Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

A Pedestrian Tour
by [?]

Walking for walking’s sake I do not like. The diversion appears to me one of the most factitious of modern enjoyments; and I cannot help looking upon those who pace their five miles in the teeth of a north wind, and profess to come home all the livelier and better for it, as guilty of a venial hypocrisy. It is in nature that after such an exercise the bones should ache and the flesh tremble; and I suspect that these harmless pretenders are all the while paying a secret penalty for their bravado. With a pleasant end in view, or with cheerful companionship, walking is far from being the worst thing in life; though doubtless a truly candid person must confess that he would rather ride under the same circumstances. Yet it is certain that some sort of recreation is necessary after a day spent within doors; and one is really obliged nowadays to take a little walk instead of medicine; for one’s doctor is sure to have a mania on the subject, and there is no more getting pills or powders out of him for a slight indigestion than if they had all been shot away at the rebels during the war. For this reason I sometimes go upon a pedestrian tour, which is of no great extent in itself, and which I moreover modify by keeping always within sound of the horse-car bells, or easy reach of some steam-car station.

I fear that I should find these rambles dull, but that their utter lack of interest amuses me. I will be honest with the reader, though, and any Master Pliable is free to forsake me at this point; for I cannot promise to be really livelier than my walk. There is a Slough of Despond in full view, and not a Delectable Mountain to be seen, unless you choose so to call the high lands about Waltham, which we shall behold dark blue against the western sky presently. As I sally forth upon Benicia Street, the whole suburb of Charlesbridge stretches about me,–a vast space upon which I can embroider any fancy I like as I saunter along. I have no associations with it, or memories of it, and, at some seasons, I might wander for days in the most frequented parts of it, and meet hardly any one I know. It is not, however, to these parts that I commonly turn, but northward, up a street upon which a flight of French-roof houses suddenly settled a year or two since, with families in them, and many outward signs of permanence, though their precipitate arrival might cast some doubt upon this. I have to admire their uniform neatness and prettiness, and I look at their dormer-windows with the envy of one to whose weak sentimentality dormer-windows long appeared the supreme architectural happiness. But, for all my admiration of the houses, I find a variety that is pleasanter in the landscape, when I reach, beyond them, a little bridge which appears to span a small stream. It unites banks lined with a growth of trees and briers nodding their heads above the neighboring levels, and suggesting a quiet water-course, though in fact it is the Fitchburg Railroad that purls between them, with rippling freight and passenger trains and ever-gurgling locomotives. The banks take the earliest green of spring upon their southward slope, and on a Sunday morning of May, when the bells are lamenting the Sabbaths of the past, I find their sunny tranquillity sufficient to give me a slight heart-ache for I know not what. If I descend them and follow the railroad westward half a mile, I come to vast brick-yards, which are not in themselves exciting to the imagination, and which yet, from an irresistible association of ideas, remind me of Egypt, and are forever newly forsaken of those who made bricks without straw; so that I have no trouble in erecting temples and dynastic tombs out of the kilns; while the mills for grinding the clay serve me very well for those sad-voiced sakias or wheel-pumps which the Howadji Curtis heard wailing at their work of drawing water from the Nile. A little farther on I come to the boarding-house built at the railroad side for the French Canadians who have by this time succeeded the Hebrews in the toil of the brick-yards, and who, as they loiter in windy-voiced, good-humored groups about the doors of their lodgings, insist upon bringing before me the town of St. Michel at the mouth of the great Mont Cenis tunnel, where so many peasant folk like them are always amiably quarreling before the cabarets when the diligence comes and goes. Somewhere, there must be a gendarme with a cocked hat and a sword on, standing with folded arms to represent the Empire and Peace among that rural population; if I looked in-doors, I am sure I should see the neatest of landladies and landladies’ daughters and nieces in high black silk caps, bearing hither and thither smoking bowls of bouillon and cafe-au-lait. Well, it takes as little to make one happy as miserable, thank Heaven! and I derive a cheerfulness from this scene which quite atones to me for the fleeting desolation suffered from the sunny verdure on the railroad bank. With repaired spirits I take my way up through the brick-yards towards the Irish settlement on the north, passing under the long sheds that shelter the kilns. The ashes lie cold about the mouths of most, and the bricks are burnt to the proper complexion; in others these are freshly arranged over flues in which the fire has not been kindled; but in whatever state I see them, I am reminded of brick-kilns of boyhood. They were then such palaces of enchantment as any architect should now vainly attempt to rival with bricks upon the most desirable corner lot of the Back Bay, and were the homes of men truly to be envied: men privileged to stay up all night; to sleep, as it were, out of doors; to hear the wild geese as they flew over in the darkness; to be waking in time to shoot the early ducks that visited the neighboring ponds; to roast corn upon the ends of sticks; to tell and to listen to stories that never ended, save in some sudden impulse to rise and dance a happy hoe-down in the ruddy light of the kiln-fires. If by day they were seen to have the redness of eyes of men that looked upon the whiskey when it was yellow and gave its color in the flask; if now and then the fragments of a broken bottle strewed the scene of their vigils, and a head broken to match appeared among those good comrades, the boyish imagination was not shocked by these things, but accepted them merely as the symbols of a free virile life. Some such life no doubt is still to be found in the Dublin to which I am come by the time my repertory of associations with brick-kilns is exhausted, but, oddly enough, I no longer care to encounter it.