” We are on our way to ask a few questions. That always takes time,” we answer with dignity.
Polly’s theory, built on bitter experience, is that the American manner of asking questions is not invariably understood in England; therefore, after several mishaps, she says she has invented a better system. It consists of fixing her eyes on the face of her listener, asking what she wants to know carefully and concisely, putting her question in the ordinary manner, then backward, then from the middle word toward both ends, watching with care for any faint gleam of intelligence she may see displayed in the listener’s eye. At Yeoford, where we are to leave the train for Chagford (our next halting-place), we wish to be very sure that a ‘bus is ready and waiting to take us over the eleven miles of road connecting the railway with the town. A harrowing experience I endured one unfortunate evening, and which threatened to extend it-self into an entire night at that small station of Yeoford, has made us doubly wary.
The English railroads being run on the principle that time is made for slaves, the booking agent we found closely imprisoned in his little cell. In spite of our imperative rap-pings, he never lifts his little window until nearly train-time. Then fifteen people are kept waiting to buy their tickets, while the obliging man (who, by the way, cannot answer until he consults the time-tables) pulls down his book, and, after careful search, tells us most civilly that we can surely depend on finding the Chagford coach waiting if we take the train now due here. He hands us out four ” single thirds ” through to Chagford, and then goes on calmly distributing tickets to the patient crowd that has by this time increased to the number of twenty-five.
The train, of course, does not come in on time, nor does it hurry itself to leave until ten minutes after time.
We are serenely happy in the consciousness that, as this is the train the coach is ordered to meet, the coach will wait for this particular train, even if it is detained until midnight.
” So much for proper English law and order,” says the Invalid.
The judicious use of a little silver coin secures the privacy of a third-class carriage quite to ourselves; we order two luncheon baskets to be handed in at Salisbury, and then proceed to be comfortable in a very civilized manner. The English luncheon basket is a consoler for many things less delightful about their much abused railways. The traveller orders lunch from the guard, the guard telegraphs ahead, and at the station designated in comes a boy with a flat basket, for which you give him three shillings and a couple of pennies as a tip. Inside the basket is a bottle of wine, or cider, or beer, as the case may be, half a cold chicken, some slices of ham, bread, butter, cheese, fresh crisp lettuce, all daintily put together, with plates, a glass, and Japanese napkins.
The graceful spires of the Salisbury Cathedral point up into clear blue sky as we fly across Salisbury plain, so long the dread of the early travellers, who went by coach between Salisbury and Exeter by reason of the interesting but somewhat interfering highwayman. Even a highway-woman is said to have succumbed to the romantic temptation of Salisbury plain, but she got hanged for her innocent fancy.
As we approach Exeter, higher land begins to show itself on either side of the line; and at St. David’s, the second of the Exeter stations, comes the cry ” All out! Change for Yeoford! ” and a sweet satisfied smile breaks over my face.
” A journey without change of carriage is no proper English journey, especially on a through train,” I tell my less experienced friends.
Yeoford is but a short distance beyond Exeter, and after the first anxious glance which discovers the ‘bus ready waiting for us beside the platform, we climb to the seat be-hind the driver, as the only passengers, and settle ourselves comfortably for the eleven miles of road before us.
When at the top of the first high ground we look back, the gray mists of Exmoor are are far behind us. We know it is Exmoor because we trust the driver implicitly for our geography, and it is he who points out to us the land of Lorna Doone showing dimly on the horizon. Countless miles of undulating meadow-land, flowing with honey and Devon cream at sixpence a pot, spread between us and that region of romance.
The ride to Chagford on the coach is not dashing; the horses have many hills to pull up, and the driver’s tender care, combined with the heavy brake, prevents them from going down again too quickly. The setting sun has prepared such a gorgeous spectacle in our honour that we should have been satisfied that evening with even a slower pace. We came just within sight of Kes Tor, the west directly facing us, when behind the roundest hill in sight, the sun popped down looking like a huge orange globe; then every sort of colour and shade of red, blue, green, and purple, at once spread over the hills of the moorland in the background, while the fertile valleys before us grew blue and misty as we gazed down into them.
