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    Chapter 3

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    Chapter 3
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    Walking and Cycling

    We know that there cannot be progression without
    retrogression, or gain with no corresponding loss; and often
    on my wheel, when flying along the roads at a reckless rate of
    very nearly nine miles an hour, I have regretted that time of
    limitations, galling to me then, when I was compelled to go on
    foot. I am a walker still, but with other means of getting
    about I do not feel so native to the earth as formerly. That
    is a loss. Yet a poorer walker it would have been hard to
    find, and on even my most prolonged wanderings the end of each
    day usually brought extreme fatigue. This, too, although my
    only companion was slow--slower than the poor proverbial snail
    or tortoise--and I would leave her half a mile or so behind to
    force my way through unkept hedges, climb hills, and explore
    woods and thickets to converse with every bird and shy little
    beast and scaly creature I could discover. But mark what
    follows. In the late afternoon I would be back in the road or
    footpath, satisfied to go slow, then slower still, until--the
    snail in woman shape would be obliged to slacken her pace to
    keep me company, and even to stand still at intervals to give
    me needful rest.

    But there were compensations, and one, perhaps the best of
    all, was that this method of seeing the country made us more
    intimate with the people we met and stayed with. They were
    mostly poor people, cottagers in small remote villages; and
    we, too, were poor, often footsore, in need of their
    ministrations, and nearer to them on that account than if we
    had travelled in a more comfortable way. I can recall a
    hundred little adventures we met with during those wanderings,
    when we walked day after day, without map or guide-book as our
    custom was, not knowing where the evening would find us, but
    always confident that the people to whom it would fall in the
    end to shelter us would prove interesting to know and would
    show us a kindness that money could not pay for. Of these
    hundred little incidents let me relate one.

    It was near the end of a long summer day when we arrived at a
    small hamlet of about a dozen cottages on the edge of an
    extensive wood--a forest it is called; and, coming to it, we
    said that here we must stay, even if we had to spend the night
    sitting in a porch. The men and women we talked to all
    assured us that they did not know of anyone who could take us
    in, but there was Mr. Brownjohn, who kept the shop, and was
    the right person to apply to. Accordingly we went to the
    little general shop and heard that Mr. Brownjohn was not at
    home. His housekeeper, a fat, dark, voluble woman with
    prominent black eyes, who minded the shop in the master's
    absence, told us that Mr. Brownjohn had gone to a neighbouring
    farm-house on important business, but was expected back
    shortly. We waited, and by and by he returned, a shabbily
    dressed, weak-looking little old man, with pale blue eyes and
    thin yellowish white hair. He could not put us up, he said,
    he had no room in his cottage; there was nothing for us but to
    go on to the next place, a village three miles distant, on the
    chance of finding a bed there. We assured him that we could
    go no further, and after revolving the matter a while longer
    he again said that we could not stay, as there was not a room
    to be had in the place since poor Mrs. Flowerdew had her
    trouble. She had a spare room and used to take in a lodger
    occasionally, and a good handy woman she was too; but now--no,
    Mrs. Flowerdew could not take us in. We questioned him, and
    he said that no one had died there and there had been no
    illness. They were all quite well at Mrs. Flowerdew's; the
    trouble was of another kind. There was no more to be said
    about it.

    As nothing further could be got out of him we went in search
    of Mrs. Flowerdew herself, and found her in a pretty
    vine-clad cottage. She was a young woman, very poorly
    dressed, with a pleasing but careworn face, and she had four
    small, bright, healthy, happy-faced children. They were all
    grouped round her as she stood in the doorway to speak to us,
    and they too were poorly dressed and poorly shod. When we
    told our tale she appeared ready to burst into tears. Oh, how
    unfortunate it was that she could not take us in! It would
    have made her so happy, and the few shillings would have been
    such a blessing! But what could she do now--the landlord's
    agent had put in a distress and carried off and sold all her
    best things. Every stick out of her nice spare room had been
    taken from them! Oh, it was cruel!

    As we wished to hear more she told us the whole story. They
    had got behindhand with the rent, but that had often been the
    case, only this time it happened that the agent wanted a
    cottage for a person he wished to befriend, and so gave them
    notice to quit. But her husband was a high-spirited man and
    determined to stick to his rights, so he informed the agent
    that he refused to move until he received compensation for his

    Questioned about these improvements, she led us through to the
    back to show us the ground, about half an acre in extent, part
    of which was used as a paddock for the donkey, and on the
    other part there were about a dozen rather sickly-looking
    young fruit trees. Her husband, she said, had planted the
    orchard and kept the fence of the paddock in order, and they
    refused to compensate him! Then she took us up to the spare
    room, empty of furniture, the floor thick with dust. The bed,
    table, chairs, washhandstand, toilet service--the things she
    had been so long struggling to get together, saving her money
    for months and months, and making so many journeys to the town
    to buy--all, all he had taken away and sold for almost

    Then, actually with tears in her eyes, she said that now we
    knew why she couldn't take us in--why she had to seem so

    But we are going to stay, we told her. It was a very good
    room; she could surely get a few things to put in it, and in
    the meantime we would go and forage for provisions to last us
    till Monday.

