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Title: In Pursuit of Spring
Author: Thomas, Edward
Language: English
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IN PURSUIT OF SPRING



[Illustration:

PADDINGTON CANAL.

“So far the life of men moving to and fro across the bridges was
like the old life that I knew, though down below upon the sparkling
waters many birds were alighting, or were already seated like wondrous
blossoms upon the bulwarks of a barge painted in parrot colours red and
green.”]



  IN PURSUIT OF
  SPRING

  BY

  EDWARD THOMAS

  THOMAS NELSON AND SONS
  LONDON, EDINBURGH, DUBLIN
  AND NEW YORK.



  TO

  DOROTHY

  AND

  VIVIAN LOCKE ELLIS


  _First Published April 1914_



CONTENTS.


     I. IN SEARCH OF SPRING                       9

    II. THE START: LONDON TO GUILDFORD           34

   III. GUILDFORD TO DUNBRIDGE                   76

    IV. FROM DUNBRIDGE OVER SALISBURY PLAIN     128

     V. THREE WESSEX POETS                      180

    VI. THE AVON, THE BISS, THE FROME           199

   VII. TROWBRIDGE TO SHEPTON MALLET            216

  VIII. SHEPTON MALLET TO BRIDGWATER            235

    IX. BRIDGWATER TO THE SEA                   265

     X. THE GRAVE OF WINTER                     290



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.

_From Drawings by Ernest Hazelhurst._


  Paddington Canal      _Frontispiece_

  Cuckoo Flowers                    32

  A Passing Storm                   80

  Crosscombe                       176

  Glastonbury Tor                  192

  Kilve                            208



IN PURSUIT OF SPRING.



I.

IN SEARCH OF SPRING.


This is the record of a journey from London to the Quantock Hills--to
Nether Stowey, Kilve, Crowcombe, and West Bagborough, to the high
point where the Taunton-Bridgwater road tops the hills and shows all
Exmoor behind, all the Mendips before, and upon the left the sea,
and Wales very far off. It was a journey on or with a bicycle. The
season was Easter, a March Easter. “A North-Easter, probably?” No. Nor
did much north-east go to the making of it. I will give its pedigree
briefly, going back only a month--that is, to the days when I began to
calculate, or guess methodically, what the weather would be like at
Easter.

Perhaps it was rather more than a month before Easter that a false
Spring visited London. But I will go back first a little earlier, to
one of those great and notable days after the turn of the year that win
the heart so, without deceiving it.

The wind blew from the north-west with such peace and energy together
as to call up the image of a good giant striding along with superb
gestures--like those of a sower sowing. The wind blew and the sun shone
over London. A myriad roofs laughed together in the light. The smoke
and the flags, yellow and blue and white, waved tumultuously, straining
for joy to leave the chimneys and the flagstaffs, like hounds sighting
their quarry. The ranges of cloud bathing their lower slopes in the
brown mist of the horizon had the majesty of great hills, the coolness
and sweetness and whiteness of the foam on the crests of the crystal
fountains, and they were burning with light. The clouds did honour to
the city, which they encircled as with heavenly ramparts. The stone
towers and spires were soft, and luminous as old porcelain. There was
no substance to be seen that was not made precious by the strong wind
and the light divine. All was newly built to a great idea. The flags
were waving to salute the festal opening of the gates in those white
walls to a people that should presently surge in and onward to take
possession. Princely was to be the life that had this amphitheatre of
clouds and palaces for its display.

Of human things, only music--if human it can be called--was fit to
match this joyousness and this stateliness. What, I thought, if the
pomp of river and roof and cloudy mountain walls of the world be made
ready, as so often they had been before, only for the joy of the
invisible gods? For who has not known a day when some notable festival
is manifestly celebrated by a most rare nobleness in the ways of the
clouds, the colours of the woods, the glitter of the waters, yet on
earth all has been as it was wont to be?

So far, the life of men moving to and fro across the bridges was like
the old life that I knew, though, down below, upon the sparkling
waters many birds were alighting, or were already seated like wondrous
blossoms upon the bulwarks of a barge painted in parrot colours--red
and green. When would the entry begin?

In the streets, for the present, the roar continued of the inhuman
masses of humanity, amidst which a child’s crying for a toy was an
impertinence, a terrible pretty interruption of the violent moving
swoon. Between the millions and the one no agreement was visible. The
wind summoned the colour in a girl’s cheeks. There, one smiled with
inward bliss. Another talked serenely with lovely soft mouth and wide
eyes that saw only one other pair as the man next her bent his head
nearer. The wind wagged the tails of blue or brown fur about the forms
of luxurious tall women, and poured wine into their bodies, so that
their complexions glowed under their violet hats. But in one moment
the passing loveliness of spirit, or form, or gesture, sank and was
drowned in the oceanic multitude. A boy had just met his father at a
railway station, and was glad; he held the man’s hand, and was trotting
gently, trying to get him to run--he failed: then in delight put his
arm to his father’s waist and was carried along thus, half lifted from
the ground, for several yards, smiling and chattering like a bird on a
waving branch. The two obstructed others, who took a step to left or
right in disdain or impatience. Only a child at an alley entrance saw
and laughed, wishing she were his sister, and had his father. A moment,
and these also were swallowed up.

I came to broader pavements. Here was less haste; and women went in
and out of the crowd, not only parallel to the street, but crosswise
here and there; and a man could go at any pace, not of necessity the
crowd’s. Some of the most beautiful civilized women of the world moved
slowly and musically in an intricate pattern, which any one could watch
freely; they had a background of lustrous jewellery, metal-work and
glass, gorgeous cloths and silks, and many had a foil in the stiff
black and white male figures beside them. They moved without fear.
Stately, costly, tender, beautiful, nevertheless, though so near, they
were seen as in a magic crystal that enshrines the remote and the long
dead. They walked as in dream, regardlessly smiling. They cast their
proud or kind eyes hither and thither. Once in the intense light of a
jeweller’s shop, spangled with pearls, diamonds, and gold, a large red
hand, cold and not quite clean, appeared from within, holding in three
fearful, careful fingers a brooch of gold and diamonds, which it placed
among the others, and then withdrew itself slowly, tremulously, lest
it should work harm to those dazzling cressets. The eyes of the women
watched the brooch: the red hand need not have been so fearful; it was
unseen--the soul was hid. Straight through the women, in the middle of
the broad pavement, and very slowly, went an old man. He was short,
and his patched overcoat fell in a parallelogram from his shoulders
almost to the pavement. From underneath his little cap massive gray
curls sprouted and spread over his upturned collar. Just below the
fringe of his coat his bare heels glowed red. His hands rested deep in
his pockets. His face was almost concealed by curls and collar: all
that showed itself was the glazed cold red of his cheeks and large,
straight nose, and the glitter of gray eyes that looked neither to left
nor to right, but ahead and somewhat down. Not a sound did he make,
save the flap of rotten leather against feet which he scarcely raised
lest the shoes should fall off. Doubtless the composer of the harmonies
of this day could have made use of the old man--doubtless he did; but
as it was a feast day of the gods, not of men, I did not understand.
Around this figure, clad in complete hue of poverty, the dance of women
in violet and black, cinnamon and green, tawny and gray, scarlet and
slate, and the browns and golden browns of animals’ fur, wove itself
fantastically. The dance heeded him not, nor he the dance. The sun
shone bright. The wind blew and waved the smoke and the flags wildly
against the sky. The horses curved their stout necks, showing their
teeth, trampling, massing head by head in rank and cluster, a frieze as
magnificent as the procession of white clouds gilded, rolling along the
horizon.

That evening, without thought of Spring, I began to look at my maps.
Spring would come, of course--nothing, I supposed, could prevent
it--and I should have to make up my mind how to go westward. Whatever I
did, Salisbury Plain was to be crossed, not of necessity but of choice;
it was, however, hard to decide whether to go reasonably diagonally
in accordance with my western purpose, or to meander up the Avon,
now on one side now on the other, by one of the parallel river-side
roads, as far as Amesbury. Having got to Amesbury, there would be much
provocation to continue up the river among those thatched villages to
Upavon and to Stephen Duck’s village, Charlton, and the Pewsey valley,
and so, turning again westward, in sight of that very tame White Horse
above Alton Priors, to include Urchfont and Devizes.

Or, again, I might follow up the Wylye westward from Salisbury, and
have always below me the river and its hamlets and churches, the wall
of the Plain always above me on the right. Thus I should come to
Warminster and to the grand west wall of the Plain which overhangs the
town.

The obvious way was to strike north-west over the Plain from Stapleford
up the Winterbourne, through cornland and sheepland, by Shrewton
and Tilshead, and down again to other waters at West Lavington. Or
at Shrewton I could turn sharp to the west, and so visit solitary
Chitterne and solitary Imber.

I could not decide. If I went on foot, I could do as I liked on the
Plain. There are green roads leading from everywhere to everywhere.
But, on the other hand, it might be necessary at that time of year to
keep walking all day, which would mean at least thirty miles a day,
which was more than I was inclined for. The false Spring, the weather
that really deluded me to think it shameful not to trust it, came a
month later, and one of its best days was in London.

Many days in London have no weather. We are aware only that it is
hot or cold, dry or wet; that we are in or out of doors; that we
are at ease or not. This was not one of them. Rain lashed and wind
roared in the night, enveloping my room in a turbulent embrace as if
it had been a tiny ship in a great sea, instead of one pigeon-hole
in a thousand-fold columbarium deep in London. Dawn awakened me with
its tranquillity. The air was sombrely sweet; there was a lucidity
under the gloom of the clouds; the air barely heaved with the ebb of
storm; and even when the sun was risen it seemed still twilight. The
jangle of the traffic made a wall round about the quiet in which
I lay embedded. I scarcely heard the sound of it; but I could not
forget the wall. Within the circle of quiet a parrot sang the street
songs of twenty years ago very clearly, over and over again, almost
as sweetly as a blackbird. I had heard him many times before, but
now he sang differently--I did not know or consider how or why. The
song was different as the air was. Yet I could not directly feel the
air, because the windows were tightly shut against the soot of four
neighbouring chimney-stacks.

Out of doors the business and pleasure of the day kept me a close
though a moving prisoner. All the morning and afternoon I was glad to
see only one thing that was not a human face. It was a portico of high
fluted columns rising in a cliff above an expanse of gravel walks and
turf. The gray columns were blackened with soot splashes. The grass and
the stone were touched with the sweetness that was in the early air
and in the bird’s song before the rain had dried and the wind quite
departed. Both were blessed with the same pure and lovely union of
humid coldness, gloom, and lucidity, so that the portico appeared for a
moment to be the entrance to halls of unimagined beauty and holiness,
as if I should be admitted through them into the cloud-ramparted city
of that earlier day. Nevertheless, I found all inside exactly as it
had always been; not only the expectation but even the memory of what
had fostered it was wiped out without one pause of disappointment. The
sunlight, now and then flooding and astonishing the interior, fell
through windows that shut out both sky and earth, into an atmosphere
incapable of acknowledging the divinity of the rays; they were alien,
disturbing, hostile. There was something childish in these displays,
so wasteful and passionate, before the spectacled eyes of a number of
people reading books in the mummied air of a library.

Once more on this February day, at four in the afternoon, my eyes were
unsealed and awakened. The air in the streets of big dark houses was
still and hazy, but overhead hung the loftiest sky I had ever seen,
and the finest of fine-spun clouds stretched across the pale blue in
long white reefs. In a few moments I was again under a roof. This time
it was the house of a friend, removed from busy thoroughfares, very
silent within. As the old country servant, faintly dingy and sinister,
led me up to the usual room, the staircase, and both the shut and the
half-seen apartments on either hand, were mysterious and depressing,
with something massive and yet temporary, as if in a dream mansion of
shadows. Nothing definite was suggested by these doors; anything was
possible behind them. Right up to the familiar dark room I always felt
the same dull trouble. Then the dim room opened before me: I heard the
masterly, kind voice.

It was a high, large room with many corners that I had never explored.
The furniture gloomed vaguely above and around the little space that
was crossed by our two voices. The long windows were some yards away,
and between them and us stood a heavy table, a heavy cabinet, and
several chairs. Never had I been to the window and looked out, nor did
I today. No lamp was lit. We talked, we were silent, and I was content.
Now and then I looked towards the window, which framed only the corner
of a house near by, the chimneys of farther houses, and a pallor of sky
between and above them. I was aware of the slow stealing away of day.
I knew it was slow, and twice I looked at a clock to make sure that I
was not being deceived. I was aware also of the beauty of this slow
fading. No wind moved, nor was any movement anywhere heard or seen. The
stillness and silence were great; the tranquillity was even greater:
I dipped into it and shared it while I listened and talked. Several
times two or three children passed beneath the window and chattered
in loud, shrill voices, but they were unseen. Far from disturbing the
tranquillity, the sounds were steeped in it; the silence and stillness
of the twilight saturated and embalmed them. But pleasant as in
themselves they were entirely, they were far more so by reason of what
they suggested.

These voices and this tranquillity spoke of Spring. They told me what
an evening it was at home. I knew how the first blackbird was whistling
in the broad oak, and, farther away--some very far away--many thrushes
were singing in the chill, under the pale light fitly reflected by
the faces of earliest primroses. The sound of lambs and of a rookery
more distant blended in soft roaring. Underfoot everything was
soaked--soaked clay, soaked dead grass; and the land was agleam with
silver rain pools and channels. I foresaw tempest of rain and wind on
the next day. Perhaps imagination of dark, withered, and sodden land,
and the change threatening, helped to perfect that sweetness which was
not wholly of earth. The songs of the birds were to cease, and, in
their place, blackbirds would be clinking nervously in impenetrable
thickets long after sundown, when only a narrowing pane of almost
lightless light divided a black mass of cloud from a black horizon.
As in the morning streets the essence of the beauty was lucidity in
the arms of gloom, so it was now in the clear twilight fields gliding
towards black night, tempest, and perhaps a renewal of Winter.... Then
a lamp was carried in. The children’s voices had gone. In a little
while I rose, and, going out, saw precisely that long pane of light
that I should have seen low in the west, had I been standing fifty
miles off, looking towards Winchester.

Another evening like this one followed. To the south and west of me the
Downs were spread out beyond eyesight. Their flowing and quiet lines
were an invitation, a temptation. I should have liked to set forth
immediately, to travel day and night with that flow and quiet until
I reached the nightingale’s song, the apple blossom, the perfume of
sunny earth. But nothing was more impossible. The next day was sleet.
The most I could do was to plan so that perhaps I should find myself
travelling in one of those preludes to Summer which are less false than
this one. The beautiful Easters I had known came back to me: Easters
of five years, twenty years ago; early Easters when the chiffchaff was
singing on March 20 in a soft wind; later Easters, when Good Friday
brought the swallow, Saturday the cuckoo, Sunday the nightingale.
I did not forget Easters of snow and of north wind. In the end I
decided to trust to luck--to start on Good Friday on the chance that
I should meet fine weather at once or in a day or two. I would go out
in that safe, tame fashion, looking for Spring. The date of Easter
made nightingales and cuckoos improbable; but I might hope for the
chiffchaff, an early martin, some stitchwort blossoms, cuckoo flowers,
some larch green, some blackthorn white. I began to think of what the
days would be like. Would there be an invisible sky and a coldish wind,
yet some ground for hoping, because the blackbirds would be content in
their singing at evening, and the dead leaves that trundle in the road
would have decreased to a handful? Perhaps there would be another of
these dimly promising days. On the third, would the misty morning clear
slowly, the Downs barely visible under the low drift, behind which the
sky is caked in cloud, with a dirty silver light from the interstices?
And would there be one place in this sky which it would be impossible
to gaze at, and would this at last become dazzling, would the drift
vanish, and the Downs and half the valley be hid in the foundations
of a stationary mass of sunlit white cloud? Would the earth begin to
crumble in the warm breeze? Would the bees be heard instead of the
wind? Would the jackdaws play and cry far up in the pale vault? Would
the low east become a region of cumulus clouds, old-ivory-coloured,
receding with sunny edges one behind the other infinitely? Would the
evening sky be downy-white and clouded softly over the dark copses and
the many songs interwoven at seven? Would a clear still night follow,
with Lyra and a multitude of stars? So I questioned. But I will relate
something of what happened in the month of waiting and preparation.

Next day the north-east wind began to prevail, making a noise as if
the earth were hollow and rumbling all through the bright night, and
all day a rhythmless and steady roar. The earth was being scoured like
a pot. If snow fell, there was no more of it in the valleys than if a
white bird had been plucked by a sparrow-hawk: on the hills it lasted
longer, but as thin as rice the day after a wedding. The wind was
eager enough to scour me. Doubtless, an old man or two, and an infant
or two, it both scoured and killed. The yellow celandine flowers were
bright but shrivelled; the ivy gleamed blackly on the banks beside the
white roads. These were days of great rather than of little things;
the north-east wind that was cleaning, and the world that was being
cleaned. The old man, the child, and the celandine, mattered little.
Such days are good to live in, better to remember.

Very meekly, and in the night, the north-east wind gave up its power to
the south. Mild, sweet, and soft days followed, when the earth was an
invalid certain of recovery, with many delicate smiles and languors and
fatigues, and little vain fears or recollections. By St. David’s Day
violets began to disclose themselves to children and some lovers....
Copses, hedges, roadsides, and brooksides were taken possession of by
millions of primroses in thick, long-stemmed clusters; their green,
only just flowerlike, scent was suited perfectly to the invalid but
strengthening earth.

Then for most of a day it rained, and what was done under cover of
that deliberate, irresistible rain, only a poet can tell. There are
more trees than men on the earth, more flowers than children, and on
that day the earth was such as I can imagine it before man or god
had been invented. It was an earlier than prehistoric day. The sun
rose glimmeringly in mist, as yet not strongly, but sure of victory
over chaos. What will happen? What shall come of it? What will be
the new thing? On such a day the song of birds was first heard upon
the earth.... As I went along I found myself repeating with an
inexplicable and novel fervour the words, “Glory be to the Father,
and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning,
is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.” No possible
supplication to “Earth, Ocean, Air--Eternal Brotherhood,” could have
been more satisfying. From time to time other incantations also seemed
appropriate, as, for example,--

  “Oh, Santiana’s won the day--
    Away, Santiana!--
  Santiana’s won the day
    Along the plains of Mexico.”

There followed an ordinary fine day, warm but fresh, with more than one
light shower out of the south-west during the afternoon; after that
a cloudy, rainless day, which people did not call fine, though the
chaffinches and thrushes enjoyed it wholly; and after that, rain again,
and the elms standing about like conspirators in the mist of the rain,
preparing something; then a day, warm and bright, of a heavenly and yet
also a spirited loveliness--the best day of the year, when the larks’
notes were far beyond counting; and after that wind and rain again; a
day of great wind and no rain; then two days of mild, quick air, both
glooming into black nights of tumult, with frosty, penitent-looking
dawns. Snow succeeded, darkening the air, whitening the sky, on the
wings of a strong wind from the north of north-west, for a minute only,
but again and again, until by five o’clock the sky was all blue except
at the horizon, where stood a cluster of white mountains, massive and
almost motionless, in the south above the Downs, and round about them
some dusky fragments not fit to be used in the composition of such
mountains. They looked as if they were going to last for ever. Yet by
six o’clock the horizon was dim, and the clouds all but passed away,
the Downs clear and extended; the blackbird singing as if the world
were his nest, the wind cold and light, but dying utterly to make way
for a beautiful evening of one star and many owls hooting.

The next day was the missel-thrush’s and the north-west wind’s. The
missel-thrush sat well up in a beech at the wood edge and hailed the
rain with his rolling, brief song: so rapidly and oft was it repeated
that it was almost one long, continuous song. But as the wind snatched
away the notes again and again, or the bird changed his perch, or
another answered him or took his place, the music was roving like a
hunter’s.... I looked at my maps. Should I go through Swindon, or
Andover, or Winchester, or Southampton? I had a mind to compass all
four; but the objection was that the kinks thus to be made would
destroy any feeling of advance in the journey....

The night was wild, and on the morrow the earth lay sleeping a sweet,
quiet sleep of recovery from the wind’s rage. The robin could be heard
as often as the missel-thrush. The sleep lasted through a morning
of frost and haze into a clear day, gentle but bright, and another
and another of cloudy brightness, brightened cloudiness, rounded off
between half-past five and half-past six by blackbirds singing. The
nights were strange children for such days, nights of frantic wind
and rain, threatening to undo all the sweet work in a swift, howling
revolution. Trees were thrown down, branches broken, but the buds
remained.

The north wind made an invasion with horizontal arrows of pricking
hail in the day, and twice in the night a blue lightning, that long
stood brandished within the room until thunder fell, disembowelling
the universe, with no rolling sound, but a single plunge and rebound
as of an enormous weight. With the day came snow, hail, and rain, each
impotent to silence the larks for one minute after it had ceased. The
half-moon at the zenith of a serene, frosty night led in a morning of
mist that filled up all the hollows of the valley as with snow: each
current of smoke from locomotive or cottage lay in solid and enduring
vertebræ above the mist: the sun shone upon black rooks cawing moodily,
upon snow and freshest green intermingled: the larks soared into the
light white cloud; the bullfinch whispered a sweet, cracked melody,
almost hid now in hawthorn leaves.

These things in their turn availed nothing against a wind swooping
violently all night, sometimes with rain, sometimes without. Neither
west wind nor rain respected daybreak: only at half-past one could
the sun put his head out to see if the two had done quarrelling with
the earth or with one another. The rain gave up, and the loose clouds
strewn over the sky had no more order than the linen which was now
hurriedly spread on the blossoming gorse-bushes to flatter the sun.
In response, the sun poured out light on flooded waters, on purple
brook-side thickets of alder, and celandines under them, and on
solitary greening chestnuts, as if all was now to be well. The clouds
massed themselves together in larger and whiter continents, the blue
spaces widened. Yet though the sun went down in peace, what of the
morrow?

Whatever happened, I was to start on Good Friday. I was now deciding
that I would go through Salisbury, and over the Plain to West
Lavington, and thence either through Devizes or through Trowbridge
and Bradford. Salisbury was to be reached by Guildford, Farnham,
Alton, Alresford, but perhaps not Winchester--for I could follow down
the Itchen to King’s Worthy, and then cross those twenty miles of
railwayless country by way of Stockbridge, visiting thus Hazlitt’s
Winterslow. To Guildford there were several possible ways. The ordinary
Portsmouth road, smooth enough for roller-skating, and passing
through unenclosed piny and ferny commons one after another, did not
overmuch attract me. Also, I wanted to see Ewell again, and Epsom, and
Leatherhead, and to turn round between hill and water under Leatherhead
Church and Mickleham Church to Dorking. Thus my ways out of London
were reduced. I could, of course, reach Ewell by way of Kingston,
Surbiton, and Tolworth, traversing some of Jefferies’ second country,
and crossing the home of his “London trout.” But this was too much of a
digression for the first day.

At any rate the Quantocks were to be my goal. I had a wish of a mildly
imperative nature that Spring would be arriving among the Quantocks at
the same time as myself--that “the one red leaf the last of its clan,”
that danced on March 7, 1798, would have danced itself into the grave:
that since my journey was to be in “a month before the month of May,”
Spring would come fast, not slowly, up that way. Yes, I would see
Nether Stowey, the native soil of “Kubla Khan,” “Christabel,” and “The
Ancient Mariner,” where Coleridge fed on honey-dew and drank the milk
of Paradise.

If I was to get beyond the Quantocks, it would only be for the sake
of looking at Taunton or Minehead or Exmoor. Those hills were a
distinct and sufficient goal, because they form the boundary between
the south-west and the west. Beyond them lie Exmoor, Dartmoor, the
Bodmin Moor, and Land’s End, a rocky and wilder land, though with many
a delicate or bounteous interspace. On this side is the main tract of
the south and the south-west, and the Quantocks themselves are the
last great strongholds of that sweetness. Thither I planned to go,
under the North Downs to Guildford, along the Hog’s Back to Farnham,
down the Itchen towards Winchester, over the high lands of the Test to
Salisbury; across the Plain to Bradford, over the Mendips to Shepton
Mallet, and then under the Mendips to Wells and Glastonbury, along the
ridge of the Polden Hills to Bridgwater, and so up to the Quantocks and
down to the sea.

I was to start on roads leading into the Epsom road. Some regret I
felt that I could not contrive to leave by the Brighton road. For I
should thus again have enjoyed passing the green dome of Streatham
Common, the rookery at Norbury, the goose-pond by the “Wheatsheaf”
and “Horse-shoe,” and threading the unbroken lines of Croydon shops
until Haling Park begins on the right hand, opposite the “Red Deer.”
The long, low, green slope of the Park, the rookery elms on it, the
chestnuts above the roadside fence, are among the pleasantest things
which the besieging streets have made pleasanter. Haling Down, a
straight-ridged and treeless long hill parallel to the road, is a
continuation of that slope. In the midst it is broken by a huge
chalk-pit, bushy and weathered, and its whole length is carved by an
old road, always clearly marked either by the bare chalk of its banks
or the stout thorn-bushes attending its course. Blocks of shops between
the grass and the road, a street or two running up into it, as at the
chalk-pit, and the announcement of building sites, have not spoiled
this little Down, which London has virtually imprisoned. Anywhere in
the chalk country its distinct individuality, the long, straight ridge
and even flank, would gain it honour, but here it is a pure pastoral.
It is good enough to create a poem at least equal (in everything but
length) to “Windsor Forest” or “Cooper’s Hill,” if we had a local poet
to-day. Beyond it, enclosed by the Eastbourne and Brighton roads, is a
perfect small region of low downs, some bare, some wooded, some bushy,
having Coulsdon in the centre.... But that was not to be my way.

Next day new dust was blowing over still wet mud, but the stainless
blue of eight o’clock was veiled at nine. A thin gleam now and then
illuminated the oaks, the fagots piled among primroses, and the copser
himself. Half leaning against an oak, half reclining on his bed between
two hurdles, he smoked and saw steadily and whole the train that rushed
past the wood’s edge, the immense white cloud that pushed up slowly
above the horizon, and the man following the roller down stripe after
stripe of the next meadow, his head bent, his hand in his pocket. What
sun there was, and perhaps more, had entered the rook’s cawing and
the passages from “Madame Angot” tripping out of the barrel-organ.
One isolated bent larch in a dark wood was green all over, a spirit
of acrid green challenging the darkness. An angry little shower made
my hope sputter, but the gleam--while the rain, white with light, was
still falling--the soft bright gleam with which the worn flagstones
answered the returning sun seemed to me pure Spring. If the rain
fell again soon afterwards it only enriched the deep, after-rainy blue
of evening, and made whiter the one planet that shone at half-past
six upon the mud, the straight lines of traffic, and the parallels of
white and yellow lamps. As deeply as one pearl dropped in mid-Atlantic
was that planet lost in the storms of the night, when the rain and the
south-west wind raved together. Yet I had planned to start on the next
day.



II.

THE START: LONDON TO GUILDFORD.


I had planned to start on March 21, and rather late than early, to give
the road time for drying. The light arrived bravely and innocently
enough at sunrise; too bravely, for by eight o’clock it was already
abashed by a shower. There could be no doubt that either I must wait
for a better day, or at the next convenient fine interval I must
pretend to be deceived and set out prepared for all things. So at ten I
started, with maps and sufficient clothes to replace what my waterproof
could not protect from rain.

The suburban by-streets already looked rideable; but they were false
prophets: the main roads were very different. For example, the surface
between the west end of Nightingale Lane and the top of Burntwood Lane
was fit only for fancy cycling--in and out among a thousand lakes a
yard wide and three inches deep. These should either have been stocked
with gold-fish and aquatic plants or drained, but some time had been
allowed to pass without either course being adopted. It may be that
all the draining forces of the neighbourhood had been directed to
emptying the ornamental pond on Wandsworth Common. Empty it was, and
the sodden bed did not improve the look of the common--flat by nature,
flatter by recent art. The gorse was in bloom amidst a patchwork of
turf, gravel, and puddle. Terriers raced about or trifled. A flock
of starlings bathed together in a puddle until scared by the dogs. A
tall, stern, bald man without a hat strode earnestly in a straight
line across the grass and water, as if pleasure had become a duty.
He was alone on the common. In all the other residences, that form
walls round the common almost on every side, hot-cross buns had proved
more alluring than the rain and the south-west wind. The scene was,
in fact, one more likely to be pleasing in a picture than in itself.
It was tame: it was at once artificial and artless, and touched
with beauty only by the strong wind and by the subdued brightness
due to the rain. Its breadth and variety were sufficient for it to
respond--something as Exmoor or Mousehold Heath or Cefn Bryn in Gower
would have responded--to the cloudily shattered light, the threats and
the deceptions, and the great sweep of the wind. But there was no one
painting those cold expanses of not quite lusty grass, the hard, dull
gravel, the shining puddles, the dark gold-flecked gorse, the stiff,
scanty trees with black bark and sharp green buds, the comparatively
venerable elms of Bolingbroke Grove, the backs and fronts of houses of
no value save to their owners, and the tall chimney-stacks northwards.
Perhaps only a solitary artist, or some coldish sort of gnome or angel,
could have thoroughly enjoyed this moment. That it was waiting for such
a one I am certain; I am almost equally certain that he could create a
vogue in scenes like this one, which are only about a thousandth part
as unpleasant as a cold bath, and possess, furthermore, elements of
divinity lacking both to the cold bath and to the ensuing bun.

It is easier to like the blackbird’s shrubbery, the lawn, the big elm,
or oak, and the few dozen fruit trees, of the one or two larger and
older houses surviving--for example, at the top of Burntwood Lane. The
almond, the mulberry, the apple trees in these gardens have a menaced
or actually caged loveliness, as of a creature detained from some world
far from ours, if they are not, as in some cases they are, the lost
angels of ruined paradises.

Burntwood Lane, leading down from a residential district to an
industrial district, is no longer as pretty as its name. Also, when
it seems to be aiming at the country, it turns into a street of
maisonettes, with a vista of houses terminated by the two tall red
chimneys of the Wimbledon Electricity Works. But it has its character.
The Lunatic Asylum helps it with broad, cultivated squares, elms, and
rooks’ nests, and the voices of cows and pigs behind the railings that
line it on the left hand from top to bottom. On the right, playfields
waiting to be built all over give it a lesser advantage. How sorry are
the unprotected elms on that side! They will never be old. Man, child,
and dog, walking in and out of them, climbing them, kicking and cutting
them, have made them as little like trees as it is possible for them
to be while they yet live. They have one hour of prettiness, when the
leaf-buds are as big as peas on the little side sprays low down. Then
on a Saturday--or on a Sunday, when the path is darkened by adults in
their best clothes--the children come and pick the sprays in bunches
instead of primroses. For there are no primroses, no celandines, no
dandelions outside the fences in Burntwood Lane. And Garratt Green at
the bottom is now but a railed-in, perfectly level square for games,
with rules on a notice-board. It is greener than when it was crossed
diagonally by paths, and honoured on a Saturday by gypsies and
coconut-shies. Probably it now gives some satisfaction to the greatest
number possible, but nobody will ever again, until After London, think
of Garratt Green as a sort of country place. I went round it and its
footballers in haste. Nor is that thickening portion of London beyond
it easily made to appear beautiful or interesting. It is flat and low,
suitable rather for vegetables than men, and built on chiefly because
people can always be enticed into new houses. The flatter and lower
and more suitable for vegetables, the more easily satisfied are the
people with their houses, partly because they are poor, partly because
they are half country folk and like this kind of land, it may be, and
the river Wandel, the watercress beds, the swampy places, the market
gardens, the cabbages and lavender, and Mitcham Fair, more than they
would like the church-parade along Bolingbroke Grove, the bands, the
teetotallers, the atheists, and the tennis-players, on the commons
which have a gravel soil.

As I left the Green I noticed Huntspill Road. Why is it Huntspill
Road? I thought at once of Huntspill in Somerset, of Highbridge on the
Brue, of Brent Knoll, of Burnham and Hunt’s Pond, and the sandhills
and the clouded-yellow butterflies that shared the hollows of the
sandhills with me in the Summer once. Such is the way of street names,
particularly in London suburbs, where free play is given to memory and
fancy. I suppose, if I were to look, I should find names as homely
as the Florrie Place and Lily Place at lower Farringdon near Alton,
or the Susannah’s Cottage and Katie’s Cottage near Canute’s Palace
at Southampton. But Beatrice, Ayacanora, or Megalostrate would be as
likely. To the casual, curious man, these street names compose an
outdoor museum as rich as any in the world. They are the elements of a
puzzle map of England which gradually we fill in, now recognizing from
a bus-top the name of a Wiltshire village, and again among the Downs
coming upon a place which had formerly been but a name near Clapham
Junction.

Not far beyond Huntspill Road, at what is called (I think) New
Wimbledon, I noticed a De Burgh Street. Do you remember how Borrow,
speaking of the tricks of fortune, says that he has seen a descendant
of the De Burghs who wore the falcon mending kettles in a dingle? He
counted himself one of the De Burghs. De Burgh Street is a double row
of more than dingy--better than dingy--swarthy, mulatto cottages,
ending in a barrier of elm trees. The monotony of the tiny front
gardens is broken by a dark pine tree in one, and by an inn called the
“Sultan”--not “Sweet Sultan,” which is a flower, but “Sultan,” a dusky
king. And out of the “Sultan,” towards me, strode a gaunt, dusky man,
with long black ringlets dangling from under his hard hat down over his
green and scarlet neckerchief. His tight trousers, his brisk gait, and
his hairless jib, were those of a man used to horses and to buyers and
sellers of horses. He came rapidly and to beg. Rapid was his begging,
exquisitely finished in its mechanical servility. His people were
somewhere not far off, said he. That night he had travelled from St.
Albans to rejoin them. They were not here: they must be at Wandsworth,
with the vans and horses. All questions were answered instantly,
briefly, and impersonally. The incident was but a pause in his rapid
career from the “Sultan” to Wandsworth. He took the price of a pint
with a slight appearance of gratitude, and departed with long, very
quick steps, head down, face almost hidden by his bowler.

But there was much to be seen between Huntspill Road and De Burgh
Road. The scene, for instance, from the corner by the “Plough,” the
“Prince Albert,” and the “White Lion,” at Summerstown, was curious
and typical. These three great houses stand at the edge of the still
cultivated and unpopulated portion of the flat land of the Wandel--the
allotment gardens, the watercress beds, the meadows plentifully
adorned with advertisements and thinly sprinkled with horse and cow,
but not lacking a rustic house and a shed or two, and to-day a show
of plum-blossom. This suburban landscape had not the grace of Haling
Park and Down, but at that moment its best hour was beginning. The
main part visible was twenty acres of damp meadow. On the left it was
bounded by the irregular low buildings of a laundry, a file and tool
factory, and a chamois-leather mill; on the right by the dirty backs of
Summerstown. On the far side a neat, white, oldish house was retiring
amid blossoming fruit trees under the guardianship of several elms, and
the shadow of those two tall red chimneys of the Electricity Works. On
my side the meadow had a low black fence between it and the road, with
the addition, in one place, of high advertisement boards, behind which
lurked three gypsy vans. A mixture of the sordid and the delicate in
the whole was unmistakable.

Skirting the meadow, my road led up to the Wandel and a mean bridge.
The river here is broadened for a hundred yards between the bridge and
the chamois-leather mill or Copper Mill. The buildings extend across
and along one side of the water; a meadow comes to the sedgy side
opposite. The mill looks old, has tarred boards where it might have
had corrugated iron, and its neighbours are elms and the two chimneys.
It is approached at one side by a lane called Copper Mill Lane, where
the mud is of a sort clearly denoting a town edge or a coal district.
Above the bridge the back-yards of new houses have only a narrow
waste between them and the Wandel, and on this was being set up the
coconut-shy that would have been on Garratt Green twenty years ago.

The rain returned as I was crossing the railway bridge by Hayden’s Road
station. It was raining hard when the gypsy left the “Sultan,” and
still harder when I turned to the right along Merton Road. Rather than
be soaked thus early, I took the shelter offered by a bird-shop on the
left hand. This was not a cheerful or a pretty place. Overhead hung a
row of cages containing chaffinches--battered ones at a shilling, a
neater one at eighteen-pence--that sang every now and then,--

  “My life and soul, as if he were a Greek.”

Inside the shop, linnets at half a crown were rushing ceaselessly
against the bars of six-inch cages, their bosoms ruffled and bloody as
if from the strife, themselves like wild hearts beating in breasts
too narrow. “House-moulted” goldfinches (price 5s. 6d.) were making
sounds which I should have recognized as the twittering of goldfinches
had I heard them among thistles on the Down tops. Little, bright
foreign birds, that would have been hardly more at home there than
here, looked more contented. A gold-fish, six inches long, squirmed
about a globe with a diameter of six inches, in the most complete exile
imaginable. The birds at least breathed air not parted entirely from
the south-west wind which was now soaking the street; but the fish was
in a living grave. The place was perhaps more cheerless to look at than
to live in, but in a short time three more persons took shelter by it,
and after glancing at the birds, stood looking out at the rain, at
the dull street, the tobacconist’s, news-agent’s, and confectioner’s
shops alone being unshuttered. Presently one of the three shelterers
entered the bird-shop, which I had supposed shut; the proprietor came
out for a chaffinch; and in a minute or two the customer left with an
uncomfortable air and something fluttering in a paper bag such as would
hold a penn’orth of sweets. He mounted a bicycle, and I after him, for
the rain had forgotten to fall. He turned up to the left towards Morden
station, which was my way also. Not far up the road he was apparently
unable to bear the fluttering in the paper bag any longer; he got down,
and with an awkward air, as if he knew how many great men had done it
before, released the flutterer. A dingy cock chaffinch flew off among
the lilacs of a garden, saying “Chink.” The deliverer was up and away
again.

For some distance yet the land was level. The only hill was made by
the necessity of crossing a railway at Morden station. At that point
rows of houses were discontinued; shops and public-houses with a lot
of plate-glass had already ceased. The open stretches were wider
and wider, of dark earth, of vegetables in squares, or florists’
plantations, divided by hedges low and few, or by lines of tall elm
trees or Lombardy poplars. Not quite rustic men and women stooped or
moved to and fro among the vegetables: carts were waiting under the
elms. A new house, a gasometer, an old house and its trees, lay on the
farther side of the big field: behind them the Crystal Palace. On my
right, in the opposite direction, the trees massed themselves together
into one wood.

It is so easy to make this flat land sordid. The roads, hedges, and
fences on it have hardly a reason for being anything but straight.
More and more the kind of estate disappears that might preserve trees
and various wasteful and pretty things: it is replaced by small villas
and market gardens. If any waste be left under the new order, it will
be used for conspicuously depositing rubbish. Little or no wildness
of form or arrangement can survive, and with no wildness a landscape
cannot be beautiful. Barbed wire and ugly and cruel fences, used
against the large and irresponsible population of townsmen, add to the
charmless artificiality. It was a relief to see a boy stealing up one
of the hedges, looking for birds’ nests. And then close up against this
eager agriculture and its barbed wires are the hotels, inns, tea-shops,
and cottages with ginger-beer for the townsman who is looking for
country of a more easy-going nature. This was inhospitable. On many
a fence and gate had been newly written up in chalk by some prophet:
“Eternity,” “Believe,” “Come unto Me.”

