England – Fareham – Waltham – The Valley Of The Itchen

Our drive to Fareham was, after all, postponed until the next afternoon. There was just enough drizzle and mist, which came from no one knew where, to make the prospect unpromising. It was no part of our plan to wait for an English sky to make up its mind to stop raining ; but we thought we might arrange it with the barometer, if it were in even a moderately accommodating mood, not to force us to start out on our day’s drive in the rain.

The following afternoon, to repay us, the sun came out in really radiant glory for an English sun. Sometimes it seems as if England were a little misty universe all to itself, as if the skies were so full of teary stars, and the weeping moon and the sun were so consumed by some hidden grief, that they had neither the strength nor the courage to shine as they do elsewhere. On this particular Wednesday the sun had concluded, apparently, to forget its particular sorrow and to shine as if it were off a-holidaying, like ourselves. Its brightness and radiance made our roadway brilliant in beauty. The golden light was every-where : it was in the air, woven like a tissue in among the trees ; it sparkled in diamond showers on the roof-tops, and turned, with its Midas touch, even the wayside stalks into ” weeds of glorious feature.”

We were still in the flat country of the plains ; a few miles away from Chichester, however, glimpses of the sea became more and more frequent. A continuous chain of villages, hamlets, and farm-houses skirted this coast of the sea, and followed us as we turned inland. It was the most thickly populated region we had as yet seen. Most of the villages we passed were separated by a few farm-lands only ; as we clattered out of the cobble-paved streets of one, we could see the roofs of the next, just beyond, thickening behind the trees. This procession of villages gave us a vivid sense of the fact that so small an island as England should yet have a population of fifteen millions ; the fifteen millions live under their English sky as others live under the roof of a house, in adjoining rooms.

The houses, even here in the open country, appeared almost to touch one another.

The villagers bore a striking resemblance to one another. Their only distinctive difference appeared to be a discriminating taste in dirt. All were dirty, — houses, streets, children, and shops. Some were superlatively and others only comparatively filthy. The absence of gentlemen’s seats in this neighborhood doubtless accounted for the slovenly appearance of these otherwise somewhat pretty hamlets and villages.

Wealth refines as much as it tends to mitigate the miseries of the lower classes. The human animal is an imitative creature. A tradesman learns to bow when he has a gentleman to deal with ; but he is as unmannerly as the rest of the village if he has only villagers as customers. All the little shops looked mean, and all the shop-keepers frowsy and slatternly, as we passed them swiftly, as if the latter had no ambition in life which made neatly brushed hair and a clean shirt seem worth while.

There was a blot on the landscape that was neither these dirty villages nor the frowsy villagers; the blot was the number of tramps we kept meeting.

Every half-mile or so, there were two or three of these poor and wretched-looking wayfarers. They toiled, in pairs or in groups of four and five, along the dusty highway, dragging their rags after them in an aimless, hopeless, despairing kind of way. Who does not know the tramp’s gait, and his uncertain, shiftless, going-nowhere-in-particular air ? The manner in which he wearily lifts one foot as the other falls, tells his story. He is society’s outcast, and wears the fetters of his own degradation. The English tramp adds viciousness to his despair. Most of these men whom we met wore a dangerous, sullen growl on their sodden and bloated features. Their capacity for villany had a ripened expression, we noticed, which had stamped itself like a brand of infamy on their hardened faces. Their being all more or less drunk doubtless emphasized this vicious aspect. Some few had the look of predestined sots, and others appeared to have added drunkenness to the list of their vices as they had the other accomplishments necessary to the equipment of their career of crime.

Among the sots the women far outnumbered the men. We passed several groups of these poor, shameless creatures, seated or lying on the roadside grass. One among them usually held a dark, evil-looking bottle, which was passed to the others and from which all drank without even the thought of shame. Their all too frequent stop-ping at the tap-houses along the roads apparently had not been enough to satisfy their demoniac thirst ; they could not wait for that slower process of intoxication. There was no appearance of gayety or merriment in the demeanor of these poor creatures ; they seemed to be possessed solely by the hideous determination of their vice. It is only the Englishman, I think, who proceeds to get as drunk as possible without mixing a little enjoyment with the act.

