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News from Nowhere by William Morris

Part 4 out of 5

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about his theory; and hastened to say that I did not mean to be
angry, only emphatic. He bowed gravely, and I thought the storm was
over, when suddenly Ellen broke in:

"Grandfather, our guest is reticent from courtesy; but really what he
has in his mind to say to you ought to be said; so as I know pretty
well what it is, I will say it for him: for as you know, I have been
taught these things by people who--"

"Yes," said the old man, "by the sage of Bloomsbury, and others."

"O," said Dick, "so you know my old kinsman Hammond?"

"Yes," said she, "and other people too, as my grandfather says, and
they have taught me things: and this is the upshot of it. We live
in a little house now, not because we have nothing grander to do than
working in the fields, but because we please; for if we liked, we
could go and live in a big house amongst pleasant companions."

Grumbled the old man: "Just so! As if I would live amongst those
conceited fellows; all of them looking down upon me!"

She smiled on him kindly, but went on as if he had not spoken. "In
the past times, when those big houses of which grandfather speaks
were so plenty, we MUST have lived in a cottage whether we had liked
it or not; and the said cottage, instead of having in it everything
we want, would have been bare and empty. We should not have got
enough to eat; our clothes would have been ugly to look at, dirty and
frowsy. You, grandfather, have done no hard work for years now, but
wander about and read your books and have nothing to worry you; and
as for me, I work hard when I like it, because I like it, and think
it does me good, and knits up my muscles, and makes me prettier to
look at, and healthier and happier. But in those past days you,
grandfather, would have had to work hard after you were old; and
would have been always afraid of having to be shut up in a kind of
prison along with other old men, half-starved and without amusement.
And as for me, I am twenty years old. In those days my middle age
would be beginning now, and in a few years I should be pinched, thin,
and haggard, beset with troubles and miseries, so that no one could
have guessed that I was once a beautiful girl.

"Is this what you have had in your mind, guest?" said she, the tears
in her eyes at thought of the past miseries of people like herself.

"Yes," said I, much moved; "that and more. Often--in my country I
have seen that wretched change you have spoken of, from the fresh
handsome country lass to the poor draggle-tailed country woman."

The old man sat silent for a little, but presently recovered himself
and took comfort in his old phrase of "Well, you like it so, do you?"

"Yes," said Ellen, "I love life better than death."

"O, you do, do you?" said he. "Well, for my part I like reading a
good old book with plenty of fun in it, like Thackeray's 'Vanity
Fair.' Why don't you write books like that now? Ask that question
of your Bloomsbury sage."

Seeing Dick's cheeks reddening a little at this sally, and noting
that silence followed, I thought I had better do something. So I
said: "I am only the guest, friends; but I know you want to show me
your river at its best, so don't you think we had better be moving
presently, as it is certainly going to be a hot day?"

CHAPTER XXIV: UP THE THAMES: THE SECOND DAY

They were not slow to take my hint; and indeed, as to the mere time
of day, it was best for us to be off, as it was past seven o'clock,
and the day promised to be very hot. So we got up and went down to
our boat--Ellen thoughtful and abstracted; the old man very kind and
courteous, as if to make up for his crabbedness of opinion. Clara
was cheerful and natural, but a little subdued, I thought; and she at
least was not sorry to be gone, and often looked shyly and timidly at
Ellen and her strange wild beauty. So we got into the boat, Dick
saying as he took his place, "Well, it IS a fine day!" and the old
man answering "What! you like that, do you?" once more; and presently
Dick was sending the bows swiftly through the slow weed-checked
stream. I turned round as we got into mid-stream, and waving my hand
to our hosts, saw Ellen leaning on the old man's shoulder, and
caressing his healthy apple-red cheek, and quite a keen pang smote me
as I thought how I should never see the beautiful girl again.
Presently I insisted on taking the sculls, and I rowed a good deal
that day; which no doubt accounts for the fact that we got very late
to the place which Dick had aimed at. Clara was particularly
affectionate to Dick, as I noticed from the rowing thwart; but as for
him, he was as frankly kind and merry as ever; and I was glad to see
it, as a man of his temperament could not have taken her caresses
cheerfully and without embarrassment if he had been at all entangled
by the fairy of our last night's abode.

I need say little about the lovely reaches of the river here. I duly
noted that absence of cockney villas which the old man had lamented;
and I saw with pleasure that my old enemies the "Gothic" cast-iron
bridges had been replaced by handsome oak and stone ones. Also the
banks of the forest that we passed through had lost their courtly
game-keeperish trimness, and were as wild and beautiful as need he,
though the trees were clearly well seen to. I thought it best, in
order to get the most direct information, to play the innocent about
Eton and Windsor; but Dick volunteered his knowledge to me as we lay
in Datchet lock about the first. Quoth he:

"Up yonder are some beautiful old buildings, which were built for a
great college or teaching-place by one of the mediaeval kings--Edward
the Sixth, I think" (I smiled to myself at his rather natural
blunder). "He meant poor people's sons to be taught there what
knowledge was going in his days; but it was a matter of course that
in the times of which you seem to know so much they spoilt whatever
good there was in the founder's intentions. My old kinsman says that
they treated them in a very simple way, and instead of teaching poor
men's sons to know something, they taught rich men's sons to know
nothing. It seems from what he says that it was a place for the
'aristocracy' (if you know what that word means; I have been told its
meaning) to get rid of the company of their male children for a great
part of the year. I daresay old Hammond would give you plenty of
information in detail about it."

"What is it used for now?" said I.

"Well," said he, "the buildings were a good deal spoilt by the last
few generations of aristocrats, who seem to have had a great hatred
against beautiful old buildings, and indeed all records of past
history; but it is still a delightful place. Of course, we cannot
use it quite as the founder intended, since our ideas about teaching
young people are so changed from the ideas of his time; so it is used
now as a dwelling for people engaged in learning; and folk from round
about come and get taught things that they want to learn; and there
is a great library there of the best books. So that I don't think
that the old dead king would be much hurt if he were to come to life
and see what we are doing there."

"Well," said Clara, laughing, "I think he would miss the boys."

"Not always, my dear," said Dick, "for there are often plenty of boys
there, who come to get taught; and also," said he, smiling, "to learn
boating and swimming. I wish we could stop there: but perhaps we
had better do that coming down the water."

The lock-gates opened as he spoke, and out we went, and on. And as
for Windsor, he said nothing till I lay on my oars (for I was
sculling then) in Clewer reach, and looking up, said, "What is all
that building up there?"

Said he: "There, I thought I would wait till you asked, yourself.
That is Windsor Castle: that also I thought I would keep for you
till we come down the water. It looks fine from here, doesn't it?
But a great deal of it has been built or skinned in the time of the
Degradation, and we wouldn't pull the buildings down, since they were
there; just as with the buildings of the Dung-Market. You know, of
course, that it was the palace of our old mediaeval kings, and was
used later on for the same purpose by the parliamentary commercial
sham-kings, as my old kinsman calls them.''

"Yes," said I, "I know all that. What is it used for now?"

"A great many people live there," said he, "as, with all drawbacks,
it is a pleasant place; there is also a well-arranged store of
antiquities of various kinds that have seemed worth keeping--a
museum, it would have been called in the times you understand so
well."

I drew my sculls through the water at that last word, and pulled as
if I were fleeing from those times which I understood so well; and we
were soon going up the once sorely be-cockneyed reaches of the river
about Maidenhead, which now looked as pleasant and enjoyable as the
up-river reaches.

The morning was now getting on, the morning of a jewel of a summer
day; one of those days which, if they were commoner in these islands,
would make our climate the best of all climates, without dispute. A
light wind blew from the west; the little clouds that had arisen at
about our breakfast time had seemed to get higher and higher in the
heavens; and in spite of the burning sun we no more longed for rain
than we feared it. Burning as the sun was, there was a fresh feeling
in the air that almost set us a-longing for the rest of the hot
afternoon, and the stretch of blossoming wheat seen from the shadow
of the boughs. No one unburdened with very heavy anxieties could
have felt otherwise than happy that morning: and it must be said
that whatever anxieties might lie beneath the surface of things, we
didn't seem to come across any of them.

We passed by several fields where haymaking was going on, but Dick,
and especially Clara, were so jealous of our up-river festival that
they would not allow me to have much to say to them. I could only
notice that the people in the fields looked strong and handsome, both
men and women, and that so far from there being any appearance of
sordidness about their attire, they seemed to be dressed specially
for the occasion,--lightly, of course, but gaily and with plenty of
adornment.

Both on this day as well as yesterday we had, as you may think, met
and passed and been passed by many craft of one kind and another.
The most part of these were being rowed like ourselves, or were
sailing, in the sort of way that sailing is managed on the upper
reaches of the river; but every now and then we came on barges, laden
with hay or other country produce, or carrying bricks, lime, timber,
and the like, and these were going on their way without any means of
propulsion visible to me--just a man at the tiller, with often a
friend or two laughing and talking with him. Dick, seeing on one
occasion this day, that I was looking rather hard on one of these,
said: "That is one of our force-barges; it is quite as easy to work
vehicles by force by water as by land."

I understood pretty well that these "force vehicles" had taken the
place of our old steam-power carrying; but I took good care not to
ask any questions about them, as I knew well enough both that I
should never be able to understand how they were worked, and that in
attempting to do so I should betray myself, or get into some
complication impossible to explain; so I merely said, "Yes, of
course, I understand."

We went ashore at Bisham, where the remains of the old Abbey and the
Elizabethan house that had been added to them yet remained, none the
worse for many years of careful and appreciative habitation. The
folk of the place, however, were mostly in the fields that day, both
men and women; so we met only two old men there, and a younger one
who had stayed at home to get on with some literary work, which I
imagine we considerably interrupted. Yet I also think that the hard-
working man who received us was not very sorry for the interruption.
Anyhow, he kept on pressing us to stay over and over again, till at
last we did not get away till the cool of the evening.

However, that mattered little to us; the nights were light, for the
moon was shining in her third quarter, and it was all one to Dick
whether he sculled or sat quiet in the boat: so we went away a great
pace. The evening sun shone bright on the remains of the old
buildings at Medmenham; close beside which arose an irregular pile of
building which Dick told us was a very pleasant house; and there were
plenty of houses visible on the wide meadows opposite, under the
hill; for, as it seems that the beauty of Hurley had compelled people
to build and live there a good deal. The sun very low down showed us
Henley little altered in outward aspect from what I remembered it.
Actual daylight failed us as we passed through the lovely reaches of
Wargrave and Shiplake; but the moon rose behind us presently. I
should like to have seen with my eyes what success the new order of
things had had in getting rid of the sprawling mess with which
commercialism had littered the banks of the wide stream about Reading
and Caversham: certainly everything smelt too deliciously in the
early night for there to be any of the old careless sordidness of so-
called manufacture; and in answer to my question as to what sort of a
place Reading was, Dick answered:

"O, a nice town enough in its way; mostly rebuilt within the last
hundred years; and there are a good many houses, as you can see by
the lights just down under the hills yonder. In fact, it is one of
the most populous places on the Thames round about here. Keep up
your spirits, guest! we are close to our journey's end for the night.
I ought to ask your pardon for not stopping at one of the houses here
or higher up; but a friend, who is living in a very pleasant house in
the Maple-Durham meads, particularly wanted me and Clara to come and
see him on our way up the Thames; and I thought you wouldn't mind
this bit of night travelling."

