks were solid snow.
Some little way past the summit, on the first zigzag down, I passed
the Lake of the Dead in its mournful hollow. The mist still enveloped
all the ridge-side, and moved like a press of spirits over the frozen water,
then-as suddenly as on the much lower Brienzer Grat, and (as on the Brienzer
Grat) to the southward and the sun, the clouds lifted and wreathed up backward
and were gone, and where there had just been fullness was only an immensity
of empty air and a sudden sight of clear hills beyond and of little strange
distant things thousands and thousands of feet below.
LECTOR. Pray are we to have any more of that fine writing?
AUCTOR. I saw there as in a cup things that I had thought(when I first studied the map at home) far too spacious and spread apart to go into the view. Yet here they were all quite contained and close together, on so vast a scale was the whole place conceived. It was the comb of mountains of which I have written; the meeting of all the valleys.
There, from the height of a steep bank, as it were (but a bank many
thousands of feet high), one looked down into a whole district or little
world. On the map, I say, it had seemed so great that I had thought
one would command but this or that portion of it; as it was,
one saw it all.
And this is a peculiar thing I have noticed in all mountains, and have never been able to understand-namely, that if you draw a plan or section to scale, your mountain does not seem a very important thing. One should not, in theory, be able to dominate from its height, nor to feel the world small below one, nor to hold a whole countryside in one's hand-yet one does. The mountains from their heights reveal to us two truths. They suddenly make us feel our insignificance, and at the same time they free the imortal Mind, and let it feel its greatness, and they release it from the earth. But I say again, in theory, when one considers the exact relation of their height to the distances one views from them, they ought to claim no such effect, and that they can produce that effect is related to another thing-the way in which they exaggerate their own steepness.
For instance, those noble hills, my downs in Sussex, when y
are upon them overlooking the weald, from Chanctonbury say, feel like this-
but in reality they are like this,---
or even lower. Indeed, it is impossible to give them truly, so
insignificant are they; if the stretch of the Weald were made nearly a yard long. Chanctonbury would not, in proportion, be more than a fifth of an inch high! And yet, from the top of Chanctonbury, how one seems to overlook it and possess it all!
Well, so it was here from the Grimsel when I overlooked the springs of the Rhone. In true proportion the valley I gazed into and over must have been somewhat like this-
It felt for all the world as deep and utterly below me as this other-
Moreover, where there was no mist, the air was so surprisingly
clear that I could see everything clean and sharp wherever I turned my eyes. The mountains forbade any very far horizons to the view, and all that I could see was as neat and vivid as those coloured photographs they sell with bright green grass and bright white snow, and blue glaciers like precious stones.
I scrambled down the mountain, for here, on the south side of the pass, there was no snow or ice, and it was quite easy to leave the road and take the old path cutting off the zigzags. As the air got heavier, I became hungry, and at the very end of my descent, two hundred feet or so above the young Rhone, I saw a great hotel. I went round to their front door and asked them whether I could eat, and at what price. 'Four francs,' they said.
'What!' said I, 'four francs for a meal! Come let me eat in the kitchen, and charge me one.' But they became rude and obstinate, being used only to deal with rich people, so I cursed them, and went down the road. But I was very hungry.
The road falls quite steeply, and the Rhone, which it accompanies in that valley, leaps in little falls. On a bridge I passed a sad Englishman reading a book, and a little lower down, two American women in a carriage, and after that a priest (it was lucky I did not see him first. Anyhow, I touched iron at once, to wit, a key in my pocket), and after that a child minding a goat. Altogether, I felt myself in the world again, and as I was on a good road, all down hill, I thought myself capable of pushing on to the next village. But my hunger was really excessive, my right boot almost gone, and my left boot nothing to exhibit or boast of, when I came to a point where at last one looked down the Rhone valley for miles. It is like a straight trench, and at intervals there are little villages, built of most filthy chalets, the said chalets raised on great stones. There are pine-trees up, up on either slope, into the clouds, and beyond the clouds I could not see. I left on my left a village called 'Between the Waters'. I passed through another called 'Ehringen', but it has no inn. At last, two miles farther, faint from lack of food, I got into Ulrichen, a village a little larger than the rest, and the place where I believed one should start to go either over the Gries or Nufenen Pass. In Ulrichen was a warm, wooden, deep-caved frousty, comfortable, ramshackle, dark, anyhow kind of a little inn called ‘The Bear'. And entering I saw one of the women whom God loves.
She was of middle age, very honest and simple in the face, kindly and good. She was messing about with cooking and stuff, and she came up to me stooping a little, her eyes wide and innocent, and a great spoon in her hand. Her face was extremely broad and flat, and I had never seen eyes set so far apart. Her whole gait, manner, and accent proved her to be extremely good, and on the straight road to heaven. I saluted her in the French tongue. She answered me in the same, but very broken and rustic, for her natural speech was a kind of mountain German. She spoke very slowly, and had a nice soft voice, and she did what only good people do, I mean, looked you in the eyes as she spoke to you.
Beware of shifty-eyed people. It is not only nervousness, it is
also a kind of wickedness. Such people come to no good. I have
three of them now in mind as I write. One is a Professor.