This was the blot on the landscape, — these poor drunken wretches and the many taverns and tap-houses we met at every turning. Every ten minutes or so, we would see the familiar sign, ” John this, or Fanny that, licensed dealer in beer and spirits.” The women behind the bar, as well as those the other side of it, appeared to do the most flourishing trade in these licensed demons. In more than half of these wayside taverns and beer-shops the bar-tenders were women, most of them rosy, healthy, and fresh-looking, as conspicuously free from the taint of the vice they dealt in as their frailer customers were branded by its unmistakable signs. It was the only refreshing human spectacle we saw during the first miles of our day’s journey,—the sight of these hearty, strong, active barmaids, who during the intervals of trade could be seen easily enough through the wide-open doors and windows, going about numberless domestic duties. It is a characteristic of women shopkeepers, the world over, that they always appear to be doing several things at once. These barmaids were shopkeepers, but they were also mothers, house-keepers, gossips, and disciplinarians. Knitting and whipping their children were evidently the occupations only of the idle moments, when customers were loafing over the counter until the moment came to order a fresh glass. The more serious duties of sweeping, dusting, running sewing-machines, dressing and undressing their numerous offspring, were faithfully and efficiently performed in the slack periods of business hours.

It was good to leave it all behind us, — all the wretchedness of the vice; and even the thrift and energy which made money out of England’s curse. It was good to get at last into the broad open country, and to have the last miles of our journey lead us up a gentle hill or two, into ripening grain-fields and among the wide meadows.

A long line of chalk cliffs defined themselves above the meadows. Disposed at regular intervals along its length were several large forts. These we knew must be the famous Portsdown fortifications, and that Portsmouth itself must be near. A few moments later, a dark mass against the southern sky resolved itself into tall black chimney-pots, a forest of masts, and an indistinguishable medley of dusky buildings. This was Portsmouth.

The sight of a city and especially of a seaport town in the distance seldom fails in impressiveness. Its size is doubled by the illusion which atmospheric effect creates. Portsmouth, as we passed it slowly, might have been London itself, so vast and huge it looked, as it loomed forth from its misty gloom of smoke and sea-fog. Only the mast-heads and the steep chimneys, like the radius of a crown, lifted themselves up into the clear light. A fine noble castle towards the farther end of the town, we knew to be Southsea Castle. From the tower of the castle the British lion was flying with a more than usually belligerent aspect, as if inviting the world to mortal combat. Here on his own ground, with that mass of forts behind him, armed to the teeth, ready to fling the foe his iron gauntlet, there did indeed seem little doubt as to the result of any foreign attack. Coining thus suddenly out from the sylvan calm and repose of those meadow-fields which we had left behind, into this bit of country bristling with fortifications, gave us a very realizing sense of the causes that have insured England’s meadows having been free for so many centuries from the heel of the foreign invader : she has been careful to preserve her reputation of being armed cap-a-pie; and she has had a very ugly way of showing her teeth through her visor at the slightest provocation on foreign soil.

The remainder of the road to Fareham was rurally pretty, with hedge-rows untrimmed and a trifle straggling, — farmers’ hedge-rows, we concluded, because only pasture-lands and farms were to be seen amid the gentle slopes that gradually gained crescendo enough to become hills.

It was at the top of one of the longest of the hills that the opening in a large-arched bridge presented to our delighted eyes, as if Nature had been in a generous mood and had come out to give us a picture, our first glimpse of Fareham. A green lawn-swept street, with charming little houses masked in vines ; a small inland lake or pond, with drooping willows leaning sentimentally over its banks ; a wagonette full of children with a fair-haired mother driving under the trees to one of the larger houses facing the pond; and a huge hay-cart filled with village y youngsters pelting one another with poppies, — such was our first introduction to Fareham.

When we drove up to the low, broad bow-windowed inn, we knew we had committed no mistake in judgment when we had decided to stop at Fare-ham. There might be better inns and prettier inland villages in England, but Fareham we were entirely willing to accept as a specimen and model of what rural England possesses in the quaint, the comfortable, and the picturesque.

