8th June 1901: An Explosive Friendship

8th June 1901 Belloc walked down the Ballon d’Alsace north-north west of Giromagny to a mile past Delle.

The next morning, Belloc pulled on his boots and left the mother and her daughters behind. After finishing his descent of the Ballon d’Alsace, he arrived in a town named Giromagny. There, he entered a church, which was filled with priests celebrating Mass at the high and side altars. Why were they all there? It was not a Holy Day, and there was nothing special about Giromagny… Belloc has no answers. One thing is certain, he managed to do what we Catholics are very good at doing, namely, attending Mass and leaving without talking to anyone.

From Giromagny, Belloc walked to Belfort, where he ate lunch. In the afternoon, he ‘came to a vast powder-magazine’. He says,

… for my part, I never see a powder magazine without being filled at once with two very good feelings – laughter and companionship.

Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome (Ignatius Press), p.112

This is because he was once good friends with two (fellow?) soldiers who were put on sentry duty at a powder-magazine. Due of the threat of anarchists, the men were given orders to challenge then shoot anyone who approached them. On one ‘summer night they killed a donkey and wounded two mares, and broke the thin stem of a growing tree’ (The Path to Rome, p.113).

The day passed. In the evening,

[t]he line of the the mountains rose higher against the sky, and there entered into my pilgrimage for the first time the loneliness and the mystery of meres.

The Path to Rome, p.116

We certainly don’t see enough of meres in literature. I’m sure there are more around but the only other one I can think of is the Mirrormere in The Lord of the Rings – where the companions stop after fleeing from Moria. This, of course, takes place just after the death of Gandalf, so while they do not experience loneliness, they must endure grief instead.

Fortunately for him, Belloc’s experience of the mere that he passed was not so negative. For while the ‘marshy valley kept its character’ (The Path to Rome, p.116-7), his ‘spirit was caught or lifted in the influence of the waste waters’ (The Path to Rome, p.117). As a result,

I wished, as I had often wished in such opportunities of recollection and of silence, for a complete barrier that might isolate the mind.

The Path to Rome, p.117

It’s interesting to hear Belloc say this, and encouraging that being alone in the evening wasn’t always such a bad thing for him.

In the evening, Belloc passed Delle. A mile up the road, he poked his head round the door of an inn to find out if he was in Switzerland.

A German-looking girl, a large heavy man, a Bavarian commercial traveller, and a colleague of his from Marseilles, all said together in varying accents: “Yes.”

The Path to Rome, p.120

Of these people, the commercial traveller from Marseille stands out. For two hours, he talked Belloc’s ears off but then gave up his bed for him after seeing how tired the latter was.

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