And Back Again–”My Antique Travel Blog”
I’ve decided to undertake a typing project. I am motivated primarily by the discovery that keeping a current blog is, in my present state, impossible. So I’ve gone to the Box.
And one of the things I’ve found there has generated a second motivation. The manuscript that follows was written prior to word processors, and exists, now, only in the single typescript before me. I go to the lengths of rendering it into electronic memory not so much because I think the world has any need of it or will even notice it, but out of that universal need of clams to leave their shells behind.
Nothing I’ve ever written was more torturously achieved. The events that inspired the following pages were lived by me for two and a half years in the late 70s when I was a roving English instructor for the University of Maryland, European Division. Notice I say “inspired,” because the account is fiction and not without ravings and flights of fancy. Be that as it may, when I returned to these shores in 1980, I started a printing business—and anyone who is interested in that experience, or certain features of the year 1980 itself, is directed to my novel The Next Passing—which I ran until the tragic explosion of Challenger in January, 1986. The first couple of years were unrelenting labor. But about the third year, I hired a helper (Diane, I still love you, where are you?) who, seeing my growing desperation, convinced me to begin taking mornings to return to my true love of writing. I attempted to do so, and the result was this wayward chronicle. The difficulty of the work lay in the ceaseless interruptions, and in the never-absent, gnawing anxiety experienced by any small business owner and so inimical to the enterprise of art. I might write for a few days running—then a crisis would descend upon me and I might not return to the task for weeks. Then I would have to find the thread again, and renew the momentum essential to the scribe engaged in a lengthy project, only to have it, inevitably, thwarted once more.
I worked on the thing, originally titled Und Zurϋck, for probably two or three years, off and on—the years ’83-’85, I would say. Somewhere in there. So my current project, as I said, is one of typing, because I’ve decided to make a faithful, exact copy of what I wrote so many years ago, changing nothing. I expect I will cringe at times, but the person I was has just as much right to be heard as the person I am.
The story will appear in installments, as I am able. I invite you to enjoy and comment!
And Back Again
(The Journal of Joseph Bender,
maintained by him during his
two odd years of wanderings
in the Old World)
Roomed in a friendly hostel in London, off St. George’s Drive, in the vicinity of Victoria Station. From the edge of my cot at the window, the view over the beginning-to-bustle avenue is one of a mirror image of facing buildings. I watch the activity, alone in the sparse accommodations of this fourth floor vacant ward. I have been here one hour. I have breakfasted. Now I hesitate and reflect, before going outside, and take a moment to retouch the route that brought me here.
Persistently in view is the longing youngster, with all his love of the mighty engines of travel, which he loved for themselves, and then came to equate with the Idea of travel as he grew older. I see him gazing after the faces in the windows; I see him shift position to become a face in a window. Amazed, (from somewhere) I see the one regard the other through the green-tinted panes. With what curious embarrassment they recognize themselves! And then the slight bump, the first turning of the wheels, and we are on the move, with all this past and future trailing away from us like opposing vapor trails.
We are closed in; we need space. Our expectations are rather grand. They sense a liberation as today and tomorrow become separate ideas more of place than time, as the distinction of to and from become lost—all of it the irreversible mechanics of a metamorphosis marking a line between the thoughts that are, because they were, and the thoughts that are, because they will have been.
New York, the late night airport, came and went dreamily, a nether place sulkily buffed by a janitor, crouched in by miserable itinerants, paced over, waited in, by me. Outside, ghoulish mounds of melting snow sat lumped along the long drive. I ate a dry sandwich, drank some containerized beverage. Such spans of lost hours are eternities unto themselves, exposed onto the psychic plate of the universe forever. I never outwaited that long night. Morning never came.
But when it did, I boarded the plane and waited. A nervous little man in a gray suit and hat sat down beside me for a moment, hands on his knees, looking straight ahead. I spoke to him, and he turned to me with surprised and sparkling eyes, then abruptly rose and disappeared. His place was taken by a tall thin young man named Richard. Before we had left the coast of America, I knew I had been fortunate in seat companions.