And, by the way, would you know why universities suffer from this curse of nervous disease ? Why the greatest personages stammer or have St Vitus' dance, or jabber at the lips, or hop in their walk, or have their heads screwed round, or tremble in the fingers, or go through life with great goggles like a motor car? Eh? I will tell you. It is the punishment of their intellectual pride, than which no sin is more offensive to the angels.
What! here are we with the jolly world of God all round us, able to sing, to draw, to paint, to hammer and build, to sail, to ride horses' to run, to leap; having for our splendid inheritance love in youth and memory in old age, and we are to take one miserable little faculty, our one-legged, knock-kneed, gimcrack, purblind, tough skinned, underfed, and perpetually irritated and grumpy intellect, or analytical curiosity rather (a diseased appetite), and let it swell till it eats up every other function ? Away with such foolery.
L E C T 0 R. When shaft we get on to . . .
AUCTOR. Wait a moment. I say, away with such foolery. Note that pedants lose all proportion. They never can keep sane in a discussion. They will go wild on matters they are wholly unable to judge, such as Armenian Religion or the Politics of Paris or what not. Never do they use one of those three phrases which keep a steady and balance his mind, I mean the words (i) After all it is not my business. (2.) Tut! tut! You don't say so ! and (3) Credo in Unum Deum Patrem Omnipotentem, Factorem omnium visibilium atque invisibilium; in which last there is a power of synthesis that can jam all their analytical dust-heap into such a fine, tight, and compact body as would make them stare to see. I understand that they need six months' holiday a year. Had I my way they should take twelve, and an extra day on leap years.
LECTOR. Pray, pray return to the woman at the inn.
AUCTOR. I will, and by this road: to say that on the day of Judgment, when St Michael weighs souls in his scales, and the wicked are led off by the Devil with a great rope, as you may see them over the main porch of Notre Dame (I will heave a stone after them myself I hope), all the souls of the pedants together will not weigh as heavy and sound as the one soul of this good woman at the inn.
She put food before me and wine. The wine was good, but in the
food was some fearful herb or other I had never tasted before-a pure spice
or scent, and a nasty one. One could taste nothing else, and it was
revolting; but I ate it for her sake.
Then, very much refreshed, I rose, seized my great staff, shook myself and said, ‘Now it is about noon, and I am off for the frontier'.
At this she made a most fearful clamour, saying that it was madness, and imploring me not to think of it, and running out fetched from the stable a tall, sad, pale-eyed man who saluted me profoundly and told me that he knew more of the mountains than any one for miles. And this by asking many afterwards I found out to be true. He said that he had crossed the Nufenen and the Gries whenever they could be crossed since he was a child, and that if I attempted it that day I should sleep that night in Paradise. The clouds on the mountain, the soft snow recently fallen, the rain that now occupied the valleys, the glacier on the Gries, and the pathless snow in the mist on the Nufenen would make it sheer suicide for him, an experienced guide, and for me a worse madness. Also he spoke of my boots and wondered at my poor cotton coat and trousers, and threatened me with intolerable cold.
It seems that the books I had read at home, when they said that the Nufenen had no snow on it, spoke of a later season of the year; it was all snow now, and soft snow, and hidden by a fun mist in such a day from the first third of the ascent. As for the Gries, there was a glacier on the top which needed some kind of clearness in the weather. Hearing all this I said I would remain-but it was with a heavy heart. Already I felt a shadow of defeat over me. The loss of time was a thorn. I was already short of cash, and my next money was at Milan. My return to England was fixed for a certain date, and stronger than either of these motives against delay was a burning restlessness that always takes men when they are on the way to great adventures.
I made him promise to wake me next morning at three o'clock, and, short of a tempest, to try and get me across the Gries. As for the Nufenen and Crystalline passes which I had desired to attempt, and which were (as I have said) the straight line to Rome, he said (and he was right), that let alone the impassability of the Nufenen just then, to climb the Crystal Mountain in that season would be as easy as flying to the moon. Now, to cross the Nufenen alone, would simply land me in the upper valley of the Ticino, and take me a great bend out of my way by Bellinzona. Hence my bargain that at lent he should show me over the Gries Pass, and this he said, if man could do it, he would do the next day; and 1, sending my boots to be cobbled (and thereby breaking another vow), crept up to bed, and all afternoon read the school-books of the children. They were in French, from lower down the valley, and very Genevese and heretical for so devout a household. But the Genevese civilization is the standard for these people, and they combat the Calvinism of it with missions, and have statues in their rooms, not to speak of holy water stoups.
The rain beat on my window, the clouds came lower still down the mountain. Then (as is finely written in the Song of Roland), 'the day passed and the night came, and I slept'. But with the coming of the small hours, and with my waking, prepare yourselves for the most extraordinary and terrible adventure that befell me out of all the marvels and perils of this pilgrimage, the most momentous and the most worthy of perpetual record, I think, of all that has ever happened since the beginning of the world.
At three o'clock the guide knocked at my door, and I rose and came out
to him. We drank coffee and ate bread. We put into our sacks
ham and bread, and he white wine and I brandy. Then we set out.
The rain had dropped to a drizzle, and there was no wind. The sky
was obscured for the most part, but here and there was a star. The
hills hung awfully above us in the night as we crossed the spongy valley.
