On being a Water-Diviner
BY PETER FLEMING.
ICONFESS that I had always treated water-diviners as a joke. The humour that (God forgive me I) I saw in their profession was not the rich, full-blooded humour I still see in sanitary inspectors, nor yet the vague, irrational humour I see in people who are described as popular and energetic," but rather a kind of fey and wistful humour, tinged with sentiment. Perhaps I did not really mock them at all ; I hope I did not. Perhaps it was only the circumstances in which one heard of them that made them seem so funny. About once a year I would learn from my newspaper that Timothy Such, " describing himself as a water-diviner," had been fined forty shillings at Eastbourne for causing an obstruction with his car : sometimes it was for that, and sometimes for assaulting a policeman. Now, for a man to describe himself as a water-diviner is funny enough, to my mind. But on top of that to own a car and obstruct the traffic with it, or to lose your temper and hit policemen—that is the essence of comedy. At least, it is for me, because I have in my mind's eye as clear a picture of the water-diviner as I have of the Successful Business Man, or the North Pole. I do not say these pictures are the right ones ; indeed, in the last two cases I know myself to be neither sufficiently well travelled nor sufficiently well acquainted to vouch for their accuracy. But there they are, vivid and familiar, and only with the greatest reluctance to be exchanged for actuality.
My water-diviner (who, now I come to look at him, is not so very different from my Druid) is a tall, but stooping figure clad in a kind of pale smock. He has a good deal of white hair, a straggling beard like a goat, and din:, hopeless eyes with pouches under them. He goes poking about in twilit glades with a long peeled wand, and from time to time (I suppose : he never really got as far as this with me) he divines some water ; the ensuing scene, as wise hack-writers say, beggars description. But at least you can see why I laughed. That this ghost of a man, incapable of chiding a leprechaun, should be fined for assaulting a policeman is the most fantastic kind of joke. As for owning a car—even if he peeled the gear- lever, my water-diviner could as easily have sung in Grand Opera. With you, of course, it may not have been like this. Your water-diviner may have been entirely different from mine—a spare, raffish fellow, like my rat-catcher, or spruce and round and beady-eyed, like my company promoter, It's all luck, unless you have knowledge. Still, whatever your conception was, I think that you will admit that mine was a bit of a joke ; that I could be excused for laughing when he was fined forty shillings ? I am really rather anxious about it because, as luck will have it, it has suddenly turned out that I am a water-diviner myself.
It happened a few days ago. We were looking down on the sea from an old camp of the English, which is mentioned in Alfred's Chronicles but not, thank goodness, in the guide book. My friend, who lives there very happily in a hut, said : " Let's see if you are a water-, diviner," and, taking out one of those huge clasp-knives which are so essential an accessory of hut-life, began, to cut a fork out of the hazel beside us. The test savoured attractively of mumbo jumbo, and, though I was as little doubtful of the result, as if he had said, " Let's see if you are an albino," or, " Let's see if you are a Seventh Day Adventist," I took the fork and held it as he directed. The arms were a foot long, and thin enough to be fairly pliable ; their apex was continued about four inches to a sharpened point. You held it tightly, stretching the fork, with your fists turned upside down and the point away from you.
" There are several springs under this place," said my friend, " and I know where they are. Walk forward, and if you are a diviner the point will rise of its own accord until you come to the water ; then it will turn right over towards you and twist the stick out of your hands.'' I walked forward as he told me to. In spite of my grip on the arms of the fork, the point began to rise. steadily and uncannily. I went on, not without awe, till the point came right round and the hazel was twisted out of my hands, leaving them sore. My friend came up.
" You are a water-diviner," he said, " that is where I am having a well dug."
The knowledge is comforting, of course. I may not be very efficient, or very wise, or very good : I may not understand about the gold standard, and my back-hand is not what it might be. But at least I am a water- diviner—I am strangely, if not very usefully, gifted. One day I may do the State some service, in time of drought. Yet even while I conjure up gratifying visions of national, nay, imperial crises which it would be within the power of a young water-diviner to avert, I am all the time haunted by a feeling of guilt. What I can do to atone for the thoughtless levity of earlier years I will. Already the mere thought of my new-found profession fills me with pride and reverence ; it will not be my fault if, in the eyes of the world, it does not take a higher place than it has held of late : I have its interests at heart.
But for all this there may come a day when my name shall find its way into the papers on some small, discredit- able affair : and however unobtrusive the paragraph recording my appearance in the witness-box it will assuredly contain those words which have never yet failed to make me laugh—" describing himself as a water-diviner." Will my face remain loyally straight ?
fear—I know—it will not. Neither will the faces of my friends.