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Title: The Retrospect
Author: Cambridge, Ada
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Retrospect" ***

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THE RETROSPECT

by

ADA CAMBRIDGE

Author of
"Thirty Years in Australia," "Path and Goal," etc.



London
Stanley Paul & Co.
31 Essex Street, Strand, W.C.
Colonial Edition.



TO

MY FRIENDS, KNOWN AND UNKNOWN

WHO WERE YOUNG AND HAVE GROWN OLD WITH ME

I DEDICATE THIS BOOK



CONTENTS

        I. Coming Home
       II. About Town
      III. In Beautiful England
       IV. The Home of Childhood
        V. Halcyon Days
       VI. Earliest Recollections
      VII. Old Times and New
     VIII. Some Early Sundays
       IX. My Grandfather's Days
        X. Outdoor Life
       XI. At the Seaside
      XII. Excursions to Sandringham
     XIII. A Trip South
      XIV. "Devon, Glorious Devon!"
       XV. In the Garden of England



CHAPTER I

COMING HOME


There was a gap of thirty-eight years, almost to a day, between my
departure from England (1870), a five-weeks-old young bride, and my
return thither (1908), an old woman. And for about seven-eighths of that
long time in Australia, while succeeding very well in making the best of
things, I was never without a subconscious sense of exile, a chronic
nostalgia, that could hardly bear the sight of a homeward-bound ship.
This often-tantalised but ever-unappeased desire to be back in my native
land wore the air of a secret sorrow gently shadowing an otherwise happy
life, while in point of fact it was a considerable source of happiness
in itself, as I now perceive. For where would be the interest and
inspiration of life without something to want that you cannot get, but
that it is open to you to try for? I tried hard to bridge the distance
to my goal for over thirty years, working, planning, failing, starting
again, building a thousand air-castles, more or less, and seeing them
burst like soap-bubbles as soon as they began to materialise; then I
gave up. The children had grown too old to be taken; moreover, they had
attained to wills of their own and did not wish to go. One had fallen to
the scythe of the indiscriminate Reaper, and that immense loss dwindled
all other losses to nothing at all. I cared no more where I lived, so
long as the rest were with me. In England my father and mother, who had
so longed for me, as I for them, were in their graves; no old home was
left to go back to. I was myself a grandmother, in spite of kindly and
even vehement assurances that I did not look it; more than that, I
_could_ have been a great-grandmother without violating the laws of
nature. At any rate, I felt that I was past the age for enterprises. It
was too late now, I concluded, and so what was the use of fussing any
more? In short, I sat down to content myself with the inevitable.

I was doing it. I had been doing it for several years. The time had come
when I could look out of window any Tuesday morning, watch a
homeward-bound mail-boat put her nose to sea, and turn from the
spectacle without a pang. The business of building air-castles
flourished, as of yore, but their bases now rested on Australian soil.
What was left of the future was all planned out, satisfactorily, even
delightfully, and England was not in it.

Then was the time for the unexpected to happen, and it did. A totally
undreamed-of family legacy, with legal business attached to it, called
my husband home. Even then it did not strike me that I was called too;
for quite a considerable time it did not strike him either. But there
befell a period of burning summer heat, the intensity and duration of
which broke all past records of our State and established it as a
historic event for future Government meteorologists; the weaklings of
the community succumbed to it outright or emerged from it physically
prostrate, and I, who had encountered it in a "run-down" condition, was
of the latter company. The question: "Was I fit to be left?" obtruded
itself into the settled policy: it logically resolved itself into the
further question: "Was I fit to go?" There was nothing whatever to
prevent my going if I could "stand" it, and a long sea-voyage had been
doctors' prescription for me for years. Mysteriously and, as it were,
automatically, I brisked up from the moment the second question was
propounded, and before I knew it found myself enrolled as a member of
the expedition. The two-berth cabin was engaged; travelling trunks, and
clothes to put in them, bestrewed my bedroom floor. I was going home--at
last!

And was it too late? Had I outlived my long, long hope? Not a bit of it.
I had outlived nothing, and it was exactly and ideally the right time.
"You will be disappointed," said more than one of my travelled old
friends, who had known the extravagance of my anticipations. "It will be
sad for you, finding all so strange and changed." "You will feel
dreadfully out of it, after so many years." "You will be very
lonely"--thus was I compassionately warned not to let a too sanguine
spirit run away with me. They were all wrong. I never had a
disappointment: nothing was sad for me, of all the change; no one could
have been less out of it, or less lonely. Every English day of the whole
six months was full of pleasure; I was not even bored for an hour. At no
time of my life could I have made the trip with a lighter heart (being
assured weekly that all was well behind me). Children would have meant
a burden, however precious a burden, and had I gone in my parents'
lifetime it would have been with them and me as our ship's captain said
it was with his wife during his brief sojourns with her; for half the
time she was overwrought with the joy of his return, and for the other
half miserable in anticipation of his departure, so that he never knew
her in her normal state. That my father and mother had long been dead,
and that the tragedies of home love and loss, with which I was so
familiar, were not pressing close about me, probably accounted more than
anything else for my being so well and happy. Also, it is not until a
woman is sixty, or thereabouts, that she is really free to enjoy
herself.

Well! I never was so well since I was born. The long sea-voyage did all
that was asked of it, and incidentally brought home to me the truth of
the old adage that silver lines all clouds. "If only we were not so far
away!" had been my inward wail for eight and thirty years. "If only we
had emigrated to Canada, or South Africa, or almost any part of the
British Empire but this! Then we might have flown home every few years
as easily as we now go from Melbourne to Sydney, and at no more
expense." I have the same regret, intensified, now that I am back in
Australia again. But there is no gain without its corresponding loss.
Not only might the joys of England after exile have become staled by
this time, but a voyage of a week or two would not have prepared me to
make the most of them. I am convinced that years of health and life are
given to those who, at the right juncture, can afford six weeks of
sea-travel at a stretch, and they may have been given to me and my
companion; I quite believe so. Each of us was a stone heavier at the end
of our holiday than at the beginning, and in the interval we forgot that
we were a day over twenty-five.

Consider for a moment the perfect adjustment of the conditions to the
needs of the invalid with no disease but exhaustion. I pass over the
special favours vouchsafed to me, in idyllic weather and tranquil seas,
and the mothering of a devoted stewardess who is my friend for life;
also in finding quiet and pleasant company in a saloon party of but
eighteen. That sort of luck cannot be purchased even with a first-class
steamer ticket, nor is it necessary to the efficacy of the treatment.
Take only the itinerary--that of the Suez route at a suitable season--as
it may be observed by anybody.

First, the run across the Indian Ocean--in the case of the mail-steamers
from Adelaide to Colombo, in our case from Adelaide to Aden. Three whole
weeks, without a break, without an incident, if all goes well. I had
never imagined the sea could be so blank as it presented itself to us on
this first section of our voyage. Ships may have passed in the night,
but I saw none by day; no land, no birds, no whales, no phosphorescent
wakes, no anything, except sea and sky and lovely sunsets. It may have
been monotonous, but it was monotony in the right place. It brought to
me, at the outset, that complete rest from all effort and excitement
which was the necessary preliminary to recovery and repair. I reposed on
my comfortable lounge from morn till eve, playing with a trifle of
needlework (too stupid with blissful torpor to read, while the
strangeness of quite idle hands would have induced the fidgets,
sea-drugged as I was). I ate, and slept, and basked, like a soulless
animal; forgot there were such things as posts and newspapers, as
dinner-planning and stocking-mending, as calls and committee-meetings;
forgot that I was the mother of a family, and had abandoned it for the
first time in history; forgot whether I was ill or well, or had nerves
or not; and thus soaked and steeped and soddened in peace, insensibly
renewed and established my strength, not patching it anyhow just to
carry on with, as one does on land, with a casual week at a
watering-place or in the mountains, but unhurriedly, uninterruptedly,
solidly, rebuilding it from the bottom up.

Then, when strength becomes aware that it is ready for use--at the
moment when one begins to feel that the monotony has lasted long
enough--then back comes the delightful world, with a new face of beauty
to match the new ardour of love for it that has been silently generating
within us. All the light of enterprising and romantic youth was in the
gaze I levelled through my binoculars (given to me for my voyage in
1870) at the first substantial token that I was in the gorgeous East,
one of the fairylands of imagination (comprising, roughly, all the
unknown earth) from the days of infancy when I learned to read. It was
an Arab dhow. I knew that pointed wing as well as I knew the shape of
chimney-pots, but the wonder that I was seeing it with my bodily eyes,
even as a speck upon the horizon, was overwhelming. I stared and stared,
but could not speak.

The rest was pure enchantment. As we drew near to the magnificent rock
of Aden--hateful place, I know, to its white inhabitants, and an old
tale not worth mentioning to the average Australian tourist--I said, in
my ecstasy: "This pays for the voyage, if we see nothing more." The
first white-awninged launch that bustled up to us, manned by two
nondescripts, one huge Nubian negro and one beautiful Somali boy, bore
through the brilliant air and water an official gentleman who probably
would have sold his soul for a London fog; it was not he, but another
official gentleman who swallowed nearly a bottle of ship's brandy while
attending to ship's business, and was presented with another bottle on
his departure by a sympathiser who understood his case. It was a hot
morning in the middle of May, and I had been accustomed from my youth to
atmospheric light and colour as glorious as the radiant setting of this
strange outpost of Empire in the East. Evidently it is in the eye
(backed by a strong imagination) of the gazer that poetic beauty lies.

After this, the unspeakable experiences followed thick and fast. Night
in the Straits, with Venus so bright that she cast a reflection like
moonlight across the water; the Red Sea in the morning--minarets on the
horizon, and those rocks of desolation, with the loneliest human
dwelling conceivable (the arcaded lighthouse) on the top of one of the
most impressively desolate; that other lighthouse at the gulf entrance,
with its flashing rays of red and white, its rock-base velvety purple
against a solemn sunset sky; Mount Sinai amongst the hills of Holy Land;
the majestic desert of so many dreams. Time was when I sniffed at the
colour of Holman Hunt's "Scapegoat" landscape, but here it was,
translated into living light, but no fainter in tint than the dead
paint had made it. Sapphires were not in it with that blue-green sea at
Suez, in which the jostling bumboats floated as in clearest glass. The
rocky shores to left were mauve, the right-hand desert and Holman-Hunty
hummocks salmon-pink, and no mortal painter was ever born, or ever will
be, to "get" the bloomy glow and fairy delicacy of Nature's textures and
technique. The Eastern sun blazed broadly over the scene, the
temperature at noon was ninety-nine degrees in the shade; the
composition was perfect.

Between tea-time and dinner we passed out of the city and close to its
domestic doorsteps--the closest I had yet come to Eastern life; and long
after we were in the canal it was a picture to look back upon from which
I could not tear my eyes. Low on the gleaming water--the two towns
linked by the dark thread of the railway embankment, brooded over by
that majestic mauve and violet hill--it was a vision of beauty indeed as
the light effects changed from moment to moment with the sinking of the
gorgeous sun. I could afford no time to dress that night. In my hat, as
I was, I snatched a mouthful of dinner, and was up again on deck, to
make the most of the short twilight; and so I saw the shadowy last of
Suez and more than I expected to see of the canal.

"Just a little ditch in the sand," somebody had told me, as one might
say, a primrose by the river's brim was nothing more. Apart from its
otherwise tremendous significance, that narrow watercourse was a highway
of romance to me. Egypt--Arabia--the very names set one's heart
thumping. It would be thrilling to be there even if one were blind. The
silence of the desert is more eloquent than any sound. But from the most
unsentimental point of view it was a ditch of varied aspects, that only
the dullest traveller could call uninteresting.

The Canal Company, it appeared, was widening it to double its original
measure across, top and bottom--something like a ten years' job, with
millions of money and priceless brain-matter in it--and we saw the
engineers at work. That is to say, they were not at work at the moment,
because the day's task was done; but there were their excavations and
machinery, fine and effective, and I can never look at such,
apprehending their meaning, without a lifting of the heart, a sense of
the beauty that is in the world unrecognised by that name. What, I
wondered, did my schoolgirl idol and apostle of beauty, Ruskin, think of
this ditch when it was a-making? Did he say? If, to my knowledge, he had
called it a desecration of Nature, I should instantly have agreed with
him. Now, to my life-educated eyes and soul, the very Holy Land was
sanctified by the faithful endeavour and achievement evidenced in
haulage-trucks and pipe-lines and those twin steel rails that he hated
so much, telling all their serious story to whoever could understand it.

It was indeed a beautiful as well as an instructive picture, that left
bank, as we moved beside it. The native labourers, after their work,
squatted in their little camps and dug-outs, and in the sand, or stood
statue-like to watch our passing, sharply silhouetted figures and groups
against the translucent sky, each a "study" that, if in a gallery, one
would go miles to see. Strings of camels were being led to water or were
wending homeward with their loads. Little encampments straight out of
the Bible, desert palm-trees, desert distances, all in the golden
afterglow, the clear-shining twilight, the evening peace that was too
peaceful for words, were gems for the collector of poetic impressions,
to be for ever cherished and preserved. And then how striking was the
rare glimpse of a Saxon face, the glance at us of grave eyes that one
knew had the all-governing brain behind them. The British Occupation in
Egypt--there it was, in the person of that lonely man in tent or
boat-house, advance agent of the Civilisation that spells Prosperity in
whatever part of the world it goes. One of these, out riding with a
lady, rode down to the water's edge to watch us pass. In their white
garb they were perfectly groomed, like their beautiful Arab horses,
which they sat in a style that was good to see; but they were pathetic
figures, with that lonely waste around them. I divined a deadly
homesickness in the eyes that followed our progress as long as we could
be seen, the same ache of the heart that afflicted me, for so many
years, whenever I saw a ship going to England without me. Yet one could
be quite sure that they never dreamed of slipping cables on their own
account as long as duty to the Empire held them where they were. Not the
man, at any rate.

And so it grew too dark to see anything beyond the edge of our
searchlight, which showed only post-heads in the water, and I went to
bed.

I was asleep when we passed Ismailia, contrary to my intentions, but I
got up at four o'clock, to lose no more. Still unbroken desert to the
right; to the left a well-made embankment with a roadway atop, and
behind that a belt of bamboos and greenery, telegraph lines and a
railway, broken at intervals by the oases of the _gares_. An American
navy-boat made way for us at one of these, a pair of submarines
conspicuous on her deck. At a little before five the sun of a lovely
morning rose on our starboard side, and one saw the desert wet and dark,
yielding its immemorial savagery to the civilising hand and brain. One
of the fine up-to-date dredges, amongst the many dredges, was pumping
the mud up on the land as it sucked it from the canal bottom. In the
shining sun-flushed pools of its creation black forms of storks moved
statelily, apparently finding nourishment already where there had been
none before. On the left bank there was the embodied spirit of progress
again, doubtless looking at his work and on the way to expedite it;
white-clothed, white-helmeted, enthroned on a railway trolly, which a
bare-legged native ran along the line as it were a perambulator on ball
bearings, two more natives sitting upon it, ready to take turns with him
at the job. Lifting the eye slightly, one saw open water along the sky
behind them, a flashing, glittering strip, studded with forty-two lateen
sails that might have been carved of mother o' pearl; and almost
immediately, straight ahead, a low mass of something as yet misty and
formless in the dazzling rose and gold of the morning, reminiscent of
Suez in its sunset transfiguration--Port Said, less than an hour from
us.

It was Sunday, and divine service in the reading-room had been arranged.
Soon after six, at about the time of passing the Gare de Naz-el-ech,
passengers began to come up, a few with prayer-book in hand. But divine
service was "off," by order of the captain--a religious man, very
regular in his attendance at public worship. He knew how it would be at
seven-thirty, when we were going to drop anchor in the port at seven,
and that was exactly how it was--every inch of ship overrun with ardent
pedlars, while coaling from the great lighters, three or four lashed
abreast, was in full swing. I may as well say at once that for me, as
for nearly all the passengers (my own companion, who declared himself
quite happy in his choice, being the only member of the saloon party to
stay at home), that Sunday, as a Sunday, has to be wiped off the slate
entirely, posted as missing amongst the Sabbath days of life. I must
confess further that it was the most delightful (so called) Sunday I
ever spent. At last I did more than see the Gorgeous East of lifelong
dreams; I felt it, I had speech with it. In a select party, headed by
the dear woman who, apart from her solid social position, was the chief
pillar of the church on board, I was permitted to go ashore. I had the
free use of six hours to do what I liked in.

In the half-hour before breakfast I did exciting business with the
bumboatmen. I bought a piece of tapestry, representing camels,
palm-trees, mosques and the like, which the native vendor assured me was
handmade in Egyptian prisons, though in my heart of hearts I knew
better; also brooches and bracelets which seemed dirt cheap at two and
three shillings apiece, the exact counterparts of which I afterwards
bought at William Whiteley's for sixpence ha'penny. As soon after
breakfast as we could get our letters ready, I was rowed through the
jewel-bright water into the world of fairy tales. Oh, I know what Port
Said is to those familiar with it, and I could have seen for myself, had
I wished to see, that the Gorgeous East could be flimsy and tawdry,
even ugly, here and there; but it _was_ the East, and that was enough;
the glamour of the rosy spectacles beautified all. Nothing was easier
than to forget and ignore what would doubtless be impossible to overlook
on a second visit, and impossible to put up with on a third or fourth.

Having arrived at the centre of things, we appointed an hour for
luncheon at the Hotel Continental, and split our party into twos and
threes. An unattached man took charge of me and another unattached lady,
and escorted us about the town and to the shops which alone attracted
her (for she knew Port Said already). Wonderful shops, too, some of them
were, and it was no wasted time I spent roaming about them, while she
gave her attention to spangled scarves and lace; but the lattice-veiled
windows of the mysterious dwelling-rooms above them, and the flowing and
glowing life of the narrow streets, were what I had come to see. It was
delightful to return to the pavement under the Continental, and there
sit, with a cold and bubbling lemon drink, in one of the low chairs
which so hospitably invite the wayfarer, to watch the stream of mingling
East and West go by, and its eddies around one--the veiled native lady
touching skirts with the breezy English girl; the turbaned sherbet
seller, his remarkable brazen ewer under his arm, dodging the swift
bicycle; the oily-eyed and sodden rapscallion of the Levant, or the
bejewelled and bepowdered person no better than she should be, elbowing
the spare young cleric slipping through these dangerous places on his
way to the Pan-Anglican Congress. And the stranger contrasts on the
wide, tiled side-walk, a continuous outdoor café rather than a
promenade--Frenchmen playing dominoes, swarthy traders doing secret
business over their drinks; passengers from the various ships in port,
mothers and aunts with children by the hand; here and there the habitual
tourist, easily identified; here and there the impeccably clothed,
clean-limbed white figure, whose high bearing and bluff dignity
proclaimed the important person--soldier of distinction,
big-game-hunting lord of leisure, powerful Government official, as the
case might be. All up and down, around the low tables, faces of all
nations, speech of all languages, and, as an undercurrent, the
incessantly made gentle appeal for notice from the dark-skinned pedlars
sinuously navigating the narrow channels between the chairs, with their
cheap jewellery and picture post-cards and puzzle walking-sticks, trying
how far they could go under the eye of the Egyptian policeman, standing
ready to order them over the curb at the first sign of unwelcome
pertinacity.

For a good half-hour we sat at ease, in the middle of this picture, and
I enjoyed myself surpassingly. Then a little more shopping on behalf of
my still unsatisfied lady companion, and then the gathering of the whole
seven of our landing party at the appointed rendezvous for luncheon. We
were ready for the meal, and it was not the least memorable of the
æsthetic pleasures of that "Sunday out." I am told it was simply as a
meal ashore, after many meals at sea, that I found it so delectable, but
in justice to the courteous French proprietor, as he seemed to be, who
himself took charge of our table, and for my own credit as a
connoisseur, I deny that assertion, made only by those who were not
there. I declare, on my honour, that, apart from the good cookery, the
bread, butter and beer of the Hotel Continental at Port Said--such a
seemingly unlikely place in which to find them so--were the best I ever
tasted. Particularly the bread. One of the remaining ambitions of my
life is to find out whether that bread was French, or Egyptian, or
Turkish, or what (the reader bears in mind that this is the story of an
innocent abroad), and to get some more of it, if possible.

We sat outside the house again, to repose after our repast, and I should
think there was no more contented person in the world than I was then. I
bought a little more Brummagem rubbish that palmed itself off as of
Oriental manufacture, of the softly persistent pedlars circulating about
my chair; and our escort settled the hotel bill, which worked out at
four-and-sixpence for each of us. Never did I grudge hard-earned money
for sensual indulgence less. I would not now take pounds for my
recollections of that meal, because the day could not have been perfect
without it.

So it drew on for four o'clock, when leave expired. Tired, hot and
happy, we wandered back to the quay, dropped our threepenny pieces into
official hands before the tantalised boatmen, stepped into our cushioned
barge and were rowed to the ship. There we found coaling done, afternoon
tea prepared for us, everything ready for the start. And, again in the
decline of the brilliant day, we saw the whole place bathed in
celestially rosy light, a last impression of the gorgeous East as one
loves to imagine it, to be hung on the line of the picture gallery of
memory alongside Aden and Suez. Because decks were being washed down,
the captain allowed a few of us to survey the scene from his bridge, and
while we rested weary bones we gazed from that commanding altitude upon
the unforgettable panorama--the houses of the sea-front, the casino, the
famous lighthouse, the bathing-beach with its white surf and its
machines, the long breakwater walling the exit from the canal,
and--farewelling us, as it seemed--the impressive statue of Ferdinand de
Lesseps, pointing back to his great work. At sunset we fetched up the
coats so long unworn, and in the fresh air of the Mediterranean watched
the flushing and fading of the distant city, low on the water like
another Venice, until the evening bugle called us down. Too tired to
dress, we ate our dinner perfunctorily, took a last look at the
spacious, cool-breathing night, saw the Damietta light twinkling, and
went to bed early. No one so much as mentioned church.

Then came three quiet days, sunny and cool, in which the right thing to
do was to lie on one's long chair and recover from excitements.
Meditation was so sweet, and I was so grateful to Port Said, that I
could not grumble at losing Malta, where the ship had no engagements. A
far-off, faint reflection of what was supposed to be a flashlight in
Valetta harbour consoled me on my way to bed one night with its
suggestion that Templars really lived, and that the old cathedral and
the old steep streets were still there, awaiting the future pilgrim. No
more did I set foot in "foreign parts," but what I further saw of them
sufficed to make each remaining day of the voyage memorable. "The Bay of
Tunis," says the captain, and: "Old Carthage lies behind that hill."

We were so close to the African shore that we could see the occasional
town, the lonely farm, the lonelier fort or monastery, very distinctly;
and the little unfenced, unshaped patches of tillage scratched out of
the wilderness, and the little roadways meandering through the gaps of
the crowding rock-ranges, otherwise so savagely desolate; and the
evening lights sparsely scattered along the shore, and the early morning
camp-fires on the seaward declivities, so high up and isolated as to
suggest the fastnesses of the pirates of bygone days. A horn of the Bay
of Algiers stole out of twilight mist, and lit up its clustering lamps
as we looked at it; and the following day revealed the face of Spain,
frowning at her _vis-à-vis_, but splendid in a stormy sunset, a velvety
violet mass against a flaming sky.

At four o'clock again on Sunday morning I was up and dressed, summoned
by the captain stamping overhead. And out of the dawn came majestic
Gibraltar--the sun was up before five--and Algeciras of recent fame,
ships and warships, hills, houses, hamlets, windmills, roads and Tarifa
Point transfixing a wrecked steamer, sad detail of a picture full of
life and charm. Another red-letter Sunday, but not quite so red as the
last. Divine service was duly celebrated in the saloon after dinner--our
last on board.

The captain stamped again at five A.M. on Monday, and I saw the Castle
of Cintra on its rocky headland, and more of the interesting life of the
country as we slid along its shores. I cut breakfast short to feast on
the historic landscape (in youth I had devoured the literature of the
Cid, the Peninsular War, and Don Quixote, in a score of weighty tomes),
to study the contours of Spanish houses, to count the number of visible
Spanish windmills, all twirling their sails for business, in the good
old Mediæval style. Until the sailors at their work of holystoning and
sluicing drove us from the last inch of deck, and rain--almost the only
rain we had on that blessed voyage--drew a grey curtain over the scene.

The Bay of Biscay was an angel. Summer-blue sea and sky, blushing
gloriously when sunset interfused them, a young horned moon, with its
attendant star, hanging over the saffron afterglow and making night
heavenly; hardly a breaking wave. And the East was all behind us, and
Malta and Spain, even Australia, which still held the kernel of one's
heart; their memories were put away like precious pictures in their
packing-cases, until presently one would have time to hang them in the
light again. Nothing could be thought of now but that which we were to
see to-morrow--England, the Mecca of our pilgrimage--after thirty-eight
years.

It was Thursday, the 4th of June, at nine in the morning, when it
happened. Of all the lovely mornings we had at sea that was the
loveliest. A little hazy on the sky-line, but sunny, breezy, bracing,
absolutely perfect. I ran upstairs after breakfast, to find a group of
men focussing their glasses upon a distant spot. One of them turned and
pointed to it. "There she is," said he. "That's Beachy Head."

There she was indeed, a white speck shining out of the melting fog. I
pressed my own good glasses to my eyes, but just at first, although she
was so plain to see, I was too blind to see her.



CHAPTER II

ABOUT TOWN


How beautiful England is! The home-stayers do not know it, nor the
stranger within her gates. One must have been long enough absent from
her in a sharply contrasting environment to have become an outsider, a
cosmopolitan connoisseur, while still not an alien but native to her
soil--at any rate, imbued with her maternal influence--to appreciate her
consummate charm. I think that Australians and Americans, her elder and
younger offspring, who have so many points of view in common, do so more
fully than other peoples of the world, although we "swear by" the lands
where we have our ampler homes and opportunities--perhaps for that very
reason. It is an impression I have gained from the literature of the
States, which has supplied my chief reading for many years. Whether
right or wrong, I shall feel, when I fall into rhapsodies on the
subject--and really I cannot help it--that my American readers will
understand me before them all.

That it is not a case of the rose-coloured spectacles is proved by the
fact that we no sooner set foot in the beloved Old Country than we begin
to sniff at a number of her little ways--little ways that are quite all
right to less impartial critics. We even feel that we could teach our
grandmother something about the sucking of eggs with good warrant for
reversing the orthodox procedure; only that she is our grandmother,
bless her, with the natural attributes of her time of life, and we do
not want her different. Were she "younged up," as a member of my
household describes the old lady who dresses to conceal her age, we
should not love her more, and we might respect her less. Twice as
"smart," she would not be half as beautiful.

The matter stands thus: The Family of the British Empire is like other
families. The children who go out into the world have, and must have, a
wider grip of affairs than the parent who stops at home. They are better
able, as well as willing, to keep up with the times; and, as in other
families, it is the elder-sisterly leadership that the younger sister
follows. Although we Australians have cherished the belief that England,
in all her manifestations, sets the perfect standard for us, I see now
that it is America we have copied, insensibly to ourselves, in the arts
that make for the comfort and convenience and contingent elegance of
everyday life. I did not know where we stood in the scale of domestic
civilisation until I began to frequent the rural districts where I was
born and bred, and found the situation as I had left it, and myself so
grown away from it that I might have come from another planet. It is
not, of course, our merit in any way but our luck that we have, in
addition to our birthright in her, a land of plenty, which ensures easy
circumstances, connoting a high average of culture, to her unburdened
and unjostled people, and no deep-worn groove to shut us in, and shut
out from our vision the movements of the world. It would be gross taste
for a cadet of the family, and one so juvenile, to give itself airs in
the ancestral house; but it does cause some slight annoyance now and
then to be treated as one who does not know the ropes at all. That in
the great journals that came into my hands of a morning in London there
was rarely so much as a mention of Australia, while every little tinpot
dependency of a foreign power had its trifling affairs attended to, was
nothing--our own fault as much as anybody's. But when those who never
look at a London journal, who hardly know even Emperor William by name,
since he does not live in the parish, want to teach you to suck eggs
that have been rotten for years without their knowing it--on the theory
that you have had no eggs where you have been living--you do get a
little tired. And if young Australia feels that way small wonder at
America not liking the grandmotherly tutelage, so long after knowing
herself the leader of the world. Our old darling cannot understand why
one who by every tie of nature should be devoted to her flouts her
authority and turns a cold shoulder to her endearments, but the other
children understand.

Well, America can afford to forgive everything, and she has forgiven
everything, now, while only gratitude is due from us who, remaining in
the bosom of the family, are so faithfully done by and cared for. All I
am trying to say is that experience teaches knowledge, that love which
is not blind is the love best worth having, and that we, with that
knowledge and that love, are more competent to appreciate England than
she to appreciate us. She thinks we do not know what's what, because
people in the dark can think anything; but when we judge her beautiful,
it is with the judgment that compares and discriminates. We know what
we are talking about. It may be taken that she is beautiful, and no
mistake.

We had embarked for Australia in 1870 from Plymouth, having travelled to
that port from London in the night. Coming back in 1908 England met me
with a face I had not seen before. Beachy Head was as new to my eyes as
the rock of Aden; so was Dover Castle and all that sunny coast; so was
the Thames of commerce. In the perfect June weather, and with its
historical suggestions, even that last bit of the way was glorified.
Perhaps the critical faculty had not quite steadied down, but even
between the marshes I was thinking: "How beautiful England is!"
Altogether the interval between nine A.M. and seven P.M. was a
culmination of the voyage worthy of all that had led up to it. By the
way, we dropped anchor at Gravesend in a violent thunderstorm.

We spent one more short night on the ship. In the small hours of the
morning a steward informed us that the first caller had arrived, a near
relation born during our long absence, now a man over thirty, who had
enterprisingly boarded us by the pilot's ladder at the locks. With this
efficient courier, who spared us all landing troubles, we passed from
our sea-home to a quiet hotel in a quiet square near Liverpool Street
Station, whence we were to pass out to the country on the following day;
a house to be affectionately remembered, for its treatment of us. There
we dumped our bags and made our walking toilets, feeling already as
English as could be; then started forth to celebrate the day with
(naturally) a first-rate luncheon to begin with. Thereafter we proposed
to "do" as much of London as we could cover by dinner-time.

We did have a first-rate luncheon, from the point of view of
unfashionable persons newly off the sea. But it was right here that we
began to sniff. No, not to sniff, of course, but to set the critical
faculty in order. At home, we informed our relative, a meal of that
quality would be just about half the price, and such trifles as
vegetables, rolls, butter, tea and coffee, would be thrown in gratis.
The skimpy little curl of butter, that had to be separately paid for, in
place of the heaped balls to which you could freely help yourself, was a
particular one amongst the pinpoint grievances that London restaurants
of the middle class supplied us with. At that first meal on English soil
we remembered the first we had taken in Collins Street after landing in
Melbourne so long ago--our astonishment at its ample excellence and
small cost; and at each subsequent entertainment in London paid for by
ourselves we were tempted to make odious comparisons when there was
nobody to overhear. Australia is a land of plenty to all her people,
high and low, but we forget it until we go away from her. Then we know.

After luncheon my husband went off to his bankers, his tailors (whose
clothes he had worn uninterruptedly for thirty-eight years, with some
modification of measurements from time to time), and otherwise to poke
about by himself in a London that he declared he knew every inch of,
although afterwards he confessed to having been once or twice at fault;
and my nephew-in-law escorted me to my once favourite draper's, where I
had bought the gems of my modest bridal trousseau. Ever since that
long-past day I had sworn by the famous firm as authorities on and
purveyors of the absolutely correct thing in women's wear, and now
thought to render myself immune to English criticism by the surest
method and with no waste of time.

I was out of that shop almost as soon as I was in, and distractedly
flitting through other emporiums of the West End, wishing I had
completed my outfit where I began it. I should have saved money and
suited myself better. In pity for my companion, patiently awaiting my
pleasure on the pavements outside--dropping asleep as he stood, poor
boy, for he had not seen a bed for between thirty and forty hours--I
confined myself to the one indispensable purchase, and that was a
compromise between what I liked and what I could get.

Not that I suggest any rivalry between our best drapery shops and these
best of Oxford and Regent Streets; it would be absurd to compare them.
But I certainly realised as I had never done before how good the former
are. I understood why a friend of mine with whom I once went
clothes-buying in Bourke Street, immediately after her return from a
year in England, plumping down on a chair by a familiar counter, said,
with a luxurious sigh: "What a comfort to get back to our own shops
again!" She did not "know her way about" in London; nor did I. And I
cannot say that, at the six months' end, I had done any better for
myself there than I should have done if I had supplied all my wants at
home. I found no material difference in cost, and as regards the correct
thing we are quite up to date. The new fashions are passed on to us for
the corresponding season, winter or summer, that they belong to in
England; and there is no doubt in my mind that, taking English women in
the bulk and Australian women in the bulk, the latter are the better
dressed by far. It is not what I expected would be the case.

Tea--that essential feature of afternoon shoppings in Melbourne, where a
tea-room is to your hand wherever you may happen to be--was the one
thought in my head when I rejoined my drowsy escort, although it could
not have been more than three o'clock. "Let us find a nice place," said
I, craving easy-chairs as well as tea; and we found one. It had no shop
to it, inviting us by a mere label on an open street door and a glimpse
of inner staircase. Privacy and repose were indicated, and I
unhesitatingly turned in.

It was the very thing. A pretty little drawing-room, all to ourselves,
cushioned basket-chairs, tea and cakes and bread-and-butter and toasted
things, all as good as I was accustomed to, although by no means so
cheap (but expense was no matter on this festive day), and the courteous
attendance that I must confess is not to be counted on in Australia as I
learned to count upon it in England. With us officialdom is so
disproportionately powerful throughout the land (nothing can be in
proportion if the main base of population is inadequate) that the
so-called servants of the public are virtually in the position of
masters, and, knowing it, are inclined to wait upon you condescendingly,
as if conferring a favour, or to be abrupt and off-hand with you, or to
leave you to take your chance. It is quite natural.

So here, in this very nice little room, I revelled in my tea--the first
good cup since Hobart (Adelaide was a disappointment in this respect,
and at Port Said I did not ask for it)--and we rested in our
comfortable chairs for the best part of an hour. Then, my escort being
again wide-awake and active, and myself refreshed and fit for anything,
I suggested a drive through London in any direction on the top of a
motor 'bus.

That was an exciting drive. Unlike my husband, I did not know my London.
Years and years and years ago I had been accustomed to pay an annual
visit to my eldest aunt, who was my godmother, and then I was driven
from what was Shoreditch Station to her house in Notting Hill (which she
grieved was not, as it so nearly was, Kensington), and in a few weeks
driven back again in a straw-carpeted four-wheeled cab, from the closed
windows of which I had my only peeps at the city--a forbidden city to a
well-brought-up young lady of tender years. Between whiles my diversions
were confined to West End picture galleries and museums, a few West End
shoppings, drives in the Park, walks to the neighbouring church. Only to
the latter, and that but occasionally and in exceptional circumstances,
was I ever allowed to go unattended, even after I was engaged to be
married, while she was responsible for me. Darling that she was, I am
not going to laugh at her for being so ridiculous, especially as I have
my doubts as to whether she was ridiculous at all--whether there is not
still something to be said for the clearly defined social status of
children, and the careful chaperonage of growing-up girls, that were
matter of course to us, young and old, in those far-distant days.

My thoughts were full of her as we drove towards our old haunts, when
the absorbing fascination of the narrow, crowded streets and the
marvellous interweaving of the wheeled traffic through them gave place
to the enchantment of the "Park" once more, the charm beyond expression
of English trees and grass, the stately roadways and perspectives of our
old walking and driving quarter, so unexpectedly familiar and
remembered--the only London life I had to remember--after such a gap of
time and change!

The Marble Arch--oh, the Marble Arch! The new gates behind it were
approaching completion; the greatly improved arrangement was pointed out
to me by my courier, how the old blocking of carriages was done away
with--I believe that very day inaugurated the new use. But for me there
was only the old bottle-neck which had annoyed generations of carriage
folk, and which had given my young girlhood one of its first woman
dreams.

It will be understood that the best-beloved and most loving of maiden
aunts became even as Andromeda's dragon at the approach of an
unauthorised young man. The very thought of him in connection with her
god-daughter made her hair rise. Well, I was driving with her one
afternoon, and just within the Marble Arch we were so wedged in a block
of carriages that the occupant of one--truly a most charming fellow--had
to sit facing me at arm's length for quite a minute. With the best will
in the world, and I believe we both tried to help it, it was impossible
after some embarrassing seconds to prevent the twinkle of a smile. In
spite of its ravaging effects upon me (all her fault, for I never saw
him before or since), it was no more than a twinkle, behind a gravity of
demeanour as gentlemanly as could be. But what could evade the
lynx-eyed vigilance of the duenna of old? No sooner were we disentangled
than my aunt, almost as flustered as I was, sternly demanded of me: "Did
you see that?" On my confessing that I did she put up the window of our
jobbed brougham and never afterwards allowed me to have it down while in
the Row or other dangerous places; and I had to rub holes in the film of
breath lining the glass to see anything at all. Small wonder that in my
seclusion I nursed the memory of a momentary adventure with a young man
until it grew to the proportion of a personal romance. In all my
subsequent walks and drives with her I was thinking of him, looking for
him; and as a respectable mother of a family have not forgotten the
spiritual freemasonry (as it was idealised into) of his passing twinkle
of a smile. How handsome he was! And how well we understood each other!

Only once did I escape out of my cage and fly at large in London. It was
with a young widowed cousin, who, as a married woman, was allowed to
take me out. We did not dare to report that we had eaten lunch at a
railway buffet, ridden in omnibuses (a thing no gentlewoman of those
days was supposed to do--she was expected to walk rather), and even
trodden a pavement overlooked by club windows, when we returned to
Notting Hill at nightfall. The widowed cousin, too, was one of three
motherless bairns whom the aunt had brought up from infancy. However,
with all the risks of reaction, it seems to many of us old stagers that
it is good to have borne the yoke in our youth, and that some
modification of the apparatus would be better for our children than none
at all. Of course they do not agree with us, which makes it very likely
that we are wrong.

Old and new met together at our journey's end--the gates of the
Anglo-French Exhibition at Shepherd's Bush. The place had just been
opened to the public, and was the sensation of the hour, even more
interesting to my companion than to me, drowned as I was in associations
of the past. The supposed object of our drive was to locate it, the
beautiful imitation-alabaster city that held promise for both of us,
amply redeemed in due course, of happy days to come. This accomplished,
we returned to our hotel stupefied with fatigue. The two men were able
to enjoy a good dinner and a fairly late sit-up talk. I tumbled
straightway into a comfortable bed, and sighed and sighed, too tired to
eat or speak, but as blissfully satisfied with the state of things as it
was possible to be. A nice little tea-tray came to my bedside presently,
and after it the kind landlady herself to see what else she could do for
me, just like the thoughtful hostess who has been one's friend for
years. I slept little, that first night in England, but there was every
inducement to repose. The little city square was as quiet as the Bush. I
could hear the soft and mellow chime of a distant clock at
intervals--very far away it seemed--and that was the only sound. We had
an open window, as usual, and could not understand how the heart of
London could be so still.

A cheerful and quiet coffee-room welcomed us to an excellent breakfast
next day. We had promised ourselves "real" Yarmouth bloaters (one of a
few long-cherished gastronomical dreams brought over with other
luggage); the maid apologised for giving us broiled mackerel instead,
but that was memorably delicious. I cannot help mentioning it. I may as
well mention also, while I am about it, that the plentiful Australian
table is not to be compared with the English in the matter of fish and
game.

Breakfast over, our courier was set free to roam the White City at
Shepherd's Bush until tea-time, and my husband and I set forth on an
aimless ramble together, merely to see London and amuse ourselves, all
business barred. What a time we had! More drives on motor 'buses; more
English delicacies for our voracious appetites at luncheon (sausages,
which G. had always declared they did not know how to make in
Australia); St Paul's, inside and out; lovely Staples Inn, which I could
hardly tear myself away from; and the commoner lions of the city, such
as the Mansion House and the Bank--all new to me. I felt quite an old
Londoner by four o'clock, when it was time to reunite our party, get a
cup of tea, and start on our journey to Cambridgeshire.

Only a few days later I discovered another London I had not known. I
returned to spend a week with a many-years-old friend, a personage of
distinction, even to her royal kinsfolk, but never other than the
dearest of the dear. Instead of riding motor 'buses I sat behind ducal
liveries. In the way of entertainment privileges were accorded me that
no money could buy. It was the brilliant episode of my trip, and that,
to my regret (as the author), is all I can say about it in this book.
What a pity that considerations of taste and decorum should compel the
autobiographer, as considerations of imperial policy compel the Russian
press censor, to "black out" the very bits that would be most
interesting to read. If one could throw delicate scruples to the winds
and tell the _whole_ story of any human life, or portion of life,
however small, the long reign of the work of fiction would be over.

June was still less than a fortnight old when this happy week
began--with a satisfying drive from Liverpool Street Station to the
heart of Belgravia in a hansom all to myself--just when I preferred no
company. A drive, I must add, as cheap as it was delightful.
Half-a-crown! It was hard to believe the driver serious. I could not
have done the distance in a Melbourne hansom under half-a-sovereign.
According to my prevailing luck the weather was perfect, and every inch
of the way for me was packed with interest. The Thames Embankment was
a-making when I left in 1870; now I saw it and its stately precincts in
their modern character. And, in addition to the features of what was but
background to London life, I saw a great procession of the Protesting
Women, coming upon it in the very nick of time, as if I had planned to
do so. I passed its whole length, seemingly of miles, from end to end,
sometimes at a foot's pace, sometimes blocked for several minutes at a
time, the ordinary traffic having but half the road; and I rejoiced in
my slow progress and was profoundly impressed with the spectacle. Not
having heard about it beforehand I was puzzled to account for the
immense lines of carriages filled with women--many of the carriages very
smart, and a number of the women in academic dress, wearing the hoods of
their degrees--massed in Whitehall and thereabouts; but the significance
of the demonstration was soon made evident--before the army on foot,
with its multitudinous banners came upon the scene, led by the aged and
honoured ladies who had been fighting the same battle half-a-century
ago.

In view of all I have since heard and read of the antics of what the
newspapers call the militant suffragettes, I am glad I had this
opportunity to gauge the strength and seriousness of the movement behind
them, which--unless their actions are grossly misreported--they
pitifully misrepresent. So long as my eye was on it, at any rate, the
march of the countless women was as dignified as anything I ever saw;
nor could a funeral procession have been treated by the bystanders with
more respect. That was the most striking thing about it. The half-width
of the street, congested with the traffic of the whole, blocked to a
standstill every few yards, neither murmured nor jeered--not by a single
voice that I could hear. While here and there a man stood to give dumb
homage, his hat in his hand.

But, oh, what a Mediæval sort of business it all seemed! To be
struggling so long, and with such pain and passion, for mere liberty--in
our England of all places--at this time of day! How strange to one long
outside the groove, the limitation of vision of those within! If it were
permissible to teach our grandmother to suck eggs, we could tell her
that the tremendous controversy is but a mountain labouring of mouse. In
our young country overseas "votes for women" were given to us as
naturally as they give licences to respectable lady innkeepers; after
due discussion in parliament, of course, and some "say" at public
meetings of the party chiefly concerned, but with no vulgar altercation
or unseemly fuss of any kind. And we quietly go forth to the nearest
polling-place on (the very infrequent) election mornings, being
supposed to have glanced at the family newspaper from day to day, and
come back to our domestic avocations (most of us like to get the small
job over as soon as possible after breakfast); and the world goes on
with no sign of damage. Not being necessarily the adversaries of man,
because not unjustly suffering from his rule, and having had no devil of
vindictiveness put into us we do not interfere with him in Parliament or
on the Bench, or attempt to upset his dignity in any way. We have public
work enough managing the hospitals, and such things, where we have the
free hand to save him a world of trouble. Though, if a woman _should_
turn up in a legislative assembly some fine day--and it might be any
day--I really do not think the skies would fall. My belief is that the
men would get used to it in a week and reconciled in a month. Not that I
would be that woman for anything you could give me. The main thing is
that politically we are good friends and not sore-hearted antagonists.
As fairly as our men have dealt by us shall we deal by them. Dear, dear!
To think what a buttress Ireland might have been to England now if she
had been let out of leading-strings three generations ago!

I returned to London at intervals between this sweet June day, when the
rhododendrons in the Park were still abloom and the "Season" at its
culmination, and the early winter evening of my last departure; but
without those passages which must be "blacked out" the tale is but a
tale of prosaic shoppings and the sort of country-cousin sightseeings at
which the superior person lifts the nose of scorn. Even in the latter
regard, I did not see half the things I had meant to see. The Royal
Academy Exhibition was postponed and postponed until too late. The
British Museum, the National Gallery, Westminster Abbey--even these I
missed. The Tower, which I had never seen at all, that I can remember, I
now saw only from the outside--except on the stage at Drury Lane, in the
_Marriages of Mayfair_. The friend and hostess who took me to this play,
as the wife of a Colonel of Grenadiers and intimately acquainted with
the life of the place, answered for the accuracy of detail in the
dramatic representation of it; furthermore, she arranged that I was to
explore the great fortress in her company, and took my promise to accept
no other guide. I was then within a fortnight of leaving England, and,
to my keen regret, the press of last engagements crowded that one out.

Mention of the Tower reminds me of a circumstance that occurred the
night before we made the futile compact, than which circumstance nothing
happening to me in London impressed me more.

An afternoon at His Majesty's to see Beerbohm Tree in _Faust_--the new
Faust, redeemed, not destroyed, through his human errors; the new
Mephistopheles, with the dignity of a god--had provided excitement
enough for one day, and we decided to spend the evening quietly at home.
Tea, a rest with a book, three only at dinner, were the peaceful
preliminaries; then we sank into deep sofa-corners by the drawing-room
fire.

"This," said B., "is the opportunity I have been looking for to show you
something. They have only just come back from the British Museum."

Two large, thick volumes were produced. And when I opened one of
them--the other was a typed rendering of the precious text--I perceived
that I was privileged for the moment above the rest of my countrymen.
For I was the first of the general public to read some most interesting
pages of English history, lost long before the story as we know it was
put together for the use of schools.

For three hundred years or more they had probably been in hiding where
they had recently been found--in the library of one of the seats of the
family to which B. belonged. Consequent upon the death of the owner, her
brother-in-law, there had been rummaging about the house, and a quantity
of valuable documents had been discovered behind oaken wainscots and
elsewhere. A cupboardful, found at a moment when it was not convenient
to remove them, mysteriously disappeared, unread, before they could be
retrieved; the bundle of letters on my knee had been spared to the
family, of which a Lord C., of Charles the Second's reign, had been
friend and kin to the writers. B. and the British Museum had been
attending to their preservation. They had been carefully arranged and
bound, and their condition was so perfect, and the penmanship was so
exquisite, that I was able to read the original, in the old lettering of
the time, as fast as B. could follow me with the modernised typed copy.
We took turn and turn about with this reading and checking, and I
suppose it took us hours--we were too absorbed to think of time--to get
through the whole, if we did get through it.

