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´╗┐Title: Our Village
Author: Mitford, Mary Russell, 1787-1855
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Our Village" ***

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OUR VILLAGE

By Mary Russell Mitford


1893 Macmillan and Co. edition.



CONTENTS

     INTRODUCTION
     COUNTRY PICTURES
     WALKS IN THE COUNTRY
     THE FIRST PRIMROSE
     VIOLETING
     THE COPSE
     THE WOOD
     THE DELL
     THE COWSLIP-BALL
     THE OLD HOUSE AT ABERLEIGH
     THE HARD SUMMER
     THE SHAW
     NUTTING
     THE VISIT
     HANNAH BINT
     THE FALL OF THE LEAF



Introduction by Anne Thackeray Ritchie


I.

There is a great deal of admirable literature concerning Miss Mitford,
so much of it indeed, that the writer of this little notice feels as if
she almost owed an apology to those who remember, for having ventured to
write, on hearsay only, and without having ever known or ever seen
the author of 'Our Village.' And yet, so vivid is the homely friendly
presence, so clear the sound of that voice 'like a chime of bells,' with
its hospitable cheery greeting, that she can scarcely realise that this
acquaintance exists only in the world of the might-have-beens.

For people who are beginning to remember, rather than looking forward
any more, there certainly exists no more delightful reading than the
memoirs and stories of heroes and heroines, many of whom we ourselves
may have seen, and to whom we may have spoken. As we read on we are led
into some happy bygone region,--such as that one described by Mr. du
Maurier in 'Peter Ibbetson,'--a region in which we ourselves, together
with all our friends and acquaintances, grow young again;--very young,
very brisk, very hopeful. The people we love are there, along with the
people we remember. Music begins to play, we are dancing, laughing,
scampering over the country once more; our parents too are young and
laughing cheerily. Every now and then perhaps some old friend, also
vigorous and hopeful, bursts into the book, and begins to talk or to
write a letter; early sights and sounds return to us, we have NOW, and
we have THEN, in a pleasant harmony. To those of a certain literary
generation who read Miss Mitford's memoirs, how many such familiar
presences and names must appear and reappear. Not least among them
that of her biographer, Mr. Harness himself, who was so valued by his
friends. Mrs. Kemble, Mrs. Sartoris, Charles Allston Collins, always
talked of him with a great respect and tenderness. I used to think they
had a special voice with which to speak his name. He was never among
our intimate friends, but how familiar to my recollection are the
two figures, that of Mr. Harness and Miss Harness, his sister and
housekeeper, coming together along the busy Kensington roadway. The
brother and sister were like characters out of some book, with their
kind faces, their simple spiritual ways; in touch with so much that was
interesting and romantic, and in heart with so much that suffered. I
remember him with grey hair and a smile. He was not tall; he walked
rather lame; Miss Harness too was little, looking up at all the rest of
the world with a kind round face and sparkling eyes fringed with thick
lashes. Mary Mitford was indeed happy in her friends, as happy as she
was unfortunate in her nearer relations.

With much that is sad, there is a great deal of beauty and enjoyment in
Miss Mitford's life. For her the absence of material happiness was made
up for by the presence of warm-hearted sensibility, of enthusiasm, by
her devotion to her parents. Her long endurance and filial piety are
very remarkable, her loving heart carried her safely to the end, and she
found comfort in her unreasoning life's devotion. She had none of the
restlessness which is so apt to spoil much that might be harmonious;
all the charm of a certain unity and simplicity of motive is hers, 'the
single eye,' of which Charles Kingsley wrote so sweetly. She loved
her home, her trees, her surrounding lanes and commons. She loved her
friends. Her books and flowers are real and important events in her
life, soothing and distracting her from the contemplation of its
constant anxieties. 'I may truly say,' she once writes to Miss Barrett,
'that ever since I was a very young girl, I have never (although for
some years living apparently in affluence) been without pecuniary
care,--the care that pressed upon my thoughts the last thing at night,
and woke in the morning with a dreary sense of pain and pressure, of
something which weighed me to the earth.'

Mary Russell Mitford was born on the 16th of December 1787. She was the
only child of her parents, who were well connected; her mother was an
heiress. Her father belonged to the Mitfords of the North. She describes
herself as 'a puny child, with an affluence of curls which made her look
as if she were twin sister to her own great doll.' She could read at
three years old; she learnt the Percy ballads by heart almost before she
could read. Long after, she used to describe how she first studied her
beloved ballads in the breakfast-room lined with books, warmly spread
with its Turkey carpet, with its bright fire, easy chairs, and the
windows opening to a garden full of flowers,--stocks, honeysuckles, and
pinks. It is touching to note how, all through her difficult life,
her path was (literally) lined with flowers, and how the love of them
comforted and cheered her from the first to the very last. In her
saddest hours, the passing fragrance and beauty of her favourite
geraniums cheered and revived her. Even when her mother died she found
comfort in the plants they had tended together, and at the very last
breaks into delighted descriptions of them.

She was sent to school in the year 1798 to No. 22 Hans Place, to a Mrs.
St. Quintin's. It seems to have been an excellent establishment. Mary
learnt the harp and astronomy; her taste for literature was encouraged.
The young ladies, attired as shepherdesses, were also taught to skip
through many mazy movements, but she never distinguished herself as a
shepherdess. She had greater success in her literary efforts, and her
composition 'on balloons' was much applauded. She returned to her home
in 1802. 'Plain in figure and in face, she was never common-looking,'
says Mr. Harness. He gives a pretty description of her as 'no ordinary
child, her sweet smiles, her animated conversation, her keen enjoyment
of life, and her gentle voice won the love and admiration of her
friends, whether young or old.' Mr. Harness has chiefly told Miss
Mitford's story in her own words by quotations from her letters, and, as
one reads, one can almost follow her moods as they succeed each other,
and these moods are her real history. The assiduity of childhood, the
bright enthusiasm and gaiety of her early days, the growing anxiety of
her later life, the maturer judgments, the occasional despairing
terrors which came to try her bright nature, but along with it all, that
innocent and enduring hopefulness which never really deserted her. Her
elastic spirit she owed to her father, that incorrigible old Skimpole.
'I am generally happy everywhere,' she writes in her youth--and then
later on: 'It is a great pleasure to me to love and to admire, this is a
faculty which has survived many frosts and storms.' It is true that
she adds a query somewhere else, 'Did you ever remark how superior old
gaiety is to new?' she asks.

Her handsome father, her plain and long-enduring mother, are both
unconsciously described in her correspondence. 'The Doctor's manners
were easy, natural, cordial, and apparently extremely frank,' says Mr.
Harness, 'but he nevertheless met the world on its own terms, and was
prepared to allow himself any insincerity which seemed expedient. He was
not only recklessly extravagant, but addicted to high play. His wife's
large fortune, his daughter's, his own patrimony, all passed through his
hands in an incredibly short space of time, but his wife and daughter
were never heard to complain of his conduct, nor appeared to admire him
less.'

The story of Miss Mitford's 20,000 pounds is unique among the adventures
of authoresses. Dr. Mitford, having spent all his wife's fortune, and
having brought his family from a comfortable home, with flowers and a
Turkey carpet, to a small lodging near Blackfriars Bridge, determined to
present his daughter with an expensive lottery ticket on the occasion
of her tenth birthday. She had a fancy for No. 2224, of which the added
numbers came to 10. This number actually came out the first prize of
20,000 pounds, which money started the family once more in comparative
affluence. Dr. Mitford immediately built a new square house, which he
calls Bertram House, on the site of a pretty old farmhouse which he
causes to be pulled down. He also orders a dessert-service painted with
the Mitford arms; Mrs. Mitford is supplied with a carriage, and she
subscribes to a circulating library.

A list still exists of the books taken out by her for her daughter's
use; some fifty-five volumes a month, chiefly trash: 'Vicenza,' 'A
Sailor's Friendship and Soldier's Love,' 'Clarentina,' 'Robert and
Adela,' 'The Count de Valmont,' 'The Three Spaniards,' 'De Clifford' (in
four volumes) and so on.

The next two or three years were brilliant enough; for the family
must have lived at the rate of three or four thousand a year. Their
hospitality was profuse, they had servants, carriages, they bought
pictures and furniture, they entertained. Cobbett was among their
intimate friends. The Doctor naturally enough invested in a good many
more lottery tickets, but without any further return.

The ladies seem to take it as a matter of course that he should
speculate and gamble at cards, and indeed do anything and everything he
fancied, but they beg him at least to keep to respectable clubs. He is
constantly away. His daughter tries to tempt him home with the bloom of
her hyacinths. 'How they long to see him again!' she says, 'how greatly
have they been disappointed, when, every day, the journey to Reading has
been fruitless. The driver of the Reading coach is quite accustomed
to being waylaid by their carriage.' Then she tells him about the
primroses, but neither hyacinths nor primroses bring the Doctor away
from his cards. Finally, the rhododendrons and the azaleas are in bloom,
but these also fail to attract him.

Miss Mitford herself as she grows up is sent to London more than
once, to the St. Quintin's and elsewhere. She goes to the play and to
Westminster Hall, she sees her hero, Charles James Fox, and has the
happiness of watching him helped on to his horse. Mr. Romilly delights
her, but her greatest favourite of all is Mr. Whitbread. 'You know I am
always an enthusiast,' she writes, 'but at present it is impossible to
describe the admiration I feel for this exalted character.' She speaks
of his voice 'which she could listen to with transport even if he spoke
in an unknown language!' she writes a sonnet to him, 'an impromptu, on
hearing Mr. Whitbread declare in Westminster Hall that he fondly trusted
his name would descend to posterity.'

     'The hope of Fame thy noble bosom fires,
      Nor vain the hope thy ardent mind inspires;
      In British breasts whilst Purity remains,
      Whilst Liberty her blessed abode retains,
      Still shall the muse of History proclaim
      To future ages thy immortal name!'

There are many references to the celebrities of the time in her
letters home,--every one agrees as to the extreme folly of Sheridan's
entertainments, Mrs. Opie is spoken of as a rising authoress, etc. etc.
etc.

Miss Austen used to go to 23 Hans Place, and Miss Mitford used to stay
at No. 22, but not at the same time. Mrs. Mitford had known Miss Austen
as a child. She may perhaps be forgiven for some prejudice and maternal
jealousy, in her later impressions, but Mary Mitford admired Jane Austen
always with warmest enthusiasm. She writes to her mother at length from
London, describing everything, all the people and books and experiences
that she comes across,--the elegant suppers at Brompton, the Grecian
lamps, Mr. Barker's beauty, Mr. Plummer's plainness, and the destruction
of her purple gown.

Mrs. Mitford writes back in return describing Reading festivities, 'an
agreeable dinner at Doctor Valpy's, where Mrs. Women and Miss Peacock
are present and Mr. J. Simpson, M.P.; the dinner very good, two full
courses and one remove, the soup giving place to one quarter of lamb.'
Mrs. Mitford sends a menu of every dinner she goes to.

In 1806 Dr. Mitford takes his daughter, who was then about nineteen,
to the North to visit his relations; they are entertained by the
grandparents of the Trevelyans and the Swinburnes, the Ogles and the
Mitfords of the present day. They fish in Sir John Swinburne's lake,
they visit at Alnwick Castle. Miss Mitford kept her front hair in papers
till she reached Alnwick, nor was her dress discomposed though she had
travelled thirty miles. They sat down, sixty-five to dinner, which was
'of course' (she somewhat magnificently says) entirely served on plate.
Poor Mary's pleasure is very much dashed by the sudden disappearance
of her father,--Dr. Mitford was in the habit of doing anything he felt
inclined to do at once and on the spot, quite irrespectively of the
convenience of others,--and although a party had been arranged on
purpose to meet him in the North, and his daughter was counting on his
escort to return home, (people posted in those days, they did not take
their tickets direct from Newcastle to London), Dr. Mitford one morning
leaves word that he has gone off to attend the Reading election, where
his presence was not in the least required. For the first and apparently
for the only time in her life his daughter protests. 'Mr. Ogle is
extremely offended; nothing but your immediate return can ever excuse
you to him! I IMPLORE you to return, I call upon Mamma's sense of
propriety to send you here directly. Little did I suspect that my
father, my beloved father, would desert me at this distance from home!
Every one is surprised.' Dr. Mitford was finally persuaded to travel
back to Northumberland to fetch his daughter.

The constant companionship of Dr. Mitford must have given a curious
colour to his good and upright daughter's views of life. Adoring her
father as she did, she must have soon accustomed herself to take his
fine speeches for fine actions, to accept his self-complacency in the
place of a conscience. She was a woman of warm impressions, with a
strong sense of right. But it was not within her daily experience, poor
soul, that people who did not make grand professions were ready to do
their duty all the same; nor did she always depend upon the uprightness,
the courage, the self-denial of those who made no protestations. At that
time loud talking was still the fashion, and loud living was considered
romantic. They both exist among us, but they are less admired, and
there is a different language spoken now to that of Dr. Mitford and his
school. * This must account for some of Miss Mitford's judgments of what
she calls a 'cynical' generation, to which she did little justice.

     *People nowadays are more ready to laugh than to admire when
     they hear the lions bray; for mewing and bleating, the
     taste, I fear, is on the increase.


II.

There is one penalty people pay for being authors, which is that from
cultivating vivid impressions and mental pictures they are apt to take
fancies too seriously and to mistake them for reality. In story-telling
this is well enough, and it interferes with nobody; but in real history,
and in one's own history most of all, this faculty is apt to raise
up bogies and nightmares along one's path; and while one is fighting
imaginary demons, the good things and true are passed by unnoticed, the
best realities of life are sometimes overlooked....

But after all, Mary Russell Mitford, who spent most of her time
gathering figs off thistles and making the best of her difficult
circumstances, suffered less than many people do from the influence of
imaginary things.

She was twenty-three years old when her first book of poems was
published; so we read in her letters, in which she entreats her father
not to curtail ANY of the verses addressed to him; there is no
reason, she says, except his EXTREME MODESTY why the verses should be
suppressed,--she speaks not only with the fondness of a daughter but
with the sensibility of a poet. Our young authoress is modest, although
in print; she compares herself to Crabbe (as Jane Austen might have
done), and feels 'what she supposes a farthing candle would experience
when the sun rises in all its glory.' Then comes the Publisher's
bill for 59 pounds; she is quite shocked at the bill, which is really
exorbitant! In her next letter Miss Mitford reminds her father that
the taxes are still unpaid, and a correspondence follows with somebody
asking for a choice of the Doctor's pictures in payment for the taxes.
The Doctor is in London all the time, dining out and generally amusing
himself. Everybody is speculating whether Sir Francis Burdett will go
to the Tower.* 'Oh, my darling, how I envy you at the fountain-head of
intelligence in these interesting times! How I envy Lady Burdett for
the fine opportunity she has to show the heroism of our sex!' writes
the daughter, who is only encountering angry tax-gatherers at home....
Somehow or other the bills are paid for the time, and the family
arrangements go on as before.

*Here, in our little suburban garden at Wimbledon, are the remains of
an old hedgerow which used to grow in the kitchen garden of the Grange
where Sir Francis Burdett then lived. The tradition is that he was
walking in the lane in his own kitchen garden when he was taken up and
carried off to honourable captivity.--A.T.R.

Besides writing to the members of her own home, Miss Mitford started
another correspondent very early in life; this was Sir William Elford,
to whom she describes her outings and adventures, her visits to
Tavistock House, where her kind friends the Perrys receive her. Mr.
Perry was the editor of the Morning Chronicle; he and his beautiful wife
were the friends of all the most interesting people of the day. Here
again the present writer's own experiences can interpret the printed
page, for her own first sight of London people and of London society
came to her in a little house in Chesham Place, where her father's old
friends, Mrs. Frederick Elliot and Miss Perry, the daughters of Miss
Mitford's friends, lived with a very notable and interesting set of
people, making a social centre, by that kindly unconscious art
which cannot be defined; that quick apprehension, that benevolent
fastidiousness (I have to use rather far-fetched words) which are so
essential to good hosts and hostesses. A different standard is looked
for now, by the rising generations knocking at the doors, behind which
the dignified past is lying as stark as King Duncan himself!

Among other entertainments Miss Mitford went to the fetes which
celebrated the battle of Vittoria; she had also the happiness of getting
a good sight of Mme. de Stael, who was a great friend of the Perrys.
'She is almost as much followed in the gardens as the Princess,' she
says, pouring out her wonders, her pleasures, her raptures. She begins
to read Burns with youthful delight, dilates upon his exhaustless
imagination, his versatility, and then she suggests a very just
criticism. 'Does it not appear' she says, 'that versatility is the true
and rare characteristic of that rare thing called genius--versatility
and playfulness;' then she goes on to speak of two highly-reputed novels
just come out and ascribed to Lady Morley, 'Pride and Prejudice' and
'Sense and Sensibility.'

She is still writing from Bertram House, but her pleasant gossip
continually alternates with more urgent and less agreeable letters
addressed to her father. Lawyers' clerks are again calling with notices
and warnings, tax-gatherers are troubling. Dr. Mitford has, as usual,
left no address, so that she can only write to the 'Star Office,'
and trust to chance. 'Mamma joins in tenderest love,' so the letters
invariably conclude.

Notwithstanding the adoration bestowed by the ladies of the family and
their endearing adjectives, Mr. Harness is very outspoken on the
subject of the handsome Doctor! He disliked his manners, his morals,
his self-sufficiency, his loud talk. 'The old brute never informed his
friends of anything; all they knew of him or his affairs, or whatever
false or true he intended them to believe, came out carelessly in his
loose, disjointed talk.'

In 1814 Miss Mitford is living on still with her parents at Bertram
House, but a change has come over their home; the servants are gone,
the gravel turned to moss, the turf into pasture, the shrubberies to
thickets, the house a sort of new 'ruin half inhabited, and a Chancery
suit is hanging over their heads.' Meantime some news comes to cheer
her from America. Two editions of her poems have been printed and sold.
'Narrative Poems on the Female Character' proved a real success. 'All
who have hearts to feel and understandings to discriminate, must wish
you health and leisure to complete your plan,' so write publishers in
those golden days, with complimentary copies of the work....

Great things are happening all this time; battles are being fought and
won, Napoleon is on his way to St. Helena; London is in a frenzy of
rejoicings, entertainings, illuminations. To Mary Mitford the appearance
of 'Waverley' seems as great an event as the return of the Bourbons;
she is certain that 'Waverley' is written by Sir Walter Scott, but
'Guy Mannering,' she thinks, is by another hand: her mind is full of a
genuine romantic devotion to books and belles lettres, and she is also
rejoicing, even more, in the spring-time of 1816. Dr. Mitford may be
impecunious and their affairs may be threadbare, but the lovely seasons
come out ever in fresh beauty and abundance. The coppices are carpeted
with primroses, with pansies and wild strawberry blossom,--the woods are
spangled with the delicate flowers of the woodsorrel and wood anemone,
the meadows enamelled with cowslips.... Certainly few human beings
were ever created more fit for this present world, and more capable of
admiring and enjoying its beauties, than Miss Mitford, who only desired
to be beautiful herself, she somewhere says, to be perfectly contented.


III.

Most people's lives are divided into first, second and third volumes;
and as we read Miss Mitford's history it forms no exception to the
rule. The early enthusiastic volume is there, with its hopes and wild
judgments, its quaint old-fashioned dress and phraseology; then comes
the second volume, full of actual work and serious responsibility,
with those childish parents to provide for, whose lives, though so
protracted, never seem to reach beyond their nurseries. Miss Mitford's
third volume is retrospective; her growing infirmities are courageously
endured, there is the certainty of success well earned and well
deserved; we realise her legitimate hold upon the outer world of readers
and writers, besides the reputation which she won upon the stage by her
tragedies.

The literary ladies of the early part of the century in some ways had a
very good time of it. A copy of verses, a small volume of travels, a few
tea-parties, a harp in one corner of the room, and a hat and feathers
worn rather on one side, seemed to be all that was wanted to establish
a claim to fashion and inspiration. They had footstools to rest their
satin shoes upon, they had admirers and panegyrists to their heart's
content, and above all they possessed that peculiar complacency in which
(with a few notable exceptions) our age is singularly deficient. We are
earnest, we are audacious, we are original, but we are not complacent.
THEY were dolls perhaps, and lived in dolls' houses; WE are ghosts
without houses at all; we come and go wrapped in sheets of newspaper,
holding flickering lights in our hands, paraffin lamps, by the light of
which we are seeking our proper sphere. Poor vexed spirits! We do not
belong to the old world any more! The new world is not yet ready for
us. Even Mr. Gladstone will not let us into the House of Commons; the
Geographical Society rejects us, so does the Royal Academy; and yet who
could say that any of their standards rise too high! Some one or two are
happily safe, carried by the angels of the Press to little altars and
pinnacles all their own; but the majority of hard-working, intelligent
women, 'contented with little, yet ready for more,' may they not in
moments of depression be allowed to picture to themselves what their
chances might have been had they only been born half a century earlier?

Miss Mitford, notwithstanding all her troubles (she has been known
to say she had rather be a washerwoman than a literary lady), had
opportunities such as few women can now obtain. One is lost in
admiration at the solidity of one's grandparents' taste, when one
attempts to read the tragedies they delighted in, and yet 'Rienzi' sold
four thousand copies and was acted forty-five times; and at one time
Miss Mitford had two tragedies rehearsed upon the boards together; one
at Covent Garden and one at Drury Lane, with Charles Kemble and Macready
disputing for her work. Has not one also read similar descriptions
of the triumphs of Hannah More, or of Johanna Baillie; cheered by
enthusiastic audiences, while men shed tears.*

*Mem. Hannah More, v.i. p.124.

'Julian' was the first of Miss Mitford's acted plays. It was brought out
at Covent Garden in 1823, when she was thirty-six years old; Macready
played the principal part. 'If the play do reach the ninth night,' Miss
Mitford writes to Macready, 'it will be a very complete refutation of
Mr. Kemble's axiom that no single performer can fill the theatre; for
except our pretty Alfonso (Miss Foote) there is only Julian, one and
only one. Let him imagine how deeply we feel his exertions and his
kindness.*...'

*In Macready's diary we find an entry which is not over gracious.
'"Julian" acted March the 15th. Had but moderate success. The C. G.
company was no longer equal to the support of plays containing moral
characters. The authoress in her dedication to me was profuse in
her acknowledgments and compliments, but the performance made little
impression, and was soon forgotten.'

'Julian' was stopped on the eighth night, to her great disappointment,
but she is already engaged on another--on several more---tragedies; she
wants the money badly; for the editor of her magazine has absconded,
owing her 50 pounds. Some trying and bewildering quarrel then ensues
between Charles Kemble and Macready, which puts off her tragedies,
and sadly affects poor Miss Mitford's nerves and profits. She has one
solace. Her father, partly instigated, she says, by the effect which the
terrible feeling of responsibility and want of power has had upon her
health and spirits, at last resolves to try if he can HIMSELF obtain any
employment that may lighten the burthen of the home. It is a good thing
that Dr. Mitford has braced himself to this heroic determination. 'The
addition of two or even one hundred a year to our little income, joined
to what I am, in a manner, sure of gaining by mere industry, would take
a load from my heart of which I can scarcely give you an idea... even
"Julian" was written under a pressure of anxiety which left me not a
moment's rest....' So she fondly dwells upon the delightful prospects.
Then comes the next letter to Sir William Elford, and we read that her
dear father, 'relying with a blessed sanguineness on my poor endeavours,
has not, I believe, even inquired for a situation, and I do not press
the matter, though I anxiously wish it; being willing to give one more
trial to the theatre.'

On one of the many occasions when Miss Mitford writes to her trustee
imploring him to sell out the small remaining fragment of her fortune,
she says, 'My dear father has, years ago, been improvident, is still
irritable and difficult to live with, but he is a person of a thousand
virtues... there are very few half so good in this mixed world; it is
my fault that this money is needed, entirely my fault, and if it be
withheld, my dear father will be overthrown, mind and body, and I shall
never know another happy hour.'

No wonder Mr. Harness, who was behind the scenes, remonstrated against
the filial infatuation which sacrificed health, sleep, peace of mind,
to gratify every passing whim of the Doctor's. At a time when she was
sitting up at night and slaving, hour after hour, to earn the necessary
means of living, Dr. Mitford must needs have a cow, a stable, and dairy
implements procured for his amusement, and when he died he left 1,000
pounds of debts for the scrupulous woman to pay off. She is determined
to pay, if she sells her clothes to do so. Meanwhile, the Doctor is
still alive, and Miss Mitford is straining every nerve to keep him so.
She is engaged (in strict confidence) on a grand historical subject,
Charles and Cromwell, the finest episode in English history, she says.
Here, too, fresh obstacles arise. This time it is the theatrical censor
who interferes. It would be dangerous for the country to touch upon such
topics; Mr. George Colman dwells upon this theme, although he gives the
lady full credit for no evil intentions; but for the present all her
work is again thrown away. While Miss Mitford is struggling on as best
she can against this confusion of worries and difficulty (she eventually
received 200 pounds for 'Julian' from a Surrey theatre), a new firm
'Whittaker' undertakes to republish the 'village sketches' which had
been written for the absconding editor. The book is to be published
under the title of 'Our Village.'


IV.

'Are your characters and descriptions true?' somebody once asked our
authoress. 'Yes, yes, yes, as true, as true as is well possible,' she
answers. 'You, as a great landscape painter, know that in painting a
favourite scene you do a little embellish and can't help it; you avail
yourself of happy accidents of atmosphere; if anything be ugly you
strike it out, or if anything be wanting, you put it in. But still the
picture is a likeness.'

So wrote Miss Mitford, but with all due respect for her and for Sir
William Elford, the great landscape painter, I cannot help thinking
that what is admirable in her book, are not her actual descriptions
and pictures of intelligent villagers and greyhounds, but the more
imaginative things; the sense of space and nature and progress which she
knows how to convey; the sweet and emotional chord she strikes with so
true a touch. Take at hazard her description of the sunset. How simple
and yet how finely felt it is. Her genuine delight reaches us and
carries us along; it is not any embellishing of effects, or exaggeration
of facts, but the reality of a true and very present feeling... 'The
narrow line of clouds which a few minutes ago lay like long vapouring
streaks along the horizon, now lighted with a golden splendour, that the
eye can scarcely endure; those still softer clouds which floated above,
wreathing and curling into a thousand fantastic forms as thin and
changeful as summer smoke, defined and deepened into grandeur, and
hedged with ineffable, insufferable light. Another minute and the
brilliant orb totally disappears and the sky above grows, every moment,
more varied and more beautiful, as the dazzling golden lines are mixed
with glowing red and gorgeous purple, dappled with small dark specks,
and mingled with such a blue as the egg of the hedge-sparrow.... To
look up at that glorious sky, and then to see that magnificent picture
reflected in the clear and lovely Loddon water, is a pleasure never to
be described, and never to be forgotten. My heart swells, and my eyes
fill as I write of it, and think of the immeasurable majesty of nature
and the unspeakable goodness of God, who has spread an enjoyment so
pure, so peaceful, and so intense before the meanest and lowliest of His
creatures.'

But it is needless now to go on praising 'Our Village,' or to recount
what a success was in store for the little book. Certain books hold
their own by individual right and might; they are part of everybody's
life as a matter of course. They are not always read, but they tacitly
take their place among us. The editions succeeded editions here and in
America; artists came down to illustrate the scenes. Miss Mitford, who
was so delighted with the drawings by Mr. Baxter, should have lived to
see the charming glimpses of rural life we owe to Mr. Thomson. 'I don't
mind 'em,' says Lizzy to the cows, as they stand with spirited bovine
grace behind the stable door. 'Don't mind them indeed!'

I think the author would assuredly have enjoyed the picture of the
baker, the wheelwright and the shoemaker, each following his special
Alderney along the road to the village, or of the farmer driving his old
wife in the gig.... One design, that of the lady in her pattens, comes
home to the writer of these notes, who has perhaps the distinction of
being the only authoress now alive who has ever walked out in
pattens. At the age of seven years she was provided with a pair by a
great-great-aunt, a kind old lady living at Fareham, in Hampshire,
where they were still in use. How interesting the little circles looked
stamped upon the muddy road, and how nearly down upon one's nose one was
at every other step!

But even with all her success, Miss Mitford was not out of her troubles.
She writes to Mr. Harness saying: 'You cannot imagine how perplexed I
am. There are points in my domestic situation too long and too painful
to write about; the terrible improvidence of one dear parent, the
failure of memory and decay of faculty in that other who is still
dearer, cast on me a weight of care and fear that I can hardly bear up
against.' Her difficulties were unending. The new publisher now stopped
payment, so that even 'Our Village' brought in no return for the moment;
Charles Kemble was unable to make any offer for 'Foscari.' She went up
to town in the greatest hurry to try and collect some of the money owing
to her from her various publishers, but, as Mr. Harness says, received
little from her debtors beyond invitations and compliments. She
meditates a novel, she plans an opera, 'Cupid and Psyche.'

At last, better times began to dawn, and she receives 150 pounds down
for a new novel and ten guineas from Blackwood as a retaining fee. Then
comes a letter from Charles Kemble giving her new hope, for her tragedy,
which was soon afterwards produced at Covent Garden.

The tragedies are in tragic English, of course that language of the
boards, but not without a simplicity and music of their own. In the
introduction to them, in some volumes published by Hurst and Blacket in
1854, Miss Mitford describes 'the scene of indescribable chaos preceding
the performance, the vague sense of obscurity and confusion; tragedians,
hatted and coated, skipping about, chatting and joking; the only very
grave person being Liston himself. Ballet-girls walking through their
quadrilles to the sound of a solitary fiddle, striking up as if of its
own accord, from amid the tall stools and music-desks of the orchestra,
and piercing, one hardly knew how, through the din that was going on
incessantly. Oh, that din! Voices from every part; above, below, around,
and in every key. Heavy weights rolling here and falling there.
Bells ringing, one could not tell why, and the ubiquitous call-boy
everywhere.'

She describes her astonishment when the play succeeds. 'Not that I had
nerve enough to attend the first representation of my tragedies. I
sat still and trembling in some quiet apartment near, and thither some
friend flew to set my heart at ease. Generally the messenger of good
tidings was poor Haydon, whose quick and ardent spirit lent him wings on
such an occasion.'

We have the letter to her mother about 'Foscari,' from which I have
quoted; and on the occasion of the production of 'Rienzi' at Drury Lane
(two years later in October 1828), the letter to Sir William Elford
when the poor old mother was no longer here to rejoice in her daughter's
success.

Miss Mitford gratefully records the sympathy of her friends, the
warm-hearted muses of the day. Mrs. Trollope, Miss Landon, Miss
Edgeworth, Miss Porden, Mrs. Hofland, Mrs. Opie, who all appear with
their congratulations.

