THERE is a direct road to Watlington from Oxford, fifteen miles long, pleasant, hilly and traversed twice a week by carriers’ vans. It passes by the field of Chalgrove, where John Hampden received his death-wounds, and on which is a monument commemorating that event and stating that he fought in defence of the free monarch and ancient liberties of England. There are also the villages of Chiselhampton and Stadhampton, with a long and narrow bridge between them spanning the river Thame. This bridge is remarkable for its stout angular buttresses set against the current and as the scene of a prolonged resistance against Prince Rupert on the morning of Chalgrove battle. The name of the former village is locally shortened into Chisleton; in the time of Henry III. it was Chevacheeshull Hampton. Our choice and purpose, however, led us to take the railway to Thame, and from there, in the cool evening, to walk to the town of the Watlings. The distance is about nine miles ; the road, good and running across a fertile and well-wooded country.
It so chanced that the day was that on which the election of members for South Oxfordshire in the Eleventh Parliament of Her Majesty Queen Victoria was held, and, as we were greatly interested in one of the parties it is immaterial which we did, not fail to take notice of the life and activity which such an occasion everywhere brings forth. The usually quiet road was lively with carts, wagons and carriages laden with voters returning from the polls. Boisterous songs and loud hurrahs disturbed the peace of one of the loveliest of EngIand’s lovely summer eventides. The contrast was great between the noisy, half-drunken patriots and the still, golden sunlight which streamed through the high hedges and the tree-tops so gentle, calm and restful, lighting birds and squirrels home to their nests and bidding the deer in the park seek shelter beneath the oaks for the night. It is a fact that in England beer and patriotism go together a fact curious, but not unique: it is said to occur elsewhere. Possibly the vote is more honest when the voter is far enough gone in his cups not to know how to mark his ballot-paper when he forgets whether the cross opposite the candidate’s name means ” For ” or ” Against.” At such a time he is not open to argument or to bribery though, so far as we could learn, no party was guilty of offering either. He becomes tremendously and unshakably loyal to the Crown and the Constitution; his voice and his influence go for things as they are, Church and State, queen and royal family, the Union and the House of Lords ; hence the Liberals strive to make him sober, for they have no chance with him when he is drunk, and the Conservatives try to make him drunk, for they can do nothing with him when he is sober. John Bull may be, in common with most men, an animal, but he is at least a grateful one : he never forgets the considerate body who gives him a juicy mutton-chop or an overflowing muggin of stout.
The Conservative modus operandi is more praiseworthy than at first sight may appear. Autolycus sang, A quart of ale is a dish for a king ;” and Armorer Horner’s neighbor touched that worthy aright when he exclaimed, ” Here’s a pot of good double beer, neighbor; drink, and fear not your man.” Nor is the spirit of malt stayed at simulating royalty or creating valiancy: Camden tells us that the secret of the longevity of the English is their ancient, peculiar and very wholesome barley-wine, and in a rare tract of the seventeenth century it is said that beer well brewed, of a low, pure amber color, clear and sparkling, is necessary not only for the poor, who commonly eat such things as afford little or bad nourishment, but is also most powerful to expel poisonous infections. Through medieval and into post-Reformation times the wardens who were oftentimes women brewed and supplied the ale consumed by the people in the church nave or yard on Sundays and holy days, and down to Queen Anne’s reign, and in some places much later, while the parson and the squire had their twice-baked bread and their thirst-slaking potion between the ante-communion and the sermon, nonconformists, both ministers and deacons, accepted the necessity of similar cereal refreshment before and after their services. Even at funerals it was found efficacious in inducing an appropriate and becoming sorrow or in staying an inordinate and troublesome grief. There were some as did they who made a certain return to King Edward VI.who spoke against the wicked weed called hops,” but, on the whole, so convinced were our forefathers of the use-fulness of ale that in the year 1577, about which time inns, taverns and alehouses were an acknowledged social nuisance and the population of England did not exceed four millions, there were over sixteen thousand of them in the kingdom. Nay, in a remote antiquity, the fathers of Valhalla taught by example these virtues and mysteries ; for the Alvismal says of this old British Kwrw, this Spicigenam Bromon of Julian the Apostate, ” it is called ale among men, and among the gods beer.” Now add to all this the political power of the beverage, and who shall say the Conservatives are at fault? If beer helps to make men grateful, kinglike, brave, healthy, religious, decorous, hilarious, followers of. the gods, and, above all, to deprive them of the skill to plot and to plan against the powers that be, is it not both kind and wise to give them of it plentifully ? It is true, besides these things, it will enable some to see the snakes come out of the bones of those who lie in tombs, for serpents grow of human marrow, according to P. Ovidius Naso ; but Chuang Tzu, a philosopher of the Flowery Land, four hundred years before our era, observed that the mental equilibrium of a drunken man is undisturbed, the ordinary ideas of life, death and fear find no place in his breast, and were he to fall out of a cart, though he might suffer, yet he would not die. Unconscious of