They were the letters of that Lord William Russell who was beheaded, and
of his wife, the famous Rachel, written during his trial and
imprisonment, to and of each other, to Charles the Second, and the
King's replies; portions of her journals; a long and minutely detailed
account of the whole tragedy, from day to day, almost from hour to hour,
by Bishop Burnet, who attended the prisoner--all in their own
handwritings; and a more touching and elevating tale and a more
distinguished piece of literature I do not remember to have come across.
B. showed me a letter from the lady who had typewritten the copy. She
said in effect that her sense of the privilege conferred on her with the
work was beyond words. By this time, possibly, Lady C. has allowed the
documents, family archives though they be, to be published for the
benefit of the nation. Unless, indeed, the nation has had them this long
time, and I have not known it.

Beheadings, again, remind me of Madame Tussaud's. As a child I had
thought it hard lines never to see the famous waxworks, and I never
did--until this belated return to where they were. I might not then have
done so but for the accident of a Baker Street engagement, which being
discharged with unexpected promptitude left us, G. and I, with an hour
or two on our hands. The great building, new since he had visited it,
stood almost over us, conspicuously proclaiming itself, and with one
accord we turned into it. Another lifelong ambition gratified at last!

"You won't go into the Chamber of Horrors, I suppose?" said G., when I
had viewed Mrs Pankhurst and the rest of the notabilities.

"Oh yes," said I, for I was out to see things. And down I went. It was
not particularly thrilling to one whose childhood was so far behind, but
it was very nasty. A cup of tea in the fresh air of the restaurant was
grateful after it. And I felt a particular craving for a bath.

One thing, however, has contrived to haunt me--the mask of Marie
Antoinette as at the moment after execution, with the blood-oozing
nostrils and the swooning, drowning eyes. For it seemed to me as if that
might be very much how she would have looked.

But it strikes me I am not developing the proposition set at the
beginning of this chapter to be the text of my discourse.



CHAPTER III

IN BEAUTIFUL ENGLAND


The second evening ashore saw us speeding out of London towards
Cambridge and Ely, and beyond to the not-to-be-mentioned spot in the
fens which represented the bosom of the family--G.'s family, that is to
say, for England held no more trace of mine.

I saw prettier English landscapes afterwards, from the windows of
railway carriages, but this first picture of the green country was
overwhelmingly beautiful to my eyes. I had forgotten what the country
grass was like, and the country trees. Our "English trees" of boulevard
and garden had not struck me as inferior to their ancestors in any way,
but here, in these glorious free-flung masses, how different they were.
Throughout my stay and various ramblings in the land, the trees and the
grass were my constant joy. The lawns of English gardens--not bits and
scraps that must not be trodden on, but acres of velvet-soft emerald
carpet always under one's feet, making the loveliest setting for flowers
and tea-parties. It happened in this lucky year that the summer was the
finest the land had known for years, and I think I must have had my tea
on grass more times in that short English season than in all the years
of my sojourn in the brighter country of the South; if I except Bush
picnics--and I need not except them, because the aim of Bush campers is
to keep as clear of grass as possible. I am not ashamed to say that I
could have wept for joy of those English trees and meadows when I first
saw them after the long, long exile. Nothing but the publicity of my
position prevented it. I could only look and look at them till throat
and eyes ached. I could not talk.

The unspeakable memories that thronged the platform at Cambridge! The
last moment of one of the most tragical happenings of my life passed me,
probably, on the very spot where our train halted. At a later day the
ghosts of all the hours belonging to that last moment forgathered with
me in the old quadrangles, and I could not believe they had been there
for forty years. The first glimpse of the towers of Ely was still more
thrilling. That ever I should have lived to see them again! Here, when
soon afterwards we prowled about the place--the first I saw of an
English provincial town after my return--I found my eye hopelessly out
of focus. I ought to have known it better than any spot in the country.
I had lived there and married there, and it had been my last English
home; yet, but for the cathedral, I should not have recognised it.
"_This_ Ely!" I exclaimed. "These little, little, quaint, cramped
streets and houses!" I seemed to have seen them in a picture; they were
incredible as the whole substance of our city of old. Gradually I got
the perspective, but it took two or three visits to do it. The familiar
past enmeshed me with its thousand tentacles. "You don't know me,
ma'am?" a weather-beaten matron emotionally accosted me on the steps of
the post-office--her married daughter drove the cart she hastily
descended from on seeing me. "You don't remember me? I was housemaid at
W---- when you were there on your honeymoon." One of the young maids,
with white satin ribbon in their caps, who stood with their smiling
welcomes on the doorstep of the rectory at W---- when our bridal
brougham drove up in 1870! The tears jumped to my own eyes as I wrung
her toil-worn hands. I nearly kissed her in the open street--and market
day too! Old servants, old friends, stretched arms to draw me into the
groove they had never left--never been thrown out of, as I was--until
the gulf of years sank out of sight, and we fraternised again as if
partings had never been. Yet I could not get the "atmosphere," so to
speak. I am such a fresh-air person! The first time I attended service
at the cathedral where I was such a devout worshipper in my youth,
although it was a Pan-Anglican function, with a stirring American
preacher to it, and my personal interest in the occasion, apart from
that, was intense, I was so overcome with drowsiness that I had to
struggle the whole time not to disgrace myself before the bishops, under
whose eyes I sat. I could easily attribute it to the fatiguing
excitements of the first days in England, but that was no reason why at
each subsequent service at the same place the same phenomenon should
occur. As surely as I went to church at the cathedral, I got deadly
sleepy straight away, and had to fight to keep eyes snapping and head
from rolling off. Suddenly I suspected what the trouble was. I looked up
at the roofs, into the lantern, around the windows--there was not a
crack for ventilation above the doorways, never had been in the hundreds
of years that pious breathings had daily been going up. When I mentioned
the matter to my old friends, who had been going to the cathedral all
the time I had been away, they were rather inclined to be annoyed.
_They_ found nothing wrong with the air of the cathedral. Of course not.
Nor did I in the old days. It was typical of the sea-change my whole
being had undergone.

Well, after that sight of Ely--and a glorious pile it is, from just that
point of view that the London train gives you as it draws near to the
station--after Ely, fen of the fens, that was drowned morass not so very
long ago, now richly cropped, the farms and hamlets standing clear like
things set on a table; then the station in the fields, the little
governess-cart at the gate, the unknown niece at the pony's head; the
short cut across country, and the old farmhouse, a long grey streak on a
wide green sea, with one bright and beautiful splash of colour lighting
up the sober landscape--the flaming orange of an Austrian briar bush in
full bloom on the front lawn. Finally, the bosom of the family, over
which the veil of reticence must fall.

On the following evening--no, the evening after that--I had the
long-dreamed-of bliss of a ramble through English lanes. Although it was
fen country, there were lanes about the farm--green old trees
interlacing overhead, green grass thick as a silk rug underfoot, all the
precious things that used to be in tangled hedge and ditch. I gathered
them, and sniffed them, and cherished them; no words can describe the
ecstasy of the meeting with them again--pink herb-robert in its brown
calyx, the darling little blue speedwell--"birdseye," as we called it;
white cow-parsnip, wild roses (following the may, which had just
passed), buttercups and oxeye daisies and yellow birdsfoot trefoil, and
all the rest of them; their scents, even more than their sweet forms,
overpowering in suggestion of the days that were no more. The
nightingale, to my disappointment, was gone, but the lark and the cuckoo
were rarely silent. A dear brown-velvet "bumble"-bee showed me his
golden stripe again. Nesting partridges whirred up from the hedgerows in
their sudden way and went flickering over the fields--dewy English
fields, exhaling the breath of clover and beanflower, the incomparable
perfume of English earth....

But Norfolk is my county. And not thirty-eight years, but nearly
half-a-century, had passed since I was within its borders, when I
crossed them again about a month after our return. A still longer
interval had elapsed between my departure from the first home that I
remember and my seeing it again--and recognising it in the selfsame
moment.

A Cambridgeshire sister-in-law had been led by various accidental
happenings to rent a house right in the middle of my territory, unaware
that I was not as great a stranger to Norfolk as herself. The haunts of
my childhood lay around her in all directions and close up to her doors,
and never, never had I expected to revisit _them_, except in dreams. G.
can hardly be dragged by an ox chain where he does not want to go, and
he did not want to go to D----, which had no associations for him, even
to see his sister. "Why couldn't she have settled in some decent place?"
he wanted to know, when her affectionate calls to him to come and be
entertained evoked the spectre of boredom which never in any
circumstances appeared to me. The pretty town of her adoption was, from
his point of view, a "hole," with "nothing in it." But my luck was in
when she drifted thither. It was the first court of the sanctuary, so to
speak; the way by which I entered the hallowed places of the past. Every
inch of the old streets, every brick and chimney-pot over fifty years
old, was sacred to me. The bulk of life lay between that past and now,
and the intervening years dropped away as if they had never been.

Over the road from my bedroom window in her house stood a fine old
dwelling, with a sundial on a prominent gable, and a high-walled garden
of which I caught beautiful glimpses through the tall iron gates and
between the ancient trees--quite unchanged. There, when I was a child,
Miss M. kept her Preparatory School for Young Gentlemen, still mentioned
with pride in the local handbooks, although long extinct. "Many of her
old pupils have attained high positions in the world," say they; and I
wonder if these were any of the little men with whom we little women of
eight or nine or thereabouts exchanged furtive glances over the pew-tops
in the old parish church on Sundays. I can see some of their faces now,
and hers, so serene and lofty, as she stood amongst them, her ringlets
showering down out of her bonnet like two bunches of laburnum, a narrow
silken scarf about her well-boned bust. Young Nelsons of the great
admiral's family were amongst Miss M.'s "young gentlemen"; the hero
himself was at school in D----, although his schoolhouse is no more; and
the cocked hat, with two bullet holes through it, in which he fought the
Battle of the Nile, has belonged to the neighbourhood since before
Trafalgar. "Well, Beechey, I'm off after the French again. What shall I
leave my godson?" The hat was asked for, and, says Nelson, "He shall
have it," and the granddaughter of the honoured infant has it still. It
takes a Norfolk person to appreciate the importance of these historic
associations to a little Norfolk town.

On the Denes at Yarmouth there is a tall column, something like one
hundred and fifty feet high, with Britannia ruling the waves from the
apex, that in my time stood majestically alone between river and sea,
and part of its dedicatory inscription, which is in Latin, runs thus:


HORATIO LORD NELSON

Whom, as her first and proudest champion in naval fight, Britain
honoured, while living, with her favour, and, when lost, with her tears;
Of whom, signalised by his triumphs in all lands, the whole earth stood
in awe on account of the tempered firmness of his counsels, and the
undaunted ardour of his courage; This great man NORFOLK boasts her own,
not only as born there of a respectable family, and as there having
received his early education, but her own also in talents manners and
mind.


This will show how little D----, which assisted at his early education,
deserves to be called a "hole, with nothing in it."

Miss M. died or retired in time to leave another set of memories for me
around that old house. I laughed to myself as I looked at the gate
through which a most dashing, black-whiskered gentleman of the D'Orsay
type used to issue of a Sunday morning, gloved in primrose kid, crowned
with glossiest beaver, the glass of fashion to his sex and the
admiration of ours, and thought of his little secret which I daresay he
never knew had been surprised.

His pew in the old church (all open benches now) was close to ours, and
we little girls used to watch him as he entered and stood, turned to the
wall, with his hat before his face, to say his preliminary prayer.
Something aroused our suspicions, and a burning desire to see the lining
of that hat. Patience and perseverance rewarded us with a peep, and
there was a little round mirror fixed to the inside of the crown.

And then I sighed, remembering his sister--I think it was his sister--a
rather swarthy, dark-browed, Juno-like creature, as I recall her;
knowing that I had just been within a touch of meeting her again; an old
old woman....

Once, in the far past, at the first known home, some miles from D----,
we gave a dance. You remember those dances of the fifties, dear reader
who went to them? They were simple affairs; no caterer from outside the
house, no outlay for flowers or band or champagne, or the hire of public
rooms (except for county or hunt balls, and then the claim was light on
the individual pocket). But if they were not as delightful to go to as
the more expensive corresponding functions of these days, I have no
memory worth trusting. I am sure you will say the same.

The guests were dancing by eight o'clock to the strains of the domestic
piano, the polka and the schottische and the varsoviana alternating with
quadrilles and lancers, the waltz a stately gyration round and round.
They were not staled and blasé, those simple people, but as fresh as
children for the game in hand. They had time to play it then. Whole
love stories were enacted in a night, and there was one in which I
played a part which I was too young to appreciate at the time, and of
which that handsome girl of the house opposite was the heroine. In my
ringlets and sandalled shoes, my full-skirted book-muslin frock and blue
sash and shoulder-knots--a little spoiled child allowed to see the fun
for an hour or two when she ought to have been in bed--I was passed from
knee to knee, petted to my heart's content by the adult guests, the
gentlemen especially; and the festive scene is as clear before me now as
it was then. The drawing-room was festooned with wreaths of evergreen
and paper flowers, out of which branched candles in hidden sconces made
of tin; the nursery guard was before the fire; the mirror with the gilt
eagle on the top reflected moving figures that had space to swim in the
mazy dance without jostling each other.

"Do you see that lady in the white dress?" a whiskered nurse of mine
whispered in my ear.

I did--I see her now--her dark eyes flashing, dark cheek glowing, deep
breast visibly swelling with the triumph of the hour--the undoubted
belle of the ball. Her dress was of white tulle, flounced to the waist
and trimmed with a long spray, running obliquely from neck to hem, of
white artificial roses sprinkled with glass dewdrops. A cluster of the
same was set in her abundant dusky hair.

"I want you to take something to her," said he, fumbling. "Don't show it
to anybody, and don't give it to anybody but her."

He closed my little fist over a wad of folded paper, and I dodged
through the crowd and delivered it, and returned to report.

"Did she read it?"

"Yes."

"Did she say anything?"

"No."

"Didn't she take any notice at all?"

"She only laughed."

He fell into sombre reverie, and I left him for more cheerful
companionship.

Later in the evening I was in the vicinity of the belle of the ball, and
she beckoned me, stooped, and whispered. "Take this to Mr G. Don't let
anyone see it. Give it to him when nobody is looking."

I brought him the note, and straightway he forgot me and my services.
The next I saw of him he was sitting in her pocket under the stairs.

And she did not marry him, after all! And now she is an old, old woman!

There was another member of the family (a cousin of these two), whose
portrait in my mental picture gallery has been classed always as a gem
of romantic art.

I only saw her once, and that was after another ball given at the same
old country house where the lady of the tulle dress and dew-sprinkled
roses disported herself with Mr G. I do not think I could have attended
this ball myself, for I have no recollection of seeing the girl I refer
to, who was there, until the following day. Her chaperon, whoever it
was, had left her over in my mother's care, probably to get thoroughly
rested before taking the journey home. In the morning we only heard of
her. She was in bed, being assiduously coddled. Before she came forth
mother gathered her little ones together and thus admonished them:

"Yes, you will see her at dinner, and if you are very good you may take
her for a walk with you this afternoon. But, mind, you must be very
gentle with her. You must take the greatest care of her, because she is
in a decline and very soon she is going to die." We were further
commanded on no account to disclose our knowledge of her sad fate to the
invalid.

She come down to the midday farmhouse dinner, and it was then I took my
indelible picture of her. She was probably eighteen, a willowy slip of a
girl, and with the pathos of her doom about her, the loveliest creature
my eyes (with such an idealising quality in them) had ever seen. That
was the impression, made permanent. Very fair of skin, with golden hair
arranged Madonna-wise in smooth bands; and dressed all in white, looking
the part my mother had given her to perfection--an angel at large,
granted to gross mortals for a little while to be jealously recalled to
her proper place. Her white muslin bodice was long-waisted and
stiffly-boned, and cut to a deep point in front over the bunchy skirt;
but it was lovely. And the gold watch at her side, and the long gold
chain round her neck to which it was attached, gave just the touch of
radiance to the unearthly purity of her appearance, as effective as a
Fra Angelico halo.

We took her for a walk through our fields and lanes, and with awe and
reverence laid ourselves out to take care of her. I remember that we
gathered mushrooms and that she ate some raw, which was unwise of her in
her delicate condition. I also remember (only it spoils the picture to
include such a squalid detail) that some of the little party ate more
than she did, and that one was deadly sick and had to be carried home.
At that point she fades from the scene--went away to die, as I supposed.
This one tragic vision of her made such an impression upon my
imagination that I have thought of her when anything reminded me, for
over half-a-century; but I have never thought of her as being other than
half angel in heaven and half dust of the earth all the time. I thought
of her when I looked out of my window in my sister-in-law's house at the
old house opposite, when first I returned to D----, still with an ache
of pity for a young life defrauded of the common heritage, which we
others, not more deserving, had come into.

But almost immediately afterwards my hostess asked me to go with her to
call upon one of her new acquaintances, a lady who had known me as a
child, had heard of my coming, and wished to see me. She bore the name
of the family which had followed Miss M. at the house with the sundial
on the wall, but as she was a widow that was the name of her husband's
family, and so I had no clue to her.

We found her in the pretty garden of her handsome house close by, and
she welcomed me warmly.

"You remember me?" she queried, when I had taken a basket chair beside
her. "I once stayed at your house at T----. I went to a party your
mother gave, and remained overnight. Don't you remember?"

I said I did, because I knew as soon as I looked at her that I had seen
her before. The forehead and the set of the eyes came back to me from
the past, unmistakably familiar. But the whole time I was there,
although she kept talking of the old times and the old people, I was
cudgelling my brains to place her and I could not. She told me she had
married her cousin and had not changed her name, so that I knew where
she belonged; and yet I could not think of any member of the family
answering to her personal reminiscences. She took me round her garden,
she showed me the rooms she lived in, spoke of her life with her
husband, recently dead, but with her long enough for them to celebrate
their golden wedding together; and yet I could not get myself on to the
right track. I went home with my sister-in-law quite worried and
bothered about it, and lay awake at night to continue my search in the
holes and corners of Memory when the public, so to speak, had left the
building.

Suddenly I discovered her. The face of the deaf old lady of over
seventy, and the angular body that had to lean on an arm or a stick when
it walked abroad, were suddenly transfigured like Faust in the play, and
there hung before my eyes in the dark the beautiful vision of that
golden-haired girl in white whom we had been told to take care of and be
good to because she was to die soon. There was no doubt about it. That
forehead and those eyes, that I had instantly recognised, although I
could not identify them, were hers. She had not been dust of the earth
for half-a-century, but alive all the time--yes, and well and happy; and
now she was in the most comfortable circumstances and apparently far
from her journey's ending still. It was a delightful discovery. Quite an
appreciable sorrow seemed to have been lifted from my heart.

Unfortunately I had no opportunity to see her again, to talk with her
of the old times now that I should know what I was talking about. When
you have but six months in England in which to make up the arrears of
about three-quarters of a lifetime, every visit is a flying visit, every
taste of the old friendships but a tantalising sip.

Down the road from the walled garden of the house I have been speaking
of, another high wall with a door at one end and a carriage gate at the
other, the spreading crown of a great chestnut-tree overtopping the
middle, bounded the street side of another garden, and sheltered from
public view another house which cried to me with a thousand tongues of
memory every time I passed it on my way to and from the railway station.
It was one of my own old homes--the third, not counting my birthplace
(which I left as a baby, and therefore have no knowledge of). The tenant
of this house in D---- was now my sister-in-law's landlord, and I could
have gone through it if there had been time for a polite process of
siege; but because an Englishman's house is his castle, and you cannot
march into it without notice as if it was yours, I was able to see only
the outside of any of my old homes. Perhaps it was as well.

When no one was looking I lingered by the carriage gate, through which
all the front of the house was visible--the pillared porch and flight of
steps within it, the windows of the rooms where we lived when we were a
family of seven or eight, and not of two as we are now; and behind them
I could see with the eyes of imagination all I wanted to know.

The garden had been rearranged. There were greenhouses in it that used
not to be, and the stone lions were gone. In my time two large heraldic
lions, that came from the piers of a park entrance to an estate that had
been brought to the hammer, sat on square pedestals in front of the
house, ornaments of a semicircular lawn that now spread over ground once
cut off for strawberry beds and espalier apple-trees. Under the belly of
one of those lions, whose forepaws served for doorway and his haunches
for shelter from wind and rain, I had my summer reading place. There I
wept over the death of the Heir of Redclyffe, and shivered at the
ghastly imaginings of Edgar Allan Poe. There also I made the little
secret scribblings that were to lead eventually to the writing of this
book. I could not see round to the arbour under the big
chestnut-tree--or where the arbour was--with its processioning groups of
ghosts; nor the thickets of syringa bushes, the scent of which has never
come to my nose without the suggestion of this place to my mind, and
never will. The nose is as sensitive to poetic impressions as the eye
with its rose-coloured spectacles, if not more so. There is a poem of
W.W. Story's which begins:

     "O faint, delicious, spring-time violet!
       Thine odour, like a key,
     Turns noiselessly in memory's wards to let
       A thought of sorrow free.

     The breath of distant fields upon my brow
       Blows through that open door ..."

And just so it is, and was, with me. Every exhalation of English earth
was a magic potion to conjure visions and dreams. It did not need to be
a perfume for the handkerchief, syringa or violet, jasmine or
lily-of-the-valley; the smell of the little herb-robert, whose other
name is something with "stink" in it, was to me--who had not smelt it
for forty years--the most exquisite of all.

But the shrubbery walk around the fruit garden where the syringas grew
was all open border now, not shady and secluded as when I used to pace
it in dusk and dark with the earliest of those fairy emissaries that
come to a girl when she is passing into her teens.... For the peculiar
charm of this garden is that it was the scene of the great transition.

Here I received my first proposal. Heavens! what a shock it gave me. In
fact I was horrified and terrified out of my wits. It came in a letter
surreptitiously conveyed to me through servants. "I love you with my
whole heart. Dare I hope that I am loved in return?"--the startling
words were but the commencement of a long outpouring, but I was so
frightened by them that I dared not read another. In frantic haste I
destroyed the letter, and thereafter went in fear and dread of the
writer--quite a grown man to me, perhaps eighteen--as of an ogre waiting
to devour me. I may point out, by the way, that it is a mistake not to
read letters through--one that I did not make again. This unread letter
contained a request that I would, if I favoured my lover's suit,
indicate the same to him by a certain sign that he alone would
understand, and in my ignorance I made that sign, placing myself where
he could find me, when all my aim was to get as far away from him as
possible. How I hated him for his attentions no words can tell. On the
other hand I rather "cottoned" to a brother of his, who did not write me
love-letters. For little girls do cotton to little boys, and vice versa,
and why not? "I confess I get consolation ... in seeing the artless
little girls walking after the boys to whom they incline ... this is as
it should be," said Thackeray, writing of children's parties. But the
boy to whom I was secretly inclined was never aware of the compliment
paid him, and, almost before I was aware of it myself, he was sadly
removed from my path by an accidental gun-shot. And the boy who
inclined, much more than inclined, to me I took every precaution that
was in my power never to speak to again. I cannot remember that I ever
did so.

But the reader who knows anything at all of human nature does not need
to be told that when I found myself in D---- again, after an interval of
nearly half-a-century, my inclination was rather to see him than to
avoid him. It would be a piquant moment, I felt, that of meeting now, if
his memory of early happenings was as good in old age as mine; even
although no reference to them should be permitted. I quite looked
forward to it.

But it was not to be. Although I had nothing to be ashamed of in
connection with him--very much to the contrary--I did not mention his
name to anybody, also I need not say that I kept to myself the little
affair that had been between us; I merely held an ear cocked for casual
information. And it ended with my leaving D---- without having any news
of him, not knowing even whether he was alive or dead.

But later I dropped across one of his sisters, a widow, who had become
connected by marriage with my husband's family. One day we went in a
little party to the town where she lived and she entertained us to tea.
I sat beside her at table, and inevitably we gossiped of our young days
throughout the meal. She told me what had become of her several
brothers and sisters, and so as last I heard of the one in whom I was
interested.

"I have just had a letter from him," said she, no trace in her face or
voice of any knowledge of the ancient secret. "I told him that you were
in England, and he wishes me to give you his kindest remembrances and to
say he is very sorry not to be able to see you." I forget where she said
he lived, but it was in some far-away county; married, of course, with
grown-up children--no doubt grandchildren--as I have.



CHAPTER IV

THE HOME OF CHILDHOOD


There was another old home--an earlier one--that on my first walk in
D---- I went to look at. Its associations were even more keenly dear,
and archæologically it was immensely the most interesting.

I was astonished to see how very, very old it was, and for the first
time was curious about its evidently extensive history. There was a
monastic suggestion in its thick walls and crow-stepped gables, and the
oaken door exactly like a church door, and the peculiar irregularity of
the grouping of its parts. Nothing was changed, except that a horrid
little office had been built into a corner that was once a sunless well
between masonry, containing only evergreen shrubs and a dense mat of
lilies-of-the-valley; but the office was an excrescence so glaringly
alone by itself that one could treat it as if it were a tradesman's cart
awaiting orders. Nothing else seemed to have been altered; even the
bay-tree, from which we gathered leaves to flavour cookings, stood in
the little front court as of yore, and the old ivy was, I am sure, the
old ivy of fifty, possibly a hundred, if not a thousand, years ago. I
viewed the place now with instructed eyes, which told me that
half-a-century was a mere fraction of its age.

The guide-book says nothing about it. Old dwelling-houses are too thick
on the ground in England to have any distinction unconnected with famous
persons and events; this was no more to the town of D---- in 1908 than
it was to us when we left it for the modern four-square house with the
pillared portico and stone lions on the lawn, down there near the
station. At neither time was there a doubt of the latter's incomparable
superiority.

But I had come from the land of the raw and new, the domain of the
social vagrant and the speculative builder, and I could appreciate the
charm of this relic of antiquity, for the first time. I stood at the
gate, and tried to think how it had come there. The clue was in the name
of the lane beside it--Priory Road--and in the guide-book statement that
the fine old rectory, in the gardens of which we used to lose arrows and
balls over the wall dividing it from ours, stood "on the site of a
Benedictine Priory."

Then I tried to reconstruct the plan of the interior, and remembered
that the floor under the cocoanut matting of the dining-room was of cold
stone slabs; the passages the same, and I think there was a press of
black wood, that became store cupboards, built into an end of that room.
Entering the arched front door, of such pronounced ecclesiastical
design, mother's store-room was the first thing you came to, a room that
opened out of the front hall on your right hand. Passing through that
hall and opening the door that faced you, you were dropped straight into
the drawing-room down a short flight of steps. One window of that
apartment looked out towards the road (I fancy the excrescent office
blocked it); another, and a door, opened directly upon the garden,
gravelled nearly all over, with, at one side, a group of large and very
old yew-trees, roofing a circular wooden bench. In the right-hand
drawing-room wall a third door opened, at the top of another flight of
steps, into what we called the music-room--really a cosier sitting-room,
incidentally enclosing the piano, and without so many draughts in it;
and a fourth door in a fourth wall led you into the stone-flagged
passage connecting with our refectory and the domestic offices, and to
the foot of the staircase. Surely that plan was never drawn with a view
to the convenience of a lay family!

Upstairs the arrangement was still more unconventional, although it may
have been conventual, for aught I know. That window over the arched main
entrance--it was open, and its muslin curtains fluttering in the
breeze--belonged to one of three rooms so tucked into the many-cornered
structure that they described a sort of triangle; one was hemmed in by
two, the only way in and out being through one or other of those two,
which also intercommunicated, the point of common junction being a sort
of square entry place, having the three doors in its panelled sides. For
some reason the inmost, which was also to the person in the road the
outermost, room was reserved as a guest chamber--the aunts used it; but
once it was given to a male visitor, who wanted to be out early. His
dilemma was a cruel one, seeing that his window was in a sheer wall and
he had no rope ladder. He could gain freedom only through my parents'
room or through that occupied by their daughters, now grown from babies
to little girls. After long listening in our joint vestibule, he chose
the former path, as the least of two evils; but, although he crept on
stockinged feet, my mother was awake. She made some alterations after
that. It seems to me they should have been made before.

Over that window above the front door another and smaller window looked
down on me. I met its gaze with a shrinking eye and the cold creeps down
my back--yes, even after all those years and years! You reached the
little sloping walled room behind it through a suite of attics at the
top of dark and lonely stairs; the first room was the servants', who,
however, were not there when I went to bed; the next had only ghosts in
it, and the locked door of a lumber-room out of which I nightly expected
some shape of horror to spring forth on me as I breathlessly scurried
past; the last--with this window in it--was where I slept with my
governess.

Seven governesses in succession reigned over us, for in my circle it was
considered rather shocking to send girls to boarding-school, which was
quite the proper place for boys; and I can truthfully affirm that I
never learned anything which would now be considered worth learning
until I had done with them all and started foraging for myself. I did
have a few months of boarding-school at the end--obtained by hard
teasing for it--and a very good school for its day it was, but it left
no lasting impression on my mind, except that of great unhappiness. The
unhappiness had nothing to do with its being a boarding-school, but
solely to its not being Home. Home is a place that I never do get away
from without immediately wishing myself back in it.

Of the first two governesses--technically the nursery governesses--I
remember little but their names and the circumstance that one of them
was a nobleman's grand-daughter. Her mother had eloped with a poor
tutor, and been cast out of her world in consequence--so closely does
one generation resemble another in some of its practices, if not in all.
The next--I think the next--was she who once turned that gable room into
a torture-chamber, worthy successor of heretic-persecuting Mediæval
monks, if any such preceded her. Only I was not a heretic, but an
innocent, fairly well-behaved, carefully cherished child.

She came from L----, a neighbouring town of county importance, and it
was darkly hinted that her father kept a boot-shop there. Anyway, she
gave herself great airs. Before coming to us she had been governess at
S---- Hall, and her late pupil, Rosamond U----, was thrown in our faces
all day long. If they were not so well known, I would like to write the
omitted names in full, and express to Rosamond U----, if she be living,
the sympathy I have since felt for her in that long-past experience
common to us both; but at the time I loathed her beyond everybody, with
the solitary exception of our joint governess. Rosamond was so
beautiful, so good, such a perfect lady!--the continual foil to her
successors. Miss H---- sniffed behind backs at everything in our house,
because it was so different from what she had been accustomed to. I
slept in her room--alas!--and when she was beautifying herself for the
evening and father called for her at the foot of the stairs, she used to
inform me, with that ugly smile of hers, that at S---- Hall Mr U----
always came upstairs to her door and escorted her to the drawing-room on
his arm--he was such a perfect gentleman! She must have been a liar,
than which one is accustomed to believe there is nothing worse; but she
was worse--a vile woman all through. I have never in my life disclosed
the horrors of the nights I spent with her; her threats of revenge, if I
should do so, sealed my lips at the time, and my mortal terror of her,
even after she was gone, for years more; and then I was ashamed to
speak. My poor parents died ignorant of what they had exposed me to in
my tender childhood. I, so extravagantly beloved and cared for! Possibly
Rosamond U----'s rank saved her from the like treatment. When I think of
Miss H----, and I hate to think of her--even now she could taint the
English landscape--when I do think of her, it is to wish I could tell
all the parents in the world about her, as a warning against the
promiscuous governess and against leaving any governess unwatched.
Better the poorest boarding-school, where there is the safety of
publicity, a thousand times. In L---- I had a married cousin, whose
little bridesmaid I had been, and whose baby, that I was allowed to
nurse on a footstool, lured me to stay with her once or twice; but I
clung to her side all the time lest perchance I should sight Miss H----
half-a-mile off, after she had left our employ and lost all power over
me. One day at church--great St Margaret's, so full of people--I caught
a distant glimpse of the dull, sallow face, and nearly fainted as I
stood.

Happily, there were other and more wholesome memories connected with
that attic room. But it was still a tragedy that came first to my mind
when I thought of Miss H----'s successor, Miss W----. For it was in her
reign that I very nearly committed suicide.

She was not like--nobody was like--Miss H----, but she was not above
using power unfairly when she was put out. I had been nasty to her in
some way, and she returned the compliment by formulating a specific
complaint of me to father--actually of _me_, his queen, to _him_, my
devoted slave. She was a pretty young woman, and he, poor man, just as
human as could be. He used to take her walks of an evening when he
thought she needed exercise, and on other evenings would sit entranced
for hours while she sang "Should he Upbraid" and "Good-bye, Sweetheart"
and "When the Swallows homeward fly," and scores of other nice things,
to him. And that accounts now, although it did not then, for the
astounding circumstance that he punished me at her behest. I was not
whipped, of course, but I was sent to my room in disgrace and ordered to
stay there. Never shall I forget my mingled astonishment, rage and
despair under the unprecedented calamity. I would not have minded, I
thought, if I had really done the thing she had accused me of. But I was
an innocent victim, and it was father--_father_--who had been set
against me! Simply I could not bear it. I resolved to put an end to my
wretched existence there and then. "When he comes and finds me dead upon
the floor, then he will be sorry," was the reflection that was to
console me in my last moments. But, although I crept into mother's room
and ransacked her medicine cupboard for the fatal dose, I did not find
it; I lived to make friends with father again, and to suffer many more
hours of anguish over troubles that were not worth it.

Another episode of Miss W----'s reign came to my mind when I could clear
it of the smoke of the darker memories. The brother and sister next
below me were the victims of her wrath on this occasion. I was away from
home, and my sister was promoted to the attic room and my place in the
governess's bed. She noticed, as I had done, Miss W----'s habit of
performing half her evening toilet by candlelight and the rest in the
dark; she discovered that the unseen part of the process consisted in
dabbing the skin with Rowland's Kalydor for the improvement of a
much-valued complexion. She told the second brother--a person of
humour--who promptly turned the knowledge to account. Together they
unearthed the secret bottle of Kalydor, adulterated the contents with
ink, re-hid it in its supposed safe place. Night came, and an evening
party. Miss W---- dressed herself with special care and splendour, and
duly extinguished her candles before applying the finishing touch. She
had fine shoulders and arms, now well displayed, and was particularly
careful to anoint them thoroughly with her favourite cosmetic. Then she
swept downstairs. We had dark staircases and dim halls then, and somehow
she did not realise the situation until the drawing-room lights and the
eyes and laughs of the assembled company revealed it to her. I am sorry
I did not see the dramatic dénouement. There were violent hysterics, I
was told, and a terrible hullabaloo. Father, in a towering passion,
rushed upstairs and thrashed the children all round, innocent and guilty
together, lest he should miss out a possible participant in the crime.

We had two more English governesses, and one French. One of the former
had taught a family of cousins and was reported to be very clever; but
she had a fiery, ungovernable temper, and did not stay long enough to
prove her gifts. She was a tiny woman, and pretty in a bird-like,
sharp-nosed, bright-eyed way, and she became engaged to one of the men
who admired her; and one day he came to see her, and from the hall where
he was taking off his hat and coat overheard her "giving tongue" to our
stately youngest aunt, with her customary fierceness and fluency. She
was unaware of his propinquity until he marched in to inform her that he
had not really known her until that moment, and that, as a consequence
of the revelation, his offer of marriage was revoked. It was
characteristic of her that she turned on him with a furious repudiation
of any desire whatever to be his wife. She died an elderly, if not old,
maid some years later.

The other Englishwoman was a dear--and not much else. We loved her, but
we did not learn much from her. As for our French companion--it was for
French conversation that she was engaged--she was all the time learning
English herself. Poor little Eugénie Léonie de B----! She had a white
face and big, lustrous black eyes, and pretty frocks, supplied by her
mother, herself a governess in an English family of higher consequence
than ours. The boys used to tease Eugénie about Waterloo and frogs, and
she would burst into rages and tears because her limited vocabulary
denied her the power of arguing for her country on equal terms. She was
a dear little thing, and we were all fond of her, and she of us; she
took the place of another sister while she lived with us, and there was
mutual and bitter grief when she went away. But she did not teach us
French to any extent. We taught her English instead.

In short, there was not one, I am convinced, amongst them all--with the
possible exception of the lady with the temper--who could have passed a
proper examination in the subjects she professed to teach. No one asked
for a certificate of competency other than her own word and that of her
friends. Miss W---- certainly had the warrant of the principal of the
best ladies' school in L----, but there was no warrant for principals of
schools. They conducted their own examinations and gave judgment in
their own way, which might be any way. All I learned effectually during
my brief experience of boarding-school was a long poem by N P. Willis;
I was letter-perfect in it for break-up day, but, when the moment came
for me to distinguish myself and the school, stage fright paralysed me
and I could not utter a word. At least, that is the only scholastic
achievement that I can now recall to mind.

In the final result we were able to read and write--not "cypher," in my
case; and I could play the piano pretty well (by ear), and my brothers
vastly better--especially the eldest--and, later on, one sister also.
But that was because music was a passion born in us; it had to come out,
wild or cultivated, and our teachers could take little credit for such
proficiency as we attained. Instead of making me read scores and
understand them, they played my new pieces over to me before setting me
to them. It was not only a labour-saving system, but produced the most
immediately effective results. I was a brilliant performer of
"Woodlands" (descriptive of a gathering and bursting storm and the
warbling of little birds after it), and of the "Duet in D," before I
could puzzle out a hymn-tune that had not been sung or played to me. The
elder brother, who went to school in L---- (whence he used to be brought
home suddenly every now and then, at death's door, for mother to nurse
to life again), had lessons from a master and the advantage of knowing
something of the basis of the art; yet his music was before all things
the instinctive speech and poetry of a soul that was not made for this
prosaic world. It was hard to get him to play to listeners--to "show
off" what was really a great accomplishment from the most common point
of view. But in twilight and firelight, or with only me, who was his
constant chum, his extemporisation was so exquisite that I used to sit
and cry as I listened to it. Once a great musician listened to it,
unknown to him, and told our mother that her son was destined to set the
Thames on fire some day. He died at seventeen. When he was too weak to
sit on the music stool by himself, I used to stand behind him and
support his weight against my chest to enable him to enjoy his communion
with the divine and beautiful as long as he could.

He died in March; and in June of the same year the second brother, two
and a half years younger, was laid beside him. This dear boy, so
sweet-tempered, so gay, so unselfish, hid facts that should have been
attended to while the other was yet alive, because all his thoughts were
for him and he never had any for himself, and his own life was in danger
before it was known that he was ill. But an organist friend had promised
him the glory of playing the whole Sunday service in a neighbouring
church (St Peter's, Great Yarmouth, where we were living at the time),
and, with his complaint already past hope, he went off to this task,
simply full of it, and performed it triumphantly. It was his last act in
life, and through all his delirium until he died his fingers were
playing up and down the sheet, showing that his stricken brain made
music for him to the last.

The sister was like them both in that one and only respect. She was a
delightful extemporiser on the piano, expressing thus all her wayward
moods as they alternated so quickly in her passionate little soul.
Continually she surprised herself as well as us with some beautiful
improvisation, and then burst into tears because she could not repeat
it. And all that budding genius to be swept out of the world, without a
chance to flower and bear fruit! It is a sad reflection--the waste of
valuable things in life, the persistent superfluity of the valueless.

However, such gifts as the then numerous family could lay claim to were
hidden as it were in the "plain egg of the nightingale" while our
development was in the hands of the governesses. They were
intellectually limited, spiritually common, all unlearned, and the
majority of them underbred. The fact being that, taking the average of
the seven, they fairly represented their class--the governess class of
my young days. Naturally, in this case, we more or less fairly
represented the class of those who were supposed to be well educated.

But I must except the youngest aunt from this category. She was a
governess--but not the average governess--and it was never _her_ opinion
that we were well educated. She frequently deplored my own lack of
opportunities to improve, and made generous, if vain, efforts to provide
them. Before she entered upon her career as instructress of foreign
young high-mightinesses, she spent years on her own studies abroad, and
she offered to keep me at school in Germany if my parents would send me
to her there. I know we were all fools, father, mother and self, but I
clung to them and they clung to me, and "No, no, a thousand times no!"
was our unanimous reply. "You are standing in the child's light," wrote
the youngest aunt from Heidelberg, but that was not fair, for they would
have sent me and broken their hearts over it if I had wanted to go. But
if the youngest aunt had invited me to join her in heaven, the
joylessness of the prospect would have been the same. So she instituted
a system of correspondence, as the best she could do in the
circumstances. I was to write long and regular letters to her, to which
she was to reply, correcting their grammar and composition and otherwise
enlightening my neglected mind. I performed my part of this contract not
wholly without pleasure in it, and I have no doubt that I owe to her my
first taste for literature and the bent towards authorship which
afterwards became a fixed line. I remember that it was to her I
submitted an early MS., while as yet it was a secret that I wrote
stories. This one was all about moated granges and Mediæval castles and
the splendours of what I imagined to be high life. How just her
criticism was! And how--naturally, on that account--it hurt my feelings
then, when I was professionally so young and innocent. "A boudoir,"
smiled she, "is not a room that a lady keeps all to herself, as she
does her bedroom. And she does not have 'tapers' on the dressing-table,
but candles. And why don't you write what you understand?" That advice,
which is of the best to-day, was astonishingly good for those days.

In later years her letters were like novels themselves. Her reticence
about things one burned to know concerning the private lives of her
royal employers was impenetrable, but outside of that what food for the
romantic imagination! There was the death of her pupil, a young princess
of S----, and later the semi-dissolution of her father's kingdom--two
events that the youngest aunt took bitterly to heart and discoursed of
eloquently. There was that mandate of the Czar to her and another pupil,
wintering in Dresden, to return instantly to St Petersburg, and the
journey of the party in bullet-proof railway carriages through Poland in
revolt. The train crawled along so slowly, on account of the fighting on
the line, that they were nearly starved, and when it reached a station
where food might be obtained no one but the youngest aunt had the pluck
to leave its shelter. The English tutor of her pupil's brother (the
children were fatherless wards of the Russian Emperor) cowered in his
corner paralysed with fright; the youngest aunt could not find words to
express her contempt for him. She gathered up her skirts--it was
necessary to hold them high, she said, because the ground was running
with blood--and sallied forth to forage alone, returning with a little
black bread and some dirty water, procured with great difficulty and by
a heavy bribe. I remember that the youngest aunt was all indignation
against "ungrateful Poland," which shows how the finest judgment can be
affected by the personal point of view. At the end of the perilous
journey there was a solemn service of thanksgiving for the deliverance
of the Lord's Anointed out of the hands of bloodthirsty rebels. Her
sketches of these and other stirring scenes taught me something of the
world outside my village or country town; they supplied plots for many
early romances that never saw the light.

On the whole, school work was a deadly uninteresting, and therefore
unprofitable, business in my time, no matter what the qualifications of
teachers. The notion of making it a pleasure as well as a discipline, of
breathing into its dry bones any breath of knowledgeable life, seemed
not to occur to anybody. The idea that it was anything but a penalty for
being young certainly never occurred to _us_. It is not surprising when
one considers other aspects of the social system prevailing at the
period. But it does seem strange that a theory of education so
essentially stupid on the face of it should still persist to the extent
we see in these more enlightened days. And yet--not so strange. Nothing
is really strange when you think it out. The schools, most humanly and
naturally, keep their old alliance with the Church, clinging to the old
dogmas which have been the roots of their being and the symbols of their
power for so long; inevitably resisting, while they can, on behalf of
all sorts of vested interests, the Spirit of Progress which they must
know to be ultimately irresistible. When I see growing children who have
spent morning and afternoon at school fagging wearily at "prep" through
the evening when they ought to be recruiting with a game or in their
beds, I marvel at the hidebound conservatism which can thus ignore the
laws of health and the rights of the individual, freely recognised as
paramount in other directions. But again--what is there to marvel at?
There are scores of good, common-sense business men to whom Compulsory
Greek is a sacred thing, and there are thousands and thousands of truly
saintly women who would not have a hand laid on the Athanasian Creed for
anything. Not to speak of the innumerable brave fellows, souls of
honour, flowers of chivalry, who believe as devoutly as they believe in
God that the world would go to pieces utterly without its armies and
navies.

How often we hear elderly people gushing over their school days! "Ah,
those were the happy days!" When I hear them I know exactly what they
mean--not the school part of school days, but the free parts in between.
I am not of those who sentimentally deceive themselves in this
matter--the school parts to me were never happy. I have always known it.
And when I came back to the scenes of my schooldays, when I stood in
that quiet road at D---- and looked up at the window of the room under
the crow-stepped gable, I realised with a shudder how unutterably
wretched they had been sometimes.

But it is time I dragged my spirit eyes from that sad little nook in the
house of dreams. I will not look at it again. I will take Memory through
the ghost-haunted attics behind it and down the twisty stairs, to the
lower floors and the garden and the company of my dear family, where she
can play about much more cheerfully.



CHAPTER V

HALCYON DAYS


There is always one outstanding association to fly in your face ahead of
every other when you encounter a thing or person once connected with
your life, that has been severed from it for a long time. And when I
looked at the front door like a church door, simultaneously apprehending
its interesting character as a door, the first thing I thought of
was--valentines.

The word says nothing to my youthful reader. But, oh, dear contemporary
for whom especially I write, you who took part with me in those revels
that are no more, what it says to us! Certainly our diversions of that
time--when we were hardly into our teens, and when we were as innocent
as we were young--were so few and simple compared with those of our
children at the same age that we got more out of one of them than they
do out of a miscellaneous dozen; but I am allowing for that when I say
that for this particular diversion, and one or two more of a like kind,
no corresponding diversion of the present day offers anything like
adequate compensation. There are bloodless creatures, that forget they
were ever young, who point to the Christmas card as the improved
substitute for our valentine. Christmas card, indeed! So common, so
obvious, so lacking in individual human interest! What nonsense!

We know why they do it. But where is the sense of frowning upon the
innocent manifestations of nature in girls and boys, such as were called
forth by the valentine, the sprig of mistletoe, and certain other of our
games of olden times which were as gates ajar into the Promised Land,
with their stolen and yet not unauthorised kisses and anonymous
love-tokens? They gave honest outlet to the exuberance of healthy youth,
sweet and wholesome in its free play, but corrupting in secrecy like
everything deprived of air. At least such is my opinion, looking back
upon the pranks of my early days. The valentines that came to me in such
abundance on the 14th of February were simply symbols of so many lovers
and of how they severally regarded me. Who sent this? Who sent that? Who
lauds my beauty in such ardent verse? Who asks me to be his? The boy I
like (though I may never have exchanged a word with him)? Or the boy I
can't bear? The best of the valentine was that, as a rule, it did not
tell. The pleasures of imagination and tickled curiosity were not
impaired by any gross attempt on the part of the sender to trespass
beyond the privilege of the day. Where, then, was the harm?

I became old enough to take my part in this delicate dalliance while we
lived in D----, and it was in this house of the church door that my most
interesting Valentine's Days were spent. They were indeed momentous
occasions. The morning postman was not the chief purveyor of the
wonderfully devised tokens; it was the personal delivery after dark that
was most fruitful, as it was most exciting. On Valentine's eve or
Valentine's night we sat around the fire in the music-room, eyes
shining, ears cocked, muscles tense for the spring. Rat-tat-tat! We
flew down the steps through the drawing-room, through the hall to the
front door, to catch the visitor whose business and whose point of
honour was not to let us catch him. A banged gate, a vanishing shadow in
the fog or snow, mocked the strained sight and hearing; but plain upon
the doorstep--that very doorstep--gleamed a large white envelope
enclosing a "song without words" for somebody. It might be from
anybody--a boy who had only seen you at church, a greybeard friend of
your father's (I was the pet of old gentlemen from babyhood), the
man-servant of the house or that innocent young sweetheart of your
innocent first love, who had this great chance to declare (without
declaring) himself to be such. A sheaf of trophies--if you were a
favourite of Fortune, as I must have been--when the day was over, and
the long-continuing pleasure of conjecture, possibly of knowledge,
afterwards. I do not care what anybody says, it was a great and glorious
institution.

