In Pursuit of Spring
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IN PURSUIT OF SPRING
IN PURSUIT OF
THOMAS NELSON AND SONS
LONDON, EDINBURGH, DUBLIN
AND NEW YORK.
VIVIAN LOCKE ELLIS
First Published April 1914
|I.||In Search of Spring||9|
|II.||The Start: London to Guildford||34|
|III.||Guildford to Dunbridge||76|
|IV.||From Dunbridge over Salisbury Plain||128|
|V.||Three Wessex Poets||180|
|VI.||The Avon, the Biss, the Frome||199|
|VII.||Trowbridge to Shepton Mallet||216|
|VIII.||Shepton Mallet to Bridgwater||235|
|IX.||Bridgwater to the Sea||265|
|X.||The Grave of Winter||290|
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
From Drawings by Ernest Hazelhurst.
IN PURSUIT OF SPRING.
IN SEARCH OF SPRING.
This is the record of a journey from Londonto the Quantock Hills—to Nether Stowey,Kilve, Crowcombe, and West Bagborough, to thehigh point where the Taunton-Bridgwater roadtops the hills and shows all Exmoor behind, all theMendips before, and upon the left the sea, andWales very far off. It was a journey on or with abicycle. The season was Easter, a March Easter.“A North-Easter, probably?” No. Nor didmuch north-east go to the making of it. I willgive its pedigree briefly, going back only a month—thatis, to the days when I began to calculate, orguess methodically, what the weather would belike at Easter.
Perhaps it was rather more than a month beforeEaster that a false Spring visited London. But Iwill go back first a little earlier, to one of thosegreat and notable days after the turn of the yearthat win the heart so, without deceiving it.
The wind blew from the north-west with suchpeace and energy together as to call up the imageof a good giant striding along with superb gestures—likethose of a sower sowing. The wind blew andthe sun shone over London. A myriad roofslaughed together in the light. The smoke and theflags, yellow and blue and white, waved tumultuously,straining for joy to leave the chimneys andthe flagstaffs, like hounds sighting their quarry.The ranges of cloud bathing their lower slopes inthe brown mist of the horizon had the majesty ofgreat hills, the coolness and sweetness and whitenessof the foam on the crests of the crystal fountains,and they were burning with light. Theclouds did honour to the city, which they encircledas with heavenly ramparts. The stone towers andspires were soft, and luminous as old porcelain.There was no substance to be seen that was notmade precious by the strong wind and the lightdivine. All was newly built to a great idea. Theflags were waving to salute the festal opening ofthe gates in those white walls to a people thatshould presently surge in and onward to takepossession. Princely was to be the life that hadthis amphitheatre of clouds and palaces for itsdisplay.
Of human things, only music—if human it canbe called—was fit to match this joyousness andthis stateliness. What, I thought, if the pompof river and roof and cloudy mountain wallsof the world be made ready, as so often theyhad been before, only for the joy of the invisiblegods? For who has not known a day whensome notable festival is manifestly celebrated bya most rare nobleness in the ways of the clouds,the colours of the woods, the glitter of thewaters, yet on earth all has been as it was wontto be?
So far, the life of men moving to and fro acrossthe bridges was like the old life that I knew, though,down below, upon the sparkling waters many birdswere alighting, or were already seated like wondrousblossoms upon the bulwarks of a barge painted inparrot colours—red and green. When would theentry begin?
In the streets, for the present, the roar continuedof the inhuman masses of humanity, amidst whicha child’s crying for a toy was an impertinence, aterrible pretty interruption of the violent movingswoon. Between the millions and the one noagreement was visible. The wind summoned thecolour in a girl’s cheeks. There, one smiled withinward bliss. Another talked serenely with lovelysoft mouth and wide eyes that saw only one otherpair as the man next her bent his head nearer.The wind wagged the tails of blue or brown furabout the forms of luxurious tall women, andpoured wine into their bodies, so that their complexionsglowed under their violet hats. But inone moment the passing loveliness of spirit, orform, or gesture, sank and was drowned in theoceanic multitude. A boy had just met his fatherat a railway station, and was glad; he held theman’s hand, and was trotting gently, trying to gethim to run—he failed: then in delight put his armto his father’s waist and was carried along thus,half lifted from the ground, for several yards,smiling and chattering like a bird on a wavingbranch. The two obstructed others, who tooka step to left or right in disdain or impatience.Only a child at an alley entrance saw andlaughed, wishing she were his sister, and hadhis father. A moment, and these also wereswallowed up.
