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Across The Plains by Robert Louis Stevenson

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[1880]

CHAPTER III - FONTAINEBLEAU - VILLAGE COMMUNITIES OF PAINTERS

I

THE charm of Fontainebleau is a thing apart. It is a place that
people love even more than they admire. The vigorous forest air,
the silence, the majestic avenues of highway, the wilderness of
tumbled boulders, the great age and dignity of certain groves -
these are but ingredients, they are not the secret of the philtre.
The place is sanative; the air, the light, the perfumes, and the
shapes of things concord in happy harmony. The artist may be idle
and not fear the "blues." He may dally with his life. Mirth,
lyric mirth, and a vivacious classical contentment are of the very
essence of the better kind of art; and these, in that most smiling
forest, he has the chance to learn or to remember. Even on the
plain of Biere, where the Angelus of Millet still tolls upon the
ear of fancy, a larger air, a higher heaven, something ancient and
healthy in the face of nature, purify the mind alike from dulness
and hysteria. There is no place where the young are more gladly
conscious of their youth, or the old better contented with their
age.

The fact of its great and special beauty further recommends this
country to the artist. The field was chosen by men in whose blood
there still raced some of the gleeful or solemn exultation of great
art - Millet who loved dignity like Michelangelo, Rousseau whose
modern brush was dipped in the glamour of the ancients. It was
chosen before the day of that strange turn in the history of art,
of which we now perceive the culmination in impressionistic tales
and pictures - that voluntary aversion of the eye from all
speciously strong and beautiful effects - that disinterested love
of dulness which has set so many Peter Bells to paint the river-
side primrose. It was then chosen for its proximity to Paris. And
for the same cause, and by the force of tradition, the painter of
to-day continues to inhabit and to paint it. There is in France
scenery incomparable for romance and harmony. Provence, and the
valley of the Rhone from Vienne to Tarascon, are one succession of
masterpieces waiting for the brush. The beauty is not merely
beauty; it tells, besides, a tale to the imagination, and surprises
while it charms. Here you shall see castellated towns that would
befit the scenery of dreamland; streets that glow with colour like
cathedral windows; hills of the most exquisite proportions; flowers
of every precious colour, growing thick like grass. All these, by
the grace of railway travel, are brought to the very door of the
modern painter; yet he does not seek them; he remains faithful to
Fontainebleau, to the eternal bridge of Gretz, to the watering-pot
cascade in Cernay valley. Even Fontainebleau was chosen for him;
even in Fontainebleau he shrinks from what is sharply charactered.
But one thing, at least, is certain, whatever he may choose to
paint and in whatever manner, it is good for the artist to dwell
among graceful shapes. Fontainebleau, if it be but quiet scenery,
is classically graceful; and though the student may look for
different qualities, this quality, silently present, will educate
his hand and eye.

But, before all its other advantages - charm, loveliness, or
proximity to Paris - comes the great fact that it is already
colonised. The institution of a painters' colony is a work of time
and tact. The population must be conquered. The innkeeper has to
be taught, and he soon learns, the lesson of unlimited credit; he
must be taught to welcome as a favoured guest a young gentleman in
a very greasy coat, and with little baggage beyond a box of colours
and a canvas; and he must learn to preserve his faith in customers
who will eat heartily and drink of the best, borrow money to buy
tobacco, and perhaps not pay a stiver for a year. A colour
merchant has next to be attracted. A certain vogue must be given
to the place, lest the painter, most gregarious of animals, should
find himself alone. And no sooner are these first difficulties
overcome, than fresh perils spring up upon the other side; and the
bourgeois and the tourist are knocking at the gate. This is the
crucial moment for the colony. If these intruders gain a footing,
they not only banish freedom and amenity; pretty soon, by means of
their long purses, they will have undone the education of the
innkeeper; prices will rise and credit shorten; and the poor
painter must fare farther on and find another hamlet. "Not here, O
Apollo!" will become his song. Thus Trouville and, the other day,
St. Raphael were lost to the arts. Curious and not always edifying
are the shifts that the French student uses to defend his lair;
like the cuttlefish, he must sometimes blacken the waters of his
chosen pool; but at such a time and for so practical a purpose Mrs.
Grundy must allow him licence. Where his own purse and credit are
not threatened, he will do the honours of his village generously.
Any artist is made welcome, through whatever medium he may seek
expression; science is respected; even the idler, if he prove, as
he so rarely does, a gentleman, will soon begin to find himself at
home. And when that essentially modern creature, the English or
American girl-student, began to walk calmly into his favourite inns
as if into a drawing-room at home, the French painter owned himself
defenceless; he submitted or he fled. His French respectability,
quite as precise as ours, though covering different provinces of
life, recoiled aghast before the innovation. But the girls were
painters; there was nothing to be done; and Barbizon, when I last
saw it and for the time at least, was practically ceded to the fair
invader. Paterfamilias, on the other hand, the common tourist, the
holiday shopman, and the cheap young gentleman upon the spree, he
hounded from his villages with every circumstance of contumely.

This purely artistic society is excellent for the young artist.
The lads are mostly fools; they hold the latest orthodoxy in its
crudeness; they are at that stage of education, for the most part,
when a man is too much occupied with style to be aware of the
necessity for any matter; and this, above all for the Englishman,
is excellent. To work grossly at the trade, to forget sentiment,
to think of his material and nothing else, is, for awhile at least,
the king's highway of progress. Here, in England, too many
painters and writers dwell dispersed, unshielded, among the
intelligent bourgeois. These, when they are not merely
indifferent, prate to him about the lofty aims and moral influence
of art. And this is the lad's ruin. For art is, first of all and
last of all, a trade. The love of words and not a desire to
publish new discoveries, the love of form and not a novel reading
of historical events, mark the vocation of the writer and the
painter. The arabesque, properly speaking, and even in literature,
is the first fancy of the artist; he first plays with his material
as a child plays with a kaleidoscope; and he is already in a second
stage when he begins to use his pretty counters for the end of
representation. In that, he must pause long and toil faithfully;
that is his apprenticeship; and it is only the few who will really
grow beyond it, and go forward, fully equipped, to do the business
of real art - to give life to abstractions and significance and
charm to facts. In the meanwhile, let him dwell much among his
fellow-craftsmen. They alone can take a serious interest in the
childish tasks and pitiful successes of these years. They alone
can behold with equanimity this fingering of the dumb keyboard,
this polishing of empty sentences, this dull and literal painting
of dull and insignificant subjects. Outsiders will spur him on.
They will say, "Why do you not write a great book? paint a great
picture?" If his guardian angel fail him, they may even persuade
him to the attempt, and, ten to one, his hand is coarsened and his
style falsified for life.

And this brings me to a warning. The life of the apprentice to any
art is both unstrained and pleasing; it is strewn with small
successes in the midst of a career of failure, patiently supported;
the heaviest scholar is conscious of a certain progress; and if he
come not appreciably nearer to the art of Shakespeare, grows
letter-perfect in the domain of A-B, ab. But the time comes when a
man should cease prelusory gymnastic, stand up, put a violence upon
his will, and, for better or worse, begin the business of creation.
This evil day there is a tendency continually to postpone: above
all with painters. They have made so many studies that it has
become a habit; they make more, the walls of exhibitions blush with
them; and death finds these aged students still busy with their
horn-book. This class of man finds a congenial home in artist
villages; in the slang of the English colony at Barbizon we used to
call them "Snoozers." Continual returns to the city, the society
of men farther advanced, the study of great works, a sense of
humour or, if such a thing is to be had, a little religion or
philosophy, are the means of treatment. It will be time enough to
think of curing the malady after it has been caught; for to catch
it is the very thing for which you seek that dream-land of the
painters' village. "Snoozing" is a part of the artistic education;
and the rudiments must be learned stupidly, all else being
forgotten, as if they were an object in themselves.

Lastly, there is something, or there seems to be something, in the
very air of France that communicates the love of style. Precision,
clarity, the cleanly and crafty employment of material, a grace in
the handling, apart from any value in the thought, seem to be
acquired by the mere residence; or if not acquired, become at least
the more appreciated. The air of Paris is alive with this
technical inspiration. And to leave that airy city and awake next
day upon the borders of the forest is but to change externals. The
same spirit of dexterity and finish breathes from the long alleys
and the lofty groves, from the wildernesses that are still pretty
in their confusion, and the great plain that contrives to be
decorative in its emptiness.

II

In spite of its really considerable extent, the forest of
Fontainebleau is hardly anywhere tedious. I know the whole western
side of it with what, I suppose, I may call thoroughness; well
enough at least to testify that there is no square mile without
some special character and charm. Such quarters, for instance, as
the Long Rocher, the Bas-Breau, and the Reine Blanche, might be a
hundred miles apart; they have scarce a point in common beyond the
silence of the birds. The two last are really conterminous; and in
both are tall and ancient trees that have outlived a thousand
political vicissitudes. But in the one the great oaks prosper
placidly upon an even floor; they beshadow a great field; and the
air and the light are very free below their stretching boughs. In
the other the trees find difficult footing; castles of white rock
lie tumbled one upon another, the foot slips, the crooked viper
slumbers, the moss clings in the crevice; and above it all the
great beech goes spiring and casting forth her arms, and, with a
grace beyond church architecture, canopies this rugged chaos.
Meanwhile, dividing the two cantons, the broad white causeway of
the Paris road runs in an avenue: a road conceived for pageantry
and for triumphal marches, an avenue for an army; but, its days of
glory over, it now lies grilling in the sun between cool groves,
and only at intervals the vehicle of the cruising tourist is seen
far away and faintly audible along its ample sweep. A little upon
one side, and you find a district of sand and birch and boulder; a
little upon the other lies the valley of Apremont, all juniper and
heather; and close beyond that you may walk into a zone of pine
trees. So artfully are the ingredients mingled. Nor must it be
forgotten that, in all this part, you come continually forth upon a
hill-top, and behold the plain, northward and westward, like an
unrefulgent sea; nor that all day long the shadows keep changing;
and at last, to the red fires of sunset, night succeeds, and with
the night a new forest, full of whisper, gloom, and fragrance.
There are few things more renovating than to leave Paris, the
lamplit arches of the Carrousel, and the long alignment of the
glittering streets, and to bathe the senses in this fragrant
darkness of the wood.

In this continual variety the mind is kept vividly alive. It is a
changeful place to paint, a stirring place to live in. As fast as
your foot carries you, you pass from scene to scene, each
vigorously painted in the colours of the sun, each endeared by that
hereditary spell of forests on the mind of man who still remembers
and salutes the ancient refuge of his race.

And yet the forest has been civilised throughout. The most savage
corners bear a name, and have been cherished like antiquities; in
the most remote, Nature has prepared and balanced her effects as if
with conscious art; and man, with his guiding arrows of blue paint,
has countersigned the picture. After your farthest wandering, you
are never surprised to come forth upon the vast avenue of highway,
to strike the centre point of branching alleys, or to find the
aqueduct trailing, thousand-footed, through the brush. It is not a
wilderness; it is rather a preserve. And, fitly enough, the centre
of the maze is not a hermit's cavern. In the midst, a little
mirthful town lies sunlit, humming with the business of pleasure;
and the palace, breathing distinction and peopled by historic
names, stands smokeless among gardens.

Perhaps the last attempt at savage life was that of the harmless
humbug who called himself the hermit. In a great tree, close by
the highroad, he had built himself a little cabin after the manner
of the Swiss Family Robinson; thither he mounted at night, by the
romantic aid of a rope ladder; and if dirt be any proof of
sincerity, the man was savage as a Sioux. I had the pleasure of
his acquaintance; he appeared grossly stupid, not in his perfect
wits, and interested in nothing but small change; for that he had a
great avidity. In the course of time he proved to be a chicken-
stealer, and vanished from his perch; and perhaps from the first he
was no true votary of forest freedom, but an ingenious,
theatrically-minded beggar, and his cabin in the tree was only
stock-in-trade to beg withal. The choice of his position would
seem to indicate so much; for if in the forest there are no places
still to be discovered, there are many that have been forgotten,
and that lie unvisited. There, to be sure, are the blue arrows
waiting to reconduct you, now blazed upon a tree, now posted in the
corner of a rock. But your security from interruption is complete;
you might camp for weeks, if there were only water, and not a soul
suspect your presence; and if I may suppose the reader to have
committed some great crime and come to me for aid, I think I could
still find my way to a small cavern, fitted with a hearth and
chimney, where he might lie perfectly concealed. A confederate
landscape-painter might daily supply him with food; for water, he
would have to make a nightly tramp as far as to the nearest pond;
and at last, when the hue and cry began to blow over, he might get
gently on the train at some side station, work round by a series of
junctions, and be quietly captured at the frontier.