I welcomed the fences for the sake of what lay behind them. Now it was
a shrubbery, now a copse, and perhaps a rookery, or a field running up
mysteriously to the curved edge of a wood, and at Morden Hall it was
a herd of deer among the trees. The hedges were good in themselves,
and for the lush grass, the cuckoo-pint, goose-grass, and celandine
upon their banks. Walking up all the slightest hills because of the
south-west wind, I could see everything, from the celandines one by one
and the crowding new chestnut leaves, to the genial red brick tower of
St. Laurence’s Church at Morden and the inns one after another--the
“George,” the “Lord Nelson,” the “Organ,” the “Brick Kiln,” the
“Victoria.” Nelson’s hatchment is still on the wall of Merton Church:
his name is the principal one for inns in the neighbourhood. Ewell, for
example, has a “Lord Nelson,” where the signboard shows Nelson and the
telescope on one side, and the _Victory_ on the other.

The liberator of the chaffinch and I no longer had the road to
ourselves as we struggled on in the mud between old houses, villas,
dingy tea-shops, hoardings, and fields that seemed to produce crops of
old iron and broken crockery. If the distant view at one moment was all
elm trees, at the next it was a grand new instalment of London, ten
fields away. But all of us must have looked mainly at the road ahead,
making for some conjectural “world far from ours.” The important thing
was to get out of this particular evil, not to inquire whether worse
came after.

Only the most determined people were on the road. Motor cycles
and side-cars bore middle-aged men with their wives or children,
poorish-looking young men with their girls. Once or twice a man dashed
by with a pretty girl smiling above his back wheel, perfectly balanced.
But the greater number of my fellow-travellers were cyclists carrying
luncheons and waterproofs. In one band seven or eight lean young chaps
in dark clothes bent over their handle-bars, talking in jerks as they
laboured, all stopping together at any call for a drink or to mend a
puncture. They swore furiously, but (I believe) not in anger, at a
nervous woman crossing in front of them. If conversation flagged, one
or other of them was certain to break out into song with,--

  “Who were you with last night
  Out in the pale moonlight?
  It wasn’t your missus,
  It wasn’t your ma.
  Ah, ah, ah, ah! ... ah!
  Will you tell your missus
  When you get home
  Who you were with last night?”

The clouds hung like pudding-bags all over the sky, but the sad,
amorous, jaunty drivel seemed to console them.

Some way past Morden these braves were jeering at the liberator of the
chaffinch, who stood in the middle of the road with a book and pencil.
He was drawing a weather-vane above a house on the left hand. The
long, gilt dragon, its open mouth, sharp ears, sharp upright wings,
and thin curled tail, had attracted him, although the arrow-head at
the tip of the tail was pointing south-westward, and rain was falling.
“It’s rather curious,” he remarked, as I came up to him, “there is
no ingenuity in weather-vanes. One has to put up with the Ship and
the Cock erected over the Imperial Hotel in Russell Square, and think
oneself really lucky to come across the Centaur with his bow and arrow
at the brass-foundry, you know, on the left just before you come to the
top of Tottenham Court Road from Portland Road station.” But it was
blowing hard, and there was little reason for me to suppose that he was
addressing me, or for him to suppose that I heard him. However, it was
a kind of introduction. On we rode.

I had been about two hours reaching the gate of Nonsuch Park, and the
fountain and cross there commemorating a former mistress, Charlotte
Farmer, who died in 1906. The other man was reading aloud the
inscription,--

  “As thirsty travellers in a desert land
  Welcome a spring amidst a waste of sand,
  So did her kindly actions cheer the sad,
  Refresh the worn, and make the weary glad.”

I tried to get water, but there was none. Nevertheless, the fountain
was a pretty thing on that plot of grass where the road zigzags
opposite the gate and avenue of Nonsuch. A dove and an olive branch, of
ruddiest gilding, is perched on the cross tip.

“Wretched weather,” said the man, speaking through the pencil in his
mouth, as he straddled on to his bicycle. At Ewell I lost him by going
round behind the new church to look at the old tower. This completely
ivy-covered square tower is all that remains of an old church. If the
rest was as little decayed, there can hardly have been a good reason
for demolishing it. The doors were locked. I could only walk about
among the trees, glancing at the tombs of the Glyn family, and the
headstone of Edward Wells (who died in 1742, at the age of sixteen) and
the winged skull adorning it.

Ewell was the first place on my road which bore a considerable
resemblance to a country town. It stands at the forking of a Brighton
and a Worthing road. Hereby rises the Hogsmill river; its water
flows alongside the street, giving its name to the “Spring Inn.” The
name Ewell, like that of Oxfordshire Ewelme, seems and is said to be
connected with the presence of water. The place is not a mere roadside
collection of houses with a variegated, old look, but a town at which
roads meet, pause, take a turn or two, and exchange greetings, before
separating from one another and from Ewell. The town probably struck
those escaping Londoners on bicycles as one where the sign of the
“Green Man” was in keeping. Comfortable houses on the outskirts, with
high trees and shrubberies, and an avenue of limes crossing the road at
right angles, confirm the fancy. It marked a definite stage on the road
from London.

The end of Ewell touched the beginning of Epsom, which had to be
entered between high walls of advertisements--yards of pictures and
large letters--asserting the virtues of clothes, food, drugs, etc., one
sheet, for example, showing that by eating or drinking something you
gained health, appetite, vigour, and a fig-leaf. The exit was better.

Epsom had the same general effect as Ewell, but more definite and
complete, thanks to a few hundred yards of street broad enough for a
market which, for the most part, satisfied the town eye as countrified
and old-fashioned. Over one of its corn-chandlers’ a carved horse’s
head was stuck up. There was an empty inn called the “Tun,” a
restaurant named after Nell Gwynn. True, there is a fortnight’s racing
yearly, and a number of railway stations, in consequence; and “Lord
Arthur Savile’s Crime” is on sale there: but, as in Nell Gwynn’s time
and Defoe’s time, it is a place for putting off London thoughts.
There is no king there now, no king’s mistress presumably, no nightly
ball even in July, no bowls, no strutting to the Wells to drink what
the chemist sells at twopence a pound, no line of trees down the
middle of the broad street. Nor, accordingly, is there the same wintry
dereliction as in those days. When the leaves fall in Autumn the people
do not all fly, the houses are not all shut up, the walks do not go
out of repair, the roads do not become full of sloughs. But it always
was a pleasure resort. For more than a hundred years before railways,
London business men used to keep their families at Epsom and ride daily
to and from the Exchange or their warehouses. The very market that it
had on Fridays had been obtained for it by a plotting apothecary named
Livingstone. This man tried to diddle the world by putting up a pump,
not over the good old cathartic spring, but over a new one that was
not cathartic; and the world gave up both old and new. To-day only the
poor and simple go to Epsom for pleasure apart from racing. Anybody and
everybody with feet or wheels can get there from London on a holiday or
even a half-holiday.

The exit from Epsom was almost free from advertisements. And then the
common: it had a sea-like breadth and clearness. The one man among the
soaked, flowering gorse-bushes and new green hawthorn was extremely
like the liberator of the chaffinch and collector of weather-vanes.
He was sketching something in the rain. The only others of humankind
visible were on the road, struggling south-west or rushing towards
London, or on the side of the road, hoping to sell ginger-beer and
lemonade to travellers. This hedgeless gorse-land, first on both sides,
then on the right only, reached to the verge of Ashtead, but with some
change of character. The larger part was gently billowing gorse flower
and hawthorn leaf. The last part was flat, wet, and rushy. The gorse
came to an end, and here was a copse of oak. At intervals of thirty
yards or so were oaks as old as Epsom, of a broad kind, forking close
to the ground, iron-coloured and stained with faint green. Oaks not
more than forty or fifty years old, tall instead of spreading, their
lower branches broken off, grew between. Among these, dead fern and
bramble with its old leaves made distinct island thickets, out of which
stood a few thorns. And the thin grasses around the thickets were
strewn with dead twigs and leaves, and some paper and broken bottles
left there in better weather. A robin sang in one of the broad oaks,
whether any one listened or not.

On the opposite side of the road--that is to say, on the left--the
common had given way to Ashtead Park. There the big iron-coloured oaks
stood aristocratically about on gentle green slopes. To Ashtead Park
belonged the Hon. Mary Greville Howard, who died in 1877, at the age
of ninety-two, and is commemorated by a fountain on the right hand
which gave me this information. The fountain is placed on a square
of much-trodden bare earth close to the road, surmounted by a cross.
Whatever were the good deeds which persuaded her friends to erect the
fountain, that was a good deed. It was not dry, and, I have been told,
never is.

Ashtead itself is more suburban than either Ewell or Epsom. It appeared
to be a collection of residences about as incapable of self-support as
could anywhere be found--a private-looking, respectable, inhospitable
place that made the rain colder, and doubtless, in turn, coloured the
spectacles it was seen through. The name of its inn, the “Leg of Mutton
and Cauliflower,” may be venerable, but it smacked of suburban fancy,
as if it had been bestowed to catch the pennies of easy-going lovers of
quaintness.

They were beginning to create a new Ashtead a little farther on.
A placard by a larch copse at the edge of a high-walled marl-pit,
announced that convenient and commanding houses were to be built
shortly to supply the new golf links with golfers. A road had been
driven through the estate. The young, green larches stood at the
entrance like well-drilled liveried pages, ready to give way or die
according to the requirements of golfers, but for the present enjoying
the rain and looking as larch-like as possible above the curved gray
wall of the pit.

Not much after this, Leatherhead began, two broken lines of villas,
trees, and shrubberies, leading to a steep country street and, at its
foot, the Mole,

  “Four streams: whose whole delight in island lawns,
  Dark-hanging alder dusks and willows pale
  O’er shining gray-green shadowed waterways,
  Makes murmuring haste of exit from the vale--
  Through fourteen arches voluble
  Where river tide-weed sways.” ...

[Illustration:

CUCKOO FLOWERS

Leatherhead Mill.]

As I looked this time from Leatherhead Bridge, I recalled “Aphrodite at
Leatherhead,” and these, its opening lines, by John Helston, the town’s
second poet. It is no new thing to stop on the bridge and look up the
river to the railway bridge, and down over the divided water to the
level grass, the tossing willows, the tall poplars scattered upon it,
the dark elms beside, and Leatherhead rising up from it to the flint
tower of St. Mary and St. Nicholas, and its umbrageous churchyard and
turf as of grass-green silk. The bridge is good in itself, and the
better for this view and for the poem. The adjacent inn, the “Running
Horse,” and Elinour Rumming who brewed ale there and sold it to
travellers--

  “Tinkers and sweaters and swinkers
  And all good ale-drinkers”--

four hundred years ago, these were the theme of a poet, Henry the
Eighth’s laureate, John Skelton.

Having ridden down to the bridge, I walked up again, for I had no
intention of going on over the Mole by the shortest road to Guildford.
It is a good road, but a high and rather straight one through parks
and cornland, and scarcely a village. The wide spaces on both hands,
and the troops and clusters of elm trees, are best in fine weather,
particularly in Autumn. I took the road through Mickleham and Dorking.
Thus I wound along, having wooded hills, Leatherhead Downs, Mickleham
Downs, Juniper Hill, and Box Hill, always steep above on the left, and
on the right the Mole almost continually in sight below.

They were still worshipping in the Church of St. Mary and St. Nicholas.
Outside it what most pleased me were the cross near a young cedar which
was erected in 1902 “to the praise and glory of God, and the memory
of the nameless dead,” and the epitaph: “Here sleepeth, awaiting
the resurrection of the just, William Lewis, Esq., of the East India
Company.” The memory of a human being that can exist without a name
is but the shadow of the shadow that a name casts, and it is hard
not to wonder what effect the cross can have on those who await the
resurrection of the just, or indeed, on any one but Geraldine Rickards,
at whose expense it was placed here.

The road, bending round under the churchyard and its trees, followed
the steeper side of the Mole valley, and displayed to me the meadow,
young corn, and ploughland, running up from the farther bank to beech
woods. The clouds were higher and harder. The imprisoned pale sun,
though it could not be seen, could be felt at the moments when a bend
offered shelter from the wind. The change was too late for most of my
fellow-travellers: they had stopped or turned back at Leatherhead. I
was almost alone as I came into Mickleham, except for a horseman and
his dog. This man was a thick, stiff man in clay-coloured rough clothes
and a hard hat; his bandy, begaitered legs curled round the flanks of
a piebald pony as thick and stiff as himself. He carried an ash-plant
instead of a riding-whip, and in his mouth a pipe of strong, good
tobacco. I had not seen such a country figure that day, though I dare
say there were many among the nameless dead in Leatherhead churchyard,
awaiting the resurrection of the just with characteristic patience.
His dog also was clay-coloured, as shaggy and as large as a sheep,
and exceedingly like a sheep. Probably he was a man who could have
helped me to understand, for example, the epitaph of Benjamin Rogers in
Mickleham churchyard,--

  “Here peaceful sleep the aged and the young,
  The rich and poor, an undistinguished throng.
  Time was these ashes lived; a time must be
  When others thus shall stand and look at thee.”

I had at first written,--

  “Time was these ashes lov’d.”

His wife, Mary, who died at fifty-five in 1755, is hard by under an
arch of ancient ivy against the wall. She speaks from the tomb,--

  “How lov’d, how valu’d once avails thee not:
  To whom related, or by whom begot.
  A heap of dust alone remains of thee.
  ’Tis all thou art, and all the proud shall be.”

That this desperate Christian, Mary Rogers, had any special knowledge
of these matters, I have no reason for believing. I even doubt if
she really thought that love was of as little importance as having
a lord in the family. The lines were composed in a drab ecstasy of
conventional humility, lacking genuine satisfaction in the thought
that she and the more beautiful and the better-dressed were become
equals. But I did not ask the clay-coloured man’s opinion. I rode
behind him into Mickleham, and there lost him between the “Running
Horse” (or, at least, an inn with two racing horses for a sign) and the
“William the Fourth.” The loyalty of Mickleham, in thus preserving the
memory of a sort of a king for three-quarters of a century, is sublime.
Mickleham is, apart from its gentlemen’s residences, an old-fashioned
place, accommodating itself in a picturesque manner to the hillside
against which it has to cling, in order to avoid rolling into the
Mole. The root-suckers and the trunk shoots of the elm trees were in
tiny leaf beside the road, the horse-chestnuts were in large but still
rumpled leaf. The celandines on the steep banks found something like
sunbeams to shine in. On the smooth slopes the grass was perfect,
alternating with pale young corn, and with arable squares where the
dung was waiting for a fine day before being spread. The small flints
of the ploughland were as fresh and as bright as flowers.

When I got to Burford Bridge, the only man at the entrance of the
Box Hill footpath was a man selling fruit and drink and storing
bicycles, or hoping to begin doing these things. One motor car stood
at the hotel door. The hill was bare, except of trees. But it would
take centuries to wipe away the scars of the footpaths up it. For it
has a history of two hundred years as a pleasure resort. Ladies and
gentlemen used to go on a Sunday from Epsom to take the air and walk
in the woods. The landlord of the “King’s Arms” at Dorking furnished
a vault under a great beech on top, with chairs, tables, food, and
drink. It was like a fair, what with the gentry and the country people
crowding to see and to imitate. But the young men of Dorking were very
virtuous in those days, or were anxious that others should be so. They
paid the vault a visit on a Saturday and blew it up with gunpowder to
put a stop to the Sabbath merriment. They, at least, did not believe
that in the dust they would be merely the equals of the frivolous and
fresh-air-loving rich.

Dorking nowadays has no objection to the popularity of Box Hill and
similar resorts. It is a country town not wholly dependent on London,
but its shops and inns are largely for the benefit of travellers of
all degrees, and a large proportion of its inhabitants were not born
in Dorking and will not die there. A number of visitors were already
streaming back under umbrellas to the railway stations, for again
it rained. The skylarks sang in the rain, but as man was predominant
hereabouts, the general impression was cheerless. To many it must have
seemed absurd that the Government--say, Mr. Lloyd George--or the County
Council, or the Lord Mayor of Dorking, could not arrange for Good
Friday to be a fine day. The handfuls of worshippers may have been more
content, but they did not look so. Three-quarters of the windows in the
long, decent high street were shuttered or blinded. Unless it was some
one entering the “Surrey Yeoman” or “White Horse,” nobody did anything
but walk as rapidly and as straight as possible along the broad flagged
pavement.

Only a robust and happy man, or one in love, can be indifferent to this
kind of March weather. Only a lover or a poet can enjoy it. The poet
naturally thought of here and on such a day was Meredith of Box Hill.
This man,

  “Quivering in harmony with the tempest, fierce
  And eager with tempestuous delight,”

was one of the manliest and deepest of earth’s lovers who have written
books. From first to last he wrote as an inhabitant of this earth,
where, as Wordsworth says, “we have our happiness or not at all,”
just or unjust. Meredith’s love of earth was in its kind equal to
Wordsworth’s. It was a more earthly kind, at the same time that it had
a quality almost as swiftly winged as Shelley’s. His earliest poems
were all saturated with English sun and wind. He prayed that “this joy
of woods and fields” would never cease; and towards the end of his life
he wrote one of the happiest of all the poems of age, the one which is
quoted on the fly-leaf of Mr. Hudson’s “Adventures among Birds:”

  “Once I was part of the music I heard
    On the boughs, or sweet between earth and sky,
    For joy of the beating of wings on high
  My heart shot into the breast of a bird.

  “I hear it now and I see it fly,
    And a life in wrinkles again is stirred,
    My heart shoots into the breast of a bird,
  As it will for sheer love till the last long sigh.”

What his “Juggling Jerry” said briefly--

  “Yonder came smells of the gorse, so nutty,
    Gold-like, and warm: it’s the prime of May.
  Better than mortar, brick, and putty
    Is God’s house on a blowing day”--

he himself said at greater length, with variations and footnotes.

Love of earth meant to him more than is commonly meant by love of
Nature. Men gained substance and stability by it; they became strong--

  “Because their love of earth is deep,
  And they are warriors in accord
  With life to serve.” ...

In his two sonnets called “The Spirit of Shakespeare” he said,--

  “Thy greatest knew thee, Mother Earth; unsoured
  He knew thy sons. He probed from hell to hell
  Of human passions, but of love deflowered
  His wisdom was not, for he knew thee well.
  Thence came the honeyed corner at his lips.” ...

Love of earth meant breadth, perspective, and proportion, and therefore
humour,--

  “Thunders of laughter, clearing air and heart.”

His Melampus, servant of Apollo, had a medicine, a “juice of the
woods,” which reclaimed men,--

    “That frenzied in some delirious rage
  Outran the measure.” ...

So, in “The Appeasement of Demeter,” it was on being made to laugh that
the goddess relented from her devastating sorrow, and the earth could
revive and flourish again. The poet’s kinship with earth taught him to
look at lesser passing things with a smile, yet without disdain; and
he saw the stars as no “distant aliens” or “senseless powers,” but as
having in them the same fire as we ourselves, and could, nevertheless,
turn from them to sing “A Stave of Roving Tim:--”

  “The wind is east, the wind is west,
    Blows in and out of haven;
  The wind that blows is the wind that’s best,
    And croak, my jolly raven.
  If here awhile we jigged and laughed,
    The like we will do yonder;
  For he’s the man who masters a craft,
    And light as a lord can wander.

  “So foot the measure, Roving Tim,
    And croak, my jolly raven.
  The wind, according to his whim,
    Is in and out of haven.”

The “bile and buskin” attitude of Byron upon the Alps caused him to
condemn “Manfred,” pronouncing, as one having authority,--

  “The cities, not the mountains, blow
  Such bladders; in their shape’s confessed
  An after-dinner’s indigest.”

For his earth was definitely opposed to the “city.” He cried to the
singing thrush in February,--

  “I hear, I would the City heard.

  “The City of the smoky fray;
  A prodded ox, it drags and moans;
  Its morrow no man’s child; its day
  A vulture’s morsel beaked to bones.” ...

He tried to persuade the city that earth was not “a mother whom no
cry can melt.” But his song was not clear enough, and when it was
understood it said chiefly that man should love battle and seek it,
and so make himself, even if a clerk or a philosopher, an animal worthy
of the great globe, careless of death:--

  “For love we Earth, then serve we all:
  Her mystic secret then is ours:
  We fall, or view our treasures fall,
  Unclouded, as beholds her flowers

  “Earth, from a night of frosty wreck,
  Enrobed in morning’s mounted fire,
  When lowly, with a broken neck,
  The crocus lays her cheek to mire.”

He advanced farther, fanatically far, when he said of the lark’s song,--

  “Was never voice of ours could say
  Our inmost in the sweetest way,
  Like yonder voice aloft, and link
  All hearers in the song they drink.
  Our wisdom speaks from failing blood,
  Our passion is too full in flood,
  We want the key of his wild note
  Of truthful in a tuneful throat,
  The song seraphically free
  Of taint of personality.” ...

An impossibly noble savage might seem to have been his desire, a
combination of Shakespeare and a Huron, of a “Wild god-ridden courser”
and a study chair, though in practice perhaps a George Borrow delighted
him less than a Leslie Stephen. But what he thought matters little
compared with what he succeeded in saying, and with that sensuousness
and vigour, both bodily and intellectual, which at his best he mingled
as few poets have done. His “Love in the Valley” is the most English of
love poems: the girl and the valley are purely and beautifully English.
His early poem, “Daphne,” though treating a Greek myth, is equally
English--altogether an open-air piece. No pale remembered orb, but the
sun itself, and the wind, sweeten and brace the voluptuousness of both
poems. And therefore it is that in passing Box Hill, whether the leaves
of “the sudden-lighted whitebeam” are flashing, or lying, as now they
were, but dimly hoary in the paths, I think of Meredith as I should
not think of other poets in their territories. He was not so much an
admirer and lover of Nature, like other poets, as a part of her, one of
her most splendid creatures, fit to be ranked with the whitebeam, the
lark, and the south-west wind that--

  “Comes upon the neck of night,
  Like one that leapt a fiery steed
  Whose keen, black haunches quivering shine
  With eagerness and haste.” ...

Riding against the south-west wind is quite another thing. That fiery
steed which I had been dragging with me, as it were, instead of riding
it, was not in the least exhausted, and I knew that I was unlikely to
reach Farnham that evening. The telegraph wires wailed their inhuman
lamentation. Thunder issued a threat of some sort far off.

At three, after eating, I was on the road again, making for Guildford
by way of Wotton, Shere, and Shalford. If Dorking people will not have
wine and women on top of Box Hill on a Sunday, they were, at any rate,
strolling on the paths of their roadside common. The road was level,
impossible to cycle on against the wind. But the eye was not starved;
there was no haste. I now had the clear line of the Downs on my right
hand, and was to have them so to Shalford. At first, in the region of
Denbies, they were thoroughly tamed, their smoothness made park-like,
their trees mostly fir. Beyond, their sides, of an almost uniform
gentle steepness, but advancing and receding, hollowed and cleft, were
adorned by unceasingly various combinations of beech wood, of scattered
yew and thorn, of bare ploughland or young corn, and of naked chalk.
The rolling commons at their feet, Milton Heath and Westcott Heath,
were traversed by my road. Milton Heath, except for some rugged,
heathery, pine-crested mounds on the right, was rather unnoticeable in
comparison with Buryhill, a roof-like hill at right angles to the road
on my left. This hill has a not very high but distinct, even ridge, and
steep slopes of grass. Its trees are chiefly upon the top, embowering a
classic, open summer-house.

After Milton Street came Westcott Heath and a low shingled spire up
amid the gorse. The road was now cutting through sand, and the sand
walls were half overgrown with moss and gorse, ivy and celandine, and
overhung by wild cherry and beech. Behind me, as I climbed, a moment’s
sunlight brought out the white scar of Box Hill.

Between the rising road and the Downs lay a hollow land, for nearly two
miles occupied in its lowest part by the oaks of a narrow wood, called
Deerleap Wood, running parallel to the road: sometimes the gray trunks
were washed faintly with light, the accumulated branch-work proved
itself purplish, and here and there the snick of a lost bough was
bright. Over the summit of the wood I could see the chalky ploughland
or pasture of the Downs, and their beechen ridge. The hollow land has a
kind of island, steep and naturally moated, within it, and close to the
road. Here stands Wotton Church, the home of dead Evelyns of Wotton,
alone among tall beeches and chestnuts.

I had left behind me most cyclists from London, but I was now
continually amongst walkers. There were a few genial muscular
Christians with their daughters, and equally genial muscular agnostics
with no children; bands of scientifically-minded ramblers with
knickerbockers, spectacles, and cameras; a trio of young chaps singing
their way to a pub.; one or two solitaries going at five miles an hour
with or without hats; several of a more sentimental school in pairs,
generally chosen from both sexes, disputing as to the comparative
merits of Mr. Belloc and Mr. Arthur Sidgwick; and a few country people
walking, not for pleasure, but to see friends seven or eight miles
away, whom perhaps they had not visited for years, and, after such a
Good Friday as this, never will again.

These travellers gave me a feeling that I had been forestalled (to
put it mildly), and as the light began to dwindle, and to lose all
intention of being brilliant, I allowed Guildford to hover before my
mind’s eye, particularly when I saw St. Martha’s Church, a small, clear
hilltop block six miles away, and I knew that Guildford was not two
miles from it, by the Pilgrim’s Way or not. It was a satisfaction,
though a trifling one, to be going with the water which was making
for the Wey at Shalford. The streamlet, the Tillingbourne, began
to assert itself at Abinger Hammer. Just before that village it
runs alongside the road instead of a hedge, nourishing willows and
supplying the bronzed watercress beds. The beginning of the village is
a wheelwright’s shed under an elm by the road. Many hoops of wheels
lean against the shed, many planks against the elm. The green follows,
and Abinger Hammer is built round it. I preferred Gomshall--which
only showed to the main road its inns and brewery--and the wet, bushy
Gomshall Common. It is a resort of gypsies. A van full of newly-made
baskets stood among the bushes, and the men sat on the shafts instead
of joining the ramblers at the “Black Horse” or the “Compasses.” The
downs opposite them were speckled black with yew.

I did not stop at Shere, “the prettiest village in Surrey,” and I saw
no reason why it should not bear the title, or why it should be any
the better liked for it. But I went to see the Silent Pool. Until it
has been seen, everything is in the name. I had supposed it circular,
tenebrous, and deep enough to be the receptacle of innumerable romantic
skeletons. It is, in fact, an oblong pond of the size of a swimming
bath, overhung on its two long sides and its far, short side, by ash
trees. Its unrippled lymph, on an irregular chalk bottom of a singular
pallid green, was so clear and thin that it seemed not to be water. It
concealed nothing. A few trout glided here and there over the chalk or
the dark green weed tufts. It had no need of romantic truth or fiction.
Its innocent lucidity fascinated me.

Now another short cut to Guildford offered itself, by the road--an open
and yellow road--up over Merrow Down. But the Downs were beginning to
give me some shelter, and I went on under them, glad of the easier
riding. The Tillingbourne here was running closer under the Downs,
and the river level met the hillside more sharply than before. The
road bent above the meadows and showed them flat to the very foot of a
steep, brown slope covered with beeches. The sky lightened--lightened
too much: St. Martha’s tower, almost reaching up into the hurrying
white rack, was dark on its dark hill. So I came to Albury, which
has the streamlet between it and the Downs, unlike Abinger Hammer,
Gomshall, and Shere. The ground, used for vegetables and plum trees,
fell steeply down to the water, beyond which it rose again as steeply
in a narrow field bounded horizontally by a yet steeper strip of hazel
coppice; beyond this again the rise was continued in a broader field
extending to the edge of the main hillside beechwood. Albury is one of
those villages possessing a neglected old church and a brand-new one.
In this case the new is a decent enough one of alternating flint and
stone, built among trees on a gradual rise. But the old one is too much
like a shameless unburied corpse.

Twice I crossed the Tillingbourne, and came to where it broadened
into a pond. This water on either side of the road was bordered by
plumed sedges and clubbed bulrushes. At the far side, under the wooded
Downside crowned by St. Martha’s, was a pale, shelterless mill of a
ghostly bareness. The aspens were breaking into yellow-green leaves
round about, especially one prone aspen on the left where a drain was
belching furious, tawny water into the stream, and shaking the spears
of the bulrushes.

As I went on towards Chilworth, gorse was blossoming on the banks of
the road. Behind the blossom rose up the masses of hillside wood, now
scarcely interrupted save by a few interspaces of lawn-like grass; and
seated at the foot of all this oak and pine were the Chilworth powder
mills. Two centuries have earned them nobody’s love or reverence; for
there is something inhuman, diabolical, in permitting the union which
makes these unrelated elements more powerful than any beast, crueller
than any man.

Crossing the little railway from the mills, I came in sight of the
Hog’s Back, by which I must go to Farnham. That even, straight ridge
pointing westward, and commanding the country far away on either
side, must have had a road along it since man went upright, and must
continue to have one so long as it is a pleasure to move and to use
the eyes together. It is a road fit for the herald Mercury and the
other gods, because it is as much in heaven as on earth. The road I
was on, creeping humbly and crookedly to avoid both the steepness of
the hills and the wetness of the valley, was by comparison a mole run.
Between me and the Hog’s Back flowed the Wey, and as the Tillingbourne
approached it the valley spread out and flattened into Shalford’s long,
wet common. My road crossed the common, a rest for gypsies and their
ponies. Shalford village also is on the flat, chiefly on the right hand
side of the road, nearer the hill, and away from the river, so that its
outlook over the levels gives it a resemblance to a seaside village.
Instead of the sea it had formerly a fair ground of a hundred and forty
acres. Its inn is the “Queen Victoria”--charmless name.

To avoid the Wey and reach Guildford, which is mainly on this side
of the water, I had to turn sharp to the right at Shalford, and to
penetrate, along with the river, the hills which I had been following.
Within half a mile of Guildford I was at the point where the Pilgrim’s
Way, travelling the flank of these hills, descends towards the Wey and
the Hog’s Back opposite. A small but distinct hill, with a precipitous,
sandy face, rises sheer out of the far side of the river where the road
once crossed. The silver-gray square of the ruins of St. Catherine’s
Chapel tops the cliff. The river presently came close to my bank; the
road climbed to avoid it, and brought me into Guildford by Quarry Road,
well above the steep-built, old portion of the town and its church and
rookery sycamores, though below the castle.

The closed shops, plate glass, and granite roadway of the High Street
put the worst possible appearance on the rain that suddenly poured down
at six. A motor car dashed under the “Lion” arch for shelter. The shop
doorways were filled by foot-passengers. The plate glass, the granite,
and the rain rebounding from it and rushing in two torrents down the
steep gutters, made a scene of physical and spiritual chill under a sky
that had now lost even the pretence to possess a sun. I had thought
not to decide for or against going on to Farnham that night until
I had drunk tea. But having once sat in a room--not of the “Jolly
Butcher,” but a commercial temperance hotel--where I could only hear
the rain falling from the sky and dripping from roofs, I glided into
the resolution to spend the night there. A fire was lit; the servant
stood a poker vertically against the grate to make it burn; and, after
some misgivings, it did burn. The moon was mounting the clear east, and
Venus stood with Orion in the west above a low, horizontal ledge of
darkest after-sunset cloud. There could not have been a better time for
those ten miles to Farnham; but I did not go. Not until after supper
did I go out to look at the night I had lost, the cold sea of sky, the
large bright moon, the white stars over the shimmering roofs, and the
yellow street lamps and window panes of Guildford. I walked haphazard,
now to the right, now to the left, often by narrow passages and dark
entries. I skirted the railings of the gardens which have been made out
of the castle site, the square ivy-patched keep, the dry moat full of
sycamores; and hereby was a kissing corner. I crossed Quarry Road and
went down Mill Lane to the “Miller’s Arms,” the water-works, and the
doubled Wey roaring in turbid streams. A footbridge took me to Mill
Mead, the “Britannia,” and the faintly nautical cottages that look,
over a gas-lit paved space, at the river and the timber sheds of the
other bank. The dark water, the dark houses, the silvered, wet, moonlit
streets, called for some warm, musical life in contrast. But except
that a sacred concert was proceeding near the market place, there was
nothing like it accessible. Many couples hurried along: at corners here
and there a young man, or two young men, talked to a girl. The inns
were not full, too many travellers having been discouraged. I had the
temperance commercial hotel to myself, but for two men who had walked
from London and had no conversation left in them, as was my case also.
I dallied alternately with my maps and with the pictures on the wall.
One of these I liked, a big square gloomy canvas, where a dark huntsman
of Byron’s time, red-coated and clean-shaven, turned round on his horse
to cheer the hounds, one of them almost level with him, glinting pallid
through the mist of time, two others just pushing their noses into the
picture; it had a background of a dim range of hills and a spire. The
whole picture was as dim as memory, but more powerful to recall the
nameless artist and nameless huntsman than that cross at Leatherhead.



III.

GUILDFORD TO DUNBRIDGE.


Cocks crowing and wheels thundering on granite waked me at Guildford
soon after six. I was out at seven, after paying 3s. 6d. for supper
and bed: breakfast I was to have at Farnham. I have often fared as
well as I did that night at a smaller cost, and worse at a larger.
At Guildford itself, for example, I went recently into a place of no
historic interest or natural beauty, and greenly consented to pay 3s.
for a bed, although the woman, in answer to my question, said that the
charge for supper and breakfast would be according to what I had. What
I had for supper was two herrings and bread and butter, and a cup of
coffee afterwards; for breakfast I had bacon and bread and tea. The
supper cost 1s. 6d., exclusive of the coffee; the breakfast cost 1s.
6d. exclusive of the tea. Nor did these charges prevent the boots, who
had not cleaned my boots, from hanging round me at parting, as if I
had been his long-lost son.

The beautiful, still, pale morning was as yet clouded by the lightest
of white silk streamers. The slates glimmered with yesterday’s rain in
the rising sun. It was too fine, too still, too sunny, but the castle
jackdaws rejoiced in it, crying loudly in the sycamores, on the old
walls, or high in air. By the time I was beginning to mount the Hog’s
Back, clouds not of silk were assembling. They passed away; others
appeared, but the rain was not permitted to fall. Many miles of country
lay cold and soft, but undimmed, on both hands. On the north it was a
mostly level land where hedgerow trees and copses, beyond the first
field or two, made one dark wood to the eye, but rising to the still
darker heights of Bisley and Chobham on the horizon, and gradually
disclosing the red settlements of Aldershot and Farnborough, and the
dark high land of Bagshot. On the south at first I could see the broken
ridge of Hindhead, Blackdown, and Olderhill, and through the gap a
glimpse of the Downs; then later the piny country which culminates in
the dome of Crooksbury Hill; and nearer at hand a lower but steeply
rising and falling region of gorse, bracken, and heather intermingled
with ploughland of almost bracken colour, and with the first hop
gardens. Both the level-seeming sweep on the north and the hills of
the south, clear as they were in that anxious light, were subject to
the majestic road on the Hog’s Back. A mile out of Guildford the road
is well upon the back, and for five or six miles it runs straight, yet
not too straight, with slight change of altitude, yet never flat, and
for the most part upon the very ridge--the topmost bristles--of the
Hog’s Back. The ridge, in fact, has in some parts only just breadth
enough to carry the road, and the land sinks away rapidly on both
hands, giving the traveller the sensation of going on the crest of a
stout wall, surveying his immense possessions northward and southward.
The road has a further advantage that would be great whatever its
position, but on this ridge is incalculable. It is bordered, not by a
hedge, but by uneven and in places bushy wastes, often as wide as a
field. The wastes, of course, are divided from the cultivated slopes
below by hedges, but either these are low, as on the right, or they are
irregularly expanded into thickets of yew and blackthorn, and even into
beech plantations, as on the left. Whoever cares to rides or walks here
instead of on the dust. A goat or two were feeding here. There was,
and there nearly always is, an encampment of gypsies. The telegraph
posts and the stout, three-sided, old, white milestones stand here.
The telegraph posts, in one place, for some distance alternate with
low, thick yew trees. I liked those telegraph posts, businesslike and
mysterious, and their wires that are sufficient of themselves to create
the pathetic fallacy. None the less, I liked the look of the gypsies
camping under them. If they were not there, in fact, they would have to
be invented. They are at home there. See them at nightfall, with their
caravans drawn up facing the wind, and the men by the half-door at the
back smoking, while the hobbled horses are grazing and the children
playing near. The children play across the road, motor cars or no motor
cars, laughing at whoever amuses them. There were two caravans at the
highest point near Puttenham, where the ridge is so narrow that the
roadside thicket is well below the road, and I saw clear to Hindhead:
in another place there were two antique, patched tents on hoops.

The wind was now strong in my face again. But it did not rain, and at
moments the sun had the power to warm. There was not a moment when I
had not a lark singing overhead. On the right hand slope, which is more
gradual than that to the left, men were rolling some grass fields,
harrowing others; lower down they were ploughing. Men were beginning
to work among the hop poles on the left. The oaks in the woods there
were each individualized, and had a smoky look which they would not
have had in Summer, Autumn, or Winter.

Houses very seldom intrude on the waste, and there are few near it. On
the south side two or three big houses had been built so as to command
Hindhead, etc., and a board directed me to the “Jolly Farmer” at
Puttenham, but no inn was visible till I came to the “Victory,” which
was well past the half-way mark to Farnham. The north side showed not
more than a cottage or two, until I began to descend towards Farnham
and came to a villa which had trimmed the waste outside its gates and
decorated it with the inscription, “Keep off the grass.” Going downhill
was too much of a pleasure for me to look carefully at Runfold, though
I noticed another “Jolly Farmer” there, and a “Princess Royal,” with
the date 1819. This not very common sign put into my head the merry
song about the “brave _Princess Royal_” that set sail from Gravesend--

  “On the tenth of December and towards the year’s end,”

and met a pirate, who asked them to “drop your main topsail and heave
your ship to,” but got the answer,--

  “We’ll drop our main topsail and heave our ship to,
  But that in some harbour, not alongside of you.
  So we hoisted the royals and set the topsail,
  And the brave _Princess Royal_ soon showed them her tail:
    And we went a-cruising, and we went a-cruising,
    And we went a-cruising, all on the salt seas.”

[Illustration:

A PASSING STORM

near St. Cross, Winchester.]

The good tune and merry words lasted me down among the market gardens
and florists’ plantations, past the “Shepherd and Flock” at the turning
to Moor Park, to the Wey again, and the first oast-house beside it, and
so into Farnham at a quarter to nine, which I felt to be breakfast time.