Miss Mitford says that Haydon, above all, sympathised with her love for
a large canvas. The Classics, Spain, Italy, Mediaeval Rome, these are
her favourite scenes and periods. Dukes and tribunes were her heroes;
daggers, dungeons, and executioners her means of effects.

She moralises very sensibly upon Dramatic success. 'It is not,' she
says, 'so delicious, so glorious, so complete a gratification as, in our
secret longings, we all expect. It does not fill the heart,--it is an
intoxication followed by a dismal reaction.' She tells a friend that
never in all her life was she so depressed and out of spirits as after
'Rienzi,' her first really successful venture. But there is also
a passing allusion to her father's state of mind, to his mingled
irritation and sulkiness, which partly explains things. Could it be
that the Doctor added petty jealousy and envy to his other inconvenient
qualities? His intolerance for any author or actor, in short, for any
one not belonging to a county family, his violent annoyance at any
acquaintances such as those which she now necessarily made, would
naturally account for some want of spirits on the daughter's part;
overwrought, over-taxed, for ever on the strain, her work was exhausting
indeed. The small pension she afterwards obtained from the Civil List
must have been an unspeakable boon to the poor harassed woman.

Tragedy seems to have resulted in a substantial pony and a basket
carriage for Miss Mitford, and in various invitations (from the
Talfourds, among the rest) during which she is lionised right and left.
It must have been on this occasion that Serjeant Talfourd complained so
bitterly of a review of 'Ion' which appeared about that time. His guest,
to soothe him, unwarily said, 'she should not have minded such a review
of HER Tragedy.'

'YOUR "Rienzi," indeed! I should think not,' says the serjeant. '"Ion"
is very different.' The Talfourd household, as it is described by Mr.
Lestrange, is a droll mixture of poetry and prose, of hospitality, of
untidiness, of petulance, of most genuine kindness and most genuine
human nature.

There are also many mentions of Miss Mitford in the 'Life of Macready'
by Sir F. Pollock. The great tragedian seems not to have liked her
with any cordiality; but he gives a pleasant account of a certain
supper-party in honour of 'Ion' at which she is present, and during
which she asks Macready if he will not now bring out her tragedy. The
tragedian does not answer, but Wordsworth, sitting by, says, 'Ay, keep
him to it.'


V.

Besides the 'Life of Miss Mitford' by Messrs. Harness and Lestrange,
there is also a book of the 'Friendships of Mary Russell Mitford,'
consisting of the letters she received rather than of those which she
wrote. It certainly occurs to one, as one looks through the printed
correspondence of celebrated people, how different are written from
printed letters. Your friend's voice sounds, your friend's eyes look
out, of the written page, even its blots and erasures remind you of your
human being. But the magnetism is gone out of these printer's lines with
their even margins; in which everybody's handwriting is exactly alike;
in which everybody uses the same type, the same expressions; in which
the eye roams from page to page untouched, unconvinced. I can imagine
the pleasure each one of these letters may have given to Miss Mitford
to receive in turn. They come from well-known ladies, accustomed to be
considered. Mrs. Trollope, Mrs. Hofland, Mrs. Howitt, Mrs. S. C. Hall,
Miss Strickland, Mrs. Opie; there, too, are Miss Barrett and Mrs.
Jamieson and Miss Sedgwick who writes from America; they are all
interesting people, but it must be confessed that the correspondence is
not very enlivening. Miss Barrett's is an exception, that is almost as
good as handwriting to read. But there is no doubt that compliments
to OTHER authoresses are much less amusing, than those one writes or
receives oneself; apologies also for not writing sooner, CAN pall
upon one in print, however soothing they may be to the justly offended
recipient, or to the conscience-stricken correspondent.

'I must have seemed a thankless wretch, my dear Miss Mitford,' etc. etc.
'You, my dear friend, know too well what it is to have to finish a book,
to blame my not attempting,' etc. etc. 'This is the thirty-ninth letter
I have written since yesterday morning,' says Harriet Martineau. 'Oh,
I can scarcely hold the pen! I will not allow my shame for not having
written, to prevent me from writing now.' All these people seem to have
been just as busy as people are now, as amusing, as tiresome. They had
the additional difficulty of having to procure franks, and of having to
cover four pages instead of a post-card. OUR letters may be dull, but at
all events they are not nearly so long. We come sooner to the point and
avoid elegant circumlocutions. But one is struck, among other things,
by the keener literary zest of those days, and by the immense numbers
of MSS. and tragedies in circulation, all of which their authors
confidingly send from one to another. There are also whole flights of
travelling poems flapping their wings and uttering their cries as they
go.

An enthusiastic American critic who comes over to England emphasises the
situation. Mr. Willis's 'superlative admiration' seems to give point
to everything, and to all the enthusiasm. Miss Austen's Collins himself
could not have been more appreciative, not even if Miss de Burgh had
tried her hand at a MS.... Could he--Mr. Willis--choose, he would have
tragedy once a year from Miss Mitford's pen. 'WHAT an intoxicating life
it is,' he cries; 'I met Jane Porter and Miss Aikin and Tom Moore and a
troop more beaux esprits at dinner yesterday! I never shall be content
elsewhere.'

Miss Mitford's own letters speak in a much more natural voice.

'I never could understand what people could find to like in my letters,'
Miss Mitford writes, 'unless it be that they have a ROOT to them.' The
root was in her own kind heart. Miss Mitford may have been wanting a
little in discrimination, but she was never wanting in sympathy. She
seems to have loved people for kindness's sake indiscriminately as if
they were creations of her own brain: but to friendliness or to trouble
of any sort she responds with fullest measure. Who shall complain if
some rosy veil coloured the aspects of life for her?

'Among the many blessings I enjoy,--my dear father, my admirable mother,
my tried and excellent friends,--there is nothing for which I ought to
thank God so earnestly as for the constitutional buoyancy of spirits,
the aptness to hope, the will to be happy WHICH I INHERIT FROM MY
FATHER,' she writes. Was ever filial piety so irritating as hers? It is
difficult to bear, with any patience, her praises of Dr. Mitford. His
illusions were no less a part of his nature than his daughter's, the one
a self-centred absolutely selfish existence, the other generous, humble,
beautiful. She is hardly ever really angry except when some reports get
about concerning her marriage. There was an announcement that she was
engaged to one of her own clan, and the news spread among her friends.
The romantic Mrs. Hofland had conjured up the suggestion, to Miss
Mitford's extreme annoyance. It is said Mrs. Hofland also married off
Miss Edgeworth in the same manner.

Mary Mitford found her true romance in friendship, not in love. One day
Mr. Kenyon came to see her while she was staying in London, and offered
to show her the Zoological Gardens, and on the way he proposed calling
in Gloucester Place to take up a young lady, a connection of his own,
Miss Barrett by name. It was thus that Miss Mitford first made the
acquaintance of Mrs. Browning, whose friendship was one of the happiest
events of her whole life. A happy romance indeed, with that added
reality which must have given it endurance. And indeed to make a new
friend is like learning a new language. I myself have a friend who says
that we have each one of us a chosen audience of our own to whom we turn
instinctively, and before whom we rehearse that which is in our minds;
whose opinion influences us, whose approval is our secret aim. All this
Mrs. Browning seems to have been to Miss Mitford.

'I sit and think of you and of the poems that you will write, and of
that strange rainbow crown called fame, until the vision is before
me.... My pride and my hopes seem altogether merged in you. At my time
of life and with so few to love, and with a tendency to body forth
images of gladness, you cannot think what joy it is to anticipate....'
So wrote the elder woman to the younger with romantic devotion. What
Miss Mitford once said of herself was true, hers was the instinct of
the bee sucking honey from the hedge flower. Whatever sweetness and
happiness there was to find she turned to with unerring directness.

It is to Miss Barrett that she sometimes complains. 'It will help you to
understand how impossible it is for me to earn money as I ought to
do, when I tell you that this very day I received your dear letter and
sixteen others; then my father brought into my room the newspaper to
hear the ten or twelve columns of news from India; then I dined and
breakfasted in one; then I got up, and by that time there were three
parties of people in the garden; eight others arrived soon after.... I
was forced to leave, being engaged to call on Lady Madeline Palmer. She
took me some six miles on foot in Mr. Palmer's beautiful plantations, in
search of that exquisite wild-flower the bog-bean, do you know it? most
beautiful of flowers, either wild--or, as K. puts it,--"tame." After
long search we found the plant not yet in bloom.'

Dr. Mitford weeps over his daughters exhaustion, telling everybody that
she is killing herself by her walks and drives. He would like her
never to go beyond the garden and beyond reach of the columns of his
newspaper. She declares that it is only by getting out and afield that
she can bear the strain and the constant alternation of enforced
work and anxiety. Nature was, indeed, a second nature to her. Charles
Kingsley himself could scarcely write better of the East wind....

'We have had nine weeks of drought and east wind, scarcely a flower to
be seen, no verdure in the meadows, no leaves in the hedgerows; if a
poor violet or primrose did make its appearance it was scentless. I have
not once heard my aversion the cuckoo... and in this place, so evidently
the rendezvous of swallows, that it takes its name from them, not
a swallow has yet appeared. The only time that I have heard the
nightingale, I drove, the one mild day we have had, to a wood where I
used to find the woodsorrel in beds; only two blossoms of that could be
found, but a whole chorus of nightingales saluted me the moment I drove
into the wood.'

There is something of Madame de Sevigne in her vivid realisation of
natural things.

She nursed her father through a long and trying illness, and when he
died found herself alone in the world with impaired health and very
little besides her pension from the Civil List to live upon. Dr. Mitford
left 1000 pounds worth of debts, which this honourable woman then and
there set to work to try and pay. So much courage and devotion touched
the hearts of her many friends and readers, and this sum was actually
subscribed by them. Queens, archbishops, dukes, and marquises subscribe
to the testimonial, so do the literary ladies, Mesdames Bailey,
Edgeworth, Trollope; Mrs. Opie is determined to collect twenty pounds at
least, although she justly says she wishes it were for anything but to
pay the Doctor's debts.

In 1844 it is delightful to read of a little ease at last in this
harassed life; of a school-feast with buns and flags organised by the
kind lady, the children riding in waggons decked with laurel, Miss
Mitford leading the way, followed by eight or ten neighbouring
carriages, and the whole party waiting in Swallowfield Lane to see
the Queen and Prince Albert returning from their visit to the Duke of
Wellington. 'Our Duke went to no great expense,' says Miss Mitford. (Dr.
Mitford would have certainly disapproved had he been still alive.) One
strip of carpet the Duke did buy, the rest of the furniture he hired
in Reading for the week. The ringers, after being hard at work for four
hours, sent a can to the house to ask for some beer, and the can was
sent back empty.

It was towards the end of her life that Miss Mitford left Three Mile
Cross and came to Swallowfield to stay altogether. 'The poor cottage was
tumbling around us, and if we had stayed much longer we should have
been buried in the ruins,' she says; 'there I had toiled and striven and
tasted as bitterly of bitter anxiety, of fear and hope, as often falls
to the lot of women.' Then comes a charming description of the three
miles of straight and dusty road. 'I walked from one cottage to the
other on an autumn evening when the vagrant birds, whose habit of
assembling there for their annual departure, gives, I suppose, its
name of Swallowfield to the village, were circling over my head, and
I repeated to myself the pathetic lines of Hayley as he saw those same
birds gathering upon his roof during his last illness:--

     '"Ye gentle birds, that perch aloof,
       And smooth your pinions on my roof...

     '"Prepare for your departure hence
       Ere winter's angry threats commence;
       Like you my soul would smooth her plume
       For longer flights beyond the tomb.

     '"May God by whom is seen and heard
       Departing men and wandering bird,
       In mercy mark us for His own
       And guide us to the land unknown!"'

Thoughts soothing and tender came with those touching lines, and gayer
images followed....

It is from Swallowfield that she writes: 'I have fell this blessing of
being able to respond to new friendships very strongly lately, for I
have lost many old and valued connections during this trying spring. I
thank God far more earnestly for such blessings than for my daily bread,
for friendship is the bread of the heart.'

It was late in life to make such warm new ties as those which followed
her removal from Three Mile Cross; but some of the most cordial
friendships of her life date from this time. Mr. James Payn and Mr.
Fields she loved with some real motherly feeling, and Lady Russell who
lived at the Hall became her tender and devoted friend.


VI.

We went down to Reading the other day, as so many of Miss Mitford's
friends have done before, to look at 'our village' with our own eyes,
and at the cottage in which she lived for so long. A phaeton with a
fast-stepping horse met us at the station and whirled us through the
busy town and along the straight dusty road beyond it. As we drove along
in the soft clouded sunshine I looked over the hedges on either side,
and I could see fields and hedgerows and red roofs clustering here
and there, while the low background of blue hills spread towards the
horizon. It was an unpretentious homely prospect intercepted each minute
by the detestable advertisement hoardings recommending this or that
rival pill. 'Tongues in trees' indeed, in a very different sense from
the exiled duke's experience! Then we come within sight of the running
brook, uncontaminated as yet; the river flowing cool and swift, without
quack medicines stamped upon its waters: we reach Whitley presently,
with its pretty gabled hostel (Mrs. Mitford used to drive to Whitley and
back for her airing), the dust rises on the fresh keen wind, the scent
of the ripe corn is in the air, the cows stoop under the elm trees,
looking exactly as they do in Mr. Thomson's pretty pictures, dappled
and brown, with delicate legs and horns. We pass very few people, a baby
lugged along in its cart, and accompanied by its brothers and sisters;
a fox-terrier comes barking at our wheels; at last the phaeton stops
abruptly between two or three roadside houses, and the coachman,
pointing with his whip, says, 'That is "The Mitford," ma'am.--That's
where Miss Mitford used to live!'

Was that all? I saw two or three commonplace houses skirting the dusty
road, I saw a comfortable public-house with an elm tree, and beside it
another grey unpretentious little house, with a slate roof and square
walls, and an inscription, 'The Mitford,' painted over the doorway....

I had been expecting I knew not what; a spire, a pump, a green, a
winding street: my preconceived village in the air had immediately to be
swept into space, and in its stead, behold the inn with its sign-post,
and these half-dozen brick tenements, more or less cut to one square
pattern! So this was all! this was 'our village' of which the author
had written so charmingly! These were the sights the kind eyes had dwelt
upon, seeing in them all, the soul of hidden things, rather than dull
bricks and slates. Except for one memory, Three Mile Cross would seem to
be one of the dullest and most uninteresting of country places....

But we have Miss Mitford's own description. 'The Cross is not a borough,
thank Heaven, either rotten or independent. The inhabitants are quiet,
peaceable people who would not think of visiting us, even if we had a
knocker to knock at. Our residence is a cottage' (she is writing to
her correspondent, Sir William Elford), 'no, not a cottage, it does not
deserve the name--a messuage or tenement such as a little farmer who had
made 1400 pounds might retire to when he left off business to live on
his means. It consists of a series of closets, the largest of which may
be about eight feet square, which they call parlours and kitchens
and pantries, some of them minus a corner, which has been unnaturally
filched for a chimney, others deficient in half a side, which has been
truncated by a shelving roof. Behind is a garden about the size of a
good drawing-room, with an arbour, which is a complete sentry-box of
privet. On one side a public-house, on the other a village shop, and
right opposite a cobbler's stall. Notwithstanding all this "the cabin,"
as Boabdil says, "is convenient." It is within reach of my dear old
walks, the banks where I find my violets, the meadows full of cowslips,
and the woods where the woodsorrel blows.... Papa has already had the
satisfaction of setting the neighbourhood to rights and committing a
disorderly person who was the pest of "The Cross" to Bridewell....
Mamma has furbished up an old dairy; I have lost my only key and stuffed
the garden with flowers....' So writes the contented young woman.

How much more delightful is all this than any commonplace stagey effect
of lattice and gable; and with what pleasant unconscious art the writer
of this letter describes what is NOT there and brings in her banks of
violets to perfume the dull rooms. The postscript to this letter is Miss
Mitford all over. 'Pray excuse my blots and interlineations. They have
been caused by my attention being distracted by a nightingale in full
song who is pouring a world of music through my window.'

'Do you not like to meet with good company in your friends' hearts?'
Miss Mitford says somewhere,--to no one better than to herself does this
apply. Her heart was full of gracious things, and the best of company
was ever hers, 'La fleur de la hotte,' as Madame de Sevigne says.

We walked into the small square hall where Dr. Mitford's bed was
established after his illness, whilst visitors and all the rest of the
household came and went through the kitchen door. In the parlour,
once kept for his private use, now sat a party of homely friends from
Reading, resting and drinking tea: we too were served with smoking cups,
and poured our libation to her who once presided in the quiet place; and
then the landlady took us round and about, showed us the kitchen with
its comfortable corners and low window-frames--'I suppose this is
scarcely changed at all?' said one of us.

'Oh yes, ma'am,' says the housekeeper--'WE uses a Kitchener, Miss
Mitford always kept an open range.'

The garden, with its sentry-box of privet, exists no longer; an iron
mission-room stands in its place, with the harmonium, the rows of straw
chairs, the table and the candlesticks de circonstance. Miss Mitford's
picture hangs on the wall, a hand-coloured copy of one of her portraits.
The kindly homely features smile from the oils, in good humour and
attentive intelligence. The sentiment of to-day is assuredly to be found
in the spirit of things rather than in their outward signs.... Any one
of us can feel the romance of a wayside shrine put up to the memory of
some mediaeval well-dressed saint with a nimbus at the back of her
head, and a trailing cloak and veil.... Here, after all, is the same
sentiment, only translated into nineteenth-century language; uses
corrogated iron sheds, and cups of tea, and oakum matting. 'Mr. Palmer,
he bought the place,' says the landlady, 'he made it into a Temperance
Hotel, and built the Temperance Hall in the garden.'....

No romantic marble shrine, but a square meeting-house of good intent,
a tribute not less sincere because it is square, than if it were drawn
into Gothic arch and curve. It speaks, not of a holy and mythical saint,
but of a good and warm-hearted woman; of a life-long penance borne with
charity and cheerfulness; of sweet fancies and blessings which have
given innocent pleasure to many generations!


VII.

There is a note, written in a close and pretty writing, something
between Sir Walter Scott's and Mrs. Browning's, which the present
writer has possessed for years, fastened in a book among other early
treasures:--

Thank you, dearest Miss Priscilla, for your great kindness. I return the
ninth volume of [illegible], with the four succeeding ones, all that I
have; probably all that are yet published. You shall have the rest when
I get them. Tell dear Mr. George (I must not call him Vert-Vert) that I
have recollected the name of the author of the clever novel 'Le Rouge et
le Noir' (that is the right title of the book, which has nothing to do
with the name); the author's name is Stendhal, or so he calls himself. I
think that he was either a musician or a musical critic, and that he is
dead.... My visitor has not yet arrived (6 o'clock, p.m.), frightened
no doubt by the abruptness of the two notes which I wrote in reply to
hers yesterday morning; and indeed nobody could fancy the hurry in which
one is forced to write by this walking post....

Tell my visitors of yesterday with my kind love that they did me all the
good in the world, as indeed everybody of your house does.

--Ever, dear Miss Priscilla, very affectionately yours,

M. R. MITFORD.

In the present writer's own early days, when the now owner of
Swallowfield was a very young, younger son, she used to hear him and his
sister, Mrs. Brackenbury (the Miss Priscilla of the note), speaking with
affectionate remembrance of the old friend lately gone, who had dwelt at
their very gates; through which friendly gates one is glad, indeed, to
realise what delightful companionship and loving help came to cheer the
end of that long and toilsome life; and when Messrs. Macmillan suggested
this preface the writer looked for her old autograph-book, and at its
suggestion wrote (wondering whether any links existed still) to ask for
information concerning Miss Mitford, and so it happened that she found
herself also kindly entertained at Swallowfield, and invited to visit
the scenes of which the author of 'Our Village' had written with so much
delight.

I think I should like to reverse the old proverb about letting those who
run read, my own particular fancy being for reading first and running
afterwards. There are few greater pleasures than to meet with an
Individuality, to listen to it speaking from a printed page, recounting,
suggesting, growing upon you every hour, gaining in life and presence,
and then, while still under its influence, to find oneself suddenly
transported into the very scene of that life, to stand among its
familiar impressions and experiences, realising another distinct
existence by some odd metempsychosis, and what may--or rather, what
MUST have been. It is existing a book rather than reading it when this
happens to one.

The house in Swallowfield Park is an old English country home, a
fastness still piled up against time; whose stately walls and halls
within, and beautiful century-old trees in the park without, record
great times and striking figures. The manor was a part of the dowry
of Henry the VIII.'s luckless queens. The modern house was built by
Clarendon, and the old church among the elms dates from 1200, with
carved signs and symbols and brasses of knights and burgesses, and names
of strange sound and bygone fashion.

Lady Russell, who had sent the phaeton with the fast-stepping horse to
meet us, was walking in the park as we drove up, and instead of taking
us back to the house, she first led the way across the grass and by the
stream to the old church, standing in its trim sweet garden, where Death
itself seems smiling and fearless; where kind Mary Mitford's warm heart
rests quiet, and 'her busy hand,' as she says herself, 'is lying in
peace there, where the sun glances through the great elm trees in the
beautiful churchyard of Swallowfield.'

The last baronet, Sir Charles, who fought in the Crimea, and who
succeeded his father, Sir Henry, moved the dividing rail so that his old
friend should be well within the shadow of these elm trees. Lady Russell
showed us the tranquil green place, and told us its story, and how the
old church had once been doomed to destruction when Kingsley came over
by chance, and pleaded that it should be spared; and how, when rubbish
and outward signs of decay had been cleared away, the restorers were
rewarded for their piety, by coming upon noble beams of oak,
untouched by time, upon some fine old buried monuments and brasses and
inscriptions, among which the people still say their prayers in the
shrine where their fathers knelt, and of which the tradition is not yet
swept away. The present Lady of the Manor, who loves old traditions, has
done her part to preserve the records for her children.

So Miss Mitford walked from Three Mile Cross to Swallowfield to end her
days, with these kind friends to cheer and to comfort her. Sir Henry
Russell was alive when she first established herself, but he was
already suffering from some sudden seizure, which she, with her usual
impetuosity, describes in her letters as a chronic state of things.
After his death, his widow, the Lady Russell of those days, was her
kindest friend and comforter.

The little Swallowfield cottage at the meeting of the three roads, to
which Mary Mitford came when she left Three Mile Cross, has thrown out
a room or two, as cottages do, but otherwise I think it can be little
changed. It was here Miss Mitford was visited by so many interesting
people, here she used to sit writing at her big table under the 'tassels
of her acacia tree.' When the present Lady of the Manor brought us to
the gate, the acacia flowers were over, but a balmy breath of summer
was everywhere; a beautiful rose was hanging upon the wall beneath the
window (it must have taken many years to grow to such a height), and
beyond the palings of the garden spread the fields, ripening in the
late July, and turning to gold. The farmer and his son were at work with
their scythes; the birds were still flying, the sweet scents were in the
air.

From a lady who had known her, 'my own Miss Anne' of the letters, we
heard something more that day of the author of 'Our Village'; of her
charming intellect, her gift of talk, her impulsiveness, her essential
sociability, and rapid grace of mind. She had the faults of her
qualities; she jumped too easily to conclusions; she was too much
under the influence of those with whom she lived. She was born to be a
victim,--even after her old tyrant father's death, she was more or less
over-ridden by her servants. Neighbours looked somewhat doubtfully on
K. and Ben, but they were good to her, on the whole, and tended her
carefully. Miss Russell said that when she and her brother took refuge
in the cottage, one morning from a storm, while they dried themselves
by the fire, they saw the careful meal carried up to the old lady, the
kidneys, the custard, for her dejeuner a la fourchette.

When Miss Mitford died, she left everything she had to her beloved
K. and to Ben, except that she said she wished that one book from her
well-stocked library should be given to each of her friends. The old
Doctor, with all his faults, had loved books, and bought handsome and
valuable first editions of good authors. K. and Ben also seem to have
loved books and first editions. To the Russells, who had nursed Miss
Mitford, comforted her, by whose gates she dwelt, in whose arms she
died, Ben brought, as a token of remembrance, an old shilling volume
of one of G. P. R. James's novels, which was all he could bear to part
with. A prettier incident was told me by Miss Russell, who once went to
visit Miss Mitford's grave. She found a young man standing there whom
she did not know. 'Don't you know me?' said he; 'I am Henry, ma'am. I
have just come back from Australia.' He was one of the children of the
couple who had lived in the cottage, and his first visit on his return
from abroad had been to the tomb of his old protectress.

I also heard a friend who knew Miss Mitford in her latest days, describe
going to see her within a very few months of her death; she was still
bright and responding as ever, though very ill. The young visitor had
herself been laid up and absent from the invalid's bedside for some
time. They talked over many things,--an authoress among the rest,
concerning whose power of writing a book Miss Mitford seems to have been
very doubtful. After her visitor was gone, the sick woman wrote one of
her delicate pretty little notes and despatched it with its tiny seal
(there it is still unbroken, with its M. R. M. just as she stamped it),
and this is the little letter:--

Thank you, dearest Miss... for once again showing me your fair face by
the side of the dear, dear friend [Lady Russell] for whose goodness
I have neither thanks nor words. To the end of my life I shall go on
sinning and repenting. Heartily sorry have I been ever since you went
away to have spoken so unkindly to Mrs.... Heaven forgive me for it,
and send her a happier conclusion to her life than the beginning might
warrant. If you have an idle lover, my dear, present over to him my
sermon, for those were words of worth.

God bless you all! Ever, most faithfully and affectionately yours,

M. R. MITFORD.

Sunday Evening.


VIII.

When one turns from Miss Mitford's works to the notices in the
biographical dictionary (in which Miss Mitford and Mithridates occupy
the same page), one finds how firmly her reputation is established.
'Dame auteur,' says my faithful mentor, the Biographic Generale,
'consideree comme le peintre le plus fidele de la vie rurale en
Angleterre.' 'Author of a remarkable tragedy, "Julian," in which
Macready played a principal part, followed by "Foscari," "Rienzi," and
others,' says the English Biographical Dictionary.

'I am charmed with my new cottage,' she writes soon after her last
installation; 'the neighbours are most kind.' Kingsley was one of
the first to call upon her. 'He took me quite by surprise in his
extraordinary fascination,' says the old lady.

Mr. Fields, the American publisher, also went to see Miss Mitford at
Swallowfield, and immediately became a very great ally of hers. It was
to him that she gave her own portrait, by Lucas. Mr. Fields has left an
interesting account of her in his 'Yesterdays with Authors'--'Her dogs
and her geraniums,' he says, 'were her great glories! She used to write
me long letters about Fanchon, a dog whose personal acquaintance I had
made some time before, while on a visit to her cottage. Every virtue
under heaven she attributed to that canine individual; and I was obliged
to allow in my return letters that since our planet began to spin,
nothing comparable to Fanchon had ever run on four legs. I had
also known Flush, the ancestor of Fanchon, intimately, and had been
accustomed to hear wonderful things of that dog, but Fanchon had graces
and genius unique. Miss Mitford would have joined with Hamerton, when he
says, 'I humbly thank Divine Providence for having invented dogs, and I
regard that man with wondering pity who can lead a dogless life.'

Another of Miss Mitford's great friends was John Ruskin,* and one can
well imagine how much they must have had in common. Of Miss Mitford's
writings Ruskin says, 'They have the playfulness and purity of the
"Vicar of Wakefield" without the naughtiness of its occasional wit, or
the dust of the world's great road on the other side of the hedge.... '

*It is Mr. Harness who says, writing of Ruskin and Miss Mitford, 'His
kindness cheered her closing days. He sent her every book that would
interest, every delicacy that would strengthen her.'

Neither the dust nor the ethics of the world of men quite belonged to
Miss Mitford's genius. It is always a sort of relief to turn from her
criticism of people, her praise of Louis Napoleon, her facts about Mr.
Dickens, whom she describes as a dull companion, or about my father,
whom she looked upon as an utter heartless worldling, to the natural
spontaneous sweet flow of nature in which she lived and moved
instinctively.

Mr. James Payn gives, perhaps, the most charming of all the descriptions
of the author of 'Our Village.' He has many letters from her to quote
from. 'The paper is all odds and ends,' he says, 'and not a scrap of
it but is covered and crossed. The very flaps of the envelopes and the
outsides of them have their message.'

Mr. Payn went to see her at Swallowfield, and describes the small
apartment lined with books from floor to ceiling and fragrant with
flowers. 'Its tenant rose from her arm-chair with difficulty, but with a
sunny smile and a charming manner bade me welcome. My father had been
an old friend of hers, and she spoke of my home and belongings as only a
woman can speak of such things, then we plunged into medea res, into men
and books. She seemed to me to have known everybody worth knowing from
the Duke of Wellington to the last new verse-maker. And she talked like
an angel, but her views upon poetry as a calling in life, shocked me
not a little. She said she preferred a mariage de convenance to a love
match, because it generally turned out better. "This surprises you," she
said, smiling, "but then I suppose I am the least romantic person that
ever wrote plays." She was much more proud of her plays, even then
well-nigh forgotten, than of the works by which she was well known,
and which at that time brought people from the ends of the earth to see
her....

'Nothing ever destroyed her faith in those she loved. If I had not known
all about him from my own folk I should have thought her father had been
a patriot and a martyr. She spoke of him as if there had never been such
a father--which in a sense was true.'

Mr. Payn quotes Miss Mitford's charming description of K., 'for whom
she had the highest admiration.' 'K. is a great curiosity, by far the
cleverest woman in these parts, not in a literary way [this was not to
disappoint me], but in everything that is useful. She could make a Court
dress for a duchess or cook a dinner for a Lord Mayor, but her principal
talent is shown in managing everybody whom she comes near. Especially
her husband and myself; she keeps the money of both and never allows
either of us to spend sixpence without her knowledge.... You should see
the manner in which she makes Ben reckon with her, and her contempt for
all women who do not manage their husbands.'

Another delightful quotation is from one of Charles Kingsley's letters
to Mr. Payn. It brings the past before us from another point of view.

'I can never forget the little figure rolled up in two chairs in the
little Swallowfield room, packed round with books up to the ceiling--the
little figure with clothes on of no recognised or recognisable pattern;
and somewhere, out of the upper end of the heap, gleaming under a great
deep globular brow, two such eyes as I never perhaps saw in any other
Englishwoman--though I believe she must have had French blood in her
veins to breed such eyes and such a tongue, the beautiful speech which
came out of that ugly (it was that) face, and the glitter and depth too
of the eyes, like live coals--perfectly honest the while....' One would
like to go on quoting and copying, but here my preface must cease, for
it is but a preface after all, one of those many prefaces written out of
the past and when everything is over.



COUNTRY PICTURES.

