A TRAMP'S SKETCHES
This book was written chiefly whilst tramping along the Caucasian and
Crimean shores of the Black Sea, and on a pilgrimage with Russian
peasants to Jerusalem. Most of it was written in the open air, sitting
on logs in the pine forests or on bridges over mountain streams, by
the side of my morning fire or on the sea sand after the morning dip.
It is not so much a book about Russia as about the tramp. It is the
life of the wanderer and seeker, the walking hermit, the rebel
against modern conditions and commercialism who has gone out into the
I have tramped alone over the battlefields of the Crimea, visited the
cemetery where lie so many British dead, wandered along the Black Sea
shores a thousand miles to New Athos monastery and Batum, have been
with seven thousand peasant pilgrims to Jerusalem, and lived their
life in the hospitable Greek monasteries and in the great Russian
hostelry at the Holy City, have bathed with them in Jordan where all
were dressed in their death-shrouds, and have slept with them a whole
night in the Sepulchre.
One cannot make such a journey without great experiences both
spiritual and material. On every hand new significances are revealed,
both of Russian life and of life itself.
It is with life itself that this volume is concerned. It is personal
and friendly, and on that account craves indulgence. Here are the
songs and sighs of the wanderer, many lyrical pages, and the very
minimum of scientific and topographical matter. It is all written
spontaneously and without study, and as such goes forth—all that a
seeker could put down of his visions, or could tell of what he sought.
There will follow, if it is given to the author both to write and to
publish, a full story of the places he visited along the Black Sea
shore, and of the life of the pilgrims on the way to the shrine of the
Sepulchre and at the shrine itself. It will be a continuation of the
work begun in Undiscovered Russia.
Several of these sketches appeared in the St. James's Gazette, two
in Country Life, and one in Collier's of New York, being sent out
to these papers from the places where they were written. The author
thanks the Editors for permission to republish, and for their courtesy
in dealing with MSS.
1. FAREWELL TO THE TOWN
2. NIGHTS OUT ON A PERFECT VAGABONDAGE
3. THE LORD'S PRAYER
5. THE QUESTION OK THE SCEPTIC
6. A THING OF BEAUTY IS A JOY FOR EVER
7. A STILL-CREATION-DAY
8. SUNSET FROM THE GATE OF BAIDARI
9. THE MEANING OF THE SEA
2. THE RICH MAN AND THE POOR MAN
3. A LODGING FOR THE NIGHT
4. SOCRATES OF ZUGDIDA
5. "HAVE YOU A LIGHT HAND?"
6. ST. SPIRIDON OF TREMIFOND
7. AT A FAIR.
8. A TURKISH COFFEE-HOUSE
9. AT A GREAT MONASTERY
1. THE BOY WHO NEVER GROWS OLD
3. THE LITTLE DEAD CHILD
4. HOW THE OLD PILGRIM REACHED BETHLEHEM
THE WANDERER'S STORY
(I.) MY COMPANION. (II.) HOW HE FOUND HIMSELF
IN A COACH. (III.) IRRECONCILABLES.
(IV.) THE TOWNSMAN. (V.) HIS CONVERSION.
THE UNCONQUERABLE HOPE
THE PILGRIMAGE TO JERUSALEM
THE MESSAGE FROM THE HERMIT
* * * * *
NIGHT OVER THE BLACK SEA
FAREWELL TO THE TOWN
The town is one large house of which all the little houses are rooms.
The streets are the stairs. Those who live always in the town are
never out of doors even if they do take the air in the streets.
When I came into the town I found that in my soul were reflected its
blank walls, its interminable stairways, and the shadows of hurrying
A thousand sights and impressions, unbidden, unwelcome, flooded
through the eye-gate of my soul, and a thousand harsh sounds and
noises came to me through my ears and echoed within me. I became aware
of confused influences of all kinds striving to find some habitation
in the temple of my being.
What had been my delight in the country, my receptivity and
hospitality of consciousness, became in the town my misery and my
For imagine! Within my own calm mirror a beautiful world had seen
itself rebuilded. Mountains and valleys lay within me, robed in sunny
and cloudy days or marching in the majesty of storm. I had inbreathed
their mystery and outbreathed it again as my own. I had gazed at the
wide foaming seas till they had gazed into me, and all their waves
waved their proud crests within me. Beauteous plains had tempted,
mysterious dark forests lured me, and I had loved them and given them
habitation in my being. My soul had been wedded to the great strong
sun and it had slumbered under the watchful stars.
The silence of vast lonely places was preserved in my breast. Or
against the background of that silence resounded in my being the roar
of the billows of the ocean. Great winds roared about my mountains, or
the whispering snow hurried over them as over tents. In my valleys I
heard the sound of rivulets; in my forests the birds. Choirs of birds
sang within my breast. I had been a playfellow with God. God had
played with me as with a child.
Bound by so intimate a tie, how terrible to have been betrayed to a
For now, fain would the evil city reflect itself in my calm soul, its
commerce take up a place within the temple of my being. I had left
God's handiwork and come to the man-made town. I had left the
inexplicable and come to the realm of the explained. In the holy
temple were arcades of shops; through its precincts hurried the trams;
the pictures of trade were displayed; men were building hoardings in
my soul and posting notices of idol-worship, and hurrying throngs were
reading books of the rites of idolatry. Instead of the mighty anthem
of the ocean I heard the roar of traffic. Where had been mysterious
forests now stood dark chimneys, and the songs of birds were exchanged
for the shrill whistle of trains.
And my being began to express itself to itself in terms of commerce.
"Oh God," I cried in my sorrow, "who did play with me among the
mountains, refurnish my soul! Purge Thy Temple as Thou didst in
Jerusalem of old time, when Thou didst overset the tables of the
Then the spirit drove me into the wilderness to my mountains and
valleys, by the side of the great sea and by the haunted forests. Once
more the vast dome of heaven became the roof of my house, and within
the house was rebuilded that which my soul called beautiful. There I
refound my God, and my being re-expressed itself to itself in terms of
eternal Mysteries. I vowed I should never again belong to the town.
As upon a spring day the face of heaven is hid and a storm descends,
winds ruffle the bosom of a pure lake, the flowers droop, wet, the
birds cease singing, and rain rushes over all, and then anon the face
of heaven clears, the sun shines forth, the flowers look up in tears,
the birds sing again, and the pure lake reflects once more the pure
depth of the sky, so now my glad soul, which had lost its sun, found
it again and remembered its birds and its flowers.
NIGHTS OUT ON A PERFECT VAGABONDAGE
I have been a whole season in the wilds, tramping or idling on the
Black Sea shore, living for whole days together on wild fruit,
sleeping for the most part under the stars, bathing every morning and
evening in the clear warm sea. It is difficult to tell the riches of
the life I have had, the significance of the experience. I have felt
pulse in my veins wild blood which my instincts had forgotten in the
town. I have felt myself come back to Nature.
During the first month after my departure from the town I slept but
thrice under man's roof. I slept all alone, on the hillside, in the
maize-fields, in the forest, in old deserted houses, in caves, ruins,
like a wild animal gone far afield in search of prey. I never knew in
advance where I should make my night couch; for I was Nature's guest
and my hostess kept her little secrets. Each night a new secret was
opened, and in the secret lay some pleasant mystery. Some of the
mysteries I guessed—there are many guesses in these pages—some I
only tried to guess, and others I could only wonder over. All manner
of mysterious things happen to us in sleep; the sick man is made well,
the desperate hopeful, the dull man happy. These things happen in
houses which are barred and shuttered and bolted. The power of the
Night penetrates even into the luxurious apartments of kings, even
into the cellars of the slums. But if it is potent in these, how much
more is it potent in its free unrestricted domain, the open country.
He who sleeps under the stars is bathed in the elemental forces which
in houses only creep to us through keyholes. I may say from experience
that he who has slept out of doors every day for a month, nay even for
a week, is at the end of that time a new man. He has entered into new
relationship with the world in which he lives, and has allowed the
gentle creative hands of Nature to re-shape his soul.
The first of my nights after leaving the town was spent on a shaggy
grass patch on a cliff, under three old twisted yew trees. Underfoot
was an abundance of wild lavender and the air was laden with the
scent. I am now at New Athos monastery, ten miles from Sukhum, and am
writing this in the cell that the hospitable monks have given me. My
last night was in a deep cavern at the base of a high rock on a desert
The first night was warm and gentle, though it was followed by several
that were stormy. Wrapped in my rug I felt not a shiver of cold, even
at dawn. As I lay at my ease, I looked out over the far southern sea
sinking to sleep in the dusk. The glistening and sparkling of the
water passed away—the sea became a great bale of grey—blue silk,
soft, smooth, dreamy, like the garment of a sorceress queen.
I slipped into sleep and slipped out again as easily as one goes from
one room to another, sometimes sleeping one hour or half an hour at
a time, or more often one moment asleep, one moment awake, like the
movement of a boat on the waves.
Once when I wakened, I started at an unforeseen phenomenon. The moon
in her youth was riding over the sea as bright as it is possible to
be, and down below her she wrote upon the waves and expressed herself
in new variety, a long splash of lemon-coloured light over the placid
ocean, a dream picture, something of magic.
It was a marvellous sight, something of that which is indicated in
pictures, but which one cannot recognise as belonging to the world
of truth—something impressionistic. To waken to see something so
beautiful is to waken for the first time, it is verily to be in part
born; for therein the soul becomes aware of something it had not
previously imagined: looking into the mirror of Nature, it sees itself
Where my sleeping-place would be had been a secret, and this was the
mystery in it, the further secret. I was definitely aware even on my
first night out that I had entered a new world.
To sleep, to wake and find the moon still dreaming, to see the moon's
dream in the water, to sleep again and wake, so—till the dawn. Such
was my night under the old yews, the first spent with these southern
stars on a long vagabondage.
How different was last night, how full of weariness after heavy
tramping through leagues of loose stones. I had been tramping from
desolate Cape Pitsoonda over miles and miles of sea holly and scrub
through a district where were no people. I had been living on
crab-apples and sugar the whole day, for I could get no provisions.
It is a comic diet. I should have liked to climb up inland to find
a resting-place and seek out houses, but I was committed to the
seashore, for the cliffs were sheer, and where the rivers made what
might have been a passage, the forest tangles were so barbed that they
would tear the clothes off one's back. In many places the sea washed
the cliffs and I had to undress in order to get past. It was with
resignation that I gave up my day's tramping and sought refuge for the
night in a deep and shapely cavern.
There was plenty of dry clean sand on the floor, and there was a
natural rock pillow. I spread out my blanket and lay at length,
looking out to the sea. I lay so near the waves that at high tide I
could have touched the foam with my staff. I watched the sun go down
and felt pleased that I had given up my quest of houses and food until
the morrow. As I lay so leisurely watching the sun, it occurred to me
that there was no reason why man should not give up quests when he
wanted to—he was not fixed in a definite course like the sun.
Sunset was beautiful, and dark-winged gulls continually alighted on
the glowing waves, alighted and swam and flew again till the night.
Then the moon lightened up the sea with silver, and all night long the
waves rolled and rolled again, and broke and splashed and lapped. The
deep cavern was filled with singing sounds that at first frightened
me, but at last lulled me to sleep as if a nurse had sung them.
Between these two beds what a glorious Night picture-book, a book
telling almost entirely of the doings of the moon. I remember how I
slept once under a wild walnut-tree. In front of me rose to heaven
forested hills, and the night clothed them in majesty. Presently the
moon came gently from her apartments and put out a slender hand,
grasped the tree-tops, and pulled herself up over the world. She
showed herself to me in all her glory, and then in a minute was gone
again; for she entered into a many-windowed cloud castle and roamed
from room to room. As she passed from window to window I knew by the
light where she was. A calm night. The moon went right across the sky
and returned to her home. Rain came before the dawn, and then mists
crept down over the forests and hid them from my view. Cold, cold! The
mountains were hidden by a cloud. Loose stones rolled down a cliff
continually and a wind sighed. I snuggled myself into my blanket and
waited for an hour. Then the sun gained possession of the sky.
I went down to the river, gathered sticks—they were very damp—and
made a fire. Once the fire began to burn it soon increased in size,
for I had gathered a great pile of little twigs and they soon dried
and burned. Then in their burning they dried bigger twigs, sticks,
cudgels, logs. I boiled my kettle and made tea.
Whilst I bathed in the river the sun gave a vision of his splendour: a
thousand mists trembled at his gaze. An hour later it was a very hot
day, and the village folk coming out of their houses could scarcely
have dreamed how reluctantly the night had retired at the dawn—with
what cold and damp the morning had begun.
Another night, just after moonrise, a wind arose and drove in front
of it the whole night long a great thunderstorm, with lightnings and
rollings and grumblings and mutterings, but never a spot of rain. At
dawn, when I looked out to sea, I saw the whole dreadful array of the
storm standing to leeward like ships that had passed in the night, and
as though baulked in pursuit the roll of the thunder came across the
sky sullenly, though with a note of defeat.
The nights were often cold and wet, and it became necessary for me to
make my couch under bridges or in caves or holes of the earth. On the
skirts of the tobacco plantations and in the swampy malarial region
where the ground never gets dry I slept beside bonfires. I learned of
the natives to safeguard against fever by placing withered leaves on
bark or wilted bracken leaves between myself and the ground. At a
little settlement called Olginka I slept on an accumulation of logs
outside the village church. On this occasion I wrapped myself up in
all the clothes I possessed, and so saved myself from the damp. Next
morning, however, my blanket was so wet with dew that I could wring
it, though I had felt warm all night. I had always to guard against
the possibility of rain, and I generally made my couch in pleasant
proximity to some place of shelter—a bridge, a cave, or a house; and
more than once I had to abandon my grass bed in the very depth of the
night, and take up the alternative one in shelter.
A tremendous thunderstorm took place about a fortnight after I left
home. I had built a stick fire and was making tea for myself at the
end of a long cloudless summer day, and taking no care, when suddenly
I looked up to the sky and saw the evening turning swiftly to night
before my eyes. The sun was not due to set, but the western horizon
seemed as it were to have risen and gone forth to meet it. A great
black bank of cloud had come up out of the west and hidden away the
sun before his time.
I hastened to put my tea things into my pack and take to the road, for
it was necessary to find a convenient night place. In a quarter of an
hour it was night. At regular intervals all along the road were the
brightly lit lamps of glow-worms; they looked like miniature street
lights, the fitting illumination of a road mostly occupied by
I found a dry resting-place under a tree and laid myself out to sleep,
watching the moon who had just risen perfectly, out of the East; but
I had hardly settled myself when I was surprised by a gleam of
lightning. Turning to the west, I saw the vast array of cloud that had
overtaken the sun, coming forward into the night—eclipsing the sky.
A storm? Would it reach me? My wishes prompted comforting answers and
I lay and stared at the sky, trying to find reassurance. I did not
feel inclined to stir, but the clouds came on ominously. I marked out
a bourne across the wide sky and resolved that if the shadow crept
past certain bright planets in the north, south, and centre, I would
take it as a sign, repack my wraps, and seek shelter in a farm-house.
But the clouds came on and on. Slowly but surely the great army
advanced and the lightnings became more frequent. My sky-line was
passed. I rose sorrowfully, put all my things in the knapsack, and
took the road once again.
The lightning rushed past on the road and, blazing over the forests,
lit up the wide night all around. Overhead the sky was cut across: in
the east was a perfectly clear sky except at the horizon where the
moon seemed to have left behind fiery vapours; in the west and
overhead lay the dense black mass of the storm cloud. The clouds came
forward in regular array like an army. Nothing could hold them back;
they came on—appallingly. And the moon looked at the steady advance
and her light gleamed upon the front ranks as if she were lighting
them with many lanterns.
I had lain down to sleep quite sober-hearted, but now as the
lightnings played around I began to feel as excited as if I were in
a theatre—my blood burned. I had tired feet, but I forgot them. I
walked swiftly. I felt ready to run, to dance. Very strangely there
was at the same time a presentiment that I might be struck by
lightning. But all Nature was madly excited with me and also shared my
presentiment of destruction. We lived together like the victim and the
accomplices in a Dionysian sacrifice and orgy.
And the clouds kept on gaining! Far away I heard the storm wind and
the clamour of the sea. The thunder moaned and sobbed. I hurried along
the deserted road and asked my heart for a village, a house, a church,
a cave, anything to shield from the oncoming drench.
Spying a light far away on a hill, I left the road and plunged towards
it. I went over many maize-fields, by narrow paths through the
tall waving grain, the lightning playing like firelight among the
sheath-like leaves. I crossed a wide tobacco plantation and approached
the light on the hill, by a long, heavily-rutted cart-track. This led
right up to the doors of a farmhouse. Big surly dogs came rushing out
at me, but I clumped them off with my stick, and having much doubt in
my mind as to the sort of reception I should get, I knocked at the
windows and doors. I expected to be met by a man with a gun, for the
dogs had made such a rumpus that any one might have been alarmed.
The door was opened by a tall Russian peasant.
"May I spend the night here?" I asked.
The man smiled and put out his arms as if to embrace me.
"Yes, of course. Why ask? Come inside," he replied.
"I thought of sleeping in the open air," I added, "but the storm
coming up I saw I should be drenched."
"Why sleep outside when man is ready to receive you?" said the
peasant. "It is unkind to pass our houses by. Why do you deny your
brothers so? You said you slept in the fields, eh? That is bad. You
shouldn't. The earth here is full of evil, and the malaria comes up
with the dampness. Your bones grow brittle and break, or they go all
soft, you shrivel up and become white, or swellings come out on you
and you get bigger and bigger until you die. No, no! God be thanked
you came to me."
He asked me would I sleep in the house or on the maize straw. His sons
slept on the maize; it was covered, and so, sheltered from the rain.
I could sleep in the house if I liked, but it was more comfortable on
the straw. His three sons slept there, but as it was a festival they
had not come home yet.
I agreed to the straw. My host led me to a sort of large open barn, a
barn without walls, a seven-feet depth of hay and straw surmounted by
a high roof on poles.
"If you feel cold, or if the rain comes in, just burrow down under the
straw," said the peasant. "Very glad I am that you have come to me,
that you have done me the honour. Much better to ask hospitality than
to sleep out."
I quite agreed it was much better to sleep with man on such a night.
The lightnings were now all about—never leaving a second's pure
darkness. The thunder grew more powerful and rolled forward from three
My host stood by me after I had lain down, a whole hour. He was most
hilarious, having partaken plentifully of festival fare. He warned me
repeatedly against sleeping on the ground, and advised me to find bark
or withered branches to lie upon if I would not seek shelter with man.
The increasing storm did not seem to impress him in the slightest. He
was all agog to tell me his family history and to compare the state of
agriculture in England with that in Russia. Only when his sons came
home and the heavy rain spots had begun to shower down upon him did he
finally shake my hand, wish me well, cross himself, and stump off back
to the house.
Three tall young men scrambled over me into the straw and buried
themselves: two laughed and talked, the other was silent and
frightened. There was no sleep. The thunder grew louder and louder,
and the lightning rushed over our faces like the sudden glare of a
searchlight. All four of us put our faces to the straw to shut out
the light, and we tried to sleep. But we knew that the tempest at its
worst had yet to break. Suddenly came a sharp premonitory crash just
above us, near, astonishing. One of the young men, who had just dozed
off, woke up and scratched his head, saying—
"The little bear has got into the maize. Eh, brothers, this is going
to be a big piece of work."
Then a great wind broke out of the sky and tore through the forests
like armies of wild beasts. The trees within our view bent down as
if they would break in two; the moon above them was overswept by the
cloud. When the moon's light had gone the night became darker and the
lightning brighter. The framework of our shelter rocked to and fro in
the gale and we felt as if upon the sea; the straw and the hay jumped
up as if alive, and great lumps of thatch were rent out of the roof,
showing the sky and letting in the rain. I looked for the ruin of our
But the hurricane passed on. The rain came in its place. The great
forty-day flood re-accomplished itself in an hour. We heard the beat
of the rain on the earth: in ten minutes it was the hiss of the rain
on the flooded meadows. By the sulphurous illuminations we saw almost
continuously the close-packed, drenching rain…. The wet came in.
We burrowed deep down into the straw and slept like some new sort of
On other nights heavy rain came on unexpectedly, and I discovered how
pleasant a bed may be made just under the framework of a bridge. The
bridge is a favourite resort of the Russian tramp and pilgrim, and I
have often come across their comfortable hay or bracken beds there.
Indeed I seldom go across a bridge at night without thinking there may
be some such as myself beneath it.
When the weather is wet it is much more profitable to sleep in a
village—there is hospitality there, and the peasant wife gives you
hot soup and dries your clothes. But often villages are far apart, and
when you are tramping through the forest there may be twenty miles
without a human shelter. I remember I found empty houses, and though I
used them they were most fearsome. I had more thrills in them than in
the most lonely resting-places in the open. Some distance from Gagri
I found an old ruined dwelling, floorless, almost roofless, but still
affording shelter. I had many misgivings as I lay there. Was the house
haunted? Was it some one else's shelter? Had some family lived there
and all died out? You may imagine the questions that assailed me, once
I had lain down. But whether evil was connected with the house or
no, it was innocuous for me. Nothing happened; only the moon looked
through the open doorway; winds wandered among the broken rafters, and
far away owls shrieked.
Again, on the way to Otchemchiri I came upon a beautiful cottage in
the forest and went to ask hospitality, but found no one there. The
front door was bolted but the back door was open. I walked in and took
a seat. As there were red-hot embers in the fire some one had lately
been there, and would no doubt come back—so I thought. But no one
came: twilight grew to night in loneliness and I lay down on the long
sleeping bench and slept. It was like the house of the three bears but
that there was no hot porridge on the table. But no bears came; only
next morning I was confronted by a half-dressed savage, a veritable
Caliban by appearance but quite harmless, an idiot and deaf and dumb.
I made signs to him and he went out and brought in wood, and we remade
the fire together.
I have slept out in many places—in England, in the Caucasus where
it was amongst the most lawless people in Europe, in North Russian
forests where the bear is something to be reckoned with—but I have
never come to harm. The most glorious and wonderful nights I ever had
were almost sleepless ones, spent looking at the stars and tasting
the new sensations. Yet even in respect of rest it seems to me I
have thriven better out of doors. There is a real tranquillity on a
mountain side after the sun has gone down, and a silence, even though
the crickets whistle and owls cry, though the wind murmurs in the
trees above or the waves on the shore below. The noises in houses are
often intolerable and one has to wait all every noise in the house
and in the street has died away. It is marvellous how easily one
recuperates in the open air. Even the cold untires and refreshes.
Then, even if one lies awake, the night passes with extraordinary
rapidity. It is always a marvel to me how long the day seems by
comparison with the night when I sleep out of doors. A sleepless night
in a house is an eternity, but it is only a brief interlude under the
stars. I believe the animal creation that sleeps in the field is so in
harmony with nature and so unself-conscious that night does not seem
more than a quarter of an hour and a little cloudy weather. Perhaps
the butterflies do not even realise that night endures; darkness
comes—they sleep; darkness flees—they wake again. I think they have
It is peculiar, the tramp's feeling about night. When the sun goes
down he begins to have an awkward feeling, a sort of shame; he wants
to hide himself, to put his head somewhere out of sight. He finds his
night place, and even begins to fall asleep as he arranges it. He
feels heavy, dull. The thoughts that were bright and shapely by day
become dark and ill-proportioned like shadows. He tosses a while, and
stares at the stars. At last the stars stare at him; his eyes close;
he sleeps. Three hours pass—it is always a critical time, three hours
after sunset; many sleeping things stir at that time. His thoughts
are bright for a moment, but then fall heavy again. He wonders at the
moon, and the moon wonders. She is hunting on a dark mountain side.
The next sleep is a long one, a deep one, and ghosts may pass over the
sleeper, imps dance on his head, rats nibble at his provisions; he
wakes not. He is under a charm—nought of evil can affect him, for
he has prayed. Encompassed with dangers, the tramp always prays "Our
Father," and that he may be kept for the one who loves him. Prayers
are strong out of doors at night, for they are made at heaven's gate
in the presence of the stars.
An hour before dawn a new awakening. Oh dear, night not gone! The
tramp is vexed. The moon has finished her hunting, and is going out
of the night with her dark huntsmen; she passes through the gate.
The sky is full of light, a sort of dull, paper-lantern light. In an
hour it will be morning. The side on which I have been lying is sore.
I turn over and reflect joyfully that when next I wake it will be day.
Moths are flitting in the dawn twilight: yes, in an hour it will be
Ah, ha, ha! The sleeper yawns and looks up. There is blue in the
clouds, pale blue like that of a baby's eyes. A cart lumbers along the
road, the first cart of the morning. I reflect that if I remain where
I am people may come and look at me. Ten minutes hesitation, and then
suddenly I make up my mind and rise.
I feel a miserable creature, a despicable sort of person, one who has
lately been beaten, a beggar who has just been refused alms. In the
half-light of dawn it seems I scarcely have a right to exist. Or I
feel a sort of self-pity. How often have I said as I gathered up my
stiff limbs and damp belongings in the mist of the morning, "And the
poor old tramp lifts himself and takes to the road once more, trudge,
trudge, trudge—a weary life!"
The mansion of my soul has been housing phantoms all the night. They
may not stay after sunrise; they look out of my face with bleared
eyes. It is they who gibber and chatter thus at dawn, leaving me with
no more self-assurance than a man on ticket-of-leave.
But as the sun comes up, behold the spirits evaporate, the films pass
away from my eyes, and I am lighter, blither, happier, stronger. Then
in my heart birds begin to sing in chorus. I am myself once more.
A fire, a kettle, and while the kettle boils, into the sea, giving my
limbs to the sparkling, buoyant water. Then am I super-self, if such
an expression may be permitted. So passes the vagabond's night.
Thus somehow one comes into new harmony with Nature, and the personal
rhythm enters into connection with all things that sleep and wake
under the stars. One lives a new life. It is something like the change
from bachelor to married life. You are richer and stronger. When you
move some one else moves with you, and that was unexpected. Whilst you
live Nature lives with you.
I have written of the night, for the night hallows the day, and the
day does not hallow the night except for those who toil.
THE LORD'S PRAYER
The Lord's Prayer is a very intimate whispering of the soul with God.
It is also the perfect child's prayer, and the tramp being much of a
child, it is his.
Many people have their private interpretations of the prayer, and I
have heard preachers examine it clause by clause. It can mean many
things. It must mean different things to people of different lives. It
is something very precious to the tramp.
The tramp is the lonely one: walking along all by himself all day by
the side of the sounding waves he is desolated by loneliness, and
when he lies down at dusk all alone he feels the need of loving human
friends. But his friends are far away. He becomes once more a little
trusting child, one who, though he fears, looks up to the face of a
great strong Father. He feels himself encompassed about by dangers:
perhaps some one watched him as he smoothed out his bracken bed; or if
he went into a cave a robber saw him and will come later in the night,
when he is fast asleep, murder him, and throw his body into the sea;
or he may have made his bed in the path of the bear or in the haunt of
snakes. Many, many are the shapes of terror that assail the mind of
the wanderer. How good to be a little boy who can trust in a great
strong Father to "deliver him from evil"!
And each clause of that lovely prayer has its special reality. Thus
"Give us this day our daily bread" causes him to think, not so much of
getting wages on the morrow as of the kindly fruits of the earth
that lie in the trees and bushes like anonymous gifts, and of the
hospitality of man.
Most beautiful of all to the tramp is the wish—"Thy Kingdom
come—Thy Will be done in earth as it is in heaven." For it is thus
understood: Thy Will be done in earth—I am that earth. "Thy Kingdom
come" means Thy Kingdom come in me—may my soul lie like a pure
mirror before the beauty of the world, may the beauty of the world be
reflected in me till the whole beautiful world is my heart. Then shall
my heart be pure, and that which I see will be God. Thy Will be done
in me as it is done in heaven.
And the tramp asks himself as he lies full length on the earth and
looks up at the stars—are you a yea-sayer? Do you say "Yes" to life?
Do you raise your face in wonder to the beauty of the world? Do you
stand with bare feet in sacred places? Do you remember always the
mystery and wonder that is in your fellow-man whom you meet upon the
road? … "Hallowed be Thy Name."
Does the wanderer love all things? It is a condition of all things
loving him. He must have perfect peace in his heart for the kingdom to
be built there…. "Forgive us our trespasses."
We may be tempted to forget Thee, may fear danger and our hearts be
ruffled, may be tempted to forget that our fellow-man is one like
ourselves, with our mystery and wonder, and having a very loving human
heart either apparent or prevented. We may be tempted to forget the
mystery of our own souls. The tramp prays to be led not into such
temptation. For, with the Father above him, is the power, the kingdom,
and the glory, for ever and ever. As I said, prayers are strong out of
doors, made in the presence of all the stars. One is compassed about
with a great cloud of witnesses. There is calm all around and in one's
own heart. The mysterious beauty of the starry sky reflects itself
in the soul, and across its mirror sails the pale moon. My own body
becomes a cradle in which the little Christ Child sleeps. There are
angels everywhere. I am in universal keeping, for the stars are all
looking and pointing to me. Because of the little Child the shepherds
near by hear heavenly harmony, and journeying through the night to the
land of dreams come the three wonderful old kings with gifts.
It is because I have been tempered by the coldness of the night that I
am not overwhelmed by the heat of the day. Because the night is dark
and cool and sweet I see the true colours of the day, and the noon sun
does not dazzle me. The tramp's eyes open and then they open again: at
midday his eyes are wider than those of indoor folk. He is nearer to
the birds because he has slept with them in the bush. They also are
nearer to him, for the night has left her mysterious traces upon his
face and garments, something which humans cannot see, not even the
tramp himself, but which the wild things recognise right enough.
The tramp walks. His road is one that may only be walked upon. People
on wheels are never on it: at least, I never met a wheel person who
had seen on either side of the road what the tramp sees—and a road is
not only a path, but that which is about it. The wheel is the great
enemy of Nature, whether it be the wheel of a machine or of a vehicle.
Nature abhors wheels. She will not be wooed by cyclists, motorists,
goggled motor-cyclists, and the rest: she is not like a modern young
lady who, despite ideals, must marry, and will take men as they are
found in her day and generation.
The woman of the woods who dresses herself in flowers, and whose voice
is as birds' songs, is the same yesterday, to-day, and to-morrow—not
new-fangled. You must go to her; she will not come to you. You must
live as she does.
Therefore the tramp moves naturally, on his feet. He comes into
step. And sleeping out of doors, living in the sun, eating forest
berries, washing in the stream or in the sea, all these are part of a
coming into step.
How this coming back develops the temperament! I left the town
timid, almost a townsman, expecting not only the dangers that were but
also all those that were not. I half believed all the tales by which
stay-at-home people tried to warn or frighten me. Though taking the
road with every aspect of carelessness and boldness, I confessed to my
heart that I was a coward. Then came my first week's tramping, and I
emerged a different man. I felt bold. A few days later still I nursed
a stick in my hand, saying, "If a robber comes, let him come! We'll
have a struggle." Leaving the town I scanned the faces of the
passers-by apprehensively, and said "Good-morning" or "Good-evening"
very meekly to all dangerous-looking persons, but a fortnight later
I was even strutting on the road with a smile almost malicious on my
I felt myself growing wilder. The truth broke upon me in an
introspective moment one morning as I was nearing Sotchi. I felt I had
changed. I stopped to take stock of my new life and ways. I had been
living in the forest and on the seashore, away from mankind, on
Nature's gifts. All my days from dawn to sunset I hunted for food. My
life was food-hunting. I certainly wrote not a line and thought less.
In my mind formed only such elementary ideas as "Soon more grapes,"
"These berries are not the best," "More walnuts," "Oh, a spring; I
must drink there."
Something from the ancient past was awakened. I saw a bunch of wild
grapes, my heart leapt, and without a thought I jumped to it and took
it. Or I saw a fresh trickling stream pouring over the ledges of the
rocks, and I rushed and pressed my lips to the bubbling water. There
was no intermediary between Nature's gifts and the man who needed
them. Wish was translated into act without the aid of thought.
One day I was lost in the forest among the giant tangles and I was not
at all anxious to find the way out again. Perhaps I might have
lived there all the Autumn, and only when the berries and nuts were
exhausted and the cold winter winds sought me out should I come
skulking back to the haunts of men like some wild animal made tame by
I was aware, therefore, of a new experience, a modification in
personality, a change of rhythm. I was walking with Nature, marching
with her, with all her captains the great trees and her infantry the
little bushes, and I caught in my ears her marching music. I was
thrilled by the common chord that makes crowds act as one man, that in
this case made my heart beat in unison with all the wild things. I may
as well say at once I love them all and am ready to live with them and
THE QUESTION OF THE SCEPTIC
"That's all very well, but don't you often get bored?" asked a
sceptic. "I enjoy a weekend in the country, or a good Sunday tramp in
Richmond Park or Epping Forest. I take my month on the Yorkshire moors
with pleasure, or I spend a season in Switzerland or Spain, and I
don't mind sleeping under a bush and eating whatever I can get in
shepherds' cottages. I can well appreciate the simple life and the
country life, but I'm perfectly sure I should pine away if I had to
live it always. I couldn't stand it. I'd rather be debarred from the
country altogether than not go back to town. The town is much more
indispensable to me. I feel the country life is very good in so far as
it makes one stronger and fitter to work in town again, but as an end
in itself it would be intolerable."
This was a question I needed to answer not only to the sceptic but to
myself. It is true the wanderer often feels bored, even in beautiful
places. I am bored some days every year, no matter where I spend them,
and I shall always be. I get tired of this world and want another.
