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[The passage below is from Hilaire Belloc’s The Path to Rome, 1902. It is Belloc’s account of his pilgrimage on foot from central France over the Alps to the Eternal City. Described by biographer A. N. Wilson as rambling, elegant, mannered and chatty, he pronounced it ‘one of the most enduringly re-readable books in English.’ It was the book that made Belloc’s literary reputation and it has never been out of print.]

By some reflection from the fields of snow, which were now quite near at hand through the mist, the daylight lingered astonishingly late. The cold grew bitter as I went on through the gloaming. There were no trees save rare and stunted pines. The Aar was a shallow brawling torrent, thick with melting ice and snow and mud. Coarse grass grew on the rocks sparsely; there were no flowers. The mist overhead was now quite near, and I still went on and steadily up through the half-light. It was as lonely as a calm at sea, except for the noise of the river. I had overworn myself, and that sustaining surface which hides from us in our health the abysses below the mind—I felt it growing weak and thin. My fatigue bewildered me. The occasional steeps beside the road, one especially beneath a high bridge where a tributary falls into the Aar in a cascade, terrified me. They were like the emptiness of dreams. At last it being now dark, and I having long since entered the upper mist, or rather cloud (for I was now as high as the clouds), I saw a light gleaming through the fog, just off the road, through pine-trees. It was time. I could not have gone much farther.

To this I turned and found there one of those new hotels, not very large, but very expensive. They knew me at once for what I was, and welcomed me with joy. They gave me hot rum and sugar, a fine warm bed, told me I was the first that had yet stopped there that year, and left me to sleep very deep and yet in pain, as men sleep who are stunned. But twice that night I woke suddenly, staring at darkness. I had outworn the physical network upon which the soul depends, and I was full of terrors.

Next morning I had fine coffee and bread and butter and the rest, like a rich man; in a gilded dining-room all set out for the rich, and served by a fellow that bowed and scraped. Also they made me pay a great deal, and kept their eyes off my boots, and were still courteous to me, and I to them. Then I bought wine of them—the first wine not of the country that I had drunk on this march, a Burgundy—and putting it in my haversack with a nice white roll, left them to wait for the next man whom the hills might send them.

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