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   Chapter 8 THE VOYAGERS

Armorel of Lyonesse By Walter Besant Characters: 18687

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


This was the first of many such voyages and travels, though not often in the outside waters, for the vexed Bermoothes themselves are not more lashed by breezes from all the quarters of the compass than these isles of Scilly. They sailed from point to point, and from island to island, landing where they listed or where Armorel led, wandering for long hours round the shores or on the hills. All the islands, except the bare rocks, are covered with down and moorland, bounded in every direction by rocky headlands and slopes covered with granite boulders. They were quite alone in their explorations: no native is ever met upon those downs: no visitor, except on St. Mary's, wanders on the beaches and around the bays. They were quite alone all the day long: the sea-breeze whistled in their ears; the gulls flew over their heads-the cormorants hardly stirred from the rocks when they climbed up; the hawk that hung motionless in the air above them changed not his place when they drew near. And always, day after day, they came continually upon unexpected places: strange places, beautiful places: beaches of dazzling white: wildly heaped carns: here a cromlech, a logan stone, a barrow-Samson is not the only island which guards the tombs of the Great Departed-a new view of sea and sky and white-footed rock. I believe that there does not live any single man who has actually explored all the isles of Scilly: stood upon every rock, climbed every hill, and searched on every island for its treasures of ancient barrows, plants, birds, carns, and headlands. Once there was a worthy person who came here as chaplain to St. Martin's. He started with the excellent intention of seeing everything. Alas! he never saw a single island properly: he never walked round one exhaustively. He wrote a book about them, to be sure; but he saw only half. As for Samson, this person of feeble intelligence even declared that the island was not worth a second visit! After that one would shut the book, but is lured on in the hope of finding something new.

One must not ask of the islanders themselves for information about the isles, because few of them ever go outside their own island unless to Hugh Town, where is the Port, and where are the shops. Why should they? On the other islands they have no business. Justinian Tryeth, for instance, was seventy-five years of age; Hugh Town he knew, and had often been there, though now Peter did the business of the farm at the Port: St. Agnes he knew, having wooed and won a wife there: he had been to Bryher Church, which is close to the shore-the rest of Bryher was to him as unknown as Iceland. As for St. Martin's, or Annet, or Great Ganilly, he saw them constantly; they were always within his sight, yet he had never desired to visit them. They were an emblem, a shape, a name to him, and nothing more. It is so always with those who live in strange and beautiful places: the marvels are part of their daily life: they heed them not, unless, like Armorel, they have no work to do and are quick to feel the influences of things around them. Most Swiss people seem to care nothing for their Alps, but here and there is one who would gladly spend all his days high up among the fragrant pines, or climbing the slope of ice with steady step and slow.

But these young people did try to visit all the islands. Upon Roland there fell the insatiate curiosity-the rage-of an explorer and a discoverer. He became like Captain Cook himself: he longed for more islands: every day he found a new island. 'Give,' cries he who sails upon unknown seas and scans the round circle of the horizon for the cloudy peak of some far-distant mountain, 'give-give more islands-still more islands! Let us sail for yonder cloud! Let us sail on until the cloud becomes a hill-top, and the hill another island! Largesse for him who first calls "Land ahead!" There shall we find strange monsters and treasures rare, with friendly natives, and girls more blooming than those of fair Tahiti. Let us sail thither, though it prove no more than a barren rock, the resting-place of the sea-lion; though we can do no more than climb its steep sides and stand upon the top while the spray flies over the rocks and beats upon our faces.' In such a spirit as Captain Carteret (Armorel's favourite) steered his frail bark from shore to shore did Roland sail among those Scilly seas.

Of course they went to Tresco, where there is the finest garden in all the world. But one should not go to see the garden more than once, because its perfumed alleys, its glasshouses, its cultivated and artificial air, are somehow incongruous with the rest of the islands. As well expect to meet a gentleman in a Court dress walking across Fylingdale Moor. Yet it is indeed a very noble and royal garden: other gardens have finer hothouses: none have a better show of flowers and trees of every kind: for variety it is like unto the botanical gardens of a tropical land: you might be standing in one of the alleys of the garden of Mauritius, or of Java, or the Cape. Here everything grows and flourishes that will grow anywhere, except, of course, those plants which carry patriotism to an extreme and refuse absolutely to leave their native soil. You cannot go picking pepper here, nor can you strip the cinnamon-tree of its bark. But here you will see the bamboos cluster, tall and graceful: the eucalyptus here parades his naked trunk and his blue leaves: here the fern-tree lifts its circle of glory of lace and embroidery twenty feet high: the prickly pear nestles in warm corners: the aloe shoots up its tall stalk of flower and of seed: the palms stand in long rows: and every lovely plant, every sweet flower, created for the solace of man, grows abundantly, and hastens with zeal to display its blossoms: the soft air is full of perfumes, strange and familiar: it is as if Kew had taken off her glass roofs and placed all her plants and trees to face the English winter. But, then, the winter of Scilly is not the winter of Great Britain. The botanist may visit this garden many times, and always find something to please him; but the ordinary traveller will go but once, and admire and come away. It is far better outside on the breezy down, where the dry fern and withered bents crack beneath your feet, and the elastic turf springs as you tread upon it. There are other things on Tresco: there is a big fresh-water lake-it would be a respectable lake even in Westmoreland-where the wild birds disport themselves: beside it South American ostriches roam gravely, after the manner of the bird. It is pleasant to see the creatures. There is a great cave, if you like dark damp caves: better than the cave, there is a splendid bold coast sloping steeply from the down all round the northern part of the island.

