England – Goodwood

THE next day an important transaction was to take place. We were to hire another horse. This ordinarily simple matter had come to assume serious proportions. The Chichester mind we found even more obtuse in the recognition of honesty — that apparently rare virtue in rural England — than Arundel. The town, as one man, had re-fused to trust us with even so much as a she-ass outside its gates. Three carriages and as many horses had been stolen within the memory of the oldest inhabitant. The most credulous believer in mankind among the Chichester inhabitants refused to add a fourth to such a list.

Clearly something must be done. We could hardly proceed on our tour subject to such repeated suspicions of our honesty, and continue conscientiously to call it a pleasure-trip. It would almost be better to elope with a horse and a suitable trap, and have done with honest dealing. I wonder if such be not the origin of half the wickedness of the world! Every one suspects every one else ; and some among us, not being able to make a stand against public opinion, end by becoming that which it is expected we in reality are.

We bethought ourselves, however, of a compromise with villany. A London friend had given us a letter to a gentleman living in Chichester ; we would present it in the hope that he would help us in our dilemma. He did better ; he solved the whole difficulty.

” Why not hire a trap out and out ? You will be far more comfortable, and then you won’t be having this wretched bother,” he suggested. ” I know an excellent man.”

The man, we discovered on a visit to his stables, had an excellent horse. Such at least we divined the latter to be from a rather fragmentary review of his hind quarters and his glossy coat, as he stood quietly in his stall during our brief inspection. It was only when he appeared, an hour later, in the brave livery of a bright new harness, with fine gold mountings, that his admirable thoroughbred ancestry, though somewhat remote, declared itself in the tapering legs, the small sensitive ears, the intelligent head, and the straight horizontal back. He was a beauty, in a word. The only doubt which a survey of his apparent perfections suggested was whether he would be quite up to his work. Could he carry the weight for six successive weeks of the pretty T-cart, brilliant in its fresh green and yellow varnish ; of ourselves, who were not cast in a liliputian mould ; and of our luggage, consisting of two small trunks, two valises, and several hand-bags ?

“No fear of that, sir. He ‘s up to twenty miles a day, week in and week out. And it’s mostly parties we take, sir, and he never minds how many it is.”

If the owner did n’t doubt his steed’s capacity and endurance, why should we ? So the bargain was concluded, with the reservation, however, that if, after reaching Winchester, we were not entirely pleased, we were to return the trap by train. This would give us several days’ trial of the qualities of our new companion.

Happily unconscious that he was under inspection, our new steed in the subsequent two days’ drive made a most frank betrayal of his character. I am not sure, on the whole, however, that he had as much character as he had nature. The pony, for instance, had possessed in an eminent degree those qualities which distinguish the former, but she was lamentably deficient in the latter essential. This horse, on the contrary, had more temperament than character. He possessed less mind and far more intelligence than his predecessor, — two qualities only too rarely seen in combination in either men or animals. He had too much intelligence and not enough mind, for instance, to oppose to our own. He responded to command with the docility born of an enlightened acquiescence in the right. With such high qualities he would have been really insufferable, if only by sheer force of contrast, had he not been veined with a certain feminine timidity ; his shying made him human and endurable. As this fault appeared to be a latent susceptibility to what may be termed the accidentals of travel rather than an active habit, it could hardly be looked upon in the light of a serious objection. He possessed one admirable qualification we discovered, which was of inestimable value to us, with more than a month’s driving ahead: he was one of the best walkers we had ever seen. His was a long, even, slightly quickened step, that got him over the ground in capital time, making him a really exhilarating companion. Altogether our star of luck had been in the ascendant when he joined the party. At Winchester we promptly proceeded to engage him by telegraph for the remainder of our journey.

What shall we call him ? We ought to have asked the hostler his name. A horse without a name is as bad as an unchristened infant. We can’t go on calling him plain ‘ horse’ for six weeks.”

” Why not call him Ballad ? That was his owner’s name. It strikes me as an eminently proper one too. We’re off a-holidaying, and Ballad is suggestive ; it is suggestive of glees and things, of the poetry we shan’t write and the songs we can’t sing. Besides, he is a merry creature, and deserves a merry name.”

And so Ballad it was. Inside of a week he knew his new name quite as well as we.

From Chichester we were to go early the next morning to Goodwood, the famous race-course grounds which lie within the Duke of Richmond’s estate. Later on, towards the afternoon, we were to start on our regular route as far as Fareham, a little village half-way between Chichester and Winchester. In all, the day’s journey would include about twenty-five miles, in which Ballad might show us his metal.