Thus Fontainebleau, although it is truly but a pleasure-ground, and
although, in favourable weather, and in the more celebrated
quarters, it literally buzzes with the tourist, yet has some of the
immunities and offers some of the repose of natural forests. And
the solitary, although he must return at night to his frequented
inn, may yet pass the day with his own thoughts in the
companionable silence of the trees. The demands of the imagination
vary; some can be alone in a back garden looked upon by windows;
others, like the ostrich, are content with a solitude that meets
the eye; and others, again, expand in fancy to the very borders of
their desert, and are irritably conscious of a hunter's camp in an
adjacent county. To these last, of course, Fontainebleau will seem
but an extended tea-garden: a Rosherville on a by-day. But to the
plain man it offers solitude: an excellent thing in itself, and a
good whet for company.

III

I was for some time a consistent Barbizonian; ET EGO IN ARCADIA
VIXI, it was a pleasant season; and that noiseless hamlet lying
close among the borders of the wood is for me, as for so many
others, a green spot in memory. The great Millet was just dead,
the green shutters of his modest house were closed; his daughters
were in mourning. The date of my first visit was thus an epoch in
the history of art: in a lesser way, it was an epoch in the
history of the Latin Quarter. The PETIT CENACLE was dead and
buried; Murger and his crew of sponging vagabonds were all at rest
from their expedients; the tradition of their real life was nearly
lost; and the petrified legend of the VIE DE BOHEME had become a
sort of gospel, and still gave the cue to zealous imitators. But
if the book be written in rose-water, the imitation was still
farther expurgated; honesty was the rule; the innkeepers gave, as I
have said, almost unlimited credit; they suffered the seediest
painter to depart, to take all his belongings, and to leave his
bill unpaid; and if they sometimes lost, it was by English and
Americans alone. At the same time, the great influx of Anglo-
Saxons had begun to affect the life of the studious. There had
been disputes; and, in one instance at least, the English and the
Americans had made common cause to prevent a cruel pleasantry. It
would be well if nations and races could communicate their
qualities; but in practice when they look upon each other, they
have an eye to nothing but defects. The Anglo-Saxon is essentially
dishonest; the French is devoid by nature of the principle that we
call "Fair Play." The Frenchman marvelled at the scruples of his
guest, and, when that defender of innocence retired over-seas and
left his bills unpaid, he marvelled once again; the good and evil
were, in his eyes, part and parcel of the same eccentricity; a
shrug expressed his judgment upon both.

At Barbizon there was no master, no pontiff in the arts. Palizzi
bore rule at Gretz - urbane, superior rule - his memory rich in
anecdotes of the great men of yore, his mind fertile in theories;
sceptical, composed, and venerable to the eye; and yet beneath
these outworks, all twittering with Italian superstition, his eye
scouting for omens, and the whole fabric of his manners giving way
on the appearance of a hunchback. Cernay had Pelouse, the
admirable, placid Pelouse, smilingly critical of youth, who, when a
full-blown commercial traveller, suddenly threw down his samples,
bought a colour-box, and became the master whom we have all
admired. Marlotte, for a central figure, boasted Olivier de Penne.
Only Barbizon, since the death of Millet, was a headless
commonwealth. Even its secondary lights, and those who in my day
made the stranger welcome, have since deserted it. The good
Lachevre has departed, carrying his household gods; and long before
that Gaston Lafenestre was taken from our midst by an untimely
death. He died before he had deserved success; it may be, he would
never have deserved it; but his kind, comely, modest countenance
still haunts the memory of all who knew him. Another - whom I will
not name - has moved farther on, pursuing the strange Odyssey of
his decadence. His days of royal favour had departed even then;
but he still retained, in his narrower life at Barbizon, a certain
stamp of conscious importance, hearty, friendly, filling the room,
the occupant of several chairs; nor had he yet ceased his losing
battle, still labouring upon great canvases that none would buy,
still waiting the return of fortune. But these days also were too
good to last; and the former favourite of two sovereigns fled, if I
heard the truth, by night. There was a time when he was counted a
great man, and Millet but a dauber; behold, how the whirligig of
time brings in his revenges! To pity Millet is a piece of
arrogance; if life be hard for such resolute and pious spirits, it
is harder still for us, had we the wit to understand it; but we may
pity his unhappier rival, who, for no apparent merit, was raised to
opulence and momentary fame, and, through no apparent fault was
suffered step by step to sink again to nothing. No misfortune can
exceed the bitterness of such back-foremost progress, even bravely
supported as it was; but to those also who were taken early from
the easel, a regret is due. From all the young men of this period,
one stood out by the vigour of his promise; he was in the age of
fermentation, enamoured of eccentricities. "Il faut faire de la
peinture nouvelle," was his watchword; but if time and experience
had continued his education, if he had been granted health to
return from these excursions to the steady and the central, I must
believe that the name of Hills had become famous.

Siron's inn, that excellent artists' barrack, was managed upon easy
principles. At any hour of the night, when you returned from
wandering in the forest, you went to the billiard-room and helped
yourself to liquors, or descended to the cellar and returned laden
with beer or wine. The Sirons were all locked in slumber; there
was none to check your inroads; only at the week's end a
computation was made, the gross sum was divided, and a varying
share set down to every lodger's name under the rubric: ESTRATS.
Upon the more long-suffering the larger tax was levied; and your
bill lengthened in a direct proportion to the easiness of your
disposition. At any hour of the morning, again, you could get your
coffee or cold milk, and set forth into the forest. The doves had
perhaps wakened you, fluttering into your chamber; and on the
threshold of the inn you were met by the aroma of the forest.
Close by were the great aisles, the mossy boulders, the
interminable field of forest shadow. There you were free to dream
and wander. And at noon, and again at six o'clock, a good meal
awaited you on Siron's table. The whole of your accommodation, set
aside that varying item of the ESTRALS, cost you five francs a day;
your bill was never offered you until you asked it; and if you were
out of luck's way, you might depart for where you pleased and leave
it pending.

IV

Theoretically, the house was open to all corners; practically, it
was a kind of club. The guests protected themselves, and, in so
doing, they protected Siron. Formal manners being laid aside,
essential courtesy was the more rigidly exacted; the new arrival
had to feel the pulse of the society; and a breach of its undefined
observances was promptly punished. A man might be as plain, as
dull, as slovenly, as free of speech as he desired; but to a touch
of presumption or a word of hectoring these free Barbizonians were
as sensitive as a tea-party of maiden ladies. I have seen people
driven forth from Barbizon; it would be difficult to say in words
what they had done, but they deserved their fate. They had shown
themselves unworthy to enjoy these corporate freedoms; they had
pushed themselves; they had "made their head"; they wanted tact to
appreciate the "fine shades" of Barbizonian etiquette. And once
they were condemned, the process of extrusion was ruthless in its
cruelty; after one evening with the formidable Bodmer, the Baily of
our commonwealth, the erring stranger was beheld no more; he rose
exceeding early the next day, and the first coach conveyed him from
the scene of his discomfiture. These sentences of banishment were
never, in my knowledge, delivered against an artist; such would, I
believe, have been illegal; but the odd and pleasant fact is this,
that they were never needed. Painters, sculptors, writers,
singers, I have seen all of these in Barbizon; and some were sulky,
and some blatant and inane; but one and all entered at once into
the spirit of the association. This singular society is purely
French, a creature of French virtues, and possibly of French
defects. It cannot be imitated by the English. The roughness, the
impatience, the more obvious selfishness, and even the more ardent
friendships of the Anglo-Saxon, speedily dismember such a
commonwealth. But this random gathering of young French painters,
with neither apparatus nor parade of government, yet kept the life
of the place upon a certain footing, insensibly imposed their
etiquette upon the docile, and by caustic speech enforced their
edicts against the unwelcome. To think of it is to wonder the more
at the strange failure of their race upon the larger theatre. This
inbred civility - to use the word in its completest meaning - this
natural and facile adjustment of contending liberties, seems all
that is required to make a governable nation and a just and
prosperous country.

Our society, thus purged and guarded, was full of high spirits, of
laughter, and of the initiative of youth. The few elder men who
joined us were still young at heart, and took the key from their
companions. We returned from long stations in the fortifying air,
our blood renewed by the sunshine, our spirits refreshed by the
silence of the forest; the Babel of loud voices sounded good; we
fell to eat and play like the natural man; and in the high inn
chamber, panelled with indifferent pictures and lit by candles
guttering in the night air, the talk and laughter sounded far into
the night. It was a good place and a good life for any naturally-
minded youth; better yet for the student of painting, and perhaps
best of all for the student of letters. He, too, was saturated in
this atmosphere of style; he was shut out from the disturbing
currents of the world, he might forget that there existed other and
more pressing interests than that of art. But, in such a place, it
was hardly possible to write; he could not drug his conscience,
like the painter, by the production of listless studies; he saw
himself idle among many who were apparently, and some who were
really, employed; and what with the impulse of increasing health
and the continual provocation of romantic scenes, he became
tormented with the desire to work. He enjoyed a strenuous idleness
full of visions, hearty meals, long, sweltering walks, mirth among
companions; and still floating like music through his brain,
foresights of great works that Shakespeare might be proud to have
conceived, headless epics, glorious torsos of dramas, and words
that were alive with import. So in youth, like Moses from the
mountain, we have sights of that House Beautiful of art which we
shall never enter. They are dreams and unsubstantial; visions of
style that repose upon no base of human meaning; the last heart-
throbs of that excited amateur who has to die in all of us before
the artist can be born. But they come to us in such a rainbow of
glory that all subsequent achievement appears dull and earthly in
comparison. We were all artists; almost all in the age of
illusion, cultivating an imaginary genius, and walking to the
strains of some deceiving Ariel; small wonder, indeed, if we were
happy! But art, of whatever nature, is a kind mistress; and though
these dreams of youth fall by their own baselessness, others
succeed, graver and more substantial; the symptoms change, the
amiable malady endures; and still, at an equal distance, the House
Beautiful shines upon its hill-top.

V

Gretz lies out of the forest, down by the bright river. It boasts
a mill, an ancient church, a castle, and a bridge of many
sterlings. And the bridge is a piece of public property;
anonymously famous; beaming on the incurious dilettante from the
walls of a hundred exhibitions. I have seen it in the Salon; I
have seen it in the Academy; I have seen it in the last French
Exposition, excellently done by Bloomer; in a black-and-white by
Mr. A. Henley, it once adorned this essay in the pages of the
MAGAZINE OF ART. Long-suffering bridge! And if you visit Gretz
to-morrow, you shall find another generation, camped at the bottom
of Chevillon's garden under their white umbrellas, and doggedly
painting it again.

The bridge taken for granted, Gretz is a less inspiring place than
Barbizon. I give it the palm over Cernay. There is something
ghastly in the great empty village square of Cernay, with the inn
tables standing in one corner, as though the stage were set for
rustic opera, and in the early morning all the painters breaking
their fast upon white wine under the windows of the villagers. It
is vastly different to awake in Gretz, to go down the green inn-
garden, to find the river streaming through the bridge, and to see
the dawn begin across the poplared level. The meals are laid in
the cool arbour, under fluttering leaves. The splash of oars and
bathers, the bathing costumes out to dry, the trim canoes beside
the jetty, tell of a society that has an eye to pleasure. There is
"something to do" at Gretz. Perhaps, for that very reason, I can
recall no such enduring ardours, no such glories of exhilaration,
as among the solemn groves and uneventful hours of Barbizon. This
"something to do" is a great enemy to joy; it is a way out of it;
you wreak your high spirits on some cut-and-dry employment, and
behold them gone! But Gretz is a merry place after its kind:
pretty to see, merry to inhabit. The course of its pellucid river,
whether up or down, is full of gentle attractions for the
navigator: islanded reed-mazes where, in autumn, the red berries
cluster; the mirrored and inverted images of trees, lilies, and
mills, and the foam and thunder of weirs. And of all noble sweeps
of roadway, none is nobler, on a windy dusk, than the highroad to
Nemours between its lines of talking poplar.

