Imágenes de páginas

fair larded breast turned upwards for the view, for the air, because their the carving knife, having crowed his fathers and mothers came up before last crow. He knows it not; what them; because they came up themselves matters it to him? If he knew it, as children from an instinct which could a Bagley Wood cock-pheasant desire moves them all in leisure hours and a better ending?

Sunday evenings, when the sun shines We pass over the vale beyond ; hall and the birds sing, whether they care and hamlet, church and meadow, and for view or air or not. Something guides copse folded in mist and shadow below all their feet hitherward; the children, us, each hamlet holding in its bosom the to play hide-and-seek and look for nests materials of three-volumed novels by in the gorse-bushes ; young men and the dozen, if we could only pull off the maidens, to saunter and look and talk, roofs of the houses and look steadily as they will till the world's end—or as into the interiors; but our destination long, at any rate, as the Hawk's Lynch is farther yet. The faint white streak and Englebourn last--and to cut their behind the distant Chilterns reminds us initials, inclosed in a true lover's knot, that we have no time for gossip by the on the short rabbit's turf; steady married way; May nights are short, and the sun couples, to plod along together consulting will be up by four. No matter; our on hard times and growing families; journey will now be soon over, for the even old tottering men, who love to sit broad vale is crossed, and the chalk hills at the feet of the firs, with chins leaning and downs beyond. Larks quiver up on their sticks, prattling of days long by us, “higher ever higher," hastening past to any one who will listen, or lookup to get a first glimpse of the coming ing silently with dim eyes into the summonarch, careless of food, flooding the mer air, feeling perhaps in their spirits fresh air with song. Steady plodding after a wider and more peaceful view rooks labour along below us, and lively which will soon open for them. A starlings rush by on the look-out for the common knoll, open to all, up in the early worm; lark and swallow, rook and silent air, well away from every-day starling, each on his appointed round. Englebourn life, with the Hampshire The sun arises, and they get them to it; range and the distant Beacon Hill lying he is up now, and these breezy uplands soft on the horizon, and nothing higher over which we hang are swimming in between you and the southern sea, what the light of horizontal rays, though the a blessing the Hawk's Lynch is to the shadows and mists still lie on the village folk, one and all! May Heaven wooded dells which slope away south- and a thankless soil long preserve it and wards.

them from an inclosure under the Act! Here let us bring to, over the village There is much temptation lying about, of Englebourn, and try to get acquainted though, for the inclosers of the world with the outside of the place before the The rough common land, you see, good folk are about and we have to go stretches over the whole of the knoll, down among them, and their sayings and down to its base, and away along and doings.

