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At home we should dump the broken stone in the gutter near the place that needed mending, or on the face of the highway, but in England, where everything is so static, and the unhurried dynamic activities are from everlasting to everlasting, a place is specially provided for broken stone, and the broken stone is kept there.
The drive from Bath to our destination was twelve miles, and the friend who was to be our host for the day had come as far on his wheel to ask us. It was the first of many surprises in the continued use of the bicycle which were destined to confound strangers from a land whose entire population seemed to go bicyclemad a few years ago, and where now they are so wholly recovered that the wheel is almost as obsolete as the russet shoe. As both the wheel and the russet shoe are excellent things in their way, though no American could now wear the one or use the other without something like social suicide, the English continue to employ them with great comfort and entire self-respect. They fail so wholly to understand why either should have gone out with us that one becomes rather ashamed to explain that it was for the same reason that they came in, merely because everybody had them.
Our friend had given us explicit directions for our journey, and it was well that he did so, for we had two turnings to take on that lonely road, and there were few passers whom we could ask our way. We really made the driver ask it, and he did not like to do it, for he felt, as we did, that he ought to know it. I am afraid he was not a very active intelligence, and I doubt if he had ever before been required to say what so many birds and flowers were. I think he named most of them at random, and when it came at last to a very common white flower, he boldly said that he
had forgotten what it was. As we drew near the end of our journey he grew more anxiously complicated in such knowledge of our destination as he acquired. But he triumphed finally in the successive parleys held to determine the site of a house which had been in its place seven or eight hundred years, and might, in that time have ceased to be a matter of doubt even among the farther neighbors. It was with pride on his part and pleasure on ours that suddenly and most unexpectedly, when within a few yards of it, he divined the true way, and drove into the court-yard of what had at times been the dower-house, where we were to find our host and guide to the greater mansion.
As this house is a type of many old dower-houses I will be so intimate as to say that you enter it from the level of the ground outside, such a thing as under-pinning to lift the floor from the earth and to make an airspace below being still vaguely known in England, and in former times apparently unheard of. But when once within you are aware of a charm which keeps such houses inviolate in the form of the past; and this one was warmed for us by a hospitality which refined itself down to the detail of a black cat basking before the grate: a black cat that promptly demanded milk after our luncheon, but politely waited to be asked to the saucer when it was brought. From the long room which looked so much a study that I will not call it differently, the windows opened on the shrubberies and lawns and gardens that surround such houses in fiction, and keep them so visionary to the comer who has known them nowhere else that it would be easy to transgress the bounds a guest must set himself, and speak as freely of the people he met there as if they were persons in a pleasant book. Two of them, kindred of the manor
house and of the great house near, had come from three or four miles away on their wheels. Our host himself, the youngest son of the great house, was a painter, by passion as well as by profession, and a reviewer of books on art, such as plentifully bestrewed his table and forbade us to think of the place in the ordinary terms as a drawing-room. It seemed to me characteristic of the convenient insular distances that here, far in the West, almost on the Welsh border, he should be doing this work for a great London periodical, in as direct touch with the metropolis as if he dwelt hard by the Park, and could walk in fifteen minutes to any latest exhibition of pictures.
When he took us after luncheon almost as long a walk to his studio, I fancied that I was feeling England under my feet as I had not before. We passed through a gray hamlet of ten or a dozen stone cottages, where, behind or above their dooryard hedges, they had gradually in the long ages clustered near the great house, and a little cottage girl, who was like a verse of Wordsworth, met us, and bidding us good-day, surprised us by dropping a courtesy. It surprised even our friends, who spoke of it as if it were almost the last courtesy dropped in England, and made me wish I could pick it up, and put it in my note-book, to grace some such poor page as this: so pretty was it, so shy, so dear, with such a dip of the suddenly weakening little knees.
We were then on our way to see first the small gray church which had been in its place among the ancient graves from some such hoary eld as English churches dream of in like places all over the land, and make our very faith seem so recent a thing. It was in a manner the family chapel, but it was also the spiritual home of the lowlier lives of village and farm, and was shared
with them in the reciprocal kindness common in that English world of enduring ties. There for ages the parish folk had all been christened, and all married, and all buried, and there in due time they had been or would be forgotten. The edifice was kept in fit repair by the joint piety of rich and poor, with the lion's share of the expense rightfully falling to the rich, as in such cases it always does in England; and within and without the church the affection of the central family had made itself felt and seen, since the Christian symbols were first rudely graven in the stone of the square church-tower.
The name of the family always dwelling in that stately old house whither we were next going had not always been the same, but its nature and its spirit had been the same. An enlightened race would naturally favor the humane side in all times, and the family were Parliamentarian at the time England shook off the Stuart tyranny, and revolutionist when she finally ridded herself of her faithless Jameses and Charleses. In the archives of the house there are records of the hopes vainly cherished by a son of it who was then in New York, that our own revolt against the Georgian oppression might be composed to some peaceful solution of the quarrel. It was not his fault that this hope was from the first moment too late, but it must be one of his virtues in American eyes that he saw from the beginning the hopelessness of any accommodation without a full concession of the principles for which the colonies contended. In the negotiation of the treaty at Versailles in 1783 he loyally did his utmost for his country against ours at every point of issue, and especially where the exiled American royalists were concerned. Our own commissioners feared while they respected him, and John Adams wrote of him in his diary, "He pushes and
presses every point as far as it can possibly go; he has a most eager, earnest, pointed spirit."
This was the first baronet of his line, but the real dignity and honor of the house has been that of a race of scholars and thinkers. Their public spirit has been of the rarer sort which would find itself most at home in the literary association of the place, and it has come to literary expression in a book of singular charm. In the gentle wisdom of sympathies which can be universal without transcending English conditions, the Talk at a Country House, as the book modestly calls itself, strays to topics of poetry, and politics, and economics, and religion, yet keeps its allegiance to the old house we were about to see as a central motif. It was our first English country house, but I do not think that its claim on our interest was exaggerated by its novelty, and I would willingly chance finding its charm as potent again, if I might take my way to it as before. We came from the old church now by the high-road, now through fringes of woodland, and now over shoulders of pasturage, where the lesser celandine delicately bloomed, and the primrose started from the grass, till at last we emerged from under the sheltering boughs of the tall elms that screened the house from our approach. There was a brook that fell noisily over our way, and that we crossed on a rustic bridge, and there must have been a drive to the house, but I suppose we did not follow it. Our day of March had grown gray as it had grown old, and we had not the light of a day in June, such as favored an imaginary visitor in Talk at a Country House, but we saw the place quite so much as he did that his words will be better than any of my own in picturing it.
"The air was resonant with rooks as they filled the sky with the circles in which they wheeled to and fro,