A little wooden bridge took us over the young Rhone, here only a stream,
and we followed a path up into the tributary ravine which leads to the
Nufenen and the Gries. In a mile or two it was a little lighter,
and this was as well, for some weeks before a great avalanche had fallen,
and we had to cross it gingerly. Beneath the wide cap of frozen snow
ran a torrent roaring. I remembered Colorado, and how I had crossed
the Arkansaw on such a bridge as a boy. We went on in the uneasy
dawn. The woods began to show, and there was a cross where a man
had slipped from above that very April and been killed. Then, most
ominous and disturbing, the drizzle changed to a rain, and the guide shook
his head and said it would be snowing higher up. We went on, and
it grew lighter. Before it was really day (or else the weather confused
and darkened the sky), we crossed a good bridge, built long ago, and we
halted at a shed where the cattle lie in the late summer when the snow
is melted. There we rested a moment.
But on leaving its shelter we noticed many disquieting things. The place was a hollow, the end of the ravine-a bowl, as it were; one way out of which is the Nufenen, and the other the Gries.
Here it is in a sketch map. The heights are marked lighter and
lighter, from black in the valleys to white in the impassable mountains.
E is where we stood, in a great cup or basin, having just come up the ravine
B. C is the Italian valley of the Tosa, and the neck between it and E is
the Gries. D is the valley of the Ticino, and the neck between E
and it is the Nufenen. A is the Crystal Mountain. You may take
the necks or passes to be about 8,000, and the mountains 1o,ooo or 11,ooo
feet above the sea.
We noticed, I say, many disquieting things. First, all that bowl or cup below the passes was a carpet of snow, save where patches of black water showed, and all the passes and mountains, from top to bottom, were covered with very thick snow; the deep surface of it soft and fresh fallen. Secondly, the rain had turned into snow. It was falling thickly all around. Nowhere have I perceived the immediate presence of great Death. Thirdly, it was far colder, and we felt the beginning of a wind. Fourthly, the clouds had come quite low down.
The guide said it could not be done, but I said we must attempt it. I was eager, and had not yet felt the awful grip of the cold. We left the Nufcnen on our left, a hopeless steep of new snow buried in fog, and we attacked the Gries. For half an hour we plunged on through snow above our knees, and my thin cotton clothes were soaked. So far the guide knew we were more or less on the path, and he went on and I panted after him. Neither of us spoke, but occasionally he looked back to make sure I had not dropped out.
The snow began to fall more thickly, and the wind had risen somewhat. I was afraid of another protest from the guide, but he stuck to it well, and I after him, continually plunging through soft snow and making yard after yard upwards. The snow fell more thiddy and the wind still rose.
We came to a place which is, in the warm season, an alp; that is, a slope of grass, very steep but not terrifying; having here and there sharp little precipices of rock breaking it into steps, but by no means (in summer) a matter to make one draw back. Now, however, when everything was still Arctic it was a very different matter. A sheer steep of snow whose downward plunge ran into the driving storm and was lost, whose head was lost in the same mass of thick cloud above, a slope somewhat hollowed and bent inwards, had to be crossed if we were to go any farther; and I was terrified, for I knew nothing of climbing. The guide said there was little danger, only if one slipped one might slide down to safety, or one might (much less probably) get over rocks and be killed. I was chattering a little with cold; but as he did not propose a return, I followed him. The surface alternately slabs of frozen snow and patches of soft new snow. In the first he cut steps, in the second we plunged, and once I went right in and a mass of snow broke off beneath me and went careering down the slope. He showed me how to hold my staff backwards as he did his alpenstock, and use it as a kind of brake in case I slipped.
We had been about twenty minutes crawling over that wall Of snow and ice, and it was more and more apparent that we were in for danger. Before we had quite reached the far side, the wind was blowing a very full gale and roared past our ears. The surface snow was whirring furiously like dust before it: past our faces and against them drove the snow-flakes, cutting the air: not failing, but making straight darts and streaks. They seemed like the form of the whistling wind; they blinded us. The rocks on the far side of the slope, rocks which had been our goal when we set out to cross it, had long ago disappeared in the increasing rush of the blizzard. Suddenly as we were still painfully moving on, stooping against the mad wind, these rocks loomed up over as large as houses, and we saw them through the swarming snow-flakes as great hulls are seen through a fog at sea. The guide crouched under the lee of the nearest; I came up close to him and he put his hands to my ear and shouted to me that nothing further could be done-he had so to shout because in among the rocks the hurricane made a roaring sound, swamping the voice.
I asked how far we were from the summit. He said he did not know where we were exactly, but that we could not be more than 8oo feet from it. I was but that from Italy and I would not admit defeat. I offered him all I had in money to go on, but it was folly in me, because if I had had enough to tempt him and if he had yielded we should both have died. Luckily it was but a little sum. He shook his head. He would not go on, he broke out, for all the money there was in the world. He shouted me to eat and drink, and so we both did.
