Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh


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.

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