On The Black Hill (Vintage Classics)

BOOK: On The Black Hill (Vintage Classics)
6.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

About the Book

About the Author

Also by Bruce Chatwin

Title Page



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50


About the Book

On the Black Hill
is an elegantly written tale of identical twin brothers who grow up on a farm in rural Wales and never leave home. They till the rough soil and sleep in the same bed, touched only occasionally by the advances of the 20th century. In depicting the lives of Benjamin and Lewis and their interactions with their small local community Chatwin comments movingly on the larger questions of human experience.

About the Author

Bruce Chatwin was born in Sheffield in 1940. After attending Marlborough School he began work as a porter at Sotheby’s. Eight years later, having become one of Sotheby’s youngest directors, he abandoned his job to pursue his passion for world travel. Between 1972 and 1975 he worked for the
Sunday Times
, before announcing his next departure in a telegram: ‘Gone to Patagonia for six months.’ This trip inspired the first of Chatwin’s books,
In Patagonia
, which won the Hawthornden Prize and the E.M. Forster award and launched his writing career. Two of his books have been made into feature films:
The Viceroy of Ouidah
Cobra Verde
), directed by Werner Herzog, and Andrew Grieve’s
On the Black Hill
. On publication
The Songlines
went straight to No. 1 in the
Sunday Times
bestseller list and stayed in the top ten for nine months. His novel,
, was shortlisted for the 1988 Booker Prize. He died in January 1989.

In Patagonia
The Viceroy of Ouidah
The Songlines
What Am I Doing Here
Photographs and Notebooks
with Paul Theroux
Patagonia Revisited
On the Black Hill

Since we stay not here, being people but of a dayes abode, and our age is like that of a flie, and contemporary with a gourd, we must look some where else for an abiding city, a place in another countrey to fix our house in

Jeremy Taylor


, Lewis and Benjamin Jones slept side by side, in their parents’ bed, at their farm which was known as ‘The Vision’.

The bedstead, an oak four-poster, came from their mother’s home at Bryn-Draenog when she married in 1899. Its faded cretonne hangings, printed with a design of larkspur and roses, shut out the mosquitoes of summer, and the draughts in winter. Calloused heels had worn holes in the linen sheets, and parts of the patchwork quilt had frayed. Under the goose-feather mattress, there was a second mattress, of horsehair, and this had sunk into two troughs, leaving a ridge between the sleepers.

The room was always dark and smelled of lavender and mothballs.

The smell of mothballs came from a pyramid of hatboxes piled up beside the washstand. On the bed-table lay a pincushion still stuck with Mrs Jones’s hatpins; and on the end wall hung an engraving of Holman Hunt’s ‘Light of the World’, enclosed in an ebonized frame.

One of the windows looked out over the green fields of England: the other looked back into Wales, past a dump of larches, at the Black Hill.

Both the brothers’ hair was even whiter than the pillow-cases.

Every morning their alarm went off at six. They listened to the farmers’ broadcast as they shaved and dressed. Downstairs, they tapped the barometer, lit the fire and boiled a kettle for tea. Then they did the milking and foddering before coming back for breakfast.

The house had roughcast walls and a roof of mossy stone tiles and stood at the far end of the farmyard in the shade of an old Scots pine. Below the cowshed there was an orchard of wind-stunted apple-trees, and then the fields slanted down to the dingle, and there were birches and alders along the stream.

Long ago, the place had been called Ty-Cradoc – and Caractacus is still a name in these parts – but in 1737 an ailing girl called Alice Morgan saw the Virgin hovering over a patch of rhubarb, and ran back to the kitchen, cured. To celebrate the miracle, her father renamed his farm ‘The Vision’ and carved the initials A.M. with the date and a cross on the lintel above the porch. The border of Radnor and Hereford was said to run right through the middle of the staircase.

The brothers were identical twins.

As boys, only their mother could tell them apart: now age and accidents had weathered them in different ways.

Lewis was tall and stringy, with shoulders set square and a steady long-limbed stride. Even at eighty he could walk over the hills all day, or wield an axe all day, and not get tired.

He gave off a strong smell. His eyes – grey, dreamy and astygmatic – were set well back into the skull, and capped with thick round lenses in white metal frames. He bore the scar of a cycling accident on his nose and, ever since, its tip had curved downwards and turned purple in cold weather.

His head would wobble as he spoke: unless he was fumbling with his watch-chain, he had no idea what to do with his hands. In company he always wore a puzzled look; and if anyone made a statement of fact, he’d say, ‘Thank you!’ or ‘Very kind of you!’ Everyone agreed he had a wonderful way with sheepdogs.

Benjamin was shorter, pinker, neater and sharper-tongued. His chin fell into his neck, but he still possessed the full stretch of his nose, which he would use in conversation as a weapon. He had less hair.