He belonged to a scientific organization, the name of which I think now was never mentioned, and he was on his way to England to study paranormal phenomena. In particular he was interested in some sort of energy center, scattered at points over the earth, as he showed me on a map, well known to the ancients, completely uncomprehended by modern man. These were points of convergence and focus of all the natural forces, he explained, and their study was important in that they not only leant themselves to beneficial harnessing by mankind, but were nothing less than windows into the mysteries of the universe as well. There were methods, which he possessed an understanding of, to detect them, and this current expedition was the latest in a series of such trips which had taken him all over the globe. He was bound for Stonehenge, which he believed to be a critical location in his studies. He hoped one day to plot these centers out beyond the local universe into the superuniverse. In one of his many lives on Atlantis, Richard had been a technician in charge of a generating plant that made use of this force for space travel, and through self-hypnosis he had recalled many of the techniques that had been part of his daily routine in that era.
A serious young man, Richard was ultimately interested in deterring mankind from his course of self-destruction, a course which would be inevitable if these centers were not approached intelligently in the years following their discovery, which was at hand. This was the current mission of his organization—to guide mankind safely beyond this important crux in his history, a moment he had reached countless times before, only to fail each time, to be blasted back to the very beginning.
It seemed we talked the entire journey. Richard had no common interests. Ireland slipped away beneath us in patches of green through the clouds. We landed and disembarked, and somewhere in the confusion of Customs, we lost each other.
The train creaked slowly through the drizzly suburbs from Gatwick. A rumor was skipping around the coach of a horrible train wreck somewhere nearby the day before. People had been killed. Much destruction had been done. The schedules were utterly disrupted. That was the reason for our creeping, it was felt. It was difficult to see very clearly out the window; as I cupped my hands around my face and peered out, all I could discern were the slowly passing outlines of dark buildings, and their scattered lights.
We hissed at last into Victoria Station. I sat waiting, regarding the arches of the roof. I was the last passenger to leave the train. Taking my pack, I walked slowly down the platform to a uniformed Negro attendant at the gate, who nodded to me, then entered the sparsely-peopled terminal. Here and there were a few guttersnipes and ne’er-do-wells. It was three a.m. Not having a very clear idea of how to proceed, I went outside, and started slowly down Buckingham Palace Road.
There have been some interesting developments since my last entry. I am out of the hostel now, and in the curved flat of Peter Stroopley, somewhere on the east side of London, near Greenwich. Not far from here the “Cutty Sark” is moored, or rather, embalmed, and one can visit her. Peter works in a library, and is there now. We met in a pub, and I ended up with the use of his couch for as long as I like. I have been here several days.
The flat is unmentionably small, with little meters on the floor where one must insert coins for electricity. We are a corner in a ponderous building filled with flats, and there are entrances and little flights of stairs everywhere, facing all directions. At the bottom of a long steep hill is the train stop.
Peter, a capricious, darting spirit, is engaged presently in several refurbishing projects. He has decided (to name one) to enclose his kitchen. His kitchen is a stove, tiny fridge, and countertop in one corner of this imperfect rectangle, and the project is like enclosing part of one’s closet. There are two or three beams already nailed from ceiling to floor, while a stack of lumber waits along the wall. Also, Peter has some idea for an improvement in his water lines, and several segments of pipe, with a huge pipe wrench across them, lie in expectation of this. Everything in here seems accidental; the pieces of furniture look as though someone pushed them around looking for a lost coin. The comically ancient record player, the appliances, everything, seem on loan from some previous position. Peter himself gives one this feeling. Wherever he is, he seems to have been blown there by the wind. But his is an extraordinarily open and generous soul.
