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The Secret Places III & IV

Two more chapters of The Secret Places (Elkin Mathews & Marrot London 1929) - a chronicle of the 'pilgrimages' of the author, Reginald Francis Foster (1896-1975), and his friend 'Longshanks' in Sussex, Kent and Surrey. See our posting of the first chapters for more on Foster and this book..

III

THE LOST CANAL

From the inn under Clandon, when, it being night, the road was empty, Longshanks and I went out to see the hunters' moon as it lifted above the rise of land to the eastward. It was a great moon and very red, and its perfect roundness as it floated above the trees made it possible for one to picture it as a sphere-which is rare, for most moons are flat and moonfaced, without character.
  As I say, we went out to see that moon, and because we had journeyed far that day and had eaten our fill at the inn and washed down the wholesome meal with Surrey ale, the sight of it made us forget our weariness so that we went along that quiet road, facing the moon. We were filled with a false strength, unable to know that we had already put a strain upon endurance. When in a little while we talked of lying that night at Dorking, in the cleft of the hills, we spoke magnificently, as men will when their sense is blurred by food and ale and the light of a giant moon lifting above the eastward land.
  For the first mile we went without complaint; then my companion was minded to take a short way of which he knew. How could I object when already a half-healed blister on my foot reminded me of yesterday's painful tramp? Moreover, I trusted his knowledge.
  He took me off the hard road by way of a stile into a field which was pungent with the smell of mushrooms; tiny discs of white shone in the moon-flood. That we did not stop to make the morrow's breakfast savoury is proof that we were heavy with sleep. The meadows sloped to a hollow where the air was damp, and stupid kine breathed smoke against the trees; they ploughed protestingly through the wet grass as we invaded their sanctuary and so pined the wood across the brook. Here, said Longshanks, an ancestor of Evelyn, the diarist, had once a great powder-mill; but I did not believe him, because we were out of Evelyn's country.
  If there was a path in that-wood we did not find it. Instead we stumbled, drunken with weariness, among prodigious trees and in a maze of wicked bramble. I think I fell asleep. I have known horses do that, ambling between supporting shafts; once before I did it when, on a dark night, I marched in a column between a sergeant and my platoon's right guide and had not lain down for thirty hours. I dreamt that I was condemned for my sins to walk for ever among hostile trees and in brambles that had fiendish barbs.
  And suddenly a shout startled me. I awoke in time to prevent myself from tumbling into what seemed an abyss. Long fingers of mist twisted past me; a wisp of it stung my nose so that I sneezed into full wakefulness. If more were needed, a rat scuttled past my feet and plumped into deep water.
  "The canal!” exclaimed my friend. "The lost canal!"
  It took me a long time to understand. Accidentally–for obviously he did not know the way–we had stumbled on the lost canal that is a legend in mid-Surrey and which probably only three people have ever found–one is a very old man who "uses" the ancient tavern at Abinger. Some say that the waterway was cut to serve the ancient glass-factories that were hereabout, but I know nothing of that, and I was too tired that night to follow its course. Longshanks said that we were at Albury, but I think that he lied, for when we left Clandon the rising moon was ahead of us, and she still shone on our faces when we came to the mysterious cutting in the wood.
  The canal can be found if you seek it without intent, as we did, But remember that first you should march a day on the eve of the hunters' moon and feed and drink at the Clandon inn; then you should go out from that place full of false strength and, facing the moon and with a high resolve, set out towards Dorking in the hollow of the hills.

IV

A ZEBRA IN SUSSEX

A man near Holmwood, who keeps a menagerie, was so appreciative of art that he presented me with a zebra. Longshanks decided that he would ride it, but because his legs trailed along the ground he abandoned the idea. The beast seemed to dislike me, for he would not let me get astride him at all. We therefore led him by his bridle and hoped for the best.•
  We had not gone far when one of the naturalist's horde of servants caught us up and delivered a message that zebras, like cats, are wont to return to the original owners, traversing great distances so to do. Whereupon we decided, the zebra being willing, that we would go into Sussex with all speed and by train, thus confusing our charge's mind as to topography, and bring him back into Surrey by a different way.
Our journey was hazardous, and chiefly because it was extremely difficult to persuade the zebra, whom, for an obvious reason, we named Zebedee–or perhaps not obviously–to travel in a Christian manner. Maybe he resented being described on the way-bill, as an ass. But whatever befell us, some hours later we were at Hammerpot, by Angmering, in holy Sussex, and there we came upon Mr. Belloc riding his great horse, Monster. He would not respond to our greeting, but casting a disdainful look at Zebedee, he settled his chin on his breast and rode on. Wherefore we were low in spirit for long after. Then we came to a gap in the hills and knew that we had found Arun.
  At Lyminster we ate and drank at the inn and, knowing nothing of Zebedee's habits, fed him on bread soaked in Sussex ale–for he would not eat it dry, and we did not like to beg for water. We sent a telegram to his late owner inquiring about his diet, but having forgotten to say whither he should send a reply, we did a useless thing.
  Late that afternoon we came to the disused canal that runs into Chichester Channel, and the sun having set, we resolved to wait for the dawn before going on to Barnham, as we were minded to do. In that melancholy place, therefore, we built a fire, and failing to make Zebedee lie down, we tied him to a tree and broiled a rabbit which we had bought earlier. Then, with a single blanket for covering, and having said Sunday's Compline (not knowing Tuesday's by heart) we spoke kindly to Zebedee and composed ourselves for sleep.
  A fog-horn in the Channel kept me awake for some time, and Longshanks's beard tickled my neck, but at last I fell asleep–only to be thrust into wakefulness by my companion. He said that Zebedee had disappeared.
  The moon had risen, and the nearer trees stood vaguely in mist. Thinking we heard a neigh to the westward, we crept along the canal in that direction for a little distance. I do not know how long we searched. Once we heard the rattle of a distant train, Arundet way; once a sound as though a ship were dropping anchor. The beat of an owl swings fanning my face put fear into me, and I was like to cry out, but that Longshanks suddenly grasped my arm. Out of the mist came Zebedee, Longshanks darted forward and seized his bridle.
  Our fire had died, and we could not find our resting-place again, though we searched for an hour. Blanketless, We had no wish to lie down, and the dawn being a long way off we resolved to walk with our backs to the moon (so that we might go westward), hoping to reach an inn. Instead we found ourselves among sand-dunes.
  Then it was that Zebedee became frisky, lying down and rolling in the sand and afterwards capering about like a mad thing, so that it was more than we could do to hold him. Longshanks, when he vaulted on to his back, was pitched sideways, and I was bitten in the face. In the end Zebedee bolted. In our pursuit we found a road, and a minute later came the furious barking of dogs. A light showed; someone shouted. As we rounded a bend we saw three gipsy caravans against the moon.
  That was the end of our disquiet. We had no love for Zebedee, but a great wish to sleep. When, therefore, having heard and disbelieved our foolish story, the gipsies invited us to stay the night with them, we entered one of their caravans with thankfulness. I do not know where Longshanks put himself, but I wedged myself between a great bull of a man and a child with troublesome adenoids and gained sleep in an instant, heedless of the smell of onions and horse which filled the place.
  And when morning was come we did not even mention Zebedee, but having given the gipsies our loose money and told them that they could have our blanket if they could find it, we went gladly into Barnham and sought further comfort at the inn.
  We never heard of Zebedee again, and when we rested we returned soberly to Surrey.
  I wish that I might tell of a more glorious end to our adventure, but I may not speak less than the truth.

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