begin them, we seemed to have it pretty much to ourselves. The Midland road does not run second-class cars, and so you must go first or third, and we being as yet too proud to go third, sought a first-class nonsmoking compartment. The most eligible car we could find was distinctly lettered "Smoking," but the porter said he could paste that out, and by this simple device he changed it to non-smoking, and we took possession.

We were soon running through that English country which is always pretty, and seems prettiest wherever you happen to be, and though we did not and never can forget Bath, we could not help tricking our beams a little, in response to the fields smiling through the sunny rain, or the rainy sun. It was mostly meadowland, with the brown leafless hedges dividing pasture from pasture, but by-and-by there began to be ploughed fields, with more signs of habitation. Yet it was as lonely as it was lovely, like all the English country, to which the cheerfulness of our smaller holdings is wanting. What made it homelike, in spite of the solitude, was the occurrence in greater and greater number of wooden buildings. We conjectured stone villages somewhere out of sight, huddled about their hoary churches, but largely the gray masonry of the West of England had yielded to the gray weather-boarding of the more southeasterly region, where at first only the barns and out - buildings were of wood; but soon the dwellings themselves were frame-built.

Was it at otherwise immemorable Shapton we got tea, running into the cleanly, friendly station from the slopes of the shallow valleys? It must have been, for after that the sky cleared, and nature in a cooler air was gayer, as only tea can make nature. They trundled a little cart up to the side of the train, and gave us our

cups and sandwiches, bidding us leave the cups in the train, as they do all over England, to be collected at some or any other station. After that we were in plain sight of the towers and spires of Salisbury, the nearest we ever came, in spite of much expectation and resolution, to the famous cathedral; and then we were in the dear, open country again, with white birches, like those of New England, growing on the railroad banks; and presently again we were in sight of houses building, and houses of pink brick already built, and then, almost without realizing it, we were in the suburbs of Southampton, and driving in a four-wheeler up through the almost American ugliness of the main business street, and out into a residence quarter to the residential hotel commended to us.

It was really very much a private house, for it was mainly formed of a stately old mansion, which with many modern additions, actual and prospective, had been turned to the uses of genteel boarding. But it had a mixed character, and was at moments everything you could ask a hotel to be; if it failed of wine or spirits, which could not be sold on the premises, these could be brought in from some neighboring bar. The transients, as our summer hotels call them, were few, and nearly all the inmates except ourselves were permanent boarders, in the scriptural and New England proportion of seven women to one man. It was a heterogeneous company of insular and colonial English, but always English, whether from the immediate neighborhood, or Canada, or South Africa, or Australia. At separate small tables in an older dining-room, cooled by the ancestral grate, or in a newer one, warmed by steamradiators just put in, we were served abundant breakfasts of bacon and eggs and tea and toast, and table

[ocr errors]

d'hôte luncheons and dinners, with afternoon tea and after-dinner coffee in the drawing-room. For all this, with rooms and lights and service, we paid ten shillings a day, and I dare say the permanents paid less. Bedroom fires were of course extra, but as they gave out no perceptible heat, they ought not to be counted, though they had a certain illuminating force, say a five candle-power, and rendered the breath distinctly visible.

We had come down to Southampton in a superstition that, being to the southward, it would be milder than Bath, where the spring was from time to time so inclement, but finding it rather colder and bleaker, we experimented a little farther to the southward, a day or two after our arrival, and went to the Isle of Wight. The sail across the Solent, or whatever water it was we crossed, was beautiful, but it was not balmy, and when we reached Cowes, after that dinner aboard which you always get so much better in England than in like conditions with us, we found it looking not so tropical as we could have liked, but doubtless as tropical as it really was. The pretty town curved round its famous yacht harborage in ranks of summer hotel-like houses, with green lattices and a convention of out-door life in their architecture, such as befitted a mild climate; but we were keeping on to the station where you take train for Ventnor, on the southern shore of the island which has to support the reputation of being the English Riviera. We did not know then how bad the Italian Riviera could be, and doubtless we blamed the English one more than we ought. We ought, indeed, to have been warmed for it by the sort of horseback exercise we had on the roughest stretch of railway I can remember, in cars whose springs had been broken in earlier service on some mainland line of the monopoly now employing

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

them on the Isle of Wight, and defying the public to do anything about it, as successfully as any railroad of our own republic. We had a hope and an intention of seeing flowers, which we fulfilled as we could with the unprofitable gayety of the blossomed furze by the waysides; and more and more we fancied a forwardness in the spring which was doubtless mainly of our invention. From our steamer we had a glimpse of Osborne Castle, the favorite seat of the good queen who is gone, and we wafted our thoughts afar to Carisbrooke, where the hapless Charles I. was for a time captive, playing fast and loose, in feeble bad faith, with the victorious Parliament, when it would have been willing to treat with him. But you cannot go everywhere in England, especially in one day, though home-keeping Americans think it is so small, and we had to leave Newport and its Carisbrooke castle aside in our going and coming between Ryde and Ventnor.

It was well into the afternoon when we reached Ventnor, and took a fly for the time left us, which was largely tea-time, by the reckoning of the girl in the nice pastry-shop where we stopped for refreshment. She said that the season in Ventnor was July and August, but the bathing was good into October, and we could believe the pleasant Irishman in our return train who told us that it was terribly hot in the summer at Ventnor. The lovely little town, which is like an English water-color, for the rich, soft blur of its grays, and blues and greens, has a sea at its feet of an almost Bermudian variety of rainbow tints, and a milky horizon all its own, with the sails of fishing-boats, drowning in it, like moths that had got into the milk. The streets rise in amphitheatrical terraces from the shore, and where they cease to have the liveliness of watering-place

shops, they have the domesticity of residential hotels and summer boarding-houses, and private villas set in depths of myrtle and holly and oleander and laurel; some of the better-looking houses were thatched, perhaps to satisfy a sentiment for rusticity in the summer boarder or tenant. The intelligent hunchback who drove our fly, and instructed us in things of local interest far beyond our capacity, named prices at these houses which might, if I repeated them, tempt an invasion from our own resorts, if people did not mind suffering in July and August for the sake of the fine weather in November. Doubtless there are some who would not mind being shut southward by the steep and lofty downs which prevent the movement of air as much in summer as in winter at Ventnor. The acclivities are covered with a short, wiry grass, and on the day of our visit the boys of Ventnor were coasting down them on a kind of toboggans. Besides this peculiar advantage, Ventnor has the attraction, common to so many English towns and villages, of a Norman church, and of those seats and parks of the nobility and gentry which one cannot long miss in whatever direction one goes, in a land where the nobility and gentry are so much cherished.

The day had been hesitating between rain and sun as usual, but it had decided for rain when we left Ventnor, where we had already found it very cold in-doors, over the tea and bread and butter, which they gave us so good. By the time we had got back to Ryde, the frigidity of the railway waiting-room, all the colder for the fire that had died earlier in the day, was such that it seemed better to go out and walk up and down the platform, in the drive of the rain, as hard and fast as one could, than to stay within. In these conditions the

« VorigeDoorgaan »