He did all the cooking, the darning and the ironing; and he kept the accounts. No one could be fiercer in a haggle over stock-prices and he would go on, arguing for hours, until the dealer threw up his hands and said, ‘Come off, you old
!’ and he’d smile and say, ‘What can you mean by that?’

For miles around the twins had the reputation of being incredibly stingy – but this was not always so.

They refused, for example, to make a penny out of hay. Hay, they said, was God’s gift to the farmer; and providing The Vision had hay to spare, their poorer neighbours were welcome to what they needed. Even in the foul days of January, old Miss Fifield the Tump had only to send a message with the postman, and Lewis would drive the tractor over with a load of bales.

Benjamin’s favourite occupation was delivering lambs. All the long winter, he waited for the end of March, when the curlews started calling and the lambing began. It was he, not Lewis, who stayed awake to watch the ewes. It was he who would pull a lamb at a difficult birth. Sometimes, he had to thrust his forearm into the womb to disentangle a pair of twins; and afterwards, he would sit by the fireside, unwashed and contented, and let the cat lick the afterbirth off his hands.

In winter and summer, the brothers went to work in striped flannel shirts with copper studs to fasten them at the neck. Their jackets and waistcoats were made of brown whipcord, and their trousers were of darker corduroy. They wore their moleskin hats with the brims turned down; but since Lewis had the habit of lifting his to every stranger, his fingers had rubbed the nap off the peak.

From time to time, with a show of mock solemnity, they consulted their silver watches – not to tell the hour but to see whose watch was beating faster. On Saturday nights they took turns to have a hip-bath in front of the fire; and they lived for the memory of their mother.

Because they knew each other’s thoughts, they even quarrelled without speaking. And sometimes – perhaps after one of these silent quarrels, when they needed their mother to unite them – they would stand over her patchwork quilt and peer at the black velvet stars and the hexagons of printed calico that had once been her dresses. And without saying a word they could see her again – in pink, walking through the oatfield with a jug of draught cider for the reapers. Or in
, at a sheep-shearers’ lunch. Or in a blue-striped apron bending over the fire. But the black stars brought back a memory of their father’s coffin, laid out on the kitchen table, and the chalk-faced women, crying.

Nothing in the kitchen had changed since the day of his funeral. The wallpaper, with its pattern of Iceland poppies and russet fern, had darkened over with smoke-resin; and though the brass knobs shone as brightly as ever, the brown paint had chipped from the doors and skirting.

The twins never thought of renewing these threadbare decorations for fear of cancelling out the memory of that bright spring morning, over seventy years before, when they had helped their mother stir a bucket of flour-and-water paste, and watched the whitewash caking on her scarf.

Benjamin kept her flagstones scrubbed, the iron grate gleaming with black lead polish, and a copper kettle always hissing on the hob.

Friday was his baking day – as it had once been hers – and on Friday afternoons he would roll up his sleeves to make Welsh cakes or cottage loaves, pummelling the dough so vigorously that the cornflowers on the oilcloth cover had almost worn away.

On the mantelpiece stood a pair of Staffordshire spaniels, five brass candlesticks, a ship-in-a-bottle and a tea-caddy painted with a Chinese lady. A glass-fronted cabinet – one pane repaired with Scotch tape – contained china ornaments, silver-plated teapots, and mugs from every Coronation and Jubilee. A flitch of bacon was rammed into a rack in the rafters. The Georgian pianoforte was proof of idler days and past accomplishments.

Lewis kept a twelve-bore shotgun propped up beside the grandfather clock: both the brothers were terrified of thieves and antique-dealers.

Their father’s only hobby – in fact, his only interest apart from farming and the Bible – had been to carve wooden frames for the pictures and family photographs that covered every spare stretch of wall. To Mrs Jones it had been a miracle that a man of her husband’s temper and clumsy hands should have had the patience for such intricate work. Yet, from the
he took up his chisels, from the moment the tiny white shavings flew, all the meanness went out of him.

He had carved a ‘gothic’ frame for the religious colour print ‘The Broad and Narrow Path’. He had invented some ‘biblical’ motifs for the watercolour of the Pool of Bethesda; and when his brother sent an oleograph from Canada, he smeared the surface with linseed oil to make it look like an Old Master, and spent a whole winter working up a surround of maple leaves.

And it was this picture, with its Red Indian, its birchbark, its pines and a crimson sky – to say nothing of its association with the legendary Uncle Eddie – that first awoke in Lewis a yearning for far-off places.

BOOK: On The Black Hill (Vintage Classics)
6.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The Canning Kitchen by Amy Bronee
The Inn at Angel Island by Thomas Kinkade
The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
The Best Defense by Kate Wilhelm
Metro Winds by Isobelle Carmody
Charlie and Pearl by Robinson, Tammy