the hills behind, of which the Hawk's The village lies on the southern slopes Lynch is an outlying Spur. Rough of the Berkshire hills, on the opposite common land, broken only by pine side to that under which our hero was woods of a few acres each in extent, an born. Another soil altogether is here, we occasionalwoodman’sorsquatter's cottage remark in the first place. This is nobu and little patch of attempted garden chalk, this high knoll which rises above But immediately below, and on each -one may almost say hangs over-the flank of the spur, and half-way up the village, crowned with Scotch firs, its slopes, come small farm inclosures breaksides tufted with gorse and heather. It ing here and there the belt of wood is the Hawk's Lynch, the favourite resort lands, which generally lies between the of Englebourn folk, who come up-for rough wild upland and the cultivated country below. As you stand on the see the tall chimneys of a great house, knoll you can see the common land just and a well-timbered park round it. The below you at its foot narrow into a mere Grange is not in Englebourn parishroad, with a border of waste on each happily for that parish, one is sorry to side, which runs into Englebourn Street. remark. It must be a very bad squire At the end of the straggling village who does not do more good than harm stands the church with its square tower, by living in a country village. But a lofty grey stone building, with bits of there are very bad squires, and the fine decorated architecture about it, but owner of the Grange is one of them. much of churchwarden Gothic super. He is, however, for the most part, an vening. The churchyard is large, and absentee, so that we are little concerned the graves, as you can see plainly even with him, and in fact, have only to from this distance, are all crowded on notice this one of his bad habits, that the southern side. The rector's sheep he keeps that long belt of woodlands, are feeding in the northern part nearest which runs into Englebourn parish, and to us, and a small gate at one corner comes almost up to the village, full of opens into his garden. The rectory hares and pheasants. He has only suclooks large and comfortable, and its ceeded to the property some three or grounds well cared for and extensive, four years, and yet the head of game on with a rookery of elms at the lawn's the estate, and above all in the woods, end. It is the chief house of the place, has trebled or quadrupled Pheasants for there is no resident squire. The by hundreds are reared under hens, principal street contains a few shops, from eggs bought in London, and run some dozen perhaps in all; and several about the keepers' houses as tame as farm houses lie a little back from it, barn-door fowls all the summer. with garden in front, and yards and When the first party comes down barns and orchards behind ; and there for the first battue early in October, are two public houses. The other dwel- it is often as much as the beaters can do lings are mere cottages, and very bad to persuade these pampered fowls that ones for the most part, with floors below they are wild game, whose duty it is to the level of the street. Almost every get up and fly away and be shot at. house in the village is thatched, which However, they soon learn more of the adds to the beauty though not to the world—such of them, at least, as are not comfort of the place. The rest of the slain—and are unmistakeable wild birds population who do not live in the street in a few days. Then they take to roostare dotted about the neighbouring lanes, ing farther from their old haunts, more chiefly towards the west, on our right in the outskirts of the woods, and the as we look down from the Hawk's Lynch. time comes for others besides the squire's On this side the country is more open, guests to take their education in hand, and here most of the farmers live, as we and teach pheasants at least that they may see by the number of homesteads. are no native British birds. These And there is a small brook on that side are a wild set, living scattered about too, which with careful damming is made the wild country ; turf-cutters, broomto turn a mill, there where you see the makers, squatters, with indefinite occuclump of poplars. On our left as we pations and nameless habits, a race hated look down, the country to the east of of keepers and constables. These have the village, is thickly wooded; but we increased and flourished of late years; can see that there is a village green on and, notwithstanding the imprisonments that side, and a few scattered cottages, and transportations which deprive them the farthest of which stands looking out periodically of the most enterprising like a little white eye, from the end of members of their community, one and a dense copse.

all give thanks for the day when the Beyond it there is no sign of habita- owner of the Grange took to pheasant tion for some two miles; then you can breeding. If the demoralization stopped with them, little harm might come of it, Grange estates was ever given away, as they would steal fowls in the home that not only did the tenants never get a steads if there were no pheasants in the brace of birds or a hare, or the labourers woods—which latter are less dangerous a rabbit, but not one of the gentlemen to get, and worth more when gotten. who helped to kill the game ever found But, unhappily, this method of earning any of the bag in his dog-cart after the a livelihood has strong attractions, and day's shooting. Nay, so shameless had is catching; and the cases of farm the system become, and so highly was labourers who get into trouble about the art of turning the game to account game are more frequent season by cultivated at the Grange, that the season in the neighbouring parishes, keepers sold powder and shot to any and Englebourn is no better than the of the guests who had emptied their rest. And the men are not likely to be own belts or flasks at something much discouraged from these practices, over the market retail price. The or taught better, by the farmers; for, if light cart drove to the market-town there is one thing more than another twice a week in the season, loaded that drives that sturdy set of men, the heavily with game, but more heavily Englebourn yeomen, into a frenzy, it is with the hatred and scorn of the fartalk of the game in the Grange covers. mers; and, if deep and bitter curses Not that they dislike sport; they like it could break patent axles or necks, the too well, and, moreover, have been used new squire and his game-cart would not to their fair share of it. For the late long have vexed the country side. As squire left the game entirely in their it was, not a man but his own tenants hands. “You know best how much would salute him in the market-place; game your land will carry without and these repaid themselves for the unserious damage to the crops," he used willing courtesy by bitter reflections on to say. “I like to show my friends a a squire who was mean enough to pay fair day's sport when they are with me, his butcher's and poulterer's bill out of and to have enough game to supply the their pockets. house and make a few presents. Beyond Alas, that the manly instinct of sport that it is no affair of mine. You can which is so strong in all of us Englishcourse whenever you like ; and let me men— which sends Oswell's singleknow when you want a day's shooting, handed against the mightiest beasts and you shall have it.” Under this that walk the earth, and takes the poor system the yeomen became keen sports- cockney journeyman out a ten miles' men; they and all their labourers took walk almost before daylight on the rare an interest in preserving, and the whole summer holiday mornings, to angle with district would have risen on a poacher. rude tackle inreservoir or canal-should The keeper's place became a sinecure, be dragged through such mire as this in and the squire had as much game as he many an English shire in our day. If wanted without expense, and was, more English landlords want to go on shootover, the most popular man in the ing game much longer, they must give county. Even after the new man came up selling it. For if selling game beand all was changed, the mere revoca- comes the rule, and not the exception tion of their sporting liberties, and the (as it seems likely to do before long), increase of game, unpopular as these good-bye to sport in England. Every things were, would not alone have made man who loves his country more than the farmers so bitter, and have raised his pleasures or his pocket-and, thank that sense of outraged justice in them. God, that includes the great majority of But with these changes came in a cus- us yet, however much we may delight tom new in the country—the custom of in gun and rod, let Mr. Bright and every selling the game. At first the report demagogue in the land say what they was not believed ; but soon it became please—will cry, “Down with it," and notorious that no head of game from the lend a hand to put it down for ever.