That is a common feeling, if not often analysed.
There is, however, another boredom, that of the weariness of the body,
or its satiety of country air; the longing for the pleasures of the
town, the tides of the soul attracted by the moon of habit. The tramp
also confesses to that boredom. But when he gets back to the town to
enjoy it for a while he swiftly finds it much more boring than the
If every one went to the country and lived the simple life when he was
inclined, the size of European towns would be diminished to very small
proportions. The evil of a town is that it establishes a tyranny and
keeps its people against the people's true desires.
I said to my sceptical friend: "Those who praise the simple life and
those who scoff at it are both very extravagant as a rule. Let the
matter be stated temperately. The tramp does not want a world of
tramps—that would never do. The tramps—better call them the rebels
against modern life—are perhaps only the first searchers for new
life. They know themselves as necessarily only a few, the pioneers.
Let the townsman give the simple life its place. Every one will
benefit by a little more simplicity, and a little more living in
communion with Nature, a little more of the country. I say, 'Come to
Nature altogether,' but I am necessarily misunderstood by those who
feel quickly bored. Good advice for all people is this—live the
simple life as much as you can till you're bored. Some people are
soon bored: others never are. Whoever has known Nature once and loved
her will return again to her. Love to her becomes more and more."
But whoever has resolved the common illusions of the meaning of life,
and has seen even in glimpses the naked mystery of our being, finds
that he absolutely must live in the world which is outside city walls.
He wants to explore this desert island in space, and with it to
explore the unending significance of his deathless spirit.
A THING OF BEAUTY IS A JOY FOR EVER
Rostof on the Don is always beautiful when one leaves it to go south.
Nothing can efface from my mind the picture of it as I saw it when
first going to the Caucasus. The sunset illumined it with the hues of
romance. All the multiplicity of its dingy buildings shone as if lit
up from within, and their dank and mouldy greens and blues and yellows
became burning living colours. The town lay spread out upon the high
banks of the Don and every segment of it was crowned with a church.
The gilt domes blazed in the sunlight and the crosses above them were
changed into pure fire. Round about the town stretched the grey-green
steppe, freshened by the river-side, but burned down to the suffering
earth itself on the horizon. Then over all, like God's mercy
harmonising man's sins, the effulgence of a light-blue southern sky.
By that scene I have understood the poet's thought—
To draw one beauty into the heart's core
And keep it changeless.
* * * * *
Yet how transient is the appearance of beauty. It has an eternity not
in itself but in the heart. Thus I look out at the ever-changing ocean
and suddenly, involuntarily ejaculate, "How beautiful!" yet before
I can call another to witness the scene it has changed. Only in the
heart the beauty is preserved. Thus we see a woman in her youth and
beauty, and then in a few years look again and find her worn and old.
The beauty has passed away; its eternity is in the heart.
We have a choice, to live in the shadow and shine of the outer life
where visions fade, or to live with all the beauty we have ever known,
where it is treasured, in the heart. Choosing the former we at last
perish with the world, but choosing the latter we ourselves receive an
immortality in the here and now. The one who chooses the latter shall
never grow old, and the beauty of his world can never pass away.
* * * * *
Nietzsche could not tolerate the doctrine of the "immaculate
perception" of Beauty. To him Beauty was une promesse de bonheur;
Beauty was a lure and a temptation, it had no virtue in itself, but
its value lay in the service rendered to the ulterior aims of Nature.
Thus the beauty hung in woman's face was a device of the Life-force
for the continuance of the race; strange beauty lured men to strange
ends, and one of these ends the German philosopher divined and named
as the Superman. Even the beauty of Nature was merely a temptation of
man's will. The Kantian conception of the disinterested contemplation
of Beauty Nietzsche likened to the moon looking at the earth at night
and giving the earth only dreams; but the Stendhalian conception of
Beauty as a promise of happiness he likened to the sun looking at the
earth and causing her to bear fruit.
Darwin as much as said, "Beauty has been the gleam which the instinct
of the race has followed in its upward development. Beauty has been
the genius of Evolution." Thus science has lent its authority to
philosophy. The idea is charming. In its power it is irresistible. It
certainly dominates modern literary art, being the principal dynamic
of Ibsen and Bernard Shaw and all their followers.
It is a very important matter. There can be nothing more important in
literary art, and indeed in one's articulate conception of the meaning
of life, than the notion of what is beautiful. What if this conception
be narrow, what if it be simply a generalisation, a generalisation
from too few observations? What if the wish were father to the
The only test of philosophy and art is experience. And it is the
wanderer, the life-explorer without irrelevant preoccupations, who
is the true naturalist, collecting experiences and making maps for
spiritual eyes. What then does the wanderer note?
First, that the knowledge of the beautiful is an affirmation.
Something in the soul suddenly rises up and ejaculates "Yes" to some
outside phenomenon, and then he is aware that he is looking at Beauty.
As he gazes he knows himself in communion with what he sees—sometimes
that communion is a great joy and sometimes a great sadness. Thus,
looking at the opening of dawn he is filled with gladness, his spirits
rising with the sun; he wishes to shout and to sing. He is one with
the birds that have begun singing and with all wild Nature waking
refreshed after the night. But looking out at evening of the same day
over the grey sea he is failed with unutterable sorrow.
I remember how all night long in the North region, where the light
does not leave the sky, I looked out at the strange beauty of the
white night and felt all the desolateness of the world, all the
exiledom of man upon it. There was no lure, no temptation in that. The
Aeolian harp of the heart does not always discourse battle music,
and on this night it was as if an old sad minstrel sat before me and
played unendingly one plaint, the story of a lost throne, of a lost
family, lost children, a lost world. Thus a thought came to me: "We
are all the children of kings; on our spiritual bodies are royal
seals. Sometime or other we were abandoned on this beautiful garden,
the world. We expected some one to return for us; but no one came.
We lived on, and to forget homesickness devised means of pleasure,
diversions, occupations, games. Some have entirely forgotten the lost
heritage and the mystery of their abandonment; their games absorbed
them, they have become gamblers, they have theories of chance, their
talk is all of Progress of one sort or another. They forget the great
mystery of life. We tramps and wanderers remember. It is our religion
to remember, to count nothing as important beside the initial mystery.
For us it is sweeter to remember than to forget. The towns would
always have us forget, but in the country we always remember again.
What is beautiful is every little rite that reminds us of our
This is a most persistent experience, and Beauty thereby promises us
happiness, but in a strange way seems to tell of happiness past. It
lures not forward unless to the exploration of the "prison-house" once
Even the beauty of woman is not always a lure. There is a beauty in
woman which makes one glad, but there is the beauty that haunts one
like a great sadness, besides the beauty that draws one nearer to her.
There is the seductive beauty of Cleopatra, but there is also the
almost repulsive beauty of Medea, and besides both there is the
mysterious beauty of Helen or of Eve.
Beauty is also a great possession, and that is another conception,
another mystery. We lie like a mirror in the presence of Beauty, and
it builds the very temple of our souls. Beauty is the gold of earthly
experience. It is essentially that which in looking round our eyes
like best, that which they say swiftly "Yes" to. We enter into
communion with the beautiful as with a beloved object. We make it
part of ourselves. We absorb it into that which is integral and
immortal—our very essence. "A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: its
loveliness can never pass away" is a truth of experience, not the
idle fancy of the poet. For to have seen the beautiful is not
inconsequential, it is not even a responsibility entirely your own;
the beautiful thing has also seen you. Henceforth your life can never
be quite the same, and the beautiful thing looked upon has either
become less or more beautiful.
The blue-green sea is living velvet, and full of light-rings; it
goes out to a distant mauve horizon, near which sea-gulls with white
gleaming wings are flying. Many gulls are fluttering on the red buoys
in the water.
It is late in a December afternoon on the south coast of the Crimea.
It is Yalta, beloved of all Russians, and I have come tramping to
it—which Russians never do—and I am intending to spend lazy days
looking with the gay town and all its white villas at the glorious
spectacle of the southern sea. All the rest of Russia is gripped by
winter, but here there is sanctuary and forgiveness. I have been
tramping on the cold, cold steppes, frozen, forced to get back into
myself and hide like the trees, and when I came here it seemed somehow
as if Nature herself had been angry with me, relented, and was now
showing me all her tenderness again. All along the road I found
violets in the little bushes, and I wore them as a forgiveness gift
from a woman that I love.
When a woman smiles upon a man she bids him live, and when she frowns
he can but die. To-day the woman of all women has smiled on me, Nature
Along the road I had that pleasant life with myself that one has the
day after one's birthday, when one has kept good resolutions two days.
My old self carried, as it were, within me a little child, and the
child chattered and lisped to me.
Delightful tramping along a road high over the shore! Below me,
stretching far to East and to West, blue and glorious like summer, was
the immense sea, all in dazzling radiance under the noonday sun. A
bank of grey-blue mist lay over the South, and marked the domain where
winter was felt. Up above me stood great grey rocks, stained here and
there the colour of rose porphyry. The tops of these rocks, even here
as I look up at them from Yalta, are outlined with a bright white
line—winter and hoar-frost hold sway there also.
I have been in the sight of nut-brown hillsides, something absolutely
perfect, the warm living colour of thousands of little, closely
packed French oak trees, all withered, and holding still their little
withered leaves. The colour of these hills was the colour of Nature's
There was silence too—such wonderful silence, one could hear one's
own heart beating. Such a morning was indeed what Richter calls a
"still-creation-day," that still silence of the heart that prefaces
new revelation, as the brooding of the dove on the waters the creation
of a world. You must know I saw the dawn, and have been with the sun
all day. I slept at a Greek coffee-house, but was up whilst the sky
was yet dark and the waves all cloudy purple. There was just one gleam
of light in the dark sky, just one little promise. The great cliffs
were all in their night cloaks, and night shapes were on the road. All
Nature was in the night world, and I felt as if I were continuing my
last night's tramping, and not starting upon a new day. Yet in the
night of my heart was also just that one gleam of whiteness in the
East, one little promise. I knew the whiteness must get more and more,
and the darkness less and less. I stood on the cliff road and watched
the waves become all alive, playing with their shadows as the light
diffused in the sky, and the white lines of the East turned to rosy
ribbons. Then the dawn twilight came and the night shapes slunk away.
The Tartars and Greeks took down their shutters in the little village
The sea became green, the rocks all grey, and then, as I watched, the
rim of the sun rose over the horizon and the sea held it as a scimitar
of fire. The white disc rose, a miracle; it looked very large, as if
it had grown bigger in the night. It paused a moment in the sea and
then suddenly seemed to bound up from it: it flooded the world with
light. Then, as if from his hands angels were leaping, thousands of
gulls were descried on the sea, their gleaming wings seeming to be the
very meaning of morning. Out of the sea under the dawn, dark dolphins
came leaping toward the shore. The sea became a grey expanse over
which the sun made a silver roadway. There commenced the quiet, quiet
morning, and the still-creation-day.
Now the day is ending, and the sun goes down behind the hills at
Yalta, the mist bank over the southern horizon catches the reflection
of true sunset tints, and transmits them to the velvety water, full of
light-rings. I have been sitting on a pleasure seat on the sand all
the afternoon, and now I go to the end of the long pier. There one may
see another vision of the mystery of the day, for the sea-waves are
full of living autumn colours, of luminous withered leaves and faded
rose petals; they are still living velvet, the night garment of a
queen. Black ducks are swimming mysteriously on the glowing dusky
In a moment, however, the scene has changed and the colours have been
withdrawn. The presence in the world, the queen whom we call Day, has
passed over the waves and disappeared; not even a fold of the long
train of her dress is visible.
Some one has lighted a Roman candle at the far end of the pier, as
a signal to a steamer whose white and red lanterns have just been
descried upon the dark horizon. It is night: the day is over.
SUNSET FROM THE GATE OF BAIDARI
It was at the Gate of Baidari in the Crimea on the shortest day of
the year that I saw the most wonderful sunset I have ever known, and
entered most completely into the spirit of the dark, quiet night.
It was another vision of the sea, a presentment of the sea's question
in a new light.
A mild December afternoon. I had been some days wandering across
pleasant tree-brown valleys and immense hollows mountain-walled. In
the winter silence there was no murmur of the ocean, not even was
there saltness in the air. I was out of the sight of the sea and had
been so for several days. But this afternoon I climbed by a long road
where were many berberry bushes vermilion with their berries, up to
the pass over the hills, and there all at once by surprise, without
the least expecting it, at a turn of the road I had a revelation of
the whole sea.
It was a ravishment of the eyes, a scene on which one looks, at which
one stares. The road came suddenly to a precipice, and sheer down, two
thousand feet below, the waves foamed forward on the rocks, and from
the foam to the remote horizon lay the mysterious sleeping sea—no,
not sleeping, but rather causing all else to sleep in its presence,
for it was full of serpent lines all moving toward the shore. The
whole wild mountainous Crimean shore sat before the sea and dreamed.
And I realised slowly all that was in the evening. Below me lay the
white tortuous road leading downward to the shore in coils, and
clothing the road, the many woods, all hoary white because the sharp
sea-breeze had breathed on them. Evening had long since settled on the
road and on the wintry trees; it lay also about the grey temple which
the Russians have put up on one of the platforms of the lower cliffs.
The church looked so compact and small down below me that it seemed
one could have held it in the palm of the hand. It was sunset, but the
sky was full of blue-grey colour. The whole South caught a radiance
from the hidden West and the sea was grey.
In a moment it is noticeable that the south is becoming rosier. The
sea is now alight from the increase of sunset hues. In the shadow the
lines of the sea are a sequence of wavings like the smoke of the snow
blown over the steppes. In the hurrying clouds a great space clears,
and along the south-west runs a great rosy fleece of sunset. It is
rapidly darkening. The sea in the western corner is crimson, but all
the vast south is silver and sombre. The horizon is like that seen
from a balloon—pushed out to its furthermost, and there, where clouds
and sky mingle, one sees fantastically as it were the sides of giant,
The motor-coach, with its passengers from Sebastopol to Yalta, comes
rushing and grumbling up behind me and stops five minutes, this being
its half-way point. The passengers adjourn into the inn to drink
vodka: "Remember, gentlemen, five minutes only," says the chauffeur.
"God help any one who gets left behind at Baidari…." Four minutes
later there is a stamping of fat men in heavy overcoats round the
brightly varnished 'bus. "Are we going?" says a little man to the
refreshed but purple-faced chauffeur. "Yes!" "That's good. I've had
enough of this." The guard winds his horn, and after a preliminary
squirm of the plump tyres on the soft road, the vehicle and its
company goes tumbling down the road as if it were descending into a
And the sunset! It develops with every instant. The lines on the sea
seem to move more quickly, and the spaces between them to be larger.
The west is full of storm. A closing cloud comes up out of the west:
the western sea is utterly hopeless, the moving south inexorable.
There is terror in the west.
Evening is more below me than above me. Night is coming to me over the
dark woods. The foam on the rocks below is like a milk-white robe.
As I walk the first miles downhill I begin to hear the sound of the
waves. The sea is beginning to roar, and the wind rushing up to me
tells me that the lines of the sea are its stormy waves ridden forward
to the shore by a gale.
I stood on the platform where the many-domed temple was built, and
watched the gathering night. Unnumbered trees lay beneath me, but it
was so dusk I hardly knew them to be trees. The gigantic black cliff
that shuts off the west stood blank into the heaven like a great door:
to the east lay the ghostly fading coast-line of Aloopka. Among the
black clouds overhead danced out happy fires, and, answering their
brightness, windows lighted up in cottages far below, and lanterns
gleamed on a little steamer just puffing over the horizon.
There came the pure December evening with frost and Christmas bells,
and happy hearths somewhere in the background. The one star in the sky
was a beckoning one: my heart yearned.
I dipped down upon the road, and in a few minutes was looking at the
temple from below, seeing it entirely silhouetted against the sky. It
was now indeed held up in a giant's palm and looked at.
Far out at sea now lay a silver strand; the lines of the waves were
all curves and heavily laden with shadows—they were, indeed, waves.
Far above me the cliffs that I had left were mist-hidden, and in the
midst shone a strange light from the last glow of sunset in the unseen
Night. At a word the sea became lineless and shapeless. The sunset sky
was green-blue, and black strips of cloud lay athwart it. Looking up
to the crags above me, I missed the church: it was in heaven or in the
clouds. A great wind blew, and ceased, and came no more—the one gust
that I felt of a whole day's storm on the coast. Night chose to be
calm, and though all the waves called in chorus upon the rocks, there
was a silence and a peace within the evening that is beyond all words.
I walked with the night. I walked to find an inn, and yet cared not
that the way was far and that men dwelt not in these parts. For
something had entered into me from Nature, and I had lived an extra
life after the day was done. It was not one person alone that, pack on
back, walked that dark and quiet Crimean road. And the new spirit
that was with me whispered promises and lingered over secrets
half-revealed. I came to know that I should really enter into it, and
be one with it, that I should be part of a description of night and
part of night itself.
At one of the many turnings of the road I came upon five dreamy
waggons, and Tartar waggoners walked by the horses, for their loads
were heavy. I made friends with the third waggoner, and he asked me
to carry his whip and take his place whilst he talked with one of his
mates. For eight miles I walked by the side of the plodding horses,
and encouraged them or whipped them, coaxed or scolded them, as they
slowly dragged their lumberous merchandise along the dark and heavy
I almost fell asleep, but at an inn half-way I drank tea with the
waggoners "cheek by jowl and knee by knee," and they saw me as one of
Once more on the road—we went nearly all the way to Aloopka. The
Tartars sang songs, the beasts of burden toiled; on one side the
cliffs overwhelmed us, and on the other lay the dark sea on which the
stars were peeping. The still night held us all.
THE MEANING OF THE SEA
It is good to live ever in the sight of the sea. I have been tramping
two months along seashores, and living a daily life in the presence
of the Infinite. From Novorossisk to Batoum, eight hundred and fifty
versts, I have explored all that coast of the Black Sea that lies at
the feet of the Caucasus—to left of me the snow-peaked mountains
shoulder to shoulder under heaven, to right the resplendent,
"The sea cannot be described," wrote Chekhov; "I once read in
a child's copy-book an essay on the sea, four words and a full
stop—'The sea is large'—and whenever I attempt a description, I am
obliged to confess that I can do no better than the child." The fact
is, the sea describes us; that is why we cannot describe it. It is,
itself, language and metaphor for the telling of our own longings and
our own mysteries. In the sound of the waves is only the song of man's
life; in the endless variety of its appearance only the story of our
Thus the sea is all things. They call this the Black Sea, and at
evening when the clouds in the high heaven are reflected in it, it is
indeed black. But it should be called the many-coloured, for indeed it
is all colours. In the full heat of noon, as I write, it is white; it
is covered with half-visible vapour through which a greenness is lost
in pallor. The horizon is the black line of a broken arc. Other days
it is blue as a great ripe plum, and the horizon is faint-pink, like
down. On cloudy afternoons it is grey with unmingled sorrow; in early
morning it is joyous as a young child. I have seen it from a distance
piled up to the sky like a wall of hard sapphire. I have seen it
near at hand faint away from the shore, colourless, lifeless, in the
heart-searching of its ebb tide. It is all things, at all times, and
to all persons.
At Dzhugba the sea was quiet as a little lake; at Dagomise it was
many-crested and thundering in the majesty of storm. At Gudaout the
sun rose over it as it might have done on the first morning of the
Every dawning I bathed, and each bathing was as a new baptism. And in
multifarious places it was given to me to bathe; at Dzhugba, where the
sun shone fiercely on green water and the dark seaweed washed to and
fro on the rocks; at Olginka, the quietest little bay imaginable,
where the sea was so clear that one could count the stones below it,
the rippling water so crystalline that it tempted one to stoop down
and drink—a dainty spot—even the stones, on long curves of the
shore, seemed to have been nicely arranged by the sea the night
before, and far as I swam out to sea I saw the bottom as through
How different at Dagomise! All night long it had thundered. I slept
under a wooden bridge that spanned a dried-up river. The lightning
played all about me, the rain roared, the thunder crashed overhead.
The storm passed, but as the thunder died away from the sky, it broke
out from the sea and roared deafeningly all around. I could not bathe,
for the sea was tremendous. A grand sight presented itself at dawn,
the sea foaming forwards in thousands of billows. Along five miles of
seashore the white horses galloped forward against the rocks, as if
the whole sea were an army arrayed against the land. How the white
Later in the morning I undressed, and sitting in moderate safety on a
shelf of rock, let the spent billows rush over me. The waves rushed
up the steep beach like tigers for their prey, their eyes turned away
from mine, but full of cruelty and anger. I was, deep in myself,
At what an extraordinary rate the waves rushed up the shore, fast
galloping after one another, accomplishing their fates! There is
only one line I know that tells well of their rate, that glory of
Where the dove dipped her wing and the oars won their way,
Where the narrowing Symplègades whiten the straits of Propontis
At Osipovka, where I spent a whole long summer day sitting on a log on
the seashore, I saw a vision of the sea and nymphs—a party of peasant
girls came down and bathed. They were very pretty and frolicsome,
taking to the water in a very different style from educated women.
They were boisterous and wild. They went into the sea backwards, and
let the great waves knock them down; they lay down and were buffeted
by the surf; they ran about the shore, sang, shouted, yelled, waved
their arms; they dived headlong into the waves, swam hand over hand
among them, pulled one another by the legs. The sea does not know how
to play games: it seemed like an ogre with his twelve princesses. They
made sport of him, pulled his beard and his hair, tempted and evaded
him, mocked him when he grabbed at them, befooled him when he captured
them. I used to have an idea of nymphs behaving very artistically with
really drawing-room manners, but I saw I was wrong. Nymphs are only
artistic and alluring singly—one nymph on a rock before a gallant
In numbers they are absolutely wild and have no manners at all. Lucky
old ogre, to possess twelve such princesses, I thought; but as I
looked at the gleam of their limbs as they mocked, and heard their
hard laughter, I found him to be but a pitiable old greybeard, for he
looked at beauty that he could scarce comprehend and never possess.
The beauty of life has power greater than the beauty of the sea.
One night after I had made my bed on a grassy sand-bank above the sea
and was waiting, in the thrilling and breathless twilight, to fall
asleep, I suddenly heard a sound as of a child weeping somewhere. My
heart bounded in horror. I lay scarce daring to breathe, and then when
there was silence again, looked up and down the shore for the person
who had cried. But I saw no one. I listened—listened, expecting to
hear the cry again, but only the waves turned the stones, broke,
rolled up, and turned the stones again. Evening crept over the sea,
and the waves looked dark and shadowy; the silence grew more intense.
I turned on one side to go to sleep, and then once more came a sad,
despairing human cry as of a lost child. I sat bolt upright and looked
about me, and even then, whilst I stared, the cry came again, and
from the sea. "Is it possible there is a child down by the waves?" I
thought, and I tried to distinguish some little human shape in the
darkness that seemed hastening on the shoulders of the incoming waves.
There came a terrible wail and another silence. I dared not go and
search, but I lay and shuddered and felt terribly lonely. The waves
followed one another and followed again, ever faster and faster as it
seemed in the darkness—
Still on each wave followed the wave behind,
And then another behind,
And then another behind….
They came forward fantastically, and I felt as if I were lying in the
presence of something most ancient, most terrible.
Presently a bird with great dark wings flew noiselessly just over my
head, and then over the sea rose the moon, young, new drest, and I
forgot the strange cry in the presence of a familiar friend. It was as
if a light had been brought into one's bedroom. Probably the cry was
that of an owl; it came no more. I slept.
There was my walk to the forlorn and lonely monastery of Pitsoonda on
the promontory where the great lighthouse burns. Along the seashore
were swamps overgrown with bamboos and giant grasses, twelve feet
high. The sea was grey and calm. Lying on the sand, one saw the
reflection, or the refracted images, of the grey stones at the bottom
of the sea for twenty yards out and more. The sea had no power, it
splashed in weak and hopeless waves, sucked itself away inward, came
back again with a little run, and feebly toppled over. The high-water
line was shown by a serpentine strip of jetsam winding along the whole
of the shore. There was no yellow in the sands; clouds and sunshine
struggled overhead, but beneath them all was grey. The wind rustled in
the giant grasses like the sound of men on horseback, so that I was
continually looking behind in apprehension.
A land that is lonelier than ruin,
A sea that is stranger than death.
At a lonely house, half-way to the monastery, I thought to obtain
bread, but as I approached it twelve large brown mastiffs rushed out
and assailed me. I was in a pitiable plight, warding them off with my
stick, and did not escape without bites. I called for help, and some
one then whistled from a window and called the dogs back. I don't
fear dogs, but these were powerful animals, and withal a tremendous
surprise. I must have had a bad time had no one called them away.
I came to the river Bzib, deep and fast-running, and rowed myself
across in a leaky and muddy boat. I ploughed my way through deep
sand, or stepped from boulder to boulder, or crushed through miles of
sea-holly and prickly shrub. I came to the sacred wood in which the
Ahkbasians used to pray when they were pagans, but in which, since
their conversion, they have chiefly committed murder. I passed through
three strange woods, the first of juniper and wild pear; the second,
all dead, bleached and impenetrable, of what had once been hawthorn,
but now one jagged, fixed mass of awkward arms and cruel thorns; the
third, a beautiful, spacious pine-wood, climbing over cliffs to the
far verge of the cape where the lighthouse flashes. These were like
woods in a fairy tale, and may well have had each their own particular
elves and spirits. Each had a separate character: the first as of the
earth, homely, full of gentle russet colours from the juniper and the
wild fruit; the second, haggish, full of witches whose finger-nails
had never been clipped; the third, queenly, as if beloved of Diana.
Evening grew to night as I plodded past these woods or struggled
through them. The temptation was to go into the wood and walk on
firmer soil—but the thickets were many, and not a furlong did it
profit me. Then there were thorns, you must know, and abundant
long-clawed creepers that grasped the legs and kept them fixed
till they were tenderly extricated by the hand. When I came to the
pine-wood it was night, and the many stars shone over the sea. I
walked easily and gratefully over the soft pine needles, and I
constantly sought with my eyes for the monastery domes. The moonlight
through the pines looked like mist, and the forest climbed gradually
over rising cliffs. Far away on the dark cape I saw the flash of the
No houses, no people, only a faint cart-track. That track bade me
hope. I would follow it in any case. At last, suddenly, I thought
I saw the cloud of white smoke of a bonfire. It was the far-away
monastery wall, high and white, with a little lamp in one window. I
bore up with the distance, forms grew distinct in the night; I entered
the monastery by a five-hundred-yard avenue of cedars.
I met a novice in a long smock. He took me to the guest-rooms of the
monastery, and there, to my joy, I was accommodated with a bed—the
first for many weeks. I was introduced to a very fat and ancient monk
who carried at his belt a bunch of keys. Though very stupid, and, as I
learnt afterwards, quite illiterate, he was the spirit of hospitality.
He kept the larder, and very gladly brought me milk and bread and
cheese, roast beef, wine, and would apparently have brought me
anything I asked for—all "for the love of God": no monastery charges
anything for its hospitality.
After my supper I was glad to stretch my limbs and sleep. I opened my
window and lay for a while looking at the mysterious dark masses of
the cedars and listening to the low sobbing of the waves. In the
monastery buildings I heard the turnings of heavy keys. I slept. Next
morning at sunrise I had breakfast in the refectory, and the abbot
deigned to come in and talk about Pitsoonda. His was an ancient and
beautiful monastery, built by the same hand that erected St. Sophia at
Constantinople, Justinian the First. It was indeed a replica of that
famous building, a fine specimen of Byzantine architecture. It had
changed hands many times, belonging to the Greeks, the Turks, the
Cherkesses, and finally to the Russians. Here formerly stood the
fortified town of Pitius, scarcely a stone of which was now standing,
though many were the weapons and household implements that had been
found by the monks. It was now the scene of the quiet life of twenty
or thirty brethren. No one ever visited them or sought them from
without. Steamers never called—only occasional feluccas came in
bringing Caucasian tribesmen from neighbouring villages, and there was
no carriage-way to any town.
We talked later of present-day matters, the abbot being at once
omniscient and omni-ignorant, and I finished my breakfast in time
to accompany him to church. I went to morning service in the great
high-walled cathedral and saw all the brothers pray. Of the people of
the neighbourhood there were only three; these with the monks formed
the whole congregation—there is no village at Pitsoonda. Imagine a
gigantic and noble building fit to be the living heart of a great
metropolis, and inside of it but a few little pictures, brightly
painted, and a diminutive rood-screen, scarcely higher than a
five-barred gate. On the ceiling of the great dome was painted a
lively and striking picture of Christ, probably done of old time, but
in countenance resembling, strangely enough, the accepted portrait of
Robert Louis Stevenson—a Christ with a certain amount of cynicism,
one who might have smoked upon occasion. No doubt it was painted by a
Greek: a Russian would never have done anything so Western.
The monks, looking ancient and dwarf-like, for they had never cut
their beards, were accommodated in little pews along the walls, and
they could stand and rest their shoulders upon the high arms of the
pews and doze, but could not sit, for there were no seats.
The service was beautiful, though I had little feeling of being
in church—one needs many people in such a cathedral. I was more
interested in the monks, their faces and appearances, and in the
atmosphere of the monastery. Most of the monks were peasants,
dedicated to the religion of Christ and leading particularly strict
lives. It was difficult to understand how they lived. Their faces all
bore witness to their religious exercises, and on some were evidences
of spiritual meditation. They were all naturally rather stupid, and
here more stupid than usual, because they were cut off from society,
even from the society of their native villages. They did not study, or
read, or write; they had no worldly life to occupy them—there was no
means for it. They could gossip—yes, but I doubt if they even did
that. Assuredly here the Middle Ages slept.
* * * * *
Round the monastery, behold, the ruins of a great fort, slowly
crumbling away under the hand of Time. No fleets now sail against
Pitius, no pirates land on the barren cape—there is nothing to steal.
Even the monastery is without gold.
I cannot forget this walk of gloom and mystery, and my stay in this
strange, sleeping monastery of the Middle Ages. But over and against
it stands the bright morning of Gudaout, four days later.
Gudaout is encompassed by the highest Caucasus—its only refuge is the
sea. It is a place most wonderful in the pageantry of dawn. Picture
my life of one evening and morning. I left Gudaout at the dusk, and
having bought myself a pound of purple grapes, strolled out along the
dusty high road eating them. I made my bed on the seashore, and slept
away the aches and pains of a heavy day's tramping. Next day, in that
sort of reflection of last evening which comes before the morning, I
rose, for the coldest of October breezes had come down to me from the
mountains. The dawn was all gold—a new dawn, I thought. But when I
stood on my feet I saw below the gold the lovely bosom of the East,
a beautiful, soft bed of creamy rose. It was an elemental sunrise, a
veritable first morning.
Distant mountains lay wrapped in dissolving mists, and seemed like the
multifarious tents of a great army encamped on a plain—for the smooth
sea was like a plain. The chamber of the dawn seemed gigantic, the
mountains having lifted up the roof of heaven higher than I had ever
seen it before, the sea having taken it out to a far horizon.
I stood looking over the shore before sunrise, and far out in the bay
were three high-masted feluccas, looking like ships of the Spanish
Armada. At the water's edge, and yet silhouetted against the dawn sky,
were Mahometans, washing themselves and praying—stark, black figures
in the strange light.
I welcomed the sun.
He rose swiftly out of the waters, and shone across the bay, lighting
up all the mountains that closed in north and south. He came full of
promises, and after the coolness and damp of the night I had need of
heat. I lay on a bank and gleaned sunshine. The morning came over the
sea steadily, equably, like a good ship making for a sure harbour.
Then, ten miles from Gudaout, on a mountain, I looked out from the
ruins of the Tower of Iver, over a vast resplendent sea, and saw below
me the monastery of Novy Afon and all its buildings, looking like
children's toys. That tower was a stronghold of Christianity in
the third century, and it was strange to think that Crusaders and
mediaeval warriors had looked out from the same tower, over the same
glorious sea. Assuredly from the watch-tower of ancient Time all
buildings and man's dwellings are but toys. I thought of that when I
rowed across the river Phasis, and drank coffee at Poti on the site
of Colchis. That Black Sea and that river were the same which Jason
sailed with his heroes; and the Golden Fleece, those children's toy,
has now, forsooth, become a head-gear in these parts.
We all pass away, but the sea remains the same; and all our empires
and literatures, arts and towns, crumble and decay, and are proved
toys. Our consolation lies in our unconquerable souls, our glorious
after-life beyond this world. But the sea has an immortality in the
here and now. I shall never understand its secret.
A stage is reached when I cease to look at the sea, and allow the sea
to look into me, when I give it habitation in my being, and am thereby
proved, by virtue of my soul, something mightier than it.
But in vain do we try to take the sea's mystery by storm. In vain do
we search for its meaning with love. It lies beyond our mortal ken,
deeper than ever plummet sounded.
"Is not the sea the very peacock of peacocks?" asks Nietzsche. "Even
before the ugliest of all buffaloes it unfoldeth its tail and never
wearieth of its lace fan of silver and gold." But the sea is not moved
by slander. "Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean, roll!" sings
Byron in praise, but the sea is not encouraged. It hearkeneth not,
even unto kings. It is that which changes but is itself unchanged. It
manifests itself continually in change, and yet it is itself ever
the same, ever the same. It reveals itself to man in the majesty and
terror of storm, or in the joyousness of peace; when with leaden eye
it glowers upward at the leaden clouds, or when the rain sweeps over
it in misery. But the secret of the sea lies beyond all these, hidden
in the depths, profound, sublime.