riding in the cart, he is equally unconscious of falling out of it. Tell me, which would you rather have on your doorstep or in your cellar, a man with a can of beer or a man with a can of dynamite ? Well, one set of politicians uses the one, and another set the other, to carry out their measures for the good of society ; the one, admittedly, is apt to deface the most glorious work of God’s hands, but the other is likely to destroy the most glorious works of man’s hands, and you into the bar-gain. I imagine that all dabblers in the art of government are divided into two classes, even as Hamlet divided the question of existence, To-be and Not-to-be. Beer helps the one, and dynamite the other only in the extremes, to be sure, but then it is the extremes who do the work. The one would leave the country very much as they found it; the other would make it such as no State has ever been either in heaven above or in the earth beneath or in the wa Stop ! I am not so sure about the third place. Milton and Dante have had something to say concerning those regions, and a good man once told me that Satan was a radical, a disturber and a restless mischief-maker. He may use explosives in his domain ; he certainly does not use malt beverages. Among the To-be’s the opposite prevails. They employ strong, wholesome ale which makes one incapable of . such gross and violent wickedness. The evidences which we saw that quiet evening in the road from Thame to Watlington showed beyond a doubt that the Conservatives had done their best to save the country. Events proved their wisdom and strength : the Union was preserved and Mr. Gladstone retired to Hawarden.
Now, what I mean, if you will allow me to talk about such things as we walk along this still road, so gloriously arched and shaded with the noblest of trees, is this : In the English elections beer wins. Speaking algebraically, beer is the x, the unknown quantity and the all- prevailing factor; whichever party uses it the most freely will succeed. The Liberals may be well-meaning enough, but they cannot approach the Conservatives in this respect-that is to say, when the Conservatives get desperate. Neither can give the voter anything before the election, but afterward the humor of the thing twinkles in his eye as he looks upon the nine-gallon keg of beer in his cellar. The innkeeper can also in a good-natured, off-hand sort of way refrain from taking payment for his supplies to the free and independent man, and later on present his little bill to the steward of the candidate. Nobody, surely, can object to a rich man paying his poor neighbor’s debts. Moreover, another item comes in. Suppose a wealthy land-owner and I am speaking exclusively of the country desires to get his eldest son into Parliament : it is evident that the tenant-farmers will be anxious to please and propitiate their landlord, and the laborers their master, by loyalty at the polls. There is such a thing as raising the rent or refusing improvements, of lowering wages or discharging men, when things do not go as they in superior position would have them go. Not that I would imply that there is a peer or a squire from Land’s End to the house of the judicious Dutchman who in the reign of James IV. settled the question of precedency among his nine sons by having nine doors made to his cottage, one for each son, and a round table for them all who would trouble himself whether his tenants went one way or the other ; but as on board ship the mate is more to the men than is the captain, so on an estate the landlord’s great man is greater to the tenants than is the landlord himself. And the landlord’s great man can make things very comfortable or very uncomfortable pretty much at his own sweet will, and as surely as two and two make four he looks out for the way the people vote. It is human nature ; perhaps in another world two and two may make five, and then things will be different.
Nor are the farm-laborers of England the most intelligent of mortals. I have said something illustrative of this elsewhere ; now I only need add that the legend of ” Three Acres and a Cow ” of the previous election was not wholly without foundation. It will be remembered that some Radical candidate, speaking of the golden age when the principles he was advocating shall have triumphed, illustrated his description of the workingman’s plenty by promising him three acres and a cow. I. suppose he had figured up how far the land and the cattle would go, and made this out to be each man’s share. It was a bit of rhetoric, possibly true enough as such things go, but it was interpreted to mean that each voter should have so munificent a gift provided the candidate got into Parliament. Crafty election agents worked to some advantage on this misinterpretation. At not a few places for instance, in the Evesham division a black cow was drawn around in a wagon to show the laborers the prize they would have. Cans of milk reputed to be the produce of such cow were freely distributed. Inquiries were made as to where- or when the voters would like their three acres, and every man was led to believe that he would soon have a share in the parson’s tithe and the squire’s wealth. So the Radical candidate got into Parliament, but Ireland remained unsatisfied : the golden age did not appear, and the constituents went without their promised reward. They remembered that fact at this time; and as Israel thought of the fleshpots and the onions of Egypt, so they called to mind the flavor and the potency of old-time Conservative ale. As to the principles at stake or the con-sequences involved in the election they knew little and cared less. The Irish were to them naught but disturbers of the peace, enemies of the queen, benighted potato-eaters in a rainy and whiskey-loving island. Mr. Gladstone encouraged them in their rebellion; so the parson said and so the squire said ; and the squire ought to know the facts and the parson to speak the truth.