Of all situations for a constant residence, that which appears to
me most delightful is a little village far in the country; a small
neighbourhood, not of fine mansions finely peopled, but of cottages and
cottage-like houses, 'messuages or tenements,' as a friend of mine calls
such ignoble and nondescript dwellings, with inhabitants whose faces are
as familiar to us as the flowers in our garden; a little world of our
own, close-packed and insulated like ants in an ant-hill, or bees in a
hive, or sheep in a fold, or nuns in a convent, or sailors in a ship;
where we know every one, are known to every one, interested in every
one, and authorised to hope that every one feels an interest in us. How
pleasant it is to slide into these true-hearted feelings from the kindly
and unconscious influence of habit, and to learn to know and to love the
people about us, with all their peculiarities, just as we learn to know
and to love the nooks and turns of the shady lanes and sunny commons
that we pass every day. Even in books I like a confined locality, and so
do the critics when they talk of the unities. Nothing is so tiresome as
to be whirled half over Europe at the chariot-wheels of a hero, to go
to sleep at Vienna, and awaken at Madrid; it produces a real fatigue, a
weariness of spirit. On the other hand, nothing is so delightful as to
sit down in a country village in one of Miss Austen's delicious novels,
quite sure before we leave it to become intimate with every spot and
every person it contains; or to ramble with Mr. White* over his own
parish of Selborne, and form a friendship with the fields and coppices,
as well as with the birds, mice, and squirrels, who inhabit them; or to
sail with Robinson Crusoe to his island, and live there with him and his
goats and his man Friday;--how much we dread any new comers, any fresh
importation of savage or sailor! we never sympathise for a moment in our
hero's want of company, and are quite grieved when he gets away;--or to
be shipwrecked with Ferdinand on that other lovelier island--the island
of Prospero, and Miranda, and Caliban, and Ariel, and nobody else,
none of Dryden's exotic inventions:--that is best of all. And a small
neighbourhood is as good in sober waking reality as in poetry or prose;
a village neighbourhood, such as this Berkshire hamlet in which I write,
a long, straggling, winding street at the bottom of a fine eminence,
with a road through it, always abounding in carts, horsemen, and
carriages, and lately enlivened by a stage-coach from B---- to S----,
which passed through about ten days ago, and will I suppose return some
time or other. There are coaches of all varieties nowadays; perhaps this
may be intended for a monthly diligence, or a fortnight fly. Will you
walk with me through our village, courteous reader? The journey is not
long. We will begin at the lower end, and proceed up the hill.

*White's 'Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne;' one of the most
fascinating books ever written. I wonder that no naturalist has adopted
the same plan.

The tidy, square, red cottage on the right hand, with the long
well-stocked garden by the side of the road, belongs to a retired
publican from a neighbouring town; a substantial person with a comely
wife; one who piques himself on independence and idleness, talks
politics, reads newspapers, hates the minister, and cries out for
reform. He introduced into our peaceful vicinage the rebellious
innovation of an illumination on the Queen's acquittal. Remonstrance and
persuasion were in vain; he talked of liberty and broken windows--so we
all lighted up. Oh! how he shone that night with candles, and laurel,
and white bows, and gold paper, and a transparency (originally designed
for a pocket-handkerchief) with a flaming portrait of her Majesty,
hatted and feathered, in red ochre. He had no rival in the village, that
we all acknowledged; the very bonfire was less splendid; the little boys
reserved their best crackers to be expended in his honour, and he gave
them full sixpence more than any one else. He would like an illumination
once a month; for it must not be concealed that, in spite of gardening,
of newspaper reading, of jaunting about in his little cart, and
frequenting both church and meeting, our worthy neighbour begins to feel
the weariness of idleness. He hangs over his gate, and tries to entice
passengers to stop and chat; he volunteers little jobs all round,
smokes cherry trees to cure the blight, and traces and blows up all the
wasps'-nests in the parish. I have seen a great many wasps in our garden
to-day, and shall enchant him with the intelligence. He even assists his
wife in her sweepings and dustings. Poor man! he is a very respectable
person, and would be a very happy one, if he would add a little
employment to his dignity. It would be the salt of life to him.

Next to his house, though parted from it by another long garden with a
yew arbour at the end, is the pretty dwelling of the shoemaker, a pale,
sickly-looking, black-haired man, the very model of sober industry.
There he sits in his little shop from early morning till late at night.
An earthquake would hardly stir him: the illumination did not. He stuck
immovably to his last, from the first lighting up, through the long
blaze and the slow decay, till his large solitary candle was the only
light in the place. One cannot conceive anything more perfect than the
contempt which the man of transparencies and the man of shoes must have
felt for each other on that evening. There was at least as much vanity
in the sturdy industry as in the strenuous idleness, for our shoemaker
is a man of substance; he employs three journeymen, two lame, and one
a dwarf, so that his shop looks like an hospital; he has purchased the
lease of his commodious dwelling, some even say that he has bought it
out and out; and he has only one pretty daughter, a light, delicate,
fair-haired girl of fourteen, the champion, protectress, and playfellow
of every brat under three years old, whom she jumps, dances, dandles,
and feeds all day long. A very attractive person is that child-loving
girl. I have never seen any one in her station who possessed so
thoroughly that undefinable charm, the lady-look. See her on a Sunday
in her simplicity and her white frock, and she might pass for an earl's
daughter. She likes flowers too, and has a profusion of white stocks
under her window, as pure and delicate as herself.

The first house on the opposite side of the way is the blacksmith's;
a gloomy dwelling, where the sun never seems to shine; dark and smoky
within and without, like a forge. The blacksmith is a high officer in
our little state, nothing less than a constable; but, alas! alas! when
tumults arise, and the constable is called for, he will commonly be
found in the thickest of the fray. Lucky would it be for his wife
and her eight children if there were no public-house in the land:
an inveterate inclination to enter those bewitching doors is Mr.
Constable's only fault.

Next to this official dwelling is a spruce brick tenement, red, high,
and narrow, boasting, one above another, three sash-windows, the only
sash-windows in the village, with a clematis on one side and a rose on
the other, tall and narrow like itself. That slender mansion has a fine,
genteel look. The little parlour seems made for Hogarth's old maid and
her stunted footboy; for tea and card parties,--it would just hold one
table; for the rustle of faded silks, and the splendour of old china;
for the delight of four by honours, and a little snug, quiet scandal
between the deals; for affected gentility and real starvation. This
should have been its destiny; but fate has been unpropitious: it belongs
to a plump, merry, bustling dame, with four fat, rosy, noisy children,
the very essence of vulgarity and plenty.

Then comes the village shop, like other village shops, multifarious as
a bazaar; a repository for bread, shoes, tea, cheese, tape, ribands, and
bacon; for everything, in short, except the one particular thing which
you happen to want at the moment, and will be sure not to find. The
people are civil and thriving, and frugal withal; they have let the
upper part of their house to two young women (one of them is a pretty
blue-eyed girl) who teach little children their A B C, and make caps and
gowns for their mammas,--parcel schoolmistress, parcel mantua-maker.
I believe they find adorning the body a more profitable vocation than
adorning the mind.

Divided from the shop by a narrow yard, and opposite the shoemaker's,
is a habitation of whose inmates I shall say nothing. A cottage--no--a
miniature house, with many additions, little odds and ends of places,
pantries, and what not; all angles, and of a charming in-and-outness;
a little bricked court before one half, and a little flower-yard before
the other; the walls, old and weather-stained, covered with hollyhocks,
roses, honeysuckles, and a great apricot-tree; the casements full of
geraniums (ah! there is our superb white cat peeping out from among
them); the closets (our landlord has the assurance to call them rooms)
full of contrivances and corner-cupboards; and the little garden behind
full of common flowers, tulips, pinks, larkspurs, peonies, stocks, and
carnations, with an arbour of privet, not unlike a sentry-box, where one
lives in a delicious green light, and looks out on the gayest of all
gay flower-beds. That house was built on purpose to show in what an
exceeding small compass comfort may be packed. Well, I will loiter there
no longer.

The next tenement is a place of importance, the Rose Inn: a white-washed
building, retired from the road behind its fine swinging sign, with a
little bow-window room coming out on one side, and forming, with our
stable on the other, a sort of open square, which is the constant resort
of carts, waggons, and return chaises. There are two carts there now,
and mine host is serving them with beer in his eternal red waistcoat. He
is a thriving man and a portly, as his waistcoat attests, which has been
twice let out within this twelvemonth. Our landlord has a stirring wife,
a hopeful son, and a daughter, the belle of the village; not so pretty
as the fair nymph of the shoe-shop, and far less elegant, but ten times
as fine; all curl-papers in the morning, like a porcupine, all curls in
the afternoon, like a poodle, with more flounces than curl-papers, and
more lovers than curls. Miss Phoebe is fitter for town than country; and
to do her justice, she has a consciousness of that fitness, and turns
her steps townward as often as she can. She is gone to B---- to-day with
her last and principal lover, a recruiting sergeant--a man as tall as
Sergeant Kite, and as impudent. Some day or other he will carry off Miss
Phoebe.

In a line with the bow-window room is a low garden-wall, belonging to a
house under repair:--the white house opposite the collar-maker's shop,
with four lime-trees before it, and a waggon-load of bricks at the door.
That house is the plaything of a wealthy, well-meaning, whimsical person
who lives about a mile off. He has a passion for brick and mortar, and,
being too wise to meddle with his own residence, diverts himself with
altering and re-altering, improving and re-improving, doing and undoing
here. It is a perfect Penelope's web. Carpenters and bricklayers have
been at work for these eighteen months, and yet I sometimes stand and
wonder whether anything has really been done. One exploit in last June
was, however, by no means equivocal. Our good neighbour fancied that the
limes shaded the rooms, and made them dark (there was not a creature in
the house but the workmen), so he had all the leaves stripped from every
tree. There they stood, poor miserable skeletons, as bare as Christmas
under the glowing midsummer sun. Nature revenged herself, in her own
sweet and gracious manner; fresh leaves sprang out, and at nearly
Christmas the foliage was as brilliant as when the outrage was
committed.

Next door lives a carpenter, 'famed ten miles round, and worthy all his
fame,'--few cabinet-makers surpass him, with his excellent wife, and
their little daughter Lizzy, the plaything and queen of the village,
a child three years old according to the register, but six in size and
strength and intellect, in power and in self-will. She manages everybody
in the place, her schoolmistress included; turns the wheeler's children
out of their own little cart, and makes them draw her; seduces cakes
and lollypops from the very shop window; makes the lazy carry her, the
silent talk to her, the grave romp with her; does anything she pleases;
is absolutely irresistible. Her chief attraction lies in her exceeding
power of loving, and her firm reliance on the love and indulgence of
others. How impossible it would be to disappoint the dear little girl
when she runs to meet you, slides her pretty hand into yours, looks up
gladly in your face, and says 'Come!' You must go: you cannot help it.
Another part of her charm is her singular beauty. Together with a good
deal of the character of Napoleon, she has something of his square,
sturdy, upright form, with the finest limbs in the world, a complexion
purely English, a round laughing face, sunburnt and rosy, large merry
blue eyes, curling brown hair, and a wonderful play of countenance. She
has the imperial attitudes too, and loves to stand with her hands behind
her, or folded over her bosom; and sometimes, when she has a little
touch of shyness, she clasps them together on the top of her head,
pressing down her shining curls, and looking so exquisitely pretty! Yes,
Lizzy is queen of the village! She has but one rival in her dominions, a
certain white greyhound called Mayflower, much her friend, who resembles
her in beauty and strength, in playfulness, and almost in sagacity, and
reigns over the animal world as she over the human. They are both coming
with me, Lizzy and Lizzy's 'pretty May.' We are now at the end of the
street; a cross-lane, a rope-walk shaded with limes and oaks, and a cool
clear pond overhung with elms, lead us to the bottom of the hill. There
is still one house round the corner, ending in a picturesque wheeler's
shop. The dwelling-house is more ambitious. Look at the fine flowered
window-blinds, the green door with the brass knocker, and the somewhat
prim but very civil person, who is sending off a labouring man with sirs
and curtsies enough for a prince of the blood. Those are the curate's
lodgings--apartments his landlady would call them; he lives with his
own family four miles off, but once or twice a week he comes to his neat
little parlour to write sermons, to marry, or to bury, as the case may
require. Never were better or kinder people than his host and hostess;
and there is a reflection of clerical importance about them since
their connection with the Church, which is quite edifying--a decorum,
a gravity, a solemn politeness. Oh, to see the worthy wheeler carry the
gown after his lodger on a Sunday, nicely pinned up in his wife's best
handkerchief!--or to hear him rebuke a squalling child or a squabbling
woman! The curate is nothing to him. He is fit to be perpetual
churchwarden.

We must now cross the lane into the shady rope-walk. That pretty white
cottage opposite, which stands straggling at the end of the village in
a garden full of flowers, belongs to our mason, the shortest of men,
and his handsome, tall wife: he, a dwarf, with the voice of a giant; one
starts when he begins to talk as if he were shouting through a speaking
trumpet; she, the sister, daughter, and grand-daughter, of a long line
of gardeners, and no contemptible one herself. It is very magnanimous in
me not to hate her; for she beats me in my own way, in chrysanthemums,
and dahlias, and the like gauds. Her plants are sure to live; mine have
a sad trick of dying, perhaps because I love them, 'not wisely, but too
well,' and kill them with over-kindness. Half-way up the hill is another
detached cottage, the residence of an officer, and his beautiful family.
That eldest boy, who is hanging over the gate, and looking with such
intense childish admiration at my Lizzy, might be a model for a Cupid.

How pleasantly the road winds up the hill, with its broad green borders
and hedgerows so thickly timbered! How finely the evening sun falls on
that sandy excavated bank, and touches the farmhouse on the top of the
eminence! and how clearly defined and relieved is the figure of the
man who is just coming down! It is poor John Evans, the gardener--an
excellent gardener till about ten years ago, when he lost his wife, and
became insane. He was sent to St. Luke's, and dismissed as cured; but
his power was gone and his strength; he could no longer manage a garden,
nor submit to the restraint, nor encounter the fatigue of regular
employment: so he retreated to the workhouse, the pensioner and factotum
of the village, amongst whom he divides his services. His mind often
wanders, intent on some fantastic and impracticable plan, and lost to
present objects; but he is perfectly harmless, and full of a childlike
simplicity, a smiling contentedness, a most touching gratitude. Every
one is kind to John Evans, for there is that about him which must be
loved; and his unprotectedness, his utter defencelessness, have an
irresistible claim on every better feeling. I know nobody who inspires
so deep and tender a pity; he improves all around him. He is useful,
too, to the extent of his little power; will do anything, but loves
gardening best, and still piques himself on his old arts of pruning
fruit-trees, and raising cucumbers. He is the happiest of men just now,
for he has the management of a melon bed--a melon bed!--fie! What a
grand pompous name was that for three melon plants under a hand-light!
John Evans is sure that they will succeed. We shall see: as the
chancellor said, 'I doubt.'

We are now on the very brow of the eminence, close to the Hill-house and
its beautiful garden. On the outer edge of the paling, hanging over
the bank that skirts the road, is an old thorn--such a thorn! The
long sprays covered with snowy blossoms, so graceful, so elegant, so
lightsome, and yet so rich! There only wants a pool under the thorn to
give a still lovelier reflection, quivering and trembling, like a tuft
of feathers, whiter and greener than the life, and more prettily mixed
with the bright blue sky. There should indeed be a pool; but on the dark
grass-plat, under the high bank, which is crowned by that magnificent
plume, there is something that does almost as well,--Lizzy and Mayflower
in the midst of a game at romps, 'making a sunshine in the shady place;'
Lizzy rolling, laughing, clapping her hands, and glowing like a rose;
Mayflower playing about her like summer lightning, dazzling the eyes
with her sudden turns, her leaps, her bounds, her attacks, and her
escapes. She darts round the lovely little girl, with the same momentary
touch that the swallow skims over the water, and has exactly the same
power of flight, the same matchless ease and strength and grace. What a
pretty picture they would make; what a pretty foreground they do make to
the real landscape! The road winding down the hill with a slight bend,
like that in the High Street at Oxford; a waggon slowly ascending, and a
horseman passing it at a full trot--(ah! Lizzy, Mayflower will certainly
desert you to have a gambol with that blood-horse!) half-way down, just
at the turn, the red cottage of the lieutenant, covered with vines, the
very image of comfort and content; farther down, on the opposite side,
the small white dwelling of the little mason; then the limes and the
rope-walk; then the village street, peeping through the trees, whose
clustering tops hide all but the chimneys, and various roofs of the
houses, and here and there some angle of a wall; farther on, the elegant
town of B----, with its fine old church-towers and spires; the whole
view shut in by a range of chalky hills and over every part of the
picture, trees so profusely scattered, that it appears like a woodland
scene, with glades and villages intermixed. The trees are of all kinds
and all hues, chiefly the finely-shaped elm, of so bright and deep a
green, the tips of whose high outer branches drop down with such a crisp
and garland-like richness, and the oak, whose stately form is just
now so splendidly adorned by the sunny colouring of the young leaves.
Turning again up the hill, we find ourselves on that peculiar charm of
English scenery, a green common, divided by the road; the right side
fringed by hedgerows and trees, with cottages and farmhouses irregularly
placed, and terminated by a double avenue of noble oaks; the left,
prettier still, dappled by bright pools of water, and islands of
cottages and cottage-gardens, and sinking gradually down to cornfields
and meadows, and an old farmhouse, with pointed roofs and clustered
chimneys, looking out from its blooming orchard, and backed by woody
hills. The common is itself the prettiest part of the prospect; half
covered with low furze, whose golden blossoms reflect so intensely the
last beams of the setting sun, and alive with cows and sheep, and two
sets of cricketers; one of young men, surrounded by spectators, some
standing, some sitting, some stretched on the grass, all taking a
delighted interest in the game; the other, a merry group of little boys,
at a humble distance, for whom even cricket is scarcely lively enough,
shouting, leaping, and enjoying themselves to their hearts' content. But
cricketers and country boys are too important persons in our village
to be talked of merely as figures in the landscape. They deserve an
individual introduction--an essay to themselves--and they shall have it.
No fear of forgetting the good-humoured faces that meet us in our walks
every day.



WALKS IN THE COUNTRY.

Frost.

January 23rd.--At noon to-day I and my white greyhound, Mayflower,
set out for a walk into a very beautiful world,--a sort of silent
fairyland,--a creation of that matchless magician the hoar-frost. There
had been just snow enough to cover the earth and all its covers with one
sheet of pure and uniform white, and just time enough since the snow had
fallen to allow the hedges to be freed of their fleecy load, and clothed
with a delicate coating of rime. The atmosphere was deliciously calm;
soft, even mild, in spite of the thermometer; no perceptible air, but
a stillness that might almost be felt, the sky, rather gray than blue,
throwing out in bold relief the snow-covered roofs of our village,
and the rimy trees that rise above them, and the sun shining dimly as
through a veil, giving a pale fair light, like the moon, only brighter.
There was a silence, too, that might become the moon, as we stood at our
little gate looking up the quiet street; a Sabbath-like pause of work
and play, rare on a work-day; nothing was audible but the pleasant
hum of frost, that low monotonous sound, which is perhaps the nearest
approach that life and nature can make to absolute silence. The very
waggons as they come down the hill along the beaten track of crisp
yellowish frost-dust, glide along like shadows; even May's bounding
footsteps, at her height of glee and of speed, fall like snow upon snow.

But we shall have noise enough presently: May has stopped at Lizzy's
door; and Lizzy, as she sat on the window-sill with her bright rosy
face laughing through the casement, has seen her and disappeared. She
is coming. No! The key is turning in the door, and sounds of evil omen
issue through the keyhole--sturdy 'let me outs,' and 'I will goes,'
mixed with shrill cries on May and on me from Lizzy, piercing through
a low continuous harangue, of which the prominent parts are apologies,
chilblains, sliding, broken bones, lollypops, rods, and gingerbread,
from Lizzy's careful mother. 'Don't scratch the door, May! Don't roar
so, my Lizzy! We'll call for you as we come back.' 'I'll go now! Let
me out! I will go!' are the last words of Miss Lizzy. Mem. Not to spoil
that child--if I can help it. But I do think her mother might have let
the poor little soul walk with us to-day. Nothing worse for children
than coddling. Nothing better for chilblains than exercise. Besides, I
don't believe she has any--and as to breaking her bones in sliding, I
don't suppose there's a slide on the common. These murmuring cogitations
have brought us up the hill, and half-way across the light and airy
common, with its bright expanse of snow and its clusters of cottages,
whose turf fires send such wreaths of smoke sailing up the air, and
diffuse such aromatic fragrance around. And now comes the delightful
sound of childish voices, ringing with glee and merriment almost from
beneath our feet. Ah, Lizzy, your mother was right! They are shouting
from that deep irregular pool, all glass now, where, on two long,
smooth, liny slides, half a dozen ragged urchins are slipping along in
tottering triumph. Half a dozen steps bring us to the bank right above
them. May can hardly resist the temptation of joining her friends, for
most of the varlets are of her acquaintance, especially the rogue who
leads the slide,--he with the brimless hat, whose bronzed complexion and
white flaxen hair, reversing the usual lights and shadows of the human
countenance, give so strange and foreign a look to his flat and comic
features. This hobgoblin, Jack Rapley by name, is May's great crony; and
she stands on the brink of the steep, irregular descent, her black eyes
fixed full upon him, as if she intended him the favour of jumping on his
head. She does: she is down, and upon him; but Jack Rapley is not easily
to be knocked off his feet. He saw her coming, and in the moment of
her leap sprung dexterously off the slide on the rough ice, steadying
himself by the shoulder of the next in the file, which unlucky follower,
thus unexpectedly checked in his career, fell plump backwards, knocking
down the rest of the line like a nest of card-houses. There is no harm
done; but there they lie, roaring, kicking, sprawling, in every attitude
of comic distress, whilst Jack Rapley and Mayflower, sole authors of
this calamity, stand apart from the throng, fondling, and coquetting,
and complimenting each other, and very visibly laughing, May in
her black eyes, Jack in his wide, close-shut mouth, and his whole
monkey-face, at their comrades' mischances. I think, Miss May, you may
as well come up again, and leave Master Rapley to fight your battles.
He'll get out of the scrape. He is a rustic wit--a sort of Robin
Goodfellow--the sauciest, idlest, cleverest, best-natured boy in the
parish; always foremost in mischief, and always ready to do a good turn.
The sages of our village predict sad things of Jack Rapley, so that I am
sometimes a little ashamed to confess, before wise people, that I have
a lurking predilection for him (in common with other naughty ones), and
that I like to hear him talk to May almost as well as she does. 'Come,
May!' and up she springs, as light as a bird. The road is gay now; carts
and post-chaises, and girls in red cloaks, and, afar off, looking almost
like a toy, the coach. It meets us fast and soon. How much happier the
walkers look than the riders--especially the frost-bitten gentleman,
and the shivering lady with the invisible face, sole passengers of that
commodious machine! Hooded, veiled, and bonneted, as she is, one sees
from her attitude how miserable she would look uncovered.

Another pond, and another noise of children. More sliding? Oh no! This
is a sport of higher pretension. Our good neighbour, the lieutenant,
skating, and his own pretty little boys, and two or three other
four-year-old elves, standing on the brink in an ecstasy of joy and
wonder! Oh what happy spectators! And what a happy performer! They
admiring, he admired, with an ardour and sincerity never excited by all
the quadrilles and the spread-eagles of the Seine and the Serpentine. He
really skates well though, and I am glad I came this way; for, with all
the father's feelings sitting gaily at his heart, it must still gratify
the pride of skill to have one spectator at that solitary pond who has
seen skating before.

Now we have reached the trees,--the beautiful trees! never so beautiful
as to-day. Imagine the effect of a straight and regular double avenue of
oaks, nearly a mile long, arching overhead, and closing into perspective
like the roof and columns of a cathedral, every tree and branch
incrusted with the bright and delicate congelation of hoar-frost, white
and pure as snow, delicate and defined as carved ivory. How beautiful it
is, how uniform, how various, how filling, how satiating to the eye and
to the mind--above all, how melancholy! There is a thrilling awfulness,
an intense feeling of simple power in that naked and colourless beauty,
which falls on the earth like the thoughts of death--death pure, and
glorious, and smiling,--but still death. Sculpture has always the same
effect on my imagination, and painting never. Colour is life.--We are
now at the end of this magnificent avenue, and at the top of a steep
eminence commanding a wide view over four counties--a landscape of snow.
A deep lane leads abruptly down the hill; a mere narrow cart-track,
sinking between high banks clothed with fern and furze and low broom,
crowned with luxuriant hedgerows, and famous for their summer smell
of thyme. How lovely these banks are now--the tall weeds and the gorse
fixed and stiffened in the hoar-frost, which fringes round the bright
prickly holly, the pendent foliage of the bramble, and the deep orange
leaves of the pollard oaks! Oh, this is rime in its loveliest form! And
there is still a berry here and there on the holly, 'blushing in its
natural coral' through the delicate tracery, still a stray hip or haw
for the birds, who abound here always. The poor birds, how tame they
are, how sadly tame! There is the beautiful and rare crested wren, 'that
shadow of a bird,' as White of Selborne calls it, perched in the middle
of the hedge, nestling as it were amongst the cold bare boughs, seeking,
poor pretty thing, for the warmth it will not find. And there, farther
on, just under the bank, by the slender runlet, which still trickles
between its transparent fantastic margin of thin ice, as if it were a
thing of life,--there, with a swift, scudding motion, flits, in short
low flights, the gorgeous kingfisher, its magnificent plumage of scarlet
and blue flashing in the sun, like the glories of some tropical bird.
He is come for water to this little spring by the hillside,--water which
even his long bill and slender head can hardly reach, so nearly do the
fantastic forms of those garland-like icy margins meet over the tiny
stream beneath. It is rarely that one sees the shy beauty so close or
so long; and it is pleasant to see him in the grace and beauty of his
natural liberty, the only way to look at a bird. We used, before we
lived in a street, to fix a little board outside the parlour window, and
cover it with bread crumbs in the hard weather. It was quite delightful
to see the pretty things come and feed, to conquer their shyness, and
do away their mistrust. First came the more social tribes, 'the robin
red-breast and the wren,' cautiously, suspiciously, picking up a crumb
on the wing, with the little keen bright eye fixed on the window; then
they would stop for two pecks; then stay till they were satisfied. The
shyer birds, tamed by their example, came next; and at last one saucy
fellow of a blackbird--a sad glutton, he would clear the board in two
minutes,--used to tap his yellow bill against the window for more. How
we loved the fearless confidence of that fine, frank-hearted creature!
And surely he loved us. I wonder the practice is not more general. 'May!
May! naughty May!' She has frightened away the kingfisher; and now, in
her coaxing penitence, she is covering me with snow. 'Come, pretty May!
it is time to go home.'

Thaw.

January 28th.--We have had rain, and snow, and frost, and rain again
four days of absolute confinement. Now it is a thaw and a flood; but
our light gravelly soil, and country boots, and country hardihood, will
carry us through. What a dripping, comfortless day it is! just like
the last days of November: no sun, no sky, gray or blue; one low,
overhanging, dark, dismal cloud, like London smoke; Mayflower is out
coursing too, and Lizzy gone to school. Never mind. Up the hill again!
Walk we must. Oh what a watery world to look back upon! Thames, Kennet,
Loddon--all overflowed; our famous town, inland once, turned into a
sort of Venice; C. park converted into an island; and the long range of
meadows from B. to W. one huge unnatural lake, with trees growing out
of it. Oh what a watery world!--I will look at it no longer. I will
walk on. The road is alive again. Noise is reborn. Waggons creak, horses
splash, carts rattle, and pattens paddle through the dirt with more than
their usual clink. The common has its old fine tints of green and brown,
and its old variety of inhabitants, horses, cows, sheep, pigs, and
donkeys. The ponds are unfrozen, except where some melancholy piece
of melting ice floats sullenly on the water; and cackling geese and
gabbling ducks have replaced the lieutenant and Jack Rapley. The avenue
is chill and dark, the hedges are dripping, the lanes knee-deep, and all
nature is in a state of 'dissolution and thaw.'



THE FIRST PRIMROSE.

March 6th.--Fine March weather: boisterous, blustering, much wind and
squalls of rain; and yet the sky, where the clouds are swept away,
deliciously blue, with snatches of sunshine, bright, and clear, and
healthful, and the roads, in spite of the slight glittering showers,
crisply dry. Altogether the day is tempting, very tempting. It will not
do for the dear common, that windmill of a walk; but the close sheltered
lanes at the bottom of the hill, which keep out just enough of the
stormy air, and let in all the sun, will be delightful. Past our old
house, and round by the winding lanes, and the workhouse, and across the
lea, and so into the turnpike-road again,--that is our route for to-day.
Forth we set, Mayflower and I, rejoicing in the sunshine, and still
more in the wind, which gives such an intense feeling of existence,
and, co-operating with brisk motion, sets our blood and our spirits in a
glow. For mere physical pleasure, there is nothing perhaps equal to the
enjoyment of being drawn, in a light carriage, against such a wind as
this, by a blood-horse at his height of speed. Walking comes next to it;
but walking is not quite so luxurious or so spiritual, not quite so
much what one fancies of flying, or being carried above the clouds in a
balloon.

Nevertheless, a walk is a good thing; especially under this southern
hedgerow, where nature is just beginning to live again; the periwinkles,
with their starry blue flowers, and their shining myrtle-like leaves,
garlanding the bushes; woodbines and elder-trees pushing out their small
swelling buds; and grasses and mosses springing forth in every variety
of brown and green. Here we are at the corner where four lanes meet, or
rather where a passable road of stones and gravel crosses an impassable
one of beautiful but treacherous turf, and where the small white
farmhouse, scarcely larger than a cottage, and the well-stocked
rick-yard behind, tell of comfort and order, but leave all unguessed the
great riches of the master. How he became so rich is almost a puzzle;
for, though the farm be his own, it is not large; and though prudent and
frugal on ordinary occasions, Farmer Barnard is no miser. His horses,
dogs, and pigs are the best kept in the parish,--May herself, although
her beauty be injured by her fatness, half envies the plight of his
bitch Fly: his wife's gowns and shawls cost as much again as any shawls
or gowns in the village; his dinner parties (to be sure they are not
frequent) display twice the ordinary quantity of good things--two
couples of ducks, two dishes of green peas, two turkey poults, two
gammons of bacon, two plum-puddings; moreover, he keeps a single-horse
chaise, and has built and endowed a Methodist chapel. Yet is he the
richest man in these parts. Everything prospers with him. Money drifts
about him like snow. He looks like a rich man. There is a sturdy
squareness of face and figure; a good-humoured obstinacy; a civil
importance. He never boasts of his wealth, or gives himself undue
airs; but nobody can meet him at market or vestry without finding out
immediately that he is the richest man there. They have no child to all
this money; but there is an adopted nephew, a fine spirited lad, who
may, perhaps, some day or other, play the part of a fountain to the
reservoir.