I imagine that whilst the prodigal son sat at meat with his father and
their guests, there may have come to the door a weary tramp begging
food and lodging. The elder brother would probably refuse hospitality,
saying, "You are not even my sinning brother, and shall I harbour
you?" The father in his wine might cry a welcome—"Let him come in
for the sake of my son found this day; he also was a tramp upon the
road." The prodigal would say to his steady-going, sober elder,
"You say he is not your brother; but he is mine, he is my brother
wanderer." "Oh, come in then," the elder brother would retort; "but
you must do some work—we can't encourage laziness. You may have
shelter and food, but to-morrow you must work with us in the fields
This counsel of the elder brother has endured, and is accounted wise.
But this type of hospitality is not of that sort that was rewarded,
say, in Eager Heart. It is scarcely what the writer to the Hebrews
intended when he said, "Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful
to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels
unawares." Of those who wander about the world there are many ordinary
men who would be ready to do a morning's work for their board, but
there are also gods in disguise. There are mysterious spirits who
cannot reveal the necessities of their fate; souls whom if we could
recognise in their celestial guise we should worship, falling down at
their feet with the humility of the cry, "I am not worthy that thou
shouldest come under my roof."
There is another important objection to the complexion of the elder
brother's hospitality. Perhaps the tramp would of his own accord have
volunteered to work with them next morning. If so, the tramp was
deprived of his chance of giving in return. What would have been his
gift has been made his price. He should not have been asked to pay.
No one asks a brother to pay for food and shelter. And are we not all
brothers? True hospitality is a sign of the brotherhood of man, and
the open threshold symbolises the open heart. Inhospitality is the
sign that man will not recognise the stranger as his brother.
There are two sorts of hospitality, that which gives all it has and
that which gives what you want—the former growing out of the latter.
The one is prodigal and overflowing generosity, almost embarrassing in
its lavishness, the other the simple and ordinary kindness that will
always give what it has when there is need; the one the hospitality
of Mary who poured out the precious ointment, the other the simple
hospitality and homely kindness of Martha; the one is the glory of
sacrifice and is of one day in a year or of one day in a life, the
other is a sacred due and is of every day. The latter should at least
be universal hospitality. It ought to be possible for man to wander
where he will over this little world of ours and never fail to find
free food and shelter and love. I know no greater shame in national
development than the commercialisation of the meal and the night's
lodging. It has been our great disinheritance.
But, of course, it would be folly to demand hospitality or to attempt
to enforce it. It is like the drunken cobbler who said to his wife,
"You don't love me, curse you, but by God you shall if I have to kill
you first." Even if a paternal government made a law that hospitality
was obligatory and that whoever asked a night's lodging must be
given it, then at one blow the whole idea of hospitality would be
annihilated. Hospitality must be something freely given, flowing
genially outward from the heart. When in the Merchant of Venice the
Duke says, "Then must the Jew be merciful!" and Shylock asks with true
Jewish commercialism, "On what compulsion must I, tell me that?" then
Portia gives the eternal answer—
The quality of mercy is not strained,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blessed;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Need it be said mercy and hospitality are in many respects one and the
same, and that when Portia says, "We do pray for mercy and that same
prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy," it is like
saying, "We pray for hospitality in heaven and that prayer teaches us
to render hospitality here," like "Forgive us our trespasses as we
forgive them that trespass against us." We shall never be homeless,
either here or hereafter, if we love one another.
The shelter and food given one for the love of God are "sanctified
creatures." Sleeping in a home for the love of God is more refreshing
than sleeping at an inn for a price. One has been blessed and one has
also blessed in return; for again, hospitality, like mercy, blesses
both those who give and those who take. Throughout a night one has
helped to constitute a home, and the angels of the home have guarded
one. One has lain not merely in a house but in a Christian home, not
only in a home but in the temple of the heart.
It is sweet in a far-away land to be treated like a son or a brother,
to be taken for granted, to be embraced by strange men and blessed by
strange women. Sweet also is it for the far-away man to recognise
a new son or a new brother in the wanderer whom he has received. I
remember one night at the remote village of Seraphimo in Archangel
Government, how a peasant put both hands on my shoulders and, looking
into my eyes, exclaimed, "How like he is to us!"
Tramping across the Crimean moors I lost my way in the mist near the
monastery of St. George, and was conducted by a peasant to the Greek
village of Kalon, well known to old campaigners—it is between
Sebastopol and Balaklava. The village remains the same to-day as it
was in the days of the Crimean War, and the same families as lived
there then, or their descendants, live there now. I visited the
starosta, and he indicated a home where I might sleep the night. I
was taken in by an aged Greek woman and entertained among her family.
They brought me bread and wine, and spread out the best couch for me.
The sons told me of hunting exploits with the bear and the wild boar;
they told me how at Christmas time the wild turkeys fly overhead in
such numbers that it is the easiest thing in the world to shoot one's
Christmas dinner—and I thought that very convenient. When the sons
were silent, or talking among themselves, the old dame told me about
her youth: how she was only seventeen years old at the time of the
war; how the English were the most handsome of all the soldiers, how
the Turks were the most lazy and the most brutal, how the French and
the Italians simpered; how the English soldiers were loved by the
Greek girls, how they were also more generous than the other troops
and gave freely clothes and tea and sugar and whatever was needed in
the cottages and asked no money for it whatever; how in these days the
little children played with the cannon-balls, rolling them over the
moors and up the village street—all manner of gossip the good old
lady told me, beguiling the hours and my ears till it was bedtime.
Next day I offered to pay at least for my food, but the old lady,
though poor, waved her hand and said, "Oh no, it is for the love of
God!" How often have I had that said to me day after day in Russia,
especially in the North!
Another day in Imeritia, when I passed at evening through a little
Caucasian village and was beginning to wonder where I should have
my supper and find a night's lodging, a Georgian suddenly hailed me
unexpectedly. He was sitting, not in his own house, but at a table
in an inn. There were of course no windows to the inn, and all
the company assembled could easily converse with the horsemen and
pedestrians in the street below. He called out to me and I went up to
him. A place was made for me at the table, and he ordered a chicken
and a bottle of wine. I was just a little doubtful, for I had never
seen the man before and his anticipation of my needs was surprising,
but I accepted his invitation, drank his health, and ate my meal. He
looked at me very pleasantly, and he was more sensible than a Russian,
the sort of person who is marvellously interested in you, but who is
so gentle that he will ask no questions lest you find some pain in
answering him. But I told him about myself. After the meal he took me
along to his house and gave me a spare bed. All was very disorderly
and he apologised, saying, "It is untidy, but I am a bachelor. What is
a bachelor to do? If I were married all would be different." I spent a
whole day with him, and in that short space he conceived for me as it
seemed an eternal friendship.
"You are very good," I said at parting. "You have been very
hospitable. I don't know how to thank you…." He stopped my words.
"No, no," he said, "it is only natural; it is no doubt what any one
would do for me in your country were I a stranger there."
"Would they?" I thought.
By the way, a curious example of inhospitality showed itself in this
village where I met the Georgian. We were sitting round a pitcher of
sweet rose-coloured wine, and one of us signalled to a rather morose
Akhbasian prince who was passing, but he took no notice. "He will not
drink wine with us," said my friend. "His wife is so beautiful."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"His wife is very beautiful and he is as jealous of her as she is
beautiful. He is like a dog who growls when he has suddenly got
something very good in his mouth: he fears any familiarity on the part
of other dogs."
As a tramp I have often felt how little I had to give materially for
all the kindness I have received. But even such as myself have their
opportunities of reciprocity, though they are of a humble kind. I call
to mind a cold, wet day near Batoum, how I had a big bonfire by a
stream under a bridge and I warmed myself, cooked food, and took
shelter from the rain. A Caucasian man and woman, both tramps, came
and sat by my fire a long while. The man took from his breast some
green tobacco leaves, dried them by the fire, and put them in his pipe
and smoked them. They spoke a language quite unintelligible to me
and knew not a word of Russian. But they were nevertheless extremely
demonstrative and told me all manner of things by signs and gestures.
Very poor, even starving, and I gave them some bread and beef and some
hot rice pudding from my pot. In return the man gave me five and a
half walnuts! We seemed like children playing at being tramps, but I
felt a very lively affection for these strange wanderers who had come
so trustingly to my little home under the bridge.
One of the beautiful things about hospitality is that though we do not
pay the giver of it directly, we do really pay him in the long run.
A is hospitable to B, B to C, C to D, and so on, and at last Z is
hospitable to A. It is largely a matter of "Forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive them that trespass against us." It is significant that
the Russian's parting word equivalent to our "God be with you" is
When St. Peter said to the beggar, "Silver and gold have I none, but
such as I have give I thee," it is not to be thought that he hadn't a
few coppers to spare. He meant, "Silver and gold are not my gifts; I
have something other and more precious." Thus the apostle indicated
the deeper significance of charity.
There is hospitality of the mind as well as of the hand, though both
spring from the heart. Hospitality of the hand is having a home with
open doors, but that of the mind is having open the temple of the
I once called upon a hermit and we talked of the significance of
hospitality. At last he said to me: "You praise hospitality well, my
brother, but there is another and a greater hospitality than you have
yet mentioned. It is the will to take the wanderer not only into the
house to feed but into the heart to comfort and love, the ability to
listen when others are singing, to see when others are showing, to
understand when others are suffering. It is what the writer to the
Corinthians meant by charity.
"Thus—'Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have
not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal,'
is like saying, 'Though I have all possible eloquence and yet do not
understand mankind, do not take him to my heart, I am as sounding
brass; unless my eloquence is music played upon the common chord I am
but a tinkling cymbal.'
"'And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all
mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I
could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing,' is
like saying, 'Though I see into the future but misunderstand its
significance; though I understand all mysteries, but not the mystery
of the human heart; though I am able to remove obstacles by faith, I
am simply like Napoleon, finishing up at St. Helena, I am nothing.'
"'And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give
my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing,'
is like saying, 'Organised philanthropy is not charity, neither is the
will to be a martyr, unless these things spring from the will to feel
how our brothers suffer.'
"'Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity
vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself
unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no
"'Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth,' for the
truth refutes all uncharitable judgment, the truth shows us all as
brothers, shows us all needing the love which one man can give to
"'Charity beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things,
endureth all things. Charity never faileth.'"
I understood the hermit though it seemed to me there was much that he
left out. Had he been a tramp instead of a hermit he would probably
have thought as I do. The world that he talked of was obviously one
entirely of men and women, and he left out of account all that world
which we call Nature.
It is well to receive men and shelter them and feed them, and well to
understand their hearts, but when men are not near there is another
beautiful world knocking at our doors and asking hospitality in
our souls; it is the world of Nature. Oh ye young of all ages, be
hospitable unto Nature, open your doors to her, take her to your
hearts! She will rebuild your soul into a statelier mansion, making
for herself a fitting habitation, she will make you all beautiful
within. Then, when you extend the hospitality of your hearts, your
temples, to man, they will be spacious temples and rich hearts.
Nature comes first, for she heals hearts' wounds; if you have not
received her communion first you will not be so fit to receive man.
The consumptive-bodied already go to the country, and we are nearly
all of us, in this era of towns, consumptive-souled. We need whole
hearts just as we need whole lungs. But what am I saying? I am bidding
you bargain with Nature for a price, and that is wrong. You must love
her, not for anything she can give you. What is more, you can never
know what she will give you: she may even take away. When you see her
you will love her as a bride. Be receptive to her beauty, be always
Eager Heart. When any man receives her into himself there is born in
his soul's house the baby Christ, the most wonderful and transfiguring
spirit that man has yet known upon a strange world.
THE STORY OF THE RICH MAN AND THE POOR MAN
On my way to Jerusalem I tramped through a rich residential region
where wealthy Armenians, Turks, and Russians dwelt luxuriously in
beautiful villas looking over the sea. I had been sleeping out,
for the road was high and dry and healthy, but at last, entering a
malarial region, I began to seek shelter more from man than from
One cold and cloudy night I came into the village of Ugba and sought
hospitality. There were few houses and fewer lights, and some feeling
of awkwardness, or perhaps simply a stray fancy, prompted me to do an
unusual thing—to beg hospitality at one of the luxurious villas. I
had nearly always gone to the poor man's cottage rather than to the
rich man's mansion, but this night, the opportunity offering, I
appealed to the rich.
I came to the house of a rich man, and as I saw him standing in the
light of a front window I called out to him from a distance. In the
dusk he could not make out who I was, but judging by my voice he took
me for an educated man, one of his own class.
"Can you put me up for the night?" I asked.
"Yes," he replied cheerfully. "Come round by the side of the house,
otherwise the dogs may get in your way."
But when the rich man saw me on his threshold a cloud passed over his
eyes and the welcome faded from his face. For I was dressed simply
as a tramp and had feet so tired that I had not troubled to take the
signs of travel from my garments. I had a great sack on my back, and
in my hand a long staff.
The head of the house, a portly old gentleman with a long beard,
interrogated me; his son, a limp smiling officer in white duck, peered
over his shoulder; two or three others of the establishment looked on
from various distances.
"What do you want?" asked the old gentleman curtly, as if he had not
"A lodging for the night," I said unhappily.
"You won't find lodging here," said the greybeard in a false
stentorian voice. And the little officer in white giggled.
"You've made a mistake and come to the wrong house. We have no room."
"A barn or outhouse would serve me nicely," I put in.
The old man waved his hand.
"No, no. You are going southward? You have strayed somewhat out of
your path coming up here. There is a short cut to the main road. There
you'll find a tavern."
It was in my mind to say, "I am an Englishman, a traveller and writer,
and I am on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. You misdoubt my appearance, and
are afraid of sheltering an unknown wanderer, but I am one whom you
would find it interesting and perhaps even profitable to harbour." But
my heart and lips were chilled.
I had taken off my pack, but put it on again humbly and, somewhat
abashed, prepared to leave. The family stood by staring. It was a very
unusual thing for a poor tramp to come and ask hospitality. Tramps as
a rule knew better than to come to their doors. Indeed, no tramp had
ever come there before. It rather touched them that I should have
believed they would shelter me. Their refusal troubled them somewhat.
"There's always plenty of room in the tavern," said the rich man to
his wife. "And they'll be glad to have a customer."
As I turned to go, some one brought a light, and a gleam fell on my
face. The company expected to see the cringing, long-suffering face
of a peasant in the presence of his master, but the light showed
"He is perhaps one of our own class … or … God knows what …"
they thought, one and all. "It is hateful to have refused him. But no,
if he is one of us, why does he come clothed like a common man? He has
only himself to blame."
The old man, feeling somewhat ashamed, offered to show me the way. He
came out and pointed out the short cut to the tavern.
"It is quite clear. I shall find the way," I said. "Thank you."
The old man halted as if he wished to say something more.
"What now?" I asked myself. I said good-bye, and as I moved away he
"You are going far, belike!"
"To Jerusalem," I answered laconically. In Russia there is only one
thing to say when a man tells you he is going to Jerusalem. It is,
"Pray for me there!" But somehow that request stuck in the old man's
When I got outside the park gates I pulled down my pack and took
out of it the only thing that had stood between me and a night's
lodging—a grey tweed sportsman's jacket—and I put it on, and with it
a collar and tie, and I walked along the road in real sadness. For I
I could forgive the man for doing so unto me, but it was hard to
forgive him for doing so unto himself, unto us all. He had made life
ugly for a moment, and made the world less beautiful. To-morrow the
sun and the earth would be less glorious because of him.
But I had only walked a few steps down the road from the rich man's
house when I came to a poor peasant's hut where there burned one
little light at a little square window.
And I thought, "Please God, I will not go to the tavern, which is
possibly kept by a Turk and is very dirty. I will try for a night's
I knocked at the door with my staff.
There was a stirring inside.
"Who is there?"
"One who wants a lodging for the night. It is late to disturb you, but
I fear there will be rain."
A peasant woman came to the door and unbarred it, and let me in.
"Ah, little father," she said, "you come late, and we have little
space, as you see, only one room and a big family, but come in if you
She turned up the little kerosene lamp and looked at me.
"Ai, ai," she said, "a barin." She looked at my coat and collar. "It
will be but poor fare here."
"Not a barin" I urged, "but a poor wanderer coming from far and
going farther still. I generally sleep under the open sky with God as
my host and the world as my home, but to-night promises storm, and I
fear to take cold in the rain."
The peasant girl, for she was no more, busied herself with the
samovar. "You must have something hot to drink, and some milk and eggs
perhaps. My husband is not yet home from market, but he will come
belike very soon, and will be very glad to find a stranger. He will
rejoice. He always rejoices to give hospitality to strangers upon the
When she had brought me a meal she fetched fresh hay from a barn and
spread a quilt over it and made a bed for me, and would have given me
her own pillow but that I pointed out that my pack itself made a very
good resting-place for my head.
Then her husband came home, a strong kindly man, full of life and
happiness, and he did rejoice as his little wife had promised. He was
sorry he had not wine with which to entertain me. Such people drink
wine not more than twice in a year.
And with these humble, gentle folk I forgot the rich man's coldness,
and healed my heart's wounds. Life was made beautiful again. To-morrow
the sun would be as bright as ever.
I slept in the comfortable warm bed on the floor of the poor peasant's
hut, and the storm rolled overhead, the winds moaned and the rain
"You are going to Jerusalem," said the good man and woman next
morning, "pray for us there. It is hard for us to leave our little hut
and farm, or we would go to the Holy Land ourselves. We should like
to go to the place where the Christ was born in Bethlehem and to the
place where He died."
"I shall pray," I said; and I thought in my heart, "They are there in
Jerusalem all the time, even though they remain here. For they show
hospitality to strangers."
* * * * *
But as I trudged along my way there seemed to be a pathos too deep for
tears underlying my experiences at the hands of the rich man and of
the poor man.
That it should occur so in real life, and not merely in a moral tale!
The position of the rich man is so defensible. Of course it would
have been ridiculous of him to have sheltered me. Who was I? I had no
introduction. What was I? I might have robbed him in the night … or
murdered. I was ill-dressed and poor, therefore no doubt covetous of
his fine clothes and wealth. They would only have themselves to blame
if they sheltered me and I did them harm. Besides, was there not the
tavern close by? All reason pointed to the tavern.
But something troubled them, something in my face and demeanour!
Alas for such people! They forget that Christ comes into this world
not clothed in purple. They forget that Christ is always walking on
the road, and that he shows himself as one needing help. And always
once in a man's life the pilgrim Christ comes knocking at his door,
with the pack of man's sorrows on his back and in his hand the staff
which may be a cross.
* * * * *
I met the young officer in white next morning. He looked at me with a
certain amount of surprise. I hailed him.
"Did you sleep well at the tavern?" he asked.
"I found shelter at a peasant's house," I answered.
"Ah! That's well. I didn't think of that. You said you were going to
Jerusalem. Why is that? Evidently you are not Russian."
I told him somewhat of my plans. He seemed interested and somewhat
vexed. "I said we ought to have taken you in," he said apologetically.
"But you came so late—'like a thief in the night,' as the Scripture
I sat down on a stone and laughed and laughed. He stared at me in
"'Like a thief in the night,'" I cried out. "Oh, how came you to hit
on that expression? Go on, please—'and I knew you not.' Who is it who
cometh as a thief in the night?"
The officer smiled faintly. He was dull of understanding, but
evidently I had made a joke, or perhaps I was a little crazed.
He turned on his heel. "Sorry we turned you away," he repeated, "but
there are so many scoundrels about. If you're passing our way again be
sure and call in. Come whilst it's light, however."
A LODGING FOR THE NIGHT
Dzhugba is an aggregation of cottages and villas round about the
estuary of a little river flowing down from the Caucasus to the Black
Sea. On the north a long cliff road leads to Novorossisk a hundred
miles, and southward the same road goes on to Tuapse, some fifty miles
from Maikop and the English oil-fields.
I arrived at the little town too late to be sure of finding lodging.
The coffee-house was a wild den of Turks, and I would not enter it;
most private people were in bed. I walked along the dark main street
and wondered in what unusual and unexpected manner I should spend the
night. When one has no purpose, there is always some real providence
waiting for the tramp.
The quest of a night's lodging is nearly always the origin of
mysterious meetings. It nearly always means the meeting of utter
strangers, and the recognition of the fact that, no matter how
exteriorly men are unlike one another, they are all truly brothers,
and have hearts that beat in unison. Thus did it happen that I met my
strange host of Dzhugba.
A hatless but very hairy Russian met me at a turning of the road, and
eyeing me with lacklustre eyes asked me gruffly as a rude shopman
might, "What do you want?"
"A lodging for the night."
The peasant reflected, as if mentally considering the resources of the
little town. At last after a puzzling silence he put one fat hand on
my shoulder, and staring into my face, pronounced his verdict—
"The houses are all shut up and the people gone to bed. There is no
place; even the coffee-house is full. But never mind, you can spend
the night in a shed over here. I shall find you a place. No, don't
thank me; it comes from the heart, from the soul."
He led me along to a lumber-room by the side of the plank pier. It
contained two dozen barrels of "Portlandsky" cement. The floor was all
grey-white and I looked around somewhat dubiously, seeing that cement
is rather dirty stuff to sleep upon. But, nothing abashed, my new
friend waved his hand as if showing me into a regal apartment.
"Be at your ease!" said he. "Take whatever place you like, make
yourself comfortable. No, no thanks; it is all from God, it is what
God gives to the stranger."
He thereupon ran out on to the sand, for the shed was on the seashore,
and he beckoned me to follow. To my astonishment, we found out
there an old rickety bedstead with a much rent and rusted spring
mattress—apparently left for me providentially. It was so old and
useless that it could not be considered property, even in Russia. It
belonged to no one. Its nights were over. I gave it one night more.
The peasant was in high glee.
"Look what I've found for you," said he. "Who could have expected that
to be waiting outside for you? Several days I have looked at that
bedstead and thought, 'What the devil is that skeleton? Whence?
Whither?' Now I understand it well. It is a bed, the bed of the
Englishman on the long journey…."
The mattress was fixed to an ancient bed frame—one could not call it
bedstead—with twisted legs that gave under weight and threatened to
break down. We brought the "contrapshun" in.
"Splendid!" said my host.
"Impossible," I thought, trying to press down the prickly wire where
the mattress was torn.
"No doubt you are hungry," my friend resumed. I assured him I was not
in the least hungry, but despite my protestations he ran off to bring
me something to eat. I felt sorry; for I thought he might be bringing
me a substantial supper, and I had already made a good meal about an
hour before. What was more, he lived at some distance, and I did not
care to trouble the good man, or for him to waken up his wife who by
that hour was probably sleeping.
However, he was gone, and there was nothing to be done. I laid some
hay on the creaking sorrow of a bed, and endeavoured to bend to safety
the wilderness of torn and rusty wire. I spread my blanket over the
whole and gingerly committed my body to the comfortable-seeming couch.
Imagine how the bed became an unsteady hammock of wire and how the
contrivance creaked at each vibration of my body. I lay peacefully,
however, looked at the array of cement barrels confronting me, and
waited for my host. I expected a plate of chicken and a bottle of
wine, and was gradually feeling myself converted to the idea that I
wouldn't mind a nice tasty supper even though I had made my evening
What was my astonishment when the good man returned bearing a
square-foot slice of black bread on which reposed a single yellow
carrot! I looked curiously at the carrot, but my host said,
"Nitchevo, nitchevo, vinograd"—"Don't worry, don't worry, a grape,
He had also brought a kerosene lamp, which, however, lacked a glass.
He stood it on one of the grey barrels and turned it monstrously high,
just to show his largeness of heart, I suppose. I got up and turned
it down because it was smoking, and he waved his hand once more
deprecatingly, and turning the wick up and down several times,
signified that I was to do with it exactly as I pleased. He left it
smoking again, however.
I put the thought of a good supper out of my mind and looked at the
black bread with some pathos, as who would not after conjuring before
the eyes a plate of chicken and a bottle of wine? However, it was
indeed nitchevo, to use the Russian phrase, a mere nothing. I
averred I was not hungry and put the bread in my pack, of which I had
made a pillow, and simulating comfort, said I thanked him and would
now go to sleep. My host understood me, but was not less original
in his parting greeting than in the rest. He shook hands with me
effusively, and pointed to the roof.
"One God," he said. "And two men underneath. Two men, one soul."
He looked at me benevolently and pointed to his heart.
"Two men, one soul," he repeated, and crossed himself. "You
Then he added finally, "Turn the lamp as high as you like," and suited
the action to the word by turning it so high that one saw a dense
cloud of smoke beyond the lurid flame.
My queer guardian angel disappeared. I fastened the door so that it
should not swing in the wind, and then climbed back into my wire
hammock, stretched out my limbs, laid my cheek on my pack, and slept.
Nothing disturbed me, though I woke in the night, and looking round,
missed the Ikon lamp which would have been burning had I been in
a home. It was a saint's day. The absence of the Ikon told me the
difference between sleeping in a house and sleeping in a home.
Perhaps it was because of this difference that my host blessed me so
Next morning I sought my host in vain. He had apparently left the town
before dawn with a waggon of produce that had to be carted to Tuapse.
At breakfast in the Turkish coffee-house I looked with some amusement
at the bread and carrot, discarded the latter, but munched the former
to the accompaniment of a plate of chicken and a bottle of wine. My
imagining, therefore, of the previous night was not altogether vain.
All that was needed was that my comical host should look in. As it
was, in his absence I drank his health with a Georgian.
SOCRATES OF ZUGDIDA
I was travelling without a map, never knowing what I was coming to
next, what long Caucasian settlement or rushing unbridged river, and I
came quite unexpectedly to a town. I had not the remotest idea that a
town was near, and when I learned the name of the town I realised that
I had never heard of it before—Zugdida.
This is no fairy story. Zugdida veritably exists, and may be found
marked on large maps. I came into it on a Sunday evening, and found it
one of the largest and most lively of all the Caucasian towns I had
yet visited; the shops and the taverns all open, the wide streets
crowded with gaily dressed horsemen, the footways thronged with
peasants walking out in Sunday best. A remote town withal, not on the
railways, and unvisited as yet by any motor-car—unvisited, because
the rivers in these parts are all bridgeless.
I was looking for a place where I might spend the night—towns are
inhospitable places, and one is timorous of sleeping in a tavern full
of armed drunkards—when I was hailed by a queer old man, who noticed
that I was a stranger. He kept one of the two hundred wine-cellars of
the town, and was able to give me a good supper and a glass of
wine with it. He was an aged Mingrelian, bald on his crown, but
lank-haired, dreamy-eyed, stooping; he had a Robinson Crusoe type of
countenance. I had come to one of the oldest inhabitants of Zugdida,
an extraordinary character.
I asked him how the town had grown in his memory.
"When I came here from the hills forty years ago," said he, "long
before the Russo-Turkish War, there were three houses here—three
only, two were wine-cellars. Now Zugdida is second only to Kutais. I
remember how two more wine-cellars were built, and a small general
shop, then a bread shop, then two more wine—cellars, two little
grocer's shops, some farm-houses. We became a fair-sized village, and
wondered how we had grown. The Russians came and built stone houses
and a military barracks, a prison, a police-station, and a big church;
then came the Hotel of Russia, the Universal Stores. We built the
broad, flag-stoned market, and named a Fair day; saddlery and sword
shops opened, blacksmiths, gunsmiths, coppersmiths, jewel workers,
tailors; Singer's sewing machines came, two more hotels, and we grew
and grew. We have now over two hundred taverns. We have offered the
Government to pay for all the necessary land, and defray all minor
expenses, if they will connect us with Poti by railway, and if it were
not that so many people want bribes we should be part of Europe. As it
is, we're just a bit of the old Caucasus."
He pointed to a group of drunkards, all armed from head to foot,
but now clinging to one another and raising their voices in Asiatic
After supper—a stew of mutton and maize, with a bottle of very sweet
rose-coloured wine—the old man took me aside and made me a long
harangue on life and death and the hereafter. Better sermon on a
Sunday evening I never heard in church. He told me the whole course of
the good man's life and compared it with that of the bad man, weighed
the two, and found the latter wanting on all counts, adding, however,
that it was impossible to be good.
"How did you come to think so seriously of life?" I inquired.
"In this way," he replied. "Once I was very 'flee-by-the-sky'—I
didn't care a rap, sinned much, and feared neither God nor the
devil—or, if anything, I feared the devil a little; for God I never
had the least respect. But one day I picked up a book written by one
Andrew, and I read some facts that astonished me. He said that in
eight thousand years after the creation of the world the sun would go
red and the moon grey, the sun would grow old and cease to warm the
world—just as you and I must inevitably grow old. In that day would
be born together, one in the East and one in the West, Christ and the
Anti-Christ, and they would fight for the dominion of the world. This
story caused me to pause and think. Hitherto I had taken all for
"It had never occurred to me that the sun might stop shining, that the
stars might go out. I had scarcely thought that I myself might stop,
"'What happens to me when I die?' I asked people. 'God will judge
you,' they said. 'If good, you go to heaven; if evil, to hell.' That
did not satisfy me. How did people know? No one had ever come back to
tell us how things were done after death.
"I had never thought at all before, but now I began to think so hard
that I could not go about the ordinary things of life, I was so
wrapped up in the mystery of my own ignorance.
"People said I was under the evil eye. But that again was nonsense.
'Whence comes man?' I asked. 'Where does he go? Where was I before I
was born?' I was part of my ancestors. Very well. 'But where shall I
go when I die? What shall I be?'
"I nearly learned to disbelieve in religion. You must know I began to
go to church every Saturday evening and on all festivals. I listened
intently to all the services and the sermons, and I read all that I
could find to read, and I asked questions of priests and of educated
people—all with the idea of solving this mystery of life. I tried to
be good at the bidding of the Church, but I gave that up. I learned
that it was impossible to avoid sin.
"You drink wine—this is a sin; give short weight—that is a sin;
look on your neighbour's wife—that is a sin; everything you do
is sin—even if you do nothing, that is sin; there is no road of
"I went on living as I felt inclined, without care as to whether it
were sin or no. But still I asked myself about man's life.
"Some one said to me, 'You will never understand, because you think of
yourself as a separate individual, and not as just a little part of
the human race. You live on in all the people who come after you, just
as before you were born you lived in those who were before you.'
"That was something new, but I understood him, and I asked him a new
question: 'If what you say is true—and very likely it is—what, then,
is the past of the whole human race, and what its future? What does
the life of the human race mean?'
"That he could not answer. Can you answer it? No. No one can answer
* * * * *
"You are like Socrates," I said.
"Who was Socrates?"
"He was the man whom the Oracle indicated as the wisest man alive. All
men knew nothing, but Socrates was found wiser than they, for he alone
knew that he knew nought."
A look of pleased vanity floated over the face of my Mingrelian host.
He was at least quite human.
Before going to bed we drank one another's healths.
"HAVE YOU A LIGHT HAND?"
This is not simply a matter of making pastry, as you shall see.
I was tramping along a Black Sea road one night, and was wondering
where I should find a shelter, when suddenly a little voice cried
out to me from the darkness of the steppe. I stopped and looked and
listened. In a minute a little boy in a red shirt and a grey sheepskin
hat came careering towards me, and called out: "Do you want a place
to sleep? My mother's coffee-house is the best you'll find. The
coffee-house down the hill is nothing to it. There it is, that dark
house you passed. I am out gathering wood for the fire, but I shall
come in a minute."
Sharp boy! He was only eight years old. How did he guess my need so
I retraced my footsteps very happily, and came to the dark inn I had
missed. It stood fifty yards back from the road, and had no light
except what glimmered from the embers of a wood fire. At the door was
a parrot that cried out, "Choozhoï, choozhoï, choozhoï preeshhòl"—"A
stranger, a stranger, a stranger has arrived."
The mother, a pugnacious gossip with arms akimbo, looked at me with
perturbed pleasure. "Are you a beggar or a customer?" she asked.
"Because if you're a beggar," etc. I cut her short as soon as I could.
I assured her I should be much pleased to be a customer.
I ordered tea. The boy came in and claimed me as his find, but was
snubbed. My hostess proceeded to ask me every question known to
her. To my replies, which were often not a little surprising, she
invariably replied with one of these exclamations, "Say it again, if
you please." "Indeed!" "With what pleasure!"
That I was a tramp and earned my living by writing about my adventures
pleased her immensely. I earned my living by having holidays, and
gained money where other travellers never did anything but spend.
"With what pleasure" did she hear that literary men were paid so many
roubles a thousand words for their writings. One could easily write an
immense quantity, she thought.
The little boy looked at me with bright eyes, and listened. Presently,
when his mother was dilating on the inferiority of painting as a
profession, he broke in.
The mother was saying, "Not only does the painter catch cold standing
still so long in marshy places, but when he has finished his pictures
he has to hawk them in the fairs, and even then he may not be able to
"What fairs?" asked the boy.
"The fairs of Moscow, Petersburg, Kiev, and the great towns. Some sell
for fifty roubles, some for five hundred, some for five thousand and
more. A little picture would go for five roubles perhaps."
"What size pictures would one buy for fifty roubles?" asked the boy.
"Oh, about the same size as from the floor to the ceiling."
"What size would one be that cost five thousand roubles?"
"Oh, an immense picture; one could build a country house out of it."
The boy reflected.
"And five hundred thousand roubles?" he asked. But his mother remained
profitably silent over the preparation of the family soup. The fire
now blazed with the additional wood that had been heaped upon it. The
little voice repeated the absurd question, and the mother shouted,
"Silence! Don't make yourself a nuisance."
"But how big would it be?" whined the boy. "Tell me."
