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Our Village by Mary Russell Mitford

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a certain broken bank full of rabbit burrows, into which she
insinuates her long pliant head and neck, and tears her pretty feet
by vain scratchings: mine is a warm sunny hedgerow, in the same
remote field, famous for early flowers. Never was a spot more
variously flowery: primroses yellow, lilac white, violets of either
hue, cowslips, oxslips, arums, orchises, wild hyacinths, ground ivy,
pansies, strawberries, heart's-ease, formed a small part of the
Flora of that wild hedgerow. How profusely they covered the sunny
open slope under the weeping birch, 'the lady of the woods'--and how
often have I started to see the early innocent brown snake, who
loved the spot as well as I did, winding along the young blossoms,
or rustling amongst the fallen leaves! There are primrose leaves
already, and short green buds, but no flowers; not even in that
furze cradle so full of roots, where they used to blow as in a
basket. No, my May, no rabbits! no primroses! We may as well get
over the gate into the woody winding lane, which will bring us home

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

*Dead, alas, since this was written.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOTE.--Poor Dash is also dead. We did not keep him long, indeed I
believe that he died of the transition from starvation to good feed,
as dangerous to a dog's stomach, and to most stomachs, as the less
agreeable change from good feed to starvation. He has been
succeeded in place and favour by another Dash, not less amiable in
demeanour and far more creditable in appearance, bearing no small
resemblance to the pet spaniel of my friend Master Dinely, he who
stole the bone from the magpies, and who figures as the first Dash

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