While I drank my coffee the rising wind slammed a door and the first
shower passed over. The sun shone for me to go to the “Jolly Farmer”
across the Wey, in a waterside street of cottages and many inns, such
as the “Hop Bag,” the “Bird in Hand,” and the “Lamb.” The “Jolly
Farmer,” Cobbett’s birthplace, a small inn standing back a little, with
a flat black and white front, was labelled “Cobbett’s Birthplace,” in
letters as big as are usually given to the name of a brewer. It is
built close up against a low sandy bank, which continues above the
right shore of the Wey, somewhat conspicuously, for miles. Behind the
“Jolly Farmer” this bank is a cliff, hollowed out into caves (no one
knows how old, or whether made by Druids or smugglers), and overgrown
by bushes and crowned by elms full of rooks’ nests. The whole of this
waterside is attractive, rustic, but busy. The Wey is already a strong
stream there, and timber yards and warehouses abut on it. A small
public garden occupies the angle made by one of its willowy bends.

Farnham West Street was for the moment warm in the sun as I walked
slowly between its shops to where the perched brick fronts of decent
old houses were scarcely interrupted by a quiet shop or two and the
last inns, the “Rose and Thistle” and the “Holly Bush.” It is one
of those streets in which a hundred houses have been welded into
practically one block. There are some very old houses, some that are
old, and some not very old, but all together compose one long, uneven
wall of rustic urbanity. Castle Street is entirely different. It takes
its name from the Bishop of Winchester’s castle, a palace of old red
brick and several cedars standing at its upper end. Being about three
times as broad as West Street, it is fit to be compared for breadth
with the streets of Marlborough, Wootton Bassett, or Epsom. Most of
the houses are private and not big, of red or of plastered or whitened
brick; but there is a baker’s shop, a “Nelson’s Arms,” and a row of
green-porched alms-houses. At the far end the street rises and curves
a little to the left, and is narrowed by the encroachment of front
gardens only possessed by the houses at that point. A long flight
of steps above this curve ascends a green slope of arum and ivy and
chestnut trees, past an old episcopal fruit wall, to a rough-cast
gateway, with clock and belfry, and beyond that, the palace and two
black, many-storied cedars towering at its front door.

I looked in vain for a statue of Cobbett in Farnham. Long may it
be before there is one, for it will probably be bad and certainly
unnecessary. So long as “Rural Rides” is read he needs not to share
that kind of resurrection of the just with Queen Anne and the late
Dukes of Devonshire and of Cambridge. The district has bred yet another
man who combines the true countryman and the writer. I mean, of course,
George Bourne, author of “The Bettesworth Book,” a volume which ought
to go on to the most select shelf of country books, even beside those
of White, Cobbett, Jefferies, Hudson, and Burroughs. Bettesworth was
a Surrey labourer, a neighbour and workman of the author’s. He was an
observant and communicative man: his employer took notes from time to
time, and the book is mainly a record of conversations. George Bourne
gives a brief setting to the old man’s words, yet a sufficient one.
Pain and sorrow are not absent, and afar off we see a gray glimpse of
the workhouse; but the whole is joyful. Even when Bettesworth “felt a
bit Christmassy” there is no melancholy; his head merely seems “all
mops and brooms.” His wife tells him that he has been laughing in his
sleep. “I was always laughing, then,” he says, “until I was sore all
round wi’ it.” We have Bettesworth’s own words in most cases, and
George Bourne never interferes except to help. There is no insipid
contrast with the outer world, though here and there we have an echo
from it; we hear of railways as not particularly convenient, and
a dull way of travelling; and of cut-purses, “got up they was, ye
know, reg’lar fly-looking blokes, like gentlemen.” Nothing is omitted
but what had to be. Bettesworth cleaned cesspools at times, and the
best things in the book centre round his “excellent versatility in
usefulness.” Well-sinking, reaping, lawn-mowing, pole-pulling in
the hop garden, mending of roofs and steeples, and all the glorious
activities connected with horses, had come into his work: as for
adventure, he drove his first pair of cart horses from Staines to
Smithfield Market. He had been a wanderer, too. During a long absence
from friends he wrote to a brother, enclosing a gift; but on the way to
the post he met an acquaintance, “and I ast’n if he’d ’ave a drink. So
when he says yes, I took the letter an’ tore out the dollar an’ chucked
the letter over the hedge. An’ we went off an’ ’ad a bottle o’ rum wi’
this dollar. An’ that’s all as they ever heerd o’ me for seven year.”

But the conversations themselves were held while Bettesworth was laying
turf, or during the quite genial fatigue following a fifteen-hour day.
“Laying Turf” is one of the most charming pieces in the world. The old
steeple-mender, reaper, and carter was laying turf under continuous
rain and in an uncomfortable attitude, and made the unexpected comment:
“Pleasant work this. I could very well spend my time at it, with good
turfs.”

“The Bettesworth Book” appeared in 1901. “Memoirs of a Surrey
Labourer,” the record of Bettesworth’s last years--1892-1905--appeared
in 1907. At first the book may seem tame, a piece of reporting which
leaves the reader not unaware of the notebooks consulted by the author.
But in the end comes a picture out of the whole, painfully, dubiously
emerging, truthful undoubtedly, subtle, not easy to understand, which
raises George Bourne to a high place among observers. Apart from his
observation, too, he shows himself a man with a ripe and generous,
if staid, view of life, and a writer capable of more than accurate
writing: witness his picture of frozen rime on telegraph wires, of
Bettesworth’s “polling beck” or potato fork, and phrases like this:
“Near the beans there were brussels sprouts, their large leaves soaked
with colour out of the clouded day.”

Bettesworth had fought in the Crimea, and during sixty years had been
active unceasingly over a broad space of English country--Surrey,
Sussex, and Hampshire--always out of doors. His memory was good, his
eye for men and trades a vivid one, and his gift of speech unusual,
“with swift realistic touch, convincingly true;” so that a picture of
rural England during the latter half of the nineteenth century, by one
born in the earlier half and really belonging to it, is the result.
The portrait of an unlettered pagan English peasant is fascinating. He
lived in a parish where people of urban habits were continually taking
the place of the older sort who dropped out, but he had himself been
labourer, soldier, “all sorts of things; but ... first and last by
taste a peasant, with ideas and interests proper to another England
than that in which we are living now,” and perhaps unconscious of
the change since the days when he saw four men in a smithy making an
axe-head: “Three with sledge-’ammers, and one with a little ’ammer,
tinkin’ on the anvil.... There was one part of making a axe as they’d
never let anybody see ’em at.”

The talk, and George Bourne’s comments reveal this man’s way of
thinking and speaking, his lonely thoughts, and his attitude in
almost every kind of social intercourse. They show his physical
strength, his robust and gross enjoyment, his isolation, his breeding
and independence, his tenderness without pity, his courage, his
determination to endure. No permissible amount of quotation can explain
the subtle appeal of his talk, for example, whilst turf-laying,--

“Half unawares it came home to me, like the contact of the garden
mould, and the smell of the earth, and the silent saturation of the
cold air. You could hardly call it thought--the quality in this simple
prattling. Our hands touching the turfs had no thought either; but
they were alive for all that; and of such a nature was the life in
Bettesworth’s brain, in its simple touch upon the circumstances of his
existence. The fretful echoes men call opinions did not sound in it;
clamour of the daily press did not disturb its quiet; it was no bubble
puffed out by learning, nor indeed had it any of the gracefulness which
some mental life takes from poetry and art; but it was still a genuine
and strong elemental life of the human brain that during those days
was my companion. It seemed as if something very real, as if the true
sound of the life of the village had at last reached my dull senses.”

It will now reach duller senses than George Bourne’s. No one has told
better how a peasant who has not toned his other virtues with thrift is
deserted in the end by God and even the majority of men. The “Memoirs”
are shadowed from the first by the helplessness of Bettesworth’s
epileptic wife. The whole of his last year was a dimly lighted,
solitary, manly agony.... Now, a statue of Frederick Bettesworth might
well be placed at the foot of Castle Street, to astonish and annoy, if
a sculptor could be found.

As I was passing the “Jolly Sailor” and its jolly signboard, a gypsy,
a sturdy, black-haired, and brown-faced woman, was coming into Farnham
carrying a basket packed tight with daffodils. The sun shone and was
warm, but the low road was still wet. It was the Pilgrim’s Way now, not
merely a parallel road such as I had been on since Dorking. For some
miles it kept the Wey in sight, and over beyond the river, that low
wall and ledge of sand, used by the railway, crested with oak and pine
here and there, and often dappled on its slope with gorse. The land on
my right was different, being largely sodden, bare, arable, with elms.
But it was a pleasure to ride and walk and always to see the winding
river and its willows, and that even green terrace now near, now far.
Looking across at this scene were a number of detached houses, old and
new, at good intervals along the right hand side of the road: some of
them could see also the long Alice Holt woods of oaks and larches, the
tips of certain small groups of trees gilded fitfully by the sunshine.
At Willey Mill, soon after leaving Farnham, the road actually touched
the river, and horses can walk through it parallel to the road and
cool their feet; and just past this, I entered Hampshire. More often
the river was midway between my road and the terrace, touching an old
farm-house of brick and timber in the plashy meadows, or turning a
mill with a white plunge of water under sycamores. But the gayest and
most springlike sign was the fresh whitewash on every fruit tree in an
orchard by the wayside; it suggested a festival. The poles were being
set up in the hop gardens. The hedges enclosing them had been allowed
to grow up to a great height for a screen against wind, and to make a
diaphanous green wall. Many were the buildings related to hops, whose
mellow brickwork seemed to have been stained by a hundred harvests.

Bentley, the first village in Hampshire, seemed hardly more than a
denser gathering, and all on the right hand, of the houses that had
been scattered along since Farnham, with the addition of two inns
and of a green which a brooklet crosses and turns into a pond at the
road’s edge. After Bentley the road ascended, the place of houses
was taken by trees, chiefly lines of beeches connected with several
embowered mansions at some distance, one of pale stone, one of dark
brick. Several rookeries inhabited these beeches. Froyle House,
perhaps the chief in this neighbourhood, stood near where the road is
highest, and yet closest to the river--a many-gabled pale house next
to a red church tower among elms and black-flamed cypresses. Up to
the church and house a quarter of a mile of grass mounted, with some
isolated ancient thorns and many oaks, which in one spot near the road
gathered together into a loose copse. The park itself ran with not too
conspicuous or regular a boundary into hop gardens and ploughland. A
low wall on a bank separated it from the road, and where a footpath had
to pass the wall the stile was a slab of stone pierced by two pairs of
foot-holes, approached up the bank by three stone steps. It was here,
and at eleven, that I first heard the chiffchaff saying, “Chiff-chaff,
chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff, chiff!” A streamlet darted out of the park
towards the Wey, and on the other side of the road, and below it, had
to itself a little steep coomb of ash trees. An oak had been felled on
the coomb side, and a man was clearing the brushwood round it, but the
small bird’s double note, almost as regular as the ticking of a clock,
though often coming to an end on the first half, sounded very clear in
the coomb. He sang as he flitted among the swaying ash tops in that
warm, cloudy sun. I thought he sang more shrilly than usual, something
distractedly. But I was satisfied. Nothing so convinces me, year after
year, that Spring has come and cannot be repulsed, though checked it
may be, as this least of songs. In the blasting or dripping weather
which may ensue, the chiffchaff is probably unheard; but he is not
silenced. I heard him on March 19 when I was fifteen, and I believe not
a year has passed without my hearing him within a day or two of that
date. I always expect him and always hear him. Not all the blackbirds,
thrushes, larks, chaffinches, and robins can hide the note. The silence
of July and August does not daunt him. I hear him yearly in September,
and well into October--the sole Summer voice remaining save in memory.
But for the wind I should have heard him yesterday. I went on more
cheerfully, as if each note had been the hammering of a tiny nail into
Winter’s coffin.

My road now had the close company of the railway, which had crossed
the river. The three ran side by side on a strip not more than a
quarter of a mile in breadth; but the river, small, and not far from
its source, was for the most part invisible behind the railway. Close
to the railway bank some gypsies had pitched a tent, betrayed by the
scarlet frock of one of the children. But in a moment scarlet abounded.
The hounds crossing road and railway in front of me were lost to sight
for several minutes before they reappeared on the rising fields towards
Binsted Wyck. The riders, nearly all in scarlet, kept coming in for
ten minutes or so from all hands, down lanes, over sodden arable land,
between hop gardens, past folded sheep. Backwards and forwards galloped
the scarlet before the right crossing of the railway was taken. The fox
died in obscurity two miles away.

How warm and sweet the sun was can be imagined when I say that it made
one music of the horn-blowing, the lambs’ bleating, the larks’ singing,
as I sat looking at Bonham’s Farm. This plain old brick house, with
fourteen windows--two dormers--symmetrically placed, fronted the road
down two or three hundred yards of straight, hedged cart track. It had
spruce firs on the left, on the right some beeches and a long barn
roof stained ochre by lichens.

Then I came to Holybourne. It is a village built in a parallelogram
formed by a short section of the main road, two greater lengths of
parallel by-roads, and a cross road connecting these two. Froyle was
of an equally distinct type, lying entirely on a by-road parallel to
the main road, near the church and great house, as Bentley lay entirely
on one side of the main road, half a mile from its church. Holybourne
Church--Holy Rood--stands at the corner where the short cross road
joins one of the side roads; where it joins the other is the Manor
Farm. I turned up by the “White Hart” and the smithy and chestnut with
which the village begins, and found the church. It is a flint and
stone one, with a moderately sharp shingled spire that spreads out
at the base. On the side away from the main road, that is northward,
lies ploughland mixed with copse rising to the horizon, but, near
by, a hop garden, an oast-house, a respectable, square, ivy-mantled
farm-house possessing a fruit wall, a farmyard occupied by black pigs,
and a long expanse of corrugated iron, roofing old whitestone sheds
and outbuildings. Southward is a chalk-bottomed pond of clear water,
containing two sallow islets, and bordered, where it touches the road,
by chestnuts, a lime, and an ivy-strangled spruce fir. This pond is
not cut off in any way from the churchyard and all its tombstones of
Lillywhites, Warners, Mays, Fidlers, Knights, Inwoods, and Burninghams.
In the church I saw chiefly two things: the wall tablet to “George
Penton, Brassfounder, Member of the Worshipful Company of Drapers, who
resided in New Street Square, and whose remains were deposited in St.
Bride’s parish church, London,” and a slender window decorated with
tiny flowered discs of alternating blue and orange.

Holybourne’s shrubberies, and the beeches and elms of an overhanging
rookery, shadowed and quieted the main road as if it had been private.
Moreover, there was still some sun to help dapple the dust with light
as well as leaf shadow. Nor was the wind strong, and what there was
helped me.

Before the village had certainly ended, Alton had begun. Its grandest
building was its first--the workhouse. It is an oblong brick building
lying back behind its gardens, with a flat ivied front which is pierced
by thirty-three windows, including dormers, placed symmetrically about
a central door, and an oval stone tablet bearing the figures “1795.”
It smacked of 1795 pure and simple; of the England which all the
great men of the nineteenth century were born in and nearly all hated.
Its ivy, its plain, honest face, and substantial body of mellow red
brick, and that date, 1795, gave the workhouse a genial tranquillity
which no doubt was illusory. From there to the end of Alton is one
not quite straight or quite level street--Normandy Street and High
Street--altogether a mile of houses and of shops (including the “Hop
Poles,” the “Barley Mow,” and the “French Horn”) that supply everything
a man needs, with the further advantage that if a man wants his hair
cut he can have it done by Julius Cæsar: the town brews beer, and even
makes paper. It is a long and a low town, and the main street has no
church in it until it begins to emerge on to the concluding green,
called Robin Hood Butts.

I could have gone as well through Medstead as through Ropley to
Alresford, but I went by the Ropley way, and first of all through
Chawton. Here the road forks at a smithy, among uncrowded thatched
cottages and chestnuts and beeches. The village is well aware of the
fact that Jane Austen once dwelt in a house at the fork there, opposite
the “Grey Friar.” I took the right hand road and had a climb of two
miles, from 368 feet above sea level to 642 feet. This road ascended,
parallel to the railway, in a straight, narrow groove, and was fringed
on both sides for some distance, up to and past the highest point,
by hedgeless copses of oak and beech, hazel, thorn, and ivy. An old
chalk pit among the trees had been used for depositing pots and pans,
but otherwise the copses might never have been entered except by the
chiffchaff that sang there, and seemed to own them. Once out in the
open at Four Marks, I had spread out around me a high but not hilly
desolation of gray grass, corrugated iron bungalows, and chicken-runs.
I glided as fast as possible away from this towards the Winchester
Downs beyond, not pausing even at the tenth milestone from Winchester
to enjoy again that brief broadening on either hand of the rough
wayside turf, sufficient to make a fair ground. Past the “Chequers” at
Ropley Dean, and again past the “Anchor” towards Bishop’s Sutton, there
are similar and longer broadenings; and on one of these two tramps were
lying asleep, the one hid by hat and clothes, the other with clear
outstanding pale profile, hands clasped over the fifth rib, and feet
stuck up, like a carved effigy. I was as glad to see them sleeping in
the sun as to hear the larks singing. I would have done the same if I
had been somebody else.

Bishop’s Sutton, the next village, resembles Holybourne in the
shrubberies with which it hushes the road. Passing the “Plough” and the
“Ship” (kept by a man with the great Hampshire name of Port), I went
into the church, which was decorated by the memorial tablets of people
named Wright and an eighteenth century physician named William Cowper,
and by daffodils and primroses arranged in moss and jam jars. Many dead
flowers were littered about the floor. The churchyard was better, for
it had a tree taller than the tower, and another lying prone alongside
the road for children to play on, and very few tombstones. Of these
few, one recorded the deaths of three children in 1827-1831, and
furthermore thus boldly baffled the infidel,--

  “Bold infidelity, turn pale and die.
  Beneath this sod three infants’ ashes lie.
  Say, are they lost or sav’d?
  If Death’s by sin, they sinn’d, for they lie here:
  If Heaven’s by works, in Heaven they can’t appear.
  Ah, reason, how depraved!
  Revere the Bible’s sacred page, for there the knot’s untied.”

The children were Oakshotts, a Hampshire name borne by a brook and a
hanger near Hawkley.

The telegraph wires were whining as if for rain as I neared Alresford,
having on my right hand the willowy course of the young Alre, and
before me its sedgy, wide waters, Old Alresford pond. The road became
Alresford by being lined for a third of a mile downhill by cottages,
inns, and shops. This is the whole town, except for one short, very
broad turning half way along at the highest point, and opposite where
the church stands bathed in cottages.

Alresford is an excellent little town, sad-coloured but not cold,
and very airy. For not only does the main street descend from this
point steeply west towards Winchester, but the broad street also
descends northward, so that over the tops of the houses crossing the
bottom of it and over the hidden Alre, are seen the airy highlands of
Abbotsstone, Swarraton, and Godsfield. The towered flint church and
the churchyard make almost as much of a town as Alresford itself, so
numerous are the tombs of all the Wools, Keanes, Corderoys, Privetts,
Cameses, Whitears, Norgetts, Dykeses, scattered among many small
yew trees. At one side stand many headstones of French officers
who had served Napoleon, but died in England about the time of
Waterloo--Lhuille, Lavan, Garnier, Riouffe, and Fournier. Inside the
church one of the most noticeable things is a tablet to one John Lake,
who was born in 1691, died in 1759, and lies near that spot, waiting
for the day of judgment. “_Qualis erat_,” says the inscription, “_dies
iste indicabit_:” (“What manner of man he was that day will make
known.”) The writer of these words saved himself from lies and from
trouble.

I looked in vain for any one bearing the name of the poet who praised
Alresford pond--George Wither. Or, rather, he praised it as it was
in the days when Thetis resorted thither and played there with her
attendant fishes, and received crowns of flowers and beech leaves from
the land nymphs at eve:--

  “For pleasant was that pool, and near it then
  Was neither rotten marsh nor boggy fen.
  It was not overgrown with boist’rous sedge,
  Nor grew there rudely then along the edge
  A bending willow nor a prickly bush,
  Nor broad-leaf’d flag, nor reed, nor knotty rush;
  But here, well order’d, was a grove with bowers:
  There grassy plots set round about with flowers.
  Here you might through the water see the land
  Appear, strow’d o’er with white or yellow sand.
  Yon, deeper was it; and the wind by whiffs
  Would make it rise and wash the little cliffs,
  On which oft pluming sat, unfrightened than,
  The gaggling wildgoose and the snow-white swan:
  With all those flocks of fowls that to this day
  Upon those quiet waters breed and play.
  For though those excellences wanting be
  Which once it had, it is the same that we
  By transposition name the Ford of Arle;
  And out of which along a chalky marl
  That river trills, whose waters wash the fort
  In which brave Arthur kept his royal court.”

--Which, being interpreted, means Camelot, or Winchester.

Yet Wither is one of the poets whom we can connect with a district
of England and often cannot sunder from it without harm. Many other
poets are known to have resided for a long or a short time in certain
places; but of these a great many did not obviously owe much to their
surroundings, and some of those that did, like Wordsworth, possessed
a creative power which made it unnecessary that the reader should see
the places, whatever the railway companies may say. Wordsworth at his
best is rarely a local poet, and his earth is an “insubstantial fairy
place.” But if you know the pond at Alresford before this poem, you add
a secondary but very real charm to Wither; while, if you read the poem
first, you are charmed, if at all, partly because you see that the pond
exists, and you taste something of the human experience and affection
which must precede the mention. To have met the poet’s name here would
have been to furbish the charm a little.

The name of Norgett on a stone called up Oldhurst into my mind, a
thatched house built of flints in the middle of oak woods not far
off--ancient woods where the leaves of many Autumns whirled and rustled
even in June. It was three miles from the hard road, and it used to
seem that I had travelled three centuries when at last I emerged from
the oaks and came in sight of that little humped gray house and within
sound of the pines that shadowed it. It had a face like an owl; it was
looking at me. Norgett must have heard me coming from somewhere among
the trees, for, as I stepped into the clearing at one side, he was at
the other. I thought of Herne the Hunter on catching sight of him. He
was a long, lean, gray man with a beard like dead gorse, buried gray
eyes, and a step that listened. He hardly talked at all, and only after
questions that he could answer quite simply. Speech was an interruption
of his thoughts, and never sprang from them; as soon as he ceased
talking they were resumed with much low murmuring and whistling--like
that of the pine trees--to himself, which seemed the sound of their
probings in the vast of himself and Nature. His was a positive, an
active silence. It did me good to be with him, especially after I had
learned to share it with him, instead of trying to get him to join in
gossip. I say I shared it, but what I did and enjoyed was, apparently,
to sleep as we walked. It was unpleasant to wake up, to go away from
that cold, calm presence. Then, perhaps, I sneaked back for a talk with
Mrs. Norgett, who was a little, busy woman with black needle eyes and a
needle voice like a wren’s, as thin and lively as a cricket; she knew
everything that happened, and much that did not. But with him she also
was silent.

These two had two daughters--and, in fact, I got to know them by
staying with a friend three miles away, where one of the girls was a
servant: she said that there were always woodcocks round Oldhurst, and
her father would introduce me. It was several years since I had seen
Norgett and Oldhurst, but a letter concerning these daughters brought
them again before me,--

“Martha Norgett is dead. I suppose you remember her just as a stout,
nervous girl, with uncomfortable manners, tow hair, face always as red
as if she had been making toast, gray eyes rather scared but alarmingly
frank, always rushing about the house noisily and apologetically at
the same time; willing to do anything at any time for almost anybody,
but especially for you, perhaps, when you stayed with us in Summer
holidays. I am sure you could not tell me offhand how old she was. I
can hear you saying, ‘Well, the country girls always look much older
than you said they were. I suppose it is the responsibility, and
they belong to an older, more primitive type. So I always have an
instinct to treat them deferentially.... She might be twenty-three or
-four--say, eighteen. But then she was just the same fifteen years
ago.... Thirty--thirty-five. That is absurd. I give it up.’...

“I will not tell you her age, but I want to give you something of
Martha’s history, though it is now too late for the development of that
instinct for treating her deferentially.

“The family has been in the parish since the beginning of the parish
register, in 1597. I should say that 597 would be much nearer the date
when they settled in that clearing among the oaks. Fifteen centuries is
not much to a temperament like theirs, perhaps. But they will hardly
see another fifteen: they have not adapted themselves. Martha and her
sister Mary were old Norgett’s only children. I don’t think you ever
saw Mary. You would have treated her deferentially. As bright and sweet
as a chaffinch was Mary. She had small, warm brown eyes that seemed to
be dissolving in a glow of amused pleasure at everything. Everybody
and everything as a rule conspired to preserve the glow; but now and
then--cruelly and very easily--drawing tears from them because then
they were softer than ever, and one could not help smiling as one wiped
the tears away, as if she had only cried for craft and prettiness.
That was when she was seven or eight. For a year or so she was always
either laughing or crying. Visitors used to take delight in converting
one into the other. They treated her like a bird. She had very thick
and long, fine and dark brown hair--such beautiful and lustrous hair! I
remember treating it as if it were alive, apart from her life, as if it
were a wild creature living on her shoulders.

“She was considered rather a stupid child. Some people seem to regard
animals as rather stupid human beings never blessed with spectacles and
baldness--it was they who called her stupid. She never said anything
wise. Usually she laughed when she spoke, and you could hardly make
out the words: to try to read a meaning of an accustomed sort into her
speech was little better than making a translation from a brook’s song
or a bird’s song; for in her case also it really meant translating from
an unknown tongue. Everybody gave her presents. She had as many dolls
as the cat had kittens. She was fond of people, but she seemed fonder
of these, and, seeing her, I used to smile and think of the words: ‘Ye
shall serve gods the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither
see, nor hear, not eat, nor smell.’

“There were a hundred differences between her and Martha. Martha had
but one doll. It was an old stiff wooden doll, cut by the keeper for
his first-born, and never clothed. Martha kept it in the wood-lodge,
and would not have it in the house, but went to look at it just once
at morning and once at night, and never missed doing so. She did not
play with Mary’s, though as maid-of-all-work, bustling about seriously
and untidily, often breaking and upsetting things, she treated them
with immense reverence, putting them safely away in a sitting posture
when their mistress was tired of them and left them on chairs, in the
hearth, or on the table--anywhere. Nobody supposed that Martha cared
anything for her solitary wooden idol, and if you inquired after it
she only looked awkwardly into your face with those pale eyes and
said nothing, or perhaps asked you if you would like to see Mary’s
newest one. She was always busy, they could not keep her from work;
she was strong, and never ailed or complained. If a baby was brought
to the house, to see Mary’s delicate ways with it was worth a journey;
surrounding it with dolls, and giving herself up to it and taking good
care of it, while Martha slipped away and was not to be seen. Mary was
tenderest hearted, and could never pass carelessly by anything like a
calf’s head thrust out of a hole in a dark shed into the sun. As for
Martha she was too busy, though of course she would run to the town, if
need were, to fetch a vet.

“Mary was not nearly so strong, but she continued to grow in grace and
charm. At seventeen I think she was the loveliest human being of her
sex that I ever saw. I say of her sex, because she was so absolutely
and purely a woman that she seemed a species apart, even to me a
mystery; every position of her, every attitude, action, everything she
did and did not do, proclaimed her a woman newly created out of the
elements which but yesterday made her a child, an animal or bird in
human form. Many would have liked to marry her. Her round soft chin,
her rather long, and not too thin, smiling mouth, her living hair,
her wild eyes, won her lovers wherever she was seen. And yet I had a
feeling that she would not marry.... However, I came back from Italy
one year to find her married to a young farmer near Alton.

“Martha had already been with us for some years. When Mary began to
have babies Martha was over at the farm as often as possible. Mary
grew paler and thinner, but not less beautiful, and hardly less gay
and childlike. She did as she pleased--always perfectly dressed, while
others, and, above all, Martha, busied themselves in a hundred ways
for her and her baby. Now that she was obviously delicate as well as
beautiful, her hair looked more than ever like a wild life of some
kind affectionately attached to her. Martha worked harder for her, if
that were possible, than for us. I have heard her panting away as she
swept the stairs and sometimes sighing, too, but never stopping for
that luxury, and her sister would call out and laughingly chide her for
it, to which she replied with another laugh, not ceasing to pant or to
sweep. Mary was adored by her husband.

“Few men, I should say, took notice of Martha. She was very abrupt
with them, and had nothing to say if they spoke out of a wish to be
agreeable. Now and then she reported some advance--a soldier, for
example, offered to carry her parcels home for her at night; but as
soon as they turned from the high road into our dark lane she found
an excuse, swept up all the parcels into her arms and was off without
a word. Another time she allowed herself to be taken home on several
evenings by a young man whose real sweetheart was away for a time: he
had told her the fact, and politely asked if she would like him to take
her home in the interval. What Martha wanted was a baby. She was the
laughing-stock of the kitchen for confessing it. She did not mind: she
stitched away at baby’s underclothing which all went for her sister’s
infants, but was meant for her own. She once bought a cradle at an
auction sale--do you feel deferential now? Yet one man she put off by
telling him she already had a lover.

“Did you ever hear of her one dream? She came in and told us in great
excitement that she had had a dream. She said, ‘It was as plain as
plain, and all the family were eating boiled potatoes with their
fingers except me. Law, mum, that ever I should have dreamed such a
thing.’... She blushed that the family should have been put to shame in
a dream of hers.

“At last we heard that she had a lover. Her fellow servants accused
her of doing the courting, and he was younger than she. She was not
impatient, even now. When she heard that we were to move in a year’s
time, she made up her mind that she must go to the new house and see
what it was like living there. ‘He’s not so bad,’ she said quietly.
‘Father and mother think the world of him. It’s not love. Oh, no! I’m
too old for that, and I won’t have any nonsense. But he says he’ll
marry me. We shall love after that, maybe; but if not, there’ll be
the children. We shall have a nice little home. Charley has bought a
mirror, and he is saving up for a ring with a real stone in it.’ And so
she went on soberly, yet perhaps madly.

“We moved, and Martha with us. She had to wait still longer, because
Mary was expecting another child. Mary was not so well as usual. She
was very thin, and yet looked in a way younger than ever. Martha left
us to devote herself to her sister. I went over once or twice: I wish
now it had been oftener. Martha looked the same as ever. Mary grew
still more frail, until, in a ghastly way, you could not see her body
for her soul, as the poet says. Her husband being called away left her
confidently in Martha’s hands.

“The nearest doctor was five miles off. She had to go for him suddenly
in a night of winter thunder. The whole night was up in arms, the black
clouds and the woods, the noises of a great wind and thunder trying
to get the better of one another, and the rain drowning the lightning
as if it had been no more than an eel in a dirty pond, and drowning
thunder and the wind at last. When Martha reached the doctor’s house
he was out. She found another, and having meekly delivered her message
was gone before the man could offer to drive her back with him; but the
horse was so helpless in the stormy, steep, crooked roads among the
woods that he expected to find her there before him. When he arrived
Mary was delirious, speaking of her sister, whom she seemed to see
approaching and at last coming into the room; she cried out, ‘Martha!’
and never spoke again. Martha had not returned. The cowman found her
lying on her face in the mire by a gateway, stopped in her swift,
clumsy running by heart-failure, dead. Poor old Martha! but I have
no doubt she was quite happy making for that green blind upstairs in
her sister’s house, hastening half asleep, and only waking up as she
stumbled over the stile. The world misses her--and her children.”

I had never met the surname before, and here upon a stranger’s
tombstone it called up Martha like a mysterious incantation.

The tune of the telegraph wires became sadder, and I pushed on with the
purpose of getting as far as possible before the rain fell. The road
out of Alresford is dignified by a long avenue of elms, with a walk
between, lining it on the right as far as the gate of Arlebury House.
Opposite the last of the trees it was a pleasure to see on a wayside
plot, where elms mingled with telegraph posts, a board advertising
building sites, but leaning awry, mouldy, and almost illegible. Then
the road went under the railway and bent south-westwards, while I
turned to the right to follow a byway along the right bank of the
Itchen, where there was a village every two or three miles, and I
could be sure of shelter. The valley, a flat-bottomed marshy one, was
full of drab-tufted grasses and new-leafed willows, and pierced by
straight, shining drains. The opposite bank rose up rather steeply,
and was sometimes covered with copse, sometimes carved by a chalk
pit; tall trees with many mistletoe boughs grew on top. I got to
Itchen Abbas, its bridge, mill, church, and “Plough,” all in a group,
when the rain was beginning. I had not gone much further when it
became clear that the rain was to be heavy and lasting, and I took
shelter in a cart-lodge. There I was joined by a thatcher and a deaf
and dumb labourer. The thatcher would talk of nothing but the other
man, having begun by explaining that he could not be expected to say
“Good-afternoon.” The deaf man sat on the straw and watched us. He was
the son of a well-to-do farmer, but had left home because he did not
get enough money and was in other ways imposed on. He had now been
at the same farm thirty years. He was a good workman, understanding
by signs what he had to do. Moreover, he could read the lips, though
how he learnt--for he could neither read nor write--I do not know!
Probably, said the thatcher, he knows what we are saying now. At
half-past three the horses came in for the day. They had begun at
half-past six; so, said the thatcher, “they don’t do a man’s work.”
So we talked while the horses were stabled, and rain fell and it
thundered, if not to the tune of “Greensleeves,” at least to that of
blackbirds’ songs.

The sky was full and sagging, but actually rained little, when I
started soon after four, and went on through the four Worthys,--on
my left the low sweep of Easton Down, and the almost windowless high
church wall among elms between it and the river; and on my right,
arable country and pewits tumbling over it. Worthy Park, a place of
lawns and of elms and chestnuts, adorned the road with an avenue of
very branchy elms. At King’s Worthy, just beyond, I might have crossed
over and taken the shortest way to Salisbury, that is to say, by
Stockbridge. But, except at Stockbridge itself, there is hardly a house
on the twenty miles of road, and either one inn or two. Evidently the
sky could not long contain itself, and as I knew enough of English
inns to prefer not arriving at one wet through, I determined to take
the Roman road through Headbourne Worthy to Winchester. This brought
me through a region of biggish houses, shrubberies, rookeries, motor
cars, and carriages, but also down to a brook and a withy bed, and
Headbourne Worthy’s little church and blunt shingled spire beside
it. The blackbirds were singing their best in the hawthorns as I
was passing, and in the puddles they were bathing before singing.
Winchester Cathedral appeared and disappeared several times, and above
it, slightly to the left, St. Catherine’s smooth hill and beechen
crown. In one of these views I saw what I had never before noticed,
that the top of the cathedral tower is apparently higher than the top
of St. Catherine’s Hill.

Through the crowd of Winchester High Street I walked, and straight out
by the West Gate and the barracks uphill. I meant to use the Romsey
road as far as Ampfield, and thence try to reach Dunbridge. The sky was
full of rain, though none was falling. It was a mile before I could
mount, and then, for some way, the road was accompanied on the right by
yew trees. Between these trees I could see the low, half-wooded Downs
crossed by the Roman road to Sarum and by hardly any other road. The
most insistent thing there was the Farley Tower, perched on a barrow
at one of the highest points, to commemorate not the unknown dead but
a horse called Beware Chalkpit, who won a race in 1734 after having
leaped into a chalkpit in 1733. The eastern scene was lovelier: the
clear green Downs above Twyford, Morestead, and Owslebury, four or five
miles away; and then the half wooded green wall of Nan Trodd’s Hill
which the road curves under to Hursley. But, first, I had to dip down
to Pitt Village, which is a small cluster of thatched cottages, mud
walls, and beech trees, with a pond and a bright white chalk pit, all
at the bottom of a deep hollow. I climbed out of it and glided down
under Nan Trodd’s Hill and its black yews, divided from the road only
by a gentle rise of arable; and so, betwixt a similar but slighter
yew-crowned rise and the oaks of Hursley Park, I approached Hursley.
The first thing was a disused pump on the right, with an ivy-covered
shelter and a fixed lamp; but before the first house there was a beech
copse, and after that a farm and its attendant ricks and cottages, and
at length the village. A single row of houses faced the park and its
rookery beeches through a parallel row of pollard limes; but the centre
was a double row of neat brick and timber houses, both old and new, a
smithy, a doctor’s, and a “King’s Head” and “Dolphin.” Here also stood
the spired church, opposite a branching of roads. At the beginning,
middle, and end of the village, gates led into Hursley Park. And I
think it was here that I saw the last oast-house in Hampshire.

Immediately after passing the fifth milestone from Winchester I turned
with the Romsey road south-west instead of keeping on southward to
Otterbourne. It was now darkening and still. I was on a low moist
road overhung by oak trees, through which I saw, on the right, a
mile away, the big many-windowed Hursley House among its trees. The
road had obviously once had wide grassy margins. The line of the old
hedge was marked, several yards within a field on the right, by the
oaks, the primroses, and the moss, growing there and not beyond: in
a wood that succeeded, it was equally clear. The primroses glimmered
in the dank shadow of the trees, where the old hedge had been, and
round the water standing in old wayside pits. In one place on the
left, by Ratlake, the fern and gorse looked like common. Nobody was
using the road except the blackbirds and robins. Hardly a house was
to be seen. It might have been the edge of the New Forest. If the
road could have gone on so, with no more rise and fall, for ever, I
think I should have been content. The new church and its pine, and
cypress, and laurel, intruded but did not break the charm. More to my
taste was the pond on the other side; gorse came to its edge, oaks
stood about it, and dabchicks were diving in its unrippled surface.
The “White Hart” farther on tempted me. It lay rather below the road
on the left, behind the yellow courtyard and the signboard, forming a
quadrangle with the stables and sheds on either side. The pale walls
and the broad bay window on the ground floor offered “Accommodation for
Cyclists.” But I did not stop, perhaps because Ampfield House on the
other side took away my thoughts from inns. This was an ivy-mantled
brick house, like two houses side by side, not very far back from the
road; its high blossoming fruit wall bounded the road. Travelling so
easily, I was loth to dismount, and on the signpost on the right,
near the third milestone from Romsey, I read MSBURY without thinking
of Timsbury, which lay on my way to Dunbridge. I glided on for half
a mile before thinking better of it, and turning back, discovered my
mistake. Here I entered a gravelly, soft road among trees. I should
have done well to put up in one of the woodmen’s shelters here under
the oaks. These huts were frames of stout green branches thatched
with hazel peelings and walled with fagots. One was built so that an
oak divided its entrance in two, and against the tree was fastened a
plain wooden contrivance for gripping and bending wood. Inside, it had
other hurdlemaker’s implements--a high wooden horse for gripping and
bending, and a low wooden table. White peelings were thickly strewn
around the huts. The floor showed likewise such signs of life as
cigarette ends, match-boxes, and a lobster’s claw. On Saturday evening
a marsh-tit and a robin alone seemed to have anything to do with them.
Nevertheless I went contentedly on between mossy banks, hedges of
beech, rhododendrons, and woodlands of oak, beech, and larch, which
opened out in one place to show me the fern and pine of Ganger Common.
The earth was quiet, dark, and beautiful. The owl was beginning to hunt
over the fields, while the blackbird finished his song. Pleasant were
the yellow road, the roadside bramble and brier hoops, the gravel pits
and gorse at corners. But the sky was wild, threatening the earth both
with dark clouds impending and with momentary wan gleams between them,
angrier than the clouds. Some rain sprinkled as I dipped down between
roadside oaks and a narrow orchard to Brook Farm. Here the road forded
a brook, and a lane turned off, with a gravelly bluff on one side,
farmyard and ricks on the other. Up in the pale spaces overhead Venus
glared like a madman’s eye. Yet the rain came to nothing, and for a
little longer the few scattered house lights appearing and disappearing
in the surrounding country were mysteriously attractive. And then
arrived complete darkness and rain together, as I reached the turning
where I could see the chimney stack of Michelmersh. I tried the “Malt
House” on the left. They could not give me a bed because “the missus
was expecting some friends.” I pushed on against wind and rain to the
“Bear and Ragged Staff,” a bigger inn behind a triangle of rushy turf
and a walnut tree. “Accommodation for Cyclists” was announced, which I
always used to assume meant that there was a bed; but it does not. It
was raining, hailing, and blowing furiously, but they could not give me
a bed because they were six in family: no, not any sort of a bed. They
directed me to the “Mill Arms” at Dunbridge. Crossing the Test by Kim
Bridge Mill, the half-drowned fields smelt like the sea. The mill-house
windows shone above the double water plunging away into blackness.
Then, for a space, when I had turned sharply north-westward the wind
helped me. Actually I was now at the third inn. They were polite and
even smiling, but they informed me that I could by no means have a
bed, seeing that the lady and gentleman from somewhere had all the
beds. Nor could they tell me of a bed anywhere, because it was Easter
and people with a spare room mostly had friends. Luckily a train was
just starting which would bear me away from Dunbridge to Salisbury. I
boarded it, and by eight o’clock I was among the people who were buying
and selling fish and oranges to the accompaniment of much chaffing,
but no bad temper, in Fish Row. And, soon, though not at once, I
found a bed and a place to sit and eat in, and to listen to the rain
breaking over gutters and splashing on to stones, and pipes swallowing
rain to the best of their ability, and signboards creaking in the
wind; and to reflect on the imperfection of inns and life, and on the
spirit’s readiness to grasp at all kinds of unearthly perfection such,
for instance, as that which had encompassed me this evening before
the rain. At that point a man entered whom I slowly recognized as the
liberator of the chaffinch on Good Friday. At first I did not grasp the
connection between this dripping, indubitably real man and the wraith
of the day before. But he was absurdly pleased to recognize me, bowing
with a sort of uncomfortable graciousness and a trace of a cockney
accent. His expression changed in those few moments from a melancholy
and too yielding smile to a pale, thin-lipped rigidity. I did not know
whether to be pleased or not with the reincarnation, when he departed
to change his clothes.

