WE are actually on our way to Boston at last,” said the Matron. We had left nothing behind in Mansfield but a few shillings, and we rode on slowly as far as Nottingham, where we were obliged to change again. There were no lace curtains in the station at Nottingham, much to our disappointment. There appeared, however, two very fat rams dyed a deep red. Their war-paint had evidently struck inward, for all the porters were engaged in trying to conduct the belligerent animals from one van to another. When the warlike beasts were not engaging one porter with their horns, they were executing flank movements on the others with their hoofs. The battle was so exciting that we quite forgot about our train until industrious Polly seized a porter, luckily too small to resist her, loaded him down with be-longings, and, before he knew what was being done, had steered him into more peaceful quarters the Boston train.
The prize rams were still fighting for liberty. Nottingham Castle disappeared through the smoke of the busy town, and then we were off through the country, a billowy country with very little woodland. The train passes near Belvoir Castle, built on a high ridge. It looked very like Windsor through the haze of the afternoon. The Dukes of Rutland have been living at Belvoir ever since they deserted Haddon Hall, or, rather, they have been living there since the younger branch of the Manners family succeeded to the title.
Not long after passing Belvoir and Sleaford Station, we came into the Fen Country. When the Puritans left Lincolnshire for America, this vast region was a savage tract, desolate, uncultivated, full of bogs and ague. The inhabitants were a rude people who barely managed to exist by the crops they got off the small patches of land they reclaimed from the water. Now all this is changed. The Big Drain flows along beside the track as wide as a canal, and is spanned by bridges more or less picturesque, and at intervals smaller drains run from all sides to meet it. The fields are fertile and the farms look prosperous.
The style of architecture so much admired, and so continually copied by the early settlers in New England, is the architecture of the Lincolnshire Fens. Square houses with long, slanting roofs, a door in the middle, and one or two windows on either side of it, can be seen here in brick, quite like the wooden re-productions that predominate in the old towns about Boston, Mass. Before the Fens were drained, the roofs of the cottages were made of the reeds so plentiful in the district, and this must have added a decidedly picturesque quality to the little dwellings now made ugly by dull slate. The reeds have disappeared with the reclaiming of the land, and we were told that it was hard now to find a good thatcher in this part of Lincolnshire.
The dampness of the flat lands here is responsible for the loveliest atmospheric effects. Over this otherwise uninteresting plain there spreads at the sunset hour a most wonderful colour. The air glows like gold, the drains glitter like molten metal, and the wide fields and commonplace houses become glorified by the light of the hour. It was through this golden mist that we first saw the tall tower of St. Botolph’s Church the Boston Stump, as it is called looming gray before us. We had reached Boston at last, after all our troubles!
Following the advice of a lady who happened to be in the carriage with us, we gave our luggage to the ‘bus driver to take to the hotel, and walked there with our new-found acquaintance by a short cut. Our guide was a Boston woman, and knew the road, or we surely should have found ourselves as completely astray as does the Western stranger in Boston, U. S. A.
On the street leading from the station, down which we followed the Boston lady, the low brick houses were all exactly alike, and out of them poured forth large families of dirty children. After two minutes’ walk through this uninviting beginning of the town, the street suddenly stopped, and we stood above the parapet where the river ran swift beneath, and we looked across the water at the great tower of St. Botolph’s Church shooting up into the red sky.
This is the finest view in Boston, and, as we saw it in sharp contrast to the dull commonplace street by which we had come, our enthusiasm was correspondingly great. From this spectacle we understood plainly why Boston is said, by the English, to look like a Dutch town. Along the river gorgeously painted fishing-boats were making their way out at high tide to The Wash. Bridges spanned the river, and gardens grew along the side behind the high walls required to curb the River Wytham’s ardour. As a tidal river, it has a way of climbing over barriers and even at intervals invading the great church. Boston has no pleasant recollections of these frolics. They have wrought horrible destruction, and once nearly destroyed the whole town. From the river-bank we went to the bridge, through a distracting maze of narrow lanes, before we reached our hotel on the market-place, as Polly observed, ” quite Bostonese.”
The Peacock and Royal is a commercial hotel of cheerful aspect. The front is decorated by bright flowers and long trailing vines growing from the window-boxes on the balconies, and above all is a most gorgeous sign of the most gorgeous of birds, from which it takes its name. We ate our comfortable little dinner in the coffee-room, our table placed in a ” Dendy Sadler bow-window,” behind one of which the Matron has always pined to sit. It was nine o’clock before we left the table. We were too tired to explore Boston’s winding ways, and, as it was too early for bed, I had this time secured a large front room looking over the market-place, and my sleepy friends soon found entertainment there.