Then they walked all round St. Mary's. It is nine miles round; but if, as these young people did, you climb every headland and walk round every bay, and descend every possible place where the boulders make a ladder down to the boiling water below, it is nine hundred miles round, and, for its length, the most wonderful walk in all the world. They crossed the broad Sound to St. Agnes, and saw St. Warna's wondrous cove: they stood on the desolate Gugh and the lonely Annet, beloved of puffins: they climbed on every one of the Eastern Islands, and even sailed, when they found a day calm enough to permit the voyage, among the Dogs of Scilly, and clambered up the black boulders of Rosevear and scared the astonished cormorants from wild Goreggan.

One day it rained in the morning. Then they had to stay at home, and Armorel showed the house. She took her guest into the dairy, where Chessun made the butter and scalded the cream-that rich cream which the West-country folk eat with everything. She made him stand by and help make a junket, which Devonshire people believe cannot be made outside the shadow of Dartmoor: she took him into the kitchen-the old room with its old furniture, the candlesticks and snuffers of brass, the bacon hanging to the joists, the blue china, the ancient pewter platters, the long bright spit-a kitchen of the eighteenth century. And then she took him into a room which no longer exists anywhere else save in name. It was the still-room, and on the shelves there stood the elixirs and cordials of ancient time: the currant gin to fortify the stomach on a raw morning before crossing the Road; the cherry brandy for a cold and stormy night; the elderberry wine, good mulled and spiced at Christmas-time; the blackberry wine; the home-made distilled waters-lavender water, Hungary water, Cyprus water, and the Divine Cordial itself, which takes three seasons to complete, and requires all the flowers of spring, summer, and autumn. Then they went into the best parlour, and Armorel, opening a cupboard, took out an old sword of strange shape and with faded scabbard. On the blade there was a graven Latin legend. 'This is my ancestor's sword,' she said. 'He was an officer of the Spanish Armada-Hernando Mureno was his name.'

'You are indeed a Spanish lady, Armorel. Your ancestor is well known to have been the bravest and most honourable gentleman in King Philip's service.'

'He remained here-he would not go home: he married and became a Protestant.'

She put back the sword in its pla

ce, and brought forth other things to show him-old-fashioned watches, old compasses, sextants, telescopes, flint-and-steel pistols-all kinds of things belonging to the old days of smuggling and of piloting.

Then she opened the bookcase. It should have been filled with histories of pirates and buccaneers; but it was not: it contained a whole body of theology of the Methodist kind. Roland tossed them over impatiently. 'I don't wonder,' he said, 'at your reading nothing if this is all you have.' But he found one or two books which he set aside.

As they wandered about the islands, of course they talked. It wants but little to make a young man open his heart to a girl; only a pair of soft and sympathetic eyes, a face full of interest and questions of admiration. Whether she tells him anything in return is quite another matter. Most young men, when they review the situation afterwards, discover that they have told everything and learned nothing. Perhaps there is nothing to learn. In a few days Armorel knew everything about her guest. He had come from Australia-from that far-distant land-in search of fortune. He had as yet made but few friends. He was unknown and without patrons. He had no family connections which would help him. The patrimony on which he was to live until he should begin to succeed was but small, and although he held money-making in the customary contempt, it was necessary that he should make a good deal, because-which is often the case-his standard of comfort was pitched rather high: it included, for instance, a good club, good cigars, and good claret. Also, as he said, an artist should be free from sordid anxieties: Art demands an atmosphere of calm: therefore, he must have an income. This, like everything that does not exist, must be created. Man is godlike because he alone of creatures can create: he, and he alone, constantly creates things which previously did not exist-an income, honour, rank, tastes, wants, desires, necessities, habits, rules, and laws.

'How can you bear to sell your pictures?' asked the girl. 'We sell our flowers, but then we grow them by the thousand. You make every picture by itself-how can you sell the beautiful things? You must want to keep them every one to look at all your life. Those that you have given to me I could never part with.'

'One must live, fair friend of mine,' he replied, lightly. 'It is my only way of making money, and without money we can do nothing. It is not the selling of his pictures that the artist dreads-that is the necessity of Art as a profession: it is the danger that no one will care about seeing them or buying them. That is much more terrible, because it means failure. Sometimes I dream that I have become old and grey, and have been working all my life, and have had no success at all, and am still unknown and despised. In Art there are thousands of such failures. I think the artist who fails is despised more than any other man. It is truly miserable to aspire so high and to fall so low. Yet who am I that I should reach the port?'