And the mistletoe, of which I spoke just now--oh, the mistletoe! What
was not enshrined for us in that insignificant bit of weed! Two leaf
blades and one berry were enough to work the charm--to turn a humdrum
house into a world of romance, filled with the interest of that passion
which is the most interesting thing in life, without its carking cares
and its deadly responsibilities. Like a trap in the run of a wild
animal, a pale sprig would be hidden for special purposes by a more
ardent player of the game, but that was considered to be a breach of
rules; in full view above the most frequented doorway, or at any rate in
some place known to all, one of the strangest of our small symbols for
big things honestly revealed itself, to be sought or shunned, dawdled or
darted past, remembered or forgotten, as the case might be. It must
have been a source of intensest interest to the youths and maidens
making Christmas fun together, knowing what they knew, feeling what they
felt, interchanging their sentimental diplomacies according to the
instincts and desires of their time of life; for I know what in a lesser
degree it meant to the younger children. I am sure that I was a very
modest little girl (there was my treatment of my first love-letter to
prove it), and that I did not walk--at any rate, that I did not
run--after the little boys to whom I inclined; nevertheless, the
mistletoe concerned me as much as anybody. The exquisite excitement of
circumventing the boys to whom I did not incline was fun and interest
enough.

It was forty years and more since I had seen mistletoe when that July I
walked in the grounds of the fine old rectory in Priory Lane--the garden
into which our balls and arrows used to overshoot themselves--and the
rector's wife, with whom I had been lunching, gathered and offered me a
little sprig of green stuff.

"You don't know what that is," said she.

I did not, because it was summer and the pearly berries had not formed.

"Mistletoe," said she.

Talismanic word! I folded it in paper and brought it home. It is in
Australia with me now.

Valentine's Day is hardly a name to be remembered now when the 14th of
February comes round. The date was far behind us when we arrived in
England, but I am sure the festival must be dead in its native land, and
it has never lived during my time in this. And as for Christmas--we
could not stay long enough to see an English Christmas again, but I
think, if I had seen it, I should have found it no more like the old
Christmas than the one I spent at sea. They belonged to their age, those
old Christmases of ours, to children not so critical and sophisticated
as the children of to-day.

Fragrant memories of Christmas hung about that old house at D----. Happy
Christmases with no governesses around! And such tremendous affairs they
were! Long, long before the day its heralds were all about us: the
choice fowls set apart for fattening; the ox selected that was to make
himself famous with a prize, if possible, before the butcher turned him
into Christmas beef; the solemn mixing of the Christmas pudding, at
which the youngest baby had to assist (the pudding divided into dozens
of puddings boiled in the big copper and hung up in their cloths, to be
used in instalments until Christmas came again); the making of the
mincemeat in the same wholesale manner (big brown jarfuls, also to last
through the year), and of the Christmas cakes, which were so rich that
keeping improved them, and the production of which therefore was only
limited by the number of canisters available in which to store them;
these were matters of vital interest ere autumn had fairly gone. For the
Feast of the Nativity was above all things a feast in the popular sense
of the word. Loaded shelves in the pantry and an overflowing table,
plenty for everybody and everything of the best, was the order not of
the day, or of the week but for the month or two that stood for the
"season" with these old-time provincial revellers. When we lived in the
country before coming to D---- two dishes in particular were conspicuous
on our bill of fare--Christmas dishes only, so far as I can recollect.
One was a game pie, in size and shape resembling a milliner's bonnet
box. Its walls were self-supporting and covered with pastry
ornamentation in relief; its inside was jelly close-packed with
miscellaneous game birds and bits of ham and veal and forcemeat and
things; the usual game pie, I suppose (I don't know, it is so many years
since I tasted one), but extra big and fine in honour of Christmas. The
other dish was a round of "Hunters' Beef"--very well named since it used
to be in great request for hunting sandwiches. It was beef rubbed all
over every day for three weeks with a certain dry mixture of sugar,
salts and spices, and then baked for six hours in an earthern crock
under a pile of shred suet, a meal crust and a sheet of brown paper. It
seems to me that I have never tasted real spiced beef since. It was used
in thin slices with bread and butter, not eaten like ordinary meat at
the substantial meals, and lasted a great while. When Christmas was
nearly upon us--governess gone, and all the carking cares of the past
year thrown overboard--the bakings and roastings were tremendous, the
excitement of preparation turned all heads.

At our farmhouse a cartload of evergreens used to come from our
grandfather's woods, sometimes through the snow. Here in the town we
still managed to get enough; always the Christmas tree in its largest
size. Every room had to be adorned as lavishly as they now adorn the
churches, whereas the churches were put off with a bough of holly stuck
into each seat end. The Christmas tree was planted in a tub on the
drawing-room floor--stripped of carpet and furniture for the nightly
games and dances (this floor was not of stone)--and usually the top had
to be cut off to get it under the ceiling. Its graduated layers of arms
bore dozens upon dozens of coloured wax tapers (the little tin sconces
for them were stored from year to year), and about the same number of
pendent glass balls, apples of gold and silver on the dark green boughs.
The substantial fruit, the presents, were in numbers sufficient to stock
a small bazaar. Mother and aunts and family friends had been working on
them for months. If the drawing-room could not be shut to children the
tree was jealously screened, for a day or two before the great night,
which was a party night. It was the young men and maidens who enjoyed
themselves in this interval, while the little ones hung about passages
and peepholes in burning curiosity and suspense. The enchanting moment
came when the party tea was over and a succeeding half-hour of thrilling
anticipation; the drawing-room door was flung wide and we rushed through
in a crowd towards the splendid blazing wonder in the middle of the
room, sighing forth our "Oh! oh!" of ecstasy.

The stage-managers ranged us in a circle around it, all goggle-eyed,
half stunned with the suddenness of our joy, and someone came round with
a bag of tickets--round and round, until each had half-a-dozen or more.
Oh, who would get No.1, the great doll at the top of the tree?--or No.2,
the work-box on the tub beneath (the tub hidden in green stuff, mingled
with pink glazed calico)? There were great prizes amongst the many
little ones, and some that I remember were quite remarkable. One was a
board--very difficult to fix to the tree safely--on which a party of
dolls were celebrating a wedding, the bride in her veil, with her
bewreathed bridesmaids, the little men in coats and trousers, the
surpliced parson, all complete. Such time and trouble were to spare for
children in those days! The steps were brought in and a man mounted them
to detach the articles from the upper boughs. A woman might set herself
on fire--once she did, and there was a gallant rescue, and frequently a
taper ignited a flimsy toy or set a green branch smoking. Doubtless
there were heart-burnings also over the caprices of Fortune in the
distribution of the gifts, but I cannot see blurs of that sort on the
shining picture now.

Santa Claus is still much alive, so I need not describe his doings. I
only hope the children of to-day enjoy shivering awake for half the
night and making themselves ill with the edible contents of their
stockings before daylight as much as we did. As for the delicious lurid
function, snapdragon, is it obsolete in England yet? It does not come,
like Santa Claus, into the scheme of child entertainment in Australia.
There would be a difficulty in finding the requisite depth of darkness
on Christmas evenings here. Besides, a supper of raw raisins cannot be
good for the infant stomachs. I would not give it to my own children,
but still I am glad that the mothers of old were in some things less
faddy than we are. One of the treasures of my collection is the weird
scene of the magic bowl and the spectral faces around it--the delightful
terror of the little girls, the heroic courage of the little boys who
seized for them the blazing morsels they dared not touch themselves. A
tender memory of that boy to whom I inclined, who shot himself (by
cocking a stiff-jointed gun with foot instead of finger), pictures him
gallantly fighting the flames on my behalf.

The Waits, I believe, are heard in the streets of England still. But
not, I fancy, on country road and garden paths, guests of the domestic
hearth at midnight, a nondescript rabble under no ecclesiastical
control, making their own fun, as they then did. Blue-nosed, beery,
hilarious, in woollen mitts and comforters, drinking good luck to a
dozen hosts in turn and thinking of nothing but how they were enjoying
themselves, they are not quite adequately represented to us older folk
by the better-drilled but unspontaneous choir-boy. He is like the
Christmas card for which we have exchanged the valentine--a shadow
replacing the substance, to our thinking.

The choir of the old times was the congregation, led by the clerk in the
three-decker. We went to service on Christmas morning, as in duty bound,
and sang "Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow," whether we had
singing voices or not, and were likewise audible and hearty with the
responses, as believing them our own; and when we came out--good,
unsophisticated Christians, exchanging our "Happy Christmas" with
everybody we met--the church was content to let us go for the remainder
of the day. We went home to our immense dinner (with dessert that
lasted through the afternoon), our festive tea, crowned with the
Christmas cake, our blindman's buff and turn-the-trencher and
drop-the-handkerchief in the cleared drawing-room, our snapdragons, our
punch-bowl, our adventures under the mistletoe.

The drawing-room, when not cleared, could not be closed to family use,
like the majority of the middle-class parlours of the past (I might
almost say of the present also), being the highway to the front door,
to the garden-playground, and to the music-room, which was the
sitting-room. Its four doors were constantly opening and shutting, and
it must have been a cave of the winds in winter, although I do not
remember it. Strips of crumb-cloth marked the crossing footpaths,
warning us to keep off the grass--_i.e._ the geometrical-patterned green
and crimson carpet; they were taken up whenever it was surmised that
"people might be coming," according to that curiously petty but intense
concern for a genteel (however false) appearance, which was one of the
things I had, mistakenly but naturally, taken for granted that England
had grown out of long ago. The room was still the reception-room for
callers and company, and all my mother's artistic skill, which only
distinguished itself the more for having so little money at the back of
it, had been expended upon its adornment.

When I think how that artistic skill was exercised, I have a foolish
impulse to shudder and to smile. When I think again, I have to ask
myself, "Why should I?" Further reflection convinces me that its
manifestations were admirable. To say the least, they were not
necessarily in bad taste then, although they would and ought to be so
now. But there is far more than that to say. The handicraft of the women
of the mid-Victorian era had the precious quality of finish and
thoroughness, than which there is none more worthy. Careful, delicate,
faithful work, no matter on what article expended, was the note of
excellence, and the longer I live the more I respect and love it. Such
fancy-work proper as adorned this old parlour of ours I do not wish to
see reproduced, but it was appropriate to its day and a credit to her
who was responsible for it.

She had a sort of settee-sofa under the window on the garden side. It
was covered with many squares of finest "wool-work," joined together.
There was a different design--vase of flowers, basket of flowers,
wreath, bouquet--in each square, although material and ground colour
were the same; and the number of them represented so many girl friends
who had combined to work them and present her with the sofa on her
marriage. It certainly was a graceful idea, cleverly carried out. And
wool-work was really very fascinating. With a piece of canvas, a bundle
of neatly-sorted Berlin wools, and a coloured pattern of flowers of
every hue--the more intricate the better--I was quite happy. I also
liked working out peacocks and other weird devices into antimacassars,
with crochet needle and white cotton, although not so well. I must have
made miles of "open-work" (the modern _broderie Anglaise_, only better)
for underclothes, first and last. Once I made a bead basket to hang by
glittering bead chains between draped netted-and-darned window-curtains.
I knitted rag rugs and silk purses, and sections of a great quilt for a
spare bed. I did elaborate geometrical patchwork for other quilts, and
fine marking of names (learned from my baby sampler) on linen with
engrained red cotton; and watchguards in black silk and gorgeous
slippers and winter mitts and comforters for father; and mats for lamps
and vases, and so on and so on.

But mother was really an artist, because she did not follow patterns,
but designed things herself. When she needed curtain cornices for the
tops of those windows, and could not afford the gilded, fender-like
affairs that were correct and desirable, she nailed deal boards
together, covered them with leather, and then with a design of leather
flowers or grapes with vine-leaves, which, when varnished, imposed upon
the spectator as a carving in wood. Now we would prefer the honest deal,
no doubt--I would, at any rate--but then there was not a person of taste
who would have done so. She made open wood-carving of leather-work
applied to stout cardboard, cutting away the latter from the interstices
of the pattern embossed. In the treatment of a pair of flower-holders
that used to stand on a table under the mirror between the garden window
and the garden door, she substituted a scarlet coating made of
sealing-wax for the dark wood-stain; her leather-work then called itself
coral. As for her wax flowers, they were truly beautiful. She was not
content to make up the boxfuls of petals prepared by the trade, but must
needs copy flowers out of the field and garden. I do not know how she
found time for all she did, but she seemed to do everything, and always
to do it right. My faith in her ingenuity and resourcefulness was as my
faith in the omnipotence of God.

It was in that drawing-room of her adornment that we held festival on
the afternoon of our famous wedding-day. It rained, and the amusement
for the guests--after the great breakfast in the music-room and the
departure of bride and bridegroom--was to practise archery upon a target
in the wet garden from the shelter of the house. The arrows from door
and window went wide over the garden walls, and the scared face of the
rector popped up in alarm at intervals as they hurtled into his domain.
It was the son of our old neighbours at T---- (the House of the Doll),
who, unknown to any of us at the time, pointed a moral for the
incautious parent who deposits with his (or her) infant offspring
evidence upon which they will some day rise up to judge him. H. was a
very smart young fellow, according to the notions of the time, and he
forgathered with a pretty cousin of ours, daughter of my father's eldest
brother, with whom my father was at feud over a lawsuit and not on
speaking terms. Her parents forbade the match, and she came to mine--the
hostile camp--for succour. Enthusiastically we took up her cause, and,
having given her all facilities for courtship, gave her the finest
wedding that could be compassed from our house. Not only that, but drove
her many miles behind white-favoured postilions to the church of her own
parish, possibly to "cheek" her family, who naturally held aloof,
although it was rumoured that they watched the passing of the bridal
carriages from some secret ambush. Of course, we young ones never
doubted for a moment that they were wholly malignant and in the wrong;
we were as sure as we were of night and day that our father and mother
could not possibly make mistakes.

While the happy pair were honeymooning, we assisted Mrs H., the
bridegroom's mother, to prepare for them what we thought an ideal home
in L----, a house so towny and stylish, compared with the farm
homesteads in which we had been reared, that we were lost in our sense
of the occupants' luck and bliss. I had been their little bridesmaid,
and I now became their frequent visitor; I suppose their attentions to
me were a return for our ill-omened hospitality to them. I used to sit
on a stool in the firelit dusk, totally disregarded, while, on the other
side of the hearth, H. nursed Cousin E. upon his knee and they whispered
together. Later on, I sat on the same stool to nurse the baby, E.
hanging over me to gloat upon him and assure herself that he was safe in
my arms.

The other day I saw that house again, and, looking up at the windows,
looked through them upon those past scenes with, oh! such different
eyes. According to precedent, H. proved himself, very early in the day,
to be the bad lot his wife's people had suspected. The first baby was
the last, because there was not time for more. The young father lived
beyond his means for a year or two, neglected his business, took to
drink, went under, and left the young mother and child to the charity of
the relatives who had probably foreseen how it would be. And now that I
am older than they were I think of my parents' part in the matter, once
so unquestioningly endorsed, and I shake my head. So will my children
shake their heads over remembered acts of mine which, at the doing, were
even as the decrees of Providence. Doubtless they have done so many a
time.

In my flying visits to D---- I was drawn again and again to the
neighbourhood of that old house. Any walk that I took for the sake of a
walk led past it, and I stopped at the two gates every time, because I
could not help it. The second gate, opening into the field that was part
of the premises, had its separate associations. Here roamed Taffy, when
he chose to keep in bounds, a white pony given to my eldest brother by
his grandfather, but for his long lifetime the useful servant and
beloved friend of the whole family; a dear, sweet-natured humorous
creature, human in his affections and intelligence. Taffy walked about
the domestic domain like a dog; he undid every fastening of every gate
that attempted to confine his rambles. He used to come to the schoolroom
window when we were at lessons and watch his chance to grab a mouthful
of hair. When mother and I made our journeys together to see her
parents, some fifteen miles off, we used to stop at a halfway inn to get
a basinful of porter for Taffy, who loved it and drank it down like a
Christian; he would not pass that inn without it. When thirsty at home
he sought the pump in the stableyard, took the handle in his teeth and
rattled it up and down, and as soon as water trickled from the spout
applied his mouth thereto. When I have told this story to my present
family, who never knew Taffy, tolerant and superior smiles have accused
me of drawing the long bow; so I was pleased when a sister of mine,
lately arrived from England after a thirty years' separation from me,
was happily inspired to say at table before them all (we were speaking
of old times), "Oh, do you remember Taffy and the pump?" proceeding to
tell the tale again exactly as I had told it. Thus Taffy and I got tardy
justice done us.

Here, too, in a memorable year, Wombwell's Menagerie established itself.
It was the half of the business which the original Wombwell had left
divided between a son and daughter, and the latter was the proprietress
and travelling with it. My father let his field to her for the few days
that must have been Winnold Fair days (St Wynewall originally--a fair
held here annually at the beginning of March, literally from time
immemorial, as, according to a deed of the reign of Edward the
Confessor, it was flourishing in his day, and there are no records to
tell how long before that); for I recall the state of the temperature.
Which reminds me of an old Norfolk rhyme much in use amongst us, to
indicate what might be expected in the way of weather at the season of
the Fair:

     "First come David, then come Chad,
     Then come 'Winnle' as if he was mad."

So Mrs Edwards (I think that was her name) brought her Wombwell's
Menagerie to our field. The numerous Black Marias of the caravan filed
into the gate before our popping eyes, the elephant walking as one has
heard of the lady doing in the sedan chair that had the bottom out; we
could only see his monstrous feet and ankles underneath the house that
he carried around him, and those massive members were partly swathed in
bandages, because, we were told, the poor thing suffered from
chilblains. The vehicles were formed into a hollow square, the arena
roofed over (it was deliciously warm to go into out of the cold open
air), and the grass floor thickly bedded in clean straw, from which we
sifted treasure-trove of nuts and lost articles when the show was gone.
The shutters were taken from the cages on the inner side, the entrance
steps put down, and all was ready for business. There was a band, of
course.

The contract gave our household the privilege of free access. I need not
say that it was utilised to the utmost. We had special holidays on
purpose. But the cream of those exciting days was Sunday, when there
was no show and no public, and we were admitted to the bosom of the
family, to see how it lived behind the scenes. In the afternoon of that
day my mother went into the field to show a little neighbourly attention
to the proprietress, taking me with her. It was one of the most
interesting calls I ever made. We found Mrs Edwards a very superior
lady, who did not travel with the show except now and then, to amuse
herself while her children were away at school (her daughter, I think
she said, was "finishing abroad"); she had her good house somewhere,
like other ladies. She was in silk attire, very stylish, and her private
van was a thing of luxury indeed; also she entertained us delightfully.
We strolled about the empty arena, and fraternised with the animals.
Many of them were let out for exercise; others we were allowed to fondle
and converse with. The little gazelle on its slim legs raced round and
round in front of the cages, mocking the futile leer and pounce of the
great cats that would have intercepted it had circumstances allowed; the
monkeys tweaked our ears and pulled the trimming off our hats; the great
elephant swayed about like a moving mountain, and condescended to take
our buns when we mustered courage to present them. Unforgettable Sunday
afternoon! Almost worthy to be ranked with the splendid day at Port
Said. The memory of it was in my mind when, on my second Sunday
afternoon in England, I was behind the scenes in the "Zoo" at Regent's
Park, dear little birds and beasties climbing over me and showing off
their pretty tricks to me for love and not for money.

But, ah, the nights! The dark nights up in that attic bedroom, when the
wintry wind bore the heart-thrilling plaints of homesick lions and
tigers--so awfully close to one! Oh, suppose they should get out! I have
never been conspicuously strong-minded when alone in the dark--I have
too much imagination--and I used to burrow deep down in the bedclothes
to shut out those appallingly suggestive sounds.

Time seems to deal tenderly with everything in England, and the two old
gates were the very same old gates, apparently. Approaching them through
the town, I passed the same old shops, with the same old names on some
of them. Next door, across Priory Lane, the same family of doctors still
lived, father and son in contiguous establishments; only the son of old
was now the father, and there was a new son. The daughters of the parent
house, young ladies of the old days, I found living still, to remember
and to entertain me; one of them, a widow approaching her ninetieth
year, was the most charmingly nimble-minded and witty person of her age
that I ever met. Her intellectual audacity impressed me as one of the
most striking incidents of my return to her little town. She had lived
there always, and was yet unsubdued by the stodgy atmosphere--as awake
to the humour of the ways of a little English town (in which, as she
expressed it, "twopence-ha'penny would not speak to twopence") as I was.
She was handsome too--altogether a dear.

Just opposite her old home, at the beginning (or end) of the street,
swung an inn signboard the sight of which was more delightful to me than
all the priceless canvases that I had been privileged to make
acquaintance with at Grosvenor House a few days previously. This was
the Rampant Horse of olden times--the very same red horse pawing space,
his colour faded out, but his familiar lineaments intact; and it was a
part of my phenomenal luck at that time to see it just when I did, for
the next time I passed that way the sign had been taken down, doubtless
to be "restored." I am convinced that it had not been touched in the
half-century that I had been away, but just waiting there to greet me.

On the other side of my old home, along the London Road, I walked in the
Past every step of the way. There was the same old workhouse, which we
used to visit after church on Christmas mornings to see the paupers
wolfing their roast beef and plum pudding, beside it the Court House,
full of memories of concert nights and entertainments--particularly of a
demonstration by a girl clairvoyant, who, while "under the influence,"
informed a member of our party that her son was lying dangerously ill at
his tutor's house in Heidelberg; which was afterwards proved to be the
case, although this was the first she heard of it. D---- has a Town Hall
now, a Jubilee Town Hall, but in my day the Court House seems to have
been the place for public functions; and I have an acute remembrance of
sitting through an evening on a ledge but a few inches wide, being
crowded off the benches and too proud to ask for a lap. My back aches
and the calves of my legs curl up now when it comes across me.

Further on, C---- Hall by the roadside--unchanged, except that I found
it temporarily tenantless. My little girl-contemporaries who used to
live there wore white pants to the feet, frilled around the ankles,
under their short skirts, like Miss Kenwigs. Where, I wondered, as I
looked at the blank windows, where were they now? Across the road, in
front of the hall, lay the park-like lands belonging to it, the
beautiful turf only matched by the beautiful trees--all as it used to
be. There I saw myself, a little thing in a new pink frock, dancing
about with my mother and a crowd of busy ladies amongst long plank
tables, at which the poor folk of the town and for miles around were
being feasted on roast beef and plum pudding, while brass bands brayed
and flags fluttered in the sun. The occasion was the Celebration of
Peace after the Crimean War.

Then the village of D----, object of so many walks in the governess
days--I tramped thither one fresh and sunny morning when I wanted a good
constitutional, and, as usual when I found the door open, I entered the
church. The clergyman, in a rapid gabble, was reciting the daily
service; he had one daily--in the very middle of the working morning, in
a parish containing only those who were bound to be hard at it earning
their living and attending to the needs of families. When, oh! when will
parsons learn common-sense? It was a relief to see that these
parishioners were not seduced from the path of duty by his
well-intentioned invitation. The whole congregation was embodied in one
extremely old man, whose infirmities had long disqualified him for the
work of life. For him, I thought, it would have been enough at this hour
to leave the place open, to comfort him, when he liked to wander in,
with its divine suggestions. He could not have followed the breathless
patter of words with his deaf ears.

However, perhaps this is not my business.



CHAPTER VI

EARLIEST RECOLLECTIONS


I went on from D---- into the deeper and more beautiful recesses of my
native county, the localities associated with my earliest years, the
most sacred places of them all. It was early in July, when the
rhododendrons, so thick in the woods, had done their flowering, but the
trees were in full perfection, and the honeysuckles of the hedges
scented the highways.

Two large families of cousins had grown up thereabouts, and some were
still clinging to their native soil. All had been unknown to me from the
time of our paternal grandfather's death, in 1856, which precipitated
the estranging lawsuit--all, that is to say, excepting E., who married
from our house. As children we used to shoot veiled glances at each
other in church, but that was all the intercourse permitted to us.
However, in later years, when we had sense of our own to judge the
merits of this old quarrel, one and another of my cousins claimed
acquaintance with me through my publishers, and I came to England with
several long-standing invitations from them to visit them when I could.
M.G., a widow a few years older than myself, was one who had never
deserted Norfolk, and whose charming home was in the very heart of my
own country, within a drive of all the places I most desired to see
again. An "abbey," it was called, a farmhouse now, divorced from its
lands, one of those beautiful English dwellings, several hundreds of
years old, that I was always adoringly and enviously in love with; and
attached to it were the ruins of a religious house, which the county
directory informed me was founded for Cistercians in 1251, and granted
at the Dissolution to the family whose present representative, of the
same name, owns it still, my cousin's friend and landlord. From the old
garden, out of the stupendous trees (are there trees in England to rival
Norfolk trees?), rose fragments of the walls of that old abbey, broken
arches and windows with some stone tracery left in them; and there were
damp depressions in which lumps of carved stone were jumbled up with
weeds and ragged bushes, the crypts which Time had filled, but not
wholly filled, with the rain-washings of centuries. Imagine my joy in
such surroundings! And within the comparatively modern but still antique
(it looked to me Elizabethan) residence, nothing to clash with the grey
stone walls and mullioned and labelled windows, all simple dignity,
frugal refinement, warmth, ease, comfort. It was a delight to me merely
to walk up and down the stairs, wide and shallow and solid, echoing the
footfalls of generations of gentlefolk at every step; especially when at
the top lay the cosiest of beds and at the bottom the cheeriest of quiet
firesides.

Although it was July we had a fire all the time--the little touch that
made us kin, my cousin and me. The old prejudice against lighting a fire
after spring cleaning or before a certain fixed date in autumn,
coincident with the exchange of lace window-curtains for stuff ones, or
some such annual domestic rite, had not died out in rural England since
I had been away; but here--as soon as I walked in out of the rain on
the afternoon of my arrival--the sight of a ruddy blaze, and a
well-furnished tea-table beside it, told me that in this remote village
I had struck an enlightened woman.

It was so remote a village that there was no way of getting to it from
D---- but by driving the whole eight miles. M. sent the landlord of her
local inn, her accustomed coachman, an intelligent man whose ancestors
had been in service with mine, to fetch me; and he entertained me on the
way with the history of the old families whose homes we passed and with
whom my family had had more or less intimate relations in the years
before he was born, as that history had been enacted within his lifetime
and during the later part of mine. The soft grey rain came straight
down, and we were both coated and mackintoshed to the eyes. I had to
peer from under the edge of my dripping umbrella at the well-known
gateways (the lodges more modernised than the mansions they belonged to,
so far as I could see the latter through their splendid woods and
avenues), the familiar farms and villages, with their fine old churches,
all the dear, historic landscape; but, wet as it was, I had to struggle
not to make it wetter--and my handkerchief hopelessly buried under my
wraps. I tell you, dear sympathetic elderly reader, the memories that
flocked along that road to greet me were all but overwhelming. It was,
for peculiar and precious charm, the drive of my life--to date; only the
one I had next day surpassed it.

It did not rain next day, and Mr B. drove up to the abbey, spick and
span, in plum-coloured livery and shiny hat, to take us out for the
afternoon. Nice man that he was, with his old family traditions so
entwined with mine, he entered with respectful zeal into the spirit of
the expedition, undertaking that I should miss nothing of interest to me
through default of his. He and M. mapped out the route with care, and as
we pursued it he turned on his box seat at intervals of a few minutes,
to name each feature as we approached or passed it, and make such
comments as seemed called for. Half the time I was standing up in the
carriage behind him, straining my eyes to see, at the direction of his
outstretched whip, something in the dim distance not yet plain enough to
see. And yet, by accident or design, the latter I suspect, in collusion
with M., he was driving slowly past the very face of T----, the goal of
this pilgrimage, without word or sign, when my roving eye lighting upon
it recognised it instantly, without anybody's aid.

Would that I had a photograph of it! For not only was it a good old
house surpassing my fancy dreams of it, but it had not visibly changed
in the least degree, nor had any of its farm surroundings. Just as I had
left it when I was a child I saw it again when I was an old woman; and
the whole scene was as familiar to the last detail as if I had been
seeing it all the time. The big road gate, the pond within, the barn,
the garden (raised above the surrounding meadow), the house itself, its
generous front windows as wide as they were deep, and the kitchen at the
side, and the dairy running back to the elder-tree where they used to
kill the fowls--everything was in its old place, and no sign of
decadence visible from the point at which I viewed it. This permanence
of English things was so remarkable to me--because in Australia nothing
is permanent, but altering itself to bigger or better every minute of
the time.

As at the moment of sudden death the complete panorama of one's past
life is before the mental eye--as one dreams a whole story in
multitudinous detail between the housemaid's morning knock at one's door
and the echo of it that wakes one (if those legendary happenings are to
be believed)--so I seemed to live all my little childhood over again in
the few minutes that Mr B. held his horse on the highroad, and I stood
at his shoulder to gaze at the place, which, although not my birthplace,
still meant for me the beginning of all things. Memory could go no
further back than to an infancy that was put to bed in the middle of the
day and given meals on its nurse's lap with a spoon. I looked at the
nursery window, and instantly thought of a little thing left to cry in
its crib, untended and unheard, with feelings so acutely hurt by the
unprecedented neglect that the mark was left for evermore; and the
occasion, there is evidence to show, was the birth of a sister three
years younger than herself.

I looked at the "parlour" window and it was crowded with her. She was
just old enough to be "shown off" as the usual prodigy of intelligence
by adoring parents. My second earliest memory of myself is as a public
singer. They stood me on the big round "centre table" that they might
see me as I sang. I did not know the meaning of the words I lisped, yet
I had remembered many fragments of them, and the tunes entirely, in
spite of having heard neither during the many intervening years. And now
an unknown friend in England, General Sir M.G., who fought in the
Mutiny, who used to sing them himself before he went to that business,
probably at the same time as I sang them, has filled up for me the gaps
in the verses of one of my favourite songs, with the remark, which I can
so feelingly endorse on my own account, that he wishes he could remember
what he reads now as well as he does what attracted him in those old
days. Almost simultaneously another friend in England, one of his
Majesty's Privy Councillors, did me the very same kindness; and thus the
old ballad seems to have a claim to be given a place in these
reminiscences, for the sake of other of our contemporaries who may share
our sentiment about it.

     "'Twas a beautiful night, and the stars shone bright,
        And the moon on the waters play'd,
       When a gay cavalier to a bower drew near
        A lady to serenade.
       To tenderest words he swept the chords,
        And many a sigh breath'd he.
       While o'er and o'er he fondly swore:
        Sweet maid, I love but thee."


With a lingering lilt at the end:

      "Sweet mai-aid, sweet mai-aid, I lov-ove, I lov-ove but
         thee."


      "When he turn'd his eye to the lattice high,
        And fondly breath'd his hopes,
       In amazement he sees, swing about in the breeze,
        All ready, a ladder of ropes.
       Up, up, he has gone. The bird she has flown.
        'What's this on the ground?' quoth he.
       ''Tis plain that she loves. Here's some gentleman's gloves,
         And they never belong'd to me.
       These gloves, these gloves, they never belong'd to me.'

       Of course you'd have thought he'd have followed and
          fought,
        For it was a duelling age;
       But the gay cavalier quite scorn'd the idea
        Of putting himself in a rage.
       So wiser by far, he pack'd up his guitar,
        And as homeward he went sang he,
       'When a lady elopes down a ladder of ropes
        She may go to Hongkong for me.
       She may go, she may go, she may go to Hongkong for me.'"

I do not know if it was the same cavalier to the same lady--but I think
not, and General G. thinks not--who thus mourned by my infant lips:

     "I'll hang my harp on a willow-tree
        And go off to the wars again.
      A peaceful life has no charms for me,
        The battlefield no pain.
      For the lady I love will soon be a bride,
        With a diadem on her brow,
      Oh, had she not flattered my boyish pride
        I might have been happy now!"

Or:

     "Oh, why did she flatter my boyish pride?
       She is going to leave me now!"

Looking through that wide window into the old parlour as it used to be,
how plainly I could see the ring of benign or ecstatic faces around the
centre table, visitors and grandparents and uncles and aunts gathered to
behold and applaud the prodigy! Even the formidable youngest aunt would
grant a provisional smile to a display she could not have approved of;
because it was really rather notable, I believe, considering my time of
life, and even she had her soft moments. Besides, she was then young
herself.

When she came to see us at this house--she had not time to come much to
any of the others--she made it her business to show our mother how we
should be brought up. She must have known something about it, seeing
that afterwards she was governess to young royalties at two of the
courts of Europe, but we, while compelled to bow to her authority, had
no respect for it or for her. Regarding her image dispassionately from
this long, long distance, I see that she was an exceptionally correct
and accomplished woman, but a certain circumstance that took place
behind that parlour window fixed another view of her upon my infant mind
too firmly to be obliterated in a lifetime.

I was just old enough to go to church, and my doting mother had provided
me with a lovely Sunday bonnet. It covered the whole head closely, in
the height of fashion--responsible for many ear-aches, by the way--and
it had two little tails of ribbon on one side of it, each end fringed
out. When this bonnet was tied on, the pelisse that covered the bareness
of the indoor costume being also adjusted, I was as conscious of my
striking appearance as the proud parent herself. She still had her own
toilet to make, and while she dressed I went down to the hall where the
family assembled for the procession to the village church. It was early,
and I was first at the rendezvous, so I went into the drawing-room to
look at myself. A large mirror that had gilt candelabra branching out on
either side, and a fierce gilt eagle on the point of flight from the
apex, hung on the wall by the window, with a sort of divan that was also
a receptacle for music sheets and other things in front of it.
Laboriously I climbed that ottoman and stood as a statue on a pedestal
before that convex glass. Then I lost count of time in the contemplation
of my charms, and especially of those two fringed ends of ribbon
drooping gracefully to my shoulder. My head was screwed round to bring
them well into view, when I was suddenly petrified by a vision of the
youngest aunt in the doorway. I was caught red-handed, as it were. It
was impossible to evade conviction on the charge that I saw levelled at
me from her pitiless calm eyes. I stood silent, trembling, wondering
what she would do. "She will tell mother," was my first thought. But she
did worse. She sought the nearest work-box, she approached me--still
standing on the ottoman--with unsheathed scissors in her hand. She
lifted one end of fringed ribbon and sliced it off; she lifted the other
and served that the same. In two seconds my bonnet in which I now had to
go to church (impotently raging and heart-broken) was ruined, and my
vice of vanity supposed to have been destroyed at its source. I cannot
recall the effect of the transaction upon my mother's mind, but I know
that its effect on mine was not what the youngest aunt anticipated.
"Some day you will thank me for it," said she. It was a formula of hers.
She was quite wrong. In half-a-century I have not learned to thank her
for it. She did not kill vanity with those scissors, as she supposed,
but love. It is a mistake common to educationalists the world over.

The eldest aunt, my godmother--she of the Marble Arch episode--was quite
a different sort of person. She too, being also a single woman, thought
she could improve upon her married sister's methods of managing
children, but her pills were so sugared that it was a pleasure to
swallow them; at any rate, it was so here at T----, before young men, or
even boys, could trouble her. One instance of a lesson prepared and
administered for my good, when I was still little more than a baby,
stands out very distinctly.

I had a passion for dolls. It was the first passion of my life, and
lasted until I was so old as to be ashamed to be seen with them. The
first of my family were just any articles that came to hand, but soon we
had a nurse (the first five of us being born in six years, our mother
was not always able to attend to everything, as she desired), who gave
shape and form, of a sort, to my maternal ideals. She stuffed bags with
chaff or sawdust and sewed them together, a round ball to a larger round
ball, and four sausage-shaped ones to that. This body had the surpassing
merit of bigness; clothed in a real child's cast-off clothes, it seemed
itself more real. When nurse had done her part I used to carry it
downstairs to father for him to put a face and hair on it with pen and
ink. Although I always pleaded with him to make her as pretty as
possible, the spirit of mischief sometimes prompted him to draw the
countenance of a goblin or an idiot. I would open my arms to embrace a
lovely baby girl and find a horrible monster with cross eyes and
grinning teeth; at which I would at once break into a wail and a flood
of tears. Then he would be very sorry, would hasten to somebody for a
fresh layer of calico and sit down and make the face again--this time
his very best (and he was a clever draughtsman) with which I would be
quite satisfied. The breed of dolls improved, of course, with my own
development in taste and knowledge; the rag doll gave place to the
wooden Dutch creature with the pegged joints and shiny black head, and
that to the waxen angel with floss-silk hair and smiling carmine lips,
eyes like the sky and cheeks like the rose, which seemed almost too good
and beautiful for this world. Indeed that was too often the view taken
of her by the authorities. Wrapped in silver paper she would repose in a
drawer in the spare room under lock and key, while I pined for her
companionship, and would only be granted to me as a sort of
distinguished visitor on high days and holidays.

Well, the eldest aunt never came to see us without bringing presents. As
soon as it was known upstairs that she had arrived we were thrown into a
fever of greedy anticipation, wondering what they would be this time. I
can remember the scene of her entrance into the nursery on two or three
occasions, each time in the evening in her indoor costume, after she had
kept us waiting for some time. She carried her gifts in her arms. But
one day instead of coming to the nursery she sent for us to her room. I,
the eldest niece, was summoned first, and after greetings she took from
her box a ravishing wax doll and laid it in my arms.

"There," said she, "that is for a good girl."

Naturally I assumed it mine. I sat down and nursed it and gloated over
it, while she smiled benignly on me. Then, while at the dizziest summit
of my joy, I was informed that the doll was not for me but for my next
sister. Little did I guess what hung upon my behaviour under this sore
trial! As little can I account for the luck--merit it could not have
been--which led me to take the blow submissively. I handed back the
doll with a sigh, perhaps a tear, but without a murmur. Straightway
another doll, twice as big and fine, was extracted from the aunt's box
and pronounced to be irrevocably my own--_because_ I had not shown
myself selfish under a temptation carefully calculated to test my
character in that respect. The eldest aunt explained her moral lesson
with the result of which she was so proud--as I was. She made me
understand that the smaller doll would have remained mine had I grudged
it to my sister, who would then have received the big one. As with the
lesson of the youngest aunt (who would have given neither doll to one so
undeserving as, by the merest accident, I might have shown myself), it
impressed itself indelibly on my mind--the profitableness of virtue to
oneself, and never mind what it costs other people. It would have made
an excellent text for one of the children's story-books of the period.

Compared with these disciplinarians my dear mother was nowhere. She
could hardly bring herself to scold a child. As far as I was concerned
my father was the same. His weak indulgence of me, the open favouritism
with which he distinguished me from my brothers and sisters was--I know
now--scandalous. Harsh to his boys, and too ready to box the ears of the
little girls when they were old enough, he never laid an angry finger on
me. One punishment only was mine, and I must have been bad indeed at the
times when it was inflicted; I was sent to sit on the stairs. That does
not sound like punishment at all, but the treadmill was not dreaded more
by those condemned to it. To sit on the stairs meant to sit on the
bottom step of the front stairs, just facing the hall door, in dread
expectation of a visitor who should be witness of the unspeakable
ignominy of my position--akin to that of one exposed in the village
stocks to the insults of a hostile populace. I could not look at that
front door, that I used to watch in such agonies of fear, without seeing
behind it the huddled little figure, quaking in terror of the caller who
hardly ever came.

If I was let off so lightly myself, I suffered horribly in the
punishments of my nursery companions, particularly in the case of my
one-year-older brother--a thoughtful, gifted, sensitive boy, with a
fragile body and a spirit that could not be bent or intimidated, who,
from his babyhood until he came to his deathbed at seventeen, was in
constant collision with a passionate father who had not the capacity to
understand him. I remember once beating out with a poker the panels of a
door behind which he sat in darkness, a prisoner on bread and water,
proud and silent, with a bleeding back but a dry eye, that I might get
to him to weep over him and comfort him. It makes me feel wicked, even
now, to think of it. And to think of his poor, delicate, devoted mother,
who did understand him, and to whom he was so precious, more helpless
than I to prevent or mitigate these tragic blunders, makes my own
mother-blood run cold.

In the generations before my own it seems to have been incumbent on a
father who would do his duty to be cruel to his sons (and how hard the
tradition dies!); it was incumbent on a mother to be stern and distant
with her young daughters, if she could--and there is ample evidence that
she forced herself to it. What the conception of parental duty now is we
know. Thinking the matter over, it seems to me that the happy mean
between the two extremes may have been struck somewhere about the time
when I was a child myself. I am not citing my own experiences in proof
of this--far from it--but the broad general rules that applied to all
respectable households of the period.

The iron hand had taken on the velvet glove. Discipline--still a synonym
for decency, for civilisation, for religion, in the average parent's
mind--was enforced, not pitilessly, as aforetime, but with firmness, and
as a rule in moderate and reasonable ways. The child, even the spoilt
child, remained completely subject to its natural rulers, whose sense of
responsibility for its well-being seemed never out of their minds; but
while "duty" was still the watchword--and the word stood for a real
thing--the weakness of the weak side was more justly allowed for--not
pandered to, you understand; only not treated as a crime to be cured by
punishment. Duty--duty--how one loathed the word! But how good for
character to be trained to recognise the thing! The very infant, if able
to employ itself usefully, had a daily task of some kind--was taught
that life was meant for work, and that play was unlawful save as a
reward for work. Even at T---- it was my duty, and I knew it, to spend
certain hours with a long seam or hem, stabbing my finger, weeping over
repeated unpickings and admonishments, just as it was my duty to make a
joyless breakfast of bread and milk. Every little girl must know how to
manufacture, single-handed, a whole shirt for her father--and the amount
of fine sewing in a whole shirt of those days must now be seen to be
believed--or hide her head amongst her peers and cause her mother to be
ashamed of her. I was well on the way with this laborious undertaking
before I could read.

Utter drudgery it was, because the scheme of "plain-work" was too vast,
and its details too minute and complicated, for my understanding, but it
did not destroy my inherited love of the needle. When it ceased to be an
instrument of discipline, it became my favourite toy. I could be kept
"good" at any time with beads to thread, or some wools and a bit of
canvas for a kettle-holder, or, above all, scraps with which to dress
dolls. What girl-child makes dolls' clothes--proper dolls' clothes--now?
In my child days it was an occupation as constant as it was delightful.
All the year round I was stocking a little trunk with elaborate costumes
for my children, against they went with me a-visiting, or in the family
party to the seaside. It was thus that I learned to be independent of
dressmakers for myself in later years. A particularly bright memory of
my life at T---- is the way I "spent the day"--a regular-recurring
holiday--at a neighbouring farmhouse. My hostesses kept a doll for me. I
never took it home--it lived in a drawer in their spare bedroom--but it
was brought out as soon as I arrived, together with such odds and ends
of material as were available at the moment; and down I sat to reclothe
the puppet anew, in a costume of fresh design, the completion of which
would synchronise with the call of parent or nurse to fetch me home.
Now, when a houseful of grown-ups has a child to entertain for many
hours at a stretch, what labour and strain to keep it amused and happy!
These people had only to give me a doll, a rag or two, and sewing
materials, and I was amused for the whole day, and so happy that I have
never forgotten how happy I was.

On account of that doll--which, after all, was not more than six inches
long--I had been most anxious to see the house belonging to it. I knew
it had been near T----, and, as I remembered it, almost unique in rustic
charm. Often, amid the lightly run up homes of Australia, I had thought
of its solid, old-world, if humble, beauty, and on this particular
afternoon I had purposed to feast my artistic sense upon it with a
satisfaction unknown to me when I was young and ignorant. It was quite a
shock--so accustomed had I become to finding all I looked for--to
discover that it was no more; the one thing gone, of which no trace at
all remained. Its garden was wholly obliterated, and on the site of the
old house stood a new house, the commonest of the common, from which I
turned in disappointment and disgust. Dear, dear old vanished home! I
could not have believed I should feel its loss so much.

But I can say of it, in the words of the obituary column, that, although
gone, it is not forgotten. In my gallery of Memory the picture of it
hangs, no line or tint bedimmed by the passage of the years.

Behold it with me, my reader. In the foreground an oval lawn, carefully
kept (for I was frequently employed to weed the daisies out): it is
ringed with gravelled path, then squared box borders, then flower-beds,
behind which on one side rises a thick belt of fir-trees, and on the
other lie the farmyards, over a dividing wall. From the little green
gate in the roadway fence (lined with a clipped hedge) one views the old
dwelling at the top of the lawn; long and low, its walls a mat of ivy,
pierced with latticed casements, opening outward, and a front door under
a little porch; a large, steep, thatched roof, with dormer windows to
the row of four bedrooms, and old ornamental chimneys in clusters, tall
and fat. On the side of the trees, wooden lattices in the ivy let
sunless light into the dairy (robber rats used to squeeze through the
interstices and get caught fast on their return), and the finest violets
and primroses grow underneath. Also, farther into the green shade, pet
hedgehogs live that a little girl feeds with milk, and that uncurl and
scuffle along at her heels through the pine-needles to show their
cupboard love. And along that side the bees feed from the foxgloves, in
the bells of which little boys entrap them, to chase the little girl
with the buzzing prisoners, helpless in their silken bags. The backyard,
unseen, has red-brick pathways through it, ringing with the clink of
pattens and milk-pails; one leads to a green door, portal of a paradise
of unforbidden fruit; another branches off to the gate of nearest access
to the deeply mired cowyard, which is also the pigyard and
poultry-yard--which, by the way, should suggest an effluvium to be
remembered, but does not, possibly because the windows of the period
were used, not to let air in, but to keep it out. Sweet old
house--altogether sweet, smelling only of lavender and cabbage roses and
pot-pourri and fragrant cookings....

The title of the picture is "The House of the Doll."

For the doll's sake, Mrs H., its mistress, and H.M. (the two Christian
names never dissociated), her daughter, stand out from the shadowy
crowd of my earliest acquaintances in high relief. So small a society as
we were in our village and adjacent hamlets--miles and miles from any
railway--we had, of course, our cliques. Some of the half-dozen or so of
farmers' families were not to be familiarly recognised on any account;
with two or three we were distantly fraternal, confining our amenities
to cake-and-wine calls; one or two were on such a footing with us that
we "dropped in" on each other at uncanonical hours, and conducted
intercourse in our "keeping" rooms and in our ordinary attire, but still
with the perfect understanding that the precise etiquette of the time
forbade the dearest friend to stay to meals unless previously invited
and prepared for; excepting, of course, in crises of trouble, when
etiquette must ever give way to primitive impulse. The H. family were
amongst these intimates, and chief of them all to me on account of that
doll.