"Oh, the same, but bigger, stupid!"
Thereupon my little friend was very happy, and he apparently ascribed
his happiness to me.
A few minutes later he abruptly asked permission to take me up a
mountain to show me a castle next morning, and his mother agreed,
pointing out how extremely profitable it would be for me. The little
boy rejoiced; he had apparently wanted to go up to that castle for a
long while. How excited and happy he was!
His mother paid little attention to her child, however, and her
interest lay in the bubbling cauldron where the soup was cooking. "You
have a very clever boy," I said, but she did not agree with me. His
pranks and high spirits were to her evidence of stupidity. I must say
I felt we were the stupid party, and the boy was a little wonder. We
went on gossiping, and presently he proved us stupid.
He started up with one finger to his ear and then darted out, leaving
the door open and letting the steppe air pour in.
The mother listened, and then said discontentedly after a pause, "That
child is not usual."
The boy came back with fifteen shaggy customers, however; fifteen
red-faced waggoners, half-frozen in their sheepskins, and all
clamoured for food and drink.
The boy, all excitement, danced up to me and said, "Have you a light
hand? You must have a light hand!" I didn't know what he meant, but he
was off before I had time to ask.
He began serving tea and cutting bread and asking questions. Did
any one want soup? Nobody wanted soup at first, but at the boy's
solicitations nine of them agreed to have portions at twopence a
plateful. The mother persuaded others to have pickled herrings,
The inn was of two rooms: one a bedroom and retiring-room without a
door. The Ikon of this room served the economical hostess for both
The waggoners were all surly till they had fed. "Show me where we can
bow to God," said one of them very gruffly, not seeing the Ikon. The
little boy led him and all his mates into the little bedroom, and they
all bowed their hairy faces and crossed themselves before the Ikon of
Then they returned and consumed the soup and the herrings and bread
and cheese and wine and tea. I looked on. My hostess was turning a
pretty penny. I was looking on at a very pleasant and surprising
Every now and then one of the mouzhiks would stump out to see how the
horses were, for they had a long train of waggons carrying building
materials to the Tsar's estate of Livadia. At length all had supped,
and they came up to the counter one by one and thanked the hostess
heartily, paying her the while.
Only one of the men was dissatisfied—the last one to come up.
"Your soup is dear," said he.
"Dear! What do you mean?" said the woman. "How much would you pay for
such soup in Yalta, and with beef at fivepence a pound, too?"
"In Yalta they give one soup."
"Here … as God wills … something…." The mouzhik slammed the
"There's a man," said my hostess, but she wasn't enraged. Had she
not just sold the family's soup for eighteenpence, and made tenpence
profit on it, and wouldn't her husband be pleasantly surprised when he
saw there were three shillings more on the counter than usual? It was
not often that such custom had come to her.
The boy explained the reason to her in a whisper: "He has a light
"Very like," said she, looking at me with new interest.
"What do you mean?" I asked the boy.
"Why, don't you know?" said he wonderingly. "Wherever you go you bring
good fortune. After I met you on the road I immediately began to
find wood much more plentifully. When I came in I learned how to buy
pictures. Then mother said she would let me go with you to see the
castle. Then, not only are you a good customer staying the night, but
after you came all this crowd of customers. Generally we have nobody
"And I met this wonderful boy," thought I. "I should like to carry him
away. He is like something in myself. He also had the light hand,
but what a testimony he gave the tramp! Wherever he goes he brings
As once I wrote before, "tramps often bring blessings to men: they
have given up the causes of quarrels. Sometimes they are a little
divine. God's grace comes down upon them."
ST. SPIRIDON OF TREMIFOND
The charge for driving on Caucasian roads is a penny per horse per
mile, so if you ride ten miles and have two horses you pay the driver
one shilling and eightpence. But if, as generally happens, the
driver's sense of cash has deprived him of a sense of humour, a
conversation of this kind commonly arises.
"One and eightpence. What's this?"
"Ten miles, and two horses at a penny per horse per mile; isn't that
"To the devil with your one and eightpence. Give it to the horses;
a penny a mile for a horse, and how about the man, the cart, the
harness? I gave you hay to sit on. See what fine weather it has
been! What beautiful scenery! Yonder is the church … the wineshop,
"Hold hard, my good man. The Universe, our salvation by Christ, why
don't you charge for these as well! Here's sixpence to buy yourself a
The driver takes the sixpence and looks at it, makes a calculation,
and then blurts out:
"What! Sixpence for a man and tenpence for a horse; ai, ai, what a
barin I have found. Sixpence for a man and tenpence for a horse. Bad
news, bad news! Cursed be the day…."
Here you give him another sixpence, and get out of earshot quickly.
A penny a mile a horse. It is good pay in the Caucasus, and I for my
part charge myself only a halfpenny a mile. If I walk twenty-five
miles, then I allow myself a shilling wages, and, of course, some of
that I save for the occasion when I come into a town with a great
desire for good things. Then a spending of savings and a feast!
"Good machines use little fuel," said an emaciated tramp to me one
day. But I have no ambition to be accounted a good machine on those
terms. I eat and drink anything that comes in my way, and am ready
at any moment to feast or to fast. I seldom pass a crab-apple tree
without tasting its fruit, or allow myself to pass a mountain stream
Along this Black Sea road in the autumn it would be impossible to
starve, so lavish is Nature of her gifts. Here are many wild fruits,
plums, pears, blackberries, walnuts, grapes, ripening in such
superfluity that none value them. The peasant women pick what they
need; the surplus is allowed to fall and rot into the soil.
I made my way to Ghilendzhik through miles of wild fruit-trees ranged
in regular order. It is said that once upon a time when this territory
belonged to Turkey, or even before then, the land was laid out in
orchards and vineyards, and there was not a square foot uncultivated.
I ate of wild pears and kisil plums. The pears were more the
concentrated idea of pears than that we take from gardens; the kisil
plums, with which the bushes were flaming, are a cloudy, crimson fruit
with blood-like juice, very tart, and consequently better cooked than
raw. My dictionary tells me that the kisil is the burning bush of the
Old Testament, but surely many shrubs claim that distinction.
It was a glorious walk over the waste from Kabardinka to Ghilendzhik,
with all manner of beauty and interest along the way. I left the road
and cut across country, following the telegraph poles. In front of me
fat blue lizards scuttled away, looking like little lilac-coloured
dachshunds; silent brown snakes shot out of reach at the sight of my
shadow; and every now and then, poking and grubbing like a hedgehog,
behold a large tortoise out for prey like his brother reptiles. This
domiciled the tortoise for me; otherwise I had only associated him
with suburban gardens and the "Zoo." Now as he hissed at me angrily I
knew him to be a lizard with a shell on his back. I picked up several
of them and examined their faces—they didn't like that at all. They
have a peculiar clerical appearance, something of the sternness and
fixity of purpose which seems to express itself in the jaws and eyes
of some learned divines.
With what eagerness the tortoises scrambled away when I disturbed
them. They run almost speedily in their natural state. I was amused at
the strength of their claws, and the rate at which they tore a passage
into a thicket and disappeared.
Half-way to Ghilendzhik there is a stone quarry, and there one may see
thousands of what are called in England "Cape gooseberries," bright
berries of the size and colour of big ripe strawberries. They peeped
out shyly everywhere among the tall grasses and the ground-scrub.
Above them were stretches of saffron-coloured hollyhocks, a flood
of colour, and with these as sisters, evening primroses, a great
abundance. Lilac and crimson grasshoppers rushed over them, jumping
into the air and into vision, a puff of bright colour—then subsiding
into the greyness of the dust as they alighted and the sombre
wing-cases closed over their little glory. On the ground when waiting
to spring, these grasshoppers looked as if made of wood: they looked
like displaced chessmen of ancient workmanship.
What a rush of insect life there was in the air, new-born fritillary
butterflies like little flames, dragon-flies, bee-hawks, fat
sun-beetles, gorgeous flies, the sinister green praying-mantis! The
Athena of the air expressed herself in all her wonder.
* * * * *
Ghilendzhik is a collection of datchas (country-houses) and Caucasian
dwelling-places. Its name signifies "The White Bride," and it is a
quiet, beautiful watering-place in a pure bay, beloved of all Russians
who have ever visited it. It is the healthiest resort on the whole
Black Sea shore, continually freshened by cool breezes from the
steppes. It is yet but a village, utterly undeveloped, unpavemented,
without shops or trams or bathing-coaches, or a railway station, and
those who visit it in the season regard themselves rather as a family
party. The beach is private, and a bathing costume is rather a rarity.
It is an amazing testimony to the simplicity of the Russian that
the upper classes behave at the seaside with little more
self-consciousness than the peasant children by the village stream.
When Ghilendzhik is commercialised to a Russian Brighton it will be
difficult to imagine what an Eden it once was.
I had looked forward to my arrival, for I had a Russian friend there,
living for the summer in her own datcha, and I had received a very
warm invitation to stay there some days.
The welcome was no less warm than the invitation. I arrived one
evening all covered with dust, my face a great flush of red from the
sun, my limbs agreeably tired. The house was a little white one on the
very edge of the sea. Part of the verandah had lately been washed away
in a storm, so close was the datcha to the waves. I went in, washed,
clad myself in fresh linen—the road-stained clothes were taken away
with a promise of return clean on the morrow—borrowed some slippers,
and sitting in an easy-chair on the verandah, lounged happily and
chatted with my hostess.
Varvara Ilinitchna is a Russian of the old type—you don't find many
of them nowadays, most of her friends would add—simple, quickwitted,
full of peasant lore, kind as one's own mother, hospitable as those
are hospitable who believe from their hearts that all men are
I was introduced to all the neighbours, to the visitors and the
natives, and of course invested with much importance as one who wrote
books, had no fear, who even intended pilgrimaging to Jerusalem.
"You sleep under the open sky—that means you have outlived fear,"
said Varvara Ilinitchna with some innocence.
Our next-door neighbour was a beautiful Greek girl, a veritable Helen,
for the sake of whose beauty one might give up all things. Young,
elegant, serpentine; clad in a single garment, a light cinnamon gown
clasped at the waist; no stockings, her legs bare and brown; on her
head a Persian scarf embroidered with red and gold tinsel; her face
white, with a delicate pink flush over it; hair and eyes black as
night, but also with a glitter of stars. Wherever she walked she was a
picture, and whether she was working about the house, or idling with
a cigarette on the verandah, or running over the sand to spank
mischievous boys who had been trespassing, she was delicately
graceful, something to watch and to remember. I shall remember
her chiefly in the setting of the night when the moon cast her
lemon-coloured beams over the sea.
"Very beautiful and very young," said my hostess, "but already she has
a history. She is only eighteen, but is married and has run away from
her husband. She wanted to marry a Russian, but her family forced
her to take for husband a Greek, an old man, and so jealous and so
frightened of the effect of her beauty upon other men that he shut her
up and made her wear a veil like a Turk. He would not let her out by
herself, and he never brought any friends home; he took to beating
her, and then she ran away. Her father received her and promised to
protect her. The old Greek cannot get at her any more; he has given
her up and gone away."
"Good for her!" I hazarded.
"Not at all good," was the answer. "She has a husband and yet has
none. She is young, but she can't marry again because she has a
* * * * *
At Ghilendzhik all meals were served on the verandah, and one lived
constantly in touch with the varying moods of the sea.
My hostess was a talker, ready to sit to any hour of the night
chatting of her life and of Russia. It was very pleasant to listen to
her. We sat together on the balcony after tea, with a big plate of
grapes between us, and I heard all that the world had to say at
A burning topic was the ruin that the sea had made of the verandah
wall. "The sea has been gradually gaining on us," said my friend.
"When we came here, the village Council reckoned on that. They smiled
when we bought the house, for they held that in quite a short time it
would be washed away. The Council wishes to build a fine esplanade all
along the sea-front—our house stands in the way and they don't wish
to buy us out. 'You'd better buy the datcha,' said Alexander Fed'otch
to them. 'Oh no,' said they, 'we leave that to God'—by 'God' meaning
the sea. They bound us under a contract not to build anything in front
of the house: they said they did not wish the view to be obstructed,
but in reality they did not want us to put up any protection against
the waves. They left the rest to Providence. The result was that the
whole property was nearly washed away in a storm.
"It happened like this. We were away at Vladikavkaz, and Vassily, the
watchman, was living in the house with his wife and family, looking
after it in our absence. There came a storm one evening. No one paid
any attention at first, but it became so bad in the night that even
Atheists were at their prayers. At three o'clock in the morning all
the villagers were up and dressed and watching it. They were afraid,
not only for our house, but for the rest of the village: no one
remembered such a storm. As for our datcha, being as it is the nearest
to the sea, the waves were already washing stones and mortar away.
Vassily worked as hard as man could, shifting the furniture, taking
out his household things, and trying to save the house. The villagers
helped him—even the councillors who had hoped for the storm, they
"The storm did not abate, so the priest was sent for, and he decided
to hold a prayer service on the seashore and ask God to make peace on
the water. They brought the Ikons and the banners from the church,
took the Service in case of great storms or danger, and when they
had sprinkled holy water on the waves, the storm drew to a lull and
gradually died away. The datcha was saved; perhaps the whole village.
Slava Tebye Gospody! Glory be to Thee, O God!
"They wrote to us at Vladikavkaz what had happened, and of course we
came down quickly. Then what a to-do there was! We demanded the right
to protect our property from the sea. The Council said, 'Yes, yes,
yes, don't alarm yourself; you'll be quite safe, safe as the Kazbek
mountain; we ourselves will protect you.' The Government engineer came
round and said once more, 'Don't alarm yourself! We are going to build
an embankment. Next year there will be a whole street in front of you,
and electric trams going up and down perhaps.'"
"Did you believe him?" I asked.
"We didn't know what to do, believe him or disbelieve, but we knew he
had been granted power to make investigations and draw up plans. For
months, now, they have been measuring the depth of the water and
testing this place and that. For my part, I think the preparations are
only a device for making money. The engineer will enrich himself: the
embankment and the street will be in his bank, but not here. The money
they have spent already on his reports is appalling. But of course, if
they do build an esplanade, our house will be worth three times what
it cost us. We will let it as a café or a restaurant, and it will
bring us rent all the year round. God grant it may be so!
"We resolved, however, to protect it, and we obtained permission to
build a Chinese wall in front of it. But Bozhe moi, what that wall
is costing us—already fifteen hundred roubles, and on the original
estimate we thought five hundred.
"Even as it is we don't know how we stand. The engineer may claim that
wall as belonging to the town. The town may have it knocked down, for
it is built just outside our boundary line. We go down to the sand,
and we have built upon the sand."
Obviously she hadn't built upon a rock.
"Now that they think of making a street in front of us, they will
call part of the seashore land, and it will be surveyed. Someone will
remark that we have encroached, and then down will go our wall and
with it our fifteen hundred roubles."
I agreed with her and sympathised. The chances were certainly against
the money having been profitably invested. But what an example of
We sat in silence and looked out over the placid waves on whose future
kindliness so much of my hostess's happiness seemed to depend. It was
a beautiful night. The sun had sunk through a cloud into the sea, and,
as he disappeared, the waves all seemed to grow stiller and paler;
they seemed full of anxious terror, as the faces of women whose
husbands are just gone from their arms to the war. Dark curtains
came down over their grief: the waves disappeared. The long bay was
unruffled and grey to the horizon, like a sheet of unscored ice. Even
the boats in the harbour seemed to be resting on something solid. The
one felucca in front of us, with its five lines of rope and mast, grew
darker and darker, till at last the moon rose and gleamed on her bows
My hostess continued to talk to me of the fortunes of her property.
"Twenty years ago," she said, "I was sitting on a log in a field one
summer afternoon, when up comes an old peasant woman leaning on a
stick and speaks to me in an ancient, squeaky voice:
"'Good-day!' I said.
"'Would you like to buy a little wooden hut and some land?'
"'Eh, Gospody! What should I want with a little wooden hut?' said I.
'What do you ask for it?'
"'Fifty roubles,' she squeaked. 'My son has written to me from
Poltava. He says, "Sell the hut and come and live with me," so I'm
just looking for a buyer.'
"'What did you say?' I asked. 'Fifty roubles?'
"'Fifty roubles, barinya. Is it too much?'
"I was astonished. A house and land for fifty roubles. Such a matter
had to be inquired into. I felt I must go and look at the hut. I went
and saw it. It was all right, a nice little white cottage and thirty
or forty yards of garden to it.' Here's your fifty roubles,' I said.
And I bought it on the spot.
"We did nothing with it.
"Next summer, when I came down to Ghilendzhik, I said to my husband,
'Let us go and see our house and land.' Accordingly we went along to
look. What was our astonishment to find it occupied by another old
crone. I went up to the door and said:
"'Good-day!' said a cracked old voice. 'And who might you be?'
"'I might be the landlady,' I said. 'How is it you're here?'
"'Oh, you're the khosaika, the hostess,' replied the old crone. 'Eh,
dear! Eh, deary, deary! My respects to you. I didn't know you were the
khosaika. I saw an empty cottage here one day; it didn't seem to
belong to any one, so, as I hadn't one myself, I just came in.'
"The old dame bustled about apologetically.
"'Never mind,' said I. 'Live on, live on.'
"'Live on,' said Alexander Fed'otch.
"We went away and didn't come back to it or ask about it for seventeen
years. Then one day I received a letter offering me twenty pounds (two
hundred roubles) for the property, but as I had no need of money I
paid no attention. A month later some one offered me thirty pounds.
Obviously there was something in the air; there was some reason for
the sudden lively interest in our property. Alexander Fed'otch went
down, and he discovered that the site was wanted by the Government for
a new vodka-shop. If we didn't sell, we should at last be forced to
give up the property to the Government, and perhaps find ourselves
involved in litigation over it. Alexander Fed'otch made negotiations,
and sold it for ninety pounds—nine hundred roubles—think of it. And
it only cost us five pounds to start with! Ah, here is a place where
you can get rich if you only have a little capital."
"The old woman?" I queried. "Was she evicted?"
"Oh no, she had disappeared—died, I suppose."
"You made a handsome profit!"
"Yes, yes. But that's quite another history. You think we made
eighty-five pounds profit. No, no. We ought to have invested the money
quietly, but unfortunately Alexander Fed'otch, when he was selling the
house, met another man who persuaded him to buy a plot of land higher
up, and to build a grandiose villa upon it. They thought it a splendid
idea, and Alexander Fed'otch paid the nine hundred roubles as part
of the money down for the contractor. It was a great sorrow—for no
profit ever came of it. It happened in the revolutionary time. We paid
the contractor two thousand roubles, and then suddenly all his workmen
went on strike. He was an honest man, and it was not his fault. His
name was Gretchkin. He went to Novorossisk to try to get together a
new band of men, and there he met with a calamity. He arrived on the
day when the mutinous sailors were hanged, and the sight so upset him
that he lost his head—he plunged into a barracks and began shooting
at the officers with his revolver. He was arrested, tried, and
condemned to death. The sentence, however, was commuted to penal
servitude—that was when we got our Duma and there was the general
pardon. Two thousand roubles were lost to us right away. The half-dug
foundations of our house remained—a melancholy sight.
"The datcha is finished now; to-morrow you must go and see it. But it
has cost us in all ten thousand roubles. I should be thankful to sell
it for five thousand. Ai, ai, and we are growing old now and living
My hostess went out to fetch another plate of grapes.
"We wanted to put a vineyard round the datcha, but what with the
children and the pigs mauling and biting at everything, it couldn't be
managed. We had, however, a pood of grapes from one of our gardens
The moon now bathed her yellow reflection in the mysterious sea, and
we sat and looked at it together.
"Vasia, my son, who has taken his musical degree, will stay up all
night to look at this sight," said my hostess. "It moves something in
It moved something in mine, and yet seemed strangely alien to the tale
I was hearing. That moon had flung its mystery over an Eastern
world, and it seemed an irrelevance beside the fortunes of a modern
Varvara Ilinitchna went on to tell me of her early days, and how
she and her husband had been poor. Alexander Fed'otch had taught in
schools and received little money. Their two sons were never well.
They had often wept over burdens too hard to bear.
One season, however, there came a change in their life and they became
prosperous. They prayed to be rich, and God heard their prayer.
"We owe the change in our fortunes to a famous Ikon," said Varvara
Ilinitchna. "It happened in this way. Alexander Fed'otch had an old
friend who, after serving thirty years as a clerk in an office,
suddenly gave up and took to the mountains. He was a wise man and knew
much of life, and it was through his wisdom that we sent for the Ikon.
We sheltered him all through the winters because he had no home, and
he came to love us and enter into our life. He rejoiced with us on
festivals when we were gay; when we were sad he sympathised. When we
shed tears he shed tears also. One evening when we were more than
ordinarily desperate he said to me, 'Take my advice; send for an Ikon
of St. Spiridon of Tremifond.' The Ikon costs ten shillings, and ten
shillings was much to us in those days. I told Alexander Fed'otch what
our friend had said, and he, being a religious man, agreed. We sent
ten shillings to Moscow and had the Ikon sent to us, and we took it to
church and had it blessed.
"That happened in the autumn. Those were the days when the Vladikavkaz
Railway was a novelty. The children, and even the grown-up people, did
nothing but play at trains all day. We used to take in the children of
the employees and look after them while their fathers and mothers were
away. Well, in the following May a director of the railway called on
Alexander Fed'otch and said he had a post to offer him.
"'We are thinking of taking all the children of the railway employees,
and establishing a school and pension for them where they can
get good meals and be taught. We will provide you with a house and
appointments, and you will get a good salary into the bargain. Your
wife will be mother to our railway children, and you will be general
manager of the establishment. Will you take the post?'
"'With pleasure!' answered Alexander Fed'otch. But I for my part
took some time to consider. It was hard enough to be mother to three
children of my own. How could I be mother to fifty?
"However, we agreed to take the offer, and then suddenly we found
ourselves rich and important people, and we remembered the Ikon of St.
Spiridon of Tremifond and thanked God. If you are ever poor, if ever
you want money, send for the Ikon of St. Spiridon. I advise you. Its
virtues are famous."
"An evil Ikon, nevertheless, that Spiridon of Tremifond," I thought,
but I wouldn't say so to my hostess.
"And you've been happy ever since?" I asked.
"Not happy. Who even hopes to be happy? But we did well. The railway
company opened new establishments, and the directors have loved my
husband, and one of them even said at a public meeting, 'Would to God
there were more men in the world like Alexander Fed'otch!' We took
larger charges and higher posts. We were even thanked publicly in the
press for our services."
Varvara Ilinitchna sighed. Then she resumed her talking in a different
"But we live through our fortune. Well, I understand it. It is
our Karma after the Revolution. Property shall avail us nothing.
Everything we have shall be taken from us. Look at this Chinese wall
taking away all our money. Think of that foolish contractor Gretchkin
and our costly datcha. Behold our sickly children. How much money have
we not spent trying to heal our children, eh, eh! Doctors have all
failed. Even a magic healer in the country failed."
"Tell me of him," I urged.
Varvara Ilinitchna went on only too gladly. She had found a listener.
"It was a peasant woman. She healed so many people that, though she
was quite illiterate, the medical faculty gave her a certificate
to the effect that she could cure. I know for a fact that when
specialists gave their patients up as hopeless cases, they recommended
her as a last resort. She was a miracle worker: she almost raised the
dead. You must know, however, that she could only cure rheumatism
cases. For other diseases there are other peasant women in various
parts of Russia. We went to this one and lived a whole summer with her
on a very dirty, dismal countryside. We were all bored to death, and
we came away worse than we went. And all such things cost much, I
My hostess verily believed in the effect of the holy water on the
stormy waves, in the gracious influence of St. Spiridon, and in the
magical faculties of certain peasants. Yet observe she uses the word
Karma: she calls herself a Theosophist. My long vagabondage she
calls my Karma.
"My happiness," I corrected her.
"Happiness or unhappiness, it is all the same, your Karma."
She went on to talk of the great powers of Mme. Blavatsky, and she
told me that Alexander Fed'otch had just ordered The Secret Doctrine
to read. Good simple man, he will never get through a page of that
abstruse work; and my hostess will understand nothing. Is it not
strange—these people were peasants a generation ago; they are
peasants now by their goodness, hospitality, religion, superstition,
and yet they aspire to be eclectic philosophers? Varvara Ilinitchna
has life itself to read, and she turns away to look at books. Life
does not satisfy her—there are great empty places in it, and she
would be bored often but that she has books to open in these places.
She was very interesting to me as an example of the simple peasant
mind under the influence of modern culture. Perhaps it is rather a
shame to have put down all her old wife's talk in this way, for she is
lovable as one's own mother.
AT A FAIR
One misty morning in late October I arrived at Batum, pack on back,
staff in hand, to all appearances a pilgrim or a tramp, and I drank
tea at a farthing a glass in the fair.
"Pour it out full and running over," said a chance companion to the
owner of the stall. "That's how we workmen like it; not half-full as
for gentlefolk." The shopman, a silent and very dirty Turk, filled my
glass and the saucer as well. And sipping tea and munching bubliki,
we looked out upon all the sights of the bazar.
There lay around, in all the squalor that Turks love, the marvellous
superabundance of a southern harvest—spread on sacks in the
mud—grapes purple and silver-green, pomegranates in rusty thousands,
large dew-fed yellow apples, luscious dirt-bespattered pears, such
fruits that in London even the rich might look at and sigh for, but
pass by reflecting that with the taxes so high they could not afford
them, but here sold by ragamuffins to ragamuffins for greasy coppers;
and not only these fruits, but quinces and peaches, the large yellow
Caucasian khurma, the little blood-red kizil, and many unnamed
rarities. They all surged up out of the waste of over-trodden mire,
as if the pageantry of some fairy world had been arrested as it was
disappearing into the earth.
Then, beside these gorgeous fruits, in multitudinous attendance, a
confused array of scarlet runners, tomatoes, cabbages, out-tumbled
sacks of glazy purple aubergines, mysterious-looking gigantic
pumpkins, buckets full of pyramidal maize-cobs, yellow,
The motley crowd of vendors, clamouring, gesticulating, are chiefly
distinguished by their hats—the Arabs in white turbans, the Turks
in dingy fezes jauntily cocked over dark, unshaven faces, some fezes
swathed in bright silk scarves; the Caucasians in golden fleece hats,
bright yellow sheepskin busbies; the few Russians in battered peak
caps, like porters' discarded head-gear; Persians in skull-caps;
Armenians in shabby felts, astrakhans, or mud-coloured bashliks.
The trousers of the Christians all very tight, the trousers of
the Mahometans baggy, rainbow-coloured—it is a jealous point of
difference in these parts that the Turk keeps four or five yards of
spare material in the seat of his trousers.
What a din! what a clamour!
"Kopeika, kopeika, kopeika."
"Oko tre kopek, oko tre kopek, oko tre kopek."
Thus Christians shout against Mussulmans over the grape-heaps—one
farthing, one farthing, one farthing; oko (three pounds) three
farthings, oko three farthings, oko three farthings. Fancy shouting
oneself hoarse to persuade passers-by to buy grapes at a farthing a
My companion at the tea-stall, a tramp-workman from Central Russia,
was astonished at the price of the grapes.
"It is possible to say that that is cheap," said he. "When I return to
Russia I will take forty pounds of them and sell them in the train at
twopence-halfpenny (ten copecks); that will pay for my ticket, I
think, in the fourth class."
I watched the Turks trafficking, jingling their ancient rusty
balances, manipulating their Turkish weights—the oko is not
Russian—and giving what was probably the most marvellous short weight
in Europe. The three-pound oko was often little more than a pound.
A native of Trebizond came and sat at our table. He wore carpet socks,
and over them slippers with long toes curled upperward like certain
specimens one may see in Bethnal Green Museum; on his head a
straw-plaited, rusty fez swathed with green silk of the colour of a
"The Italians have taken Tripoli," said the Russian, with a grin;
"fancy letting those little people thump you so!"
"And the Japanese?" said a Caucasian quickly.
The Turk looked sulky.
"Italia will fall," said he. "She will fall yet, dishonourable
country. They have stolen Tripoli. All you others look on and smile.
But it is an injustice. We shall cut the throats of all the Italians
in Turkey. Will you look on then and smile?"
A Greek sniggered. There were many Greeks at the fair—they all wear
blue as the Turks all wear red.
When the Turk had gone, the Greek exclaimed:
"There's a people, these Turks, stupid, stupid as sheep; all they need
are horns … and illiterate! When will that people wake up, eh?"
The Turks and the Greeks never cease to spit at one another, though
the former can afford to feel dignified, victors of their wars with
Greece. For the Italian the ordinary Turk has almost as much contempt
as for the Greek. One said to me, as I thought, quite cleverly:
"A Greek is half an Italian, and the Italian is half a Frenchman,
the Frenchman is half an Englishman, and you, my friend, are half a
German. We have some respect for a German, for he is equal to a score
of Greeks, a dozen Italians, or six Frenchmen, but we have no respect
at all for the rest."
Twenty Arabs passed us at the stall—all pashas, a Georgian informed
me. They had arrived the night before from Trebizond and the desert
beyond. Their procession through the ragged market was something to
wonder at—a long file of warriors all over six feet high, broad,
erect, with full flowing cloaks from their shoulders to their ankles,
under the cloaks rich embroidered garments. Their faces were white and
wrinkled, proud with all the assurance of men who have never known
what it is to stoop before the law and trade.
"They have come to make a journey through Russia," said the Georgian,
"but their consul has turned them back. They will pray in the mosque
and then return. It is inconvenient that they should go to Europe
while there is the war."
A prowling gendarme in official blue and red came up to the stall and
sniffed at the company. He pounced on me.
"Your letters of identification?" he asked.
I handed him a recommendation I had from the Governor of Archangel. He
returned it with such deference that all the other customers stared.
Archangel was three thousand miles away. Russian governors have long
It is unpleasant, however, to be scrutinised and thought suspicious. I
finished my tea and then returned to the crowd. There was yet more of
the fair to see—the stalls of Caucasian wares, the silks, the guns,
the knives, Armenian and Persian carpets, Turkish slippers, sandals,
yards of brown pottery, where at each turn one sees huge pitchers and
water-jugs and jars that might have held the forty thieves. At one
booth harness is sold and high Turkish saddles, at another pannier
baskets for mules. A flood of colour on the pavement of a covered
way—a great disarray of little shrivelled lemons, with stalks in
many cases, for they have been gathered hard by. In the centre of the
market-place are all the meat and fish shops, and there one may see
huge sturgeon and salmon brought from the fisheries of the Caspian.
Garish notices inform in five languages that fresh caviare is received
each day. Round about the butchers are sodden wooden stalls, labelled
and there, wrapped in old rags, is much grey muddy snow melting and
freezing itself. It has been brought on rickety lorries down the rutty
tracks of the mountains, down, down into the lowland of Batum, where
even October suns are hot.
Near the snow stalls behold veiled Turkish women just showing their
noses out of bright rags, and tending the baking of chestnuts and
maize cobs, sausages, pies, fish, and chickens. Here for eightpence
one may buy a hot roast chicken in half a sheet of exercise-paper. The
purchasers of hot chicken are many, and they take them away to open
tables, where stand huge bottles of red wine and tubs of tomato-sauce.
The fowl is pulled to bits limb by limb, and the customer dips, before
each bite, his bone in the common sauce-bowl.
Those who are poorer buy hot maize cobs and cabbage pies; those who
feel hot already themselves are fain to go to the ice and lemonade
stall, and spend odd farthings there. I bought myself matsoni,
Metchnikof's sour milk and sugar, at a halfpenny a mug.
The market square is vast. It is wonderful the number of scenes
enacting themselves at the same time. All the morning in another
quarter men were trying on old hats and overcoats, and having the most
amazing haggling over articles which are sold in London streets for a
pot of ferns or a china butter-dish. In another part popular pictures
are spread out, oleographs showing the Garden of Eden, or the terror
of the Flood, or the Last Judgment, and such like; in another is a
wilderness of home-made bamboo furniture, a speciality of Batum. And
for all no lack of customers.
What a place of mystery is a Russian Fair, be it in the capital or at
the outposts of the Empire! There is nothing that may not be found
there. One never knows what extraordinary or wonderful thing one may
light upon there. Among old rusty fire-irons one finds an ancient
sword offered as a poker; among the litter of holy and secular
secondhand books, hand-painted missals of the earliest Russian times.
Nothing is ever thrown away; even rusty nails find their way to the
bazar. The miscellanies of a stall might upon occasion be what is
left behind after a house removal. On one table at Batum I observed
two moth-eaten rusty fezes, a battered but unopened tin of herrings in
tomato-sauce, another tin half-emptied, a guitar with one string, a
good hammer, a door-mat worn to holes, the clearing of a book-case, an
old saucepan, an old kerosene stove, a broken coffee-grinder, and a
rusty spring mattress. Under the stall were two Persian greyhounds,
also for sale. The shopmen ask outrageous prices, but do not expect to
be paid them.
"How much the kerosinka?" I asked in sport.
"Ten shillings," said an old, sorrowful-looking Persian.
I laughed sarcastically, and was about to move away. The Persian was
taking the oil-stove to bits to show me its inward perfection.
"Name your price," said he.
I did not want a kerosene stove, but for fun I tried him on a low
"Sixpence," I said.
"Whew!" The Persian looked about him dreamily. Did he sleep, did he
"You don't buy a machine for sixpence," said he. "I bought this
second-hand for eight-and-sixpence. I can offer it to you for nine
shillings as a favour."
"Oh no, sixpence; not a farthing more."
I walked away.
"Five shillings," cried the Persian—"four shillings."
