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either with my book or with my pen until the decline of the sun gives token that we may gather up our several properties, and that aided by my staff I may take a turn or two in the smoothest part of the lane and proceed to meet the pony-chaise at a gate leading to the old Manor House which forms the usual termination of
walk. Now this staff, one of the oldest friends I have in the world, is pretty nearly as well known as myself in our Berkshire village.
Sixty years ago it was a stick of quality and belonged to a certain Duchess Dowager of Atholl, that Duchess of Atholl who was in her own right Baroness Strange and Lady of Mann, with whom we had some acquaintance because her youngest son married a first cousin of my father's and took the name of Aynsley as his wife had done before him, as a condition of inheriting an estate in Northumberland. I have a dim recollection of the Duchess, much such an one as Dr. Johnson had of Queen Anne, as “a stately lady in black silk.” Well ! in her time the stick was a stick of distinction, but on her leaving her Berkshire house it was left behind and huddled by an auctioneer into a lot of old umbrellas, watering-pots, and flower-stands which my father bought for a song.
I believe that he made the purchase chiefly for the sake of this stick, which he presented to my mother's faithful and favourite old housekeeper, Mrs. Mosse, who lived in
our family sixty years and was sufficiently lame to find such a support of great use and comfort in her short and unfrequent walks. During her time and for her sake, I first contracted a familiar and friendly acquaintanceship with this ancient piece of garni
It was indeed a stick of some pretension, of the order commonly called a crook, such as may be seen upon a chimney-piece figuring in the hand of some trim shepherdess of Dresden china. What the wood might have been I cannot tell: light, straight, slender, strong it certainly was, polished and veined, and as I first remember it yellowish in colour, although it became darker as it advanced in age. It was amongst the tallest of its order ; nearly five feet high, and headed with a crook of ivory, bound to the wood by a broad silver rim-as ladylike a stick as could be seen on a summer's day. The only one of the sort I ever met with had belonged to the great-grandmother of a friend of mine, and was handed down as a family relique; that crook probably of the same age as our's was more ornate and elaborate, it had a curious carved handle, not unlike the hilt of a sword, decorated with a leather tassel, so to say a stick-knot.
Well, poor Mossy died; and the stick precious upon
her account became doubly so when my own dear mother took to using it during her latter days, and when she also followed her old servant to a happier world. And then everybody knows how the
merest trifles which have formed part of the daily life of the loved and lost, especially those things which they have touched, are cherished and cared for and put aside; how we dare not look upon them for very love; and how by
love; and how by some accident that nobody can explain they come to light in the course of time, and after a momentary increase of sadness help to familiarise and render pleasant the memory by which they are endeared. It is a natural and right process, like the springing of a flower upon a grave. So the stick re-appeared in the hall, and from some whim which I have never rightly understood myself, I who had no more need of such a supporter than the youngest woman in the parish, who was indeed the best walker of my years for a dozen miles round, and piqued myself not a little upon so being, took a fancy to use this stick in my own proper person, and most pertinaciously carried this fancy into execution. Much was I laughed at for this crotchet, and I laughed too. Friends tioned, strangers stared; but impassive to stare or to question I remained constant to my supporter. Except when I went to London (for I paid so much homage to public opinion as to avoid such a display there) I should as soon have thought of walking out without my bonnet as without my stick. That stick was my inseparable companion.
To be sure we met with a few misadventures in our companionship. Once I left my prop behind
me in a marquee at a cricket match, and it had wellnigh been tossed away amongst the tent-poles ; once it was stuck against a bush in a copse where I happened to be nutting, and got well thrashed (according to the notable example of Sancho with the galley-slaves), in company with its brethren the hazel-rods ; once it was lost in a fair (I am not sure that it was not cried upon that occasion) ; often forgotten in halls and vestibules; and once fairly stolen by a mischievous schoolboy from a friend's portico.
This last calamity cost me a ten-mile walk, undertaken with an alacrity which proved how little I really needed my trusty supporter. Before I had discovered my loss—for that same prop of mine had passed many a summer night leaning against the pillars of that portico—before I had even dreamt of the mishap, the papa and mamma of the delinquent chancing to have old-fashioned notions of good breeding, sent a servant with a magnificent note in the third person, setting forth in the choicest terms their regret and displeasure, deprecating my anger, and entreating me to fix the day and the hour on which they and the culprit might be permitted to wait upon me to renew their excuses in person. Such a note! In diction, in caligraphy, in folding, it would have done honour to “The Polite Letter-writter :” the paper stamped with an oakwreath and breathing of ottar of roses, and the seal
as big as that bearing her Majesty's arms from a public office, were real works of art. I could as soon have answered such a letter, or have sate in state to receive the threatened apology, as I could have taken a journey in the air upon a broomstick. Greatly preferring the offence to the reparation, I had nothing for it but to forestall the visit, shake hands with the poor boy, who turned out a fine spirited lad, and try, by laughing over the matter with his parents, to bring about a general pacification, in which attempt, they being less formidable in person than on paper, I happily succeeded.
Manifold have been our escapes. One was from an adventure natural to the stick-genus-a battle.
Walking past a farm-house by the side of a fair neighbour with no other companions than our dogs ; -hers a beautiful King Charles, mine a no less beautiful and far rarer spaniel of the old brown cocking breed, Flush, the father of Fanchon ; our poor pets were set upon by a furious yard-dog unluckily let loose, a tremendous mastiff, dangerous to man and beast.' The King Charles fled to his mistress, who instantly caught him up.
Flush stood his ground, and would, I verily believe, have been killed but for me and my weapon. We did battle valiantly, and contrived to stand our ground until in a space of time which seemed very long, and was, I suppose very short, the din brought forth the farmer, who, in the midst of a storm of scream