'All good painters succeed,' said the girl, who had never seen a painter before or any painting save her own coloured engravings. 'You are a good painter, Roland. You must succeed. You will become a great painter in everybody's estimation.'

'I will take your words for an oracle,' he said. 'When I am melancholy, and the future looks dark, I will say, "Thus and thus spoke Armorel."'

The young man who is about to attempt fortune by the pursuit of Art must not consider too long the wrecks that strew the shores and float about the waters, lest he lose self-confidence. Continually these wrecks occur, and there is no insurance against them: yet continually other barques hoist sail and set forth upon their perilous voyage. It may be reckoned as a good point in this aspirant that he was not over-confident.

'Some are wrecked at the outset,' he said. 'Others gain a kind of success. Heavens! what a kind! To struggle all their lives for admission to the galleries, and to rejoice if once in a while a picture is sold.'

'They are not the good painters,' the girl of large experience again reminded him.

'Am I a good painter?' he replied, humbly. 'Well, one can but try to do good work, and leave to the gods the rest. There is luck in things. It is not every good man who succeeds, Armorel. To every man, however, there is allotted the highest stature possible for him to reach. Let me be contented if I grow to my full height.'

'You must, Roland. You could not be contented with anything less.'

'To reach one's full height, one must live for work alone. It is a hard saying, Armorel. It is a great deal harder than you can understand.'

'If you love your work, and if you are happy in it--' said the girl.

'You do not understand, child, Most men never reach their full height. You can see their pictures in the galleries-poor, stunted things. It is because they live for anything rather than their work. They are pictures without a soul in them.'

Now, when a young man holds forth in this strain, one or two things suggest themselves. First, one thinks that he is playing a part, putting on 'side,' affecting depths-in fact, enacting the part of the common Prig, who is now, methinks, less common than he was. If he is not a prig uttering insincere sentimentalities, he may be a young man who has preserved his ideals beyond the usual age by some accident. The ideals and beliefs and aspirations of young men, when they first begin the study of Art in any of its branches, are very beautiful things, and full of truths which can only, somehow, be expressed by very young men. The third explanation is that in certain circumstances, as in the companionship of a girl not belonging to society and the world-a young, innocent, and receptive girl-whose mind is ready for pure ideas, uncontaminated by earthly touch, the old enthusiasms are apt to return and the old beliefs to come back. Then such things may spring in the heart and rise to the lips as one could not think or utter in a London studio.

Sincere or not, this young man pursued his theme, making a kind of confession which Armorel could not, as yet, understand. But she remembered. Women at all ages remember tenaciously, and treasure up in their hearts things which they may at some other time learn to understand.

'There was an old allegory, Armorel,' this young man went on, 'of a young man choosing his way, once for all. It is an absurd story, because every day and all day long we are pulled the other way. Sometimes it makes me tremble all over only to think of the flowery way. I know what the end would be. But yet, Armorel, what can you know or understand about the Way of Pleasure, and how men are drawn into it with ropes? My soul is sometimes sick with yearning when I think of those who run along that Way and sing and feast.'

'What kind of Way is it, Roland?'

'You cannot understand, and I cannot tell you. The Way of Pleasure and the Way of Wealth. These are the two roads by which the artistic life is ruined. Yet we are dragged into them by ropes.'

'You shall keep to the true path, Roland,' the girl said, with glistening eyes. 'Oh! how happy you will be when you have reached your full height-you will be a giant then.'

He laughed and shook his head. 'Again, Armorel, I will take it from your lips-a prophecy. But you do not understand.'

'No,' she said. 'I am very ignorant. Yet if I cannot understand, I can remember. The Way of Pleasure and the Way of Wealth. I shall remember. We are told that we must not set our hearts upon the things of this world. I used to think that it meant being too fond of pretty frocks and ribbons. Dorcas said so once. Since you have come I see that there are many, many things that I know nothing of. If I am to be dragged to them by ropes, I do not want to know them. The Way of Pleasure and the Way of Wealth. They destroy the artistic life,' she repeated, as if learning a lesson. 'These ways must be ways of Sin, don't you think?' she asked, looking up with curious eyes.

Doubtless. Yet this is not quite the modern manner of regarding and speaking of the subject. And considering what an eighteenth-century and bourgeois-like manner it is, and how fond we now are of that remarkable century, one is surprised that the manner has not before now been revived. When we again tie our hair behind and assume silver-buckled shoes and white silk stockings, we shall once more adopt that manner. It was not, however, artificial with Armorel. The words fell naturally from her lips. A thing that was prejudicial to the better nature of a man must, she thought, belong to ways of Sin. Again-doubtless. But Roland did not think of it in that way, and the words startled him.

'Puritan!' he said. 'But you are always right. It is the instinct of your heart always to be right. But we no longer talk that language. It is a hundred years old. In these days there is no more talk about Sin-at least, outside certain circles. There are habits, it is true, which harm an artist's eye and destroy his hand. We say that it is a pity when an artist falls into these habits. We call it a pity, Armorel, not the way of Sin. A pity-that is all. It means the same thing, I dare say, so far as the artist is concerned.'

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