Tickner Edwardes - An English Village
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
This extract is from Lift-Luck on Southern Roads, a very entertaining and sympathetic account of a walking tour through the southern counties of England. Mr. Edwardes has also written The Lore of the Honey-bee, Neighborhood, and The Honey-Star.
To spend an hour in Winterslow, and never once think of Hazlitt, or the Lambs, must seem little short of a crime to the literary reader. But that is what happened to me, and will probably happen again, if ever I retrace that day's tortuous route. The truth is that Winterslow puts the wayfarer under an immediate and all sufficing spell of its own. There is a present-day enchantment in the place that annihilates all thought of times foregone. The living people there are so engrossingly attractive, that it never occurs to you to ponder over the dead ones, famous or obscure. It is a vortex of rural peace and quiet, or rather a dimple in the pool, just serving to mark the vital difference between progress and stagnation
I came into the beautiful, old world settlement of Winterslow well prepared, as the overture prepares one for grand opera. In a field not far from the village, some sheep were folded; and, stopping to listen to the bells, I was immediately struck by the pureness of their tone. The ordinary sheep-bell is a kind of inverted brazen can, but the bells of this fold were real bells, both in shape and quality. The bells on a farm usually belong to the shepherd, and are handed down from father to son in the common calling. Some sets are of great age, as I judged these to be. But there was no shepherd to inquire of. The fold was in charge of a shaggy grey dog, who, though he looked as if he were full of information, failed to enlighten me, mainly because I could not understand his thunderous speech. However, I made out that he warned me to come no nearer, so I contented myself with leaning over the gate, and listening to the wayward melody of the fold.
Silvery and slow in the noontide sun, the sound crept over to me, and I thought I had never heard a sweeter strain. The notes ran through a full octave, up and down; now in clanging peals of a score together, and now in single tones like bells moved at random by the inconstant breeze. And there was a sort of rhythm through it all, almost a meaning. There were sudden, clear harmonies, and pell-mell discords following them. Once, and for a long time, it seemed, all the bells stopped together, while one of the deepest tolled as regularly as if the sexton himself were at his rope. And then all the bells came swinging in together, the rich quiet notes overreaching one another like floodtide ripples on a sandy shore. I turned at last, and went on to the village. But the soft pealing stayed in my ears: in fancy it returned to me all through the day. And again, in fancy, I heard it far off, as silvery and slow as ever, when I woke in the night, walled up in the queerest, cosiest nesting-place that ever poor vagrant chanced upon. But of that in its place.
My first impression of Winterslow was as of a wide spreading flower garden dotted over with gigantic brown toad-stools, and here and there a bee-hive fancifully shaped like a house. But, on a nearer view, the toy-houses became veritable human dwellings, and the toadstools real cottages hiding under their thatch. Yet my early conception of the place as a garden remained to the end. In the hour I spent there, I saw more and finer flowers than I looked upon at any other spot in the five counties. Every cottage stood in its patch of rich-hued autumn blossom. The sprawling scarlet of virginia-creeper decked the walls. Ruddy apples shone aloft in the trees. The favourite pampas-grass lit many a nook with its cool silver. Roses met the eye at every turn in make-believe of June. Before I had been there five minutes, I set Winterslow down as a place where it never snowed, nor gloomed, nor blew cold. I give it eternal sunshine unquestioningly, just as surely as I know that the sky above it is always of the same cloudless blue.
That was a busy hour. When I was tired of looking over garden-gates at the lavished treasure beyond, I had the smithy to inquire into. To note the changing clang of the iron as it cooled under the hammer, and learn the true voice of temper; watch the sparks flying out of the shadow, through the slant of sunshine, into shadow again; hearken to the wheezy bellows, the growl of the fire, the competition of uxorious sparrows on the roof.
Then there was a little red house, half private dwelling, half work-shop. The shop was carpeted in shavings, full of a green light from ivy-cumbered window-panes, and pervaded by a serious old man, who quietly hammered at a bench. He was not in the least perturbed when I came and silently looked in upon him like a village urchin. I said, after a while, by way of greeting, that it was good work, this — the contriving and fashioning in wood; and he replied that it was indeed so, provided that a man could get enough of it whereby to live. Then we went partnership in a full five minutes of congenial silence, broken only by the tap of his hammer as he fed it with slender, shining brass-brads. It was a work-box, or some such woman's trifle, that he was engaged upon. I watched it grow together under his deft fingers, helping him with mute commendation until he had got it into final shape. And then he conveyed to me that he was glad of my assistance, by reaching me down a rose from a glass on the window-sill. "I never like to have them nut of mind," said he, polishing busily.
I looked in at cottage-doors, with discreet and private eye, in passing; and browsed a while on the labels in the windows of the village shop. There were few men about, these being at their labour in the fields; but the women abounded, all the older ones wearing the print sun-bonnet, last vestige of the national peasant costume. I have often wondered at the strange coincidence, yet it is nevertheless a fact that I never come into a village but I hit upon the one precious half-hour of the day, when the women lay by work for a chat at the cottage door, or flying interchange of news across the street. So it again happened in Winterslow.
They were all merrily at it as I sauntered through, leaning out of window or door, or gathered in little companies by the garden gates. And while I stood listening to the mur-mur of voices, soft or shrill, the school door burst open like a dam, and a rush of pinafores, pink and white and blue, all but swept me off my feet. I turned eastward from Winterslow at last, with my rose nodding from my buttonhole, and in my ears a medley of music bells and hammer, the chippering of sparrows and children, the sugared indolence of Wiltshire country speech.
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