Perhaps if the” Invincibles ” whoever they are would give the English people information of the wrongs and the wishes of the Emerald Isle instead of giving them nitro-glycerine, the aspect of affairs would be materially changed. As it is, the country-folk of the Midlands know no more of Tipperary than of Kwang-tung, nor of Mr. Parnell than of Abdul Hamid II. Not that the Irish are by any means silent elsewhere. Their voices are heard in all lands, and three hundred years ago there was an old opinion among them that the man who in the clamor and outcry which was made at the beginning of a battle did not shout and scream as loudly as the rest was suddenly snatched from the ground and carried flying to the lonely valleys of Kerry, there to eat grass and to lap water, with no sense of misery or of happiness, speechless, forsaken, till caught by the hunters and brought back to his own home. For some generations there is no record of any Hibernian passing through this penance certainly not during the present century. They who believe in the Anglo-Israel theory put down the Irish as the Canaanites, but though, according to William Camden, there was once a great West-Meath chieftain who declared he would not learn English lest it should set his mouth awry, they speak the language with a sweeter brogue and a more charming vivacity than do even the people of the hill-country of the West Riding. It is well to remember that Ireland owes her connection with England largely to the good pope who handed her over to the Angevin king. Was the Holy Father acting ex cathedrâ that time? Speak not evil of dignities ; undoubtedly the English are the bet-ter papists of the two : they recognize what the supreme pontiff did in the matter. Of all this, however, the agricultural folk were, and still are, ignorant; all they know is that Irish laborers come into English harvest-fields, and that Ireland is a wicked and rebellious land. Hence their solid vote.
Feelings one way or the other run high everywhere. A story is told I am not responsible for its truth of a Wesleyan brother who prayed fervently for his beloved and ideal statesman : ” O Lord, grant that in these troublous times our talented Mr. Gladstone and his followers may hang together.”” Amen !” said an equally fervid Conservative brother in the congregation ; ” amen ! God grant they may hang together.” The preacher thought he had made a mistake somehow; so he went on : ” I mean, Lord, that they may hang together in accord and concord ;” to which the other responded, ” I don’t care what cord it is, but, Lord, let them hang together.
Well, the elections did not hang them, merely suspended them.
Some ask, ” Are the farm-laborers fit for the franchise ?” I do not think it is so much a question of fitness as of power: Can they freely exercise it? Social conditions are against them, money is against them, and the tyranny of money is worse than was ever the tyranny of a feudal lord. He at least had some kind of a conscience, but gold has none nor commercial corporations, nor political caucuses. I do not believe the country masses have ever been really heard, or that they will be for long years to come. They cannot speak; would things be better if such as they did speak ? It is a curious fact that the town artisan looks down upon the village hind with even greater contempt and scorn than that with which the noble regards the merchant. The man who nails the shoe on the horse’s feet thinks him-self altogether better than the man who follows the horse along the furrow. There are gradations fine and subtile, class upon class, but they are all-powerful. The wheelwright and the wagoner or the carpenter and the shepherd will not associate together more than is necessary. Hence the wide gulf between the breaker of stones by the roadside and the dweller within the stone walls of the mansion is bridged over by innumerable sorts and conditions of men, each a step higher than the other perhaps an almost imperceptible step, but making it next to impossible that the one should do without the other or the one should war against the other.