A tall handsome woman, still young and modestly but prettily dressed, stepped out to greet us with a smile, and in a pleasant, courteous tone asked if we would like to see our rooms ; that was the landlady. A fine-looking man, with straight clear eyes, also smiling, came a moment later, and took our hand-bags ; that was our landlord. A bell was rung, and a grinning hostler appeared, who took possession of Ballad, stroking his wet coat as if he looked forward to rubbing it down as a matter of personal satisfaction; that was the stable-man. We saw him a few moments later from our bedchamber window doing it, the rubbing down, as if our getting Ballad into his heated condition had been a special favor to him. A waiter next appeared, also smiling, and a be-ribboned chambermaid, both of whom, with the landlady, preceded us to our rooms. They all stopped smiling only to begin it again when fresh orders were given. The rooms were in perfect order, yet the landlady bestirred herself to readjust a vase on the mantelpiece ; and the chambermaid shook out the snow-white curtains as if to display their purity. The waiter was too absorbed in undoing shawl-straps and dusting the luggage to give himself up to decorative embellishment. The rooms were perfect in the dainty completeness of their outfit. There was a sitting-room, with a broad bow-shaped window fronting on the wide village street, a table with writing-materials at just the right angle in that pretty crescent, really comfortable chairs, and a reading lamp. For ” dumb companions,” on the wall were some quaint old prints. The bedchamber was as pure as a virgin’s bower, — a high four-post bedstead with cotton hangings, a dressing table in white, curtains, and pale faded blue walls with the print of last-century designs on them. About the whole establishment, indeed,— about the little inn, the rooms, and the village street, as we looked out into it, — there was this old-time air, as if the comfort and the purity and the courtesy had not been thought of and arranged yesterday, but had slowly grown during the long, quiet generations, and been patiently and lovingly added to, until this modest, tranquil, and altogether charming perfection had been attained.

On the whole, we concluded that our waiter was the most complete, as a product, among this assemblage of perfections. Perhaps it was because we ended by seeing more of him than of the others in the little inn. He served all of our meals, of course; and he was so genially, courteously garrulous it was impossible not to become more or less acquainted with him. There was an air of past acquaintance with gentility about Brown, as he told us to call him, which assured us that he had not learned his manners even in this perfect little inn. He had ways of passing a plate and of filling one’s glass suggestive of a certain distant familiarity, as if family secrets in a remote past had found their way to his ear and he had not been found unworthy of the trust. His glance was beautifully paternal ; and there was a general benedictory appearance about his somewhat fat and flabby person which, to a watchful eye, carried with it a vague conviction of his having frequently played the part of a good Providence to young lovers and to wayward youth. The smile he wore — the sweet, bland, mildly gleeful smile — could only have been acquired in a life consecrated to secret conspiracies against some-thing which ought not to be found out. We attributed something of his interest in us to the fact that he appeared to entertain a veiled but vigorous suspicion that we were on our wedding journey. He had for me a specially protective and tender manner, which was occasionally illumined by a pregnant smile that seemed to promise an understood compact of secrecy.

Like most conspirators, Brown had himself evidently fallen a victim to his own talent for intrigue. The color and size of his most conspicuous organ, his nose, betrayed his all too frequent stealthy dealings with his master’s port.

His respect for us began with the inspection of the wines Boston ordered. His friendship for me dated from the moment he learned that I took no champagne ; regard deepened into admiration when he further was ordered to water my glass of claret. He was certain now that the bottles would outlast Boston’s thirst. He next devoted himself to the satisfying of another appetite almost stronger than the vinous habit. He was too complete a provincial not to be curious.

” Brown, how far is it to Winchester ? ”

“Twenty miles, sir, — a fine drive, sir.” And then discreetly, a second later, ” A long ways, sir, from the North too, sir.”

” The North ?”

“The North of England. I took you for a Lincolnshire gentleman, begging your pardon.”

“We didn’t come from the North ; we came from London.”

Surprise tempered by a vague incredulity was to be read in Brown’s respectful glance. But his sense of decorum was too strong to embolden him to make further inquiries.

” London is a fine place, sir. I’ve been there in my time.”

” Yes, London is a fine city, and so is New York. We come from New York ; we are Americans.” Boston had taken pity on him, his disappointment was so visibly poignant. But the effect of the revelation of our nationality appeared to bewilder Brown to the point of rendering him speech-less. He feebly repeated “America,” and began eying us furtively, as if he expected us suddenly to break out into some strange antics of behavior. He made an errand immediately after into the hallway, where the ribbons of the chambermaid were fluttering behind the door.

The chambermaid peeped at us through the cracks of the door. A few moments later, the landlord made an excuse for taking a more thorough and satisfactory inspection of our appearance by entering after dinner to ask if the trap would be needed early the next morning. We even suspected that some of the travellers in the inn had been taken into the landlord’s confidence ; for the family next door to us, whom we had seen grouped about a pretty tea-table in the adjoining bow-window, manifested great interest in our incoming and out-going. They filled the broad windows, craning their necks over one another’s shoulders to get a better look. Even the handsome landlady stared after us as we passed out into the street.

” Don’t let us do it again, — don’t let us say we are Americans it makes us so conspicuous. They are always expecting us to do something queer,” I said, as we strolled out.

” That is the reason I do mention it. I want them to see we don’t do anything queer. I in giving them a little lesson in the manners and customs of an unknown country. There is no better way to prove that we are like all other civilized people than by being like them.”

