Every man, says a philosopher, is a wanderer at heart. Alas! I fear the axiom would be truer if he had confined himself to stating that every man loves to fancy himself a wanderer, for when it comes to the point, there is not one in a thousand who can throw off the ties of civilized existence—the ties and the comforts of habits which have become easy to him by long use, of the life whose security is ample compensation for its monotony. Yet there are moments when the cabined spirit longs for liberty. A man stands a-tiptoe on the verge of the unknown world which lures him with its vague promises; the peaceful years behind lose all their value in his dazzled eyes; like him, “qui n’a pas du ciel que ce qui brille par le trou du volet,” he pines to stand in the great free sunlight, the great wide world which is all too narrow for his adventurous energy. For one brief moment he shakes off the traditions of a lifetime, swept away by the mighty current which silently, darkly, goes watering the roots of his race. He too is a wanderer like his remote forefathers; his heart beats time with the hearts long-stilled that dwelt in their bosoms, who came sweeping out of the mysterious East, pressing ever resistlessly onward till the grim waste of Atlantic waters bade them stay. He remembers the look of the boundless plain stretching before him, the nights when the dome of the sky was his ceiling, when he was awakened by the cold kisses of the wind that flies before the dawn.
Many hundreds of miles away, to the southward of the Caspian Sea, lies a country still untraversed by high road or railway line. Here rise mountains clothed in the spring with a gay mantle of crocuses and wild tulips, but on whose scorched sides the burning summer sun leaves nothing but a low growth of thorns; here are steep valleys where the shadows fall early and rise late, strewn with rocks, crowned with fantastic crags, scarred with deep watercourses; here the hawks hover, the eagle passes with mournful cry, and the prisoned wind dashes madly through the gorge. Here lie reaches of plain bounded on all sides by the mountain wall, plateau after thorny plateau—a rolling wilderness over which the headlands stand out as over a sea. Through the middle of the plain flows a river, its stony bed cut deep into the earth; silver trout leap in its pools, strips of grass border it—stretches of pastureland in the midst of the desert—flocks of goats feed along its banks, and from some convenient hollow rises the smoke of a nomad camp.
For beautiful as it is in its majestic loneliness, this country is not one where men are tempted to seek an abiding dwelling. In the spring, when the fresh grass clothes the bottom of the valleys, in the summer, when the cool winds sweep the plain, they are content to pitch their tents here; but with the first nip of autumn cold they strike camp and are off to warmer levels, leaving the high, snow-carpeted regions empty of all inhabitants but the wild goats and the eagles. Today, perhaps, the gloomiest depth of a narrow gorge, which looks as though from the time of its creation no living thing had disturbed its solitude, is strewn with black tents; flocks of horses and camels crop the grass by the edge of the stream, the air is full of the barking of dogs and the cries of women and children. But tomorrow no sign of life remains—the nomads have moved onward, silence has spread itself like a mantle from mountain to mountain, and who can tell what sound will next strike against their walls?
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