We were almost at the end of the eleven miles, before the town showed itself lying in a wide basin among the hills, a little bunch of white houses, and a tall church tower giving back answering colours to the brilliant sky. Our last hill was very steep, and, as we clattered down into the narrow town street, we got a peep of the near-by furze-grown moor, making a rough park for an old manor-house.
The most fashionable hotel in Chagford is the Moor Park, but it had no room for us, so we went on up the mounting street and over the market-place, to ” The Three Crowns,” ” a beautiful old mullioned perpendicular inn,” so Charles Kingsley wrote of it.
Since I had last been here, a new landlord and a good scrubbing, although both some-what modified the picturesque appearance of the interior, had worked wonders for the greater comfort of guests. The musty smell of centuries had fled before hot water and soap, new paper and fresh furniture.
Our party filled the entire house, as we did at ” The Queen’s Arms,” though the Invalid got a bedroom to herself quite large enough to hold us all had we lacked other accommodation.
The house was built by Sir John Whyddon, a worthy of the time of King Henry VIII. It was his town mansion. He was a gentle-man of enterprising instincts; in fact, a self-made man. Born in Chagford, of a respectable family, but one hitherto totally without fame, Sir John’s youthful ambitions took him to London, a most perilous journey when Henry VII. was still king. Young Whyddon studied law, rose to be judge of the King’s Bench, became Sir John, and had the unspeakable honour of being the first judge who rode to Westminster on a horse; previous to that eventful occasion, mules had been considered quite good enough for dignitaries of the law.
The old house, with its iron-barred, deep-mullioned windows set in stone frames, its thick walls, and stone floors, has sheltered in its young days fine ladies and grim men-at-arms. On one of the stone benches still within the entrance porch, there sank down, shot to death for his loyalty to the Stuarts, Sir Sydney Godolphin, a gentle young Cornishman, more poet than soldier.
The thatched roof, green and brown with creeping moss, hangs thick above the rough gray stones of the walls; while here and there about the windows cling pink clusters of climbing roses. The Three Crowns has been used as an inn for over a century. The old innkeeper who preceded the present host, was noted far and near throughout Devon in his early days for the excellence of his entertainment. Sorrow over the unhappy marriage of a favourite son drove him and his excellent wife to habits fatal to their business, and when that unfortunate party with which I was detained at Yeoford came to The Three Crowns, the care of the visitors was entirely in the hands of a little serving-maid, whose endeavours to please were recorded in the guest-book. Her admirers showed their honest appreciation by touching poems filled with such substantial similes as:
” Lizzie’s like a mutton chop, Sometimes cold, and sometimes hot,”
” Good Lizzie had a little lamb, And so had we, She served us well, And so we were as happy as could be,”
a reflection, I fear, upon the lack of variety Lizzie’s larder displayed.
Pretty Lizzie now has gone to delight London with her service, the poor old hostess has died of excesses, and the old innkeeper, so many years host of The Three Crowns, has been succeeded by the new young landlord, whose bright little wife has tidied up the ancient inn. It now boasts a bathroom, electric lights in the sitting-room, and owns neither stuffed birds nor battered porcelain cups as decoration.
The Matron remarked that the portrait of his Majesty, the king, we have in our sitting-room ” looks like a bird,” but that observation, we consider, is slangy and disrespectful.
Sir John built his mansion near the church, facing the churchyard and shaded by the tall elms which grow along the wall. The windows look across the graveyard and a sunny valley to the low outlying hills of Fingle Gorge. The great hall of the old mansion is now changed to a schoolroom, where the little children of Chagford chant their lessons in chorus, a system of education still fostered with care in conservative England; we also hear them singing unaccompanied hymns with that blissful disregard of time so common to their age. With these efforts the attempt at their education appears to end.
