Menu Close


The Valley of Rocks

    TOWARDS evening he came to a sudden valley in the bare-
bosomed hills, where, as in an alembic, the vital humours of
the land, the rains and the dews drawn from the sky by tall
white cliffs with violet shadows that looked like thunder-clouds,
were caught and distilled to be transmuted into quick, fierce crops
of grapes and corn. In many places the naked rock was clothed
with gourd pens growing like cables and bearing great yellow
flowers. Wherever there was a hollow in the gleaming limestone
or hold for a man’s foot, mould of a noisome richness had been
deposited. Here were terraced gardens overbrimming with hot
flowers like some passion of the soil made visible; and secret
caves full of twisted stalactites, like strange dreaming, pillared
and aisled and reverberating with the organ music of subter-
ranean water. Every now and nea a spring of very cold
water gushed out suddenly from the bare stone to run a few
yards and as suddenly disappear. Cottages, half built, half ex-
cavated, as if they were but the sculptured portals to a labyrinth
of hidden ways, clung to the cliff side, and the men and women
that came out to stare at the stranger were heavy eyed and ivory
ale as if they belonged to a separate race bred in darkness and
feaine the light only to snatch a livelihood from the shallow soil.
They kept no cattle, they said, but a few goats, and no children
had been born in the valley for many years. Many of the women
were goitred, and all spoke like persons that use words to hide
their thoughts; talking rapidly, with their eyes fixed on the
stranger’s face, beseeching him to begone. They told him that
the place was called the valley of rocks, and that here the corn
was richer, the wine stronger, the ay sweeter and all medicinal
plants more active in their properties than anywhere else in that
country. Dealers in drugs, they said, came here every autumn to
collect roots and herbs. When he asked them where he should
find lodgings for the night, they looked one at the other, and
hastily directed him to the inn at the head of the valley. They
told him to beware of the vipers which here were very rare
themselves were often bitten as they contrived the union of the
gourd flowers, in which art they were very cunning, but they took
no harm.

    As he walked up the road which wound like a snake be-
neath the crumpled cornice of the impending cliff, a curved billow

of stone, he was possessed by the thought that the place held a
meaning, hinted at but not expressed, in its passionate fecundity:
that he was drawing nearer to a final statement, a summing-up in
human shape of strength and sweetness and soothing. At the
head of the valley he came to the inn, a long, low-browed build-
ing with a line of windows under the eaves, standing in a clove-
scented garden, with its back to the cliff and looking as if seaward
but where no sea was. He passed through the open door, and as
if guided by a dream, to a little room where from the wall there
leaned the picture of a woman in whose eyes and on whose lips
were concentrated the strength and sweetness and soothing of
wine and honey and narcotic flowers.

    Now suddenly he felt that his coming here had been pre-
destined. The woman’s face, fierce though tender-eyed, with bared
throat and offered lips, hot though virgin, lawless as a flower yet
like a flower the concrete symbol of many secret laws working
together, was the answer to riddles that had long vexed him.
Here was the unsatisfied desire of all the earth made evident in
a single face. He knew that in all his wandering, apparently so
agliggainhet nothing had been left to chance. All his life he had
een seeking her, and step by step he had been drawn hither.

    The innkeeper and his wife came into the room while he
stood before the picture. They glanced from him to each other
with lowered lids and furtive smiles so that the question which
rose to his lips was never spoken. The man was pot-bellied and
thin-shanked, the woman’s face a white mask of decorum: they
were old and feeble, but had not the dignity of age. They asked
his wants with pandering obsequiousness, consulting together in
whispers so that the preparation of his meal seemed like a con-
spiracy. They tended him with knowing deference, as if he were
long expected, rubbing their hands gently together and answering
his questions eagerly to prevent his asking the one question which
his lips would not frame. They made no mention of the woman
whose picture leaned from the wall though all the house thrilled
with her presence.

    He ate and drank alone in the dusk, overlooked by the
woman’s face, her eyes fierce with desire, her lips smiling at him
with a strange confidence. Afterwards the old couple came into
the room and they sat talking of all that went on in the great

                                    The Valley of Rocks

world outside the valley. Every time he involuntarily glanced up
at the picture they dropped their eyes upon their folded hands and
smiled secretly, and when he strained his ears to catch what
seemed like a footfall on the stairs and the rustle of a gown they
glanced quickly one at the other behind his back.

    Towards midnight the innkeeper lighted him to his chamber,
with many soft spoken wishes for his pleasant slumbers. By the
door of a room the old man paused, as if listening intently, with
eyes discreetly lowered, and a little guarded cough. Then looked
up, as if in answer to a question which had not been asked, with
“I beg your pardon, sir?” But immediately he passed on to the
guest-chamber, threw open the door, and showed a carved and
canopied bed and hangings shaken by the night air, with a muttered
hope that the stranger had everything necessary for the night.
Then he placed the candle on a table, bowed and withdrew,
slamming a door at the far end of the passage, as if to intimate
that this part of the house was private to his guest.

