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Maps And Rabbit-Holes
by [?]

In what pleasurable mystery would we live were it not for maps! If I chance on the name of a town I have visited, I locate it on a map. I may not actually get down the atlas and put my finger on the name, but at least I picture to myself its lines and contour and judge its miles in inches. And thereby for a thing of ink and cardboard I have banished from the world its immensity and mystery. But if there were no maps–what then? By other devices I would have to locate it. I would say that it came at the end of some particular day’s journey; that it lies in the twilight at the conclusion of twenty miles of dusty road; that it lies one hour nightward of a blow-out. I would make it neighbor to an appetite gratified and a thirst assuaged, a cool bath, a lazy evening with starlight and country sounds. Is not this better than a dot on a printed page?

That is the town, I would say, where we had the mutton chops and where we heard the bullfrogs on the bridge. Or that town may be circumstanced in cherry pie, a comical face at the next table, a friendly dog with hair-trigger tail, or some immortal glass of beer on a bench outside a road-inn. These things make that town as a flame in the darkness, a flame on a hillside to overtop my course. Many years can go grinding by without obliterating the pleasant sight of its flare. Or maybe the town is so intermingled with dismal memories that no good comes of too particularly locating it. Then Tony Lumpkin’s advice on finding Mr. Hardcastle’s house is enough. “It’s a damn’d long, dark, boggy, dirty, dangerous way.” And let it go at that.

Maps are toadies to the thoroughfares. They shower their attentions on the wide pavements, holding them up to observation, marking them in red, and babbling and prattling obsequiously about them, meanwhile snubbing with disregard all the lanes and bypaths. They are cockney and are interested in showing only the highroads between cities, and in consequence neglect all tributary loops and windings. In a word, they are against the jog-trot countryside and conspire with the signposts against all loitering and irregularity.

As for me, I do not like a straight thoroughfare. To travel such a road is like passing a holiday with a man who is going about his business. Idle as you are, vacant of purpose, alert for distraction, he must keep his eyes straight ahead and he must attend to the business in hand. I like a road that is at heart a vagabond, which loiters in the shade and turns its head on occasion to look around the corner of a hill, which will seek out obscure villages even though it requires a zigzag course up a hillside, which follows a river for the very love of its company and humors its windings, which trots alongside and listens to its ripple and then crosses, sans bridge, like a schoolboy, with its toes in the water. I love a road which goes with the easy, rolling gait of a sailor ashore. It has no thought of time and it accepts all the vagaries of your laziness. I love a road which weaves itself into eddies of eager traffic before the door of an inn, and stops a minute at the drinking trough because it has heard the thirst in your horse’s whinny; and afterwards it bends its head on the hillside for a last look at the kindly spot. Ah, but the vagabond cannot remain long on the hills. Its best are its lower levels. So down it dips. The descent is easy for roads and cart wheels and vagabonds and much else; until in the evening it hears again the murmur of waters, and its journey has ended.