That Chagford is doing its best for the future of England and the colonies is evident from the long lines of sturdy boys who lounge along the churchyard wall, and the motherly little girls who care for large families of babies under the shade of the tall trees.
Whatever superstition moorland folk may have, and the writers tell us they revel in the supernatural, the fear of ghosts certainly does not trouble this village on the edge of Dart-moor. At night, after the children have deserted the burial-place for their beds, the churchyard becomes the trysting-place of lovers, and the lounging spot for the youth of the village, who sit on the wall, and make night hideous with patriotic, sentimental war-songs. The old men use it as a gathering-place, where they gossip with their gaffers, and long after midnight footsteps of solitary individuals can be heard strolling leisurely through a short cut made between the lines of graves. ” Early to bed and early to rise ” is a maxim which has evidently not yet reached Chagford.
The town streets all radiate from the market-place. There is a quaint octagonal building which the brave Chagford yeomanry use as an armory, but where the market-cross was erected in earlier times. The low houses are packed close upon the narrow streets, and, being built of stone from the moors, are as solid as small fortresses. Their clay covering is whitewashed, yellow-washed, or pink-washed, according to the fancy of the owner, and there are moss-grown thatched roofs side by side with those whose old tiles are coloured and tinted softly by the dampness. That superlatively ugly structure, the modern brick villa, has crept into the line, alas! and disfigures quaint Chagford as it does so many of the old English towns.
Chagford needs a Carnegie. Its public library has as custodian a youth who divides his attention between the books and gardening, giving most of his time to the latter more congenial occupation. He neither knows the names of the books on the shelves, nor has he a catalogue to help the reader. After we had paid a shilling to become reading-room members for a week, he turned us loose among the scanty bookcases, and we made the startling discovery that Phillpotts is without honour in the town he has made famous in literature, and that even the prolific Baring Gould is represented here but by one dilapidated old volume.
The road past the library leads off through shady lanes to the hill whereon Kes Tor sticks up like a monument, and it was to find this rocky beacon that we took our first walk, armed with a road map, price one shilling.
The road dips up and down, goes over narrow streams, past pretty hamlets, and busy mills. The Tor smiled on us so invitingly from different points of vantage that we tried various short cuts to reach it, with appropriately disastrous results. The old rock instantly hid itself as soon as we left the highroad, and never showed again until we came meekly back, to be tempted and fooled another time. After many failures, we were finally set right by a jolly, rosy, smiling, healthy gamekeeper (minus teeth), who told us a way marked ” private,” which, in our endeavour to be British and law-abiding, we had studiously avoided, and which was not private at all, but, in fact, the only possible way to reach our longed-for Tor.
” The way is but a bit beyond. Over the high moor.”
So we go a bit, and still several more bits, then suddenly we remember that the English idea of ” bits ” is vague. When at last we came out on the high moor the wind was so strong it nearly took us off our feet, and the Tor was still very far away, according to American ideas of remoteness. The bracken and the furze grew thick there about prehistoric remains, lying scattered all around us.
A long avenue of stones standing on end, like tombstones sunk deep into the ground, led us straight to the ruins of funny little round huts, roofless and demolished, yet sufficiently defined to show that they once were dwellings for men. Into one of these we crept to rest and be safe from the wind, and then discovered that in these apparently tiny huts there is quite room enough for a reasonably sized family.
” As deceptive as a foundation,” said the Matron, who once built a house.
The view from these heights is superb. On all sides can be seen the low swelling hills of the silent moor, one rising behind the other, as though they went on in a never-ending perspective. At our feet lay the houses and the church of Chagford, so clear and distinct and near that we felt very much aggrieved at the long miles we had tramped. Beyond the village the low hills stretched away, and away, and away, until they lost themselves in the sky of the horizon.