This Other Man, as I shall call him, ate his supper in silence, and
then adjusted himself in the armchair, stretching himself out so that
all of him was horizontal except his head. He was smoking a cigarette
dejectedly, for he had left his pipe behind at Romsey. I offered him
a clay pipe. No; he would not have it. They stuck to his lips, he
said. But he volunteered to talk about clay pipes, and the declining
industry of manufacturing them. He seemed to know all about ten-inch
and fifteen-inch pipes, from the arrival of the clay out of Cornwall
in French gray blocks to the wetting of the clay and the beating of
it up with iron rods; the rough first moulding of the pipes by hand,
and the piercing of the stems; the baking in moulds, the scraping of
rough edges by girls, down to the sale of the pipes in the two months
round about Christmas to Aldershot, Portsmouth, and such places.
These longer pipes, at any rate, have become chiefly ceremonious and
convivial, though personally I have hardly ever seen them smoked except
by literary people under thirty. No wonder that in one of the principal
factories only one artist is left, as the Other Man declared, to pierce
the stems with unerring thrust. It seemed to him wonderful that even
one man could be found to push a wire up the core of a long thin stick
of clay. He had never himself been able to avoid running the wire out
at the side before reaching the end. The great man who always succeeded
had once made him a pipe with five bowls.

He could not tell me why the industry is decaying. But two causes seem
at least to have contributed. First, a great many of the men who used
to smoke clays smoke cheap cigarettes. Second, those who have not
taken to cigarettes smoke briar pipes. Cigarettes appear to give less
trouble than pipes. Any one, drunk or sober, can light them and keep
them alight. They can be put out at any moment and returned to the
cigarette case or tucked behind the ear. Also, it is held by snobs as
well as by haters of foul pipes that cigarettes are more genteel, or
whatever the name is of our equivalent vice. But if a pipe is to be
smoked, the briar is believed to cast some sort of faint credit on the
smoker which the clay does not. That Tennyson used clays probably now
only influences a small number of young men--and that but for a year or
two--of a class that would not take to clays as a matter of course. A
few others of the same class begin in imitation of labourer, sailor, or
gamekeeper, with whom they have come in exhilarating contact; and, in
turn, others imitate them. The habit so gained, however, is not likely
to endure. Nearly every one sheds it, either because he really does not
enjoy it, or he has for some reason to keep it in abeyance too long for
it to be resumed, or he supposes himself to be conspicuous and prefers
not to be.

In the first place he may have been moved partly by a desire to be
conspicuous, to signalize his individuality by a visible symbol, but
such can seldom be a conscious motive with the most self-conscious
of men. For some years I met plenty of youths of my own age who were
experimenting with clay pipes, nervously colouring small thorny ones,
or lying back and making of themselves cushions for long churchwardens,
or carrying the bowl of a two-inch pipe upside down like a navvy. But I
was never much tempted myself until I went to live permanently in the
country. As I was pretty frequently walking at lunch time I took that
meal at an inn, and one day remembering that as a child I had got clays
from a publican for nothing I asked for one with my beer, and got it. I
shall not pretend that this pipe was in any way remarkable, for I have
no recollection of it. All I know is that it was not the last. Most, if
not all, of my briar pipes at the time were foul. I took more and more
to smoking clay pipes when I was alone or where it would not attract
attention.

It was not long before I made the discovery that there are clays and
clays. Those given away or sold for a halfpenny by innkeepers between
the North and South Downs were usually thin and straight, sometimes
embellished with a design in relief, particularly with a horned head
and the initial letters of the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes.
Many and many a one of these mere smoking utensils was broken very soon
in my teeth or in my pocket, or discarded because I did not like the
feel or look of it, or simply because it was an unnecessary addition to
my supply. For a time I could and did smoke almost anything, fortified
possibly by a feeling (though I cannot recall it) that the custom was
worth persisting in. At any rate it was persisted in.

If I pursued singularity I was not blindfold. Not many weeks were
occupied in learning that thin clays were useless, or were not for
me. They began by burning my tongue, and they were very soon bitten
through. On the other hand, thickness alone was not sufficient. For
example, Irish pipes up to a third of an inch thick were as rapidly
bitten through as the harder thin clays. It was necessary to fit them
with mouth-pieces connected by a tin band, and since these would
corrode, I refused them. Even a clay that was hard as well as thick was
not therefore faultless. I kept one for several years, at intervals
trying to make terms with it on account of its good shape--the bowl set
at more than a right angle to the stem, and adorned with a conventional
ribbed leaf underneath--but always in vain; the clay, being hard after
the manner of flint, gritted on the teeth and was no sweeter at the
tenth than at the first pipe.

Wherever I went I bought a clay pipe or two. The majority were
indifferent. Only after a time was the goodness of the good ones
manifest, and by then I might be a hundred miles away from the shop,
if I had not forgotten where it came from. These I did everything to
preserve. Some of them went through the purification of fire a score
of times before they came to an end by falling or, which was rare, by
being worn too short. They had the great virtue of being hard, without
being stony. They resembled bone in their close grain, sometimes
being as smooth as if glazed. But I had little to do with the glazed
“colouring” clays. They stank, and I was not ambitious except of
achieving a cool, everlasting, and perfectly shaped pipe.

How to use the fire on a foul pipe was learnt by very slow degrees.
Many a good pipe cracked or flaked in the flames. They had, I was at
last to discover, been too suddenly submitted to great heat. If it
was done gradually, the fiercest heat could be and should be imposed
on them: they lay pinkish white in the heart of the fire until they
possessed more than their original purity. A few of the best would
emerge with almost an old ivory hue all over. Some I remember breaking
when they had come safely out and were nearly cool, by tapping them to
shake out the fur. Most of them were toughened as well as sweetened in
the process.

How very rare were those good pipes! Probably I did not find more than
one in twelve months, though I bought scores. I was continually trying
Irish clays in a stupid hope that they would not be bitten through. The
best pipe in the majority of shops was merely one that was not bad.
It did not burn _much_; it was not bitten through until it was just
reaching its ripeness.

Perhaps I should have remembered more varieties of goodness and badness
had I not twelve months ago met a perfect clay pipe. It is so hard that
I have only once bitten one through, yet it is soft to the teeth and
tongue. Nor is it very thick; the bowl in particular I should have been
inclined at first sight to condemn as too thin. It is smooth, in fact
polished. Its shape is graceful; the stem slightly curved, slightly
flattened, but thickening and developing roundness where it _becomes_
rather than joins the bowl, into which it flows so as to form something
like a calabash. There are other shapes of this excellent material.

This perfect clay pipe came from a shop at Oxford. A month later I
bought some of the same kind, but an inferior shape, at Melksham.
Everywhere else I have looked in vain for them. I have never seen any
one else smoking them who had not got them from me.

Tastes differ, but in this matter I cannot believe that any one
capable of distinguishing one clay from another would deny this one’s
excellence.

The Other Man cared nothing for the matter. He awoke from the stupor to
which he had been reduced by listening, and asked,--

“Did you see that weather-vane at Albury in the shape of a pheasant? or
the fox-shaped one by the ford at Butts Green? or the pub with the red
shield and the three tuns and three pairs of wheatsheaves for a sign?”

“No,” I answered, adding what I could remember about the horse’s
head over the corn chandler’s at Epsom. The Other Man had seen this,
and also a similar one of white wood over a saddler’s at Dorking. He
reminded me also of what I was engaged in forgetting--that Shalford
had an inn called the “Sea-Horse,” and a signboard of a sea-horse
with a white head and a fish-like body covered in azure scales. He
said it was a better sea-horse than those over the Admiralty gates in
Whitehall. Continuing, he asked me why it was that the chief inn of a
town was so frequently the “Swan.” It was at Leatherhead. It was at
Charing in Kent--I knew that. It was at a score of other places which
I have forgotten. Nor could I remember a sufficient number of “Lions,”
“Eagles,” and “Dolphins” to oppose him. Had I, was his next question,
seen the “Ship” at Bishop’s Sutton, which had a signboard with a
steamer on one side and a sailing ship on the other? And not long after
this I was asleep.



IV.

FROM DUNBRIDGE OVER SALISBURY PLAIN.


Before the first brightening of the light on Sunday morning the rain
ceased, and I returned to Dunbridge to pick up the road I had lost on
Saturday evening. Above all, I wanted to ride along under Dean Hill,
the level-ridged chalk hill dotted with yew that is seen running
parallel to the railway a quarter of a mile on your left as you near
Salisbury from Eastleigh. The sky was pale, scarcely more blue than the
clouds with which it was here and there lightly whitewashed. For five
miles I was riding against the stream of the river which rises near
Clarendon and meets the Test near Dunbridge. The water and its alders,
many of them prostrate, and its drab sedges mingled with intense green
and with marsh-marigolds’ yellow, were seldom more than a hundred
yards away on my right. Pewits wheeled over it with creaking wings and
protests against the existence of man.

I did not stop for the villages. Butts Green, for example, where the
Other Man had seen the fox weather-vane, began with an old thatched
cottage and a big hollow yew, but the green itself was dull, flat,
and bare, and the cottages round it newish. Lockerley Green, a mile
farther on, was much like it, except that the road traversed instead
of skirting the green. Between these two, and beyond Lockerley Church,
where the road touched the river and had a fork leading across to East
Tytherley, there was a small, but not old, mill, and a miller too, and
flour. As I looked back the small sharp spire of the church stuck up
over the level ridgy ploughland in a manner which, I supposed, would
have made for a religious person a very religious picture. No other
building was visible. The railway on my left was more silent than the
river on my right, among its willow and alder and tall, tufted grass,
at the foot of gorse slopes.

After crossing the railway half a mile past Lockerley Green the road
went close to the base of Dean Hill, separated from it by ploughland
without a hedge. On the left, that is on the Dean Hill side, stood
East Dean Church, a little rustic building of patched brick and
plaster walls, mossy roof, and small lead-paned windows displaying the
Easter decorations of moss and daffodils. It had a tiny bell turret
at the west end, and a round window cut up into radiating panes like
a geometrical spider’s web. Under the yew tree, amidst long grass,
dandelion, and celandine, lay the bones of people bearing the names
Edney and Langridge. The door was locked. Its neighbours on the other
side of the road were an old cottage with tiled roof and walls of
herring-boned brick, smothered from chimney to earth with ivy, in a
garden of plum blossom; and next to it, a decent, small home, a smooth
clipped block of yew, and a whitewashed mud wall with a thatched
coping. The other houses of East Dean, either thatched or roofed with
orange tiles, were scattered chiefly on the right.

Presently I had the willows of the river as near me on the right as the
green slope, the chalk pit, the sheep-folds, and yew trees of Dean Hill
on the left; and the sun shone upon the water and began to slant down
the hillside. The river was very clear and swift, the chalk of its bed
very white, the hair of its waving weeds very dark green.

West Dean, where I entered Wiltshire, a mile from East Dean, is a
village with a “Red Lion” inn, a railway station, a sawmill and
timber-yard, and several groups of houses clustering close to both
banks of the river, which is crossed by a road-bridge and by a white
footbridge below. I went over river and railway uphill past the new
but ivied church to look at the old farm-house, the old church, and
the camp, which lie back from the road on the left among oaks and
thickets. On that Sunday morning cows pasturing on the rushy fields
below the camp, and thrushes singing in the oaks, were the principal
inhabitants of West Dean. I did not go farther in this direction,
for the road went north to West Tytherley and the broad woods that
lie east of it, the remnant of Buckholt Forest, but turned back and
west, and then south-west again on my original road, in order to be
on the road nearest to Dean Hill. This took me over broad and almost
hedgeless fields, and through a short disconnected fragment of an
avenue of mossy-rooted beeches, to West Dean Farm. Nothing lay between
the houseless road and the hillside, which is thick here with yew,
except the broad arable fields, with a square or two given up to
mustard flowers and sheep, and West Dean Farm itself. It is a house of
a dirty white colour amidst numerous and roomy outbuildings, thatched
or mellow-tiled, set in a circle of tall beeches. The road bends round
the farm group and goes straight to the foot of the hill, and then
along it. I went slowly, looking up at the yews and thorns on the green
wall of the hill, and its slanting green trackway, and the fir trees
upon the ridge. Linnets twittered in companies or sang solitarily on
thorn tips. Thrushes sang in the wayside yews. Larks rose and fell
unceasingly. The sheep-bells tinkled in the mustard. Away from the
hill the land sloped gradually in immense arable fields, and immense
grass fields newly rolled into pale green stripes, down to the river,
and there rose again up to Hound Wood and Bentley Wood, where a white
house shone pale in the north-east, four or five miles off.

For nearly two miles the road had not had a house upon it, and nothing
separated me from the hill, the yew trees, and the brier and hawthorn
thickets. In fact, West Dean Farm was the only house served by the
three miles of road between West Dean and West Grimstead. Yet this did
not save a chalk pit close to the road from being used as a receptacle
for rubbish. Having reached the farm and the foot of the hill the road
began to turn away again towards the river and to West Grimstead. It
was a loose, flinty road, so that I had another reason for walking
instead of riding. The larks that sang over me could not have wished
for better dust baths than this road would make them, for the sun
was gaining. It was almost a treeless road until I was close to West
Grimstead, where there was an oak wood on the right, streaked with the
silver of birch stems and tipped with the yellow flames of larches.
The village consisted of a church, an inn called the “Spring Cottage,”
and many thatched cottages scattered along several by-roads on either
side. It ended in an old thatched cottage with outbuildings, at the
verge of a deep sand pit full of sand-martins’ holes. When I had passed
it I stopped at a gate and looked at the orange pit wall on the far
side, the cottage above the wall, and the elm between the road and the
pit. A thrush and several larks were singing, and through their songs I
heard a thin voice that I had not heard for six months, very faint yet
unmistakable, though I could not at once see the bird--a sand-martin.
I recognized the sound, as I always recognize at their first autumnal
ascent above the horizon the dim small cluster of the Pleiades on a
September evening. On such a morning one sand-martin seems enough to
make a summer, and here were six, flitting in narrow circles like
butterflies with birds’ voices.

I went on and found myself in a flat land of oak woods and of fields
that were half molehills and half rushes, and the hedge banks had gorse
in blossom. It was here that I joined the Southampton and Salisbury
road, a yellow road between the gorsy, rolling fragments of Whaddon
Common, which came to an end at a plantation of pines on and about some
mounds like tumuli on the right hand.

Uphill to Alderbury I walked, looking back south-eastward along
the four-mile wall of Dean Hill which I had quitted a mile behind.
Alderbury, its “Green Dragon,” its public seat and foursquare fountain
of good water for man and beast (erected by Jacob, sixth Earl of
Radnor), is on a hilltop overlooking the Avon, and immediately on
leaving it I began to descend and to slant nearer and nearer the river.
The hedges of the road guided my eyes straight to the cathedral spire
of Salisbury, two or three miles off beneath me. On the right the sward
and oaks of Ivychurch came down to the road: below on the left the
sward was wider, the oaks were fewer, and many cows were feeding. A
long cleft of rushy turf and oaks, then a broad ploughland succeeded
the Ivychurch oaks, and the ploughland rose up into a round summit
crested by a clump of pines and beeches. I remember seeing this field
when it was being ploughed by two horses, and the ploughman’s white dog
was exploring on one side or another across the slopes.

Over beyond the river the land swelled up into chalk hills, here smooth
and green, with a clump on the ridge, and there wooded. The railway was
now approaching the road from the right, and the narrow strip between
road and railway was occupied by an old orchard and a large green
chestnut tree. In the branches of the chestnut sang a chaffinch, while
a boy was trimming swedes underneath. I was now at the suburban edge
of Salisbury, the villas looking out of their trees and lemon-coloured
barberry at the double stream of Avon, at the willowy marshland, the
cathedral, and the Harnham Down racecourse above.

I crossed over Harnham bridge where the tiled roofs are so mossy, and
went up under that bank of sombre-shimmering ivy just to look from
where the roads branch to Downton, Blandford, and Odstock. Southward
nothing is to be seen except the workhouse and the many miles of bare
down and sheepfolds. Northward the cathedral spire soars out of a city
without a hill, dominated on the right or east by Burroughs Hill, a
low but decided bluff, behind which are the broad woods of Clarendon.
The road was deserted. It was on a Tuesday evening, after market,
that I had last been there, when clergy with wives and daughters were
cycling out past a wagon for Downton drawn by horses with red and blue
plumelets; motor cyclists were tearing in; a tramp or two trudged down
towards the bridge. In the city itself the cattle were being driven
to the slaughter-house or out to the country, a spotted calf was
prancing on the pavement, one was departing for Wilton in a crowded
motor bus, a wet, new-born one stood in a cart with its mother, a cow
with udders wagging was being hustled up the Exeter road by motor cars
and pursued at a distance by a man who called to it affectionately as
a last resource; another calf was being held outside a pub while the
farmer drank; black and white pigs were steered cautiously past plate
glass; and in the market-place Sidney Herbert and Henry Fawcett on
their pedestals were looking out over the dark, wet square at the last
drovers and men in gaiters leaving it, and ordinary passengers crossing
it, and a few sheep still bleating in a pen. And the green river
meadows and their elms and willows chilled and darkened as the gold
sun sank without staining the high, pale-washed sky, and the cathedral
clock nervously and quietly said, “One-two, one-two, one-two” for the
third quarter before dark.

But this was Sunday morning, and still early. I ate breakfast to the
tune of the “Marseillaise,” sung slowly and softly to a child as a
lullaby, and was soon out again, this time amidst jackdaws, rooks,
clergy, and the black-dressed Sunday procession, diversified by women
in violet, green, and curry colour. The streets, being shuttered and
curtained, robbed of the crowd shopping, were cold and naked; even the
inns of Salisbury, whose names are so genial and succulent--“Haunch
of Venison,” “Round of Beef,” “Ox,” “Royal George,” “Roebuck,” “Wool
Pack”--were as near as possible dismal. Their names were as meaningless
as those of the dead Browns, Dowdings, Burtons, Burdens, and Fullfords
in St. Edmund’s Churchyard. If it had not been for the women it would
have been a city of the dead or a city of birds. The people kept to the
paths of the close. The lawns and trees were given over exclusively
to the birds, especially those that are black, such as the rook and
blackbird. Those that were not matrimonially engaged on the grass
were cawing in the elms, beeches, and chestnuts of the cathedral.
Missel-thrushes were singing across the close as if it had been empty.
A lark from the fields without drifted singing over the city. The
stockdoves cooed among the carved saints. There were more birds than
men in Salisbury. Never had I seen the cathedral more beautiful. The
simple form of the whole must have been struck out of glaucous rock at
one divine stroke. It seemed to belong to the birds that flew about it
and lodged so naturally in the high places. The men who crawled in at
the doors, as into mines, could not be the masters of such a vision.

Nevertheless, I took the liberty of entering myself, chiefly to look
again for those figures of Death and a Traveller, where the Traveller
says,--

  “Alas, Death, alas, a blissful thing that were
  If thou wouldst spare us in our lustiness
  And come to wretches that be so of heavy cheer.” ...

and Death retorts,--

  “Graceless gallant, in all thy lust and pride,
  Remember that thou shalt give due.
  Death shall from thy body thy soul divide.
  Thou must not him escape certainly.
  To the dead bodies cast down thine eye,
  Behold them well, consider and see,
  For such as they are such shalt thou be.”

There is little more to be said about death than is said here. But
I could not find the words, though I went up and down those streets
of knights’, ladies’, and doctors’ tombs, and saw again old Eleonor
Sadler, grim, black, and religious, kneeling at her book in a niche
since 1622, and looking as if she could have been the devil to those
who did not do likewise. I saw, too, the tablet of Henry Hele, who
practised medicine felicitously and honourably, for fifty years, in the
close and in the city; and the green lady with the draped harp mourning
over Thomas, Baron Wyndham, Lord High Steward of Ireland (1681-1745),
and the bust of Richard Jefferies,--

  “Who, observing the works of Almighty God
  With a poet’s eye, | Has |
  enriched the literature of his country, | and |
  won for himself a place amongst | those |
  who have made men happier, | and wiser.”

If Jefferies had to be commemorated in a cathedral, it was unnecessary
to drag in Almighty God. Perhaps the commemorator hoped thus to cast a
halo over the man and his books; but I think “The Story of my Heart”
and “Hours of Spring” will be proof against the holy water of these
feeble and ill divided words.

Outside the city I had the road to Wilton, a road lined on both sides
by elms, almost to myself. The rooks cawed in their nests in the elms,
and the eight bells of Bemerton called to worshippers from among the
trees, a field’s-breadth distant on the left. I was not tempted by the
bells, yet this was one of those Sundays that help us to see beauty and
a sort of sense in the lines of George Herbert, vicar of Bemerton,--

    “Sundays the pillars are
  On which heav’ns palace arched lies:
  The other days fill up the spare
  And hollow room with vanities.
  They are the fruitful beds and borders
  In God’s rich garden: that is bare
    Which parts their ranks and orders.
    The Sundays of man’s life,
  Threaded together on time’s string,
  Make bracelets to adorn the wife
  Of the eternal, glorious King.
  On Sundays heaven’s gate stands ope;
  Blessings are plentiful and rife,
    More plentiful than hope.”

Izaak Walton says that on the Sunday before his death Herbert rose up
suddenly from his bed, called for one of his instruments, tuned it, and
sang this verse: “Thus he sung on earth such hymns and anthems as the
angels and he ... now sing in Heaven.” The bells, the sunshine after
storm, the elm trees, and the memory of that pious poet, put me into
what was perhaps an unconscious imitation of a religious humour. And
in that humour, repeating the verses with a not wholly sham unction, I
rode away from Bemerton. The Other Man, however, overtook me, and upset
the humour. For he repeated in his turn, with unction exaggerated to
an incredibly ridiculous degree, the sonnet on Sin which comes next to
that on Nature in Herbert’s “Temple,”--

  “Lord, with what care hast thou begirt us round.
  Parents first season us: then schoolmasters
  Deliver us to laws; they send us bound
  To rules of reason, holy messengers,
  Pulpits and Sundays, sorrow dogging sin,
  Afflictions sorted, anguish of all sizes,
  Fine nets and stratagems to catch us in,
  Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,
  Blessings beforehand, ties of gratefulness,
  The sound of glory ringing in our ears:
  Without, our shame; within, our consciences;
  Angels and grace, eternal hopes and fears.
  Yet all these fences and their whole array
  One cunning bosom-sin blows quite away.”

At the conclusion of this, without pause or change of tone, he
continued: “From Parents, Schoolmasters, and Parsons, from Sundays and
Bibles, from the Sound of Glory ringing in our ears, from Shame and
Conscience, from Angels, Grace, and Eternal Hopes and Fears, Good Lord,
or whatever Gods there be, deliver us.” This so elated him that he rode
on at a great pace, and I lost him. For I dismounted at Fugglestone
St. Peter, a very small, short-spired church with its churchyard,
huddled into a narrow wayside patch. Church and churchyard are usually
locked, so that you must get over the wall, if you wish to walk about
on the shaven turf amongst ivy and periwinkle and the headstones of the
Wiltshires, Bennetts, Lakes, Tabors, and Hollys, and to see middle-aged
George Williams’s uncomfortable words (in 1842),--

  “Dangers stand thick through all the ground
  To push us to the tomb,
  And fierce diseases wait around
  To hurry mortals home.”

and J. Harris’s double-edged epitaph (1793),--

  “How strangely fond of life poor mortals be,
  How few that see our beds would change with we.
  But, serious reader, tell me which is best,
  The painful journey or the traveller’s rest?”

Harris was trying to imagine what it would be like, lying there in
Fugglestone Churchyard, and having the laugh of people who were still
perpendicular; but, of course, it is most likely that Harris never
wrote it.

I did not go into Wilton, but kept on steadily alongside the Wylye. For
three miles I had on my left hand the river and its meadows, poplars,
willows, and elms--the railway raised slightly above the farther
bank--and the waved green wall of down beyond, to the edge of which
came the dark trees of Grovely. It was such another scene as the Wey
and the natural terrace west of Farnham. The road was heavy and wet,
being hardly above the river level, but that was all the better for
seeing the maidenhair lacework of the greening willows, the cattle
among the marsh-marigolds of the flat green meadows, the moorhen
hurried down the swift water, the bulging wagons of straw going up a
deep lane to the sheepfolds, and the gradual slope of the Plain where
those sheepfolds were, on my right. This edge of the Plain above the
Wylye is a beautiful low downland, cloven by coombs and topped by beech
clumps; and where it was arable the flints washed by last night’s rain
were shining in the sun. A few motor cyclists, determined men, passed
me at twenty miles an hour through South Newton. Larks sang high, and
hedge-sparrows sang low.

This was a great hare country, as I knew by two tokens. When I had
last come to South Newton a band of shooters, retrievers, and beaters
was breaking up. A trap weighted with two ordinary men and a polished,
crimson-faced god of enormous size drove off. Lord Pembroke’s cart
followed, full of dead hares.... Some years before that I was on
Crouch’s Down, on the other side of Grovely Wood, enjoying the green
road which runs between the ridge and the modern highroad. It was open
land, with some arable below, the Grovely oaks and their nightingales
above, and the spire of Salisbury far off before me. Out of a warm,
soft sky descended a light whisking rain, and on the Down seven hares
were playing follow-my-leader at full speed. All seven ran in a bunch
round and round, sometimes encircling a grass tussock in rings so
very small at times that only they knew which was leader. Suddenly
one leaped out of this ring, and all pursued him in a long, open
string like hounds. Several times this happened. For twenty, fifty,
or a hundred yards they ran straight; then they turned suddenly back
almost on their own traces, in the same open order, until their fancy
preferred circles or zigzags. Again they set off on a long race towards
a hillside beech clump, going down a cleft above Baverstock. They made
a dozen sharp turns in the cleft, always at full speed. Maintaining
the same long drawn out line, they next made for the woods above. In
this long run the line opened out still more, but no one gave up. They
entered the woods, to reappear immediately one at a time, and took once
more to encircling a tussock. As they were usually two hundred yards
away on downland of nearly their own colour, I could not be sure how
often they changed their leader, but I think they did at least once in
mid-career. They were as swift and happy as birds, and made the earth
seem like the air....

South Newton--church, smithy, “Bell” inn, and cottages--is built mostly
on the right side of the road, away from the river and its willows,
which are but a few yards off. The church, of flint and stone chequer,
stands a little back, the tower nearest the road, on a gentle slope of
flame-shaped yews and the tombs of many Blakes. Again the road touched
the river, and I looked over it to Great Wishford, its cottages and
hayricks clustering about the church tower, with flag flying, and to
a deep recess in the Down behind. The village has a street full of
different, pretty houses, mostly built of chipped flint alternating
with stone, in squares, or bands, or anyhow.

From Wishford onward the river has a good road on either side, each
with a string of villages, one or two miles apart. The “Swan” and an
orange-coloured plain small house with grass and a great cedar stand at
the turning which leads over the river to Great Wishford and the right
bank. I kept to the left bank, because I was about to leave the Wylye
and go north up its tributary Winterbourne. From the “Swan” I began to
climb up above the river, and had a steep meadow and the farm-yard and
elm trees of Little Wishford between it and me, but on my right a steep
bank of elms which had less for the eye than the farther side of the
river, its clean wall of down, terraced below, and the trees of Grovely
peeping over. Ahead I could see more and more of the long, broad vale
of the Wylye and its willows contained within slopes, half of pasture,
half arable; and above all, the curves of the Plain flowing into and
across one another. The earth was hazy, the sky clouded, and no one who
had ridden on that Good Friday and bad Saturday could have expected a
fine day with any confidence.

Had I been walking, I should have turned off this road between the
“Swan” and Little Wishford, on to the Plain, and so by a green road
that goes high across it as far as Shrewton. But I now kept on until
the road had risen, so as to touch the edge of the Plain, the arable
land, the home of pewits. Here I had below me the meeting of the Wylye
and Winterbourne, the thatched roofs of Stapleford scattered round it,
and the road going on westward with telegraph posts along the sparse,
willowy vale. I turned out of this vale at Stapleford. It is a village
of many crossing roads and lanes, of houses of flint and stone chequer,
in groups or isolated, under its elms and high grassy banks. The church
is kept open, a clean, greenish place with Norman arches on one side,
and a window illuminated by a coat of arms--a phœnix on a crown--and
the words, “_Foy pour devoir_.” There are no other inscriptions.
Outside I noticed the names of Goodfellow, Pavie, Barnett, Brown,
Rowden, Gamlen, Leversuch. The lettering survived on the headstone of
John Saph, who died in 1683, and his wife, Alice, who died in 1677.

I dipped to a withy bed, and went upstream along the Winterbourne
to Berwick St. James, and as the village lies on the right bank my
road took a right-angled turn by a chalk pit to cross the bridge, and
another to keep its course. At first sight Berwick St. James offered
an excellent dense group of cottages and farm buildings by the river,
new and old thatched roofs, and walls of flint or of black boarding.
The church tower peered up on the right, with a mill bestriding the
stream: on the left a white house and blossoming fruit trees stood
somewhat apart in their enclosure of white mud wall. The sky over
all was dim, the thin white clouds showing the blue behind them. The
street ending in the “Boot” inn was a perfect neat one of flint and
stone chequer and thatch. The church is kept locked. It was open at
that moment, but occupied. Its broad tower, which is at the road end,
is almost as broad as itself. It has a gray, weedy churchyard, far too
large for the few big ivy-covered box tombs lying about in it like
unclaimed luggage on a railway platform.

The Winterbourne guides you through the heart of the Plain. It has,
I believe, no very strict boundaries, but the Plain may be said to
consist of all that mass of downland in South Wiltshire, which is
broken only by the comparatively narrow valleys of five rivers--the
Bourn, the Avon, the Wylye, the Nadder, and the Ebble. Three of these
valleys, however, those of the Bourn on the east, and of the Wylye and
the Nadder on the south, have railways in them as well as rivers. The
railways are more serious interruptions to the character of the Plain,
and whether or not they must be regarded as the boundaries of a reduced
Plain, certainly the core of the Plain excludes them. Even so it has
to admit the Amesbury and Military Camp Light Railway, cutting across
from the Bourn to the Avon, and there ceasing. Within this reduced
space of fifteen by twenty miles the Plain is nothing but the Plain. As
for the military camps, nothing may be seen of them for days beyond the
white tents gleaming in the sun like sheep or clouds. When they are out
of sight the tumuli and ancient earthworks that abound bring to mind
more forcibly than anywhere else the fact that, as the poet says, “the
dead are more numerous than the living.”

The valleys are rivers not only of waters, but of greenest grass and
foliage. The greatest part of the Plain is all treeless pasture,
treeless arable land. Some high places, as at meetings of roads,
possess beeches or fir trees in line or cluster. Where the ground
falls too steeply for cultivation a copse has been formed--a copse
in one case, between Shrewton and Tilshead, of beautiful contour,
following the steep wall of chalk for a quarter of a mile in a crescent
curve, with level green at its foot, the high Down rising bare above
it. A space here and there has been left to thorns and gorse bushes.
In several places, as at Asserton Farm above Berwick St. James,
plantations have been made in mathematical forms. But as you travel
across the Plain you come rarely to a spot where the chief thing for
the eye is not an immense expanse of the colour of ploughed chalkland,
or of corn, or of turf, varying according to season and weather, and
always diversified by parallelograms of mustard yellow. Sometimes this
expanse rolls but little before it touches the horizon; far more often,
it heaves or billows up boldly into several long curving ridges that
intersect or flow into one another. The highest of these may be crowned
by dark beeches or carved by the ditch and rampart of an ancient camp.
Hedges are few, even by the roads. The roads are among the noblest,
visiting the rivers and their orchards and thatched villages, but
keeping for the main part of their length high and dry and in long
curves. They are travelled by an occasional (but not sufficiently
occasional) motor car, or by a homeward going farm-roller with children
riding the horses.

Next to the dead the most numerous things on the Plain are sheep,
rooks, pewits, and larks. To-day they mingle their voices, but the
lark is the most constant. Here, more than elsewhere, he rises up
above an earth only less free than the heavens. The pewit is equally
characteristic. His Winter and twilight cry expresses for most men
both the sadness and the wildness of these solitudes. When his Spring
cry breaks every now and then, as it does to-day, through the songs
of the larks, when the rooks caw in low flight or perched on their elm
tops, and the lambs bleat, and the sun shines, and the couch fires burn
well, and the wind blows their smoke about, the Plain is genial, and
the unkindly breadth and simplicity of the scene in Winter or in the
drought of Summer are forgotten. But let the rain fall and the wind
whirl it, or let the sun shine too mightily, the Plain assumes the
character by which it is best known, that of a sublime, inhospitable
wilderness. It makes us feel the age of the earth, the greatness of
Time, Space, and Nature; the littleness of man even in an aeroplane,
the fact that the earth does not belong to man, but man to the earth.
And this feeling, or some variety of it, for most men is accompanied
by melancholy, or is held to be the same thing. This is perhaps
particularly so with townsmen, and above all with writers, because
melancholy is the mood most easily given an appearance of profundity,
and, therefore, most easily impressive.

The Plain has not attracted many writers, though in the last few
years have appeared Miss Ella Noyes’s careful collection of notes and
observations, and Mr. W. H. Hudson’s “Shepherd’s Life,” the best book
on the Plain, one of the best of all country books, and one that lacks
all trace of writer’s melancholy. John Aubrey wrote one or two of his
casual immortal pages on it. Drayton called it the first of Plains, and
gave some reasons for it in his great poem on this renowned isle of
Great Britain. Hundreds of archæologists have linked themselves to it
in libraries. But the most famous book in some way connected with it
is Sir Philip Sidney’s “Arcadia.” Perhaps this is one of those famous
books which are never buried because the funeral expenses would be too
large, though much still remains to be done before we shall know, as we
should like to know, why and how “Arcadia” and similar books appealed
to the men and women of England from 1590 to 1680, during which ten
editions were called for; what kind of truth and beauty they saw in it;
what part of their humanity was moved by it; whether they detected the
influence of Wilton and Salisbury Plain....

Our own attitude towards it is not so hard to explain. That it is
called “Arcadia” and is by Sidney is something, and in these days of
docile antiquarian taste it may be enough for the few or many who read
it first in the most recent edition, the third issued during the last
century and a half. I doubt whether even these will do more than dream
and doze and wake, lazily turning over page after page--nearly seven
hundred pages of painfully small type--without ever making out the
plot, often forgetting who is the speaker, where the scene, only for
the sake of the most famous passage of all,--

“There were hills which garnished their proud heights with stately
trees; humble valleys whose base estate seemed comforted with the
refreshing of silver rivers; meadows enamelled with all sorts of
eye-pleasing flowers; thickets which, being lined with most pleasant
shade, were witnessed so too by the cheerful disposition of many
well-tuned birds; each pasture stored with sheep feeding with sober
security, while the pretty lambs with bleating oratory craved the dams’
comfort; here a shepherd’s boy piping, as though he never should be
old; there a young shepherdess knitting, and withal singing, and it
seemed that her voice comforted her hands to work, and her hands kept
time to her voice-music.” ...

(A charming companion to this first view of Arcadia is where FitzGerald
speaks of the home-brewed at Yardley, in the days before “he knew he
was to die.”) For a page or two the least learned of us can enjoy the
ghostly rustle of these vaporous, eloquent forms that never were alive,
yet once gave joy to men who were friends of Shakespeare and Drake; the
phantoms of their felicity in gardens and fair women. Then the beauty
of visible things, of dress, for example, abounds and is very real,
especially Pyrocles’ dress in his Amazon’s disguise--the hair arrayed
in “careless care” under a coronet of pearl and gold and feathers,
the doublet “of sky-coloured satin, with plates of gold, and, as it
were, nailed with precious stones.” The princeliness of the Arcadians’
manners and morals may seem to reflect Sidney’s self “divinely mild,
a spirit without spot.” There are thoughts, too, beyond such as the
convention demanded, as when Pyrocles says,--

“I am not yet come to that degree of wisdom to think light of the sex
of whom I have my life, since if I be anything, which your friendship
rather finds than I acknowledge, I was, to come to it, born of a
woman, nursed of a woman.... Truly we men, and praisers of men, should
remember that if we have such excellences it is reasonable to think
them excellent creatures, of whom we are--since a kite never brought
forth a good flying hawk.” And some of the situations, conventional
enough, only the weary or those that never loved can pass unsaluted;
such as Amphialus’ too felicitous courtship of Queen Helen on behalf
of his foster-brother, Philoxenos. The conceits, too, do not tower
so often, so bravely, so rashly, into the cloudy altitudes without
meeting what would not have been found at home: as in Kalander’s
hunting,--

“The wood seemed to conspire with them against his own citizens [that
is, the stags], dispersing their noise through all his quarters, and
even the nymph left to bewail the loss of Narcissus and became a
hunter.”

