The Weekly Machen
Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to track down Part III of Arthur Machen’s Wandering Week. No doubt, it survives in some form, and I would be appreciative of any information concerning the fugitive’s whereabouts. Yet, though a bit be missing from the middle, we still have a conclusion. The following article is not listed in the bibliography by Goldstone & Sweester.
My Wandering Week:
Part IV – From Glastonbury to Dunster
July 30, 1913
From Glastonbury I went to Dunster.
I don’t quite know why. I had never heard of Dunster–to my loss–a week ago. And the guide-book information as to “Perp.,” “Dec.,” and “E. E.” could not be called alluring, since such details belong to most churches in most English towns.
But it will be remembered that my journeys were from the beginning wanderings without a why; and on reflection I believe I received light from a gentleman in the Swan smoking-room at Wells.
He was travelling about–as aimlessly and cheerfully as myself, I gathered–and I found that he never journeyed without a volume of Dickens in his pocket. I saw he was of the true faith, and was bold to say that the black, rough-hewn beams in the ceiling improved the taste of the beer.
“Quite right,” he replied, and with a logic which was subtle, but, as I know see, superb, he added. “You must go to Dunster; you will like it.”
That settled the matter. So, my pilgrimage to Avalon accomplished, I set for Dunster.
The first stage was from Glastonbury to Highbridge, and the railway passes through the moor. Here I suspect Hobson Jobson. The moor is not a bit like a Yorkshire moor; but it was once was a “mor” or sea, and is so still after a few days’ rain. The moor-men, I gathered from Glastonbury talk, are even now something of a race apart. They are freeholders, many of them–I was glad to hear it–and some of them live in “wretched hovels, no better than pig-styes, just because their fathers and grandfathers lived in them.”
On this the inmost bar got up a pretty argument as to whether a man could be turned out of his own freehold, on the ground that the said house was unfit fro human habitation. They appealed to me, these Ancients of Avalon, and I knew nothing about it. Besides, I was listening to an old farmer who sat all apart and talked about apples–to himself, for nobody seemed to heed him. I was amused at what I must call, though inelegantly, the incidence of coincidence. For, to avoid giving the farmer’s real name, it was as if Mr. Plummer, of Plumstoke, gossiped about plums.
But as to the moormen’s house: they are, I learned, built on hillocks, or artificially raised ground, and a boat is an indispensable belonging. For the autumn rains open the gates of the old sea, and the water rises, and deepens if the rains continue, so that it gets hedge-top high. Then it swells over the hillock and pours in at the door, and the man of the mere and his family betake them to their upper story, where peat has been stored against the coming of the flood. I saw some of the boats used in this inland sea; queer looking craft, with sharply pointed bow and stern high out of the water.
They were moored in the “rhines” or courses of stagnant water which intersect this region; the crops harvested here are willow withies, and peat and coarse hay–“dear at thirty-five shillings a ton,” as an authority declared to me. There are stacks of light brown and dark brown peat set out all along beside the railway; some in squares, some piled in an odd conical shape; and these rings of dark cones look at a little distance like the memorials of a forgotten race. And the light and colour of this land are given by the creamy, fragrant meadowsweet, by the willow-herb of our “Purple Island” in the Strand. Of this latter there are great pomps and processions, splendid and glowing purples flaming amongst dim greens.
From Highbridge to Taunton, which, in spite of some goodly remnants of antiquity, struck me, as a dull, fat, prosperous place, in the middle of a country that is neither flat or hilly, but merely comfortable. It was market day, and the train that led by the Quantocks to Dunster was full of farmers.
They were cheerful men. They did not grumble about everything in the manner of the farmer of popular convention. They certainly were not like the poor husbandmen of Norfolk, who, I see from The Daily Mail, are being ruined for want of sunlight.
Sunlight! It poured upon us, and made the pleasant land all golden, and glittered on the ripples of the rushing brooks as the steeps of the Quantocks closed in upon us. The farmers allowed that they could do with a drop of rain, but their eyes twinkled and their hearts were evidently set to cheerfulness. They were praising one of their number who had harvested his last crop.
“He was a perfect gentleman.”
“He was indeed, a gentleman farmer; for he was a gentleman and a farmer.” “He was a good sort.” “A friendly man. He said to old Sam, ‘Have’ee got plenty of cider” There’s a lot of work to be done, Sam, and ‘ee’ll want a lot of cider!’”
The last and the fattest farmer spoke with emotion, and summed up the panegyric of the dead.
“What he didn’t know about wheat wasn’t worth knowing.”
There was no more to be said.
The farmers dropped out one by one. We passed station after station, and all the way the hills grew higher and more beautiful. There was a glimpse of the sea and of fishing boats lying in the harbour at Watchet, and a little further on I got out at Dunster; and looked about to see where Dunster might be. There were rich fields of corn beside the railway, a lane leading down a hill, smoke from the chimneys of a farmhouse; and nothing else, save that a huge conical hill, deeply green with woods, showed on its a summit a round tower; a very manifest piece of sham picturesque, a “folly” of the eighteenth century.
EXMOOR IN THE DISTANCE.
I went down the lane and up the lane and down again, and there was Dunster before me. The “folly” was now at my back; before me the little valley; in the midst of it the octagonal yarn-market, last repaired in the ‘forties of the seventeenth century.
The Yarn Market
Beyond, another wooded height, suddenly arising, and amidst ancient oaks and yews and cedars the towers and battlements of Luttrell Castle; the home of the Luttrells now and for the last six hundred years.
I strolled down the village, and saw how nearly every house had hundreds of years upon it, how nearly every door and window was curiously protected by a penthouse, tiled or slated with shingles.
Turning to the right, there was a portion of the old priory buildings, in perfect preservation. One storey swells out above the other, and the whole front is faced with shingles, and the oak beams are sturdy still, and evidently good to the heart.
This is the way to the church: a minster in miniature, with its priory choir and its parochial choir and its chapels of the saints, and, above all, its exquisite rood-screen, perfect, without stain or varnish or colouring of any kind, as it left the hands of the artist who carved it, who set gladness into his free and flourished ornament, who has made on its cornice the vine bear rich fruit.
And when at last I came out, and turned myself about, as it were, I perceived that fortune had once more led me aright.
Hills rose in solemn splendour on every side of the valley. Here a high, sharp escarpment, here a vast and swelling dome, fern-covered; here the woods rose steep like a wall. And in the distance Exmoor loomed; vague, gigantic.
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