“Well, if you want to turn our pleasure-trip into an illustrated lecture, you can do so; I prefer to travel incognito. They may take me for a chimpanzee if only they will not stare.”

“That they can’t help doing, my dear,” was Boston’s gallant rejoinder ; but I observed that to keep his courage up to the level of his gallantry, he was obliged to light another cigar.

From a woman’s point of view, a twilight walk is the best known substitute for a man’s meditative after-dinner cigar. Walking abroad is at least an escape from the brooding melancholy which twilight breeds indoors. The after-dinner hour in rural England is perhaps the only really trying one of the tourist’s day. The tempting al-fresco arrangements which one finds in almost all continental summer inns or hotels, — the cosey, charming gardens, the shrubs in pots, and the bits of foliage under whose shade are placed the little iron settees and tea-tables so subtly suggestive of tête-à-têtes and prolonged starlit confidences, — these are -unknown in England. The national standards of reserve and decorum forbid the traveller’s enjoyment except according to the strictest English notions and ideals of propriety. Rigid seclusion is the first of the Briton’s canons of good travelling-behavior. An English inn is built on the plan of a series of separate fortifications ; each traveller must be as unapproachable from inspection or intrusion as four walls can make him.

Even a balcony with an awning is a combination of the picturesque and the comfortable that no English inn has yet dreamed of adding to its list of luxuries. There are but two refuges, – the coffee-room, which is English for our American dining and reading room in one, or one’s own private sitting-room. In the coffee-room commercial travellers and business men are to be found reading the papers or writing letters ; but even their presence the waiters seem to look upon as intrusive. All Englishmen who respect themselves dine and smoke in their sitting-rooms. This latter custom we had ourselves adopted as by far the more comfortable as well as the pleasanter way of travelling in England. With the national habit of and delight in personal privacy come many compensations ; for surely no other mode of inn or hotel life, in spite of pretty garden-beds and alfresco tête-d-têtes on hard little iron chairs or settees beneath the shade of trees is comparable to this cosey, home-like English fashion, which insures privacy and at least some semblance of home quiet, repose, and security. I know of no sensation more soothing, no simple delight more delicious, than that of toasting one’s slippered feet over the fire in the pretty sitting-room of some old English inn, while the noiseless waiter brings the five-o’clock tea ; or later, when he spreads the dining-cloth, the repast is accompanied with the luxurious sense of the stillness and the peace about one, with no flare of gas-light nor stare of curious-eyed fellow-travellers. It is this feeling of security and exclusiveness which turns an inn into a temporary home.

That our little inn was looked upon in the light of a home at certain hours by various dwellers in this Fareham village, was proved to us during the evening. There came, towards nine of the clock, a sound of footfalls along the little hall, an opening and shutting of the dull green baize door which screened the room directly behind the small office. Tones of deep voices and of pleasant chit-chat echoed through the resounding little house, which with its well-seasoned walls and timbers was as resonant as an old violin. A sound of hissing boiling water, the click of glasses, and the unmistakable rattle of the spirituous artillery of a bar became more and more frequent.

” Where are you going ?” asked Boston, behind his newspaper, as I started towards the open door.

” I am going to see how the village looks by starlight,” I replied, with the miserable duplicity common to our sex.

” Nonsense ! you can see it just as well from the bow-window.”

But I was already half-way down the, broad stairs. An instant later I was out upon the little street. Starlight was certainly very becoming to the rural little town. The trees and the low houses seemed to coquet with the darkness. But what I had come to see, of course, was the picture the other side of that green baize door. Had I been a man, with a man’s propensity for being the other side of green baize doors, I should long ere this have gone there honestly and straight-forwardly. Being a woman, with a hopelessly plebeian and unconventional taste for looking at that part of life which is hidden away from us, I must needs intrigue to gain what was, after all, a very innocent pleasure. At last, a somewhat late but most obliging tapster turned in at our door. He made straightway for the green baize door. He opened it wide, and I, close upon his heels, saw the picture I had come to see. There was a long bright-red covered table, with two or three shaded lamps upon it. At the head of the table sat the handsome landlady, looking handsomer than ever now ; for she was an evening beauty, with tawny tints in her eyes and hair that needed a wealth of light to bring out all their hidden depths of color. Her husband was moving about, filling glasses and passing pipes around. There were fifteen or twenty men seated in large comfortable chairs. There was no noisy talk or loud laughter. It was, I should say, a rather exceptionably well-bred gathering for any part of the world, — a gathering of men in whose society no woman need be ashamed to sit. Perhaps the woman’s being there was the cause of the good manners, of the quiet, and the orderly self-restraint. Whatever the cause, it all made a very comfortable, cosey, home-like English scene.

