« VorigeDoorgaan »
Exeter is a large junction), or feel the sticks and spars more discordant with the smoke and steam of the locomotives through which they pierce, than with the fine tracery of the trees farther away.
I was never an enemy of the confusion of the old and new in Europe when Italy was all Europe for me, and now in England it was distinctly a pleasure. It is something we must accept, whether we like it or not, and we had better like it. The pride of the old custodian of the Exeter Guildhall in the coil of hot-water pipes heating the ancient edifice was quite as acceptable as his pride in the thirteenth-century carvings of the oaken door and the oak-panelled walls, the portraits of the Princess Henrietta and General Monk, and the swords bestowed upon the faithful city by Edward IV. and Henry VII. I warmed my chilly hands at the familiar radiator while I thawed my fancy out to play about the medieval facts, and even fly to that uttermost antiquity when the Roman Prætorium stood where the Guildhall stands now. Still, I was not so warm all over but that I was glad to shun the in-doors inclemency to which we must have returned in the hotel, and to prolong our stay in the milder air outside by going a drive beyond the city into the charming country. I do not say that the country was more charming than about Plymouth, but it had its pleasant difference, which was hardly a difference in the subtropical types of trees and shrubs. · There were the same evergreens hedging and shading, too deeply shading, the stone cottages of the suburbs as we had seen nearer the sea; but when we were well out of the town, we had climbed to high, rolling fields, which looked warm even when the sun did not shine upon them; there were brown bare woods cresting the hills, and the hedge-rows ran bare and brown between
the ploughed fields and the verdure of the pastures and the wheat. Behind and below us lay the town, clustering about the cathedral which dwarfed its varying tops to the illusion of one level.
We had driven out by a handsome avenue called, for reasons I did not penetrate, Pennsylvania Road. Stately houses lined the way, and the wealth and consequence of the town had imaginably transferred themselves to Pennsylvania Road from the fine old crescent where we had perhaps rashly invested; though I shall never regret it. But we came back another way, winding round by the first English lane I had ever driven through. It was all, and more, than I could have asked of it in that quality, for it was so narrow between the tall hedges, which shut everything else from sight, that if we had met another vehicle, I do not know what would have happened. There was a breathless moment when I thought we were going to meet a market-cart, but luckily it turned into an open gateway before the actual encounter. There must be tacit provision for such a chance in the British Constitution, but it is not for a semi-alien like an American to say what it is.
We were apparently the first of our nation to reach Exeter that spring, for as we came in to lunch we heard an elderly cleric, who had the air of lunching every day at the Butt of Malmsey, say to his waiter, "The Americans are coming early this year." We had reasons of our own for thinking we had come too early; probably in midsummer the old-established cold of the venerable hostelry is quite tolerable. If I had been absolutely new to the past, I could not have complained, even in March, of its reeling floors and staggering stairways and dim passages; these were as they should be, and I am not saying anything against the table. That again was
better than it would have been at a hotel in an American town of the size of Exeter, and it had a personal application at breakfast and luncheon that pleased and comforted; the table d'hôte dinner was, as in other English inns, far preferable to the indiscriminate and wasteful superabundance for which we pay too much at our own. It is of the grates in the Butt of Malmsey that I complain, and I do not know that I should have cause to complain of these if I had not rashly ordered fire in mine. To give the grate time to become glowing, as grates always should be in old inns, I passed an hour or two in the reading-room talking with an elderly Irish gentleman who had come to that part of England with his wife to buy a place and settle down for the remnant of his days, after having spent the greater part of his life in South Africa. He could not praise South Africa enough. Everything flourished there and every one prospered; his family had grown up and he had left seven children settled there; it was the most wonderful country under the sun; but the two years he had now passed in England were worth the whole thirty-five years that he had passed in South Africa. I agreed with him in extolling the English country and climate, while I accepted all that he said of South Africa as true, and then I went up to my room.
With the aid of the two candles which I lighted I discovered the grate in the wall near the head of the bed, and on examining it closely I perceived that there was a fire in it. The grate would have held quite a doublehandful of coal if carefully put on; the fire which seemed to be flickering so feebly had yet had the energy to draw all the warmth of the chamber up the chimney, and I stood shivering in the temperature of a subterranean dungeon. The place instantly gave evidence of being
haunted, and the testimony of my nerves on this point was corroborated by the spectral play of the firelight on the ceiling, when I blew out my candles. In the middle of the night I woke to the sense of something creeping with a rustling noise over the floor. I rejected the hypothesis of my bed-curtain falling into place, though I remembered putting it back that I might have light to read myself drowsy. I knew at once that it was a ghost walking the night there, and walking hard. Suddenly it ceased, and I knew why: it had been frozen
A FORTNIGHT IN BATH
HE American who goes to England as part of the invasion which we have lately heard so much of must constantly be vexed at finding the Romans have been pretty well everywhere before him. He might not mind the Saxons, the Danes, the Normans so much, or the transitory Phoenicians, and, of course, he could have no quarrel with the Cymri, who were there from the beginning, and formed a sort of subsoil in which conquering races successively rooted and flourished; but it is hard to have the Romans always cropping up and displacing the others. He likes well enough to meet them in southern Europe; he enjoys their ruins in Italy, in Spain, in France; but the fact of their presence in Britain forms too great a strain for his imagination. By dint of having been there such a long time ago they seem to have anticipated any novelty there is in his own coming, and by having remained four hundred years they leave him little hope of doing anything very surprising in a stay of four months. He is gnawed by a secret jealousy of the Romans, and when he lands in Liverpool, as he commonly does, and discovers them in possession of the remote antiquity of Chester, where he goes for a little comfortable mediævalism before pushing on to wreak himself on the vast modernity of London, he can hardly govern his impatience. Their ves