Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh: Ch. 80

[+] | [-] | reset
 

Chapter LXXX

We left by the night mail, crossing from Dover.  The night was soft, and there was a bright moon upon the sea.  “Don’t you love the smell of grease about the engine of a Channel steamer?  Isn’t there a lot of hope in it?” said Ernest to me, for he had been to Normandy one summer as a boy with his father and mother, and the smell carried him back to days before those in which he had begun to bruise himself against the great outside world.  “I always think one of the best parts of going abroad is the first thud of the piston, and the first gurgling of the water when the paddle begins to strike it.”

It was very dreamy getting out at Calais, and trudging about with luggage in a foreign town at an hour when we were generally both of us in bed and fast asleep, but we settled down to sleep as soon as we got into the railway carriage, and dozed till we had passed Amiens.  Then waking when the first signs of morning crispness were beginning to show themselves, I saw that Ernest was already devouring every object we passed with quick sympathetic curiousness.  There was not a peasant in a blouse driving his cart betimes along the road to market, not a signalman’s wife in her husband’s hat and coat waving a green flag, not a shepherd taking out his sheep to the dewy pastures, not a bank of opening cowslips as we passed through the railway cuttings, but he was drinking it all in with an enjoyment too deep for words.  The name of the engine that drew us was Mozart, and Ernest liked this too.

We reached Paris by six, and had just time to get across the town and take a morning express train to Marseilles, but before noon my young friend was tired out and had resigned himself to a series of sleeps which were seldom intermitted for more than an hour or so together.  He fought against this for a time, but in the end consoled himself by saying it was so nice to have so much pleasure that he could afford to throw a lot of it away.  Having found a theory on which to justify himself, he slept in peace.

At Marseilles we rested, and there the excitement of the change proved, as I had half feared it would, too much for my godson’s still enfeebled state.  For a few days he was really ill, but after this he righted.  For my own part I reckon being ill as one of the great pleasures of life, provided one is not too ill and is not obliged to work till one is better.  I remember being ill once in a foreign hotel myself and how much I enjoyed it.  To lie there careless of everything, quiet and warm, and with no weight upon the mind, to hear the clinking of the plates in the far-off kitchen as the scullion rinsed them and put them by; to watch the soft shadows come and go upon the ceiling as the sun came out or went behind a cloud; to listen to the pleasant murmuring of the fountain in the court below, and the shaking of the bells on the horses’ collars and the clink of their hoofs upon the ground as the flies plagued them; not only to be a lotus-eater but to know that it was one’s duty to be a lotus-eater.  “Oh,” I thought to myself, “if I could only now, having so forgotten care, drop off to sleep for ever, would not this be a better piece of fortune than any I can ever hope for?”

Of course it would, but we would not take it though it were offered us.  No matter what evil may befall us, we will mostly abide by it and see it out.

I could see that Ernest felt much as I had felt myself.  He said little, but noted everything.  Once only did he frighten me.  He called me to his bedside just as it was getting dusk and said in a grave, quiet manner that he should like to speak to me.