The nymphs themselves, enchanted by the pleasant ways of the pastoral,
are sometimes lured out of their fastnesses to bless it with a touch
of eternal Nature or of true rusticity, as in the Eclogue in the third
book: “The first strawberries he could find, were ever in a clean
washed dish sent to Kala; thus posies of the spring flowers were
wrapped up in a little green silk, and dedicated to Kala’s breasts;
thus sometimes his sweetest cream, sometimes the best cake-bread his
mother made, were reserved for Kala’s taste. Neither would he stick to
kill a lamb when she would be content to come over the way unto him.”

Delightful, too, is the use of experience when it is said of Pyrocles
that his mind was “all this while so fixed upon another devotion, that
he no more attentively marked his friend’s discourse than the child
that hath leave to play marks the last part of his lesson.”

This has nothing to do with the Plain. We know, indeed, that Sidney
wrote it below there at Wilton, in his sister, the Countess of
Pembroke’s house. But what has “Arcadia” to do with Wilton, save that
it was written there? There, says Aubrey, the Muses appeared to Sidney,
and he wrote down their dictates in a book, even though on horseback.
“These romancy plaines and boscages did no doubt,” says he, a Wiltshire
man, “conduce to the heightening of Sir Philip Sidney’s phansie.” It
cannot be said that they did more, that they reflected themselves in
the broad, meandering current of the “Arcadia.” At most, perhaps,
after heightening the poet’s fancy, they offered no impediments to
it. If Salisbury Plain was not Arcadia, it contained the elements of
Arcadia and a solitude in which they could be mingled at liberty. Every
one must wish for a larger leaven of passages like that one where he
compares Pyrocles to the impatient schoolboy, for something to show us
what he and the countess said and did at Wilton, and what the Plain was
like, three hundred years ago, when the book was being written. Even
so it is a better preparation for Salisbury Plain than it would be for
Sedgemoor or Land’s End; but I shall not labour the point since I had
seen the Plain before I had read the book, and Berwick St. James is as
little affected by “Arcadia” as “Arcadia” by Berwick St. James.

As soon as my road was outside Berwick St. James it mounted above the
river and was absolutely clear of houses, hedges, and fences for a
mile, and showed me nothing more than the bare and the green arable
land flowing away on every side in curves like flight, and compact
masses of beeches on certain ridges, like manes or combs. At the end
of the mile my northward road ran into a westward road from Amesbury,
turned sharp along it for a hundred yards or so, and then out of it
sharp to the left and north again, thus seeing nothing of the village
of Winterbourne Stoke but a group of sycamores and a thatched white mud
wall round which it twisted. Out and up the road took me again to the
high arable without a hedge, and the music of larks, and the mingling
sounds of pewits and sheep-bells. Before me scurried partridges, scarce
willing to give up their love-making in the sunlit and sun-warmed dust.
Looking over my shoulder I saw two hills striped with corn, and one of
them crested with beeches, curve up apart from one another, so as to
frame in the angle thus made between them the bare flank of Berwick
Down and the outline of Yarnbury Castle ramparts upon the bare ridge
of it. Very far northward hung the dark-wooded inland promontory of
Martinsell, near Savernake, and in the east the Quarley and Figsbury
range, their bony humps just tipped with dark trees.

The next village was five villages in one--Rollestone, Maddington,
Shrewton, Orcheston St. George, and Orcheston St. Mary. Here many
roads from the high land descended to the river and crossed mine. The
cluster of villages begins with orchard and ends in a field where
the grass is said to grow twelve feet high. After passing over the
Winterbourne and running along under its willows to Shrewton’s little
domed dungeon of blackened stone, and an inn that stands sideways to
the road, with the sign of a Catherine-wheel, the road again bridges
the river from waterside Shrewton to waterside Maddington. But I kept
along the Shrewton bank on a by-road. The stream here flows as clear
as glass over its tins and crockery, between roadside willows and a
white mud wall, and I followed it round past the flint-towered church
and the “Plume of Feathers” and its pair of peacock yews. I was looking
for Orcheston St. Mary. One sunny February day, when the fields by
the road hither from Tilshead were flooded with pools and channels of
green, peacock blue, and purple by the Winterbourne, I had seen below
me among the loops of the water a tiny low-towered church with roof
stained orange, and a white wall curving and long, and a protective
group of elms, which was Orcheston St. Mary. I continued along the
stream and its banks of parsley and celandine, its troop of willows,
beeches, and elms, but found myself at Orcheston St. George. A cottage
near the church bore upon its wall these words, out in stone, before
Queen Victoria’s time,--

  “Fear God
  Honour the King
  Do good to all men.”

Probably it dates from about the year of Alton Workhouse, from the
times when kites and ravens abounded, and thrived on the corpses of
men who were hanged for a little theft committed out of necessity or
love of sport. The fear of God must have been a mighty thing to bring
forth such laws and still more the obedience to them. And yet, thanks
to our capacity for seeing the past and the remote in rose-colour, that
age frequently appears as at least a silver age; perhaps even our own
will appear German silver. I confess I did not think about the lad who
was hanged for a hare when I caught sight of the church at Orcheston
St. George, but rather of some imaginary, blissful time which at least
lacked our tortures, our great men, our shame and conscience. It
is a flint church with an ivied tower standing on terms of equality
among thatched farm buildings and elms. The church was stifling, for a
stove roared among dead daffodils and moss and the bodies of Ambrose
Paradice, gent, dead since 1727, and Joan his wife, and the mere tablet
of John Shettler of Elston, who died at Harnham (“from the effects of
an accident”) on December 6, 1861, when he was fifty-two, and went to
Hazelbury Brian in Dorset to be buried. Outside, the sun was almost as
warm on the daisies and on the tombstone of Job Gibbs, who died in 1817
at the age of sixty-four, and proclaimed, or the sexton did for him,--

  “Ye living men the Tomb survey
  Where you must quickly dwell.
  Mark how the awful summons sounds
  In ev’ry funeral knell.
  Give joy or sorrow, care or pain,
  Take life and blends away,
  But let me find them all again
  In that eternal day.”

Close by, Ann Farr from Shropshire, a servant for fifty years at the
Rectory, had a tablet between her and oblivion.

From Orcheston St. George the road advances three miles with hardly a
hedge. On the right rose and spread broad pastures mainly, on the left
arable lands, new ploughed, or green with young corn, or cut up into
squares of swedes or mustard for the long-horned sheep. There was no
flooded river now to shine in the sun. Clouds began to thicken over the
sky. The dust whirled. The straw caught in the hawthorns fluttered. A
motor car raced by me. Therefore I did not get off my bicycle to visit
that crescent beech and fir wood against a concavity of the chalk upon
my right. A farm road curves past it, the wood hanging above it as
beautifully as if above a river. I hoped to reach Tilshead before it
rained, or, better still, the elms and farm buildings at Joan-a-Gore’s
at the crossing of the Ridge Way. Tilshead’s trees lay visible before
me for a mile or more. Its street of cottages and houses that are
more than cottages I entered before the rain. I even stopped at the
church--a flint and stone one--to see the tower and the churchyard, and
its white mud wall, and the chestnut tree, and the ash that weeps over
the box tombs of people named Wilkins and Parham, and the graves of the
Husseys and Laweses, and that boast of William Cowper the schoolmaster
in 1804,--

  “When the Archangel’s trump shall sound,
  And slumbering mortals bid to rise,
  I shall again my form assume
  To meet my Saviour in the skies.”

A man was just stepping out of a motor car into the “Black Horse,”
carrying a scarlet-hooded falcon upon his wrist; but I did not stop
here, nor at the “Rose and Crown,” or the “Bell.”

On leaving Tilshead, as on leaving Berwick St. James, Winterbourne
Stoke, and Orcheston, I was free of houses; and of the few that lay
in the hollows of the Plain only one was visible--a small one on my
right a quarter of a mile away among ricks and elm trees--until I
came to Joan-a-Gore’s. It is a hedgeless road, with more or less wide
margins of rough grass, along which proceed two lines of poplars, some
dead, some newly planted, all unprosperous and resembling the sails of
windmills. A league of ploughland on either hand was broken only by
a clump or two on the high ridges and a rick on the lower. As it was
Sunday no white and black teams were crossing these spaces, sowing or
scarifying. The rooks of Joan-a-Gore’s flew back and forth, ignorant
of the falconer; the pewit brandished himself in the air; the lark
sang continually; on one of the dead poplars a corn bunting delivered
his unvaried song, as if a handful of small pebbles dropped in a chain
dispiritedly. Nobody was on the road, it being then two o’clock, except
a young soldier going to meet a girl. The rain came, but was gone
again before I reached Joan-a-Gore’s. The farm-house, the spacious
farm-yard and group of irregular, shadowy, thatched buildings, and the
surrounding rookery elms, all on a gently-sloping ground next to the
road--this is the finest modern thing on the Plain. The farm itself is
but a small, slated house, gray-white in colour, with a porch and five
front windows, half hid among elm trees; but the whole group probably
resembles a Saxon chief’s homestead. The trees make a nearly continuous
copse with the elms and ashes that stand around and above the thatched
cart lodges and combined sheds and cottages at Joan-a-Gore’s Cross. No
hedge, wall, or fence divides this group from my road or from the Ridge
Way crossing it, and I turned into one of the doorless cart lodges to
eat. I sat on a wagon shaft, looking out north over the Ridge Way and
the north edge of the Plain. Where it passed the cart lodge the Ridge
Way was a dusty farm track; but on the other side of the crossing
it was a fair road, leading past a new farm group towards Imber.
Chickens peeked round me in the road dust and within the shed. Sparrows
chattered in the thatch. The bells of sheep folded in neighbouring root
fields tinkled. In the rookery the rooks cawed, and nothing intimated
that the falcon had killed one. The young soldier had met his girl,
and was walking back with her hand in his. The heavy dark sagging
clouds let out some rain without silencing the larks. As the sun came
out again a trapful of friends of the cottagers drove up. The trap was
drawn up alongside of me with a few stares: the women went in; the men
put away the horse and strolled about. Well, I could not rest here when
I had finished eating. Perhaps Sunday had tainted the solitude and
quiet; I know not. So I mounted and rode on north-westward.

The road was beginning to descend off the Plain. The poplars having
come to an end, elms lined it on both sides. When the descent steepened
the roadside banks became high and covered in arum, parsley, nettle,
and ground ivy, and sometimes elder and ivy. No hedgerow on the left
hid the great waves of the Plain towards Imber, and the fascinating
hollow of the Warren close at hand. The slabby ploughland sinks away
to a sharp-cut, flat-bottomed hollow of an oblong tendency, enclosed
by half-wooded, green terraced banks all round except at the entrance,
which is towards the road. This is the Warren, a most pleasant thing
to see, a natural theatre unconsciously improved by human work, but
impossible to imitate entirely by art, and all the better for being
empty.

Nearing the foot of the descent the road on the left is blinded by a
fence, so that I could hardly see the deep wooded cleave parallel to
me, and could only hear the little river running down it to Lavington.
Very clear and thin and bright went this water over the white and dark
stones by the wayside, as I came down to the forge at West Lavington
and the “Bridge” inn. West Lavington is a street of about two miles of
cottages, a timber-yard, inns, a great house, a church, and gardens,
with interruptions from fields. All Saints’ Church stands upon a steep
bank on the left, a towered church with a staircase corner turret and
an Easter flag flying. Round about it throng the portly box tombs
and their attendant headstones, in memory of the Meads, Saunderses,
Bartlets, Naishes, Webbs, Browns, Allens, and the rest. Among the
Browns is James Brown, shepherd “for thirty-nine years,” who died in
1887, and was then but forty-six. The trees and thatched and tiled
roofs of the village hid the Plain from the churchyard. Inside, the
church wall was well lined with tablets to the Tinkers, the Smiths, and
the family of Amor; but the principal thing is the recumbent marble
figure of Henry Danvers, twenty-one years old when he died in 1654.
He is musing over a book which appears to be slipping from his grasp.
The figure of his mother, Elizabeth, near him is also holding but
not reading a book. Between the two an earlier female effigy, head on
cushion, slumbers in a recess. Under one of the largest tablets a tiny
stone with quaint lettering was inset to keep in mind Henevera Yerbury,
who died at Coulston on March 4, 1672.

Instead of going straight on through Potterne and Devizes, I turned
to the left by the Dauntsey Agricultural College, and entered a road
which follows the foot of the Plain westward to Westbury and Frome.
Thus I had the north wall of the Plain always visible on my left as I
rode through Little Cheverell, Erlestoke, Tinhead, and Edington. The
road twisted steeply downhill between high banks of loose earth and elm
roots, half draped by arum, dandelion, ground ivy, and parsley, and the
flowers of speedwell and deadnettle; then up again to Little Cheverell.
Here I mounted a bank of nettles and celandines under elm trees into
the churchyard, and between two pairs of pollard limes to the door of
the church, and walked round it and saw the two box tombs smothered
in ivy, and the spotted old carved stones only two feet out of the
ground. Behind the church rises Strawberry Hill. A cow was lowing in
the farmyard over the road. Fowls were scratching deeper and deeper the
holes among the elm roots on the church bank.

Then for a distance the road traversed hedgeless arable levels that
rose gently in their young green garments up to the Plain. I looked
back, and saw the vast wall of the Plain making an elbow at West
Lavington, and crooking round to a clump on a straw-coloured hill above
Urchfont, the farthest point visible. Before me stretched the woods of
Erlestoke Park, crossing the road and slanting narrow and irregular
up and along the hillside, lining it with beech and fir for over a
mile, under the name of Hill Wood. The road dipped steeply through the
grounds of the park, and its high banks of gray sand, dressed in dog’s
mercury and ivy, and overhung by pine trees, shut out everything on
either hand. Several private bridges crossed the deep road, and a woman
had stopped that her child might shout, “Cuckoo! Cuckoo!” under the
arch of one of them. Emerging from these walls, the road cut through a
chain of ponds. Erlestoke Park lay on both sides. On the right its deer
fed by the new church under a steep rise of elms and sycamores; on the
left rooks cawed among the elms and chestnuts scattered on lawn that
sloped up to Hill Wood.

A timber-yard, a “George and Dragon,” and many neat thatched cottages
compose the wayside village of Erlestoke. Water was flashing down the
gutters. Quite a number of people were on the road, but no one could
tell me the meaning of the statuary niched on the cottage walls. It
must have come from “some old ancient place,” they said. An old man
who had dwelt for eighteen years in one of the cottages thus adorned,
and had worked as a boy with old men that knew the place, could tell
me no more. Some of the figures were nudes--one a female, with the coy
hands of Venus, rising from her bath--others classical, and symbolic or
grotesque: all astonishing in that position, ten feet up on a cottage
wall, and unlikely to have come from the old church in Erlestoke Park.

Not a mile of this road was without cottagers strolling with their
children or walking out to see friends in the beautiful weather. But
just outside Erlestoke I met two slightly dilapidated women, not
cottage women, with a perambulator, and twenty yards behind them two
weatherbeaten, able-bodied men in caps, better dressed than the women.
As I went by, one of them gave a shout, which I did not take as meant
for me. He continued to shout what I discovered to be “Sir” in a loud
voice until I turned round and had to get down. They advanced to meet
me. The shorter man, a stocky fellow of not much past thirty, with
very little nose, thin lips, and a strong, shaven chin, hastened up
to me and inquired, in an unnecessarily decided manner, the road to
Devizes, and if there were many houses on the way. The taller man,
slender and very upright, with bright blue eyes, had by this time come
up, and the two began to beg, telling rapidly, loudly, emphatically,
and complainingly, a combined story into which the _Titanic_ was
introduced. One of them pointed out that he was wearing the button of
the Seamen’s Guild. They wanted me to look at papers. The two women,
who were still walking on, they claimed as their wives. The more they
talked the less inclined did I feel to give them money. Though they
began to call down a blessing on me, I still refused. They persisted.
The shorter one was not silent while I mounted my bicycle. So I rode
away out of reach of their blessings without giving them anything. I
tried to explain to myself why. For sixpence I might have purchased two
loaves or three pints for them, and for myself blessings and possibly
some sort of glow. I did not know nearly enough of mankind to condemn
them as mere beggars; besides, mere beggars must live, if any one must.
But they were very glib and continuous. Also they were hearty men in
good health--which should have been a reason for giving them what I
could afford. The strongest reason against it was probably alarm at
being given some responsibility at one blow for five bodies in some
ways worse off than myself, and shame, too, at the act of handing
money and receiving thanks for it. My conscience was uneasy. I could
not appease it with sixpence, nor with half a sovereign, which might
have been thought generous if I had told the story. If I was to do
anything I ought to have seen the thing through, to have accompanied
these people and seen that they slept dry and ate enough, and got work
or a pension. To give them money was to take mean advantage of the fact
that in half a mile or so I could stow them away among the mysteries
and miseries of the world. Too late I concluded that I ought to have
listened to their story to the end, to have read their papers and
formed an opinion, and to have given what I could, because in any case
I should be none the worse, and they might be the better, if only to
the extent of three pints between them. I made a resolution--a sort of
a resolution--to give sixpence in future to every beggar, and leave the
question of right or wrong till--

  “When the Archangel’s trump shall sound
  And slumbering mortals bid to rise,”

and the schoolmaster’s expectation is answered. Nevertheless, I was
uneasy--so uneasy that the next beggar got nothing from me. It was
simpler to pass by with a helpless “_Que sais-je?_” shrug, than to
stop and have a look at him and say something, while I felt in my
pockets and made the choice between my coppers and my smallest silver.

Thus I rode up hill through more steep banks of gray sand draped in
ivy, overhung with pine trees. Dipping again, I came to a park-like
meadow, a pond, and a small house above rather stiff, ineffectual
green terraces, on my right; while on the left the wall of the Plain
was carved from top to bottom by three parallel even rolls like suet
puddings, and these again carved across horizontally. A little farther
on Coulston Hill was hollowed out into a great round steep bay which
had once been a beech wood. Now all the beeches were lying anyhow, but
mostly pointing downward, on the steep where they had fallen or slid,
some singly, some in raft-like masses. Not a tree remained upright. The
bared, blackish earth and the gray stems--of the colour of charred wood
and ashes--suggested fire. The disorder of the strewn debris suggested
earthquake. All was silent. A stiff man of fifty was endeavouring
to loiter without stopping still in the road while his daughter of
eighteen tried to keep her distance behind him by picking anemones
without actually stopping.

Before Tinhead there were more vertical rolls and corresponding troughs
on the hillside, and at the foot again three or four wide terraces,
and below them a cornfield reaching to the road. To the low, dark-blue
elm country away from the Plain--that is, northward--and to the far
wooded ridge on its horizon, the westering light was beginning to
add a sleeplike softness of pale haze. Over the low hedges I saw
league after league of this lower land, and the drab buttresses of
Beacon Hill near Devizes on its eastern edge. It had the appearance
of a level, uninhabitable land of many trees. Several times a hollow
cleft in the slope below the road--a cleft walled by trees, but
grass-bottomed--guides the eye out towards it. All along good roads
led down to the vale, and an equal number of rough roads climbed the
hillside up to the Plain. I was to go down, not up, and I looked with
regret at the clear ridge and the rampart of Bratton Castle carved
on it against the sky, the high bare slopes, the green magnificent
gulleys and horizontal terraces, the white roads, and especially a
rough cartway mounting steeply from Edington between prodigious naked
banks. For I had formerly gone up this cartway on a day so fine that
for many nights afterwards I could send myself to sleep by thinking of
how I climbed, seeing only these precipitous banks and the band of sky
above them, until I emerged into the glory and the peace of the Plain,
of the unbounded Plain and the unbounded sky, and the marriage of sun
and wind that was being celebrated upon them. But it was no use going
the same way, for I was tired and alone, and it was near the end of the
afternoon, though still cloudily bright and warm. I had to go down, not
up, to find a bed that I knew of seven or eight miles from Tinhead and
Edington.

These two are typical downside villages of brick and thatch, built on
the banks of the main road, a parallel lane or two, and some steep
connecting lanes at right angles. When I first entered them from below
I was surprised again and again how many steps yet higher up the
downside they extended. From top to bottom the ledges and inclines on
which they stand, and the intervening spaces of grass and orchard,
cover about half a mile. Tinhead has an “Old George” inn of an L
shape, with a yard in the angle. Edington, almost linked to Tinhead
by cottages scattered along the road, has a “Plough” and “Old White
Horse.” They were beginning to advertise the Tinhead and Bratton inns
as suitable for teas and week-end parties. Hence, perhaps, the prefix
“Old.” For hereby is the first station since Lavington on the line
that goes parallel to the wall of the Plain and a mile or two below the
road, all along the Pewsey vale to Westbury.

I turned away from the hills through Edington, which has a big towered
church among its farmyards, cottage gardens, and elm slopes--big
enough to seat all Edington, men and cattle. Like Salisbury Cathedral,
this church looks as if it had been made in one piece. All over, it
is a uniform rough gray without ivy or moss or any stain. On first
entering the churchyard, what most struck my eye was the name of the
Rev. Hussy Cave-Browne-Cave, for his name is on the fifth step of the
cross erected during his vicarship; and next to that a prostrate cross
within a stone kerb, six yards long by three yards wide, in memory of
a member of the Long family. The church is the centre of a village of
big box tombs, some ornamented by carving, one covered by a stone a
foot thick, mossed, lichened, stained orange and black, pitted deep
by rain, and retaining not a letter of its inscription. I saw the
names Pike, Popler, Oram, and Fatt. Inside, out of the rain, lie the
Longs, Carters, and Taylers, the days of their lives conspicuously
recorded, and more than this in the case of George Tayler, since he
died in 1852, and left money for a sixpenny cake to be given to each
Sunday-school teacher, and a threepenny one to each scholar, once a
year, “immediately after the sermon” (I think, at Easter). Mr. Tayler
was either an enemy to sermons, or did not know as much as Sir Philip
Sidney about schoolboys. One transept is the exclusive domain of an
Augustinian canon, his head on a cushion, his feet against a barrel,
while the coping-stone of his monument is capped by a barrel and a
tree sprouting from it. The locked chancel is peopled by effigies of
great or of rich men lying on their backs or kneeling and clasping
their hands in prayer, as they have done for centuries; one of them a
Welshman from Glamorgan, Sir Edward Lewys. Round about I read the names
Lewis, Price, Roberts, Phillips, and Ellis. And speaking of names, I
noticed that the landlord of the “Plough” was Pavy, a name which I had
seen at Stapleford, and long before that in the epitaph Ben Jonson
wrote on “a child of Queen Elizabeth’s Chapel,” a boy actor, Salathiel
Pavy--

  “Weep with me all you that read
    This little story;
  And know, for whom a tear you shed,
    Death’s self is sorry.
  ’Twas a child, that so did thrive
    In grace and feature,
  As Heaven and nature seemed to strive
    Which owned the creature.
  Years he numbered scarce thirteen
    When fates turned cruel;
  Yet three filled zodiacs had he been
    The stage’s jewel;
  And did act, what now we moan,
    Old men so duly,
  As, sooth, the Parcæ thought him one,
    He played so truly.
  So, by error, to his fate
    They all consented;
  But viewing him since, alas, too late
    They have repented;
  And have sought, to give new birth,
    In baths to steep him;
  But, being so much too good for earth,
    Heaven vows to keep him.”

The conceit and the babbling metre play most daintily with sadness;
yet I think now it would touch us little had we not a name to attach
to it, the name of a boy who acted in Jonson’s “Cynthia’s Revels” and
“Poetaster” in 1600 and 1601.

A motor car overtook me in the village, scattering a group of boys.
“Look out!” cried one, and as the thing passed by, turned to the next
boy with, “There’s a fine motor; worth more than you are; cost a lot of
money.” Is this not the awakening of England? At least, it is truth.
One pink foxy boy laughed in my face as if there had been iron bars or
a wall of plate glass dividing us; another waited till I had started,
to hail me, “Long-legs.”

Rapidly I slid down, crossed the railway, and found myself in a land
where oaks stood in the hedges and out in mid-meadow, and the banks
were all primroses, and a brook gurgled slow among rush, marigold, and
willow. High above me, on my left hand, eastward, was the grandest,
cliffiest part of the Plain wall, the bastioned angle where it
bends round southward by Westbury and Warminster, bare for the most
part, carved with the White Horse and with double tiers of chalk
pits, crowned with the gigantic camps of Bratton, Battlesbury, and
Scratchbury, ploughed only on some of the lower slopes, and pierced by
the road to Imber. The chimneys of Trowbridge made a clump on ahead to
my right. In the west the dark ridge of the Mendips made the horizon.

I turned out of my way to see Steeple Ashton. It has no steeple,
being in fact Staple Ashton, but a tower and a dial on a church, a
very big church, bristling with coarse crockets all over, and knobby
with coarse gargoyles, half lion and half dog, some spewing down,
some out, some up. It is not a show village, like Lacock, where the
houses are packed as in a town, and most of the gardens invisible;
but a happy alternation of cottages of stone or brick (sometimes
placed herring-bone fashion) or timber work, vegetable gardens, orchard
plots, and the wagon-maker’s. On many a wagon for miles round the
name of Steeple Ashton is painted. It is on level ground, but well up
towards the Plain, over the wall of which rounded clouds, pure white
and sunlit, were heaving up. Rain threatened again, but did no more.
The late afternoon grew more and more quiet and still, and in the
warmth I mistook a distant dog’s bark, and again a cock’s crowing, for
the call of a cuckoo, mixed with the blackbird’s singing. I strained
my ears, willing to be persuaded, but was not. I was sliding easily
west, accompanied by rooks going homeward, and hailed by thrushes in
elm trees beside the road--through West Ashton and downhill on the
straight green-bordered road between Carter’s Wood and Flowery Wood.
I crossed the little river Biss and went under the railway to North
Bradley. This is a village built partly along the road from Westbury
to Trowbridge, partly along two parallel turnings out of it. The most
conspicuous houses on the main road are the red brick and stone villas
with railings and small gardens, bearing the following names: The
Laurels, East Lynn, Cremont, Lyndhurst, Hume Villa, Alcester Cottage,
Rose Villa, and Frith House, all in one row. On a dusty, cold day,
when sparrows are chattering irresolutely, this is not a cheerful spot;
nor yet when an organ-grinder is singing and grinding at the same time,
while his more beauteous and artistic-looking mate stands deceitfully
by and makes all the motions but none of the music of a baritone in
pain. To the outward eye, at least, the better part of North Bradley
is the by-road which the old flat-fronted asylum of stone faces across
a small green, the church tower standing behind, half hid by trees.
I went down this road, past farms called Ireland and Scotland on the
left, and on the right a green lane, where, among pots and pans, a
gypsy caravan had anchored, belonging to a Loveridge of Bristol. Venus,
spiky with beams, hung in the pale sky, and Orion stood up before me,
above the blue woods of the horizon. All the thrushes of England sang
at that hour, and against that background of myriads I heard two or
three singing their frank, clear notes in a mad eagerness to have all
done before dark; for already the blackbirds were chinking and shifting
places along the hedgerows. And presently it was dark, but for a lamp
at an open door, and silent, but for a chained dog barking, and a pine
tree moaning over the house. When the dog ceased, an owl hooted, and
when the owl ceased I could just hear the river Frome roaring steadily
over a weir far off. Before I settled into a chair I asked them what
the weather was going to be like to-morrow. “Who knows?” they said;
“but we do want sun. The grass isn’t looking so well as it was a month
ago: it’s looking browny.” Had any eggs been found? “Not one; but we’ve
heard of them being found, and we’ve been looking out for plovers’
eggs.” I asked what they did with the song birds’ eggs, and if they
were ever eaten. The idea of eating such little eggs disgusted every
one over fifteen; but they were fond of moorhens’, and had once taken
twenty-two from a single nest before the bird moved to a safe place.
Yes, they had plenty of chicks, and some young ducks half grown. The
turkeys were laying, but it was too early to let them sit.... Again I
heard the weir, and I began to think of sleep.



V.

THREE WESSEX POETS.


Before I decided that sleep was better than any book, some bad poetry
I was reading put me in mind of Stephen Duck. I had been thinking of
him earlier in the day at Erlestoke, because it occurred to me that
the sculpture was as inappropriate on the cottages there as were the
frigid graces on the thresher’s mortal pages. This man, a labourer from
Charlton, some way east of Erlestoke, was made a Yeoman of the Guard
in 1733 for his services to literature, and rector of Byfleet in 1752.
He drowned himself in 1755, when he was fifty. His great achievements
were, first, to show that an agricultural labourer could write as well
as ninety-nine out of a hundred clergymen, gentlemen, and noblemen, and
extremely like them, for his verses rarely had more to do with rural
life than the sculpture at Erlestoke; second, to show, conversely,
that a poet could use a scythe, which he tells us he did--and made
“the vanquished mowers soon confess his skill”--when revisiting his
birthplace.

Instead of Stephen, George, and John, he sang of Colin, Cuddy, and
Menalcas; of Chloe and Celia, instead of Ann and Maria. When he set
himself to write of shepherds, whom he must often have met, it fell out
thus,--

  “From Bath, I travel thro’ the sultry vale,
  Till Sal’sb’ry Plains afford a cooling Gale:
  Arcadian Plains where Pan delights to dwell,
  In verdant Beauties cannot these excel:
  These too, like them, might gain immortal Fame,
  Resound with Corydon and Thyrsis’ Flame;
  If, to his Mouth, the Shepherd would apply
  His mellow Pipe, or vocal Music try.”

But, alas, the poor shepherd has not heard of pastoral poetry, and
does not know--oh, happy if his happiness he knew--that his country is
Arcadia; for, as Duck laments,--

  “Propt on his Staff, he indolently stands;
  His Hands support his Head, his Staff his Hands;
  Or, idly basking in the sunny Ray,
  Supinely lazy, loiters Life away.”

This is a good deal more like a poet than a shepherd. The fellow might
have retorted that even if he converted his sheep hook into a pen he
might not be the one of whom the poet wrote,--

  “Great Caroline her Royal Bounty show’d
  To one, and raised him from the grov’ling Crowd”--

that Queen Caroline could not be expected to replenish the Yeomen with
Arcadians only.

Duck was at least as much awed by the Queen as by Nature. Richmond Park
and the Royal Gardens so disturbed his judgment that he believed it
possible, if Pope’s Muse would visit him,--

  “Then Richmond Hill renown’d in Verse should grow,
  And Thames re-echo to the Song below;
  A second Eden in my Page should shine,
  And Milton’s Paradise submit to mine.”

The Queen’s Grotto in Richmond Gardens inspired him with the line,--

  “The sweetest Grotto and the wisest Queen.”

And yet the poor man said, and in a preface published in his lifetime,
“I have not myself been so fond of writing, as might be imagined from
seeing so many things of mine as are got together in this Book. Several
of them are on Subjects that were given me by Persons, to whom I have
such great Obligations, that I always thought their desires commands.”

Leaving school about his fourteenth year for “the several lowest
employments of a country life,” and marrying before he was twenty,
he had to work at top pressure in order to make time to read the
_Spectator_, which he did “all over sweat and heat, without regarding
his own health.” He “got English just as we get Latin.” He studied
“Paradise Lost” as others study the classics, with the help of a
dictionary. When he wrote about the life best known to him, it was
usually as any of those gentlemen who helped him would have done. He
made very little advance on Sir Philip Sidney.

Nevertheless, some things he did write which were true and were
unlikely to have been written by any one else, as when he described the
thresher’s labour,--

  “When sooty Pease we thresh, you scarce can know
  Our native Colour as from Work we go:
  The Sweat, the Dust, and suffocating Smoke,
  Make us so much like Ethiopians look.
  We scare our Wives, when Ev’ning brings us home,
  And frighted Infants think the Bugbear come.
  Week after Week, we this dull Task pursue,
  Unless when winn’wing Days produce a new;
  A new, indeed, but frequently a worse,
  The Threshal yields but to the Master’s Curse.
  He counts the Bushels, counts how much a Day;
  Then swears we’ve idled half our Time away:
  ‘Why, look ye, Rogues, d’ye think that this will do?
  Your neighbours thresh as much again as you.’
  Now in our Hands we wish our noisy Tools,
  To drown the hated Names of Rogues and Fools;
  But, wanting these, we just like Schoolboys look,
  When angry Masters view the blotted Book:
  They cry, ‘Their Ink was faulty, and their Pen;’
  We, ‘The Corn threshes bad, ’twas cut too green.’”

He might have equalled Bloomfield, he might have been a much lesser
Crabbe, if he could have thrown Cuddy and Chloe on to the mixen and
kept to the slighted homely style. Instead of merely writing as if he
had been to Oxford, he might have reached men’s ears with his appeal,--

  “Let those who feast at Ease on dainty Fare,
  Pity the Reapers, who their Feasts prepare.”

As a rule his work--I mean his writing--is so remote from Wiltshire and
Duck, or the sort of reality connected with them which we to-day look
for, that even the grain or two about Salisbury Plain or the Pewsey
Vale not quite dissolved in his floods of Alexanderpopery delight us,
as when he calls the lambs bleating,--

  “Too harsh, perhaps, to please politer Ears,
  Yet much the sweetest Tune the Farmer hears:”

or when he compares the haymakers to sparrows at the approach of
storm,--

  “Thus have I seen, on a bright Summer’s Day,
  On some green Brake, a Flock of Sparrows play;
  From Twig to Twig, from Bush to Bush they fly;
  And with continued Chirping fill the Sky:
  But, on a sudden, if a Storm appears,
  Their chirping Noise no longer dins our Ears.
  They fly for Shelter to the thickest Bush,
  There silent sit, and all at once is hush.”

He says little more than enough to make us feel how much he could have
said if--well, if, for example, he had been the sort of man to wish to
employ his flail, not to drown the master’s curses, but to break his
head. But he was ineffectual, if not beautiful. The only known material
effect of his verse was to draw charity from Lord Palmerston for
providing an annual threshers’ dinner, which is still given at Charlton
on June 30. This feast proves him greater as prophet than as poet in
writing,--

  “Oft as this Day returns, shall Temple cheer
  The Threshers’ Hearts with Mutton, Beef, and Beer;
  Hence, when their Children’s Children shall admire
  This Holiday, and, whence deriv’d, inquire,
  Some grateful Father, partial to my Fame,
  Shall thus describe from whence, and how it came:
  ‘Here, Child, a Thresher liv’d in ancient Days;
  Quaint Songs he sung, and pleasing Roundelays;
  A gracious Queen his Sonnets did commend,
  And some great Lord, one Temple, was his Friend.
  That Lord was pleas’d this Holiday to make,
  And feast the Threshers for that Thresher’s sake.’”

A hundred years were to pass before a countryman came to do something
of what Duck left undone, but, however honestly, did it from the point
of view of a spectator, a clergyman, a schoolmaster, an archæologist,
a reader of Tennyson, and the refined contemplators of rural life. He
lived and died in a country of which most of the conditions are to
be paralleled on Salisbury Plain and the Pewsey Vale. I mean William
Barnes.

Dorset is a county of chalk hills divided by broad valleys and,
in particular, by the valleys of the Stour and the Frome. William
Barnes is the poet of the valleys, the elm and not the beech being
his favourite tree. In the first year of last century he was born in
Blackmoor Vale, which is watered by a tributary of the Stour: at his
death, only fourteen years from the century’s end, he was rector of
Came, which is in the valley of the Frome. The son of a Dorset farmer,
and for most of his life a schoolmaster or clergyman within the county,
the Dorset dialect was his mother tongue, his “only true speech.” He
wrote of Dorset, and for Dorset, and strangers, perhaps natives also,
might say that the man was Dorset. His poems are full of the names and
the aspects of its towns and villages, its rivers and brooks, and the
hills that lie around its great central height of Bulbarrow, which is
mid-way between the homes of his childhood and old age.

In his “Praise o’ Dorset” the poet is very modest, with a kind of
humorous modesty, about the county. Though we may be homely, is the
beginning, we are not ashamed to own our place; we have some women “not
uncomely,” and so on. Homeliness, in fact, is characteristic of Barnes
and of his Dorset. He became in some ways a learned man, but when
he wrote in his mother tongue and from the heart, he was the Dorset
farmer’s son and nothing else. From the humble homeliness of his work
he might have been a labourer, and he did more or less deliberately
make himself the mouth-piece of the Dorset carters, cowmen, mowers, and
harvesters. These songs, narratives, and dialogues bring forward the
men at their labours, walking with their club flags to church, singing
the songs of Christmas or Harvest Home. Here they court, wed, grow old
together, build a new house, or return with money saved to their “poor
fore-fathers’ plot o’ land.” He celebrates the horses, Smiler, Violet,
Whitefoot, Jack, and “the great old wagon uncle had.” Separate poems
are given to notable trees--“the great oak tree that’s in the dell,”
the cottage lilac tree, the solitary may tree by the pond, an aspen by
the river at Pentridge, the great elm in the little home-field and its
fall. “Trees be Company” is the title of one of his poems.

Many of his best passages are about old houses, with hearths “hallowed
by times o’ zitten round,” and fires that made the heart gay in storm
or winter, and some of them, like “the great old house of mossy stone,”
with memories of stately ladies that once did use

  “To walk wi’ hoops an’ high-heel shoes”

along its terraces. It makes me think of a man whose ancestors, at any
rate, had often been cold, homeless, and tired, when I see how often he
speaks of the hearth, the fire, the shelter of house walls, at evening,
in hard weather, or in old age. Again and again he shows us the men
forgetting their work for a little while, as they sit among children
or friends, watching the flames in the window glass, or listening to
the wind and rain. Give me, he says in one poem, even though I were
the squire, “the settle and the great wood fire.” In another, he feels
that he can endure all if only evening bring peace at home. A man with
work, a family, and a store of wood for the winter, has everything: the
evening meal and the wife smiling make bliss.

Barnes felt the pathos of the labourer’s rest, and one of his finest
poems depicts a cottage under a swaying poplar, with the moonlight on
its door,--

  “An’ hands, a-tired by day, wer still,
  Wi’ moonlight on the door.”

He uses the same effect a second time, adding the reflection that the
children now sleeping in the moonlit house will rise again to fun, and
their widowed mother to sorrow. These people are pathetic because in
their “little worold” they want and have so little,--

  “Drough longsome years a-wanderen,
  Drough lwonesome rest a-ponderen.”

Anything may eclipse, though nought can extinguish, their little joy;
yet they seem made rather for sorrow than joy. They have longings,
but hardly passions. They want to rest after all, not to become
discontented ghosts like “the weeping lady.” They are prepared for the
worst in this life, but the worst is tempered. The dead, for example,
are safe from all weathers, better off than the bereaved who grieve
for them “with lonesome love.” The dead even seem beautiful in memory.
There is a “glory round the old folk dead,” the old uncle and aunt
who used to walk arm in arm on Sunday evenings about the farm, the
grandmother who wore “a gown with great flowers like hollyhocks,” and
told tales of ancient times, the old kindly squire who so enjoyed
life,--

  “But now I hope his kindly feäce
  Is gone to vind a better pleäce.”

Many poems are given to another and not very different kind of
memories, those of childhood, and the essence of them, with a hundred
pretty variations, is,--

  “How smoothly then did run my happy days,
  When things to charm my mind and sight were nigh.”