But, to return to our perch on the Hawk's Lynch above Englebourn village. As I was saying just now, when the sight of the distant Grange and its woods interrupted me, there is no squire living here. The rector is the fourth of his race who holds the family living—a kind, easy-going, gentlemanly old man, a Doctor of Divinity, as becomes his position, though he only went into orders because there was the living ready for him. In his day he had been a good magistrate and neighbour, living with, and much in the same way as, the squires round about! But his contemporaries had dropped off one by one; his own health had long been failing; his wife was dead; and the young generation did not seek him. His work and the parish had no real hold on him ; so he had nothing to fall back on, and had become a confirmed invalid, seldom leaving the house and garden even to go to church, and thinking more of his dinner and his health than of all other things in earth or heaven.

The only child who remained at home with him was a daughter, a girl of nineteen or thereabouts, whose acquaintance we shall make presently, and who was doing all that a good heart and sound head prompted in nursing an old hypochondriac and filling his place in the parish. But though the old man was weak and selfish, he was kind in his way, and ready to give freely, or to do anything which his daughter suggested for the good of his people, provided the trouble were taken off his shoulders. In the year before our tale opens he had allowed some thirty acres of his glebe to be parcelled out in allotments amongst the poor; and his daughter spent almost what she pleased in clothing-clubs, and sick-clubs, and the school, without a word from him. Whenever he did remonstrate, she managed to get what she wanted out of the house-money, or her own allowance.

We must make acquaintance with such other of the inhabitants as it concerns us to know in the course of the story; for it is broad daylight, and the villagers will be astir directly. Folk who

go to bed before nine, after a hard day's work, get into the habit of turning out soon after the sun calls them. So now, descending from the Hawk's Lynch, we will alight at the east end of Englebourn, opposite the little white cottage which looks out at the end of the great wood, near the village-green.

Soon after five on that bright Sunday morning, Harry Winburn unbolted the door of his mother's cottage, and stepped out in his shirt-sleeves on to the little walk in front, paved with pebbles. Perhaps some of my readers will recognise the name of an old acquaintance, and wonder how he got here; so I shall explain at once. Soon after our hero went to school, Harry's father had died of a fever. He had been a journeyman blacksmith, and in the receipt, consequently, of rather better wages than generally fall to the lot of the peasantry, but not enough to leave much of a margin over current expenditure. Moreover, the Winburns had always been open-handed with whatever money they had ; so that all he left for his widow and child, of worldly goods, was their “few sticks” of furniture, £5 in the Savings’-bank, and the money from his burial-club, which was not more than enough to give him a creditable funeral—that object of honourable ambition to all the independent poor. He left, however, another inheritance to them, which is in price above rubies, neither shall silver be named in comparison thereof,—the inheritance of an honest name, of which his widow was proud, and which was not likely to suffer in her hands.