He need not have adjured me to keep up my spirits, which were as high
as possible; though the strangeness and excitement of the happy and
quiet life which I saw everywhere around me was, it is true, a little
wearing off, yet a deep content, as different as possible from
languid acquiescence, was taking its place, and I was, as it were,
really new-born.

We landed presently just where I remembered the river making an elbow
to the north towards the ancient house of the Blunts; with the wide
meadows spreading on the right-hand side, and on the left the long
line of beautiful old trees overhanging the water. As we got out of
the boat, I said to Dick -

"Is it the old house we are going to?"

"No," he said, "though that is standing still in green old age, and
is well inhabited. I see, by the way, that you know your Thames
well. But my friend Walter Allen, who asked me to stop here, lives
in a house, not very big, which has been built here lately, because
these meadows are so much liked, especially in summer, that there was
getting to be rather too much of tenting on the open field; so the
parishes here about, who rather objected to that, built three houses
between this and Caversham, and quite a large one at Basildon, a
little higher up. Look, yonder are the lights of Walter Allen's
house!"

So we walked over the grass of the meadows under a flood of
moonlight, and soon came to the house, which was low and built round
a quadrangle big enough to get plenty of sunshine in it. Walter
Allen, Dick's friend, was leaning against the jamb of the doorway
waiting for us, and took us into the hall without overplus of words.
There were not many people in it, as some of the dwellers there were
away at the haymaking in the neighbourhood, and some, as Walter told
us, were wandering about the meadow enjoying the beautiful moonlit
night. Dick's friend looked to be a man of about forty; tall, black-
haired, very kind-looking and thoughtful; but rather to my surprise
there was a shade of melancholy on his face, and he seemed a little
abstracted and inattentive to our chat, in spite of obvious efforts
to listen.

Dick looked on him from time to time, and seemed troubled; and at
last he said: "I say, old fellow, if there is anything the matter
which we didn't know of when you wrote to me, don't you think you had
better tell us about it at once? Or else we shall think we have come
here at an unlucky time, and are not quite wanted."

Walter turned red, and seemed to have some difficulty in restraining
his tears, but said at last: "Of course everybody here is very glad
to see you, Dick, and your friends; but it is true that we are not at
our best, in spite of the fine weather and the glorious hay-crop. We
have had a death here."

Said Dick: "Well, you should get over that, neighbour: such things
must be."

"Yes," Walter said, "but this was a death by violence, and it seems
likely to lead to at least one more; and somehow it makes us feel
rather shy of one another; and to say the truth, that is one reason
why there are so few of us present to-night."

"Tell us the story, Walter," said Dick; "perhaps telling it will help
you to shake off your sadness."

Said Walter: "Well, I will; and I will make it short enough, though
I daresay it might be spun out into a long one, as used to be done
with such subjects in the old novels. There is a very charming girl
here whom we all like, and whom some of us do more than like; and she
very naturally liked one of us better than anybody else. And another
of us (I won't name him) got fairly bitten with love-madness, and
used to go about making himself as unpleasant as he could--not of
malice prepense, of course; so that the girl, who liked him well
enough at first, though she didn't love him, began fairly to dislike
him. Of course, those of us who knew him best--myself amongst
others--advised him to go away, as he was making matters worse and
worse for himself every day. Well, he wouldn't take our advice (that
also, I suppose, was a matter of course), so we had to tell him that
he MUST go, or the inevitable sending to Coventry would follow; for
his individual trouble had so overmastered him that we felt that WE
must go if he did not.

"He took that better than we expected, when something or other--an
interview with the girl, I think, and some hot words with the
successful lover following close upon it, threw him quite off his
balance; and he got hold of an axe and fell upon his rival when there
was no one by; and in the struggle that followed the man attacked,
hit him an unlucky blow and killed him. And now the slayer in his
turn is so upset that he is like to kill himself; and if he does, the
girl will do as much, I fear. And all this we could no more help
than the earthquake of the year before last."

"It is very unhappy," said Dick; "but since the man is dead, and
cannot be brought to life again, and since the slayer had no malice
in him, I cannot for the life of me see why he shouldn't get over it
before long. Besides, it was the right man that was killed and not
the wrong. Why should a man brood over a mere accident for ever?
And the girl?"

"As to her," said Walter, "the whole thing seems to have inspired her
with terror rather than grief. What you say about the man is true,
or it should be; but then, you see, the excitement and jealousy that
was the prelude to this tragedy had made an evil and feverish element
round about him, from which he does not seem to be able to escape.
However, we have advised him to go away--in fact, to cross the seas;
but he is in such a state that I do not think he CAN go unless
someone TAKES him, and I think it will fall to my lot to do so; which
is scarcely a cheerful outlook for me."

"O, you will find a certain kind of interest in it," said Dick. "And
of course he MUST soon look upon the affair from a reasonable point
of view sooner or later."

"Well, at any rate," quoth Walter, "now that I have eased my mind by
making you uncomfortable, let us have an end of the subject for the
present. Are you going to take your guest to Oxford?"

"Why, of course we must pass through it," said Dick, smiling, "as we
are going into the upper waters: but I thought that we wouldn't stop
there, or we shall be belated as to the haymaking up our way. So
Oxford and my learned lecture on it, all got at second-hand from my
old kinsman, must wait till we come down the water a fortnight
hence."

I listened to this story with much surprise, and could not help
wondering at first that the man who had slain the other had not been
put in custody till it could be proved that he killed his rival in
self-defence only. However, the more I thought of it, the plainer it
grew to me that no amount of examination of witnesses, who had
witnessed nothing but the ill-blood between the two rivals, would
have done anything to clear up the case. I could not help thinking,
also, that the remorse of this homicide gave point to what old
Hammond had said to me about the way in which this strange people
dealt with what I had been used to hear called crimes. Truly, the
remorse was exaggerated; but it was quite clear that the slayer took
the whole consequences of the act upon himself, and did not expect
society to whitewash him by punishing him. I had no fear any longer
that "the sacredness of human life" was likely to suffer amongst my
friends from the absence of gallows and prison.

CHAPTER XXV: THE THIRD DAY ON THE THAMES

As we went down to the boat next morning, Walter could not quite keep
off the subject of last night, though he was more hopeful than he had
been then, and seemed to think that if the unlucky homicide could not
be got to go over-sea, he might at any rate go and live somewhere in
the neighbourhood pretty much by himself; at any rate, that was what
he himself had proposed. To Dick, and I must say to me also, this
seemed a strange remedy; and Dick said as much. Quoth he:

"Friend Walter, don't set the man brooding on the tragedy by letting
him live alone. That will only strengthen his idea that he has
committed a crime, and you will have him killing himself in good
earnest."

Said Clara: "I don't know. If I may say what I think of it, it is
that he had better have his fill of gloom now, and, so to say, wake
up presently to see how little need there has been for it; and then
he will live happily afterwards. As for his killing himself, you
need not be afraid of that; for, from all you tell me, he is really
very much in love with the woman; and to speak plainly, until his
love is satisfied, he will not only stick to life as tightly as he
can, but will also make the most of every event of his life--will, so
to say, hug himself up in it; and I think that this is the real
explanation of his taking the whole matter with such an excess of
tragedy."

Walter looked thoughtful, and said: "Well, you may be right; and
perhaps we should have treated it all more lightly: but you see,
guest" (turning to me), "such things happen so seldom, that when they
do happen, we cannot help being much taken up with it. For the rest,
we are all inclined, to excuse our poor friend for making us so
unhappy, on the ground that he does it out of an exaggerated respect
for human life and its happiness. Well, I will say no more about it;
only this: will you give me a cast up stream, as I want to look
after a lonely habitation for the poor fellow, since he will have it
so, and I hear that there is one which would suit us very well on the
downs beyond Streatley; so if you will put me ashore there I will
walk up the hill and look to it."

"Is the house in question empty?" said I.

"No," said Walter, "but the man who lives there will go out of it, of
course, when he hears that we want it. You see, we think that the
fresh air of the downs and the very emptiness of the landscape will
do our friend good."

"Yes," said Clara, smiling, "and he will not be so far from his
beloved that they cannot easily meet if they have a mind to--as they
certainly will."

This talk had brought us down to the boat, and we were presently
afloat on the beautiful broad stream, Dick driving the prow swiftly
through the windless water of the early summer morning, for it was
not yet six o'clock. We were at the lock in a very little time; and
as we lay rising and rising on the in-coming water, I could not help
wondering that my old friend the pound-lock, and that of the very
simplest and most rural kind, should hold its place there; so I said:

"I have been wondering, as we passed lock after lock, that you
people, so prosperous as you are, and especially since you are so
anxious for pleasant work to do, have not invented something which
would get rid of this clumsy business of going up-stairs by means of
these rude contrivances."

Dick laughed. "My dear friend," said he, "as long as water has the
clumsy habit of running down hill, I fear we must humour it by going
up-stairs when we have our faces turned from the sea. And really I
don't see why you should fall foul of Maple-Durham lock, which I
think a very pretty place."

There was no doubt about the latter assertion, I thought, as I looked
up at the overhanging boughs of the great trees, with the sun coming
glittering through the leaves, and listened to the song of the summer
blackbirds as it mingled with the sound of the backwater near us. So
not being able to say why I wanted the locks away--which, indeed, I
didn't do at all--I held my peace. But Walter said -

"You see, guest, this is not an age of inventions. The last epoch
did all that for us, and we are now content to use such of its
inventions as we find handy, and leaving those alone which we don't
want. I believe, as a matter of fact, that some time ago (I can't
give you a date) some elaborate machinery was used for the locks,
though people did not go so far as try to make the water run up hill.
However, it was troublesome, I suppose, and the simple hatches, and
the gates, with a big counterpoising beam, were found to answer every
purpose, and were easily mended when wanted with material always to
hand: so here they are, as you see."