Then I understood his wisdom, for in a little while the cold began to seize me in my thin clothes. My hands were numb, my face already gave me intolerable pain, and my legs suffered and felt heavy. I learnt another thing (which had I been used to mountains I should have known), that it was not a simple thing to return. The guide was hesitating whether to stay in this rough shelter, or to face the chances of descent. This terror had not crossed my mind, and I thought as little of it as I could, needing my courage, and being near to breaking down from the intensity of the cold.
It seems that in a tourmente (for by that excellent name do the mountain people call such a storm) it is always a matter of doubt whether to halt or to go back. If you go back through it and lose your way, you are done for. If you halt in some shelter, it may go on for two days or three days, and then there is an end of you.
After a little he decided for a return, but he told me honestly what the chances were, and my suffering from cold mercifully mitigated my fear. But even in that moment, I felt in a confused but very conscious way that I was defeated. I had crossed so many great hills and rivers, and pressed so well on my undeviating arrow-line to Rome, and I had charged this one great barrier manfully where the straight path of my pilgrimage crossed the Alps-and I had failed! Even in that fearful cold I felt it, and it ran through my doubt of return like another and deeper current of pain. Italy was there, just above, right to my hand. A lifting of a cloud, a little respite, and every downward step would have been towards the sunlight. As it was, I was being driven back northward, in retreat and ashamed. The Alps had conquered me.
Let us always after this combat their immensity and their will, and always hate the inhuman guards that hold the gates of Italy, and the powers that lie in wait for men on those high places. But now I know that Italy will always stand apart. She is cut off by no ordinary wall, and Death has all his army on her frontiers.
Well, we returned. Twice the guide rubbed my hands with brandy, and once I had to halt and recover for a moment, failing and losing my hold. Believe it or not, the deep footsteps of our ascent were already quite lost and covered by the new snow since our halt, and even had they been visible, the guide would not have retraced them. He -did what I did not at first understand, but what I soon saw to be wise. He took a steep slant downward over the face of the snow-slope, and though such a pitch of descent a little unnerved me, it was well in the end. For when we had gone down perhaps goo feet, or a thousand, in perpendicular distance, even 1, half numb and fainting, could feel that the storm was less violent. Another two hundred, and the flakes could be seen not driving in flashes past, but separately falling. Then in some few minutes we could see the slope for a very long way downwards quite clearly; then, soon after, we saw far below us the place where the mountainside merged easily into the plain of that cup or basin whence we had started.
When we saw this, the guide said to me, 'Hold your stick thus, if you are strong enough, and let yourself slide.' I could just hold it, in spite of the cold. Life was returning to me with intolerable pain. We shot down the slope almost as quickly as falling, but it was evidently safe to do so, as the end was clearly visible, and had no break or rock in it.
So we reached the plain below, and entered the little shed, and thence
looking up, we saw the storm above us; but no one could have told it for
what it was. Here, below, was silence, and the terror and raging
above seemed only a great trembling cloud occupying the mountain.
Then we set our faces down the ravine by which we had come up, and so came
down to where the snow changed to rain. When we got right down into
the valley of the Rhone, we found it all roofed with cloud, and the higher
trees were white with snow, making a line like a tide mark on the slopes
of the hills.
I re-entered 'The Bear', silent and angered, and not accepting the humiliation of that failure. Then, having eaten, I determined in equal silence to take the road like any other fool; to cross the Furka by a fine highroad, like any tourist, and to cross the St Gothard by another fine highroad, as millions had done before me, and not to look heaven in the face again till I was back after my long detour, on the straight road again for Rome.
But to think of it! I who had all that planned out, and had so nearly done it! I who had cut a path across Europe like a shaft, and seen so many strange places!-now to have to recite all the litany of the vulgar; Bellinzona, Lugano, and this and that, which any railway travelling fellow can tell you. Not till Como should I feel a man again. . . .
Indeed it is a bitter thing to have to give up one's sword.
All you that have loved passionately and have torn your hearts asunder in disillusions, do not imagine that things broken cannot be mended by the good angels. There is a kind of splice called 'the long splice' which makes a cut rope seem what it was before; it is even stronger than before, and can pass through a block. There will descend upon you a blessed hour when you will be convinced as by a miracle, and you win suddenly understand the redintegratio amoris (amoriss redintegratio, a Latin phrase). But this hour you will not receive in the rain on the Emilian Way.
Here, then, next day, just outside a town called Borgo, past the middle
of morning, the rain ceased.
Its effect was still upon the slippery and shining road, the sky was still fast and leaden, when, in a distaste for their towns, I skirted the place by a lane that runs westward of the houses, and sitting upon a low wall, I looked up at the Apennines, which were now plain above me, and thought over my approaching passage through those hills.
But here I must make clear by a map the mass of mountains which I was about to attempt, and in which I forded so many rivers, met so many strange men and beasts, saw such unaccountable sights, was imprisoned, starved, frozen, haunted, delighted, burnt up, and finally refreshed in Tuscany- in a word, where I had the most extraordinary and unheard-of adventures that ever diversified the life of man.
The straight line to Rome runs from Milan not quite through Piacenza, but within a mile or two of that city. Then it runs across the first folds of the Apennines, and gradually diverges from the Emilian Way. It was not possible to follow this part of the line exactly, for there was no kind of track. But by following the Emilian Way for several miles (as I had done), and by leaving it at the right moment, it was possible to strike the straight line again near a village called Medesano.