The sound of a twanging banjo, which came from beneath our window, gathered the few stragglers in the marketplace into a circle around the door of the Peacock. We could not see the musician from our window, but he broke forth as soon as the audience had gathered into the usual sentimental ballad dear to English ears. Some boys, with dogs at their heels, formed the outside of the meagre crowd, and then from a side street came belated mothers, pushing their babies home in perambulators. Polly says that at no hour in the twenty-four are English streets entirely free from perambulators, and, late as it was, three of these useful carriages joined the circle, the mothers, in true Boston fashion, being unable to resist music. The audience grew larger and the circle wider; the songs were succeeded by dialogues, and coppers rained plentifully into the collector’s hand, until a baby set up an opposition concert, and an enterprising dog was encouraged by the noise to fight his four-legged neighbour. During the rumpus which succeeded, the musicians vanished. The dog riot was finally quelled, the babies trundled home, and the market-place in a few minutes was absolutely deserted for the night.
Next morning unwonted sounds of activity got me out of bed at an early hour. Booths were being put up for a market.
” We cannot seem to get away from markets,” the Matron said. ” There is one in every town we visit. We left the weekly market yesterday in Mansfield to find it to-day in Boston.”
Little houses on wheels are drawn clattering over the stones, and take their places all in a row near the inn. Then signs are hung out on each, announcing that within wonderful seeds and infallible means of making the seeds grow are to be purchased. The many canvas-roofed booths are soon taken in charge by buxom market-women. They pile up fruit and vegetables which speak well for the fertility of the Fen Country in each of these. We could hardly wait to finish our breakfast, so interested did we become in what was going on in the little outdoor shops. A descent into the marketplace revealed that they were not only occupied by market products, but several were given up to the sale of the most wonderful and tooth-destroying sweeties ever in-vented.
“No wonder there are not teeth enough to go around in England! ” exclaimed Polly, as she pointed in horror to a perfect copy in extraordinary candy of the Royal Crown. Bright red sugar on top, with deadly yellow confection below and silver stuck on above ermine trimmings, it is as astonishing confectionery as can be imagined. Piled high above the insignia of royalty were great cakes at least fifteen inches around; a brilliant scarlet gelatine was smeared on top and orange-hued candy appeared beneath. Pounds of a dark brown brick-like sweet were piled up beside sugar sticks of surprising manufacture that were at least two feet long and two inches thick.
” The motto goes all the way through the stick,” proudly announced the vender, as he broke up for our admiration one of the great clubs, pink on the edge, white in the middle, with ” Give me your heart ” in black.
These marvellous sweets sold in packages of various weight from a penny upwards, and disappeared more quickly than their out-ward appearance would warrant.
There were baskets so enticing in another booth that the Matron and the Invalid walked all around town laden down with wicker purchases. Onward we strolled through the market-place, delighted with everything we saw, and Polly had hard work to fix our wayward attention long enough to tell, us that John Fox was born in a house where now stands an inn called ” The Rum Puncheon.”
” What a jolly name for an inn,” said the Matron, who cares nothing for celebrities. The Invalid exclaimed ” Fox’s Martyrs ” at the same moment (that is all she knew about him, probably, though she looked very wise). The quaintest old building on the market-place stands next the Rum Puncheon, and is called ” The Angel.” We forgot John Fox and all his writings at the next toy booth with its penny wares. There were barrel-bodied horses, solemn-looking dogs, and very woolly sheep, all of which the Matron wanted to take home with her. The English children show the national love of animals by the toys they choose.
Who has spent a day in old Boston and not heard the town-crier? On this particular market-day that functionary, in a somewhat shabby, sombre brown suit, brandishing a huge, shiny bell, held the awestricken pinkcheeked market-women entranced while he recited, in a stentorian voice, the dismal news : ” A ter-r-rible murder! Three victims dead! Murderer at large!” jingling his bell so dismally that involuntarily we looked over our shoulders, getting nearer to the loud-tongued bell, as though it could protect us. The most enterprising member of the group hurried to the corner news-stand, and came back with The Boston Post, wherein we read that the murder had been committed fully twenty miles from the crier’s bell, so we might safely resume our explorations in the town without colliding with the escaping wretch.
St. Botolph is at the farthest corner of the marketplace from the Peacock. We strolled there among the booths and peered over the high wall, which protects the church from the water, to find the rushing river of the night before was reduced by the outgoing tide to the merest ditch. About St. Botolph’s Church still remained a close, with queer-looking, ancient structures with steep, curious gables.
The church architecture is very foreign in style, but modern English taste prevails in the restored interior. The tower, piled up so high, lacks that finish on top, which only its nickname, ” The Stump,” describes.
A very narrow lane between the old houses, marked ” Worm Gate,” led away from the close. That the languages are cultivated in this town was evident from a sign we saw there in a tiny shop:
” L. KEPER, TAILOR D’HOMMES.”
We left the Worm Gate on the broad road along the Maud Foster Drain. Why Maud Foster nobody knows, but, as such a person is known to have had business relations with the corporation of Boston in 1568, it is supposed that the lady allowed the drain to be cut through her property on condition that it should be called by her name. It is as wide as a small river, has high walls on either side, and the irregular red houses with the windmill twirling above them is another touch of Holland. John Cotton and his friends did not take all the east wind over the ocean with them when they left home. A good portion of it we found blowing furiously along the Maud Foster Drain. We turned from the drain to the Wide Bar Gate, a long open space of pens, filled with red cattle and thousands of sheep for market. Above the homesick bleating of the sheep arose the tones of ” Rule Britannia,” which were being flung into the teeth of the east wind by a choir of small boys who had swarmed up on a monument made of cannon acquired in some bygone Boston victory, and were bawling the tune to please the shepherds. The Invalid soon began questioning a hand-some farmer with glowing cheeks, whose good looks were greatly enhanced by his immaculate riding costume.