Now turn up the wide road till we come to the open common, with its
park-like trees, its beautiful stream, wandering and twisting along, and
its rural bridge. Here we turn again, past that other white farmhouse,
half hidden by the magnificent elms which stand before it. Ah! riches
dwell not there, but there is found the next best thing--an industrious
and light-hearted poverty. Twenty years ago Rachel Hilton was the
prettiest and merriest lass in the country. Her father, an old
gamekeeper, had retired to a village alehouse, where his good beer, his
social humour, and his black-eyed daughter, brought much custom. She had
lovers by the score; but Joseph White, the dashing and lively son of an
opulent farmer, carried off the fair Rachel. They married and settled
here, and here they live still, as merrily as ever, with fourteen
children of all ages and sizes, from nineteen years to nineteen months,
working harder than any people in the parish, and enjoying themselves
more. I would match them for labour and laughter against any family in
England. She is a blithe, jolly dame, whose beauty has amplified into
comeliness; he is tall, and thin, and bony, with sinews like whipcord, a
strong lively voice, a sharp weather-beaten face, and eyes and lips that
smile and brighten when he speaks into a most contagious hilarity. They
are very poor, and I often wish them richer; but I don't know--perhaps
it might put them out.

Quite close to Farmer White's is a little ruinous cottage, white-washed
once, and now in a sad state of betweenity, where dangling stockings and
shirts, swelled by the wind, drying in a neglected garden, give signal
of a washerwoman. There dwells, at present in single blessedness, Betty
Adams, the wife of our sometimes gardener. I never saw any one who so
much reminded me in person of that lady whom everybody knows,
Mistress Meg Merrilies;--as tall, as grizzled, as stately, as dark, as
gipsy-looking, bonneted and gowned like her prototype, and almost as
oracular. Here the resemblance ceases. Mrs. Adams is a perfectly honest,
industrious, painstaking person, who earns a good deal of money by
washing and charing, and spends it in other luxuries than tidiness,--in
green tea, and gin, and snuff. Her husband lives in a great family, ten
miles off. He is a capital gardener--or rather he would be so, if he
were not too ambitious. He undertakes all things, and finishes none. But
a smooth tongue, a knowing look, and a great capacity of labour, carry
him through. Let him but like his ale and his master and he will do work
enough for four. Give him his own way, and his full quantum, and nothing
comes amiss to him.

Ah, May is bounding forward! Her silly heart leaps at the sight of
the old place--and so in good truth does mine. What a pretty place it
was--or rather, how pretty I thought it! I suppose I should have thought
any place so where I had spent eighteen happy years. But it was really
pretty. A large, heavy, white house, in the simplest style, surrounded
by fine oaks and elms, and tall massy plantations shaded down into
a beautiful lawn by wild overgrown shrubs, bowery acacias, ragged
sweet-briers, promontories of dogwood, and Portugal laurel, and bays,
over-hung by laburnum and bird-cherry; a long piece of water letting
light into the picture, and looking just like a natural stream, the
banks as rude and wild as the shrubbery, interspersed with broom, and
furze, and bramble, and pollard oaks covered with ivy and honeysuckle;
the whole enclosed by an old mossy park paling, and terminating in a
series of rich meadows, richly planted. This is an exact description of
the home which, three years ago, it nearly broke my heart to leave.
What a tearing up by the root it was! I have pitied cabbage-plants and
celery, and all transplantable things, ever since; though, in
common with them, and with other vegetables, the first agony of the
transportation being over, I have taken such firm and tenacious hold of
my new soil, that I would not for the world be pulled up again, even
to be restored to the old beloved ground;--not even if its beauty were
undiminished, which is by no means the case; for in those three years it
has thrice changed masters, and every successive possessor has brought
the curse of improvement upon the place; so that between filling up the
water to cure dampness, cutting down trees to let in prospects, planting
to keep them out, shutting up windows to darken the inside of the house
(by which means one end looks precisely as an eight of spades would do
that should have the misfortune to lose one of his corner pips), and
building colonnades to lighten the out, added to a general clearance of
pollards, and brambles, and ivy, and honeysuckles, and park palings, and
irregular shrubs, the poor place is so transmogrified, that if it had
its old looking-glass, the water, back again, it would not know its
own face. And yet I love to haunt round about it: so does May. Her
particular attraction is a certain broken bank full of rabbit burrows,
into which she insinuates her long pliant head and neck, and tears her
pretty feet by vain scratchings: mine is a warm sunny hedgerow, in
the same remote field, famous for early flowers. Never was a spot more
variously flowery: primroses yellow, lilac white, violets of either hue,
cowslips, oxslips, arums, orchises, wild hyacinths, ground ivy, pansies,
strawberries, heart's-ease, formed a small part of the Flora of that
wild hedgerow. How profusely they covered the sunny open slope under the
weeping birch, 'the lady of the woods'--and how often have I started to
see the early innocent brown snake, who loved the spot as well as I did,
winding along the young blossoms, or rustling amongst the fallen leaves!
There are primrose leaves already, and short green buds, but no flowers;
not even in that furze cradle so full of roots, where they used to blow
as in a basket. No, my May, no rabbits! no primroses! We may as well
get over the gate into the woody winding lane, which will bring us home
again.

Here we are making the best of our way between the old elms that arch so
solemnly over head, dark and sheltered even now. They say that a spirit
haunts this deep pool--a white lady without a head. I cannot say that I
have seen her, often as I have paced this lane at deep midnight, to hear
the nightingales, and look at the glow-worms;--but there, better
and rarer than a thousand ghosts, dearer even than nightingales or
glow-worms, there is a primrose, the first of the year; a tuft of
primroses, springing in yonder sheltered nook, from the mossy roots
of an old willow, and living again in the clear bright pool. Oh, how
beautiful they are--three fully blown, and two bursting buds! How glad I
am I came this way! They are not to be reached. Even Jack Rapley's love
of the difficult and the unattainable would fail him here: May herself
could not stand on that steep bank. So much the better. Who would wish
to disturb them? There they live in their innocent and fragrant beauty,
sheltered from the storms, and rejoicing in the sunshine, and looking as
if they could feel their happiness. Who would disturb them? Oh, how glad
I am I came this way home!



VIOLETING.

March 27th.--It is a dull gray morning, with a dewy feeling in the air;
fresh, but not windy; cool, but not cold;--the very day for a person
newly arrived from the heat, the glare, the noise, and the fever of
London, to plunge into the remotest labyrinths of the country, and
regain the repose of mind, the calmness of heart, which has been lost in
that great Babel. I must go violeting--it is a necessity--and I must go
alone: the sound of a voice, even my Lizzy's, the touch of Mayflower's
head, even the bounding of her elastic foot, would disturb the serenity
of feeling which I am trying to recover. I shall go quite alone, with
my little basket, twisted like a bee-hive, which I love so well, because
SHE gave it to me, and kept sacred to violets and to those whom I love;
and I shall get out of the high-road the moment I can. I would not meet
any one just now, even of those whom I best like to meet.

Ha!--Is not that group--a gentleman on a blood-horse, a lady keeping
pace with him so gracefully and easily--see how prettily her veil waves
in the wind created by her own rapid motion!--and that gay, gallant
boy, on the gallant white Arabian, curveting at their side, but ready to
spring before them every instant--is not that chivalrous-looking party
Mr. and Mrs. M. and dear R? No! the servant is in a different livery. It
is some of the ducal family, and one of their young Etonians. I may go
on. I shall meet no one now; for I have fairly left the road, and am
crossing the lea by one of those wandering paths, amidst the gorse, and
the heath, and the low broom, which the sheep and lambs have made--a
path turfy, elastic, thymy, and sweet, even at this season.

We have the good fortune to live in an unenclosed parish, and may
thank the wise obstinacy of two or three sturdy farmers, and the lucky
unpopularity of a ranting madcap lord of the manor, for preserving the
delicious green patches, the islets of wilderness amidst cultivation,
which form, perhaps, the peculiar beauty of English scenery. The common
that I am passing now--the lea, as it is called--is one of the loveliest
of these favoured spots. It is a little sheltered scene, retiring, as it
were, from the village; sunk amidst higher lands, hills would be
almost too grand a word; edged on one side by one gay high-road, and
intersected by another; and surrounded by a most picturesque confusion
of meadows, cottages, farms, and orchards; with a great pond in one
corner, unusually bright and clear, giving a delightful cheerfulness
and daylight to the picture. The swallows haunt that pond; so do the
children. There is a merry group round it now; I have seldom seen it
without one. Children love water, clear, bright, sparkling water; it
excites and feeds their curiosity; it is motion and life.

The path that I am treading leads to a less lively spot, to that large
heavy building on one side of the common, whose solid wings, jutting
out far beyond the main body, occupy three sides of a square, and give a
cold, shadowy look to the court. On one side is a gloomy garden, with
an old man digging in it, laid out in straight dark beds of vegetables,
potatoes, cabbages, onions, beans; all earthy and mouldy as a newly-dug
grave. Not a flower or flowering shrub! Not a rose-tree or currant-bush!
Nothing but for sober, melancholy use. Oh, different from the long
irregular slips of the cottage-gardens, with their gay bunches of
polyanthuses and crocuses, their wallflowers sending sweet odours
through the narrow casement, and their gooseberry-trees bursting into a
brilliancy of leaf, whose vivid greenness has the effect of a blossom on
the eye! Oh, how different! On the other side of this gloomy abode is a
meadow of that deep, intense emerald hue, which denotes the presence of
stagnant water, surrounded by willows at regular distances, and like the
garden, separated from the common by a wide, moat-like ditch. That is
the parish workhouse. All about it is solid, substantial, useful;--but
so dreary! so cold! so dark! There are children in the court, and yet
all is silent. I always hurry past that place as if it were a prison.
Restraint, sickness, age, extreme poverty, misery, which I have no power
to remove or alleviate,--these are the ideas, the feelings, which the
sight of those walls excites; yet, perhaps, if not certainly, they
contain less of that extreme desolation than the morbid fancy is apt to
paint. There will be found order, cleanliness, food, clothing, warmth,
refuge for the homeless, medicine and attendance for the sick, rest
and sufficiency for old age, and sympathy, the true and active sympathy
which the poor show to the poor, for the unhappy. There may be worse
places than a parish workhouse--and yet I hurry past it. The feeling,
the prejudice, will not be controlled.

The end of the dreary garden edges off into a close-sheltered lane,
wandering and winding, like a rivulet, in gentle 'sinuosities' (to use
a word once applied by Mr. Wilberforce to the Thames at Henley), amidst
green meadows, all alive with cattle, sheep, and beautiful lambs, in the
very spring and pride of their tottering prettiness; or fields of arable
land, more lively still with troops of stooping bean-setters, women
and children, in all varieties of costume and colour; and ploughs and
harrows, with their whistling boys and steady carters, going through,
with a slow and plodding industry, the main business of this busy
season. What work beansetting is! What a reverse of the position
assigned to man to distinguish him from the beasts of the field! Only
think of stooping for six, eight, ten hours a day, drilling holes in the
earth with a little stick, and then dropping in the beans one by one.
They are paid according to the quantity they plant; and some of the poor
women used to be accused of clumping them--that is to say, of dropping
more than one bean into a hole. It seems to me, considering the
temptation, that not to clump is to be at the very pinnacle of human
virtue.

Another turn in the lane, and we come to the old house standing amongst
the high elms--the old farm-house, which always, I don't know why,
carries back my imagination to Shakspeare's days. It is a long, low,
irregular building, with one room, at an angle from the house, covered
with ivy, fine white-veined ivy; the first floor of the main building
projecting and supported by oaken beams, and one of the windows below,
with its old casement and long narrow panes, forming the half of a
shallow hexagon. A porch, with seats in it, surmounted by a pinnacle,
pointed roofs, and clustered chimneys, complete the picture! Alas! it is
little else but a picture! The very walls are crumbling to decay under a
careless landlord and ruined tenant.

Now a few yards farther, and I reach the bank. Ah! I smell them
already--their exquisite perfume steams and lingers in this moist, heavy
air. Through this little gate, and along the green south bank of this
green wheat-field, and they burst upon me, the lovely violets, in
tenfold loveliness. The ground is covered with them, white and purple,
enamelling the short dewy grass, looking but the more vividly coloured
under the dull, leaden sky. There they lie by hundreds, by thousands.
In former years I have been used to watch them from the tiny green bud,
till one or two stole into bloom. They never came on me before in such
a sudden and luxuriant glory of simple beauty,--and I do really owe one
pure and genuine pleasure to feverish London! How beautifully they are
placed too, on this sloping bank, with the palm branches waving over
them, full of early bees, and mixing their honeyed scent with the more
delicate violet odour! How transparent and smooth and lusty are the
branches, full of sap and life! And there, just by the old mossy root,
is a superb tuft of primroses, with a yellow butterfly hovering over
them, like a flower floating on the air. What happiness to sit on this
tufty knoll, and fill my basket with the blossoms! What a renewal of
heart and mind! To inhabit such a scene of peace and sweetness is again
to be fearless, gay, and gentle as a child. Then it is that thought
becomes poetry, and feeling religion. Then it is that we are happy and
good. Oh, that my whole life could pass so, floating on blissful and
innocent sensation, enjoying in peace and gratitude the common blessings
of Nature, thankful above all for the simple habits, the healthful
temperament, which render them so dear! Alas! who may dare expect a life
of such happiness? But I can at least snatch and prolong the fleeting
pleasure, can fill my basket with pure flowers, and my heart with pure
thoughts; can gladden my little home with their sweetness; can divide my
treasures with one, a dear one, who cannot seek them; can see them when
I shut my eyes and dream of them when I fall asleep.



THE COPSE.

April 18th.--Sad wintry weather; a northeast wind; a sun that puts out
one's eyes, without affording the slightest warmth; dryness that chaps
lips and hands like a frost in December; rain that comes chilly and
arrowy like hail in January; nature at a dead pause; no seeds up in
the garden; no leaves out in the hedgerows; no cowslips swinging their
pretty bells in the fields; no nightingales in the dingles; no swallows
skimming round the great pond; no cuckoos (that ever I should miss that
rascally sonneteer!) in any part. Nevertheless there is something of a
charm in this wintry spring, this putting-back of the seasons. If the
flower-clock must stand still for a month or two, could it choose a
better time than that of the primroses and violets? I never remember
(and for such gauds my memory, if not very good for aught of wise or
useful, may be trusted) such an affluence of the one or such a duration
of the other. Primrosy is the epithet which this year will retain in
my recollection. Hedge, ditch, meadow, field, even the very paths and
highways, are set with them; but their chief habitat is a certain copse,
about a mile off, where they are spread like a carpet, and where I go to
visit them rather oftener than quite comports with the dignity of a lady
of mature age. I am going thither this very afternoon, and May and her
company are going too.

This Mayflower of mine is a strange animal. Instinct and imitation make
in her an approach to reason which is sometimes almost startling. She
mimics all that she sees us do, with the dexterity of a monkey, and far
more of gravity and apparent purpose; cracks nuts and eats them; gathers
currants and severs them from the stalk with the most delicate nicety;
filches and munches apples and pears; is as dangerous in an orchard as
a schoolboy; smells to flowers; smiles at meeting; answers in a pretty
lively voice when spoken to (sad pity that the language should be
unknown!) and has greatly the advantage of us in a conversation,
inasmuch as our meaning is certainly clear to her;--all this and a
thousand amusing prettinesses (to say nothing of her canine feat of
bringing her game straight to her master's feet, and refusing to resign
it to any hand but his), does my beautiful greyhound perform untaught,
by the mere effect of imitation and sagacity. Well, May, at the end
of the coursing season, having lost Brush, our old spaniel, her great
friend, and the blue greyhound, Mariette, her comrade and rival, both of
which four-footed worthies were sent out to keep for the summer, began
to find solitude a weary condition, and to look abroad for company. Now
it so happened that the same suspension of sport which had reduced our
little establishment from three dogs to one, had also dispersed the
splendid kennel of a celebrated courser in our neighbourhood, three
of whose finest young dogs came home to 'their walk' (as the sporting
phrase goes) at the collarmaker's in our village. May, accordingly, on
the first morning of her solitude (she had never taken the slightest
notice of her neighbours before, although they had sojourned in our
street upwards of a fortnight), bethought herself of the timely resource
offered to her by the vicinity of these canine beaux, and went up boldly
and knocked at their stable door, which was already very commodiously
on the half-latch. The three dogs came out with much alertness and
gallantry, and May, declining apparently to enter their territories,
brought them off to her own. This manoeuvre has been repeated every day,
with one variation; of the three dogs, the first a brindle, the second
a yellow, and the third a black, the two first only are now allowed to
walk or consort with her, and the last, poor fellow, for no fault that
I can discover except May's caprice, is driven away not only by the fair
lady, but even by his old companions--is, so to say, sent to Coventry.
Of her two permitted followers, the yellow gentleman, Saladin by name,
is decidedly the favourite. He is, indeed, May's shadow, and will walk
with me whether I choose or not. It is quite impossible to get rid of
him unless by discarding Miss May also;--and to accomplish a walk in the
country without her, would be like an adventure of Don Quixote without
his faithful 'squire Sancho.

So forth we set, May and I, and Saladin and the brindle; May and myself
walking with the sedateness and decorum befitting our sex and age (she
is five years old this grass, rising six)--the young things, for the
soldan and the brindle are (not meaning any disrespect) little better
than puppies, frisking and frolicking as best pleased them.

Our route lay for the first part along the sheltered quiet lanes which
lead to our old habitation; a way never trodden by me without peculiar
and homelike feelings, full of the recollections, the pains and
pleasures, of other days. But we are not to talk sentiment now;--even
May would not understand that maudlin language. We must get on. What
a wintry hedgerow this is for the eighteenth of April! Primrosy to be
sure, abundantly spangled with those stars of the earth,--but so bare,
so leafless, so cold! The wind whistles through the brown boughs as
in winter. Even the early elder shoots, which do make an approach to
springiness, look brown, and the small leaves of the woodbine, which
have also ventured to peep forth, are of a sad purple, frost-bitten,
like a dairymaid's elbows on a snowy morning. The very birds, in this
season of pairing and building, look chilly and uncomfortable, and their
nests!--'Oh, Saladin! come away from the hedge! Don't you see that what
puzzles you and makes you leap up in the air is a redbreast's nest?
Don't you see the pretty speckled eggs? Don't you hear the poor hen
calling as it were for help? Come here this moment, sir!' And by good
luck Saladin (who for a paynim has tolerable qualities) comes, before
he has touched the nest, or before his playmate the brindle, the less
manageable of the two, has espied it.

Now we go round the corner and cross the bridge, where the common, with
its clear stream winding between clumps of elms, assumes so park-like
an appearance. Who is this approaching so slowly and majestically, this
square bundle of petticoat and cloak, this road-waggon of a woman? It
is, it must be Mrs. Sally Mearing, the completest specimen within my
knowledge of farmeresses (may I be allowed that innovation in language?)
as they were. It can be nobody else.

Mrs. Sally Mearing, when I first became acquainted with her, occupied,
together with her father (a superannuated man of ninety), a large
farm very near our former habitation. It had been anciently a great
manor-farm or court-house, and was still a stately, substantial
building, whose lofty halls and spacious chambers gave an air of
grandeur to the common offices to which they were applied. Traces of
gilding might yet be seen on the panels which covered the walls, and on
the huge carved chimney-pieces which rose almost to the ceilings; and
the marble tables and the inlaid oak staircase still spoke of the former
grandeur of the court. Mrs. Sally corresponded well with the date of her
mansion, although she troubled herself little with its dignity. She was
thoroughly of the old school, and had a most comfortable contempt for
the new: rose at four in winter and summer, breakfasted at six, dined at
eleven in the forenoon, supped at five, and was regularly in bed before
eight, except when the hay-time or the harvest imperiously required her
to sit up till sunset, a necessity to which she submitted with no
very good grace. To a deviation from these hours, and to the modern
iniquities of white aprons, cotton stockings, and muslin handkerchiefs
(Mrs. Sally herself always wore check, black worsted, and a sort of
yellow compound which she was wont to call 'susy'), together with the
invention of drill plough and thrashing-machines, and other agricultural
novelties, she failed not to attribute all the mishaps or misdoings of
the whole parish. The last-mentioned discovery especially aroused her
indignation. Oh to hear her descant on the merits of the flail, wielded
by a stout right arm, such as she had known in her youth (for by her
account there was as great a deterioration in bones and sinews as in
the other implements of husbandry), was enough to make the very inventor
break his machine. She would even take up her favourite instrument, and
thrash the air herself by way of illustrating her argument, and, to say
truth, few men in these degenerate days could have matched the stout,
brawny, muscular limb which Mrs. Sally displayed at sixty-five.

In spite of this contumacious rejection of agricultural improvements,
the world went well with her at Court Farm. A good landlord, an easy
rent, incessant labour, unremitting frugality, and excellent times,
insured a regular though moderate profit; and she lived on, grumbling
and prospering, flourishing and complaining, till two misfortunes befell
her at once--her father died, and her lease expired. The loss of her
father although a bedridden man, turned of ninety, who could not in the
course of nature have been expected to live long, was a terrible shock
to a daughter, who was not so much younger as to be without fears for
her own life, and who had besides been so used to nursing the good old
man, and looking to his little comforts, that she missed him as a mother
would miss an ailing child. The expiration of the lease was a grievance
and a puzzle of a different nature. Her landlord would have willingly
retained his excellent tenant, but not on the terms on which she then
held the land, which had not varied for fifty years; so that poor Mrs.
Sally had the misfortune to find rent rising and prices sinking both at
the same moment--a terrible solecism in political economy. Even this,
however, I believe she would have endured, rather than have quitted the
house where she was born, and to which all her ways and notions were
adapted, had not a priggish steward, as much addicted to improvement
and reform as she was to precedent and established usages, insisted on
binding her by lease to spread a certain number of loads of chalk on
every field. This tremendous innovation, for never had that novelty in
manure whitened the crofts and pightles of Court Farm, decided her at
once. She threw the proposals into the fire, and left the place in a
week.

Her choice of a habitation occasioned some wonder, and much amusement
in our village world. To be sure, upon the verge of seventy, an old maid
may be permitted to dispense with the more rigid punctilio of her class,
but Mrs. Sally had always been so tenacious on the score of character,
so very a prude, so determined an avoider of the 'men folk' (as she
was wont contemptuously to call them), that we all were conscious of
something like astonishment, on finding that she and her little handmaid
had taken up their abode in one end of a spacious farmhouse belonging to
the bluff old bachelor, George Robinson, of the Lea. Now Farmer Robinson
was quite as notorious for his aversion to petticoated things, as Mrs.
Sally for her hatred to the unfeathered bipeds who wear doublet and
hose, so that there was a little astonishment in that quarter too, and
plenty of jests, which the honest farmer speedily silenced, by telling
all who joked on the subject that he had given his lodger fair warning,
that, let people say what they would, he was quite determined not to
marry her: so that if she had any views that way, it would be better for
her to go elsewhere. This declaration, which must be admitted to have
been more remarkable for frankness than civility, made, however, no ill
impression on Mrs. Sally. To the farmer's she went, and at his house she
lives still, with her little maid, her tabby cat, a decrepit sheep-dog,
and much of the lumber of Court Farm, which she could not find in her
heart to part from. There she follows her old ways and her old hours,
untempted by matrimony, and unassailed (as far as I hear) by love or by
scandal, with no other grievance than an occasional dearth of employment
for herself and her young lass (even pewter dishes do not always want
scouring), and now and then a twinge of the rheumatism.

Here she is, that good relique of the olden time--for, in spite of her
whims and prejudices, a better and a kinder woman never lived--here she
is, with the hood of her red cloak pulled over her close black bonnet,
of that silk which once (it may be presumed) was fashionable, since
it is still called mode, and her whole stout figure huddled up in a
miscellaneous and most substantial covering of thick petticoats, gowns,
aprons, shawls, and cloaks--a weight which it requires the strength of a
thrasher to walk under--here she is, with her square honest visage,
and her loud frank voice;--and we hold a pleasant disjointed chat of
rheumatisms and early chickens, bad weather, and hats with feathers in
them;--the last exceedingly sore subject being introduced by poor Jane
Davis (a cousin of Mrs. Sally), who, passing us in a beaver bonnet, on
her road from school, stopped to drop her little curtsy, and was soundly
scolded for her civility. Jane, who is a gentle, humble, smiling
lass, about twelve years old, receives so many rebukes from her worthy
relative, and bears them so meekly, that I should not wonder if they
were to be followed by a legacy: I sincerely wish they may. Well, at
last we said good-bye; when, on inquiring my destination, and hearing
that I was bent to the ten-acre copse (part of the farm which she ruled
so long), she stopped me to tell a dismal story of two sheep-stealers
who, sixty years ago, were found hidden in that copse, and only
taken after great difficulty and resistance, and the maiming of a
peace-officer.--'Pray don't go there, Miss! For mercy's sake don't be so
venturesome! Think if they should kill you!' were the last words of Mrs.
Sally.

Many thanks for her care and kindness! But, without being at all
foolhardy in general, I have no great fear of the sheep-stealers of
sixty years ago. Even if they escaped hanging for that exploit, I should
greatly doubt their being in case to attempt another. So on we go: down
the short shady lane, and out on the pretty retired green, shut in by
fields and hedgerows, which we must cross to reach the copse. How lively
this green nook is to-day, half covered with cows, and horses, and
sheep! And how glad these frolicsome greyhounds are to exchange the hard
gravel of the high road for this pleasant short turf, which seems made
for their gambols! How beautifully they are at play, chasing each
other round and round in lessening circles, darting off at all kinds of
angles, crossing and recrossing May, and trying to win her sedateness
into a game at romps, turning round on each other with gay defiance,
pursuing the cows and the colts, leaping up as if to catch the crows
in their flight;--all in their harmless and innocent--'Ah, wretches!
villains! rascals! four-footed mischiefs! canine plagues! Saladin!
Brindle!'--They are after the sheep--'Saladin, I say!'--They have
actually singled out that pretty spotted lamb--'Brutes, if I catch you!
Saladin! Brindle!' We shall be taken up for sheep-stealing presently
ourselves. They have chased the poor little lamb into a ditch, and are
mounting guard over it, standing at bay.--'Ah, wretches, I have you now!
for shame, Saladin! Get away, Brindle! See how good May is. Off with
you, brutes! For shame! For shame!' and brandishing a handkerchief,
which could hardly be an efficient instrument of correction, I succeeded
in driving away the two puppies, who after all meant nothing more than
play, although it was somewhat rough, and rather too much in the style
of the old fable of the boys and the frogs. May is gone after them,
perhaps to scold them: for she has been as grave as a judge during the
whole proceeding, keeping ostentatiously close to me, and taking no part
whatever in the mischief.

The poor little pretty lamb! here it lies on the bank quite motionless,
frightened I believe to death, for certainly those villains never
touched it. It does not stir. Does it breathe? Oh yes, it does! It is
alive, safe enough. Look, it opens its eyes, and, finding the coast
clear and its enemies far away, it springs up in a moment and gallops
to its dam, who has stood bleating the whole time at a most respectful
distance. Who would suspect a lamb of so much simple cunning? I really
thought the pretty thing was dead--and now how glad the ewe is to
recover her curling spotted little one! How fluttered they look! Well!
this adventure has flurried me too; between fright and running, I
warrant you my heart beats as fast as the lamb's.

Ah! here is the shameless villain Saladin, the cause of the commotion,
thrusting his slender nose into my hand to beg pardon and make up! 'Oh
wickedest of soldans! Most iniquitous pagan! Soul of a Turk!'--but there
is no resisting the good-humoured creature's penitence. I must pat him.
'There! there! Now we will go to the copse; I am sure we shall find no
worse malefactors than ourselves--shall we, May?--and the sooner we
get out of sight of the sheep the better; for Brindle seems meditating
another attack. Allons, messieurs, over this gate, across this meadow,
and here is the copse.'

How boldly that superb ash-tree with its fine silver bark rises from the
bank, and what a fine entrance it makes with the holly beside it, which
also deserves to be called a tree! But here we are in the copse. Ah!
only one half of the underwood was cut last year, and the other is
at its full growth: hazel, brier, woodbine, bramble, forming one
impenetrable thicket, and almost uniting with the lower branches of the
elms, and oaks, and beeches, which rise at regular distances overhead.
No foot can penetrate that dense and thorny entanglement; but there is
a walk all round by the side of the wide sloping bank, walk and bank and
copse carpeted with primroses, whose fresh and balmy odour impregnates
the very air. Oh how exquisitely beautiful! and it is not the primroses
only, those gems of flowers, but the natural mosaic of which they form
a part; that network of ground-ivy, with its lilac blossoms and the
subdued tint of its purplish leaves, those rich mosses, those enamelled
wild hyacinths, those spotted arums, and above all those wreaths of ivy
linking all those flowers together with chains of leaves more beautiful
than blossoms, whose white veins seem swelling amidst the deep green
or splendid brown;--it is the whole earth that is so beautiful! Never
surely were primroses so richly set, and never did primroses better
deserve such a setting. There they are of their own lovely yellow, the
hue to which they have given a name, the exact tint of the butterfly
that overhangs them (the first I have seen this year! can spring really
be coming at last?)--sprinkled here and there with tufts of a reddish
purple, and others of the purest white, as some accident of soil affects
that strange and inscrutable operation of nature, the colouring of
flowers. Oh how fragrant they are, and how pleasant it is to sit in this
sheltered copse, listening to the fine creaking of the wind amongst the
branches, the most unearthly of sounds, with this gay tapestry under our
feet, and the wood-pigeons flitting from tree to tree, and mixing the
deep note of love with the elemental music.

Yes! spring is coming. Wood-pigeons, butterflies, and sweet flowers, all
give token of the sweetest of the seasons. Spring is coming. The hazel
stalks are swelling and putting forth their pale tassels, the satin
palms with their honeyed odours are out on the willow, and the last
lingering winter berries are dropping from the hawthorn, and making way
for the bright and blossomy leaves.



THE WOOD.

April 20th.--Spring is actually come now, with the fulness and almost
the suddenness of a northern summer. To-day is completely April;--clouds
and sunshine, wind and showers; blossoms on the trees, grass in the
fields, swallows by the ponds, snakes in the hedgerows, nightingales in
the thickets, and cuckoos everywhere. My young friend Ellen G. is going
with me this evening to gather wood-sorrel. She never saw that most
elegant plant, and is so delicate an artist that the introduction will
be a mutual benefit; Ellen will gain a subject worthy of her pencil,
and the pretty weed will live;--no small favour to a flower almost as
transitory as the gum cistus: duration is the only charm which it
wants, and that Ellen will give it. The weather is, to be sure, a little
threatening, but we are not people to mind the weather when we have an
object in view; we shall certainly go in quest of the wood-sorrel, and
will take May, provided we can escape May's followers; for since the
adventure of the lamb, Saladin has had an affair with a gander, furious
in defence of his goslings, in which rencontre the gander came off
conqueror; and as geese abound in the wood to which we are going (called
by the country people the Pinge), and the victory may not always incline
to the right side, I should be very sorry to lead the Soldan to fight
his battles over again. We will take nobody but May.

