Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

THE BLOWING STONE-KINGSTONE LISLE.

23

high, perforated with two or three queer holes, like petrified antediluvian rat-holes, which lies there close under the oak, under our very nose.

We are more than ever puzzled, and drink our second glass of ale, wondering what will come next. “ Like to hear un, sir?” says mine host, setting down Toby Philpot on the tray, and resting both hands on the “ Stwun." We are ready for anything; and he, without waiting for a reply, applies his mouth to one of the rat-holes. Something must come of it, if he does'nt burst. Good heavens! I hope he has no apoplectic tendencies. Yes, here it comes, sure enough, a grewsome sound between a moan and a roar, and spreads itself away over the valley, and up the hill-side, and into the woods at the back of the house, a ghost-like, awful voice. “Um do say, sir,” says mine host, rising purple-faced, while the moan is still coming out of the Stwun, “as they used in old times to warn the country-side, by blawing the Stwun when the enemy was a comin’ and as how folks could make um heered then for seven mile round, leastways so I've heered lawyer Smith say, and he knows a smart sight about them old times." We can scarcely swallow lawyer Smith's seven miles, but could the blowing of the stone have been a summons, a sort of sending the fiery cross round the neighbourhood in the old times? What old times ? Who knows? We pay for our beer, and are thankful.

“ And what's the name of the village just below, landlord ?"

“ Kingstone Lisle, sir."

24

FARRINGDON AND PUSEY.

[ocr errors]

“ Fine plantations you've got here?

“ Yes, sir, the Squire's 'mazin fond of trees and such like."

“ No wonder. He's got some real beauties to be fond of. Good-day, landlord.

“Good-day, sir, and a pleasant ride to 'e.”

And now, my boys, you whom I want to get for readers, have you had enough? Will you give in at once, and say you're convinced, and let me begin my story, or will you have more of it? Remember, I've only been over a little bit of the hill-side yet, what you could ride round easily on your ponies in an hour.

I'm only just come down into the vale, by Blowing Stone Hill, and if I once begin about the vale, what's to stop me? You'll have to hear all about Wantage, the birthplace of Alfred, and Farringdon, which held out so long for Charles the First, (the vale was near Oxford, and dreadfully malignant; full of Throgmortons, Puseys, and Pyes, and such like, and their brawny retainers.) Did you ever read Thomas Ingoldsby's “Legend of Hamilton Tighe?” If you haven't, you ought to have. Well, Farringdon is where he lived before he went to sea; his real name was Hamden Pye, and the Pyes were the great folk at Farringdon. Then there's Pusey. You've heard of the Pusey horn, which King Canute gave to the Puseys of that day, and which the gallant old squire, lately gone to his rest, (whom Berkshire freeholders turned out of last Parliament, to their eternal disgrace, for voting according to his conscience,) used to bring out on high days, holidays, and bonfire nights. And the splendid old

TOM BROWN'S HOME.

25

Cross church at Uffington, the Uffingas town;- how the whole country-side teems with Saxon names and memories! And the old moated grange at Compton, nestled close under the hill-side, where twenty Marianas may have lived, with its bright water-lilies in the moat, and its yew walk, “the cloister walk," and its peerless terraced gardens. There they all are, and twenty things besides, for those who care about them, and have eyes. And these are the sort of things you may find, I believe, every one of you, in any common English country neighbourhood.

Will you look for them under your own noses, or will you not? Well, well! I've done what I can to make you, and if you will go gadding over half Europe now every holiday, I can't help it. I was born and bred a west-countryman, thank God! a Wessex man, a citizen of the noblest Saxon kingdom of Wessex, a regular “ Angular Saxon,” the very soul of me “adscriptus glebæ.” There's nothing like the old country-side for me, and no music like the twang of the real old Saxon tongue, as one gets it fresh from the veritable chaw in the White Horse Vale: and I say with “Gaarge Ridler," the old west-country yeoman,

“ Throo aall the waarld owld Gaarge would bwoast
Commend me to merry owld England mwoast :
While vools gwoes praating vur and nigh,

We stwops at whum, my dog and I.”
Here at any rate lived and stopped at home,
Squire Brown, J. P. for the County of Berks, in a vil-
lage near the foot of the White Horse range. And

26

SQUIRE BROWN AND HIS HOUSEHOLD.

here he dealt out justice and mercy in a rough way, and begat sons and daughters, and hunted the fox, and grumbled at the badness of the roads and the times. And his wife dealt out stockings, and calico shirts, and smock frocks; and comforting drinks to the old folks with the “ rheumatiz," and good counsel to all. And kept the coal and clothes clubs going, for yule tide, when the bands of mummers came round, dressed out in ribbons and coloured-paper caps; and stamped round the Squire's kitchen, repeating in true sing-song vernacular the legend of St. George and his fight, and the ten-pound doctor, who plays his part at healing the saint, - a relic, I believe, of the old middle-age mysteries. It was the first dramatic representation which greeted the eyes of little Tom, who was brought down into the kitchen by his nurse to witness it, at the mature age of three years. Tom was the eldest child of his parents, and from his earliest babyhood exhibited the family characteristics in great strength. He was a hearty strong boy from the first, given to fighting with and escaping from his nurse, and fraternizing with all the village boys, with whom he made expeditions all round the neighbourhood. And here in the quiet old-fashioned country village, under the shadow of the everlasting hills, Tom Brown was reared, and never left it till he went first to school when nearly eight years of age, — for in those days change of air twice a-year was not thought absolutely necessary for the health of all her Majesty's lieges.

I have been credibly informed, and am inclined to believe, that the various boards of directors of

THE OLD BOY ABUSETH MOVING ON.

27

railway companies, those gigantic jobbers and bribers, while quarrelling about everything else, agreed together, some ten years back, to buy up the learned profession of medicine, body and soul. Το this end they set apart several millions of money, which they continually distribute judiciously amongst the doctors, stipulating only this one thing, that they shall prescribe change of air to every patient who can pay, or borrow money to pay, a railway fare, and see their prescription carried out. If it be not for this, why is it that none of us can be well at home for a year together? It wasn't so twenty years ago, - not a bit of it.

The Browns didn't go out of the county once in five years. A visit to Reading or Abingdon twice a-year, at Assizes or Quarter Sessions, which the Squire made on his horse with a pair of saddle-bags containing his wardrobe, a stay of a day or two at some country neighbour's, or an expedition to a county ball or the yeomanry review, made up the sum of the Brown locomotion in most years. A stray Brown from some distant county dropped in every now and then, or from Oxford on grave nag, an old don contemporary of the Squire; and were looked upon by the Brown household, and the villagers, with the same sort of feeling with which we now regard a man who has crossed the Rocky Mountains, or launched a boat on the great lake in Central Africa. The White Horse Vale, remember, was traversed by no great road, nothing but country parish roads, and these very bad.

bad. Only one coach ran there, and this one only from Wantage to London, so that the

« VorigeDoorgaan »