” This is the season for big sheep markets,” we heard him say, ” and to-day there are a great many here, but Boston once had a great market at which thirty-two thousand sheep were sold.”
The Invalid was duly impressed. She tried other questions in her most fascinating manner, but ended by joining us, with the remark: ” Pity he knows nothing but sheep! ”
The Red Lion Inn, which faces the Narrow Bargate, has a more venerable exterior than the Peacock, but a decidedly decayed interior. It owns to the age of four hundred years, so no wonder that it is neither very clean nor very modern at the present time. It was formerly the property of one of the Boston guilds, and in the inn yard strolling players were wont to perform for the delight of all Boston. At the other end of the market-place, past our lodging at the Peacock, is the South End, a very familiar term to the American Bostonian. The way there leads past Shod Friars Hall, an antique, picturesque-appearing building. It seems almost cruel to be forced to say it is but a restoration. Old Boston, which was founded by hermits, was a famous place for friars. They were the revivalists of olden times, and one family, the Tilneys, were so influenced that they founded no fewer than three friaries in Boston, while a fourth, the Carmelites, was endowed by a knight named De Orreby. For a small city, Boston was in olden times unusually well provided with religion. Even the celebrated guilds of Boston were semi-religious; nevertheless Boston, of all English cities, showed early the strongest Puritan spirit and the most decided sympathy with every action of the Reformed Parliament in England.
On the way to South End there still stand many old warehouses, and one of the largest, Mustard, Harrow & Company, manufacture mushroom ketchup. Numerous houses of the Georgian period, with broad gardens in front of them, proclaim this end of the town unlike its namesake in the U. S. A. a dwelling-place of the rich. Behind one fine old mansion is the Grammar School, built in Tudor times. Boston, England, is as proud of the scholars turned out by this famous school as the Boston over the water ever has been of the glories of Harvard. Once the home of those foreigners whose honesty gave the word ” sterling” to the English language, and a city so prosperous that, when King John levied a tax on all merchants within the kingdom, Boston paid the next largest sum to London, this city of the Fens has suffered from the decay of its trade for several centuries. Its citizens and corporation hope for great things in the future, with the completion of a fine dock recently built and capable of receiving large ships.
There is almost no gentry living near Boston, and no great estates in the neighbourhood. The Fen Country was a desirable property with which the Crown dared reward the nobles in the olden times. Now it is all so highly cultivated that there are no covers for game. ” No hunting, consequently no high society,” said Polly, regretfully.
Old Boston town, which went to sleep after the excitement furnished by the departure of their vicar, John Cotton, and his followers, is now just beginning to wake up again. There is still a very stern, solemn, Puritanical look about the dull little Holland-like city, in spite of the numerous houses of entertainment. Some of these rejoice in extraordinary names. There is ” The Axe and Cleaver,” ” The Loggerhead,” ” The Indian Queen,” ” The Ram,” ” The Whale,” ” The Unicorn,” ” The Red Cow,” “The Blue Lion,” and ” The Black Bull.” They all furnish abundant liquid refreshment, with our favourite ” The Rum Puncheon,” and the picturesque ” Angel.” Even the streets have delicious names: ” Paradise Lane,” and ” Pinfold Alley,” ” Liquor Pond Street” and ” Silver Street,” ” The Worm Gate,” ” The Bar Gate,” Wide, and Narrow, and ” Robin Hood’s Walk.” There is ” Pump Square; ” there is ” Fish Loft Road,” and in quaint ” Spain Lane,” in a house since demolished, until she was fourteen years old, lived Jean Ingelow, the writer. Boston is proud of its literary celebrities, and has erected a statue to Herbert Ingram, the founder of the London Illustrated News.
When we left Boston it was again the late afternoon. The sky was flooded with brilliant orange, and light clouds tinged with rose colour floated over the glowing surface. The sails of the many windmills each showed colour or hue. They varied from violet to bright orange. As we looked out of the window on one side of the carriage the drains ran gold, while from the other side the colours of the fields were doubly strong. Every leaf stood out, vivid and distinct, on the fruit-trees, shaken and bent by the wind. The water of the Big Drain ran dark, making the whiteness of the many ducks, which were taking their evening swim, almost dazzling, and one dark gray windmill on a high dike, with its sails pure white and a roof richly red, looked like a painted toy. Not an inch of land in the Fen Country is wasted. The well-tilled fields are divided by the drains or thick thorn hedges; prosperous-looking haystacks are piled all over them, promising good feed to the herds of cattle now eating the rich green grass, and out of the rosy mist rises in the distance at intervals the steeple of a village church, with a cluster of roofs about it. As soon as we came upon an irregular gray stone farmhouse, with dormer windows and picturesque thatched roof, we knew that we had left Lincolnshire behind and were nearing Peterboro, where we changed for Norwich.