But it is little short of sin to waste a lovely evening along such a road as we are walking by discussing such dry and threadbare subjects. On our left is Thame Park, once and for a long time the home of Lady Wenman. Here was formerly an abbey, founded or, rather, translated by Alexander, the magnificent bishop of Lincoln and lord of the manor of Thame, in 1138, to atone for his extravagance in castle-building. As this and other like ” works of satisfaction ” came out of the revenues of the Church, the merit was not all that it might have been. He took an important part in the troubles of the reign of Stephen, and, though said to be kindly in heart and cheerful in countenance, was as notorious for his worldliness as for his statesmanship and energy. His rapacity was almost boundless; his pomp, more secular and military than ecclesiastical, was the marvel of the age. He was present at that momentous visit to the pope in 1125 when the archbishop of Canter-bury, in order to secure the supremacy of his see, accepted legatine authority and thus placed the Church of England under vassalage to the court of Rome. One of his successors, Henry Lexington, in the reign of Henry III. brought the great road, which before lay on one side of Thame, through the middle of it, and thus gave prosperity to the town. The abbey was colonized from the first Cistercian house in England, at Waverley, in Surrey, being, as the saying then went, one of the four daughters of that establishment and the mother of another house at Bindon, in Dorset. At the time of the dissolution it had a yearly revenue of two hundred and fifty-six pounds. The Cistercians were great farmers, frugal, taciturn and in some ways more austere than other branches of the great Benedictine family. They were of Burgundian origin ; their houses were all of in-dependent and equal rank, dedicated to St. Mary and when a new site was to be occupied, an abbot and twelve brethren were sent forth for that purpose. Within the century in which Alexander built this house the order became all-powerful and embraced eight hundred of the richest abbeys of Europe. The white-robed fathers no longer walk the cloisters or the glades as of old, but some vestiges of their buildings remain. Part of the present house was built in the fifteenth century, and the drawing-room by Robert, the last abbot and the first bishop of Oxford. There is a chapel where for a long time the services have been well rendered by a surpliced choir. Lady Wenman was both fond and proud of her singers and paid them well. The congregation consisted of her own people, and a quarter of a century since strangers thought it a privilege and a pleasure to be al-lowed to worship once in a while in a place where art and decorum united to make devotion beautiful and attractive.
A walk through the park presents many pleasing views, and they who love well-laid-out grounds, wide stretches of sward set with clumps of broad oaks, deep copses where the pheasant roosts and the rabbit burrows, and the many charms which surround the stately homes of England’s gentry, will meet with their heart’s delight here. The high hedges and the closed gates at the lodge remind one that the place is private, but, as the people hereabouts are able to distinguish fairly well between a poacher and a tourist, it is possible to obtain admittance. A few hundred yards from the lodge gate, farther along the road, a young man met his death. It was on a summer day, about the year 1857. A thunderstorm came on; the rain fell in torrents and the lightning flashed fiercely. He sought shelter under a wayside tree this opposite to us is likely the very one and when the next traveller came by, he saw a huge limb rent off the tall oak and on the burnt grass a charred and lifeless corpse. There was great excitement in Thame, where the unfortunate youth belonged, and for a long time, when a thunderstorm occurred, people were more assiduous than ever in turning their mirrors to the wall and covering their knives and their scissors. Probably few events affected the town more than this since the year of grace 970, when Oskytel, archbishop of York, died there.
In the ditches there are stinging-nettles and on the high ground there are windmills ; both are supposed to be indicative of fertility and prosperity. The land that can produce the one and needs the other is not a desert. A man in search of a farm would be guided somewhat by them, and certainly hereabouts the country abounds in rich soil and in the time of harvest the fields stand thick with corn. In bygone days country-people made use of the nettle. Its tops they used as a vegetable like spinach, its leaves in sickness to blister the skin and its fibre to make string or rope. Nevertheless, it is a nuisance, in secluded spots growing six feet high and with jungle-like density. Touch it softly and it wounds; seize it firmly and it is harmless. The sheep carry its seeds in their fleeces ; hence it grows luxuriantly in churchyards, where they are. often put to graze. It seems to love loneliness, like the windmill. Of all the weird, melancholy solitudes man can find, the dreariest, the most monotonous and brain-bewildering, is the neighborhood of a windmill. The roar and rush of the storm, the sob and moan of the breeze, have an unearthly sound, at times like unto the shrieking of demons, at times like the wail of pain, the deep sigh of the saddened, hopeless grief of lost souls. In the dusky twilight the huge thing stands against the sky like a black spectre; in the busy day, when the wind sweeps briskly along, its great gaunt arms turn over and over with that supreme indifference to all things else, that constant, laborious regularity, which irritates the calmest nerve. No won-der the valorous Don Quixote was stirred to the depths of his chivalrous soul when he saw the outrageous giants in the plain. One asks if the men who live there are not among the strange fellows Nature has framed in her time.