Our twilight walk through the Fareham streets had proved it to be a dull little town, with only a few fine old houses along its principal thorough-fare ; so the next morning we were off early on our way to Winchester.

The road from the start was enchanting. It lay between fields and meadows brilliant in harvest-ripening grain, and there were farms dotted among them at just the right distances to make dark rich bits of color in the landscape. The whole country breathed the peace of agricultural activity, with enough variety in outline to preserve it from monotony. A charming bit of country three miles from Fareham we knew to be Waltham Chase, famous among mediaeval sportsmen for its deer. Henry II. and Coeur de Lion had come, a few centuries ago, to pursue this sport and to partake of the gay and splendid hospitality of the bishop’s palace, the ruins of which we came upon a few miles farther on.

A few straggling houses and a church made a bit of a village. Then, at a sharp turn in the road, we drove past the magnificent ruins of the old palace, close beside the roadway, with a little lake on our right. The blue sky was framed in a dozen great arches, and the grasses and ivy had taken permanent possession of the grand halls and the roofless chambers. In its days of glory the palace must have been a kingly dwelling. The size and extent of the ruined arches, and the extensive walls were still suggestive of noble proportions, while the carvings over the windows and doorways were of lovely delicacy of workmanship. One could well believe that this palace must have been one of the finest examples in England of fifteenth-century domestic architecture.

Bishop Henri de Blois, who in the intervals of king -making turned to the fine art of building as his favorite pastime, certainly achieved one of his finest masterpieces in Waltham Castle. Mediaeval architect-bishops were artists as well as inspired builders ; for none but an artist would have built a great palace beside this lovely little lake, the former abbot’s pond, once noted for its stores of fish, now the haunt of swallows and meadow-larks, who fluttered amid the tall grasses, singing their little hearts out as if conscious that they were the only live beings amid all this débris of dead greatness. To have looked out into this silent lake from yonder palace casements must have been like suddenly confronting Nature’s quiet eye in the midst of the stormy conflict of the human passions shut up within those stately walls. What ideal surroundings for the Court and the great prelates to take their pleasure in !— the country over-running with summer and fragrance, as rurally rustic as the palace was magnificently splendid ; Waltham Chase as their happy hunting-ground, and Winchester within easy distance if there were pageants or councils or tournaments to be participated in.

I presume it is as well, from the progressionist’s point of view, to have been born as late as possible ; but there are weak moments when History runs her fingers lightly over those forgot-ten notes of gay and debonair pleasures, when one would willingly forego many of the advantages which we of these later centuries so serenely enjoy, to have lived in those fine old days when the gayer delights of life were pursued as ardently as leisure and culture or money-making are nowadays striven for, when life was not all a tragedy, and comedy tripped its light measure across the field of existence, flecking it with brilliant, riant dashes of color and joy.

These reflections were doubtless suggested by the fact that our afternoon’s drive bristled with historical associations. After leaving the palace with its dead-and-gone company of pleasure-loving bishops, we passed close by Avington House, once the residence of Charles II., and still more famous as the property of that luckless member of the Brydges family who, marrying the Countess of Shrewsbury, came to that sad end of unloved husbands by the sword of his faithless wife’s lover, the Duke of Buckingham. The picture of that intrepid and audacious lady, apparelled as a page, calmly holding her lover’s horse while the duel went on, that comes down to us in our garrulous friend Pepys’s diary, fitted in as a companion portrait to those of the gay bishops who were so sure of heaven that they could afford to indulge in endless bouts of pleasure while on earth.

Ballad, not having the wickedness of others to enliven his journey, gave signs of drooping just as we drove into the lovely valley of the Itchen, along the banks of the famous little river that makes this stretch of meadow-land one of England’s most picturesque bits. Its beauty was even greater than its fame ; it was a divine little valley. The road wound in and out under avenues of noble elms and oaks, between gentle slopes covered with golden grain ; there were sleek cattle standing up to their middle in the flower-banked river ; there were odors in the air so luscious that the whole valley seemed a garden of perfume ; the grass was thicker, the trees were taller, the meadows were fairer, than we had yet seen elsewhere ; and the whole valley, its sweetness and plenty and peace, was delicately lighted by a rosy glow which made earth and sky seem quivering in a luminous pink bath.

At a turn in the road we saw a city’s roofs and spires glistening on the sides and summit of a hill directly in front of us. This city was Winchester.