After the funeral, she removed to Englebourn, her own native village, and kept her old father's house, till his death. He was one of the woodmen to the Grange, and lived in the cottage at the corner of the wood in which his work lay. When he too died, hard times came on Widow Winburn. The steward allowed her to keep on the cottage. The rent was a sore burthen to her, but she would sooner have starved than leave it. Parish relief was out of the question for her father's child

and her husband's widow; so she turned story takes him up, a thoroughly skilled her hand to every odd job which offered, labourer, the best hedger and ditcher in and went to work in the fields when the parish; and, when his blood is up, he nothing else could be had. Whenever can shear twenty sheep in a day without there was sickness in the place, she was razing the skin, or mow for sixteen hours an untiring nurse ; and, at one time, for at a stretch, with rests of half an hour some nine months, she took the office of for meals twice in the day. postman, and walked daily some nine Harry shaded his eyes with his hand miles through a severe winter. The for a minute, as he stood outside the fatigue and exposure had broken down cottage drinking in the fresh pure air, her health, and made her an old woman laden with the scent of the honeysuckle before her time. At last, in a lucky which he had trained over the porch, hour, the doctor came to hear of her and listening to the chorus of linnets praiseworthy struggles, and gave her the and finches from the copse at the back rectory washing, which had made her of the house, and then set about the life a comparatively easy one again. household duties, which he always

During all this time her poor neigh- made it a point of honour to attend to bours had stood by her as the poor himself on Sundays. First he ùnshutdo stand by one another, helping her tered the little lattice-window of the in numberless small ways, so that room on the ground-floor; a simple she had been able to realize the great operation enough, for the shutter was a object of her life, and keep. Harry at mere wooden flap, which was closed school till he was nearly fourteen. By over the window at night, and bolted this time he had learned all that the with a wooden bolt on the outside, and village pedagogue could teach, and had thrown back against the wall in the in fact become an object of mingled daytime. Any one who would could pride and jealousy to that worthy man, have opened it at any moment of the who had his misgivings lest Harry's night; but the poor sleep sound without fame as a scholar should eclipse his own bolts. Then he took the one old bucket before many years were over.

of the establishment, and strode away to Mrs. Winburn's character was so good, the well on the village-green, and filled that no sooner was her son ready for a it with clear cold water, doing the same place than a place was ready for him; kind office for the vessels of two or he stepped at once into the dignity of three rosy little damsels and boys, of carter's boy, and his earnings, when ages varying from ten to fourteen, who added to his mother's, made them com- were already astir, and to whom the fortable enough. Of course she was winding-up of the parish chain and wrapped up in him, and believed that bucket would have been a work of diffithere was no such boy in the parish. culty. Returning to the cottage, he And indeed she was nearer the truth proceeded to fill his mother's kettle, than most mothers, for he soon grew into sweep the hearth, strike a light, and a famous specimen of a countryman ; tall make up the fire with a faggot from the and lithe, full of nervous strength, and little stack in the corner of the garden. not yet bowed down or stiffened by Then he hauled the three-legged round the constant toil of a labourer's daily table before the fire, and dusted it carelife. In these matters, however, he had fully over, and laid out the black japan rivals in the village; but in intellectual tea-tray with two delf cups and saucers accomplishments he was unrivalled. He of gorgeous pattern, and diminutive was full of learning according to the plates to match, and placed the sugar village standard, could write and cipher and slop basins, the big loaf and small well, was fond of reading such books as piece of salt butter, in their accustomed came in his way, and spoke his native places, and the little black teapot on English almost without an accent. He the hob to get properly warm. There is one-and-twenty at the time when our was little more to be done indoors, for

« AnteriorContinuar »