There was a Mr H., but he was a nonentity in his domestic circle, a
slow, fat, white old man, with a large pimple on his nose, and whom his
wife addressed and referred to by his surname only; from all that I can
remember, it seems plain that she (a notable person amongst us,
vigorous, dressy, authoritative, I should say a perfect exponent of the
"proper" in her class) held the purse-strings. I know that she left home
at stated intervals to "collect her rents"--not his. There was also H.,
the bushy-whiskered, towny son, apple of his mother's eye--the same H.
who married cousin E.--but he was not much at his home when I was going
there to dress my doll. When he was, he illustrated the awkwardness of
the architectural plan of that and many of the old houses of the time.
The row of upper chambers, whose dormer windows poked out of the
thatched roof, opened one into the other; Mrs H. and her spouse had
command of the staircase, but H.M. had to go through their room to
hers, and H. through both to his; beyond his lay the spare bedroom,
which had a little newel staircase, no wider than the doors that masked
it, in one corner, going down to the corresponding corner of what was
superfluously styled the "spare" parlour; but these two stately and
sacred rooms were not meant to be made a passage of, and as such no one
thought of using them. So H. came and went by way of his mother's and
sister's rooms, and when I spent the night with them (sleeping with H.
M.) the excitement of his appearances was a great part of the
entertainment. H.M.'s favourite ejaculation, "Lawk-a-daisy-me!"
signalled his approach; if she was in bed she threw the sheet over her
head, if she was up she hid in a closet. She never seemed to get over
the novelty of the thing, which must have been going on since she was
born. And, although she was probably a young woman, she seemed quite old
to me.

Poor H.H.! How history repeats, and also anticipates, itself! Too
elegant for a farmer, and so a corn-merchant, with a desk in the
Exchange at L----, it was quite a condescension on his part to make a
sojourn under the paternal roof; and his mother seemed to glory in the
fact. He was the fine gentleman of the village, bringing the latest
thing in trouser-cut and hat-brim to the rustic youth. How appropriate
his ideals to his end!

Dress, I may remark by the way, although so far less complicated and
costly than it now is, was an equally important matter to us all.
Red-letter days were those on which we met our intimate acquaintances,
at each house in turn, to inspect the new attire procured twice a year
from L----. All the ladies seemed to set themselves up at once, possibly
because fixed days were observed for bringing out their finery, Easter
Sunday being one, but also they may have wished to avoid the appearance
of copying or forestalling each other. I know there was a great
comparing of notes at the various private views, and ejaculations of
admiration signifying polite surprise. A new dress per season was then a
thing unheard of, but a new bonnet, or, more often, one that had been
cleaned and retrimmed, was forthcoming for every female head. I can see
those bonnets now, with their flowered caps in front and their flouncy
curtains behind, and their strings that used to be rolled up and pinned
in paper when not spread in bow and ends upon the wearers' breasts. I
think Mrs H. and her daughter must have been our great exemplars in the
matter of dress, so numerous seemed the mantles and fal-lals in addition
to the bonnets of their bi-annual show, and such an impression of their
rustling magnificence on Sundays remains with me.



CHAPTER VII

OLD TIMES AND NEW


It struck me, as I stood up in Mr B.'s carriage to look at the old house
which had so well survived the changes and chances of half-a-century,
that at the beginning of that half-century the cash cost of happiness
was very much lighter than it is at the end; and not the cash cost of
happiness only, but of material well-being, domestic plenty, social
position, everything necessary to the comfort and dignity of a
gentleman. I do not speak of the poor labouring class; I do not say--I
do not for a moment think--that the old times on the whole were better
than the new; but I believe they were better in a few things, and
amongst other things in this--the good taste of people in the matter of
money.

Five hundred a year was then a good income. The fortunate possessor did
not usually thirst for more. He could keep a large, substantial house
amply provided, and take his family for an outing yearly, and still save
something. He had not fifty thousand trivial drains upon his purse, as
we have, consuming our substance we know not how; he saw his return for
what he spent, and he knew what he wanted, and it was not much. His good
home, his county town, his local meet of hounds--they were not
necessarily duller than the crush of interests in our more fevered
world. He grew his own fruit and vegetables, if not his own pork and
butter. Housekeeping was thrifty, as a matter of duty, apart from any
thought of saving. I knew an earl who took a lump of meat out of a
pig-tub and ordered it to be washed and cooked for his dinner, by way of
pointing a moral to wasteful kitchenmaids. Out of five hundred pounds a
year, the wife would ask, perhaps, twenty pounds as her personal
allowance. Her clothes were always good, with rarely a button or a darn
wanting, but they were made at home or in the National School--fine
linen under-garments (with, of course, silk stockings) and white calico
petticoats, seamed and tucked exquisitely, but not "enriched" with miles
of lace, as in our own costly fashion. She wore aprons to protect her
neat gowns--a black silk ornamental apron in the afternoon. Her best
silk dress was best for a dozen years, the Paisley shawl of her marriage
outfit never out of fashion. The local dressmaker came to sew for the
children--eighteenpence a day and her meals; she remade the same frock
twice or thrice: turning it on the first occasion, putting it together
after washing on the second, cutting it down for a younger child on the
third; and everything was lined throughout, to enhance the durability of
those everlasting stuffs. Girls went to balls in white book-muslin and a
pink or blue sash; the whole costume, with shoes and gloves, might have
cost a pound; yet we were supposed to be well dressed--we really were,
according to the modest requirements of the time. So that it is easy to
understand why the possessor of five hundred pounds a year not only felt
himself passing rich, but actually was so. A farmer--a "gentleman-farmer,"
as he was called, the class to which we belonged--with half that income
clear of farm expenses, was in a position to envy no man. I fancy that
was something like my father's situation when we were at T----. But he
was constitutionally incapable of managing money--he could not hold
it--and it is mother I think of when I think how ample and orderly that
old home was. The housewife of those days--so humbly inferior to her
lord and master as she was content to consider herself, although he
might not be worthy to tie her shoes (to adjust her sandals,
rather)--she was the home-maker, the heroine of her day, although nobody
knew it, herself least of all. Certainly she had the advantage over her
descendants of those good old contented servants which are never heard
of nowadays, because the feudal age is past; they were the
foundation-stones of the domestic edifice, which for lack of them is now
unsettled, decaying, in some sort out of date. But apart altogether from
consideration of such conditions as were of the times and not of her
individual choice, did she not know her business well? I ask you, dear
friends, who were young with me.

Her grand-daughters laugh at her little fads and nostrums, but they had
their value and meaning to her and us. I have known of a modern lady, a
collector of curios, getting hold of that, to her, amusing article, a
copper warming-pan. Having been so lucky as to get hold of it, she hung
it up on a wall by a ribbon round its handle, for an ornament. The
housewife of the fifties did know better than that. She raked red coals
into it, poked it between the sheets at the bottom of a bed, and in a
few minutes made that bed the cosiest, the blissfullest, the most
sleep-compelling nest to tuck an ailing child into on a winter's night
that was ever contrived by human intelligence in any generation. I would
like once more to hear that smothered rattle up and down, to smell that
delicious scorchy odour of the warmed sheets, to feel that sensation of
transcendent comfort as I sank to rest; but, of course, I never shall.
Now, when I fear to be kept awake with the shivers of a raw night, I
fall back on a hot-water bottle or a brick baked in the kitchen oven.
The magic warming-pan, where still extant, hangs cold and useless on the
wall. The present generation does not know its value; no, not even in
chilly England, where I found so many unexpected survivals of things I
had supposed for ages out of date. It seems to me--not always, of
course, nor even often, but now and then--that the homes of my childhood
were more really comfortable than the corresponding homes of to-day.
That there was real comfort in them, and that at a price far less than
we pay for our comfort, is, at any rate, indisputable.

Deadly dull they would be to us to-day, I know. I saw something of the
life, about the eastern counties, in several families that had brought
it down unchanged to the twentieth century, and I asked myself, "How
could I stand this now?" I could not stand it, with all my love of peace
and quiet, of which I have never been able to get enough. It would drive
me melancholy mad. But in the days to which these self-contained and
unawakened homes belong, it was not dull. Was it, reader? To the best of
my recollection, we did not know what boredom meant.

The procession of the hours passed before my eyes when I looked at my
old home--one day so like another that I could not lose myself amongst
them.

No morning tea, of course. I blush to add, no bath. I do not remember a
bathroom in any house--not even that of my maternal grandfather, a
physician of some distinction in his day, who dictated the laws of
hygiene not only to us but to many county families. A portable bath was
part of the furniture of every decent house--we had one so large that
the frequent monthly nurse made her bed in it--but, like the
warming-pan, it was not for common use; it was a medical appliance
chiefly. Such is the case, I find, in many English houses still. We
children were severely scrubbed and scoured in washing-tubs every
Saturday night--"tub night"--and we did a great deal of sea bathing in
summer; between whiles we ran constant risk of being sent from table to
obliterate the line of demarcation between the washed and unwashed
portions of face and neck. Dirty little pigs! We used to dress first,
and then seek the sparing sponge. This was after the nurse of infancy
had been replaced by the nursery governess, who, to the best of my
recollection, was no more particular herself.

There was some excuse for us in those bitter English winters. To go warm
from the "keeping-room" fire to the ice-cold linen sheets was bad
enough--I recall the nightly struggle for courage to put feet down into
them; to have to get out again into a temperature that froze the towels
on the horse so that they would stand up by themselves like boards--that
froze one's breath on the sheets so that I have scratched my face on the
crystals as on pins--was a sharper ordeal. Small wonder that we hurried
into our clothes, or that the stiff, blue, chilblained fingers shrank
from wet on the top of cold. I remember a winter night when my ewer
split in halves with a loud report, and the water within rolled out upon
the floor like a lump of glass; there had been a fire in the room
overnight too, a luxury dispensed with, as a rule, in the case of
children who had passed out of the nursery into rooms of their own. It
was in the same winter that I inadvertently touched an iron railing with
my bare hand, and skin and metal stuck together. This, however, was not
at T----.

My doctor-grandfather did not pull-to the curtains round his and
grandmother's bed. I know, because I used to sleep in their room when
visiting them by myself, and gaze upon them from my cot in the corner as
they slept--both in nightcaps, hers deeply frilled over the face, his
cone-shaped, with the tasselled point hanging over one ear. But it was
the the rule to draw them--that is what they were there for--and my
father and mother did so. The room itself was made airtight first. To
have slept with a window open would have seemed to them the act of a
deliberate suicide. Curtains having been drawn over bolted windows, six
more (of flowered damask, very thick) were drawn round the canopied
four-poster, turning it into a small tent; a pleated valance round the
top obviated the danger of ventilation where the rings ran upon the
rods. The occupants entered the enclosure by an aperture on either side,
closed it carefully, sank into the yielding depths of the billowy
feather-bed, and slept like tops. At any rate, I never heard that they
did not. More than that, there are people who can sleep under almost the
same conditions still. I had had an idea that feather-beds had been
extinct for thirty years, at least, but last year I reposed on no less
than four separate ones in four separate houses; yes, and slept well
upon them all. I got so used to feather-beds at last that on my return
home I had to send my hair mattress to be teased before I could
reconcile myself to it again. Almost everywhere I went in England I used
to go up to bed to find the windows of my room closed and locked under
the drawn blinds--part of the housemaid's preparations for the night;
whereas I am accustomed to sleep with three wide open, and to wish that
roof and walls could be dispensed with. Although I adjusted myself so
easily to the feather-bed, I drew the line at the shut-up room; the
fresh night air was indispensable. But I would sometimes find the
bedclothes damp in the morning, and the clothes I had taken off too
clammy to put on again. I had forgotten that peculiarity of English
nights.

My mother, when I knew her first, did her hair of a morning in two
parts; the hinder half was brushed back, tied tightly, and disposed in
braids around a high comb; the front drooped in beautiful golden
ringlets on either side of her face. But when she was thirty or so she
dressed like the sedate old lady that we took her then to be. She tucked
her fair hair under a cap--a large cap, with streamers of ribbon hanging
down from below the ears like untied bonnet-strings. There was a dummy
head of pasteboard (which went by the name of Jane Winter), with a
proper face to it, and a hollow neck with an opening within which to
stow away materials, on which her caps were made. It may possibly have
been because she was perennially convalescing from confinements that she
wore caps as a habit at so early an age, but I think not; I believe
them to have been the sign of departed youth. When you became a mother,
though you might be still in your teens, a large cap was part of the
"sitting-up" costume. I remember standing at mother's side by open
drawers, while Cousin E., "expecting" for the first and last time,
displayed the elaborate preparations made for her infant and herself. I
did not know what they meant, but I see now the white cap of blond lace
and gauze ribbon that she twirled about on her doubled fist. I saw her
in it too on the happy day when I was first allowed to sit on a stool at
her feet and nurse the baby. She looked beautiful in it, with her
girlish face and mass of dark hair. On emerging from invalid retirement
she left it off, so I suppose it was a sort of glorified substitute for
the universal nightcap.

With regard to other clothing, all persons claiming to be
gentlefolk--the division of classes was strongly marked in those
days--wore Irish linen shifts and shirts and silk stockings; no matter
how poor nor how outwardly shabby they went, they must conform in those
particulars or lose caste. My two grandmothers, both wealthier than we
were, were sticklers for the finest material, and some of their silk
stockings (white, like all stockings) and exquisite under-garments came
down to their descendants to be darned and darned as long as they would
hold together. When they were worn out--no cotton; a lady would live on
bread and water sooner than come to that. Much of this linen nether-wear
was made in the National Schools, where sewing was an important feature
in the education of the poor. The ladies of the neighbourhood gave their
material and instructions, and from time to time inspected the process
of manufacture. Often have I accompanied a village patroness on this
errand, stood shyly by while she studied the fine stitching--one thread
drawn and the tiny beading done on the crossing threads, two backward
and two forward--and the tiny gathers "stroked" to a regularity that no
machine could better, the little craftswomen dropping their dutiful
curtsies to her when she deigned to commend their work. I do not know
who was paid for it when it was done.

Winter and summer these linen garments were, I believe, worn next the
skin. I forget what the fashion of the early fifties decreed to be worn
immediately over them, except stays that had busks of solid wood, and
had to be laced down the back every time they were put on. But I
remember watching, in that room up yonder, my mother tying her bustle
round her waist. It was a stuffed roll like a sand-bag, reaching from
hip to hip, designed to set her skirts out behind; and the skirts
hanging under and over it were numerous and full. As for gowns--the deep
point in front, the patterned flounces, bell sleeves combined with white
muslin bishop sleeves, large lace collars fastened under a spreading
ribbon bow or cameo brooch the size of a small plate, "habit-shirts"
(for filling in the long and narrow V of an open-fronted bodice)--memory
supplies but a jumble of these things. It does not matter. History has
preserved the modes of the time, and I presume we kept up with them as
well as country-folk could do.

In the nursery our clothes were more defined in style. Though snow lay
on the ground, we went bare-armed and bare-necked--down to the latest
baby, whose little sleeves would be tied up with ribbons at the
shoulders. To put long sleeves to a child's frock was a thing unheard
of; they were given to us with the first "gown," which, with its
lengthened skirt and fastenings in front, signified the estate of
womanhood. Sandalled shoes, very thin in the sole, were correct indoor
wear. The other end of me was showered over with tubular ringlets
hanging nearly to my waist. The painful process of preparing them--the
relentless thoroughness with which our nurse (mother was gentler) rolled
up a strand of hair a few inches, "chucked" it tight upon its rag,
rolled it a little more and chucked it again, and finally tied it close
to the stretched scalp, with odd hairs dragging at their too tenacious
roots, continuing the torture for half-an-hour or more--this was one of
the sorrows of childhood in the fifties, and no small one either. Our
nursery toilet was completed by the "feeder" tied on before each meal
and removed after. We went downstairs--when mother was "about"--to the
row of bread-and-milk basins that I, for one, hated the sight of, except
in the season when a sprinkle of strawberries or raspberries and a
little sugar were dropped into them; the youngest aunt being unaware of
such a weak relaxation of rules. Discipline imposed that bread-and-milk
upon us every day of our lives, no matter how we rebelled against it. We
might be bribed to get it down by promises of a taste of the adults'
dishes afterwards--the fat gravy from the bacon was a valued perquisite;
but there was no dispensing with the nauseous preliminary. I have not
been able to eat bread-and-milk since.

Mother came downstairs with her key-basket. What she did with all those
keys I do not know, but they were evidently precious. She carried them,
with the plate-basket, to her room, nightly; a maid retrieved the latter
when she took up father's shaving water, but the little brown basket of
keys was never beyond reach of the mistress's hand. She set it down
beside the tea-tray while she administered breakfast. And I had not been
three days in England before I saw the exact duplicate of that little
brown basket, with all the keys in it, go through exactly the same
performance. How oddly it struck me. For in Australia we know not
key-baskets--never have done so far as I know. If you were to lock
sideboard or store-closet against your respectable maids in this country
they would not stay with you. And I should not blame them.

I suppose mother's tea-caddy was locked--certainly tea was a terrible
price those days. I often opened the lid of the quaint box, which had
two lidded receptacles inside, one for black tea, one for green, and a
special caddy spoon to ladle it out with. She made the tea herself from
a blending of the two kinds, to which she added a dust of carbonate of
soda, apparently to increase the look of strength. She drew the water
from the hissing urn, kept at the boil by a red-hot metal core slipped
into a cylinder in the middle of it. She and father, like many others,
drank the decoction pure, without sugar or milk.

After breakfast he went to his farm work; she also--and she was the
better farmer of the two, although he was bred to the trade and she was
not. His soul was in the hunting-field and the lighter distractions of
his life, and money slid through his pockets as water through a sieve;
it was she, from first to last, who kept things together as best she
could. She had had the sheltered and dainty girlhood of the well-born
and well-to-do, who had such (to us, and especially to us who are
British colonists) strange ideas of the privileges and immunities of
their class; needless to say she had never done "work," in the real
sense of the word, for that was the portion of the "common people." But
now she sent fowls and eggs to market; and butter of her own
manufacture--butter in large quantities, as I remember, for I used to
sit on a high chair in the dairy with her and watch her make it. She
always made a special pat for me, with no salt in it; which is how I
like butter to this day. I could see again, as I looked along the side
of the old house, that cool dairy, with the shelf of crockery pans all
round it and the big churn in the middle, on the red-flagged floor; I
leaned again on the edge of the table where she worked under my studious
eye, her white arms bare to above the elbow, the dim green light on her
lily-fair face--light filtered through a wooden lattice and the shadows
of an elderberry-tree, from the fruit of which was made yearly many a
stone jarful of strong wine, for mulling with sugar and spices to warm
us for bed o' winter nights and before going to an unheated church on
winter Sunday mornings.

Besides elderberry wine mother made gooseberry wine, currant wine,
ginger wine, cowslip wine--all manner of wines; the cellar was kept
stocked with a large variety, costing next to nothing. She used them
where the modern hostess uses tea in the entertainment of company.
Afternoon callers had cake and wine offered to them, and the careful
wife of a wasteful husband did not squander the port and sherry. They
were for the solemn dinners--to swim upon a shining mahogany sea in the
best decanters, set in baize-bottomed boats of pierced silver--and for
Christmas and other festivals. There was always a "best" of
everything--glass, china, silver, napery--sacred to state occasions.

Every year also she brewed beer in the brew-house, barrels of it, for
the supply of the field labourers (to whom it was given at eleven A.M.
to wash down their luncheon of bread and pork), as well as for household
use. Her cordials, her jams and jellies, her pickles of all sorts, her
mushroom "ketchup," her raspberry vinegar and cherry brandy, her bottles
of capers (the seeds of nasturtiums), her jars of garnered honey, her
ropes of onions, her carefully cured hams and bacons, hanging thickly
from the beams of the timbered kitchen ceiling--punctually were all
these things stocked in their season, excellently prepared, by her own
hands, when illness did not compel her to use a deputy. She and the
other village ladies were rival cooks. Each had her special family
recipes, and they took pride in comparing them.

Baking day occurred twice a week. Then was the great oven in the wall
filled with blazing faggots, and the kitchen tables with the dough of
bread and pastry and the batter of cakes; anon the smouldering ashes
were raked out, and the long-handled flat shovel fed loaves and meat
pies and sweet confectionery into the warm-breathing cavern; presently
the house was odorous with appetising scents, and the pantry was stocked
for the time being. Amongst the delicacies would be a little cake of my
own making. I would spend the morning over that bit of material, brought
to the colour of a slate pencil, while mother manipulated the rest,
going and coming, flushed and busy, but loving to keep me by her, to
prattle to her while she worked. It seems to me that I must have been
her constant companion before the governesses came.

The joint for dinner was not baked--never. It was hung by a "jack" over
a dripping-pan before the square red fire, which roasted it crisp and
brown as the machine slowly turned it round and round. Sometimes the
machine went wrong (it wound up like a clock), and sometimes a coal
would fall into the pan and make the gravy gritty, but, on the whole, I
fancy that way of cooking meat has not been much improved upon. The
outside fat seemed to take on layers of richness with every spoonful of
fire-cleared dripping poured over it. The gravy that was the residue of
this had a surpassing quality, particularly when upheaved upon the bosom
of a puffy-edged Yorkshire pudding, or when mingled with the cream that
hares were basted with. Unsoddened and undiluted by the steam of the
ovens, the whole goodness was preserved to flesh and juice. Unless it is
that distance lends enchantment to this roast of old.

The Yorkshire pudding or the roast gravy with some other plain
pudding--boiled batter or Norfolk dumplings--made the first course of
the midday dinner (as it does still in some conservative families), and
the midday dinner was moved on to three o'clock for company and on state
occasions. The meat and vegetables made the second course; after these
the sweets and cheese (home-made), as now, with dessert only on Sundays
and holidays. A jug of brown ale, drawn from a barrel perennially on
tap, would grace the table, which had no decoration of flowers, but
relied for distinction upon the quality of its napery and silver. We
dined with our parents mostly, and were not oppressively treated in
respect of good things, unless the youngest aunt was present.

After dinner father took his arm-chair and his long-stemmed
churchwarden, mother her indefatigable needle. Or perhaps she and I
would walk out together to call upon our neighbours--those who received
us in the keeping-room (aptly named), where we could enjoy the informal
intercourse that was in character with the place, or those who invited
us to the parlour, the primness, comfortlessness, reserve and
artificiality of which were reflected in our demeanour, as in that of
the lady of the house. When Mrs H. was summoned without notice to
interview a caller here, she kept that caller waiting while she changed
her gown, put on her best cap, got out her best decanters and silver
cake-basket; her daughter similarly revised her costume before she
allowed herself to be seen, although they always "dressed" for midday
dinner and the afternoon, after their kitchen and farm work of the
morning. But when we appeared unexpectedly, Mrs H.'s up-thrown hands and
H.M.'s "Lawk-a-daisy-me!" would express not consternation but ready
welcome; and in that dear old keeping-room, with its beamed ceiling
almost on our heads, we were friends and not company, and could open
hearts and mouths as freely as we liked. That is, the grown-ups
could--not I. "Little girls must be seen and not heard," was the
admonition addressed to me when I attempted to join in the conversation.
My part was to listen, which I did so well that I could almost fill a
book with the interesting family secrets and village scandals
unconsciously confided to my retentive child's memory.

There was a lady spoken of who went to bed when her baby was dying, and
who, on rising in the morning, showed disappointment that it was not
dead, and resentment towards the Good Samaritan (H.M. herself) who had
sat up with it all night, and whose skill had pulled it through. There
was another lady who, having come into a fortune of thousands, had wept
because a hundred or two belonging to it had been left to someone else,
the reason of those tears being that the odd money would have enabled
the weeper to refurnish her house without breaking into the rounded bulk
of the big legacy. There was yet another, a devoted whist-player, who
had been caught by some extraordinarily smart person in the practice of
an ingenious swindle. She would say to her husband, clearly her partner
in guilt as in the game, although somehow he escaped censure: "Dear, it
is your turn," or: "How warm the room is!" or: "Come, go on," or "See
what the time is "--_i.e._ drop some seeming innocent remark beginning
with a certain letter, according as she wanted him to lead diamonds,
hearts, clubs or spades. This was evidently regarded as a most
horrifying tale, and I could not see why--for a long time. Nor was it
easy to fathom the significance of that one about the governess and
tutor, who were expelled together from a great house in the
neighbourhood, because they had been discovered love-making when they
should have been attending to their duties. The warning about "little
pitchers"--dropped, it was fondly supposed, unnoticed by me--would now
and then spoil the dénouement of a story; but there were dozens and
dozens that came to me complete, to be understood in later years, if not
at the time. On our way home from these casual symposia I would
question mother upon points that puzzled me. Often she would say: "Never
mind," or: "You would not understand"; but more often she gave me the
information I wanted. She excused herself for this unfashionable
weakness in a mother of the period by explaining (the plea for all
indulgence) that I was "different from other children."

Five-o'clock tea was not afternoon tea. It was the family evening meal.
Ham, brawn (we called it pork-cheese), or some fancy meat, cold, and
laid out in slices on a plate, was there for sandwiching between bread
and butter similarly prepared; or the savoury might be shrimps or crab,
or radishes or cress; jams of great variety, and particularly cakes,
filled the rest of the table space that was not occupied by the
tea-tray, crowned with its hissing urn. And for this meal no white cloth
was used; nor do I remember such a thing as a finger-napkin at any meal.
It seemed to be the adjunct of the finger-glass, which we did not aspire
to.

Tea was made as at breakfast, but not for us; we had ours in the
nursery, of bread-and-treacle or bread-and-dripping, and our mugs held
milk and water--except only on such great occasions as Christmas days
and birthdays, when we were allowed what we called "gunpowder tea,"
which was our milk-and-water sugared and slightly coloured with a few
spoonfuls from the grown-ups' teapot. In winter a pair of tallow candles
illuminated the scene. The grandparents used wax candles--one
grandfather used four at a time, and six for company, in six big silver
candlesticks--but ours were usually made, like so much else that other
people bought at shops, by mother's ingenious hands. Snuffers
accompanied them. Some that I have seen were such works of art as well
as curiosities that I wonder I have not heard of them amongst the hoards
of bric-à-brac collectors. We possessed one beautiful pair in chased and
pierced silver, the box patterned like a watch-case; and another of the
same metal, finely worked, which had a spring inside the little door
that snuffed the black wick into the receiver; and the trays of both
matched in style and workmanship. I do not know what became of
them--thrown away, probably, as antiquated rubbish, when oil lamps came
in.

It was by the light of a tallow candle that mother did the exquisite
needlework that nobody can do now, in these effulgent evenings. You
almost need a microscope to see the stitches of her fairy-like
baby-clothes. Father read his paper quite comfortably by the same dim
flame. And people wore spectacles in old age only, and never complained,
in my hearing, of ailing or deficient eyes. Why was that?

Although mother, when not needed for social purposes, sewed on until
supper-time, my interminable seam was laid aside. I might thread beads
or dress dolls or make kettle-holders. Also, the rule that barred
story-books, as one would bar cards or dancing, during the serious work
hours of the day, was relaxed after tea, and I could batten on "Peter
Parley" and _The Child's Companion_ and "The Swiss Family
Robinson"--when I was old enough--without incurring the reproach
attaching to the dissipated and idle. My earliest fairyland I found in
pictures, about which I wove stories of my own. We took a small penny
periodical filled with descriptions and illustrations of the contents
of the Great Exhibition; this did not much appeal to me, although I
remember its woodcuts well. I preferred the lovely Annuals, with their
large-eyed and small-mouthed Lady Blessingtons, and the pocket-books,
annuals also, which, in addition to their blank pages, contained prize
poems and a variety of things, chief amongst them engravings of the
country seats of the nobility and gentry. In these palaces and gardens I
wandered in fancy, the possessor of them all. But the book I loved most,
at the beginning of books, was a handsomely bound collection of tales or
sketches, the author of which was (I think) a Mrs Ellis, and the
moral--interpreted at a later age--something to do with the temperance
question. The letterpress was a blank to me; the steel engravings bound
together at the end of the volume I pored over by the hour. One was
called "Lady Montfort parting from her Children." She was a beautiful
creature in a spacious bare neck and a chaplet of roses, tearing herself
wildly from the embraces of a large family trying to hold her back. She
was going to have an operation for something, and the doctor was going
to perform it with the drunkard's shaking hand and kill her. All I then
knew was that she was parting from her children for the last time, and I
used to weep over their fate and dream about it. Another picture
represented a girl in a high-waisted, pillow-case-like gown and flowered
coal-scuttle bonnet (a fashion gone out before I came in), accompanied
by another, her maid, similarly but more plainly attired, leaning, from
the outside road, over a gate belonging to an ideal parsonage house. I
do not know whether drink had caused the late incumbent to die
prematurely or to be expelled from his living, but in any case it was
responsible for throwing his daughter upon the world. "Looking towards
my home and knowing I nevermore should call it mine," was the touching
legend inscribed upon the page. I would have given worlds to know how
she got on, poor thing. The picture of an after-dinner gentleman being
supported out of the dining-room by the butler and footman, and meeting
some outraged relative at the door, was too subtly tragic for my
understanding.

Children (according to their view) were sent to bed too soon; they
always have been, and always will be. But that was not a grievance of
mine. As a nursery child, not yet at the stage of learning letters, I
practically lived downstairs with my parents--at such times as the
youngest aunt was not there to prevent it. Father took me out on
horseback about the farm, seated on a pad in front of him within his
arms, mother in the gig with her when she went to her old home or
shopping to L----; and I believe I could always manage to sit up to
supper, if I begged hard and long enough. I was a thoroughly spoilt
child. Father's excuse was that I "could not spoil," but I am
discounting that fond belief by displaying the spoilt child's base
ingratitude--remembering how love carried to extremes indulged my
heart's desires, and blaming that love in print! If, while shopping with
my mother, I lost my heart to a ducky little parasol (it was of grey
watered silk, with white silk lining, deep fringe and a handle jointed
in the middle), I would find it next day, springing out on me from some
artful ambush, "With Father's Love." For years, on opening the piano
for practice, I used to find one spring day the first cucumber of the
season, because I was particularly fond of cucumbers. He did not care
what it cost, if only he could be the first to treat me. And I purse my
lips at their dear shades and shake a reproving head. Still, the fact
remains that I sat up of a night when I ought to have been in bed, and
even at times when we had "parlour company."

For well I remember the whist tables that entertained our circle on
winter evenings, in that room to the left of the hall at T----, and
myself sitting at the elbow of one of my parents to watch the mysterious
cards and the mutations in the four little piles of coin. It was the
rigour of the game, without a doubt--no talk, no levity, but a still and
solemn concentration upon the play; and I think I must have been rather
a good child, after all, to have been allowed to be there to look on at
it.

I remember one other evening pastime of the grown-ups at this period,
and my curious participation in it--table-turning. There was an
epidemic--probably the first--of enthusiasm for this method of occult
research. And round the heavy "centre table," which was a feature of the
drawing-rooms of the time, friends gathered to consult the oracle or to
deride it, as the case might be. In our house they compromised on an
open-minded curiosity tempered with the feeling that "there really must
be something in it"--something supernatural, they meant. Interests and
credulity were strengthened by my performances at the game. I was
supposed to be a mere onlooker, "to be seen and not heard," as usual,
but perhaps the chain of hands was not long enough, or perhaps I wanted
to join in, and the let-the-little-dear-do-what-she-likes habit of the
house admitted me to a place accordingly; at any rate, I one day found
myself perched on a book-piled chair in the circle of earnest inquirers
round the centre table, my thumbs in contact, the tips of my fourth
fingers overlapping the tips of those on either side of me.

Long had the company sat in silent suspense, the solid piece of
furniture--round-topped, and supported by a stout pedestal and claw feet
resting on mahogany lions' backs--refusing to make a sign; but no sooner
was my influence brought to bear upon it than it began to creak and
groan, and was presently lumbering like a Wombwell elephant about the
room, with us after it, scrambling over stools and other impedimenta to
hold fast to it as long as possible. In recording events of so long ago,
and particularly a matter of this kind, I wish to make full allowance
for unconscious exaggeration; but that the table was declared too heavy
to be pushed into such movements, and that I was frequently sent for to
start them when older hands failed to do so, are circumstances that seem
particularly clear to me.

I suppose, as my fellow-tableturners said at the time, there must have
been "something" in me, as well as in "it," if I have rightly described
what happened. I mentioned in my "Thirty Years in Australia" a German
doctor who in his old age became a spiritualist, and tried hard to
persuade me to lend myself to séance purposes, because, he said, I had
that in me which marked me out as a medium. Might it possibly have been
the same "something" that he divined? Well, I neither know nor care. The
little mysteries are all embraced in the big Mystery, which would not
be mysterious if we had the power to understand it. I was always that
kind of a sceptic which believes in there being a reason for everything.
When I was a girl I saw ghosts--unmistakably visible ghosts--and even in
their presence, certain that they could not be flesh and blood
creatures, and paralysed with horror to know it, I was able to keep this
attitude of mind. Since nothing else ailed me that I knew of, I said to
myself, "I am going mad"; and I was quite correct in my diagnosis, since
what was really happening to me was the beginning of brain fever. I
never had or showed the slightest leaning towards or interest in
so-called supernatural phenomena. Occult "science" is to me what Mrs
Harris was to Betsy Prig. The table-turning craze soon passed, as far as
my people were concerned, and I never, even to that extent, dabbled in
the black arts again.

The social evening, in those old days, began after the five-o'clock tea
and ended with the nine-o'clock supper. This was a great meal, always.
The cloth was spread for it as for dinner, and chairs drawn up and
carving-knives flourished. The cold joint, with pickles, cold fowl, meat
pie, the occasional crab or lobster, the cucumber in its season, any
left-over trifles of sweet pastry and creams, cheese--with beer, of
course--that was the meal which our forebears found it possible to sleep
on, and (which is much more surprising) some of their descendants enjoy
without discomfort to this day. In the four houses of the four
feather-beds the custom has never been abrogated.

Supper over, and dishes returned to the pantry, the elders at once
prepared for bed--to burrow in those mounds of feathers with their
heads in nightcaps, and nothing but their own exhausted breath to live
on the long night through. Doors and windows--the latter barricaded at
nightfall with wooden shutters (hinged and flattened into the wainscoted
window-frame by day) drawn over them and fixed with an iron bar
across--were severally examined in the most careful manner by whoever
was head of the establishment for the time being. Servants might shut
the house, but the responsibility of making sure that it was safe for
the dark hours was too great to be left to them. I suppose there was
some reason for this in the social conditions of the time. Perhaps
father's military (yeomanry) accoutrements--which I never saw him wear,
but which he was said to have worn, and certainly possessed--had some
connection with his actions in preparing his house of a night as if for
an expected siege. I know that any suspicious noise occurring after he
had done so brought him and his blunderbuss upon the scene in the
shortest possible space of time. And that raids did sometimes take place
was proved by the sad story of a friend of ours, whose melancholy visage
was accounted for by the fact that he had once shot a burglar dead
without meaning it. He saw an unlawful hand intruded through a sawn-out
gap in his window-shutter, and, calculating that the hand was well above
the owner's body, fired at it from within the room. Alas! On the
shoulders of him who worked from the ground was an unsuspected second
man, and he received the charge in his breast. It was told us of the
heart-broken doer of that deed that "he never smiled again."

So, the guard having gone the rounds, the humdrum duties of the
day--that never palled--were ended. Master and mistress, bearing
key-basket and plate-basket (the plate having been duly counted),
trudged upstairs to that bed which was virtually their bedroom also. And
slept!



CHAPTER VIII

SOME EARLY SUNDAYS


All the Sundays of my childhood came to life again when, driving from
T----, we passed the mouth of a grassy by-road, a little way down which
stood the church of my earliest worshippings. We were due to drink tea
at my grandfather's old home, now occupied by one of his
great-grandsons, and had scant time for more lingerings on the way if we
were to keep our appointment punctually; but the sight of the familiar
square, squat tower was too much for me, and I said to M. and Mr B.:
"Oh, I must, I _must_ have just one look!" They drove me into the lane
and, scrambling down, I ran up the path through the churchyard, glancing
from side to side at the same old tombstones and grassy mounds,
numbering baby graves of our own household amongst them, every one with
its memories of Sunday loiterers sitting and standing about until all
friends had passed and the bells had stopped; and my objective was a
rood-screen, which not only had a lively story to it, but had persuaded
me in the course of years that it was possibly a treasure of
ecclesiastical art worth finding by one now educated to know its value.
I might have been disappointed if I had seen it; I certainly was deeply
disappointed at not seeing it. A wicket gate in the porch was locked
against me. I ran along the wall and tried to peer into the windows,
but I could see nothing, except my mental picture of the past--the
three-decker, the carved screen, the two square pews in the chancel, the
open seats outside.

It is rather curious that they were open seats at that time of day, when
otherwise the church was quite early Victorian in its ways. I know that
in the next decade, when the zeal for church restoration became
noticeable, the stubborn defence of vested interests in the hereditary
pews was the greatest obstacle to be overcome, and I have known it prove
insuperable for nearly a decade more. Even the pews in the chancel of
the church here at H----, one sacred to the old-maid daughters of the
rector (when in residence, which was only for a small portion of the
year), the other occupied by one of my uncles and his family, were open;
not like the spacious room, with panelled walls and blue silk curtains
all round above the level of his tall head, in which my maternal
grandfather maintained at public worship the same privacy that he
enjoyed at home. It is true that every seat, except the hard "free"
forms at the back, belonged to a certain house, as legally and
exclusively as the walled box which it had superseded; but there was a
republican aspect, generally abhorrent to genteel persons, in the
uniform open benches, which marked no divisions of caste between the
highest and the lowest; the old box, on the contrary, indicated the
status of its owner almost as accurately as his house. The carpet,
cushions, hassocks, curtains were part of his personal establishment; if
he were a big man, he would probably have a stove within the luxurious
enclosure, by which to doze in comfort when the weather was cold. And
it was usual for the wall immediately above him to be more or less
covered with tablets to the memory of his deceased ancestors. When he
died himself, the blue or red curtains which had preserved his nobility
from the gaze of vulgar worshippers would be changed for hangings of
black cloth, and the mourning hatchment would be put up.

In this little church the organist was the National School master, down
at the bottom of the building, and his instrument in my time was a
concertina. There was no vestry. The parson put his things on in the
chancel (in one church that I knew he first dragged his things out of
the altar, which made a convenient store-chest for the loose
"properties" of the place), his sacerdotal toilet being performed quite
openly before the assembled congregation, in front of a looking-glass
hung upon a chancel pillar; the interest we took in this piece of ritual
was great or greater according as the man was shy and nervous or
self-confident and vain. The canopied three-decker embraced the whole
area of ritual proper, except on the rare occasions--the three enjoined
by the rubric, I suppose--when Holy Communion was celebrated. In the
bottom pen the clerk bawled the responses, in the middle one the parson
recited prayers and lessons, in the upper (having changed his surplice
for a black gown) he preached.

Usually the parson was a curate, domestically familiar to us; sometimes
he was the stout and stately rector. When he came to the beautiful
embowered house that at other times wore blinds over its windows, and
his haughty high-nosed daughters to that chancel pew which at other
times stood empty, then it behoved the parish, literally, to sit up.
With him we were comparatively at ease, but confronted with them we
simply shook in our shoes. They did their parish work with vigour while
they were about it. The "poor" were visited all round, scolded for their
injudicious management of households on ten or twelve shillings a week,
which, they were assured, would be an ample income if "crowdy" (a kind
of meal porridge, I think--we never heard of it except from them) were
substituted for the unnecessary luxuries they indulged in; and I believe
the rectory kitchen doled broken victuals to the deserving. My father
nursed a man's grudge against these well-meaning women chiefly on
account of the crowdy suggestion so persistently thrust upon his farm
labourers; the offensive word was so often on his lips that I have never
forgotten it. He was always contrasting the existing régime with that of
the late rector, who used to like to play whist and ride to hounds with
him, and of whom I remember nothing but the fact of his death. My father
and I, driving past the rectory gates, saw a gig slowly moving up and
down before them. "Hullo!" said father, pulling up. "What's the matter?"
The man in charge of the gig mournfully shook his head. "You don't say
so?" father ejaculated, with even greater mournfulness. That was all. It
meant that the doctor was inside, and that the rector was dying.

The existing régime, however, did not leave us out in the cold. The
rector came at least once during his visit to his parish, and his
daughters once, to call on us--cake-and-wine calls--and similarly
honoured the houses of the other village gentry. The old man was as
affable as he knew how to be; the entertaining of the old-young ladies
was the formidable affair. If there was not time to set things in
apple-pie order before they reached the front door, what flurry and fret
and vexation of heart! Well for me if I was not doing punishment on the
stairs at that awful moment!

But the story of the rood-screen that I so wanted to see, and could not,
is the vivid memory of all.

The rector was in residence. He was putting on his robes in the chancel,
before the looking-glass, with the dignified leisureliness that was his
wont. The congregation was coming in. Amongst them was a lady from one
of the farmhouses (called "The Manor," an ancient house which her family
lived, instead of died, in, surrounded by a moat of stagnant water
covered with arsenic-green duckweed--which house, or its site, there was
not time to look for), and she was followed by a domestic pet, a raven.
She knelt to her preliminary prayer. Rising from her knees she beheld
the presumptuous bird sitting on the desk edge of her pew, regarding her
quizzically with his head cocked to one side. I was watching him in
ecstasy, but she--a gentle, fair woman, whose face as I then saw it I
could identify in a crowd to-day--flushed crimson with consternation and
shame. She put out a flurried hand to secure him, but he hopped out of
her reach; further efforts resulted in his free flight through the
church to perch on the top of the screen. There he sat, and defied the
congregation to catch him--to the passionate delight, I am sure, of
every child present. His poor mistress, however, was overwhelmed. She
sat still, trembling and cowering, her cheeks like peonies; and the
rector, when he realised the situation, was furious.

"Brown! Brown!" he shouted down the church.

The stalwart schoolmaster arose from where he sat with his pupils under
the tower, and advanced up the aisle with a pole in his hand. It may
have been the punitive rod with which he could crack the pate of the
farthest National School boy without leaving his own seat to do it, or
it may have been the church broomstick; anyway, it was long enough to
reach the top of the screen.

"Bong on to him, Brown!" commanded the rector in loud imperious
tones--he meant "bang on to him," but his accents as well as his words
ring down the grooves of time as distinctly as if heard but yesterday.
"Bong on to him!"

Brown wielded the clumsy weapon as desired, and it fell with force upon
the spot from which the raven deftly hopped at the last moment. The bird
was quite self-possessed in the midst of the excitement; each time he
measured the direction of the pole, watched its approach, and skipped
over or under it in the nick of time, and he chuckled and jeered as if
it were a game of play. His demeanour, and its contrast with the
increasing wildness of the schoolmaster's blows and of the outraged
rector's temper, made the scene so exquisitely funny that I can laugh
now when I think of it. I suppose I laughed then, for the irrepressible
hilarity of the congregation, confessing its sympathy with the rebel
against high authority, was an aggravation of the bird's offence too
serious for words. I am sorry I cannot recall how the episode ended,
but, of course, the raven was defeated somehow; what I can never forget
is the splendid time he gave us first. He was better than the donkey
which made another red-letter Sunday for us. This animal, grazing in the
churchyard, put his head through the open door in the middle of sermon
time. Not content with a decorous survey of the congregation he suddenly
uttered his raucous bray--hee-haw!--as if in sarcastic comment upon the
preacher's words.

But many funny things happened in church which we did not understand to
be funny, and therefore found no amusement in. The spectacle of the
parson's hat and gloves, perhaps also his overcoat and umbrella, on the
communion-table did not raise a smile, not to mention frowns. A
companion picture of the old clerk holding up the lid of the same table
while he dragged forth from its depths a black bottle and tilted it
before one unclosed eye, to see if it contained sufficient sacramental
wine for an impending celebration, passed almost unnoticed.
Conversations in the vulgar tongue, audible to all, were of almost daily
occurrence--or I should say weekly occurrence, for whoever heard of
non-Sunday matins or evensong in those easy-going times? Oh yes, they
were known of course in cathedrals and the more civilised centres of
life--the "Tracts for the Times" had been stirring up what the writers
called "our afflicted church" for many a year--but not in such
out-of-the-world villages as those in and about which my early years
were spent.

There was no rigid ecclesiastical etiquette, no rigid ecclesiastical
discipline, observed in those days, and the dullness of a child's
Sundays was sensibly mitigated thereby. I remember an occasion when the
parson (not Canon W., of the raven episode) was reading the psalms verse
and verse about with the clerk beneath him. Suddenly the latter, instead
of reciting his verse, remarked aloud: "You've turned over two leaves,
sir." "No, I haven't," was the equally loud and composed reply. "Yes,
you have," rejoined the clerk. They had quite an altercation, carried on
exactly as if they had been out on the road. The rector of the parish
where my maternal grandparents lived was the same sort of free-and-easy
person. I was told that once, with the benediction hardly out of his
mouth, he leaned over the ledge of the pulpit to hail a gentleman of the
congregation before he should get away. "Come home with me," the rector
publicly invited his friend, "I've got a prime haunch of venison for
dinner." I remember his way with candidates for confirmation: "Your
mother can hear your catechism." And it is my belief that the bishops
asked no questions of the men who royally entertained them on their
visitations. You could not imagine a rector dining on venison and waited
on by liveried servants being subjected to the indignity of an inquiry
as to how he performed his duties.

Parsons and squires--Church and State--combined to keep the common lay
person in his place. In league they governed the rural communities, by
whom their authority was unquestioned. It was a benevolent despotism, as
a rule, like that of the majority of the slave-owning aristocracy of
America, who were also in the enjoyment (tempered by "Uncle Tom's
Cabin," and other annoying portents) of their feudal powers at the time;
but, as with the slave system, it took small account of the human rights
of the lower "orders" and in the hands of the naturally arrogant was
often grossly abused.

A squire's wife of our neighbourhood, when she went out of church--and
no one presumed to go before her--used to mount a little rise of ground
near the porch, and there stand to receive the obeisances of "the
poor." One by one they filed before her, dropping the trembling curtsy
with that deprecating, serf-like air which one is thankful to know will
never be worn again by man or woman of British blood; and according as
they performed their act of homage, or satisfied her mind when she chose
to stop and question them, so would they be rewarded in the dispensation
of her doles--doles that might well demoralise poor things whose lives
were all toil from beginning to end, and who perhaps never enjoyed a
full meal until they ate it on Christmas Day in the workhouse, which was
the refuge of their declining years.

This squire's wife (I saw her home and the church in the park again,
still the appanage of her family) was typical of her class. They all
regarded their villages as a queen would regard her kingdom. The squire
looked after the menfolk and saw that his tenants voted Whig or Tory, as
the case might be. But the homes were the care of the lady of the great
house--where there was one. Often she was a second mother to them,
feeling a responsibility for their well-being almost as great as for
that of her own establishment. A godmother to babies, a nurse to the
sick, the kind patroness of girls going out to service, a succourer in
crises of trouble, an indispensable adviser in all-important affairs--I
have known such and heard of more; but whether of this sort or of that
which took the line of the arbitrary schoolmistress, it was invariably
her aim to lead her protégées in the way that they should go. The parson
was her henchman, as she was his backer. He made his reports and she
acted upon them. "You were not at church on Sunday, Jane. How was
that?" The chapel--making its way into the most conservative villages
(but I knew one where the rights of the lord of the manor enabled him to
keep it uncontaminated by both chapels and public-houses--he bracketed
them together--up to the end of the sixties)--was contemptuously ignored
as long as it was possible to do so. Jane had to go to church regularly,
or forfeit the favour of authority and the incalculable advantages that
went with it.