But even Gretz is changed. The old inn, long shored and trussed
and buttressed, fell at length under the mere weight of years, and
the place as it was is but a fading image in the memory of former
guests. They, indeed, recall the ancient wooden stair; they recall
the rainy evening, the wide hearth, the blaze of the twig fire, and
the company that gathered round the pillar in the kitchen. But the
material fabric is now dust; soon, with the last of its
inhabitants, its very memory shall follow; and they, in their turn,
shall suffer the same law, and, both in name and lineament, vanish
from the world of men. "For remembrance of the old house' sake,"
as Pepys once quaintly put it, let me tell one story. When the
tide of invasion swept over France, two foreign painters were left
stranded and penniless in Gretz; and there, until the war was over,
the Chevillons ungrudgingly harboured them. It was difficult to
obtain supplies; but the two waifs were still welcome to the best,
sat down daily with the family to table, and at the due intervals
were supplied with clean napkins, which they scrupled to employ.
Madame Chevillon observed the fact and reprimanded them. But they
stood firm; eat they must, but having no money they would soil no
napkins.

VI

Nemours and Moret, for all they are so picturesque, have been
little visited by painters. They are, indeed, too populous; they
have manners of their own, and might resist the drastic process of
colonisation. Montigny has been somewhat strangely neglected, I
never knew it inhabited but once, when Will H. Low installed
himself there with a barrel of PIQUETTE, and entertained his
friends in a leafy trellis above the weir, in sight of the green
country and to the music of the falling water. It was a most airy,
quaint, and pleasant place of residence, just too rustic to be
stagey; and from my memories of the place in general, and that
garden trellis in particular - at morning, visited by birds, or at
night, when the dew fell and the stars were of the party - I am
inclined to think perhaps too favourably of the future of Montigny.
Chailly-en-Biere has outlived all things, and lies dustily
slumbering in the plain - the cemetery of itself. The great road
remains to testify of its former bustle of postilions and carriage
bells; and, like memorial tablets, there still hang in the inn room
the paintings of a former generation, dead or decorated long ago.
In my time, one man only, greatly daring, dwelt there. From time
to time he would walk over to Barbizon like a shade revisiting the
glimpses of the moon, and after some communication with flesh and
blood return to his austere hermitage. But even he, when I last
revisited the forest, had come to Barbizon for good, and closed the
roll of Chaillyites. It may revive - but I much doubt it. Acheres
and Recloses still wait a pioneer; Bourron is out of the question,
being merely Gretz over again, without the river, the bridge, or
the beauty; and of all the possible places on the western side,
Marlotte alone remains to be discussed. I scarcely know Marlotte,
and, very likely for that reason, am not much in love with it. It
seems a glaring and unsightly hamlet. The inn of Mother Antonie is
unattractive; and its more reputable rival, though comfortable
enough, is commonplace. Marlotte has a name; it is famous; if I
were the young painter I would leave it alone in its glory.

VII

These are the words of an old stager; and though time is a good
conservative in forest places, much may be untrue to-day. Many of
us have passed Arcadian days there and moved on, but yet left a
portion of our souls behind us buried in the woods. I would not
dig for these reliquiae; they are incommunicable treasures that
will not enrich the finder; and yet there may lie, interred below
great oaks or scattered along forest paths, stores of youth's
dynamite and dear remembrances. And as one generation passes on
and renovates the field of tillage for the next, I entertain a
fancy that when the young men of to-day go forth into the forest
they shall find the air still vitalised by the spirits of their
predecessors, and, like those "unheard melodies" that are the
sweetest of all, the memory of our laughter shall still haunt the
field of trees. Those merry voices that in woods call the wanderer
farther, those thrilling silences and whispers of the groves,
surely in Fontainebleau they must be vocal of me and my companions?
We are not content to pass away entirely from the scenes of our
delight; we would leave, if but in gratitude, a pillar and a
legend.

One generation after another fall like honey-bees upon this
memorable forest, rifle its sweets, pack themselves with vital
memories, and when the theft is consummated depart again into life
richer, but poorer also. The forest, indeed, they have possessed,
from that day forward it is theirs indissolubly, and they will
return to walk in it at night in the fondest of their dreams, and
use it for ever in their books and pictures. Yet when they made
their packets, and put up their notes and sketches, something, it
should seem, had been forgotten. A projection of themselves shall
appear to haunt unfriended these scenes of happiness, a natural
child of fancy, begotten and forgotten unawares. Over the whole
field of our wanderings such fetches are still travelling like
indefatigable bagmen; but the imps of Fontainebleau, as of all
beloved spots, are very long of life, and memory is piously
unwilling to forget their orphanage. If anywhere about that wood
you meet my airy bantling, greet him with tenderness. He was a
pleasant lad, though now abandoned. And when it comes to your own
turn to quit the forest, may you leave behind you such another; no
Antony or Werther, let us hope, no tearful whipster, but, as
becomes this not uncheerful and most active age in which we figure,
the child of happy hours.

No art, it may be said, was ever perfect, and not many noble, that
has not been mirthfully conceived.

And no man, it may be added, was ever anything but a wet blanket
and a cross to his companions who boasted not a copious spirit of
enjoyment. Whether as man or artist let the youth make haste to
Fontainebleau, and once there let him address himself to the spirit
of the place; he will learn more from exercise than from studies,
although both are necessary; and if he can get into his heart the
gaiety and inspiration of the woods he will have gone far to undo
the evil of his sketches. A spirit once well strung up to the
concert-pitch of the primeval out-of-doors will hardly dare to
finish a study and magniloquently ticket it a picture. The
incommunicable thrill of things, that is the tuning-fork by which
we test the flatness of our art. Here it is that Nature teaches
and condemns, and still spurs up to further effort and new failure.
Thus it is that she sets us blushing at our ignorant and tepid
works; and the more we find of these inspiring shocks the less
shall we be apt to love the literal in our productions. In all
sciences and senses the letter kills; and to-day, when cackling
human geese express their ignorant condemnation of all studio
pictures, it is a lesson most useful to be learnt. Let the young
painter go to Fontainebleau, and while he stupefies himself with
studies that teach him the mechanical side of his trade, let him
walk in the great air, and be a servant of mirth, and not pick and
botanise, but wait upon the moods of nature. So he will learn - or
learn not to forget - the poetry of life and earth, which, when he
has acquired his track, will save him from joyless reproduction.

[1882.]

CHAPTER IV - EPILOGUE TO "AN INLAND VOYAGE"

THE country where they journeyed, that green, breezy valley of the
Loing, is one very attractive to cheerful and solitary people. The
weather was superb; all night it thundered and lightened, and the
rain fell in sheets; by day, the heavens were cloudless, the sun
fervent, the air vigorous and pure. They walked separate: the
Cigarette plodding behind with some philosophy, the lean Arethusa
posting on ahead. Thus each enjoyed his own reflections by the
way; each had perhaps time to tire of them before he met his
comrade at the designated inn; and the pleasures of society and
solitude combined to fill the day. The Arethusa carried in his
knapsack the works of Charles of Orleans, and employed some of the
hours of travel in the concoction of English roundels. In this
path, he must thus have preceded Mr. Lang, Mr. Dobson, Mr. Henley,
and all contemporary roundeleers; but for good reasons, he will be
the last to publish the result. The Cigarette walked burthened
with a volume of Michelet. And both these books, it will be seen,
played a part in the subsequent adventure.

The Arethusa was unwisely dressed. He is no precisian in attire;
but by all accounts, he was never so ill-inspired as on that tramp;
having set forth indeed, upon a moment's notice, from the most
unfashionable spot in Europe, Barbizon. On his head he wore a
smoking-cap of Indian work, the gold lace pitifully frayed and
tarnished. A flannel shirt of an agreeable dark hue, which the
satirical called black; a light tweed coat made by a good English
tailor; ready-made cheap linen trousers and leathern gaiters
completed his array. In person, he is exceptionally lean; and his
face is not, like those of happier mortals, a certificate. For
years he could not pass a frontier or visit a bank without
suspicion; the police everywhere, but in his native city, looked
askance upon him; and (though I am sure it will not be credited) he
is actually denied admittance to the casino of Monte Carlo. If you
will imagine him, dressed as above, stooping under his knapsack,
walking nearly five miles an hour with the folds of the ready-made
trousers fluttering about his spindle shanks, and still looking
eagerly round him as if in terror of pursuit - the figure, when
realised, is far from reassuring. When Villon journeyed (perhaps
by the same pleasant valley) to his exile at Roussillon, I wonder
if he had not something of the same appearance. Something of the
same preoccupation he had beyond a doubt, for he too must have
tinkered verses as he walked, with more success than his successor.
And if he had anything like the same inspiring weather, the same
nights of uproar, men in armour rolling and resounding down the
stairs of heaven, the rain hissing on the village streets, the wild
bull's-eye of the storm flashing all night long into the bare inn-
chamber - the same sweet return of day, the same unfathomable blue
of noon, the same high-coloured, halcyon eves - and above all, if
he had anything like as good a comrade, anything like as keen a
relish for what he saw, and what he ate, and the rivers that he
bathed in, and the rubbish that he wrote, I would exchange estates
to-day with the poor exile, and count myself a gainer.

But there was another point of similarity between the two journeys,
for which the Arethusa was to pay dear: both were gone upon in
days of incomplete security. It was not long after the Franco-
Prussian war. Swiftly as men forget, that country-side was still
alive with tales of uhlans, and outlying sentries, and hairbreadth
'scapes from the ignominious cord, and pleasant momentary
friendships between invader and invaded. A year, at the most two
years later, you might have tramped all that country over and not
heard one anecdote. And a year or two later, you would - if you
were a rather ill-looking young man in nondescript array - have
gone your rounds in greater safety; for along with more interesting
matter, the Prussian spy would have somewhat faded from men's
imaginations.

For all that, our voyager had got beyond Chateau Renard before he
was conscious of arousing wonder. On the road between that place
and Chatillon-sur-Loing, however, he encountered a rural postman;
they fell together in talk, and spoke of a variety of subjects; but
through one and all, the postman was still visibly preoccupied, and
his eyes were faithful to the Arethusa's knapsack. At last, with
mysterious roguishness, he inquired what it contained, and on being
answered, shook his head with kindly incredulity. "NON," said he,
"NON, VOUS AVEZ DES PORTRAITS." And then with a languishing
appeal, "VOYONS, show me the portraits!" It was some little while
before the Arethusa, with a shout of laughter, recognised his
drift. By portraits he meant indecent photographs; and in the
Arethusa, an austere and rising author, he thought to have
identified a pornographic colporteur. When countryfolk in France
have made up their minds as to a person's calling, argument is
fruitless. Along all the rest of the way, the postman piped and
fluted meltingly to get a sight of the collection; now he would
upbraid, now he would reason - "VOYONS, I will tell nobody"; then
he tried corruption, and insisted on paying for a glass of wine;
and, at last when their ways separated - "NON," said he, "CE N'EST
PAS BIEN DE VOTRE PART. O NON, CE N'EST PAS BIEN." And shaking
his head with quite a sentimental sense of injury, he departed
unrefreshed.

On certain little difficulties encountered by the Arethusa at
Chatillon-sur-Loing, I have not space to dwell; another Chatillon,
of grislier memory, looms too near at hand. But the next day, in a
certain hamlet called La Jussiere, he stopped to drink a glass of
syrup in a very poor, bare drinking shop. The hostess, a comely
woman, suckling a child, examined the traveller with kindly and
pitying eyes. "You are not of this department?" she asked. The
Arethusa told her he was English. "Ah!" she said, surprised. "We
have no English. We have many Italians, however, and they do very
well; they do not complain of the people of hereabouts. An
Englishman may do very well also; it will be something new." Here
was a dark saying, over which the Arethusa pondered as he drank his
grenadine; but when he rose and asked what was to pay, the light
came upon him in a flash. "O, POUR VOUS," replied the landlady,
"a halfpenny!" POUR VOUS? By heaven, she took him for a beggar!
He paid his halfpenny, feeling that it were ungracious to correct
her. But when he was forth again upon the road, he became vexed in
spirit. The conscience is no gentleman, he is a rabbinical fellow;
and his conscience told him he had stolen the syrup.