The hills on the moorland are all smooth and spherical. There are no trees to break the line. Only here and there does a tor stick up from the velvet surface like a stack of chimneys, and the carpet of soft green colour is sometimes broken by the roads which look on the hillsides like great crawling, yellow serpents. The whole landscape resembles a sea whose huge waves have been arrested by magic just as they were swelling to break. Somewhere in the distance are hidden those wild valleys where range the ” Hound of the Baskervilles,” and Mr. Conan Doyle’s imagination, but nothing from our points of vantage suggested savage wastes.
When we left our hut for the shelter of the Tor to protect ourselves under its shelf from the fierce wind, we found one of our choicest illusions gone. The Tor, which looks so impressive from a distance, is but a rocky excrescence on close examination.
The heather was beginning to show its lovely pinkish-purple flowers on the side of rough Scorhill, along which we strolled toward home through clover-fields until we reached the road. Leigh Bridge, so praised in the guide-books, was on our path, and we stopped to lean over the rough stone parapet and gaze at banks hung with purple rhododendrons, where the North Teign leaps and pushes between mossy stones to join its brother, the South Teign. The rivers there celebrate their reunion by loud gurglings and bubblings and tumblings down a tiny waterfall. This meeting-place is in the thick woodland full of flowering moss, pink and white. The tall foxgloves carpet the ground, and by the road-side is a hedge where wild roses and honey-suckle climb over the shining holly to join the many wayside flowers, with the morning-glory vines running as messengers between them all. There are not many choicer forest scenes in the world than here at Leigh Bridge. Every tree is trimmed with ivy, and every fallen log covered with flowering moss, and more wild flowers than we ever saw together before.
Nearer Chagford stands Holy Street Mill, greatly in favour with painters. It is said no Academy Exhibition is ever without a copy of this bit of woodscape. To nature’s decoration on the banks of the quick-flowing stream there is added a ruined mill and a delightful old Tudor farmhouse embowered in roses, red, white, and yellow, built in a garden as full of cultivated flowers as the near-by woodland is rich in wilder blossoms.
Chagford has a street-cleaning department of one oldest inhabitant, who scrapes the street vigorously all day and late into the night.
Chagford has also an enterprising brass band which plays vigorously several evenings each week, and Chagford has electric lights, and a fine organist to play on its fine organ in its fine old Church of St. Michael. The organ is comparatively new, and there is still a tradition of the simpler days when the precentor marched up and down the aisle whistling the hymn-tune for the congregation to follow with their singing. The church is centuries old, and has curious carved bosses along the vaulting of the ceiling, commemorating long-forgotten lords of the manor. A huge iron key hangs near the monstrous lock on the heavy ancient door: heraldic emblems, a little the worse for dust, are still above the pews of the neighbouring gentry, and a quaint old tombstone within the chancel marks the grave of Sir John Whyddon’s granddaughter. Her gentle charms and no less attractive virtues are set forth in the following epitaph:
READER WOULDST KNOW
“Reader wouldst know who here is laid Behold a Matron yet a Maid A Modest looke A pious Heart A Mary for the better Part But drie thine eies Why wilt thou weepe Such damsells doe not die but Sleepe”
The Whyddon estate lies some five miles from Chagford, at Whyddon Park; and in St. Michael’s Church lie buried many descendants of the. noted old judge.
It means a long drive to see the moor properly. All the low hills within the boundaries of Chagford are outlying portions of Dartmoor, and on one of these, Nattadown Common, amid the furze and the bracken, we generally spent the evening, sitting at the base of an ancient cross erected nobody knows when, watching a gorgeous sky display after sundown.
It is only a mighty pedestrian who can see the moors by tramping over them. The most interesting part of this great romantic region does not begin until the town has been left several miles behind. We accordingly paid ten shillings, and in a comfortable wagonette, under the conduct of our landlord, who has been a moor man some years, we started out one afternoon to see what we could of Dart-moor between luncheon and dinner. A splendidly built road winds about out along the sides of the billowy hills. The few poor acres of farm-land scattered here and there around a lonely house beyond the town were soon passed; then we passed into the great silent region. Flocks of sheep cropping the sweet grass under the prickly furze, some herds of bullocks below in the swampy hollows, the wild little moor-ponies shaking their shaggy manes, and scampering off as we came near, were all the signs of life we saw on the lonely green stretches.
