'Into the Light' by Kuklos
Kuklos was the pen name of William Fitzwalter Wray who contributed a column 'Cycling Notes' to 'The Daily News' (London) from the beginning of the Twentieth Century until the paper closed in 1930. Some of these were reprinted in book form as 'The Kuklos Papers'. This piece was written, as he puts it, 'at the end of the Great War and the beginning of that "phantom of false morning" ironically called the Great Peace.'
I've reproduced it here for Armistice Day. On a lighter note, the Black Horse in Skipton that he mentions, still exists and serves excellent cheap food. Dennis and I visited it twice during 'CycleSeven go mad in Yorkshire'!
'Once upon a time, in the middle of a sultry August, it came about that I undertook a bicycle ride from nightfall to morning. It was neither the first or the last of my all-night rides, but it was so curiously different from all the others that it stands out in my memory all by itself.
My bicycle and I lived in Yorkshire at the time, and the place which I suddenly wanted to reach as soon as possible was a hundred miles away, on the farther side of the Furness peninsular, where the Duddon dies peacefully among infinite sands. The railway could not have got me there before evening of the next day, and under all conditions not supernatural the bicycle is better than the railway.
But that happened to be a supernatural night, and for many hours the bicycle became a burden. There fell on the land and me thick darkness, even darkness which might be felt. And this hardly seemed fair, for I should never, personally, have associated myself with Pharoah in his refusal to let the children of Israel go...My own difficulty was to let myself go, for my eyes might have been "removed" as the surgeons say. The people who know everything tell us there is no such thing as Dark, that it is only the absence of light, which is a merely frivolous juggling with black facts.The dark of that August night was a crushing and smothering reality.
Have you ever been so lost in your own bedroom that you did not know which way to turn? That road was just as intimately familiar to me – a broad historic highway, with big telegraph posts and a paved footpath alongside, and even gas-lamps at intervals, which were just suspended boxes of light, without so much as a halo, for there was no mist. The day before I would have sworn I could find my way on it blindfolded, but that night I learned that there was one thing at least in heaven and on the earth not dreamed of in my philosophy.
My Holophote lamp, trimmed to its maximum of smokeless flame, only made the dark darker. I put it down to a lower fork-side bracket, but still its light did not reach the road, and the drops that stood on my capless forehead were the sweat of fear, for the stone kerb had left the footpath and was all over the road. At the ghostly sound of horse-hoofs or the warning cry of a helpless teamster I could only dimount until the danger was past.
At eleven miles from home – O ignominy! – I owned myself beaten, and applied at a roadside inn for a bed, explaining that I should want to take the road by daybreak. They referred me with enthusiasm to the next inn, at Kildwick, much patronised by carters, who were wont to resume their journeys at three a.m. I wobbled and tramped to Kildwick, and was "declined with thanks," like a manuscript of promise. The next was a mere drinking-house, so that I could not object when it said it was "full up," so natural a state it seemed for a mere drinking-house.
When a recurring line of unilluminating lamps anounced that I had bored through those Silkstone seams of Erebus as far as Skipton, I went straight to the great old inn called the Black Horse; and though I should have preferred a white one on such a night, I found light, and plum-pie and coffee. As in so many of these old houses that have begun to bend under the burden of years, my bedroom floor had sudden gradients; and on the way to the washstand (in confidence that such blackness must be adhesive) my fingers closed automatically on imaginary brake-levers.
Peering through the window at two a.m. the blackness seemed something less black. I tobogganed again to the washstand, and carried my candle gingerly down the stairs, which soothed my fears and gave the lie to tradition by not creaking. No, it is only the gimcrack modern villa that creaks all over when the young suburban scapegrace gropes his furtive way to bed. The jerry-built house that can keep nothing quiet, and least of all a secret. But these old inns are too solidly dignified for a flimsy ephemeral cyclist to rouse them from their deep dreams of forgotten footfalls; a world of sacred secrets lies coffined in their wormy oak.
On tiptoe I crossed the cavernous blackness of the great kitchen, where the crickets punctuated with staccato treble the sonorous baritone with which an eight-foot clock chanted the dirge of the passing night; and so let myself out by the side door, a ponderous antiquity of iron studs and bars which resisted obdurately, and only gave way at last with a sort of groaning curse.
It knew better than I, being so much older, and so much wiser in the matter of dark ways and deeds. For beyond the last gleam of municipal gas I passed again into the black and bottomless depths of nothing. The heavens and the earth were not, and the blinded paralysed universe had carbonised itself into an overwhelming nightmare of sable solidity. Assuredly I could feel something under my feet, but I believe it was only petrified darkness. Once I halted between going forward and going back to the Black Horse, which – like someone else – is not nearly so black as he is painted. But I had drawn mighty latches behind me. So I trudged savagely, with both hands on the invisible, companionable bicycle – we two were the sole survivors of the Ninth Plague.
Seven sightless miles I tramped from Skipton, until at the top of Coniston Moor I began to believe I could see the road. Slowly the eternal ink yielded to a ghostly grey in which all things doubled their size. Bushes became giants of towering menace, trees became Scawfells, and houses became fortresses, feudal and forbidding.
When the night, like some monstrous tank, no longer pinioned me to the ground, my funeral procession began to go like a cinema reel – the winking welcome of red and green lights and the glorious crash of shunted wagons at Hellifield Junction; the orange glow behind the black mullions of an early riser in Settle; the frenzied flight of a predatory cat before my imminent wheel, and the green hatred that flashed back from its escaping eyes; and the hesitant flute-like notes of the first-awakening bird, which I could have kept in corn and worms for the rest of its natural life.
Faster and faster went the bicycle's rush of redemption down the long western slope of Buckhaw Brow. The space of salvation between us and the Black Plague widened faster even than the silver-grey beauty in the east, and just as I dashed into Kendal,
Nor dim, nor red, like God's own head
The glorious sun uprist,
I was no longer a sort of black slug, crawling balefully through blackness, but a strong and sentient being, pulsating with life, almost delirious with deliverance. Assuredly, it was a blend of delight and delirium that made me take the direct road through Crossthwaite and over Cartmel Fell – wildest Westmoreland, and most of it walking. All around me were big rough-hewn hills, their rich green sward slashed and dappled where the mountain limestone broke through in precipices, crags and boulders. Solitary farmhouses, vividly white, clung like lichen to the steepest spots. From the highest peaks, the dark and rigid dignity of firs pierced the shimmering blue. The cool shade of thick forest, where ferns and polypods unnumbered stooped to drink in countless rills of rippling music, led me perilously down to the marge of Windermere itself, where white sails flashed from the azure like seagull's wings. The laughing, lovely Leven raced me to Haverthwaite, and the scent of the sea met me at Greenodd.
But greater than all these was the light. I saw it, touched it, heard it, smelt it, ate it and drank it, bathed and wallowed in it. For I had come out of the blackest night there ever was – into the light.
So have we all; for while all this story is true, it is also an allegory.'