England - Notes From England's Sunny Isle
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Two previous years I had seen England. The island was a picture in greens, a damp, cool, moist, dripping island, a land where one wore winter flannets all summer and rejoiced in a fire at evening. I learned, though, that there is but one thing certain about weather : it will never again be as it was yesterday. Now it was as hot and dry as is Kansas.
I met in London my old friend A. J. Hickman. "Come down with me to a sale of Hackneys at Reigate this afternoon," he said, "They are some of R. P. Evans' at Wood Hatch, very famous horses; the train goes at 12:50." "I can not go that soon, I fear," I replied. "I should be glad to go if I could, and possibly I can get ready. "Well, meet me at Charing Cross at 12:50 if you can; if not, come down to my place by the 4:30," was his reply.
I rushed around, using taxicabs, and made the 12:50 train all right, but at the train did not see Mr. Hickman. At Reigate I alighted alone from the train ; evidently, he had missed it. However, I went on to the sale. Reigate is a very picturesque village, old and new. Wood Hatch is a fine farm indeed with glorious Hackneys selling. There was a small crowd of- buyers, but they were good buyers. One horse sold for 800 guineas, and others as low as 200. After admiring the horses and the environment for a time, I set out again for the station, for I was a bit uneasy about getting on to Pluckley on the same train as Mr. Hickman. At the village, I dropped in at an inn for a glass of ginger ale. That sin cost me dear. As I sipped the ale, Mr. Hickman passed, on his way to the sale. I went to the station and secured a ticket to Pluckley via Tunbridge. I had made a careful note in London that such would be Mr. Hickman's pro gramme, so it was evident that it should be mine.
What happened afterward I could not explain without diagrams. No one at the station seemed at all sure what I was to do to reach Pluckley, but they put me aboard a train headed toward London, which was quite proper, but they did not tell me to change at Red Hill, and I proceded northward. After a time, forebodings of evil seized me and I diligently studied a diagram on the wall of the compartment. When at last I found the village amid the maze of other villages and network of lines I was aghast; I had gone much too far. I alighted, at the suggestion of a passing porter, at a pretty station in Surrey, but its beauty was quite lost on me. I asked the stationmaster what I should do; he pondered the situation for a long time and looked up his schedules. "I am not quite clear, sir, as Pluckley is beyond our schedules, but I advise you to take the 4:50." I took it and scudded back down the line, getting off at a place that he had suggested. There they were cheery and advised me to try a train that would leave in a few minutes on another branch. I do not remember where that train went. A bricklayer who got in my compartment comforted me. He was bound for Dover and clearly Dover was out past Pluckley. We were both turned out midway and waited anxiously for another train, on another branch I assume. Meanwhile, long trains whizzed by laden with happy mortals, booked to some safe and sure conclusion, not like me plucked in such an untimely way from my voyage to Pluckley. I envied those people; they knew England; they spoke and understood the English language, which I had forgotten in my four years of absence. The guards and porters, for instance, spoke often in a strange tongue that I could not comprehend. At last I boarded another train, assured by all that this one would deposit me at Pluck-ley, and it did. My journey was in shape like the lightning flashes seen on a hot midsummer night in the cornbelt, but I was there, at last. Away back I had sent by telegraph an imploring and frantic appeal to Mr. Hickman, to rescue me from the perils of English travel by land, and soon after I set foot on the soil of Pluckley, Mr. Hickman's pony cart and groom came driving up and I was saved. There was another reason for profound thankfulness. All of that long afternoon's riding to and fro had been free; no one had asked to see my ticket in all that time; I had paid one fare and ridden 325 miles, more or less.
I wonder now why any one buys a railway ticket in England? Come to think of it, they did ask me for it at Pluckley. Are they mind-readers?
Sitting at a good supper with my genial host and smiling hostess soon after I exclaimed, "Mr. Hickman, how far in goodness' name are you from London?"
"Just forty-eight miles," was his smiling reply. "A little more than an hour's ride." And there is no change of cars, if you get on the right train.
Well, there is a lot in knowing how to do a thing,. and I hope I have learned to ask questions by this time.
At Court Lodge I tramped over the farm. It is in Kent. The upper fields are on high, breezy plateaus, whence one looks down across glorious vistas of valley, woodland and farmstead, over fields of ripening wheat and barley, over flocks of Romney sheep and little herds of red cows. We tramped after the binders cutting the wheat. They were American binders made for England with short cutter bars, for the grain was thick and heavy, drawn by great, strong, Shire mares. About some of the fields a man was cutting away with his cradle, his wife binding the sheaves after him. Women cut the broad beans and laid them in little heaps on the ground. Children came along the foot-paths through the nodding grain, bearing armfuls of flowers for a flower show down by Edgerton church. Their mothers followed, all in their holiday attire. There were 800 Romneys on the up-land farm of 400 acres. They were mostly on the yellow burned pastures, for the drouth had been severe; they were fat, though, as Romneys are wont to be, with half a chance. The cattle were mostly milking Short-horns. I marveled at them and marveled the more that men so strictly let them alone in America.
Down in the village, below the church, was a little green and there was a tent pitched. In the tent were tables and on the tables all manner of vegetable products of the laborers' gardens, and of other gardens as well, and flowers. There were many prizes given, for there were many classes, so that the gardener at the gentleman's place does not compete against the laborers. The children, too, had prizes for their work and for bouquets of wild flowers that they had gathered. The prizes were not large—from $1.25 to $2.50 or thereabouts, but they were none the less valued because much honor is attached to winning them. To me the big goose-berries were most interesting; there were even tomatoes and melons from under glass.
There were sports on the green, with music and all sorts of sweets and light refreshments. The best of the show to me was the sight of the fresh-complexioned people, young and old, in holiday at-tire, the girls in white. How innocent, how kindly; how good it all was. One old bent man, with a strong face and lines that denoted years of willing toil was with his wife, who was older and more bent. They leaned heavily on their canes, and asked in merry tones "When will the dancing begin?" He, I learned, drew an old age pension and in addition was yet able to break stone on the highway.
All this is humble, but perhaps worth describing; it is from such sources as this that come the beauty and orderliness of old England. The cottager or the laborer, hoeing in his garden, training up his roses and his gooseberries, is a better man and citizen than if he were to be loafing around some ale house. The money for the prizes, by the way, was contributed by the farmers and others who in the community can afford to give.