I have been covering the city by day, seeing the plays by night. One day, in St. James Park, a young fellow engaged me in conversation. He was a Frenchman, Henri Gerard de Guillard, seventeen years old and visiting London with his political science class. He was eager to try out his English, and became my companion for the afternoon. As we parted, we exchanged addresses. I gave him Peter’s, and promised to send him cards as I traveled, with addresses where he could write me. Somewhat to my surprise, today I received a post card:
Dear Joseph T.
How are you? Very well, I do hope. I have kept a very good remember of those hours spent speaking with you in LONDON a week ago. I hope that you have enjoyed yourself. I hope that you can come to FRANCE. But I leave my native department, that name is the Côtes du Nord, in the northwest of FRANCE and go to PARIS soon! I shall study the politics in PARIS. I have passed the entry examination to the Politic Studies Institute there. I hope to have a lesson by Mr. René REMOND in History (this man sometimes writes in a great left-hand newspaper that name is <<THE WORLD>>à 500.000 newspapers a day).
I hope you like the stamp I sticked. It represents the famous bridge of PARIS (<<Le Pont-Neuf>>). Hoping that you will soon send a letter to me, I tell you goodbye.
See you later.
Have a nice day.
He was, first and last, an unhappy man. I tell it exactly as it was. He was a naked, unillusioned soul, in many ways deeply embittered, who seemed to be going ahead with his life anyway. And why shouldn’t he? For it was not boredom that terrified him; he could amuse himself. And, this attitude allowed him his many self-indulgent habits, chiefly his dependence on strong drink. And of course, he was inordinately vain, and the success he enjoyed brought him a great deal of adulation, even if there was something rather unsatisfying about it.
He could be charming when he was sober, but as the day wore on, the charm underwent an invidious transformation, through an endless variety of faces, into venom. One always sensed a certain fear in him too—a terror, rather—of something, but as with everything else concerning his character, this fear was in a constant state of change from guise to guise, and never allowed itself to be grasped, least of all by its owner. There was something in the idea of authority that he feared deeply, and detested. Sad, but he never found, or never recognized, anything greater than himself.
This village where he grew up allows no satisfactory clue to his mystery. It was a strict setting, but his youth and adolescence were conventional. He was eighteen when he married—a homely, impregnated older neighbor. He endured that life for a while, then escaped at the first good opportunity to London.
No luckier man ever lived. He had learned about his luck as a boy, and relied on it his whole life. It never let him down. Naturally he was fond of all games of chance, all gambling, because he knew he would win. He always seemed to be standing in the ideal spot at the ideal instant. His good luck was so reliable he grew arrogant in it, unbearably so as he aged. He arrived in London at the precise moment he needed to. He took up with the right people. He seized every opportunity for advancement, and soared effortlessly to the top of his profession. He was a rare human being in that he possessed a complete mind. He could reason abstractly on the highest level; yet he was also as shrewd and cunning as any cutpurse. He was formidable to deal with in business. He was rich when he died. And a very unhappy man.
Everything was in his mind. Nothing ever drifted away from him. No one more gifted has ever lived. It was simply not human the way he worked, the way he sorted out and arranged and gave expression to the tumult within him. Many have had minds as vast as his; few have ever approached his talent of making fruitful use of such a mind.
His lifelong hunger for Reputation was so vain, shallow, and self-serving in its impulse, it was shocking. How could he commingle the noble and base so? How could he be so great, so petty, all at once? He paid a private fee for a coat of arms and bought the largest house, and an enormous tract of farmland, here in his native town. In London, he was endlessly mired in transactions and lawsuits of all kinds. He was the sort of man who could never be found when he was needed, and who let you know he was too busy for you if you did.
He had a world of followers and hangers-on, and an equal world of enemies. Friends, he had none. He was never known to brood; he did not sink into periods of depression. He never showed any weakness. His refuge was drink, and he had a bottomless appetite for it. He was a notorious whoremonger. He slept where he ended up. Weeks, sometimes, would pass without his entering the door of his own rented rooms. Or, he might seclude himself within for days.