Now on the far side of the Apennines, beyond their main crest, there happens, most providentially, to be a river called the Serchio, whose valley is fairly straight and points down directly to Rome. To follow this valley would be practically to follow the line to Rome, and it struck the Tuscan plain not far from Lucca.
But to get from the Emilian Way over the eastern slope of the Apennines main ridge and crest, to where the Serchio rises on the western side, is a very difficult matter. The few roads across the Apennines cut my track at right angles, and were therefore useless. In order to strike the watershed at the sources of the Serchio it was necessary to go obliquely across a torrent and four rivers (the Taro, the Parma, the Enza, and the Secchia), and to climb the four spurs that divided them; crossing each nearer to the principal chain as I advanced until, after the Secchia, the next climb would be that of the central crest itself, on the far side of which I should find the Serchio valley.
Perhaps in places roads might correspond to this track. Certainly the bulk of it would be mule-paths or rough gullies-how much I could not tell. The only way I could work it with my wretched map was to note the names of towns or hamlets more or less on the line, and to pick my way from one to another. I wrote them down as follows: Fornovo, Calestano, Tizzano, Colagna-the last at the foot of the final pass. The distance to that pass as the crow flies was only a little more than thirty miles. So exceedingly difficult was the task that it took me over two days. Till I reached Fornovo beyond the Taro, I was not really in the hills.
By country roads, picking my way, I made that afternoon for Medesano.
The lanes were tortuous; they crossed continual streams that ran from the
hills above, full and foaming after the rain, and frothing with the waste
of the mountains. I had not gone two miles when the sky broke; not
four when a new warmth began to steal over the air and a sense of summer
to appear in the earth about me. With the greatest rapidity the unusual
weather that had accompanied me from Milan was changing into the normal
brilliancy of the south; but it was too late for the sun to tell, though
he shone through clouds that werenow moving eastwards more perceptibly
and shredding as they moved.
Quite tired and desiring food, keen also for rest after those dispiriting days, I stopped, before reaching Medesano, at an inn where three ways met; and there I purposed to eat and spend the night, for the next day, it was easy to see, would be tropical, and I should rise before dawn if I was to save the heat. I entered.
The room within was of red wood. It had two tables, a little counter
with a vast array of bottles, a woman behind the counter, and a small,
nervous man in a strange hat serving. And all the little place was
filled and crammed with a crowd of perhaps twenty men, gesticulating, shouting,
laughing, quarrelling, and one very big man was explaining to another the
virtues of his knife; and all were already amply satisfied with wine.
For in this part men do not own, but are paid wages, so that they waste
the little they have.
I saluted the company, and walking up to the counter was about to call for wine. They had all become silent, when one man asked me a question in Italian. I did not understand it, and attempted to say so, when another asked the same question; then six or sevenand there was a hubbub. And out of the hubbub I heard a similar sentence rising all the time. To this day I do not know what it meant, but I thought (and think) it meant 'He is a Venetian', or 'He is the Venetian'. Something in my broken language had made them think this, and evidently the Venetians (or a Venetian) were (or was) gravely unpopular here. My, I cannot tell. Perhaps the Venetians were blacklegs. But evidently a Venetian, or the whole Venetian nation, had recently done them a wrong.
At any rate one very dark-haired man put his face close up to mine, unlipped his teeth, and began a great noise of cursing and threatening, and this so angered me that it overmastered my fear, which had till then been considerable. I remembered also a rule which a wise man once told me for guidance, and it is this: 'God disposes of victory, but, as the world is made, when men smile, smile; when men laugh, laugh; when men hit, hit; when men shout, shout; and when men curse, curse you also, my son, and in doubt let them always take the first move.'
I say my fear had been considerable, especially of the man with the knife, but I got too angry to remember it, and advancing my face also to this insulter's I shouted, 'Dio Ladro! Dios di mi alma! Sanguinamento! Nombre di Dios! Che? Chevole? Non sono da Venezia io ! Sono de Francia! Je m’en fiche da vestra Venezia! Non se vede che non parlar vestra lingua? Che sono forestiere?' and so forth. At this they evidently divided into two parties, and all began raging amongst themselves, and some at me, while the others argued louder and louder that there was an error.
The little innkeeper caught my arm over the counter, and I turned round sharply, thinking he was doing me wrong, but I saw him nodding and winking at me, and he was on my side. This was probably because he was responsible if anything happened, and he alone could not fly from the police.
He made them a speech which, for all I know, may have been to the effect
that he had known and loved me from childhood, or may have been that he
knew me for one Jacques of Turin, or may have been any other lie.
Whatever, lie it was it appeased them. Their anger went down to a
murmur, just like soda-water settling down into a glass.
I stood wine; we drank. I showed them my book, and as my pencil needed sharpening the large man lent me his knife for courtesy. When I got it in my hand I saw plainly that it was no knife for stabbing with; it was a pruning-knife, and would have bit the hand that cherished it (as they say of serpents). On the other hand, it would have been a good knife for ripping, and passable at a slash. You must not expect too much of one article.
