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Waiting for Daylight,
H. M. Tomlinson, 1922


Holiday Reading

August 31, 1918. I make the same mistake whenever the chance of a holiday broadens and brightens. A small library, reduced by a process of natural selection, helps to make weighty the bag. But I do not at once close the bag; a doubt keeps it open; I take out the books again and consider them. When the problem of carrying those volumes about faces me, it is a relief to discover how many of them lose their vital importance. Yet a depraved sense of duty, perhaps the residue of what such writers as Marcus Aurelius have done for me, refuses to allow every volume to be jettisoned. It imposes, as a hair shirt, several new and serious books which there has been no time to examine. They are books that require a close focus, a long and steady concentration, a silent immobility hardly distinguishable from sleep. This year, for instance, I notice Jung's Analytical Psychology confidently expecting to go for a holiday with me. I feel I ought to take some such stern reminder of mortality, and, in addition, out of a sentimental regard for the past, a few old books, for my faith is not dead that they may put a new light on the wonderful strangeness of these latter days. I take these, too.

And that is why I find them at the journey's end. But why did I bring them? For now they seem to be exactly what I would avoid--they look like toil. And work, as these years have taught the observant, is but for slaves and the conscripted. It is never admired, except with a distant and haughty sententiousness, by the best people.

Nor is it easy, by this west-country quay, to profit by a conscience which is willing to allow some shameless idleness. I began talking, before the books were even unpacked, with some old acquaintances by the waterside. Most disquieting souls! But I cannot blame them. They have been obliged to add gunnery to their knowledge of seamanship and navigation. They were silent, they shook their heads, following some thoughtless inquiries of mine after the well-being of other men I used to meet here. Worse than all, I was forced to listen to the quiet recitals of stranded cripples, once good craftsmen in the place, and these dimmed the blessed sun even where in other years it was unusually bright. That is what put holiday thoughts and literature away. I felt I had been very unfairly treated, especially as the mutilated, being young men, were unpleasantly noticeable in so small a village on fine mornings. It is not right that the calm of our well-earned leisure should be so savagely ruined. There was one morning on the quay when, watching the incoming tide, two of us were discussing Mametz Wood and some matters relating to it which will never be published, and the young man who was instructing me was approached by an older man, who beamed, and held in his hand a news-sheet. "Splendid news this morning," said the elderly man to the young soldier. He wanted the opinion of one who had fought on that ground, and I regret to say he got it. The soldier indifferently handed back the glorious news, without inspecting it, with words which youth should never address to age.

So how can I stay by the quay all the golden day long? I have not come here prepared to endure the sudden Arctic shadows which fall, even in summer, from such clouds. The society of our fellows was never so uncertain, so likely to be stormy, as in these days. And the opinions of none of our fellow-men can be so disturbing as those of the rebel from the trenches, who appears, too, to expect us to agree with him at once, as though he had a special claim on our sympathetic attention. While considering him and his views of society, of peace and war, I see what might come upon us as the logical consequence of such a philosophy, and the dread vision does not accord with the high serenity of this Atlantic coast, where the wind, like the hilarious vivacity of a luminous globe spinning through the blue, is mocking these very sheets as I write them, and is trying to blow them, a little before their time, into vacuity.

It is not easy, and perhaps this summer it would not be right, to find the exact mood for a holiday, in the frame of mind which is more usual with us, I put Ecclesiastes--forsaken by a previous visitor, and used to lengthen a short leg of the dressing-table--in my pocket, and leave the quay to its harsh new thoughts, and to the devices by which it gets a bare sustenance out of the tides, the seasons, and the winds, complicated now with high explosives in cunning ambush; and go out to the headland, where wild goats among the rocks which litter the steep are the only life to blatter critical comment to high heaven. I left that holiday quay and its folk, and took with me a prayer which might go far to brace me to support the blattering of goats, if that, too, should be my luck even when in solitude. I passed at the hill-top the last whitewashed wall of the village, where the open Atlantic is sighted, and stopped to glance at the latest official poster on the wall. That explained to me, while the west wind blew, what the penalties are for young men who are in the wrong because they are young, not having attained the middle-age which brings with it immunity for the holding of heroic notions. Yet how if those young men are not bellicose like their wise seniors? Why should they get the evil which their elders, who will it, take so much care to avoid?

The dust of official lorries in a hurry no longer made the wayside hedges appear aged. The wind was newly arrived from mid-ocean. I met it coming ashore. It knew nothing about us, so far. In the distance, the village with its shipping was a faint blur, already a faded impress on earth, as though more than half forgotten in spite of its important problems. It was hardly more than a discoloration, and suggested nothing of consequence. The sun on the grey rocks was giving a hint that, should ever it be required, there was heat enough left to begin things anew. I realized in alarm that such a morning of re-birth might be beautiful; for I might not be there to sing Laus Deo. I might miss that fine morning. There was a suggestion of leisure in the pattern of the lichen on the granite; it gave the idea of prolonged yet still merely tentative efforts at design. The lichen seemed to have complete assurance that there was time enough for new work. The tough stems of the heather, into which I put my hand, felt like the sinews of a body that was as ancient as the other stars, but still so young that it was tranquilly fixed in the joy of its first awakening, knowing very little yet, guessing nothing of its beginning nor of its end; still infantile, with all life before it, its voice merely the tiny shrilling of a grasshopper. The rocks were poised so precariously above the quivering plain of the sea that they appeared to tremble in mid-air, being things of no weight, in the rush of the planet. The distant headlands and moors dilated under the generating sun. It was then that I pulled Ecclesiastes out of my pocket, leaned against the granite, and began:

"Vanity of vanities . . ."

I looked up again. There was a voice above me. An old goat, the venerable image of all-knowledge, of sneering and bearded sin, was contemplating me. It was a critical comment of his that I had heard. Embarrassed, I put away my book.

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