His great memory extended to a catalogue of all slights against him, and he always eventually had his revenge. He could remember the most incidental details of an insignificant event for years after, though he had been dead drunk at the time. He was not a man of vast reading, and of no formal education past grammar school, yet he had an astonishing range of knowledge. Never once in his life did he appear at a loss. Never once did he seem dull or out of sorts. If he did not know an answer, he could invent one. If he found himself in a field he had never plowed, he could instantly absorb the key words and ideas from those who had, and pose as one who had done so. Perhaps he did not deceive knowledgeable people, but that was not important. It was only the appearance he cared about, the triumph of the moment. Thus, his ability as an actor. You could not, but if you could strip from him his colorful robes, one layer at a time, your labor would have no end. And it was this uneasy truth, of which he was well aware, that held form him the horrors of Hell, and which kept him all his life a stranger to himself.
After a number of years in London, he returned to his estate. He was quite exhausted. He lived the life of a recluse, deriving a certain pleasure from the suspicion and derision the townspeople held him in. He kept his rooms in London, and made frequent visits, though these grew fewer near the end. He might actually have lost his mind, though the idea of insanity becomes rather incomprehensible in such a man. He became something of a wizard in his own thoughts, holding all the world and its sad denizens in a superior contempt. The great themes and battles of human nature were like toys to him, and great as his grasp of these things was, his inability to believe in their significance, including those which had been his own, was greater. The result was that his later years found him thoroughly bitter. Impenitent he was indeed when he died his friendless death. His heart froze to a stop, and the world still holds him in awe.
* * *
Out this tiny attic window falls a light April snow, something I have never seen before. It is very polite, and perhaps a little embarrassed; it just couldn’t help itself. I am in Stratford-upon-Avon. My new traveling companion, James, is still asleep in the other bed. We were out very late at “The Dirty Duck,” a pub, thickly crowded. I conversed with a number of people, including one young local whose attitude toward tourists was one of unbearable condescension. We argued over every subject we could think of. I grew to hate him intensely. When James pulled me away, I was thoroughly intoxicated, and so was he. Neither James nor I could remember how to find our room, though each of us thought we could; the result was that we wandered around lost for an hour before stumbling onto it.
James is an American, with a car, who has rather deliberately become separated from his party. I encountered him in a tube terminus in London where I was able to change a pound note for him. From that introduction, I have become involved somehow in his errant one-man motor tour. There is only just room enough in his Fiat for the two of us, my pack, and his diverse accoutrements. He travels heavy. He has, for example, a hair blow dryer. He refuses to stay anywhere that lacks a shower, which makes the problem of finding a room the more difficult, but so far we have been able to satisfy him.
Here, we devoted a great deal of time to the search, and found this comfortable place. It is a Bed and Breakfast of perhaps four rooms. We are at the very top, up four narrow flights of stairs, where the angles of the ceiling become erratic. We were shown up yesterday by the daughter of the house, a highly reserved teenager with large eyes and that world-renowned peach complexion, who has shown us, so far, a vocabulary of four words: “Yes,” “No,” “Really?” and “There.” The last was added moments ago as I emerged from our room, encountered her in kerchief and smock, and asked her the whereabouts of the W.C.
We have navigated westerly through the heart of southern England, stopping first at Oxford, where we were fortunate to meet an American student, Ramsey, in a pub. He was a law student, stranded between terms, unable to afford a trip anywhere. We talked for a while; then off we went on a moonlight tour of the colleges. Curiously, the great courtyard doors were almost all unlocked, and he pushed them open, and closed them quietly behind us, admitting us into the unreal worlds within. He related to us many interesting bits of history, spiced with a number of prominent names, told us what went on in those ancient, darkened buildings. We ended up at his tiny room where he gave us cigars and port, and talked of the mysterious English social structure, the (to us) bizarre tale of rank, preferment, and privilege. Hard work, self betterment, the labor of improving one’s way in the world—these are charming qualities in a bricklayer, but absurd to those born correctly. Ramsey was a student at Oxford, he told us, through a series of lucky accidents and associations; his family was not wealthy, and he was deeply in debt in this enterprise. But it would pay off. He would be rich, he would have prestige. One day. Yet for now, he could think of little but his imminent second-year exams. He was quite anxious over them. It was just as well he couldn’t afford to leave; he needed this time to study, he said.