"Ninepence," I replied, and moved farther away.
"Two shillings." He bawled something more, inaudibly, but I was
already out of hearing. I happened to repass his stall accidentally
later in the morning.
"That kerosinka," said the Persian—"take it; it is yours at one
shilling and sixpence."
I felt so sorry for the unhappy hawker, but I could not possibly buy
an oil-stove. I could not take one as a gift; but I looked through
his old books and there found, in a tattered condition, The Red
Laughter, by Leonid Andreef, a drama by Gorky, a long poem by
Skitaletz, and a most interesting account of Chekhof's life by
Kouprin, all of which I bought after a short haggle for fivepence,
twenty copecks. I was the richer by my visit to his stall, for I found
good reading for at least a week. And the old Persian accepted the
silver coin and dropped it into an old wooden box, looking the while
with melancholy upon the unsold kerosinka.
A TURKISH COFFEE-HOUSE
It sometimes happens that, entering a house, one enters not simply
into the presence of a family but into that of a nation. So it was
when I was received in a Little-Russian deacon's cottage in a village,
on the Christmas Eve on which I first came to Russia. I came not to
the deacon but to Russia itself, and when the Christmas musicians
came and played before me it was not only Christmas music, or village
music, that I heard, but the voice of a whole countryside and the song
of a whole national soul. It sometimes happens that, looking at a
picture, one sees not only its local and obvious beauty, but its
eternal significance and message—that is a similar experience.
It happened to me whilst on a tramp in Trans-Caucasia to enter a
coffee-house that was at once a Turkish coffee-house and Turkey
itself. I lived for a whole night veritably in Turkey. In this way—
I came into a little town; it was a cold night and I wanted shelter.
I entered a noisy Turkish coffee-house—there were at least a hundred
such in the town—and asked if I might spend the night there. The
owner, a young man in shirt-sleeves, very dirty and unshaven, and with
an old fez on the side of his head, intimated that I might stay if I
The café was a room full of poor Turks. Picture a crowd of ragged men,
some in drab turbans with loose ends hanging down their backs, but
most of them in dingy red fez hats, faces unshaved, mottled, ugly—a
squat people, very talkative, but terribly mirthless; and in shadowy
corners of the low dark café solitary persons with hook-nosed,
ruminative faces. All about me was the din of the strange language,
the clatter of dice and dominoes. All night long the doors of the café
slammed and customers passed in and out, games were begun and played
away, animated groups formed at certain tables and then broke up
and gave way to new groups, loud discussions broke out over Turkish
newspapers and politics and the war, in the course of which
discussions the newspaper, a wilderness of Arabic, was often torn to
bits—a series of scenes of tremendous animation and noise; but no one
In the clamour of tongues sounded again and again the name "Italia."
The Turks were angry over the war, full of a restrained resentment and
a profound need for revenge. It was a relief to me when one of them
came to my table and talked to me in Russian.
"How goes the war?" I asked. "Is Italy losing?"
"Of course she is losing," he replied, lying sullenly; "and she must
"But she has taken Tripoli and guards it with her navy. How can she
"The other Powers will make her disgorge it, or we will commence an
endless hostility, not only against Italy and Italian trade, but
against all whom we tolerate—the Western Christians."
A Caucasian, overhearing us, drew his forefinger along his throat from
ear to ear, and smiled.
"There are more Mahometans than Christians," the Turk went on, "and
they are strong men, heroes. The Italians are the worn-out scum of
ancient Rome, getting the better of us ignobly. But they shall not
spoil the Mahometan world. Not even the English, most powerful of the
machine nations, shall overwhelm the true faith."
The keeper of the coffee-house came and stared at me. Two new
customers came up, and I was pointed out as an Englishman. They talked
about me in Turkish; other Turks came, they talked about England's
rôle in the war, they scolded, gesticulated, poured forth endlessly,
forgot me. Once more, though in a crowd, I was alone.
At this time a great diversion was caused. A blind musician came in.
At midnight one would have thought no new development in the life of
the café was likely to take place, but the musician brought into
the room such a crush of people that on all sides I felt packed and
crammed. A tall, gaunt man, hatless, shaggy-headed, his black locks
falling over a strange yellow brow; eyes that saw not, looking through
deep purple spectacles; and in his arms, like a baby, a long Armenian
guitar—the musician was somewhat to wonder at. Hemmed in by the
crowd, he yet found a little space in the body of the coffee-house,
and danced to and fro with his songs like some strange being in a
frenzy. He played with fire on his guitar, every minute breaking from
his sparkling, thrilling accompaniment into a wild human chant, his
face the while triumphant and passionate, but blind with such utter
blindness that he seemed like the symbol of Man's life rather than
a man; a great song of heart-yearning sung to the stars and to the
Infinite rather than the singer of that song.
His fingers flowed over the long guitar; the wild words broke out; he
flung himself in little zigzag steps to right, to left; the wild
chant stopped; once more spoke only the strings. I looked at him and
listened, and could not give myself enough to him.
At nearly two he made a collection and received many piastres and
copecks, and the crowd who had listened to him began to disperse. At
three o'clock the host signified that he wished to close the shop. To
all the remaining customers Turkish delight was served out as a sort
of parting gift. A dozen Turks, those who had homes, slunk away; the
remainder, those who had no homes of their own, stayed to sleep.
The host now came to me and we did some business. I wanted to change
some Turkish silver, as I was short of Russian money. As no bank
would take this small coin I was obliged to try the coffee-house.
Accordingly, I had asked my coffee-house keeper to buy a hundred or so
piastres. After half an hour's haggling we struck a very bad bargain.
I find the Turk more of a sharp than the Jew.
The long day was over. The shutters were pulled along in front of the
shop and padlocked. A form was accorded me on which to sleep. Another
form was drawn out into the middle of the room and placed at a certain
angle, pointing to the East, I suppose. Then during half an hour the
Turks ascended this form in turn, stood, bowed, knelt, prostrated
themselves in silent prayer, reiteratedly. They prayed very
differently from Russian peasants. Their movements were abrupt and
mechanical, like steps in a military drill. They were nearer to
spiritual death and praying-boxes than any I had ever watched pray
before. I felt myself in the presence of a new form of piety. I had
crossed the great broad line that separates Europe from Asia, and come
to a place where Europe is not understood and therefore hated.
At six next morning the sleepers awoke and performed the same rites on
the improvised praying-stool; the shutters were rolled back; the
Turks who had homes returned; in came the Arabic newspaper; once
more Turkish delight, coffee, the clatter of dice and dominoes, the
gathering of animated groups, loud, unpleasant voices and mirthless
vivacity—so the life of the coffee-house went on; so I imagine it
goes on for ever.
* * * * *
As I think of this in retrospect it seems that the blind musician
stood in some peculiar and significant relation to the more ordinary
life about him. But for him, I should probably have omitted to
describe my night among the Turks. He made the coffee-house worth
living in, worth sketching, worth being re-seen in the reflection of
words. He was what I should call the glory of the coffee-house.
Thus the garden of Eden was beautiful, but Adam and Eve in the garden
were the glory of the garden, the highest significance of its beauty,
the voice by which relatively dumb beauty got a step farther in
expressing itself. The garden would never have been described but for
the episode of Adam and Eve. It would not have been worth while to
describe it…. The forest is beautiful, but the bird singing in the
forest is the glory of the forest. The morning is beautiful, but the
tramp walking in the morning is the glory of the morning; he also, in
his youth and morning of life, is a voice by which beauty endeavours
to reveal itself.
Each scene, each picture, has a highest significance if we could but
find it. Thus the blind musician was a revelation of the very soul of
the Turks. The tramp wandering through life and exploring it tries
always to find what is particularly his in the scenes that come before
his eyes. It is what he means by living a daily life in the presence
of the Infinite.
AT A GREAT MONASTERY
In the Middle Ages, when Christianity was still young, there was much
more hospitality than to-day. The crusader and the palmer needed no
introduction to obtain entertainment at a strange man's house. The
doors of castle or cottage, of monastery or cell, were always on the
latch to the wanderer, and not only to those performing sacred dues
but to the vagabond, the minstrel, the messenger, the tradesman, even
to crabbed Isaac of York.
Since those days it has become clear that the thirty pieces of silver
not only sold the author of Christianity but Christianity itself. As
my Little-Russian deacon said, "Money has come between us and made us
work more and love less. We are gathered together, not for love but
for mutual profit. It is all the difference between conviviality and
gregariousness." The deacon was right, and when one comes upon
the Middle Ages, as yet untouched, in Russia, one reflects with a
sigh—"The whole of Europe, even England, was like this once." One
says with Arnold—
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar
Retreating to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Day by day, as we live, we see the disintegration of that which
Christianity means, the shattering of that brotherly love that makes
men nations and nations the children of God. Not without truth did
Shylock say of his money that he made it breed. The pieces of silver
have bred well; they jingle to-day in the pockets of millions of
These thirty pieces did not pass out of currency, though the land that
they bought was left desolate. They passed from hand to hand among
the covetous throughout the first centuries of Christianity. The Jews
clung to them as if they were life itself; but the early Christians,
having something very much better than money to live for, coveted them
not. And as long as the money remained with the Jews Christianity
flourished. The two symbols opposed one another, and there was no
question but that the Cross triumphed. Only when the Christians turned
their backs on the Cross and hankered after the silver did the eternal
nature of the betrayal manifest itself. When the Saracens began to be
fought, not only by swords and faith but by the aid of Jewish money,
and with the pomp and circumstance of war, then already Judas had been
to the priests. When the knight or baron bequeathed the thirty Jewish
pieces to the monastery Judas was already kissing the Master. When the
hand that held the Cross loosened to take the silver, when the monks
took the treasure of Earth and relinquished the treasure of Heaven,
Jesus was already taken. It was but a short way to the crucifixion.
The silver profiteth no man.
Where are the thirty pieces of silver now? Where are they not? When
the rich holiday-maker comes scattering money in peaceful mountain
valleys; when the peasant's son, infected by the idea of money, comes
to town for his thirty shillings a week; when for the want of another
thirty shillings he refuses to marry; when to save his mind some
evangelical society—so called—accepts thirty shillings "charity";
when the millionaire leaves thirty thousand pounds to the hospitals to
save his body; when a minister is paid three hundred pounds a year to
save his soul; when a member of Parliament receives thirty pounds a
month to remedy his social wrongs; when the love of the country girl
he should have married is won by some rich man who thinks he can pay
for it—on all these occasions and yet more, to examples innumerable,
the curse of Judas shows itself, till every brick of our evil
industrial cities is shown mortared round in bright silver hate.
* * * * *
As I write these lines one question is very urgent in the minds of
Englishmen, that of the disestablishment and partial disendowment of a
church. Once more the thirty pieces appear to be in the coffers of the
church and they are attracting the curse. There is only one way for
that church; it is to give up to the spoiler not only that which
is demanded of it but all the material wealth it possesses, its
endowments, estates, houses, palaces, sacred edifices; to lay down
everything and be simply, for the moment, a church in the hand of God.
As for disestablishment, the sooner Christians dissociate themselves
from secular names and titles the better. The Christian church is one
established for ever, upon a rock, and those who compose that church
are they who love their neighbour as a brother.
We have hope of new life, otherwise it were folly to write at all. The
great distress which the modern commercial life causes the individual
soul is perhaps a blessing in disguise; it causes the individual to
pause and think, causes him to rebel, to try and imagine a way to true
salvation. For, despite Progress and the benefit our posterity is
supposed to be going to derive from it, it is an undisguisable fact
that life, the wonderful and strange gift given to the individual
perhaps once in an eternity, is being used without profit, without
pause, without wonder. We are like people who have lost their memories
on the way to a feast, and our steps, in which is only dimly felt
the remembrance of a purpose, take us nowhither. We loiter in musty
waiting-rooms, are frustrated by mobs, and foiled by an eternal
clamour. We have forgotten the feast and occupy ourselves in all
manner of foolish and irrelevant ways. Only now and again, struck
by the absurdity of our occupations, we grope after our lost
consciousness and feel somehow that somewhere out beyond is our real
destination, that somewhere out there a feast is proceeding, that a
cover is laid for us and dishes served, that though we are absent the
master calls a toast to us and sends messengers to find us.
* * * * *
The somewhere-out-beyond has for me been Russia. I do not suggest
that it is Russia for every one. There are many tables at the feast,
and the messenger sent after the absent must tell of those who sit at
his own table. I think there is the same wine and the same fare at all
tables. I tell of the hospitality of Russia, the hospitality of mind
and of hand found amongst a simple people.
In October 1911 I arrived as a pilgrim at the monastery of Novy Afon,
or, to translate the Russian into more recognisable terms, New Athos,
and I obtained the hospitality of the monks.
There are three sorts of monasteries in Russia, one where there is
great store of gold and precious stones as in Troitsky Lavra near
Moscow, another where there are ancient relics and ikons of miraculous
power as at Solovetz, and a third where there is neither the
distinction of gold nor of relics, where the power of the monks lies
in their living actual work and prayer. To the last-named category
belongs Novy Afon.
It is very likely that the immense wealth of the other monasteries may
invite the hand of the spoiler. Even now the monks are notorious for
drunkenness and corruptibility: the institutions are moribund, and
there is no doubt that if revolution had overturned the Tsardom the
rich monasteries like the Troitsky would have been sacked. Perhaps
even Novy Afon and many another spiritual mother would have shared
a common fate with their depraved sisters. That is as may be. The
Revolution did not succeed and could not, because the common peasantry
still prayed in the temples which the Revolutionaries would have
destroyed. The living church of Russia required its buildings even
though the caretakers of these buildings were in some cases false
But there is no question of false stewards at Novy Afon. It is a place
where a Luther might serve and feel no discontent, a place of new
life. It looks into the future with eyes that see visions, and
stretches forward to that future with hands that are creative; an
institution with no past but only a present and an idea, not acting by
precedent or tradition but taking its inspiration straight from life's
It will be profitable to describe the monastery just as I saw it and
felt it to be, on the occasion of my arrival there after five hundred
miles tramping in the autumn of 1911. I had overtaken many pilgrims
journeying thither, and the nearer I approached the more became their
numbers. There were many on foot and many in carts and coaches.
Multi-coloured diligences were packed with people and luggage—the
people often more miscellaneously packed than the luggage, clinging
on behind, squashed in the middle, sprawling on the top. The drivers
looked superb though dressed in thousand-times-mended black coats, the
post-boys tootled on their horns, and the passengers sang or shouted
to the music of accordions. Of course not all those in the coaches
were pilgrims religiously inclined; many were holiday seekers out for
the day. The gates of Novy Afon are open to all, even to the Mahometan
or the Pagan. It was a beautiful cloudless morning when I arrived at
this most wonderful monastery in the Russian world—a cluster of white
churches on a hill, a swarm of factories and workshops, cedar avenues,
orchards, vineyards, and, above all, tree-covered mountains crowned by
grey towers and ancient ruins, the whole looking out on the far sea.
At the monastery gates were a cluster of empty coaches waiting for
passengers, the drivers sitting in the dusty roadway meanwhile,
playing cards or eating chunks of red melon. Pilgrims with great
bundles on their backs stood staring vacantly at the walls or at the
sea; monks in long grey cloaks, square hats, and long hair, passed in
and out like bees about a hive, and from a distance came a musical
drone, the chanting of church services.
Pack on back, staff in hand, no one took me for other than a Russian
pilgrim till I showed my passport. I entered the monastery, asked one
of the monks where to go, and was at once shown to a room, a little
square whitewashed apartment with four hard couches; the room looked
upon the hostelry yard, and was lit within by electric light—the
monks' own manufacture. No one asked me any questions—they were too
hospitable to do that. I was at once taken for granted as one might
be by one's own family after returning home from a week-end in the
country. When I had disposed my clothes, brushed away some of the
dust, changed boots, and washed, the novice who had shown me my room
tapped at the door and, looking in with a smile, told me I had come
just in time for dinner. All along the many corridors I heard the
tinkling of a dinner-bell and a scuttling of many feet.
The dinner was served in three halls: two of them were more exclusive
apartments where those might go who did not care to rub shoulders with
the common people; but the other was a large barn where any one who
liked to come took the chances of his fellow-man, be he peasant or
pilgrim. It was in the barn that I took my seat among a great crowd of
folk at two long, narrow tables. Round about us on the walls were a
multiplicity of brightly coloured ikons, pictures of the abbot, of
Tsars, of miraculous happenings and last judgments. On the tables at
regular intervals were large iron saucepans full of soup, platters of
black bread, and flagons of red wine.
A notice on the wall informed that without prayer eating or drinking
was forbidden, and I wondered what was going to happen; for although
we had all helped ourselves in Russian fashion, no one had as yet said
grace, and there was an air of waiting among the party. Suddenly a
voice of command cried "Stand!" and we all stood like soldiers on
drill. We all faced round to the ikons, and to a monk standing in
front of them. A long prayer was said in a very military fashion, and
then we all crossed ourselves and took our places at the tables once
more. Five of the brethren were in attendance, and fluttered up and
down, shifting the bread or refilling the wine bowls.
We were a mixed company—aged road-worn pilgrims, bright boys come
from a local watering-place by coach, red-kerchiefed peasant women,
pleasant citizens' wives in town-made blouses, Caucasians, a Turk, a
Jew, an Austrian waiter, and many others that I took no stock of.
The diet is a fast one, just as the hard beds are penance beds, and
no one can procure anything different at Novy Afon for any amount of
money. Even in the hall reserved for dignitaries and officials the
fare was the same as for us in the tiers état. The soup was of
vegetables only, and much inferior to what the tramp makes for himself
by the roadside. The second course was cold salt fish or boiled beans
and mushrooms, and the third was dry maize-meal porridge. As each
plate was put on the table the brother told us it came from God, and
whispered a blessing.
There was not much talking; every one was busy eating and drinking.
The wine was drunk plentifully, though without any toasts. One felt
that more generosity was expressed in the provision of wine than in
the other victuals. But for the meal only ten minutes and then once
more the peremptory voice "Stand!" and we all listened to a long
thank-offering and bowed before the ikons. Dinner was over.
Dinner was at eleven in the morning; tea with black bread and no
butter at three; supper, a repetition of the dinner menu, at seven;
and all doors closed and the people in their beds by eight-thirty.
After many nights in the open I slept once more with a roof over my
head, and looking up in the night, missed the stars and wondered where
The monastery bells in pleasant liquid tones struck every quarter of
an hour, and at two o'clock in the morning I was awakened by a great
jangling, and the sound of steps along the stone corridors. I asked my
companions—I was sharing my room with an Armenian and a Russian—what
was the reason of the bell, and I learned that it was the call to
early prayers. We none of us got up, but I resolved to go next night
if it were possible.
Next day was one of relaxation after tramping. The Armenian went off
ten miles to a celebrated cave and a point of view, "the swallows'
nest"; he wished me to accompany him, but I had not come to Novy Afon
to find points of view or the picturesque—moreover he had come by
steamboat and was fresh, I had come on foot five hundred miles and
wanted a rest.
In the morning I looked through the workshops, chatted with a master in
the little monastery school, lounged in the orange groves and cedar
avenues. After dinner, as I sat near the pier, a monk pointed out to me
some artificial water where willows drooped, and white swans rode
gracefully under them. "You ought to come here at
Kreschenie—Twelfth-Night. We make of that water a little Jordan in
memory of the Jordan where the Son of God was baptized. The ponds are
all decorated with fresh-cut grass, laurel leaves, and cypress branches,
myrtle and oleander, many roses and wild flowers. Scarcely anywhere in
all Russia could there be found such flowers at that time of the year."
"Have you pilgrims then?" I asked.
"Oh yes, many. They come from all the district round about, to dip
themselves in the water after it has been made holy. We keep the
festival very solemnly. The Archimandrite comes down from the
monastery, and after him the priests, the monks, the lay brethren, the
labourers, the banners and their bearers, and the sacred Ikons. There
is a long service. Though the month is January, the weather is
often bright and warm as early summer, and the mountains look very
As we were thus talking, the Archimandrite, Ieronym himself, came
out of the hostelry yard and passed us, a benign old man, devout and
ancient of aspect, but kindly and wise. He is accounted a living
saint, and it may well be that after his death he will be canonised.
Novy Afon has only been in existence thirty years, and he has been
abbot all the time. The monastery has been his own idea, it has grown
with him. If Novy Afon is a fountain of life, he is the rock out of
which the fountain springs. The whole monastery and all its ways are
under his guidance, and as he wishes them to be. They are as a good
book that he has written, and better than that.
He went to a gorgeous little chapel at the base of the landing-stage,
there to hold a service in memory of the visit to New Athos of their
highnesses the late Tsar, Alexander the Third, and his queen, on that
day 1888. Presently behold the worthy abbot in his glorious robes,
cloth of gold from head to foot, and on his head, instead of the
sombre black hat of ordinary wear, a great golden crown sparkling with
diamonds and rubies. The many clergy stood about him in the little
temple, or beyond the door, for there was not room for all, with them
some hundred monks, and the multifarious populace. The service was
read in hollow, oracular tones, and every now and then a storm of
glorious bass voices broke forth in response. Evidently the Ikon of
the Virgin named Izbavelnitsa was being thanked for her protection
of the Tsar in a storm. So much I could make out; and every now and
then the crowd sang thanks to the Virgin. At the end of the service
the Archimandrite, who had had his back to the people all the time—or
rather, to put it more truly, had all the time looked the same way,
with the people—turned, and lifting and lowering the gold cross
which he held in his hands, gave blessing. The heads and bodies of the
worshippers bowed as the Cross pointed toward them.
The service was over. As the abbot Ieronym resumed his ordinary
attire, and left the temple, the hundred or so peasant men and women
pressed around him, and fervently kissed his little old fingers, white
and delicate. I watched the old man give his hand to them—I watched
their eagerness. Religion was proved to be Love.
What struck me particularly on entering Novy Afon was the new tone in
the every day. There was less of the barin and servant, officer
and soldier feeling, less noisy commandings and scoldings, even less
beating of the patient horses that have to carry such heavy loads in
Russia. Instead of these, a gentleness and graciousness, something of
that which one finds in artistic and mystic communities in Russia, in
art and in pictures, but which one seldom meets with in public life.
Here at New Athos breathes a true Christianity. It was strange how
even the undying curiosity of the Russian had been conquered; for here
I was not asked the thousand and one impertinent questions that it is
usually my lot to smile over and answer. There was even a restraint in
asking me necessary questions lest they should be difficult to answer.
Then not one of the monks possesses any property of his own, even of a
purely transitory kind, such as a bed or a suit of clothes. They have
all in common, and they have not that nicety or necessity of privacy
which would compel an Englishman to claim the right to wear the same
coat and trousers two days running. But the monks are even less
diffident of claiming their own separate mugs and plates at table, and
are unoffended by miscellaneous eating and drinking from one another's
Every one is the servant of all—and without hypocrisy—not only in
act but in sentiment and prayer. Wherever I went I found the tone ring
This fair exterior glory seems to spring from a strong inner life.
Religious life in the Holy Orthodox Church, with its many ordinances
and its extraordinary proximity to everyday life, is not allowed to be
monotonous and humdrum. Each day at New Athos is beautiful in itself,
and if a monk's life were made into a book of such days one would not
turn over two pages at once.
The day begins at midnight, when, to the occasional melancholy chime
of the cathedral bell, the brothers move to the first service of the
morning. On my second night at Afon I wakened at the prayer-bell and
joined the monks at their service. In the sky was a faint glimmer of
stars behind veiling clouds. The monastery, resplendent with marble
and silver by day, was now meek and white in the dark bosom of the
mountain, and shining like a candle. In the church which I entered
there was but one dim light. The clergy, the monks, the faces in the
ikon frames all were shadows, and from a distance came hollow shadow
music, gul-l-l, the murmur of the sea upon the shore. It was the
still night of the heart where the Dove yet broods over the waters and
life is only just begun. At that service a day began, a small life.
When the service was over and we returned to our rooms, morning had
advanced a small step; the stars were paler, one just made out the
contours of the shadowy crags above us.
Just a little sleep and then time to rise and wash and breakfast. The
monks in charge of the kitchen must be up some time before the rest
of us. At 8 A.M. the morning service commences, and every monk must
Then each man goes to his work, some to the carpentry sheds, others
to the unfinished buildings, to the brickworks, the basket works, the
cattle yards, the orchards and gardens, the cornfields, the laundries,
leather works, forges, etc., etc., etc.; the teachers to the schools
where the little Caucasian children are taught; the abbot to his cell,
where he receives the brothers in turn, hears any confession they may
wish to make, and gives advice in any sorrow that may have come upon
any of them. The old abbot is greatly beloved, and the monks have
children's hearts. Again in the evening the day is concluded in song
and prayer. Such is the monastery day.
* * * * *
No doubt the upkeep of this great establishment costs much; it does
not "pay"—the kingdom of God doesn't really "pay." Much money has to
be sent yearly to Novy Afon … and yet probably not so very much. In
any case, it is all purely administered, for there are no bribe takers
at the monastery. For the rest, it must be remembered that they make
their own clothes and tools, grow their own corn and fruits, and
manufacture their own electric light. They have the means of
Such monasteries as Novy Afon are true institutions of Christianity;
they do more for the real welfare of a people than much else on which
immense sums of money are spent. It is a matter of real charity and
real hospitality both of hand and mind combined. The great monastery
sits there among the hills like some immense mother for all the rude,
rough-handed tribes that live about. In her love she sets an example.
By her open-handedness she makes her guests her own children; they
learn of her. Not only does she say with Christ her Master, "Suffer
the little children to come unto Me, for of such is the kingdom of
heaven," but she makes of all those who come to her, be they fierce of
aspect or bearded like the pard, her own children. When the night-bell
has rung and all are in their beds—the five hundred brethren, the
many lay workers, the hundreds of guests gathered from all parts of
Russia—the spirit of the monastery spreads itself out over all of
them and keeps them all warm. The whole monastery is a home, and all
those who are within are brothers and sisters.
Though Novy Afon is new, it is built upon an old site. There was a
Christian church there in the second and third centuries, but it was
destroyed by the Persian fire-worshippers; it was restored by the
Emperor Justinian, but destroyed once more by the Turks. So completely
did the Moslem take possession of the country that Christianity
entirely lapsed till the Russian monks sailed down there two years
before the Russo-Turkish war of 1877. Novy Afon is without Christian
traditions. It takes its stand completely in the new, and is part of
that Russian faith which has no past, but only a future. The third
century ruins of the cathedral and the Roman battlements are indeed of
great interest, and many people climb the two thousand feet high crag
to look out from the ancient watch-tower. But the attitude of the
monastery is well explained in the words of a monk:
"People come here to worship God, and we stand here as a witness of
God, to pray continually for the coming of the Kingdom, and to succour
those who come to us. It would be a sign of disrespect to our church
if people came here merely to see the ancient remains."
I for my part, being of the old though also of the new, was eager
to climb the steep stone way along which in ancient days had ridden
crusaders and mediaeval warriors. Great trees now grew through the
rent wall of the cathedral, and slender birches grew straight up in
the nave to the eternal roof which had supplanted that of time—to
But alas for romance, the Russians are restoring the church, clearing
away the old stones, chopping down the trees. An ikon has been set up
within the old building, and the latter is already a place of worship.
Once more: to the eye of a monk a ruined temple is somewhat of an
insult to God. There is no fond antiquarianism; all the old Latin
inscriptions and bas-reliefs that have been found have been mortared
together at random into one wall; all the human bones that have been
unearthed, and they are many, have been thrown unceremoniously into an
open box. Even on the bare white ribs and ancient crumbling skulls,
bourgeois visitors have written their twentieth-century names. Some
ancient skeletons have been preserved in a case from pre-Mahometan
times, and under them is written:
With love, we ask you, look upon us.
We were like you; you will be like us.
The recommendation is unavailing. The bones have been picked up,
passed from hand to hand, scrawled upon, joked over. They are probably
the remains of strong warriors and early Christians, and one can
imagine with what peculiar sensations they, in their day, would have
regarded this irreverence to their bones could they but have looked
forward a thousand years or so.
It seemed to me, looking out from the watch-tower of Iver over the
diminished monastery buildings and the vast and glorious sea, on that
which must change and on that which in all ages remains ever the same,
some reverence might have been begotten for that in the past which
shows what we shall be in the future. The monks might have spared the
bones and buried them; they might have left the ruins as they were.
I am told that in a few years the work of restoration will be
completely achieved, services will be held regularly on the mountain
top, and peasant pilgrims will gladly, if patiently, climb morning and
evening up the stone way to the church, having no thoughts of any time
but that in which they are worshipping. The Russian is racially young.
He is in the morning and full of prophecy; only in the evening will
his eye linger here in the emotions of romance.
Life at the monastery is new life; it is morning there—it is indeed
only a little after the dawn. The day is as yet cool and sweet, and it
gives many promises. We can see what the morning is like if we will
THE BOY WHO NEVER GROWS OLD
Up to Christmas we are walking with the kings to the Babe's cradle,
to the birth of new life and new hope. High in the heavens, and yet
before us over the hard frost-bitten way, gleams the guiding star
whose promise we divine. After Christmas we are walking with the
spring, with a new, young, whispering child-life in the old heart.
Though the winds be cold and snow sweep over the land, we know that
winter and death are spent. Whilst the light grows stronger in the
sky, something in us that is wooed by light responds. New eyes open
in the soul. Spring comes, and then the tramp is marching with the
summer. Down come the floods, and often for hours one takes shelter
from the rain, and it seems as if all we hope for were being
inundated. But, as I wrote before, "the spring is not advanced by
rain, but it gathers strength in the rain to proceed more quickly when
the sun comes out: so also with the tramp." Summer is the year itself,
all that the other seasons have laboured for. It is the glory of the
year. Then may the tramp cease marching, for in the height of summer
nature also must cease, must cease from going forward to turn back. He
may rest in the sun and mature his fruits. Autumn is coming and all
the year's beauties must yield to death.
I think of my autumn on the way to Jerusalem, and all that a day told
me then. The skies became grey at last, and cold searching winds stole
into the summer weather. Many things that by sunlight I should have
rejoiced in became sombre and ugly in the shade. The tobacco farms,
with their myriad tobacco leaves drying and rotting from green into
yellow, became ill-kept and untidy, the peasants harvesting them surly
and unwashed: the sky spread over them no glamour.
I was walking over the swamps of Sukhum, and I noticed all that I
disliked—the deep dust on the road, the broken-down bridges, the
streams that cattle had befouled. It was perhaps a district that
lacked charm even in fine weather.
There were some compensations. In a wilderness of wilted maize fields,
and mud or wattle-built villages, one's eyes rested with affection
upon slender trees laden with rosy pomegranates—the pomegranate on
the branch is a lovely rusty-brown fruit, and the tree is like a briar
with large berries. Then the ancient Drandsky Monastery was a fair
sight, white-walled and green-roofed against the background of black
mountains, the mountains in turn shown off against the snowy ranges
of the interior Caucasus. The clouds hung unevenly over the climbing
mountains, so that far snow-bestrewn headlands looked like the speckly
backs of monsters stalking up into the sky.
I walked through miles and miles of brown bracken and rosy withered
azalea leaves. There came a day of rain, and I spent thirty-six hours
in a deserted house, staring most of the time at the continuous drench
that poured from the sky. I made myself tea several times from the
rainwater that rushed off the roof. I crouched over a log fire, and
wondered where the summer had gone.
It needed but a day of rain to show how tired all nature was. The
leaves that were weighed down with water failed to spring back when
the rain had passed. The dry and dusty shrubs did not wash green as
they do in the spring. All became yellower and browner. That which had
come out of the earth took a long step back towards the earth again.
Tramping all day through a sodden forest, I also experienced the
autumnal feeling, the promise of rest, a new gentleness. All things
which have lived through the summer welcome the autumn, the twilight
of the long hot day, the grey curtain pulled down over a drama which
is played out.
All day the leaves blew down as if the trees were preparing beds for
the night of winter. In a month all the woods would be bare and stark,
the bushes naked, the wild flowers lost in the copse; nought green but
the evergreens. And yet but a week ago, rhododendrons at New Athos,
wild roses and mallow in full bloom at Gudaout, acres of saffron
hollyhocks, and evening primroses at Sotchi!
I had entered an exposed country, colder than much of the land that
lay far to the north.
Two days later the clouds moved away, the zenith cleared, and after it
the whole sky, and then along the west and the south, as far as eye
could see, was a great snow-field, mountain after mountain, and slope
after slope all white to the sky. A cold wind, as of January, blew
keenly from the snow, and even froze the puddles on the road. It
seemed we had journeyed thus suddenly not only to autumn, but to
But at noon the sun was hot again. The new-born brimstone butterflies
were upon the wing, a flutter of lambent green. They were of the time,
and young. They must live all winter and waken every sunny day till
next spring—the ambassadors of this summer to the next.
All that belongs to the past is tired, and even at the bidding of
the sun insect life is loth to rise. The grasshopper is tired, the
dragon-fly loves to crouch among the shadows, the summer-worsted
fritillary butterflies pick themselves out of their resting-places to
flutter a little further; their wings, once thick with yellow down and
shapely, are now all broken, transparent, ragged.
The tramp's summer also is over. He will not lie full length in the
sun till the spring comes round again. For the ground is wet, and the
cold is searching. I walked more miles in the cold fortnight that took
me to Batoum than in a whole month before New Athos. There was in the
air a sting "that bids nor sit nor stand, but go."