Morning service was, so to speak, the state service of the day. The
heads of families attended, and the families themselves in force. The
afternoon service was for servants and such, and nursemaids and
governesses could take their charges to keep them occupied and out of
the way; Sunday-schools were not invented, apparently, though we all had
to say our collect and catechism to somebody at home. There was no
service in the evening. The churches had no apparatus for lighting
except with daylight. Sunday evening, in summer, was the time for long
family walks, aimless strolls about the lanes and fields. It was the
great opportunity for love-making with the young couples "keeping
company." There was no visiting from house to house, as might be
supposed, with families so much at leisure and so bored for want of
something to do; it would have verged upon desecration of the Sabbath to
have paid a call for the mere pleasure of it. No toys or story-books,
and, of course, no games, were allowed to relieve the monotony of indoor
hours. "Memoirs" represented the only human element in our Sunday
literature, otherwise composed of volumes of sermons; and as the memoir
was always of a clergyman, or some other saintly person, there were but
two scraps of interest to be found in it--his portrait at one end and
the account of what he died of at the other. Later, we had a servant who
took in a missionary magazine full of pictures of black men swinging on
hooks thrust through their backs, widows burning alive on pyres,
missionaries being horribly tortured, cooked and eaten--all sorts of
interesting things. She used to smuggle them to my bed, and, when my
governess had retired from the room, instead of sleeping I would sit up
and read them in the lingering light of the long days until night made
the page a blank. But just now I am speaking of the years before I had a
governess. A missionary magazine was a Sunday book, and my early Sundays
did not know the joy of them.

However, taking one thing with another, those Sundays of the past were
not so very dreadful. It is, indeed, open to question whether in
essential matters we have greatly improved upon them. Certainly, the
inconsistencies of Sabbatarian practice, as I remember them, were no
greater than they are now. There was a lady of our acquaintance who had
a gift for amateur millinery and a passion for smart bonnets and she
once made one under my eye on a Sunday morning. It was understood that
she would have imperilled her immortal soul by using needle and cotton,
and she did not dream of doing that; she put it together entirely with
pins. It took her twice as long, and disturbed the serenity of her mind
twice as much, but by getting up early she managed to have it finished
by church time, and then to wear it to church with an easy mind. But the
same thing would be done--exactly parallel things are done--under my
eye to-day, any Sunday of the year.

With regard to the moral practices of week-days, which are but those of
Sunday carried over, either there were fewer subtle insincerities
amongst the good people of the last generation or I have a keener eye
for those which I see around me now. I remember that my elders of the
fifties were much addicted to whist, and that a small money stake was
necessary to the dignity of their game. They remained sober, friendly,
gentlemanly, uncorrupted, allowing for the exceptions to every rule.
Nowadays I play a round game with a family party, and one person will
not touch a prize in the shape of a coin, but change the coin into
"goods" and conscience is immediately satisfied. A clergyman once
intimately associated with my household loved whist, but never played
cards on principle; he got over the difficulty by sitting behind someone
who did, and directing the latter's play with zeal. These are little
instances.

At any rate the religious faith of the fifties as to which we were all
children, young and old alike, it had one precious quality that it seems
never likely to have again--it sufficed. Such as it was, we were
satisfied with it. It made for peace and a contented mind. To be sure,
we had heard of the "Tracts," and of a terrible bishop called Colenso;
we ourselves learned Keble's hymns, with Mrs Alexander's, on Sundays;
but we were happily undiscerning of the significance of these portents.
They were no concern of ours. We no more expected them to have practical
developments than he had expected an Indian Mutiny to result from a
little fuss over greased cartridges. The Church of the Fifties, as an
educational agent, is more despised to-day than any other institution of
that date, but the old-fashioned parson had no spiritual worries to keep
him awake o' nights and wear him out before his time; no more had we. Is
it not possible that the despisers would give almost anything to be able
to say the same?



CHAPTER IX

MY GRANDFATHER'S DAYS


The last time that I saw my old good grandfather, to whose old-time home
M.G. and Mr B. drove me that July afternoon, was on a Sunday. It was
just before we left T---- for D----, where we were living when he died.
By the same token I remember the night of the event, when we sat in the
music-room with servants (taking care of us in the absence of our
parents at his bedside), and how the girls made our flesh creep by
telling how Rover had howled and death-watches had ticked in the walls,
and winding-sheets had formed on the candles--"sure signs," every one;
and how, being so wrought up, we shrieked at a sudden explosion in the
fire, which ejected some little glowing shard that they declared to be a
coffin--on the top of all the other gruesome portents. It was a blowy
October night and we talked in firelight, as befitted the ghostly
circumstances. I huddled up to my elder brother on the sofa by the
hearth, in mortal dread of the dark drawing-room outside, the darker
stairs, the awful attics, that must sooner or later be faced. But I do
not recall any governess present, and I think we shared the fear of
solitude amongst us and kept well together until morning.

As I said, the last time I saw the old man was on a Sunday--probably our
last Sunday at T----.

Our district boasted its peculiarity in having

     "A parish without a church,
      A church without a steeple,
      A steeple without a church,
      A parish without people"--

all under the jurisdiction of our rector, Canon W., and the church
without a steeple, that took turns with the church of H---- in providing
our Sunday services, stood at the gate of the park-like home field
surrounding the grandfather's house. I think it was mostly in the
afternoons that we attended it, and it was our custom to go and come
through that little park instead of by the road, and to call on him by
the way. These visits were our Sunday treat. There was a warm, luxurious
atmosphere inside that house--which I was on the way to be entertained
in for the first time since then; there was also a motherly housekeeper
and an unfailing supply of cakes and sweets. We were regaled on these,
inspected and catechised by the patriarch, and sent rejoicing on our
way. Other families of grandchildren passed the same saluting point at
about the same time, often melting into and mingling with ours before
the armchair was reached (and these were the last times that M.G., my
present hostess, and I had had cousinly intercourse together). His sons,
farmers like himself, but none of them inheriting his force of
character, lived within a walk of him, and each household looked to his
for dower of various kinds. Every week he had a sheep killed to be
distributed amongst them. Mutton was a sacred thing with him. Killed at
a certain age--four years, I think--at the climax of condition; hung a
stated number of days, according to the season, it was always a dish,
if of his providing, "fit to set before a gentleman." The meat-safe of
his own establishment was hung, to my eyes, quite in the clouds. It was
sent up with running ropes, as a flag to a masthead, to the top of a
tall tree, where the contents ripened in pure air above the range of
flies (and I stood under that tree again and told his great-grandson's
wife about it, his great-great-grandson holding my hand and looking up
at it with me). He left a comfortable fortune to his five children, of
whom my father was the youngest; and the sons quarrelled over their
shares and flung the property into Chancery--where it is still if it is
anywhere. Certainly it never came out again.

Well, I stood by his winged chair on a Sunday afternoon, and he looked
at me with his watery and red-rimmed old eyes, set in a still fine old
face that is as distinct to me as ever; then he drew me between his
knees, laid his hands on my head, and formally and solemnly blessed me.
The oddness of the incident impressed it indelibly on my mind. We had
always been great friends, and it was our last parting. I suppose he
knew it, although I did not.

I was fortunate in picking up, amongst the family relics, a little
memoir of him. It told me more of his life and character than I knew
before, and I think it is interesting enough to quote from briefly.

His uncommon name has aristocratic associations, as his descendants have
not forgotten, and armorial bearings have been claimed on the strength
of it, but as a matter of fact there is no sign of an authentic pedigree
behind him. And I think, if there had been, it would be a cheapening of
the dignity of his own simple excellence to obtrude it. His whole
history presupposes the qualities of manhood essential to the ideal
gentleman. As Landor says: "The plain vulgar are not the most vulgar,"
and it is only stating the proposition another way to say that the plain
gentleman is more genuinely a gentleman than the fine gentleman. I know
well how, when he rose in the world, he would have treated a suggestion
to rake up a coat-of-arms! My father inherited that good taste which
abhorred pretentiousness, as he showed in making us say "father" and
"mother" at a time when every child above the labouring class said "pa"
and "ma," and in refusing to let any one of the ten of us have more than
one short Christian name.

He was born--the grandfather--on the 2nd of January 1770, at T----, but
in which of the three farmhouses that, with their five labourers'
cottages, composed the "parish without a church" (it had one once--in
the fourteenth century) I do not know; not, I think, the one that was
afterwards my home, as that property belonged to a different estate. All
three houses were of a character to preclude the supposition that he
sprang from what is figuratively termed the gutter, but the records
clearly imply that it was not from a bed of ease. He used to get up
early and milk the cows, and then walk to D----, about four miles off,
to school. When he was seventeen the chronicle states he "did not leave
his home as a runaway" but seeing no chance of advancing himself there,
he, with only a small bundle of clothes, made his way to a farm at
O----, where "he hired himself as a team-lad to a widow for four pounds
a year and his living in the house." It is recorded that he "always
spoke of her afterwards as his first friend and helper in the battle of
life." From there he went to another Norfolk village, engaging himself
again as a farm hand (waggoner); but soon he was a farm steward
elsewhere, and soon after that manager of the estate of his father's
landlord, one of the beautiful seats of the neighbourhood--which looked
more beautiful than ever when I saw it again.

W---- Woods (meeting overhead on the highroad and glorious with
rhododendrons in the spring), and W---- Hall, must have a word or two in
passing. The splendid old house has been, since the reign of Elizabeth,
the only one in W---- which represents the "parish without people" and
the "steeple without a church" of the local rhyme; but before that
period, when it was the seat of the Coningsbys, there was a village,
also a church, where the lonely tower now stands in the park, a hoary
head with no body to it. From the Coningsbys the place passed to a
certain Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, and he profaned the church
(which then "ceased to be used for sacred purposes") by turning it into
a hay-house and dog-kennel, and "depopulated the town to make the
extensive park which still exists." For his sins this wicked squire's
"dead corps" (I am quoting Blomefield, writing in 1810) "could for many
days find no place of burial, but growing very offensive he was at last
conveyed to the church of R----," which was the church at the
grandfather's gate already alluded to, "and buried there without any
ceremony, and lyeth yet uncovered (if the visitors have not reformed it)
with so small a matter as a few paving stones; and indeed no stone
memorial was there ever for him, and if it was not for this account it
would not have been known that he was buried there."

Certainly there was no visible trace of the unhallowed grave in that
burial-ground of my family when I revisited it. The little "church
without a steeple" I had always supposed a creation of our day, but it
has a fine dog-toothed Norman doorway, and M. told me she could remember
when it stood there amid ruins, and remember seeing the chapel built to
enclose it. This Norman doorway, like the lovely ivied steeple, is all
that speaks of the wicked judge to-day. It belonged to the church of his
time. His beautiful home survived his occupation. It passed at his death
to the Earls of Warwick through the marriage of his granddaughter; from
them, by purchase, to the families of our times. I visited it in
childhood, and I wish I could have visited it again.

Here my grandfather, while still in his twenties, administered the
estate for the owner, who appears to have held him in high esteem. His
first official act, we are told, was to "make the park around the
mansion, and to beautify the hedges." He was not only a conspicuously
practical agriculturist, but a great lover of natural beauty of the
orderly kind; his care of hedges, in particular, would have been his
"fad," if the word had been invented. For several years he held his
post, "having at the same time a farm of his own at South R----," which
was his later and last home. When he was thirty he married a lady from
Surrey. My grandmother predeceased him, but I dimly remember her as a
gentle and dainty old lady, fastidious in dress, manners and the
ordering of her house; or it may be only this tradition of her that I
remember--I cannot be sure. Richard Brinsley Sheridan was at their
wedding. He is said to have been closely connected, by blood or
friendship, with her people.

"Coke of Norfolk" was his friend; I knew that always. The memoir speaks
of "great gatherings of agriculturists at Holkham," which he attended as
his squire's representative while at W----; but after he was his own man
the kindred spirits must have met and mingled, for it was Lord
Leicester, I have been told, who gave to my grandfather's place at R----
the flattering nickname of "Little Holkham," which clung to it for many
years. They used to compare their respective experiments and the
results, and my grandfather would come from these investigations to say
(according to the memoir): "We beat him in some things, and he beat us
in others."

I read that he (my grandfather) "was the first to make underdraining
tiles in the county. The cost to buy them was four guineas per thousand,
each tile weighing eighteen pounds, with holes perforated in them, and
put down without soles to rest upon; he had as few joints as possible,
and did not approve of the herring-bone shape on that account"--whatever
that may mean.

"When he came to South R---- they had ague in almost every house from
poverty and undrained land. The poor rates were ten shillings in the
pound, with a large common and unlimited rights thereon.... He estimated
the claying of this common at six pounds per acre. He was seven years at
it, winter and summer, not always stopping at harvest time, for in this
district a pit fills with water as soon as (and often before) it is
finished, not again to be reworked, constant pumping being required.
Large quantities of faggots had often to be placed to bear the horses
and carts in getting out of the pits. Three hundred and four hundred
loads per acre were put on the land. The extent of clay pits was
estimated by Mr P. of N----, when apportioning the tithe rent charge, at
ten acres.... He made two ears of corn grow where only one had grown
before."

Then, in 1822, there was "great depression in agriculture, and he took
another farm, almost on his own terms, as tenant, and again clayed and
underdrained ... it was said that no tenant-farmer at that time employed
so many hands or spent so much on the same quantity of land as he did
... grass was as much cared for as arable." And on a certain field where
he "harrowed in oats as a boy, he planted the land twice with fir-trees,
twice cut them down and measured them up, and twice sold them." He wrote
an essay for the Royal Agricultural Society "On the Rearing and
Maintaining of Fences," which was printed in their journal. All his own
fences (hedges) were "clipped twice in the year, at a cost of ten
shillings per mile." I have seen the men doing it--they seemed always
doing it--and those hedges were as smoothly rounded and trim as those of
the neatest garden.

"The stitch in time was his motto," says the chronicler. The loss of a
rail was replaced directly, or a tile from a building. It was so natural
to him that he did not hesitate to point it out on his neighbour's
premises, as when he saw a pig without a ring in its nose. A
road-scraper was always on the road leading to the house and farmyard,
and everyone was expected to use it, or would be reminded to do so,
removing dirt on to the grass. All were trained to put farm implements
under cover and to fix waggon and cart shafts up by a chain. I can
answer for two of his descendants--the remnant of his youngest son's
family--that they have inherited this instinct for neatness and order,
although in one case circumstances rather hamper its free play. My
father himself, like most of the males of my intimate acquaintance, was
an untidy man and a bad domestic economist.

Two other marked traits of the grandfather's character are noted by his
biographer--a great love of music and a great love of animals. It is
mentioned that the guard of the mail-coach always began to play on his
bugle when approaching the house, and the tune was "The Old English
Gentleman" when passing it. "His kindness to animals was such that he
had them often given to him when aged, from its being known that he
never sold an old horse, and so they were sure to end their days with
him." And "Shortly before his death, he asked for the curtains to be
drawn aside that he might have a last look at the scene of his old
labours, and he said, 'There are my sheep, pretty creatures!'"

It is evident that in his later life he was a distinguished county man.
He was for many years agent for the trustees of large fen properties,
and the agencies of some of the most important estates in Norfolk were
offered him after he had retired from such duties. When the W----
property, which had been his first charge, was sold again, "The
measuring up, the valuation of the timber, and the price to be fixed on
the whole estate, was left to his judgment." I have read some of his
business letters, and they seemed to me models of what such should be.
At Agricultural Society dinners, and other public functions, honour was
paid him in complimentary speeches. "You must not consider what Mr C.'s
farming is now, with all the improvements that have taken place of late,
but as I remember him and his farm years ago, when no one but him clayed
land, underdrained, or clipped hedges." And so on. In his eighty-second
year he was presented by his friends with his portrait in oils,
accompanied by the following address:--

"Dear Sir,--As a testimony of our esteem for the valuable services you
have rendered to Agriculture during a residence of upwards of eighty
years in the same locality, in converting an unproductive waste into a
fertile country, and especially as the originator of the beneficial
system of deep underdraining, claying and the management of fences, now
generally followed--as a benefactor of the labourer, a kind neighbour
and a sincere friend--we respectfully beg to present the accompanying
Portrait, painted by Ambrosini Jerome, Esqr., portrait painter to her
Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent, as an Heirloom to your family, with
an assurance that they will ever regard it as a noble example of a
parent who has raised himself by his science, diligence and integrity
from a humble position to affluence and respectability and honour, and
with our sincere wishes that you may long live to enjoy the merited
reward of an active, useful and well-spent life. We are," etc.

And the names of leading Norfolk are appended.

I saw that portrait, still hanging in its old place, in the dining-room
where M. and I had tea with the great-grandson and his family (our
coachman, quite at home in the house that had sheltered generations of
his family also, had put up his carriage and was enjoying himself in the
kitchen), and I noted the same fault that had struck us when it was
new--the common fault of painted portraits--a lack of the virile force
that gave character to his face even in extreme old age. Otherwise it
was a good likeness. He holds the appropriate swath of ripe wheat in one
wrinkled hand, the heavy ears supported on the other--a nobler emblem
than any Heralds' College could have given him.

The great-grandson did not know, until I (who had just found it out)
told him, that the picture was an heirloom and no property of his, he
being but the son of a younger granddaughter. He could not tell me how
it came to be still in its old place, but I could tell him. It really
belongs to America. Years ago--about ten or thereabouts--I had a letter
from a cousin who had emigrated to the States in his youth, recalling
himself to my memory for the first time since we were children together,
meeting at the grandfather's armchair at R---- on Sunday afternoons. I
could not quite identify him, but my public position as a writer had
supplied him with a clue to me. In this letter, which contained
photographs of his home and children and details of his American life,
he mentioned that he was now the head of the family and legal owner of
the grandfather's portrait. It had come to him since he had emigrated,
and he had never gone back, and never expected to go back; but he had an
idea that I was going back, and he formally made over the picture to
me. He asked me to find it, and take it, and keep it. He seemed to have
lost touch and knowledge of his English connections in the course of so
many years, but to feel that he had found a tangible, or, at any rate,
authentic representative of them in me. If I would accept the treasure,
he would be sure that it was in safe keeping--or something to that
effect. In writing back to him, I, of course, refused it. I told him I
was far less likely to return to England than he was, and that in any
case I was not in the "line of succession"; and I heard no more about
it. A year or two later I received a newspaper from his family
announcing his death; then I had a letter from his son. Did I know where
the portrait was? Did I know this and that and the other about the
family? I could see that this young American had been nursed on legends
of country seats and ancestors of the romantic pattern, that his father
in his new country had idealised the old, as I had, and, unlike me, had
impressed his unconscious exaggerations upon the imaginations of his
children. "I am now the head of the family," wrote the young man, as if
we were in the Peerage. I had to reply to him that I did not know where
the portrait was, that I did not know anything about the family in
England, and that nothing seemed more unlikely than that I ever should.

Now here I was, at the fountain-head of knowledge, and there was the
portrait, benignly--too benignly--looking down upon me from the wall.

There, too, was the spot where the old armchair had stood. I, like my
American cousin, had remembered the room surrounding it as a spacious
apartment, with accommodation for a great deal of massive mahogany
furniture; it had dwindled surprisingly. I thought there was a big hall,
a wide staircase--and the hall was but the ordinary passage-way, and the
stairs steep and cramped and twisty. I could have sworn there was a
stone-pillared portico to the front door; it was a brick porch under the
creepers. Well, well! It was a sweet old house, even in its reduced
condition, and I had a charming time in it. They gave us a delicious
tea, strawberries and raspberries (what a strawberry summer that was! I
had never had quite as many as I could eat before), with unlimited
cream, and thin bread-and-butter, and cakes of melting richness; and I
was in the pink of health, when nothing could hurt me. After tea we
strolled about the garden, grandfather's own old garden, and the dear
little great-great-grandson, who as a memory can hold his own with all
the ghosts behind him, ran hither and thither to gather flowers for me
until I was loaded up with more than I could carry. Fain would I have
had him temper zeal with discretion, but it was useless effort, and his
mother would not back me.

Then, in the afterglow of the summer evening, the children were sent to
the nursery, our hostess got the keys of the church, and we went across
the park-like fields to the road, on the other side of which is the
burial-place of the wicked squire who was so "very offensive" in various
ways, and of the good old farmer, whose memory is as green as the land
he tilled so righteously, his example as fruitful, his honoured name as
sweet.

He died on the 9th October 1856, in his eighty-seventh year. "Around him
in R---- churchyard," says the memoir, "and near him, lie his old
servants, on whose gravestones are recorded their faithfulness and
length of service." I saw them all; D., who died before I was born,
"after thirty-five years' service"; old C.B., who died the year after
his master, after "upwards of fifty years' service"; M.B., the
housekeeper who gave us cakes on Sundays, four generations of whose
family, daughter following mother, filled the office of nurse in
successive households of ours. The many graves of aunts and uncles and
cousins (my own parents lie elsewhere) were not half so touching. Old
B.'s death was said to have occurred as a direct consequence of his
master's; it was the fall of one that broke down the other. B. was
rather an arbitrary person, as we children knew him. He ordered us about
as if the place was his--practically it was; no one but my grandfather
could successfully dispute his authority. But he was wrapped up in us
all; the family was his family, as it had been for "upwards of fifty
years"; and his master was his king who could do no wrong. My father and
grey-headed uncles were summoned to his dying bed--they had not
quarrelled then--and he formally blessed them as grandfather had blessed
me. "My boys," he murmured, "my boys!" His mumbled last words were, "I
brought 'em all up."

It was hard to tear myself from these eloquent memorials, which I was
looking upon for the first time, as doubtless it was the last. All
around the little graveyard was green country--that lovely English green
of velvet grass and noble trees which, after a month of it, was still an
ever-fresh rapture to my Australian eyes. "An unproductive waste," it
was said to have been, prior to the famous underdraining and claying;
could my grandfather have seen it with me, he would have felt satisfied
with his work, although not a town, or a railroad, or even a telegraph
wire, was in sight.

But there was the little church to revisit yet--another shrine of
memory. As I walked up the aisle and looked about me, I saw that in
half-a-century the hand of change had scarcely touched it. It was a new
church, with the exception of the Norman doorway, when I made its
acquaintance as a child taken there by its nurse, and it started with
the open benches and stencilled walls that were novelties of fashion
then. There they were, the same, to the very pattern and hues of the
mural decoration, which showed no sign either of renewal or decay. The
armorial shields (to the memory of pious benefactors, doubtless),
painted in their proper colours, that made a cornice to the little apse
that formed the chancel, were each in its old place, tilted forward at
the same angle; I recognised them all. Many a tedious hour had they
relieved, as pictures to be studied and puzzled over--the breed of the
various heraldic animals, the reasons of their parti-coloured coats and
antic attitudes, and so on.

And what a procession of quaint figures passed before me as I stood at
the upper end, where we had our family pew, and looked down at the open
door through which the dead and gone flocked in! The aged labourers,
soaped and oiled, in their clean smock-frocks with the wonderful
stitchery on back and front; the neat old women, who unwrapped their
church books from their clean pocket-handkerchiefs when service began,
and wrapped them up again as soon as it was over; the village
dressmaker, who sat just behind us, and whose stylish costumes I used
to study through the back of our seat while kneeling on my hassock the
reverse way to her--memorable chiefly for puffy white muslin
undersleeves that were kept up with elastic which showed when she
covered her face with her hands, and had wristbands with black velvet
run through the holes in them; the organist at his little instrument
near the entrance (it is in another place now, and is not played by
turning a handle, as in his time); the inevitable schoolmaster with his
indispensable long cane; the servant girls and their swains, the
numerous child cousins, etc., etc.--a throng of ghosts. But there was
one great and sensational event connected with my early attendances at
this church, matching that of the raven in the other, only in this case
tragedy instead of comedy; and I was looking at it the whole time, as at
a cinematograph reproduction of the living scene.

A young curate (as usual at the unimportant afternoon services) was
preaching--how plainly I see him, with his pallid, tawny face and soft
black eyes--and suddenly stopped dead and stood still, simply staring at
the congregation. "Oh," I thought, staring back at him from my
commanding position below, "what news to take home to father and mother,
that Mr H. has done this funny thing!" He was recently from India,
recruiting delicate health, which was already the anxious care of the
ladies of the parish, who sent broths and jellies to his lodgings and
coddled him at their homes as often as he would come to them. My mother
and M.'s mother were his chief friends, and we children, with whom he
had played, were very fond of him. Still it was pure enjoyment to me to
see him stop in the middle of his sermon, and to realise that he was not
going to finish it. Poor fellow! It was the end of his preaching and of
his work. He said, after that long, exciting pause--the words are as
unforgettable as Canon W.'s "Bong on to him!"--"I must crave your
indulgence, for I can get no further." With that he fell and
disappeared. Some men rushed from their seats, dragged him out of the
pulpit, and carried him, insensible, from the church; and the
congregation broke up and scattered, we hurrying home at a run to tell
the news. My mother at once put on her bonnet and went away to nurse
him. All the village ladies became his mothers from that day until his
death, when the whole parish wept and wailed for him and refused to be
comforted. His memory was canonised amongst us. A memoir of him was
published by his unknown kindred, containing a steel-engraved portrait
(not a bit like him, for it made him fair and fat), and, scattered
through the latter pages, allusions to "Mrs H.C." and "Mrs F.C."
rendered the book peculiarly precious to two of the bereaved families.
The only way that succeeding curates could make themselves tolerable was
by confessing freely that they knew themselves unworthy to fill his
place. I remember Mr R., his immediate successor, standing in our
dining-room (it was his first visit as our pastor) and avowing, with
dramatic earnestness, that the latchet of Mr H.'s shoes he was not
worthy to unloose. He became a very dear friend, however, Mr R. He was a
jolly, hearty, healthy fellow, splendid to play with, with no sadness
and no conspicuous saintliness about him.

We locked the door of the little haunted place, and walked back over the
now dewy grass to the house, to deliver the key and say good-bye to our
entertainers. Mr B. was ready for us, and drove us home through the
lovely woods of W----, which owed some of their loveliness to the old
man in his grave behind us, and along new ways that yet were as old and
familiar and thick with ghosts as the roads we had come by in the
afternoon. The whole dear land was a dream of peace in the long July
twilight.



CHAPTER X

OUTDOOR LIFE


It was not a house or church, or wood or field, here or there, that
swarmed with reminiscences of my life half-a-century ago; every bit of
Norfolk soil that I passed over or looked upon was thick with history of
the old times. I had been so sure that the March of Progress, which in
the same period had made a highly modern nation out of nothing on the
other side of the world, would have swept away the wild-blooming
hedgerows, the divisions of the little fields, the rutty, grassy,
tree-shaded lanes, the old fashions, generally, of my native county; and
I could hardly believe in the luck which had spared so much that the
little taken was scarcely missed. Some thirty years ago an Australian
friend of mine made a long-desired pilgrimage to the home and graves of
the Brontës, and blessed his fate in having chanced upon the last day
before the church at Haworth, as Charlotte and Emily had used it, was
closed for restoration. I was just too late for Crosby Hall, and the
house of the H. family near T---- was gone; otherwise I had no
disappointments in my search for the ancient landmarks. But that England
was so beautifully well kept (and perhaps it was so then, although I did
not notice it), it was the same England that I had left, and no part so
unchanged as the part of Norfolk I returned to, which I called my own.

Driving about with M., I lived my old outdoor life again, as if there
had been no break in it.

That there was any outdoor life at all in those benighted times I have
heard questioned and denied in various ways by our athletic offspring.
"Oh, what did people do before there were tennis and croquet and golf?"
Contemporary writers are fond of drawing comparisons--I have done it
myself--between the lady of old, with her prunella shoes and her swoons
and her genteel incapability, and the stalwart, active, efficient damsel
who now fills her place; wholly, of course, to the advantage of the
latter. But, looking back, and trying to be strictly fair all round, I
am not sure that the women of the fifties were so much less sensible
(according to their lesser lights) than their descendants of to-day. It
must be remembered that they could not be more sensible than fashion
permitted, and that we are just as craven slaves to that impersonal
tyrant as they were. I am sure that if fashion were suddenly to forbid
tennis and croquet and golf and the rest, those invigorating pursuits
would be abandoned to-morrow. You will say that our enlightened views
upon physical culture would remain, to operate in other directions; and
one must admit that in the fifties physical culture was unknown. There
was no sanitation, no philosophy of food, no anything. Yet folks lived,
and to a good old age too. They had one thing that we have not--the
tranquil mind--than which there is no better foundation on which to
build bodily health. We do not want their tranquil mind--certainly
not--but that is beside the question.

In the fifties, although golf and tennis were not games for the
multitude, bowls and cricket were as dear to the bewhiskered public as
now to the clean-shaven or moustached; and women had their lawn
diversions for the hours they considered enough to give to them, the
balance of their active exercise being put into housework and "duties"
generally. There was a primitive sort of lacrosse that we were addicted
to, and archery, which was a graceful and quite scientific game. We had
a small armoury of bows and arrows, bought cheap at the sale of the
furniture of a neighbouring great house, and gave social entertainments
on the strength of it while we lived at D----. Women with good figures
showed to great advantage before the target, and eye and hand had to be
as well trained for the bull's-eye as for the hoop or hole. It is true
that archery was for the privileged well-to-do; an archery meeting
usually had the background of a green and well-kept park. This rather
disqualifies it for the purposes of comparison with our modern outdoor
games. But those who did not have it did not miss it. There were nutting
and blackberrying and mushrooming and May-daying--plenty of simple
merrymakings--within reach of all.

On May mornings--oh, I wish I could have had an English May once
more!--we were up with the birds and out in the fields to hunt for the
first hawthorn bloom. It was one of the settled customs of the family,
if not of the community. Often the morning was terribly cold, mostly the
grass was reeking wet, but still the expedition was looked forward to
with joy and carried through in the highest spirits. Blackthorn it was,
if we found it at all, but it was not our fault if we did not return
with some trophy of green bud or white flower to lay upon the
breakfast-table. Later in the morning the village girls came round with
their May garlands. A structure of crossed hoops of wood thickly
wreathed with evergreens and artificial flowers, with a doll in the
middle and any procurable odds and ends of ribbon, tinsel, or other
finery, hung about it, fairly describes the sort of thing. Two girls
carried it between them on a pole, and it was covered from view under a
cloth until presented at your house door; the cloth was then whipped
off, you gazed admiringly and, if generously disposed, or there were not
too many of them, dropped a copper into an expectant hand or bag.

At any rate it was quite understood to be the right thing to take the
air. We children were sent out in all weathers for our daily walk. I
vividly remember crying with the cold, again and again, as I trudged
along the snowy roads and through the bitter winds of those hard winters
that used to be. Yet it was a wholesome practice, and we were wisely
safeguarded against its risks, except in the matter of headgear, the
close fit of which made our ears tender so that we suffered horribly
from ear-ache, a malady unknown to the open-hatted head. On how many a
night we wailed in sleep, or sobbed in our mother's arms by the
fireside, with a roasted onion and a hot flannel pressed to the pain
which they could not alleviate; and nobody knew the reason why.

When we went out in snow-time we wore snow-boots. They were woolly and
waterproof, very thick, and were laced or buttoned over our other boots.
For wet weather we had clogs--wooden soles with leather toe-caps and
ankle-straps; the soles were cut with supports like the arched piers of
a bridge, that lifted them an inch or two from the ground. Our elders,
and especially the working women, used pattens--wooden soles again, but
raised upon an iron frame and ring, and with one fixed strap which took
the foot at the instep when it was thrust through. One could not imagine
the rural housewife and her maids flushing their brick floors and wading
through the "muck" of their farmyards without their pattens on, nor
imagine another contrivance that would have answered the purpose better.
Cheap, durable, put on and off in a moment, and needing no attention,
they were most convenient to the wearers, and their effectiveness in
keeping the feet dry and petticoats undrabbled must have made for health
and cleanliness. Yet I suppose there are no clogs and pattens
nowadays--I saw none; and, if so, it seems rather a pity. Things that
have been improved upon ought to go, but why abandon those that still
remain desirable? What is there to take the place of clogs and pattens
in usefulness to the class which once wore them? Not goloshes, surely.

They were not the only sensible footgear of these days either. When the
eldest aunt visited us she used to bring our supply of nursery shoes, in
which five children scampering about the floors made less noise than one
does now. Those shoes were woven of narrow strips of cloth in a flat
basket pattern, sole and upper in one, like deerskin moccasins, and as
soft; some old man in her village made them to the eldest aunt's order.
But it may be that he was the sole manufacturer, whose art died with
him, for I never saw their like elsewhere.

We drove as well as walked abroad. Ladies with carriages used them
regularly of an afternoon, having paced their garden terraces--skirts
held well above the hems of their snowy petticoats--earlier in the day.
Mother and I had many outings together in the gig; either to L----,
to do shopping, or to her father's house at twice the distance
away. And she did not attempt to drive with one hand and hold up an
umbrella with the other; indeed, she could not have done it, for the
"gig-umbrella"--green cotton with a bulbous yellow handle--took a man's
arm to support it. When it rained she drew a mackintosh hood from the
box that was the gig seat and tied it over her bonnet, shutting
everything in with a drawing-string round the face; there was also a
curtain to it for the protection of neck and shoulders. Now, was not
that a sensible idea? But we never wear on wet journeys a mackintosh
hood or something better than a mackintosh hood, even in the dark when
there is nobody to see us.

For driving in the sun she had another device. That father called it her
"ugly" indicates that it was for comfort rather than adornment; yet I do
not see why it particularly deserved that name, comparing it with the
many things we wore--and wear--that cannot be termed beautiful. A length
of soft silk, blue, green or brown, equal to the circumference of the
bonnet-brim, was run through with three or four flexible ribs, cane or
whalebone or steel springs. The ends of silk and ribs were drawn
together and strings sewn to them; and when the article was put on it
made a sun-shield for the eyes like a window-awning. I had a little one
too. It clasped my little bonnet with a spring; and side by side we
drove through the summer glare, sitting at ease with hands free, under a
shelter better than that of the mushroom hat of a few years later. If,
as I hold, the first principle of beauty is suitability, the "ugly" was
not ugly, and it deserved to live. How much it might have added to the
pleasure of my long Bush journeys, and detracted from the fatigue!

The memory of those drives with my mother is amongst the sweetest of my
youth. I was a very little child then, yet we were perfect companions.
All the way there and back we talked and talked, and never bored each
other. I never knew her to "shut me up" or put me off with evasive or
impatient answers. Once when she was ill and we were all bothering her
at once, she exclaimed, "Oh, who would be a mother!" The words not only
cut me to the heart as I heard them, but I never forgot they had been
spoken; nor did she, and I do not think she forgave herself for them. It
was the only instance I remember of her complaining under her burdens,
which were so heavy for her strength, and especially of the cares of
motherhood. Even the youngest aunt used to liken her to the fabled
pelican that fed its young with its own blood. She had no life that was
not lived for others, and first of all for us.

No doubt she was over-soft of heart where her darlings were concerned.
For instance when we went shopping to L---- we always lunched at a
certain pastrycook's, in a little alcove off the shop, and on the ground
that it was a holiday outing I was given my choice from the bill of
fare. Mother did earnestly advise me to _begin_ with a savoury, as she
did, but there was no compulsion in the matter, and I think I made my
whole meal of sweet pastry every time. What delicious three-cornered
tarts those were!

And, a year ago, I was in L----, and I looked for that pastrycook's
shop--and found it!

But the intellectual pleasures of the road rivalled the material joys of
the restaurant. She used to tell me stories of the places we passed,
grown-up stories, and not the faked stuff that children are so commonly
befooled with. I always knew at the time that I could trust every
word she said, and when I grew up I never had to learn that she had
deceived me. Even our frequent babies were not found under gooseberry
bushes or brought in the doctor's pocket; that "God sent them," and
that I should "know more about it some day" was her account of the
phenomenon--puzzling, of course, but less so than the monstrous and
conflicting statements of monthly nurse and servants. When the eighth
(there being two more still to follow) was on the way, I was privately
informed beforehand. "Our secret," mother called it; and while she made
its earthly garments under my eye, we spent blissful hours building
air-castles for its habitation, in the strictest confidence.

On our way to her father's house we passed a dark, still pool, sunk
within precipitous walls of earth that looked as if they might have been
those of an excavated quarry--a most fascinating spot. The Bride's Pool,
it was called. Once upon a time, she told me, a bride and bridegroom
were driving from church after their wedding and a great storm came on.
The horses took fright at the thunder and lightning, and backed the
carriage off the road and over the bank into the water-hole, and the
bridal pair were drowned. The details of the tragedy lived in my mind
for ever--how they loved each other, how their new home was waiting for
them and they never entered it, how they were fished up together,
clasped tight in each other's arms. Then there was the Heath (M. drove
me to the edge of it, behind her own old fat pony), the furzy, lonely,
wind-swept waste where the rabbits lived, a shuddery place that we liked
to be well past before dark. For there was a time when a gibbet stood
there, and skeleton men hung on it in an iron frame that creaked and
clanked in the windy nights. She did not mind harrowing my infant soul
with fore-knowledge of the world's agonies, and I do not know that she
was wrong. It must have been an extreme devotion to my good that caused
her to leave me behind with my grandparents and return the long way
alone, as she often did.

If I was spoiled at home I was doubly spoiled with them. Even the stern
grandfather gave me his gold seals and his historic snuff-box to play
with. There was a wondrous scent, compounded of pot-pourri (in the room
with the cabinets of china), lavender (in the linen press and drawers),
heliotrope (beneath the windows), and something sweeter but
indescribable (in grandmother's store-room), which differentiated that
house from every other that I have known. I longed to see it again when
I was actually on the road to it, but we were not out with Mr B. and his
strong horse this time, and M.'s pony was too old and too petted to
toddle any farther than the edge of the Heath.

To this day the smell of "cherry-pie," one element only, reminds me of
the place and nothing else. It was a sweet place indeed when the
youngest aunt was away from it--the eldest aunt mothered motherless
cousins elsewhere--and I am happy now to have been there, if I was not
quite happy at the time. I ought to have been happy, with such petting
and such surroundings, but I do remember that I was homesick. The
beautiful lawn, sloping from the house to the road, ended on the top of
a stone wall, and I was told not to stray so far, lest I should tumble
over; but secretly I strayed there often, to look along the road for a
gig and a white horse. That was the great day--when mother arrived to
fetch me home.

Dear old home, that to all appearances had not changed a bit! Dear old
barn, with its warm, mealy, delicious odours, and its statuesque owl on
the dark rafter overhead--outwardly the same as ever. Why, here again we
had no end of invigorating sport and active exercise. Hard work was done
there and few amusements were more amusing than to watch it a-doing,
sitting well out of the way on an upturned "skep" or a pile of empty
sacks. I have seen men using the flail on wheat and barley like bush
fire-fighters beating out flames; and I have seen a sort of windlass
thing with horses turning spokes and a man and whip in the middle,
operating outside the barn a simple mechanism within, the first
improvement upon the flail; but I also remember, even at T----, the hum
of the tall-chimneyed travelling engine that performed all its duty in
the fields, herald of the modern method, so wonderful and admirable, yet
apparently so devoid of attraction for a child. There was rat-catching
in that barn--the most fascinating of amusements. Little girls managed
to slip in with little boys when friendly servants summoned them to the
fray. A professional rat-catcher attended. Oh, the thrilling moment when
he unslung the box from his back and allowed us to look at his ferrets,
writhing together in the straw like eels. And when his assistants, with
their sticks and dogs, were marshalled at their posts, and the sinuous,
sleek bodies were sent down the holes, the breathless waiting for
smothered squeaks below, for the dramatic bolt of rats into the
open--poor things whose point of view was no more considered than was
that of table fowls and calves (the former used to be killed horribly by
having knives thrust down their throats, being then left to hang head
downwards and bleed until life was drained out of them; and the latter
were bled to death also, although not with such monstrous cruelty, the
object in both cases being to have flesh white for table; and we, so
tender-hearted for our pets, could watch the callous executioner and the
long agony he inflicted)--I do not know a more enjoyable sport for those
who have not developed the idea that dumb things feel as we do. At other
times the owls in the barn roof hunted the rats and mice. I have seen
their eyes in the dark, and the ghostly passing of their uncanny wings
that make no sound. When the barn was empty what a place for games and
romps!

Then we had the great Fair of the county, an event to which we looked
forward, as we also looked back, for the whole year. The "Mart," with
its entrancing canvas galleries full of tops, work-boxes, every
beautiful thing that heart of childhood could desire, its peepshows and
merry-go-rounds, its Richardson's marionettes, its Wombwell's
menagerie--the thought of it must bring a glow to the heart of any
Norfolk native who knew it when I did. All right-minded parents took
their offspring to the Mart, if it was physically possible to take them,
and I am clear in my mind (though I was afraid to inquire when I was
there) that nothing to compare with it exists in England to-day. The
fair itself may exist, for what I know (its charter was granted by Henry
the Eighth), but if it does it will be but the gibbering shade of its
former self, lagging superfluous; for its human complement has for ever
passed away. I have heard my parents say that their parents went to it
to buy those silk dresses and those china tea-services which were family
treasures and heirlooms from generation to generation. We went to it for
dolls and Noah's Arks and tin trumpets and wooden tea-things, driving
home with armfuls of delight through many miles of snow or biting wind,
cuddled down in our wraps within the hood of the "sociable." The Mart
was "proclaimed" on the Tuesday following St Valentine's Day, and
continued for, I think, three weeks afterwards.

Well, then came May Day and the garlands; Easter celebrated by the
wearing for the first time of our new spring Sunday clothes--white
bonnets to be quite correct; the "haysel" which meant warm days for
romps in the fragrant cocks; the seaside--greatest bliss of all.

Summer, with its long light, its apparently few resources for killing
time, did not weary us, that I remember. In the summer holidays, when we
lived at D----, my brothers used to sit on a river bank and watch the
floats of their fishing lines from dawn to dusk, often without getting a
bite, and did not consider the day wasted. Little females had their
dolls to take a-walking, their hoops and skipping-ropes, and battledore
and shuttlecock, their dumb pets to rear, their little garden plots to
weed and till. Their elders were satisfied to sit under trees when work
was done, with needle or pipe or book--for we did have books. A little
amusement seemed to go such a long, long way.

Then autumn--harvesting, blackberrying....

I do not know how I acquired the idea that I should find the old
blackberry hedges, the sweet masses of hawthorn and dog-rose and
bindweed and nightshade and all those old hedgy things, swept away by
the hand of the progressive agriculturist, but such had been my belief
long before my return home. In the second chapter of my book of
Australian reminiscences I now read with a blush my ignorant lament over
"beauty vanishing from the world" in the shape of sailing ships, the
Pink Terraces of New Zealand, and _the big bird-thronged hedges of rural
England_. I suppose I reckoned on the methods of high farming being much
the same in all countries, without allowing for the good taste and
reverent conservatism of English landlords. The hedges were all there
still, more beautiful to me than ever, and I went blackberrying with a
basket, just as I had done as a child.

Harvesting--I saw it again on the old lands. I was in the midst of it,
reminded at every turn of the old times. But there were no children
playing amongst the shocks and stacks, no reapers with sickles, or
gleaners filling their turned-up skirts with the scatterings left
behind; the mechanical reaper gathered every straw. And there was no
Harvest Home. The village churches all had their Harvest Festivals,
exactly like ours in Australia; but the procession of the Last Waggon
through the golden fields, the Harvest Supper--they are gone with the
piquant Valentine and the jovial Waits, to return no more.

I looked at the barn, where we used to celebrate the arrival of the Last
Load. I looked at the coach-house--neither of them altered in the least,
that I could see--where the memorable banquets had taken place. I used
to go to them, under my father's wing; at any rate, I must have gone to
one, for nothing is clearer to the eye of memory than the picture of the
rustic faces around the festive table. Husbands in clean smock-frocks
and wives in their Sunday best, no sociological knowledge in their
heads, no divine discontent in their souls, to impair their enjoyment of
"the master's" hospitality. Unlimited home-brewed was dispensed to them
with the roast beef and plum pudding, but I remember no rowdiness in
consequence; only clouds of smoke, a succession of highly proper songs,
and vociferous applause of the performers. It was etiquette for all to
"favour the company" who could, and each singer seemed to have his own
one song, listened to by his fellows with unwearied interest and
appreciation year after year. As regularly as harvest and harvest supper
came round, we had "the highten days o' June" from the oldest throat
that could pipe a quavering note:

     "In the highten days o' June
        Napoleon did advance----"

That is all I remember of his song, the first line of which originally
ran: "On the eighteenth day of June." My father had his "Simon the
Cellarer," or what not, to contribute to the programme, and smoked his
pipe and drank his beer with his men, and appeared to enjoy himself as
much as they did.

Now, in the interest of good-fellowship and good cheer, we have the
Harvest Festival, from which the agricultural labourer is conspicuously
absent, as a rule.

However, the inevitable is the inevitable. The past is past. As all the
conditions of that old time hung together, together they had to go. And
there is still a Future for the unborn to experiment in.

Harvest Home having been celebrated, the "master" was free to make
holiday with horse and gun, and my father was ever eager--too eager--to
do so. Weather that was right for hunting was a matter of more joyful
satisfaction to him than weather that was right for crops. All thought
of crops was thrown to the autumn winds as soon as "the season" opened.

Those old roads of Norfolk were to me haunted with hounds and red coats,
echoing with the music of the pack and the horn. I asked Mr B., as he
was driving me from D---- to my cousin's house, how hunting stood in the
old hunting county now. He shook his head mournfully. According to him,
although he was still a young man, the heydey again was gone, never to
return.

He had it in his blood, like me, from the dead and gone, and so we were
more or less prejudiced. But it would seem clear to the understanding of
the most unbiassed person that the sport must have been more interesting
in the old times, if only for the reason that hunting men did not wedge
in hunting with a dozen other diversions, often in half-a-dozen
different places; they gave their hearts and the season to it, falling
back upon a little placid subsidiary shooting (over dogs) on off days.
There were fewer railways and miscellaneous lions in the path of the
straight run; there were more foxes, "stout" in proportion to the
healthy peacefulness of their bringing up. Townsfolk did not "run down"
in crowds to a country meet--they could not; the uninitiated outsider
who did intrude where he was not wanted accepted the stern discipline of
the field as part of the natural order. Farmers were similarly
old-fashioned, and in easier circumstances; they were insiders moreover,
although few of them aspired to the red coat--as fine riders and
steady-going sportsmen as their landlords. They bred hunters and took
puppies to walk, and farmed land so that it was not too fine to be
galloped over. And barbed wire had not been invented.

Let me hasten to say, however, that I, personally, do not regret the
inevitable change. In spite of my feelings on those haunted Norfolk
roads, and my talk with Mr B., my heart does not sympathise with
mourners over the decadence of the old sport. The beginnings of the
heresy that the morals of "sport" in this form are open to doubt--that
animals, after all, have some poor rights--seem to be welcome signs of
progress on the true line of civilisation. Heresies of to-day have a
fashion of changing into orthodox beliefs to-morrow, and this heresy is
bound to follow the rule. Hunting that is not for food or in
self-defence is like war--a relic of the savage state, surviving only
because its nobler attendant features, its refined conventions,
traditions and associations disguise the savagery.