"Besides," said Dick, "this kind of lock is pretty, as you can see;
and I can't help thinking that your machine-lock, winding up like a
watch, would have been ugly and would have spoiled the look of the
river: and that is surely reason enough for keeping such locks as
these. Good-bye, old fellow!" said he to the lock, as he pushed us
out through the now open gates by a vigorous stroke of the boat-hook.
"May you live long, and have your green old age renewed for ever!"

On we went; and the water had the familiar aspect to me of the days
before Pangbourne had been thoroughly cocknified, as I have seen it.
It (Pangbourne) was distinctly a village still--i.e., a definite
group of houses, and as pretty as might be. The beech-woods still
covered the hill that rose above Basildon; but the flat fields
beneath them were much more populous than I remembered them, as there
were five large houses in sight, very carefully designed so as not to
hurt the character of the country. Down on the green lip of the
river, just where the water turns toward the Goring and Streatley
reaches, were half a dozen girls playing about on the grass. They
hailed us as we were about passing them, as they noted that we were
travellers, and we stopped a minute to talk with them. They had been
bathing, and were light clad and bare-footed, and were bound for the
meadows on the Berkshire side, where the haymaking had begun, and
were passing the time merrily enough till the Berkshire folk came in
their punt to fetch them. At first nothing would content them but we
must go with them into the hay-field, and breakfast with them; but
Dick put forward his theory of beginning the hay-harvest higher up
the water, and not spoiling my pleasure therein by giving me a taste
of it elsewhere, and they gave way, though unwillingly. In revenge
they asked me a great many questions about the country I came from
and the manners of life there, which I found rather puzzling to
answer; and doubtless what answers I did give were puzzling enough to
them. I noticed both with these pretty girls and with everybody else
we met, that in default of serious news, such as we had heard at
Maple-Durham, they were eager to discuss all the little details of
life: the weather, the hay-crop, the last new house, the plenty or
lack of such and such birds, and so on; and they talked of these
things not in a fatuous and conventional way, but as taking, I say,
real interest in them. Moreover, I found that the women knew as much
about all these things as the men: could name a flower, and knew its
qualities; could tell you the habitat of such and such birds and
fish, and the like.

It is almost strange what a difference this intelligence made in my
estimate of the country life of that day; for it used to be said in
past times, and on the whole truly, that outside their daily work
country people knew little of the country, and at least could tell
you nothing about it; while here were these people as eager about all
the goings on in the fields and woods and downs as if they had been
Cockneys newly escaped from the tyranny of bricks and mortar.

I may mention as a detail worth noticing that not only did there seem
to be a great many more birds about of the non-predatory kinds, but
their enemies the birds of prey were also commoner. A kite hung over
our heads as we passed Medmenham yesterday; magpies were quite common
in the hedgerows; I saw several sparrow-hawks, and I think a merlin;
and now just as we were passing the pretty bridge which had taken the
place of Basildon railway-bridge, a couple of ravens croaked above
our boat, as they sailed off to the higher ground of the downs. I
concluded from all this that the days of the gamekeeper were over,
and did not even need to ask Dick a question about it.

CHAPTER XXVI: THE OBSTINATE REFUSERS

Before we parted from these girls we saw two sturdy young men and a
woman putting off from the Berkshire shore, and then Dick bethought
him of a little banter of the girls, and asked them how it was that
there was nobody of the male kind to go with them across the water,
and where their boats were gone to. Said one, the youngest of the
party: "O, they have got the big punt to lead stone from up the
water."

"Who do you mean by 'they,' dear child?" said Dick.

Said an older girl, laughing: "You had better go and see them. Look
there," and she pointed northwest, "don't you see building going on
there?"

"Yes," said Dick, "and I am rather surprised at this time of the
year; why are they not haymaking with you?"

The girls all laughed at this, and before their laugh was over, the
Berkshire boat had run on to the grass and the girls stepped in
lightly, still sniggering, while the new comers gave us the sele of
the day. But before they were under way again, the tall girl said:

"Excuse us for laughing, dear neighbours, but we have had some
friendly bickering with the builders up yonder, and as we have no
time to tell you the story, you had better go and ask them: they
will be glad to see you--if you don't hinder their work."

They all laughed again at that, and waved us a pretty farewell as the
punters set them over toward the other shore, and left us standing on
the bank beside our boat.

"Let us go and see them," said Clara; "that is, if you are not in a
hurry to get to Streatley, Walter?"

"O no," said Walter, "I shall be glad of the excuse to have a little
more of your company."

So we left the boat moored there, and went on up the slow slope of
the hill; but I said to Dick on the way, being somewhat mystified:
"What was all that laughing about? what was the joke!"

"I can guess pretty well," said Dick; "some of them up there have got
a piece of work which interests them, and they won't go to the
haymaking, which doesn't matter at all, because there are plenty of
people to do such easy-hard work as that; only, since haymaking is a
regular festival, the neighbours find it amusing to jeer good-
humouredly at them."

"I see," said I, "much as if in Dickens's time some young people were
so wrapped up in their work that they wouldn't keep Christmas."

"Just so," said Dick, "only these people need not be young either."

"But what did you mean by easy-hard work?" said I.

Quoth Dick: "Did I say that? I mean work that tries the muscles and
hardens them and sends you pleasantly weary to bed, but which isn't
trying in other ways: doesn't harass you in short. Such work is
always pleasant if you don't overdo it. Only, mind you, good mowing
requires some little skill. I'm a pretty good mower."

This talk brought us up to the house that was a-building, not a large
one, which stood at the end of a beautiful orchard surrounded by an
old stone wall. "O yes, I see," said Dick; "I remember, a beautiful
place for a house: but a starveling of a nineteenth century house
stood there: I am glad they are rebuilding: it's all stone, too,
though it need not have been in this part of the country: my word,
though, they are making a neat job of it: but I wouldn't have made
it all ashlar."

Walter and Clara were already talking to a tall man clad in his
mason's blouse, who looked about forty, but was I daresay older, who
had his mallet and chisel in hand; there were at work in the shed and
on the scaffold about half a dozen men and two women, blouse-clad
like the carles, while a very pretty woman who was not in the work
but was dressed in an elegant suit of blue linen came sauntering up
to us with her knitting in her hand. She welcomed us and said,
smiling: "So you are come up from the water to see the Obstinate
Refusers: where are you going haymaking, neighbours?"

"O, right up above Oxford," said Dick; "it is rather a late country.
But what share have you got with the Refusers, pretty neighbour?"

Said she, with a laugh: "O, I am the lucky one who doesn't want to
work; though sometimes I get it, for I serve as model to Mistress
Philippa there when she wants one: she is our head carver; come and
see her."

She led us up to the door of the unfinished house, where a rather
little woman was working with mallet and chisel on the wall near by.
She seemed very intent on what she was doing, and did not turn round
when we came up; but a taller woman, quite a girl she seemed, who was
at work near by, had already knocked off, and was standing looking
from Clara to Dick with delighted eyes. None of the others paid much
heed to us.

The blue-clad girl laid her hand on the carver's shoulder and said:
"Now Philippa, if you gobble up your work like that, you will soon
have none to do; and what will become of you then?"

The carver turned round hurriedly and showed us the face of a woman
of forty (or so she seemed), and said rather pettishly, but in a
sweet voice:

"Don't talk nonsense, Kate, and don't interrupt me if you can help
it." She stopped short when she saw us, then went on with the kind
smile of welcome which never failed us. "Thank you for coming to see
us, neighbours; but I am sure that you won't think me unkind if I go
on with my work, especially when I tell you that I was ill and unable
to do anything all through April and May; and this open-air and the
sun and the work together, and my feeling well again too, make a mere
delight of every hour to me; and excuse me, I must go on."

She fell to work accordingly on a carving in low relief of flowers
and figures, but talked on amidst her mallet strokes: "You see, we
all think this the prettiest place for a house up and down these
reaches; and the site has been so long encumbered with an unworthy
one, that we masons were determined to pay off fate and destiny for
once, and build the prettiest house we could compass here--and so--
and so--"

Here she lapsed into mere carving, but the tall foreman came up and
said: "Yes, neighbours, that is it: so it is going to be all ashlar
because we want to carve a kind of a wreath of flowers and figures
all round it; and we have been much hindered by one thing or other--
Philippa's illness amongst others,--and though we could have managed
our wreath without her--"

"Could you, though?" grumbled the last-named from the face of the
wall.

"Well, at any rate, she is our best carver, and it would not have
been kind to begin the carving without her. So you see," said he,
looking at Dick and me, "we really couldn't go haymaking, could we,
neighbours? But you see, we are getting on so fast now with this
splendid weather, that I think we may well spare a week or ten days
at wheat-harvest; and won't we go at that work then! Come down then
to the acres that lie north and by west here at our backs and you
shall see good harvesters, neighbours.

"Hurrah, for a good brag!" called a voice from the scaffold above us;
"our foreman thinks that an easier job than putting one stone on
another!"

There was a general laugh at this sally, in which the tall foreman
joined; and with that we saw a lad bringing out a little table into
the shadow of the stone-shed, which he set down there, and then going
back, came out again with the inevitable big wickered flask and tall
glasses, whereon the foreman led us up to due seats on blocks of
stone, and said:

"Well, neighbours, drink to my brag coming true, or I shall think you
don't believe me! Up there!" said he, hailing the scaffold, "are you
coming down for a glass?" Three of the workmen came running down the
ladder as men with good "building legs" will do; but the others
didn't answer, except the joker (if he must so be called), who called
out without turning round: "Excuse me, neighbours for not getting
down. I must get on: my work is not superintending, like the
gaffer's yonder; but, you fellows, send us up a glass to drink the
haymakers' health." Of course, Philippa would not turn away from her
beloved work; but the other woman carver came; she turned out to be
Philippa's daughter, but was a tall strong girl, black-haired and
gipsey-like of face and curiously solemn of manner. The rest
gathered round us and clinked glasses, and the men on the scaffold
turned about and drank to our healths; but the busy little woman by
the door would have none of it all, but only shrugged her shoulders
when her daughter came up to her and touched her.

So we shook hands and turned our backs on the Obstinate Refusers,
went down the slope to our boat, and before we had gone many steps
heard the full tune of tinkling trowels mingle with the humming of
the bees and the singing of the larks above the little plain of
Basildon.

CHAPTER XXVII: THE UPPER WATERS

We set Walter ashore on the Berkshire side, amidst all the beauties
of Streatley, and so went our ways into what once would have been the
deeper country under the foot-hills of the White Horse; and though
the contrast between half-cocknified and wholly unsophisticated
country existed no longer, a feeling of exultation rose within me (as
it used to do) at sight of the familiar and still unchanged hills of
the Berkshire range.

We stopped at Wallingford for our mid-day meal; of course, all signs
of squalor and poverty had disappeared from the streets of the
ancient town, and many ugly houses had been taken down and many
pretty new ones built, but I thought it curious, that the town still
looked like the old place I remembered so well; for indeed it looked
like that ought to have looked.