See the sun-glory on yonder hills ! How the golden light flows across the greenwood and the grassy and furze-spotted clearings ! Here the road runs into the great London highway, and as we enter it we leave behind us a small post-village which in its ancient name of Tetsworth suggests a British origin and the Celtic worship of Teutates. A little way on is the hamlet of Postcomb only a few cottages and a roadside inn which has long since passed its usefulness, and kind Time, it is hoped, will speedily relieve the place of the unsightly encumbrance. A trap stands before the door ; a thin, starved-looking cur is prowling around the open space in front; the windows are without decent shades, some with a yellow-stained sheet pinned up to hide the nakedness within, and some with a broken pane or two stuffed with rags; the doorsteps are displaced, mossy and dirty, and through the open passage comes the gabble of men at their cups. There is no romance about the dingy, tumble-down, frowsty place. It is a relief to get into the footpath across the fields to Lewknor. The air fresh from the waving corn brightens one’s soul and makes one rejoice in the goodness of Nature. The wheat is just turning from its fresh green into its rich russet, and the gnats play in swarms near the hedgerows and under the trees. Here the path runs beside one of the water-cress streams for which Lewknor is known, and a little farther it passes through the churchyard into the highway.
The church at Lewknor is built of flint with quoins of ashlar and has a Decorated chancel, a brass of the fourteenth century and a Norman font. The place gives its name to the hundred in which it is situate, and the name may have come from the ancient family of Lewkenors. It differs little from the quiet and secluded villages around, but it has two features which attract attention viz., a great watercress-bed close by the turnpike, and a lich-gate leading into the graveyard. They who have eaten of the cress and they who have seen the gate will not forget either. Under the latter, as in the days of old and as its name indicates, the bearers set the corpse until the priest meets it, according to the office for burial. A short distance beyond Lewknor is the road leading down to Shirbourne. Had we time, and were not the evening so far gone, we might turn aside to that little village and see therein an ancient moated castle. The present structure dates from 1377, but an earlier one was built in the reign of William I. by Robert d’Oily, to whom the Conqueror had granted Shirbourne. After the reign of Edward III. it passed successively into various families among them, that of the Quartermains, a noble house having both power and position throughout this district, but becoming extinct in the time of Henry VIII. The last of the Quartermains, dying childless, gave his Shirbourne estate to the child of his steward, who sold it to the Chamberlains, an ancient family which so named themselves from the office their ancestors held to the dukes of Normandy. A lady of this family defended the castle against the Parliamentary forces during the Carolingian troubles. Later on, in the beginning of the last century, it was bought by Thomas Parker, a member of a junior line of a family dating from the reign of Richard II. He was a successful lawyer, a Hanoverian, and was made lord chancellor and earl of Macclesfield by George I. for his loyalty and ability. His leaning to astronomical and mathematical research led him to establish an observatory, which, though it may not have done much for the advancement of science, certainly advanced two poor men to fame and to honor. Phelps the stable-boy and Bartlett the shepherd are not unknown in the bead-roll of English astronomers. The castle is chiefly Perpendicular in style, crenellated, nearly square, with round towers at the corners, is defended by a drawbridge and portcullis, and differs little from its appearance in the fourteenth century. Upon the wide moat swans swim in all their stateliness. Inside, the building has an armory, two libraries, many valuable books and manuscripts and some very fine portraits. Among the latter are those of Erasmus, Archbishop Laud and Queen Katherine Parr. Under the portrait of the last named is a lock of hair cut from the head of the queen when her coffin was opened at Sudley Castle in the year 1799. In the year 1294, Brunetto Latini, the tutor of Dante, slept in the castle of Shirbourne on his way from London to Oxford ; at that time, he says, the rough hills were infested with robbers. Six hundred years have made a great change in the social order of England, and yet standing before that old castle it is easy to recall the days when men-at-arms guarded the bridge, and archers manned the battlements; and at the bidding of the baron mailed knights wielded battle-axe and lance. The glory of a Warwick or of a Kenilworth is not here : everything is less magnificent, less entrancing; but a building such as this, five hundred years old, is not without interest and history. It, indeed, reminds us of days of splendor and romance, when imagination had not been shorn of its wings or stripped of its glories, and men strove for unsullied honor and pure truth rather in chivalric enter-prise than in the paths of trade and commerce. Force mildly tempered with guile then ; guile mildly tempered with force now. It also reminds us of days when the weak were helpless against the strong, when the villain was the serf of his lord and the slave of his