I have seen an exhausted fox making a last spurt for his life, brush
down, tongue out, coat wet, eyes wild with despair; and I am glad to
think that, after all these years, it is possible for the human heart to
feel a stir of pity for him. It felt none then. My gentle mother, who
had followed the hounds herself in days of better health and fewer
babies, loved to pack her little brood into a phaeton and drive them to
some likely spot for seeing something of that brutally unfair contest
between an army of giants and one little scrap of heroic life. I vividly
remember an occasion when the horse in the shafts happened to be an old
hunter of her own, supposed to have outlived his enthusiasm. At the
first sound of the distant chase he propped as if shot, with pricked
ears and snorting nostrils, and then bounded at a closed gate, with the
intent to go over it, phaeton and children and all. It took a good
horsewoman to deal with that situation, and she managed to prevent
trouble by hastily detaching him from the carriage and hanging on to him
until the hunt had passed.

After that Taffy took us on these expeditions. How perfectly I recall a
still, soft day, a quiet road intersecting deep woods--a road dark in
summer with the leafage of overarching trees--the phaeton with the white
pony drawn up under the hedge, the mellow hunting cry of the pack
sounding nearer and nearer, the speckle of red coats appearing and
disappearing through the skeleton copse, the excitement, the rapture,
the triumph--and a poor little drabbled fox struggling to evade his
fate. He broke from the further hedge, crossed the road, and entered the
hedge beside us almost under Taffy's nose--one of the most sensational
incidents of a hunting season that I can remember falling to the lot of
us non-combatants. Dead beat he was, his heart bursting, his limbs
scarce able to carry him; yet even tender-hearted women and children had
no feeling for him in his lonely fight against the forces of the
universe, no chivalrous impulse to befriend him in his extremity. A pair
of horsemen crashed through the opposite hedge into the road--Lord S.
had lost his cap, and his hair was wild about his head--and they reined
up to speak to us. To their excited "Where? Where?" we shouted "There!
There!" and pointed them after the fugitive. And if he fell into the
jaws of the hounds at last I am sure we congratulated ourselves on
having helped to put him there.

I passed the very spot that afternoon, and it was just the same; only
now it rained, and the trees were in full leaf, and there was no fox,
nor hound, nor horse.

The dignified figure in the Hunt is, of course, the last-named animal.
He never sees the quarry, probably, or knows there is one, or cares. It
is not the lust of chasing and killing that inspires him to his gallant
deeds--neither in fox-hunting nor in war. Watch a soldier's horse in the
evolutions of a review. A colonel of my acquaintance has told me that
the moment the band of the regiment begins to play he feels his
charger's heart bound against his boot; so it is the music of the pack,
telling of glorious effort and exercise, which fires the blood of the
hunting horse that only hunts by proxy. The "scent of battle" is the
scent of the old primitive life in free air and space, the "Call of the
Wild" to the still half-tamed.

Horses were a passion in my family on both sides of the house. As a girl
I have had my maternal grandfather named to me by strangers as "the
doctor who drove the beautiful horses." His were not the requirements of
the hunting man; he demanded the perfect form and action, the satin
coat, the faultless turn-out. He was a very tall, high-nosed,
stern-looking man, strikingly resembling the Iron Duke, and I used to
see him come out to inspect the work of his groom before starting to
ride or drive. He would not say a word, but would take his handkerchief
to wipe some infinitesimal speck, visible to his eagle eye alone, and
show the resultant stain to the guilty man; it covered him with
confusion and dismay.

This martinet handled the reins himself, except at night, when other and
less valuable animals were used--"Nightmare" was the name of one of
them--until the state of his health obliged him to go abroad in a closed
carriage. He hated this, and the necessity for giving his horses over to
a hired coachman; and he was always putting his head out of window into
the cold winds and fogs, that were so bad for him, forcibly to reprimand
that much-to-be-pitied man. One raw winter day the grandfather's short
patience gave out; he mounted the box himself and drove the empty
brougham home, regardless of consequences, which proved fatal to him. He
caught pneumonia or something of that sort, and died in a few days.

As I may not be speaking of him again, I should like to say that,
haughty old man as he was, taking the high hand with patients of all
grades, he was most attentive to the poor, and never took a fee from
them. The tradition is that he never sent an account for attendance to
anyone--would not condescend to it (having traditions of his own behind
him, along with a pedigree stretching back to the mists of prehistoric
time)--but that's as may be; he certainly left a very comfortable
fortune, which, like that of the other grandfather, never reached the
legatees. A son with whom he had been over-strict had run away from home
many years before, and never afterwards been heard of. It was deemed
impossible to fulfil the direction of the will to divide the property
between the testator's children until the missing one was produced, or
irrefragable proof of his death. Through all the period between my
childhood and womanhood the newspapers of the world were calling through
their agony columns for one or the other, and in vain. It was reported
at intervals that his grave had been found, in New Zealand or
Kamstchatka, or some equally remote corner of the earth; or that someone
had met somebody who knew him or where he was; at which times the
lawyers were put upon the trail to hunt the matter down. Each of the
producible children had her separate batch of lawyers, and Chancery took
charge of the steadily dwindling estate. Many years elapsed before the
missing one was officially assumed to be dead, and the dregs of their
patrimony allotted to his sisters; and then the portion that would have
been ours was gone. How well I understand now little incidents that were
devoid of meaning to me when they occurred: mother, in tears, confiding
to a bosom friend: "'Do you sign this of your own free will?' he asked
me before us both, and what could I say?" Poor mother; who struggled
for us so hard! And the Married Woman's Property Act is of very little
use to wives like her, who still cling to the old ideals of family life.

So we were always tantalised with "expectations" that never materialised
in cash. We children, as we developed the faculty for romancing,
beguiled ourselves with a special one of our own. Some day, in some
dramatic manner, the vanished uncle--lost long, long before we were
born--was to reappear, with his pockets full of gold, to play godfather
to his impoverished relatives. We were always looking out for him. A
strange step on the gravel, an unexpected knock at the door would
instantly suggest to us that the psychological moment had arrived. But
no one could ever have been lost more thoroughly than that poor boy, who
ran away at night because his father had been too hard on him. From that
day to this;--covering something like three-quarters of a century--he
has made no sign.

If my grandfather's love of horses caused his death, the working of the
same passion in my father's weaker nature was rather more unfortunate.
He sacrificed to it and its kindred fascinations the important interests
of his life, including those he held in trust for his wife and children.
I do not say it to blame him, who was so kind-hearted and well-meaning;
he was as he was made--happy-go-lucky, careless, thoughtless, sanguine,
a boy to the last--and it was bad for such an one to have the illusion
of "money coming to him" to encourage and excuse folly. In the fifties
he was not a poor man, but he was too poor for the company he kept, too
poor to afford to neglect business and indulge in the expensive pastimes
of those who had none. But if he could be at M---- with the beloved
"Harry" V., who was so generous with mounts, he would not be at home
with uninteresting ploughmen. Norfolk folk who are my contemporaries
will not need to have that "Harry" more fully named to them, especially
when I add that I heard him spoken of as "The Old Squire" all over the
western part of the country, although he had been dead so long. M----
House, his once hospitable home, was quite close to my cousin's Abbey,
and, although my father had been there so much, it was the first time I
had seen it. I walked around the walls and grounds that were so familiar
to him, but did not attempt to enter, the family being in residence.
Since my return to Australia I have learned from a mutual friend that
they remember his name and the old companionship; so I might have been,
and regret that I was not, less modest. The old squire and the golden
age of fox-hunting in Norfolk, it seems, passed together, and the one is
said to be as likely to return as the other.

But a rather probable reason for this seems to lie in the fact that
Norfolk has become such an extensive game preserve. Passing the old
estates, whose old owners wore the pink as a winter livery, I noted the
little colonies of coops by the gamekeepers' cottages. At Sandringham I
saw pheasants sauntering about the royal domain like domestic poultry,
and caught the gleam of their bronzy plumage again and again in the
twilight of the thick woods. Evidently they are brought up in the lap of
luxury as well as in swarms, and are too precious to be scared and
scattered by trampling hosts of horses and hounds.

Times have changed for the one sport as for the other. And, thinking of
the difference, I am drawn to the conclusion (though it is not for me to
have opinions, I know) that the shooting season cannot be to the common
run of sportsmen what it used to be to their fathers. They may shoot
better, and at more birds--they do, and so they ought--and for rich men,
as one can understand, the old system is not comparable to the new; but
the sport was more genuinely sport--was it not, my fellow-fogies of
sporting blood?--and it must have had more charm for the many, if not
for the few, than is the case now. When the stubble was left for
partridges, and not ploughed up as soon as cut, and the fields and
plantations lay quiet, through all that golden month which I believe is
virtually useless to the scientific gunner to-day--when the autumn was
still young and lovely and the red leaves on the trees--that must have
been a pleasanter surrounding for the sportsman who was a lover of
nature than murky skies and naked woods. To have the companionship of
dogs, such as dogs used to be, cleverer than the masters with whom they
were in such perfect sympathy and partnership--as a dog lover I cannot
understand how men can have bettered sport by leaving them out of it. To
wander at will over field and along hedgerow, with the muzzle-loader of
the period over shoulder, the sufficient game-bag on hip, powder and
shot in pocket, and the trusty scout ahead, undisturbed by steam-ploughs
or the fear of fluttering preserves, no restriction whatever upon one's
liberty and inclinations; this must have been as good a form of
recreation as the drilled sharpshooting of to-day, although it may not
have been as good business.

At any rate, my father loved it--at such times as he could not be
following the hounds.

And so the winter came on, and the whist parties of an evening; and
presently the exciting preparations for Christmas. Then Christmas
itself--the holly, the mistletoe, the resplendent tree, the feasts and
dances and miscellaneous merrymakings. The old year passed with these
cheerful obsequies; the birth of the new year was celebrated in loving
family conclave and with chimes from the village belfry (we could not
have midnight services in a church with no lighting apparatus); another
year of the same uneventfulness, which yet was to be as full of interest
as ever.



CHAPTER XI

AT THE SEASIDE


I have been looking over a batch of new magazines, and the heading of a
paper in one of them gives a sentence borrowed from a letter of Thomas
Bailey Aldrich to William Dean Howells, which I will borrow again for an
opening to this chapter: "I've a theory that every author while living
has a projection of himself, a sort of eidolon, that goes about in near
and distant places and makes friends and enemies for him out of folk who
never knew him in the flesh. When the author dies this phantom fades
away ... then the dead writer lives only in the impression made by his
literature." Having written this down and looked at it, I feel that it
is not so profound a saying as I thought. The first proposition is as
obvious as can be; your eidolon is in the pages of your book, and the
more directly you speak to your affinity the more quickly he responds
(and he cannot respond effectively unless you are there to know it); the
second seems to pass over the fact that when these spirit friendships
materialise they become as other friendships, independent of literature
or any outside thing. What I set out to show, by my quotation, was that
the friends my eidolon had made for me in England outnumbered the
friends of corporeal origin, and that some of them gave me my happiest
English days. I flew to their arms as naturally and fearlessly as if I
had lived with them in the flesh for as many years as we had otherwise
known each other, and when I am dead I shall not be a dead author to
them, but a dead woman. Alas! the phantom fades away in any event.

This I have found to be the prime joy of authorship--the knowledge that,
when you are projecting yourself into your book, although nobody around
you may know or care what you are talking about, you are still bound to
reach some who will perfectly understand. You are speaking to your
unknown kindred in the near and distant places; if you do not know it at
the time--but you do know it--the proof comes later in the letters of
some of them, who tell you they have been impelled to write. Precious
recognition! And letters are so eloquent between the lines that you
rarely make mistakes about them. They tell you that the wireless message
has got "home" to where it belongs--or otherwise.

At the beginning of this century I published a volume of personal
reminiscences, entitled "Thirty Years in Australia." Coincident with the
conversion of the colony of Victoria into a state of the new
Commonwealth, the thirtieth year of my sojourn within her borders was
completed in 1900, and it seemed a good time to say something of what in
our young country we call the "old days," the "good old times," the old
pioneer colonial life of which the records are so few at home and the
ignorance abroad so vast. Although, when I come to think of it, I
believe it was merely as a rest from novel-writing that I started upon
the work. I gossiped through the casual chapters--drivelled, some may
say, much as I am doing now--with no idea that the completed book would
be other than a trifling by-product (my London agent agreeing with this
view), of little interest to readers outside Australia. But behold! Of
the score or more of "works" to which I must plead guilty, this one has
brought me more happiness than all the others put together, on each of
which the profit in love has been more considerable than the profit in
money. Old friends of the seventies, long passed from sight and
knowledge although not from mind, recognised themselves in the guarded
initials of their names, and they or their widowed partners or their
children wrote to tell me where they were, to recall past
companionships, to urgently beg and hospitably plan for a renewal of
them. And thus came delightful reunions, mendings of gaps, comparing of
experiences, comradeships for old age such as can never be for those who
have not spent some of their youth together.

But far beyond the number of these were the friends not made by accident
but by the design of Nature, although the accident of the book
discovered them--friends altogether unknown until it found them for me
in the near and distant places--also to be lost no more.

Away in Ireland lived a retired colonel of Hussars, who one day took it
from the shelves of his local library. He did not fancy the
title--Australia was not a name to conjure with in the British Isles,
British though she was--but, after turning a few leaves, he thought it
might serve for an idle hour. He read it aloud to his wife after dinner,
and when he had finished it he wrote to me. It was the beginning of a
correspondence which, by the time I started for England, gave me the
hope of seeing them as one of the joys before me. And when I arrived
their welcoming letter was amongst the first batch to come on board, and
notified that he was himself in London, "at my service." As was the case
in every situation of this kind, sanguine anticipations were fulfilled,
and something left over. Never once was I disappointed in a spirit
friend made flesh. I met him first at luncheon in the house of the
beloved friend who had set herself to give me the time of my life, and
he helped her to do it. I shall not forget the Ascot week of 1908.
Certainly I have not much time to remember it in, but if I had a hundred
years it would be the same. After we had "done" London--the restaurant
dinners and the plays, the pictures, the flip-flap and the Sports' Club
at the Franco-British Exhibition, little gaieties of a world I had not
known but took to like a duck to water--he planned out my route to
Ireland. That would have been the crown of all, but time and money would
not stretch to it. Never mind. I still expect to go there some day.

Then away in Boston--Boston in Massachusetts--there lives another dear
friend, discovered just as he was. For years we have corresponded
intimately, and every line that I write for the press I can regard as a
letter to her. She would come to Australia to see me, if she could; the
possibility of such an enterprise on the part of a much-engaged wife and
mother has been considered; but her promise to meet me in England,
should I ever be there, was absolute. One does not allow for the
"visitation of God" in making one's engagements, and it was only that
which abrogated this one. I heard from her that she had been ready to
start, not for London but for my ship at the docks, to be the first to
receive me, bringing over a motor for my English use; and illness in her
family had stopped her. She begged me to wait for the following spring,
but I could not; and so we have not materialised each other yet. If we
never do so, we shall love each other to the end. But we are hoping
still.

And there were other friends of the eidolon in England and inaccessible,
whose letters of welcome awaited me at Gravesend. One of them lived, as
she still lives, at that watering-place on the Norfolk coast where I
spent happy summers with my family when a child. That is to say, she
lives in the new watering-place (not in existence then) which is an
offshoot of the one I knew, still an old village, which its modern
neighbour was from the first forbidden to touch. The lord of the manor
comprising both--he who kept drinking houses and dissenting chapels off
his land for so long--had a sense of the fitness of things so fine that
it was almost a fad. When he allowed the new watering-place on the cliff
where but one solitary house--an inn--had stood in my time, he laid the
plan of the town himself and permitted only a beautiful brown stone of
the locality to be used for the houses. Now vulgar bricks and
jerry-building are creeping in, because his son, the present squire,
cannot help it; but the good taste of the founder can stand up against
them for a long time to come. It was never the typical fashionable
watering-place, and, thanks to him, never can be until his work is swept
away.

It is a great place, however, to have grown up in the interval since I
walked to it from old H----, with my governess, to inquire at the "New
Inn" (old then, and a beautiful house now) whether by chance they had
such a things as "Revalenta Arabica," which a doctor or somebody had
recommended for our dying baby, and for which we had ransacked the
village in vain. I think that was my last sight of "The Green" that now
is, which the local guide-book describes as "a standing reminder of the
artistic mind that conceived and executed the formation of H----." To
the people of this part, _they_ are H---- now, and the ancient village a
mile away is Old H----; more often it is insultingly referred to as the
Old End; to me the village is H----, and this New H----. Of course this
H---- monopolises all the luxuries of civilisation; not only the old
"New Inn" (with a new name and enlarged and important), on one side of
the Green, but a huge G.E.R. Hotel, with the railway station under it,
on the other; a great Town Hall, a grand pier with pavilion at the end
of it, a fine stone-balustraded "Sea Walk" above the beach, public
gardens, public tennis-courts; a splendid church, with its independent
vicar and curate, and (which should surely make the late squire turn in
his grave) a Wesleyan Chapel and a "Union" Chapel, the latter evidently
some other irregular denomination, since I do not think New H---- has a
workhouse yet; besides gas and telephones and all such things.

And so here lived my friend, where she could be quite comfortable. But
in the days when she was not a widow, but wife of a rector of the
neighbourhood--and before that, as a member of an old Norfolk family
(she married into another)--she knew all about the H---- of my day; and
when she chanced to read "Thirty Years in Australia," and penetrated my
dark allusions to the locality and my unprinted thoughts about it, the
kindly notion came into her head to tell me that my old H---- of
cherished memory was still there, unchanged. With the divination of a
spirit friend she knew just what it would mean to me to know that. Not
only did she write to tell me, she sent me a bundle of photographs to
prove her words. When I received them, I had no ghost of an idea that I
should ever see H---- again with my bodily eyes, and they gushed tears
over the little postcard scenes, so full of sad and sweet reminders of
vanished hands and days that were no more. I kept them on a table by my
Australian bedside, and used to strike matches in the middle of the
night and light a candle to look at them once more, and again once more.
Little did I foresee the day when I should buy them at their place of
origin (fourpence a dozen) for myself!

Of course I wrote to thank her, although I could not find words to thank
her adequately; it was the beginning of a correspondence signifying a
lasting friendship.

And, amongst the many unexpected things that have happened to me of late
was my visit to H---- and to her, just a year ago from this date of
writing about it.

For once letters had not revealed the writer; she was not at all the
type of woman they had suggested to my mind; nevertheless we suited each
other, to use an expressive vulgarism, "down to the ground." In spite of
a constitutional objection to strangers and dislike of "company" as
such, common to us both, and in spite of marked differences of view upon
important points between us, a very short time sufficed to bring us to
that state of mutual trust and understanding in which we could say
anything we liked to one another. And that is a state that many lifelong
friends, the vast majority of them indeed, not to speak of near and dear
relations, do not attain to.

But I must not talk here of our private affairs. Nor can I dwell as I
would like to dwell upon the domestic aspect of the fortnight we spent
together. I can say this much, however, she has the instinct for
home-making that is so surprisingly lacking (according to my experience)
in nine housewives out of ten. The stupidity of my sex in this important
business is one of the perennial annoyances of my life. It is not a
question--or in but a very small degree a question--of money. Mrs B.
would know how to make a bark hut comfortable, or a fork of the
ancestral tree. So would I. I could not have loved her as I do if her
house had been disordered and her habits out of drawing; I am sure she
must have cared less for me if I had not appreciated the refined
simplicity combined with luxurious comfort of her ménage. I do like
comfort, and see no reason to apologise for it as for a gross taste and
a low. When I go into splendid rooms that are not used, or that have no
fire in them on a chilly day, I feel as cross as when I see someone
sitting by the open door of a railway carriage when the train moves,
without putting out a hand to shut it. When I passed through Mrs B.'s
kitchen (at such times as it was convenient to us to return home by way
of the back gate), and looked upon M.'s shining range and twinkling
dish-covers, the clear, dustless fire, the bright rug on the spotless
floor, the cheerful red tablecloth, and her little tea, as dainty as
ours, set out--that to me was a beautiful room, surpassing the saloons
of palaces.

Our days were ordered perfectly, for real, downright comfort, when that
was all that needed to be considered, as was then the case with Mrs B.
and me. She knew intuitively that I would like my tea at half-past six
better than at seven or later--as she did herself--and brought it to me
then in her own hands, which had prepared the delicious tray. This was
to strike the keynote of the harmonious hours. Having refreshed myself I
had an hour or two of reverie in my soft bed, my brain cleared to
brightness by the tea, the freshness of the summer morning about me. It
was the only house except my own in which I had ever found it possible
to do a bit of professional work, and it was in that peaceful interval
between tea and bath that ideas for it were born and shaped themselves.
At eleven the pony-carriage came round. She is a fine whip, but never
used the implement on her own pony, a half Arab, wholly aristocratic
animal, not quite in his first youth; he and she were on the footing of
mother and son, with a complete understanding between them. Just to keep
him in his place she would pretend to draw the whip from its socket
occasionally, and although he had no eyes in the back of his head it was
enough to recall him to zealous duty. He nuzzled in her coat pockets for
sugar, and he knew her voice when he could not see her, whinnying wildly
from his stall at the livery stables, where she sometimes visited him.
Almost daily he arrived to take us out, always in a fresh direction,
always over country that I had known and loved and never hoped to see
again, until I began to forget I had ever left it.

At one o'clock we returned--I ravenously hungry--to the ever-perfect
meal. Thereafter more or less subdued and somnolent we repaired to the
drawing-room and two seductive resting-places therein; one was a
remarkably comfortable long sofa, the other a remarkably comfortable
deep easy-chair, and each of us took one, and it did not matter which.
The day's newspapers lay at hand, and our respective work-bags, but we
frankly allowed ourselves to drop asleep, which was perhaps the most
profitable occupation for a pair of grandmothers at that period of the
day, although one I was not accustomed to indulge in. At half-past four
came M., with the tea-table, her transparent bread-and-butter, her
memorable cakes and hot cakes, her jug of freshest cream, the boiling
kettle and the caddy. And after such a tea as that, it was well that the
next item of the programme was a walk, to prepare us for the equally
appealing little dinner to be engaged in at eight.

It was in these walks that I drew nearest to the ghosts of the old days
that thronged the place. Some obscure spinal delicacy prevented my
hostess from going far on her own feet, although she was so majestically
erect and so strong and young to look at; so she would carry book or
knitting to a seat upon the Green (a grassy plateau at the top of the
cliff, sloping seaward), or to one of the glass-walled shelters, useful
Queen's Jubilee Memorials, planted at intervals alongside the cliff
path, between the Green and the Lighthouse, and there rest and amuse
herself while I wandered as I liked. We were so entirely at ease with
each other that no apologies for such casual separations were required.

Naturally I walked away towards the Old End every time. And as soon as
the last Jubilee Shelter was behind me I was in the world of my youth,
where almost nothing was changed. How many hundreds of times had my feet
scampered along that dear cliff path--to come back, after such far
wanderings, to find it just the same! Only a track in the sea grass, a
little more hollowed out perhaps, a little nearer to the cliff face,
which the waves below had nibbled away until there was barely room to
get past the lighthouse wall. The same wild scabiouses that we found
there in bygone Augusts were blooming, richly purple as the clematis on
Mrs B.'s house front, along the cliff edge. Half-a-century was gone like
a passing puff of wind as I stooped to gather them. A dozen times I had
to stop and wheel to look across the sea so different from every other
sea; and in the evening fight, especially in clear shining after rain,
the old "Stump" stood up like a pencil-mark on the far-distant horizon,
and I saw again the ravelled threads that meant Skegness on the one hand
and "The Deeps" on the other, familiar as the nose on my own face. This
cliff path used to be the beat of our old friends, the coastguardsmen,
who paced it solemnly day and night, with their telescopes under their
arms. I saw no coastguard now, or I must have accosted him, and asked
him to let me peep through his glass, for old sake's sake. He used to go
on one knee and steady the instrument on his shoulder, and we used to
stand behind him to gaze and exclaim.

Down below lay the great green-haired boulders, the tumbled rocks of the
hard conglomerate that outlasted the superimposed strata of the
rainbow-cake-like cliff, where doubtless the contraband cask or case
found--or but for him would have found--temporary storage in the good
old times; but I did not go down, because now the trippers pervaded the
beach (leaving to the residents their more aristocratic terraces and
Green), and the squalid litter of their picnics defiled the place.
Half-a-century ago it was our happy hunting ground, and almost all our
own. Here we plied bucket and spade from morn to eve; gathered
marvellous treasures from the clear wells and pools between the rocks,
ammonites out of the grey marl, "thunderbolts" out of the red chalk;
chased crabs and shrimps and little fishes, built forts and castles,
sailed boats and nursed dolls, and so on and so on; busy and happy the
livelong day. At this point we were caught by the tide one day, and had
to sit on a rock ledge till it uncovered the way home. In that
archipelago of boulder-islands my foot once slipped into a crevice and
was crushed, and the landlady of our lodgings rubbed salt into the
bleeding wounds because, she said, that was the way to prevent
mortification. Every flat stone, all up and down the beach, was eloquent
of mid-morning and mid-afternoon meals, when mother or nurse came down
to us with loaded basket to stay our little stomachs between breakfast
and dinner and dinner and high tea. Oh, how magnificently hungry we were
in those days! And what digestions we had!

The first old landmark that I came to after leaving New H---- behind me
was the ruin of St Edmund's Chapel. A little fragment of a building that
looks, almost as primitive as the cliff supporting it, I should think it
could be carted away in a day by a couple of labourers who set their
minds to the job; yet there it stood, not a stone displaced, that I
could see, since I had played about it as a child. King Edmund the
Martyr, say the old chroniclers, built the hermitage of which this is
all remaining to commemorate the spot where he landed and to make
himself a private study in which to learn the whole Book of Psalms by
heart. Think of the hundreds of years of its history, back of the fifty
of mine! I used not to think of it, but I thought of it a great deal
when I stood on the hallowed ground again.

Then came the lighthouse--still the old lighthouse to the best of my
recollection, but with a Marconi installation and a few cottages and
their families added to it. And once it seemed to stand away in a field,
and now it is so near to the cliff edge that there is scarcely room to
get past the wall. The wall may be breached at any moment, and it will
not be long after that before they will have to rebuild the tower.

I leaned over that low wall and looked into the enclosure. The men were
having a game of cricket--such a natural thing to see where one sees a
group of official Englishmen doing as they like in their off time (they
were playing cricket at Aden and at Suez, regardless of the sweltering
heat). When these lighthouse men, coming and going in their game,
glanced towards me, watching them, it struck me as such a strange thing
that they did not know who I was. I felt almost as if I had more right
to be there than they. But when I totted up the years of my absence and
the years of the oldest man amongst them, I knew I could be nothing to
him but a stranger and an outsider, even as any other summer visitor out
for a walk along the cliff. Yet how I longed to beckon him to the wall
and ask him if he remembered the old times!

Beyond the lighthouse the cliff fell away gradually to a gradually
diminishing sand-bank--as, of course, it had always done; and,
descending the sloping path, I saw below me my old village, my own old
beach, untouched by the hand of "improvement" which had been so busy
near by. No, not quite untouched; the old village inn and coaching-house
(when we first frequented the place there was no railway, and we coached
the fifteen miles from L----) was now "The Golf Links Hotel," enlarged
and modernised, and it had absorbed into its new grounds an old lane
between hedges, along which we used to go and come, and which I had
desired to perambulate again; but neither the hotel nor the links
obtruded into the picture, which was substantially the same as I had
known and remembered it. The bathing-machines had been moved from their
former prominent position, and they had been a great feature. Every
morning a couple of them rolled us into the water, where the
bathing-woman was sometimes cruelly employed to dip us under, and haul
us out again; and a picture of a little brother squatted naked on the
roof of one of them, whither he had leaped from the wheel to evade her,
and whence he refused to budge for any threats or blandishments, was
plain before me when I looked for the machines where they used to be.

But this was the real thing--this was the old place, sacred to the old
times. Once more I waded through heavy sand, that sifted into my boots,
as we did before New H----, with its greens and esplanades and Jubilee
Shelters, was dreamed of; I had to look about before I could find a
clump of sea-grass on which to rest after my walk, while I surveyed and
meditated upon the scene.

As was the case with other haunts of childhood and youth revisited, the
actual place was not half the size nor of half the importance that I had
supposed. To think that this little patch of beach and sandbank, with
one occasional sail-boat (old Sam's _Rose in June_), a few donkeys and
four or five bathing-machines for all its furnishing, should have been
such a dream of romance, such a memory of joy, for more than
half-a-century! But there was no doubt about it, and less than ever now.
All the year round, in those old years, from late summer to early
summer, I used to be counting days to "the seaside" again; and the
rapture of each first evening when, the coach having dropped us at our
lodgings, and our tea having been unpacked and eaten, we trooped to the
beach (buying our spades and buckets at the post office on the way), to
make sure that the sea was there before we went to bed--I could not
outlive it in a thousand years. If ever I was happy in this mortal life,
I was happy here, although I did break my heart over the corpse of a
baby brother and have salt rubbed into a cut foot--also a governess in
attendance and lesson-books, at times. But not _the_ governess,
fortunately; otherwise old H---- would not have called me back like
this.

The tide was in, peacefully lapping the smooth shore. When it went out
it went a long way, uncovering many acres of fine ribbed sand, strewn
over with sea jewels; and great dark patches, that were mussel beds, the
treasure ground of all. What multi-coloured sea-anemones we found there!
And how hard it was to remember that the returning tide, with its
unseen flank movements, would assuredly drown us if in our absorption we
lost count of time! And away there, also hidden under the silver sheet,
lay the mysterious buried forest--post-glacial trees with their black
trunks and limbs intact, in one of which a stone axe was found sticking,
just as the Stone Age man had left it. There were, I had been told, ebon
gateposts, dug from this submerged woodland, on farm lands of the
neighbourhood, and fragments came into our possession, fashioned into
brooches and bracelets, as presents from local friends. I used not to
consider the significance of these things. Now I read the buried forest
into the pedigree of my native country, the splendour of which is lost
upon those who stay at home.

When I was rested and had gazed my fill, I rose and turned to the right,
up the low bank, towards the village--to find our old camping-places, if
they existed still. I ought to have gone through a wicket at the top of
the bank, through the narrow, high-hedged lane, past the windows of the
old coaching inn, through which Honor W. used to lean and chat with the
casual wayfarer and her father's guests. Where is that pleasant-voiced,
happy-faced daughter of the old inn now? Does she sit somewhere, in cap
and spectacles, darning socks for her grandchildren, amongst those who
never realise that she was once young and handsome? I gave her memory
greeting, while I turned my head from her transformed home. Just here I
found myself rather alien and astray, but only for a few steps.

For there, across the road, were the coastguard quarters, as surely
their old selves as I was. And no feature of the place could have
appealed to me more eloquently, if only because in one of them the
antiseptic surgery I have spoken of was practised on my foot. That was
in a summer when all of the few regular lodging-places had been bespoken
ahead of us, and we could only get in by the desperate expedient of
subsidising the coastguard. Three of the little dwellings divided the
family amongst them, the largest available parlour being the rendezvous
for meals. I slept with two sisters in a four-post bed with
blue-and-white-checked curtains, and the dispossessed rightful occupiers
used to cross a corner of the room to get to their makeshift couch
elsewhere, after we had retired and were supposed to be asleep. We did
not like to miss the event of the stealthy passage of our coastguardsman
from door to door, creeping in his stockinged feet, shading his candle
with his hand, on such nights as he was off duty.

One of his brother officials was a clever worker in jet, amber and
cornelian, found on the coast; his jewel-trays, prepared for summer
visitors, held ornaments that were an ever-recurring joy to inspect and
finger, especially if we could buy something--a cross or heart or string
of beads for the neck, or a "faith-hope-and-charity" to add to one's
bunch of charms. Another and particularly dear coastguardsman employed
his genius and leisure for years upon a large model of a battleship of
the period. It was the glory of his spotless parlour, which it quite
monopolised. He said he was going to present it to the boy Prince of
Wales--afterwards Edward our King. Crowns and palaces would be as naught
to him, we were sure, when he found himself in possession of this wonder
of the world. And did he ever?

Wandering on, I came to the cobbled courtyard, closed with a wide door
at night, in the recesses of which we kept house through another summer.
The very cobbles were there still! And farther on, the terrace of larger
houses--_the_ houses, snapped up by the early birds--where we sojourned
for the summer of several years, and where the little brother died. Dear
little golden-head! Dolls were nowhere in the season when he reigned. It
was the end of the summer, through which his sunny beauty had been the
admiration of the beach and the adoration of his family, that he was
snatched from us. The terrace reminded me of one forgotten shadow upon
the shining picture of the Past--the black day when father and mother
drove away with the little coffin in a closed carriage, to lay him with
his baby forerunners in the churchyard at H----, leaving us behind with
our governess in a paradise despoiled. Miss W. it was, father's
favourite, she of the Rowland's Kalydor-and-ink affair. And, by the way,
I remember that, soon after our return home that year, I went to L----
with her, and accompanied her when she paid a call on the lady principal
of the school where she had been educated, who had recommended her to
us. This lady had an imposing presence--I can see her now--in dark blue
poplin or black moire antique, adorned with a collar of choice lace. She
and Miss W. were brightly chatting together, when I interposed with the
great and solemn news that I had been bursting to impart: "Our baby is
dead." I think I expected her to collapse under the shock, but the shock
was mine. She glanced at me casually, then turned to Miss W. with a
laugh. "Well," said she, "it's one less for you to be bothered with."
And Miss W. laughed back as she replied that, yes, it was. Oh, no doubt
she was a cat, the pretty and amiable Miss W. And the lady principal, a
wife and mother, was just the sort to have had the training of her.

I did not get as far as the old church on these occasions, when I
rambled alone between tea and dinner. The pony carriage took me there,
when we drove about for two hours between breakfast and luncheon, and
through the beautiful old park, that even now was so proudly exclusive
that the public might pass through the gates on but one day of the week.
But I had not forgotten the tombs of the old family--fourteenth and
fifteenth and sixteenth century monuments--and its great home, where it
had dwelt since William the Conqueror, when the Norman founder took a
Saxon lady to wife. Never, from that day to this, has the line of
descent been broken, or the lord of that line been dispossessed of these
lands. The charters that gave them are still in the muniment-room of the
Hall, and Mrs B. showed me an enclosed copse, a dark piece of wild
woodland, which she said was Saxon land that had never been touched
since a Saxon kingdom owned it. The key was a sacred heirloom of the
family, and one of the articles of the family creed was that no feet
should enter there except its own. The whole history of England had
passed it by--this one bit, probably the only bit in all England, of
virgin Saxon territory!

O England! England! How wonderful she is!



CHAPTER XII

EXCURSIONS TO SANDRINGHAM


I had a day of days before I left H----.

It was the 17th August, and the weather the very best that England could
do. Roses were still plentiful in the beautifully kept English
gardens--Dorothy Perkins painted herself on the landscape far and
near--and mauve and purple clematis foamed over tawny house walls in
delicious contrast of colour, with as little reserve as in our more
ardently wooing air. A favourite ribbon-work of the little dark blue
campanula was noticeable everywhere, bordering flower-beds and
window-boxes; it was as positive as the blue pencil-marks of the Customs
on my travelling baggage, and these oddly remind me of it. Withal a hint
of autumn, gentle and gracious, mellowed the summer scene--a _red_
rowan-tree in one fine country garden; that splendid burning-bush, the
Virginian sumach, in another; above all--the sweetest "note" to me--the
little wild, incomparable harebell, the English harebell, thick in the
grass of the roadsides. And the corn was ripe and ready, the hand-cut
lane cleared for the reaping-machine around nearly all the fields.

Well, on this perfect morning Mrs B. escorted me to the livery stables
where her pony was boarded out. A more notable fact in connection with
them was that the elderly proprietor was once the young son of an
elderly proprietor of stables in old H----, whence we derived the
donkeys and the donkey chaises of bygone times. She took me to see him
on the very day of my arrival, that we might indulge in mutual
reminiscences of the Golden Age. Now he had a great establishment, many
horses and fine carriages glittering in their modern elegance, and his
sons in their turn were the acting directors of the business--smart men
in well-cut riding breeches, to whom a donkey would be as amusing a
little animal as it is to me.

Amongst the many excellent vehicles of the firm, to which satin-skinned
teams were being harnessed, a large brake was out for an excursion to a
famous show place of the county. I was going with it, and going "on my
own," Mrs B.'s back not being strong enough for the expedition. Usually
I do not enjoy what we call pleasures all alone by myself, but for once
I was able to make a happy day without the aid of a companion.

The seat of honour beside the coachman was reserved for me. He sat high
in the air on his folded overcoat, and, becushioned and berugged, with a
stool for my feet, I snuggled under his elbow, comfort personified. A
fine man he was, with a fine old weather-toughened English face, and he
was a fine whip; I knew it as soon as I saw him gather his four-in-hand
together, and an Australian bushwoman of my experience is a fair judge.
He was not a garrulous person, but ready with his information when I
wanted it, and I could not have wished for a more congenial Jehu. He
confided to me his opinion of the motor that was "bouncing us off the
road," his mournful view of a future when the horse should be no more.
It occurred to me that the next generation will find C.'s livery stables
dealing only with motors and chauffeurs, and Mr H. had the air of a man
who would hope to be in his grave before he could see it. Certainly
there was much need of the horn that brayed a notice of our coming at
the approach of every turning. English roads and village streets are so
narrow that at times our great drag seemed to fill them from side to
side; only an experience of London traffic enabled me to believe it
possible that another vehicle could pass us; and the corners were so
masked by the hedges that one could not see around them. Mrs B. and I,
trundling about in her pony-carriage of a morning, had many sudden
encounters with goggle-eyed drivers who did not trouble to toot a
warning that they were near. Fortunately, her high-born pony treated the
mushroom automobile with contempt.

But, oh, those English roads! And the joy of that twelve-mile drive
behind that spanking team! We passed over the route by which our
stage-coach of old brought us to and from old H---- before the railroad
from L---- was made, and I could lean back in my comfortable seat and
dream of the dear Past to my heart's content. Mr H., while keeping me
conscious that I was in his good care, only spoke when he was spoken to;
on the other side of me were a lady and her daughter, who confined their
low-voiced conversation to themselves. There may have been, in the seats
behind, a dozen persons more, who did not in the least disturb me.

We threaded five lovely villages, with much horn-blowing and twisting
and turning, before we came to royal Sandringham, which I had already
seen, but not on this side of it; every house and church and garden and
green and pond and tree was a picture, to raise in my mind the unceasing
question: "Why did I never know that England was like this?" I had not
forgotten, I had simply never known it. No English person can ever know
it so long as he stays at home. The callousness of the native, who was
used to it, to the beauty of his dwelling-place, the value of his
privileges, was a continual surprise to me, although I knew the reason
for it. To be as the King at Sandringham, without the suggestion of an
unfinished or imperfect detail in the whole scheme of one's domestic
life, would be to have too oppressively much of a good thing, but I felt
as if I would give my ears to live in one of his tenants' cottages.

By the way, even royal Sandringham had its message from the Past for me.
I had known the place in childhood, and had my memories of the family
from whom it was acquired; but I had always understood that Edward VII.
had "rebuilt" the old mansion, which implied that he had first pulled it
down. Instead of that, I found it had been built on to, which is quite a
different thing. There it was, at the end of the immensely long facade,
and, to my thinking, the most beautiful although the least ornate part
of it. The photographers are not of the same opinion, for, having so
much to get into a picture, they cut off what they consider can be
spared at that end, never at the other; so it was a complete surprise to
me to find the old house standing, and I had great difficulty in getting
a photograph of the royal residence which took it in. But I did not
cease from the search until I found one.

Lest I should seem to be sailing under false colours as a royal guest or
otherwise privileged person, let me explain that I paid my visit to
Sandringham as a cheap tripper on the occasion of the Cottage Flower
Show of the estate. This was the day of the year--and in that favoured
summer it was a day of unsurpassable weather, the 22nd of July--when the
most generous of kings permitted any number of his humble subjects to
overrun his domain right up to the house walls. The blinds were
down--that was all, and the very least that could be done, in the way of
decent reserve--but there was nothing save one's own sense of propriety
to prevent one from flattening ones nose against the window-glass and
trying to see around the edges. Policemen were there, of course,
quantities of them, I daresay; but they drifted about as if they had no
interest in the proceedings except to render themselves as inconspicuous
as possible. Never once did I find one exercising his profession, and it
was evident that they had their orders not to do so, except in the last
extremity. Surely if anybody knew how to do the graceful thing
gracefully, it was that consummate gentleman, Edward VII. And the
miscellaneous crowd to whose honour he trusted justified his courtesy
and confidence in them; they strolled about, free and easy, as if the
place belonged to them, but not the smallest unauthorised liberty was
taken with it, that I could see.

It was very striking, the sort of tribal, patriarchal sentiment, the
almost family feeling, prevailing all over this estate and as far as the
royal landlord's influence as such extended. Here the man behind the
monarch was known as probably he could not be elsewhere in his own
dominions or in the world--here, where he was in the special sense at
home, and where he could be himself in freedom. Behind his back it was
easy to gather the facts of the situation. There was no servile,
old-world awe in the enormous and adoring respect paid to their great
squire by those who "lived under" him; in their evidently boundless
affection there was not a scrap of fear. When the milk gave out in the
refreshment tents, because the fine day had brought more tea-drinkers
than were expected, messengers ran to the Queen's dairy, as naturally as
they would have run home if home had been as near, for more; and the
little incident was typical. As a cheap tripper I gained an interesting
experience and some valuable knowledge which as a privileged guest I
must have missed. Also--in the retrospect--a delightful memory.

At the time, there was a disadvantage attached to the position which
almost spoiled my day. The excursion train started early in the morning
and returned late in the evening, giving us the whole day "out," and I
was not strong enough to stand all that. I knew just how it would be,
but I had not seen the time-table when I committed myself to the
expedition by inviting a niece-in-law to accompany me. Otherwise I
should not have come. And so now I am very thankful that I did invite
her. As I said to her, when I tumbled, half dead, out of the train at
D---- (cutting off what I could of the return journey, half of which she
had still to make), "I'm glad I've done it--now that it is over."

It was all right, the getting there. The drive from Wolferton Station
was full of joy, the beautiful modern woodland road not withholding
glimpses of the wild heath of my young days, that was wild heath still,
splashed with pinky-purple heather delightfully blending with dark fir
wood and tawny sand. The tented meadows, and the sweet gardens beyond
them, the views of the great house from this side and that, the glorious
trees, the glorious grass, the glorious sunshine which Australia could
not beat--as long as I escaped with my life to tell the tale--or,
rather, to remember the feast of loveliness that it was--it is absurd to
talk of what it cost me.

I do not grudge anything. I did not then; at any rate I knew I was not
going to. But the fact remains that by one o'clock (with no train till
after seven) I was dead beat.

For the sake of my young companion I "stuck it out" as long as possible.
We went to a restaurant tent and had a good lunch. That put into me a
certain amount of spurious vitality, sufficient to carry me along for
half-an-hour more. Then I sat on a bench in front of the house, while
she flitted up and down terrace steps and explored nooks and corners, my
eye of the chaperon keeping her in sight. Then I made a great effort and
we went to the Flower Show proper. I dragged myself up and down the
fragrant alley-ways and looked at everything, and made appreciative
remarks to the exhibitors, who, I am able to testify, did themselves and
the estate credit. Then the heat and crush in the tents overpowered me
and I had to get outside in haste.

Sinking upon a bench in the grateful air I said to my niece: "My dear,
do you happen to see amongst all these people anyone you know?" She did.
Almost as I spoke she spied a friend. It was a man alone, but
fortunately an elderly man, yet not too old to be agreeable to her;
married, the father of a family, a connection of her own by marriage;
quite safe. So I turned her over to him that she might continue to enjoy
herself, and they seemed both obliged to me. "Meet me at the church at
four," said I (there was to be an organ recital at that hour).
"Meanwhile I will just sit and rest."

And here--if I may be forgiven by my gracious host for mentioning it--I
seemed to find out one little weak spot in his scheme of perfection.
There were seats in plenty scattered over the broad acres of lawn. They
were built around the trunks of many of the splendid trees, and they
were excellently made of gnarled and twisted wood, and they were
sylvanly picturesque; but I cannot allow that they were quite
"right"--what one may term legitimately artistic. Because the essential
principle of true art is that a thing shall be frankly what it professes
to be, and these pretty rustic benches professed to be resting-places,
and there was no rest in them. I tried one after another, until I must
have gone the round of them all, in search of a niche for my tired back
where a hard elbow would not poke into it, and there simply wasn't one.
I could not afford to be thought too intoxicated to sit or stand, or I
must have slipped down and laid my manifold aches upon the soft grass;
so in despair I crawled to the church, where the seats, however hard,
would not be knobby; and there for an hour or two, before it was crowded
to suffocation for the organ recital, I sat by the open door to endure
my fatigue. As I was never so long without the relief of a recumbent or
reclining attitude since a carriage accident in 1877, when I was young
and comparatively strong, gave me a permanent weak back, I was never so
painfully tired in all my life. When the organ recital was over I made
for the road where the vehicles were assembling for train time--still a
long way off--and chartered a comfortable old landau, not only to take
us to the station, but for use as a sofa in the meantime. I climbed in,
leaned back luxuriously, put up my feet, and was in terrestrial heaven.
It was hard to make my coachman believe that, far from being in a hurry
to start, I wanted to stay where I was to the last moment, and he was
too zealous in spite of me; but for an hour I reposed happily, and could
have done so for two or three more, watching the break-up of the
festival--the exhibitors stacking their country carts, carrying off
their loaded baskets, exchanging their felicitations before they
scattered for their homes. Physically I enjoyed myself more than I had
done all day.

But now I take no count of cost. I congratulate myself that I was forced
to pay it. May I be a cheap tripper and go through it all again, if I
can make the same profit in material for the imagination. As I write, my
mind is suffused with the golden beauty of that day. It basks again in
such English sunshine as an old Australian could not credit without
seeing it; it revels in those summer woods, with their peeps of purple
heathland, their pheasants tranquilly meandering in and out amongst the
rhododendrons. In those miles of shaven lawn, like a continuous carpet,
with their ornamentation of single trees and clumps, their dells and
rockeries and lake and pretty nooks, all so flawless; in the delightful
garden beds and bowers, that are still so simply English, flowering
hardily in the open air; in the various aspects of the richly featured
house, which is yet no more than an English country house, as
comfort-breathing, cheerful and homely as one's own. The little
headstone (to a dog) under the windows; the pergola in the kitchen
garden; York Cottage on its sunny slope; the charming rectory, its
French windows open to the view of its ideal surroundings; the baby's
grave in mother earth under the wall of the family church, the pathetic
family memorials within--above all, that plate let into one end of the
family pew, which I could not bear to see anyone look at who was not a
"mother dear," bereaved of her grown son, like me--each and all are the
picture gallery of Memory, that blessed haunt of the soul in the aging
years. And not so much as a sketch-book scrawl of a weary woman seeking
rest on knobbly rustic seats in vain.