At dinner we fell in with an old, but very bright and intelligent
man, who seemed in a country way to be another edition of old
Hammond. He had an extraordinary detailed knowledge of the ancient
history of the country-side from the time of Alfred to the days of
the Parliamentary Wars, many events of which, as you may know, were
enacted round about Wallingford. But, what was more interesting to
us, he had detailed record of the period of the change to the present
state of things, and told us a great deal about it, and especially of
that exodus of the people from the town to the country, and the
gradual recovery by the town-bred people on one side, and the
country-bred people on the other, of those arts of life which they
had each lost; which loss, as he told us, had at one time gone so far
that not only was it impossible to find a carpenter or a smith in a
village or small country town, but that people in such places had
even forgotten how to bake bread, and that at Wallingford, for
instance, the bread came down with the newspapers by an early train
from London, worked in some way, the explanation of which I could not
understand. He told us also that the townspeople who came into the
country used to pick up the agricultural arts by carefully watching
the way in which the machines worked, gathering an idea of handicraft
from machinery; because at that time almost everything in and about
the fields was done by elaborate machines used quite unintelligently
by the labourers. On the other hand, the old men amongst the
labourers managed to teach the younger ones gradually a little
artizanship, such as the use of the saw and the plane, the work of
the smithy, and so forth; for once more, by that time it was as much
as--or rather, more than--a man could do to fix an ash pole to a rake
by handiwork; so that it would take a machine worth a thousand
pounds, a group of workmen, and half a day's travelling, to do five
shillings' worth of work. He showed us, among other things, an
account of a certain village council who were working hard at all
this business; and the record of their intense earnestness in getting
to the bottom of some matter which in time past would have been
thought quite trivial, as, for example, the due proportions of alkali
and oil for soap-making for the village wash, or the exact heat of
the water into which a leg of mutton should be plunged for boiling--
all this joined to the utter absence of anything like party feeling,
which even in a village assembly would certainly have made its
appearance in an earlier epoch, was very amusing, and at the same
time instructive.

This old man, whose name was Henry Morsom, took us, after our meal
and a rest, into a biggish hall which contained a large collection of
articles of manufacture and art from the last days of the machine
period to that day; and he went over them with us, and explained them
with great care. They also were very interesting, showing the
transition from the makeshift work of the machines (which was at
about its worst a little after the Civil War before told of) into the
first years of the new handicraft period. Of course, there was much
overlapping of the periods: and at first the new handwork came in
very slowly.

"You must remember," said the old antiquary, "that the handicraft was
not the result of what used to be called material necessity: on the
contrary, by that time the machines had been so much improved that
almost all necessary work might have been done by them: and indeed
many people at that time, and before it, used to think that machinery
would entirely supersede handicraft; which certainly, on the face of
it, seemed more than likely. But there was another opinion, far less
logical, prevalent amongst the rich people before the days of
freedom, which did not die out at once after that epoch had begun.
This opinion, which from all I can learn seemed as natural then, as
it seems absurd now, was, that while the ordinary daily work of the
world would be done entirely by automatic machinery, the energies of
the more intelligent part of mankind would be set free to follow the
higher forms of the arts, as well as science and the study of
history. It was strange, was it not, that they should thus ignore
that aspiration after complete equality which we now recognise as the
bond of all happy human society?"

I did not answer, but thought the more. Dick looked thoughtful, and
said:

"Strange, neighbour? Well, I don't know. I have often heard my old
kinsman say the one aim of all people before our time was to avoid
work, or at least they thought it was; so of course the work which
their daily life forced them to do, seemed more like work than that
which they seemed to choose for themselves."

"True enough," said Morsom. "Anyhow, they soon began to find out
their mistake, and that only slaves and slaveholders could live
solely by setting machines going."

Clara broke in here, flushing a little as she spoke: "Was not their
mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been
living?--a life which was always looking upon everything, except
mankind, animate and inanimate--'nature,' as people used to call it--
as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people
thinking in this way, that they should try to make 'nature' their
slave, since they thought 'nature' was something outside them."

"Surely," said Morsom; "and they were puzzled as to what to do, till
they found the feeling against a mechanical life, which had begun
before the Great Change amongst people who had leisure to think of
such things, was spreading insensibly; till at last under the guise
of pleasure that was not supposed to be work, work that was pleasure
began to push out the mechanical toil, which they had once hoped at
the best to reduce to narrow limits indeed, but never to get rid of;
and which, moreover, they found they could not limit as they had
hoped to do."

"When did this new revolution gather head?" said I.

"In the half-century that followed the Great Change," said Morsom,
"it began to be noteworthy; machine after machine was quietly dropped
under the excuse that the machines could not produce works of art,
and that works of art were more and more called for. Look here," he
said, "here are some of the works of that time--rough and unskilful
in handiwork, but solid and showing some sense of pleasure in the
making."

"They are very curious," said I, taking up a piece of pottery from
amongst the specimens which the antiquary was showing us; "not a bit
like the work of either savages or barbarians, and yet with what
would once have been called a hatred of civilisation impressed upon
them."

"Yes," said Morsom, "you must not look for delicacy there: in that
period you could only have got that from a man who was practically a
slave. But now, you see," said he, leading me on a little, "we have
learned the trick of handicraft, and have added the utmost refinement
of workmanship to the freedom of fancy and imagination."

I looked, and wondered indeed at the deftness and abundance of beauty
of the work of men who had at last learned to accept life itself as a
pleasure, and the satisfaction of the common needs of mankind and the
preparation for them, as work fit for the best of the race. I mused
silently; but at last I said -

"What is to come after this?"

The old man laughed. "I don't know," said he; "we will meet it when
it comes."

"Meanwhile," quoth Dick, "we have got to meet the rest of our day's
journey; so out into the street and down to the strand! Will you
come a turn with us, neighbour? Our friend is greedy of your
stories."

"I will go as far as Oxford with you," said he; "I want a book or two
out of the Bodleian Library. I suppose you will sleep in the old
city?"

"No," said Dick, "we are going higher up; the hay is waiting us
there, you know."

Morsom nodded, and we all went into the street together, and got into
the boat a little above the town bridge. But just as Dick was
getting the sculls into the rowlocks, the bows of another boat came
thrusting through the low arch. Even at first sight it was a gay
little craft indeed--bright green, and painted over with elegantly
drawn flowers. As it cleared the arch, a figure as bright and gay-
clad as the boat rose up in it; a slim girl dressed in light blue
silk that fluttered in the draughty wind of the bridge. I thought I
knew the figure, and sure enough, as she turned her head to us, and
showed her beautiful face, I saw with joy that it was none other than
the fairy godmother from the abundant garden on Runnymede--Ellen, to
wit.

We all stopped to receive her. Dick rose in the boat and cried out a
genial good morrow; I tried to be as genial as Dick, but failed;
Clara waved a delicate hand to her; and Morsom nodded and looked on
with interest. As to Ellen, the beautiful brown of her face was
deepened by a flush, as she brought the gunwale of her boat alongside
ours, and said:

"You see, neighbours, I had some doubt if you would all three come
back past Runnymede, or if you did, whether you would stop there; and
besides, I am not sure whether we--my father and I--shall not be away
in a week or two, for he wants to see a brother of his in the north
country, and I should not like him to go without me. So I thought I
might never see you again, and that seemed uncomfortable to me, and--
and so I came after you."

"Well," said Dick, "I am sure we are all very glad of that; although
you may be sure that as for Clara and me, we should have made a point
of coming to see you, and of coming the second time, if we had found
you away the first. But, dear neighbour, there you are alone in the
boat, and you have been sculling pretty hard I should think, and
might find a little quiet sitting pleasant; so we had better part our
company into two."

"Yes," said Ellen, "I thought you would do that, so I have brought a
rudder for my boat: will you help me to ship it, please?"

And she went aft in her boat and pushed along our side till she had
brought the stern close to Dick's hand. He knelt down in our boat
and she in hers, and the usual fumbling took place over hanging the
rudder on its hooks; for, as you may imagine, no change had taken
place in the arrangement of such an unimportant matter as the rudder
of a pleasure-boat. As the two beautiful young faces bent over the
rudder, they seemed to me to be very close together, and though it
only lasted a moment, a sort of pang shot through me as I looked on.
Clara sat in her place and did not look round, but presently she
said, with just the least stiffness in her tone:

"How shall we divide? Won't you go into Ellen's boat, Dick, since,
without offence to our guest, you are the better sculler?"

Dick stood up and laid his hand on her shoulder, and said: "No, no;
let Guest try what he can do--he ought to be getting into training
now. Besides, we are in no hurry: we are not going far above
Oxford; and even if we are benighted, we shall have the moon, which
will give us nothing worse of a night than a greyer day."

"Besides," said I, "I may manage to do a little more with my sculling
than merely keeping the boat from drifting down stream."

They all laughed at this, as if it had a been very good joke; and I
thought that Ellen's laugh, even amongst the others, was one of the
pleasantest sounds I had ever heard.

To be short, I got into the new-come boat, not a little elated, and
taking the sculls, set to work to show off a little. For--must I say
it?--I felt as if even that happy world were made the happier for my
being so near this strange girl; although I must say that of all the
persons I had seen in that world renewed, she was the most unfamiliar
to me, the most unlike what I could have thought of. Clara, for
instance, beautiful and bright as she was, was not unlike a VERY
pleasant and unaffected young lady; and the other girls also seemed
nothing more than specimens of very much improved types which I had
known in other times. But this girl was not only beautiful with a
beauty quite different from that of "a young lady," but was in all
ways so strangely interesting; so that I kept wondering what she
would say or do next to surprise and please me. Not, indeed, that
there was anything startling in what she actually said or did; but it
was all done in a new way, and always with that indefinable interest
and pleasure of life, which I had noticed more or less in everybody,
but which in her was more marked and more charming than in anyone
else that I had seen.

We were soon under way and going at a fair pace through the beautiful
reaches of the river, between Bensington and Dorchester. It was now
about the middle of the afternoon, warm rather than hot, and quite
windless; the clouds high up and light, pearly white, and gleaming,
softened the sun's burning, but did not hide the pale blue in most
places, though they seemed to give it height and consistency; the
sky, in short, looked really like a vault, as poets have sometimes
called it, and not like mere limitless air, but a vault so vast and
full of light that it did not in any way oppress the spirits. It was
the sort of afternoon that Tennyson must have been thinking about,
when he said of the Lotos-Eaters' land that it was a land where it
was always afternoon.