That night the travellers slept in Gien; the next day they passed
the river and set forth (severally, as their custom was) on a short
stage through the green plain upon the Berry side, to Chatillon-
sur-Loire. It was the first day of the shooting; and the air rang
with the report of firearms and the admiring cries of sportsmen.
Overhead the birds were in consternation, wheeling in clouds,
settling and re-arising. And yet with all this bustle on either
hand, the road itself lay solitary. The Arethusa smoked a pipe
beside a milestone, and I remember he laid down very exactly all he
was to do at Chatillon: how he was to enjoy a cold plunge, to
change his shirt, and to await the Cigarette's arrival, in sublime
inaction, by the margin of the Loire. Fired by these ideas, he
pushed the more rapidly forward, and came, early in the afternoon
and in a breathing heat, to the entering-in of that ill-fated town.
Childe Roland to the dark tower came.

A polite gendarme threw his shadow on the path.

"MONSIEUR EST VOYAGEUR?" he asked.

And the Arethusa, strong in his innocence, forgetful of his vile
attire, replied - I had almost said with gaiety: "So it would
appear."

"His papers are in order?" said the gendarme. And when the
Arethusa, with a slight change of voice, admitted he had none, he
was informed (politely enough) that he must appear before the
Commissary.

The Commissary sat at a table in his bedroom, stripped to the shirt
and trousers, but still copiously perspiring; and when he turned
upon the prisoner a large meaningless countenance, that was (like
Bardolph's) "all whelks and bubuckles," the dullest might have been
prepared for grief. Here was a stupid man, sleepy with the heat
and fretful at the interruption, whom neither appeal nor argument
could reach.

THE COMMISSARY. You have no papers?

THE ARETHUSA. Not here.

THE COMMISSARY. Why?

THE ARETHUSA. I have left them behind in my valise.

THE COMMISSARY. You know, however, that it is forbidden to
circulate without papers?

THE ARETHUSA. Pardon me: I am convinced of the contrary. I am
here on my rights as an English subject by international treaty.

THE COMMISSARY (WITH SCORN). You call yourself an Englishman?

THE ARETHUSA. I do.

THE COMMISSARY. Humph. - What is your trade?

THE ARETHUSA. I am a Scotch advocate.

THE COMMISSARY (WITH SINGULAR ANNOYANCE). A Scotch advocate! Do
you then pretend to support yourself by that in this department?

The Arethusa modestly disclaimed the pretension. The Commissary
had scored a point.

THE COMMISSARY. Why, then, do you travel?

THE ARETHUSA. I travel for pleasure.

THE COMMISSARY (POINTING TO THE KNAPSACK, AND WITH SUBLIME
INCREDULITY). AVEC CA? VOYEZ-VOUS, JE SUIS UN HOMME INTELLIGENT!
(With that? Look here, I am a person of intelligence!)

The culprit remaining silent under this home thrust, the Commissary
relished his triumph for a while, and then demanded (like the
postman, but with what different expectations!) to see the contents
of the knapsack. And here the Arethusa, not yet sufficiently awake
to his position, fell into a grave mistake. There was little or no
furniture in the room except the Commissary's chair and table; and
to facilitate matters, the Arethusa (with all the innocence on
earth) leant the knapsack on a corner of the bed. The Commissary
fairly bounded from his seat; his face and neck flushed past
purple, almost into blue; and he screamed to lay the desecrating
object on the floor.

The knapsack proved to contain a change of shirts, of shoes, of
socks, and of linen trousers, a small dressing-case, a piece of
soap in one of the shoes, two volumes of the COLLECTION JANNET
lettered POESIES DE CHARLES D'ORLEANS, a map, and a version book
containing divers notes in prose and the remarkable English
roundels of the voyager, still to this day unpublished: the
Commissary of Chatillon is the only living man who has clapped an
eye on these artistic trifles. He turned the assortment over with
a contumelious finger; it was plain from his daintiness that he
regarded the Arethusa and all his belongings as the very temple of
infection. Still there was nothing suspicious about the map,
nothing really criminal except the roundels; as for Charles of
Orleans, to the ignorant mind of the prisoner, he seemed as good as
a certificate; and it was supposed the farce was nearly over.

The inquisitor resumed his seat.

THE COMMISSARY (AFTER A PAUSE). EH BIEN, JE VAIS VOUS DIRE CE QUE
VOUS ETES. VOUS ETES ALLEMAND ET VOUS VENEZ CHANTER A LA FOIRE.
(Well, then, I will tell you what you are. You are a German and
have come to sing at the fair.)

THE ARETHUSA. Would you like to hear me sing? I believe I could
convince you of the contrary.

THE COMMISSARY. PAS DE PLAISANTERIE, MONSIEUR!

THE ARETHUSA. Well, sir, oblige me at least by looking at this
book. Here, I open it with my eyes shut. Read one of these songs
- read this one - and tell me, you who are a man of intelligence,
if it would be possible to sing it at a fair?

THE COMMISSARY (CRITICALLY). MAIS OUI. TRES BIEN.

THE ARETHUSA. COMMENT, MONSIEUR! What! But do you not observe it
is antique. It is difficult to understand, even for you and me;
but for the audience at a fair, it would be meaningless.

THE COMMISSARY (TAKING A PEN). ENFIN, IL FAUI EN FINIR. What is
your name?

THE ARETHUSA (SPEAKING WITH THE SWALLOWING VIVACITY OF THE
ENGLISH). Robert-Louis-Stev'ns'n.

THE COMMISSARY (AGHAST). HE! QUOI?

THE ARETHUSA (PERCEIVING AND IMPROVING HIS ADVANTAGE). Rob'rt-
Lou's-Stev'ns'n.

THE COMMISSARY (AFTER SEVERAL CONFLICTS WITH HIS PEN). EH BIEN, IL
FAUT SE PASSER DU NOM. CA NE S'ECRIT PAS. (Well, we must do
without the name: it is unspellable.)

The above is a rough summary of this momentous conversation, in
which I have been chiefly careful to preserve the plums of the
Commissary; but the remainder of the scene, perhaps because of his
rising anger, has left but little definite in the memory of the
Arethusa. The Commissary was not, I think, a practised literary
man; no sooner, at least, had he taken pen in hand and embarked on
the composition of the PROCES-VERBAL, than he became distinctly
more uncivil and began to show a predilection for that simplest of
all forms of repartee: "You lie!" Several times the Arethusa let
it pass, and then suddenly flared up, refused to accept more
insults or to answer further questions, defied the Commissary to do
his worst, and promised him, if he did, that he should bitterly
repent it. Perhaps if he had worn this proud front from the first,
instead of beginning with a sense of entertainment and then going
on to argue, the thing might have turned otherwise; for even at
this eleventh hour the Commissary was visibly staggered. But it
was too late; he had been challenged the PROCES-VERBAL was begun;
and he again squared his elbows over his writing, and the Arethusa
was led forth a prisoner.

A step or two down the hot road stood the gendarmerie. Thither was
our unfortunate conducted, and there he was bidden to empty forth
the contents of his pockets. A handkerchief, a pen, a pencil, a
pipe and tobacco, matches, and some ten francs of change: that was
all. Not a file, not a cipher, not a scrap of writing whether to
identify or to condemn. The very gendarme was appalled before such
destitution.

"I regret," he said, "that I arrested you, for I see that you are
no VOYOU." And he promised him every indulgence.

The Arethusa, thus encouraged, asked for his pipe. That he was
told was impossible, but if he chewed, he might have some tobacco.
He did not chew, however, and asked instead to have his
handkerchief.

"NON," said the gendarme. "NOUS AVONS EU DES HISTOIRES DE GENS QUI
SE SONT PENDUS." (No, we have had histories of people who hanged
themselves.)

"What," cried the Arethusa. "And is it for that you refuse me my
handkerchief? But see how much more easily I could hang myself in
my trousers!"

The man was struck by the novelty of the idea; but he stuck to his
colours, and only continued to repeat vague offers of service.

"At least," said the Arethusa, "be sure that you arrest my comrade;
he will follow me ere long on the same road, and you can tell him
by the sack upon his shoulders."

This promised, the prisoner was led round into the back court of
the building, a cellar door was opened, he was motioned down the
stair, and bolts grated and chains clanged behind his descending
person.

The philosophic and still more the imaginative mind is apt to
suppose itself prepared for any mortal accident. Prison, among
other ills, was one that had been often faced by the undaunted
Arethusa. Even as he went down the stairs, he was telling himself
that here was a famous occasion for a roundel, and that like the
committed linnets of the tuneful cavalier, he too would make his
prison musical. I will tell the truth at once: the roundel was
never written, or it should be printed in this place, to raise a
smile. Two reasons interfered: the first moral, the second
physical.

It is one of the curiosities of human nature, that although all men
are liars, they can none of them bear to be told so of themselves.
To get and take the lie with equanimity is a stretch beyond the
stoic; and the Arethusa, who had been surfeited upon that insult,
was blazing inwardly with a white heat of smothered wrath. But the
physical had also its part. The cellar in which he was confined
was some feet underground, and it was only lighted by an unglazed,
narrow aperture high up in the wall and smothered in the leaves of
a green vine. The walls were of naked masonry, the floor of bare
earth; by way of furniture there was an earthenware basin, a water-
jug, and a wooden bedstead with a blue-gray cloak for bedding. To
be taken from the hot air of a summer's afternoon, the
reverberation of the road and the stir of rapid exercise, and
plunged into the gloom and damp of this receptacle for vagabonds,
struck an instant chill upon the Arethusa's blood. Now see in how
small a matter a hardship may consist: the floor was exceedingly
uneven underfoot, with the very spade-marks, I suppose, of the
labourers who dug the foundations of the barrack; and what with the
poor twilight and the irregular surface, walking was impossible.
The caged author resisted for a good while; but the chill of the
place struck deeper and deeper; and at length, with such reluctance
as you may fancy, he was driven to climb upon the bed and wrap
himself in the public covering. There, then, he lay upon the verge
of shivering, plunged in semi-darkness, wound in a garment whose
touch he dreaded like the plague, and (in a spirit far removed from
resignation) telling the roll of the insults he had just received.
These are not circumstances favourable to the muse.

Meantime (to look at the upper surface where the sun was still
shining and the guns of sportsmen were still noisy through the
tufted plain) the Cigarette was drawing near at his more
philosophic pace. In those days of liberty and health he was the
constant partner of the Arethusa, and had ample opportunity to
share in that gentleman's disfavour with the police. Many a bitter
bowl had he partaken of with that disastrous comrade. He was
himself a man born to float easily through life, his face and
manner artfully recommending him to all. There was but one
suspicious circumstance he could not carry off, and that was his
companion. He will not readily forget the Commissary in what is
ironically called the free town of Frankfort-on-the-Main ; nor the
Franco-Belgian frontier; nor the inn at La Fere; last, but not
least, he is pretty certain to remember Chatillon-sur-Loire.