Most are memories of the open air, of “lonesome woodlands, sunny
woodlands,” the river and the harvest fields, to the accompaniment of
the songs of birds and milkmaids. The children are always laughing,
playing, dancing in their “tiny shoes,” but their heavy elders and the
home under the elm or in the “lonesome” grove of oak remind us, if not
them, of age and death.

The love-poems further illustrate Barnes’s Dorset homeliness and
humbleness. Young maidens delight him much as children do; yet even
while he is praising the Blackmoor maidens he says,--

  “Why, if a man would wive
    An’ thrive, ’ithout a dow’r,
  Then let en look en out a wife
    In Blackmwore by the Stour.”

The girls all have something wifely about them. The wooer never forgets
that the sweetheart may be the wife; he wishes her less care than her
mother had, and looks forward to old age in her company. He is not a
wild wooer. He is content to sit in a gathering and hear his Jane “put
in a good word now and then,” and have a smile and a blush from her at
the door on parting: having carried her pail he is satisfied to know
that she would have bowed when she took it back had it not been too
heavy. He wants a maid who is “good and true,” “good and fair,” and
healthy, and to have always beside him the “welcome face and homely
name.” Once he may have been ruffled by a mere beauty in a scarlet
cloak, but probably he soon sets his heart on one who may bring him
happiness with children, contentment with age, and perhaps help him
to a little fortune in the thatched cottage “below the elems by the
bridge.” The lovers, like the poet himself, go with heads a little
bowed, as if in readiness for blows. It is in contrast with these
rather stiff, darkened men and women, who have winter and poverty on
their horizon, that the children in Barnes’s poetry are so blithe, his
Spring days so buoyant, and his flowers and birds among the brightest
and freshest in any of the poets.

But there is a greater than Duck or Barnes still among us, a
wide-ranging poet, who is always a countryman of a somewhat lonely
heart, Mr. Thomas Hardy. For I do notice something in his poetry which
I hope I may with respect call rustic, and, what is much the same
thing, old-fashioned. It enables him to mingle elements unexpectedly,
so that, thinking of 1967 in the year 1867, he spoke not only of the
new century having “new minds, new modes, new fools, new wise,” but
concluded,--

  “For I would only ask thereof
  That thy worm should be my worm, Love”--

which is as antique as Donne’s Flea that wedded the lovers by combining
blood from both of them within its body. The same rusticity manifests
itself elsewhere as Elizabethanism, and the poet is something of a
“liberal shepherd” in his willingness to give things their grosser
names or to hint at them. He has a real taste for such comparisons
as that made by a French officer looking at the English fleet at
Trafalgar,--

  “Their overcrowded sails
  Bulge like blown bladders in a tripeman’s shop
  The market-morning after slaughter-day.”

Then, how his illustrations to his own poems--such as the pair of
spectacles lying right across the landscape, following “In a Eweleaze
near Weatherbury”--remind us of a seventeenth-century book of emblems!

Sometimes his excuse is that he is impersonating a man of an earlier
age, as in the Sergeant’s song,--

  “When Husbands with their Wives agree,
  And Maids won’t wed from modesty,
  Then little Boney he’ll pounce down,
  And march his men on London town.
      Rollicum-rorum, tol-lol-lorum,
      Rollicum-rorum, tol-lol-lay.”

He has written songs and narratives which prove his descent from some
ancient ballad-maker, perhaps the one who wrote “A pleasant ballad of
the merry miller’s wooing of the baker’s daughter of Manchester,” or
“A new ballade, showing the cruel robberies and lewd life of Philip
Collins, _alias_ Osburne, commonly called Philip of the West, who was
pressed to death at Newgate in London the third of December last past,
1597,” to be sung to the tune of “Pagginton’s round.” Some of the lyric
stanzas to which he fits a narrative originated probably in some such
tune.

And how often is he delighted to represent a peasant’s view, a
peasant’s contribution to the irony of things, a capital instance
being the Belgian who killed Grouchy to save his farm, and so lost
Napoleon the battle of Waterloo.

With this rusticity, if that be the right name for it, I cannot help
connecting that most tyrannous obsession of the blindness of Fate,
the carelessness of Nature, and the insignificance of Man, crawling
in multitudes like caterpillars, twitched by the Immanent Will hither
and thither. Over and over again, from the earliest poems up to the
“Dynasts,” he amplifies those words which he puts into the mouth of
God,--

    “My labours, logicless,
    You may explain; not I:
  Sense-sealed I have wrought, without a guess
  That I evolved a Consciousness
    To ask for reasons why.”

And, referring to the earth,--

  “It lost my interest from the first,
  My aims therefor succeeding ill;
  Haply it died of doing as it durst.
  Lord, it existeth still.”

“Sportsman Time” and “those purblind Doomsters” are characteristic
phrases. The many things said by him of birth he sums up at the end of
a death-bed poem,--

  “We see by littles now the deft achievement
  Whereby she has escaped the Wrongers all,
  In view of which our momentary bereavement
    Outshapes but small.”

As gravely he descends to the ludicrous extreme of making a country
girl planting a pine-tree sing,--

  “It will sigh in the morning,
    Will sigh at noon,
  At the winter’s warning,
    In wafts of June;
  Grieving that never
    Kind Fate decreed
  It could not ever
    Remain a seed,
  And shun the welter
    Of things without,
  Unneeding shelter
    From storm and drought.”

He puts into the mouths of field, flock, and tree--because while he
gazed at them at dawn they looked like chastened children sitting in
school silent--the question,--

    “Has some Vast Imbecility,
      Mighty to build and blend,
      But impotent to tend,
  Framed us in jest, and left us now to hazardry?”

Napoleon, in the “Dynasts,” asks the question, “Why am I here?” and
answers it,--

  “By laws imposed on me inexorably.
  History makes use of me to weave her web.”

Twentieth century superstition can no farther go than in that enormous
poem, which is astonishing in many ways, not least in being readable.
I call it superstition because truth, or a genuine attempt at truth,
has been turned apparently by an isolated rustic imagination into an
obsession so powerful that only a very great talent could have rescued
anything uninjured from the weight of it. A hundred years ago, Mr.
Hardy would have seen “real ghosts.” To-day he has to invent them, and
call his Spirits of the Years and of the Pities, Spirits Sinister and
Ironic, Rumours and Recording Angels, who have the best seats at the
human comedy, “contrivances of the fancy merely.”

Even his use of irony verges on the superstitious. Artistically,
at least in the shorter poems, it may be sound, and is certainly
effective, as where the old man laments on learning that his wife is to
be in the same wing of the workhouse, instead of setting him “free of
his forty years’ chain.” But the frequent use and abuse of it change
the reader’s smile into a laugh at the perversity.

Mr. Hardy must have discovered the blindness of Fate, the indifference
of Nature, and the irony of Life, before he met them in books. They
have been brooded over in solitude, until they afflict him as the
wickedness of man afflicts a Puritan. The skull and crossbones, Death
the scythed skeleton, and the symbolic hour-glass have been as real to
him as to some of those carvers of tombstones in country churchyards,
or to the painter of that window at St. Edmund’s in Salisbury who
represented “God the Father ... in blue and red vests, like a little
old man, the head, feet, and hands naked; in one place fixing a pair of
compasses on the sun and moon.” If I were told that he had spent his
days in a woodland hermitage, though I should not believe the story, I
should suspect that it was founded on fact.

But the woodland, and the country in general, have given Mr. Hardy some
of his principal consolations. And one, at least, of these is almost
superstitious. I mean the idea that “the longlegs, the moth, and the
dumbledore” know “earth-secrets” that he knows not. In the “Darkling
Thrush” it is to be found in another stage, the bird’s song in Winter
impelling him to think that “some blessed Hope” of which he was unaware
was known to it. He compares town and country much as Meredith does.
The country is paradise in the comparison; for he speaks of the Holiday
Fund for City Children as temporarily “changing their urban murk to
paradise.” Country life, paradise or not, he handles with a combination
of power and exactness beyond that of any poet who could be compared to
him, and for country women I should give the palm to his “Julie-Jane,”--

      “Sing; how ’a would sing,
      How ’a would raise the tune,
  When we rode in the wagon from harvesting
        By the light of the moon....
      Bubbling and brightsome eyed,
      But now--O never again!
  She chose her bearers before she died
        From her fancy-men.”

Such a woman has even made him merry like his fiddling ancestor, in the
song of “The Dark-eyed Gentleman,”--

  “And he came and he tied up my garter for me.”

And what with Nature and Beauty and Truth he is really farther from
surrender than might appear in some poems. His “Let me enjoy”--

  “Let me enjoy the earth no less
    Because the all-enacting Might
  That fashioned forth its loveliness
    Had other aims than my delight”--

is in the minor key, but by no means repudiates or makes little of Joy,
and is at least as likely as,

  “Lord, with what care hast thou begirt us round,”

to make a marching song.



VI.

THE AVON, THE BISS, THE FROME.


Once in the night I awoke and heard the weir again, but the first sound
in the morning was a thrush singing in a lilac next my window. For the
main chorus of dawn was over. It was a still morning under a sky that
was one low arch of cloud, a little whiter in places, but all gray.
Big drops glistened on the undersides of horizontal rails. There had
been a white frost, and, as they said, we seldom have many white frosts
before it rains again. But not until I went out could I tell that it
was softly and coldly raining. Everything more than two or three fields
away was hidden.

Cycling is inferior to walking in this weather, because in cycling
chiefly ample views are to be seen, and the mist conceals them. You
travel too quickly to notice many small things; you see nothing save
the troops of elms on the verge of invisibility. But walking I saw
every small thing one by one; not only the handsome gateway chestnut
just fully dressed, and the pale green larch plantation where another
chiff-chaff was singing, and the tall elm tipped by a linnet pausing
and musing a few notes, but every primrose and celandine and dandelion
on the banks, every silvered green leaf of honeysuckle up in the hedge,
every patch of brightest moss, every luminous drop on a thorn tip. The
world seemed a small place: as I went between a row of elms and a row
of beeches occupied by rooks, I had a feeling that the road, that the
world itself, was private, all theirs; and the state of the road under
their nests confirmed me. I was going hither and thither to-day in the
neighbourhood of my stopping place, instead of continuing my journey.

At a quarter-past nine it drizzled slightly more, but by ten the sky
whitened, the grass gleamed. Over the broad field where the fowls and
turkeys feed, and a retriever guards them, the keeper was walking slow
and heavy, carrying a mattock, and after him two men, one in gaiters.
While they were disappearing from sight in the corner where the field
runs up into the wood, the chained retriever stood and whined piteously
after them. I understood him very well. And somehow the men setting
out thus for a day’s work in the woods prophesied fine weather. Yet at
half-past ten the gray thrust the white down again to the horizon,
where the elms printed themselves against it.

The sun came out in earnest at eleven, and shone upon a field of tall
yellow mustard and a man loading a cart with it, and I ceased to bend
my back and crook my neck towards violet, primrose, anemone, and dog’s
mercury in the blackthorn hedges, and I let the sun have a chance
with me. I was trespassing, but, alas! no glory any longer attaches
to trespassing, because every one is so civil unless you are a plain
or ill-dressed woman, or a child, or obviously a poet. So I came
well-warmed to Rudge, a hamlet collected about a meeting of roads and
scattered up a steep hill, along one of these roads. The collection
includes a small inn called the “Half Moon,” a plain Baptist chapel,
several stone cottages, several ruins, solid but roofless, used solely
to advertise sales, and a signpost pointing to Berkley and Frome
past the ruined cottages, to Westbury and Bradley downhill from the
inn, through the woods about the river Biss, and uphill to Road and
Beckington. Southward I saw the single bare hump of Cley Hill five
miles away, near Warminster: northward, the broad wooded vale rising
up to hills on the horizon. I went uphill, between two bright trickles
of water. The steep roadside bank, strengthened by a stone wall, was
well-grown with pennywort and cranesbill, overhung by goose grass and
ivy, and bathed at its foot by grass and nettles. The wall in one place
is hollowed out into a cavernous, dark dip-well or water-cupboard. The
rest of the village is built upon the banks. First comes a Wesleyan
chapel, a neat, cold, demure little barn of the early nineteenth
century, having a cypress on either side of its front door, and a few
gravestones round about. One of these caught my eye with the verse--

  “And am I born to die,
  To lay this body down,
  And must my trembling spirit fly
  Into a world unknown?”--

and the name of Mary Willcox, who died in 1901 at the age of
eighty-eight. A cottage or two stand not quite opposite, behind gardens
of wallflowers, mezereon, periwinkle, and tall copper-coloured peony
shoots, and a wall smothered in snow-on-the-mountains or alyssum.
On the same side, beyond, a dark farm-house and its outbuildings
project and cause the road and water to twist. The bank on that side,
the left, covered with celandines and topped with elms, now carries
a footpath of broad flagstones a yard or two above the road. Where
this footpath ends, the road, still ascending, forks, and at once
rejoins itself, thus making a small triangular island, occupied by a
ruinous, ivy-mantled cottage and a cultivated vegetable garden. At the
lower side a newish villa with a piano faces past the ruin uphill.
At the upper side, facing past the ruin and the villa downhill, is a
high-walled stone house of several gables, small enough, but possessing
dignity and even a certain faint grimness: it is backed on the roadside
by farm buildings. I saw and heard nobody from the “Half Moon” to this
house, except a chicken. Here I turned off from the road along a lane
which ended a mile away at a cottage and a farm-house, and in one of
the ploughed fields I came upon a plain stone tower, consisting of two
storeys, round-arched, roofless, in the company of a tall lime tree. It
looks over the low land towards the White Horse at Westbury. Once, they
told me, the upper storey held a water tank; but as the map shows an
ancient beacon at about this spot, I thought of it as a beacon rather
than as a water tower.

I returned and went some way along the road to Beckington. A few people
were walking in towards Rudge, children were picking primroses from
both sides of the hedges, watched silently and steadfastly by a baby in
a perambulator, not less happy in the sun than they. For the sun shone
radiant and warm out of a whitewashed sky on the red ploughlands and
wet daisy meadows by Seymour’s Court Farm, on the teams pulling chain
harrows and pewits plunging round them, and on the flag waving over
Road Church as if for some natural festival. I found my first thrush’s
egg of the year along this road, in which I was fortunate; for the bank
below the nest had been trodden into steps by boys who had examined it
before me.

I went downhill again through Rudge and took the road for North
Bradley, keeping above the left bank of the river Biss and commanding
the White Horse on the pale wall of the Plain beyond it. This took me
past Cutteridge, a modest farm, all that remains of a great house,
whose long avenues of limes, crooked and often as dense as a magpie’s
nest, still radiate from it on three sides. This is a country of noble
elms, spreading like oaks, above celandine banks.

Turning to the right down a steep-sided lane after passing Cutteridge I
reached the flat, rushy, and willowy green valley of the Biss. The road
forded the brook and brought me up into the sloping courtyard of Brook
House Farm. On the right was a high wall and a pile of rough cordwood
against it; on the left a buttressed, ecclesiastical-looking building
with tiers of windows and three doorways, some four or five centuries
old; and before me, at the top of the yard, between the upper end of
the high wall and the ecclesiastical-looking building, was the back of
the farm-house, its brass pans gleaming. This is the remnant of Brook
House. What is now a cowshed below, a cheese room above, has been the
chapel of Brook House, formerly the seat of Paveleys, Joneses, and
Cheneys. The brook below was once called Baron’s brook on account of
the barony conferred on the owner: the family of Willoughby de Broke
are said to have taken their name from it. The cows made an excellent
congregation, free from all the disadvantages of believing or wanting
to believe in the immortality of the soul, in the lower half of the
old chapel; the upper floor and its shelves of Cheddar cheeses of all
sizes could not offend the most jealous deity or his most jealous
worshippers. The high, intricate rafter-work of the tiled roof was
open, and the timber, as pale as if newly scrubbed, was free from
cobwebs--in fact, chestnut wood is said to forbid cobwebs. Against the
wall leaned long boards bearing the round stains of bygone cheeses.
Every one who could write had carved his name on the stone. Instead of
windows there were three doors in the side away from the quadrangle, as
if at one time they had been entered either from a contiguous building
or by a staircase from beneath. Evidently both the upper and the lower
chambers were formerly subdivided into cells of some kind.

The farmhouse is presumably the remnant of the old manor house,
cool and still, looking out away from the quadrangle over a garden
containing a broad, rough-hewn stone disinterred hereby, and a
green field corrugated in parallelograms betokening old walls or an
encampment. The field next to this is spoken of as a churchyard, but
there seems to be no record of skeletons found there. Half a mile off
in different directions are Cutteridge, Hawkeridge, and Storridge, but
nothing nearer in that narrow, gentle valley....

The afternoon was as fine as Easter Monday could be, all that could
be desired by chapel-goers for their Anniversary Tea. It was the very
weather that Trowbridge people needed on Good Friday for a walk to
Farleigh Castle, for beer or tea and watercress at the “Hungerford
Arms.” As I bicycled into Trowbridge at four o’clock the inhabitants
were streaming out along the dry road westward.

I am not fond of crowds, but this holiday crowd caused no particular
distaste. Away from their town and separated into small groups they had
no cumulative effect. They were for the time being travellers as much
as I was. In any case, a town like Trowbridge is used to strangers
of all kinds passing through it: it would take a South Sea Islander
in native costume to make it stare as a village does. The crowd that
I dislike most is the crowd near Clapham Junction on a Saturday
afternoon. Though born and bred a Clapham Junction man, I have become
indifferently so. Perhaps I ought to call my feeling fear: alarm comes
first, followed rapidly by dislike. It is a crowd of considerable size,
consisting of women shopping, of young men and women promenading,
mostly apart, though not blind to one another, and of men returning
from offices. They take things fairly easily, even these last, and can
look about. I shall not pretend to define the difference between them
and a village or a provincial town crowd. It is less homely than a
village, less compact and abounding in clear types than a town. It is a
disintegrated crowd, rather suspicious and shy perhaps, where few know,
or could guess much about, the others. When I find myself among them,
I am more confused and uneasy than in any other crowd. I cannot settle
down in it to notice the three or four or half a dozen types, as I
should do at Swindon, or Swansea, or Coventry; nor yet to please myself
as with the general look of a village mob of forty or fifty, and a few
of the most remarkable individuals. Here, at Clapham Junction, each
one asks a separate question. In a quarter of an hour I am bewildered
and dejected.

How different it is from a London crowd. In London everybody is a
Londoner. Once in the Strand or Oxford Street I am as much at home
as any one. If I were to walk up and down continuously for a week I
should not be noticed any more than I am now. For all they know I am an
Old Inhabitant. So is every one else from Cartmel or Tregaron. There
are no lookers on: all are lookers on. I look hard at every one as at
the pictures in a gallery, and no offence is taken. I can lose myself
comfortably amongst them, and wake up again only when I find myself
alone. Each day, except in the shops, an entirely new set of faces is
seen, so far as memory tells me. A burly flower-girl, a white-haired
youth, and a broken-down, long-haired actor or poet, are the only
strangers in London I have seen more than once. Yet the combination is
familiar. I am a Londoner, and I am at home. But I am not a Clapham
Junction man any more than I am a Trowbridge man. Perhaps the reason
of my discontent is that there are no Clapham Junction men, that all
are strangers and aware of it, that they never truly make a mob like
the factory men at New Swindon, and yet are too numerous to be
regarded as villagers like the people of Rudge.

I did not stop in Trowbridge. Its twenty chimneys were as tranquil
as its tall spire, and its slaughter-house as silent as the adjacent
church, where the poet Crabbe, once vicar, is commemorated by a
tablet, informing the world that he rose by his abilities. In fact,
the noisiest thing in Trowbridge was the rookery where I left it. Like
nearly all towns--market towns, factory towns--Trowbridge is girdled
by villas, chestnuts, and elms, and in the trees rooks build, thus
making a ceremoniously rustic entrance or exit. While the rooks cawed
overhead, the blackbirds sang below.

As far as Hilperton and the “Lion and Fiddle,” houses and fields
alternated along the road, but after that I entered a broad elmy
country of young corn and new-ploughed land sweeping gradually away
on my right up to grass slopes, and to the foot of dark Roundway Down
and pale Beacon Hill, above Devizes. Far to the left the meadow land
swelled up into the wooded high land above Lacock, Corsham, and Bath.
Under elms near Semington the threshing-machine boomed; its unchanging
note mingled with a hiss at the addition of each sheaf. Otherwise the
earth was the rooks’, heaven was the larks’, and I rode easily on
along the good level road somewhere between the two.

Motion was extraordinarily easy that afternoon, and I had no doubts
that I did well to bicycle instead of walking. It was as easy as
riding in a cart, and more satisfying to a restless man. At the same
time I was a great deal nearer to being a disembodied spirit than I
can often be. I was not at all tired, so far as I knew. No people
or thoughts embarrassed me. I fed through the senses directly, but
very temperately, through the eyes chiefly, and was happier than
is explicable or seems reasonable. This pleasure of my disembodied
spirit (so to call it) was an inhuman and diffused one, such as may
be attained by whatever dregs of this our life survive after death.
In fact, had I to describe the adventure of this remnant of a man I
should express it somewhat thus, with no need of help from Dante, Mr.
A. C. Benson, or any other visitors to the afterworld. In a different
mood I might have been encouraged to believe the experience a foretaste
of a sort of imprisonment in the viewless winds, or of a spiritual
share in the task of keeping the cloudy winds “fresh for the opening
of the morning’s eye.” Supposing I were persuaded to provide this
afterworld with some of the usual furniture, I could borrow several
visible things from that ride through Semington, Melksham, and
Staverton. First and chief would be the Phœnix “Swiss” Milk Factory
where I crossed the Avon at Staverton. It is an enormous stone cube,
with multitudinous windows all alike, and at the back of it two tall
chimneys. The Avon winding at its foot is a beautiful, willowy river.
On the opposite side of the road and bridge the river bank rises up
steeply, clothed evenly with elms, and crowned by Staverton’s little
church which the trees half conceal.... This many-windowed naked
mass, surmounted by a stone phœnix, immediately over the conspicuous
information that it was burnt on November 5, 1834, and rebuilt on April
28 of the next year, is as big as a cathedral, and like a cathedral
in possessing a rookery in the riverside elms behind it. With the
small, shadowed church opposite, I feel sure that it would need little
transmutation to fall into the geography of a land of shades. But the
most beautiful thing of all was the broad meadow called Challimead on
the west of Melksham, and the towered church lying along the summit of
the gentle rise in which it ends. I bicycled along the north-west side
of it immediately after leaving Melksham on the way to Holt. Elms of
a hundred years’ growth lined the road, some upright, most lying amid
the wreckage of their branchwork far out over the grass. Parallel with
the road and much nearer to it than to the church the Avon serpentined
along the meadow without disturbing the level three furlongs of its
perfect green. The windows of the church flamed in the last sunbeams,
the tombstones were clear white. For this meadow at least there should
be a place in any Elysium. It would be a suitable model for the meadow
of heavenly sheen where Æneas saw the blessed souls of Ilus and
Assaracus and Dardanus and the bard Musæus, heroes and wise men, and
the beautiful horses of the heroes, in that diviner air lighted by
another sun and other stars than ours.

But our sun was fading over Challimead. The air grew cold as I went
on, and the pewits cried as if it were winter. The rooks were now
silent dots all over the elms of the Trowbridge rookery. A light mist
was brushing over the fields, softening the brightness of Venus in the
pale rosy west, and the scarlet flames that leapt suddenly from a thorn
pile in a field. Probably there would be another frost to-night....
People were returning to the town in small and more scattered groups.
At corners and crossways figures were standing talking, or bidding
farewell. I rode on easily through the chill, friendly land. Clear
hoofs hammering and men or girls talking in traps were but an added
music to the quiet throughout the evening. I began to feel some
confidence in the Spring.

I went out into the village at about half-past nine in the dark, quiet
evening. A few stars penetrated the soft sky; a few lights shone on
earth, from a distant farm seen through a gap in the cottages. Single
and in groups, separated by gardens or bits of orchard, the cottages
were vaguely discernible: here and there a yellow window square gave
out a feeling of home, tranquillity, security. Nearly all were silent.
Ordinary speech was not to be heard, but from one house came the sounds
of an harmonium being played and a voice singing a hymn, both faintly.
A dog barked far off. After an interval a gate fell-to lightly. Nobody
was on the road.

The road was visible most dimly, and was like a pale mist at an
uncertain distance. When I reached the green all was still and silent.
The cottages on the opposite side of the road all lay back, and they
were merely blacker stains on the darkness. The pollard willows
fringing the green, which in the sunlight resemble mops, were now very
much like a procession of men, strange primæval beings, pausing to
meditate in the darkness.

The intervals between the cottages were longer here, and still longer;
I ceased to notice them until I came to the last house, a small farm,
where the dog growled, but in a subdued tone, as if only to condemn my
footsteps on the deserted road.

Rows of elm trees on both sides of the road succeeded. I walked more
slowly, and at a gateway stopped. While I leaned looking over it at
nothing, there was a long silence that could be felt, so that a train
whistling two miles away seemed as remote as the stars. The noise could
not overleap the boundaries of that silence. And yet I presently moved
away, back towards the village, with slow steps.

I was tasting the quiet and the safety without a thought. Night had
no evil in it. Though a stranger, I believed that no one wished harm
to me. The first man I saw, fitfully revealed by a swinging lantern
as he crossed his garden, seemed to me to have the same feeling, to
be utterly free of trouble or any care. A man slightly drunk deviated
towards me, halted muttering, and deviated away again. I heard his gate
shut, and he was absorbed.

The inn door, which was now open, was as the entrance to a bright
cave in the middle of the darkness: the illumination had a kind
of blessedness such as it might have had to a cow, not without
foreignness; and a half-seen man within it belonged to a world,
blessed indeed, but far different from this one of mine, dark, soft,
and tranquil. I felt that I could walk on thus, sipping the evening
silence and solitude, endlessly. But at the house where I was staying I
stopped as usual. I entered, blinked at the light, and by laughing at
something, said with the intention of being laughed at, I swiftly again
naturalized myself.



VII.

TROWBRIDGE TO SHEPTON MALLET.


I awoke to hear ducklings squeaking, and a starling in the pine
tree imitating the curlew and the owl hunting. Then I heard another
chiff-chaff. Everything more than a quarter of a mile away was hidden
by the mist of a motionless white frost, but the blackbird disregarded
it. At a quarter to eight he was singing perfectly in an oak at the
cross roads. The sun had melted the frost wherever it was not protected
by hedges or fallen trees. Soon a breeze broke up and scattered and
destroyed the mist, and I set out on a warm, cloudy morning that could
do no wrong. As I was riding down the half-way hill between Trowbridge
and Bradford, where the hedge has a number of thorns trimmed to an
umbrella shape at intervals, they were ploughing with two horses, and
the sun gleamed on the muscles of the horses and the polished slabs of
the furrows. Jackdaws were flying and crying over Bradford-on-Avon.

I dismounted by the empty “Lamb” inn, with a statue of a black-faced
lamb over its porch, and sat on the bridge. The Avon ran swift, but
calm and dull, down under the bridge and away westward. The town hill
rises from off the water, covered as with scales with stone houses of
countless varieties of blackened gray and many gables, and so steep
that the roofs of one horizontal street are only just higher than the
doorsteps of the one above. A brewery towers from the mass at the far
side, and, near the top, a factory with the words “For Sale” printed
on its roof in huge letters. And the smoke of factories blew across
the town. The hilltop above the houses is crested with beeches and
rooks’ nests against the blue. The narrow space between the foot of the
hill and the river is occupied by private gardens, a church and its
churchyard yews and chestnuts, and by a tall empty factory based on the
river bank itself, with a notice “To Let.” Opposite this a small public
garden of grass and planes and chestnuts comes to the water’s edge, and
next to that, a workshop and a house or two, separated from the water
by rough willowy plots, an angle of flat grass and an almond tree,
and private gardens. Behind me the river disappeared among houses and
willows.

As I sat there, who should come up and stare at the chapel on the
bridge and its weather-vane of a gilded perch, but the Other Man.
Surprise sufficiently fortified whatever pleasure we felt to compel us
to join company; for he also was going to Wells.

We took the Frome road as far as Winkfield, where we turned off
westward to Farleigh Hungerford. In half a mile we were in Somerset,
descending by a steep bank of celandines under beeches that rose up
on our right towards the Frome. The river lay clear ahead of us, and
to our left. A bushy hill, terraced horizontally, rose beyond it,
and Farleigh Hungerford Castle, an ivied front, a hollow-eyed round
tower, and a gateway, faced us from the brow. From the bridge, and
the ruined cottages and mills collected round it, we walked up to the
castle, which is a show place. From here the Other Man would have me
turn aside to see Tellisford. This is a hamlet scattered along half a
mile of by-road, from a church at the corner down to the Frome. Once
there was a ford, but now you cross by a stone footbridge with white
wooden handrails. A ruined flock-mill and a ruined ancient house stand
next to it on one side; on the other the only house is a farm with a
round tower embodied in its front. Away from this farm a beautiful
meadow slopes between the river and the woods above. This grass, which
becomes level for a few yards nearest the bank, was the best possible
place, said the Other Man, for running in the sun after bathing at the
weir--we could see its white wall of foam half a mile higher up the
river, which was concealed by alders beyond. He said it was a great
haunt of nightingales. And there was also a service tree; and, said
he, in that tree sang a thrush all through May--it was the best May
that ever was--and so well it sang, unlike any other thrush, that it
made him think he would gladly live no longer than a thrush if he could
do some one thing as right, as crisp and rich, as the song was. “I
suppose you write books,” said I. “I do,” said he. “What sort of books
do you write?” “I wrote one all about this valley of the Frome....
But no one knows that it was the Frome I meant. You look surprised.
Nevertheless, I got fifty pounds for it.” “That is a lot of money for
such a book!” “So my publisher thought.” “And you are lucky to get
money for doing what you like.” “What I like!” he muttered, pushing
his bicycle back uphill, past the goats by the ruin, and up the steps
between walls that were lovely with humid moneywort, and saxifrage like
filigree, and ivy-leaved toadflax. Apparently the effort loosened his
tongue. He rambled on and on about himself, his past, his writing, his
digestion; his main point being that he did not like writing. He had
been attempting the impossible task of reducing undigested notes about
all sorts of details to a grammatical, continuous narrative. He abused
notebooks violently. He said that they blinded him to nearly everything
that would not go into the form of notes; or, at any rate, he could
never afterwards reproduce the great effects of Nature and fill in the
interstices merely--which was all they were good for--from the notes.
The notes--often of things which he would otherwise have forgotten--had
to fill the whole canvas. Whereas, if he had taken none, then only the
important, what he truly cared for, would have survived in his memory,
arranged not perhaps as they were in Nature, but at least according to
the tendencies of his own spirit. “Good God!” said he. But luckily we
were by this time on the level. I mounted. He followed.

Thanks, I suppose, to the Other Man’s conversation, we took the wrong
road, retracing our steps to Farleigh instead of going straight on to
Norton St. Philip. However, it was a fine day. The sun shone quietly;
the new-cut hedges were green and trim; neither did any of the prunings
puncture our tyres. Near the crossing from Wolverton to Freshford and
Bath we sat down on a sheep trough and ate lunch in a sloping field
sprinkled with oak trees. The Other Man ate monkey-nuts for the benefit
of his health, but pointed out that the monkey-nuts, like beef-steak,
turned into himself. He informed me that he had been all over Salisbury
on Saturday night and Bradford on Monday morning in a vain search for
brown bread. But as the monkey-nuts had the merit of absorbing most of
his attention he talked comparatively little. I was free, therefore,
to look down over our field and over drab grass and misted copses
southward to Cley Hill, a dim, broad landscape that seemed to be
expecting to bring something forth.

We had not gone a mile from this stopping-place when the Other Man
got off to look over the “George” at Norton St. Philip, another show
place, known to its proprietor as “the oldest licensed house in
England,” and once for a night occupied by the Duke of Monmouth. It
is a considerable, venerable house, timbered in front, with a room
that was formerly a wool market extending over its whole length and
breadth under the roof. In the rear of it crowded many pent-houses and
outbuildings, equivalent to a hamlet, and once, no doubt, sufficient
for all purposes connected with travel on foot or horseback. The Other
Man was scared out of it in good time by a new arrival, a man of
magnificent voice, who talked with authority, and without permission
and without intermission, to any one whom neighbourhood made a
listener. After a wish that the talker might become dumb, or he himself
deaf, the Other Man escaped.

We glided down the street to a little tributary of a tributary too
pleasantly to stop at the church below, though it had a grand tower
with tiers of windows. The rise following brought us up to where a road
crosses from Wellow, and at the crossing stands a small isolated inn
called “Tuckers-grave.” Who Tucker was, and whether it was a man or a
woman buried at the crossing, I did not discover. The next village was
Falkland, a mile farther on. It is built around a green, on one side
of which a big elm overshadows a pair of stocks and a low, long stone
for the patient to sit upon, and at the side a tall one like a rude
sculptured constable. A number of other great stones were distributed
about the village, including two smooth and rounded ones, like flat
loaves, on a cottage wall. The children and youths of the village were
in the road, the children whipping tops of a carrot shape, the youths
of seventeen or so playing at marbles.

From this high land--for since rising up away from Norton St. Philip we
had always been over four hundred feet up, midway between the valleys
of the Frome on the left and the Midford brook on the right--we looked
far on either side over valleys of mist. The hollow land on the right,
which contained Radstock coalfield, many elm trees, and old overgrown
mounds of coal refuse, was vague, and drowsed in the summer-like mist:
the white smoke of the collieries drifted slowly in horizontal bands
athwart the mist. The voices of lambs rose up, the songs of larks
descended, out of the mist. Rooks cawed from field to field. Carts met
us or passed us coming from Road, Freshford, Frome, and other places,
to load up with coal from the store by the side of the road, which
is joined to the distant colliery by a miniature railway, steep and
straight. But what dominated the scene was a tall square tower on the
road. Turner’s Tower the map named it. Otherwise at a distance it might
have been taken for an uncommon church tower or a huge chimney. The
Other Man asked twenty questions about it of a carter whom we met as we
came up to it; and the carter, a round-eyed, round-nosed, round-voiced,
genial man, answered them all. He said it had been built half a
century ago by a gentleman farmer named Turner, as a rival to Lord
Hylton’s tower which we could see on our left at a wooded hilltop near
Ammerdown House. Originally it measured two hundred and thirty feet in
height. Mr. Turner used to go up and down it, but it served no other
purpose, and in course of time more than half fell down. The long hall
at the bottom became a club-room, where miners used to drink more than
other people thought good for them. Finally Lord Hylton bought it: the
club ceased. About a hundred feet of the tower survives, pierced by a
few pointed windows above and doors below, cheap and ecclesiastical in
appearance. Attached to it is a block of cottages, and several others
lie behind.

We crossed the Frome and Radstock road, and raced down a straight
mile that is lined on the left by the high park walls of Ammerdown
House, and overhung by beeches. At the bottom only an inferior road
continued our line, and that dwindled to a footpath. For the descent
to Kilmersdon by this direct route is too precipitous for a modern
road. We had to turn, therefore, sharp to the left along the road from
Writhlington to Mells and Frome, and then curved round out of it to the
right, and so under the railway down to Kilmersdon. Before entering the
village the road bent alongside a steep wooded slope littered with ash
poles. The bottom of the deep hollow is occupied by a church, an inn
distinguished by a coat-of-arms, and the motto, “_Tant que je puis_,”
and many stone cottages strung about a stream and a parallelogram
of roads. The church tower has three tiers of windows in it, and a
blue-faced clock, whose gilt hands pointed to half-past three. There
is a venerable and amusing menagerie of round-headed and long-headed
gargoyles, with which a man could spend a lifetime unbored. Inside as
well as outside the church the Jolliffe family, now represented by Lord
Hylton, predominates, amid the Easter scent of jonquil and daffodil.
For example, much space is given to the following verses, in memory of
Thomas Samuel Jolliffe, lord of the Hundreds of Kilmersdon and Wellow,
a “high-minded and scrupulously honourable gentleman,” “of Norman
original,” who died in 1824 at the age of seventy-eight,--

  “A graceful mien, an elegant address,
  Looks which at once each winning charm express,
  A life where worth by wisdom polished shines,
  Where wisdom’s self again by love refines:--
  A wit that no licentious coarseness knows,
  The sense that unassuming candour shows,
  Reason by narrow principles unchecked,
  Slave to no party, bigot to no sect.
  Knowledge of various life, of learning too,
  Thence taste, thence truth, which will from taste ensue;
  An humble though an elevated mind,
  A pride, its pleasure but to serve mankind:
  If these esteem and admiration raise,
  Give true delight and gain unflattering praise,
  In one bright view the accomplished man we see,
  These graces all were thine and thou wert he.”

If human virtue, as it appears from these lines, lies buried at
Kilmersdon, it has a pleasant resting-place--pleasant partly on account
of the neighbourhood of one Robert Twyford, a former Treasurer of St.
Davids, and lord of this manor, who died in 1776, aged sixty-one,--

“The sweetness of his temper made him happy in himself, and he employed
his abilities, his fortune, and authority in rendering others so; and
those many virtues which constituted his felicity in this life will, we
trust, through the merits of Christ, make him completely happy to all
eternity.”

It would be easier to invent Thomas Samuel Jolliffe than Robert
Twyford. I should like to meet them both; but in Jolliffe’s case my
chief motive would be curiosity to see how far his virtues were due to
time, place, and the exigencies of rhyme. A dialogue between Jolliffe
and the writer of his epitaph would be worth writing; equally so
between the Treasurer of St. Davids and his--I can imagine the old man
(I cannot imagine him a young man even in another world) beginning,--

“Sir, have you the felicity to know of a case where authority rendered
any one happy save the exerciser of it? I desire also, at your leisure,
to know what you understand by the words, ‘Completely happy to all
eternity.’ With as much impatience as is compatible with the sweetness
of temper immortalized (to use a mortal phrase) by you at Kilmersdon, I
await your answer. Will you drink tea? But, alas! I had forgotten that
complete happiness in our present state has to be sustained without tea
as well as without some of the other blessings of Pembrokeshire and
Somerset....”

“This is very sudden, Mr. Twyford....”

What the Other Man most liked in the whole church was the small,
round-headed window stained in memory of Sybil Veitch.

Out of Kilmersdon we walked uphill, looking back at the cottage groups
in the hollow, the much-carved green slopes, and the high land we had
traversed, all craggy-ridged in the mist. As steeply we descended to
another streamlet, another hollow called Snail’s Bottom, and the hamlet
of Charlton and a rookery. Another climb of a mile, always in sight of
a stout hilltop tower very dark against the sky, took us up to where
the Wells road crosses a Roman road, the Fosse Way, now the road from
Bath to Shepton Mallet. We chose the Fosse Way in order to see both
Shepton and Wells. Thus we went through Stratton-on-the-Fosse, a high
roadside village that provides teas, and includes a Roman Catholic
college and a new church attached to it--that church whose tower we had
been admiring so as it stood up against the sky. The flowering currant
here was dressed in blossom.