Ellen leaned back in the stern and seemed to enjoy herself
thoroughly. I could see that she was really looking at things and
let nothing escape her, and as I watched her, an uncomfortable
feeling that she had been a little touched by love of the deft,
ready, and handsome Dick, and that she had been constrained to follow
us because of it, faded out of my mind; since if it had been so, she
surely could not have been so excitedly pleased, even with the
beautiful scenes we were passing through. For some time she did not
say much, but at last, as we had passed under Shillingford Bridge
(new built, but somewhat on its old lines), she bade me hold the boat
while she had a good look at the landscape through the graceful arch.
Then she turned about to me and said:

"I do not know whether to be sorry or glad that this is the first
time that I have been in these reaches. It is true that it is a
great pleasure to see all this for the first time; but if I had had a
year or two of memory of it, how sweetly it would all have mingled
with my life, waking or dreaming! I am so glad Dick has been pulling
slowly, so as to linger out the time here. How do you feel about
your first visit to these waters?"

I do not suppose she meant a trap for me, but anyhow I fell into it,
and said: "My first visit! It is not my first visit by many a time.
I know these reaches well; indeed, I may say that I know every yard
of the Thames from Hammersmith to Cricklade."

I saw the complications that might follow, as her eyes fixed mine
with a curious look in them, that I had seen before at Runnymede,
when I had said something which made it difficult for others to
understand my present position amongst these people. I reddened, and
said, in order to cover my mistake: "I wonder you have never been up
so high as this, since you live on the Thames, and moreover row so
well that it would be no great labour to you. Let alone," quoth I,
insinuatingly, "that anybody would be glad to row you."

She laughed, clearly not at my compliment (as I am sure she need not
have done, since it was a very commonplace fact), but at something
which was stirring in her mind; and she still looked at me kindly,
but with the above-said keen look in her eyes, and then she said:

"Well, perhaps it is strange, though I have a good deal to do at
home, what with looking after my father, and dealing with two or
three young men who have taken a special liking to me, and all of
whom I cannot please at once. But you, dear neighbour; it seems to
me stranger that you should know the upper river, than that I should
not know it; for, as I understand, you have only been in England a
few days. But perhaps you mean that you have read about it in books,
and seen pictures of it?--though that does not come to much, either."

"Truly," said I. "Besides, I have not read any books about the
Thames: it was one of the minor stupidities of our time that no one
thought fit to write a decent book about what may fairly be called
our only English river."

The words were no sooner out of my mouth than I saw that I had made
another mistake; and I felt really annoyed with myself, as I did not
want to go into a long explanation just then, or begin another series
of Odyssean lies. Somehow, Ellen seemed to see this, and she took no
advantage of my slip; her piercing look changed into one of mere
frank kindness, and she said:

"Well, anyhow I am glad that I am travelling these waters with you,
since you know our river so well, and I know little of it past
Pangbourne, for you can tell me all I want to know about it." She
paused a minute, and then said: "Yet you must understand that the
part I do know, I know as thoroughly as you do. I should be sorry
for you to think that I am careless of a thing so beautiful and
interesting as the Thames."

She said this quite earnestly, and with an air of affectionate appeal
to me which pleased me very much; but I could see that she was only
keeping her doubts about me for another time.

Presently we came to Day's Lock, where Dick and his two sitters had
waited for us. He would have me go ashore, as if to show me
something which I had never seen before; and nothing loth I followed
him, Ellen by my side, to the well-remembered Dykes, and the long
church beyond them, which was still used for various purposes by the
good folk of Dorchester: where, by the way, the village guest-house
still had the sign of the Fleur-de-luce which it used to bear in the
days when hospitality had to be bought and sold. This time, however,
I made no sign of all this being familiar to me: though as we sat
for a while on the mound of the Dykes looking up at Sinodun and its
clear-cut trench, and its sister mamelon of Whittenham, I felt
somewhat uncomfortable under Ellen's serious attentive look, which
almost drew from me the cry, "How little anything is changed here!"

We stopped again at Abingdon, which, like Wallingford, was in a way
both old and new to me, since it had been lifted out of its
nineteenth-century degradation, and otherwise was as little altered
as might be.

Sunset was in the sky as we skirted Oxford by Oseney; we stopped a
minute or two hard by the ancient castle to put Henry Morsom ashore.
It was a matter of course that so far as they could be seen from the
river, I missed none of the towers and spires of that once don-
beridden city; but the meadows all round, which, when I had last
passed through them, were getting daily more and more squalid, more
and more impressed with the seal of the "stir and intellectual life
of the nineteenth century," were no longer intellectual, but had once
again become as beautiful as they should be, and the little hill of
Hinksey, with two or three very pretty stone houses new-grown on it
(I use the word advisedly; for they seemed to belong to it) looked
down happily on the full streams and waving grass, grey now, but for
the sunset, with its fast-ripening seeds.

The railway having disappeared, and therewith the various level
bridges over the streams of Thames, we were soon through Medley Lock
and in the wide water that washes Port Meadow, with its numerous
population of geese nowise diminished; and I thought with interest
how its name and use had survived from the older imperfect communal
period, through the time of the confused struggle and tyranny of the
rights of property, into the present rest and happiness of complete
Communism.

I was taken ashore again at Godstow, to see the remains of the old
nunnery, pretty nearly in the same condition as I had remembered
them; and from the high bridge over the cut close by, I could see,
even in the twilight, how beautiful the little village with its grey
stone houses had become; for we had now come into the stone-country,
in which every house must be either built, walls and roof, of grey
stone or be a blot on the landscape.

We still rowed on after this, Ellen taking the sculls in my boat; we
passed a weir a little higher up, and about three miles beyond it
came by moonlight again to a little town, where we slept at a house
thinly inhabited, as its folk were mostly tented in the hay-fields.

CHAPTER XXVIII: THE LITTLE RIVER

We started before six o'clock the next morning, as we were still
twenty-five miles from our resting place, and Dick wanted to be there
before dusk. The journey was pleasant, though to those who do not
know the upper Thames, there is little to say about it. Ellen and I
were once more together in her boat, though Dick, for fairness' sake,
was for having me in his, and letting the two women scull the green
toy. Ellen, however, would not allow this, but claimed me as the
interesting person of the company. "After having come so far," said
she, "I will not be put off with a companion who will be always
thinking of somebody else than me: the guest is the only person who
can amuse me properly. I mean that really," said she, turning to me,
"and have not said it merely as a pretty saying."

Clara blushed and looked very happy at all this; for I think up to
this time she had been rather frightened of Ellen. As for me I felt
young again, and strange hopes of my youth were mingling with the
pleasure of the present; almost destroying it, and quickening it into
something like pain.

As we passed through the short and winding reaches of the now quickly
lessening stream, Ellen said: "How pleasant this little river is to
me, who am used to a great wide wash of water; it almost seems as if
we shall have to stop at every reach-end. I expect before I get home
this evening I shall have realised what a little country England is,
since we can so soon get to the end of its biggest river."

"It is not big," said I, "but it is pretty."

"Yes," she said, "and don't you find it difficult to imagine the
times when this little pretty country was treated by its folk as if
it had been an ugly characterless waste, with no delicate beauty to
be guarded, with no heed taken of the ever fresh pleasure of the
recurring seasons, and changeful weather, and diverse quality of the
soil, and so forth? How could people be so cruel to themselves?"

"And to each other," said I. Then a sudden resolution took hold of
me, and I said: "Dear neighbour, I may as well tell you at once that
I find it easier to imagine all that ugly past than you do, because I
myself have been part of it. I see both that you have divined
something of this in me; and also I think you will believe me when I
tell you of it, so that I am going to hide nothing from you at all."

She was silent a little, and then she said: "My friend, you have
guessed right about me; and to tell you the truth I have followed you
up from Runnymede in order that I might ask you many questions, and
because I saw that you were not one of us; and that interested and
pleased me, and I wanted to make you as happy as you could be. To
say the truth, there was a risk in it," said she, blushing--"I mean
as to Dick and Clara; for I must tell you, since we are going to be
such close friends, that even amongst us, where there are so many
beautiful women, I have often troubled men's minds disastrously.
That is one reason why I was living alone with my father in the
cottage at Runnymede. But it did not answer on that score; for of
course people came there, as the place is not a desert, and they
seemed to find me all the more interesting for living alone like
that, and fell to making stories of me to themselves--like I know you
did, my friend. Well, let that pass. This evening, or to-morrow
morning, I shall make a proposal to you to do something which would
please me very much, and I think would not hurt you."

I broke in eagerly, saying that I would do anything in the world for
her; for indeed, in spite of my years and the too obvious signs of
them (though that feeling of renewed youth was not a mere passing
sensation, I think)--in spite of my years, I say, I felt altogether
too happy in the company of this delightful girl, and was prepared to
take her confidences for more than they meant perhaps.

She laughed now, but looked very kindly on me. "Well," she said,
"meantime for the present we will let it be; for I must look at this
new country that we are passing through. See how the river has
changed character again: it is broad now, and the reaches are long
and very slow-running. And look, there is a ferry!"

I told her the name of it, as I slowed off to put the ferry-chain
over our heads; and on we went passing by a bank clad with oak trees
on our left hand, till the stream narrowed again and deepened, and we
rowed on between walls of tall reeds, whose population of reed
sparrows and warblers were delightfully restless, twittering and
chuckling as the wash of the boats stirred the reeds from the water
upwards in the still, hot morning.

She smiled with pleasure, and her lazy enjoyment of the new scene
seemed to bring out her beauty doubly as she leaned back amidst the
cushions, though she was far from languid; her idleness being the
idleness of a person, strong and well-knit both in body and mind,
deliberately resting.

"Look!" she said, springing up suddenly from her place without any
obvious effort, and balancing herself with exquisite grace and ease;
"look at the beautiful old bridge ahead!"

"I need scarcely look at that," said I, not turning my head away from
her beauty. "I know what it is; though" (with a smile) "we used not
to call it the Old Bridge time agone."

She looked down upon me kindly, and said, "How well we get on now you
are no longer on your guard against me!"

And she stood looking thoughtfully at me still, till she had to sit
down as we passed under the middle one of the row of little pointed
arches of the oldest bridge across the Thames.

"O the beautiful fields!" she said; "I had no idea of the charm of a
very small river like this. The smallness of the scale of
everything, the short reaches, and the speedy change of the banks,
give one a feeling of going somewhere, of coming to something
strange, a feeling of adventure which I have not felt in bigger
waters."

I looked up at her delightedly; for her voice, saying the very thing
which I was thinking, was like a caress to me. She caught my eye and
her cheeks reddened under their tan, and she said simply:

"I must tell you, my friend, that when my father leaves the Thames
this summer he will take me away to a place near the Roman wall in
Cumberland; so that this voyage of mine is farewell to the south; of
course with my goodwill in a way; and yet I am sorry for it. I
hadn't the heart to tell Dick yesterday that we were as good as gone
from the Thames-side; but somehow to you I must needs tell it."