soil, when king and barons struggled for supremacy and men did largely what was right in their own eyes, when the mighty met on thirsty battlefields and the rich left of their wealth for priests to say masses for their stained and suffering souls. In the days, for instance, of Stephen, when Shirbourne had its share in the troubles, the castles were at once the oppressors and the protectors of the people : the hand of their lord was against every man, but he suffered no man to touch his dependants. In their mud cottages they clustered around his stronghold, the old folks glad to labor if they might but save for their sustenance a portion of their crops, the young men proud to serve as retainers in the bands of their chief. Life was probably less severe and irk-some than we imagine ; there was an interdependence binding all into one. When Wat was among the cross-bowmen, or little Robin helped to clean the armor, or Cis to serve in the lady’s bower or to work in the laundry, there was a direct link between the castle and the cabin ; the one depended upon the other. The castle needed men and food ; the cabin, protection. In all likelihood the villagers were as proud and as desirous of the success of their lord as subjects are now for the honor of their king. Not that the life within the baronial halls was the purest and the gentlest: purity and gentleness must be sought for in the monastery, and not in the castle; but it was hearty, free and jovial. People were rude and rough, yet they were closer in their interests to one another than we are in our day. They recognized the principle that all men are unequal; we think them equal, and absolve ourselves and all others from those responsibilities which the high and the lowly observed under the old system. Possibly we shall make a better world of it than our fathers did; whether a happier is another question. Any way, Shin-bourne Castle is now a quiet, harmless residence ; personal loyalty is no longer asked for nor given ; the earl is liberal to his tenants and kind to his poor: the one pay their rent to his steward, the other buy their rabbits from his gamekeeper. The neighborhood is as rich and diversified in scenery as the castle is stern and imposing in structure. Chaunt a lay of the olden time, recall a scene of Froissart or a page of Chaucer, and you may see merry and mediaeval England alike in the swelling, beech-clad hills of Chiltern and in the towers and the turrets of Shirbourne.
As the twilight darkens, the moon floods the country with her silvery beams. Beyond this long wall is the road leading to Pyrton, a small village with an Elizabethan mansion where Hampden’s father-in-law lived. Another field and a close, and Watlington begins. Asleep, is it ? It is scarcely more awake when the sun is shining. While we eat our supper and take our ease in the hotel, and to-morrow ramble about the place, I will tell you something of it. The chicken and the ale evidently belong to an uncertain age a good quality in the latter, even if not in the former but the cold mutton with Worcestershire sauce is all that a good appetite can desire. Mine host is busy, and the next sun will shine upon some aching heads and empty pockets. Anyway, there will be no such wild riot here as that student in good-fellowship hight Philip Foulface of Alefoord described in his black-letter quarto entituled Bacchus Bountie. Then the thirsty sinners, prepared beforehand with such mouth-seasoning as red herring, broiled bacon and hot-spiced pudding, passed on from merriment to riot, and from riot to wrestling and war, till, exhausted, both wounded and drunken, they lay in heaps on the floor. Nothing of that will happen now. The landlord values his reputation and the constable moves about as nimbly as a dog’s tail. There is a house with a yard not far from this we passed it as we entered the town which was many years since occupied by a wheelwright. A jovial, happy-go-lucky sort of fellow was he, a work man of the first rank, well-to-do, employing several men and apprentices and holding some respect and position in the neighborhood. He made most of the wagons and the carts used hereabouts, and once a year, after a season of good work, he gave a supper to his friends and work-men, his best customers also being invited. Instead of the smoking hoop of the wheel, the boys saw the vaporous offrisings of the big boiler into which every Monday throughout the year was put the washed linen of the household, but which now contained hams, legs of mutton and rounds of beef, carrots, potatoes and cabbage. It also served for brewing-purposes. The huge plum-puddings had been prepared for several days ; and when the table in the great parlor was set, the good and solid things thereon made the round eyes of the guests glisten and their fat faces broaden with delight. What eating and drinking, to be sure! The stout little gentleman of the hub and the spoke wielded his great carving-knife and fork at the head of the table as dexterously as he was wont to swing the hammer at the anvil or the axe at the block. The beaded moisture of warmth and effort combined with the glowing beams of satisfaction to make his countenance ruddy and radiant. His hospitality was boundless, nor did he reach the acme of his joy till he knew that every one around his board was stuffed to the full, and that even the rubicund and ale-soaked farmers were so far gone as to need somebody to see them safely home. For one or two of his neighbors a wheelbarrow stood in the yard, and