At the town entry, the gendarme culled him like a wayside flower;
and a moment later, two persons, in a high state of surprise, were
confronted in the Commissary's office. For if the Cigarette was
surprised to be arrested, the Commissary was no less taken aback by
the appearance and appointments of his captive. Here was a man
about whom there could be no mistake: a man of an unquestionable
and unassailable manner, in apple-pie order, dressed not with
neatness merely but elegance, ready with his passport, at a word,
and well supplied with money: a man the Commissary would have
doffed his hat to on chance upon the highway; and this BEAU
CAVALIER unblushingly claimed the Arethusa for his comrade! The
conclusion of the interview was foregone; of its humours, I
remember only one. "Baronet?" demanded the magistrate, glancing up
from the passport. "ALORS, MONSIEUR, VOUS ETES LE FIRS D'UN
BARON?" And when the Cigarette (his one mistake throughout the
interview) denied the soft impeachment, "ALORS," from the
Commissary, "CE N'EST PAS VOTRE PASSEPORT!" But these were
ineffectual thunders; he never dreamed of laying hands upon the
Cigarette; presently he fell into a mood of unrestrained
admiration, gloating over the contents of the knapsack, commanding
our friend's tailor. Ah, what an honoured guest was the Commissary
entertaining! what suitable clothes he wore for the warm weather!
what beautiful maps, what an attractive work of history he carried
in his knapsack! You are to understand there was now but one point
of difference between them: what was to be done with the Arethusa?
the Cigarette demanding his release, the Commissary still claiming
him as the dungeon's own. Now it chanced that the Cigarette had
passed some years of his life in Egypt, where he had made
acquaintance with two very bad things, cholera morbus and pashas;
and in the eye of the Commissary, as he fingered the volume of
Michelet, it seemed to our traveller there was something Turkish.
I pass over this lightly; it is highly possible there was some
misunderstanding, highly possible that the Commissary (charmed with
his visitor) supposed the attraction to be mutual and took for an
act of growing friendship what the Cigarette himself regarded as a
bribe. And at any rate, was there ever a bribe more singular than
an odd volume of Michelet's history? The work was promised him for
the morrow, before our departure; and presently after, either
because he had his price, or to show that he was not the man to be
behind in friendly offices - "EH BIEN," he said, "JE SUPPOSE QU'IL
FAUT LAHER VOIRE CAMARADE." And he tore up that feast of humour,
the unfinished PROCES-VERBAL. Ah, if he had only torn up instead
the Arethusa's roundels! There were many works burnt at
Alexandria, there are many treasured in the British Museum, that I
could better spare than the PROCES-VERBAL of Chatillon. Poor
bubuckled Commissary! I begin to be sorry that he never had his
Michelet: perceiving in him fine human traits, a broad-based
stupidity, a gusto in his magisterial functions, a taste for
letters, a ready admiration for the admirable. And if he did not
admire the Arethusa, he was not alone in that.

To the imprisoned one, shivering under the public covering, there
came suddenly a noise of bolts and chains. He sprang to his feet,
ready to welcome a companion in calamity; and instead of that, the
door was flung wide, the friendly gendarme appeared above in the
strong daylight, and with a magnificent gesture (being probably a
student of the drama) - "VOUS ETES LIBRE!" he said. None too soon
for the Arethusa. I doubt if he had been half-an-hour imprisoned;
but by the watch in a man's brain (which was the only watch he
carried) he should have been eight times longer; and he passed
forth with ecstasy up the cellar stairs into the healing warmth of
the afternoon sun; and the breath of the earth came as sweet as a
cow's into his nostril; and he heard again (and could have laughed
for pleasure) the concord of delicate noises that we call the hum
of life.

And here it might be thought that my history ended; but not so,
this was an act-drop and not the curtain. Upon what followed in
front of the barrack, since there was a lady in the case, I scruple
to expatiate. The wife of the Marechal-des-logis was a handsome
woman, and yet the Arethusa was not sorry to be gone from her
society. Something of her image, cool as a peach on that hot
afternoon, still lingers in his memory: yet more of her
conversation. "You have there a very fine parlour," said the poor
gentleman. - "Ah," said Madame la Marechale (des-logis), "you are
very well acquainted with such parlours!" And you should have seen
with what a hard and scornful eye she measured the vagabond before
her! I do not think he ever hated the Commissary; but before that
interview was at an end, he hated Madame la Marechale. His passion
(as I am led to understand by one who was present) stood confessed
in a burning eye, a pale cheek, and a trembling utterance; Madame
meanwhile tasting the joys of the matador, goading him with barbed
words and staring him coldly down.

It was certainly good to be away from this lady, and better still
to sit down to an excellent dinner in the inn. Here, too, the
despised travellers scraped acquaintance with their next neighbour,
a gentleman of these parts, returned from the day's sport, who had
the good taste to find pleasure in their society. The dinner at an
end, the gentleman proposed the acquaintance should be ripened in
the cafe.

The cafe was crowded with sportsmen conclamantly explaining to each
other and the world the smallness of their bags. About the centre
of the room, the Cigarette and the Arethusa sat with their new
acquaintance; a trio very well pleased, for the travellers (after
their late experience) were greedy of consideration, and their
sportsman rejoiced in a pair of patient listeners. Suddenly the
glass door flew open with a crash; the Marechal-des-logis appeared
in the interval, gorgeously belted and befrogged, entered without
salutation, strode up the room with a clang of spurs and weapons,
and disappeared through a door at the far end. Close at his heels
followed the Arethusa's gendarme of the afternoon, imitating, with
a nice shade of difference, the imperial bearing of his chief;
only, as he passed, he struck lightly with his open hand on the
shoulder of his late captive, and with that ringing, dramatic
utterance of which he had the secret - "SUIVEZ!" said he.

The arrest of the members, the oath of the Tennis Court, the
signing of the declaration of independence, Mark Antony's oration,
all the brave scenes of history, I conceive as having been not
unlike that evening in the cafe at Chatillon. Terror breathed upon
the assembly. A moment later, when the Arethusa had followed his
recaptors into the farther part of the house, the Cigarette found
himself alone with his coffee in a ring of empty chairs and tables,
all the lusty sportsmen huddled into corners, all their clamorous
voices hushed in whispering, all their eyes shooting at him
furtively as at a leper.

And the Arethusa? Well, he had a long, sometimes a trying,
interview in the back kitchen. The Marechal-des-logis, who was a
very handsome man, and I believe both intelligent and honest, had
no clear opinion on the case. He thought the Commissary had done
wrong, but he did not wish to get his subordinates into trouble;
and he proposed this, that, and the other, to all of which the
Arethusa (with a growing sense of his position) demurred.

"In short," suggested the Arethusa, "you want to wash your hands of
further responsibility? Well, then, let me go to Paris."

The Marechal-des-logis looked at his watch.

"You may leave," said he, "by the ten o'clock train for Paris."

And at noon the next day the travellers were telling their
misadventure in the dining-room at Siron's.

CHAPTER V - RANDOM MEMORIES

I. - THE COAST OF FIFE

MANY writers have vigorously described the pains of the first day
or the first night at school; to a boy of any enterprise, I
believe, they are more often agreeably exciting. Misery - or at
least misery unrelieved - is confined to another period, to the
days of suspense and the "dreadful looking-for" of departure; when
the old life is running to an end, and the new life, with its new
interests, not yet begun: and to the pain of an imminent parting,
there is added the unrest of a state of conscious pre-existence.
The area railings, the beloved shop-window, the smell of semi-
suburban tanpits, the song of the church bells upon a Sunday, the
thin, high voices of compatriot children in a playing-field - what
a sudden, what an overpowering pathos breathes to him from each
familiar circumstance! The assaults of sorrow come not from
within, as it seems to him, but from without. I was proud and glad
to go to school; had I been let alone, I could have borne up like
any hero; but there was around me, in all my native town, a
conspiracy of lamentation: "Poor little boy, he is going away -
unkind little boy, he is going to leave us"; so the unspoken
burthen followed me as I went, with yearning and reproach. And at
length, one melancholy afternoon in the early autumn, and at a
place where it seems to me, looking back, it must be always autumn
and generally Sunday, there came suddenly upon the face of all I
saw - the long empty road, the lines of the tall houses, the church
upon the hill, the woody hillside garden - a look of such a
piercing sadness that my heart died; and seating myself on a door-
step, I shed tears of miserable sympathy. A benevolent cat
cumbered me the while with consolations - we two were alone in all
that was visible of the London Road: two poor waifs who had each
tasted sorrow - and she fawned upon the weeper, and gambolled for
his entertainment, watching the effect it seemed, with motherly
eyes.

For the sake of the cat, God bless her! I confessed at home the
story of my weakness; and so it comes about that I owed a certain
journey, and the reader owes the present paper, to a cat in the
London Road. It was judged, if I had thus brimmed over on the
public highway, some change of scene was (in the medical sense)
indicated; my father at the time was visiting the harbour lights of
Scotland; and it was decided he should take me along with him
around a portion of the shores of Fife; my first professional tour,
my first journey in the complete character of man, without the help
of petticoats.

The Kingdom of Fife (that royal province) may be observed by the
curious on the map, occupying a tongue of land between the firths
of Forth and Tay. It may be continually seen from many parts of
Edinburgh (among the rest, from the windows of my father's house)
dying away into the distance and the easterly HAAR with one smoky
seaside town beyond another, or in winter printing on the gray
heaven some glittering hill-tops. It has no beauty to recommend
it, being a low, sea-salted, wind-vexed promontory; trees very
rare, except (as common on the east coast) along the dens of
rivers; the fields well cultivated, I understand, but not lovely to
the eye. It is of the coast I speak: the interior may be the
garden of Eden. History broods over that part of the world like
the easterly HAAR. Even on the map, its long row of Gaelic place-
names bear testimony to an old and settled race. Of these little
towns, posted along the shore as close as sedges, each with its bit
of harbour, its old weather-beaten church or public building, its
flavour of decayed prosperity and decaying fish, not one but has
its legend, quaint or tragic: Dunfermline, in whose royal towers
the king may be still observed (in the ballad) drinking the blood-
red wine; somnolent Inverkeithing, once the quarantine of Leith;
Aberdour, hard by the monastic islet of Inchcolm, hard by
Donibristle where the "bonny face was spoiled"; Burntisland where,
when Paul Jones was off the coast, the Reverend Mr. Shirra had a
table carried between tidemarks, and publicly prayed against the
rover at the pitch of his voice and his broad lowland dialect;
Kinghorn, where Alexander "brak's neckbane" and left Scotland to
the English wars; Kirkcaldy, where the witches once prevailed
extremely and sank tall ships and honest mariners in the North Sea;
Dysart, famous - well famous at least to me for the Dutch ships
that lay in its harbour, painted like toys and with pots of flowers
and cages of song-birds in the cabin windows, and for one
particular Dutch skipper who would sit all day in slippers on the
break of the poop, smoking a long German pipe; Wemyss (pronounce
Weems) with its bat-haunted caves, where the Chevalier Johnstone,
on his flight from Culloden, passed a night of superstitious
terrors; Leven, a bald, quite modern place, sacred to summer
visitors, whence there has gone but yesterday the tall figure and
the white locks of the last Englishman in Delhi, my uncle Dr.
Balfour, who was still walking his hospital rounds, while the
troopers from Meerut clattered and cried "Deen Deen" along the
streets of the imperial city, and Willoughby mustered his handful
of heroes at the magazine, and the nameless brave one in the
telegraph office was perhaps already fingering his last despatch;
and just a little beyond Leven, Largo Law and the smoke of Largo
town mounting about its feet, the town of Alexander Selkirk, better
known under the name of Robinson Crusoe. So on, the list might be
pursued (only for private reasons, which the reader will shortly
have an opportunity to guess) by St. Monance, and Pittenweem, and
the two Anstruthers, and Cellardyke, and Crail, where Primate
Sharpe was once a humble and innocent country minister: on to the
heel of the land, to Fife Ness, overlooked by a sea-wood of matted
elders and the quaint old mansion of Balcomie, itself overlooking
but the breach or the quiescence of the deep - the Carr Rock beacon
rising close in front, and as night draws in, the star of the
Inchcape reef springing up on the one hand, and the star of the May
Island on the other, and farther off yet a third and a greater on
the craggy foreland of St. Abb's. And but a little way round the
corner of the land, imminent itself above the sea, stands the gem
of the province and the light of mediaeval Scotland, St. Andrews,
where the great Cardinal Beaton held garrison against the world,
and the second of the name and title perished (as you may read in
Knox's jeering narrative) under the knives of true-blue
Protestants, and to this day (after so many centuries) the current
voice of the professor is not hushed.