Yet thoughts were plentiful, and many memories of past autumns came
back to me. How many are the rich, melancholy afternoons of late
October or early November, golden afternoons that occur year after
year, when one feels one's thoughts parting from the mind easily and
plentifully without urging, as overripe fruit falling at last since no
one has grasped it before.
I hurried along the road, full of sad thoughts. The year was growing
to be an old man. It looked back at spring, at the early days when it
first felt the promises of life's glory and scarcely dared believe
them true, at laughing May, at wide and spacious June, and then the
turning of the year.
It almost seemed to me that I had grown old with the year, that I had
even gathered in my fruits, as indeed I had, only they were more the
year's fruits than mine: I had been the guest of the year.
I walked as within sight of a goal. In my imagination I saw ahead of
me the winter stretches of country that I should come to, all white
with snow, the trees all hoar, the people all frosted. I had literally
become aware of the fact that I was travelling not only over land but
over time. In the far horizon of the imagination I looked to the snowy
landscapes of winter, and they lay across the road, hiding it, so that
it seemed I should go no further.
Old age, old age; I was an old, bearded, heavy-going, wrinkled tramp,
leaning on a stout stick; my grey hairs blew about my old red ears in
wisps. I stopped all passers-by upon the road, and chuckled over old
jokes or detained them with garrulity.
But no, not old; nor will the tramp ever be old, for he has in his
bosom that by virtue of which, even in old age, he remains a boy.
There is in him, like the spring buds among the withered leaves of
autumn, one never-dying fountain of youth. He is the boy who never
Father Time, when he comes and takes some of us along his ways into
middle-age, will have to pull. Time is a dotard, an aged parent; some
boys that are very strong and young are almost too much for him; when
he comes to take them from the garden of boyhood they kick and
punch; when Time tries to coax them, pointing out the advantages of
middle-age, they turn their heads from him and refuse to listen. If at
last they are taken away by main force, it is with their backs to the
future, and their faces all angry, twisted, agonised, looking back at
the garden in which they want to stay.
THE STORY OF ZENOBIA
I have known her in summer and in winter—in summer flushed and
gorgeous like the wild rose, in winter lily-pale, or grey and haggard
as the town she lived in. She was a beautiful daughter of the Earth, a
wondrous flower. The summer night was in her dark hair, the south wind
in her eyes. Whoever looked upon her in silence knew himself in the
presence of the mystery of beauty, of the mystery of an imperious
inner beauty. It was because of this, because of some majestic spirit
manifest in her, shining through her in soul's colours, that I called
her Zenobia, naming her after that Blythedale Zenobia who always wore
the rich hot-house flower in her bosom. And it was to me as if my
Zenobia wore that flower there also, and in silence, a new flower each
day, wondrous and rich. Never could she be seen without that flower
there, and it was as if on that flower depended her very life. Should
the flower at any time be wanting, then all were wanting.
I remember her as she was one June when we gathered eglantine
together, and the richest and deepest of all reds in roses. In the
midsummer afternoons we plucked our garlands and brought them home at
sunset time. Such afternoons they were, tempting all living things
into the symphony of glory, such afternoons of splendour that now,
looking back, it seems to be the very acme of their glory that we also
were to be found there in those woods with all the rest. We came,
soft stepping into the scene, and Nature, which moves continuously,
harmoniously, did in the same moment build a throne and take us in it.
At once the life from us flowed out, and the life about flowed in.
Surely these were days of large orchestras, and of wonderful and
complex melodies. Zenobia moved like a queen over the scene, her rich
garments sweeping over the soft grass, her graceful arms swinging as
with secret blessings. All the living things of the day seemed eager
to be her pages; she was indeed a queen. The world needed her and the
world went well because of her. The birds sang, they had not sung so
sweetly but for her; the sun shone, it had not shone so brightly but
for her; the roses stood on tiptoe on the bushes asking to be picked
by her; the very air played lovingly about her, stealing and giving
The memory of all this comes out to me with a rush whenever I open
a book of poems at a certain page, and with it comes the odour of
sweet-brier and honeysuckle. It was in a June, one of the past Junes
when we also were June glory, beautiful, full-blossoming, and not more
self-conscious than the brier itself. I think now of the greens and
crimsons, the blaze of holy living colour in which we were able to
exist and breathe….The afternoon passed, the evening came. Light
unfolded silken banners of crimson floated down over the sky; crimson
flower torches danced upwards from Zenobia's hands, living rose glowed
from out her cheeks. About us and around floated lambent reds and
blues and greens. The deep lake looked into her eyes, the trees nodded
to her, birds flew over her, the first stars peeped at her.
Mysterious, breathless, was the summer night. An influence of the time
seemed to press upon us; something exhaled from the mystery of flowers
drew sleep down upon us. Twilight lay upon the eyebrows of the girl,
and the cloud of her dark hair nodded over it like the oncoming night.
We sat down upon a grass mound. We ourselves, Nature around us, all
things of the day, seemed under a spell. Sleep lay about the roses,
the bushes mused inwardly, the honeysuckle exhaled enchantment and was
itself enchanted. Then the things of the night came. The myriad midges
performed their rites over the blackthorn and the oak, and blackthorn
and oak looked as if changed into stone. The mice and the shrews
crept safely over the toes of the blackberry bushes, the rabbits came
tumbling along through banks of inanimate grass. And fat night-moths
sucked honey from half-conscious flowers, and the same moths whirred
duskily round our gathered roses or darted daringly into our faces. We
were like the flowers and the grass and the blackberry and blackthorn.
The night which had overtaken them and put them to sleep had settled
upon us also, and the things of the night came out securely at our
feet. For a moment, a sport of habit had betrayed us to the old Eden
habits, had taken us a step into a forgotten harmony. But below the
surface the old fought secretly with the new, that old that seems so
much the newest of the new, that new that really is so old and
stale. The new must have won, and in me first, for I rose suddenly,
brusquely, as if somehow I felt I had unawares been acting
unaccountably foolishly. I looked at my companion; the mood was still
upon her, and I believe she might easily have slumbered on into the
night, but as she saw me rise, the new in her gained reinforcement,
and she too rose in a sort of mild surprise. Now I think I might have
left her there to awaken late in the night, a new Titania with the
moonbeams coming through the forest branches to her.
I awakened her. I think she has often been awakened since then, but
indeed it is seldom now that she is allowed to slip into such slumber.
We walked home and I said some poems on the way; she heard. I think
she heard in the same way as a flower feels the touch of a bee. No
words had she, no poetry of words to give back. She had not awakened
to articulateness. She had no thoughts; she breathed out beauty. She
understood no thoughts; she breathed in beauty from around.
* * * * *
This was Zenobia, this was her aspect when she was taken, when the
change came over her life.
That marvellous mechanism, the modern state, with its mysterious
springs and subterranean attractions and exigencies, drew her in to
itself. The modern state, whose every agent is called Necessity, had
appealed to her. And she had been taken. She settled on the outskirts
of a city and half her life was spent under a canopy of smoke, whilst
in the other half she courted morning and evening twilights. In the
first June of this time, in afternoons and evenings, we had lived
together among the roses, and she had stood at the zenith of her
glory. But with the coming on of autumn the roses withered, and
something of the old dreaminess left her eyes. A little melancholy
settled upon her, and she discovered she was lonely. But the town had
seen her, and henceforth the town took charge of her. It sent its
angels to her. One might wonder what the town used her for, this
inarticulate one—it made her a teacher because of her good memory.
Then it regarded her as "good material." It sent its angels, those
voluntary servants of the state, the acquaintances who call themselves
friends. These at first approved of her, always misunderstood her, and
at length despised her. They misunderstood her, because a person truly
inarticulate was incomprehensible to them. Her naïveté they mistook
for insolence, her dreaminess for disrespect. They confused her memory
with her understanding. They gave her books to read, brought her to
lectures, sat her at the theatre, took her to hear sermons, prayed
with her and drank with her the holy wine. And some would say,
"Isn't she coming on?" or "Isn't she developing?" and others, more
perceiving, would say, "Well, even if she isn't getting anything from
it, at least she's seeing life"; while others, more perceiving still,
gave her up as past hope. "She has no brains," they said. Others,
still more perceiving, said she had no soul, no love; she cared for no
one, understood nothing. She, for her part, went on almost as ever,
and remained next to inarticulate. Only now and again the hubbub of
battle in the schoolroom would awaken her to some sort of conscious
exasperation. She would appeal to her class, staring at them with eyes
from which all gentleness and affection had merged into astonishment
and indignation. For the rest, lack of life, lack of sun, lack of life
influence told upon her beauty. She did not understand the influence
of the ill-constituted around her, and did not understand the pain
which now and again thrilled through her being, provoking sighs and
word-sighs. Then those friend-acquaintances, ever on the alert for an
expression of real meaning, interpreted her sighs and longings for
week-ends in the country.
Verily it is true, one cannot serve God and mammon. There was no
health forthcoming through this compromise with life. She merely felt
more pain. She continued her work in the town, and was enrolled and
fixed in many little circles where little wheels moved greater wheels
in the great state-machine. Ostensibly, always now, whatever new she
did was a step toward saving her soul. I met her one January night;
she was going to a tea-meeting in connection with a literary society.
Very grey her face looked. Many of the old beautiful curves were
gone, and mysteries about her dimples and black hair-clusters seemed
departed irrevocably. Still much in her slept safe, untouched as ever,
and, as ever, she was without thoughts. Her memory suggested what she
should say to me. "It will be interesting," she remembered. I helped
her off with coat and furs. She was dressed wonderfully. The gown she
wore—of deep cinnamon and gold—was still the dress of Zenobia, and
at her bosom the strange flower exhaled its mystery. I went in with
her to the hot room. She was evidently a queen here, as in the
forest glades. And her pale face lit up as she moved about among the
"little-worldlings" and exchanged small-talk and cakes and tea. She
was evidently in some way responsible for the entertainment, for the
chairman said "they all owed her so much." I watched her face, it
showed no sign of unusual gratification; had he slighted her, I am
sure she would have listened as equably. What a mask her face was! The
look of graciousness was permanent, and probably only to me did she
betray her continuous sleepiness and lack of interest in the whole
affair. Members propounded stupendously solemn questions about the
"salvation of man," the "state of progress," the mystic meaning of
passages of the Bible, and the like; and I watched her draw on her
memory for answers. She was never at a loss, and her interlocutors
went away, and named their little child-thoughts after her.
I took her away at last and whispered some things in her ears, and
showed her what could be seen of moon and stars from the narrow
street, and something of the old summer feeling came over us. How the
old time sang sorrowfully back, plaintively, piteously. Our steps
sounded along some silent streets, the doors of the little houses were
shut and dark. They might have been the under doors of tombs. Silently
we walked along together, and life sang its little song to us from the
depths of its prison. It sounded like the voice of a lover now lost
for ever, one worth more beyond compare than any that could come
There is no going back. I saw her to her little home and touched her
tenderly at Goodbye.
She went in. The door closed and I was left standing alone in front
of the closed door, and there was none around but myself. Then I was
aware of a gust in the night-breeze blowing up for rain. Time had
changed. Something had been taken from the future and something had
been added to the past. The spiral gusts lifted the unseen litter of
the street, and with them the harpies rose in my breast. And words
impetuous would have burst out like the torrents of rain which the
dark sky threatened.
The torrent came.
A girl like this simply grows like a flower on a heath, blossoms,
fades, withers, and is lost. No more than that. I scarcely tell what
I want to say. Oh, how strongly I would whisper it into the inmost
heart! Life is not thoughts, is not calm, is not sights, is not
reading or music, is not the refinement of the senses,—Life is—life.
This is the great secret. This is the original truth, and if we had
never begun to think, we should never have lost our instinctive
knowledge. In one place flowers rot and die; in another, bloom and
live. The truth is that in this city they rot and die. This is not a
suitable place for a strong life; men and women here are too close
together, there is not enough room for them, they just spring up
thinly and miserably, and can reach no maturity, and therefore wither
away. All around are the ill-constituted, the decaying, the dying.
What chance had fresh life coming into the tainted air of this
stricken city—this city where provision is made only for the
unhealthy? For here, because something is the matter, every one has
begun conscience-dissecting—thinking—and a rumour has got abroad
that we live to get thoughts of God. And because thoughts of God
are novel and comforting, they have been raised up as the great
desideratum. And the state of society responsible for the production
of these thoughts is considered blessed. The work of intensifying the
characteristics of that society is thought blessed, and because in
ease we think not, we prefer to live in disease. And the progress of
disease we call Progress. So Progress and Thought are substituted for
There is a purpose of God in this city, but there is as much purpose
in the desert. There is no astonishingly great purpose. The disease
will work itself out. And I know God's whole truth to man was revealed
long since, and any one of calm soul may know it. The hope of learning
the purpose through the ages, the following of the gleam, is the
preoccupation of the insane.
What do all these people and this black city want to make of her?
She, and ten thousand like her, need life. Life, not thought, or
progress, just the same old human life that has always been going on.
The rain was pouring heavily and I took shelter. I felt calmer; I had
unpacked myself of words. Rather mournfully I now looked out into the
night, and, as it were, ceased to speak to it, and became a listener.
A song of sorrow came from the city, the wailing of mothers
uncomforted, of children orphaned, uncared for, of forsaken ones. I
heard again the old reproach of the children sitting in the market.
"Here surely," I said, "where so many are gathered together, there
is more solitude and lonely grief than in all the wide places of the
earth!" Voices came up to me from thousands in a city where thousands
of hands were uplifted to take a cup of comfort that cannot be
Is there a way out for her? Is there a way out for them? "For her
perhaps, for them not," something whispered within me inexorably. "And
Death?" The wind caught up the whisper "death" caressingly and took
it away from me over the city, and wove it in and out through all the
streets and all the dark lanes, and about the little chimneys, and the
Is there a way out for her?—Perhaps. There are some beings so full of
life that even the glutton Death must disgorge them.
THE LITTLE DEAD CHILD
In the little town of Gagri on the Caucasian shore of the Black Sea
there is a beautiful and wonderful church surviving from the sixth
century, a work of pristine Christianity. It is but the size of a
cottage, and just the shape of a child's Noah's Ark, but made of
great rough-hewn blocks of grey stone. One comes upon the building
unexpectedly. After looking at Gagri's ancient ruins, her fortresses,
her wall built by Mithridates, one sees suddenly in a shadowy close
six sorrowful little cypresses standing absolutely still—like heavily
dressed guardsmen—and behind the cypresses and their dark green
brooms, the grey wall of the church, solid, eternal. One's eyes rest
upon it as upon a perfect resting-place. If Gagri has an organic life,
this church must be its beating heart.
I came to Gagri one Saturday afternoon after the first two hundred and
fifty miles tramping of my pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and at this little
church I witnessed a strange sight. I had hardly admired the grey
interior, the bare walls growing into the roof in unbroken curves, the
massive stone rood-screen, the sorrowful faces in the holy pictures,
when a little procession filed into the church; four girls carrying a
flower-bedecked coffin, half a dozen elders, and a pack of children
carrying candles—a sight at once terrible and diurnal, a child's
Russian churches, having no chairs, have the appearance of being
almost empty. In the centre of this emptiness at Gagri church two
trestles were put up, and the open coffin placed upon them; in the
coffin, lying in a bed of fresh flowers and dressed in delicate white
garments, was a little dead child. The coffin was perfectly and even
marvellously arranged; it would be difficult to imagine anything more
beautiful, and at the same time more terrible.
A girl of about four years, she lay in the coffin as in bed, with her
head somewhat raised, and the face looking directly at the altar and
at the sorrowful pictures; on her head was a cream silk embroidered
bonnet, on her forehead, from ear to ear, a paper riza with delicate
line drawings of the story of the girl's angel, St. Olga. A high
lighted candle stood at her head, two little ones at each side, and
two at her feet. The bonnet and the dress were tied with little bits
of pink ribbon; the child's hands, small, white, all lovely, lay one
upon another, and in one of them was a little white cross. The face
and arms were the colour of fine grey wax, the lips thin, dark red and
set—the little dead girl looked steadfastly at the Ikons.
I stood and wondered. Round about the coffin were a score of people,
mostly little children, who every now and then nicked away flies that
were about to settle on the dead body. The grey church and its beauty
melted away. There was only a little grey wax figure lying poised
before the face of Christ, and little children flicking away flies.
Among the flowers in the coffin I noticed a heavy metal cross—it
would be buried with her. Hanging over the trestles at each of the
four corners were gorgeous hand-embroidered towels. "This is some rich
person's child," I thought as I waited—it was twenty minutes before
the father, the mother, and the priest arrived. I was mistaken; this
was the child of ordinary peasants.
* * * * *
I wonder the mother was allowed to come to church; she was frantic
with grief. When she came into the church she fell down on her knees
and hugged the dead body and kissed it and sobbed—sobbed so horribly
that except for the children there was no one present who kept dry
eyes. The husband stood with his hands dangling at his side, his lips
all puckered, his hair awry, and the tears streaming down his red
But when the priest came in he took the good woman aside and quieted
her, and in his words surely was comfort. "Those who die as children
are assured of that glorious life above, for of them Christ said,
'Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for
of such is the kingdom of heaven.' Least of all should we grieve when
a child dies."
I held a candle with the others and joined in the little service, and
when the service was over ate of the boiled rice and grapes that were
handed round to save us from evil spirits.
The candles were put out, the priest retired, and then the sobbing
broke forth once more, the people crowded round the coffin and one by
one kissed the little dead one, kissed her again and again. Most of
all the little children kissed her, and the father in distraction
stood by, calling out in broken treble, "Say good-bye to her,
children, say good-bye!"
Last of all, the wild mother said good-bye, and was only taken away
by sheer force. Then the lid was put on the coffin, and the four
girls—they were each about twelve years old—lifted it on the
embroidered towels and carried it out of the church.
The mother fainted and was taken into the open air, where one woman
helped to revive her by pouring water on her head out of an old
kettle, and another by drinking water and spurting it out again in
her face. Meanwhile the father took eight nails—he had them in his
pocket—and with all the crowd looking on, he nailed down the lid of
the coffin. The girls once more lifted their burden upon the beautiful
towels, and they bore it away to the grave. The crowd followed them
All we like dust go down into the grave,
the sound of their singing almost drowned by the beating of their
uneven steps. The music modulated and died away to the silence of the
evening. The little church remained grey and ancient, and the six
cypresses stood unmoved, unmoving, like guards before some sacred
And the pilgrim goes on his way.
HOW THE OLD PILGRIM REACHED BETHLEHEM
At New Athos monastery in one of the common hostels there were some
hundred peasant men and women, mostly pilgrims. It was after supper;
some of the company were melting away to the dormitories, others
There was one topic of conversation common to all. An old greybeard
palmer had broken down that afternoon and died. He had been almost his
whole life on the road to Jerusalem, and we all felt sad to think that
he had been cut off when he was truly nearing the Holy Land.
"He wished to go since he was a little boy," said old Jeremy, an aged
pilgrim in a faded crimson shirt. Every one paid respect to Jeremy and
listened to him. He was a placid greybeard who had spent all his life
upon the road, full of wisdom, gentle as a little child, and very
"He wished to go when he was a little boy—that means he began to go
when he was a little boy, for whenever you begin to wish you begin the
pilgrimage. After that, no matter where you are, you are sure to be on
the way. Up in the north the rivers flow under the earth, and no one
sees them. But suddenly the river appears above the land, and the
people cry out, 'See, the river is flowing to the sea.' But it began
to go to the sea long ago. So it was with Mikhail. All his life he was
a pilgrim. He lived in a distant land. He was born of poor parents,
not here, but far away in the Petchora province—oh, far, far away."
Grandfather Jeremy waved his hand to signify how far.
"Four thousand versts at least, and he hasn't come straight by a long
way. Most of the way he walked, and sometimes he got a lift, sometimes
a big lift that took him on a long way."
"Ah, ah!" said a youngster sympathetically, "and all in vain, all in
Jeremy paid no attention.
"Big lifts," his voice quavered. "And now he is there. Yes, now he is
"There, where he wished to be, in the Holy City. He had got very
tired, and God had mercy on him. God gave him his last lift. He is
there now, long before us."
"I don't see how you make that out," said a young man, a visitor, not
a pilgrim. "God, I reckon, cheated him."
"God never cheats," said Jeremy calmly.
"God…" said the visitor, and was about to raise a discussion and
try to convert these pilgrims from their superstition. But Jeremy
interrupted him. For the old man, though a peasant, had a singular
"Hush! Pronounce not His name lightly. I will tell you a story."
"Silence now!" cried several. "Hear grandfather's story!"
The old man then told the story of an aged pilgrim who had died on his
way to Jerusalem. I thought he was repeating the story of the life of
Mikhail, so like were his present words to those that had gone before.
But the issue was different. In this case the pilgrim died and was
buried in a little village near Odessa.
He was a penniless beggar. In grandfather's picturesque language, "he
had no money; instead of which he bore the reproach of Christ. He
found other men's charity….
"All his life he wandered towards Bethlehem. He used to say he
pilgrimaged not towards Calvary, but towards Bethlehem. The thought
that the Roman officials had treated Christ as a thief was too much
for him to bear.
"He who possessed all things they treated as one who had stolen a
The old man paused at this digression, and stared around him with an
expression of terror and stupefaction.
There was a silence.
"Go on, Jeremy," said some one impatiently.
"He always journeyed towards Bethlehem, and whenever he saw a little
child, a little baby, he would say to the mother that it foretold him
what it would be like for him at the Holy Land. And of the cradles he
would always say they were just the shape of the manger where the baby
Christ was laid.
"He was very dear to mothers, you may be sure, and he never lacked
"He travelled very slowly, for in Moscow a motor-car ran over his
foot, and he always needed a strong staff. He was ill-treated
sometimes in the towns, where the dogs bit him and the street children
aimed stones. But he never took offence. He smiled, and thought how
little his sufferings had been compared with those of the saints.
"So he grew old.
"'You are old, grandfather; you will never reach Jerusalem,' the
peasant women told him. But he always smiled and said, 'As God wills.
Perhaps if I die I shall see it sooner.'
"And he died, poor, wretched, uncared for, in the streets of a little
village near Odessa, and children came and beat off the hungry dogs
from his body with sticks.
"'What is this?' said one policeman to another.
"'A Bogo-moletz (God-prayer) dead, that's all,' was the reply.
"'None. If he had any his pockets have been picked.'
"By his passport he belonged to Petchora province, far away. No one
knew him. No one claimed him.
"'It means he must be buried at the public expense,' said the head man
of the village, and spat upon the ground.
"In the whole village only the coffin maker rejoiced, and he had small
cause, since a pauper's coffin costs but a shilling.
"'He must be buried on the common,' said the head man. 'There's no
room in the churchyard.'
"'But a pilgrim,' said an objector. 'You must bury him in consecrated
ground; you can't shut him out of the Heavenly Kingdom.'
"'No matter. Ask the priest. If the dead man can pay for a plot
of ground for a grave, well and good; or if the villagers will
"The head man looked at the little crowd assembled. They were a poor
and needy crowd. No one answered him. Then, without doing any more,
the head man walked away, and the dead body remained in the street.
"It seemed no one would pay for the grave, but in the afternoon a
woman who lived on the outskirts came and claimed the pilgrim as a
distant relative. He could scarcely have been a relative, except
inasmuch as we are all descended from Adam.
"The head man and the village priest rejoiced, and the woman took the
dead body home and washed it, and clothed it in white linen, and she
ordered a three-rouble coffin covered with purple cloth.
"But she was a very poor woman, and when she had paid for the grave
she had no money to pay for singers and for prayers.
"'God will have mercy,' she said. 'And belike he was a good man, a
"And that woman was a virgin," added Jeremy abruptly and, as I
thought, irrelevantly. But the chambers of that old man's mind were
"She was a virgin. What remains to be said? She hired a man to dig a
grave, and another to wheel the barrow with the coffin. She had no
friends who would follow the coffin with her, but in the main street
she found a cripple whom she had once befriended, and two little boys
who liked to sing the funeral chant.
"Thus the old pilgrim was taken to the grave, and in his honour a
simple woman, two street children, and a cripple followed his corse."
* * * * *
There was a long pause.
"You think he died," old Jeremy went on. "Oh, no; he did not die, he
only went on more quickly. When he fell down dead in the street his
soul suddenly began a new life, a life like a dream. Whilst the dogs
were barking and snapping at his old legs he suddenly saw in front of
him in the darkness a great bright star beckoning him, and in his new
life he got up from the road and rushed towards that star—rushed, for
he felt young again, younger than any boy, and all the lameness and
tiredness were passed away.
"Suddenly, in front of him, and coming to meet him, he saw a horse,
draped all in silk, and attendants. A man came up to him and saluted
him, offered him a crown, and bade him rise up upon the horse. He sat
upon the horse, and, looking at himself, saw that he was dressed in
cloth of gold. Behind him was a great train of attendants, carrying
gifts. And they all journeyed forward, towards the star.
"Eh, brothers," said Jeremy, looking round, "what a change in the
estate of our poor friend! He has now become one of the first, because
on earth he was one of the last. He is a king."
The listeners were all silent, and the narrator enjoyed a triumph.
* * * * *
Jeremy's cracked old voice went on, and now again somewhat
irrelevantly. "And the woman, who was a virgin, conceived and bore a
child, and she was so poor that the child was laid in a manger. And
three kings arrived, bearing precious gifts, and they did homage
unto the child. It was at Bethlehem. One of these kings was the poor
pilgrim who died on his way to the Holy Land."
"What woman was this?" said the visitor contemptuously. "Your wits are
wandering, old man. Do you mean it was the same woman who buried him?"
"The same," said Jeremy huskily, "only in a different world. There are
other worlds, you know. But it is very true. He came as one of the
kings. And the woman now has a beautiful child. She knows…. So we
shan't be very sad about Mikhail. I think he also to-day is following
that star, and will be at Bethlehem to-night."
"Only it doesn't happen to be Christmas Eve," said the sceptical
"Eh, hey," said another pilgrim, breaking in, "there's a man—he
doesn't know that it is Christmas every day in the year at Bethlehem."
THE WANDERER'S STORY
I. MY COMPANION
When star passes star once in a thousand years, or perhaps once in the
forever, and does not meet again, what a tale has each to tell! So
with tramps and wanderers when two meet upon the road, what a tale
of life is due from one to the other. Many tramps have I met in the
world. Far from the West I have met those who came far from the East,
and men have passed me coming from the South, and men from the North.
And sometimes men have suddenly appeared on my way as if they had
fallen from the sky, or as if they had started up out of the earth.
One morning when I was dwelling in a cave between a mountain and a
river I met him who tells this story. Probably the reader has never
lived in a cave and does not appreciate cave life—the crawling in at
night, the long and gentle sleep on the soft grey sand, the crawling
out again at morning, the washing in the river, the stick-collecting
and kettle-boiling, the berry-gathering, the lazy hours of noon, the
lying outstretched on the springy turf, sun-drinking, the wading in
the river and the plashing of the rushing water over one's legs; sunny
days, grey days, rainy days, the joyous delight in the beautiful
world, the exploration of one's own heart, the sadness of
It was on a grey day when I met the strange tramp whose life-mystery
is here told. I came upon him on a quiet forenoon, and was surprised
by him. He came, as it were, out of thin air. I had been looking at
the river with eyes that saw not—I was exploring my own heart and its
memories—when suddenly I turned round and saw him, smiling, with a
greeting on his countenance.
It was long since I had looked upon a man; for though quite near the
highway, no one had found me out in my snug cave. I was like a bird
that had built a nest within earshot of a road along which many
schoolboys ran. And any one discovering my little house was like to
say, "Fancy, so near to the road, so unsuspected!"
"Good-morning, friend," said I, "and greeting! You are the first who
has found his way to this cave. You are a wanderer like myself, I
perceive. Come, then, and share my noonday solitude, and in return
give me what you have to share."
"Forgive me," said he, "I thought I heard a voice; that was why I
came. I thought I heard a call, a cry."
I looked at him. He was a strange man, but with something peculiarly
familiar in his figure. His dark hair spread over a brow whiter than
mine, and veiled two deep and gentle eyes; and his sun-tanned face and
dusty hat made him look like a face such as one sometimes sees in a
"You heard not me," I answered, "unless it was my thoughts that you
He smiled. I felt we need not say more. I sat with my back to the sun
and he lay stretched in front of me, and thus we conversed; thus two
wanderers conversed, two like spirits whose paths had crossed.
"Now tell me," said I, "who you are, dear wanderer, stretched out at
my feet like a shadow, and like a shadow of my own life. How long have
you been upon the road, when did you set out, where is your home and
why did you leave it?"
The tramp smiled.
"I am a wanderer and a seeker," he replied. "In one sense the whole
world is my home, in that I know all its roads and am nowhere a
stranger. In another sense I have no home, for I know not where I
began or where I come from. I do not belong to this world."
"What!" said I, starting up suddenly and consequently disturbing my
companion. "You are then an apparition, a dream-face, a shadow. You
came out of thin air!"
I stood up, and he turned familiarly about me and whispered like an
echo in my ear, "Out of thin air." And he laughed.
"And you?" he went on. "On what star did you begin? Can you tell me?
Never yet have I found a man who could answer that question. But we
do not know, because we cannot remember. My conscious life began one
evening long ago when I stepped out of a coach on to a high road,
this same road by which you have your cave. I had come from
God-knows-where. I went backward, I came forward; I went all about and
round about, and never found my kith and kin. I was absorbed into the
world of men and shared its illusions, lived in cities, worked for
causes, worshipped idols. But thanks to the bright wise sun I always
escaped from those 'gloomy agreeable nooks.' It has now become my
religion to avoid the town, the places where men make little homes
which make us forget that in truth we have no homes. I have learned to
do without the town, without the great machine that provides man with
a living. I have sucked in a thousand rains, and absorbed a thousand
suns, lain on many thousand banks of the earth. I have walked at the
foot of mountains along long green valleys, I have climbed great
ranges and peeped over them, I have lived in barren and in fertile
places, and my road-companion has been Nature herself."
I smiled upon my visitor and said, "How like you are to me, my friend!
Stay with me and let us talk awhile. Grey days come, and rain, and we
shall live in this cave together and converse. In you I see a brother
man. In you as in a clear mirror I see the picture of my own soul, a
darling shadow. Your songs shall be the words of my happiness, your
yearning shall be the expression of my own aching heart. I shall break
bread with you and we shall bathe together in the river. I shall sleep
with you and wake with you, and be content to see you where'er I
That evening at sunset he crawled with me into the cave. And he slept
so sweetly that I held him in my own heart. Next morning at sunrise we
clambered out together, and together we gathered sticks, and together
bent over the fire and blew into its struggling little flames. Life
was rich. We hob-nobbed together. We doubled all our happinesses, and
we promised to share all our griefs. Sitting on the rocks—there were
many of them about, of all shape and size—we taught one another
songs. I wrote songs; he sang them. I told him of places where I had
been; he described them to me so that they lived again before me.
I told him of beauteous women I had met; he had met them also and
revealed to me their loving hearts. He could give the leaping love
in my heart a precious name. I verily believe that when the sun was
setting golden behind a great cliff, he could bid it stop and shine
upon us an hour longer.
Timid and shy at first, he grew more daring afterwards and interpreted
my wishes even before I was myself aware of them. He was constantly
devising some new happiness. His bird's heart was a fast overflowing
Then when rainy days came we crouched together in the cave like
night-birds sheltered from the day, and we whispered and recounted
and planned. I scribbled in my diary in pencil, and he re-wrote my
scribbling in bright-coloured chalks, and drew side pictures and wrote
poems. Many are the pages we thus wrote together; some he wrote, some
I wrote, and there are many from both of us in this volume. When
I thought to make a book he laughed and said, "You are making to
yourself a graven image." He held it idolatry to imagine that
beautiful visions could be represented in words.
"I shall not worship the book," I urged.
"Other people may, or they may revile it," he answered, laughing.
"It's the same sin."
"Lest they worship or revile idolatrously, I shall write a notice,"
said I. "For though I praise Nature ill, and express her ill, she, the
wonderful spirit, is beyond all praise or blame." And I wrote these
words: "Lest any one should think that in these pages life itself is
accounted for, any beauty set down in words, any yearning defined, or
sadness utterly plumbed, it is hereby notified that such appreciation
is false—that in these pages lies only the symbol of life, the
guide-post to the hearts of those who wrote the words. Follow, gentle
reader, the directions we have given; tread the roads that we have
trod, and see again what we have seen."
To which I added this note: "The poetry is from my companion's pen,
the prose from mine."
And my companion, not content with that, wrote a postscript: "There
is no prose, and the pen by itself writes nothing at all."
II. HOW MY COMPANION FOUND HIMSELF IN A COACH
"There is one event in my life that I cannot account for," said
my companion, "and it has conditioned all my living, an event
psychologically strange. I appear, in a way, to have lost my memory at
one era of my existence. I look at the event I am going to relate,
and simply stare in perplexed wonder. Somewhere, somewhen, I lost
something in my mind! What was that something?
"Most people can tell the story of their life as they themselves
remember it. Their memory takes them back to their earliest years, and
the memory seems satisfactory to them. But there is a mystery in mine
which to my mind remains unexplained. I remember nothing before the
age of twenty-one. As far as my memory is concerned I might have been
born then. More strange still, I recognise nothing of a past before
then, and no one comes out of that past and claims recognition of me.
"This I remember in a dim phantasmal way as the very beginning of
things: my getting into a coach in a white mist. Even in that I
constantly feel a doubt that my imagination has been playing false
with memory. Certainly I do remember finding myself in a coach, but at
the startled moment when my conscious life began, it appeared to me
that I had never been anywhere in my life but sitting in the coach. A
certain intellectual horror vacuum may have evoked that mental image
of an entering of the coach, but even then I wholly fail to fill in
the life and place from which I came. All behind that strange misty
entering on the coach-steps is grey, empty mist-land.