So saying, we proceeded on our way through winding lanes, between
hedgerows tenderly green, till we reached the hatch-gate, with the white
cottage beside it embosomed in fruit-trees, which forms the entrance to
the Pinge, and in a moment the whole scene was before our eyes.

'Is not this beautiful, Ellen?' The answer could hardly be other than
a glowing rapid 'Yes!'--A wood is generally a pretty place; but
this wood--Imagine a smaller forest, full of glades and sheep-walks,
surrounded by irregular cottages with their blooming orchards, a clear
stream winding about the brakes, and a road intersecting it, and giving
life and light to the picture; and you will have a faint idea of the
Pinge. Every step was opening a new point of view, a fresh combination
of glade and path and thicket. The accessories too were changing every
moment. Ducks, geese, pigs, and children, giving way, as we advanced
into the wood, to sheep and forest ponies; and they again disappearing
as we became more entangled in its mazes, till we heard nothing but the
song of the nightingale, and saw only the silent flowers.

What a piece of fairy land! The tall elms overhead just bursting into
tender vivid leaf, with here and there a hoary oak or a silver-barked
beech, every twig swelling with the brown buds, and yet not quite
stripped of the tawny foliage of autumn; tall hollies and hawthorn
beneath, with their crisp brilliant leaves mixed with the white
blossoms of the sloe, and woven together with garlands of woodbines and
wild-briers;--what a fairy land!

Primroses, cowslips, pansies, and the regular open-eyed white blossom
of the wood anemone (or, to use the more elegant Hampshire name, the
windflower), were set under our feet as thick as daisies in a meadow;
but the pretty weed that we came to seek was coyer; and Ellen began
to fear that we had mistaken the place or the season.--At last she had
herself the pleasure of finding it under a brake of holly--'Oh, look!
look! I am sure that this is the wood-sorrel! Look at the pendent white
flower, shaped like a snowdrop and veined with purple streaks, and the
beautiful trefoil leaves folded like a heart,--some, the young ones, so
vividly yet tenderly green that the foliage of the elm and the hawthorn
would show dully at their side,--others of a deeper tint, and lined, as
it were, with a rich and changeful purple!--Don't you see them?' pursued
my dear young friend, who is a delightful piece of life and sunshine,
and was half inclined to scold me for the calmness with which, amused by
her enthusiasm, I stood listening to her ardent exclamations--'Don't you
see them? Oh how beautiful! and in what quantity! what profusion!
See how the dark shade of the holly sets off the light and delicate
colouring of the flower!--And see that other bed of them springing from
the rich moss in the roots of that old beech-tree! Pray, let us gather
some. Here are baskets.' So, quickly and carefully we began gathering,
leaves, blossoms, roots and all, for the plant is so fragile that
it will not brook separation;--quickly and carefully we gathered,
encountering divers petty misfortunes in spite of all our care, now
caught by the veil in a holly bush, now hitching our shawls in a
bramble, still gathering on, in spite of scratched fingers, till we had
nearly filled our baskets and began to talk of our departure:--

'But where is May? May! May! No going home without her. May! Here she
comes galloping, the beauty!'--(Ellen is almost as fond of May as I
am.)--'What has she got in her mouth? that rough, round, brown substance
which she touches so tenderly? What can it be? A bird's nest? Naughty
May!'

'No! as I live, a hedgehog! Look, Ellen, how it has coiled itself into a
thorny ball! Off with it, May! Don't bring it to me!'--And May, somewhat
reluctant to part with her prickly prize, however troublesome of
carriage, whose change of shape seemed to me to have puzzled her
sagacity more than any event I ever witnessed, for in general she has
perfectly the air of understanding all that is going forward--May
at last dropt the hedgehog; continuing, however, to pat it with her
delicate cat-like paw, cautiously and daintily applied, and caught back
suddenly and rapidly after every touch, as if her poor captive had been
a red-hot coal. Finding that these pats entirely failed in solving the
riddle (for the hedgehog shammed dead, like the lamb the other day, and
appeared entirely motionless), she gave him so spirited a nudge with
her pretty black nose, that she not only turned him over, but sent him
rolling some little way along the turfy path,--an operation which that
sagacious quadruped endured with the most perfect passiveness, the most
admirable non-resistance. No wonder that May's discernment was at fault,
I myself, if I had not been aware of the trick, should have said that
the ugly rough thing which she was trundling along, like a bowl or a
cricket-ball, was an inanimate substance, something devoid of sensation
and of will. At last my poor pet, thoroughly perplexed and tired out,
fairly relinquished the contest, and came slowly away, turning back once
or twice to look at the object of her curiosity, as if half inclined
to return and try the event of another shove. The sudden flight of a
wood-pigeon effectually diverted her attention; and Ellen amused herself
by fancying how the hedgehog was scuttling away, till our notice was
also attracted by a very different object.

We had nearly threaded the wood, and were approaching an open grove
of magnificent oaks on the other side, when sounds other than of
nightingales burst on our ear, the deep and frequent strokes of the
woodman's axe, and emerging from the Pinge we discovered the havoc which
that axe had committed. Above twenty of the finest trees lay stretched
on the velvet turf. There they lay in every shape and form of
devastation: some, bare trunks stripped ready for the timber carriage,
with the bark built up in long piles at the side; some with the spoilers
busy about them, stripping, hacking, hewing; others with their noble
branches, their brown and fragrant shoots all fresh as if they were
alive--majestic corses, the slain of to-day! The grove was like a field
of battle. The young lads who were stripping the bark, the very children
who were picking up the chips, seemed awed and silent, as if conscious
that death was around them. The nightingales sang faintly and
interruptedly--a few low frightened notes like a requiem.

Ah! here we are at the very scene of murder, the very tree that they
are felling; they have just hewn round the trunk with those slaughtering
axes, and are about to saw it asunder. After all, it is a fine and
thrilling operation, as the work of death usually is. Into how grand an
attitude was that young man thrown as he gave the final strokes round
the root; and how wonderful is the effect of that supple and apparently
powerless saw, bending like a riband, and yet overmastering that giant
of the woods, conquering and overthrowing that thing of life! Now it has
passed half through the trunk, and the woodman has begun to calculate
which way the tree will fall; he drives a wedge to direct its
course;--now a few more movements of the noiseless saw; and then a
larger wedge. See how the branches tremble! Hark how the trunk begins
to crack! Another stroke of the huge hammer on the wedge, and the tree
quivers, as with a mortal agony, shakes, reels, and falls. How slow,
and solemn, and awful it is! How like to death, to human death in its
grandest form! Caesar in the Capitol, Seneca in the bath, could not fall
more sublimely than that oak.

Even the heavens seem to sympathise with the devastation. The clouds
have gathered into one thick low canopy, dark and vapoury as the smoke
which overhangs London; the setting sun is just gleaming underneath with
a dim and bloody glare, and the crimson rays spreading upward with a
lurid and portentous grandeur, a subdued and dusky glow, like the light
reflected on the sky from some vast conflagration. The deep flush fades
away, and the rain begins to descend; and we hurry homeward rapidly, yet
sadly, forgetful alike of the flowers, the hedgehog, and the wetting,
thinking and talking only of the fallen tree.



THE DELL.

May 2nd.--A delicious evening;--bright sunshine; light summer air; a sky
almost cloudless; and a fresh yet delicate verdure on the hedges and
in the fields;--an evening that seems made for a visit to my
newly-discovered haunt, the mossy dell, one of the most beautiful spots
in the neighbourhood, which after passing, times out of number, the
field which it terminates, we found out about two months ago from the
accident of May's killing a rabbit there. May has had a fancy for the
place ever since; and so have I.

Thither accordingly we bend our way;--through the village;--up the
hill;--along the common;--past the avenue;--across the bridge; and by
the hill. How deserted the road is to-night! We have not seen a single
acquaintance, except poor blind Robert, laden with his sack of grass
plucked from the hedges, and the little boy that leads him. A singular
division of labour! Little Jem guides Robert to the spots where the long
grass grows, and tells him where it is most plentiful; and then the old
man cuts it close to the roots, and between them they fill the sack, and
sell the contents in the village. Half the cows in the street--for our
baker, our wheelwright, and our shoemaker has each his Alderney--owe the
best part of their maintenance to blind Robert's industry.

Here we are at the entrance of the cornfield which leads to the dell,
and which commands so fine a view of the Loddon, the mill, the great
farm, with its picturesque outbuildings, and the range of woody hills
beyond. It is impossible not to pause a moment at that gate, the
landscape, always beautiful, is so suited to the season and the
hour,--so bright, and gay, and spring-like. But May, who has the chance
of another rabbit in her pretty head, has galloped forward to the
dingle, and poor May, who follows me so faithfully in all my wanderings,
has a right to a little indulgence in hers. So to the dingle we go.

At the end of the field, which when seen from the road seems terminated
by a thick dark coppice, we come suddenly to the edge of a ravine, on
one side fringed with a low growth of alder, birch, and willow, on
the other mossy, turfy, and bare, or only broken by bright tufts of
blossomed broom. One or two old pollards almost conceal the winding road
that leads down the descent, by the side of which a spring as bright as
crystal runs gurgling along. The dell itself is an irregular piece of
broken ground, in some parts very deep, intersected by two or three
high banks of equal irregularity, now abrupt and bare, and rocklike,
now crowned with tufts of the feathery willow or magnificent old thorns.
Everywhere the earth is covered by short, fine turf, mixed with mosses,
soft, beautiful, and various, and embossed with the speckled leaves and
lilac flowers of the arum, the paler blossoms of the common orchis, the
enamelled blue of the wild hyacinth, so splendid in this evening light,
and large tufts of oxslips and cowslips rising like nosegays from the
short turf.

The ground on the other side of the dell is much lower than the
field through which we came, so that it is mainly to the labyrinthine
intricacy of these high banks that it owes its singular character of
wildness and variety. Now we seem hemmed in by those green cliffs, shut
out from all the world, with nothing visible but those verdant mounds
and the deep blue sky; now by some sudden turn we get a peep at an
adjoining meadow, where the sheep are lying, dappling its sloping
surface like the small clouds on the summer heaven. Poor harmless, quiet
creatures, how still they are! Some socially lying side by side; some
grouped in threes and fours; some quite apart. Ah! there are lambs
amongst them--pretty, pretty lambs--nestled in by their mothers. Soft,
quiet, sleepy things! Not all so quiet, though! There is a party of
these young lambs as wide awake as heart can desire; half a dozen of
them playing together, frisking, dancing, leaping, butting, and crying
in the young voice, which is so pretty a diminutive of the full-grown
bleat. How beautiful they are with their innocent spotted faces, their
mottled feet, their long curly tails, and their light flexible forms,
frolicking like so many kittens, but with a gentleness, an assurance of
sweetness and innocence, which no kitten, nothing that ever is to be a
cat, can have. How complete and perfect is their enjoyment of existence!
Ah! little rogues! your play has been too noisy; you have awakened your
mammas; and two or three of the old ewes are getting up; and one of them
marching gravely to the troop of lambs has selected her own, given her
a gentle butt, and trotted off; the poor rebuked lamb following meekly,
but every now and then stopping and casting a longing look at its
playmates; who, after a moment's awed pause, had resumed their gambols;
whilst the stately dame every now and then looked back in her turn, to
see that her little one was following. At last she lay down, and the
lamb by her side. I never saw so pretty a pastoral scene in my life.*

*I have seen one which affected me much more. Walking in the Church-lane
with one of the young ladies of the vicarage, we met a large flock of
sheep, with the usual retinue of shepherds and dogs. Lingering after
them and almost out of sight, we encountered a straggling ewe, now
trotting along, now walking, and every now and then stopping to look
back, and bleating. A little behind her came a lame lamb, bleating
occasionally, as if in answer to its dam, and doing its very best to
keep up with her. It was a lameness of both the fore-feet; the knees
were bent, and it seemed to walk on the very edge of the hoof--on
tip-toe, if I may venture such an expression. My young friend thought
that the lameness proceeded from original malformation, I am rather
of opinion that it was accidental, and that the poor creature was
wretchedly foot-sore. However that might be, the pain and difficulty
with which it took every step were not to be mistaken; and the distress
and fondness of the mother, her perplexity as the flock passed gradually
out of sight, the effort with which the poor lamb contrived to keep up
a sort of trot, and their mutual calls and lamentations were really
so affecting, that Ellen and I, although not at all lachrymose sort of
people, had much ado not to cry. We could not find a boy to carry the
lamb, which was too big for us to manage;--but I was quite sure that the
ewe would not desert it, and as the dark was coming on, we both trusted
that the shepherds on folding their flock would miss them and return for
them;--and so I am happy to say it proved.

Another turning of the dell gives a glimpse of the dark coppice by which
it is backed, and from which we are separated by some marshy, rushy
ground, where the springs have formed into a pool, and where the
moor-hen loves to build her nest. Ay, there is one scudding away now;--I
can hear her plash into the water, and the rustling of her wings amongst
the rushes. This is the deepest part of the wild dingle. How uneven
the ground is! Surely these excavations, now so thoroughly clothed with
vegetation, must originally have been huge gravel pits; there is no
other way of accounting for the labyrinth, for they do dig gravel in
such capricious meanders; but the quantity seems incredible. Well! there
is no end of guessing! We are getting amongst the springs, and must
turn back. Round this corner, where on ledges like fairy terraces the
orchises and arums grow, and we emerge suddenly on a new side of the
dell, just fronting the small homestead of our good neighbour Farmer
Allen.

This rustic dwelling belongs to what used to be called in this part
of the country 'a little bargain': thirty or forty acres, perhaps, of
arable land, which the owner and his sons cultivated themselves, whilst
the wife and daughters assisted in the husbandry, and eked out the
slender earnings by the produce of the dairy, the poultry yard, and the
orchard;--an order of cultivators now passing rapidly away, but in
which much of the best part of the English character, its industry,
its frugality, its sound sense, and its kindness might be found. Farmer
Allen himself is an excellent specimen, the cheerful venerable old man
with his long white hair, and his bright grey eye, and his wife is a
still finer. They have had a hard struggle to win through the world
and keep their little property undivided; but good management and good
principles, and the assistance afforded them by an admirable son, who
left our village a poor 'prentice boy, and is now a partner in a great
house in London have enabled them to overcome all the difficulties of
these trying times, and they are now enjoying the peaceful evenings of
a well-spent life as free from care and anxiety as their best friends
could desire.

Ah! there is Mr. Allen in the orchard, the beautiful orchard, with its
glorious gardens of pink and white, its pearly pear-blossoms and coral
apple-buds. What a flush of bloom it is! How brightly delicate
it appears, thrown into strong relief by the dark house and the
weather-stained barn, in this soft evening light! The very grass is
strewed with the snowy petals of the pear and the cherry. And there sits
Mrs. Allen, feeding her poultry, with her three little grand-daughters
from London, pretty fairies from three years old to five (only
two-and-twenty months elapsed between the birth of the eldest and the
youngest) playing round her feet.

Mrs. Allen, my dear Mrs. Allen, has been that rare thing a beauty, and
although she be now an old woman I had almost said that she is so
still. Why should I not say so? Nobleness of feature and sweetness of
expression are surely as delightful in age as in youth. Her face and
figure are much like those which are stamped indelibly on the memory of
every one who ever saw that grand specimen of woman--Mrs. Siddons. The
outline of Mrs. Allen's face is exactly the same; but there is more
softness, more gentleness, a more feminine composure in the eye and in
the smile. Mrs. Allen never played Lady Macbeth. Her hair, almost as
black as at twenty, is parted on her large fair forehead, and combed
under her exquisitely neat and snowy cap; a muslin neckerchief, a grey
stuff gown and a white apron complete the picture.

There she sits under an old elder-tree which flings its branches over
her like a canopy, whilst the setting sun illumines her venerable figure
and touches the leaves with an emerald light; there she sits, placid and
smiling, with her spectacles in her hand and a measure of barley on
her lap, into which the little girls are dipping their chubby hands
and scattering the corn amongst the ducks and chickens with unspeakable
glee. But those ingrates the poultry don't seem so pleased and thankful
as they ought to be; they mistrust their young feeders. All domestic
animals dislike children, partly from an instinctive fear of their
tricks and their thoughtlessness; partly, I suspect, from jealousy.
Jealousy seems a strange tragic passion to attribute to the inmates of
the basse cour,--but only look at that strutting fellow of a bantam cock
(evidently a favourite), who sidles up to his old mistress with an
air half affronted and half tender, turning so scornfully from the
barley-corns which Annie is flinging towards him, and say if he be not
as jealous as Othello? Nothing can pacify him but Mrs. Allen's notice
and a dole from her hand. See, she is calling to him and feeding him,
and now how he swells out his feathers, and flutters his wings, and
erects his glossy neck, and struts and crows and pecks, proudest and
happiest of bantams, the pet and glory of the poultry yard!

In the meantime my own pet May, who has all this while been peeping into
every hole, and penetrating every nook and winding of the dell, in hopes
to find another rabbit, has returned to my side, and is sliding her
snake-like head into my hand, at once to invite the caress which she
likes so well, and to intimate, with all due respect, that it is time to
go home. The setting sun gives the same warning; and in a moment we are
through the dell, the field, and the gate, past the farm and the mill,
and hanging over the bridge that crosses the Loddon river.

What a sunset! how golden! how beautiful! The sun just disappearing, and
the narrow liny clouds, which a few minutes ago lay like soft vapoury
streaks along the horizon, lighted up with a golden splendour that the
eye can scarcely endure, and those still softer clouds which floated
above them wreathing and curling into a thousand fantastic forms,
as thin and changeful as summer smoke, now defined and deepened into
grandeur, and edged with ineffable, insufferable light! Another minute
and the brilliant orb totally disappears, and the sky above grows every
moment more varied and more beautiful as the dazzling golden lines are
mixed with glowing red and gorgeous purple, dappled with small dark
specks, and mingled with such a blue as the egg of the hedge-sparrow. To
look up at that glorious sky, and then to see that magnificent picture
reflected in the clear and lovely Loddon water, is a pleasure never to
be described and never forgotten. My heart swells and my eyes fill as
I write of it, and think of the immeasurable majesty of nature, and the
unspeakable goodness of God, who has spread an enjoyment so pure, so
peaceful, and so intense before the meanest and the lowliest of His
creatures.



THE COWSLIP-BALL.

May 16th.--There are moments in life when, without any visible or
immediate cause, the spirits sink and fail, as it were, under the mere
pressure of existence: moments of unaccountable depression, when one
is weary of one's very thoughts, haunted by images that will not
depart--images many and various, but all painful; friends lost, or
changed, or dead; hopes disappointed even in their accomplishment;
fruitless regrets, powerless wishes, doubt and fear, and self-distrust,
and self-disapprobation. They who have known these feelings (and who is
there so happy as not to have known some of them?) will understand why
Alfieri became powerless, and Froissart dull; and why even needle-work,
the most effectual sedative, that grand soother and composer of woman's
distress, fails to comfort me to-day. I will go out into the air this
cool, pleasant afternoon, and try what that will do. I fancy that
exercise or exertion of any kind, is the true specific for nervousness.
'Fling but a stone, the giant dies.' I will go to the meadows, the
beautiful meadows! and I will have my materials of happiness, Lizzy and
May, and a basket for flowers, and we will make a cowslip-ball. 'Did
you ever see a cowslip-ball, my Lizzy?'--'No.'--'Come away, then; make
haste! run, Lizzy!'

And on we go, fast, fast! down the road, across the lea, past the
workhouse, along by the great pond, till we slide into the deep narrow
lane, whose hedges seem to meet over the water, and win our way to the
little farmhouse at the end. 'Through the farmyard, Lizzy; over the
gate; never mind the cows; they are quiet enough.'--'I don't mind 'em,'
said Miss Lizzy, boldly and truly, and with a proud affronted air,
displeased at being thought to mind anything, and showing by her
attitude and manner some design of proving her courage by an attack on
the largest of the herd, in the shape of a pull by the tail. 'I don't
mind 'em.'--'I know you don't, Lizzy; but let them alone, and don't
chase the turkey-cock. Come to me, my dear!' and, for a wonder, Lizzy
came.

In the meantime, my other pet, Mayflower, had also gotten into a scrape.
She had driven about a huge unwieldy sow, till the animal's grunting
had disturbed the repose of a still more enormous Newfoundland dog, the
guardian of the yard. Out he sallied, growling, from the depth of his
kennel, erecting his tail, and shaking his long chain. May's attention
was instantly diverted from the sow to this new playmate, friend or foe,
she cared not which; and he of the kennel, seeing his charge unhurt, and
out of danger, was at leisure to observe the charms of his fair enemy,
as she frolicked round him, always beyond the reach of his chain, yet
always, with the natural instinctive coquetry of her sex, alluring
him to the pursuit which she knew to be vain. I never saw a prettier
flirtation. At last the noble animal, wearied out, retired to the inmost
recesses of his habitation, and would not even approach her when she
stood right before the entrance. 'You are properly served, May. Come
along, Lizzy. Across this wheatfield, and now over the gate. Stop! let
me lift you down. No jumping, no breaking of necks, Lizzy!' And here we
are in the meadows, and out of the world. Robinson Crusoe, in his lonely
island, had scarcely a more complete, or a more beautiful solitude.

These meadows consist of a double row of small enclosures of rich
grass-land, a mile or two in length, sloping down from high arable
grounds on either side, to a little nameless brook that winds between
them with a course which, in its infinite variety, clearness, and
rapidity, seems to emulate the bold rivers of the north, of whom, far
more than of our lazy southern streams, our rivulet presents a miniature
likeness. Never was water more exquisitely tricksy:--now darting over
the bright pebbles, sparkling and flashing in the light with a bubbling
music, as sweet and wild as the song of the woodlark; now stretching
quietly along, giving back the rich tufts of the golden marsh-marigolds
which grow on its margin; now sweeping round a fine reach of green
grass, rising steeply into a high mound, a mimic promontory, whilst the
other side sinks softly away, like some tiny bay, and the water
flows between, so clear, so wide, so shallow, that Lizzy, longing for
adventure, is sure she could cross unwetted; now dashing through two
sand-banks, a torrent deep and narrow, which May clears at a bound;
now sleeping, half hidden, beneath the alders, and hawthorns, and wild
roses, with which the banks are so profusely and variously fringed,
whilst flags,* lilies, and other aquatic plants, almost cover the
surface of the stream. In good truth, it is a beautiful brook, and one
that Walton himself might have sitten by and loved, for trout are there;
we see them as they dart up the stream, and hear and start at the sudden
plunge when they spring to the surface for the summer flies. Izaak
Walton would have loved our brook and our quiet meadows; they breathe
the very spirit of his own peacefulness, a soothing quietude that sinks
into the soul. There is no path through them, not one; we might wander
a whole spring day, and not see a trace of human habitation. They belong
to a number of small proprietors, who allow each other access through
their respective grounds, from pure kindness and neighbourly feeling;
a privilege never abused: and the fields on the other side of the water
are reached by a rough plank, or a tree thrown across, or some such
homely bridge. We ourselves possess one of the most beautiful; so
that the strange pleasure of property, that instinct which makes Lizzy
delight in her broken doll, and May in the bare bone which she has
pilfered from the kennel of her recreant admirer of Newfoundland, is
added to the other charms of this enchanting scenery; a strange pleasure
it is, when one so poor as I can feel it! Perhaps it is felt most by the
poor, with the rich it may be less intense--too much diffused and spread
out, becoming thin by expansion, like leaf-gold; the little of the poor
may be not only more precious, but more pleasant to them: certain that
bit of grassy and blossomy earth, with its green knolls and tufted
bushes, its old pollards wreathed with ivy, and its bright and babbling
waters, is very dear to me. But I must always have loved these meadows,
so fresh, and cool, and delicious to the eye and to the tread, full
of cowslips, and of all vernal flowers: Shakspeare's 'Song of Spring'
bursts irrepressibly from our lips as we step on them.

*Walking along these meadows one bright sunny afternoon, a year or two
back, and rather later in the season, I had an opportunity of noticing
a curious circumstance in natural history. Standing close to the edge of
the stream, I remarked a singular appearance on a large tuft of flags.
It looked like bunches of flowers, the leaves of which seemed dark, yet
transparent, intermingled with brilliant tubes of bright blue or shining
green. On examining this phenomenon more closely, it turned out to
be several clusters of dragon-flies, just emerged from their deformed
chrysalis state, and still torpid and motionless from the wetness of
their filmy wings. Half an hour later we returned to the spot and they
were gone. We had seen them at the very moment when beauty was complete
and animation dormant. I have since found nearly a similar account of
this curious process in Mr. Bingley's very entertaining work, called
'Animal Biography.'

     'When daisies pied and violets blue
          And lady-smocks all silver-white
      And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
          Do paint the meadows with delight,
      The cuckoo then, on every tree--'

'Cuckoo! cuckoo!' cried Lizzy, breaking in with her clear childish
voice; and immediately, as if at her call, the real bird, from a
neighbouring tree (for these meadows are dotted with timber like a
park), began to echo my lovely little girl, 'cuckoo! cuckoo!' I have a
prejudice very unpastoral and unpoetical (but I cannot help it, I
have many such) against this 'harbinger of spring.' His note is so
monotonous, so melancholy; and then the boys mimic him; one hears
'cuckoo! cuckoo!' in dirty streets, amongst smoky houses, and the bird
is hated for faults not his own. But prejudices of taste, likings and
dislikings, are not always vanquishable by reason; so, to escape the
serenade from the tree, which promised to be of considerable duration
(when once that eternal song begins, on it goes ticking like a
clock)--to escape that noise I determined to excite another, and
challenged Lizzy to a cowslip-gathering; a trial of skill and speed,
to see which should soonest fill her basket. My stratagem succeeded
completely. What scrambling, what shouting, what glee from Lizzy! twenty
cuckoos might have sung unheard whilst she was pulling her own flowers,
and stealing mine, and laughing, screaming, and talking through all.

At last the baskets were filled, and Lizzy declared victor: and down
we sat, on the brink of the stream, under a spreading hawthorn, just
disclosing its own pearly buds, and surrounded with the rich and
enamelled flowers of the wild hyacinth, blue and white, to make our
cowslip-ball. Every one knows the process: to nip off the tuft of
flowerets just below the top of the stalk, and hang each cluster nicely
balanced across a riband, till you have a long string like a garland;
then to press them closely together, and tie them tightly up. We went on
very prosperously, CONSIDERING; as people say of a young lady's drawing,
or a Frenchman's English, or a woman's tragedy, or of the poor little
dwarf who works without fingers, or the ingenious sailor who writes with
his toes, or generally of any performance which is accomplished by means
seemingly inadequate to its production. To be sure we met with a few
accidents. First, Lizzy spoiled nearly all her cowslips by snapping them
off too short; so there was a fresh gathering; in the next place, May
overset my full basket, and sent the blossoms floating, like so many
fairy favours, down the brook; then, when we were going on pretty
steadily, just as we had made a superb wreath, and were thinking of
tying it together, Lizzy, who held the riband, caught a glimpse of a
gorgeous butterfly, all brown and red and purple, and, skipping off to
pursue the new object, let go her hold; so all our treasures were
abroad again. At last, however, by dint of taking a branch of alder as
a substitute for Lizzy, and hanging the basket in a pollard-ash, out
of sight of May, the cowslip-ball was finished. What a concentration of
fragrance and beauty it was! golden and sweet to satiety! rich to sight,
and touch, and smell! Lizzy was enchanted, and ran off with her prize,
hiding amongst the trees in the very coyness of ecstasy, as if any human
eye, even mine, would be a restraint on her innocent raptures.

In the meanwhile I sat listening, not to my enemy the cuckoo, but to a
whole concert of nightingales, scarcely interrupted by any meaner bird,
answering and vying with each other in those short delicious strains
which are to the ear as roses to the eye: those snatches of lovely sound
which come across us as airs from heaven. Pleasant thoughts, delightful
associations, awoke as I listened; and almost unconsciously I repeated
to myself the beautiful story of the Lutist and the Nightingale, from
Ford's 'Lover's Melancholy.' Here it is. Is there in English poetry
anything finer?

    'Passing from Italy to Greece, the tales
     Which poets of an elder time have feign'd
     To glorify their Tempe, bred in me
     Desire of visiting Paradise.
     To Thessaly I came, and living private,
     Without acquaintance of more sweet companions
     Than the old inmates to my love, my thoughts,
     I day by day frequented silent groves
     And solitary walks.  One morning early
     This accident encounter'd me:  I heard
     The sweetest and most ravishing contention
     That art and nature ever were at strife in.
     A sound of music touch'd mine ears, or rather
     Indeed entranced my soul; as I stole nearer,
     Invited by the melody, I saw
     This youth, this fair-faced youth, upon his lute
     With strains of strange variety and harmony
     Proclaiming, as it seem'd, so bold a challenge
     To the clear choristers of the woods, the birds,
     That as they flock'd about him, all stood silent,
     Wondering at what they heard.  I wonder'd too.
     A nightingale,
     Nature's best skill'd musician, undertakes
     The challenge; and for every several strain
     The well-shaped youth could touch, she sang him down.
     He could not run divisions with more art
     Upon his quaking instrument than she,
     The nightingale, did with her various notes
     Reply to.

     Some time thus spent, the young man grew at last
     Into a pretty anger, that a bird,
     Whom art had never taught cliffs, moods, or notes
     Should vie with him for mastery, whose study
     Had busied many hours to perfect practice.
     To end the controversy, in a rapture
     Upon his instrument he plays so swiftly,
     So many voluntaries, and so quick,
     That there was curiosity and cunning,
     Concord in discord, lines of differing method
     Meeting in one full centre of delight.
     The bird (ordain'd to be
     Music's first martyr) strove to imitate
     These several sounds; which when her warbling throat
     Fail'd in, for grief down dropt she on his lute,
     And brake her heart.  It was the quaintest sadness
     To see the conqueror upon her hearse
     To weep a funeral elegy of tears.
     He look'd upon the trophies of his art,
     Then sigh'd, then wiped his eyes; then sigh'd, and cry'd
     "Alas! poor creature, I will soon revenge
     This cruelty upon the author of it.
     Henceforth this lute, guilty of innocent blood,
     Shall never more betray a harmless peace
     To an untimely end:"  and in that sorrow,
     As he was pashing it against a tree,
     I suddenly stept in.'

When I had finished the recitation of this exquisite passage, the sky,
which had been all the afternoon dull and heavy, began to look more
and more threatening; darker clouds, like wreaths of black smoke, flew
across the dead leaden tint; a cooler, damper air blew over the meadows,
and a few large heavy drops splashed in the water. 'We shall have a
storm. Lizzy! May! where are ye? Quick, quick, my Lizzy! run, run!
faster, faster!'