I came to broader pavements. Here was lesshaste; and women went in and out of the crowd,not only parallel to the street, but crosswise hereand there; and a man could go at any pace, notof necessity the crowd’s. Some of the most beautifulcivilized women of the world moved slowlyand musically in an intricate pattern, which anyone could watch freely; they had a background oflustrous jewellery, metal-work and glass, gorgeouscloths and silks, and many had a foil in the stiffblack and white male figures beside them. Theymoved without fear. Stately, costly, tender,beautiful, nevertheless, though so near, they wereseen as in a magic crystal that enshrines the remoteand the long dead. They walked as indream, regardlessly smiling. They cast their proudor kind eyes hither and thither. Once in the intenselight of a jeweller’s shop, spangled withpearls, diamonds, and gold, a large red hand, coldand not quite clean, appeared from within, holdingin three fearful, careful fingers a brooch of goldand diamonds, which it placed among the others,and then withdrew itself slowly, tremulously, lestit should work harm to those dazzling cressets.The eyes of the women watched the brooch: thered hand need not have been so fearful; it wasunseen—the soul was hid. Straight through thewomen, in the middle of the broad pavement, andvery slowly, went an old man. He was short, and hispatched overcoat fell in a parallelogram from hisshoulders almost to the pavement. From underneathhis little cap massive gray curls sproutedand spread over his upturned collar. Just belowthe fringe of his coat his bare heels glowed red.His hands rested deep in his pockets. His facewas almost concealed by curls and collar: all thatshowed itself was the glazed cold red of his cheeksand large, straight nose, and the glitter of grayeyes that looked neither to left nor to right, butahead and somewhat down. Not a sound did hemake, save the flap of rotten leather against feetwhich he scarcely raised lest the shoes should falloff. Doubtless the composer of the harmonies ofthis day could have made use of the old man—doubtlesshe did; but as it was a feast day of thegods, not of men, I did not understand. Aroundthis figure, clad in complete hue of poverty, thedance of women in violet and black, cinnamonand green, tawny and gray, scarlet and slate, andthe browns and golden browns of animals’ fur, woveitself fantastically. The dance heeded him not, norhe the dance. The sun shone bright. The windblew and waved the smoke and the flags wildlyagainst the sky. The horses curved their stoutnecks, showing their teeth, trampling, massinghead by head in rank and cluster, a frieze as magnificentas the procession of white clouds gilded,rolling along the horizon.
That evening, without thought of Spring, I beganto look at my maps. Spring would come, of course—nothing,I supposed, could prevent it—and Ishould have to make up my mind how to go westward.Whatever I did, Salisbury Plain was to becrossed, not of necessity but of choice; it was, however,hard to decide whether to go reasonablydiagonally in accordance with my western purpose,or to meander up the Avon, now on one side nowon the other, by one of the parallel river-side roads,as far as Amesbury. Having got to Amesbury,there would be much provocation to continue upthe river among those thatched villages to Upavonand to Stephen Duck’s village, Charlton, and thePewsey valley, and so, turning again westward, insight of that very tame White Horse above AltonPriors, to include Urchfont and Devizes.
Or, again, I might follow up the Wylye westwardfrom Salisbury, and have always below methe river and its hamlets and churches, the wallof the Plain always above me on the right. ThusI should come to Warminster and to the grandwest wall of the Plain which overhangs the town.
The obvious way was to strike north-west overthe Plain from Stapleford up the Winterbourne,through cornland and sheepland, by Shrewtonand Tilshead, and down again to other watersat West Lavington. Or at Shrewton I could turnsharp to the west, and so visit solitary Chitterneand solitary Imber.
I could not decide. If I went on foot, I coulddo as I liked on the Plain. There are green roadsleading from everywhere to everywhere. But, onthe other hand, it might be necessary at that timeof year to keep walking all day, which would meanat least thirty miles a day, which was more than Iwas inclined for. The false Spring, the weatherthat really deluded me to think it shameful notto trust it, came a month later, and one of itsbest days was in London.
Many days in London have no weather. We areaware only that it is hot or cold, dry or wet; thatwe are in or out of doors; that we are at ease ornot. This was not one of them. Rain lashed andwind roared in the night, enveloping my room ina turbulent embrace as if it had been a tinyship in a great sea, instead of one pigeon-hole ina thousand-fold columbarium deep in London.Dawn awakened me with its tranquillity. The airwas sombrely sweet; there was a lucidity under thegloom of the clouds; the air barely heaved withthe ebb of storm; and even when the sun wasrisen it seemed still twilight. The jangle of thetraffic made a wall round about the quiet in whichI lay embedded. I scarcely heard the sound ofit; but I could not forget the wall. Within thecircle of quiet a parrot sang the street songs oftwenty years ago very clearly, over and overagain, almost as sweetly as a blackbird. I hadheard him many times before, but now he sangdifferently—I did not know or consider how orwhy. The song was different as the air was. YetI could not directly feel the air, because the windowswere tightly shut against the soot of fourneighbouring chimney-stacks.
Out of doors the business and pleasure of the daykept me a close though a moving prisoner. Allthe morning and afternoon I was glad to see onlyone thing that was not a human face. It was aportico of high fluted columns rising in a cliff abovean expanse of gravel walks and turf. The graycolumns were blackened with soot splashes. Thegrass and the stone were touched with the