"It was a large, smooth-rolling coach, most like a commodious omnibus,
and full of a most jovial company. I sat half-way along one of the two
lengthy seats, and opposite me was a red-faced man, with large shiny
eyes and greasy hair. On one side of me was a jolly country girl of
about twenty-five, on the other a thin, dry-looking man. There was an
incessant din of conversation and singing; we were leaning towards one
another, and saying what jolly fellows we were, we should never part.
A bottle was always going round, and every now and then the postilion
blew his horn; six horses clattered in front, the dust rolled off
behind. I remember myself in a strange state of excitement.
"It was afternoon when I began to think. Actually, at that time I knew
I had no memory, but I dared not face the fact. I strove to evade
thought by being one of the company. How my cheeks burned as I laughed
and talked! I remember pulling a fat man by the sleeve, and whispering
in his ear some secret that made us roll back and collapse in
laughter. And the coach sped on.
"It seemed an eternal afternoon—chiefly because it filled up all the
past for me. I could remember nought before it.
"At last, however, a grand sunset ran scarlet over the whole sky—we
still jested, and it was at this time that a little dwarf-like man in
a corner appeared fearful to me; there was a fiery reflection of
the sunset in his eyes. I saw him once so, I dared not look again.
Thoughts were fighting me. My jollity was losing ground. I foresaw
that in a short time I should cease to belong to the company, that I
should belong utterly to myself, and there would be no escaping from
my thoughts. Then at last we passed out of the sunlit country into a
place of grey light. It was really natural; the sunset was gone, here
was grey twilight. But my disordered mind expected I know not what,
either eternal sunset or sudden black night; I cannot say now. I was
struck with terror. And standing still with myself, I felt absolutely
confounded by the self-question I asked.
"'Where are we going?'
"Till that moment I had not realised that ignorance of the Past meant
ignorance of the Future. I asked where we were going. The laughter and
conversation increased. I was answered, but in a jargon I found quite
incomprehensible. Another question.
"'Who under heaven were these people?'
"I stood up and staggered. I must have appeared drunk, for I was
greeted with howls and cheers, an inferno of cries and laughter; and
the red-faced man stood up also and clung to me, and brought his queer
face close up to mine. The girl also clung to me. Then it occurred to
me, this was the crisis of a nightmare; in a moment these phantasmal
restraints would burst, and I should find myself peacefully—where?
"I remember what seemed a prolonged struggle among laughter and sighs
and affectionate clingings, and I got at last out at the door and
down the steps. I found myself weakly turning about on my heels on an
excessively dusty road. Just ahead of me the coach rolled off into the
future stretches of the road, the postilion wound his horn, and the
clouds of dust rose up behind the wheels.
"And I was in an open place in the cool of evening. A grey-blue sky
above, with the faintest glitter of first stars! I was alone. The past
was a mystery; my future unexplored, full of the unimaginable; the
ultimate future of course like my past.
"Such was my beginning—the event of my life, in the shadow of which I
live and by virtue of which, though I know every road and house of the
world, I yet am homeless. No happening in my being but I must view it
in the light of that strange initial mystery. With the problem of that
past unsolved, I have never found anything in the ordinary matters of
life proposed as all-absorbing occupations. Because of that, I am upon
the road. I have made research, and have asked questions of all whom
I have met, but I got no answer, and I tired most people with my
problem. They say to me lightly, 'Your coach was a dream,' and I
answer, 'If so, then what before the dream? '"
"We are all of us like you and your coach," I said to my companion.
"Some of us know it and some do not, that is all. Some forget the
mystery and others remember it."
"We remember it," said the wanderer. "Because of it we are
irreconcilables, but …" he added, looking with a smile at the
beautiful world about our cave, "almost reconciled; inconsolable, yet
seeing how lovely is this mysterious universe, almost consoled. Most
men forget, but many remember; yet whether they remember or no, they
are all orphans nevertheless, lost children and homeless ones. We who
sing and write and who remember are the voices of humanity. We speak
for millions who are voiceless."
One long sunny morning we talked of the life of the wanderer, and
my companion continued his story and recounted how he had found a
brotherhood of men like himself.
"When first I found myself thus upon the world, I was full of hope to
find an answer to the mystery. But the many fellow-beings I met upon
my road were as profitless as my companions in the coach. They could
not explain me, they could not explain the world or themselves, and
in the midst of teeming knowledges they were obliged to confess one
ignorance; among the myriad objects which they could explain they had
to acknowledge a whole universe of the inexplicable. I said to them,
'What is all your knowing worth beside the terrible burden of your
ignorance, and what are things that you can explain compared with
those that are inexplicable?'
"But I found these people proud of their little knowledges, and of the
matters they could explain. They were not even startled when I called
upon them to remember the great volcano of ignorance, on the slopes of
which they were building their little palaces.
"First I despised them, and then I loved them. But I shuddered at the
thought that I, an unknown person, unknown to myself and unrecognised
by a God, should love people equally unknown—a shadow loved other
shadows, and like a shadow I trembled.
"When I learned to love, I felt like a god—just as when the sun
learned to warm, he knew that he was a sun. I became like a sun over a
little world, and people who did not understand basked in my light and
"But one day love was lost in a cloud, as the sun is lost in a mist
which it itself has raised from the earth, and I thought: 'What a
fool am I, content to dwell among such people, and be as a king over
them. All that divides me from them is that I know that I know not,
and they do not even know that. For they rank their earth knowledge as
something more worthy than all their ignorance. I will go forth into
the world, and seek for those who are like myself, irreconcilable in
front of the inexplicable.'
"I sought them in towns and found them not, for the people, like
foolish virgins forgetful of the bridegroom, slumbered and slept. I
sought them upon deserts and mountains, and upon the wild plains, but
there man was of the earth and beautiful, though not aware of his
kingdom beyond the earth. But in the country places I met wise old men
who kept candles burning before my shrine, and in the houses of the
poor I met the body-wearied, world-defeated, and they, having lost
all, found the one hope that I cherished. And in the pages of books,
by converse with the dead, I found the great spiritual brotherhood.
"We are many upon the world—we irreconcilables. We cry inconsolably
like lost children, 'Oh, ye Gods, have ye forgotten us? Oh, ye Gods,
or servants of gods, who abandoned us here, remember us!'
"For perhaps we are kidnapped persons. Perhaps thrones lie vacant on
some stars because we are hidden away here upon the earth. I for one
have a royal seal on my bosom, a mysterious mark, the sign of a royal
house. Ah, my brothers, we are all scions of that house.
"One day I met a man who voluntarily sought death in order to
penetrate the mystery of the beyond. But no sign showed itself forth
to us, and we know not whether by his desperate deed he won what we
have lost, or whether, perchance, he lost all that we can ever win.
"The burden of my ignorance is hard to bear," he cried. The burden of
our ignorance is hard to bear. Thus we cry, but there comes no answer,
and the eternal silence which enfolds the earth is unbroken. Yet the
stars still shine, promising but not fulfilling.
We have become star-gazers, we irreconcilables; expecters of signs and
wonders. We live upon every ridge of the world, and have made of every
mountain a watch-tower; and from the towers we strain our eyes to see
past the stars.
For the stars are perchance but the flowers in a garden, or the lights
upon the walls of a garden, and beyond them is the palace of our
"And since the early days till now," said my companion, "I have
wandered about the world, sometimes sojourning a while in a town, but
seldom for long. For the town is not a good place."
Then I told him how the town had tempted me, and we compared
experiences. We told of the times when we had come nigh forgetting.
"Just think," said I to him, "I should never have found you had I been
swallowed up in the town."
"And I should never have lain at your feet in the sun," he replied.
"You would never have noticed me in the town."
IV. "HOW THE TOWNSMAN TEMPTED ME"
"Once I was tempted by a townsman," said the wanderer, "but instead of
converting me with his town, he was himself converted by the country.
"For many years I wandered by seashores, asking questions of the sea.
When I came to the sea it was singing its melancholy song, the song
that it has sung from its birth, and it paused neither to hear nor to
answer me. Ever rolling, ever breaking, ever weeping, it continued its
indifferent labour. I walked along its far-stretching sands, leaving
footprints which it immediately effaced. I clambered upon its cliffs
and sat looking out to sea for days, my eyes shining like lighthouse
fires. But the sea revealed not itself to me. Or perhaps it had no
self to reveal. And I could not reveal myself to it; but the sea
expressed itself to me as a picture of my mystery.
"I wandered inland to placid lakes, the looking-glasses of the clouds.
I threw pebbles into their waters, disturbing their pure reflections,
but the disturbances passed away harmlessly into nothingness, and the
lakes once more reflected the sky.
"Then I said to my heart, 'We must wander over all the world in search
of my homeland, but chance shall not be my guide. I shall loose the
reins to thee. Where thou leadest I will follow.'
"I followed my heart through verdant valleys up into a mountain high
above a great town. And there for some while I made my abiding place.
For I had learned that from a mountain I could see further than from
a valley. In the towns my horizons had been all walls, but from this
high mountain I looked far over the world.
* * * * *
"One day there came towards my mountain a townsman who tried to lure
me to the city below. He was too tired to climb up to me, but from low
down he called out,' You unhappy one, come down out of the height and
live with us in the town. We have learnt the art of curing all
sorrow. Let us teach you to forget it, and live among our many little
"And I answered him, 'It is our glory that we shall never forget.'
Nevertheless I was tempted and came down.
"The townsman was exceedingly glad, and even before I reached the
gates of his city he said to me, 'In after years you will remember me
as the man who saved you.'
"'How?' said I. 'Am I already saved?'
"'No,' he replied. 'But in the town is your salvation. You will find
work to do, and you will not need to return to your mountain to pray.
You will understand that work itself is prayer—laborare est orare.
Your prayer towards the sky was barren and profitless, but prayer
towards the earth, work, will give full satisfaction to your soul.'
"And I mocked him.
"'What lie is this?' I said. 'How do you dare to confuse labour and
prayer? Learn from me, my friend, that work is work, and prayer is
prayer. It is written in the old wisdom—"Six parts of thy time shalt
thou work for thy bread, and on the seventh thou shalt pray." Orare
est orare; laborare est laborare.'
"On the outskirts of the town there were men paving the streets.
'Behold how these men pray!' exclaimed my companion. 'They pave the
streets; that is their prayer. They do not gaze at the stars; their
eyes are ever on the earth, their home. They have forgotten that there
are any stars. They are happy!'
"'Their souls sleep,' I answered him.
"'Quite so,' he replied, 'their souls sleep and thus they are happy.
They had no use for their souls, therefore we purveyed them sleep,
"balm of hurt minds." We gave them narcotics.'
"'Tell me your narcotics.'
"'The Gospel of Progress—that is our opium; it gives deep sleep and
sweet dreams. It is the most powerful of drugs. When a man takes it
once he takes it again, for it tempts him with the prospect of its
"'I shall not taste of it,' said I, 'for I prize Truth above all
dreams. What other narcotics have you, sleep-inducing?'
"My companion paused a moment, then replied:
"' There are two sovereign remedies for the relief of your sorrow, a
life of work, or a life of pleasure. But work needs to be done under
the influence of the Gospel of Progress. Without a belief in progress,
man cannot believe that work is prayer, and that God is a taskmaster.
His soul wakes up. He commits suicide or crime. Or he deserts the
city, and goes, as you have done, up into the mountains.'
"'One narcotic helps out the other,' I hazarded.
"'Quite so. Pleasure is the alternative remedy, a perfectly delightful
substitute for your life: wine, the theatre, art, women. But as in
taking laudanum, one must graduate the doses—take too much and you
"'Wine,' I said. 'I have heard of it. It has been praised by the
poets, and its service is that it makes one forget! The theatre, its
comedies and farces and cunning amusements all designed to help me to
forget! Art with its seductions is to obsess the soul with foreign
thoughts! Women who languish upon one's eyes and tempt with their
beauties, they also would steal away our memories. I will have none of
"'I spoke of women in general,' said my tempter. 'But think of one
woman marvellously wrought for thee, the achiever and finisher of
thy being, the answer to all thy questionings, the object of all thy
yearnings. In the town thou wilt find the woman for thee, and she will
bear thee children.'
"'You misinterpret my needs, O friend of the town,' I said. 'I do not
look to the stars to find a woman. My yearnings are not towards a
woman of this earth. Well do I know that you have offered me the most
deadly delusion in this woman, perfectly wrought for my being. You
have taken hold of all my inexpressible yearning and have written over
it the word woman. And when one of us irreconcilables marries, it
often happens that he forgets his loneliness and loses the sense of
his mystery. His wife becomes a little house which he lives inside,
and his soul is covered up and lost by her. Where he used to see the
eternal stars, he sees a woman, and as he understands her, he thinks
he understands himself."
"'But consider,' proceeded my tempter, 'the woman who is exactly the
complement of yourself, a woman marvellously and uniquely fashioned
to round you off and supply your deficiencies, and use your
"'If such there be,' I replied, 'I shall not seek her in the town.
I know what you mean. I ought to make a home and rear up the second
generation. I ought to renounce my own future and dedicate myself to a
child so that the mistakes in the old may be set right in the new. I
must try to put a child on the road that I missed when I myself was a
child, put it in the old coach, perhaps, with a passport in its hand.
Even so, that solves no problem, rather multiplies my own problem.
What is deathless in man is not answered in that way. What does it
profit man that mankind goes on? We cannot tell. But it is clear that
we learn nothing new thereby. Rather, as it seems, we forget what we
"My friend smiled and said, 'You will think differently later.'
Meanwhile he brought me into the heart of his town, a great city of
idolaters and opium-eaters. And he took me to the gaming tables of
pleasure and the gaming tables of work, and he sought to enchant me
with figures and hypnotise me with the gleam of gold. He showed me how
fortunes were made in roulette and in commerce, and tried to bring
upon me the gambler's madness. And I smiled and said:
"'Behold the eyes of yonder gambler; his soul is asphyxied with gold.
He pays that homage to the base gleam of a metal that I do to the
light of the stars. He is an idolater.'
"In the centre of the city a terrible fear troubled my soul, for it
realised that it alone in all this great city of souls preserved
its conscience and its wakefulness. By the glare of men's eyes it
understood how all were somnambulists. We walked among millions who
walked in their sleep. And in their sleep they committed terrible
crimes. They looked at me with eyes that saw not; at the bidding of
strange dreams they went forward secretly.
"I beheld the thousand mockeries, and chief among them the mockery of
our eternal mystery. Instead of the church that is the dome of heaven
itself they had built churches of stone. And the people, urged by
their dreams, congregated themselves in these churches and were
ministered unto by false priests. And dreams of truth conflicted with
nightmare enacted themselves. The churches fell out among themselves,
and the people fought one another. False priests stood by irresolute,
their soft, shapeless lips having been smoothed away by maxims and old
words. And they stood in front of idols in a semblance of defence.
"I pushed many priests aside; I thrust my sword through many idols.
"'Come,' I said, 'your town is terrible. Let me away into my mountain
again. You wish me to consider this world worthy of me; you offer me
its small things in exchange for my great thing. You have not even
small things to offer. Farewell!'
"'And what is your doctrine?' he said to me at parting. As if we had a
"'For you,' I said, 'the worship of the explained; for us the
remembrance of the inexplicable.'"
V. HIS CONVERSION
"'But your religion?' said the townsman. 'You spoke of your religion.
What do you mean by religion?'
"'Religion is to have charity: never to condemn, never to despair,
never to believe that the finite can ever quite cover up the infinite,
never to believe that anything is wholly explained, to see the
inexplicable in all things, and to remember that words are idols and
judgments are blasphemies. For words are the naming of things that are
without name, and judgments are the limiting of the wonder of God.
And what we call God is the inexplicable, the indefinable, the great
Unknown to whom in the midst of the idolatry of Athens an altar was
"'As a child I learnt that God was He who made the world in six days,'
said the townsman. 'God was He who delivered unto Moses the ten
commandments. Is not this the same which you profess?'
"'The same,' I answered. 'But you worship Him idolatrously. You limit
the wonder of God by words. You limit God's fruitfulness to six days:
and you say the world is finished and made. But for us the world is
never finished; every spring is a new creation, every day God adds or
takes away. And you limit God's laws to ten: you limit the Everlasting
Wisdom to ten words. Words are your idols, the bricks out of which
your idols and oracles are built. Listen, I will tell you what I have
always found in towns. I have found words worshipped as something holy
in themselves. Words were used to limit God, debase man. So is it in
your town. Once man thought words; now words are beginning to think
man. Once man conceived future progress; now your idol Progress is
beginning to conceive future man. It is the same as with money; once
man made money, but now in your idolatry money makes the man. Once man
entered commerce that he might have more life; now he enters life that
he may have more commerce. Of women, the very vessels and temples of
human life, you have made clerks; of priestesses unto the Living God
you have made vestals of the dead gold calf. You have insulted the
dignity of man.'
"I waited, but the townsman was silent.
"'Is that not so?' I urged.
"'You have your point of view; we have ours. You have your religion
and we ours,' said the townsman obstinately. 'And you use words, do
you not? You have your terminology; you have your idols, just as we
have. If not, then how do you use your words?'
"Then I answered him: 'When I found myself upon the world I soon came
under the sway of your words. Progress tempted me; commerce promised
me happiness. I obeyed commandments and moral precepts, and eagerly
swallowed rules of life. I prostrated myself before the great high
public idols, I bowed to the little household gods, and cherished
dearly your little proverb-idols and maxim-idols. The advice of
Polonius to his son and such literature was to me the ancient wisdom.
I became an idolater, and my body a temple of idolatry.'
"'How then did you escape?' asked my companion.
"'In this wise,' I answered. 'In my temple, as in ancient Athens, in
the midst of the idols was an altar to the Unknown God, which altar
from the first was present. That altar was to the mystery and beauty
"'By virtue of this altar I discovered my idolatry, and I recognised
the forces of death to which I had bound myself. I broke away and
escaped, and in place of all my idols I substituted my aspiring human
heart, and it beat like a sacred presence in the clear temple of my
"'Then words I degraded from their fame, and trampling them under my
feet, I sang triumphantly to the limitless sky.'
"'But still you use words,' said the townsman, 'you irreconcilables.'
"'Yes. When we had degraded their fame and humbled them so that they
came to us fawningly, asking to be used, we exalted them to be our
servants. Now we are masters over them, and not they over us. They are
content to be used, if but for a moment, and then forgotten for ever.
We use them to reproduce in other minds the thoughts that are in our
own. Woe if they ever get out of hand and become our masters again!
They are our exchange metals. Woe if ever again we melt down those
metals and recast them as idols!
"'Come with me into the country,' I urged; and the townsman, as if
foreseeing release from the bondage of his soul, allowed my flowing
life to float him away from the haunts of his idolatry. Then as we
passed from under the canopy of smoke and entered into the bright
outside universe, I went on:
"'Words are become but a small part of our language. We converse in
more ways and with more people than of yore. All nature speaks to us;
mountain and sea, river and plain, valley and forest; and we reveal
our hearts to them, our longing, our hope, our happiness. And yet
never entirely reveal. Not with words only do we converse, but with
pictures, with music, with scent, with … but words cannot name the
sacred nameless mediums. And man speaks to man without words; with his
eyes, with his hands, with his love…."
"With that we walked some way together silently till at last the
townsman put his arm in mine and said: 'In my temple also is an altar
with an effaced inscription, methinks to the Ever-Living God. By your
words you have revealed it to me. Let me accompany you into the beauty
of the world, and interpret thou to me the mystery of its beauty.'
"As if I could interpret!
"'Behold,' I said, 'forest and mountain, the little copse and the
grass under it, and delicate little flowers among the grass. List to
the lark's song in the heavens, the wind soughing in the trees, the
whispering of the leaves. In the air there is a mysterious incense
spread from God's censers, the very language of mystery. Now you see
far into the beauty of the world and hear tidings from afar. All the
horizons of your senses have been extended. Are you not glad for
all these impressions, these pictures and songs and perfumes? Every
impression is a shrine, where you may kneel to God.'
"'It is a beautiful world,' said he.
"'It is beautiful in all its parts and beautiful every moment,' I
replied. 'My soul constantly says "Yes" to it. Its beauty is the
reminder of our immortal essence. The town is dangerous in that it has
little beauty. It causes us to forget. It is exploring the illusion
of trade, and its whole song is of trade. If you understand this, you
have a criterion for Life—
"'The sacred is that which reminds us; the secular is that which bids
"'When you have impressions of sight, noise, and smell, and these
impressions have no shrine where one may kneel to God, it is a sure
sign that you have forgotten Him, that you are dwelling in the courts
"'But it is painful to remember,' said my companion, 'and even now I
have great pain. It is hard to leave the old, and painful to receive
the new. My heart begins to ache for loneliness, and I long for the
gaiety of the town and its diversions. I should like once more to
drown my remembrances.'
"I bade him have courage, for he was in the pains of birth. The old
never lets out the new without pain and struggle, but when the new
is born it is infinitely worthy. And my new friend was comforted. We
spent many days upon the road, looking at beauty, conversing with one
another, worshipping and marvelling. Along the country paths flowers
looked up, and beautiful suns looked out of strange skies. Often
it seemed we had been together upon the same road a thousand years
before. Was it a remembrance of the time before my entering into the
coach? The flowers by the roadside tried to whisper a word of the
answer to my question. It seemed that we were surrounded by mysteries
just about to reveal themselves. Or, anon, it seemed as if we had
missed our chance, as if an unseen procession had just filed by and we
had not distinguished it.
"My friend was leaving behind all his idols. We sat upon a ridge
together, and looked back upon the valley and the city which we had
left. There was what my soul abhorred, and what I feared his soul
might be too weak to face—the kaleidoscope of mean colours turning
in the city, tickling our senses, striving to bind our souls and to
mesmerise. Some colours would have drawn our tears, some would have
persuaded smiles over our lips. Combinations of colours, groupings,
subtle movements and shapings sought to interest and absorb our
"'Behold,' said I. 'In the city which calls itself the world, the
townsmen are casting up dice! Is it possible we shall be stricken with
woe, or immensely uplifted in joy because of the falling of a die? Oh
world too sordid to be opposed to us! Oh world too poor to be used by
us! Is not the world's place under our feet, for it is of earth and we
"But my friend was not with me. He wavered as if intoxicated, and
wished to return to the city. 'Oh glorious world,' said he, and sighed
himself towards the gates we had left.
"Then seeing the brightness of my face, which just then reflected a
great brightness in the sky, and remembering that his pain was only a
bridge into the new, he gained possession of himself and turned his
eyes away from the town.
"'More than my old self and its weak flesh do I value the new young
life that is to be,' said he. 'Though I am a man and a creature of
pleasure, I am become as a woman that bears children. For the time is
coming when I shall give birth to one younger than myself, later than
"'Your old self will reappear more beautiful, new-souled,
transfigured,' I replied.
"Then my companion looked at me with eyes that were full both of
yearning and of pain, and he said, 'Though I would fain stay with you,
yet must I go apart. For I have one battle yet to fight, and that I
can only fight alone. Farewell, dear friend, husband of the woman that
is in me!'
"Then said I farewell and we embraced and parted, for I saw that it
was meet for him to commune alone with God and gain strength to win
"The town lay in the west; he went into the north and I into the east.
Once more I was alone."
"Come, let us devise new means of happiness," said my companion. "Let
us wander up-stream to the silent cradle of the river. For all day
long I hear the river calling my name."
And we journeyed a three days' tramp into the mountains, following the
silver river upward and upward to the pure fountain of its birth. And
on the way, moved by the glow of intercourse, I told my companion the
story of Zenobia, and also that of the old pilgrim whom I met at New
Athos. It was strange to us that the peasants in the country should
live and die so much more worthily than the educated folk who live in
the towns. God made the country, man made the town, and the devil made
the country town, was not for us an idle platitude but a burning fact,
though we agreed that man was often a much more evil creator than the
devil, and that the great capitals of Europe and America were the
worst places for Man's heavenly spirit that Time had ever known.
Imagine our three days' journeying, the joy of the lonely one who has
found a companion, the sharing of happiness that is doubling it; the
beauty to live in, the little daintinesses and prettinesses of Nature
to point out; the morning, sun-decked and dewy, the wide happiness of
noon, the shadows of the great rocks where we rested, and the flash of
the green and silver river tumbling outside in the sunshine; quiescent
evening and the old age of the day, sunset and the remembrance of the
day's glory, the pathos of looking back to the golden morning.
The first night we made our bed where the plover has her nest, in a
grassy hollow on the shelf of a mountain.
"The day is done," said my companion. "A little space of time has
died. Now see the vision of the Eternal, which comes after death;" and
he pointed to the night sky, in which one by one little lamps were
The bright world passed away, faded away in my eyes and became at last
a dark night sky in which shone countless stars. During the day, my
soul expressed itself to itself in the beauty which is for an hour,
but at night it re-expressed itself in terms of the Infinite. I looked
to my companion, and his eyes and lips shone in the darkness so
that he seemed dressed in cloth cut from the night sky itself, and
interwoven with stars. We lay together and looked up into the far high
sky, we breathed lightly: it seemed we exhaled the scent of flowers
that we had inbreathed in the morning—we slept.
And then the morning! The quiet, quiet hours, the flitting of moths in
the dawn twilight, the mysterious business of mice among the stones
about us, the cold fleeting air just before sunrise, full of ghosts,
our own awakening and the majestic sunrise, the exaggeration of all
shapes, the birth of shadows, the beaming heralds, glorious rose-red
summits and effulgent silvered crags, ten thousand trumpets raised to
the zenith, and ten thousand promises outspoken!
We arose, my companion and I—he only seemed to come to life when the
first beam touched me. I greeted the sun with my voice, and turning
round, there at my feet was my friend, familiar, dear, so ready for
living that one would have said the sun himself was his father.
"I was dead," said he, "and behold I am alive again. The world passed
away, and behold, at the voice of a trumpet, it hath come back. Beauty
faded yestreen from colour into darkness, from life to death, and
to-day it hath out-blossomed once again; the Sun was its father, dear
gentle Night its mother…."
And running with me, he clambered upon a rock and outstretched his
arms to the sun as if he were a woman looking to a strong man.
"Greater is the glory of sunrise than the glory of sunset, for the
sunrise promises what shall be, whereas the sunset only tells the
glory of the past. The sunrise promises beautiful days, the sunset
looks back upon beauty as if there were nothing in the future to
compare with what has just departed."
Thus sang my friend, and we scampered along to the newly wakened
river. Cold and fresh was the water, as if it also had slept in the
night. It was full of the night, but the morning which was in us
strove with it, and at a stroke conquered it. The sun laughed to see
us playing in the water, and we greeted him with handfuls of sparkles.
The river was lusty and strong; it wrestled with us, grasped, pushed,
pulled, buffeted, threw stones, charged forward in waves, laboriously
rolled boulders against us….
We made our morning fire; its blue smoke rose slowly and crookedly,
and the brittle wood burning crackled like little dogs barking; the
kettle hissed on the hot, black stones where we had balanced it over
the fire, it puffed, it growled, blew out its steam and boiled, boiled
over; tea, bread and cheese, bright yellow plums from a tree hard
by, and then away once more we sped on our journey, not walking, but
running, scarcely running but flying, leaping, clambering … and my
companion performed the most astonishing feats, for he was ever more
lively than I was.
The sun strengthened. First it had empowered us to go forward, but
after some hours it bid us rest. Seven o'clock ran to eight, eight to
nine; nine to ten was hot, ten was scorching, and by eleven we were
conquered. We rested and let the glorious husband of the earth look
down upon us, and into us.
"How pathetic it is that men are even now at this moment sweating,
and grinding, and cursing in a town," said my companion to me. He was
lying outstretched before me on a slope of the sheep-cropped downs.
"They altogether miss life, life, the inestimable boon. And they get
nothing in return. Even what they hope to gain is but dust and ashes.
They waited perhaps a whole eternity to be born, and when they die it
may be that for a whole eternity they must wait again. God allotted
them each year eighty days of summer and eighty summers in their
lives, and they are content to sell them for a small price, content to
earn wages…. And their share in all this beauty, they hardly know of
it, their share in the sun.
"Have you not realised that we have more than our share of the sun?
The sun is fuller and more glorious than we could have expected. That
is because millions of people have lived without taking their share.
We feel in ourselves all their need of it, all their want of it.
That is why we are ready to take to ourselves such immense quantities
of it. We can rob no one, but, on the contrary, we can save a little
to give to those who have none—when we meet them. You must pull down
the very sun from heaven and put it in your writings. You must give
samples of the sun to all those who live in towns. Perhaps some of
those attracted by the samples will give up the smoke and grind of
cities and live in this superfluity of sunshine."
Then I said to my joyous comrade: "Many live their lives of toil and
gloom and ugliness in the belief that in another life after this they
will be rewarded. They think that God wills them to live this life of
"Then perhaps in the next life they will again live in toil and gloom,
postponing their happiness once more," said my companion. "Or on the
Day of Judgment they will line up before God and say with a melancholy
countenance, 'Oh Lord we want our wages for having lived!' …
An insult to God and to our glorious life, but how terrible, how
unutterably sad! And the reply of the angel sadder still, 'Did you not
know that life itself was a reward, a glory?'"
THE UNCONQUERABLE HOPE
Once, long ago, when an earthquake rent the hills, and mountains
became valleys, and the earth itself opened and divided, letting in
the sea, a new island was formed far away upon an unvisited ocean. Out
of an inland province of a vast continent this island was made, all
the land upon it having been submerged, and all the peoples that dwelt
to north and to south, to east and to west, having been drowned.
There survived upon the island a few men and women who remained
undisputed masters of the land, and they lived there and bred there.
No one visited them, for the island was remote, unknown; and they
visited no one, for they had never seen the sea before, they had not
even known of its existence, and they did not know how to fashion a
The island became fertile, and men and women married, and bore sons
and daughters. The people in the island multiplied and grew rich. But
all the while they lived without the invention of the boat, and they
thought their island was the whole world, not knowing of the other
lands that lay beyond the sea.
The original people died in their time, and their sons and daughters
and grandsons and granddaughters, and the newer, later, survived and
gave birth to newer and later still. And the story of the origin of
the island was handed down from generation to generation.
The story was a matter of fact. It became history, it became legend
and tradition, it became a myth, it became almost the foundation of
religion. For a thousand years a lost family of mankind dwelt on that
island on the unvisited sea, and none of their kindred ever came out
of its barren sea-horizons to claim them.
And then, lest these children of men should utterly forget, a child
was born who should understand. As happens once in many centuries, a
wise man arose, and he interpreted the legends and traditions, and
refreshed in the memory of this people the significance of their
He taught them the mystery of the sea, and of the beyond, that
hitherto unimaginable beyond, so that men yearned to cross the ocean.
Then the ignorant rose up and slew that man, thinking him an evil one,
luring men to their death. And those who had understood him sorrowed
greatly. His life had been pure, white, without reproach, and the
light that shone in his eyes was the same that burned in the stars.
But though the ignorant could destroy his body, they could not destroy
the fair life that he had lived, that wonderful example of how men may
stand in the presence of the eternal mysteries.
There arose followers who dedicated themselves to the truth he had
revealed, that truth boundless and infinite as the sea itself.
And they lit a fire like the sacred fire in the temples of the
fire-worshippers, and that fire should never be extinguished until
some sign rose out of the horizon, illumining and dissolving the
"Who knows," they say, "but that we are the descendants of kings?
There is that in us that is foreign to this land, something not
indigenous to this soil, of which this island is not worthy. It cometh
from afar and had elsewhere its begetting. In us are latent unnamed
powers, senses that in this island cannot be used. Our eyes are
unnecessarily bright, our hearts superfluously strong. This Earth
cannot satisfy us, it cannot afford scope enough, we cannot try
ourselves upon it. This is the hope that we keep holy, that out of the
heavens or across the sea our kindred, our masters, or our gods will
claim us and take us to a new land where our hearts' meaning may
completely show itself outwardly to the sky; where our latent senses
will find the things that can be sensed, and our faculties that which
can be made, where our hearts and wills may be satisfied, and we may
find wings with which to soar over all seas."
Behold these dedicates, with their torch of remembrance kindled in
the night of ignorance, these living eternally in the presence of the
mystery! They pine upon shores, looking over the unbridgeable abyss,
yearning their souls towards that ultimate horizon, with limbs vainly
strong, eyes vainly keen, hearts ready for an adventure they may not
undertake. At their feet wails the sea with never-ending sadness.
In their minds are haunting tunes, the echoes of the wailing of the
waves. They cry, and no one hears; they sing, and no one responds;
they are like those who have loved once and lost, and who may never be
These nurse in their hearts the unconquerable hope.
* * * * *
So is it with us upon the world, we irreconcilable ones; we stand upon
many shores and strain our eyes to see into the unknown. We are upon
a deserted island and have no boats to take us from star to star, not
only upon a deserted island but upon a deserted universe, for even
the stars are familiar; they are worlds not unlike our own. The whole
universe is our world and it is all explained by the scientists, or
is explicable. But beyond the universe, no scientist, not any of us,
knows anything. On all shores of the universe washes the ocean of
ignorance, the ocean of the inexplicable. We stand upon the confines
of an explored world and gaze at many blank horizons. We yearn towards
our natural home, the kingdom in which our spirits were begotten. We
have rifled the world, and tumbled it upside-down, and run our fingers
through all its treasures, yet have not come upon the charter of our
birth. We explored Beauty till we came to the shore of a great sea; we
explored music, and came upon the outward shore of harmony and earthly
truth, and found its limits.