However, in this chapter I set out to tell the tale of another
adventure. And now it was August, and I was several-weeks-of-England
stronger than I had been that day at Sandringham. And all I saw of the
royal seat I saw from the public road--and I think we went over a part
of the new road that a month earlier had been a-making--the road
necessitated by the destruction of the famous avenue in a gale, the
removal of the screen of trees leaving the house too much exposed to the
passer-by along the original highway. The King had been obliged to set
his boundaries further out to preserve his privacy, and he had taken in
the old road; at that time he was building miles of wall outside of it,
and the Norwich gates were in pieces on the ground; by this time they
will be set in the new wall, and another landmark of the old times be
gone. It was the best that he could do, since even a king cannot set a
fallen avenue up again. Workmen were very busy round about, and it was
odd to see the King's name, like that of any other Norfolk farmer, on
the drays and carts that carried material to and fro. He was "running
down" frequently, we learned, to inspect the works, as well as some
improvements going on in the off-season at the house itself, like any
other domestic person whose heart is in his home.

As we passed the raw opening which displayed the royal residence in its
temporary nakedness, Mr H. checked his horses to give his excursionists
a view; it was one of the advertised features of the trip. Then we swept
on through the remainder of the lovely villages--Dersingham, Wolferton
(it is no use pretending to maintain anonymity here, since the mention
of Sandringham, for which a mere "S----" would not serve, gives me
away)--to the Black Horse Inn at Castle Rising, which was the goal of
our journey so far as he was concerned.

I remembered the Black Horse, as I remembered the great castle--eagerly
looked for on each of those stage-coach drives of the fifties--and I
felt glad that I had no companion when I set out to explore the latter
for absolutely the first time. "Oh, if we could only go _close_ to it!
Oh, if we could only go _into_ it!" we children used to sigh, as we were
hurried through the most romantic piece of our known world, our eyes
upon the mighty keep that held such store of history; and never had that
wish been gratified till now.

I went first into the inn ("hotel" is not to be thought of as applying
to these English villages), to brush up a little after my drive and
inquire about luncheon arrangements. I found it was not the old Black
Horse but a descendant of the same name; however, it was a pleasant
little hostelry, blending not too crudely with its venerable
surroundings. A maid informed me that the rural table d'hôte would not
be ready for half-an-hour, so I set off to get a preliminary peep at the
great "lion" of those parts.

A short walk brought me to the wicket entrance, where an old man
admitted me to the once sternly guarded fortress. And once more I found
myself overwhelmed with a reality beyond all anticipations. The great
castle was far, far greater than I had supposed.

The antiquaries seem agreed that the earthworks are of Roman origin;
their plan is still quite plain to trace--nearly circular, with jutting
squares to east and west; and to think of that, as one stands on the
very embankments, looking down into the very ditch, so wide and deep
that one looks on the tops of trees that have grown huge and hoary in
the bottom of it, is to think of something that rather takes away one's
breath. The British who appropriated the ready-made entrenchments, and
the Normans who ousted them, seem, for once, but mushroom peoples.

But the castle within the ancient ramparts----! I am afraid to begin to
tell how it affected me, seeing it at last, after all these years.

Its human interest to me in childhood was almost exclusively connected
with a royal prisoner once immured there. In my earliest reading days
Miss Strickland's "Queens of England" was my favourite history
book--romance all through, made alive and convincing by the fascinating
steel-engraved portraits of the ladies in their habits as they lived;
and Miss Strickland said--so did everybody at that time--that Queen
Isabella, widow of Edward the Second, was for her sins shut up in
Rising Castle by Edward the Third, there to linger in captivity for
twenty-seven years, until merciful death released her. I never passed
under the great keep without gazing up at the few holes in the wall to
wonder which was the window through which her wild eyes of despair
looked in vain for rescue to the road we travelled. Now that story has
gone the way of so many old stories. Isabella, it seems, had not much to
complain of beyond banishment from Court to a residence in a dull
neighbourhood. She paid visits to her friends from time to time, to
relieve the monotony, and she died quite comfortably in another part of
the country, in a castle of her own. But no single figure is needed to
create human interest for a dwelling-place of the age of this one.

In the reign of William Rufus it was that the castle was built by one
William d'Albini--just about the time when a brother knight of Normandy
"took up his selection" at old H----, on which his descendants have sat
continuously to this present day. Doubtless William and his neighbour
had the equivalent of a pipe and glass together many a time, and
inspected the works in company--these works which were to stand for a
thousand years! Whether both gentlemen married ladies of the land I know
not, but a Cecily (which sounds Saxonish) of William's line and name in
the thirteenth century took the castle and manor of Rising into the
family of Lord Montalt, her husband, where they remained for a good
while. Then it appears to have become royal property, as witness Queen
Isabella consigned thereto by her son.

The Black Prince and Richard the Second are mentioned as owners, if not
occupiers, and it is said that King Richard exchanged it with the Duke
of Brittany for the castle of Brest. In the spacious days of great
Elizabeth it was the Dukes of Norfolk who were in possession, off and
on. Since then it has seemed to belong to Howards--sometimes one branch,
sometimes another--and it belongs to Howards now. What volumes of
history are written between the lines of this brief pedigree!

I went over the bridge and through the Norman gatehouse. I looked about
at the magnificence within, crossed the greensward and turned the corner
to the entrance door. I walked in and up the great staircase of stone to
the splendid archway under which the dead people passed to their great
hall, now roofless and ruined. I surveyed the vaulted stone room with
the Norman windows that was once its vestibule (and at the last a
caretaker's lodging); opened a little door in a corner which disclosed a
stony shaft round which a stony newel stairway corkscrewed up and up to
narrow stony passages and chambers and long arcaded galleries tunnelled
in the thickness of the walls--the steps so worn away by the many
centuries of use that one could not keep foothold on them without the
hand-rope on the wall, the dimensions so circumscribed that one thought
of the burrows in the Egyptian Pyramids. Then I considered that further
exploration would impair the pleasure of an extended rummage at leisure
in the afternoon; also that luncheon would now be ready. And I returned
through the village to the Black Horse.

Looking about I found the _salle-à-manger_, chill, and empty of life. A
long table was set for a meal, but was still without food and without
company. Further investigation brought me to a garden beside the house
where stood a few small tables, at one of which two ladies--mother and
daughter who had shared the box seat of the drag with me--were taking a
light luncheon in peace and privacy. They were having eggs and salad and
bread-and-butter and tea, with green grass under their feet and the
sweet air and sunshine round them; and at once I perceived that this was
the sort of thing, and not the table d'hôte, for me. I took a table at a
distance from them, but, no waitress forthcoming, I went across to ask
them how they had obtained their provisions, which resulted in our
joining forces and having a pleasant meal together. No one else came to
the garden, except the maid who served us, and we chatted together as do
callers at the same house on an At Home day, finding themselves isolated
for the moment on contiguous chairs. One thing leading to another, it
transpired that the young lady, who wore fine diamonds on her engagement
finger, was going to be married in five weeks. A chance allusion to my
own circumstances evoked the further information that her intended
husband was a Melbourne man! That is to say, Melbourne was his
birthplace and the place of business of his firm for which he acted as
London manager. They mentioned his name and I knew it well. I see it in
large letters on a factory wall every time I pass over the railway
between the city and my home, and now I never see it without thinking of
her. By this time if all went right she will have been married a long
time. I hope she is well and happy.

I resumed my explorations of the castle, where I had several chance
encounters with my friends of the inn garden on break-neck stairs and in
stony corridors where there was scarce space for us to pass each other,
while still wandering in the solitude I desired, companioned only by my
thoughts. It was a memorable afternoon. I had never before been in such
close touch with the people of the past, makers of the History of
England which is the lay bible of the British race. The very chambers
they slept in and where they were born and died; the same floors and
walls and stone-ribbed ceilings, the same outlook from the same windows
and loopholes over heath and marsh to distant sea and the dim line of
the coast of Lincolnshire; the Chapel of their penances and
dispensations, where they dedicated the swords of slaughter; the Hall
where they brawled and feasted, the dark holes at blind ends of the
stony labyrinth, which silently witnessed to unthinkable dark deeds. If
I had been better acquainted with old castles than I was, I might have
been less impressed by these things and the reflections they evoked. As
it was, the whole place seemed so thronged with ghosts that I felt as if
I had not room to move amongst them.

And yet I learned from a little talk with those who knew, that a
caretaker--a lady "custodian," moreover--had kept house and home in the
very middle of it all, up to a quite recent date. How _could_ she? Her
bedroom was the "Queen's Room" where Isabella herself had slept (next
door to her "Confession Room"); another that she used was the "Priest's
Chamber," up at the top of that slant-stepped newel stairway. The room
at the top of the great main staircase, with the three Norman windows
and the great dog-toothed Norman archway that once gave entrance to the
hall, was her sitting-room. The evidences were there--archway bricked
up, and a little iron stove (how little it did look, to be sure, in
more ways than one) set against the bricks; windows glazed, boards (I
think) laid down over the flagged floor. I tried to fancy how the lady
custodian had furnished it--to picture her sitting at her book or
needlework under that mighty overmantel above the hearth! I had not then
seen the quarters of the chaplain of Malling Abbey, and how charmingly
ancient and modern can be made to blend in the composition of a home by
a person of intelligence, means and taste. Yet the gatehouse at Malling,
apart from the chaplain's "treatment" of it, is snug and cosy indeed
compared with this. I could live there delightfully myself. But
here----! From kitchen to parlour, from parlour to bedroom the lady
custodian had to make pilgrimages through ruins open to the sky and up
stairways and along tunnel-passages such as one shuddered to think of in
connection with dark nights. Imagine the wind rising after you have gone
to bed, sighing and sobbing like ghosts of tortured captives come back
to the scene of their Mediæval woes, whistling through the loopholes
like the arrows of a besieging army. Think of hearing an owl hoot in the
desolate great hall--the creepings and scratchings of things alive that
you cannot account for--the deadly silence in between, that feels like
the silence of a tiger watching you and crouched to spring!

I was not surprised to learn that the last woman to defy the
associations of the place had found them too much for her, and that
since her time the caretaker had lodged outside the castle instead of
in. Her husband had died in that room of the bricked-up arch and the
little iron stove, and what she went through in the nights of his last
illness, when she had to sit up to watch him, and on the night when she
was left with his coffined corpse for company, nearly drove her out of
her mind. So I was told, and I quite believed it.

I came down at last from the wonderful place, having still time before
me in which to explore the village. Mrs B. had warned me not to neglect
this duty.

It is a beautiful village. As one saw "The King" written all over West
Newton, Dersingham, Wolferton, every acre within a radius of miles from
the royal seat, so here the impress of "The Howards" was plain upon
Rising from end to end. The home of the family is in it; of course,
withdrawn from the gaze of trippers. I passed its guardian walls and
spoke to a gardener who came through a high gate, wheeling his barrowful
of stuff from the grounds within. I think he said that his lady was in
residence. I strolled on to the village green to look at an ancient
cross which Mrs B. had mentioned as an important feature. So it is--a
very interesting example of the wayside shrine. I could find no special
story attached to it, but one felt sure that it commemorated "The
Howards" in some way. The rectory near by--a home of dignified leisure,
also withdrawn from the gaze of trippers--is in their gift. The church
is full of memorials of them. If I know little of castles I know much of
the churches of my native country, and how remarkable they are. This one
must be ranked with the ecclesiastical gems of Norfolk, which is so rich
in them--although I found that it had been very thoroughly "restored,"
which generally means in some points altered from the original plan,
within late years. By the way, Mrs B. has a valuable collection of the
etchings of John Sells Cotman, whose work is, for architects and
antiquaries, an authority on Norfolk churches and cathedrals, abbeys and
castles, as they were a century ago; and I am not sure, but I think that
one of them shows the square tower of Rising church without the singular
roof which now covers it. However, it is a beautiful building, plainly
Norman throughout; with all its richness of ornamentation, massively
simple and sincere, worthy to stand beside its great neighbour, which
has defied the chances and changes of a thousand years. The hand of the
Howards may be seen all over it, inside and out, but they have written
only their love and taste, and said as little as possible about their
own importance.

Just across the road from the church is another Howard institution of
the past, in which I was deeply interested--Trinity Hospital, otherwise
the Bede House, otherwise almshouses for decayed females of the working
families on the estate. Here the gaze of the tripper is not objected
to--is probably welcomed, since an alms-dish stands on the table at
which the "Governess" (which I think is the correct title of the lady
superintendent) gives you final items of information about the place;
the vessel dumbly suggesting a donation from the visitor, to be devoted
to the comfort of the old ladies in providing them with such little
extra luxuries as they can enjoy. I did not need the hint, and I should
think the offerings of visitors ought to almost "keep" the old ladies,
who want so little.

It is a charming bit of architecture, and to me it seemed immensely old.
I said so to the lady superintendent, and you should have seen her
amused smile at my ignorance! "Oh dear, no," she politely corrected me,
"_this_ is not old; not more than three or four hundred years at the
most." From her way of saying it, you would have supposed it had been
jerry-built last week. But she was right; in Rising village, a neighbour
of the great castle, an appanage of the Howards, it was a mere mushroom.
Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton, erected it in the reign of King James
the Second.

Nevertheless, it is a charming bit of architecture. She could not shake
me in that belief. A sort of gatehouse of two storeys, capped with three
pointed roofs, two square and a saddle-back between them, gives entrance
through an open archway to the most delightfully green and peaceful
quadrangle, which was a picture indeed that golden summer afternoon.
Exactly fronting me as I entered was another block of buildings,
comprising a little chapel, a reception-room, and the quarters of the
"Governess." Between this block and the gateway block, and joined to
each on both sides and to one another, the dwellings of the pensioners
made out the square, which was edged with the ever-beautiful English
flower-border, the middle being filled in with the ever-matchless
English lawn. All the roofs were large, steep, massive and heavily
tiled; the chimneys on the same scale, the walls (except in the two
blocks mentioned) low, and pierced with square latticed windows and the
cottage doors--a pair to each pensioner--most of which stood open, with
the old ladies, at their knitting or what not, sunning themselves at
some of them. There was about everything that sober orderliness,
scrupulous neatness and finish, so striking and so grateful to the eye
of the old colonist, and such an enhancement and completion of the charm
of rural England in characteristic scenes like this. It was a
reproduction on a small scale of the college quadrangles at Cambridge,
the composition of which had so enchanted me. I was enchanted with the
Howard Almshouse, and inclined to envy the Howard protégée her haven of
repose.

But the twentieth-century cosmopolitan, who has more or less gone with
the times, has strange conflicts of feeling within the breast on being
shown the uniform of the Howard protégée, the wearing of which is a
condition of her tenure of one of these picture-book homes. Out of
cardboard boxes and swathings of tissue paper the lady superintendent
brought forth the brand-new cloak and hat that appeared to be kept for
display to visitors; and I looked at them. Taken as a garment, and not a
symbol, the cloak of scarlet cloth with the Howard badge embroidered on
it is quite beautiful; the hat is another matter. It seems made of the
stuff used for the modern gentleman's bell topper, and in shape
resembles the Welsh peasant hat; one has seen it also in pictures of
witches, of the time when they were tried by fire and millponds. It has
a towering and tapering sugarloaf crown, and a round, narrow brim, and
is worn over a white cap with a full border. In other words, the uniform
is a costume of the time of James the Second.

Now....

Well, I mentioned the matter in local circles once or twice. My
non-committal attitude did not fail to evoke disparaging remarks upon
the Howard Bede House fashions, and especially the hat. "They don't like
wearing it," I was told. Who can wonder? "But for them things, there's a
many would like to go in, and ought to go in, as can't bring
theirselves to do it."

In Ely, when I left that town for Australia, there was a pious
foundation which similarly persisted in making its beneficiaries wear
the costume of the founder's age. Long past the middle of the nineteenth
century though it was, unfortunate little boys had to run the gauntlet
of the street in old-man beaver hats and full-skirted old-man coats with
great flap-pockets--spectacles to make the humane heart bleed. When I
returned, I found the old free school building extant and unchanged, but
the preposterous uniform no more. Now that the twentieth century has
passed its first decade, I think it would be a fair thing to let the
witch's hat, and the "badge" that has lost its meaning, go.

I was dreamily making my way back to the Black Horse when I spied the
village post office--the "open door" to all persons and peoples into the
great world of living human affairs that I had been feeling so remote
from. Something within me sprang awake at the sight--it was the
instinctive although often unconscious desire for human sympathy that
accompanies any unusually impressive experience. I stepped into the tiny
place, and sought pen and ink. I drew a postcard from a packet I had
bought of the old man at the gate of the castle grounds, and wrote under
a picture of the great stone staircase: "Here I am, and I wish you were
with me," or words to that effect. I addressed it to my friend at Boston
in Massachusetts, who had sent many a token of the same kind to me,
stamped it, and dropped it into the letter-slot. Then, feeling no longer
alone--only just as much so as I liked to be--I stepped back into the
sunshine, happy in my thoughts of her and of how she would understand.

And, as I was crossing the road, thus bemused and absentminded, a lady,
evidently sight-seeing by herself as I was, crossed it from the other
side, and in passing stopped me to ask some question about the way to
somewhere. She turned out to be one of our driving party, although I had
not noticed her. When I had replied to her introductory query, she said:
"I saw you with Mrs B. this morning. You are Mrs C., are you not?" Then
she told me she had a sister living in Melbourne, married to a Melbourne
doctor, and she wondered if by chance I knew them. I did not know her
sister, but the name of her distinguished brother-in-law every
Australian knew. This little encounter, opening the lines of the
"wireless" to my dear home on the other side of the world, filled up the
measure of emotional satisfaction that was so abundantly vouchsafed to
me that day.

Or almost. The drive home (by a different route) was as delightful as
the drive out. And when I reached Mrs B.'s and the capacious arm-chair,
and M.'s most charming tea-table ...

I am afraid I must confess, after all my sentimental rhapsodies, that
the crowning joy of my expedition to Rising Castle was the heavenly cup
of tea that awaited my return to the starting point.



CHAPTER XIII

A TRIP SOUTH


There are people, and they seem to me the vast majority, who have no
curiosity about or interest in anything or anywhere outside their
business and domestic boundaries; who "wouldn't cross the street," as
they say, to look at the Parthenon or the Sphinx, or see anything in
them if they did; to whom a guide-book, with photographs, means a map
and a railway time-table and an indicator of the tariffs of different
hotels. But the passion for travel--to "see the world"--has possessed me
from my youth up. It has grown with my growth, and has not waned with
the waning years. As long as the faculties of vision and locomotion
remain to me, I shall cherish dreams of the Sphinx and the Parthenon,
Venice, the Swiss Alps, the castles of the Loire, the thousand and one
beauty spots of the all-beautiful world, which I have yet to
see--trusting in the Fates, which have begun to indulge me, to give me a
sight of some of them before I die.

I do not think they could drop me down anywhere and leave me altogether
ignorant of where I was, so far and wide has an exploring imagination
led me, and so much has it made of its every opportunity, since I first
began to read and to look at picture-books. After thirty years of life
in the Australian Bush, I went one day to a tea-party in Melbourne,
where one of the entertainments provided was a guessing competition. One
wall of a room was covered with prints and photographs of public
buildings of the world; they were of miscellaneous character, old and
new, selected so as not to be too obviously familiar or to give an
unfair advantage to experienced travellers amongst the guests. I had
never travelled; I do not think I had seen one place of the many
represented--except the Wilson Hall of the Melbourne University, which
was the only one to puzzle me; yet I won the first prize easily.

Happily, the beauty of a beauty spot is not dependent on human or
historical associations, and the Australian Bush fed fancy well when it
had no other inspiration. Likewise, when the opportunity to return to
England came, unprovided with means for much sight-seeing within the
country, or any whatever outside of it, I was too happy in what I had to
miss what I had not. It seemed almost as much as I could bear to roam my
native county, and see the homes of childhood, Old H---- and Rising
Castle as I did; after that satisfaction I felt like being now able to
depart in peace--that I had not lived in vain. And when in the month of
September--still golden weather, for that English summer was made on
purpose for me--I set forth to visit Devonshire, then I felt that
Aladdin's Lamp and the Philosopher's Stone were not "in it" with my
command of luck.

In my young days, be it understood, with this spirit of enterprise so
strong within me, I saw nothing of the world outside the eastern
counties, and not much of them, except when the dear eldest aunt
mothered me so much too carefully in London now and then; nor had I
when, in 1870, I was abruptly detached from my belongings to be taken to
the other side of the world--not to see another inch of it until I
arrived. But all through those early years I was storing up knowledge of
the beauties of England, putting together mental pictures of scenes
which I had fair hope of beholding with the eyes of the flesh in
time--although, as a matter of fact, I have not seen a tenth of them
even yet. As they seemed to come under the head of things attainable
that were unattainable, and not, like foreign places, of things
unattainable that were unattainable, a reasonable hope was justified.
Nor did I stop at hoping. I weeded the garden and gathered snails for
pennies, went without sugar for sixpence a week, while my brain seethed
with plans for better business, in the effort to give substance to some
of my dreams.

All the places in Scott's novels--my first romances, read aloud to us
little girls by our mother as we sat at our sewing tasks about her knee;
all the castles in the English histories; the lakes and fells of the
north, the soft hills and dales of Derbyshire, the moorlands of Jane
Eyre and Katherine Earnshaw, the Devon of Lorna Doone and Amyas
Leigh....

I cannot count them. But, of them all, Devonshire was my dream of
dreams.

My grandmother lived her last years there, and there she died. From her
and the aunts we had descriptions of the county and its manifold charms;
they only ratified what I had already learned. I think this must have
been before the youngest aunt became a royal governess, or it may have
been there was an interregnum in her career as such; anyway, she had
her home in Devonshire at this time, which may have been a reason why I
did not go there. However much I might long to see a place of dreams, I
could not have wanted to see it in her company. Besides which, to go to
Devonshire from Norfolk, in those days and to untravelled persons of our
means, loomed as huge an undertaking as it would now be (not to me, but
to rural stay-at-homes) to go to Egypt or Madeira from the same place.

At any rate, I did not go. I communed with my favourite Blackmore (as I
now commune with his successor in my regard, delightful Eden
Phillpotts), and dreamed of going some day. And when the some day came,
it was my last in England for eight and thirty years. For the first time
I crossed the land from east to west, on my journey to the ship in
Plymouth Sound. Leaving Paddington at night, darkness (not sleep) hid
the most of the way, but the light of the May morning came early enough
to show me the part I had most longed to see. Pale dawn it was, and the
train rushing along, but in all my years of exile I treasured the
impressions of the little that I saw; they but fixed the old dream and
made it permanent. I still had scarcely begun to realise it, but I
seemed to know better what it would be to realise it. "We are to return
in five years," I remarked to my drowsy partner, for so we had promised
to do, in the innocence of our hearts. "Then we must see Devonshire."

We did not return in seven times five years, and when we did I might
never have seen Devonshire, as I have never seen the lakes and fells, or
Kenilworth, or hosts of things, but for one of those little happenings
which come without warning us of the great ones in their train.

Some few summers ago I went to a new place to spend the Long Vacation
with a son whom I was accustomed to companion at such times. Alone of
our family, we chose, when choice was ours, the wilds of nature for our
holiday resorts; and he sent for me to join him on an island that he had
discovered, in a cottage that stood on its own lone beach, where we
could live the simple life like Robinson Crusoes, plus the advantages of
a general store (only one) and a daily steamer to and from the mainland,
within the distance of a healthy walk from our abode. I went, and we had
a great time--then and on several subsequent occasions in the same
locality. No maids, no dressing; no constraint imposed and no effort
required in the heat of the year (the Long Vacation of Australian
universities begins in December and ends in March); absolute repose,
combined with delightful occupation. We walked out of our beds into our
morning bath in the sea, and returned for a plunge or an idle wallow at
any time of day that the whim took us. We never failed to bathe (in this
only bathroom at our disposal) before sitting down to our evening meal,
and more than once I have risen in a hot night to soothe restless nerves
in moonlit water. The sea was almost at our threshold, gently lapping a
beach as smooth to naked feet as a ballroom floor. On the other side of
the island, where it faces the south, the Pacific hurls its weight upon
rocky headlands and thunders in rocky caverns as stern and wild as
Caledonia's coasts can show. It was there we went for picnics.

Of course, we were not quite alone. The island had been discovered by
others and had boasted a tiny watering-place for years. Two hotels and
several boarding houses clustered about the single store (there are two
now) and the little pier where the little steamer called twice daily,
going to and returning from the source of fresh meat and newspapers; and
these houses were filled in the summer season, and we numbered friends
amongst their guests.

But the point to be mentioned is that our delightfully remote cottage
belonged to a gentleman through whom--although we never met or knew each
other--I came to realise my dream of some day seeing Devonshire. I often
wish I had known him; for by all accounts he was a rare and original
person.

In the oldest of our old times, the pre-gold times, when these lands
were being "taken up" by a gallant set of young men, cadets of what we
call "good" British families, he had been a pioneer squatter. But then,
while the days of our history were still the "early days"--before or
soon after my own arrival--he went back, married, settled and lived the
bulk of his life like any other English gentleman of wealth and social
standing, in accordance with the habits and customs of his family. I do
not know for how many years he had inhabited his fine house in
Devonshire, at which I was a happy guest so recently, but I know they
were a great many. Then, a widower, approaching a late old age, he
divided his large fortune amongst his nine daughters (reserving what he
deemed to be sufficient for his remaining needs), settled the family
house upon them for their joint use, and came back to Australia--to the
little island on the Victorian coast where by such a small chance we
found him.

Still farther along the lonely beach from our little cottage he had
built his last home, much of it with his own hands. A four-roomed
weather-board house, bare-floored, unceiled--sufficient, and no more.
Here he had been living for some time, with one man for his whole
establishment--the uncrowned king of the island, who could not meet a
child without giving it a coin, or hear of a necessity that he did not
exercise all his gentlemanly ingenuity to relieve, as when he sent a
sack of sugar to a struggling mother "to make lollies for the little
girl"--when two of his eight daughters in England (one was married in
New South Wales) came out to see how he was getting on. I think it was
not until they arrived that he built new rooms for their accommodation,
and it is significant that at the same time he built himself another
room quite detached from the house, which he left to their more
civilised control, and the maid who was now added to the establishment;
but, whether he invited them or not, he had reason to bless their
coming. Unless he was the sort of man who would just as soon die alone
and untended as not, which he very likely was.

I joined my son on the island the day after the old man met with the
accident which caused his death. One of the many children who put
themselves in his way at every possible opportunity had been to see him,
to announce a birthday and receive the inevitable half-crown, and in the
course of the proceedings had spied a small rifle leaning against the
wall. It had just been used, or was going to be used, on minahs that
were eating the orchard fruit. Unseen by his host, the boy picked up
the weapon, and, "fooling" with it, shot his benefactor in the leg. I
heard of the mishap, and of the periodical inquiries from our cottage as
to the patient's state. No alarm was manifested, and his daughters came
to see me. Later, as the wound seemed obstinate, it was thought wise to
take it to Melbourne for treatment; and one morning they carried the
unwilling invalid along the beach before our cottage to the steamer that
was to take him thither. He raised himself from his stretcher, and waved
his hand to us, and that was all I ever saw of him. He died in Melbourne
some weeks later. But the island, all aweep and heart-broken, got his
body back; and his grave on the sandy hill, in the midst of sea waters,
seems an appropriate resting-place for such a man--more so than the
monumental vaults and tombs that hold the dust of his kin of England.

To his one Australian daughter he left his Australian home. I rented it
from her for a year or two. The daughters who had come out to see him
returned to their sisters in Devonshire. I stayed with them for some
time before they left, and we parted as friends, and with the mutual
hope that we might meet again. There was small prospect of a reunion in
England then.

But the time came. To my unutterable surprise I found myself there,
engaged to pay them a visit. One of them, that is the elder, with her
father's nomadic blood in her veins, voyaged back again after a couple
of years and set up her tent on the island much as he did, only rather
more luxuriously. Her return coincided with my departure, and for the
moment I missed her at both ends of the world. But M. was at home, and
to her I set forth joyfully on a morning of September, about a year ago
from this date of writing.

I took that once formidable journey alone, my husband being absorbed in
the pursuit of partridges, which was happiness enough for him. He had
been marking them down all the summer and had brought his favourite gun
across the world for their sakes; by the same token I had to pack it
amongst my clothes because he had not room for it in his own baggage,
stuffed with the rest of his sporting paraphernalia. And at first it
looked as if the Fates were still inclined to head me off from
Devonshire. I was all ready to start a week before I did when I slipped
on the stairs and sprained my foot. I signified the necessary
postponement by telegram with a foreboding heart, and as soon as I could
hobble, in a slipper, flung all regard for appearance to the winds and
got ready again, before more accidents could happen. And then I had, so
to speak, to fight my way.

I had never travelled any distance alone, having no vocation for
independence, but I assured my caretakers that any fool or baby could
get about on English railways without risk or trouble. It was otherwise
at home, where porters regard themselves, and with reason regard
themselves, as your gracious patrons, who do not seek you, but have to
be sought.

"All I shall have to do," said I, remembering my drive from Liverpool
Street to Eaton Place for half-a-crown, "is to take a hansom to
Paddington Station. The porters will do all the rest for me."

"Oh, nonsense," said they, "to waste time and money on cabs, when there
is an Underground that will take you straight across the city from one
point to the other." They would not hear of it.

By the Underground I was to go, and so carefully was I provided for that
an important official of Liverpool Street Station was engaged in a
friendly way to meet me there and personally conduct me from train to
train. The salient points in my appearance were described to him and his
to me, and when he readily undertook the job assigned to him it was
reasonably assumed that I was safeguarded as far as human means could do
it. That I went wrong after all was not their fault nor mine. It was in
the first place the fault of one who told my friend who was the friend
of the Liverpool Street official--to whom he immediately forwarded the
false information--that I was going by another train. In the second
place it was the fault of a porter. Poor, dear porter! In whatever form
he waited upon me he was an ideal servant to my Australian notions,
although I was sufficiently altruistic to wish him for his own sake the
standing of his antipodean brother who is not a servant but a potentate,
self-respecting to hauteur in his conscious command of the situation. In
the present instance he was but human and over-zealous, and I would not
blame him for the world.

When my train from Cambridgeshire drew up at its London platform he was
ready for me at the carriage door, as usual. And when I looked beyond
him for his superior who was to take charge of me, and saw no one
resembling our mutual friend's description of him, I was relieved and
pleased. For I had rebelled against the waste of his precious time and
the obligation I should be under to him, although overruled by
assurances that the favour would be on my side. I had protested that
the English porter was all-sufficient for every possible need that could
arise.

So now I put myself into his hands with as complete a trust as the
highest official or a whole Board of Directors could have inspired; and
I told him I wanted to go to Praed Street by the Underground, and asked
him to see to everything and put me on the right train. And I gave him
sixpence.

Perhaps that was a mistake. I was always being told that I had no
business to give a porter more than twopence (the Australian porter will
condescend to pocket sixpence, but I never dared insult him with less),
and I used to make it threepence when no one was looking, without
feeling that I had been too generous, in deference to the customs of the
country. It is certainly an odd thing that the only two little railway
accidents that befell me in England were due to the only porters I gave
sixpences to. It would almost seem as if so much prosperity turned their
heads.

On this occasion it was to make assurance of the right train on the
Underground doubly sure that I tipped my man the first sixpence; and he
laid himself out to earn it in such a way that I was ashamed not to have
made it a shilling. He bought me my ticket for Praed Street--that was
all right; he put my luggage on the train and myself into the special
care of the conductor. He did all that man could do. But it was the
wrong train.

I discovered presently that I had been along that same Underground
before, on one of my visits to the Franco-British Exhibition. I had not
taken much notice of the names of passing stations then, having the
usual escort; but now I did. And Praed Street seemed an immense time
coming along, whereas Paddington was left farther and farther behind us,
and signs of our approach to Shepherd's Bush accumulated. So I spoke to
the conductor. Imagine the feelings of an innocent abroad! "There's no
Praed Street on this line," said he. "You are in the wrong train."

I kept my head fairly in an experience unprecedented in my career. I
confided in the conductor--because I had found that in England you can
go to any official in a difficulty, with the certainty of getting good
advice and every possible assistance, and he told me what to do. I did
it (with my luggage and my lame foot) in the sweat of my brow, somehow.
I got out at the next station. For once, no porter, until a passing
civilian, appealed to, sought one out for me, who, when he appeared,
acted as the dear man invariably did. I returned to the station the
conductor had told me to return to; exactly the same thing happened. The
civilian in this case connected me with an elderly, slow porter, who
seemed to have all the business of the train and platform to himself. I
knew what the time was. I thought of where I was in London and of my
friends in Devonshire, driving three miles to meet me; and I cried to
that poor, doddering old man that I would give half-a-crown to anybody
who would help me to catch the Exeter express. He stared at me as if he
wanted time to get such a stupendous proposition into his brain; then he
sadly realised that he could not do it. But from somewhere out of the
ground sprang a vigorous young porter who without loss of time took the
matter in hand.

"You run along as hard as you can run," said he, "and I'll meet you
under the big clock."

I did run, although in other circumstances I should have believed it
almost impossible to put my left foot to the ground. And I ran the right
way too, although I did not know it, and although I have a natural
genius for taking wrong ones; up and down stairs and along devious
passages, sped by the directing fingers and shouts that answered my
gasping query to every railway man I passed; and so I came out on a high
gallery in the great arena of Paddington Station--to see my train below
me, but still far away, and the big clock that was my rendezvous with
the luggage porter (nowhere to be seen) pointing to the very minute that
the time-table fixed for its departure!

I flew along that bridge to the end, hurled myself almost headlong down
the stairs to the platform, reached my train; and there was still no
sign of the luggage porter, far or near, and they were shutting the
carriage doors, and the guard was lifting his hand to give the signal to
start. He was a fine, big, important-looking man--I shall not forget
him--and but for my experience of English railway officers it would not
have occurred to me to approach him at such a moment; but I had the
happy inspiration to do so, and was thereby saved.

"He will be here directly," said that guard with the manners of a
prince. "I will hold the train a moment."

He held it for moments that made two minutes before my laggard henchman
came into view, and then helped him to bundle my things into the
corridor of my carriage, there being no time to seek the van. Blessings
on him! I hope it may be my good fortune to travel in his charge again
before I die. And I was only a third-class passenger.

That is another of the pleasures of English railway travel. At home we
have no third class, and your own servants do not deign to travel
second. I do not myself, except sometimes on a country journey, the
long-distance trains having a special character and equipment. But in
England the third-class carriage was our only wear; but twice did we put
on airs and take a second--a first never. In Australia when you ask for
your unspecified ticket, unless you are blatantly horny-handed and
begrimed with toil, the young man behind the wicket gives you a
first-class as a matter of course; in England he gives you a third, with
the same inward knowledge that he is doing the proper thing, no
questions asked. And with that evidence in your hand of your lack of
social consequence, you are of as much importance as anybody to the
English official, who is a gentleman every time. My guard of the Great
Western could not have done more for me if I had been the queen.

And so, thanks to him, I was off at last. In a full carriage, of course,
where I had to sit in the middle, but still, safely embarked for
Devonshire. And when the agitation of my nerves subsided I looked at the
passing landscape which I had last seen as a girl and a bride and
thought of all that had happened--heavens! what had _not_
happened?--since that far-off day. Its face might have changed--it must
have done--but it was the same country, the same towns and villages, and
woods and fields. I had seen them for the first time in the twilight of
a May evening in 1870--that evening of farewells and heartbreak, of all
evenings in my life--and never since till now ...

One advantage of being a third-classer is that you can chat with a
neighbour without misgiving, if you feel that way disposed. I could not
read in English trains; it would have been a wicked waste of eyesight
when there was so much better than books to look at; and if you do not
read you either incline to talk or you are supposed to be ready to do
so. There was a little lady in the corner next to me whom I liked the
look of, and who apparently returned the compliment, and we made one of
those little ships-that-pass friendships, which are often as pleasant as
they are brief, before she left me at Newton Abbot, to branch off to
Cornwall. She had a school in that county, but had been called from it
to a sick brother in America--in the Wild West too--a couple of years
before we met; and his illness, death, and difficulties resulting from
them had only now released her to return to the quiet life which had
been so violently interrupted. So she had had her great experiences and
was having them now as well as I. She had left a _locum tenens_ in
charge of her school, and she did not know how she was going to find
things, nor how she was going to settle down into the old narrow groove
again.

As in Port Said, I was minded not to dock my trip of any of its charms,
and would not bring the customary private sandwich for my midday repast.
There was a restaurant car on the train (we have them too, but I have
never used them), and I intended to enjoy the novelty of lunching
therein. I had seen photographs of the tempting interiors--third
class!--in magazines, and from the platforms of great junctions had
peeped at them through their own glass windows. It was another bit of
experience to be taken in its course and the most infinitesimal bit was
valuable.

So at one o'clock I rose and proudly journeyed down the train. But I had
not noticed the preliminary boy sent round to collect orders, and the
Master of Ceremonies politely informed me that the tables were filled.
Another luncheon would be ready in half-an-hour, he said, but now I was
"off" lunching that way, and wished I had catered for myself as usual.
Returning to my seat I found my neighbour with her little refreshment
set out on a napkin spread over her neat lap. She insisted on my sharing
it with her, and after decent demur I did. There was a meat-pie and I
had half; two cakes and I had one; two bananas and I had one. Later on I
returned her hospitality as best I could by inviting her to tea with me,
and then I sampled the possibilities of the restaurant car and found
them all that I could wish.

By this time we were in Devonshire. We were actually waiting at
Exeter--Exeter, of which I had heard so much, endeared by so many old
associations--and I was too deeply engaged with my good tea and nice
bread-and-butter to seriously and adequately realise the fact. Alas!
when it comes to tea I am afraid I am a gross person.

But I did not see Exeter in 1870. It was dark night then. I do not know
if we even passed that way. Later in the afternoon, when I came to the
scenes on which that old, old May dawn rose so tragically, you might
have offered me tea without my seeing it. I could see nothing but the
Devonshire that was all I knew, and think of nothing but identifying as
much of it as possible. Ivy Bridge, name as well as place, I had had the
memory-print of for all the years, but it lay beyond my goal to-day.
That other place, unknown, where the sea came up to the railway and the
train ran through and under the red cliffs, I found was Dawlish. Sweet
spot, so long beloved! I am told that the one blot on the beauty of
Dawlish is the railway on its sea-front. This is from the resident's
point of view. Let him remember what its position means sometimes to the
passing railway traveller.



CHAPTER XIV

DEVON, GLORIOUS DEVON


Being in Devonshire I sat down on one of the most notoriously beautiful
of all the beauty spots of the county. It was traditional that the old
gentleman of the island who had had several homes, and the means to make
them what he would, never had one in a place that was not beautiful. The
island, as I knew, was beautiful, in its wild solitude of sea and sand
and ti-tree scrub. Otherwise his family home in England was as great a
contrast to the home in which he had chosen to spend his last years as
could possibly be found. As I moved about the large rooms and up and
down the stairs, every wall set thick with the valuable paintings he had
gathered from abroad and from Christie's and from Royal Academy
Exhibitions, it was odd indeed to think of the weather-board cottage and
the few prints from illustrated papers tin-tacked to its pine lining,
which he had deliberately preferred to them. The whole establishment,
with all the dignities of fine family furniture, family crested silver,
full staff of trained servants, and so on and so on--without one
irregularity or eccentricity in its administration--represented the
normal English gentleman's life, that of his kin and class, and by
general use and wont his own. Yet, of his free choice, he left it all to
go and live like Robinson Crusoe in an island hut, with a rough,
wood-chopping Friday, and a domestic equipment of Britannia metal and
stone china that could not stir the envy of a tramp.

After all, one can understand it. An old Australian, at any rate, can
understand it. In his young days he had been a pioneer squatter. What
old man looks back on this experience otherwise than with the feeling
that he has seen the Golden Age? Never one that I ever met and I have
met many. One can realise how the memory of that time of liberty and
sunshine swelled and swelled (in a man with the imagination to love
pictures and a fair outlook from his windows) as the years of fettering
old-world conventions and grey skies went by. The older he grew the
brighter shone the lights of the past--as with you and me, dear
reader--and the craving to return to the scenes of youth, which are the
realms of romance to the aged, must have been in him what the craving to
return to England was to me for so many, many years. He had heaps of
money, along with a singular power to discriminate between its real and
its apparent values. It enabled him to please himself when there
remained no dependent family to consider, and he pleased himself by
removing it as a burden upon a freeborn spirit, while retaining enough
to purchase liberty for the rest of life. I forgot to mention that
before he built his island cottage he bought a caravan and in that
humblest of homes toured the Australian bush and coast at leisure until
he found the spot to suit him in which to make camp permanently.

Never, said his daughters, would he live in any place that was not
beautiful.

Well, in Devonshire, at any rate, he had not done so. My spacious room
had a great bay of three windows, in which I could sit and batten on
beauty to my heart's content. My writing-table stood in one angle, and I
could not get on with my letters of a morning for the enchantment of the
view. Deep down below me lay a small exquisite lawn (every English lawn
is exquisite), shadowed at one side with fine old trees, and all around
with a beflowered wall; the old gardener was always pottering there,
shaving the grass a little every day, sweeping up every dead leaf that
autumn wind brought down. Below the garden again was the sunk road, so
deep and steep that I should not have known there was a road but for
hearing a carriage now and then and getting a glimpse of the top of the
coachman's hat. The farther wall lining the ravine showed just its stone
coping at the top, and beyond that was sea--all sea, with the wall
cutting across it--unless I turned my eyes to the left, where a splendid
red bluff breasted it. Could even Devonshire have composed a lovelier
picture to live with? But I am bound to admit that, three mornings out
of four, when I got up to look at it, it was lost in fog. However, on
the day of my arrival, when the evening light was peculiar, I saw
Portland through a telescope; and Portland, I was told, was full forty
miles off, and not visible from where we saw it above once in as many
years. I _did_ see it, but it was not so clear as the old "Stump" on the
sea-line that I had looked at from the beach in Norfolk.

Dear M. was determined I should lose nothing of the joy of Devonshire
through default of hers; and, with carriage closed, we spent the first
two pouring wet days exploring the lovely neighbourhood. It was lovely
in the most hopeless downpour. Then came fine weather, and she took me
to Exeter. As originally arranged, the plan was not only to "do" Exeter,
but also Ottery St Mary, the last home and grave of my grandmother. But
when we reached the cathedral city, a long journey, there was so much to
see and do that even to me it seemed bad economy to tax time, strength
and pleasurable sensation further. I said, "Oh, this is enough for one
day!" and we agreed to make it so.

I suppose it would be sinking to the deeps of drivel to say "How
beautiful Exeter is," but such is my opinion, all the same. And I walked
about it, as I did about most places that I visited in England, with
invisible companions, whose presence enhanced its charms. Years and
years ago--when I was at B----, between '75 and '78--a dear friend of
mine was an old lady of about eighty, the first English lady on the
goldfields, who was said to be, and must have been, the handsomest and
most delightful woman of that age known to Australian history. She was
Devonshire born, and her old husband--a solicitor, who had returned to
the practice of his profession when goldfields went out of fashion with
his class--told me she had been known as the "Belle of Exeter" in the
long ago when he had married her. She loved to talk to me of the
Australian "old days," but also she loved to go further back, and tell
me of Devonshire and her native city, always winding up with injunctions
to me to go there if I ever returned to my native land again. And here I
was at last, finding all her loving pride in the place justified.

Could anything in city planning be happier in effect than the position
of the cathedral in its quiet oasis amid the streets? And _what_ a
cathedral, inside and out! I have a cathedral that I call my own, and
never thought I should so overcome the power of patriotic prejudice as
to admit it could be surpassed by another. But when I returned to Ely
last time, looking for my shrine of all perfection, I got a shock to my
housewifely sensibilities from its ill-kept condition that wholly
unhinged the long-established point of view. The beautiful brasswork was
black and green, the beautiful oak carving outlined in grey dust, and in
that state I could not take pleasure in looking at them, even for old
time's sake. Perhaps they were waiting for some restorations to be done
with before turning to with the pails and brooms and chamois-leathers.
But all service-time I used to be catching myself absorbed, not in
prayers and sermon, but in anxious inward debate as to whether it was
not already too late _ever_ to make those brass gates bright again.

There was no dirt in Exeter Cathedral to dim its complete and finished
loveliness, and all its surroundings were in character and keeping with
it, "composed" by time and circumstance to make the picture
perfect--especially on a golden autumn day. What should be the cast of
mind of a bishop privileged to live in such a house and grounds as lie,
peaceful and stately and exquisite, under the shadow of the south tower?
I like to remember that one bishop of Exeter had a son who was the
father of my Eden Phillpotts, whose intellectual inheritance is the love
of beauty, uncloistered, unsophisticated; beauty at its primal source in
the breast of Mother Nature. M. and I pottered about these precincts,
still thinking we were going on to Ottery St Mary, until the spirit of
the place so possessed me that I could not tear myself away.

"Oh, this is enough for one day!" I said to M.

She understood, and we stayed, and let Exeter soak in.

She took me to one place and another, and one was the old "Mol's Coffee
House" that flourished as such in the sixteenth century, but had been a
private house at the time of the Armada. It is now in the occupation of
a firm of picture-dealers, who also have the sole right of selling a
certain pottery ware of local manufacture. M. was interested in a
collection of water-colours they had on view--she is herself a charming
water-colourist--but the setting of those pictures was the picture of
them all. We climbed a little, dark, twisty oaken staircase that had
echoed to the tread of Drake and Raleigh--the self-same stairs, just as
when they clattered up and down; and we stood in the self-same
oak-panelled chamber where they met their fellow-defenders of England's
shores, to discuss and arrange plans for circumventing the enemy. I
looked up from the water-colours of to-day to the age-bleached colours
of their shields of arms in the age-blackened oak, and thought of those
bygone committee meetings. Nothing changed since then, except the living
air, and those who breathed it, and their use of the old place. It could
not be put to better use. The firm in possession, who deal in art, are
artistic enough to respect the relic in their care. The spirits of Drake
and Monk and Raleigh, and the rest, might come o' nights to the old
rendezvous, and not feel they had no business to be there. In that room
I bought a packet of picture post cards--views of Exeter--that,
artistically considered, are the best I found in England. Whenever I
took one out to scribble on, I put it back in the envelope again, as too
good to be defaced in the post and thrown away, and the package is still
intact.

Then we went to a shop and I bought an umbrella. Does that seem an
incongruous association of ideas? Nothing of the sort. The pleasure I
have had, and still have, out of that umbrella, because of the place I
bought it in, you would not believe. My hand fondles it every time I
wrap its folds around its stick; I cannot put the loop over the button,
or take it off, without all the loveliness of Exeter flooding my soul,
the memories of that day.

Between luncheon and tea we attended a missionary festival service in
the cathedral. It was a Pan-Anglican side-show, not to speak
irreverently, with the usual miscellaneous assortment of bishops in
attendance. One met the swarming prelates here and there, in the houses
of their hostesses, and in places remote from the London centre which
had lately been the seething whirlpool of episcopal affairs; and,
without going to one of their great programme meetings, I came to know a
few, one from the other, and to take an interest in some. For instance,
in an American bishop, one of the most vigorous and alert-minded, as he
was one of the youngest, a "live" man, who seemed eloquent in his own
person of the country he came from; in a black bishop from Africa, who
one day waited with me for a long time in the outer shop of a firm of
clerical tailors, while my husband (frightfully particular about the cut
and set of coats) was being attended to within; above all, in a nice man
from India, with whom I spent an evening, mostly on a sofa-for-two, in
a London drawing-room. It has been my good fortune to make friends with
several bishops, never as bishops, always as unprofessional men. They
are bishops who talk shop to me before they are my friends, not
afterwards. And I can say of each one of the few who have honoured me by
meeting me on my own ground, that as men they are (were, in the case of
one long dead and two at the end of life) delightful. You would not
think it, viewing bishops, as one does, altogether from the outside; but
so it is. On this occasion at Exeter, it was one of our own Australasian
prelates who preached the sermon. I did not know him, as bishop or man,
and there was not much in his discourse, and I do not like sermons
anyhow; rather, I feel that they have outstayed their usefulness, which
was doubtless great when the preachers were more learned than those they
preached to; but it was an hour and a half of physical repose and
spiritual contentment, and I much enjoyed it.