I took food, but I saw that in this parish it was safer to sleep out of doors than in; so in the falling evening, but not yet sunset, I wandered on, not at a pace but looking for shelter, and I found at last just what I wanted: a little shed, with dried ferns (as it seemed) strewed in a comer, a few old sacks, and a broken piece of machinery -though this last was of no use to me.
I thought: 'It will be safe here, for I shall rise before day, and the owner, if there is one, will not disturb me.'
The air was fairly warm. The place quite dry. The open side looked westward and a little south.
The sun had now set behind the Apennines, and there was a deep effulgence in the sky. I drank a little wine, lit a pipe, and watched the west in silence.
Whatever was left of the great paU from which all that rain had fallen, now was banked up on the further side of heaven in toppling great clouds that caught the full glow of evening.
The great clouds stood up in heaven, separate, like persons; and no wind blew; but everything was full of evening. I worshipped them so far as it is permitted to worship inanimate things.
They domed into the pure light of the higher air, inviolable. They seemed halted in the presence of a commanding majesty who ranked them all in order.
This vision filled me with a large calm which a travelled man may find on coming to his home, or a learner in the communion of wise men. Repose, certitude, and, as it were, a premonition of glory occupied my spirit. Before it was yet quite dark I had made a bed out of the dry bracken, covered myself with the sacks and cloths, and very soon I fell asleep, still thinking of the shapes of clouds and of the power of God.
Next morning it was as I had thought. Going out before it was
fully light, a dense mist all round and a clear sky showed what the day
was to be. As I reached Medesano the sun rose. and in half an hour
the air was instinct with heat, within an hour it was blinding. An
early Mass in the church below the village prepared my day, but as I took
coffee afterwards in a little inn, and asked about crossing the Taro to
Fornovo- my first point- to my astonishment they shook their heads.
The Taro was impassable.
Why could it not be crossed? My very broken language made it difficult for me to understand. They talked of rami, which I thought meant oars; but rami, had I known it, meant the separate branches or streams whereby these torrential rivers of Italy flow through their and beds.
I drew a boat and asked if one could not cross in that (for I was a northerner, and my idea of a river was a river with banks and water in between), but they laughed and said 'No'. Then I made the motion of swimming. They said it was impossible, and one man hung his head to indicate drowning. It was serious. They said tomorrow, or rather next day, one might do it.
Finally, a boy that stood by said he remembered a man who knew the river better than anyone, and he, if anyone could, would get me across. So I took the boy with me up the road, and as we went I saw, parallel to the road, a wide plain of dazzling rocks and sand, and beyond it, shining and silhouetted like an Arab village, the group of houses that was Fornovo. This plain was their sort of river in these hills. The boy said that sometimes it was fiffl and a mile wide, sometimes it dwindled into dirty pools. Now, as I looked, a few thin streams seemed to wind through it, and I could not understand the danger.
After a mile or two we came to a spot in the road where a patch of brushwood only separated us from the river-bed. Here the boy bade me wait, and asked a group of peasants whether the guide was in; they said they thought so, and some went up into the hillside with the boy to fetch him, others remained with me, looking at the riverbed and at Fornovo beyond, shaking their heads, and saying it had not been done for days. But I did not understand whether the rain-freshet had passed and was draining away, or whether it had not yet come down from beyond, and I waited for the guide.
They brought him at last down from his hut among the hills. He
came with great strides, a kindly-looking man, extremely tall and thin,
and with very pale eyes. He smiled. They pointed me out to
him, and we struck the bargain by holding up three fingers each for three
lira, and nodding. Then he grasped his long staff and I mine, we
bade farewell to the party, and together we went in silence through thick
brushwood down towards the broad river-bed, The stones of it glared like
the sands of Africa; Fornovo baked under the sun all white and black; between
us was this broad plain of parched shingle and rocks that could, in a night,
become one enormous river, or dwindle to a chain of stagnant ponds.
Today some seven narrow streams wandered in the expanse, and again they
seemed so easy to cross that again I wondered at the need of a guide.
We came to the edge of the first, and I climbed on the guide's back. He went bare-legged into the stream deeper and deeper till my feet, though held up high, just touched the water; then laboriously he climbed the further shore, and I got down upon dry land. It had been but twenty yards or so, and he knew the place well. I had seen, as we crossed, what a torrent this first little stream was, and I now knew the difficulty and understood the warnings of the inn.
The second branch was impassable. We followed it up for nearly a mile to where 'an island' (that is, a mass of high land that must have been an island in flood-time, and that had on it an old brown village) stood above the white bed of the river. just at this 'island' my guide found a ford. And the way he found it is worth telling. He taught me the trick, and it is most useful to men who wander alone in the mountains.
You take a heavy stone, how heavy you must learn to judge, for a more rapid current needs a heavier stone; but say about ten pounds. This you Job gently into midstream. How, it is impossible to describe, but when you do it it is quite easy to see that in about four feet of water, or less, the stone splashes quite differently from the way it does in five feet or more. It is a sure test, and one much easier to acquire by practice than to write about. To teach myself this trick I practised it throughout my journey in these wilds.