about midnight the good-natured apprentices would bowl them off to their domiciles with right hearty glee. Sir Walter Raleigh in a letter to William Shakespeare affirms that a kinsman made the new herb from the Chesapeake into tea ; but had he seen this worthy wheelwright going through the soothing grimaces of puffing and drawing at a pipe filled and yet unlighted, and according to his own solemn affirmation, often reiterated, with satisfaction equal to that of those who applied the glowing coal or the blazing chip, he would have foreseen the ruin of the plantations of the West. There was merriment, you may be sure an echo of the harvest-home and of the good times when hospitality and kindly feeling prevailed throughout the merry land. Songs were sung two or three harmless ones before the women left, and then such as ” The Bashful Lover ” and one in ” Praise of Claret,” of which it need only be said that after a popularity of several generations the modesty and the purity of our age banished them from among men. Stories were also told stories, for the most part, with more than a point in them, and which may not be repeated in days when no one cares to hear such things. That was the time to see the real side : we have passed by it all ; and no one thought any the worse of the good souls who mingled merriment with religion and sang in the bar-room on Saturday and in the organ-loft on Sunday. Later on everybody went to bed that is to say, everybody except the apprentices, whose couch in the attic being occupied by visitors from over Chinnor way obliged them to sleep on the floor with the dogs before the ‘kitchen fire.
Among the guests there was for some years one who enjoyed the sobriquet of Tippling John. He was a decent, sleek-looking old boy of about forty-five, and did not get his nickname from his turning up his little finger, but from his skill in rendering an old melody upon the charms of drinking. He had travelled a little and read much.
He wore corduroy breeches with home-knit blue-worsted stockings and buckled shoes; his waistcoat was of crimson plush and his frock of dark-brown velvet. A great turnip-watch and a good-sized snuff-box gave him some influence among his fellows. His ability as a story-teller was good, and he claimed to have known something of the dowager countess of Macclesfield, who maintained the state and the dignity which became a lady of rank in the days of yore in a lodge on a spur of the hills within sight of Shirbourne Castle. It is probable that he was rather confused in his recollections, but as he affirmed that she was a good lady, fond of whist, wine and the diverting story of Pamela, but nevertheless a good lady, none of his stories of the lodge affected her reputation. She had a weakness for mushrooms and poachers at any rate, she loved the one and hated the other and kept the gamekeepers busy searching for them. But Tippling John’s best story did not concern her in the remotest degree, and fortunately, for everybody had a suspicion that he knew nothing at all about the earl’s family. This he only told when fairly on his way to maudlin exhilaration, and it had the effect of sobering him and subduing his exuberant spirits. The story ran something like this (draw up to the fire and take another pipe; the nights are chilly, though it is July, and, the pipe and story over, then to bed) :
One dark stormy night many years ago long before you and I, Joe Wiggins, began to play nine men’s morris Parson Jones was on his way home from an oyster-feast. Clergymen in those days were very partial to oysters, and with good reason, for the British oyster was famous in the days of the apostles, and large quantities of the exquisite delicacy were then sent to Rome. Parson Jones did not know this, nor even of the grand oyster-suppers his predecessors indulged in before the Reformation began, and he went jogging along on his old sorrel, thinking only of where he had been and where he was going. It was easier to decide the former than it was the latter ; for when he approached the river which lay between him and his home, he found that the water had risen high up the ‘road and was rushing and roaring over the fields and the bridge at a terrific speed. The mare stood on the brink of the flood, and Parson Jones for-got all about the oysters. Then he determined to ride on, knowing that the bridge had fairly high walls and horses were by instinct good swimmers; so into the water he went, splashing along as fast as the mare would go. But the flood was higher than he thought for, and before he reached the bridge the water rose over the stirrups ; in a few minutes the mare was swimming where, he could not tell, for the night was pitchy dark, and, to add to his confusion, the rain began to fall in driving torrents. The water surged around him, but he rode smoothly on.
” Bother the oysters !” he said to himself. ” No more oysters for me in this world. Where’s the confounded bridge ? Gently, Betty my girl ; strike bottom. Is it across the stream, or is it down the stream ?”
At the thought of this he began to shiver, for you must know he was but a young fellow, and, though he had no wife, he had a very good living. His boots were filled with water and his clothes wringing wet. He tried to mutter a prayer, but could think of nothing except ” My godfathers and my godmothers in my baptism,” and that kept coming up again and again why, he could not tell. He was certain he was drifting down the stream, and that he was lost sure enough.