Straight from the cathedral we went to our tea, the---- But no, I will
not say it again. After this refreshment we walked about a little more,
and there comes to mind a delicious little shop in an alley leading out
of the cathedral yard; it sold Devonshire junket and cream and butter,
as well as other dairy dainties, some of which were handed to us in card
boxes with ribbon handles that were a pleasure to carry the long way
home. Also I recall a moment of astonishment at finding that prawns in
England were considered cheap at tenpence a dozen. They were exposed on
an Exeter market stall at that figure. "Goodness gracious! Do you mean
to say those we had at lunch yesterday were that price?" I questioned
M., horror-stricken to think how lightheartedly I had ladled them on to
my plate, as mere prawns such as went by the name at home, only bigger.
Then she told me that her domestic fishmonger charged a penny apiece.
And when you think of the importance of pennies in England! I made a
mental calculation that at least seven shillings had been sunk in the
little dishful that I had reckoned as worth sixpence perhaps--because
the prawns were so exceptionally fine.

It was dark when we reached Exeter station, and we had to wait there for
our train. We sat down to dinner, without dressing, at a few minutes to
nine.

On another day M. took me to Plymouth, the special place of memories,
the "take off" for my youthful leap into the unknown world. "Shall I
ever see it again?" I asked myself, as I watched it fade in rain on the
tragical morning of my departure; and how small a chance there was that
I ever should! It was typically spring-time then. Now it was typically
autumn.

The heavy fog in which the September day was born yielded to the sun
before we started on our expedition, and we had again the sweet English
weather that was peculiar to that year. We drove to Cockington before
leaving the carriage at Torquay, and Cockington was another place of
beauty that I had kept thought of through all my adult life. A friend of
mine had wintered at Torquay in the long ago, and in daily letters at
the time had word-painted all the neighbourhood for me, supplementing
his descriptions with photographs, which adorn a girlish album to this
day; and so I knew Cockington well at second hand. But that was not
like seeing it on a lovely morning such as this. We left the carriage to
walk up the lane of the Forge and through the Park to the little
artist's dream of a church, and we poked about inside it, while the lady
of the keys jubilated in subdued tones over the recent birth of an heir
to the lands it stood on. "These woods,", said M., as we drove away
along the narrow, deep-sunk roads, "are thick with snowdrops in the
spring." Heavens! What must Cockington be in spring?

Then we took train at Torquay for Plymouth, and there I was again on the
old _via dolorosa_, which was that no more. Ivy Bridge, in the shining
morning, welcomed me back, all smiles; and the country, which I really
saw for the first time, filled me with delight. So richly green, where
it was not so richly red! And why have I never seen such cows as those
splendid, big, red Devon cows elsewhere? If this is the type of creature
bred from Devon soil, the heroic history of the county is
explicable--not to mention the quality of its cream.

Shades of heroes were all about us as we perambulated Plymouth town, but
all the time I was thinking of a pair of poor young things putting in a
last morning (after a bedless and sleepless night) roaming the same old
streets, close on forty years ago. I could recognise little beyond the
general features of the place, however. The town must have greatly
altered since 1870, and the fact is evidenced by the complexion of its
more prominent buildings. The great Guildhall was not, nor the second
Eddystone lamp-post in the sea; even the Armada Memorial was not, nor
the statue of Sir Francis Drake, though one would have expected to
recall them, weather-worn and venerable, as having dominated the Hoe for
centuries before that. But we have fine modern halls and monuments of
our own, and it is the Historic Past in which I live when I have the
opportunity; so I turned from the great Guildhall to the grey church
alongside, which enshrined the story of seven centuries within its still
stout walls. And when I stood on the Hoe, it was not to look at new
statues and lighthouses, but across the unchanging Sound, where once lay
a "fine new clipper" (as the papers described her); waiting for a wind
to waft her on her maiden voyage round the world. She was a vessel of
little more than a thousand tons, and hardly visible to the naked eye
from that point of view--then. But I saw her ghost in September last, as
plain as plain could be.

Then we had a long afternoon at Kingswear and Dartmouth--a still more
satisfying experience, if that could be. They are both so old, so
beautifully unmodernised and unimproved, cherishing the Historic Past so
faithfully! The Naval College, above and apart, does not interfere with
it in the least. We "did" Dartmouth first--cradle of the British
seafarer from time immemorial--and it was an æsthetic luxury indeed to
potter about that old, old church in its old, old graveyard, between
which and the houses snuggled up to it a narrow, deep-sunken, paved
passage gave right of way to living neighbours, case-hardened against
the toxic microbe in all its forms, one must suppose. The rood-screen
still bore what I had never seen on rood-screen yet; the figures of the
two thieves as well as that of the Saviour--the Calvary complete. The
pulpit was the gift of King Charles the First, and apparently in its
original state, less the colour and sharp outlines that time had worn
away. It is of carved stone, gilded and coloured, shaped like a
wineglass, and one wondered that even a small man should dare to trust
his weight in it. I could not realise a modern preacher there, or a
modern congregation. I should expect to see Richard the Lion Heart and
his knights stride in, to be blessed before starting out of harbour for
the Crusades; at the least--or, rather, the latest--the Pilgrim Fathers
kneeling together, seeking strength to set forth on their equally
gallant enterprise.

And those quaint, steep, curly streets, and those old timbered houses,
with their projecting upper storeys, all carved and crinkled--they are
the same the Pilgrim Fathers said good-bye to, and in which their kin
may have lived for centuries before that. The harbour itself has not
been altered since King Richard sailed out of it in 1190--so they say,
and nothing appears to the contrary. Imagine the seafaring history it
has made, the sailor life it has seen! Those very stones that you see
and touch and walk about on to-day, those very waters where the
_Britannia_ and _Hindostan_ now lie! M. and I had luncheon in a long
room, by a window overlooking the quay, and a dozen imaginary pageants
of the past entertained my fancy as I ate, looking out upon the now
quiet place. There was another wide window at the other end of the long
room, and that one gave immediately upon the churchyard. Below it ran
the sunk passage which did duty for a street--two people could just
about pass each other and nearly on a level with its sill the ancient
gravestones presented themselves to view, almost within touch, against
the background of that church which seemed to have been there for ever.
I think I remember that gravestones of great antiquity lined the passage
walls and made a pediment to the window of the restaurant. Could
anything be more appropriate to the character of the town?

When we had explored Dartmouth, as far as time allowed, the ferry-boat
took us back to Kingswear, where we proposed to have tea with a lady
living up on the hill. Here the modern came in, but not until we wanted
it--with the soft sofa and the recreative cup. Kingswear keeps its mate
over the way in countenance. The new homes tuck themselves unobtrusively
into sylvan nooks that soften or hide them--or so it seemed; I must
confess that it was tea-time, and I did not take much notice. Besides,
the way to the house of M.'s friend was so steep and so striking that I
was bound to confine my attention to it. Tier above tier, up shadowed
shrubbery pathways and mossed stone stairways, the various footholds of
the garden were laboriously gained. The approach reminded me of some I
had heard or read or seen pictures of, leading to villas on Italian
heights. It was very pretty, and the house when we reached it was more
than that. We had but half-an-hour there before we had to seek our
train, but it was a pleasant bit of the day. I envied our hostess her
house as much as I did anyone in England. From one side of it she looked
down upon the harbour--the _Britannia_ and the Naval College and the
green shores; from the other she looked away to the river
mouth--Kingswear Castle and the open sea. While immediately around her,
and adown her steep garden, she had all the privacy of Sandringham
before the avenue was blown down.

Another "day out" enriched my collection of impressions of Devonshire
with a set of charming memories. It was the day we went to the wedding.

"Now," said M., when she had explained to me that I was a potential
guest, "I am going to show you, one of the finest views in England."
Thereupon she described the situation of the country house which was to
be the scene of festivity. It stood very high, in beautiful gardens,
which dropped down and down in a succession of terraces, ending in a
deep coombe and the sea. It was quite a famous beauty spot, apparently,
and when I had seen it I should have seen Devonshire at its best. I did
not need to be told what that meant.

At daybreak the fog was very thick and so remained till noon. We dressed
before luncheon, having a long drive before us, and the fate of feathers
and furbelows still hung doubtful. The carriage came round closed, and
we slipped into wraps and set forth--my two sister-hostesses and
myself--and there was no sign of the weather clearing. We were all
fresh-air persons who could not stand being cooped up, and we opened the
carriage windows, and the fog visibly flowed in. To me it was an
agreeable circumstance--more so, for once, than the brilliant sunshine
to which I was almost too well accustomed. It did not rain, nor feel
like it; in fact there was not a drop all day, and we could see our way
before us, and on both sides as far as the hedges of the deep-sunk,
narrow lane-like roads. Those rich autumnal hedges tapestried the
impalpable wall behind them with lovely forms that were a joy to
study--wreathing ivy, intertwined with pink valerian, cascades of
traveller's joy like the foam of our wild clematis at home. What the
views beyond must have been I could guess, for we were driving for an
hour or more and it seemed to be stiff climbing all the way.

We arrived at the decorated village--a village for a picture-book, if
ever there was one. The road where the carriages of the assembling
wedding guests were left had the effect of a ravine in its relation to
the church above it. We looked up and before us rose an irregular
footpath, like a worn-away and dislocated staircase, curving round and
about the beflagged and beflowered churchyard hill; and its whole
length, which straightened out would have been considerable, was covered
with red baize which had evidently taken a good deal of fitting to make
it lie so that it would not trip up the bridal company. At the top we
could just see the outline of the church and the dim colour and flutter
of the most distant flags. Sunshine could not have created a more
charming effect.

The church is the crowning glory of that typical Devonshire village. It
dates from the fourteenth century and its registers go back to the year
1538, but old age is not all its claim to distinction. It has a precious
cradle roof inside and a not less precious rood-screen (time of Richard
the Second), and a lovely harmony of every stick and stone with every
other, that was a luxury to contemplate what time I sat among the
wedding guests awaiting the coming of the bride. To-day the slender
shafts of the screen had bridal flowers tied to them and nestling
beneath--pink predominating (Japanese lilies, I think), a colour which
"went" with the blackened oak as cold white blossoms would not have
done. I had but such glimpses of the chancel as the interstices of the
screen afforded; understanding that the chancel was a "restoration" I
was content with that. I heard afterwards that it had a "squint" and
rood-stairs, fourteenth-century brasses and other interesting things,
such as I made a reverent study of in my young days.

The bride arrived. She was a young Norwegian lady, and a bright-faced,
wholesome, happy-looking creature--as attractive a bride as one could
wish to wait on. The English bridegroom looked a good fellow, and I
trust he has made her a good husband.

They stood outside the screen and close to us for the first part of the
marriage service, which the officiating clergyman declaimed with
remarkable enthusiasm; then they passed into the sanctuary for the
completion of the rite. As a mere wedding it was like other weddings.
The coloured flowers in the decorations (I believe they were all white
in the chancel) was the only unusual note.

But when the bride and bridegroom came out of church man and wife
together, there were a couple of minutes when the bridal spectacle
surpassed anything of the sort that I ever saw. I want to paint the
scene, but I know I cannot do it--cannot convey to another who was not
there the impression it made on me. The subject may be "genre," but of
all the pictures in my gallery I can find none more poetically composed.
Let me try to sketch it somehow.

You must first imagine rural Devonshire and one of its sweetest
villages; the deep road, the hedges and the trees and the churchyard
slopes, the flowers, the flags, the scarlet carpet, the still rainless
mist. The red stairway twisting and dropping through the green from
porch to gate is now lined with the village children, all in bewreathed
new hats (provided by the bride's family), and they hold in their hands
baskets of flower petals, with which they bestrew the way of the bridal
procession. Down they come--we had preceded them to the road, or I
should have lost one of the sights of my life--down they come, winding
with the winding path, the bride with her veil up, smiling and bowing,
her white train and her young maids behind her; every figure, every
feature of the scene, refined and idealised by the (to me) extraordinary
atmosphere. Bright sunlight would have made a picture which I should
have thought perfect had I not seen it through this pure poetic haze. As
a study of fog effects--well, it is no use trying to elucidate the thing
further. But I carried it away with the delight of a collector in a work
of art that is unmatchable, and now it is safe in my gallery of Blessed
Memories, and I would not take any money for it.

When we drove to the house which commanded "one of the finest views in
England"--home of the bride's sister--a rather less density of fog would
have answered the purpose, instead of which we had rather more. The
house, with its platform and all the lawns and flower-beds and marquees
thereon, was quite plain to view; the first terrace was visible; some
trees between that and the second tier of garden loomed a shade more
substantial than their shadows would have been; below and beyond
them--nothing. Nothing, nothing but cotton-wool, a white blanket, a wall
impenetrable. Not a glimpse, not a hint of the coombe and sea that M.
had promised me. So that to this day I do not really know how lovely
Devonshire can be, although I can imagine that I know.

The visible house had the more attention paid to it, and within it there
was much to charm the eye of a wedding guest, apart from the show of
wedding presents. Our Norwegian hostess had brought to her English home
treasure of furniture and curios that I had to apologise for staring at
as if they were things in a museum; masses of black wood carved all
over, and strange pottery and metal ware, drinking-cups and the like;
they brought the Norse country, ere while distant and practically
unknown, to sight and touch, and set my unsated traveller's soul
a-dreaming of snows and sagas, mountains and fjords.

But the Norwegian wedding-cake was the pride of its nation, amongst them
all.

In the large marquee where the dinner-destroying marriage feast was
spread, there were two of these nuptial trophies, an English cake
crowning one long table, a Norwegian the other. The first was the white,
three-tiered, much decorated affair that we are familiar with, and I did
not go near it. The bride cut it ceremonially, and it was distributed in
the usual way. Then, escorted by her bridegroom, she came across the
carpeted tent through the smart crowd to where I stood at the other
table. "I must 'break' this cake," she remarked, with her pretty foreign
accent, and proceeded to do it with her two hands in what one perceived
to be the correct Norwegian bridal fashion. In case the reader is as
ignorant of the constitution of Norwegian bridescakes as I was until
that afternoon, I will try to describe it.

It may have stood two feet high, but obviously the size would depend on
circumstances, the same as with our own. In shape it resembled the tall
bottles, with their horizontal fluting, in which the ready-made
salad-dressing of commerce is, or used to be, purveyed, being a shell
formed of graduated rings of cake (much like the wooden rings for
stretching drawn-thread-work), laid one upon another from bottom to top.
They were as perfectly round and evenly graduated as if the paste had
been wound round a cone like cotton on a reel, but that is not how it
was done, because each ring was complete in itself and came off whole
when the cake was "broken," although previously it had adhered to the
rings next to it strongly enough to make the finished erection safe to
move and carry. This means, of course, that the stuff is not brittle,
but neither is it tough; it bites like a particularly nice macaroon.
When the bride had pulled off the two or three top rings, which were
broken into pieces of convenient size before being handed round, the
hollow within revealed itself filled up with sweetmeats; and here again
the purse or fancy would determine the kind and quality of sweetmeats
used. A cake of any size, filled with the best "lollies," as we
Australians call them, must be at least as costly as the corresponding
English cake, although it may not look so. As it goes down, ring by
ring, the miscellaneous internal goodies are distributed to keep the
surface even, which certainly makes it the more interesting of the two
to partake of; and it can assuredly boast the more cunning cookery. I
love a new experience, of whatever sort or kind, and I consider the
Norwegian wedding-cake an item of value to my store.

Altogether, I had a good time that afternoon--as usual. Family guests
allowed me not a moment to remember that I was a stranger, and I was
thrown for a while with a lady--introduced to me with special intention
as one who knew Australia--with whom I felt at once like an old friend,
although she had known Australia only as a tourist, not as an old-timer
like myself. We talked Australia and nothing else, but not quite as
another lady, who knew Australia as I knew it, had discussed the subject
with me at a Norfolk garden-party. We did not largely comment upon the
funniness of these stay-at-home English people, the unconsciousness of
the poor dears of how way back behind the times they were, and their
extraordinarily mistaken notions about us and what we were accustomed
to.

The fog had settled down for the remainder of the day, never having
lifted since day broke. It took the bride and bridegroom and their
carriage, swallowing them up before our eyes as we clustered about the
porch to bid them godspeed. Soon afterwards we drove away ourselves. The
hedgerow ivy and the foamy traveller's joy and the pink valerian were
still to be seen on the roadside banks, so close to us as we pounded
down the hills. The carriage windows were down, and the white veil
floated about us. I watched the gradual wilting of the already
discouraged feathers on the hat in front of me, until at last they hung
down lank and shiny, little beads of moisture fringing their tips. I had
tucked my own feather boa within my wraps, to save it, but when,
reaching home, I drew it off in the hall, it was like drawing a wet
sponge along my neck and cheek.

"Take them all to the drying-closet," said M. to her maid. And there our
wedding garments spent the night, coming forth dry and fuzzy in the
morning.

In Australia the drying-closet is not amongst our domestic appliances,
although its principles are applied to laundries. We do not need it. But
it is the "long-felt want" of every British home. Unfortunately it is
the privilege of the well-to-do. Since I am not likely to be able to
afford one, I intend not to wear feather boas when I go to live in
England.



CHAPTER XV

IN THE GARDEN OF ENGLAND


Twenty years ago--or was it nearer twenty-five?--a dear girl came to
live with me as governess-out-of-school to my young children and general
aide-de-camp to myself. It was in the time, which spread over so many
years, when I was not strong enough for all the domestic duties that
properly belonged to me. I got her through an advertisement--the only
time I was ever beholden to such a source for such an acquisition. "A
young English lady" was the attractive description of her--the very
thing, to my mind, for my bush-bred infants.

I called on her at the Governesses' Home in Melbourne, and engaged her
on the spot. She had come to Australia for her health, but if she told
me so I did not grasp the fact; she looked as well and as good as I felt
she would be comfortable to get on with. Also she had come from a good
English house and a well-to-do and well-placed family, and was choosing
to earn her living rather than be an expense to her father, from no
compulsion but that of her own independent spirit; and this too was a
fact I did not grasp. She never allowed me to perceive it. Had she been
penniless, with only her casual employer to depend on, she could not
have served me more devotedly. She worked far harder than I should have
allowed her to do had I divined the secret weaknesses in her
sturdy-looking little frame, always with bright face and cheerful voice
and unslackening energy and interest. She seemed to have no thought for
herself at all. And yet she professed, and still vehemently professes,
that the time she spent with us was the time of her life.

However in the end she fell ill--very ill; then the secret weaknesses
revealed themselves, and the doctor shook his head over them. We saw
that governessing days were over, and her relatives were communicated
with. Her father sent out money for her needs and for a first-class
passage, and when she seemed able to travel we sent her back to him in
the care of a trained nurse. The doctor thought she might live to reach
her home, but he was not sanguine.

Well, she did, and is there still, bless her heart. At any rate I trust
so, she was a few weeks ago. Although the secret weaknesses seem
permanent and she risks her life every winter that she spends in
England--unfortunately, the Riviera, substitute for the more beneficial
and beloved Australia, is not always practicable--I anticipate that she
will be a hale old woman for many years after I am gone.

Through all the long interval between her parting with us at B---- and
my meeting with her again, she kept up a loving correspondence, and
every letter was a sigh for me to come home or a sigh to be back herself
in the sunny land where she had been "so well and happy." I had not the
leisure to answer half her letters, but when I was suddenly confronted
with the opportunity of my life, and sat down to inform my English
friends of the treat in store for them, it was with special satisfaction
that I wrote to the one who, I knew, would hail the news with more
genuine joy than anybody.

It was not until September that I found time to pay my first visit to
her. She lived in Kent, not a hundred miles from Maidstone, to which
town she journeyed to meet me--all in the wind and rain which were so
bad for the secret weaknesses. Partridges being the only living
creatures that my husband was then interested in--they had been
available to the gun three days--I went alone. Later on, just before we
sailed for home, I went down to her for a last week-end, and he followed
to fetch me and to shake hands with her before we left.

On that 4th September when I met her first after the long absence a
leading London newspaper made what now seems to me an astounding
statement. It declared that "we" had had "the most depressing August
ever known in England." All I can say is (and I trust I am not giving a
pair of rose-coloured spectacles away) that I have no recollection of
the circumstance. It was not a depressing August to me--I can swear to
that--and newspapers are notoriously sensational. "Ever known in
England" is absurd on the face of it, as the utterance of a probably
young man, and certainly of a man whose memory would not reach even as
far as the Coronation of Queen Victoria. But I do remember, and frankly
admit, that it was a wet day when I went to Kent for the first time. Not
only wet, but cold.

But that only made the home-coming to C.'s hearth and heart the warmer.

Warm I knew it would be, but even the loving correspondence,
undiscouraged by its frequent onesidedness, had not prepared me for the
discovery I made of my peculiar and permanent place in her regard. Of
the many happy experiences of life, few can match that of finding you
have been one of the deities of a faithful heart for over twenty years
of absence without knowing it. But that was only one of the surprises of
the day. Having stupidly missed the significance of first-class passages
and frequent Riviera winters, I had supposed myself bound for the sort
of home that you assume your nursery governess comes from, whereas I
arrived at a good country house, with fifty acres of estate to it, the
property of her family for generations, and now belonging to her and
three sisters jointly; an unpretentious establishment certainly, but
handsomely appointed and correctly administered--not like the bush
parsonage into which she had fitted herself so unassumingly. When
packing in the morning I had rejoiced in the innocence of my heart that,
for once, I need not bother myself with a lot of luggage; and I took for
my week-end a bag which at a pinch I could have carried in my own hand.
When evening came, and a bare-armed and bare-shouldered guest to meet
me, and I had nothing but a short cloth skirt and a high-necked blouse
to make a toilet of, I thought of something that an experienced
globetrotter, fresh from the West African wilds, had once told me. "One
thing I have found," said he: "wherever you go, if you haven't been
there before," and he was speaking of the least likely places, "it is
never safe to go without your evening clothes." I shall not forget that
in future. The irony of fate was in it when C. offered me a black satin
dinner-gown of her own. Sad--indeed, wild--as I was to be the one to
seem to show disrespect to her house, it was something of a comfort to
me to find that I had grown so fat in England (from seven stone five on
landing to eight stone two the day before this day) that I could not
make it meet by inches. I would sooner go to dinner in my petticoat than
wear a stitch of anybody else's--even hers, like a daughter as she was;
but I could not damp her loving solicitude by saying so.

She heaped luxuries upon me, even luxuries that she could not afford
(because I know just how far a quarter of the income of even a nice
estate as this was, in the chronic bad times of British agriculture,
would go, and that she supplemented it by selling plants from her
garden, and sometimes in other ways). When, after our great gossip over
our tea by the drawing-room fire, I went upstairs to make bricks without
straw, as it were, in my preparation for dinner, I found my pretty
bedroom, in which the fine old mahogany shone like glass, exhaling her
thoughtfulness all over it. In Australia, where your friends' buggies
are also their luggage carts, and where railway porters are so
precarious, you get into the habit of reducing your travelling kit to
the minimum, and a bulky dressing-gown is one of the things that can be
done without for a day or two, if you have an overcoat with you. I had
left mine behind, and lo! there hung from a chair by my warm fireside a
gorgeous robe of silk, embroidered outside, padded within, and beside it
a pair of quilted satin shoes to match--to go to my bath with, although
assuredly not meant for such humble use. That was the sort of thing.
When a carriage was had all the way from Maidstone, and kept with no
regard for the expense of wasted hours, I used the privilege of an old
friend and mother to remonstrate with her.

"Oh, _don't_!" her face and voice checked me from doing it again. "If
you only _knew_ what this is to me!" Well, I did know, and it was
knowledge to make one bless one's luck. How little we are aware of it
when we are setting bread upon the waters! I had been absolutely
unconscious of responsibility for this which came back to me after so
many years.

It was only from Friday afternoon to Tuesday morning that I could stay
with her on this occasion. But the best was made of that short time as
far as she could manage it. I saw as much as possible of the famed
Garden of England. Two months later, when I paid her the second visit, I
saw a great deal more. Both times my luck in English weather was "in."
My very first morning in Kent dawned bright and beautiful--after that
cold and rainy eve--and the day was all delightful.

We had breakfast in a sunny little sitting-room upstairs, a room with
lots of window light, and furniture covered with that calendered chintz,
patterned with flowers on a white ground, which is as cheerful to the
spirits as to the eye; C. and her sister who lived with her (the other
two being married and in their own homes), and my contented self, their
guest. Outside were lawn and old trees and plentiful autumn blossom; the
sun poured in; a little fire added a final touch of comfort--for I must
not be so low as to say it was bloaters and bacon (C. had remembered my
talk of English bloaters in the long ago as she had remembered
everything).

The admirable meal concluded I was taken a little walk about the place.
The estate had once been devoted to hops, and the back premises of the
solid old stone house were encircled by a great wall, broken with the
hooded peaks of kilns and lined with immense warehouses, where the crops
of the fields used to be treated and stored. Now the kilns were cold and
out of gear; the granaries were stores for fruit and ladders and market
baskets; and the bulk of the fifty acres of land bore orchards in heavy
bearing. I had struck a Kentish fruit farm at apple harvest, which was a
sight to see. Waggons were all day loading and driving off with their
piles of cases for Covent Garden, yet the army of pickers seemed to make
little impression upon the apparently countless millions of apples still
rosily shining in the sun. Other fruits were grown, although not to the
same extent, and there were lanes and thickets of cob-nut, which I was
told is a very profitable commodity, if you have it, but the bushes had
failed to bear that season. In view of the growing popularity of
vegetarianism, to the charms of which I yielded myself in England, when
I found how satisfactorily you could be fed by those who knew how to
work the system properly, I advised the sister fruit-farmers to make
more of a point of nuts; this was when they mourned sadly over the
market price of apples in a good year. I told them how I had spent a
week with vegetarians, expecting to be starved, and had been nourished
on such rich non-flesh meats that I hardly cared to look at a boiled
chicken when I went on to the next house. "Nuts," said I, "that can give
you all the feeling of beef and mutton without the gross actuality, have
a great future before them. So make haste and start growing them before
the other fruit-farmers think of it."

The conformation of this Kentish orchard gave charming views of its
several parts, of the pretty, down-dropping village and the distant
landscape. There was a slope of applefield, flushed with the colour of
its massed fruit in the sun, which sank to a lake with swans on it, on
the far side of which an old mill dipped its wheel in the water; trees
rose steeply behind the mill, and sweet old houses out of the trees. It
was the top of hilly ridges of which the bottom was the famous
Weald--and a subject for a painter if ever there was one. When I had
walked about enough I visited the warehouses and hop kilns that walled
the yard; saw F. wading in her sea of graded apples, directing the
workmen whose only overseer she was; stood with C. in an empty oast
house, while she reconstructed the busy scenes that were no more, the
living functions of the idle furnace and flue, shoot and press, and told
tales of a childhood beginning to loom away towards the fairyland where
now my own abides. "We used to bring potatoes here, and the hop-dryer
would bake them for us in the hot ashes"--alas! But why should I say
alas? I am convinced--although I was not always convinced--that it is
not a matter for repining that we "live but once."

The Maidstone carriage awaited the completion of an early lunch, and for
nearly four hours of the lovely afternoon C. showed me the lovely
country. I wish there were more adjectives equivalent to "lovely" and
"beautiful," that I might not have to use those two so often; but I must
express my feelings, and it is not my fault that the language of tongue
and pen is so limited. Everything was lovely, and there is no other word
for it but beautiful. I had not been to Devonshire then, but I still
think the village of Linton, as I saw it in that weather, beyond
compare. Not knowing what a Torquay horse could do, I wondered that ours
did not take the hill in what seemed the easier way of sliding down it
on his haunches; his labour on my account (but when he struggled upward
again, by digging his toes into the cobbles provided for the purpose, I
walked) was the only drawback to my almost intoxicating enjoyment of
England on that day. I had never before seen the country save from the
windows of trains, except in the eastern counties. The charms of English
hills and dales were fresh. Not that that made any difference in their
effect on me. I cannot believe for a moment that familiarity with such
beauty could ever lessen the joy of it.

On the brow of Linton Hill I got out to look at the church. I am not,
strictly speaking, a churchy person--this being, perhaps, one of the
cases where familiarity runs its normal course--but these English
reliquaries, with their histories and their architecture, had a
fascination that drew me every time I saw a door open. I ran in alone,
as I liked to do, while C. reposed in the carriage, conserving her
strength, and the poor horse pulled himself together for the descent;
and I looked through the chancel screening to that chapel of the
Cornwallis tombs, to be almost startled by the white image of death and
peace lying there, in cold and cloistered privacy, while without the sun
shone so gloriously, and the happy living people basked and played and
busied themselves in it, still possessing their lovely world. It was a
sharply impressive thing, coming upon such a conjunction unawares.

By the way, I may as well say here that I took no notes of my English
experiences at the time of happening, having no idea of writing a book
about them, and I may sometimes mix things up. But I think I am certain
that it was Linton Church and the Cornwallis monument and this first
drive in Kent that went together.

Down that inexpressible village street we drove, past those dreams of
old houses--labourers' cottages, as likely as not--which made my mouth
water in envy of the labourers, who doubtless scorned them as out of
fashion; and then there opened to us the Weald of Kent.

Perhaps I had better not begin upon the Weald of Kent. For one thing, it
has been mentioned by other writers--and painters. We have a picture of
it in our own Public Gallery in Melbourne. But, O paint! O words!

We meandered about high-hedged, lane-like, tree-shaded roads, which
would have reminded me of Devonshire if I had been there first. We
climbed the--to the horse with a big landau behind him--awful Hunton
Hill (up which I walked). We passed Hunton Park, Sir Henry
Campbell-Bannerman's old home, or one of them. We called on a friend who
gave us tea--_tea_--of a deliciousness commensurate with the craving for
it induced by so much fresh air. We skirted many hopfields, in their
full late-summer dress. We----

But if I go further I shall be violating the sanctities of private life
by discovering to the public the nest that for the time being sheltered
me. Suffice it that that drive was one of the drives of my life.

Our neighbouring town of Maidstone was closely investigated, as a
matter of course. That perfect example of a sixteenth-century
manor-house which is now the Museum, the far older Archbishop's Palace,
magnificent All Saints' Church, and the relics of the historic past in
back streets and byways, filled several afternoons with joy. But the
country, in that sweetest weather--we did have rain and cold sometimes,
but the best was always with me when I wanted it--the outdoor loveliness
was the soul-saturating delight. Until as late in the year as I made my
last visit this blessed luck held out. In the little pocket-book which
contains the brief and only record of my movements at this time, I find
the proof that memory is not drawing upon imagination:

"Oct. 30th.--Another gorgeous day, mild, sunny, summery ..."

"Oct. 31st.--Another fine day, although dull in the morning ..."

"Nov. 1st.--Beautiful day ..."

"Nov. 2nd.--Another lovely day ..."

"Nov. 3rd.--Another lovely day. Slightly foggy ..."

"Nov. 4th.--Still lovely, after the usual foggy dawn ..."

And then I think of the sort of weather they had in England the year
before and the year after and bear in mind the sort of weather that an
Australian is accustomed to!

It was on the 29th October that I went into Kent for the second and last
time. That was the occasion when my other sixpenny porter failed me by
putting me in the wrong carriage of my train, whereby I found myself at
Rochester when C. was waiting for me at Maidstone. When I reached her
house (to hear that she was still abroad searching for me) or, rather,
when we met at last at the compensating tea-table, and I had leisure of
mind to appreciate my surroundings, I thought Kent even lovelier than in
the month of hop and apple harvest. My room was abloom with roses from
C.'s garden (Madame Abel Chatney is, if I remember rightly, the name of
the shaded pink beauty that made so brave a show), and a vase of the
blue plumbago that riots like a wild thing in our Australian midsummer
heat, but was here coddled in her greenhouse, displayed itself
conspicuously on the chimney-piece to "remind me of home." The trees
were yellowing and their leaves dropping gently, but the woods had not
taken on their full colouring of decay as yet. The mistiness of the soft
mornings only made the sunshine (and the breakfast fire in the little
morning-room) the sweeter when it shone out.

It was on the "gorgeous day," 30th October, that we went to Malling
Abbey.

Another of those villages or little country towns whose charms must
inevitably be lost upon those who have always known them. There are
houses in Malling (and I found them plentiful elsewhere) standing close
upon the street--plain, flat-fronted, absolutely unpretentious, but
genuine, dignified, high-bred, if one may use the term, in every inch of
them--before which I stood in admiration that I am sure no home-staying
English person could understand. Are they the real Queen Anne? Whatever
they are they are good taste materialised. And if I could choose a
home----

But no; on second thoughts, no--not in an English village or little
town, all its loveliness notwithstanding. It is strange that for
thirty-eight years the daydream of my partner and myself--an
English-bred colonial clergyman's idea of mundane bliss--was just that
life; to be "settled" in one of those peaceful and comfortable country
rectories such as that in which we began our joint career. It seems to
be his dream still, but it is no longer mine. When, on the third Sunday,
after our return we walked through the fields and lanes to morning
service at W----, and entered the village church (to be stared at by the
rustic congregation with as much curiosity as when I wore my wedding
bonnet and G. his first canonicals); and when after service we were
invited, although we did not stay, to luncheon at the rectory, and saw
the house which was our first home, and walked upon the lawn where we
played croquet with the young friends who came to see us in our bridal
retirement, now all old like us, or dead and gone--it came over me to
wonder how it would have been if we had had our hearts' desire and
stayed there or in a like place always. I thought of the living life
that had been mine, and shuddered inwardly. So I did whenever I looked
upon a pretty parsonage house distant from railways and centres of
intellectual activity--and I saw so many of them; my first thought was:
"Oh, what a sweet home I could have made of this!" My swiftly following
second: "What appalling loneliness!" Somehow a bush hut in the Back
Blocks does not suggest such isolation for a cultivated mind and a
spirit awake to the movements of the world as these stately rectories
and vicarages in the small villages of England. One suspects it is not
easy to keep awake in them. But I may be wrong.

At Malling Abbey it was still more forcibly borne in upon me how I had
grown away from the attitudes of my youth.

The glorious old place--the eleventh-century tower has for its base the
foundations of a Saxon church, that is nothing for England--now belongs
to, or is occupied by, a community of nuns and their priest-chaplain;
English Benedictines is the correct label for them, I believe. The only
members of the household not too sacred for the common use of visitors
were the lay-women, and even they could not take us across the line
separating the earth and floors allowed to unconsecrated feet from the
precincts trodden by the Mother Superior and her nuns. The rooms they
occupied we could not see--not for love or money (and we dropped no mean
donation into the box displayed in the neutral vestibule); nor their
chapel, although the priest's chapel was shown to us. A late Mother
Superior had been more indulgent to the respectful curiosity of the
wayfarer, but the present Mother was "very strict," we were told. So we
did not so much as catch a glimpse of sacerdotal raiment, except that of
the priest taking the place of the absent chaplain--austere in his caped
cassock and biretta--and the Sister who had once been the sweet-maker,
and who dropped in to see her successor, who was her own sister, while
we were with the latter--a pleasant girl, with whom C. had an
acquaintance, and who was a charming hostess to us.

She worked very hard--for love, plus board and lodging--at the making of
the sweets (in Australian parlance, lollies) which were an important
source of revenue to the community. She made them in large quantities
and of high quality, and they had a steady sale amongst those who knew
of them, the high church aristocracy being the "connection" chiefly. C.
and I, both interested in fine cookery, had a great time in her
workroom, filled and lined with the materials, appliances and finished
products of her vicarious trade. She showed us everything without any
professional reserve or personal pride, explaining over and over again
that she had not the genius of the sister she had superseded. The sister
had been the famous sweet-maker; her humble self had taken, but could
not fill, that expert's place. But the expert had put on the habit of
the Order, and "When you have to go to church seven times a day, you
have no time for sweet-making," said our lay friend, unconscious of the
meanings borne by her words to a life-taught, world-taught listener.
When the sweet-maker who had entered the Sisterhood, which, so far as I
could learn, had no definite occupation except to pray and meditate,
lingered for a minute at her old cooking-table, looking on at the really
arduous labours of her successor, there was no evidence in her demeanour
of any doubt as to which of the two stood on the higher plane.

Well, I was even as these dear, dense women when I was young. I wanted
(at about the age of seventeen) to go into a sisterhood and say prayers
all day instead of living my life. And I was so morally undeveloped, so
intellectually juvenile, as to believe that I would thereby be
performing a noble, if not even the noblest, deed. Supposing I had not
been shaken out of my groove--the old hereditary groove, so deeply worn
that one does not see over the edges unless one is pushed up--where
should I have been now? I asked myself the question at Malling Abbey,
standing between the Mary in the black gown and white wimple and the
Martha making fondu with all her might, and the answers of a startled
imagination sent cold chills adown my spine.

Our unemancipated, unappreciated Martha was quite delightful to us. The
proud Marys would not let us near them, but she did all she could to
serve and oblige us--she and the dear old housekeeper of the chaplain,
who, in her reverend lord's absence and out of the human kindness of her
heart, stretched a point to please a stranger from so far, and allowed
me to peep into the home he had made in the ancient gatehouse; an
austerely and appropriately appointed one as ever I saw, but suggesting,
oh, what a life for a man with his manhood in him! The sweet-maker not
only gave us sweets and the secrets of their manufacture, she took
chairs for us into the abbey grounds, that we might take our picnic
luncheon in comfort; not, of course, in the garden, for the nuns walked
there, but beside a pond with willow-trees--a typical bit of convent
ground which I seemed to have visited in a previous existence. As we ate
our sandwiches, and viewed through sylvan veils the grey jumble of the
ancient buildings and the new but not discordant Guest House
incorporated with them, the Twentieth Century and its works seemed very
far away.

I think it was the chaplain's housekeeper who showed us the Pilgrims'
Bath--a place of weird suggestions. It is a stone outhouse hidden in
trees, and containing a sunk stone tank, with stone steps going down
into it. Here, in the bygone ages, the pilgrims washed themselves, or
were washed, before entering the sacred precincts. The cistern was empty
now, and there was no apparatus for taking water out of it. In those
pre-hygienic days ... However, it was interesting to know that washing
was done at all.

The Guest House looked the abode of peace. It takes in lady boarders,
for the pecuniary benefit of the community--which, if it does not work
for its living, must still be supported somehow--and how I would have
loved to be one, if I had stayed in my groove! Even as it was, the sweet
seclusion and simplicity and refinement of the life fascinated me
intensely. But the Guest House is presided over by a "Guest Mistress,"
and liberty is the basis of peace, as of all forms of happiness--to me.
She may be a darling, but I could not stand her now. The guests will all
have to be women of the Church and not of the world, souls in steady
grooves of tradition from which they have never been shaken out. To
them, if they are tired, it should be an ideal place of rest. One thing
I wish I had asked the sweet-maker: Are they allowed to worship in the
nuns' chapel? Surely not, if we were not permitted even to look at it.
In the priest's chapel, then? That seems too small, and I think I saw no
seat for a congregation of more than two--his housekeeper and under
maid. Perhaps the paying guests are sent to the parish church. But
suppose the rector of Malling (I know nothing of him) should be an
Evangelical? One thing is certain. They will have to go to church
somewhere, and to go often.

For nearly a thousand years the tower of this old abbey has stood where
it now stands, and who knows for how many years the Saxon church which
laid its foundations stood there before it? As I looked up at its lofty
broken crown, and down and around upon the structures beneath it, I
thought how many things beside stone walls outlive their time and use
and meaning.

On 1st November--a "beautiful day"--we went to Sutton Vallance. November
was the month of departure, and this, the last of my country excursions,
was peculiarly interesting and memorable. For at Sutton Vallance my
beloved godmother, the eldest aunt, had lived for some years, and in the
graveyard of the parish church she lies--carried there by her last wish
when she died in London. In girlhood I had wanted to visit her at this
place, and had not been able; after her death I made a promise to myself
that I would keep tryst with her dear ghost at the Kentish graveside
some day, if ever I got the chance.

It was not for that, however, that the expedition to Sutton Vallance was
planned. The claims of life came foremost, and it was life, not death,
that called us thither, a set of circumstances to which I gladly yielded
precedence over any affair of mine.

To C. and her sister came, the day before, two friends from the West
Indies, a pleasant man and wife. They represented old families of their
island, and his had the custom of colonial gentlefolk, the world over,
of sending their sons home to be educated. He was himself an "old boy"
of Sutton Vallance Grammar School, as I think he said his father had
been, and as he intended his own sons to be in due course. He was
delightedly revisiting England after years of absence--from fifteen to
twenty, perhaps--and to him the heart of England was this village above
the Weald and the old buildings that crowned it. We went to Sutton
Vallance that he might report himself to his old Headmaster, still in
harness, and show his wife the studies and dormitories, prayer-room and
playing grounds, where he had lived his schoolboy life, and where her
children would live theirs in the days to come. We had the landau from
Maidstone again, and set forth a party of five; if we had been a party
of a hundred instead, I do not think another member of it could have
entered into his feelings as I did. In the sympathy engendered by the
similarity of our circumstances, I enjoyed the afternoon, I am sure, as
much as he did--the neglected grave notwithstanding.

We passed it--the churchyard where I knew it was--while he was eagerly
identifying each little feature of the road as the scene of some
schoolboy prank or other; he spoke of the path beside which my dear one
lay, to describe the order in which the school was marched to
church--"through that gate ... in at that door"--and I did not bring
upon the living brightness of his hour a suggestion of the shadows that
would fall all too soon in any case.

The 1st of November was a Sunday. His time in England, like mine, was
short, and this was the only day available for the momentous visit. It
had to be now, or perhaps never. So, when we reached the school,
temporary disappointments were encountered. The Headmaster was out. So
was the only under master left of the old staff. The strange matron and
some elder boys, deeply interested in a guest with such credentials,
did what they could to repair the loss, and he played host to his wife
and us. It was delightful to observe and to listen to him as he rummaged
over the place; to hear him and the matron instructing each other in the
differences between Then and Now; to see him with his old boy's hand on
the young boys' shoulders--"you fellows"--telling them what Sybarites
they were with their hot water laid on, and inquiring of them how the
sporting credit of the old shop stood in comparison with that of rival
schools. I am afraid it was found that the old shop had fallen from
grace in some particulars; the mother of the boys who were to go there
in a few years was certainly critical, and I had seen schools as big
that were better ordered in my own country overseas; but it was full of
interest, plus precious associations, for me as for him, and that was
distinctly a "happy day"--happy for me, the neglected grave
notwithstanding; while as for him, I prophesy that in his old age he
will look back upon it as one of the happiest of his life.

It would hardly have been that without a sight of his old Headmaster.
And when we had quite "done" the school, and were down on the street
where our carriage waited, an inward reluctance to make an end just
there was felt by all, and resulted in suggestions calculated to give
the Headmaster another chance. The hour was late, we were far from home,
and--_we had had no tea_. F. proposed that we should forage in the
village for our evening meal. I demurred on behalf of C. and the secret
weaknesses. C. said the night air would do her no harm inside the
carriage, and that she would wind a scarf over her mouth. Then F. named
a local house of entertainment. "No, no," said our Old Boy, "you must
come with me to the old tuck shop"--which in the palmy days, it seemed,
had been good for every comforting kind of meal. This we did. The old
tuck shop was found to be in its old place, unchanged; even the old
proprietor (who looked ninety) and his old wife (who still looked young)
were there; they and the Old Boy all but fell into each other's arms. We
were shown into an inner parlour, a table was swiftly spread and piled
with good things, including a sufficient teapot; and we four ladies
rested and refreshed ourselves in great content. The Old Boy dodged in
and out, snatching a cake or a slice of bread-and-butter, returning to
talk with his old friends, reappearing for a gulp of tea and to gaze
ardently out of the unblinded window adown the darkening street. Anon we
saw him through that same window sprinting as for his life after a
vanishing bicycle. When he came back, in about half-an-hour, it was to
express his satisfaction at having caught, made himself known to, and
had a nice chat with, the remaining under master. So night closed around
us, and the great hope of the day was given up.

Suddenly, as we were all sitting together, about to summon our coachman,
who had also had his tea, there was a stir outside, the door of our
parlour was impetuously flung open, and a tall old man strode in, at
sight of whom the Old Boy sprang to his feet with an inarticulate grunt
of joy.

I felt that it was a meeting we should not have witnessed, but it was
good to witness it. The swift interchange of words told what their
relations in the past had been, but the tones of voice, the glow of
eyes, the grip of hands, still more. I could not easily forget the face
of the younger man when he said he had sons for the old school, nor the
face of the elder taking that tribute of filial loyalty. In the gap of
years lay the grave of the Headmaster's wife, and he was not destined to
train up another generation; the Old Boy was a strong and useful man of
the world, come into his inheritance of all that a boy of the right sort
grows up for. He introduced his wife. The stress of repressed emotion
was relieved. Would we not all come back and dine with him, the
Headmaster asked. He begged us to do so, but we could not. Then would we
all come back and dine with him to-morrow? Again we could not. The Old
Boy's business of life compelled his return to London next morning. So
the great occasion passed. The Headmaster gripped hands again, and
returned to the school which would be ever the dearer to him for these
few minutes out of it; and the Old Boy stood amongst us visibly
transfigured, like Moses just down from the Mount.

"_Now,_" said he intensely, "do you wonder at my wanting to come back to
my old school?"

Subdued and thoughtful and silent, we drove home. Moonlight and fog wove
the veil of evening through which glimmered the headstones of the
churchyard as we went by. There was not time now to stop the carriage
and pay my own tribute to the past and dear. Already C. was too late,
and there was not light to distinguish one grave from another. Well, it
did not matter whether I stood over my beloved one's coffined dust or
looked from a few yards' distance at the dim grass covering it. That
which haunted the spot was just as close to me.

There were three more days--"another lovely day," when my husband came
to fetch me; and yet "another lovely day, slightly foggy," when we took
him to Maidstone to show him the sights that I had seen; and one that
was "still lovely, after the usual foggy dawn," which was November the
4th, and our last in Kent.

But these were days when C.'s thoughts and mine were not concentrated
upon the pleasures and businesses in hand--when the blue plumbago in my
bedroom was not needed for any purpose but to look lovely against the
wall. November was the month of departure. In another fortnight I was to
be upon the sea. Towards the sea and the south my face was set, and she
knew what it was I looked for. All the charms of Kent in the golden
weather could not now deflect my gaze. England is Home indeed to the
English-born. The dear world in every part is Home to the spirit that
loves life and freedom, and discerns no frontiers between nation and
nation, nor barriers between man and man. But there is one wee spot, one
house amongst the countless millions of human dwellings--no matter in
what hole or corner you have tucked it--that is the only place on earth,
or in the universe for that matter, where your heart, if it be a
mother's heart, can rest.





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