He was generally likeable, but very, very ambitious. After a while, I began to feel uncomfortable. He offered us his floor for the night, but we already had lodgings. We couldn’t have accepted anyway; there was no shower.
The next morning we hit the streets, and James tried out most of the souvenir shops. He is a great frequenter of them. He bought a number of items, including a very expensive linen wall hanging embroidered with the Christchurch cathedral. He also made the decision to undertake a bookmark collection, and got well started. We ascended the tower of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, and tried to identify the places we had visited the night before.
Next, driving along, we found Blenheim Palace, and stopped to take the tour. We filed through the rooms with our group, listened to the stories, looked at all the curiosities and treasures and marvels, ending up in the library, sandwiched between Queen Anne and the great organ. Then, before touring the grounds, we looked in at the Gift Shop, where James purchased a plaster bust of Sir Winston, the very largest, one of only two of such size, on the top shelf, requiring a sales girl with a ladder to procure it. The gardens and grounds were very impressive to me, and if not for James’ impatience, I might have passed the afternoon strolling there.
But we pressed on here, to Stratford, hit the hot spots, and then the tourist shops, where, in the first one we entered, James bought yet another plaster bust, and a U-Karry-It bag of Shakespearean gee-gaws: tee-shirt, ashtray, table thermometer, and so forth.
Then, we decided to punt, and stroked our way leisurely to the church where the poet is buried. It was a lovely afternoon, and ended in a café.
Today James and I separate, he to find his people if he can; I, northward.
* * *
He was quite an extraordinary mixture of complexity and simplicity, strength and weakness, light and darkness. He left a broad impression on all who knew him, for one felt, rather unreservedly, that whatever else one might say about him, there was no one else like him, nor would ever be. One has little choice but to use the word “genuine” in describing him. In all his sides, from child to sage (and he was at all times something of each), he was without guile or affectation. There was an honesty about him that was thoroughgoing indeed. He was very human, yet seemed somehow beyond the narrow idea of personality. His habits were unnoticeable, his likes and dislikes incidental. One perceived him not in terms of what he had, or desired, or preferred, or even experienced, but rather in terms of what he was, of that unique quality which, as you can see, I lack the ability to describe. He was a modest man (genuinely so), who grew into his talent so naturally, that everything he did seemed almost common and easy; and it was only as he approached the old age he never reached that his friends and colleagues began to realize how truly extraordinary he and his gifts had been.
His boyhood and young manhood were so commonplace there is really little to say of them. He was a good, sometimes prankish, student, who stumbled over his Latin, but never forgot the stories. As it has been with so many others, for him the visits of traveling entertainers in his youth destined him for a life beyond this village where he grew up. Robin Hood, St. George and the Dragon—such things were his earliest experience with enchantment, and he never lost the feeling. He developed more than a common obsession with dreamweaving, particularly with the disguised mechanics of it. No one ever took greater interest in peeking backstage, in spying on the tramp slipping on the robes of the king. It was the gay quackery of it all, the wonderful, colorful trumpery that attracted him. As he developed his own gifts, he was very serious about his work; but no artist who has ever lived has understood more clearly, or hardly relished more, the equation of the artist with the scuffabout huckster, the oily-tongued, motley-robed mountebank. And certainly no artist has ever made anything more sophisticated from the idea, or reached greater levels of profundity in the service of it. He never lost his sense of the spectacle of life. Naturally, to captivate an audience was the great joy of his life. And neither is it surprising that for him the essence of all disillusionment lay in the disintegration of the so carefully constructed, so fragile, stage setting, which disintegration, of course, was the greatest spectacle of them all.
