It is medicine for the sick mind or the anxious spirit. We need a means of escape from the infinite, from the maze of this incalculable life, from the burden and the mystery of a world where all things “go contrairy,” as Mrs. Gummidge used to say. Some people find the escape in novels that move faithfully to that happy ending which the tangled skein of life denies us. Some find it in hobbies where the mind is at peace in watching processes that are controllable and results that with patience are assured. But in the midst of this infinity I know no finite world so complete and satisfying as that I enter when I take down the chessmen and marshal my knights and squires on the chequered field. It is then I am truly happy. I have closed the door on the infinite and inexplicable and have come into a kingdom where justice reigns, where cause and effect follow “as the night the day,” and where, come victory or come defeat, the sky is always clear and the joy unsullied.
We spread our lunch on the crown of one of those great billows of the downs that stand along the sea. Down in the hollows tiny villages or farmsteads stood in the midst of clumps of trees, and the cultivated lands looked like squares of many-coloured carpets, brown carpets and yellow carpets and green carpets, with the cloud shadows passing over them and moving like battalions up the gracious slopes of the downs beyond. A gleam of white in the midst of one of the brown fields caught the eye. It seemed like a patch of snow that had survived the rigours of the English summer, but suddenly it rose as if blown by the wind and came towards us in tiny flakes of white that turned to seagulls. They sailed high above us uttering that querulous cry that seems to have in it all the unsatisfied hunger of the sea.
In this splendid spaciousness the familiar forms seem incredibly diminutive. That little speck moving across one of the brown carpets is a ploughman and his team. That white stream that looks like milk flowing over the green carpet is a flock of sheep running before the sheep-dog to another pasture. And the ear no less than the eye learns to translate the faint suggestions into known terms. At first it seems that, save for the larks that spring up here and there with their cascades of song, the whole of this immense vacancy is soundless. But listen. There is “the wind on the heath, brother.” And below that, and only audible when you have attuned your ear to the silence, is the low murmur of the sea.
You begin to grow interested in probing the secrecies of this great stillness. That? Ah, that was the rumble of some distant railway train going to Brighton or Eastbourne. But what was that? Through the voices of the wind and the sea that we have learned to distinguish we catch another sound, curiously hollow and infinitely remote, not vaguely pervasive like the murmur of the sea, but round and precise like the beating of a drum somewhere on the confines of the earth.