Hardly two miles out of Chichester, and we were within the grounds of the great estate. Once with-in the park gates, and we were again struck with the fact of how the character of the land changes in England when it ceases to he the property of the people and becomes the property of one man. It is like exchanging the plough for the senate. Every great estate, no matter how vast, has an administered look, as if it had ceased to be vulgarly used for purely agricultural purposes and had passed into the aristocratic stage of being just so many ancestral acres. Goodwood, for instance, which was enormous in extent, far larger than Arundel Park, had the patrician air of doing nothing in particular, except to be beautiful. We passed several miles of turf, of lawn, of grassy, clean-shaven mounds, which appeared to be laid out as so many grand spaces whereon the great and splendid trees could grow to enormous size, and whereon they could cast their resplendent shade.

” What trees they do grow in this country! Look at those oaks ! Don’t they look as if they were conscious that they had a constitutional government and a secured law of primogeniture to grow up under ? ”

” Well,” replied Boston, smiling, ” I suppose that does have something to do with it. They don’t look as nervous and shivery as some of our trees.”

” And have n’t you been struck with the appearance of calculation there is about it all ? It seems to me as if there were a kind of destiny presiding over the trees in English landscape. Only just so many seem to be permitted to grow. Their quantity appears to be gauged by the amount of good they will do. So many trees, so much timber, so much good drainage, so many crops; it all seems based on the multiplication table, a kind of moral multiplication table.”

” Yes, perhaps there is something moral even in their landscape-gardening. An Englishman would n’t be happy, I suppose, unless he had a law behind him for every action, however trivial,” said Boston, as he whipped a fly off Ballad’s back, who, resenting the familiarity, dashed off with a spurt, and brought us quickly to the top of the hill over-looking the racecourse.

The Goodwood track is noted the world over for the beauty of its situation. It is on an upper table-land, and overlooks a lot of pretty hills which appear to be tumbling into one another’s laps. It might not be inaptly described, indeed, as a paradise of hills framed about with sky. The course itself is an elongated ellipse, whose curved lines dip slightly as they rise and fall along the slope of the hilltop on which the track is laid out. The sides and crest of the encircling hills form a natural amphitheatre not unlike the great theatres of old, where each man had an equal chance at the play on the stage below over his neighbor’s head. It was easy to picture the sight of the breathless thousands peopling those hillsides, and to imagine the swelling chorus of their deafening cheers and roars, making a thundering music, as the sounds rolled out through the length and breadth of the great, roofless, unenclosed amphitheatre. What a spectacle to see and to have missed seeing !

” Can’t we wait for them, — wait for the races ? They are only two weeks off,” I asked Boston, as the prospect warmed before us.

“And in two weeks’ time we ought to be in Devon ; yes, we can forego Devon, and have Good-wood if you like.”

Is it the mission of husbands in this world to carry about buckets of common-sense, that they may always be in readiness to extinguish the follies of their wives ? I suppose the reason why nations are always so well governed who have women as sovereigns is because these latter are under the subjection of not only one man, but many. It is the ministers who keep their queen, by sheer force of numbers, from committing errors, by reducing her to the proper feminine attitude of incapacitated energy.

Such a spectacle as Goodwood presents does certainly suggest a lesson in the uses of sovereigns and ministers. One is willing to forgive a country its constitutional monarchies in view of such a result as this. England, after all, is the only country which still provides splendid outdoor festivities for its people, which are both pure and healthy. There is no such democrat in his pleasure as the Englishman. On the turf all men are equal ; all that the nobleman has is none too good for the peasant on the fête-day, when he opens his gates and bids the latter come in and take possession. It is true the nobleman does n’t go to the extreme of allowing the peasant to remain long. But during the remainder of the. year it is the titled landlord who really works and plans and spends his money that he may keep the playground in order till the people come again to be his guests. On the whole, the English yeoman gets a great deal out of his aristocratic class. He gets a country lovelier and more beautiful to look upon and to walk about in than any other on the round earth; he gets great and splendid belongings which supply him with a perpetual round of spectacular pageants and excitements ; and he gets such public pleasures as no other nation save the Greeks and the Romans have ever managed to supply to a people generation after generation. And now I suppose socialism has come to end all this. It will issue its commands ; and England, the last of the people’s great stage-managers, must chop up its lawns into cabbage-beds and harness its hunters to the plough.

We had been walking in the meanwhile along the crest of the racetrack, examining the Grand Stand and the adjoining stables, when we stumbled on an adventure. It met us in the shape of two frank, boyish blue eyes, that seemed quite as much surprised as we were startled at confronting them, as we turned the corner of one of the larger buildings. The owner of these blue eyes was a slim, but’ beautifully erect boy in white flannel knickerbockers, who was walking about, swinging his jersey cap in his hand. As he had his cap in his hand, he could n’t lift it ; but the instinct of good manners was in the charming little fellow, for both cap and hand went up after his first start of surprise.

He was alone, and apparently was indulging, like ourselves, in a survey of the surrounding buildings.