    It is odd to find how easy it is to get what one wants by
    simply taking it! At first she was amazed at our decision,
    then she was delighted and said she would go out to her
    neighbours and try to borrow all that was wanted in the way of
    furniture and bedding. Then we returned to Mr. Brownjohn's to
    buy bread, bacon, and groceries, and he in turn sent us to Mr.
    Marling for vegetables. Mr. Marling heard us, and soberly
    taking up a spade and other implements led us out to his
    garden and dug us a mess of potatoes while we waited. In the
    meantime good Mrs. Flowerdew had not been idle, and we formed
    the idea that her neighbours must have been her debtors for
    unnumbered little kindnesses, so eager did they now appear to
    do her a good turn. Out of one cottage a woman was seen
    coming burdened with a big roll of bedding; from others
    children issued bearing cane chairs, basin and ewer, and so
    on, and when we next looked into our room we found it swept
    and scrubbed, mats on the floor, and quite comfortably

    After our meal in the small parlour, which had been given up
    to us, the family having migrated into the kitchen, we sat for
    an hour by the open window looking out on the dim forest and
    saw the moon rise--a great golden globe above the trees--and
    listened to the reeling of the nightjars. So many were the
    birds, reeling on all sides, at various distances, that the
    evening air seemed full of their sounds, far and near, like
    many low, tremulous, sustained notes blown on reeds, rising
    and falling, overlapping and mingling. And presently from
    the bushes close by, just beyond the weedy, forlorn little
    "orchard," sounded the rich, full, throbbing prelude to the
    nightingale's song, and that powerful melody that in its
    purity and brilliance invariably strikes us with surprise
    seemed to shine out, as it were, against the background of
    that diffused, mysterious purring of the nightjars, even as
    the golden disc of the moon shone against and above the
    darkening skies and dusky woods.

    And as we sat there, gazing and listening, a human voice
    came out of the night--a call prolonged and modulated like
    the coo-ee of the Australian bush, far off and faint; but
    the children in the kitchen heard it at the same time, for
    they too had been listening, and instantly went mad with

    "Father!" they all screamed together. "Father's coming!" and
    out they rushed and away they fled down the darkening road,
    exerting their full voices in shrill answering cries.

    We were anxious to see this unfortunate man, who was yet happy
    in a loving family. He had gone early in the morning in his
    donkey-cart to the little market town, fourteen miles away, to
    get the few necessaries they could afford to buy. Doubtless
    they would be very few. We had not long to wait, as the white
    donkey that drew the cart had put on a tremendous spurt at the
    end, notwithstanding that the four youngsters had climbed in
    to add to his burden. But what was our surprise to behold in
    the charioteer a tall, gaunt, grey-faced old man with long
    white hair and beard! He must have been seventy, that old man
    with a young wife and four happy bright-eyed little children!

    We could understand it better when he finally settled down in
    his corner in the kitchen and began to relate the events of
    the day, addressing his poor little wife, now busy darning
    or patching an old garment, while the children, clustered
    at his knee, listened as to a fairy tale. Certainly this
    white-haired man had not grown old in mind; he was keenly
    interested in all he saw and heard, and he had seen and heard
    much in the little market town that day. Cattle and pigs and
    sheep and shepherds and sheepdogs; farmers, shopkeepers,
    dealers, publicans, tramps, and gentlefolks in carriages and
    on horseback; shops, too, with beautiful new things in the
    windows; millinery, agricultural implements, flowers and fruit
    and vegetables; toys and books and sweeties of all colours.
    And the people he had met on the road and at market, and what
    they had said to him about the weather and their business and
    the prospects of the year, how their wives and children were,
    and the clever jokes they had made, and his own jokes, which
    were the cleverest of all. If he had just returned from
    Central Africa or from Thibet he could not have had more to
    tell them nor told it with greater zest.

    We went to our room, but until the small hours the wind of the
    old traveller's talk could still be heard at intervals from
    the kitchen, mingled with occasional shrill explosions of
    laughter from the listening children.

    It happened that on the following day, spent in idling in the
    forest and about the hamlet, conversing with the cottagers, we
    were told that our old man was a bit of a humbug; that he was
    a great talker, with a hundred schemes for the improvement
    of his fortunes, and, incidently, for the benefit of his
    neighbours and the world at large; but nothing came of it all
    and he was now fast sinking into the lowest depths of poverty.
    Yet who would blame him? 'Tis the nature of the gorse to be
    "unprofitably gay." All that, however, is a question for the
    moralist; the point now is that in walking, even in that poor
    way, when, on account of physical weakness, it was often a
    pain and weariness, there are alleviations which may be more
    to us than positive pleasures, and scenes to delight the eye
    that are missed by the wheelman in his haste, or but dimly
    seen or vaguely surmised in passing--green refreshing nooks
    and crystal streamlets, and shadowy woodland depths with
    glimpses of a blue sky beyond--all in the wilderness of the
    human heart.
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