And off we ran; Lizzy not at all displeased at the thoughts of a
wetting, to which indeed she is almost as familiar as a duck; May, on
the other hand, peering up at the weather, and shaking her pretty ears
with manifest dismay. Of all animals, next to a cat, a greyhound dreads
rain. She might have escaped it; her light feet would have borne her
home long before the shower; but May is too faithful for that, too true
a comrade, understands too well the laws of good-fellowship; so she
waited for us. She did, to be sure, gallop on before, and then stop and
look back, and beckon, as it were, with some scorn in her black eyes at
the slowness of our progress. We in the meanwhile got on as fast as we
could, encouraging and reproaching each other. 'Faster, my Lizzy! Oh,
what a bad runner!'--'Faster, faster! Oh, what a bad runner!' echoed my
saucebox. 'You are so fat, Lizzy, you make no way!'--'Ah! who else is
fat?' retorted the darling. Certainly her mother is right; I do spoil
that child.

By this time we were thoroughly soaked, all three. It was a pelting
shower, that drove through our thin summer clothing and poor May's short
glossy coat in a moment. And then, when we were wet to the skin, the sun
came out, actually the sun, as if to laugh at our plight; and then, more
provoking still, when the sun was shining, and the shower over, came a
maid and a boy to look after us, loaded with cloaks and umbrellas enough
to fence us against a whole day's rain. Never mind! on we go, faster
and faster; Lizzy obliged to be most ignobly carried, having had the
misfortune to lose a shoe in the mud, which we left the boy to look
after.

Here we are at home--dripping; but glowing and laughing, and bearing our
calamity most manfully. May, a dog of excellent sense, went instantly
to bed in the stable, and is at this moment over head and ears in straw;
Lizzy is gone to bed too, coaxed into that wise measure by a promise of
tea and toast, and of not going home till to-morrow, and the story of
Little Red Riding Hood; and I am enjoying the luxury of dry clothing by
a good fire. Really getting wet through now and then is no bad thing,
finery apart; for one should not like spoiling a new pelisse, or a
handsome plume; but when there is nothing in question but a white gown
and a straw bonnet, as was the case to-day, it is rather pleasant than
not. The little chill refreshes, and our enjoyment of the subsequent
warmth and dryness is positive and absolute. Besides, the stimulus and
exertion do good to the mind as well as body. How melancholy I was all
the morning! how cheerful I am now! Nothing like a shower-bath--a real
shower-bath, such as Lizzy and May and I have undergone, to cure low
spirits. Try it, my dear readers, if ever ye be nervous--I will answer
for its success.



THE OLD HOUSE AT ABERLEIGH.

June 25th.--What a glowing glorious day! Summer in its richest prime,
noon in its most sparkling brightness, little white clouds dappling
the deep blue sky, and the sun, now partially veiled, and now bursting
through them with an intensity of light! It would not do to walk to-day,
professedly to walk,--we should be frightened at the very sound! and yet
it is probable that we may be beguiled into a pretty long stroll before
we return home. We are going to drive to the old house at Aberleigh, to
spend the morning under the shade of those balmy firs, and amongst those
luxuriant rose trees, and by the side of that brimming Loddon river. 'Do
not expect us before six o'clock,' said I, as I left the house; 'Six at
soonest!' added my charming companion; and off we drove in our little
pony chaise, drawn by our old mare, and with the good humoured urchin,
Henry's successor, a sort of younger Scrub, who takes care of horse and
chaise, and cow and garden, for our charioteer.

My comrade in this homely equipage was a young lady of high family
and higher endowments, to whom the novelty of the thing, and her own
naturalness of character and simplicity of taste, gave an unspeakable
enjoyment. She danced the little chaise up and down as she got into it,
and laughed for very glee like a child, Lizzy herself could not have
been more delighted. She praised the horse and the driver, and the roads
and the scenery, and gave herself fully up to the enchantment of a rural
excursion in the sweetest weather of this sweet season. I enjoyed all
this too; for the road was pleasant to every sense, winding through
narrow lanes, under high elms, and between hedges garlanded with
woodbine and rose trees, whilst the air was scented with the delicious
fragrance of blossomed beans. I enjoyed it all,--but, I believe, my
principal pleasure was derived from my companion herself.

Emily I. is a person whom it is a privilege to know. She is quite like
a creation of the older poets, and might pass for one of Shakspeare's
or Fletcher's women stepped into life; just as tender, as playful, as
gentle, and as kind. She is clever too, and has all the knowledge and
accomplishments that a carefully-conducted education, acting on a mind
of singular clearness and ductility, matured and improved by the very
best company, can bestow. But one never thinks of her acquirements. It
is the charming artless character, the bewitching sweetness of manner,
the real and universal sympathy, the quick taste and the ardent feeling,
that one loves in Emily. She is Irish by birth, and has in perfection
the melting voice and soft caressing accent by which her fair
countrywomen are distinguished. Moreover she is pretty--I think her
beautiful, and so do all who have heard as well as seen her,--but
pretty, very pretty, all the world must confess; and perhaps that is a
distinction more enviable, because less envied, than the 'palmy state'
of beauty. Her prettiness is of the prettiest kind--that of which the
chief character is youthfulness. A short but pleasing figure, all
grace and symmetry, a fair blooming face, beaming with intelligence
and good-humour; the prettiest little feet and the whitest hands in the
world;--such is Emily I.

She resides with her maternal grandmother, a venerable old lady,
slightly shaken with the palsy; and when together (and they are so
fondly attached to each other that they are seldom parted), it is one of
the loveliest combinations of youth and age ever witnessed. There is
no seeing them without feeling an increase of respect and affection for
both grandmother and granddaughter--always one of the tenderest and most
beautiful of natural connections--as Richardson knew when he made such
exquisite use of it in his matchless book. I fancy that grandmamma
Shirley must have been just such another venerable lady as Mrs. S., and
our sweet Emily--Oh no! Harriet Byron is not half good enough for her!
There is nothing like her in the whole seven volumes.

But here we are at the bridge! Here we must alight! 'This is the Loddon,
Emily. Is it not a beautiful river? rising level with its banks, so
clear, and smooth, and peaceful, giving back the verdant landscape
and the bright blue sky, and bearing on its pellucid stream the snowy
water-lily, the purest of flowers, which sits enthroned on its own cool
leaves, looking chastity itself, like the lady in Comus. That queenly
flower becomes the water, and so do the stately swans who are sailing so
majestically down the stream, like those who

          "'On St. Mary's lake
      Float double, swan and shadow."

We must dismount here, and leave Richard to take care of our equipage
under the shade of these trees, whilst we walk up to the house:--See,
there it is! We must cross this stile; there is no other way now.'

And crossing the stile we were immediately in what had been a drive
round a spacious park, and still retained something of the character,
though the park itself had long been broken into arable fields,--and in
full view of the Great House, a beautiful structure of James the First's
time, whose glassless windows and dilapidated doors form a melancholy
contrast with the strength and entireness of the rich and massive front.

The story of that ruin--for such it is--is always to me singularly
affecting. It is that of the decay of an ancient and distinguished
family, gradually reduced from the highest wealth and station to actual
poverty. The house and park, and a small estate around it, were entailed
on a distant cousin, and could not be alienated; and the late owner,
the last of his name and lineage, after long struggling with debt and
difficulty, farming his own lands, and clinging to his magnificent home
with a love of place almost as tenacious as that of the younger Foscari,
was at last forced to abandon it, retired to a paltry lodging in a
paltry town, and died there about twenty years ago, broken-hearted.
His successor, bound by no ties of association to the spot, and rightly
judging the residence to be much too large for the diminished estate,
immediately sold the superb fixtures, and would have entirely taken down
the house, if, on making the attempt, the masonry had not been found
so solid that the materials were not worth the labour. A great part,
however, of one side is laid open, and the splendid chambers, with their
carving and gilding, are exposed to the wind and rain--sad memorials
of past grandeur! The grounds have been left in a merciful neglect; the
park, indeed, is broken up, the lawn mown twice a year like a common
hayfield, the grotto mouldering into ruin, and the fishponds choked
with rushes and aquatic plants; but the shrubs and flowering trees are
undestroyed, and have grown into a magnificence of size and wildness of
beauty, such as we may imagine them to attain in their native forests.
Nothing can exceed their luxuriance, especially in the spring, when
the lilac, and laburnum, and double-cherry put forth their gorgeous
blossoms. There is a sweet sadness in the sight of such floweriness
amidst such desolation; it seems the triumph of nature over the
destructive power of man. The whole place, in that season more
particularly, is full of a soft and soothing melancholy, reminding me, I
scarcely know why, of some of the descriptions of natural scenery in the
novels of Charlotte Smith, which I read when a girl, and which, perhaps,
for that reason hang on my memory.

But here we are, in the smooth grassy ride, on the top of a steep turfy
slope descending to the river, crowned with enormous firs and limes of
equal growth, looking across the winding waters into a sweet peaceful
landscape of quiet meadows, shut in by distant woods. What a fragrance
is in the air from the balmy fir trees and the blossomed limes! What an
intensity of odour! And what a murmur of bees in the lime trees! What a
coil those little winged people make over our heads! And what a pleasant
sound it is! the pleasantest of busy sounds, that which comes associated
with all that is good and beautiful--industry and forecast, and sunshine
and flowers. Surely these lime trees might store a hundred hives; the
very odour is of a honeyed richness, cloying, satiating.

Emily exclaimed in admiration as we stood under the deep, strong,
leafy shadow, and still more when honeysuckles trailed their untrimmed
profusion in our path, and roses, really trees, almost intercepted our
passage.

'On, Emily! farther yet! Force your way by that jessamine--it will
yield; I will take care of this stubborn white rose bough.'--'Take care
of yourself! Pray take care,' said my fairest friend; 'let me hold back
the branches.'--After we had won our way through the strait, at some
expense of veils and flounces, she stopped to contemplate and admire
the tall, graceful shrub, whose long thorny stems, spreading in every
direction, had opposed our progress, and now waved their delicate
clusters over our heads. 'Did I ever think,' exclaimed she, 'of standing
under the shadow of a white rose tree! What an exquisite fragrance! And
what a beautiful flower! so pale, and white, and tender, and the petals
thin and smooth as silk! What rose is it?'--'Don't you know? Did you
never see it before? It is rare now, I believe, and seems rarer than it
is, because it only blossoms in very hot summers; but this, Emily, is
the musk rose,--that very musk rose of which Titania talks, and which is
worthy of Shakspeare and of her. Is it not?--No! do not smell to it; it
is less sweet so than other roses; but one cluster in a vase, or even
that bunch in your bosom, will perfume a large room, as it does the
summer air.'--'Oh! we will take twenty clusters,' said Emily. 'I wish
grandmamma were here! She talks so often of a musk rose tree that grew
against one end of her father's house. I wish she were here to see
this!'

Echoing her wish, and well laden with musk roses, planted perhaps in
the days of Shakspeare, we reached the steps that led to a square
summer-house or banqueting-room, overhanging the river: the under part
was a boat-house, whose projecting roof, as well as the walls and the
very top of the little tower, was covered with ivy and woodbine, and
surmounted by tufted barberries, bird cherries, acacias, covered with
their snowy chains, and other pendent and flowering trees. Beyond rose
two poplars of unrivalled magnitude, towering like stately columns over
the dark tall firs, and giving a sort of pillared and architectural
grandeur to the scene.

We were now close to the mansion; but it looked sad and desolate, and
the entrance, choked with brambles and nettles, seemed almost to repel
our steps. The summer-house, the beautiful summer-house, was free and
open, and inviting, commanding from the unglazed windows, which hung
high above the water, a reach of the river terminated by a rustic mill.

There we sat, emptying our little basket of fruit and country cakes,
till Emily was seized with a desire of viewing, from the other side of
the Loddon, the scenery which had so much enchanted her. 'I must,' said
she, 'take a sketch of the ivied boat-house, and of this sweet room, and
this pleasant window;--grandmamma would never be able to walk from the
road to see the place itself, but she must see its likeness.' So forth
we sallied, not forgetting the dear musk roses.

We had no way of reaching the desired spot but by retracing our steps a
mile, during the heat of the hottest hour of the day, and then following
the course of the river to an equal distance on the other side; nor
had we any materials for sketching, except the rumpled paper which had
contained our repast, and a pencil without a point which I happened to
have about me. But these small difficulties are pleasures to gay and
happy youth. Regardless of such obstacles, the sweet Emily bounded on
like a fawn, and I followed delighting in her delight. The sun went in,
and the walk was delicious; a reviving coolness seemed to breathe over
the water, wafting the balmy scent of the firs and limes; we found a
point of view presenting the boat-house, the water, the poplars, and the
mill, in a most felicitous combination; the little straw fruit basket
made a capital table; and refreshed and sharpened and pointed by our
trusty lacquey's excellent knife (your country boy is never without
a good knife, it is his prime treasure), the pencil did double
duty;--first in the skilful hands of Emily, whose faithful and spirited
sketch does equal honour to the scene and to the artist, and then in the
humbler office of attempting a faint transcript of my own impressions in
the following sonnet:--

     It was an hour of calmest noon, at day
       Of ripest summer:  o'er the deep blue sky
       White speckled clouds came sailing peacefully,
     Half-shrouding in a chequer'd veil the ray
     Of the sun, too ardent else,--what time we lay
       By the smooth Loddon, opposite the high
       Steep bank, which as a coronet gloriously
     Wore its rich crest of firs and lime trees, gay
       With their pale tassels; while from out a bower
     Of ivy (where those column'd poplars rear
       Their heads) the ruin'd boat-house, like a tower,
     Flung its deep shadow on the waters clear.
       My Emily! forget not that calm hour,
     Nor that fair scene, by thee made doubly dear!



THE HARD SUMMER.

August 15th.--Cold, cloudy, windy, wet. Here we are, in the midst of
the dog-days, clustering merrily round the warm hearth like so many
crickets, instead of chirruping in the green fields like that other
merry insect the grasshopper; shivering under the influence of the
Jupiter Pluvius of England, the watery St. Swithin; peering at that
scarce personage the sun, when he happens to make his appearance, as
intently as astronomers look after a comet, or the common people stare
at a balloon; exclaiming against the cold weather, just as we used to
exclaim against the warm. 'What a change from last year!' is the first
sentence you hear, go where you may. Everybody remarks it, and everybody
complains of it; and yet in my mind it has its advantages, or at least
its compensations, as everything in nature has, if we would only take
the trouble to seek for them.

Last year, in spite of the love which we are now pleased to profess
towards that ardent luminary, not one of the sun's numerous admirers had
courage to look him in the face: there was no bearing the world till he
had said 'Good-night' to it. Then we might stir: then we began to wake
and to live. All day long we languished under his influence in a strange
dreaminess, too hot to work, too hot to read, too hot to write, too hot
even to talk; sitting hour after hour in a green arbour, embowered
in leafiness, letting thought and fancy float as they would. Those
day-dreams were pretty things in their way; there is no denying that.
But then, if one half of the world were to dream through a whole summer,
like the sleeping Beauty in the wood, what would become of the other?

The only office requiring the slightest exertion, which I performed in
that warm weather, was watering my flowers. Common sympathy called for
that labour. The poor things withered, and faded, and pined away; they
almost, so to say, panted for draught. Moreover, if I had not watered
them myself, I suspect that no one else would; for water last year was
nearly as precious hereabout as wine. Our land-springs were dried up;
our wells were exhausted; our deep ponds were dwindling into mud; and
geese, and ducks, and pigs, and laundresses, used to look with a jealous
and suspicious eye on the few and scanty half-buckets of that impure
element, which my trusty lacquey was fain to filch for my poor geraniums
and campanulas and tuberoses. We were forced to smuggle them in through
my faithful adherent's territories, the stable, to avoid lectures within
doors and at last even that resource failed; my garden, my blooming
garden, the joy of my eyes, was forced to go waterless like its
neighbours, and became shrivelled, scorched, and sunburnt, like them. It
really went to my heart to look at it.

On the other side of the house matters were still worse. What a dusty
world it was, when about sunset we became cool enough to creep into
it! Flowers in the court looking fit for a 'hortus siccus;' mummies of
plants, dried as in an oven; hollyhocks, once pink, turned into Quakers;
cloves smelling of dust. Oh, dusty world! May herself looked of that
complexion; so did Lizzy; so did all the houses, windows, chickens,
children, trees, and pigs in the village; so above all did the shoes.
No foot could make three plunges into that abyss of pulverised gravel,
which had the impudence to call itself a hard road, without being
clothed with a coat a quarter of an inch thick. Woe to white gowns! woe
to black! Drab was your only wear.

Then, when we were out of the street, what a toil it was to mount the
hill, climbing with weary steps and slow upon the brown turf by the
wayside, slippery, hot, and hard as a rock! And then if we happened to
meet a carriage coming along the middle of the road,--the bottomless
middle,--what a sandy whirlwind it was! What choking! what suffocation!
No state could be more pitiable, except indeed that of the travellers
who carried this misery about with them. I shall never forget the plight
in which we met the coach one evening in last August, full an hour after
its time, steeds and driver, carriage and passengers, all one dust. The
outsides, and the horses, and the coachman, seemed reduced to a torpid
quietness, the resignation of despair. They had left off trying
to better their condition, and taken refuge in a wise and patient
hopelessness, bent to endure in silence the extremity of ill. The six
insides, on the contrary, were still fighting against their fate,
vainly struggling to ameliorate their hapless destiny. They were visibly
grumbling at the weather, scolding at the dust, and heating themselves
like a furnace, by striving against the heat. How well I remember the
fat gentleman without his coat, who was wiping his forehead, heaving up
his wig, and certainly uttering that English ejaculation, which, to
our national reproach, is the phrase of our language best known on the
continent. And that poor boy, red-hot, all in a flame, whose mamma,
having divested her own person of all superfluous apparel, was trying to
relieve his sufferings by the removal of his neckerchief--an operation
which he resisted with all his might. How perfectly I remember him, as
well as the pale girl who sat opposite, fanning herself with her bonnet
into an absolute fever! They vanished after a while into their own dust;
but I have them all before my eyes at this moment, a companion picture
to Hogarth's 'Afternoon,' a standing lesson to the grumblers at cold
summers.

For my part, I really like this wet season. It keeps us within, to be
sure, rather more than is quite agreeable; but then we are at least
awake and alive there, and the world out of doors is so much the
pleasanter when we can get abroad. Everything does well, except those
fastidious bipeds, men and women; corn ripens, grass grows, fruit is
plentiful; there is no lack of birds to eat it, and there has not been
such a wasp-season these dozen years. My garden wants no watering, and
is more beautiful than ever, beating my old rival in that primitive art,
the pretty wife of the little mason, out and out. Measured with mine,
her flowers are naught. Look at those hollyhocks, like pyramids of
roses; those garlands of the convolvulus major of all colours, hanging
around that tall pole, like the wreathy hop-bine; those magnificent
dusky cloves, breathing of the Spice Islands; those flaunting double
dahlias; those splendid scarlet geraniums, and those fierce and warlike
flowers the tiger-lilies. Oh, how beautiful they are! Besides, the
weather clears sometimes--it has cleared this evening; and here are
we, after a merry walk up the hill, almost as quick as in the winter,
bounding lightly along the bright green turf of the pleasant common,
enticed by the gay shouts of a dozen clear young voices, to linger
awhile, and see the boys play at cricket.

I plead guilty to a strong partiality towards that unpopular class of
beings, country boys: I have a large acquaintance amongst them, and I
can almost say, that I know good of many and harm of none. In general
they are an open, spirited, good-humoured race, with a proneness
to embrace the pleasures and eschew the evils of their condition, a
capacity for happiness, quite unmatched in man, or woman, or a girl.
They are patient, too, and bear their fate as scape-goats (for all sins
whatsoever are laid as matters of course to their door), whether at home
or abroad, with amazing resignation and, considering the many lies of
which they are the objects, they tell wonderfully few in return. The
worst that can be said of them is, that they seldom, when grown to
man's estate, keep the promise of their boyhood; but that is a fault to
come--a fault that may not come, and ought not to be anticipated. It is
astonishing how sensible they are to notice from their betters, or those
whom they think such. I do not speak of money, or gifts, or praise, or
the more coarse and common briberies--they are more delicate courtiers;
a word, a nod, a smile, or the mere calling of them by their names, is
enough to ensure their hearts and their services. Half a dozen of them,
poor urchins, have run away now to bring us chairs from their several
homes. 'Thank you, Joe Kirby!--you are always first--yes, that is
just the place--I shall see everything there. Have you been in yet,
Joe?'--'No, ma'am! I go in next.'--'Ah, I am glad of that--and now's
the time. Really that was a pretty ball of Jem Eusden's!--I was sure it
would go to the wicket. Run, Joe! They are waiting for you.' There
was small need to bid Joe Kirby make haste; I think he is, next to
a race-horse, or a greyhound, or a deer, the fastest creature that
runs--the most completely alert and active. Joe is mine especial friend,
and leader of the 'tender juveniles,' as Joel Brent is of the adults.
In both instances this post of honour was gained by merit, even more
remarkably so in Joe's case than in Joel's; for Joe is a less boy than
many of his companions (some of whom are fifteeners and sixteeners,
quite as tall and nearly as old as Tom Coper), and a poorer than all,
as may be conjectured from the lamentable state of that patched round
frock, and the ragged condition of those unpatched shoes, which would
encumber, if anything could, the light feet that wear them. But why
should I lament the poverty that never troubles him? Joe is the merriest
and happiest creature that ever lived twelve years in this wicked world.
Care cannot come near him. He hath a perpetual smile on his round ruddy
face, and a laugh in his hazel eye, that drives the witch away. He works
at yonder farm on the top of the hill, where he is in such repute for
intelligence and good-humour, that he has the honour of performing all
the errands of the house, of helping the maid, the mistress, and the
master, in addition to his own stated office of carter's boy. There he
works hard from five till seven, and then he comes here to work still
harder, under the name of play--batting, bowling, and fielding, as if
for life, filling the place of four boys; being, at a pinch, a whole
eleven. The late Mr. Knyvett, the king's organist, who used in his own
person to sing twenty parts at once of the Hallelujah Chorus, so that
you would have thought he had a nest of nightingales in his throat,
was but a type of Joe Kirby. There is a sort of ubiquity about him; he
thinks nothing of being in two places at once, and for pitching a ball,
William Grey himself is nothing to him. It goes straight to the mark
like a bullet. He is king of the cricketers from eight to sixteen,
both inclusive, and an excellent ruler he makes. Nevertheless, in the
best-ordered states there will be grumblers, and we have an opposition
here in the shape of Jem Eusden.

Jem Eusden is a stunted lad of thirteen, or thereabout, lean, small, and
short, yet strong and active. His face is of an extraordinary ugliness,
colourless, withered, haggard, with a look of extreme age, much
increased by hair so light that it might rather pass for white than
flaxen. He is constantly arrayed in the blue cap and old-fashioned coat,
the costume of an endowed school to which he belongs; where he sits
still all day, and rushes into the field at night, fresh, untired, and
ripe for action, to scold and brawl, and storm, and bluster. He hates
Joe Kirby, whose immovable good-humour, broad smiles, and knowing nods,
must certainly be very provoking to so fierce and turbulent a spirit;
and he has himself (being, except by rare accident, no great player) the
preposterous ambition of wishing to be manager of the sports. In short,
he is a demagogue in embryo, with every quality necessary to a splendid
success in that vocation,--a strong voice, a fluent utterance, an
incessant iteration, and a frontless impudence. He is a great 'scholar'
too, to use the country phrase; his 'piece,' as our village schoolmaster
terms a fine sheet of flourishing writing, something between a valentine
and a sampler, enclosed within a border of little coloured prints--his
last, I remember, was encircled by an engraved history of Moses,
beginning at the finding in the bulrushes, with Pharaoh's daughter
dressed in a rose-coloured gown and blue feathers--his piece is not
only the admiration of the school, but of the parish, and is sent
triumphantly round from house to house at Christmas, to extort halfpence
and sixpences from all encouragers of learning--Montem in miniature.
The Mosaic history was so successful, that the produce enabled Jem to
purchase a bat and ball, which, besides adding to his natural arrogance
(for the little pedant actually began to mutter against being eclipsed
by a dunce, and went so far as to challenge Joe Kirby to a trial in
Practice, or the Rule of Three), gave him, when compared with the
general poverty, a most unnatural preponderance in the cricket state. He
had the ways and means in his hands (for alas! the hard winter had made
sad havoc among the bats, and the best ball was a bad one)--he had the
ways and means, could withhold the supplies, and his party was beginning
to wax strong, when Joe received a present of two bats and a ball for
the youngsters in general and himself in particular--and Jem's adherents
left him on the spot--they ratted, to a man, that very evening.
Notwithstanding this desertion, their forsaken leader has in nothing
relaxed from his pretensions, or his ill-humour. He stills quarrels
and brawls as if he had a faction to back him, and thinks nothing of
contending with both sides, the ins and the outs, secure of out-talking
the whole field. He has been squabbling these ten minutes, and is just
marching off now with his own bat (he has never deigned to use one of
Joe's) in his hand. What an ill-conditioned hobgoblin it is! And yet
there is something bold and sturdy about him too. I should miss Jem
Eusden.

Ah, there is another deserter from the party! my friend the little
hussar--I do not know his name, and call him after his cap and jacket.
He is a very remarkable person, about the age of eight years, the
youngest piece of gravity and dignity I ever encountered; short,
and square, and upright, and slow, with a fine bronzed flat
visage, resembling those convertible signs the Broad-Face and the
Saracen's-Head, which, happening to be next-door neighbours in the
town of B., I never knew apart, resembling, indeed, any face that is
open-eyed and immovable, the very sign of a boy! He stalks about with
his hands in his breeches pockets, like a piece of machinery; sits
leisurely down when he ought to field, and never gets farther in batting
than to stop the ball. His is the only voice never heard in the melee:
I doubt, indeed, if he have one, which may be partly the reason of a
circumstance that I record to his honour, his fidelity to Jem Eusden,
to whom he has adhered through every change of fortune, with a tenacity
proceeding perhaps from an instinctive consciousness that the loquacious
leader talks enough for two. He is the only thing resembling a follower
that our demagogue possesses, and is cherished by him accordingly.
Jem quarrels for him, scolds for him, pushes for him; and but for
Joe Kirby's invincible good-humour, and a just discrimination of the
innocent from the guilty, the activity of Jem's friendship would get the
poor hussar ten drubbings a day.

But it is growing late. The sun has set a long time. Only see what a
gorgeous colouring has spread itself over those parting masses of clouds
in the west,--what a train of rosy light! We shall have a fine sunshiny
day to-morrow,--a blessing not to be undervalued, in spite of my late
vituperation of heat. Shall we go home now? And shall we take the
longest but prettiest road, that by the green lanes? This way, to the
left, round the corner of the common, past Mr. Welles's cottage, and
our path lies straight before us. How snug and comfortable that cottage
looks! Its little yard all alive with the cow, and the mare, and the
colt almost as large as the mare, and the young foal, and the great
yard-dog, all so fat! Fenced in with hay-rick, and wheat-rick, and
bean-stack, and backed by the long garden, the spacious drying-ground,
the fine orchard, and that large field quartered into four different
crops. How comfortable this cottage looks, and how well the owners earn
their comforts! They are the most prosperous pair in the parish--she
a laundress with twenty times more work than she can do, unrivalled in
flounces and shirt-frills, and such delicacies of the craft; he, partly
a farmer, partly a farmer's man, tilling his own ground, and then
tilling other people's;--affording a proof, even in this declining age,
when the circumstances of so many worthy members of the community seem
to have 'an alacrity in sinking,' that it is possible to amend them
by sheer industry. He, who was born in the workhouse, and bred up as
a parish boy, has now, by mere manual labour, risen to the rank of a
land-owner, pays rates and taxes, grumbles at the times, and is called
Master Welles,--the title next to Mister--that by which Shakspeare was
called;--what would man have more? His wife, besides being the best
laundress in the county, is a comely woman still. There she stands at
the spring, dipping up water for to-morrow,--the clear, deep, silent
spring, which sleeps so peacefully under its high flowery bank, red with
the tall spiral stalks of the foxglove and their rich pendent bells,
blue with the beautiful forget-me-not, that gem-like blossom, which
looks like a living jewel of turquoise and topaz. It is almost too late
to see its beauty; and here is the pleasant shady lane, where the high
elms will shut out the little twilight that remains. Ah, but we shall
have the fairies' lamps to guide us, the stars of the earth, the
glow-worms! Here they are, three almost together. Do you not see them?
One seems tremulous, vibrating, as if on the extremity of a leaf of
grass; the others are deeper in the hedge, in some green cell on
which their light falls with an emerald lustre. I hope my friends the
cricketers will not come this way home. I would not have the pretty
creatures removed for more than I care to say, and in this matter I
would hardly trust Joe Kirby--boys so love to stick them in their hats.
But this lane is quite deserted. It is only a road from field to field.
No one comes here at this hour. They are quite safe; and I shall walk
here to-morrow and visit them again. And now, goodnight! beautiful
insects, lamps of the fairies, good-night!



THE SHAW.

September 9th.--A bright sunshiny afternoon. What a comfort it is to
get out again--to see once more that rarity of rarities, a fine day! We
English people are accused of talking overmuch of the weather; but the
weather, this summer, has forced people to talk of it. Summer! did
I say? Oh! season most unworthy of that sweet, sunny name! Season of
coldness and cloudiness, of gloom and rain! A worse November!--for in
November the days are short; and shut up in a warm room, lighted by that
household sun, a lamp, one feels through the long evenings comfortably
independent of the out-of-door tempests. But though we may have, and did
have, fires all through the dog-days, there is no shutting out daylight;
and sixteen hours of rain, pattering against the windows and dripping
from the eaves--sixteen hours of rain, not merely audible, but visible
for seven days in the week--would be enough to exhaust the patience of
Job or Grizzel; especially if Job were a farmer, and Grizzel a country
gentlewoman. Never was known such a season! Hay swimming, cattle
drowning, fruit rotting, corn spoiling! and that naughty river, the
Loddon, who never can take Puff's advice, and 'keep between its banks,'
running about the country, fields, roads, gardens, and houses, like
mad! The weather would be talked of. Indeed, it was not easy to talk of
anything else. A friend of mine having occasion to write me a letter,
thought it worth abusing in rhyme, and bepommelled it through three
pages of Bath-guide verse; of which I subjoin a specimen:--

  'Aquarius surely REIGNS over the world,
  And of late he his water-pot strangely has twirl'd;
  Or he's taken a cullender up by mistake,
  And unceasingly dips it in some mighty lake;
  Though it is not in Lethe--for who can forget
  The annoyance of getting most thoroughly wet?
  It must be in the river called Styx, I declare,
  For the moment it drizzles it makes the men swear.
  "It did rain to-morrow," is growing good grammar;
  Vauxhall and camp-stools have been brought to the hammer;
  A pony-gondola is all I can keep,
  And I use my umbrella and pattens in sleep:
  Row out of my window, whene'er 'tis my whim
  To visit a friend, and just ask, "Can you swim?"'