    He flung wide the lattice, and leaning on the sill, gave him-
self up to musing upon the painted desire in the room downstairs.
The wind came up the valley in hot puffs, bearing the scent of
many flowers and the murmur of hidden water. He remembered
with a thrill that this was midsummer eve. He was always im-
pressed by dates and seasons; not those arbitrary days named
after events sacred or secular, but those profoundly related to the
intertwined orbits of the planetary system. He believed that at
the intersection of those larger forces human life was deeply
stirred, as quivering overtones are struck out when one note of
music jars upon another; and he could understand why ancient
peoples leaped through fires at the standing still of the sun. Now
was the time and here was the place; and a dozen things, the half-
betrayed confidence of the valley, the veiled manner of the inn-
keeper and his wife, told him that the woman expected him.

    That he had neither seen her nor heard her name only
deepened his feeling that this meeting was ordained. A chance
encounter, the making of them known one to the other with the
necessary forms of speech, would have blurred the mysterious
directness of their coming together. He wondered how the inn
people came by such a daughter, for so without any definite reason
he supposed her. Then he remembered that, like exquisite wine

in unworthy vessels, rare types are often transmitted through
common people, for generations degraded or lost altogether, re-
appearing now and again to uplift men in grey times or to hearten
them in blazing times of war. He thought of her less as a woman
than as the incarnation of the valley’s secret, which he was to dis-
cover from the touch of her lips. The innkeeper and his wife took
on the character not of parents, but of priest and priestess, guar-
dians of a vessel holding rare essences of the soil; the inn became
a temple. All that he had ever done seemed meaningless and
trivial, except in so far as it had been a preparation for this en-
counter. For this end only his life had been enriched with dreams
and aspirations beyond the common.

    For a time his mind was disturbed with thoughts of danger.
What if the woman were a decoy for purposes of robbery or even
of murder? Again, his heightened imagination pursued wilder
paths: he had read of dragons taking the shape of beautiful
women and of strangers incited to their embraces to rid a desperate
people of ascourge. A moment later he laughed at his childishness.

    He wondered when and how she would appear to him.
Whether at dawn in the garden, or on the hot limestone ledges
among the yellow gourd fone or in the pillared alleys of the
secret caves. He knew that if words were needed at their meet-
ing words would be given.

    The house was very still, and from the room next his own
came delicate intimations of a woman’s presence: sighs, a low mur-
muring, movings to and fro, and once a subdued noise of crying—
or was it the wind whimpering under the eaves?

    His will ceased to be his own and he fell a prey to bold
fancies born of the heat of his blood. Before his impassioned eyes
the wall was gone and he saw her waiting for him now: a mystical
night-blooming flower unfolded on this night only of all time.
Yet it was not she that waited, but all nature working to an aim
through her: the crude aspiration of the earth rising up through
corn and grape, distilled and rectified through human channels,
informed with soul as blood is brightened by air, until its essence
was offered in such a vessel as gods might drink at.

    And then the other part of him, the creature of reason and
everyday habit and convention asserted itself. Like a grey rock
thrusting in through the ribs of a dream galley, ideas of duty and

                                    The Valley of Rocks

honour pierced his mind. His imagination leaped ahead and he
saw the future in cold outlines. He remembered a dozen sordid
stories: the phrase “a rustic entanglement” sounded in his ears.
If he yielded to the prompting of the hour and the place, what could
be the outcome but shame for her, disillusion and boredom for

    But then again the sense of a larger duty, owed not to con-
vention but to the universe, obtruded itself. He was less the
pursuer than the pursued; no more wanton than the moth to the
flower. Like two people seeking each other blindly through a
wood, guided by a cry ora word, the se of a bird, the quiver
of grass where a snake rustled, he and she had been pushed for-
ward through generation after generation of human life, with here
a check, there an encouragement, until on this night of all nights
they were watching the sky side by side with but a thin wall be-
tween them. Of all creatures was not he who shirked the purpose
of his being the most abject?

    Out of the conflict of moods was born another, not of better
or worse choice but of renunciation. Perhaps, after all, the aim of
desire was not union nor even the furtherance of life, but rather
the release of the finer things of the soul as latent fire is released
at the approach of metal to metal. He had been ready and she
had been ready, but while their bodily eyes watched the sky where
one day trod upon the skirts of another on this night of all the year,
somewhere on another plane their desires had met and mingled
with the release of some new and better desire dowered with some-
thing of each, to return upon and enrich their lives asa rain-cloud,
enlace: of sun and earth, returns to bless and fertilize.

    Early morning found him in the garden sobered and uplifted
with a new purpose. To him came the innkeeper with downcast
eyes and lips creased ina crafty smile, asking him how he had slept.
is question was answered with another.

    “My daughter? No; we have no child. Years ago a strange
woman, waiting in vain for her lover, died by her own hand in the
room next your own. Since then, they say, the valley has been
under a curse: people may wed, but there are never any children.
The picture downstairs was painted by a man who lost his reason
seeking her whom he had never seen.”

                                                              CHARLES MARRIOTT

MLA Citation:

Marriott, Charles. “The Valley of Rocks.” The Venture: an Annual of Art and Literature, vol. 2, 1905, pp. 3-7. Venture Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2019-2022. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Toronto Metropolitan University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2022,