Here it was that my first tour of inspection began, early on a
bleak easterly morning. There was a crashing run of sea upon the
shore, I recollect, and my father and the man of the harbour light
must sometimes raise their voices to be audible. Perhaps it is
from this circumstance, that I always imagine St. Andrews to be an
ineffectual seat of learning, and the sound of the east wind and
the bursting surf to linger in its drowsy classrooms and confound
the utterance of the professor, until teacher and taught are alike
drowned in oblivion, and only the sea-gull beats on the windows and
the draught of the sea-air rustles in the pages of the open
lecture. But upon all this, and the romance of St. Andrews in
general, the reader must consult the works of Mr. Andrew Lang; who
has written of it but the other day in his dainty prose and with
his incommunicable humour, and long ago in one of his best poems,
with grace, and local truth, and a note of unaffected pathos. Mr.
Lang knows all about the romance, I say, and the educational
advantages, but I doubt if he had turned his attention to the
harbour lights; and it may be news even to him, that in the year
1863 their case was pitiable. Hanging about with the east wind
humming in my teeth, and my hands (I make no doubt) in my pockets,
I looked for the first time upon that tragi-comedy of the visiting
engineer which I have seen so often re-enacted on a more important
stage. Eighty years ago, I find my grandfather writing: "It is
the most painful thing that can occur to me to have a
correspondence of this kind with any of the keepers, and when I
come to the Light House, instead of having the satisfaction to meet
them with approbation and welcome their Family, it is distressing
when one-is obliged to put on a most angry countenance and
demeanour." This painful obligation has been hereditary in my
race. I have myself, on a perfectly amateur and unauthorised
inspection of Turnberry Point, bent my brows upon the keeper on the
question of storm-panes; and felt a keen pang of self-reproach,
when we went down stairs again and I found he was making a coffin
for his infant child; and then regained my equanimity with the
thought that I had done the man a service, and when the proper
inspector came, he would be readier with his panes. The human race
is perhaps credited with more duplicity than it deserves. The
visitation of a lighthouse at least is a business of the most
transparent nature. As soon as the boat grates on the shore, and
the keepers step forward in their uniformed coats, the very slouch
of the fellows' shoulders tells their story, and the engineer may
begin at once to assume his "angry countenance." Certainly the
brass of the handrail will be clouded; and if the brass be not
immaculate, certainly all will be to match - the reflectors
scratched, the spare lamp unready, the storm-panes in the
storehouse. If a light is not rather more than middling good, it
will be radically bad. Mediocrity (except in literature) appears
to be unattainable by man. But of course the unfortunate of St.
Andrews was only an amateur, he was not in the Service, he had no
uniform coat, he was (I believe) a plumber by his trade and stood
(in the mediaeval phrase) quite out of the danger of my father; but
he had a painful interview for all that, and perspired extremely.

From St. Andrews, we drove over Magus Muir. My father had
announced we were "to post," and the phrase called up in my hopeful
mind visions of top-boots and the pictures in Rowlandson's DANCE OF
DEATH; but it was only a jingling cab that came to the inn door,
such as I had driven in a thousand times at the low price of one
shilling on the streets of Edinburgh. Beyond this disappointment,
I remember nothing of that drive. It is a road I have often
travelled, and of not one of these journeys do I remember any
single trait. The fact has not been suffered to encroach on the
truth of the imagination. I still see Magus Muir two hundred years
ago; a desert place, quite uninclosed; in the midst, the primate's
carriage fleeing at the gallop; the assassins loose-reined in
pursuit, Burley Balfour, pistol in hand, among the first. No scene
of history has ever written itself so deeply on my mind; not
because Balfour, that questionable zealot, was an ancestral cousin
of my own; not because of the pleadings of the victim and his
daughter; not even because of the live bum-bee that flew out of
Sharpe's 'bacco-box, thus clearly indicating his complicity with
Satan; nor merely because, as it was after all a crime of a fine
religious flavour, it figured in Sunday books and afforded a
grateful relief from MINISTERING CHILDREN or the MEMOIRS OF MRS.
KATHATINE WINSLOWE. The figure that always fixed my attention is
that of Hackston of Rathillet, sitting in the saddle with his cloak
about his mouth, and through all that long, bungling, vociferous
hurly-burly, revolving privately a case of conscience. He would
take no hand in the deed, because he had a private spite against
the victim, and "that action" must be sullied with no suggestion of
a worldly motive; on the other hand, "that action," in itself, was
highly justified, he had cast in his lot with "the actors," and he
must stay there, inactive but publicly sharing the responsibility.
"You are a gentleman - you will protect me!" cried the wounded old
man, crawling towards him. "I will never lay a hand on you," said
Hackston, and put his cloak about his mouth. It is an old
temptation with me, to pluck away that cloak and see the face - to
open that bosom and to read the heart. With incomplete romances
about Hackston, the drawers of my youth were lumbered. I read him
up in every printed book that I could lay my hands on. I even dug
among the Wodrow manuscripts, sitting shame-faced in the very room
where my hero had been tortured two centuries before, and keenly
conscious of my youth in the midst of other and (as I fondly
thought) more gifted students. All was vain: that he had passed a
riotous nonage, that he was a zealot, that he twice displayed
(compared with his grotesque companions) some tincture of soldierly
resolution and even of military common sense, and that he figured
memorably in the scene on Magus Muir, so much and no more could I
make out. But whenever I cast my eyes backward, it is to see him
like a landmark on the plains of history, sitting with his cloak
about his mouth, inscrutable. How small a thing creates an
immortality! I do not think he can have been a man entirely
commonplace; but had he not thrown his cloak about his mouth, or
had the witnesses forgot to chronicle the action, he would not thus
have haunted the imagination of my boyhood, and to-day he would
scarce delay me for a paragraph. An incident, at once romantic and
dramatic, which at once awakes the judgment and makes a picture for
the eye, how little do we realise its perdurable power! Perhaps no
one does so but the author, just as none but he appreciates the
influence of jingling words; so that he looks on upon life, with
something of a covert smile, seeing people led by what they fancy
to be thoughts and what are really the accustomed artifices of his
own trade, or roused by what they take to be principles and are
really picturesque effects. In a pleasant book about a school-
class club, Colonel Fergusson has recently told a little anecdote.
A "Philosophical Society" was formed by some Academy boys - among
them, Colonel Fergusson himself, Fleeming Jenkin, and Andrew
Wilson, the Christian Buddhist and author of THE ABODE OF SNOW.
Before these learned pundits, one member laid the following
ingenious problem: "What would be the result of putting a pound of
potassium in a pot of porter?" "I should think there would be a
number of interesting bi-products," said a smatterer at my elbow;
but for me the tale itself has a bi-product, and stands as a type
of much that is most human. For this inquirer who conceived
himself to burn with a zeal entirely chemical, was really immersed
in a design of a quite different nature; unconsciously to his own
recently breeched intelligence, he was engaged in literature.
Putting, pound, potassium, pot, porter; initial p, mediant t - that
was his idea, poor little boy! So with politics and that which
excites men in the present, so with history and that which rouses
them in the past: there lie at the root of what appears, most
serious unsuspected elements.

The triple town of Anstruther Wester, Anstruther Easter, and
Cellardyke, all three Royal Burghs - or two Royal Burghs and a less
distinguished suburb, I forget which - lies continuously along the
seaside, and boasts of either two or three separate parish
churches, and either two or three separate harbours. These
ambiguities are painful; but the fact is (although it argue me
uncultured), I am but poorly posted upon Cellardyke. My business
lay in the two Anstruthers. A tricklet of a stream divides them,
spanned by a bridge; and over the bridge at the time of my
knowledge, the celebrated Shell House stood outpost on the west.
This had been the residence of an agreeable eccentric; during his
fond tenancy, he had illustrated the outer walls, as high (if I
remember rightly) as the roof, with elaborate patterns and
pictures, and snatches of verse in the vein of EXEGI MONUMENTUM;
shells and pebbles, artfully contrasted and conjoined, had been his
medium; and I like to think of him standing back upon the bridge,
when all was finished, drinking in the general effect and (like
Gibbon) already lamenting his employment.

The same bridge saw another sight in the seventeenth century. Mr.
Thomson, the "curat" of Anstruther Easter, was a man highly
obnoxious to the devout: in the first place, because he was a
"curat"; in the second place, because he was a person of irregular
and scandalous life; and in the third place, because he was
generally suspected of dealings with the Enemy of Man. These three
disqualifications, in the popular literature of the time, go hand
in hand; but the end of Mr. Thomson was a thing quite by itself,
and in the proper phrase, a manifest judgment. He had been at a
friend's house in Anstruther Wester, where (and elsewhere, I
suspect) he had partaken of the bottle; indeed, to put the thing in
our cold modern way, the reverend gentleman was on the brink of
DELIRIUM TREMENS. It was a dark night, it seems; a little lassie
came carrying a lantern to fetch the curate home; and away they
went down the street of Anstruther Wester, the lantern swinging a
bit in the child's hand, the barred lustre tossing up and down
along the front of slumbering houses, and Mr. Thomson not
altogether steady on his legs nor (to all appearance) easy in his
mind. The pair had reached the middle of the bridge when (as I
conceive the scene) the poor tippler started in some baseless fear
and looked behind him; the child, already shaken by the minister's
strange behaviour, started also; in so doing, she would jerk the
lantern; and for the space of a moment the lights and the shadows
would be all confounded. Then it was that to the unhinged toper
and the twittering child, a huge bulk of blackness seemed to sweep
down, to pass them close by as they stood upon the bridge, and to
vanish on the farther side in the general darkness of the night.
"Plainly the devil come for Mr. Thomson!" thought the child. What
Mr. Thomson thought himself, we have no ground of knowledge; but he
fell upon his knees in the midst of the bridge like a man praying.
On the rest of the journey to the manse, history is silent; but
when they came to the door, the poor caitiff, taking the lantern
from the child, looked upon her with so lost a countenance that her
little courage died within her, and she fled home screaming to her
parents. Not a soul would venture out; all that night, the
minister dwelt alone with his terrors in the manse; and when the
day dawned, and men made bold to go about the streets, they found
the devil had come indeed for Mr. Thomson.

This manse of Anstruther Easter has another and a more cheerful
association. It was early in the morning, about a century before
the days of Mr. Thomson, that his predecessor was called out of bed
to welcome a Grandee of Spain, the Duke of Medina Sidonia, just
landed in the harbour underneath. But sure there was never seen a
more decayed grandee; sure there was never a duke welcomed from a
stranger place of exile. Half-way between Orkney and Shetland,
there lies a certain isle; on the one hand the Atlantic, on the
other the North Sea, bombard its pillared cliffs; sore-eyed, short-
living, inbred fishers and their families herd in its few huts; in
the graveyard pieces of wreck-wood stand for monuments; there is
nowhere a more inhospitable spot. BELLE-ISLE-EN-MER - Fair-Isle-
at-Sea - that is a name that has always rung in my mind's ear like
music; but the only "Fair Isle" on which I ever set my foot, was
this unhomely, rugged turret-top of submarine sierras. Here, when
his ship was broken, my lord Duke joyfully got ashore; here for
long months he and certain of his men were harboured; and it was
from this durance that he landed at last to be welcomed (as well as
such a papist deserved, no doubt) by the godly incumbent of
Anstruther Easter; and after the Fair Isle, what a fine city must
that have appeared! and after the island diet, what a hospitable
spot the minister's table! And yet he must have lived on friendly
terms with his outlandish hosts. For to this day there still
survives a relic of the long winter evenings when the sailors of
the great Armada crouched about the hearths of the Fair-Islanders,
the planks of their own lost galleon perhaps lighting up the scene,
and the gale and the surf that beat about the coast contributing
their melancholy voices. All the folk of the north isles are great
artificers of knitting: the Fair-Islanders alone dye their fabrics
in the Spanish manner. To this day, gloves and nightcaps,
innocently decorated, may be seen for sale in the Shetland
warehouse at Edinburgh, or on the Fair Isle itself in the
catechist's house; and to this day, they tell the story of the Duke
of Medina Sidonia's adventure.

It would seem as if the Fair Isle had some attraction for "persons
of quality." When I landed there myself, an elderly gentleman,
unshaved, poorly attired, his shoulders wrapped in a plaid, was
seen walking to and fro, with a book in his hand, upon the beach.
He paid no heed to our arrival, which we thought a strange thing in
itself; but when one of the officers of the PHAROS, passing
narrowly by him, observed his book to be a Greek Testament, our
wonder and interest took a higher flight. The catechist was cross-
examined; he said the gentleman had been put across some time
before in Mr. Bruce of Sumburgh's schooner, the only link between
the Fair Isle and the rest of the world; and that he held services
and was doing "good." So much came glibly enough; but when pressed
a little farther, the catechist displayed embarrassment. A
singular diffidence appeared upon his face: "They tell me," said
he, in low tones, "that he's a lord." And a lord he was; a peer of
the realm pacing that inhospitable beach with his Greek Testament,
and his plaid about his shoulders, set upon doing good, as he
understood it, worthy man! And his grandson, a good-looking little
boy, much better dressed than the lordly evangelist, and speaking
with a silken English accent very foreign to the scene, accompanied
me for a while in my exploration of the island. I suppose this
little fellow is now my lord, and wonder how much he remembers of
the Fair Isle. Perhaps not much; for he seemed to accept very
quietly his savage situation; and under such guidance, it is like
that this was not his first nor yet his last adventure.