A mile farther on we were seven hundred and twenty feet up, almost on
a level with the ridge of the Mendips, now close before us. Running
from that point down to Nettlebridge and its rivulet, and walking up
away from them, was the best thing in the day. The gradient of the
hillside was too much for a modern road. The Fosse Way, therefore, had
been deserted and a new descent made, curving like an S; yet, even
so, bold enough for a high speed to be attained before we got down
to the “George” and the loose-clustered houses of Nettlebridge. The
opposite ascent was also in an S. At the top of it we sat on a wall by
the larches of Horridge Wood, and looked back and down. The valley was
broad and destitute of trees. Gorse scrambled over its sides. Ducks
fed across the turf at the bottom. Straight down the other side came
the Fosse Way, denoted by its hedges, and round its crossing of the
brook was gathered half of Nettlebridge. The rough, open valley, the
running water, the brookside cluster of stone cottages, reminded me of
Pembrokeshire. There is no church.

From that bleak and yet pleasant scene I turned with admiration to a
farm-house on the other side of the road. It stood well above the road,
and the stone wall enclosing its farm-yard followed the irregular crown
of the steep slope. This plain stone house, darkened, I think, by a
sycamore, and standing high, solitary, and gloomy, above Nettlebridge,
seemed to me a house of houses. If I could draw, I would draw this and
call it “A House.” For it had all the spirit of a house, farm, and
fortress in one, grim without bellicosity, tranquil, but not pampered.

Presently, at Oak Hill, we were well up on the main northern slope
of the Mendips. The “Oak Hill” inn, a good inn, hangs out its name
on a horizontal bar, ending in a gilded oak leaf and acorn. I had
lunch there once of the best possible fat bacon and bread fried in
the fat, for a shilling; and for nothing, the company of a citizen
of Wells, a hearty, strong-voiced man, who read the _Standard_ over
a beef-steak, a pint of cider, and a good deal of cheese, and at
intervals instructed me on the roads of the Mendips, the scenery, the
celebrated places, and also praised his city and praised the stout of
Oak Hill. Then he smacked his lips, pressed his bowler tight down on
his head, and drove off towards Leigh upon Mendip. I was sorry not to
have arrived at a better hour this time. The village is no more than
the inn, the brewery, and a few cottages, and a shop or two, in one
of which there was a pretty show of horse ornaments of brass among
the saddlery. I almost counted these ornaments, crescents, stars, and
bosses, as flowers of Spring, so clearly did I recall their May-day
flashing in former years. It was darkening, or at least saddening, as
we rode out of Oak Hill along the edge of a park which was notable for
much-twisted, dark sycamores on roots accumulated above-ground like
pedestals. At the far side gleamed the water, I imagine, of the brewery
reservoir. We reached the main ridge road of the Mendips soon after
this, and crossed it at a point about nine hundred feet high. Shepton
is five hundred feet lower, and but two miles distant; so that we
glided down somewhat like gods, having for domain an expanse that ended
in the mass of Selwood Forest twelve miles to our left, level-topped,
huge, and dim, under a cloudy sky. Unprepared as I was, I expected to
meet my end in the steep conclusion of this descent, which was through
narrow streets; and my brakes were bad. On the other hand, nothing
troubled the godlikeness of my companion. In the rush at twenty-five
miles an hour he sang, as if it had been a hymn of the new Paganism, a
ribald song beginning,--

  “As I was going to Salisbury upon a Summer’s day.”

When he had done he shouted across at me, “I would rather have written
that song than take Quebec.”

The Other Man would not stay in Shepton Mallet. He was very angry
with Shepton. He called it a godless place, and I laughed, supposing
he lamented the lack of Apollo or Dionysus or Aphrodite; but he
justified the word by relating his first visit to the church. The
bell was ringing. It was five minutes to eleven on a Wednesday, a day
of north-east wind, in February. With him entered a clergyman, and
except for the old bell-ringer, the church was empty. When the bells
ceased at eleven it was still empty. The clergyman and the bell-ringer
mumbled together, the old man saying, “You see, nobody has come.” No
service was held; the Other Man and the bell-ringer were unworthy. The
clergyman struggled up the road against the north-east wind. “And look
there,” exclaimed the Other Man, as we turned out of the long, narrow
street of shops into Church Lane, mediæval-looking and narrower, “look
there,” he exclaimed, pointing to the remains of a blue election poster
on a wall, where these words survived,--

“Foreigners tax us; let us tax them.”

“Why,” said he, “it is not even in the Bible,” and with this he mounted
and rode on toward Wells. The church tower was framed by the end walls
of Church Lane, a handsome, tall tower with a pointed cap to it, and
a worn statue of the Virgin and two other figures over the door.
Immediately inside the door are tablets to seventeenth-century and
eighteenth-century Barnards and Strodes of Down Hill, one bearing the
inscription,--

  “Urna tenet cineres
  Animam deus.”

The truth of it sounded like a copper gong in that twilight silence.
I went on among the ashes. Two window ledges, one looking east, one
west, form couches for stone effigies. That in the eastward ledge,
with his hand across the shield on his breast, looked as if happily
sleeping; the other had lost an arm, and was not happy. I re-entered
the main street by a side street broad enough for a market-place. Here
are some of the inns, and at the edge of the pavement a row of fixed
wooden shambles. The market cross stands at the turn. It is a stone
canopy, supported by six pillars in a circle, and one central pillar
surrounded by two stone steps or seats, and the south side wears a
dial, dated 1841. To know the yards of the “Red Lion,” “George,” and
“Bunch of Grapes,” and all the lanes and high-walled passages between
Shepton and the prison, would be a task (for the first ten years of
life) very cheerful to look back upon, and it would be difficult to
invent anything more amusing and ingenious, as it would be impossible
to invent anything prettier than the ivy, the ivy-leaved toadflax, and
that kidney-leafed cressy white flower, growing on the walls of the
passages. There are no public lights in Shepton, so that away from the
shop lamps all now was dark in the side streets and edges of the town.
The stone prison and all its apertures, like a great wasps’ nest, was a
punishment to look at in the darkness. But night added grandeur to the
many round arches of the viaduct on which the railway strides across
the valley. At this, a sort of boundary to Shepton upon the east, I
turned back, and ended the day at a temperance hotel. Its plain and not
old-looking exterior, ordinary bar and public room, suggested nothing
of the ancientness within. I found a good fire and peace in the company
of a man who studied Bradshaw. With the aid of maps I travelled my
road again, dwelling chiefly on Tellisford, its white bridge over the
Frome, the ruined mill and cottage, the round tower of Vaggs Hill Farm,
and the distinct green valley which enclosed them, and after this, the
Nettlebridge valley and the dark house above it.



VIII.

SHEPTON MALLET TO BRIDGWATER.


Day opened cold, dull, and windy in Shepton Mallet. After paying the
usual bill of about four shillings for supper, bed, and breakfast, I
tried to get into the churchyard again; but it was locked, and I set
out for Wells. The road led me past the principal edifice in Shepton
on the west side, as the prison is on the east--the Anglo-Bavarian
Brewery, which is also the highest in position. It is a plain stone
heap and a tubular chimney-stack of brick. A lover of size or of beer
at any price might love it, but no one else. I rode from it in whirls
of dust down to Bowlish and into the valley of the Sheppey. To within
a mile of Wells I was to have this little river always with me and
several times under me. Telegraph posts also accompanied the road. It
was a delightful exit; the brewery was behind me, a rookery before me
in the beech trees of the outskirts. On both hands grassy banks rose up
steeply. The left one, when the rookery was passed, was topped with
single thorn trees, and pigs and chickens did their duty and their
pleasure among the pollard ashes below. Most of the cottages of Bowlish
are on the other side, their gardens reaching down in front of them to
the stream, their straggling orchards of crooked apple trees behind
within walls of ivy-covered stone. Where Bowlish becomes Darshill, the
cottages are concentrated round a big square silk-mill and its mill
pond beside the road. Up in the high windows could be seen the backs
or faces of girls at work. All this is on the right, at the foot of
the slope. The left bank being steeper, is either clothed in a wood of
ivied oaks, or its ridgy turf and scattering of elms and ash trees are
seldom interrupted by houses. A sewage farm and a farmhouse ruined by
it take up part of the lower slope for some way past the silk-mill:
a wood of oak and pine invades them irregularly from above. Then on
both hands the valley does without houses. The left side is a low,
steep thicket rising from the stream, which spreads out here into a
sedgy pool before a weir, and was at this moment bordered by sheaves
of silver-catkined sallow, fresh-cut. But the right side became high
and precipitous, mostly bare at first, then hanging before me a rocky
barrier thinly populated by oaks. This compelled the road to twist
round it in a shadowy trough. In fact, so much has the road to twist
that a traveller coming from the other direction would prepare himself
for scaling the barrier, not dreaming that he could slink in comfort
round that wild obstacle.

Out of this crooked coomb I emerged into dust whirls and sunshine. The
village of Crosscombe was but a little way ahead, a long village of old
stone cottages and slightly larger houses, and two mills pounding away.
The river running among stones sounds all through it. At the bridge,
where it foams over the five steps of a weir, a drinking fountain is
somewhat complicated by the inscription: “If thou knewest the gift of
God, thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee
living water.” At the “Rose and Crown,” outside which is a cross, or
rather a knobbed pillar surmounting some worn steps, I branched up a
steep lane to St. Mary’s Church. It has a spire instead of a tower, and
an image of the Virgin at the base of it. Its broad-tailed weather-cock
flashed so in the sun as to be all but invisible. The grass was at its
greenest, the daisies at their whitest, in the churchyard, under the
black cypress wedges, where lies something or other of many a Chedzoy,
Perry, Hare, Hodges, and Pike. The upper side is bounded by a good
ancient wall, cloaked in ivy and tufted with yellow wallflower. Another
chiffchaff was singing here. While I was inside the building, a girl
hung about, rattling the keys expectantly (but no more persuasively
than the Titanic roadsters told their tale at Erlestoke), while I
walked among the dark pews and choir stalls of carven oak, and looked
at the tablets of the Hares and Pippets, great Clothiers of this
country, and the brass of Mr. William Bisse, and his nine daughters
and nine sons, and Mrs. Bisse, in the costume of 1625. The church
has a substantial business flavour belonging to the days when it was
so little known as to be beyond dispute that blessed are the rich,
for they do inherit this world and probably the next. A few yards
higher up the slope from the church is a Baptist chapel and a cottage
in one, evidently adapted with small skill or expense from a church
building older than the sect. Nothing divided the vegetable garden of
the cottage from the graveyard of the chapel, and it looked as if the
people of Crosscombe were ill content to raise merely violets from the
ashes of their friends.

[Illustration:

CROSSCOMBE.]

The road climbed away from Crosscombe up the left wall of the valley,
which is given a mountainous expression by the naked rock protruding
both at the ridge and on the slope of Dulcote Hill. The river runs
parallel on the right beneath, and along its farther bank the church
and cottages of Dinder in a string; and the sole noise arising from
Dinder was that of rooks. At a turning overshadowed by trees, at
Dulcote, a path travels straight through green meadows to Wells, and
to the three towers of the cathedral at the foot of a horizontal
terrace-like spur of oak, pine, and beech, that juts out from the main
line of Mendip leftwards or southwards. The river, which follows that
main line up to this spot, now quits it, and follows the receding
left wall of its valley, and consequently my road had its company no
longer. My way lay upward and over the spur. The white footpath was to
be seen going comfortably below on the left through parklike meadows,
and beyond it, the pudding-shaped Hay Hill and Ben Knowle Hill, and the
misty dome of Glastonbury Tor farther off.

By ten o’clock I was in the cathedral, and saw the painted dwarf up on
the wall kick the bell ten times with his heel, and the knights race
round and round opposite ways, clashing together ten times, while their
attendant squires rode in silence; and I heard the remote, monotonous
priest’s voice in the _Benedicite_, and the deep and the high responses
of men and boys. Up there in the transepts and choir chapels are many
rich tombs, and recumbent figures overarched by stone fretwork; but
the first and lasting impression is of the clean spaciousness of the
aisles and nave, clear of all tombs and tablets.

But clear and clean as was the cathedral, the outer air was clearer and
cleaner. The oblong green, walled in on three sides by homely houses,
and by the rich towered west front on the fourth, echoed gently with
the typical cathedral music, that of the mowing-machine, destroying
grass and daisies innumerable, with a tone which the sun made like
a grasshopper’s, not out of harmony with the song of a chaffinch
asseverating whatever it is he asseverates from one of the bordering
lime trees. The market-place, too, was warm; the yellowish and grayish
and bluish walls, the windows of all shapes and all sizes, and the
water of the central fountain, answered the sun.

Two gateways lead out of one side of the market-place to the cathedral
and the palace grounds. Taking the right-hand one, I came to the
palace, and the moat that flows along one side, between a high wall
climbed by fruit trees and ivy, and a walk lined with old pollard
elms. Rooks inhabited the elm tops, and swans the water. Rooks are
essential to a cathedral anywhere, but Wells is perfected by swans. On
the warm palace roof behind the wall--a roof smouldering mellow in the
sun--pigeons lay still ecclesiastically. Sometimes one cooed sleepily,
as if to seal it canonical that silence is better; the rooks cawed; the
water foamed down into the moat at one end between bowery walls. Away
from the cathedral on that side to the foot of the Mendips expanded
low, green country. I walked along the moat into the Shepton road, and
turning to the left, and passing many discreet, decent, quiet houses
such as are produced by cathedrals, and to the left again, so made a
circuit of the cathedral and its high tufted walls and holly trees,
back to the market-place.

It was difficult to know what to do in all this somewhat foreign
tranquillity. I actually entered an old furniture shop, and looked over
a number of second-hand books, _Spectators_, sermons that were dead,
theology that had never been alive, recent novels preparing for their
last sleep, books about Wells, “Clarissa Harlowe,” Mr. Le Gallienne’s
“English Poems,” “The Marvels of the Polar World,” and hundreds of
others. A cat slept in the sun amongst them, curled superbly, as if she
had to see justice done to the soporific powers of the cathedral city
and the books that nobody wanted. For the sake of appearances, I bought
“The History of Prince Lee Boo” for twopence. I thought to read this
book over my lunch, but there was better provender. The restaurant was
full of farmers, district councillors and their relatives, and several
school children. The loudest voice, the longest tongue, and the face
best worth looking at, belonged to a girl. She was a tomboy of fifteen,
black-haired, pale, strong-featured, with bold though not very bright
eyes. Her companion was a boy perhaps a little younger than herself,
and she was talking in a quick, decided manner.

“I like a girl that sticks to a chap,” she began suddenly.

The boy mumbled something. She looked sharply at him, as if to make
sure that he did exist, though he had not the gift of speech; then
directed her eyes out into the street. Having been silent for half a
minute, she stood up, pressing her face to the window to see better,
and exclaimed,--

“Look, look! There’s lovely hair.”

The boy got up obediently.

“There’s lovely hair,” she repeated, indicating some one passing; “she
isn’t good-looking to it, but it is lovely now. Look! isn’t it?”

The boy, I think, agreed before sitting down. What impressed him most
was the girl’s frank enthusiasm. She remained standing and looking out.
But in a moment something else had pleased her. She beckoned to the
boy, still with her eyes on the street, and said,--

“There’s a nice little boy.” As she said this she tapped the glass and
smiled animatedly. So in half a minute up came another boy of about the
same age as the first, and took a seat at the next table, smiling but
not speaking. Only when he had half eaten a cake did he begin to talk
casually about what had been passing at school--how an unpopular master
had been ragged, but dared not complain, though nobody did any work.
The girl listened intently, but when he had done, merely asked,--

“Have you ever been caned?”

“Lots of times,” he answered.

“Have _you_?” she asked the boy at her own table.

“Once,” he laughed.

“Have you?” she mused. “I haven’t. My mother told them they were to
cane me at one school, and they did try once, but I never went back
again after.” ... On finishing her lunch, she got up and strode out
of the room silently, without a farewell. She was shorter than I had
guessed, but more unforgettable than Prince Lee Boo. I put the book
away unopened. Even what passes for a good book is troublesome to read
after a few days out of doors, and the highest power of most of them
is to convey an invitation to sleep. And yet I thought of one writer
at Wells, and that was Mr. W. H. Hudson, who has written of it more
than once. He says that it is the only city where the green woodpecker
is to be heard. It comes into his new book, “Adventures among Birds,”
because it was here that he first satisfied his wish to be in a belfry
during the bell-ringing and hear “a symphony from the days of the
giants, composed (when insane) by a giant Tschaikovsky to be performed
on ‘instruments of unknown form’ and gigantic size.” But the book is
really all about birds and his journeys in search of them, chiefly in
the southern half of England. It is one of his best country books.
It is, in fact, the best book entirely about birds that is known to
me. The naturalist may hesitate to admit it, though he knows that no
such descriptions of birds’ songs and calls are to be found elsewhere,
and he cannot deny that no other pages reveal English birds in a wild
state so vividly, so happily, so beautifully. Mr. Hudson is in no need
of recommendation among naturalists. This particular claim of his is
mentioned only in order to impress a class of readers who might confuse
him with the fancy dramatic naturalists, and the other class who will
appreciate the substantial miracle of a naturalist and an imaginative
artist in one and in harmony.

Were men to disappear they might be reconstructed from the Bible and
the Russian novelists; and, to put it briefly, Mr. Hudson so writes of
birds that if ever, in spite of his practical work, his warnings and
indignant scorn, they should cease to exist, and should leave us to
ourselves on a benighted planet, we should have to learn from him what
birds were.

Many people, even “lovers of Nature,” would be inclined to look for
small beer in a book with the title of “Adventures among Birds.” If
they are ignorant of Mr. Hudson’s writings, they are not to blame,
since bird books are, as a rule, small beer. Most writers condescend
to birds or have not the genius to keep them alive in print, whether
or not they have the eternal desire “to convey to others,” as Mr.
Hudson says, “some faint sense or suggestion of the wonder and delight
which may be found in Nature.” He does not condescend to birds, “these
loveliest of our fellow-beings,” as he calls them, “these which give
greatest beauty and lustre to the world.” He travels “from county to
county viewing many towns and villages, conversing with persons of all
ages and conditions,” and when these persons are his theme he writes
like a master, like an old master perhaps, as everybody knows, who
has read his “Green Mansions,” “The Purple Land,” and “South American
Sketches.” It might, therefore, be taken for granted that such an
artist would not be likely to handle birds unless he could do so with
the same reality and vitality as men. And this is what he does.

His chief pleasure from his childhood on the Pampas has been in wild
birds; he has delighted in their voices above all sounds. “Relations,”
he calls the birds, “with knowing, emotional, and thinking brains like
ours in their heads, and with senses like ours, only brighter. Their
beauty and grace so much beyond ours, and their faculty of flight which
enables them to return to us each year from such remote, outlandish
places, their winged, swift souls in winged bodies, do not make them
uncanny, but only fairy-like.”

Only the book itself can persuade the reader of the extraordinary love
and knowledge of birds which have thus been nourished. If I were to
quote the passage where he speaks of his old desire to pursue wild
birds over many lands, “to follow knowledge like a sinking star, to
be and to know much until I became a name for always wandering with
a hungry heart;” or where he declares that the golden oriole’s clear
whistle was more to him “than the sight of towns, villages, castles,
ruins, and cathedrals, and more than adventures among the people;” or
where he calls being “present, in a sense invisible”--with the aid of
silence and binoculars--“in the midst of the domestic circle of beings
of a different order, another world than ours,” nearly every one would
probably pronounce him an extravagant sentimentalist, a fanatic, or,
worst of all, an exaggerator. He is none of these. When he writes of
his first and only pet bird and its escapes, there is no pettiness
or mere prettiness: it is not on the human scale, yet it is equal to
a story of gods or men. He is an artist, with a singular power of
sympathizing with wild life, especially that of birds. Their slender
or full throated songs, the “great chorus of wild, ringing, jubilant
cries,” when “the giant crane that hath a trumpet sound” assembles, the
South American crested screamers counting the hours “when at intervals
during the night they all burst out singing like one bird, and the
powerful ringing voices of the incalculable multitude produce an effect
as of tens of thousands of great chiming bells, and the listener is
shaken by the tempest of sound, and the earth itself appears to tremble
beneath him;” the colouring of birds, brilliant or delicate, their
soaring or manœuvring or straight purposed flight, their games and
battles, all their joyous, or fierce, passionate, and agitated cries
and motions, delight him at least as much as music delights its most
sensitive and experienced lovers. At sight of the pheasant he cannot
help loving it, much as he hates the havoc of which it is the cause.

There is a very large variety in his enjoyment. It is exquisite and it
is vigorous; it is tender and at times almost superhuman in grimness.
It is a satisfaction of his senses, of his curious intelligence, and
of his highest nature. The green eggs of the little bittern thrill
him “like some shining supernatural thing or some heavenly melody.”
He is cheerful when his binoculars are bringing him close to birds
“at their little games”--a kestrel being turned off by starlings, a
heron alighting on another heron’s back, a band of starlings detaching
themselves from their flock to join some wild geese going at right
angles to their course; for “the playful spirit is universal among
them.” The songs of blackbird, nightingale, thrush, and marsh warbler
delight him, and yet at other times the loss of the soaring species,
eagles and kites, oppresses him, and he speaks contemptuously of “miles
on miles of wood, millions of ancient noble trees, a haunt of little
dicky birds and tame pheasants.” His vision of the Somerset of the
lake-dwellers, of “the paradise of birds in its reedy inland sea, its
lake of Athelney,” makes a feast for the eyes and ears. Moreover, he
is never a mere bird man, and the result of this variety of interest
and pleasure on the part of a man of Mr. Hudson’s imagination, culture,
and experience, is that while his birds are intensely alive in many
different ways, and always intensely birdlike, presenting a loveliness
beyond that of idealized or supernaturalized women and children, yet
at the same time their humanity was never before so apparent. The
skylark is to him both bird and spirit, and one proof of the intense
reality of his love is his ease in passing, as he does in several
places, out of this world into a mythic, visionary, or very ancient
world. This also is a proof of the powers of his style. At first sight,
at least to the novice who is beginning to distinguish between styles
without discriminating, Mr. Hudson’s is merely a rather exceptionally
unstudied English, perhaps a little old-fashioned. Nothing could be
farther from the truth. It is, in fact, a combination, as curious as
it is ripe and profound, of the eloquent and the colloquial, now the
one, now the other, predominating in a variety of shades which make it
wonderfully expressive for purposes of narrative and of every species
of description--precise, humorous, rapturous, and sublime. And not
the least reason of its power is that it never paints a bird without
showing the hand and the heart that paints it. It reveals the author in
the presence of birds just as much as birds in the presence, visible or
invisible, of the author. The series of his books is now a long one,
not enough, certainly, yet a feast, and the last is among the three or
four which we shall remember and re-read most often.

I left Wells by a road passing the South-Western Railway station, and
admired the grass island parting the roads to the passengers’ and the
goods’ entrances. The curved edge of the turf was as clean as that
of the most select lawn; the grass looked as if it had never been
trodden. I now rode close to Hay Hill on my right--a dull, isolated
heave of earth, striped downwards by hedges so as to resemble a country
umbrella and its ribs. Motor cars overtook me. At Coxley Pound I
overtook a peat-seller’s cart. The air was perfumed with something like
willow-plait which I did not identify. The wind was light, but blew
from behind me, and was strong enough to strip the dead ivy leaves from
an ash tree, but not to stop the tortoiseshell butterfly sauntering
against it.

[Illustration: GLASTONBURY TOR.

“For three miles I was in the flat green land of Queen’s Sedge Moor
drained by straight sedgy water-courses along which grow lines of elm,
willow, or pine. Glastonbury Tor mounted up out of the flat before me
like a huge tumulus--almost bare, but tipped by St. Michael’s Tower.”
]

For three miles I was in the flat green land of Queen’s Sedgemoor,
drained by straight sedgy watercourses, along which grow lines of elm,
willow, or pine. Glastonbury Tor mounted up out of the flat before
me, like a huge tumulus, almost bare, but tipped by St. Michael’s
tower. Soon the ground began to rise on my left, and the crooked apple
orchards of Avalon came down to the roadside, their turf starred by
innumerable daisies and gilt celandines. Winding round the base of the
Tor, I rode into Glastonbury, and down its broad, straight hill past
St. John the Baptist Church and the notoriously mediæval “Pilgrim’s
Inn,” and many pastry cooks. Another peat cart was going down the
street. The church stopped me because of its tower and the grass
and daisies and half-dozen comfortable box tombs of its churchyard,
irregularly placed and not quite upright. One of the tombs advertised
in plain lettering the fact that John Down, the occupant, who died in
1829 at the age of eighty-three, had “for more than sixty years owned
the abbey.” He _owned_ the abbey, nothing more; at least his friends
and relatives were content to introduce him to posterity as the man
who “for more than sixty years owned the abbey.” If the dead were
permitted to own anything here below, doubtless he would own it still.
Outside the railings two boys were doing the cleverest thing I saw on
this journey. They were keeping a whip-top, and that a carrot-shaped
one, spinning by kicking it in turns. Which was an accomplishment more
worthy of being commemorated on a tombstone than the fact that you
owned Glastonbury Abbey. The interior of the church is made equally
broad at both ends by the lack of screen or of any division of the
chancel. It is notable also for a marble monument in the south-west
corner, retaining the last of its pale blue and rose colouring. A high
chest, carved with camels, forms the resting-place for a marble man
with a head like Dante’s, wearing a rosary over his long robes.

At first I thought I should not see more of the abbey than can be seen
from the road--the circular abbot’s kitchen with pointed cap, and the
broken ranges of majestic tall arches that guide the eye to the shops
and dwellings of Glastonbury. While I was buying a postcard the woman
of the shop reminded me of Joseph of Arimathea’s thorn, and how it
blossomed at Christmas. “Did you ever see it blossoming at Christmas?”
I asked. “Once,” she said, and she told me how the first winter she
spent in Glastonbury was a very mild one, and she went out with her
brothers for a walk on Christmas day in the afternoon. She remembered
that they wore no coats. And they saw blossom on the holy thorn. After
all, I did go through the turnstile to see the abbey. The high pointed
arches were magnificent, the turf under them perfect. The elms stood
among the ruins like noble savages among Greeks. The orchards hard
by made me wish that they were blossoming. But excavations had been
going on; clay was piled up and cracking in the sun, and there were
tin sheds and scaffolding. I am not an archæologist, and I left it. As
I was approaching the turnstile an old hawthorn within a few yards of
it, against a south wall, drew my attention. For it was covered with
young green leaves and with bright crimson berries almost as numerous.
Going up to look more closely, I saw what was more wonderful--Blossom.
Not one flower, nor one spray only, but several sprays. I had not
up till now seen even blackthorn flowers, though towards the end of
February I had heard of hawthorn flowering near Bradford. As this had
not been picked, I conceitedly drew the conclusion that it had not been
observed. Perhaps its conspicuousness had saved it. It was Lady Day. I
had found the Spring in that bush of green, white, and crimson. So warm
and bright was the sun, and so blue the sky, and so white the clouds,
that not for a moment did the possibility of Winter returning cross my
mind.

Pleasure at finding the May sent me up Wearyall Hill, instead of along
the customary road straight out of Glastonbury. The hill projects
from the earth like a ship a mile long, whose stern is buried in the
town, its prow uplifted westward towards Bridgwater; and the road took
me up as on a slanting deck, until I saw Glastonbury entire below me,
all red-tiled except the ruins and the towers of St. John and St.
Benedict. At the western edge the town’s two red gasometers stood
among blossoming plum trees, and beyond that spread the flat land. The
Quantocks, fifteen miles distant, formed but a plain wall, wooded and
flat-topped, on the horizon northward.

Instead of continuing up the broad green deck of Wearyall Hill, I went
along the west flank of it by road, descending through meadows and
apple trees to the flat land. I crossed the river Brue immediately by
Pomparles bridge, and in half a mile was in the town of Street. It is
a mostly new conglomeration of houses dominated by the chimney and the
squat tower of Clark’s Boot Factory; and since it is both flat and
riverless, it sprawls about with a dullness approaching the sordid. A
rough-barked elm tree, a hundred and fifty years old, slung on a timber
carriage outside the “Street Inn,” was the chief sign of Spring here
after the dust.

I was very glad to see the flat slowly swelling up at last to the
long ridge of the Polden Hills, which was soon to carry my road.
Walton, the next village, is a winding hamlet of thatched cottages,
pink, yellow, and stone-coloured, alternating with gardens, plums in
blossom, the vicarage trees and shrubbery, and the green yard of a
quaint apsidal farmhouse, once the parsonage. It has a flagged pavement
on the right, trodden solely by a policeman. The road was in the
power of a steam-roller and its merry men, but the fowls of the old
parsonage presented the only immediate signs of life. The plum blossom
and new green leaves in hedge and border were spotless at Walton, its
wallflowers very sweet on the untroubled air.

Thus I came clear of Street and the flat land. Outside of Walton I was
in a country consisting of ups and downs rather than undulations, a
grass country mainly, with orchards and hedges, elms in the hedges,
pigs and sheep in the orchards. After the flat it was blessed. Perhaps
it was not beautiful. It had character, but without easily definable
features, and it fell an easy victim to such an accident as the
absurdly dull stucco “Albion” inn, which appeared to have been designed
for Pevensey or Croydon. Nevertheless, a sloping orchard of bowed apple
trees sweeping the grass with their long, arched branches, and the
smell of peat smoke, counterbalanced the “Albion.” At Ashcott, where
a man is free to choose between very good water from a fountain on the
right and the coloured drinks of the “Bell” opposite, I was two hundred
feet up. I went into the church--a delightful place for a retired
deity--and enjoyed this inscription on an oval tablet of marble, behind
the pulpit, relating to the “remains” of Joseph Toms, who died in 1807,
at the age of sixteen,--

 “This youth was an apprentice to a grocer in Bristol, and as long as
 health permitted proved that inclination no less than duty prompted
 the union of strict integrity with industry. During his illness unto
 death he was calm, resigned, and full of hope. His late master has
 erected this small tribute to perpetuate the worth of so promising a
 character.”

My road ran along the ridge of the Poldens, and, after Ashcott, touched
but a solitary house or two. One set of villages lay to the south or
left, just above the levels of Sedgemoor, but below the hills. Another
set lay below to the north, each with its attendant level--Shapwick
Heath, Catcott Heath, Edington Heath, Chilton Moor, Woolavington
Level--beyond. Shapwick I turned aside to visit. The village is
scattered along a parallelogram of roads and cross lanes. An old manor
house, low and screened by cedars, stands apart. The church, of clean,
rough stone, with a central tower, is in a cedared green space at
a corner, having roads on two sides, a farm and an apple orchard on
the others; and trees have supplanted cottages on one roadside. A
flagged path leads among the tombstones to the church door. One of the
inscriptions that caught my eye was that in memory of Joe Whitcombe,
fifty years a groom and factotum in the Strangways family at the manor
house, who died at the age of sixty-four in 1892. Along with these
facts are the lines,--

  “An orchard in bloom in the sunny spring
  To me is a wondrous lovely thing.”

Very different from Old Joe’s are the epitaphs inside the church, the
work largely, I believe, of a former vicar, G. H. Templer, who built
the big blank vicarage with its square, high-walled fruit garden and
double range of stables, and planted cedars and cork trees. The epitaph
of Lieut.-Col. Isaac Easton of the East India Company is a fair sample
of this practically imperishable prose,--

 “Through all the gradations of military duty, his love of Enterprise,
 his Valour, his Prudence, and Humanity, obtained the admiration and
 affection of his fellow-soldiers with the confidence and commendation
 of that government which knew as well to distinguish as to reward real
 merit. In the more familiar walks of private life, all who knew him
 were eager to approve and to applaud the brilliant energy of his mind
 and the polished affability of his manners. His heart glowed with
 all the sensibility which forms the genuine source of real goodness
 and greatness, with gratitude to his benefactor, with generosity to
 his friend, and liberality to mankind. The sudden loss of so many
 virtues and so many amiable qualities, who that enjoyed his confidence
 or shared his conviviality can recall without a sigh or a tear? With
 a constitution impaired by the severities of unremitted service and
 the rigours of an oppressive climate, he returned, to the fond hope
 of enjoying on his native soil the well-earned recompense of his
 honourable labours, when a premature death hurried him to his grave in
 1780, at the age of 45.”

Templer’s position in prose is the same as that of Jolliffe’s encomiast
in verse at Kilmersdon. The relation of his work to life at Shapwick in
the eighteenth century is about as close as that of the “Arcadia” to
Sidney’s age. More telling are the inscriptions of two men named Cator
and Graham, who were killed during a fight with a French privateer
in the Bay of Bengal in October 1800. The Bulls and Strangways have
big slabs; the Bulls adding the blue and crimson of their arms to
the chancel. Not less silent than the church was the street leading
down towards the manor house and railway station, silent except for a
transitory twitter of goldfinches. The one shop had its blinds drawn
in honour of early closing day. It is a peaceful neighbourhood, where
every one brews his own cider and burns the black or the inflammable
ruddy peat from the moor. A corner where there are a beautiful chestnut
and some waste grass provides a camping ground for gypsies from
Salisbury and elsewhere; and it seemed fitting that men and boys should
spend their idle hours in the lane at marbles. It is famous, if at all,
since the battle of Sedgemoor, for giving a home to F. R. Havergal and
an occasional resting-place to Churton Collins.

Very still, silvery, and silent was the by-road by which I rode up
through ploughland back again to the ridge. Lest I had missed anything,
I turned away from my destination for a mile towards Ashcott. I was for
most of the distance in Loxley Wood. Primroses, as far as I could see,
clustered thick round the felled oaks, the fagot heaps, and the tufts
of last year’s growth on the stoles. A few stones on the right inside
the wood are called Swayne’s Jumps, and it is related that a prisoner
of the name, whether in Monmouth’s or Cromwell’s time I forget, escaped
by means of some tremendous jumps there, taken when he was pretending
to show his captors how they ought to jump.

Even without the wood this road was beautiful. For it was bordered for
some way on the left by a broad grass strip planted with oaks, and not
common oaks, but trees all based on small moss-gilded pedestals of
their own roots above the earth, their bark and branches silver, their
main limbs velveted with moss and plumed with polypody ferns. Moreover,
they have filled the few gaps with young trees. On the right, after
coming to the end of Loxley Wood and before the signpost of Greinton, I
saw a rough waste strip of uneven breadth, partly overgrown by bushes
from the hedge and by pine trees. Here ran the rank of telegraph posts,
and in the grass were remains of fires. A hundred yards later, and as
far as the turning of Shapwick, the waste was quite a little rushy
common fed by horses.

Turning once more westward and again piercing Loxley Wood, the wayside
strip there consecrated to the oak avenue ceased, but that it had
once been prolonged far along the road was plain, whether it had been
swallowed up by wood or meadow, or hedged off and planted with larches
or apple trees, or ploughed up, or usurped by cottage and garden. Shorn
thus, the road travels four miles of a ridge as straight and sharp as
the Hog’s Back. It was delicious easy riding, with no company but that
of a linnet muttering sweetly in the new-green larches, and a blackbird
or two hurrying and spluttering under the hedge.

All the country on either hand was subject to my eyes. Before me
the red disc of the sun was low, its nether half obliterated by a
long, misty cloud. The levels on my right, and their dark, moss-like
corrugations, were misted over, not so densely that a white river of
train smoke could not be seen flowing through it; and Brent Knoll far
off towered over it like an islet of crag, dark and distinct; nor was
the prostrate mass of Brean Down invisible on the seaward side of Brent
Knoll. Not a sound emerged from that side beyond the bleat of a few
lambs. On the left was the misty country of Athelney, and a solitary
dark tower raised well above the midst of the level. The most delicate
scene of all my journey was nearer. The Poldens have on this side
several foothills, and at the turning to Righton’s Grave one of these
confronted me; I had it in full view for a mile and could hardly look
at anything else. This was Ball Hill. It is a smooth island lifted up
out of an ever so faintly undulating land of hedged meadows and sparse
elm trees. It rose very gradually, parallel to my road and about half
a mile from it, so as to make a long, nascent curve, up to a comb of
trees; and its flank was divided downwards and lengthwise amongst rosy
ploughland and pale green corn in large hedgeless squares and oblongs,
beautifully contrasted in size and colour. Next to Ball Hill is another
one, as distinct, but steeper and wooded, called Pendon Hill. In the
dip between the two lay the church tower and cottages of Stawell, and
a dim orchard rose behind them with trees that were like smoke. Though
the lines of these hills and their decorated slopes are definitely
beautiful, during the dusk on that silver road in the first Spring
innocence they were a miraculous birth, to match the Spring innocence
and the tranquillity of the dusk as I slid quietly on that road of
silver.

Then came two shams. The first was a towered residence close to the
road, with Gothic features. The second, black against the sky, three
miles ahead, was a tower and many ruinous arches on top of the wooded
hill at Knowle. It is hard to show how not very experienced eyes begin
to suspect a sham of this sort. But they did, and yet were able to
dally a little with the kind of feeling which the real thing would
have produced. For, when I saw the ruins most clearly, at the turn to
Woolavington, Highbridge, and Burnham, twilight was half spent.

The road was descending. Bridgwater’s tower, spire, and chimneys, and
smoke mingling with trees, were visible down on the left, and past
them the dim Quantocks fading down to the sea. I was soon at the level
of the railway, and Bawdrip behind the embankment showed me a pretty
jumble of roofs, chimneys, a church tower, and a green thorn tree over
the rim. The high slope of Knowle and its rookery beeches--where the
ruin is--hung upon the right very darkly over the small pale “Knowle
Inn” and the white scattered blackthorn blossom and myself slipping
by. The road went on to Puriton and Pawlett, and down it under the
trees two lovers were walking slowly, but opposite Knowle I had to
turn sharp to the left. Those green trees in the last of the twilight
seemed exceptionally benign. After the turning I immediately crossed
the deep-cut King’s Sedgemoor drain--with a flowering orchard betwixt
it and the road I had left--and in a few yards the single line of
the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway. Two miles of flat field and
white-painted orchard, and I was in a street of flat, dull, brick
cottages and foul smoke, but possessing an extraordinarily haughty
white hart chained over an inn porch of that name. Then the river
Parrett; and a dark ship drawn up under the line of tall inns and
stores with glimmering windows. I crossed the bridge and walked up
Corn Hill between the shops to where the roads fork, one for Taunton,
one for Minehead, to left and right of Robert Blake’s statue and the
pillared dome of the market. I took the Minehead road, the right-hand
one, past the banks, the post office, the “Royal Clarence” hotel, and
by half-past seven I was eating supper, listening to children outside
in the still, dark street, laughing, chattering, teasing, disputing. I
read a page or two of the “History of Prince Lee Boo,” and fell asleep.



IX.

BRIDGWATER TO THE SEA.


The night at Bridgwater was still. I heard little after ten except the
clear deep bells of St. Mary’s telling the quarters. They woke me with
the first light, and I was glad to be out of the hotel early because
the three other guests (I think, commercial travellers) not only did
not talk--which may have been a blessing--but took no notice of “Good
evening” or “Good morning.” It was a clean, new, and unfriendly place,
that caused a sensation as of having slept in linoleum. The charge for
supper, bed, and breakfast was the usual one, a few pence over four
shillings.