” This is the way out, is it not ? ” asked Boston, more for the purpose of having a word with the boy than really because he was in need of the answer ; for there was something immensely taking about the little fellow. As we approached him, I saw that he had the fresh, clear English skin, the straightforward, honest, and brave English eyes, and just that touch of correctness in his bearing, that nameless moral rectitude which seems to have worked itself out into square shoulders and stiff back and firm legs,— a bearing which distinguishes an English-bred boy as unmistakably as the Jesuits’ training leaves its brand on the French stripling.

” This goes into the royal enclosure, sir,” he replied without a moment’s hesitation ; then he added after a moment, as we both smiled down on him ” There is the Royal Stand, sir, where his Royal Highness always is. Would n’t you like to see it ? I can take you in.” And he fumbled a moment in his deep pockets, out of which came a knife, a small apple, a bunch of raisins, a quarry of marbles, and one large key. He blushed now for the first time ; it must have been at the raisins, which presumably he was surprised and a little annoyed to find still uneaten. They were quickly slipped into the other pocket. Then he opened the door of the stand, and ran up the steps to the corner of the huge building. He appeared to be entirely at home in the great empty building. He led us to the south-ern corner, which was partitioned off from the rest of the house and was enclosed in glass. It was like a great proscenium-box overlooking the stage setting. The prospect was glorious ; all the lovely hills lying in full view, with wide horizons beyond. At this elevation the whole track lay beneath us in all its length and breadth. There was also the entire sweep of the grounds to be taken in at a glance. At one side, the side nearest the gate en-trance, was a lovely bit of shade, — a velvet carpet of the greenest turf, with noble trees at near distances.

” That’s the Lady’s Lawn, ma’am, where the luncheons are spread,” said our charming little companion, as he saw we were looking down into the coolness and the green. ” The ladies sit down there or walk about. Sometimes her Royal Highness goes down. Then over there, over yonder, is where the coaches and drags stand, and over still farther is the place for the carriages and for the carts. Have you ever seen the horses run, sir ? ”

” No, my lad, I never have here ; but you have, I presume ?” It was delightful to see the boy’s eyes flame out, and his red cheeks grow redder yet, as he answered quickly,

” Oh dear, yes, sir, over and over again. Last year I lost, but this year I shall win. I’ve bet on the favorite,” — with tremendous earnestness.

He continued to do the honors of the place as if he felt the pressure of the true host’s instinct of hospitality.

“Did you notice the road on the left as you came up, the road that goes through the woods ? That’s the road the Royal Party take to come here on race-day. The other roads are free; but that one is reserved for the Duke and the Royal party. And did you see the wood, sir, the birdless wood ? It was on the right near the top of the long hill. No birds are ever found there, and they die if they build their nests there. Did you notice how still it was? It’s nearly a mile long. I don’t like it, it’s too still ; it’s like Sunday. I always run past as fast as I can, and the deer always run through it too. Did you see the deer? There! there go some now over there, — and there’s my mamma. I must go now, please, sir. Good-day, ma’am.”

He shook hands with us both, taking plenty of time for his pretty boyish civilities, and then he was off like a shot. He joined a lady who was standing on the lawn, and who appeared to be searching for some one.

We passed them both a few moments later, as we drove down the road on our way out. The lady was holding the boy by the hand, and he was talking away as hard as he could, looking up at her with swift glances, and dancing along as boys do when they are talking about what interests them. The two made a pretty picture, walking along the smooth white road under the great dark trees, the lady’s muslin gown fluttering in her grasp as she held above her head a white muslin sunshade. She was bareheaded, and the sunlight caught every once in a while in among the blond braids and beat a tress into gold. She had a noble carriage, and walked, as all Englishwomen of the upper class do, with the dignity and flexibility of women who, even when they sit or stand, seem to be still in the saddle. The lady’s bearing has something soldierly in it, with an added grace and elegance, however, that no soldier can ever hope to possess.

As we drove past, they both looked up. The boy smiled, and his Jersey cap was waved at us as if we had been old friends. The lady smiled too, and bowed very prettily, the pink in her clear cheek flushing a shade deeper.

” For a countess she has uncommonly good manners, and so has her son. On the whole, I approve of the aristocracy.”

” How do you know she is a countess ? She may be a housekeeper or—”

” Aren’t you ashamed ? When she was so pretty, too ! Well, she was a Iady, whoever or whatever she was, and I’m glad she came out this lovely morning to add one more picture to it all. How her grace and refinement fitted into this delicate background!”

” Yes, I’ll admit that an Englishwoman crossing an English lawn is about as complete an ensemble as one can hope to find anywhere on this round earth ; and she was pretty,” admitted Boston.

The memory of her refinement and beauty went with us into the dust and heat of the highway on our road towards Chichester. It comes up to me now, âs I write of her, with vivid keenness and revived pleasure. I hope she still sometimes walks about bareheaded, on summer mornings, with a muslin sunshade over her head and that smile on her sweet face.