Having found a ford then, he again took me on his shoulders, but, in mid-stream, the water being up to his breast, his foot slipped on a stone (all the bed beneath was rolling and churning in the torrent), and in a moment we had both fallen. He puffed me up straight by his side, and then indeed, overwhelmed in the rush of water, it was easy to understand how the Taro could drown men, and why the peasants dreaded these little ribbons of water.
The current rushed and foamed past me, coming nearly to my neck; and it was icy cold. One had to lean against it, and the water so took away one's weight that at any moment one might have slipped and been carried away. The guide, a much taller an (indeed he was six foot three or so), supported me, holding my arm; and again in a moment we reached dry land.
After that adventure there was no need for carrying. The third, fourth, fifth, and sixth branches were easily fordable. The seventh was broad and deep, and I found it a heavy matter; nor should I have waded it but for my guide, for the water bore against me like a man wrestling, and it was as cold as Acheron, the river of the dead. Then on the further shore, and warning him (in Lingua Franca) of his peril, I gave him his wage, and he smiled and thanked me, and went back, choosing his plans at leisure.
Thus did I cross the river Taro; a danger for men. Where I landed was a poor man sunning himself. He rose and walked with me to Fornovo. He knew the guide.
'He is a good man,' he said to me of this friend. 'He is as good as a little piece of bread.'
'E vero,' I answered; 'e San Cristophero.'
This pleased the peasant; and indeed it was true. For the guide's business was exactly that of St Christopher, except that the Saint took no money, and lived, I suppose, on air.
And so to Fornovo; and the heat blinded and confused, and the air was alive with flies. But the sun dried me at once, and I pressed up the road because I needed food. After I had eaten in this old town I was preparing to make for Calestano and to cross the first high spur of the Apennines that separated me from it, when I saw, as I left the place, a very old church; and I stayed a moment and looked at carvings which were in no order, but put in pell-mell, evidently chosen from some older building. They were barbaric, but one could see that they stood for the last judgment of man, and there were the good-looking foolish, and there were the wicked being boiled by devils in a pot, and what was most pleasing was one devil who with great joy was carrying off a rich man's gold in a bag. But now we are too wise to believe in such foffies, and when we die we take our wealth with us; in the ninth century they had no way of doing this, for no system of credit yet obtained.
Then leaving the main road which runs to Pontremoli and at last to Spezzia, my lane climbed up into the hills and ceased, little by little, to be even a lane. It became from time to time the bed of a stream, then nothing, then a lane again, and at last, at the head of the glen, I confessed to having lost it; but I noted a great rock or peak above me for a landmark, and I said to myself-
'No matter. The wall of this glen before me is obviously the ridge of the spur; the rock must be left to the north, and I have but to cross the ridge by its guidance.' By this time, however, the heat overcame me, and, as it was already afternoon, and as I had used so much of the preceding night for my journey, I remembered the wise custom of hot countries and lay down to sleep.
I slept but a little while, yet when I woke the air was cooler.
I climbed the side of the glen at random, and on die summit I found, to
my disgust, a road. What road could it be ? To this day I do not
know. Perhaps I had missed my way and struck the main highway again.
Perhaps (it is often so in the Apennines) it was a road leading nowhere.
At any rate I hesitated, and looked back to judge my direction.
It was a happy accident. I was now some 2,000 feet above the Taro. There, before me, stood the high strange rock that I had watched from below: all around it and below me was the glen or cup of bare hills, slabs, and slopes of sand and stone calcined in the sun, and, beyond these near things, all the plain of Lombardy was at my feet.
It was this which made it worth while to have toiled up that steep wall,
and even to have lost my way-to see a hundred miles of the great flat stretched
out before me: all the kingdoms of the
Nor was this all. There were sharp white clouds on the far northern horizon, low down above the uncertain edge of the world. I looked again and found they did not move. Then I knew they were the Alps.
Believe it or not, I was looking back to a place of days before: over how many, many miles of road! The rare, white peaks and edges could not deceive me; they still stood to the sunlight, and sent me from that vast distance the memory of my passage, when their snows had seemed interminable and their height to monstrous; their cold such a cloak of death. Now they were as far off as childhood, and I saw them for the last time.
All this I drew. Then finding a post directing me to a side road for Calestano, I followed it down and down into the valley beyond: and up the walls of this second valley as the evening fell I heard the noise of the water running, as the Taro had run, a net of torrents from the melting snows far off. These streams I soon saw below me, winding (as those of the Taro had wound) through a floor of dry shingle and rock; but -the high hills enclosed that trench, and evening had left it in shadow; and when my road ceased suddenly some hundreds of feet above the bed of the river, and when, fun of evening, I had scrambled down through trees to the brink of the water, I found I should have to repeat what I had done that morning and to ford these streams. For there was no track of any kind and no bridge, and Calestano stood opposite me, a purple cluster of houses in the dusk against the farther mountain side.
Very warily, lobbing stones as I had been taught, and following up and down each branch to find a place, I forded one by one the little cold and violent rivers, and reaching the farther shore, I reached also, as I thought, supper, companionship, and a bed.
But it is not in this simple way that human life is arranged. What awaited me in Calestano was ill favour, a prison, release, base flattery, and a very tardy meal.
It is our duty to pity all men. It is our duty to pity those who
are in prison. It is our duty to pity those who are not in prison.