CHAPTER VI - RANDOM MEMORIES

II. - THE EDUCATION OF AN ENGINEER

ANSTRUTHER is a place sacred to the Muse; she inspired (really to a
considerable extent) Tennant's vernacular poem ANST'ER FAIR; and I
have there waited upon her myself with much devotion. This was
when I came as a young man to glean engineering experience from the
building of the breakwater. What I gleaned, I am sure I do not
know; but indeed I had already my own private determination to be
an author; I loved the art of words and the appearances of life;
and TRAVELLERS, and HEADERS, and RUBBLE, and POLISHED ASHLAR, and
PIERRES PERDUES, and even the thrilling question of the STRING-
COURSE, interested me only (if they interested me at all) as
properties for some possible romance or as words to add to my
vocabulary. To grow a little catholic is the compensation of
years; youth is one-eyed; and in those days, though I haunted the
breakwater by day, and even loved the place for the sake of the
sunshine, the thrilling seaside air, the wash of waves on the sea-
face, the green glimmer of the divers' helmets far below, and the
musical chinking of the masons, my one genuine preoccupation lay
elsewhere, and my only industry was in the hours when I was not on
duty. I lodged with a certain Bailie Brown, a carpenter by trade;
and there, as soon as dinner was despatched, in a chamber scented
with dry rose-leaves, drew in my chair to the table and proceeded
to pour forth literature, at such a speed, and with such
intimations of early death and immortality, as I now look back upon
with wonder. Then it was that I wrote VOCES FIDELIUM, a series of
dramatic monologues in verse; then that I indited the bulk of a
covenanting novel - like so many others, never finished. Late I
sat into the night, toiling (as I thought) under the very dart of
death, toiling to leave a memory behind me. I feel moved to thrust
aside the curtain of the years, to hail that poor feverish idiot,
to bid him go to bed and clap VOCES FIDELIUM on the fire before he
goes; so clear does he appear before me, sitting there between his
candles in the rose-scented room and the late night; so ridiculous
a picture (to my elderly wisdom) does the fool present! But he was
driven to his bed at last without miraculous intervention; and the
manner of his driving sets the last touch upon this eminently
youthful business. The weather was then so warm that I must keep
the windows open; the night without was populous with moths. As
the late darkness deepened, my literary tapers beaconed forth more
brightly; thicker and thicker came the dusty night-fliers, to
gyrate for one brilliant instant round the flame and fall in
agonies upon my paper. Flesh and blood could not endure the
spectacle; to capture immortality was doubtless a noble enterprise,
but not to capture it at such a cost of suffering; and out would go
the candles, and off would I go to bed in the darkness raging to
think that the blow might fall on the morrow, and there was VOCES
FIDELIUM still incomplete. Well, the moths are - all gone, and
VOCES FIDELIUM along with them; only the fool is still on hand and
practises new follies.

Only one thing in connection with the harbour tempted me, and that
was the diving, an experience I burned to taste of. But this was
not to be, at least in Anstruther; and the subject involves a
change of scene to the sub-arctic town of Wick. You can never have
dwelt in a country more unsightly than that part of Caithness, the
land faintly swelling, faintly falling, not a tree, not a hedgerow,
the fields divided by single slate stones set upon their edge, the
wind always singing in your ears and (down the long road that led
nowhere) thrumming in the telegraph wires. Only as you approached
the coast was there anything to stir the heart. The plateau broke
down to the North Sea in formidable cliffs, the tall out-stacks
rose like pillars ringed about with surf, the coves were over-
brimmed with clamorous froth, the sea-birds screamed, the wind sang
in the thyme on the cliff's edge; here and there, small ancient
castles toppled on the brim; here and there, it was possible to dip
into a dell of shelter, where you might lie and tell yourself you
were a little warm, and hear (near at hand) the whin-pods bursting
in the afternoon sun, and (farther off) the rumour of the turbulent
sea. As for Wick itself, it is one of the meanest of man's towns,
and situate certainly on the baldest of God's bays. It lives for
herring, and a strange sight it is to see (of an afternoon) the
heights of Pulteney blackened by seaward-looking fishers, as when a
city crowds to a review - or, as when bees have swarmed, the ground
is horrible with lumps and clusters; and a strange sight, and a
beautiful, to see the fleet put silently out against a rising moon,
the sea-line rough as a wood with sails, and ever and again and one
after another, a boat flitting swiftly by the silver disk. This
mass of fishers, this great fleet of boats, is out of all
proportion to the town itself; and the oars are manned and the nets
hauled by immigrants from the Long Island (as we call the outer
Hebrides), who come for that season only, and depart again, if "the
take" be poor, leaving debts behind them. In a bad year, the end
of the herring fishery is therefore an exciting time; fights are
common, riots often possible; an apple knocked from a child's hand
was once the signal for something like a war; and even when I was
there, a gunboat lay in the bay to assist the authorities. To
contrary interests, it should be observed, the curse of Babel is
here added; the Lews men are Gaelic speakers. Caithness has
adopted English; an odd circumstance, if you reflect that both must
be largely Norsemen by descent. I remember seeing one of the
strongest instances of this division: a thing like a Punch-and-
Judy box erected on the flat grave-stones of the churchyard; from
the hutch or proscenium - I know not what to call it - an eldritch-
looking preacher laying down the law in Gaelic about some one of
the name of POWL, whom I at last divined to be the apostle to the
Gentiles; a large congregation of the Lews men very devoutly
listening; and on the outskirts of the crowd, some of the town's
children (to whom the whole affair was Greek and Hebrew) profanely
playing tigg. The same descent, the same country, the same narrow
sect of the same religion, and all these bonds made very largely
nugatory by an accidental difference of dialect!

Into the bay of Wick stretched the dark length of the unfinished
breakwater, in its cage of open staging; the travellers (like
frames of churches) over-plumbing all; and away at the extreme end,
the divers toiling unseen on the foundation. On a platform of
loose planks, the assistants turned their air-mills; a stone might
be swinging between wind and water; underneath the swell ran gaily;
and from time to time, a mailed dragon with a window-glass snout
came dripping up the ladder. Youth is a blessed season after all;
my stay at Wick was in the year of VOCES FIDELIUM and the rose-leaf
room at Bailie Brown's; and already I did not care two straws for
literary glory. Posthumous ambition perhaps requires an atmosphere
of roses; and the more rugged excitant of Wick east winds had made
another boy of me. To go down in the diving-dress, that was my
absorbing fancy; and with the countenance of a certain handsome
scamp of a diver, Bob Bain by name, I gratified the whim.

It was gray, harsh, easterly weather, the swell ran pretty high,
and out in the open there were "skipper's daughters," when I found
myself at last on the diver's platform, twenty pounds of lead upon
each foot and my whole person swollen with ply and ply of woollen
underclothing. One moment, the salt wind was whistling round my
night-capped head; the next, I was crushed almost double under the
weight of the helmet. As that intolerable burthern was laid upon
me, I could have found it in my heart (only for shame's sake) to
cry off from the whole enterprise. But it was too late. The
attendants began to turn the hurdy-gurdy, and the air to whistle
through the tube; some one screwed in the barred window of the
vizor; and I was cut off in a moment from my fellow-men; standing
there in their midst, but quite divorced from intercourse: a
creature deaf and dumb, pathetically looking forth upon them from a
climate of his own. Except that I could move and feel, I was like
a man fallen in a catalepsy. But time was scarce given me to
realise my isolation; the weights were hung upon my back and
breast, the signal rope was thrust into my unresisting hand; and
setting a twenty-pound foot upon the ladder, I began ponderously to
descend.

Some twenty rounds below the platform, twilight fell. Looking up,
I saw a low green heaven mottled with vanishing bells of white;
looking around, except for the weedy spokes and shafts of the
ladder, nothing but a green gloaming, somewhat opaque but very
restful and delicious. Thirty rounds lower, I stepped off on the
PIERRES PERDUES of the foundation; a dumb helmeted figure took me
by the hand, and made a gesture (as I read it) of encouragement;
and looking in at the creature's window, I beheld the face of Bain.
There we were, hand to hand and (when it pleased us) eye to eye;
and either might have burst himself with shouting, and not a
whisper come to his companion's hearing. Each, in his own little
world of air, stood incommunicably separate.

Bob had told me ere this a little tale, a five minutes' drama at
the bottom of the sea, which at that moment possibly shot across my
mind. He was down with another, settling a stone of the sea-wall.
They had it well adjusted, Bob gave the signal, the scissors were
slipped, the stone set home; and it was time to turn to something
else. But still his companion remained bowed over the block like a
mourner on a tomb, or only raised himself to make absurd
contortions and mysterious signs unknown to the vocabulary of the
diver. There, then, these two stood for awhile, like the dead and
the living; till there flashed a fortunate thought into Bob's mind,
and he stooped, peered through the window of that other world, and
beheld the face of its inhabitant wet with streaming tears. Ah!
the man was in pain! And Bob, glancing downward, saw what was the
trouble: the block had been lowered on the foot of that
unfortunate - he was caught alive at the bottom of the sea under
fifteen tons of rock.

That two men should handle a stone so heavy, even swinging in the
scissors, may appear strange to the inexpert. These must bear in
mind the great density of the water of the sea, and the surprising
results of transplantation to that medium. To understand a little
what these are, and how a man's weight, so far from being an
encumbrance, is the very ground of his agility, was the chief
lesson of my submarine experience. The knowledge came upon me by
degrees. As I began to go forward with the hand of my estranged
companion, a world of tumbled stones was visible, pillared with the
weedy uprights of the staging: overhead, a flat roof of green: a
little in front, the sea-wall, like an unfinished rampart. And
presently in our upward progress, Bob motioned me to leap upon a
stone; I looked to see if he were possibly in earnest, and he only
signed to me the more imperiously. Now the block stood six feet
high; it would have been quite a leap to me unencumbered; with the
breast and back weights, and the twenty pounds upon each foot, and
the staggering load of the helmet, the thing was out of reason. I
laughed aloud in my tomb; and to prove to Bob how far he was
astray, I gave a little impulse from my toes. Up I soared like a
bird, my companion soaring at my side. As high as to the stone,
and then higher, I pursued my impotent and empty flight. Even when
the strong arm of Bob had checked my shoulders, my heels continued
their ascent; so that I blew out sideways like an autumn leaf, and
must be hauled in, hand over hand, as sailors haul in the slack of
a sail, and propped upon my feet again like an intoxicated sparrow.
Yet a little higher on the foundation, and we began to be affected
by the bottom of the swell, running there like a strong breeze of
wind. Or so I must suppose; for, safe in my cushion of air, I was
conscious of no impact; only swayed idly like a weed, and was now
borne helplessly abroad, and now swiftly - and yet with dream-like
gentleness - impelled against my guide. So does a child's balloon
divagate upon the currents of the air, and touch, and slide off
again from every obstacle. So must have ineffectually swung, so
resented their inefficiency, those light crowds that followed the
Star of Hades, and uttered exiguous voices in the land beyond
Cocytus.

There was something strangely exasperating, as well as strangely
wearying, in these uncommanded evolutions. It is bitter to return
to infancy, to be supported, and directed, and perpetually set upon
your feet, by the hand of some one else. The air besides, as it is
supplied to you by the busy millers on the platform, closes the
eustachian tubes and keeps the neophyte perpetually swallowing,
till his throat is grown so dry that he can swallow no longer. And
for all these reasons-although I had a fine, dizzy, muddle-headed
joy in my surroundings, and longed, and tried, and always failed,
to lay hands on the fish that darted here and there about me, swift
as humming-birds - yet I fancy I was rather relieved than otherwise
when Bain brought me back to the ladder and signed to me to mount.
And there was one more experience before me even then. Of a
sudden, my ascending head passed into the trough of a swell. Out
of the green, I shot at once into a glory of rosy, almost of
sanguine light - the multitudinous seas incarnadined, the heaven
above a vault of crimson. And then the glory faded into the hard,
ugly daylight of a Caithness autumn, with a low sky, a gray sea,
and a whistling wind.

