No denying it was beautiful, with the oak-slopes and the wistfulness and the far-off feeling of loneliness and evening. But I was in too great a temper to admit it. We clambered frenziedly to get warm. And the sun immediately went right down, and the ice-heavy blue shadow fell over us all. The village began to send forth blue wood-smoke, and it seemed more than ever like the twilit West Country.
But thank you—we had to get back. And run the gauntlet of that stinking, stinking lane? Never. Towering with fury—quite unreasonable, but there you are—I marched the q-b down a declivity through a wood, over a ploughed field, along a cart-track, and so to the great high-road above the village and above the inn.
It was cold, and evening was falling into dusk. Down the high-road came wild half-ragged men on ponies, in all degrees of costume and not-costume: came four wide-eyed cows stepping down-hill round the corner, and three delicate, beautiful merino sheep which stared at us with their prominent, gold-curious eyes: came an[Pg 175] ancient, ancient man with a stick: came a stout-chested peasant carrying a long wood-pole: came a straggle of alert and triumphant goats, long-horned, long-haired, jingling their bells. Everybody greeted us hesitatingly. And everything came to a halt at the Risveglio corner, while the men had a nip.
I attacked the spotty-breast again.
Could I have milk?
No. Perhaps in an hour there would be milk. Perhaps not.
Was there anything to eat?
No—at half past seven there would be something to eat.
Was there a fire?
No—the man hadn’t made the fire.
Nothing to do but to go to that foul bedroom or walk the high-road. We turned up the high-road again. Animals stood about the road in the frost-heavy air, with heads sunk passively, waiting for the men to finish their drinks in the beastly bar—we walked slowly up the hill. In a field on the right a flock of merino sheep moved mistily, uneasily, climbing at the gaps in the broken road bank, and sounding their innumerable small fine bells with a frosty ripple of sound. A figure which in the dusk I had really thought was something inanimate broke into movement in the field. It was an old shepherd, very old, in very ragged dirty black-and-white, who had been standing like a stone there in the open field-end for heaven knows how long, utterly motionless, leaning on his stick. Now he broke into a dream-motion and hobbled after the wistful, feminine, inquisitive sheep. The red was fading from the far-off west. At the corner, climbing slowly and wearily, we almost ran into a grey and lonely bull, who came stepping down-hill in his measured fashion like some god. He swerved his head and went round us.
We reached a place which we couldn’t make out: then saw it was a cork-shed. There were stacks and stacks of cork-bark in the dusk, like crumpled hides.
“Now I’m going back,” said the q-b flatly, and she swung round. The last red was smouldering beyond the lost, thin-wooded hills of this interior. A fleece of blue, half-luminous smoke floated over the obscure village. The high-way wound down-hill at our feet, pale and blue.Share It