” There is Grimspound,” said our coachman.
Grimspound is a prehistoric village. Our horse ready for a rest, we got out and pulled ourselves up a rough path. It is quite worth the trouble.
At least twenty-five of the queer little stone ruins are still traceable, and one has been restored by antiquarians, the top covered over with turf, the low entrance_ concealed by a semicircular wall, and restored to what those learned in such matters think was the burrow of the human animal. The village is surrounded by a rough stone wall, and the view from the great height gave the savage man not only a chance to see enemies miles away in that treeless country, but to keep watch over the wanderings of his flocks. After Grimspound, the road twists itself through a huge rabbit-warren, where millions of the little fellows flash their tails in and out of their habitations. A desolate house occupied by the warrener is here. In summer it is pleasant, but what must the winter be! We were told that Eden Phillpotts, the writer, had spent some months here. It may be that he was writing ” The River ” then. There is one other habitation, some miles beyond the warren, an exceedingly attractive house, closed and deserted.
” Too lonely for anybody but ghosts,” ventured the Invalid.
” How do you suppose they ever got food here? ” asked practical Polly.
” A few trees grow,” said the Matron, ” why not potatoes? ” which made the driver smile. The trees in question were the scrubbiest of pines.
We drove past the haunts of the ancient tin streamers, who made their living on the moor when England was a young country by searching the small rivers for metal. Here and there by the roadside we spied an ancient cross put up by the monks centuries ago, to guide them from parish to parish.
There are still some mines open in deep glens. ” Not very profitable,” our driver said. One, quite deserted, had the great wheel and ruined windlass, like ghosts of the past, sticking out of the ground on a hill all seamed and seared by the old workers. Near it still stands a villainous-looking tavern not in very good repute. From the site of the old mines we got a good view of the gloomy prison at Prince Town, looming up against the sky on top of a hill miles away. Brilliant green stretches of glittering bogland lay below us, and our horse went down a long, long hill with cautious steps, to stop at a pretty little inn in a dale where there are actually full-grown trees. This is Post Bridge, and dignified by the name of a village, although we see nothing but the inn.
” The tea may not be good,” said cautious Polly, ” but it will be refreshing after our long drive.”
From Post Bridge we returned home by new roads, but we had already seen the chief characteristics of the moorland. Although different points of view reveal different aspects, the scenery is all more or less the same, and it is hard to imagine on this bright, smiling day that the cruel blind mist, which so often leads travellers astray, can ever settle down upon this open landscape, or that the blackness of night can, as so often happens, envelop these green hills at noontime. Dart-moor has moods, and, although the sadness of its face may be too vividly described by the guide-book authors, the impression of its lonely desolation is felt in the midst of bright sunshine.
The moor-sheep and the rough cattle graze here on the hills, and sturdy ponies range about at will, growing so wild that the poor little fellows cry like children when they are first put into harness. In our drive of several hours we saw only one man. He was a herder out looking after the roaming cattle over which the duchy is supposed to have some super-vision. Each duchy tenant is allowed to keep on the moor as many sheep and cattle as he can shelter in his own barns during the winter; but human nature is weak, and not only does the rustic fail in honesty occasionally, but a few of them have been known to go secretly out, gather their neighbours’ branded sheep, and drive them quietly with their own to the nearest market, where they could sell them unnoticed, although by such dishonesty they become but a few miserable shillings richer.
Cranmere Pool has the reputation of being the very wildest spot to be seen in the whole extent of Dartmoor. The boldest members of our party longed to get there. So far, we had seen nothing in our exploration which to the transatlantic eye, accustomed to the scenery of our native land, looked as wild as the descriptions we had read with awe. Our landlord offered cheerfully to guide us to Cranmere, casually observing the while, ” The way is very tiresome, and there ain’t nothin’ to see but a bog when you get there.”
