21st June 1901: The Best of Men

By the end of today, Belloc will be several miles north-north west of Collagna (note also Tizzano Val Parma where he tried to overpay for some wine)

Today was a good day for Hilaire Belloc. It didn’t rain, and he was helped along the way by several kind people.

Early in the morning, he met a peasant who walked with him for awhile.

… we walked along together, pointing out to each other the glories of the world before us and exulting in the morning. It was his business to show me things and their names… He also would tell me the name in Italian of the things to hand – my boots, my staff, my hat: and I told him their names in French, all of which he was eager to learn.

Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome (Ignatius Press 2003), pp.345-6

But perhaps the kindest thing that the peasant did was to not laugh at Belloc when he came round the corner singing his heart out. Belloc was so shy of being heard that he describes himself as being ‘ashamed’ (The Path to Rome, p.345) when suddenly seeing the peasant ahead of him. He did not yet realise, however, that the peasant, too, liked to sing.

When they parted, Belloc gave the peasant a token of his friendship. In return, the peasant gave Belloc a word – molinar – that would soon become very helpful.

It meant miller, he being the man who would help Belloc cross an otherwise impassable river. Thanks to the kindness of an old country woman, Belloc soon found the miller.

… I saw a great, slow mill-wheel against a house, and a sad man standing looking at it as though it were the Procession of God’s providence. He was thinking of many things. I tapped him on the shoulder (whereat he started) and spoke the great word of that valley, “molinar.” It opened all the gates of his soul. He smiled at me like a man grown young again, and, beckoning me to follow, led radiantly up the sluice to where it drew from the river.

The Path to Rome, pp.347-8

For the second day running, Belloc mounted his guide on the back and they set off over the river. This time, however, they did not go alone. There had been three men at the mill-house. One of the others was ‘a young man with stilts in his hands’ (The Path to Rome, p.348). He now walked on the stilts ahead of Belloc and his guide, so as to make sure that the river was still fordable.

Belloc paid the two men for their troubles. His fifty centesimo payment to the young man was deemed so generous that the latter took him to Tizzano. There, Belloc accidentally gave the impression of being mister moneybags by trying to overpay for a bottle of wine. I guess that makes a change from him being overcharged. But not only did the innkeeper not overcharge him, he accepted only a peppercorn amount for the wine.

Late this afternoon, Belloc found four peasants sitting at the side of the road. Their day’s work was done, they were having a rest before returning home. He asked for directions to Collagna and misunderstood what they told him. As a result, what he thought would be a short journey, ending this evening, would go on into morrow. The men, though, were friendly. ‘They drank my wine,’ Belloc tells us, ‘[and] I ate their bread’ (The Path to Rome, p.359). A simple but profound act of friendship, as will be known by anyone with ears to hear.

Belloc arrived in a tiny hamlet named Ceregio. The inn was the antithesis of the inonen he had visited two days ago.

… several men driving oxen took me to a house that was perhaps the inn, though there was no sign; and there in a twilight room we all sat down together like Christians in perfect harmony, and the woman of the house served us.

The Path to Rome, p.360

After they had eaten, one of the men, the oldest, offered to put Belloc on the right path to Collagna. When the time came for them to part, Belloc gave him the gift of his best pipe; in return, the man gave Belloc ‘a hedge-rose which he had plucked’ (The Path to Rome, p.361)

Here is Belloc’s judgement on the people he met today,

Certainly these people have a benediction upon them, granted them for their simple lives and their justice. Their eyes are fearless and kindly. They are courteous, straight and all have in them laughter and sadness. They are full of songs, of memories, of the stories of their native race; and their worship is conformable to the world that God made.

The Path to Rome, p.361

It was a pleasure to read Belloc’s account of today’s walk; a relief, too, that after several days of suffering, he is happy again. Bravo those Italians who helped him.

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