She stopped and seemed very thoughtful for awhile, and then said
smiling:

"I must say that I don't like moving about from one home to another;
one gets so pleasantly used to all the detail of the life about one;
it fits so harmoniously and happily into one's own life, that
beginning again, even in a small way, is a kind of pain. But I
daresay in the country which you come from, you would think this
petty and unadventurous, and would think the worse of me for it."

She smiled at me caressingly as she spoke, and I made haste to
answer: "O, no, indeed; again you echo my very thoughts. But I
hardly expected to hear you speak so. I gathered from all I have
heard that there was a great deal of changing of abode amongst you in
this country."

"Well," she said, "of course people are free to move about; but
except for pleasure-parties, especially in harvest and hay-time, like
this of ours, I don't think they do so much. I admit that I also
have other moods than that of stay-at-home, as I hinted just now, and
I should like to go with you all through the west country--thinking
of nothing," concluded she smiling.

"I should have plenty to think of," said I.

CHAPTER XXIX: A RESTING-PLACE ON THE UPPER THAMES

Presently at a place where the river flowed round a headland of the
meadows, we stopped a while for rest and victuals, and settled
ourselves on a beautiful bank which almost reached the dignity of a
hill-side: the wide meadows spread before us, and already the scythe
was busy amidst the hay. One change I noticed amidst the quiet
beauty of the fields--to wit, that they were planted with trees here
and there, often fruit-trees, and that there was none of the
niggardly begrudging of space to a handsome tree which I remembered
too well; and though the willows were often polled (or shrowded, as
they call it in that country-side), this was done with some regard to
beauty: I mean that there was no polling of rows on rows so as to
destroy the pleasantness of half a mile of country, but a thoughtful
sequence in the cutting, that prevented a sudden bareness anywhere.
To be short, the fields were everywhere treated as a garden made for
the pleasure as well as the livelihood of all, as old Hammond told me
was the case.

On this bank or bent of the hill, then, we had our mid-day meal;
somewhat early for dinner, if that mattered, but we had been stirring
early: the slender stream of the Thames winding below us between the
garden of a country I have been telling of; a furlong from us was a
beautiful little islet begrown with graceful trees; on the slopes
westward of us was a wood of varied growth overhanging the narrow
meadow on the south side of the river; while to the north was a wide
stretch of mead rising very gradually from the river's edge. A
delicate spire of an ancient building rose up from out of the trees
in the middle distance, with a few grey houses clustered about it;
while nearer to us, in fact not half a furlong from the water, was a
quite modern stone house--a wide quadrangle of one story, the
buildings that made it being quite low. There was no garden between
it and the river, nothing but a row of pear-trees still quite young
and slender; and though there did not seem to be much ornament about
it, it had a sort of natural elegance, like that of the trees
themselves.

As we sat looking down on all this in the sweet June day, rather
happy than merry, Ellen, who sat next me, her hand clasped about one
knee, leaned sideways to me, and said in a low voice which Dick and
Clara might have noted if they had not been busy in happy wordless
love-making: "Friend, in your country were the houses of your field-
labourers anything like that?"

I said: "Well, at any rate the houses of our rich men were not; they
were mere blots upon the face of the land."

"I find that hard to understand," she said. "I can see why the
workmen, who were so oppressed, should not have been able to live in
beautiful houses; for it takes time and leisure, and minds not over-
burdened with care, to make beautiful dwellings; and I quite
understand that these poor people were not allowed to live in such a
way as to have these (to us) necessary good things. But why the rich
men, who had the time and the leisure and the materials for building,
as it would be in this case, should not have housed themselves well,
I do not understand as yet. I know what you are meaning to say to
me," she said, looking me full in the eyes and blushing, "to wit that
their houses and all belonging to them were generally ugly and base,
unless they chanced to be ancient like yonder remnant of our
forefathers' work" (pointing to the spire); "that they were--let me
see; what is the word?"

"Vulgar," said I. "We used to say," said I, "that the ugliness and
vulgarity of the rich men's dwellings was a necessary reflection from
the sordidness and bareness of life which they forced upon the poor
people."

She knit her brows as in thought; then turned a brightened face on
me, as if she had caught the idea, and said: "Yes, friend, I see
what you mean. We have sometimes--those of us who look into these
things--talked this very matter over; because, to say the truth, we
have plenty of record of the so-called arts of the time before
Equality of Life; and there are not wanting people who say that the
state of that society was not the cause of all that ugliness; that
they were ugly in their life because they liked to be, and could have
had beautiful things about them if they had chosen; just as a man or
body of men now may, if they please, make things more or less
beautiful--Stop! I know what you are going to say."

"Do you?" said I, smiling, yet with a beating heart.

"Yes," she said; "you are answering me, teaching me, in some way or
another, although you have not spoken the words aloud. You were
going to say that in times of inequality it was an essential
condition of the life of these rich men that they should not
themselves make what they wanted for the adornment of their lives,
but should force those to make them whom they forced to live pinched
and sordid lives; and that as a necessary consequence the sordidness
and pinching, the ugly barrenness of those ruined lives, were worked
up into the adornment of the lives of the rich, and art died out
amongst men? Was that what you would say, my friend?"

"Yes, yes," I said, looking at her eagerly; for she had risen and was
standing on the edge of the bent, the light wind stirring her dainty
raiment, one hand laid on her bosom, the other arm stretched downward
and clenched in her earnestness.

"It is true," she said, "it is true! We have proved it true!"

I think amidst my--something more than interest in her, and
admiration for her, I was beginning to wonder how it would all end.
I had a glimmering of fear of what might follow; of anxiety as to the
remedy which this new age might offer for the missing of something
one might set one's heart on. But now Dick rose to his feet and
cried out in his hearty manner: "Neighbour Ellen, are you
quarrelling with the guest, or are you worrying him to tell you
things which he cannot properly explain to our ignorance?"

"Neither, dear neighbour," she said. "I was so far from quarrelling
with him that I think I have been making him good friends both with
himself and me. Is it so, dear guest?" she said, looking down at me
with a delightful smile of confidence in being understood.

"Indeed it is," said I.

"Well, moreover," she said, "I must say for him that he has explained
himself to me very well indeed, so that I quite understand him."

"All right," quoth Dick. "When I first set eyes on you at Runnymede
I knew that there was something wonderful in your keenness of wits.
I don't say that as a mere pretty speech to please you," said he
quickly, "but because it is true; and it made me want to see more of
you. But, come, we ought to be going; for we are not half way, and
we ought to be in well before sunset."

And therewith he took Clara's hand, and led her down the bent. But
Ellen stood thoughtfully looking down for a little, and as I took her
hand to follow Dick, she turned round to me and said:

"You might tell me a great deal and make many things clear to me, if
you would."

"Yes," said I, "I am pretty well fit for that,--and for nothing else-
-an old man like me."

She did not notice the bitterness which, whether I liked it or not,
was in my voice as I spoke, but went on: "It is not so much for
myself; I should be quite content to dream about past times, and if I
could not idealise them, yet at least idealise some of the people who
lived in them. But I think sometimes people are too careless of the
history of the past--too apt to leave it in the hands of old learned
men like Hammond. Who knows? Happy as we are, times may alter; we
may be bitten with some impulse towards change, and many things may
seem too wonderful for us to resist, too exciting not to catch at, if
we do not know that they are but phases of what has been before; and
withal ruinous, deceitful, and sordid."

As we went slowly down toward the boats she said again: "Not for
myself alone, dear friend; I shall have children; perhaps before the
end a good many;--I hope so. And though of course I cannot force any
special kind of knowledge upon them, yet, my Friend, I cannot help
thinking that just as they might be like me in body, so I might
impress upon them some part of my ways of thinking; that is, indeed,
some of the essential part of myself; that part which was not mere
moods, created by the matters and events round about me. What do you
think?"

Of one thing I was sure, that her beauty and kindness and eagerness
combined, forced me to think as she did, when she was not earnestly
laying herself open to receive my thoughts. I said, what at the time
was true, that I thought it most important; and presently stood
entranced by the wonder of her grace as she stepped into the light
boat, and held out her hand to me. And so on we went up the Thames
still--or whither?

CHAPTER XXX: THE JOURNEY'S END

On we went. In spite of my new-born excitement about Ellen, and my
gathering fear of where it would land me, I could not help taking
abundant interest in the condition of the river and its banks; all
the more as she never seemed weary of the changing picture, but
looked at every yard of flowery bank and gurgling eddy with the same
kind of affectionate interest which I myself once had so fully, as I
used to think, and perhaps had not altogether lost even in this
strangely changed society with all its wonders. Ellen seemed
delighted with my pleasure at this, that, or the other piece of
carefulness in dealing with the river: the nursing of pretty
corners; the ingenuity in dealing with difficulties of water-
engineering, so that the most obviously useful works looked beautiful
and natural also. All this, I say, pleased me hugely, and she was
pleased at my pleasure--but rather puzzled too.

"You seem astonished," she said, just after we had passed a mill {2}
which spanned all the stream save the water-way for traffic, but
which was as beautiful in its way as a Gothic cathedral--"You seem
astonished at this being so pleasant to look at."

"Yes," I said, "in a way I am; though I don't see why it should not
be."

"Ah!" she said, looking at me admiringly, yet with a lurking smile in
her face, "you know all about the history of the past. Were they not
always careful about this little stream which now adds so much
pleasantness to the country side? It would always be easy to manage
this little river. Ah! I forgot, though," she said, as her eye
caught mine, "in the days we are thinking of pleasure was wholly
neglected in such matters. But how did they manage the river in the
days that you--" Lived in she was going to say; but correcting
herself, said--"in the days of which you have record?"

"They MISmanaged it," quoth I. "Up to the first half of the
nineteenth century, when it was still more or less of a highway for
the country people, some care was taken of the river and its banks;
and though I don't suppose anyone troubled himself about its aspect,
yet it was trim and beautiful. But when the railways--of which no
doubt you have heard--came into power, they would not allow the
people of the country to use either the natural or artificial
waterways, of which latter there were a great many. I suppose when
we get higher up we shall see one of these; a very important one,
which one of these railways entirely closed to the public, so that
they might force people to send their goods by their private road,
and so tax them as heavily as they could."

Ellen laughed heartily. "Well," she said, "that is not stated
clearly enough in our history-books, and it is worth knowing. But
certainly the people of those days must have been a curiously lazy
set. We are not either fidgety or quarrelsome now, but if any one
tried such a piece of folly on us, we should use the said waterways,
whoever gaidsaid us: surely that would be simple enough. However, I
remember other cases of this stupidity: when I was on the Rhine two
years ago, I remember they showed us ruins of old castles, which,
according to what we heard, must have been made for pretty much the
same purpose as the railways were. But I am interrupting your
history of the river: pray go on."