Some spoke of our limitations, but it is our glory that our hearts
know no limitations except those which are the defects of the world.
The world is full of limitations, but our hearts scorn them, being
full of boundless power.
Some day for us shall come into that blank sky-horizon which is called
the zenith, a stranger, a man or a god, perhaps not like ourselves,
yet having affinities with ourselves, and correlating ourselves to
some family of men or gods of which we are all lost children. We shall
then know our universal function and find our universal orbit.
As yet the True Sun stands in the antipodes, the great light is not
vouchsafed. In the night of ignorance our little sun is shining and
stars gleam upon our sky-horizons. But when the True Sun shines their
brightness will be obscured, and we shall know a new day and a new
night, a new heaven and a new earth.
It is written, "When He appears we shall be like Him."
THE PILGRIMAGE TO JERUSALEM
Once, possibly, upon the world, man did not know of God; he had not
looked to the blank horizon and spoken to the Someone beyond. He had
all the need to speak, all the oppression in his soul, all the sorrow
and longing pent up in him and the tears unshed, but knew no means of
relief, did not even conceive of any one beyond himself. He had no
great Father, as we have. A strange, unhappy life he lived upon
the world, uncomforted, unfriended. He looked at the stars and
comprehended them not; and at the graves, and they said nought. He
walked alone under heaven's wide hollowness.
We of later days have God as a heritage, or if we did find Him of
ourselves, the road was made easy for us. But some one far away back
in human life found God first, and said to Him the first prayer; some
hard, untutored savage found out the gentlest and loveliest fact in
our religion. A savage came upon the pearl and understood it and fell
down in joy. A man one day named God and emptied his heart to Him in
prayer. And he told the discovery to his brothers, and men all began
to pray. The world lost half its heaviness at once. Men learned that
their prayers were nearly all the same, that God heard the same story
from thousands and hundreds of thousands of hearts. Thus men came
nearer to one another, and knew themselves one in the presence of God,
and they prayed together and formed churches. Man, the homeless one,
had advanced a step towards his home, for he began to live partly in
I am reminded of this by the joy which accompanies the personal
discovery of some new rite which brings us into relation with the
Following that hypothetical first man, how many real first men there
have been, each discovering new things about God and the beyond,
giving mankind new letters in the Sanscrit, and each discovery
accompanied by joy and relief.
The conception of life as part of a journey to the heavenly city
was, I think, one of these discoveries; and its rite was the church
procession to the altar. In symbolic act man learned to make the
journey beyond the blank horizon. He enlarged the church procession
to the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and he enlarged the pilgrimage to
Jerusalem to the pilgrimage of life itself. In the understanding of
life as a pilgrimage, the wanderer and seeker has the world for his
We are all on the road to the City of Jerusalem. Those who are
consciously on the road may call themselves pilgrims; they have a life
of glory in the heart as well as of toiling by the way. They are in a
certain definite perspective, and they see all things that happen
to them in the light of the pilgrimage. I for my part, directly I
definitely set out for Jerusalem, on the very first day, at the sight
of the first stranger who crossed my path, exclaimed to myself, "I
meet him on the way to Jerusalem; that makes a difference, does it
But not only does the goal of the pilgrimage lend a new significance
to the present and the future; it also lights up the past. It makes
every idlest step of worth. It makes us so understanding of the past
that we would not alter one jot or tittle in it. Our whole life is
transfigured. Every deed of our hands, every thought of our minds and
word of our lips, every deed of others or of Nature seen, every word
of man or sound of Nature heard, is made into one glowing garment—the
story of our life-pilgrimage via the present moment to the Heavenly
I started on my pilgrimage long ago, so long ago I can hardly tell
when. As Jeremy the pilgrim said of Mikhail: "He wished to go when he
was a little boy; that means, he began to go then, for whenever you
begin to wish you begin the pilgrimage. After that, no matter where
you are, you are sure to be on the way." It is a stage in the
awakening of consciousness, that wishing to go; the next stage is
intending to go, and the next, deciding to go and setting out—but
independently of these wishes and intentions and decisions, we were
really on the road, and going all the while. By our true wishes we
divine our destiny.
Yes, even long ago I wished, and to-day I am still on the way, though
I have actually pilgrimaged to Jerusalem in Palestine. My pilgrimage
was a pilgrimage within a pilgrimage. It was the drawing of a picture
on earth of a journey in heaven. As a day is to a year, and as a year
to man's life, so is man's life to that which we do not know, the
course of our life beyond Time's blank horizon. If I have often
stopped to tell of a little day, or a little hour in the day, it
is because I sought there a picture of Eternity, of the whole
significance of the pilgrimage.
I suppose I did not know that when I first left England to go to
Russia I was turning my face toward Jerusalem. Yet it was so. For I
should never have gone direct from London to the Holy Land. If I had
attempted such a journey I should probably have failed to reach the
great Shrine, for it is only a certain sort of people travelling in a
certain sort of way who find admittance easily. By the Russian peasant
I was enabled to go. It is strange to think that even when I was
journeying northward to Archangel I was winding my way Jerusalem-ward
in the sacred labyrinth. And I could not have gone straight southward
with the pilgrims without wandering in contrary directions first of
all, for it was necessary to come into sympathy and union with the
peasant soul. There is a peasant deep down in my soul, or a peasant
soul deep down in me, as well as an exterior, sensitive, cultured
soul. I had to discover that peasant, to realise myself as one of the
poor in spirit to whom is the kingdom.
Christ preached His gospel to the peasant. His is a peasant's gospel,
it seems to me, such a gospel as the peasants of Russia would take to
themselves to-day if Jesus came preaching to them in the way He did to
the common people of the Jews. The cultured would disdain it, until
a new St. Paul interpreted it for them in terms that they could
understand, so giving it a "vogue". Both the peasants and the cultured
would be Christians, but with this difference, that in one case the
seed would be growing on the surface, and in the other from the
depths. The peasant, of course, has no surface; he is the good black
earth all ready for the seed.
There is a way for the cultured: it is to discover the peasant down
beneath their culture, the original elemental soil down under the
artificial surface, and to allow the sweetness and richness of
that soil to give expression on that surface. True culture is thus
achieved; that which is not only on the surface but of the depths.
Thereby might every one discover not only the peasant but the pilgrim
soul within; each man living on the world might realise himself as on
the way to Jerusalem. Such realisation would be the redemption of
the present culture of the West. For workers of every kind—not only
artists, musicians, novelists, but the handicraftsmen, the shapers of
useful things, of churches and houses and laws, even the labourers in
the road and the garden—would be living in the strength of a promise
and the light of a vision.
* * * * *
The pilgrimage was a carrying of the cross, but it was also a happy
wayfaring. It was a hard journey but not comfortless. Many of the
pilgrims walked thousands of miles in Russia before finally embarking
on the pilgrim boat. They walked solitarily, not in great bands, and
they were poor. From village to village, from the Far North, Central
Russia and the East, they tramped their way to Odessa and Batoum, and
they depended all the way on other men's hospitality. As Jeremy said,
"They had no money: instead of which they found other men's charity."
They lived night by night in hundreds of peasant homes, and prayed day
by day in hundreds of little churches. Not only did they find their
daily bread "for the love of God," but in many cases they were
furnished even to Jerusalem itself with passage money for the boat
journey, and bread to keep the body alive.
Such pilgrims often were illiterate, and it was astonishing how they
remembered all the folk they had to pray for at Jerusalem; for
every poor peasant who could not leave his native village, but gave
threepence or four-pence to the wanderer, asked to be remembered in
the land "where God walked". Perhaps there were aids to remembrance.
Many people in the villages, wanting to be sure that their prayers and
wants would be remembered, wrote their names on slips of paper and
thrust them into the pilgrim's hand. Thus in the hostelry at Jerusalem
an old wanderer came to me one morning with a sheaf of dirty papers on
which were written names, and I read them out for him aloud, thus:—
Maria for health.
Katerina for health.
Rheumatic Gregory for health.
Ivan for the peace of soul of his mother.
For the peace of soul of Prascovia.
And so on; and I sorted them into separate bundles—those who wished
prayers for health, and those who wanted peace of soul to the dead.
I, for my part, have walked many a thousand versts from village to
village, and have been glad to live the peasant-pilgrim's life.
Tramping was hard for me also, as also far from comfortless. I saw
sights which amply repaid me, if I wanted repayment, for every verst I
tramped. Often, and shamefully, have I looked back and sighed for the
town that I had left—its friends, its comforts and its pleasures; but
I also found other men's hospitality and the warmth of the stranger's
love. Very sweet it was to sit in the strange man's home, to play with
his children on the floor, to eat and drink with him, to be blessed by
him and by his wife, and sleep at last under the cottage ikons. And
though peasants knew the way was hard, "How fortunate you are!" they
said. I was more fortunate than they knew, for, being the voice of
those who were without voice, I had a life by the way in communion
with every common sight and sound. I lived in communion with sunny and
rainy days, with the form of mountain and valley, with the cornfield
and the forest and the meadow. Not only was man hospitable to the
tramp, but Nature also. The stars spoke of my pilgrimage, the sea
murmured to me; wild fruit was my food. I slept with the bare world as
my house, the sky as my roof, and God as host.
I saw strange happenings in obscure little villages. Wherever I went
I saw little pictures, and not only great pageants; I knelt in little
wooden churches as well as in the great cathedrals. And I brought all
that I met and all that I had experienced to Jerusalem, so that when
the chorus of thanksgiving went up in the monastery on the day when we
arrived, all my world was singing in it.
Sometimes I met pilgrims, especially at monasteries, and sometimes
sojourned with one along the road, but it was not until we reached
the pilgrim-boat that we found ourselves many and together. For the
greater part of the pilgrim life is necessarily in solitude. A great
number of pilgrims starting together and marching along the road is
almost unthinkable. The true desire to start takes one by oneself.
The pilgrim life is born like a river, far away apart, up in the
mountains. It is only when it is reaching its goal that it joins
itself to others. When we reached the port of embarkation we were a
great band of pilgrims, but the paths by which we had come together
were many and diverse, ramifying all over Russia.
We thought, but for the haunting fear of storms, that when we reached
the boat the arduous part of our journey would have been accomplished.
We should cease our plodding over earth, and should rest on the sea
in the sun. We would sing hymns together. Hymns are, of course,
principally designed for pilgrims, for man as a pilgrim, who needs to
console himself with music on the road. We would talk among ourselves
of our life on the way; the days would go past in pleasant converse
and the nights in happy slumber. But that was a mistake. The sea
journey was worse than any of our tramping; it was the very crown of
There were 560 of us packed into the holds of that hulk, the
Lazarus, on which we sailed, and there were besides, many Turks,
Arabs, and Syrians; of cattle, two score cows and a show bull with two
mouths; of beasts, a cage of apes; and, as if to complete pandemonium
in storm, there lay bound in his bed on the open deck a raving madman.
We were a fortnight on the sea, wandering irrelevantly from port to
port of the Levant, discharging a cargo of sugar; and all the while
the poor beggar-pilgrims lived on the crusts of which they had
sackfuls collected in Russia, crusts of black bread all gone green
with mould. I looked at the piles of them heaped on the deck to air in
pleasant weather, and was amazed that men could live simply on decay.
We had two storms, in one of which our masts were broken down and we
were told we should go to the bottom. The peasants rolled over one
another in the hold like corpses, and clutched at one another like
madmen. In despair some offered all their money, all that they had, to
a priest as a votive offering to St. Nicholas, that the storm might
abate. The state of the ship I should not dare to depict—the filth,
the stench, the vermin. For nearly a thousand passengers there
were three lavatories without bolts! Fitly was the boat named
Lazarus—Lazarus all sores. What the poor simple peasant men and
women suffered none can tell. They had not the thought to take care
of themselves as I had, and indeed they would have scorned to save
themselves. "It is necessary to suffer," they said.
It was a hard and terrible way, and yet on the last day of the voyage,
in the sight of the Holy Land, our hearts all leapt within us with
grateful joy. We felt it was worth it, every whit. When I think of
this journey as of that of Christian in the Pilgrims Progress, I
call this ship and the journey on it the Valley of the Shadow of
Death, full of foul pits and hobgoblins; something which must be
passed through if Jerusalem is to be attained; the dread gulf which
lies between earthly and heavenly life. It was necessary to pass
through it, and what was on the other side was infinitely worth the
struggle. There is a story in Dostoievsky of a Russian free-thinker
whose penance beyond this world was to walk a quadrillion versts. When
he finished this walk and saw the Heavenly City at the end of it he
fell down and cried out, "It is worth it, every inch; not only would I
walk a quadrillion of versts, but a quadrillion of quadrillions raised
to the quadrillionth power."
At last we arrived at Jerusalem. The onlookers saw a long,
jaded-looking flock of poor people toiling up the hilly road from
Jaffa, wearing Russian winter garb under the straight-beating sun of
the desert, dusty, road-worn, and beaten. We went along the middle of
the roadway like a procession, observed of all observers; in one
sense scarcely worth looking at, yet in another the most significant
spectacle of the day or of the time. We were—religious Europe just
arrived at the Heavenly City.
Certainly it would have been difficult to know the happiness and
exaltation of our hearts; perhaps to do that it would have been
necessary to step into line and follow us to the Cathedral and the
Sepulchre; perhaps even necessary to anticipate our coming, and join
us long before, on the way in Russia.
But we went forward unconscious of our own significance, indifferent
to the gaze of the curious. There was one thought in our minds: that
we had actually attained unto Jerusalem and were walking the last few
miles to the Holy of Holies.
We passed in through the gate of the Russian settlement, and in a
moment were at the monastery doors. How gladly we threw off our packs
on the green grass sward and hurried into church to the Thanksgiving
Service, buying sheaves of little candles at the door and pressing in
to light them before the sacred ikons. When the priest was given the
great Bible to read, it lay on the bare heads of pilgrims; so close
did the eager ones press together to share in the bearing that the
Holy Book needed no other support. We sang the Mnogia Lieta with
a deep harmonious chorus; we prostrated ourselves and prayed and
crossed. I stood in the midst and sang or knelt with the rest, timid
as a novice, made gentle by the time, and I learned to cross myself in
a new way. One by one the peasants advanced and kissed the gold cross
in the hands of the priest, and among them I went up and was blessed
as they were. And we were all in rapture. Standing at the threshold
afterwards, smiling peasants with wet shining eyes confessed to one
another their unworthiness and their happiness; and a girl all in
laughing tears fell down at our feet, kissing our dusty boots, and
asking our forgiveness that she had been permitted to see Jerusalem.
We were taken to the refectory and seated at many tables to a peasant
dinner: cabbage soup and porridge, bread and kvass, just as they are
served in Russia itself. We passed to the hostelry and were given,
at the rate of three farthings a day, beds and benches that we might
occupy as long as we wished to stay in Jerusalem. The first night we
were all to get as rested as possible, the next we were to spend in
the Sepulchre itself. I slept in a room with four hundred peasants,
on a wooden shelf covered with old pallets of straw. The shelves were
hard and dirty; there was no relaxation of our involuntary asceticism,
but we slept well. There was music in our ears. We had attained to
Jerusalem, and our dreams were with the angels. Jerusalem the earthly
had not forced itself upon our minds; we held the symbolism of the
journey lightly, and the mind read a mystery in delicate emotions. The
time was to come when some of us would be discontented with Jerusalem,
as some of the disciples who fell away were discontented with the poor
and humble Jesus; but as yet even to these all the material outward
appearance of Jerusalem was a rumour. We knew not what we should see
when we stepped out on the morrow; perhaps pearly gates, streets of
gold, angels with harps. Jerusalem the earthly was unproved. We had as
yet only toiled up the steep Jaffa way, and the road to heaven itself
might be not unlike that road. To-morrow … who could say what
to-morrow would unfold? For those of us who could see with the eyes of
the heart there could be no disappointment. But for all, this night of
golden dreams was a respite, and Jerusalem the symbol and Jerusalem
the symbolised were one. Happy, happy pilgrims!
Next day we went to the strange and ugly church erected over the
Sepulchre of Jesus, the "Church of the Life-giving Grave"; and we
kissed the stone of anointing—the stone on which the body of Jesus
lay whilst it was being wrapped in fair linen and anointed with oil.
We knelt before the ark-like inner temple which is built over the
hollow in the rock. We were received into that temple, and one by one
crept along the passage-way to the Holy of Holies, the inmost shrine
of Christendom. Only music could tell what the peasant realised in
that chamber as he knelt where the sacred Body lay, and kissed the
hollow in the stone.
Then we spent a whole night in the Sepulchre and entered into the
mystery of death—saw our own death as in a picture before us, our
abiding in the grave until the resurrection. In the great dark church
the solemn service went forward. On the throne of the altar at
Golgotha near by, the candles gleamed. Night grew quiet all around,
and the Syrian stars looked over us, so that centuries and ages passed
We went through the life of Jesus in symbolical procession, journeyed
to Bethlehem and kissed the manger where the baby Jesus was laid, that
first cradle as opposed to the second, the hollow in the rock. We came
as the Kings, saw the shepherds and their flocks, saw the star stop
over the house of Mary, and went in to do homage, bringing thither the
gifts of our hearts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
We tramped to the river Jordan, and all in our death shrouds at
Bethabara, waded into the stream and were baptized. In symbolic act
the priest baptizing us was veritably John, but in second symbolism it
was Jesus. As we stepped down into the water it was John, but when
we stepped up again it was Jesus receiving us into light. We made a
picture of the past, but we had also in our hearts a presentment of
the far future. As we stood there on the banks all in our white robes
it seemed like a rehearsal of the final resurrection morning. These
shrouds in which the pilgrims are baptized they preserve to their
death day, in order that they may be buried in them. They believe that
on the Last Day not only will their bodies of this day be raised up,
but the Jordan-washed garments will be restored as well.
We followed the course of the river down to the Dead Sea, the lowest
place on earth, and thence walked across the wilderness to the
Mountain of Temptation, where in innumerable caves had lived thousands
of hermits and saints. In a great caravan we journeyed to the Lake of
Galilee, where the Twelve were called. We camped upon the mountain
where the five thousand had been fed, and scattered bread there. We
dwelt in the little town of Nazareth and saw the well where Mary had
drawn water. We heard of all the dearnesses which the priests and
monks had imagined as likely in the boyhood of Jesus. We stood and
wondered at the place where Mary and Joseph are supposed to have
stopped and missed their twelve-year-old son who had gone to the
Temple to teach. We stood where Jesus had conversed with the woman of
Samaria. We visited the cottage where the water was changed into wine.
At Bethany we prayed at Lazarus' grave.
We lived with the life of Jesus as the story has been told. It was a
second pilgrimage, an underlining of the essentials of the first. We
finished the first pilgrimage at the Church of the Tomb on the day
after our arrival in Jerusalem; we should finish the second on the
last day of Holy Week, at the triumphant Easter morning.
On the Friday before Palm Sunday we went out to Bethany and slept
in the monastery which is built "where Martha served." Next day we
returned to Jerusalem with olive branches, palms and wild flowers,
scattering blossoms as we walked. On Saturday evening and in the
morning of Palm Sunday we filled the churches with our branches. Two
aged pilgrims who had died were buried on Palm Sunday. They lay in
open coffins in church dressed in the shrouds they had worn at Jordan,
covered with olive branches and little blue wild flowers (Jacob's
ladder), which the pilgrims had picked for them at Bethany. On their
faces was perfect peace. The pilgrims thought them happy to die in the
Holy Land and be buried there.
The crown of the pilgrimage was Holy Week. By Palm Sunday all the
pilgrims were back in Jerusalem from their little pilgrimages to
Nazareth, Jericho, and Jordan. The hostelries were crowded. Fully five
hundred men and women slept in the hall in which I was accommodated.
All night long the sound of prayer and hymn never died away. At dawn
each day a beggar pilgrim sanctified our benches with incense which he
burned in an old tin can. By day we visited the shrines of Jerusalem,
the Virgin's tomb, the Mount of Olives, the Praetorium, Pilate's
house, the dungeon where Jesus was put in the stocks. We saw the
washing of the feet on Holy Thursday; we walked down the steep and
narrow way where Christ carried the cross and stumbled, kissed
the place where Saint Veronica held out the cloth which took the
miraculous likeness. We examined our souls before Good Friday; we went
to the special yearly Holy Communion now invested with a strange
and awful solemnity. There was the prostration before the Cross at
Golgotha on Good Friday, the receiving of the Sacred Fire, symbol of
the Resurrection, on Holy Saturday, and then the night of the year and
the Great Morning. It seemed when we all kissed one another on Easter
Morning that we had outlived everything—our own life, our own death;
we were in heaven. In symbolic act we had attained unto bliss. The
procession had marched round the church to the supreme emotional
moment. We had all stood on the highest holy place on earth and looked
out for a moment upon Paradise. We had caught the gleam of the Sun of
What happens in the pilgrim's soul on Easter Night is something which
you and I and all of us know; if not in our own minds and in the
domain of letters and words, at least in the heart where music speaks.
To those who have not themselves attained unto Jerusalem and the
"highest of all earthly" it is a promise, and to those who have been
it is a memory and a possession. The Greek monks say that at the
sepulchre a fire bursts out of its own account each Easter Eve, and
there is at least a truth of symbolism in their miracle. An old bishop
and saint was once asked to give sight to a blind woman. He had
performed no miracles in his life, yet he promised to pray for her.
And whilst he knelt in church praying, the candles which were unlit
burst of themselves into flame. The woman at that moment also received
her sight and went home praising God. It is something like that which
happens when the pilgrim kneels on Easter Night. Candles unlit in the
temple of his soul burst into flame, and by their light new pictures
are seen. The part of him that was blind and craved sight gains open
eyes at that moment, and that which seemed impossible is accomplished.
And I, to use the metaphor of the unvisited island, had in a dream
crossed the ocean, had become, through the fulfilling of a rite, more
bound to the life which is beyond. Henceforth I have a more credible
promise and a more substantial hope.
But what then? The journey is ended, the gleam of the vision fades,
and we all return to the life we came from. We descend from what the
pilgrims call the highest holy place on earth and get back to the
ordinary level of life. How can we go back and live the dull round
again? Shall we not be as Lazarus is depicted in Browning's story of
him, spoiled for earth, having seen heaven? The Russian at home calls
the returned pilgrim polu-svatoe, a half-saint: does that perhaps
mean that life is spoilt for him?
Some hundreds of aged pilgrims die every year in Lent; they fall
dead on the long tramps in Galilee on the way to Nazareth. Many pass
peacefully away in Jerusalem itself without even seeing Easter there.
They are accounted happy. To be buried at Jerusalem is considered an
especially sweet thing, and it is indeed very good for these aged ones
that the symbol and that which it symbolised should coincide, and that
for them the journey to Jerusalem the earthly should be so obviously
and materially a big step towards Jerusalem the golden. It would have
been sad in a way for such old folk to return once more across the
ocean to the old, somewhat irrelevant life of Mother Russia. But what
of the young who must of necessity go back?
Once Easter was over it was marvellous how eager we were to get on the
first boat and go home again. What were we going to do when we got
there, seeing that we had been to Jerusalem?
We carry our vision back into daily life, or rather, we carry the
memory of it in our hearts until a day of fulfilment. All true visions
are promises, and that which we had was but a glimpse of a Jerusalem
we shall one day live in altogether.
The peasants took many pictures of the sacred places of Jerusalem,
and Jerusalem ikons, back with them to their little houses in Russia,
there to put them in the East corners of their rooms. They will
henceforth light lamps and candles before these pictures. The candle
before the picture is, as we know, man's life being lived in front of
the vision of Jerusalem; man's ordinary daily life in the presence of
the heavenly city.
We realise life itself as the pilgrimage of pilgrimages. Life contains
many pilgrimages to Jerusalem, just as it contains many flowerings of
spring to summer, just as it contains many feasts of Communion and not
merely one. Some of the pilgrims actually go as many as ten times to
that Jerusalem in Palestine. But there are Jerusalems in other places
if they only knew, and pilgrimages in other modes. It is possible to
go back and live the pilgrimage in another way, and to find another
Jerusalem. Life has its depths: we will go down into them. We may
forget the vision there, but as a true pilgrim once said, "We shall
always live again to see our golden hour of victory." That is the
true pilgrim's faith. He will reach Jerusalem again and again. He may
forget, but he will always remember again; he will always rise again
to the light of memory. Deep in the depths of this dark universe our
little daily sun is shining, but up above there is another Sun. At
times throughout our life we rise to the surface, and for a minute
catch a glimpse of that Sun's light: at each of these times we shall
have attained unto Jerusalem and have completed a pilgrimage
within the pilgrimage. There is light on the faces of those living
heroically: it is the light of the vision of Jerusalem.
THE MESSAGE FROM THE HERMIT
The question remains, "Who is the tramp?" Who is the walking person
seen from the vantage ground of these pages? He is necessarily a
masked figure; he wears the disguise of one who has escaped, and also
of one who is a conspirator. He is not the dilettante literary person
gone tramping, nor the pauper vagabond who writes sonnets, though
either of these rôles may be part of his disguise. He is not merely
something negligible or accidental or ornamental, he is something real
and true, the product of his time, at once a phenomenon and a portent.
He is the walking hermit, the world-forsaker, but he is above all
things a rebel and a prophet, and he stands in very distinct relation
to the life of his time.
The great fact of the human world to-day is the tremendous commercial
machine which is grinding out at a marvellous acceleration the smaller
and meaner sort of man, the middle class, the average man, "the
damned, compact, liberal majority," to use the words of Ibsen, and
the world daily becomes "more Chinese". The rocks are fraying one
another down to desert sand, and mankind becomes a new Sahara.
But over and against the commercial machine stand the rebels, the
defiers of it, those who wish to limit its power, to redeem some of
the slaves, and to rebuild the temples which it has broken down.
Commercialism is at present the great enemy of the individual man. One
already reads in leading articles such phrases as "our commercial,
national, and imperial welfare"—commercial first, national second,
imperial third, and spiritual nowhere.
Commercialism has already subdued the Church of Christ in Western
Europe, it has disorganised the forces of art, and it tends to deny
the living sources of religion, art, and life.
It remains for the rebel to assert that even though the name and idea
of Christianity be sold—as was its Founder—for silver, though it
be rendered an impotent and useless word, yet there is in mankind a
religion which is independent of all names and all words, a spring of
living water that may be subterraneanised for a while, but can never
be altogether dammed and stopped; that there is an art which shall
blossom through all ages, either in the secret places of the world or
in the open, in the place of honour, as long as man lives upon the
And he does more than assert, than merely wind upon his horn outside
the gates of the enchanted city, he is a builder, collector, saver.
He wishes to find the few who, in this fearful commercial submersion,
ought to be living the spiritual life, and showing forth in blossom
the highest significance of the Adam tree. He himself lives the life
which more must of necessity live, if only as a matter of salt to save
the body politic.
It has been urged, "You are unpracticable; you want a world of
tramps—how are you going to live?" But we no more want a world of
tramps than the promiser of new life wants a world of promisers: we
want a world that will take the life promised.
As I have said, we want first of all the few, the hermits, saints, the
altogether lovely men and women, the blossoming of the race. It is
necessary that these be found or that they find themselves, and that
they take their true orbits and live their true lives; for all the
rest of ordinary humanity is waiting to live its life in relation to
these. The few must live their lives out to the full in order that all
others may live their lives completely; for the temple of humanity has
not only the broad floor, but the Cross glittering above the pinnacle.
The night is dark, but there is plenty of hope for the future; the
very extremity of our calamity is something that bids us hope. Fifty
years ago nobody would listen to a gospel of rebellion, and such a
great man as Carlyle was actually preaching that to labour is to pray.
To-day men are ready to lay down their working tools and listen to any
insurrectionist, so aware has mankind become of an impending spiritual
bankruptcy. Never in any preceding generation has the young
man standing on the threshold of life felt more unsettled. His
unsettlement has frequently turned to frenzy and anarchy in individual
cases. Never has he cast his eyes about more desperately for a way of
redemption or a spiritual leader. For him, as for all of us, the one
requirement is to find out what is the first thing to do; not the
nearest, but the first, the most essential; the one after which all
other things naturally take their places.
It is not to wreck the great machine, for that would be to rush to the
other extreme of ruin and disorder. It is not even, as I think, to
build a new machine, for that would be to enter into a wasteful
competition wherein we should spend without profit and with much loss
of brotherly love, all our patience and our new desires.
The one way and the first way is to use and subordinate the present
machine, to limit it to its true domain, and let it be our true and
By finding the few who can live the life of communion, the few who
can show forth the true significance of the race. By saving our most
precious thoughts and ideals, and adding them to the similar thoughts
and ideals of others, by putting the instruments of education in their
proper places, by separating and saving in the world of literature and
art the expressions of beauty which are valuable to the coming race,
as distinguished from those that are merely sold for a price. By the
making solitary, which is making sacred.
For instance, I would have the famous and wonderful pictures now
foiling and dwarfing one another in our vulgar galleries, distributed
over the Western world. I wish their enfranchisement. Each great
picture should be given a room to itself, like the Sistine Madonna,
not only a room but a temple like that of the Iverskaya at Moscow, not
only a temple but a fair populous province. The great pictures should
be objects of pilgrimages, and their temples places of prayer. In the
galleries, as is obvious, the pictures are at their smallest, their
glory pressed back into themselves or overlapped or smudged by the
confusing glory of others. Out in the wide world, enshrined in
temples, these pictures would become living hearts, they would have
arms dealing out blessings, they would outgrow again till their
influence was as wide as the little kingdoms in which they were
enshrined. Pictures would again work miracles. What is more, great
pictures would again be painted.
This illustration is valuable allegorically. Great pictures are very
like great souls, very like great and beautiful ideas. What is true
for pictures is true for men.
The men who feel in themselves the instinct for the new life must take
steps to make space for themselves and to make temples. Where they
find the beautiful, the real, they must take it to themselves and
protect it from enemies, they must at once begin to build walls of
defence. So great is their responsibility and so delicate their charge
that they must challenge no one, and invite no discussion and no
hostility. They must have and hold their own beautiful life as they
would a fair young bride.
Where they have visions they must build temples, as the Russian
mouzhiks build churches and put up crosses. Of course I do not mean
material temples, but temples not made by hands, temples of spirit,
temples of remembrance. Where they read in books sacred pages they
must make these pages sacred, sacred for them. Where they find men
noble they must have reference to the noble part of them and deny the
other. They have to win back the beautiful churches and cathedrals.
Often it is said nowadays, "Such and such a church is wonderful and
its service lifts one to heaven, but the clergyman and his sermon are
impossible." But though a clergyman can condition his congregation it
is much more true that the congregation can condition the clergyman.
It is written, "Where two or three are gathered together in My Name,
there am I in the midst of them." When they in the pews are those in
white robes, then He in the pulpit is the Christ Himself.
In literature we have to differentiate what is purely a commercial
product like the yellowback novel, what is educational like the
classic, and what is of the new. With the commercial we have of course
no traffic; the classic is a place for those still learning what has
already been said, a place for orientisation, for finding out where
one stands. In this category are the Shakespearean performances at the
theatre. In any case the classic is necessarily subordinate to the new
literature, the literature of pioneering and discovery, the literature
of ourselves. It is the school which prepares for the stepping forth
on the untrodden ways.
This fencing off, differentiation and allocation, these defences of
the beautiful and new, and of the temples enshrining them, shall
be like the walls round a new sanctuary. We shall thereby protect
ourselves from the encroaching commercial machine, its dwarfing
ethics, mean postulates, and accurst conventions, and we shall rear
within the walls all the beautiful that the outside world says does
not exist. We shall find a whole new world of those who despise the
honours and prizes of the commercial machine, and who care not for
the shows, diversions, pleasures, and gambles provided for commercial
slaves. But it will not cause those of that world to falter if the
great multitude of their fellow-men scoff at them or think that they
Our work is then to separate off and consecrate the beautiful, to
bring the beautiful together and organise it, not renouncing the
machine, but only taking from it the service necessary for our
physical needs, in no case being ruled or guided by it or its
exigencies. When we have accomplished that, a miracle is promised. The
outside world will take shape against our walls and receive its life
through our gates—it will come into relation to us even to the ends
of the earth. The new heart means the salvation of all.
With that we necessarily return to ourselves, the out-flung units of
modern life, tramps so called, rebels, hermits, the portents of the
new era, the first signs of spring after dark winter; some of us, the
purely lyrical, spring flowers; others the prophetic and dynamic,
spring winds—who blowing, shall blow upon winter, as Nietzsche says,
"with a thawing wind."
We are many: I speak for thousands who are voiceless. But we are
feeble, for we know not one another: we shall know.
A new summer is coming and a new adventure; and summer, as all know,
is the year itself, the other seasons being purely subordinate. We are
as yet but February heralds. Nevertheless we ask, standing without the
gates of the sleeping city of winter, "Who of ye within the city are
stepping forth unto the new adventure?" Strange powers are to them;
the mysterious spells of the earth, the renewal of inspiration at the
life source, the essence of new summer colours, the idea of new summer
shapes. To the young men and women of to-day there is a chance to be
as beautiful as it is possible to be upon this little earth, a chance
to find all the significance of life and beauty that is possible for
man to know, a chance to be of the same substance as the fire of
stars, a chance of perfection. It is the voice of the hermit crying
from the wilderness: "I have come back from God with a message and a
blessing—come out ye young men and maidens, for a new season is at