But he does not know, as we do, that a bogey lives at Cranmere Pool, and a very jolly bogey, too. In life he was the wicked Mayor of Okehampton, and, having had the misfortune to die when such punishments were in fashion, he was set about bailing out Cranmere Pool with a sieve. Having been a very, very wicked person in life, he was up to a trick or two after his death, so he searched about the moor until he found a dead sheep, which he skinned, and with the hide he made his sieve waterproof and well tightened. He then proceeded to flood Okehampton. This game he found so entertaining that he refused his pardon, and has continued ever since, when he is not busy sleeping, to repeat the joke.
As Dartmoor covers one hundred thousand acres or more, we hardly had time to explore the whole. We saw enough to be convinced that there was a striking similarity about all the hills, all the bogs, and all the lonely rabbit-warrens within its limits. The Hampshire uplands sink into mole-hills before these great billowy heights, although, in reality, the highest point of Dartmoor is not more than twelve hundred odd feet above the sea-level.
It was the view of the heather just coming into bloom which started Polly and me off on the walk to Fingle Bridge, one of the most romantic spots about Chagford. The Matron and the Invalid went by carriage. They were immensely pleased with the charming drive, but they lost the ramble along the path beside the river and the intimacy we, who trudged, gained with this most theatrical little gorge. Brilliant pink carpeted hills on one side, fold into other hills opposite covered with green young oak-trees; the tiny river dashes along in between, curving and twisting all the way. No hill in the entire gorge would be hard to climb, but the whole scenery is in such perfect proportion, river, trees, rocks, and hills on so small a scale, that the tiny ravine has a wild majesty not often found in nature. In places the heather-covered slopes came so close to the water that we were forced to clamber over the rough stones to find our path again; the trout shot in and out in the clear babbling water, but no fishing with a bent pin is allowed here. Fishing tickets must be got in Chagford. We lingered along the grassy banks, fascinated by the bristling little stream, until we reached the stepping-stones near the mill. Greatly to Polly’s delight, I lost courage half-way over, and was afraid to spring over the rushing water until the continued quack of the mill ducks shamed me by their very evident ridicule.
England is no place for hurrying, and a sojourn in Chagford should be lengthened to three weeks, to fully enjoy all the pleasure the woods and the hills have here to offer. Although our plans allowed us but little time for lingering, we stole another day for the sake of visiting the Okehampton Saturday market-day.
A market-day is the weekly dissipation, the one exhilarating spot in the English farmer’s summer life. The men come from far and near to transact their business, to talk crops and live stock, the women to gossip, and the dogs to exchange their opinions about driving sheep. Okehampton not only has a fine market, but the town lies in the shadow of a great Tor among the highest moorland hills. The ride thither on the ‘bus, all the sights of Okehampton, and our dinner at the best inn cost but the sum of four shillings. Our economical treasurer therefore permitted this unforeseen expense. The distance is eleven miles, and along this road the view of the great plain of Devon, dotted with farms and marked out by broad fields, is so expansive that it seems almost boundless. The Invalid said she felt as if she were looking all over the world.
Along this highway are scattered little villages with tiny, gaudy gardens carefully protected by stone walls strong enough to hold back’ an army. The proximity of the stone-strewn moor and the difficulties of hewing the rock probably account for the huge stones used in building very low fences and tiny cottages. The walls alone are thicker than the open space in the houses. There is a copper mine being worked on this road to Okehampton, but it looked neither rich nor prosperous to our eyes. It may be both.
We picked up market-goers at each hamlet and farm, and before we reached Okehampton the coach-top was buzzing with the soft sound of a Devon dialect almost incomprehensible to our American ears.