So far my friend. * In short, whether in prose or in verse, everybody
railed at the weather. But this is over now. The sun has come to dry the
world; mud is turned into dust; rivers have retreated to their proper
limits; farmers have left off grumbling; and we are about to take a
walk, as usual, as far as the Shaw, a pretty wood about a mile off. But
one of our companions being a stranger to the gentle reader, we must do
him the honour of an introduction.

     *This friend of mine is a person of great quickness and
     talent, who, if she were not a beauty and a woman of
     fortune--that is to say, if she were prompted by either of
     those two powerful stimuli, want of money or want of
     admiration, to take due pains--would inevitably become a
     clever writer.  As it is, her notes and 'jeux d'esprit'
     struck off 'a trait de plume,' have great point and
     neatness.  Take the following billet, which formed the label
     to a closed basket, containing the ponderous present alluded
     to, last Michaelmas day:--

          'To Miss M.
     "When this you see
        Remember me,"
    Was long a phrase in use;
      And so I send
      To you, dear friend,
    My proxy, "What?"--A goose!'


Dogs, when they are sure of having their own way, have sometimes ways as
odd as those of the unfurred, unfeathered animals, who walk on two
legs, and talk, and are called rational. My beautiful white greyhound,
Mayflower,* for instance, is as whimsical as the finest lady in the
land. Amongst her other fancies, she has taken a violent affection for
a most hideous stray dog, who made his appearance here about six months
ago, and contrived to pick up a living in the village, one can hardly
tell how. Now appealing to the charity of old Rachael Strong, the
laundress--a dog-lover by profession; now winning a meal from the
lightfooted and open-hearted lasses at the Rose; now standing on his
hind-legs, to extort by sheer beggary a scanty morsel from some pair of
'drouthy cronies,' or solitary drover, discussing his dinner or supper
on the alehouse-bench; now catching a mouthful, flung to him in pure
contempt by some scornful gentleman of the shoulder-knot, mounted on
his throne, the coach-box, whose notice he had attracted by dint of
ugliness; now sharing the commons of Master Keep the shoemaker's pigs;
now succeeding to the reversion of the well-gnawed bone of Master Brown
the shopkeeper's fierce house-dog; now filching the skim-milk of Dame
Wheeler's cat:--spit at by the cat; worried by the mastiff; chased by
the pigs; screamed at by the dame; stormed at by the shoemaker; flogged
by the shopkeeper; teased by all the children, and scouted by all the
animals of the parish;--but yet living through his griefs, and bearing
them patiently, 'for sufferance is the badge of all his tribe;'--and
even seeming to find, in an occasional full meal, or a gleam of
sunshine, or a wisp of dry straw on which to repose his sorry carcase,
some comfort in his disconsolate condition.

*Dead, alas, since this was written.

In this plight was he found by May, the most high-blooded and
aristocratic of greyhounds; and from this plight did May rescue
him;--invited him into her territory, the stable; resisted all attempts
to turn him out; reinstated him there, in spite of maid and boy, and
mistress and master; wore out everybody's opposition, by the activity of
her protection, and the pertinacity of her self-will; made him sharer
of her bed and of her mess; and, finally, established him as one of the
family as firmly as herself.

Dash--for he has even won himself a name amongst us, before he was
anonymous--Dash is a sort of a kind of a spaniel; at least there is in
his mongrel composition some sign of that beautiful race. Besides his
ugliness, which is of the worst sort--that is to say, the shabbiest--he
has a limp on one leg that gives a peculiar one-sided awkwardness to his
gait; but independently of his great merit in being May's pet, he has
other merits which serve to account for that phenomenon--being, beyond
all comparison, the most faithful, attached, and affectionate animal
that I have ever known; and that is saying much. He seems to think it
necessary to atone for his ugliness by extra good conduct, and does so
dance on his lame leg, and so wag his scrubby tail, that it does any one
who has a taste for happiness good to look at him--so that he may now be
said to stand on his own footing. We are all rather ashamed of him when
strangers come in the way, and think it necessary to explain that he
is May's pet; but amongst ourselves, and those who are used to his
appearance, he has reached the point of favouritism in his own person.
I have, in common with wiser women, the feminine weakness of loving
whatever loves me--and, therefore, I like Dash. His master has found out
that he is a capital finder, and in spite of his lameness will hunt a
field or beat a cover with any spaniel in England--and, therefore, HE
likes Dash. The boy has fought a battle, in defence of his beauty,
with another boy, bigger than himself, and beat his opponent most
handsomely--and, therefore, HE likes Dash; and the maids like him, or
pretend to like him, because we do--as is the fashion of that pliant
and imitative class. And now Dash and May follow us everywhere, and are
going with us to the Shaw, as I said before--or rather to the cottage by
the Shaw, to bespeak milk and butter of our little dairy-woman, Hannah
Bint--a housewifely occupation, to which we owe some of our pleasantest
rambles.

And now we pass the sunny, dusty village street--who would have thought,
a month ago, that we should complain of sun and dust again!--and turn
the corner where the two great oaks hang so beautifully over the clear
deep pond, mixing their cool green shadows with the bright blue sky, and
the white clouds that flit over it; and loiter at the wheeler's shop,
always picturesque, with its tools, and its work, and its materials, all
so various in form, and so harmonious in colour; and its noise, merry
workmen, hammering and singing, and making a various harmony also. The
shop is rather empty to-day, for its usual inmates are busy on the green
beyond the pond--one set building a cart, another painting a waggon. And
then we leave the village quite behind, and proceed slowly up the cool,
quiet lane, between tall hedgerows of the darkest verdure, overshadowing
banks green and fresh as an emerald.

Not so quick as I expected, though--for they are shooting here to-day,
as Dash and I have both discovered: he with great delight, for a gun
to him is as a trumpet to a war-horse; I with no less annoyance, for
I don't think that a partridge itself, barring the accident of being
killed, can be more startled than I at that abominable explosion. Dash
has certainly better blood in his veins than any one would guess to
look at him. He even shows some inclination to elope into the fields,
in pursuit of those noisy iniquities. But he is an orderly person after
all, and a word has checked him.

Ah! here is a shriller din mingling with the small artillery--a shriller
and more continuous. We are not yet arrived within sight of Master
Weston's cottage, snugly hidden behind a clump of elms; but we are in
full hearing of Dame Weston's tongue, raised as usual to scolding pitch.
The Westons are new arrivals in our neighbourhood, and the first thing
heard of them was a complaint from the wife to our magistrate of
her husband's beating her: it was a regular charge of assault--an
information in full form. A most piteous case did Dame Weston make of
it, softening her voice for the nonce into a shrill tremulous whine, and
exciting the mingled pity and anger--pity towards herself, anger towards
her husband--of the whole female world, pitiful and indignant as the
female world is wont to be on such occasions. Every woman in the parish
railed at Master Weston; and poor Master Weston was summoned to attend
the bench on the ensuing Saturday, and answer the charge; and such was
the clamour abroad and at home, that the unlucky culprit, terrified at
the sound of a warrant and a constable, ran away, and was not heard of
for a fortnight.

At the end of that time he was discovered, and brought to the bench; and
Dame Weston again told her story, and, as before, on the full cry.
She had no witnesses, and the bruises of which she made complaint had
disappeared, and there were no women present to make common cause with
the sex. Still, however, the general feeling was against Master Weston;
and it would have gone hard with him when he was called in, if a most
unexpected witness had not risen up in his favour. His wife had brought
in her arms a little girl about eighteen months old, partly perhaps to
move compassion in her favour; for a woman with a child in her arms is
always an object that excites kind feelings. The little girl had looked
shy and frightened, and had been as quiet as a lamb during her mother's
examination; but she no sooner saw her father, from whom she had been a
fortnight separated, than she clapped her hands, and laughed, and cried,
'Daddy! daddy!' and sprang into his arms, and hung round his neck,
and covered him with kisses--again shouting, 'Daddy, come home! daddy!
daddy!'--and finally nestled her little head in his bosom, with a
fulness of contentment, an assurance of tenderness and protection such
as no wife-beating tyrant ever did inspire, or ever could inspire, since
the days of King Solomon. Our magistrates acted in the very spirit of
the Jewish monarch: they accepted the evidence of nature, and dismissed
the complaint. And subsequent events have fully justified their
decision; Mistress Weston proving not only renowned for the feminine
accomplishment of scolding (tongue-banging, it is called in our parts,
a compound word which deserves to be Greek), but is actually herself
addicted to administering the conjugal discipline, the infliction of
which she was pleased to impute to her luckless husband.

Now we cross the stile, and walk up the fields to the Shaw. How
beautifully green this pasture looks! and how finely the evening sun
glances between the boles of that clump of trees, beech, and ash, and
aspen! and how sweet the hedgerows are with woodbine and wild scabious,
or, as the country people call it, the gipsy-rose! Here is little Dolly
Weston, the unconscious witness, with cheeks as red as a real rose,
tottering up the path to meet her father. And here is the carroty-poled
urchin, George Coper, returning from work, and singing 'Home! sweet
Home!' at the top of his voice; and then, when the notes prove too
high for him, continuing the air in a whistle, until he has turned the
impassable corner; then taking up again the song and the words, 'Home!
sweet Home!' and looking as if he felt their full import, ploughboy
though he be. And so he does; for he is one of a large, an honest, a
kind, and an industrious family, where all goes well, and where the poor
ploughboy is sure of finding cheerful faces and coarse comforts--all
that he has learned to desire. Oh, to be as cheaply and as thoroughly
contented as George Coper! All his luxuries a cricket-match!--all his
wants satisfied in 'home! sweet home!'

Nothing but noises to-day! They are clearing Farmer Brooke's great
bean-field, and crying the 'Harvest Home!' in a chorus, before which all
other sounds--the song, the scolding, the gunnery--fade away, and become
faint echoes. A pleasant noise is that! though, for one's ears' sake,
one makes some haste to get away from it. And here, in happy time, is
that pretty wood, the Shaw, with its broad pathway, its tangled dingles,
its nuts and its honeysuckles;--and, carrying away a faggot of those
sweetest flowers, we reach Hannah Bint's: of whom, and of whose doings,
we shall say more another time.

NOTE.--Poor Dash is also dead. We did not keep him long, indeed I
believe that he died of the transition from starvation to good feed,
as dangerous to a dog's stomach, and to most stomachs, as the less
agreeable change from good feed to starvation. He has been succeeded in
place and favour by another Dash, not less amiable in demeanour and far
more creditable in appearance, bearing no small resemblance to the
pet spaniel of my friend Master Dinely, he who stole the bone from the
magpies, and who figures as the first Dash of this volume. Let not the
unwary reader opine, that in assigning the same name to three several
individuals, I am acting as an humble imitator of the inimitable writer
who has given immortality to the Peppers and the Mustards, on the one
hand; or showing a poverty of invention or a want of acquaintance with
the bead-roll of canine appellations on the other. I merely, with my
usual scrupulous fidelity, take the names as I find them. The fact is
that half the handsome spaniels in England are called Dash, just as half
the tall footmen are called Thomas. The name belongs to the species.
Sitting in an open carriage one day last summer at the door of a
farmhouse where my father had some business, I saw a noble and beautiful
animal of this kind lying in great state and laziness on the steps, and
felt an immediate desire to make acquaintance with him. My father, who
had had the same fancy, had patted him and called him 'poor fellow' in
passing, without eliciting the smallest notice in return. 'Dash!' cried
I at a venture, 'good Dash! noble Dash!' and up he started in a moment,
making but one spring from the door into the gig. Of course I was right
in my guess. The gentleman's name was Dash.



NUTTING.

September 26th.--One of those delicious autumnal days, when the air, the
sky, and the earth seem lulled into a universal calm, softer and milder
even than May. We sallied forth for a walk, in a mood congenial to the
weather and the season, avoiding, by mutual consent, the bright
and sunny common, and the gay highroad, and stealing through shady,
unfrequented lanes, where we were not likely to meet any one,--not even
the pretty family procession which in other years we used to contemplate
with so much interest--the father, mother, and children, returning from
the wheat-field, the little ones laden with bristling close-tied bunches
of wheat-ears, their own gleanings, or a bottle and a basket which had
contained their frugal dinner, whilst the mother would carry her babe
hushing and lulling it, and the father and an elder child trudged after
with the cradle, all seeming weary and all happy. We shall not see such
a procession as this to-day; for the harvest is nearly over, the fields
are deserted, the silence may almost be felt. Except the wintry notes
of the redbreast, nature herself is mute. But how beautiful, how gentle,
how harmonious, how rich! The rain has preserved to the herbage all
the freshness and verdure of spring, and the world of leaves has lost
nothing of its midsummer brightness, and the harebell is on the banks,
and the woodbine in the hedges, and the low furze, which the lambs
cropped in the spring, has burst again into its golden blossoms.

All is beautiful that the eye can see; perhaps the more beautiful for
being shut in with a forest-like closeness. We have no prospect in
this labyrinth of lanes, cross-roads, mere cart-ways, leading to the
innumerable little farms into which this part of the parish is divided.
Up-hill or down, these quiet woody lanes scarcely give us a peep at the
world, except when, leaning over a gate, we look into one of the small
enclosures, hemmed in with hedgerows, so closely set with growing
timber, that the meady opening looks almost like a glade in a wood;
or when some cottage, planted at a corner of one of the little greens
formed by the meeting of these cross-ways, almost startles us by the
unexpected sight of the dwellings of men in such a solitude. But that
we have more of hill and dale, and that our cross-roads are excellent in
their kind, this side of our parish would resemble the description given
of La Vendee, in Madame Laroche-Jacquelin's most interesting book.* I am
sure if wood can entitle a country to be called Le Bocage, none can
have a better right to the name. Even this pretty snug farmhouse on
the hillside, with its front covered with the rich vine, which goes
wreathing up to the very top of the clustered chimney, and its sloping
orchard full of fruit--even this pretty quiet nest can hardly peep out
of its leaves. Ah! they are gathering in the orchard harvest. Look at
that young rogue in the old mossy apple-tree--that great tree, bending
with the weight of its golden-rennets--see how he pelts his little
sister beneath with apples as red and as round as her own cheeks, while
she, with her outstretched frock, is trying to catch them, and laughing
and offering to pelt again as often as one bobs against her; and look at
that still younger imp, who, as grave as a judge, is creeping on
hands and knees under the tree, picking up the apples as they fall so
deedily,** and depositing them so honestly in the great basket on the
grass, already fixed so firmly and opened so widely, and filled almost
to overflowing by the brown rough fruitage of the golden-rennet's next
neighbour the russeting; and see that smallest urchin of all, seated
apart in infantine state on the turfy bank, with that toothsome piece
of deformity a crumpling in each hand, now biting from one sweet, hard,
juicy morsel and now from another--Is not that a pretty English picture?
And then, farther up the orchard, that bold hardy lad, the eldest born,
who has scaled (Heaven knows how) the tall, straight upper branch
of that great pear-tree, and is sitting there as securely and as
fearlessly, in as much real safety and apparent danger, as a sailor on
the top-mast. Now he shakes the tree with a mighty swing that brings
down a pelting shower of stony bergamots, which the father gathers
rapidly up, whilst the mother can hardly assist for her motherly fear--a
fear which only spurs the spirited boy to bolder ventures. Is not that a
pretty picture? And they are such a handsome family too, the Brookers.
I do not know that there is any gipsy blood, but there is the true
gipsy complexion, richly brown, with cheeks and lips so red, black
hair curling close to their heads in short crisp rings, white shining
teeth--and such eyes!--That sort of beauty entirely eclipses your mere
roses and lilies. Even Lizzy, the prettiest of fair children, would look
poor and watery by the side of Willy Brooker, the sober little personage
who is picking up the apples with his small chubby hands, and filling
the basket so orderly, next to his father the most useful man in the
field. 'Willy!' He hears without seeing; for we are quite hidden by
the high bank, and a spreading hawthorn bush that overtops it, though
between the lower branches and the grass we have found a convenient
peep-hole. 'Willy!' The voice sounds to him like some fairy dream, and
the black eyes are raised from the ground with sudden wonder, the long
silky eyelashes thrown back till they rest on the delicate brow, and a
deeper blush is burning on those dark cheeks, and a smile is dimpling
about those scarlet lips. But the voice is silent now, and the little
quiet boy, after a moment's pause, is gone coolly to work again. He
is indeed a most lovely child. I think some day or other he must marry
Lizzy; I shall propose the match to their respective mammas. At present
the parties are rather too young for a wedding--the intended bridegroom
being, as I should judge, six, or thereabout, and the fair bride
barely five,--but at least we might have a betrothment after the royal
fashion,--there could be no harm in that. Miss Lizzy, I have no doubt,
would be as demure and coquettish as if ten winters more had gone over
her head, and poor Willy would open his innocent black eyes, and wonder
what was going forward. They would be the very Oberon and Titania of the
village, the fairy king and queen.

*An almost equally interesting account of that very peculiar and
interesting scenery, may be found in The Maid of La Vendee, an English
novel, remarkable for its simplicity and truth of painting, written by
Mrs. Le Noir, the daughter of Christopher Smart, an inheritrix of much
of his talent. Her works deserve to be better known.

**'Deedily,'--I am not quite sure that this word is good English; but it
is genuine Hampshire, and is used by the most correct of female writers,
Miss Austen. It means (and it is no small merit that it has no exact
synonym) anything done with a profound and plodding attention, an action
which engrosses all the powers of mind and body.

Ah! here is the hedge along which the periwinkle wreathes and twines so
profusely, with its evergreen leaves shining like the myrtle, and its
starry blue flowers. It is seldom found wild in this part of England;
but, when we do meet with it, it is so abundant and so welcome,--the
very robin-redbreast of flowers, a winter friend. Unless in those
unfrequent frosts which destroy all vegetation, it blossoms from
September to June, surviving the last lingering crane's-bill,
forerunning the earliest primrose, hardier even than the mountain
daisy,--peeping out from beneath the snow, looking at itself in the ice,
smiling through the tempests of life, and yet welcoming and enjoying the
sunbeams. Oh, to be like that flower!

The little spring that has been bubbling under the hedge all along
the hillside, begins, now that we have mounted the eminence and are
imperceptibly descending, to deviate into a capricious variety of clear
deep pools and channels, so narrow and so choked with weeds, that a
child might overstep them. The hedge has also changed its character. It
is no longer the close compact vegetable wall of hawthorn, and maple,
and brier-roses, intertwined with bramble and woodbine, and crowned with
large elms or thickly-set saplings. No! the pretty meadow which rises
high above us, backed and almost surrounded by a tall coppice, needs
no defence on our side but its own steep bank, garnished with tufts of
broom, with pollard oaks wreathed with ivy, and here and there with long
patches of hazel overhanging the water. 'Ah, there are still nuts on
that bough!' and in an instant my dear companion, active and eager and
delighted as a boy, has hooked down with his walking-stick one of the
lissome hazel stalks, and cleared it of its tawny clusters, and in
another moment he has mounted the bank, and is in the midst of the
nuttery, now transferring the spoil from the lower branches into that
vast variety of pockets which gentlemen carry about them, now bending
the tall tops into the lane, holding them down by main force, so that
I might reach them and enjoy the pleasure of collecting some of the
plunder myself. A very great pleasure he knew it would be. I doffed my
shawl, tucked up my flounces, turned my straw bonnet into a basket, and
began gathering and scrambling--for, manage it how you may, nutting is
scrambling work,--those boughs, however tightly you may grasp them by
the young fragrant twigs and the bright green leaves, will recoil
and burst away; but there is a pleasure even in that: so on we go,
scrambling and gathering with all our might and all our glee. Oh, what
an enjoyment! All my life long I have had a passion for that sort of
seeking which implies finding (the secret, I believe, of the love of
field-sports, which is in man's mind a natural impulse)--therefore I
love violeting,--therefore, when we had a fine garden, I used to love
to gather strawberries, and cut asparagus, and above all, to collect
the filberts from the shrubberies: but this hedgerow nutting beats that
sport all to nothing. That was a make-believe thing, compared with
this; there was no surprise, no suspense, no unexpectedness--it was as
inferior to this wild nutting, as the turning out of a bag-fox is to
unearthing the fellow, in the eyes of a staunch foxhunter.

Oh, what enjoyment this nut-gathering is! They are in such abundance,
that it seems as if there were not a boy in the parish, nor a young man,
nor a young woman,--for a basket of nuts is the universal tribute of
country gallantry; our pretty damsel Harriet has had at least half a
dozen this season; but no one has found out these. And they are so full
too, we lose half of them from over-ripeness; they drop from the socket
at the slightest motion. If we lose, there is one who finds. May is as
fond of nuts as a squirrel, and cracks the shell and extracts the kernel
with equal dexterity. Her white glossy head is upturned now to watch
them as they fall. See how her neck is thrown back like that of a swan,
and how beautifully her folded ears quiver with expectation, and how her
quick eye follows the rustling noise, and her light feet dance and pat
the ground, and leap up with eagerness, seeming almost sustained in the
air, just as I have seen her when Brush is beating a hedgerow, and she
knows from his questing that there is a hare afoot. See, she has caught
that nut just before it touched the water; but the water would have
been no defence,--she fishes them from the bottom, she delves after them
amongst the matted grass--even my bonnet--how beggingly she looks at
that! 'Oh, what a pleasure nutting is!--Is it not, May? But the pockets
are almost full, and so is the basket-bonnet, and that bright watch the
sun says it is late; and after all it is wrong to rob the poor boys--is
it not, May?'--May shakes her graceful head denyingly, as if she
understood the question--'And we must go home now--must we not? But we
will come nutting again some time or other--shall we not, my May?'



THE VISIT.

October 27th.--A lovely autumnal day; the air soft, balmy, genial;
the sky of that softened and delicate blue upon which the eye loves to
rest,--the blue which gives such relief to the rich beauty of the earth,
all around glowing in the ripe and mellow tints of the most gorgeous
of the seasons. Really such an autumn may well compensate our English
climate for the fine spring of the south, that spring of which the poets
talk, but which we so seldom enjoy. Such an autumn glows upon us like
a splendid evening; it is the very sunset of the year; and I have been
tempted forth into a wider range of enjoyment than usual. This WALK (if
I may use the Irish figure of speech called a bull) will be a RIDE. A
very dear friend has beguiled me into accompanying her in her pretty
equipage to her beautiful home, four miles off; and having sent forward
in the style of a running footman the servant who had driven her, she
assumes the reins, and off we set.

My fair companion is a person whom nature and fortune would have spoiled
if they could. She is one of those striking women whom a stranger cannot
pass without turning to look again; tall and finely proportioned, with a
bold Roman contour of figure and feature, a delicate English
complexion, and an air of distinction altogether her own. Her beauty is
duchess-like. She seems born to wear feathers and diamonds, and to
form the grace and ornament of a court; and the noble frankness and
simplicity of her countenance and manner confirm the impression. Destiny
has, however, dealt more kindly by her. She is the wife of a rich
country gentleman of high descent and higher attainments, to whom she
is most devotedly attached,--the mother of a little girl as lovely
as herself, and the delight of all who have the happiness of her
acquaintance, to whom she is endeared not merely by her remarkable
sweetness of temper and kindness of heart, but by the singular
ingenuousness and openness of character which communicate an
indescribable charm to her conversation. She is as transparent as water.
You may see every colour, every shade of a mind as lofty and beautiful
as her person. Talking with her is like being in the Palace of Truth
described by Madame de Genlis; and yet so kindly are her feelings, so
great her indulgence to the little failings and foibles of our common
nature, so intense her sympathy with the wants, the wishes, the
sorrows, and the happiness of her fellow-creatures, that, with all her
frank-speaking, I never knew her make an enemy or lose a friend.

But we must get on. What would she say if she knew I was putting her
into print? We must get on up the hill. Ah! that is precisely what we
are not likely to do! This horse, this beautiful and high-bred horse,
well-fed, and fat and glossy, who stood prancing at our gate like an
Arabian, has suddenly turned sulky. He does not indeed stand quite
still, but his way of moving is little better--the slowest and
most sullen of all walks. Even they who ply the hearse at funerals,
sad-looking beasts who totter under black feathers, go faster. It is of
no use to admonish him by whip, or rein, or word. The rogue has found
out that it is a weak and tender hand that guides him now. Oh, for one
pull, one stroke of his old driver, the groom! how he would fly! But
there is the groom half a mile before us, out of earshot, clearing the
ground at a capital rate, beating us hollow. He has just turned the
top of the hill;--and in a moment--ay, NOW he is out of sight, and will
undoubtedly so continue till he meets us at the lawn gate. Well!
there is no great harm. It is only prolonging the pleasure of enjoying
together this charming scenery in this fine weather. If once we make up
our minds not to care how slowly our steed goes, not to fret ourselves
by vain exertions, it is no matter what his pace may be. There is little
doubt of his getting home by sunset, and that will content us. He is,
after all, a fine noble animal; and perhaps when he finds that we are
determined to give him his way, he may relent and give us ours. All his
sex are sticklers for dominion, though, when it is undisputed, some
of them are generous enough to abandon it. Two or three of the most
discreet wives of my acquaintance contrive to manage their husbands
sufficiently with no better secret than this seeming submission; and in
our case the example has the more weight since we have no possible way
of helping ourselves.

Thus philosophising, we reached the top of the hill, and viewed with
'reverted eyes' the beautiful prospect that lay bathed in golden
sunshine behind us. Cowper says, with that boldness of expressing in
poetry the commonest and simplest feelings, which is perhaps one great
secret of his originality,

     'Scenes must be beautiful, which, daily seen,
      Please daily, and whose novelty survives
      Long knowledge and the scrutiny of years.'

Every day I walk up this hill--every day I pause at the top to admire
the broad winding road with the green waste on each side, uniting it
with the thickly timbered hedgerows; the two pretty cottages at unequal
distances, placed so as to mark the bends; the village beyond, with its
mass of roofs and clustered chimneys peeping through the trees; and the
rich distance, where cottages, mansions, churches, towns, seem embowered
in some wide forest, and shut in by blue shadowy hills. Every day I
admire this most beautiful landscape; yet never did it seem to me so
fine or so glowing as now. All the tints of the glorious autumn, orange,
tawny, yellow, red, are poured in profusion among the bright greens of
the meadows and turnip fields, till the eyes are satiated with colour;
and then before us we have the common with its picturesque roughness of
surface tufted with cottages, dappled with water, edging off on one side
into fields and farms and orchards, and terminated on the other by the
princely oak avenue. What a richness and variety the wild broken ground
gives to the luxuriant cultivation of the rest of the landscape! Cowper
has described it for me. How perpetually, as we walk in the country, his
vivid pictures recur to the memory! Here is his common and mine!

     'The common overgrown with fern, and rough
      With prickly gorse, that, shapeless and deform'd
      And dangerous to the touch, has yet its bloom,
      And decks itself with ornaments of gold;--
      --------------- there the turf
      Smells fresh, and, rich in odoriferous herbs
      And fungous fruits of earth, regales the sense
      With luxury of unexpected sweets.'

The description is exact. There, too, to the left is my cricket-ground
(Cowper's common wanted that finishing grace); and there stands one
solitary urchin, as if in contemplation of its past and future glories;
for, alas! cricket is over for the season. Ah! it is Ben Kirby, next
brother to Joe, king of the youngsters, and probably his successor--for
this Michaelmas has cost us Joe! He is promoted from the farm to the
mansion-house, two miles off; there he cleans shoes, rubs knives,
and runs on errands, and is, as his mother expresses it, 'a sort of
'prentice to the footman.' I should not wonder if Joe, some day or
other, should overtop the footman, and rise to be butler; and his
splendid prospects must be our consolation for the loss of this great
favourite. In the meantime we have Ben.

Ben Kirby is a year younger than Joe, and the school-fellow and rival of
Jem Eusden. To be sure his abilities lie in rather a different line: Jem
is a scholar, Ben is a wag: Jem is great in figures and writing, Ben in
faces and mischief. His master says of him, that, if there were two such
in the school, he must resign his office; and as far as my observation
goes, the worthy pedagogue is right. Ben is, it must be confessed, a
great corrupter of gravity. He hath an exceeding aversion to authority
and decorum, and a wonderful boldness and dexterity in overthrowing the
one and puzzling the other. His contortions of visage are astounding.
His 'power over his own muscles and those of other people' is almost
equal to that of Liston; and indeed the original face, flat and square
and Chinese in its shape, of a fine tan complexion, with a snub
nose, and a slit for a mouth, is nearly as comical as that matchless
performer's. When aided by Ben's singular mobility of feature, his
knowing winks and grins and shrugs and nods, together with a certain
dry shrewdness, a habit of saying sharp things, and a marvellous gift of
impudence, it forms as fine a specimen as possible of a humorous country
boy, an oddity in embryo. Everybody likes Ben, except his butts (which
may perhaps comprise half his acquaintance); and of them no one so
thoroughly hates and dreads him as our parish schoolmaster, a most
worthy King Log, whom Ben dumbfounds twenty times a day. He is a great
ornament of the cricket-ground, has a real genius for the game,
and displays it after a very original manner, under the disguise of
awkwardness--as the clown shows off his agility in a pantomime. Nothing
comes amiss to him. By the bye, he would have been the very lad for us
in our present dilemma; not a horse in England could master Ben Kirby.
But we are too far from him now--and perhaps it is as well that we are
so. I believe the rogue has a kindness for me, in remembrance of certain
apples and nuts, which my usual companion, who delights in his wit,
is accustomed to dole out to him. But it is a Robin Goodfellow
nevertheless, a perfect Puck, that loves nothing on earth so well as
mischief. Perhaps the horse may be the safer conductor of the two.

The avenue is quite alive to-day. Old women are picking up twigs and
acorns, and pigs of all sizes doing their utmost to spare them the
latter part of the trouble; boys and girls groping for beech-nuts under
yonder clump; and a group of younger elves collecting as many dead
leaves as they can find to feed the bonfire which is smoking away so
briskly amongst the trees,--a sort of rehearsal of the grand bonfire
nine days hence; of the loyal conflagration of the arch-traitor Guy
Vaux, which is annually solemnised in the avenue, accompanied with as
much of squibbery and crackery as our boys can beg or borrow--not to say
steal. Ben Kirby is a great man on the 5th of November. All the
savings of a month, the hoarded halfpence, the new farthings, the very
luck-penny, go off in fumo on that night. For my part, I like this
daylight mockery better. There is no gunpowder--odious gunpowder! no
noise but the merry shouts of the small fry, so shrill and happy, and
the cawing of the rooks, who are wheeling in large circles overhead,
and wondering what is going forward in their territory--seeming in
their loud clamour to ask what that light smoke may mean that curls
so prettily amongst their old oaks, towering as if to meet the clouds.
There is something very intelligent in the ways of that black people
the rooks, particularly in their wonder. I suppose it results from their
numbers and their unity of purpose, a sort of collective and corporate
wisdom. Yet geese congregate also; and geese never by any chance look
wise. But then geese are a domestic fowl; we have spoiled them; and
rooks are free commoners of nature, who use the habitations we provide
for them, tenant our groves and our avenues, but never dream of becoming
our subjects.