At the age of eighteen, he entered a curious involvement with a neighbor woman, some years his senior, that developed rather quickly from playfulness to marriage. Taking a position as a schoolteacher, he became a conventional family man, fathering three children, for seven or eight years. But that was the extent of it. It was an unfulfilling life for him, and at last his restlessness moved him to accept the offer of a friend he had made in an acting troupe. Completely unable to persuade his wife to accompany him, he made the decision to leave his family for what he thought would be a short time, but which turned out to be twenty-five years.
London was a lively, bustling place, and he liked it immediately. Plague-visited, over-populated, seething with crime, and piled with garbage, it suited him after his years of village life. He didn’t miss his family as much as another man might have, in spite of the fact that most of his associates were family men with many children. This circumstance simply placed him in a rather agreeable avuncular position, while allowing him freedom to cultivate fields of his own. His visits home were not too frequent.
As a craftsman, he produced work that evolved from the conventional to the highly idiosyncratic. His style was instantly recognized and loved, and as you know, he became one of the greatest popular entertainers of all time. The age he lived in was a linguistically protean glow of light bordered on both ends by what seems in comparison dimness, and he lived and worked at the very center, rather incongruously, such a modest, gentle soul he was.
No one could accompany him to his heights or his depths. He was a solitary spirit, a world unto himself. As such, one either loved him or hated him, but most loved him. Yet he was hard to know; even after years of close association with him, one felt him to be as elusive, as enigmatic, as ever. How was one to understand this village lad of such high character, such wonderful gifts?—who understood jealousy and hatred and vindictiveness in others, but who seemed himself to lack any trace of the qualities? Even he himself, at the end of his life, was aware that no one had ever known him—but he suspected that was true of everyone. He drank little, rarely caroused, was always monogamously inclined. And isn’t it strange that such a reflective, in some ways shy, studious soul should confide to his friends near the end that he felt exhausted, as though he had lived so fully, seen so much, done so much, feasted so extensively at the banquet of life’s variety, that the very thought of stirring from his home filled him with weariness? He died well prepared, having written a will in which he remembered all his friends, and in which he endeavored to keep the family he had lived apart from most of his life together in name and fortune.
In lovely Keswick. I made it as far as Windermere in two days, after leaving James, spending the first night in a campground on the edge of the terrible shadow of Manchester. The next morning, a man headed for Carlisle rode me in a single shot from the campground entrance to Kendal, and from there I soon made it to Windermere.
The area is not as crowded with visitors as it will be later, they tell me. I find the number of people ideal. I’ve had mixed luck with the weather, but of rain and gloom there hasn’t been enough to dampen the excursion. The air is cool. Everything is so green! I have never seen such bright, living green as carpets the meadows and valleys and hillsides of England.
I am learning how to get about quite well, springing off from the campgrounds. One can always find someone bound in the direction one wishes to go, and usually, happy to be a help. I camped at several spots along Lake Windermere, then made my way up to Ullswater, then through Keswick over to Cockermouth, and back to Keswick, where I am now encamped. I’ve become friendly with the family which is my nearest neighbor: a gentle-giant of a workingman father, busy matron mother, two sons and a daughter, in an enormous tent with walled-off rooms and a patio. They say then come to this precise spot every year. Our campground is in a valley, folded into the craggy hills and sloping to a carved-out mountain lake sparkling dramatically through the sharp angles.