Bob Bain had five shillings for his trouble, and I had done what I
desired. It was one of the best things I got from my education as
an engineer: of which, however, as a way of life, I wish to speak
with sympathy. It takes a man into the open air; it keeps him
hanging about harbour-sides, which is the richest form of idling;
it carries him to wild islands; it gives him a taste of the genial
dangers of the sea; it supplies him with dexterities to exercise;
it makes demands upon his ingenuity; it will go far to cure him of
any taste (if ever he had one) for the miserable life of cities.
And when it has done so, it carries him back and shuts him in an
office! From the roaring skerry and the wet thwart of the tossing
boat, he passes to the stool and desk; and with a memory full of
ships, and seas, and perilous headlands, and the shining pharos, he
must apply his long-sighted eyes to the petty niceties of drawing,
or measure his inaccurate mind with several pages of consecutive
figures. He is a wise youth, to be sure, who can balance one part
of genuine life against two parts of drudgery between four walls,
and for the sake of the one, manfully accept the other.

Wick was scarce an eligible place of stay. But how much better it
was to hang in the cold wind upon the pier, to go down with Bob
Bain among the roots of the staging, to be all day in a boat
coiling a wet rope and shouting orders - not always very wise -
than to be warm and dry, and dull, and dead-alive, in the most
comfortable office. And Wick itself had in those days a note of
originality. It may have still, but I misdoubt it much. The old
minister of Keiss would not preach, in these degenerate times, for
an hour and a half upon the clock. The gipsies must be gone from
their cavern; where you might see, from the mouth, the women
tending their fire, like Meg Merrilies, and the men sleeping off
their coarse potations; and where, in winter gales, the surf would
beleaguer them closely, bursting in their very door. A traveller
to-day upon the Thurso coach would scarce observe a little cloud of
smoke among the moorlands, and be told, quite openly, it marked a
private still. He would not indeed make that journey, for there is
now no Thurso coach. And even if he could, one little thing that
happened to me could never happen to him, or not with the same
trenchancy of contrast.

We had been upon the road all evening; the coach-top was crowded
with Lews fishers going home, scarce anything but Gaelic had
sounded in my ears; and our way had lain throughout over a moorish
country very northern to behold. Latish at night, though it was
still broad day in our subarctic latitude, we came down upon the
shores of the roaring Pentland Firth, that grave of mariners; on
one hand, the cliffs of Dunnet Head ran seaward; in front was the
little bare, white town of Castleton, its streets full of blowing
sand; nothing beyond, but the North Islands, the great deep, and
the perennial ice-fields of the Pole. And here, in the last
imaginable place, there sprang up young outlandish voices and a
chatter of some foreign speech; and I saw, pursuing the coach with
its load of Hebridean fishers - as they had pursued VETTURINI up
the passes of the Apennines or perhaps along the grotto under
Virgil's tomb - two little dark-eyed, white-toothed Italian
vagabonds, of twelve to fourteen years of age, one with a hurdy-
gurdy, the other with a cage of white mice. The coach passed on,
and their small Italian chatter died in the distance; and I was
left to marvel how they had wandered into that country, and how
they fared in it, and what they thought of it, and when (if ever)
they should see again the silver wind-breaks run among the olives,
and the stone-pine stand guard upon Etruscan sepulchres.

Upon any American, the strangeness of this incident is somewhat
lost. For as far back as he goes in his own land, he will find
some alien camping there; the Cornish miner, the French or Mexican
half-blood, the negro in the South, these are deep in the woods and
far among the mountains. But in an old, cold, and rugged country
such as mine, the days of immigration are long at an end; and away
up there, which was at that time far beyond the northernmost
extreme of railways, hard upon the shore of that ill-omened strait
of whirlpools, in a land of moors where no stranger came, unless it
should be a sportsman to shoot grouse or an antiquary to decipher
runes, the presence of these small pedestrians struck the mind as
though a bird-of-paradise had risen from the heather or an
albatross come fishing in the bay of Wick. They were as strange to
their surroundings as my lordly evangelist or the old Spanish
grandee on the Fair Isle.

CHAPTER VII - THE LANTERN-BEARERS

I

THESE boys congregated every autumn about a certain easterly
fisher-village, where they tasted in a high degree the glory of
existence. The place was created seemingly on purpose for the
diversion of young gentlemen. A street or two of houses, mostly
red and many of, them tiled; a number of fine trees clustered about
the manse and the kirkyard, and turning the chief street into a
shady alley; many little gardens more than usually bright with
flowers; nets a-drying, and fisher-wives scolding in the backward
parts; a smell of fish, a genial smell of seaweed; whiffs of
blowing sand at the street-corners; shops with golf-balls and
bottled lollipops; another shop with penny pickwicks (that
remarkable cigar) and the LONDON JOURNAL, dear to me for its
startling pictures, and a few novels, dear for their suggestive
names: such, as well as memory serves me, were the ingredients of
the town. These, you are to conceive posted on a spit between two
sandy bays, and sparsely flanked with villas enough for the boys to
lodge in with their subsidiary parents, not enough (not yet enough)
to cocknify the scene: a haven in the rocks in front: in front of
that, a file of gray islets: to the left, endless links and sand
wreaths, a wilderness of hiding-holes, alive with popping rabbits
and soaring gulls: to the right, a range of seaward crags, one
rugged brow beyond another; the ruins of a mighty and ancient
fortress on the brink of one; coves between - now charmed into
sunshine quiet, now whistling with wind and clamorous with bursting
surges; the dens and sheltered hollows redolent of thyme and
southernwood, the air at the cliff's edge brisk and clean and
pungent of the sea - in front of all, the Bass Rock, tilted seaward
like a doubtful bather, the surf ringing it with white, the solan-
geese hanging round its summit like a great and glittering smoke.
This choice piece of seaboard was sacred, besides, to the wrecker;
and the Bass, in the eye of fancy, still flew the colours of King
James; and in the ear of fancy the arches of Tantallon still rang
with horse-shoe iron, and echoed to the commands of Bell-the-Cat.

There was nothing to mar your days, if you were a boy summering in
that part, but the embarrassment of pleasure. You might golf if
you wanted; but I seem to have been better employed. You might
secrete yourself in the Lady's Walk, a certain sunless dingle of
elders, all mossed over by the damp as green as grass, and dotted
here and there by the stream-side with roofless walls, the cold
homes of anchorites. To fit themselves for life, and with a
special eye to acquire the art of smoking, it was even common for
the boys to harbour there; and you might have seen a single penny
pickwick, honestly shared in lengths with a blunt knife, bestrew
the glen with these apprentices. Again, you might join our fishing
parties, where we sat perched as thick as solan-geese, a covey of
little anglers, boy and girl, angling over each other's heads, to
the to the much entanglement of lines and loss of podleys and
consequent shrill recrimination - shrill as the geese themselves.
Indeed, had that been all, you might have done this often; but
though fishing be a fine pastime, the podley is scarce to be
regarded as a dainty for the table; and it was a point of honour
that a boy should eat all that he had taken. Or again, you might
climb the Law, where the whale's jawbone stood landmark in the
buzzing wind, and behold the face of many counties, and the smoke
and spires of many towns, and the sails of distant ships. You
might bathe, now in the flaws of fine weather, that we pathetically
call our summer, now in a gale of wind, with the sand scourging
your bare hide, your clothes thrashing abroad from underneath their
guardian stone, the froth of the great breakers casting you
headlong ere it had drowned your knees. Or you might explore the
tidal rocks, above all in the ebb of springs, when the very roots
of the hills were for the nonce discovered; following my leader
from one group to another, groping in slippery tangle for the wreck
of ships, wading in pools after the abominable creatures of the
sea, and ever with an eye cast backward on the march off the tide
and the menaced line of your retreat. And then you might go
Crusoeing, a word that covers all extempore eating in the open air:
digging perhaps a house under the margin of the links, kindling a
fire of the sea-ware, and cooking apples there - if they were truly
apples, for I sometimes suppose the merchant must have played us
off with some inferior and quite local fruit capable of resolving,
in the neighbourhood of fire, into mere sand and smoke and iodine;
or perhaps pushing to Tantallon, you might lunch on sandwiches and
visions in the grassy court, while the wind hummed in the crumbling
turrets; or clambering along the coast, eat geans (the worst, I
must suppose, in Christendom) from an adventurous gean tree that
had taken root under a cliff, where it was shaken with an ague of
east wind, and silvered after gales with salt, and grew so foreign
among its bleak surroundings that to eat of its produce was an
adventure in itself.

There are mingled some dismal memories with so many that were
joyous. Of the fisher-wife, for instance, who had cut her throat
at Canty Bay; and of how I ran with the other children to the top
of the Quadrant, and beheld a posse of silent people escorting a
cart, and on the cart, bound in a chair, her throat bandaged, and
the bandage all bloody - horror! - the fisher-wife herself, who
continued thenceforth to hag-ride my thoughts, and even to-day (as
I recall the scene) darkens daylight. She was lodged in the little
old jail in the chief street; but whether or no she died there,
with a wise terror of the worst, I never inquired. She had been
tippling; it was but a dingy tragedy; and it seems strange and hard
that, after all these years, the poor crazy sinner should be still
pilloried on her cart in the scrap-book of my memory. Nor shall I
readily forget a certain house in the Quadrant where a visitor
died, and a dark old woman continued to dwell alone with the dead
body; nor how this old woman conceived a hatred to myself and one
of my cousins, and in the dread hour of the dusk, as we were
clambering on the garden-walls, opened a window in that house of
mortality and cursed us in a shrill voice and with a marrowy choice
of language. It was a pair of very colourless urchins that fled
down the lane from this remarkable experience! But I recall with a
more doubtful sentiment, compounded out of fear and exultation, the
coil of equinoctial tempests; trumpeting squalls, scouring flaws of
rain; the boats with their reefed lugsails scudding for the harbour
mouth, where danger lay, for it was hard to make when the wind had
any east in it; the wives clustered with blowing shawls at the
pier-head, where (if fate was against them) they might see boat and
husband and sons - their whole wealth and their whole family -
engulfed under their eyes; and (what I saw but once) a troop of
neighbours forcing such an unfortunate homeward, and she squalling
and battling in their midst, a figure scarcely human, a tragic
Maenad.

These are things that I recall with interest; but what my memory
dwells upon the most, I have been all this while withholding. It
was a sport peculiar to the place, and indeed to a week or so of
our two months' holiday there. Maybe it still flourishes in its
native spot; for boys and their pastimes are swayed by periodic
forces inscrutable to man; so that tops and marbles reappear in
their due season, regular like the sun and moon; and the harmless
art of knucklebones has seen the fall of the Roman empire and the
rise of the United States. It may still flourish in its native
spot, but nowhere else, I am persuaded; for I tried myself to
introduce it on Tweedside, and was defeated lamentably; its charm
being quite local, like a country wine that cannot be exported.

The idle manner of it was this:-

Toward the end of September, when school-time was drawing near and
the nights were already black, we would begin to sally from our-
respective villas, each equipped with a tin bull's-eye lantern.
The thing was so well known that it had worn a rut in the commerce
of Great Britain; and the grocers, about the due time, began to
garnish their windows with our particular brand of luminary. We
wore them buckled to the waist upon a cricket belt, and over them,
such was the rigour of the game, a buttoned top-coat. They smelled
noisomely of blistered tin; they never burned aright, though they
would always burn our fingers; their use was naught; the pleasure
of them merely fanciful; and yet a boy with a bull's-eye under his
top-coat asked for nothing more. The fishermen used lanterns about
their boats, and it was from them, I suppose, that we had got the
hint; but theirs were not bull's-eyes, nor did we ever play at
being fishermen. The police carried them at their belts, and we
had plainly copied them in that; yet we did not pretend to be
policemen. Burglars, indeed, we may have had some haunting
thoughts of; and we had certainly an eye to past ages when lanterns
were more common, and to certain story-books in which we had found
them to figure very largely. But take it for all in all, the
pleasure of the thing was substantive; and to be a boy with a
bull's-eye under his top-coat was good enough for us.

When two of these asses met, there would be an anxious "Have you
got your lantern?" and a gratified "Yes!" That was the shibboleth,
and very needful too; for, as it was the rule to keep our glory
contained, none could recognise a lantern-bearer, unless (like the
polecat) by the smell. Four or five would sometimes climb into the
belly of a ten-man lugger, with nothing but the thwarts above them
- for the cabin was usually locked, or choose out some hollow of

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