I wandered about the western half of the town. This being built on a
slight hill above the river, was older and better worth looking at
than the flat eastern half, though it was lacking in trees, as may be
guessed from the fact that some rooks had had to nest in horse-chestnut
trees, which they avoid if possible. Castle Street is the pleasantest
in the town, a wide, straight old street of three-storey brick houses,
rising almost imperceptibly away from the quay. The houses, all
private, have round-topped windows and are flat-fronted, except for
two at the bottom which have bays. Across the upper end a big, sunlit,
ivied house, taller than the others and of mellower brick, with a
chestnut tree, projects somewhat, and on the pavement below it is a red
pillar box.

The quay itself is good enough to recall Bideford. The river is
straight for a distance, and separated from the quayside buildings
only by the roadway. These buildings, ship-brokers’ and contractors’,
port authority’s and customs and excise offices, a steam sawmill,
and the “Fountain,” “Dolphin,” and “King’s Head,” are plain enough,
mostly with tall flat fronts with scant lettering and no decoration,
all in a block, looking over at the low level of the Castle Field
north-eastward, where cattle grazed in the neighbourhood of
chimney-stacks and railway signals. The _Arthur_ was waiting for a
cargo. The _Emma_ was unloading coal. But for the rest the quay was
quiet, and a long greyhound lay stretched out across the roadway, every
inch of him content in the warm sun.

The next best thing to the quay was the broad sandstone Church of St.
Mary and its tall spire, standing on a daisied, cropped turf among
thorns and a few tombstones, and walled in on three sides by houses,
shops, and the “White Lion” and “Golden Ball.” The walls inside provide
recesses for many tombs. The most memorable tomb in the church is that
of an Irish soldier named Kingsmill. He is a fine fellow, albeit of
stone, leaning on his elbow and looking at the world or nothing as
if satisfied with his position. He “sleeps well”--no man, I should
say, better. This and his features reminded me of a man still living,
a man of brawn and spirit, a despiser of beastly foreigners, and a
good sleeper. I have seen him looking like old Kingsmill, with this
one difference--that when he was in that stage of wakingness he had
a cigarette between his lips invariably. He awoke, smiling at the
goodness of sleep and of the world, and lay back, whoever called him,
to sleep again. Resurrected at length, or partly so, he would sigh, but
not in sorrow, and then swear, and turn over to reach a cigarette from
beside the bed. The lighted cigarette regilded the world: he envied
no man, any more than Kingsmill does, and certainly no woman. The
cigarette, though enchanted, came to an end, even so; and he did what
Kingsmill perhaps never did, took a cold bath, but in a manner which
Kingsmill would have admired. The bath being filled to within an inch
or two of overflowing, he let himself slowly in until he was completely
under water, where he lay in a state apparently of bliss lasting many
seconds, for beneficent providence had ordained that he should be
almost as much aquatic as he was earthly, worldly, and territorial.
Then out he came like Mars rising from the foam. After drying himself
for ten minutes he lit another cigarette and rambled about his room
without artificial covering until he had smoked it. Next he began
dressing, an operation not to be described in my style in less than
two volumes octavo, and worthy of something incomparably more godlike,
for he was as a god and his dressing was godlike.... After Kingsmill’s
effigy the chief spectacle of St. Mary’s is the unexpected, big
Italianate picture of Christ’s descent from the cross, which forms an
altar-piece. The story is that it was taken from a Spanish vessel--some
add that it was one of the Great Armada; that it reached Bridgwater
after a long seclusion at Plymouth, and was claimed by Plymouth when
Bridgwater was seen to have it, but that Bridgwater kept it in a
packing case for two years.

With the quay and the church ranks the statue of Robert Blake, if only
for the inscription,--

  “Born in this town, 1598.
  Died at sea, 1657.”

I am told that there is also a passage quoted from one Edmund Spencer,
but I did not see it; nor is it so great an error as the inscription
about Jefferies in Salisbury Cathedral, and they have less time in
Bridgwater market-place than in Salisbury Cathedral for literary
accuracy.

It was half-past ten on a beautiful morning when I rode out of the town
by a very suburban suburb of villas, elms, and a cemetery. My road
carried me at first along a low ridge, so that over the stone walls I
looked down east and northward to the vale of the Parrett; a misty,
not quite flat expanse of green, alternating with reddish and already
crumbling ploughland, which was interrupted a mile away by the red
walls, elms, and orchard of Chilton Trinity, and farther off, by the
pale church tower of Cannington. Two horses were drawing a scarifier
across the furrows of a field by the roadside. On my left or westward
I looked beyond a more broken country, with white linen blowing on
cottage garden bushes, to the dim Quantocks still far off. The sun
was hot, but the wind blew from behind me, and the dust was not an
offence when a motor car was not passing me. A chiff-chaff was singing
at Wembdon. Larks crowded their songs into a maze in every quarter.
Overhead a single telegraph wire sizzled.

Three miles out of Bridgwater my road had dropped to the level, and
proceeded over it to Cannington, but instead of sticking to it I turned
at a smithy on my left into a by-road, which wound between low hedges
of thorn and maple mounted either on ivied walls or on banks covered
with celandines. It passed Bradley Green’s few cottages, the “Malt
Shovel” inn, an oak copse with a chiff-chaff in it, and here a robin on
a wall, and there a linnet on a thorn tip, in a slightly up and down
country of grass, ploughland, and orchard. In a mile the road twisted
at right angles to cross the Cannington brook and rejoin the main road;
and at this angle, by a green bowered lane, was a stone house and
chapel in one. This was Blackmoor Manor Farm, a group that no longer
has anything stately or sacred save what it owes to its antiquity and
continuous human occupation.

The main road, when I rejoined it, was rising once more between banks
of gorse. So bright was the blossom of the gorse that its branches were
shadowy and nearly invisible in the brightness. For the sun was now
as warm as ever it need be for a man who can move himself from place
to place. On both hands the undulating land was warm and misty, but
particularly on the right. There, as I approached Swang Farm, at the
third milestone from Nether Stowey, a hill, almost as graceful as Ball
Hill near Stawell, rose parallel to the road, its long-curving ridge
about a third of a mile away. Its smooth flank was apportioned by
hedgerows and a few elms among bare ploughland and young corn above,
and drabby grass with sheep on it below. Near by, on the other side,
was another such hill, a nameless one above Halsey Cross Farm, which
I first took notice of when it was cut in two perpendicularly by the
signpost pointing to Spaxton. It was but a blunt, conical hillside
of green corn, rosy ploughland, sheep-fed pasture, and a few elms in
the partitions; and behind it the dim Quantocks. Between these two
hills, at a spot where the road twists again at right angles, a brick
summer-house perched on the walled roadside bank, at the very corner.
Here, as I heard, a few generations ago, ladies from the house near by
used to sit to watch for the coaches. I was now two hundred feet up in
the foothills of the Quantocks. Three or four miles in front bulked the
moorlands of the main ridge.

Nether Stowey begins with a church and a farm and farmyard in a group.
Then follows a street of cottages without front gardens, dominated by
a smooth green “castle” rampart a third of a mile away. The street
ends in a “First and Last Inn” on one side, and a cottage on the other,
announced as formerly Coleridge’s by an inscription and a stone wreath
of dull reddish brown. Altogether Nether Stowey offered no temptations
to be compared with those of the road leading out of it. Immediately
outside the village it was walled by deep banks, and on these grew
arum, celandine, and nettle, with bushes of new-leaved blackthorn and
spindle. Here I saw the first starry, white stitchworts or milkmaids.
And henceforward I was always walking steeply up or steeply down one
of the medley of lesser hills. Below on the right was chiefly red
ploughland; above on the left wilder and wilder heights of sheep-fed
moorland. The road was visible ahead, looping half way up the slopes.

Honeysuckle ramped on the banks of the deep-worn road in such profusion
as I had never before seen. The sky had clouded softly, and the
sun-warmed misty woods of the coombs, the noise of slender waters
threading them, the exuberant young herbage, the pure flowers such
as stitchwort and the pink and “silver white” cuckoo flowers, but
above all the abounding honeysuckle, produced an effect of wildness
and richness, purity and softness, so vivid that the association
of Nether Stowey was hardly needed to summon up Coleridge. The mere
imagination of what these banks would be like when the honeysuckle
was in flower was enough to suggest the poet. I became fantastic, and
said to myself that the honeysuckle was worthy to provide the honeydew
for nourishing his genius; even that its magic might have touched
that genius to life--which is absurd. And yet magic alone could have
led Coleridge safely through the style of his age, the style of the
author of Jolliffe’s epitaph at Kilmersdon, the style of Stephen Duck
and his benefactors, the style of his own boyish effusions, where he
personified Misfortune, Love, Wisdom, Virtue, Fortune, and Content with
the aid of capitals. He fell again when weary into lines like,--

  “Thro’ vales irriguous, and thro’ green retreats;”

he rose and fell once more, until finally the conventions had either
slipped away or been adopted or subdued. Perhaps it was not in vain,
or so fatuous as it seems to us, that he personified, like any lady or
gentleman of the day,--

  “The hideous offspring of Disease,
  Swoln Dropsy ignorant of Rest,
  And Fever garb’d in scarlet vest;
  Consumption driving the quick hearse,
  And Gout that howls the frequent curse;
  With Apoplex of heavy head
  That surely aims his dart of lead.”

Whether we can follow him or not into intimacy with those “beings of
higher class than man,” Fire, Famine, Slaughter, Woes, and Young-eyed
Joys, the more or less than fleshly creatures of his later poems may
owe something to that early dressing up, as well as to the honeydew-fed
raptures of Nether Stowey.

Some of the early poems reveal underneath the dismal tawdry vesture of
contemporary diction the beginnings of what we now know as Coleridge.
It is to be seen in the sonnet, “To the Autumnal Moon,” written in 1788
when he was sixteen, which begins,--

  “Mild Splendour of the various-vested Night,
  Mother of Wildly-working visions hail;”

and then again more subtly in 1795, when he is looking for a
Pantisocratic dell,--

  “Where Virtue calm with careless step may stray,
  And dancing to the moonlight roundelay,
  The Wizard Passions weave an holy spell” ...

though it is impossible to say that the collocation of calm and
careless, wizard and holy, would have arrested us had Coleridge made
no advance from it, had he remained a minor poet. The combination of
mild and wild is a characteristic one, partly instinctive, partly an
intellectual desire, as he shows by speaking of a “soft impassioned
voice, correctly wild.” The two come quaintly together in his image
of,--

                        “Affection meek
  (Her bosom bare, and wildly pale her cheek),”

and nobly in the picture of Joan of Arc,--

                          “Bold her mien,
  And like a haughty huntress of the woods
  She moved: yet sure she was a gentle maid.”

Coleridge loved equally mildness and wildness, as I saw them on the
one hand in the warm red fields, the gorse smouldering with bloom, the
soft delicious greenery of the banks; and on the other hand in the
stag’s home, the dark, bleak ridges of heather or pine, the deep-carved
coombs. Mildness, meekness, gentleness, softness, made appeals both
sensuous and spiritual to the poet’s chaste and voluptuous affections
and to something homely in him, while his spirituality, responding to
the wildness, branched forth into metaphysics and natural magic. Some
time passed before the combining was complete. There was, for example,
a tendency to _naiveté_ and plainness, to the uninspired accuracy of
“pinky-silver skin” (of a birch tree), and to the matter of fact--

  “The Mariners gave it biscuit worms--”

which he cut out of “The Ancient Mariner.” He cut out of “This
Lime-tree Bower my Prison,” a phrase informing us that he was kept
prisoner by a burn. At first he called “the grand old ballad of Sir
Patrick Spens” the “dear old ballad,” and the lines,--

  “Yon crescent Moon is fixed as if it grew
  In its own cloudless, starless lake of blue”

were followed by--

  “A boat becalm’d, a lovely sky-canoe”

It was natural to him at first to address Wordsworth as

  “O Friend! O Teacher! God’s great gift to me!”

and it became natural to him to cut out the last phrase. Formerly
Geraldine said to Christabel, “I’m better now”; and instead of lying
entranced she lay “in fits.” The poem still includes the phrase
describing Christabel’s eyes,--

  “Each about to have a tear;”

while “Frost at Midnight” retains the allusion to the “fluttering
stranger” in the fire, the filmy blue flame, as a note instructs us,
“supposed to portend the arrival of some absent friend.” There is, too,
a whole class of homely poems, on receiving the news of his child’s
birth, on being warned not to bathe in the sea: “God be with thee,
gladsome Ocean,” it begins.

The mildness, meekness, gentleness, beloved of Coleridge’s tender and
effusive nature, appear with such diverse company as in “Poverty’s meek
woe,” “mild and manliest melancholy,” and “mild moon-mellow’d foliage,”
and repeated with variations four times in one verse of the lines
written at Shurton Bars, near Bridgwater,--

  “I felt it prompt the tender Dream,
  When slowly sank the Day’s last gleam;
    You rous’d each gentler sense,
  As sighing o’er the Blossom’s bloom
  Meek Evening wakes its soft perfume
    With viewless influence.”

Sometimes the mildness expands to conscious luxury, as in the poem
“Composed during Illness, and in Absence,” beginning,--

  “Dim Hour, that sleep’st on pillowing clouds afar,
  O rise and yoke the Turtles to thy car!
  Bend o’er the traces, blame each lingering Dove,
  And give me to the bosom of my Love!
  My gentle Love, caressing and carest,
  With heaving heart shall carol me to rest!
  Shed the warm tear-drop from her smiling eyes--
  Lull with fond woe, and medicine me with sighs,
  While finely-flushing float her kisses meek,
  Like melted rubies o’er my pallid cheek.”

Here he is half laughing at his own tendency, but he had only
transitory thoughts of checking it. In “Reflections on having left a
Place of Retirement,” he speaks of dreaming,--

  “On rose-leaf beds, pampering the coward heart
  With feelings all too delicate for use.”

He is in revolt against the tendency, but only with his intellect.
The honeysuckle intoxicates his heart too surely under the “indulgent
skies” of that summer with Wordsworth.

A marked variety of his luxury is disclosed by his many references to
the maiden’s bosom and the swelling of it with emotion. I choose the
following example because it includes so much that is characteristic
besides,--

  “Oft will I tell thee, Minstrel of the Moon,
  ‘Most musical, most melancholy’ Bird!
  That all thy soft diversities of tune,
  Tho’ sweeter far than the delicious airs
  That vibrate from a white-armed Lady’s harp,
  What time the languishment of lonely love
  Melts in her eye, and heaves her breast of snow,
  Are not so sweet as is the voice of her,
  My Sara--best beloved of human kind!
  When breathing the pure soul of tenderness,
  She thrills me with the Husband’s promised name!”

This quality is more effective in company with the other quality and
relieved by it. I mean the quality which responds to ghostliness and to
the wildness of Nature. “The Keepsake” has it perfect, in this picture
of a girl,--

  “In the cool morning twilight, early waked
  By her full bosom’s joyous restlessness,
  Softly she rose, and lightly stole along,
  Down the slope coppice to the woodbine bower,
  Whose rich flowers, swinging in the morning breeze,
  Over their dim, fast-moving shadows hung,
  Making a quiet image of disquiet
  In the smooth, scarcely-moving river-pool.”

It is perfect again, differently combined, in part of “The Æolian
Harp,”--

            “The long sequacious notes
  Over delicious surges sink and rise,
  Such a soft floating witchery of sound
  As twilight elfins make, when they at eve
  Voyage on gentle gales from Fairy-Land,
  Where Melodies round honey-dropping flowers,
  Footless and wild, like birds of Paradise,
  Nor pause, nor perch, hovering on untam’d wing!”

The work of this best period, the Quantock sojourn, shows this uniting
of richness and delicacy, of sweetness and freshness, of sensuousness
and wildness, of spirit and sense, irresistibly intruding on “Religious
Musings,” as here,--

  “When in some hour of solemn jubilee
  The massy gates of Paradise are thrown
  Wide open, and forth come in fragments wild
  Sweet echoes of unearthly melodies
  And odours snatched from beds of Amaranth,
  And they, that from the crystal river of life
  Spring up on freshened wing, ambrosial gales;”

or, as in “Christabel” and “The Ancient Mariner,” both written in
the Quantocks, raised again and again to a peculiar harmony from the
innermost parts of our poetry’s holy of holies.

Except for Coleridge, I had the road to myself between Nether Stowey
and Holford. Sheep were feeding on some of the slopes, and in one
coomb woodmen were trimming cordwood among prostrate regiments of oak
trees; but these eaters of grass, or of bread and cheese and bacon,
were ghosts by comparison with the man who wrote “The Ancient Mariner;”
the very hills, their chasms and processions of beeches, were made
unforgettable by his May opium dream of--

  “That deep romantic chasm which slanted
  Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
  A savage place as holy and enchanted
  As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
  By woman wailing for her demon lover.”

Then the sea. At a mile past Holford the road bent sharp to the left
and west, to get between the sea and the Quantocks. A sign-board
pointed to the right to Stringston’s red-roofed white church. On the
left two converging hillsides framed a wedge of sea, divided into
parallel bands of gray and blue. It came as if it were a reward, an
achievement, the unsuspected aim of my meanderings. A long drift of
smoke lay over it from the seaward edge of the hills. The bottom of the
wedge held the village of Kilve, and, a little apart, the cube of Kilve
Court. As if to a goal I raced downhill to Kilve and its brook.

I had lunch at the “Hood Arms,” and made up my mind to stay there
for that night. Two o’clock had not long passed when I left the inn
and the main road and went north to Kilve Church and the sea. The
by-road accompanied the brook, and skirted its apple orchards and tall
poplars wagging myriads of wine-red catkins. Having passed a mill, a
farm, and a cottage or two, the road took me to the church and its
big, short-boughed yew tree, and became a farm track only. The small
towered church is a poor place, clean and newly repointed outside,
the arches filled in which had apparently communicated with a side
chapel, and all its possible crosses lacking. Inside it has a cheap
rickety gallery at the tower end, and was being stripped of its plaster
to show the wood carving at the cornice. Tablets hang on the wall
in memory of people named Cunditt and Sweeting, and of Norah Muriel
Sweet-Escott, aged twenty, who died in South Africa of yellow fever.
As I was leaving the church, entered the Other Man. Laughing nervously
at the encounter, he explained that he had come to Kilve to see if it
really had a weather-cock. He reminded me of Wordsworth’s “Anecdote for
Fathers,” where the poet pesters his son of five to give his reason for
preferring Liswyn to Kilve, until, a broad, gilded vane catching his
eye, the child gives the inspired answer,--

  “At Kilve there is no weather-cock;
  And that’s the reason why.”

“There _is_ no weather-cock,” said the Other Man, laughing a little
more freely and disappearing for the last time. A white-fronted
farm-house, the heavily ivy-mantled ruin of a chantry adjacent, green
mounds of long submerged masonry, and a big knobby poplar with wine-red
catkins, are next neighbours to the church, a stone’s throw from the
churchyard. The chantry has come to this by several stages. Part of it,
for example, has been used as a dwelling, and adapted to the purpose
by makeshift methods, which now add a sordid, contumelious element to
the ruins. Fowls pecked about the chambers in the dust, in the bramble,
ivy, and nettles. The big poplar stands, or, rather, reclines just off
the ground, between the chantry and the brook. The running water led me
seaward, through a tangled thicket of scrub oak, gorse, and bramble,
filled in with teasel and burdock, and through a small marshy flag-bed.
A low cliff, pierced by the stream, separates the beach from the rough,
undulating, briery pasture. This cliff of sand and rock gave me shelter
from the wind; the flat gray pebbles gave me a seat; and I looked out
to sea.

A ragged sky hung threatening over a sea that was placid but corrugated
and of the colour of slate, having a margin of black at the horizon.
The water was hardly distinguishable, save by its motion, from the
broad beach of gray pools, blackened pebbles, and low rock edges. Only
the most fleeting and narrow lights fell upon the expanse, now on a
solitary sail, now on the pale lighthouse of Flat Holm far out. Between
this island, which just broke the surface of the sea on the left, and
Brean Down, the last outpost of the mainland on the right, the cloudy
pile of Steep Holm towered up.

[Illustration:

KILVE.

“A ragged sky hung threatening over a sea that was placid but
corrugated, and of the colour of slate, save a margin of black at the
horizon.”]

Not even the sea could altogether detain the eyes from the land scene
westward; for there massed and jostled themselves together the main
eminences of Exmoor, of a uniform gray, soft and unmoulded, that was
lost from time to time either in the wild, hurrying, and fitfully
gleaming sky, or in tawny smoke rolling low down from the Quantocks
seaward. Hardly less sublime was the long, clear-cut ridge between me
and Exmoor, low but precipitous, projecting into the sea a mile or two
distant, and bearing a dark church tower like a horn. The fire on the
Quantocks now burnt scarlet.

The Kilve brook on my left was noisily twisting over the pebbles and
the slanting, gray, mossy-weeded rock down to the sea, tossing up a
light but unceasing spray; and pied wagtails flitted from the fresh
water to the salt over the rocks. But what I was most glad to see was
the meadow pipit. Feebly, like a minor lark, and silently, he launched
himself twenty or thirty feet up from the wet, dark rock; then, with
wings uplifted and body curved to a keel like a crescent, he descended
slantwise, singing the most passionate and thrilling-sweet of all
songs that “o’er inform this tenement of clay” until he alighted.
Before one had finished another began, and not a moment was the song
silenced. Here, too, and among the briers of the rough pasture behind
the cliff, the wheatear, as clean as a star, flirted his tail and
showed his whiteness.

Over Exmoor storm and sun quarrelled in the cauldron, but here only one
drop fell on each dry, warm pebble and vanished. The wind slackened;
the heat grew; the warm, soft gray sky closed in and imprisoned the air
which the earth breathed. It was pleasant to get hot out of doors in
March. It was pleasant to bicycle up out of Kilve and away west on the
Minehead road, which carried me well up round the end of the Quantocks.
I took the second turning seaward for East Quantoxhead. The cottage
gardens in this lane were rich in wallflowers, daffodils, and jonquils;
and japonica was blood-red on the walls. Still better were the hedges
past the few cottages, because they were green entirely, and were the
first I had seen so in that spring. Nor were they mere thorn or elder
hedges, but interwoven elm, thorn, brier, and elder, all with their
young leaves expanded. But the heat was already great, and I was going
downhill too much not to reflect that I should have to come up again.
The pale Court House and contiguous church of East Quantoxhead, homes
of the living and of the dead Luttrells for many centuries, as men
go, were still a quarter of a mile away across a wide meadow with oak
trees, and I never got nearer. I turned instead along a hedged, stony
lane upon the left. It soon created a suspicion that I ought not to
have taken it. I stuck to it, however, uphill and then precipitously
down under untrimmed hedges, where it was no better than a river bed
of mud and stones, until it ceased to exist, having emerged into the
fields which it served. As I refused to return, I had to ascend along
the edges of several ploughed fields and among sheepfolds and through
gateways before I recovered the main road at about the sixth milestone
from Nether Stowey. The heat, the climbing with a bicycle, and, above
all, the useless, indignant impatience of annoyance, tired me; yet I
rode on westward. The gorse was beautiful on the hills above, and in
the old sandstone quarries beside the road. The sides of these quarries
were bearded with it, their floors were carpeted with gilt moss, out of
which rose up straight young larch trees in freshest green. At the head
of a deep coomb of oak and foxglove the rock had been cut away for the
widening of the road, and from the newly exposed sandstone hundreds of
the rough rosettes of foxglove had broken forth; but a smooth slab had
been devoted to an advertisement of somebody’s flock of long-woolled
Devon sheep.

The approach to West Quantoxhead and the great house of St. Audries was
lined by fences, and I rode down past them with dread of the dismal
walk back again. But at the foot the fence came to an end. The pale
gorsy turf of the deer park fell away on the right to the great house
and its protecting woods. Daffodils and primroses were thick on the
left-hand slopes. And there was a fountain of ever-running water at
the roadside. I took the water inwardly and outwardly, and no longer
troubled about the difficulty of ascent and return, even when I found
myself slipping down hill for two miles into Williton. The high beacons
of Exmoor were hanging before me, scarfed and coifed by clouds of the
sunset, and grand were these half-earthly and half-aerial heights, but
lovelier was the gentle hill much nearer and a little to the left of
my course. For the sun, sinking on the right side of it, blessed and
honoured this hill above all other hills. Both its woods and pastures
were burning subduedly with a mild orange fire, without being consumed.
It was the marriage of heaven and earth. The grim beacons behind
guarded the couch. A white farm below was as white as moonlight.

Williton begins with a railway station and a workhouse, yet the first
half mile of it is a street without a shop, of white or pale-washed,
often thatched cottages and small houses, each separated from the road
by flowery gardens of various breadths, some mere flowery strips,
all good. To the fact that it was on the main road from Minehead to
Bridgwater it was as indifferent as to the marriage of heaven and
earth. The straight road was smooth, pale, and empty. Where it runs
into another road, as the down stroke runs into the cross stroke
of a T, and has a signpost to Watchet on the right, Bicknoller and
Minehead on the left, the shops begin. Here, though it was six, and
notwithstanding the marriage of heaven and earth, I had tea, and
furthermore ate cream with a spoon, until I had had almost as much as I
desired.

Now although I had seemed to be riding continually downhill into
Williton, I found it nearly all downhill back to Kilve. The road was
like a stream on which I floated in the shadows of trees and steep
hillsides. The light was slowly departing, and still on some of the
slopes the compact gorse bushes were like flocks of golden fleeces.
Robins and blackbirds sang while bats were flitting about me. Day was
not dead but sleeping, and the few stars overhead asked silence. By the
turning to East Quantoxhead some cottagers talked in low tones. Kilve,
dark and quiet, showed one or two faint lights. Only when I lay in
bed did I recognize the two sounds that made the murmurous silence of
Kilve--the whisper of its brook, and the bleat of sheep very far off.



X.

THE GRAVE OF WINTER.


When I awoke at six the light was good, but it was the light of rain.
One thrush alone was singing, a few starlings whistled. And the rain
lasted until half-past eight. Then the sunlight enshrined itself in the
room, the red road glistened, a Lombardy poplar at Kilve Court waved
against a white sky only a little blemished by gray, and I started
again westward. The black stain of yesterday’s fire on the hill was
very black, the new privet leaves very green, and the stitchwort very
white in the arches of the drenched grass. The end of the rain, as I
hoped, was sung away by missel-thrushes in the roadside oaks, by a
chain of larks’ songs which must have reached all over England.

I had some thoughts of branching off on one of the green lanes to the
left, that would have led me past a thatched cottage or two up to the
ridge of the Quantocks, to Stowborrow Hill, Beacon Hill, Thorncombe
Hill, Great Hill, Will’s Neck, Lydeard Hill, Cothelstone Hill, and
down to Taunton; but I kept to my road of last night as far as West
Quantoxhead. There, beyond the fountain, I entered the road between
ranks of lime trees towards Stogumber. Before I had gone a mile the
rain returned, and made the roads so bad that I had to take to the
highway from Williton to Taunton, and so saw no more of Bicknoller than
its brown tower. But I had hopes of the weather, and the rain did no
harm to the flowers of periwinkle and laurustinus in the hedges I was
passing, and only added a sort of mystery of inaccessibleness to the
west wall of the Quantocks, with which I was now going parallel. It
was a wall coloured in the main by ruddy dead bracken and dark gorse,
but patched sometimes with cultivated strips and squares of green, and
trenched by deep coombs of oak, and by the shallow, winding channels of
streams--streams not of water but of the most emerald grass. Seagulls
mingled with the rooks in the nearer fields. The only people on the
road were road-menders working with a steam-roller; the corduroys of
one were stained so thoroughly by the red mud of the Quantocks, and
shaped so excellently by wear to his tall, spare figure, that they
seemed to be one with the man. It reminded me of “Lee Boo,” and how the
Pelew Islanders doubted whether the clothes and bodies of the white
men did not “form one substance,” and when one took off his hat they
were struck with astonishment, “as if they thought it had formed part
of his head.”

The rain ceased just soon enough not to prove again the vanity of
waterproofs. I have, it is true, discovered several which have brought
me through a storm dry in parts, but I have also discovered that
sellers of waterproofs are among the worst of liars, and that they
communicate their vice with their goods. The one certain fact is
that nobody makes a garment or suit which will keep a man both dry
and comfortable if he is walking in heavy and beating rain. Suits of
armour have, of course, been devised to resist rain, but at best they
admit it at the neck. The ordinary (and extraordinary) waterproof may
keep a man dry from neck to groin, though it is improbable exceedingly
that both neck and wrists will escape. As for the legs, the rain gets
at the whole of them with the aid of wind and capillary attraction.
Whoever wore a coat that kept his knees dry in a beating rain? I am not
speaking of waterproof tubes reaching to the feet. They may be sold,
they may even be bought. They may be useful, but not for walking in.

For moderate showers one waterproof is about as good as another. The
most advertised have the advantage of being expensive, and conferring
distinction: otherwise they are no better, and wear worse, than a thing
at two-thirds of the price which is never advertised at all. In such
a one I was riding now, and I got wet only at the ankles. It actually
kept my knees dry in the heavy rain near Timsbury. But if I had been
walking I should have been intolerably hot and embarrassed in this, and
very little less so in the lighter, more distinguished, more expensive
garment. Supposing that a thorough waterproof exists, so light as
to be comfortable in mild weather, it is certain to have the grave
disadvantage of being easily tearable, and therefore of barring the
wearer from woods.

Getting the body wet even in cold weather is delicious, but getting
clothes and parts of the body wet, especially about and below the knee,
is detestable. Trousers, and still more breeches, when wet through,
prove unfriendly to man, and in some degree to boy. If the knees were
free and the feet bare, I should think there would be no impediment
left to bliss for an active man in shower or storm, except that he
would provoke, evoke, and convoke laughter, and ninety-nine out of a
hundred would prefer to this all the evils of rain and of waterproofs.
It is to save our clothes and to lessen the discomfort of them that a
waterproof is added.

At first thought, it is humiliating to realize that we have spent many
centuries in this climate and never produced anything to keep us dry
and comfortable in rain. But who are we that complain? Not farmers,
labourers, and fishermen, but people who spend much time out of doors
by choice. We can go indoors when it rains; only, we do not wish to,
because so many of the works of rain are good--in the skies, on the
earth, in the souls of men and also of birds. When youth is over we are
not carried away by our happiness so far as to ignore soaked boots and
trousers. We like hassocks to kneel on, and on those hassocks we pray
for a waterproof. As the prayer is only about a hundred years old--a
hundred years ago there were no such beings--it is not surprising that
the answer has not arrived from that distant quarter. Real outdoor
people have either to do without waterproofs, or what they use would
disable us from our pleasures. Naturally, they have done nothing to
solve our difficulties. They have not written poetry for us, they have
not made waterproofs for us. They do not read our poetry, they do not
wear our waterproofs. We must solve the question by complaint and
experiment, or by learning to go wet--an increasingly hard lesson for
a generation that multiplies conveniences and inconveniences rather
faster than it does an honest love of sun, wind, and rain, separately
and all together.

By the time I reached Crowcombe, the sun was bright. This village,
standing at the entrance to a great cloudy coomb of oaks and pine
trees, is a thatched street containing the “Carew Arms,” a long, white
inn having a small porch, and over it a signboard bearing a coat of
arms and the words “_J’espère bien_.” The street ends in a cross, a
tall, slender, tapering cross of stone, iron-brown and silver-spotted.
Here also sang a chiffchaff, like a clock rapidly ticking. The church
is a little beyond, near the rookery of Crowcombe Court. Its red tower
on the verge of the high roadside bank is set at the north-west corner
in such a way--perhaps it is not quite at right angles--that I looked
again and again up to it, as at a man in a million.

After passing Flaxpool, a tiny cluster of dwellings and ricks, with
a rough, rising orchard, then a new-made road with a new signpost to
Bridgwater, and then a thatched white inn called the “Stag’s Head,”
I turned off for West Bagborough, setting my face toward the wooded
flank of Bagborough Hill. Bagborough Church and Bagborough House stand
at the edge of the wood. The village houses either touch the edge of
the road, or, where it is very steep, lie back behind walls which were
hanging their white and purple clouds of alyssum and aubretia down to
the wayside water. Rain threatened again, and I went into the inn to
eat and see what would happen. Two old men sat in the small settle at
the fireside talking of the cold weather, for so they deemed it. Bent,
grinning, old men they were, using rustic, deliberate, grave speech, as
they drank their beer and ate a few fancy biscuits. One of them was so
old that never in his life had he done a stroke of gardening on a Good
Friday; he knew a woman that did so once when he was a lad, and she
perished shortly after in great pain. His own wife, even now, was on
her death-bed; she had eaten nothing for weeks, and was bad-tempered,
though still sensible. But when the rain at last struck the window
like a swarm of bees, and the wind drove the smoke out into the room,
the old man was glad to be where he was, not out of doors or up in the
death room. His talk was mostly of the weather, and his beans, and his
peas, which he was so pleased with that he was going to send over half
a pint of them to the other old man. The biscuits they were eating set
him thinking of better biscuits. For example, now, a certain kind made
formerly at Watchet was very good. But the best of all were Half Moon
biscuits. They had a few caraways in them, which they did not fear,
because, old as they were, they were not likely to have leisure for
appendicitis. Half a one in your cup of tea in the morning would _plim
out_ and fill the cup. They told me the street, the side of the street,
the shop, its neighbours on either side, in Taunton, where I might hope
to buy Half Moon biscuits even in the twentieth century. The whitening
sky and the drops making the window pane dazzle manifested the storm’s
end, and the old men thought of the stag hounds, which were to meet
that day.... Just above Bagborough there, seven red stags had been
seen, not so long ago.

It was hot again at last as I climbed away from the valley and its
gently sloping green and rosy squares and elmy hedges, up between
high, loose banks of elder and brier, and much tall arum, nettle, and
celandine, and one plant of honesty from the last cottage garden.
High as it was, the larch coppice on the left far up had a chiffchaff
singing in it, and honeysuckle still interwove itself in the gorse and
holly of the roadside. A parallel, deep-worn, green track mounted the
hill, close on my right, and there was a small square ruin covered with
ivy above it among pine trees. It was not the last building. A hundred
feet up, in a slight dip, I came to a farm-house, Tilbury Farm. Both
sides of the road there are lined by mossy banks and ash and beech
trees, and deep below, southward, on the right hand, I saw through the
trees the gray mass of Cothelstone Manor-house beside its lake, and
twelve miles off in the same direction the Wellington obelisk on the
Black Down Hills. A stone seat on the other side of the trees commands
both the manor house beneath and the distant obelisk. The seat is in an
arched-over recess in the thickness of a square wall of masonry, six
or seven feet in height and breadth. A coeval old hawthorn, spare and
solitary, sticks out from the base of the wall. The whole is surmounted
by a classic stone statue of an emasculated man larger than human, nude
except for some drapery falling behind, long-haired, with left arm
uplifted, and under its feet a dog; and it looks straight over at the
obelisk. I do not know if the statue and the obelisk are connected,
nor, if so, whether the statue represents the Iron Duke, his king,
or a classic deity; the mutilation is against the last possibility.
Had the obelisk not been so plainly opposite, I should have taken the
figure for some sort of a god, the ponderous, rustic-classic fancy of a
former early nineteenth-century owner of Cothelstone Manor. The statue
and masonry, darkened and bitten by weather, in that high, remote,
commanding place, has in any case long outgrown the original conception
and intention, and become a classi-rustical, romantic what-you-please,
waiting for its poet or prose poet. I should have liked very well, on
such a day, in such a position, to think it a Somerset Pan or Apollo,
but could not. It was mainly pathetic and partly ridiculous. In the
mossy bank behind it the first woodsorrel flower drooped its white
face among primroses and green moschatel knobs; they made the statue,
lacking ivy and moss, seem harsh and crude. Some way farther on, where
the beeches on that hand come to an end, two high stout pillars,
composed of alternate larger and smaller layers of masonry, stand
gateless and as purposeless as the king, duke, or god.

For a while I rested in a thatched shed at the summit, 997 feet up,
where the road turns at right angles and makes use of the ridge track
of the Quantocks. A roller made of a fir trunk gave me a seat, and I
looked down this piece of road, which is lined by uncommonly bushy
beeches, and over at Cothelstone Hill, a dome of green and ruddy
grasses in the south-east, sprinkled with thorn trees and capped by
the blunt tower of a beacon. The primrose roots hard by me had each
sufficient flowers to make a child’s handful.

Turning to the left again, when the signpost declared it seven and
three-quarter miles to Bridgwater, I found myself on a glorious sunlit
road without hedge, bank, or fence on either side, proceeding through
fern, gorse, and ash trees scattered over mossy slopes. Down the slopes
I looked across the flat valley to the Mendips and Brent Knoll, and to
the Steep and Flat Holms, resting like clouds on a pale, cloudy sea;
what is more, through a low-arched rainbow I saw the blueness of the
hills of South Wales. The sun had both dried the turf and warmed it.
The million gorse petals seemed to be flames sown by the sun. By the
side of the road were the first bluebells and cowslips. They were not
growing there, but some child had gathered them below at Stowey or
Durleigh, and then, getting tired of them, had dropped them. They were
beginning to wilt, but they lay upon the grave of Winter. I was quite
sure of that. Winter may rise up through mould alive with violets and
primroses and daffodils, but when cowslips and bluebells have grown
over his grave he cannot rise again: he is dead and rotten, and from
his ashes the blossoms are springing. Therefore, I was very glad to see
them. Even to have seen them on a railway station seat in the rain,
brought from far off on an Easter Monday, would have been something;
here, in the sun, they were as if they had been fragments fallen out
of that rainbow over against Wales. I had found Winter’s grave; I had
found Spring, and I was confident that I could ride home again and find
Spring all along the road. Perhaps I should hear the cuckoo by the time
I was again at the Avon, and see cowslips tall on ditchsides and short
on chalk slopes, bluebells in all hazel copses, orchises everywhere in
the lengthening grass, and flowers of rosemary and crown-imperial in
cottage gardens, and in the streets of London cowslips, bluebells, and
the unflower-like yellow-green spurge.... Thus I leapt over April and
into May, as I sat in the sun on the north side of Cothelstone Hill on
that 28th day of March, the last day of my journey westward to find the
Spring.


THE END.



Transcriber's Note


Illustrations have been moved to avoid paragraph breaks, and may no
longer match the locations in the List of Illustrations.


The following apparent errors have been corrected:

p. 7 "Kilre" changed to "Kilve"

p. 113 "and above, it slightly to" changed to "and above it, slightly
to"

p. 135 "branch to Downston" changed to "branch to Downton"

p. 182 "I aways thought" changed to "I always thought"

(Illustration) "Green’s Sedge" changed to "Queen’s Sedge"

(Illustration) "KILRE" changed to "KILVE"

p. 293 "distinction otherwise: they" changed to "distinction:
otherwise they"


Archaic or inconsistent language has otherwise been kept as printed.





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