"It is both short and stupid enough," said I. "The river having lost
its practical or commercial value--that is, being of no use to make
money of--"

She nodded. "I understand what that queer phrase means," said she.
"Go on!"

"Well, it was utterly neglected, till at last it became a nuisance--"

"Yes," quoth Ellen, "I understand: like the railways and the robber
knights. Yes?"

"So then they turned the makeshift business on to it, and handed it
over to a body up in London, who from time to time, in order to show
that they had something to do, did some damage here and there,--cut
down trees, destroying the banks thereby; dredged the river (where it
was not needed always), and threw the dredgings on the fields so as
to spoil them; and so forth. But for the most part they practised
'masterly inactivity,' as it was then called--that is, they drew
their salaries, and let things alone."

"Drew their salaries," she said. "I know that means that they were
allowed to take an extra lot of other people's goods for doing
nothing. And if that had been all, it really might have been worth
while to let them do so, if you couldn't find any other way of
keeping them quiet; but it seems to me that being so paid, they could
not help doing something, and that something was bound to be
mischief,--because," said she, kindling with sudden anger, "the whole
business was founded on lies and false pretensions. I don't mean
only these river-guardians, but all these master-people I have read
of."

"Yes," said I, "how happy you are to have got out of the parsimony of
oppression!"

"Why do you sigh?" she said, kindly and somewhat anxiously. "You
seem to think that it will not last?"

"It will last for you," quoth I.

"But why not for you?" said she. "Surely it is for all the world;
and if your country is somewhat backward, it will come into line
before long. Or," she said quickly, "are you thinking that you must
soon go back again? I will make my proposal which I told you of at
once, and so perhaps put an end to your anxiety. I was going to
propose that you should live with us where we are going. I feel
quite old friends with you, and should be sorry to lose you." Then
she smiled on me, and said: "Do you know, I begin to suspect you of
wanting to nurse a sham sorrow, like the ridiculous characters in
some of those queer old novels that I have come across now and then."

I really had almost begun to suspect it myself, but I refused to
admit so much; so I sighed no more, but fell to giving my delightful
companion what little pieces of history I knew about the river and
its borderlands; and the time passed pleasantly enough; and between
the two of us (she was a better sculler than I was, and seemed quite
tireless) we kept up fairly well with Dick, hot as the afternoon was,
and swallowed up the way at a great rate. At last we passed under
another ancient bridge; and through meadows bordered at first with
huge elm-trees mingled with sweet chestnut of younger but very
elegant growth; and the meadows widened out so much that it seemed as
if the trees must now be on the bents only, or about the houses,
except for the growth of willows on the immediate banks; so that the
wide stretch of grass was little broken here. Dick got very much
excited now, and often stood up in the boat to cry out to us that
this was such and such a field, and so forth; and we caught fire at
his enthusiasm for the hay-field and its harvest, and pulled our
best.

At last as we were passing through a reach of the river where on the
side of the towing-path was a highish bank with a thick whispering
bed of reeds before it, and on the other side a higher bank, clothed
with willows that dipped into the stream and crowned by ancient elm-
trees, we saw bright figures coming along close to the bank, as if
they were looking for something; as, indeed, they were, and we--that
is, Dick and his company--were what they were looking for. Dick lay
on his oars, and we followed his example. He gave a joyous shout to
the people on the bank, which was echoed back from it in many voices,
deep and sweetly shrill; for there were above a dozen persons, both
men, women, and children. A tall handsome woman, with black wavy
hair and deep-set grey eyes, came forward on the bank and waved her
hand gracefully to us, and said:

"Dick, my friend, we have almost had to wait for you! What excuse
have you to make for your slavish punctuality? Why didn't you take
us by surprise, and come yesterday?"

"O," said Dick, with an almost imperceptible jerk of his head toward
our boat, "we didn't want to come too quick up the water; there is so
much to see for those who have not been up here before."

"True, true," said the stately lady, for stately is the word that
must be used for her; "and we want them to get to know the wet way
from the east thoroughly well, since they must often use it now. But
come ashore at once, Dick, and you, dear neighbours; there is a break
in the reeds and a good landing-place just round the corner. We can
carry up your things, or send some of the lads after them."

"No, no," said Dick; "it is easier going by water, though it is but a
step. Besides, I want to bring my friend here to the proper place.
We will go on to the Ford; and you can talk to us from the bank as we
paddle along."

He pulled his sculls through the water, and on we went, turning a
sharp angle and going north a little. Presently we saw before us a
bank of elm-trees, which told us of a house amidst them, though I
looked in vain for the grey walls that I expected to see there. As
we went, the folk on the bank talked indeed, mingling their kind
voices with the cuckoo's song, the sweet strong whistle of the
blackbirds, and the ceaseless note of the corn-crake as he crept
through the long grass of the mowing-field; whence came waves of
fragrance from the flowering clover amidst of the ripe grass.

In a few minutes we had passed through a deep eddying pool into the
sharp stream that ran from the ford, and beached our craft on a tiny
strand of limestone-gravel, and stepped ashore into the arms of our
up-river friends, our journey done.

I disentangled myself from the merry throng, and mounting on the
cart-road that ran along the river some feet above the water, I
looked round about me. The river came down through a wide meadow on
my left, which was grey now with the ripened seeding grasses; the
gleaming water was lost presently by a turn of the bank, but over the
meadow I could see the mingled gables of a building where I knew the
lock must be, and which now seemed to combine a mill with it. A low
wooded ridge bounded the river-plain to the south and south-east,
whence we had come, and a few low houses lay about its feet and up
its slope. I turned a little to my right, and through the hawthorn
sprays and long shoots of the wild roses could see the flat country
spreading out far away under the sun of the calm evening, till
something that might be called hills with a look of sheep-pastures
about them bounded it with a soft blue line. Before me, the elm-
boughs still hid most of what houses there might be in this river-
side dwelling of men; but to the right of the cart-road a few grey
buildings of the simplest kind showed here and there.

There I stood in a dreamy mood, and rubbed my eyes as if I were not
wholly awake, and half expected to see the gay-clad company of
beautiful men and women change to two or three spindle-legged back-
bowed men and haggard, hollow-eyed, ill-favoured women, who once wore
down the soil of this land with their heavy hopeless feet, from day
to day, and season to season, and year to year. But no change came
as yet, and my heart swelled with joy as I thought of all the
beautiful grey villages, from the river to the plain and the plain to
the uplands, which I could picture to myself so well, all peopled now
with this happy and lovely folk, who had cast away riches and
attained to wealth.

CHAPTER XXXI: AN OLD HOUSE AMONGST NEW FOLK

As I stood there Ellen detached herself from our happy friends who
still stood on the little strand and came up to me. She took me by
the hand, and said softly, "Take me on to the house at once; we need
not wait for the others: I had rather not."

I had a mind to say that I did not know the way thither, and that the
river-side dwellers should lead; but almost without my will my feet
moved on along the road they knew. The raised way led us into a
little field bounded by a backwater of the river on one side; on the
right hand we could see a cluster of small houses and barns, new and
old, and before us a grey stone barn and a wall partly overgrown with
ivy, over which a few grey gables showed. The village road ended in
the shallow of the aforesaid backwater. We crossed the road, and
again almost without my will my hand raised the latch of a door in
the wall, and we stood presently on a stone path which led up to the
old house to which fate in the shape of Dick had so strangely brought
me in this new world of men. My companion gave a sigh of pleased
surprise and enjoyment; nor did I wonder, for the garden between the
wall and the house was redolent of the June flowers, and the roses
were rolling over one another with that delicious superabundance of
small well-tended gardens which at first sight takes away all thought
from the beholder save that of beauty. The blackbirds were singing
their loudest, the doves were cooing on the roof-ridge, the rooks in
the high elm-trees beyond were garrulous among the young leaves, and
the swifts wheeled whining about the gables. And the house itself
was a fit guardian for all the beauty of this heart of summer.

Once again Ellen echoed my thoughts as she said:

"Yes, friend, this is what I came out for to see; this many-gabled
old house built by the simple country-folk of the long-past times,
regardless of all the turmoil that was going on in cities and courts,
is lovely still amidst all the beauty which these latter days have
created; and I do not wonder at our friends tending it carefully and
making much of it. It seems to me as if it had waited for these
happy days, and held in it the gathered crumbs of happiness of the
confused and turbulent past."

She led me up close to the house, and laid her shapely sun-browned
hand and arm on the lichened wall as if to embrace it, and cried out,
"O me! O me! How I love the earth, and the seasons, and weather,
and all things that deal with it, and all that grows out of it,--as
this has done!"

I could not answer her, or say a word. Her exultation and pleasure
were so keen and exquisite, and her beauty, so delicate, yet so
interfused with energy, expressed it so fully, that any added word
would have been commonplace and futile. I dreaded lest the others
should come in suddenly and break the spell she had cast about me;
but we stood there a while by the corner of the big gable of the
house, and no one came. I heard the merry voices some way off
presently, and knew that they were going along the river to the great
meadow on the other side of the house and garden.

We drew back a little, and looked up at the house: the door and the
windows were open to the fragrant sun-cured air; from the upper
window-sills hung festoons of flowers in honour of the festival, as
if the others shared in the love for the old house.

"Come in," said Ellen. "I hope nothing will spoil it inside; but I
don't think it will. Come! we must go back presently to the others.
They have gone on to the tents; for surely they must have tents
pitched for the haymakers--the house would not hold a tithe of the
folk, I am sure."

She led me on to the door, murmuring little above her breath as she
did so, "The earth and the growth of it and the life of it! If I
could but say or show how I love it!"

We went in, and found no soul in any room as we wandered from room to
room,--from the rose-covered porch to the strange and quaint garrets
amongst the great timbers of the roof, where of old time the tillers
and herdsmen of the manor slept, but which a-nights seemed now, by
the small size of the beds, and the litter of useless and disregarded
matters--bunches of dying flowers, feathers of birds, shells of
starling's eggs, caddis worms in mugs, and the like--seemed to be
inhabited for the time by children.

Everywhere there was but little furniture, and that only the most
necessary, and of the simplest forms. The extravagant love of
ornament which I had noted in this people elsewhere seemed here to
have given place to the feeling that the house itself and its
associations was the ornament of the country life amidst which it had
been left stranded from old times, and that to re-ornament it would
but take away its use as a piece of natural beauty.

We sat down at last in a room over the wall which Ellen had caressed,
and which was still hung with old tapestry, originally of no artistic
value, but now faded into pleasant grey tones which harmonised
thoroughly well with the quiet of the place, and which would have
been ill supplanted by brighter and more striking decoration.