How much more is it the duty of a Christian man to pity the rich who cannot
ever get into prison? These indeed I do now specially pity, and extend
to them my commiseration.
What! Never even to have felt the grip of the policeman; to have watched his bold suspicious eye; to have tried to make a good show under examination ... never to have heard the bolt grinding in the lock, and never to have looked round at the cleanly simplicity of a cell ? Then what emotions have you had, unimprisonable rich; or what do you know of active living and of adventure?
It was after drinking some wine and eating macaroni and bread at a poor inn, the only one in the place, and after having to shout at the ill-natured hostess (and to try twenty guesses before I made her understand that I wanted cheese), it was when I had thus eaten and shouted, and had gone over the way to drink coffee and to smoke in a little cafe, that my adventure befel me.
In the inn there had been a fat jolly-looking man and two official looking people with white caps dining at another table. I had taken no notice of them at the time. But as I sat smoking and thinking in the little cafe, which was bright and full of people, I noticed a first danger-signal when I was told sullenly that 'they had no bed; they thought I could get none in the town'; then, suddenly, these two men in white caps came in, and they arrested me with as much ease as you or I would hold a horse.
A moment later there came in two magnificent fellows, gendarmes, with swords and cocked hats, and moustaches a I' Abd el Kader, as we used to say in the old days; these four, the two gendarmes and the two policemen, sat down opposite me on chairs and began cross-questioning me in Italian, a language in which I was not proficient. I so far understood them as to know that they were asking for my papers.
'Niente!' said I, and poured out on the table a card-case, a sketch-book, two pencils, a bottle of wine, a cup, a piece of bread, a scrap of French newspaper, an old Secolo, a needle, some thread, and a flute-but no passport.
They looked in the card-case and found 73 lira; that is, not quite three pounds. They examined the sketch-book critically, as behoved southerners who arc mostly of an artistic bent: but they found no passport. They questioned me again, and as I picked about for words to reply, the smaller (the policeman, a man with a
face like a fox) shouted that he had heard me speaking Italian
currently in the inn, and that my hesitation was a blind.
This lie so annoyed me that I said angrily in French (which I made as southern as possible to suit them):
'You lie: and you can be punished for such lies, since you are an official.' For though the police are the same in all countries, and will swear black is white, and destroy men for a song, yet where there is a droit administratif- that is, where the Revolution has made things tolerable-you are much surer of punishing your policeman, and he is much less able to do you a damage than in England or America; for he counts as an official and is under a more public discipline and responsibility if he exceeds his powers.
Then I added, speaking distinctly, 'I can speak French and Latin. Have you a priest in Calestano, and does he know Latin?' This was a fine touch. They winced, and parried it by saying that the Sindaco knew French. Then they led me away to their barracks while they fetched the Sindaco, and so I was imprisoned.
But not for long. Very soon I was again following up the street, and we came to the house of the Sindaco or Mayor. There he was, an old man with white hair, God bless him, playing cards with his son and daughter. To him therefore, as understanding French, I was bidden address myself. I told him in clear and exact idiom that his policemen were fools, that his town was a rabbit-warren, and his prison the only cleanly thing in it; that half a dozen telegrams to places I could indicate would show where I had passed; that I was a common tourist, not even an artist (as my sketch-book showed), and that my cards gave my exact address and description.
But the Sindaco, the French-speaking Sindaco, understood me not in the least, and it seemed a wicked thing in me to expose him in his old age, so I waited till he spoke. He spoke a word common to all languages, and one he had just caught from my lips.
'Tourist-e ?' he said.
I nodded. Then he told them to let me go. It was as simple as that; and to this day, I suppose, he passes for a very bilingual Mayor. He did me a service, and I am willing to believe that in his youth he smacked his lips over the subtle flavour of Voltaire, but I fear today he would have a poor time with Anatole France.
What a contrast was there between the hour when I had gone out of the cafe a prisoner and that when I returned rejoicing with
a crowd about me, proclaiming my innocence, and shouting one to another that I was a tourist and had seventy-three lira on my person! The landlady smiled and bowed: she had before refused me a bed! The men at the tables made me a god! Nor did I think them worse for this, Why should I! A man unknown, unkempt, unshaven, in tatters, covered with weeks of travel and mud, and in a suit that originally cost not ten shillings; having slept in leaves and ferns, and forest places, crosses a river at dusk and enters a town furtively, not by the road. He is a foreigner; he carries a great club. Is it not much wiser to arrest such a man? Why yes, evidently. And when you have arrested him, can you do more than let him go without proof, on his own word? Hardly!
Thus I loved the people of Calestano, especially for this strange adventure they had given me; and next day, having slept in a human room, I went at sunrise up the mountain sides beyond and above their town, and so climbed by a long cleft the second spur of the Apennines: the spur that separated me from the third river, the Parma. And my goal above the Parma (when I should have crossed it) was a place marked in the map 'Tizzano. To climb this second spur, to reach and cross the Parma in the vale below, to find Tizzano, I left Calestano on that fragrant morning; and having passed and drawn a little hamlet called Frangi, standing on a crag, I went on up the steep vale and soon reached the top of the ridge, which here dips a little and allows a path to cross over to the southern side.