An English market-place shows the nearest approach to bustling activity to be found in the rural district. The pigs are scrubbed up, and the cattle groomed down for the occasion. They arrive in droves, in couples, or singly, at the eminently comfortable hour of ten in the morning. ” Pigs at eleven ” means that the auction sales begin then. The market auctioneer is a very important personage, often growing rich from his business. He calls off the bids in shillings in a way that drove poor Polly crazy. She always laboriously reduced them to pounds. ” Sixty? Seventy-five shillings? Eighty? Ninety-five shillings? ” rolled off with fluency, makes her wonder how much a fat porker knocked down at ninety shillings is really worth. An extra fat sheep, or an especially fine pig, is some-times favoured with a ride behind its owner in the dog-cart. These dog-carts roll in quickly from all sides, the vehicles being built all on one and precisely the same pattern, and the owner’s rank or riches chiefly deter-mined by the state of the carriage paint and varnish. The horses are all such well-groomed, well cared for beasts, that their condition gives small indication of their owner’s estate. The farmer himself scrubs up like his animals, puts on breeches and gaiters, a cutaway coat, and, with his light waist-coat, white stock, and carefully brushed hat, he makes an appearance which would be no disgrace to a smart New York riding-school master. In this attire he is thoroughly at home. He bestrides his horse, or drives his cart, and even guides a wayward calf or a flock of fine sheep without any loss of dignity, ” but he does look like a bluff stage squire,” said Polly.
The shepherd’s smock, so picturesque in olden times, has now given place to an ugly linen coat. This garment seems to impel a shepherd to hold up both arms and cry mildly: ” Ho! Ho!” at intervals; the wearers of linen coats allow themselves to indulge in no more forcible vehemence. The calmness and the patience of the British country folk never shows itself more agreeably than when they are driving live stock to market. Some tiny pigs, who infinitely preferred the seclusion of a shop to the market-pens, were pursued by men and boys without a sound. Gently they waved handkerchiefs in the unruly little piglets’ faces, as if ” Pigs at eleven ” had never been the rule. A single farmer’s boy in New England can make more noise driving home two cows at night than we heard all that day in Okehampton.
The White Hart Inn has a fine big balcony over the front porch, and on this we camped, comfortably as in a private box to look down on the scene beneath. The bullocks ran about, more or less alarmed by their unwonted surroundings. Complaining calves were well protected by anxious cow-mothers, who charged boldly at all possible enemies. Silly sheep were kept out of the narrow doors by the watchful dogs, and the grunting, fat, black swine ambled comfortably along.
It is only after the serious business of the cattle auction is over that the real excitement on the High Street begins. Then the farmers and the squires gather in little groups, talking together, and emphasizing every statement by striking against their leather gaiters with a riding-crop, in good old theatrical manner. The farmers’ wives go shopping; John Ploughman lounges about, looking for employment, with his cords tied by strings below the knees, and his loose red handkerchief knotted about the neck. A few soldiers from the camp on the moor add a bright touch, with their red coats, to the sober crowd; the children run about everywhere quietly and happily, and the shepherd dogs have grand romps with their kind, reserving contemptuous growls for the town dogs.
Later in the day, after the serious business of dinner is over, horses to be sold arrive one at a time in the High Street, and show their paces. A good-looking lot they are, from the little moor-pony who has only just learned to obey a master to the great, lumbering farm-horse.
It is a lengthy proceeding, this horse-selling in an English town; the purchaser and all his friends look knowingly over every point of the animal. He is made to go up and down the street again and again. The small boy on his back rides him like a master; he shows off the horse’s gait, the tender condition of his mouth. The beast has been groomed until he shines like satin, and his mane and tail are either carefully waved, or tied up in fantastic style with straw. While this slow, careful sale was going on, and there was no fear of meeting stray herds of such wild animals as we had seen led meekly to market, we judged the time safe to see the sights.
Okehampton has a ruined castle hidden away in a park fit for the Sleeping Beauty. Here rhododendrons, roses, and all the former cultivation of the great garden have gone back again into wilderness, and have mingled with the superb, great ivy-grown trees which shade the tumbled-down walls. Here was a mighty castle. It clambered all over the hillside. A ghost still haunts the spot. Lady Howard, once the supremely wicked mistress, in a coach of bones, or bones herself, I have forgotten which, but anyway, something very dreadful to see, travels each night from Tavistock to pick a blade of grass; this task she must per-form until all the grass at Okehampton is plucked. What she did to deserve this fate, except to be just wicked, no one in Okehampton seems to know, but she has been very badly talked about for the last couple of centuries, and she certainly has a hard task before her.