” My godfathers and my godmothers in my baptism” he kept on saying, without thinking. “There! the mare is only floating now. My godfathers and my god-mothers in my baptism I shall be drowned; I am getting weaker all the time. My godfathers and my godmothers in my baptism Confound oysters and oyster-feasts ! My legs are freezing. There goes my hat ! Oh, my godfathers and my godmothers in my baptism”
And thus he went on, his heart in his boots, as the saying is, and afraid every moment he would slip off the mare or she would sink and take him down.
But Providence looks after good men such as he, and it was decreed that Parson Jones should escape. He had drifted on for three-quarters of an hour, when in mid-stream, right before him, he saw a light. It was almost level with the water, and he remembered there was a mill a long way below the bridge. He shouted with all his might, but no answer. He pulled the bridle, and the sorrel began to swim again. Then he saw that the light shone through a window, and in a minute or two he was floating beside it.
” Let me. in !” he cried, rattling the panes ; and some one lifted the sash.
A leap : he was on the sill, and the mare was gone. It was no easy task lifting himself up through the narrow space; a desperate effort landed him safely inside. By the candlelight he saw a young woman standing beside some bags of flour. Her face was white.
” Where am I ?” Parson Jones asked.
“In Redford mill, and I am glad somebody has come, for I am all alone and the water is rising. Father and the man went to Beckett’s farm this morning, and now they cannot get back. The water is over the second floor. Who are you ?”
” I am John Jones, the rector, and I have been carried down here from the bridge.”
“Mr. Jones, the minister, that is. Then I am not going to be afraid any more.”
But the water rose fast. It entered the story where they were.
“Is there anything higher than this ?” asked the parson.
” Only the garret, and there are rats there.”
” Never mind ; we must try it.”
They went up into the garret it was small and stifling. In the candlelight they saw the place covered with rats. They stood on the landing, not venturing among the nibblers, though the poor things were terrified to helplessness. The candle burnt low; the river steadily rose.
” Is there a skylight ?” asked Parson Jones.
” Just behind you.”
“Then we must get out on the roof; that is our last chance. My godfathers and my Bother the thing ! Let me help you up, and then I can clamber through.”
So he lifted the girl up, and by dint of great exertion he followed. They sat in the pelting rain by the chimney on the roof-ridge. The great flood surged and sobbed on every side a weird sound.
” I suppose in Noah’s flood people had to do as we are doing,” said Madge, after a long silence.
” Oh, my godfa Confound that ! Yes, my child, I suppose they had. Only they all got drowned; and when Noah looked out of the ark, he saw them floating like reeds on the water. My godfathers and–”
” And there was no one to bury them ?”
” No; they were not Christians.”
” Madge !” whispered the parson.
There was no answer.
Still no answer.
” Is she dead ?”
Parson Jones touched her cold, wet face. He felt it would soon be all over with him, but he determined to hold her body as long as he could. Perhaps he might be saved, and poor Madge should have Christian burial.
But as the hours passed by the parson grew numb, and before he could arouse himself from his stupor the body slipped down the roof into the stream. He re-membered nothing more after that. When he opened his eyes next, he was afraid he was in heaven. Yet that could not be, for the sun was shining brightly, the room was warm, people were moving about, and he was in bed. Weak as he was, he knew that no poet had said anything about beds in paradise. He was, then, alive. A woman’s face bent over him, and the sympathetic voice of a woman greeted him :
” Hush! Mr. Jones, the Lord’s name be praised!” ” My godfa”
“No, no ! You must keep still yet a while.”
When he was stronger, they told him how he was taken off the roof by the miller and by some men in a boat. They had gone for Madge.
” Poor Madge !” said the parson ; ” I remember. She died and slipped into the water.”
” She slipped into the water, but the boat was close by then and picked her up. Here she is ;” and sitting in a great arm-chair by the fire was Madge, very white, but living.
Parson Jones rubbed his eyes:
” I thought she was dead.”
“Very nearly. Woefully exhausted, but the doctor brought her round, praise the Lord !”
No one in that part of the country ever forgot the great flood, the parson and Madge least of all. Many people lost everything, and much damage was done. Some time after, the parson and Madge were married for the parson said it was only fitting that they who were spared from dying together should for the rest of their days live together. In his ninetieth year they ate an oyster-supper with their grandchildren, and he told anew the story of that night. Verily, neighbors all, there are strange things in this world!
Thus far Tippling John. And now good-night !