What a labyrinth of a road this is! I do think there are four turnings
in the short half-mile between the avenue and the mill. And what a pity,
as my companion observes--not that our good and jolly miller, the very
representative of the old English yeomanry, should be so rich, but
that one consequence of his riches should be the pulling down of the
prettiest old mill that ever looked at itself in the Loddon, with
the picturesque, low-browed, irregular cottage, which stood with its
light-pointed roof, its clustered chimneys, and its ever-open door,
looking like the real abode of comfort and hospitality, to build this
huge, staring, frightful, red-brick mill, as ugly as a manufactory, and
this great square house, ugly and red to match, just behind. The old
buildings always used to remind me of Wollett's beautiful engraving of
a scene in the Maid of the Mill. It will be long before any artist will
make a drawing of this. Only think of this redness in a picture! this
boiled lobster of a house! Falstaff's description of Bardolph's nose
would look pale in the comparison.

Here is that monstrous machine of a tilted waggon, with its load of
flour, and its four fat horses. I wonder whether our horse will have the
decency to get out of the way. If he does not, I am sure we cannot make
him; and that enormous ship upon wheels, that ark on dry land, would
roll over us like the car of Juggernaut. Really--Oh no! there is no
danger now. I should have remembered that it is my friend Samuel Long
who drives the mill team. He will take care of us. 'Thank you, Samuel!'
And Samuel has put us on our way, steered us safely past his waggon,
escorted us over the bridge and now, having seen us through our
immediate difficulties, has parted from us with a very civil bow and
good-humoured smile, as one who is always civil and good-humoured, but
with a certain triumphant masterful look in his eyes, which I have
noted in men, even the best of them, when a woman gets into straits by
attempting manly employments. He has done us great good though, and
may be allowed his little feeling of superiority. The parting salute he
bestowed on our steed, in the shape of an astounding crack of his huge
whip, has put that refractory animal on his mettle. On we go! past the
glazier's pretty house, with its porch and its filbert walk; along the
narrow lane bordered with elms, whose fallen leaves have made the road
one yellow; past that little farmhouse with the horse-chestnut trees
before, glowing like oranges; past the whitewashed school on the other
side, gay with October roses; past the park, and the lodge, and the
mansion, where once dwelt the great Earl of Clarendon;--and now the
rascal has begun to discover that Samuel Long and his whip are a mile
off, and that his mistress is driving him, and he slackens his pace
accordingly. Perhaps he feels the beauty of the road just here, and
goes slowly to enjoy it. Very beautiful it certainly is. The park paling
forms the boundary on one side, with fine clumps of oak, and deer in all
attitudes; the water, tufted with alders, flowing along on the other.
Another turn, and the water winds away, succeeded by a low hedge, and a
sweep of green meadows; whilst the park and its palings are replaced
by a steep bank, on which stands a small, quiet, village alehouse; and
higher up, embosomed in wood, is the little country church, with its
sloping churchyard and its low white steeple, peeping out from amongst
magnificent yew-trees:--

     'Huge trunks! and each particular trunk a growth
      Of intertwisted fibres serpentine
      Up-coiling, and invet'rately convolved.'
                                           WORDSWORTH.

No village church was ever more happily placed. It is the very image of
the peace and humbleness inculcated within its walls.

Ah! here is a higher hill rising before us, almost like a mountain. How
grandly the view opens as we ascend over that wild bank, overgrown with
fern, and heath, and gorse, and between those tall hollies, glowing with
their coral berries! What an expanse! But we have little time to gaze at
present; for that piece of perversity, our horse, who has walked over so
much level ground, has now, inspired, I presume, by a desire to revisit
his stable, taken it into that unaccountable noddle of his to trot up
this, the very steepest hill in the county. Here we are on the top; and
in five minutes we have reached the lawn gate, and are in the very midst
of that beautiful piece of art or nature (I do not know to which class
it belongs), the pleasure-ground of F. Hill. Never was the 'prophetic
eye of taste' exerted with more magical skill than in these
plantations. Thirty years ago this place had no existence; it was a mere
undistinguished tract of field and meadow and common land; now it is a
mimic forest, delighting the eye with the finest combinations of trees
and shrubs, the rarest effects of form and foliage, and bewildering
the mind with its green glades, and impervious recesses, and apparently
interminable extent. It is the triumph of landscape gardening, and never
more beautiful than in this autumn sunset, lighting up the ruddy beech
and the spotted sycamore, and gilding the shining fir-cones that hang so
thickly amongst the dark pines. The robins are singing around us, as
if they too felt the magic of the hour. How gracefully the road
winds through the leafy labyrinth, leading imperceptibly to the
more ornamented sweep. Here we are at the door amidst geraniums, and
carnations, and jasmines, still in flower. Ah! here is a flower sweeter
than all, a bird gayer than the robin, the little bird that chirps to
the tune of 'mamma! mamma!', the bright-faced fairy, whose tiny feet
come pattering along, making a merry music, mamma's own Frances! And
following her guidance, here we are in the dear round room time enough
to catch the last rays of the sun, as they light the noble landscape
which lies like a panorama around us, lingering longest on that long
island of old thorns and stunted oaks, the oasis of B. Heath, and then
vanishing in a succession of gorgeous clouds.

October 28th.--Another soft and brilliant morning. But the pleasures
of to-day must be written in shorthand. I have left myself no room for
notes of admiration.

First we drove about the coppice: an extensive wood of oak, and elm, and
beech, chiefly the former, which adjoins the park-paling of F. Hill, of
which demesne, indeed, it forms one of the most delightful parts. The
roads through the coppice are studiously wild; so that they have the
appearance of mere cart-tracks: and the manner in which the ground
is tumbled about, the steep declivities, the sunny slopes, the sudden
swells and falls, now a close narrow valley, then a sharp ascent to an
eminence commanding an immense extent of prospect, have a striking air
of natural beauty, developed and heightened by the perfection of art.
All this, indeed, was familiar to me; the colouring only was new. I had
been there in early spring, when the fragrant palms were on the willow,
and the yellow tassels on the hazel, and every twig was swelling
with renewed life; and I had been there again and again in the green
leafiness of midsummer; but never as now, when the dark verdure of the
fir-plantations, hanging over the picturesque and unequal paling, partly
covered with moss and ivy, contrasts so remarkably with the shining
orange-leaves of the beech, already half fallen, the pale yellow of the
scattering elm, the deeper and richer tints of the oak, and the glossy
stems of the 'lady of the woods,' the delicate weeping birch. The
underwood is no less picturesque. The red-spotted leaves and redder
berries of the old thorns, the scarlet festoons of the bramble, the tall
fern of every hue, seem to vie with the brilliant mosaic of the ground,
now covered with dead leaves and strewn with fir-cones, now, where a
little glade intervenes, gay with various mosses and splendid fungi. How
beautiful is this coppice to-day! especially where the little spring,
as clear as crystal, comes bubbling out from the old 'fantastic' beech
root, and trickles over the grass, bright and silent as the dew in a
May morning. The wood-pigeons (who are just returned from their summer
migration, and are cropping the ivy berries) add their low cooings, the
very note of love, to the slight fluttering of the falling leaves in the
quiet air, giving a voice to the sunshine and the beauty. This coppice
is a place to live and die in. But we must go. And how fine is the
ascent which leads us again into the world, past those cottages hidden
as in a pit, and by that hanging orchard and that rough heathy bank! The
scenery in this one spot has a wildness, an abruptness of rise and fall,
rare in any part of England, rare above all in this rich and lovely but
monotonous county. It is Switzerland in miniature.

And now we cross the hill to pay a morning visit to the family at the
great house,--another fine place, commanding another fine sweep of
country. The park, studded with old trees, and sinking gently into
a valley, rich in wood and water, is in the best style of ornamental
landscape, though more according to the common routine of gentlemen's
seats than the singularly original place which we have just left.
There is, however, one distinctive beauty in the grounds of the great
house;--the magnificent firs which shade the terraces and surround the
sweep, giving out in summer odours really Sabaean, and now in this low
autumn sun producing an effect almost magical, as the huge red trunks,
garlanded with ivy, stand out from the deep shadows like an army of
giants. Indoors--Oh I must not take my readers indoors, or we shall
never get away! Indoors the sunshine is brighter still; for there, in a
lofty, lightsome room, sat a damsel fair and arch and piquante, one
whom Titian or Velasquez should be born again to paint, leaning over an
instrument* as sparkling and fanciful as herself, singing pretty French
romances, and Scottish Jacobite songs, and all sorts of graceful and
airy drolleries picked up I know not where--an English improvisatrice!
a gayer Annot Lyle! whilst her sister, of a higher order of beauty, and
with an earnest kindness in her smile that deepens its power, lends to
the piano, as her father to the violin, an expression, a sensibility, a
spirit, an eloquence almost superhuman--almost divine! Oh to hear these
two instruments accompanying my dear companion (I forgot to say that she
is a singer worthy to be so accompanied) in Haydn's exquisite canzonet,
"She never told her love,"--to hear her voice, with all its power, its
sweetness, its gush of sound, so sustained and assisted by modulations
that rivalled its intensity of expression; to hear at once such poetry,
such music, such execution, is a pleasure never to be forgotten, or
mixed with meaner things. I seem to hear it still.

  As in the bursting spring time o'er the eye
     Of one who haunts the fields fair visions creep
     Beneath the closed lids (afore dull sleep
  Dims the quick fancy) of sweet flowers that lie
  On grassy banks, oxlip of orient dye,
     And palest primrose and blue violet,
     All in their fresh and dewy beauty set,
  Pictured within the sense, and will not fly:
  So in mine ear resounds and lives again
     One mingled melody,--a voice, a pair
     Of instruments most voice-like!  Of the air
  Rather than of the earth seems that high strain,
  A spirit's song, and worthy of the train
     That soothed old Prospero with music rare.

     *The dital harp.



HANNAH BINT.

The Shaw, leading to Hannah Bint's habitation, is, as I perhaps have
said before, a very pretty mixture of wood and coppice; that is to say,
a tract of thirty or forty acres covered with fine growing timber--ash,
and oak, and elm, very regularly planted; and interspersed here and
there with large patches of underwood, hazel, maple, birch, holly, and
hawthorn, woven into almost impenetrable thickets by long wreaths of the
bramble, the briony, and the brier-rose, or by the pliant and twisting
garlands of the wild honeysuckle. In other parts, the Shaw is quite
clear of its bosky undergrowth, and clothed only with large beds of
feathery fern, or carpets of flowers, primroses, orchises, cowslips,
ground-ivy, crane's-bill, cotton-grass, Solomon's seal, and
forget-me-not, crowded together with a profusion and brilliancy of
colour, such as I have rarely seen equalled even in a garden. Here
the wild hyacinth really enamels the ground with its fresh and lovely
purple; there,

     'On aged roots, with bright green mosses clad,
      Dwells the wood-sorrel, with its bright thin leaves
      Heart-shaped and triply folded, and its root
      Creeping like beaded coral; whilst around
      Flourish the copse's pride, anemones,
      With rays like golden studs on ivory laid
      Most delicate; but touch'd with purple clouds,
      Fit crown for April's fair but changeful brow.'

The variety is much greater than I have enumerated; for the ground is
so unequal, now swelling in gentle ascents, now dimpling into dells and
hollows, and the soil so different in different parts, that the sylvan
Flora is unusually extensive and complete.

The season is, however, now too late for this floweriness; and except
the tufted woodbines, which have continued in bloom during the whole
of this lovely autumn, and some lingering garlands of the purple wild
vetch, wreathing round the thickets, and uniting with the ruddy leaves
of the bramble, and the pale festoons of the briony, there is little
to call one's attention from the grander beauties of the trees--the
sycamore, its broad leaves already spotted--the oak, heavy with
acorns--and the delicate shining rind of the weeping birch, 'the lady of
the woods,' thrown out in strong relief from a background of holly and
hawthorn, each studded with coral berries, and backed with old beeches,
beginning to assume the rich tawny hue which makes them perhaps the most
picturesque of autumnal trees, as the transparent freshness of their
young foliage is undoubtedly the choicest ornament of the forest in
spring.

A sudden turn round one of these magnificent beeches brings us to the
boundary of the Shaw, and leaning upon a rude gate, we look over an open
space of about ten acres of ground, still more varied and broken
than that which we have passed, and surrounded on all sides by thick
woodland. As a piece of colour, nothing can be well finer. The ruddy
glow of the heath-flower, contrasting, on the one hand, with the
golden-blossomed furze--on the other, with a patch of buck-wheat,
of which the bloom is not past, although the grain be ripening, the
beautiful buck-wheat, whose transparent leaves and stalks are so
brightly tinged with vermilion, while the delicate pink-white of the
flower, a paler persicaria, has a feathery fall, at once so rich and so
graceful, and a fresh and reviving odour, like that of birch trees
in the dew of a May evening. The bank that surmounts this attempt at
cultivation is crowned with the late foxglove and the stately mullein;
the pasture of which so great a part of the waste consists, looks as
green as an emerald; a clear pond, with the bright sky reflected in it,
lets light into the picture; the white cottage of the keeper peeps from
the opposite coppice; and the vine-covered dwelling of Hannah Bint rises
from amidst the pretty garden, which lies bathed in the sunshine around
it.

The living and moving accessories are all in keeping with the
cheerfulness and repose of the landscape. Hannah's cow grazing quietly
beside the keeper's pony; a brace of fat pointer puppies holding
amicable intercourse with a litter of young pigs; ducks, geese, cocks,
hens, and chickens scattered over the turf; Hannah herself sallying
forth from the cottage-door, with her milk-bucket in her hand, and her
little brother following with the milking-stool.

My friend, Hannah Bint, is by no means an ordinary person. Her father,
Jack Bint (for in all his life he never arrived at the dignity of being
called John, indeed in our parts he was commonly known by the cognomen
of London Jack), was a drover of high repute in his profession. No man,
between Salisbury Plain and Smithfield, was thought to conduct a flock
of sheep so skilfully through all the difficulties of lanes and commons,
streets and high-roads, as Jack Bint, aided by Jack Bint's famous dog,
Watch; for Watch's rough, honest face, black, with a little white about
the muzzle, and one white ear, was as well known at fairs and markets
as his master's equally honest and weather-beaten visage. Lucky was
the dealer that could secure their services; Watch being renowned
for keeping a flock together better than any shepherd's dog on
the road--Jack, for delivering them more punctually, and in better
condition. No man had a more thorough knowledge of the proper night
stations, where good feed might be procured for his charge, and good
liquor for Watch and himself; Watch, like other sheep dogs, being
accustomed to live chiefly on bread and beer. His master, though not
averse to a pot of good double X, preferred gin; and they who plod
slowly along, through wet and weary ways, in frost and in fog, have
undoubtedly a stronger temptation to indulge in that cordial and
reviving stimulus, than we water-drinkers, sitting in warm and
comfortable rooms, can readily imagine. For certain, our drover could
never resist the gentle seduction of the gin-bottle, and being of a
free, merry, jovial temperament, one of those persons commonly called
good fellows, who like to see others happy in the same way with
themselves, he was apt to circulate it at his own expense, to the great
improvement of his popularity, and the great detriment of his finances.

All this did vastly well whilst his earnings continued proportionate to
his spendings, and the little family at home were comfortably supported
by his industry: but when a rheumatic fever came on, one hard winter,
and finally settled in his limbs, reducing the most active and hardy
man in the parish to the state of a confirmed cripple, then his reckless
improvidence stared him in the face; and poor Jack, a thoughtless,
but kind creature, and a most affectionate father, looked at his three
motherless children with the acute misery of a parent who has brought
those whom he loves best in the world to abject destitution. He found
help, where he probably least expected it, in the sense and spirit of
his young daughter, a girl of twelve years old.

Hannah was the eldest of the family, and had, ever since her mother's
death, which event had occurred two or three years before, been
accustomed to take the direction of their domestic concerns, to manage
her two brothers, to feed the pigs and the poultry, and to keep house
during the almost constant absence of her father. She was a quick,
clever lass, of a high spirit, a firm temper, some pride, and a horror
of accepting parochial relief, which is every day becoming rarer amongst
the peasantry; but which forms the surest safeguard to the sturdy
independence of the English character. Our little damsel possessed this
quality in perfection; and when her father talked of giving up their
comfortable cottage, and removing to the workhouse, whilst she and
her brothers must go to service, Hannah formed a bold resolution, and
without disturbing the sick man by any participation of her hopes and
fears, proceeded after settling their trifling affairs to act at once on
her own plans and designs.

Careless of the future as the poor drover had seemed, he had yet kept
clear of debt, and by subscribing constantly to a benefit club, had
secured a pittance that might at least assist in supporting him during
the long years of sickness and helplessness to which he was doomed to
look forward. This his daughter knew. She knew also, that the employer
in whose service his health had suffered so severely, was a rich and
liberal cattle-dealer in the neighbourhood, who would willingly aid an
old and faithful servant, and had, indeed, come forward with offers of
money. To assistance from such a quarter Hannah saw no objection. Farmer
Oakley and the parish were quite distinct things. Of him, accordingly,
she asked, not money, but something much more in his own way--'a cow!
any cow! old or lame, or what not, so that it were a cow! she would be
bound to keep it well; if she did not, he might take it back again. She
even hoped to pay for it by and by, by instalments, but that she would
not promise!' and, partly amused, partly interested by the child's
earnestness, the wealthy yeoman gave her, not as a purchase, but as a
present, a very fine young Alderney. She then went to the lord of the
manor, and, with equal knowledge of character, begged his permission
to keep her cow on the Shaw common. 'Farmer Oakley had given her a fine
Alderney, and she would be bound to pay the rent, and keep her father
off the parish, if he would only let it graze on the waste;' and he too,
half from real good nature--half, not to be outdone in liberality by his
tenant, not only granted the requested permission, but reduced the rent
so much, that the produce of the vine seldom fails to satisfy their kind
landlord.

Now Hannah showed great judgment in setting up as a dairy-woman. She
could not have chosen an occupation more completely unoccupied, or more
loudly called for. One of the most provoking of the petty difficulties
which beset people with a small establishment in this neighbourhood,
is the trouble, almost the impossibility, of procuring the pastoral
luxuries of milk, eggs, and butter, which rank, unfortunately, amongst
the indispensable necessaries of housekeeping. To your thoroughbred
Londoner, who, whilst grumbling over his own breakfast, is apt to fancy
that thick cream, and fresh butter, and new-laid eggs, grow, so to say,
in the country--form an actual part of its natural produce--it may be
some comfort to learn, that in this great grazing district, however the
calves and the farmers may be the better for cows, nobody else is;
that farmers' wives have ceased to keep poultry; and that we unlucky
villagers sit down often to our first meal in a state of destitution,
which may well make him content with his thin milk and his Cambridge
butter, when compared to our imputed pastoralities.

Hannah's Alderney restored us to one rural privilege. Never was so
cleanly a little milkmaid. She changed away some of the cottage finery,
which, in his prosperous days, poor Jack had pleased himself with
bringing home, the china tea-service, the gilded mugs, and the painted
waiters, for the useful utensils of the dairy, and speedily established
a regular and gainful trade in milk, eggs, butter, honey, and
poultry--for poultry they had always kept.

Her domestic management prospered equally. Her father, who retained the
perfect use of his hands, began a manufacture of mats and baskets, which
he constructed with great nicety and adroitness; the eldest boy, a sharp
and clever lad, cut for him his rushes and osiers; erected, under his
sister's direction, a shed for the cow, and enlarged and cultivated the
garden (always with the good leave of her kind patron the lord of the
manor) until it became so ample, that the produce not only kept the pig,
and half kept the family, but afforded another branch of merchandise to
the indefatigable directress of the establishment. For the younger boy,
less quick and active, Hannah contrived to obtain an admission to the
charity-school, where he made great progress--retaining him at home,
however, in the hay-making and leasing season, or whenever his services
could be made available, to the great annoyance of the schoolmaster,
whose favourite he is, and who piques himself so much on George's
scholarship (your heavy sluggish boy at country work often turns
out quick at his book), that it is the general opinion that this
much-vaunted pupil will, in process of time, be promoted to the post of
assistant, and may, possibly, in course of years, rise to the dignity of
a parish pedagogue in his own person; so that his sister, although still
making him useful at odd times, now considers George as pretty well off
her hands, whilst his elder brother, Tom, could take an under-gardener's
place directly, if he were not too important at home to be spared even
for a day.

In short, during the five years that she has ruled at the Shaw cottage,
the world has gone well with Hannah Bint. Her cow, her calves, her pigs,
her bees, her poultry, have each, in their several ways, thriven and
prospered. She has even brought Watch to like butter-milk, as well as
strong beer, and has nearly persuaded her father (to whose wants
and wishes she is most anxiously attentive) to accept of milk as a
substitute for gin. Not but Hannah hath had her enemies as well as her
betters. Why should she not? The old woman at the lodge, who always
piqued herself on being spiteful, and crying down new ways, foretold
from the first she would come to no good, and could not forgive her for
falsifying her prediction; and Betty Barnes, the slatternly widow of a
tippling farmer, who rented a field, and set up a cow herself, and was
universally discarded for insufferable dirt, said all that the wit of
an envious woman could devise against Hannah and her Alderney; nay, even
Ned Miles, the keeper, her next neighbour, who had whilom held entire
sway over the Shaw common, as well as its coppices, grumbled as much
as so good-natured and genial a person could grumble, when he found a
little girl sharing his dominion, a cow grazing beside his pony, and
vulgar cocks and hens hovering around the buck-wheat destined to feed
his noble pheasants. Nobody that had been accustomed to see that paragon
of keepers, so tall and manly, and pleasant looking, with his merry eye,
and his knowing smile, striding gaily along, in his green coat, and his
gold-laced hat, with Neptune, his noble Newfoundland dog (a retriever is
the sporting word), and his beautiful spaniel Flirt at his heels, could
conceive how askew he looked, when he first found Hannah and Watch
holding equal reign over his old territory, the Shaw common.

Yes! Hannah hath had her enemies; but they are passing away. The old
woman at the lodge is dead, poor creature; and Betty Barnes, having
herself taken to tippling, has lost the few friends she once possessed,
and looks, luckless wretch, as if she would soon die too!--and the
keeper?--why, he is not dead, or like to die; but the change that has
taken place there is the most astonishing of all--except, perhaps, the
change in Hannah herself.

Few damsels of twelve years old, generally a very pretty age, were less
pretty than Hannah Bint. Short and stunted in her figure, thin in face,
sharp in feature, with a muddled complexion, wild sunburnt hair,
and eyes whose very brightness had in them something startling,
over-informed, super-subtle, too clever for her age,--at twelve years
old she had quite the air of a little old fairy. Now, at seventeen,
matters are mended. Her complexion has cleared; her countenance has
developed itself; her figure has shot up into height and lightness, and
a sort of rustic grace; her bright, acute eye is softened and sweetened
by the womanly wish to please; her hair is trimmed, and curled and
brushed, with exquisite neatness; and her whole dress arranged with that
nice attention to the becoming, the suitable both in form and texture,
which would be called the highest degree of coquetry, if it did
not deserve the better name of propriety. Never was such a
transmogrification beheld. The lass is really pretty, and Ned Miles has
discovered that she is so. There he stands, the rogue, close at her side
(for he hath joined her whilst we have been telling her little story,
and the milking is over!)--there he stands--holding her milk-pail in
one hand, and stroking Watch with the other; whilst she is returning the
compliment by patting Neptune's magnificent head. There they stand,
as much like lovers as may be; he smiling, and she blushing--he never
looking so handsome nor she so pretty in all their lives. There they
stand, in blessed forgetfulness of all except each other; as happy
a couple as ever trod the earth. There they stand, and one would not
disturb them for all the milk and butter in Christendom. I should not
wonder if they were fixing the wedding day.



THE FALL OF THE LEAF.

November 6th.--The weather is as peaceful to-day, as calm, and as
mild, as in early April; and, perhaps, an autumn afternoon and a spring
morning do resemble each other more in feeling, and even in appearance,
than any two periods of the year. There is in both the same freshness
and dewiness of the herbage; the same balmy softness in the air; and the
same pure and lovely blue sky, with white fleecy clouds floating
across it. The chief difference lies in the absence of flowers, and the
presence of leaves. But then the foliage of November is so rich, and
glowing, and varied, that it may well supply the place of the gay
blossoms of the spring; whilst all the flowers of the field or the
garden could never make amends for the want of leaves,--that beautiful
and graceful attire in which nature has clothed the rugged forms of
trees--the verdant drapery to which the landscape owes its loveliness,
and the forests their glory.

If choice must be between two seasons, each so full of charm, it is at
least no bad philosophy to prefer the present good, even whilst looking
gratefully back, and hopefully forward, to the past and the future. And
of a surety, no fairer specimen of a November day could well be found
than this,--a day made to wander

     'By yellow commons and birch-shaded hollows,
      And hedgerows bordering unfrequented lanes;'

nor could a prettier country be found for our walk than this shady and
yet sunny Berkshire, where the scenery, without rising into grandeur or
breaking into wildness, is so peaceful, so cheerful, so varied, and so
thoroughly English.

We must bend our steps towards the water side, for I have a message
to leave at Farmer Riley's: and sooth to say, it is no unpleasant
necessity; for the road thither is smooth and dry, retired, as one
likes a country walk to be, but not too lonely, which women never like;
leading past the Loddon--the bright, brimming, transparent Loddon--a
fitting mirror for this bright blue sky, and terminating at one of the
prettiest and most comfortable farmhouses in the neighbourhood.

How beautiful the lane is to-day, decorated with a thousand colours! The
brown road, and the rich verdure that borders it, strewed with the pale
yellow leaves of the elm, just beginning to fall; hedgerows glowing
with long wreaths of the bramble in every variety of purplish red; and
overhead the unchanged green of the fir, contrasting with the spotted
sycamore, the tawny beech, and the dry sere leaves of the oak, which
rustle as the light wind passes through them; a few common hardy yellow
flowers (for yellow is the common colour of flowers, whether wild or
cultivated, as blue is the rare one), flowers of many sorts, but almost
of one tint, still blowing in spite of the season, and ruddy berries
glowing through all. How very beautiful is the lane!

And how pleasant is this hill where the road widens, with the group of
cattle by the wayside, and George Hearn, the little post-boy, trundling
his hoop at full speed, making all the better haste in his work, because
he cheats himself into thinking it play! And how beautiful, again, is
this patch of common at the hilltop with the clear pool, where
Martha Pither's children,--elves of three, and four, and five years
old,--without any distinction of sex in their sunburnt faces and
tattered drapery, are dipping up water in their little homely cups
shining with cleanliness, and a small brown pitcher with the lip broken,
to fill that great kettle, which, when it is filled, their united
strength will never be able to lift! They are quite a group for a
painter, with their rosy cheeks, and chubby hands, and round merry
faces; and the low cottage in the background, peeping out of its vine
leaves and china roses, with Martha at the door, tidy, and comely, and
smiling, preparing the potatoes for the pot, and watching the progress
of dipping and filling that useful utensil, completes the picture.

But we must go on. No time for more sketches in these short days. It is
getting cold too. We must proceed in our walk. Dash is showing us the
way and beating the thick double hedgerow that runs along the side of
the meadows, at a rate that indicates game astir, and causes the leaves
to fly as fast as an east-wind after a hard frost. Ah! a pheasant! a
superb cock pheasant! Nothing is more certain than Dash's questing,
whether in a hedgerow or covert, for a better spaniel never went into
the field; but I fancied that it was a hare afoot, and was almost as
much startled to hear the whirring of those splendid wings, as the
princely bird himself would have been at the report of a gun. Indeed, I
believe that the way in which a pheasant goes off, does sometimes make
young sportsmen a little nervous, (they don't own it very readily, but
the observation may be relied on nevertheless), until they get as it
were broken in to the sound; and then that grand and sudden burst of
wing becomes as pleasant to them as it seems to be to Dash, who is
beating the hedgerow with might and main, and giving tongue louder, and
sending the leaves about faster than ever--very proud of finding the
pheasant, and perhaps a little angry with me for not shooting it; at
least looking as if he would be angry if I were a man; for Dash is a
dog of great sagacity, and has doubtless not lived four years in the
sporting world without making the discovery, that although gentlemen do
shoot, ladies do not.

The Loddon at last! the beautiful Loddon! and the bridge, where every
one stops, as by instinct, to lean over the rails, and gaze a moment
on a landscape of surpassing loveliness,--the fine grounds of the Great
House, with their magnificent groups of limes, and firs, and poplars
grander than ever poplars were; the green meadows opposite, studded with
oaks and elms; the clear winding river; the mill with its picturesque
old buildings, bounding the scene; all glowing with the rich colouring
of autumn, and harmonised by the soft beauty of the clear blue sky, and
the delicious calmness of the hour. The very peasant whose daily path it
is, cannot cross that bridge without a pause.

But the day is wearing fast, and it grows colder and colder. I really
think it will be a frost. After all, spring is the pleasantest season,
beautiful as this scenery is. We must get on. Down that broad yet
shadowy lane, between the park, dark with evergreens and dappled with
deer, and the meadows where sheep, and cows, and horses are grazing
under the tall elms; that lane, where the wild bank, clothed with fern,
and tufted with furze, and crowned by rich berried thorn, and thick
shining holly on the one side, seems to vie in beauty with the
picturesque old paling, the bright laurels, and the plumy cedars, on
the other;--down that shady lane, until the sudden turn brings us to an
opening where four roads meet, where a noble avenue turns down to the
Great House; where the village church rears its modest spire from amidst
its venerable yew trees: and where, embosomed in orchards and gardens,
and backed by barns and ricks, and all the wealth of the farmyard,
stands the spacious and comfortable abode of good Farmer Riley,--the end
and object of our walk.

And in happy time the message is said and the answer given, for this
beautiful mild day is edging off into a dense frosty evening; the leaves
of the elm and the linden in the old avenue are quivering and vibrating
and fluttering in the air, and at length falling crisply on the earth,
as if Dash were beating for pheasants in the tree-tops; the sun gleams
dimly through the fog, giving little more of light and heat than his
fair sister the lady moon;--I don't know a more disappointing person
than a cold sun; and I am beginning to wrap my cloak closely round me,
and to calculate the distance to my own fireside, recanting all the way
my praises of November, and longing for the showery, flowery April, as
much as if I were a half-chilled butterfly, or a dahlia knocked down by
the frost.

Ah, dear me! what a climate this is, that one cannot keep in the same
mind about it for half an hour together! I wonder, by the way, whether
the fault is in the weather, which Dash does not seem to care for, or
in me? If I should happen to be wet through in a shower next spring, and
should catch myself longing for autumn, that would settle the question.





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