Under Yes Tor, the most noted of Dartmoor’s rocky piles, is a camp where all the great artillery practice goes on. The noise of the big guns booms over the entire moorland district, making certain parts of it rather dangerous for excursionists, but there are warning notices in plenty.
The ride home with a coach-load of soft-tongued Chagford folk was delightful. They made great jokes with the driver about the sober coach steeds, of whom he took the greatest care, never urging them at any time, and putting them down the hills slowly with the aid of a heavy brake. One lad on top jeered constantly at the slowest nag, named Dick, until he was laughingly advised by the driver to ” take Dick and ride he home, for him’s horses are no better than they,” by which wise remark it would appear that the personal pronoun on a Chagford tongue gets hopelessly mixed. There are no confusing rules about the Devon English grammar, nor, in fact, are there in our own New Hampshire, where I once heard a farmer’s boy roll off glibly ” if I’d ‘a’ knowed that you’d ‘a’ came, I wouldn’t ‘a’ went.”
It was by way of Moreton Hampstead we decided to leave Chagford. It is only five miles to the railway station by this road, and a coach makes the connection many times each day. As compared with the drive either to Yeoford or to Okehampton, the road is dull, although a Tor for sale was pointed out to us. The way to Exeter by the railroad from Moreton is delightful; the train runs around in and out among the cliffs on the very edge of the South Devon sea. On this journey, while making one of the usual changes at Newton Abbot, our most cherished object went astray, namely, a straw creation, in the shape of a bag, baptized by the Matron Jumbo. Jumbo, like an omnibus, is never full. Jumbo opens a capacious maw, and swallows all our trailers, from tooth-brushes to unanswered love-letters. He smiles broadly on all the left-overs, after the trunks have departed, and takes in every forgotten trifle. We all had part and parcel in Jumbo. He vanished on this trip.
We had arrived in Exeter before his loss was discovered. The colour and beauty of the green-topped red cliffs, the boats, the changing blue of the sea, and the flat, paint able banks of the river Exe, had so entirely absorbed our attention that no one noticed his loss. Jumbo was the Matron’s own private property and pet; when she discovered that he had disappeared, she promptly fell upon me with reproaches, and the assertion that it was to my care she had confided the precious charge while she went looking for a porter.
I had a certain indefinite sense of being guiltless, but I know myself to be careless and forgetful. Then, too, I stand in such whole-some awe of the Matron’s wrath that I dared not contradict her statement. I fled to that haven of all British travellers, The Lost Property Office.
” A bag, a straw bag, left at Newton Abbot? ” wrote down the chief clerk in that most important institution; ” it will be for-warded to you at Bideford.”
” But perhaps it’s been stolen,” hazarded the Matron, who had followed me.
” Oh, no, madam! It will be surely found,” civilly concluded the official, but we were not quite so confident in human honesty. With their present surprising luggage system, the British railroads could not exist without The Lost Property Office. Our train stood ready, and we ran in answer to Polly’s wild motions, jumped into a carriage we hoped was the right one, trusting to Providence in the absence of proper indications.
With a feeble toot-toot and many vigorous puffs of steam, we passed over the bridge to St. David’s, the square towers of Exeter Cathedral showing among a crowd of houses on the hill behind us, and went on through the high land till the railroad line dropped down slowly on to the low, sedgy land meadows, where bright-tinted headlands stood up along playful little inlet rivers running boldly into the land to make believe they were the great sea itself.
Bideford is built along one of these, named the Taw, and, when our train stopped, we speedily transferred ourselves to the upper-most seat of a high drag which was in readiness to take us to the New Inn at Clovelly.