I must say, the beauty of this area crept upon me slowly, and then had me clutched before I had realized its strange power. I was, upon first coming here, certainly not disappointed, but rather, caught with a thoroughly wrong expectation. I experienced the reversal of feelings one has whenever he has expected the lush, the cozy, the warm, and has received instead the more valuable austere, the aloof, the cool. How barren seemed these craggy, rocky highlands at first sight! One could drive for miles along the narrow roads, lined as far as one wished to go with the ancient stone walls, and hardly see a proper tree. Only sheep, slashed with red paint, and grazing on the impossible hills, an occasional stream tumbling down a barren ravine, the hazy sky, the constantly changing alignments of hills and valleys, opening into views over moorlands and into gulches. This grew from stark, to soothing, to majestic. So simple and uncluttered, void of distractions, so ancient and imperturbable. And of course, there were places where a lake suddenly appeared at the base of a vast declivity, preceded by rolling meadow, dotted with stones, dashed with wildflowers. And in these clear lakes one could see the reflection of the opposite hill. Perhaps a little peninsula might ribbon out a few yards into the water, and there one could stand at the focal point of all the many converging lines, and feel the firmness of all their forces centering in him there in their eye.
In the lower lands, around the large lakes and all their associate streams and pools, are delights unnumbered. Dells, haunted brooks, vast woods with taunting pathways and secret places, it has the quality of dream. The hills are alluring; their prospect is sublime, and they invite the climber. Only, the ease of their appearance is a deception; they present a surprising challenge. Yet the exertion is repaid, for upon the highest one is on a level with all the heights, and can gaze across the irregular landscape, catching glimpses of glittering water in diverse, farflung crevices.
At one spot, a restaurant and pub with a broad terrace were situated on a steep hillside overlooking a broad valley. I left the lively crowd in the pub and took a seat at the edge of the terrace, providing myself with a fine view of the valley below. The time was just after dusk; the air was cool, with a delightful edge. Some children were playing at the opposite side of the terrace, and their cries rang through the clear air. Before long, a young red-headed lad in enormous rubber boots and a thick wool sweater had joined me and begun telling me of his day’s adventures. Not long after, his elfin younger sister, Victoria, appeared.
She sat in her chair, quietly looking and listening to the brave tales. When I looked at her, she smiled, showing her two big, spaced front teeth. She had short dark hair, and was thickly sweatered like her brother. Little thing, she was swallowed by her chair, and her stick legs, in knee socks, protruded straight out, not long enough to bend over the edge. She held her arms straight down to the seat, using them as levers in her slight, perpetual fidgeting. She alertly followed the talk, quiet but not bashful, sometimes unable to resist correcting her brother’s report, or adding some detail more noticeable to her own perception. When I asked her her name, she answered in only one audible syllable.
“ . . . Tor . . . ”
When she obliged me in repeating it, the fragile framing syllables came forth.
“And where do you come from, Victoria?”
“And what brings you to Keswick?”
“We’re on holiday.”
“Dad and I climbed to the tip of that hill today,” interrupted brother, pointing to the foreboding shadow behind us. “It’s awful cold there. My mum and sister stayed back. It was only Dad and me.”
“Oh, why didn’t you go, Victoria?”
“They wouldn’t let me.”
“Would you have liked to go?”
She shook her head gravely. “Oh no, I fear the mists.”
“There’s a rock there at the very top you’ve got to have a rope to climb. Tomorrow we’re going to take a rope and climb it. Dad says you can see for twenty miles from there, if the air is clear. He’s done it lots of times.”
“It always makes me wish I could fly, when I stand at a place like that,” I said mystically. “Do you wish you could fly, Victoria?”
“Oh no. I would be afraid I would fall. I should like to breathe under water, like the water children.”
“I should like to go to the bottom of the ocean—to see what’s there.”
“Last holiday, we went to Thwaite Head. Dad and I made a twenty-mile walking tour. I love to walk. I could walk all day. I never tire. Neither does Dad. We could walk all day, Dad and me.”
Victoria had maneuvered to the edge of her chair. The children at the far side of the terrace had stolen her attention.
“Do you like to walk, Victoria?”
“If it’s not too far,” she answered, allowing me her brief notice; then she stood and smoothed her skirt. “Excuse me,” she said, and darted away, her stick legs awkwardly bounding.
I watched her melt into the activity, and in a moment of two, finished my stout, and decided that another was in order. The brother too bade me goodbye, as I rose and headed back inside.