I asked a few random questions of Ellen as we sat there, but scarcely
listened to her answers, and presently became silent, and then scarce
conscious of anything, but that I was there in that old room, the
doves crooning from the roofs of the barn and dovecot beyond the
window opposite to me.

My thought returned to me after what I think was but a minute or two,
but which, as in a vivid dream, seemed as if it had lasted a long
time, when I saw Ellen sitting, looking all the fuller of life and
pleasure and desire from the contrast with the grey faded tapestry
with its futile design, which was now only bearable because it had
grown so faint and feeble.

She looked at me kindly, but as if she read me through and through.
She said: "You have begun again your never-ending contrast between
the past and this present. Is it not so?"

"True," said I. "I was thinking of what you, with your capacity and
intelligence, joined to your love of pleasure, and your impatience of
unreasonable restraint--of what you would have been in that past.
And even now, when all is won and has been for a long time, my heart
is sickened with thinking of all the waste of life that has gone on
for so many years."

"So many centuries," she said, "so many ages!"

"True," I said; "too true," and sat silent again.

She rose up and said: "Come, I must not let you go off into a dream
again so soon. If we must lose you, I want you to see all that you
can see first before you go back again."

"Lose me?" I said--"go back again? Am I not to go up to the North
with you? What do you mean?"

She smiled somewhat sadly, and said: "Not yet; we will not talk of
that yet. Only, what were you thinking of just now?"

I said falteringly: "I was saying to myself, The past, the present?
Should she not have said the contrast of the present with the future:
of blind despair with hope?"

"I knew it," she said. Then she caught my hand and said excitedly,
"Come, while there is yet time! Come!" And she led me out of the
room; and as we were going downstairs and out of the house into the
garden by a little side door which opened out of a curious lobby, she
said in a calm voice, as if she wished me to forget her sudden
nervousness: "Come! we ought to join the others before they come
here looking for us. And let me tell you, my friend, that I can see
you are too apt to fall into mere dreamy musing: no doubt because
you are not yet used to our life of repose amidst of energy; of work
which is pleasure and pleasure which is work."

She paused a little, and as we came out into the lovely garden again,
she said: "My friend, you were saying that you wondered what I
should have been if I had lived in those past days of turmoil and
oppression. Well, I think I have studied the history of them to know
pretty well. I should have been one of the poor, for my father when
he was working was a mere tiller of the soil. Well, I could not have
borne that; therefore my beauty and cleverness and brightness" (she
spoke with no blush or simper of false shame) "would have been sold
to rich men, and my life would have been wasted indeed; for I know
enough of that to know that I should have had no choice, no power of
will over my life; and that I should never have bought pleasure from
the rich men, or even opportunity of action, whereby I might have won
some true excitement. I should have wrecked and wasted in one way or
another, either by penury or by luxury. Is it not so?"

"Indeed it is," said I.

She was going to say something else, when a little gate in the fence,
which led into a small elm-shaded field, was opened, and Dick came
with hasty cheerfulness up the garden path, and was presently
standing between us, a hand laid on the shoulder of each. He said:
"Well, neighbours, I thought you two would like to see the old house
quietly without a crowd in it. Isn't it a jewel of a house after its
kind? Well, come along, for it is getting towards dinner-time.
Perhaps you, guest, would like a swim before we sit down to what I
fancy will be a pretty long feast?"

"Yes," I said, "I should like that."

"Well, good-bye for the present, neighbour Ellen," said Dick. "Here
comes Clara to take care of you, as I fancy she is more at home
amongst our friends here."

Clara came out of the fields as he spoke; and with one look at Ellen
I turned and went with Dick, doubting, if I must say the truth,
whether I should see her again.

CHAPTER XXXII: THE FEAST'S BEGINNING--THE END

Dick brought me at once into the little field which, as I had seen
from the garden, was covered with gaily-coloured tents arranged in
orderly lanes, about which were sitting and lying on the grass some
fifty or sixty men, women, and children, all of them in the height of
good temper and enjoyment--with their holiday mood on, so to say.

"You are thinking that we don't make a great show as to numbers,"
said Dick; "but you must remember that we shall have more to-morrow;
because in this haymaking work there is room for a great many people
who are not over-skilled in country matters: and there are many who
lead sedentary lives, whom it would be unkind to deprive of their
pleasure in the hay-field--scientific men and close students
generally: so that the skilled workmen, outside those who are wanted
as mowers, and foremen of the haymaking, stand aside, and take a
little downright rest, which you know is good for them, whether they
like it or not: or else they go to other countrysides, as I am doing
here. You see, the scientific men and historians, and students
generally, will not be wanted till we are fairly in the midst of the
tedding, which of course will not be till the day after to-morrow."
With that he brought me out of the little field on to a kind of
causeway above the river-side meadow, and thence turning to the left
on to a path through the mowing grass, which was thick and very tall,
led on till we came to the river above the weir and its mill. There
we had a delightful swim in the broad piece of water above the lock,
where the river looked much bigger than its natural size from its
being dammed up by the weir.

"Now we are in a fit mood for dinner," said Dick, when we had dressed
and were going through the grass again; "and certainly of all the
cheerful meals in the year, this one of haysel is the cheerfullest;
not even excepting the corn-harvest feast; for then the year is
beginning to fail, and one cannot help having a feeling behind all
the gaiety, of the coming of the dark days, and the shorn fields and
empty gardens; and the spring is almost too far off to look forward
to. It is, then, in the autumn, when one almost believes in death."

"How strangely you talk," said I, "of such a constantly recurring and
consequently commonplace matter as the sequence of the seasons." And
indeed these people were like children about such things, and had
what seemed to me a quite exaggerated interest in the weather, a fine
day, a dark night, or a brilliant one, and the like.

"Strangely?" said he. "Is it strange to sympathise with the year and
its gains and losses?"

"At any rate," said I, "if you look upon the course of the year as a
beautiful and interesting drama, which is what I think you do, you
should be as much pleased and interested with the winter and its
trouble and pain as with this wonderful summer luxury."

"And am I not?" said Dick, rather warmly; "only I can't look upon it
as if I were sitting in a theatre seeing the play going on before me,
myself taking no part of it. It is difficult," said he, smiling
good-humouredly, "for a non-literary man like me to explain myself
properly, like that dear girl Ellen would; but I mean that I am part
of it all, and feel the pain as well as the pleasure in my own
person. It is not done for me by somebody else, merely that I may
eat and drink and sleep; but I myself do my share of it."

In his way also, as Ellen in hers, I could see that Dick had that
passionate love of the earth which was common to but few people at
least, in the days I knew; in which the prevailing feeling amongst
intellectual persons was a kind of sour distaste for the changing
drama of the year, for the life of earth and its dealings with men.
Indeed, in those days it was thought poetic and imaginative to look
upon life as a thing to be borne, rather than enjoyed.

So I mused till Dick's laugh brought me back into the Oxfordshire
hay-fields. "One thing seems strange to me," said he--"that I must
needs trouble myself about the winter and its scantiness, in the
midst of the summer abundance. If it hadn't happened to me before, I
should have thought it was your doing, guest; that you had thrown a
kind of evil charm over me. Now, you know," said he, suddenly,
"that's only a joke, so you mustn't take it to heart."

"All right," said I; "I don't." Yet I did feel somewhat uneasy at
his words, after all.

We crossed the causeway this time, and did not turn back to the
house, but went along a path beside a field of wheat now almost ready
to blossom. I said:

"We do not dine in the house or garden, then?--as indeed I did not
expect to do. Where do we meet, then? For I can see that the houses
are mostly very small."

"Yes," said Dick, "you are right, they are small in this country-
side: there are so many good old houses left, that people dwell a
good deal in such small detached houses. As to our dinner, we are
going to have our feast in the church. I wish, for your sake, it
were as big and handsome as that of the old Roman town to the west,
or the forest town to the north; {3} but, however, it will hold us
all; and though it is a little thing, it is beautiful in its way."

This was somewhat new to me, this dinner in a church, and I thought
of the church-ales of the Middle Ages; but I said nothing, and
presently we came out into the road which ran through the village.
Dick looked up and down it, and seeing only two straggling groups
before us, said: "It seems as if we must be somewhat late; they are
all gone on; and they will be sure to make a point of waiting for
you, as the guest of guests, since you come from so far."

He hastened as he spoke, and I kept up with him, and presently we
came to a little avenue of lime-trees which led us straight to the
church porch, from whose open door came the sound of cheerful voices
and laughter, and varied merriment.

"Yes," said Dick, "it's the coolest place for one thing, this hot
evening. Come along; they will be glad to see you."

Indeed, in spite of my bath, I felt the weather more sultry and
oppressive than on any day of our journey yet.

We went into the church, which was a simple little building with one
little aisle divided from the nave by three round arches, a chancel,
and a rather roomy transept for so small a building, the windows
mostly of the graceful Oxfordshire fourteenth century type. There
was no modern architectural decoration in it; it looked, indeed, as
if none had been attempted since the Puritans whitewashed the
mediaeval saints and histories on the wall. It was, however, gaily
dressed up for this latter-day festival, with festoons of flowers
from arch to arch, and great pitchers of flowers standing about on
the floor; while under the west window hung two cross scythes, their
blades polished white, and gleaming from out of the flowers that
wreathed them. But its best ornament was the crowd of handsome,
happy-looking men and women that were set down to table, and who,
with their bright faces and rich hair over their gay holiday raiment,
looked, as the Persian poet puts it, like a bed of tulips in the sun.
Though the church was a small one, there was plenty of room; for a
small church makes a biggish house; and on this evening there was no
need to set cross tables along the transepts; though doubtless these
would be wanted next day, when the learned men of whom Dick has been
speaking should be come to take their more humble part in the
haymaking.

I stood on the threshold with the expectant smile on my face of a man
who is going to take part in a festivity which he is really prepared
to enjoy. Dick, standing by me was looking round the company with an
air of proprietorship in them, I thought. Opposite me sat Clara and
Ellen, with Dick's place open between them: they were smiling, but
their beautiful faces were each turned towards the neighbours on
either side, who were talking to them, and they did not seem to see
me. I turned to Dick, expecting him to lead me forward, and he
turned his face to me; but strange to say, though it was as smiling
and cheerful as ever, it made no response to my glance--nay, he
seemed to take no heed at all of my presence, and I noticed that none
of the company looked at me. A pang shot through me, as of some
disaster long expected and suddenly realised. Dick moved on a little
without a word to me. I was not three yards from the two women who,
though they had been my companions for such a short time, had really,
as I thought, become my friends. Clara's face was turned full upon
me now, but she also did not seem to see me, though I know I was
trying to catch her eye with an appealing look. I turned to Ellen,

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